The Hales all but owned California once. Not literally, and not on paper, but it was their territory from one end to the other. Nearly ever Alpha of every pack claimed Hale blood in some way. Most still do, not that it matters. Since the fire, the Hale dominance over California has waned. The balance has tipped in favor of the hunters and Chris has spent the last six years pretending that it was just a fringe benefit of a horrible tragedy and not what it was.
Pretending and, all the while, suspecting the truth. Hoping he was wrong. Knowing he wasn't. Standing in the woods, staring in shocked horror at Allison, he understands it all.
He realized, staring at Kate holding a gun on Scott, just how far his sister had really fallen.
Now he knows just much he's fallen alongside her.
"You owe me a new bow."
"What he owes you is an explanation."
There's a moment in the every hunt. A second or two, every time, where Chris can feel the accusations. Feel her staring at him. Sometimes, he'll blink and see Anna lying before him in the leaves, body soft and round with pregnancy, staring up at him with betrayal in her eyes.
For a split second, he thinks that this is one of those moments. That six years of guilt, grief, and loss have finally taken their toll and he's finally hallucinating.
Except warm fingers brush his. Anna is real, physical, and here. She lets her hand linger against his. Her fingers are still long, elegant, and he feels the ring he gave her, the reminder of the promise he reneged on, strike his wedding band as she lets go.
One not so different from the band she was supposed to have given him. Would have if he hadn't been weak.
She steps around him, dark hair loose and wild, looking just like he remembers. So beautiful that looking at her is a punch to the gut. She smiles, an echo of his pain in her eyes, and he wants so badly. His hate for his father wells up again, bitter and sharp in his throat, and he reaches for her despite himself.
Anna stays out of reach. She hasn't forgiven him and that's okay. He hasn't forgiven himself either.
She turns away from him and stops in her tracks. Allison. Chris looks from one to the other and sees it so clearly that he doesn't know how his daughter can't. How their daughter can't.
Anna stares, mute, at Allison for a long moment. It feels like an eternity before she says, quietly, "You have my eyes." Her smile is tiny, shaky, as she adds, "And my grandmother's nose."
Allison turns from Anna to him, her bravado of moments before is gone. She's more like herself than she has been in days and it's almost a relief to hear the fear and uncertainty in her voice. The Allison of the past few days has been a stranger, more like Gerard and Kate than he cares to admit, and he hates that it's taken this to snap her out of it.
"Do you remember when you studied hereditary traits in science?" he asks, guilt pressing down on him. It's a weight so heavy that he doesn't know how he's still standing. "You wondered how your eyes could be the colour they are--"
Allison shifts from one foot to the other, murmuring something about dominant traits that even he can tell she doesn't quite believe. "I asked if I was adopted."
"No," Anna says. "Just stolen."
Allison has always been the spitting image of her mother. So much so that he's amazed he kept the secret this long.
"You promised me, Chris," Anna says. "You swore on Nate's life that you wouldn't put them on opposite sides." Her lips tip up into a smile that cuts through him like a razor's edge. He doesn't know how she doesn't hate him. He deserves it from them both. "I suppose it doesn't matter now, does it? There's no chance of that now. Kate saw to that."
She steps into his space, tilting her head to meet his eyes. Her body close like this is a torment, bringing back every moment they'd stolen together, and he knows she's fully aware of his reaction. "Tell me, at least, you had no idea what Gerard and Kate were planning."
"I swear," he says, his voice a hoarse rasp. "I had no idea. I wouldn't--Christ, Anna, do you really think I could let them murder our child?"
"Why not?" Her voice is light, breezy, but her eyes tell the tale. Alpha red. Furious. "You let them take one hostage, didn't you?"
Allison's voice cuts into the tension, ratcheting it up even more, and when Chris looks at her, she's stumbling away from them. She's always been brilliant. He can practically see the pieces falling together behind her eyes. The Hale fire. The wolves. Kate's role in it. The worst part is that whatever she's imagining can't hold a candle to the truth of it all.
"I said there were children in that house," he says, grief thick in each word. "I just didn't tell you that your brother was one of them." God. Nate. Nate. At least, for a time, he had the comfort of believing it an accident. His sister murdered his son on their father's orders.
Chris feels his stomach lurch. Its a shock when Anna's hand touches his. She squeezes once, firm, and when he looks at her, she looks back with something that might be understanding in her face. She may never forgive him, but she can at least give him this and his gratitude nearly drives him to his knees.
"We were kids, your father and I," Anna's eyes fade back to human normal. Allison's eyes. "Not so different than you and the wolf I smell on you. We loved each other. For a while, I even thought we might take Chris into the pack. Hunters have done that before, you know, crossed the lines." There's an ocean of unshed tears in those words and Chris reaches for her despite himself. "I didn't realize then just how strong a hold Gerard had on him."
"Neither did I," he agrees, guilty. "I trusted him." And what a fool he is for it.
"You're not--" Allison backs away. "You can't be--" She's crumbling beneath the dawning awareness. She knows it. She can see it with her own eyes and Chris feels the agony and uncertainty like it's his own.
Because it is his own.
"--your mother?" He looks at Anna. "You know she is, Allison. You can see it yourself."
"Allison." Chris makes himself stay still. He holds back from reaching out to her. She'd bolt now if he did, he knows that, there's so much to tell her. The fire wasn't even the worst of it. He wants to tell her about the cage she'd been born in. How Gerard had lifted Allison and her twin, one after the other, looking for the signs of the wolf, more than ready to kill them if he had to.
How his little brother, always the most human of them all, had gone to the Hale pack to tell them where to find their kidnapped daughter and volunteered to take the bite to help them.
Something Chris hadn't known until after he'd already shot him.
He says nothing about any of it. He's not ready to see her look at him with all of that in her eyes. He can barely stand seeing it in Anna's face. Gerard sent Kate to eradicate the Hales for no other reason than to murder his own grandson, a wolf-born like his mother.
Allison looks at him. "My mother is dead. This thing is not--no."
"I'm sorry," Chris says. He makes himself look at Anna when he speaks. "I should have known. After the fire--" when he couldn't even grieve over his son where Victoria might see and, therefore, damage the alliance their marriage had forged between their families "--I should have known."
Maybe, on some level, he's known all along. Chris doesn't want to think what that says about him and where he stands.
Anna makes a quiet noise. It takes a second to realize it isn't directed at himself or Allison.
She looks at him. "All of them."
"All of what?"
Chris ignores Allison's question as he looks around them. The trees are undisturbed, no movement, but he's aware that they're surrounded nonetheless. Allison's trap turned round on them.
He's never tried to find out how many wolves are in Anna's pack. He knows that she's an Alpha, was born to be one, and that she built a pack when she left Beacon Hills after the fire, but that's all he knows.
"You're here to help Derek," he realizes.
Anna nods. "With the exception of Allison, he's the only family I have left in the world." She almost smiles. "A rather interesting young man tracked me down in New York and explained the situation to me."
Chris can guess which young man she means. She confirms it when she says,"I believe I knew his father before I left town. I swore I'd never set foot in Beacon Hills again, but he was very persuasive."
"Stiles usually is," he says. "What did he tell you?"
"Everything." Anna looks at Allison. "You can imagine my reaction when I found out that, not only was my niece dead by my brother's hands and him by my nephew's, but you had brought Allison back to town and everyone knew what Kate did to my family." She looks at Allison. "I'm sorry that I didn't come sooner, but the last thing I needed as to alert Gerard as to my plans."
"And those would be?" Allison asks, icy but interested.
"Those depend on your cousin."
God. He'd made himself forget the connection between them. It shouldn't matter, it doesn't matter, except it does. He's been hunting Anna's nephew for months and she knows it now. Her expression says as much when she looks at him.
"Derek's the Alpha of this territory, not me, and I won't disrespect that." Anna turns. "If he isn't interested in my help, then my only interest here is you."
"I won't go with you," Allison says, coldly furious. "You aren't my mother."
Anna just smiles. She's comfortable, confident, sure of herself in a way that promises nothing good for Gerard. An Alpha in her prime with a pack willing to follow her into a forest potentially filled with hunters. Chris doesn't think he likes Gerard's chances. He's too used to Derek and his inexperience. This will not end well for any of them. "Be thankful I am, sweetheart. We're pack; Derek and I. I saw what you did to his betas back there." She looks at Chris. "And it sure as hell isn't in the Code."
She shifts, easily without any conscious effort, and Chris shivers. Allison might not understand, how much of a gift it is that she is Anna's daughter, but Chris does. It's the only thing keeping her alive. Gerard has no such mercy coming to him and Chris knows just how bloody it's going to be. What he doesn't know is whether or not he'll be included.
"By their Law and ours," Chris says, looking at their little girl, "Your mother has every right in the world to kill you." Right and obligation. As much as Derek had when he'd sliced his uncle's throat, exacting justice for Peter's sins. "Because she is your mother--"
Anna smiles. Despite the shift, it's surprisingly gentle, even a little playful, and Chris feels the crushing guilt anew. His devotion to the Code, to his father, had seen two children stolen from this woman. Two children and the life they would have had.
It's not the first time he's regretted his choices, but the memory of Allison standing over the two betas without a shred of compassion gives it a poignancy he's never felt before.
He did this to her. This is his fault.
He clears his throat and hoping the agony of his thoughts isn't laid bare in his voice when he says, "Because she's your mother and an Alpha, she has the option of mercy."
Allison isn't the only one whose life could be forfeit by their actions. He'd learned to love Victoria, they'd built a life together, but...
Chris closes his eyes.