- Rough Draft
- Work in Progress
- Discussion - Murder
- Discussion - Torture
- Hate Crimes
- No Beta
- Fix It
It was Lydia who found the spell, Lydia who arranged all the details, and Lydia who browbeat convinced the werewolves to assist when the time came to perform it.
Not that Stiles was under any illusions as to why Lydia had even been looking through books on necromancy in the first place. Jackson had been killed while on a visit to some extended family in Texas, apparently the victim of a drive-by shooting. Given Jackson’s wolfy healing ability, it didn’t take a genius intellect to leap to the conclusion that Hunters were responsible. He’d been dead three months now, and it was clear that since neither Chris nor Allison had been able to give Lydia any useful information, she intended to get answers straight from the horse’s mouth – so to speak.
Stiles took a moment to mentally congratulate himself on having a reason to refer to Jackson as a horse. From horse’s mouth to horse’s ass was such a short leap, after all.
Anyway, Lydia had spent the last month or so feverishly looking for a way to get the information she wanted, so when she came to him – three weeks before Halloween – with a spell that she had ‘just happened to find’, Stiles wasn’t fooled even for a moment.
Still, as far as he could tell – and he’d done exhaustive research before agreeing to take part – there was nothing in the spell that was in any way evil, or otherwise likely to result in the zombie apocalypse. Probably. That he could see, anyway.
The spell required three anchors, and if performed correctly would call forth the spirits of three of the dead. The spirits couldn’t be summoned against their will, only those connected with – and who wished to converse with – one or more of the three anchors could, or would, appear.
Also, talking was the only thing any visiting spirits could do. None of the spirits would exist in any way physically, there would be no poltergeist-like activity, no evil possession.
On the other hand, there was no way to be sure of getting any one spirit in particular, and there was always the possibility that the spell could be cast and no-one at all would attend. This – a recorded result – was held to be a sign that either the spell had been screwed up somehow, or the anchors in question had no spirits interested in paying a visit.
Given Lydia’s drive and tendency towards perfectionism, the spell she was overseeing was not going to be screwed up. And if Jackson knew what was good for his dead ass, he’d turn up and give her what she wanted, if only to stop her storming into whatever the afterlife was to wring his neck.
According to the available lore, the chosen spell couldn’t be performed by supernatural beings, which is why Danny ended up being brought into things. As it happened, he’d already known a lot of what was going on. Not surprising, since none of the bitten wolves had been anything close to discreet. Apparently, he’d been happy enough on the outside of things, not really wanting to get involved. That hadn’t really changed, but he wanted answers for Jackson’s death as well and so agreed to Lydia’s demand that he help them.
Stiles was just glad that it was Lydia who had the job of selling it to Derek’s pack. But then, Lydia was used to getting her own way, and having left it to almost the last minute – a calculated move, no doubt – no one had any time to raise any coherent objections. She had also managed to gather all the wolves in one place, and so far blood hadn’t been shed.
“But, why didn’t you ask Allison to be the third anchor?” Scott asked with a frown after Lydia had finished explaining that Danny would join her and Stiles in the circle to anchor the spell because werewolves weren’t allowed.
Stiles resisted the urge to face-palm. Sometimes Scott came across as too stupid to survive.
Lydia had presented the spell as a way to ‘forge a beneficial connection to the spirit world,’ to ‘increase our spellcasting prowess and widen our repertoire,’ and ‘to gain insight into the past that could help us in the future’. But surely everyone could see it for what it was, a thinly veiled attempt to contact Jackson? With that outcome in mind, Danny was a much better choice for anchor than Allison.
Not to mention that Stiles had no wish to see any of the dead Argents again – he wasn’t all that gung-ho about the living ones, either – and had been extremely relieved when he didn’t need to come up with a reason to exclude his best friend’s girlfriend. Allison and Lydia were friends, after all.
Lydia raised one eyebrow in Scott’s direction.
“We are a werewolf pack, McCall,” she said witheringly. “Asking advice from Hunters would be a bit counter-productive, don’t you think?”
“We’re two werewolf packs,” Scott corrected. “And it’s not like Danny’s family is going to have anything meaningful to contribute. At least there’s a possibility that Allison’s family might help.”
Stiles briefly imagined how that would play out.
“Hi there, dead-psychotic-bigots! We need information so that we can avenge the death of one of our werewolf buddies, how about giving us the skinny on some of your Hunter pals in Texas!”
“Why of course, filth-who-consort-with-animal-scum, we would be delighted to hand our fellow hunting buddies over to you on a silver platter, ha-ha, so that you can wreak revenge for the no doubt justified killing of one of those disgusting perversions of man and beast! Delighted to help!”
“Look, you don’t have to be there,” Derek interjected before Lydia could reply. “The Hale Pack has already agreed to stand watch, so you and Allison can both give it a miss if you prefer.”
Lydia glared at Derek for interrupting her but didn’t say anything. Stiles was surprised at her forbearance but then understood.
Right now she wanted the Hale Pack’s help. If Jackson had accepted his place as Derek’s beta then the pack’s help would be a given, but as usual the douche-canoe had been putting off declaring an allegiance, stating that he would get around to it after he’d got back from his trip. Therefore it was important to keep Derek onside until after she had what she wanted.
“If Stiles is a part of this ‘spell’, then we’ll be here,” Scott said mulishly.
“Look,” Stiles said, hoping to diffuse the tension that always rose when Derek and Scott were in the same place together. “I’ve done all the research, and there isn’t any need for this much extra protection. Lydia, Danny, and I, will be safe inside the circle. Lydia’s notes are quite clear, and I agree. Once the circle is closed there can be nothing in and nothing out until the spell is complete.”
“The spell is cast at midnight, right?” Scott said, disregarding Stiles’ comment and locking his gaze with Derek, who stared back impassively. “Fine. See you then. Come on Stiles.”
This time, Stiles did face-palm.“Dude, we brought different cars, remember? Also, I’m not ready to go yet. There are a couple of things I want to go over with Lydia while we’re in the same place.” When Scott looked as though he was going to stay, Stiles turned to Lydia and began talking “We should talk over the maths paper that’s due before the weekend. There are a couple of places where I’m unsure of my formula, and I’m not sure which set of equations are being referred to on page three.”
Scott grimaced, but as Stiles had hoped, it was enough to get him to leave. Scott and maths did not get along. At least, not at the level that Stiles and Lydia spoke it.
Stiles ignored Lydia’s unimpressed eyebrow and began asking the most technical question he could think of about the assignment until he saw Derek’s shoulders relax infinitesimally.“He out of earshot?” Stiles asked, slumping in his seat.
“Yes,” Derek answered.“As unsubtle as that was, it appears to have worked.”
“Of course it did,” Lydia sniffed. “One doesn’t bother with finesse when dealing with a brick, after all. Out with it, Stilinski, I don’t have all night.”
Stiles hesitated, unsure how to say what he wanted to say.
“Tick tock,” Lydia prompted.
“I know we’ve probably all figured this out but it still needs to be said,” Stiles said, running a hand over his face. “There is a high probability that Erica will be one of our three visitors. So we’re all going to need to be prepared.”
Derek’s eyes tightened, and Isaac and Boyd both made small whimpering noises. Erica had been a sore topic ever since her death.
Stiles didn’t know the full story, just that she and Boyd had been headed out of town when something had gone wrong. Boyd’s howls had alerted the rest of the wolves, and when Scott and Derek’s pack had found him he’d been wolfed out, nearly feral and crouched over Erica’s still warm body. Scott, the insensitive ass, had immediately asked what had happened, but no one had been willing to tell him. Stiles, while curious, was aware that Boyd had no reason to tell anyone connected to Scott anything. Particularly considering what had happened with Gerard.
So Stiles carefully didn’t look at them but kept his gaze steady between Derek and Lydia. Lydia had lost none of her composure and merely nodded.
“Derek, I know you and the others will want to talk to her, but she won’t be able to see anyone outside the circle,” Stiles continued. “I, for one, will be happy to pass on any questions or other words you might have, but our time isn’t limitless. So consider carefully, and let me know.”
Lydia murmured her agreement.
Derek didn’t say anything, but his eyebrows asked exactly why Stiles had needed to get rid of Scott before passing that information on.
“Look,” Stiles said as he got to his feet and picked up his car keys. “I know we’ve had our differences, and there’s been a lot of friction. There still is. If it were up to me, Scott would join your pack and we could all be one happy family. But he can’t let his resentment go, and so it looks like I’ll be permanently stuck in the middle. He’s my brother, you know? But you don’t deserve the aggro he’s constantly sending your way. When I can, I’ll try and keep things peaceful. This fighting serves no one.”
Without waiting for a reply, Stiles turned and left.
When he got home he threw himself on his bed and stared at the ceiling.
It had been coming for months now, but he’d finally made his move and stated his chosen stance out loud. He hadn’t been explicit, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out where he’d placed himself. Neither with Scott nor with Derek, but the buffer between them. It was going to be lonely, but Stiles had factored that into his decision.
The truth was, he loved Scott, he always would, but he couldn’t trust Scott to look out for him the same way he had been looking out for Scott. There had been too many letdowns, too many betrayals. Too many times Stiles was left twisting in the wind so that Scott could go off and play the hero for people he didn’t know, or even just hang off Allison’s apron strings.
And Allison… Stiles had tried, he really had.
Okay, only for about ten minutes, but he did try.
He tried to justify her actions, tried to find excuses for them. But in the end, he just couldn’t. On top of everything she’d already done, she and her father remained active Hunters, which worried Stiles a great deal. Who knew what kind of information they were feeding their Hunter buddies? It’s not like Scott was going to hold back anything he thought they might want to know. It was a huge vulnerability, and Stiles didn’t like feeling vulnerable.
Things had been quiet in Beacon Hills for several months now, but that only ratcheted up Stiles’ concern. He just didn’t think their luck was that good.
Tomorrow he’d have to placate Scott about agreeing to perform Lydia’s spell without consulting him. Not that Stiles felt in any way that Scott had a right to be angry, it would just be easier.
Stiles rolled over and buried his face in his pillow. God, why did life have to be so complicated?
By mid-morning the next day Stiles felt almost ready to do murder. He didn’t know if it was through Allison via Lydia or from Isaac, (Stiles was putting his money on Isaac), but Scott had found out about his declaration in record time. He’d clearly felt it was important because he’d broken a date with Allison to come and talk with Stiles about it.
No, Stiles wasn’t bitter that Scott seemed to think that his best friend maybe ‘siding with Derek’ warranted more concern than that same friend’s imminent death. Not at all.
“But, why would you betray me like this?” Scott asked, eyes hurt.
“Exactly how am I betraying you?” Stiles replied, trying to be patient.
“You know how I feel about Derek! You know he’s just trying to get more power, that he doesn’t actually care about us. Why would you side with him?”
“I didn’t side with him,” Stiles said with an eye-roll, twirling in his chair. “I decided to sit your little territorial pissing contest out. And for the record? I think that Derek does care about us. He’s certainly saved my life enough times to give that impression.”
“He was just doing that to impress me,” Scott said dismissively. “He’s been trying to get me into his pack from the beginning, and he thought he could use you to get into my good books.”
Stiles gaped for a moment. “So, you’re saying that the only value I have to Derek and his pack is as a way to influence you?” he asked incredulously.
“Well, you’re human,” Scott explained gently as if Stiles was too dense to figure this out himself. “Naturally you’re not as important as other werewolves. It’s different with me, of course. You’re like my brother, regardless of being human. That’s why you’re in my pack.”
Stiles felt a sudden hot rage engulf him. How dare Scott dismiss him and his many contributions solely because of his humanity? Scott, who moaned and complained about being a werewolf, blaming Derek for his every misfortune as if Derek had personally orchestrated the whole thing just to hurt him, while simultaneously making private deals with psychopaths as if he somehow had the right to make decisions about other people’s lives. And he had the nerve to say that Derek was the out of control irresponsible powermonger!
“I can’t talk with you right now,” Stiles said, falling back on the calming exercises his mother had given him all those years ago, desperately clinging to his dwindling composure. The last thing he needed was for his burgeoning magic to slip from his tenuous control and attack Scott, dick though he was being at the moment. “We can finish this later. Right now, I want you to leave.” Get out, calm down, marshal your thoughts, and only re-engage when all your emotions were under your full command. Words to live by. They might just save his friendship. And his bedroom furniture.
“We need to talk about this now, Stiles,” Scott insisted, with the stubborn refusal to consider anyone else’s preferences that had become so disturbingly common in the last few months.
“No. I really can’t talk about this now.” The rational part of Stiles’ mind was getting worried. It was getting harder to hold his rage back, the fuse shrinking when it appeared that his friend didn’t even respect him enough to leave his house when asked to.“You need to go right now. If you don’t go right now, I’ll use my human power and my stockpile of mountain ash to ensure you can never come here, ever again.”
Scott had looked about to argue, but then he tilted his head slightly, his obvious tell that he was listening to something Stiles couldn’t hear. Scott closed his mouth and backed away slightly. Clenching his jaw, he gritted out “Fine.” and then left, stomping down the stairs and slamming the front door.
“Everything okay?” Noah Stilinski said from the doorway.
Well, that explained that.
“Even six months ago I thought me and Scott would be joined at the hip forever,” Stiles said, still struggling to calm down. “I thought we had this bond that could survive everything, that we’d always be there for each other.”
“He dropped you for his girlfriend?” Noah asked knowingly.
“If only that was all,” Stiles said, feeling the rage drain out of him and his control return under the influence of his father’s steady presence.“I was putting up with that just fine. It was always going to happen when he got a girlfriend, he just doesn’t have the ability to compartmentalise enough to divide his attention. I get that. I get the whole sex thing.”
“I don’t want to know!” Noah said, recoiling slightly. “So long as you’re being safe and you’re not being pressured into anything.”
“What? No, not me!” Stiles snorted. “Virgin Stilinski flesh right here. No, I mean I get that he’d find sex so distracting he’d forget about me for a while. This isn’t that.”
“Then what is it?”
Stiles found himself wishing -again- that he could tell his dad everything. Could ask him to fix it the same way he used to, back while his mother was still alive.
But aside from it not being up to him to out the werewolf population of Beacon Hills – and the world – it was just safer for him not to know.
Not safe of course, nowhere in a town with the kind of supernatural presence they had was truly safe, but safe because nothing that went bump in the night thought he was any kind of threat. The moment the Sheriff started carrying wolfsbane and other useful items to aid against the supernatural he’d be on every nasty thing’s radar.
Stiles was not going to lose his father, not if he had anything to say on the matter.
“It’s just, apparently I can’t have valid opinions that differ from his,” Stiles sighed, choosing his words carefully. “There’s this person that I think is trustworthy, and Scott doesn’t. Which should be okay, but he won’t agree to disagree! I mean, personally, I think Scott’s reasons are stupid and outdated, but I didn’t try to tell him that his opinion was invalid! It just seems that now he has a hot girlfriend and is a school sports star, he thinks that my only contribution is as a badly written side-kick to his main character.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask about that,” Noah said, eyebrows rising slightly. “How exactly did a chronic asthma sufferer turn into a lacrosse champion overnight?”
“Uh…” Stiles hadn’t been expecting that, and he felt his eyes go wide with panic even as his father sighed.
“No, don’t answer that.” Noah’s voice was weary, and he physically withdrew from the doorway. “As amusing as it would be to hear what you manage to come up with, I think we can forgo the creativity for the moment. I was actually wondering if you wanted to grab lunch out. It’s been awhile.”
“Sure,” Stiles agreed guiltily,“let me grab my jacket.”
He’d rather cope with his dad’s disappointment every single day for the rest of his life than have to bury him.
Stiles hoped like hell that Lydia got what she wanted from this spell, that it was worth it. Cause the disruption to Stiles’ life was just going on and on.
Turned out that either Scott was epically wrong, or Derek was playing some sort of long game. Which was frankly rather out of character.
As far as Stiles could tell, Derek was more of a reactor than a planner. Given that he had never expected to be an Alpha and had always had strong family figures he could rely upon to do all the planning, this made perfect sense. Derek must have thrown himself wholeheartedly into the beta role that life had birthed him to, and from several comments Peter had made, had done an exceptional job, been an exceptional wolf. Just, less lead singer and more backing dancer.
So, in the week between Lydia’s conscription of the Hale Pack for her spell and the actual spell itself, Stiles was left to wonder just what Derek was up to with his changed behaviour.
“Isaac said you and Scott had a fight,” Derek said with no preamble, eyebrows set at glare point five – which was practically friendly for their neighbourhood brooder.
“Oh my god, is Isaac the town crier now or something?” Stiles demanded. “Why did no one tell me about this? I can just tell him what I want everyone to know, no need to have actual conversations with people or anything!”
“He said Scott was angry with you,” Derek continued, refusing to be diverted from what he had come to say.
“Yes, well, it turns out as a human I’m not capable of making informed decisions about my own life,” Stiles said bitterly. “Since, thanks to you, he’s decided that he’s the Alpha of his own little pack he’s become as big of a dick as you were.”
Derek’s glare ramped up to one point five.
“Oh, don’t be like that Sourwolf. It’s perfectly understandable that there were some teething troubles while you were settling in as an Alpha. It was a big upheaval, and you were a gigantic ass. But things have settled down. The betas are calmer, you’re calmer, everyone’s calmer.”
“Scott’s circumstances have changed,” Derek said, brows lifting slightly.
“Yes, everyone knows that I ‘cruelly and heartlessly abandoned my friend’,” Stiles said, parroting the lecture he’d received from Scott’s on-again girlfriend. “Which, considering the source, is rather hypocritical. But for the record, if anyone is actually listening, I haven’t abandoned Scott. I just choose not to align myself with him unquestioningly anymore. Quite frankly, he had plenty of chances. Being made into a werewolf didn’t seem to fix his decision-making abilities, and I don’t see why I should do what he says just because he’s stronger or faster than me. Believe me, I tried it. It wasn’t working.
“If I had been wavering, which I’m not admitting to, then my resolve would have been firmed by the discovery that Scott sees me as some sort of optional extra. Not needed at all, kind of like a cute mascot that doesn’t actually do anything productive.”
“He actually said that?” Derek asked, sounding surprised.
“Not in as many words,” Stiles admitted, leaning back in his seat. “But I’ve known Scott a long time. I can read between the lines. For a long time I ignored it, I thought that his Allison-thing was screwing his head up and that he’d come to his senses, learn to balance things out. But it’s not happening. And I have to look after my dad. If I can’t trust Scott to look after me, how can I trust him with my dad?
“I won’t abandon Scott. Not when there’s any possibility he might need me. But it was a mistake to let him decide he was the leader of us. He’s not, and he never should have been. This is the only way that I can think of that might get him to stand back of his own accord. Hell knows he’s not taken any of my other hints.”
“Yeah well, Scott is stupid,” Derek said, making his way towards the window. Just before he got there, he turned back. “I don’t know if Scott’s realised the full implications of you withdrawing your allegiance. That comment I made about him being an Alpha? No longer applies. And, in case it wasn’t obvious, you’ll always be welcome in the Hale pack, in whatever capacity you choose.” Then he was out the window and gone before Stiles could pull his jaw back up and formulate actual words.
Early evening on the day the ritual was to take place, Stiles made sure he was as prepared as he could be. He followed every one of Lydia’s instructions to the letter, including the lemon juice rinse he put through his hair after washing it with the organic soap she had supplied.
His dad was working a double shift, so at least there were unlikely to be any issues from that direction. Stiles was ready and waiting when he got the text telling him his driver was there. Apparently, he wasn’t to be trusted to drive his own jeep this evening, so Boyd was going to do the honours. Which worked out okay, since he had something he wanted to speak to the quiet werewolf about before the ritual anyway, and since Erica’s death he hadn’t strayed far from the rest of his pack.
As expected, Lydia already had everything set up in the ritual space she had chosen. It was a sheltered spot high up in the Reserve. A large tree had once stood there, and the canopy was open to the stars.
“Are you ready?” Lydia asked.
Stiles nodded, taking a deep breath and then blowing it out again. “Where’s Danny?”
“Over there somewhere,” Lydia said, gesturing off to the right. “I know I can trust him not to stumble and fall over a tree root, wiping out all of my careful preparations.”
Well, that was reason enough for a werewolf escort, Stiles supposed.
Lydia fixed him with a glare. “In ten minutes we’re going to enter the circle and begin. So help me Stilinski, if you screw this up for me I’ll make your life such a hell that you will beg for death.”
Even a month ago Stiles would have been cowed by this threat, nodding and shrinking back and doing his best in the hope of placating her.
But his independent spark was still blazing bright it seemed.
“So, you’re going to kill my dad?” Stiles said to Lydia with his eyebrows up as high as they would go. “And you admitted it in front of witnesses before the fact? Nah, you’ve got nothing. Why don’t you try just asking for what you want? The threats get kind of old when you never follow through.”
Lydia’s eyes widened. A smirk developed on her face, and she reached out to pat his arm, stopping at the last moment. “Good. I like this attitude, Stilinski. You’ve got to stop taking so much crap from people. Now, where’s Danny gone? Danny! Get your ass over here, we’re about to start!”
Stiles was still in a rather upbeat mood when he, Lydia and Danny entered the circle. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Scott and Allison pull up in her father’s SUV, and he wasn’t sorry at all that he wouldn’t have to exchange words with Scott, who was still playing the injured party.
Then Stiles’ attention was fully taken up by the requirements of the ritual.
Lydia, as the only female – and the one who wanted this ritual so badly – sat in the central position with Danny on her right and Stiles to her left. Of course, their seating pattern looked more or less triangular – inevitable when there were three of them – but it was Lydia who performed the meat of the ritual.
She finished speaking, and the three of them dipped their fingers in the ceremonial oil and traced their chosen sigils over all three foreheads. Lydia’s was an equilateral triangle, Danny’s a circle. Each sigil had to be a closed circuit, or Stiles might have picked a stick just to fuck with everyone. As it was, he chose a lemniscate, an infinity symbol.
Then they joined hands, sat back, and prepared to wait.
According to all of Stiles’ research, this was the bit that could get long and boring. The ritual opened a pathway and sent out a call to spirits connected with the anchors. Spirits had been documented – as much as these things could be considered documented – taking anywhere up to an hour to make their appearance. It was generally accepted that if no one had turned up after two hours had passed, then you might as well go home.
Most notes indicated that the anchors stayed till sunrise regardless. Stiles could see why. If you went to all of the trouble of finding and performing the ritual, there was probably someone you wanted to see very badly. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t let a dawdling spirit put him off either. And he really doubted that Lydia would be letting them leave even if it meant waiting all night.
In any case, this wasn’t one of those times. No sooner had Stiles, Lydia, and Danny, taken their places and joined hands than mist began to coalesce in the centre of the circle.
It didn’t take Stiles long to recognise the figure materialising. He gripped the hands he was holding tightly as the ghostly form of his mother moved towards him, smiling that wonderful smile that was his alone.
“Oh my Tygrysek, you’ve grown up so well,” Claudia Stilinksi said, ignoring the other inhabitants of the circle. “My little Gwiazdeczko. You make me proud every day.”
“Matka?” Stiles said shakily. He would be lying if he hadn’t considered this possibility when agreeing to the ritual. He’d been hoping, but it was still a huge shock to see it happen in front of him. And so quickly, he’d hardly had time to brace himself. Then what she said registered. “Hang on, you can watch us after you’re dead?”
“Not the way you’re thinking, no,” she replied with a grin before her expression sobered. “There’s a period of between a quarter to half a year immediately after passing on where we can pretty much go where we please and see what we want. After that, we can be there for our loved ones in periods of immense stress, and we’re called to moments when your life hangs in the balance. We’re given an allowance to… check in, as it were, on birthdays. Those of us who are balanced, and also focused and motivated enough can also occasionally slip through during the height of the Equinox. As each year passes, it becomes harder and harder to achieve.
“There’s so much I missed out on,” Claudia said with a sigh. “There is much that we see, but also much that is hidden from us. But your father… oh Tygrysek, he’s still in so much pain. You need to tell him.”
“What? No!” Stiles yelped. “He’ll get involved and then he’ll get himself killed!”
“He’ll get himself killed if you do nothing,” Claudia argued. “He needs something to fight for, something to fight against. As it is he’s on the road to apathy, and from there it’s a short trip to inattention and death. Tell him, Tygrysek. Tell him and let him help you.”
“But-” Stiles began, before heaving a sigh. His mother was giving him That Look. He’d never won against it, not once – and he’d once spent two whole weeks formulating arguments as to why it made sense to have dessert for breakfast. Of course, now that he was a bit older he could see that his persuasiveness probably didn’t have any bearing on the situation at all, but then hindsight and everything.
“There’s so much I never told you,” Claudia murmured, her spectral form taking a seat on the grass in front of him.
“Um,” Stiles said, risking a glance in Lydia’s direction. This wasn’t what she’d signed them all up for, after all.
Lydia raised her eyebrow, but she smiled slightly too.
Claudia reached out insubstantial fingers to stroke Stiles’ cheek, and he could almost imagine he felt them, slightly cool and the tiniest bit damp.
“We didn’t think you would come into any gifts,” Claudia said, meeting his eyes.“I didn’t have very much, and since your father was from Outside we thought anything you received would be dormant. My Clan Leader came to evaluate you when you were three days old, and he said that he couldn’t see your Light.”
Stiles felt himself reel slightly. Could she be any more cryptic? His mother seemed to know what she was talking about and she was talking like he knew as well.
“How could I have known? Admittedly, I should have guessed when you had such difficulties concentrating,” she went on, “but by then I had accepted that you would remain dimmed. In truth, I didn’t really care. You were perfect just as you were, my miracle child, a triumph of science and magic combined.”
Well, Stiles had known that his parents had a lot of difficulties getting pregnant with him, his father had told him that much. The illness that struck down his mother was something she had known about since childhood, and her chances of conceiving and carrying to term had been almost nil.
“There’s a box in the attic,” Claudia said, bringing Stiles attention back to her. “It won’t give you all the answers, but it will put you on the right path. You’ll also find some of the contact information for the Clan. It will be hard, but I know you can do it.”
“Am I supernatural then?” Stiles asked, finally getting his thoughts together.
“No, Tygrysek, you’re preternatural,” Claudia said fondly. “So are your two friends here. How else could you expect this ritual to work?”
“All of my research indicated that the anchors needed to be human and couldn’t be supernatural,” Lydia said sharply.“What do you mean, I’m preternatural? What differentiates the two?”
“Preternaturals are creatures of balance,” Claudia said, moving to Stiles left so that she could converse with all of them. “We’re natural, a gift of the earth. Supernatural beings are the result of intentional meddling with the ebb and flow of the world elements. Preternaturals are the servants of nature, and it is both duty and nature for us to balance the world’s energies.”
Outside the circle, Stiles could see the Hale pack watching with a great deal of interest. Peter in particular looked… almost hungry? Peter better not be lusting after Stiles dead mother. For one, ew. Secondly, Stiles didn’t trust Peter not to resurrect her and stick her under some kind of thrall if he really wanted to.
On the other side of the circle and quite obviously separate from the rest, Scott and Allison were standing together. Allison was fully armed, as she usually was when the packs mingled.
“Like Deaton?” Lydia pressed.
“Alan Deaton? No, Alan is supernatural. He may strive for balance, but that doesn’t make him a creature of it. This young man here… one of the Mahelani’s?” Claudia sniffed the air close to Danny. “Yes, the Clan that your family traditionally looks to is closely associated with water. You yourself feel more like earth to me, which is interesting.
“And you,” she said, turning to Lydia. “Fire, if the hair wasn’t enough to give it away. Fire and shadow paired together as always. You, my dear, have your roots in the Scottish Highlands, the Stuart Clan, if I’m not mistaken. Your Clan has wandered far, but then didn’t we all? Here in this new place, the elements at war since the previous caretakers were slain by the invaders.
“It’s so easy when the elements are unbalanced for anyone exposed to the chaos to become chaotic themselves. So we work together, slow and sure, and try to bring a little order back.”
“Was your mother always this cryptic?” Lydia asked Stiles, with a roll of her eyes.
“Hey!” Stiles objected. “Just because you don’t speak the language, doesn’t make the information worthless. We can learn, okay?”
“I’m not sure how I feel about this,” Danny interjected, smiling apologetically at Claudia. “I’m not interested in being some kind of special being. I don’t really want to get involved, I just want to find out the truth about Jackson.”
“Ah, you called the circle hoping to speak to someone specific?” Claudia asked, her eyes managing to twinkle even though they were made of mist.
“A werewolf we know was killed,” Stiles explained. “Jackson, Lydia’s boyfriend. The reports say it was a random drive-by, but he was a werewolf. Lydia wanted some answers.”
“Ah, you suspect Hunters,” Claudia nodded. “You could well be right. A rising number of Hunters would be enough to make the balance become unsettled. You’re going to have to do something about that, the three of you. It’s distasteful, but they need to be pruned back hard, or they’ll strangle everything in the vicinity.”
“I thought Hunters were supposed to be the supernatural police?” Lydia asked without sparing a glance in Allison’s direction.
Claudia laughed heartily. “Oh my god, where did you get that idea? If they were police they’d be called something like law-bringers. No, they’re Hunters. They – feed isn’t quite the right word, but let’s use it for the moment. They feed off the death of supernatural creatures, and if they’re from a Hunting family they’ve wanted that hit since soon after birth. Maybe it’s better to think of them like drug addicts. They’re addicted since birth, and while some try to manage and overcome their addiction, the majority choose to feed it. The more they feed, they less concerned they become about what they have to do to get that hit.”
“What?” Stiles was gobsmacked.
So was Lydia, if her silence was any indication.
Outside the circle, things had gotten tense.
“I don’t know who that is, but that isn’t Mrs Stilinski!” Scott declared angrily.“Why are you even listening? That’s obviously an evil spirit impersonating Stiles’ mom! I knew I should never have let him do this!”
Derek said nothing, but his entire body language spoke of his preparation to fight. Boyd was at his back, as was Peter, and Isaac was looking worriedly between the two groups. Allison seemed as cool as a cucumber until Stiles looked into her eyes. They were blazing, with what Stiles didn’t feel confident enough to guess. Quite frankly, he was glad he was safe inside the circle. What was it Lydia’s research had said? Nothing in, nothing out. Thank god for that.
The really worrying thing was that everything his mother said resonated through him as truth. It all made so much more sense than the party line the Hunters had been feeding them.
“We were told that Hunters were needed to put down rogue supernaturals, such as werewolves who kill humans,” Lydia said in measured tones.
Claudia snorted. “Wolves police their own, like any successful closed society,” she said. “It’s also highly beneficial to have a stable pack nearby because they take care of any other problems that might crop up too. Why do you think I convinced Stiles’ father to live in Beacon Hills? It wasn’t ‘cause of the shopping.
“Hunters, on the other hand, are known for causing the problem they then come along to fix. ‘Why, hello you poor people who have been attacked by a feral werewolf! Let us nice Hunters fix that nasty problem for you. Of course, we’re not going to mention that it was us killing his entire pack, torturing him, and then setting him free so that we could hunt him across the country for months that turned him feral in the first place! Why would you need irrelevant information like that? Just thank us and agree that we’re the good guys, doing you puny humans a favour.’”
“Puny humans?” Stiles asked, feeling sick. “Are Hunters not human?”
“As human as werewolves,” Claudia shrugged. “They’re not shapeshifters, but they started out by using dark rituals to alter themselves, to boost speed, stamina, etcetera. The crack addiction was a side effect, but not one they care enough about to stop performing the ritual. Which requires fresh supernatural blood, by the way.”
“They’re still performing the ritual?” Lydia asked, sliding a quick glance to where Allison stood beside Scott, who was looking furious.
“Over every baby born into a Hunter family, and every new recruit that formally affiliates with them,” Claudia confirmed.
“The more I hear about this, the more I just want to go home,” Danny muttered.“Are you telling me that there are Hunters here in Beacon Hills, and you lot have been associating with them under the impression that they’re the good guys?”
Stiles and Lydia looked at each other helplessly. It had been logical, right? The furry, strong, monster looking things and the humans who policed them. Okay, they seemed to attract the bad eggs here in Beacon Hills, but surely that could all be laid at Gerard’s door.
But if Claudia was right – and what she said both sounded and felt right – then it was the Hunters that needed policing. Needed-
“Wait, you said we needed to prune them?” Stiles said, eyes going wide.
“It’s distasteful, but so is putting down a rabid dog,” Claudia said sympathetically.
“You’re telling us to hunt the Hunters?” Lydia looked sick.
“What? No!” Claudia shook her insubstantial head.“The best thing for you to do in this situation is Call for Justice.”
“Call for Justice,” Stiles muttered. “Why can I hear the capital letters there? What is Justice, and how would we go about calling for it?”
“There’s really not enough time to go into this right now,” Claudia said regretfully.“I haven’t been able to get the full picture, but it’s obvious that something terrible has happened to the Hales, or we wouldn’t even need to be having this discussion. I know for a fact that Talia was fully informed as to the ins and outs of the system. What you need will be in the attic, Tygrysek. Performing the ritual to enable Justice isn’t hard, not for you at least, but it can have severe consequences.
“Every supernatural or preternatural who has used their power within a certain radius in the last decade will be brought before the court of Heliaia to be judged. And then, if necessary, sentenced.”
“But, that would be a colossal undertaking!” Lydia blurted. “What… How could that even…”
“Magic? To tell the truth, I don’t know the details,” Claudia said with a shrug. “They can do it, though. If you’ve touched the power, you are beholden to the court.”
“And everyone will be judged?” Lydia asked, eyes darting towards Peter. “Including those controlled against their will?”
“It is a fair judgement, everything I ever learnt agrees on that,” Claudia assured her. “Those not in control of themselves, with diminished capacity, that is taken into account. For instance, that hypothetical feral wolf we spoke of earlier? He would not be held accountable for any deaths after being driven to that state by the Hunters. The Hunters involved would be the ones held accountable.”
“What gives this ‘court’ the right?” Scott said furiously, his eyes glowing an ominous golden colour. “And what about Hunters that have saved lives by taking out evil supernatural beings?”
Stiles sighed. “We have a question about Hunters from our audience,” he said inclining his head in Scott’s direction. “Scott’s girlfriend is from a Hunter family, he wants to know what happens if they’re ‘good’ Hunters.”
“Hello, Scott!” Claudia said with a big smile directed vaguely in the upset werewolf’s direction. “If his girlfriend and her family follow the Code, they shouldn’t have any problems.”
“The Hunter’s Code?” Lydia’s eyebrows were rising again. “The implication has been that the Code was a moral choice, made individually or as a family group, but not in any way something that is enforced. To be honest, we haven’t come across many Code-following Hunters.”
“If they’re not following the Code, they deserve what they get,” Claudia said firmly. “The last time Justice was called for, it was only by promising to adhere to a strict Code that the species of Hunters survived at all. According to the records, the vote for ending them was extremely close. And quite frankly, the Code doesn’t call for any extraordinary measures or discipline. In order for a Hunt to be justified, there must be overwhelming proof of a supernatural being’s wrongdoing. And not just ‘A werewolf did it, and he’s a werewolf, so he must be guilty’ either. Actual solid proof, enough so that it could stand up in a court of law if it had to.”
“Right.” Lydia was looking as conflicted as Stiles felt.
Because having this Justice thing as an option up their sleeves sounded like a really good idea.
Most of their problems were the result of Hunters, after all. What if that’s why Kate and Gerard had targeted the Hales? Get rid of the Alpha – since she knew how to call for this Justice thing – and then slowly pick off those that were left, with the rest unaware of their rights.
Get their fix with no one to stop them.
And then there was the Alpha pack that had been making noises a while ago, before mysteriously pulling up stakes and making tracks. Stiles was pretty sure that it was the Alpha Pack who had actually killed Erica. Perhaps that had been a mistake on the Alpha’s part? Who knew?
But getting back to calling for Justice, it might be a bit of a double-edged sword. Because that would mean that most of Stiles’ friends, and Stiles himself, of course, would be under scrutiny too.
“I know that look on your face,” Claudia said, quirking an eyebrow in Stiles’ direction. “What have you done that worries you?”
“I maybe might have set a werewolf on fire?” Stiles said, speaking quickly and trying not to stumble over his words. “But he was killing people! Okay, people that had been directly responsible for the fire that killed most of his family, but he also bit Scott and tried to turn Lydia and threatened to turn me!”
“You and Lydia can’t be turned. But, you set a werewolf on fire when almost his whole family had already been killed in a fire?” Claudia asked, looking concerned and just a little bit disappointed.
And so the whole story came tumbling out. The first half of Laura’s dead body being found in the Preserve, Stiles taking Scott out to see it. Scott being bitten, and everything else that had happened in the lead up to Peter’s death.
When Stiles told her about the legend that a new wolf killing the Alpha that turned them would revert to humanity, his mother snorted. “Don’t tell me you fell for that codswallop?”
“Um…” Stiles glanced between Derek, who was standing with his feet planted and his arms crossed across his chest and eyebrows at glare level three, and Scott, whose pose mirrored Derek’s in almost every way but was nevertheless much less intimidating. “I didn’t really have an opinion? I didn’t get the chance to research it before it was a moot point, anyway.”
“That’s an old myth the Hunters started,” Claudia said with a sigh. “It’s an effective way to work around the Code. The idea was that a brand new wolf would be convinced that the only way to save him or herself from Hunters is to become human again. The new wolf would instead end up with the Alpha’s powers, and subsequently lose control of themselves. With an out of control Alpha, the whole pack would become volatile, and that’s when the Hunters would turn up just in time to ‘save everyone’, and coincidentally get their fix.”
“So there was never any way for Scott to become human again?” Stiles asked, wanting it to be stated out loud unequivocally. A lot of Scott’s ‘proof’ that Derek was ‘against him’ was his insistence that Derek had stolen Scott’s salvation by killing Peter. Maybe Derek already knew that it was a myth, just not the origin and purpose of it.
“Yes there is, sort of, but that’s not it,” Claudia replied. “If he was bitten against his will, he can apply to the court to have the wolf spirit disengaged from him. He will still register as supernatural as far as the court is concerned, but he will no longer have any of the benefits that being a werewolf would have bestowed upon him, will no longer feel the pull of the moon.”
For the first time since Claudia had started explaining the truth about Hunters, Scott was looking less angry and more interested. Had he missed the first bit of that? Was he only concentrating on the bit where he could become human again? Did he realise that would mean no more first line, hello again asthma? And if Stiles had heard right, Hunters might still be after him if he was technically supernatural. Would killing a de-wolfified Scott still provide that high that his mother had spoken of? Would Hunters even care one way or another, would they just go ahead on the chance?
“He’ll be glad to hear that,” Stiles said, deciding to put that speculation away and to settle on feeling relieved. If Scott chose to have his lycanthropy removed then there would no longer be any reason for Stiles to hold himself so separate from the Hale Pack.
“What concerns me is what happened to Peter Hale,” Claudia said with a frown. “I remember him, you know. Talia’s youngest brother, the one that she was so proud of. Such a bright intellect and he intended to use it to help werewolves all over the world. For him to become the creature you’ve described… there was more going on there. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he’d been visited repeatedly while he was in his coma by the evil disgusting creatures who set the fire in the first place. That kind of madness is not natural in a wolf.”
When Stiles glanced over to the Hale side of the circle, he could see that Peter had shrunk in on himself slightly.
“He managed to get himself resurrected, you know,” Stiles said, glancing apologetically towards Lydia, whose expression was one of icy disdain.
“Really?” Claudia looked intrigued and turned towards Lydia. “And you were the vessel, I suppose?”
“Not by choice,” Lydia replied, the words clipped and bitter.
“You are a creature of balance, my dear,” Claudia said reaching out a hand towards Lydia, then dropping it again. “The only way such a thing could have happened was if the very earth cried out at the injustice of what had happened. How is Peter now? Is he recovered? Surely he would have been resurrected with his sanity restored to him?”
“He’s okay, I guess,” Stiles said uncomfortably. “Derek has accepted him into his pack, but-”
“No one really trusts him,” Lydia said bluntly. “We’re all waiting for him to betray us. He killed his own niece for her Alpha power, after all.”
“That action alone is all the proof you need of his insanity!” Claudia shot back. “If the earth saw fit to return him, then the elements themselves feel that he is deserving of better. Who are you to decide differently? You seem to feel strongly about being used as an agent of his return against your will. He didn’t choose insanity! He was as helpless as you were, so maybe you could extend him the same courtesy you bestow upon yourself.”
Lydia didn’t say anything, but her rigid unyielding pose said enough for her.
Stiles looked over to the Hale group, and it was clear that there was a lot going on there. Now wasn’t the time to go through it, though. He resolved to try and put his animosity towards Peter to one side long enough to actually sit down and talk with the man.
When he turned back to his mother, she was smiling approvingly at him.
“An open mind is all you need, Tygrysek,” she whispered, and he shivered, remembering the last words she had spoken to him before she died. “Keep an open mind, and anything is possible. Tell your father. Let him help you.”
She started to fade, and Stiles had to swallow his instinctive objection. Part of the price of summoning was letting go again. After all, there was always next year.
When the last of the light Claudia had brought with her was gone, Lydia dropped Stiles hand like it was on fire. All three anchors shook out their arms, and Stiles’ numb brain wondered how those applicants who had waited all night had coped.
Also, how many of those left waiting had failed because they weren’t preternatural? After all, if Lydia had gone with Scott’s suggestion and used Allison as the third anchor, then right now they would be on track to being on of those documented failures.
“Next try?” Stiles asked when his arms felt normal again. “We get three tries, right?”
“Right,” Lydia said, her earlier discomposure nowhere to be seen. “Let’s get started.”
Lydia performed the ritual again, and all three drew their symbols once more, only, this time, Lydia drew the circle, Stiles the triangle, and Danny the infinity symbol. Once again they joined hands, and once again the mist began to form almost instantly.
Like last time, the figure that coalesced was female. Unlike last time, Stiles had no idea who it was. She looked vaguely familiar, though, and it was the sharp inhalations from where Derek and his pack were standing more than anything else that gave Stiles the clue as to the identity of the spirit before him.
“Laura?” Stiles asked incredulously. “Laura Hale?”
“Guilty,” she responded, looking the three summoners over with a critical eye.
Maybe it was something in the way she held herself, some remnant of her Alpha-ness showing through, but Stiles felt a sudden need to apologise for the indignity he had visited upon her dead body by digging it up.
He might have even said something if he wasn’t distracted by seeing Lydia’s reaction.
Never, in all the years he’d been watching Lydia Martin, had he seen her react so submissively to another person. Even with Jackson, she always presented an image of poise and strength, daring anyone and everyone to just try and underestimate her. Airheaded, yes, but submissive? Never.
But under the gaze of the spirit of Laura Hale, Lydia ducked her head and dropped her eyes. What the hell?
“Well, this is kind of awkward,” Laura said with a sort of amused sounding drawl. “I should probably apologise, I actually had to argue my way past several contenders to take this spot. But in truth I really don’t care, so we should probably bypass all the bits where you complain that I wasn’t who you were expecting.”
“But, how?” Stiles asked, baffled. “Not that I’m complaining,” he clarified hastily when she gave him a passable rendition of Derek’s glare – or, oh my god, had Derek been imitating his big sister all this time? Priceless! – “but all of the research made it pretty clear that the summoned spirit needed to have a pretty strong connection to one or more of the anchors, and I’m almost completely sure that this is the first time that any of us have even met you.”
Laura smirked. For a moment, she looked uncannily like Peter. “You did your ritual on Hale land, little star. We’ve given our blood in the protection of this land for more generations than there are written records for. We weren’t always called Hale, of course, but our pack has been here since long before the European wolves emigrated and married into our numbers. You think you have no connection to me? When two of you have bonds to my pack, the pack that is one with this land? Quite frankly you’re lucky you got anyone but Hales. There’s quite a congregation here, you know. I was actually first in line, but that Claudia is pretty sneaky, and she’s got an elbow that should be registered as a concealed weapon.”
“Was Jackson one of the spirits waiting?” Lydia asked, for once dropping her mask and allowing the naked hope she felt to show clearly on her face.
“I can’t tell you, I’m sorry,” Laura replied, and to her credit, she did sound sorry about it. “I can tell you that your last visitor should be able to give you the answers you seek. In truth, the only reason I came through first was that we didn’t know if you would continue the ritual once you got the answers you came here for.”
“What the hell is going on?” Scott demanded from outside the circle. “What answers?”
Stiles ignored him. So did everyone else.
“Derek,” Laura said gently, looking in her brother’s general direction. “This time you can’t write me off as some stress-induced hallucination. It is me, and it was me those other times too. You need to stop punishing yourself. And you need to let Peter in, don’t make the same mistakes I did.”
“He killed you!” Derek blurted out like it was almost painful. “You were all I had left, and he took…” Derek’s voice trailed off. The poor guy was looking uncertain, and so very young all of a sudden.
Peter turned his head away, but not before Stiles saw something he’d never thought he’d ever see. Shame, regret.
Stiles had forgotten that Laura wouldn’t be able to hear what Derek was saying. Luckily, Lydia hadn’t. She quietly repeated what Derek had said.
Laura sighed. “He was nearly feral, Derek, and already insane. And that was partly my fault. I was the Alpha, and I abandoned him to his pain, took his only remaining pack to the other side of the country. He laid the trap that brought me back here, true. But I should have waited until you could come with me. It was foolish in the extreme to come alone. Believe me, Derek, I’ve had a lot of time to think about this.” She grimaced. “Not to mention some rather educational discussions with our mother and several of the other Alphas.”
Derek flinched, his beta’s giving sub-vocal whines as they felt their Alpha’s distress.
Laura glanced over Stiles’ other shoulder and began shaking her head in her brother’s direction. “No, Derek! No one is disappointed in you! You’ve done an amazing job, we all think so. Mom is so proud of you! Her baby boy that took on a role you never wanted in order to preserve the pack. We all know that you never wanted to be Alpha. It was the best choice you could have made with the options you had available to you, and since then you’ve been steadily improving! You’re growing, Derek, which is something I never did. I took you and ran, and we hid away in New York until I couldn’t ignore what was going on here anymore, and then I…” She dropped her head.
Derek had moved as close as he could to the ritual circle. He was so close that Stiles could see the minute trembling of his lips.
Laura raised her head and squared her shoulders. She wasn’t looking directly at Derek, but she directed her gaze so close to where he was standing that it almost looked like she could. “Peter took me by surprise,” she said, standing proudly. “But he only had a second of advantage. I could still have won. I could have beaten him. But I didn’t. I stayed my hand because I couldn’t bear the thought of striking him down. I failed you as an Alpha, Derek. You are already a better Alpha than I ever was. You need to believe it. And you need to stop punishing Peter, and yourself. Neither of you is to blame.”
Derek’s breath hitched, and he closed his eyes, his entire body language a mirror of Peter behind him. Laura moved as close to the edge of the circle as she could get.
“You and Peter need to forgive each other, Derek. Put an end to this pain. You’re going to need each other, and Cora is going to need you both.”
Derek’s eyes flew open in shock. “Cora is dead.”
“Cora is dead,” Stiles repeated for Laura’s benefit.
Laura shook her head. “Cora is still alive. We can’t be certain where she is, she’s never called out to any of us. We only know that she’s nowhere on Hale land. But she’s alive, and you and Peter need to find her.”
Derek was nodding, and Peter had straightened up from where he had been slowly hunching in on himself.
Laura looked back over Stiles’ shoulder and nodded.
“Is someone outside the circle giving you signals?” Lydia demanded eyes narrowed. “How is that possible? The spirits are supposed to be constrained to the circle, and aware of nothing outside it.”
“I’m a Hale on Hale land, remember?” Laura replied eyebrows raised. “The rules are different when we’re as connected to the land as my family is. You would not believe the earful I got for taking Derek away where they couldn’t find us.” Her expression smoothed out into one of regret. “I can’t stay, I’m sorry. Someone else still needs to come through, and the ritual does have it’s limits. But Derek, Peter, we’re watching you and we love you. Forgive each other. Find Cora.”
With that, she faded.
Stiles dropped Lydia and Danny’s hands, giving his arms a shake while he pretended not to see the cautious looks Derek and Peter were giving each other. More interesting to him was Lydia’s reaction.
For the first time since Peter’s resurrection, Lydia’s gaze held no outward animosity towards him. Whether that meant she was changing her opinion or she’d just decided to hide her antipathy, Stiles had no idea.
For now, they had one more shot at getting the answers they had set out to get tonight. Not that the night so far had been a bust, by any means. Stiles knew that when he got home and was alone in the privacy of his room, he was very likely to have some sort of breakdown.
Then he would need to find a way to tell his father that he’d been running around with werewolves since Laura’s body had been found.
Well, maybe he’d be hit by a falling asteroid on the way home, and he wouldn’t have to deal with it. It could happen, right?
“All right,” Lydia said finally. “Time to get my answers.”
“Once more unto the breach?” Danny asked with a gentle smile.
“I don’t know if ‘modest stillness and humility’ can be honestly used to describe anyone here,” Stiles returned. “Also, is anyone else weirded out by knowing that apparently every move we make on Hale land is observed and commented on by dead werewolves? Anyone?”
“I can think about that later,” Lydia said brusquely. “Now, are you ready?”
Stiles was actually looking forward to answers as well, so he nodded. They did the ritual for the third and final time, with Stiles using the circle as his symbol.
They joined hands, and once again the mist formed in the centre of the ritual space.
Stiles had been sort of expecting this since he’d first read over Lydia’s research, but it was still a blow to see Erica’s familiar features materialise in front of him.
“Hey, Catwoman,” he said, proud that his voice was only slightly choked up.
“Batman!” Erica said, smiling happily. “Lydia, Danny.” She looked outside the circle in the general direction of the Hale pack, who were all huddling together now. “So, just to let you know, because I was bitten by a Hale, and was an acknowledged part of the Hale pack, the land sees me as a Hale. Which means that I’ve got all the after-death privileges the born Hales have.”
Stiles felt his mouth gaping open. “You mean, you’ve been following us around since you died?”
“You got it,” Erica winked. She looked him up and down suggestively.“Did you know that it’s been over a month sine you showered at the House? Just saying.”
Stiles privately vowed to never take another shower at Derek’s place ever again.
Erica sobered, and she turned her attention to Lydia, who was almost visibly squirming with impatience. “I know why you did the ritual, Lydia. I can give you your answers.”
“Are you going to tell me why Jackson couldn’t be bothered to show up himself?” Lydia demanded, her hurt only barely visible.
“The reason Jackson hasn’t shown up tonight is because he’s not dead,” Erica said, looking both sympathetic and angry at the same time.
“What?” came the chorus from outside the circle, every single one of the Hale pack sounding as shocked as Stiles felt.
“But we can’t feel the bond!” Isaac said almost desperately. “That means he’s dead, right?”
Lydia flicked a glance in his direction before focussing back on Erica. “If he’s not dead, then why can’t his pack members feel the bond? And where is he? Why were we told that he was dead?”
“Gather round, children,” Erica said, her voice syrupy sweet. “Let Auntie Erica tell you a story. So, once upon a time, there was a werewolf. He wasn’t a particularly good werewolf mind, but he had never taken a life. We won’t count his actions when he was under the control of a murdering psychopath, because when that was happening he was being controlled, and therefore no more accountable than say, a dagger, or a sword is for the murders that they are used in.
“Well, one day this werewolf and his family took a trip away to catch up with some people they hadn’t seen in a few years. And what do you think happened next? That’s right kiddies, a group of Hunters showed up! Oh, they were pretty slick. First, they shot him in the street where he was walking with his parents. They used some kind of sedative to keep him down, and then another group of Hunters turned up in a vehicle that looked almost exactly like an ambulance and hurried him inside and away.
“His poor parents were left standing at the roadside. When they got to the nearest hospital, there were more people waiting for them, to tell them that their son died in transit and that an unfortunate mix up meant that he had already been cremated.
“The werewolf’s grieving parents were in shock, and before they knew it they’d been bundled home with an urn of ashes, and no son. Since then the father has been trying to get more answers, but you will be surprised to hear, I’m sure, that the authorities have no idea and aren’t being very helpful.
“Meanwhile, our very alive werewolf woke up in a cage. And aside from a few times when the Hunters wanted help with their ‘training’, that’s where he’s been ever since.”
As Erica’s tale unfolded, Stiles could feel the fury building in him, echoed by the rising growls coming from the Hale pack.
Fucking Hunters! He’d had it up to his eyebrows with them and their shit! At least now they had an option available to them.
Lydia had turned pale, but Stiles wasn’t stupid enough to think that she was afraid. No, she was furious.
“But why would Hunters do that?” Scott said doubtfully. “What was Jackson doing? Was he hurting people?”
“Oh my god, McCall, have you not been paying attention!” Danny snapped, and whoa, Stiles didn’t even know Danny could get that angry.
“You all seem eager to believe it, but what proof is there of this? How does she know any of this happened?” Allison asked challengingly. “If the Hales can’t find their daughter, how is it that Erica can find Jackson?”
This time, Lydia didn’t even look over before repeating the question, but the rolling eyes and sarcastic tone were a pretty big giveaway that she wasn’t invested in what she was saying.
“Firstly, given how recent my death was, so far I’ve been able to go where I like,” Erica said, disdain dripping from her voice. “Some of these things I’ve seen. Some have been told to me, and some I’ve overheard directly from those responsible.
“Also, the horrific crimes visited on the Hale family by the Argents were enough to completely disrupt and disorient most of the dead pack here for some time. Since then, they’ve been waiting for Cora to either call on them or come home, and she hasn’t done either yet.
“And finally, arrogant pretty-boy he may be, but at least Jackson had the sense – or actually was it desperation?– to invoke my name. Along with the name of every other person he’d ever met, mind you. I got there in time to hear him begging for you to find him, Stilinski. For a moment I wondered if I was dead! And then I remembered, oh yeah, I am.”
Over on the Hale side, Peter was frowning.“Hang on, how did the Hunters even know he was there? He hadn’t even been gone a week, and it’s not like it was the full moon.”
Stiles nodded, it was a good question.“I don’t suppose you were able to discover how Jackson was rumbled?”
“As a matter of fact, I was able to discover that!” Erica said, her voice sweet enough to send ten healthy men into diabetic comas. “Because you see, when people have near death experiences, that’s when the ‘recently dead’ are allowed to pay them a visit! So, just after he’d finished helping the Hunters with their ‘training’ last week, I was able to speak with him.” Her grin lost it’s venomous edge, and she just looked sad. “He didn’t really believe it was me, of course. But that doesn’t make his information any less honest or accurate. His captors were quite gleeful when they told him they’d been informed of his presence in their city by the Argents currently in Beacon Hills. The same helpful people who had provided a recent photo for identification purposes.”
It was like a scene in a movie. But then, a lot of their lives had been feeling rather cinematic lately, Stiles thought, even as he turned to stare at Allison. Or maybe not the big screen, maybe this was some fucked up television series. Or a convoluted Robert Jordan-ish novel. Not quite fucked up enough yet to be Game of Thrones.
“What?!” Scott exclaimed, as shocked and disbelieving as Stiles had ever seen him. “That can’t be true! If Allison and Chris passed on any information about Jackson, they must have had a good reason!”
Lydia was gripping Stiles’ hand hard enough to cut off the blood circulation, but he didn’t even think of letting go.
“Allison Argent,” Lydia had drawn herself up, her hair almost a glowing fiery red even in the moonlight, and her eyes spitting fire. “If I get even one bit of proof that what was said here tonight was true, then not only is our friendship over, I will do everything in my power to make your life as difficult as possible for the rest of your days.”
“How dare you threaten her!” Scott was so angry he wolfed out. “She’s supposed to be your friend, and you take the word of some dead ghost over hers?”
Which was an interesting point, Stiles mused internally, since Allison had yet to deny Erica’s allegations. Derek and Peter would be able to detect outright lies, of course. So the sensible thing to do would be to cast doubt on the reliability of the informant, rather than deny the information.
Or to say nothing and let her besotted boyfriend do all her talking for her.
“Are you really this stupid, McCall?” Danny said, also looking furious. “If your crazy girlfriend sold my best friend out as a live action crash test dummy or so that some crack-addicts could get their fix, she’ll have more than Lydia to worry about! Especially when I explain things to Jackson’s parents!”
“Allison is not crazy!”
“She very much is crazy if she thought that she’d get away with this forever!” Danny replied angrily.
“Oh, is McCall defending his psychotic, torture-happy girlfriend?” Erica said, eyes flashing maliciously. “Figures. So blinded by sex he’s quite happy to overlook what Psycho and her family did to his best friend. Why am I not surprised?”
“They haven’t done anything to Stiles!” Scott shouted, sounding triumphant. “There, proof that nothing she said can be trusted!”
“What is she talking about?” Lydia asked sharply, as everyone’s attention swung over to Stiles.
“The details aren’t important,” Stiles said, hoping to deflect interest away from what was still a rather sore subject for him.
“Go on, Stiles,” Erica said ruthlessly. “Tell them all about the time we spent together in the Argents basement after Psycho Allison had shot me and Boyd full of wolfsbane arrows for daring to be in the Hale Pack. After all, Derek had stopped Psycho’s mother from cold-blooded murder, and that can’t be allowed.”
Allison, clearly feeling under threat, had drawn her bow and prepared an arrow. She wasn’t aiming it at anyone yet, but the situation was deteriorating rapidly.
“It’s not important,” Stiles said more firmly. “It’s not why we’re here. We did this ritual to find information on who killed Jackson, and why. Erica, we need you to give us everything you can think of that can help us find him. And Boyd, now.”
Maybe it was petty, but Stiles greatly enjoyed the look of shock on Allison Argent’s face when Boyd shot her with a kanima-venom-tipped tranquillizer dart. He also wasn’t sorry when he heard the loud cracking sound her bow made as she collapsed on top of it.
Scott’s howl of outrage was cut short when he was darted a few moments later.
“He’ll only be out for half an hour or so,” Boyd said unapologetically. “We should probably get on with this.”
No one batted an eyelash, not even Isaac.
It took less than five minutes for Erica to relate everything she knew, and Lydia, Danny and Stiles spent the ten minutes after that playing relay messenger between Erica and her pack.
When Erica’s misty form began to disperse, the Hale wolves began to get agitated, and the whimpering when she was gone was as heart-wrenching as it was pathetic.
Lydia, Danny and Stiles dropped their hands for the final time, and Lydia performed the quick incantation that closed off the ritual and made it possible to leave the circle again.
Just in time for Scott to wake up.
“She wasn’t hurt,” Stiles said before a fuming Scott could say anything. “She was just sedated, and if she hadn’t been getting all trigger happy, it wouldn’t have happened. No one had their claws out but you, Scott. She had no good reason to draw her bow, considering what she’s done with it in the past. In a few hours time she’ll wake up good as new, and no one here will have been shot needlessly.”
“She had every right to draw her weapon!” Scott objected angrily after ensuring Allison was okay. “It’s only fair, we have ours with us all the time!”
Well, that sounded kind of familiar. And when Stiles had a few moments to think about it, he’d figure out where he’d heard that before.
“No one here has tortured your girlfriend,” Boyd said abruptly. “She can’t say the same. You’re not exactly lily-white in this either, so you might want to give it a rest.”
“Okay then,” Stiles said to everyone else still grouped around before another fight could start. “Right now, I’m heading home to check out whatever my mom left in my attic. That Justice thing sounds like something we need to know about as soon as possible. Anyone care to join me?”
There was a general sound of agreeing noises, but as Stiles turned to head towards his jeep, Scott grabbed him by the arm to stop him.
“Stiles, you can’t! We can’t! What about Allison? I can’t let you do this if it’s going to hurt her!”
Stiles rounded on Scott, his fury back in a flash. “You yourself have assured me again and again that it wasn’t really Allison’s fault, that her grandfather was controlling her, that she didn’t mean to do those things. Well, guess what, Scott? Now is the time to put your money where your mouth is. If she wasn’t responsible, then no worries, she won’t be held accountable.”
“And if she was?” Stiles went on, not caring who heard him.“Then she will get justice. We will all get justice. You, me, Derek, Peter. Gerard, if he’s still alive. Lydia. Even Danny, since he helped us tonight. We will all get exactly what we deserve.”
“You don’t know that! You’d never even heard of this Justice Ritual before tonight!” Scott was going on the offensive now.
“I know my mother,” Stiles replied. “I trust her to guide me correctly.”
“That wasn’t your mother,” Scott said angrily. “Your mother is dead. That was some spirit trying to exploit her memory to get you to do some hokey ritual, and we have no idea what it will do! And you fell for it, hook, line, and sinker! She is dead, Stiles. That wasn’t her. That wasn’t any of them. Those spirits weren’t any more real than a ouija board.”
“Well, there’s one quick way to find out, isn’t there?” Stiles said, speaking calmly despite the anger raging through him.
“What? How?” Scott asked, brought up short.
“If we find the ritual in my attic, where my mother said it would be, then that pretty much proves it was her, wouldn’t you say?” Stiles shook Scott’s hand off his arm and continued towards his jeep. Before getting in, he watched while Scott carefully placed Allison in her father’s SUV before getting behind the wheel and revving the engine.
As he opened his door, Lydia appeared at his side.
“Oh, you don’t think for a second that I’m not coming with you,” she said when he shot her a sideways glance. “If this works, this is the quickest way to get Jackson out of whatever hell hole those Hunters have him in.”
Stiles blinked. That hadn’t occurred to him, but she was right. If they were all summoned somewhere to receive justice, then that would include Jackson.
“Wouldn’t they just put him back where they got him from when they were done with us?” Stiles asked, turning the idea over in his head.
“Not if they know what’s good for them,” Lydia said with familiar determination.
Stiles grinned to himself. It was good to see her acting slightly more like herself. Now that there was some kind of plan, she could bend the whole force of her will towards its completion. That role suited her much better than the floundering mess she had been before she’d discovered the summoning ritual.
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