When A Wolf Howls
Summary: When a horrible act of malicious violence brings Sentinel Stilinski and Potential Guide Hale together again, they both learn that wolves howl for many different reasons: They howl to mourn, they howl to bring the Pack together, they howl to celebrate, and the howl to hunt.
When Sheriff John Stilinski pull onto the Hale property, he was met with a scene of horrifying chaos: The house, clearly once on fire, was still smoldering, with smoke drifting lazily out of broken windows, the emergency vehicles were lined up along the drive, with personnel drifting about trying to find a purpose, and his son, an online Alpha Sentinel, was arguing with what appeared to be the Fire Chief near the front porch.
The fireman was standing in front of his crew, two of which were holding an unfurled fire hose, and it appeared that Stiles—Sentinel Stilinski—was refusing to allow them to put out any small sparks that might still be alight in the house. As John climbed out of his SUV, he barely registered another dark-colored sedan pulling in behind him because his focus was solely on his son. “Sentinel, what seems to be the problem here?” he asked using his official ‘I’m in Charge’ voice.
Stiles immediately stepped back a pace and turned his attention to the Sheriff. “I can smell some chemical around the porch and the base of the house and Chief Webster wants to take water onto the property. I think that would be a massively bad idea, but the Chief doesn’t seem to respect my authority here.”
John frowned at the Fire Chief, a man he’d had a good working relationship for many years. “What’s the issue, Chief?”
Webster crossed his arms defensively. “Look, Sheriff, I know he’s your kid and that you seem to be very proud of him, but he’s got no business telling me how to deal with a fire scene.”
John’s frown deepened. “No—you’re right that my teenage son has no business telling you how to handle a fire. But,” he said quickly when the Chief offered a smug grin, “the Alpha Sentinel of this territory definitely has a right to inform you of any dangers present, so if this Alpha Sentinel says there’s a chemical around the house that might react badly to water, I think you should listen to him.”
“I will emphatically second that motion, Sheriff,” came from behind him, and John turned to see the Director of the Northern California Sentinel/Guide Center walking toward him.
“Sentinel Mercer,” John greeted, “what are you doing here?”
Mercer stopped just in front of the two emergency chiefs and offered a green folder to John. “Our S/G investigative team had been looking into a possible incident of Guide interference locally, and facial recognition just came back on the possible perpetrator. Her name is Kathleen Regina Argent, also known as Kate, and she seems to have a history of using arson to annihilate entire families, and one of her methods seems to be placing water-reactive chemicals around the perimeters of her target properties.”
Chief Webster dragged a shaking hand down his face. “Jesus!” he exclaimed haggardly. “If we’d gone in there with hoses….”
“As I said,” Stiles said snippily. “Don’t discount me because of my age, Chief Webster. I’ve been online a very long time, and I’ve had more training than you can imagine.”
~ ~ ~
Talia Hale had never been one to believe in prophecy or foresight, but when the S/G investigative team told her that someone was possibly targeting her son, she was overcome with a cold feeling of dread and she immediately called home to make sure everyone was doing well. Her oldest child, Laura, answered the phone and told her that all was just fine and boring at home—but that Derek was brooding in his room and refused to talk to anyone.
Derek had been on the cusp of coming online as a Guide for some weeks, and while the family was trying to be supportive, none of them had any idea how to really help. As a werewolf, Derek, like the rest of the Hale family and Pack, could already hear heartbeats well enough to detect lies and could ‘scent’ chemical changes that indicated emotions, at least to a certain extent. Talia had always assumed that Guides were similar in their abilities, until she began escorting Derek to the local S/G Center for ‘pre-training’. The trainer, a Guide and physician by the name of Douglas Taylor, had been clear that most Guide abilities were more than physical; that most high-level Guides worked best on a spiritual and metaphysical level.
Talia and Derek learned that Guide gifts ranged from spiritual and empathic healing to empathic manipulation to base telepathy, and the stronger a Guide, the stronger the gifts. Derek was tested for base levels once it appeared that he could possibly come online, and Dr. Taylor said that Derek could possibly level out at mid-range without a Bond—perfectly respectable levels for an un-bonded Guide. Dr. Taylor assured them both that Derek could live a perfectly normal life without a Bond, and that his Guide abilities would only enhance that, but proper training could only really happen after he came online. When asked, Dr. Taylor could only tell them that there was no way to know what would trigger the Emergence. It could be a gentle thing, like a birthday celebration, or it could be a rough Emergence triggered by a massive empathic event. The fact that Derek had reported to ‘making’ his friends feel happy sometimes was encouraging, so Talia took Derek to the Center once a week for pre-training.
Talia had had high hopes for Derek to come online smoothly with no traumatic stressors, but now it seemed that the woman who had convinced Derek that she was his Sentinel was actually someone very dangerous. The phone call home had not alleviated the feeling of dread, so Talia bid a hasty farewell to the S/G investigators and closed her office for the day.
“I’ve got inquiries out to several law enforcement agencies, Alpha Hale,” said Guide Murray, using her Pack title with respect. “When we find out who that woman is, I’ll be sure to let you know. We don’t like the fact that one of our potential Guides is a possible target.”
Talia’s eyes narrowed. “I appreciate that, Guide Murray, but I don’t like the fact that one of my children is a possible target.”
It had been a long day, and the meeting with the investigators made it even longer. Talia often worked past the dinner hour, but she always tried to be home well before her children went to bed. Lately she’d been anxious about her son, so she’d been trying to spend as much time as possible with him, but she had a major case coming up and it was taking so much of her time. The sky had long gone dark by the time Talia left the city limits on her way home, and her stomach tightened more and more the closer she got to home. Sometimes she hated the fact that the Hale Pack lived so far into the woods, away from the rest of Beacon Hills.
The darkness increased the closer Talia got to home, and then the air seemed to thicken. Talia squinted through the windshield and was stunned to discover that there was smoke in the air—not a good sign deep in a wooded area. And the smoke grew thicker as Talia rounded the private paved road that led to her huge home. Talia pressed harder on the gas pedal, speeding toward home with a sense of urgency now, until she slammed on her brakes once the house was in front of her; it was surrounded by thick, black smoke, and orangeredwhite flames were shooting out of the kitchen and den windows.
She could hear the screams of her family from inside the burning house.
Shaking, Talia reached back inside of her car for her cell phone, but before she touched it she could hear sirens. Terrified, she ran toward the house, only to be forced backward by some invisible shield. Reaching out into thin air, Talia could ‘feel’ a solid barrier between her and her burning family, but there was nothing she could do.
Inside the house, voices screamed for help. Outside the house, Talia Hale screamed for her children, her husband, her Pack.
“Talia, you’ve got to back away!”
Talia turned to find her younger brother, Peter, pulling her back toward her car—toward their cars, as she had not noticed him pulling into the parking area behind her. “Help is coming, Talia,” he said urgently. “You can do nothing for them.”
The fight left her as she allowed Peter to pull her out of the danger zone. Distantly she heard the sounds of emergency vehicles coming toward them, but much closer she heard another vehicle with no sirens approaching at an almost hazardous pace. Talia turned her head to a ghostly-blue animal—an obvious predator of some sort—running ahead of a light-colored sedan, the passenger door of which opened before the car stopped, expelling the blurred visage of a young man Talia had seen before only at a distance: Mieczyslaw Stilinski, son of the local Sheriff and current online Sentinel—and the boy that her son had inadvertently pushed aside in favor of the woman who was probably responsible for this fire.
Talia watched absently as the young Sentinel followed the ghostly beast to an area mere feet from her front porch and wiped his hand along the bare earth, apparently digging for…something. And then—the flames just extinguished, as if a plug has somehow been pulled, and her family flew out the front door and into her waiting arms. Talia and Peter took it in turns to run relieved hands over the faces and shoulders of their Pack member, making sure there were no permanent injuries. They were coughing and sobbing, even young Cora, the most stoic of them all, but their burns appeared to be superficial and would heal quickly because they were werewolves. But they were alive and in front of her.
All but Derek.
Talia looked around, the area now teeming with emergency personnel, but she did not see her son. “Where is your brother?” she asked, clutching Laura desperately by the shoulders. “I can’t sense him! Where is he?”
Laura gasped and pulled back from her frantic mother. “He must be still in the house! He went all sorts of weird just before the fire started and we couldn’t wake him up.”
Talia sobbed and broke away from her family, trying to get into the house, but a fireman stepped in front of her to stop her.
“You can’t go in just yet, ma’am,” he said firmly. “We need to check for hotspots in case of a re-ignition.”
“But my son!” Talia shouted. “He’s still in there!”
“And then you’ll have to trust us to do our job and get him out.”
~ ~ ~
Angela Mercer was quite happy to let her husband deal with the local law enforcement and emergency responders. He had the information that they needed to deal with the arson, after all. But she was a High Level Guide, and her gifts allowed her to project calm and control in stressful situations, and so she was needed away from the Sheriff. Climbing from her vehicle, Guide Mercer approached the cluster of people who could only be the Hales. She ‘reached out’ and projected calm toward the frantic family, watching as each person visibly drooped from a lack of panic. Well, all but one, that was.
Guide Mercer focused her attention on a woman who appeared to be about her age. “Mrs. Hale?” she asked softly. “I’m not sure if you remember me from the S/G Center? I’m Angela Mercer. I realize something horrible happened here, but my main concern is your family. How can I help you?”
Talia turned grateful eyes to the new arrival and said, “My son, Derek, is still in the house. I can’t get a feel for him, so I don’t know what his condition is.” It never occurred to Talia not to indicate that she was ‘other-natured’ since the Sentinel Investigator was aware that she was a werewolf, and it appeared that Guide Mercer was also aware.
The blonde woman turned her attention to the smoldering house and focused outward using all of her mental gifts. “I can feel him, but he’s in distress,” she told Talia. “He has no shields at all, and I think the stress and anxiety of this event has caused him to completely come online.”
Talia groaned softly. “Can I help him? Can you help him?”
Guide Mercer nodded immediately. “Of course we can help him, but first we must get him out of the house and into an isolation room at the Center. Any catastrophic Emergence like this must be treated carefully. I realize that it’s your—family’s—prerogative to personally care for its members, but we really are the best people to handle this right now. We’ll see that your son is stabilized and that his shields are strong, and we’ll up his training, but we will not keep him from you, I promise you that.”
On the other side of the yard, Sentinel August Mercer nodded slightly to his Guide before returning his attention to the Sheriff and Fire Chief. “Gentlemen, I believe it is prudent to get this house cleared immediately. There is a young man still inside; a newly online Guide who is in grave distress. He must be removed with care, and my Guide is the only one on site who is capable of building shields for him so that we can get him out of here.”
~ ~ ~
Mieczyslaw ‘Stiles’ Stilinski prowled restlessly around the large front yard of the Hale family home. His sense of hearing was dialed down low in deference to the sirens of the emergency vehicles, and his sense of sight was dialed back so as to not be bothered by the smoke in the air, but his hearing and scent were both dialed as high as he could get them.
He was hunting; it was the only word for it. Guide Michael Lane stood back and watched as the young Sentinel took stock of every footprint, every bent leaf and branch, every scent in the air as he hunted for the person who started a fire that trapped an entire family inside the house. Michael understood the urgency and the need to make sure the Tribe was safe; it was what Sentinels did. He could not stand in the young man’s way, but he would only offer support when it was requested. He could do no more than that because he was not Stiles’ fully bonded Guide. His purpose at this moment was to keep Stiles from Zoning and to keep his mind on track, but until Stiles needed him he would stand back.
The fact that the young man who lived in this house—the young man who had just violently come online as a Guide in the worst possible way—was a perfect match for Stiles made Michael’s position even more precarious. If, for some reason, Derek Hale came fully into his gifts and decided to actually accept Stiles as his Sentinel, then Michael would happily step back. But until that happened, the most important things were Derek’s recovery and training, and the capture of the person responsible.
Suddenly Stiles stopped moving and his head snapped up, eyes darkening. Michaels stepped forward, as did Director Sentinel Mercer, and Stiles’ attention went to the older man.
“I have her scent, along with several others,” Stiles said angrily. “I demand a Hunt.”
Mercer’s eyebrows shot upward in surprise. “An official Hunt, Sentinel Stilinski? I know that this person must be brought to justice, but are you certain that a Hunt is warranted?”
Stiles growled. “This person targeted a Guide in my territory, correct?”
“Yes,” Mercer conceded.
“And I heard you tell my father that she’s done this before, correct?”
“Again, yes.” Mercer folded his hands together placidly. “But Derek Hale is not actually your Guide.”
Stiles inclined his head. “I realize that, but this is very personal to me anyway. Do you understand that, Sentinel? She went after someone in my territory; in my TRIBE! Mine! And I protect what is mine. That is my job as Sentinel!”
Mercer rocked back on his heels and flexed his shoulders. “I do understand that compulsion, Sentinel Stilinski. As Director of the Northern California Sentinel/Guide Center, I grant you an official Sanctioned Hunt. How many do you require for your team?”
John Stilinski was often in awe of his son, who was a bright, intelligent, and energetic baby from practically day one, but he was rarely afraid of him.
But standing in the open doorway of an uncluttered office in the No/Cal S/G Center watching the planning session in the works, John was a bit frightened. This…this…Sentinel…in front of the room? That was not the son he had raised. Stiles was—in charge, ruthlessly gathering the useful intelligence about the Argent woman and coordinating with other S/G Centers through conference calls, drawing approach plans on a large map in the front of the room, and growing more and more agitated. The effect was only punctuated by the fact that Stiles’ incredibly corporeal Spirit Animal, Dziki, was pacing—stalking, really—back and forth along the long wall of the room. Anyone seeing that would have no problem understanding that the Direwolf’s name meant ‘wild’ in Polish.
John looked to his left and saw the dour expression on Michael Lane’s face and sighed. That young man had not been in his son’s life for very long, but he’d been a good friend the entire time. John cleared his throat softly. “Is this…because the Hale boy is a perfect match for Stiles?”
Michael started a bit before shaking his head. “Not really, no. I mean, if Hale had just been mundane and targeted in Stiles’ territory, the Sentinel in him would have demanded retribution of some sort, especially if any of the Hales had actually died in that fire. That’s a Sentinel’s duty, you know? But all of this,” he swept his arm widely in front of him, indicating the Sentinel-fest working diligently in the office. “This is because a Guide was targeted for assassination. It doesn’t matter who the Guide was, or that the Guide wasn’t technically online at the time, or even that other people were involved in the attempt. Guides, even though they outnumber Sentinels almost five-to-one, are precious in the Community. We’re all connected on the Psionic Plane, so when one of us dies—Guide or Sentinel—we all feel it to some degree. Obviously the Bonded ones feel it more, but we all feel it. And we all feel when one is distressed, so it was almost a relief that Derek Hale had fallen into a Psionic Coma when he came online.”
John frowned. “Wait, I got the feeling that Hale’s condition was really bad. Like, really bad. And now you’re saying it was a relief?”
Michael looked at the older man with ice in his eyes. “Sir, if Derek Hale had not somehow managed to separate himself from the Psionic Plane when he came online during that fire, every Sentinel in the entire state—and more than a few of the Guides—would have gone completely feral. And then they would have laid waste to the entire Argent Clan in order bring Kate Argent out in the open, and they would have pulled her apart on the town square for all to see because of her crime. And nothing would be done because that is a Sentinel’s right.”
John swallowed back bitter bile and nodded abruptly before returning his attention to the front of the office, where his only child was planning to bring one Kate Argent to Sentinel Justice. He didn’t feel sorry at all for the woman, or for anyone who might try to stand in Stiles’ way. This was beyond the purview of civilian law, even though John was planning on pressing charges of arson against anyone who might have aided Argent in setting the Hale fire. In this endeavor, John could only watch as his sixteen-year-old son suddenly became a man.
He wished Claudia were here to see.
~ ~ ~
Talia Hale stood beside her brother, Peter, in the corridor outside of the infirmary of the S/G Center. She’d been here once before, at the beginning of the summer when Derek had only just come to believe he might be a Guide. This was where Derek had inadvertently brought a zoned Sentinel back to his senses. And this was where Derek was now abed, somehow mentally locked away from her and the rest of the Hale Pack.
“Guide Mercer said she could sense him,” Talia whispered. “But I can’t sense him, and I should….”
Peter cupped Talia’s shoulder in support as the doctor, Guide Douglas Taylor, clasped his hands together in front of his chest in a calming gesture. “Mrs. Hale,” he said soothingly, “let me try to explain in a…less mystic…way, okay?” Talia nodded shortly, and Taylor offered a small smile. “Okay, the Psionic Plane is a somewhat different level from the real world. Every Sentinel and Guide experience it differently, but we are all connected there, and in that Psionic place we can all communicate if we enter a meditative state. Very High-level Guides can access that plane without meditation in emergencies, and Guide Mercer is an Alpha Prime.
“Your son will likely rate almost as high once we pull him back,” Taylor said with a smile, “ and that is a good thing, but it also makes our task a bit more difficult. In an effort to protect his own mind amid the frantic panic of your family while they were trapped, Derek seems to have pulled his own consciousness into the Psionic Plane, and then he’s somehow managed to dig himself a den there, and then to barricade himself in. Guide Mercer can sense his presence, but not his specific location. If she goes into a deep meditation, she’ll be able to sense his over-all mental state, but still not his location.”
Talia looked up into the doctor’s clear eyes but saw no desperation there. “Can you sense his mental state?”
Taylor shrugged slightly. “I can sense enough to know that his body is not in danger of shutting down. He’s managed to place himself into a medical coma, just like a physician would use for someone who was in grave physical danger or pain. Right now, I can treat his body and see that he’s fed and watered and clean, but I can’t reach him to treat his mind. I’ve been told that his Spirit Animal physically manifested enough to alert a Sentinel of the danger at your home, so that was probably when he fully came online, but I’ve not sensed that Spirit Animal myself. It’s likely keeping him company where ever he’s hiding, and that will protect his mind for now.”
Talia rubbed her eyes tiredly. “How can we reach him? I’ve tried as his mother, and I’ve tried as his Alpha. Short of howling for him, I just don’t know what to do here.”
Taylor’s eyebrow twitched. “Have you tried howling for him?”
Peter snorted. “I’m afraid, dear doctor, that that sort of howling would disrupt the running of this entire Center. A Call-to-Pack is quite…loud, both audibly and metaphysically. As the Sentinels here have a task to accomplish, I sincerely doubt you’d want them deafened before they begin.”
Taylor huffed. “No, that would not do.” He sighed and shoved his hands into his coat pockets. “This would be infinitely easier if there were another Guide in your family, and it would be even better if there was a Sentinel in your family. We’ve come to understand that a familial connection works best for healing trauma if a Sentinel or Guide is not Bonded.”
Talia stiffened and Peter casually asked, “Then why wasn’t the Sheriff enough to bring his son out of the Zone last summer.”
Taylor inclined his head. “Well, you see, the Sheriff actually is enough to bring Sentinel Stilinski out of a Zone, and he had on many occasions in the past. But Sheriff Stilinski is only latent himself, with a very small chance of coming online, and full gifts—or a potential perfect match—are needed to help with Catastrophic Zone. For instance, if Sentinel Stilinski’s Bonded Guide was injured or killed and his father had been online, then his father could have pulled him out of the Zone.”
Peter frowned. “So, if Sentinel Stilinski and Derek had been Bonded, then he could pull Derek out of the coma?”
Taylor nodded. “Yes, definitely. Alternatively, if there was a fully online Sentinel or Guide in your direct family, they could also reach Derek and pull him out.”
“Oh, god!” Talia moaned, and Peter returned his attention to her.
“What, Talia?” he snapped. “We can’t help here. If Derek hadn’t been blinded by that lying bitch, he’d probably be partially Bonded to the Sheriff’s son, and then he’d be able to reach Derek. Of course, if they were partially Bonded, Derek likely wouldn’t be in this situation, so that’s a moot point anyway. I know you feel helpless! I feel helpless! I can’t feel the Pack Bond with Derek, and that hurts me almost as much as it hurts you, and goddess knows how the rest of the kids are doing!”
Talia looked up with tears in her eyes. “But we can help, Peter. You could help. But you asked me…and so I did it…and I don’t know if I can reverse….”
Her crying made it hard to understand her, but Peter tried to hear the words. “How could I possibly help?”
Talia sniffled and rubbed her tears away with a shaking hand as she turned to the doctor, who was observing with a question in his eyes. “Dr. Taylor, I know that Sentinels can come online as a call to protect the Tribe, correct?”
“Yes, of course,” Taylor agreed. “If a need was perceived, a latent Sentinel would heed the call, so to speak.”
Talia nodded. “And if a perceived need was a false need, the Sentinel would still be online, correct?”
Taylor frowned. “It’s not a switch, Mrs. Hale. An online Sentinel or Guide just can’t flip it on and off at need. There is a reason Sheriff Stilinski has not come online. In his capacity as County Sheriff, he’s already a protector. Prior to his election, he served as a soldier during peacetime, as a law officer in a large department with three online S/G pairs, and as a deputy in a department near a very active S/G Center. There was no need for John Stilinski to come online, and young Mieczyslaw came online at the traumatic death of his mother, sensing a need to protect his father in some way.”
Talia nodded shakily and cleared her throat. “You see, Dr. Taylor, things sometimes work a bit differently in werewolf packs. Alphahood can pass in several ways, and I was not always Alpha of the Hale Pack. Sometimes the Alpha Spark is passed intentionally when an Alpha wishes to retire. Sometime, horribly, a Beta or Omega will kill a weak Alpha and ‘steal’ the Spark. Most commonly, in large Family Packs, an Alpha Heir is designated and trained, and then when the Alpha dies, the Spark passes to the Heir, which is what happened to me.”
Dr. Taylor nodded that he understood, and Peter leaned back against the wall, confused, so Talia rubbed her face with both hands and continued. “But I was away on a business conference when my father succumbed to an illness.”
Peter coughed. “You mean you were away long enough for our moon-crazy mother to poison him with mistletoe…,” he muttered softly, but Talia pushed on.
“In any case, I was not at home when the Spark passed to me, and the safety of the Pack was not…exactly…confirmed.” Talia took a breath. “You see, Dr. Taylor, werewolves are not normal Mundanes, and latency can, actually, be turned off, sort of.”
Peter leaned forward intently. “Talia, what did you do?”
Talia folded in on herself. “I did nothing that you didn’t ask for, Peter. You were alone with Mother and Father and Alan, and I was far away and pregnant, and I was supposed to be gone for two weeks more. When Mother snapped and killed Father, you perceived a danger to Alan and the rest of the Pack, including my unborn child, and you came online so quickly that there was no stopping you from striking out at Mother in some kind of defense.
“As soon as the Alpha Spark settled on me, I knew something horrible had happened and I cut my conference short, citing a family emergency because it was the complete truth, and I came home to assert my position.” Talia took a breath and faced her brother, placing gentle hands on his shoulders. “Peter, you never, ever, wanted to become a Sentinel. You were happy to be Father’s Left Hand, and you have been happy being mine. When I got home to stabilize the Pack, you begged me to take it from you. You feared bringing anyone unknown into the Pack and you begged for it to be gone.”
“I don’t understand,” said Dr. Taylor. “The Sentinel Gifts just can’t be removed.”
“A strong werewolf Alpha,” said Talia, keeping gaze locked with Peter’s, “has many abilities, many of which are designed to keep the Pack healthy, happy, and sane. Sometimes dark memories must be removed. Sometimes mental blocks must be placed or broken. Peter asked me to remove the memory of being a Sentinel and to block the gifts and abilities thereof, and I could feel his pain as he asked, so I granted the request.”
“Talia…,” Peter began brokenly.
“Shhh, Peter,” Talia consoled, gently cupping his face in her hands. “There is no way anyone could have foreseen this, and granting your request long ago has kept you happy and sane. You’ve always been happiest maneuvering in the shadows, and a Sentinel can’t do that. And you never thought enough of yourself to allow any kind of a Bond to another person. We thought it was for the best, and at the time, it really was.”
“Can you reverse it, Talia?” Peter asked hesitantly. “Can you help me help Derek?”
Talia turned back to Dr. Taylor and said, “I have the ability to remove the blocks and the memories, but Peter has never had any kind of training to be a Sentinel. We already have advanced senses as werewolves, but I understand that Sentinels are—a different breed, so to speak, so he’ll need a lot of help adjusting.”
Taylor nodded in understanding. “I’ll arrange for an isolation room, because everything is likely to hit him all at once. I’ll make some calls to arrange for emergency training, because I’m afraid all of the High-level Guides on hand right now will be aiding the Hunt.” He turned to Peter and asked, “Are you sure about this, Mr. Hale? The emotional and mental repercussions could be dangerous.”
Peter dragged in a shaky breath and nodded. “My Pack is fractured right now, Doctor. If I can make it whole, I will move heaven and earth to do so.”
Taylor’s mouth quirked. “That is a sentiment that I understand completely.”
Sentinels and Guides: A Basic Primer
Basically speaking, Sentinels and Guides mark a separate evolution of mankind, and have been in existence since humans began living in Tribes and communities. In fact, a Sentinel’s basic purpose is the protection of the Tribe from nefarious outside forces. At the beginning of civilization, those forces encompassed wild animals that could attack for feeding purposes as well as hostile invading Tribes trying to take over territories.
A Sentinel, strictly speaking, is a human with several enhanced senses: Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch, and Taste. The enhancement will vary among Sentinels, and they learn quickly how to best use those senses to protect their Tribes and territories from invaders or other dangers. In modern societies, Sentinels are basically ‘driven’ to protect and serve the community that they consider their Tribe, and will gravitate to careers that best allow that, such as positions within the military, the civilian police force, and first-responder forces, although several will find their way into medical professions.
The Guide is the perfect companion and partner to the Sentinel, though their gifts are mental and emotional, rather than physical. A Guide’s gifts include enhanced Empathy and Intuition, though some Guides also have a degree of Telepathy which will allow them to communicate with their Sentinels from some distance. The Guide is the most important person in the Sentinel’s life, and will use Empathy and Intuition to help a Sentinel balance his or her senses in order to prevent Sensory Zones—a condition where a Sentinel will become so focused and ‘lost’ in one or more sense to the exclusion of all else—and Sensory Spikes, which can be extremely detrimental to a Sentinel.
Sentinels and Guides have a specific hierarchy amongst themselves, and this allows them to protect their Tribes most effectively. The lowest, most common tier is the Basic Sentinel/Guide pair, and there may be many of these within one territory depending on the population. In larger cities, it is not uncommon to find several Sentinel/Guide pairs serving in the local police force. The next highest tier is the Beta Sentinel/Guide pair, and these pairings will perform as ‘administrators’, often coordinating S/G pairs for joint protection efforts. Higher up will be the Alpha Sentinel/Guide pair, and this pair is most often in charge of the Sentinel/Guide Centers for Training and Education. All S/G pairs will fall under the purview of the Alpha Pair, and there will be one Alpha Pair per territory depending on population density. The highest ranking is the Alpha Prime Sentinel/Guide Pair, and it is this pair will set official policy for all of the S/G pairs within a specific geographic location. There are also several different rankings for Alpha Prime Pairs. For example, the Alpha Prime Pair of Dallas/Fort Worth will answer to the Alpha Prime Pair of Texas, who will answer to the Alpha Prime Pair of the Southwest United States, who will then answer to the Alpha Prime Pair of the United States, who then answers to the Alpha Prime Pair of North America.
Sentinels and Guides work within local and state governments and alongside law enforcement, but they are considered a law unto themselves. Because of their enhanced senses, Sentinels can often act as ‘human lie detectors’ and are often deferred to during criminal investigations and/or court proceedings. A Sentinel will hold him- or herself above reproach and will strive to always act in an ethical manner. Attempts to bribe or corrupt a Sentinel or Guide have very dire repercussions and are prosecuted at the highest level of the law. Additionally, attempts to interfere in an S/G pairing, or attacks against Sentinels or Guides are equally prosecuted. While many primitive civilizations deify S/G pairs, seeing them as agents of the gods themselves, modern communities honor and respect them. S/G pairs are feared by those who live and act outside the law because they are largely incorruptible.
Peter Hale sighed and put aside the neat little pamphlet that the S/G Center had provided. It was cute, and marginally informative, but it was what the Centers usually handed out to schools and civic organizations and was therefore largely useless to his personal situation. There was nothing in that pamphlet about Sentinels who’d had their gifts hidden or blocked, mostly because that just couldn’t happen. Except that it did.
And there was nothing about Guides completely burying themselves in the Psionic Plane, irretrievable by even the most talented Alpha Guide, because that also simply didn’t happen. Except….
Peter sighed again and reached for his blessedly hot mug of tea. He glanced around at the waiting room he was sitting in and took in the décor. It was comfortable, he supposed, with taupe walls and soft beige carpeting and cushy armchairs. It was a room designed to put people at peace, but Peter wasn’t in the mood to be at peace. His sister and Alpha, Talia, had been sent on an errand of sorts, equipped with a shopping list of supplies Peter might need while he prepared for…becoming, and his nephew, a now-online Guide of unknown rank, was elsewhere in this very building—isolated for his own protection while everyone waited for ‘help’ to arrive for the both of them.
And the reason for the isolation? It was both simple and complicated: Somewhere within the highly secured main portion of the Northern California Sentinel/Guide Center, a small but impressive army of Sentinels, possibly led by a very young—but no less intimidating—Sentinel Mieczyslaw Stilinski, was gearing up to hunt down the people responsible for setting the Hale family home on fire with almost every Hale trapped inside. Peter shuddered involuntarily at the memory of the event, which oddly only happened mere hours before.
It seemed much longer, somehow. In a different time and place. To different people.
Sipping delicately from his mug, Peter pondered that such dissonance was probably not healthy, but he really had the best possible excuse, given all the shocks he’d been through in the last several hours. First, he’d physically felt the magical trap setting around the house as he helped his nieces clean up after dinner. Then he’d felt the Pack Bond between him and his nephew snapping somehow as Derek’s Guide-ness fell into place dramatically. Then he’d felt the horror as the flames began to rise all around the house, licking up the exterior walls and creeping into the main part of the house.
And the biggest shock of all, of course, that came after the Alpha Guide carefully took custody of Derek and placed him in a safe and secure hospital room within the Center—finding out that he, Peter Hale, Left-Hand of the Hale Pack of Northern California, was actually a Sentinel that had begged his Alpha to remove the Gifts from him so that he might better function within the Pack.
Peter shuddered again at the memory and glared balefully at the discarded pamphlet on the table next to him. There was nothing in there about hidden Sentinels or the kind of war that was about to be waged in his family’s honor.
Well, maybe not only in his family’s honor; Peter and Talia had been informed that the Hunt had been called because of crimes against a Guide, and it really could have been because of any Guide. And really, they were all just very lucky that Derek had finally come into his Gifts in time to save them all. Or that’s what was said, anyway.
So Peter was in a state of ‘Hurry-Up-And-Wait’ at the moment, because nothing could be done for him personally until Talia returned from her assigned shopping trip. And, of course, until the ‘help’ the Center had called for had arrived. Since Peter was technically not a Sentinel or a Guide, he was not permitted into the inner reaches of the Center, not even to see his Nephew after that one short visit when they arrived, so he was relegated to this soothing and comfortable waiting room. The Center staff had been nothing but courteous to the Hales since their arrival, offering refreshments and blankets. Peter had requested tea, but everything else was refused, and Talia had finally decreed that her husband, Alan, should take the girls off to a hotel after giving their statements to the police. Nobody else in the Pack was aware of what Peter would soon be dealing with, and Talia wanted it to stay that way until Peter was settled and in control.
Peter wondered how long that could possibly take.
~ ~ ~
John Stilinski left the S/G Center about the time the flak jackets came out. He’d done his best to train his son how to defend himself with small arms and hand-to-hand, but Stiles had been so very young when he came online and there was really only so much he could do. Now Stiles was practically an adult, practically feral, and possibly a stronger Sentinel than John had been led to believe.
John didn’t blame the S/G Center for that last part, of course. If Stiles had not come online until he was older, or if he’d had his ‘perfect’ Guide for most of his life, perhaps the Center would have been prepared to deal with a young Alpha Prime. As it stood now, however, the way they were dealing with Stiles was by allowing his son to take lead on the Hunt against the person responsible for the Hale fire. John understood part of that, really; the part where Derek Hale was probably Stiles’ perfect Guide, anyway. But it had been explained to him that Stiles was in a feral state, not because of Derek Hale specifically, but because a Guide was attacked in general—and because this was not the first Guide that the perpetrator had gone after. Attacks on Guides did violent things to Sentinels. John understood that.
He just didn’t have to like it, or to stick around and witness it.
And he had the perfect excuse for leaving, really, because he was actually the Sheriff of Beacon Hills, and he had a duty to investigate the fire at the Hale property. One of his deputies had taken witness statements from the family members, little good it had done them. Nobody had noticed anything untoward around the house prior to the fire being set, and they were in too much of a panic afterward to have noticed anything during the whole mess. In fact, Alan Porter-Hale had been busy trying to keep his youngest daughter, Cora, from harming herself in her distress, and the oldest, Laura, only recalled that Derek had snapped somehow and disappeared into his room just before they noticed the flames. Guide Angela Mercer speculated that this was the moment that Derek had somehow sensed the extreme hostility directed toward the family and had finally come fully online in response.
In any case, there would be no way anyone would be implicating Derek in the whole mess because there was too much evidence otherwise. But John did have to look for clues, because anything that could bolster the case against…whomever…could only give credence to the Sentinels’ Hunt.
Not that anyone would actually doubt the validity of a Sentinel Hunt.
John nodded absently to the Guide that was manning the reception desk as he left, rubbing his eyes wearily before climbing back into his SUV for the trip back to the Hale property. There wasn’t much actual damage to the house, which was confusing but ultimately a good thing. If the arsonist left any evidence behind in the hopes that it would be burned away, then John and his deputies would be sure to find it. He still didn’t know how the fire went out. The Fire Chief certainly didn’t know, as it was already extinguished by the time the First Responders arrived. Certainly there were a few smoldering bits that were easily put out, but most of the actual damage appeared to be superficial.
Not that the Hales would feel safe there for a very long time. Psychologically, they might never feel comfortable in that house again. John and Stiles both actively avoided the intersection on the edge of town where Claudia’s car was hit if they could, and that accident happened almost seven years prior. The Stilinskis had completely altered their lives to avoid that part of town because of the pain being there caused. John had no doubts that the Hales would likely sell their current home and buy or rebuild elsewhere, because it’s what he would have done.
John noted the activity around the Hale house regardless of the darkening night and called for two deputies to begin taping off the entire area. “We’re going to have to wait until sunrise to finish gathering evidence,” he said dryly, “but I want the entire property cordoned off. Well, at least the area closest to the house. I know the Hales owned several acres out here, but I highly doubt the arsonist led a trail all the way to the property line.”
While that was going on, John grimly took in the view, vividly recalling just a few hours before, when he came upon the sight of his son’s Spirit Animal growling and howling in anger and hurt, and of his son sagging in the arms of his conservator-Guide, Michael Lane. Stiles may have appeared to have been physically weary, but John had clearly seen the anger-driven fury in his eyes. This arsonist, whomever it was, was about to have a very rude awakening. John wondered briefly just how long they would live after Stiles found them.
Then he mentally shrugged, because he really didn’t care.
~ ~ ~
Sentinel Stilinski finished fastening his flak jacket and turned his angry sneer to the others in the conference room. “Are we finally ready for this?” he asked his fellow Sentinels and barely flinched when they all answered in the affirmative in unison, rather like a well-oiled war machine. Everyone who was geared to go was either a member of a police force, some borrowed from nearby Redding or Beacon Heights since Beacon Hills only had one S/G pair on the force, or was a member of the Northern California National Guard. There were eight S/G pairs altogether, all level four or five and highly trained, and only a few of them looked sour at having an untried kid as their leader. Stiles took note of those teams early on, and from the knowing glance he’d exchanged with Sentinel Mercer, he sincerely doubted they would actually be accompanying him when they left.
One of the National Guard Sentinels looked at the notes and map on the whiteboard and asked if they would be splitting up to search several of the potential sites but Stiles just shook his head. “No,” he said, pointing at one specific location on the map of California. “We’re going here.”
“Why there?” asked Mercer, though he didn’t disagree; he was merely looking for Stiles’ reasoning.
“Because,” said Stiles with a hard glint in his eye, “that’s the home base of Gerard Argent. He’s got a small compound there, and I’m sure it’s probably heavily guarded. She’ll have run home to her daddy after this, thinking that she’s succeeded and that he’ll protect her from any repercussions if anyone survived. Probably because he’s done it before.”
Mercer nodded in agreement. “Yes, and I very much doubt she’ll think anyone survived. She had no way of knowing that Talia Hale was working late tonight, or that Derek Hale was actually on the cusp when she targeted him.”
Stiles growled harshly and the other Sentinels grunted in response. The room practically crackled with angry energy, and none of the Guides present made any effort to dispel it. They knew, each of them, that their duty in this instance was to keep their Sentinels wired and ready for combat if necessary; no quarter would be given until this woman was brought to justice.
Stiles headed for the door, not even glancing at the few fellow Sentinels who held barely-concealed disdain for his age, and met Michael Lane in the hall. Stiles reached out briefly, touching Michael’s hand to settle his senses slightly before they moved toward the cars.
“I’m sorry,” said Michael softly, knowing the other Sentinels could hear him clearly.
“What for?” Stiles asked without turning his head.
“I’m sorry that…I’m not yours; that I can’t help you with this more than I am.”
Stiles stopped short of the door and pulled Michael aside, out of the way of everyone else as they left the Center. “Michael, you are doing everything that I need you to do right now. I can’t be calm about this, you know that; I have to let the fire eat at me until this is finished. But once we’re done….”
Michael nodded sadly. “I know. We’ll talk more once the dirty work is done.” He shook his head and gestured for Stiles to precede him out the door. “But you know that if I was…the right one…then I’d be better equipped to keep your fire burning—and that is a horrible metaphor considering what happened tonight.”
Stiles wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, but it fits somehow. She tried to burn a Guide in my territory—a Guide of my Tribe—and now I’m gonna burn her!”
Stiles climbed into an SUV driven by one of the National Guard Sentinels. He had no weapon, unlike some of the others, but somehow Michael doubted he’d need one. From the look in his eyes, Michael thought he’d be able to tear someone apart with his bare hands.
Not far from the California/Nevada border sat the tiny unincorporated settlement of Horse Lake. It was, for lack of a better description, a hole in the desert of California—not near anything, with no official services available and no governmental presence at all.
It was, in short, the perfect place for a xenophobic separatist to build a compound for an organized hate group. It didn’t matter much to Stiles what the old bastard hated, really; one of his acted against one of Stiles’, and that called for action.
The thing was, Stiles had heard whisperings in the Center, after Derek Hale had been brought in. Nobody had mentioned it outright, perhaps because it didn’t really need to be mentioned or perhaps because the Directors had felt that Stiles would need time to actually process the information well after his mission was completed, but he distinctly heard the word ‘werewolf’ spoken softly in the vicinity of the medical ward. All during the long drive to Horse Lake, and it was a very long drive, Stiles stewed over the mission and his anger over the situation—and he considered that whispered word.
Werewolves didn’t exist, but if they did then that might be the sort of thing xenophobic assholes might want to strike out against. And since Stiles had never heard of anyone in the Hale family attacking or eating anyone in Beacon Hills, he had to consider that werewolves—which didn’t exist—were not complete monsters who posed a danger to their community. And if werewolves—which didn’t exist—didn’t pose a danger to humans, then perhaps they also felt a sense of community and Pride and Tribe, just like Sentinels did. Perhaps a sense of ‘pack’, just like wolves. And if that was so, then they’d been violated just as badly as Stiles had been, perhaps worse since they were the actual targets—if they’d existed.
But Stiles was able to put aside speculation about werewolves as they approached the Argent compound, because he didn’t need the distraction, and instead he focused on the actual arson and attempted murder of a Guide in his Tribe. This person, this Kate Argent, specifically targeted Derek Hale for whatever reason—because werewolves didn’t exist—and she used a tiny bit of knowledge about Sentinels and Guides to lure him into her clutches. She obviously wasn’t on the Sentinel spectrum in any way, else Stiles would have sensed her that day at the supermarket. Stiles certainly had had no trouble sensing his own father, who was Latent, and he’d encountered other Latent—and even Dormant—Sentinels and Guides at the S/G Center when he went in for training and counseling, and he’d always been able to feel them in some way, like a primal part of them was reaching out to a primal part of him. So, yeah, however Kate Argent got enough information to be able to convince a Latent that she was maybe the real thing, it wasn’t from personal experience.
And if it wasn’t from personal experience, then….
“Hey,” Stiles said, clearly enough to be heard over the sounds of several engines, “I think we have to be prepared to find a Sentinel or two in the compound. It’s not ideal, because our kind isn’t supposed to just attack people, but there ya go.”
“How do you figure?” came a voice from the second vehicle.
“Because this Argent woman knew enough about Sentinels and Guides to convince Derek Hale to seek assistance from the Center,” Stiles replied. “She knew enough about how Sentinels find Guides to send him for confirmation before he believed her. I doubt very highly that she actually believed that he was a Guide on the Cusp, but she made him believe that it was possible, and that might be the only reason they’re all alive right now.”
“Damn! You might be right about that, Sentinel,” came the other voice again. “How do you want to proceed?”
“I want,” said Stiles with steel in his voice, “to make it perfectly clear just how intolerable we find the actions of someone who would use our sacred talents to harm others.”
In the seats behind him, three Guides shared a look of both shock and glee.
~ ~ ~
“The help we’ve requested will be here in the morning, Mr. Hale,” said Guide Mercer serenely. “If you would like to rejoin the rest of your family at their hotel, you can always come back in the early afternoon.”
Peter set aside the magazine he’d been reading and stood, taking a moment to stretch his arms over his head to loosen the tense muscles. “I appreciate that, Guide Mercer, but I think I’d rather stay here if it’s alright. Being what we are, my nieces will immediately know that something is up with me, and I’d like to not have to explain until everything has been…settled.”
Angela Mercer inclined her head and motioned Peter out of the room. “In that case, we do have a bed prepared for you that is not within an isolation room. I believe you’ll be more comfortable in a place where you can hear your nephew’s heartbeat, is that correct?”
Peter let out a relieved sigh. “Thank you for understanding that, Guide Mercer.”
Angela offered a brief smile before leading Peter away from the lobby and deeper into the Center. “In that respect, I think your entire family may be more like Sentinels than you know. August always rests better when he can hear and smell me, or so he says.”
Peter sighed. “The scent of Pack is a very calming thing. I wonder how much of my life will change once my blocks are removed.”
Angela quirked an eyebrow. “It will be interesting to find out. There will be an incredibly long conversation tomorrow before you are ‘released’, Mr. Hale. Many questions will have to be answered.”
“Yes,” Peter agreed. “I imagine there will be.”
Angela led Peter back to the infirmary area where Peter was unsurprised to see Talia hovering near Derek’s bed—but was surprised to see a cot set up in the same private area.
“I apologize for how uncomfortable this might be,” Angela began.
“No,” Peter interrupted, “this will be more than fine. It’s already more than expected, allowing me to rest so near Derek.”
“Yes,” said Talia as she reached out to touch Peter’s arm, “thank you for all that you’ve done.”
Angela offered another small smile. “It is our hope that somehow Derek will sense that you are near. As I said much earlier, I can sense his presence on the Spiritual Plane, but I cannot specify his exact location—or his condition. Physically, he is unharmed, but emotionally or psychologically? I expect he is hurting very much, and that he’s run to ground, so to speak, in order to protect himself in a way that he could not protect the rest of you.”
Talia’s breath stuttered, and Peter realized that she was trying valiantly not to cry, so he reached out and pulled her into a tight embrace. “Talia, my dear Alpha,” he whispered into her hair. “We will bring him home, I promise you.”
Talia clutched desperately at Peter’s back. “I hope so, Peter. I really hope so.”
Peter pulled back and kissed her forehead. “Are you sleeping here with us?”
Talia shook her head. “No. The rest of the Pack needs me. And I…need to see my daughters, and to hold my husband. I don’t want to leave you, but….”
Peter smiled wanly. “I do understand. Go. Give them my best, and tell them that I’m watching over Derek, as is my right. Kiss them for me.”
“I will. Good night, Peter. Try and sleep.”
Peter stared after her as she left, and then he turned his attention to his tortured nephew lying so still on the bed before him. “Has he moved at all?”
“Not a single finger,” came the reply. “The doctor said his vitals are good, and he’s not in any physical distress, so we’ve concentrated on making him comfortable. Your sister gave permission to insert an IV line for hydration, but we’re hopeful that you’ll be able to reach him before it comes time to insert a feeding tube.”
Peter turned his head and stared at Guide Mercer for a moment. “You have a lot of faith that I’ll be able to pull him out of this,” he said finally.
Angela shrugged. “Since I know nothing about werewolves at all, I’m basing my hope on pure myth. At the very least, I do know how to deal with a Guide in Extreme Distress, and right now that’s how we’re treating Derek. Whether or not he regains his senses, he’ll be cared for and comforted. All Guides are precious.”
Peter frowned. “I keep hearing that; could you please explain it to me?”
Angela tilted her head in acquiescence and motioned for Peter to sit on his cot while she pulled a chair away from the wall. Once Peter was settled, she primly folded her hands together in her lap. “There are records of Sentinels from before they were known as Sentinels. They were called ‘Sacred Warriors’ or ‘Sacred Guardians’ or ‘Holy Guardians’, and they existed in almost every culture in the world.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose dramatically. “Almost every culture?”
Angela smirked. “There are places on this planet that were never peaceful and likely will never be peaceful. Since Sentinels emerge during a time of great need, it stands to reason that in such an environment, either every person would come online as a Sentinel or nobody would Emerge. In any case, for as long as there has been any kind of written records in many civilizations, there have been records of Sentinels. There is a temple in the jungle of Peru that is sacred to Sentinels, with beautiful artwork on the walls and stone tables carved with mystic history. Many S/G Centers have photographic copies of those tables, along with copies of other ancient records, as we are quite proud of our history and heritage.
“In any case, in all of those histories, there is mention of the ‘Sacred Balance Keepers’, what are now known as Guides. It was always known that there were more Balancers than Guardians, but the discrepancy was not as small as it is now, with roughly three or four Guides to every one Sentinel. At one time, very long ago, it was not uncommon for Sentinels to have entire harems of Guides, but they were not kept as slaves, as one might expect for that time. They were pampered and kept in comfort, with every luxury of that time provided for them. According to the ancient records, there was no indication of what a ‘perfect’ match could be, you see, so different Balancers provided different services.”
Peter frowned slightly. “But things are different now, yes?”
“Oh, yes,” agreed Angela with a smile. “But one thing has never changed: Sentinels will always see Guides as something sacred. We’re allowed to live our lives autonomously, of course, especially if we’re not part of a Bonded Pairing. I came online as a Guide when I was nineteen, and my goal of being a counselor never changed. My mother was a Latent Guide, and she happily studied to be a teacher, never considering that her life would have to be put on hold if she ever came online and found a Sentinel.”
Peter nodded absently. “I read in one of those pamphlets that there is such a thing as a Conservator. What’s that all about?”
Angela settled back in her chair. “Well, a lot of mid- to high-level Guides train to become Conservators in case of emergencies. A Conservator is a Guide that either will not, or has not yet, found their perfect match, but who trains to assist Sentinels who have a need for a Guide immediately before a match can be found. Because a Sentinel can’t always perform optimally without a Guide, all efforts are made to make them comfortable while a Guide Search is performed.” Angela eyed Peter carefully for any reaction and sighed when none came. “Mr. Hale, once your block is removed and your sister releases your Sentinel abilities, every effort will be made to find you a match. It might not be immediately a perfect match, ready for a full Bond, but a Guide with a high enough Level to match your own gifts will be found, and that Guide will help you control your senses so that you may get on with your life. Guides may be precious, but Sentinels are necessary, and you’ll not be left behind one your nephew emerges from his…confinement.”
Peter’s startled eyes shot up to meet her calm ones. “Thank you, Guide Mercer, for telling me that. I must admit that I was slightly…worried…that everyone might forget about me once Derek was brought around. Especially as it seems that Derek actually does have a perfect match.”
Angela shook her head slowly. “We make absolutely no assumptions about such things within the S/G Organization. A few years ago there was a bit of a scandal in New York, where one of the administrators for the NYC Center tried to force Bonding on several high-level Guides, and that entire branch was torn apart. Unless and until Derek himself announces that he wishes to officially meet with specific Sentinels, he will be trained to use his gifts in a safe manner and he will be allowed to go about his own life.”
Peter blinked. “Oh! Well, I’m sorry that I assumed, then. It’s just that I overheard Derek talking to Talia about a Sentinel that was not his mysterious girlfriend, so I thought he’d met that Sentinel here while undergoing his own training.”
“Not at all,” assured Angela calmly. “At no point during Derek’s pre-training was he every introduced to anyone. We do arrange mixers for already online Sentinels and Guides, and sometimes we arrange travel to other territories if that is requested of us, but personal training is just that—personal.”
Peter nodded again and then suddenly yawned as the hectic day finally caught up with him. Angela smiled again and stood, returning her chair to its place against the wall. “I’ll let you get some rest now. Please try not to stress too much about this, Mr. Hale. We have to have faith that it will all work out in the end.”
~ ~ ~
He was deep in a jungle. It didn’t make much sense, but there he was, surrounded by tall, lush trees and thick undergrowth and strange flowering bushes. Dziki was by his side, a very solid comforting presence, which was not unusual, but everything around him was blue—and that was unusual. It was also the only indication that he might be either deep in a trance or deeply asleep and dreaming.
He ruled out dreaming after he heard what could only be rustling coming from somewhere to his immediate left, and he turned to see a huge black panther stalking toward him.
Dziki didn’t even growl, but he did shift closer to Stiles’ body though it was more to offer familiar comfort rather than protection. Stiles took that to mean the panther didn’t pose any danger to him. And possibly neither did the huge grey wolf that came around the bend behind it.
Stiles reached out and grasped the fur at Dziki’s nape, took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and centered himself. He’d been here before, of course, but only after long meditation. The Psionic Plane, also known as the Spiritual Plane, was a place of solace to Sentinels and Guides alike, though sometimes Sentinels needed a bit of effort to find it.
When Stiles reopened his eyes, the panther and wolf had been joined by two human men—two very intimidating, authoritarian men. “Hello,” Stiles said with a jaunty wave of his hand.
The shorter man laughed, joyful and exuberant. “Hello yourself, Little Sentinel.”
Stiles scowled just as the taller, more muscular man jabbed the shorter one with an elbow. “Watch yourself, Chief,” he warned before turning his attention to Stiles. “I apologize for my Guide’s impertinence—and for dragging you here without your permission. I’m….”
“I know who you are,” Stiles interrupted. “Alpha Prime Sentinel James Ellison.” He turned his attention to the shorter man and said, “And you’re Alpha Prime Guide Blair Sandburg. It’s an, uh, honor, to, uh, meet you. Only I’m not really meeting you, am I? Or am I? Does this count at all?”
Sandburg laughed again and even Ellison cracked a smile. “You’ll be meeting us soon enough, Sentinel,” said Ellison easily. “But we needed to speak with you now, before you reach your destination in a couple of hours.”
Stiles nodded before changing his mind and shaking his head. “So—I’m still in the SUV, right?”
Ellison nodded and knelt down to gently pet the lounging panther. “You’re beginning to lose your edge, Sentinel, and I’m here with my Guide to make sure that doesn’t happen. We have information for you—an impetus to fuel your fire, so to speak.”
Stiles’ head cocked sideways at the same time Dziki’s did. “Is it about the Argent woman?”
“It is,” Sandburg said gravely, his previous cheery mood completely gone. “She’s got to be stopped, and while we’d rather she not be killed per se, we want her shut down. More information has come to light about her past actions, and while she has a particular target type, she’s actually killed six Guides or potential Guides in the last ten years.”
“Jesus!” Stiles exclaimed, and Dziki pressed closer to his legs to support his weight. “How old is this woman?”
Sandburg sneered. “She’s a very attractive, youthful thirty-years-old, and she could easily pass for eighteen. I’d say it was clean living, but my honest money is on a deal with the devil. Her father has a pretty huge body count as well, as do her uncle Alexander and her older brother Gregory. But they’re careful—more careful than she is—and they hide their kills in slightly more innocuous ways.”
Stiles squinted slightly. “Are they working with Sentinels? I think the woman is, somehow. I think she uses Sentinels as a cover.”
Ellison grinned and turned to his Guide. “He’s smart, I like that.” He turned back to Stiles and said, “Sit a while. We’ve got infinite time here, and there’s much you need to know.”
Stiles sat cross-legged in front of Dziki, leaning back against the solid form of his Dire Wolf. “Okay,” he said, interested, “hit me. What do I need to know to shut this bitch down?”
Ellison smirked and settled on the ground in front of Stiles, clearly getting ready for story time, but Sandburg walked over and leaned over him, staring down into Stiles’ eyes. “We’ll get to that, Sentinel. But first,” he said as he touched Stiles on the forehead, “we need you to wake up.”
There was a bright flash of light, and when Stiles blinked his eyes open again, he was back in the second-row seat of the black SUV, traveling down a dirty highway into Horse Lake, California. Stiles looked out the window to watch the bland scenery go by, and he growled low in his throat.
There had been a block in his head, somewhere deep inside his psyche, but it was gone now—and it had been replaced with a fire; a burning desire to hunt and protect and claim. Stiles had a Territory, and Kate Argent had invaded it. Stiles had a Tribe, and Kate Argent threatened it. Stiles had a Pride, and Kate Argent tried to infiltrate it.
And Stiles had a Guide—a perfect match for his strengths and his weaknesses—and Kate Argent tried to take him away.
Kate Argent would pay.
Stiles reached deep inside his own psyche and released that which was awakened in him, and the Primal Urge to Hunt spread through the SUV, filling up the other Sentinels that were with him. Stiles reached out to the SUV behind them and pushed, and that Primal Urge spread to those Sentinels as well, and then to the SUV behind that one. Though he wasn’t sure how, Stiles could feel the Guides bolstering the Sentinels, banking that fire so that it would burn brighter. The Argent Compound was less than five miles away now, and they wouldn’t know what hit them.
Stiles turned his head to find Michael Lane watching him speculatively. Stiles raised one eyebrow, and Michael’s lips twitched slightly. “I know I can’t give you everything you really need, Stiles, but I’ll give you what I can.”
Stiles shoulder-bumped him gently. “All I really ask is that you don’t try to stand in my way. I’ve got a righteous duty to perform, and I don’t want you to get hurt.”
~ ~ ~
Despite his mental and emotional exhaustion, Peter really didn’t think he’d be able to sleep, so he was pleasantly surprised to open his eyes at daybreak and find that he was fully revived. Well, his left arm was feeling rather numb, but that was because he’d fallen asleep while holding onto Derek’s hand, but other than that he felt fine.
Gingerly climbing out of his temporary cot, Peter sought the bathroom and a relieving shower before dressing in the clothes Talia had left for him: soft cotton lounge pants, a loose cotton t-shirt, and thick cotton socks. He thought about leaving off his shoes before shrugging and quickly donning them. If he needed to remove them later, he would.
Since it was much too early for regular business hours, Peter was surprised to find someone sitting at the reception desk. And if the young man writing in what looked like a phone log was surprised to see him, he didn’t show it.
“Hello there,” he said pleasantly. “I’m Guide Roger Morrison, and I usually cover the night shift before my classes at the local college begin. I imagine you’re looking for some breakfast, Mr. Hale?”
Peter started. “You know who I am?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” Roger said with a smile. “The directors were very clear to inform the over-night support staff that you were here to watch over Guide Hale while he’s sleeping. If you woke before the directors arrived this morning, I was to direct you to the front visitor’s lounge for coffee and muffins.”
Peter rubbed his face with both hands and nodded. “I’m afraid I’m without my watch. Could you be so kind as to tell me what time it is?”
“Of course, Mr. Hale. It’s currently six-forty-six in the morning, and the current outside temperature is fifty-two degrees.” Roger looked at the calendar in front of him and said, “The Directors will be in just around seven o’clock, but they have a meeting at seven-thirty. If you don’t want muffins for breakfast, I would be happy to call for delivery of some sort for you.”
Peter offered a wry grin. “Thanks for the offer, but I’m not very hungry right now, and I doubt I’ll be hungry later. I’m afraid I’ll be in that morning meeting, you see.”
Roger looked appropriately chagrined. “Well, the coffee in the lounge is fresh, if that strikes your fancy. We use a mild blend here at the Center because most Sentinels can’t deal with the harsh taste.”
Peter nodded again in thanks and went off to find the coffee. He briefly wondered if he’s still like it after his…Emergence, was it? He supposed it was a good thing that he really preferred herbal teas, but he was already mourning the loss of spicy foods.
And while alcohol did nothing for a werewolf normally, Peter did enjoy a mellow wine every once in a while and he wondered if that would also change.
The scent of the coffee did more to wake him than the actual taste or caffeine did, but then Peter remembered that all of his senses would be enhanced, and he wondered if the scents of his Pack would be too overwhelming for him. By the time the Mercer duo had arrived, Peter had almost worked himself into a right state of agitation, and Angela Mercer honed in on him immediately.
“Mr. Hale,” she said soothingly, “please don’t fret so. Emerging can be…traumatic…at times, but we’ll do everything we can to ease you into it. Your sister will be with you as support, and our guests will be arriving soon to answer any questions you have.”
“Yes,” Peter agreed, “and I suppose they’ll have plenty of questions for me and Talia, as well.”
“Yes, they will. But you must understand that, beyond one of our investigators—who has family that married into a Pack—most Sentinels and Guides are uninformed about werewolves, just like most humans, I suppose. We need to ask and answer questions so that we’ll know how the Emergence will affect you, and so we’ll know how best to help your nephew.”
Peter allowed himself to be coddled by the pretty blonde Guide until Talia showed up with more shopping bags—and a real breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. By the time Peter had finished eating, he was feeling marginally better and more prepared for what the day had in store for him. He and Talia were escorted to a comfortable meeting room, where they made themselves almost at home on soft leather sofas. They hadn’t been there long when the door opened again and in walked James Ellison and Blair Sandburg, two people that Peter recognized from newscasts and magazine articles: The Alpha Primes of North America.
These two men were the tops of the top, the strongest Sentinel and Guide in the United States and Canada. It was due to their public work that the S/G Centers all over the country were brought out of the shadows and given the prestige they deserved. Ellison and Sandburg advocated for the fair treatment of Sentinels in all career forces, and made sure that unbounded Guides were treated with careful reverence. They even made sure laws were passed allowing S/G Centers to take custody of unbonded Sentinels and Guides if it was found that they were in exploitative situations with their own families.
Talia immediately stood to greet the newcomers, but Peter was stunned silent and motionless in his seat. Ellison kept his distance, but Sandburg immediately surged forward to offer his hand in greeting, which Talia gamely shook.
“You must be Mrs. Hale,” Sandburg said with a smile. “Or should I refer to you as Alpha? I’m honestly not sure of the protocol here.”
Talia smiled and said, “Talia is just fine, Guide Sandburg. And this lump is my brother, Peter.”
With that, Peter stood and nodded respectfully to both Sandburg and Ellison. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just so….”
“Blown away?” asked Sandburg. “Yeah, man, I’m kinda blown as well! So, let’s all sit and get to know one another, because we’ve got two very serious unexpected events going on here, and we really need to hash this out as best we can.” Sandburg took a seat on one of the sofas and wiggled his hand at Ellison, who gamely sat at his side. “We’ve got a load of very serious questions for you, Talia, as I’m sure you must be aware. And, of course, we’ll answer any that you must have.”
Talia nodded and sat again beside Peter, leaving a pair of armchairs for Sentinel and Guide Mercer. Once bottles of water were passed around, everyone settled back and got to business.
“Okay,” said Ellison, getting right to the important point, “I really need to know what exactly you did to suppress the Sentinel in your brother and whether or not you can be compelled to do it to other Sentinels.” The expression on his face was very serious, so Talia took a moment to stop being offended.
“You must understand, Sentinel Ellison,” she said after a moment, “that werewolves are not like humans. The Pack is more than a family, but it is less than a Pride—at least from what I understand. An Alpha werewolf has a certain amount of control over the Betas, and even more control over the Betas that are related by blood than the ones who were bitten and turned.” Talia paused and glanced at Peter, who nodded permission to give this forbidden information to the outsiders. “An Alpha can help a Beta repress hurtful emotions, or to perfectly recall important but forgotten details. What I did for Peter—at his request—I could not do to a human. I couldn’t even do it for a werewolf of another Pack.”
“But, man, I gotta ask—why did you want to not be a Sentinel?” Sandburg’s face was so earnest that Peter almost laughed.
“I have a certain role to play within my Pack,” Peter said seriously. “Most Pack members have their parts to play in order for the Pack to stay stable, and my role as the Left Hand is necessary as support to the Alpha. Being a Sentinel would have…disrupted that role. There were things I did as a Left Hand that would not be acceptable for a Sentinel.”
Of the two of them, it was Ellison that seemed to understand best. “I assume ‘Left Hand’ means going outside of the law to some extent?”
Peter shrugged. “That might be a fair assessment. My role is to make things as smooth as possible for my Alpha, even doing things that she could not be seen doing. I served as Left Hand for my previous Alpha, and took over the role from our uncle—our father’s brother, who served as such for many years until he decided to ‘retire’ and move to Alaska. One of my most horrible duties as Left Hand came just as I came online as a Sentinel apparently, when our crazy mother killed our father and tried to kill the rest of the family as well.”
“You killed her instead,” said Ellison matter-of-factly, “and you protected your Pack.”
Peter inclined his head slightly. “Apparently it was such an offense to the Sentinel in me that I requested that my Alpha repress those instincts so that I could go on as Left Hand. Perhaps I figured that the Pack would succeed without a Sentinel, but not without a Left Hand. And I also must have felt great trepidation at the thought of bringing a Guide into our Pack.”
“I can see that,” agreed Ellison. “A new Guide certainly would be unaware of the existence of werewolves, and that posed a possible risk to your Pack.” Turning his attention back to Talia, Ellison asked, “So there is no possible way for an Alpha werewolf to be compelled to repress the Sentinel gifts for anybody on the street?’
“Absolutely not,” Talia confirmed. “In fact, the ability to repress or recover memories or skills is a rare thing for most Alphas, much like transforming fully into a wolf. It’s rare like being blue-eyed, left-handed, redheads is rare. The risk is absolutely minimal, and the only reason I did it for Peter was that he was completely distraught and I feared for his mental health. Now, of course, I see how desperately dangerous the whole thing might have been, but at the time it was a quite sensible request.”
Ellison began to respond, but Sandburg broke in and asked, “Wait, you mean you can actually transform into a wolf?”
Everybody turned and stared at him until he sat back and huffed, “Well, I guess we’ll talk about that later, then.”
Ellison stared for a moment longer before returning his attention to Peter and Talia. “I’m not going to tell you that removing those blocks will be painless, but that’s one of the reasons we’re here personally. Blair is going to use his role as a Shaman to not only ease the Emergence, but to also facilitate the recovery of your son from his hibernation.”
Talia slumped in relief. “That’s all I want; my brother sane and my son safe.”
Ellison cocked one eyebrow. “I’m not really sure we can guarantee your brother’s sanity unless he’s completely sane right now. Because he has functionally already come online, the re-emergence of his enhanced senses could be traumatic. His skin will become totally over sensitized, and his senses of smell and hearing could completely overwhelm him. While we can put him in a totally dark room, we can’t stop the air from having any odor, even with air purifiers, and white-noise generators will only go so far.”
Talia blinked in surprise. “Of course,” she said after a moment. “That’s why I had to purchase so many specific clothing and linen items.”
Blair nodded quickly. “Oh, yeah, and the special soaps and hygiene products. Sensory spikes are no fun, man. Not at all.”
Peter leaned forward and asked, “Well, then, what is the plan for getting me through this with my sanity mostly intact?”
Knowing that his son, and the small army of Sentinels and Guides that he had with him, would be moving on the Argent Compound just after daybreak, Sheriff John Stilinski took his small band of S/G law enforcement out to the Hale property to search for proper evidence. John didn’t know much about Sanctioned Hunts, but he did know civil law, and he wanted to be covered if anyone had issue with Sentinel Justice.
He was using a flashlight, as were four of his deputies, but the two Sentinel/Guide pairs, both ‘borrowed’ LEOs from San Francisco, and both Sentinels who seemed to have a major problem following such a young and untried Alpha into a Hunt, were using their own heightened senses to search the property—and they were finding a lot that John might have overlooked. First, they found a solid line of a fine grey/white powder that ran around the perimeter of the property about ten feet away from the house. Then they found another line of the same powder running the perimeter about one foot from the base of the house foundation. Both powder lines were broken by a pathway roughly three feet wide, and that looked rather deliberate. John recalled Stiles ‘sweeping’ through the air before the fire extinguished itself and noted that the ‘pathway’ was approximately where Stiles had been standing, so he gathered a bit of the powder into two evidence bags for analysis.
He also made certain to gather a sample of the chemical powder that had been carefully laid on the porch under the front door and windows as well as around the rear entrance to the house. Then John placed a call to the HazMat disposal unit to make sure it was completely cleaned from the premises. John wanted to take no chances of a sudden rainfall coming along and blowing up the house.
“Sheriff!” called one of the Sentinels, and John turned away from the porch to look around the side of the house.
“What do you have, Lloyd?”
Sentinel Lloyd stepped forward, presenting an evidence bag. “I’m pretty sure this is a cell jammer.”
“That makes sense,” said Sentinel Barclay as he rounded the opposite corner, “because the landline has been severed. It wouldn’t do for anyone inside the house to call for help once the fire had been started.”
John shook his head in disbelief. “Jesus! If Talia Hale hadn’t already been working late, this would have been a huge disaster.”
“No,” countered Guide Barclay from behind her Sentinel. “It would have been a huge disaster if Derek Hale hadn’t come online at that crucial point in the evening. I heard his Spirit Animal went out for help.”
“Yeah,” said John as he rubbed his bottom lip absently. “We were sitting in the living room after dinner when this owl flew into the house, right through the wall.”
“So it was fully corporeal?” asked Guide Barclay, stunned.
“Oh, yeah,” John confirmed. “Until Stiles went haywire, we all thought a real-live owl somehow got into the house. Okay, so we’ve found evidence of cut phone lines and a cell jammer, some sort of chemical near all of the egresses of the house that would certainly have exploded upon contact with water, and some other sort of powder surrounding the house in two layers.”
“We’ve also got clear footprints in quite a few places, and they have distinctive tread patterns,” said Sentinel Lloyd. “I’ve got your deputies casting moulds now before the ground warms and the prints shrink with the constriction.”
“Good,” said John as he surveyed the scene. “I know Sentinel Justice is a law unto itself, but I want all bases covered just in case. People who do bullshit like this often will try to worm their way through the legal system. While I’ve no doubt that my son will take care of the main perpetrator, I have no problem playing clean-up.”
“You seem to have a lot of faith that your son will be the one who takes the Justice,” said Sentinel Lloyd doubtfully.
John side-eyed him casually. “Do you have children, Sentinel Lloyd?”
“No, Sheriff, I do not.”
John nodded and placed his hat carefully on his head. “When you do, if you are as blessed as I have been, you will learn that your children often push past your expectations of them. Stiles was ten years old when he came online, and by all rights he should have been institutionalized because of the trauma. He not only over-came the traumatic Emergence, he over-came Guide Rejection—even if it was unintended—and he’s probably more high-functioning that you are at your current levels. You might want to think about that.”
John headed back to his SUV, almost missing the sound of Sentinel Lloyd’s Guide smacking him on the back of the head.
~ ~ ~
Three black luxury SUVs sat parked on the edge of a ridge beside the dirt road that led to the Argent Compound in Horse Lake, California. Standing in a line in front of the SUVs were eight Sentinel/Guide Pairs: Six Federal Marshals, four National Guardsmen, four State Policemen—and Stiles Stilinski and Michael Lane. None of them seemed very impressed with the sight before them.
The compound was incredibly cliché—several buildings comprised of one large barracks-looking building, three storage buildings, and two vehicle garages—all surrounded by a double chain-link fence topped with razor wire and protected by an electric gate. As it was incredibly early by any standards, there was no movement on the grounds, but Stiles could hear the gentle whirr of the surveillance cameras that were no doubt located at all corners and several points between.
Stiles could also hear many heartbeats, indicating that the compound was currently fully-staffed. And among those probably rising for the day were four whose scents Stiles could identify from the Hale property—the reason he was there on a Sanctioned Hunt.
Dziki was pacing restlessly in front of the line of Sentinels and Guides, snarling and glaring at the fenced compound. He knew what Stiles knew—what they all knew by now: there were Sentinels behind that fence.
Visibly vibrating with fury, Stiles turned to the closest Sentinel—one of the Federal Marshals—and said, “Call them out.”
The Marshal didn’t ask about ‘who’ or ‘what’; he simply stepped forward and said calmly and clearly, “Sentinels in the compound—we know you are there. Come out now or be complicit in a High Crime against a Guide.”
They were silent and motionless for a long moment before they heard a response from within the compound.
“Who are you? And what are you talking about?”
The Marshal looked at Stiles, who merely shrugged, before replying, “We are standing with a very angry Alpha Prime, and we are ready to act against the people accused of attempted murder of a Guide. The crime was committed last night, and we have confirmation of identifying scents within the compound. Take notice that an Alpha Prime has declared any- and every-one associated with the Argent family to be intolerable. Complying with our orders now may be the only way to keep your worthless hides from being destroyed when we enter.”
When the Marshal declared Stiles to be an Alpha Prime, Michael shifted just a bit closer to the Sentinel. He’d noticed a discernible change in Stiles on the long drive from Beacon Hills, as if his sentinel had grown stronger somehow, but he didn’t think anyone else had noticed. Stiles certainly hadn’t mentioned anything, but he had…stilled…the closer they got to their quarry, when he had been incredibly agitated at the beginning of the journey. Michael made a mental note to ask Stiles about it once this mission was complete.
“We don’t know anything about an attack against a Guide. How do we know you’re telling the truth?”
The Marshal sighed and lifted his eyes upward, as if to ask for patience. “Is this something you want to risk? This is your last warning!”
As one, all eight S/G pairs climbed back into the three SUVs and maneuvered back onto the dirt road. By the time they reached the electronic gate, it was swinging open under the direction of four very perturbed but unarmed men. The lead SUV stopped just short of the gate, using the vehicles as a barrier to prevent other vehicles from exiting the compound. The driver activated his police radio and announced, “Guide Lane, you are unarmed and inexperienced, so I would really appreciate it if you would stay inside the armoured vehicle.”
Michael slumped relieved in his seat and said, “Yeah, I have no problem with that.”
One of the other Sentinels in the lead SUV asked the driver, “Don’t you think the kid should stay behind as well? He’s not exactly armed or trained, either.”
The Guide sitting beside the driver laughed almost cruelly and said, “You can’t feel it yet, but that kid is probably more armed than any of you, and his instinct will guide him. I really don’t recommend trying to leave him behind or trying to take over this mission.”
Offering a brief apology to Michael, Stiles calmly climbed out of the second SUV and approached the four unknown men, sending his aura out toward them almost violently. Two of the men, obviously the Guides, gasped and fell to their knees as Stiles’ aura breached their shields.
“What are you?” one of them gasped, clutching his chest in alarm but pulling away when his Sentinel reached out to grab hold of him.
“I’m the Hunter,” Stiles replied, and Dziki abruptly appeared in front of the four bedraggled men, snarling and snapping at them. “Prepare for Revelation and Discovery, or prepare to be prey.”
It was all the warning they had before a mental touch, hard and sharp as a seasoned sword, pierced all of their mental shields and shredded them into nothing. Working on pure instinct, Stiles sorted and searched through their recent memories before moving deeper; images of hunting and killing some sort of animal/human hybrid that had attacked a daycare facility, capturing a suspected rapist, more animal hunting—Stiles was now certain these people were going after werewolves, so they most certainly did exist—but no clear memories about the planning or execution of the Hale arson. By the time Stiles stepped back, both Guides were unconscious and both Sentinels were bleeding from the nose and ears. Michael looked a bit horrified, but no one else on the Hunt team reacted at all.
“They’re clear on the Hale attack, but they’ve certainly been convinced to do some shady stuff otherwise. Maybe some of their victims were actually guilty, but a lot of them weren’t.”
“Are the Guides complicit as well?” asked one of the soldiers gravely.
“Yeah,” said Stiles shortly. “They used the Guides to find their own targets, so there was no way they would have dared to use them for the Hale attack. But just because they weren’t active last night doesn’t mean they haven’t done other horrible stuff. Shackle them and put them in the back of the transport; they’ll stay out of it until I need them aware.”
Two of the Marshals restrained the dazed Sentinels with zip ties and placed them in the cargo section of the last SUV. The Guides were handled slightly more gently but were no less restrained; they were zip tied and laid on soft quilts on the floor of the cargo area. By the time the prisoners were settled, someone must have woken inside the barracks building and checked the security cameras because the front door opened again, revealing several well-armed men and a pair of snarling Rottweilers.
“Who the hell are you and how did you get through our gate?” demanded an older, bald man brandishing a rifle.
“Federal Marshals,” responded one of the Sentinels. “We’re here for Katherine Argent.”
“And if I told you Katherine Argent is not here?” sassed the old guy.
Stiles closed his eyes and tilted his head forward, sniffing delicately along the breezed that wafted past the open barracks door. “She’s here. They’re all here, deeper inside the building.” He cocked his head sideways and listened. “The old man’s heart just kicked up a notch,” he murmured. “He’s aware of what Kate did.”
The Sentinel Marshal stepped forward, holding out his badge for identification. “We know she ran to you for safe harbor. She’s wanted for arson, attempted murder, and crimes against a Guide. Bring her out, or we’ll just have to go in after her.”
The old man sneered and hitched up his rifle. “I don’t believe you have a warrant, so I think I’ll have to ask you to leave.” He whistled sharply and the two Rottweilers charged forward, growling and barking as they raced across the yard and were joined by four other dogs coming from the rear of the building.
Immediately the Sentinels and Guides went on the offensive, and Spirit Animals manifested to counter the charge of the dogs. Big cats, a couple of bears, and even Michael’s golden eagle—all manifested in a mostly-corporeal state and charged forward, driving the dogs away shrieking and yelping in fear. If Stiles had been in a more relaxed state, he might have laughed at the sight of a trained guard dog running away from a mostly-ghostly flying squirrel. Instead, he was focused on the elderly man in front of him—the man taking aim with a deadly weapon.
As the man’s finger twitched over the trigger, Stiles stepped forward and shouted with intent, “Stand Down and Let Us Pass!” Putting the full force of his new aura into the directive, Stiles walked forward slowly, with the Federal Marshals falling into step behind him. “Drop your weapons and present Kate Argent immediately!”
The old man held onto his rifle, but the other three dropped their guns quickly and stepped away from the door. One of them looked like he really wanted to run in the same direction as the dogs. Of course the commotion quickly drew attention from the other occupants in the barracks building and six new people came through the front door: a tall man with dark blond hair and ice blue eyes, a tall woman with short red hair and an icy expression on her face, two men of average height with dark hair and plain features, a short-ish blond man with broad shoulders and close-set eyes—and Kate Argent, bringing up the rear with a smirk on her face.
Stiles lifted his hand and pointed carefully, indicating the short blond and the two dark men. “Those three and the blonde woman; the scents are clear despite the overlay of soap and too-heavy cologne. Clearly they’re trying to disguise their presence.”
The lead Marshal nodded and stepped forward. “Kate Argent? You and your accomplices are under arrest. Please drop any weapons that you may have and surrender, and things won’t have to get unpleasant.”
“Unpleasant?” Kate laughed harshly. “Oh, sweetie, you don’t know what unpleasant is. You’re clearly out of your depth here, officer.”
At her words, the sounds of many weapons being primed sounded through the morning air. Stiles and his team looked up to see no less than ten men and women aiming various guns at them from windows in the barracks building, one of the garages, and one of the storage buildings.
Stiles smirked. Clearly these people thought they had the upper hand.
The tall man with cold blue eyes stepped forward and gave the old guy and Kate an anxious side-eye. “Marshal,” he said, holding out his empty hands in supplication, “clearly we have a misunderstanding. You seem to think my sister has done something wrong, but you have no warrant and have offered no proof. We are within our rights to defend our property, but I’m sure we can cooperate if you’ll just explain what you think has happened.”
“What we think has happened,” said the Marshal clearly with ire in his voice, “is that your sister and her three cohorts committed an act of arson in an attempt to kill an online Guide and the rest of his family last night.”
“Attempt?” Kate snorted. “You think I attempted something like that?”
“We also have evidence that Kate Argent, using different aliases, has targeted other young Guides, killing at least four others.” The Marshal directed his attention to Kate. “Any attack on a Guide is considered a High Crime within the Sentinel/Guide community, and we are here to see that justice is done.”
The blond man frowned. “I don’t understand. Wouldn’t a Guide have protection from something like that? I mean, we occasionally work with Sentinels, and they’re very protective of their Guides.” He looked around the large yard in confusion. “In fact, they should be here somewhere, and I’m sure they can vouch for our actions.”
Stiles stepped forward again and said, “Your pet Sentinels have been subdued and will be dealt with after we take Kate and the other three.”
Kate sneered again. “If you think I’m going anywhere with you kid…wait, I remember you! You’re a friend of that brat Der—ek.” Her voice trailed off, as if she knew she’d slipped up, but she rallied quickly. “That…boy…was not a Guide!”
Stiles laughed harshly. “Oh, not only is he—he actually sent for help after you set his house on fire!” Fury settled on Stiles’ face. “I caught the smell of you at the site of the fire, and I’ve identified it here again. That is the only proof I need to bring you to justice.”
“Kid,” Kate said harshly, “you just don’t get it! I’m going nowhere with you!”
She raised her hand, revealing a dull grey handgun, and aimed right at Stiles. There was a flash of dull spark before Dziki appeared and charged at Kate, swiping at her arm with psionically charged claws and driving her backwards into the old man, who had also raised his rifle again in a challenge. The growling Dire Wolf clawed and bit, striking out again and again at Kate, who was shrieking in pain and terror. The clamor and panic caused the other gunmen to fire, but their aim was off due to Spirit Animal interference, and the Sentinels moved very quickly to disarm everyone within reach.
In the end, very few shots were fired, and only two connected, wounding one of the soldier Sentinels in the shoulder and hitting one of Kate’s accomplices between the eyes, killing him instantly.
Stiles walked through the fracas, standing beside Dziki as the Dire Wolf stood over the prone form of Kate Argent. She was panting shallowly, her face now pale and her arm broken badly. There were Psionic scars on her face, neck, and arms, and drool pooled from her slack mouth. He stared in satisfaction as the light slowly faded from her eyes though she still breathed.
The shell was there, but the nut was long gone.
Once the dust had settled, fifteen people were zip-tied and lined up along the long front wall of the barracks building, many of them bleeding and all of them complaining, and the Marshals had called for State Police back-up and transport. The charges in this case were clear: assault on Federal Marshals. Stiles was even fairly certain that, once the property was searched, other weapons charges would be filed. Of everyone within the compound, only the tall blond man and the red-haired woman, Chris Argent and his wife Victoria, were unrestrained, and that was only because they had not had weapons, had not attacked, and promised to behave until the State Police arrived. The old guy turned out to be the senior Argent, Gerard, and he was in much the same shape as poor Kate: drooling into his own shirt and unaware of anything around him.
“What’s wrong with them?” Chris had asked when he deemed it safe enough to approach Stiles and Dziki. “What did that…animal…do to them?”
Dziki growled and Chris stepped back quickly. Stiles smirked slightly at the unsettled man. “They offended the Sentinel and Guide Community by attacking Guides. We may have only been able to prove the attempt last night, but there is evidence implicating Kate in the deaths of several other young Latent or Potential Guides, and she went after them all the same way, but pretending to be an Emerging Sentinel and seducing them with the idea of a Perfect Bond.” Stiles’ eyes hardened when he returned his gaze to the twitching woman. “Guides, even those not completely online, are precious. I requested a Hunt to track her down, but I was tasked with taking her completely out of the picture altogether, so I severed her connection to the Psionic Plane.”
“I thought only Sentinels and Guides could have a connection like that,” said Chris absently. “And Kate was never going to be a Sentinel. We don’t have any in the family line at all.”
“It’s a common misconception,” said Michael as he approached to keep Stiles calm. “But the simple fact is, everyone has a connection to the Psionic Plane. Sentinels and Guides have a more active connection, but the Psionic Plane is basically the living energy of the universe, and you can’t function if you have no connection to it. What happened to your sister and your father? Well, from what I can sense, they’ve basically been psionically lobotomized. Their consciousness has been cut off. They’ll continue to live physically, but they’ll never pose a danger to anyone ever again.”
“I didn’t know,” said Chris. “We hunt….”
“You hunt werewolves,” said Stiles plainly. “And I’m sure you tell yourself that you’re only taking out monsters, but the young Guides that your sister killed were just kids, maybe my age or just a bit older. There was nothing monstrous about Derek Hale or his family, and there certainly was nothing dangerous about those other Guides. And your father might have really been a true believer about the danger of werewolves in order to convince two different Sentinels to help him hunt, but your family will very publicly be announced as intolerable, which means no other S/G pair will ever have anything to do with you or any of your associates again. I really suggest that you take a long, hard look at what you think you’re doing.”
Chris bristled. “I’ve only ever gone after dangerous Omegas! They’re the ones that pose the most danger because they have no Packs to keep them sane.”
“Uh-huh,” said Michael dryly, “and I wonder who many of those ‘dangerous omegas’ actually had innocent families that were obliterated by way of hate crimes perpetrated by your father. Mr. Argent, we’ll be leaving soon and your father and sister will be Deep Questioned by a High-Level Shaman. All of the true facts about their past actions will be laid bare, but they’ll not be returned to consciousness. They can be housed in a Center facility for Damaged Sentinels and Guides, or you can take custody or place them in a care facility of your own choice. You will be contacted once Guide Hale recovers for your answer.”
“I thought the Hales survived last night?”
Michael’s eyebrow lifted in indignation. “Just because nobody died doesn’t mean nobody was harmed.”
*The radio was tuned to some ‘adult contemporary’ station that played music with an actual melody rather than just a bass beat, but it was turned down enough so that the conversation flowed freely in the car. This was ‘treat day’; the one day each week that Claudia took her son across town after school for some special treat, like getting a new book or two out of the library or visiting the farmer’s market for fresh fruits and vegetables. The treats were never extravagant and rarely involved sugar or junk food; it was just a special time for mother and son to spend together without anyone else.
A time to chat about anything, everything, and nothing.
A time to complain about homework, or to brag about a great test, or to ask embarrassing questions without recrimination.
Mieczyslaw was most definitely his father’s son, so Claudia introduced ‘treat day’ as a way to get quality time with him alone, without John’s influence. And they always went all the way across town so they wouldn’t be tempted to stop by the Sheriff’s Station to visit John while they were out.
“So anyway,” Mieczyslaw was saying, “Scott totally got the right definition, but he used the wrong word, so everybody started laughing at him and he got all wheezy.”
“Oh, no!” Claudia exclaimed. “What happened? Was he okay?” Scott was Mieczyslaw’s very best friend, so a lot of his stories about school involved the other boy.
“Yeah,” Mieczyslaw confirmed. “I got him calmed down enough to take his inhaler while Mr. Branson gave everyone a lecture about bullying and compassion. But he only got the word wrong when he was speaking out loud, so he totally aced the vocabulary test!”
Claudia laughed. “I should hope so; you guys studied hard for that! Did anything else happen today?”
Mieczyslaw’s expressive face screwed up in concentration for a moment. “Well, nothing big, really. I, um, saw that shadow thing again.” His voice dropped slightly, and Claudia could tell he was embarrassed. “It was in the hallways all day between classes, but I didn’t tell anyone.”
“Kochanie,” she said as she reached out to pat his leg, “you know there’s nothing to be ashamed of, right? Sometimes people see things that aren’t really there.”
Mieczyslaw huffed. “But it is there, mama! I know it is, I just…nobody else sees it but Daddy! He believes me!”
Claudia swallowed a sigh. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, Kochanie. And I’m sure the…shadow thing…is very real to you. But I’ve never seen it, so I don’t know what to tell you about it.” The fact that her son was sometimes seeing something that clearly wasn’t real was an issue for Claudia, but there was no way she could voice her fears. “Have you been seeing it more often lately, or is it still only sometimes?”
Mieczyslaw slouched in his seat and tugged on his seatbelt. “Sometimes I see it lots in one day, and then I don’t see it for a long time. I never said because I didn’t want you to think I’m crazy.”
Claudia’s breath caught. “Oh, no, honey! Don’t ever say that, okay? This is…we’ll figure this out together, okay? There is nothing wrong with you, so don’t even think that. Now—what shall it be today, hmmm? I know you still have a book from the library.”
Claudia stopped at the intersection at the edge of town and checked for oncoming traffic. They were far enough from the center of town that traffic was rarely an issue, but she was always very cautious. This intersection, near the edge of the surrounding forest and mostly over-grown on one side, had always made her slightly uneasy, even though she rarely encountered other vehicles there.
The song changed on the radio and Mieczyslaw gasped in delight. “I love this song! Can I turn it up, please?”
“Just a little bit, sweetie,” Claudia agreed. “I don’t want to be too distracted.”
The driving disco beat grew slightly louder as Claudia pulled past the stop sign and continued on her way.
You can tell by the way I use my walk
I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk.
Mieczyslaw bopped his feet along with the beat as the sun came from behind a cloud, momentarily blinding Claudia and causing her to pull the visor down.
Music loud and women warm; I’ve been kicked around
Since I was born
“Maybe we can see if there is any good fruit at the market, so we can make a pie or something!”
Claudia smiled as she checked her mirrors. “That sounds good, honey. What kind of pie would you like to make?” The sun remained bright in the sky as she slowed slightly to drive around the blind curve in the road at the edge of Beacon Hills.
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man
Just as she finished her turn on the highway, the clouds shifted again and the sun dropped behind her car but shone brightly from behind her and onto the road in front of her. Just as the road straightened, a large truck came barreling down a side road, and the sun was shining right into its windshield.
Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother
You’re Staying Alive, Staying Alive
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’
And we’re Staying Alive, Staying Alive
Claudia could almost see the exact moment the driver of the truck temporarily lost his sight, and the truck swerved violently toward her much smaller car. She reached out blindly toward her son.
“Kochanie!” was the only thing she had time to say before the truck impacted her car, driving the front left fender back into her lap as the car lurched and began to roll over.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, Staying Alive, Staying Alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, Staying Alive, Staying Alive
“Mama!” Mieczyslaw yelled again as the world spun around him. The scent of burnt metal and blood filled his nose, and his head hurt so bad, and he could hear his mother’s breathing—and her heartbeat. And they were getting slower. And slower.
Somewhere outside the car, a large wolf howled.*
Stiles jerked awake as the SUV pulled off the main road and into the parking lot of the Northern California S/G Center. All of the Argent Cult members save Christopher and Victoria Argent had been arrested and secured, either with the California State Police or with the S/G Taskforce, and Stiles almost dropped in his shoes once the adrenaline had worn off. Sleeping in the vehicle during the long drive back from Horse Lake hadn’t been optimal, but it was the best Stiles was going to get until he could reach his own bed.
Beside him, Michael Lane also stirred. He’d been a good friend for months, a dependable Guide Conservator that kept Stiles on an even keel during that time, and he’d been almost vibrating with the urge to ask questions that Stiles refused to answer in an enclosed space.
Many, many questions.
“Did you have an okay nap, Stiles?” Michael asked.
Stiles shrugged. “Not at all. I’m still too keyed-up, you know? And I…had a nightmare about my mom.”
Michael hesitated briefly before settling his hand on Stiles’ neck, calming him immediately. “You don’t normally dream about her, do you?”
Stiles shook his head. “Not…really. Sometimes I’ll have nice dreams about baking with her, or our trips to the library, or her helping me with homework. Normal stuff, you know?”
Michael eased the door open and slid out of the SUV, ignoring the other S/G pairs as they worked to secure their prisoners. He gently pulled Stiles out of the vehicle and wrapped his arms around him in a gentle hug. “What made this one different? Why do you call it a nightmare?”
Stiles sighed and allowed himself to sink into the embrace. “I just had a very vivid recall of the crash that caused me to come online. I don’t like to think about it.”
“Do you…possibly think that might have something to do with what happened to you on the way to Horse Lake?”
Michael’s voice was calm and hesitant, and it only made Stiles feel more terrible. He pulled back and glanced at the Center behind them. “Um,” he said, licking his lips, “let me call my dad and tell him that it was all Mission: Possible, okay? Then we can find an isolation room and have a chat, because I do have an explanation, and you deserve an explanation. Just…not out here, because it’s nobody’s business except maybe me and my dad’s and yours.”
Michael smiled. “Okay. You call your dad, and I’ll arrange some real food and a place for rest, because I’m seriously prescribing real sleep after our talk. You need it, I need it, and I think we both deserve some old-fashioned cuddling.”
Stiles returned the smile and pulled out his cell phone. “Yeah. That sounds really good.”
~ ~ ~
Talia paced restlessly outside of the infirmary where her son, Derek, slept on. Peter, her younger brother and potential Sentinel, was still in a ‘conference’ with the Alpha Prime Sentinel and Guide of North America—and wasn’t that a kick in the pants!—learning all that he could to prepare as best he could for when Talia removed the blockage from his mind and freed his Sentinel gifts.
It was a very tense situation. Talia Hale was the strong and proud Alpha of the Hale Pack of Beacon Hills, California; she was revered and respected, and she was completely unused to being unable to help her Pack members. In this case, she was completely useless.
She couldn’t reach her son. Hell, she could barely sense her son, and she could see him right in front of her face! As for Peter? Well, once his gifts have been released there was a chance that he would have no place in her Pack.
Talia shuddered. She only wanted what was best for her family, but she feared the best would bring them pain.
Movement behind her caused Talia to turn around to face the doctor, Guide Taylor, coming toward her. “Are you well, Mrs. Hale?” he asked genially.
Talia allowed her shoulders to relax. “I think I’m as well as I’m going to be for the moment, Doctor, thank you. I was wondering…,” she dug into the shoulder bag she carried and produced a rather well-worn plushy rabbit. “This is my daughter Cora’s most favorite thing, you see,” she stammered, clutching the stuffed rabbit desperately, “and she’d like it if—could I give it to Derek?”
Guide Taylor smiled gently. “Of course, Mrs. Hale. That wouldn’t be inappropriate at all. I understand that scent is important for Pack?”
Talia relaxed even further. “I’m sorry,” she sighed. “You have to understand that, while there are certainly notable numbers of werewolves in the world, we’ve been keeping to ourselves for a very long time. Hunters abound, you see, and even the most cosmopolitan of us can fall victim to those who see us as dangerous animals. And yes, scent is important to Pack. We identify our Pack first by scent, often at great distances. Cora carries this ratty thing everywhere, and has since she was an infant, and she really wants Derek to have it when he wakes.”
Guide Taylor opened the infirmary door and ushered Talia inside. “Why don’t you give it to him and spend a bit of time with him before your next appointment. I’ll make sure nobody bothers you.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Talia gratefully.
The cot that Peter had slept in the night before had been removed, but the chair was still against the wall, so Talia pulled it closer to Derek’s bed and sat down. With trembling hands, Talia lifted one of Derek’s hands and tucked the stuffed rabbit under it, smoothing the sheet over it gently. “We’ll get you back,” she whispered softly as she petted his hair. “We’ll get you back and we’ll rebuild around you. Anything you need, my precious boy; I promise you.”
~ ~ ~
“I’m not going to lie,” said Peter Hale cautiously. “This whole thing goes against everything I’ve ever done in my entire life. I’ve never been a ‘protector’, not in any way you’d recognize.”
Jim Ellison snorted indelicately. “You think we don’t understand that?” He leaned forward and folded his hands together on top of the table. “Mr. Hale, I was a soldier in my life before this. I was a highly decorated Army Ranger, and my job was primarily Search/Recovery/Rescue, and I’ll confess to doing more than my share of wet-work in the line of duty. My Emergence was not ideal in any way, not that they ever really are. I mean, Sentinels are brought online for a reason, right?”
Peter chuckled in spite of himself. “Very well, I see your point. I do have another concern, really, and I’m not sure if you can explain it to me.”
“Well, I’ll try, but Blair is usually better at explaining this stuff.”
Peter’s mouth quirked up at the corner. “Spirit Animals. I don’t really understand them.”
Ellison groaned and rubbed both hands over his face roughly. “It had to be that, didn’t it?”
“I’m a werewolf, Sentinel Ellison,” said Peter dryly. “And I am the uncle to teenagers who read the most deplorable things, and then insist on sharing with me.”
Ellison’s hands dropped and he frowned at Peter. “What’s your point? Do they read theories about Spirit Animals to you?”
“Oh, no, Sentinel Ellison. It’s much worse than that!” Peter shuddered almost comically. “They read Harry Potter to me! And did you know there is such a thing as a Patronus? And in that fictional world, the Patronus seems to be rather like a Spirit Animal, in that it is a magical projection of a person’s energy.”
Ellison’s eyebrows rose with each word. “I think I’m going to have to have Sandburg read those books. The author might be a latent Guide. But, please, go on, because I’m sure there is a point to this.”
Peter smirked. “My youngest niece was horrified to know that the werewolf character in the books could not achieve a Patronus because he already was part animal.”
Ellison chuckled. “And you’re worried that you won’t have a Spirit Animal?”
“Oh, no,” Peter clarified. “I’m quite certain that I will, because I can sometimes sense a shadowy presence around me—and obviously Derek has one, because that is what brought help to our home after we were attacked. No, my question is rather in regards to what form the Spirit Animal might take. Are there theories as to how those forms are…chosen, I suppose is the best word?”
Ellison sighed and sat back in his chair. “Honestly? I doubt anyone will ever be able to determine how a Spirit Animal chooses their Sentinel or Guide. And make no mistake—that’s what happens, not the other way around. Some theories posit that the stronger the Sentinel, the more predator the Spirit Animal, but that’s not necessarily so. I’m a High-level Sentinel, with high responses to all five natural senses, and I came online in the jungle of Peru after a plane crash, so there is very little wonder that my Spirit Animal is a huge jaguar.
“But honestly, I’ve seen Sentinels who’ve had Spirit Animals in the form of birds of prey, large cats, and the like. I’ve even met a Sentinel and Guide Pair that both had otter Spirit Animals—a river otter for the Guide, and a sea otter for the Sentinel.”
Peter looked intrigued. “So is the Spirit Animal always complimentary to that of the partner?”
Ellison shook his head. “No, not at all. Sandburg’s Spirit Animal is a huge grey wolf, and that is not unique to him. Sandburg is a Shaman, one who travels the Spiritual Plane in an active manner, and most Shamans have wolves as Spirit Animals, in one type or another. But wolves are not specific to Guides, either. Frankly, because you’re a werewolf, there is a high chance that your Spirit Animal may be a predator of some sort, but will not be a wolf at all. Blair will lead you in a meditation to find your Spiritual Anchor, because that will help you locate your nephew on the Spiritual Plane.”
Peter sat back, somewhat satisfied with the answer. “I suppose I’ll just have to be surprised, then.”
“Yeah,” agreed Ellison, “but then you can happily tell your niece that you most definitely have a Patronus.”
~ ~ ~
“So, here’s what’s going to happen,” said Guide Blair Sandberg as he entered the isolation room. “Peter will be entering a meditative state, with me as a guide, so that he can become used to using his senses as a Sentinel before you remove the blocks. That way, I’m hoping to reduce the stress on Peter’s mind and body. Also, I’m really hoping that during that meditation we’ll get to meet Peter’s Spirit Animal, which will be his first line of comfort until we can get a Conservator in here for him. As much as I’d like to, I can’t be that for him because my Bond with Jim is too tight.”
“Alright,” said Talia. “Do you want me here for that part, or do you want me to come in later.”
Blair shrugged slightly. “At this point, your presence will only keep him calm, because you’re his Alpha, so having you here will be the most help right now. But as soon as you release the bond, you will need to leave. This will likely hit Peter very hard, and that will be difficult for you to deal with, which would put undue stress back onto Peter.”
Talia grimaced ruefully. “A vicious cycle, so to speak.”
“Yeah, exactly,” agreed Blair. “So, we’ve made this as comfortable as possible for Peter, but I realize it looks stark to you. Trust me, he’ll want as little stimulation as possible in the beginning, or else he’ll risk sensory overload and maybe a Catastrophic Zone. Nobody wants to deal with that right now, because the only thing that would bring him out would be his perfect Guide, and we don’t have a clue as to who that might be right now.”
Talia blinked. “Um, as I recall, it was a Catastrophic Zone that brought my family into this situation to begin with.”
“Really?” Blair asked skeptically. “How so, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Talia cleared her throat. “As you’ve most likely been told, a woman targeted my son by telling him that she was an Emerging Sentinel and that he was her Perfect Guide. I’m sure most teenage boys might have been flattered by that and just let it go, but Derek has always been an intellectual, so he came to me with part of that tale and asked that I bring him here to be tested, just to be sure. While we were waiting to be seen by the Director, Derek somehow wandered into the infirmary area where there was a young Sentinel in Catastrophic Zone—and Derek accidentally brought him out of it.”
“Wow!” Blair ran his hand through his unruly curls. “I…was not informed about that part. I guess it got swept aside in all the hubbub. Frankly, that’s pretty amazing, you know?”
Talia rolled her eyes slightly. “Well, now I understand how amazing it is, but at that time—it was decidedly not. Derek was convinced that that woman was right about them being perfect for each other, and he basically rejected the Sentinel in the infirmary. Then he began questioning everything the woman was telling him, especially after that Sentinel began attending Derek’s school, along with his Conservator. Derek was torn, because he could feel himself coming online, but wasn’t there yet and was in doubt of his secret relationship, and then his wolf—the basest part of us—was longing for his perfect Mate, but he didn’t know who that could be.”
Blair slid down the wall of the room and sat cross-legged on the floor, steepling his fingers under his chin. “And then it turned out that woman was a lying liar who lies, and just wanted to kill him and your entire family because she was likely wired wrong from birth, and Derek came online in the harshest possible way when he somehow sensed her duplicity just before she set the fire.”
Talia sat on the floor across from Blair and nodded. “And it appeared that Derek somehow sent his Spirit Animal to find help—and that same young Sentinel came to the rescue.” She released a heavy sigh. “I’m at a loss, because I was on Derek’s side this past summer, and I supported his rejection of the Sentinel. Everyone here was so helpful, telling us that he would never be forced, but….”
“No, hey, don’t go there, okay. It is always a Guide’s choice. Always. In fact, I had to chase after Jim in the most forceful way because he was in denial in the beginning.” Blair leaned back against the wall and studied the dark-haired woman across from him. Her aura was incredibly easy to read because she cared so much. “Look, Talia, asking ‘what if’ will get nobody anywhere. What happened, happened. You and your son were given limited information, so that’s all you had to work with, and second-guessing will only hurt you and your family in the long run. Right now, we’re going to work on helping Peter, and then we’ll work on helping your son, so you have to believe that everything will be okay. Better than okay.”
Talia nodded and pushed her hair from out of her eyes. “It’s very easy to trust you, Guide Sandburg.”
Blair smiled. “It’s kinda part of the job description.”
“Okay, Peter, because it’s an easy visualization, most Sentinels picture a sort of control panel for their senses, with five dials with settings from zero to eleven.”
Peter raised one sardonic eyebrow. “There’s a joke in there somewhere, isn’t there?”
Blair grinned and shrugged. “Honestly? Only a partial joke, because when a Sentinel is tracking or hunting, they do ‘dial up’ to eleven on some of their senses. The control panel or radio-dial is the most common visualization, and it’s practically universal because it’s so easy to see.”
Peter nodded and dutifully closed his eyes, imagining the control panel just as he was asked. For his personal use, he did label the dials with ‘Smell’, ‘Sight’, ‘Hearing’, ‘Touch’, and ‘Taste’, and he made sure the settings on each dial went from zero to eleven.
“Now,” said Blair once Peter seemed settled, “since we’re already in the isolation room, we’ll start with smell. The air is filtered in here, but I’m sure you can catch some slight odor, so we’ll dial your sense of smell back to three.”
Peter concentrated on only the one sense, deliberately dulling it until his werewolf nose could no longer smell the tinge of charcoal from the purifier. Then Blair directed him to dial back sight until the lights were very dim in the room, and then taste, until he could no longer identify the slight tingle of the filtered air.
“Okay, Peter,” said Blair, “now we’re going to focus on hearing so that I can guide you into the Spiritual Plane. For now, I want you to focus only on my voice and your sister’s heartbeat. Let the beat of your Alpha’s heart relax your mind. Let it fill you until there is nothing else. Drift to the sound of that heartbeat, and begin to dial back hearing, from ten to nine…from nine to eight…from eight to seven…from seven to six…from six to five.
“Now I want you to let the sound of that heartbeat slowly fade away, until it’s barely in the back of your mind. And now I want you to let your mind drift a bit, but don’t chase the sound of the heartbeat. Just float away from your body for a while, and become part of the universe. Drift and float, and just listen to the sound of my voice.”
Peter felt his mind take flight, sort of, and it was very relaxing. Using his Alpha’s heartbeat as a focus was a genius idea, because Peter was immediately able to give over to the meditation—something he’d never quite managed on his own before. And the feeling of drifting along was…freeing; he felt much bigger, somehow, like he was connected to so much more.
And then, there was suddenly a tugging in Peter’s mind, as if something was trying very hard to get his attention. Peter opened his eyes in shock, and was stunned to find that he was no longer in the isolation room at the S/G Center; instead, Peter found himself in some kind of jungle, and everything had a blue tinge to it.
The tugging grew stronger, so Peter wandered about trying to find the source. He nimbly skirted around thick bushes and low-hanging branches until the greenery began to thin out, making way for a desert environment. Here, the tugging was much stronger, and Peter felt that he could probably reach out and touch whatever was trying to contact him. Peter wandered away from the edge of the jungle until he found a large boulder partially buried in sand, and he sat upon it, waiting patiently.
“I’m here, you know,” he whispered, because the locale felt somehow sacred to him. “I’m finally ready to meet you, and I’m very sorry that I made you wait so long.”
There was a rustling beneath him, as if something was digging its way out from under the rock. Peter only had to wait a short moment before a long black animal with a broad white patch along its head and back. It had a short bushy tail that curved upward, a triangular pointed snout, tiny glittering black eyes, and a sneer. A straight-up sneer. It also had very long claws on the two front feet that rather looked like they were meant to be used for digging. Like tiny backhoes. On its feet.
It hissed at him, showing a tiny mouth full of very sharp teeth.
Peter started chuckling softly. “A honey badger! How delightful!”
It hissed at him again, and Peter began laughing in earnest, his whole body shaking with it as amusement and relief filled him. He had apparently been accepted by his Spirit Animal, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d feared.
Then there was a sharp pain in the back of Peter’s neck and his breath left his body. Everything around him grew much…more. The blue tinge of the world he was in sharpened until everything around him was a vivid shade of blue. The temperature cooled noticeably, and Peter instinctively dialed back his sense of touch until the chill no longer bothered him. The honey badger used its claws to climb up the side of the boulder until it could crawl into Peter’s lap, and he dug his fingers into the coarse fur, seeking comfort.
“Very good, Peter,” said Blair, who was suddenly standing to Peter’s left. “You adjusted much more quickly than I thought you would.”
Peter licked suddenly dry lips. “Where are we?” he asked dryly, the laughter gone from his voice.
Blair spread his arms wide. “Welcome to the Spiritual Plane, also known as the Psionic Plane. Every living thing touches it, of course, but Sentinels and Guides can actively visit and frequently do. Shamans like me travel here to teach or heal, and our kind can use this place as a sort of way-station for communication. It sure beats a phone call, that’s for sure.”
Peter nodded absently and began petting his companion. “So Talia removed the blocks?”
“Yes, she did. And then she quietly left, just as I requested.” Blair crouched down onto the sand-covered ground and a large grey wolf shimmered into being beside him. “Our work here is just for the two of us—well, the four of us, actually. Do you want to introduce me to your friend?”
Peter looked down at the badger and saw that its eyes were closed and it seemed incredibly content. “I’ve no idea what to call it. Her. Him?” Peter looked up at Blair and found him smiling in genuine amusement. “How can you tell, really, without looking under the tail?”
“Well,” said Blair as he rubbed the wolf between the ears, “how does it feel to you? There is such a thing as Male Energy and Female Energy in the world. Sentinels and Guides are usually much quicker to pick up on that sort of thing, especially when dealing with transgendered persons. So—is it male or female?”
Peter ran a lazy hand along the badger’s spine, feeling it shiver slightly in pleasure. “Female. Definitely female, and so like many strong females that I’ve known in my life.” He nodded decisively. “I think I’ll call her, hmmm, Junebug.”
The badger immediately opened its eyes and snarled at Peter. “No?” Peter asked with a slight smirk. “Well, then, how about ‘Khutulun’? If I remember my obscure history well enough, Khutulun was a descendant of Ghengis Khan, and never came upon a male that she could not best in the wrestling ring or in battle.”
The badger shivered slightly and settled back in his lap, allowing him to continue petting her.
Blair blinked. “Well, I’ve never seen a Sentinel reason with a Spirit Animal, but I’m sure stranger things have happened. Now,” he said, clapping his hands, “we’ve got some training to do, because you’re actually in the exact place you need to be to find your nephew.”
Peter looked around curiously. “He’s here? You can sense him?”
Blair shook his head. “No, man, I’m sorry. I just meant the Spirit Plane in general. Now, don’t get me wrong—I could reach out and find him, and I most likely will once I’ve got you on an even keel, but Derek knows me from nobody. And while I could force him out in the open, his transition would go better if you talked him out.”
“Yes, of course,” Peter agreed. “I’m Pack and Family, and Derek is probably feeling a great deal of shame even though what happened was in no way his fault. Am I to understand that I am mostly protected in this place?”
“Yeah, you’re certainly protected here. You’re actually in a secured isolation room, and nobody will be permitted in until we find a Conservator for you.” Blair cocked his head to the side as he studied the newly-Emerged Sentinel. “I’m actually very glad that Khutulun found you so quickly, because she’ll be a great comfort for you while we search for a temporary Guide to help settle your senses.”
“And by ‘settle’, I assume you mean in the way that you used Talia’s heartbeat as a focus to get me here?”
Blair grinned and nodded. “Yeah, man, of course. A Sentinel will ground all of his senses on his Guide, and this happens during Bonding. Now I have to warn you that there is a very strong sexual component that we don’t really publicize because it’s a private thing. Once you find your perfect match, you will use their person scent and sound and taste to keep yourself on track.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose in shock. “I see. And I will not be that…close…to a conservator?”
Blair shrugged. “Honestly, there have been cases of Conservators trying to press Bonding onto a Sentinel they were helping, but Sentinels, while they crave the smell, touch, and sound of a Guide, will not even be tempted by someone who is not a perfect match. Am I going to tell you that you can’t have sex with your Conservator? No, but I am telling you that it will feel hollow. You’ll be touchy-feely with your Conservator, up to a point, but that might just be limited to touching hands or hugging. Skin-to-skin is important, but full-scale intimacy is not.”
Peter sighed. “Werewolves will often have a perfect Mate, more like swans than actual wolves. We tend to Mate for life, so I sincerely doubt that I’ll want to cling to someone who is not my perfect Guide.”
Blair whistled softly. “Wow! No wonder your nephew took himself out of the picture so well! If he’d somehow been convinced that the imposter was supposed to be his perfect Sentinel, but he didn’t feel like she was his Mate?”
“Yes,” Peter agreed, “it is a most disturbing situation. So, how am I supposed to find him here? Obviously the terrain is fluid, and there are no nature scents or sounds here.”
“Well,” said Blair, as if there were no question at all, “we’re going to count on your Pack Bond with your nephew, and I’m going to hope like hell that that will guide you to him.”
~ ~ ~
“Hey, Dad, we, uh, just got back.” Stiles yawned, moving the phone away from his mouth so it didn’t carry over the call.
“I bet you’re all wiped!” his father replied, and Stiles muffled a giggle.
“Yeah, you could say that. But some of us are more wiped than others, and the Federal Marshals still have a bit of work to do.”
“Are you here in town?”
Stiles rubbed the back of his neck almost nervously. “Uh, no. We’re at the Center. Can, um, you come out here? I’ve got some things to tell you about what happened, and Michael wants to put me in isolation for a long nap and cuddle.”
“Stiles, are you really okay?” John’s voice was tense, and Stiles hated hearing it. “I know a lot of bad things probably happened today, and you’re only sixteen….”
Stiles sighed. “Look, Dad, I’m not going to say everything was okay, because it wasn’t. And will it hit me later? Probably. But, I was oddly prepared for what I had to do, and that’s part of what I need to tell you. Michael went into the Center to arrange for food, so I need to go and eat.”
“Okay, son. I’ll pass the rest of this paperwork on to Parrish or Reid and I’ll head out. I should be there in half an hour, is that good for you?”
“Yeah, that’ll give me time to eat and meditate for a little while. I didn’t really eat this morning because I was too keyed-up.”
Stiles said good-bye to his father and turned off his cell phone. He knew his father would only come directly into the Center and ask the receptionist to page him, so having the cell active and buzzing made no sense. Plus, it was almost dead and he’d forgotten his charger in his earlier fury.
Now, the feral anger had faded because his Justice had been carried out, and his adrenaline had long worn off. The nap in the SUV was not restful, and Stiles hadn’t been able to find a meditative state when in close proximity to the Argents even though they were in a separate vehicle; they ‘felt’ oily to him, and the sooner they were locked away, the better. And there was a sharp pang of hunger beginning to settle in Stiles’ tummy, and he was really craving something crunchy.
Stiles entered the Center and crossed to the reception desk, where he informed the On-Duty Guide that his father would be arriving within the hour, and could he please be paged. Then he went in search of Michael.
And instead, he found Sentinel Alpha Prime James Ellison, in the flesh this time. “Oh, hey!” he said, stunned.
“Sentinel Stilinski,” replied Ellison with a nod. “I’ve heard that you kicked ass and took names.”
Stiles shrugged. “I was uniquely motivated, Sir.” He ran a hand across the back of his neck nervously. “I’ve, um, gotta feed, you know? And rest and maybe meditate. But, um, my dad is coming, and I owe a huge explanation to my Conservator, because I was really not verbal for most of this whole thing.”
Ellison offered an understanding smile. “I was actually planning on being with you to inform your father on your status change, Sentinel, so don’t worry about that. I tossed a coin and lost, so my Guide will be the one questioning the two S/G pairs that were actively working with the Argents.”
Stiles winced. “Man, I do not want to be in on that confrontation. I mean, logically I understand that Sentinels go to war—we fight for the protection of the Tribe, you know—but I don’t understand hunting down a minority just because you bought into some asshole’s prejudice!”
Ellison sucked his teeth in order to rein in his temper. “I do know how you feel about that. While I’m sure there are some…bad…werewolves in the world, if they were all evil killers then they wouldn’t have remained a complete secret from most of the world for as long as they have.”
Stiles shrugged. “Yeah,” he sighed. “It’s all a mess, but I don’t feel at all bad about what I did.”
“And you really shouldn’t. Look, I know Blair didn’t give you much of a choice in what happened….”
“No, dude, really,” Stiles interrupted, “I get that it had to happen. Was it a shock? Yes, it was. But I needed the boost, because I was so not ready to face that kind of opposition, and I think the Federal Marshals would have found it difficult to back a kid with no real power of his own.”
Ellison’s mouth tightened. “I’ll be recommending special sensitivity re-training for a few mid-level Sentinels, because they should all know that age never determines power, and that looks can be deceiving. In any case, I’ll be on hand to explain what happened and why it happened, so your father doesn’t freak out too much.” He jerked his head to the side and said, “Go get some food and try to relax. Everything is going to be okay.”
Stiles pressed his lips together and shoved his hands into his pockets. “I really want to believe that, Sir. “It’s been a weird and rough year, you know?”
“What do you mean you ‘unlocked’ my son’s true potential?” John Stilinski’s irritation and fear were almost another physical presence in the room, and Stiles shrank back involuntarily from his father, seeking the welcome hands of Michael Lane.
Jim Ellison was very much regretting not having Blair beside him for this little chat and explanation. He really wasn’t the best for the ‘heart-to-heart’ stuff despite his constant exposure to Blair’s easy energy. Before he could say anything else that might exacerbate the situation further, Stiles’ spirit animal, Dziki, appeared in front of John and bumped his head against John’s leg in silent recrimination. Jim almost laughed when John merely reached out to run a shaking hand through the spiky fur along the Dire Wolf’s thick neck.
“Sheriff,” Jim said, taking the opportunity offered him, “does that look like the Spirit Animal of a regular high-level Sentinel?” He shook his head when John blinked and stared into the glowing eyes of the Dire Wolf. “Look, in a perfect situation, we wouldn’t be needing to have this conversation at all. Your son should have had a much different Emergence altogether.”
John looked up from his unusually timid son to Ellison. “What do you mean?”
Ellison shrugged. “Well, for one thing, a Sentinel only usually comes online when there is a need and when a perfect Guide is ready to join with him or her. In another lifetime, your son might have just gone on to be a normal kid, only Emerging when he encountered his perfect partner in school or on the street; they should have come online together without the drastic stressors, but that didn’t happen. My Guide thinks that the reason part of his potential was locked away was that he came online in a tragic situation without his Guide present in his life.”
John sighed and rubbed his face with both hands before again looking at his son. “Is that why you have so much trouble Zoning out? Because you were out of balance?”
Stiles bit his bottom lip, worrying it between his teeth for a short moment. “I don’t know. Maybe? I know I’m a needy Sentinel, and that’s why my previous Conservator never really worked for me; she wasn’t a very touchy Guide and only let me ground myself on her voice and scent—and that was because she couldn’t avoid talking to me or having a scent. I hug you and Scott a lot, and that helps keep me balanced.”
John nodded abruptly and turned his attention to Ellison. “Okay, so explain it to me again, slowly, and help me make a plan to help my son.”
The corner of Ellison’s mouth lifted in approval. “Okay, first things very first: there are things that Sentinels and Guides do not speak of among Mundanes, and then there are things we don’t even speak of amongst ourselves, and this information falls into that second category.” He sighed, and a large black panther appeared beside him, leaning against his leg. “There are many ‘levels’ for Sentinels and Guides, and those levels mean many things to many people. Mostly they measure strength and ability of control of our gifts. The lowest level Sentinel will still have stronger senses than a Mundane, and often the ‘level’ will only indicate whether or not a Sentinel has all five enhanced senses.”
John’s brow furrowed. “Okay, I think I understand that.”
“Right,” said Ellison shortly. “So—among the high-level Sentinels and Guides, there are those who are ranked ‘Alpha’, and there are a lot of them in the world. The Alphas use their gifts to guide other Sentinels in the protection of the Tribe. They follow the lawful and ethical orders of superior officers in the military, or they follow the lead of superior Law Enforcement officers, but other S/G pairs will follow the lead of the Alphas. And I also need to point out that ‘High Level’ does not always mean ‘High Functioning’, because some low- to mid-level Sentinels are high functioning with only two or three senses, and there are rare Alphas who are high level with low function in one or two senses.”
“That sounds very…confusing,” admitted John, and Ellison chuckled in spite of himself.
“Yeah, it confuses some of us sometimes, too. There are reasons that we keep a lot of this information from Mundanes; they just really wouldn’t get it. Basically, like in the animal kingdom, Sentinels and Guides have an innate sense of who is stronger—at least, most of the time we do. There are occasional throw-backs who think a Sentinel needs to ‘earn’ rank somehow, as if someone newly online can’t be that strong.” Ellison’s nose wrinkled in disgust. “I really hate the politics of it all, but I have to follow along to keep the peace. Most of the time, I think I’d make better progress if I could just knock heads together.”
Ellison took a long drink from his water bottle, surveying the occupants of the room: Stiles and Michael were huddled close together for comfort and balance, as was expected, and John was somehow drawing strength from Stiles’ spirit animal. That wasn’t unusual, really, especially in regards to the family members of a Sentinel or Guide, but it was remarkable how at ease the man was with the Dire Wolf. Not for the first time did Ellison wonder if John Stilinski would have come online if his son had not already done so. He remained Latent, even in the face of his son’s difficult circumstances, and Ellison figured that had more to do with his wife’s death than anything else. Surely she would have been the Sheriff’s Guide had she lived, right?
“Okay,” Ellison said as he capped the water bottle, “so here’s the stuff that most Alphas don’t even know, and it all pertains to your son.” John, and even Michael, leaned forward, but Ellison sank further into his chair. “There is a particular breed of Alpha Sentinel called an Alpha Prime. You know that. I’m Alpha Prime of North America and I’m very socially forward, so practically everyone is aware of my title, but they don’t know what that means. And a Prime differs from other Alphas in many ways: For one thing, a Pride will form around an Alpha, but all Prides will follow the directives of the Prime no matter who their Alpha is.”
“So you’re like, what, a Commander in Chief?” John asked, and Stiles snorted.
Ellison chuckled a bit as well. “In a manner of speaking. But Primes have a much stronger connection to the Spiritual Plane than other Alphas, and Primes have a connection to six senses, rather than just five.”
John blinked. “Are you saying my son is now psychic?”
“No, not at all,” Ellison soothed. “But he does have a gift that is similar to that of Guides, and that is what Blair unblocked before Sentinel Stilinski led that Hunt. In dire circumstances, Primes can actually act like their own Guides because that connection is so clear and strong. His physical reactions will be faster and stronger, but there will also be an empathic component as well.”
“That’s why you could act against the Argents, isn’t it?” Michael asked as his fingers clenched around Stiles’. “The damage was psychic, not physical.”
Stiles shook his head. “Oh, it was psychic alright, but by no means was it not physical. Even if they were psychically healed, they’d never function again. Sure, the autonomic functions like breathing and heartbeat are there, but they no longer control their own bodies.”
“Stiles?” John started, alarmed, but Ellison cleared his throat.
“As I was saying, Primes have an empathic component to their gifts. Sentinels have a distinct authority that they can project over other Sentinels—and to Mundanes in some situations—and that causes others to listen to their orders and directives, and Guides have an empathic projection that can enhance certain emotions in others, causing joy or happiness or calm, even fear and dread if the situation calls for it.” Ellison gestured toward Stiles and said, “What your son did in this situation is nothing that I haven’t had the displeasure of doing myself in the past: he instinctively reached out with his psyche and read the intent and motivation of his targets, and then he neutralized those targets in order to make sure they no longer posed a threat to his Tribe in particular—and to the rest of the general population outside of his personal purview.”
John reached out and pulled his son into a gentle embrace, cradling his head to his chest like he did when Stiles was young. “I’m not mad, Stiles,” he said into Stiles’ hair. “I’m worried. That’s a huge difference, and it’s my right as a father. I was already used to your quirks as an online Sentinel, so now I have to get used to this.”
Stiles nodded into his father’s chest. “I know, Dad. I’m just a bit twitchy right now.” He pulled back slightly and rested his face alongside his father’s neck. “I need rest. A lot of rest. And I think I should stay here, in an iso room, so that I can shut down my senses for a while and recuperate.”
John shot a shrewd glance at Ellison and said, “There’s something else, isn’t there?”
Ellison tilted his head forward and sipped again from his water bottle. “Yes, there is, and it has to do with the Guide situation.”
~ ~ ~
Peter followed Khutulun away from the desert area she clearly favored and back into the jungle. The blue still bothered him, but that was only because he was used to ‘green’ greenery. And brown bits.
He still couldn’t hear very well because he felt it necessary to keep his hearing dialed way down, and his sense of smell was also dialed back because it was next to useless in this environment. Not even the flowers on the Psionic Plane had an odor, which he found very off-putting. Instead, he concentrated on his sense of Pack, which shouldn’t have been affected by coming online as a Sentinel.
He walked deeper into a Spiritual forest, mentally reaching out for his sense of Derek and keeping a weather-eye on his badger companion, when suddenly the badger in question became quite agitated, hopping around in a circle and hissing and spitting.
With a huff of irritation, Peter ran his hands over his face and mentally berated himself for being an idiot. “I know what you think of me, you know,” he told his badger, “and I completely agree. With all the changes that I’ve gone through today, I completely forgot who and what I am. Forgive my idiocy, please.”
The badger stopped pitching her epic fit and sat back to watch as Peter shifted, bringing his physical wolf forward with a ridged forehead, thick sideburns, elongated ears, and very sharp teeth and claws. In this Beta-form, his werewolf senses seemed to somehow take over, and he could better sense Derek’s presence—somewhere in this sacred blue place. Peter, following instincts that he’d thought he needed to put behind him, tilted his head back and howled—the call of Pack to Pack, family to family, Wolf to Wolf.
The blue forest vibrated with the force of it, and even Khutulun seemed to shy away from him slightly.
When the call had faded into nothing, Peter was confronted with the harsh beating of wings—a sound that seemed to come from two completely different directions. Peter shook his head and howled again, louder and more forcefully, and was immediately answered by the screech of an owl somewhere to the right of him. Khutulun shook herself and took off in that direction, and Peter gamely followed, searching for the feeling of PackFamilyDerek.
In the branches of a tall oak tree, Peter found a smallish owl with dark feathers and beak, and white markings rather like eyeglasses on its face. The owl spotted him and his badger and hooted softly, ruffling its feathers before lighting off the branch and circling down to a hollow hidden within the roots of the tree.
“How nice,” Peter said dryly. He knelt down in front of the hollow and sat back against the tree. “Derek? Are you in there? I’m not going to invade your den, but I’d really like if you came out.”
Khutulun crawled into Peter’s lap and ‘allowed’ him to comfort himself with her fur, and he settled in to wait. After a few silent moments, Peter heard quiet movement under the tree. “Derek, I’m not going to force you out, so you really need to know that. We’re all worried about you, of course, because you’ve somehow managed to completely hide yourself from the entire family, but if you feel safe here, then here you may stay.”
The small owl cocked its head sideways, as if to question Peter’s sanity, and Peter just shrugged.
“Derek? I’m here if you need to talk, or if you have questions about the family and what happened. I’ll stay here as long as you want.”
There was more movement beneath the tree, and then Derek’s familiar dark head appeared at the hollow entrance. “Uncle Peter?” he asked with a dull, raspy voice.”
Peter nudged Khutulun out of his lap and shifted away from the tree so that Derek could better see him. “Yes, it’s me, Derek.”
Derek blinked hazily up at him. “How are you even here? Where is here?”
Peter’s lips quirked slightly. “Funny story, that. And I will happily regale you with my own tale of woe, but not until you’ve crawled out of that hole and allowed me to see that you are at least physically well.”
Derek rubbed his fingers into his eyes wearily and nodded before climbing out of the hollow. “Where is this place?” he rasped again.
Peter looked up and around at the blue jungle around them. “From what I’ve been told, this is the Spirit Plane, and it’s always blue and almost always a jungle. They never said why, so I gather that part isn’t important.” He leveled his gaze upon his nephew. “The really important part is whether or not you’re okay. We’ve been very worried about you, Derek.”
Derek sat back and brought his knees to his chest, and the little owl lit gently on one of Derek’s knees. He reached out and stroked the owl’s chest gently. “I just…her disgust filled my head, and I felt so dirty and hated. And I got so scared, because I brought her into my life.” A tear fell from his eye and the owl hopped over to Derek’s shoulder and wrapped its wings around Derek’s head. “She wanted me dead that whole time, but she kept telling me…telling me….”
Derek sobbed and Peter reached out and pulled the teenager into his arms. “Shhh, Derek. It’s okay. She didn’t hurt anyone, I promise. Hell, she didn’t even hurt the house!”
“But…but I could feel her hatred! And I could see the fire in her mind!”
“Derek,” Peter said as he rubbed his nephew’s back, “we’re all fine and alive and just worried about you. Somehow, you managed to save us all, and I think your little owl-friend is the key to that.”
Derek lifted his head and regarded the owl, which had settled beside the badger on the ground beside him. “Whisper,” Derek said. “It’s never loud at all, so I called him Whisper.”
Peter nodded to the owl in thanks. “Well, quiet he may be, but he certainly knew how to find help when we needed it.”
Derek sighed. “I wanted to believe her, you know. She worked so hard to make me feel special, but I wasn’t really sure. And then I got tested at the Center, and they said I had Potential, and I woke up that other Sentinel but I let him down because of her. And Whisper was never around much at all.”
“I’m not entirely certain that a Spirit Animal is ever really around until a Sentinel or Guide is totally online,” Peter said hesitantly, “so that might explain why he wasn’t around much. The important thing was that he was around when you really needed him, and that he’s here now for you.”
Derek nodded absently before asking, “How are you here, again? I don’t even know how I’m here.”
“Well,” Peter began, settling back against the tree again, “the way it was explained to me is that every living thing has a connection with the Psionic Plane, because that’s where the energy for life comes from. But Sentinels and Guides have a closer connection to it, so they can ‘visit’ purposely for healing or to communicate with other Sentinels and Guides.”
Derek blinked wide eyes at his uncle. “But how? I mean, you’re not a Guide, too, are you?”
Peter sighed. “As it turns out, I am a Sentinel. I came online long ago, before you were born, right around the time your mother became our Alpha—and it happened because I felt a danger to the Pack.”
“But—you were never a Sentinel, Uncle Peter,” Derek said, confused.
“Oh, but I was, dear nephew. But I feared being one, because it would interfere with my duties as Left Hand. I felt I had more of a duty to the Pack in that respect than I ever did as a Sentinel, so I requested that your mother use her claws to remove my connection to the Sentinel inside me.”
Derek sniffed and reached out again for his owl. “Do you think maybe she could do that for me? I haven’t done any good as a Guide, and I almost got the whole family killed.”
“Derek!” Peter exclaimed as he reached out and turned Derek’s head to face him. “Never say that! What I did—it was incredibly selfish of me. I was afraid of bringing a Guide, a stranger, into the Pack, and I didn’t think I’d be able to work as a Sentinel without putting others before the Pack, and so I took the coward’s way.
“But you have done nothing to harm the Pack! Nothing at all! That woman who made us victims, she wasn’t after you because you were a Guide—or even a potential Guide. It’s very likely that she never believed that you even could be a Guide; that was the line she used to reel you into her little honey trap. She went after us because we’re werewolves! She was a Hunter, and you were just her prey, and it was because of your Guide gifts that we’re alive at all right now!”
Derek rubbed his eyes wearily. “I just don’t think…I hurt Sentinel Stilinski last summer, Uncle Peter. He wanted me, and I turned him away, and I hurt him.”
Peter sighed again and pulled Derek closer. “That Sentinel went to WAR for you, Derek. I don’t know all the details, but he set out right after we got out of the house, and he had a small army of Sentinels and Guides, and he went out hunting the person who came hunting for us. I doubt he felt very hurt at all.”
Derek stared at the ground for a long moment. “They said they would never force me to be anyone’s Guide,” he said finally. “They said it would be my choice, and that I could have a normal life all alone if I wanted.”
“Yes,” Peter agreed. “They said as much to me, as well. They said they would do whatever they could to find my Guide for me, and they were going to find a Conservator now while I was here trying to help you, but they made it very clear that it would have to be the Guide’s choice to Bond or not.”
“I don’t suppose you and I could work together?” Derek asked softly.
“Absolutely not,” Peter declared. “For one thing, I think you might be too high-level for me. For another, and far more important, thing, the Bond between Sentinels and Guides is rather like the Mating Bond between werewolves, and while it certain has never been unheard of for related Pack members to join in that way, you are just…Just no, Derek. Just very, very no.”
Even Derek shuddered slightly, which almost made Peter laugh. “I know I said you could stay here as long as you wanted, but I think it would be for the best if you emerged from the deep meditation that’s keeping you here. I slept beside your bed last night, just so someone from the Pack would be with you, but the others really need to see you. Your Alpha really needs to mark you and know that you’re okay.”
Derek sighed deeply. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay again. I felt so…empty. It’s like I knew there was something missing, but I didn’t know what, and I believed everything Kate told me so I just figured I wouldn’t find that missing part until she finally came online. But it was all a lie, and I kept feeling drawn to Sentinel Stilinski but I didn’t know what I could do about it.” Derek turned sad eyes to his uncle and asked, “What can I do about it?”
Peter offered an encouraging smile. “I’m not sure, Derek, but there are some pretty spectacular people at the Center right now, and they all want to help you. Help us, actually. Once you wake from your deep trance, you’ll find that you are actually resting in the infirmary ward inside the Center. Your mother authorized IV saline to keep you hydrated, so you’re being kept comfortable, but your sisters and your father need to see and scent you.”
Derek pressed his lips together briefly. “Where are you going to be?”
“Oh, I’ll be in an isolation room until they can find a Conservator and I can keep my senses under control.” Peter shrugged one shoulder casually. “I got a sort of quickie informal introduction to the Sentinel lifestyle, but I need a lot more training and I know it. I got lucky in that I found my Spirit Animal quickly and that she’s forgiven me for putting aside my Sentinel side long ago, so she’ll be a comfort to me as I train.”
“But we won’t be able to be with you, will we?”
“Likely not,” Peter agreed. “But I will be fine. I’m uniquely motivated, you see, because I don’t want my Pack to be torn apart for any reason.”
Peter allowed Derek to snuggle into him for a long while, because the teenager seemed to need to find his own way to the correct conclusion: that Derek needed to wake up and rejoin the real world. The badger seemed to want to play sentry guard, and she paced around the tree as the two werewolves sat in companionable silence.
In fact, the only real noise, other than Derek’s occasional sniffles, seemed to be the flapping of wings, but every time Peter looked toward Whisper, the owl was not moving at all.
It was all very strange, but it was a mystery that Peter would have to put aside for the moment.
Stiles carefully folded the shirt he’d stripped off as Michael got comfortable on the bed in the isolation room. “You, um, feel very calm about this whole situation,” he said hesitantly.
Michael laughed, startled. “The fact that you can feel how I’m feeling is very surreal; I do hope you know that.”
Stiles shrugged. “I know the basic philosophy of physical and mental abilities is ‘use it or lose it’, so I’m trying really hard to use my new gifts without being invasive. We’re in an isolation room, so I’m already being invasive with you.”
Michael opened his arms and accepted the Sentinel against his own shirtless chest, allowing Stiles to shift around until he was comfortable before wrapping his arms around him in a comforting embrace. “You’re not invasive, Stiles. Really, it’s no more than I get around other Guides; that automatic sensing to make sure we’re mentally stable. We do it with practically everybody we meet, Sentinel, Guide, and Mundane. It’s just really weird to hear a Sentinel say something like that.”
“Haven’t you ever been around Primes before?”
Michael thought for a moment. “Well, maybe I have. I mean, Primes can shield their abilities to a great extent, so they don’t go around bragging about them. No Sentinel or Guide is just going to walk up and announce, ‘Hey, I can totally read your thoughts and emotions, so don’t bother being sneaky’, right?”
Stiles snickered. “No, dude, that’s totally a Super-villain thing to do.” He sobered quickly and said, “You really are calm about this, though. I mean, I never expected you to throw a fit or anything, but….”
Michael shook his head. “When I met you and agreed to become your Conservator, I knew I would never be a perfect Guide for you. You were already almost Alpha High-level, and I figured your abilities would grow and expand the more training you received. I’m Mid-level at best, but my Active Empathy and Intuition are high, so I figured I could work for you for quite some time before you outgrew me.”
Stiles lifted his head slightly to see Michael’s eyes. “Why did you agree to be my Conservator if you only thought it would be for a short while?”
“Because,” said Michael in good humor, “working with a High-level Sentinel is great experience for someone like me. I want to work as a counselor in a Center, Stiles. I want to help those who are struggling, and sometimes those who struggle are High-level. Either Sentinels or Guides, I want to be able to help them discover what they can accomplish, and I want to help them deal with the changes in their lives. Also, you and your father have become great friends to me, and that kind of acceptance is not easy to find sometimes.”
Stiles squinted at the blond and said, “You’re not really close to your family, are you?”
“No, I’m not,” Michael agreed. “There is a small S/G heritage in my family, but it’s mostly woman who come online as Sentinels every three generations or so on my father’s side. My Great-great Grandmother was a Mid-level Sentinel, and her Great-great-great Grandmother before her, and so-on back through time. They served their communities, and fought in wars, and my father was very proud of his heritage. He even had hopes that my sister would come online and keep the tradition.”
Stiles looked very impressed, especially as there was no such heritage known in his own family. “So,” he asked, “did she? Come online, I mean.”
Michael blew out a breath through tight lips. “No, actually. She’s not even Latent. She is, however, happily married and expecting her first daughter, so there’s hope on that front as far as my father is concerned. I never lost contact with Willa, and she sends letters and photographs every few weeks.” He shifted slightly against the stack of pillows. “No, what happened is that I came online—as a Guide. And while there are female Guides that partner and Bond with Male Sentinels, and Male Guides that Bond to Female Sentinels, those partnerships are actually pretty rare. For some reason, Sentinels and Guides must absolutely complement each other, and that usually means same-sex pairings.”
Stiles gaped at his friend. “You mean–your father is homophobic?”
Michael grimaced. “Yup. Instead of being happy that I Emerged as a Guide—something that my ancestors would have completely celebrated—he informed me that no son of his would bend over like a cheap whore.”
“Yeah,” Michael snorted. “The backlash of that little announcement rippled through the whole family. My sister declared him dead to her and made her husband take a job far from my parents. My grandmother, daughter to a Sentinel/Guide pair who used a sperm donor, gave him a lecture that could be heard for miles. My mother took my little brother and actually moved out for a while—but Willa told me she moved back in after getting therapy to deal with my father’s assholery.”
“You know,” Stiles said casually, settling his head against Michael’s shoulder again, “I think my father would totally be okay if you wanted to call him ‘Dad’. And you wouldn’t even have to move out if you could no longer work as my Conservator. I mean, you changed schools just to be with me, and it would be a total hassle to do that again.”
“We’ll see, Stiles,” said Michael contentedly. “Nothing is changing immediately, and you need to get some rest right now.”
Michael allowed his hand to cup Stiles’ waist as the Sentinel drifted into sleep, but he was unable to find rest for himself. There was something tugging at his mind—a feather-light touch just out of reach, like a loose hair on the collar of a shirt; he knew it was there, and he could feel it, but he just…couldn’t…locate it.
Michael’s eyes finally drifted closed, but just before his dreams began a dark shape waddled through his mind and faded away.
~ ~ ~
Derek Hale’s eyes flickered a few times but remained closed tightly.
“I want to touch him,” Talia said softly. “Would that be okay?”
Doctor Taylor frowned slightly. “Why wouldn’t that be okay, Mrs. Hale?”
Talia blinked in surprise. “Well, I mean—am I not supposed to touch an online Guide?”
Taylor chuckled softly. “Family members aren’t usually included in that rule, Mrs. Hale. Besides, I would think you would have a more pressing need to have physical contact with your child.” He waved his hand toward Derek’s bed and said, “If you or any other family members need to touch, then you really should. Guides need contact just as much as Sentinels.”
Talia smiled in relief. “I actually didn’t want to presume to bring the rest of the family in. You’re all doing so much for Derek and Peter already.”
“To be completely honest, Mrs. Hale, there are a lot of misconceptions about Sentinels and Guides, and you seem to have all of them.” Talia glared open-mouthed at him, but Dr. Taylor just shrugged. “What? It’s true. Your reaction when your son brought Sentinel Stilinski out of Catastrophic Zone was a perfect example of this. I know Mundanes have a sort of mythology about Sentinels and Guides, and most of it is true, but somehow it seems far easier to believe the strangest things about us.
“There are educational seminars for direct family when someone comes online, and I’m going to sign you and your entire family up for all of them. You have a Mid-level Sentinel that is currently in iso because he needs to learn to deal with his senses, and you have an extremely High-level Guide unconscious in the infirmary who likely put himself into a coma because he needs to deal with his own abilities. Neither of those situations will be easy for you to deal with, but without basic information they will be impossible to understand.”
“Oh, I think I can handle that part,” said a person behind both of them, and Talia turned to find Blair Sandburg leaning against the doorjamb. “Hello again, Mrs. Hale.”
Talia tilted her head forward slightly. “Hello, Guide Sandburg. How is Peter?”
Blair smiled widely. “I like that that was your first question. He’s…doing okay. Really. After you left, he managed to locate his Spirit Animal on the Psionic Plane. After that, I needed to leave him alone so he could search for your son.”
Talia frowned. “Is it safe to leave him alone right now?”
“Oh, he’s fine,” Sandburg assured. “The Psionic Plane is really the safest place for him—or for any Sentinel and Guide. That’s probably why your son instinctively hid away there.”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Talia said, shaking her head. “While I know you said all living things are connected there, I have no scope of understanding it.”
“Yes,” Sandburg sighed, “I know that. And I think I might be able to explain it, but not right now.” He gestured to the infirmary bed where Derek began moving his legs in a twitchy manner, as if he were dreaming. “I think Peter’s finally located your son, so he may be waking soon. Before that happens, I really need to speak with you privately about the attack on your family.”
Talia’s face turned stony. “We already know that Hunters came after my family, Guide Sandburg. What more is there to say, really?”
Sandburg scowled viciously. “I’ll explain when we get out of here, Mrs. Hale. I’m feeling a little upset over the situation, and I’d rather not accidentally project all over your son.”
Talia glanced briefly at Derek’s now-restless form before turning toward the door. “Well, then, let’s get some lunch. I have a feeling I’ll need some energy for this conversation.”
Blair allowed Talia to drive them to a diner just a mile from the Center, where they ordered food and found a table outside in the sunshine. Fortunately it was a warm day even though it was the beginning of November.
Blair sipped his tea briefly before saying, “There’s this thing that High-leveled Guides can do called Search and Discovery. It involves Active Empathy, Passive Empathy, and a bit of Telepathy, and it’s really invasive and painful.”
Talia’s mouth quirked at the corner. “Please tell me you did this to the Hunters that tried to kill my Pack.”
Blair huffed astonished laughter. “Man, werewolves are just mean! So, yeah, I did that to the two Argents who were brought in here. And I did it to the two S/G pairs that were working with them.”
Talia blinked. “That’s…unexpected. And what did you discover?”
Blair shook his head and sipped more tea. “A whole lot of ugly, that’s what.” He set aside his tea and clasped his hands together. “Look, what I really discovered from the Argents is that they’ve been taking out entire Packs for a long time. It seems there’s supposed to be some sort of code or some such, but the old man seems to have thought it was a wimpy code at best, and he started working outside of that decades ago.”
Talia nodded and sipped from her own tea. “The Hunter Code has existed for as long as formed Packs have existed. It simply states that dangerous werewolves, those who were Omega and without Packs to keep them stable and sane, sometimes needed to be killed in order to protect humanity.”
Blair’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Yeah, right. Anyway, somewhere along his lifetime, Old Man Argent decided that killing all werewolves was the way to go, but he had to keep face with other Hunters. So he taught his oldest child one thing, and he taught the younger—the daughter—something else. I’ve no idea why.”
“Because Hunter Clans are matriarchal,” Talia explained. “The males are the foot soldiers and the females are the generals.”
“Huh! And because the eldest child was male?”
Talia shrugged. “Argent had to teach his son to defer to women in matters of Hunting, especially if he was sent to negotiate with other Hunter Clans. The daughter was likely taught that her very word would be obeyed no matter what.”
Blair’s eyebrow rose slightly. “Why do you know all of this?”
Talia snorted. “Because I’m an Alpha to a werewolf pack, Guide Sandburg. My Pack is strong and healthy, and in order to keep it that way, I, like many other Alphas, have a treaty with a Hunter Clan or two. They are supposed to inform me if Hunters begin to target my Pack, and in return, I’m to inform them if any Omegas have appeared on my horizon. Actually,” she said, pushing her sandwich away from her, “I wonder why the Calaveras didn’t warn me about this attack.”
“Probably because Hunters didn’t actually target your family.” Blair balled up his paper napkin and shoved it inside his empty tea cup. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. In my Discovery, I learned that Kate Argent had taken a false romantic view of Sentinels and Guides, and she always asked the S/G pairs that her father contracted about their Bonding and how they met and what it felt like and stuff like that. She used what they told her to define her own personal hunting techniques, and because she looks so young, she easily preyed on young, vulnerable werewolves who didn’t belong to strong Packs.
“Kate made a habit of seeking out unaffiliated wolves, but she specialized in unaffiliated wolves that were protected by something called Hunter Accords. Her method was to find a young, inexperienced werewolf, usually a male but sometimes not, and somehow convince him that she followed a mystical connection to him because she was an Emerging Sentinel and he was going to be her Perfect Guide. She never told anyone what she was doing, and only told the old man once her target was taken out. In fact, she’d always run to the old man after a job so that he could claim that she’d been there the whole time.”
“Really,” Talia asked dryly. “She’d run to daddy for protection after murdering innocent people? Just when I thought I couldn’t find any more contempt for them.”
Blair nodded in agreement. “Yeah, so. I got names out of her head, and plans out of his. There’s not going to be any sort of trial, because they were nabbed during a Sanctioned Hunt and Sentinel Justice prevails in that circumstance. And while her actions were completely deplorable, the old man’s plans for the future are even worse. I can give you a list of future targets, along with names of so-called Hunters that are to be involved, and I really hope that Alphas have a communication network so that you can warn people.”
Talia’s eyes widened in shock. “Actually, Guide Sandburg, there is a network for us, for cases just like this. But what about the Argents?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t worry about them,” Blair said casually. “Sentinel Stilinski incapacitated Kate and the old man after finding them, and I left them in a permanent vegetative state after Discovery. Once I give you the recording of Discovery—which is audio only, for everyone’s safety—then the son will effectively be taken care of as well. I think everything I learned will completely shut down the Argent operation. If nothing else, the Alpha network will keep the Packs aware and safe, but hopefully any of the more reputable Hunter Clans will refuse to work with him.”
“And why is that? Not that I doubt you, of course.”
Blair chuckled. “Well, because just before Sentinel Stilinski began his game of Capture the Flag, he declared all Argents to be Intolerable. That means no Sentinels, and definitely no Guides, will ever work for or with them again, and if Sentinels and Guides won’t work with certain people, then others find them untrustworthy as well. Reputable Hunters won’t touch them, or they’ll be declared Intolerable as well. That sort of thing can wreak havoc on a legitimate business, and I’m sure hunting werewolf Omegas doesn’t exactly pay the bills.”
Talia sat back, impressed. “I really had no idea. I mean, I know Sentinels and Guides perform a service, but I wasn’t aware of the influence they had.”
Blair rolled his eyes. “Mrs. Hale, protection of the Tribe is a very serious thing. Most people consider small groups to be ‘tribes’, but I’m Alpha Prime Guide of North America, and this whole continent is my Tribe. Do you seriously think I would be ignored if I gave a directive?”
“Point. But, what about the two S/G pairs that were working for the Argents?”
Blair grimaced. “The Guides will need major therapy after what they allowed to happen. Even if the Omegas they killed had been dangerous, hunting people like that is unnecessary, and my Discovery on them showed that they enjoyed the killing just a little too much for my liking. Well, the Sentinels did, anyway, but the Guides followed along rather than reeling them in. Guides with that kind of mental defect lose some of their abilities, but these guys were low-level, so it won’t be much of a loss. They’ll never Bond again, that’s for sure.
“As for the Sentinels?” Blair shrugged. “They’ve been forced into Dormancy, because there was obviously a defect in their wiring that allowed them to Hunt like that. I’ve broken their Bonds, which is something you shall never speak of to anyone, and the shock made them completely catatonic. There’s a secure facility that we’ll house them in, and they’ll be cared for as if they lost their Guides naturally.”
~ ~ ~
Michael woke suddenly, feeling like his limbs had fallen asleep. The tingling and itching were about to drive him mad, but he took care not to dislodge Stiles from the bed even though he couldn’t help was wake the teenager.
“Hey,” Stiles began, before he cleared his throat. “Um, hey. What’s going on?”
Michael gently pulled away from Stiles and reached for his shirt. “I have to go. I need…there’s somewhere…I…I need….”
Stiles sat up, concerned. “Michael? Calm down, man, or you’re going to brain yourself before you can get dressed! Do you sense him? Or her? Is it…?”
“My Sentinel?” Michael nodded. “Yeah, I think so. There’s this shadow in my mind, and I’m feeling itchy all over.”
Stiles frowned. “Then he or she must be close. Do you think they’re in the building?”
Michael frowned at the door. “Maybe?” He turned back to Stiles with an apologetic expression. “I don’t want to leave you, but….”
Stiles gave a sad little laugh. “Michael, we agreed. When you found your Sentinel, I wasn’t going to keep you from him. Your duties to me are over, and you did a really swell job!”
“Dude!” Stiles shook his head. “Get out of here! Go Bond, or something! I was prepared for this, you know. Sentinel Ellison told me that I’d be okay, for the most part; you know that because you were there.”
Michael sighed. “Sentinel Ellison also said that you’d probably be completely unstable without a Guide. We haven’t even begun searching for a new Conservator because everybody thought I’d be okay short-term.” He rubbed both hands over his face. “I can’t leave you, Stiles. Not until the Center locates another Guide/Conservator.”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Stiles yelled as he climbed out of bed, tripping over the sheet. “Do you seriously think I’ll let you deny your Sentinel? After what I went through?” Stiles gathered his dignity and poked Michael in the chest. “Nuh-uh, buster! I was in pain, Michael. Pain! And the therapy was great, and you were a great help, but the pain lingers! So—just go out there and find your Sentinel! And maybe swing past Reception to let someone know to call my dad, okay, cuz this is major and he needs to know.”
Michael laughed in spite of himself. “You’re one in a million, Stiles. Look, I’ll do the interviews personally, okay? Just to make sure you don’t get another crazy cat lady.”
“Yeah, well.” Stiles ran a shaking hand across the back of his neck. “Just make sure he treats you right, okay? Because you’re a really good person and I like you a lot.”
Michael pulled Stiles into a rough hug, kissing him on the forehead. “I like you a lot, too.”
Michael pulled back and patted Stiles on the shoulder before opening the iso room door and departing. He pulled the door closed behind him and headed out away from the private section of the Center and toward the welcoming lobby. When he reached the reception desk he politely asked two questions: Could someone please call the father of Sentinel Stilinski regarding a change in status, and could someone please tell him if there was an unbonded Sentinel somewhere in the Center that might be awaiting a Guide.
“I think you had best take that issue up with the Director, Guide,” said the receptionist, confirming that the Sentinel Michael could feel was in the Center. “I’ll call him, shall I?”
“Thank you,” said Michael. “Actually, while you do that, I’ll call Sheriff Stilinski myself. He probably deserves to hear this from me personally.”
“That’s fine,” said the receptionist. “Do you want to borrow my phone for that, since yours is still in quarantine?”
“That would be great, thanks.” It was the one thing Michael really hated about the isolation rooms—any outside stimulus was forbidden, so clothing and cell phones were placed in quarantine lock-up while Sentinels and Guides went to detox showers to get rid of contaminants.
Once in possession of the borrowed phone, Michael considered what he was going to say to the Sheriff. Michael knew the man had been prepared for Stiles’ evolution, but this? This could be construed as abandonment by his Conservator, even though it really wasn’t.
Shrugging to himself, Michael dialed the Sheriff’s home number and began pacing while it rang.
“Sheriff? That was quick!”
“Who is this?”
Michael blinked. “Oh, uh, it’s Michael, sir.”
“Michael? Is Stiles okay? Nothing’s happened, has there?”
Michael sighed. “Nothing has happened to Stiles, sir, but he wanted me to call you.”
“Well, sir, because he’s going to need you until they can find another Conservator.” Michael winced as he realized how that sounded. “I, um, seem to have found my Sentinel. Sir.”
“Really? Congratulations, son, that’s wonderful! Okay, I’m grabbing my keys, but it’ll take me about half an hour to get there. Will he be okay for that long?”
Michael sighed. “Well, he practically pushed me out of the isolation room, so I think he’ll be fine. He said he’d wait for you, but he figured he’d be okay until another Conservator could be found.”
Michael heard the Sheriff start laughing, so he relaxed.
“Yeah, that sounds like a Stiles thing to do. Okay, I’m leaving the house now. If I don’t see you when I get there, good luck.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll make sure to visit once we’re out of our Nesting period.”
“You do that. And thanks for all of your help, Michael.”
By the time Michael had ended his phone call and returned the borrowed phone to the receptionist, Director Sentinel Mercer had arrived in the lobby and was waiting for him.
“So, Guide Lane,” he said with a smile, “are you ready for this?”
Michael laughed and rubbed his bottom lip with his thumb. “Well, I suppose I’ll find out. What can you tell me about the Sentinel, sir?”
Mercer clasped Michael’s shoulder and drew him down the hall to the Director’s office. “Well, that’s the interesting part, Guide Lane. The Sentinel I believe you’re talking about is Peter Hale, uncle of Guide Derek Hale.”
Michael stumbled slightly. “So—he’s a…?”
“Yes,” confirmed Sentinel Mercer. “And from what I understand, they’re more like swans than wolves in that they mate for life. If he truly is your Sentinel, you can expect your Nesting to be very intense. I’ll have to inform his sister, Talia, so that she can prepare the rest of the family, but I imagine you’ll be welcomed with open arms.”
“That’s good to hear, sir.”
~ ~ ~
Talia Hale and Blair Sandburg had not been back in the No-Cal S/G Center for more than a few minutes before an Empathic Wave shot through the building and knocked Talia off her feet.
“What was that?” she asked as Blair steadied her with a hand on her arm.
Blair closed his eyes and the wave dissipated as quickly as it came. “I believe,” he said once everything was calm again, “that your son is awake.”
“That was Derek? I need to get to him!”
When she moved forward, Blair held her back. “Mrs. Hale!” Blair yelled using his Guide Voice. “You can’t go to him while he’s upset!”
Talia stopped struggling and glared at him. “And why the hell not? He’s my son!”
“Yes, he is,” agreed Blair calmly. “But in his agitated state, he could harm you mentally or emotionally.”
“If I don’t get to him,” growled Talia, “then he could be harmed mentally or emotionally.”
“As it happens, I do agree. But he’s mostly untrained right now, so proximity is a thing. I can’t in good conscience allow a Mundane to come into close contact with an unstable High-level Guide.”
Talia stomped her foot in frustration. “But he’s my son! I’m his….” Talia’s eyes widened in some sort of recognition. “I’m an idiot, is what I am.”
And then Talia tilted her head back and opened her mouth and HOWLED.
Deep and guttural, the howl echoed through the Center, rattling the windows and shaking the floor. Blair’s mouth dropped open in shock, and then his head snapped around as the howl was answered twice over, once from the direction of the isolation rooms, and once from the direction of the infirmary.
Talia shot a smug glare at Blair. “I’m the Alpha,” she said. “And while every Alpha gains strength from their Pack, the Pack gains strength and stability from the Alpha.”
“So I see,” said Blair dully. “So, who do you want to see first? Derek or Peter?”
Talia tilted her head to the side and howled again, just not as loudly. The howl was again returned twice over. “I think Peter is in good hands at the moment,” she said after a moment. “He sounds quite content, but Derek is…mourning. I need to be with my son.”
Blair nodded abruptly. “Okay, then. Let’s go see Derek.”
Talia smiled cordially and led the way through the Center to the infirmary, where Derek was sitting up in bed with his knees hugged to his chest, crying.
Talia rushed to him and wrapped her arms around Derek, kissing his forehead. “Oh, Derek! I worried so much!” She pulled back and cupped his face between her hands. “How can I help you?”
Derek shook his head. “I’m so sorry, Mama! I didn’t mean to bring her to our Den!”
“Shhh, Derek. You didn’t do anything.” Talia nuzzled his cheek with her own. “You were a victim, too. I wish it wasn’t so.”
Derek sniffled and wiped a tear from his eye. “I feel so alone, Mama! There’s an empty spot inside me, and my body itches, and it’s all my fault! And I almost got everyone killed, and I didn’t mean to reject him, and now everybody is going to hate me!”
“Whoa, there, big guy,” Blair interrupted, “nothing that happened is your fault, and I know that for a fact. That bitch that tried to kill you would have tried anything to do it. I hate to say that teenage boys are easy targets, but as a whole they really fall for flattery, and if the Sentinel/Guide line hadn’t worked, then she would have tried something else.”
Derek blinked up at him. “How do you know?”
“Because I saw into her twisted little mind, my friend, and it was all laid out like an ugly map.” Blair laid a gentle hand on Derek’s shoulder. “I’d never want you to see inside that mind, Derek, but please take my word that none of it was your fault.”
“It wasn’t her fault that I turned away…the person…that could fill…my heart.” Derek’s weeping began in earnest and Talia looked to Blair helplessly.
Blair patted Derek’s shoulder absently as he thought about what he could do to ease Derek’s mind. Suddenly his head snapped up and he smiled at Talia. “I’m an idiot,” he said. “In the exact same way you are.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked, but he’d already turned to walk briskly out of the infirmary. Talia turned her attention back to her son and gently brushed the hair from his eyes. “Derek, nobody will blame you for what happened. In fact, it was you that called for help. You and your Spirit Animal, whatever that actually is.”
“Whisper,” Derek said softly, and a tiny black owl appeared at the head of his bed.
“I beg your pardon?” Talia asked, confused.
“I call him ‘Whisper’,” Derek said, and he held out a hand for the owl to sit on. “I don’t know him too well yet.”
Talia tentatively reached out and touched the corporeal owl, which only hooted in response. “He’s lovely, Derek.”
Before Derek could reply, there was a slight commotion at the infirmary door, and Talia looked up to find Blair Sandburg returning—accompanied by Sheriff John Stilinski.
“Okay,” John was saying, “explain it to me again, but slowly this time.”
Blair brought John to Derek’s bed and said, “Derek, as you know, was under undue influence when he first met your son. They didn’t have a chance to come online together, but we already know that they’re a match.”
John offered Derek a kind smile and said, “It’s good to see you awake, son.”
Derek turned miserable eyes to the man and said, “Thanks” with a wan voice.
“You know, I bet my son would be happy to see that you’re awake, too,” John said casually. “But he’s in an isolation room right now because he needs rest. I think he’d maybe like to see you, though, if you think you’re up to it.”
Derek gasped and sat up straighter, but John held out a hand in warning. “I have a few rules, first, son.”
“Anything,” Derek whispered. “I’ll do anything.”
John nodded grimly. “Okay, first—if he wants you out, then you leave, no questions asked.”
“I can do that,” Derek agreed.
“Okay, second—you’ve been through a lot, and Stiles knows this, so there will be no full Bonding. I don’t care how much you want it. I don’t care how much you need it.”
“Now wait a minute,” Talia began, but Blair held out a hand to stop her.
“I happen to agree, Mrs. Hale,” he said earnestly. “Derek has been through a trauma, so Sentinel Stilinski would ultimately feel like he’d taken advantage if they Bonded fully. That’s no way to begin a relationship. Derek will need extensive training in using his Gifts, because he’s much more High-level that we originally thought, so they really shouldn’t Bond before that happens, anyway.”
“How much more High-level,” she asked suspiciously.
“Sentinel Stilinski is Alpha Prime material, Mrs. Hale,” Blair said easily. “So it stands to reason that Derek will be just as powerful, and he’s really not prepared for that.”
Talia inhaled sharply. “I see.”
“I really hope you do, Mrs. Hale,” Blair said gently, “because Jim and I really want to take him and Sentinel Stilinski back to Cascade for intensive training.”
“Excuse me?” Talia exclaimed, affronted.
“Look, why don’t we discuss this after Stiles and Derek talk, okay?” asked John sensibly.
Blair thanked him and took Derek out of the infirmary and back to the isolation rooms, leaving Talia staring at John in mild horror. “But surely you don’t agree to having our children go off to Cascade all alone!”
John raised one eyebrow and crossed his arms. “Mrs. Hale, do you know anyone better to train Primes than the Alpha Primes of North America?”
“And I’m confident that Guide Sandburg and Sentinel Ellison will make excellent chaperones because they know how fragile our children are right now.”
Talia bit her bottom lip, clearly conflicted. “He’s been through so much recently.”
“And you think Stiles hasn’t?” John huffed. “Look, I know I don’t have a chance in hell of helping Stiles right now. And if I were to be completely honest, I’d rather he get the training elsewhere, instead of struggling here alone. He’s overcome a lot, recently, but he has suffered for not having his Guide in his life. The Conservator was working well enough, but Michael just recently met his perfect Sentinel and Stiles pushed him out of the isolation room.”
Talia’s mouth twitched. “I suppose you think I’m being over-protective.”
“No,” said John dryly, “I think you’re being an Alpha-personality. I’m the same way, but I always knew that Stiles would move away from me due to his duty as Sentinel. I understand that you had no idea that Derek was a Potential Guide?”
“None at all,” Talia confirmed. She sat heavily on the bed and twisted her hands together. “This whole ordeal has quite messed with my head, I’m afraid. Logically, I know Derek was going to grow, graduate high school, and go off to college, but he seems so fragile right now.”
“He is fragile right now,” John said. “And treating him like he’s fragile will ensure that he remains fragile. Give him a little freedom and confidence, and he’ll grow into his potential.”
~ ~ ~
Blair pressed a switch on the outside of the isolation room door, which caused a soft chime to sound inside the room. Inside, Stiles quickly donned his shirt and socks before opening the door.
“Hey, Dad, did you…Oh! Sorry,” Stiles stammered, seeing Blair standing there. “I thought Dad had come back already. Wasn’t he talking with you, Guide Sandburg?”
“Yes, he was, Stiles,” Blair said. “Look, there’s someone who really needs to talk to you. Did you want to come out, or shall I let him in?”
Stiles rubbed his chest absently. “Um…I maybe shouldn’t be alone with…him? Maybe.”
Blair smiled and said, “Why don’t I join the both of you, then?” He gestured for Stiles to retreat back into the iso room before waving Derek closer. “Come on, it’ll be fine, I promise.”
Derek shuffled into the room, trying to hide behind Blair, but Stiles wasn’t having it.
“Hey, Derek,” he greeted. “How ya doing?”
“I’m so sorry, Stiles,” Derek whispered. “I didn’t know.”
Stiles’ expression softened. “I’m not going to say it’s okay, because it’s really not. But I don’t blame you. At first, I just thought you were too in love to want to Bond with me. I mean, she was very pretty on the outside.”
“But she wasn’t very pretty on the inside,” Derek murmured. “But the longer I knew you, the less I wanted to know her.” Derek sighed and hung his head. “There’s this missing piece inside of me.”
“There’s a missing piece inside of me, too,” Stiles said softly. “And I just want to hold you close right now, but I really don’t think that’s a good idea.” Derek moaned painfully and nodded his head sadly, turning away from Stiles and Blair and moving back to the door.
“No!” Stiles shouted, grabbing for Derek’s arm. “Don’t leave! I just meant that holding you right now might not be such a good thing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get to know each other better. We can sit and talk for a while, if Guide Sandburg is willing to sit with us.”
Derek offered a hesitant smile. “I’d like that.”
“Stiles, I swear to heaven, if you’re not down here in three minutes, I’m leaving without you!”
John Stilinski was standing in front of the hall mirror, fiddling with his tie and growing ever more impatient. It was his wedding day, for crying out loud!
“You can’t leave without us, Dad,” Stiles shouted as he jogged down the stairs. Derek followed much more sedately.
“He’s right, sir,” Derek agreed. “We’ve got the rings and the car keys.”
John turned to face the duo and Stiles moved forward to adjust his tie. “You know, Derek, when I encouraged you to face Stiles, I was kind of hoping that would turn you to my side sometimes.”
Derek leaned against the stair railing and smiled serenely. “I can’t do that, Sir. My duty is to always support my Sentinel.”
It had been a long time coming, but Derek and Stiles had Bonded and grown as a Sentinel/Guide pair—the Alpha Primes of California. In the four years since they’d met, the duo had graduated from high school–albeit in Cascade, Washington, where they were undergoing Alpha Prime training with Ellison and Sandburg—and had then applied to college, where they moved into Sentinel/Guide Housing on campus at the local University of California branch. Stiles was working on an advanced Criminal Justice degree, and the once painfully shy Derek Hale was a confident medical student, utilizing his werewolf senses and his Guide gifts to his best advantage.
A large Pride had formed around the pair eventually, and John had had to get used to several new deputies in his department as well as a local S/G FBI pair. Stiles’ former Conservator, Michael Lane, was now working in the No-Cal S/G Center as an intake counselor, so he was around quite a bit—which was fortunate since the young man had Bonded with Derek’s uncle, Peter. In fact, Michael’s close friendship with Stiles and John meant that John was doubly accepted by the Hale family, and he was expected to dinner at least once each week. John was thankful each day for his friendship with Talia Hale, especially since it was through her that he met his fiancée, Jacqueline Calavera, the eldest daughter of the Calavera Matriarch and a widow in her own right. Since she also lost her spouse in a traffic accident, she and John had had quite a bit to talk about.
And as for Derek, well, he’d matured quite nicely after puberty was finished with him, much to John’s chagrin, and he cut a handsome figure beside his Sentinel—so handsome and strong, in fact, that quite a few people made the mistake of thinking Derek was the Sentinel and Stiles was the Guide. That misconception was something Stiles was happy to exploit when little troubles cropped up.
John smiled to himself as he recalled the time an angry Victoria Argent stormed into town to demand some sort of satisfaction after she was denounced by several of her…professional rivals…and Derek stood up to her using his fully developed Guide Voice. Stiles just stood back and let Derek have at it until Victoria was left a quivering, stammering mess and had to be retrieved by paramedics—a cheerful S/G pair that moved to Beacon Hills shortly after Stiles and Derek returned from Cascade. Word spread after that, according to Jacqueline and her mother, and Hunters stayed far away from Beacon Hills, the Hale Pack, and any Sentinel/Guide pairing—never bothering them again.
“Well,” said John once Stiles was finished fixing his tie, “if you’re going to keep taking his side against me, then you’d better at least make sure I get to my wedding on time.”
“Yes, sir,” exclaimed Derek, snapping a mock salute in John’s direction. “I’ll pull the car around while you two have some father/son time. Just don’t take too long. My mother warned me what Miriam Calavera was like when she was angry.”
Derek stepped out the front door and John regarded his son for a moment.
“Are you happy, Stiles?”
“Can’t you tell?” Stiles asked cheekily. “I mean, I’ve been working on not projecting all over the place, so I guess that’s been working.”
“Don’t sass,” John reprimanded.
“I’m very happy,” Stiles said with a smile. “And I don’t think I could ever be happier. I know we had a rocky start, but that’s behind us now.”
John nodded and clapped Stiles on the shoulder. “I just needed to really make sure, you know. I know you’re an adult, but you’ll always be my kid. I doubt you’ll ever out-grow my need to protect and care for you.”
“And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Now, let’s not keep my Guide or your lady waiting,” Stiles said, directing John through the doorway. “New chapters, Dad. We’ve got lots of new chapters ahead of us.”