Taking a sip of his coffee, Peter Hale stares out at the open ocean, half smile curling his lips. He’s always loved port cities. The fresh smell of salt water and pine mixing with the muggy stink of exhaust, sewage, and human, coalesces into an acquired scent. He takes another sip. It’s been far too long since he’s been up north, far too long since he’s met with the alphas that run most of western Canada. He swishes the bitter mixture around his mouth before swallowing. They will be hard pressed to forgive him his transgressions.
Tossing the empty cup into the trash, he shoves his hands into his pockets and begins to walk. The seawall is always lovely this early in the morning, the sun peeking up over the ocean like a coy lover. Night’s cloak pulls away as he walks, the wet cold nipping at his face and neck. The people of the city are waking up, shaking off the remainders of sleep and dreams. He nods at the jogger who dodges around him, catching her candy floss scent on his tongue. Yes, mornings are a delectable rarity.
Peter cuts across the park and smiles politely at a group of parents pushing baby strollers. Human babies always smell sickly, like they are an inch from death itself. He remembers a time when his own children had scurried beneath his feet, scents strong and sharp and fragile. He shakes off the remembrance and ducks into the street.
People are already moving, droves of them waiting for buses and wandering up and down the streets as they hurry to work. Everyone is always in such a rush, even here. He hasn’t been further than Vancouver since before the fire. The city is the meeting ground for all of British Columbia’s alpha packs. Though they gather here, many take residence in the northern towns, surrounded by thick trees and secrecy. He wouldn’t mind visiting a few some day; he hears they’re quite charming.
“Why, if it isn’t Peter Hale,” a voice says. He halts on a step, pivoting left. A woman stands a few feet from him, tall black boots rocking her back and forth. She’s young, maybe a tad older than Derek, but her scent is spicy coals and spearmint, marking her wolf. Her eyes glint red in the growing light. “Look at you, wandering around our fair city. How’s it going?”
“Mara Leaf,” Peter greets. “I see you’ve hit alpha status. How is that treating you?”
“Better than it treated you,” Mara drawls, scrubbing a hand through her short curly hair. “What are you doing up here in the Great White North? Doesn’t it make your wolfy hairs stand on end?”
“I’m here for research, actually,” Peter says. He gestures with his head. “Are you my seven o’clock?”
“Depends,” Mara says. She falls into step with him, grabbing his arm and tucking it neatly against her side. Her nails are painted neon yellow. “If you’re looking for information, you’ll have to explain a few things to the big bads. They weren’t happy when they heard you went rogue.”
“I didn’t go rogue,” Peter says, exasperated. “I simply handled a loss poorly and it had repercussions.”
Mara counts the points off on her hand. “You bit a teenager, went after another teenager that was immune, and were eventually killed by your nephew. And then resurrected a few short months later. Excuse us if we don’t find that a tad suspicious.” Mara tugs him in the direction of a Starbucks. Peter wrinkles his nose. “Oh, come on, it’s not all that bad. It originated in your country; you should be used to it.”
“I prefer my coffee not laced with pesticides.”
“Spoilsport. Don’t care. I’ll buy you those blueberry scones you always drool over.” Mara tugs on him harder and Peter follows with a sigh. “So, information. I’ll cut you a deal. I’ll give you something if you give me something.”
“Subtle as always, Mara,” Peter says. “And what would I gain from telling you anything?”
“Oh, didn’t you know? I’m the holder of the keys now.” That causes Peter pause. Mara flashes her fangs at him. “That’s right, big boy. Most extensive library on werewolf lore, and little ol’ me has the only key. Well, Michael and me, but he’s such a closeted basket case that we hardly see him outside the archives. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the answers you’re looking for could be found with the express help of someone who can get in after hours?”
“You drive a hard bargain,” Peter says. He loosens her grip to open the door. Mara breezes by him, already digging in her purse. “What is it you require?”
“Coffee first, talking after. Mmm, what should I choose today?” Mara wanders up to the counter, fingers clasped around a shiny card. “Let’s go with something sweet. Hello, darling, I would like a grande white chocolate peppermint mocha, make it a skinny, with a dollop of whip cream and caramel on top. Dark and brooding will have a tall black with as much pesticide as you can manage. Oh, and a blueberry scone.”
The girl at the counter doesn’t even blink, just waves a hand and tosses two cups to her associate. Mara pays and picks up the coffees, scooting her way over to pick up the scone. Peter gestures toward the door and Mara shakes her head, leading him to a pair of leather chairs beside the warm fireplace. “You don’t take Starbucks outside, you heathen. You drink half of it in here so that people think you’re cool.”
“I don’t need more caffeine, thank you,” Peter says, but Mara hits him with a look. He quirks a smile. “You wish me to die a painful death by coffee. I can’t say I understand your motives.”
“Be glad I didn’t get you a drink layered with hazelnut. Almost killed Michael.” Mara smiles happily as she curls up on her chair, red stained lips leaving marks on her lid. “So, what do you want?”
“I would much rather hear your inquiry first,” Peter says.
“Oh, I like that,” Mara says, her smile broadening. “Asking me what I want first. Smart boy. Well, let’s say there have been some rumours. Rumours that make the alphas here very nervous. Rumours that the Hale pack has with it a Red.”
Peter very carefully takes a sip of his coffee. She’s informed. “That’s an interesting speculation. Now why would you assume that?”
“Because Alex just sent a very detailed, very angry message about how she’s being humiliated by a boy in a red hood. One that is infallibly human and yet.” Mara bites her lid, practically vibrating with excitement. Peter sits up straight. “Now, why would the pack we sent down to Beacon Hills be having so much trouble? We were told that Derek Hale had with him a cluster of unseasoned, still-wet-behind-the-ears, teenaged pups. This was a simple extraction exercise. And yet there’s a human keeping Alex and her pack from completing the mission.”
“I’m uncertain what you’re asking.” Peter takes another sip of his coffee. It tastes burnt.
Mara squirms in her seat, peacoat riding up her sides. “Is it true that Derek’s pack has a boy who runs with wolves?”
Peter does a very good job of keeping his expression neutral. Or so he assumes. Mara claps her hands against her coffee cup. “He does! Oh, that is delightful! What is he like? Is he tall? Does he like to wander around the woods at night? Ooo, is he legal?”
“There hasn’t been a sighting of a Red in years. Oh, that is so exciting. They have them archived, you know, every last person the alphas considered a Red. And now one’s popped up so close to home! Can I come back with you when you return? No, wait, you want information, don’t you? Information on Reds? Or on something else? I’m dying to know.” Mara wiggles like an excited pup. “What could send Peter Hale running up north to access information?”
“First, my dear, you’re jumping to conclusions. If there was a Red, I’m certain I would know about it. What Alex is facing is nothing more than a pack guarded by a Guide. Any pack would have issues moving in if a Guide has already been established.” Peter leans back in his chair, thinking fast. “Second, do you mean to tell me that the alphas are so paranoid as to keep a collection of those considered possibilities for Red status? There hasn’t been a true Red in hundreds of years.”
“True Reds are hard to come by,” Mara points out. “True Reds are dangerous, which is why the alphas have to keep extensive records on who has the potential to grow into one. There’s always a possibility that one can turn. The packs up here are still recovering from a slaughtering two hundred years ago. He decimated the entirety of the western coast because they took his alpha. Priorities are always set up on Reds.” Mara swirls her coffee. “But a Guide, you say? I remember the Hale pack always had a Guide. Wasn’t he some kind of police office?”
“A vet, now,” Peter says.
“Interesting. A Guide stays out of pack business, though, unless directly affected. Alex couldn’t have blipped on his radar that quickly.”
Peter picks up his scone, tearing it into little pieces. “Deaton is very good at his job.”
“I’m sure.” Mara narrows her eyes. “So, you’re certain, right? Alex’s message was pretty conclusive.”
“Then Alex is mistaken. I haven’t met the girl, but I’m sure she’s as hotheaded as all the alphas up here. You lot, running around like true born wolves.” Peter pops a piece into his mouth, savouring the overcooked taste of blueberry and buttery pastry.
“The forests here are delightful,” Mara says. “But you’re getting me off topic. All correspondence in regards to Red sightings are taken seriously. Until Alex’s next report, there will be an extermination team waiting in the wings.”
“Over one wolf’s written report?”
“She’s written eight, three of which contain details of a possible Red coming to power. She just lost two of her pack to this boy. I thought your Guide was older?” Mara cocks her head to the side. “Are you lying to me, Peter Hale?”
“Never,” Peter says. He wonders if Derek’s scent still lingers on him, and with it, Stiles’. He doesn’t check. “What would I have to gain? I have an extensive amount of transgressions against my person.”
“But what harm could one more do?” Mara asks. Peter quirks a smile.
“You’re sharp, Mara, but you are mistaken. As you pointed out yourself, there hasn’t been a sighting of a Red in years. What is the probability that one pops up now? And that one such as myself wouldn’t know about it? I’m still in the firm mindset that the lore on them was concocted up to explain away why alphas had to make packs with other alphas.”
Mara picks at her fingernails, boot scraping over the floor as she eyes him. “We used to get reports on a Red every five years, actually. The fact that we haven’t heard of one in the last forty two years is damning.” Mara leans forward. “And I would be promoted so fast if I reported a Red before Michael did. You wouldn’t hold out on me like that, would you, Peter?”
“Never,” Peter says, polishing off the rest of his scone. “Shall we walk?”
Mara nods and gets to her feet, straightening her peacoat before breezing past him. Peter follows at a sedated pace, trying to pick apart his request now that Mara has blindsided him. He was certain that they hadn’t heard of Stiles until that very moment. It completely alters his plans. He sighs and sips his coffee. Derek would work himself into a mess if he knew just what Stiles had unwittingly gotten himself into.
Mara tucks up beside him as they exit Starbucks, making their way down the now crowded street. Peter blocks her from most of the wind, but even in mid-April, the bite of the breeze is irritating. He feels fur ripple up and over his neck before calming. It’s been quite some time since he’s tried transforming.
Tossing their cups into the trash, Mara tugs him onto the crowded streets of West Georgia St. She talks aimlessly, never staying on one topic too long, and Peter can sense her impatience. They pass the Royal Center when Peter tugs her to the side, onto a separate sidewalk ducking between two buildings. Mara doesn’t miss a beat. “So, what’s your request?”
Peter hums. “It has to do with another myth, actually. That of mated pairs. I’m looking into it as a favour.”
“Mated pairs, you say?” Mara frowns. “That one is old. Rare, too. Archives would have the information you’re looking for. Off the top of my head, I think the only mated pair I’ve ever heard of in my lifetime died six years ago.”
“Yes, in a fire,” Peter says softly. “But I never had the chance to ask them the true workings of their union. I wish to know now.”
“Well, this just became awkward. Who’s the favour for?”
“My nephew. He had some interesting questions about the procession and how one can know.”
Mara jiggles his arm, excitement in her voice. “Well, that’s just adorable. He needs to be happy, that one, he’s had a lot of hardship in his life. Who’s the lucky human?”
“I’m told he’s a rather spectacular young man, focused and clever, and slowly coming into his power.” Peter flips his fingers, the glint of silver catching in the dim light. Mara shoots him a look.
“Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a boy who ran with wolves?” Peter says. “And wouldn’t it be equally interesting if I met someone who had access to the largest library on the continent, exclusively about werewolves? Fate is so intriguing sometimes.”
Mara’s eyes grow wide, the flash of red and the elongation of her fangs making Peter chuckle. “You –”
“Mara, I did miss you.” And he slips the knife between her ribs.
Mara stares at him, red lips open, and then coughs. Black blood bubbles against her teeth and she gasps, clutching at his arm. He twists the blade, tearing easily through muscle and soft tissue. Black blood pours over his fingers and splatters onto his shoes. Mara claws at his arm, deep gouges that ruin the fabric and cut into flesh. Peter stares into her red eyes, smiling saccharine sweet. Mara snarls, panting wetly, and she tries desperately to change.
“Oh, Mara, you were always too trusting, even before you gained alpha status. But you should know better than to trust someone who has far too much to lose. I can’t allow you to blab about my nephew and his Red. It would just go against everything I’ve worked for.”
“Asshole,” she breathes out.
Peter beams. “Thank you for the coffee.”
And she slumps against him, a final bubble of blood marking her last breath. Peter yanks the blade free and wipes it clean on Mara’s coat. He keeps her pressed against him, grabbing her purse and digging through it. People walk past the entrance to the alleyway, all of them looking over the strange couple just a few feet away. Peter searches, but he can’t find anything aside from a house key.
Carefully, he props Mara against the far wall. A network of black blood spiderwebs over her face, still in death, and she looks alien. This will surely send the big bad’s into a tizzy. He paws through her pockets, but nothing. The key isn’t on her.
“Dammit.” Peter keeps one hand on her side. “Where would you hide a key, Mara?”
She doesn’t answer him, but he catches the glint of a necklace disappearing into her buttoned up coat when her head lolls to the side. He plucks the necklace free and at the end of it is an old skeleton key. Grinning, he presses a farewell kiss to Mara’s forehead and lets her fall to the ground. “It was nice seeing you again, love.”
Slipping the knife back into his sleeve and the key into his pocket, he walks in the other direction. Only the arm of his coat is torn, the deep gouges of an alpha trickling blood. He’ll have to buy himself a new coat using Derek’s credit. Everything is coming together.
“I should probably get a library card,” Peter muses, chuckling to himself. There’s blood on his shoes and blood under his fingernails and it’s a beautiful day.