The cemetery in Beacon Hills is cold and damp, and Peter has his coat pulled tightly around himself as he watches the twenty-one gun salute. He’s standing back from the ceremony, partly in deference to his sensitive ears, and partly because he doesn’t really have a place there. He didn’t know any of the police officers being mourned, and he doesn’t want people asking why he’s there.
It’s been ten days since the fire. Ten days since he was woken in his hotel room, during a business trip, by the ringing phone. Ten days since he heard Laura’s hysterical crying on the other end, trying to tell him what had happened. Ten days since he had stood outside the smoldering remains of the house where he had lived most of his life, struggling to comprehend what had just happened.
It’s been ten days since the police quietly, solemnly informed him that there had been no survivors. He could not identify the bodies. The charred remains were far beyond that. They counted the teeth and the bones and estimated that there were eight of them. Eight is how many there should be, how many people are unaccounted for, so eight became the official death toll. Peter privately considers it nine, but Olivia hadn’t told anyone she was pregnant outside the family.
It’s been seven days since Peter attended the funeral of his brother and sister, their spouses and children, and his wife. Seven days since he stood on the preserve and watched them scatter the ashes. Laura was crying. Derek was pale and silent. They haven’t spoken much since then. He had never been close with Talia’s children. Hell, he had never been close with Talia. He finds himself bitterly regretting taking her up on her offer to live at the den. It was natural to live with the pack, but he had almost gotten himself and Olivia an apartment instead. In the end, instincts had prevailed, and now his wife is dead, along with the child they would have had.
It’s been four days since Peter managed to uncover evidence of who was behind the fire and go looking for her. Four days since he had found her holed up in a cabin in the woods with more guns than he could ever hope to counter. Four days since he had carefully weighed the risks and benefits and decided to call in an anonymous tip to the police about where to find her and what sort of weaponry she had. Four days since he watched from a tree nearby as SWAT stormed the house, only for it to be booby-trapped.
The explosion at the front had given Kate time to get out the back. Peter had followed, but so had somebody else. One of the other police officers had apparently seen the trap in time to avoid it, had pulled a gun just as Kate was getting to her car. He ordered her to turn around and lower her weapon to the ground.
She did as instructed, but then fired from where she was kneeling. Two of the bullets hit the deputy in the chest, where his armor protected him, but the last hit him in the throat. There was blood everywhere; Peter remembers that. The deputy fired once in return before he hit the ground, and Kate dove into her car.
It’s been four days since Peter made a split second decision to enter the scene. He knelt beside the deputy and grabbed his radio, reporting an officer down as Kate’s tires kicked up dust. Peter picked up the deputy’s gun and shot after her retreating car, fired until the clip was empty. One of the bullets must have hit, because her car and her body were found later that day. It’s a hollow victory.
It’s been four days since Peter knelt next to a dying man and tried to staunch his bleeding, tried to hear the last word that escaped from his lips. He still doesn’t know what that word was.
Two other officers were killed by Kate’s booby-trap, and the ceremony is being attended by about half the town. Peter watches as folded flags are handed to an elderly couple, a woman with shaking hands, and then a young boy. The couple and the woman are crying. The boy is not. He’s dry-eyed and distant.
Peter doesn’t think much of it until the ceremonies are over and he hears a woman say to the boy, “Stiles, how are you doing? Do you want to go?” ‘Stiles’ is the word the deputy had said before dying. Peter realizes now that it’s his son’s name, although he doesn’t know what sort of a name that is.
“Can I sit with Mom for a while?” the boy replies, which is a question that piques Peter’s interest. Why would he need permission to do that? Where is his mother?
But it becomes clear a few moments later when the woman says, “Not now, sweetie. They’re – ” Her voice chokes momentarily. “They’re digging your father’s grave next to hers, so the ground won’t really be stable there. It might be dangerous. I’ll bring you back tomorrow and you can sit with them if you want.”
Stiles just gives a little shrug and doesn’t reply. The woman gets distracted by a tide of people offering condolences. Stiles watches them, and Peter watches him. After a few minutes, the boy gets out of his chair and walks away. Nobody notices him go. Everyone is preoccupied with other things. Everyone except Peter.
So he follows him. He can’t really say why he does it. He’s curious, and desperate to distract himself from his own grief. The boy walks through the woods for about ten minutes before he sits down in a clearing, holding the folded flag in his lap. Peter realizes that they’re at the Nemeton. Interesting, that the boy would be drawn here. He could be a spark. At his age, it’s too early to know.
Peter walks over and sits down next to him. Stiles glances at him but doesn’t say anything. Peter lets him have the silence for a few moments before he says, “You’re the deputy’s son, aren’t you?”
Stiles nods. “Uh huh.”
“What are you doing out here?”
Stiles shrugs. Instead of answering Peter’s question, he says, “What are you?”
That brings a slight smile to Peter’s face. It might be the first time he’s smiled since the fire. “Following you. I’m Peter, by the way. Peter Hale.”
This generates a reaction from the boy. He looks surprised, then interested. “You killed her. The woman who killed my dad.”
“So it would seem. I think he got a shot into her as well, so it’s impossible to say which one did her in.”
Stiles nods a little. “Thanks. For calling for help and staying with him.” For the first time, his voice wobbles, and he has to swallow hard. “I’m glad he wasn’t alone.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to save him.”
Stiles doesn’t reply to that for a long time. Peter doesn’t say anything either. They just sit in silence. Finally, Stiles shifts a little and says, “Were you there because she killed your family?”
Peter’s surprised by that. Kate’s connection to the fire was unproven as of yet, although her blaze of glory certainly helped cement the media’s impression of her guilt. Peter doubts that this boy has been reading the newspaper articles about it. “How did you know that?”
“People talk. I listen.” Stiles shrugs again. “You know, people think kids aren’t listening or that they don’t understand. Sometimes it’s like we’re invisible. Why did Kate kill your family?”
“I’m not sure. Partly because I think she just liked killing. But mostly because we’re werewolves.”
For the first time, Peter sees life in the boy. His eyes go wide as he watches Peter shift, and his jaw sags slightly. Peter shifts back to his human form, and it’s like a dam bursts somewhere inside of Stiles. “Oh my God! You’re a werewolf? Werewolves are real? And you can shift any time you want, like you just did? You don’t only shift on the full moon? Was everyone in your family a werewolf? Is it a family thing, like, genetic? What happens if you bite somebody? Have you ever bitten anybody?”
Peter lifts a hand to stay the torrent of words, and finds himself genuinely smiling. He answers Stiles’ questions, one at a time. For every one he answers, Stiles has three more. They talk for a long time, until the sun goes down and the cold really starts to set in.
“So Kate was a hunter,” Stiles finally says, tucking his hands into his armpits. “Do other hunters kill werewolves for no reason?”
“Yes,” Peter says. “It happens all the time, to be honest. The people who gravitate towards that sort of work like to kill. They’ll claim they felt threatened and everyone will look the other way. They kill entire packs to pre-emptively avoid retaliation. They say that if one werewolf in a pack does something wrong, the whole pack has to pay. Because if they just kill the one wrong-doer, the rest of the pack will want revenge.”
“Is that true?”
Stiles accepts this and seems to think it over for a minute. “But the werewolves can’t hit back because . . . that only makes them seem more dangerous?”
Peter glances over at him and smiles again. “Yes, exactly. You’re very bright, did you know that? How old are you?”
“Ten years and two months. I’m cold. Can we get up and walk?”
“Sure.” Peter stands up and starts walking, and Stiles jogs along with him. His night vision helps him guide the boy along, although he still stumbles occasionally.
“My mom died last year,” Stiles says, out of nowhere. “She had frontotemporal dementia. She got really confused all the time, and sometimes she thought I was trying to hurt her. It’s pretty rare,” he continues matter-of-factly. “I remember saying to my dad that it wasn’t fair that she would get it. And he sat down with me and said that sometimes life isn’t fair. I don’t think I believed him until now.”
Peter nods. “It’s true. Life isn’t fair.”
“It’s more than not fair. It’s awful. Bad things happen for no reason. It’s all random and pointless and that’s scary.” Stiles hugs his arms over his chest. “Kate killed your family and my dad and now she’s dead but it doesn’t matter because so are they.”
“That’s true,” Peter says, feeling a bit of a sting in his own eyes at this. “But I think we can take a little bit of comfort in the fact that she won’t hurt anybody else ever again.”
“But the others will. The people who are like her.”
Peter nods assent.
“Well,” the boy says, “if they’re going to hunt werewolves, I’m going to hunt them.”
It’s a ridiculous statement from a ten-year-old, but he’s obviously one hundred percent sincere. For the first time since the fire, Peter feels life stir inside him, feels purpose. It’s kismet, clearly. He’ll never meet the child he would have had with Olivia. Instead he’s met this boy, this brilliant, determined, cynical child with a world of potential.
Peter kneels down in front of him so they’re at eye level. “How do you feel about doing that together?”
Stiles is suspicious. “Are you making fun of me?”
“No.” Peter chuckles quietly. “Not at all. I can teach you, Stiles. I’ll teach you how to find them, how to fight them. I’ll teach you everything I know, and we’ll be the boogey men every hunter warns their children about. We’ll let them know if they touch one innocent, they’ll wake up to find us standing over them in bed. We can do that. But it comes with a price.”
“What is it?” Stiles asks.
“We’d have to leave everything behind. Ah, don’t say there’s nothing,” Peter interrupts as Stiles opens his mouth. “I don’t just mean your family or your friends. I mean everything. You’ll never have a normal life. We’ll have to move all the time, live off the grid, use fake identities. You’d be giving up the chance to get married and have kids, to have a career or a place you can call home. You’d walk away from all of it, now, tonight, and you’d never be able to go back.”
“I don’t want any of that,” Stiles says immediately. “I can’t . . . I can’t be normal now. Not after what happened. I’m going to spend every day my whole life thinking about how unfair things are and how angry I am. If I’m going to do that, I might as well get something out of it. Or give something.”
Peter nods, but asks, “You’re sure?”
Stiles hesitates. “I have to let Scott and his mom know I’m okay, though. I don’t want them to worry about me.”
“That seems doable,” Peter says, although it amuses him to think of how they’re going to react. He’ll have to make sure Stiles tells them as little as possible. “Come on. It’s getting cold, and they’ll be wondering where you are.”
They walk back into town, and stop by a convenience store where Peter picks up a pre-paid cell phone. After a brief discussion, he hands it over to Stiles, who dials the McCall house. “Stiles, where are you?” Melissa asks immediately. “We’ve been looking everywhere!”
“I’m sorry I worried you,” Stiles says. “I went for a walk. Anyway, it was really nice of you to say that I could come stay with you, but I don’t need to.”
“You don’t – I beg your pardon – ” Melissa sounds appalled.
“The woman who killed my dad, there are more people like her, so I’m going to go find them,” Stiles says, and Melissa makes sputtering noises. “I’ll be fine, so please don’t worry about me. Tell Scott I said goodbye and thanks for being my friend.”
“Stiles, do not hang – ”
Stiles ends the call. Peter takes the phone and tosses it into a nearby sewer grate, hearing a satisfying splash. “We can stay at my place tonight, and leave in the morning,” he says. He needs to talk to Laura before he leaves.
They’ve been staying in a hotel room. Laura has said some half-hearted things about finding a new place to live, but she’s also been talking about leaving town. Peter can see why, but he thinks it’s the wrong move. This territory has been in the Hale hands for generations. She’s the alpha; she should stay and guard it. But he doesn’t care enough to argue with her about it.
“You want to do what?” Laura asks, when he tells her his plan. “With who?”
Peter calmly explains again while Stiles sits on the hotel room bed and Derek lurks in the chair in the corner. “You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like.”
“Jesus, Peter, this is literally the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Laura says. “You can’t just kidnap an orphan and train him to be Batman! If you want to deal with the fire by killing every hunter you come across, fine, but don’t involve an innocent kid!”
“He wants to go,” Peter says. “Hell, it was his idea.”
“Oh, well, that explains everything.” Laura rolls her eyes and folds her arms over her chest. “What the hell is wrong with you? It sucks that his dad died, but that’s no reason to drag him into your revenge fantasy. You’re going to ruin his life!”
“Kate Argent ruined his life,” Peter says, “just like she ruined all of ours. Besides, I wasn’t asking for your permission.”
“You should,” Laura snarls, her eyes flaring crimson.
Peter grits his teeth. Laura is his alpha, and instinct is to cower, to bow, to obey. He fights through it. “We’re going, regardless of your opinion. If you don’t want to join us, fine. Go try to have your normal life somewhere. I wish you the best of luck.”
Laura takes a deep breath and tries to control her temper. “Peter, you’re not thinking this through. He’s just a kid.”
“Oh my Gawwwwwwwwd,” Stiles chimes in. “Peter, can we just go? This is stupid.”
“I’m forced to agree with you yet again,” Peter says, getting to his feet. “Let’s get moving. Laura, take care of your brother.”
“I don’t need you to tell me to do that,” Laura snaps.
Peter sighs. “I’ll see you when I see you, then,” he says, and ushers Stiles out the door.
They make one more stop, at the Hale vault. He doesn’t take a lot, doesn’t want to deplete the future resource. He’s glad there’s some cash in there as well as the bearer bonds. He won’t feel safe heading to a bank to trade them until they’re well out of Beacon Hills. So he takes all the cash, but only a handful of the bonds.
He has one good fake ID that he uses for work, so they can get a hotel for the night, as long as they get far away enough from Beacon Hills that nobody will be looking for Stiles. Peter doesn’t trust Laura not to call the cops on him, after everything she said. They’ll need a different car. He pops the SIM card out of his cell phone to transfer later, and leaves the phone itself in the vault.
“Where are we going?” Stiles asks, as they leave the high school.
“The airport in Sacramento,” Peter says.
Stiles considers this. “Why?”
“There are several ways people can be tracked,” Peter says. “How many can you think of?”
“Phones,” Stiles says immediately. “Bank accounts.” He thinks about it. “Any place you have to give ID?”
“Only if certain flags are in place, on the latter,” Peter says. “Plus, they can put out an APB on your car. So that’s the problem we are currently going to be solving.” He’s taken on the teaching tone he used with the cubs, without even thinking about it. “People will be looking for you, and before long, looking for me. Even if Laura doesn’t call the police, someone probably will have noticed that I was at the funeral, maybe even that I followed you into the woods. That means we need to get off the grid as quickly as possible.”
“Why the airport, though?” Stiles says. “We can’t fly, right?”
“Correct. But the long-term parking garage at an airport is a good place to steal a car. It’s one of the few places where it won’t be noticed that it’s missing right away.”
Stiles’ eyes light up. “Oh, I get it. You know how to steal a car?”
“I do indeed.”
“And you’re going to teach me?”
Peter smiles. “Yes, I am.”
“Awesome,” Stiles says, then frowns slightly and says, “But we’re not keeping it, right? What if they don’t have insurance? How do we get a car we can keep?”
Peter glances at him, partly amused and partly annoyed. “You’re new to the criminal aspect of this, I know, but that’s not really how it works.”
Stiles’ frown deepens. “I don’t mind breaking the law if we have to, but we can’t do anything that hurts people who don’t deserve it. If we could steal a car from someone we knew was a bad person, we could keep it, but if we have to take one randomly, then we have to return it later.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Peter says. “It’s going to be interesting, hunting bad guys with you on my shoulder like a little Jiminy Cricket.”
Stiles sticks his tongue out. “So how do we get a car we can keep?”
“Once we’ve driven far enough away that nobody will be looking for us, I can buy one,” Peter says. “Going off the grid isn’t as hard as people think it is, as long as you have plenty of money. Money can get you a new identity or three, and once you have that, you can get a new car, a place to live, et cetera. Cars are easier now that Craigslist is a thing. A place to live is the hardest. Apartments come with credit checks, rental histories – things a fake identity doesn’t necessarily have. But houses – well, people are suspicious a lot of the time if you try to pay for a house with cash.”
“So where are we going to live?” Stiles asks.
“Hotels are good, especially the ones with extended-stay rates. Get your fake identity a credit card, stay in one a couple weeks at a time, nobody bats an eyelash.” Peter glances over at Stiles and sees him nodding, taking all this in. “But, hotels also come with cameras and a security presence. So it’s important to be alert, and careful not to arouse suspicion.”
Stiles nods. “How?”
“A wonderful art called grifting,” Peter says. “In this case, you have to be a particular combination of pleasant and outgoing, yet forgettable. Chat just enough with the check-in clerk to make them think you have nothing to hide, without making anything about yourself stand out.” He thinks things over while he’s telling Stiles this. “Do you speak any Spanish?”
“Nuh uh,” Stiles says. “We don’t start languages until seventh grade.”
Peter can’t help but roll his eyes. “Naturally. They wait until just after your brain has lost the plasticity needed to make it easy to learn them. How very American.”
“I speak a little Polish,” Stiles adds.
“That doesn’t really help, since we can’t get you on a plane. Getting to Mexico would be a lot easier.”
“Why do you want to go to Mexico?”
“To get away from media coverage,” Peter says. “It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually. Some missing children get an enormous amount of press, and some get hardly any. Typically, it’s little white girls that make the most news, but you . . . recently orphaned, son of a police officer who died in the line of duty, called and left a cryptic message with the woman who was looking after you . . . that’s the sort of thing that will attract not only the media, but every jackass on the internet who thinks he’s the next Sherlock Holmes. Which means we can’t just keep you out of sight for a couple days while we get to the other side of the country – it will be weeks or even months before it would be safe for you to be seen in public.”
Stiles grimaces. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, cut my hair or something?”
“I can, and I intend to,” Peter says, “in case you get glimpsed from a distance at a gas station or some such. But I think an abundance of caution will be warranted, particularly if the media goes into the frenzy I expect.”
“Bleh,” Stiles says, amusing Peter immensely.
Half an hour later, they’re at the airport. Peter pulls into the long-term lot and cruises slowly, looking for an area without security cameras. Then Stiles points to a pick-up truck and says, “We should take that one.”
“Why?” Peter asks, although a quick glance around reveals that it should work as well as any other.
“Because it belongs to a bad person,” Stiles says, and gestures to the Confederate flag sticker adorning the back window.
Peter considers this, then says, “Fair enough!” He pulls into a parking spot down the aisle. “Come on, then.”
Stiles watches in interest while Peter picks out another car, removes the license plate from the back, and swaps it with the one on the back of the truck. “Is that in case the people who own the truck realize that it got stolen before we ditch it?”
“It is indeed,” Peter says, then adds, “And that sticker will have to go, despite what it reveals about the owners. Far too conspicuous. Why don’t you see if you can peel it off?”
It turns out to be a decal, not a sticker, so it comes off easily. Peter finishes with the license plates, then shows Stiles how to use the slim-jim to get the door of the car open. “Can I try?” Stiles asks.
“We’ll practice it later. I don’t want to stay here too long. Hop in.”
Stiles climbs in and watches Peter hotwire the vehicle. A few minutes later, they’re on their way out of the parking lot, and he quickly gets them on I-5, heading south. Peter sees him mask a yawn. “You might as well get some sleep, if you’re tired,” he says. “We’re going to be driving a while. I want to get to the Los Angeles suburbs before we stop for the night. I can wake you in a couple hours when we stop for gas and a bite to eat.”
“Okay.” Stiles reclines his chair and curls up slightly. He fidgets for several long minutes while Peter drives, but eventually drifts off.
~ ~ ~ ~