Rated TEEN

Chapter 1

“Hey, Daddio how are you doing?” Stiles smiled at his father’s shocked face. Any time that Stiles could get his dad to make a Pikachu face was a good day.

“Stiles, what are you doing home?” Noah closed the door behind him.

“Can’t I come home for spring break?” Stiles put on his best pout.

“You never have before. In fact, I recall asking you to come home your freshman year, and I got a two hour explanation of all of the legal aid cases you were working on. I didn't even know legally let freshman in college help them.”

Style shrugged. He had played a little fast and loose with the truth when he first went to volunteer, but if they assumed he was in his first year of law school and as opposed to his first year of university, that was entirely on them. And once he'd proved his chops in the investigative realm, they forgave him. “Legal aid helps me learn the law, and they needed help with investigations. Do you have any idea how bad some lawyers are at actually investigating crimes?”

“I do. That's why you have separate police and DA’s offices.”

“Yeah, but the defense side doesn't have police to work for them, and some of those people really have no defense other than they didn't do it. The only way to prove that is to prove who did.”

His dad dropped his keys on the side table before he headed for the kitchen. “I’m proud of you for your work, Stiles. You’re a good man, but you’re also avoiding the question.”

“No I'm not.”

His father stopped with one hand on the refrigerator and gave Stiles a dirty look.

“Okay, maybe I am because it's really awkward.”

His father's hand fell away from the refrigerator and he turned to face Stiles. “Is this the awkward conversation where you tell me you’re dating Peter Hale?”

“What?” Stiles yelped. “Why would I date Peter Hale?”

His father crossed his arms over his chest. “I don't know. Personally, I would avoid dating a mass murderer, but he moved across the country to be with you while you're in college and you have lived in his house for the past three years. I kind of assumed that that's where this conversation would end up eventually.”

“Ew. He's old.”

“And the older you get, the less that age gap is going to matter to you. How old is he, anyway? I found two sets of documents, one listing him as thirty five and the other as thirty nine.”

“Exactly. Old. Geez, I slept with the guy’s daughter. And he’s actually thirty five, but lots of his official paperwork lists him as thirty nine because he was like fourteen when Malia’s mother got pregnant. The Hale family is apparently wolf-sized catnip for predatory women who like their men young. It’s really creepy.”

“First, I agree that sleeping with anyone underage is creepy. I’ve given you that speech before.”

“Traumatized me with it just because I had a little crush on my junior high teacher.” Stiles held up a finger and thumb an inch apart to show the tininess of his crush. Besides, he’d gotten over it and started crushing on Lydia not long after that, in part because his father had emotionally traumatized him. He hadn’t been able to look poor Ms. Smith in the eye ever again.

“Uh huh.” Noah crossed his arms. “Two words. Derek Hale.”

Stiles scrunched up his nose. “Okay, I’ll give you that one. Teachers who sleep with their students are psycho, even before burning the family alive.”

“And thirty five isn’t that old. I’m only forty seven, so don’t put me in the grave yet.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes. “Are you trying to encourage me to date Peter Hale?” His father had just taken an awkward conversation and turned it into an impossibly awkward conversation. Parentals. They were so damn parental.

“Definitely not,” Noah said firmly. “Not only would I prefer to avoid dating a mass murderer, but I would really prefer my son not date them. The fact that he is a high-priced defense attorney is just the cherry on that particular sundae. So if you are telling me you're not dating him, my day just improved dramatically.” His father turned back to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of beer before popping the cap off.

“Well, I am definitely not dating Peter Hale. Us living together is a pack-bond issue, not a love interest issue. I told you that at the time.”

“And it didn't make sense then either. Most of his pack is here.”

“Actually that's part of the uncomfortable conversation I needed to have with you.”

His father lifted a single eyebrow, and Stiles felt a sort of nostalgia for the expression. It reminded him of the trouble he used to get in all the time. However, this time, he wasn't the one in trouble. This trouble was all Scott’s making—Scott’s and Derek. Once Derek got his alpha spark, he could have invited his uncle back, but there had been a lack of invites. “Peter doesn't have pack bonds with anyone here. When he left, Scott was the only alpha, and he rejected any pack bond with Peter. And then he pushed everyone else to reject Peter because he's not a fan of mass murderers, as you so eloquently put that, although I could argue that there was a valid case for both an insanity plea and justifiable homicide. Kate, for example, was entirely justified.”

Noah sighed. “I know that, Stiles, or else I would've thrown a bigger fit when you announced that you were taking him with you to university. I still can't believe he went with you, but if you were his only pack bond, that makes a little more sense.”


“However, that is not an awkward situation. We could've talked about over the phone, although perhaps using less direct language so that there was no chance of someone overhearing a discussion of werewolves.”

“Werewolves… that’s closer to the awkwardness. You see, Scott is kind of screwing up.”

His dad took a long drink a beer. “You're just now figuring this out?”

“That is unfair. Scott is usually awesome, but cutting Peter off from pack bonds meant that he was running the risk that Peter could fall into insanity again. Wolves are pack animals, and he was cutting Peter off.”

Noah frowned. “Then I'm glad you maintained a bond with him. I would much rather deal with Peter Hale, the defense attorney with a vicious reputation than I would Peter Hale, the demented killer werewolf.”

Stiles understood that. Stiles had not been fond of Peter's omega killing spree himself. “But there's a little more. You see, until Peter established a pack bond with me, I hadn't realized that the gaping hole in my chest that kept giving me nightmares wasn't left over from the void. It was the place where I had lost my pack bonds.”

“Scott, cut you off?” His dad thunked the beer down on the counter harshly enough that Stiles was kind of surprised the bottle didn't crack.

“No, in fact, the best hypothesis Peter and I can come up with is that the Nogitsune starved out the pack bond to make sure that no one noticed that it was infecting me. But before I left for college, I asked Scott to reestablish a pack bond because once I had one with Peter I realized how much I needed those bonds.”

“Needed?” His father jumped on the word, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.

Stiles grimaced. “This is where the awkward part starts to come in.”

Noah scrubbed his hand across his face and picked up his beer again before he headed to the living room. “I'm a Band-Aid off fast kind of guy. Whatever weirdness is going on, just lay it on me.” He dropped onto the couch.

“It turns out that normal humans may feel a pack bond, but they don't feel a need for one.”

His dad screwed his eyes up tight. “So, are you not human?”

“What!? No. I didn't say that.”

Noah’s eyes came open. “You kind of did. I would love it if you would get to the actual explanation part of this explanation before I give myself a heart attack.”

“Way to overreact,” Stiles muttered.


Stiles threw his hands in the air. “Okay. Fine. I am human, but it turns out I'm a little more magical than most people. When most people want to develop their magic, they start with little spells like the mountain ash I showed you.”

His dad sat up. “You don't have to be magical to use mountain ash.”

“You have to be a tiny bit magical. There are some people called cinders that have zero, zippy do da, nada for magic, and their mountain ash line will be so weak that a vampire or werewolf would be able to push through it rather quickly. But most humans have enough of that spark of magic that they can fuel a mountain ash line.”

“So their magic is the fuse that sets the mountain ash?” his dad asked.

“Awesome analogy, Daddio. And then if they want to become more magical, they have to take that little tiny muscle and they have to exercise and exercise and practice and practice and run magic through that spark over and over and over again until they develop that muscle strongly enough that they can actually use it for more powerful spells.”

“Are you talking Deaton levels of magic or Jennifer levels of magic?” His dad’s voice had a flatness that made Stiles’s palms sweat. This is why his dad was the master of the interrogation room.

“It turns out that Deaton levels and Jennifer levels are pretty much the same, which is why Jennifer had to use multiple human sacrifices to power herself up. There are other magic users that have more stable energy sources than Druids. Druids? Not that respected in the magical world.”

“And would you be respected in the magical world?”

“Only totally and completely. Or at least I will be when my spark catches into a flame, which I have it on good authority will happen really soon. I have a mentor, someone Peter hired to train me because of the potential danger that's on the horizon. When I started working with her, she realized I could skip all of the tiny muscle building exercises because someone had been running magic through that muscle for a really long time.”

His dad studied Stiles, frowning. Stiles waited for his father to make the only rational connection.

“Deaton,” his dad said, his voice utterly flat.

Stiles nodded. “Peter figured that after I finished my education I could train my magic. He wasn’t saying anything until then because he didn't want me distracted from class. He’s weirdly obsessive about my GPA.”

“It sounds like you are attributing more altruistic motives to Peter than he actually possesses.”

Stiles shrugged. He didn't have any evidence to disprove his father, but that wasn't an unreasonable conclusion. Noah nodded and oh-so-carefully set his beer on the stained coffee table. “So what is this new danger that's on the horizon?”

“It's not a danger as much as it is a potential for a lot of people to be really unhappy.”

“Stiles.” Now his dad sounded exhausted.

Stiles took a deep breath. “It is possible, just possible, that the FBI is interested in opening a case against Kate and the Argents. The investigation might even broaden out into Argent Arms. And Peter is afraid they may want to counter attack, which is why he wants me to get my magic up and running ASAP.”

“Why would the FBI be investigating the Argents?”

“They may believe that Kate and Gerard were serial killers who were using Argent Arms as a mercenary crew to clean up their mess.”

His father's eyebrows went up. “You used your insurance file?”

Stiles dropped into a chair. “You know about my insurance file?”

“Of course I knew. You are not as subtle as you think you are. Why in the world would I sign off for logging surveillance video from a crime blocks away? As soon as I noticed what you were logging, it wasn’t difficult to figure out what you were doing.”

Stiles grimaced. “I didn't get you in trouble with that, did I?”

“If I were a deputy, I would've gotten in serious trouble. Luckily, I'm a sheriff. So there was no one around to question why I was doing insane things with my evidence logs. However, that doesn't answer the question, which is why did you use your insurance file?”

“Because the Argents were coming after Peter.”

Noah scrubbed his hand across his face again. “And you wonder why I thought you two were dating? Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy you are disgusted at the idea of the Argents committing murder, but Peter is a big boy. He can handle himself and the Argents without your help.”

“Actually, he’s quietly freaked out that I used the file, because he's afraid that if the Argents have nothing left to lose, they are more likely to come after us. That’s why we came here—to warn everyone and maybe get ready for any backlash.”

“He's not entirely wrong.” For a second, Noah let his head hang as he braced his elbows against his knees.

“Yeah, he has explained that in enough detail that I definitely get the feeling that I screwed up. But, what's done is done, and that's why Peter hired a magical tutor for me. He wanted to make sure that I could defend myself if the Argents came after me.”

His dad looked up. “What are the odds that will happen?”

Stiles shrugged. Peter was of the opinion that this legal counterattack had Stiles’ fingerprints all over it, especially since he had already called Chris to get the Argents to back down. Peter said that his counterattacks were known for either being far more bloody—in the case of his feral episodes—or far more nuanced, like the ones he’d engaged in more recently. Stiles wasn’t sure what threats Peter had dealt with in the last few years, but Stiles trusted that he had a certain reputation and the FBI plot wouldn’t match that. However, none of that would make his dad feel any better.

“Peter feels safer here, at least for the initial blow up. My primary reason for coming back is to make sure that Derek doesn't get blindsided with all of the Kate drama.”

“Maybe I should handle that situation,” Noah said. “You are not the most diplomatic when it comes to…”

“Crime victims or Derek?”

His dad scoffed. “For you to be as successful as you are with legal aid, I have to assume that you have improved with crime victims in general, but you do tend to railroad Derek. And Derek vacillates between letting you railroad him and getting really aggravated.”

“Yeah, that's why Peter said he was going to handle that end of things.”

Noah sat up. “Peter came back with you? Is this threat serious enough that you need the pack’s protection? How seriously should I be taking the threat? If there are going to be fights on the street, I need to brief my deputies.”

“More like Peter is invested in making sure that the pack isn’t a liability.”

His father had his suspicious expression on again. “Define liability.”

“Well, you know how I said that Deaton had been messing with my magic a bit? At least I assume it was Deaton.” Stiles wrinkled his nose. He hated that Deaton did this, but he was even more bummed that Scott trusted the dorkface. After all the platitudes and non-answers and petty silences that Deaton used like freakin’ bludgeons, Scott still put Deaton on a pretty damn big pedestal. Stiles had mommy issues in spades, but Scott had twice as many daddy issues. “I’m going to know if it’s Deaton pretty quick.”

“Oh Lord, that is your ‘I have a plan face’.”

“If it makes you feel better, it's more the Peter has a plan face.”

“Sadly, that does make me feel better.” His father shook his head and leaned back. “So what is Peter's plan?”

“If Deaton is siphoning off my spark magic, then he has to send it somewhere. Druids have all these rules about keeping magic and balance, so they can't move power into themselves without moving power out. So Peter's assumption is that Deaton has transferred the power to Scott since Scott is definitely his favorite son. He told me to take Scott on a visit and see if Deaton tries that trick with my new witch tutor watching from the parking lot.”

All traces of exhaustion vanished as his father sat up. “Deaton is stealing your magic? That sounds like a serious assault.”

“Ironically that is the exact same face Peter made. Sadly, I suspect Deaton just thinks he's helping,” Stiles said. He was helping Scott, but that was still some subset of helpful. The problem was that if Deaton was going to throw him and Peter under the Argent bus, they had to know before the Argents showed up.

“Sadly, I don't care what his motive is. Motive is not an essential element of the crime,” his father said.

His dad had him there. “So anyway, I'm heading over there with Scott and my magical instructor is going to wait just outside the office to see whether Deaton starts pulling on my spark.”

“And if he does?”

“Well here's the thing, Deaton is a druid, so he has little bits of magic he accumulates through carefully maintaining a slightly off balance magical status. However, Celeste is a witch. Specifically, she is a nature witch. She soaks up the potential energy from any change of state in nature and that becomes the reservoir that she can pull from. And Beacon Hills is surrounded by a lot of nature. She said that short of Deaton doing a fivefold knot of sacrifices, he's not going to be able to touch her power base. So Deaton versus Celeste, I am voting Celeste.”

Noah shook his head. “That doesn’t mean I want my son in the middle.”

“Face it, Dad, I’ve been in the middle since I was sixteen.”

His father stared at his empty beer bottle. “I need something stronger.”

Stiles sighed.

His dad pushed himself to his feet. “But I can do that later. If you’re going to confront someone who has been assaulting you, I’m going to be there at your back.”

“Whoa.” Stiles bolted to his feet and planted himself in his father’s path. “No offense, but if you’re there glaring at him, he’s going to know something is up. So you can’t come along.”

“I’m not going to sit home while you put yourself out as bait and see if Deaton assaults you.”

“Um, considering that you and I wouldn’t be able to see the assault, I don’t think we’re the important parts of this plan. Let Celeste do her job.”

His father clenched his jaw so hard that the muscle bulged.

“I’ll be fine,” Stiles said. “Promise.”

His father snorted. “I hate this.”

“Yep, but I’m Peter’s only pack bond, so he’s homicidally protective of me. He’s put other lawyers in charge of his cases so he could take a leave of absence. He either blackmailed or threatened my university so I could finish my courses online. He’s not going to risk my life around Deaton.”

For one second, his father looked ready to not only charge over to Deaton’s office but to shoot him in the face. But then he sagged. “If he hurts you, I’m going to shoot his dick off,” his father said.

Stiles laughed. Of all the things his father might have said, Stiles hadn’t expected that. “I know you’ll always have my back.” Stiles wrapped his arms around his father’s waist. A half-second late, his father caught him in a strong embrace.

“Oh, kiddo.”

Stiles let himself soak up all the father love. He didn’t really want to confront Deaton or Scott, but he appreciated the fact that he had people in his life who loved him enough to commit body harm to others. It was a twisted love, but Stiles was fine with that. Love was love in any of its forms.

Chapter 2

“Stiles!” Scott called out as soon he opened the door. “Looking good, man. I am so glad that you took some time off from school. All work and no play makes Stiles a boring boy.”

“Have you ever known me to be all work and no play?” Stiles spread his arms. “I am the ultimate party boy.”

“If that’s the case, you need to share. I want to hear all the stories of you wild college parties and sexy coeds because you’ve been holding out on me. Three years, and the only stories you come up with are about legal cases and cranky professors. Let’s order some pizza and have a Resident Dead marathon on the Xbox while you tell about your reputation as an ultimate party boy,” Scott teased. He stepped back to let Stiles in the house, but Stiles hesitated at the entrance.

“Pizza and Xbox sound great, but I am running way short of mountain ash, so I was hoping that we could head over to Deaton's place for a little magical supply top up.”

Scott frowned. “Why do you need mountain ash?”

“Oh, I don't know, maybe because I'm a squishy human and mountain ash is one of the few tools that can keep me from squishing.”

Scott frowned and actually glanced over Stiles shoulder as if expecting to see whatever danger had Stiles wanting mountain ash. “It's been quiet around here. We haven't had anything big going on since that family of wendigoes in January.”

“What family of wendigoes?”

Scott visible went off high alert and shrugged. “Derek and I cleared them out. You know, I wasn't sure about having two alphas in the same pack, but it really does help to have another alpha fighter, and Derek and I are pretty good about not stepping on each other's toes too much.”

“Hey, I am all about finding out-of-the-box solutions. If the alpha pack can have the alphas working together towards the greater evil, then it makes sense that this pack can have alphas working together towards the greater good. I’m glad you and Der-bear can co-alpha.”

“Do you have any idea how disturbing it is when you call him that?” Scott wrinkled his nose.

“Is it more or less disturbing than when I call him sourwolf?”

“Considerably more. I mean, if you have the hots for the guy, feel free to do the whole stalking from a distance thing, but you should know that he is straight. And not into you. Because, you know, not a girl.” Scott winced. Yeah, his diplomacy skills definitely hadn’t improved.

“I'm not crushing on Derek.” Geez, first his dad thought he was chasing Peter and now Scott was pairing him up in some unrequited love affair with Derek. Stiles needed to find some cute boy or girl and introduce them around just so he could have normal friendships without everyone assuming he was trying to get in people’s pants. “I just like the way Derek’s nose wrinkles up when I call him Der-bear. I enjoy annoying people. You know this about me.”

“Yeah, but you encouraged him to get an alpha spark. That's more like something that you would do when you were crushing on somebody and doing your weird obsessive gift giving.”

“We talked this over last year. I did it because I wanted you to have alpha backup. And I didn’t give him the spark. He had to go out and fight for it himself.” Stiles was still a little aggravated that Scott hadn’t wanted to back Derek up because the alpha in question had been in New Mexico and Scott thought it hadn’t been their business. That was definitely a dent in Scott’s moral armor because evil shouldn’t be ignored just because it wasn’t near enough to cause you trouble. That’s one of the reasons why Stiles refused to feel guilty for kicking the Argent wasp-nest. Sure, they hadn’t been an immediate threat, but they were still out being evil.

Scott frowned and scrubbed his fingers through his hair. “I know, I know. It's just Deaton says that it's a little suspicious that you suddenly are all pro-Derek. And I pointed out that you kind of have a history of falling for insanely attractive people.”

“This is not me falling for Derek. What is it with everyone assuming I have something for Hale men?”

“Hale men?” Scott’s eyebrows climbed up into his hairline.

Stiles waved him off. This was not a conversation to have in the doorway of Melissa’s house, especially not when Stiles was supposed to be getting Scott to go to Deaton’s veterinarian office. “Never mind. However, I've been encouraging Derek to go chase an alpha sparks since I left. Hell, that's why I blackmailed Peter into leaving town with me.”

“Uh-huh.” Scott didn't even try and sound like he believed that.

“Why are you being so weird?” Stiles asked.

“Why are you being so weird? You show up here when it's not summer and not Christmas and you want to talk about Derek.”

“No I don't. You brought up Derek. I brought up Deaton. Or do you want to accuse me of having a crush on him?”

Scott wrinkled his nose and gave a full body shudder. “Exactly! That is the appropriate face to make when someone suggests that I have a crush on someone in their 30s.” The Peter Hale accusation his father had made was even crazier than Scott’s assumption he was crushing on Derek.

Scott frowned. “Derek's in his 20s.”

“Whatever.” Sometimes explaining things to Scott just took more time than it was worth. “Anyway, when to going to war with feral omegas or whatever else is running around, I would just feel better if I had some mountain ash. You never know when you can have a rogue vampire or werewolf pop up.”

“Vampires? In Beacon Hills?” Scott’s eyes got huge.

“You're probably right about that,” Stiles said. “They too tend to like hanging out in the older cemeteries and big cities. From the stories I have heard from Peter, there is no way in hell I am ever going to New Orleans. And Rick has got some wild stories about DC vampires who hang out at Arlington. It's all that death magic.”

Scott's eyes grew impossibly big and started to glow with a dull red color.

Stiles held his hands up to placate Scott. “But the cemeteries around here are way newer and I'm fairly sure that than the Native tribes knew better than to leave their dead vulnerable to that sort of magic, so any native cemeteries are safe. That means there’s nothing here for vampires or zombies.”

“Zombies?” Scott’s voice broke and his eyes were not full alpha-red.

“Yes, zombies. Which are usually not that big of a problem because they’re controlled by witches, only the witch has to direct the body.” Stiles held up his fingers as if he were a puppeteer. He'd already learned so much stuff from Celeste, and he was looking forward to pushing his spark over into a flame so he could start actually practicing magic. Stiles had thought getting into the prelaw classes was exciting, but that was nothing compared to his hunger for the little drips of the knowledge that Celeste would dangle out in front of him. She was like a demented grandmother who offered tales of zombie possession instead of cookies. She was perfect.

Scott almost sounded asthmatic when he said, “Witches control zombies?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “A death witch or a dark witch can control a zombie if they choose to, but the magical tutor I’ve been working with says that that is really hard to do. Since she's a nature which, she doesn't have that ability at all, but still, there are dangers out there. It’s best for a squishy little humans to have some mountain ash.” Stiles mimicked the gesture of sprinkling dust around.

Stiles had expected that would get Scott moving, but his expression turned murderous and he crossed his arms over his chest. “I thought you were focusing on prelaw, and that was bad enough because Peter has you talking about working at a law firm instead of the FBI when that has been your dream your whole life. But now it sounds like you are diving back into all of this supernatural stuff.”

“Technically, I'm not sure I dived out of all this supernatural stuff. I know werewolves on campus; I just never brought them up with you.”

“You're hanging out with werewolves?” Scott looked horrified.

“I've taken a bunch of my justice prerequisites with a really cool werewolf from Montana who is planning on going into local policing. She is awesome.” Stiles didn't say it, for obvious reasons, but she reminded him a lot about Allison. “And the local pack has a werewolf named Rick who often just comes around and checks on us and make sure that Peter isn’t out murdering grandmothers or something. I'm not actually sure what he does, but he hangs around.”

“Well, at least someone is smart enough to keep an eye on Peter. I never should have let him go back east with you. He was supposed to be protecting you not dragging you into all this stuff.”

Stiles crossed his arms and glared at Scott. “Peter isn't dragging me anywhere. I very rarely see Peter at all because he is an important lawyer who does lawyer stuff all day. The only way I realize I'm living with him is because of the fancy food that shows up in the kitchen and the maid service that comes around twice a week.”

“And yet, you are hanging around with dangerous supernatural creatures.”

“I hate to break this to you, but a lot of the dangerous people we run into her actually humans. Humans are way worse than wendigoes in some cases. I mean, sure, a wendigo will eat you alive, but people are the ones who enjoy torture.”

Scott started getting fuzzy around the sideburns. “Well, that doesn't sound like Peter Hale, not all,” Scott said sarcastically.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “I'm fairly sure that both Peter and Derek would say that the most dangerous people their family ever went up against were the Argents, and for the most part, they were solidly human. And psychopaths. And serial killers. Actually, most serial killers are human as far as I can tell, and I have looked for signs. There is no evidence that Jeffrey Dahmer was anything other than a fruitcake. A human one.”

Scott pressed his eyes closed, and for just a second, his expression reminded Stiles a lot of his father's. Stiles knew that Scott’s frustration came from the same place, but the difference was that his father was wired to always worry about Stiles. Stiles got it. There would always be some little part of his dad that remembered changing Stiles’s diapers and every time Stiles tried to do something to grown up, his dad's brain was going to flip that switch. It wouldn’t be any different if Stiles went into the military or joined the FBI, assuming that that was still an option after the whole Argent blowup ended.

However, Scott didn't have that excuse. He and Scott were buddies. Peers. Scott thought that he had a right to some sort of parental worried button, but he didn’t. Nope. Stiles was not going to let this go.

“My life has not been easy or safe for a lot of years,” Stiles said softly, “and it's not going to be in the future either. And maybe that's going to be because I'm in the FBI tracking down criminals and maybe that's going to be because I'm working in a law firm dealing with, oh, I don't know, criminals. And maybe it's going to be because I get involved with a supernatural case.” Stiles poked a finger into Scott’s chest. “But you don't get to wrap me up bubblewrap because you think I can’t handle it. I'm a grown man.”

“You’re human!” Scott spit the word out as though human were somehow dirty. Stiles knew he was overreacting because Scott was most likely just implying that human meant weak or pathetic or a big giant loser who didn't know how to take care of himself. The whole part where it sound like that he was calling Stiles a dirty loser… that was projection. Stiles knew that well enough.

“The Argents are human, and you certainly didn’t have a problem with them fighting.”

“And look what happened to Allison,” Scott practically screamed. He took several deep breaths, curling and uncurling his hands as he claws slowly vanished. When he spoke again, his voice was much softer. “It doesn't matter how much you train, humans will never be able to stand up against a supernatural creature. Why are you hanging out with werewolves when you're supposed to be learning to be an FBI agent?”

Stiles wanted to scream back. He would probably be justified, but he didn’t want to burn this bridge. Scott was acting out of love, and Stiles tried to respect love, even when it came in shitty, stinky, rude packages. “Probably because she was assigned to my study group in class. When a professor assigns you to work together, that's what you do, Scott.”

Scott stared at him.

Stiles pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. He needed to get this back on track or Peter was going to kill him for screwing up this plan. He took a deep breath and tried to center his thoughts. He was in prelaw. He earned As in logic classes. He needed to slow down and calm down and not react to the emotions in Scott's arguments. “Humans and supernatural creatures share the same world. I can’t avoid having any contact with the supernatural without dying and going to some purely human heaven that I don’t believe exists.”

“Well, you could at least try, or at least you could if Peter were doing his job and looking out for you.” Scott sounded mulish.

Calm. Calm. Stiles would be calm. Stiles had to be calm because Peter would gut him and hang his entrails on a telephone wire if he did not get the plan back on track. That was motivation to find his inner calm.

“Scott, I'm not going to argue with you. As a grown adult, I will do what I feel is right, and I will associate with whomever I like. That may or may not include some werewolves, one or two witches, and potentially a vampire, although I'm not entirely sure he's a vampire, but there's a chance. And since he teaches one of the multicultural history classes that I need for my degree, I will not be avoiding him either, although I may try to avoid being alone in a room with him.”

Scott stared at him as though the world had ended. The part that made Stiles feel really guilty was that all of Scott's indignation was nothing more than a side effect of the fact that he cared for Stiles and he needed therapy. He was afraid that Stiles, like Allison, was going to lose his life to the things that went bump in the night. And Scott had been front and center when Stiles had come really close. Multiple times, even. It wasn't an unreasonable fear.

“I know I've said this before, but maybe you should talk to someone about this irrational fear you have that someone is going to target me.”

“It's not irrational. You and my mom are so vulnerable, and she gets it. She has worked with Deaton to make sure that she's safe, and you’re running around talking about werewolves and vampires. Does your dad know any of this?”

Stiles grimaced. His dad knew lots, but Stiles had gone out of his way to avoid mentioning the vampire professor. “If it makes you feel any better, he has great ratings on Rate my Professor. Some of the students talk about the fact that he describes pre-written African justice systems with such detail that is like he was there. That could be a good thing. I always learn better from people who have firsthand knowledge.”

Scott's expression was definitely not improving. Stiles sighed.

“I get it. You worry. Hell, my dad worries. Peter worries. He gets all growly about how I have to be more aware of my surroundings and how I shouldn't put myself out there so much with my legal aid cases. I was doing an investigation in an area that had a lot of gang activity, and I went down there to talk to a clerk that worked nights at this convenience store, and Peter came quietly unglued. But none of you get to tell me how to live my life.”

Scott stared at him and Stiles stared right back. Just because he loved Scott did not mean he was going to back down on this.

“So, you need mountain ash from Deaton?”

“Well, I assume he would be the easiest place to get it.”

“And if we go there, will you listen to Deaton? Will you tell him what's going on at this college with werewolves and a possible vampire, and one or two witches?” Scott had a triumphant tone, like he had just won a major victory.

“Why? So that he can lecture me like he's my father? I have a father who does a pretty good job of guilt tripping me. There really isn't room for anyone else to fill that position.”

Scott bit his lower lip and took a deep breath, but the fact that his werewolf claws were peeking out of his fingertips said something about his emotional state. “If you tell Deaton everything and listen to his advice about how to protect yourself, then I promise to not mention it again.”

Stiles suspected that was a lie, but Scott's offer would get both of them into Deaton's office, which was the whole point of this exercise.

“No interrogating me about supernatural creatures?”

“Nope.” Scott drew a cross over his heart.

“No more suggesting I'm incapable of taking care of myself?”

“Not even a little bit.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes. “No calling Peter and giving him authority to try and get more bossy about when and where I conduct my investigations?”

Scott cringed.

Stiles threw his hands up into the air and marched toward his Jeep. Scott came trotting after. “I'm worried about you.”

“I know you are, you big idiot. Get in here. Let's go see Deaton. And if you try to call Peter and tell him what to do after you denied him any pack bond, I swear to God I will roll up a newspaper and I will swat you across the nose.”

Scott got in the Jeep. “You wouldn't dare.”

“Try me.”

“I am your alpha.”

“You refuse to reestablish pack bonds with me, so no, no you are not. I am a squishy human who is absolutely and completely alphaless.”

Scott frowned, but he didn't have a comeback for that one.

Sometimes Peter accused Stiles of playing checkers instead of chess in terms of life strategies. And sometimes Stiles did. He reacted instead of thinking two or three steps ahead. Stiles could admit that. But he was sure as hell better that this than Scott. Scott cut him and Peter loose and then thought he could throw around his alpha weight. That wasn't even checkers. That was more like trying to play tic-tac-toe and losing. Stiles started the Jeep and headed towards Deaton's office.

Chapter 3

Stiles pulled up outside the vet’s office and looked around to see if he could spot the Celeste’s car. He didn't, but he assumed that that just meant she was better at hiding than he was at spotting surveillance. Given that Peter had hired her, that was a pretty safe assumption. Peter didn't hire inferior magic users. Or inferior anyone. He'd once fired their housekeeper for not cleaning well enough behind the toilet. Stiles was fairly sure no one had cleaned behind the toilets his childhood home since his mom died, but for Peter that was an unforgivable sin.

“Just promise you'll be honest,” Scott said as he unbuckled his seatbelt.

Stiles got out and studied the building. For so many years this had been ground zero of their supernatural battles. If someone got shot with a wolfsbane bullet or nearly disemboweled, their first reaction had been to run to Deaton. Everything had been about running to Deaton, as if he were the parent they could run to in the middle of the night when they thought the monsters under the bed was going to get them.

The problem was that the monsters were real and Deaton had never tried very damn hard to save any of them. And Stiles got it. Deaton was a druid, which meant he didn't have the power to save them, so it couldn't feel very good to have teenagers looking for help when he couldn't provide it. Still, that was no reason to string them along the way he had. Deaton always talked as if he had the answers and he would share them, if only they were smart enough to understand.

As an adult, Stiles was starting to think that it was all bullshit.

Well, to be fair, he had started thinking that Deaton's line was bullshit around his junior year. But, Celeste’s explanations about the limitations placed on druids did put everything into a new perspective.

“You do know that I only agreed to tell him what's going on, not listen to him when he starts preaching some cryptic shit about balance and fate and choice,” Stiles warned.

“That's not fair. Deaton has helped mom install mountain ash lines at the hospital. There are safe zones where she can go if there some sort of attack, and she has her work area warded.”

Stiles nodded. “How does that help everyone else in the hospital if there's a supernatural attack?”

“I'm the alpha. If somebody comes to Beacon Hills trying to cause trouble, they're going to come for me. That makes mom the target, not the hospital.”

Stiles was fairly sure that that logic was crap, especially since when Stiles had been the Nogitsune, he had targeted the hospital, and not just because of Melissa. Hospitals and schools were soft targets that created a lot of emotional upheaval when they were attacked. The FBI had special profiles for people who went after those sorts of soft targets, and the Nogitsune had fit nicely into the profile.

“I have no intention of being a good sport about this,” Stiles warned as he headed for the front door.

“You don't have to be a good sport. Just listen to his suggestions,” Scott said. “You have to be able to protect yourself.”

“I thought that's why you sent Peter along, to make sure I didn't get eaten by a wendigo.”

“Well apparently Peter is doing a pretty shitty job if you're wandering around gang territory in the middle of the night and going to class with a werewolf.”

“Hey! She's kind of awesome to do group work with. I would way rather do group work with her than some of the dead weight in my prelaw class. Money can buy you admissions to college, but it can't make you a decent human being who is willing to carry his own weight.”

“She's a werewolf without a pack! Omegas are dangerous!”

Stiles rolled his eyes. He knew full well how dangerous omegas were, especially since he had been there when Peter and had his whole omega phase. Werewolves who were omega either slid off into psychopathy or they slid into depression and turned into lost creatures who wouldn't defend themselves against anyone and became the punching bag of every pack that ran across them. Neither response was healthy. However, Scott was making some big assumptions if he thought that everyone at the University was an omega.

“Do you not remember how I told you that wolves could go to college and renew the pack bonds once or twice a year and be just fine? She has a pack, a large healthy one that she was very willing to tell me about once she established that I wasn’t a hunter and I had pack bonds of my own.”

Scott looked at him like he was insane.

“She's not dangerous, and she's not an omega. I've seen lots of pictures of her family, and believe me, from the number of times that she takes pictures of people's backs, she is either the world's worst photographer or she is deleting any pictures that have a werewolf eye shine. Which means most of her pack are werewolves.” Stiles rather obnoxiously pointed at his eyes and made little circle motions. That was when Deaton chose to walk out from the back room.

“Stiles, how nice to see you back from college. What is this about strange werewolves?” Deaton looked to Scott.

Scott pointed at Stiles. “He's going to university with a werewolf. A werewolf with no pack. Tell him how dangerous that is.”

Stiles threw both hands up into the air. “I know you were around the Hales when Peter and Charles and a whole bunch of the others went off to university, so tell this knot-head that a werewolf can have a pack and maintain a pack bonds without having to live with them twenty-four seven.”

Deaton looked from one of them to the other and back with a slightly alarmed expression. “Oh dear. Do I take it that emotions are running high? Perhaps we should all come in the back and sit down and have some tea,” Deaton suggested. Stiles threw his hands up in the air and turned his back. He really hoped Celeste was out in the parking lot because he had a feeling that this was about to end with his spark getting chipped away again. If the Argents were going to target them, Stiles needed to nurse his spark into a flame, not start over from square zero because Deaton was playing games.

“He's being unreasonable,” Scott said. “One of his professors as a vampire.”

Stiles whirled back around. “Potential vampire. He is potentially a vampire, and he has a great reputation. If he happened to be there in the thirteen and fourteen hundreds to see these legal systems in action, that just makes him a better teacher.”

“A better teacher who eats people.”

“Potentially eats people. Just like werewolves potentially rip people apart. You know full well that mythology and reality do not always line up.”

Deaton lifted the mountain ash counter. “I really must insist that you come to the back and calm down before you frighten any customers away. Deaton peered out the front window, as if searching the empty parking lot for these mythical customers that didn't exist.

Stiles rolled his eyes and started heading into the back with Scott right behind him.

“I'm worried about you,” Scott said.

“Irrationally worried, given that you are not my father, not my alpha, not my guardian, and not my boss.” Stiles ticked each one of those off on his finger and then held for fingers up right in front of Scott's nose. “I am seriously considering getting that newspaper and rolling it up so I can smack you, Fido.”

Scott flashed red eyes.

“Enough,” Deaton said sharply. “Both of you, to the back.” He ushered both of them through the door, and he followed. He had just shut the door, when a wave of dizziness slammed into Stiles. He grabbed the edge of the exam counter, but the world warbled in and out of focus and he started to go down.

Scott called his name and lurched forward, grabbing Stiles around the waist and wolfing out. Even with his red eyes glowing, Stiles could still read the concern in his furry face. “Stiles! What's wrong?”

“I feel weird.” Stiles looked up at Deaton, and the amount man's mouth was open. “What did you do?” Stiles demanded.

Scott looked over towards Deaton, and maybe he saw something in his expression. Or maybe he heard Deaton's heartbeat speed up, but immediately Scott slid into a defensive position in front of Stiles. “What's going on?” He growled the words. Stiles held onto the exam table in the back of Scott's pants to keep from falling on his ass. Whatever Celeste was trying to do, she sucked at it. Peter was totally going to fire her.

“Nothing,” Deaton said.

“You're lying.” Scott took a step forward, but stopped when he nearly dragged Stiles off balance. “Stop it. Whatever you're doing, stop it.”

“Scott, I don't feel well.” Stiles his stomach started heaving, but he couldn't throw up. It was like he was trying to get his guts to come out of his mouth, but they wouldn't.

Scott eased him to the ground before he leaped towards Deaton. Deaton threw a hand up, and ash filled the air. Scott fell back, coughing, his eyes watering. It felt like a rubber band was stretching Stiles’s guts. Like he was being disemboweled through his intact skin. And then, it was like the rubber band snapped. A bright fire burned in his gut and he screamed.

“Stiles!” Scott knelt down beside him, and Stiles looked into his eyes. The red in Scott's gaze flickered like a bonfire, reds and oranges and yellows and golds all tangled up with each other.

With a huge gust of wind, the back door slammed open, and Celeste was there. She waved her hand, and the mountain ash slammed into Deaton, knocking him into the wall.

“What spell did you cast,” she demanded as she went to her knees beside Stiles. Stiles would've warned her to be careful of Scott, but he knew there was no way Scott would be taking claws to a white haired woman who couldn't be more than 100 pounds soaking wet.

“Get out of my clinic,” Deaton snarled.

“His spark is lit.” Celeste rested her hands on either side of Stiles’s face and looked into his eyes. “Our first lesson I said that if something triggers your spark, you have to let go of the magic. It will burn you. It will destroy you. Let it go.”

Stiles tried to shake his head. Camille's first lesson had included the explanation of how he could accidentally blow up the University campus if he wasn't careful. If he kept the fire inside, he would only burn out his own magic. He would be a cinder, but no one would die.

Camille rested her forehead against his. “I'm here. I will channel the magic. You're safe. Let it go. You will destroy yourself if you hold onto it, it's too much. You aren't trained. Let it go.”

Stiles tried to fight it. He tried to contain the magic before it could burn anyone else, but Camille's words chipped away at his resolve. Half expecting the entire clinic to blow up, he released the magic that he could feel tearing through his insides. In the space of a heartbeat, he felt the cool balm of spring rains in his soul, and he realized that he was crying in Celeste’s arms.

“Oh, child. What have you done to yourself?” Camille wrapped her arms around him and rocked him gently as Stiles cried.

Chapter 4

Peter stood outside Derek’s loft waiting for his nephew to come to the door. Peter disliked having to re-forge bonds with this pack, but now that he knew what type of magic Stiles would wield, he needed more of a pack than Peter could provide by himself. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made for pack mates. Perhaps others believed Peter was incapable of understanding that fact, but he was not.

When Talia had first become the alpha, she had come to him. She was a slight wolf, not a fighter even with her alpha power. She was far better at playing the diplomat, but a pack needed to have claws. She had asked him to be her left hand, a role that had required great sacrifice from him.

And he had given himself to his pack. He had focused on contract law so he could defend the pack’s rights in the human world. He had invested time in uncovering the secrets of those who threatened his pack, and he used every tool available to a left hand.

And in return, Talia had grown to distrust him and Laura had abandoned him in the hospital. This time, he would use those same skills to defend his new pack. And that required that Stiles have more pack bonds. Peter just hoped that Celeste was able to deliver on her promises or he would have to take more direct action against Scott. That would not go over well with Stiles.

Derek opened the door and stood there, shirtless. Peter lifted an eyebrow at his nephew’s exhibitionist streak. “What do you want?” Derek asked.

“Are you waiting for a beautiful woman?” Peter asked. Derek did like to show off his body.

Derek turned his back and walked away. Peter’s claws itched. He wanted to put the damn pup in his place, but that would not improve the chances that they could reform a Hale pack.

“Again, what do you want?” Derek grabbed his shirt off a weight bench and pulled it over his head.

“There is potential trouble headed this way, and I thought you deserved a warning.” Peter closed the loft door behind him. “The Argents showed up in Virginia, and Stiles has provoked them.”

Derek sat on the bench. “Did they figure out that you're an alpha again?”

Peter was surprised. Perhaps Derek was not as much of a failure as Scott, who had definitely never noticed. “How long have you known?”

“When I got an alpha spark, I expected you to come and ask for a pack bond. You didn't.”

That was logical. Still, Derek should have been able to feel the alpha power running under Peter’s skin. Peter had chosen to kill a particularly powerful alpha. Now that Stiles was coming into his magic, Peter was grateful for his foresight. “Considering our difficult history, why would you assume that I would ask for a pack bond?” Peter sat on the end of the couch, trying to put his nephew at ease by feigning disinterest. It was not in their best interest to fight over territory, and Peter had no doubt that Derek would fight for Stiles if he believed it was in Stiles’s best interest.

“Because Scott would never give you a pack bond again. I argued, vehemently, that no wolf should be left as an omega and that Scott had an obligation to you. Given that I couldn't get him to budge, I knew that neither you nor Stiles would be able to get him to budge. That left me as the only possible alpha.” Peter studied his nephew. At one point, he had been an omega, cut off when Laura died because Peter had not taken him in. Even after he had taken the alpha spark and begun to build his own pack, he never had the stability of a healthy family to balance his nature.

Stiles thought Derek was simply unable to deal with emotions, but now that Peter had a healthy bond with Stiles and appreciated the solid core of a pack member who threw everything into maintaining a bond, Peter had another theory. He wondered if Derek was still suffering omega depression. Omega wolves were often used as the whipping boy of a pack because the depression would leave them unable to take action—unable to defend themselves and demand to be respected. Peter could have ended up in that state had the anger and psychosis not set in first.

Peter wondered if some traces of omega depression lingered even now. After all, from the stories Stiles had brought home from his vacations in Beacon Hills, the pack was far more Scott’s than Derek’s—a situation Peter intended to correct.

Peter shrugged. “Perhaps I swore loyalty to the alpha in that sad little town Stiles chose.”

“A stranger?” Derek moved to the arm of the chair across from Peter. “You're not going to pledge your loyalty to another werewolf.”

“But you thought I would pledge it to you?”

“You knew I would give you a pack bond without demanding that vow,” Derek countered.

Actually, Peter had not known that. “If I were your left hand, I would advise you that accepting wolves who refuse to give you a vow of loyalty is a sure way to invite treachery in your home.”

“Maybe,” Derek agreed, “but you haven't done anything particularly treacherous in the last year or two. It seems like you've been good to Stiles although attempting to blame him for whatever had drama you caused by getting an alpha spark is very Peter of you.”

Peter scoffed. “I have no need to blame Stiles for things which are not Stiles's fault. He found out that the Argent team was in town before I could inform him, and he decided to take a rather dangerous approach to the problem, one I would not have chosen. That is the source of my concern, not my own ability to regain the power that was stolen when you killed me.”

Derek narrowed his eyes. “Power that you stole when you killed Laura.”

Peter grimaced. “When I killed an alpha that I did not recognize while in the throes of a feral rage,” he corrected Derek.

Derek sighed. “Which is why I would've given you a family bond. “Weren’t you the one who taught me that a wolf who does not have access to either an alpha spark or a pack bond to an alpha runs the risk of starving the very magic that fuels a werewolf? Depression and psychosis, those are the only two possible outcomes, and you’ve already shown which direction you lean toward.”

Peter had taught most of the children pack lore, but it was strange hearing Derek talk about those days before the fire. Even though Derek had never felt the flames, sometimes Peter felt like they had burned away some vital part of Derek’s life.

“I might remember those lessons.” Peter’s heart ached with the memory of all the pack children he’d taught. “Since you did not have an alpha spark and the one true failure refused to share his, I had to take action. However, that was done long ago, and the Argents are still unaware of it. I counted on that to help me defend our pack. My alpha power and certain defensive upgrades I've made to our townhome convinced me that I would be able to defend us readily if the Argents were to decide that they disliked my politics. However, Stiles chose to counterattack in a manner they may not be able to ignore.”

Derek leaned forward. “What did Stiles do?”

“He decided to destroy the Argent clan entirely, and in doing so, I fear that he has set in motion a dangerous chain of events. The Argents or those affiliated with them may take action which we must prepare for.”

Derek had always been able to hide his every reaction, but Peter fancied that he could recognize the subtle strains of worry in his expression. “Would you like to be less cryptic?”

“Without consulting with me, he went to the FBI and gave them a dossier he had prepared on the Argents.”

Derek frowned. “What about the Argents? With the American matriarchs all dead, I assume their hunter team came from France, so Stiles wouldn’t have any information on them.”

“No, but he does have extensive background on Kate and Gerard, two people the FBI believes to have been prolific serial killers. For the last month and a half, they have been following a paper trail, and my little sources have informed me that they are ready to start investigating in person.”

Derek's eyes grew wider. “Investigate what?” His adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed several times.

“Stiles gave them evidence that Kate Argent did not stay dead. They are searching for her and putting a case together for arson, murder, and sexual assault.” Peter hated the way Derek paled. If dear Kate were not already dead, Peter would enjoy torturing her for months. “Stiles also gave them evidence that Argent Arms provided a mercenary crew to support two of the most prolific serial killers in American history. If I were not horrified by Stiles’s lack of strategy in implementing such a comprehensive attack, I would be impressed with his ability to frame someone with such an artful combination of truth and lie.”

Derek's face had gone utterly blank.

Peter sighed. He wished he knew some way to fix any of this, but he didn't. “You do not have to tell them anything you are uncomfortable with them knowing.”

Derek bolted to his feet, but then he stopped, as though trapped in a mountain ash circle. The illusion was so complete that Peter actually took the floor to check for one. “They know?” Derek’s voice shook.

Peter weighed his words carefully. He had to mend the rift between them, and that had to start here. Peter could no longer afford to nurse his dislike of the spoiled boy Derek had once been. “They know that you were sixteen-year-old child who was manipulated, and that the trap was most likely set by Gerard Argent, a man three times your age, and Kate who used her body to deceive you. They know you are not to blame for anything that happened and that Kate and Gerard did this in other places. They will not know about our supernatural status, but they may have found out about Paige.”

Derek winced away from that name.

“And you are not to blame for that either. That was my fault far more than yours, and I wish I could explain my anger towards you, and specifically my anger around Paige. I suspected I was giving poor advice, although I never thought things would end the way they did.” Peter took a breath and prepared himself for his emotional bloodletting. Pack meant making sacrifices, and Peter knew that more than anyone. “I had anticipated embarrassing you, forcing your mother to clean up your mess by removing Paige’s memories. I never intended for either of you to be so grievously harmed, and I cannot explain the reason for my illogical anger, but of all the people who are to blame for what happened with Paige, you are not one.”

Derek smelled of confusion more than distress. “You were angry with me? Why?”

“That is an excellent question.” Peter scoffed. “If Talia were alive, I would love to ask her.”

Derek’s rage flared to life. “So now you're blaming Mom? You always do that—blame everyone else for your bad decisions. It's Kate's fault the family died. It's Stiles's fault that the Argents are targeting us, it's Mom's fault that you targeted me when I was a kid. What do you take blame for? Hell, you even blame Laura for her own death!”

Peter sat up. “I certainly do not. I might not have been in a rational frame of mind, but I never blamed Laura for that.”

“Really? What is it Mom always said? An alpha has an obligation to maintain the pack bonds with everyone in the pack, only Laura never came back here, did she? Is that why you lured her to town? Because you were angry at her for abandoning you?”

Well that did suggest Derek was carrying some resentment toward his sister because Peter had never said that. He understood the logistical danger of removing a comatose patient, one that could awaken in a feral rage at any time. He hated that his pack had abandoned him, but he would not have wanted two children to put themselves in danger for him. “I was not sane enough to blame anyone, much less a girl I thought of as a child. I killed her because she was near me, because I was in pain and she was an easy target. I did not set out to kill a member of my own pack because I blamed her for what happened. It sounds more like you blame her.”

“I'm not the one who lured her back to Beacon Hills.”

“Neither am I. If I were, I would have had no trouble telling her that as an alpha she had an obligation to me as a pack member. I would have told her that it was a foolish of her to abandon a left-hand, someone who had trained from a young age in mastering strategy in order to make sure that the pack was successful. And if I had recognized her in those woods, I would have said that our best chance of regaining the pack lands was for us to retreat together—to plot our return to power.

“But I also would have told her that she acted reasonably after the fire. Moving such a damaged wolf was dangerous and she had to make a choice between protecting me and protecting you—the youngest surviving member of the family, at least as far as we knew at the time. Right after the fire, I would have told her to make her decision based off both the advantages I could provide if I woke and the danger I would place everyone in if I did not or if I woke in such pain that I couldn’t control the shift.”

Derek stared at him, anger slowly fading to some emotion that was more complex and likely more genuine. Derek did like to hide behind his anger. “She wouldn’t even talk about coming to get you.”

Peter nodded. “She likely feared that if she took me, you would press her to heal me faster than she reasonably could, and that she would risk her alpha spark if she attempted to. She may have even feared that her own insecurities would drive her to act precipitously. Her desire to move in secrecy would've been compromised had she tried to travel with someone who was in a coma. That is not a condition which allows one to travel easily. She had her reasons.” Peter hated that his pack had abandoned him, but he suspected Talia might have made the same decision had she been the one to survive. One did not risk the pack as a whole for an individual. Peter was making the same decision right now. He was giving up his right to be angry with Derek’s foolish decisions because he needed to protect the pack as a whole.

“You say that now, but the man you were six or seven years ago would have killed her without a second thought.”

“The man you knew six or seven years ago had lost everyone, including Laura. If I had had a chance to bring even a fraction of my pack back, I would've taken it. I would have joyously accepted you and Laura, and I would have defended you with my last breath. But then, I killed Laura and I knew for a fact that you would not forgive me and accept me as an alpha, which limited my choices. After all, once I had the alpha spark, I was much more able to make rational choices, which explains why I did not either kill Stiles or bite him when I had him it at my tender mercies. I could see his loyalty and his spark and I knew there was more there.”

“So Stiles is a means to an end for you?” Derek's was angry again. Sometimes Peter wondered what kind of relationship Stiles and Derek would have developed if Derek were not too emotionally constipated to see what was in front of his eyes. However, Peter was not about to encourage Stiles to develop any loyalty to a competing alpha.

“Stiles is a young man I admire very much, one who acts less with strategy than out of an honest desire to help his friends, and as someone who has been abandoned entirely too often, I admire the trait. I am also unwilling to put him in danger, which is why I came back here. He was concerned about making sure you were not blindsided by the FBI. I am more interested in making sure that we both agree that if the Argents come after us, that we will defend ourselves, and defend Stiles.”

“Why do I doubt your motives?” Derek crossed his arms over his chest and glowered at Peter. The man had no sense of subtly. None at all.

“Stiles is my only pack bond. Even an alpha is susceptible to madness when they have no bonds. My wolf is not starving for magic, but I could lose my humanity if Ilost the bond I share with him. Stiles does not want that, and I suspect neither do you.”

“I don't trust you.”

“How uncharacteristically shrewd of you.” Peter smiled before he abandoned his desire to needle his nephew. “I do not expect you to have faith in my goodwill. But, realize that Stiles is my pack and for better or worse, Stiles loves you. And that means that I must defend your position in this or I risk losing him.”

“Stiles doesn't love me. He's not even gay!”

God save him from children. Some days Peter truly despaired at the lack of emotional maturity in this town. “I can promise you from having watched his college exploits that his interests are more universal than you seemed to believe. However, I did not say he was in love with you, I said that he loved you. He would burn the world down to protect you, or had you not noticed that as he exhausted himself and risked drowning to protect you from the kanima?”

Derek shifted uncomfortably and his fingers tightened on his arms.

“Stiles’ ability to love is quite remarkable, and for that reason, he will be safer from the Argents here than he would back home. I have court cases that I must attend to or I risk damaging a reputation which I have worked hard to create. However, Stiles has permission to take his classes online for now. I pulled a lot of strings to get him this opportunity, and I expect you to successfully keep him in town. I will return to Beacon Hills as often as possible in order to maintain a strong pack bond with him, but he needs more than I can provide right now.”

“What are you talking about?” For the first time, Derek appeared to understand that they were having a conversation that went beyond the discussion of human emotion.

“You know he has a spark.”

“Most people do.”

“And did you notice that his spark would be stronger when he came home to visit and would have dimmed considerably before he was ready to leave?”

Derek’s hands fell to his sides, and he bent his elbows in a gesture that looked as if he was ready to throw himself on an enemy. “What are you talking about?”

“Apparently Deaton waited until just before Stiles left in order to perform his little ritual, because I can promise you that Stiles’s spark was waxing and waning rather strongly. And Deaton’s interference has left him on the cusp of breaking out into a flame.”

“Deaton? Ritual? What are you talking about?”

“Deaton has been draining Stiles his magic, and I suspect shifting the power to Scott in order to strengthen his spark.”

Derek frowned. “Why would he do that? Scott doesn't require additional magic.”

“Perhaps not, but it would strengthen him. Instead of having betas who provided only a trickle of magic to fuel the spark, Scott would have raw power. He would have a pack witch.”

Derek’s eyes flashed red. Peter nodded. “Yes, Deaton has been keeping secrets… rather important ones.”

Chapter 5

Derek looked delightfully confused. “Why would Deaton hide it if Stiles were a pack witch?”

Peter folded his hands together in his lap and considered his nephew. “One of the tricks to being a successful left hand is to always consider events from others’ points of view. Consider each person as the hero of his own story. For example, my one true failure is the classic rags to riches tale, only in his case he goes from weakness to strength.

“And I am Rumpelstiltskin, the magical trickster who threatens to take it all away from him. Seen from his point of view, I am the great evil that threatens his life, and Stiles is a supporting cast member. He is Mercutio to Scott’s Romeo. He is Gloucester to Scott’s King Lear. And life does not end well for these men. My one true failure cannot see that Stiles is the protagonist of his own tale, so he tries to protect Stiles from what he sees as Stiles’s inevitable death as a red shirt, to use a more modern allusion.”

“That is a rather dark way of looking at Scott. I don't agree with the things he's done, and he had no right to cut you off from the pack, but he cares about Stiles.”

Peter nodded. “He does. I would find it far easier to convince Stiles to abandon his ridiculous friendship with my true failure if that were not so. However, I find his definition of caring to be rather lacking from my own point of view. But perhaps this exercise would be more effective from Deaton's perspective. Deaton adored Talia. He could not see any faults in her, even when she made bad decisions.”

“Mom was a great alpha!”

Peter sighed. He wondered if he was wasting his breath trying to reach Derek. “Your mother was not infallible. She might be your mother and you might idolize her, but she was my sister. I saw her faults just fine.”

Derek look like he was ready to completely explode, and Peter held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “She had fewer flaws than I, and she led our pack well for many years.”

“What's your point?” Derek growled the words.

“My point is that from Deaton's perspective, we are enacting a redemption play. His magic is too weak to provide any defense, so his most effective weapon to help Talia was always information. But his information failed, and the family died. And then comes along a brown eyed boy with so many of the same ideals that Talia held dear. He seeks reconciliation instead of mounting a strong defense of his pack members. Many wolves would call that weakness, but Deaton sees Talia. He sees a chance to reform a pack built not around strength, but around a moral center. This is his round table, his Camelot, and he is casting himself as Merlin. Only the Merlin in this case has very little power to protect his King Arthur.” No doubt, that was why Deaton had pushed so hard for Scott to become a true alpha.

Werewolves had no special regard for a true alpha. They found it a curiosity—not a sign of moral authority. If other werewolves saw Scott as some grand pillar of moral superiority, Deucalion never would have attempted to get Scott to kill his own pack. He would have known it was a lost cause before he started. But that ethical inflexibility was not a trait of a true alpha as much as it was Scott’s nature. However, Deaton clearly assumed that helping Scott achieve that status was proof that Scott—and he—were destined to some greatness. It fit Deaton’s narrative, and people were rarely logical when they had evidence to support their own prejudices and assumptions.

Derek took a step forward and settled into a chair across from Peter. “That actually makes some sense.”

“Your mother did not appoint me as the left hand of the pack because I looked so dashing in a suit.” Peter smoothed his lapels. “I am very capable of understanding others’ perspectives. It is required in order to outmaneuver them.”

“That's manipulative.”

“I do not disagree. However, my pessimism and ability to think strategically has helped me overcome obstacles that would have killed any other wolf.”

“True.” Derek did not sound particularly complementary, but Peter chose to take the comment as an endorsement of his skills.

“Yes, quite. Now this morality play Deaton has going, a new player moves onto the stage. When a person has only a spark of magic, it is hard to tell what power source their drawn to. So the first time Stiles touched mountain ash, I doubt Deaton thought much of it. Perhaps he was telling the truth when he told Stiles that everyone has a spark and his ability to control mountain ash was not significant. Perhaps, even back then, he recognized the power source that Stiles was pulling from.”

“His pack,” Derek said softly.

Peter nodded. “Indeed. That is the very essence of the pack witch. The stronger the pack, the stronger the witch, both in his ability to use spells and in his ability to support the pack. I have heard that there are packs that have strong witches where each and every member of the pack is able to heal as quickly as an alpha and fight with the strength of one. Their wolf magic is renewed so flawlessly by the flame in their witch that they are virtually unstoppable.”

“You’re lusting after the potential power,” Derek accused him.

Peter simply shrugged. “Of course I am. To have that much power at my fingertips is a lovely image, and Stiles is very aware that I want him to develop his power, and very aware of the fact that I hope to make full use of his skills as a witch. I have procured him a teacher to both help him develop his skills and to make sure that when his spark catches into a flame, he does not destroy me.”

“Destroy you?” Derek sat forward, and Peter knew that he had set the hook right.

“Indeed, if Deaton is the hero of his own play, and he hopes to guide his young ward into becoming the great King Arthur, why would he not want Scott to have Stiles’s power for himself? In fact, one would wonder why every pack would not want a pack witch. The answer is in the way a pack witch interacts with the magic of our wolves. No members of a pack could defend their spark from a pack witch, because that is the source of energy from which these magic users draw. They are inside our pack bonds. That is why a pack witch can use his or her own flame to support every member of the pack at once. That is also the danger, one that few packs are willing to take.”

Derek’s expression turned thoughtful. “I assumed packs didn't have pack witches because it is such a rare skill.”

“It is. It requires that a spark who is not yet pulled on their magic to develop a relationship with a pack that so strong that they innately turn to wolves as their source of safety and security and power. The fact that Scott had a pack bond with Stiles is what made it possible for Stiles to begin drawing on this power. But, any pack could raise a spark to be part of their pack and nurture them to develop their magic. As you said, sparks are not particularly rare. So the question is, why don't packs develop this tool, and why would Deaton attempt to hobble Stiles magical skills.”

Derek glared at him. “You have all the answers, so why don't you explain it to me.”

“Nephew, you already possess all of the pieces. You could put it together easily enough. After all, it was you that burned out the Hale spark that had been passed from one family member to another for hundreds of years.”

Derek frowned. “I used up the spark saving Cora.”

“Exactly. Now, would you like to explain why Deaton, the wise sage Merlin of this tale would attempt to hobble Stiles?”

Derek closed his eyes and leaned back, his body language shouting his weariness. He saw the truth and he saw that he would now have to confront Deaton in defense of Stiles. Hopefully he would be relieved when he realized Peter had come up with a rather elegant solution to that problem.

“Deaton was afraid that Stiles would take too much magic from Scott and hurt him without meaning to,” Derek said.

“Bingo. I will admit, maintaining a pack bond with a pack witch who is only learning his trade is a calculated risk, but in the end, I believe it is worthwhile given the potential danger from the Argents. If I manage to survive this transition, then I will have a power that few packs can rival. And I do have a high opinion of my own ability to survive.”

“Why tell me this? The minute Scott finds out about this, he's going to tell Stiles to come home. He won't want you anywhere near Stiles.”

Peter’s smile grew cold. “He will certainly try. However, Stiles is far more independent than you give him credit for. If Scott attempts to strong-arm him, Stiles is likely to do the exact opposite of whatever Scott wants him to do.”

“That’s true,” Derek said dryly. From his tone, he had tried and failed to control Stiles at some point.

“I was hoping that you would be willing to take this risk with me, perhaps even encourage some of your betas to form pack bonds with Stiles as well. The more bonds he has, more power he can draw on without damaging any of us, and the more of us who will benefit once he is trained.”

“You want me to risk everyone's magic? If Stiles loses control, he could drive all of us feral at once.”

“He could; however, Stiles has formed a strong pack bond with a nature witch. I hired her to teach Stiles, and she has enough experience to minimize the risk. There is even less risk if the danger is spread out over a larger pack.” Peter leaned forward. “I am also willing to admit that with the FBI and the Argents looking into our pack, I am unwilling to risk you or Malia. If there is a chance to give either of you the tools that would make it possible for you to survive, I would find that a risk worth taking.”

Derek shook his head. “I don't buy it.”

“It's true. And, you can test the veracity of my statement because strategically it has no value.”

“You just want me to establish a pack bond with Stiles. You're trying to protect yourself by improving your odds while Stiles trains his spark.”

Peter leaned back and steepled his fingers. “Celeste is the only insurance I need, but I know you will offer Stiles a pack bond either way. Stiles held you above the water when the kanima tried to kill you. Stiles still has nightmares about you asking him to cut off your arm to save you from wolfsbane poisoning, but despite how horrified he was, he would have. When you have been injured, you've gone straight to Stiles. You denied him a pack bond, but he has always seen you as pack in the only ways that matter.

“I know you will not allow him to do this alone. But I cannot stay here. If I am in Virginia, and Stiles is here, the Argents are more likely to focus their attention on me, even if the legal form this attack has taken implicates Stiles far more than I. The Argents are speciesist, and that is the weakness that makes it easy to predict. I will keep them busy while you will ensure that Stiles is ready to handle whatever attack the Argents may launch in the future.”

“You're using yourself as bait?”

Peter let his teeth elongate. “I am an alpha. It is my nature to get in front of the pack and fight for it. For all the mistakes you have made, you are the same. You will fight to protect Stiles. Right now, that means giving him more pack bonds.”

Derek frowned. “The betas belong to Scott more than me, and Scott is determined that we cannot have pack bonds with Stiles. He thinks it will put Stiles in danger.”

If Peter's plans went well, that was not an issue. “Some plans require time and patience and the little risk to develop. Stiles is certainly worth the investment.”

Derek shook his head. “This is Scott's pack. I am the backup alpha.”

“Then be the one to back up Stiles,” Peter said. “After all, two alphas are far better than one when it comes to supporting a pack witch. As a bonus, we will both gain in power and we will be able to support each other.” Derek hesitated, and Peter softened his tone. “I would not undertake this if it were not worth the risk. I would not risk you, I would not risk Stiles, and if you trust nothing else, trust that I will defend my own sanity by protecting my pack bonds.”

“That I believe,” Derek said with some humor.

“Of course that’s the line that convinces you.” Peter sighed. “We could increase the likelihood of our success by providing a more stable bond for Stiles to rely on.”

“Meaning?” Derek asked.

“Meaning we could reestablish a family bond. You and I.” Peter leaned forward. Peter held his hand out towards Derek. For long seconds, Derek stared back at him, red bleeding into his eyes.

Peter understood that Derek was the protagonist of his own story as well, but his was pure tragedy. Derek had always been used. Even when he had been Talia's golden child growing up, he was the symbol of the perfect family life that Talia was always trying to project to the community. He was her handsome boy who proved to everyone how wonderful the Hales were. Peter had used Derek in his machinations against Talia and then Kate had come along with her monstrous abuses. Even Scott treated Derek like a tool to take out and use when the situation called for it.

But Peter was counting on one thing. Stiles hadn't ever used Derek. He had criticized Derek and called him a murderer. He had annoyed Derek and confronted him and helped Scott defy him, but Stiles had never used him. Stiles had risked his internship at the FBI to try and protect Derek. He had jumped headfirst into conflict with the Argents for both Scott and Derek. In a lifetime of heartbreak, Stiles was the one chapter that Derek could look at without reading the tragedy of his own life.

“Stiles needs this,” Peter said.

Derek looked at him with bright red alpha eyes, but then he stood and took a step closer. Peter stood and closed the distance between them with his hand still outstretched. Derek took his hand.

Peter felt the tentative stirrings of an old, old pack bond, and he threw his defenses open to that touch. Derek sucked in a quick breath, and Peter felt the pack bond solidified between them. The bond Peter had with Stiles was bright and strong and vibrant, but this bond was something softer and sadder and colored with Peter’s memories of a little boy he’d seen grow up and an obnoxious adolescent Peter had targeted unfairly. This was a bond with someone who shared his blood and his family history and his pain.

“I've missed you nephew.”

Peter pulled Derek in and wrapped his arms around him. For one second, Derek was a marble statue unyielding in Peter's embrace, but then he wrapped his arms around Peter and whispered in Peter's ear, “I've missed you too, Uncle Peter, and if you hurt Stiles, I'm going to gut you and mourn for you as I bury your body somewhere it will never be found.”

Peter laughed. “That's my boy.”

Chapter 6

Derek studied Peter's face as he drank his coffee. He wasn't nearly as naïve as Peter assumed. He hadn't been for a long time, not since Kate. And he understood that Peter's reconciliation was more about Stiles than family. Derek could live with that. Stiles had been a good friend for many years, and Derek… he didn't have so many of those that he was willing to turn his back on one.

Hell, when Derek had been on the run and the FBI had assumed that he was with the gun runners as opposed to getting hunted by them because they had been working for that damn anti-werewolf army, Stiles had put himself in harm's way, unarmed, just to have Derek's back.

If he had to make nice with his uncle to have Stiles’s back in return, he would. Derek was far more concerned about the risk involved with trusting Peter than he was with any magical backlash from Stiles.

Derek nursed his own tea as the silence grew thick. “Maybe we should go find Stiles,” Derek suggested. At least Stiles filled every available silence with noise. Sometimes it got annoying, but it was infinitely better than this struggle to find words. If Derek wasn't sniping at his uncle, he wasn't sure what sort of relationship they would have.

“He was going to visit Scott and then see if he couldn't get some mountain ash off of Deaton. Apparently airport security decided to question his right to carry ashes. I suspect they thought he was carrying some long dead relative home in an unapproved container, but Stiles let them throw it in the trash. So either they believed that Stiles was telling the truth about it being wood ash or they assume that Stiles was a psychopath who did not mind his great aunt Nellie ending up in a TSA bin.” Peter sounded amused by the whole thing.

Derek chuckled. “That actually sounds like the sort of problem Stiles would run into.”

Peter's smile grew soft. “It really is.”

Derek pulled the spoon out of his tea and tried to figure out what that smile meant. Despite his uncle’s occasional insults, Derek wasn't stupid. He understood full well that other people had motives that were unrelated to his life. But he'd always had a particularly difficult time getting into Peter's head. He didn't understand why Peter had such a strong connection with Stiles.

Even now, Derek could feel the pack bond between Peter and Stiles like a hard pebble in his shoe, only the pebble was in the place where Derek's pack bond joined his uncle. It was almost like Stiles was poking him in the chest and warning him that he would never be able to take Peter away. That made sense from Stiles.

Stiles had lost his mother young and when Derek had first come back to town, his father had been as good as absent. Stiles had clung to his best friend so tightly that even Scott's werewolfism and his attempt to kill Stiles hadn’t managed to drive Stiles away. Stiles held onto his friends. It was his greatest strength, and as Peter would say, his greatest weakness. So Derek understood why, when denied pack bonds, Stiles would hold onto the one werewolf who wanted and needed him.

The harder thing to understand was what Peter was getting out of this. Sometimes Derek wondered if Peter didn't see Stiles and think of all the pack children who had been lost in the fire. Of all the strays Scott had managed to collect both before and after high school, Stiles was the physically smallest. He had an unassuming and goofy persona that sometimes reminded Derek of a child, so he wondered if Peter wasn't reacting to that. Before the fire, Peter had been the one to teach all the kids chess and to help them build forts and discuss battle strategy for how to best defend their forest retreats from mythical attackers. Peter had told stories from pack history and explained magical rules. Derek had a lot of good memories of his uncle before that fire changed him, and sometimes he thought that Stiles brought out that piece of Peter again.

But then Peter would say something about Stiles, and the look in his face was not one that a man got when he was talking about a child. There might not be any such thing is a one true mate, but a wolf knew when someone smelled compatible. Peter had talked about the fact that Stiles was bisexual, and Derek knew his uncle’s tastes were varied. Talia had been upset about that because she thought that it would put them at odds with their conservative community. He remembered Peter telling Talia exactly where she could put her puritanical morals.

But when Derek tried to think about Stiles and Peter in that kind of a relationship, it just felt weird. Stiles wasn't a kid anymore. He had grown up from those early days when he'd been running around the woods accusing Derek of being a murderer, but Derek had trouble thinking of him as a full adult.

He really had trouble thinking of him as a pack witch, but that was not something Peter was likely to lie about. At worst, the witch Peter hired might be mistaken about the source of Stiles’s power. Before a spark was fueled into a full flame, no one could be sure were the magical energy was coming from. If this woman was right, and Stiles was a pack witch who had only Peter and his which mentor to pull on, Stiles was going to have a hard time not burning someone out. It even made sense that Peter didn't want Stiles to know how dangerous the situation was for fear that Stiles would refuse to practice his magic.

Derek wondered if he should take some weapons over to Sheriff Stilinsky and Deputy Parrish so that they would be forewarned if Stiles managed to starve Derek's wolf and drive him feral. The good news was that a pack witch could save a wolf from a feral episode, but that didn't mean that it didn't scare Derek a little bit. He didn't want to feel his wolf raging below his ribs, starving for that spark of magic that fueled it and driven out of its mind.

That's what Peter had suffered.

His wolf had spent six years slowly starving on what tiny bits of magic it could accumulate. It had no alpha spark to pull on, no human pack members with their ability to regenerate magical energy more quickly. He had had no one. Derek pulled himself away from those maudlin thoughts. Whatever pain Peter had suffered, it still didn't justify the damage did after he recovered from his coma.

Peter's phone rang, and Derek jumped as the noise startled him. Peter gave him an amused look as he pulled out the phone and checked the screen. “Celeste, the witch I hired to help Stiles,” Peter said before he hit the connect button. The panicked voice on the other end was so loud that Derek could hear her.

“We’re at the veterinarian's office! That druid cast some sort of spell and Stiles’s spark flared. He needs you. He needs his pack bonds. Get here as fast as you can.”

Before Peter could say a word, the phone clicked and the voice at the other end vanished. Peter gave Derek a single panicked look, and then he turned and ran for the loft door. Derek didn't even bother with his shoes before he dashed after his uncle.

After the discussion about Deaton and the potential danger of Stiles accidentally draining Scott, Derek had to wonder if Deaton had intentionally drained Stiles. If so, Peter was going to kill the druid and spread his body parts across the preserve. Derek wasn't particularly opposed to that plan, but it wouldn't make the sheriff happy.

Peter was moving so fast that by the time Derek reached the parking lot, Peter already had the car in reverse. Derek barely managed to throw himself into the passenger side before Peter peeled out.

“When we get there, and try to establish a pack bond with Stiles,” Peter said. “He approaches pack bonds with the same subtlety he shows in every other aspect of his life, so don't be surprised when he grabs on, and it feels a little bit like your wolf is being dragged by the nape of its neck through a knothole. Backward.”

“That sounds painful.”

“Not painful as much as intensely uncomfortable. But, at the time, I was suffering from my broken pack bonds with Malia and anything was preferable to that.”

Derek cringed as it occurred to him that he could've at least offered a familial bond back then. But at the time, Derek hadn't realized that Malia would take Scott's edict to heart. She pretty much never listened to anything unless she agreed with it, and Peter was her father. But as a coyote, she also didn't feel the need for pack bonds. Every female coyote was born a type of alpha in and of herself. She might have male coyotes around, or like Malia's mother, she might choose to live completely on her own. So Derek wasn't sure Malia understood the monumental nature of Scott's request. Derek had, but to his shame, that hadn't led him to take any action.

Peter took a corner so fast that Derek grabbed the dash to keep from sliding into Peter. “We are not going to be much help if you get us killed.”

“I have werewolf reflexes. I'm not going to wreck a car.”

“Famous last words.”

Peter gave him a wicked grin and didn't take his eyes off Derek as he went screaming around another corner. His point made, Peter returned his attention to the road before pulling across four lanes of highway and heading into a side road that led to Deaton's place. “Do you think Deaton did it on purpose?” Derek asked.

“Either that or he saw how close Stiles was to becoming a flame and he panicked and decided he would rather have Stiles suffer as a burnt out cinder than allow him to come into his full powers. Deaton would do anything to ensure that Scott was protected, and Stiles will be a magical threat until he gets his powers under control.”

Derek wanted to growl and snap, but Deaton wasn’t here and Peter didn’t need any encouragement to lose his temper. If Stiles was stripped of any magical ability, he wouldn't even be able to use mountain asked to protect himself.

Peter took his rental car over a curb and through a strip of ornamental plantings in front of the vet’s office before he slammed the car into park in the handicapped spot nearest the door. Peter was out and at the front door of the clinic before Derek even got his door open.

“Stiles!” Peter bellowed as he charged into the clinic. Derek raced after him.

Derek found everyone in the back exam room. An older woman with gray hair and a powerful aura crouched next to Stiles, whispering in his ear. Scott stood to one side, his gaze wild as he looked from Stiles who was pale and twitching on the floor to Peter and then back.

“Where is Deaton?” Peter demanded.

“I don't know. He went running out,” Scott said. He seemed too flustered to lie. Derek looked at Peter, not sure how he wanted to handle this.

The witch looked up from the floor. “I was monitoring Stiles’s magic when I felt his spark go unstable. It started losing power and then the power rebounded back into him.”

“He took my alpha power,” Scott blurted out, not clarifying if he was blaming Stiles or Deaton. His eyes flashed, but they weren't alpha read anymore; they were the gold of a wolf whose conscience was clear.

Derek looked at Peter, not sure how this announcement fit into the overall tapestry laid out in front of him, but it was entirely too coincidental that the day Peter showed up, Scott lost his rank as a pack alpha. However, Peter kept his gaze focused on Stiles. “Nephew, look after Stiles. I'm going to track Deaton and figure out what he's done.”

“If you're going after Deaton, I'm going with you,” Scott said.

Peter gave Scott one of the most dangerous smiles Derek had ever seen in his life. Had Peter directed that expression towards Derek, Derek would have avoided his uncle for the next decade.

“Fine with me,” Peter said. “Derek, look after Stiles. And with that, Peter turned and raced out of the clinic with Scott close on his heels. Derek looked down at the witch and Stiles. She reached out her hand towards him. “Are you Stiles’s Derek?”

Derek was not naïve enough to touch the witch's hand, but he sat down cross legged on the opposite side of Stiles and took Stiles’s hand. “Yes.”

“He's struggling to maintain any balance. Do you have a pack bond with him?”

Derek shook his head. “But I would like to establish one.”

“Aw, Der-bear. I always knew you loved me.” Stiles gave Derek's hand a weak squeeze, and Derek could feel the pain rocking his body.

“Don't call me that,” Derek said sternly, but he used their connection to take away Stiles’s pain. Stiles arched his back and tightened his hold on Derek's hand.

“I feel like I'm burning alive. Either that or like I'm soaking wet and freezing. Those are two extremes that do not work well together.”

“Accept my pack bond and I can help you stabilize,” Derek said.

“Nope,” Stiles groaned. “Pack bonds are great until someone breaks them, and then you're left with a gaping hole in your chest that gives you nightmares every night and leaves you gasping for air because you feel like your chest has a sucking wound in it.”

Derek frowned. If Stiles was in pain from the broken pack bonds, it made no sense that Scott wouldn't reestablish them.

Derek leaned close. “Now you listen to me, you stubborn little shit. I never broke a pack bond in my life, and I will not break my pack bond with you, even when you are annoying me so much that I have dreams of taking clippers to your head.”

Stiles grinned. “You're just a big old marshmallow of fuzzy feelings, aren't you?”

Derek growled at him. Celeste was clearly startled because she pulled her hand back, her fingers spread as though prepared to defend Stiles. Derek shook his head at her and hoped she got the message that he was not a threat. If Derek tried appealing to Stiles with sweet words, Stiles would definitely assume they were inspired by pity.

“Look, I just agreed to reestablish a family bond with my uncle so that the two of us could support you through this. If I am going to have a bond to Peter Hale for the rest of my life, you damn well had better make it worth it by offering me a pack bond or I will make it my personal mission to make you miserable,” Derek threatened him.

Stiles gave him a crooked half smile. Then Derek felt as though he had been shot through the chest with a harpoon. The pain was palpable as it pierced him, but then that pebble-in-his-shoe sensation in his pack bond with Peter vanished and in its place was a steel core. Derek had never felt such a solid pack bond, and for the first time he understood why Peter would risk so much to defend this. Wolves wanted nothing more than loyalty, and this pack bond was forged of it. It might've even tipped from loyalty into obsession, but Derek had understood that about Stiles long before he had offered him a pack bond.

“He's stabilizing,” Celeste said.

“Were you right about him being a pack witch?”

“Oh, most certainly. I knew a pack witch once, a formidable woman who very few would have crossed.”

Stiles was still shivering, but he pushed himself upright so that he was at least sitting on the floor. Derek got an arm around Stiles’s waist and pulled him closer. Stiles radiated cold. He leaned into Derek's personal space and closed his eyes. “Yep, that's going to be me. Formidable. Just as soon as I can stop shaking and possibly change my underwear. I think I might've pissed myself.”

“That's okay. I left the house with no shoes on,” Derek said.

Stiles cracked his eyes open and looked towards Derek's feet. For some reason, that seemed to amuse him greatly. Stiles started laughing, but the laughter quickly turned into hysteria. Derek held on as Stiles worked through his emotions, and Celeste gave him a smile that reminded Derek of his grandmother, his father’s mother.

That was actually a little terrifying. When his grandmother had come to visit from their dad’s pack, she had loved to tell stories of the enemies that she had eviscerated. Well, if she was one of Peter's allies, Derek certainly had expected no less. Ignoring the clearly dangerous nature witch Derek had inherited, Derek focused on Stiles, holding him as Stiles’s laughter devolved into sobs and more shivers.

Chapter 7

“Parrish, you're with me,” Noah said as he power walked through the station. He didn't need any of his deputies panicking, but they did not have time to waste with any explanations. Parrish seemed to understand the urgency because he immediately hurried after Noah.

Once outside, Noah headed for the cruiser assigned to Parrish. “You drive.”

Parrish didn’t comment until they were both in the car with the doors closed. “What's going on?”

“Scott called. It seems like Peter Hale is going after Deaton. They’re all at the power sub-station on the corner of Sycamore and Fifteenth. Scott asked us to back him up.”

“Peter Hale? Is a feral again?” Parrish didn’t sound concerned, but he hadn’t been around for Peter Hale’s last round of feral attacks. Maybe Parrish’s abilities as a hellhound would win if he went up against Peter, but Noah wasn’t sure. Of all the creatures who had targeted Beacon Hills, Peter had been one of the smartest. It had made him hard to identify and harder to stop. Stiles had told stories from that first year after Scott had been bitten, and the stories turned Noah’s hair white.

“I don't think so,” Noah said, “but I know who to call. Stiles came home yesterday, and he said that he was going to head over to Deaton's place because he and Peter had a hypothesis.” Noah should have insisted on going with him. Parenting a teenage Stiles was a walk in the park compared to trying to step back and allow adult Stiles to make his own decisions.

Like Peter. Noah was going to bite his own tongue off when it came to that relationship. Noah had seen enough fools in love to recognize the look. Hell, he had been one of those fools. He had been a veteran trying to wrap his head around the horrors he had seen in the Army, and he fell for a woman whose immigrant parents didn't consider Noah worth the spit it would've taken to show their contempt.

But he and Claudia had never cared about that. From the time they got together, Noah's life had centered around her, and her life had centered around him. Their friends had complained that it was impossible to have a conversation with one without them bringing up the other. And Noah saw that same in Stiles and Peter. Given his son's history of obsessive behavior, Noah could have passed it off as one more unrequited crush, only on the rare occasion that Peter came back to town, Peter was equally likely to tell stories about Stiles. He had amusing anecdotes about Stiles’s work at legal aid and the reactions of the various partners at the law firm when he took Stiles to work parties. He complained about the lack of quality teachers at Stiles’s university, and he got a fond look when Stiles would say something particularly caustic.

Someone picked up Stiles’ phone. “Hello?”

Noah frowned. “Derek?” Fear lanced through Noah's chest. “Where's Stiles? Why are you answering his phone?”

Parrish glanced over from the driver seat—his eyes had that orange glow that suggested that his hellhound form was on the verge of making an appearance.

“He's fine,” Derek said. “He shaken up, but he's physically fine.”

“Physically? What about magically? Is he magically fine?” If Deaton had stripped his son of his magic, Noah was going to find Peter, and then he was going to help Peter hide Deaton's body.

There was a pause on the other end and then Derek said, “You know about his magic?”

Before Noah could answer, there was a scuffle on the other end of the phone and then Stiles voice came through artificially bright and chipper. “Hey, Daddio. All is good in the world. No need to panic, no need to call out the reinforcements. I’m just a little dizzy after being knocked on my ass.”

“Deaton hit you?” Noah was definitely plotting Deaton’s murder. Maybe not literally, but still. No one hit his kid.

“Um, kinda? He magically gave me a one-two punch, and I went down. I might have hit my head on the exam table in Deaton’s back room. But there was no physical contact. So all is mostly good with the world.”

“Really?” Noah asked. “Because Scott called for help. Apparently Peter has Deaton cornered. Now, are you magically okay? Did Deaton do any damage?”

“Nothing much. Nothing permanent,” Stiles said in that same artificially happy tone. His son was the worst liar on god’s green earth. Maybe Noah couldn’t always guess what Stiles was lying about, but he always knew when his son lied.

“Stiles,” he said in his best dad voice.

“Geez. Fine. Deaton tried to strip away my spark and it kind of backfired when Celeste protected me.”

Noah gritted his teeth as he tried to rein in his frustration. Stiles could talk forever without ever saying anything. “Define backfired.”

“Backfired. To project a weapon one way and then to have the force of that weapon driven the opposite way, often because of some sort of weapon jam.”

“Stiles!” His father snapped. Parrish had the audacity to smile. He looked like he might even laugh, and Noah started plotting his murder too. He was going to have a lot of bodies to hide before the day was over.

“Geez you’re cranky today.”

Noah rubbed his temples where a headache was starting to throb.

“Okay, fine,” Stiles said. “Deaton was trying to move my spark magic out of me and over to Scott, but Celeste blocked the magical transfer. Apparently Deaton put too much umph into his spell, so it rebounded. Scott's magic came into me. I am now officially a flame, but Celeste is here making sure I don’t blow myself up.”

“Is Scott feral?” Parrish asked sharply. It was nice having a supernatural deputy who knew what questions to ask.

“I doubt it,” Noah said. “When he called, he was upset but verbal.”

After a brief scuffle on Stiles’ end of the phone, Noah could hear the sound quality change as the speakerphone clicked on. Derek answered. “Scott isn't feral, but that's because he has strong pack bonds. He lost his alpha spark.”

“Lost it?” Parrish asked. “I didn't realize that was possible.” Parrish took a corner a little fast considering they didn’t have their sirens running, but Noah assumed supernatural reflexes would keep them out of trouble.

“Oh, it is,” Stiles said. “Derek lost his when he used too much magic to save Cora. Only Scott didn't use his up. Deaton’s spell did a Reverse Uno card and shoved his magic into me. Luckily, he has a fairly large pack to help them stabilize so it's not as bad as it could have been.”

Noah and Parrish exchanged glances. This was definitely not covered in the Penal Code, but as far as Noah was concerned, Deaton had assaulted his son, and he had rules about that. Worse, Scott was the official alpha in the area, and Noah knew exactly how dangerous the town got when others thought the territory was up for grabs. “This is why I wanted to come with you,” Noah said.

“Yes, and this is why I couldn't allow you to get involved,” Stiles responded. “You're the Sheriff. It would look really bad if you punched Deaton in the middle of his own vet’s office.”

“So I’ll go somewhere else and punch him.” As much as Noah tried to hold the letter of the law, the law required flexibility when it came to the supernatural.

“Dad, don't lose your temper,” Stiles said.

“Too damn late for that.” This was his son, and he was entitled to get as irrational as he wanted when it came to Stiles. Noah disconnected the call.

“We’re here,” Parrish said. Two cars were parked haphazardly outside the electrical substation, and the station door was half off its hinges. Peter was standing at the door's threshold with his elbows bent and his body leaning forward as though he were ready to leap on someone. He might not be in his werewolf form, but everything in his body language screamed danger. Scott was standing at the back of Deaton's car looking towards the police cruiser as they pulled up. The second Parrish put the car in park, Scott hurried over.

“Thank God you're here. Peter is trying to kill Deaton, and I tried to stop him, but he alpha roared and I… I…” Scott's voice trailed off, and he looked lost.

Sometimes Noah liked to live in ignorance when it came to the specific details of the werewolf community his son had chosen. However, he could fill in these blanks. Scott was used to being an alpha – to calling the shots. But without his alpha power, his wolf would have been subordinate to Peter. At least, assuming Peter was an alpha, and Noah did make that assumption. Peter was not the sort of man who accepted a subordinate position, which was another reason why Noah would prefer it if his son’s crush were unrequited.

“Stay here,” Noah told him, and then he turned to Parrish. “Stay back unless it looks like Peter is going to kill me.” Parrish got that message loud and clear. He gave the sheriff a nod and then leaned against the cruiser with a nonchalance that made it clear he didn't expect to get involved at all.

Noah walked towards Peter, ignoring the little knot of fear in his belly. “Peter, what's going on?”

Peter growled his words. “He tried to burn Stiles out. He would've stolen Stiles magic and left him helpless against the supernatural world.”

As Noah got closer, he could see Deaton in the dim interior of the utility shed. Deaton stood with a pouch in his hands, probably of mountain ash. “I did no such thing. I observed that Stiles was in danger of losing control of his magic, and I attempted to stabilize him.”

“You weren't stabilizing him, you were leeching off his magic,” Peter snapped.

“You have no idea how dangerous Stiles is.” After dressing that to Peter, Deaton turned towards Noah. “Stiles is a type of magic user that is very rarely allowed to exist. He feeds off of others, like a magical vampire. Because he is connected to wolves, he will drain any wolf he is linked to, leaving them without enough magic to sustain their wolves and driving them into feral episodes.”

Noah turned to Peter. “Hale? You want to comment on that?” Normally Noah would separate the two halves of a dispute, but he was fairly sure that was not going to happen here. Peter wouldn’t leave, and if Deaton tried to go anywhere, Peter just might kill him.

Peter's body language shifted. He stood and crossed his arms so that he went from being an enraged werewolf to a calculating lawyer looking for advantage. Noah did not find the change reassuring. Hell, the lawyers in his life gave him more grief than the werewolves did. “Stiles could damage the wolves in his pack, but it is not likely. And I have hired a magical tutor to ensure that he is able to control his flame.”

Deaton drew himself up, fury etched in his features. “You knew he was developing this vampiric magic and you didn't stop him?”

Peter's smile was not even a little nice. “Since I hold his only pack bond, I rather think this is not your concern, druid.”

“Scott and Stiles are close friends. Don't you think that when he started drawing on magic that he would rediscover the bond he once shared with Scott?” Deaton demanded. From the tone, Noah got the idea that Deaton was definitely feeling like he had a right to assault Stiles. “Do you have any idea how dangerous it would be for anyone around either you or Scott if Stiles drove you into a feral rage? What would stop you from killing untold numbers of innocent humans?”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “The last time I was feral, I didn't kill any innocent humans. I killed people who were involved in mass murder. I find your argument so lacking in logic that it isn't worth a rebuttal.” Peter had the audacity to actually look down his nose at Deaton, and Noah was fairly sure Deaton would have shot Peter in the face if he’d had a weapon.

Noah looked at Deaton and waited. Eventually he gave up glaring at Peter and turned to Noah. “Sheriff, I know you don't understand this world.”

Noah held up a hand. “Oh, I understand fine. You assaulted my son.”

“I was attempting to treat him. However, whatever Hale’s witch did, it caused irreparable harm to the spell. One simply cannot interfere with another magic users work without suffering consequences.”

Noah's headache was getting worse by the minute. “Are you or are you not the one who cast a spell in the first place?”

Deaton stared at him, his expression making it clear that he found the question unreasonable. Tough shit. Noah was the sheriff, and he wasn't about to be ignored, not even by a druid. Life would have been easier if Deaton hadn’t chosen to return to town, but maybe Noah could encourage him to find a place with a friendlier police department because the Beacon Hills Sherriff’s department was going to be out for blood when the found out this asshole had assaulted Stiles. “Alan Deaton, you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you will be appointed one. Now, as soon as I can get your ass out from behind your mountain ash line, I will have you sign that you understand these rights, but for now you can provide a verbal answer. Do you understand your legal rights?”

Deaton's expression grew thunderous. “You can't be serious.”

“You assaulted my son. I am fairly serious when it comes to felonies being committed in my county.”

“I was treating him and there was an unforeseen circumstance.”

“Is that the defense, you're going for?” Noah asked. If so, Noah definitely wanted to be in the courtroom to see the judge’s face. “If you say that to a judge, you’re probably going to be asked some questions about informed consent and what medical license you have that would allow you to treat human beings. You might want to rethink that strategy before you apply for bail.”

“You are siding with him?” Deaton glared at Peter.

For his part, Peter appeared almost amused. He stepped back and surveyed the area like a tourist considering the landscape. The gesture was arrogant and condescending and Noah felt a whole host of unhappy feelings. He knew his son was not a particularly nice person. After all, Stiles had fallen for Lydia Martin who was a bully in her own right. But this…

Noah had to wonder what he had done wrong, raising his son to find this murderous asshole attractive. If Stiles were still under age, Noah would make him go to therapy. But at least there was still a chance that the two idiots in question wouldn’t figure out their mutual infatuation in time to do anything about it. That was the hope Noah was going to hang onto, because he wasn't going to risk losing his son. And if he tried to forbid his son to date someone, he knew how that would end up. After all, Claudia's parents had forbidden her to date him.

“Deaton, come out or I’ll have to come in after you. By the way, I’m adding breaking and entering and destruction public property to the charges. You really need to call a lawyer.”

“Sheriff Stilinski, I fear you have no idea what you are doing.”

“I don’t know. Right now, I’m arresting you.” Noah turned to Peter. “Hale, you are not allowed to assault, maim, maul or eat Deaton.”

Peter scoffed, and Noah suspected that was the best he was going to get out of him. Deaton was still standing behind the mountain ash line looking at Noah, as if he lost his mind.

“I was helping your son,” Deaton said, and he clearly believed that. However, Noah was too old and jaded to believe that a person’s intentions mattered.

“Next time, ask my son if he wants help before you provide it. Now, I’ll ask one more time before I take action that you will not like. Deactivate whatever magical defenses you have and you come out here.”

Parrish sauntered forward, flames dancing over his hands as he closed the distance between them. “Last chance,” Noah said cheerfully.

With one last glare in Peter's direction, Deaton dropped the pouch in his hand and step forward into the light. Deputy Parrish caught Deaton's arm and turned him to face the building before he started frisking him. Luckily for Deaton, he let the flames on his hands die first.

Noah focused on Peter. “You need to let me handle this.”

“He hurt Stiles. He could have stripped him of every bit of magic in his soul.” Peter’s voice sounded odd because some of his werewolf teeth were showing. And Stiles had the nerve to get offended when Noah had suggested they were together. Hell, these two were already dating; they just hadn’t noticed yet.

“What about my alpha spark?” Scott asked. “Deaton, you took away my spark. How do I get it back? You have to undo the spell. Sheriff, you can’t take him until he undoes the spell.”

Noah looked at Deaton, since he was curious about that as well. Beacon Hills needed a strong werewolf pack, and Derek had always taken a backseat to Scott. The idea of Scott not having an alpha spark was a little concerning.

Deaton looked gutted as he shook his head. “No wolf with strong ties to a pack has ever become a true alpha. True alphas have a balance no other wolf can because they don't rely on the beast to maintain the balance. They rely on the human. But now you have a pack. You have pack bonds that will prevent you from finding that balance again.” Deaton looked like he was on the verge of tears. Whatever he had done, he had never intended to hurt Scott.

And Scott looked equally stricken. However, he didn’t show a trace of the homicidal fury Noah would have felt if someone stole something so important, so Noah guessed all was forgiven between the two. It wasn't like Noah could file charges for malicious damage of someone’s alpha spark, anyway. He was going to have to content himself with filing charges on Stiles’s behalf. “Put him in the cruiser,” Noah told Parrish. Scott gave Noah one look and then followed Deaton. It was against regulations, but they could give him a ride to the station, especially since Noah wasn’t fond of the idea of Scott having to catch a ride with Peter.

Noah turned back to Peter. “I mean it. Stay out of this mess. Deaton is in the legal system now, and we will deal with it with charges.”

Peter offered a beneficent smile and held his hands out wide. “I wouldn't dream of interfering in the duties of a law enforcement officer,” Peter assured him.

Noah gave him a dirty look. Peter was not upset enough. Sure, he acted homicidally angry, but when someone you loved was put in danger, you didn’t drop that anger. You stewed and drank and vented your spleen. Noah narrowed his eyes. “You set this whole thing up.”

Peter's expression turned innocent. “I'm not sure what you mean.”

That asshole. He hadn’t been testing whether Deaton was taking the spark energy—he had set the situation up to reverse the spell and steal Scott’s alpha status. That was the only thing that made sense. Noah pressed his lips together and fought with his own fury—both at Peter plotting against Scott and his willingness to use Stiles.

“I’ll let this slide because Deaton brought this on himself and Stiles clearly agreed with your plan.” Noah didn’t say it, but he also thought Scott was too damn young for the demands of leadership, but he wasn’t sure the town was better off with Derek who had a habit of refusing to step up to the bat. “But let me make this very clear. You don't use my son as bait, not even when my son agrees to it, and if you break that rule, I can promise you that I will find a way to kill you.” Well aware of the fact that he was threatening a calculating, powerful alpha werewolf, Noah poked a finger in Peter’s direction.

Peter’s smile grew wider. “I do like your style, Sheriff. Other law enforcement officers could learn something from you.” Peter tipped his head towards Noah in a weirdly formal imitation of a bow, and then he strolled off towards his car, whistling. The man was an asshole.

Noah’s headache was reaching levels it hadn’t since Stiles had been trying to juggle supernatural battles and AP classes, but he had done as much as the law allowed him to do. It was time for him to head back to the station and pretend to be the sheriff to a normal town. And maybe he could find time to have a private conversation with Deaton and suggest he go back to whatever hole he crawled in every time he disappeared. And this time, he needed to stay there.

Chapter 8

“I'm home, sweetheart.” Peter came in the condo door, sweeping it wide open in a grand gesture.

“Way to be creepy, Creeperwolf,” Stiles complained. Ever since his dad had brought up him dating Peter, their teasing felt way weirder.

Peter smiled. “Now, sweetheart, don't get like that.”

“After the day I've had, I get to be any way I want.” Stiles rubbed his belly. “I feel like I have a sunburn in my guts.”

All joviality fell away from Peter as he closed the door. “I do wish I could have spared you that. I am quite vexed with Deaton.”

“My guts will heal. Apparently Scott is going to be without an alpha spark forever, unless he goes out and gets one the old-fashioned way. We both know that's not likely.”

“I rather suspect it's not. Scott does not have the ruthlessness of most wolves.” Peter’s expression made his opinion of Scott pretty damn clear, but then Stiles already knew Peter’s opinion.

The funny thing was, Scott wasn’t all that different than Isaac who never wanted to hurt anyone or Ethan who felt so bad about the people he had killed that he never wanted to kill anyone else. Jackson was another matter. He would kill for an alpha spark if he wanted one, but Jackson had always been a little vicious, which explained why he had a kanima form. Stiles propped his socked feet up on the coffee table and watched Peter flinch. At least Stiles had stopped putting his shoes on the furniture.

“Scott thinks that if he breaks his pack bonds that he might be able to become a true alpha again,” Stiles said. Peter was a schemer who loved strategy more than he loved money, and the man did love money. However, Peter had never lied to him. So Stiles asked him outright, “Could he become a true alpha again if he breaks the pack bonds?”

Peter put his car keys on the entrance table and came into the room. Stiles was sitting at one end of Peter's expensive white couch, and Peter sat on the other end and studied Stiles with a serious expression. “I doubt it.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Stiles said wearily. “I was just hoping that maybe this once life wouldn’t kick us in the balls.”

“I suspect Deaton is right when he says that becoming a true alpha means relying on the human side. There are stories of witches being turned, and when they are, they are alpha werewolves from the beginning.”

“Whoa. What? I could be an alpha werewolf?” Stiles was shocked. He didn't really think of himself as an alpha anything. He was more the beta type who worked in the background and won through his powers of annoyingness.

“Your flame would be too strong for the wolf to absorb it all, which would leave you with a spark of magic, and what is a wolf with a spark of magic?” Peter made an elaborate gesture with his hand.

“An alpha werewolf,” Stiles finished. That actually made sense. “But then how did Scott get to be an alpha werewolf?”

Peter unbuttoned his waistcoat. “I believe I already explained that magical practitioners disagree on the causes of that phenomenon. You can read their theories yourself, but you need to look up ‘spontaneous alpha’ rather than ‘true alpha.’ Likely Scott could not become a true alpha again. They draw power from the human side, and back before my true failure first found his spark, he had human betas channeling magic to him.”

“Um… betas? Not so much,” Stiles said. “Back then he didn’t have betas or much of a sense of style or control. He definitely didn’t have control. You have no idea how many times he just about killed me.”

“Scott McCall lacks control. Who would have thought?” Peter traced circles on the knee of his suit. “Any single werewolf will have trouble maintaining the fire in an alpha spark. They need betas. That's why larger packs have a stronger alpha. The small bits of magic that werewolves generate are sent up the pack hierarchy into their alpha. It is the nature of the pack bond. The alpha pack fed their stronger magic to Deucalion making him the strongest alpha. It is all about the transfer of power.”

Stiles frowned. That didn’t sound right. “But the alpha pack members killed all of their packs, so shouldn't that of weakened their spark?”

Peter shrugged. “It’s like throwing fuel on a fire. Temporarily it will burn brighter, but you can only sustain it if you continue to add more fuel.”

Stiles blew out a breath. “That's what happened to Ethan and Aiden’s spark.”

“I refrained from asking them, but I assume that Deucalion burned out any number of younger alphas in his quest to feed the fire of his own spark.”

“Is that why I'm dangerous to my pack right now? Because I can take magic away from you instead of providing it?” Stiles worried about that more than he wanted to admit. He trusted Peter to take care of his own interests, but Peter could overestimate his own abilities just as well as the next arrogant werewolf.

Peter grimaced. “Who told you that?”

“Is it true?” Stiles asked. He wasn't about to throw Derek under the Peter bus, but if Stiles was dangerous to his own pack, he needed to know.

“I have every faith that you will train your magic adequately, so there is no need for concern. Celeste will make sure you are in hand.”

Stiles groaned. That was as good is Peter saying there was danger. Well, if he was going to be dangerous to his pack, he needed to throw everything he had into training with Celeste. Peter might be exaggerating about the lack of rigor in the academic curriculum, but Stiles knew that he could slam through the rest of his semester’s work in a week or two if he needed to. Apparently, he needed to.

“Darling, you will not hurt us.” Peter reached over and put a hand on Stiles his knee.

Stiles put his own hand over Peter's and felt the pack bond tingle as they touched. “I don't like the idea of putting you in danger at all.”

“Every weapon poses a danger to he who would wield it.” Peter took his free hand and popped out his werewolf claws. “My own nature is both a weapon and a weakness. You are no different. But we do not deny our nature in some foolish and vain quest for a safe life.”

Stiles nodded. Peter made sense, even if Stiles hated it a tiny bit. “If I had known this before I got pushed over into being a flame, we would've had a serious conversation.”

Peter pulled his hand back. “I am quite aware. Why do you think I never brought up the subject?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. Peter was such a manipulative asshole. But at least he was an honest one. He had an almost cartoonish habit of owning up to his Machiavellian plots. Sometimes Stiles expected to find him standing beside a giant laser and explaining, in detail, his plot for world domination. And then he’d serve tea.

“But what does any of this have to do with Scott not being able to get a spontaneous alpha spark back?”

“When he developed into an alpha in the first place, who were his betas?” Peter asked.

Apparently they were in the teaching portion of the day. Peter did like his Socratic seminars. “He didn't have any,” Stiles said. “I would have remembered.”

“I assure you, he had at least two that Derek knew about. Given that Derek is not the most observant werewolf in creation, he might've had more.”

Stiles frowned. “We had a pack bond back then, but trust me, I did not see him as alpha. I was the one trying to keep life blowing up in our faces. I was the one showing up with food and helping him with homework, and as you have pointed out, playing den mother is more the alpha position.” Stiles paused before giving Peter a vicious look and adding, “Mom.”

Peter growled, but Stiles refused to withdraw his point. Peter was a total mother hen, and either he was telling the truth and that was an alpha trait or the man was just weird. Or both. That was possible.

“The question is whether Scott saw himself as your alpha. Did he draw your magic to himself?”

Stiles frowned. Okay, that was a slightly more complicated answer because they had a twisted and sometimes dysfunctional bromance—him and Scotty.

“And who was the other human that Scott obsessed over? So much so that the idiot used her for both his username and his password.”

Stiles let out a breath. “Allison.”

Peter nodded. “Derek reported that you both had pack bonds, and as I have explained, humans replenish their sparks much more quickly because they do not have wolves feeding from the magic. So Scott had at least two human betas feeding him spark magic. Perhaps that was one reason why you're spark is so much stronger than it should have been. I honestly don't know because I am not a magic practitioner myself.”

“That is some twisted logic.” Stiles chewed on his lower lip. “But couldn’t Scott pull that same stunt again? Couldn’t he get some human magic and feed his own spark?”

“What humans support him now?” Peter asked.

“Deaton.” Stiles had zero doubt that Dr. Deaton would give Scott whatever he needed.

“He is a druid, not a human. One who has developed a magical talent has a natural tendency to shield his own spark. Now that you are a flame, you no longer leak magic and Deaton is the same.”

“He has his mother.”

“And does she look to him for leadership? Does she defer to him?”

Stiles couldn't see Melissa ever deferring to Scott. She listened to him, and she loved him, but she was no more willing to defer to him then Stiles’s dad would defer to Stiles. It just wasn't in their nature. Hell, Stiles considered it a victory when his father bit his tongue instead of telling Stiles how to run his life. A dozen times just in the last two days, he’d seen his dad tense up like he wanted to ground Stiles. Given that Stiles was a man in his 20s, he really didn't think that was an appropriate response, but at least his dad would stomp down on what was clearly a knee-jerk reaction. He figured Melissa was the same. She probably bit her tongue. A lot.

“If Scott really has lost his position, the pack is going to have a lot of trouble adjusting,” Stiles said. Maybe things had changed in the last couple of years, but Stiles remembered the pack huddling around Scott on the couch while Derek haunted the shadows and Peter sat on the spiral staircase alone. Take Scott out of the equation, and Stiles wasn’t sure what was even left. Hell, he didn’t even know who was left in the pack. He knew Jackson and Ethan were in London and Theo had hooked up with a pack up north. Chris Argent had brought them a few wolves he’d rescued from Monroe’s hunters. Stiles was pretty sure the Argent family was behind that shit show, which is why he refused to feel guilty about letting loose the legal dogs of war on that nightmare.

“Indeed,” Peter said. “The pack will not be the only ones who will struggle to adjust. Derek will as well. That is one reason why I need you to stay here.”

“No way. You said we were both staying here until the Argent situation either blew up or blew over.” Peter didn’t twitch. He didn’t argue or wheedle or even try to manipulate Stiles. Stiles narrowed his eyes. The bastard had planned this all along. “Oh no. You're not going back to Virginia. If you go back, I am going back.”

“I have responsibilities. I have obligations to the law firm, and to neglect those would be to neglect my own self-interest. I have spent three years proving that I am more than Talia’s left hand, and I will not sacrifice that work.”

“And if you go back, you might be putting your head in a noose, especially if you're alone. If Celeste and I are there, we can give you back up.”

“No. The pack here is in trouble, and as much as I would love to see these idiots hoisted on their own petards, that would mean hurting Derek. I need you to look after my nephew.”

Stiles snorted. “I hate to break this to you, but Derek has always been a little touchy around me. He slammed my head into my steering wheel because I annoyed him. He’s slammed me into so many walls that I have brick patterns pressed into my back.” Stiles helpfully pointed at his own back.

“He accepted a pack bond with you,” Peter said as if that meant anything.

“He threatened me into a pack bond because he said that he took a family bond with you to provide more stability for my magic. He said that if I didn't give him a pack bond, he was going to make my life miserable. That's how our relationship works, first we save each other and then we threaten each other. Or he threatens me.” Although honestly, if Stiles were a hundred percent honest, he had sort of started the threats when he accused Derek of being a murderer and just about got him sent to prison. It was a twisted love he and Derek shared. And Stiles preferred to keep his dysfunctional relationships at a minimum. Having to deal with both Scott and Derek without Peter around to blunt their stupidity was more than Stiles could handle.

Peter shifted around to face Stiles. “What have I told you about omega wolves?”

Stiles frowned, not sure where this conversation was going. “You are pretty much the opposite of feral,” Stiles said. “Feral means either you're so depressed you can't defend yourself and you curl up in a corner to die or you go completely psychotic and kill anyone who mildly annoys you. You would burn the whole world down rather than lie down for your enemies, so I know which side you’re on.”

“Why thank you.” Peter smiled.

“Being willing to kill everyone… that wasn't a compliment.”

Peter shrugged. “I choose to interpret your words as one.”

“Creeper,” Stiles whispered. “Anyway, you're definitely not psychotic either because you make cold, calculating decisions about who to kill. There’s no out of control rage there.”

“You say that as if I killed someone recently.” Peter’s tone was almost offended, but Stiles wasn’t fooled.

“Oh, I suspect you have. After all, you told me that the Argents would recognize my fingerprints on this legal attack because your more recent moves have been nuanced.”

Peter lifted an eyebrow. The man had stunningly handsome disdain down like an artform. It was his version of Blue Steel from Zoolander. “Do you assume nuanced means I have killed someone?” Peter asked. Then then cleaned his fucking fingernails like a Bond villain.

“Well, you do have an alpha spark. Unless you're going to tell me that you spontaneously developed an alpha spark.” Stiles stopped. “Wait. You had a pack bond to me, and I was treating you like the alpha because you were providing and sometimes getting way too pushy with your rules about my safety and creepy interest in my GPA. Are you a spontaneous alpha?” If Stiles had provided the magic for not one but two alpha sparks, he had serious magical leakage issues.

Peter laughed. “No. Perish the thought. I am very in tune with my wolf and I do not deny my werewolf nature. From everything I've read about the phenomenon, that is enough to prevent me from becoming a spontaneous alpha.”

Stiles was weirdly relieved. “Which means you got your alpha spark the old-fashioned way, which means you have killed someone, which means that I stand by my conclusion that when you kill people you are calculating and subtle.”

“Your logical mind is unassailable.”

Stiles couldn't tell if he was sarcastic or not. That was the weird thing with Peter, it could be hard to tell the difference. “Why are we talking about omegas and alpha sparks?”

“I rather thought we were talking about you staying to support Derek.”

Stiles frowned. “Wait. Are you suggesting that Derek is on the verge of going omega? He has an entire pack.”

“Does he?” Peter asked sharply. “He called himself the backup alpha.” Peter sounded disgusted by that description. Of course, if Scott was treating Derek like nothing but a backup, that was slightly disgust worthy. Stiles loved Scott but he was not blind to the man's faults.

Stiles put what Peter had said about omegas in the context of Derek. “You think he's not fighting for a bigger role in the pack because he is depressed.”

Peter grimaced. “I think depression is a human concept that doesn't entirely describe the situation, but I fear Derek is not as focused as he should be, and his lack of healthy pack bonds may be contributing to that.”

“If you thought that, why didn't you say anything before?”


Stiles threw his hands up. “Oh I don't know, anytime? I mean, Derek has pretty much been Derek since I was back in high school. Shouldn’t you have noticed that he was struggling, then?” Shit. If Derek was omega-levels of depression, that actually explained some of his douchier moments—like when he kept running off without saying a word.

“Do you mean, right after he killed me?” Peter crossed his arms over his chest and his expression grew harder.

Stiles mirrored Peter’s body language. “In case you've forgotten, I'm the one that threw the Molotov cocktail.”

“Yes. I quite remember.” Peter's expression went blank.

Well, fuck. Stiles hadn’t meant to dredge up that memory. “You love Derek. Okay, to be fair, you’re annoyed with him, too, which is about right because he can be annoying. However, I have nuclear levels of annoyinghood compared to him, and you put up with me in a pack. So explain why you wouldn’t get Derek help if you really thought he was struggling with omega depression.”

Emotion slowly bled back into Peter’s expression. He almost looked guilty. “To be honest, I thought Derek was going to build a pack. And after he gave up his alpha spark for Cora, I thought he would join Cora in her pack. Time after time, Derek has rejected the opportunity to be part of a strong pack. When he stayed here with Scott, I thought being on the land would help settle him, but he still lurks around the edges of his own pack. This is not normal werewolf behavior, and I do fear that he is holding on to his sanity by a very thin thread. However, I may have mentioned that your pack bonds feel a little like reinforced steel.”

Peter had said that, and Stiles still wasn't sure if that was a compliment or an insult. However, if Derek was not feeling like he had solid pack bonds, Stiles could understand how little reinforced steel might be a good thing. “So we take Derek and Celeste and all four of us go back to Virginia.”

Peter shook his head. “It is far better for us to force the Argents to divide their attention. Besides, I will not be staying at our townhome. I've asked Rick to take care of the townhouse while I stay at Celeste's place. I can promise you that the magical defenses she has around her home are formidable enough to defeat anything the Argents might attempt, especially since they will not know to look for me there.”

Stiles pressed his lips together as he tried to rein in the fear and fury that raged under his ribs. Celeste had warned him that strong emotions were not good for his flame, and Stiles had to control himself before he accidentally hurt either Peter or Derek.

Peter softened his voice to a near whisper. “This is what we must do to take care of the pack, and as I have always told you, the pack comes first.”

“I don't like it when the pack coming first means a pack member is hanging out there by himself,” Stiles said once he had wrestled down some of his anger.

Peter gave Stiles a genuine smile. “Your loyalty is one of your best traits, which is why I know you will drag my idiot nephew out of this funk and make sure that he forms healthier bonds. But I have a favor to ask you.”

Stiles grew concerned at the seriousness in Peter's tone. “Anything.”

“Are you quite sure you want to promise me anything, sweetheart?”

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Do you get your dialogue out of a villains of the week calendar?”

Peter didn't even crack a smile. “Promise me that you will not grow so attached to Derek that you decide that your pack bonds to me are superfluous.”

For a second, Stiles could only stare at Peter, his brain not even processing the words. And when he did process the words, his first reaction was anger, anger that Peter could think so little of him that he thought Stiles would walk away just because he had someone else. Stiles wasn't the sort to drop one friend because he found another one, and he sure as hell was not going to treat pack bonds that way.

But as fast as the anger came, it fled because his pack bond with Peter vibrated with an echo of loss and pain. Peter's words came from a genuine fear that someone else would find him expendable—that someone else would treat him as a tool to be used for the pack without ever considering him part of the pack. Stiles hadn't had an easy childhood. His mom had lost herself to dementia. His father had spent long periods lost in a bottle. But for all of that, Stiles always knew his parents loved him. He always knew they considered him their little boy and not a means to an end. Peter hadn't had that.

Stiles threw himself forward and caught Peter up in the tightest hug he could. Peter did nothing for long minutes, but Stiles refused to let go. Eventually, Peter wrapped his arms around Stiles and hugged him so tightly that Stiles had trouble breathing, but Stiles didn't complain.

“Your idiot nephew will never replace you,” Stiles promised. He put every bit of conviction he could into those words, and Peter held him even tighter. Whatever else happened, they were pack. They were family. And Stiles didn't give up on his family.



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