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Before You Know Who I Am

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Chris parked his SUV a couple yards away from the Hale house and had to take a second to stare at the charred building. The entire left half of the building had collapsed, though much of the right side was still intact. Even a week after the fire, he could still smell smoke and ash. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like for the werewolves, especially if there were lingering traces of the wolfsbane that Kate had mixed into the gasoline. Chris rubbed a hand over his face. Fucking Kate.

Chris saw movement inside the house. He unbuckled and stepped out of the car. Chris didn’t look at the house as he slowly took his gun out of the holster at his waist. He made sure to keep it pointed away from the house as he ejected the magazine. He opened the barrel and turned it on its side so that any bullets in the chamber would have fallen out. He tossed the empty gun in the back seat. He knelt down, pulled up his pant leg, and repeated the process with the gun in his ankle holster. Finally, he pulled the knife out of the sheath behind his back and tossed that into the back of the SUV too. Chris set the keys to the SUV on the driver’s seat and closed the door.

He started walking towards the house. Three werewolves came out of the front while two more lingered around the rear. Chris kept his hands out to his sides, his body relaxed. One of the werewolves growled and he tensed reflexively. The young woman started running towards him. Chris froze where he stood. The woman leapt. She collided with his chest hard and knocked him backwards off his feet. He had to resist the instinct to tuck and roll with the fall, instead letting her weight force him to the ground. His breath was knocked out of him at the impact and his head hit the ground with enough force to make Chris see stars.

It took a couple seconds for his vision to clear. Chris blinked up at the werewolf perched on his chest as he struggled to breathe. He felt claws at his throat, but didn’t move. The werewolf was a young woman, probably still in high school. Chris tried to remember her name. Too young to be Talia, too old to be Cora. Laura maybe? Laura roared down at him, partially shifted. Her hand moved back, claws extended like she was going to go for the kill strike. Chris stared at her and waited.

A hand caught Laura’s arm and Talia Hale moved into view. She looked down at him curiously. For a long moment no one moved, then Talia looked at Laura. “Go wait with your father,” Talia ordered. Laura hesitated for a moment. Chris saw a range of emotions pass over Laura’s face. Then, she moved. Chris gasped in a deep breath as the weight lifted off his lungs. He didn’t move any more than that, though.

“You’re Chris Argent?” Talia asked. She extended a hand down to him when he nodded. He accepted the hand and her help getting to his feet. He wobbled for a brief second as his head throbbed. He’d had worse while training though. Chris tried to shake off the pain and straighten his back as best he could.

“The Argent family acknowledges that Kate has acted outside of the Code,” he said in a calm and even voice. “Gerard has sent me to negotiate reparations with the Hale pack.”

“Your father sent you here to die,” someone stated in a lazy drawl. Chris looked over at the group gathered in front of the house. Laura was standing with an older man, probably her father. There was a young boy behind them. Derek, he guessed. Slightly in front of them was another man, probably only a few years younger than Chris. He was tall and wiry like Talia, but with lighter hair. The bored expression matched with intelligent eyes and a dry wit gave Chris the man’s identity. Peter Hale, Talia’s brother and Second.

Peter looked at Chris, as if daring him to argue. Chris shrugged. He turned back to Talia. He spoke slowly and clearly, giving her every opportunity to listen to his heartbeat. “I had no prior knowledge of Kate’s plan, nor do I condone her actions. Unfortunately, I also don’t know where she is right now, beyond that she is no longer in Beacon Hills.”

Peter stalked forward. “So, there’s no use keeping you alive if we can’t torture you for information.” Peter’s voice was calm, but there was a hint of danger there. His eyes flashed blue. “We’re well within the rights of your Code to send you back to your father in pieces, little hunter. What’s to stop us from doing that?”

Chris was suddenly very tired of Werewolves and Hunters and the associated bullshit. He was tired of dealing with Gerard and Kate and their lackeys. Tired of keeping them in line and policing them into following the Code. Tired of being the moderate face of the family to cover up his father’s crazy. Tired of being pressured to marry another Hunter and sire babies for the next generation of Agents that Gerard would likely try to warp to his way of thinking. Tired of being the disappointment. He was just so tired.

“Nothing,” he responded evenly. He looked at Peter and met his gaze without flinching. Chris reached for his pocket, but stopped when Peter and Talia both growled. He raised his hands. “There's a thumb drive in my right front pocket.”

Peter and Talia exchanged a look. Peter slid forward. He didn't touch any part of Chris except to slide his hand into the pocket. Peter actually looked a little surprised to pull out the thumb drive, as if he had expected Chris to have been lying somehow.

“Kate didn’t work alone,” Chris explained. He lowered his hands slowly. “She was working with three men, Reddick, Unger, and Demitri, to plan the arson. They told her how to make it look like an electrical fire, helped her prepare the chemicals, set the fire itself. The Chemistry teacher at the high school, Adrian Harris, told her what accelerants wouldn’t show up in the investigation and how to obtain the ingredients. Garrison Myers will be assigned to investigate the fire by your insurance company. He’s already been bribed to make it look like an accident.” Peter and Talia looked from the thumb drive up to Chris. He held up a hand before they said anything.

“What Kate did to Derek is classifiable as statutory rape.” He saw movement out of the corner of his eyes. Derek stormed off into the house. Chris felt bad for the boy, but he didn’t have time for delicacy. He had to get out what he needed to while he still had the chance. “There’s information on the drive about that too. There are statements from witnesses at the school who will put them together, business owners who saw them spending time together.” He turned to Talia. “They have the security tapes set aside for you, pending warrants.”

He let out a long breath when neither Peter or Talia moved towards him. He was at least glad to be able to get the most important bits out. He waited for them to reach forward, sink their claws into his chest. Neither of them moved. “There’s also information on there that will implicate Gerard and Kate in a number of other crimes across the country. There are hard copies in the back of the SUV.”

Talia looked at him in surprise. She carefully took the thumb drive from Peter’s hand and tucked it in her pocket. “Would you bring me the hard copies, please?”

Chris nodded. He turned his back on them and walked to the SUV. He heard Peter following behind him, but wasn’t surprised. He depressed the latch on the rear hatch and stepped aside so that Peter could see that there were no weapons in reach. He could probably smell them in the hidden hatch, but Chris would be dead before he reached for any if he tried. He pulled the single banker’s box in the trunk towards him. Chris pulled off the top and tilted it so that Peter could see that there were no surprises hidden inside. Then, Chris put the lid back on. He lifted the box, shifting it to one hand as he closed the SUV. He carried the box towards Talia with Peter trailing behind.

Chris stopped a short distance away from the Alpha. He slowly lowered the box and then knelt down on the grass behind it. Peter was a line of tension beside him, ready to act at the first sign of a trap. Chris simply opened the box. He set the lid aside and started pulling things out, stacking them neatly on the lid. “This has the files on the arson,” he said, pulling out the top folder. He flipped through the contents, showing Talia that there was nothing hidden inside. “This is the file on Derek and Kate’s relationship.” He repeated the gesture. He pulled out a CD. “Audio recordings of Kate talking about the arson and other things.” A second CD. “Recordings of Gerard.” He flipped through a thick folder. “The records on Gerard’s crimes.” A smaller one. “Kate’s.” He pulled out a thin folder. “Lists of every Argent safe house where Kate could hide, along with her known associates.” Another folder. “All the records that the Argent family has on the Hales. The originals.” He looked up at Talia. “I destroyed any copies left at the house and on Gerard’s computer, except for the files on Kate’s computer so that they could be used as part of the official police investigation. That is still at the house, password protected so that Gerard can’t tamper with it.” Chris pulled out a single sheet of paper. “This is the password to the computer.”

He looked back down at the box. There were only four items left. He pulled out a small, unadorned key ring. “Keys to all the Argent buildings in Beacon Hills and the surrounding area.” He set them on the pile. A thick leather book with papers sticking out of all ends. “The original Argent Bestiary.” A thumb drive. “Gerard's copy of the Bestiary.” The final item was another disc, a DVD. “A video recorded statement that all of the above information is true and was provided willingly, in case any Hunter or other Supernatural creature questions you.” Chris didn’t look up as he carefully transferred all of the items neatly back into the box. He replaced the lid and then stood. He didn’t look at Talia or Peter as he brushed the grass off of his jeans. He stepped aside then looked up at Talia, waiting.

“Why should we trust that this information is accurate?” Peter asked with a sneer.

Chris turned to look at him. He considered the question for a minute, then shrugged. “I can’t think of anything that I could say that would convince you,” he replied honestly. “I left you detailed notes, so you should be able to cross reference everything.” Chris shrugged again. He had done what he could. It would have to be enough.

“And what do you expect to gain from us for all of this information?” Talia asked. She raised an eyebrow at him and Chris could see the family resemblance between her and Peter. “What would you ask of us in return?”

“Nothing,” he replied. His gaze wandered over to the burnt shell of the house. It was bad enough that the humans in the family had been injured, hospitalized for burns and the affects of smoke inhalation. He could imagine what it would have been like if the firefighters hadn’t gotten there in time, if the whole family had been trapped inside like Kate had intended. There had been children in the house and Kate had known that. No one had died, but Chris couldn’t help thinking about what could have been. He wouldn’t have been able to live with himself. He definitely wouldn’t be able to live with himself if Kate or Gerard tried a second time and succeeded. Chris looked away from the house.

“Does Gerard know that you’re giving all this to us?” Talia asked curiously.

“Not yet,” Chris answered. He looked back over at Talia. “But he’ll figure it out soon enough. Two, maybe three days.”

Peter snorted. “I can’t imagine dear old dad will be too pleased.” Chris just barely managed to hold back a flinch. Son or not, Gerard would kill Chris if he got ahold of him, but only after he made Chris suffer for days. Death by werewolf was much preferable. Something in his scent must have given him away, because Peter shifted forward. “And what do you expect Gerard to do?” Peter leaned forward, studying Chris with interest.

Chris rolled his eyes. He turned to look over at Peter, his eyes hard. “He’ll kill me,” he answered simply.

Peter had a brief flash of surprise, then curiosity. “And you’re just going to roll over at let him?”

Chris snorted. “Wasn’t planning on it.” If it came to it, Chris was going to go down swinging, maybe even take Gerard out with him.

Peter hummed thoughtfully. He slowly began to circle Chris. “And yet, you were more than willing to let Laura tear your throat out for what your sister did to her baby brother?” Chris watched Peter’s movements as best he could without turning his head. He shrugged. He didn’t feel like he owned Peter or Talia an explanation.

Peter leaned closer. His fingers traced down the sleeve of Chris’s shirt. “You don’t even have any hidden weapons,” Peter said. Chris’s muscles jumped at the feeling of Peter’s fingers dancing over the fabric. “No knives or guns to protect you from teeth and claws. Not a wise decision if you want to stay alive, little Hunter.”

Chris turned to bite out a retort, but stopped short when Peter’s fingertips brushed against the skin of his hand. Both he and Peter jolted back at the sudden feedback of emotions. For a brief second, Chris felt what could only be the comfort of a soulbond overlaid with a feeling of danger and curiosity that was all Peter. He had to wonder what Peter had sensed from him, considering the wide eyed look that the werewolf was giving him. Chris took a step back, away from Peter.

“Peter,” Talia asked cautiously, “what’s wrong?”

Peter stared at Chris in surprise for a long moment before turning to Talia. “It appears that Chris and I are soulmates.”

“What!?” Chris turned to look over at Laura, who clapped her hand over her mouth as everyone turned to look at her. Chris couldn’t really fault her for the statement. He would probably have said the same thing if he hadn’t been so completely numb for the past week.

Instead, he just felt a new thread of sadness and something like pity. He felt sorry for Peter. There was no way that this could end well for the werewolf. Chris had surrendered himself to the pack. Peter had said himself that there was no need to keep Chris alive for negotiations that they all knew Gerard was never going to honor. Most packs would have already killed Chris by now. And, if Talia did spare him, she’d be looked at as weak by other packs. Not that it would matter. Chris didn’t have anywhere to go where Gerard wouldn’t find him. He’d always be looking over his shoulder until one of Gerard’s men grabbed him. Either way, Peter would lose his chance at having a soulmate.

“Seeing that Kate has escaped justice, I am holding you responsible for her actions,” Talia said. Peter looked over at Talia in surprise, but Chris just nodded. He turned to face Talia and waited. Talia looked him up and down once before turning to the rest of her pack. “I think we’ve done enough here for today,” she said. “Let’s head back to the cabin.” The werewolves drifted over towards the cars parked near the house, but didn’t get in. They watched Talia, waiting for her move.

Talia leaned down to pick up the box Chris had brought. She straightened and looked directly at Chris. “We’ll discuss the terms of the treaty between the Hales and the Argents after dinner.”

Chris blinked in surprise as Talia turned away. That was… not at all what he’d expected. He stared after Talia. A hand landed on Chris’s shoulder and he startled. Peter pushed Chris gently forward until he started walking towards the cars. “You’ll ride with me,” Peter said. He steered Chris over to a sleek silver Jaguar. Laura and Derek climbed into a black Camaro while Talia and her husband went to a blue SUV similar to Chris’s.

They drove in silence for several minutes. “Are you on drugs?” Peter asked. There was no judgement in his tone, just idle curiosity. “If you are, you’ve masked the smell rather well. I can’t detect what they are. Opium? Heroin? Marijuana? Xanax? Valium?”

“No,” Chris said. He didn't turn to look at Peter.

Peter hummed thoughtfully. “Did you know that I was your soulmate?”

“No.”

“So, you just happened to have a box full of blackmail material sitting around?”

Chris snorted. His lips twitched in a half formed smile. “Some of it I had ready, in case Kate or Gerard ever got out of hand.” He sighed. Out of hand was an understatement for the things Kate had done. “The rest took a few days to gather.” He shrugged again. “Gerard gave me a week to get my affairs in order before approaching Talia, so I did.”

Peter laughed. “I suppose that’s one way of doing it.” Silence fell as they drove down the back roads through the Preserve. A few moments later they turned onto a dirt road. Then, the trees fell back to reveal a large clearing with a lake on one side and a huge wooden cabin. Peter pulled up next to the line of cars already there.

Chris looked out at the lake as he climbed out of the car. It was a nice area, probably quiet and isolated for the full moon. He could see why the Hales had chosen it. Peter paused several yards away and looked at him expectantly. Chris turned away from the view to walk towards the house just as a roar broke the serenity of the clearing. Someone jumped off of the second floor balcony, charging towards him. Chris stopped where he stood. He watched Peter turn and start chasing after the other werewolf, but the man had a head start and the element surprise in his favor. Peter reached out, but the man reached Chris first. He pulled an arm back before swinging forward to sink his claws into Chris’s shoulder.

Chris felt his body rock with the impact, but he stood his ground. Five claws slid into him like knives, but he didn’t make a sound beyond a surprised grunt. The claws pulled out. Chris looked at the werewolf passively, trying to place his face. He thought it was Talia’s brother-in-law, Mark. His wife and daughter were both human, both had been injured in the fire if he remembered correctly. Mark pulled his hand back again. Chris watched him with a kind of detached curiosity. Would he go for Chris’s throat, end it quick? Or was he more interested in causing pain? Making Chris suffer? He never did find out.

Peter caught Mark’s arm before he could move again. Mark roared at Peter and Peter roared right back in his face. The yard exploded into chaos as people came running out of the house. Behind him, car doors slammed. Mark and Peter stared at each other as they struggled. Mark kept trying to get past Peter towards Chris, but Peter appeared to be stronger and kept him back. People shouted in the distance. Then, Talia’s roar cut through everything. The werewolves in the clearing quieted instantly. Some sank to their knees, others simply tilted their heads to the side, baring their necks. Mark and Peter let go of each other, though Peter moved in a way that put him between Chris and Mark. That was… unexpected.

“Chris is here on behalf of the Argent family to negotiate reparations for the fire,” Talia announced into the silence. “He has already made a gesture of goodwill.” Talia indicated the box her husband was carrying. “He’s not to be harmed unless he acts against the pack.” She looked around the clearing, waiting while everyone nodded. Talia led the way inside.

Chris watched Mark curiously. The werewolf glared at him, but turned and walked back towards the cabin. Peter’s hand was gentle as it rested on Chris’s uninjured shoulder. He nudged Chris forward and Chris started walking. Peter’s hand fell away, but he kept pace beside Chris.

The inside of the cabin was simply furnished, but everything was of high quality. It looked like most of the first floor was one large, open room with the kitchen, dining room, and living room all flowing into one another. Chris was actually impressed by the full kitchen with gleaming appliances and the large array of plush couches, chairs, and beanbags arranged around the living room in front of a large flat screen TV. Not exactly the rustic lodge he’d been expecting.

Talia waited for them at the dining room table. She had the box open in front of her and was already flipping through the first file. She looked up when Chris and Peter entered the cabin. “Would you mind emptying your pockets, please?” Talia asked. “I assume you’ll understand that we have to be cautious.”

Chris nodded. He handed her his phone and wallet before pulling the lining of his pockets out as far as it would go to show that there was nothing hidden inside. Talia nodded and he shoved the fabric back in place. “Peter, would you mind showing Chris downstairs while we discuss all of this?”

Peter gave Chris an unreadable glance before leading him over to a doorway that led down into the basement. There were several cells there, probably meant to contain werewolves during the full moon. Peter held one of the doors open. Chris walked inside without comment and settled on the cot inside. The door clanged shut behind him. Peter pulled on the door once, checking that it had latched. Then he went back up the stairs and shut the door, leaving Chris alone.

Chris laid down on the cot and closed his eyes. His shoulder throbbed, but he knew how to tolerate pain by now. He breathed in and out slowly. His body relaxed. If he concentrated, he could just barely hear the footsteps of the pack moving around upstairs. He was a little curious about what Talia made of the files he’d given her. She was supposed to be a very good lawyer. She likely had the kind of contacts needed to make sure Kate and Gerard were locked up for a very long time. If she acted quickly enough, she might even be able to get Gerard arrested before he skipped town.

He wasn’t sure how long he lay there before he started to doze. He didn’t fully fall asleep, but then he hadn’t really slept since the night before the fire. Instead, Chris drifted. He let some of his anxiety go. He felt free, for the first time in years. He no longer had to worry about Kate or Gerard and keeping them in check. He no longer had to work behind Gerard’s back to double check that every creature they went after was actually guilty. Never again would he have to quietly arrange for an innocent werewolf to escape Gerard’s men. Nor did he have to worry that this time, Kate would go too far, because she had and his part was over.

A short time later, the basement door opened. Footsteps approached. The door to his cell unlocked. Chris opened his eyes. He turned to see Laura there, holding a tray. Chris sat up and moved to one end of the cot so she could set the tray down on the other side. It held a sandwich, a bottle of water, a bowl, some cloth, and a first aid kit.

He watched curiously as Laura knelt down beside the cot. One claw flicked out. She reached for him and he held perfectly still as she carefully cut the fabric of his shirt away. Laura dipped one of the cloths into the bowl of water, then started to gently wipe the blood from his wounds. Chris reached over and snagged the first aid kit with his free hand. He undid the latches one handed. It was easy enough to fish out the gauze pads. He ripped two open with his teeth and set them aside for Laura before fishing out the tape.

“You patch yourself up often?” Laura asked, nodding to the gauze.

Chris shrugged his uninjured shoulder. “Enough to be glad I don't need stitches.”

Laura looked appalled. “You’ve stitched yourself up?” She shuddered. “How does that even work if you can't feel it, like don't the pain pills make you loopy?”

Chris raised an eyebrow. “You don't take them if there's no one to watch your back. If it was safe enough to take pain medication, it would be safe enough to find a doctor.”

Laura stared at him for a long moment before turning back to continue cleaning his wound. He handed her an alcohol wipe and stayed still while she disinfected the claw marks. “Are all of the Argents as badass as you?”

Chris snorted. “I’ve been informed that I’m the weak one.”

Laura looked up at him, but didn’t comment. She carefully arranged the gauze pads and taped them in place. Laura put the rest of the tape away. She closed the first aid kit and drew back to sit on the floor a few feet away. Chris moved his shoulder experimentally. It was sore, but the gauze should stay in place as long as he didn’t move around too much. He opened the water bottle and took a long drink. He set it aside on the floor, then picked up the sandwich. It wasn’t bad. The roast beef was a little rarer than he usually ate it, but still good. He ate in silence, washing the sandwich down occasionally with the water.

“Was it hard to go against your family?” Laura asked after a few minutes.

Chris shrugged. “I should have turned them in earlier,” he admitted. “I thought I could keep them in line, make sure they followed the Code. I was wrong.” He looked up at Laura. “For that, I am sorry.”

Laura watched him for another few moments before nodding. She picked up the tray, leaving only the water bottle. Chris laid back down on the cot when she closed the cell door. The door to the rest of the house opened and closed.

There were no windows in the basement, no light to use to tell the time. Not that Chris really cared what time it was. He closed his eyes and dozed. He didn’t try to fall asleep. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the Hales not to kill him in his sleep. He wasn’t worried about that. They’d had ample opportunities to end his life since he drove onto their property. No, he didn’t sleep for the same reason he hadn’t slept in a week. He knew the nightmares would come. Fire and pain and screaming all around him. And when he didn’t dream about the fire, he dreamt about the other things he’d learned that Gerard and Kate had done. The families that they’d slaughtered while he was off negotiating with other Hunters or the packs too big for Kate and Gerard to take on. Always while he was away. Because if Chris didn’t know what they did while he wasn’t around, the family had plausible deniability.

Chris jerked awake when he felt himself start to fall asleep. He opened his eyes and stared up at the ceiling. After a minute he stood. He walked around the open area of the cell for a few minutes in order to wake up. He stretched his legs, back, and arms. He actually looked around at his surroundings for the first time since he’d come to the cabin. Besides the cot, there was only a toilet in his cell, blocked off from view by a simple fabric curtain. The other three cells in the basement were the same. There were soft lights out in the main part of the room, but none in the cells, probably to prevent any out of control werewolves from electrocuting themselves. Chris approved of the setup. It would safely contain without risk of injury.

On the far side of the room was an open area that appeared to be used for training or exercise. There was a treadmill in the corner and a couple of reinforced punching bags. There was a TV mounted to the far wall with a DVD player attached. It was positioned so that anyone in one of the cells could see it. There was a shelf full of books underneath with a box full of toys to one side. Chris smiled slightly. He’d never thought about what the werewolf children did to occupy themselves on full moon nights before they learned control. For a minute he considered adding that fact to the Bestiary. Then he remembered that he’d given it to the Hales. He sat back down on the cot, leaning back against the wall. He had no desire to be a Hunter anymore, but a part of him still hoped that the Hales wouldn’t destroy the Bestiary. Generations of research and notes on every supernatural creature the family had ever encountered could be easily lost if the Hales were so inclined. Out of all of this mess, that he would regret.

Chris looked up at the basement stairs as the door opened. Talia and Peter walked down the stairs, shutting the door after them. Talia turned to a panel by the base of the stairs. Her back blocked his view, but he heard her punch a code into the panel. His cell door clicked open. Peter pulled the door open and stepped inside and a moment later Talia joined him. She carried a clipboard with a piece of paper attached. Talia sat down on the floor a few feet in front of him, exactly like Laura had, while Peter leaned against the open cell door behind her.

“I’ve reviewed the files you had against Gerard and Kate,” Talia began. “I have a few questions.” Talia looked at Chris, waiting for his nod before continuing. “Where were you on the following dates: December 1st, 2004?”

Chris thought for a moment. A little over a month ago was when Kate had been in Tulsa and had killed a female werewolf and her son. According to the police report, they’d been chased by someone on a four wheeler before being shot and killed. “I was in France,” he replied. “Visiting the main line of the Argent family with Gerard. Kate didn’t come with us.”

Talia wrote something down on her paper. She looked back up at Chris when done. “October 11th, 2004?”

Chris recognized that date. Kate and Gerard had sent him to Michigan with two Hunters who actually followed the Code. “Returning a twelve year old runaway to the Manistee pack near Grand Rapids, Michigan.”

That, too, was written down on Talia’s paper. “July 21st, 2004?” Talia asked after a moment.

Chris thought back. Gerard had gone missing sometime around mid July. He’d claimed to be hunting Omegas. “Negotiating a treaty with the Calevaras in Mexico.”

More marks on the paper. “May 20th, 2003?”

Chris thought for a moment. “NRA Annual Meeting.” Talia raised an eyebrow at him. “I do actually have to do some work for Argent Firearms and Archery to keep it a legitimate business,” he pointed out. “And before you ask, February 4th, 2003 was the Talladega Gun show. November 30th, 2002, I was with the Seneca pack. July 9th was the ISSF Competition, where I placed third. And on January 17th I was with the Goldman Hunters.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “It’s a bit convenient that you have an alibi for every one of Kate and Gerard’s… incidents. Quite the coincidence.”

Chris snorted. He looked up at Peter seriously. “It’s not a coincidence at all,” he said bitterly. He felt a bit of anger start to seep into the numbness that he’d lived in for the past week. “They used me as their cover. I was their alibi, their patsy to point to and show that the Argents followed the Code. They knew I wouldn’t have let them do the things they did, so they made sure I was out of the way.”

“And what about the things that happened in your own town?” Peter asked. He pushed off from the bars of the cell to pace behind Talia. “Where were you when Kate was setting our house on fire?”

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Driving back from Seattle,” he replied. Peter and Talia both looked surprised. “I was with the Faucher Hunters for most of last week.” Chris gave the werewolves a wry smile. “Gerard wanted me to marry Victoria Faucher. We were supposed to meet the night of the fire, but she never showed up for the talks. Apparently, she met her soulmate.” Chris glanced over at Peter then away. “I was supposed to be there until the end of the week. Their number is in my phone if you’d like to confirm. The code to unlock the phone is 683.” He shrugged again.

Talia considered him for a long moment. She made a note on her paper. Talia looked up at him again with a raised eyebrow. “My brother is under the impression that you’re suicidal.”

Chris snorted. A small, wry smile twisted his lips. “If I’d wanted to kill myself, I could have done so by now,” he pointed out. “I run a legitimate weapons dealership. I have a large collection of weapons in my home and my vehicle. Any number of them would have been quite sufficient for the job.” He looked over at Talia. “Or, I could have pointed a loaded weapon at you earlier today.”

“Yet, you would have just let Laura rip your throat out, or Mark tear into you.” Peter regarded Chris like he was a particularly interesting puzzle that Peter hadn’t yet worked out how all the pieces fit. Chris shrugged.

Talia studied him for another long moment before rising to her feet. “Is there anything that you need, Mr. Argent?” Chris shook his head. He leaned back against the wall. The werewolves hesitated for a moment before exchanging a look. They left the cell, closing the door behind them and checking that it was latched. “Just call out if you need anything, we’ll hear you.”

Chris laid back down on the cot. He listened to their footsteps draw away and the door close. Chris stared up at the ceiling, but it was becoming harder to fight off sleep. His body was relaxing, almost against his will, and a week’s worth of exhaustion was catching up with him. Logically, he knew he shouldn’t be able to relax. He was locked in a cell in the Hale’s basement, surrounded by werewolves, some of whom would be more than happy to hurt him, if not actually kill him. He didn’t think anyone, not even Peter, would feel remorse if he died. He was just another Hunter to them, if the lesser of several evils. Yet, he was more relaxed here than he had been at his own home all week. But then, he never allowed himself to completely relax around Gerard.

One moment he was blinking tiredly up at the ceiling, the next he had drifted off to sleep. He had a moment to wonder why he was back outside the Hale house, why it was whole again. Then the fire started, spreading quickly through the building. Chris ran for the house, but he couldn’t seem to close the distance. The house stayed the same distance away no matter how hard he ran. But, once the screaming started he could hear it as clearly as if he were inside. He could smell the stench of burning flesh. No one came out of the house. He turned at a sound behind him and there were Kate and Gerard. They grinned as they watched the fire. Kate laughed like it was the best joke she’d ever heard.

Chris startled awake with a bit off shout. His shoulder throbbed at the sudden movement, but he was glad for the pain. It would keep him awake. Chris sat up. He reached for the bottle of water beside the cot and drained it. He replaced the cap, then knelt down at the bars of his cell. He slid the bottle through the bars, setting it outside where one of the werewolves could retrieve it without coming inside.

Then, he stood and started to move. He paced the length of the cell, measuring the length and width with his stride. He took his time and stretched every muscle. Then, he dropped down and started doing one armed pushups with his good arm. He did simple exercises until his muscles were tired. Only then did he sit down on the cot again. He leaned his back against the wall, but didn’t dare lie down again. When he started to fall asleep again, he pressed his fingers against the gauze pads on his shoulders and let the pain keep him awake.

He judged that it was morning when the basement door opened. This time it was a young girl that looked a lot like Talia. Cora, he guessed. She punched in a code and the door unlocked his door. Cora practically shoved the tray she carried at him. He bit back a smile as he accepted it with a soft “Thank you.”

He expected Cora to leave right away, but she lingered. Chris settled the tray in his lap. He waited for her to say whatever it is was on her mind while he slowly ate the eggs and toast. She spoke as he bit into a slice of bacon. “Why did you let Mark claw you?” Cora asked. Chris looked up at her. She watched him with the same blank expression Talia had. Cora looked pointedly at the gauze patch on his shoulder. “Laura says that you could have easily dodged that.”

Chris turned back to the tray. He uncapped the bottle of water and took a long drink before answering. “Laura is correct,” he said. He took a bite of toast.

Cora let out an aggravated huff. “Then why not dodge? Why not run for the cars or the lake? Why just stand there and let him stab you?”

“Mark’s wife and daughter were hospitalized because of the fire, correct?” He looked up at Cora, waited while she nodded. “That’s why.”

Cora looked even more frustrated. “But him lashing out at you doesn’t change anything. And Sophia and April are fine now. Neither of them want to hurt you because of it.”

Chris looked down at the tray. He took a few more bites. “Is he still mad?”

“Well, no,” Cora said slowly. “He’s not going to apologize or anything, but he told mom that he wasn’t going to flip out again.”

“That’s why I let him.”

Cora looked at him like she couldn’t understand his logic. “Is this some kind of macho martyr complex thing or something?”

Chris laughed a little darkly. “I’m no martyr,” he said. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He hadn’t wanted to get into this when the others had asked, but he supposed he owed the Hales an explanation. “I feel responsible for Kate’s actions,” he admitted finally. He wondered if Talia or Peter were listening from upstairs.

“But, mom said you didn’t know,” Cora pointed out. Her tone was a bit suspicious, as if she was wondering if he’d somehow lied to them all along. “Mom said you didn’t lie when you said you had no prior knowledge. And she checked that you really were on the way back from Seattle at the time, so you couldn’t have stopped Kate.”

Chris set the tray aside, no longer interested in the rest of the food. He leaned his elbows on his knees. He looked over at Cora and tried to figure out how to make her understand. “You have a younger brother, right?” He continued when Cora nodded. “Now, imagine that you didn’t have any other siblings.” He paused a moment while she processed that. “Imagine that your mom died when you were eight. Your father is gone for work most of the time. He doesn’t have time to take care of you or your brother.” He paused again. There was more he could say about the way Gerard treated them. About the verbal and physical abuse that grew as Gerard became more and more twisted by grief and hate. He doesn’t though.

“So, you’re responsible for raising your brother,” he continued once she nodded. “You’re the one that makes sure he does his homework, packs his lunches, helps him with his college applications, gives him a job when he comes home from college.”

He watched as Cora thought that through. Several emotions crossed her face, grief, anger, determination, sadness. “Now imagine that you find out your brother tried to burn down a house full of Hunters,” he said, his voice hard. “Not just Hunters who’d gone after werewolves, but ones who respected the laws, who never hurt those who hadn’t hurt someone else. And not just the Hunters themselves, but their spouses and children too. And then imagine that your brother laughed about it like it was a fucking joke. That he’d turned into some twisted psychopath that enjoyed killing anything different from him. Imagine that you’d raised a monster!” Cora startled back at his shout and Chris felt the anger drain out of him. Chris sighed as he was left with an overwhelming sense of guilt and grief. He picked the bottle of water off the tray and set it aside. He put the tray on the floor and slid it towards Cora. “That’s why.”

Cora didn’t comment. She picked up the tray and the empty bottle he’d left by the door. Then, she walked out of the cell, closed the door behind her, and went up the stairs. Chris let his head fall back against the wall. He closed his eyes. He had no doubt that the werewolves upstairs had heard him. If not, Cora was more than likely going to relay his whole tirade to them. He couldn’t bring himself to care.

Chris didn’t move for a long time. He drifted, trying just not to think about anything. Every time he started to fall asleep, he pressed down on the gauze on his shoulder, startling himself awake again. Laura came down some time later. She brought him lunch and helped him change the gauze. Laura looked at him with some kind of mixture of pity and understanding that he wasn’t ready to deal with, so he simply didn’t look at her. He ate in silence and then handed the tray over. He laid down on the cot and closed his eyes. Laura didn’t say anything as she left.

He got up and stretched again when he started to fall asleep. Chris walked around a bit, went to the bathroom, paced some more. When his legs were tired, he sat down on the cot again. He laid down and closed his eyes, letting himself relax without actually sleeping. He was a little surprised to hear the door to the rest of the house open at some point in the afternoon. It wasn’t close to dinner time, so he didn’t pay too much attention. He supposed it was possible that someone was looking for a book or movie they had left down in the basement. He looked up when the cell door opened. Peter stepped inside, flipping through the Argent bestiary. The book was well over a thousand pages, but Peter held it like it was a thin paperback. Chris was relieved to see that Peter treated the pages with care, though. Peter looked at Chris expectantly until Chris sat up, moving to one side of the cot so Peter could sit down. “This is written in Archaic Latin,” Peter said as he settled next to Chris, not quite touching him.

Chris nodded. “It allows us to have the book accessible, but protect the information. Our children aren’t taught the language until after they’re initiated, so they’re not exposed to the knowledge of the supernatural until they’re ready.”

Peter looked over at him. “And how old does a Hunter have to be to be initiated into your ranks?”

“Things like gun safety, archery, and tracking are taught early,” Chris replied. He looked out at the main room of the basement and pictured the one at the house he’d grown up in. There was a full firing range down there, racks and racks of weapons and ammo. This basement was barren in comparison. The cells were pretty similar to what Gerard had, though. “Formal initiation is usually around sixteen, sometimes earlier, sometimes later.”

“And how old were you when you began your Hunter training?”

Chris couldn't tell if Peter was trying to get a rise out of him, or if he were genuinely curious. He didn't look at Peter when he answered. “Eight.”

“And have you ever killed an innocent? A creature who hadn't violated your Code?”

Chris rubbed a hand over his face. He had been waiting for this question. Chris rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, staring down at his hands. “I thought I always followed the Code,” he said honestly. “I’m not so sure now.” He let out a long breath as he leaned back to stare at the ceiling. “Kate and Gerard have been hiding things from me for years. I can't say with any certainty that they never fabricated claims against some of the creatures that we hunted.”

Peter was silent for a long time. Chris let his body relax against the wall as he listened to the soft turn of pages. Peter read in silence for awhile before speaking up again. “Have you contributed anything to this?”

Chris looked over at the werewolf. He didn’t see any judgement there, just curiosity. Chris sat up straight and held out his hand for the book. He set it on his lap and flipped back towards the front of the book. He flipped to the most recently added pages, which had information about Lamia. He pointed to his own neat script and handed the book back to Peter. Peter hummed thoughtfully as he read the section. Chris let his eyes drift closed. His body instinctively relaxed with his soulmate next to him. Even though they weren’t touching, Chris could feel the barest hint of the bond there, the potential for something more. It was comforting. A minute later he was asleep.

Soft voices woke him up. Chris tensed, for a minute not able to remember where he was. The voices stopped. Chris opened his eyes as he sat up. He looked over to see Peter still sitting there with the Bestiary open in his lap. At some point Chris must have slumped over, using Peter’s shoulder as a pillow. Chris felt himself blush. He put a little bit of distance between them. “Sorry,” he muttered.

Peter smirked. “It seemed like you needed the sleep,” he said. Peter closed the Bestiary and rose, stretching as he did so. Chris turned away from studying the play of Peter’s muscles as he moved. He looked over to the open doorway to his cell where Talia was standing. She approached him and held out a set of papers.

He was a little surprised to see that she’d actually written up a treaty between the Hales and the Argents. It wasn’t even one of the simple, one page non-aggression treaties. This was a five page, full treaty with all of the usual caveats. It addressed threats to the territory, the presence of visiting supernatural creatures or Hunters, sharing of information, even binding it through future generations and related branches of each family. It had a condition though. In addition to financial reparations for the fire, he would be expected to remain with the Hale family as a hostage until Kate was captured and brought to justice. The treaty explicitly stated that the Hale family could do as they wished with him during that time. Chris finished reading the treaty. He held out his hand for a pen and Talia handed him one. He braced the papers on his thigh and signed on the line for the Argent family representative. He held the papers and pen back out to Talia.

Talia gave him a small smile as she tucked the pen away. “I’ll have a copy delivered to Gerard,” she said. Chris was surprised by that. He hadn't expected Talia to go to the effort if she was just going to have Gerard arrested. There wouldn't be an Argent family left in Beacon Hills.

Still, he was a bit curious as to what Gerard's reaction to the treaty would be. Chris hesitated a moment, trying to think if there was any possible way Gerard could turn the treaty to his advantage. “Would it be possible for you to scan the document?” Chris asked as Peter and Talia turned to leave.

Talia hesitated in the doorway. “Of course. Why do you ask?”

“I want you to email a copy to the main family in France,” Chris said. He looked up at Talia again. She pulled out her phone and Chris gave her the name and email address of the official contact for the family there. They were a well established group that almost religiously followed the Code, nothing at all like Gerard and Kate. Talia regarded him curiously as she tucked her phone away again. “They follow the Code and have no love for Gerard. If he tries to back out of the treaty, there will be consequences.”

Talia nodded once before turning away. Peter looked at Chris, his expression unreadable as he closed the cell door. Chris leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes, not bothering to watch Talia and Peter walk away. Part of him wanted to ask them to record Gerard’s reaction to the treaty, but another part wanted them to stay as far away from the man as possible. Knowing Talia’s resources, she’d probably send the treaty by way of a courier service.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d been sleeping on Peter’s shoulder, but it appeared to be enough to take the edge of his exhaustion. An hour or so wasn’t enough to counter over a week of not sleeping, though. The exhaustion was still there, ready to overtake him if he allowed himself to relax, but not as overwhelming as it had been before. He felt like he could drift without having to worry about falling into a nightmare. And, now that he thought about it, that was the most amazing thing about his sudden nap. Not that he’d been comfortable enough around Peter to relax, because that could be explained away by their soulbond. It was simple physiology. No, the amazing thing was that he hadn’t had any nightmares, no dreams at all. He’d been able to rest.

Chris blinked his eyes open again as the door opened. Laura carried a tray, much like yesterday. There was the bowl and first aid kit along with another sandwich. “Mom said she thought your bandages needed changed,” Laura said as she opened the cell door.

When Chris looked down at his shoulder he saw that there was in fact spots of red in the gauze, right where he pressed to stay awake. He pulled the bloody gauze off in one motion, folded it up, and set it aside on the tray. They worked together in silence as Laura cleaned the wound and put on fresh gauze. She sat with her back against the cell wall as he ate his sandwich. Once done he slid the tray over to her and set the water bottle down next to the partial one he still had from lunch. Laura gathered up her supplies without comment. The door clicked closed behind her. Chris laid down on the cot and let his eyes drift closed, though he knew he wouldn’t be sleeping. “Goodnight,” came the soft voice before the basement door opened and then closed.

*********

“Your mom died when you were eight?” Laura asked as she leaned back against the bars of the cell. Chris paused with the fork halfway to his mouth. He nodded and took a bite of the pasta that Laura had brought him for lunch. “What happened? If you don’t mind my asking…”

Chris shrugged. He set the fork down so that he could give Laura his full attention. “She went after a rogue werewolf with Gerard and another Hunter. It turned out to be an Alpha. She was wounded and didn’t survive.”

Laura paled a little. “Was she bitten?”

He took a long drink of water as an excuse not to answer right away. Chris nodded again. “It didn’t take.”

Laura was silent for several long moments. Chris took the opportunity to shovel a few more bites of pasta into his mouth, not because he was hungry anymore but more for something to do. It kept his hands and mouth busy so that he didn’t have to say anything more. Laura’s voice was quiet when she spoke again. “What if she had turned?”

Chris didn’t even have to think about the answer. “She would have killed herself,” he replied evenly. “Gerard would have made sure of it.”

“But…” Laura looked taken aback. Her mouth hung open for a moment before she seemed to shake herself. Chris took the chance to finish his lunch. He slid the tray across the floor to Laura. She pulled it towards her, setting it to one side but didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move. “What would you do if you were bitten?” Laura asked eventually.

He froze, not expecting the question. Chris leaned forward with his elbows on his knees and considered his answer. If Gerard were in the picture, he knew what his answer would be, but Gerard didn’t have any say over his life anymore. “It would depend on the Alpha,” he said finally. Laura looked at him in confusion and he forced himself to explain. “I wouldn’t want to live under the control of someone who would force me to harm others, either through their own commands or through neglecting to train and control me. I’d rather be put down than go feral and harm innocents.”

“But, if it were a good Alpha, someone like mom?” Laura’s voice was hesitant, but her gaze didn't waver from his.

Chris shrugged. “I would adapt.”

Laura hummed thoughtfully. Her gaze grew distant for a moment. Then, her eyes settled on him once more. Chris leaned back against the wall and watched Laura as she watched him. She shifted occasionally, her mouth opening and closing. He was actually a little curious about what she was struggling to ask him. He waited patiently for her to gather her courage. Unfortunately, whatever she was going to ask was lost when the basement door opened and Talia stepped through. Laura straightened and twisted to look up at her mother. Whatever she saw on Talia’s face must have been serious because Laura gathered up the tray and climbed back up the stairs, leaving Chris alone with Talia.

Talia strode into the cell with a neutral expression. She held his own cellphone out to him. “The Argents would like proof of life.”

Chris sighed, but took the phone. There was already a call in progress. He recognized the number immediately. “Allo,” he greeted evenly. “C’est Chris.”

A feminine voice came over the line. “Chris? Comment allez-vous? Répondez.”

Chris rolled his eyes. Eveline Argent had a specific set of questions and responses that she always used with family members to ensure that they weren’t being coerced or controlled. He gave the expected response. “Bien, Tante Eveline.”

Eveline let out a relieved sigh. She spoke again, still sounding a little worried, but without the previous tension. “Êtes-vous blessé?”

Chris didn’t hesitate. “Non, je vais bien.”

Eveline hesitated for a moment. “Kate et Gerard…”

Chris sighed again. He moved the phone aside and looked at Talia. “Gerard?”

“Arrested an hour ago,” Talia responded from where she leaned against the open cell door.

Chris nodded and raised the phone to his ear again. “Gerard’s been arrested. Kate will be as well as soon as the police can track her down.”

It was Eveline’s turn to sigh. He could picture her pinching the bridge of her nose in frustration. She never had been very fond of Gerard. “What did they do this time?” she asked in slightly accented English. “I assume it has something to do with the treaty with the Hale pack that we received?”

“Kate set fire to the Hale house with most of them inside of it, including the kids and the humans,” Chris explained. He paused while Eveline let out a string of curses in French. “No deaths, but substantial damage to the house and some injuries to the human members.” He looked up at Talia again as he spoke. “Talia Hale can provide you with copies of the evidence if you need it.”

“No need,” Eveline said. “Gerard was involved too?”

Chris shrugged, though he knew she couldn’t see him. “Probably. There wasn’t any proof of his involvement in the fire itself, but there are other crimes that Talia and the police now have evidence of.”

Eveline chuckled. “Gerard never did believe me when I warned him that one day you’d find your teeth.” She paused for a moment before speaking hesitantly. “This business with the Hales? Was Kate provoked? Nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent, n’est pas?”

Chris felt anger rise at the very suggestion. “No, it wasn’t,” he bit out. “She seduced a fifteen year old boy so she could trap the family and kill everyone. Cela ne chasse. Cela extermination. Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger eux-mêmes. Vrai?”

“Je suis désolé,” Eveline said after another long sigh. “Tu as raison. Nous acceptons le traité. Avez-vous besoin de quelque chose de nous?”

“Non. Merci.”

There was silence on the line. “Être bien.” The call ended.

Chris handed the cellphone back to Talia. “The Argent family has accepted the treaty,” he said simply. “Would you like me to translate the rest of the French?”

She regarded him thoughtfully for a long moment before shaking her head. Talia nodded towards the ceiling. “Peter and I are both fluent in French,” she said as she turned away. The cell door clicked closed and Chris sagged back against the wall. Talia paused at the foot of the stairs. “Is Eveline Argent really your aunt?” she asked.

Chris shrugged. “Technically she’s my great-aunt.”

“So that was part of the code?” Talia turned towards him. There was a bit of challenge there, as if she expected him to lie.

He answered her honestly. “If the speaker is under duress, they refer to her as Madame Argent. If they’re in danger or uncertain of the danger, they use her first name only. If all is well, Aunt Eveline.”

“Do all Hunters use the same system?” Talia asked curiously.

Chris shook his head. “Some use similar, but every family has a different method. The Calevaras have a similar system, but the Ryan family has a complex system of jibberish phrases that they change every few weeks.” He shrugged. “It really depends on how paranoid the head of the family is.”

Talia smiled slightly at that before she continued up the stairs. The door shut, leaving him in silence once more. Chris stretched out on the cot and stared up at the ceiling. He found himself feeling a little bit relieved that things had been handled so easily. With the treaty in Eveline’s hands, the Hales wouldn’t face any retaliation from the Hunter community. And Eveline was likely going to spread the word that Gerard and Kate were no longer welcome in the family. She was ruthless as a matriarch, but she valued the Code and didn’t suffer fools. She would distance herself from them not only because of their violations of the Code, but because they had been dumb enough to get caught. Gerard wouldn’t have any help from the family while he rotted in jail and Kate would have no one willing to hide her. There might still be some Hunters willing to help them, but they wouldn’t be from any of the larger families. Chris felt another weight come off of his shoulders at that.

He must have drifted off, because he jolted awake when the door to the basement slammed open. Chris was already halfway to his feet, reaching for weapons he didn’t have before he remembered where he was. He slumped back down on the cot as the door closed. Peter seemed agitated as he paced down the stairs. The younger man punched in the code to Chris’s cell almost angrily. As soon as the door was open, Peter stalked over to the cell. Peter paused in the doorway. He glared at Chris for a long moment before speaking.

“You know, I’m not really buying the whole reformed Hunter with a conscience thing,” Peter said as he paced around the open area of the cell. “Talia, Laura, even Cora have bought into it, but I haven’t.” Chris raised an eyebrow at that, but stayed quiet.

Peter sneered at him. “Do you seriously expect me to believe that you have remorse for every creature in here?” He hefted the bestiary. Chris hadn’t even noticed that Peter had been carrying it.

Chris shook his head. “Not too long ago, a family came to us for help with their son,” he said. “This group of teenagers, they were doing all sorts of rituals with animal skins. Have you ever seen a Berserker?” He looked over at Peter, waiting for him to shake his head.

“They’re rare in the United States, but more common down in Mexico. The Calaveras had dealt with them regularly.” Peter froze in place. Peter flipped open the bestiary and rapidly turned to the appropriate entry. “They’re shapeshifters in the more mythical sense,” Chris continued. “They become Berserkers by wearing the skin of animals, usually bear pelts. I don’t know how they did it, but somehow the kids tapped into the powers of the Berserker. They became Berserkers.”

Chris watched Peter’s eyes widen as he took in the detailed drawings. If he had been looking at the digital version, there would be photographs and video. “The thing is, with Berserkers, the human side doesn’t last long. They’re not tempered by the moon.”

Peter looked up then. “He killed people?”

“He tore them apart,” Chris corrected. “Eventually, I had to tell the family their son was gone. It took three of us to take him down. Almost every bullet we had. And, when it was over, I felt no remorse. None. I knew that kid was long gone.”

Peter looked over at Chris and then down at the book again. After a minute, Peter closed the book. When he looked up at Chris again, Peter seemed almost relieved. The expression was quickly replaced by Peter's normal cocky expression. He leaned back against the cell bars with the book hanging from a hand.

“Some creatures can't be reasoned with,” Chris said slowly. “Some are just monsters, plain and simple, with no thought beyond their next meal and no regard for the bodies they leave in their wake.” He looked up at Peter and the man nodded. No one grew up in the supernatural world without encountering a creature like that at least once. “But others…” Peter's head cocked to the side as he regarded Chris intently. “Werewolves and kitsune, dryads, leshy, druids, shamans…” Chris leaned back until his back hit the wall. “There are just as many, if not more, creatures out there who just want to live their lives.”

Peter raised an eyebrow at him as a slight smile quirked his lips. “How is it that the crazy managed to skip you while it runs rampant in the rest of your family?”

Chris snorted and shook his head. “Apparently I take after my mother,” he said with a small smile.

Peter smiled at him, an actual genuine smile, and Chris felt something flutter in his stomach. There was something about the way that Peter’s eyes lit up that made him ten times more attractive than he already was. Chris felt a blush heat his cheek and quickly looked away. For a long moment, tension seemed to fill the room.

Chris looked up when he heard the door to the first floor open. He and Peter both watched as Cora came down the stairs carrying a tray. Cora looked between them for a minute before shoving the tray at Peter, barely waiting for him to grab it before turning and walking back up the stairs. Peter shot her an annoyed look, but crossed the open area of the cell. He was much more careful than Cora had been when he handed the tray over to Chris. Chris expected Peter to stalk out after having passed over his burden, but instead he sat down on the cot next to Chris and cracked open the bestiary. Chris glanced over at him out of the corner of his eye before mentally shrugging and turning his attention to the chicken and vegetable stir fry.

As he ate, Chris couldn’t help but think about how odd the Hales were. He hadn’t expected anything other than a sudden and painful death when he surrendered to them, but this was so far beyond anything he would have thought possible. He certainly hadn’t expected regular meals that were better than anything that he could make himself. He was eating better as a prisoner than he had while living on his own or under Gerard’s roof. Chris had no problem finishing the meal. As soon as Chris started to move to set the tray aside, Peter snapped the bestiary shut. Peter took the tray from Chris’s hand and strode out of the cell, shutting the door behind him. Chris turned and laid down on the cot ready for another night of staring at the ceiling. He didn’t expect Peter to hesitate at the foot of the stairs. Chris looked over, meeting Peter’s gaze as the man looked back at him.

“Try to get some sleep,” Peter said softly, before turning and mounting the stairs. The door closed after him before Chris could formulate any kind of response.

He stared at the closed door for a long time, not sure how he felt about Peter expressing concern. Eventually, Chris turned to stare at the ceiling again and tried to push all thought from his mind. He took one deep breath and then another as his body relaxed. He felt his eyelids growing heavy as sleep called to him, but pressed against the wound in his shoulder before he could fall asleep. The sharp bite of pain kicked his brain awake. Chris kept his breathing even, letting his body rest, but poking at the wound any time he started to fall asleep.

Above him, he heard the creak of floorboards as the Hales settled in for the night. The house quieted. If there had been windows in the basement, Chris was sure he could have seen darkness fall around the house. The lights in the room dimmed. He wondered idly if the moon was rising, or if it was a cloudy night. His thoughts drifted to memories of nights spent out in the woods, camping with other Hunters on quiet nights like this.

The door creaked open, startling him out of a half-dream. He looked up in surprise as someone walked down the stairs. Above him, the house remained quiet. Someone punched in the code to his cell and the door popped open. Chris tensed as Derek stepped into the dim light near his cell. He sat up on the cot, his body tense.

Derek didn’t look at Chris as he leaned against the open cell door. “Did Kate ever talk about me?” he asked, his voice carefully neutral.

Chris sighed. “Derek, I don’t think this is a good idea. Talking about her isn’t going to help things.”

Derek growled. He pushed off the bars and began to pace the inside of Chris’s cell. “She said that she loved me. She said that she didn’t mind that I was a werewolf, that we could still be together.”

Chris felt his insides twist with a mix of pity and disgust. His gaze followed Derek as he moved back and forth, but the boy still wouldn’t look at him. “Kate is very good at manipulating people,” Chris said carefully. “She’s always been pretty and she knows how to use her looks as a weapon. She can get anyone to trust her given enough time.” Chris ran a hand through his hair and resisted the urge to pull at it. “But that's all it was. I'm sorry, Derek. It was a horrible thing for her to do, but she was just using you.”

Derek let out a small hurt noise as he stopped suddenly. His back was turned towards Chris, the muscles a tense line. “I thought she might be my soulmate.”

He bit his lip to keep from swearing. Chris leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees and ran a hand through his hair while he tried to figure out how to respond. “Derek…” He swallowed down the lump in his throat. “If she was your soulmate, you’d know.” Chris looked down at his hands. “There wouldn’t be any doubt,” he continued. “The feeling when you touch is unlike any other.” He hated the way Derek’s body sagged at that. “You have a soulmate, Derek, but Kate wasn’t it.”

Derek’s eyes flashed yellow as he turned to look at Chris. “Why’d she wait until I wasn’t home if she didn’t care about me even a little?” He said the words as if they were a challenge. Derek's expression was one of stubborn frustration. He had the look of a teenager who was sure they knew better than all the adults around them.

Chris rubbed at his eyes. “She didn’t know,” he replied evenly. He didn’t flinch when Derek growled at him, his features shifting as the boy struggled to maintain control in the face of his emotions. Chris kept his voice calm and even as he spoke. “Think back,” he said carefully. “Did you ever mention you were staying after school that day or was it a sudden decision?”

He watched the emotions flicker across Derek’s face. He could see the boy thinking back, replaying every interaction they’d had. He saw the horror dawning, and then the disgust. Derek looked like he was going to throw up. He ran out of the basement, slamming the basement door shut behind him. Chris sighed. He pushed himself up from the cot and pulled the cell door closed, locking himself in.

*********

Chris couldn’t bring himself to face the Hales the next day. He’d spent the remainder of his night with Kate’s words echoing in his ears. They were as clear as the first time she’d called him and bragged about her little werewolf fucktoy. By the time Cora came with his breakfast tray, Chris felt sick to his stomach. He stayed where he was on the cot, staring at the wall. Cora seemed to be in an equally quiet mood. He heard her set down the tray and then the cell door shut again.

Upstairs he heard the sounds of people moving around, the scrape of chairs against flooring as the Hales sat down to eat. Chris concentrated on those noises in hopes that they would keep his thoughts quiet. And it worked, for awhile. Chris felt himself drifting into a state of apathy. He wasn’t sure how long he laid there before the cell door opened again. Someone took the tray away. The door shut again and he was left with his silence.

He wondered suddenly why the Hales didn’t hate him. Certainly Derek did now, and Laura and Mark had at first. Mark might still hate him for all Chris knew, but Laura at least seemed to have changed her mind. Unless that had changed after last night. He had no doubt that at least some of the Hales had overheard his conversation with Derek. Maybe that had reminded them about what he was, what he had been raised to be. A Hunter that tried to follow the Code was still a Hunter after all. He didn’t have a place with a family of werewolves. He didn’t have a place with other Hunters either though… Not now. He would always be second guessing whether the creature he was hunting was actually a monster or just looked like one.

The door opened again at some point in his cycle of self-hatred and guilt. He didn’t move, but his attention drew outward at the sound of footsteps. Someone stopped by the cot. Another tray was set down. Chris waited for whoever was there to leave again but they didn’t move. He heard them shifting behind him.

“We don’t blame Derek for what happened,” Laura said after a few minutes. Chris couldn’t help flinching at her words. Before his guilt could start to rise, she continued. “We don’t blame you either. Neither one of you had any control over Kate’s actions, only your own.” He heard Laura turn and start to walk away, but she stopped after only a few steps. “For what it’s worth, I think your actions tell more about your character than your relatives do.” The cell door clicked shut softly. “I know you won’t admit to it, be we all know it was you who made sure the firefighters got to us in time. Mom has a copy of the 911 call.”

Chris flinched. He’d used a burner cell phone for a reason. If Gerard found out… Chris leaned forward until his forehead touched the cool stone wall. What did it matter? Gerard was already in jail and Chris was already a dead man. He felt his shoulders tense. Chris tried not to think about what Gerard would do if he got ahold of Chris. The man was behind bars and was going to stay there. He forced himself to relax. After a few moments, Laura’s steps faded away. The door to the house opened and shut, leaving him alone again.

He let his eyes drift closed. He didn’t fall asleep, but he did manage to sort of drift again. He startled when he felt something hard prod into his ribs. His body tensed, waiting for a blow, before his mind caught up with where he was again. Chris’s eyes snapped open to stare at the wall in front of him as the toe of a shoe prodded him in the side again. He turned slightly to stare in confusion at Peter.

“Get up,” Peter ordered from where he was standing over the cot.

Chris raised an eyebrow, but stood without any commentary. “Follow me,” Peter said before simply turning and starting up the stairs.

He was surprised to find that Peter led him through the kitchen at the top of the stairs and towards another set of stairs. Chris nodded politely to the various Hales gathered in the living room, but no one seemed inclined to speak to him, so he kept silent. It was dark outside the windows, but he didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of a clock as he passed through the room to determine exactly how late it was. He followed Peter up to the second floor and down a hallway into one of the bedrooms. Peter turned then and pointed into the adjoining bathroom.

“You reek,” Peter bit out. “Go shower while I find something to fit you.”

Chris was surprised to find a small huff of a laugh escape him. He felt the beginning of a smile spread on his lips. Peter did have a point though. He was starting to smell a bit ripe and he didn’t even have enhanced senses. He didn’t bother to close the bathroom door as he stepped inside. He didn’t care if Peter saw him naked and he knew the werewolf would be more comfortable if he knew what Chris was doing. Chris shed his boots and set them off to one side before peeling off his clothes. The shirt was torn and bloody, so he simply pitched it in the wastebasket in the bathroom. The gauze from his shoulder wound followed the shirt into the garbage. The rest of his clothes were salvageable.

He turned his back to Peter as he started on his belt and tried to pretend that he didn’t hear the slight intake of breath when Peter got a look at his back. He knew there were scars all over his body, but his back was the worst, evidence of a rough childhood and an even rougher life as a Hunter. Thankfully, Peter didn’t comment. Chris dropped his belt on his shoes and then bent to start the water running in the shower. He adjusted the temperature a little bit and then resumed shucking his clothes as the water heated up. He folded his pants neatly and set them on top of his boots before doing the same with his boxers and socks.

The water felt wonderful as soon as it hit his skin. For a moment he just stood under the spray and let the water rush over him. After a moment he blinked the water out of his eyes. He spotted a clean washcloth that had been set out for him. There was an array of bottles in the shower, all of which appeared to have been at least partially used. He found a shower gel easily enough and used that to clean himself. Another bit of searching found a bottle of shampoo that didn’t smell too strongly and a conditioner to match.

When he stepped out of the shower his clothes were gone. Instead there was a neatly folded stack of clothing on the sink and some towels. Chris grabbed one of the soft towels and dried himself off quickly and efficiently. He poked at the claw punctures in his shoulder, but they seemed to have healed enough not to require bandaging.

Peter had supplied him with a clean pair of boxers, a shirt that fit comfortably, and a pair of sweatpants that were a little loose. His socks and shoes were gone. Chris raised an eyebrow at that, but considering he wasn’t planning on going anywhere he didn’t see any point in complaining. He didn’t have anyplace to go anyways.

Peter was sitting at the desk in one corner of the room, typing away at a laptop. He didn’t even look up when Chris stepped out of the bathroom. “Lie down,” Peter ordered, nodding to the bed. “You look like you haven’t slept in weeks.”

Chris looked at Peter skeptically for a moment before shrugging. He sat down on the bed and was surprised at how much give it had. The mattress was softer than what he was used to, but it was comfortable. The sheets were smooth and silky. They were definitely more expensive than the bargain brand that he usually bought. Even the pillows felt luxurious. Chris stretched out on top of the covers and considered the room around him. There was a hamper of clothes in a corner. Books were arranged on a small shelf and one sat on the nightstand on the opposite side of the bed in addition to the books on the desk next to Peter. The room looked lived in. Chris didn’t have to think very hard to guess who it belong to.

“I think you have a poor understanding of how to treat hostages,” Chris murmured as his eyes drifted closed.

Peter snorted. “The treaty does state that we can do whatever we want with you until Kate is caught,” Peter pointed out. Chris heard the laptop close and Peter start to move around the room. He didn’t bother opening his eyes. “Unless you prefer sleeping in a cell?” Peter’s voice drifted low as he approached. “If that’s a kink of yours, I’m sure I can adapt.”

Chris’s lips twitched up into a small smile. “I prefer beds,” he said softly. He felt the bed shift beside him. He couldn’t seem to muster the energy to open his eyes to look at Peter, or to care really. He could feel the barest tingle of comfort from their bond where their shoulders brushed. “Not exactly standard torture methods,” he murmured. He felt himself start to drift off as his body reacted to Peter’s presence.

“Oh, we’re very dastardly torturers,” Peter said with a laugh. Chris felt the bed shift as Peter rolled. He let the werewolf pull him closer. Blankets settled over them. An arm rested along his waist. Chris felt a puff of breath against the back of his neck.

“I don’t think snuggling counts as torture,” Chris pointed out. Whatever reply Peter had, Chris didn’t hear it. He was already asleep.

He wasn't sure how long he slept. Whether it was the comfort of the bed or the lack of nightmares that came with being close to his soulmate or simply the reassurance of having someone else next to him, Chris slept better than he had in weeks, maybe even years. He woke slowly for a change. Chris blinked his eyes open. At some point he’d rolled onto his back. There was light in the room, coming in softly through the window. Chris lifted a hand and ran it over his face. He heard the soft turn of a page. He turned his head to find Peter sitting with his back resting against the headboard and the bestiary on his lap.

For several long moments they sat in silence. Peter didn’t outwardly acknowledge him, but Chris could feel the subtle press of Peter’s leg against his side, the way Peter held himself perfectly still as if waiting to see how Chris would react. And, really, Chris wasn’t sure how he wanted to react. He blinked up at the ceiling and had to wonder if it would really be so bad if he didn’t fight the soulmate thing. If he just acknowledged that he was attracted to Peter, that Peter made him feel safe in a way that really should not be possible for someone he’d known less than a week. After all, it wasn’t like his father could hate him any more that he did already.

“Tell me about the Nogitsune,” Peter said suddenly, startling Chris out of what was bound to be an increasingly morose train of though. “How did you manage to run into one of those?”

Chris shifted until he was sitting up in the bed beside Peter. He looked over at the book spread out on Peter’s lap and the short entry there. He’d only recorded the things he knew as fact, information that had been double checked against other sources. He leaned back against the headboard and started to detail what wasn’t written down. “I was eighteen,” Chris began, “and Gerard had sent me on my first solo mission. It was supposed to be a simple exchange, gun for cash, except Gerard left out the minor detail about the buyers being Yakuza. He wanted to see if I could adapt in the moment. Testing my ability to improvise.”

Peter snorted. “You mean your ability to survive.”

Chris nodded. “I was meeting with that particular group’s leader, the Kumicho, on their territory. Ten of them to one of me. But, we never got around to the exchange.”

Chris leaned over to turn a few pages. He tapped a carefully drawn figure in the book. He’d taken particular care to depict the mask in a separate view. Peter looked up incredulously. “Oni?”

“The moment the sun went down it was like they just materialized out of the shadows,” Chris said as he shifted away again. “They had swords, not curved like katanas, but straight, black steel. Like ninjatos. I never was able to find out who summoned them, just that they’re usually controlled by a kitsune.” Chris shrugged. “They went straight for the Kumicho. Gunfire didn’t even phase them. They cut down every living thing in their way.” His voice grew distant as he remembered that night. “Their goal was the Kumicho, the nogitsune. It feeds off of chaos, strife, and fear. As soon as the Oni approached, it changed. Not quite as full of a shift as a werewolf, but it’s eyes were all white and it had rows of very sharp, pointed teeth.” Chris shook himself. “The Oni impaled the nogitsune on their swords and killed it. Then, they turned on the rest of us.” Chris let out a shaky breath. “There was a man there, Katashi. They call him Silverfinger because of his unusual prosthetic. He looked like he was about to take them all on himself. I shot one and the mask shattered. It didn’t kill it, but it slowed them down enough for us to get out of there.”

Peter looked down at the drawing of the mask curiously. “What was behind the mask?” he asked.

Chris shuddered. “Darkness. Absolute darkness.”

Peter hummed thoughtfully. He turned back to the entry on nogitsune. His fingers traced the drawing there, a simple sketch of the Kumicho’s face after transformation. “Did you draw these?” Peter asked curiously.

“Yeah,” Chris answered with shrug. He leaned back against the wall. His eyes lingered on the faint shadows in the corner of the room for a long moment.

Peter shifted, his arm brushing against Chris’s in a warm line. The tension melted out of Chris. “Not bad,” Peter said softly before turning back to the Oni section to read that.

Chris looked out the window. The sky was steadily growing lighter. He let his eyes drift closed as he listened to Peter’s steady breathing. After a few more minutes he heard the book close. Peter nudged him with an elbow before rising from the bed.

“Come along,” Peter said when Chris opened his eyes and regarded him curiously. “Breakfast is ready.”

Chris felt his eyebrows rise, clearly betraying his surprise. Peter's expression seemed to make it clear that he was more than ready to argue until Chris got up. Chris considered Peter for a long moment before rising from the bed. He wasn't sure what he expected when he followed Peter down the stairs, but it wasn't a table full of Hales. The meal appeared to be in full swing with dishes being exchanged amid a cacophony of talk. Chris froze in the doorway. A few of the Hales glanced at him and Laura shot him a smile, so obviously he was expected, but…

Peter yanked him into motion. The younger man pulled him forward to a spot in the far corner. Chris was pushed down into a chair between Laura and the one Peter sank down into a moment later. No sooner was Peter seated than he was jumping into the conversation. Chris couldn't follow what was being discussed, some television show or movie he hadn't seen, but he was content to sit back and listen. He startled slightly when Peter shoved a serving dish at him, forcing Chris to take it and then giving him a pointed look until Chris served himself some eggs and passed the dish on to Laura. He tried keeping his serving small, but that only earned him a reproachful glance from Peter. The werewolf seemed to take it upon himself to pile Chris's plate with more food.

For a moment, he felt a surge of annoyance that he would have to admit was partly embarrassment. He couldn't help but feel the eyes of the others on him and had to wonder what they thought of him. Unable or unwilling to care for himself? Then, Laura nudged him from the other side and stole a piece of bacon off his plate. His annoyance melted away. He picked up his fork and started eating and that got Peter to turn his attention to his own plate.

“Oh, Chris?” Talia’s voice cut through the conversation. His head snapped up to regard the woman at the other end of the table. “I forgot to ask if you had an food restrictions.”

Chris swallowed the lump of scrambled eggs in his mouth. “No.” He swallowed again when the attention of all the Hales seemed to focus on him at once. “Anything is fine. Thank you.” He tried to force his lips into a polite smile, but was afraid it came out a bit strained.

Talia nodded. “You’ve met my husband, Richard,” she continued nodding towards the man beside her. “But I don't believe you've met all of the others. My father, Martin.” An older man on Talia's other side nodded politely. “And my youngest, Eric.” The teenager waved from his seat between Cora and Richard. “My sister, Sophia, her husband, Mark, and their children, April and Nathan.” The four sitting across the table from him nodded politely.

“It's nice to meet you,” Chris said carefully. He wasn't really sure what to make of the sudden change in his relationship with the Hales. Before he had understood where the boundaries were and what the rules were, but everything seemed to have changed overnight. A part of him was still expecting to be led back down to the cells after the meal. He wouldn't have argued.

Chris relaxed as attention shifted off of himself and onto school, which had just let out for the year, and plans for summer vacation. It was almost odd how normal the conversation was, considering most of the people at the table were supernatural creatures. And yet, his fully human family had never had a conversation like this. He’d never had the option of summer camps or road trips with friends. His summers had belonged to Gerard and endless training.

“Do you think Chris could show us some of his guns and stuff?” Nathan asked suddenly.

Chris choked on the piece of bacon. He hastily set down the rest of the piece and looked up from his plate. His eyes were probably comically wide as he stared first at the boy and then at Talia and Mark. He half expected Mark to leap across the table at him, but the man only looked at Talia. Talia, in turn, regarded Chris seriously for a long moment. Her eyes traveled a circuit around the table. It was clear some of the other children, and Peter, were just as curious as Nathan was. Talia folded her hands on the table as she turned to Chris again.

“I don’t see why not. As long as you don’t mind, Chris?” She posed the question sincerely, as if he could actually refuse the request without repercussions. For some reason, that made him even more nervous.

Chris looked around the table before cautiously responding. “I don’t have anything with me,” he pointed out softly.

Talia smiled at him before waving a hand towards the front of the house. “We brought your SUV back with us on one of our trips to the house,” she said, which he supposed he should have realized they would do. It wouldn’t make sense to leave weapons like that at an empty house. “Will that work?”

Slowly, Chris nodded. “Sure,” he agreed cautiously. “As long as you don't mind?” He addressed the question to Nathan's parents. Mark nodded while Sophia gave Chris a small smile. Chris let out a long breath. “Okay.”

Nathan let out a small cheer that was echoed with a buzz of excitement around the table. Talia smiled at Chris again before turning back to her plate. “Whenever you’d like to show them is fine.” Her voice was gentle, reassuring. “Don’t let them pester you if you’re not ready.”

Chris had to fight down the sudden swirl of confused emotions at that. He wasn’t used people not pressing him for what they wanted as soon as they could get it. He certainly wasn’t used to people who were practically strangers taking his needs into consideration. Beside him, Peter made a curious sound. Chris started and forced his emotions to settle into calm again. Even after the last few days, he wasn’t used to being around people who could still read his emotions when they didn’t show outwardly.

His hands moved mechanically as he resumed the familiar motions of eating. It wasn’t that hard to do either. The food was good and he hadn’t eaten anything the day before. He wasn’t able to finish everything that Peter had lumped onto his plate, but he did managed to make a decent attempt at it. Once everyone was finished, Laura and Cora set to work clearing the table. Derek cast one side glance at Chris before disappearing up the stairs again. Chris’s gaze followed Derek and he couldn’t help but feel a bit guilty for the boy’s obvious gloom.

Before he could wallow in his guilt, Peter was nudging him forward and up the stairs. He led Chris back up to the bedroom and presented him with a change of clothing. Chris accepted the bundle and stepped into the bathroom. As he changed, he was surprised to note that a second toothbrush had joined the first at the sink, this one obviously brand new. Chris looked over his shoulder, but Peter was doing something on his computer and seemed oblivious to Chris’s gaze. Chris neatly folded the clothes he’d worn to bed and set them aside before stepping out into the room again. At least he’d been given socks this time.

“Can I have my boots back?”

Peter snorted as he turned away from the computer. “They’re downstairs, with the rest of the shoes,” he replied with a smirk.

“Oh.” Chris looked at the open door to Peter’s bedroom. “Do you have the keys to the SUV? I’m assuming you didn’t leave it unlocked.”

Chris heard a jingling sound a minute before a set of keys was tossed into the room from someone walking by. Peter caught the keys easily. He gave Chris an amused smile that seemed to ask for his next request. Chris rolled his eyes and held his hand out for the keys. Instead of handing them over, Peter pocketed them and rose from his chair. He motioned for Chris to lead the way this time.

His boots were downstairs in the neat rack of shoes by the door. By the time he had finished tying the laces it seemed like most of the household had gathered around them. Chris hastily retreated out the front door as the Hale children started to fight for access to the shoe rack. A moment later Peter joined him on the porch.

The SUV was parked in the line of cars at the end of the drive. Chris felt oddly reassured by its presence. He hadn't realized how naked he felt without a weapon nearby. Peter pressed a button on the remote and the SUV’s rear hatch popped open, swinging up to reveal the empty trunk. Chris looked up at Peter to make sure he was watching before he leaned forward to depress one of the lights set into the interior. There was a click and then the hatch popped open. Chris leaned into the vehicle to lift the hatch lid, securing it to a hook set into the roof of the vehicle for just this purpose.

There was an awed gasp as he stepped back, revealing an array of weapons both on the underside of the lid and in the compartment below. Chris looked over his shoulder to see both Nathan and Eric crowded close. Laura, Cora, and April were right behind them with equally intrigued expressions while the adults ranged behind them. Chris could practically feel their curiosity. He turned back to the trunk just in time to watch Peter reach towards one of the knives. Chris hastily darted forward to grab his wrist.

There was a flash of anger in Peter’s eyes, but Chris merely rolled his eyes in response. “Those are covered in wolfsbane,” he said evenly. He felt the tension melt out of Peter’s arm. Once he was sure Peter wasn’t going to grab anything, he released his arm. Chris leaned across Peter to pull two pairs of thick leather gloves from a nook along the right side of the trunk. He handed one pair to Peter and put on the other pair before pulling free the knife that Peter had been reaching for.

Chris turned around to face the boys, crouching down and directing his words to them even though he made sure the whole pack could see. “See how the blade glints in the light?” he asked as he turned the blade slightly. He waited until Eric and Nathan nodded before continuing. He rested the knife in one palm and pointed with the other hand. “The entire blade is coated in a thin layer of liquid wolfsbane.” He traced a gloved finger up the side of the blade and showed them the residue on the tip of his finger. “Not just the edge, like you would expect, but the entire blade.” He turned the knife slightly to show them the hilt. “Blades like these though, often have hilts made out of mountain ash, so no part of the knife is safe to touch.” He looked pointedly at Peter, who nodded in understanding. Chris turned back to the boys. “We make them like this so that if we lose our weapons in a fight with a supernatural creature, they can’t be used against us.”

Nathan looked from the knife to Chris and back with a confused expression. “Why would they though?” He asked. He flicked his wrist and his claws popped out. He wiggled his fingers at Chris. “We know how to use these,” he continued, “not those.” He nodded to the knife Chris held.

“Claws only work in close quarters. If a Hunter has to resort to fighting with a knife, then chances are he’s used or lost all his other weapons. If he loses the knife too, he’s going to run away.” Chris passed the knife over into his right hand. He raised from his crouch and flicked his hand forward. The knife shot past the Hales to sink into a nearby tree. For a moment the gathered Hales were silent as they stared at the tree.

Chris had to fight the amused smile that threatened to break out. He turned away to walk over to the tree. By the time he’d yanked the thing back out, the boys were murmuring excitedly to each other. Chris glanced at Peter as he walked back. He felt a little thrill of pride at the impressed look the man was giving him, but then Peter’s nostrils flared slightly and his expression turned into a smirk. Chris fought down a blush. He walked past Peter and leaned into the trunk again. He pulled a cloth out and carefully cleaned the blade. He held it up to the light to make sure that the blade hadn’t been chipped before he offered it to Peter to examine. Peter’s eyes lit up as he took the blade and studied it. His gloved hands trailed over the blade before he handed it back a moment later. Chris slid the blade back into place before stripping his gloves and putting them back in their nook.

“This whole section of blades are dangerous to supernatural creatures,” he said as he indicated one section of the trunk. “These ones are ordinary.”

He turned towards the left side of the trunk, where the guns were stored. Chris pulled on a tab and a part of the bed swung upward to reveal a storage compartment filled with boxes ammunition. There was a divider down the middle of the compartment. He looked up to meet Taila’s eyes before looking back down at the ammo. “These are regular,” he said, indicating the rear section. “These are not.” He pulled out the top wooden box of special ammunition, turning it so that the others could see the marking on the top. “Most Hunters mark their ammunition. We tend to use a picture of the flower to mark which strain of wolfsbane it contains.” He tapped the flower on the top of the box. “This is the most common aconite flower, but there’s also White Monkshood.” He set aside the first box and pulled out one with the white flower on it before setting that aside as well. “And Southern Blue Monkshood.” He pulled out another box. “As well as Alaskan Monkshood.” He pulled out a fourth box and set it aside before pulling out a final wooden box. This one had all four flowers on the top.

Chris opened the box and set the lid aside. He turned to look at Nathan, Cora, and Laura. “If you ever get shot with a wolfsbane bullet, retrieve the bullet.” He pulled a bullet out of the case and leaned forward to show them a mark at the base of the casing. Their noses crinkled at the smell, but they dutifully looked. “If a group uses more than one type of bullet, they’ll likely have marks on them, like this so that they know which bullets are which. Find another bullet with that mark, open it up, burn the powder and put it in the wound. That will cure the poison.” He placed the bullet back in the box and replaced the lid before handing the whole thing to Talia. She blinked at him in surprise, but took the box and tucked it under her arm.

“What are the rest of these?” Peter asked, leaning into the trunk.

He turned to pull out the three remaining boxes. “Holy Water,” he said, indicating a box with a cross on it. “Salt.” He set aside a second box. “And solid iron.” He indicated a third, heavier box. Peter raised an eyebrow, but nodded. He didn’t ask any more questions as Chris repacked the boxes into the trunk and replaced the lid to the ammo compartment.

“Can we hold one of the guns?” Nathan asked suddenly.

Chris looked to Mark and Talia. They didn’t seem against the idea, so he pulled one of the smaller pistols from its housing. Chris quickly ejected the magazine and checked that the chamber was clear before handing the gun to Nathan. He positioned himself along the boy’s right side and adjusted his grip on the gun. “Always assume a gun is loaded unless you have personally checked that it’s not,” Chris said, falling into the practiced speech from his occasional gun safety lectures. He guided the gun downwards, so it’s pointing at the ground. “Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them. And never attempt to shoot someone you aren’t willing to kill.”

He felt Nathan nod, but also heard the boy swallow nervously. “Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot,” Chris continued. He covered Nathan’s hand with his own, adjusting their grip so that his finger was on the trigger. He guided the gun up so that it was pointing into the open area past the cars. “Always be sure of your target, and also what’s behind it.” Chris took his hands away from Nathan, letting the boy feel the weight of the gun. “Also, never fire a gun straight up into the air.” Nathan looked up at him with a small grin, like he had been thinking about doing that. “It looks cool in the movies, but what goes up must come down and there’s no way to guarantee that you won’t hit yourself or someone else.”

Chris stepped to the side as Nathan lowered the gun before passing it over to Eric. He watched the boy, but Eric was careful with the gun, even though it wasn’t loaded. Eric looked up at Chris as he handed the gun over for Cora to feel. “Can we shoot one, please?”

He glanced over at Talia, but she just watched him, deferring to his judgement. Chris kept one eye on Cora’s grip on the gun as he looked around the area. He didn’t want any of the kids shooting near the house, or the cars. The area around the lake was out, which left the opposite side of the clearing. But, there was nothing that would act as a good target, nothing that would stop a bullet at least. He shook his head as he accepted the pistol back from Laura. Nathan and Eric made disappointed noise as Chris turned to the trunk to replace the magazine and secure the pistol.

“We’d need some kind of target away from the house that would stop bullets,” he said as he opened another hatch in the trunk to pull out some blunt practice arrows. “A thick wood pile or something like that would work,” Chris continued. “Or there are portable targets, like I have at the shop or at home.” He handed the arrows to Nathan to hold while he unhooked one of the lighter compound bows. “Would this work instead?”

Both boys’ eyes lit up with delight. Chris leaned into the trunk to pull out a small packet. “Here,” he said as he tossed the packet to Peter, “put your mouth to use.” Peter looked startled for a second before his expression settled into a grin. He pulled a few balloons out of the packet before handing it over to a snickering Laura. Chris turned his back on them as he pulled out a small box of tacks.

Chris herded the boys across the clearing towards the woods. Nathan and Eric raced ahead as soon as some balloons were ready, tacking them up to a cluster of trees. Laura, April, and Cora drifted over to help. Soon enough there was a handful of colorful balloons gently waving in the breeze. There was a short discussion between Nathan and Eric before Eric was nudged forward. Chris smiled and handed the boy the bow. He helped Eric nock an arrow and then waited while the boy struggled to draw the arrow back. Chris gently adjusted his grip, nudging his elbow higher and straightening his other arm.

Eric let the arrow fly, but it fell short. His next one hit the tree that he was aiming for, but too low. His third went wide to the left. Eric sighed and shook out his arms before handing the bow over to Nathan. The other boy was able to draw the bow without problems. He waited as Chris adjusted his stance and then let go. His first attempt hit the tree. Nathan’s second arrow went wide, but his third just brushed the bottom of a balloon. The boy gave a frustrated growl, but let out a long breath and tried again. His fourth arrow hit right above the balloon. Nathan let out a loud woop as his fifth arrow finally popped the balloon.

Chris let out a startled laugh at the boy’s enthusiasm. He gently took the bow from the boy’s hand before nudging him forward. “Okay, now you have to retrieve the arrows.” The boys were off in a run before he’d even finished speaking. Chris shook his head before turning to the gathered Hales. He held out the bow and gave them a questioning look. April and Cora both grinned and stepped forward at the same time. They exchanged a look, then April nudged Cora forward. Chris handed the bow over just as Nathan and Eric returned with the arrows.

Cora managed to hit her chosen balloon in four tries before handing the bow over to April, who managed to get one in four as well. She handed the bow back to Chris before she and Cora jogged towards the trees to retrieve their arrows. When Laura took her turn she was able to pop a balloon in three tries and crowed with victory. Chris tried to smother a laugh as he offered the bow to the remaining Hales, but the adults all shook their heads.

“Perhaps you’d like to show the boys how it’s done,” Peter said from close behind Chris. Chris raised an eyebrow at him, but before he could say anything Nathan was holding out arrows while Laura nudged him forward.

Chris rolled his eyes, but accepted the arrows. He handed the spares to Peter to hold as he knocked the first arrow. Chris took a deep breath as he drew back the bow, adjusting for the lighter draw weight of the bow. He exhaled as he released. Chris moved before the arrow even struck the balloon. He accepted another arrow from Peter, drew and released before moving again. He moved from spot to spot as he targeted the remaining balloons. Each arrow popped a balloon until there were none left.

There was complete silence for a moment as the last arrow struck. Then, Nathan and Eric were both talking at the same time, eagerly chattering at him as they raced forward to help him collect the arrows and clean up the balloons and tacks. “Can we try again tomorrow?” Nathan asked as he handed Chris the last of the arrows.

Chris glanced over towards Talia, who gave him a quick nod before turning to head back to the house. “Sure,” he said. “If you want to.”

The boys let out a cheer before racing off towards the house. Chris shook his head again. He made his way slowly over to the SUV. He set the arrows down for a moment as he secured the bow in place. Then, he pulled out a cloth and wiped the arrows clean, checking each one for damage before putting it away. Chris glanced over at Peter as he double checked that everything was properly stowed away. The others were drifting back towards the house, but Peter just leaned against the SUV and stared out across the lake. Chris unhooked the lid from the roof and carefully lowered it back into place. He listened for the telltale click of the latches setting, then stepped back to close the rear hatch. As soon as the door closed, Peter moved. That was all the warning Chris got before his back hit the SUV. His eyes widened as Peter pinned him. Peter's eyes were intensely focused and Chris had one dizzying moment of confusion before suddenly there were warm lips pressing against his own.

He froze in shock. His brain seemed to short circuit, not sure what to do with this strange occurrence. He’d kissed a few girls before, sure, but none of those experiences had ever felt like this. Nobody had ever kissed him so forcefully. And then Peter was pulling away, a frown marring his face. That expression got Chris moving finally.

One of Chris’s hands shot up to fist in Peter's shirt, preventing him from moving any further away. Chris blinked and a shaky breath escaped his lips, taking with it his shock. His body relaxed under Peter's hands. He licked his lips nervously. Chris couldn't help noticing the way Peter's eyes tracked the movement and it made him smile a little bit. His free hand came up to the back of Peter's neck. All it took was light pressure there and Peter dipped forward again.

The kiss started out soft, a barely there brush of Peter's lips against his own. Then Peter shifted, pressing forward again and Chris relaxed into it. His lips parted under Peter's. The other man didn't waste a moment before deepening the kiss. Chris felt like he was being devoured. Peter kissed with a passion Chris had never felt before, like Chris was his only source of oxygen. It took Chris a moment to get his body to move again, to really start to kiss back. The hand on Peter’s neck slid up into the other man’s short hair.

Then, Peter pressed impossibly closer. Peter rolled his hips, grinding his erection into Chris’s quickly hardening cock. Chris sucked in a startled breath. He grabbed Peter by the shoulders and pushed until Peter was an arm’s length away. Peter was surprised enough that he actually moved. He blinked at Chris with a startled expression while Chris panted to catch his breath. A moment later, Peter started to press forward again, but Chris locked his arms to keep them apart. Peter gave a frustrated growl, but Chris cut him off before Peter could speak.

“Slow down,” Chris said softly. He let his arms relax when Peter stopped trying to press forward. Chris leaned back against the SUV. He let go of Peter to run his hands over his face. “I just…” Chris sighed and shook his head. “I’ve never…”

“Kissed a monster before?” Peter’s voice was even, but there was a dangerous note to it.

Chris let his hands drop to glare at Peter. “Kissed a man, you idiot,” he spat out. He would have laughed at the surprise on Peter’s face if he wasn’t so frustrated. “I don’t give a fuck that you’re a werewolf.” He ran his hands through his hair and resisted the urge to pull at it. He felt himself start to blush, which just made him more frustrated. “I haven’t even had a successful relationship with a woman so far, so could you please give me a little bit of time to adjust to…” He flailed a hand a Peter and then at himself in what he hoped encompassed both the soulmate thing and the sex-with-a-man thing. Peter’s eyes widened further. He opened his mouth, but Chris really didn’t want to hear what he had to say right now. He pushed away and stalked towards the house.

Thankfully, Peter didn’t follow him. Chris kicked off his shoes inside the door and quickly shoved them out of the way before heading straight for the stairs. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the Hales. He just hoped that his face wasn’t as red as it felt. Chris shucked his clothes as soon as he was safely in Peter’s bathroom with the door shut behind him. He turned the water on and stepped into the spray before the water had a chance to heat up. A cold shower was definitely what he needed right now.

When he’d toweled off and got dressed again he hesitated at the door, but when he stepped out the room was empty. Chris let out a relieved sigh. He stretched out on top of the covers for lack of anything better to do. He closed his eyes, intending only to relax and let his emotions settle, but before he realized it he was drifting off to sleep.

*********

He woke slowly to hands running through his hair. Chris blinked his eyes open to find Peter beside him. Peter leaned down slowly, giving Chris plenty of opportunity to pull away. When their lips met the kiss was different from the one earlier. It was slow and gentle. Peter’s body settled beside his, close enough to feel the warmth, but not caging him in. One of Peter’s hands cupped the side of Chris’s face as he kissed him thoroughly.

Chris was the first one to deepen the kiss. He opened under Peter and the wolf didn’t hesitate to press forward. Chris felt his body relax, both because of the comfort inherent in their soul bond and because Peter was a damn good kisser. He’d been surprised the first time they kissed, but now he had time to actually take stock of himself and his feelings he found that he enjoyed kissing Peter. He liked both the slow, teasing kisses Peter was giving him now, and the intense, possessive ones of earlier. He wanted to know what other kind of kisses they might share.

“Heads up!”

They both startled at Laura’s voice. Peter sat up quickly, just in time to catch the bag that came flying towards the bed. Chris pushed himself up in a sitting position. He watched as Laura tossed a second bag to the floor just inside the doorway. Peter set the smaller bag on the bed between them, unzipping it to reveal some clothes and toiletries. Chris leaned forward and pulled a jacket from the bag. He recognized it, and the brush, deodorant, and watch inside. He looked up at Laura in surprise.

She gave him a wide grin from where she leaned against the doorframe. “I thought you might like some of your own clothes instead of borrowing dad and Peter’s things,” Laura said. She waved a hand behind her as she continued. “Cora and I also found one of the targets that you mentioned. It’s outside on the porch.” Laura pushed off of the doorway. “Dinner’s in ten, by the way.” She disappeared down the hall with a wink and a wave.

Peter shook his head, but slid off of the bed. He paced over to dresser and pulled open the bottom drawer. Peter pulled the second bag over and started to transfer clothes into the empty drawer. Chris grabbed the bag on the bed and crossed the room to help Peter put his clothes away. They worked in silence until Cora’s voice called them down to dinner. Dinner was just as loud and chaotic as breakfast had been, but the Hales were still careful to give him his space. After dinner, he and Peter retired to Peter’s room to continue putting away Chris’s things.

Chris’s days began to follow a new pattern. After breakfast, Chris went outside with Nathan, Eric, April, Cora, and Laura and taught them what he knew about fighting. He’d expected after a day or two that the excitement would wear off, but the kids continued to ask him to show them things or to be able to target practice. Chris rotated between archery, firearms, knives, unarmed fighting, and teaching them general Hunter lore. They set up the target that Laura and Cora retrieved on the far side of the clearing. Slowly the kids improved their accuracy. And somehow they kept coming up with things they wanted to learn about. Except for Derek, who continued to avoid Chris, and everyone else, outside of meals.

The adults sometimes popped in to watch, especially Talia when she wasn’t off overseeing repairs to the house, but for the most part they left him alone with the kids. And Peter. If Peter wasn’t right there with them, he was somewhere nearby reading or relaxing against a tree. Without fail, after the kids cleared away Peter pounced and did his best to melt Chris’s brain. At first Chris thought it was the weapons that made Peter so enthusiastic, but it happened when all he’d done was sit around and answer the kids’ questions about different creatures. Chris suspected that it was some kind of competence kink, like watching Chris in his element was somehow attractive to Peter. It was certainly a good incentive for Chris to continue the training, though he found that he enjoyed working with the kids.

Chris didn’t feel as nervous around them as he did around the other adults, even sometimes Peter. Laura had the instincts of her mother without being nearly as intimidating. Cora had the same dry wit and sarcasm that he appreciated in Peter. Nathan was a ball of endless energy and enthusiasm. Chris tried to give a little extra attention to the human children, April and Eric. He showed them how to set and break mountain ash lines and how to build muscle if they were serious about learning how to fight. He was actually surprised by how into the training the kids were. That’s why it caught him off guard when Eric actually managed to land a strike with a knife before Chris could properly dodge.

“Oh my god,” Eric gasped, his eyes going wide. “I’m so sorry.”

Before Chris could say anything, Peter appeared as if out of nowhere to grip Chris’s elbow, turning his arm until Peter could get a look at the wound. His fingers were gentle as they pulled aside the fabric to look at the cut.

“Peter, I'm fine,” Chris said batting the werewolf's hand away from his sleeve. He turned back to the kids and held his arm out. “See, I’m fine.” He gave them a reassuring smile. “That was good,” he said to Eric, “but if you were trying to disable someone with a knife you would need to cut deeper than that. It's actually much easier to apply the right pressure to the wrist bone to either break their wrist or break their hold.” He pulled back his sleeve to expose his wrist. The cut stung as the fabric rubbed against it, but he didn't pay it any attention. Before he could go on, Peter had plucked the knife from his hand and taken the one from Eric and tossed both into the back of the SUV.

Chris resisted for all of a second before he sighed and let Peter drag him back towards the house. “I really am fine,” he insisted.

Peter gave him a dark look over his shoulder. “You’re in pain and you’re bleeding,” he said in a dry voice. “You are not fine.”

“It’s just a cut,” he pointed out evenly. “It doesn’t even hurt that much.”

Peter stopped suddenly. Chris had to stop abruptly to keep from colliding with Peter’s back. He almost did stumble when Peter whipped around to face him again. Peter released Chris’s uninjured arm to grab his injured one instead. His claws came out in a flash and cut away the fabric on his sleeve. Chris felt like he should protest, but considering he was pretty sure it was actually Peter’s shirt he was wearing, he couldn’t see any reason to. Instead he settled for raising an eyebrow at Peter.

The werewolf stared down at the cut on Chris’s arm, which was indeed bleeding sluggishly. The fabric of the shirt had absorbed the blood so far, but now it started to well up at the edges. Peter reached forward and ran a finger over the cut. It stung a little. Peter’s finger pressed down hard on the wound causing a flare of pain. Chris raised an eyebrow, but didn’t otherwise react. Blood welled up where Peter had pressed, but the other man was already wiping it away with the torn bit of sleeve. Black lines ran up Peter’s arm and the pain melted away.

After a moment Peter looked up at Chris. His expression was somewhere between surprise and confusion. “I’m bonded to a masochist,” Peter announced after a long moment. Behind them, he was pretty sure he heard Laura snickering.

Chris snorted out a laugh. “I’m not a masochist.” He started moving towards the house again. He might as well go inside and wash the cut now that they were almost there. And change his shirt.

“I can’t think of any other way to describe your complete disregard for your own injuries,” Peter pointed out as he walked beside Chris. “But if you have a better term, please do let me know.”

Chris paused at the steps to the porch. He turned to look at Peter with a raised eyebrow. “If I were a masochist I would have some sort of pleasure response to the pain,” he pointed out. He waved a hand down at his body. “You’ll note that I don’t.” He turned and started walking again as irritation started to rise. “I don’t enjoy pain,” he pointed out. “I’m just used to it.”

It took him a second to realize Peter wasn't beside him. He paused in the middle of opening the door and looked back over his shoulder. Peter was frozen in place at the foot of the steps. His expression was a mixture of sadness and sympathy that was a little too close to pity. Chris thought back over what he had said, the implications that Peter must have drawn. He looked past Peter at the other Hales in the yard and realized Peter wasn't the only one to jump to conclusions about Chris’s childhood. Chris felt the blood drain from his face.

He couldn't bring himself to look at the adults inside the house as he practically ran up the stairs. He locked the door to Peter's bathroom behind him before sagging against the door. His heart was racing in a way that had nothing to do with his recent physical activity. Chris wasn't sure how long he stood there before the itching feeling of blood dripping from the cut brought him back to the present.

Chris took a deep shuddering breath. He fumbled for the faucet and stuck his arm under the cold running water. Once the cut was rinsed he opened the cabinet under the sink and retrieved the first aid kit that had appeared there after he’d begun sleeping in Peter's room regularly. He bandaged the cut almost on autopilot. Which, maybe it did say something about his dysfunctional family life that he was so used to patching himself up. He was barely more than a stranger to the Hales and they took better care of him than his own family had, with the exception of his mother and Eveline.

He found himself at a loss for what to do once his arm was bandaged. He didn't have an excuse to hide in the bathroom anymore, but he also wasn't ready to face anyone. He was feeling oddly exposed and vulnerable and it was not something Chris was used to. Upon further reflection, it wasn't a feeling that he enjoyed.

Chris looked down at the floor, then knelt down to clean up the droplets of blood. He put away the first aid kit and straightened the towels. He almost considered taking a shower just for an excuse to stay locked away, but then he would just have to put on fresh bandages. Chris bit back a sigh as he unlocked the door and stepped out.

Peter was lingering near the doorway. Chris almost stepped back inside. Instead, he turned and walked towards the bed, lying down facing the wall. He closed his eyes and hoped that Peter could sense his need to be alone.

This was apparently not the case. He felt the bed shift behind him. Peter's arm came around his waist, his chin hooking over Chris's shoulder. The werewolf's body was a solid line of warmth against his back that practically forced Chris’s body to relax. Peter rubbed his against Chris's neck in a blatant act of scent marking. “Do you want to talk about it?” Peter asked cautiously.

“No.”

Peter hummed his acknowledgement. He was silent for a few moments before he spoke again. “Well, if you ever do, I'm willing to listen. Or Talia if you prefer. Or any of us.” Peter must have caught the scent of Chris's embarrassment because his arm tightened. “None of us think any less of you for having a shitty family. It's not like we don't already hate Gerard.” Peter shifted in a way that might be a shrug. “Maybe you and Derek can bond over your traumas.”

Chris snorted. His lips twitched up in a half-hearted attempt at a smile. “I really don't think that Derek wants to talk to me again,” he pointed out. “It didn't go so well last time.”

Peter nuzzled his face into Chris's shoulder. “You told him what he needed to hear.” Peter's voice was a little muffled but still intelligible. “That's not usually a pleasant experience.”

“Not usually,” Chris agreed.

Behind him, Peter shifted. The man placed a soft kiss on Chris’s cheek before settling down again, spooning Chris from behind. His breath ghosted over Chris’s neck as he spoke. “Get some sleep. Talia promises we’ll be left alone tonight.”

When he went down for breakfast in the morning, Talia was waiting for him. She intercepted him before he could make his way to the table. Talia gave him a warm smile as she ran a hand over his left cheek and down his neck and shoulder. Chris stiffened at the obvious scent marking, but didn’t draw away. Talia’s smile widened just a little bit more. She didn’t say anything as she turned and headed towards the kitchen to help transfer the food to the table.

Chris couldn’t help noticing that she had been careful not to mark over where Peter had marked him. It took him a second to start his body moving towards the table. He thought that would be the end of it, but Laura intercepted him before he reach the seat that had become his. She jumped out of her own seat and grabbed him in a hug before he even knew what was happening. Chris stiffened in a mixture of shock and confusion. Laura rubbed her cheek along his left shoulder to scent him. Her arms tightened around him as if she expected him to try to get away, which was actually pretty tempting. Chris looked over at Peter, but the bastard only smirked at him. Chris looked down at Laura. She seemed to be expecting some kind of reciprocation from him. Awkwardly, he reached up and patted her on the shoulder. Laura snorted into his shoulder before reaching backwards and pulling his arms around her back until he was hugging her back. Chris felt a sudden surge of discomfort. He shifted away and Laura let him go.

Thankfully, he was able to escape to his seat without any further ambushes. The Hales seemed to sense his discomfort because they didn’t try to draw him into conversation. Peter leaned against his side. Chris didn’t even have to interact with the others when the food was served. Peter simply loaded up both their plates. Chris raised his eyebrow at the sheer amount of food that ended up on his plate.

“You need to eat more,” was all that Peter said. Peter didn’t say anything else for the rest of the meal, leaving Chris to eat in peace, but his shoulder brushed against Chris’s too many times for it to be accidental.

The Hales didn’t outright say anything, but Chris noticed that they all started to touch him. Talia was the most obvious about it. She didn’t even try to disguise the touch as anything other than scent marking when she would cup the back of his neck in passing. Laura leaned up against him while washing the dishes. Nathan and Eric each grabbed a hand to pull him outside for training. Richard bumped shoulders with him when he roped Chris in helping cook dinner. Cora leaned into his side in the evenings when she insisted he join them in the living room to watch TV. It even became something of a regular movie night when she and Laura discovered the gap in his movie knowledge.

And then there was Peter. Peter took his lack of complaint as permission to drape himself all over Chris at any opportunity. He hadn’t thought it was possible for Peter to be more affectionate considering how frequently he tried to suck Chris’s tonsils out, but he managed. Now there was also an arm around his shoulder while they sat on the couch. Leaning in close when asking about something in the bestiary. His hand resting on Chris’s leg during meals. Chaste kisses pressed to his cheek in passing. Hands roaming under his shirt when they made out on Peter’s bed or settling on his skin while holding him close at night. Peter was always there.

Derek, however, continued to avoid him in a way that was beginning to make Chris feel guilty. It was like they’d switched places and the touches and company Derek should have were mistakenly being given to him instead, when really he should be the one isolated away. Logically he knew that wasn't the case. He knew that Richard and Talia spent time with Derek one-on-one a lot. And the other kids always told him about their days at meals. They never stopped trying to get him to join them, especially if they were leaving the property like when Mark and Sophia took the rest of the kids on a trip to an amusement park or when April and Cora started spending days at a summer camp. The Hales still tried to engage Derek. Attention given to Chris wasn’t actually attention being taken away from Derek. But, Chris couldn't shake his guilt, though Peter did his best to distract Chris when his thoughts strayed in that direction.

The avoidance couldn't last forever though.

Chris opened the door to the cabin and paused when he heard raised voices. He left the door open as he stepped inside in case something was wrong. Then he heard what was being said.

“...but if Chris was abused, then Kate probably was too,” Derek said, his voice raising in volume and desperation. “She must have been hurt like he was. Or she was tricked… or coerced…”

Talia’s voice cut in before Derek could continue. “Derek, honey.” She paused, obviously unsure what to say. Chris watched her rub at her forehead in frustration.

“You know she wasn’t,” Peter snapped angrily. His back was to Chris, blocking the doorway into the kitchen, but Chris had a feeling Peter's eyes might be flashing.

Chris hesitated, not sure if he wanted to step forward or run back out the door. His heartbeat must have given him away because all three of them turned to look at him. Talia and Peter looked guilty and uncomfortable, while Derek looked angry. The boy still wouldn’t meet Chris’s gaze.

His throat worked, but it was like the words were stuck. There were so many things that he could say, that he should say. He tried to swallow and force something, anything out. “I wasn’t…” The lie cut off before he could even form the words. “Kate was never…” But, how did he explain to them that she’d never been abused without admitting what Gerard had done to him was abuse. He shook his head. “She…” Chris felt bile rise in his throat. He turned and strode out of the house, not sure where he was going just that he had to get away.

He felt a little better, less trapped, as soon as he was out of the house. Chris looked towards the cars, but he knew if he started driving he might not stop. He turned instead towards the woods. He jogged down the path until the house dropped away in the distance. It took him longer than it probably should have to realize he wasn’t alone. Chris slowed to a fast walk and looked to his right, but it wasn’t Peter keeping pace beside him. Laura didn’t even glance at him as she easily kept up with him.

Chris kept up the fast pace until the feeling of panic in his chest lessened. He slowed a little, not stopping, but setting a more relaxed pace as he and Laura walked through the woods. Eventually they came across a little clearing in the woods. The Hales must have used it frequently because someone had dragged a section of a fallen tree into the clearing for seating. Chris sank down on the log and looked around at the wildflowers growing in the patches of sunlight. A moment later Laura sat down on the ground beside him, her back to the log and her side pressing against his legs. She didn’t speak and neither did he.

He probably should, though. His thoughts had settled down somewhat, but that just meant that his mind was replaying what Derek had said. Chris just wasn’t sure what to say or where to start. And he felt like he couldn’t begin yet, because he had somehow come to rely on the comfort of his soulbond with Peter to adjust to this whole mess. He looked towards the trail and held out a hand. “You might as well come over here too, Peter,” he said.

For a minute he wondered if maybe what he’d thought he was feeling was wrong, that they hadn’t actually bonded enough for him to tell where the other man was. Then there was movement in the brush on the opposite side of the trail. A moment later a wolf stepped out into the clearing. The creature was sleek and grey. The wolf moved a few steps into the clearing before stopping. Despite having never seen Peter in full shift, or even having known the man could do a full shift, Chris recognized his soulmate. Peter crept forward slowly, as if unsure of his welcome until Chris rolled his eyes at him. Peter huffed at him and trotted over to sit pressed into Chris’s legs on the opposite side from Laura. Chris only hesitated a moment before plunging his hand into the soft fur on Peter’s back. Peter turned slightly, leaning more of his weight onto Chris and settling his head on Chris’s knee. Chris found himself distracted by the soft feeling of Peter’s fur under his hand and the warmth of the two werewolves pressing into his sides.

It took him a while to gather up the courage to speak and when he did what came out wasn’t quite what he expected. “I didn’t have a normal childhood,” he said softly. Laura didn’t say anything, but Peter snorted and gave him a pointed look that conveyed so much sarcastic derision that Chris had to laugh. “I’m not saying that you did either, obviously,” Chris continued, “but…” Chris let out a long breath and tried to figure out how to phrase the jumble of thoughts in his head. “I never went to a summer camp,” he said eventually. “Never even had the option, really. Or road trips, amusement parks, zoos… Gerard even considered home schooling us for a while, so he could control our education, but in the end I think he decided it would take up too much of his time.” His fingers tightened in Peter’s hair briefly before he caught himself. He smoothed the hair back down a second later. “I was raised to be a Hunter. Gerard treated me more like a soldier than a son. I mean, he didn’t even want me calling him ‘Dad’ or anything like that. It was always Gerard or Mr. Argent, just like the rest of the Hunters. But, he also held me to a higher standard than the other Hunters. It was the only time he acknowledged that I was his son.”

Chris let out a shaky breath and Peter echoed it with a low whine. Peter’s eyes flicked towards Chris’s back and it didn’t take much to guess what he was thinking. “Yes, he hit me,” Chris admitted in a whisper.

Peter’s head flopped into Chris’s lap as the wolf pressed impossibly closer. Peter nuzzled his face against Chris’s stomach and side. “You were right.” Peter paused in his nuzzling and even Laura shifted as they both looked up at him. “Gerard did abuse me.” Peter flinched. “But,” Chris continued, “he never abused Kate. He never hit her, never locked her in a room, never even really yelled at her. She was the perfect little Hunter from the moment she started training and I… wasn’t. It wasn’t even that she was better at it, just that she was so eager to learn that Gerard had more patience for her. She was so much like Gerard, too. Kate thought hunting was fun, took pleasure in the violence in a way that I never could.” He ran a hand through his hair and let out a shaky breath. “I don’t think she even knew or cared about what Gerard did to me. When he… beat me… with the belt or cane or…” Chris shook his head, unable to continue talking. He squeezed his eyes closed, not wanting to bring up memories of those times. He kept his mind purposefully blank.

“It wasn’t your fault.” Peter’s voice startled him into opening his eyes. He turned to find Peter sitting on the log next to him. Completely naked.

“Peter!” He quickly looked away, which caused Laura to fall over laughing.

Peter chuckled warmly and pressed a kiss to Chris’s cheek. “I’m going to keep telling you that it wasn’t your fault until you actually believe me,” Peter whispered, his breath ghosting across Chris’s skin. Chris’s breath caught at the certainty in Peter’s voice. He started to look over before he caught himself and looked away again with a blush. Peter nudged his shoulder and pressed another kiss to Chris’s cheek. “Come back to the house. Lunch is probably ready.”

Chris ran his hands over his face and nodded. “Yeah,” he said. He pushed himself slowly up from the log and held out a hand to help Laura to her feet. When he looked over Peter had shifted again. He gave Chris a lupine grin before dashing off down the trail. Chris couldn’t help smiling as he watched him. He felt a lot better now, despite the uncomfortable discussion.

“You graduated this year, right?” He asked Laura as they started down the trail towards the cabin. Chris continued when Laura made a noise in the affirmative. “What are your plans? College?”

“Yup.” Laura smiled over at him, swinging her hands as they walked. “I’m going to UC Davis.” Laura was quiet for a long minute. She glanced over at Chris and licked her lips nervously. “I thought I wanted to go into law like mom and Peter,” she said slowly, “but I think I might actually want to be a counselor, you know? Someone who works with kids like…” Laura hesitated a moment before bumping her shoulder against his. “Like you were. Kids in shitty situations who have to grow up too fast.”

Chris stopped in his tracks. Laura gave him a worried glance and that got him moving again. He stepped forward and looped an arm over Laura’s shoulder. “I think that’s a really good idea,” he said and they both ignored the way his voice was a little choked.

When they got back to the cabin, he held the door open for Peter and Laura before following them inside. Peter trotted up the stairs, hopefully in search of clothing, while Laura peeled off towards the kitchen where the rest of the Hales were setting the table. Chris hesitated at the foot of the stairs. He wanted to go upstairs and hide away, but that was what he’d always done whenever things got too personal and it felt a bit too much like hiding right at that moment. The Hales had been more supportive and understanding than he could have imagined. For the first time in awhile, he felt like it might be safe to let his guard down a little, to let them in. Besides, there were things he needed to say to Derek and while this was not the time to say them, Chris needed to stop hiding if he was going to get Derek to stop avoiding him.

Chris took a deep breath and walked towards the kitchen. Richard blinked at him in surprise before handing Chris a platter of hot dogs and hamburgers to take to the table. Talia gave him a smile and cupped his neck before returning to setting the table and herding the kids into their seats. Chris set the platter he carried in the center of the table. He moved out of the way as soon as he could, sinking down into his spot at the table. Peter appeared a few minutes later. He gave Chris a smile and a peck on the lips before sitting down.

His conversation with Laura was still fresh in his mind and Chris realized that he didn’t actually know how far along Peter was in college. He didn’t really know much about Peter’s life really. Chris glanced nervously at the other Hales, who were settling into their seats. He turned slightly towards Peter. “Laura said you’re studying law?” Chris asked quietly.

There was a sudden stillness to the room that made him flinch and he realized that this might be the first time he’d actually spoken at a meal that wasn’t in response to someone else’s question. Might even be the first time he voluntarily started a conversation since he came here. He glanced over at Peter. The genuine smile on his face was worth the surge of embarrassment Chris was feeling. Peter shot a sharp glance at the others and suddenly food was beginning to be passed around the table.

“Yes,” Peter replied, “though technically I don’t officially start law school until this coming school year.” Peter accepted a plate from April and selected some buns before handing the plate on to Chris. “Stanford Law School.”

Chris felt his eyes widen. He was suitably impressed. Judging by the smug expression of Peter’s face, he could tell. Chris quickly looked down at the plate he was holding, selecting two buns at random and passing it over to Laura. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and forced himself to ask a follow up question. “Do you know what kind of law you want to practice?”

Peter hummed thoughtfully as he passed Chris the platter of meat. “Probably corporate law,” he replied after a moment. “Though that may change once I have a chance to try out a few courses.” Peter shrugged. “As much as Talia is a lovely defense attorney, that sort of thing is not for me.”

Laura snorted. “You just don’t want to have to work with mom.” She turned to look curiously at Chris as she loaded her plate with hotdogs and hamburgers. “Where’d you go to college?”

Chris looked down at the salad bowl that Peter passed him in hopes that it hid his flinch. When he spoke, his voice was thankfully even. “I didn’t,” he said softly. He looked up and smiled reassuringly when he saw the sad look on Laura’s face. “It wasn’t…” He cuts himself off before he could finish the sentence. It wasn’t allowed, except for Kate. “I took over Argent Firearms and Archery when I was eighteen,” he said instead. “Gerard never had much interest in running the business, just used it as a cover, but Aunt Eveline wanted it expanded into a legitimate business.” Chris shrugged.

Laura bumped her shoulder into his as she took the salad from him and Peter’s hand was a warm weight on his knee. Laura turned and looked at Talia. “I think I want to go into counseling,” she announced.

Chris relaxed as the focus of the table shifted away from him. He shot Peter a small smile and then turned his attention to his food for the rest of the meal. After lunch, Cora dragged him over to the living room with the intention of marathoning the three Harry Potter movies as it was apparently a tragedy that he had neither seen the movies nor read any of the books. There was some excited discussion about the sixth book, which was due to come out in a few weeks. Even the adults were apparently interested in the book, which surprised him somewhat. Chris had heard about it’s popularity, he couldn’t avoid that, but he had never really thought about what that meant. So, he settled on the couch with Peter pressed against one side, Laura the other, and Cora sprawled on the floor at his feet. And, while there might have been a bit of tension in the room and badly hidden glances at him during the scenes where Harry Potter interacted with the Dursleys, Chris found that he actually enjoyed the movies.

Dinner came and with it more discussion of the fourth movie, which was due to come out at the end of the year, and the differences between the books and the movies. After dinner, they all settled on the couch again to watch some TV show that the family was following. Peter leaned against his side and whispered explanations whenever the show referenced something from an earlier episode.

Eventually people started to drift off towards their rooms. Peter took his hand and pulled him up the stairs to their room, shutting the door behind them. Chris waited until Peter stepped into the bathroom before turning his back and changing into pajama pants. He was reaching for a shirt when Peter’s hand stopped him.

“Let me see you,” Peter said, pressing a soft kiss to Chris’s shoulder.

Chris hesitated. Up to now, all of his interactions with Peter had been fully clothed. Chris’s fingers brushed against the fabric as he considered. He moved his hand away. Chris nodded. One of Peter’s hands settled on Chris’s hip while the other followed the trail Peter’s lips was tracing along Chris’s shoulders.

“Werewolf?” Peter asked, his fingers tracing a set of four scars running up Chris’s left side. Chris tensed at the touch, but the feeling of Peter’s palm warm against his other side and his lips ghosting over his skin soothed his tension. He closed his eyes, focusing on the touch and nodded. Peter’s hand trailed up his back, lingering on another scar in Chris’s left shoulder. “Bullet?”

Chris nodded. He tensed again when Peter’s fingers flicked over the scars in the center of his back and shoulders. “Gerard?” Peter asked softly, his lips brushing against one of the highest scars. Chris’s hands clenched into fists, but he resisted the urge to reach for his shirt. He nodded.

Peter leaned forward and kissed the scar. He shifted, kissing the next lowest one, and then another and another. Peter bent down, meticulously placing kisses over each of the scars. Chris kept his eyes closed and tried to focus on the comfort coming from the soulbond. He let out a slow breath as Peter pulled away. Peter’s hands gently turned him away from the dresser. Peter twined their fingers together before pulling him slowly towards the bed. He let Peter push him down on the mattress. Peter paused for a second, pulling his own shirt over his head and tossing it aside.

Chris felt his lips twitch in a smile as his eyes trailed over Peter’s chest. Peter didn’t spend much time exercising, but his body was toned. Peter noticed his attention and smirked at him. Chris rolled his eyes. He gave in to the urge to reach forward and run his hands up Peter’s chest. Peter looked absolutely delighted by the touch. He surged forward to give Chris an absolutely scorching kiss that left him gasping for breath before pulling away to kiss his way down Chris’s checks. Peter slowly worked his way lower until he reached the scar running up Chris’s right side. “And this one?”

“Berserker.”

Peter’s hand drifted lower, massaging the muscles of Chris’s stomach. Chris melted under the touch. He let his eyes close. Peter’s hand started to slide further down, teasing just under the waistband of Chris’s pants. Chris caught Peter’s wrist before it could go any further. Peter pulled away from where he was kissing Chris’s pecs. He braced his arms on either side of Chris and looked down at him curiously.

“No, Peter,” Chris said gently.

Peter’s lips turned down in what could only be described as a pout. Chris’s lips twitched in the start of a smile. “I’m not having sex in a house full of werewolves,” Chris said.

Above him, Peter stiffened. He frowned, obviously taking offense. He drew back a little more. “Or it is that you don’t want to have sex with a werewolf?” Peter asked defensively.

Chris resisted the urge to bang his head against the wall. He reached up and cupped the back of Peter’s neck. Peter resisted slightly, but eventually let Chris pull him down into a kiss. He let the kiss linger for a moment before letting go. “Peter.” He waited until he was sure he had Peter’s attention. “I’m not an exhibitionist.”

For a moment Peter looked at him in confusion. Then his eyes went wide in realization before a smirk settled over his face. “It’s not a big deal,” Peter said. Despite his words, Peter settled down beside Chris without any attempt to touch lower. “No one is paying attention,” Peter said in a low, seductive purr. He leaned in, about to kiss Chris again when he paused. His head cocked to the side as if listening.

“Who said what?” Chris asked with a smile.

Peter’s head thunked down on Chris’s shoulder. “Talia says she appreciates your restraint. Cora says go for it.” He looked up at Chris. “Apparently you are scary, but sexy.”

Chris felt a blush heat his cheeks. His mouth opened and closed for a moment as he struggled to think of a response. “Thanks, I think?”

Peter groaned. He pushed off the bed to go turn off the lights. Chris got up as well so that he could slide under the covers. A moment later Peter slid into the bed and curled up into Chris’s side. “She’s right,” Peter murmured as he threw a leg over Chris’s and pulled him close. “You are quite sexy.”

*********

It took Chris two days to work up the courage to talk to Derek. He waited until an afternoon when the youngest kids were out playing somewhere in the woods. He knew the others could still hear him, but he felt certain that it wasn't going to be a conversation that Nathan, Eric, Cora, and April should be around for.

Derek's door was open, but Chris knocked anyways for politeness sake and hesitated at the threshold. “Can I talk to you?”

An array of emotions flickered over Derek's face. Anger, sadness, embarrassment, frustration. Finally, he nodded. Chris stepped into the room and the house went quiet in a way even he could recognize. Derek's eyes flickered down to the floor as the faint bit of noise from the TV suddenly cut off. Chris felt his heart start to pound, but he took a deep breath as he approached the bed where Derek was sitting. He nodded to the bed, asking permission to sit, which Derek reluctantly gave. Chris kept a good bit of distance between them, but he felt better when he wasn’t looming over Derek.

He took a long breath and gathered his courage. “About Kate,” he began. Derek stiffened and opened his mouth, but Chris held up a hand. “Please, let me just get this out, then I’ll try to listen to whatever you have to say.”

Derek hesitated, but eventually nodded.

Chris let out a relieved breath. He forced himself to look at Derek as he spoke. “Kate’s relationship with our father wasn't like mine,” he said. “Gerard didn't hit her, barely even ever yelled at her.” Derek looked surprised at that. “Kate was the perfect child in his eyes. And, yes, I might have sheltered her from his worst moods right after our mother died, but that only lasted until she began training.”

He licked his lips and looked away, unable to keep watching the emotions play on Derek's face. He didn't think he could stand the sadness there. Chris looked down at fists he didn't realize he’d clenched and forced himself to keep talking. “She took to being a Hunter like a natural. She never complained about training and was always eager to go out and hunt. But it wasn't because she had some kind of drive to protect innocent people. It was because she liked it. She liked hurting people and it didn't matter what species they were.”

Chris forced his hands to unclench before he hurt himself, but immediately wished he had something to do with them. “I saw her once,” he continued after a long moment. “She smiled while she tortured an Omega. I could tell that she enjoyed it. She liked drawing blood and hearing screams in the same sick, sadistic way that Gerard did and I didn't.”

He took a shuddering breath and swallowed down the bile rising in his throat. “And the woman and her kids that she ran down on a four-wheeler. She got off on their fear. Toyed with them for hours before finally killing them.”

Chris glanced at Derek before looking away again. “I don't know exactly what you and she did… or what she said to you, but none of it was real. She lied because it's what she does. Because she enjoys fucking with people's heads before she murders them.” Derek made a noise of protest, but Chris didn't stop, couldn't stop until he got it all out.

“She called me the night of the fire,” he said in a slightly choked voice. He could feel his heart starting to race in a way that probably wasn't healthy. He clenched his fists again as his emotions from that night came back to him. “She called me as soon as she lit it because she couldn't wait to brag about it. And she laughed and laughed while your family was trapped in the house and I couldn’t stop her…”

Derek collided into him and it wasn't until the boy was sobbing into his shoulder that Chris realized he was crying too. His arms came up almost automatically to hug Derek close, as if the conditioning from Laura had finally chosen that moment to kick in. Chris choked on a sob of his own and squeezed his eyes shut. He tried to get control of himself, but it was like once he'd started crying he couldn't seem to stop.

Gentle hands pried him and Derek apart. Chris blinked his eyes open and suddenly Peter was there beside the bed while Talia carefully extracted Derek from his arms. Chris flinched back, wondering for a moment if maybe he'd said too much, if this was what finally set things back to the way they should be with him on the outside.

“Shh,” Peter crooned as he drew Chris off the bed. “No one's mad at you.” Peter helped him to stand but Chris felt shaky. His vision blurred with tears as Peter guided him across the room. Then Laura was there, supporting his other side. He felt hands touch him, grasping his arm briefly or tracing over his back as he was led down the hall. Peter led him back to their room. Laura helped him to the bed, hugging him tight before drawing away. The door clicked shut as she left.

Peter guided Chris down until they were curled up with his face pressed into the younger man’s neck. He kept up a steady stream of words that were probably meant to be soothing, but Chris couldn't really even process. He couldn't seem to stop crying. Chris buried his face in Peter’s shoulder and shook. His hands fisted in Peter's shirt, but the man didn’t even try to draw away. Peter just held him, sliding his hands in long strokes up and down Chris’s back.

It felt like an eternity before Chris finally ran out of tears and when he did he felt exhausted. Chris let out a shaky breath and forced his hands to release their death grip on Peter's clothing. He looked down at the wrinkled cloth and attempted to smooth it with no success. “Sorry,” he whispered.

Peter chuckled and pressed a kiss to Chris’s forehead. “No problem,” Peter said, his voice soft. Chris felt a sudden spike of panic when Peter started to slide off the bed. His breath caught, but he forced his body not to move, not to reach out. Peter's hand gripped the nape of his neck, cutting off his thoughts before anxiety could build. “I’ll be right back.”

Chris closed his eyes and nodded. He heard water running in the bathroom. Then the bed dipped again and a cool, damp cloth gently wiped at his face and eyes. Peter rose again, taking the cloth with him, and the lights flicked off. The bed dipped on Chris’s other side. A moment later, Peter was wrapped around him, placing soft kisses on the back of Chris’s neck. All at once the tension drained out of Chris.

“We don’t let the humans near someone we think might be upset enough to lose control,” Peter said softly.

Chris frowned. He started to turn, but then thought better of it and relaxed into the pillows. “Derek wouldn’t hurt me.”

Peter’s arms tightened around him. “Not on purpose, no,” he agreed, “but when you’re that upset and that young it can be hard to keep control. He wouldn’t mean to hurt you, but he could hold you so tight that he broke a bone or accidentally cut you with his claws.” Peter nuzzled his face into Chris’s hair. “You two can hug it out again later if you want, but nobody is going to let you risk getting hurt. Even if you are a masochist.”

Chris couldn’t help letting out a tired laugh at that. “I’m really not,” he said, blushing. Peter simply hummed in response.

The house was silent for several long minutes. He wondered if the others had gone back downstairs or if they were still huddled in Derek’s room. Before he had a chance to ask there was a knock on the door. Chris froze in place, not sure if he wanted to interact with anyone else or not. “Laura,” Peter whispered against his neck. It wasn’t a question, but it felt like Peter was waiting for a response anyways, like it was his decision to allow her into the room. Slowly, he relaxed.

“Come in,” Chris said, his voice still somewhat hoarse.

Laura quietly opened the door, closing it again behind her as she crept into the room. Chris followed her progress through the dimly lit room. She paused at the edge of the bed and glanced behind him at Peter. Some kind of silent communication passed between them. Then Laura climbed onto the bed. She slid close, wiggling under Chris’s arm until her head was tucked under his chin and his arm was curled around her back.

“Mom wanted me to tell you thank you for talking to Derek,” Laura said. Her voice was soft as if she didn’t want to disrupt the quiet of the room. “What you said finally got through to him. He agreed to go to counseling.”

Chris was silent for a long moment. “That’s good,” he said finally. He wondered idly if maybe he should go to counseling as well. Then Peter pressed a kiss to his hair and Laura snuggled closer and he thought that this, being with the Hales would be enough for now. Chris let out a sigh as he closed his eyes. His body relaxed, though he didn’t quite fall asleep, just drifted.

Some time later the door creaked open again. There was the barely there whisper of footsteps on the carpet. Chris cracked one eye open as the bed dipped. Cora grinned at him as she climbed over a grumbling Laura to flop down on top of Chris and Peter. It dipped again as Nathan climbed up behind Laura, curling into her back but resting his hand on Chris’s arm. For a minute, Chris wasn’t sure what to make of the sudden cuddle pile, but then Peter chuckled warmly in his ear and he found himself smiling. He closed his eyes again as the door clicked closed.

*********

“Kate Argent was apprehended by the FBI today after a nearly two month long manhunt.”

Chris’s head snapped up to look at the TV as the news reporter flashed a picture of his sister. The book he’d been reading fell into his lap when the picture turned to footage of his sister being led into a police station in handcuffs. “Ms. Argent and her father, Gerard Argent, will face trial for a string of murders, arson, and other crimes committed across the United States,” the announcer continued as a picture of Gerard appeared on the screen.

The book tumbled to the floor as Chris stood suddenly. He quickly stepped over Cora and made a beeline for the door, pausing only long enough to shove his feet in his boots before fleeing outside. Chris turned towards the woods, glad that there was still plenty of light out as he took off at a fast jog. He’d barely set foot on the path before Peter caught up to him. Chris relaxed a little, surprisingly glad that he wasn’t alone right now.

The woods flew past as they ran, getting farther and farther away from the house and any hints of civilization. Chris’s tension eased as he ran. He’d missed this a bit. The last few weeks had been… easy, at least compared to his previous life. He’d been getting a little bit of exercise with the kids, but nothing really strenuous. Chris wondered if maybe he should start jogging daily. He could probably get at least Peter and some of the kids to join him.

He would have kept running right past the clearing, but Peter slowed and veered off the path. Peter turned once he reached the center of the open area. He waited for Chris to come even with him before raising his hands palm outward. “Hit me,” Peter ordered.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “I’m not hitting you, Peter.”

Peter smirked at him. “You’re not going to,” Peter agreed, “but you can try.” Peter grinned at the unimpressed look Chris gave him. He curled his hands into fists and assumed a fighter’s pose with his feet braced. “Come on. It’ll help.”

Chris sighed, but assumed a stance to mirror Peter. He gave a half-hearted punch towards Peter’s center of mass, but Peter dodged easily. Peter’s lips quirked into a smile that was both smug and irritating. Chris huffed out a breath and then swung again, harder this time. Peter dodged again, still smiling. Chris felt his irritation grow. He planted his feet and threw a real punch at Peter. When Peter dodged, Chris was anticipating it. He followed through with his off-hand. Peter blocked the blow, but the smug look on his face faded into one of concentration. Chris kept up a successive combination of blows that forced Peter to dodge and block. After a few minutes Peter’s smile came back. This time it was the small smile that he often wore when watching Chris teaching the kids, the one that Chris had associated with Peter about to pounce him.

Peter moved suddenly, pushing Chris backwards with an open palm to his chest. There was a playful light in his eyes as he watched Chris stumble back a few steps. Chris considered Peter for a moment before surging forward. However, instead of going for a punch like Peter expected, Chris went low. He tackled Peter around the waist. Peter let out a surprised noise as they crashed to the ground.

Chris took advantage of Peter’s surprise. He surged forward until he was braced over Peter. Peter’s eyes were wide with surprise, then Chris leaned in, pressing their lips together. Peter made a muffled noise against Chris’s lips, but it only took him a second to get on board with the sudden make out session. Chris felt Peter’s lips stretch into a grin as Chris kept kissing him.

It was Chris’s turn to be surprised when he felt Peter shift under him. Suddenly he was blinking up at Peter. Chris laughed at the smug look on Peter’s face. He smiled and reached up to pull Peter back down towards him. Peter went willingly, a matching smile on his own face. He kissed Peter throughly, his tongue sliding in to explore Peter’s mouth. Peter made an approving noise as he leaned in and devoured Chris’s mouth in turn. Chris felt any lingering stress melt away. He relaxed under Peter, which caused another pleased noised from the man.

Peter pulled away only when Chris was panting for breath. He gave Chris a smug smile as he trailed soft kisses down Chris’s jaw. Chris turned his head to the side, exposing his neck the way Peter liked. Peter alternated soft kisses and light bites as he worked his way down to where Chris’s neck joined his shoulder. There, Peter bit down harder and sucked in a mark until Chris was gasping and squirming. Peter used the motion to his advantage. He ground his hips down into Chris’s, making Chris groan. Peter chuckled as he pulled away. He placed a final kiss on the spot on Chris’s neck before sliding downwards. Chris felt himself smile lazily at the way Peter nuzzled his chest and sides.

He froze when he felt Peter’s fingers tracing just under the top of his pants. Peter’s other hand pushed up the fabric of Chris’s shirt before trailing down to Chris’s hip. Peter pressed soft kisses to Chris’s stomach even as his hands continued to trail along the skin of Chris’s hips. One of Peter’s hands slid forward, stopping at the button on Chris’s pants. “May I?” Peter asked. His breath tickled against Chris’s stomach. Peter pressed a kiss to Chris’s side when Chris hesitated. “We’re far enough away from the house that no one can hear us. No one’s around. We’re all alone out here.”

Chris let out a shaky breath, but he nodded. “Okay,” he said. He blushed at how wrecked his voice already sounded.

Peter grinned up at him briefly before pushing down Chris’s pants and underwear. Peter’s grin widened as he looked down at Chris. He licked his lips in a way that made Chris blush. Peter’s hands ran up Chris’s thighs before settling on his hips. Peter leaned forward. His breath ghosted over Chris’s cock, making him squirm. Chris moaned when Peter licked a hot stripe up his cock and then again when Peter’s lips closed around him. Peter chuckled. He looked up at Chris, holding eye contact as he slowly took Chris into his mouth.

Chris’s head thunked backwards into the ground even as his hips tried to surge upwards. Peter’s grip on his hips tightened, pinning him in place easily. Peter seemed to take the movement as encouragement. His tongue swirled around the tip of Chris’s cock before he slid down again, taking Chris deep in his throat. Chris shouted and his hips tried to buck up, only to be stopped by Peter’s grip. Chris reached out for something to latch onto. One hand buried in Peter’s hair while the other gripped Peter’s arm. He squeezed his eyes closed as pleasure began to build. He had a feeling this was going to be over embarrassingly fast. “Peter.” He tugged at Peter, trying to pull him off, but the man only hummed and increased his efforts. Chris’s orgasm hit hard. He shouted and arched off the ground as he came down Peter’s throat.

When he came back to himself, Peter was straddling his waist. The werewolf had his own cock out, with one hand resting on Chris’s chest, having pushed Chris’s shirt up and out of the way to get contact with his skin. Peter’s other hand was striping his cock hard and fast. Chris tried to gather his scattered brain cells and get his muscles to move. He reached a hand towards Peter, but the man only batted his hand away. A moment later Peter was coming with a low growl and flashing eyes. He looked incredibly smug as his come coated Chris’s stomach and chest.

Peter sagged forward, catching himself before he collapsed on top of Chris. He shifted direction and slumped down beside Chris instead. Peter quickly fixed their pants, nudging Chris until he lifted his hips and helped settle his pants vaguely in place. Then Peter curled into Chris’s side. Peter rested his head on Chris’s shoulder and trailed his fingers over Chris’s stomach. Chris felt himself smiling at the obvious marking.

“I’m going to take a shower as soon as we get back,” Chris announced. He ran a hand lazily through Peter’s hair, enjoying the contact.

Peter chuckled. He nudged his head towards Chris’s neck. “That’s alright,” Peter said, his voice sounding relaxed. “I’ve effectively marked you elsewhere.” Peter chuckled at Chris’s blush. “Feel better?”

“Yeah,” Chris admitted. He raised the hand that wasn’t wrapped around Peter and used it to pillow his head. Chris looked up at the sky. The clearing was getting dimmer, but not yet dark enough that he had to worry about seeing on the way back. For a minute he enjoyed the silence before reality set back in. “How much longer until the house is ready?” he asked.

Peter’s fingers stilled briefly before continuing their pattern. “Another week or so,” Peter replied. “Talia paid extra to have the repairs done before the kids have to go back to school. Plus the company she hired is supernatural friendly, so they’ve been taking advantage of werewolf strength.”

Chris chuckled at the thought. “That sounds convenient.”

Peter hummed his agreement. “Talia was actually thinking of having them stay on and build an addition to the house.” Chris turned his head until he was looking at Peter, but Peter didn’t look up from his contemplation of Chris’s chest and stomach. “It is getting a bit crowded with all the kids. I’m trying to convince her just to clear space and build a second house instead.”

“In case someone like Kate tries to burn the house down again,” Chris said as guilt twisted his stomach.

“And other reasons too,” Peter said. He leaned forward to kiss Chris’s cheek.

Chris listened to the sounds of the forest around them. In the distance birds called out. A slight breeze rustled the leaves above their head. “What happens to me when you move back?”

Peter shifted so that he was propped up on one elbow. He looked down at Chris and smiled. “Well, Kate’s been arrested, so according to the treaty you signed, you don’t have to stay with us anymore.” Chris felt his eyes widen as a sudden surge of panic hit him. Peter leaned forward and pressed a searing kiss to his lips, cutting off the feeling before it could do more than make his stomach clench. “But…” Peter said, pulling away slightly before leaning in to place another lingering kiss on Chris’s lips. “I would like it if you continued to stay with us,” Peter continued. “I’m sure Talia and the others would agree.”

“Oh.” Chris let out a shaky breath. Peter leaned back with a small smirk and Chris tried to get his thoughts in order. He wasn’t even sure why the thought of leaving was so terrifying. Maybe because the isolation of the cabin made him feel safe. The Hales felt more like family to him than his own relatives did and he had only really known them for a few weeks. He knew things would have to change, but he was worried that there wouldn’t be a place for him outside of the cabin and the woods and lazy summer days.

“What would you like to do?” Peter pressed.

Chris glanced over at the werewolf, licking his lips nervously. “I don’t think I want to go back to living in that house,” he admitted in a whisper. Peter simply nodded and waited him out. “It… It’s always been more Gerard’s than mine, even after he moved to another state.”

Peter’s smile widened into a grin. “Luckily I have a very nice suite of rooms at the house, enough room for two people, with a very large, comfortable bed.” Peter leaned forward and licked up the shell of Chris’s ear. “And soundproofing,” he whispered before pulling away.

He felt a blush heating his cheeks as Peter smirked down at him. “Is that so?” Chris replied. “I suppose you’ll even make room in your closet for me?”

“The sacrifices I make,” Peter said with a long suffering look that was spoiled only by the twinkle of amusement in his eyes. He leaned down and kissed Chris again, soft and slow this time. “Really, though,” Peter asked softly when he drew back. “What do you want to do?”

Chris thought for a moment, really thought about his options before she spoke again. “I’d like to stay with you,” he forced himself to say despite a lump in his throat and a very uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability in his chest. “If it’s alright with Talia and the others.” He moved the hand from behind his head and twined their fingers together, focusing on that rather than Peter’s expression. Peter seemed to sense that he had more to say because he stayed silent.

“I think I’d like to get an actual store, instead of running the business from my house,” he said. His thumb idly moved back and forth against the back of Peter’s hand. “I always thought that there was more that could be done with it, maybe get some contracts with law enforcement. Eveline always wanted us to try and make connections in that area, but Gerard was against it. Probably because of all the illegal things he was doing.” Peter snorted, but didn’t interrupt him. “But, maybe,” Chris continued, “if there were some officers who actually knew about the supernatural, then I could help supply them. Help them protect other people.” Chris shrugged.

“I don’t think I want to be a Hunter anymore,” Chris said. He felt Peter tense slightly beside him. “So I guess I would be… retired is the best word I can think of. But there are others, contractors and mercenaries, that I could probably continue to provide supplies for.”

“And…” He hesitated, glancing over at Peter and away again. “I think I really like working with children, teaching them. So, maybe I could do gun safety courses or self-defense, things like that.”

Peter’s face appeared suddenly in his view. He smiled at Chris with a soft, unreadable expression before leaning in to give Chris another lingering kiss. “I think that’s a wonderful idea,” Peter said against his lips before pressing in again.

Chris felt himself smiling in return. His arms circled Peter, holding him close as they traded gentle, teasing kisses. “Maybe,” he said softly when Peter pulled away again, “in a couple years, when you’re done with school, we could pick out a house together. If you wanted to?”

Peter chuckled and kissed him again. “I like that idea,” he said. He gave Chris’s disheveled body a once over as he sat up. Peter’s voice took a low, sultry tone. “That way I can fuck you against any surface in the house, anytime I wanted.” Peter grinned at the blush that exploded on Chris’s face. “Or you could fuck me,” Peter offered with a wicked grin. “I’m flexible.”

Chris felt his cock stir with interest at the implications of Peter’s words. He shook his head to clear it. Chris pushed himself up into a sitting position and then to his feet. He took a second to right his clothing before offering a hand to Peter. The man took it, then smoothed down his own clothing. “We should get back,” Chris said. He didn’t let go of Peter’s hand as they walked back down the path.

*********

Chris pulled his SUV into a parking spot and waited for the others to park before climbing out. The sound of car doors slamming rang through the otherwise silent clearing. Chris felt a wary tension fill him, a sensation he hadn't felt since he’d met the Hales. He stopped and looked around the area, trying to figure out what was putting him on edge. There were no birds, no animals. He caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, near the house.

There was a small bit of brightly colored fabric hanging down from the rafters of the porch. It was the kind of fabric that blew easily in the wind. The kind Hunters used when gauging wind speed. Chris swore as he turned to where the Hunters had to be stationed. “Take cover!” he shouted, but it was too late. He heard the twang of bow strings being released. Talia quickly dodged out of the way, but Peter had stopped, half turned towards Chris. Chris surged forward, pushing Peter out of the way.

Chris screamed as the arrow tore into his shoulder. He rolled with the impact, pulling his gun with his uninjured arm. He fired four times in quick succession. Both Hunters fell. Chris slumped to his knees as the werewolves shifted. He gritted his teeth when the movement jarred the arrow, but kept his head up and his gun at the ready.

Richard, Talia, and Peter ran straight for the Hunters while Mark and Sophia herded the kids towards the cover of the woods. Chris kept a steady grip on his gun, scanning the woods for any more Hunters. He heard two gurgling screams as the Hunters who’d shot at them died and then Peter and Richard were off into the woods as well. Chris waited alone in the clearing. He crawled backwards on hands and knees until he felt the SUV solid against his back. He relaxed a little bit knowing that he could at least use the vehicle for partial cover if there were more shooters in the woods. Chris breathed through the pain and waited.

The clearing was silent. Chris forced himself to keep his breathing and heart rate steady. He kept his gun raised in his good hand, waiting for any sign of movement. Someone appeared from the woods on his left and Chris swung his gun around. Peter stepped into the clearing with Talia behind him. Chris sagged with relief. He flicked the safety onto his pistol and shoved it back in the holster. He awkwardly pulled out his knife with one hand and carefully cut away the fabric from the bottom of his shirt. He slid the knife back into its sheath, then bunched the fabric against the wound to try to slow the bleeding.

“What do you think you were doing, you imbecile?” Peter raged as soon as he was within speaking distance.

Chris raised an eyebrow at him, but didn’t comment. He braced his back against the SUV and pushed himself upright. He looked over at Talia and Laura behind Peter. “No other Hunters in the area?” he asked.

Talia nodded. “How did you know they were here?” she asked curiously.

Chris nodded towards the porch. “The bit of fabric on the porch to gauge wind speed.” He would have said more but Peter stalked forward. Peter’s hand reached out to grab the arrow, but Chris grabbed his wrist, stopping him. “Don’t,” he said with gritted teeth as the movement jolted his shoulder.

Peter snarled at him, still half-shifted. Chris gently pulled Peter’s hand away. “Break the shaft, but leave the head in. It has a barbed tip,” he said carefully. “You can’t pull it out, it has to be cut out.”

“You should have let me take it,” Peter growled. He reared into Chris’s space, but was careful not to jostle him. “I would have healed by now.”

“Not if it’s tipped in wolfsbane, genius,” Chris snapped back. “You can’t burn an arrowhead like you do a bullet.”

If anything Peter’s expression darkened. “Wolfsbane is poisonous to you too, idiot.”

Chris sighed as his anger and adrenaline ran out. He fished his keys out of his pocket and dangled them in front of the werewolf. “Yes, it is. So, if you wouldn’t mind breaking the shaft and driving me to the hospital, I would enjoy not having an arrow in me!” Chris leaned forward into Peter’s space, practically shouting the last part in his face. It seemed to startle Peter out of his shift.

Peter snatched the keys and shoved them in his pocket. His grip was exceedingly gentle as he used one hand to brace the arrow and the other to break off the shaft about halfway. He threw the shaft as far from them as possible. Peter’s hand lingered. A moment later, black ran up his veins and the pain faded. Then, Peter herded Chris towards the passenger side of the SUV and carefully buckled him in before jogging around to the driver side. “You’ll take care of the bodies?” he called to Talia as he hesitated with the car door open.

Talia nodded. “We’ll meet you at the hospital when it’s done,” she confirmed.

Peter didn’t hesitate after that. He was careful going down the driveway, mindful of all the bumps and ruts in the road. As soon as they hit the smoother public roads, he took off speeding into town. It was a bit surprising that they didn’t get pulled over. Peter pulled to a stop in front of the emergency room doors. He came around to open Chris’s door, but Chris was already unbuckled and sliding out of the vehicle.

Chris batted Peter’s hands away. “I’ll be fine,” he said. “Go park the car, you can’t leave it here.” Peter grimaced, but moved around to the driver’s side again, grumbling the whole way. Chris rolled his eyes, but steadily made his way into the building. The automatic doors slid open for him. He took two steps into the Emergency Room waiting area when a nurse with curly brown hair spotted him. She called for doctors as she came rushing over.

“What happened?” she asked. She slid under his good shoulder, taking some of his weight as she led him over to one of the exam areas.

“Got shot with an arrow while walking in the woods,” Chris pointed out.

The doctor arrived at that moment and Chris was settled down on a gurney. The doctor carefully poked at the wound with a gloved hand, likely trying to feel for the head. Chris gritted his teeth. “It looked like a barbed tip.”

The doctor nodded. He called out orders to the nurses and then Chris was being wheeled further into the hospital. The nurse who’d greeted him asked him his name, allergies and such while they walked down the hallway. Then, a mask was being fitted over his mouth and nose. Chris breathed in the anesthesia gas and sank down into unconsciousness.

Chris blinked groggily as he woke up. He heard the familiar beeping of hospital equipment and groaned. He hated hospitals. Chris started to push himself up into a sitting position, but stopped at the flair of pain in his shoulder. Right, he’d had an arrow in his shoulder not long ago. Hands slipped under his shoulder, supporting him while the bed tilted upwards so that Chris was sitting up. Chris blinked up at Peter, but the werewolf wasn’t looking at him. Peter fussed with Chris’s pillows for a minute before he drew away. Peter sat down in a chair that had been pulled up right next to the bed. Once he was sitting, Peter reached forward and grabbed Chris’s shoulder. Black lines started to run up Peter’s arm. Chris slumped back into the bed as his pain melted away.

“I still think you’re an idiot,” Peter said after a few minutes.

Chris smiled. “If you say so,” he said. He gently removed Peter’s hand from his shoulder. Instead he rested their hands against the bed and twined their fingers together.

Peter stared down at their hands, but didn’t draw away. He raised his free hand to point at Chris. “Don’t you ever do something like that again,” Peter growled, a bit of fang showing.

Chris turned his head to meet Peter’s gaze. “I can’t promise that.” He rubbed his thumb up and down the back of Peter’s hand. He felt worry come through their bond, tinged with a little bit of fear and annoyance, but also that profound feeling of comfort that came with touching his soulmate. Chris couldn’t help smiling, though. Peter gave him a look like he was crazy. “I can feel your emotions through the bond,” Chris said. His voice held a bit of wonder. Peter’s eyes widened with surprise. Apparently neither of them had expected the bond to grow so strong already.

The door opened, interrupting any further conversation. Peter drew his hand away as a nurse came in and started to check on Chris. There was a deputy lingering in the doorway. Chris caught his look and nodded, waving the man into the room with his good arm.

“Mr. Argent?” the deputy asked. He held out a hand when Chris nodded. “I’m Deputy Noah Stilinski. I need to ask you a few questions about your injury.”

“Go ahead,” Chris said. The deputy looked pointedly at Peter and the nurse. “It’s fine,” Chris assured. “Ask your questions.”

Stilinski nodded. He pulled out a pad of paper and a pen. “Can you tell me what happened?”

Chris nodded. “Peter and I were walking in the woods near his house,” Chris said. “I heard a noise and when I turned, I got hit with the arrow. I didn’t get a good look at the hunters. They weren’t wearing regulation colors. They ran off while Peter was helping me back to my car. He drove me here.”

Stilinski raised an eyebrow. “What were you doing in the preserve in the first place? Is there any reason you might think the men had targetted you specifically?”

“We were just taking a walk. I’m pretty sure we were still on Hale property,” Chris pointed out. “I imagine that the men didn’t stick around because they were already hunting off season.” He started to shrug, then thought better of it as his shoulder twinged.

Stilinski made a few notes in his notebook. “And you were there with Mr. Hale because?” Noah said when he looked up again. “You can understand that it’s a bit odd that you were with someone whose house your sister recently tried to burn down. And, speaking of that, we’ve been trying to get ahold of you for awhile to ask some questions about the accusations against your father and sister. Can you explain your whereabouts for the last few weeks?

“He has been staying with us,” Peter put in. He turned a smooth smile on the deputy when Stilinski turned to look at him. “Chris and I recently learned that we were soulmates. He offered to help with the reconstruction efforts. Chris has been staying with us at our cabin while we got to know each other.”

“Is that so?” Stilinski asked, turning to look at Chris again.

Chris shrugged his good shoulder. “I wanted to get away from my family for awhile,” he lied. “It was the last place Gerard would have thought to look for me.”

Stilinski raised an eyebrow. “Do you have reason to believe your father intends to harm you?”

Chris smiled reassuringly at the Sheriff. “Not at all,” he lied. “I just didn’t want to talk to him or my sister.”

“And I don’t suppose you want to admit to being the source of all the information on Kate and Gerard’s criminal activities for the past few years?” Stilinski asked pointedly.

Chris kept a carefully blank expression. “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that.”

Noah looked as if he’d expected that answer. “You do know we’ll need alibis from you for the dates of the incidents?”

“My sister can arrange that for you,” Peter said, taking a step closer to Chris. “I called her on the way here. She just had to finish up with a client.”

Stilinski raised an eyebrow in surprise. “I see.” Whatever else the deputy was going to say was cut off by a sudden burst of tiny music. Stilinski pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and looked down at the screen. He frowned before looking back up at Chris. “I’ve got to take this. It’s my son,” he explained. Stilinski pinned Chris with a look. “I still have some questions for you, Mr. Argent.”

Chris nodded. “I’ll be waiting.”