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Peter Hale has a tension headache building behind his eyes, a nephew who has picked the wrong time to have a crisis of conscience, and a bound and gagged college freshman in the trunk of his car as he speeds north along Highway 101. This is not how he intended his weekend to go, but Peter is nothing if not adaptable.

“I’m calling Mom,” Derek says, stony-faced.

“Come now, nephew.” Peter flashes him a smile. “No need to be hasty.”

There’s a barrage of dull thumps from the trunk of the car.

“I’m calling Mom,” Derek repeats.

Peter sighs as Derek digs around in his pockets.

“Where’s my phone?” Derek growls, his eyes flashing.

“Did you leave it on the top of the car when we stopped for gas?” Peter asks. “People do that all the time.”

“Why would I…” Derek trails off, words replaced with a more menacing growl this time as he realizes exactly what happened to his phone, and exactly who is to blame.  

In Peter’s defense, Derek should be more careful with his personal belongings and not leave them where they can be so easily pick-pocketed. Like in his pockets. That’s just asking for trouble. Perhaps Peter setting his phone on the roof of the car at the last gas station will teach him to be more responsible in the future.

“I’ll buy you a new one,” Peter promises.

He will, too. Peter is always as good as his word—although, crucially, never any better—and none of this is Derek’s fault. Peter blames Alan Deaton for this entire mess, actually. Peter has never trusted Deaton. Never. Deaton is too difficult to read, and Peter has never believed that the emissary’s goals align exactly with those of the Hale Pack.

Former emissary’s.

Peter leans down to turn the volume up on the radio, hoping to drown out both Derek’s growling and the incessant thumping from the trunk. They’ll both tire themselves out sooner or later, right?

The rousing strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries fill the car. It seems like appropriate musical accompaniment for the shitstorm Peter is currently well and truly headed into.

No, this is definitely not how he intended on spending his weekend.

None of this is his fault, for the record. Peter would like that very clearly stated. It’s all Alan Deaton’s fault. And it started three weeks ago back in Beacon Hills.

 

***

 

“Excuse me?” Peter asks in the sudden silence. “You’re fucking joking, aren’t you?”

His sister Talia leans back in her chair and gives him a look. The look. The one she’s been giving him since the day he was born. The Peter-I-can’t-believe-you-please-act-like-a-civilized-creature-for-once-in-your-life-for-the-love-of-all-that-is-holy look. It’s what Talia does. And Peter ignores it, because that’s what he does.

“I assure you I’m not joking,” Alan Deaton says in that insufferably calm manner of his that makes Peter want to tear his throat out. “I’m going to move to Minnesota and start up an organic dairy farm.”

“Okay, that’s bullshit,” Peter says, narrowing his eyes. “For starters, nobody would choose to move to Minnesota. And secondly, you don’t get to retire, Alan, you’re our emissary!”

Peter doesn’t like Deaton, but that doesn’t mean the smarmy asshole just gets to walk away. Deaton is their emissary. It’s a sacred trust. There were blood oaths involved. Retirement is not a fucking option.

“Peter’s right, Alan,” Talia says, sounding way too calm for the situation.

Of course Peter’s right. Peter is always right. Really, the sooner people realize this fact as one of the immutable truths of the universe, the better off everyone will be and the more smoothly everything will run.

Deaton looks as serenely unruffled as always. He inclines his head a fraction. “I assure you, Talia, that the welfare of the Hale Pack remains my highest priority.”

Peter folds his arms over his chest. He can barely suppress the urge to roll his eyes.

Outside, he hears the patter of little paws in the corridor. Peter prowls closer to the closed library door and growls lowly, just to remind any small eavesdroppers that now might be a good idea to be elsewhere, and is rewarded by the sound of the pups skedaddling away again. Sometimes being the alpha’s left hand means drowning her enemies in their own blood, and sometimes it means stopping small excitable children from barging into meetings. It’s a mixed bag.

When he turns back to Talia and Deaton, it’s just in time to see Deaton slide what looks to be a business card across Talia’s desk.

Talia picks it up and inspects it. “What’s this?”

“That,” Alan Deaton says, “is the name of a spark who can act as your emissary until you find a permanent replacement.”

“Alan,” Talia says. “He has a website.”

“Stiles offers an online service,” Deaton says calmly.

“Online,” Talia repeats, arching an unimpressed eyebrow.

Peter stalks forward and holds his hand out for the card.

Stiles the Spark, it reads in unnecessary cursive, e-Missary online services.

What. The. Fuck?

Peter has always been interested in magic. Unnaturally so, actually, since most werewolves have an aversion to it. That aversion is more cultural than biological. For creatures that surround themselves with magic, werewolves shy away from practicing it. It’s why human emissaries are so necessary for packs: to place wards, to enhance the strength of the pack bonds and the alpha, to use their magic to protect, to defend and—if necessary—to attack. Magic is elemental. It’s tied intrinsically to the pack, to the land, and to the heartbeat of the magic user.

There’s no fucking app for it, basically.

Peter wants nothing more than to tear the business card up into shreds, and shove the pieces up Alan Deaton’s ass.

Deaton just smiles slightly. “Stiles is more than capable of maintaining the wards and monitoring the telluric currents online, I promise you.”

“We’re talking about magic, Alan,” Talia says. “Not tech support.”

“What’s the difference, really?” Deaton asks, a slight smile tugging up the corners of his mouth.

Talia blinks at him, like she’s actually thinking about it.

Shit.

She’s actually going to fall for his enigmatic bullshit.

“Talia,” Peter says, voice low in warning.

Talia takes back the business card, and looks at it thoughtfully.

“Talia,” Peter repeats.

His sister meets his gaze and shrugs. “It can’t do any harm to look into it, Peter.”

Fuck Alan Deaton, fuck Minnesota, and fuck Peter’s life. Because of course it won’t be Talia looking into it, will it? No, it will not. This is absolutely going to be a job for her left hand. And, like wrangling the toddlers away from secret meetings with the emissary, it’s going to be one of the shitty jobs.

Peter can just tell.

 

***

 

Talia, against Peter’s advice, makes contact with the emissary. Or, rather, the e-Missary. Jesus. Peter detests him for that butchering of the English language alone.

“His name really is Stiles,” Talia tells Peter the next morning over breakfast. “He’s a freshman at Stanford. He’s been practicing magic since he was fourteen.”

“That’s hardly a ringing endorsement if he’s still practically in diapers,” Peter points out.

“He comes with a recommendation from Satomi.”

Okay, so that’s a surprise. Satomi Ito is the alpha of a pack in a neighboring territory, and she’s no pushover.

“I don’t like it,” Peter says. “I don’t care if Deaton says he can work his magic remotely. That’s not the point. The point is, an emissary is supposed to have a bond with a pack. How the hell are we supposed to know if we can even trust this Stiles if we can’t scent him, or hear his heartbeat?”

And that’s the crux of the matter. Werewolves rely on scent, and on body language, and on a thousand different tells in the way a person presents themselves. And none of those things work via email. This spark could be laughing at them while he plans to dismantle every one of the magic protections Alan Deaton has set up around the Hale territory, and they wouldn’t even know it.

It’s dangerous.

Peter lowers his voice. “How do we know he isn’t working for some other pack at the same time he’s worming his way past our defenses?”

Werewolf packs aren’t what they once were, but that’s not to say there are no longer any fangs hidden behind polite smiles, or claws in a handshake. And the Hale territory is very attractive. A faithless emissary could easily sell them out to the highest bidder. And while that may not be a likely scenario, it’s still Peter’s job to consider it. He wouldn’t be his alpha’s left hand if he trusted too easily. The requirements for the job of left hand are a keen intelligence wrapped around a suspicious nature, an aptitude for intrigue that would make Machiavelli proud, and a strong stomach when it comes to bloodshed.

Peter is over qualified.

He was born over qualified.

Talia reaches out and puts her hand on his shoulder. “The contract specifies that he’s to work with only one pack at a time.”

Peter waits.

Talia digs her fingers in to the muscle of his shoulder. “Look into it for me, won’t you, Peter?”

Peter nods, his eyes flashing.

Stiles the Spark had better be exactly as trustworthy as he promises, or he’s going to be in for a world of regret.

 

***

 

For all of her initial caution, Talia spends an hour on the phone with Satomi Ito, and then signs the contract with Stiles the Spark on a Monday afternoon.

“Satomi vouches for him,” she says, as though that settles the matter. “And I’ve spoken to him. I think we can trust him.”

“Are you serious?” Peter is aghast.

“It’s fine, Peter,” Talia says. “I’ve made my decision. Let it go.”

It doesn’t settle the matter at all. Not for Peter.

“Besides,” Talia says, “the website thing is very modern.”

She says it as though Peter should be amused, or at least grudgingly impressed.

Peter is neither.

On Tuesday morning, the air shimmers in the Preserve as the wards pulse and surge. There’s a burst of ozone in the air, the smell of a sky before the storm, and then it passes.

On Tuesday evening Alan Deaton inspects the new wards, declares them good, and packs his car and heads for Minnesota.

Peter hopes that the first time he tries to milk an organic dairy cow, it steps on his head and crushes his skull.

 

***

 

Derek is never going to be a left hand. The boy is… well, Peter loves him dearly, but he’s a marshmallow. Even the leather jacket and the brooding eyebrows can’t hide that for long. Peter has always been amused at how differently they present. Derek tries to look like a bad boy even though that mask is as flimsy as rice paper. Peter, on the other hand, comes across as charming and friendly. By the time people see Peter’s fangs, it’s way too late.

Derek is not Peter’s first choice for a sidekick, or a minion, or whatever the term is whenever the left hand needs a little backup. Hopefully the term is not co-defendant. Peter’s first choice for business like this would be Cora, but she’s away at college so it’s Derek who accompanies him on his trip to the Bay Area to find out what they can about Stiles the Spark.

They don’t even have his full name, but they do know where he lives. Not that it was easy information to find. Peter had to call in a huge favor to get the address. But all the VPNs and proxies and whatever the hell else the spark used to hide his location—Peter is not especially tech savvy—were no match at all for Peter’s contact in the NSA. Really, it’s a travesty how the government spies on its own citizens, but it’s so useful.

Stiles the Spark lives in a small studio apartment in Charleston Meadow. The building is old but reasonably well maintained. It’s nothing special at all, although Peter has no doubt the rent is exorbitant. Welcome to the Bay Area.

Peter and Derek park a little way up the street, and then they wait.

Peter flicks through the contract the spark signed with Talia. The one where he agrees to work exclusively with the Hale Pack for the duration of the contract. It’s a six week contract, with an option for an extension if both parties agree. In those six weeks, Stiles the Spark will take care of defensive warding, do whatever general protective spell-work is required of him by Talia, and respond to any formal communications made by other packs. All the very basic duties of an emissary, but Peter deeply distrusts handing those duties over to a stranger, however highly recommended he comes.

He glares at Stiles the Spark’s illegible scrawl of a signature on the contract, and feels his upper lip curl up in a snarl.

“You’re sure this guy is plotting to backstab us somehow, aren’t you?” Derek asks.

“I’m not sure of anything,” Peter says. “That’s why we’re here.”

“Not everyone has ulterior motives.”

“Not everyone,” Peter agrees. “But it only takes one.”

Derek presses his mouth together a little tightly, and if he’s not thinking of Kate Argent right now then he damn well should be. If it hadn’t been for Peter following Derek to one of his assignations with his secret girlfriend, Kate Argent might have killed them all. So no, Peter will never apologize for being suspicious-minded.

“Does Mom know we’re here?” Derek asks after a moment.

“She asked me to look into things,” Peter says, neglecting to mention that she later rescinded that order.

Derek’s brows pull together. “But does she know we’re here?”

Peter does him a favor and doesn’t answer that directly. Derek is a mama’s boy. He hates disappointing Talia. Given that she’s the alpha, it’s no character flaw at all but Derek doesn’t even give himself any wriggle room. It would be unthinkable to him to act without his alpha’s explicit permission. He wasn’t always like this, but with Derek it’s once bitten, twice shy. Just another legacy of Kate Argent.

“It’s fine, Derek,” Peter says, his mouth curling up in what he intends to be a reassuring smile. “It’s fine, I promise.”

Derek doesn’t look convinced.

Once Peter has got this spark thing sorted out, he’s going get Derek very, very drunk on wolfsbane-infused whiskey, take him to a club, and encourage him to make some reckless decisions with some pretty people. The boy really needs to loosen up. Most importantly, he needs to learn that it’s entirely possible to get laid without having to fear for his life, and that the act of putting his dick inside someone has no correlation at all with whether or not they’re plotting to kill him and his entire pack. Really, the chances of that happening more than once are infinitesimal, right?

It’s past noon when a young man appears from the front of the apartment complex in an explosion of plaid and flailing limbs. He looks like a typical college kid: bags under his eyes, a backpack flung over his shoulder, mussed up hair, and clothes that have never seen an iron. Peter watches his progress from the front steps to the sidewalk with an amused sort of disinterest—the kid is clearly not a spark. He is too young, too clumsy, and he gives off the same commanding aura of power and control as a kitten chasing a ping pong ball across a newly waxed floor—but Peter watches him because there’s nothing else to watch. Which is why he’s paying attention when the kid trips over his own feet, and the contents of his backpack go flying.

Paper and pens and other detritus scatter all over the sidewalk.

A gleaming silver laptop… does not.

It just hangs in the air, a foot or so above the ground, with the kid’s hand outstretched toward it. For a moment nothing moves, and then the kid hurries forward and plucks the laptop out of the air. He shoves it into his backpack with a guilty expression on his face, and then gets down on his hands and knees to collect everything else. Moments later he’s back on his feet, jogging toward the battered old blue Jeep parked further down the street.

“Did that…” Derek murmurs, and shakes his head. “Did that just happen?”

Peter feels a thrill run through him. It’s not very often that he’s surprised.

“Well,” he says, craning his neck to watch as the Jeep roars off down the street. “I think we’ve found our spark.”

 

***

 

Stiles the Spark lives in apartment 4F. It’s the work of minutes for Peter to pick the lock. He feels a buzz of something like static in the air as the door swings open, and then all the air is abruptly sucked out of the room, the edges of Peter’s vision darken, and Peter gets a whiff of a scent that makes his fangs drop and his claws extend just as the door slams shut in his face again.

Well then.

It looks like they just tripped the spark’s alarm system.

Good.

Because if what Peter just smelled inside the spark’s apartment is indeed the case, then this information gathering mission just turned into something very different indeed.

And Peter will take the spark apart very, very slowly with his claws until he tells them who he’s really working for.

 

 

***

 

Derek isn’t Peter’s first choice for a sidekick, but he does make excellent bait. He’s fiddling with the lock on the door of apartment 4F when the Stiles the Spark returns, while Peter, thanks to the judicious application of a teensy bit of magic and the handy placement of an incredibly ugly ficus in the hallway of the apartment building, doesn’t even register as a blip on the spark’s radar. Of course, the spark is way more fixated on the guy trying to break into his apartment.

Peter was counting on that.

The boy is magnificent, really.

He strides down the hallway toward Derek, and he’s no flailing, clumsy student now. He’s a whirlwind, a dervish, a force of nature.

“Who sent you?” he demands, voice as low as a predator’s as he stalks closer to Derek. “What do you want?”

He could call up storms with that voice, Peter thinks. Call up storms and rain down fire. All the electricity in the air seems to gather around him as he moves. It crackles, and the air shifts and shimmers around him.

He’s incredible.

A part of Peter almost wants to see how this will play out—he imagines something with thunderbolts—but Derek is looking increasingly terrified, like a fluffy little bunny cornered by something with fangs, and Talia will never forgive Peter if her baby doesn’t come home in one unblemished piece.

“What are you doing here?” the boy demands, closing the distance between him and Derek. “Who the hell are you?”

Peter almost reluctantly steps out from the shelter provided by the ficus. “He would be the distraction, sweetheart.”

The boy spins back to face him, and his mouth drops open just as Peter blows a handful of iron filings right in his face.

The boy is magnificent, but he has fuck all situational awareness.

His eyes roll back in his head and he goes down like a sack of rocks.

“And you must be Stiles,” Peter says with a smirk.

 

***

 

Thump thump thump from the trunk.

Well, apparently someone is still very unhappy about his travel arrangements.

They’re still about two hours from Beacon Hills, which means they’re an hour and a half from Peter’s cabin. He calls it his cabin in the hope that it sounds quaint and charming, but Laura insists it makes him sound like the Unabomber, and Cora calls it “Uncle Peter’s little den of torture.” Peter prefers to think of it as his little den of intensive practical applied information gathering, but that just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. It’s less of a cabin and more of a bunker, to be honest, and it is filled with everything Peter needs to get Stiles the Spark to talk.

He grips the steering wheel tightly, fighting the urge to let his claws descend and ruin his new hand-sewn nappa leather steering wheel cover. He’s a werewolf, not a Philistine.

Thump thump thump.

Derek gives him the side eye. He’s still pissed about his phone, probably, and also probably about the fact that he’s become an accomplice in an abduction. And probably that whole using-him-as-bait thing back at the apartment building. Still, the boy could stand to lighten up a little. Nobody died.

Yet.

Peter turns the stereo up.

Thump thump thump.

Stiles is cuffed in iron shackles—wrists and ankles—in the trunk of the car. He is blindfolded and gagged. He is wrapped up like a burrito in a blanket made out of steel wool, which can’t be very comfortable, but contains enough iron to keep a moderate dampner on that magic of his.

And preventing him from using his magic is one thing, but maybe Peter should have slipped him a roofie too. Still, every mile brings them closer and closer to the cabin, and it’s not like the spark is going anywhere in the meantime. And how much damage can he really do, locked securely in the trunk?

Thump thump thump CRACK.

Fuck.

“What the hell?” Derek asks, twisting in his seat as though he’ll actually be able to see what’s going on in the trunk.

Peter resists the urge to roll his eyes.

He can only deal with one annoying fucking irritant at a time, and right now that irritant is Stiles.

It takes longer than Peter would like to reach the nearest exit on the highway, and longer than that to get the car to somewhere secluded enough to actually pull over and sort this little bastard out. When he parks behind the shelter of a copse of trees, he and Derek get out and inspect the damage. The tail light is hanging by the wires from the back of the car.

Peter really, really hopes that nobody saw the kid kick it out and then called the police with his license plate number.

He opens the trunk.

Stiles is a mess. He’s still half-wrapped up in the blanket, but he’s struggled enough that he’s opened up patches of abrasions all over his arms and his face. His skin is covered in sweat and smears of blood. His gag is still in, but his blindfold is askew. One eye, golden-bright and piercing as an owl’s in the late afternoon sun, stares up at Peter narrowly.

Peter smiles at him, and extends a clawed hand toward his face.

Stiles doesn’t even flinch.

“Damage my car again,” Peter says, keeping his voice low as a prayer, “and you’ll regret it. What’s that saying?” He drags a claw gently over the boy’s sharp cheekbone, not quite hard enough to draw blood. “An eye for an eye?”

Stiles holds his gaze, and there’s murder in it.

Peter slams the trunk shut again.

There’s no noise at all from the trunk for the rest of the drive.

 

***

 

It’s getting late by the time they reach the cabin. It’s almost winter, and the evenings are beginning to draw in earlier. There’s a chill in the air, but nothing a werewolf can’t handle. Peter and Derek haul Stiles out of the trunk of the car, and both get the benefit of that baleful one-eyed stare as they manhandle him toward the cabin. Stiles smells like electricity, and touching him, even bundled up as he is in his abrasive steel wool blanket, makes Peter’s skin prickle. Stiles is breathing heavily, and sweat has slicked his hair to his temples. His heart is thumping as fast as a rabbit’s.

Peter disarms the alarm system and unlocks the cabin door. He steps inside and turns on the lights. They’re halogen. Bright and unforgiving.

Stiles sucks in a breath as he sees what’s waiting for him.

The cabin is… well, it’s a clearly been build for one purpose, and not a nice one. It looks like the sort of place specifically designed to torture and dismember people with the minimum of fuss, and then possibly use their skin to make gloves out of. Not that Peter has ever done that. But if he wanted to, here would be the place. It’s more Hannibal Lector than Buffalo Bill. It’s clean, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ominous.

The main room is windowless. It has two very large stainless steel counters that run lengthways down the room. Underneath the counters are drawers and cabinets. There is a large gleaming sink on the far wall between them. The resemblance to a morgue isn’t entirely accidental. The room also has a polished cement floor that slopes gently toward a drain in the corner. So much easier for cleanup.

There’s a sturdy chair in the middle of the floor.

Peter and Derek manhandle Stiles onto the chair, and then Peter opens one of the many cabinets and pulls out a length of iron chain. Heavy as hell. Peter uncuffs Stiles’s ankles, and then wraps the chain around Stiles’s left ankle, winding it up his leg as far as his knee and pushing the blanket out of the way as he goes, and then winds the remainder around his right leg in a similar fashion. He secures it with a padlock.

Iron, of course.

Only then does he pull the blanket away from Stiles. Only then does he pull off the skewed blindfold, and tug the gag out of Stiles’s mouth.

“Nice place you’ve got here,” Stiles says, voice rasping. “Cosy.”

Peter smirks, and glances at Derek, who is lurking uneasily by the door. Then he fixes his attention on Stiles again. “Isn’t it?”

“Who the fuck are you?” Stiles asks, narrowing his eyes like he really thinks he’s in any position to be demanding answers. He’s certainly got balls. If Peter couldn’t hear the rapid thump of his heart or smell the way that adrenaline sours the edges of his scent, he’d almost think Stiles was unafraid.

But Stiles is way too clever to be truly unafraid.

His sharp gaze is taking everything in: Peter, Derek, the cabin. Peter can also see him trying to flex his legs to test the give in the chains. There is none. His cuffed hands are resting in his lap, and his long fingers are mapping the lock, as though he’ll find a weakness there. He won’t.

Peter only smirks, and flashes his eyes at Stiles.

“Werewolf,” Stiles murmurs. “Werewolves don’t use magic.”

“Well, I’m no spark but I know a trick or two.”

“As you clearly demonstrated at my apartment,” Stiles says. His voice is level, but Peter can tell he’s plotting sixteen different methods of murder behind those lovely eyes of his. “Iron filings and a binding curse, right?”

“Simple but effective,” Peter says.

“Huh.” Stiles seems strangely unimpressed for someone who hit the floor like a brick. “So, where’s your alpha?”

“I’m afraid it’s me that you’ll be dealing with, and not my alpha.”

Stiles leans forward in his chair. “No can do, V-neck. I’m an emissary. I only deal with your alpha.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Peter lies, keeping his tone honey-sweet. “Were you under the impression we’d be following protocol here today? The abduction didn’t clue you in at all?”

“Fair point.” He voice rasps and he clears his throat. For a moment he regards Peter narrowly, and then he turns to look at Derek. He widens his eyes. His bottom lip trembles slightly. And no. No, that will not do. Because Derek is exactly the sort of person who will fall for that vulnerable Bambi bullshit, and it’s taken Stiles the work of a moment to pick him out as the weak link. Smart boy.

Peter moves a few paces to the right and blocks Stiles’s view of Derek. “Well then, let’s get down to business. Who are you working for, Stiles?”

Stiles holds his gaze. “That’s something I’m happy to discuss with your alpha.”

“Stubborn,” Peter says approvingly. “Funny thing about stubbornness. I’ve discovered it’s inversely proportionate to the number of fingernails a person still has.”

A corner of Stiles’s mouth twitches. “That is funny.” He wrinkles his nose. “I should probably tell you that I don’t do well with threats.”

“Is that so?”

“Mmm.” Stiles rolls his shoulders and blinks up at Peter. “I have ADD. All this back-and-forth posturing bullshit that you werewolves enjoy so much? I mean, I appreciate that you’re trying to create like a sense of impending doom here and stuff, but I have the attention span of a hummingbird on speed, so, honestly, while you’re building up to your big scary moment, I’m sorting through the six thousand tabs I’ve got open in my brain instead. You should probably just save yourself the effort and cut to the chase.”

“Are you sure that’s what you want, Stiles?”

The cuffs on Stiles’s wrists clink together as he shrugs. “I already told you, V-neck. I only talk to your alpha.”

Peter steps back for a moment, and regards the spark curiously. He’s an interesting one. A strange little puzzle indeed. He smells a little of fear, but there’s something else there as well. There’s a brightness in his eyes that Peter distrusts. What a shame that Stiles is so keen to skip the friendly little chat and get right to the torture: Peter is sure he’d make a bright conversationalist. If they’d met in different circumstances, Peter might not be able to resist the challenge in those eyes. Or resist the temptation to end the evening with Stiles’s long legs thrown over his shoulders as Peter fucked him hard enough that the boy saw several previously undreamt of dimensions when he came. And Peter could absolutely do that with his dick. It’s phenomenal.

What a shame that it’s never going to happen and that Stiles has already dug his own grave. Figuratively, at least. Peter will get Derek onto the actual digging later. But the moment Peter opened Stiles’s apartment door and smelled the unmistakable scent of another werewolf permeating the place he’d known that Stiles had lied to Talia, and that he had to die.

Stiles’s eyes widen when Peter opens one of the cabinets and begins to lay out a series of shiny implements: knives, pliers, thumbscrews. Clink clink clink against the countertop.

Stiles’s throat clicks as he swallows.

Derek growls, low and worried.

Peter selects the pliers first. He steps toward Stiles, and speaks softly. “We don’t have to do this, Stiles.”

Stiles bites his lower lip. “We don’t?”

“You could just tell me who you’re working for, and we can stop before we even start.”

“Right.” The word comes out on a breath, and for a moment Peter thinks that he’s going to fold. Then he meets Peter’s gaze again, and holds it. Fragile and courageous at the same time. Peter almost regrets what has to be done when Stiles shivers. “I… I can’t.”

His heartbeat is steady. He’s not lying.

What a shame.

Peter takes Stiles’s hands in his, and wrenches his arms out straight. The cuffs clink and rattle as he positions the pliers. “Last chance, sweetheart.”

“I…” Stiles’s expression shifts suddenly. Sharpens. Hardens. “I’m not going to let that happen, asshole.”

There’s a sudden burst of blinding white light, and Peter is thrown clear across the room and into the wall. The wall cracks, and so does his skull.

His last thought before he blacks out is that that spell with the iron filings wasn’t worth the money he paid for it.

 

***

 

Peter comes to in slow degrees, and finds that it’s his turn to be tied to the chair. With rope woven with wolfsbane, no less. Really, that might be his own fault for keeping it in the cabin. He blinks around the room and sees Derek standing in the corner, his arms folded over his chest and a frown on his face. There’s a circle of ash fencing him in. There’s one around Peter’s chair as well.

And Stiles the Spark is going through the cabinets, making interested humming noises whenever he finds something that catches his attention. “Is this Nordic blue monkshood?” A low whistle of approval. “Nice.” He rattles around for a moment longer. “Holy shit. You have the Petit Albert. I only have a PDF of this.”

Peter growls.

Stiles straightens up, cradling the grimoire gently. His eyes are bright and his smile is wide. “Wow. After my alpha rips your throats out, I’m definitely stealing this.”

No, today is not going to plan at all.

“Who’s your alpha?” he asks. Might as well know, right? Might as well know exactly which pack is planning to attack his, even if he no longer has the power to stop them. “Who are you working for?”

Stiles sets the grimoire down on the counter and picked up a knife. He turns it over and over in his hand, the blade glinting in the light.

“Oh, V-neck,” he says. “You and Eyebrows here are in a world of trouble now.” His smile grows, teeth gleaming. “I’m the emissary for one of the most powerful packs in the country.”

Peter regards him steadily, while he runs through a list of potential suspects in his mind. Deucalion? Satomi? Which one of them has betrayed Talia? He’s going to figure out a way to come back and haunt whoever the fuck it is.

Stiles leans towards him. “You just picked a fight with the Hale Pack, asshole.”

What?

Peter’s brain short circuits.

What?

From over in the corner, Derek says, “What the fuck?”

Peter couldn’t have said it better himself.

 

***

 

“Oh, my god.” When she sweeps into the cabin, Talia is not happy. “What the hell have you done, Peter? I told you to leave it alone!”

Peter tugs at the rope, ignoring the burn. “Don’t listen to a word he says, Talia! He’s lying! He stinks of another pack!”

“What?” Stiles flails, a flurry of limbs and plaid and indignation. “Fuck you! But also, okay, yes, my best bro in the entire world is a werewolf, but my emissary work is totally separate from that, and I fully disclosed it to Alpha Hale!”

Talia looks at Peter like she really, really wishes she’d been born an only child, and then takes a moment to fuss over the abrasions on Stiles’s face and arms courtesy of the steel wool blanket. “Oh, my god. You’re bleeding.”

And meanwhile Peter is still tied up in wolfbane-infused ropes, but apparently that’s no big thing.

Stiles wrinkles his nose and flushes under Talia’s attention, and looks for the world like a little kid. Peter half expects Talia to whip out a handkerchief, spit on it, and clean his face like a total mom. When fuck knows if anyone should be applying saliva to that face then it should be--

No.

It is not healthy to be sexually attracted to smartass little fuck weasels who manage to get the upper hand on him. But it’s so rare that anyone does. And Stiles has beautiful eyes. And lips that would looks amazing wrapped around Peter’s dick.

Peter totally wants to have hate sex with him.

Stiles smirks under Talia’s ministrations, and glances over at Peter like he knows exactly what he’s thinking.

Peter hates him.

Peter wants to hate him all night long, and in various positions.

“I’m fine, Alpha Hale,” Stiles says, like butter wouldn’t melt. “Totally okay. I was never in any real danger.”

And there’s the rub, right? The little asshole could have broken free at any moment. It was nothing but a game to him.

Except…

No, that’s not fair. He’d been doing exactly the same thing as Peter, hadn’t he? Trying to figure out who was attacking the Hale pack. Which, Peter hates to admit, is a level of loyalty he hadn’t expected from someone getting paid by the week. Suddenly that recommendation from Satomi doesn’t seem so strange.

“I mean, this is like an extreme level of exfoliation,” Stiles says, touching his abraded cheek carefully, “but it’ll be fine. I’ll tell people I face-planted on the beach or something. They’ll swallow it.” He flashes a disarming grin. “I have a history of being gravity’s bitch.”

Talia looks completely charmed.

“Excuse me,” Peter says, “but this rope actually burns.”

Talia gives him a look that says he totally deserves it, but then looks questioningly to Stiles instead. Stiles grins, and shrugs, and waves his hand, and Peter watches as the rings of mountain ash surrounding him and Derek curl away and tidy themselves into little piles, and the rope around him loosens and falls off.

Stiles winks at him, and wiggles his fingers.

Peter isn’t sure if Stiles is laughing at him, or threatening him.

It might actually be both.

 

 

***

 

Stiles spends the night at the Hales’ house, eating pizza and laughing loudly, and making Talia promise that she won’t tell his dad he’s in town because he’ll never forgive Stiles for not dropping by.

“Holy fuck,” Derek whispers, his head in his hands. “We kidnapped the sheriff’s son.”

“Let it go, Derek,” Peter says, tossing back a few fingers of whiskey. “That was hours ago.”

Stiles laughs, and grabs for the bottle. “You two are my favorite kidnappers ever.”

Peter hates him a little less than he did back at the cabin.

But only a little.

In the morning, Stiles checks the wards he installed remotely in the Preserve. Peter accompanies him.

“So, you’re the left hand,” Stiles says, stopping to pick up a twig and snap it.

“That’s right.”

Stiles cocks an eyebrow. “I presume you’re usually a lot better at it.”

“I am, actually.”

“Good.” Stiles’s smile fades and something dark flares in his eyes. “Because I really like your pack, Peter, and I really like your sister and I’m going to be the best emissary money can buy you guys, but fuck diplomacy. It only gets you so far. Sometimes the only way to protect your pack is to strike first, and strike hard.”

Peter feels a rush of warmth, and pleasure. “That’s always been my philosophy.”

“Then I think we’ll work very well together,” Stiles says.

“Until your contact expires.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows. “Guess you’d better use that left hand Machiavellian brain of yours to give your sister some reason to extend my contract.” His eyes dance. “Or give me some reason to stay.”

Peter steps forward and closes the space between them. “Oh, yes. And what might you suggest?”

Stiles’s breath smells like the maple syrup he drowned his pancakes in at breakfast. He turns his head so that his mouth almost brushes against Peter’s jaw line, and Peter feels a flare of heat rush through him. “Well, how about you take me home and fuck me so hard I can’t leave the bed, for starters, and we’ll see how it goes from there?”

 

***

 

After six weeks, Talia extends Stiles’s contract.

After six months, Stiles joins the Hale pack officially and closes down his e-Missary service.

Peter takes great pleasure in tearing up one of those obnoxious little business cards.

“Peter!” Stiles complains, yawning and stretching awake. The sunlight filtering through the curtains paints his pale mole-dotted skin golden, and the hickey on his throat a vivid shade of eggplant purple. “Stop going through my stuff.”

Peter climbs onto the bed and straddles him. He showers him in the confetti of the destroyed business card. “These are a crime against the English language, Stiles.”

“You’re such an asshole.”

“It’s why you love me,” Peter says.

“Yeah. Fuck you, but it totally is.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Now didn’t you promise me that grimoire if I blew you this morning?”

Peter growls, and lets his fangs drop. “Ready whenever you are, sweetheart.”

When it comes to blowjobs, to making out, and to rapid exchanges of snark that inevitably lead to fucking in odd places—they’ve been banned from Whole Foods—it’s not a lie at all. But generally? Peter has never been ready for Stiles, not even a little bit.

There aren’t many people who can keep Peter Hale on his toes, and of course it took a smartass little spark with a dirty mind and a capacity for plotting revenge that easily matches Peter’s own to do it.

And of course Peter loves every minute of it.

He might be a borderline sociopath with an ego larger than the GDP of China, but hey, doesn’t he deserve nice things too?

Conventional morality says absolutely not, but fuck it.

Peter leans down and kisses his Stiles.

He’ll take them anyway.