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Tomorrow We Thrive

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Stiles studies the file in front of himself for what feels like the hundredth time, and then the couple sitting in front of him for the second. The woman looks hopeful and eager; the man angry and impatient. He takes a deep breath, sets the file down on his father’s desk, and says words that he never thought he’d say to anyone. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I can help you.”

The woman makes a noise that’s a combination of surprise and grief, but whatever she wants to say is overridden by the man. “What do you mean, you can’t help us?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Hewitt,” he says, taking care to keep his voice calm and even, “there isn’t a case here.”

“Our son is missing!” Mrs. Hewitt protests.

“No, he’s not,” Stiles says. “Your son not returning your calls and texts doesn’t mean he’s missing. It just means that he doesn’t want to talk to you.”

“We told you what happened!” Mr. Hewitt shouts. “That shifter he was dating has abducted him!”

“Please keep your voice down,” Stiles says, fighting for composure. “You’re in a police station, and I have to warn you that after everything that’s happened to me, the officers here are more than a little protective. They’ll throw you out if you don’t stay calm.” He sees Mr. Hewitt open his mouth to say something rude, and continues, “Your son going to live with his boyfriend is not an abduction, even if that boyfriend is a shifter.”

“You – you just don’t understand, you didn’t - didn’t look into it – ” Mrs. Hewitt says tearfully.

“Oh, I did,” Stiles says. “Would you like me to give you a summary? Your son Mason went to college. He met a were-chameleon named Corey Bryant. They dated a few times and developed a serious relationship. The moment you found out about it, you completely lost your shit and started trying to insist your son leave college and come home so you could keep him away from this completely innocent and by all appearances normal person he was dating. He then stopped returning your calls and texts and moved in with his boyfriend. And I’m very sorry if that bothers you – well, actually I’m not sorry at all – but a grown man telling his bigot parents to fuck off does not a missing person make.”

Mr. Hewitt looks like he’s swelling up with rage, and Mrs. Hewitt is crying now. “But he left school entirely, he stopped going to classes – Mason was such a good student and he’s throwing it all away – ”

“He took a leave of absence. It’s not the same thing as playing hooky.”

“But he would never – ”

“I’m guessing that the school refused to tell you why he’d done that, since he’s an adult and you are not entitled to his personal information,” Stiles says. “I probably shouldn’t, but you clearly don’t get what’s happening here, so I will. He stated in his leave of absence request that he felt unsafe on campus because you had accosted him several times in his dorm and on his way to classes and the dining hall, and at two separate points attempted to physically remove him from campus and force him into a vehicle. The school granted his leave of absence request due to these reasons.”

“Because he’s dating a shifter!” Mr. Hewitt roars. “It’s disgusting! They’re going to, to force him into a pack and force their heathen ways on him – ”

“Were-chameleons don’t even pack, you ignorant – ” Stiles takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he’s trying to be professional here. Parrish has opened the office door, looking questioningly between Stiles and the Hewitts. “In my honest opinion, there is no case here. If you want to get in contact with your son, I recommend you send him a text or an e-mail apologizing for the way you’ve treated him and offer to meet him somewhere on neutral ground where you can talk about everything that’s happened. That’s the best I can do for you. Deputy Parrish will show you out.”

The Hewitts are still protesting as Parrish ushers them out the door, and Stiles sits with his head down for a minute, pinching the bridge of his nose. He startles a little when he hears his father’s voice. “I thought you handled that very well.”

“Yeah?” Stiles manages a smile. “I have to admit, it’s not every day I’m given a case by the Vice President of the Foundation for Human Rights.”

“I can’t imagine why they even brought it to you,” Tom says, squeezing his son’s shoulder.

“Because the police refused to take their case for the same reasons I did,” Stiles says, and shrugs. “Because they’ve read online how good I am at missing persons cases, and they thought that if they threw enough money at me, I wouldn’t be able to resist, I guess.”

“Like you’re in dire need of money,” Tom says, with a snort.

“I feel like after this wedding, I will be!” Stiles perks up, laughing. “I mean, damn, have you even seen some of the stuff Talia is putting together? She’s really going all out. I guess she’s supposed to, but still. It’s getting to the point where I’m afraid I’m going to use the wrong phrase with the wrong alpha and the whole thing is going to be a disaster.”

“Werewolf rituals are pretty intense,” Tom agrees. “Speaking of, what’s on your schedule for today?”

“I have class from one to three,” Stiles says, “and then Derek and I are meeting with the officiant. She wants to go over the ceremony step by step with us so we know what to expect. Derek’s seen werewolf weddings before but I haven’t. Then I was going to either do homework or work on the favors. We’ll, uh, we’ll see how it goes, I guess.”

Tom shakes his head a little. “You know that you don’t have to assemble the favors yourself, right?”

“Actually, I do,” Stiles says. “Because werewolf tradition dictates that both mates must individually contribute to the favor given to the alpha of any attending packs. That’s why Derek is doing the pressed flowers and I’m doing the home made caramels.”

Tom lifts his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay. Go make your caramels. I’ll see you at dinner?”

“Yeah, see you then.” Stiles gives his father a hug and departs. He leaves through the back, just in case the Hewitts are still lurking, and heads to class.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles studies his spreadsheet for what feels like the hundredth time and then pinches the bridge of his nose. Derek is sitting beside him quietly, rubbing his back, waiting to see if Stiles is going to give in or if he’s going to have to say something. Talia is drinking tea behind her desk, and Derek suspects she’s already made her own decision, but she’s letting Stiles have a moment.

“Quiz me one more time?” Stiles says hopefully.

Derek doubts he’ll do any better this time than he has any of the last four times, but holds up a picture nonetheless.

“Oh, okay, I know her, that’s Evelia Romero. From northern Sacramento. She’s gonna be . . . ‘you honor us with your presence, Alpha Romero’.”

“Right.” Derek holds up the next picture.

“Okay, and that’s . . . the guy . . . no, I know this, give me a second.” Stiles clears his throat. “Alpha . . . Wilson. Williams. Wilkins?”

Derek arches an eyebrow and says nothing.

“Don’t look at me like that, if he didn’t have such a boring name, I’d probably remember it! Anyway, his is gonna be ‘it’s an honor to meet you’ ‘cause we haven’t met him before obviously, and then . . . it can’t be ‘you honor us with your presence’, can it? It’s not ‘honor’ twice in a row, that would sound weird.”

Instead of replying, Derek just goes to the next picture.

“Oh, an easy one! That’s Cecilia Reyes. ‘It’s an honor and a privilege to receive you.’” Stiles looks like he might be cheering up until Derek flips to the next picture, and he stares at it, completely blank. Finally, he says, “There are no trick cards in here, right?”

“Stiles,” Derek says patiently.

Stiles groans and scrubs both hands through his hair. “Okay,” he finally says. “You were right. I just can’t . . .” His voice trails off.

“Stiles, it’s fine,” Talia says. “Everyone coming to the ceremony is aware of what you went through and why you have the difficulties you have. Nobody is going to have a problem with you needing cue cards.” The additional, ‘and if they do, they’re going to have a problem with me’ is unspoken but still heard loud and clear.

“I guess,” Stiles says, despite how much he clearly hates it. Derek knows he can never fully understand how Stiles feels, so he doesn’t say anything. Besides, they’ve already talked about it multiple times. The greeting ceremony for a wedding of this caliber is incredibly intricate. The attending couple needs to greet every attending alpha, and the greeting issued depends on the relationship between that alpha and their own, and the alpha’s place in the regional hierarchy. Stiles had been insistent that he would be able to memorize the attendees, but there were over two dozen alphas coming, and it had quickly become apparent that it wasn’t going to be possible.

“Can’t you just greet them all?” Stiles said the first time they had the discussion.

“I can and will, but I won’t be with you,” Derek said. “Remember? The ceremony has two parts. First Talia and I greet them, and then you have to greet them separately, because you’re the one marrying into the pack and therefore the region’s hierarchy. I’m already part of that by virtue of being mom’s son.”

Stiles groaned and pulled a pillow over his face.

Getting even one word wrong could be considered an insult, and although Talia was a powerful alpha, that meant the pack had enemies. He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. Tom had suggested the possibility of Stiles being allowed to keep a cheat sheet with him over a week ago, but Stiles had argued against it up until now.

“I’ll have Aaron take the photos to his office and make some cue cards for you.” Talia clearly considers the discussion complete. “Is there anything else you two needed to go over?”

“I don’t think so,” Derek says, and looks at Stiles.

Stiles just shakes his head and then says, “I’m going to go get dinner started. See you around six.”

He stands up and leaves the room, and Talia’s worried frown follows him. Derek stays behind, since Stiles clearly doesn’t want to talk about it right now. After Stiles is gone and out of earshot, Talia says, “Derek, he will use the cue cards if we make them, right?”

“Yeah,” Derek says. “He knows how important this is. He’ll hate it, but he’ll use them.”

“Okay.” Talia lets out a breath. “I’ll see you at dinner, then?”

“Yeah.” Derek leans over and kisses his mother on the cheek before heading back to his own house. He finds Stiles in the kitchen, as he had expected, chopping vegetables with ruthless abandon. Since there’s nothing he can say on the subject on Stiles’ memory that he hasn’t already said a hundred times, he slides an arm around Stiles’ waist and changes the subject slightly. “Only six days until we’re married.”

That seems to cheer Stiles up slightly; he tilts his head to the side for a quick kiss. “Yep. I’m gonna be your husband. No takebacks.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Derek says, going in for a more generous kiss. Sometimes he just can’t help it; it’s like Stiles’ lips are magnets that he’s hopelessly drawn to. He slides his hands up underneath Stiles’ shirt, tracing the musculature there.

“I’m trying to cook here,” Stiles says.

“Yeah? How long will it take you? It’s only four fifteen.”

Stiles sighs and pulls out of Derek’s arms. “Look. I’m not really in the mood, okay? It’s not you, I’m just – I’m disappointed in myself and I know it’s irrational, so to make up for it, I’m gonna make a super elaborate dinner and everyone’s going to compliment me and then I’ll feel better.”

“Okay.” Derek gives him another kiss, but it’s gentle and chaste. “How about I go grab you some herbs from the garden?”

“Oh, yeah, could you? Grab me some basil and some thyme. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles glances up as he hears the front door bang open, and then instants later, Malia, fully shifted, is climbing his leg. He yelps despite himself as her claws dig into his abdomen before she manages to find purchase on his shoulder and bares her teeth at Peter, who has followed her into the house. “Little one,” he says calmly, “your behavior isn’t helping.”

Malia shifts back, wrapping her arms and legs around Stiles’ shoulders and waist like an octopus. “I don’t wanna wear that and you can’t make me!”

“What is happening, exactly?” Stiles asks, trying not to overbalance. Derek, who has been in the other room reading, comes in and helps steady him.

“She doesn’t like the perfume we bought to hide that her sister isn’t a shifter.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. They’ve been working on possible solutions to this issue for quite some time. Despite the fact that Tom and Peter wanted Malia and Marisela to have lives as normal as possible, they still had to be very careful about who met them. Neither of them are in school yet, although that was partially because both of them had been so poorly educated up until their adoption by the Hale pack. Peter thought it would be safe to send them to school if they passed them off as fraternal twins, rather than identical. Cut and dye their hair, give one of them a set of blue contacts to wear, and nobody would know the difference.

Tom was skeptical about the idea, and so far had been balking. The problem was that he didn’t have a better idea, and he did want the girls to be able to attend a regular school. Aaron had suggested sending Malia to the supernatural school and Marisela to the mundane, so nobody would see them right next to each other and realize how similar their faces were. Stiles was the one who had thrown up an objection to that, due to his own experiences in mundane public school. He had survived, but given Marisela’s temperament, it was altogether too likely that she would beat the crap out of anybody who looked at her funny.

All of that was a problem that was going to take some time to solve. For the wedding, Peter had come up with something more expedient. Taking a page out of the WLO playbook, he wanted the twins to wear perfume that would interfere with the werewolf senses and keep them from realizing Marisela wasn’t a shifter.

“As long as they stay together at all times, and both wear the same perfume,” he said upon producing it, “they’ll basically just have one scent. And if any werewolf thinks something is off about their scent, they’ll chalk it up to the perfume.”

Everyone had agreed to this, including the twins, up until this precise moment. Malia continues to bare her teeth at Peter and snaps, “It smells weird and it makes me smell weird and it makes ‘Sela smell weird and I won’t wear it and you can’t make me!”

“You are correct,” Peter says calmly. “I cannot and will not make you wear it.”

Malia eyes him suspiciously. “You won’t?”

“No. It’s fine. You just won’t be able to attend the wedding, then.”

“But Papa!” Malia bursts out, and Stiles holds back a quiet snort. He knows it’s an empty threat. Malia and Marisela’s adoption was pack news; everyone in the area will be expecting to see them there. If they aren’t, a lot of awkward questions will be asked. Malia, however, doesn’t know this. She’s only nine years old, and it’s not something they’ve talked about with her. She desperately wants to attend the wedding, because Stiles has told her she and Marisela can be the flower girls. “That’s not fair!”

“No, it isn’t,” Peter agrees. “Much of life isn’t fair, little coyote. You know how important it is for nobody to find out that you and your sister are identical twins but only one of you is a shifter. Don’t you want to help keep your sister safe?”

“Yes,” Malia says, sullenly.

“And didn’t she say she would wear it to help keep you safe?”

“Yes,” Malia mutters, but then adds, “but she can’t smell the difference! She has a human nose and it doesn’t smell things!”

“Mm hm,” Peter says, and waits.

Malia whines, “I don’t like it. We don’t smell like sisters when we wear it.”

Derek clears his throat. “Can I ask a stupid question?”

“Feel free, nephew,” Peter says, with an amused lift of his eyebrows.

“So the point of this whole thing is that we don’t want anyone to know Marisela was cured, right? So we have to convince people either that Malia and Marisela are not identical twins, or somehow hide the fact that Marisela is human.”

“That’s a statement, not a question, but it’s an accurate one, yes.”

“But why can’t we just tell people that they were both born human and Malia got bitten by a werecoyote?”

“Uh – ” Peter’s mouth opens slightly, and for possibly the first time ever, he seems to be struck speechless. Stiles is likewise blinking at Derek, having somehow overlooked the simplest solution. “I – suppose we could? That it would work?” Peter frowns and turns to Stiles as if for confirmation.

“We just . . .” Stiles clears his throat. “I mean, since we know that they had been born shifters, we sort of forgot that not everybody knew that. That we could tell people whatever we wanted about their parentage and early life because, hell, it was pretty much a mystery.”

“I – ” Peter continues to frown for several long moments before saying, “I guess?”

The uncertainty is so unlike him that Derek has to choke back a laugh. “You Left Hands are so busy looking around corners that sometimes you don’t see the answer right in front of you.”

“So I don’t have to wear it?” Malia asks, her eyes shining.

“Ah – hang on a minute, little one. I want to discuss this with your daddy first – give me just a moment – ” Peter pulls out his phone and taps on the screen. A few moments later, he says, “Can you think of any reason we can’t just tell everyone that Malia was bitten by a werecoyote when she was young?”

“Well, I can’t, but I figured there had to be a reason,” Tom says, and Stiles has a momentary well of gratitude for the lycanthropy which now allows him to hear both ends of phone conversations. “I mean, it’s the obvious solution. Since you never brought it up, I just assumed there was a reason it wouldn’t work.”

“Ah,” Peter says, and clears his throat. “No. I just didn’t think of it.”

Tom is silent for a moment, then says, “Okay, but now I’m confused. If we could have just said that Malia was bitten when she was young, why did any of what happened with Calaveras happen? Why did Corinne try to kill Stiles, why was Arya obsessed with finding Marisela? If we could have just said ‘oh, yeah, she was born human but got bitten’ and there’s no way to prove otherwise?”

“Well, there is a way, technically,” Peter says. “There are slight genetic differences between a born wolf – born shifter – and a turned one. That’s why turned wolves have a slightly smaller chance of having born wolf offspring. But it’s certainly not something that someone would be able to tell at a glance.”

“So I don’t have to wear the perfume?” Malia interrupts, loudly.

“Patience, little one,” Peter says. To Tom, he adds, “You don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work?”

“No. It’s easy to say we adopted Malia as a coyote, nobody is sure when or how she was turned but obviously she was, because her twin sister is human, right? And that when we found out about her twin, who was in foster care, we decided to adopt her too so we could reunite them.”

“All right. I’ll see you at home later, then.” Peter says goodbye, hangs up, and then turns to the others. “Number one: no, you do not have to wear the perfume.”

Malia cheers.

“Number two: if you need me, I’ll be at the main house telling Talia I have to retire as her Left Hand because I’ve clearly lost my edge.”

Derek gives a snort. “That’s a bit dramatic even from you, Uncle Peter.”

“Says the man who just took twenty seconds to come up with an obvious solution that I overlooked for six months,” Peter replies, and groans. “As soon as Tom has recovered from the surprise of this, he’s going to mock me mercilessly. I’ll never come back from this. You might as well put me out to pasture.”

“Put you out on an ice floe to die?” Stiles asks, clearly trying not to laugh.

Peter heaves a sigh. “Come on, little one. Can you see that your silly old Papa gets home safely?”

“Yeah!” Malia grabs his hand and tugs him towards the door. “Let’s go, silly old Papa!”

“Sorry to bother you, Stiles,” Peter says over his shoulder, as he’s dragged out the door.

Stiles shrugs, because honestly, he thinks it’s adorable that Malia ran to him when she wanted protecting. Derek is still laughing, resting his forehead against one hand. “This family,” he says, chuckling. “What a trip.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The area around and between the houses has been transformed for the wedding, and Talia has been working day and night on it for months. All of the attendees would be staying several days, and it was tradition for the alpha to host them, even if they only lived a few miles away. The entire area was adorned with tents for the guests to stay in, and not the tiny ones that Stiles remembers from a few camping misadventures in his youth. These tents look like they had stepped straight out of Harry Potter, and he wouldn’t have been surprised at all to enter one and find a hotel room from the Hilton inside.

Each of the tents had the pack’s insignia posted outside the tent, so the guests would be able to find their own lodgings. Of course, they wouldn’t need them until much later that night. The welcoming ceremony, according to Talia, was arguably a bigger event than the wedding itself. The wedding was primarily about Stiles and Derek. The welcoming ceremony, however, was a chance for all the attending packs to interact and connect. There would be food and drink and dancing until long after midnight. The entire center of the clearing was decorated with lights and tables with chairs or benches.

Those benches and chairs are now filled with guests from the surrounding area packs. Talia’s importance in the regional hierarchy is such that alphas from the entire western part of the United States are in attendance. Most of them have their mate, or if they don’t have one, have brought their pack’s peacekeeper or denmaker. (Bringing a Left Hand, Peter had mentioned, was basically a declaration of war. That’s the reason why Peter has hardly been to any werewolf weddings. Having met Peter, Stiles feels like he understands this.)

The closer packs, with whom they’re closely allied, have more invitees, so the entire Boyd, Reyes, and Ito packs are in attendance. Stiles doesn’t have to greet every member, however, and in fact it would be considered a faux pas to greet any beta before all the alphas are greeted.

Stiles is exceptionally glad at this moment that he’s not a born wolf. If he had been, the ceremony would have been held on the full moon, and it would have been even wilder. Instead, he and Derek are getting married on the waxing quarter moon, which is a much lower key occasion.

His hands are trembling slightly as he grasps the cue cards and the basket of caramels he had made for all the attending alphas. Talia emerges from the main house and smiles at him, reaching out to give his shoulder a squeeze. “You’re going to be fine,” she says. “Derek and I already greeted everyone on their way in and they’re all in good moods. Just read off your cue cards and don’t worry about anything else.”

“Right. Okay.” Stiles takes in and then lets out a deep breath. “Okay, let’s do this.”

Talia steers him around and they go from table to table. Each alpha stands as they approach, Stiles says the prescribed words, they give the expected response, and then they’re on their way. Stiles loosens up a little as he proceeds through the crowd without anything untoward happening. Despite his initial reluctance, he’s deeply grateful for the cue cards. He knows he wouldn’t have done this without them.

After what seems like a small eternity, he’s greeted all the alphas. At that point, Derek comes over from where he’s been waiting. Stiles holds out his arm, and Derek lifts it, scenting the inside of Stiles’ wrist. Stiles does the same to Derek, tries not to think dirty thoughts, and fails immediately when he sees Derek’s tiny smirk.

There’s some polite applause from the gathering, and then the music starts and the caterers start bringing out food. Stiles breathes a sigh of relief; everything had gone relatively smoothly. He embraces Cora and then Laura as they both head over, then the other pack members.

They’ll be sitting with the Hale pack, but they’ve got time to go around and greet some of the other guests who they actually know personally. They say hi to Boyd and Erica, the latter of which is wearing a gorgeous dress which has Boyd staring at her adoringly. There are a few other werewolves they know from the surrounding packs, and they greet them and thank them for coming. The human guests that have been invited don’t attend the welcoming ceremony, only the wedding itself.

“Stiles, hey, over here!” an unfamiliar voice calls, and Stiles looks over to see a man about his own age waving at him vigorously. “Hi, I hope you don’t mind, I wanted to get a chance to introduce myself. My name’s Theo. Theo Raeken.”

“Nice to meet you,” Stiles says, a little puzzled although not actively annoyed.

“I’ve been following your work for years,” Theo says. “You are truly amazing. What you did to the WLO? Holy shit.”

“Oh, thanks,” Stiles says, fighting the urge to back away. He’s never been one hundred percent comfortable with his celebrity status, although he’s gotten more used to it over the years. He still isn’t sure he deserves credit for a lot of what people give him credit for, but he’s learned there’s no use in arguing with people.

“I mean, it wasn’t personal for me, the way it was for a lot of people, but still,” Theo says. “They should make a movie about you.”

“Hard pass,” Stiles says automatically.

Derek gives a quiet snort, and then says politely, “What pack are you here with?”

“Stewart,” Theo says. “I’m not part of it, though; I’m just Tracy’s plus-one.” He waves over a dark-haired girl who looks considerably less-enthused than he is. “Anyway, I don’t want to take up a lot of your time. I just wanted to say hi, tell you want a big fan I am.”

“Great,” Stiles says, realizes that’s not an appropriate response, and follows up with, “Thanks. It was nice to meet you.”

Derek echoes him and then steers him back through the crowd. They sit down at their table and Derek leans in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck. “Only two days until we’re married.”

Stiles sighs and nestles closer. “It can’t pass fast enough.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The phone ringing brings Stiles out of the sleep he had finally managed to fall into, and he slaps at the table, growling as he flails for it. Derek had suggested turning his phone off if it woke him, but Stiles couldn’t handle the idea that someone might need him and he might sleep through it, particularly when his father worked night shift.

He sees that the number isn’t local and considers just not answering it, but he knows that his curiosity will drive him nuts if he doesn't. So he taps the screen and then mumbles, “H’lo?”

“Mr. Stilinski?” The voice on the other end is hushed and timid. “It – it’s Ruth Hewitt. Mason’s mother?”

Stiles groans and flops back onto the bed, contemplating just hanging up. “Mrs. Hewitt, it’s two in the morning. Could this wait?”

“I’m so sorry to call you in the middle of the night, it’s just that – I know Mitch would be furious with me if he heard me on the phone with you, so I waited until he was asleep. Please, Mr. Stilinski, I know that something is wrong with my son. Please just give me two minutes of your time.”

Stiles lets out a sigh, then says, “I already told you what I think, and – ”

“I know. I – I did what you told me to do. I e-mailed him, telling him I was sorry that I hadn’t been willing to listen and I just wanted to make sure he was okay. And he e-mailed me back.”

“Oh.” Stiles is startled by this turn of events, but hopes it means he might get to go back to sleep soon. “Then I – ”

“But listen, he didn’t write this e-mail,” Ruth continues. “It’s not his tone, it’s not the way he talks. I know my son and I just – I know that something is wrong and even if he did write it himself, he’s trying to send me a message. Please, please just help me find him.”

“What did the e-mail say?” Stiles asks.

“That he’s really busy right now, but he’ll e-mail me next week and we can meet for lunch. I know, I know that it sounds simple, but I’m his mother and I know that something’s wrong. I just want to find him. I know that my husband and I – did the wrong things. I’m terrified that I might have lost him forever because of that.”

Stiles sighs. “Look, okay. I’m getting married in literally less than twenty-four hours. But forward the e-mail to me, and I’ll take a look at it as soon as I can.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you so much, I’ll send it right over, please just call me as soon as you can.” Ruth hesitates, then adds, “And, er, congratulations. I do hope your wedding goes well. I’m sorry to have called so late.”

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, then adds, “Good night,” and hangs up over her parting words. He pinches the bridge of his nose as Derek sits up in bed behind him, draping his warm arms over Stiles’ shoulders and nuzzling the back of his neck. A few moments later, Stiles’ phone chimed to indicate the receipt of an e-mail, and he pulled it up and read it out loud. “Dear Mom. Thanks for your message. I appreciate the apology but I don’t know if I can accept it yet. I’m really busy right now but I’ll call you when I have some free time and we can talk things out over lunch. Love, Mason.”

“Seems pretty normal,” Derek murmurs into Stiles’ neck.

“It does, but . . . it’s so bland.” Stiles is frowning. “Even I can see it. It’s got no flavor, no personality to it.”

Derek shrugs, pulling away slightly. “I don’t think there was really a lot to say.”

“True. But even so. Like, if I wrote a letter like that to my dad – not that I can ever picture my dad needing to apologize for being a bigoted piece of shit – it would read more like ‘Hey, Dad, I got your letter. I’m glad you said you were sorry but I’m still pretty upset. I’m swamped right now but I’ll give you a call when things clear up and we can figure it out.’ This reads like it was written by a robot.”

“True, I guess.” Derek’s frowning. “You did talk to Mason, right? Made sure he was okay?”

“I did talk to him, but I didn’t see him,” Stiles says. “I mean, I didn’t really think it was necessary. It was obvious to me what had happened, especially given the leave of absence paperwork. I called his phone, and a person picked up. The person I talked to was familiar with the situation and confirmed my theory that he just wasn’t returning his parents’ calls because they were terrible people. It didn’t really occur to me that the person I talked to might not have been Mason until just now.”

“Hm.” Derek hooks his chin over Stiles’ shoulder. “What now, then?”

“Now . . . I’m going back to sleep.” Stiles yawns hugely. “There’s still at least an eighty percent chance that Mason is just avoiding his parents and he wrote a stilted, awkward e-mail because he didn’t want to talk to them. Or maybe he asked Corey to write it for him so he wouldn’t say anything he’d regret. I’ll check it out, but not until after the wedding. We’re getting married tomorrow and it’s gonna be awesome.”

Derek chuckles. “Yes, it is,” he says, pulling Stiles back down onto the bed and nestling into the crook of his neck. “Good night, sweetheart.”

Stiles swallows another yawn. “G’night, gorgeous.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter wakes up just after dawn with a feeling of vague unease. He’s not sure what prompted it, but he’s learned to trust his instincts. He slides out of bed, leaving Tom sleeping, and eases out of the room. A quick check reveals both Malia and Marisela asleep in their respective beds. He makes a quick stop in the bathroom and then heads downstairs.

Talia is up, which isn’t surprising. Alphas don’t need a lot of sleep, and she’s usually up with the sun even after late nights. She’s dressed in a terrycloth bathrobe and her hair is done up in a loose bun. There’s someone with her, someone who Peter instantly places as Garrett Douglas’ oldest son. The man gives him a brief nod, then says to Talia, “I’ll leave this in your hands.”

“Okay. I’ll check in with you soon,” Talia says, and the man departs.

“What’s going on?” Peter asks, seeing the tension in her spine.

Talia turns to face him as the door from the kitchen out onto the back porch closes. She takes a deep breath and then lets it out. “Garrett Douglas was found dead this morning.”

Peter frowns, turning this over in his head. Douglas wasn’t particularly close to the Hale pack, although he and Talia traveled in the same circles. Of all the possible disasters to visit Stiles and Derek’s wedding, it seems an odd one. He starts pulling everything he knows about the Douglas pack up into his memory, but can’t quite make it fit. “Cause of death?”

“Nothing obvious. Russ found his body this morning when he went to wake him for the day.”

“I’ll wake Tom,” Peter said. Neither of them had to talk about the fact that the death was obviously a murder. Garrett Douglas was an alpha werewolf in the prime of his life. He wouldn’t die in his sleep of natural causes. “Unless you’d rather I talk to Stiles and Derek?”

“They won’t be up yet. Let’s give them another hour to sleep before we ruin their day.”

“All right.” Peter jogs up the stairs and back into the bedroom. Tom’s arm is now loosely draped across where he had been a few minutes previous, and he opens one eye as Peter comes back into the bedroom. “Are you awake? Good. There’s been a murder.”

Tom sits upright, stares at him for a second, and then groans. “Of course there’s been a murder. Who’s the deceased?”

“Garrett Douglas. Another alpha – almost equal in stature to Talia, although they weren’t friends. His son found him dead in his bed. Alpha werewolves routinely live to be a hundred years older or more, so the possibility of it being natural are pretty much nil. I think it would be best to treat it as a probable homicide. Thus my coming to wake you.”

“Yeah. Let me grab some pants and call it in. Are the girls awake?”

“Not yet.” Peter leans over as Tom gets up and gives him a quick kiss. “Tell your people to be discreet. We don’t want people getting all up in arms, demanding answers that we don’t have yet. I’ll go make you some coffee.”

“Thanks.”

Five minutes later, Tom is downstairs, dressed in his uniform and looking quite presentable, if unshaven. He accepts the mug from Peter and downs several swallows before saying, “Okay, where’s the scene of the crime?”

“I’ll show you,” Peter says, gesturing for the back door. Tom follows him outside and across the clearing to one of the tents that had been set up. The same man Talia had been speaking to was waiting outside for them. “Tom, this is Russ Douglas. Russ, Sheriff Stilinski.”

“Nice to meet you,” Russ says, his voice civil but not very friendly. “I’ve made sure nobody touched anything.”

“Thanks,” Tom says. “I’ve called it in, so more people should be here shortly. But I’ve told them to come out of uniform and not make a fuss.”

Russ nods and pulls the tent flap back to let them in.

Garrett Douglas is tucked into bed so neatly that he looks like a toy soldier. Like Russ said, there are no obvious signs of death. Peter scents the air cautiously and doesn’t smell any poisons or blood. Tom kneels next to the body, carefully checking for a pulse. Peter could have told him it was unnecessary, given the lack of audible heartbeat, but he doesn’t tell Tom how to do his job.

“I doubt forensics will find much,” he says, as he gets back up. “I think magic is the most likely answer.”

Peter nods in silent agreement. Death is never this neat and clean. Some poisons can cause an easy death, but none of the ones that work on an alpha werewolf. With no sign of a struggle or any internal disturbance, magic was almost certainly the cause of death. “Given that there are so many important people here, Talia spared no expense when it came to the magical protections she laid on the vicinity.”

Tom glances over at him. “Which means it was one of the invitees.”

“Almost certainly, yes.”

Tom pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep breath. “Okay. How many people would you say are here that you trust one hundred percent?”

Peter thinks that over and quickly counts in his head. “Not counting myself or anyone under the age of eighteen, eleven.”

“Eleven?” Tom rubs both hands over his face. “Peter, that’s just the Hale pack.”

Peter shrugs. “You said one hundred percent.”

“You really are something, you know that?” Tom looks somewhat amused despite himself. “Okay. How many people are here that you trust ninety-eight percent?”

“Probably about forty. The Boyd, Reyes, and Ito packs are all as trustworthy as I can imagine another person being without being a member of our pack. Melissa’s here; I’m sure Deaton’s around somewhere.”

“Okay. I want you to go talk to Talia. Wake the alphas of those three packs. We need to set up a perimeter and keep anyone from leaving until we’ve at least gotten a list of all the people who are currently here. We can’t necessarily just use a list of invited guests; someone could have slipped in with a large group. Once the perimeter is set up, text me, and I’ll start taking names.”

Peter nods and grimaces. “That’s going to ruffle quite a few feathers.”

“Well, the body in the bed doesn’t give a damn about anyone’s feathers, so neither do I. They should consider themselves lucky that I’m not planning to force them all to stay here until we’ve discovered the culprit.”

“Yes, that would make for an interesting week,” Peter says. He gets out his phone and starts texting Talia to let her know what they’re going to do. “I’ll see you in a bit.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles wakes up when his alarm goes off, a little earlier than he’s used to, but not so much that he wants to flail and shove it off the desk. It turns off without him doing anything, and he opens his eyes to see Derek setting his phone back on the bedside table. “G’morning,” Stiles mumbles.

“Morning,” Derek says, smiling at him, clearly already wide awake.

Stiles gives a content sigh and nestles closer. Derek rubs a hand up and down his spine. “We should get up. I wanna get up. ‘Cause we’re getting married and it’s gonna be awesome. But lying here all warm and cozy is also awesome.”

Derek chuckles. “Tell you what . . . if we get up now to have breakfast and get ready, we can spend all day tomorrow in bed.”

“Ooh, promise?”

“I absolutely promise.”

“Okay.” Stiles yawns and stretches, then climbs out of bed. They dress quickly in their normal clothes. The ceremony isn’t until sunset, and there will be plenty to do between now and then, so there’s no point in putting on their fancy clothes now.

He’s more than a little discomfited when he gets downstairs and finds Aaron in his kitchen. “Oh, uh, good morning,” he says. Derek, behind him, looks just as taken aback. “Is there a polite way to ask what you’re doing here?”

Aaron looks vaguely amused at that, but his demeanor sobers quickly. “No, but I’d ask, too, in your shoes. Get yourself some coffee, and we’ll talk.” He sees the look on Stiles’ face and says, “Everyone in the pack is fine. Don’t get too anxious.”

“Okay . . .” Stiles doesn’t like this one bit. Aaron has already made coffee, so he pours himself a mug and goes to add cream and sugar while Derek heads instead for the mug of tea that his father has already brewed him.

“You remember the Douglas pack, and their alpha, Garrett Douglas?” Aaron says.

Stiles casts back in his memory. “Tall guy, blonde?”

“That’s him. He was killed some time during the night.”

“Oh, geez,” Stiles says. “By who? Any idea?”

“We don’t know a lot yet. Your dad is on the case and Talia’s talking to all the other alphas. It’s clear that some sort of magic was involved.”

Derek’s back stiffens as he immediately puts two and two together. “That means that whoever killed him was already here.”

“Yes. Peter is working with the other packs to get a full list of everyone who was on the premises. It’s going to be a long day.” Aaron rubs a hand over his face and says, “Talia and Tom asked me to come here and break the news to you, tell you to lay low and stay here in the house.”

“But there’s like a million things we need to do!” Stiles protests. “We need to set up all the benches and I have eight hundred gallons of cider that needs to get mulling, and okay we don’t have to have hair and makeup done but the – ”

“Stiles,” Aaron interrupts gently, “you’re not getting married today.”

“But – ”

Derek reaches over and curls his hand around Stiles’ forearm. “We can’t, Stiles. The death of an attending alpha is a, a huge thing. I mean, for one thing it would be considered a terrible omen. It would also be incredibly disrespectful.”

“Everything’s set up, though, the caterers, the photographer, everything’s paid for and they’re all gonna be showing up – ”

“Laura and Cora are already on that,” Aaron says. “We’re going to keep the caterer. It’ll just be food for a wake instead of a wedding. The photographer, the band, the officiant – we’ll just have to eat the deposit on that. You two don’t have to worry about doing anything, okay? Let your sisters handle it.”

Stiles takes a deep breath, and his shoulders slump as he accepts the inevitable. “Okay. I mean, it’s not okay, but . . . when do we reschedule? Are we going to have to wait another year? I guess we have to wait at least a month to get the right phase of the moon, but getting all the vendors rebooked might take a while. How long do we have to postpone it? I mean, what’s the mourning period?”

Aaron grimaces a little. “The death of an alpha on the eve of a wedding . . . like Derek says, it’s an incredibly bad omen. To still proceed afterwards would be seen as spitting in the face of the gods.”

“Yeah, okay, I get that, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get married ever, right?” Stiles says, and sees the look on Aaron’s face. “You’re kidding me, Aaron.”

“You’re still mates,” Aaron says. “Nothing can change that, and nobody would expect the two of you to split up. But the marriage ceremony is a separate sort of thing, and, well, no. I’m not kidding. Other packs would be very offended if you went ahead with it, even in the future.”

“Okay, and I give a fuck what they think why?” Stiles asks, even though he already knows that it’s the wrong thing to say. Aaron just gives him a patient look. Of course he cares what the other packs think. Everyone cares. Pack hierarchy is an incredibly delicate thing, almost a living, breathing thing. Doing something that would upset other packs could result in all sorts of unpleasant consequences.

Derek’s arm moves around his waist, and he pulls Stiles into an embrace, but addresses his father. “If he was murdered, though, that’s not exactly an omen. That’s somebody trying to sabotage our wedding.”

“If he was murdered, and if we can find the perpetrator and confirm that he did it with the express intention of sabotaging the wedding, then yes, that would change matters,” Aaron says. “If he just used the wedding party as an opportunity to get close to Douglas, then no, it wouldn’t.”

“Jesus fucking Christ – ” Stiles pulls out of Derek’s arms and slams his way back up the stairs.

Behind him, he hears Derek says, “I’ll talk to him, Dad. Can you just go let Mom know we’ll stay in the house until she calls for us? Thanks.”

By the time he gets upstairs, Stiles is sitting on the bed, pinching the bridge of his nose to hold back tears. “I know it’s stupid to be this upset,” he says, fending Derek off before he can say the inevitable. “I know it’s not like we have to break up and a marriage is just a piece of paper and it’s really God damned stupid to be crying over this, but – ”

“It’s not stupid,” Derek says quietly, sitting down next to him, resting his hand on Stiles’ back. “I’m upset too. You do know that, right?”

“You might be upset but I’m the one who flipped my shit – ”

“Because you’re upset,” Derek says. “Hey. Come on. You’re making it out like this isn’t a big deal at all, and it is. It’s a really big deal. We thought we were going to get married and now maybe we’re not. You have every right to be upset about that.”

“I just – it’s not like we’ve lost anything. We still get to be together tomorrow just like we are today, like we have been for years. I don’t know why it matters but it does. Like, we were gonna get married, and now – ”

Derek pulls him into an embrace, and lets Stiles snuffle into his shoulder for a minute. “It might still happen, you know, if they figure out who killed him.”

“I guess, but somehow that’s even worse. I mean, why the hell would anyone wants us not to get married so badly that they’d be willing to kill someone over it? That doesn’t make any sense. I’ve made enemies, sure, but most of them would just want to, you know, kill me. They wouldn’t care about sabotaging my wedding.”

“True.” Derek lets out a sigh. “Come on, it’s gonna be a long day. Let’s go get some breakfast, okay?”

“Yeah, okay. Cooking will make me feel better anyway.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

As they head downstairs, Stiles has an idea. He mulls it over while he cracks some eggs into a bowl, chops some vegetables to add to the omelet he’s going to make. Once they’re sitting down with their food, he says, “What if we just . . . go ahead with it, without making a big deal out of the ceremony? Nobody’s gonna need us today. We could just go down to the courthouse, grab Scott or Cora to come with us – ”

“That’s a terrible idea,” Derek says. “If people found out later, they’d be furious with us. Come on, Stiles.”

Stiles sighs. “Yeah, I know. I just had to try.” He fiddles with his phone, wondering when he’ll get an update from his father. If he has to sit in this house all day, without anything to occupy him, he’ll lose his mind. But he can’t do anything until he has more facts. He barely even knows who Garrett Douglas is, and has no idea who might want to kill him or why. It wouldn’t make him feel better to have to call the vendors and cancel, but at least it would give him something to do.

“Hey,” Derek says, sensing Stiles’ distress with every fiber of his being. “Why don’t you look at that e-mail Mason sent to his mom?”

“Oh, yeah, hey,” Stiles says. “Distraction! Great idea, babe.” He abandons his breakfast and goes to grab his laptop. He settles back down and eats another few bites while he skims over his notes. Then he reads the e-mail out loud again. When it fails to produce a eureka moment, he takes out his phone and dials the number the Hewitts had given him for their son. It rings five times and then goes to voice mail. “Hey, Mason, this is Stiles Stilinski. We talked last week. I just wanted to check in with you. Give me a call.” He leaves his number and then hangs up, brooding.

“What now?” Derek asks, seeing that he’s about to sink right back into misery.

“I’m not sure,” Stiles says. “I don’t have Corey’s address because the Hewitts didn’t have it, so I can’t just go see him – if I were allowed to leave today anyway, which I’m pretty sure I’m not. Neither of them have Facebook pages, so I can’t check to see if they’ve been active.”

“Really? Neither of them?”

“Corey’s family was kind of separatist, anti-human, anti-technology, from what I gathered. Mason deleted his because his parents wouldn’t stop using it to try to contact him.”

Derek grimaces. “Corey’s phone number?”

“Don’t have it.” Stiles taps thoughtfully at his lower lip. “I could go talk to Mason’s professors or his roommate, but he left campus over two months ago at this point. I don’t know if they’d have anything useful to offer, but I guess it might be worth a try. If he’d made friends, he might still be in contact with them.” He slumps back in his seat and adds, “But that’s not the sort of thing I can do today, so although I successfully distracted myself for three minutes, those three minutes are now over.”

“It was more like seven minutes,” Derek says.

“Super.” Stiles groans. “Oh my God, do you know Garrett Douglas? Tell me you know him. Tell me you know everything about him and we can puzzle this out. Maybe he has a Facebook page.”

“Just Google him,” Derek suggests. “I don’t know him, but most alphas of his caliber have a pretty strong public presence.”

“Okay.” Stiles types ‘alpha Garrett Douglas’ into his search bar and then makes a little ‘huh’ noise. Derek arches an eyebrow, and he says, “I’m actually going to say that there are a lot of people who might have wanted to kill him. It looks like he was kind of an asshole, and very outspoken about werewolf supremacy.”

“Ugh,” Derek says.

“Looks like there was a big brouhaha about five years ago when his son found a mate and Douglas wouldn’t allow her to join the pack if she wouldn’t agree to get the bite. She wanted to wait until after they’d had children – probably was freaked by some of the urban legends surrounding werewolf pregnancy – but Douglas wouldn’t allow it. His son actually ended up leaving the pack over it, moving to Montana and joining a pack there.”

“Is he here?”

“I don’t think so. I mean, I don’t have the complete guest list, but there were two types of invitees: people who are personal friends, or members of surrounding packs. Since Douglas Junior left the Douglas pack, he wouldn’t have been on the guest list.”

“Okay.” Derek chews on this as he clears their plates and pours Stiles a fresh mug of coffee. “Anything else?”

“A lot else, actually. Dude was hyper-political. Rich as fuck, always donating to political candidates and causes. Oh, God, he was one of the sponsors of that ‘fight for the right’ rally two years ago.” Stiles looks up from his laptop. “This guy was about one step from being a full-on neo-Nazi.”

“Huh. So if someone was murdered to stop us from getting married, at least it wasn’t anyone we’ll miss,” Derek says, and Stiles gives a snort. “How did this guy even end up being invited to our wedding?”

Stiles shrugs. “You know as well as I do that we had to invite every alpha in the region, whether we liked them or not. I’m sure your mom knew what he was like, but she probably didn’t tell us because she knew one of us would make a snide remark.”

“One of us?” Derek arches an eyebrow.

“Yeah, me. I’m one of us.”

Derek gives a snort and leans in to nuzzle his neck into the crook of Stiles’ shoulder. Stiles gives a happy huff in return. “Okay. Well, let’s see if we can find out if he personally pissed off any of the surrounding alphas, or just, you know, generically pissed them all off by, you know, being who he was.”

“Right.” Stiles starts typing. Before long, he’s deeply immersed in the awful subculture of werewolf supremacy and its relationship to white supremacy. It’s a fascinating read, despite how horrifying it is. Back when he had first joined the pack, he had read a bit about how some werewolves believed themselves to be superior to humans, and how organizations like the WLO used them as examples of why werewolves shouldn’t be allowed in human society.

Because it made up such a small percentage of werewolves, they didn’t have much practical effect on the world, but they were loud enough about it that they got attention. The rise of the alt-right had contributed to that; many of the prominent werewolf supremacists had declared an alliance with their principles. Some of the alt-right didn’t want them, but money talked, and most old, established packs had plenty of that. Thus the influence of werewolf supremacy had been increasing in the past few years.

Stiles had tried to ignore it, or at least avoid it, although he was always happy to talk about what bullshit it was if directly asked. He had been a human, and he was now a werewolf, and could definitively say that he wasn’t really any different now. Sure, he could run faster and jump higher, and the healing was a definite bonus, but werewolves weren’t better than humans. They were just different.

By the time Peter walks in, Stiles is lying on the floor surrounded by printouts. Peter arches an eyebrow at them as if trying to decide if he wants to ask, and then seemingly decides against it. “I thought I’d come by and give you an update. All the attendees have been notified and your father has gotten a full guest list. There’s no clear motive – ”

“No, but, see,” Stiles says, with a highlighter in his mouth, “Douglas had lots of enemies, he was a politician and – ”

“I’m well aware of the sort of person Douglas was,” Peter says calmly. “And the many, many reasons someone might have wanted him dead. That’s why I said there’s no clear motive. There are many possible motives.”

Stiles slumps. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry. I take it you’ve been holed up in here watching his disgusting videos?”

“And reading his disgusting articles, yeah.”

Peter hauls himself up to sit on the kitchen counter. “The body has been removed at this point. We won’t know more about the cause of death until the autopsy, and even then, my guess is that they’ll have to bring in a magical specialist to do an examination. Deaton has confirmed that the protection spells laid about the area are intact. The work is done for today, so you’re welcome to leave the house now, should you want to get some fresh air or socialize with the guests – although try not to look like you’re having too much fun. This is a somber occasion.”

“Yeah, no worries there,” Stiles says with a sigh, hauling himself off the floor. “I just don’t get it. If someone wanted to take a pot shot at me, that I’d understand, but who would care about stopping my wedding?”

“Oh, it wasn’t about that at all,” Peter says. “They weren’t trying to stop your wedding. In fact, I’d wager they were hoping very much that we’d continue on with it, or that you and Derek would choose to elope, as you no doubt suggested at least once.”

Stiles flushed pink. “Maybe.”

“You knew it was a bad idea, so you didn’t do it. But, imagine if you had. The conflict that would have set between Talia and the new alpha of the Douglas pack. Every pack in the area would have had to choose a side. That sort of tension would echo for years. Old alliances would be shaken to their very core.” Peter shakes his head. “No, this wasn’t really about you at all, Stiles.”

Stiles thinks this over, then says, “I can’t decide whether that makes me feel better or worse.”

Peter hops down off the counter and gets Stiles by the back of the neck, scruffing him in much the same manner as Tom has always done. “Don’t let today upset you too much. It’s just a moment in time. Once we figure out who’s behind this, you and Derek will be free to proceed as planned. Okay?”

“Okay.” Stiles leans into him for a moment. “Thanks, Uncle P.”

“You’re welcome. Now, why don’t you two head over to the main house? All the kids are there, and they’re desperate for entertainment.”

“And that’s us?” Derek laughs despite himself. “Okay. Sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The protocol is obviously very different now that they’re having a wake instead of a wedding. The good news is that it requires a lot less from Derek and Stiles. They’re expected to issue their condolences to the pack members, but in that it’s no different from a human wake. Werewolf wakes tend to be more jovial affairs than human wakes, revolving around sharing memories of the dead and celebrating their lives. It’s rare for werewolves to die of anything other than old age, so the pain usually isn’t quite as crushing for packs as it is for human families.

There are exceptions, of course, and Garrett Douglas is one of them. Even if he had died of old age, nobody particularly feels like sharing stories about him. Stiles notices that his pack doesn’t look too terribly crushed by his passing. Given the sort of person he was, that doesn’t particularly surprise him. The new alpha is his oldest son, Russ, who accepts everyone’s condolences with calm aplomb.

Stiles mentally adds every member of the Douglas pack to his suspect list. Murdering one’s own alpha is one of the worst of werewolf taboos, but it’s not unheard of. He pays special attention to the new alpha, as the one with the most motive, and the Left Hand, a younger man named Brett who’s Garrett Douglas’ nephew. Since Russ had inherited the alpha power, Stiles had thought that meant the killer had to be a non-were - but according to Peter, if one werewolf kills another with sorcery, the power doesn't transfer.

Thinking about that keeps him from dwelling on the fact that he should be attending his own wedding. A couple of the werewolves he’s known for longer offer murmured condolences to him, but nobody says much aloud. It would be considered tacky, Derek mentions. The human guests - Stiles’ friends from school, Derek’s from work, et cetera - were quietly uninvited. They have no place at Garrett Douglas’ wake, and Stiles doubts they would want to attend.

The children aren’t attending either, and Stiles wishes desperately that he could join them in the Disney movie they’re watching back at the main house with Tom and Melissa supervising. Instead he mills around the crowd with his ears open, listening to what everyone said about the deceased.

After about an hour, Talia makes her way over. She gives them both a quick hug, then says, “You two can go, if you like. It’ll probably go on for another hour or so, but you don’t have to stay.”

“Are you sure?” Derek asks, ignoring the fact that Stiles has already done an about-face and is three steps into his journey back to the house.

“I’m sure.” Talia squeezes Derek’s shoulder. “I know it must have been hard for you two, pretending not to be upset. Go on home. We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

“Okay. Thanks, Mom.” Derek turns and jogs after Stiles, who’s leaving the clearing at a pace much too fast to be considered polite. He takes him by the elbow and slows him down slightly. Stiles scowls but doesn’t protest.

Since it looks like he’s gearing up to engage in an epic sulk - not that Derek really blames him - he decides to distract him as soon as they enter the house. “Hey. Dance with me.”

“What?” Stiles says, anger fading into confusion and then into amusement.

“Dance with me. We’re supposed to be dancing right now.” Derek pulls him closer and starts shuffling back and forth with him.

“This is silly,” Stiles protests.

“Maybe,” Derek says. “But no matter what happens, I’m going to spend the rest of my life with you. With or without a little piece of paper that says so. And I feel like celebrating that right now.”

Stiles melts against his chest. “You big sap.”

“Guilty,” Derek agrees.

A minute later, the front door opens. Scott and Allison come in, the latter holding a plain brown paper bag. Cora and Isaac are behind them. “Hey, how are you holding up?” Scott asks.

Stiles shrugs and says, “I’m telling myself it’s stupid to be miserable.”

Scott hesitates, then says, “Uh, should we go, then?”

“No. Shit, I’m sorry.” Stiles pulls away from Derek, scrubbing both hands over his hair. “I’m just in a shitty mood.”

“Well, I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but, uh, you know how all of us were dispatched to contact all the different vendors?” Scott asks. “Allison and I got cake duty. But it was already made, you know, she was just putting the finishing touches on it when we called, so I asked Talia if we should bring it to the wake like they were doing with the food. But she said no, that would be considered tacky, so, uh, we brought it to Beacon Hills’ soup kitchen.”

That does bring a slight smile to Stiles’ face. “They must have enjoyed it.”

“Yeah, they had a great time,” Scott says.

“Plus, we brought you this.” Allison puts the paper bag down on the kitchen table and withdraws a white cardboard box, which opens to reveal the top tier of the cake. The cake topper, two little wolves in tuxedos, is as adorable as Stiles had pictured it being. “We can’t bring it to the party, but we thought you should have it.”

Stiles swallows the lump in his throat. “Thanks, everyone. You guys are incredible.”

Derek rests his hand on Stiles’ back and says, “Let’s split it among the six of us.”

All of the others put up a token protest, but Derek refuses to hear it, cutting the tier in sixths. Stiles gets plates and forks from the cabinet; Cora gets the pitcher of iced tea from the refrigerator.

“Oh my God this is good,” Stiles practically moans, as soon as the first bite passes his lips. “Holy shit. I know we had the samples but this is even better.”

“So today wasn’t a total loss, right?” Scott says.

“Well, you know. There’s one fewer neo-Nazi in the world and I guess it’s hard to argue with that,” Stiles says, and Derek gives a quiet snort.

They eat cake and play Cards Against Humanity until it’s late. Stiles goes to bed feeling like a little of the weight has eased off his chest.


~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s been a long-ass day, and Tom is practically groaning as he toes his shoes off. He’s been on his feet since six AM, and even as physically fit as he is, that’s a strain. He’s never wanted to be a werewolf, but the older he gets, the more he sees the appeal.

It’s late. The clearing is dark and silent; the wolves have all gone home. The twins are in bed asleep. Peter is in the shower. Tom takes out his phone, ponders the alarm he has set for seven AM the next day, and changes it to eight thirty. Screw it. If anyone needs him, they can call -

His phone rings.

“For the love of God, what now,” he sighs, seeing that it’s one of the extensions as the station. He picks it up and says, “Sheriff Stilinski.”

“Hey, Sheriff, it’s Tara,” the response comes. “Uh, we have a problem.”

“Is it a problem that can, in your best judgment, be handled by someone other than me, or be handled tomorrow?”

“No.”

“Lay it on me, then.”

“Garrett Douglas’ body has been stolen from the morgue.”

Tom blinks. He hadn’t been sure what to expect, knowing Tara wouldn’t have called him without good reason, but that sure as hell wasn’t it. “Stolen. When?”

“About half an hour ago. The medical examiner had just started the autopsy. Security footage caught three people entering the morgue. They were dressed in scrubs with surgical masks and caps. These were professionals, Tom. They knew exactly what they were doing and went straight for it. From the time the external cam saw them entering the hospital through the time they exited, it took less than four minutes. They went into the morgue, Tasered the ME, stuffed Douglas in a body bag, threw it on a stretcher, and got out.”

“Jesus Christ,” Tom says. “Someone did not want us knowing what killed him. The ME didn’t get anything useful before it happened?”

“She had taken samples to send for toxicology, but they swiped those, too.”

“Of course they did.” Tom rubs both hands over his face and looks up as Peter comes into the bedroom, hair still damp and clad only in a towel wrapped around his waist. He just wants to get an arm around his husband’s waist, lie down, and pass out. “Okay. Secure the scene, take the ME’s statement – is their vehicle visible on the camera footage?”

“Nope.”

“Great. Run traffic cam footage, for the intersections closest to the hospital, see if anything suspicious comes up. I’ll be down at the station in half an hour.” He hangs up his phone and sees Peter looking at him quizzically. “Someone stole Garrett Douglas’ body mid-autopsy.”

Peter grimaces. “That’s not optimal.”

“No kidding, Peter,” Tom says, although Peter’s response restores some of his good humor. “The magical specialist wasn’t even getting there until morning, so odds are we’ve discovered absolutely nothing about how he was killed.”

With a one-shouldered shrug, Peter says, “That sort of magic is nigh impossible to track after death anyway. I’m actually a little encouraged by this. Douglas’ murder was almost the perfect crime. Now they’ve committed another – this time they might have made a mistake.”

“Sure as hell doesn’t seem like it.” Tom starts buttoning his shirt back up. “Don’t wait up for me. I probably won’t be home for a few hours.”

“All right.” Peter leans in and brushes a kiss against Tom’s cheek. “Wake me when you get in.”

“Will do.” Tom returns the kiss and then heads down to the kitchen. He fills a thermos with coffee and heads down to the hospital.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot he can do there. The security footage is as useless as Tara had said. The medical examiner can’t say anything about her attackers beyond that they were fast and their faces were covered. She had barely gotten into the autopsy when they had arrived, and couldn’t say anything about what might have killed Douglas.

The traffic camera footage spots a white, windowless van at two of the intersections closest to the hospital coming and going, and it seems to be their best bet. But it has no distinguishing features and no license plate. Tom puts out an APB for it, but he’s sure that the perpetrators would have already ditched it. This was too well-planned for them to still be driving the same van around. Whether or not they ever found it would depend on where exactly they had left it, and that might take hours, days, or even weeks.

Whoever had killed Douglas was one of the wedding invitees, but they had all left the Hale land by the time the morgue had been hit, so it didn’t narrow the search down at all. The only thing they would be able to do would be to run alibis for those most likely – and alibis were notoriously problematic among werewolf packs, whose members would almost certainly lie to keep one of their own out of trouble. Even then, it wouldn’t account for the possibility that the men at the morgue had been hired.

“Why is my life like this?” Tom asks Tara, who laughs. “No, seriously. What did I do to deserve this?”

“I think you raised your son to be just as nosy and stubborn as you,” Tara says, and Tom groans. That only makes her laugh harder.

When he gets home, it’s past midnight. Peter is asleep, and doesn’t wake when Tom comes in. Tom hesitates, knowing that Peter asked him to wake him, but also knowing that Peter can have trouble sleeping. He changes quickly into pajamas and gets into bed. As he expected, Peter stirs at this, so Tom leans over and gently nudges his shoulder. “I’m home.”

Peter’s eyes flicker open, then shut again. “Good,” he murmurs, and nestles in close to Tom, rubbing his cheek into Tom’s collarbone. “Any leads?”

“Not a God damned one,” Tom says with a sigh. “So I’ve got a murder of a prominent right-wing activist with at least fifty suspects, no clues whatsoever, a missing body, and a son who can’t get married unless I solve it.”

“Unless we solve it,” Peter corrects. “I know a fair bit about those fifty suspects. You do your job, Tom, and let me do mine.”

“Now why is that the most ominous thing I’ve ever heard?” Tom asks, laughing despite himself.

“Because you know me,” Peter says, and yawns. Before Tom can reply, he’s fallen back to sleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up the morning after his cancelled wedding ready to take on the world. He’s going to figure out who’s responsible for ruining his special day and destroy them. He throws on some clothes and bounds downstairs, only to practically plant himself face first into Peter. “Oh, uh, hi,” he says, and gives Peter a suspicious look. “Are you here to stop me from investigating?”

“Stiles, I’m wounded that you would think for a moment that I wasn’t going to include you in my investigation of what happened yesterday,” Peter says.

As heartwarming as he’s pretending to be, Stiles immediately picks up on the unspoken vibe. “Your investigation, huh?”

“Yes,” Peter says. “As the pack’s acting Left Hand, I get to take the lead. But I know this is important to you, so I will include you as much as possible. Derek as well, actually. I know you use him as a sounding board much of the time, and he’s honestly a lot better at Left Hand work than I would have predicted five years ago.”

Stiles heaves a sigh and then says, “Okay. I’ll go make breakfast while we wait for him to get up.”

Fortunately for his sanity, Derek is up and dressed by the time Stiles is finished cooking. They eat quickly while Peter tells them about what had happened while they slept. Stiles is intrigued by the theft of Douglas’ body, and asks a hundred questions about it, which Peter handles with aplomb.

“Okay, so,” Stiles says, as Derek clears the table. “Where do we start? What do we - ”

“Come with me,” Peter says. “There are some things I need to show you.”

“Fine, Mr. Mysterious,” Stiles grumbles. They follow Peter outside and then, surprisingly, to his car. He rarely drives, preferring to walk almost everywhere, but Stiles manages to keep his questions to himself as he gets in.

He’s not sure what he’s expecting. Peter drives into town and then to a large self-storage facility. He punches in a code at the main gate, then parks next to one of the climate controlled buildings. Stiles is practically bursting with curiosity by the time they get inside. Peter unlocks the padlock on one of the units, then lifts the door. Then he uses his fangs to make a nick in the pad of his thumb, pressing the bloody thumbprint on a symbol drawn on the door.

“What the hell, Uncle P,” Stiles says, looking around. It’s a large storage unit, about the size of a standard one-car garage. One wall is lined with filing cabinets; the other with bookshelves filled with reference books on an eclectic variety of subjects. There’s a desk and chair tucked into the corner. The wall facing the door is covered with what Stiles first thinks is a map, but then realizes is more like one of his own crime walls. At the center, it says ‘Hale’. Around that in a vague circle, he sees the names Reyes, Boyd, Ito, and other packs in the area. Many of those are surrounded by their own circle of names, and it expands outward from there. All the names are connected with a maze of multi-colored string.

“Welcome,” Peter says, “to my office.”

Derek blinks at him. “You have an office?”

Peter gives a one-shouldered shrug. “You don’t think I actually remember everything without help, do you? I’m no slouch in the intellectual department, but there are limits even for me. And my job is to know everything that might possibly someday affect us. It’s not exactly easy.”

“What’s in the filing cabinets?” Stiles asks, already itching to crack one open.

“Dossiers,” Peter says.

“On who?”

Another shrug. “Everyone I find relevant.”

Stiles nods, feeling like that answer makes about as much sense as he ever expects from Peter.

“So what’s all this?” Derek asks, gesturing to the back wall.

“This,” Peter says, gesturing, “is what I would call the Hale pack constellation. Every pack sits at the center of their own cluster of relationships with other packs. This is how I keep track of how they are all connected.”

“What do the colors mean?” Stiles asks. Looking at the wall, he can guess the general meaning, but wants the specifics.

“Each string represents a connection, and the color of the string tells me what kind of connection it is. Blue is a positive connection. Friendship, alliance. Red is hostility - the lighter, brighter red that’s almost orange represents quiet grudges, and the darker red is open animosity. Purple is for marriage, yellow is for debt, and green is for financial ties.”

Stiles nods, looking over the wall more carefully. “So you have not only our relationship with other packs, but their relationships with each other.”

“Of course. It’s very important to monitor those, particularly with packs we are allied with. This is where werewolf hierarchy becomes immensely complicated, and why what happened yesterday could trigger such large repercussions. For example, we are allied with the Reyes pack, but they are unfriendly with the Sanderson pack. If open animosity broke out between those two packs, Talia’s job as the region’s highest ranking alpha is to mediate - but if it comes down to it, she would support the Reyes pack, because they’re our allies.”

Derek moves over to look at where the Douglas pack is at the center of their own cluster of strings. “That’s a lot of red and orange.”

Peter gives a mirthless little smile. “Nobody likes a neo-Nazi.”

“I don’t get it,” Derek says. “If everyone hated him so much, why didn’t somebody stick a cork in him?”

“You might not want an answer to that, depending on how cynical you’re feeling,” Peter says.

Stiles glances over. “It’s the same reason nobody shuts the human neo-Nazis up. Too many people are convinced that they deserve a platform to spew their garbage, even if they don’t agree with the garbage in question.”

Derek grimaces, and Peter says, “I was actually just going to point to all those little green threads branching off Douglas and let them speak for themselves, but Stiles isn’t wrong.”

“Think he paid people off?” Stiles asks.

“Not directly, not as such. But he buys loyalty. Bought, that is.”

“Clearly someone wasn’t thrilled with his prices,” Derek says, and Peter gives a little snort. “So you think someone was trying to get Douglas’ pack to pick a fight with us?”

“It’s nowhere near that simple, unfortunately,” Peter says, “because of the way tensions echo between all the different packs. For example, the Reyes pack. Cecilia Reyes and Talia have been close friends for years. Any provocation of the Reyes pack would be a direct insult to our pack as well, especially given their weaker status. But that sword cuts both ways. If we got into a fight with the Douglas pack, then Reyes, Boyd, Ito - they would all be expected to back us up. So if someone had a problem with the Ito pack, they could theoretically try to get us in trouble, knowing that the Ito pack would be involved.”

“So literally anybody who had a problem with anybody could have killed Garrett Douglas,” Stiles says.

“Unfortunately, yes.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “What about his own pack? Putting aside the other consequences for now.”

“It’s very unlikely,” Peter says. “Not that they’re incapable - quite the opposite. Both the new alpha and the pack’s Left Hand would be prime suspects if it weren’t for when he was killed. But they had access to him all the time. There’s no reason they would have waited for the night before your wedding, turning it into a public spectacle and drawing all sorts of attention.”

“Well, but if he was killed in his own den, everyone would have known someone in his pack had done it,” Stiles says. “Maybe they’re trying to deflect suspicion.”

Peter shakes his head. “Neither of them are that stupid. They could have killed him anywhere, any time, disposed of the body, not reported him missing for three weeks, and then blamed it on some remnant of the WLO or something. I wouldn’t rule it out completely, but I think it’s one of the least likely possibilities.”

“So where do we start?” Derek asks. “We can’t investigate every pack in the United States.”

“We can, and at times I have,” Peter says, “but I don’t think it’s necessary this time. Regardless of how the chips fall with long-term alliances, I think we can narrow our initial search down to the packs in the area which were not on good terms with either us or the Douglas pack. Whoever did this, if they were friends with one of the two packs, stood a fifty-fifty chance of losing. If they hated us both? Win-win no matter how it turned out.”

Stiles nods thoughtfully and takes a closer look at the cluster. “That’s one, two . . . three packs, it looks like.”

“I only see two,” Derek says, frowning.

“Ah, well, it depends on whether you consider ‘debt’ a positive or a negative thing,” Peter says. “The Janssen pack is the third that Stiles is counting. They hate Douglas, as is fairly normal, and they’re heavily in debt to us. That’s a good thing for us - but a bad thing for them, depending on how they look at it.”

“What kind of debt is it?”

“The Janssen pack was quite small up until recently,” Peter says. “Five people – two sisters, one of their husbands, and their two children. Annie and Sally Janssen’s alpha was their father, who was abusive. Annie killed him, and it earned her quite a few enemies in the region they were originally from. Talia allowed them to settle here and then lobbied for them to be able to take in three of the werewolves from Search for a Cure. They’ve done well, actually; all three of them adjusted nicely to life in a real pack. So, the Janssen family owes Talia a great deal for lobbying on their behalf.”

“That seems like a reason not to target us,” Derek says.

Stiles smiles at his mate and says, “You’re so sweet. It’s a great reason not to target us. But it’s also a good reason to target us, if they were afraid we might call the debt in.”

“I guess.” Derek still seems dubious.

“I do think they’re the least likely of the three possibilities,” Peter says. “But let me get the dossiers and you can decide for yourselves. One exception, however – I’ll handle researching Garrett Douglas. He was into a lot of unsavory things, and I don’t want you poking your nose into them.”

Stiles groans a little, but nods and says, “Okay, as long as you share what you learn.”

“I think I can manage that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is sitting in the middle of a bunch of files that Peter had produced from his cabinets, most of them things that Stiles is very sure he should not have access to, when his phone rings. It’s an unknown number, but his head is swimming after all the reading he’s been doing, so he picks it up. “Hello?”

“Hi, uh.” The voice on the other end is male and sounds young and uncertain. “Is this Stiles Stilinski?”

“The one and only. Who’s this?”

“My name’s Liam Dunbar. I, uh, I think you were looking for a friend of mine, Mason Hewitt. And I – look, he didn’t do what they’re saying, okay? Something weird is going on but the cops aren’t letting me talk to him – ”

“Whoa, hang on, back up,” Stiles says, pushing the files aside and getting to his feet. He goes into the kitchen and pours himself a fresh mug of coffee. “The last thing I heard was that Mason was living at his boyfriend’s and just didn’t want to talk to his parents. What is who saying he did, and how are the cops involved?”

There’s a startled pause. “Uh, you haven’t seen the news?”

“It’s been a rough week for me,” Stiles says dryly.

“Oh. Well, uh. Mason’s parents are dead.”

Stiles chokes and spits coffee all over the counter. He manages to get his wind back and say, “Dead? How?”

“They were murdered,” Liam says, his tone now even more uncertain, like he’s not sure if he’s dealing with a professional or an idiot. “By Mason. Or at least that’s what the cops are saying.”

“Hang on.” Stiles pulls out his laptop and goes to the Sacramento News. The deaths of Mitch and Ruth Hewitt are the top story, but he doesn’t pull up the article yet. “Okay, what do you know?”

“Look, I’m not exactly in the loop on this,” Liam says. “Mason asked the cops if he could call someone, and he called me to ask if I knew where he’d been today. Because his parents were shot at a restaurant, there are like a dozen witnesses who say he did it, but he doesn’t remember doing it. He doesn’t remember anything about today, yesterday, the entire last month is just – blank, for him. And I know you were looking for him so I thought you might know more than me about where he’d been and what he was up to.”

“How did you know that?” Stiles asks, pulling on his shoes.

“His dad told me. Or, well, threatened me. He thought I knew where Mason was and tried to bully me into telling him.”

Stiles frowns. “He never mentioned you to me. If he thought you knew – ”

“He knew I wouldn’t tell you because I told him flat out that I was glad Mason had gotten away from him.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “When was the last time you saw Mason, or talked to him?”

Liam hesitates, and Stiles has a sinking feeling that he knows what he’s about to say. He’s proven right a moment later. “I’m not sure. Because we didn’t talk on the phone a lot, you know, I was busy with classes, he was busy with that shifter group he was hanging out with. We texted a lot, and recently, so I knew – or thought I knew – that he was fine. But the last time I actually saw him? That was probably about two months ago.”

“Okay. Where are you right now?”

“I’m at the station in Sacramento. But they won’t let me see him.”

“I’ll meet you there in about an hour.” Stiles hangs up with Liam and calls his dad on the way out to the car, asking him to call ahead to the Sacramento PD and let them know that Stiles is coming, and to get any information he can if it seems like the police might not want to let him in. It isn’t until he’s twenty minutes into the drive that something Liam said sinks in. He hates talking while he drives, even with his Bluetooth in, but he doesn’t want to forget, so he calls Liam back. “What shifter group was Mason hanging out with?”

“Oh, uh, I don’t actually know their name. They were kind of like a frat, he said. They advertised on campuses and stuff. When he needed a place to stay because of his parents, they let him crash there with Corey even though he wasn’t technically a member.”

“Can you find out their name for me while I’m on the way?”

“Yeah, I think I have some of their info, I hung out there a couple times before Mason left school.”

Something else occurs to Stiles. “Where’s Corey? When was the last time you talked to him?”

“Dude, I almost never talked to Corey. He wasn’t really a super outgoing guy. I mean, I was fine with him, he made Mason really happy and that was enough for me, you know? But we weren’t pals.”

“Okay. I’ll see you soon.”

When Stiles gets to the station, he’s greeted by a detective with a frown on his face. “Mr. Stilinski, this way,” he says, and leads Stiles into the precinct. Stiles looks around for someone around Mason’s age, but doesn’t see anyone. “I want to make something clear,” the detective says. “You have friends in high places, so the captain has given me the directive to discuss the case with you, but I don’t have to like it.”

“Cool,” Stiles says, giving him a thumbs up. He has no patience for someone like this at the moment. “You go ahead and dislike it as much as you want. Where’s Liam?”

“That kid who called you? In the interrogation room.”

Stiles blinks. “Why?”

“Because he could be an accomplice.”

After a moment to consider this, Stiles says, “Could you do me a favor and just take it from the top?”

The detective’s scowl deepens, but he nods. “At around ten AM, we got a call about shots fired at a restaurant. When we got there, we found the bodies of Mitch and Ruth Hewitt. Both had been shot multiple times. Mr. Hewitt was declared DOA; Mrs. Hewitt was brought to the hospital but died about an hour later. Their son was sitting at the table, still holding the gun. Multiple witnesses identified him as the shooter, and security footage from the restaurant confirmed it. He didn’t resist arrest and didn’t ask any questions. Then once he got here and we had him in holding, he suddenly asked where he was and how he had gotten here. He claims to have no memory of the incident, or in fact any of the past few weeks.”

“Okay. That didn’t seem odd to you?”

The detective shrugs. “It seems like a stupid way to try to get out of murder charges. We know he was the shooter. He has motive – we know his parents were harassing him about his lifestyle choices. Occam’s Razor, you know?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, more because he doesn’t want to get into a protracted discussion than because he agrees. “But if it’s that cut and dry, why are you interrogating his friend?”

“Because the gun Mason used had the serial number filed off and we have no idea where he got it. A kid like that – rich parents, classy family – wouldn’t know where to get a gun that couldn’t be traced. That Dunbar kid is from the wrong side of the tracks. He’s had scrapes with the law before, especially since he joined the Romero pack, but his alpha always weasels him out of trouble. Seems like he probably got the gun for him.”

Stiles opens his mouth, closes it, and thinks very hard about what he should say next. “Can I talk to Mason?”

“Sure, if you insist,” the detective says. “But the kid doesn’t need a private investigator. He needs a lawyer.”

“I’ll be sure to jot that down.” Stiles follows the detective into the holding cells and finds Mason looking just like his pictures, pacing back and forth nervously in the small area. “Hey, Mason, my name’s Stiles. I’m a private investigator. I’ve been trying to find you for the past few weeks.”

“Well, you found me,” Mason says, “but, uh, I don’t know why you were looking for me. I don’t know what the hell is going on.”

“Your parents hired me to find you because you wouldn’t return their calls,” Stiles says.

Mason folds his arms over his stomach. “Are they really dead?”

“I’m afraid so.” Stiles sees the stricken look on Mason’s face and feels a pang of sympathy for him. Despite his fraught relationship with them, losing parents is never easy. “I’m sorry.”

Mason paces for another few moments. “The cops are saying that I killed them, but I wouldn’t – I would never – I just wanted to get away from them. I didn’t even want that, really; I wanted them to be, be okay with me and who I was and who I wanted to be with. I thought Mom, at least, would come around if she realized I was serious about not speaking to them until they apologized. But . . .”

“I have a lot more questions than answers right now,” Stiles tells him. “But I’ll do my best to get to the bottom of it. What’s the last thing you remember?”

“Going to bed last night – or at least I thought it was last night. It was a normal day, you know? Corey still had classes. I was looking into online school since I didn’t know when I might be able to go back to UC. I had sent in some applications to take some classes over the summer. We ate dinner with the rest of the guys, then, you know, hung out for a bit and went to bed.”

“What date would you say yesterday was? An estimate’s fine.”

“It was March fourteenth,” Mason says. “Right after spring break ended. I know the date for sure because Corey made a dumb joke about it being pi day.”

Stiles thinks to himself that Corey is a nerd after his own heart, and wonders again where the were-chameleon is. “And what you say ‘the rest of the guys’, who is that exactly?”

“The Gévaudan Society,” Mason says, and when Stiles looks blank, he continues, “They’re like a frat for shifters. Corey joined his freshman year, so he had a room at the house. When I had to leave campus, I started staying there too. I didn’t know the guys there too well, but they seemed cool.”

“Can I have the address?” Stiles says, and Mason gives it to him. “Okay. By the way, when you were arrested, the police would have taken your phone. Did you notice if they did or didn’t?”

“I don’t think they did. I didn’t give it to them, at least.”

“Okay,” Stiles says again. He thinks about his next move for a moment. “So here’s the thing, Mason. Physically, practically, you did kill your parents. But I think it’s pretty clear that you weren’t you when you were doing it. There was some kind of magical power at play – a compulsion, a possession, I’m not sure yet. I can’t get you out of here, but don’t say anything else to the police. The next time they try to talk to you, the only words you know are ‘I want to speak to an attorney’.” He thinks about calling Talia to have her send somebody, but changes his mind. It would be better for Mason to have someone local. “Capisce?”

“Won’t that just make me look guilty?” Mason asks.

Stiles shrugs. “Some cops will think it makes you guilty. Some cops will think it makes you smart. Some will think it makes you both. But nothing will make you look more guilty than being tricked or coerced into a confession. So get yourself a lawyer, okay?”

Mason nods, his arms folding over his stomach again. “Okay.”

Stiles tells him to hang in there and then leaves the holding cell. His detective escort, obviously considering his work with Stiles done, is nowhere to be seen. Stiles looks around for a few moments, getting the layout of the station, and then heads over to where the interrogation rooms are. The first one he sees is occupied by a flustered looking teenager and two police officers. Stiles knocks quickly and then opens the door. “Liam Dunbar?”

“Y-Yeah,” the teenager says, blinking in surprise.

“Super,” Stiles says. “Let’s go.”

“Who the hell are you?” one of the cops asks, standing up.

“My name is Stiles Stilinski. I’m here to pick Liam up.”

“We’re in the middle of an inter – ”

“Is Mr. Dunbar being charged with anything?” Stiles interrupts.

“That’s not your business.”

“That’s true,” Stiles says with a nod. “Equally true is the fact that you have twenty-four hours to hold him before you bring charges. Those are definitely points on your side. On my side, meanwhile, we have the fact that you have absolutely no evidence that Mr. Dunbar committed any crime beyond your own imagination and you are harassing him because of his pack’s politics. So I would like your names and badge numbers before I call my alpha, Talia Hale, who also happens to be my lawyer, and friends with your boss’ boss.”

The two police officers look at each other somewhat uncertainly, and then the detective that Stiles had been speaking to earlier comes up behind him. “What are you doing?”

“I’m leaving,” Stiles says, “along with Liam here.”

“If he got that gun for Hewitt – ”

“Then he’d be an accomplice. I agree. Hit me up when you have a shred of evidence that he did that. And don’t start with me that you have to know where Mason got the gun. You don’t. You have the shooting on film. You know he did it. The provenance of the gun will make no difference to the jury. And since you obviously aren’t interested in whether or not Mason was under any sort of magical compulsion when the shooting occurred, I can’t imagine why you care where the gun came from. Oh, unless it’s a chance to harass somebody you already dislike, or whose pack you dislike. Come on, Liam. Time to go.”

Liam scrambles to his feet, and although the detective is clearly pissed as hell, he doesn’t stop the two of them from walking out. As soon as they’re outside, Liam lets out a gusty sigh. “How did you know that the cops around here don’t like my pack?”

“Couple ways,” Stiles says. “For one thing, it always pays to keep track of which precincts are anti-shifter and which aren’t. Northern Cali is full of bigoted assholes like that. Plus I’ve spent the last week reading up on pack dynamics in the area, so the fact that the Romero pack has had trouble with the police recently was already in my brain. Third and lastly, the guy told me. I mean, he didn’t tell me specifically, but it was there between the lines. Let’s go grab a coffee and you can tell me everything you know about the Gévaudan Society.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“So, uh . . .” Liam fiddled with the coffee stirrer, uncertain and clearly hating it. “I guess I’m not sure where to start.”

“The beginning,” Stiles says. “Always start stories at the beginning.”

“Okay. I guess.” Liam frowns, but continues, “Mason and I have been best friends since we were in kindergarten, you know? We were more like brothers. And his parents have always been totally nuts.” He chews on his lower lip and adds, “I guess I shouldn’t talk about them that way now that they’re dead.”

Stiles gives a little shrug. “My pack basically threw a party the morning Gerard Argent died, so it won’t bother me.”

“Yeah?” At this, Liam smiles a little. “Okay. Anyway, they used to just be, you know, regular bigots, but then as they got older, his dad especially got more and more into it. He was always spouting specist bullshit and conspiracy theories and was just - you couldn’t be around him, you know? He never dropped it for more than five minutes at a time. Sometimes I think Mason’s mom only went along with it because she was afraid of him, but sometimes she acted like she really believed it, so I guess I don’t know.

“Anyway, uh, when I was sixteen, I started dating Hayden. We weren’t, like, that sort of instant-love-at-first-sight mates. But we got serious pretty fast. After about six months, she said she was sure I was her mate, and I was pretty sure, too. And I mean, of course Mason’s parents forbid him from ever speaking to me again.”

“Of course,” Stiles says, trying not to roll his eyes too obviously.

“Mason didn’t want to, like, fight with them. So we just sort of kept it on the down low. We hung out at school and sometimes at lacrosse games and stuff, and we both knew that things were going to change once we went to college. He talked about it a lot, about how he would finally be able to be himself. His dad didn’t even know he was gay back then, I don’t think - his mom knew, but neither of them told his dad.

“Anyway, he met Corey in October. And like, I know were-chameleons aren’t your typical shifter, they don’t do the whole mate thing, but for Mason - it really was like that. He was fucking gone on Corey. It was, uh, you know. It was nice to see him find someone who made him so happy.” Liam shifts in his seat uncomfortably. “He hid it from them for the first couple months, but they found out over winter break. Because he wasn’t going to spend the whole three weeks not talking to his boyfriend, you know? And Corey was staying on campus for the break - I guess things aren’t much better with his family - and Mason wanted to visit him a few times, and - it was just a mess. He was a mess. I felt bad but I didn’t know how to help - it’s not like his parents gave a shit what I had to say, especially now that I’m a werewolf.”

Stiles nods, mostly to encourage Liam to keep talking. “So what happened next?”

“In February, he called me, and he was shaken up bad. I guess his parents had sent some guys from that bullshit human rights foundation to try to drag him off campus and force him into some sort of, I don’t know, rehab or something. He got away from them but it was close. They’d already gone after him before, but this time they got him alone. He told me he was thinking about dropping out of school, that he’d been talking to Corey about it, and the guys Corey was staying with said he could still stay at the house even if he wasn’t taking classes, because of the situation. I told him that if that’s what he needed to do, not to feel bad about it, but maybe talk to the dean or whoever about making it temporary. Which I guess he did in the long run.

“The last time I saw him was over Spring Break. I was down at school in LA, so, you know, it wasn’t really like we could hang out on weekends. We texted all the time. And he seemed fine. I mean, he was upset by everything that had happened, but he was dealing with it. He loves Corey and he was happy with him, and he said the frat guys were really cool about the whole thing and were doing stuff like donating their meal points so he could still get food on campus even though he didn’t have a meal plan anymore. And . . . that was it. Until he called me today.”

“So these frat guys,” Stiles says, taking a swallow of his coffee. “What do you know about them?”

“Not a lot. I hung out there a couple days over spring break. They seemed like a cool bunch of guys. You know, Mason seemed comfortable there, and it was pretty rare for Mason to feel comfortable anywhere.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, though he wishes Liam knew more.

“Look, uh, I know how it looks,” Liam says. “I mean, I know that Mason really did have a pretty strong motive to kill his parents. And honestly, if it had just been his dad . . . I could believe it. That guy was fucking crazy, and an asshole on top of it, and he treated Mason like shit. But his mom . . . Mason never could have hurt his mom. Never. All he wanted was for her to be proud of him.”

“I believe you,” Stiles says. “Something weird is definitely going on. Give me a little time and let me see what I can figure out, okay?”

“Yeah.” Liam looks relieved. “Yeah, thanks.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles hates going into situations blind, and at this point it’s getting late, and he wants to get home so he can start dinner. He can drive back to Sacramento and visit this mysterious frat in the morning - with backup like Derek or Peter. That will give him some time to Google the Gévaudan Society and see what he can find out about them.

Only he doesn’t end up having time to Google at all. By the time he makes the drive home, runs by the store, and gets dinner cooking, all the pack members are starting to arrive at his house. He greets everyone with hugs, Derek with a kiss, and most of the children with very brief piggy-back rides. Malia and Marisela squabble for several minutes on what their ‘twin dish’ should be before settling for some radishes. They don’t really need the twin dish anymore, now that both of them have been living with the pack long enough to have tried almost every food Stiles could think of. But it’s their tradition, and nobody wants to take it away from them.

It’s a hectic week night, and Stiles doubts that anyone will linger. The kids in school have homework; the adults who have been at work all day are eager to settle down with the television or a book. As often happens, Tom, Peter, and the twins are there later than anybody else. Stiles loves the pack, but he also loves this little cluster of immediate family he now has.

Tom steers the twins into the living room so he can help with their homework, much to both their dismay. Getting them to do their schoolwork isn’t difficult because they’re both fiercely competitive, especially with each other. Still, that doesn’t stop them from whining about it, especially when it’s math.

“Hey, Peter,” Stiles says, as Derek is loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. “What do you know about the Gévaudan Society?”

Peter glances over from where he’s been watching the twins with a fond expression on his face. “Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, Stiles?”

Stiles shrugs. “You know me.”

“I told you that I would handle researching Douglas himself.”

At this, Stiles blinks, and Derek looks over. “I wasn’t researching Douglas. I was researching the disappearance of Mason Hewitt.”

“Were you, now?” Peter says. “I heard he was found in a rather spectacular fashion.”

“Yeah.” Stiles gives both Peter and Derek a quick summary of what had happened that day. Derek frowns as he listens, putting some water on the stove for tea. Peter’s expression is blank, but Stiles can tell that he’s not happy with what he’s hearing.

“First things first,” he says, when Stiles is finished. “The Gévaudan Society is a supernatural supremacy organization. They focus on college campuses and recruit there. They might come across as your average frat or college club, but there are very dark undertones to what they do, and they’ve been thrown out of more than one university.”

“What sort of dark undertones?”

“This is more rumor than fact, but . . .” Peter twists his wedding ring around on his finger, taking it off and then sliding it back on. “The man who runs the organization is named Serge Marcel. He’s a scientist with a specialty in supernatural anatomy. I’ve heard he’s done some unsavory experiments, and that he’s been connected to missing students before. But nobody has ever found anything concrete.”

“Huh.” Stiles considers this for a moment. “What’s his connection to Douglas, then?”

“Douglas used to be a high-ranking member. His exit of the group was rather public. He and Marcel got into some sort of argument, which led to Douglas telling everyone that Marcel didn’t actually have the group’s best interests in mind, but was using it to further his own aims. A lot of people wanted to know what Douglas thought those aims were. Douglas played coy about it, because he was a dick who loved the spotlight. But then they suddenly reconciled. Douglas didn’t join the group again, but he apologized for what he had said, and then refused to talk about it anymore.”

“Well, that’s all mysterious as fuck,” Stiles says.

“Mm,” Peter agrees. “Several of the people who attended the wedding were members of the Gévaudan Society, so I had kept in mind the possibility of their involvement, but didn’t think it was too likely. All that happened years ago. But the connection to a missing student, a student you were personally looking for, and now the death of a prominent anti-werewolf activist? It stretches credulity to think it’s not somehow connected, even if I have no idea how it could be.”

“I swear, if our wedding was just collateral damage in some random fight, I’m gonna be pissed,” Stiles says.

Derek gives a quiet snort, setting down the three mugs of tea. “It could still tie in somehow to the original theory of someone trying to upset the balance between the packs. There’s no other reason to do it at the wedding.”

“Actually . . . there very well might be,” Peter says slowly. “Stiles, I recall you saying you had told Mason’s parents to apologize to him. Did they?”

“Yeah, his mom called me the night before the wedding, said she had gotten a reply but it didn’t sound like him.” Stiles chews on his lower lip. “I was going to look into it after the wedding, but then Douglas got killed and I put it on the, the thing on the stove that you don’t worry about.”

“The back burner,” Peter supplies, and nods. “Whatever Marcel did to Mason, I’m wondering if he was this close to completing it,” he says, holding his fingers about an inch apart, “and then he heard that you were looking for Mason. That you actually talked his mother into apologizing, which they were forced to reply to, to keep suspicion from growing. They were inches away from pulling off the murder of a prominent activist and framing it on a complete innocent, if they could only keep you distracted for forty-eight hours.”

“You’re kidding,” Stiles says. “You think they murdered a guy and destroyed my wedding just to throw me off my game?”

“I don’t think that’s why they killed him. But it very likely might be why they killed him where and when they did.”

Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. “Okay. Cool. Well, I’ve got the address of the frat house, so I guess I’ll stop by tomorrow and see what I can find out.”

“I’m going with you,” Derek says immediately.

“I doubt he’d be in any danger,” Peter says. “He’s far too public a figure for Marcel to simply disappear.”

“That’s comforting, thanks,” Derek says, then to Stiles, “I’m going with you.”

“Fine by me,” Stiles says. He glances up as his father comes back into the kitchen, and says, “Eavesdropping?”

“I learned from the best,” Tom says dryly. “What are we doing about Mason? Do you truly believe he wasn’t in control of his own actions?”

“I believe it’s a strong possibility,” Stiles says, “but I’m not sure of anything yet. I told him to ask for a lawyer and not say anything else to the cops. I thought about calling Talia and having her send somebody, but then I decided it’d be better for him to have somebody local.”

“Mm. Still, he could wind up with a public defender who doesn’t know much about supernatural defenses,” Peter says. “I’ll have a word with Talia. She might be able to recommend somebody in Sacramento.”

“Shouldn’t we bail the poor kid out?” Derek asks. “I can’t even imagine how fucked up he must be.”

Peter shakes his head. “Unfortunately, I think it would be better to leave him where he is for now. We don’t know exactly what was done to him, how he would react to different circumstances or people. It’s safest for everybody if he stays in jail. Talia can make sure he’s treated well while he’s there. But he also needs to be examined by a Druid to see if there’s any magical residue on him. I doubt there will be – whoever planned this seems too smart for that – but it’s worth checking.”

“I’ll call the captain down in Sacramento and make sure they allow it,” Tom says. He reaches out and squeezes Peter’s shoulder. “We should be getting the girls home. It’s getting late.”

“Boo!” Malia and Marisela both shout from the other room, and Stiles laughs at the utter synchronicity of it.

Peter chuckles, too. “All right. Stiles, text me when you get to the Gévaudan house, and when you leave. That way I’ll know if there’s any trouble.”

“Will do.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The Gévaudan Society looks like every frat house that Stiles has ever seen. Located on one of the side streets just off campus, it’s a big house with a nice front porch and a volleyball net set up to one side in the yard. There’s only a few parking spaces, and they wind up parked almost half a mile away.

He’s not sure who or what he’s expecting to see when he knocks on the front door, so he does a double take when it’s opened by someone familiar. It’s Theo Raeken, the enthusiastic fanboy from the wedding. He’s just as enthusiastic now, saying, “Hey, Stiles, it’s great to see you! I didn’t know you were coming - but that’s fine, it’s no big deal, you’d be welcome here any time. Come on in!”

Feeling awkward, Stiles comes inside. Theo shakes his hand and then shakes Derek’s, too, and then shouts, “Hey everybody - come see who’s here!” and suddenly Stiles is being mobbed.

He’s never hated his celebrity status - God knows he’s been willing to exploit it when necessary - but he’s never been in love with it, either. He manages to look friendly as he shakes lots of hands and is introduced to people in a whirlwind of activity. Josh, Eric, Tracy - he stops hearing the names about halfway through.

“Let me grab you a drink,” Theo says. “Soda okay? We don’t really keep alcohol here, you know, it’s kind of a frat environment and we don’t want to encourage underage drinking.”

“Sure,” Stiles says. “Just . . . whatever you have is fine.”

Theo ushers them into the kitchen and grabs them both a Coke. “So what brings you to Sacramento?”

“We’re trying to get in touch with Corey Bryant,” Stiles says. “Uh, you saw on the news about the Hewitts, probably?”

“Yeah, wow,” Theo says. “I mean, I can’t say it totally surprised me. Mason’s parents were so awful to him - I can’t blame him if he snapped. Hey, are you investigating? It seemed pretty cut and dry to me, but if you’re involved I bet there’s more going on than we know - ”

Stiles feels his metaphorical fur start to bristle underneath his skin. He can’t say what it is about Theo that bothers him so much. He’s friendly and interested and has done nothing wrong in the time Stiles has known him. But somehow Stiles feels like it’s all a front, like Theo is faking everything he says and does. So he tells a half-truth. “His defense attorney asked me if I could look into it, maybe find some way to - ” His mind blanks, and he looks at Derek instinctively. “To - you know - ”

“Exculpate him?” Derek asks.

Stiles can’t help a hoot of laughter. “I was going for the ten cent word and you just came back with the twenty-five! You’re such a nerd; I love you. Anyway, sure. Exculpate him.”

 “Do they think he didn’t do it?” Theo asks.

“I think they’re more interested in finding ways to show that it was justified,” Stiles says. “You know, like you said, his parents were awful and he snapped. That’s why I’m looking for Corey - I guess he had a front row seat to everything that went on when Mason was trying to get away from them.”

“Gotcha,” Theo says. “I don’t know how much help we’ll be, though. They haven’t stayed here in a couple months.”

Stiles frowns. “When did they leave?”

“Just before spring break. Mason wanted to get further away from campus. They had a friend in a pack they were going to crash with, I think.”

“Before spring break, or after?” Stiles asks, thinking back to Mason’s comment about pi day.

“Before,” Theo says. “I’m sure of it, because we spent the first day of it helping them pack up their stuff.”

“Huh,” Stiles says. He’s ninety-eight percent sure that’s a lie. If the last day Mason remembers is March fourteenth, and he says that he was still at the Gévaudan house then, he couldn’t have left as early as the first day of spring break. Liam had said that he had hung out there with them during spring break. But Theo’s voice is firm, his gaze is direct, his heartbeat is rocky steady. If he’s lying, he’s the best damned liar that Stiles has ever met. “Do you have his phone number?”

“No, sorry. He was never really a friendly guy. I mean, Mason would have it, so you could just get it from him.”

“Yeah, okay.” Stiles wants to probe a little further, but he’s not sure how. “So how did Corey wind up staying here?”

“Oh, he pledged this year,” Theo says, and sees the look on Stiles’ face. “I guess it really is a lot like a normal frat. I mean, there’s no hazing or anything. It’s more like one of those secret societies, except not secret anymore. Which probably has a lot to do with the origins?”

“How so?” Derek asks politely. He can tell that Stiles is just fishing around, and unlike Stiles, he hasn’t immediately suspected that Theo is lying about everything.

“Well, originally it was all humans and kind of a werewolf worship group, you know, back in the eighteen hundreds and before werewolves integrated with human society. It was about on the same wavelength as an underground religion. But then after werewolves joined society, the group started allowing them to join, and now it’s almost entirely made up of shifters. They started recruiting young people, and now it’s sort of an activist group, you know, advocating for supernatural rights and everything.”

“I’ve heard the guy in charge is actually a scientist,” Derek says.

“Oh, yeah, Dr. Marcel is awesome!” Theo says, his face lighting up. “He was one of the first scientists to study the genetic differences between humans and supernatural creatures. He’s isolated some of the genes involved and has been doing studies with gene therapy. The idea is that if they can take something like the gene for werewolf healing and give it to someone with, say, AIDS, it might be a cure without actually turning them into a werewolf.”

“Huh!” Stiles is immediately fascinated, due to his own experiences with healing and bite rejection. “That could actually be amazing. Like my friend Scott, a lot of the reason he was turned was because of his asthma. Which, you know, he was fine with being a werewolf, but not everyone is.”

“Exactly,” Theo says, grinning. “I mean, it’s not as easy as just sticking some stem cells in a guy and calling it a day, but Dr. Marcel has been working on it for over two decades now and he’s made some real progress.”

“You seem to know him pretty well.” Derek looks around. “You also seem to be kind of in charge.”

“Oh, no, well,” Theo says, “kind of. I mean, I’m not in charge, but I’ve been here longer than anybody else, because - it’s a long story, actually. Most kids join in college but I’ve been here since I was fifteen. Dr. Marcel looks out for me.”

Stiles thinks about asking why, but decides he’d rather get that information from outside sources. Theo has been so talkative that if he’s not immediately explaining the situation, it’s probably something he doesn’t want to discuss.

They chat for a little while longer about Stiles work against the WLO and Search for a Cure. Theo is full of questions, and Stiles tries not to get too annoyed with him. It’s not until they’ve left that Derek asks, “Why do you dislike that guy so much?”

“Oh, God, could you smell that?” Stiles asks. “If you could smell it then he could smell it, which is going to ruin all my plans to try to go undercover and ferret out what they’re up to.”

Derek snorts. “I don’t know if he would be familiar enough with your scent to know that’s what it was. But seriously, why?”

“I don’t know why. It’s just something about him. He puts my teeth on edge.” Stiles frowns. “Which is a very weird phrase once you think about it.”

“Please don’t,” Derek says, and Stiles laughs.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter listens in silence while Stiles sums up everything they learned – and more prevalently, didn’t learn – at the Gévaudan house. When he’s finished, Peter says, “I assume you haven’t been able to get in touch with Corey, even by phone?”

“I actually can’t find his number,” Stiles says. “I asked Mason for it, but he said he didn’t actually know it because he had saved it into his phone the day he and Corey met – Corey texted him and then Mason saved him as a contact. So he never even typed the number into his phone. I tried Liam but he had never texted Corey directly – only Mason. And Mason’s phone is MIA.”

“Do we even know Corey exists?” Tom asks, looking over from where he’s washing the dishes.

“Yeah, Liam met him a few times, and I verified his enrollment with the school,” Stiles says. “He’s real, he was actually Mason’s boyfriend, and it was a serious relationship. But I can’t find much about him, or his family. I got the impression that’s a were-chameleon thing, but couldn’t verify that on my own.”

“It is,” Peter says. “How much do you know about were-chameleons?”

“Very little,” Stiles says. “They seem rare as hell.”

“They are. And they’re not actually were-creatures in the traditional sense.” Peter thinks about how to phrase this for a moment. “Shifters are always controlled, or at least affected, by some outside influence. For werewolves, it’s the moon. Werefoxes, it’s the stars. Et cetera.”

“What about werecoyotes?” Tom asks curiously. “Malia doesn’t seem to be affected by much other than her own capricious whims.”

Peter chuckles quietly. “The seasons, actually. Malia’s coyote will always be more dominant during the summer, and quietest in the winter. Also, shifts are restricted to warm-blooded animals. You’ll see bird shifters – primarily crows, although I’ve known a were-owl and a were-eagle in my time – but primarily, most shifters are mammals. That’s because humans were warm-blooded, and a shift out of that would be biologically impossible, or at least that’s what the experts say.”

“So what is a were-chameleon, actually?” Derek asks.

“A completely inaccurate name,” Peter says. “There’s no chameleon in them at all, actually, and they have no animal form. But they have the ability to phase in and out of our plane of existence. Doing so renders them invisible, which is where the chameleon moniker came into play. Humans assumed that they could do that because they were were-chameleons, but they actually aren’t. The ability to phase is a thing entirely separate from the ability to shift.”

“But we can’t just call them phasers because Star Trek is a thing?” Stiles asks.

Peter gives a snort. “I assume so. And I don’t have any idea what they call themselves. Like you said, they tend to be separatist, isolated. I’m very surprised one of them went to college at a regular university, with both supernatural and human students. I doubt that his parents approved of that.”

“Yeah, Liam mentioned that part of the reason Mason and Corey bonded so hard is because they both had lousy relationships with their families,” Stiles says, “and since Corey was staying on campus during breaks, we can assume that he had reason not to want to go home.”

“Let me do a little sniffing,” Peter says. “There aren’t many were-chameleon families – it’s genetic, by the way, with no ability to pass on with a bite or what have you – so I might be able to identify which one he came from. Then we can at least find out if he has been home.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Peter nods a little, his mind wandering as it shuffles and reshuffles the pieces, waiting for them to come together into a coherent whole.

“What’s our next move?” Derek asks.

“Whether we can find Corey or not, Theo was definitely lying about when he left the Gévaudan house,” Stiles says. “There’s something weird going on there. I don’t know what it has to do with Douglas’ murder, if anything, but I want to keep snooping around there. Theo clearly likes me, or at least is pretending to like me, so in theory I can infiltrate the organization.”

Tom frowns slightly, and Peter looks up. “That might not work as well as you think it well,” he says.

“Yeah, why not?”

“Because it seems to me that there’s at least a fifty percent chance that Theo is only acting like that because he knows exactly what you’re going to try. Infiltrating the Gévaudan Society is the obvious move.”

Stiles makes a face. “Yeah, okay, but if I know he’s expecting me to snoop, I can try to mislead him.”

“That’s true,” Peter says, “but that kind of double, triple cross is difficult even for professionals with experience. Think about it this way: Theo will know you’re just trying to get information. And you know that Theo knows that. What you need to avoid is Theo knowing that you know that he knows.” Peter sees Stiles grimace and says, “See how it gets complicated?”

“Yeah. But I don’t have any better ideas.”

“I’m not saying that it’s not worth trying. Just that I wouldn’t be too disappointed if you don’t get anywhere. From what you said, Theo is a skilled, practiced liar. You caught him out once because you had the facts ahead of time. But from now on, he will be able to lie with impunity and you won’t necessarily know. He’ll tell a lot of the truth, too, knowing it will further muddy the waters. You could talk to Theo for weeks or months and learn absolutely nothing.”

Stiles sighs. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

Derek reaches out and squeezes his wrist. “Just be careful, okay?”

“I will be.”

Peter is still frowning as they make their way back to the main house that night. Tom clearly doesn’t like it, and says, “What’s on your mind?”

“I can’t make the pieces fit,” Peter says, “which irritates me.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Tom says, with the same calm confidence that Peter has always found so attractive about him. “We always do.”

“That’s true, I suppose,” Peter says, and doesn’t add what he’s thinking – that they always figure it out, but sometimes the answers come at great cost. He shakes his head and changes the subject before Tom can ask again.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

It’s not hard to find out why Theo Raeken has been part of the Gévaudan Society since he was fifteen, since he’s apparently a minor celebrity in his own right. He’s Dr. Marcel’s first successful human test subject.

Stiles reads with interest about how Theo was born with a heart condition that led to him being on the transplant list when he was four. His parents, who apparently had a lot in common with the Hewitt family, had refused to let the local alpha turn him. He had struggled six more years before his sister had fallen from a third story balcony while trying to walk along the edge. When she was proclaimed brain dead, the decision was made to give Theo her heart.

The transplant was a success at first, but led to complications a few years later when his body began to reject the organ. He was on and off a cocktail of medications. Theo again asked his parents to let him receive a werewolf bite. “I begged them,” he says in the article, “but they wouldn’t hear of it.”

The situation attracted the attention of Dr. Marcel, and the Raekens agreed to let him do his first genetic therapy test on Theo. He implanted the genes that should provide werewolf healing, in the hopes that it would save his life. The experiment was half-successful. The healing worked – but the genes also gave him certain aspects of lycanthropy. He couldn’t shift, but he had severe mood swings in the week before and after the full moon, and enhanced senses that came and went, seemingly at random.

After a great deal of debate, Theo received the werewolf bite he had wanted from the beginning. As a result, his parents disowned him, and Serge Marcel had become his legal guardian. He had been living at the Gévaudan House in Sacramento ever since.

But as Peter said, Marcel’s experiments are not without controversy. He was heavily criticized for the fact that he preferred to use children as test subjects. According to him, this was because children’s immune systems were not as well-developed, and thus took to gene therapy better. Other scientists disputed that, saying that Marcel used children because their parents were so desperate to save them that they would give consent to Marcel’s dubious methods.

Sacramento wasn’t the only place that the Gévaudan Society had set up houses. They were peppered all over the country. Thinking of what Peter said, Stiles calls around and gets a million statistics reports from different areas. He then promptly fails at math when trying to put it all together.

“Math is the worst,” he groans into Derek’s shoulder. Derek pats him on the back and asks what he needs.

It turns out that there is, in fact, a rise in missing persons reports at colleges where the Gévaudan Society has a presence. And since they had been ejected from several universities, Stiles is able to see that after they’re gone, the numbers go down to normal.

“The question is, is it statistically significant,” Stiles says, chewing on his thumbnail as he studies the graph. “These are pretty small numbers to begin with. Is it relevant that twenty kids went missing in Austin versus seventeen in Houston?”

“I don’t know,” Derek says, “but it’s certainly suggestive.”

“True enough,” Stiles says.

Meanwhile, he’s not having a lot of luck tracking down Corey. There are over a hundred people with that name in the United States, so he’s been searching for all of them on the Lexis-Nexis. He doubts a college student from a separatist family is going to have a lot of records, so mostly all he’s doing is ruling some of them out.

“So do you think I should just show up at the Gévaudan house, or call ahead of time?” he asks Derek. “I mean, Theo said I was welcome there any time. And I’m not sure if it’s even possible for me to be subtle in my intro to the snooping.”

Derek glances at him and rolls his eyes slightly. “Shouldn’t you at least aim for subtlety? I mean, maybe don’t show up on their doorstep and say ‘hey, I want to learn all about your organization because I’m suddenly super interested in werewolf supremacy’?”

“Hey!” Stiles pouts. “I wouldn’t phrase it like that.”

“How were you going to phrase it, then?” Derek asks.

“Uh . . . okay, I hadn’t gotten that far in my plan yet, but not that.” Stiles sticks his tongue out and adds, “I’ll remind you that I have done this before. I kept Kate in the dark for months. You know. Right up until she threatened my father and, uh, had me shot. Okay. Maybe not the best example.”

Derek gives a quiet snort and just shakes his head.

Regardless, thinking of how he had handled Kate has given Stiles an idea. After he had initially turned down her offer of ‘help’, he had gotten back in touch with her again because something had changed. That’s what he needs – a change, a legitimate question he might need to ask Theo or Dr. Marcel, which he could use to get his foot in the door.

He mentions this to Derek, who looks up from his book with a thoughtful expression. “Could you maybe bring the pack politics into it?”

“How so?” Stiles asks.

“Well, neither Mason nor Corey have a pack, but most of the kids there must. And Mason was best friends with Liam, whose pack has had trouble with the local law enforcement and probably political elements. And if there’s one thing werewolf supremacists hate, it’s human supremacists. Mason’s dad was obviously the latter, and was probably the driving force between a lot of the tension in Sacramento. So really, Mason’s disappearance and the subsequent death of his parents could have been the work of any of the packs in Sacramento.”

“I’m not sure how that helps me,” Stiles says. “I mean, I can’t just say ‘hey, did your pack want the Hewitts dead?’”

“No, but you could go to Theo and ask him, as someone who’s lived in Sacramento for years but isn’t formally part of any pack, to give you the lay of the land. Make a little constellation like the one Peter has for us.”

Stiles is nodding slowly. “That would actually work. Especially because I can make lots of comments about how awful human supremacy is, hinting that I might be more open to supernatural supremacy, especially after I became a werewolf last year and realized how awesome it is.”

“Yeah. Exactly.”

Stiles leans over and smacks a kiss against Derek’s forehead, then pulls out his phone. Theo gave him his number upon their last parting – without Stiles asking for it – so he calls him and says, “Hey, Theo, it’s Stiles.”

“Hey, Stiles, what’s up?” Theo asks, in his usual friendly manner.

“I wanted to know if I could stop by tomorrow. I’ve been researching some of the local packs in Sacramento and the problems they’ve been having with the police and stuff, and I thought you might be able to give me some details.”

“Sure, happy to,” Theo says. “I’ve got class part of the day, but any time after three would be okay.”

“Sounds good.” Stiles thanks him and hangs up, then sees the way Derek is frowning. “I’ll be fine, babe. I mean, I’ll be careful. And that will lead to me being fine.”

Derek sighs. “Okay. I mean, I don’t like it, but okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter studies Brett Douglas over the rim of his mug, watching him as he thanks the waitress for the coffee and starts pouring cream into it. He’s a man a few years younger than Peter, but he’s thrived in a pack full of people Peter imagines are predisposed to be Left Hands. He doesn’t know exactly why Douglas chose him, but he knows he’s going to need to be careful.

“How is the pack coping?” Peter asks, when Brett is finished preparing his coffee and has started to drink.

Brett shrugs. “All right. Russ is a good alpha. He’s making sure everyone gets the time with him that they need, the reassurance that everything is under control.”

“Is it?” Peter asks.

“Close enough,” Brett says.

“Have you had any luck in your investigation of who might be responsible?” Peter says, and Brett only shrugs. “To me, it seems like whoever did it was trying to hurt both our packs at once.”

Brett gives a snort and says, “Because everything around here is always about the Hale pack, isn’t it. Garrett had his share of enemies without any help from you.”

“That’s true, but even you have to admit that the timing was suspect. Why do it at the wedding?”

“Because that was the only time they had access to him,” Brett said. “With the bonus of there being a hundred possible suspects. It didn’t have anything to do with your pack. It was just a matter of opportunity.”

“That’s a very likely explanation,” Peter says, “but nevertheless, my nephew and my stepson are very unhappy, so I consider it an attack on my pack even if it wasn’t intended that way. The resources of the Hale pack are at your full disposal during your investigation.”

“Mm hm.” Now it’s Brett’s turn to study Peter, clearly wondering what he’s getting at. “Why do I suddenly feel like you have a theory?”

“I have about a dozen theories,” Peter says. “At the moment, I’m curious about the Gévaudan Society. There were several members in attendance, and I know the falling out between Garrett and Dr. Marcel was serious.”

“Seriously stupid,” Brett says, with a roll of his eyes that would have made any Hale proud. Peter raises an eyebrow, inviting an explanation. “All Marcel cares about are his little science projects. He wanted to sink the entire budget into that. Garrett wanted to spend more on recruitment and political activism. Marcel told him that once his experiments succeeded, they’d have all the money and attention they needed. Garrett thought that was bullshit, told Marcel he was selfish and short-sighted, and left.”

“They did reconcile later, though, didn’t they?” Peter says.

“Yeah. They hashed it out somehow. Garrett didn’t really talk about it. Honestly, I think he was a bit embarrassed he’d ever been part of it. The Gévaudan Society is so . . . out there.”

“Because Garrett’s regular views were so mainstream,” Peter says dryly.

Brett gives a snort. “Look, I wasn’t always one hundred percent on board with some of Garrett’s views – hell, I wasn’t always fifty percent on board. But you have to admit there’s a big difference between ‘supernatural creatures are inherently superior and therefore should be in charge of humans’ and ‘supernatural creatures are inherently superior so let’s science the shit out of this and turn all humans into them’.”

Peter nods. “That would be very different in core principle, if nothing else. Garrett’s brand of supernatural supremacy needs humans to rule over. If Marcel turns them all into supernatural creatures, who’s left to rule?”

“Yeah. Plus he would go off about tainted bloodlines, blah, blah, bullshit, blah. I mean, this was a guy who made prospective pack members fill out a twelve page application. I think that bugged him about Marcel’s experiments – that he wanted everyone to be supernatural.” Brett takes a sip of his coffee and says, “I mean, you should have heard the shit Garrett said about your pack.”

Amused, Peter replies, “We are a diverse bunch, it’s true. I remember Talia mentioning that only one alpha was against it when she turned Stiles’ friend, Scott – I presume that was Garrett?”

“Yeah. I mean, to be honest, he thought your entire pack was a tainted bloodline. It couldn’t be a coincidence, according to him, that all of Talia’s children chose mates who were human.”

Peter thinks about this and realizes it’s true. “As was mine, and my brother’s. Actually, I think Talia is the only one in the immediate family whose mate was also a born wolf.”

“But it’s just statistics, really,” Brett says. “There are so many more humans than any other kind of person, it makes sense that most werewolves’ mates would be human. But Garrett didn’t see it that way – most of his family had werewolves as mates. Which could have been a coincidence. Or it could have been that they felt pressured not to pick humans. Who knows?”

“Not us, to be sure,” Peter says. “But you don’t think it’s possible that Marcel was behind this, somehow?”

“Anything’s possible, but I don’t see why he’d care. The two of them hadn’t spoken in years.”

“Who are you focusing on, then?”

“I like the Janssen pack for it,” Brett says. “Garrett was seriously pissed that they brought those rogue attack victims here. He was basically of the opinion that all those people from Search for a Cure should’ve been put down. He didn’t mind the rehabilitation camp so much because it kept them all in one place, where they wouldn’t really intermingle with other packs and ‘contaminate’ existing bloodlines.”

“He must’ve been pissed at Talia when she advocated for them.”

“Garrett was always pissed at Talia, but yeah. Anyway, a few weeks before the wedding, Garrett saw one of them talking to his daughter and said some really nasty shit. Janssen doesn’t have the standing to take him on, but assassinate him? Yeah, she could maybe do that.”

“Have you talked to her?”

“It’s not like she’ll talk to me. She knows she’s a suspect.”

“Perhaps I’ll talk to her, then.”

Brett finishes his coffee. “Look, Hale. Regardless of how you feel about whether or not whoever did this stepped on Talia’s tail, this was my alpha, my pack. We’re the ones who are going to look weak if we don’t take care of it. So thanks for the offer, but I don’t want your help.”

“Talia doesn’t want this to escalate. If it’s the Janssens, then – ”

“Then I’ll take care of it. Just like you would, if it were you. And I don’t give a damn what Talia thinks about that.” Brett stands and says, “Thanks for the coffee,” before he turns to leave.

Peter watches him go, frowning. After a few minutes of thought, he puts a ten dollar bill on the table and gets up to leave. He heads down to the station and goes into Tom’s office without knocking. Tom is on the phone, and rolls his eyes a little at Peter’s entrance. He finishes his call and hangs up, at which point Peter says, “Have you finished interviewing everyone who was at the wedding?”

“Are you kidding?” Tom says. “That was over a hundred people, and a certain someone told me that I had to interview every single person to avoid the appearance of bias.”

Amused, Peter says, “Well, now a certain someone is going to ask you to interview all the members of the Douglas pack as well.”

Tom sighs. “Any particular reason why? You said you didn’t think any of them were suspects.”

“Oh, I don’t,” Peter says. “But I need to get more information on what was going on in that pack, and a way to keep tabs on Brett. Which means identifying a weak link in the pack hierarchy. I can’t talk to any of them without arousing suspicion and further inflaming tensions, but it would be fairly natural for you to interview them.”

“Douglas’ pack does know we’re married, right?” Tom says dryly.

“Presumably, but even so. Interviewing them is reasonable, and gives me some plausible deniability.”

With another sigh, Tom says, “Okay. I’ll see if I can call them in. I assume that you’re going to insist on watching the interrogations even though technically you have no right to do so?”

Peter shrugs. “I could sneak a bug into the interrogation room while you’re not looking, but it would be much easier if you just let me watch.”

Tom pinches the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to try to forget you said that. Okay. I’ll start making calls and then text you once I have it set up.”

“Thanks.” Peter hops off the edge of the desk, gives Tom a quick kiss, and leaves the office.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles brings his laptop with him to the Gévaudan House, because he’s faster at typing than he is at taking notes by hand. He’s done some preliminary research on the Sacramento packs. There are four of them in the metro area, which interests him because it’s such a low ratio of werewolves to humans. Beacon Hills has four packs and is one tenth the size of Sacramento.

“It’s too urban,” Derek says, when Stiles mentions it to him. “Werewolves really just don’t like cities. Look at San Francisco proper – there’s not a single werewolf pack actually within the city limits, it’s so tightly packed. I think there’s a couple in Los Angeles, but for the most part, we really just don’t live in urban areas.”

The four packs that do live in Sacramento – Stewart, Romero, Patrick, and Diaz – all live on the outskirts. All four of the alphas were at the wedding, with their mates. Talia is friends with the alpha of the Stewart pack, so her children had also been invited. That was how Theo had been there – as Tracy, the eldest daughter’s, plus one.

Stiles presumes that Theo must be fairly close to the Stewart pack, in that case, and recalls seeing Tracy at the Gévaudan house when he had first gone. Their alpha, however, is not a member of the Gévaudan Society, and Stiles wonders if she’s okay with her daughter having joined. The only alpha in Sacramento that’s actually associated with the society is the alpha of the Diaz pack.

“Hey, Stiles, come on in!” Theo is waiting on the front porch when Stiles gets there, and is all smiles as usual, ushering him inside and getting him a soda from the fridge. “What’s up? Found any leads?”

“No, and I still haven’t been able to get in touch with Corey, unfortunately,” Stiles says. “It’s really frustrating, to be honest.”

“That sucks,” Theo says, and sprawls in the chair across the table from him. “So what do you want to know?”

“Let’s start with the Romero pack,” Stiles says. “I know they’ve had trouble with the police in Sacramento, and possibly with Mason’s dad specifically, since Mason was friends with Liam Dunbar – you’ve met him, right?”

Theo nods. “He came to visit Mason a few times, yeah. He’s dating Hayden Romero, right?”

“Right. Well, they’re beyond dating, actually – at this point he’s officially been inducted into the Romero pack as Hayden’s mate, and been given the Bite.”

“Good for him,” Theo says cheerfully. “Man, the Bite changed my life, it really did. Not that I’m not grateful for what Dr. Marcel did for me, and I don’t blame him for the fact that it didn’t entirely work out. I was his first test subject – did you know that?”

“I read up on it, yeah, after you were telling me about Dr. Marcel’s work.” Stiles feigns enthusiasm as well. “He’s managed to accomplish some really amazing things.”

“Right?” Theo grins, then adds, “You got the Bite pretty recently, didn’t you? So you know what I mean.”

It’s the perfect opportunity to start in on the groundwork to convince Theo that he’s with them on the whole werewolf supremacy thing, and he kind of hates the fact that Theo handed it to him on a silver platter. Theo is allowing Stiles to do exactly what he needs to do in order to infiltrate the society, and that makes Stiles nervous. He doesn’t have much choice but to play along, but he tries not to be too heavy-handed about it. “It really has been pretty awesome. I love running with the pack on the full moon, I love how strong it makes me. I had some trouble with the enhanced senses, though, especially smell and taste. I have to wear those stupid, uh, eye-covering things, if I chop onions now. It’s amazing nobody has taken a picture of me to post online.”

Theo laughs. “Life’s rough for a denmaker, am I right?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and laughs with him.

“Anyway, yeah, the Romero pack has had trouble with the cops ever since, I wanna say, about two years ago? So this guy went to see his ex-girlfriend at a convenience store, started waving a gun in her face and threatening her. Eddie Romero happened to be pumping gas outside and heard the commotion and went charging in and killed the guy. Probably saved the girl’s life, since the guy had already killed the girl’s parents earlier that night – not that he knew that part, but still, it was pretty obvious that he had gone there intending to kill her. Anyway, the cops were pissed.”

“Why?” Stiles asks, although he’s actually quite familiar with the whole situation through his research. “Sounds like Eddie was a hero.”

Theo gives a mirthless little smile and says, “’Cause angry ex-boyfriend was a cop.”

“Oh, shit,” Stiles says, feigning surprise.

“Yeah. And they didn’t know that the guy had already killed two people at the beginning, because the bodies weren’t found until the next day. So their initial reaction was ‘oh, the poor little police officer who just wanted his girlfriend to give him a second chance and who just happened to have his service weapon on him at the time got murdered in a fit of animalistic rage by this out-of-control werewolf’. That was their opening narrative, despite everything the girl said.”

“And then when they found the bodies, they must have looked like fucking morons,” Stiles says.

“Oh, yeah, they ate a ton of crow over it, but still decided to charge Eddie Romero with murder. Which led to some really fun letters to the editor, let me tell you. And a lot of people thought what he did made him a hero, like you said, but a lot of other people who already hated werewolves used it as an example of why werewolves are bloodthirsty monsters who should all be put down.”

“That’s so fucking stupid, though,” Stiles says. “Like, if a human good Samaritan had stumbled upon this guy waving a gun at his girlfriend, and he pulled his own gun and shot the guy, I bet they wouldn’t have a problem with that.” He shakes his head and says, “Human supremacists are the worst.”

“Truth,” Theo says. “They love the ‘good guy with a gun’ narrative but God forbid it be a good guy with claws and teeth.”

Stiles snorts. “So what happened with the trial? Did it go to trial?”

“Oh, yeah, it went to trial. The girl went in and testified to how she had been one hundred percent certain she was about to die until Eddie showed up, the werewolf expert came in and said that it was ridiculous to restrict a werewolf’s ability to protect an innocent person where a human would be allowed to, like you just said, and the jury came back in like twenty minutes and said not guilty.”

“Well, thank God for that,” Stiles says.

“Yeah. But the cops were pissed. And they’ve been looking for excuses to target the Romero pack ever since.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip and says thoughtfully, “I wonder if someone is trying to frame them for killing Mitch and Ruth Hewitt. The cops were trying pretty hard to say that Liam was an accomplice.”

“Look, I don’t wanna pry,” Theo says, “but Mason did it, right? I mean, they have it on video and everything, I thought.”

“Yeah, but . . .” Stiles glances around and says, “look, don’t spread this around, okay? I think Mason was influenced magically. He says he doesn’t remember anything that happened, not just that day but for several weeks prior. Nobody knows where he was for those few weeks. We can’t find his phone or figure out where he was staying. Pretty much everyone who knows him agrees that he could have killed his dad if he got pissed enough, but that he never would have hurt his mom. So I’m trying to look for anyone else who might have wanted the Hewitts dead. To which there are about a thousand suspects. See previously human supremacists, comma, the fucking worst.”

“That is crazy,” Theo says. “But yeah, anything I can do to help, of course.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. “I really appreciate it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Tom half-expects Peter to try to dictate what order the interviews of the Douglas pack should be in, or give him a list of questions to ask. But he doesn’t, and when Tom mentions it, Peter quirks an eyebrow and says, “Do you think I don’t trust you to know how to do your job?”

“Jury’s out,” Tom says.

Peter huffs out a laugh and says, “Don’t be ridiculous. Your competence is one of the first things that attracted me to you. In fact, the idea of watching you conduct hours of interrogations is . . .” He gives a fake shiver. “I might have to take a few breaks.”

Tom feels his cheeks flush pink despite himself. “That, uh, that’s great, Peter. I’m just gonna – ” He practically trips over his own feet in his haste to get out of his office, and hears Peter chuckling behind him. He has to take a few moments to compose himself before heading for the room where the Douglas pack is waiting.

It’s a medium-sized pack, sixteen members total, including the children. Garrett Douglas had never married or found a mate, but had four children, one of whom had left the pack a few years prior. Two of those children were married and the oldest had one child, still only a toddler. Garrett also had a younger brother who was his beta, who was married and had three children, two of whom were also married, and a younger sister, who was married but childless.

Tom had been surprised that the pack wasn’t bigger, given Douglas’ status, but Peter had rolled his eyes and pointed out that it was hard to grow your pack when you wouldn’t accept non-wolves into it, and even favored born wolves strongly over turned wolves. The Hale pack had grown from seven adults and two children to twelve adults and seven children in the time he had known them. But all five of the adults who had been added had been born human, and only three of them had been turned. In contrast, the Douglas pack was constructed almost entirely of born wolves. Garrett’s two siblings had both married born wolves and so had his oldest son. His second child had married a turned wolf, but one who had been turned before they met. Only his third child had married a human, and the couple had left the pack as a result.

Mixed makeup packs were common, according to Peter, although the Hale pack did have a higher ratio of people who had been born human than most. “But that’s because of the fire,” he said when Tom asked, talking about it with a facility that would have amazed the people who had met him five years previous. “My brother, his daughter, plus Talia’s other two children – all born wolves. Even if we had added Stiles, Isaac, et cetera – we still would have been weighted far more heavily towards wolves if they hadn’t died.”

Tom studies the list of Douglas pack members for the last time and finalizes his decisions. He has to start with Russ, the new alpha – that was a matter of courtesy. And he wanted to leave Brett, the Left Hand, for last. Better to him hit once he had gotten every bit of information from the other pack members that he could. Then he could ask him everything under the sun. And he’ll save Garrett’s daughter, Charlotte, for second to last. She’s the one who was possibly involved with one of the Janssen pack. He wants to let her sweat for a little bit, make her nervous, wondering what the others might be saying about it.

He has Russ showed into the interrogation room and shakes his hand, introduces himself although they had met briefly the day that Garrett was killed, and apologizes for the necessity of their meeting. “Just a few basic questions,” he says.

“Of course, whatever I can do to help,” Russ says.

Tom asks a few questions about what had happened at the wedding, but most of that had been covered in the statement Russ had given that day, after finding his father’s body. Then he moves on. “Now, I understand that your father was very political, so the question of whether or not he had any enemies is kind of a useless one,” he says, and Russ laughs slightly and agrees. “But are there any that stood out? People he had argued with recently, threatening letters, lawsuits, anything like that?”

“I mean, Dad argued with people all the time,” Russ said matter-of-factly. “We used to joke that instead of responding to ‘how are you’ with ‘good, yourself?’ Dad would say ‘how dare you speak to me’. Arguing was his default. Currently, though? He was pissed at the Janssen pack because one of those refugee kids was hitting on Charlotte. He was pissed at the Sanderson pack because one of their members quit his business to open her own. Hell, he was pissed at Talia for making him go to this ‘abomination’ of a wedding.” He makes the air quotes with a pronounced roll of his eyes. “My dad was permanently pissed off.”

“Okay, but who was pissed at him?” Tom asks. “He might have been mad at the Sandersons, but were they mad at him?”

“Probably just the Janssens, to be honest. He said some really nasty shit to that kid, knocked him around a bit.”

Tom thinks about that, decides to save further questions for other pack members, and moves on. He asks a few more basic questions about pack structure, thanks Russ for his time, and calls in Garrett’s younger sister. Since Garrett had never married, and his children had never known their assortment of mothers, he’s guessing that either the younger sister or the sister-in-law had been a mother figure to them. If Charlotte had secretly had a relationship with the Janssen pack, one of them might know about it. There were no girls in the family her age – her siblings and cousins were all male – which made them as a confidante less likely.

But the sister doesn’t know much about it, and neither does the sister-in-law. He asks all of them dozens of questions about the pack’s relationship with various people in the area, and always gets non-answers. He hopes Peter is getting more out of this than he is.

Charlotte is only seventeen, and Russ and his wife Gloria have taken official custody of her, so Tom interviews Gloria and Charlotte together. It’s clear immediately that Charlotte is upset. Her eyes are slightly red-rimmed and she won’t look at Tom as she answers his questions about her relationship with her father in a reedy whisper. She admits that she was often afraid of him, that she had argued with him frequently, and she had been talking to a member of the Janssen pack. “But it was just talking,” she insists, meeting Tom’s gaze for the first time.

“But he got upset about it anyway?” Tom asks.

Her gaze drops and she murmurs, “Yeah.”

Tom wonders for a moment if it really is as simple as it seems. An abused girl, a secret boyfriend, a crime of passion or protection that just happened to take place at the wedding because it was the only time the Janssen pack had access to him. It could have been the boyfriend, protecting Charlotte, or his alpha, protecting him. Either are perfectly viable possibilities. “When did this happen?”

“About three weeks ago,” she says.

“Have you seen him since then?”

“He’s in my class at school, so I see him sometimes, but I haven’t talked to him again.” Charlotte’s hands twist at the Kleenex she’s holding.

Gloria frowns. “You’re lying about that, Charlotte. I can hear that in your heartbeat.”

“No! Well . . .” Charlotte clears her throat. “I talked to him once. Just once! I told him I couldn’t see him anymore.”

“When was this?” Gloria asks, taking over the interrogation, which Tom finds very interesting. She’s leading Charlotte into implicating the Janssens. “Before or after the wedding?”

“Before, way before. Only a couple of days after Dad t-talked to him. It was that week Brett was in Cabo and so I thought it would be safe, since Brett was the one who told Dad that I’d been talking to him in the first place.”

Tom’s eyebrows go up at this. “How did Brett know?”

“He picks me up from school on the days I stay late for track,” Charlotte says. “He saw us talking and he told Dad. But he was out of town that day and I was getting a ride home from a friend, so when I saw Haji, I figured I could just talk to him really quickly, say I was sorry about what Dad had done but I couldn’t see him anymore, and Dad would never find out.”

Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, Tom thinks to himself. “What was Brett doing in Cabo?” he asks, in a tone that conveys only mild curiosity.

Gloria is the one who answers. “Oh, he goes down there a lot, actually. He works as a real estate developer, and he and his partners are working on a pair of resorts there and in Cancun.”

“Ah, got it,” Tom says, dropping the subject. He knows damned well that a Left Hand making frequent trips out of town is possibly the most suspicious thing on the planet, but there’s no point in mentioning that here. Whatever Brett was doing in Cabo – if he was in Cabo at all – is something he can discuss with Brett himself. “Charlotte, do you think your dad found out you had talked to Haji again?”

“I don’t think so. He didn’t say anything, and, uh, he would have. If he had known.”

Tom thinks to himself that Douglas would have done a lot more than say something. But he nods and says, “Okay. Charlotte, you can go. Gloria, will you stay for a minute, please?”

Charlotte flees the room as if a pack of tigers is on her tail. Gloria gives Tom a pleasantly neutral expression.

“You want me to think the Janssens are guilty, don’t you,” Tom says, dropping any pretense of subtlety.

Gloria sputters. “I want you to find the guilty party no matter who it is.”

“Okay. But you think that the guilty party is somebody in the Janssen pack. That’s why you told me Charlotte was lying. You didn’t even wait to ask her why she had done that in private; you called her out immediately and right in front of me.”

“Well, I don’t want her to get in trouble for lying to the police,” Gloria says.

“Mm hm.” Tom studies Gloria thoughtfully. “Okay. So, you think that the guilty party is somebody in the Janssen pack.”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Garrett had a lot of enemies.” Somewhat snippily, Gloria adds, “Isn’t it your job to figure out who the guilty party is? Why are you so interested in my opinion?”

Tom stares her down for a moment before he says, “You can go.”

Gloria growls under her breath, pushes her chair back, and leaves the room in a huff.

Tom’s phone chimes, and he glances down to see he has a text from Peter that reads, ‘A real estate developer, really? Who does he think he’s fooling?’

Amused, Tom gives a snort and has the deputy show Brett in. He’s in his late twenties, slender and neat, and he greets Tom with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. Tom thanks him for coming in and then opens with, “So what were you doing in Cabo two weeks ago?”

The question clearly surprises Brett, although he doesn’t actually look worried. “I don’t see how that’s relevant, but I was there for business. There’s a resort opening there, which my company is one of the developers for.”

“Yeah? What’s the name of the resort?”

“Jewel of the Blue.” Brett now seems amused. “You can Google it, if you like. Have you ever been to Cabo, Sheriff?”

“I haven’t,” Tom says. “Did you see a lot of it while you were down there?”

“It was a business trip, not a sightseeing one,” Brett says, “although on this occasion my wife did come with me. She loves it down there, so she’ll find reasons to come along so she can scuba dive while I work.”

“Apparently you’ve been going down there a lot.”

“Resorts don’t build themselves, Sheriff. Is this going somewhere, by the way?”

“I don’t know yet,” Tom says. “I’m sure that you can see how a pack’s Left Hand making frequent trips out of town not two weeks before their alpha was murdered might be considered suspicious.”

Brett shrugs and says, “It was a business trip, like I said. It’s not like he was murdered while I was gone, as if I were trying to establish an alibi.”

“No, that’s true. Do you have one of those for the night he was killed, by the way?”

At this, Brett outright laughs. “You don’t mess around, Sheriff. I see why Peter Hale likes you. I really don’t have an alibi for the night he was murdered, unless you consider ‘I was having a quiet night in with my wife’ as an alibi.”

“I’m sure your wife will vouch for you,” Tom says.

“I’m sure she will.”

“Tell me about Charlotte and Haji Janssen.”

Brett rolls with the sudden shift in gears effortlessly. “They’re in the same class at school and started talking. He would sit with her after school while she waited for me to come pick her up. It was probably nothing, but I mentioned it to Uncle Garrett because I thought he might want me to start doing a little preliminary research in case Charlotte said he was her mate. He told me not to bother and said he would handle it.”

“Which he did how?”

“The next day, he went to school to pick her up instead of me. Told the kid not to talk to his daughter, probably roughed him up a bit. Charlotte came home crying. Wouldn’t talk to me for a week.”

“What happened after that?”

“Annie Janssen called Garrett and reamed him out over the phone. He told her that he didn’t give a rat’s ass what he thought and to keep her second-rate pack members away from his daughter, and that she’d regret it if she didn’t.”

“Do you think Annie Janssen is capable of murder?”

“All werewolves are capable of murder,” Brett says, smiling.

“Fair enough,” Tom says. “Do you think Annie is more capable than others?”

“Sure. She killed her father, didn’t she? It takes a special sort of balls to take on your own alpha. Her pack is small, and that’s going to make her overly protective of her pack members. Her sister probably came up with the plan, though – she’s their Left Hand, and I think she’s dating a Druid right now.”

“Interesting,” Tom says. “I’ll look into it, see what I can find out.”

Brett gives him the same pleasant, neutral smile. “Thank you, Sheriff. We appreciate all your hard work.”

“Do you, now?” Tom asks. “I thought most Left Hands preferred to take care of problems on their own, without pesky things like law enforcement getting in the way.”

Brett shrugs and says, “It would hardly be polite to say that to your face, would it?”

“Politeness is rarely a concern to my husband,” Tom says dryly. “But thank you all the same. That’s all I need from you for today. Thanks for your time.”

“It was no problem at all.” Brett stands up and turns to go.

“Oh, and Mr. Douglas . . .” Tom calls after him. “No more trips to Cabo for a while. I think you’d better stay in town until this is resolved.”

“Whatever you say, Sheriff,” Brett says, and departs without another word.

A few moments later, the door opens and Peter comes in. He’s wearing a smirk that Tom tries not to look at directly, because he knows exactly what it means. “So what do you think?”

“What do I think?” Peter asks, and hoists himself up to sit on the table in front of Tom, placing each of his feet on the arms of Tom’s chair. “That you should make love to me on this table, right now.”

“There are cameras in here, Peter,” Tom says.

“Your office, then?” Peter says innocently.

Tom opens his mouth to reply, then realizes that they’re not going to get anywhere until Peter has gotten this out of his system (and Tom’s own system, if he’s going to be fair). So he says, “Tell you what, if you can behave yourself for five minutes while I talk to Angie about ordering financial records for Brett’s company and checking his passport for his trips to Mexico, then we can go back to my old house for some privacy, and lay everything out. Including each other.”

Peter’s eyes gleam. “Sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter is lost in thought, putting the pieces together, for so long that Tom falls asleep. He loses track of time, drifting, until his opinion finally solidifies into something that he can put into words. “I’ve changed my mind about everything.”

Tom comes back awake with an adorable snort. “What?”

“Remember how I originally said that I didn’t think any of the Douglases had killed their alpha?” Peter says, and Tom nods, rubbing his hand over his face. “I’ve changed my mind. I think Brett killed him, and he did it at the wedding to frame Annie Janssen.”

“You don’t think Annie Janssen could have done it?”

“Oh, she could have,” Peter says, “but I don’t think she would have. She didn’t need to. She was entirely in the right. Douglas was way out of line. And it’s not like he was an incredibly popular alpha with powerful supporters. Almost everyone already hated him. Annie could have talked to Talia and the other alphas in the region, who immediately would have backed her up and told Garrett to step the hell off, and possibly even see that Charlotte was removed from his care. Honestly, she was probably planning on doing so but decided to wait until after the wedding because she knew how busy Talia was.”

Tom nods thoughtfully. “Okay, I’m with you, but why do you think Brett would have killed him?”

“A couple reasons. Number one, we can’t discount the possibility that Brett genuinely loves his cousin, wants her to be happy, and was upset about what Garrett did. Number two, it’s entirely possible that Brett just hated his uncle because he was an abusive, domineering, neo-Nazi tyrant. Number three and most important to my mind, Garrett stepped all over Brett and what it means to be the Left Hand. Part of our job is to collect intelligence, even on our own pack members, so we constantly know what’s going on with everyone. Brett alerted Garrett to a potential situation, which he was clearly planning to handle himself, and Garrett came down and charged right through as an alpha is wont to do. Talia’s done that to me a time or two, and trust me, it’s incredibly frustrating.”

“All fair points,” Tom says. “So Brett decides he wants to kill his uncle. He goes down to Cabo – or somewhere else – to make some sort of preparations. Probably find someone who can do the right sort of spell. Then he kills him at the wedding and blames it all on the Janssens. One problem, though – Brett wasn’t at the wedding.”

“True,” Peter says with a nod. “Russ would’ve had to have been in on it with him. Which I think is perfectly likely, for all the same reasons I just listed, with the added bonus of him seizing the alpha power.”

“Hm,” Tom says. “Okay. I can definitely see the train of logic here.”

“Now, one of three things is going to happen,” Peter says. “If Brett was sympathetic to the Janssens’ position, he doesn’t need to do anything. He knows that since they didn’t do it, you can’t prove that they did. If he was antagonistic to the Janssens’ position, he could plant evidence to frame them, or he could kill Annie Janssen, as well as anyone else in the pack who gets in his way.”

“What’s your best guess?”

“I want to say number one, but given the way he was acting yesterday, I might have to go with door number three. I’ll talk to Talia about having a word with Annie Janssen.”

“Okay.” Tom leans in, tracing Peter’s cheekbone with his thumb, and gives him a kiss. “What about all this stuff with Mason Hewitt and his parents? If Brett killed Garrett, then it might be unrelated.”

“Maybe. The timing is still coincidental as hell, but it’s a possibility. We’ll see what Stiles finds out.”

Tom grimaces. “I wouldn’t ask him not to investigate, but . . .”

“As if we could have stopped him,” Peter says with a snort. “Frankly, I pity whoever gets in his way. There are few things more dangerous than a Left-Handed Denmaker whose party just got ruined.”

Tom gives a short laugh. “I guess you’re right about that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Annie Janssen is tall for a woman, although still a few inches shorter than Talia, with short blonde hair and a wary look on her face as she opens the door. She sees who’s standing there and her expression softens slightly, but not much. “Aaron, what a nice surprise. Won’t you come in?”

“Of course, thank you,” Aaron says, stepping inside. He gives Annie a warm smile, hoping that this will put her at ease. “Sorry for stopping by without calling first. I tried to reach you this morning but you didn’t answer your phone.”

“I probably forgot to turn the ringer back on,” Annie said. “Coffee?”

“Sure, thanks.”

They sit down at the kitchen table, and Annie gets him a mug and puts cream and sugar on the table. He adds both, giving it a quick stir. “Talia asked me if I could come talk to you about what happened with Garrett Douglas.”

Annie’s mouth thins slightly. “I did tell the sheriff when he asked me that we’d had some trouble with their pack. I didn’t hide anything.”

“Nobody is saying that you did,” Aaron assures her. “But we want to nail down exactly what he did so we can figure out if it might have been involved. Apparently his daughter was quite upset, and there’s a question of whether or not this was actually an internal power struggle.”

Annie sighs. “Probably better to hear it straight from the source.” She leans over in her chair so she can call into the hallway, “Hey, Haji? Can you come into the kitchen for a minute?”

“Be right there,” a male voice replies, and a minute later, a teenager jogs into the kitchen. He sees Aaron and freezes.

“Haji, this is Aaron Hale,” Annie says. “You remember I’ve told you about Talia, who helped us out? This is her mate.”

“Oh,” Haji says, some of the tension leaving his body. “Nice to meet you.”

“Aaron’s here to talk about what happened to Alpha Douglas,” Annie says.

That makes Haji shrink into himself a little, but he nods and sits down at the table. Annie tells him to just start at the beginning and tell Aaron about what had happened, so he nods and says, “So, uh, Charlotte Douglas is in a couple of my classes, but we had never actually spoken before a few months ago. She’s the daughter of a super important alpha, she’s part of the track team and really popular and just – way out of my league, you know? But a few weeks ago, as I was leaving school, I heard her talking into her cell phone. She’d lost something that her father had loaned her, and she was really upset – saying he was going to be so mad, he was going to kill her – and, you know, all teenagers worry about getting in trouble, but this was different. She was really frightened. I asked her if there was anything I could do to help, and she said no, so I went home.

“She was out of school for a few days, and when she came back, it looked like she’d been crying the whole time she was gone. I just wanted to help, you know? So I passed her a note in the hallway that said I knew what it was like to feel like everything was fucked up and there was nobody who would understand, and that I’d listen if she wanted to talk. I didn’t really expect her to reply, to be honest, but she passed the note back later saying to meet her after school.

“She never did tell me what had actually happened. She said she didn’t want to talk about it. So I just started telling her about, you know, what had happened to me and how for a while I’d been convinced that everything was hopeless and nothing would ever get better. But it did, because I let people help me. And then we just talked about classes and movies and stuff.” Haji cleared his throat and rubbed a hand over his hair. “I liked her, but I could tell she had major issues, right? So I didn’t really want to jump in feet first.”

“It sounds like you were exactly what she needed,” Aaron says.

A hesitant smile crosses Haji’s face. “I hope so. Anyway, uh, that went on for a couple weeks. She had track three times a week. I stayed late and then sat with her while she waited for her cousin to pick her up. But then one day her dad showed up. He slammed me up against the wall and told me that if I ever talked to her again, he’d kill me. She was crying and begging him to stop, and I was – I said okay, no problem, because that guy was seriously terrifying. He hit me a couple more times and then I guess I must have blacked out, because I don’t remember him and Charlotte leaving. When I came around, I headed home and told Annie what had happened.”

“As you should,” Aaron says, with an encouraging nod.

“A few days later, Charlotte came over during lunch and said she was sorry for what her dad had done but she couldn’t talk to me anymore, and I said okay, because, you know.” Haji shrugs a little. “Scary dude.”

“And that’s all that Haji is privy to,” Annie says, giving Aaron a tight little smile.

Aaron nods, immediately understanding the nuance. “Thanks, Haji. I appreciate you giving me the scoop.”

Haji nods and accepts the clear dismissal, heading out of the room. They hear his feet on the stairs and then a door shut.

Annie sips her coffee and says, “After the kids were in bed that night, I called Douglas and read him the riot act. He told me that he’d see me in Hell before he saw his daughter running around with trash like my pack, and hung up.”

“Did anything else happen after that?”

“I was pissed, but I knew we didn’t have the standing to challenge him. My sister Sally went over to talk to Brett. Just one Left Hand to another.”

“Did she, now,” Aaron says. “Brett failed to mention that.”

“Well, that might be because it wasn’t much of a conversation. Sally asked if there was any chance Brett could intervene, because Haji was really upset and we were wondering what we would do if Haji and Charlotte did turn out to be mates. I’m not sure if they are – he’s bounced back pretty well, but he still seems a little moody. Anyway, Sally talked to Brett, who basically just told her that he didn’t give a shit about our problems. That was the end of it. I was going to talk to some people after the wedding – I knew Talia would be too busy to deal with it until then, and honestly, after everything she’s done for us, I couldn’t bring myself to bother her when she was so busy. Since Haji seemed okay, I figured it would be easier to let it wait.” Annie stirs her coffee and adds, a little belligerently, “I didn’t kill him. But I’m glad he’s dead.”

“You’re hardly alone in that camp,” Aaron says dryly. “If it hadn’t stopped the wedding, I’m pretty sure our entire pack would have dusted off our hands and said good riddance.”

That brought a smile to Annie’s face, but it fades quickly. “So you think it was some internal pack thing? Do you think Russ killed his father?”

“Maybe. We’re not sure of anything yet. But if that is what happened, then they did it at the wedding to frame somebody else, and so far they’ve been pretty eager to throw you under the bus. So be careful, okay, Annie? We’ve got your back on this, so don’t hesitate to call for help if you need it.”

“Thanks.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

After three different visits to the Gévaudan House, Stiles is pretty sure that anybody in Sacramento could have wanted to kill Mitch and Ruth Hewitt. Over the past ten years, Mitch Hewitt and his ‘Foundation for Human Rights’ has managed to cause problems for every supernatural creature in northern California.

The ‘foundation’ has filed over a hundred lawsuits over the course of its existence, trying to collect damages from werewolf packs over everything from parking spots to television ads. Most of the lawsuits were dismissed, but they just filed more. They complained about supernatural creatures being allowed in public places, accused them of harassment or violence even when nothing had happened. They sent threatening letters, dabbled in blackmail and extortion, and generally made peoples’ lives miserable.

Mitch Hewitt had been one of the founding members of the group, the vice-president up until his death, and one of their busiest lawyers. Stiles can’t find a single supernatural person in the area who wouldn’t have had reason to want him dead.

But despite all the information he’s gathered, thanks to Theo’s more-than-willingness to tell him all about it, he’s still sure that the Gévaudan Society is the key. It’s the last place he knows for sure Mason was. They’re lying about when he left. And he still can’t find any sign of Corey.

He has no idea if he’s making inroads with Theo or not. Theo is unfailingingly glad to see him, always upbeat and cheerful and eager to answer whatever questions Stiles has. If he’s lying, Stiles hasn’t caught him yet. They’ve had a couple conversations about how awful human supremacists are, and Stiles has talked at some length about his experiences with the WLO and Search for a Cure, planting the seeds that he’s coming around to the idea that the werewolf supremacists are on the right track. He thinks he’s doing a great job, personally, but he has no idea whether or not it’s working.

That’s what he’s thinking as he arrives for his fourth visit. It’s three days before the full moon, and he’s starting to get twitchy. He doesn’t even have any questions to ask, but is just going there to ‘hang out’, something he hopes Theo doesn’t see through immediately. He doesn’t seem to. They chat about various current events and how he’s feeling overall. He hasn’t talked at all about Garrett Douglas while he’s been there, but he’s been open about how upset he is that the wedding was cancelled, and how he personally plans on figuring out who used the opportunity to commit murder and make them sorry. Regardless of whether or not Theo believes that he’s genuinely interested in werewolf supremacy, there’s no point in trying to hide that he’s pissed off about Douglas’ murder.

They’re hanging out in the living room with a couple of the other students who are usually around, when the back door opens and an elderly man comes in. Stiles recognizes him instantly from his research as Serge Marcel. There are two other adults with him, a man and a woman, both somewhat younger. It’s difficult to judge the age of werewolves, Stiles has found over the years. Talia, for example, is nearly sixty, but doesn’t look a day over forty. Marcel is one of the few werewolves he’s ever met who actually looks elderly, with white hair and wrinkles.

Theo jumps to his feet as soon as Marcel enters, all smiles and boyish enthusiasm. “Hey, Dr. Marcel! How’s it going?”

“Fine,” Marcel says, somewhat dismissively. He’s still paying more attention to his two companions, and in fact in the middle of a conversation with them. Mostly ignoring Theo, he continues, “See if you can get that report to me for Tuesday. The new subject should be available after the full moon, so we need to be ready to get started.”

“Sure,” the woman says with a nod. She and the man head through the doorway into the kitchen.

Undeterred by the fact that Marcel isn’t paying attention, Theo jumps back in. “Dr. Marcel, you haven’t met Stiles yet, have you? Stilinski. You know, from the – ”

“I know who he is.” Marcel turns to Stiles, giving him a keen, piercing gaze. Stiles finds himself holding still underneath it involuntarily, like he’s a butterfly pinned to a board. “Theo told me you’d been coming by. I imagine you must feel some sympathy towards our political goals, but that’s not really all the Society is about. I hope Theo’s made that clear to you.”

“Mostly we’ve been talking about the local packs,” Stiles says.

“Stiles is trying to find out who might have wanted to kill Mason Hewitt’s dad,” Theo says, then adds, “besides, you know, Mason.”

“I see.” Marcel seems to lose interest in both the conversation and Stiles’ existence on the same planet as him. To be honest, that’s fine with Stiles. There’s something about Marcel which is frankly unsettling.

“Hey, can we talk to Gene and Patty about it?” Theo asks. “Would that be okay?”

“Don’t waste their time, Theodore,” Marcel says firmly. “They’ve got plenty of their own work to do without getting sucked into whatever wild goose chase you’re indulging in to impress your celebrity crush.” He turns back to Stiles, as Theo flushes pink and sputters a bit. “If you want to know what this society is really all about, you should come to the full moon eve ceremony tomorrow. Theo can tell you where.”

Stiles feels his pulse speed up a bit despite himself. An invitation like that is worth its weight in gold, but he can’t help but wonder why Marcel is extending it to him, when he obviously doesn’t want Stiles around. “That would be great, actually. Would it be okay if I brought my mate?”

“I’ll leave it to your discretion. You are a Left Hand, after all.”

Stiles can read between those lines clearly. Marcel is suggesting that Stiles might not want Derek to know what he’s up to – but he’s also reminding Stiles that he knows exactly who he is and why he might be interested in their business. Stiles nods and says, “Thank you, sir. I appreciate the invitation.”

“We’ll see how you feel about it in a couple days.” Marcel turns and walks out of the room, going up the stairs.

“He’s . . . an interesting guy,” Stiles says, after he’s gone.

Theo laughs. “Yeah, he’s not exactly fun to be around. I mean, I owe the guy my life, and I think the work he does is amazing, but he’s not really what I’d call a friend.”

Stiles slumps back onto the sofa. “So who are Gene and Patty?”

“Oh, they’re two other scientists that Dr. Marcel has been working with lately. Much more friendly,” Theo adds, laughing. “Gene Weisshart and Patricia Evans. They’re not werewolves, actually, they’re Druids. So I thought they might be able to tell us more about how someone might have controlled Mason. But I won’t bug them if Dr. Marcel doesn’t want me to.”

Stiles notes down the names so he can look them up later if need be. “Okay. And I just got invited to what now?”

At this, Theo laughs again. “Well, we can’t spend the full moon together, because everyone spends the full moon with their own packs, right? So we spend the night before the full moon together. Go running in the forest, howl at the moon, the usual stuff. It’s fun, you should definitely come.”

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says. “Sounds great.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Listening to Stiles describe the events of the day, Tom clearly isn’t thrilled with the idea that Stiles is going to go hang out with a bunch of possible murderers in the woods. “I could go with him,” Derek offers.

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I want to go by myself. I want to give Theo and Marcel the impression that the pack doesn’t know and wouldn’t necessarily approve.”

“Is that really a good idea?” Tom asks, forehead wrinkling.

Stiles is starting to feel a little exasperated, although he knows his father has good reason to be nervous, given everything they’ve lived through. He’s mollified somewhat when Peter reaches out and squeezes the back of Tom’s neck. “He’ll be fine. These rituals are hundreds of years old. There will be dozens of people there who don’t know anything about whatever they’re up to. It’s really no more dangerous than going to any college party.”

“Well . . .” Tom still clearly hates the idea, but is trying to hide it.

“I’ll take one of Peter’s little bugs with me,” Stiles says. “Tuck it into my pocket. That way you can keep an ear on me, and if anything untoward happens, you can charge in to my rescue.”

“Okay,” Tom says. “That seems like a fairly reasonable compromise.”

“You just assume I have listening devices available,” Peter remarks, amused.

“Yeah, because you do,” Stiles says, then adds, “and yours are probably higher quality than mine.”

Tom gives a snort. “You two can stop telling me about your illegal activities any time now.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to interrogate me?” Peter asks innocently.

Stiles chokes back a laugh as his father flushes red. “Okay, that’s it, Derek and I are out of here before Peter throws us out.”

Derek is shaking his head a little as they head back to their own house. He’s quiet, and Stiles knows that he has to be nervous about the whole thing. He doesn’t question, doesn’t try to convince Stiles that he should go with him. Instead he just pulls him into an embrace once they’re inside, makes love to him quiet and slow and sweet, like he’s trying to remind Stiles of how much he loves him.

“I’m going to be fine,” Stiles tells him, as they lie in bed afterwards.

Derek nuzzles his neck. “I know.”

The next day is Sunday. Stiles makes brunch, and they hang out for a few hours afterwards, watching a movie. He leaves after dinner and heads to the address that Theo had given him. It’s about an hour northwest of Sacramento, closer to Beacon Hills than to the city itself. “There’s nowhere close to Sacramento that we can really run,” Theo had told him, when Stiles asked him. “I’m not sure why Marcel picked this place or whose land it is, but we’ve always gone there.”

That had intrigued Stiles, and he had looked it up and found that the land was owned by a shell corporation. Since the Gévaudan Society did political work, it doesn’t surprise him that they use one of those to filter their money.

Theo is clearly waiting for him, and greets him with his usual enthusiasm. Stiles hopes that he’s managing to keep his dislike of Theo from being obvious. He’s introduced to a few more people. There’s a bonfire already lit, and a stereo blaring music that seems to mostly be a bass beat. Everyone there is already shifted into their partial form, so Stiles shifts as well, even though he doesn’t particularly like hanging out in his shifted form. It makes his hearing and sense of smell even more sensitive, which has a tendency to annoy him.

After about twenty minutes of milling around, Serge Marcel steps up onto a platform. The music is instantly silenced. “Followers of Gévaudan!” Marcel shouts, his voice magically amplified and echoing in the clearing. “We come together on this, the eve of the full moon, to once again declare our devotion to the supreme being, la bête!”

“La bête!” everyone shouts, chanting it several times before falling silent again.

“We open ourselves to your power!”

“La bête!”

“We humbly beg to be filled with your strength!”

“La bête!”

“We celebrate your perfection!”

“La bête!”

Silence falls except for the crackling of the fire. Marcel lifts a bowl made out of blood red porcelain to his lips and drinks. Then he passes it to the person next to him in the circle. The bowl slowly makes its way around the circle until it gets to Stiles. He looks into it curiously to see a silvery iridescent liquid inside. Since everyone else is drinking it, he feels safe enough lifting it to his mouth and taking a swallow.

It tastes like clear spring water, with a hint of something else, something magical, powerful. It slides down into his stomach and bursts into his veins, sweeping away any weariness or tension in his body, immediately bringing him into a heightened state of awareness that he could barely begin to describe.

“La bête!” a final cheer goes up as the bowl finishes making its way around the circle, and then they’re running. Stiles runs with them, shifting to his full wolf form without even meaning to, loping along through the forest in a cloud of wolves.

The rest of the night is a blur. There’s music and dancing, drinking and games, and a lot of running. He has more energy than he knows what to do with. It’s like a full moon high amplified to the tenth degree. He joins the pack running down a deer without even thinking twice about it, revels in the joy and the accomplishment of the hunt, the feeling of his teeth sinking into fresh meat.

He falls asleep somewhere near dawn in a pile of wolves in the clearing, and wakes up with a start when the sun hits his eyes. He feels stiff and sore from sleeping on the ground, although it’s easy enough to stretch the kinks out of his neck and shoulders. It’s not until he looks down and sees that his hands are covered in blood that he freaks out a little. “The fuck!”

One of the other wolves opens an eye, then shifts back to their human form. Stiles expects it to be Theo, but instead it’s Tracy, who looks annoyed with him. “Chill out, man.”

“Whose blood is this?” Stiles blurts out.

“The deer’s, probably,” Tracy says. “Or maybe a rabbit. I think I saw you get a rabbit.”

Stiles nerves dial back a little as he sniffs the blood and confirms that it’s not human. He remembers the taste of the deer, the warm, fresh blood, and feels vaguely sick. “Oh, God.”

“If you’re gonna puke, do it somewhere else,” Tracy says, closes her eyes, and sprawls out again.

Stiles swallows down the nausea and picks himself up out of the pile of wolves, then looks around for his clothes. There are piles of fabric everywhere and it takes a minute of sorting to find his jeans, which fortunately still have his phone in the pocket. Despite his searching, he can’t find his shirt anywhere, and decides to just leave without it.

“Hey, Stiles!” Theo jogs over as he’s fishing for his car keys. “Are you hungry? Breakfast is gonna be here soon. You probably want to clean up, too, you’re still kind of bloody. Come on, let me show you where to go – ”

Although he isn’t exactly in the mood to stick around and eat, Stiles wants them to think he had a good time and wasn’t freaked out by any of this. He also isn’t thrilled with the idea of getting the interior of his car all bloody, so he says, “Sure, cool,” and follows Theo to where there are some outdoor showers set up. Since everyone’s apparently already seen him naked, he strips back out of his jeans and ducks under the water. It’s quite cold, and he can feel his werewolf blood heating up to compensate.

The food arrives before he’s dressed again, and he’s grateful to see that it’s normal human fare: pre-prepared breakfast sandwiches, fruit, coffee, and tea. The thought of meat makes him feel a little queasy still, so he grabs one that’s just egg and cheese, along with a cup of coffee.

He’s still eating when Serge Marcel walks over. “So, did you enjoy our rituals, Mr. Stilinski?”

“I thought it was really interesting, actually,” Stiles says, which isn’t a lie. He definitely could have done without the rabbit fur in his teeth, but the ceremony itself had been fascinating. “La bête de Gévaudan was the first known werewolf, wasn’t it?”

“He,” Marcel corrects. “And yes. A creature of enormous power. The perfect werewolf. We have never seen another like him.”

With his mouth full, Theo chimes in, “Dr. Marcel’s ancestor saw him with his own eyes.”

“Wow,” Stiles says. “So why do you think la bête was so different from today’s werewolves?”

Marcel’s mouth purses a little, and he says, “Dilution of the breed, presumably. As werewolves became intermixed with humans, the genes that created the magnificence of la bête were lost.”

“A lot of Dr. Marcel’s work revolves around that,” Theo says. “Finding those lost genes and introducing them back into the werewolf population.”

That sounds like a horrible idea to Stiles, but instead of saying so, he asks, “How do you find lost genes?”

“I doubt the scientific intricacies of it would interest you,” Marcel says, then adds, “but you don’t seem to be quite as weak as I would have thought, given your history. You handled yourself well last night. The . . . political side,” he continues, his mouth pursing again, “could use someone with your skills. Why don’t you come by the meeting next week? You might have something to contribute.”

“I’d love to,” Stiles says, and Marcel nods and walks away.

“Dude,” Theo says. “That was amazing. Dr. Marcel doesn’t give a shit at all about the political stuff. You must have made an impression on him.”

“Well, my work speaks for itself, I think,” Stiles says. “But if he doesn’t do the political stuff, who’s in charge of it?”

Theo shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ve never been invited to one of those meetings.”

“Oh. Uh, sorry?”

“No big! It’s not my style anyway. All that stuff is boring as hell. I’m way more into the science. When Dr. Marcel gets those genes nailed down, I’m gonna be first in line.”

“Yeah?” Stiles gives him a sideways look. “You’re okay being a guinea pig?”

“Hell yes! It worked out last time, right?” Theo grins at him. “Dr. Marcel promised me that once he’s got it all sorted out, I can be the first test subject. It’s gonna be awesome, Stiles. I’m going to be the type of werewolf that nobody has seen in three hundred years. Then we’ll show the humans what’s what.”

Stiles nods, grins back, and says, “Sounds great.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek greets Stiles with a hug, or at least he tries to, but Stiles squirms free. “Sorry, I still feel really bloody even though I guess I’m not, and it’s kind of gross.”

“Bloody?” Tom asks in alarm. “Whose blood?”

“Nobody’s. A deer. It’s no big deal, Dad.”

Tom gives his son the side-eye and says, “If it’s not a big deal, why do you not want Derek touching you yet?”

Stiles winces a little. “It’s just kinda . . . icky. I can remember running with the wolves and like, killing a deer and apparently at one point I ate a rabbit . . .”

“Raw?” Tom asks.

At this, Stiles rolls his eyes. “No, Dad, I stopped to bake it in a little werewolf oven.”

Peter snorts his tea and has to turn away before Tom can see him laughing. Tom gives him an annoyed look anyway, to show that he wasn’t fooled. “Okay, fine, you ate some deer and some raw rabbit. That still doesn’t explain why you don’t want Derek touching you.”

“It’s just . . .” Stiles shakes his head, unable to find the words for what he means. He doesn’t even think it has anything to do with the aphasia, it’s just that his brain can’t quite parse why what happened disturbed him the way it did.

Derek reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “When we’re born wolves, we grow up with the instincts to hunt, to run prey, to eat what we catch. The first time a turned wolf experiences that in earnest, it can be . . . disconcerting. Or so I’ve been told. When we run around on the full moon here, it’s never to run prey. It’s just playing games, expending energy. It’s not about being a predator.”

Stiles nods, relieved. “Yeah. Thanks, Derek. It was just a little . . . it felt like it wasn’t me. Sort of like an out of body experience.”

“Well, fortunately, you seem to have come through without any damage,” Peter says. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to gain much in the way of intelligence. That bug you took with you? Well, you lost it the moment you undressed to run with the moon, of course. So I heard the beginning of the ritual, but nothing else until you put your pants back on the next morning.”

“At least you heard that much,” Stiles says. “There probably wasn’t much in between anyway. What do you think that stuff we all drank was? It made the full moon high way more intense.”

“I’ve heard of Druids making potions that do that. Something about distilled spring water absorbing the energy of the moon.” Peter shrugs. “It’s not something I’ve ever felt the need to use, but as werewolf drug use goes, it’s about as common as marijuana is for humans. Nothing really scandalous.”

“You don’t think they gave it to him to get him off guard, do you?” Derek asks.

Stiles shakes his head. “I don’t think so. They all drank it, not just me. I really think it’s just part of the ritual.”

Tom nods. “So they worship some old werewolf and go hunting deer in the forest. Not exactly the smoking gun we were looking for.”

“Yeah, not really, but it got me an invite to the next thing, so I’m glad I went,” Stiles says. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go shower for the next thirty minutes, and maybe when I’ve gotten the scent of animal blood and neo-Nazis off, I’ll be more in the mood to make some tea, cuddle with my mate, and talk about our next move.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom is studying a report and hating everything in it when there’s a knock at his office door and Parrish pokes his head in. “Someone is here asking to see you,” he says, with a faint frown. “He wouldn’t tell me what it was about and insisted he would speak only to you. I put him in interrogation.”

“Okay,” Tom says, getting to his feet with a frown. “Did you get his name?”

“Yeah, Gabriel Valack. He’s some sort of doctor. I’m pulling up info on him.”

“Great. Thanks, Jordan.” Tom turns his phone to silent, tucks it into his pocket, and heads into the interrogation room.

Gabriel Valack is an ordinary looking man who stands up when Tom enters the room and shakes his hand. It’s cold and clammy, and Tom has to resist the urge to wipe his hand on his pants. “Sheriff, thank you for seeing me. I have some information that’s relevant to one of your investigations.”

“I see,” Tom says, sitting down and gesturing for Valack to do so as well. “Which one?”

“The murder of Garrett Douglas.” Valack clears his throat and says, “I believe someone might have used one of my spells to commit the murder.”

“You’re a sorcerer?” Tom asks.

“I have some modest talents,” Valack says. “My main focus is on using magic to bring higher levels of consciousness. It comes in handy in my main practice, which is as a psychiatrist.”

Tom tries to picture any single person in need of mental help going to the man sitting across from him. It doesn’t click even remotely. “Okay.”

“Sometimes these spells can induce visions, or help trauma victims recover memories,” Valack says. “It’s like hyponosis, but magically amplified. I occasionally get requests to create a spell for a specific person outside the clinical setting.”

“Uh huh,” Tom says, thinking this over. “What for?”

Valack shrugs. “Recreational purposes. They can be used as something of an enhanced virtual reality. Some people use them to practice for special occasions. Or to . . . create special occasions.”

Tom decides he absolutely does not want more details about how people might be using Valack’s ‘virtual reality’ spells. “What does this have to do with Garrett Douglas? Are you saying a spell like that could be lethal?”

“Done improperly, absolutely,” Valack says. “The mind must be put in a state where it will be accepting of the magical input. There’s usually a mild sedative administered before use, and of course the person is prepared for the visions. If neither of those criteria are met, and the vision induced was violent, it could cause brain aneurysms. Particularly if someone had a vision of their own death.”

“So you’re saying someone could have bought one of your spells, then somehow programmed it to give Douglas a vision of his death, cast it on him without his being aware of it . . . and that killed him.” Tom does his best not to sound skeptical of this series of events.

“I’m saying someone bought one of my spells, specifically asked me to program it to give Douglas a vision of his death, and then cast it on him without his being aware of it,” Valack says. “This is not mere supposition on my part, Sheriff.”

“Why would you make a spell like that?” Tom asks, narrowing his eyes. “If you knew it could kill?”

“The person who asked me to make it said she would be casting it on herself. For recreational purposes.”

“That person being . . .”

“Sally Janssen.”

Tom considers this for a long moment. “So Sally Janssen told you she wanted to kill Douglas, but since she couldn’t do it in real life, she decided she’d satisfy her bloodlust with a virtual reality version of it.”

“Precisely,” Valack says, nodding. “But the spell relies on having a bit of the recipient’s DNA in order to work. Normally, whoever is casting it would add a drop of their own blood. Somehow, she added something of Douglas’. He was psychologically, magically ambushed with a vision of himself being killed, and his brain cut out under the pressure.”

“And how are you suggesting she got some of Douglas’ DNA?” Tom asks.

Valack shrugs. “Figuring that out is your job, isn’t it?”

“Maybe,” Tom says. “Or maybe my job is deciding whether or not you’re bullshitting about all of this, because the Douglas pack is intent on framing the Janssens for this, and I’m really not sure whether or not I believe you. And since Douglas’ body was stolen from the morgue, we conveniently can’t check for aneurysms.”

“Sally paid me for the spell,” Valack says. “I still have the envelope of money she handed me.”

“That’s also awfully convenient,” Tom says. “I assume you brought it with you?”

Valack nods and pulls it out. It’s in a Zip-loc bag. He sets it on the table between himself and Tom. The envelope inside has his name written on it in blue pen.

Tom looks at it but doesn’t touch it yet. “Okay,” he says. “So let me first of all say this. I’m very sure that if I give that envelope to forensics, it will have Sally Janssen’s fingerprints on it. They’ll confirm it’s her handwriting. There’s probably fingerprints and DNA on the money inside it, too. My husband is a Left Hand, Dr. Valack. I know how they play, and Brett Douglas seems to be pretty good at his job.”

“So you don’t believe me?” Valack asks.

“Secondly,” Tom says, ignoring the question, “I’m well aware that if I don’t give that envelope to forensics, the Douglas pack will kick up a huge fuss, saying I’m not following up on a viable lead. But they don’t want the Janssens arrested; they want them dead. They just need to have an excuse to kill them so they don’t get in trouble with the other alphas in the region. A flimsy excuse is fine.”

“And?” Valack says.

“So here’s what’s going to happen, Dr. Valack. I am going to take this envelope and given it to forensics. I’m going to have you sign an affidavit as to what you purport Sally Janssen bought from you and what she could have used it for. I am going to allow you to frame her, and make no mistake, this is not happening without my permission. Then, I am going to prove that what you are saying is impossible, and not only will I have you charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, I will also allow my husband to deal with you as he sees fit. If, knowing that, you are still willing to sign that affidavit, then I’ll go get one of the deputies to take your official statement.”

Valack’s mouth curves in a smile. “I’m more than willing to sign your affidavit, Sheriff.”

“Okay then.” Tom gets up from the table and leaves the room. He briefly describes the situation to Parrish and has him go take his statement. Then he gets out his phone and dials Peter. “It’s me,” he says. “We have a problem.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter studies Sally Janssen across the table, looking at the way her jaw has tightened with anger she’s only barely controlling. Annie is pacing around the room, prowling like a caged animal, while her husband stands just close enough to occasionally touch her shoulder in comfort as she goes by.

Talia is frowning as Tom finishes summarizing the situation, and before any of the Janssens can speak, she says, “There’s no way to prove that this Valack is lying?”

“First things first.” Tom holds up a finger, and Talia’s scowl intensifies. “Sally. Have you ever purchased anything from Dr. Valack?”

“No,” Sally says. “I’ve never even heard of him.”

“Do you know how Brett Douglas might have gotten an envelope and cash that would have your fingerprints or DNA on it? Presuming it does – and I think it’s a safe presumption.”

Sally sighs and rakes a hand through her short blonde hair. “The school did a fundraiser about a month ago. They do it every year, for the senior class trip. Haji was going, so Annie and I both chipped in. It was only forty bucks – but I guess they don’t need my fingerprints on every bill in the envelope, just one or two of them and the envelope itself.”

“How would they have gotten her handwriting on it?” Annie asks, her voice tight with worry.

“Handwriting’s not difficult to imitate if you have some samples,” Peter says. “I could have done it. I’m sure Brett could have.”

“And remember, this doesn’t necessarily have to hold up in a court of law,” Tom says. “They don’t actually care whether or not I investigate and arrest you. What they want is enough proof that they can get away with killing you in retaliation, and not get punished by the other alphas.”

Annie’s frown deepens, and her husband squeezes her shoulder and says, “The other alphas would believe this story from Valack?”

Talia sighs. “Look, Keith. Nobody liked Douglas, it’s true, but . . . your pack isn’t exactly popular, either. Killing one’s own alpha, one’s own father – it’s one of the worst taboos. I understand your reasoning for doing it, Annie. I supported you then and I support you now. But it didn’t earn you friends. And a lot of the alphas aren’t hugely fond of letting the refugees integrate with regular packs, either. Between those two things, yes, I think a lot of the alphas would look the other way if Russ Douglas killed you on a flimsy pretense, especially if he’s willing to promise not to keep up his father’s werewolf supremacy garbage.”

“Okay, but I can’t have killed Douglas,” Sally says. “I wasn’t at the wedding, and this spell would have only worked if I was inside your warded area.”

“Of course,” Peter says. “You bought the spell, but Annie has to be the one who triggered it. He could have simply said Annie bought the spell, but doing it this way implicates both of you, turns it into a pack conspiracy.”

“Christ,” Sally says.

“Look,” Tom says, “we’ll get to the bottom of this. I think there are going to be a ton of holes in Valack’s story once I look a little deeper. But for the time being, I have to arrest you both – and honestly, I think you’ll be safer if you allow that.”

“I can’t leave the pack,” Annie says. “Not when they’re in danger.”

“Arrest me,” Keith says immediately. “I was at the wedding. Sally bought the spell and I must have triggered it. I’ll confess if it’ll make it okay that you don’t arrest Annie.”

“Don’t confess to anything, please,” Tom says. “My job is going to be hard enough as it is. But okay, if that’s what you want, then I’ll arrest you instead of Annie.”

“The rest of you are welcome to stay with us in the meantime,” Talia says. She sees Annie’s shoulders tighten and adds, “I’m not trying to insult you, Annie, and I won’t force you to come to our den. But I’m still concerned that this may be partially directed at us, and it would be remiss of me not to offer you protection. Especially with Tom having to arrest your Left Hand.”

Annie sighs, and her husband squeezes her shoulders again. “You’re right. I’ll try to keep my pride from getting the better of me. For now, at least, the kids and I will come stay with you. Thank you for your generosity.”

“I’ll go tell them what’s going on,” Keith says, and heads for the stairs.

While they’re waiting, Talia turns to Tom and says, “What’s your next move? I mean, what sort of holes do you think you can poke in Valack’s story?”

“I’ve ordered his phone and financial records,” Tom says. “I’m going to be all up in his business by dinner time. I want to know whether or not he’s ever created a spell like that before, whether or not he actually sells these for ‘recreational purposes’ – hell, I want to force him to make one for me just to see whether or not he can do it.”

“That sounds like a terrible idea,” Peter says. “How about we use somebody not you for a canary in a coal mine?”

“I don’t know where I’d find a volunteer for that,” Tom says dryly.

“I’ll find somebody,” Peter says. “Plenty of people owe me favors.”

“I’ll bet,” Tom says, shaking his head. “But okay. I want to check him for connections to the Douglas pack, because I bet he has some. And we still haven’t found Douglas’ body, which pisses me off. There’s got to be a way to connect that theft back to Brett Douglas. It’s looking more and more like they stole the body so they could make up some shit about how he died and pin it on the Janssens. Now it may be too late to find the body, but if we can prove they stole it, it’ll amount to the same thing. How about you, Peter?”

“I think I’m going to take a trip down to Cabo,” Peter says. “See if I can find out what Brett Douglas has been up to down there.”

Talia opens her mouth to say something when Keith comes back into the room, a little paler. “I can’t find Haji. Was he staying late today?”

Annie startles and checks her watch. “He was going to stay late and study for his finals at the school library. Cecilia was going to give him a lift home because her youngest was staying late, too. Let me call her.” She pulls out her phone and jabs at the screen. “Cecilia, it’s Annie. Have you picked up the kids yet?”

On the other end, Cecilia Reyes says, “I picked up Maggie, but Haji wasn’t done yet. He said he had called you and you were going to pick him up.”

“What? He didn’t – ” Annie takes a deep breath, then continues, “Thanks, Cecilia. I have to go.” She hangs up and turns to Talia, instinctively seeking the advice of a stronger alpha. “Haji didn’t call me. Do you think something happened?”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” Tom says firmly. “Don’t forget, this is a teenaged boy who might have a secret girlfriend. There are a lot of reasons he might have lied to Mrs. Reyes about making his own way home.”

Peter can sense from the shift in Tom’s scent and heartbeat that he doesn’t really believe what he’s saying. But he doesn’t protest while Tom gets on his radio and sends a car down to the school to see if they can find Haji. Once he’s done, Peter says to Talia, “I think we should all get back to the den.”

“Agreed,” Talia says crisply. “Annie, Sally – get the kids ready, pack some bags. You’re staying with us until we can figure out what’s going on.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom gives the Douglas complex a quick onceover as he parks the Cruiser. Like the Hale pack, they live in several houses scattered across a chunk of land in the forest. It’s outside Beacon Hills by a fair bit, nearly a forty-five minutes drive to the south. He feels a swell of pity for how early Charlotte Douglas must have to get up in order to make it to school on time.

Prior to Garrett’s murder, he and Charlotte had lived in the largest house along with Garrett’s younger sister and her husband and their child. Russ and Gloria had moved into one of the smaller houses when they started having children, and now Charlotte has moved in with them, as they have official custody. Tom wonders for a brief moment who the pack’s denmaker and peacekeeper are, since nobody he’s met so far seems to fit those descriptions. He texts Peter to ask, figuring it may come in handy, but doesn’t expect an immediate reply. Peter, along with Sally Janssen, is securing the Hale property and making sure everyone there will be kept safe.

He exits the car and goes up to the door of Russ and Gloria’s house, ringing the bell sharply. Gloria answers a moment later, her expression that of pleasant neutrality. “Sheriff, what can we do for you?”

“I was hoping to have a quick word with Charlotte,” Tom says. “Haji Janssen didn’t come home from school today, and I’m trying to find him.”

“Of course,” Gloria says, standing back to let him in. She turns and calls up the stairs. “Charlotte? Can you come down here for a minute?”

Charlotte comes downstairs with a questioning look on her face. She doesn’t seem upset to see the Sheriff, only puzzled. Tom greets her in as nonthreatening a manner as he can muster. “Charlotte, did you see Haji today?”

At this, Charlotte stiffens slightly. “Uh, I mean, I saw him. He’s in two of my classes. But I didn’t talk to him, if that’s what you want to know. And track season is over so I’m not staying late anymore.”

“Okay. He didn’t come home after school today, and we’re trying to track him down.” Tom turns back to Gloria. “Do you mind if I take a look around the house?”

“Feel free,” Gloria says, with a tight little smile. “We have nothing to hide.”

Tom doubts that very much, but he also doubts that he’s going to find Haji Janssen in somebody’s closet. Still, he does his due diligence and searches the three houses on the complex. As he had expected, there’s no sign of Haji. He thanks Gloria for her help and heads back to the Hale den.

Stiles is pacing around outside and greets him as soon as he gets out of his car. “Okay, so, it’s possible I hacked into Haji’s e-mail while you were gone,” he says, and Tom sighs but is amused despite himself. “Nothing weird there. His phone’s GPS data last places him at the school, but at around three thirty, it stopped recording. Somebody must have turned his phone off, or even dismantled it.”

Tom nods. That’s about what he had expected Stiles would find. “Mind if I use your place as command central for a bit? The main house is going to be nuts, with the entire Janssen pack crammed into it.”

“Yeah, sure, please, yes,” Stiles says, shooing his father towards his house. “Peter’s already there; he had the same idea. He’s been on his laptop for like an hour, e-mailing people and then being annoyed that they aren’t immediately e-mailing him back.”

“Sounds like Peter.” Tom allows himself to be shooed, greets his husband with a quick kiss, and then sits down. Stiles bustles around the kitchen, making all of them tea, while Derek sits on the kitchen counter, his forehead furrowed in a faint frown. Tom takes out his phone and calls Parrish. “Hey, did you get the school security footage?”

 “Yeah, but you aren’t going to like it,” Parrish says, and the three werewolves, clearly hearing these words, all frown even more intensely. “There’s no view of Haji leaving the school at any point. I had some guys search the place, but no dice. So I talked to Dr. Kuan. She says there are two exits that aren’t covered by the cameras. One is the one that leads from the gymnasium and the locker rooms out to the track and field area. The other is a side exit by the science wing. So he probably left through one of those.”

“And without camera footage, we have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not it was under his own steam,” Tom says.

“Yeah. So I got the traffic cam footage. I mean, there’s only one road that actually leads to the high school, and only one light, where traffic turns off Route 162. The last time anyone remembers seeing Haji is when he left the library at three fifteen. Guess what I saw on the traffic cam at three forty-two?”

Tom’s baffled by how Parrish expects him to know this, but then it comes to him in a flash of inspiration, and he practically groans. “A white, windowless van?”

“Got it in one,” Parrish says. “Caught it one more time at the light by I-5, turning south. After that, it could have gone anywhere.”

“It went to Sacramento,” Peter says, without looking up.

“Probably,” Tom agrees. “But not necessarily, and we have absolutely no grounds to search the Gévaudan house.”

“I’ll head down,” Stiles says immediately, abandoning the pot of tea.

Tom sighs. He says to Parrish, “Keep me posted on anything else you find,” and then says goodbye and hangs up. To Stiles, he says, “Do you honestly think you can drop everything and head down there on a Tuesday night without blowing your cover?”

“Uh . . . maybe?” Stiles asks.

Peter rolls his eyes. “Stiles. Honestly. Do you think they’re going to be like ‘oh, you must be here for the teenager we kidnapped, right this way’? There is absolutely zero percent chance that you will accomplish anything in Sacramento other than making them more suspicious of you than they already are.”

Stiles sulks and mutters, “You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”

“Besides, just because it went south doesn’t mean it went to Sacramento,” Derek puts in. “We know that they own several chunks of land through that shell corporation – it could have gone to one of those.”

“The Douglas pack’s den is south of the school, too,” Tom says. “And just because he’s not there now doesn’t mean they didn’t take him there to start.”

“So what do we do?” Stiles asks. “How do we find him?”

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure we will,” Peter says. “Not until they want him to be found. But the good news is that we’ve cut their plan off at the knees. They doubtlessly intended him to go home after they were done with whatever brainwashing spell they use, and assassinate his alpha. They assumed that we would fight them much harder on Valack’s testimony, and not immediately bring it to the Janssens. So now we have the Janssens here in safe custody, and whatever they want to do, they’ll have to try to do it here.”

Tom nods, sighs, and accepts the mug of tea from his son. “It’s going to be a long night.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The sun rises on a windy, rainy morning, still with no sign of Haji Janssen. Stiles breaks his usual ‘no breakfast’ rule, because he knows that everyone is uneasy and there are extra mouths to feed. It’s simple, just French toast and scrambled eggs, along with some fruit he had prepared the day before. Peter watches in silence as everyone eats, absently cutting his scrambled eggs into small pieces without eating any of them himself.

It seems like a normal morning, more like a Sunday than a Wednesday. Malia and Marisela are loudly squabbling over who gets which pieces of fruit. Laura is scolding Tyler for using far too much syrup; Isaac is feeding Cora strawberries. Stiles bustles around, constantly replenishing the dishes of food as they start to empty. The Janssen pack eats quietly, although Keith thanks Stiles for cooking and compliments the food.

School ended the previous week for the younger children, and the Hale pack doesn’t currently have any kids in the levels of higher education. Annie and Keith Janssen’s older son is in middle school, but they’ve decided to keep him at the Hale den for obvious reasons.

They’re just finishing up eating at about eight fifteen when Tom’s phone rings. He glances at the screen, then leaves the room before answering it. Peter understands that if a body has been found, he doesn’t want the Janssens finding out by overhearing his conversation, but he follows him out the back door so he doesn’t have to wait. Tom gives him an amused look, but picks up without bothering to admonish Peter for eavesdropping. “Sheriff Stilinski.”

“Hey, Sheriff, you’d better get down to Super High,” is how his secretary greets him. “Haji Janssen turned up at school this morning and attacked Charlotte Douglas.”

“Jesus,” Tom says. “Okay. Is he still there?”

“Yeah. A couple of other kids pulled him off and restrained him, and they have him in the office.”

“Great. Tell Dr. Kuan I’ll be right down. I’ll bring Annie with me.”

“Okay.”

Tom hangs up, and Peter murmurs, “An interesting choice of attack. I think I see where this is heading, and is not going to be pretty at all.”

“No kidding, Peter.” Tom heads back into the house, whereupon everyone looks up at him anxiously. “Annie, Keith, Sally, I need to speak with you. Talia, you had probably better come too. Stiles, I will text you later, don’t give me that look.”

“I’ll stay and explain to Stiles,” Peter says, because he knows that Stiles will only work himself into a tizzy if he doesn’t hear at least the bare bones of what’s going on. Besides, he doesn’t need to be there when Tom explains what had happened to the Janssens.

He takes a quick minute to give Stiles the bare bones of what they know – easy, given that the bare bones are all they know – before heading outside. Tom and Annie have already left. Keith and Sally have elected to stay behind, as they’ve already been implicated in Garrett Douglas’ murder and Tom doesn’t want them out and about. Talia is just emerging from the main house with her keys in one hand. “Peter, with me,” she says, as if Peter isn’t already about to climb into the passenger seat of her car. As soon as they’re on the road, she says, “What’s the purpose of this?”

“Make Haji the bad guy,” Peter says immediately. “It retroactively justifies Garrett’s decision to keep him away from Charlotte, which in turn makes the Janssen pack’s ‘murder’,” he uses air quotes, “a worse crime.”

Talia’s mouth twists into a grimace, but she nods. “Do you think this was their plan to begin with? Or do you think it was a backup plan because we took the Janssens into protective custody?”

“I’m not sure.” Peter slides his wedding ring off his hand, turning it around in his fingers before putting it back on. “If I have a downfall, it would be my arrogance, as I’m sure you’re well aware. We were quite proud of ourselves for seeing what the Douglas pack had planned and nipping it in the bud. But the truth is, they could have been well aware that we would take the Janssens in, given Valack’s testimony. They could have delayed that testimony, in fact, until after Haji’s attack. So my guess is that this was their plan all along, and we stepped right in it. We were preoccupied with protecting the Janssens, as our allies; the idea that the Douglas pack might attack one of their own . . .”

Talia gives a little shudder. “If Brett Douglas arranged that, he’s colder than I imagined.”

“Yes,” Peter says absently, trailing away into his own thoughts.

The school is less chaotic than he would have anticipated, but Dr. Kuan is an experienced professional who runs a tight ship. Talia is immediately greeted by an aide, who ushers her and Peter into a small office, where Tom and Annie are waiting. A few moments later, Dr. Kuan comes in. “Where is Haji?” Annie demands, in a tight, angry voice.

“He’s in my office,” Dr. Kuan says. “Charlotte is in the nurse’s office, along with Russ and Gloria.”

“I need to see him,” Annie says.

Talia squeezes her shoulder and says, “Be patient, Annie.” To Dr. Kuan, she continues, “What happened?”

“It was before the first bell. The children were in the hallways, at their lockers, et cetera. Charlotte was in the cafeteria, studying for today’s final with some friends. Haji came over and asked if he could talk to her for a minute.”

“Do we know how Haji got to school?” Tom asks, jotting things down in his little notepad.

“I haven’t determined that yet,” Dr. Kuan says. “Charlotte agreed to go with him. There’s a little alcove not far from the cafeteria that they went to. Charlotte says he didn’t say anything, but as soon as they were alone, he pinned her to the wall and started trying to kiss her. She tried to push him away, but was unable. He groped her and tried to tear her shirt off. That was the point at which another student saw them and intervened. Several others joined in and restrained Haji, and then two of the teachers arrived and brought him to my office.”

“Haji would never – ” Annie begins.

Dr. Kuan cuts her off, her gaze made of hard steel. “Haji did, Mrs. Janssen. It is not a disputable fact. Whether or not he was in control of his own actions remains to be seen, but those actions are not up for debate.”

Talia intervenes. “How did Haji seem once you got him in the office?”

“Confused. He asked where he was – he’s never been in my office before, so he wouldn’t have recognized it. I asked him what the last thing he remembered was, and he said he had been studying in the library. I asked him what time it was, and he said ‘probably about three thirty’. He seems blank after yesterday. That, of course, could be a ruse, a way to protect himself from the consequences of his actions.”

“What about Charlotte?” Tom asks. “In your opinion, was her distress genuine?”

“Yes, extremely so. If this was something she was warned about ahead of time, she’s the best actress I’ve ever met.”

Tom nods. “Okay. We need to talk to her first, then Haji. Is there room in the nurse’s office for all of us?”

“There should be, yes. Please follow me.”

Tom exchanges a glance with Peter, but doesn’t say anything, as they follow Dr. Kuan out of the main office and down a hallway. Peter knows what he’s thinking, that Haji’s sudden confusion and loss of time is identical to the way Mason had described it. That doesn’t surprise Peter at all, but he’s not sure whether or not it will help them.

Charlotte is huddled in a chair in the corner of the nurse’s office, and she’s obviously been crying hard. Gloria is sitting next to her, with both of Charlotte’s hands clasped in hers. Russ, meanwhile, is on the other side of the room. He gets to his feet as soon as they come in, and says brusquely, “Good, you brought Talia with you.”

“I don’t – ” Annie begins.

“Be quiet,” Russ snaps at her, and Annie blanches slightly. “I don’t want to hear anything you have to say. You murdered my father in order to protect this monster who just attacked my little sister. Alpha Hale, I demand recognition of the crimes that the Janssen pack has committed, and appropriate retribution.”

Peter grimaces, both at his tone of voice and the formality of his words. In front of witnesses, even – Dr. Kuan is one of the higher-ranking Druids in the area, and the nurse is from a nearby pack. Talia will have no choice but to respond to him, and if she doesn’t respond correctly, it will result in a lot of trouble.

“Mr. Douglas,” Tom says, “nobody will be dishing out any retribution until I’ve verified all the facts.”

“Sheriff Stilinski, I respect your position as an officer of the law, but you have no say in my request,” Russ replies. “You get to decide if Annie and Haji Janssen are going to jail. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about pack hierarchy, and your approval is neither required nor requested.”

Tom’s mouth purses in annoyance, and Peter reaches out and quickly squeezes his wrist in a silent warning.

“These refugees are clearly not suited to life in regular packs,” Russ continues. “The two who did not assault my sister need to be removed from this region and returned to the refugee camp immediately. Annie Janssen should be stripped of her alpha powers and her pack dissolved.”

Peter glances at Talia. She’s clearly furious, her hands clenched into fists at her sides, and for a moment he worries that she’s about to do something stupid. But she takes a deep breath and steps back from the situation, then says, “Alpha Douglas, I recognize the wrongs that have been done to your pack, and I recognize your demand for retribution. I will need to consult with the other alphas in the regional hierarchy before I make any final decisions, but your demands seem reasonable. I will see that the two refugees are returned to the camp while we await a final decision, and that the Janssen pack members who have been directly implicated in the murder of your father are contained while we await that decision.” She half-turns and says to Tom, “I believe those two pack members were Sally and Annie Janssen. Sheriff Stilinski, I would like to officially request that you take them into your custody pending charges being pressed.”

Tom’s eyes narrow, and he clearly hates being told to do this, but he nods. “Sally and Annie Janssen,” he says carefully, requesting confirmation.

“Yes,” Talia says. She’s smart enough not to say that she’s changed her mind about arresting Keith because the Douglas pack is almost certainly going to insist that Annie be one of the arrested parties. This way, Keith can stay out of jail and the two children he has with Annie will still have one parent available.

“Okay,” Tom says. “Mrs. Janssen, I am going to call one of my deputies to bring you down to the station. Will you please accompany him?”

Annie is white with rage, but like Talia, she knows what needs to be done, so she nods. Tom gets on his radio and quickly calls Parrish. Within minutes, Annie has been escorted from the school. Tom sits down and has a few quiet words with Charlotte, just to confirm what she had already told Dr. Kuan.

Peter is lost in thought until Talia walks over to him and says, “I need to make about a dozen phone calls. You’ll be all right here?”

“I’ll be fine, big sister,” Peter says.

“I’m taking Charlotte home,” Russ says, and both Charlotte and Gloria get to their feet. They’ve departed a few moments later. Dr. Kuan takes Tom and Peter back to her office, where Haji is waiting.

“What’s going on?” he asks, as soon as they entered. “Nobody will tell me what’s happening!”

“I just have to ask you a few questions first,” Tom says, his tone soothing. He goes over the previous day with Haji, up to the point where Haji’s memories stop. The secretary comes in and quietly tells them that Haji had arrived to the school on foot. If he had been dropped off by a white van, it could have been miles away. Once Tom is done asking questions, he says, “Okay, Haji, apparently you walked to school this morning, and once you were here, you attacked Charlotte.”

“Oh my God.” The color drains from Haji’s face. “Oh my – is she okay?” His voice rises with panic. “Did I hurt her?”

“She’s a little shaken up, but she’ll be fine,” Tom reassures him. “Now, I’m going to have you taken down to the station where we can ask you some more questions while we try to figure out what happened to you during those hours you’re missing, and if you were compelled to attack Charlotte.”

“Okay,” Haji chokes out. “Yeah. Okay.”

Tom gets Haji to his feet. Another deputy is waiting to take him down to the station. Dr. Kuan thanks them for their help, and the two of them leave the building and get into Tom’s cruiser. “Jesus Christ,” Tom says, as soon as they’re alone. “We just got our asses handed to us.”

“Yes, we did,” Peter murmurs. “This was clearly Brett’s plan from the beginning. He gets rid of his tyrant uncle, installs his cousin as alpha. Gets rid of the refugees that he clearly despises, as well as a pack that had stood up to them and damaged their reputation, all in one fell swoop. He’s very, very good. I underestimated him.”

Tom rakes a hand through his hair. “Am I really going to have to arrest people for crimes I know they didn’t commit?”

“For now, yes. But in a way, this is a good thing,” Peter adds, and Tom gives him an exasperated look. “I’m serious. We’ve been on the defensive this whole time, trying to predict what Brett was after and what he was going to do. And now we’ve got all the information. Brett has played all his cards . . . and it’s time for me to start playing mine.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“So here’s what we now know,” Peter says, as Stiles sets four mugs of tea down on the kitchen table. “Since Haji experienced the same thing as Mason, we can say with certainty that the murder of Garrett Douglas is related to whatever is happening with the Gévaudan Society. All of this is connected; we just have to figure out how.”

“Well, Brett and Russ seem to be werewolf supremacists like Garrett was, despite the fact that they both said they didn’t want to be associated with his ideas,” Tom says with a grimace. “So the fact that they’re involved with the Gévaudan Society isn’t really surprising.”

Peter nods. “So now we need to figure out exactly how they’re doing what they’re doing. And for that, I think we need to go to Cabo . . . by which I mean, we need to go to Rio de Janeiro.”

Derek arches an eyebrow. “How are those two things equivalent?”

“A few weeks before the wedding, Brett Douglas went to Cabo San Lucas on business,” Peter says. “His wife went with him. There are pictures posted to her Instagram. He’s very invested on everyone thinking he was in Cabo during that time, but he wasn’t. He was in Rio.”

“How do you know that?” Tom asks, giving him the side eye.

“Oh, because I know the man who created his fake ID,” Peter says, smirking. “You didn’t think I’d been sitting on my ass since the murder, did you? No, it was obvious to me ever since your interview that the trip to Cabo was a cover, and I wanted to know where he had actually gone. But since his official passport confirmed he went to Mexico, that meant he had a second one. Forgers good enough to create a fake passport that will pass muster are actually fairly rare. I asked around. Brett Douglas has two fake identities. Relevantly, after he flew down to Mexico and spent a day taking pictures with his wife for her to post on the internet, he flew to Rio under the name Jeremy Spencer.”

Stiles’ back stiffens. “I know that name. He’s the, the – the guy who did the thing on the thing – ” He looks at Derek for help, then Peter.

It’s Peter who supplies it. “He’s the cosignatory on the shell company that owns the land the Gévaudan Society uses for their rituals. Interesting, isn’t it.”

“That’s one way to put it,” Tom says. “Do we know what all they use the land for?”

“No. They own several parcels of land all over northern California, and checking those out was going to be my next step – before all this happened with Haji Janssen. And I still want to do it relatively soon. But first I think we need to figure out who he was seeing in Rio, and why. We need to prove that Douglas died of something other than Valack’s bullshit spell.”

“Yeah, I’ve been working on that,” Tom says. “The fact that Valack is ostensibly a psychologist is making it damned hard to get a warrant to talk to his other clients. Patient confidentiality and such. But we can’t just send someone in to get a similar spell – he’ll obviously know it’s a trap.”

“So if we can’t find a way to prove what didn’t kill him, we need to find a way to prove what did,” Peter says. “Thus: Rio de Janeiro.”

“You know what I wonder,” Derek says, and Peter gives him a questioning look. “Was Russ actually in on this? Because I know that Brett wasn’t at the wedding, and the killer had to be. But you know who was at the wedding besides Russ? Theo Raeken. And the weird thing is, the more I think about it, the more I can’t figure out why he would have been there. He was Tracy Stewart’s plus one, he said. But why was Tracy there, and why did she get a plus one? I know that the alpha of their pack would have been invited, but typically they only brought their own mate.”

“An interesting question,” Peter says, nodding. “Ask Talia. She put together the guest list for the surrounding packs – she would know better than I why Stewart’s daughter might have been included.”

“Okay,” Derek says.

They talk for a little while longer about their various options before Peter and Tom depart. Peter has already purchased himself a plane ticket to Brazil, and Tom has a hundred things to do at the station. Derek watches Stiles as he heads over to the pantry and starts staring at the ingredients there. “What are you thinking?”

“Something stupid and selfish,” Stiles says, before grabbing a bag of flour. “I’m gonna make some bread. Kneading bread is always good for pent-up aggression.”

Derek nods and watches him for a little while longer as he starts dumping things into the mixing bowl. “What stupid, selfish thing are you thinking, which probably isn’t that stupid and selfish at all?”

“Oh, it is,” Stiles says, but then sighs. “I feel awful for the Janssen pack. A bunch of racist, specist assholes just decided to break up their pack and drive them off their territory because how dare a refugee with brown skin fall in love with one of their pack members? It sucks on like every level. But you know what else sucks? The fact that Brett Douglas used our wedding as an opportunity to frame them, to kill his father. It had nothing to do with us.”

“Yeah.” Derek sees where Stiles is going. “Which means that knowing what happened doesn’t give us the ability to get married.”

“And it just – it’s not the part I should be focusing on at all. It sucks, yeah, but I’m not in jail, I wasn’t brainwashed and forced to hurt someone I cared about, I’m not in danger of losing my pack. I just.” Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose for a moment. “I just can’t stop thinking about how I want to marry you and I don’t understand why I can’t.”

Derek walks over and puts his arms around Stiles’ waist, pressing his chest into Stiles’ back. “Once we’ve gotten all this taken care of, I’ll talk to my mom, okay? Maybe a civil ceremony will be okay. These rituals and protocols are old. Civil marriages didn’t really exist when they were created. It could be a question that nobody’s asked. And if they still tell us we can’t, well, maybe at that point we’ll just elope to Vegas and not tell anybody.”

“You’d do that?” Stiles asks, tilting his head back to look at Derek.

“In a heartbeat,” Derek says, nuzzling Stiles’ neck. “I want to be your husband. So we’ll just have to find a way to make it happen.”

Stiles relaxes slightly. “Okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

After all the excitement of the week, Stiles finds the political meeting at the Gévaudan society to be unimaginably dull. The fact that it’s boring and normal is fascinating in its own way – or it would be, if he wasn’t half-asleep through most of it. Rather than plotting murders or mysterious science, the political meeting is . . . political. It’s a lot of talk about dealing with various lawsuits, how to discredit human supremacist or anti-werewolf propaganda, campaign strategies for supernatural creatures running for office.

Stiles actually finds himself in agreement with them a lot of the time, which is terrifying in its own way. The Gévaudan Society, or at least the political arm of it, is smart. They have social media strategies, polling to measure public opinion, grassroots fundraising. There’s no hint of supernatural supremacy, only supernatural equality, a goal he is behind one hundred percent.

He supposes it’s possible that they’re staging this for his benefit, but he doubts it. They’re far too well-prepared for that. Actual campaigns and lawsuits don’t spring up overnight. Of course, it is possible that they’ve simply decided to limit the meeting to the legitimate stuff, leaving out things they might normally talk about. Given that the meeting goes on for two hours, he hopes not. He can’t imagine how long it would be otherwise.

Theo isn’t there, but everyone knows who he is, and he ends up chatting with a group over coffee after the meeting. They talk about his experiences with the WLO and Search for a Cure, which are well-known, and Calaveras, which got less publicity. Two of the people in the group are the two doctors that Marcel had been with at the Gévaudan House, and they’re both openly fascinated by Stiles’ experiences with rejection and the cure they had found.

“It’s been so hard to find ways to treat that,” Patty says. “It doesn’t affect anyone other than humans, so there’s no way to test with mice or monkeys. The fact that it was an autoimmune response wasn’t even discovered until about fifty years ago. It might be heartless to say that I can’t wait until there’s another rejection victim that we can duplicate your experience with, but . . .”

“Well, I’m all for duplicating the experience if it saves someone’s life,” Stiles says, and the two scientists laugh and agree. “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

“Of course,” Gene says, with a warm smile.

“I know what’s been happening up in Beacon Hills with the Douglas and the Janssen packs has been on the news,” Stiles says, “and I’m still trying to understand what exactly happened. I mean, I don’t get why the Douglas pack seems to hate the refugees so much. That’s what started that whole feud – Garrett Douglas thinking the refugees should be killed or at the very least, kept in camps.”

Gene grimaces. “Please don’t confuse Garrett Douglas’ views with that of the Gévaudan Society. The guy was sick, honestly.”

“I mean, our position is that being a werewolf or a Druid or what-have-you is really amazing,” Patty says. “And there are ways that we do believe we’re superior; I won’t lie about that. We can do things that humans can’t. We want to promote the growth and development of the supernatural world. But the Douglas pack has these weird views about the purity of bloodlines and how only a select few should be allowed to have things like the Bite. It’s complete nonsense, frankly.”

“Well, at least it’s not just me who thinks so,” Stiles says, laughing. “I guess that’s why he left?”

Gene and Patty exchange a look. “No, actually,” Patty says. “That was more about what Dr. Marcel was doing.”

Stiles tries to look innocently curious. “Which was?”

“Serge is an amazing scientist,” Gene says. “He’s made breakthroughs in gene therapy and paranormal science that were unthinkable two or three decades ago. But as he’s gotten older, he’s gotten more and more obsessed with la bête.”

“We talked about that a little at the ceremony last week,” Stiles says. “About how he was trying to recreate it.”

“He’s been fascinated with la bête ever since he was little,” Gene says. “I guess his grandfather used to tell him the same stories that his grandfather told him, about how powerful and amazing a creature la bête was. And Serge is . . .”

He glances at Patty again, as if trying to decide how much he wants to say. She shrugs and says, “Serge is a weird guy. He’s never found a mate. His own pack started to get freaked out by his obsession and eventually broke up, leaving him and joining other packs. He’s still an alpha, but without a pack, he’s a weak one. He’s gotten stuck on this idea that the reason he’s never found anybody is because he’s going to recreate la bête and that’s who his mate is going to be.”

“Wow, that’s . . . a little weird,” Stiles says, blinking.

Gene laughs, although he sounds a bit uncomfortable. “You’re not wrong. But he’s still a brilliant scientist, so Patty and I have been using him as a sounding board for our project.”

“Which is what?”

“Ah, that’s a secret!” Patty laughs. “It’s a project Gene and I have been working on for a while, but we’re not supposed to tell anyone the details until we’ve actually managed to get it up and running. It’s been kind of frustrating, to be honest. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and we’re not always sure why.”

“Huh,” Stiles says, then lifts his hands in surrender. “Okay, I’ll keep my nose out of it.” To reinforce the idea that he’s not snooping, he changes the subject to one of the lawsuits that they had been talking about during the meeting.

He leaves about an hour later, driving home deep in thought. He finds Derek sprawled on the sofa, and immediately sprawls on top of him, telling him about the meeting.

“So do you think these two doctors are the ones doing the brainwashing?” Derek asks.

“I’m not sure. Maybe. I mean, I’m thinking back to what Marcel said the first day I saw them. He said they would have a new subject after the full moon – and that was when Haji Janssen went missing. Which seems like an awfully big coincidence. But . . .”

“But?” Derek prompts.

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “It sounded like Gene and Patty were being sincere when they said they didn’t agree with the Douglas’ pack’s strain of supernatural supremacy. So why would they help them get rid of the refugees?”

Derek frowns a little, thinking about. “I wonder if it’s financial. I mean, remember all those green threads coming off Douglas in the constellation? That pack is obviously really wealthy. And it’s not like these guys are going to find willing test subjects. So maybe they agreed to do the Douglases a favor in return for financial support and the ability to test out a new subject.”

“Yeah, maybe. Good point.” Stiles leans in for a kiss. “When Peter gets back from, uh, from that country he’s in, I’ll have to ask him about helping me steal some financial records.”

Derek gives a snort. “You need Peter’s help for that now? Don’t you normally just call Danny?”

“Ehh . . . I mean, I do, but I don’t really want to tip off Brett Douglas, who seems to be damned good at his job, while Peter and my dad are actively investigating him. Probably better to wait.”

“That’s an impressive amount of restraint, coming from you.”

Stiles smirks and leans in for another kiss. “Yeah? You gonna reward me?”

“Absolutely.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s with great satisfaction that Tom views the print out that his secretary hands him, to the point where she asks, “I take it that it’s good news?”

“Well, it’s news that I’ve been hoping for,” Tom says. “We’ll see if it turns out to be good or not.” He jogs back into the station and finds Parrish working at his desk. “Hey, Jordan. I need you to go pick up Brett Douglas for me. Don’t tell him why. Just tell him that we have questions for him.”

“Sure thing, Sheriff,” Parrish says, getting to his feet.

“I have a quick errand to run,” Tom says. “Just leave him in the interrogation room, stewing, until I get back. It may be as much as an hour.”

“Okay.”

That being taken care of, Tom goes out to the cruiser and heads to the next town over, to a car rental service he had visited a couple weeks before. They hadn’t rented anything to anyone of interest – or so he had thought at the time. That had been before Peter had told him about Brett Douglas’ fake identities.

He chats with the manager and gets a print out or two, makes a few calls, examines the van in question. Forensics will go over it with a fine tooth comb. He doubts that Brett had left anything inside, but one never knows.

By the time he gets back to the station, Brett has been waiting for over an hour, and he’s clearly irritated about it. According to Parrish, he’s asked twice when the sheriff is going to be there to see him. So he’s in exactly the mood that Tom wants him in. He decides to leave him there a little longer, and calls Stiles. “What did Talia say about Tracy Stewart and her plus one?”

“Oh, this is super interesting,” Stiles says. “She says that Bethany Stewart – the alpha – her husband was out of town, so she decided to bring Tracy instead. Which means Tracy was her plus one. But then Tracy whined about it looking weird to attend a wedding as her mother’s plus-one, and asked if she could bring her boyfriend, Theo. Bethany called Talia, who said it was okay, because hey, why not?”

“That’s interesting, all right,” Tom says.

“Especially since Theo and Tracy aren’t actually dating, as far as I can tell,” Stiles says. “I mean, Tracy kind of hangs on him, but he ignores her most of the time.”

“So Theo really had no reason to be at the wedding at all,” Tom says. “Good to know.” He gives Stiles a quick update, knowing that his curiosity will drive him nuts if he doesn’t, then hangs up and heads into the interrogation room.

Annoyed as Brett might be, he keeps his cool, greeting the sheriff cordially and saying ‘no problem’ when Tom apologizes for the wait. Tom sits down and leafs through his folder briefly, letting the moment draw out. Finally, he says, “So, as you know, your uncle’s body was stolen from the morgue during the autopsy – or really I should say, before the autopsy.”

“I’m aware,” Brett says, nodding.

“The people who removed the body were driving a white van,” Tom says. “It had its license plates covered with cardboard, so even though we saw it on the security footage, we weren’t able to locate it.”

“Mm hm,” Brett says.

“Now that we’ve covered that, could you explain why you rented an identical white van two days before the wedding?”

Brett blinks. “I did no such thing.”

“Oh, well, you’re half right. You didn’t, at least, Brett Douglas didn’t. Jeremy Spencer did.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know the gentleman,” Brett says, not flinching.

“Is that so?” Tom sets down a photocopy of the fake driver’s license that the rental agency had given him. “Well, then I get to give you the news that you have an identical twin! Congratulations.”

Brett studies the driver’s license. He studies Tom. “So what you’re telling me is that a man who resembles me rented a van that resembles the one that was involved in the theft of my uncle’s body,” he says. “I suppose that’s interesting, but I don’t see why you had to drag me down to the station for that.”

Tom smiles slightly. “Where were you the night your uncle’s body was stolen, Mr. Douglas?”

“Home. Like everyone else in the pack, I went straight home from the wake. Any of them can vouch for me.”

“They could. But would they?”

Brett shrugs. “I don’t see why they wouldn’t.”

“How about your cousin, Russ? I’m really curious to see how much of this he knew you were going to do ahead of time. I mean, you weren’t at the wedding. Somebody had to pull the trigger on Garrett. I assumed it was Russ – but maybe it wasn’t. There are other people there you could have had do the deed for you. One person in particular was at the wedding under pretty sketchy circumstances, so maybe he was your trigger man. Are you going to let your cousin, your new alpha, be implicated if he wasn’t actually involved?”

“He wasn’t involved,” Brett says. “Neither of us were. The Janssen pack murdered my uncle. I thought you were aware of that – you did arrest them for it, after all.”

“I arrested them on the testimony of Gabriel Valack. But the more I investigate that testimony, the worse it looks. The Janssens might not be guilty. I just want my bases covered, that’s all. So when I question your cousin – and I will be questioning your cousin again, believe me – do you think he’ll protect you? If you’re willing to see him in jail for a murder that he didn’t even know you were having committed? The murder of his father, his alpha?”

Brett is quiet for a moment, before he says, “Sheriff, at this point I would like to exercise my right to legal counsel. I won’t be answering any more questions until my attorney is present.”

Tom has to smile at that. He knows that it’s smart to ask for a lawyer, that it doesn’t mean a suspect is guilty, but it feels like a victory anyway. “Of course, Mr. Douglas. I’ll have Parrish call whichever lawyer you choose to represent you and see how soon they can get down here.”

He leaves the room, and sees that he has a message from Peter that simply says, ‘let me know how it went when you’re done’. He consults briefly with Parrish, to arrange for Brett’s lawyer to be called and for Russ Douglas to be brought to the station, and then calls Peter, who greets him with, “How’s it going?”

“Pretty well. He’s rattled. Asked for his attorney.”

“You made a Left Hand call for his lawyer? Good God, Tom, that’s the hottest thing I’ve ever heard. If I weren’t in Rio, I’d be climbing you like a tree.” Peter has a smirk that’s almost audible. “Left Hands hate to do that. We prefer to act as our own counsel.”

“Trust me, I know.” Tom looks over at the door to the interrogation room, which is closed, and decides he wants another layer of walls between him and Brett. He heads into his office and shuts the door. “The problem is that unless he or Russ breaks, the lawyer will get him out of here. This is pretty circumstantial evidence. It doesn’t look good, but it doesn’t prove anything. So until I can break Valack’s story, none of this actually matters. I very much doubt Brett will break. What do you think of Russ?”

“Unlikely,” Peter says. “He might be pissed off that Brett’s implicated him in a murder. But he’d want to deal with that privately, as a pack matter, not a police one. Plus, he probably has faith in Brett that Brett covered his tracks well enough that Russ won’t end up in jail over this – which it certainly seems like Brett did. No, you can lean on him and see what happens, but turning pack members against each other is well nigh impossible.”

Tom sighs. “Kind of figured you’d say that.”

“However, that being said, I don’t think Charlotte Douglas will be anywhere near as happy with this plan of her cousin’s. If you’re going to have both Brett and Russ down at the station for a while, tied up with attorneys and such, perhaps I’ll go pay her a visit . . . by which I mean, ask Derek if he can pay her a visit. He’s much less intimidating than I am. And also in the right country.”

“I don’t know if Charlotte will be as sympathetic to our cause after Haji Janssen assaulted her,” Tom says.

“Oh, she will be if she believes that her cousin brainwashed Haji into making him do it against his will,” Peter says. “And I think we might have enough evidence at this point to convince her of that.”

“Okay. I’ll keep them here as long as I can, and text you as soon as I have to turn them loose.”

“Sounds good.” Peter’s smile is again almost audible. “Let’s go fishing.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Derek agrees to go visit Charlotte Douglas, and spends most of the drive thinking about what he’s going to say once he gets there. He can’t imagine how she’s feeling right now, and he knows there’s a strong possibility he’s about to make her feel a lot worse. He wants to tread lightly, but he’s not always very good at that.

Tom has texted him to let him know that Russ, Brett, and Gloria are all down at the station, so he’s got a clear field. He parks next to the house that Peter had directed him to and rings the bell. There’s silence for a moment, the faint sound of a heartbeat, and then it cracks open. Derek offers the young woman a disarming smile. “Charlotte? I’m Derek Hale. My mom asked me if I could come check on you.”

“Oh . . .” Charlotte shifts from foot to foot, somewhat nervously. “My brother isn’t home right now, so I don’t think I can let you in.”

“Smart,” Derek says with a nod. “How would you feel about sitting on the porch with me, so your packmates in the other houses can see us?”

“I guess it would be okay.” Charlotte eases out of the house and closes the door behind herself, then sits on the front steps with him. It’s warm out, but she’s still shivering a little as she sits down.

“How are you feeling?” Derek asks her.

“I don’t know.” Charlotte folds her arms over her stomach. “Confused more than anything else, I guess. I really thought . . . I thought Haji liked me, you know? I never would have thought he could . . .”

Her voice trails off. Derek lets her have a moment of quiet. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Oh my God, yes,” Charlotte says in a rush, which makes Derek feel better about bothering her. “Russ and Gloria won’t even let me say anything about it. They just told me he’s never going to hurt me again. But one of the other girls at school told me he’d been missing beforehand, that there was this whole thing? Where he might not have been himself? And, and until I heard that, I didn’t realize how badly I wanted it to be true. But when I tried to say something to Russ, he got really angry. The way . . . the way Dad used to.  Do you know what that girl at school was talking about? Was Haji missing, did something happen to him?”

“He was missing, and we don’t know what happened,” Derek says. He briefly goes over when Haji had last been seen, and the fact that he doesn’t remember anything that had happened between leaving the library and waking up in Dr. Kuan’s office. “And the weird thing is, he’s not the first person to have an experience like that this month. There was a boy from Sacramento, Mason Hewitt, who killed his parents, who were anti-werewolf activists. He was missing almost six weeks first, and he doesn’t remember anything that happened.”

Charlotte knots her fingers together. “Haji was just . . . he was honestly nicer to me than anyone ever had been before. When I didn’t want to talk about stuff, he just said okay. He never pushed me. I think that’s why I froze up when he . . . when it happened. Because I was so startled. I never would have guessed he would do something like that.” She gives a weak little laugh. “This is sick, right? I’m still trying to defend him after he did something so horrible.”

“I don’t think it’s sick at all,” Derek says. “You really cared about him, and you knew him pretty well. Just because he didn’t seem capable of something like that doesn’t mean he wasn’t. People who seem kind can do pretty horrible things. But it doesn’t mean he did, either. And I think a part of you wanting to believe that is no bad thing. It’s a way to comfort yourself.”

“What do you think?” Charlotte asks.

“My opinion isn’t really important, but since you asked, I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about what happened.” Derek gives her a second, then adds, “And I don’t think it’s fair that your brother won’t let you talk about it.”

“Yeah, well.” Charlotte’s voice lowers and she mutters, “Russ has always been kind of a dick.”

Derek laughs quietly. “It can be hard when we don’t get along with our pack members. There were some years where my mother and I didn’t see eye to eye on anything. We fought all the time. But in the end, I always knew she loved me, and she wanted what was best for me. We just didn’t always agree on what that was.”

“I wish I knew that,” Charlotte says. “I thought . . . I thought Haji might be my mate. I should have been happy about finding my mate, but I was scared, because I knew how angry Dad would be. I called Frank, you know, my brother? I told him that there was a boy I liked that I knew Dad wouldn’t approve of, and asked . . . if I had to, if I could come stay with him in Montana. He said of course I could, that I could come any time . . . but then Brett saw Haji and I together and everything went to shit. And I hate that.” She bites back a sob. “I hate that they took something that should have made me happy and made it so awful. Now someone might have used Haji to hurt me, or hurt me to hurt him, which is even worse. I don’t know what’s happening and I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

Derek lets her cry for a little while, patting her on the back. Finally, quietly, he says, “Your father and Annie Jensen were arguing, and it seems like Russ and Brett agreed with him on everything, and didn’t want the refugees here. Now they’ve gotten rid of them, and probably put Haji and Annie in jail, maybe for a long time. Do you think it’s possible that they’re involved with whoever is behind these compulsion spells?”

Charlotte snuffles a little, wipes her eyes, and nods. “They’re . . . not good people,” she says. “It feels so wrong to say that about my family, my pack, but they’re not. They would do things like this. Kill anti-werewolf activists, hurt innocent people, hurt . . . hurt me. They would do all of that.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says. “I can’t imagine how that feels.”

With a wan smile, Charlotte says, “It pretty much sucks.”

“I bet,” Derek says, smiling back. “Look, Charlotte, I don’t know if Haji’s innocent. I don’t know if your family used him to hurt you so they could get rid of the refugees. There’s still a lot we don’t know, that we’ve been trying to find out. But I think, if you want to know, you can help us find out.”

Charlotte folds her arms over her stomach again. “How?”

“There’s someone we need to ask some questions. But he won’t talk to us. He knows that we know he’s a liar. But he might not be careful around you. He might give something away to you that he wouldn’t to us.”

For a long moment, Charlotte says nothing. Then she nods and says, “I think . . . I need to know if Haji hurt me on purpose, or if someone made him. Because he . . .” She swallows hard. “I like him so much. I know we only knew each other for a few weeks, really, and it probably sounds silly, but the thought that he might hurt me just makes me want to die. And the thought of never seeing him again feels even worse.”

“It doesn’t sound silly,” Derek says. “It sounds like a mating instinct.”

“Yeah?” Charlotte manages another watery smile.

“Yeah. We’ll get to the bottom of this, okay? My mate is the best in the world at solving mysteries. With you on our team, we’ll be unbeatable.”

“Okay.” Charlotte’s throat works as she swallows hard, but her voice is steady as she says, “Let’s do this.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter is exhausted and cranky by the time he gets back to the den, which makes him all the more annoyed when Tom isn’t there. He spends some quality time cuddling with Malia and Marisela, both of whom are arguing over which one of them missed him more and who was better behaved while he was gone.

After he’s convinced them to take their nightly baths, he texts Tom to say, ‘Just got home. Where are you?’

‘At the station,’ Tom texts back, with gratifying speed, then a second later. ‘Sorry. Meant to be home when you got back but got caught up. Come see me? You’ll enjoy this.’

‘I’ll be down as soon as I’ve gotten the girls into bed,’ Peter says, wondering what Tom could be doing so late. He gets the girls into bed, reads them a story, and tucks them in. Then he heads down to the station. He’s not surprised to find that Stiles and Derek are already there, the former bouncing up and down on his heels, the latter leaning against the window. “What’s going on?” Peter asks.

“My dad is about to kick ass and take names and I am here for it,” Stiles says, grabbing Peter by the wrist and tugging him into the room from which they can watch the interrogation.

Peter sees Gabriel Valack sitting at the table, looking annoyed. He glances at Stiles and says, “Why is this happening at ten PM? Understand I’m just curious.”

“Dad tried to get him down here earlier, but he kept saying he was with patients and couldn’t be disturbed. Around eight, Dad finally got sick of it and sent someone down to pick him up. Then just as he got here, there was a 911 call about a hit and run out on Old Country Road and Dad was the only one still here, so he went out to answer it and left Valack stewing. He’s real mad now!” Stiles adds brightly.

Peter gives a snort. “This ought to be good. What do we have on him?”

“Let’s just say that your idea to send Derek to talk to Charlotte worked like a dream,” Stiles says, and Derek turns faintly pink.

Intrigued, Peter turns back to the glass as Tom enters the interrogation room. Dr. Valack immediately opens with, “Sheriff, I don’t appreciate being dragged down here when I should be seeing to my patients, and then being kept here until all hours of the night.”

“Mm hm.” Tom drops into the chair across from him. “You know what I don’t appreciate? When civilians file false statements that result in me arresting innocent people for serious crimes.”

Valack’s mouth purses in irritation. “As I told you repeatedly, nothing about my statement was false.”

Tom looks over the top of the folder he’s holding and says, “Okay, Dr. Valack. I’ll tell you what. I am going to give you this chance to admit to me that you were lying, that Sally Janssen never purchased anything from you, that the spell you state killed Garrett Douglas isn’t even possible, and that Brett Douglas either bribed or coerced you into making your statement.”

“This is nothing but harassment. I’m going to file a complaint against – ”

Without waiting for him to finish, Tom taps a button on his phone, and a recording of Dr. Valack interrupts the one actually in the room. “You’re saying you want me to create a spell to kill Haji Janssen the way Sally and Annie killed your father?”

“You should be able to do it, shouldn’t you?” a female voice said, a little wobbly but still clear. “After what he did to me, he deserves it!”

Peter looks over at Valack and is amused to see that he’s sitting there with his mouth slightly ajar, having been stunned into speechlessness.

“Ah, well, I’m sorry to tell you this, Miss Douglas,” Valack says on the recording, “but that sort of spell isn’t actually possible.”

“W-What?” Charlotte asks. “But – but you said – you said that was how my dad was killed! Why would you say that if it wasn’t true?”

“Pack politics are complicated, miss,” Valack says.

Tom taps his phone again and the recording stops. “It goes on for a little while,” he says. “But unfortunately, you didn’t manage to directly state which of the Douglas pack had you make your false statements. That’s why I figured I would give you the chance to do it here. I already have enough to release Sally and Annie from prison and have them cleared. But I’d really like to know which of the Douglases I can arrest along with you.”

Valack clears his throat but then says nothing.

“I think you’re a smart guy, Dr. Valack,” Tom says. “I think you know I have more than enough evidence to charge you with perjury, making a false report, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice. But I think you also know that I don’t really care that much about you. I care about Brett Douglas and whoever is doing his dirty work, casting spells that coerce innocent people into doing terrible things.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Valack says quickly.

“But you do know about him asking you to make a statement that implicated the Janssens?”

“Ah – no,” Valack says.

Tom gives him a disappointed look. “Really.”

“Yes.” Valack clears his throat again. “I had personal reasons for targeting the Janssens with my statements. It had nothing to do with the Douglas pack.”

“Mm hm.” Tom stares him down for another moment. “Okay. How about this, Dr. Valack. I’m going to leave the room and make a call to get an attorney down here who can go over what your plea options might be. Say, having some of the charges dropped if you agree to give us more evidence. And I’m going to go execute the warrant I now have for your phone and your financial records. If there’s any evidence of a connection between you and the Douglas pack in those, I would highly recommend you take the advice of the lawyer.”

Valack says nothing as Tom leaves the room. A moment later, he comes into the little room where the others are waiting. He sees Peter and breaks into a broad smile. “Enjoy the show?”

“You know I did,” Peter says, leaning in for a kiss. “It almost makes up for all the nothing I found in Rio.”

Derek is still studying Valack. “He’s scared of something. That’s the only reason he wouldn’t comply at this point.”

“Not too surprising, really,” Peter says. “The Douglas pack had one of their own pack members assaulted to further their goals. They’re ruthless, and they have the ability to magically compel people to do horrible things. I’d be afraid of them in his shoes, too.”

“So you don’t think he’ll cooperate?” Stiles asks.

“There’s still a chance he might, if we can offer him protection,” Peter says. “Not from the law, the way you were talking about, Tom, but in a more general sense. I’ll have to talk to him about that, but it will have to wait until we see what we can get from his records.”

Tom nods and turns to his son. “I suppose there’s no point in telling you to go home?”

“No, I’m psyched,” Stiles says.

Derek snorts and shakes his head. “Well, I have to go. I’m picking up Frank Douglas at the airport. He took the first flight he could get. Charlotte will go stay with his pack in Montana until we get this all taken care of.”

“Good,” Peter says, relaxing a little. He looks at Tom and says, “I guess the plans I have for you after watching that will have to wait. Let’s find Valack’s pressure points and squeeze.”

“Sexy,” Tom says, deadpan, and Stiles laughs so hard that he doubles over.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s a long night at the station. Peter goes in to talk to Valack twice, but makes no headway. He’s adamant that he framed the Janssens completely of his own accord. Stiles spends the night with his nose in all of Valack’s information, and Tom finds him asleep on the sofa around dawn, sprawled out with folders strewn everywhere. He shakes his head and covers him with a blanket.

After a great deal of discussion with the lawyer, and about a hundred phone calls, Tom heads back to the den. Talia will be up for the day by now, and there are things they need to do. He stops and picks up some donuts on the way, and is mobbed with children as soon as he enters. It takes a few minutes for things to settle down, and only a few minutes after they do, Aaron arrives with Sally and Annie, who have been released from custody. There’s more swarming and hugging. Keith shakes Tom’s hand and thanks him profusely for continuing to work on the case until they could be cleared.

There’s a brief strategy meeting while the kids eat. Tom wants the Janssen pack out of dodge while they get this cleaned up, and Talia agrees.

“Haji’s still in custody, though,” Annie says anxiously.

“Haji is going to be in custody until we can prove that he was magically compelled to attack Charlotte,” Tom says. “That could be days, weeks, or months. You and the rest of your pack need to be safe in the meantime.”

“Well . . .” Annie’s clearly not happy about it, but after some debate, agrees that she and her pack will go down to the refugee camp. That way, they can be reunited with the two pack members who had been sent back there, and have a place to stay while everything is taken care of.

Aaron and Laura depart with the Janssen pack to go back to their den, pack some things, and then take them to the airport. Once that’s done, Tom sits down with the next item on his to-do list.

He likes Frank Douglas immediately. He’s soft-spoken but to-the-point, and fiercely protective of his little sister. He had insisted on putting her on a plane to Montana with his wife as soon as he had arrived in town, to which everyone had agreed. “I never should have left her here,” he says, somewhat morosely, as Tom and Talia sit down with him. “I told her she could call me or visit any time, but . . .”

“Well, she’ll be safe now,” Tom says, because that’s a better response than ‘what’s done is done’. “Frank, you know your brother and your cousin far better than any of us. Do you believe they’re capable of what we suspect they’ve done?”

“Absolutely.” Frank knots his hands together, his mouth tightening into a grimace. “When I met Michelle, I knew Dad wasn’t going to like it. Russ and Brett had both chosen by then, and they had both chosen other born wolves. I was the first in our generation to choose a human. But she’s my mate, she’s my everything. I wasn’t going to let them drive her away.

“Dad was furious, obviously, and he shouted a lot and made demands that honestly, Michelle and I just ignored. But Brett . . . he didn’t like having her there either, and he tried to get rid of her in far more subtle ways. Once he stole my phone and used it to sext a bunch of other girls, then tried to convince Michelle I was cheating on her. Once he slipped something into her food that she was intolerant to and made her sick for the next few days. Brett’s a God damned nightmare. This is further than I would have thought he would go, but Charlotte choosing one of those refugees, let alone one with brown skin and a name like Haji, that would have been a bridge too far for him.”

“What about Russ?” Talia asks. “We’re still not sure of the extent of his involvement.”

“Russ is a carbon copy of Dad. He’s a thug and a bully. He made me and Charlotte’s childhood miserable. I can’t say for sure he’s involved, but I can say that he sure as hell wouldn’t have disapproved if Brett had told him about the plan.”

“Even if the plan involved killing your father?” Tom asks.

Frank shrugs. “Killing Dad meant Russ got to be alpha. Hell, no, he wouldn’t have argued with that.”

Talia and Tom exchange a look. “Okay,” Talia says. “Let’s go pay them a visit.”

The three of them get into Tom’s cruiser and head down to the Douglas pack’s den. On the way, Talia and Frank make small talk about their packs and their families, and Frank offers a few more tidbits about how Brett and Russ had acted when they were all growing up together. It sounds like a nightmare to Tom, but he keeps his mouth shut. He finds it difficult to understand how pack instinct drives werewolves to stay in abusive packs – but then, he supposes, abused humans often demonstrate the same behavior.

It’s about nine AM on a Saturday, so everyone is likely to be home. Tom goes up to the house that Russ and Gloria live in and rings the bell. He knows their approach has been heard, and he isn’t surprised when the door swings open almost immediately. Russ glowers at him, then sees Frank, and his eyebrows go up in surprise. “Oh, hey, Frank. What are you doing here?”

“Charlotte called me,” Frank says.

“Oh,” Russ replies. “Well, she’s not here. She was staying the night at a friend’s house. Come in, I guess.”

Tom doesn’t comment on the enthusiasm regarding the hospitality. Instead, he says, “You probably want to call Brett and have him come over. We’ll need him for this discussion.”

Russ gives Tom a look laced with pure hatred, but nods and takes out his phone. He texts quickly, then says, “He’ll be right over. Coffee?”

“Please,” Talia says.

Russ heads into the kitchen and pours them all a mug. To Frank, he says, “When did you get into town?”

“Last night,” Frank says. “But it was late. I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Uh huh.” Russ gives him a look with narrowed eyes, clearly wondering why Frank was in the company of Tom and Talia, but he clearly suspects that something is up and he doesn’t want to ask until Brett is there. Fortunately, he comes in through the back door a mere moment later, holding a travel mug and with a questioning expression.

“Frank,” Brett says, eyeing him warily. “What are you doing with them?”

“Derek Hale was good enough to pick me up at the airport,” Frank says. “I didn’t want you to know I was here until I had talked to Charlotte.”

Russ stops with his mug halfway to his mouth. He shoots a look at Talia and says, “So when Charlotte told me she was staying at Julie’s house – ”

“Charlotte’s already on a plane to Montana, so don’t waste your energy deciding how to punish her for lying to you,” Frank interrupts, and Russ blinks, taken off guard. “You’ve made the past month miserable for her. She called me yesterday asking if she could come stay with my pack for a while. I said of course, flew down with Shelly, and put them both on a plane that left around midnight.”

“Without even talking to me first?” Russ asks, his eyes flaring red. “I’m the alpha – ”

“You’re not my alpha, and you never have been,” Frank interrupts. “But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Sheriff?”

Tom nods. He leans forward, steepling his hands and resting them on the table. “First things first, you should know that Sally and Annie Janssen have been cleared of all charges and released from custody.”

“Cleared - ?” Russ darts a glance at Brett.

“As you probably recall, they were charged based mainly on the testimony of Dr. Gabriel Valack,” Tom continues. “That testimony has now been proven to be false. Dr. Valack was recorded admitting that the spell he claimed had killed Garrett was impossible. When confronted with this, he admitted to perjury and is going to be charged appropriately. But before you start thinking about reprisals, you should know that he insists he was acting alone due to a personal grudge against the Janssen pack.”

Brett clears his throat. “So the Janssens have been released?”

“Yes. And they have already left town.”

“I see,” Brett says. “Well, then, Sheriff, what is your next theory on who killed our alpha?”

“Well, I assume that his death is related to the theft of his body, which you might recall having been linked to you.”

“Circumstantially,” Brett says.

“Well, it’s getting less circumstantial by the minute,” Tom says. “This Jeremy Spencer character who rented the van and happens to look just like you also seems to have been in Cabo San Lucas at the same time as you. That’s odd, don’t you think?”

“What was he doing in Cabo?”

“Leaving for Rio de Janeiro, as it happens,” Tom says. “And then flying back to Cabo the day before you came back to California.”

“Well, then he can’t be me,” Brett says. “I was in Cabo the whole time, as the photo evidence proves.”

“Mm hm.” Tom can’t hold back the smirk he feels tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Do you want to know something I learned about smartphones and Instagram, Mr. Douglas? The photo itself being posted to Instagram on May first at four PM doesn’t mean it was taken at May first at four PM.”

“Of course not, but when you post it – ”

“When you post it,” Tom interrupts, “does not alter the metadata on the photograph which shows when it was taken.”

Brett stops with his mouth slightly open.

“It’s called an exif file, Mr. Douglas. It shows when and where the photo was taken, along with graphics data that can determine what camera or phone it was taken with. All those photos that your wife posted to Instagram from Cabo? Those were all taken around the city the first day you got there, before ‘Jeremy Spencer’,” Tom can’t help but make the air quotes, “left for Rio. And then your wife posted them sporadically over the next week to make it look as if you were actually in Cabo with her.”

“Circumstantial,” Brett says.

“That white van which ‘Jeremy Spencer’ rented, by the way? Was returned by him the day after Haji Janssen attacked Charlotte. That’s an awfully odd coincidence, given that going into that van was the last place he was seen.”

“You have no evidence that Haji left the school in that van,” Russ interrupts, and Brett gives a little hiss between his teeth.

Tom’s smirk broadens. “And how do you know that, Mr. Douglas?”

Russ glances uncertainly at Brett, realizing too late that he shouldn’t have spoken. Tom knows that the only reason they know that is because they know Haji was taken out of the school at the exit without cameras. But he can’t say that without proving they were involved. Brett interjects smoothly, “If you had that evidence, you already would have arrested me.”

“Maybe,” Tom agrees. “Maybe not.”

Brett clears his throat. “Circumstantial.”

“Circumstantial evidence adds up, Mr. Douglas. I’ve gotten convictions from less. And when forensics finishes with that van, we might be having a very different chat.”

“And in the meantime,” Talia says, her eyes glowing crimson, “I will be having chats, as it were, with the other alphas in the region. Because as you yourself pointed out, Russ, we hold ourselves and each other to a different standard of evidence than the law requires. So I would suggest you to be on your best behavior and cooperate fully with the sheriff’s investigation, or the power you turned against the Janssen pack will turn back on you.”

“We’ll take it under advisement,” Brett says coolly.

“Now get off our property,” Russ adds through gritted teeth.

“With pleasure,” Talia says, rising to her feet like a queen. Tom and Frank follow her out of the house and back to the Cruiser. Once they’re inside, Talia says to Frank, “Do you need a ride back to the airport?”

“If you don’t mind,” Frank says.

“It’s no trouble at all. I’m sure Aaron or Derek can take you, and I doubt you want to stay in town any longer than is necessary.”

Frank nods. “Thanks. And thank you for everything you’ve done for Charlotte, too. I hope that you’re able to help this Haji kid, whether he’s her mate or not.”

“We’ll do everything we can,” Talia promises.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

When Stiles gets to the Gévaudan house, he can hear Marcel yelling upstairs. Theo seems a bit uneasy, suggesting immediately that maybe they sit out back, but before Stiles can reply, he hears Marcel shout, “I don’t have time for this! My research is too important to be interrupted for this kind of thing!”

“Who’s he talking to?” Stiles asks, not even pretending that he’s not curious.

“I don’t know. He’s been up there twenty minutes and everyone else got out of here nineteen of them ago. We could – ”

“No!” Marcel shouts. “Absolutely not! I warned you that this could happen, but you just had to do things your way. I don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t put my experiment in danger!”

Theo winces and rubs a hand over the back of his head. “Go grab a burger or something – ”

“Is that a threat? Are you threatening me?” Marcel’s voice rises in fury. “Because I might remind you that I warned you that this would happen if you insisted on – ” His voice breaks off for a long moment before it comes back a little more quietly, although still definitely louder than pleasant. “I said we could work together as long as your foolish games didn’t interfere with my research. That was a caveat from the beginning so don’t act like you’re suddenly surprised – yes, I’m well aware of the potential of Gene and Patty’s work! That doesn’t mean I’m going to drop everything I’m in the middle of to redo half the work I’ve already done for them – ”

“We really ought to go,” Theo says, and Stiles can’t justify staying to eavesdrop any longer with Theo practically dragging him out of the house. He reluctantly exits and follows Theo down the street, towards the campus’ main drag.

“Is he like that a lot?” Stiles asks, as Theo heads into the student center with a halfway decent café and grill.

“No, I’ve never heard him that riled up,” Theo says. “I mean, he’s passionate about his work, but somebody must have fucked up big time.”

Stiles nods and lets Theo change the subject, because he thinks he’s got the basic shape of it. Gene and Patty were using Marcel as a ‘sounding board’ for their work, and whoever Marcel was on the phone with clearly found that work important. Marcel had done something for them, and now needed to redo it, or at least part of it. The question was, presuming that Gene and Patty’s work was the brainwashing experiment, what had Marcel done for them, and why did he need to redo it?

What exact fuckup had caused this dramatic reaction? Stiles runs over everything that had happened over the last forty-eight hours, of which there had been a lot. Valack had been proved to be a liar. The Janssens had been released. Charlotte Douglas had been taken into protective custody by her brother.

Of course, he still didn’t even know what their end goal was. It seemed like Brett Douglas had temporarily teamed up with the Gévaudan Society to pull off his plan. How connected were they, really? Brett had cosigned on the shell company that had been used to buy large chunks of land, and that was recent. Was that the price the Gévaudan Society had demanded in return for doing what he needed?

If so, their relationship should be minimal at this point. Whatever happened to the Douglases wouldn’t necessarily affect the Gévaudan Society – unless they were worried about Brett selling them out if the heat was too much for him to stand.

That thought had merit. Brett had done something pretty awful, but it pales in comparison to what the Gévaudan Society is doing. But if Mason had been their test run, why hadn’t they tried it again? Gene had said that sometimes their project worked, but sometimes it didn’t. Still, even if it hadn’t succeeded, Stiles felt like he would have heard about a failure. Unless, that was, their failures never even made it out of the laboratory.

“Stiles, earth to Stiles,” Theo says, laughing as Stiles shakes himself back to the present. “Solving the world’s mysteries?”

“I wish,” Stiles says, feeling morose. “I can’t even figure out why some people are bigoted assholes, and I feel like until I get there, I won’t be able to figure out anything they do.”

Theo shrugs. “No point in trying to understand those dicks. Hey, I know what we should do – like thirty minutes south of here there’s this bitching casino, great drinks, poker for fucking days. Have you ever hustled a human who doesn’t realize you can hear their heartbeat? It’s hilarious.”

“Would they even let you in?” Stiles asks, laughing despite himself.

“What? Oh, yeah, sure. I’ve got a great fake ID. I can get into any bar in California. It’s not like I’m twelve – I turn twenty-one in a few months anyway.”

Stiles is tempted to say yes, if only because the idea of learning how to hustle humans at poker sounds like an interesting experience. But he’s also not sure going out of town to a possibly isolated location with Theo Raeken is a great idea. Their ‘friendship’ has thus far remained confined to Sacramento, and he wants to keep it that way. “Pass, sorry. I’m not much of a gambler.” He wonders vaguely where Theo had gotten his fake ID, if it was from the same person who had gotten Brett Douglas his.

Something occurs to him. Maybe that was the fuckup Marcel had been yelling about. Brett had been peripherally aware that the Hales were onto his fake identity, but to find out that they knew about his forged passport and had tracked his travel out of the country – that had to have shaken him. It wouldn’t have taken him long to connect the dots and realize that if the Hales knew about that, they probably knew that he had co-signed on the paperwork for the land sales. The land that Peter had wanted to go check out, but hadn’t gotten the chance yet. If there was something on them that was essential to Gene and Patty’s experiments, they might have had to move it, and they might have needed Marcel’s help.

“I lost you again, huh?” Theo says.

Stiles shakes himself. “Sorry. Guess I’m kind of having an off day. It happens sometimes – gets hard to focus.”

“I really don’t get why the Bite didn’t fix that,” Theo says.

“It’s not a panacea,” Stiles snaps. “It doesn’t fix everything.” He realizes a little too late that he’s supposed to be leaning towards werewolf supremacy. He pinches the bridge of his nose. “Shit, sorry. I guess I’m a little sensitive about it.”

“Well, hey, who wouldn’t be,” Theo says. “Come on, I’ll walk you back to your car. You okay to drive?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Stiles says. He didn’t really feel like he needed Theo to walk anywhere with him, but didn’t bother to say anything about it. A few minutes later, they’re crossing the busy main street to get back to the parking lot, and a driver coasts through a stop sign at a crosswalk and nearly runs them both over.

“Hey, we’re walking here!” Theo shouts, eyes flaring blue as he slaps the hood of the man’s car. The man flips him off and then guns the engine, speeding away. Theo chortles and says, “I’ve always wanted to do that. Dustin Hoffman, right? Fucking classic.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, because he’s too startled to come up with a quick comeback.

“What? Oh, these?” Theo laughs and makes his eyes glow blue for another second. “Sorry. It didn’t occur to me that you hadn’t seen them – I’m sure I flashed them a couple times at the full moon run, but I guess you probably don’t remember a lot of that. Don’t tell me you don’t know anyone with blue eyes.”

“Yeah, uh, no,” Stiles says. “I mean, Peter’s are. I even wondered if mine would be, after I got turned, because I haven’t exactly not killed anybody, but it wasn’t an innocent, so.” He clears his throat and tries to get a hold of himself. “But you don’t have to talk about it. I’m sure it’s not a fun subject.”

Theo shrugs but says, “Yeah,” and starts walking again. After a moment, Stiles hastens to catch up. “I mean, what happened doesn’t really bother me, but when my parents saw them for the first time – wow, total freak out. They already hated me getting turned – that was the last straw for them.”

“That sucks, man,” Stiles says, and Theo nods. Stiles changes the subject slightly, talking about how lucky he was to have his father, who had supported him even when he clearly wanted to either wring his neck or chain him to a radiator. They reach his car a few minutes later and he thanks Theo for walking with him and not getting weird at his deficiencies – he hates calling them that, but casting it that way can make him seem less of a threat than he actually is. He’ll use everything he’s got if it keeps him one step ahead of Theo.

The entire drive home, Stiles can’t stop thinking about Theo’s blue eyes and what he had said about becoming a werewolf. It’s nagging at him for reasons that he can’t entirely put into words. He knows that not every werewolf with blue eyes is evil, but combined with everything else he knows about Theo, he can’t help but feel like it’s a huge red flag.

When he gets home, Derek is still at work, and he has some free time before he needs to get started on dinner. He sits down with the articles he had gathered to give them another read through for any details on Theo. Thinking back to what he had said about his parents, he Googles them to see what they’ve been up to since Theo’s adoption by Serge Marcel.

What he finds surprises him. He had assumed that, since the Raekens were so adamantly against Theo being turned, that they were human supremacists like the Argents and the Hewitts. Other people had clearly felt the same way, because after the experiment, they were held up as an example of the supernatural world taking advantage of desperate parents, forcing lycanthropy onto a human without other choices.

“It wasn’t really like that, though,” Sam Raeken said at the time. “We were always open to the concept of lycanthropy as a cure for his congenital condition. The problem was, he was already on so many medications, we were worried about rejection – about the fact that there wouldn’t be any way to save him if something went wrong.”

The Raekens had talked openly about their experiences with the Gévaudan Society, right up until Theo had actually been turned. Then they had abruptly disowned their son and began shunning the spotlight. He can’t find anything about them that’s less than four years old.

Put together with what Theo had said, it seemed like his parents had seen his blue eyes and reacted badly, which meant that whoever Theo had killed, it had been when he was fifteen or younger.

He broods about this all through dinner, leading several of the others to remark on his unusual quiet. It’s not until after most of the others have left that he mentions it to his father and Peter, while Derek is doing the dishes.

Tom listens with a faint frown while Stiles is talking about this, and when he trails off, glances sideways at Peter. “Mm,” is all Peter says in response to that glance.

“What?” Stiles asks. “What did you two just get that I missed?”

“It’s just a theory,” Tom says.

“I’d say a very strong theory,” Peter says. “He would have been ten years old at the time? That’s old enough to understand that you’re dying and that you need a heart, and even that the heart has to come from somebody close to you.”

Stiles blinks. “You think he killed his sister?”

“I’d lay money on it,” Peter says. “She fell from a balcony, if I recall correctly. My guess is that she had some help on the way down. That would explain why his parents disowned him so abruptly. Most parents are willing to forgive their child for just about anything, up to and including murder at times. But that . . . that would be different.”

“That is profoundly fucked up,” Stiles says.

“Do you believe he’s capable of something profoundly fucked up?” Peter asks.

Stiles thinks back to Theo’s easy grin and steady heartbeat while he talked about his blue eyes. “Yeah. Absolutely.”

“Not that it really matters at this point,” Peter continues. “That would have been almost ten years ago now, and I very much doubt we could prove anything. Still, it does reveal the kind of person he really is.”

Tom shifts in his chair. “How much longer are you going to need to be undercover?” he asks. “I don’t like you being involved with this kid. If he could murder his own sister at the age of ten, God only knows what he’s capable of now.”

Stiles grimaces. “Yeah, I’m not in love with the idea either. But I feel like I’m making real progress, so hopefully it won’t be that much longer. Which reminds me, I think we need to check out that property that the Gévaudan Society owns sooner rather than later.” He tells them about Marcel’s argument and the logic that had led them to believe that there might be a laboratory on one of those chunks of land.

“I can’t really get a warrant at this point,” Tom says, frowning faintly as he thinks about this. “I don’t have enough evidence that they were involved in something illegal.”

“I’ll handle it,” Peter says, and sees Tom’s frown deepen. “Don’t worry, my love – I won’t go alone. I know a few unsavory people who owe me favors – enemies of Calaveras that capitalized on their absence. I’ll let them do the heavy lifting.”

“Okay,” Tom says, although he clearly hates it.

Stiles is about to say something else when his phone chimes. He glances down at it and sees that he has an e-mail from Danny. “Oh, sweet! Can you do all that shit without me?”

“You might notice I hadn’t invited you,” Peter says dryly. “What do you have?”

“It occurred to me that if Corey’s parents hadn’t supported him going to school, he had to be getting financial aid. And he wouldn’t have had the resources to fake the sort of information they would require, so if I could get that paperwork, I could find out where he was from. That e-mail was from Danny, who really wishes I wouldn’t get him involved in hacking financial institutions! Corey Bryant is originally from northern Arizona.” He taps at his phone for a few moments. “Jesus, that’s remote. That’s practically inside the Grand Canyon.”

“Better take a lot of water,” Tom says. “It’s got to be a hundred degrees up there right now.”

“Yeah.” Stiles looks at Derek. “You game?”

“I’d follow you into Hell itself,” Derek says, “and I feel like this is going to be pretty much exactly that.”

Stiles gives a snort. “Great! Let’s do it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

There are some things Peter doesn’t talk about much with Tom or even Stiles, and the assortment of criminals that he networks with is definitely one of them. He’s not exactly friends with any of them, but they trade favors occasionally. He’s not above a bit of light forgery or blackmail in return for the illicit substances he keeps tucked away for emergencies.

Through the years, he’s established relationships with a huge variety of different specialists. The sudden downfall of Calaveras had left a power vacuum in the southwest United States that several players had rushed to fill. Peter wasn’t exactly responsible for what had happened to Calaveras, but he had certainly played a significant role in it. He had capitalized on that to make some new ‘friends’.

So it’s easy enough to make half a dozen phone calls and get a small team of people to go over the Gévaudan Society’s land with him. Most of it seems to be empty. They run through as a wolf pack, keeping their noses to the ground to try to detect any unusual scents. Peter knows that most of the land was purchased recently, and his guess is that the society has plans for it but hasn’t actually used most of it yet.

The forest where Stiles had gone to the full moon eve ceremony had a few small buildings on it, but none of them were very exciting. One had a kitchen that was fairly well-stocked but not much else; the other looked like a hall that had been set up to hold the rituals in if there was bad weather.

They go over these buildings with a fine tooth comb but find nothing, and head on to the next chunk of land. This one is smaller, but it’s the closest to Sacramento. As soon as they open the door, Peter can tell they’ve hit pay dirt. There’s a faint odor of disinfectant and the heavy smell of people who had been doing manual labor. Something had been here, and had recently been moved. Something big, or a lot of somethings.

After a quick search of the interior, Peter is intrigued. The small building is entirely empty, and only has three rooms. Two of them look fairly normal, but the third has a steel-reinforced door. He runs his hands along the walls, knocking on them periodically. The walls of the third room are far thicker than that of the rest of the house. It had been built to keep someone, or something, inside.

He needs forensics. The entire place needs to be swept for fingerprints, fibers, skin cells. That’s something he doesn’t have the ability to do.

He takes out his phone and texts Stiles, ‘Remind me later to teach you how to make somewhere look like a crime scene without ruining any evidence that might already be there’, then sets down his shoulder bag and gets to work. He takes a vial with some fake blood in it and puts a few drips near the front door, then a few steps further in. “Would one of you like to impersonate a corpse for me?” he asks.

“As long as it doesn’t involve actually being a corpse,” one of the others says, and Peter gives a snort of laughter. He has the man lie down on the front porch and drags him down the steps and into the driveway, making two neat grooves with his feet. He pulls him into the backseat of one of their cars and adds another few drops of blood to the ground. The ‘crime scene’ doesn’t need to look perfect. It just needs to get the attention of the police. If they believe a crime took place, they’ll sweep the entire house.

“All right, give me a few seconds, if you would,” he says. He takes a prepaid cell phone out of his bag and dials 911, then gently tosses the phone a few feet away. The operator is picking up just as it hits the floor. He counts off two seconds and drops his voice several notes before shouting, “What are you doing? Where did you get that phone? Give that to me, you little – ” He slams his foot down on the phone, shattering it. Then he smiles at his companions and says, “All right, it’s time for us to go.”

The others don’t need to be told twice. Twenty seconds later, they’re all in the cars, speeding away. They had left most of their cars at an all-night Wal-Mart in Sacramento. They split up there, and Peter calls Tom. “Oroville’s not in your jurisdiction, is it?”

“No, too far east, it’s in Butte county,” Tom says. “Why do you ask?”

“How’s the sheriff of that county? Friend or foe?”

“We get along,” Tom says, then repeats with extra suspicion, “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, they just got a 911 call from a crime scene that we’re going to need the forensics from. It’s one of the buildings that the Gévaudan Society was using. The blood they’re going to find is fake – I just put it there to get their attention and make sure they sweep the whole building.”

“Okay, so, you just confessed to evidence tampering,” Tom says slowly, “and I’m going to hang up before you tell me anything else I don’t need to know.”

Peter chuckles as Tom hangs up in his ear, then starts the car and heads home.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“Look, I am all for a hike in the desert, you know how much I love physical exertion,” Stiles says, and Derek gives a snort of laughter, “but I didn’t sign up to climb up and down a damned mountain. Shouldn’t there be, I don’t know, a road or something?”

Derek shrugs. “If the Bryant family doesn’t want anyone coming to visit, then no.”

“Okay, but they still need to eat, right? Peter didn’t say that phasers – I am totally calling them that, by the way – didn’t need to eat. So how do they get what they need to live?”

“Maybe they’re self-sufficient,” Derek suggests. “I think some isolated communities still grow their own food and everything. If they want to stay separated from society, that would be one way to do it.”

“Ugh, you and your logic,” Stiles says, as he starts down the steep incline. “This is gonna suck.”

“Do you want me to carry you?” Derek asks.

“Would you?” Stiles asks, grinning.

“No.”

“Spoilsport.” Stiles pouts and starts climbing again.

Derek shakes his head and just chuckles quietly to himself before following. It took them almost an hour to hike down into the canyon where the Bryants lived, and the temperature was soaring. They had brought plenty of water, but both of them were hot and sweaty, and Derek knew that the journey up was going to be even worse. He wondered if they might want to camp in the canyon so they could leave the next morning at dawn.

There are a little cluster of houses arranged along the canyon walls. Stiles looks them over and then heads for one at random, knocking on the door. It cracks open a few moments later, and the person inside says, “Yes?”

“Hi, uh, I’m looking for Corey Bryant’s parents?” Stiles says. “Or Corey, if he’s here.”

“He’s not.”

“Okay . . . what about his parents?”

There’s a moment of hesitation, and then the door opens the rest of the way. However, there’s no one there. Stiles and Derek are both left blinking, and then Derek, with his greater experience with enhanced senses, closes his eyes and listens. He hears a heartbeat now behind them, and turns and follows it. Although they still can’t see whichever phaser they’re following, one of the other doors swings open a few moments later and then shuts.

“This is fun,” Stiles comments, and Derek gives a snort. Stiles pulls one of their water bottles out of his backpack, takes a swig, and then heads for the shade.

Another minute passes. Then the door opens and a woman comes out. “Who are you and what do you want?”

“My name is Stiles, and this is my mate, Derek,” Stiles says, his mouth pursing a little as he’s reminded that he can’t use the word ‘husband’ yet. “We’re looking for Corey Bryant. Are you his mother, Marjorie?”

“Yeah. But he’s not here. Hasn’t been here in almost two years now.”

“He went to college in Sacramento, right?” Stiles asks, trying to keep things polite and friendly. “Nobody has seen him for a few months and a friend of his hired me to try to track him down. I thought he might have come back here, or that you might have some sort of idea of where he would go.”

“Nope,” Marjorie says.

Stiles is a little taken aback by the response. “Aren’t you worried about him?”

“I told him not to go off to school in the human world,” she says. “We all told him. Nothing good has ever come of it when we mix with humans. But he insisted he knew better than all of us, knew better than me. You’re worried that something horrible has happened to him, and you’re probably right. But it’s not my problem anymore.”

“He’s still your son,” Derek says.

“I’ve got three other sons to worry about,” she says. “And he’s put all of them in danger by going out there. You know what happens when our kind goes out there? Humans have hunted us for centuries, because they know what they could use our powers for. We prefer to let them forget we exist. But Corey, no, he knew better. He’s had his head stuck in books since he was a little kid, and he got the idea to leave and no power on earth could stop him. I just hope that whoever has him doesn’t come looking for the rest of us.”

“How did you find us?” another voice says, and both Stiles and Derek jump. They hadn’t realized that anyone else was outside with them, but now two, three, four other people have appeared around them. They had been able to hear the heartbeats, but evaluating their proximity had been difficult, given the acoustics of the canyon.

“I hacked Corey’s school records,” Stiles says. “He had to give them some accurate information in order to get financial aid.”

“Dumbass kid,” Marjorie says. “If you could do that, probably anyone could. No need to kill you then, I guess.”

“Gee, that’s . . . great,” Stiles says. “I’m super happy to hear that.”

One by one, the phasers blink back out of sight. Derek doubts they’ve gone far, and from the way Stiles is gripping his hand, he knows Stiles feels the same way. “So much for camping and hiking out in the morning,” he murmurs. Stiles gives a snort and heads for the path out of the canyon without another word.

They hike in silence for about a half an hour before stopping for a water break. Both of them sit there and listen to the wind whistling through the canyon. Stiles opens his mouth to say something, but then Derek hears a faint thump-thump from somewhere behind them. He squeezes Stiles’ wrist in warning and taps his ear, then his chest where his heart is. A moment later, Stiles’ eyes widen as he hears the heartbeat as well.

It does make some sense to Derek that the Bryants might have someone follow them to make sure they actually leave and don’t circle around to come back. But the idea that someone has been behind them, completely unseen, is more than a little creepy. They’re both keyed up to the point that when a boy appears on the trail behind them, Stiles lets out a yelp.

“Jesus, I nearly just yeeted myself off this damned cliff,” he says, and Derek gives him a baffled look. “You need to go on the internet more,” Stiles tells him, but then looks at the boy. “Uh, hi. Can we help you?”

“No,” the boy says, “but I can maybe help you. See, Corey actually did come back this past winter. It’s just that our parents didn’t know that.”

“Corey’s your brother?” Stiles asks, trying to be encouraging.

“Yeah. Older by three years. I’m Dean, by the way. Uh, anyway. He came by a couple days after Christmas, climbed down into the canyon, and told me and our younger brother all about college and the outside world. He told us he’d met a guy and he was in love and sometimes it was scary but it was worth it. And he gave me this.” Dean pulls out a battered looking journal. “He wrote a lot in it about the people he’d met and places he went, so maybe it can help you find him.”

“That could be really useful, yeah!” Stiles says, his eyes widening. He takes the journal, but then hesitates. “Is it okay if I take it with me?”

Dean shrugs, his body tightening a little. “You’ll need it, won’t you?”

“Yeah, but I could just take pictures of every page, so you could keep it.”

“Can you do that?” Dean’s eyes go wide. “I didn’t know phones could do that.”

“Yeah. Just give me a few minutes.”

Stiles starts taking pictures, and Derek says, “Did he seem okay when he came back?”

“Yeah. He seemed – he seemed happy.” Dean wipes his eyes impatiently. “Like, happier than I had ever seen him. I hope he’s okay.”

“We’ll find him,” Derek says, and adds, “Stiles is really the best in the world at solving mysteries. He found someone who was hiding from Calaveras; I’m sure he can find your brother. We’ll make sure that Corey’s all right.”

“Thanks,” Dean says.

Stiles finishes snapping pictures, then starts rummaging in his backpack. He pulls out a little flip phone and says, “Here, take this,” handing it to Dean along with the journal. “It’s a prepaid cell phone. That way Corey will be able to call you as soon as we find him, and let you know that he’s okay.” He fumbles another moment and then hands him a charger as well.

“Okay,” Dean says, with a nod and another thank you. He turns and heads back into the canyon.

Derek gives Stiles a somewhat amused look. “You just carry a burner with you everywhere you go?”

“Uh, yeah,” Stiles says. “Never know when you’re going to need a spare phone. Deucalion taught me that.”

“I guess he did.” Derek leans in and presses a kiss against Stiles’ temple. “Let’s get to somewhere with air conditioning.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Hotels normally make Stiles horny, but by the time they get back to theirs, they’re both exhausted from the long hike. He takes a cool shower and then collapses onto the bed, groaning. His feet are killing him. “I haven’t been this sore since the bite,” he mutters to himself. “Can we take Tylenol? Is there like, extra-extra-extra strength?”

“No,” Derek says, amused. “But unlike a human, if you just lie down and let your healing do its thing, you’ll feel better in a couple hours.”

With another groan, Stiles manages to get the TV remote and find a movie. He’s asleep five minutes later.

He’s up early the next morning, eager to get back to Beacon Hills where he can lay everything out in front of himself. They drive to the closest city with an airport, which happens to be Las Vegas, and catch a flight back to Sacramento. As soon as they’re given the okay to have their phones out, Stiles is transferring the pictures of Corey’s journal to his laptop. “I’d really rather print them and go through them that way, but needs must when the devil drives.”

Derek snorts and says, “That’s a poetic way of saying you’re too impatient to wait the six hours until we’re home.”

Stiles pretends to be affronted, and they both end up laughing.

Going through Corey’s journal is interesting. Stiles feels like he shouldn’t snoop, but at the same time he’s ninety-nine percent sure that Corey is in trouble. He hopes that Corey would want to be found and rescued, even if it means that a stranger is going to read his diary.

He had led such a sheltered life that the most mundane experiences still warranted an entry in the journal. A cute boy held a door for him. He got a haircut at a barbershop instead of from one of his parents. He saw a movie in a theater for the first time. Entire pages are filled with his thoughts on all the choices at the school cafeteria.

It’s clear from the journal that the Gévaudan Society had targeted him not long after his arrival on campus. Their efforts to recruit him into their fraternity hadn’t been subtle in the slightest. Theo was mentioned as early as October, and by the time winter break rolls around, Corey has been thoroughly adopted by the Society. They let him stay in the house during breaks even though he hasn’t pledged yet, because he’s afraid if he goes home, his parents will never let him leave.

He doesn’t seem to like Theo much as a person, referring to him several times as smarmy and saying he smiles like he’s in an infomercial, a phrase that makes Stiles crack up. But the pull of a group where he belongs, a group that promises to accept him and make him one of their own, was far too strong for him to resist.

The following year, he meets Mason, and he’s immediately smitten. He waxes poetic for several pages about the boy in his intro to chemistry class, who’s smart and funny and gorgeous. When Mason becomes his lab partner, Corey fills an entire page with exclamation points. He writes in detail about how much they have in common and how Mason really gets him, in a way that nobody else does, and how he had never thought he would meet anyone like that. Their first date is to a Halloween party (he goes as the Invisible Man, because of course he does), and by Thanksgiving, they’re official boyfriends. They stay at the Gévaudan House over Christmas break, and Corey writes a lot about Mason’s increasing trouble with his parents and their attempts to break them up and steal Mason away. He’s not sure how to handle it, especially when Mason decides to take a leave of absence, and he’s clearly grateful for the way the people at the Gévaudan House have supported them.

The last entry is more of a letter to his brother about how much he’s enjoyed making friends and taking classes and how he doesn’t regret it, which he clearly wrote before giving him the journal.

Stiles stares at his laptop, deep in thought, and wonders if he would say the same thing now.

“What are you thinking?” Derek says, seeing that he’s stopped reading and the screensaver on his laptop has come on.

“I’m wondering if I’ve been coming at this all wrong,” Stiles says, a faint frown creasing his face. “Like, from the beginning, I’ve been assuming that the Gévaudan Society targeted Mason because his father was an anti-werewolf activist that they wanted dead. But it seems like Mason was more of a bonus than anything else. They hit on Corey with all the subtlety of a Mack truck.” He waves a hand and says, “ ‘Hit on’ isn’t really the phrase I mean, but you get it.”

“Yeah.” Derek thinks back to what Corey’s mother had said. “I guess that’s kind of a problem for were-chameleons.”

“Yeah. Which makes sense, especially that a guy like Marcel might be interested in them.” Stiles is loosening up, warming to his topic. “I mean, if they were gonna target an anti-werewolf activist, Hewitt was kind of an odd choice. He was a jerk and a pain in the ass, but he wasn’t really a threat. Hell, he wasn’t even in charge of the Foundation for Human . . . Bullshit. That’s some other lady.”

“But if Mason walked right into their waiting arms, they might have decided to use him as a test subject,” Derek says, nodding.

“Yeah. But it’s possible, maybe even probable, that Corey has always been their main . . . God, I can’t speak today. Whatever word I mean.”

“Their first choice?” Derek says.

“Sure. That works. I mean, an invisible assassin – hard to beat that.”

Derek considers for a few moments, then says, “Okay, but if Marcel has successfully implanted werewolf genes into a human to give them some healing, why doesn’t he just do the same with Corey’s invisibility?”

“It’s not that easy,” Stiles says. “It took him years, decades, to find the healing gene. Even then, he wasn’t able to isolate it. That’s why Theo got some other werewolf traits after the gene therapy. It could be that he originally wanted Corey so that he could study his DNA, find that gene and create an army of invisible assassins. But if a year went by and he still hadn’t been able to isolate it, and you’ve got the other two scientists on the other side doing this work on brainwashing people, they might have decided to see if they could brainwash him into committing their murders for him.”

“Mason and Haji were test runs,” Derek says.

“Yeah, and maybe not the only ones, from what Gene and Patty said,” Stiles replies. “It’s hard to say.”

Derek idly plays with Stiles’ hair as he mulls it over. “But if that’s the case, then why haven’t they made their move yet? The whole thing with Haji was weeks ago. It works. And it’s not like they need to wait for the opportune moment when they have an invisible, brainwashed assassin.”

“I don’t know.” Stiles chews on his lower lip, one little fang poking out adorably as he frowns in concentration. “Maybe it works, but they haven’t gotten it to work on Corey. You have to figure, a phaser is fundamentally different from humans and even other shifters. Magic is complicated. Just because they’ve managed to brainwash Mason and Haji doesn’t mean that they can do it to Corey yet.”

“Yeah. Well, I hope it takes them a long time to figure out.”

Stiles nods and says, “Me too.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The other useful piece of information in Corey’s journal, written in the bottom corner of the last page so Stiles nearly missed it, is his phone number. Stiles practically hits the ceiling after printing all the pages out and seeing it. He calls it immediately, and it goes straight to voice mail, which he expected. Then he calls his father. “Dad! Can you order some phone records for me?”

“Do you have a warrant?” his father asks.

“Uh . . . no? But I can get one. Probably. I mean, it’s Corey, he’s a missing person, it should be simple to get his phone records, right?”

“Why don’t you just fake a crime scene like Peter?” Tom asks, sounding a little sour.

Stiles narrows his eyes. “You two better not be fighting.”

Tom sighs. “Not really. He just . . . makes me tired sometimes. I take it that Corey’s family had his phone number?”

“Yeah, his brother did. I tried to call it, but no answer, which is what I expected, but if it was GPS equipped or anything we might be able to trace his movements right before he was kidnapped or something. What crime scene did Peter fake?”

“I’ll tell you about it after dinner,” Tom says.

Since it’s his first night back after being gone several days, Stiles runs by the grocery and gets what he needs to make a kickass dinner. It’s too late in the day to start anything that will need a long time in the oven, so he goes with the basic staple of tacos. They’re relatively easy, but everybody loves them.

It’s a loud, chaotic meal, the kind he likes best. He manages to make a little time to talk to everyone, and they leave in twos and threes after dinner is over. Finally, it’s just his father, Derek, and Peter that are left. Tom bribed the twins into going with Laura and Jonathan with the promise of an extra story that night.

“Okay, so here’s what we found out,” Stiles says, summarizing everything they had learned from Corey’s family, and more importantly, his journal.

“Well, if they were holding Corey hostage, I think I know where,” Peter says. “I assumed they had used it to hold Haji. I’m not sure how you would keep a phaser contained.”

“Can they become intangible?” Derek asks. “Or only invisible?”

“Only invisible. So I suppose I’m less curious about how one would contain them, and more in how you would catch them in the first place.”

“Make them trust you,” Stiles says, gesturing to the journal pages he has laid out beside him.

“Fair enough,” Peter says.

“This is the crime scene you faked?” Stiles asks, and Peter nods. “Did they find anything there?”

“No. It had been thoroughly cleaned. Which isn’t entirely bad news,” Peter adds, and Stiles gives him a questioning look. “Cleaning a building after you’ve been using it for criminal purposes, to ensure that it’s forensically sanitized, isn’t as easy as it sounds. They probably hired professionals, in which case we might be able to figure out who it was.”

“That won’t really help, though,” Derek says. “We already know who owns the building. We can take an educated guess at who hired someone to clean it. What we need to know is where they took everything that was in it.”

“True.” Peter folds his hands in front of himself and says, “At this point, I think we need to clarify our focus.”

Tom gives him a sideways look. “Meaning?”

“Meaning, what exactly is our goal?” Peter says. “We began this part of the investigation in an attempt to find out who murdered Garrett Douglas. We now have, with all reasonable certainty, the answer to that question. Whether or not we’ll ever find the evidence necessary to prove what Brett did is up in the air right now. But at the least, we prevented him from framing Annie and Sally Janssen, and we’ve gotten Charlotte to safety.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “And since the wedding was just the opportune moment, me and Derek are fucked when it comes to getting married even if we manage to prove it.”

Derek reaches out and smoothes down his hair. “I’m gonna talk to my mom about that, okay? We’ll figure something out.”

Stiles sighs and nods. “Yeah, okay. Sorry.” He gestures for Peter to continue.

“If we take a step back from what Brett Douglas did, and allow him to think he’s gotten away with it, at least for now, we can refocus ourselves on the Gévaudan Society. I think the deal they made with Brett is obvious – he gave them financial support, and probably some help with the finer points of shell corporations and under the table real estate, in exchange for them doing the spell on Haji. He probably doesn’t know much about anything else they’re up to.”

“Proving that magic happened should be our priority,” Tom says firmly. “Haji and Mason’s lives depend on it. Unless we can prove they were magically coerced into what they did, they’re both looking at long jail sentences. Plus what happened with Haji will be a black mark against the idea of resettling the refugees from Search for a Cure.”

Peter nods. “I agree.”

“Yeah, same,” Stiles says, and Derek is nodding too. “Now if only we knew how to actually do that.”

“I think we should focus on these two other doctors,” Tom says. “They’re the ones actually doing the experiments. They’ll have contact with Corey, if they have him confined somewhere. We need to find whatever lab they’re using. If we can find Corey there, that will be enough to get a warrant for everything those two have touched.”

“Well, wherever it is, it’s not on the land they recently purchased,” Peter says. “I’ve gone over every inch of it.”

“They knew who they were hiding from,” Tom says.

“I’ll see them at next week’s Gévaudan Society meeting,” Stiles says. “I can see if I can get close to clone their phones, slip trackers into their coffee, whatever.”

Tom opens his mouth, closes it, and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Sure.”

Peter huffs out a quiet laugh and rubs his hand over the back of Tom’s neck. “Stiles, don’t talk about breaking the law in front of your father. You know it bothers him.”

“Yeah, it’s really unfair,” Stiles says cheerfully. “When you break the law he gives you that look where I know he’s thinking that he shouldn’t be so attracted to you when you’re being a criminal, but when I break the law, he looks at me like I’m grounded.”

“So, we’re done with this,” Tom says to the ceiling.

Peter is laughing even harder. “You know, these after-dinner conversations are my favorite part of the week.”

“Don’t encourage him,” Tom says. “Don’t encourage each other! I don’t know which one of you two delinquents is worse.”

“Just remember, Dad, I get half my genes from you,” Stiles says, and Tom just groans.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

It’s rare to be able to get Talia and Aaron by themselves, without any of the numerous pack members or children vying for their attention. After his second attempt fails, Derek starts to wonder if he should call his mother and make an appointment. But the third time is the charm. It’s a Tuesday evening, a couple hours after dinner. The respective pack members are all back at their own houses. Tom is working late and Peter is sensibly making himself scarce. Both sets of twins have been put to bed, and Derek’s parents are enjoying what they probably assume will be a rare moment of peace before Derek comes in.

Not that they aren’t glad to see him. Aaron pats the sofa next to him and Derek sits down to watch the Star Baker prize get awarded on the Great British Bake-Off. When the episode is over, Aaron says, “What’s on your mind, Der?”

Since ‘I can’t just come see my parents without ulterior motives’ obviously isn’t going to go anywhere, Derek says, “I wanted to talk to you both, but mostly Mom, about me and Stiles’ wedding.”

Talia sighs, pushing her hair out of her face. “I’m so sorry that all this happened, Derek. I know it must have been like a kick in the gut.”

“Yeah.” Derek’s thought a lot about what he’s going to say, and he feels like he knows about how this conversation is going to go. So he’s confident in pushing forward, saying, “Peter and Tom are in agreement that there’s about a ninety-eight percent chance that Brett killed his uncle and did it at the wedding to frame the Janssen pack. So it wasn’t an omen. It wasn’t fate. It was an awful person doing an awful thing. And I don’t think it’s fair that Stiles and I can’t get married because of that.”

“It’s not,” Talia says. “It’s horribly unfair. But the tradition . . .”

“Traditions change, Mom,” Derek says. “When those traditions were created, marriage was an entirely different sort of thing. It didn’t have the legal, the cultural meaning back then that it does today.”

“I know,” Talia says. “I’ll talk to the other alphas, okay? I’ll see what they say.”

“Okay,” Derek says, hesitates, then says, “No, it’s not okay. I need you to fight for us on this, Mom. I need you to tell the other alphas that it’s not fair and their opinions aren’t relevant to the situation.”

Talia’s eyebrows go up. “That would be a hell of a thing to say in a room full of alphas.”

“I know,” Derek says. “I’m not asking you to do it lightly. I know there might be repercussions. But I’m asking you to do it all the same.”

Aaron intervenes here, leaning forward and gently touching Derek’s forearm. “Derek, nobody is saying you and Stiles can’t be together. I know that you were excited about the wedding, but it’s just a formality. Why is this so important to you?”

“Because it’s important to Stiles,” Derek says. “Because he wasn’t born a wolf. He views things differently from us. For us, finding our mate, them officially joining the pack, that’s the end game. A wedding is just icing on the cake. But it’s not like that for him. Marriage, a wedding, it means something to humans, even ones that have been turned into werewolves, that’s more important to them than it is to us. He’s been dreaming of marrying me since the day he met me, of the cake, the fancy outfits, the decorations, all of that. It’s important to him, and now a bunch of people he’s barely met and doesn’t care about are telling him that he can’t have it, just because some asshole decided to use us and kill someone at our wedding. Can you even imagine what that feels like for us?”

 Talia sighs. “No,” she says. “Not entirely. I know that.”

“I know that the other alphas might think it’s disrespectful. That they might think we’re spitting in the face of the gods. But I don’t care. Stiles and I are getting married, one way or another. If it’s here, with all the trappings and trimmings we planned, great. If it’s a wedding at a courthouse with a party that just has the pack afterwards, fine. If it’s a wedding in a Vegas chapel and we all go stuff ourselves silly at a buffet afterwards, fine. That doesn’t matter to me. Stiles might honestly prefer one of the easier versions after what happened. But we are getting married, Mom, so you’re going to have to plan for that.”

After a moment, Talia smiles. “You know, there is a little bit of alpha in you,” she teases, and Derek flushes pink. “Okay. I’ll talk to the other alphas.”

“Present it as a choice between ceremonies, not a yes or no to a ceremony happening,” Aaron suggests. “Tell them that we’ve decided, given the circumstances of Garrett’s death, that we think the wedding should proceed, but you want their input on whether it would be better to do the full ceremony or a courthouse thing.”

Derek snorts and says, “That’s such a parenting move.”

“It is, absolutely,” Aaron says, with a chuckle. “It never came up as much with you, but with Laura? Everything was ‘do you want to wear your red jacket or your yellow jacket?’ ‘Do you want peas or carrots?’ ‘Do you want to nap now or in half an hour?’ Otherwise she would just say no to everything.”

Talia is laughing, too. “It’s a good idea, though. Not giving them the opportunity to say no. Although that won’t stop them, you know, if they’re really opposed to it.”

“No, but it might take some of the wind out of their sails.” Aaron reaches out and squeezes Derek’s shoulder. “Just don’t elope to Vegas without us, okay? I want to be there for this wedding, no matter what it looks like.”

“Okay. Thanks,” Derek adds, giving both of them a hug. “It means a lot to us.”

“I know,” Talia says. “We’ll work it out. I promise.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s easy enough for Stiles to clone both Gene Weisshart and Patricia Evans’ phones, although he has to get a spare phone from Peter so he can do them separately. That almost makes up for the meeting itself, which is incredibly boring. He can’t help but wonder if they really are putting on a legitimate front just for his benefit. It would be a lot of work, but there are probably things they don’t want him privy to.

“I don’t get it,” Derek says, as Stiles settles down with the cloned phones. “I mean, if they don’t want you knowing what goes on at their meetings, why bother inviting you at all?”

“Well, because they want me to think I know what goes on at their meetings,” Stiles says.

“Okay, but . . .” Derek shakes his head. “This is the sort of Left Handing I’m not as good at. It just seems like such a waste of time and effort to feed you all this false information when they could just feed you no information. But you’ve got them actively inviting you into their ranks, letting you attend their rituals and their ceremonies. Theo’s practically falling over backwards to be your friend. Why? They have to know you’re never really going to trust them.”

“Yeah, but just like I can deduce things about them from the kind of false information they give me, they can deduce things about me by what kind of questions I ask. It’s a way for them to monitor my investigation.”

Derek grimaces. “I guess.”

“Don’t forget that Peter warned us it probably wouldn’t go much of anywhere, for this exact reason. You’ve got two people who don’t trust each other, who are both lying to each other. The odds that I’ll get a lot of information are slim.” Stiles laughs a little as Derek groans. “But we have learned some things. I mean, we know Marcel did some work for Gene and Patty. I’ve been reading his old papers and I think I know what it was.”

“Yeah?” Derek asks.

“Yeah. He’s done extensive research on electromagnetic waves and how they affect supernatural creatures. They can disrupt anything that takes place in what he calls liminal space. Now, mostly what he was studying was things like telepathy, extra-sensory perception, et cetera. But I wonder if it inhibits a phaser’s ability.”

Derek thinks about this. “Are phasers invisible on camera, or just to a living eye?”

“Both,” Stiles says. “So they have more than just the ability to affect a person’s perception. They are actually invisible. But I think that works by their entire bodies shifting into this liminal space he’s talking about.”

“Okay. So Marcel builds them a sort of electromagnetic cage to hold Corey in, like a supernatural Faraday cage. Then we find Brett’s fake identity. They know we’re going to be able to find all the property they’ve bought. So Marcel has to drop everything he’s doing and reconstruct the Faraday cage on a second property.”

Stiles taps the side of his nose and then nods.

“And knowing that helps us how exactly?” Derek asks.

Stiles gives a huff. “Look, it was an example of a thing I learned, okay? I’m not saying it’s a smoking gun. Let’s see where Gene and Patty are.” He pulls out the two phones on which he had cloned the doctors’ phones, taps at each screen for a moment, and then sighs. “Of course they don’t have GPS-enabled phones.”

“I assume you already looked through their texts and e-mails and everything?” Derek says.

“Yeah. They’re way too smart to commit any of this to a readable format. On the upside, at least now I’ll be able to listen in on any phone calls they get.” Stiles flops backwards onto the bed and sighs. “I hate waiting.”

“Mm hm.” Derek reaches out and plays with the hem of Stiles’ shirt. “Maybe I can help you pass the time.”

“Aw, you’d do that? For me?”

Derek slides his hand underneath Stiles’ shirt. “I think something could be arranged.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom comes into the bedroom after reading the girls their bedtime story to find Peter on the phone talking with someone in a language he doesn’t know. He starts unbuttoning his shirt, watching Peter as he talks for another minute before saying, “Obrigado,” and then hanging up.

“What language was that?” Tom asks, tossing his shirt towards the hamper.

“Portuguese,” Peter says. “I was talking to a friend down in Rio.”

“Still?” Tom asks. “I thought we had decided to focus on those two scientists and however they were brainwashing people.”

“We did,” Peter says, then shrugs. “I’m bad at letting things go.”

Tom laughs at that and sits down on the edge of the bed next to Peter, rubbing one hand up and down his spine. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like letting Brett Douglas get away with what he did. And if you find a way to nail him to the wall, I’d be all for it. I’m just more concerned with the two innocent kids in jail, that’s all. Did you find anything useful?”

“No. And it frustrates me.” Peter gives a low growl. “I swear to God, I’ve talked to every Druid who’s set foot in Rio in the past six months. I can’t find anybody who even knows the Douglas pack, let alone did anything for them.”

“Maybe he went to Rio for some other reason,” Tom suggests.

“That’s certainly a possibility, but if it’s true, I’ve no idea where to start.”

“Me neither,” Tom says with a sigh.

“How are things on your end?” Peter says. “Did you get anywhere with that cleaning crew?”

“Unfortunately, no. They sanitized the house but swear it was empty when they got there. Which means that the Gevaudan Society moved everything themselves, and only had the cleaning crew come erase any traces of it. Which doesn’t surprise me, given that there’s a ninety-eight percent chance they had a kidnapped were-chameleon in there, but it’s still annoying.”

“Payment?”

“Paid in cash by a guy who was wearing a hoodie and a scarf.” Tom rolls his eyes and adds, “They said isn’t particularly unusual, given that most of their work is cleaning up crime scenes. Which, of course, they know nothing about.”

Peter gives a snort. “Don’t be rude. They offer a valuable service.”

Please don’t tell me what crime scenes you’ve paid to have cleaned up.”

At this, Peter arches an eyebrow. “I was actually referring to the house where Deucalion was killed. To be fair, we could have done that legally, and Stiles and I could have pled self-defense since he was trying to kill us, but still, would it really have been worth the hassle?”

“You know what?” Tom leans in and presses a kiss against Peter’s neck. “I’m going to go ahead and ignore the fact that you referred to the legal system I represent as a ‘hassle’, in favor of changing the subject. The same cleaning crew was called to service a certain white, windowless van, the day Haji assaulted Charlotte Douglas.”

“Oh, interesting!” Peter says. “Brett’s probably used them before. He used them to clean out the van he rented to do his dirty work. Then, when he called Marcel – or the other two doctors – to let him know that his fake ID was being traced and they would have to move Corey and their equipment, he probably recommended them to do the clean-up afterwards.”

“Yeah. Which still proves nothing.” Tom sighs and pushes a hand through his hair. “Honestly, this is the worst part of law enforcement. When you’re one hundred percent positive of who the perpetrator is, but you just don’t have enough evidence to prove it.”

“Hassle,” Peter murmurs.

“Listen, you,” Tom says, reaching out to tug on Peter’s ear. “I don’t see you having gotten any further than me in this case, so don’t act all high and mighty.”

“True. But the race ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Peter leans in and nips at Tom’s ear in response. “Shall we wager?”

“What exactly do you propose?”

“One of the two of us will get the evidence or proof we need to get Haji and Mason out of jail. Either you’ll do it within the confines of the law, or I’ll do it outside of them.” Peter considers, then says, “Or Stiles will do it, either inside or out. His methods vary. So let’s wager on whose method is going to exonerate them and get them out of jail.”

“Okay,” Tom says, laughing despite himself. “And what are we going to wager?”

“Well, if I win . . .” Peter trails his fingers down Tom’s neck, then his chest. Then he smirks and continues, “You’ll take the girls’ math lessons for two weeks.”

Tom groans. Malia and Marisela’s hatred of math is legendary. “Okay. But if I win, you’ll get up before ten AM for two weeks so you can get them dressed and make them breakfast so I don’t have to get up super early so I can do it before work.”

Peter laughs. “Agreed.”

They shake on it. Tom tweaks Peter’s ear again, and Peter pounces.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles gives the door of Derek’s office a quick knock before bouncing inside and finding it empty. He makes a face at the chair and the dark computer before tilting his head to the air and giving a quick sniff. Then he follows his nose out the back, where he finds Derek watering some potted trees. “Guess what,” he says, jumping on Derek’s back and biting at his neck.

“You’re bored and horny?” Derek asks, as Stiles wraps around him like an octopus.

“You’re half right,” Stiles says. “I am horny, because you’re wearing a tank top and your muscles are like, glistening, which is very unfair by the way. Plus those jeans make your butt look amazing, although that isn’t really a huge accomplishment because your butt always looks amazing. But I’m not bored, because I have Corey’s phone records.”

“Okay, cool,” Derek says, trying to keep his balance as Stiles begins mauling his shoulder. “Why are you here, then?”

“Because it’s way too nice a day to sit inside while I work, so I thought I’d come pester you in your screen porch office,” Stiles says. “And, you know, I’m horny.”

Amused, Derek says, “Which is going to come first, horny Stiles or detective Stiles?”

“You know, I came over here thinking it was going to be detective Stiles, but that tank top, man.” Stiles pulls it up so he can rub his hands over Derek’s chest and stomach. “Maybe just a quickie first.”

There’s no bed at Derek’s office (although given how often this happens, he’s beginning to think seriously about buying a futon or something), but he manages to maneuver Stiles into the lawn chair he keeps out back. “There’s no way this will support both our weight,” Stiles points out, although he doesn’t seem to think that’s a bad thing.”

“I’m not getting in it,” Derek says, sinking to his knees in front of Stiles.

“Oh my God, yes, you’re awesome,” Stiles says, his head tilting back as Derek undoes the front of his jeans. He twines his hands in Derek’s hair and loudly encourages him, with an extensive vocabulary, until he comes a few minutes later. Then he gives a contented sigh and says, “Mmkay. I wanna return the favor but I don’t wanna move for a few minutes.”

“I can wait,” Derek says, grinning.

Stiles stays sprawled out in the summer sun, enjoying the breeze and the sounds of the forest and the scent of his mate, until his legs start to recover. By then, Derek has gone back to watering his plants. Stiles grabs him and playfully drags him over to the chair.

A little while later, Derek says, “So, phone records?”

“Yeah. Plus I brought some lemonade.”

“Sounds good.”

They go inside and settle down with the lemonade and the phone records. Stiles immediately goes to the end. “Okay, the last thing on here is March fifteenth. That tracks with what Mason told us about the last day he remembers. That was a Tuesday. Looks like around three PM, Corey texted Mason twice, then called him once.”

“He probably got home from classes, and when Mason wasn’t there, he tried to reach him,” Derek says.

“Yeah, that would be my assumption. But it’s also not very illuminating.” Stiles leafs further back. “The vast majority of his texts were to Mason, which makes sense. But there’s another number he was texting pretty frequently, and I don’t recognize it.” He pulls his laptop over and starts typing rapidly. “Huh. That’s . . . weird.”

“Good weird or bad weird?” Derek asks.

“I’m not sure. That number? It’s registered to Theo Raeken.”

Derek frowns. “You said you didn’t recognize it, but you have Theo’s number, don’t you?”

“Yeah. So either he switched phones for some reason . . . or he has two.” Stiles is getting excited. “He got a second phone so he could give me a clean number, so when I ran his records, which of course I did, I didn’t see anything weird in them, and couldn’t get Corey’s number from them. He has a second phone!”

“Okay, slow down,” Derek says. “What does this get us?”

“Well, it gets us something that Theo definitely didn’t want us to have, and in fact went out of his way for us to not have, which means I bet that there’s something in there he doesn’t want us to see.” Stiles is already taking out his own phone and making a call. “Hey, Dad, it’s me. Can you get us another set of phone records? Theo has a second number that Corey texted sometimes, since, you know, he thought Theo was his friend and everything.”

Derek can practically hear Tom frowning on the other end of the phone. “I can designate him a person of interest in Corey’s disappearance and request a warrant for them, but that will take a few days – ”

“Arrrrgh, too slow, I’m finally onto something! Bye, Dad,” Stiles says, hanging up over his father’s protests. He dials another number. “Danny boy! How are you – don’t be like that, all I said was hello – okay technically I didn’t say hello but why do you always assume I want something?”

“Because you always do,” Derek says, in perfect synch with Danny, on the other end of the line.

“Okay, but it’s a little thing this time, and come on, it’s not like I make you work for free out of guilt anymore, I pay you and everything! What’s hacking one little phone got against my triple chocolate espresso cookies?”

“You’re the worst,” Danny says.

Thirty minutes later, Stiles is looking through a new set of phone records, these belonging to Theo Raeken. Unlike the ones he had gotten for Corey, these have a lot more than just a log of calls and texts. He’s got the text messages, e-mails, GPS history, photographs. “Following the law is just pointless,” he says to Derek, who gives a snort of laughter. “Okay. So the texts between him and Corey were nothing special. Just the kind of thing you might expect to see between two college dudes who were friends. ‘I’m heading home from the student center, want me to pick you up anything to eat?’ from Theo, because he was trying to masquerade as a person. ‘Can I get the history notes from you’ from Corey, who is then forced to admit he missed class because he and Mason were making out and lost track of time. You know. Normal stuff.”

“Okay,” Derek says, hooking his chin over Stiles’ shoulder. “Anything else?”

“Lots of calls between Theo and Dr. Marcel; I’ve seen that number in his other phone records, too. No texts. Marcel is like ninety years old so he’s probably not much of a texter. So that’s not very helpful. Literally hundreds of texts to and from tons of other college kids. It looks like Theo’s pretty much in charge of the recruiting. He’s constantly texting people about Gevaudan Society events, like parties and rallies and that kind of thing, encouraging them to turn up. I’d seen some of those on his other records but nowhere near this extent.”

“That’s not too surprising either,” Derek says. “We knew he was in pretty deep with them. Luring other kids into their clutches seems right in his wheelhouse.”

“Photos are pretty tame. Lots of different group shots in various places on campus, probably at said parties and rallies. Lemme look at the GPS data.” Stiles starts typing for a few moments. “Man, I remember the first time Google Maps sent me a thing saying ‘look at your year in review!’ and I was like ‘look, Google, I know you’re basically Big Brother and you track everything I do and everywhere I go, but do you have to remind me?’”

Derek gives a snort. “Yikes.”

“Yeah. I’d turn it off but you never know when Peter might need to find me if I get in trouble or whatever.” Stiles finishes typing and waits a few beats, then grins widely. “Just what I wanted to fucking see!”

“What is it?” Derek asks, leaning over his shoulder again.

“This spot right here? That’s the house in the woods where they were holding Corey. And this date and time? That’s as near as we can figure to when all that stuff was moved.”

“Theo was on the moving crew,” Derek says, his eyes widening a little. “Where did he go?”

“He spent about an hour there, and then he went to . . .” Stiles’ breath catches in his throat. “The Douglas pack’s den.”

“Do you think they took Corey there?” Derek says.

“I can see how they might have. Brett’s the one who fucked up, in their opinion, letting us get on to his fake identity. So they could have demanded that the Douglas pack provide them a place to stash all their stuff while Marcel built the new Faraday cage.”

“Do you think that’s enough for us to get a warrant to search their property?” Derek asks. “He might still be there.”

“I doubt it, but it’s definitely worth a try,” Stiles says. He dials his phone again. His father sounds somewhat disgruntled when he picks up. “Okay, so, I might have broken the law a little, but only a little,” Stiles says, and Tom sighs. “Theo has a second phone. The records indicate that he was at the Gevaudan Society’s house in the woods the day we think all their stuff was moved, and he went from there to the Douglas pack’s den. Do you think they might be holding Corey while Marcel gets the new place ready?”

“It’s certainly a possibility,” Tom says.

“A strong enough possibility to get a warrant to search their property?” Stiles asks.

Tom’s silent for a second. “You said Corey’s records had a lot of texts to Theo, right? Were there any the day he disappeared?”

“Yeah, there’s one on the log. Which . . .” Stiles scrolls through Theo’s records. “Yeah, this makes sense, Corey texted Theo asking if he’d seen Mason, and Theo replies saying ‘not since this morning’.”

“Okay. And that number is officially registered to Theo Raeken?”

“Yeah.”

“Do we have any other evidence of Theo’s relationship to the Douglas pack? Admissible evidence,” Tom adds.

“Directly? No. But Theo was legally adopted by Dr. Marcel, and he’s certainly connected as hell to the Douglas pack.”

“True. Okay. Then yes, I think we have enough to get a search warrant for the Douglas pack’s property, both to look for Corey and for any evidence that they might have somehow been involved in the Hewitts’ murder, since we know Theo was involved with Mason as well.” Tom is typing rapidly in the background. “Don’t jump the gun, okay? I don’t want Douglas to know that we’re coming.”

Stiles does a fist pump but says, “Yeah, no worries, Dad. I’m not about to walk into neo-Nazi HQ on my own. I’ll just be enjoying the sun and fun at Derek’s office. Keep me posted.”

“Will do,” Tom says, and hangs up.

“God, we’re so awesome,” Stiles says, climbing into Derek’s lap. “Let’s celebrate how awesome we are by fucking each other silly.”

And really, Derek can’t argue with that.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The next afternoon, Stiles is pacing the main house while they wait for the search warrant to be executed. Tom is sending an entire team, because he wants to search all three houses at once. He doesn’t want the Douglas pack having time to move things from house to house.

“Why don’t you make us some tea?” Talia suggests, seeing that Stiles is going to drive himself to distraction waiting. “Your father will be fine. He’s done this a hundred times.”

“Besides, Peter’s not here,” Derek adds, “which means he’s definitely lurking around the Douglas complex in case there’s trouble.”

“True, I guess,” Stiles says, trying not to sulk. He makes green tea for everyone, figuring they don’t need more caffeine given the tension of the situation: jasmine for Talia, ginger for Derek, sencha for himself and Aaron. He makes a mug of lapsang souchong, Peter’s favorite, and sets it aside in case he wanders in. Peter loathes green tea and refuses to drink it.

He figures his father will call or text if they actually find Corey, so he’s practically on the ceiling with frustration as the minutes trickle by. Derek reminds him more than once that the search warrant isn’t the end game. There’s altogether too strong a possibility that they only kept Corey at the Douglas den for a few days while they got another location ready. What they’re looking for is evidence of a crime. Once they have that, they can ‘subpoena every damn thing’ as Tom had put it. Search all the Gévaudan-owned property, formally question Marcel and Theo, legally get the phone and financial records for all three of the doctors. This is just a stepping stone, despite how major it feels.

“Police work takes forever,” Stiles groans.

“That’s what I said,” Peter remarks, causing everyone in the room to jump. He sniffs at the mug of lapsang and then picks it up. “Your father was quite put out when I referred to the legal system as a hassle.”

“When did you get here?” Stiles demands. “Why are you here and not there? Where’s my dad?”

“Your father has gone back to the station to fill out a thousand pounds of paperwork, and since I’m not needed for that, I came back here to update you,” Peter says. “Corey wasn’t there. There was no sign that he had been there. Which I expected, frankly. I doubt he was there for more than a day or two.”

With another groan, Stiles collapses into Derek’s lap. Derek pats him on the back and says, “Okay, but Tom wouldn’t be filling out a bunch of paperwork if you had found nothing, so what did you find?”

“A couple things that may or may not get us anywhere, but at least give us new avenues to explore. Brett had a parking ticket in his desk. It’s for a car he doesn’t own, and it’s in downtown Beacon Hills – just down the street from Valack’s office, the day before he came in to give us his bullshit story. And one of Tom’s deputies, who definitely deserves a raise for this, found a hidden compartment in his desk that had not only his Jeremy Spencer ID but two others, along with three credit cards that could have very interesting purchase histories.”

“Whoa,” Stiles says, his eyes going wide. “Isn’t that sort of a smoking gun?”

“It’s circumstantial,” Peter says, “because the van that Jeremy Spencer rented has not been conclusively linked to either the theft of Garrett Douglas’ body or the abduction of Haji Janssen. At the former, the van was seen on security footage but the license plate was covered. And at the latter, the van was seen approaching and leaving the school at the correct time frame, but there’s no way to know for sure that Haji was in it. Forensically, the van was clean.”

“Still!” Talia says. “How much more do we need?”

“Not much more,” Peter says. “Tom says that having Brett conclusively linked to that van – not just having had it at the time, but having rented it under a false identity – is more than enough to get the rest of the warrants he needs. He’ll have the phone and financial records for all of the Douglas pack members, including Brett’s three other identities, by tomorrow. And in them, he suspects he’ll find enough links to get warrants for the three doctors and your friend Theo. Then he’ll be able to question them, too.”

“Where’s Brett Douglas now?” Aaron asks.

“Tom said he had enough to charge him at this point, at least in conjunction with the theft of his father’s body and therefore his murder. But he’ll post bail, I’m sure – they aren’t hurting for money. The good news is, this is a crime with many players, and that dramatically increases the odds that one of them will be convinced to roll on the others if the rewards are good enough. I’m especially hopeful about those two doctors, since I’m guessing most of what they’ve done is at the behest of Marcel.”

“I don’t know about that,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “He seems to have done work for them, but I think the ideas, the concepts, were mostly their own. I think you actually have a better chance of cracking Marcel himself.”

“You think so?” Peter asks, surprised.

“Yeah. The guy is obsessed with recreating la bête. That’s the work he cares about. He got roped into helping out Gene and Patty by whoever’s bankrolling his research – maybe whoever’s in charge of the political arm of the Gévaudan Society, maybe by Brett Douglas, hell, maybe by Theo. But he’s annoyed about it, especially because it’s taken time away from his other work. If he thinks he’s going to end up in jail for an extended period of time because of his involvement, and you can promise that he won’t, he’ll roll on Gene and Patty before you can say lickety-split.”

“Good to know. I’ll make sure I relay it to your father.” Peter finishes his mug of tea. “Nothing else will happen tonight. I’m going to do a quick patrol.”

“Shit, one question first,” Stiles says. “I’m supposed to go hang out with Theo after dinner tonight. He invited me a few days ago, before I got Corey’s phone records and set this whole thing into motion. It’s like a double date – me and Derek are meeting him and Tracy down at Dave and Buster’s. Should I cancel? I should cancel, right?”

“I’d say no, actually,” Peter says. “The last thing we want to do right now is make Theo – and by extension Marcel – suspicious. Right now, they may be aware of Brett’s arrest, but they’ll know it’s only in conjunction with Garrett’s murder, so they’ll probably assume we don’t have enough evidence to connect it back to their larger game. Tom will need a day or two to get all his ducks in a row. We don’t want them fleeing the country, or moving Corey again, before he can bring them in.”

“At least it’s in a public setting,” Aaron says, his hand idly rubbing Talia’s back. “And the people at the arcade know you, so they can look out for you.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I’m just, ugh, I’m so sick of his face.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter. “Ah, the sacrifices we make,” he says, before he stands up and heads out the back door.

“Be careful,” Talia says to his back. She sees Stiles’ face and says, “He’ll be fine, Stiles. As will your father.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“This is gonna suck,” Stiles whines, as Derek pulls the Camaro into a space outside the Dave and Buster’s. “I hate him, Der. He’s the worst.”

Derek has to choke back a laugh at Stiles’ whining. “It’s only a few hours. You won’t even have to interact with him that much. We’ll play some video games, I’ll whip your butt at the free throw like I always do, and then we’ll go home. Every time Theo annoys you, just think about how much fun you’re going to have watching your dad interrogate him.”

“Oh, shit, yeah, that is gonna be awesome,” Stiles says, cheering up. “He seems like the kind of guy who’s gonna roll on everyone immediately to save his own ass, and I’m here for it. You wanna play laser tag?”

Derek hesitates. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to split up and run around a dark maze with someone who might be evil incarnate.”

Stiles groans. “Okay, fine, but next weekend we’re coming back with Scott and Cora and everybody so we can, because laser tag is awesome.”

“Fair enough,” Derek says, getting out of the car.

Theo is already there, and he greets them with his usual enthusiasm. If he knows anything about Brett’s arrest, or cares about it in the slightest, he doesn’t say anything. It’s a relief to get to the video games.

Derek is right, though; it’s not as bad as Stiles was afraid it would be. They play Space Invaders and Galaga. Theo beats him at air hockey and it makes him grumpy, but he wins pretty much all the video games and accrues a sizable stash of tickets. They head over to the restaurant and get some pizza, over which they play several vigorous rounds of fuck/marry/kill. (Forever cementing Stiles’ opinion on Theo’s evilness when he chooses to kill Steve Rogers and fuck Stephen Strange.)

It’s just about four o’clock when Theo’s cell phone rings. He answers it and says, “Hey, Josh, what’s happ – slow down, where are you?” He cups his hand over the phone and whispers, “I’ll be right back,” before he hustles away from the table.

“Who’s Josh?” Derek asks.

“One of the other Society members,” Stiles tells him.

“He’s a hot mess,” Tracy says in a matter-of-fact tone. “He’s always in some sort of trouble.”

Stiles shakes his head. “Hey, I’m gonna go use the john.” He heads towards the back of the arcade, figuring it’s safe to leave Derek with Tracy for a few minutes, especially where everyone can see them. He quickly does his business and washes his hands before pushing the door to the arcade back open.

Theo is already there, and before Stiles can react, he tosses a handful of blue-purple powder into Stiles’ face. Stiles staggers back, his eyes burning and his breath stuttering, and he’s unconscious before he hits the floor.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles wakes up with his head throbbing, snapping back to consciousness as someone waves a horrible smell under his nose. He almost retches, it’s so potent. He looks around wildly, trying to place himself, but his surroundings are unfamiliar. It looks like someone’s living room, with cream-colored walls and a beige carpet, but all the furniture has been removed. In its place is a bank of computer equipment and two chairs that look like they had come from a dentist’s office. Derek is currently in one of them, strapped down at the wrists and ankles.

Stiles tries to scramble to his feet, but only manages to give an uncoordinated lurch and fall flat on his face. He’s tied up, too; not just regular human restraints but the kind of hogtie that’s used so he won’t be able to get free even if he does a full shift.

“Forgive the barbaric methods,” Marcel’s voice says, as he sees Stiles flailing around. “Not to mention the setting. It’s not exactly my first choice for a laboratory, but you and your Left Hand made our last one untenable. We had to get creative.”

“What are you doing to Derek?” Stiles demands.

“At the moment, waking him up,” Marcel says. He walks over to where Derek is lying and waves the same capful of ammonia under his nose. Derek grunts as his eyes open. He strains against the bindings for a moment before relaxing.

“Look, uh, Dr. Marcel,” Stiles says, his mind racing as he tries to figure out exactly what’s happening and how to get out of it. “I know a lot of this wasn’t your idea, that you only helped Gene and Patty because the money guys made you do it. You don’t have to be distracted from your work, if you just – ”

“This is my work,” Marcel says, half-turning from where he’s checking Derek’s pulse. “I have the new formula for la bête ready to test.”

“Uh, okay,” Stiles says, as Derek tries to shake himself fully awake. “I thought you were going to test it on Theo – ”

“Hell no!” Theo’s voice says, and Stiles cranes his neck to try to see Theo, who’s somewhere behind him. “I’m first in line for the formula that works. He can keep the test versions the hell away from me.”

“I’m gonna kick your ass, you little weasel,” Stiles says, momentarily forgetting about their larger problems. “You’re the fucking worst – ”

I’m the worst?” Theo walks over so he’s in Stiles’ line of sight, kneeling next to him. “That’s the pot calling the kettle black. God, Stiles, I just kept waiting, you know? For you to pull something awesome out of your hat. For you to figure something out, make some move, do your thing! But no. It was all just talk, talk, talk. I thought you were going to talk me to death. You couldn’t figure out shit.”

“I figured out you killed your sister,” Stiles retorts.

Theo looks genuinely surprised, then laughs. “Okay. Didn’t do you much good, though, did it? I mean, here you are, tied up on the floor, and here I am, hopefully only a few hours away from becoming a super-werewolf.”

“How do you even . . .?” Derek asks, watching what Marcel is doing, adjusting an IV bag before inserting a needle.

“Hundreds of years ago, my ancestor saw la bête,” Marcel says. “He knew la bête. And he kept a lock of his hair. Magically preserved. The DNA was still intact when I inherited it from my father, along with all the stories. I’ve spent years studying the genetic code. I see it in my sleep. I’ve tried different genes, different combinations. So far, it hasn’t worked.”

“Get that fucking IV out of my mate’s arm,” Stiles says, struggling against his bonds. He feels a foot rest on his back, and growls.

“He’s a prime specimen, so thank you for that,” Marcel replies. “Born wolves seem to have less chance of an adverse reaction, so he should be all right even if the formula doesn’t work.”

“How long does it take?” Derek asks, watching the IV with morbid fascination.

“About an hour,” Marcel says. “It’s like actual lycanthropy that way.” He glances down at his watch. “I’ll be back in about forty-five minutes. I have some things to do.”

With that, he sweeps out of the room. Stiles hears two sets of footsteps, so even though he can’t see Theo, he knows that he’s left as well. “Jesus fucking Christ,” he swears. “Derek, you good? Are you feeling anything?”

“No, honestly, it doesn’t feel like anything at all. What happened? When you didn’t come back from the bathroom, I went looking for you, but as soon as I opened the door, Theo flung a handful of wolfsbane powder at me.”

“Yeah, he did the same thing to me on my way out,” Stiles says, struggling against his bonds. “That piece of shit. I never thought he’d dare do something in a public place like that.” He cranes his neck, trying to look around. “Where do you think we are?”

“Someone’s house, I think,” Derek says. “It smells lived in, but I don’t recognize the scent.”

“Me neither.” Stiles forces himself to stay calm, to breathe in and out slowly. “Which means it’s not Gene or Patty. And we know it’s not any of the Douglas pack’s houses. I guess they could have bought an empty house that was on the market.”

“Only if Brett got another fake identity in one afternoon, or Peter would find it in two seconds.”

“True.” Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Valack, maybe? He obviously owed them favors, and it’s not like he’s using the place since he opted to plead guilty rather than roll on Douglas or Marcel.”

“Yeah, could be,” Derek says. They fall into silence for several moments. “Wolfsbane administered like that would only keep us unconscious for about an hour, so it can’t have been long. How long do you think before Peter starts looking for us?”

“It could be hours,” Stiles says with a sigh. “That’s when it’ll seem odd that we’re not home. If he or my dad text me with developments and I don’t reply, that might get them to look for me sooner. But Theo might reply on my behalf, like he was doing when Mason’s parents texted him.”

“Peter might see through that.”

“He might. But that’s only presuming there are new developments. Dad had requested all his warrants and then headed home; I don’t think he planned on doing anything else tonight.” Stiles fidgets, straining hard for a minute before he stops and relaxes. “You really don’t feel anything?”

“Not yet, no.”

“Okay. Let’s try to stay calm, to, to be systematic about this.”

They check their bonds methodically, one at a time. It doesn’t get them anywhere. Stiles feels panic welling up in his throat and ruthlessly shoves it back, over and over again. He has to focus on his breathing.

It seems like a small decade has gone by before Marcel comes back in. “All right, let’s see how things are progressing. Theo, get him up.”

Stiles is about to ask why they need him up when Derek is the one being experimented on, but it becomes clear a moment later when he’s on his feet with a knife pressed into his throat. “Pure silver, baby,” Theo says into his ear. “Make a move and I’ll cut your throat.”

More annoyed than afraid, which he thinks is a bad sign, Stiles snaps, “You can’t make knives out of pure silver; it’s too soft. Stop fucking grandstanding.”

Theo laughs. “Okay, you got me. It’s actually steel. But it’s got a silver edge so it’ll kill you all the same.”

Stiles is searching for something pithy to say when he sees Marcel unstrapping Derek from the chair. “On your feet,” he says, hauling Derek upwards. “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Derek says, more of a growl than an actual word. His gaze is fixed on Stiles, on the knife at his throat, and his eyes are gleaming vivid crimson.

“Holy shit,” Stiles breathes out, almost forgetting about the larger situation. “Der. Your eyes. They’re red. Alpha red.”

“That usually happens,” Marcel says. “La bête was an alpha, so his genes carry the alpha power with them. All right, let’s see if this worked. Derek, I want you to shift to your full form. But remember the knife at your mate’s throat. I know that you’re powerful enough now to kill me, but Theo will cut Stiles’ throat if you try to make a move.”

Derek’s growl intensifies, ripping through the room like a chainsaw. He’s obviously weighing the odds, but Stiles knows that there’s not much they can do. If the power-up is permanent, they can wait for a better chance, but even if Derek can overpower both Marcel and Theo, he’d never be able to do it before Theo kills Stiles. After a moment, the growl fades, and his form begins to shift and change.

Stiles has seen Talia take the full alpha form once or twice, and it’s impressive. She’s already a tall woman, but in the alpha form she towers over them, at least seven or maybe even eight feet tall. Derek as an alpha is about the same size, heavily muscled, teeth and claws enormous, eyes burning like fire.

“Hot,” Theo says approvingly.

“Get your greasy eyes off my mate,” Stiles snarls at him.

Marcel doesn’t seem to agree. He shoves a tray of implements off the table, scattering them everywhere. “Not again!”

“Still not right?” Theo asks. “He looks pretty awesome to me.”

“It’s not the same! You didn’t hear the stories of la bête. This is an alpha, that’s all! He looks like any other alpha in the world. It’s not enough! La bête was magnificent, awe-inspiring, extraordinary in ways that can’t be put into words! There’s still something missing, something I’m not seeing – ”

Theo says nothing, so Stiles follows his lead. Marcel is clearly upset enough without anyone pissing him off.

Finally, the scientist snaps, “Shift back to your human form and sit down,” at Derek. Those red eyes gleam, and Derek is clearly weighing the odds again, now that he knows exactly what his new form brings. Theo digs the knife into Stiles’ neck, and Stiles lets out a little grunt despite himself. Derek’s gaze darts over to him, and then his form melts back into the human one and he settles back into the chair.

“What are you doing to him now?” Stiles asks.

“Reversing it,” Marcel says. “I’m not about to leave him like this.”

“Oh.” Stiles looks over at Derek, seeing their next escape plan dashed in front of his eyes. Derek groans a little and settles back into the chair as Marcel hooks the IV up again. Theo drops Stiles to the floor in disgust, making Stiles let out a little yelp.

Derek growls at this, as Theo leaves the room, but instead of addressing it, he looks at Marcel and says, “Has it occurred to you that you’re missing the obvious explanation for why you can’t create la bête?”

“Enlighten me,” Marcel says sarcastically.

“You’re wrong about what la bête is,” Derek says. He watches Marcel intently as the IV starts. “You’ve tried this experiment, what, dozens of times? Hundreds? And every time you get an alpha, but not la bête. Because that’s all la bête was. An alpha.”

Marcel sneers at him. “You haven’t heard the stories – ”

“But that’s all they are,” Derek interrupts. “Stories. Stories of a monster seen by frightened human villagers at a time when they didn’t even know werewolves existed. What’s more likely? That your experiment has failed hundreds of times? Or that you have actually created la bête, over and over again, and you just didn’t like the results?”

“That’s preposterous,” Marcel says. “I know exactly what I’m trying to create, and I know that you aren’t it.”

“Think about it,” Derek says. “It’s the seventeen hundreds. You’re a human who has never seen a werewolf before, let alone an alpha. You tell the story to the other villagers, to the people in the village a few miles away. The rumors spread, magnifying each time – ”

“They weren’t rumors!” Marcel roars. “My ancestor saw la bête with his own eyes! Described him scientifically, made sketches!”

“Sketches of a monster he saw in a dark forest for what, ten seconds?” Derek says. “What did the notes say? He was enormous. He was terrifying. He was magnificent. Compared to what? Another alpha werewolf? Or compared to a tiny, weak human?”

Marcel growls but this time doesn’t reply, turning around to focus on his equipment. Derek presses the point. “You’ve spent your entire life trying to create something that you already are yourself. And you’ve succeeded, over and over again. The results just weren’t what you wanted them to be, because you were searching for something bigger, better, more amazing. But it doesn’t exist. It was never going to exist.”

“Be quiet!” Marcel shouts, wheeling back around just as Derek rips the entire arm of the chair free with his alpha strength, slamming it across Marcel’s face. The scientist staggers back but doesn’t fall. Derek rips the binding off his other hand and then his feet, leaping forward just as Marcel regains his balance. They go down in a tangled, snarling heap.

It’s a vicious fight, one Stiles has trouble keeping track of given the speed and the writhing bodies. Fur flies and blood splatters the floor. He’s so intent on watching that he barely notices when Theo comes back in, and doesn’t really care. Theo’s an omega, and more than that, he’s smart. He’s not about to get between two alphas who are tussling. All Stiles cares about is making sure Theo doesn’t get that knife at his throat again.

But Theo doesn’t approach him. Instead, he jogs over to the equipment and grabs a shock stick. “Derek, look out!” Stiles shouts, just before Theo jabs it into the leg that’s closest to him, apparently not caring about who it belongs to. Both bodies writhe and spasm as Theo thrusts the stick into the pile of them repeatedly. “Jesus, stop!” Stiles yells.

Theo pays him no mind, nudging the bodies with his boot until he can get them separated. He finds Derek and drags him back into the chair that’s still intact, and hooks the IV back up. Marcel is still writhing on the floor, and Theo ignores him, holding the shock stick at Derek’s throat instead.

After a few minutes, Marcel manages to get to his feet, his chest heaving for breath. He looks at Theo and says, “Was that really necessary?”

“No,” Theo says, smirking. “But it was fun.”

“You’re a little shit, you know that?” Marcel snaps.

“You’re welcome,” Theo says.

Marcel doesn’t dignify that with a reply. Instead, he says, “Get another set of those manacles for Derek. I can do this with him on the floor, and I need to get started on Stiles before it gets any later.”

“Wait, what?” Stiles blurts out. “Get started doing what with me, exactly?”

“You got it, boss,” Theo says, handing the shock stick to Marcel so he can keep it pressed into Derek’s neck while he jogs out of the room. He returns a minute later with another set of the restraints. Marcel triggers the stun gun again, making Derek’s body convulse, before rolling him onto the floor and pulling his hands and legs behind his back.

“Don’t touch me, you, you fucking wannabe badass,” Stiles says, as Theo drags him to his feet and then over to the other chair, loosening his bonds so he can get into it.

Stiles struggles, and Theo pulls the knife out again. “Give me an excuse, Stiles. I’d love to cut your throat.”

“Control yourself, Theodore,” Marcel says, sounding annoyed. “I really don’t want to have to answer to Douglas if we can’t live up to our side of the bargain.”

“Douglas is a dick,” Theo says, but the knife moves about a half-centimeter away from Stiles’ throat, allowing Marcel to lean in and strap him to the chair. Unlike Derek, who was lying almost all the way back, Stiles is sitting up.

“What the fuck is that,” Stiles says, seeing Marcel pick up a helmet with a visor. It looks like it had come from some sort of virtual reality system.

“Ah, this,” Marcel says. “This is what’s going to make you kill your beloved mentor.”

Stiles stiffens in the chair as he feels a pulse of terror race from his gut to his throat. “That’s what you’ve been using to brainwash people.”

“An ugly term, brainwash,” Marcel says. “It’s really more like . . . giving orders to a sleeper agent. An override code for the brain. Brainwashing implies that we’re making a person believe certain things. But there’s no believing necessary for this. Just implementation.”

Fighting the terror, Stiles decides to try stalling for time. He doesn’t know if anyone’s looking for them yet, but surely their absence will be noted soon. It’s been at least a couple hours since they left Dave and Buster’s. “I thought that this sort of override or whatever you want to call it was all Gene and Patty’s work.”

Marcel scoffs. “I’ll admit that they were responsible for the original concept, but the details? Valack did more work on it than either of them.”

“Wait, then, why were you talking to someone the other day about the implications of Gene and Patty’s work?” Stiles asks.

At this, Marcel arches an eyebrow. “Someone’s been eavesdropping.”

“Sorry, Dr. Marcel,” Theo says. “I tried to get him out of the house as quickly as possible, but you were being kind of loud.”

Marcel shrugs. “I meant their political work. They were the ones picking targets. Insisted on me dropping everything to see if I could get the concept to work with a vampire, who they thought might be able to get close to some politician. I don’t remember who.” He waves a hand. “It didn’t work. So far we haven’t gotten it to work with anyone who isn’t either a human or a werewolf. It’s been very frustrating.”

Stiles thinks back to the argument and shakes his head a little, realizing how far off the mark he had been. He had had preconceived notions about Marcel only caring about la bête from what Gene and Patty had told him, and it hadn’t occurred to him that they were lying. “So Douglas is calling the shots, huh?”

“Yes, he’s the reason we’re gathered here together today.” Marcel smirks. “I guess Peter Hale has been getting a little too close. And we could never get to him, most likely, but you can. And you will.”

“No,” Stiles says, pulling at the restraints. Beside him, he can see Derek straining just as hard. The cords on his neck are standing out as he struggles to get free, but the alpha power Marcel had given him must be wearing off, because he can’t make any headway. “No, I won’t.”

“Tell yourself whatever you want,” Marcel says.

“No!” Stiles shouts, throwing his body against the restraints so hard that the chair shudders. Theo comes around behind him and grabs him, pinning him down. “No!”

Marcel places the helmet on his head and flips the visor down. “Sweet dreams, Stiles.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

Stiles is still screaming as Marcel turns to hit a few buttons on his keyboard. “You can let him go; he can’t get free,” he says to Theo. “Go over to the dial I showed you before and turn it up to a seven.”

“Only a seven?” Theo asks. He sounds disappointed, although it’s hard to hear nuance over the noise Stiles is making and the straining of Derek’s own muscles.

“I’ve told you a dozen times that seven is the highest we can go,” Marcel snaps.

“But it goes up to ten,” Theo protests. “Why make a dial that can go up to ten if you don’t need it to?”

“Because when we first developed the machine, we weren’t sure how much juice it was going to need. The first few trials proved that any higher than a seven just leaves us with a drooling vegetable, regardless of species.”

“Jesus,” Derek mutters to himself, as Theo sulks. He wonders exactly what happened to those drooling vegetables – but then cuts off that train of thought, as the answer is all too obvious. He takes a deep breath, trying to calm himself. It doesn’t matter what Marcel tries to program Stiles to do. Stiles would never hurt Peter, would never hurt anyone in their pack. If anyone can beat this, it’s Stiles.

“All right, it’s ready,” Marcel says. Theo flips the switch on the machine, and Stiles’ entire body starts to spasm and thrash. He’s screaming – no, he’s howling – but it’s just noise now, no longer words. Derek swears again, praying that it doesn’t last long.

It doesn’t. Although it seems like an eternity, it’s only been about a minute when Marcel gestures for Theo to flip the switch back down. Stiles goes quiet, although his body is still shuddering.

“I just wanna see what would happen at a ten,” Theo says, picking up the conversation where he had left off as if they hadn’t committed an atrocity in the intervening two minutes. “I mean, what would it look like while it happened?”

“It looks exactly like that, but more so,” Marcel says impatiently, taking the helmet off Stiles. His eyes are closed, and his head lolls to one side.

“Stiles?” Derek asks, his voice hoarse. “Stiles, can you hear me?”

Stiles’ eyes flutter open, but his expression is blank, not even confused. He stares off into space for a long moment while Derek struggles to keep his breathing even. Then he tries to get up. He’s still strapped to the chair, and when he can’t move, he subsides back into immobility.

“What’s he doing?” Theo asks, his tone fascinated.

“Nothing. He can’t carry out his instructions and he won’t do anything else. But I’ve found that it’s better to give them ten minutes or so to let their brains recalibrate before sending them on their way. The electromagnetic waves the machine uses can cause hypotension, dizziness, nausea – but it seems to be quite temporary.”

“So he’s just gonna sit and stare at the wall?” Theo says, and scoffs. “Boring. I’m out.”

“Don’t go far,” Marcel says. “I’ll need you to drive Stiles back to his den.”

“I’ll wait out front,” Theo says, and saunters out of the room.

Derek strains harder as soon as he’s gone. He’ll have a better chance against Marcel alone than he would against both of them. Stiles continues to stare blankly into space. Derek manages to inch his way across the floor, closer to him, so he can try to catch his gaze. “Stiles – Stiles, c’mon, baby, talk to me, please – ”

Marcel glanced over, amused. “I can promise you that won’t work.”

Derek knows he’s right, so he redirects his attention to the old man. “Why are you doing this? What do you want? There’s got to be some other way – ”

“What I want is to recreate la bête,” Marcel says. “You already know that. To do so, I need funding for my research. Douglas and the Gévaudan Society provide it, so I do jobs when they request. Although I’ve come to quite enjoy this one, to be honest. It’s been a real puzzle, trying to figure out why we can’t get it to work with everyone.”

“So if you just want money, how much are they paying you? Whatever it is, we can double it, triple it – ”

“And your family will just forgive and forget?” Marcel sounds amused. “No, thank you. I’d prefer to live the rest of my life without looking for Peter Hale over my shoulder with every step.”

“We can figure something out, I promise! There has to be more that you need for your research. Maybe we can help you figure out why your experiments haven’t worked.”

“Like your theory that they have?” Marcel asks dryly. “I think I’m fine without your input.”

“That theory makes sense and you know it,” Derek says. “You just don’t want to hear it.”

Marcel’s mouth purses and he turns to look down his nose at Derek. “You know, it occurs to me to mention that I don’t actually need you alive anymore. You’re just a backup now, a contingency that I hopefully won’t need. So do yourself a favor and be quiet.”

Since talking isn’t doing any good, Derek focuses on getting free. He keeps an eye on Marcel, though, as he loosens Stiles’ bonds and then hands him an envelope. “You’ll need this,” Marcel says to Stiles, who doesn’t reply. Instead, he gets up and walks out of the room like he’s in a dream. Derek tries to throw himself in front of Stiles’ feet, hoping that he might fall, that it might jolt him out of the trance Marcel has put him in. But Stiles just steps around him and keeps going.

“What was in that envelope?” Derek asks, squirming desperately. He tells himself that Stiles could be faking. If the brainwashing didn’t really take hold, he could just pretend it had, because that will get him out of the house and he can get backup. But he finds that he doesn’t really believe it.

Marcel doesn’t reply, turning back to his computer and setting the visor carefully aside. It looks like he’s making some notes, and since he’s not interested in talking, Derek goes back to trying to get free from his bonds, ignoring his lack of progress so far.

It seems like an eternity has passed before Theo comes back in. Marcel glances up and says, “Any problems?”

“Nah. I dropped him off and he went right inside like a good little soldier.”

“Good,” Marcel says, as Derek tries to calm his wildly beating heart at hearing this news. “Hale’s infusion is done. Take him to the cage.”

“Sure,” Theo says, grabbing the shock stick again. Derek tries to roll away, and Theo laughs, making Derek’s hatred of him intensify by a thousand fold. Then the shock stick jabs into his ribs, and he loses track of things for a few minutes.

When he regains control of his limbs, he’s been dragged into another room. It’s similar to the living room, although the carpeting is pale blue instead of beige. There were windows at one point, but they’ve been boarded over and then had steel bars placed over them. The one door that leads in and out looks like it’s steel-reinforced.

On the wall, there are several sets of chains that loop through a hook which has been screwed into the wall. Theo has to shock Derek two more times before he can get him fastened to them. He’s left standing, with only enough slack to move about two feet from the wall. He shakes himself a little, trying to recover from the shocks and regain some equilibrium so he can decide what to do next.

“Be good, now!” Theo says, smirking before he leaves the room. Derek hears the heavy shunk of the lock turning.

He turns to further survey his surroundings and is startled to see he’s not alone. Hanging from another set of chains, huddled in the corner, is Corey Bryant.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter glances up as Stiles pokes his head into the room where he’s been keeping half an eye on the twins while they play. “Hey, uh . . .” Stiles says, his posture stiff and the words a little stilted. “Have you got a sec? I made some tea.”

“Certainly,” Peter says, although he can’t hold back a frown at the way Stiles is behaving. He’s not sure what’s wrong, but something obviously is, so he stands up and says to the girls, “Behave yourselves while I’m gone. Your father is in our room if you need anything.”

He follows Stiles down the stairs and into the kitchen. True to his word, there are two mugs of tea, hot but not so much that they were just boiling a minute ago. He had either steeped the tea and then added ice, or he had made them ten or fifteen minutes previous. Peter sits down at one of the seats of the kitchen table and watches Stiles as he sets a mug of tea down in front of Peter and then walks over to the seat across from him.

“What’s on your mind?” Peter asks. He takes a sip of the tea and then grimaces. Green tea. He hates green tea. He opens his mouth to say that, but then stops. Stiles is well aware that he hates green tea. He’s been making tea for the entire pack for years, has known what each of them prefers ever since he first joined the pack. The tea isn’t a mistake. It’s a warning.

Because Peter doesn’t want to immediately give away that he’s onto what Stiles is trying to say, he takes another sip before setting the mug down. Stiles still hasn’t said anything, and he’s sitting with his hands laced together on the table, studying them with far more intensity than they deserve. He clears his throat and says, “I, uh, I don’t really know where to start.”

“At the beginning,” Peter says. “Always start stories at the beginning.”

“Yeah . . .” Stiles trails off and says nothing for a long moment.

Peter picks up his phone and texts Stiles to ask, ‘is there a reason you can’t talk?’ but hears nothing. Stiles either doesn’t have his phone on him, or he’s silenced it. Neither option makes much sense, but if he had an encounter with an enemy, they might have taken his phone. It’s possible that they don’t want anyone to know where Stiles was earlier that day, and don’t realize that the GPS data can be accessed from anywhere.

Curious about which it is, Peter pulls up the GPS app on his own phone and inputs Stiles’ name and password. The phone gives him a set of coordinates. He punches them into the map while asking, “Where’s Derek? I haven’t seen him since dinner.”

“He’s back at our place,” Stiles says. “Stop playing on your phone.”

Amused, Peter glances up at him. The coordinates on the map are the Dave and Buster’s. Whatever had happened to him, his phone had been taken and probably disposed of. He taps the button on the side to shut off the screen and forces himself to take another sip of the tea in case they’re being watched. “Stop dithering around and tell me what’s wrong, and I’ll stop playing on my phone.”

“Look, it’s complicated, okay?” Stiles asks, and his tone of voice is worried, but his scent is all wrong for it. It’s bland, distant, like he’s not having any emotional reaction to what’s happening. “It’s something that happened with Theo tonight, but I’m not sure what it means. It’s just kind of hard to explain.”

Since Stiles is obviously stalling for time, Peter decides to check the coordinates of Derek’s phone as well. He picks his own phone back up and starts tapping on the screen.

He’s about to hit the enter button when it happens. A sharp pain lances through his stomach. He groans and clutches involuntarily at his abdomen, and in moments the pain increases tenfold. It’s some kind of wolfsbane, he thinks; he’s dealt with it once before although never to this extent. A slight delayed release. Ingenious, he thinks distantly. If it had affected him immediately, he would have only taken one swallow of the tea, which probably wouldn’t have been enough to be fatal. But since he didn’t realize at first, he’d drunk more of it – and if Stiles had given him one of his preferred teas, would have drunk a lot more than he had.

All of this goes through his mind in the space of a few moments, as he groans again and doubles over, sliding out of his chair and to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Stiles get up and pick up Peter’s still nearly full mug of tea. Without a word, he steps over Peter and heads towards Talia’s study.

“Fuck,” Peter hisses, fighting against the pain for some semblance of coherency. Fortunately, he had been holding his phone when the poison had kicked in, and he had still been holding it as he had collapsed. He pulls up the phone and jabs the screen with hands that are trying to curl into fists.

He dials Talia first, and she picks up a moment later with, “Peter, why are you – ”

“Don’t drink the tea,” Peter grits out. “Stall. Be right there.”

“Okay,” Talia says, without asking what’s happening, because she can recognize when the last thing Peter needs is to be pressed for details.

Peter ends the call and swipes to the next contact. He loses track of what he’s doing for a moment as red waves of agony crash over him, and he has to fight to hold back a howl. He doesn’t want to alert anyone, especially not the twin girls upstairs, that he’s hurt. He manages to hit the button to make the call.

“Peter?” Tom sounds worried, possibly because Peter hardly ever calls him, let alone when they’re in the same house.

“Tom,” Peter gasps, forcing the words out of a throat that feels like a pinhole. “Under the bed. Silver briefcase. Bring – Talia’s study.”

He drops the phone without bothering to hang up or waiting to see if Tom is going to agree or ask questions. He manages to push himself up onto his elbows, and his vision blacks out for a second. He fights the pain as hard as he can, scraping together every last shred of strength he has, and uses the table to claw himself upwards. He lurches from that to the counter, then to the wall.

It takes far too much effort, but a moment later, he stumbles into Talia’s study. She’s holding the cup of tea and smiling at Stiles like everything is okay, but as soon as Peter enters, her gaze flares bright crimson. “Poisoned,” he grunts, and Talia drops the mug of tea like she’s been stung. “Not – himself.”

He can’t hold himself upright any longer, and the next thing he knows, he’s on the floor, his entire body convulsing. Tom skids into the room, holding Peter’s briefcase, and says, “Jesus Christ!” as soon as he sees Peter. “What – ”

Peter doesn’t have much time. Minutes, if not less. He looks at Tom and manages to choke out, “Five – seven – two – one.”

“What?” Tom says again, but realizes moments later that it’s the combination to the lock on the briefcase. His hands fumble at it, and then flips the case open. Peter’s gaze darts over to Stiles. He’s still sitting in the chair across from Talia’s desk, unruffled by all the chaos. Of course he is, Peter thinks. However these spells work, they don’t program in contingencies. Stiles will remain under the spell until he completes whatever mission he’s been given.

“Focus,” Talia snaps, seeing Peter start to drift. “What do you need?”

“What – color – is my – tongue?” Peter gasps.

“Purplish red,” Talia says.

Peter digs his claws into his hands, trying to focus, trigger the healing to keep up as much as it can, despite how hard he knows it’s already trying. “Clear vial. Yellow – nng! – yellow top.”

“This one,” Tom says, handing the vial over.

Peter grabs Talia’s wrist and squeezes hard, gasping for breath. “Going to – burn it out. Will – damn near – kill me. Don’t – let the girls hear. Then – Stiles. Help – help Stiles.”

Talia nods and puts the vial to his mouth without hesitation. He gulps the mixture down, a caustic solution he had developed years ago with the help of the Druids, designed to burn all the wolfsbane from the inside out. The pain of the wolfsbane is immediately dwarfed by the pain of the fire he just willingly swallowed, and he’s peripherally aware of Talia holding him down, her hands clamped over his mouth as the strangled howls try to escape, and then –

Blackness.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“What the everliving fuck,” Tom snaps, as Peter’s body goes limp in Talia’s arms. It gives another shudder before she can answer, one that looks horribly final.

Talia shakes her head slightly, trying to catch her breath, feel Peter’s response to the potion in an effort to gauge whether or not it’s going to work. “Red wolfsbane. It’s the most lethal kind. And sometimes the cure is worse than the poison. We basically just destroyed his entire gastrointestinal system to get rid of it. But that – that the werewolf healing can fix. It’ll take a week or so, but he can recover from it.”

“But how . . .” Tom’s voice trails off and he looks up. “Stiles?” he asks, seeing the back of his son’s head, the way he’s sitting still facing where Talia had been.

Stiles slowly turns. He looks at his father, at Talia, at Peter’s body on the floor. A faint frown crosses his face. Talia’s not sure if that means he’s fighting against the spell, or if the spell itself is confused, unsure of how to respond to this unforeseen situation. Stiles doesn’t speak, doesn’t react to what they’re doing. Instead, he gets up and heads into the kitchen.

“Go see what he does,” Talia says, because she suspects she knows, and that he won’t do it if he knows she’s watching. Tom frowns and his gaze lingers on Peter. “Please,” Talia adds.

After a moment, Tom nods. He gets up and follows Stiles out of the room. Talia stays where she is, holding Peter and smoothing down his hair as he continues to give little shudders. She grabs her phone and texts Deaton to let him know what had happened to Peter and ask for his help. He can bring what they’ll need to keep Peter alive for the next week.

By the time she’s finished that brief conversation, Stiles has returned to the room with Tom behind him, frowning faintly. “He just grabbed a mug of tea that was sitting on the counter and then came back in.”

“Mm hm.” Talia frowns and carefully lays Peter down, standing up. She takes the mug and stirs it with her pinky finger. Nothing happens immediately, which explained how Peter had gotten any of it into his system. Delayed release. She picks up her phone and texts Tom, saying, ‘It’s poisoned. I’m going to pretend to drink some and then pretend to collapse. I’m hoping, if that was the intent of the spell, my doing so will trigger the end of it and Stiles will return to himself.’

She sees Tom look at the screen of his phone and frown, but then he nods. Talia raises the mug to her lips, keeping them tightly sealed, and then puts it down. She’s not sure of how much accuracy the spell requires, if it will sense a trick, and unsure of how much of a delay there really should be. She slowly counts to thirty, then gives a dramatic cry of pain and collapses to the floor.

Seconds later, she hears Tom shout, “Whoa!” and sits up in time to see him grab the mug of tea away from Stiles before he can start drinking from it himself.

“Son of a bitch,” Talia snarls.

Tom dumps the tea out into a handy potted plant. “How can we end the spell if the last instruction is to kill himself?”

“I don’t know,” Talia says. “The only person who would is whoever did this to him, but I don’t know how to find them.”

“Me neither,” Tom says, and takes out his phone. “But there’s one person I probably can find, and that’s Theo. He still doesn’t realize we have his real phone, and can track his GPS. Let me make a quick phone call, and then we’ll be in business.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek approaches Corey carefully. He’s huddled in the corner, his wrists bound in the same type of chains that Derek himself is in – enough slack to move around the room, but not reach the door. He looks hungry and bedraggled and altogether miserable. “Hey,” Derek says. “Corey, right? How long have you been here?”

“Don’t know,” Corey rasps. He clears his throat and tries again. “What’s the date?”

“June tenth.”

“Almost – almost three months then.” Corey tries to get up but then sags back to the ground. He swallows convulsively and adds, “Who are you?”

“My name’s Derek Hale. You might not know me, but you probably know my mate – Stiles Stilinski.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Corey coughs again. “What are you doing here?”

“We were looking for you after you went missing, and investigating the Gévaudan Society, and just – poking our noses a whole bunch of places they didn’t belong. We have to get out of here, okay? Marcel sent Stiles to, to hurt our pack. We have to get out.”

“You can’t.” Corey’s eyes close. “It’s like – a Faraday cage. It keeps me – from phasing. Probably will keep you – from shifting, too.”

Derek tries, and realizes Corey’s right. The room’s walls must be laced with Hecatolite, in addition to whatever electromagnetic waves they’re using to keep Corey from phasing. He swears a little, tugging at the chains. However he gets out of here, he’s only going to have his human strength to do it. The door is reinforced steel and he’s chained to a wall.

But there must be a way. He’s not just going to sit and wait for a rescue. He tugs harder at the chains, bracing one foot against the wall. Even in his human form, he’s no lightweight. He doesn’t stop to think about what he’s going to do once he’s out of the chains. That’s step two. None of it will matter if he can’t get past step one.

“Help me,” he growls at Corey, who’s watching from where he’s huddled in the corner.

“What’s the point?” Corey asks, his voice dull. “We can’t get out of the room, and even if we can, Marcel is here – ”

“The point is that my mate is in trouble,” Derek says, leaning back against the chains, “and I don’t think I’m strong enough to do this by myself. But if you help, maybe together we can – ”

“It doesn’t matter,” Corey says. “None of it matters. My mom was right about everything. I thought I knew better than her but she was right. The people out here – they just want to use me for what I am. I thought I had made real friends, people who actually cared about me, but I hadn’t. They just wanted to use me.”

“Most of them, yeah,” Derek says, relaxing with a grunt. “But not all of them. Not Mason.”

Corey’s gaze flicks up to him, some life returning. “Mason? You – you’ve seen Mason?”

“Yeah.” Derek drops to his knees so he can face Corey. “Listen to me, Corey. Mason loves you, okay? He really, truly does. And he’s in trouble, just like we are, just like Stiles is. Marcel tried to use him, too. And we can’t help anybody, we can’t help Mason, if we can’t get out of here.”

Corey stares at him for a moment, then lets out a breath. “Okay,” he says. “What do you need me to do?”

“Come stand right behind me,” Derek says. “Can you reach around me, with the chains the way they are? Do you have enough slack? Good. Just – just grab the chain and pull.”

“Okay.” Corey pulls, and Derek grabs the chain and pulls as hard as he can. He thinks of Stiles, of how much it will destroy him if he kills anyone in the pack, musters every last molecule of strength that exists in his body. The chain doesn’t budge for the longest of moments, and Derek feels caught in a moment that hovers like eternity, while his muscles beg for him to stop but his mind won’t allow them to.

Then, with a sharp sound, the wall cracks and the hook where the chains were secured pops free. Both Derek and Corey go stumbling backwards from the momentum suddenly being released, and land in a heap. Derek scrambles to his feet, holding back a howl of success. “Okay, now yours.”

“Can’t,” Corey gasps, as Derek tries to pull at them. “Just – give me a minute.”

Derek keenly feels every passing second, but forces himself to kneel beside Corey and wait. He knows that he can’t leave Corey here in the cage, that whatever damage Marcel will use him to do will be far worse than anything Stiles can do to the pack.

“Okay,” Corey says after a long moment. “Okay.”

He staggers back to his feet. Derek, whose wrists are still secured in the chains, grabs the chain and pulls. So does Corey. A minute later, he lets out a yelp as one wrist pops free. “Ow, fuck, my thumb!”

“Are you okay?” Derek asks, but he can immediately see what had happened. Instead of the chain coming out of the wall, like his had done, Corey’s thumb had broken under the strain. On the upside, this had allowed his hand to slide out of the manacle. “Shit.”

“Fuck this,” Corey says, bracing himself against the wall. “Get me the fuck out of here!”

Derek nods and grabs him around the waist as Corey puts his full weight on his manacled wrist. A bare moment later, the second wrist pops free.

“Okay, so, wow, that hurts like a son of a bitch,” Corey says, panting. “And, you know, we’re still trapped in this fucking cage.”

“Yeah. I was thinking about that. Door is reinforced steel. Locks from the outside. But it’s not a fancy lock. We forced them to move – you know that, right?” he asks, and Corey nods. “These aren’t the digs they had set up ahead of time. They put the cage back in place, but they weren’t thinking about the fact that this is still just a random house. It’s not built like the place they were using in the woods. Which means . . .”

He walks over to the wall next to the door, takes a deep breath, and kicks the wall as hard as he can. The drywall dents. He kicks it again, and part of it collapses. He kicks it several more times, until he’s made a hole about the size of a basketball. Then he reaches through and opens the door from the outside. Corey looks at him with his jaw ajar for a moment, then throws his head back and laughs.

“Come on, let’s go,” Derek says.

They make it through the door, but he sees immediately that they won’t be able to go far. Corey is swaying from exhaustion, as well as probable starvation and dehydration. “Just go ahead,” he says, leaning against the wall. “You need to get to your mate. I’ll – be okay. Now that I can phase again – they can’t catch me.”

“Are you sure?” Derek asks, torn between not wanting to leave him and needing to get to Stiles as quickly as possible.

“Yeah.” Corey squeezes his wrist and then slides to his floor. “Just – gonna sit for a second. Then I’ll – go out the back. They’ll never – see me going. I’ll find you later. We can – go help Mason.”

“Okay.” Derek nods as Corey releases him, watches as he immediately vanishes from sight. It’s a little odd, hearing the disembodied ‘thank you’, as he turns and jogs towards the front door.

He’s no sooner reached the hallway when he hears Marcel, sounding significantly less cheerful than he had earlier in the day, snapping, “I thought the security around this place was supposed to be the best of the best!”

“Well, yeah, but – ” Theo says.

“But your ‘best’ has a long way to go before they’ll catch up with me,” Talia’s voice says, and Derek practically scrambles into the room, wanting to throw himself as his mother, his alpha, and have her fix everything. He sees her standing just inside the door of the main room, along with Tom and Stiles.

“Oh, thank God, you’re okay,” Derek says, unable to help himself. Marcel is between him and Stiles, so he doesn’t try to get to him, at least not yet. Stiles doesn’t look at him, instead staring directly ahead and not speaking. “Mom?”

“I guess a double assassination was too much,” Marcel says dryly. “I didn’t really figure it would work, but it was worth a try. Still, I hope you at least half-succeeded, Stiles.”

Derek feels panic rising in his throat as he looks at his mother and Tom and realizes who isn’t there. “Peter?”

Talia says nothing, her jaw squared and her eyes flaring crimson. Derek has to take a deep breath. He hasn’t felt a pack bond being ripped away. Hasn’t felt that awful, wrenching sensation in his gut that comes with the death of a pack member. He knows that feeling all too well. Peter might be hurt, but he isn’t dead.

“Whatever you did to my son, you had better undo it,” Tom says, his hand hovering on the butt of his gun.

Marcel gives him a look of disdain so complete that it’s almost disappointment. Then he shrugs. “Honestly, I don’t even know if I can. We never worried overmuch about how to undo it afterwards – it wasn’t really a concern. If the subject didn’t complete the mission and ended up a vegetable, well, that wasn’t my problem.”

Talia’s growl buzzes through the room. “You will undo it, and you will undo it now.”

“Why should I?” Marcel asks.

Talia opens her mouth, but Derek cuts her off. It’s clear that threats won’t work, not against Marcel. He has different motivations from others, but after the last few hours, Derek thinks he’s starting to understand how he thinks. “To see if you can,” he says. “That’s what science is all about, isn’t it?”

Marcel gives him a sharp look, and then, surprisingly, laughs. “I’m aware you’re trying to manipulate me,” he says to Derek, “but I think I’ll allow it. You do have an excellent point, and now that the question has been posed, I admit I am a little curious if it can be done. I’ll warn you, though, it could just fry his brain even worse. Give him here.”

Tom is frowning, and it looks like he might protest, but Talia gets her arm around Stiles’ waist and guides him forward. Marcel has him sit down in the same chair as before and places the helmet on his head so the visor obscures his vision.

“In theory, at least, I should be able to just overwrite the first set of instructions the way I placed them,” Marcel says, sitting down at the computer and typing. “Set him back to factory default, as it were. He won’t remember anything of what happened in the interim – which is probably fine with you.”

“Yes.” Talia is still staring at him, her gaze crimson and unblinking. “Now hurry up.”

“I doubt you want me to rush. The computer holds the last set of instructions in its memory, so if I don’t write new ones, I’ll just program him to kill you again. And if I leave out a semi-colon in the programming, I could wipe out his entire brain. That being said . . .” Marcel finishes typing and stands up. “Now, let’s see – Theo, don’t think I didn’t see that, turn that back down,” he snaps, and Derek’s gaze darts over to Theo as he laughs and lifts his hands in surrender. Derek sees he’s standing by the dial that Marcel had mentioned earlier. “We’re trying not to fry his brain.”

“You never let me have any fun,” Theo says.

Derek growls at him and says, “When this is over, I’m going to rip your throat out. With my teeth.”

“As opposed to what, your claws?” Theo asks, unconcerned. “Is it supposed to sound scarier if you threaten to do it with your teeth?”

“Be quiet,” Marcel says, and flips the switch.

Stiles’ body immediately goes rigid, but he doesn’t scream this time, the way he had the first time. He jerks and spasms once or twice, but his mind seems to accept this erasure of previous instructions better than it had the implantation. Tom has walked over and is clearly trying not to intervene, his fists clenched into balls at his sides.

Since Marcel is clearly enthralled with watching Stiles’ reaction, Derek leans over and murmurs, “Peter?” into Tom’s ear.

“Hurt. Bad,” Tom replies, in barely a whisper. “But alive.”

Derek nods, letting out a breath. The machine powers down with a hum, and Marcel lifts the visor off of Stiles. “Well, young man, how are you feeling?” he asks gregariously.

Stiles blinks at him slowly, the fuzzy morning blink he does when he wakes up mid sleep cycle and has to wait for his brain to reboot. Which might be what it’s doing, Derek thinks. But then his gaze focuses on his father and Derek, and he says, “Dad? Der? Am I . . . where am I?”

“Success! It can be done!” Marcel laughs. “Well, Derek, I’ve learned many things today thanks to you . . . although I still think you’re wrong about la bête.”

“What happened?” Stiles asks, sounding like his mouth is full of marbles. “I don’t . . . I don’t remember. Theo was . . .” He catches sight of Theo and then says, “Oh, you son of a bitch!” and lunges for him. Derek has to grab him before he can fall flat on his face, and then Stiles leans over and throws up all over the floor.

“Like I said earlier, there are some side effects,” Marcel says, still amused.

Derek ignores him, helping Stiles sit down with his head between his legs, rubbing his back and murmuring soothing words. Tom crouches down beside them, his forehead wrinkled in obvious concern, but after a quick shoulder squeeze, he gets back up. “You know you’re under arrest and going to be charged with literally every damned thing, right?” he says to Marcel.

“Oh, really.” Marcel arches a white eyebrow. “And how exactly do you plan on backing that up?”

“Stiles may be down for the count but the rest of us aren’t,” Tom says. “There’s three of us and two of you, and half the rest of our pack is right on our heels; they’ll be here any minute. I think our odds are pretty good.”

“Do you?” a voice asks, and Garrett Douglas walks into the room, whole and alive and his eyes shining red, his son and his Left Hand behind him. “How about now?”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

Silence rings through the room as everyone stares, trying to process the shock of Garrett Douglas being alive. Stiles is the first to speak, squinting at Garrett and then slurring out, “Woo! He’s not dead! We can get married!”

Derek can’t help but give a snort of laughter, squeezing the back of Stiles’ neck. Tom and Talia don’t seem as amused, for obvious reasons. One alpha and one omega against an alpha, a beta, and a human – that was, as Tom had said, damned good odds. But Garrett and Russ were both alphas, as well as Brett being a beta, and that was a fight there was no way they could win. No matter how quickly the rest of the pack gets to them, it won’t be fast enough.

“But you – ” Tom sputters. Even as seasoned in supernatural affairs as he is, the sudden resurrection of someone whose body he had seen was too much for him. “You were dead. You had an autopsy – ”

“Well, no, I didn’t,” Garrett says. “Although honestly, if these boys had been a few minutes later, I would’ve had a real issue. Having those tissue samples taken was very uncomfortable; if she’d gotten to the Y-incision I would’ve had to have myself released ahead of schedule.” He’s smiling, and looks quite pleased with himself. “There’s more than one poison that will give the illusion of death.”

“But you’re an alpha,” Talia says, frowning at Russ.

Russ smirks. “Yes, I am.”

Tom groans and then swears. “That’s what Brett was doing in Rio, you son of a bitch, and that’s why we couldn’t figure it out. We kept talking to all the Druids because we thought you had gone down there to get the spell you used to kill him, but that’s not what you were doing at all. You went down there to find an alpha to kill, so you could give the power to Russ and make it look like he’d inherited his father’s power.”

“Day late and a dollar short, Sheriff,” Brett says, “but you’ve finally worked it out. Congratulations.”

“You faked your own death just to frame the Janssens?” Talia asks, her scowl increasing.

“Had to get rid of them somehow,” Garrett says with a shrug. “And it was a great way to distract your two Left Hands for a few days while we worked out the kinks in Marcel’s project.”

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles mutters, leaning into Derek’s shoulder. “Lemme at him. I’m gonna puke on his shoes.”

“And just what do you plan to do with us now?” Talia asks, her voice rimmed in ice. “My entire pack knows where we are and why we came here. Even if you kill us, the other alphas in the region – ”

“Oh, I’m not going to kill you, Talia,” Garrett says. “You’re going to kill them. I’m not sure of exactly what the police will make of it, but now that we know it works, you can kill them and take their bodies back to your den and kill everyone there. That much blood and carnage? They’ll never realize a few of them were dead before they got there.”

Talia stares at him in horror. “Kill me if you want, but – but the pack, the children – ”

Garrett shrugs. “Like I care about your little mongrel children. I guess a few of them are born wolves, but they’re all part of a tainted bloodline. No, we need to cleanse your filthy line, Talia.” He grabs her by the shoulder and starts dragging her over to the machine, where Marcel has sat down and started typing. She struggles and nearly gets free, so Russ grabs her as well.

Derek shoots to his feet, but before he can take a step, Theo grabs Stiles and yanks him upwards, pressing his knife into Stiles’ neck. “Try me,” he says, grinning at Derek. “I dare you.”

“You son of a – ” Stiles starts, before his body shudders and he throws up again. Tom has drawn his gun, but when he sees Theo’s knife, he slowly lowers it.

“All set,” Marcel says, hitting a final key with a decisive click. He smiles at Derek and the others and says, “I had this program ready in case Stiles wasn’t up to his part of the job.”

“I will kill you,” Talia snarls at him, as Garrett forces her into the chair. “I will dance on your grave, do you – ”

“Oh, will you, now?” Marcel says, amused.

Derek takes another step forward, because knife at Stiles’ throat or no knife, this is his alpha, his mother, who is in desperate trouble and who needs him. Theo’s knife might actually be silver or it might not. He’ll have to chance it. He’ll have to –

He stops dead, frowning in confusion, unsure of exactly what he’s seeing. The helmet, the visor, isn’t where Marcel had left it. It’s in midair. Hovering there, by itself.

He realizes what’s happening a split second before Corey appears in the room and slams the helmet down on Garrett Douglas’ head.

“No!” Marcel shouts, and Derek dives forward, cranking the dial all the way up and flipping the switch.

Garrett screams, his body almost rising off the floor as every muscle and nerve snap from the sudden overload. Corey clings to him, his legs wrapped around Douglas’ waist like he had been trying to climb him, his arms wrapped around the helmet to keep it on his head.

Derek whips around to Stiles just in time to see him slam his elbow back into Theo’s nose. The knife scores a sizable gash in his neck, but not a killing wound, as Theo reels backwards. Stiles might be sick and weak, but he’s trained, and trained hard, for this sort of situation. The weakness is relegated to the back of his mind as he pistons his foot back into Theo’s knee, then manages to rip free from his grasp. His hand is still wrapped around Theo’s wrist, and he uses it to flip Theo over his shoulder and slam him into the ground.

Seeing that he doesn’t need help, Derek lunges instead at Brett Douglas, who’s bolted forward to help his uncle. Derek tackles him midstride, sending them both sprawling to the floor. They’re wrestling when they hear gunshots, and Brett’s body suddenly convulses. He gives a drawn-out, agonized scream. Derek knows that scream, the scream of feeling a pack member die. His gaze darts up to see Russ collapse backwards, his chest filled with half a dozen bleeding bullet holes. The fight goes out of Brett, and he stays on the floor, shuddering and twitching.

Talia, for her part, has grabbed Marcel and thrown him into the wall so hard that he broke through it. That doesn’t stop her, though; she follows him right through the hole she had just made and slams his head into the floor over and over until he stops moving.

Garrett’s body collapses. His screams have turned to moans; his spasms are have grown more pronounced. Corey lands next to him and tries to crawl away before Garrett can accidentally injure him with his thrashing. Derek grabs him and pulls him clear.

“I think we can turn this off now,” Talia says, flipping the switch. Garrett immediately goes still. She carefully removes the helmet. His eyes are open, but blank, and he doesn’t move as she gingerly prods him with one finger. She sits down abruptly, like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Then she looks over at Tom and says, “What now?”

“Now, I’m calling in some God damned backup,” Tom says, going for the radio on his shoulder. “There are some people who need to be arrested immediately.”

Stiles looks up blearily. “Derek, can you – ”

“Yeah, I’ve got him. Let me help.” Derek takes over holding Theo to the floor, and Stiles folds over to one side, coughing feebly. Talia reaches over and smoothes down his hair. Derek looks up at where Corey is leaning against the wall, panting for breath. “Thought you were going out the back.”

“Thought you were going to manage to save the day on your own,” Corey says, with a weak smile.

Derek manages a laugh. “Thanks. You definitely saved our asses.”

“Uncle Garrett,” Brett manages to moan, his body uncurling as he tries to crawl towards his alpha. “You – you – ”

“Don’t think you’re going anywhere,” Tom says, taking out a pair of handcuffs. But Derek can see that he’s not. Brett has just curled up at his alpha’s side and shifted into his wolf form, giving a mournful howl that’s almost a human sob. Tom hesitates, then decides against making him shift back. He reaches onto his belt for the manacles that can hobble a wolf, and puts those on instead. Then he walks over and puts a pair of handcuffs on Theo.

“Hey, don’t lump me in with them,” Theo protests immediately. “I was just doing what Dr. Marcel told me – I had to, you know, he would have killed me if I hadn’t – ”

Stiles lets out a low growl. Tom just gives Theo a weary look and says, “Son, you have the right to remain silent . . . so shut the hell up.”

Theo falls into a sulking silence.

It takes about twenty minutes for backup to arrive, along with a couple ambulances. Tom insists on Stiles going to the hospital, because they don’t know exactly what the machine might have done to his brain and he feels like an MRI and an EEG might be in his best interest. Derek says that Corey needs to go too, because he’s been held captive for three months and could really use some IV fluids, and now he has two broken thumbs on top of it.

“What happened?” Stiles finally asks, once they’re in the ambulance. Tom has stayed behind to help clean up the scene, but Talia has decided to go with them. “The last thing I remember is that they were going to . . . to make me try to kill you and Peter, but . . .”

“I’m fine,” Talia says, and lets out a breath. “Peter is hurt, but he’ll recover.”

“I hurt Peter?” Stiles sounds sick. “How badly?”

After a moment of hesitation, Talia says, “He is badly hurt. But you did not hurt him. Marcel did. And that’s the last I want to hear about that.”

Although Stiles clearly has a different opinion, he doesn’t want to challenge Talia on it, so he leans into Derek’s shoulder, snuffles, and falls silent. Derek strokes his hair and pulls him into a hug. “It’s okay,” he says softly. “You’re okay.”

“’m not,” Stiles mumbles into his shirt, but he lets Derek hold him. The rest of the drive passes in silence.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

By the time he’s been in the hospital for an hour, Stiles is more than ready to go home. Tom can’t help but fret, but Melissa gently reminds him that both Haji and Mason survived this sort of brainwashing without any adverse physical effects. Of course, they hadn’t been unbrainwashed, but since Stiles is conscious and coherent and his EEG looks normal, the doctors don’t think any additional testing is necessary. Tom makes a bit of noise about holding him overnight just to be on the safe side, but it looks like Stiles might actually cry when he hears that.

“Come on,” Derek says quietly. “Let’s get him home. He won’t be able to rest until he’s seen Peter anyway.”

“That might not help him,” Tom says with a sigh, but agrees. They get Stiles discharged and back into the cruiser.

“What happened to Uncle P?” Stiles asks, as soon as they’re in the car. “What did I do to him? Or not me, whatever, I don’t want to quibble about semantics and it’s not my fault, blah blah et cetera blah just please tell me what happened.”

Tom sighs and rubs a hand over his face before pulling out of the parking space. “I guess you slipped him some kind of poison. He had an antidote for it in his little bag of tricks, but Talia says he’ll need about a week to recover.”

“A week?” Derek asks, unable to keep the concern out of his voice.

“That’s what Talia said,” Tom replies.

Stiles chews on his lower lip, folding his arms across his stomach and trying to stay calm. Derek reaches out and the back of his neck another soothing rub, and starts telling him about what had happened with Corey, more to distract him than anything else. The werechameleon has been declared in relatively good health, given his ordeal. The hospital had decided to admit him so they could give him twelve hours of IV fluids to help with the dehydration and malnutrition. Fortunately, since he’s an adult, they don’t have to contact his parents. Derek hadn’t wanted to leave him alone, so he had called home and called Scott and Allison to stay with him. Scott has immediately put Corey at ease with his sunshine-cheer, and he’s currently five miles into a pizza they brought.

Seeing that the distraction is working, Tom starts talking too, about everything he’s going to have to do the next day, the questions he’s going to need to ask in order to get Mason and Haji out of custody. Derek tells Stiles about how worried Corey had been about Mason, how much Corey was clearly head over heels for him.

By the time they get home, Stiles has relaxed some, but he shrinks into himself as they head up the stairs and into Peter’s room. Peter’s asleep in bed, with both Malia and Marisela curled up with him. Malia is in her coyote form and lying next to his calves, while Marisela is sprawled out at his side. Even Cleopatra is curled up at Peter’s feet.

“See?” Tom murmurs. “He’s okay.”

‘Okay’ is a loose term. Peter is deathly pale, and his lips are bluish-white. There’s an IV in one of his arms, a jarring sight in a werewolf. Stiles has to turn away and stifle another sob. “I don’t remember. I don’t know what I did.”

“It’s okay,” Derek tries to soothe him.

Peter stirs at the noise, and then his eyes open. He sees them standing there and an almost sleepy smile touches his face. He presses two fingers to his lips and then taps them against Tom’s wrist in the gesture of a kiss.

“I’m so sorry,” Stiles manages, trying to hold himself together. “I don’t remember.”

Peter holds up a finger to motion for them to wait, then half-sits up, grimacing slightly. Derek reacts instinctively, reaching out to wrap his hand around Peter’s ankle and drain away some of his pain. Peter relaxes slightly and gives him a nod of thanks before he manages to get to his phone. “What are you doing?” Tom asks him, frowning, and Peter again holds up a finger, then points to his throat and shakes his head. “Oh. You can’t talk? Why not? For how long?”

With a shrug, Peter mimes tipping back a drink, then points to his phone and again gestures for them to wait. A moment later, all their phones chime; Peter has opened up a group text with the three of them. ‘The antidote burns the wolfsbane out from the inside. Unfortunately, in doing so, it also burned the shit out of my mouth and throat.’

Stiles snuffles and repeats, “I’m sorry.”

‘For what?’ Peter texts, quirking an eyebrow at him.

Stiles recovers enough to give him an exasperated look.

Peter’s smile widens. ‘You can stop apologizing any time. Someone tried to kill me; you saved my life.’

“Yeah, sure,” Stiles mutters.

Peter huffs out a sigh. ‘Yes, you poisoned my tea. The green tea you made me.’

Stiles gives another sniffle but then blinks. “Green tea? You hate green tea. Why would I . . .” He sees the patient look that Peter is giving him. “Oh.”

‘Oh,’ Peter texts, and rolls his eyes. He taps at his phone screen for so long that even Tom starts to fidget before he finally hits send. ‘It’s interesting, psychologically. I don’t think it’s that you have a stronger will than Mason or Haji. Haji attacked his mate, although an unacknowledged bond, and that’s something that goes against our very souls. But the fact that you knew what was happening, you knew what Marcel was doing to you – forewarned is forearmed. Even while under the spell, you were still able to find a way to warn me that something was wrong. If that had been lapsang, I would be dead. No question. You saved my life.’

After a moment, Stiles manages a nod. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and then crawls onto the bed, cuddling between Peter and the twins. Both of them open their eyes and growl, but when they see that it’s him, they allow themselves to be rearranged without further complaint. Stiles lets out a shuddering breath and then relaxes. Cleopatra climbs up onto his legs and starts kneading his stomach and purring.

Derek reaches out to take Stiles’ shoes off and get a blanket over all of them, since apparently Stiles has decided it’s bedtime. That makes perfect sense to Derek; it’s been a hell of a long day.

“Don’ go anywhere,” Stiles murmurs.

“Of course not,” Derek says, and flops down next to Marisela so he can reach out to run his hand over Stiles’ hair. “We’ll always be together. We’re going to get married, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, heh,” Stiles says, with a weak chuckle.

“That’s right, Peter doesn’t know,” Tom says, and adds to Peter, “Garrett Douglas turned out to be alive. He faked his own death with Brett’s help.”

Peter blinks, then presses one hand over his face for a second before he starts rapid-fire texting. ‘Of course! No wonder we couldn’t figure it out. Brett didn’t go to Rio to get a spell. He went to Rio to kill an alpha. How could I miss it?’

“We all missed it,” Tom says dryly, then reaches out and takes the phone out of Peter’s hands. Peter growls at him, then winces. “Don’t give me that. You need to rest. Stiles is already asleep. You can text him the Odyssey if you want, once you’ve both gotten some sleep.”

In the absence of a better option, Peter sticks his tongue out. The twins giggle. Tom huffs out a laugh and leans down to give Peter a kiss. “No back talk from you for a week? How did I get so lucky?”

Peter flips him off. The twins laugh harder, and Derek gives a quiet snort. Still sulking, Peter allows Tom to press him back against the pillows. He yawns and closes his eyes. He’s asleep a few moments later.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

Stiles wakes up when someone gently shakes his shoulder, then groans and burrows further into the pillows. He doesn’t know exactly what time he had gotten to bed, but it had been late, ‘wee hours’ late, by the time he had been released from the hospital and gotten back to the den.

“Come on,” a low voice says, and Stiles blinks himself further awake to see Aaron smiling down at him. “You’re not going to want to miss this, I promise.”

Stiles groans again, but sits up. He sees that the bed is empty except for him and Peter, who’s still asleep. Peter looks as bad now as he had the night before, worse even, in the light of day. Stiles feels a pang of guilt, but reminds himself of what Peter had said, and looks around for Derek.

It’s clear that Aaron only just woke Derek as well, because he’s getting dressed. Stiles takes a moment to enjoy the sight of that, letting it clear out some of the cotton from his head. Then he crawls out of bed and accepts the clothes Aaron hands him. “What do I not want to miss?”

“Several things,” Aaron says. “First of all, there’s food. Cora and Isaac went out and got a ton of stuff for sandwiches.”

Stiles rubs both hands over his face. “What time is it?”

“It’s just past noon,” Derek says, reaching out instinctively and rubbing his hand over Stiles’ hair.

“Secondly, Laura just got back from picking Corey up from the hospital, and I think he could use a familiar face,” Aaron says. “I’ll let you two get ready.”

Stiles nods and heads for the bathroom. When he comes out, Derek is waiting for him, and says, “How are you feeling?”

“Pretty shaky, still,” Stiles admits. “I mean. I know that Peter’s right, that it wasn’t my fault he’s hurt, that I even somehow managed to save his life. But yesterday was still awful and that awfulness is, like, stewing inside me. I think it’ll take a while for that to go away.”

Derek nods and draws him into a hug. Stiles lingers in it for several moments before they head downstairs. He gives Peter a look over his shoulder as he leaves, but Peter snoozes on.

The dining room downstairs is as loud and crowded as it ever gets. Talia has apparently been filling people in on what had happened the day before, and everyone is immediately all over Stiles and Derek as soon as they come in. Stiles is embarrassed by the awe everyone is in over how he ‘fought off’ the brainwashing, and tries to correct the record, which nobody wants to let him do. Seeing that he’s not loving the attention, Derek redirects everyone to Corey, who blushes furiously when Derek and Talia tell everyone about how he saved the day. He focuses on making himself a sandwich the size of his head, which is difficult since both his thumbs are in splints. Werechameleons don’t have healing the way werewolves do.

Stiles glances around and sees that someone very important is still missing. “Hey, where’s m’dad?” he asks through a mouthful of ham and cheese.

“He had some official business to tie up,” Talia says. “He said he’d be back by one, so I would expect to see him any minute.”

There are a hundred things that ‘official business’ could mean, so Stiles devotes his attention towards his food. He suspects he knows exactly where his father is, and that this is what Aaron had really woken him for, saying he wouldn’t want to miss it.

He’s proven right before he can finish his sandwich, when the front door opens and Tom calls out, “Hey, it’s me!” despite the fact that every werewolf in the house knows exactly who it is. As expected, Stiles hears a second heartbeat with him, and a moment later, Tom walks into the dining room with Mason behind him.

Mason and Corey see each other in the exact same moment, and Corey scrambles to his feet as Mason knocks over a chair in his haste to get around the table. Corey flings himself into Mason’s arms, and they embrace so tightly that Stiles can hear bones creaking. “Oh my God, you’re okay, you’re okay,” Mason says, pressing his face into the crook of Corey’s neck.

“I told him we’d found Corey and that he was all right,” Tom says, in a low voice, “but I didn’t tell him that he’d be here.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, watching the reunion with suspicious moisture in his eyes.

“I brought him up to speed on everything while we were driving back from Sacramento,” Tom continues, “so he knows about Marcel and Theo and everything. They could both probably use a bucketload of therapy, but overall I think they’re okay.”

Corey hears this and flips Tom off, and that makes Mason laugh so hard he doubles over. Corey shakes his head a little and says to Mason, “I thought . . . maybe my family was right. Maybe people out here would only want to use me. But you.” His voice chokes a little and he hugs Mason again. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”

“Me too,” Mason says. “I was so worried about you, man.”

“Why don’t we let them have some privacy,” Talia says, and gently ushers the two of them into her study so they can hug in peace.

“What about Haji?” Stiles asks, as soon as they’re gone.

“Haji is down in Santa Rosa, because it was the nearest facility equipped to hold werewolves,” Tom says. “Fortunately, the folks down in Santa Rosa know better than to mess with us, so they’re already processing his release. I called Annie Janssen and she’s on her way to pick him up. And yes, before you ask, I called Frank Douglas and he and his sister are on a plane as we speak.”

“So we get to do this again in a few hours? That is awesome,” Stiles says.

Talia is frowning. “Wait, wasn’t Annie Janssen in New Mexico at the refugee camp?”

Aaron clears his throat. “Apparently, although the Janssens did initially go to the refugee camp as requested, they only stayed there a couple of days before Annie relocated them all to Santa Rosa so they could visit Haji while he was in custody.” He sees Talia’s sour expression and adds gently, “Don’t be too hard on her, Talia. I know that you wanted her pack tucked away safely, but you more than anyone should know how hard it is for an alpha to walk away from a pack member in trouble.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Talia says with a sigh. “At least there aren’t a lot of werewolf packs down there that could object, since it’s so urbanized.”

“What’s going to happen to Mason and Corey?” Stiles asks. “Are they gonna be in our pack now?”

“More big brothers?” Malia asks, perking up.

Tom laughs and tweaks one of her pigtails. “I think Mason and Corey would prefer to stay in Sacramento since that’s where they’re both going to college.”

Talia nods, although she’s also smiling. “I’ve been on the phone with Evelyn Romero. Mason’s best friend is already in their pack, so it seemed like it would be a good fit. They’re going to keep an eye on Corey, but I think that he’ll be a lot more careful in the future about who finds out about his powers.”

“Everything went smoothly with Mason’s release?” Aaron asks. “There’s not going to be any legal trouble?”

“So far, so good,” Tom says. “Brett’s talking. I guess we were giving him some credit he didn’t deserve. Seems like his uncle was the one behind most of it. As soon as he found out that Charlotte and Haji, he started making the plans for it. He’d been talking to Marcel about the brainwashing experiment ever since they got hold of Corey. The original idea was that they’d use him to perform assassinations all over, but they couldn’t get the machine to work on him.”

“What about Theo?” Stiles asks, grimacing just on the name.

“Well, he’s insisting that he was just an innocent pawn swept up in all of this,” Tom says, and Stiles’ eyes narrow. “And since Marcel isn’t around to testify that he was acting of his own free will, it could get a little difficult to prove that he was complicit.”

“Maybe we should remove his fingernails with pliers,” Stiles says.

Tom pinches the bridge of his nose. “Maybe we should charge him with assault, kidnapping, et cetera, give detailed statements about everything we’ve seen him do in court, and let a jury decide what they believe.”

“Okay, fine,” Stiles says. “And then if they decide they believe him, and he’s set free, I’ll – ”

“Stop right there,” Tom says, lifting his hand. “The less I hear about what you and Peter do to the theoretically-free-in-the-future Theo, the happier I’ll be.”

“How was Peter doing this morning?” Aaron asks.

“I let him sleep,” Tom says. “It felt wrong to wake him when he can’t talk or eat. Besides, he was up off and on through the night because of the pain. I figured when he’s able to sleep peacefully, I should let him.”

Stiles looks up anxiously. “I didn’t notice him waking up.”

“You were sleeping like the dead,” Derek tells him, reaching over to squeeze the back of his neck. “Whenever he got restless, it woke me, and I was able to take some of his pain.”

“Is it going to be like that for a while?” Stiles asks. “Dad said he would be healing for a week, but that’s such a long time for a werewolf – ”

“Well, some things take more time to heal than others,” Talia says. “Try to relax, Stiles. Peter will be fine, and he hates it when we worry about him.”

“Can he eat?” Stiles asks. “I could make him something.”

“Nothing for a few days,” Talia says. “But I’m sure he’ll be happy to eat anything you want to make him afterwards.”

“And in the meantime, you can cook for the rest of us,” Tom says. His phone chimes and he glances down at it. “Okay, Annie just texted saying that she’s picked up Haji, he’s in pretty good shape overall, and they’re on their way up. She’s going to tell him everything that happened on the way.”

“Okay.” Stiles takes a deep breath and tries to relax. “Okay, yeah. I’ll cook for the rest of you, that’s what I’ll do – ”

He’s up to his shoulders in the pantry a few moments later, and when he emerges with a cache of baking supplies, Derek puts an arm around his waist and pulls him close for a few moments. Stiles lets himself be held, hoping that Derek isn’t going to tell him to put down the flour.

He doesn’t. Instead, Derek nuzzles at his neck and says, “You know what you haven’t made in a while? Those chocolate and orange brownies that the kids really like. Do we have what you would need for that?”

“I think so,” Stiles says, brightening up. “We pretty much always have chocolate and oranges . . .”

A few minutes later, he’s immersed himself in assembling the ingredients, and finds that he’s relaxed a little. The past few days have been awful, but he’s lived through worse. Peter’s going to be okay; everyone is going to be okay, including him.

Once the brownies are in the oven, he starts making dinner preparations. Laura and Jonathan have run to the store while he was baking. Talia says she expects that the Janssen pack will stay for dinner, as well as Frank and Charlotte Douglas, so it’s going to have to be enough food for a lot of people. Stiles checks his watch and decides he has enough time to make chili in the slow cookers, so he gets that started and decides he’ll make cornbread and a salad to go with it.

“What are you smiling about?” he hears Aaron say to Talia, and glances over to see Talia smiling but wiping her eyes.

“The row of crock pots,” she says, reaching out to tug on Cora’s ponytail. “There’s just . . . so many of us now. Not just in the pack, but friends and allies, and . . . it’s just nice to see that we’ve reached the point where we need four different crock pots to feed everyone.”

“Nice for you,” Stiles says. “I’m going to be chopping vegetables the rest of the afternoon.”

“You say that like you don’t have a small army of people who can help,” Derek points out, “and like you would want it any other way.”

“True,” Stiles says, leaning over for a quick kiss.

A few minutes later, they hear a car outside. Talia goes to the front to greet Annie and Haji, ushering them into the kitchen. The rest of the pack is on a flight from New Mexico, and they’re going to arrive at about the same time as Frank and Charlotte. Haji is clearly anxious about seeing Charlotte again. Annie has explained everything to him, she says in a low voice, but he’s having trouble accepting that what happened wasn’t his fault. Stiles sympathizes intensely.

“I just don’t get how it works,” Haji says, twisting at the bottom of his shirt. “I mean, how could he just make me do something?”

“We don’t really know, to be honest,” Aaron says, sitting down with him at the kitchen table. “Marcel didn’t share his research with anybody else. Now that he’s dead, we don’t have any way of knowing how it worked.”

“What’s going to happen to that research?” Stiles asks, his voice a little higher-pitched than he means it to be.

“It should be destroyed,” Annie says.

“We can’t do that yet,” Tom says. “It’s the proof that Haji and Mason weren’t acting of their own free will. With Haji it won’t matter as much, but with Mason it will. He killed a prominent anti-werewolf activist, and they’re going to want somebody to blame for that, especially given the anti-werewolf sentiment in Sacramento.”

“Okay, but won’t telling them a werewolf supremacy society was behind it only cause trouble?” Stiles asks.

“What’s the alternative?” Derek asks, rubbing his hand up and down Stiles’ spine. “We can’t let them think Mason was responsible.”

“Yeah, but – ” Stiles starts.

“Stiles, it’s going to be okay,” Talia says firmly. “Yes, it will probably cause trouble, but we’ll deal with it. The Gevaudan Society is comprised of extremists, and both sides have their share of those.”

“If we keep them fighting with each other, maybe they’ll leave the rest of us alone,” Annie says, and Stiles gives a snort of laughter.

Tom’s phone chimes, and he glances down at it. “Okay, Frank and Charlotte are getting off their plane. It would be nice if one of us could go and pick them up.” He glances over at the stairs, clearly wondering if he’ll have to say out loud that he doesn’t want to do it himself in case Peter needs him.

He doesn’t. Aaron stands up and says, “I’ll head over.”

“Okay,” Haji says, hyperventilating. “Okay, I’m gonna . . . okay.”

“Here, come help me chop some vegetables,” Stiles says.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Forty-five minutes later, Haji is pacing back and forth outside the Hale’s main house, his hands twisting at the hem of his shirt. “Are you sure it’s going to be okay?” he asks. “Are you sure she doesn’t hate me? I’d hate me – ”

“She doesn’t hate you, and there’s no reason for her to hate you,” Annie says.

“It’s just, I know what I did but I don’t remember what I did, but she remembers what I did and now every time she looks at me she’s going to be thinking about what I did – ”

“Hey, Haji,” Stiles says, taking him by the shoulders. “Hey, listen to me for a second, okay? Because I know how you feel. I really do. You, me, and Mason can have a support group together. But I’ve been listening to everyone telling me that what I did wasn’t my fault for the past twelve hours, and now here I am finally believing it. Because I know that what you did wasn’t your fault, and that means that what I did wasn’t my fault.”

Haji blinks at him. “I don’t even know what you did.”

“Yeah, sorry, I realized that once I was in the middle of giving my heartwarming speech but I kept going so you wouldn’t notice the car pulling up.”

“Wha – ” Haji wheels around, as the car pulls to a stop and Charlotte dives out of the front passenger seat. “Char – ” he starts, before she throws her arms around him. He stands stiff in her embrace for a few moments before he buries his face in her hair. “God, I’m so sorry,” he mumbles.

“No,” she says fiercely, pulling back. “Don’t you dare apologize for what someone else did. You’re my mate and we’re going to be together forever and I don’t care about anything else, do you understand that?”

Looking overwhelmed, Haji only manages a nod before pulling her back into an embrace.

Frank heads over to Annie and shakes her hand. “Looks like you’re going to have my sister in your pack,” he says.

“Looks that way,” Annie says, smiling back.

“Charlotte’s told me all about the refugees you took in,” Frank says. “So I think she’s going to be in good hands.”

“Well, we’ve had a lot of help,” Annie says, gesturing to Talia.

Frank nods and says to Talia, “What happened to . . .” he glances at Charlotte, still clinging to Haji, then says, “Could we take this conversation somewhere a little more private?”

“Sure.” Talia ushers them all inside, and has Aaron show Charlotte and Haji upstairs where they can canoodle in peace. Once they’re sitting down in the kitchen, and Stiles is making tea for everyone, she says, “I assume you want to know what’s going to happen to your father?”

“Yeah,” Frank says. “Sheriff Stilinski told me what had happened, and what kind of state he was left in, but I don’t know if there’s a plan going forward. What if he . . . recovers?” Frank winces on the word, but forces it out regardless. “And what about Brett?”

“Brett is going to go to jail, probably for a very long time,” Tom says. “That’s the easy part. Garrett is a little more complicated. Because Marcel’s work was so experimental, we honestly have no idea what’s going to happen to him in the long term. Marcel said there was no recovery from what he went through, but I imagine what he meant was that there was no immediate recovery. If he had damaged one of his victims that way, he presumably killed them afterwards. He might have given them a day or two to see what happened, but I doubt it was more than that.”

Frank nods. “So my father could potentially wake up in a week with no memory of what happened.”

“I’ve spoken with the alphas in the area,” Talia says. “We’re going to strip him of his alpha power. That will be done tomorrow. He’s being admitted to a long-term care hospital. They’ll monitor his condition and let us know if anything starts to change. If he does start to show signs of mental recovery, then he, like Brett, will be tried and imprisoned for his crimes.”

“Okay.” Frank takes a deep breath and lets it out, then gives another nod. “Yeah, okay. That sounds good. Or as good as I imagine anything could sound.”

Annie reaches out and grips his hand. “No matter what happens, I’ll keep Charlotte safe. You have my word.”

At that, Frank smiles. “Thanks. I think they’re going to be okay, you know. She couldn’t stop talking about him on the flight down.”

“Love doesn’t cure all ills,” Talia says, “but it’s a pretty potent medicine nonetheless.”

“On that note,” Tom says, standing up, “I’m going to go check on my husband. Call me when dinner’s ready.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom isn’t surprised at all when the twins insist on hearing their bedtime story while curled up with Peter. If anything, he’s grateful that they allow themselves to be shepherded off to bed afterwards, rather than insisting on sleeping with them. They seem reassured by the fact that Peter is awake and occasionally miming along to the story, sending them into giggles.

By the time he gets them tucked in, though, Peter has dozed off again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What Peter needs most is rest, according to Talia and Dr. Deaton. He’s never sleeping for long before the pain wakes him, and the others in the pack are coming periodically to take his pain so he can rest more comfortably.

Tom lets him sleep, heading into the shower. When he comes back out, dressed in his pajama pants and a T-shirt, Talia is there, and Peter has woken again. “Is this woman bothering you?” Tom asks Peter, folding his arms over his chest and putting on his best cop face. Talia breaks into laughter, and Peter gives a quiet snort.

“I was just checking on him before I headed to bed,” Talia says. “He woke when I came in.”

“How are you feeling?” Tom asks him, and he lifts a hand and wiggles it back and forth in the universal gesture for ‘so-so’. “Well, I’ll take that, given the givens.”

Talia nods, gives Peter a kiss on the cheek, and says good night. She leaves the door slightly ajar, as they always do. Peter doesn’t like to sleep with it closed, where the noise from others in the house is muffled. Tom sits down on the edge of the bed and sees Peter reaching for his phone. “Can whatever you want to say wait until tomorrow?” Tom asks. “You should be sleeping.”

Peter gives Tom a look that’s pure exasperation. He picks up his phone and texts, “Now I know where Stiles gets his ‘mother hen’ routine from.”

That makes Tom grimace despite himself, and Peter gives another huff of laughter. “All right, all right. How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad in between the bouts of nauseating pain,” Peter replies, and Tom winces. Seeing this, Peter adds, “I’ll be all right. It’s just pain. I’ve been through worse.”

“That you have,” Tom agrees, reaching over and smoothing a hand over Peter’s hair. “Well, if it helps at all, I’m pretty sure Stiles is already writing the grocery list for all the things he’s going to make you once you can eat again. If you have any special requests, I can let him know.”

“I would love some of those Amaretto cookies he makes,” Peter says.

“Consider it done,” Tom replies.

“How’s the legal side of things going?”

“Not too bad. Brett’s talking, though Valack still isn’t. According to what Stiles told me, he was way more involved than we suspected. I think the reason he refused to say anything wasn’t actually because he was afraid of the Douglases or Marcel. It was because he knew he could get off with a relatively light sentence for the perjury and witness tampering - whereas if we discovered the whole scheme, and his involvement in it, he was looking at a much more serious sentence.”

“As he now is,” Peter texts, and nods. “I feel like we should have thought of that.”

Tom shrugs. “There was virtually no connection between Valack and the others. He wasn’t even in the society. They hid that extremely well.”

“I still can’t believe it never occurred to me that Douglas had faked his own death,” Peter texts, and shakes his head. “It’s so obvious in retrospect.”

“Is it really?” Tom asks. “I mean, we saw his body. And not just for a minute, but for a prolonged period of time. We knew Russ had gained alpha power. Occam’s razor, you know? To be honest, I completely forgot that a Left Hand can hoard alpha power and keep it to himself, to give to a fellow pack member later.”

“You might have, but I shouldn’t have,” Peter replies, “being in that I’ve done it.”

With another shrug, Tom says, “Water under the bridge.”

“I suppose. But it leads to a very serious question,” Peter adds, and Tom arches an eyebrow at him. “Who won our bet?”

Tom gives a huff of laughter. “I did, obviously.”

“Did you really?” Peter asks, looking skeptical.

“We got search warrants for the Douglas pack’s den, and an arrest warrant for Brett,” Tom says. “Which lead to more search warrants, which was going to lead to more interrogations and arrests. Okay, I got interrupted before I was able to see it through, but neither of us placed our bet on the bad guys doing a bunch of horrible shit and triggering a showdown at high noon.”

“You only got your warrant for the Douglas pack’s den because Stiles got Theo’s second phone number - and he did that illegally,” Peter reminds Tom, now smug.

“But he could have done that legally. He only didn’t because he was too impatient.”

“He still didn’t.”

Tom groans. “Why are you the way that you are?”

Peter smirks. “Plus, Marcel tried to kill me, not you, so he was clearly much more worried about me.”

“Yeah, don’t go reminding me of that,” Tom says. “An assassination attempt is nothing to be proud of.”

Peter shrugs as if to say that he doesn’t see why not. “It is if you survive it.”

“Look, you - ” Tom pinches the bridge of his nose. “We’ve all been through too much for me to be able to find it funny right now. Maybe in a few years.”

At this, Peter nods. Rather than replying by text, he leans in and presses a light kiss against Tom’s mouth. Tom sighs, then returns it. Peter lingers for a few moments before he pulls away and reaches for his phone again. “We could just be adults and admit that neither of us ‘won’ per se.”

“This from you?” Tom asks, giving a snort of laughter and poking Peter in the ribs. Peter swats at his hand. “Okay. We make a pretty good team.”

“That we do.” Peter leans in for a kiss, then yawns. Tom takes his phone from his hands as he feigns protests, and pushes him back against the pillows. With a silent sigh, Peter nestles into them and closes his eyes. Tom gets underneath the blankets next to him, and Peter immediately rolls over so he can press his face into Tom’s neck and breathe in his scent. They’re both asleep a few moments later.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

Peter’s voice is back in three days, although he has to spend the first one speaking at a whisper. By the fifth, he’s able to have liquids and soft food, and at the end of the week, seems fully recovered. Stiles does his best not to hover while all this is going on, although he only manages it about half the time.

He’s only just managed to get back to his own place for some peace and quiet when the door opens and Peter walks in. Stiles can’t help but be somewhat amused at this. “Hey, Uncle P, what’s up? How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Peter says. “I have something to do down at the office and I thought you might like to join me.”

“Oh, sure,” Stiles says, since Peter is obviously in one of his cryptic moods and probably won’t be explaining himself any time soon. He pulls on his shoes and says okay when Peter asks him to drive. He can’t help but fill the air with nervous chatter as he drives down, but Peter doesn’t seem to mind, listening with fond tolerance.

It’s not that it’s been a bad week. It’s actually been a pretty good week. Scott took a few days off work so he could be home and hang out with Stiles to help Derek keep him distracted. Cora snagged the job of production manager at the local theater group’s production of As You Like It and it’s all she can talk about. He’s been baking a lot and playing with the kids.

But it’s been hard to distract himself from everything that had happened, and he’s been having bad dreams. It seems stupid to have nightmares about something that he doesn’t even remember happening, but he keeps dreaming about killing Peter, dreams where he’s conscious but not in control of his actions, where he’s forced to watch himself kill the people he loves most.

It’ll get better, he supposes. He’s had nightmares before, after what had happened with Kate Argent, what had happened with Deucalion. They go away after a little while.

He watches in interest as Peter goes through the same security as before to get into his office, and follows him inside. “So what are we doing here?”

“We have some changes to make,” Peter says, and gestures to the constellation of packs on the back wall. He opens a drawer and pulls out a pair of scissors. “Would you care to do the honors?”

“Hell fucking yes,” Stiles says, accepting them. Then he pauses and says. “Just cut the whole section off?”

“Mm hm. It’s all done on a posterboard base. You should be able to snip them right out.”

“Cool.” Stiles has to move over a file cabinet so he can climb on top of it, as the Douglas pack is towards the top of the constellation. He removes the pin around which the threads are wrapped, letting them drop downwards. Then he cuts around the name ‘Douglas’, neatly removing it from the constellation entirely.

“Just follow each thread to its destination and you should be able to pull it from around the pin now that it’s free from the other end,” Peter says, and Stiles nods and does so, removing the green and red threads that had radiated from the Douglas pack. Once he’s done, he climbs off the cabinet and stands back to admire his work. “That’s better, isn’t it?” Peter asks.

Stiles nods. “I feel a little bad for the pack members who didn’t know anything about this, though.”

“Why?” Peter asks. “It’s not like they’re going to go to prison. They’ll join different packs. Packs that aren’t run by homicidal maniacs.”

“True,” Stiles says, cheering up.

“Besides,” Peter says, “from what your father has been telling me, I think that Charlotte was actually the only one who didn’t know. We can feel it, you know, when our alpha dies. When any pack member dies. They would have felt some unease and pain at his ‘death’,” he makes air quotes, “and for someone young and inexperienced like Charlotte, she would have assumed that was what it was. But I doubt the older ones would have been fooled. Besides, Douglas was living at the den, in his own house.”

“Was he?” Stiles asks. “I had kind of wondered about that.”

Peter nods. “That’s why they moved Charlotte into Russ and Gloria’s house. There was no reason she couldn’t have stayed in Garrett’s – his sister and her husband were still living there, and they could have looked after her. But they moved her to the other house so she wouldn’t realize her father was still there.”

“Makes sense,” Stiles says. He watches as Peter pulls out a packet of multi-colored thread and starts adding new strings to the constellation. More blue between the Janssen pack and the Hale pack, a yellow thread between Hale and Romero. “So wait, does that mean that there are pack members who knew about Douglas’ plan to frame the Janssens and, you know, kill us all, who aren’t going to be punished?”

“We’ll probably never know exactly how much his siblings and their mates knew about his plan,” Peter says. “There’s not much we can do about that.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Okay, but, uh, won’t they be pissed? We sort of killed – worse than killed – their alpha. And we killed Russ, too.”

“Of course they will be,” Peter says. “Or at least there’s a very good chance they will be. Now, we’ll make sure they’re split up, and settled into packs far away from us, although physical distance isn’t the deterrent it used to be, thanks to the internet. And then we’ll watch them.” He turns away from the constellation and sits down on the desk, letting his legs dangle. “That’s our job, Stiles. To monitor them, by whatever means necessary, and make sure that they aren’t going to pose a threat. And if they do pose a threat, to remove them before they can act.”

Stiles nods, but then pushes both hands through his hair. “It’s just . . . it sounds fucking exhausting to have to do that.”

“It can be,” Peter says. “I won’t lie. It can be demanding, and draining, and awful. The Left Hand is not a position that anybody can do. But it keeps the pack safe.” He reaches out and tousles Stiles’ hair. “And I’m glad I’m not doing it alone anymore.”

At this, Stiles manages a smile. “How do you keep track of people like this?”

“You’ll laugh if I tell you.”

“Probably,” Stiles says.

Peter gives a snort. “Through friends.”

Stiles does laugh. “You have friends?”

“I do,” Peter says, smirking. “Or at least I have allies, people who owe me favors, debts. That’s something else it’s important to keep track of, a little constellation of its own. You’ll be even better at it than me, because the entire werewolf world owes you debts from what happened with the WLO.”

“The owe you more than they owe me for that,” Stiles says. “You’re the one who killed Kate Argent.”

“It doesn’t matter who killed her,” Peter says. “It matters who found her. That’s what you keep trying to misunderstand about that. You keep trying to say I was the one responsible for taking down Kate Argent, but without you, I wouldn’t have known who to take down, let alone been capable of it.” Peter shakes his head. “What’s the first thing I taught you?”

“Take whatever people will give you,” Stiles says automatically. “Take it without hesitation or shame.”

“People have given you the credit for what happened,” Peter says. “People have willingly placed themselves into your debt. They’re happy to be there and they’ll be happy to pay you back. Don’t ever forget that. It’ll make the burden so much easier to carry.”

Stiles manages a nod. “Okay.”

Peter checks his watch. “On that note, we should get back to the house. Talia said she had something planned for dinner.”

“Yeah, she told me,” Stiles says. They head back out to the car. “Not that she told me what she had planned, but I think she thinks I need a night off. Which is fair. I need an entire week off. I think Derek and I should go to Hawaii for the week or something. You can all just eat sandwiches or whatever. Malia can keep Dad from eating too many cheeseburgers. That’s like her favorite thing to do in the universe.”

Peter gives a quiet snort. “Yes, she and Marisela take altogether too much joy in policing your father’s diet. It’s amazing what they get away with. It’s also amazing how many cheeseburgers he still manages to eat when he knows you’re not looking.”

“Hey!” Stiles sulks. “Don’t encourage him.”

“I would never.”

Stiles is still fake-sulking when they get back to the den, and he’s surprised to see a lot more cars there now than there had been when they had left an hour previous. “Did Talia invite some people over for dinner?”

“You could say that,” Peter says, as Stiles parks the car. Once they get out, he takes Stiles’ elbow and steers him around the main house to see the clearing set up a little like it had been for the wedding. There are tables and chairs, each one draped with a pristine white tablecloth and set with flowers. Lights have been strung up between the trees, giving the clearing a soft glow that accentuates the setting sun.

“What . . .” Stiles manages.

Talia, seeing them approach, hurries over. “Well, what do you think?” she asks with a smile.

“I think I’d like to know what’s happening,” Stiles says.

Talia arches an eyebrow at him. “Derek did say you still wanted to get married. Don’t tell me you’ve changed your mind.”

“Of course I do, but – how did you even – ”

“We’ve been planning it ever since what happened at Valack’s house,” Aaron says, wrapping an arm around his wife’s waist. “Well, even a little before that. Derek had made it clear that he wasn’t going to just not marry you, God forbid. So we had been talking with the alphas in the area. They weren’t thrilled with it, to be honest, but they did agree that what happened was unfair. Then we found out Douglas wasn’t even dead, so.” He gives a little shrug. “They came around.”

“So, wait, is this happening right now?” Stiles starts to hyperventilate. “Which part of the ceremony did we skip to? Do I have to start all over and greet everyone again? I don’t know where my flashcards wound up – ”

“Softly, softly,” Aaron says, squeezing his shoulder. “You don’t need to start over. Talia told everyone that we were just going to do a smaller, private ceremony. Less chance that something else would happen to, you know, make a hash of things.”

“They were okay with that?” Stiles asks, a little surprised.

“Oh, no, a lot of them were really annoyed,” Talia says, with a snort. “But they gave up after I reminded them that you had been through quite enough on behalf of the werewolf world. They begrudgingly agreed that since you had done the welcoming ceremony once already, they would take that as your formal entrance to the regional hierarchy. Ah, there’s Scott and Allison – they’re going to help you get ready.”

“Oh – okay,” Stiles says, still a little stunned as the two of them each get one of his arms and sweep him into the main house. “Where’s Derek?”

“He’s getting ready over at the other house,” Scott says. “Cora and Isaac are with him.”

“Did he know about this? Did you all know about this?”

“Derek knew, kind of peripherally, that his parents were setting it up,” Allison says, grabbing a tuxedo bag from the front hall closet. “And he had talked with them about which parts of the ceremony were most important to the two of you. Because, you know, we couldn’t get all the vendors together on such short notice, even with generous cash bribes. But he didn’t know it was going to be today.”

“Hell, we didn’t even know that until yesterday,” Scott says. “That was when the bakery confirmed they would have the cake ready in time.”

“And, and the caterer and everything?”

“We lost some of the smaller, less important parts,” Allison tells him. “The caterer is here. They freaked out at first but once we told them it would be a much smaller party, they agreed they could do it. The photographer is here. The band couldn’t make it so there’s a DJ instead. We did most of the decorating and everything ourselves.”

“You guys are amazing,” Stiles says, snuffling a little despite himself.

“Yes, we are,” Scott agrees. “Now strip.”

Stiles takes a hasty shower and then gets dressed in the tuxedo that’s been waiting for him ever since the day of the ceremony. He’s not a huge fan of formal wear, but at least he doesn’t have to wear a bow tie. Instead, he has a necklace that has the Hale pack’s insignia, the triskele, that fits underneath the collar. “Okay, how do I look?”

“Great,” Scott says, giving him a thumb’s up.

“Here’s your shoes,” Allison says, handing them over.

“Oh my God, this is actually happening,” Stiles says, tugging them on. “Oh my God, I’m freaking out. Where’s my dad? He’s here, right? He must be here – ”

“Your dad was helping the twins get ready for the ceremony. He’s probably downstairs by now.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He allows Allison to run a comb through his hair and give it the usual spikes before he pulls away and runs down the stairs. As predicted, his father is there, in a suit and tie, and both the twins are as well. They’re wearing sundresses that are identical in style but different in color; Malia’s is a pale yellow and Marisela is in lavender. They’ve both had rather elaborate hairdos done and are wearing a bit of eyeshadow and lipstick. “Wow, who are these two beautiful young ladies?” Stiles jokes.

“Stiles!” Malia protests. “We’re your little sisters!”

“Of course you are,” Stiles says, sweeping them both into a hug. “You’re the best flower girls a guy could ask for.”

Now they’re beaming at him, and Stiles straightens up and hugs his father. Tom embraces him for a long minute, before saying, “Okay, you ready?”

“I was ready months ago,” Stiles says.

“Then let’s go.”

Stiles forces himself to walk outside rather than run. The clearing is now filled with people. Even though the ceremony is going to be smaller, and they aren’t hosting every alpha in the region, there are still plenty of people there. The Hale pack has lots of friends. Stiles waves to Boyd and Erica, watches happily as his father finds Peter in the crowd and gives him a kiss on the cheek, says hi to Danny and Heather. Corey and Mason are there, along with Liam Dunbar, Hayden Romero, and their alpha. The entire Janssen pack is in attendance, with Charlotte practically glued to Haji’s side and Haji keeping his arm around her every second.

None of that is really important because, at one end of the clearing where an archway has been set up, is Derek. He’s wearing a tuxedo similar to Stiles’, although his has a white jacket, and every single molecule of him is perfect. He turns and sees Stiles emerge at one side of the crowd, and a smile lights up his face so brightly that Stiles nearly swoons and passes out.

Someone starts up some music, Pachelbel’s Canon, and everyone heads to the chairs lined up in front of the arch. Deaton is presiding at the head of it, wearing his Druids’ regalia. The Hale family occupies the first few rows. Cora is standing at Derek’s side, looking elegant in a dark green dress, and Isaac is giving her dreamy eyes from the assembly.

“Okay, girls,” Tom says in a low voice, and Malia and Marisela start up the aisle, sprinkling the flower petals on either side of them and occasionally throwing a handful into the audience (and once or twice, at each other). Scott and Allison go up next; Scott sees Allison to her seat in the front row and then takes up the position opposite Cora. Tom takes Stiles’ arm, supporting his weak knees, and walks him down the aisle, guiding him into the place facing Derek before sitting down next to Peter and the twins.

“You look amazing,” Derek says softly, just loud enough for him to hear, and Stiles has to hastily knuckle away a few tears before murmuring that Derek does too.

The sun has mostly set, and the clearing has taken on the glow of the lights strung up in the trees. Deaton greets everybody and starts talking about love and devotion, about the amazing mysticism of the mating bond, and honestly Stiles isn’t even listening because Derek is right there and gorgeous and marrying him and it’s all a little too much. Derek reaches out and takes both of Stiles’ hands in his and gives them a squeeze.

“Source of life and spirit of love, fill this gathering with your presence,” Deaton says. “Help make this assembly of loved ones present in the promises to which they bear witness. Derek and Stiles, today you enter here as individuals, but you will leave here as husbands, blending your lives, expanding your families, and embarking upon the grandest adventure of togetherness. The story of your life together is yours to write. All those present have come to witness and celebrate your love and commitment this day, eager to be part of the story not yet told.”

Stiles, lost in Derek’s eyes, mouths, ‘I love you’ and sees the corners of Derek’s eyes crinkle as he smiles.

“Do you, Derek, take Stiles to be your partner in life, to share your path with him, to have and to hold from this day forward, promising to honor and cherish, and to grow with you for all the seasons of your lives?”

“I do,” Derek says, squeezing Stiles’ hands.

“And do you, Stiles, take Derek to be your partner in life, to share your path with him, to have and to hold from this day forward, promising to honor and cherish, and to grow with you for all the seasons of your lives?”

“Hell yes,” Stiles replies, and a little laugh goes through the audience.

“Derek, please state your vow,” Deaton says.

Derek squeezes Stiles’ hands again and says, “Stiles, I join my life to yours. I will support and protect you, through good times and bad. No matter what joy or hardship we face, we will face it together. This is my solemn vow.”

“Stiles, please state your vow.”

Stiles almost goes blank despite having heard Derek say the vow two seconds previous, but after a moment, manages to collection himself. “Derek, I join my life to yours. I will support and protect you, through good times and bad. No matter what joy or hardship we face, we will face it together. This is my solemn vow.”

They exchange rings and say a few more things that Stiles barely hears, his hands shaking slightly as he slides the ring onto Derek’s finger.

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other,” Deaton says. “Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth for the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is one life before you. What you have joined here together today, no man may sunder.” Deaton finally breaks into a smile. “It is my pleasure to declare that you are now married.”

Stiles throws his arms around Derek and they embrace for a long moment before Stiles manages to pull away enough to go in for a kiss. Derek returns it, with interest, before rubbing his cheek against Stiles’ hair. Then they turn to the crowd, where everyone wants to hug them and congratulate them, and Stiles is so happy that he feels like he could burst. There’s a fierce warmth in his chest that swells every time he looks over at Derek, at his husband. “You married me,” he whispers into Derek’s ear.

“I know,” Derek whispers back. “I was there.”

The music starts and Derek guides him into the little clearing. Stiles rests his face against Derek’s chest, feeling like he’s floating, and Derek wraps his arms around his waist.

“What are you thinking about?” Derek murmurs into his ear.

“I’m not capable of thoughts right now,” Stiles tells him. “You married me. Like just now. It just happened. We’re married now. You’re my husband. No take-backs.”

Derek laughs. “No take-backs,” he agrees. “You know what I was thinking about?”

“Better be me,” Stiles says.

“The day I met you,” Derek says. “Before everything got weird. Those twenty minutes in the Camaro where everything was so new and exciting and perfect. How I could see so many possible futures in front of us. And they all ended here, in this clearing, with you in my arms, wearing that ring.”

Stiles flushed pink and clutches at Derek harder. “You’re an enormous sap. And also, five hundred percent wrong.”

“Wrong?” Derek asks, arching his eyebrows.

Stiles nods and leans in for a kiss. “It doesn’t end here. It doesn’t even peak here, although this is probably gonna be one of the high points. But we have a million more exciting, perfect moments in front of us. As husbands,” he adds, because he just can’t get enough of saying that word. “Now is when we get to live happily ever after. There’s a law or something.”

Derek huffs out a laugh. “Well, I know you would never break a law, so I guess we’ll have to.”

“Damn right,” Stiles says, and kisses him over and over again, until long after the music has stopped.

 

~ ~ ~ ~