“Is it normal to get so excited over seed packets?”
The sarcasm dripped from Boyd’s mouth like slow molasses, but Stiles managed to ignore him. Instead he kept his focus split between the sauce bubbling on the stove and the sheet of graph paper on the counter in front of him—and the small stack of seed packets beside it.
“The greenhouse is almost finished,” said Derek as he portioned out servings of lasagna, “and he’s getting ready to plant the regular vegetables.”
“My garden,” said Stiles as he absently stirred, “is going to be awesome! I have heirloom tomatoes and several varieties of squash and kale—all of which my dad has agreed to eat willingly if I can make it taste good. It won’t come up until mid- to late summer, but I have to plan it all now because some plants will do better next to others in a plan.”
Boyd nodded absently and piled filled containers into the fridge before pulling out the chicken for the next dish. Erica and Isaac were sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through recipe cards.
They were situated in the Stilinski house that day in the middle of the week. It wasn’t quite a ‘Cooking Day’, but three of the students had school projects due by Friday, so they decided to study together and make extra food while they were at it. One of the meals was going to be an extra-credit Home Ec project for Stiles and Boyd, and they were making enough for each student in the class—and the teacher—to have a small taste, but not to fill up. Their class was after the lunch period, after all.
Erica and Isaac shared a History class, and they were working at the table while picking over recipes for the next official Cooking Day. The Reyes’ and Boyds were happy to have their children working together after school, because neither Erica nor Boyd had had many friends growing up, and Isaac was isolated because of his abuse.
Isaac still was ignorant of the issue of Werewolves. Stiles was happy to keep him that way.
In the back yard, not far from the skeletal shell of the greenhouse, a large piece of yard was plotted off with string and colored flags. Behind the plotted ground stood several wooden racks that Stiles was going to use for raised beds, so that he could grow shallow-root herbs. Some of his garden was going to be edibles, and some was going to be purely magical, but the herbs in the raised beds were a combination of both. The greenhouse would have a special lock, and that would be where Stiles would grow many varieties of Aconitum, as well as rare magical herbs and plants. The seeds for those plants were currently in the garage, in small grow pods for starter plants.
They were already doing quite nicely, thanks to the magical Push Stiles had given them.
After dinner was finished and Stiles had taken Boyd and Isaac home for the evening (and Derek had returned Erica to her home), Stiles would be sending his Spark out with a plan to find everything he could about Jennifer Blake and her possible plans in Beacon Hills. He was already planning to go into the Preserve before the Full Moon so that he could search for the Nemeton, whatever that was. John wanted to go with his son, to help him search, since Derek would be busy with his Pack. The Full Moon was on Sunday, and Stiles wanted protections in place before then if at all possible.
“Are you going to let us sneak veggies from the garden when they’re ready?” asked Isaac as he placed his folder into his backpack.
“Well, I’ll share some of it,” said Stiles as he carried plates to the table, “but I’ll be using most of it here at home. I don’t just cook for you guys, you know.”
Erica chuckled and helped pass around the plates. “My mom has never been happier to be able to eat regular food! And she’s happy to have me help in the kitchen.”
“Why couldn’t you eat regular food?” asked Isaac, confused.
Erica sheepishly looked at Stiles for help, but he merely raised an eyebrow and walked to the fridge for a pitcher of tea. Erica shrugged and dipped her head as she answered. “I’m, uh, having new treatments for epilepsy. I had a very strict diet my whole life, because certain foods can cause problems with seizures.”
Isaac’s eyes widened in shock. “Wow! I did not know that. But this new treatment means you can eat new stuff?”
Erica nodded. “Yeah, but mom still wants to stay away from processed foods. Since Stiles has been keeping his father healthy, the stuff we make together is on my new list. It just tastes better. It tastes a lot better than what I’m used to.” Erica looked at Boyd with wide-eyed innocence and said, “I never knew pizza could be so yummy!”
Boyd chuckled long and hard as he poured his tea.
Stiles stood in front of the coffee table in his living room. On it he had placed the graded paper with the hand-written comment, a white candle, a black candle, a red gel ink pen, and a blank piece of copier paper. The geode and gold and silver candles were carefully discarded under the table in a neat pile. Stiles could use those later, if he needed them. The candles had not burned down too far, and he knew how to magically ‘cleanse’ the geode.
Stiles situated the pen on top of the paper with the cap off before lighting the candles. Once the candles were burning brightly, Stiles sent his Spark into the handwriting on his quiz. He concentrated on the personality of the woman who wrote the note; the way she walked around the classroom, the way she tucked her hair behind her ear, the way she leaned against the front of her desk with her hands tucked behind her back. Stiles pictured Miss Blake in his mind as he focused his Spark, and the test paper flashed brightly three times.
And then the red pen began writing automatically on the blank paper. The red ink filled the page with a name and personal information about the woman; her real name, her address, her personal relationships, her educational background. And the information was in Miss Blake’s handwriting.
When the pen was finished its task, the candles extinguished by themselves and Stiles fell back onto the sofa, exhausted.
John and Derek found him there, napping lightly, an hour later. John gently shook Stiles shoulder, and the tired teen pushed himself into a seated position. “You need to go to bed, son.”
Stiles wiped a hand over his eyes and nodded sleepily. “Yeah, Dad. But I got what I needed.” Stiles gestured to the paper on the coffee table, and John picked it up. “Of course, I haven’t read it yet, but there’s a lot there.”
John nodded over the paper. “Yes, there is a lot of information here. I’m going to take this into work tomorrow and try to verify at least some of it.”
Stiles nodded and glanced at Derek, who was frowning at him. “What’s up, Derek? Why the frowny-face?”
“When you put the protection on me, is it going to wipe you out like this?”
Stiles shook his head. “What? No! No, that’s completely different, okay? What I did here was pull the information out of nowhere. I used a personal item—her handwriting—and I forced it to reveal her true self. When I put the protection onto you, I’ll be using my magic in a more direct way. It’ll be perfectly safe, okay?”
“Okay,” Derek conceded reluctantly and reached out to pull Stiles to his feet. “We can do that tomorrow, before you go into the Preserve on your conduit hunt?”
Stiles nodded and yawned loudly. “Yeah, I’ll be all rested for that. G’night all!”
After Stiles had shut his bedroom door firmly, Derek reached out to take the paper from John.
“So, this is the evil substitute teacher?”
John nodded. “Apparently her name is really Julia Baccari. That name rings a bell for me, so I’ll have to dig into my files at work tomorrow.”
Derek nodded and returned the paper to John’s hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then. Are you sure you don’t want me to go into the woods with you?”
John smiled wanly. “I think we can handle it, Derek. As much as possible, considering I have no idea what we’re looking for. Stiles has a pouch of Mountain Ash and several silvery thingies for protection, and I’ll have my reserve weapon loaded with anti-werewolf ammunition. Whatever we find out there—if we find it—Stiles needs to make it safe and unusable for the Alpha Pack and this evil teacher.”
Derek frowned. “And you don’t know how he’s planning on doing that?”
John laughed grimly. “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to be looking for.”
“You’re not ticklish, are you?” Stiles asked as he brandished a turkey feather at Derek like a sword.
Derek smirked. “If I was, I don’t think that thing is going to do it for me.”
Stiles shrugged and dropped the feather on the kitchen table next to a shallow bowl of shimmery red/blue stuff that looked like liquid opals.
Derek prodded the bowl with a finger and asked, “What’s in this?”
Stiles leaned over the bowl and wrinkled his nose. “Believe it or not, it’s crushed herbs and sunflower oil. It looked like pesto sauce until I pushed my Spark into it and whispered a few intentions.”
“Huh,” Derek huffed. “I guess that’s pretty cool, then.”
Stiles smirked. “Yeah, it’s pretty cool. Now, take off your shirt so I can paint you up.”
Derek smirked back at him and pulled his sweater over his head, enjoying the small increase of Stiles’ heartbeat. At Stiles’ prodding, Derek straddled a kitchen chair backwards, folding his arms over the high back and resting his head on his arms. Stiles picked up the feather and dipped the pointed end into the viscous brew.
“This might be cold, but I’m not sure. I couldn’t test it because it’s not meant for me.”
Derek nodded against his folded arms but said nothing, and Stiles began to paint sigils and runes within the boundary of the tattoo in the middle of Derek’s back. The symbols glowed pearl-white while he was painting, until the glow filled the whole room. Derek’s eyes were closed, so he missed the show, but Stiles hummed in mild delight at the proof of magic.
“Okay,” said Stiles after a few minutes, “I’m done with the messy part. Now you should brace yourself, because I need to push the magic into the sigils and it’s going to get really warm.”
Derek grunted softly, but he visibly braced himself per Stiles’ order.
Stiles dropped the feather onto the table and held his hands lightly over the tattoo and he concentrated on ProtectMagicPackSafetyLove, and he pushed pure energy into the tattoo and sigils. The pearly-white glow changed to a bright, sunny yellow before burnishing to gold and then fading to nothing, leaving only the black ink of the tattoo visible. Not even Stiles’ Spark could detect the magic it held.
Derek struggled to not move as the heat sank into his body, but he sagged in relief in the cool absence of magic once the spell was done. He straightened away from the back of the chair and stood up to redress. When he looked at Stiles, Derek expected to see the young man slouched and exhausted. Instead, Stiles was leaning against the table, smiling brightly and energized.
“Was that it?” Derek asked.
Stiles nodded. “Yup. I worked on that very hard, just so I could get it right. How do you feel?”
“Pretty good,” Derek answered. “What are the protections, exactly?”
Stiles shrugged and gathered his supplies for clean up. “Well, your gorgeous hide is now impervious to Druid magic, so this woman can’t cast spells on you or mind-whammy you in any way. And you’ll be able to withstand any outside Alpha influence, in case they try to get to you that way. It’s also as permanent as your tattoo, now, so you’ll be covered for a long time.”
Derek smiled at Stiles, and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. “Thank you, Stiles. Our Pack will be strong with you by my side.”
Stiles kissed him back, saying, “That was the idea, wolf-boy. I don’t plan on going anywhere.”
Derek watched as Stiles gently washed the bowl, cleansing it of the herb and oil mixture that was no longer shimmery and glowing. Stiles then used corn starch to clean the feather, leaving it pristine and shiny.
“So,” he said once Stiles was finished, “what are your plans for the evening? Do you know how you’re going to find this magical conduit?”
Stiles shrugged. “Well, I thought I’d take Dad along the deeper trails in the Preserve, and I’d send out a SparkTrail to see where it leads. Regina was not exactly helpful in identifying what a Nemeton actually was, so I have no idea what I’m looking for, and I probably won’t know until I trip over it.”
“I still wish you’d let me go with you.”
Stiles shook his head and crossed the room to wrap his arms around the Alpha Werewolf. “No can do, Derek. If this Nemeton is a convergence of power, and the Alpha Pack could possibly be drawn to it, I don’t want to lead you right to them. And before you go all Alpha on me, I will have protections in place in case Dad and I meet unfriendly werewolves in the woods. We both have MagicBombs on us, so we’ll be okay.”
Derek tightened his embrace around Stiles, and Stiles reveled in the touch. Since their date on Stiles’ birthday, Derek had become more tactile with Stiles, touching and hugging more often. Stiles loved it; loved feeling cherished and wanted and safe. They’d only kissed a few times, chaste pecks on the cheek or lips that showed slow affection, but Derek was always reaching for Stiles when they were together. Stiles was still surprised that he could have this. He was almost certain that he’d have to get used to watching Derek and longing from afar, just like he had for Lydia Martin before he regained his sense and saw her for the shallow person she had become.
Derek wanted him, too. He was cautious and gentle, not wanting to give the impression that he was a predator like Kate Argent. The fact that he sought and asked for John’s permission to date Stiles went a long way to impress both Stilinskis. Stiles never had fear that Derek would try to pressure him in any way, and he knew Derek respected and trusted him.
Stiles kissed Derek’s cheek and he stepped away from the older man. “I know you’re going to worry, but try hard not to, okay? Nobody can really connect me and Dad to the Hale Pack, and we’re going to look exactly like what we are: a father and son going for a hike in the woods.”
Derek nodded reluctantly. “Okay, I’ll try not to worry. But you’ll have to let me know if you find anything.”
“I can promise that. I’ll call you when we get home, because there will be no cell service in the woods.”
John stared in confused horror at the sight in front of him. “I’m not sure what I thought we’d find, but this is not it.”
“Yeah,” Stiles whispered solemnly.
After two hours hiking in a north-westward direction in the darkening evening, Stiles’ Spark lit up within him and he took off running due north, leaving John to stumble after him, grumbling. They ended up in front of an enormous rotted tree stump that Stiles could have easily parked his Jeep on top of.
The aura it put off was quiet and lonely, but it was not evil—not yet.
Stiles walked closer to the stump, but John placed a hand on his shoulder to halt his progress. “This isn’t going to hurt you, is it?”
Stiles shook his head. “Not at all. The energy of this thing is benign, like a—like an electrical current, okay? It could light a room or it could shock someone to death, but it has to be applied. All I have to do is apply my own magic to it, and it’ll either heal the Nemeton, or it will make the whole thing totally inert and unusable. Either way, this Baccari woman will not be able to use it for any purpose, and that’s what’s important right now.”
“And you’re sure this is going to work?”
Stiles nodded, confident. “My magic is literally running on ‘because I said so’. I have no doubts about this, so it will work.”
John nodded and released his son. Stiles dropped his backpack at the edge of the stump and opened it to remove several paper bags. In the preparation for this trip, Stiles drove to San Francisco—a four-hour trip one way, but his dad trusted him—to visit a few occult shops that Rachel recommended. He looked through a few helpful books on natural healing (not quite what he wanted, but it gave him ideas) and bought…rocks.
From his paper bags, Stiles pulled salt crystals (2-inch diameter), a few tiny moonstones (Ha!), several bits of snowflake obsidian, and a few inch-long pieces of rutilated quartz. The whole lot put him back a couple hundred bucks, but his father had agreed to let him use college money, since it was important to protect the town, county, and territory. There were also shavings of wood from birch, walnut, oak, cherry, and maple trees—more than a fist-full of each. Along the hike, Stiles took time to pick early flowers and bush-buds, figuring the local flora could only help with whatever he found in the woods.
Now, Stiles took the time to make several circuits of the stump, layering the wood shavings as he went. All Stiles thought about was SafeHomeFreefromdangerHealthy, and he continually pushed his Spark into the stump. After his fourth go around, Stiles started dropping his rocks near the root-base, watching closely as they sank into the dirt at the base of the stump.
It was on his sixth circuit that Stiles stumbled and almost fell. John, who had been watching closely with one hand on his weapon, was at his son’s side immediately.
“I’m okay,” Stiles said as John helped him back to his feet. Stiles looked down and saw what appeared to be a cellar door—a rotted cellar door—at the base of the tree. John bent to touch the opening, but Stiles stayed his hand. “Wait…just wait, okay? Let me….”
Stiles ‘sparked’ down into the opening, reaching with his magic to investigate the hole.
And he drew back in horror.
“Oh, my god!” Stiles gasped, and he fell to his knees.
“Stiles!” John dropped beside his son. He pulled Stiles away from the hole and drew him against his chest. “I thought you said this wouldn’t hurt you!”
Stiles was trembling, but he wasn’t in pain. “I’m not hurt, Dad. It didn’t hurt me. It’s just…full of pain. It’s so full of pain.”
John moved away from Stiles and shined his flashlight down into the cellar hole. There were stairs there, and they looked solid, but all was black inside.
“I bet,” said Stiles softly, “that if we did a very old property search, we would find that the Hale family—or some iteration of it—owned this. Maybe they still do. And this…Nemeton…was an important power source for an ancient Emissary. But it has known pain—so much pain.”
John nodded grimly. “You can only feed something badness for so long before it starts to corrode. This tree was cut down, I dunno, maybe fifty or sixty years ago. The cut has healed over but the roots still look strong.”
“Yeah,” Stiles whispered. “Remember when Derek told us about Paige Krasikova? I think this is where she died. I can feel a shadow of it, but it’s faint—like the pain of that act is not as bad as anything else that happened here.”
“Right, then,” said John as he helped Stiles to his feet. “We’ll be kind and tell Derek about this, so he doesn’t accidentally run the Pack through here and find it without support. Do you think what you did is going to make a difference?”
Stiles chuckled weakly and nodded to the tree. “Yeah, I think it helped a lot, actually.”
A single, strong sapling was sprouting in the center of the old stump.
The April Full Moon passed uneventfully. Scott seemed to have finally gotten with the program, and Derek reported that, while he did have Scott chained, the stubborn teen was not nearly as snarly as he once was.
Maybe the ‘snarly’ part was all Stiles’ interpretation.
But Erica was happy to report being able to run free with the rest of the Pack for the first time, and she happily regaled Stiles and Boyd with tales of hide-n-seek with the Hanson kids on the ride into school. She might have preened about her control a bit, because she knew Scott was having trouble, but Stiles let it slide because Erica deserved to preen. She fought hard for her control.
When Stiles and Boyd entered their first-period English class, the first thing Stiles noticed was that Miss Blake seemed all out of sorts.
So Stiles preened a little, himself.
The newbie twins, however, seemed not to have been affected at all. They didn’t even seem tired from the Full Moon, and Stiles knew that they should have been all sorts of exhausted. Alphas without a Pack, according to the sources that Stiles had been cultivating, expended a lot of personal energy to keep in control with the Moon took them. Peter Hale was all out of control during the Full Moon—and people died horribly back then. Derek was okay, but he had the Pack to keep him balanced.
The Alpha Pack should not have been relaxed like this.
Stiles used his Spark to ‘look’ closer at them during their shared classes. He could finally see the strain around the eyes—a tiredness that looked a lot like lack of sleep and headache. Stiles saw that a lot while his mother was sick, as her illness to a toll on the Sheriff. The twins were affected, so that probably meant that the rest of the Alpha Pack were affected as well. Between classes Stiles sent a text to Derek, warning him to keep an eye out. Derek texted back, telling Stiles to stop goofing off in school.
All was right in his world.
“How do I go about learning about Emissaries and who they belonged with?”
“You’ll have to give me more information than that, Stiles.” Regina Kincaide laughed over the Skype connection. “Emissaries leave Packs for many reasons, and there are not always records kept.”
Stiles sighed and refrained from banging his head against the desk. “Okay, so I told you about my new teacher, right? And she ‘smells’ like Bad Druid to me, so I did some magical digging. The name that came up was Julia Baccari.”
Regina sniffed. “And how did this name ‘come up’?”
“I did some Sparkage spell on the teacher’s handwriting, and when all was done—Julia Baccari was the name written on the paper.”
“Hmmm—what else was on that paper, Stiles. Perhaps I could use that information to find out where she came from.”
Stiles nodded and pulled the spell paper out of his desk drawer. “Okay—here it is: Julia Baccari, from Wildwood, Florida.” Stiles snorted. “Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh, but seriously—a Druid from Wildwood?”
Regina gave a small grin. “Yes, yes, very amusing. What is the rest?”
Stiles looked abashed. “Sorry. Um, she lived and trained near Orlando, and moved to Missouri for a while—Wildwood again. I know she was an Emissary there with the Kliner Pack, but I did call someone there and their Emissary is now a Hedgewitch named Micah Trellis. He seemed very nice, by the way, and could tell me that Julia Baccari fell out with the Pack when she tried to have several of the humans jailed in order to ‘keep the balance’ with the rest of the population. He gave no details, and I never asked, because he sounded really bitter and it was only ten years ago.”
Regina frowned. “There are no ‘Wildwoods’ around here, so that can’t be her only identifier. Have you tried to look deeper? Tried to find any ties to the West Coast?”
“Dad is looking into her from a law enforcement point of view, so that might help if she’s broken any laws and got caught.”
“Okay, then,” said Regina, “let’s wait to see what he finds. That information combined with your Spark could lead to your answers. What else have you found?”
Stiles shrugged and pulled out a notebook. “I had to fish through a classroom trashcan to get a handwriting sample, but the McGuire twins are actually the Bancroft twins from Red Canyon, Utah. The Wexter Pack was in charge there, and by any account Monroe Wexter was a horrible son of a bitch. He was abusive to the point of terrorism, and he allowed or forced the rest of the Pack to be the same way. They took vicious control of Red Canyon, like the Mafia or something—and then the Pack was wiped out about three years ago. The twins were around thirteen years old then, and they were never heard from after the massacre.”
“So,” Regina hummed, “you think the twins killed the Pack and somehow became Alphas? How would that work, with two of them?”
Stiles shook his head. “I have no idea, but I almost commiserate with them. Being abused all their lives, but able to heal quickly because they are Werewolves, must have been horrible.”
“I agree with your sympathy, Stiles, but if they killed once—they’ll surely do it again. Circumstances don’t matter; you know that. Have you managed to identify any of the other possible Alphas in the Pack?”
“Um, yeah,” Stiles flipped through his notebook. “There is Ennis Porter from Pine, Arizona. By all accounts, he was with Deucalion when he came to see Alpha Hale seven years ago. From any description I could get, Ennis is a ‘huge motherfucker’—pardon. So he might be the one Dad saw in the woods back then, and he could be the one that bit Paige Krasikova and ultimately killed her. So—Derek needs to stay away from him until he can promise to keep in control.”
Regina gave an undignified snort. “I’d love to see how you manage to make that happen.”
“I could offer to kiss him into submission.”
The whole Pack, including Erica’s parents, stood in a clustered group as the huge digger made the first incision into the earth, starting what would become a new ‘root cellar’ for the new Hale House. The weather was good—cool but sunny—and the earth was soft from recent rains, but not overly muddy. It was a good day to begin construction, and Derek was in a great mood. Lately, Derek had been in very high spirits. His life was turning around for the better, and the reason was standing all around him: his new Pack—so supportive and loving.
Veronica Dempsey was there as well, looking comically in control with her pink-and-purple hardhat and pastel coveralls. Nobody there laughed at her or the way she dressed, because she was large and in control and knew exactly what she wanted. She stood there, bright among the darkly-clad construction workers, and directed the machines to the proper places to dig, laughing and conferring with the foreman. All of the contractors were ones she had worked with before, so they followed her instructions well. Derek was in awe of the tiny woman.
After knowing Regina Kincaide, and living with Laura Hale for so long, Derek was practically in awe of all tiny women.
But Stiles was not tiny at all; he was almost Derek’s height, but he was thin and lithe, and Derek was in awe of him as well. Stiles had power, yes, but he also had compassion and love and a wicked intellect. Stiles’ father was much the same. Derek was in awe of the fact that these two men accepted him with no question; in fact, they both went far out of their way to help Derek when he needed it the most.
And now they stood there, as part of his Pack, and watched as a construction crew began to build what would become the official seat of his territory. It was a happy time for Derek.
Almost happy enough to ignore the jagged spiral carved into one of the trees that the crew had cut down that morning.
The Alpha Pack was again making itself known.
They had not, however, harassed any of the Pack. Dennis went to work every day, just like Derek, and there were no confrontations. Stacy took the kids to the park and library regularly without incident. Erica walked through the halls at school with confidence, and her parents had no unusual encounters during their day.
Scott had reported, during the last Full Moon, that the twins were stalking him in the halls, but they never spoke to him. Derek had tried to tell Scott and Melissa about the Alpha Pack, but only Melissa seemed to understand how dire the circumstances could be. Scott remained stubborn as ever. The only information Scott had that was any good was that his boss, Alan Deaton, had had a visitor the previous week—a large muscled man with a bald head and a square jaw—who said nothing to Scott but seemed to be trying to intimidate Dr. Deaton. Scott didn’t mention if the large man smelled like a Werewolf, but his senses weren’t completely under control yet. Derek continued to work with Scott because he genuine liked Melissa McCall, but sometimes he despaired of the boy.
The first of many holes were dug and foundation supports were brought in. Derek gathered the Pack together and they left as a group once the heavy construction was begun, so they would not be in the way. It was decided to have a large group lunch to celebrate the new construction, and the Reyes’ led the procession out of the Preserve and into town. They converged onto a pizza joint, where several tables were shoved together and laughter rang through the building.
Thanks to Stiles’ ‘notice-me-not’ spell, they did not fear being seen together in public. Even if someone came into the restaurant right after they did and questioned the waitress about them, they would get no answers. Derek was, indeed, in awe of Stiles.
Allison caught Stiles by the arm in the hall before lunch and pulled him into an empty doorway. Stiles went willingly, motioning for Boyd to go ahead to the library. The bigger boy shrugged and moved on.
“What’s up, Miss Argent?” Stiles asked evenly. He glanced around the hall, but saw no sign of Lydia or Jackson or Scott.
“A man went missing this weekend, Stiles,” Allison hissed. “Scott told me he was the last person to see him.”
Stiles frowned. “No, I haven’t heard anything. When did this happen?”
Allison shrugged. “I’m not sure, but Scott told me that he had a customer at the clinic this weekend—a young man with a poodle. But when Scott left work, he found the dog in the parking lot and the man was gone.”
“And you’re telling me this why?” Stiles wracked his brain for any hint of what might have happened. He came up with nothing. “The Pack had nothing to do with that.”
Allison shook her head. “No—no, that’s not what I meant. I mean, you said the Alpha Pack would try and cause trouble for you guys. Could they do something like this?”
“No, Allison. An Alpha Pack wouldn’t do something like this.”
“How can you be sure?” she hissed, watchful for any intruders into their conversation.
Stiles sighed. “Because this guy was last seen at the vet clinic. If he was taken, it would only serve to antagonize Scott, and he’s not part of the Hale Pack. The Alpha Pack will attack us directly. They’ll find people that we’re close to, not some random stranger with a cuddly dog. Was the dog okay?”
Allison blinked at the question. “I’m…I’m not sure. I guess so.”
Stiles smiled gently at her. “Look, if it will make you feel better, I’ll ask my dad about it this evening and I’ll call you. But I’m sure it’s not the Alpha Pack that did it.”
Stiles walked to the library making a mental note to add this to the discussion he would be having with his father. John was going to be bringing home the results of his search for Julia Baccari, and they would be comparing notes over dinner.
John greeted his son in the kitchen with the words: “A young man that went missing this weekend has turned up this evening in the hospital.”
Stiles stopped stirring the stew and turned to face his father. “What?”
John sighed and dropped a file folder onto the kitchen table before sitting heavily in a chair. “A young man was taken on Saturday morning, and was reported missing on Sunday. That damned twenty-four hour hold on emergency calls….anyway, he was last seen on Saturday by a vet tech who gave his dog shots: Scott McCall. Didn’t Scott tell you any of this?”
Stiles huffed and turned back to the stove. “No. But he told Allison, because she told me before lunch today. So the guy is okay?”
John wiped a hand over his face in frustration. “Yeah, he was drugged and he has a lot of bruising around his neck and throat, but he’s alive. He was very confused and asking about his dog, but he had no idea who took him or where he was.”
Stiles carried two bowls of stew to the table, where two water glasses were already waiting. “Who is this guy? Is he from around here?”
John shook his head. “He’s from Beacon Heights, and he’s a senior in the JROTC. I’m assuming that he could have fought back if he hadn’t been hit from behind. The only thing he remembers is being in the woods before blacking out again and waking at the hospital—where he was dumped in the early-morning hours. Nobody there saw anything, either.”
Stiles frowned. “I think I might need to make another trip into the woods, just to make sure the Nemeton hasn’t been tampered with.”
“I thought you said whatever you did would keep that from happening.”
Stiles shrugged. “I said that, yes. But what I did wouldn’t keep anyone from trying to tamper with it. And if they failed, that might be why this guy is still alive. But I want to be sure. So—what did you find about Julia Baccari?”
John swallowed his bit of stew before flipping open his file. “Well, I was right that I had heard the name before. Four years ago, a woman was found in the woods in Sunny Valley, Oregon. She was torn apart, literally. The call went out to all law enforcement on the west coast because she looked like a victim of an animal attack, but there were human handprints on her body as well. Her name was Julia Baccari, and she was mostly dead when she was found. According to this report, she went missing from the long-term care facility that she was placed in about four months ago.”
Stiles paused in his eating to frown at his father. “That would have been in January, Dad. And that was right around the time Peter Hale was on his rampage. She must have some kind of attachment with the Alpha Pack, because they would have been on the way here by then.”
John hummed in agreement. “Once she was identified, there were witnessed that came forward that said she was always in the company of Kali Steele: a part-time park ranger in Wolf Creek Park. Right around the time of Julia’s attack, Kali Steele went missing and several other women were found dead in that area—all with throats slashed. A drifter with a violent past was brought in for questioning, but that went nowhere.”
Stiles picked up his spoon again. “What are the odds that Kali Steele is an Alpha Werewolf and Julia Baccari was her Emissary?”
John leveled a look at his son. “You know I don’t believe in coincidences, Stiles.”