“Wow. What a terrible idea.” Stiles swivels on the stool next to Derek’s spartan kitchen counter, squinting at Scott, who rolls his eyes and huff’s out Stiles’s name. “No, wait, did I mention?” Stiles continues, of course, because Peter is not sure the kid knows how to shut up. “Bad idea! Bad idea pants, Scott. So bad. Like, wedgie pants bad.”
For once, though, Peter is entirely in agreement with their emissary. Sending Peter to negotiate with the Korhonen pack is perhaps not such a bad idea in and of itself, because they are the descendants of Viking berserker werewolves. They don’t give any fucks about ‘true alphas’ and are not-so-politely bidding to “claim” the Hale-McCall resident banshee for themselves, so Peter’s brand of sly, experienced, cunning diplomacy is called for. He grudgingly gives Scott a lot of credit for understanding that from the start.
But again: descendants of a very old, very traditional pack of Viking berserker werewolves. If Scott dares to send an unmated werewolf to represent him, the so-called negotiations will be over before Peter’s lifeless body hits the ground (again, and he’s over that, really, like a lot).
Peter is holding back from openly agreeing with Stiles, though, because he does not have a better idea to advance. Melissa and the Sheriff are too entertwined to believably have one or the other pose as anyone’s mate, and can’t represent the pack as a mated pair despite being what might traditionally called the “pack elders” because neither one of them is a werewolf. More’s the pity, there, and Peter once again regrets not turning Melissa when he had the chance.
That doesn’t leave a lot of other adults to take on the role of Peter’s mate, and despite his reputation, he does have standards and won’t abide coming across as some kind of cradle-robbing predator by pretending to be mated to a teenager, even one in college. Deaton beat feet out of Beacon Hills once Stiles came into his powers, and for all that Parrish is at least old enough to drink, he’s staying pack adjacent aside from canoodling with Lydia. Wise choice, if Peter’s being honest. He kind of wishes he was pack adjacent himself right now.
Did he mention, Viking berserker werewolves?
“I’m open to ideas, bro.” Scott shrugs, spreading his hands wide. Derek palms his face while the other betas all mutter to each other unhelpfully and Stiles lets out a huge breath.
“Scott asked me, and I said yes.” The statement is hard and final, the voice of mature authority ringing through the loft. The kids (they are all kids and Peter wonders what the hell he was thinking...then remembers, he wasn’t really thinking back then, and the aching sore point that will always be labeled “Laura” starts hurting so he shuts down that train of thought) all shift in minor shows of submission to Chris Argent, of all the damn people. Except Scott, who just nods like everything is reasonable. Peter sighs.
Stiles rolls his eyes as he always does when conceding defeat. “Fine. I’ll set up the bonding ceremony, but!” He points at Peter, then at Chris. “There will be no nakedness and no mashing of lips. I just ate.”
Derek groans as if in pain, the rest of the pack flees the scene, and that is how Peter MacInroy Hale, werewolf, ends up being mated to Jean Christophe Argent, hunter, in Derek’s loft with Scott McCall as witness.
The mate mark burns, and it feels like cruel irony to Peter.
“Korhonens are not going take well to Scott refusing their offer,” Chris says at some point in the third hour of their road trip. He is occasionally rubbing his forearm where his mate mark rests, but he does not seem aware of doing so. Peter would have guessed that their shared mark would have been some kind of play on a fleur de lis or triskele or, perhaps, both. Instead it is a hyper stylized phoenix that wraps around their forearms, which is just too close to home, literally, for Peter to want it around any longer than it needs to be.
“They are not going to take well to my ‘mate’ being the son of Gerard Argent, either. Chances are high they will not even let us through the front gate.” Peter is pointing out the obvious, but it is also fairly important. Chris was the last choice for playing at being Peter’s mate for many more reasons than the fact that Peter hates him.
Chris sighs in agreement and settles back in the passenger seat, stretching his long, rangey legs out. Peter not only hates Chris but also really, truly hates the fact that Chris is (always has been) exactly his type of man: lean, strong, angry, and fucked up.
It’s not like either one of them has mellowed out from the time they were teens and snarling at each other, but these days they have more in common than not. That’s not a good thing.
They have both lost family, wives, children. They both exist outside the Hale-Mackall pack while still being tied tightly to the heart of it, for different reasons.
They both are on their way to meet with an infamous pack of Viking berserker werewolves with high odds of being killed by them because of their sins, Peter figures.
“You seem pretty at ease with this whole charade,” Chris says, rolling his head over to look at Peter.
“Should we have sent Derek? Please.” Peter snorts at the memory of his nephew’s expression when it was explained that someone would have to go and that someone would have to be mated. It would have been a mercy killing to send him, to be honest, but Peter’s not willing to risk anymore of his pack no matter how entertaining it would be.
“Might have been the kick in the ass he needs to propose to Stilinski.” Chris grins at the thought, looking out the windshield. The expression takes years off of him.
Not that Peter notices things like that.
“He told me they are ‘friends with benefits’ while Stiles is in college.”
Chris sniggers. “I don’t think that means what he thinks it means.”
Peter can’t help but laugh, because that is the damned truth of it. He’s never seen two boys so much in love and in so much denial about it. They will never make it another three years doing a long distance relationship. He’s already caught Derek doing online searches for condominiums near Berkeley.
It’s odd to think about the fact that Derek found his mate, and so young. The little boy who sucked at basketball until Peter drilled him for an hour every night for nearly a year has become a man, a mated werewolf (whether he admits it or not, Peter’s nose doesn’t lie), and a somewhat, barely functional adult. It’s almost surreal.
“They grow up fast, don’t they?” Chris says softly. Peter glances over at him to see a far too sympathetic expression on his face.
“Well, I did miss about six of those growing up years, after all,” Peter snaps.
Chris is quiet for the rest of the trip. Peter resolutely does not feel guilty about it.
I still don't know the chapter count but looks like this is going to be about 20k words, maybe. Unless I throw in that plot twist I’ve been considering...dunno...but at least 20k, give or take.
They are, indeed, allowed into the remote compound that takes up nearly the whole side of a mountain next to Willamette National Forest in Oregon. Peter knows this is due to the power of Stiles’s magic, which constructed a mating bond so authentic that Peter has to keep reminding himself it is forced and temporary. While Chris and Peter had swapped clothes and bedsheets for the days leading up the trip, simple scent exchange would hardly have been enough to fool the Korhonens’ emissary.
She is tall and strikingly blonde and barefoot, even in the snow, but Peter knows instantly that she is nowhere near as powerful as Stiles. She “reads” their mating marks and nods at the intimidating alpha standing a few feet behind her.
Peter tilts his head in a sign of deference but not submission. “Peter Hale, eldest of the line, here as ambassador for the Hale-McCall Pack of Beacon Hills on behalf of True Alpha Scott McCall.” He grabs Chris’s arm and tugs him forward. “My mate, Chris Argent, eldest of his line.”
Alpha Korhonen steps forward. He is six feet, six inches at least and built like a semi-truck, thick and heavy and overbearing. His hair and his beard are mostly gray, and mostly braided. He looks like a reject from Game of Thrones, which Peter thinks does not bode well at all. Chris stands next to Peter, silent and still, his heartbeat and emotions locked down. So, perhaps, there was some small benefit to bringing a trained hunter to a high stakes game like this, not that Peter will ever admit it to his face.
“You bring a hunter into the heart of our den?” The alpha asks, pleasant and calm despite the hard tone of voice and flinty eyes. His betas, at least twenty of them, are spread out around them in a circle, quietly attententive to the tension in the air. Peter is sure there are more hiding in the trees.
“My mate. He’s not a hunter.”
Chris chuckles as if they are at a cocktail party. “That’s not what you said when I brought you that six-pointer last week.”
Peter works very hard not to roll his eyes, because this is the kind of cocky attitude they do not need right now.
But Alpha Korhonen cracks a smile. “Providing for you mate is an honor.”
Chris nods once in acknowledgement. The two men posture at each other for a brief moment before the alpha turns back to Peter.
“A brazen, bold move. I respect your alpha for this choice.”
Peter buries his surprise and just smiles. “The True Alpha is growing into a powerful man.” He pauses. “And a powerful wolf.”
Alpha Korhonen accepts the subtle threat with grace, sweeping a hand to point out a gravel path. “Guest quarters are a less than mile up the road. Emmy will escort you. We will hold negotiations in the morning.” He turns and walks off with long, powerful strides. The emissary and most of the betas flow after him in his wake, but one young woman stays behind. She’s thin, pale, and angry looking with a shock of red hair pulled back into — what else? — a heavy braid.
“C’mon.” She motions for them to follow and does not offer to help them with their luggage, not that Peter would have let her. The kid smells angrier than the situation warrants at this point, and that puts Peter on guard. It suggests the politics of the Korhonen pack might be more complicated than it first appeared — not that Peter can see any way to use that to their advantage. Yet.
Emmy leads them to a small but quaint cabin, which is the size of a postage stamp but has running water and electricity, then turns and disappears into the surrounding forest with only the spicy scent of animosity in her wake.
Chris goes inside and closes all the curtains and pulls down shades. They both know that at least one ‘wolf is nearby, listening in, but it is nice to have a semblance of privacy.
“That went better than expected,” Chris says, pointing at his forearm to mean the falsified mate mark.
“Maybe.” It’s as far as Peter is willing to concede. They are deep in enemy territory and just getting in through the gate is hardly a success. He’ll save that for when they get out. He stretches. “I need a shower after being on the road so long.”
Chris nods and busies himself with getting his toiletries out of his duffle bag. Peter figures that being quietly uncommunicative is probably their safest option, given their presumed audience, so just grabs his own things and heads into the tiny bathroom.
He walks out later, clean but still damp because there was not really room enough to dry off before dressing in his pajamas, and stops dead in his tracks. Furniture has been moved around (how did he miss hearing that?), booby traps installed over the front and back doors and all the windows, and a veritable battery of weapons strewn over every surface. He knew Chris had packed some weapons in his spare suitcase, but this is ridiculous.
“Are we being invaded?”
Chris shrugs and continues to tie what has to be mistletoe-laced rope (what the hell) between two chairs.
“Christopher,” Peter says slowly, waiting for Chris to look at him. “Korhonen is a huge pack. We didn’t even see half of his betas just now. If they attack, we’re dead.”
“You know what Scott and Stiles will do to them if they kill us.” He focuses on what looks like a cat’s cradle he’s making as some kind of ground-level foot trap. Peter admires the vagueness of the statement — enough information to intrigue anyone listening in with just a hint of mystery regarding the threat Scott and Stiles pose. Peter’s sure the comment is already being relayed to Alpha Korhonen as they stand there. He stamps down the admiration welling up in his chest.
Chis tugs at the ropes thoughtfully. “Anyway, this isn’t about fighting off the whole pack. This is about sending them a message that we won’t lay down and take what they want to give us. They will have a hell of a fight to pull us out of here if we don’t want to go. Negotiations will be on our terms, not the alpha’s.”
Peter concedes that is a damn good point by tilting his head a little. “I suppose it takes a hunter to think outside the box of our traditions.”
“That’s why you love me,” Chris says with a sardonic smile as he stands up and dusts his mistletoe-dust covered hands on his pants. Peter eyes them warily.
“You’re not getting into bed until you have scrubbed that crap off.”
Chris smirks. “Yes, dear.”
They are both grown-ass men pretending to be mated while under constant surveillance, so therefore Peter expects there to be no “we have to share the bed” drama when Chris gets out of the shower. He thinks perhaps he should have qualified that expectation with the caveat that he will have no undue physical reactions to their proximity.
Chris is dressed in some lumberjack-esque red long-johns onesie, which would be hilarious if it didn’t pull in all the right ways to verify that he is, in fact, not wearing any underwear underneath it.
Peter is deeply regretting his choice of wearing only boxer briefs to bed.
Chris does a quick visual check of all his defensive traps, turns out the lights then flops into bed like a teenager, all long, lean limbs jostling for space. It is only a full size bed with just enough room for two adults, and while technically — by weight and width, at least — Peter is the larger of the two, he scoots a bit closer to the edge to avoid random elbows and knees.
“I hate sleeping in strange beds,” Chris comments by way of explanation about five minutes later, when Peter is seriously considering just punching him unconscious.
“You are a hunter, haven’t you spent half your life camping out or sleeping in shitty motels?”
“I’m not Dean Winchester, Peter.”
“Would that I could be so lucky as to end up in bed with Jensen Ackles.”
Chris pauses. “I cut out the road travel when Ally was born.”
Peter doesn’t reply, but he takes the confession as it is meant, as a peace offering. He curls up on his side, facing away from the other man.
Chris whispers after another eternity of wiggling around. “What do you think Alpha Korhonen will do?”
“When we say no? I expect subtly threaten our pack. Or kill us and send our bodies back as a message. Perhaps both,” Peter sighs. Despite the distraction of his squirming around, Chris being next to him is comforting in a way that Peter barely remembers.
He misses being part of a real pack, of the emotional and physical connections that build up over time and effort. He had little love lost for his domineering alpha sister but her husband and their children and both of his older brothers, yes...he misses them. The weak, thready connections he has to his niece and nephew now hardly compare, and he never pushes it with them because he lost that right when he murdered Laura, insanity plea or no. It’s a pain that is old and heavy, not as sharp as his grief for his wife and son but still acute. He figures that is why it feels so odd that after all this time spent both abandoned and pushing people away that being in bed with someone and not touching them feels unnatural. His wolf wants to roll over and rub his scent all over Chris, to mark him.
Instead, he pushes his emotions back into their box and continues with the conversation. “I figure he’ll drown us in technicalities and negotiations before he gets annoyed enough to start threatening. What I’m concerned about is what he will do to try and throw us off our game.”
“Who knows. These kinds of diplomatic parlays went out of style with Queen Victoria. Usually if Talia needed me to negotiate with a pack we’d just do a conference call, like civilized creatures.”
He feels Chris nodding, then squirming again.
“I swear to Fenrir if you don’t settle down and go to sleep I will smother you with your pillow.”
Chris sighs heavily before going still. “Yes, dear.”
Peter considers smothering him anyway.
wee bit of a chapter this time, but I'll probably be updating in a few days rather than waiting a full week, so...yay?
Peter snaps awake when a door flies off its hinges and a werewolf screams in pain. He has a fleeting thought that he’s gotten too soft, too comfortable, because by the time he’s rolling out of bed Chris is crouched on the floor, gun aimed at the intruder.
Who is currently rolling around on the ground, smelling like wolfsbane and blood from whatever booby trap Chris had waiting for him. He’s yanked out the broken doorway by his feet and dragged off, still howling.
“What did—” Peter starts but stops when he sees Alpha Korhonen standing in the doorway, peering into the cabin.
Peter rolls his shoulders and straightens up. “Perhaps we should have specified that ‘negotiations will start in the morning ’ means they will start after eight, when I’ve had time to drink my coffee. Not at two a.m. in the dead of fucking night.” He puts a possessive hand on Chris’s shoulder where he is still half-kneeling with his gun aimed straight at the alpha.
“Perhaps we should have.” The alpha nods once at Peter, then again at Chris, before turning and walking away.
The emissary, and Peter cannot remember her hippy trippy woo-woo name to save his life — Snowflake? Sunflower? — takes the alpha’s place at the doorway. “Clever protections. Very...practical.”
Peter can’t tell if she’s impressed or sarcastic, and honestly, it’s the middle of the night and he doesn’t care. He opens his mouth to say something but Chris glides to his feet with the grace of a predator (Peter does not find that sexy, no he does not) and struts up to her. She’s taller than he is but even in his absurd long-john underwear he looks bigger , bristling with anger like some kind of pissed off honey badger.
(damn Stiles and his need to share those fucking memes)
Chris points at her aggressively. “I don’t give a fuck about your opinion of my defenses. Your pack threatened my mate, so you’re lucky we’re not leaving right now and permanently breaking talks.”
Peter’s heart flutters at the way Chris growls the word “mate”, heavy with meaning and intent. The emissary obviously hears it, as her eyes flick toward him before giving Chris a wholly insincere smile.
“A simple misunderstanding—”
Chris lifts one finger up, his expression ruthless and his words sharp. “You had your one chance. Don’t try this shit again.”
Peter walks over, picks the door up off the floor and slams it back into place, right in her face.
Chris grins at him and they wait until Peter can’t hear anyone outside anymore.
“That’s not going to keep the cold air out.” Chris inspects the door, which is leaning against the frame. Peter’s heart flips over at the sight of Chris, smirking at the door, comfortable in his ridiculous pajamas but still looking coiled and ready to strike — ready to kill in order to protect Peter.
Like a mate .
“For fuck’s sake, it’s the middle of the night. Come back to bed.” Peter stomps to the bed and throws himself under the blankets, too tired and sexually frustrated with himself to be awake anymore. He makes plans to deal with unwelcome emotional revelations at a later time. Or maybe never. Never is good.
“Yes, dear.” The sardonic asshole laughs and follows.
Peter absolutely does not care and does not want to kiss Chris in his smug face and does not wake up curled around the hunter like a love sick puppy with his mate mark too-hot and throbbing on his arm.
Negotiations are as productive as expected, by which Peter means he wants to bash a lot of heads into rocks, including maybe his own. It’s clear Alpha Korhonen would have just kidnapped Lydia by now if not for fear of both political backlash from other packs and Lydia’s powers (which are still very much in the ‘unknown, untested, probably lethal so let’s not’ zone), but not because he is at all concerned about the Hale-McCall pack. He is dismissive of Scott and Stiles in the main and references Talia more than a few times, until Peter caustically reminds him that Beacon Hills is on it’s fourth alpha removed from her and oh by the way did you know True Alphas can cross mountain ash barriers? Isn’t that interesting?
The emissary (Starshine? Saffron?) is impressed, at least, but she’s not a part of the negotiations, just serving as witness.
Chris shows up strapped into more weaponry than Peter’s libido can tolerate — there are a lot of straps involved, for christ’s sake — and stands behind Peter’s chair with his arms folded over his chest, glaring at everyone. The wolfsbane and saltpeter scent floating off of him is strong enough to make a few nearby ‘wolves sneeze. A lot. Peter is hard-pressed not to laugh at them.
Peter also spends time wondering how it would feel to always have strength like that at his back, and how it would feel to wake up every morning wrapped up next to the lethal hunter who snuffles like a toddler in his sleep. He drags his mind back to the proceedings, but it’s a battle.
Finally, three hours in, Peter slaps his hands on the heavy wooden table they are gathered around. A couple of ‘wolves jump and the alpha purses his lips at the breach in protocol.
“I’ve tried to be polite and political about this, but I can see that’s getting us nowhere. I will lay this out very clearly for you: Lydia Martin, banshee, youngest of her line, is not for sale, trade, or wedlock. She is a freely aligned with the Hale-McCall pack and until she decides to change that affiliation, Alpha McCall and myself, the eldest of the Hale line and former alpha, will protect her freedom to our deaths. If you feel up to challenging my alpha for ‘rights’ to our banshee, feel free. You will probably lose, and even if you don’t, Lydia will tear your heart out of your chest and eat it for inconveniencing her.”
Everyone looks stunned at the audacity of the statement, but Chris smirks. “Well, let’s be honest, she’d use a knife and fork to do it.”
Peter curls a lip in amusement. “True. She is a lady .” He turns back to the alpha. “I respect the Korhonen Pack and your history, but this is not the dark ages somewhere in Gaul. Alpha McCall sent us here as a courtesy, and out of respect for your traditions, but this is 21st century and Lydia Martin is not chattel to be traded.”
Chris pulls Peter’s chair back and Peter takes the hint, standing up. “Negotiations are closed. Good luck with finding a banshee to align with.”
Chris ostentatiously pats the gun in his thigh holster before holding out his arm like a gentleman in a Regency romance novel to escort Peter away.
“So you...just told them ‘no’?” Scott is squinting at Peter like he’s not speaking English. “Couldn’t we have...just...done that by phone?”
Stiles is also squinting, and for a moment, they really do look like brothers. Peter sighs. “No, Scott. Rebuffing the official and traditional overture would have been seen as aggressive, a statement of, maybe not war, but antagonism. For all that I don’t trust that alpha any further than Chris could throw him, he’s hide-bound by traditions and this way we come off as acting in good faith. Any move he makes toward Ms. Martin from here on out will be considered by other packs as a transgression against your authority as alpha.”
Derek, of course, is nodding along solemnly, understanding the gravity of the politics and reading between the lines — that the Korhonen alpha probably does not give a fuck about transgressing Scott’s authority, in the long run.
Stiles is still squinting, probably figuring out all the angles on his own. Scott, bless his ridiculously optimistic heart, just smiles. “Great! Thanks, man. That’s awesome. Hey Stiles. Stiles. Stiles!” He shakes Stiles’s shoulder.
“Huh?” Stiles blinks at him, pulling his mind out of the spiral it had fallen into.
“You should break the bond now. So, you know, Chris can go home?”
“Oh yeah! Here, let me—” He makes grabby hands at them, magic sparking over his fingers.
Peter and Chris shuffle forward, both obviously feeling the same wariness. Stiles is incredibly powerful, but he is also impatient and sometimes rash. The bonding worked well enough, but Peter is hoping that Stiles does not end up skinning their arms or burning the marks off or anything equally creatively unpleasant. They each hold our their forearms, Chris rolling up the sleeve of his shirt.
Peter has wanted the flagrant phoenix gone since it showed up, but still, his heart flips a beat. Derek gives him a very skeptical side-eye for it, but Peter ignores him. He wants this all done and over with. He totally does, no matter what his treacherous heartbeat is doing in his chest.
“Okay, so hold hands for a second. Good. Now I’m just gonna—” Stiles stops there, pokes his tongue out like he’s a kindergartner trying to write his name, and grabs their wrists.
“Uh. Okay, hold on.” Stiles snaps his fingers for a second before grabbing their wrists again. His face scrunches up and his hold keeps getting tighter until Chris grunts and shakes him off. Stiles looks at his own hands in confusion. “It’s not working.
“What.” Derek steps forward and peers over Stiles’s shoulder at Chris and Peter’s forearms.
Peter yanks his hand free from Chris’s hold. “What do you mean, it’s not working?”
“Stiles, what’s wrong?” Scott puts his hand on Stiles’s shoulder, causing him to look at Scott.
“I don’t know. It should be simple? Less complicated than making it, anyway. But it’s like my magic just hits a wall.” He turns his hands over as if looking at the back of them will reveal the mystery. He looks up at Peter. “Ideas?”
Peter cannot believe he’s panicking about this but his mind scrambles through the dusty corners of his brain to figure out what the hell to say, for once coming up with absolutely nothing. Zilch. Zero. What the hell.
Derek’s gaze goes full-on suspicious, but Peter has a lot of practice at ignoring him.
“Maybe your magic is telling you it isn’t safe yet,” Chris says, drawing everyone’s attention. He frowns for a moment, staring intently at his mate mark. “Maybe we shouldn’t break the bond just yet. Korhonen might be looking for any excuse to push the issue, to claim we acted in bad faith.”
“Huh.” Stiles drops his hands. “Possibly. But—”
“He’s right,” Peter says, speaking slowly, and very carefully not looking at Chris. “Chances are good that Alpha Korhonen put a beta on our heels to observe the pack here.”
Stiles opens his mouth but Peter shushes him. “Their emissary is not as strong as you but she’s more than capable of putting a temporary cloaking spell on a single ‘wolf for a few days.”
They are all quiet for a moment as the reality of that sinks in.
“Awkward,” Scott say, wincing, before looking over at Chris and Peter. “Sorry, guys. Looks like you have to keep it up.”
Stiles, of course , snickers at that, but chokes on it when Derek grabs him by the back of the neck and shakes him like a puppy. Peter shoots his nephew a grateful look while Stiles sputters indignation.
Chris turns to Peter with a resigned expression. “Your place or mine?”
“Mine, obviously. I have the best coffeemaker.”
“It’s true, he does,” Derek confirms helpfully. Peter side-eyes him but Derek is looking like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Clearly up to no good, then.
“Let’s go home, sweet cheeks.” Chris turns to walk out of the loft, and it sounds suspiciously like he’s smiling.
“I hate you so much.”
The boys start snickering as Peter follows.
“I’ll drop by my place tomorrow to pick up more clothes.” Chris flops onto Peter’s couch, looking around, stretching his arms out across the back and generally smearing his scent all over everything like a jackass. “Nice apartment. Bigger than mine.”
Peter grunts noncommittally and goes to dump his suitcase in his bedroom. He’s still trying to figure out what the hell happened earlier. He does not actually for one second believe that Stiles’s magic just failed or was even purposefully going awry. No, the awful truth is that the very idea of Stiles breaking the bond and magically removing the mate mark had made Peter instinctively panic, it was as simple as that. He sure as hell did not respond that way on purpose. Magic is not a sentient force but it is reactionary, and probably read Peter’s emotions to mean that the bond is real.
But this...this is not a real bond. It is not a real mating. He and Chris have hate-flirted with each other since they were teens, but that was as far as it went. Hales and Argents are mortal enemies, forever and ever, world without end, amen. Chris’s own sister is proof of that.
He pauses, sensing someone behind him. He spins around to face the door.
“I get that this isn’t ideal, but you can stop acting like I’m purposefully torturing you.” Chris is leaning against the doorway, duffel bag hanging from one hand. “It’s not like either one of us had much of a choice in this.”
Which...hurts. It hurts Peter more than he’s willing to admit or show. “I know that. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.” He slams the drawer closed. “But you do seem to enjoy it, don’t you? Making me uncomfortable with this whole situation.” He stands with his hands on his hips, because he learned young that the best defense is a killer offense.
Chris rubs the bridge of his nose with his thumb, closing his eyes for a moment before sighing and opening them again. “I can’t give back what my sister took from you, or change the fact that Laura abandoned you after the fire. If I could, I would. I couldn’t even save Alli.” He stops, choking a little on her name before taking a deep breath and continuing. “But I can do my damnedest to live up to what she believed of me, and that means protecting the pack. Your pack.”
Peter’s heart clutches at the sincerity of the speech, but he keeps his face blank. “Then stop trying to goad me about it. We’re doing this for the kids, not for fun,” he says, snarling out the final word.
Chris tosses the duffel bag at Peter, who catches it and holds it up questioningly.
“We’re going to have a share the bed,” Chris says, “So you better make room in that dresser for my clothes.”
Peter growls and throws the bag back at his head, but the bastard catches it flawlessly and stands there waiting until Peter clears out two drawers for him to use.
“I sleep on the left side of the bed. And don’t use my shampoo or soap. It’s expensive,” Peter says over his shoulder as he stomps out of the room.
“Yes, dear!” Chris shouts after him.
Peter goes for a run in the preserve. It’s that or shred all of Chris’s clothes with his claws like a disgruntled house cat, and Peter has his pride , okay?
Chris actually has a job, or rather, he is the CEO of the North American division of AAI (Argent Armaments, Incorporated). This is not news to Peter. What is shocking is when he wanders back into his apartment in the early morning after running around clawing up trees all night to find Chris standing at the kitchen island counter, sipping coffee, and wearing an artfully tailored three piece suit. The light gray Prince of Wales Check fabric hugs Chris’s body, the waistcoat tight over his torso which Peter can see very clearly because the jacket is unbuttoned, hanging open casually. The pale yellow button down shirt has a crisp sheen to it, and the whole ensemble is perfectly offset by the bright but not garish burgundy linen tie. Chris has a hip cocked against the counter, coffee in one hand and scrolling his phone with the other.
He glances up at Peter. “I figured it would look better if my assistant brought by some of my work clothes, could be seen as just delivering my dry cleaning. He dropped this off with a few other suits earlier.”
“Oh.” Peter is standing there trying to think but Chris looks like a damn advertisement for Brooks Brothers, Silver Daddy Edition, and Peter just needs a fucking shower. Or a fucking. He spins on his heel and does not run to the master bath to hide until Chris leaves.
Stiles is definitely the clever one. It’s a blessing and curse for the pack, but mostly a curse for Peter who has felt the burn of that boy’s fury more than once. Peter would never admit it, but he finds it unsettling to be in Stiles’s crosshairs. He suspects that Stiles feels the same about him.
But despite the ways they are very, very different, they are too much alike in the ways that count to ever really get along. Peter respects that.
“So hey, about that mate mark!” Stiles smiles brightly, bouncing on his feet while standing on Peter’s front porch.
Peter slams the door in his face.
Stiles resumes pounding on the door with his fist. Peter lets him keep going for two full minutes (he times it) until he re-opens the door with the most charming smile he has in his arsenal. “Why Stiles, what an honor to have you visit! To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Rubbing his hand, which is bright red from the beating it took against Peter’s door, Stiles glares at him. “You are such an asshole.”
Peter manages to refrain from saying “it takes one to know one” and instead waves Stiles inside. “I’d still like to know why you are here.”
Stiles sighs heavily, walking straight to the kitchen and poking at Peter’s Van Der Westen Speedster espresso machine with what can only be described as “heart eyes.”
“You just came here to molest my coffee maker.” Peter pulls him away from the very expensive equipment and goes about making them both lattes.
“Were you a barista? Because you look like you know what you’re doing.”
“I was never a barista, Stiles.” He taps the coffee grounds while the machine builds up steam. “But I have owned some version of this model since my early twenties. Are you going to tell me why you are here? Something about the mate mark?”
“Riiiiiight. Right.” Stiles nods a few times. “So. It’s not like I’ve had a lot of experience creating fake mate marks, you know?”
Peter glances sharply at him, then points out the window.
“Nah, I put a ‘mute’ spell on your place for a little while. Won’t hold more than an hour or so, but no one can hear us.” He wiggles his fingers in the air, his universal go-to sign for “I did some magic!” Peter sighs and continues with making their drinks.
“Anyway, not my area of expertise, ya’ dig?”
“Are you making fun of me? Nevermind! Okay, here is the thing: there is no spell for creating a fake mate mark.”
Peter pauses. “What.”
“That not-question thing is a family trait, amirite? Oh hey, no growling! Ow! Ow!” Stiles tries to squirm away from where Peter’s hand is splayed on his chest, claws out and pricking through his shirt.
“Did you actually bond us with real mate marks?” Peter can feel his fangs dropping, and Stiles can see them because he’s looking at Peter’s mouth in concern, fear wafting off of him.
“Hey hey, no! No. No? I don’t think so? Maybe?”
“Stiles.” Peter growls again and slams him against the refrigerator.
“Fuck, you Hales are all the same! Get off me and let me explain!”
Peter lifts his hand from Stiles’s chest and takes a step backwards. “Explain.”
“Mate marks are very peculiar. They rely a lot on emotions, as well as history and connection. That’s why you can’t force a mate mark on anyone who doesn’t want one.”
Peter thinks this over. “But we wanted them, right? Not for traditional reasons, but we did want them.”
“Right! I was kinda betting on that? And it worked!”
“You did not come here just to brag about your long shot.”
“No. No, I did not.” He runs a hand through his hair, making it even more spiky. “Look, I don’t know how to put this without pissing you off but: the reason the bond didn’t break was because one of you didn’t want it to break.”
Peter feels the blood drain from his face, but he locks down his immediate instinct to deny, deny, deny . This is his personal problem and he does not want a mouthy teenager lecturing him about it.
Stiles grimaces. “So, yeah, I figured you wouldn’t be happy to find out about how Chris feels.”
Peter opens his mouth but then closes it again after replaying that sentence. “How Chris feels.”
“Was that a question? Ahhhh okay okay! Claws off!” Stiles shimmies out of his grasp and goes to stand on the opposite side of the island counter. “Look, I felt you have a right to know. Maybe you can talk to him about it or something? Or not!” He adds quickly when Peter starts growling involuntarily.
“Who else knows?” Peter snarls through fangy teeth.
Stiles turns solemn and serious, which is unusual enough to make Peter pause. “No one, I swear. Scott wouldn’t believe it anyway, but my magic...my magic doesn’t lie. I hit a wall trying to break the bond because Chris didn’t want it broken.”
Peter takes a deep slow breath, collecting his thoughts. “You’re sure about that?”
Stiles frowns. “Uh, yeah?”
“I mean, are you sure it’s Chris?” He purposefully leers at Stiles, who scrunches his nose in distaste. “Maybe it was me. Maybe I want a hunter bound to me.” He rolls the words, feeling like a B-movie villain. But he has to find out exactly what Stiles picked up on, and telling the kid he’s wrong about something is the best way he’s found to get him to confess everything he knows.
Stiles rolls his eyes. “Okay, sure, Jafar.” He sighs again and crosses his arms over his chest. “No, I didn’t read his mind or anything. I hit a wall of resistance, okay? That’s all I got. But are you going to stand here and tell me that you want to be bound to Chris for the rest of your life?”
“No, I am not.” Which is true for certain values of ‘truth’, Peter thinks. He’s not going to stand there and admit anything to Stiles, much less his feelings for Chris fucking Argent.
“Right! So. There it is. I can’t break the bond until Chris lets me. And that?” He points aggressively at Peter. “That is between the two of you. I’ve done the good samaritan thing here. Now, I’m out.”
Peter nods as Stiles stands there, not going anywhere. After a moment, Peter raises an eyebrow. “You’re not out yet.” He points towards the front of the apartment.
“I’m waiting for my coffee, dude. You promised me a fancy latte!”
Peter finishes making the brat’s too-good-for-him latte, pours it into a travel mug and kicks him out.
Chris gets home that evening looking tired. The jacket of his suit is off and slung over his arm, and while the waistcoat is still in place his tie has been loosened and the very top button of his shirt undone. Peter has, perhaps, an ever-so-slight passion for porn featuring men in suits and he’s seen enough vids that start in exactly this way not to be affected.
He’s really glad Chris is merely human, so can’t smell the arousal pouring off of Peter’s skin.
Chris puts his jacket over one of the bar stools in the kitchen and gets to unbuttoning his waistcoat and taking off his tie. Peter casually turns back to the tikka masala he’s working on.
“Is that basmati rice?” Chris asks, peering at the stove.
“What is the point of tikka masala without basmati rice?”
“Huh. Thanks. I love that.” He sighs and sits down on a bar stool, folding his tie on top of his jacket. “Work sucked, which I’m sure you’re glad to hear.”
“Not really. I hate office jobs, don’t understand why you bother. You could cash out your shares and retire for life.”
“It’s complicated.” Chris puts his elbows on the island countertop and rubs his eyes.
“Or, you’re just punishing yourself for what your father and sister did.”
There is a loud intake of breath behind him, but Chris doesn’t deny it.
Peter turns around and folds his arms. “Far be it for me to offer you life coaching, but AAI is an insanely profitable corporation that your family owns, yet here you are, in Beacon Hills which is the international business equivalent of bumfuck nowhere, working out of a rented office suite and living in a tiny apartment.”
“Formerly living in said tiny apartment,” Chris says, his eyes glancing at the window.
“Of course that’s what I meant. My point stands. You are living like a monk, self-flagellating yourself for your sins.”
“Is that also why we’re mates?” Chris snarks back, his eyes glittering with anger.
Peter returns to his cooking. Why he gives a damn about Chris’s life choices, he doesn’t know. In a week or so it won’t matter, and they can go back to being reluctant allies. Perhaps a conversation like this will help him get over his hopeless, disastrous crush. Just because Chris is smoking hot in a suit — or anything, really, if Peter is being honest — doesn’t mean Peter is relegated to being his bitch.
“I’m sorry.” Chris’s words are soft and edged with frustration.
Peter turns back around. “It’s your life, of course.”
“Don’t be a sanctimonious ass about it; I apologized.”
Peter waves a hand at him dismissively. “I mean it. It’s your life. If you love your job, which I’m sure you don’t, then keep doing it. But this martyr schtick is ridiculous, and there are other Argents who could take over as CEO.”
“True,” Chris grunts, fingers drumming on the countertop. He glances up at Peter from under his lashes, looking far younger and almost timid. “What would you have me do?”
The question sounds sincere, and Chris’s heartbeat is steady. Peter looks at him directly and is taken off guard by the intensity of Chris’s gaze on him, his crystalline eyes boring into Peter’s resolve. The moment hangs between them until Chris blinks and looks away.
“Gonna go change. Dinner… ?”
Peter clears his throat. “In 20 minutes it will be ready.”
Dinner is a quiet affair, and Peter is grateful to let the conversation drop. He wakes up wrapped around Chris, and lays there, listening to his heartbeat until Chris awakens and steals away to get ready for work.
Peter stays in bed for at least another hour, staring at the ceiling. What would he have Chris do? Fall in love with him? Rewrite history? Leave Beacon Hills (and therefore Peter) behind forever? Are either one of them even able to move on to new relationships, after all they have been through, all they have lost?
He thinks about his wife, Amanda, and her wicked smile and sharp eyes. They had only been mated for two months when she got pregnant, and their son Jacob had been three when the house burned. Peter had killed them both with his own hands when it become clear it was that or listen to them burn to death.
Chris, of course, had helped Victoria kill herself, and had been unable to save his daughter from the darkness of the nogitsune’s evil.
Are either of them really any less of a victim of the world they live in? Peter is under no illusions about Gerard Argent: his children turned out the way they did because he raised them to be monsters in the most monstrous way he could. His wife, the former matriarch of the whole north American clan, had died under mysterious circumstances...at least, that had been the rumor in the supernatural circles that Peter ran with, before the fire.
It always came back down to that, though: Before the Fire.
Before the fire, Peter didn’t hate Chris, and Chris did not hate Peter. They were wary of each other, and possibly “frenemies” by the current lingo, who enjoyed flirting with and teasing their respective forbidden fruit. They were also tied to the roles they had in their families, and happy to do it. Both obedient and unwilling to rock the boat, unwilling to risk the ostracism that would have followed rebellion no matter how strong the temptation.
The question as Peter sees it now: is either of them willing to rock the boat? Specifically, is he, Peter McInroy Hale, former alpha whose anchor used to be righteous, bloody revenge against the Argent clan, willing to risk what little he has left on the faint promise of having more?
He’s pretty sure he’s not.
The week progresses quietly, in that Peter and Chris do a good job of avoiding each other without looking too much like they are avoiding each other. Every morning Peter wakes up the little spoon or, worse , flat on his back with Chris curled around him like a koala with his head on Peter’s shoulder. After that, though, they both slink about the house acting like an old married couple without looking at each other. It’s a strain, but Peter’s lived through much worse than living with a handsome man he has a crush on, so he’s dealing.
All he has to do is wait until he hates Chris again, as is well and proper, and then they can get the bond broken. He’s not sure how exactly to do that, but he’s hoping that some fortuitous argument will happen or that he might somehow just stop being interested, that proximity will breed dislike. He’s aware that there are spells that can be used to hurry animosity along, but that would mean bringing his problem to someone with the magical ability and the flexible morality to cast those spells. Only one person in the entire region fits that description.
But Peter has absolutely no intention of discussing this with anybody, much less Stiles, despite the fact that it’s Stiles’s own fault for leaving the mess in Peter’s lap. At least he had the good grace to do so without telling anyone else.
Peter will have to send him a fruit basket when it’s all said and done.
Meanwhile, outside of Peter’s internal crisis, there is no indication that a Korhonen beta is around, but then, there wouldn’t be. If something is going to happen, Peter is sure it’s going to be the Korhonen alpha showing up to do a smash-and-grab for Lydia. This has Derek and Stiles, who are on protection duty at Lydia’s house along with Parrish, stressed out to the point of looking like zombies, and Scott ends up prowling around the perimeter of his terrority every night — which, at nearly 2,000 square miles, means he’s not sleeping much, which in turn means the rest of his betas are also not sleeping. Everyone is grumpy and snarling at each other and Peter feels like they have all regressed to their junior year of high school again. Excluding himself, of course.
Naturally, it is when Peter finally puts his foot down and insists that he and Chris take patrol for a night so Scott and the betas can sleep that everything goes to hell.
Peter is running it while Chris follows with his SUV along the roads that border the territory, which switch randomly from the highway that runs north of Beacon Hills proper to maybe-private one-lane unpaved roads. Four cities and eight towns reside inside the territory that McCall inherited from the Hales, the Preserve sitting right in the heart of it, all of it mapped and delimited by the lay lines feeding into the nemeton. (Peter makes no claim to ever having understood it.)
He’s not as fast as Scott so even running at a steady clip of 16 mph, Peter knows it will take at least eight hours if not more. He can sprint a lot faster but he needs to be slow enough to spot trouble.
“Turning on to Elberta Bluff Road.” Chris’s tinny voice comes across the speaker of Peter’s phone which is strapped to his arm. They decided to just stay on the call together, since Chris has the minutes to burn on his plan. It has dropped a couple times when Peter gets deep into the woods but it’s better than nothing.
“I’ll be crossing Route 17 in— OOF !” Peter crashes to the ground in an ungainly heap, his legs collapsing under him with no warning. He rolls over and stares up through the trees, tuning back in to hear Chris yelling his name over the phone. The numbing sensation is spreading up his spine and throughout his body, and he hopes that it isn’t a full-body paralytic that will shut his organs down. “I’m down!” He manages to shout as lungs tense up. “Paralyzed! I’m—” and his voice cuts out.
He can’t move anything, not even his eyes, but his autonomic system is still going, so he’s breathing and swallowing. If he’s pissed himself he will be taking the dry cleaning costs out of someone’s hide. Literally.
“Ah, Elder Hale.” One of the nameless Korhonen betas appears in his line of sight. “I apologize for the kanima venom dart, but our alpha has decided that negotiations are not as done as you had hoped.”
Chris’s voice shouts over the phone. “You bastards! You hurt him and I will burn your fucking den to the ground!”
The beta picks up the phone and smiles at it. “You Argents are good at that, aren’t you? Heh. Well, tell your alpha to wait for a call from us.” The beta finishes by crushing the phone in his fist. The same fist he smashes into Peter’s face, making his world go dark.
Waking up is worse than the nightmare he was suffering, his body feeling like it has been run over several times by a large herd of moose. He’s curled up on the bottom of cage that he barely fits inside. He shifts to try and wrestle his way to at least sitting up, hissing in pain when one of his bare shoulders hits the wood. Mountain ash, then. He’s glad they put a blanket on the bottom, or he would be in a lot of pain already.
After moving slowly for far too long, he finally sits upright, his legs crossed lotus style, hands on his knees, and takes a good look around. He realizes that he’s outside of a cabin at what is probably a children’s ‘away’ camp during the summer, given the lighting around the buildings and the parking lot off to his right.
He doesn’t recognize the place, but kanima venom generally only holds a werewolf for a few hours, so he knows that Korhonen has likely set up just outside of Hale-McCall territory. It’s going to be a trade, then.
He has a moment to pity Alpha Korhonen’s poor strategy when the emissary walks up and studies him for a moment. “Your alpha is stalling. Does he really think he can rescue you?”
Interesting. Peter stares back at her. “It’s amusing that you think he’s stalling.”
She smirks. “Don’t assume we haven’t planned this out.”
Peter sighs and rolls his eyes. “Good luck with that.” He then purposefully turns his head to dismiss her.
It’s Korhonen’s bad luck that no one in the Hale-McCall pack cares if Peter lives or dies. Hell, he thinks Lydia would probably delight in the idea that her choice not to join the Korhonens is what gets him killed. He hopes she dances on his grave, because that seems fair, given everything.
Derek might shed a tear, maybe. Maybe . Of all of them, Peter feels the worst about leaving Cora behind, but she’s a survivor just like he is. He knows she’ll be fine.
He sighs and watches dawn crest over the tops of the nearby mountains.
He’s not surprised when the emissary opens the cage and he’s dragged out to be beaten up. And, of course, it’s the alpha who takes the honors because that is the only way the damage will last longer than a few minutes.
No pain will ever match the time(s) he’s burned alive, so Peter takes it all with fair amount of zen, which is not what the alpha is looking for as a reaction. Peter ends up with his hamstrings sliced, his face scored by deep claw marks, one eye completely ruined, and numerous broken bones. He’s mostly upset about the eye, because even without the damage being inflicted by an alpha, those take the longest time to heal, and sometimes don’t heal all the way even so.
He’s also dropping his estimation of the Korhonens’ combined intelligence. Beating him to a pulp might be some kind of tradition, he supposes—revenge, a “message”, whatever—but it shows very clearly that they do not understand the dynamics of the Hale-McCall pack. If Scott and Stiles cared about Peter, hurting him would only further enrage them, not instill caution.
The Korhonen alpha is lucky only because nobody cares.
You love angst, right? Sure you do!!!!! Aaaahahahah, here, have a cliffhanger! *throws chapter at your face, runs away screaming*
Peter, who has a lot of experience at this, has fought the pain and the boredom of the following few hours by meditating, counting clouds, fantasizing about Chris rescuing him like some damsel in distress, fantasizing about ripping Alpha Korhonen apart and stealing his alpha spark for himself...in short, fantasizing about every possible version of “I’m not dying here like a dog” when the place bursts alive with activity, the betas flying out of cabins to follow the alpha down to the parking lot.
A sinuous, silver Mercedes roadster glides up the driveway into the parking lot and stops right at the feet of the alpha, who is standing with his hands on his hips. There are two heartbeats in the car, and Peter is shocked when Lydia steps out of of the driver’s side, followed by Chris unfolding himself from the passenger seat. These are the last two people he expected to see here, now. His gut churns a little, knowing what it means that neither Scott nor Stiles decided to show up for negotiations, but he’s confused at to why Lydia would bother.
The betas all shift back from Lydia, but the alpha does not twitch. He motions for the emissary to go to the car, presumably to search it for anyone who might be cloaked and hiding inside it. Lydia rolls her eyes but dutifully clicks the key fob to unlock it and open the tiny trunk.
Chris glances at Peter with disinterest. He looks less like a hunter this time and more like the high-level executive he is, dressed in a dark charcoal three piece suit. This one is more conservative than the lighter colors he usually wears, and his shirt is a classic off-white with a silvery patterned tie. He could be working for the FBI if it weren’t for the fact that it is obviously tailored to fit him, or if everything about it and his bearing did not scream “power, money, and prestige.”
The alpha eyes him warily but turns his attention back to Lydia, who looks over at Peter then moves toward him. The Alpha holds out his arm, blocking her way.
“If you think this negotiation is starting without me verifying who is in that cage, you are mistaken,” she snaps at him, walking right around his arm with Chris dutifully at her back. A few betas gape at the blatant insubordination but she ignores everyone.
She’s dressed to impress. Peter has seen her in all of her guises, and this one might best be described as “Queen Bee” — a sharply tailored burgundy suit that hugs her curves but is conservatively cut, the skirt hemmed at her knees and the jacket allowing her room to move. Her jewelry is likewise impressive, to anyone who can recognize the quality. Nothing is ostentatious save the bulky, almost gaudy bangle bracelet hanging off her right hand, although that is made up for by being encrusted with rubies. Her lustrous hair is in a tight chignon with a few strands falling artfully lose to soften the look. Even her shoes (which Peter knows are Labuton) are understated, the heel not quite as high as she normally prefers.
Peter understands, if no one else present does, that the entire ensemble is her opening shot. He’s just not sure who she’s aiming at.
Chris continues to look indifferent, his posture relaxed.
She stops in front of the cage and for a brief moment horror flashes in her eyes. It’s touching, but Peter is still wary. Then she pulls out her phone from her overly-large tote bag and smirks at Peter. “Smile!”
He bares his fangs as best he can with a cracked jaw but makes sure to look at the alpha with his one good eye so it doesn’t ruin the shot. She taps at the screen and then huffs in satisfaction.
“I’m keeping that photo forever.” She flashes it at Chris with a grin, who just raises an eyebrow. Chris’s poker face is a thing of legend, and he’s very much letting Lydia drive the proceedings. He doesn’t even look Peter in the eye.
“I suppose you’re the one in charge?” She says sweetly, turning to face the alpha who has walked up next to her. The rest of his pack are still keeping their distance.
“I am Alpha Randolph Korhonen, eldest of my line. It is an honor to meet the youngest Martin Banshee.” He bows like a gentleman. “Your magnificent reputation precedes you.”
Lydia preens at what is, Peter knows, hardly enough praise to satisfy her ego. She’s laying it on thick and he almost wants to laugh, except that would hurt his face a lot.
“However, it is unexpected to see you again, Elder Argent.” The alpha scowls at him.
“He is my guest,” Lydia says, snapping the words. The alpha merely tilts his head in acquiescence, although it is short of any kind of submission.
“So this is my dowry?” She nods toward Peter, and his brain stalls. What ?
“It is my pleasure to offer you the life of your mortal enemy.” Alpha Korhonen bows again.
Peter suddenly realizes that any chance he might have had to come out of this alive just evaporated. They told the Korhonens that Lydia is free to choose which pack to align with, and Alpha Korhonen decided to find the lure she might want more than any other: revenge on Peter.
Lydia bats her eyes. “It is true that Alpha McCall was far less understanding of my, shall we say, displeasure at having him as a part of the pack.”
“Does Alpha McCall know you have taken me up on my offer?”
“Of course. He respects that it is my decision, though, which is why he never returned your calls.” She rolls her eyes, as if all of the drama is beneath her.
“So he will not retaliate?” The alpha glares at her.
“That’s why Chris is here.” She motions for him to step forward. He does, taking off his jacket as he does so. It makes a few of the betas and the emissary tense up, but again, the alpha does not twitch.
He drapes his jacket over his left arm and casually unbuttons the right cuff of his shirt. “Peter was not lying when he told you that the choice of which pack to align with is Lydia’s. Alpha McCall would not infringe on her freedom to that extent, even to keep a valuable ally.” He rolls up the sleeve and Peter knows, without a doubt, what he will not see when Chris’s forearm is revealed. Chris holds it up and both the alpha and emissary frown at it. The bare skin is testament to Peter’s abandonment.
“Our emissary is exceptionally powerful,” Chris says, lowering his arm. “He created a fake bond between Peter and myself in order to represent the Hale-McCall pack. Hold up, listen to me,” he says firmly when the alpha begins growling. “That’s on you. Your antiquated rules made it necessary. The reason Lydia asked me to tag along after Emissary Stilinski unforged the bond was as proof to you that the Hale-McCall pack will stand down from any retaliatory action based on her decision. You can go to war with us over this white lie and get a lot of ‘wolves on both sides killed, or take your new-found banshee and leave.”
Peter glances at his own arm, where the mate mark is still dark and vibrant, even from under the blood caked on his skin. He wonders exactly what magic Stiles used to release Chris but not him.
“And you? You have no investment?”
Chis shakes his head slowly, a smirk cutting through his expression. “If I did, I would have gotten out of the car shooting.” He juts his chin out, toward Peter. “Everyone here knows his history. Despite that, he’s been useful to the pack so Alpha McCall wanted him around. Now he’s a liability.” His heart doesn’t stutter at all and he finishes with a shrug. Peter’s will to live, as useless as it is given the circumstances, breaks a little bit more.
The silence holds between all parties while Alpha Korhonen considers the matter. Finally he lets out a whoosh of breath. “So be it. The deceit will be a matter for me to settle with Alpha McCall at another time, through proper diplomatic channels. Tell him so,” he adds, glaring at Chris, who has rebuttoned his sleeve and put his jacket back on.
Lydia steps forward again. “I am here to take what you promised me, and give what you asked,” she says formally.
The alpha looks surprised at the traditional statement of intent for such negotiations. Peter figures Derek probably coached her. Another nail in Peter’s coffin.
“I am honored to complete the bargain.” The alpha pulls a brutal looking knife out of a sheath on his thigh. “It looks old, but that is only the handle.” He displays the knife to Lydia, who is genuinely interested. As she should be, Peter thinks. The handle is probably elk horn, engraved with a series of runes, and radiates both age and power. Even Chris looks impressed.
“The blade, though, is modern. My blacksmith forged it from the steel of an ancient but unusable blade, and electroplated silver into the fuller.” He points at the blood groove along the foot-long blade. “Deadly to human, fae, and werewolves alike.” He turns the knife around and holds it gently by its blade, the handle directed toward Lydia.
She eyes it warily. “You’re giving this to a banshee?” She raises an eyebrow.
“If you align with my pack and my power, you will have my life in your hands. If I do not trust you now, when should I?”
It’s...it’s unfortunately a pretty solid argument. Peter starts growling because that is about all he’s got in him, as far as resistance goes. The emissary re-opens the cage and a beta reaches in to pull him out. He can’t do anything but go limp, the pain radiating out from everywhere as he is artlessly dragged to lie flat on his back between Lydia and the alpha. Chris looks down at him impassively, and Peter hates himself for how much more that hurts then his actual broken bones.
He focuses on Lydia with his one good eye. “Finn’ly gettin’ your due?” He says, trying to move his jaw as little as possible. As if it matters.
“Long past due, I believe. And it is not as if Scott or anyone will care once you are good and dead. What’s done is done, I believe is the saying?” She smiles again, this time with ruthlessness shining in her eyes, the sunlight reflecting off her brilliant hair, the rubies on her wrist sparkling like living things. He always did admire her so much, perhaps this is his most fitting end after all. Under an Argent’s gaze, no less.
She reaches out and grabs the knife. It’s heavy and drops in her hand for a moment before she takes the handle with both hands, holding it in the air over Peter’s chest.
“As slow or fast as you like,” the alpha says, as if offering her the option is the epitome of being a gracious host. Peter feels like he’s in a scene from the tv show Hannibal and wonders if the alpha is planning to eat his heart. Seems like that would be a thing for Viking berserker werewolves , anyway.
“I don’t want a bloody mess on my shoes.” She eyes the knife in her hands with displeasure, but the move is too coquettish, even for her. Peter knows her well enough to know when she’s serious and when she’s not. Her heart is a steady metronome of beats, not giving anything away, but Peter knows her in ways even he prefers not to think about. She’s acting, but Chris is standing near her, unfazed.
It’s not enough for Peter to hang any hope on.
Lydia is still toying with the knife with a moue of displeasure. The alpha steps forward.
“Would you prefer that I make the killing blow in your name?” He makes the offer deferentially.
Lydia pretends to consider it, but Peter knows that was her intention all along. She sighs. “Do you need my blessing? Or?” She hands the knife over.
“Not at all. That a banshee has held the blade with intent is enough,” The emissary (Shasta! Her name is Shasta, and Peter hates himself for remembering that now ) says politely from her place several yards away. Peter wonders what the hell kind of information the Korhonens have about banshees that no one else seems to know. Chris has the same question, if the thoughtful head tilt he makes is any indication.
With a feral grin, the alpha steps up over Peter, holding the blade aloft. “With this death, we bind the powers of the Korhonen pack the Martin Banshee line!” There is a roar of approval from the crowd, and Peter feels they have moved from Hannibal to Gladiator . Are they not entertained?
“We shall be the most powerful pack on the continent again!” More howls and roaring. Chris looks intensely bored, while Lydia checks her nails and fiddles with her bracelet. “I will be the alpha of alphas! The power of the ancestors will be ours ! We shall—”
Peter tunes out the histrionics and looks one more time at Chris—because why not?—before closing his eye against the man’s complete indifference.
Somehow, Peter always knew it would end for him like this: helpless, unwanted, unlamented.
He escaped the fire, but he cannot escape his fate.
ayyyyyy, sorry for the wait! I had this drafted out then decided to change things a bit. I hope you, uh, enjoyed the wait?
Time seems frozen in the moment. He can hear all the heartbeats around him, the pack of wolves breathing and in some cases holding their breath. The alpha’s voice is still ringing out pronouncements of victory and war and power, but Peter tunes that out to dial in on one heartbeat, one single person who is the one he wants to hear last in his life.
He wonders if Amanda is waiting for him. She was never the jealous kind; she will make fun of his love for Chris, call him fickle and kiss his chin like she used to do, Jacob held between them...
Or maybe he will just end up in Hell like everyone expects.
He waits, and then it all falls still around them. Chris’s heart is thumping hard and steady and Peter focuses on that one sound, that one last link he has to anything he ever loved. He appreciates the irony.
The alpha pulls in a deep breath. Peter imagines he can feel the air being cut by the knife as it swings down.
He hears a clicking noise, and something small but heavy lands on his naked chest, over his heart. The knife collides against it with a too-loud clang of noise, more like it was bouncing off a steel shield, although Peter doesn’t feel any vibration at all. His good eye snaps open and he sees Lydia’s ruby bracelet sitting on him, fallen open. There is a bright, fiery energy pulsing out of it, holding the knife frozen just a few inches above him...and then he feels a warmth seeping from the bracelet and into him, not the heat of fire but a sensation more like being drawn into a loving embrace.
The magic swirls through his body, curling around organs and moving in a way that blood never could: against the currents of his body, as if searching out every cell of his being. He takes in a deep breath but there is no pain or shock or fear. Then his mate mark flares to life, an explosion of passion that is beyond love, more powerful than the sun, and it whites out Peter’s brain with the sensation of being overcome by a boundless, magical force.
When awareness returns, it is a pure, painless fire that flows through him as the rubies dissolve and the magic begins to swirl into a form, a shape that is familiar and yet strange. He has no control and is barely conscious but still, he recognizes it. How could he not? He’s been brooding over it for a week now.
The phoenix blooms above him, drawing its magic up from the open wounds decorating Peter’s body as if in revenge for them.
The alpha is staring at the apparition in fury, frozen in place by the magic as surely as Peter is, while the beast manifests itself in fire and fury. Peter feels nothing but the overflowing sense of being bound by the bracelet’s magic, his own soul channeled through his body and bound tightly to it. He laughs, and laughs , with the joy of being a part of something so unworldly and unwieldy and unknown.
This is not a real creature, Peter knows — it is too ephemeral in appearance, not quite see-through but close. Nonetheless the red and orange feathers of its magnificent plumage glitter like the rubies it was born from, sparkling with light and power.
So much power.
In his state of peaceful suspended animation, Peter wonders idly whose power it is channeling — Lydia? Or maybe Stiles? Surely such a feat would drain their life force dry. And then he wonders why they would do this for him.
It pulls its head back, tilting its blood-red crystalline beak toward the bright morning sun, and screams out pain, wrath, and revenge. Its scream is a physical thing, the shock wave of it bowling over the emissary and many of the betas ringed around them. The alpha is held tight in one of the mythical beast’s claws as its wings unfold, his expression turning from rage to horror and then, ultimately and most satisfactorily, fear .
Around them, the Korhonen pack is howling and gearing up to attack. The emissary and several betas recover from the sonic blast and make a run at them, but are hurled away as if by powerful ocean waves and end up tumbling ass over teakettle across the ground. The emissary isn’t dead but doesn’t get up, her magic clearly over-run by the power of the spectre encompassing Peter and the alpha, its wings protectively — defensively? — curled around them.
“I warned your emissary.”
Peter blinks at the unexpected sound of Chris’s voice, magnified and deep and filling up all the air around them. Chris has not gotten any closer but his hand is out with his fist clenched like a claw, mimicking the hold the phoenix has the alpha locked in. One wing’s edge brushes against Chris’s body, streaks of gold flaring out from the connection. When he speaks his mouth moves but the words are amplified through the phoenix, a wall of sound so powerful that most of the wolves around them cringe and cover their ears.
“I warned her that you got your one chance to threaten my mate without consequences.”
“What...what is this!?!?” The alpha roars but it is muted, as if he is miles away instead of frozen still, clutching the knife that hangs over Peter’s chest.
“I asked Derek why it was so important to send a mated pair on negotiations,” Lydia answers, calmly walking around the tableau of the three men with a curious expression. “He said it is because there is no natural magic more powerful than a mate bond. It dies when one or the other of the pair dies, but until that precise moment, it is unbreakable by outside forces.” She stops and looks around at the betas, who are all wolfed out and growling but not daring to come closer, even to save their alpha.
She then turns to the alpha with a ruthless grin. “But only the strongest bonds, forged within the strongest packs by the strongest emissaries, can manifest the love between mates.”
Chris steps a little closer and the alpha flinches. His voice, still displaced, is eerie and calm in ways that unsettle even Peter. “You have acted in bad faith. As a hunter, I know that you have broken no laws I can execute you for. But you have stolen and tortured my mate. My soul sees into your corrupted heart, and we — I — cast judgment.”
With a flick of his other wrist, the spectre’s wings flap over them. The alpha gives a strangled cry as the knife he had been holding disappears out of his grasp and then appears instantly in his chest, sticking out from where his heart has been cleaved. He is dead so fast he does not even have time to stumble, crashing off to the side.
The phoenix dissipates like mist.
Peter is staring at the body of the alpha and misses seeing Chris crumble to the ground, although the impact is loud in the deadly silence. Lydia cries out and runs to Chris, but turns to look at Peter with steely determination as chaos breaks out around them.
“The bracelet! Quick!” She is pushing up the sleeves of Chris’s jacket and shirt to where the mate mark used to be.
He pauses for a brief moment, not too proud to admit he is afraid of moving because of the agony that will result. But he realizes just as quickly that he is seeing out of both eyes again, and that nothing particularly hurts other than an odd rock poking at his shoulder blade. He curls up easily, then rolls into a crouch. “The bracelet?”
Check that: his voice is wrecked and painful, as if he’s been screaming for hours.
“Yes!” Lydia snaps and holds up Chris’s arm.
The bracelet fell off of Peter when he moved and is inert on the ground, as if it were nothing more than a bauble from Tiffany’s. He hesitates for a moment, his hand hovering over it.
“Peter!” Lydia hisses. “Only you can touch it now! Get it over here!”
Peter picks it up gingerly, and feels a distant echo of power flaring through his mate mark, but otherwise nothing. He shuffles on his knees over to Lydia and holds it out to her. She rolls her eyes.
“No, you idiot. You have to put the mate mark back.” She holds out Chris’s arm.
“If I burn alive again, I’m coming back for you. Again,” Peter growls. Lydia is not impressed, and just nods firmly at Chris’s arm.
The bracelet is still open, it’s two hinged halves swinging easily around Chris’s arm. Peter snaps it closed and quickly pulls his hands back as Lydia drops Chris’s arm.
The bracelet swirls and twists for a moment before dissipating just like the phoenix apparition did, but this time the fiery energy is absorbed by Chris’s skin. The mate mark, as vivid as ever, reappears, and Peter’s own mate mark flairs with sympathetic magic. Peter automatically reaches out and grabs Chris’s forearm, his hand covering the renewed mate mark, bright red sparks literally flying from beneath his fingers.
Chris groans, his eyes fluttering open, his own hand jerking oddly before clamping down on Peter’s forearm, hand over his mate mark, closing the circuit of energy between them as they clasp each other’s arms tightly. Its is the same power that Peter felt from the phoenix, pure unconditional love flooding his senses and making him lightheaded.
Peter stares down at Chris, into the bright eyes of the man he loves, and he wonders how he will ever let go of this. For once, he has nothing to say. Chris’s expression is dazed, as if he has been drugged to the gills, but he gives Peter a slow, languid smile before passing out again.
“What the hell,” Peter snarls as lucidity returns and he yanks his arm back. He looks over at Lydia. She’s standing and dusting off her skirt, looking over his shoulder. Instinctively he spins and puts himself in a protective crouch over Chris.
“Banshee Martin.” A bloodied young woman walks up and bows slightly. She’s vaguely familiar, slight and willowy with bright red hair.
“Emmy?” Peter stands up, but doesn’t disarm himself, claws at the ready.
The kids grins, her eyes flaring bright red, and this time her hair is loose and falling over her shoulders in wet, blood covered curls. “Alpha Korhonen, if you please.”
At that, Peter looks behind Emmy and sees a few bodies on the ground, obviously the remains of a fight for power that went down just after the old alpha was killed by the...the thing.
(Peter’s not ready to name stuff yet. Not yet.)
“You took care of business quickly,” Lydia says.
“Some of us have been waiting a while for that old bastard to overreach himself.” At that proclamation, a large portion of the betas move to stand behind their new alpha — most are young, few any older than Peter himself. A small number, though, take flight and run into the woods.
“Changing of the guard?” Lydia asks with a steepled eyebrow.
The new Korhonen alpha shrugs dismissively. “They kept wanting to live in the twelfth century.” She motions at Lydia. “Like trying to score a pet banshee. We told him it was a bad idea.”
Lydia harumphs at that, but looks down at Chris for a moment. “We have safe passage out?”
“For fuck’s sake, we’re not getting in the way of a banshee and a mated pair who are both aligned with another pack. I’m happy to call us even if you are.” She looks at them expectantly.
“We’re good,” Peter offers with a cough.
The kid — alpha — nods and points down the driveway. “Go.”
Peter does not need to be told twice. He bends down to pick up Chris’s limp form into a fireman’s lift, because he’ll be damned if he does the whole bridal carry thing out of this disaster. He gets to the roadster and manages to fold Chris into the backseat without braining either of them, then buckles himself into the passenger seat.
His mate mark is burning again, low and hot. Peter wraps his hand over it and glares out the windshield, determined to ignore it with every fiber of his being, and planning all the many, many ways he’s going to bitch slap Stiles for whatever the hell he did to make this happen.
Lydia glances at him suspiciously for a moment, but then fires the car up and glides away from the scene of the crime with as much grace and speed as she drove into it.
Chris wakes up on the drive back, but not by much. He smacks his lips and looks around. “D’it work?”
“Yes,” Lydia says through gritted teeth.
“Shut up and we’ll tell you when we get back. Oh that reminds me. Car? Call Scott.”
The dashboard lights up and the sounds of a call being put through fill the cab, and then Scott’s slightly panicked voice follows.
“Lydia! We’re almost there! Just hold on—”
“Turn around, everything’s taken care of.”
“ What ?”
“Everything is taken care of,” Peter repeats for her, his voice still sounding like he gargled shards of glass.
“Peter?” Stiles’s shouts down the connection. “You’re still alive?”
“Gimme that back! You’re driving!” Scott yells and there is what sounds like a slap fight on the other end before Scott comes back on. “Peter?”
Peter clears his throat and steels himself to reply. “Yes, I’m still alive. Lydia is alive. Chris is alive but barely coherent. We’re about an hour out, we’ll meet at Derek’s loft.” His voice fades out completely at the end, scratchy and painful.
“ What ?” Stiles screeches in the background. “What do you mean, ‘okay’? It’s not ‘okay’! What happened? Did it work? What—”
“We’ll meet you there.” Scott hangs up while Stiles is still shouting.
“They n’gonna be happy,” Chris slurs.
“Shut up and go back to sleep.” Peter snarls, flashing his eyes at Chris in the rear view mirror.
“Yes, dear.” Chris huffs out a laugh and Lydia smirks, but Chris is out again within seconds. Peter slumps in the seat and closes his eyes for a moment.
No one is at the loft when they get there. Chris is still stumbling around like a newborn foal but he pushes Peter’s offer of help away and somehow manages to walk on his own. Lydia prances in and heads for the coffee maker, which Peter approves of.
Peter goes up to Derek’s bedroom, takes a quick shower, and changes into clean jeans and a henley — both are Derek’s but at this point Peter is putting it under the heading of “pack resources” because it is that or sit around half naked in his old, bloodied and shredded sweatpants.
When he gets back downstairs, Chris is sprawled out on the couch with his eyes closed and Lydia is set up at the dining table with her coffee. Peter chooses to honor the silence, since talking still hurts anyway, and retreats to one of the lounge chairs after scoring his own cup of sweet, creamy coffee which he has totally earned .
Chris cracks an eye open and stares at him.
“What?” Peter grimaces at him over his mug.
“You aren’t pestering us with questions.”
“I believe you have confused me for Stiles. We look nothing alike, and I haven’t been a twink since I turned 25. I’m insulted.”
Lydia snorts then tries to look like she didn’t and continues to ignore them, scrolling on her phone.
“What do you want me to ask? How Stiles manipulated the faked mate bond with that bracelet trick? How you channeled our emissary’s magic despite being the real world equivalent of a muggle? How—”
“ Stiles’s magic? Wait, what—”
“The important question,” Peter says, raising his ruined, scratchy voice as much as he can, “is why? Why bother?” He looks over at Lydia, who has put down her phone. “This was your chance to get rid of me. Don’t think for one second that I don’t know how much you’ve wanted to do that, sweetheart. I have smelled your hate for years.”
“Lately? For the last year or so? Have you ?” She sneers at him as eloquently as ever. “You really need therapy, Hale.” Lydia picks up her phone and her coffee and walks out to the patio balcony, slamming the door shut behind her.
Peter watches her leave with narrowed eyes, because the answer is one he had not even realized until she asked, and that answer is: no. He just assumed she had buried it, or come to terms with it. That her anger was still there, burning , was not something he doubted.
He wonders at what else he’s missed.
Chris has sat up — a little, not much, but enough — and stares thoughtfully at Peter. “You honestly believed we were going to just leave you there.” He looks, and sounds, incredulous.
“Christopher, it may have missed your notice, what with your homicidal sister and father screwing around in Beacon Hills for years, but I’ve done very little that might endear me to anyone here. I don’t even blame them.” He shrugs.
“So why have you stayed? Why are you here?”
Pack , Peter’s brain supplies, along with family and regret and grief. Where else does he belong? He’s died here before, and he will die here again. He’s a Hale. There is nowhere else for him to go.
He sips his coffee while collecting his thoughts. “Whose idea was it to send you after me?”
Chris blinks at him for a moment, then lies back down. “You know what? I’m not going to answer that fucking insult of a question.”
Peter almost snarls at him, but just then the heavy sliding door is slammed open. Derek and Cora both fly through it like wild things and aim straight for Peter. Cora, as always ruled by her impulses, jumps onto his lap and tucks her face against his neck, scenting him. For the first time in years he feels the pack bond strengthen between them again, her bright, young energy like an electric shock to his soul.
“Don’t do that again, Uncle Peter,” she growls. “Don’t leave me again.”
Peter is too taken aback to reply. Instead he wraps his arms around her, resting his cheek against her hair, scenting her, filling his senses with her presence, and his wolf all but wallowing like a pig in the energy of their bond.
Derek, more reserved overall and (as he always was) unforgiving by nature, had skidded to a stop next to them and looks down at Peter. His eyes are wide and surprised, though, and he looks so scared, so much younger , for just a moment. “Peter?”
And it’s there, too, faded and timid and, yes, still hurt and angry. It’s not the pack bond they had, once, but it is more than anything Derek has been willing to share since Peter finally recovered his sanity (for whatever it’s worth, he figures).
“I’m okay, pup.” Peter croaks out the words and raises an arm in invitation. After a long moment staring down at his uncle, conflicted emotions openly warring over his face, Derek falls into it, crushing Cora between them. They all stay like that for a long moment, piled up on the chair, and Peter could almost believe that they are kids again, dog-piling on him as they demand to be taken for ice-cream. Except now their combined weight is closer to 300 pounds than 100...but Peter honestly doesn’t give a single damn about that.
“You smell like brimstone,” Derek whispers.
“I sound like it too.”
Cora laughs and gets up, pushing Derek off too. She reaches down and lightly thwaps Peter on the head before putting her hands on her hips and growling at him. “Did they hurt you?”
“Yes,” Chris says from where he is still sprawled out on the couch.
“No,” Peter counters swiftly. “Not much,” he corrects at the glares everyone present gives him.
At that point the rest of the pack comes in chattering and clattering, and Peter is struck by the fact that it is, indeed, the entire pack . He frowns at them. They frown back, although mostly it seems in confusion.
“He’s surprised anyone came for him,” Chris unhelpfully supplies. Lydia has reappeared, settling again at the dining table. Parrish trots over to her like the lap dog he is.
“What?” Cora looks hurt for a moment, then angry. “Why would you think that?”
“You were kidnapped,” Scott says with a shrug. “Of course we were coming for you.” His arm is slung over Kira’s shoulders like he doesn’t have a care in the world, as if everything working out perfectly with everyone still alive is totally normal despite all evidence and history to the contrary. Sometimes — rarely, but sometimes — Peter envies his boundless, mostly baseless, optimism.
On the other hand, Peter does not envy Stiles who is vibrating out of his skin and has obviously reached the end of his patience. “ What happened? ” Stiles shouts with extra arm flailing. Derek grabs his wrist and pulls him away from Peter.
“Shouldn’t I be asking that?” Peter snaps at him.
Stiles glares at him. “Uh, no? Because of course your pack and your mate would be coming to rescue you!”
Peter rolls his eyes. “The truth, please.” He looks at Derek. “You?”
Derek, too much his mother’s son not to roll his eyes right back at him, shakes his head. “I supported it, but no.”
Before Peter can continue the interrogation, Stiles breaks in again. “Answers! I need answers!”
Peter looks pointedly at Lydia. She sighs heavily and then begins at the beginning, unfortunately with additional visual aids as she pulls up the photo she took of Peter to share. Scott and Kira look horrified, Stiles turns a little green, and Chris refuses to look at it. Derek and Cora keep growling at it until Lydia demands her phone back before they break it and tells them that the alpha who did it is dead.
“Dead? Dead dead? How?” Stiles looks shocked, which in turn surprises Peter. What did the kid think his magic would do?
“The phoenix killed him with the knife.” Lydia nods.
“The phoenix?” Scott squints at her.
“The knife ?” Stiles yells at her.
She opens up the large tote bag she’s been carting around. “This knife.” She pulls out the magicked weapon and plops it on the table, still bloodied from where she, apparently, ruthlessly yanked it out of the dead alpha’s chest when no one was looking. Peter always did like her best.
Derek, Cora, and Kira cringe because they are the only supernatural creatures in the room with some common sense, but Stiles is on it immediately, cooing like it’s a harmless baby sloth or something.
“You stole the knife,” Chris says, his voice dry as a desert.
“I did.” She grins, smug and self satisfied, although Parrish looks horrified enough for the both of them.
“Hey, can we get back to the phoenix thing?” Scott breaks in, glaring his disapproval at the bloody knife.
“That was what manifested out of the bracelet,” Chris replies, then looks over at Lydia. “You certainly waited until the last moment to put it in play.”
“ It worked?!??! ” Stiles literally shrieks, making all the werewolves present cringe.
“Wait, did you think it wouldn’t work?” Scott asks, sitting up straight. “Dude! What—”
“I knew it would work , I just didn’t know...how? Exactly?” Stiles recoils when Cora snarls at him.
“That seems to be a repeating theme to your work as emissary.” Peter sips his coffee.
Stiles narrows his eyes. “All we needed was a big distraction to last long enough for the rest of us to show up. I figured it would, I don’t know, put on a light show or something.”
“And do what, precisely? Against the dozens of Viking berserker werewolves itching for a fight?”
Everyone shifts uncomfortably. Stiles shrugs. “Not sure. We were all kind of winging it.”
“Winging it? Why does that not surprise me?”
“Hey! It was that or have your mate string us up by our ‘nads.”
“I don’t even have ‘nads but he was scary,” Kira stage-whispers, dripping earnestness from every word, her eyes wide as she nods in agreement with Stiles.
Peter glares at Stiles. “Really. My mate . Need I remind you that it is a fake bond that you created?”
“Uncle Peter,” Derek says softly, and it’s that gentleness he should have tapped when he was an alpha because it makes everyone go quiet around them. (It reminds Peter so much of Derek’s father, who was the living embodiment of “still waters run deep,” that his heart literally aches with grief.) He looks over at his nephew, skepticism clear on his features he knows, and Derek nods at Chris. “He flipped out. Like that time Aunt Jess was in that car accident, remember? Uncle Carl lost his shit, you and Mom had to hold him down.”
(Carlton had gone feral over dinner, for no reason it seemed at the time, and Peter had worried that he would have to put his own brother-in-law down before dessert. Carlton managed to control himself enough to figure out what was wrong and get them all on the road looking for Jess’s car. They had found her before the police even got to the scene. Jessica Hale, human, who survived a catastrophic hit-and-run accident only to be killed two years later in the fire.)
Peter slowly turns his head to stare at Chris, who is looking back at him, blank-faced and with a steady heart.
“Did you, now?”
Chris nods. “I did.” He raises his chin, as if in challenge.
“Still kinda stuck on the phoenix thing,” Scott chimes in, waving a hand around.
“Oh! That was the manifestation of Chris’s mate mark,” Lydia answers while gently prying the knife out of Stiles’s greedy hold.
“But it was just a holographic thing, right? A fantastic light show?” Stiles asks with jazz hands, looking between Lydia and Chris.
“No.” Chris gives that much and no more, causing Lydia to sigh heavily.
“Oh my God, it was real? A real phoenix?” Stiles’s eyes light up.
“No,” Peter says, keeping his eyes on Chris. “It was not quite solid, not quite ephemeral. It was real, but it was not a phoenix. It was an...an ignis fatuus.” It seems the time for labels has arrived. Peter is not particularly happy about it.
“A wuh?” Stiles frowns as Derek and Cora suck in surprised breaths.
“Ignis fatuus. From the Medieval Latin, ‘foolish fire.’” Lydia nods in understanding.
“A fool for love,” Peter murmurs, and Chris finally looks away.
“Sometimes used to describe will-o-the-wisps; I’ve never heard it in this context before,” Lydia says, looking around expectantly.
“Our use of it pre-dates Medieval Latin,” Derek responds curtly, which is apparently enough for her.
Lydia nods. “Well. In any case, it channeled Chris’s voice and then did his will, you might say.”
“His will, as in, killing the alpha? Killing the alpha...for love?” Scott asks skeptically, exchanging a look with Kira. Everyone is very, very quiet after that, staring back and forth between Chris and Peter.
“Excuse me.” Chris gets up and walks out.
I apologize for the delay...I was super unhappy with this chapter and re-wrote it three times from the bottom up, which is highly unlike me and shows how frustrated I was. I realized that I was trying to slap an ending on it too quickly instead of letting the story unroll the way it needed to. Guilty as charged! ahahahah *sobs* So okay, here we gooooo!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sound of Chris’s SUV roaring out of the parking lot down below is long gone before anyone says anything, and of course “anyone” is Stiles.
“How is this even a surprise?” Stiles says, crossing his arms and staring intently at Peter. “I told you how he felt.”
“You did what?” Kira chirps, voice pitching up, with Scott playing bobblehead next to her.
“It’s...complicated.” Stiles grimaces at the word.
“Ohhhhh, that’s why you couldn’t break the bond!” Scott says, because he always gets really smart and insightful at the worst possible moments . Everyone in the room oohs and ahhs at the sudden revelation. Mason looks particularly taken with the romance of it and no , just no, this has to stop.
“I’m not discussing this with any of you. And especially not you!” Peter jabs a finger at Stiles, who has the gall to try and look innocent. He’s seriously rethinking the fruit basket idea. “I don’t know what is going on but I am going to find out.” He gets up to follow after Chris, but is hauled up short by Derek.
“Don’t do anything stupid just because he’s an Argent.”
Peter narrows his eyes, readying a come back he already knows he’ll regret, but Derek shakes his head.
“I mean, don’t let what she did to me — to us — get in your way. Don’t be stupid because you think you have to hold a grudge.” Derek lets go and then pushes him hard enough that Peter stumbles.
It’s not until he’s standing in the parking lot that he realizes A) he does not have his car; B) he has no idea where Chris went; and C) he is barefoot, wearing Derek’s hobo-chic ensemble.
Also, it is just after noon so doing anything supernaturally inclined, like running faster than cars doing a timid 25 mph in a residential zone, is out of the question. Sighing heavily, he turns in the direction of his own townhouse and starts walking because going back up to the loft with the kids and their opinions is also out of the question.
It gives him plenty of time to think about everything, for better or for worse (despite the couple of times people stop him to try to give him money because they think he’s a shoeless homeless person...at least until he growls at them. So sue him, he’s had a bad day ).
He had long thought that ignis fatuus , a term he has not even heard in years, was a myth. He assumed that such rarity meant it was false, existing only as legends told in the form of children's fairy tales about marks that would spring to life in times of danger or trauma to protect mates from harm. About how such marks were born out of a deep and pure love. He vividly remembered reading in a few old, untrustworthy tomes that only the strongest bonds could be wielded by emissaries into weapons, something so ridiculous that he had always dismissed it. But wasn’t that exactly what Lydia had mocked the old (very dead) Korhonen alpha with? Even so, Stiles had been surprised by it, so it was obviously not something he had planned on happening.
Most mate marks Peter had ever seen were abstract or symbolic, not literal images of creatures like a phoenix, and could not spring to life in any useful way. His parents shared a complicated geometric, many-sided prism-like shape, while Talia and Frederick wore the simple triskele that Derek, named for his father, had burned onto his back. Not exactly symbols that could do much, although he nearly laughs thinking of the triskele as a ninja star. The mate mark he shared with Amanda had been reminiscent of copperplate scrollwork, delicate and complicated in the same way they both were, that arched over their right shoulders. He still remembers the pain of it burning off his skin.
Lost in bad memories, he pulls up short when he gets to his townhouse and sees Chris’s car parked on the curb.
Not in the second space in the driveway, where he’s been parking for nearly a week now, which means...Peter is uncertain of what that means. Chris is an Argent and they don’t do anything without a reason, he knows that, but what that reason might be? He’s got no idea. He can’t hear any heartbeat inside, though.
In fact, he can’t hear anything from the townhouse, not the air conditioning or the drip from the sink in the utility room or the shuffle of rodents through the attic, and that gives him enough pause that his self preservation instinct wells up through the pain of his confused emotions. He stands on the sidewalk, staring at the house, uncertain of what he’s waiting for, but certain that something is just plain wrong .
“I know you’re out there, wolf. Come inside and face me. Save your mate if you can.” The words float out to him, soft and ethereal, but he recognizes the voice instantly: Shasta, the former Korhonen alpha’s emissary. He growls at himself for not thinking to make sure she was tracked down or dead. Also for not thinking to bring Derek’s phone with him, because now he is standing outside his home, barefoot in borrowed clothes, with no way to call for backup short of howling like a maniac in broad daylight. Tempting, but he also doesn’t know the situation with Chris, how much danger he is really in. If he’s even still alive...the thought brings up a rumbling growl in his chest.
For all Peter knows, Shasta is bluffing, and Chris isn’t even there. But the timing is too coincidental, and she could have just waited until Peter breezed into the house, oblivious to danger. But no, she let him know she is there and that she has Chris at her mercy.
He snarls when he realizes that she’s playing with her food.
Walking up to the front door, he finds it unlocked, which at least saves him the humiliation of knocking because who knows where the hell his keys are. He really could not have planned this worse if he had tried.
He walks softly through the house to his bedroom on instinct. And there she is, standing proudly over Chris, who is on his knees with his hands behind his head. His back is to the door, but he tenses up, clearly hearing Peter walk into the room. Peter also notes the lines drawn in charcoal on his expensive wood flooring. Chris is on his knees inside of a circle that is only just big enough for him, and is but the innermost circle of a complex casting. The runes are all accurate if haphazard and obviously kept in place with some low-level magic.
“Your alpha is dead, you have no pack, and I doubt any pack would be willing to align with you after this whole clusterfuck.” Peter speaks with a casual tone he doesn’t really feel.
She rolls her eyes at that, as if the gun in her hand is not pointed at Chris’s forehead. “You do like to state the obvious.”
“Do you really think killing us is going to do anything for you? Help your cause? Boost your reputation? I have news for you, emissary : my alpha and my family will tear you limb from limb.” Peter says the words with a surety he would not have felt even 24 hours ago, and it surprises him a little to know how true the threat is.
“They won’t dare touch me with the powers I will be able to wield.”
Peter pauses. She is talking in the future tense about powers she will be able to wield at some point, but not now. Right now she’s gone the old fashioned route of holding a gun to a hostage’s head. Her alpha’s death probably ran her magical battery down to its lowest levels and she was not particularly talented to begin with. She’s trying to trade up. She had to have gunned for Peter’s townhouse the second she cleared out of the camp, to set this all up before either of them showed up.
“What are you here to bargain for?” Peter hazards.
“Bargain? No.” Her smile is slow and full of teeth, like the wolf she isn’t. “Take.”
“Steal,” Peter corrects.
She shrugs and steps away from Chris, giving some room between his head and her gun. Chris remains very still, though, which surprises Peter enough for him to be cautious and not risk just taking a flying leap for her.
Instead, Peter crosses his arms and inspects them carefully. There is nothing to her that he’s not already seen and smelled, but humans do not like being under the eye of a predator and he’s willing to capitalize on that if he can. She does shift a tiny bit, just a small show of discomfort, but otherwise doesn’t move.
“So let me guess: this is about the ignis fatuus.”
She smiles again, greedy and bright-eyed. “I’ll make it mine.”
“That’s not how mate marks works. You can’t steal it.” Peter frowns at her. Maybe she’s just gone insane, which would make everything easier but also a lot more risky. Peter knows that there is nothing to bargain with when someone has been driven mad by pain and grief.
He remembers that all too well.
She smirks at him. “You underestimate me.”
“I doubt it.”
“Fuck you! You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
“You’re right. And frankly I don’t care. There is no spell or power anywhere that can possess a ignis fatuus. They are bound to the mates they belong to.”
She nods, the smirk coming back into play. Peter is already sick of it.
“I don’t have to possess it, personally. I merely have to take ownership. ”
Peter has no idea what she means by that, which bothers him a lot, but he’s a better poker player than to let it show. He rolls his eyes. “I’ll kill you first.”
“You don’t have the magical pull to light a candle right now, or you’d just take what you want.” Peter says with as much boredom and disdain as he can muster, given that his fucking mate is ten feet away with a gun to his head. Instead of looking at that chilling scenario he inspects one of his hands, flicking his claws out and flexing his fingers.
He hears the gun click-clack loudly as she smacks the hammer back, and he barely has time to spring at her before she fires.
Peter’s wolf aims for Chris as he falls backwards from the force of being shot, and just like in the fire, everything dials down to happen in slow motion. Peter falls to his knees to catch Chris, dimly realizing that it wasn’t a head shot, that Chris’s head is intact, that the blood splatter is coming from his belly. Chris brings his hands up to clutch at the wound, his pale blue eyes wide with shock. Peter lands on his ass with Chris in his arms. After a long moment of Chris gasping for air, which is as much proof of life that Peter’s wolf needs, time speeds back up.
“What the fuck!” Peter yells at her.
She lowers the gun with a shrug, backing up to lean against the dresser. “Now we wait.”
Don't kill me for the cliffhanger. I know what's happening next this time! I promise!!!! (please note none of the warnings have changed!) *runs from the room laugh-screaming*
“Now we wait for what ?” Peter yells, his hands over Chris’s, trying to stem the slippery blood. It’s not a gaping wound and for the moment it doesn’t seem like she hit an artery but there is no telling how much damage has really been done. “For him to die?”
She tuts at him as if he’s an errant schoolboy. “For you to become desperate.”
“What ?” Peter is shouting at her while Chris goes into shock, blood pouring out of his abdomen.
“Petey...hey…Petey.” Chris gasps.
“Don’t call me that, for fuck’s sake.” Peter’s hand are slick with blood. He always forgets how greasy it is.
“Heh. You hate it.”
“Yes. Shut up, you’ve been shot. Shut up!”
“Sorry I...fell...for you. Sorry. I love you.” Chris’s eyes tighten with pain. Peter wants to drain the pain, if that might be the last kindness he could offer, but it would sap him of energy that he will need to kill the murderous bitch. It’s a toss up, but in the end, he will always hold out for vengeance when he can.
“Don’t apologize. You fucking asshole, I love you too. Didn’t our damn mate mark prove that?” Peter rests his forehead against Chris’s temple. “Of course we’re this unlucky. You bastard.”
“Yeah,” Chris sighs, the tremors that were wracking his body fading away. It’s a bad sign.
Shasta steps closer and peers down at them. By the way she tips her head back and forth, it’s clear she’s looking for something. “Get away from us!” Peter hisses, tightening his hold on Chris.
She shrugs again and moves out of the casting circles, and then, oddly, puts the gun down on top of the dresser. Peter knows he should make his move, attack her now while she’s defenseless — the circles were not designed to hold him, and as far as he can tell there is no mountain ash in the room or on her person or, even more surprising, in the bullets.
But he can’t bring himself to let go of Chris, and he thinks she knew that all along.
In the same way he had kept his eyes locked on Chris when the former Korhonen alpha was standing over him with a huge, magicked blade, Peter can’t let go of him now as life slowly seeps out of him along with his blood.
“Hey, Petey.” The bastard actually smiles up at him, his teeth bright white in the dim light of the bedroom.
Chris moves one shaking arm away from his belly and holds it out. He’s down to a tee-shirt, Peter realizes, and the mate mark is there on Chris’s arm, vibrant reds and oranges glowing with power. Peter instinctively grabs his forearm with his hand, and Chris’s fingers wrap around Peter’s, so their palms are resting against each other’s mate marks. It burns but it doesn’t hurt, the magic of the connection bright like a fireplace in winter and just as comforting.
“Chris, please. Please don’t.” The tears are hot on his face even if Peter doesn’t feel like he’s crying. “I can’t. Not again, I can’t.”
“Feels good. You...always...make me feel…”
“No no no. I drive you crazy.”
"Yes, dear—" Chris's voice trails off. He is done talking, just shakes his head with a fond smile, trembling slightly as he starts moving past the pain and fear. Peter can tell — he’s seen similar wounds on humans before — that it’s going to be slow death, even if quick enough that making a run for the hospital would be pointless. They are stuck there, trapped as if in a cage for the long, agonizing minutes until Chris dies. That Chris might not even feel it by going into shock should be a blessing. Peter tightens his hold and looks up at Shasta.
“You’ve killed him for nothing you imbecile! Brace yourself, because when he dies I will tear you apart.” Peter slurs half the words through his fangs.
“Don’t be so sure,” she says, rolling her eyes. She turns her back to him as if he is the least dangerous thing in the room and starts rummaging through a large tote bag on the dresser. “I planned for this, remember? I just needed one of you to be in ‘mortal peril’ for the mate mark to manifest.” She actually forms scare quotes with her fingers as she talks and he plans to bite those fingers off as soon as he can make himself let go of Chris.
“The mate mark will only manifest with a boost from our emissary, that’s how it works ! It’s pack protection! It will only work to protect the pack! YOU ARE SO STUPID!” He’s yelling, and Chris grunts, blinking up at him. “Sorry, sorry. Shhhhh. It’s okay, I got you.” Peter lowers his face and nuzzles against Chris’s neck. He smells sweet and spicy, like Mexican chocolate, even under all the blood. It’s the way he always smells, the way their bed has smelled for weeks now. Peter never wants to let go.
“Right. It worked before because your emissary is powerful, and my pack — the Korhonen pack was a threat to all of you. I know that, thanks.” She pulls out a wooden box and shakes it at Peter. It is made of strong, old rowan wood and Peter can feel the alpha-magic pulsing inside.
“What is that?” He has a suspicion, but he hopes he’s wrong.
“This?” She holds up the box. “This is just you underestimating me.” She smiles and opens it up, rattling the claws inside. It’s not a full set, only three, but obviously from the former Korhonen alpha. “My alpha pulled these out years ago and gave them to me for safekeeping.”
“Your alpha is dead. ”
“Interestingly, that doesn’t matter.” She steps carefully into the outermost circle of runes. It brings her closer to Peter, which he likes, but on the other hand it means she’s feeling pretty confident about what she has planned. He starts calculating how fast he can get to her and slice her hamstring or gut her, but is drawn away from that again when Chris shudders. He damns himself for his untimely sentimentality, but he’s sure he can’t save Chris no matter what he attempts so does it matter if he waits a few minutes?
“What matters,” she says, bringing his attention back to her, “Is that I am a pack emissary, that I have a powerful objecst to focus my energies on, and that I have an alpha-spark to feed into spell.”
“Your alpha is dead ,” Peter snarls again.
“Yes, he is.” She talks like she’s explaining things to a five year old. Peter would be offended if her stereotypical villain monologue weren’t keeping her from starting whatever spell she has in mind. “But here’s the thing. You introduced yourself as a former Hale alpha, back during negotiations, remember? We heard rumors, but until that point I wasn’t sure.”
“Keyword here is former, you stark raving lunatic.”
“Ironic, coming from you.” She dumps the claws into her palm and tosses the box on the bed. “Did you know? Anyone touched by an alpha-spark keeps a bit of it.”
Peter pauses. He knows that — he couldn’t help but know that, feeling the small shard of power deep in his very bones. But he worked hard to keep that truth shrouded from those who might find out, or care. He is certain that Deaton knows (wherever that cagey bastard ran off to), but as long as Scott and Derek and, critically, Stiles did not know that it still lurked under his skin, they would not have any reason not to trust him. He had worked too hard for that trust to throw it away on their paranoia, however justified.
“So here we are! Mortal peril? Check! Emissary? Check! Supernatural tokens of great power? Check! And then there is you, with your tiny bit of alpha-spark deep down inside. I think we’re ready, don’t you?” She takes one claw and stabs it into the center of her palm, gasping a bit in pain. Blood wells up, fills her hand, and drips over onto the floor.
With her other hand she flips one of the remaining claws and with a flick of her wrist sends it sailing unnaturally straight through the air to embed in his neck. He howls with the pain and the shock of the foreign alpha’s power pumping into his blood and charging him up with potency the likes of which he has not felt since...since…
“Laura !” Peter screams, a sound so strong that it startles Shasta and wakes Chris up. Peter feels like a banshee as he screams his niece's name over and over, feeling that treasured part of her that still remains in him bursting to life. The insanity of abandonment, of fear, of hate, of vengeance bubbles up inside of him once again but this time...this time it is the spark he got from Laura that drives it.
Shasta’s blood drips onto the runes at her feet and the concentric circles start pulsing with magic, dark and twisted, trying to rip at his consciousness. Peter’s screams have shifted into furious growls and Shasta finally looks unnerved, chanting faster and faster, tossing her blood around to quicken the spell.
It is familiar when it happens again, when the phoenix pulls itself together out his body, the same bright but comforting fire rising through him as before. This time it spirals into being like wisps of smoke twisting into a tornado, the energy from Laura’s alpha-spark and Chris’s fresh blood churning over and over until the creature manifests over them and around them.
Shasta grins, her eyes wide open with awe and greed, and she uses the last alpha claw to reach out and try to snag the spectre.
But Peter already knows it won’t work.
He knows because the alpha-spark was never really his.
He knows because pack bonds are always, always stronger than even the darkest magic.
He knows because he will never to his (next) dying day forget how his pack bond with Laura felt before she broke it as she ran away from Beacon Hills.
He feels it now, burning through him like the legendary fire the phoenix is born from, as if it was always there, waiting to be reforged. It was the power that he sensed before, when Chris was manifesting the mate mark, and now he knows what it is thanks to the boost of the former Korhonen alpha’s claw in his neck, feeding into the power of his blood, his lineage, his pack.
Shasta is still reaching out to snag the apparition but as soon as the old claw touches the blazing red feathers it incinerates in her grasp, burning her fingers. She screams in pain and tries to jump backwards out of the circle but she is frozen in place. Trapped.
The phoenix screams and it shakes Peter to his bones but in the best way, as if Laura and the ancient line of Hale alphas are there, the fire of their collective sparks melting into his body and becoming one with him.
Becoming the phoenix.
Peter holds Chris tight with one arm and reaches a hand out. One massive claw moves with him, even if it is not him.
He is us, we are they, and all is one.
Peter feels his talons push into the former emissary’s chest, cracking easily through bone and cartilage. The fire engulfs her and he squeezes her heart in his claw until it burns to ash. Her screams are cut short when she dies, blood boiling and fat bursting into flame from inside out. He lets her fall and turns to his mate, still unconscious but not yet dead in his grasp. The fire from the emissary’s body jumps to the furniture and sneaks along the flooring, blooming as it latches onto throw rugs and bedding.
The phoenix holds the body of its mate and screams so loudly the windows shatter out. They are lost and burning together and their bellowing cries promise to the all the gods and demons that exists that if they die they will become the destroyer of worlds ...
“Peter.” The name is soft and gentle. It is quieter than the fire that is raging around them and it is separate, it is not them , it is not we. With it comes the heat of the flames and the bright blue of Chris’s eyes.
A loud mournful howl breaks into Peter’s consciousness, a sound so wretched and broken that he blinks and startles when he realizes that they are blocked from from escaping by the fire, which surrounds them now, a tornado of flames and ash. The howl, agonized and furious, starts up again and Peter knows it is Derek, who is outside and thinks his family is burning alive again .
Because they are — the house is entirely aflame, the fire is all around them and licks up the walls and the smoke is rising as if from a furnace. They should already be dead. The floor under them is broken charcoal, red hot from the fire burning out the wood. But his bare feet are untouched and the heat he does feel is distant from him, real but still comforting like the embrace of his pack.
Chris wraps his bloody arms around Peter and weakly pulls them even closer together. For a moment Peter is lost in time as Chris kisses him, lips chapped and cold and soft and so, so perfect. He feels his mate mark shift and change as he lingers in the chaste kiss, unwilling to let the taste of Chris go.
But Chris pulls back enough for his breath to gust over Peter’s cheek. “Go,” he whispers hoarsely, his head lolling to rest on Peter’s shoulder.
He doesn’t need to be told twice. Whatever grace the phoenix granted them won’t last for long but Peter hopes it is enough as he sprints through the burning wreckage and out the remains of his (formerly) nice bay window in the living room. When he lands in the yard a searing burst of heat goes up his back as his gas line explodes. He is knocked forward through the air straight into Derek and Scott and they all tumble into the street.
The shocked, tear-streaked expression on his nephew’s face is the last thing he sees before he blacks out.
So whoops this chapter was supposed to be a wrap-up but no? Apparently not? Okay! I am just here to do the bidding of my characters. Sorry? Meaning: OMG HALE FAMILY FEELS
Peter blinks and feels his brain coming back online in much the same way his old Gateway brick of a laptop suffered through launching Windows95. After a few moments his other senses kick in and the unlamented, familiar bleach-filled aroma of a hospital assaults his nose and eyes. He wonders if the last five years have been a dream, but then then registers the fact that he’s looking at the mattress. As in, his arms are resting on it and he is suspended above it, bands holding his chest and head and hips and legs suspended in the air. It is not how he remembers waking up from his coma last time, and nothing makes sense. Pack bonds are fuzzy and there is something important that he knows he’s forgetting. Someone.
He grits his teeth and tries to shift around and that’s when a gentle hand is placed on his arm.
“Easy, Uncle Peter.” It’s Derek’s soft voice, followed by the pack bonds rushing through Peter’s nerves, filling the nooks and crannies of his isolation. It calms him down from the edge of the panic attack he was not even aware was starting.
“Your back was badly burned.” Cora actually leans over and smushes her face against the mattress so she can look him in the eye. “They elevate you for a few hours every day after cleaning your wounds.” She tangles her fingers with his. “You’ve been out for nearly two days. We’re trying to get them to let us take you home but they won’t while the risk of infection is still high.”
Peter frowns as Cora stands back up. He has a pack now, and an alpha. He should be healing quickly, but instead he’s upside down in the burn ward, and again he fights off panic. “I’m not healing?”
There is a long silence as the siblings argue, using just facial expressions if Peter knows them at all. Finally Derek sighs and leans over, also smushing his face against the mattress. “Stiles says your slow healing time has to do with Chris, who is still in serious condition.”
Hearing Chris’s name slots his feelings into place and Peter’s blood quickens with the conscious awareness of the mate bond. It is weak and limpid, a thready pulse he can barely feel. He bucks instinctively against his restraints. “Let me out, I need to see him.”
“I told you,” Cora hisses at her brother over Peter’s back.
“Yo Uncle Peter!” Stiles announces himself before Derek can respond by banging the door open and shouting.
Peter grits his teeth. “Don’t call me that, and get me out of this damn hammock.”
“No can do, Uncle Big Bad. You were severely burned and admitted to the hospital as a bona-fide patient. We can’t just spring you without raising very awkward questions if you get my drift.”
“Is recovering. Spectacularly fast, too, which is not suspicious at all, for anyone. Apparently whatever mojo you give up and slows your healing is gifted to him and speeds his up. I’m not jealous at all, nope.” Derek lets out a quiet ‘hey!’ but Stiles bends over to look Peter eye to eye. “How is this even comfortable?”
“It’s not,” Peter growls and flashes his eyes, for all the good it will do him. The brat is definitely not getting a damn fruit basket.
“Well too bad. You need to hang in there for a while.” He snorts a laugh but thankfully, Derek smacks the back of his head. Stiles squawks and stands up. “No one appreciates my elevated humor— okay, okay! I’m leaving! Here!” There is a short scuffle and Peter assumes Cora has dragged Stiles out because Derek leans over again.
“Here.” He shoves something onto the mattress in front of Peter’s face. It’s a wad of material and Peter takes a deep sniff of it without thinking, only to be completely overcome by the smell of mate and love and home and Chris.
“What?” Peter croaks out.
“I’m not asking how Stiles got into Chris’s apartment, but he did. I thought this would help you stay calm.
“I am calm,” Peter snarls. Because he is. Totally, completely, utterly calm. He is a Zen master of calm, and if they would just get him the fuck out of this ridiculous contraption—
“Stay still,” Derek says, shoving the shirt into Peter’s face again and nearly smothering him with it. Peter zones out for a moment then feels Derek’s hand on his forearm, along with the tell-tale zip of magic that comes with pain drain.
“You don’t...Derek, stop.”
“It’s okay. It’s what.” Derek stops to take a deep breath before continuing. “It’s what we should have done after the fire. We should have stayed, not.” He stops again.
“Shhhh, pup. That’s over and done with. I’m okay. We’re okay. I think...I think Laura is okay now too.” Peter says the last part unintentionally, the pain and Derek’s taking of it both making him light headed.
The hand withdraws. “What?” Derek’s voice is scratchy.
Right. They never talk about Laura. For a reason, for a very good reason, and Peter curses himself for mentioning her at all.
“What do you mean, Peter?” Derek’s voice takes on an edge of steel and Peter knows he needs to respond.
“It was her spark. The reason for the ignus fatii. It was her power all along. The strength of the Hale alphas.”
“But I got it, when...back then.”
‘When I killed you’ is the part he’s leaving out, but Peter doesn’t blame him. Those were dark times, and he understands that now from the distance of time and sanity.
“It was there, a little, in me. A tiny piece stayed. It fed the mate mark.” Peter closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “She saved me, Derek. Maybe not her spirit or soul, or what-have-you, but it was a part of her. She saved me and avenged Chris and protected us from the fire so we didn’t burn.”
There is a weird hiccuping sound and Peter is immediately thrown back in time to when Derek was a toddler and cried over, well, pretty much everything. He was a crier. Still is, apparently. Peter flexes his fingers. “Der-bear,” he says, the old, unused nickname little more than whisper.
“Unca?” Derek’s fingers grab at his in a crushing grip that would snap bones if Peter were a weaker wolf.
“I’m sorry, little one. I’m just so damn sorry.” Peter blinks back tears, realizing for the first time that he’s never apologized for what he did to Laura, never even thought about apologizing. Now he’s not even sure what he’s apologizing for — killing Laura, not protecting Derek from Kate, not saving their family. It’s all of it and Peter knows he’ll never live long enough to make up for his failures or his crimes. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, because he’s got nothing else to offer.
Derek is hiccuping again but stays standing, out of sight. “We left you.”
“She left me, and dragged you with her. But she came back for me, too.” He rubs a thumb over the back of Derek’s hand, just like he used to do whenever Derek had a spell of tears and angst as a baby. “We’re Hales. It’s what we do.”
Derek lets out a high-pitched laugh at that, then pulls his hand back. Peter suspects he is wiping his face.
“And no, you still can’t get out of bed to see Chris,” Derek says lightly.
“You bastard.” Peter tries to snarl the words but Derek clearly sees through him, laughing, before he pulls more of his pain again. Peter gladly goes back to being in a floaty place between pain and sleep, the scents of Chris’s well-worn shirt lulling him into oblivion.
He wakes up when a searing burst of red pain hits him. He knows even as he is jolted into consciousness that it’s not his own. “Chris? Chris!” He struggles against the fucking straps. The pain disappears as fast as it came, but the mate bond is intact, at least. Chris is alive. Peter breathes in that thought, and breathes out his fear. Chris is alive. In pain, for whatever reason, but alive.
It is dark in his room, deep into the night time and visiting hours long over. He’s not so critical that they will let family hang out overnight, so he’s alone with just filtered light from under the door and through the window blinds. His back hurts but he can tell he’s healed significantly from when Derek was there earlier in the day. They will have to check him out soon or it will be more than awkward to explain his rate of recovery to the medical staff.
With that thought in mind, Peter does what he’s always done best when cornered: fight his way out.
Pulling out the IV, which is mostly saline and an antibiotic drip he doesn’t need, is easy. He uses his claws to cut at the straps on his legs so he can at least rest on his knees and pull himself all of the way out of the hammock. It hurts his back to move that much but mere physical pain is familiar and easy to manage. Standing is a bit more challenging, and he realizes that he was burned from the back of his neck to his heels. Walking is not something he is looking forward to.
They did not have any kind of heart monitor on him, not even attached to a finger, which means that short of calling for a nurse or making a racket of noise no one will be by to check for a while. He scouts around the room and finds one of the horrible hospital robes and wraps it around himself, wincing as it clings to where some of the burns are still weeping. It’s only then that he notices the mate mark.
It is still bright red, and it still resembles a phoenix, but it is now much more stylized. The lines are sharp and heavy, giving it a tribal tattoo look, and it has stretched to run from elbow to wrist. If anything, it is even more beautiful than when it was realistic looking. He gazes at it for a long moment before getting himself back on track.
The hospital hasn’t changed at all from when he roamed it’s corridors years before. He drifts in and out of patient rooms, avoiding staff who pad along the nearly empty hallways. Scrubs are not as easy to find lying around a hospital as movies would have you believe, so he just steals the clothes from a sleeping patient’s belongings along the way. He hates the smell of the man’s cologne, but it’s better than wandering around with his junk hanging out.
He follows the thread of the mate bond until he finds himself outside of ICU. He’s still barefoot, because shoes are harder to fit, and he hates that this has become a running theme in his life.
Getting into the ICU is harder than almost anywhere else in a hospital, but in the dead of night still isn’t that difficult. There are more nurses doing more rounds, and even doctors and family members occasionally coming and going. Still, walking tall like he belongs there gets him to Chris’s room. Unlike private rooms in the general wards, it is small and just large enough for an extra chair, since most of the space is dedicated to machines. In the middle is Chris in his slightly elevated bed, unconscious except for his fingers which scrabble against the sheet covering him as if sorting something, or counting. He’s paler than usual, partly the function of the fluorescent lighting pouring in from the hallway — there is no door to shut it out — and partly from blood loss. His abdomen is thick with bandages under the covers, and he has three bags of fluids slowly being pumped into him. Unlike Peter, he’s got leads going from his chest to various monitors, but he’s not on a respirator. Chances are good they will move him out of ICU in the morning, he figures.
Peter skirts around the bed and takes Chris’s free hand in his. The feeling Peter gets is fuzzy and warm, like being mildly drunk.
Peter looks up at a nurse standing in the doorway. He frowns at her before he can stop himself, his instinct to protect his mate from strangers getting the better of him.
“We were told he, uh, doesn’t have any family.” She is frowning back at him.
Peter bristles. “He does. I’m his partner.”
“Oh. Oh! Ah. Well, we, uh, didn’t know. Did you sign in?” She waves a hand back at the nurses station.
He shakes his head. “I just got in. I didn’t know I needed too.”
“Of course! I’ll put your name down, then? Mr. …?”
Peter pauses. Would she know who was in the burn ward? “Argent. Peter Argent.”
“Right, right. We’re limiting visitation to fifteen minutes every hour. I’ll start your visit now, though, since you just got here?”
He checks her name tag. “Thank you, nurse...Fayed.”
When she disappears he takes a moment to poke around and sure enough, a duffle bag with clothes and shoes are tucked into a small locker, probably put there by Stiles or Derek. He puts on the shoes, which are a half-size too large but are just slip on boaters. They will do the trick.
Another nurse comes in a few minutes later to check the fluid bags and ignores Peter completely.
“Are you his primary ICU nurse?” Peter asks, back to holding Chris’s hand.
“Yes. Nurse Jamieson.” He answers politely. “You’re his partner?”
That at least tells Peter that the nurses in this unit are on top of things. “I am. How has he been, tonight?”
“He woke up not long ago, feeling the pain. We got him under again, though.” He waves a hand at the bank of monitors. “Seems to be sleeping fine now.”
“He’s come around really well. We only kept him here tonight because no beds were available elsewhere.” He sighs. “It’s been a busy week, unfortunately.”
“Sorry to hear it.”
Jamieson nods with a sincere smile and heads out, making notes on his tablet.
Peter leans over and presses his lips to Chris’s forehead. His mate smells unwashed and vaguely of iodine and salt, and his hair is greasy. Peter doesn’t care.
“I’m here, Chris. I’m here.” Peter rumbles the words into Chris’s ear, and he gets slight blip in his heart rate for his troubles. Jamieson looks in a few seconds later, but seeing nothing amiss, leaves again without comment.
Peter stays until Fayed comes back and ushers him out to the ICU waiting room, a grim place that stinks of grief and adrenaline. He hates it but he takes a seat along with the three other people there for their own loved ones and sets in the for long haul to morning.
Just after eight a.m., Cora skids into the waiting room, startling everyone there but Peter, who had heard her distinctive, slightly lopsided gait coming down the hallway. “Ah ha!” She points an accusing finger at him.
He raises his hands in surrender. She glares at him and pulls out her phone, furiously tapping away for a few moments before coming over to sit next to him. “Your nurses are freaking the fuck out, you know that?” She speaks so softly that only he can hear her.
“I don’t care.”
“Right.” She rolls her eyes and flops back in her chair. “I knew you’d be here. Everyone else is out searching the woods.”
“That’s ridiculous. Where else would I be?”
“That’s what I said!”
Peter rests an arm over her shoulders. “You are the smart one.”
She preens at the praise, snuggling in next to him in a way he thought he’d never experience again after the fire, after insanity. He dares to peck a kiss against her forehead and they sit there in silence for a while. There is a clatter of noise out in the hallway and Derek shows up with Stiles and Scott on his heels, Stiles talking into his phone a mile a minute.
“Thanks, Pops. Nah, he’s in my sights...I don’t know, we’ll figure out something in a bit...Maybe we’ll ‘find’ him wandering around the site of the fire, traumatized, his eyes blank with grief...No I don’t think that’s too melodramatic! How dare you! I— Dad? Dad?” He glares at his phone as Derek steers him away from walking into a chair. “He hung up on me!”
“Hey man,” Scott says, holding out his hand to Peter. As they shake, Scott steps in close, his voice dropping. “Don’t go scaring everyone like that, no one knew where you were.” His eyes flare red briefly and Peter is nailed to the chair, tilting his head in instinctual submission to the Alpha power surging against him like a strong wave striking shore. He’s never felt this solid a pack bond from Scott before; suspects that he didn’t truly believe Scott was his alpha until this very moment.
“Sorry, Alpha,” Peter says, his voice rough.
Scott seems as surprised as he is by the words and the submission, dropping his hand quickly. “Uh. Good. Okay. Yeah? Uhmmm.”
Stiles is eyeballing both of them suspiciously. Derek, meanwhile, is sniffing the air like a fucking bloodhound, as if his mother never once taught him subtlety. Cora kicks at his leg and he finally stops, looking abashed for a brief moment until zeroing in on Peter.
“Time for you to go back to your room and check yourself out,” Derek demands, straightforward as ever.
Cora pokes at his arm. “Uncle Peter, we can smell your pain and your blood, you need—”
“No. Next visiting time is in ten minutes. I’ll go when I get back out. They are moving Chris to a private room soon anyway.”
“Peter,” Derek growls, and the argument is on. It’s a battle, Hale against Hales, and Peter does not miss when Stiles asks Scott to get him popcorn for the show. It only lasts until the Sheriff walks in and literally lays down the law, Scott nodding like a bobble-head behind him and Stiles still looking far too amused. In the end, Peter gets another fifteen minutes with his mate then he will be “discovered” wandering around the basement by Deputy Parrish before checking himself out against doctor’s orders.
Even so, it’s three hours before Peter gets himself back to Chris’s bedside. He settles in wearing fresh clothes (Derek’s, again, because everything Peter owned is burned to cinders, again ), holding a book in one hand and Chris’s hand in the other. No one knows when Chris will wake up, but Peter can wait, and he really loves Jane Eyre anyway…
Chris’s voice draws him out of the book sometime later, the sun slung high in the afternoon. He looks over into the bright blue eyes of the man he fell in love with, who apparently fell in love with him.
“You fucking asshole,” Peter says simply, closing his book and pulling some of Chris’s pain out.
“Gettin’...mixed signals.” Chris gives him an entirely too adorable, dorky, drugged out smile. He looks like a ten year old with a beard.
“You are stoned out of your mind. I’m not even talking to you.”
“Liarrrrrrrr.” Chris drags the word out, still grinning.
The pain that Peter feels is sharp and bitter, the worst of the dregs that the morphine can’t touch.
“I live!” Chris says, and tries to laugh but his body tenses up instinctively to avoid pain.
“You took a nine millimeter to the gut, and we’re just lucky the exit wound took part of your liver and not your spine.” Peter grits his teeth.
“Sorry not sorry.” Chris sticks his tongue out at him then promptly passes out.
Peter sighs and mentally prepares himself to rehash that same conversation for the next two days.
And he does. But in between, Derek and Cora bring him meals and the Sheriff checks in on him and Scott even pokes his head through the door and gives him a ‘thumbs up’ (which Peter doesn’t understand the purpose of but Stiles assures him represents major progress in their pack “relationship”, complete with scare quotes).
As Chris recovers and is taken off the heavy-duty pain killers, he starts getting grumpier and quieter. By the third day he’s snapping at everyone, even the nurses. Except Melissa, who snaps back — Peter deeply regrets not turning her and starts to wonder how he can “convince” Scott to do it for him. Little known fact neither he nor Derek seem interested in sharing with their generally ignorant pack of cubs: werewolves are matriarchal too, just like hunters.
“Don’t you dare,” Chris growls (growls!) at him when Melissa walks out in a fury.
“What? She’s a gorgeous woman. I can’t look?”
“That’s not looking. That’s—” He stops and his jaw moves as if he chewing on the words. “That’s sizing her up. You want her turned.”
Peter opens and closes his mouth, because yes, that was exactly what he was thinking and there is no way Chris could know that.
Chris rolls his eyes. “You are a manipulative bastard and this pack has no matriarch. It doesn’t take a genius to see the wheels in your head grinding.”
“I’ll have you know that the wheels in my head turn like a well oiled machine.”
Chris grumbles and then winces in pain. Peter is back in his chair and holding Chris’s hand in an instant. Chris stares at their intertwined fingers and the dark lines of pain snaking up Peter’s wrist and arm.
“John will shoot your balls off if you try to get her bitten,” Chris says with a sigh as the pain dampens and his body relaxes.
“He would try,” Peter allows, because the Sheriff would definitely try.
Chris pulls his hand free and tips his head toward Peter. “I guess we should talk now that I’m lucid and only in mild agony.”
“Don’t exaggerate. Your doctors are already sharpening their pens to get your ‘amazing recovery’ added to their publishing CVs.” Peter sits back in his chair and folds his arms over his chest.
“Still. We have...things...to discuss. Don’t we?”
“So I was going to bring you lunch but you’re on your own with ‘the talk,’ lover boy. Back later,” Cora’s distant voice reaches his ears.
“Don’t ever call me ‘lover boy’ again.”
Cora laughs while Chris looks horrified.
“Not you. Cora. She was down the hallway.”
Chris glares at the doorway before turning his attention back to Peter.
“Well?” Peter huffs in irritation. “Is this where you tell me that you went by my place to pack up your things and run away?”
“I was going to grab my bags and bug out.” He nods. “But Sunshine was there—”
“Shasta,” Peter corrects, hating himself for it.
“And then you were there.” Chris rides right over him. “And then.” He shrugs one shoulder, baring his teeth in pain but folding his hands in his lap, keeping them just out of Peter’s reach.
They both stay silent again for a moment.
“Do you want me to say it?” Chris asks, unmoving but glancing up at Peter. The submissiveness of the gesture makes Peter’s blood pressure rise from both anger and his wolf’s urge to claim, to mate, to possess .
“You know what? Yes. I want you to say it. I want you to admit it.”
That stirs some rebellion in Chris, who sits up straight in his bed and levels Peter with a masterful, if misplaced glare, given his next words. “I’ve been in love with you since you were sixteen.”
Peter doesn’t take in the confession for a moment, honestly waiting for a different set of words.
“Sixteen?” He spits out in surprise. When Peter was sixteen, Chris was twenty . When Peter was sixteen, he had just lost his virginity to a cheerleader and proceeded to work his way through the basketball team. Jean Christophe Argent was barely a blip on his radar, hell, they did not start flirting in earnest until after Peter graduated high school and started his training to be the pack’s next Left Hand. To Peter, it had never been more than a game. “ Sixteen ?” He repeats.
Chris merely nods.
Chris shrugs. “You were fucking your way through half the population of Beacon Hills High. You were a werewolf. You were a...a kid.” He gives a half-smile at the irony. “And I was a hunter.”
Peter is taking a long time to work though that statement because it shifts a lot of things into a new perspective. Chris takes the silence to mean something else, though. “I’ll leave. When I get out of here, I’ll—””
“No! Shut up!” Peter jabs a finger in his direction. “You do not get to throw this in my face and then walk off into the sunset. Not without a better explanation.”
“What’s to explain, Peter? I love you. I’ve been in love with you.”
“Was an arranged marriage, mostly to please my father. Did I love Vicki? Yes. I did. We were a good team and we...we had a good life together, while it lasted.” He looks away, and Peter knows he’s carefully omitting Allison from the picture he’s painting of that marriage. “But it wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t something I even wanted, at first. I only agreed to it because it would get me the hell out of Beacon Hills. Get me the hell away from you .”
Peter shakes his head, then closes his eyes and rubs his face. “Fuck.”
“I’m not sorry I used the bond to save you from Korhonen, if that’s what you are wondering,” Chris offers, his expression contrite.
“As if that is in any way, shape, or form on my fucking radar right now!” Peter shouts.
“I’m not asking anything of you!” Chris shouts right back before grabbing at his abdomen, his face a rictus of pain.
“You are a goddamn asshole, Argent,” Peter says as he gets up, slapping his hand on Chris’s mate mark and kissing him so fast and hard that their teeth clack. He pulls the pain out as he pushes his tongue into Chris’s mouth. The taste is sour and thick like the worst morning breath ever but it’s all Chris and Peter wallows in the way their lips slide together as Chris sighs into him, his body lax but his heart pounding away in his chest like a marching band.
When Peter finally pulls out of the kiss, Chris looks dumbfounded, his jaw hanging open unattractively, his skin flushed and ruddy.
Peter tilts his head, considering. “How much do you remember?”
“Uh.” Chris blinks for a few moments, his brain very obviously having to reboot itself. Peter tries not to be smug about that and fails, because he honestly did not try very hard.
“I remember getting shot. After that, things are...fuzzy.”
Well, that clears up some of the confusion between them. “Fuzzy, how?”
Chris tries to pull his arm out of Peter’s grasp but Peter refuses to let go. They struggle in a parody of a fight for a moment before Chris gives up. “More like hallucinations.”
Peter thinks about this for a moment. Chris is too cynical to believe anything Peter would tell him about the phoenix reappearing and saving them, about Chris kissing him first, about any declarations Peter might make of mates and love and the Hale alpha spark protecting them. He’s surely heard some of the story from the Sheriff or possibly even Stiles, but the paranoid bastard would definitely question Peter’s version of events.
“Our marks have changed,” he says instead, turning Chris’s arm up to show the new version in all its stylized glory. He lays his arm down next to it for comparison.
“I noticed.” Chris eyes their mate marks briefly. “I assumed some of the power burned out protecting us, based on what Stiles told me.”
“Hmm. Something like that.” He steps away to pull his chair closer again before sitting down. “Do you know why I killed Laura?”
Chris blinks at the non sequitur. “For her power.”
“Ostensibly, yes. That’s what I tell the kids: my insanity-driven lust for the alpha power.” He folds his hands over his belly and tips his head back to look at the ceiling. Waiting. Pulling his prey into the trap.
Chris sighs. “But?” He pauses. “Are you saying you weren’t insane? That it was premeditated?” His voice sharpens in censure.
“Oh, it was premeditated, yes, but I was definitely insane. The two are not mutually exclusive.” He finally looks over at Chris, his stomach churning. “But premeditated by who? Really?”
“I’m not playing this guessing game with you, Hale. Tell me what you want me to know. I’m in too much fucking pain to have any patience.” Chris’s growl is as solid and threatening as any wolf’s, which Peter takes a moment to admire.
“Laura left me as bait.” Peter snaps out the words. Chris’s eye goes wide with surprise before narrowing in suspicion, but Peter shakes his head to stop him from interrupting.
“It’s exactly what Talia would have done, hell, it’s what I would have advised her to do as her left hand. But Laura never trusted me, and I never trusted her, so she also broke the pack bonds when she left. Ill advised for both of us, but — and I’m being charitable here — she was young, running on instinct and fear. She left me as bait but did not want any connection to her and Derek, did not want anything that could be held against them. If anyone came after me, she would be informed as next of kin but there would nothing they — Kate ,” he spits the name, “Could use to track back to her. She left me as bait, she left me to die. I was rude enough to foil her plan.”
“And you know this because…?”
“She told me. We had a long, unproductive talk before we tried to kill each other.” He winces at the memory, the way her rage and terror fed into his instability. He takes a deep breath and looks away again. “Who would believe me if I told them that I lured her back to try and talk her into helping me? To let me be pack again so we could get revenge together—” His breath hitches and he snarls at his own weakness. “I still remember the exact moment I realized she was there to execute me, to eliminate every threat to her and Derek, pack bonds be damned. I don’t remember much about her attack, to be perfectly honest. I was shockingly unprepared but it set me off.” He shrugs. “I won.”
It’s a story too ruthless for Derek to believe of his precious older sister, whom he worshipped from the time he could waddle around behind her. Given the tentative overtures from him and Cora lately, Peter is not willing to rock the ship by sharing it with him now. He clenches his teeth and looks at Chris again, surprised at the expression of shock and confusion, but determined to see this out. “The alpha spark did my insanity no favors, as we all know.”
Chris stares at him for a long moment. Peter stares back, letting his mask fall, letting Chris see the pain of loss and anguish he knows sits under the surface of his snark and venom.“Why are you telling me this, Peter?” Chris asks softly, as if trying not to spook him.
Peter leans forward in the chair with his elbows on his knees and looks directly into Chris’s stark blue eyes. “If I can’t trust you, my mate , who can I trust?”
That, even more than the impromptu kiss, pushes Chris’s heart rate into overdrive.
It’s a fair fight. Peter is down to skin but sunk deep into his beta shift, claws long and growls full throated. It’s a far cry from his days as an alpha but he doesn’t miss that now, doesn’t feel any regret about losing the last of the Hale spark. As little confidence as he has in the scrappy kids who protect the nemeton’s territory (and he has more these days than he used to) he feels only gratitude for the relative freedom he gained. Freedom to just be himself. Freedom to support the pack without being weighed down by a responsibility he never wanted in the first place.
Freedom, like now, to run.
Chris, on the other hand, is loaded for bear. Literally. There was a black bear sighted north of the Hale property on the edge of the preserve, awakened from hibernation for some mysterious reason ( read: Stiles poking at the nemeton ), that the Forestry Service would really like to tag and track. Chris is wearing the formerly-Korhonen ceremonial knife that Lydia gifted them, a Glock 9mm pistol, a rifle with bear-worthy tranq shots, and a shotgun for last-line defense. Because of course the bastard wants to multi-task.
“If you hit me with the tranq I’m cancelling the honeymoon!” Peter growls from where he’s hiding on an outcrop far above where Chris is crawling up the cliffside.
Chris doesn’t respond but Peter clearly sees him roll his eyes by the light of full moon, the snarky jerk. He just keeps crawling up the embankment with all his weapons and the heavy backpack containing the radio collar the confused Forestry ranger gave him...along with other “supplies.”
“Don’t spill the lube,” Peter adds with a snap.
“If you’d just point me to where the bear is we could move on to the fun part,” Chris snaps back, a little breathless from the climb but still hauling ass.
“Why did you even promise to hunt a bear on our mate match day?”
Peter hears Chris mumble, “for fuck’s sake” but that’s all the answer he gets. Peter quietly moves off the outcropping and begins the next portion of the climb up to the small glen that has a brilliant view of the scenery down below. Peter scouted it out months earlier, the day after Chris accepted his proposal, which was the day after Chris finally got the “all clear” from his doctor to resume normal activities as long as he didn’t push himself too hard.
Ironically, they had spent that whole day in bed and there was a lot of hard pushing involved.
“You’re supposed to catch me, Argent!” Peter taunts once he’s gone up a bit more.
“Fine, fine, whatever,” Chris snarls up at him. They go at each other like this for a few more minutes until Chris has almost made it up to Peter again. Then Peter turns to start his run to the glen.
“What the everloving fuck !” Peter shouts as a rope snags his foot and springs a trap, yanking him off his feet and swinging him high up in the air. He starts coughing as dust drifts around him. The more he struggles the more dust is let loose from the rope around his foot and the more off-balance he feels. “What— what did you do?” He yells between coughs.
“You’ll live. It’s just a customized wolfsbane/mistletoe blend Lydia cooked up. Just makes you dizzy, nothing more,” Chris laughs at him as he rounds the corner and walks up to where Peter is helplessly swinging back and forth in the air.
“You poisoned me?” Peter shrieks in indignation, and starts coughing again.
“No, Lydia poisoned Scott. Twice, actually, before she got the percentages right.” Chris sets down his backpack, the rifle, and the shotgun a few paces away before turning around again. He grins as he stares up at Peter, standing with his hands on his hips and an evil glint in his eyes. This is exactly the tableau that would have given Peter nightmares, once upon a time. Right now, though, he’s just mildly annoyed at feeling too drunk to extricate himself. Because with Chris decked out in his weaponry and his cargo pants-of-many-pockets and standing there like king surveying his conquered lands….well, Peter is a bit dizzy and a lot turned on, he’s got to admit.
“Lookin’ good, Hale.” Chris’s grin goes even wider. “Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to track you when you went out on scouting runs?”
“Get me down,” Peter huffs, trying to fold himself upwards to grab at the rope. Twice. He fails both times because his fingers are numb. “Ugh.” He flops back down again.
“I will,” Chris assures him without making a move in his direction. He fiddles with a pocket and pulls out his phone.
“Don’t you dare, ” Peter hisses.
“New phone has a great camera for night shots,” he says happily, pointing up at Peter’s very naked dick swinging in the breeze.
Then his hearing dials in again, and Peter’s heart stops. “Don’t move.”
“Why? What are you gonna—”
“Shut up , Chris!” Peter hisses just as the bear hits the clearing behind them, grumbling and growling.
Chris freezes then, camera still held high. “Shit.” His voice is barely above a whisper.
“Get me down, get me down,” Peter chants softly.
“Shhh,” Chris says, very slowly lowering the camera and turning to face the bear. It is annoyed and grumpy and eyeing them speculatively.
“Can’t get to the guns,” Chris sing songs the words, barely above a whisper. His scent is sour with guilt and shame, obviously from putting the weaponry aside to flirt. Peter would smack him if things were not looking quite so dire.
“If I howl for assistance there is no telling what that thing will do,” Peter whispers back.
“I guess it’s the old fashioned way then.” Chris pockets the phone as the bear starts posturing at them and growling furiously.
“Chris, what—” Peter’s heart goes into overdrive, which is not hard given he’s upside down and all the blood is rushing to his head anyway.
Chris pulls out the Glock one-handed in a smooth motion and with his other hand unsheathes the magicked knife, crouching into a fighting stance.
“Chris!” Peter yells in a panic just as the bear launches itself toward them. Peter clenches his abdominal muscles like he never has before and swings himself up to grab at the rope, slashing at it with his claws, but it only helps to release more powder and he hits the ground in a daze, not feeling a single bruise or break, if there are any. He rolls over and hears the bear give out an anguished roar, but he doesn’t see anything in front of him.
Dragging himself to his feet he shifts and sees the bear pacing back and forth, but limping, holding one back paw off the ground. How the hell Chris did that without being gutted or firing off a shot, Peter does not want to know.
“Christopher!” Peter yells again, which he realizes is a mistake when the bear twists around and starts running straight at him. He roars in its face but he’s a beta and no match for a 400 pound bear. He takes off running, zig zagging across the glen like a drunkard, his brain still fuzzy from the damn drugged powder and wondering how much damage he can take from a fully grown bear without dying and if he’s actually leading the bear back around to Chris.
“Hale! Cut right!”
Peter uses his claws like cleats and follows Chris’s order without a moment’s hesitation, launching himself to the right hard enough to fly several yards before landing. Just as his feet leave the ground he hears the puff of the air rifle shooting out a tranq and Peter lands into a full body roll, bouncing up onto his feet in a fighting crouch.
The bear is lumbering for him and Chris is shouting again, but Peter can smell the tranquilizer over the heavy, sour bear-musk scent so he knows he only has to wait it out.
Except the bear has other ideas. It rises up on his hind legs with a roar and starts lumbering toward him like a drunk toddler. Peter can hear Chris at his back but he doesn’t dare move out of the way, it goes against every instinct he has to let the bear get a clear shat at Peter’s mate.
Of course that also means his mate can’t get a clear shot at the bear.
“Get out of the fucking way!” Chris shouts at him.
“Just take the shot!”
“Fine! I will!”
Peter has a second to wonder what that means when he hears a shot from the air rifle and only has time to think “oh shit” before he blacks out to the sound of a second shot going off over his shoulder.
When he wakes up, the sunrise is cresting majestically over the mountains and birds are singing and nature is joyously alive all around him and he fucking hates everything.
“Ugh.” He smacks his mouth, which feels dry and tacky, as his brain comes back online. He’s still naked, face up, cradled in the V of Chris’s legs with his back resting against Chris’s chest. Chris has one arm slung around his waist and his other hand is holding—
“Are you seriously reading Leaves of Grass over my catatonic body?” Peter snarls as he tries to move his sluggish limbs.
“If you had moved when I told you to, I would not have had to shoot you.”
“You shot me full of bear tranquilizer !”
“Would you have ever moved aside and cleared a shot for me otherwise?” Chris asks, still pretending to read the book.
Peter opens his mouth but shuts it again. Because, no. No, he would not just step aside and let an angry bear charge at his mate. Never.
“Didn’t think so,” Chris says smugly and snaps the book closed. “Anyway, you’re fine. We’re still eight hours out from our expected return time. The bear woke up three hours ago and wandered off.”
Peter frowns. “With two tranq shots it should have been out for longer than that.”
Chris wraps his other arm around Peter’s naked waist and hauls him up closer. He leans in and whispers hotly into Peter’s ear. “We can talk about the inconsistent effectiveness of the Forestry Service’s tranq shots or we can make out, but not both.”
Peter’s body lights up. “The latter, I think.”
“Oh, I agree.” Chris grins at him and drops the book.
They have had plenty of sex by that point, but this is not about mere physical pleasure. As Chris, ever the boy scout, uses the lube he brought along and opens Peter up and slides into the most intimate part of him, they both stay silent, knowing that whatever magical spells Stiles has kick-started as part of the bonding ceremony will solidify with this connection. After a couple of seconds, Peter feels his mate mark prickling with energy, and wraps that arm up over Chris’s shoulders as they start moving together.
This is the physical part of their spiritual bonding, and along with the sex, they are both bound to bite each other at the time of completion. Peter’s actually been holding back from trying to give Chris a bite mark for weeks already, so as he sails into his orgasm he lets his teeth drop and sinks them into the meat of Chris’s bared shoulder without a moment of hesitation. Seconds later he barely feels it as Chris’s blunt human teeth work at breaking Peter’s skin, even as they cry out in pain and satisfaction.
They hold each other tight as magic races through them and down into the ground, there to feed the power of the nemeton and strengthen the overall magic that lives in the land. In return their bites begin to heal quickly, skin knitting together, a sign of approval and acceptance of the gift they have provided the land with their lovemaking.
They will both wear the scars, for mate bites don’t heal over for werewolves any better than they do for humans, even with magical, nemeton-blessed healing. Peter still has the faint, silvery marks from Amanda’s bite, faded almost to nothing by time and loss. But now, he also has the bright red mark of Chris’s teeth on his other shoulder, and finally, at last, in a way he thought would never happen again, Peter starts to feel like he is truly mending.
Chris groans after a few moments before rolling off of him and flopping onto his back. His fingers trace the outline of Peter’s bite, but he stays silent. Even Peter does not feel like breaking the quiet moment between them with words, and instead rolls into Chris’s body, using his chest as a pillow.
Eventually Chris grumbles at him and they get themselves back on two feet and set out for the next stage. As they make their way down the mountain, Chris demands that they detour to stop by a local stream in order to scrub themselves down. (Intellectually, Peter knows it's because Chris is human and has human conventions regarding what the kids might know about what they have been up too deep in the woods by the smell of them or the look of them. It's ridiculous because everyone knows what Peter and Chris have been getting up to in the woods, because that was the whole point of going into the woods in the first place . Humans have been strange about those kind of things since time began or at least since werewolves began, so Peter humors him. It's not as if Derek and the others won't be able to smell the traces of their activities, because fresh, clear springwater isn't going to erase the oils and other effluvia that will cling to their skin without the proper application of industrial-strength soap. But, they stop and rinse off anyway because Peter is already so very, very whipped.)
As Chris's strips down again, putting all his armor and weaponry to the side, Peter takes a moment to just watch the man he's fallen in love with and think about their life together, and what it will mean for both of them. It's not as if Chris isn't already estranged from his family and the hunter community at large. It's not as if Peter's reputation as a homicidal maniac who killed his own niece hasn't spread far and wide in the part of the supernatural community that likes to gossip… which if Peter remembers anything correctly, it is that the entire supernatural community loves good, juicy, ruthless gossip. Neither one of them can escape their pasts.
Being about as domestic as two men like Peter and Chris could ever be, they use their hands to scrub each other down quickly in the freezing cold water in hopes of trying to make themselves somewhat presentable to their pack. Peter hasn’t felt more like a dutiful husband in years, and he finds he likes it.
“You’re lost in thought," Chris says as he starts pulling on his clothes, despite the fact he hasn't been able to dry off properly.
“I'm just thinking about heading down the mountain and what's waiting for us there."
"Lots of cake?"
Peter smothers a laugh. One of the interesting things that Peter has learned about his mate over the last few months is that Chris has an absolutely insatiable sweet tooth, and could probably exist on bags of salted caramels and pints of ice cream if given half a chance. Which, of course, Peter is not going to give him half that chance because he wants his human mate to live as long as possible. He knows it's going to be an ongoing argument. He knows that, for once, Stiles will be on his side.
"Cake. Family. Pack," he says a little wistfully as Chris zips up his jeans, hiding all the goods.
"Well at least there’s cake," Chris says with a feral grin as he straps on his weapons, and Peter really should stop finding that as sexy as he does. Chris knows exactly what he’s thinking and laughs at him, the bastard.
Peter, still naked as the day he was born, takes Chris's hand and leads him the rest of the way down the mountain to where the pack is waiting for them. They are set up in the field far behind where the old Hale homestead used to stand. That building has been razed to the ground and, with Stiles’s erratic oversight to adjust ley lines, a young tree planted there as both memorial and, eventually, nemeton. Just for today, though, Peter steers clear of the site. He has a better place to be, now.
As they approach, Stiles wolf-whistles at him and gets cuffed by both Derek and Malia. His father, standing prim and proper in a nice suit, rolls his eyes but motions Peter and Chris toward him. The sheriff is standing under a wedding bower of twisted vines laced with flowers (the human tradition) and decorated with the teeth and antlers and bones of the animals that are currently being cooked up for the reception (the werewolf tradition). As the officiant — and Peter is aware of the irony — the sheriff is there to wed them. The pack and pack-adjacent and friends-of-pack-who-are-in-the-know are all standing in a circle around the bower. Chris once again strips off his armor and weaponry, leaving it outside of the human circle.
Scott, as alpha, moves to stand next to the Sheriff, his eyes already flipping red. He’s not going to say anything, which suits both him and Peter perfectly, but his presence there does put Peter’s wolf at ease. Scott’s approval doesn’t mean much to Peter personally, but it shows that he’s not going to have to lose his pack to keep his mate, a choice he would have gladly made if necessary. This way he gets to keep his niece and nephew, though, and that’s enough compromise for him.
It’s a simple ceremony, the last step in what has been a week-long string of events and formalities culminating in the chase, the bonding, and now the wedding.
The Sheriff gets through the opening lines of “we are gathered here etc. etc.” and then pauses, clearing his throat. He’s not using cheat cards and Peter is touched that he took the time to memorize what, to him, must be a highly unconventional ceremony.
“As bonded under the blessed power of the full moon and in the presence of your pack, your family, and your ancestors, do you, Peter McInroy Hale, take Jean Christophe Argent as your legally recognized husband and pack-bonded mate?”
“I do,” Peter says, preening a bit and unable to stop himself.
The Sheriff repeats the phrase to Chris, who only nods at first before remembering his words in an uncharacteristic show of nerves. “Yes. Yes, I mean, I do.” He coughs. “I do. ”
“Please acknowledge your mate marks.”
Chris and Peter clasp each other’s forearms, so their marks press together. This part of the ceremony is improvised, since they already have mate marks. Normally the emissary would step forward and bind their arms together with red cord or twine and cast the spell to make the marks appear. Instead, the Sheriff ties their arms together with the cord and steps back.
Peter takes a deep breath before speaking. “I bind my heart and wolf to you, as mate and bonded, here in the presence of my pack and family. If I am false or untrue in this declaration let our marks burn away to ash.”
Chris looks like he’s holding his breath as they pause for a tiny moment. It’s not like Peter expected anything to happen, but it seems he’s marrying a pessimist, and it’s such irony that he has to hold back a chuckle. He smiles at Chris and squeezes his arm in encouragement.
Chris looks up at him then, his eyes bright and crystal clear in the sunlight, sharp as diamonds. Peter holds himself completely still, as if he were the prey, and Chris the predator hunting him down. He feels stripped bare in a way far beyond the fact that he is still naked.
“I bind my heart and my soul to you, as mate and bonded, here in the presence of your family and your pack. I ask that they accept me through you, and that together we can make ourselves whole. If I am false or untrue in this declaration let our marks burn away to ash.”
There is another long pause as they both look down at their arms, and they both gasp as the red twine binding them together flashes and burns away. The smoke and ashes roil in the air the coalesce, leaving a long, gorgeously mottled-red feather to float down and rest delicately upon their arms.
“Wasn’t me!” Stiles shouts from the side.
“Uhm—” The Sheriff frowns at the feather. “That wasn’t in the script.”
Peter holds on to Chris’s arm and uses his free hand to grab the feather before it tips over and falls to the ground. Chris catches his gaze. “I thought the last of the spark was burned away?”
Peter shrugs and runs the feather softly over Chris’s cheek. He twitches and grabs Peter’s hand, so they are holding on to each other, making a full circuit with clasped arms and joined hands. There is a small buzz of electricity between their mate marks.
THe Sheriff clears his throat again and steps back into place. “With the assent of the presiding Alpha, Scott Delgado Rodriguez Mathias McCall, the endorsement of Emissary Mieczysław Lew Stilinski—” Everyone ignores Stiles’s unhappy exclamation in the background— “ And with the approval of your respective families and pack, I now pronounce you: husbands and mates. Congratulations.”
Peter lets out a long sigh as they kiss, and then nearly breaks down when Cora and Derek, as his family-blood pack, walk up together to drape a cloak of soft deerskin over his shoulders, hiding his body (his pelt ) from all but his betrothed. Derek stands behind him and sets his broad, heavy hands — so much like his father’s — on his shoulders while Chris gently kisses away the tears on Peter’s cheeks.
Of course Cora is the one who breaks the mood with a loud cheer that turns into a group howl that rings for minutes through the Preserve, even the humans warbling along. As it tapers off, everyone but the actual adults run for what has been termed “the new place.”
Chris is smiling like a loon, swinging Peter’s hand in his as if they are teenagers. The Sheriff and Melissa are walking ahead of them with their arms around each other’s waists and Parrish is escorting Lydia like a princess, so they make a slow procession down the trail to where a tent and catering van has been set up next to the foundations of a house-in-progress.
Peter and Derek had the land cleared over a month ago for a new house, a pack house that will remind them of the best parts of what they lost without forcing them to live in the ashes of the old one. Peter is looking forward to decorating the place and generally vetoing any ideas Derek has of leather sofas and steel appliances, although Lydia has claimed first right on the color scheme for the main rooms (despite the fact that she won’t be living there, simply because Derek did not have the guts to fight her on it, the coward).
The catering company (which is a family of satyrs who specialize in supernatural celebrations and had to be talked out of lacing everything with aphrodisiacs) has happily cooked up the deer and wild boar and rabbits that Peter, Derek, and Cora brought them, along with the massive bag of meatballs from Costco that Stiles donated. The place smells delicious. It’s more food then their small gathering can ever eat but it’s the principle of the thing, so Peter is ridiculously pleased. He is providing for his mate and alpha and emissary and pack. His wolf is almost purring in his chest.
This is the first Chris has seen of the new house, so he walks over to where the foundation has been poured and some framework put in place. He stops next to it, studying the construction.
“Gonna be big.”
Peter nods. “We have a lot of young pack members now, but eventually they will grow up and have pups. I don’t foresee Cora and Derek ever moving out, anyway. Talia—” He stops and takes a breath. “Talia always wanted a compound for us, she had already drafted up plans for more houses. But the pack house has to be big. It has to hold everyone, if needed.”
“Might be a good plan.” Chris pulls up their joined hands and gently draws his finger over Peter’s mate mark, his expression thoughtful. “Did I tell you I heard from Winchester?”
“Which one?” Peter wrinkles his nose. He trusts those hunters less than most, which is saying something.
“The younger. Seems...seems they came across a pack slaughter up in Wyoming.”
“Fuck.” Peter holds back a snarl.
Chris nods, confirming that it was as bad as it sounds.
“You think whomever did it is headed here?” Peter asks, his hackles already up.
“What? No. I would have mentioned that sooner. No, the brothers took care of it.” Chris pauses again, looking out over the bones of the house. “Happened last week.”
“Christopher, why are you bringing this up on our wedding day?” Peter growls.
Chris takes a deep breath. “There was an orphan. A kid — uh, a pup. One year old. Parents stashed him under the floorboards, might’ve died there if Winchester didn’t hear him scratching.”
Peter’s brain stalls. “What.”
Chris side-eyes him. “They called because they thought maybe the McCall-Hale pack could take him in. I haven’t talked to Scott about it yet, I—” He stops when Peter yanks him close and kisses him.
“Did you really get me a child as a wedding present?” Peter growls at him when they finally break apart.
Chris frowns. “Well, when you put it like that—”
“Shut up, you magnificent bastard. Just. Shut up.” Peter smiles before kissing him again.
The baby is going to be traumatized and is going to ruin their honeymoon. The house is going to take another four months of construction before it is fully ready to move in. Their alpha isn’t old enough to legally drink alcohol, Derek needs a lot more therapy, and their emissary has a tendency to explode things when he’s doing magic unsupervised. Peter and Chris have enough tragedy and grief in their lives to destroy lesser men.
Yet, Peter is looking forward to the future. Their mate-mark is perfect, he decides on a whim as he stands there making out with his husband in front of their unbuilt home. They are both rising from the ashes of their pasts and creating a better life together, for themselves and their pack and — his breath hitches — their cub .
The phoenix burns against his skin, and Peter feels whole.
Chapter 15: Epilogue
When the loft’s doorbell rings, Stiles stays face down on the kitchen island countertop, clutching his coffee mug. He’s still a little (a lot) hungover from Peter and Chris’s week long wedding/mating extravaganza and he’s just grateful he’s not still drunk.
Derek is deep into poaching eggs and who knows what else because he’s a foodie dork who likes to cook them a proper Sunday brunch using only organic, locally-sourced ingredients and special order spices that cost more than gold per ounce. It’s food worth waiting for but Stiles doesn’t have the energy to be vertical yet.
The doorbell goes off again.
“Stiles,” Derek growls, still stirring.
“Fine! I’ll get the door!” Stiles peels himself up and grabs his coffee mug, because he’ll be damned if he goes anywhere without it before noon.
Since none of the building’s defensive wards were tripped, Stiles slides the loft door open, figuring it is probably his latest order from the ‘zon. Instead, a surly teenager is standing there barely holding on to a huge, no, absolutely humongous basket full of the strangest looking fruits Stiles has ever seen.
They stare at each other for a long moment.
Stiles is not awake enough to process random fruit.
“You gonna take it or what?” The kid asks, pushing it against his chest.
“Yes, thank you,” Derek says, appearing from nowhere. He grabs the basket, throws a fiver at the kid then slams the door shut in his face. “Oh, starfruit! Are those lychees?” He croons at the massive basket of weird fruit and prances back to the kitchen like Smaug with his hoard, probably planning the weird fruit torts and popovers and who-knows-what he’s going to spend all week baking.
Stiles is still standing in front of the closed door, his coffee mug listing in his hands, when Derek calls out to him. “The card says this is from Peter and Chris! What did you do now ?!?”
Stiles groans and beats his head against the wall.