It wasn’t raining.
At least, not the way most people define rain.
There were no droplets of water picking up momentum as they fell from swollen clouds, pounding on their heads as they fought their way through the forest. No pitter-patter of irregular rhythms on leaves, no smell of settling dirt.
It wasn’t raining, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t wet.
“If we don’t get dry soon I’m going to lose my entire outer layer of skin,” Peter grumbled. “It’s just going to slough right off my body.”
“You’ll grow a new one,” Chris replied shortly. “Consider it extreme exfoliation.”
The heavy mist of water in the air around them didn’t even really seem to be falling, just existing around them with vague downward inclinations. The wetness itself wasn’t burdensome, simply pervasive, seeping through their clothes and soaking into their bodies.
What was burdensome was not knowing when or if they’d get a chance to get dry.
They’d abandoned their car in the Marymere Falls parking lot, going up the Storm King trail before stepping off of it to truly go off grid. There had been no other choice. Kate and Gerard had finally hunted them down so closely they’d seen the whites of their eyes.
Getting away had been dicey- Peter had gotten shot, and Chris had had to burn the wolfsbane out while driving on the 101.
It wasn’t an experience either of them were eager to repeat.
The go-bags were all they had in the car, and while they were better stocked than most (even for the type of people who have a reason to keep go-bags), it still wasn’t enough to survive for longer than a few days.
It had already been a few days.
“The terrain map says there should be a flat area up here, we can pitch the tent to dry off for the afternoon.” Despite his earlier tone, Christopher was concerned about Peter- between the wolfsbane and the hard travel, he hadn’t truly had time to recover from the gunshot. The difference in his hiking pace would have hardly been noticeable to anyone else, but to Chris? Who had been on the run with him for six years?
Chris noticed everything about Peter.
He hitched his pack higher up his shoulders and glanced at the flat grey sky sparsely visible through the thick trees. “Maybe the damned clouds’ll give up for a minute,” he muttered.
Peter said nothing, but the silence conveyed his skepticism just as well.
They continued hiking, forging through the brush and nettle, grim but determined.
“Oh shit,” Chris suddenly cursed, stopping. “I didn’t lock the car.”
Peter looked up incredulously from a few paces behind. “The car? I think we have a few other things we could worry about more, Chris.”
Chris’ brow furrowed. He knew that, and yet-
“I’m just really- I didn’t lock it. I need to go back and check-”
Peter finally caught up with Chris and was suddenly overcome with the the same wave of worry. Not about the locks, but about whether he’d remembered to pay the car insurance.
“Damn, I think I forgot to pay State Farm this month,” Peter said tersely.
Chris looked confused. “I thought you had auto-pay set up?”
“... I do,” Peter said slowly. “Why…” his eyes suddenly lit up with understanding. “We just stumbled across someone’s keep-away warding.”
Chris’ eyes opened wider, glancing around cautiously.
“What do you think?”
Peter lifted a shoulder, looking around for himself.
“Could be a sacred site, could be a disposal ground. Might just be the weed patch of some witch.”
“Marijuana doesn’t grow in this climate,” said a voice behind them, followed by the sound of a gun safety being clicked off.
Peter and Chris slowly turned around.
A young man, no older than 20, had a handgun pointed at them.
“Too cold, too wet,” the young man continued casually. “It needs a hothouse. There wouldn’t really be a reason to have a personal patch anyway, not when recreational is legal and pretty reasonably priced.”
The pale young man looked them over with sharp eyes, taking in everything visible on their packs and their woods-rough states.
“Setting up a grow operation in the middle of the Olympic National forest, with some of the toughest terrain to travel, and wasting energy on warding it?” He shook his head. “No, not likely. Just about as unlikely as a werewolf and his pal taking a leisure hike miles away from any trail.”
The young man cocked his head before gesturing with his gun.
“Go head and keep moving forward. You’ll cross over into my clearing soon. There’s a bench near the runner beans. Once you see it feel free to sit down so we can have a comfortable chat about why I shouldn’t shoot you.”
Peter and Chris looked at each other, and slowly turned around to do as he asked.
As they walked, the trees cleared without warning. One moment it was thick trunks and moss covered everything, the next it was a neatly tidy lawn leading up to a vibrant garden. Tucked at the top of it all was a lovely little cabin.
A second after they crossed into the clearing, Peter heard the safety of the gun being clicked back on. Without wasting a moment, he turned around with his teeth out to lunge at their captor.
He got about six inches before wild blackberry vines started choking him.
The young man tsked.
“I mean, I said ‘comfortable chat’ but if you wanna be aggressive I guess we can do it that way too.” With a single hand gesture, the thorny vines tugged Peter over to the bench and shackled him down. Chris watched the whole affair with clenched teeth and wide eyes before looking back at the boy.
He gestured to the bench with one pale hand and a raised eyebrow. Chris quickly took his seat.
A moment later, the young man was seated across from them on a the cross section of a tree trunk, legs folded.
“Now!” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together. “I prefer to give visitors the benefit of the doubt,” he began, “but I also prefer not to get murdered. Considering that your first reaction to hearing me put away my gun was to attack? My doubting benefit isn’t looking too good.” He crossed his arms and waited.
Chris looked over at Peter, who was trying to hold as still as possible to keep the thorns from digging in further.
Chris started, gesturing to Peter. “Could you-”
“No. Explain. You names would be a good start.”
Chris sighed. “I’m Chris, this is Peter. We’ve been spending a little time… off the grid,” he said, trying to make it sound like they were just into a very rustic lifestyle.
The young man nodded. “So you’re on the run. I’m Stiles, by the way.”
“I didn’t say-” Chris protested.
“You didn’t have to,” Stiles cut in. “Who or what are you running from?”
Chris swallowed. Witches traditionally didn’t get along with the fae, so-
“The Seelie Court,” he said.
Stiles barked out a laugh that startled Chris so much he automatically reached for his own gun. They too were immediately bound by blackberry vines.
“Ooooh, good try! Good try, but you’re lying, and also I’m not racist,” Stiles said.
Chris furiously tugged at the vines, only digging the thorns deeper into his skin.
“Peter, your companion here seems to have a little pants-on-fire problem. Would you like to try instead?”
Peter had not been idle in his stillness. He’d been trying to prevent the prickle of the vines, but they’d loosened slightly as he stopped struggling. Not enough to escape, but enough that he was no longer being pierced by thorns.
A kindness in captivity.
As Christopher had talked, Peter paid attention to Stiles- the young man was terrified.
Peter had to give it to him; he’d never have known if he couldn’t smell it. He would wager that Stiles had been on the edge of simply knocking them both out and abandoning them in the middle of a ravine this entire time. With magic like he’d already exhibited, it wouldn’t have been hard.
So why was he bothering with talking to them?
He decided to take a leap.
“My name is Peter Hale. My husband is Christopher Argent. We’re running from his family, who would very much like to kill us, or worse.”
Stiles looked at Peter, lips pursed, and nodded for him to continue.
“Gerard and Kate Argent are responsible for the murder of my entire family,” Peter continued, a wave of old grief striking him as hard as it always did. “We’ve been on the run ever since.” Peter swallowed. “Three days ago there was a run-in, and I got shot,” a sharp note of concern mixed in with Stiles’ scent, and Peter was encouraged. “We needed to get away fast. We just need to lay low for a while, and were hoping that we could hike our way to a safer departure location.”
Stiles gave them both a long, considering look, and sighed. He snapped his fingers.
The vines peeled away from Peter and Chris, leaving them rubbing their wrists and arms.
“Come on, I have a cream for your skin.” He stood from the log and started walking toward the cabin.
After a moment of silent conversation- “Well?” “I don’t know. It’s probably dry in the cabin.” “That’s worth the possibility of murder, let’s go.”- Peter and Chris also followed.
The door to the cabin entered straight into the kitchen. There were herbs and flowers hung up to dry all over the place and dirty vegetables sitting in a colander on the counter. Stiles was standing in front of a wall of shelves, pulling jars out and checking the handwritten labels, mumbling to himself.
“No… no… shit, I need to make more of that… here it is.” Stiles pointed at the two of them and said “Sit down, it’ll heal faster if I’m the one applying it.”
Chris still looked deeply uncomfortable- and honestly, ready to run at the first loud noise.
Stiles rolled his eyes. “I’m nineteen, not a kid by any nation’s standard. If you’re worried about what’s in the cream, Peter can smell it. It’s just an arnica base with some-“ he wiggled his fingers “-in it.”
Stiles handed over the little jar, which Peter took delicately. He sniffed and looked over at Chris.
“I don’t smell any sedatives in it.”
“Oh my god, sedatives? Who the hell do you think I am?” Stiles asked incredulously. “Who the hell are you? Do sedatives even work through the skin? ”
“You pulled a gun on us just because we walked into your wards!” Peter protested grumpily, handing the jar back.
“No, I pulled a gun on you because you were a werewolf who recognized that you walked into wards and also identified that a witch was the one who set them. For all I knew you two were hunting me specifically. Now sit your fugitive asses down and let me put this on.” He pointed sternly at the kitchen table.
Stiles rubbed the cream into Chris’ wrists first, and then peered closely at Peter’s wrists and throat.
“These should have healed by now, right?” He looked troubled. Taking one of Peter’s hands in both of his, feeling the skin with his thumbs. “You’re sure you got the exact mixture of wolfsbane burned out?” he asked skeptically.
“We were in a hurry,” Chris said shortly as he watched the pinprick wounds disappear from his skin with something more akin to suspicion than wonder. “I used the mixture my family has been using for generations, but I guess there’s always the possibility they’ve changed it.” He pursed his lips in worry and looked up at Peter.
“Hm. Maybe you just need some rest,” Stiles said, though he sounded doubtful. He rubbed the cream on Peter’s skin and then put the jar away.
“Come on,” Stiles beckoned with a hand. “You guys can have a shower. In fact, I insist you have a shower,” he wrinkled his nose. He led them down the hallway and into a room with a queen size bed. “Bathroom is to the right, towels under the sink. Don’t touch the plant in the corner, he gets mad. I have to go talk to the garden for a little bit, I’ll be back in a while.” He turned to go, but stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Before you try anything rude, you should know that the blackberry vines can reach inside the house too.”
And with that he left them.
Peter and Chris looked at each other.
Peter shrugged. “It’s better than being out there,” he said. It’s better than being with your father and sister, he didn’t say.
Chris clenched his jaw and nodded shortly.
Things were always better, right up until they weren’t anymore.