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all the pain of yesterday

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Week One: Monday

“This is the last time, I promise.”

Allison nodded, more in acknowledgment of Chris’ promise than belief in it. Chris meant it, though. He wasn’t going to move them again. At least, not before she finished high school. He and Victoria had moved around so much following the hunt, and Allison had paid the price. Everything was different now.

Chris pressed a kiss to Allison’s forehead. “Have a good first day.”

“I will.” Allison gave Chris a brave smile.

Chris squeezed Allison’s hand. “I’ll let Mr. Bradley show you to class, then.” Chris gave the Vice Principle a nod, then turned and headed towards the front doors. He listened to Mr. Bradley’s voice – pointing out the gym, the cafeteria, and the chemistry lab as he led Allison to the English classroom – until he stood outside at the top of the front steps and could no longer hear them.

Chris looked around him at the front lawn, the parking lot, and the lacrosse field beyond that. He remembered back to when he’d gone to school here and the world had seemed so large. Everything felt so much smaller now. Chris shook himself out of his thoughts and headed for the Chevy Tahoe sitting in one of the visitor parking spaces.

~*~

Chris stopped at reception and asked the deputy working the front desk if the sheriff was available.

“Chris Argent,” Sheriff Stilinski said.

Chris turned away from the counter and got his first look at John Stilinski in eight years. His uniform was wrinkled, as if he hadn’t gone home last night, the skin under his eyes was bruised, and worry lines creased his forehead.

“John.” Chris took the two steps that brought him to John and clasped the hand he held out. “It’s good to see you.”

“Wish I could say the same,” John said. He lowered his voice. “Are you here because of the body?”

Chris frowned. “What body?”

John gave Chris a disbelieving look and waved him into his office. Chris followed and waited until John had closed the door to speak. “I don’t know anything about a body.”

“You expect me to believe that, given your line of work?”

Chris clenched his jaw and bit back the first three responses that leapt to his tongue. When he had control over the words that came out of his mouth, Chris said, “I’m not in that business anymore.”

John raised a skeptical eyebrow. “I didn’t think Gerard would let you out of the family business.”

“He wasn’t happy about it,” Chris said. “Threatened to take Alli and raise her to be the hunter I never was.”

John made a sound of disgust. “Your father always was a piece of work.”

Chris didn’t disagree with that assessment, but he didn’t want to talk about Gerard. “What about the body?”

John lowered himself into the chair behind the desk and gestured for Chris to take one of the seats opposite him. “You tell me why you’re back in Beacon Hills just when a body turns up and I’ll consider filling you in as a ‘special consultant’.”

Chris took in the tired slump of John’s shoulders. He took a deep breath and let it out. “Victoria is dead.”

Sorrow filled John’s face. He leaned across the desk. “Chris, I’m sorry. What happened, if . . . ?”

“She was bitten.”

“By a . . . werewolf?” John lowered his voice even though they were alone in his office.

Chris’ lips twisted. “There’s nothing worse, right? So she did what hunters have done for generations, and killed herself before she could turn.”

“Aww hell.” John stood and rounded the desk. He squeezed Chris’ shoulder. “I’m so damned sorry, Chris.”

Chris touched John’s hand and nodded. If anyone could understand his loss it would be John. Chris shook himself. “Anyway, I wanted to put down roots, give Alli some stability – we moved around an awful lot before with . . . work – and I figured, what better place than Beacon Hills?”

“Sure,” John said dryly. “No better place for a retired hunter.”

Chris allowed himself a genuine, if weak, smile at that. He turned in his seat when John took the chair next to him and began to explain about the dead body hikers had found in the Preserve the night before.

~*~

Chris thought about the body as he drove to Beacon Hills Memorial. Cut in half implied hunters, wild animal bites implied werewolf. But why would a werewolf work with hunters? Unless it wasn’t voluntary. Chris knew hunters who were . . . exuberant. Including his father and sister. But none of them would actually break the Code, would they?

Chris sat in the Tahoe for a few minutes, watching people enter and leave the hospital. Coming back to Beacon Hills was harder than he’d thought it would be. He’d put off seeing Melissa until another day if John hadn’t warned that he’d be calling her to let her know Chris was back and on his way to see her. Which was probably why John had done it. He knew Chris needed a support network right now. He also knew Chris wouldn’t ask for help.

Melissa was at the front desk when Chris entered the hospital. “I wondered how long you were going to sit in your car,” she said archly.

Chris gave Melissa a sheepish shrug and admitted, “Being back here is harder than I thought it would be.” Melissa opened her arms and Chris stepped into them, relaxing into the hug. “It’s good to see you, Mel.”

Melissa stepped back and looked at Chris. “It’s good to see you, too. To be honest, I worried that the next time we all got together would be at your funeral. I’m glad that’s not the case.”

Chris winced internally at how close she was to the truth. The death of his wife. The end of his participation in the family business.

“I’m on break,” Melissa said, breaking into his thoughts. “Why don’t we get a cup of coffee?”

“Sounds good,” Chris lied. “Cafeteria?”

“Coffee’s better across the street.”

Melissa tucked her arm into Chris’ and together they walked out of the hospital and across the street to a coffee shop that was new to Chris. They got their coffees and fresh muffins, and took a table in the back where they had more privacy. Chris took a sip of his coffee (black with a splash of milk) and gave a delighted moan. Melissa had been right – the coffee at Espresso Yourself was top notch despite the hipster name.

Melissa grinned and nodded as she broke off a piece of chocolate hazelnut muffin with her fingers. She told Chris about her son Scott, life as a single mom since she kicked Rafe out, working double shifts because they were short on nursing staff (and she could always use the extra money). Finally she wound down and gently said, “Tell me what’s going on with you.”

Melissa had always been a good listener, so Chris did. He told her about Victoria, about how angry he’d been when she’d killed herself. Chris had grown up knowing that not all werewolves were monsters – he’d known the Hales, after all – so it had been easier than he’d thought it would be to give up hunting. To be honest, part of him had enjoyed the apoplectic reaction when he told Gerard.

“I’m worried about Alli,” Chris said. “He’ll try to turn her if he can.”

“Well, we’ll make sure he can’t,” Melissa said. “You know you don’t have to do this alone.”

They retraced their steps and stopped at the Tahoe. “Thanks for introducing me to this place.” Chris gestured towards Espresso Yourself with his second cup of coffee.

Melissa raised her own refill as if in toast. “You’re welcome. Thanks for buying.”

“You’re welcome.”

“It’s good to have you back, Chris,” Melissa said. “Kind of like old times.”

“Kind of.”

“You’re on the visitor list, you know,” Melissa said. “You always have been.” Melissa raised the take-out cup in goodbye and headed for the hospital entrance.

Chris stood staring after Melissa until long after she’d disappeared inside.

~*~

Chris sat in the parking lot outside Beacons Crossing. He’d argued with himself the entire way over here, and yet, here he was. Chris had heard about the Hale fire – it was all the hunter network had talked about for weeks. Melissa had also called to tell him that Peter had survived, but that he’d been badly injured and had fallen into a coma.

Chris hadn’t come back to Beacon Hills – not for the mass funeral, nor to visit Peter – though the desire to do so clawed at him. He was married to Victoria and they had a beautiful daughter. He was a hunter. He’d made his choice when he left Beacon Hills. Left Peter.

That’s what he’d told himself, anyway. Didn’t stop him from calling Melissa once in a while to get an update. He’d told himself that didn’t count; he was only going back on his word if he came back to see Peter in person. Not that the deal he’d made with Gerard mattered anymore since most of the Hale family was dead, the rest scattered or in a coma.

Chris pushed out of the Tahoe. Wasn’t being near Peter, even if Peter wasn’t aware of his presence, one of the reasons he’d come back to Beacon Hills, after all?

Chris gave his name at the front desk and informed the woman, who looked to barely be older than Allison, that he was there to see Peter Hale. She checked Peter’s file, then asked Chris to show his driver’s license and sign in. Satisfied, she gave him Peter’s room number. Chris followed the woman’s directions, his feet slowing the closer he drew.

Chris stopped outside the open door and looked into the sterile room. There was a bed, a night stand, a dresser, a closet door standing open, a single chair, and medical equipment. Peter laid on the bed, arms lying on top of the blanket that had been pulled up to his chest and folded back, just like you see in the movies. His chest rose and fell with each breath, but otherwise he was unmoving. That was so unlike the Peter Chris remembered.

Chris forced himself to walk over to the bed, to look at the burn scars on the side of Peter’s face. Chris reached out and brushed Peter’s hair back even though it was too short to fall into his face. He brushed the backs of his fingers down the unscarred side of Peter’s face, worried that touching the scars might cause him pain.

Peter looked like he had the last time Chris saw him at Claudia’s funeral, but not the way he did in Chris’ memory. Whenever Chris thought of Peter, even during the past eight years, Peter always looked the way he had when they were young and in high school together. When they’d been stupid and in love.

Chris pulled the chair closer to the bed and sat down heavily. He didn’t know what to say – he’d left Peter to keep him safe, and this had still happened – so he took Peter’s hand and just held it. Finally, Chris couldn’t hold the words in any longer. “I gave up hunting,” he said, then gave Peter’s blank face a wry smile. “You would’ve loved the look on Gerard’s face when I told him.”

The smile faded. “He threatened to take Allison, though, and I wouldn’t put it past him to try. We moved back to Beacon Hills, Alli and I.” Chris hesitated, then said, “Victoria’s dead. Killed herself after being bitten. As if becoming a werewolf was a fate worse than death.”

Chris sat in silence after that, holding Peter’s hand and wondering what might’ve happened if he’d told Gerard to go fuck himself twenty years ago instead of waiting so long.

A memory popped into his mind, and Chris smiled. “Do you remember the first time we kissed? God, I hated you so much. Not because of our families, but because you were such an arrogant shit. And also because I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little bit attracted to you. Which pissed me off, of course.”

Chris let the memory play out. It had been after a basketball game. The Cyclones had won and Peter had been insufferable – all puffed up with pride, his ego fed by the crowd and his teammates. Chris had found himself doubly attracted to Peter, and wanting to punch him just as much.

Chris had waited for Peter after the game, leaning against his Camaro. Peter’s surprise at seeing him had quickly morphed into a sly expression.

“What do you want, Argent?” Peter opened the passenger side door and tossed his duffle inside as if Chris wasn’t blocking the driver side door.

“To knock you down a peg,” Chris said.

Peter raised an eyebrow as he came around the front of the car. “You and what army?”

“Do you have any idea how much I hate you?” Chris ground out.

Peter placed one hand on the roof of the car beside Chris’ head, his body blocking Chris in, and smirked. “Probably as much as I hate you.”

Heat surged through Chris and he wanted nothing more than to wipe that smirk off Peter’s face. He grabbed Peter by the stupidly sexy leather jacket he always wore and spun them around so that Peter’s back was against the car. Instead of punching him, though, Chris leaned in and kissed him. Peter made a sound as if Chris had punched him, and his arms came up around Chris’ back.

They kissed as if it was a battle, their lips bruised and bleeding when they finally pulled apart. Chris licked one spot where Peter’s teeth had nicked his lip and watched Peter do the same.

Peter raised a finger to his lips without taking his eyes off Chris’ face. “Well, I guess you showed me,” he drawled, dabbing at a drop of blood and licking it off his finger.

“Shut up,” Chris said.

“Or what? You gonna kiss me again?”

Chris seethed with impotent rage. “Maybe.” At Peter’s look of surprise Chris turned away and stalked off, his shoulders straight and his chin up.

Chris chuckled to himself now as he recalled going home and jerking off to the taste of Peter still on his tongue. Chris hadn’t told Peter that, though. Not the second time they kissed, or the third, or the fourth. It had taken Chris a while to realize that this was more than a physical attraction based on mutual hate, and to believe that Peter felt the same.

At the door someone said, “What are you doing here?”

Chris raised his head and quickly assessed the danger. When he realized it was just a nurse, Chris forced his hackles down. “Visiting,” he said, making a small gesture with the two hands engulfing one of Peter’s.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” the nurse said as she stepped into the room, regarding Chris warily.

“I’ve been out of town,” Chris said easily.

The nurse checked Peter’s vitals and wrote something down on his chart. Now that she stood close enough Chris could read the name on her tag: Jennifer.

“It’s good for Mr. Hale to have more visitors,” Nurse Jennifer said. “It’s possible he can hear us, so you should talk to him. Well, I’ve got to get going, but I’m sure I’ll see you again, Mr. . . .”

Chris knew she was fishing, but since she need only check Peter’s file or the visitor log to get his name, Chris couldn’t see the harm. “Argent,” Chris said, extending one hand over Peter’s prone body. “Chris Argent.”

Jennifer took Chris’ hand, but not before he saw the twitch at the corner of her eye. She’d recognized the name, which was surprising enough since he hadn’t lived in Beacon Hills for twenty years, and there was no reason for her to be surprised that he was visiting Peter unless she knew that he was a hunter. Which meant she knew that Peter was a werewolf.

 

Week One: Tuesday

The next morning Chris stopped in to see John at the Sheriff Department. John waved Chris into his office and they both sat.

“Did you think of something?” John said.

“About the body? No. But something odd happened yesterday.” Chris told John about his visit to Peter, and Nurse Jennifer’s reaction to hearing his name.

“You went to see Peter?” John sounded pleased.

“That’s not the point,” Chris said, forcing himself to remain still instead of squirming in his seat like he wanted to.

“It’ll be good for both of you,” John said. “But about this nurse. A lot of people know about the existence of the supernatural. I mean, this is Beacon Hills, after all.”

“Agreed,” Chris said, “but how would she know specifically about Peter, and also specifically about me? I haven’t lived here for twenty years, and neither has my family.”

“The Argents and the Hales were well-known at one time, and people have long memories,” John said. “Especially if there’s supernatural in their own family somewhere. Besides, I’m sure the Argent name isn’t well-known only in Beacon Hills.”

Chris couldn’t argue with that, even though he wanted to – something felt really off about his encounter with Nurse Jennifer. “Yeah, I guess.”

“What are your plans, now that you’re back in Beacon Hills?”

Chris raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in subject. “Are you asking if I’m going to get a job?”

“I was wondering if you had time for a consult, actually.”

“Seriously? What kind of case could I help you with?”

“Seriously?” John mimicked. “It’s Beacon Hills, remember?”

“I meant, that you’re not qualified to handle,” Chris said.

“I think you might be uniquely qualified to look into this case. It involves dead werewolves.”

John’s stare didn’t give anything away. Still, Chris swallowed hard. “The Hale fire.”

John gave a slow nod.

“I thought they determined that the fire was electrical.” Chris held his breath.

“You really believe that a family of werewolves couldn’t escape an electrical fire?”

“What are you trying to say?”

“There’s only one group I know of who’d want to kill a family of werewolves, and who would’ve known how to keep them from escaping.”

“Hunters,” Chris said.

John sighed and pushed his hand through his hair. “If this is too difficult . . .”

It was. But Chris had to know. If hunters had done this they’d broken the Code. “I’ll do it,” he said.

John couldn’t hide his relief. “I appreciate it. I’ll get you set up in the conference room with the case file.” He paused. “That is, if you can start now.”

Chris thought about his plan to surveil Nurse Jennifer, then thought about Peter lying in a coma, burn scars unhealed even after six years. “Now’s good.”

John unlocked the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a folder. “Follow me.”

Chris followed John to the conference room. “You’ve been looking into the case?”

John shook his head. “Legally there is no case since the fire was ruled accidental.” John gestured Chris into the conference room and closed the door behind them. “But I kept it close, as a reminder. I looked through it once in a while hoping that something would jump out at me.”

John sighed, set the thin folder on the table. “It’s not much of a file, but if you could find something that allowed me to reopen it . . . In the meantime you should keep this just between us.”

“I will,” Chris said, responding to the second comment, but hoping he would be able say the same for the first.

John left the room long enough to get a pad of paper and pen for Chris. “Would you like a cup of coffee before you get started?”

“Depends. How bad is it?”

“We’ve got one of them Keurigs now, and fifty different flavors of coffee, tea, and hot cocoa, so no more cold or burnt coffee.”

“Nothing flavored,” Chris said, “and just a splash of milk if you’ve got it.”

“I remember,” John said.

~*~

Chris turned the laminated consultant ID badge over between his fingers. John had slipped the card to Chris before he left with a soft order to let him know if he found anything. He raised it now to show to Peter’s unresponsive form.

“John, Sheriff Stilinski now, has asked me to consult on a cold case,” Chris said. “I’m looking into the fire. He thinks hunters did it.”

There was no response from Peter, though Chris had been hoping there might be. Still, Chris could imagine Peter’s derisive snort.

“I’m sorry I left things between us the way I did,” Chris said. He tucked the badge into his pocket and picked up Peter’s hand in both of his. Chris leaned his elbows on the edge of the mattress and pressed his forehead against the back of Peter’s hand.

When Chris left Beacon Hills and Peter the first time it was because Gerard had given him an ultimatum – if he gave up Peter and agreed to never see him again, Gerard would leave the Hales alone. Chris hadn’t seen any way around it, so he’d left. He hadn’t seen Peter again until eight years ago at Claudia’s funeral. His reception had been cold, to say the least, though they’d both kept their angry words contained until they were alone.

Chris opened his eyes and let the memory fade away. He laid Peter’s hand onto the mattress. “I can’t bring your family back, but if hunters did this I’ll find them,” Chris promised.

Chris hadn’t seen Nurse Jennifer during his visit, so he stopped at the front desk on his way out to ask for her last name and schedule, claiming he wanted to know who to ask for when he called to check on Peter’s condition. The young woman (Gail from the name tag Chris had missed during his first visit yesterday) gave him the name without hesitation. Chris wrote it down as soon as he got inside the Tahoe.

Chris double-checked the home address he’d gotten for Garrison Myers and started the engine. When he’d called the insurance company to speak with the insurance investigator, Chris had been informed that Myers no longer worked there. Chris had pushed and discovered that Myers had been fired for committing insurance fraud. That made Myers someone Chris really wanted to speak with.

Chris parked on the street across from Myers’ home and studied the quiet street and seemingly empty house before getting out of the SUV and walking up the sidewalk. There was no answer to Chris’ knock, and no sounds of movement inside. Chris raised his hand to knock again, but was stayed by the sound of a voice right behind him. Chris turned, alert, to see one of Beacon Hills’ mail carriers with a bag over his shoulder and a stack of mail in his hand. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Mr. Myers is probably at the bus garage at this time,” the carrier said.

Chris stepped back to allow the man to drop a couple of the envelopes he held into Myers’ mailbox and checked his watch. “I wasn’t paying attention to the time,” he said. “Thank you.”

“No problem,” the carrier said, and moved on to the neighboring house.

Chris watched him for a moment, then pulled out his notebook and pretended to write a message for Myers. When the carrier was far enough away to not see what Chris was doing, he reached into the mailbox and flipped through the envelopes: an electric bill, a request for a donation from the SPCA, and a flier for a local business’s upcoming President’s Day sale. Nothing that helped Chris.

Chris returned the envelopes to the mailbox, the notebook to his pocket, and himself to the Tahoe. He could try to catch Myers before the buses left to deliver the kids home, but that would limit the amount of time they had to talk. It would be better to confront Myers when the buses arrived back at the garage.

With time to kill (horrible pun totally not intended), Chris decided to check out the scene of the crime. There would probably be very little evidence left after so much time had passed, but John was right, if anyone could determine whether hunters had done this, it was him.

Chris started the engine and headed for the Hale house. He remembered where it was, though he’d only been there once before when he was much younger. Gerard had a meeting with Joanna Hale, Talia and Peter’s mother and the alpha at the time. He’d smiled and said all the right things, waiting until they were far enough away from the house to call the Hales ‘filthy monsters’ and worse.

The thing Chris remembered most clearly was the way Peter had stood behind his mother, beside his sister, and smirked at Chris.

Chris’ breath caught when he neared the end of the long driveway and saw the familiar Camaro parked in front of the burnt out husk of the Hale house. He pulled the Tahoe up beside the Camaro and killed the engine. Chris stumbled out of the SUV and touched the hood of the Camaro to make sure he wasn’t seeing things. The metal was cool under his hand.

Chris glanced around the clearing and stopped himself from calling out Peter’s name because he’d just left Peter in a coma in Beacons Crossing. “Hello!” he called out.

There was no answer. Chris took a step towards the house.

“This is private property.”

The boy, man, who spoke hadn’t been standing on the porch a moment ago. Speed like that could mean only one thing. Chris held his hands away from his body, palms forward, to show that he wasn’t holding a weapon. At first glance, all Chris got from the other man was dark hair, a leather jacket, and a bad attitude.

There was only one family who’d ever called this parcel of land home, though, and only a few of them were still alive. “Derek Hale, I presume?”

The man came down front steps that Chris didn’t think would hold up to his weight and strode determinedly towards Chris. “How do you know my name?” he demanded.

“Because there aren’t many people left who call this place home. And I don’t mean that as a threat. Or a gloat,” Chris added when he realized how his words could be taken. “I just used deductive reasoning.”

Derek stopped a few feet away from Chris. “Who are you?”

“My name is Chris Argent.”

Derek’s reaction to that was immediate – disgust, anger, and fear. “Hunter.”

“I don’t do that anymore.”

Derek scoffed. “You expect me to believe that?”

“I wouldn’t in your place,” Chris admitted, “but it’s true.”

“Why are you here, then?”

“As a consultant for the Beacon County Sheriff Department.” Chris carefully reached into his pocket with just his fingers and withdrew the ID so he could show it to Derek. “The sheriff has asked me to look into a cold case.”

“What cold case?”

Chris let his gaze move to the once grand house behind Derek. “The fire,” he said. “John, the sheriff, never believed it was electrical.”

You’re looking into the fire,” Derek said in disbelief. He started laughing, a choking ugly sound that held no humor. “Isn’t that like setting the fox to watching the hen house?”

Derek moved faster than Chris could discern. He curled his fingers around Chris’ throat and shoved Chris against the front of the Tahoe with enough force to bruise. “I think you’re lying,” Derek said. “I think you’re here to finish the job.”

“If you kill me you’ll draw hunters down on you,” Chris said, keeping his voice as calm as he could. “And I really don’t want to have to kill you.” He pressed the barrel of the gun he carried at the small of his back into Derek’s side. “Wolfsbane bullets. This close to your heart you’ll die before I could even try to save you.”

“I could break your wrist before you got a shot off.”

“Maybe,” Chris said, doing his best to ignore the claws at his throat. “But you’d have to release my throat to break this one, too.” He pressed a second gun to Derek’s other side.

Chris waited a moment for Derek to digest that. “If I wanted to kill you, Derek, you’d already be dead. I don’t think you want to kill me, either.”

Derek snarled. “You’d be wrong.” But he released Chris and stepped back.

Chris slowly reholstered the guns so Derek didn’t startle even further. He couldn’t hide the racing of his heart from Derek’s enhanced senses, but he could do everything to act calm so the situation didn’t escalate. Chris bent down to pick up the ID badge he’d dropped in order to pull his weapon.

“You said I was here to finish the job. You believe hunters did this?” Chris gestured towards the remains of the Hale house that framed Derek.

“I know hunters did this,” Derek said.

“How?” Chris said. “I need more than that.”

Derek studied Chris as if trying to determine whether he could be trusted. “There were escape tunnels under the house,” he finally said. “Accessed from the basement.”

Which explained why they’d all died in the basement. “What happened? Why didn’t everyone get out?”

“The tunnels were blocked with mountain ash,” Derek said.

Chris shook his head. He didn’t want to believe it, but it made a terrible sense. “The Code . . .”

Derek waited while Chris came to terms with what he’d just learned before speaking again. “Only one person outside my family knew about the tunnels.”

Chris latched onto that information. “Who?”

Derek shook his head. “You wouldn’t believe me. It’s better if you figure it out for yourself.”

Derek turned his back on Chris and moved back towards the house. Chris watched him go with frustration – he had so many questions and too much new information rattling around inside his head.

“My next step is to question Garrison Myers,” Chris called out.

Derek’s steps slowed, stopped. A beat passed before he spoke, calling back over his shoulder. “Who’s that?”

“The insurance investigator who claimed the fire was electrical.”

Derek turned deliberately to face Chris. “What’s he going to tell you?”

“Hopefully, who paid him to lie.” Chris hesitated. “Would you like to go with me?”

Derek’s eyebrows lowered. “Why?”

“Because I could use the help,” Chris said, which wasn’t a complete lie. He’d also be able to keep an eye on Derek so he didn’t do anything rash.

Derek strode back towards Chris like a man on a mission. “Where?”

“The school.” Chris gestured towards the Tahoe. “Wanna ride with me?”

Derek gave Chris a look and got into the Camaro. Yeah, Chris thought, I probably wouldn’t have accepted that invitation, either.

~*~

Chris turned into the Beacon Hills High School parking lot and pulled into a slot near the bus garage. Derek parked the Camaro beside the Tahoe. They both got out and met at the back.

“Where is he?” Derek said.

Chris indicated the bus garage. “He drives bus now; he should return soon.” Chris couldn’t keep his eyes off the Camaro, but he tucked his hands into his pockets so he wouldn’t reach out and touch. “Peter’s?” he said.

Derek looked surprised. “You knew Peter?”

“Yes,” Chris said. “We went to high school together.”

Derek’s expression went pinched. “Did you try to kill him?”

“No,” Chris said. “I never tried to kill Peter.” He kept the fact that he’d often thought about killing Peter to himself because it wouldn’t help things. Chris sighed and glanced at the screen when his cell rang. “I tried to save him,” Chris said, voice low, before he answered the call. “Hey, Alli.”

“Hey, dad,” Allison said. “I stayed after school again to watch lacrosse practice with Lydia, and I’m going to her house to study after, if that’s alright.”

“That’s fine, sweetheart,” Chris said. “What about supper?”

“We’ll probably get something to eat,” Allison said.

“Okay. Be home before curfew.”

“I will, thanks! Love you, Dad,” Allison said before ending the call.

Chris tucked the phone back into his pocket and turned towards Derek, expecting the other man to have been listening in on the conversation. Instead, Derek was looking off into the distance with a glower.

“What is it?” Chris said.

Derek jerked his eyes back to Chris. “What?”

“Did you hear something?”

“No,” Derek said. “I was just thinking.”

Chris didn’t need to be a werewolf to know Derek was lying, but he also knew that Derek wouldn’t tell him if he pushed. There wasn’t enough trust between them for that. Thankfully the slow parade of returning buses began. It was fifteen more minutes before Garrison Myers pulled his bus into the lot, and ten more before he emerged from the garage.

Chris approached Myers with a smile, the ID badge already in his hand. “Mr. Myers, Garrison Myers? I’d like to ask you some questions.”

Myers stopped walking. “Who are you?”

“My name is Chris Argent.” Chris watched for any sign of recognition, but there wasn’t any. “I’m a consultant for the Beacon County Sheriff Department and I’d like to ask you some questions about an old case of yours.”

Myers’ expression went hooded. “I don’t have any of my old case files.”

“I’m sure you’ll remember this one,” Chris said. “Eight people died in a fire you ruled accidental.”

“Eleven,” Derek said. “There were eleven people inside that house.”

Myers swallowed hard and lost all color; he looked like he wanted to throw up.

Chris filed that information away for later and indicated Derek. “Sorry, I should introduce you to my associate, Derek Hale.”

Myers closed his eyes as if he could pretend Derek wasn’t there, and whispered, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“Didn’t know what?” Chris said gently, hoping to keep Myers talking.

Myers opened his eyes. There was fear in them, guilt, and relief. “That people were going to die. So many people, children,” he said, disappearing into his own mind.

“What did you think they had planned?” Derek growled.

“Insurance fraud,” Myers said. “Property damage, no one was supposed to get hurt.”

“Mr. Myers,” Chris said before Derek could respond. “Who hired you to lie about the fire?”

“I don’t know,” Myers said.

Derek growled.

“I don’t! We never met. Everything was handled by phone. The money was paid via a cash drop.” He glanced at Derek, but his eyes slid away and locked on Chris instead. “I tried to back out, after I realized what they’d done, but they threatened my family.”

“Mr. Myers, I’m going to need you to come down to the Sheriff Department and give a statement,” Chris said.

Myers, broken and malleable, nodded and let Chris guide him to the Tahoe. It was a testament to his state of mind that he didn’t question the lack of an official vehicle.

Chris gave Derek a look as he rounded the Tahoe. Derek’s expression was inscrutable. He waited until Chris had backed out of the slot before getting into the Camaro. Chris wasn’t surprised to find the Camaro behind him when he checked the review mirror.

At the Sheriff Department Derek hesitated, looking at the building with trepidation. Chris realized that the last time Derek had been there was probably the night of the fire. Chris’ heart ached, because back then Derek would’ve been younger than Allison was now. He couldn’t take time to reassure Derek, though, because he needed to get Myers into the station before he changed his mind about giving a statement.

Inside Chris waved to get John’s attention. When he joined them outside his office, Chris said, “Sheriff Stilinski, this is Garrison Myers. He’d like to make a statement about the Hale fire.”

If John was surprised that Chris had made headway this quickly he didn’t show it. He said, “Thank you for coming in,” to Myers and led them to an interrogation room.

John settled Myers inside and called over Deputy Tara Graeme. “Get our guest a bottle of water and stand guard outside the door. No one in or out except me.”

Graeme nodded her understanding and John pulled Chris aside. “Tell me what you know.”

Only then did John notice Derek, who had finally followed Chris inside the station. “I’m sorry, who . . . ?”

“Sheriff Stilinski, this is Derek Hale,” Chris said. “I ran into him when I went out to recon the Hale house.”

John gave Chris a look. “And he just happened to follow you to your meeting with Myers?”

Chris shrugged. “I had to give him a reason for trespassing on private property.”

John sighed. “Of course you did.”

“Derek knows something about the fire.”

John came alert. “You do?”

“He says he knows who was responsible.”

“Who?” John said eagerly.

Derek shook his head. “Knowing isn’t the same as proving.”

“If you tell us who it was we can look into them . . .”

Derek indicated Chris. “He won’t believe me.”

John rubbed his forehead. “It was hunters, then.” John took a second, then said, “I know it’s small comfort, son, but we’re going to find the people who did this.”

Derek couldn’t sit in on the interview, but John offered to let him wait in his office, where he knew Derek would be able to hear every word. Having already heard everything Myers had to say at the school, Derek declined. “Just keep me informed,” he said, more to Chris than John.

John headed for the interrogation room, but Chris caught Derek’s arm instead of following him. “Have you visited Peter?”

Derek gave Chris a strange look. “Once, why?”

“Did you notice his nurse, Jennifer?”

“I didn’t see anyone,” Derek said, which probably meant he’d snuck in after hours. “What about her?”

“There’s something off about her. If you go again, check her out.”

Chris turned away to follow John, but Derek caught his arm this time. “You’ve been to see Peter?”

“A couple times, yes.”

“Why?”

Guilt and sorrow and feelings Chris had managed to keep buried when he wasn’t in the same vicinity as Peter, but that was too much to talk about now. “I have a complicated relationship with Peter,” Chris said. He pulled his arm out of Derek’s hold and followed John.

Chris ignored the feeling of Derek’s eyes staring after him and glanced around the bullpen to see if any of the deputies were paying undue attention to them. Hunters often cultivated or infiltrated local law enforcement, but Chris didn’t know if they currently had any contacts in the Beacon County Sheriff Department. When Chris looked back behind him, Derek was gone.

 

Week One: Wednesday

Chris was reading to Peter when a sound made him look up. Derek stood just inside the open door. He looked at Chris with a confused expression.

“Hello, Derek,” Chris said.

“You’re reading to him?” Derek said. His expression changed to one of guilt when he turned his gaze onto Peter.

Chris ignored Derek’s emotions for the time being. “Yes. There’s only so much catching up we can do.”

“Yeah,” Derek said. “You must have to edit out a lot.” He stepped further into the room and glanced at the book in Chris’ hands.

Chris closed the book and slipped it into a pocket inside his jacket. No one needed to know that Peter and Chris used to watch werewolf movies together so they could mock them, or read werewolf romances out loud. The point had been to make each other laugh, but they’d almost always ended up in bed after, so . . .

“Want me to leave you two alone?” Chris said.

Derek shook his head. “No, I . . .” Derek touched the blanket, then brushed his fingers across Peter’s. “I came to see you, actually.”

Chris couldn’t hide his surprise at that. “About what?”

“A couple things.” Derek gave a jerk of his head and Chris stood.

Chris squeezed Peter’s hand. “See you tomorrow, Peter.” He followed Derek out to the parking lot.

Derek shoved his hands into the pockets of the too-big leather jacket and stared at the front of the building. He appeared to be having second thoughts about whatever it was he wanted to talk to Chris about. Finally he said, “What were you doing this morning?”

“Looking through the Sheriff Department’s files on known arsonists.”

Derek’s lips pursed. “You think an arsonist is responsible for the fire?”

“I think that, unless the person behind the fire knew what they were doing, they’d have needed help.”

“From an arsonist.”

“Got any better leads you want to share with me?”

For a moment Derek looked like a sixteen-year old boy, and then his shutters came down. “Come with me.”

“To where?”

“The house,” Derek said.

Twenty minutes later Chris and Derek stood beside a disturbed piece of ground.

“She was killed by a werewolf and cut in half,” Derek said.

“I know,”Chris said. John had told him as much when he’d told Chris about finding the body in the Preserve that first day, but since Derek had no idea how Chris knew he explained. “From the autopsy on the . . . the other half.” Chris looked at the grave. “Why’d you move her and bury her here?”

The corner of Derek’s jaw worked. “Because it’s Laura.”

“Jesus christ,” Chris said, the words punched out of him. Chris covered his mouth, then dropped his hand. “Derek, I’m so fucking sorry.”

Derek gave him a look that clearly said, are you?

“As far as I know there aren’t any hunters in the area,” Chris said.

“Except you.”

For a moment Chris thought that coming out here alone with Derek might’ve been a bad idea. “Except me,” he agreed.

“Can you find out?”

“If there were other hunters?”

Derek’s answer was to glare silently at Chris.

“Yeah,” Chris said slowly. “I might be able to.” As long as they hadn’t changed the password to get into the hunter’s database.

Derek gave a little sigh.

“We have to call this in,” Chris said.

Derek didn’t stop him when Chris pulled out his cell phone. When the sheriff answered, Chris said, “John, I found the other half of your body.”

Chris and Derek had the grave dug up by the time John arrived. They’d removed the wolfsbane that kept her in the form of a wolf because no one else needed to see that.

John took one look at the body and said, “Aww, crap.”

“It’s Laura Hale,” Chris said, though John already seemed to recognize her.

“I know,” John said. “She stopped by the Department to ask me some questions when she got to town.”

“Questions about what?” Derek said.

John raised his head and looked right at Derek. “About the revenge spiral.”

“A revenge spiral?” Chris said.

“It was carved into the side of a deer,” John said.

“And you didn’t mention it before because . . .?”

“There didn’t seem to be any point,” John said. “I checked with Satomi when I found it, and on Peter. Satomi hadn’t heard anything and Peter appeared to be fine. And no werewolf war started, so . . .”

“It was the reason Laura came back here,” Derek said woodenly. “Do you think someone lured her back here just so they could kill her?”

“If they wanted her alpha power, why go through all that when they could’ve gone after Satomi?” Chris said.

“The full shift,” Derek said.

John touched Derek’s shoulder. Derek flinched, then relaxed into the touch.

“I’m sorry as hell for your loss, son. You can trust that we’ll find whoever did this.” John waited for Derek to acknowledge his words, then said, “I need to ask you some questions, though.”

Chris listened while Derek answered John’s questions, all of them trying to ignore the partial body of Laura Hale lying in the grave just a few feet away.

When he was finished with his questions, John said, “I’m going to call the coroner’s office now. You two should leave.”

Derek glanced at the grave.

“We’ll take care of her, son.”

Chris shook John’s hand and followed Derek to where they’d left their vehicles parked.

“How ‘retired’ are you?” Derek said.

“I’m not going to hesitate to kill someone who attacks me or my daughter,” Chris said, “but I’m not going to go looking for a fight.”

Derek studied Chris. “What would your first instinct be if I told you the new alpha had bitten someone?”

Chris took a deep breath. “My first instinct would be to make sure they don’t lose control and hurt someone.”

“By killing them,” Derek said.

“Yes. I spent a lot of years under Gerard’s . . . tutelage and that’s hard to break. But then I’d realize there are other ways.”

Derek studied Chris to gauge his sincerity, then nodded. “Follow me.”

Thirty minutes later they stood outside the Beacon Hills High School watching lacrosse practice. “What am I looking for?” Chris said.

“Just watch,” Derek growled.

Chris watched. Eventually he picked out the boy who ran faster, jumped higher, threw harder. “A teenager?” Chris shook his head. What had this alpha been thinking?

Speaking of. “Are you sure the alpha’s not training him?” Maybe they could use the boy to capture the alpha.

“It’s not,” Derek said. “I’ve been keeping an eye on him since I realized he’d been bitten.”

Chris nodded. They waited until practice was over and the players removed their helmets.

“Crap. Do you know what his name is?”

“Scott McCall.”

“Damn it. I know his mother.”

“It gets better,” Derek said. “Or worse, depending on your perspective.”

Chris raised his head and saw Allison talking to Scott and another boy.

“I think he’s dating your daughter.” Derek didn’t make a sound, but Chris knew he was laughing inside at the turn the situation had taken.

Double crap.

~*~

“Hi, Mel,” Chris said when Melissa opened the kitchen door to his knock.

“Hi, Chris. I’m surprised to see you twice in one week.” Melissa glanced over Chris’ shoulder.

“This is Derek,” Chris said. “Derek Hale.”

Melissa’s eyes went round. Whether due to Derek’s presence on her doorstep or the fact that Derek was with him, Chris wasn’t sure.

“Derek, this is Melissa McCall.”

“Ma’am,” Derek said.

“Melissa, please,” Melissa said. “Come in, both of you.”

Melissa stepped back and let them pass. “I didn’t know you were back in town, Derek.”

“I’ve only been back a few days,” Derek said, sounding as if even that much time in Beacon Hills was torture.

Melissa had been at the grocery store when Chris called to see if they could meet, but had readily agreed. Grocery bags covered the counter, some full, others unpacked and balled up in a pile. Chris jerked his head back to Melissa when she spoke.

“What’s this visit about?”

“Maybe we should sit down,” Chris said.

“Is it Peter?” Melissa said, looking between them. “John? Rafe?”

“No,” Chris said. “Everyone’s fine.”

“Someone’s not fine,” Melissa said tartly.

Chris decided to stop trying to soften the blow, since that was making it worse. “There’s a new alpha in town. It’s bitten someone.”

“Why are you telling me this? Does he need a doctor?”

“No, he appears to have healed just fine,” Chris said.

“Then why . . . ?” Melissa shook her head. “No.”

“I’m afraid so,” Chris said.

“How do you know?”

“I could tell when I saw him in the Preserve,” Derek said.

“What was he doing in the Preserve?” Melissa said.

Derek shrugged. “Looking for the inhaler he dropped.”

“We think the alpha is the person who killed Laura Hale,” Chris said.

“Wait, Laura’s dead?” Understanding filled Melissa’s eyes. “The body the hikers found . . . Derek, I’m so sorry.”

Derek nodded grimly, but he let Melissa take his hand.

Melissa sighed. “I think you should tell me the whole story.”

“Unfortunately, that isn’t much,” Chris said, but he told her what he knew about Laura Hale having returned to Beacon Hills to investigate a revenge spiral and having been killed, Derek discovering that Scott had been bitten, and Chris’ own observations.

“You don’t know for sure, though,” Melissa said hopefully.

“I smell blood,” Derek said. “A lot of blood.”

Melissa steeled herself and disappeared upstairs. When she returned she held a t-shirt that was torn and covered in dried blood. Derek’s nose twitched and his eyes flashed blue.

“Mel,” Chris said gently. He took the shirt from her and set it on the coffee table before guiding her to a chair.

“Why wouldn’t he tell me?”

“He probably doesn’t know what’s going on,” Derek said. “He needs someone to explain it to him. To train him.”

“And what do you want with my son?” Melissa said to Chris.

Melissa’s distrust hurt more than Chris thought it would, but he couldn’t blame her. “You know I don’t do that anymore,” he said, “and I wouldn’t hurt anyone who wasn’t trying to hurt me, especially an innocent kid. But the full moon is in two days, Mel.”

“He won’t want to hurt anyone,” Derek said, “but he won’t be able to stop himself until he learns control.”

“Where is Scott now?” Chris said.

“The animal clinic,” Melissa said. “He works there after school.”

~*~

The groceries had all been put away and they were sitting in the living room with cups of coffee (that Melissa had made to have something to do with her hands) and a plate of store bought cookies when Scott arrived home. He came in through the kitchen, making enough noise to raise the dead.

“Hey, mom!” Scott said as he headed for the stairs.

“Scott,” Melissa said in that tone of voice all children learned to recognize.

Scott came to a halt. “I’ve got homework,” he said. If he thought it would be enough to stave off this conversation, he was wrong.

“What you have is some explaining to do,” Melissa said.

“About what?” Scott sounded genuinely confused until his gaze landed on the t-shirt.

“Come, sit,” Melissa said, patting the couch cushion beside her.

Scott, his eyes still on the t-shirt, sat on the edge of the cushion, his weight forward as if he was prepared to run.

“Scott,” Melissa said, “this is Derek Hale and Chris Argent.”

Scott glared at Derek, but swallowed hard when he recognized Chris’ last name. Chris smiled and held out his hand. Scott took it, though he looked like he really didn’t want to.

“Hello, Scott. I believe you know my daughter, Allison.”

“Uh, yeah,” Scott said. “Hi, Mr. Argent.”

“Derek?” Chris said, taking perverse pleasure in tormenting the boy who thought he was good enough for his daughter. It didn’t matter that he was Melissa’s son right now.

“We’ve met,” Derek said gruffly.

“Oh, yes,” Melissa said, as if she’d just remembered. “Monday after school, when Scott was trespassing on your property looking for the inhaler he lost.”

Scott looked annoyed and guilty at the same time. It would’ve been hilarious if the consequences of his night jaunt into the woods hadn’t been getting bitten by a werewolf.

“Show me your side.”

“What? Mom!” Scott glanced between the two men.

“Scott Anthony McCall, show me where you were bitten right now.”

Scott had a horrible poker face, and it folded almost immediately. “I don’t . . . How’d you know?”

Melissa made a ‘get with it’ gesture. Scott sighed and raised the hem of his shirt. Melissa examined the unblemished skin. “How’s your asthma?”

“It’s . . . better?”

“And lacrosse practice?”

Scott looked guilty. “I’m doing better than last year.”

Derek growled low in his throat. Chris shared his concern about Scott’s sudden improvement at lacrosse bringing attention to the supernatural world.

“When did you get bitten?”

“Sunday night,” Scott admitted.

Melissa very obviously held herself back from strangling her son. “What were you doing in the Preserve Sunday night?”

“Stiles heard about the body; he wanted to go looking for it.”

Melissa sighed. “Of course it was Stiles.”

“It wasn’t all Stiles’ fault,” Scott said quickly. “I could’ve said no.”

“Yes, you could’ve. And don’t think we won’t be coming back to that. But right now I want to know what happened. From the beginning.”

Scott told them about going out to the Preserve, Stiles getting caught by his dad, and trying to find his way back by himself. About needing his inhaler, and the stampeding deer, and the animal coming out of nowhere and biting him.

“Did it look like a wolf?” Chris said.

“No. I don’t think so.”

“A man?”

“No! It was huge. And scary as hell. It had these glowing red eyes and big teeth. It was a monster.”

Derek growled at Scott’s description. This time Chris threw him a look.

“Could you describe it?” Chris said.

Scott shook his head. “It was like something out of a nightmare.”

Chris looked at Derek, who looked back. Chris raised his eyebrows. Derek rolled his eyes. Chris took it as agreement.

“Did it look like this?”

Derek shifted and Scott yelped and jumped in front of Melissa.

“What is that?”

“Derek is a werewolf,” Melissa said calmly, pushing Scott back into his seat.

“Is that what bit me? Is that what I am now? Stiles said . . .”

“Have you felt more aggressive?” Derek said. “More prone to anger.”

“Um . . .” Scott dropped his gaze. “Maybe.”

Chris sighed. It wasn’t that he hadn’t believed Derek, he just hadn’t wanted it to be true. “You’re a werewolf now, Scott. You need to be trained so you can control the shift. You don’t want to hurt anyone, do you?”

“No, of course not!” Scott said.

“Good,” Chris said. “Because my daughter’s safety is of paramount importance to me.”

Scott blanched.

“Chris,” Melissa said sternly.

“What do I do?” Scott said.

“Derek will help you learn control.” Chris ignored Derek’s look. “And so will I. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to train you before the full moon, so we’re going to have to do something else to make sure you don’t hurt anyone.”

“When’s the full moon?” Scott said.

“Friday,” Derek said. “But you’ll start feeling the pull before then.”

“But there’s a scrimmage on Friday, and then I’m going to the party after!”

“Your plans have changed,” Chris said.

“Did you bite me?” Scott demanded of Derek.

“I’m not the alpha,” Derek said.

“Only an alpha can turn someone,” Chris explained. “You’ve got a lot to process. We’ll talk again tomorrow.” He said goodbye to Melissa and waved Derek out ahead of him.

Chris knew Derek could still hear him, still he paused and turned back to Scott. “I know you’re freaking out about everything that’s happened in the last couple of days, but give Derek a break. That body you and your friend thought it would be a lark to go look for was his sister.”

Chris left a wide-eyed Scott with Melissa. She’d been thrown a curve ball, but she could deal with it. And if she needed help, she could call on him and John. And probably Derek.

Derek was scowling when Chris reached him. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“Do what?” Chris said, and changed the subject. “I have chains, but no place secure enough to hold a werewolf.”

“I know a place,” Derek said, but he didn’t look thrilled about it.

 

Week One: Thursday

Chris had time to kill before the video store opened the next morning, so he stopped by to visit Peter earlier than usual. Nurse Jennifer was there and she looked surprised to see him, though she covered it quickly. If Chris hadn’t already been looking closely at her, he might have missed it.

“Mr. Argent,” Jennifer said. “Mr. Hale is doing well this morning. Enjoy your visit.” She swept out of the room, but there was a momentary twitch, as if she didn’t want to leave Chris alone with Peter.

Jennifer’s presence reminded Chris that he didn’t know if Derek had checked her out yet. Chris slid his fingers over the back of Peter’s hand as he checked to make sure the room hadn’t been bugged. It might be paranoid, but better safe than sorry.

“Good morning, Peter,” Chris said conversationally. He slipped the bug detector into his pocket as he pulled the chair back over to the bed.

Chris noticed that Peter’s hand looked shaded. He picked it up and saw that there was dirt under his fingernails. Chris ground his teeth and made a note to catch Nurse Jennifer before he left and tell her that Peter needed a bath. How could they let someone who laid in a bed all day get so filthy that there was dirt under their nails?

“We’ll get that taken care of,” Chris assured Peter. “In the meantime, we were interrupted yesterday before we found out whether Damian was successful in seducing Caleb.” Chris pulled the book out of his pocket and replied as if Peter had spoken. “Yes, I’m pretty sure he will be, too. Werewolves can be pretty persuasive, can’t they?”

~*~

Chris was still thinking about the quickly hidden expression on Nurse Jennifer’s face when he told her that Peter needed to get cleaned up. It took Chris a moment to realize that Donald Maring had opened Video 2*C.

“Welcome to Video 2*C,” Maring said when the bell above the door chimed to announce Chris’ entry. “Let me know if I can help you find anything.”

The words were rote and the tone bored. Working in a video rental store couldn’t be terribly exciting.

“Donald Maring?” Chris said as he approached the man.

“Who’s asking?” Maring said without turning away from his task reshelving movies.

“Chris Argent,” Chris said, pausing to see if there was any sign of recognition. “I’m consulting with the Beacon County Sheriff Department on a cold case.”

The stutter of Maring’s arms as he placed a DVD case on the shelf was the only indication that Chris had rattled him. “How can I help you?”

“I was hoping you could answer some questions for me. About a fire that occurred at the Hale house in the Preserve.”

Maring froze, then slowly turned to face Chris. “That was a tragedy,” he said. “But I don’t know how I can help you.”

“You can tell me where you were the night of the fire.”

“You expect me to remember where I was six years ago?”

Chris didn’t comment on Maring remembering that the fire was six years ago. “It was a pretty memorable night,” he said. Chris remembered where he’d been when he’d heard the news – driving Allison to yet another first day of school. He’d had to wait until he’d left Allison with the principle before he’d used the closest boy’s room to throw up.

Chris could still remember Melissa’s first words, “Peter’s alive.” Her tone, however, had told him what her words hadn’t – that whatever had happened, it was bad.

“What happened?” Chris said, trying to keep his own emotions out of his voice for Allison’s sake.

He’d remained stoic during Melissa’s explanation and the meeting with the principle, and then he’d lost it.

Kate had been the next one to call him. “Did you hear about the big news out of Beacon Hills?”

“No,” Chris said, because he couldn’t admit that he was still in contact with anyone from Beacon Hills, not even now that there had been a tragedy.

“An electrical fire rid the world of a family of monsters,” Kate said gleefully.

Chris choked. “What are you talking about?”

“The Hales, all gone in one fell swoop.”

“All of them?” Chris questioned, even though he already knew the answer from Melissa.

“Most of them.” Chris heard the shrug in her tone. “They won’t be a problem anymore.”

“They weren’t a problem before,” Chris said.

“All monsters are problems, Chris,” Kate said. “At least they’re not our problem anymore.”

Six years later, Chris still remembered how delighted she’d sounded about the horrible death of an entire family, including children. It made him want to throw up again.

“I thought that was ruled an electrical fire,” Maring said now, pulling Chris out of his memories.

“New evidence has led the Sheriff to reopen the case,” Chris said. Thanks to Garrison Myers’ statement, John had been able to officially reopened the case even though they were still keeping it on a need-to-know basis.

“And you’re here because of my record,” Maring said.

Chris remained silent, and as expected Maring filled in the silence.

“I don’t do that anymore.”

“Since when?” Chris said.

“Since none of your business,” Maring said. “I’m done talking to you.”

Chris let Maring walk away and ambled after him as if he had all the time in the world. “The last fire you were suspected of setting was three months before the Hale fire. Is the Hale fire the reason you quit?”

Maring didn’t respond.

“Since then you spend a lot of money on alcohol and you keep to yourself. What are you trying to forget? The sounds of children screaming as they burned to death?”

That hit it’s mark. Maring spun around, his face red, eyes bright. “I didn’t . . . !”

“Didn’t what?” When Maring didn’t continue, Chris said, “Let me guess. Whoever hired you didn’t tell you there’s be anyone home when you burned down the house.”

Maring looked like he might crack, then he stiffened. “They’ll kill me if I talk.”

“You’re killing yourself now,” Chris pointed out. “Wouldn’t you like to take them with you?”

~*~

“Where are you?” Derek said bluntly when Chris answered his cell.

“Getting a sandwich and a cup of coffee. What’s up?”

“Meet me at the house,” Derek said and disconnected.

Chris ordered two coffees and two sandwiches to go. He was glad he’d eaten most of his sandwich on the drive out to the Preserve because the sight of the house made him lose his appetite. He didn’t know how Derek could spend so much time there.

Derek stepped out of the house as Chris slid out of the Tahoe. Chris gestured with the extra sandwich and coffee. “I got one for you since I was there.”

Derek didn’t show any signs of wanting either the coffee or the sandwich (not that this was a good place for a picnic), so Chris set the drink carrier on the hood of the Camaro and set the sandwich on the hole that wasn’t holding sugar and creamers.

Chris’ hand touched the hood, which was cold. Either Derek had gotten here early, or . . .

“So, where are you staying?” Chris said with as much casual as he could muster.

Derek cocked his head and gave Chris a look that could’ve meant ‘do I look stupid enough to tell a hunter where I’m staying’ or ‘do I look stupid enough to admit that I’m staying in the burnt out husk of the house where most of my family died’.

Derek walked down the stairs with a control that made Chris think he’d prefer to leap down them if it wouldn’t remind the hunter (retired) that he was a werewolf. “Follow me,” Derek said, heading away from the house and deeper into the Preserve.

Chris reflexively checked his weapons and followed. It took him a while to catch up with Derek, and even then, Chris knew it was only because Derek allowed it. “Where are we going?”

Derek’s jaw worked hard, as did his fingers, which clenched and unclenched at his sides. Derek was silent long enough that Chris didn’t think he was going to answer, but finally Derek said, “To the tunnels.”

The escape tunnels, Chris remembered, that had somehow been blocked to prevent the Hales from escaping the fire that killed them. “I know you’re not big on talking,” Chris said, “or talking to me, but why?”

“Safest way into the basement unless you wanted to jump eight feet,” Derek said. “Besides, I want to make sure that the tunnels are . . . clear.”

“Clear of what?” Chris imagined overgrown brush, tree roots, collapsed dirt, and animals having burrowed in.

Derek gave Chris another look. “Mountain ash.”

They walked a little further until they found the entrance to one of the tunnels. Chris expected it to be dark inside, but there was some kind of lichen growing on the walls that gave off enough illumination that Chris could see without totally ruining his ‘night vision’.

“How could anyone find this tunnel?” Chris said. The entrance had been very well hidden.

Derek’s shoulders pulled even tighter. “Because I told them about it,” he said.

They headed back towards the house, if Chris’ direction hadn’t gotten screwed up. Chris thought about what Derek had said as he studied the tunnel. The walls were in good shape for a tunnel that hadn’t been used or maintained for six years. Chris didn’t mention it.

They finally reached a door that blocked the tunnel. Derek stopped before he reached it, unable to go any further. Derek growled and strained against an invisible barrier.

Chris placed his hand on Derek’s shoulder and held himself still when Derek turned his head, blue eyes glaring out of shifted features. Chris kept his hand on Derek’s shoulder, not wanting to show fear. He understood how difficult this must be for Derek.

“Let me look,” Chris said. “Watch your eyes, I’m gonna need a flashlight for this.”

Chris waited a second for his words to penetrate the emotions that had caused Derek to lose control, then removed his hand from Derek’s shoulder and took the flashlight off his belt. He shone the light at the ground, expecting to see an obvious line of mountain ash he could disturb with the toe of his boot. There was nothing there.

Chris raised the light to the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. The dirt looked as smooth as the rest of the tunnel, but there had to be something there. Chris went to his knees and gave the dirt on the floor a closer examination. He pushed away the instinct that he was making himself vulnerable and pressed his fingers to the ground. He felt an area that wasn’t packed as tightly as the rest of the floor.

Chris took the knife off his belt and dug the blade into the dirt, which loosened easily. He only had to dig down a couple of inches to reveal a piece of rubber, like the inside of a bicycle tire. Chris cleared enough of the rubber so he could aim the beam of light at it. Someone had painted the rubber with a substance that must contain mountain ash. It must continue up the walls and across the ceiling, but luckily Chris only had to slice the rubber to break the circle and allow Derek to step over it. Even though the tunnels were quite old, he didn’t want to bring the tunnel down on them by digging into the walls and ceiling if he didn’t have to.

Derek opened the door, which turned out to be thick steel. Chris cut into the rubber again so he had a six inch piece he could study later and followed Derek. On the other side of the door Derek ran into another invisible barrier. Whoever had done this had definitely known that the Hales were werewolves. And they’d wanted to make sure that no one got out, and no one could come to their rescue.

Chris dug up and cut through the second piece of rubber and they continued into the basement. The stairs had burned away and there was a large hole in the floor above their heads. Behind another steel door was a cell.

“What’s this?” Chris said.

“This is where we stayed on full moons until we learned control.” Derek touched the bars as if being locked behind them was a good memory.

“You think it’ll hold Scott?”

“It’s held generations of Hales,” Derek said. “It’ll hold Scott.”

~*~

At the Tahoe, Chris paused to tell Derek what he’d learned from Donald Maring. The man hadn’t been willing to make an official statement in case it got back to whoever hired him (and Chris figured the sheriff could bring him in later if necessary), but he’d told Chris basically the same thing Garrison Myers had – he’d been contacted by phone and paid in cash. Maring had no idea who’d hired him, but what Chris saw today in the tunnels convinced him that he was looking for a hunter.

Maring had also confirmed that there’d been others involved, though he didn’t know their names.

Chris asked Derek about Nurse Jennifer, but she hadn’t been around when he’d visited Peter. Derek promised to stop in again today.

Derek didn’t move towards the Camaro when Chris opened the Tahoe’s driver side door. “If you need a place to stay . . .”

“I’m fine,” Derek ground out.

Chris let his gaze move behind Derek to the skeletal remains of the house that had once been filled with love and laughter. He didn’t bother telling Derek that it wasn’t healthy, because it was obvious that Derek was punishing himself. But he could appeal to Derek’s sense of self-preservation. “It’s not defensible here,” he said. “Just think about it.”

Chris drove back to town wondering what had even possessed him to make the unwelcome invitation. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have room, but Chris would have to come up with an excuse for Allison (or tell her the truth sooner rather than later, since one of her classmates – Chris refused to say ‘boyfriend’ – was a newly-bitten werewolf, though Chris had hoped to put it off a bit longer). Not to mention how Chris would react to having a werewolf under his roof, especially one that was essentially an omega now that Laura was dead and Peter still in a coma.

Chris stopped at the Sheriff Department to update John on his meeting with Maring. “I think you were right about it being a hunter,” Chris said after he’d given his short report.

“Why?”

Chris told John about finding the mountain ash in the escape tunnels under the Hale house.

John sighed and wiped a weary hand over his face. His shoulders slumped and he looked older than his forty years. “Those poor people. I can’t stop thinking about the children. I still have nightmares about it. The smell was . . .”

Chris squeezed John’s shoulder. “We’ll figure it out. There’s something else.”

John groaned. “What?”

“Have you talked to Melissa?”

“Oh, god, yeah, Scott,” John said. “Which means Stiles is right in the middle of it.”

Stiles, Chris thought. That explained why the kid with Scott had seemed familiar – he looked just like Claudia.

“The full moon is tomorrow,” Chris said.

“What’s the plan?”

Chris told John about the cell in the basement below the remains of the Hale house.

“Is that safe?”

“The structure doesn’t appear to be ready to fall in,” Chris said. “It’s stood for six years.” He didn’t mention that Derek was living there.

“Yeah, but the night we lock a sixteen year old boy in a cell is just the time it would choose to fall in,” John said. “Do you think it’ll work?”

“That cell has held generations of Hales,” Chris said, repeating Derek’s words, “so yeah. Besides, Derek and I will be there to make sure it does.”

“Do I even want to ask how?”

“Werewolf strength and a tranq gun,” Chris said. He left out the fact that he’d be using enough tranquilizer to drop a rhino.

After Chris left John he stopped by the hospital to let Melissa know that they had a safe place for Scott to spend the night of the full moon. She insisted on knowing where, and asked for more detail about how they’d keep Scott from hurting himself or others than even John had.

Before he left, Chris asked Melissa her opinion on Peter’s care over the years.

“I’ve always thought he was being well-cared for. Why?”

Chris told Melissa about Peter’s dirt-stained hands and the dirt under his nails. “What if he’s got bed sores? I didn’t even check.”

Melissa placed her hand on Chris’ arm, the light touch keeping him in place. “I’ll stop by and check on him.”

Since Melissa would know better than he whether Peter was being properly cared for Chris didn’t rush back to the long-term care facility. Instead Chris drove to the high school and met Derek on the sideline of the lacrosse field. “How’s his control?”

Derek stood stiff, his arms crossed over his chest and his jaw clenched, radiating disapproval. “How do you think?”

Chris didn’t rise to the bait, and eventually Derek relaxed enough to say, “Shitty. He shouldn’t even be out there until he learns control. If he shifts he’ll out werewolves to the world, and if he hurts someone, even accidentally, he’ll bring hunters down on us.”

“We’ll keep him from doing that,” Chris said.

“Tomorrow will be worse,” Derek said.

Chris bit his lip on the sarcastic ‘ray of sunshine’ comment that leapt to the tip of his tongue. Derek was right about the possible consequences of Scott’s lack of control, and Scott seemed more interested in being first line than what could happen if he lost control on the field.

 

Week One: Friday

Chris and Derek met Scott a block from the high school. Chris put Scott’s bike into the back of the Tahoe and Scott climbed into the backseat with Derek. Derek had been uncomfortable about putting himself in Chris’ hands, and probably wouldn’t have if he didn’t think he might be needed to subdue an out-of-control, newly-turned werewolf on his first full moon.

Scott complained the entire drive to his house about having to miss the scrimmage due to the fake doctor appointment Melissa had called the school about.

“Nothing comes for free,” Chris said as he pulled into the driveway.

“I didn’t ask for this!” Scott snapped before recalling that Chris was Allison’s father.

Chris put the Tahoe in park and turned in the seat to look at Scott. “You were bitten without your consent, and now you’re angry all the time for no reason and you have to learn control so you don’t hurt someone, and that means missing lacrosse practice on a full moon. All of that sucks. But you can’t enjoy the benefits of the bite without dealing with some of the unfortunate side-effects.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Without the bite you’d still have asthma and be sitting on the bench instead of having a chance at first line.”

Scott stopped complaining long enough to get out of the SUV so he could pack a bag. Derek stayed with him while Chris unloaded the bike and called in a take-out order.

“Why do we have to go so early?” Scott asked as he and Derek exited the house.

Derek gave Chris an exasperated look, and Chris wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Scott had been asking a variation of the same question the entire time they’d been gone. Sensing Chris’ amusement Derek bared blunt teeth and flashed blue eyes at him.

“You’re already angry,” Derek said to Scott. “It wouldn’t take much to make you lose control.”

Scott threw his bag and himself into the backseat of the Tahoe. He muttered all the way to the Hale house. Chris’ only respite was the few minutes it took him to go in and grab the take-out. He didn’t know which was worse, him being able to hear the murmur of Scott’s voice but having no idea what he was saying, or Derek being able to understand every word.

“I don’t know what you’re worried about,” Derek said when they’d all piled out of the SUV and were headed towards what remained of the Hale house. “I’m sure Allison will have fun at the party without you. She’ll hang out with her new friends Lydia and, what’s his name, Jackson. They’re close, aren’t they?”

At a gesture from Derek Chris stopped walking and hung back. Scott shifted and threw his duffel at Derek before attacking him, but Derek was ready for him. Derek batted away the bag and grabbed Scott around the throat with no care for the way Scott clawed at his hands and arms, which were at least protected by the leather jacket.

Derek picked Scott up so his feet dangled in the air, and slammed him onto his back. Scott stopped fighting when the air was punched out of his lungs. Derek released Scott and stood back.

Chris made sure Scott could breathe, then turned to Derek. “You okay?”

Derek didn’t even look at the scratches on his hand, and one lucky shot on his cheek. “They’ll heal.” To Scott Derek said, “This is why you can’t be at that scrimmage.” Derek shook his head. “I don’t get you. Sure, you’re not a born werewolf so you haven’t been raised on warnings to not do anything that could bring hunters down on us, but shouldn’t you care a little bit that you could lose control and hurt someone? Is playing lacrosse worth hurting Stiles, your mom . . .”

“Allison,” Chris said, pointing his gun at Scott.

“Wha–, what are you doing?”

“I want to impress upon you the fact that nothing is worth accidentally hurting someone because you can’t control yourself. Whether they’re your best friend or a stranger.”

“Are you going to shoot me?”

“If I have to. But don’t worry. The first one will be a regular bullet, which will hurt like hell, but you’ll heal.” Chris didn’t mention that in actuality he’d be using a tranquilizer gun.

Scott’s eyes went wide. “The first time?”

Chris holstered the gun and squatted down so he was eye-level with Scott, who had cautiously sat up. “If I have to shoot you a second time I’ll use a wolfsbane bullet.”

“What’s wolfsbane?”

“You don’t know what wolfsbane is? Looks like you need a crash course in Werewolf 101.” Chris stood. “Let’s go before our food gets cold.”

At the front door Chris paused. “Wait, shouldn’t we . . . ?” He gestured towards the trees.

“I brought in a ladder.”

“Is this place even safe?” Scott said as he followed Chris into the house and looked down into the hole in the floor.

“Safe enough for one night,” Chris said before Derek could respond. “Let’s just hope you don’t need to be here next month, as well.”

Scott went first down the ladder, then Derek. They settled in folding chairs and ate the take-out. Before Scott lost complete control, Derek told him about growing up in a pack, and Chris told him about hunters and the Code.

“So what happened here?” Scott said.

“Hunters,” Derek said bitterly.

Scott looked shocked and turned to Chris.

“It’s possible,” Chris admitted, “that some hunters don’t follow the Code.”

“Was that hard to say?” Derek said.

“Very.”

“Did they . . . deserve it?” Scott said.

“You mean, like playing lacrosse on a full moon and losing control and clawing off someone’s face?” Derek said.

Chris put a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “No, Scott, they didn’t deserve it. The Hales have lived peacefully in Beacon Hills for generations. Talia Hale, and her mother Joanna before her, were renowned alphas.

“But even if one of the pack had done something stupid, like play lacrosse on a full moon before they’d gained control, would they have deserved to be burned to death? Did the rest of the pack deserve it? What about the children?”

Chris gave Scott a few minutes to digest everything he and Derek had said. “I know it sucks,” he said, “because now that you don’t have asthma you can play lacrosse and your werewolf abilities make you good at it, but one mistake and you could lose it all.”

Derek made a sound, but when Chris glanced at him his face was stone.

“You can still make first line. Finstock would be nuts to make you sit the bench, but you can’t fix it if you hurt someone.”

“I get it,” Scott said petulantly. “But I don’t have to like it.”

Derek tilted his head and listened.

“What is it?” Chris said, automatically lowering his voice.

“Someone’s coming.”

Scott shifted guiltily, catching both their attentions.

“What did you do?” Derek growled.

“I might have told Stiles where I’d be.”

Chris touched Derek’s arm before he could leap up. “You need to stay here with him.”

Chris didn’t need to spell out that if Scott lost control, his only way of controlling him was to shoot him. Tranquilizing him was one way to get through the full moon, but it wouldn’t help with his control. Derek nodded his agreement and Chris climbed the ladder. He stood on the porch as a blue Jeep pulled in line with the Tahoe and Camaro. Chris swallowed hard when he recognized Claudia’s beloved Jeep.

Stiles stumbled out of the Jeep and gave the Camaro an appreciative glance. Chris couldn’t blame him – he had some great memories of that car.

“What are you doing here, Stiles?” Chris said.

Stiles jumped, as if he hadn’t seen Chris standing there, but he didn’t stop walking towards the house. “I’m here to see Scott.”

“That’s not a good idea,” Chris said.

“I’m not leaving until I know you’re treating him alright,” Stiles said defiantly.

Chris snorted and shook his head. “Jesus, you’re just like your mother.”

Stiles missed a step at that, catching himself on the railing before he went down. “You knew my mom?”

“You can come in for a minute,” Chris said, knowing the kid wouldn’t give up, “but you can’t stay.”

Chris turned to enter the house and heard Stiles hurrying after him. He stepped onto the ladder and started climbing down.

“Are you kidding me?” Stiles said when he got his first look at the ladder sticking out of the hole in the floor. Stiles peered down into the basement.

Scott waved. “Stiles!”

“Scotty!” Stiles jumped on the ladder so fast he nearly stepped on Chris’ fingers. Stiles was concentrating so hard on the rungs that he missed the look Chris threw him.

Chris stepped back when he reached the basement floor to give Stiles room. Derek, arms crossed over his chest and scowling, stood close enough that Stiles nearly ran into him when he stepped off the ladder and turned around. Stiles jerked back in surprise.

Chris expected Stiles to react with fear, but he gave Derek’s arms, mostly bared by the t-shirt, a lingering look before sliding his own hand over the back of his neck and saying, “Heyyyy, Derek.”

Scott grabbed Stiles and drew him into a hug. “Thanks for coming, man.”

“Of course I came!”

Scott dragged Stiles off to show him the cell. Chris didn’t move, still trying to process the fact that John’s kid found Derek Hale attractive. Derek turned his glare onto Chris, as if he could read Chris’ thoughts.

“He can’t stay,” Derek growled.

“Agreed,” Chris said.

Chris let the two boys talk, Stiles eating cold french fries out of Scott’s take-out container. When Scott reacted angrily to Stiles’ revelation about how well Jackson had played in the scrimmage, Chris put an end to the visit.

“You need to leave now, Stiles.”

Stiles flailed. “What? I’m not leaving.”

“I want Stiles to stay!” Scott said.

“Stiles is not staying,” Derek said.

“Why do you get to decide . . . ?”

“Why do you think?” Derek flashed blue eyes at Scott.

“You’re not the boss of me!”

“I am tonight.”

Chris drew Stiles away from the two werewolves. “The closer the full moon comes, the more angry Scott is going to become. He’s going to say things he won’t mean. Things you might not be able to forget even though you know it’s because he doesn’t have control of the wolf yet. You can’t help him with this. You need to leave so you’re not a target of his anger. Tomorrow is when you can help him.”

Stiles looked like he wanted to argue, but he deflated. “Fine. I’ve got to make sure my dad eats the veggie burger I got out for him, anyway.”

“Good luck with that,” Chris said.

“Yeah. Bye, Scotty.”

The two boys hugged again.

“I wish you could stay.”

“Me, too.”

“Goodbye, Mr., um . . .”

“Argent,” Chris supplied.

Stiles’ eyes went wide and he side-eyed Scott very unsurreptitiously. Scott pretended not to notice.

“Yes, I’m Allison’s dad. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Stiles.”

“It is?” Stiles said. “I mean, thanks, uh, you, too, I guess. Anyway, goodbye Mr. Argent. And Derek.”

Stiles’ gaze slid over to Derek, who bared his teeth. Stiles’ throat went red. He grabbed the ladder before Chris could see if the flush went any higher. Chris shook his head. First Scott had a crush on Allison and now Stiles was crushing on Derek. What even was his life?

Chris waited until Stiles reached the first floor and followed him up.

“What, you making sure I’m really leaving?”

Chris had actually come up to set some perimeter alarms – any other time, two werewolves would’ve been enough warning, but they’d both be distracted tonight – but he said, “Yes,” just to be contrary.

“Rude,” Stiles said.

Chapter Text

Week One: Saturday

The house was quiet when Chris got home early Saturday morning. He closed the door and leaned back against it, allowing himself a moment to take a deep breath. Returning to Beacon Hills had seemed like a good idea at the time, but between visiting Peter, and working on the Hale fire, and now dealing with a newly-turned werewolf, it felt as if he hadn’t been able to relax since he got back to town. Actually, since Victoria died. Maybe even before then.

Chris wanted to crawl into bed, but he needed to talk to Allison before someone else (Scott) did. He’d warned the kid to stay away from Allison today, since it was still close to the full moon, but he had little faith his warning would last past a couple hours of sleep. Scott didn’t appear to take well to people telling him what to do, but maybe that was just the effect of the bite and the full moon.

Chris locked away his weapons and took a shower. By then it was late enough that he could text Allison without waking or alarming her. pls come home asa you can Chris hesitated, then added bring coffee

Chris set the phone on the cushion beside him and tipped his head back onto the couch. He’d just close his eyes for a minute while he waited for Allison to get back to him.

Chris woke to the scent of coffee and grease. He blinked until Allison, sitting on the coffee table in front of him, came into focus. “Hey.” Chris’ voice was gravelly from sleep. He scrubbed his face. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“How come you fell asleep on the couch?”

“I was up most of the night.” Chris stretched out his hand for the coffee cup Allison held just out of reach.

“Why?”

“I’ll tell you as soon as I have a sip of coffee,” Chris said.

Allison raised an eyebrow, but relinquished the cup. “I also picked up breakfast sandwiches.”

“You’re a lifesaver,” Chris said.

“Uh huh.” Allison carried her coffee and the bag of delicious smelling grease to the kitchen.

Chris steeled himself for the conversation ahead and followed her. Allison had set the sandwiches out and was digging in the refrigerator for the mustard (Chris) and hot sauce (Allison). Chris sat and took the mustard from Allison. He fixed his sandwich and took a bite. They ate in silence and when they were done Chris couldn’t stall any longer.

“Your mother and I kept something from you. Something big.” Chris paused to gather his thoughts. “We did it to protect you, so you could have a different life than we had growing up. A normal life.”

“Does this have to do with why we moved all the time?” Allison said.

“Yes. The first thing you need to know might be the hardest for you to believe, but I swear to you it’s true. Werewolves are real.”

Allison laughed, sobering when she realized that Chris wasn’t laughing with her. “You’re not serious.”

“I’m deadly serious. Werewolves are real, and there’s a group of people who make sure they don’t hurt humans, called hunters.”

“Werewolves and werewolf hunters; this is like a bad SyFy movie.” Allison was trying to make light, but her voice was strangled.

“Yes,” Chris agreed, “but it’s all too true.”

“We’re not werewolves,” Allison said, “so we must be hunters.”

“We were,” Chris said. “I was. I don’t do that anymore.”

“Have you . . . killed people?”

“Yes. But only if they’d hurt someone. There’s a code we follow. Followed.”

Allison absorbed that for a moment. “I can’t believe I never knew this about you. Mom, too?”

“Yes.”

“Aunt Kate?”

“Yes. It was the family business.”

“Why did you quit?”

“Because I knew that being a werewolf didn’t make someone a monster. Other people didn’t see things that way.”

“Other people like who?”

“Your grandfather, for one.”

“Why did you do it, then?”

“Gerard was . . . difficult to say no to. Besides, once you know something like that you can’t just pretend you don’t, you can’t . . . walk away.”

“But you did,” Allison pointed out. “Eventually.”

“Yes, eventually. It took more than it should have, probably.”

“What was it? The last straw.”

Chris ran the side of his thumb over the table, feeling the imperfection where he’d cut through a Chinette plate once. “Your mother,” Chris said, forcing the words out though his throat wanted to trap them.

“Mom? What about mom?”

“Your mother was bitten by a werewolf,” Chris said, committed now to telling Allison the truth. “She, as many hunters do, believed that being a werewolf was . . . a fate worse than death,” he finished in a rush.

“That’s why mom killed herself?”

Chris could hear the tears in Allison’s voice. Neither of them had dealt well with Victoria’s death. “It’s okay to be angry because she left us, Alli.”

Betrayal shone in Allison’s eyes. “What if I’m angry with both of you?”

“That’s okay, too,” Chris said to Allison’s back as she flew out of the kitchen. He listened to make sure she headed for the stairs rather than the front door, and then dropped his head into his hands.

Chris didn’t know how long he’d sat there, but finally he took a deep breath and let it shudder out of him. He cleared the wrappers away and dumped the cold coffee down the drain. Chris retrieved his phone from the couch and paused to look at the photos on the mantle. He picked up the one of the three of them that had been taken when Allison was six. The wide smile she aimed at the camera showed a gap where one of her front teeth was missing.

There was another of the three of them at an archery competition where Allison had won her first ribbon. Victoria had robbed herself of sharing any more of these moments with them. She’d done what she thought was right, but Chris still couldn’t forgive her.

Chris went to his office. He withdrew the lock box from the bottom drawer of his desk, also kept locked. Chris ignored the items that laid on top and lifted out the Beacon High Cyclones 1989 yearbook. He glanced at the senior photos, then flipped to the candids. Chris was practical and tried to never think about ‘what if’s, but Victoria was dead and Peter was in a coma, and Chris couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if he’d made a different choice twenty years ago, or even eight years ago.

A sound in the doorway brought Chris’ head up. Allison leaned against the doorframe, looking at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Hey,” Chris said.

Allison acknowledged his greeting, then indicated the book in his hands. “What are you looking at?”

Chris’ first response was to hide it, but then he recalled that neither Gerard nor Victoria were there. He huffed a laugh. “My yearbook.”

Allison’s eyes lit up. “Really?” She moved into the room and held out her hand. “Can I?”

Chris closed the book and held it out to Allison. She sat in the chair beside the desk and immediately leafed through to the senior photos. “Oh my god, dad, you were a hottie!”

Chris tried to glare at her, but he was too glad she was talking to him again for it to be very effective.

“Did you play any sports?”

Chris felt like a bucket of ice had been thrown on him. “No. I didn’t have time for that; I had to train.”

“To kill people,” Allison said.

Chris wanted to argue, but she wasn’t wrong, even if it was a simplistic view. “Yes.”

“Sorry.” Allison ducked her head. “That wasn’t fair.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” Chris said, “but essentially accurate.”

“I didn’t mean to say that, though. I . . . have questions.”

“I’m sure you have a lot of them.” Chris waited patiently for Allison to arrange her thoughts.

“You said you know that being a werewolf doesn’t make you a monster. How do you know?”

“Because there was a pack of werewolves here in Beacon Hills when I was growing up,” Chris said. He only hesitated momentarily before revealing Derek’s secret. “The Hales had been living here for generations.”

“Hale?” Allison said. “Isn’t there a statue in the park dedicated to a Hale?”

“The Hales founded this town. They’ve been mayors and bankers and lawyers. Joanna Hale was the alpha when I lived here. She was the head librarian.”

“Librarian?” Allison sounded surprised. “That doesn’t sound very, I don’t know, werewolf-y.”

Chris smiled. “Her husband was a realtor.”

“I expected military, or something like that.”

“Talia became the alpha after Joanna; she was a social worker. Her husband was a public defender.”

“Okay,” Allison said. “So they were upstanding members of society. Why do we need hunters, then?”

“Because not all werewolves are like the Hales. Just like all humans aren’t good, there are some bad apples in the werewolf barrel.”

“I think that analogy got away from you.”

“Maybe, but you get my point. And then there are those who don’t have the support system they need – new werewolves don’t have control and need to be trained; werewolves without a pack, called omegas, go feral . . .”

“But what about the police?”

“Most people don’t know about werewolves, and even if there were some in law enforcement that did know, you can’t exactly lock a werewolf up in general population.”

“So hunters who know about werewolves are needed to keep people safe. And also to keep them from finding out and panicking.”

“Very perceptive,” Chris said.

“But there’s a code you said.”

“Yes. We hunt those who hunt us.”

“And all hunters abide by it?”

Chris hesitated. Despite Gerard’s zeal, he’d always thought so, but . . . “There might be some bad apples in the hunter barrel, too.”

Allison’s eyes went wide. “What do you mean?”

“I’ve been consulting on a cold case with the Sheriff Department. You need to keep this between us for now.”

Allison leaned forward. “Okay.”

“There was a fire six years ago that killed almost all of the Hale pack. Only three people survived the fire.” Chris didn’t complicate things by telling Allison about Laura’s recent death. “We, the Sheriff and I, think it might have been hunters.”

Allison fell back in the chair. “Oh my god, that’s horrible.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Does . . . does everyone in Beacon Hills know about werewolves?”

“Not everyone, but a lot of people are in the know. Actually, I want to give you some numbers, people you can call if I’m not around.”

Allison’s eyes went wide at the implication that something might happen to Chris, but she added Melissa’s and John’s numbers to her contacts. Chris noticed the flush at the mention of Melissa’s last name.

“Is that Scott’s mom? And Stiles’ dad?”

“Yes to both.”

“Does that mean they both know? About werewolves?”

“Yes.” Chris sighed. “Which leads me to the other thing I need to tell you. The thing that forced my hand. I wanted you to hear about this from me, not one of your classmates.”

“Okay.”

“There was an attack Sunday night. A feral alpha bit a boy in the Preserve.”

“Oh my god!”

“That’s where I was last night – making sure he didn’t hurt himself or anyone else on the full moon.”

“Is he alright now? Are you alright?” Allison leapt out of the chair to touch Chris’ shoulder.

“We’re both fine,” Chris assured her.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’m fine.”

“Okay.” Allison sounded dubious, but she backed off. “Who was it? The boy, I mean.”

“Alli, sit down.” Chris took Allison’s hands in his.

“Why? You’re scaring me.”

“The boy, it’s someone you know.”

“Who?”

Chris bit the bullet, since breaking it to Allison gently wasn’t working. “It’s Scott.”

“Scott?”

“Scott McCall.” Chris caught Allison when her knees went out and lowered her onto the chair. “He’s fine. In fact, being bit cured his asthma. He only has to deal with being a raging asshole once a month on the full moon until he gains control.”

“I didn’t know . . .”

“How could you? Hell, Scott didn’t even know. We had to tell him.”

“Who’s we?”

“Derek and I,” Chris said. “Derek Hale.”

“Of the werewolf Hales,” Allison said.

“Yes. You might’ve seen him lurking around the school – dark hair, leather jacket, drives a Camaro.”

“Yeah, I remember seeing him at some of the lacrosse practices. I thought something hinky was going on . . .”

“Something hinky was going on,” Chris said. “Just probably not the hinky you were thinking.”

Allison huffed. “No, I didn’t see werewolf coming.”

“People usually don’t.”

“Can I talk to him? Scott.”

“Yes, of course. You can’t see him today, though. It’s too close to the full moon.”

“Okay.” Allison stood and wiped her palms on her jeans. “I’ll just . . .”

“Alli.”

Allison stopped at the door.

“The reason I told you about the Hales . . . Don’t let prejudice determine whether you date Scott or not.”

Allison blushed. “We’re not.”

Chris raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Allison said, and disappeared from sight.

Chris listened until he heard Allison’s bedroom door shut. He drew the yearbook over and opened it to the basketball team photo. 1989. The year the Beacon Hill Cyclones had won the conference and Peter earned MVP. They’d celebrated in the back of the Camaro. It had been tight, but they’d been extremely motivated.

Chris closed the book, but hesitated before putting it back in the lock box. There was no one he had to hide this from anymore. Chris left the yearbook sitting on the corner of the desk.

~*~

Melissa was sitting with Peter when Chris arrived. She put down the magazine she’d been reading from and stood to give Chris a hug.

“What are you reading?”

Melissa showed the front of the magazine to Chris. “We’ve already checked out the ‘how to pamper yourself’ section, and now we’re doing the quiz.”

“How To Tell If Your BF Is A Loser,” Chris read off.

“Better late than never,” Melissa said.

Chris chuckled and gestured Melissa back to the chair. He sat at the end of the bed and laid one hand on Peter’s ankle. “I just told Allison about werewolves,” Chris said.

“How’d she take it?”

“She wasn’t thrilled that we’d been lying to her, and it brought up the issue of Victoria’s death, but aside from that good. I think. She was on the phone with Scott when I left.”

“What about the hunter thing?”

Chris shrugged. “That might take some getting used to. I still need to warn her about Gerard, but I already laid a lot on her today.”

Melissa leaned forward and squeezed Chris’ leg. She opened the magazine to the quiz. “Let’s start where we left off before Chris interrupted us,” Melissa said to Peter.

They finished the quiz and learned about the importance of a good moisturizer and got a ‘first look’ at the new spring fashions. Chris had taken Peter’s hand in his and was studying it. Melissa put down the magazine.

“I checked him for bedsores – he’s clean.”

“Good. Does he ever get out of the bed?”

“I think they sit him up sometimes.”

“I mean outside, to sit in the sun, or something.”

“I don’t know,” Melissa said. “I know there’s a sun room that looks out over the back lawn, but I don’t know whether the bed-ridden patients get to utilize it.”

“They should,” Chris said. He studied Peter’s nails. Shaking off the question of how Peter had gotten dirt under his nails, Chris said, “What are you doing tomorrow?”

“I’m working a double,” Melissa said. “Late shift tonight and early tomorrow.”

“Oh.”

“Why did you ask?”

“I thought you and John could come over. Our kids somehow became friends, which is a little deja vu. I could grill burgers or something. But you’ll probably be too tired when you get off.”

“Probably,” Melissa said, “but I don’t care. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had adult entertainment?”

Chris raised an eyebrow and Melissa blushed. She slapped Chris’ hand.

“Not like that!”

“I’m not judging,” Chris said.

Melissa kicked out and caught Chris’ ankle with the toe of her sneaker when he wasn’t fast enough jerking his leg out of the way.

“Alright.” Melissa hopped out of the chair. “I’ll leave you two alone. I need to get some sleep this afternoon, but if I leave now I’ll have time to throw together a potato salad for tomorrow.”

“Your mother’s potato salad?” Chris couldn’t hide his delight.

“You know it.” Melissa gave Chris a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Me, too,” Chris said.

Melissa dropped the magazine in Chris’ lap before she left.

“Thanks,” Chris said dryly.

“You’re welcome!”

Week One: Sunday

Allison went to Lydia’s to study, but came home early to help Chris prepare for their guests. The doorbell rang half an hour early and Allison blushed before offering to get the door. Chris understood why when she reappeared with Scott, who carried the promised bowl of potato salad.

“Hello, Mr. Argent,” Scott said.

“Hello, Scott. Would you like me to put that in the refrigerator?”

“Yeah, I guess. Mom’s coming straight from work.”

Scott handed over the bowl and fidgeted while Chris placed it in the fridge. “Um, I wanted to thank you. For what you did Friday night.”

“You’re welcome, Scott. I want to thank you, too.”

Scott’s face screwed up. “For what?”

“For letting us help you. Not everyone would’ve understood why it was necessary.” Chris squeezed Scott’s shoulder. “You did a good thing.”

Chris figured a little positive reinforcement couldn’t hurt. Scott looked confused by the compliment, but Allison beamed. Making Allison happy was just a bonus.

Allison took Scott to her room (“We’ll leave the door open, I know, dad!”) and Chris checked the time left on the beans. He set out hot dogs and formed hamburger patties. Once the meat was ready to go Chris started a fire in the grill he’d already filled with charcoal. He got out a beer and sat on the enclosed back porch watching the grill until the doorbell rang.

Chris answered the door and sent Stiles upstairs to join Allison and Scott. He had John set the tossed salad (and low fat dressing) on the island and got another beer out of the refrigerator. John waited until they were both seated on the enclosed porch to ask how things had gone Friday night.

“Derek was right about the cell holding,” Chris said. “The hardest part was convincing Scott to miss a lacrosse scrimmage and a party.” Chris would give John more details when he didn’t have to worry whether Scott would overhear them. Instead he said, “How are you at construction?”

John raised an eyebrow. “You already want to do renovations?”

“I think Derek’s living at the Hale house.”

“Aww, hell.”

Chris nodded. Before he could say anything more his cell rang. He looked at John before answering it. “Hey, Mel.”

“She’s on her way,” Chris said after he ended the call. He stood and slipped the phone back into his pocket. “I’m going to put the meat on.”

Chris carried out the tray of meat and two fresh bottles of beer. John stood at the grill with him and they talked about the changes to Beacon Hills since they’d been in high school after Chris mentioned that Melissa had taken him to the new coffee shop across from the hospital.

Melissa appeared around the house. “Look who I found out front!” she said, indicating Derek. “I hope it’s okay we came straight back here; Derek heard you outside.”

“Of course,” Chris said. He set down the fork he’d used to roll the dogs and crossed the lawn to greet Melissa with a hug. “It’s great to see you again, Mel.”

Melissa hugged Chris back as if they hadn’t just seen each other yesterday, then went over to John. Chris extended his hand to Derek. “Glad you could make it, Derek.”

Derek’s jaw worked, but eventually he took Chris’ hand. “Thank you for the invitation.”

“Come on over,” Chris said to Derek, then included Melissa. “What can I get you two to drink?”

“I’ll have what you’re having,” Melissa said.

“Derek?”

John spoke before Derek could answer. “I hate to put my Sheriff hat on today, but how old are you son?”

Derek looked surprised and lost some of the constipated expression he’d worn. “Um, I’m twenty-two, sir. But I don’t drink beer anyway. It, uh, doesn’t affect me and I don’t like the taste.”

Chris returned with a beer for Melissa and a root beer for Derek. Melissa took a sip and sighed.

“If I fall asleep, just cover me with a blanket and leave me where I fall.”

“You work too hard,” John said.

“Pot, kettle,” Melissa said. “Besides, I don’t have much of a choice.” Her lips went momentarily tight. “But this is a work-free zone! Let’s talk about anything else.”

“Like what?” Chris said, returning to the grill.

“I don’t know. Books, movies, baseball. Is it even baseball season?”

“No,” Derek said, surprising everyone, including himself. He shrugged. “I tried to keep up with the Angels when we were in New York.”

“I’m a Dodgers fan myself,” John said, “but at least you like a California team. My son likes the Mets.”

“Blasphemy,” Derek said.

John raised his bottle to Derek. “You understand.”

Chris transferred the burgers and hot dogs to the platter. Derek looked like he wanted to run away, but Melissa slipped her arm through his and drew him towards the house. She glanced at Derek’s root beer and said, “I wonder if Scott knows he’s going to be the permanent designated driver now?”

Chris set the platter on the island next to the buns. They danced around each other getting the salad and condiments out of the fridge, the beans out of the oven, and serving spoons out of the drawer, but soon everything was set out on the island.

“Alright,” Melissa said, “everyone stand back.” She called up the stairs that the food was ready and it soon sounded as if there was a stampede of buffalo coming down the stairs towards the kitchen.

Allison came into the kitchen first, with Scott and Stiles behind her. The two boys were shoving each other until the food came into view.

“Load up your plates,” Chris said, though he didn’t need to because they made a beeline for the island.

Stiles tripped over his own feet when he saw Derek. “Heyyy, Derek. I didn’t know you were going to be here.” Stiles glanced warily at his dad. “So, you know Derek?”

Chris couldn’t tell if Stiles was asking because of his crush, or because he actually thought John didn’t know about werewolves.

“I know Derek,” John said, “but not as well as I knew his uncle. We all went to school with Peter.”

Chris refused to squirm even though Allison gave him a look at John’s revelation. “What do you guys want to drink?” he said, changing the subject.

“Can I have a beer?” Stiles said.

“Can I have an eclair?” John said.

“Never!”

“Same.”

Stiles took an orange soda, Scott and Allison both took a cola and gave each other a look as if their choice in beverage meant their love was fated. Chris held back a sigh.

The kids took their plates into the living room and put on a movie. The adults filled their plates and sat around the kitchen table.

“Did you see Peter this morning?” Melissa said.

“Yes.” Chris took a bite of his burger to cover his discomfort. It was one thing to talk to Melissa or John about Peter because they’d all known each other in high school, and they had been the only two to know about their relationship. But Allison didn’t know about Peter, and Derek didn’t know about their relationship.

Once Chris had recovered himself, he said, “It’s weird, but I think he looks better than earlier in the week.”

“It’s not weird,” Melissa said. “He’s got people who love him here and he can probably sense that.”

Melissa placed one hand on Derek’s arm and Chris was glad he was across the table so she couldn’t do the same to him, and include him in the same group as someone who loved Peter. Not that he hadn’t, didn’t still; he just wasn’t ready to think about it.

“Speaking of Peter,” Chris said. “Have you had a chance to check out Nurse Jennifer?” he asked Derek.

“No. She’s always just left whenever I’m there.”

“Interesting,” Chris said. “Maybe she doesn’t want you to see her.”

Chris was reminded that he hadn’t had the opportunity to surveil Nurse Jennifer yet, and further reminded that he hadn’t checked the hunters database for the time around the fire.

“Melissa already knows,” Chris said, “but I told Allison about werewolves yesterday. And about hunters.”

“How’d she take it?” John said.

“Better than I had a right to expect, probably. I think she’s still processing it.”

“She’s not afraid of Scott,” Derek said. “I can, um, tell,” he said uncomfortably when they all stared at him.

“Good.” Chris ignored the looks he got from John and Melissa.

Chris stood and carried his plate to the sink. He offered seconds to the others before finding plastics for the beans and the few leftover burgers. Chris put everything in the fridge. Melissa came over to help.

“So, Stiles and Derek?” Melissa said as she covered what remained of the tossed salad.

Chris glanced over to the table where John had engaged Derek in talk about the upcoming baseball season. They both appeared to be absorbed in the conversation, but Derek was very deliberately not looking their way and the tips of his ears were pink.

“No accounting for taste,” Chris said, just to see Derek’s reaction.

Derek’s eyes must’ve flashed blue, because John said, “You okay, son?”

Chris missed Derek’s answer because Melissa snorted and said, “Please. He wouldn’t be the first person to fall for a Hale boy. Wouldn’t even be the first person in this room.”

Chris should’ve known the conversation would’ve taken that turn, but he hadn’t been expecting it. Which is why his cheeks heated up. Chris didn’t want to, but he had to know whether Derek had cottoned on to Melissa’s comment. When Chris glanced over, Derek was staring at him. Chris raised an eyebrow, but Derek’s gaze remained leveled at him.

“I’ll go gather the kids’ plates,” Chris said.

“You do that,” Melissa said.

“What just happened?” John said behind him.

Chris didn’t know what Melissa might tell him, and he didn’t stick around to find out. “I’m just here to collect plates,” he said as he entered the living room. “I don’t want to know what’s going on in here.”

“Dad,” Allison said, caught between a giggle and embarrassment.

Chris collected the plates off the coffee table and returned to the kitchen. Melissa had started to wash the dishes, which Chris was glad for because it gave him a reason to ignore John and Derek for the moment.

“Mel, you don’t have to do that.”

“I don’t mind. Besides, I feel like I owe you.” Melissa grimaced.

“Don’t be silly. Sit down and relax; you just got off a double shift. I’ll make coffee and then we’ll have dessert.”

“Dessert?” John said.

“Alli made an angel food cake berry trifle thing. It’s delicious.”

“Did someone say dessert? Is it a healthy dessert?”

John shook his head. “Kid’s got ears like a bat.”

“Because if it’s not a healthy dessert you’re not having it.”

“It’s got fresh berries in it,” Chris said.

“And even if it didn’t, I’d still have some.” John pointed a finger at Stiles. “Don’t. You owe me for that veggie burger.”

“That brand got five stars!”

“Out of what, twenty?”

Stiles squawked. “He’s got high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”

John scrubbed a hand over his face. “They don’t need to know my medical history.”

“Yes, they do, because then they’ll stop giving you dessert.”

“Go watch your movie, Stiles.”

“Dad.”

“Stiles.”

“Promise me.”

“I can promise that you’ll be grounded if you don’t leave this kitchen right now.”

Stiles actually looked like he might continue to argue, but he turned and stomped back to the living room. The kitchen was quiet and Chris sought for something to say. John beat him to it.

“He worries. After Claudia.”

Chris and Melissa reached out at the same time to touch John’s arm nearest them. After a moment of silence the three of them broke out in laughter.

Week Two: Monday

Monday morning was a bust. Chris had the names and ‘current’ addresses of two known arsonists, Jim Unger and Harry Reddick. Chris checked out their last known addresses and spoke to family and friends to no avail.

On top of that, Chris had uncovered bad news when he’d checked the hunter’s database the night before, after everyone had left and Allison was in her room doing homework. The database had been created so the hunter network had up-to-date information about werewolf (and other supernatural creatures) activity across the country at any given time.

The database was set up so you could search by date, town, hunter family, and type of supernatural creature. Chris started his search with the date of the fire and further filtered it by including Beacon Hills in the town column. That search came up empty, which wasn’t a surprise – it was unlikely that a hunter would take credit for doing something that so horribly violated the code.

Chris removed the date filter and scrolled back six years. He was unsurprised to discover that there had been more incidents logged in the years since the fire than there had been in the same number of years before it. That’s what happened when you removed a stable pack that defended their own territory without the need for hunters.

Nor was Chris surprised to note that both Gerard and Kate had returned to Beacon Hills a bunch of times since Chris had left and the Argent family had moved. So had some of their allies in the hunter community. All of Gerard’s visits to Beacon Hills just happened to coincide with Chris being sent on hunts far away from California.

No hunters had logged any incidents in Beacon Hills in the months on either side of the date of the fire. Chris was sure a hunter was responsible for the deaths of almost an entire family due to the use of mountain ash, but no one had claimed responsibility. The fact that it had been done by a rogue hunter (singly or as a team) made Chris’ job even harder.

Now Chris stopped at Espresso Yourself for a cup of coffee on his way to Beacons Crossing. He called John to update him on the fruitless search for Unger and Reddick before getting out of the Tahoe. Derek appeared beside Chris when he stepped up onto the sidewalk.

Chris knew Derek could hear the way his heart had started galloping, but he merely said, “Following me?”

Derek glared at Chris. Or maybe just looked at him. “I just passed you on the street.”

“What do you want?” Chris said amiably.

“We need to talk about Scott.”

“What about Scott?” Chris’ stomach dropped at the thought that Scott might’ve done something after he’d left the house last night.

Derek gave Chris a look. “He needs training.”

“I agree. So what’s the problem?”

Derek growled low in his throat. “The same problem we had on the full moon. Between school and lacrosse and work, Scott claims he doesn’t have time.”

“He needs to make time.”

“I know.”

Chris sighed. He should’ve known that Scott wouldn’t make things easy just because they’d gotten him safely locked up on Friday night. Or maybe because of it. Chris took out his phone and called Melissa.

“Hey,” Melissa answered breathlessly. “Something wrong?”

“No,” Chris said. “I’d like to talk to you about a training schedule for Scott. Do you have a few minutes for coffee? Or we could do it later . . .”

Chris ended the call with a bemused expression. Even though Derek had probably overheard Melissa’s eager acceptance, he said, “Melissa really likes this place.” Chris gestured towards the door. “Let’s get a table.”

Inside, Chris pointed out a table in the back corner. “I’ll order; you grab that table.” Chris snagged the arm of Derek’s too-big leather jacket when he turned to leave. “How do you like your coffee?”

Derek struggled with the answer. “I don’t like coffee,” he finally said.

“They’ve got other drinks,” Chris said, indicating the menu board. “Hot and cold tea, hot chocolate, smoothies . . .” Derek’s face did something at ‘hot chocolate’. “Hot chocolate it is. Save that table before someone else gets it.”

The place wasn’t busy, but Derek went to claim the table instead of arguing about the hot chocolate. Chris ordered their drinks and added some freshly baked biscotti to the order. Melissa arrived just in time for Chris to hand off her coffee and Derek’s hot chocolate to her. Chris carried over his coffee and the plate of cookies.

When Chris reached the table, Derek was trying to glare at the hot chocolate and not-glare at Melissa. It was kind of hilarious.

“What’s up?” Melissa said, unselfconsciously taking a cookie off the plate and dunking it into her coffee.

“Scott’s being . . . recalcitrant about training. I know he’s busy with school and lacrosse and work . . .” Chris ignored the growl Derek aimed at his hot chocolate. “. . . but he can’t put this off.”

“He shouldn’t even be playing lacrosse until he can control himself,” Derek said.

Melissa took a sip of coffee and let out a breath. “Alright, fill me in.”

“He could hurt someone,” Derek said. “Someone doesn’t pass him the ball and he gets angry. Or someone hits him hard and he gets angry . . .”

“So anger is the problem?”

“The problem is that he’s going to be angry all the time until he learns how to control it.”

Melissa shook her head. “Having a teenaged boy was bad enough without this.”

“He shouldn’t be playing lacrosse,” Chris said, “but maybe we can use it as an incentive. He can keep playing if he trains.” Chris forestalled Derek’s protest. “But he’ll have to train hard the first week. Before and after school and on the weekend.”

“What about work?” Melissa said.

“I’ll talk to Deaton,” Chris said. “Maybe Scott can go in later, or take the week off. Hopefully he’ll have enough control after this week to cut down on the number of training sessions.”

“Sounds good,” Melissa said. “You want me to break it to him?”

For the first time Derek smiled. It was all teeth. “I’ll do it.”

“Don’t have too much fun at his expense,” Melissa said dryly. “He’s still my little boy.”

Chris, who’d sat with Scott on the full moon thought it would be okay if Derek had a little bit of fun.

They walked out together when Melissa’s break was over. Chris gave her a hug and watched her cross the street. He caught Derek’s arm before he could walk away. “I’ll meet you at the school later.”

Derek gave a short nod and walked away. Chris wondered if he’d ever be able to view Derek as a danger after having seen him with a whipped cream mustache. Chris shook it off and got in the Tahoe to make the drive to the animal clinic.

~*~

Alan Deaton was in with a patient when Chris arrived, so he gave his name to the receptionist and took a seat in the waiting area. One of the dogs, a German Shepherd puppy, came over to sniff his jeans and boots. A Boston Terrier barked at Chris, and a cat in a carrier yowled even though Chris had chosen a chair as far away from it as he could. Chris wondered if the animals smelled Derek on him.

Deaton came out with an older Greyhound and its owner. The receptionist told him that Chris was there, but Deaton had already taken note of the kerfuffle in the waiting room and Chris’ presence. Deaton gestured for Chris to come back with him.

“I’d heard you were back in town,” Deaton said when he’d closed the office door behind them.

“You guys have a newsletter, or something?”

Deaton gave Chris an placid look and said, “Or something.”

Chris wondered if Deaton was as unruffled as he appeared to be.

“What can I do for you?”

“Don’t tell me that it’s escaped your notice that one of your employees has been bitten by a werewolf.”

There was a flash of something in Deaton’s eyes, but he merely said, “Is that why you returned to Beacon Hills?”

“No,” Chris said shortly without elaborating. “Scott needs to be trained.”

Deaton raised an eyebrow. “You want me to train him?”

“No. I want you to allow him to start his shift later in the day, or give him a week off so he can be trained.”

“Oh, well, of course. If Scott can come in later, that would be the best option for me, otherwise I’ll have to find someone else to fill in.”

Chris gave Deaton a sharp nod of his head in acceptance. “Scott’s training begins today. I’ll let him know about the change in schedule.”

Chris turned to leave, but was stopped by Deaton’s voice. “Who’s going to be training Scott, if you don’t mind me asking? Satomi Ito?”

“It’s going to be a joint effort,” Chris said. Deaton would find out soon enough – Chris expected that Scott would be only too eager to spill the beans once he discovered that Deaton knew about werewolves – but for now he could stew.

~*~

Chris stopped by Beacons Crossing to see Peter. He took his coffee in with him even though it was edging towards lukewarm. He greeted Gail at the reception desk and signed in. Chris casually asked if Nurse Jennifer was in before heading to Peter’s room.

Chris told Peter about his lack of success finding Unger and Reddick, and the lack of information in the database. “Everyone I talked to said they hadn’t seen them, but I get the sense that they’re still hanging around town somewhere.” Chris sighed. “I’ll keep looking, but I think I need to switch my focus to the person who told them how to start a fire that burned that hot and fast.”

Unger and Reddick weren’t that sophisticated and Maring only slightly more so. Someone had to have given them the information – a chemist or an experienced arson investigator.

“But that’ll have to wait,” Chris said, pulling the battered paperback out of his pocket. “We left off with Caleb being kidnapped by a rival pack and used as bait to lure Damian in.”

Chris read the next chapter, then closed the book. “Did I tell you that a feral alpha bit the McCall boy? Melissa’s son. In what I’m sure you’ll find hilariously ironic, he and my daughter are dancing around each other. Yeah, yuck it up,” Chris said as if Peter had responded. “It’s only fair since I’m enjoying the hell out of the fact that John’s kid, Stiles, has a crush on your nephew Derek.”

Chris read another chapter before leaving Peter to meet Derek at the school. Chris touched the back of Peter’s hand, then leaned over him and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Peter.”

~*~

Derek stood on the sidelines, arms crossed over his chest as he glared at Scott on the practice field.

“What’s wrong?” Chris said.

Derek growled.

“I get it, you don’t like Scott playing, but what’s specifically wrong? And use your words.”

“He’s not even pretending to not have magically improved. The Whittemore kid has already confronted him about being on steroids.”

“How do you know that?”

Derek gave Chris a look that dared Chris to judge him and said, “I overheard Scott talking to Stiles.”

Chris didn’t say anything about Derek stalking Scott – he had the most to lose if Scott outed the existence of werewolves to the world. Derek stiffened and Chris turned his attention to the field where Scott was on his knees.

“What happened?”

“He’s shifting.” A low rumble sounded in Derek’s throat; a warning, a purr, Chris couldn’t tell. It was low enough that Chris only heard it because he was standing right next to him. On the field, though, Scott was staring at them, at Derek, so he must’ve heard it, too. Whatever the sound meant, it stopped Scott’s shift.

Scott rose to his feet and raised his hand to Derek.

Derek took a step towards the field and spoke in a normal tone. “Drop now.”

Scott looked confused, but dropped back to his hands and knees. A moment later, Whittemore, who’d been aiming for a distracted Scott, tripped over him and went down. Scott scrambled to his feet and looked at Derek wide-eyed. Derek raised an eyebrow at him.

Chris took a step forward when Whittemore jumped to his feet and turned on Scott. Chris let his ID badge show and calmly said, “I wouldn’t do that, son.”

Behind him, Chris heard Stiles cackle. “Oh my god, that was amazing, Derek!” On the sideline Finstock was blowing his whistle. Chris didn’t take his eyes off Whittemore. From where he stood Whittemore couldn’t see that the badge labeled Chris as a consultant. He glared at Scott, but took a step back.

“What was that about?” Allison said.

Chris gave Allison a hug and a kiss on the head. “You tell me. Does the Whittemore kid have it in for Scott?”

“I’ve been here a week,” Allison pointed out.

“I’m sure you picked up something.”

Allison shrugged. “According to Lydia, Jackson was the best player last year. He probably didn’t expect to have any competition this year.”

Allison didn’t say it, but the fact that Scott was a relative nobody probably made it sting more. Chris remembered how cliquey high school had been.

“I need you to go straight home after practice,” Chris told Allison. “There’s something I want you to see.”

“I was going to study with . . .”

“Lydia? I’m sure she’ll understand that you have a family obligation.”

Allison blushed.

“Not Lydia?”

“Scott,” Allison admitted.

So much for not having time to train after practice, Chris thought. “Scott doesn’t know it yet, bu this plans have changed, too.” Chris patted Allison’s shoulder.

Allison returned to the bleachers and sat next to Lydia. Chris went back to stand beside Derek. “Stiles seemed impressed with the way you helped Scott at the Whittemore kid’s expense.”

Derek’s glare intensified. Chris remembered the whipped cream mustache and grinned.

The remainder of practice was uneventful. At least, until they informed Scott that he had training immediately following practice.

“I told you, I don’t have time!” Scott said.

“You need to make time,” Derek growled.

“You did,” Chris said, “but you apparently had time to study with Allison.”

Scott looked caught out.

“Besides, we – and by ‘we’, I mean myself, Derek, and your mother – made arrangements with Dr. Deaton for you to come in later, so you won’t have to miss work.”

Chris gave Scott a moment to take that in. “Get changed and meet us at the Hale house in the Preserve.” Chris turned away, then paused. “Do you need a ride?”

Stiles slung his arm across Scott’s shoulders. “I’ll drive him.”

Chris nodded, unsurprised. He recalled Whittemore on the field and Derek’s comment. “You boys do realize that you’re supposed to be keeping this whole thing a secret, right?”

“Of course!” Stiles said.

Chris turned away. He waved to Allison, who still sat on the bleachers with Lydia, and headed for the parking lot. Chris ignored Derek’s murder-face and clapped him on the shoulder. Derek stopped glaring daggers at Scott and walked with Chris.

“He’s new at this,” Chris said.

Derek’s expression turned constipated.

“Doesn’t mean you can’t throw him around a little bit at training.”

For just the second time since he’d met him less than a week ago, Derek smiled.

~*~

When Chris pulled up to the Hale house, both Derek’s Camaro and Stiles’ Jeep were already there.

“Oh my god!” Allison said when she got her first look at the burnt out hulk of the Hale house. “What . . . ?”

“This is where the Hale pack lived.”

“What are we doing here?”

Just then someone, probably Derek, roared.

“What the . . . !”

“Let’s go, we’re missing Scott’s first training session.”

Chris stopped beside Stiles, who was sitting on the hood of the Jeep. “What’s going on?”

“Derek’s pissing Scott off to see if he can retain control when he’s angry.”

“How’s that working?”

“Well, Derek’s doing a good job of making Scott angry.”

Chris snorted.

Allison stared at Scott. “Is that . . . ?”

“That’s the shift,” Chris said. “Only certain werewolves can achieve a full shift.”

“They look like they’re stuck halfway.”

Stiles laughed and held up his hand for a high-five, which Allison returned. “Also, their eyebrows disappear, which is really weird.”

On the lawn in front of them, Derek grabbed Scott when Scott charged him. He threw Scott on the ground and held him down, speaking to him softly enough that Chris couldn’t hear him. Scott was still shifted when Derek let him up, but he wasn’t trying to claw off Derek’s face.

“Why are we here?” Allison said.

“I told you that werewolves weren’t monsters, but I want you to be aware that they’re still very dangerous.”

“I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do!” Scott yelled.

“Especially when they haven’t learned control.” Chris left Allison with Stiles and strode over to Derek and Scott.

“You need an anchor,” Derek said. “Something that will bring you back.”

Scott glanced behind Chris.

“Not a person,” Derek growled.

“Why not?”

“Because if they leave you, you’re back to square one.”

“But . . .”

“What’s your anchor?” Stiles asked Derek.

Chris glanced over his shoulder to see that Stiles and Allison had followed him. He should’ve known they wouldn’t remain behind.

Derek ground his teeth and looked like he wasn’t going to answer. Finally he spat, “Anger.”

“Why?” Stiles glanced at the looming monument to the people who had lived and died there. “Never mind.”

“I don’t recommend anger,” Derek admitted. “When I was growing up we had a mantra. You should find something like that, something that works for you. A quote, a saying, a smell, a sound . . .”

“So it’s kinda like mediation,” Stiles said.

“It’s not mediation.”

“I said kind of like, asshat.”

Derek looked like he wanted to bite Stiles’ head off. Literally.

“How’s anger working for you now?” Chris said.

Derek turned his glare onto Chris, then visibly forced himself to relax. “Just fine.”

“Here’s one, Scott. I love myself. I honor myself. I respect my boundaries and trust myself. I know I am my best friend and biggest ally. I can do anything.

“I have to memorize all that?” Scott said, sounding appalled.

“How about I radiate beauty, charm and grace?”

Scott looked like he was considering it.

“You can’t just find it on the internet; it has to mean something.”

My body is healthy; my mind is brilliant; my soul is tranquil,” Stiles said.

Chris could hear Derek’s teeth grinding.

Stiles apparently could, as well. “That one could totally work! Scott is healthy now because of the bite and we want him to be tranquil.”

Derek ignored Stiles. “Scent is strongly connected to memory. Is there a scent you connect with a favorite memory? Your mother’s favorite perfume or flower?”

Scott shook his head. “No, nothing like that.”

Chris glanced at Allison to see if that statement had made her think of Victoria. Allison was looking worriedly at Stiles, who was staring at a patch of dirt in the middle of the lawn, his shoulders slumped. Of course, Claudia.

Chris tilted his head to Allison. She moved closer to Stiles and curled her arm through his. Stiles looked surprised by the gesture and straightened up as if he could hide his pain. Allison bent her head towards Stiles and said something Chris couldn’t hear. He imagined it was about Victoria. Chris turned his head away to give them both some privacy.

“Then what about sound?” Derek said through gritted teeth when Chris tuned back into their conversation. “The wind in the trees, water running over rocks, your favorite song . . .”

“Running water makes me have to pee,” Scott said.

Derek threw up his arms and stormed off.

Chris placed a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “You need to take this seriously, Scott.”

“I’m trying!”

“There is no try, there is only do,” Stiles intoned. Scott gave Stiles a confused look and Stiles said, “Seriously! You still haven’t seen ‘Star Wars’?”

Chris shook Scott to get his attention back on him. “When you’re angry you lash out; when you lash out as a werewolf you’re more likely to hurt or kill someone. If you hurt or kill someone, you bring a whole lot of hurt down on you and every other werewolf in this town.” Chris patted Scott’s shoulder as if he hadn’t just obliquely threatened him. “I’ll be right back.”

Chris made a lot of noise as he walked up behind Derek.

Derek glanced over his shoulder and snorted. “I’m not the one you need to be worried about.”

“I have a healthy respect for anyone with claws and fangs,” Chris said. He gave Derek a few moments to breathe and calm down before speaking further. “What’s the problem?”

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Derek admitted. “I’m a born wolf. Control took practice, but it was still instinctive. I don’t know how to teach control to a bitten wolf.”

“Hey!” Stiles said. “This might help. This website says, Exercise can help with anger. Bring down your general stress levels with exercise and relaxation. Running, walking, swimming, yoga and meditation . . . Ha!” he directed at Derek before continuing. “. . . are just a few activities that can reduce stress.

Chris glanced at Derek, who was actually smiling again. A shiver slid down Chris’ spine as he recalled the kind of stupid ideas Peter came up with when he smiled like that.

“I don’t know shit about mediation,” Derek said as he removed his leather jacket, “but exercise I can do.”

Scott groaned. Stiles looked so excited that Chris thought he might piss himself.

Week Two: Tuesday

“What are you going to do about Stiles’ crush?” Chris said the next morning as he and Derek drove out to Satomi’s place.

“Nothing,” Derek growled, glaring so fiercely at the side window Chris was surprised it didn’t shatter.

“Probably a good idea,” Chris said. “We’ve got a lot on our plate right now.” Training Scott, keeping an eye out for the alpha that bit him, and solving a six-year old arson slash homicide case.

“He’s sixteen,” Derek said.

Chris imagined Allison having a crush on Derek instead of Scott. “Yeah, okay, you’ve got a point. Still, you’re going to have to say something at some point, let him down easy if you’re not interested . . .”

“It won’t come to that,” Derek said. “It never does.”

Derek clammed up and refused to say anything else until they arrived at Satomi’s compound. Derek sat up straight, on alert, when they turned down the long driveway. Chris couldn’t see them, but he knew they were being watched by Derek’s reaction.

Satomi stood serenely in front of the mid-sized building that served as a smokescreen. It was the public gathering place – where Satomi received delegations from other packs or hunter families – but no one lived there. The actual homes of the pack members formed a half-circle around this spot, trails leading to them through the trees like spokes on a wheel.

Chris had never seen them, but he knew the werewolves would be gone, dispersing into the trees, disappearing before hunters ever got near them. He killed the engine and got out of the car. When he reached her, Chris offered Satomi a formal bow and said, “Ohayo gozaimasu, Ito-san.”

Satomi returned the bow and greeted both Chris and Derek. “The Argents have returned to Beacon Hills?” she said.

“Just me and my daughter, Allison,” Chris said.

“What are you hunting?”

“I’m not hunting anything; I don’t do that anymore.”

Satomi studied Chris, as if checking for the lie in his words. “Until you do,” she finally said, enigmatic. “What is it you need from me?”

“A boy was bitten. We need help training him to control the wolf,” Chris said.

“We?” Satomi turned to Derek. “Why can’t you do it?”

“I was born a wolf,” Derek said. “I don’t know how to teach Scott what he needs to know. Maybe . . .”

Satomi waited patiently, not rushing Derek.

“He needs a pack.”

“Scott McCall already has a pack,” Satomi said. “Yours.”

Derek shook his head. “Scott’s not part of my pack. I don’t . . .”

Chris jumped in. “We think Scott was bitten by a feral alpha, a rogue. We’re keeping an eye out for it, but we don’t even know if it’s still around.”

“There are no new werewolves in town, aside from Derek, who cannot be considered new,” Satomi said.

“And Laura was here,” Derek said.

“Yes,” Satomi said sadly. “Have you seen Peter?”

Chris wasn’t surprised that mention of Laura brought Peter to mind. “Yes, we both have.”

“And how is he?”

“Still in a coma,” Chris said.

“Is that so?” Before Chris could respond, Satomi asked what Scott’s schedule was.

Derek grumbled under his breath when Chris mentioned lacrosse practice.

“Bring the boy to me today after practice. You come, too,” Satomi told Derek.

“I already have control.”

“That does not mean you have nothing to learn,” Satomi said. “I can teach you what you need to know to teach Scott, or anyone else, yourself. Also, you carry too much anger; it isn’t good for you.”

Satomi didn’t wait for Chris or Derek to respond. She bowed and said, “I will see you later, then,” before turning away to enter the building behind her.

The two wolves who’d stood at Satomi’s back stared at Chris and Derek until they both got into the Tahoe and drove away. Chris thought Satomi was right about Derek and anger, but he was smart enough to not say that out loud.

“She’s right about one thing. Knowing how to teach control to a bitten werewolf might come in handy later on.” Chris ignored the low growl he got in response. “I’m going to visit Peter. You want to come with?”

“No.” Derek eventually added, “I’ll go later.”

“I’m going to try and surveil Nurse Jennifer tonight.”

Derek had staked out Beacons Crossing the night before, but Nurse Jennifer had been a no-show, even though she was supposedly on shift. Chris wondered how she was able to avoid Derek every time he stopped by. Was it possible she could sense Derek because he was a werewolf, and so stayed away? Or maybe she could hide her own presence from a werewolf. Which meant she was something, but what?

Chris stopped by Espresso Yourself and bought two coffees. Derek refused the offer of a hot chocolate and said he’d walk from there.

Chris confirmed that Derek was going to pick up Scott after lacrosse practice and drive him out to Satomi’s. Chris waited until he’d entered the coffee shop to smile at the sour look Derek had given him before agreeing.

“What’s this for?” Melissa said when Chris handed her a cup a few minutes later.

“It would’ve been rude to drink mine in front of you.” Chris took a sip of his own coffee.

“Damn right,” Melissa said. She took a sip and closed her eyes to savor the taste.

Chris told Melissa that Satomi had agreed to help teach Scott how to control the wolf. Before he left, Chris said, “Have you ever met Peter’s nurse, Jennifer?”

“No, I can’t say I have. Why?”

Chris shrugged. “Something feels off about her. I’ve only seen her twice, and she always manages to disappear when Derek shows up. I was just curious what your take on her was.”

Chris kissed Melissa’s cheek and let her get back to work. He visited Peter and read some more of the book to him. Chris told Peter about Satomi’s offer to help Scott, and how she might also help Derek. Chris sat in silence for a few minutes, wondering whether Peter would ever wake up.

Peter was a werewolf, which made it strange that his burns hadn’t healed, especially after six years. It was also odd that Peter had fallen into a coma. His body should’ve healed and woken. It was as if something was impeding his healing, but what? Chris didn’t have access to all of the hunter resources, and there were few that he’d trust with information about Peter’s health, which meant he’d probably have to ask Deaton.

Then again, maybe not. Whoever was theoretically poisoning Peter knew he was a werewolf and knew how to use substances that could harm werewolves. Deaton was one person who knew and could just as easily use his knowledge to hurt a werewolf as to help.

Chris leaned over Peter before he left. He brushed back Peter’s hair and once again hoped that the scars no longer caused Peter pain. “I miss you, Peter. I’m sorry . . . I’m sorry I wasn’t here.”

~*~

Chris picked up groceries on the way home. He was more of a steak man, but Allison had started eating lighter fare so Chris picked up haddock and a variety of fresh vegetables for roasting. He added a baking potato to the basket for himself.

At home Chris pulled up the search program he hadn’t deleted from his laptop when he’d retired from hunting. The first name he entered was Nurse Jennifer’s. Chris scrolled through the information that came up – Jennifer had a social security number, a credit card and a bank account, a library card and a savings card for the local grocery store, but the address on all of them was from another state.

Convenient if you weren’t on the up-and-up and didn’t want anyone to find out where you lived so they could stake out your place. As someone who had come up with fake identities before, Chris could recognize one that someone else was using. He ran Nurse Jennifer’s name through the DMV database and came up with nothing. Either she didn’t own a car, or she’d registered it under a different name.

Chris set that information aside and entered Unger’s and Reddick’s names into the program. If either of them had applied for a credit card or created a Facebook account with their real name, Chris would know about it. He could’ve done this same search on the Sheriff Department computer, but despite having gotten Myers’ statement on the record before they set him up in a safe house they were still keeping this investigation on the down-low.

John was worried that word would get out about the investigation before they wrapped up the person ultimately responsible for the fire. Chris was worried about the same, but for a different reason – he didn’t know who in the Sheriff Department could be trusted. Just for shits and giggles, Chris ran the names of all the deputies through the hunter network of confidential informants, which existed so they knew who their allies were in each town they visited.

If the deputies were all clean, Chris would try the clerks and other civilian employees. The inside source didn’t need to be a deputy to have access to information that would be helpful to hunters.

Chris sighed when everyone came back clean. That was enough to raise a red flag in a town like Beacon Hills, where werewolves had existed for generations. Gerard wouldn’t have left Beacon Hills without leaving at least one informant behind. Was it possible that someone was keeping the source in their back pocket? Chris could only think of nefarious reasons why someone would do that.

The Argents had been responsible for Beacon Hills for years, before and after they’d lived there. Did Gerard have a source in the Beacon County Sheriff Department? Did they know Chris was trying to find out who was responsible for the fire?

~*~

Chris parked a mile down the road and walked to Beacons Crossing. He stayed hidden in the shadows near the tree line. Even though Nurse Jennifer supposedly didn’t own a car, Chris made a note of the plates on all the cars in the lot so he could run them later.

Visiting hours ended and a few of the cars that had been in the parking lot left. The rest must belong to staff. Chris had been keeping an eye on the front door and Nurse Jennifer had neither entered nor exited since he’d been there. Unsurprising, since she’d presumably been inside before he’d arrived, her shift having started at four o’clock.

Derek appeared next to Chris at eleven. “No activity in the back.”

Chris waited until his heart slowed back down to say, “How was training?”

Derek’s answer was a snarl.

After a moment of silently staring at the front door, Derek said, “Why are we doing this again?”

“Just a feeling,” Chris said. “Did you ever wonder why Peter didn’t heal, didn’t wake up?”

“Yes,” Derek said after a hesitation.

“Have you ever heard of a werewolf that scarred instead of healing completely? Who was in a coma for six years?”

“No.”

“Me neither,” Chris said.

“Do you think this Nurse Jennifer has something to do with it?”

“I think she knows Peter’s a werewolf and that I’m a hunter. Ex-hunter. I just haven’t figured out yet what she is.”

Week Two: Wednesday

When Chris checked his laptop the next morning he’d gotten a hit on Reddick. A cousin had mentioned a girlfriend in a Facebook post. Chris did a search on her name and found a local address.

Chris called John. “You want to do this quietly or officially?”

“Both,” John said.

Chris was sent in first to make sure Reddick was there; if he was, then John would take him in for questioning. Chris had been parked down the street from Carol Shultz’s house for an hour when Derek opened the passenger-side door and slid into the seat.

“You need to stop doing that.”

Derek stared blankly at Chris, but his entire body still managed to radiate amusement.

“You wanna go knock on the door and get a positive ID?”

Chris would’ve done it, but he’d been seen by most of Reddick’s friends and family, so the man probably had his description. They didn’t want him to run before John could get there.

Chris watched Derek knock on the door and speak to whoever answered. Chris couldn’t get a good enough look to see if it was Reddick or Shultz. The door opened wider and Reddick appeared standing over Shultz in a defensive posture. Derek immediately held up both hands and stepped back.

Chris continued to watch Reddick (who kept an eye on Derek until he’d walked far enough down the sidewalk to no longer be a threat) while he called John. Derek took a route in the opposite direction from the Tahoe and didn’t even look back in Chris’ direction. Moments later he slipped into the SUV. They kept watch to make sure Reddick didn’t rabbit before John arrived.

Ten minutes later two Sheriff Department vehicles approached the house, one from either end of the street. John parked the cruiser so that it blocked the driveway. Valerie Clarke got out of the passenger side. She and John met Tara Graeme at the front of the SUV.

After a short discussion, Deputy Graeme drew her service weapon and went around the side of the house in case Reddick tried to escape through the back door or a window. John and Deputy Clarke approached the front door.

Chris held his breath when John knocked and announced himself.

“I’ll catch him if he runs,” Derek said.

Chris really hoped, for his own sake, that Reddick didn’t try to run.

In the end they were both worried for nothing because Reddick went with John without a fuss. Turns out he was high on marijuana, which meant he probably would’ve surrendered even if he’d known that the Sheriff had reopened the Hale fire case.

John maneuvered a handcuffed Reddick into the squad car and gave Chris the ‘OK’ signal before sliding into the driver’s seat.

“Want me to drop you anywhere?” Chris said to Derek as he started the engine.

“No.” Derek pushed open the door, then paused. “I’m going to run over to Beacons Crossing, see if I can spot Nurse Jennifer before she realizes I’m there. Maybe the car is what gives me away.”

“Maybe,” Chris said. It would make more sense than Nurse Jennifer knowing about werewolves and hunters, the Hales and Argents specifically, and being the reason Peter wasn’t healing.

Chris waited until Derek had disappeared into someone’s back yard before pulling away from the curb and following the two BCSD vehicles back to the Sheriff Department.

~*~

Reddick was already seated in the interrogation room when Chris stepped into the building. John saw him and waved Chris into his office.

“I think I got a contact high just riding here with him,” John said after informing Chris that Reddick had been smoking marijuana.

“What you’re saying is we shouldn’t question him now,” Chris said.

“Not if we want anything he says to hold up.”

“What about non-substantive questions?”

“Like where his buddy Jim Unger is?” John said.

“Just like.”

Chris watched from the observation room as John carried a water bottle into the interrogation room. John waited until Reddick drank half the bottle to Mirandize him, just to be safe. Reddick agreed that he understood his rights and asked if he could get anything to eat.

John said, “We’ll see about getting you a bag of chips or something.”

Reddick slid deeper into the chair. “That would be awesome, man.”

Reddick eventually told John where Unger could be found, but only after John assured Reddick that they merely needed Unger’s help finding someone. Unfortunately, Reddick only had the location of an ampm convenience store where they met up occasionally.

“We’ll canvas the area,” John told Chris. “Maybe stake out the convenience store.”

Chris was glad to hand over the grunt work to John and his deputies; he’d be busy with his own stakeout.

“Meanwhile,” John said, “Mr. Reddick will sleep it off in a holding cell and we’ll question him later.”

~*~

Chris picked up lunch and went to visit Peter.

“Maybe the scent of real food will make you want to wake up,” Chris said as he ate a French fry. “The diner still makes a damned good milkshake,” he said after taking a pull of the still-thick drink through the straw.

“Do you remember,” Chris said. He paused as the memory assailed him. “Remember that time we went to the diner with John and Claudia and Melissa and . . . ? I can’t remember who Melissa was dating at the time.” (It hadn’t been the man she’d ended up marrying; she’d met Rafe when she was in nursing school and he was pre-law.)

Chris and Peter couldn’t be seen in public together unless they were with a group of friends lest word get back to Gerard. They’d sat in the large, circular booth in the back corner with at least one person between them so it didn’t look like they were there as more than two parts of the whole, but they still managed to play footsie under the table.

After hanging out at the diner this particular time, Peter had taken Chris to the Preserve, to a spot very few people knew about. He’d carried a blanket and they’d lain on the forest floor, gazing at the moon through a hole in the canopy. It had been very romantic.

The night had gotten even better when Peter reached into his front pocket and produced a tube of lube. They’d gotten so mussed it had necessitated a stop at a gas station rest room to sort themselves out before they went home.

That single memory brought forth others, and Chris asked Peter if he recalled the time they’d both supposedly gone to the prom stag and snuck out halfway through. Or the time Peter had pretended to be having a hard time in chemistry so that Mrs. Olsen asked Chris to tutor him, which gave them an excuse to spend more time together in school.

“Who ever thought we’d end up here?”

Chris had tried to live in the moment and not think about the future. About what would happen if (when) Gerard found out about them. About how the son of a hunter could ever make a life with a werewolf.

“I wish . . .”

Chris shook his head and didn’t finish the thought. What was the point? He dumped his trash and washed his hands. Chris pulled out the book as he settled back in the chair. “We’re almost done with this one; just a few more chapters.”

Chris made a mental note to pick up another book and started to read.

~*~

“Another stakeout?” Allison said.

“Yes.” Chris slid the gun into the holster. “Stay home and keep the doors locked.”

Allison rolled her eyes. “I will. So what’s going on at Beacons Crossing? Someone stealing drugs to sell, or something?”

“No,” Chris said. He hesitated, but couldn’t think of a good reason to not tell her. “There’s a nurse there who felt . . . off. ‘Hair standing up on the back of your neck’ off.”

“You think she’s a werewolf?”

“No. I think she’s something else. I just don’t know what, yet.”

“How did you run into this nurse?”

“She’s Peter Hale’s nurse,” Chris said, not looking at Allison.

“Peter Hale,” Allison repeated. “One of the survivors of the fire?”

“Yes.”

“Derek’s uncle.”

“Yes,” Chris said again, this time more strained.

“The same Peter you went to high school with.”

“Do you have a point?” Chris said.

Allison shook her head. “What happened to him?”

“He was burned pretty badly,” Chris said. “He’s been in a coma for six years.”

“Oh my god.”

“Yeah. Stay safe.”

“Me? You be careful!”

“I will. And no Scott when I’m not here. I mean it – he’s training, but not until I’m sure he’s got control and won’t accidentally hurt you.”

“I promise,” Allison said.

~*~

Chris had been staking out Beacons Crossing for a couple of hours when Nurse Jennifer suddenly appeared in front of him. He had neither seen nor heard her approach. Chris reflexively reached for his gun, but Nurse Jennifer blew a smokey substance into his face and everything went black.

~*~

Chris didn’t know how much later it was when he woke up. The first thing he realized was that he’d been relocated because he could see the moonlight filtering through the tree canopy above him. The second was that he couldn’t move.

Chris turned his head, hoping that his limbs weren’t paralyzed from whatever Nurse Jennifer had dosed him with. What he discovered didn’t make him feel any better. He was tied to a flat surface with what appeared to be vines. Chris tugged at the restraints, but he was so thoroughly tied down that he couldn’t get any leverage. He couldn’t even manage to loosen the vine around his wrists by sawing his hand back and forth, she’d been that thorough.

“It’s unfortunate that you showed up in Beacon Hills when you did.”

Chris turned his head to see Nurse Jennifer standing at his right next to the . . . whatever he was tied to. She looked nothing like a nurse now. More surprising, though, was the fact that Peter was with her.

“Peter?” Chris said.

“He can’t hear you,” Nurse Jennifer said blithely.

Peter didn’t speak or acknowledge Chris in any way. Chris realized that Peter was standing frozen, like a mannequin. He stared straight ahead, unseeing, as if he was still catatonic. “What did you do to him?”

Nurse Jennifer’s smile sent a shiver down Chris’ back. She reached out to pet Peter. Though it was slight, Chris thought he saw a reaction as Peter, still frozen in place, flinched. Or gave the impression of it.

“I’ve put a lot of time and effort into my plan and I’m afraid I can’t let you screw it up now.”

“What plan?”

“Do I really look like the type to spill all my secrets?”

“Most villains like to monologue,” Chris said.

“I’m not the villain here!” Nurse Jennifer shrieked.

Chris thought he saw Peter’s eyes move. “Peter!” he said urgently. “Peter, please wake up. I don’t know what she’s done to you, but fight it!”

Nurse Jennifer didn’t look the slightest bit fazed by Chris’ attempts to reach Peter. She petted Peter again. “Unfortunately for you, Peter can’t fight. He’s mine. My . . . tool. You should’ve stayed away just a little bit longer. It’s a shame that your daughter is going to lose both parents.”

“No!” Chris strained against the vines even though he knew it was useless.

Nurse Jennifer ignored Chris’ struggles. “I know you don’t believe it, but we’re on the same side, you and I. You, a hunter . . .”

Ex-hunter,” Chris barked.

“. . . and me a, well, someone looking for revenge.”

“Peter,” Chris said. “Don’t let her do this. Please.”

“Oh, I’m not going to do anything,” Nurse Jennifer said. She drew a handful of powder out of a pouch and blew it into Peter’s face.

Almost immediately Peter began to change, his body twisting as he transformed into a full wolf. A horribly misshapen wolf with bright red eyes. Holy crap! Chris thought. Peter was the alpha! If this was what had bitten Scott, Chris didn’t blame him for calling it a monster. Peter looked nothing like the regal full-wolf Chris had been privileged to see just a handful of times.

“Your death won’t be for nothing,” Nurse Jennifer said with less care than someone would suggest throwing out an empty jar. She turned to Peter and said, “Kill him. Let his blood give life to the nemeton.”

The nemeton! That’s what Chris was tied to. “Peter, no!” Chris said. “Peter, wake up! Please, Peter!”

Peter tipped his head back and roared.

“Don’t do this Peter, please.”

Peter raised up to his full height and fell onto the stump Chris was tied to. He roared again and Chris was tempted to close his eyes against the foul breath, the saliva dripping onto his face. Chris forced himself to meet Peter’s red eyes.

“I forgive you,” Chris said. “When you break her control and remember this moment, I want you to also remember that it wasn’t your fault.”

“Enough!” Nurse Jennifer commanded. “Kill him. Now.”

Peter roared again. He lowered his head and snapped his jaws near Chris’ throat. Instead of biting him, tearing out his throat, however, Peter sniffed.

Chris tried one more time. “Peter, it’s me, Chris. Peter . . .”

Peter reared up onto his hind legs and roared up at the sky. When he came down he slashed at Chris with the claws on both front paws. Chris felt the sting of those claws as they bit into his arms, his chest. Chris tensed for the killing blow, all the while saying Peter’s name, hoping against hope that there was still a chance to get through to him.

Chris’ right arm came free, and then the left. The tightness around Chris’ chest lessened. Peter raised up with vines in his massive jaw and yanked them off of Chris.

“What are you doing?” Nurse Jennifer sounded angry, but there was also a hint of fear, as if she was just realizing that she might lose control of her ‘tool’.

Nurse Jennifer whipped out a handful of powder at the same time Peter struck out with a clawed paw. The powder fell harmlessly to the ground as a black maw opened in Nurse Jennifer’s throat. An invisible force sent Peter flying backwards through the air. He impacted a tree with a bone crunching thunk and crumpled to the ground at the base of it. Nurse Jennifer’s body slowly collapsed like a balloon that had been punctured and was losing air, a perpetual expression of surprise on her face.

“Peter!” Chris called. He tugged frantically at the remaining vines around his ankles. “Peter!”

Chris fell the first time he tried to stand, the blood rushing back into his extremities with the mother of all cases of pins and needles. He checked Nurse Jennifer first; because she was closest and Chris wanted to make sure she was dead and stayed that way.

Chris hobbled over to Peter and fell to his knees beside him. Peter had changed back, and in his human form looked limp and broken. Chris checked Peter’s pulse, but he was afraid to touch him otherwise in case he had a broken spine or something he’d make worse.

Chris checked his pockets for his cell phone, but of course Nurse Jennifer had removed it – along with his jacket and guns – before tying him to the nemeton. Chris didn’t expect that Peter had a cell phone, much less was carrying it in the pocket of the bathrobe that now lay in tatters. Chris went back over to check Nurse Jennifer’s pockets and found a phone. He swore when he realized that he hadn’t memorized John’s or Derek’s phone numbers. He called Allison instead.

“Hello?” Allison answered, sleepy and cautious.

“Alli, it’s dad.”

“Dad? Why are you . . . ?”

“Yes. Listen, I promise that I will tell you everything when I get home . . .” Chris was going to carefully edit it, though. “. . . but I need you to do something for me without asking any questions right now. It’s urgent. Call the Sheriff. Tell him to call me at this number, but just in case he can’t, tell him I’m in the Preserve. By the nemeton.”

“The nemeton?”

“Yes. And Alli, sweetheart, I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Make that call for me, please.”

Chris ended the call and tried not to think about the conversation he was going to have with Allison later. To distract himself, Chris felt Peter’s arms and legs and ribs for broken bones. He felt under Peter as far as he could without moving him too much.

When the phone rang Chris snatched it up. “John?”

“Chris! Allison called . . .”

Chris told John that Peter was hurt and Nurse Jennifer dead, and that he and Peter were at the nemeton. John agreed to get Derek and track them.

“Hurry,” Chris said.

Peter groaned.

Chris set the phone down and pressed his hand to Peter’s chest. “You’re hurt, Peter. Don’t move.”

“Chris?”

“Yes. I’m right here.”

“Wha’ ha–?”

“Most recently you got slammed into a tree by a death curse or something.”

“Death curses are real?” Peter said, speaking very slowly, as if he was having trouble remembering how to make his mouth work.

“Whatever it was, it was very real.”

Peter raised a hand to his head. “I don’t remember . . . How did I get here?”

“Peter,” Chris said. He took Peter’s hand and held it. “Don’t strain yourself.”

“I can’t remember anything. Why can’t I remember?”

Chris didn’t want Peter to get agitated about not being able to remember, so he gave him some information. “Peter, you’ve been in a coma.”

Peter gave Chris a familiar look of scorn. “Werewolves don’t fall into comas.”

“Yeah, I thought that was weird, too. Peter, it’s been six years.”

“What?” Peter struggled to sit up. “That’s impossible.”

“No, Peter, don’t. What if you’ve got . . . ?” Chris sighed and helped Peter sit up. He kept his arm around Peter’s back, telling himself that Peter needed the support.

“Who’s that?” Peter said when he caught sight of the body.

“She called herself Jennifer,” Chris said. “She was a nurse at Beacons Crossing, or posing as one. Your nurse.”

“Why’d she want to kill me?”

“She didn’t,” Chris said. “She wanted you to kill me.”

Peter looked shocked. “Why?”

“I might’ve been looking into her. There was just something off about her.”

“I guess your instincts were right.”

“This time,” Chris said.

“Yes, well, better late than never, right?” Before Chris could respond to that comment, Peter went on. “Why was I in a coma?”

“Peter . . .”

“Everything’s fuzzy, but I need to know . . . Don’t coddle me, Christopher.”

Chris swallowed hard. “There was a fire . . .”

That was all Chris had to say. Peter’s eyes went wide and he let out a keening wail. Chris wrapped Peter in his arms and held on to him while he grieved the loss of his family, his pack. Finally, when he could speak again, Peter said, “Was everyone . . . ?”

“Derek and Laura made it,” Chris said. “Apparently they weren’t home when the fire started.”

“Everyone else . . . ?”

“I’m so sorry, Peter.”

Peter tipped his head back and let out a howl that was full of anger and sorrow. Before the howl died away there was an answering howl. By the time Derek crashed into the clearing around the nemeton, Peter was standing with Chris’ help.

“Uncle Peter,” Derek said, sounding like a lost sixteen-year old boy.

“Derek.” Peter held out his arm and Derek moved to hug him. Peter looked over Derek’s shoulder, searching the trees. “Where’s Laura?”

Derek made the first sound of grief Chris had heard since he’d found out that it had been Laura’s body in the Preserve. “Laura’s dead.”

“What?” Peter’s eyes flashed red. “What happened?”

Shit. Shit! Chris thought.

Derek pulled back, his face expressionless. He looked like he’d just taken one too many blows. “You killed her,” Derek said, his voice devoid of emotion. “You’re the alpha now, I can feel it.”

“What are you talking about?” Peter said. He paused, as if just realizing that the alpha power was inside him. He shook his head. “No.” Peter pulled at his hair. “I don’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”

Chris had a horrible thought. “Derek, where did you find Laura’s body?” Chris didn’t mention that she’d been cut in half and Derek had only found half of her body; Peter had enough to deal with.

Derek glanced around them, a puzzled expression on his face. “Right over there.”

Chris scrubbed a hand over his face. “It’s possible that Nurse Jennifer made Peter do it, just like she was trying to make him kill me. Aside from getting us both out of the way, she might’ve been trying to power the nemeton.” And it wouldn’t have hurt that she’d have a stronger ‘tool’ in whatever plan for vengeance she had concocted.

“It’s too much,” Peter said, tears streaking his face.

Derek caught Peter before Chris could. They both raised their faces to the moon and let out mournful howls.

Chapter Text

Week Two: Thursday

Chris was dragging the next morning. While John and Derek got Peter back to Beacons Crossing so his miraculous recovery could be discovered by someone in an official capacity, Chris had made sure that Nurse Jennifer wouldn’t be coming back and, after cleaning out her pockets, disposed of the body.

When he’d arrived home Allison had been waiting up for him. After she’d berated him for not calling her and hugged the stuffing out of him, Chris had been forced to give her an abridged version of what had happened with Nurse Jennifer and Peter without going into too much detail about how dire his own situation had been.

“So you’re saying that Peter Hale came out of a coma and broke some witch’s . . .”

“We don’t know that she was a witch.”

Allison gave him a look and continued. “. . . control rather than kill you?”

“Basically, yeah.”

“Hmm.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing. Are you going to keep visiting Peter now that he’s awake?”

Chris didn’t know what Allison saw on his face, but she said, “Aww, dad,” and gave him a hug.

Allison had been long gone when Chris crawled out of bed the next morning. He made Espresso Yourself his first stop. Melissa met him there so he could fill her in on what had occurred the night before beyond a quick call to inform her that Peter was awake. Melissa was horrified that Chris had nearly been killed, and even more so when she learned that Peter had probably been forced to kill Laura in the same manner.

“Hasn’t that family had enough tragedy?” Melissa said, the words thick with emotion.

“I wonder,” Chris said, “if any of this would’ve happened if Peter and I hadn’t . . .”

“Don’t.” Melissa laid her hand over Chris’. “He’s going to need you now, not your guilt.”

Chris’ next stop was Beacons Crossing. He sat in the Tahoe for a few seconds after killing the engine, only getting out because he didn’t want to give away to Peter how nervous he was about this visit.

Gail gave Chris the exciting news that Mr. Hale was awake and that his nephew was with him. Chris tried to look appropriately surprised. He stopped in the open doorway to Peter’s room and surveyed the tableau. Peter sat up in the chair, a blanket over his legs as if he was an invalid. Derek sat on the edge of the bed, curled over himself.

“If I have to have another test I’m going to bite someone,” Peter said.

Chris glanced at Derek, who glanced back.

“What was that look?” Peter said.

“You did bite someone,” Derek said. “While you were . . .” Under Nurse Jennifer’s control.

“For fucks sake!” Peter said. “Who?”

Chris stepped into the room. “Scott McCall.”

“Melissa’s son?” Peter said. “But he’s just a child.”

“He’s sixteen now. But in your defense, it was probably a matter of wrong place, wrong time.”

“Meaning?”

“He was in the Preserve at night and got separated from his friend Stiles.”

“Maybe I was drawn to him because he smelled familiar,” Peter mused.

“Perhaps,” Chris said.

Derek stood up suddenly. “I need to go. I need to . . . run.”

“Be careful,” Chris told Derek. He moved further into the room after Derek passed him and gestured towards the bed. “May I?”

Peter waved his hand as if he didn’t care. “He can’t even look at me.”

“Derek? He knows it’s not your fault.”

Peter made a sound at that. When he spoke it was on another topic. “Tell me about Scott.”

Chris snorted.

“What?”

“No, nothing, sorry.”

“Christopher.”

“Let’s just say, it’s obvious you weren’t in your right mind when you made that choice.”

Peter groaned. “Just bottom-line it for me.”

“Scott’s very happy to have his asthma cured and be able to play lacrosse now. He’s less thrilled to have to learn how to control himself.”

“Shit, training. I should’ve been there . . .”

“Don’t worry, we haven’t let him do anything stupid.”

“Who’s we?”

“Me, Derek, Melissa. John. And now Satomi.”

“It takes a village,” Peter muttered. His gaze pierced Chris. “Why does Derek trust you?”

“I’m not sure that he does,” Chris said, taking the change in topic in stride. “But he was alone and scared, and he needed someone . . .”

Peter’s eyes flashed. “And were you that someone for him, Chris?”

“Not like that,” Chris said more calmly than he felt at the accusation. He let Peter’s temper wash over him until Peter’s reserve was empty.

“Why are you here?” Peter said.

“Here in Beacon Hills, or here in your room? Though the answer’s probably the same for both.”

“Little late, isn’t it?” Peter indicated the bed where he’d spent the last six years.

“I thought so, yes.” There was a moment of silence during which Chris wished he could take that back.

“Did your father decide the Argents needed a presence in Beacon Hills again?” Peter said.

“What? No. Didn’t Derek tell you?”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “You might’ve noticed, but Derek doesn’t talk much these days.”

“I did notice,” Chris said. “I don’t do that anymore. Hunting. I quit.”

Peter studied Chris for a moment. “How’d that go over?”

“About like you’d expect. With the added threat of taking my daughter away.”

“You could never have lived up to his expectations,” Peter said.

Chris’ chest felt like he was being crushed by an elephant. He’d always known he wasn’t the son Gerard had wanted, but to hear Peter say it like that, to know Peter thought the same . . .

“You were always a better man than that.”

Chris raised his head. “What?” Chris’ attention was diverted and his cheeks went hot when he saw the paperback in Peter’s hand. His hand twitched, but he just managed to not lift it to touch his jacket and confirm the book was missing from the inside pocket. It must’ve fallen out when Nurse Jennifer took him.

Peter casually studied the cover and read the blurb on the back. He flipped the book open and read silently for a few seconds. Peter raised his eyes and pinned Chris. “Did you read this to me?”

“Maybe,” Chris hedged.

Peter closed the book and set it on his lap. Chris’ eyes followed the motion.

“I heard your voice.”

“You did? I mean, they said you might, but . . .”

Peter raised a hand and touched his forehead. “Did you kiss me?”

“Yes.”

“You touched me.”

“Yes. Not inappropriately,” Chris quickly added.

“Never here.” Peter touched the tips of his fingers to the scars on his face.

“No. I know it’s silly, but . . .”

“It’s ugly,” Peter said. “I can’t heal until I’m out of here.”

“What? No!” Chris said. “I didn’t touch your scars because I didn’t want to hurt you. I know the skin healed, but it’s not, you know, healed. I thought it might still hurt. Does it?”

“No. It’s . . . kind of numb, actually.”

“Can I . . . ?”

Peter studied Chris, then nodded.

Chris went to his knees in front of Peter. He reached up and gently placed his hand against the side of Peter’s face. Chris brushed his thumb over Peter’s cheekbone, slid it down to the corner of Peter’s mouth.

Peter’s breath caught. He didn’t pull away, so Chris stretched up. Peter hesitated, then leaned forward and bent his head towards Chris. Just before their lips met someone entered the room and closed the door.

Chris jerked his head around, then groaned softly.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Melissa said. “Really sorry. But we need to get this blood work and my break isn’t long enough to wait for you two to finish. Plus, since we’re doing this on the down low, I didn’t want to just stand around waiting in the hallway.”

Chris sat back on his heels. As bad as Melissa’s timing was, it was probably a good thing he and Peter hadn’t moved full-steam ahead. Melissa set her bag on the bed and pulled out all the items she needed, which gave them both a moment to recover. She snapped on a pair of gloves and turned to Peter.

“Hello, Peter,” Melissa said. Her eyes were suspiciously bright. “I’m really happy to see you.”

“You’re a sight for sore eyes, as well,” Peter said. “Though I’m less thrilled about that.” Peter’s gaze went to the supplies on the bed.

“I could never understand how a werewolf could be afraid of needles,” Melissa said as she pushed Peter’s sleeve up and tied the blue rubber tourniquet around his upper arm.

“They’re called phobias for a reason,” Peter said archly. “Why are we doing this again?”

Melissa gave Chris a look.

Chris rose to his feet and moved back over to the bed. “Sorry, I hadn’t told Peter yet. We want to see if there’s any residue in your blood of whatever Nurse Jennifer was dosing you with.”

“What makes you think I was drugged?”

“The fact that you were in a coma for six years, that you didn’t heal, and that she was able to control you,” Chris counted off without specifying the things Peter had done while under Nurse Jennifer’s control. “I kept everything she had on her and Deaton’s running some tests on the powder . . .”

Peter scoffed at the mention of Deaton’s name.

“. . . but she had to have used something else to inhibit your healing.”

Peter sighed. “Very well. I don’t know if now is a good time to apologize for biting your son . . . ,” he said to Melissa, indicating the needle she held.

Melissa carefully inserted the needle and began to fill the first collection tube before replying. “I don’t blame you for that, Peter. I know it wasn’t your fault.”

“That’s very . . . magnanimous of you.”

Melissa shrugged and switched out the tube. “Scott doesn’t have asthma anymore, so I don’t have to worry about that killing him.”

“Just hunters,” Peter said wryly.

“Thanks for that.”

Peter looked abashed. “Sorry, I . . .”

“He eats like a horse now, though. His metabolism is ridiculous. What I’m going to save on inhalers I’ll be spending on food.”

Melissa swiped an alcohol pad over the needle mark, but didn’t bother with a gauze square. She carefully packed everything into her bag, the broken needle, gloves, and other items going into a plastic bag for proper disposal later.

Peter pushed himself out of the chair. Chris stood and grasped Peter’s elbow to steady him. Peter opened his arms when Melissa turned around and she stepped into them.

“I’ll help with whatever you need,” Peter said.

“Because we’re pack now?” Melissa said, a hint of bitterness in her tone.

“Because you’re my friend, and you’ve always been the pack of my heart.”

Melissa laughed, but it was a little unsteady. “You always were a sweet talker.”

“I mean it. And when I get out of here we’ll have to start up girls’ night again.”

Melissa’s laughter was more genuine this time. “I look forward to it. Well, I should get these samples to the lab. It really is great to see you.”

“Ditto.”

“Jerk,” Melissa said.

Chris gave Melissa a hug and walked her to the door. He ignored the way Peter heavily dropped back into the chair.

“You don’t need to stay, Chris.”

Chris closed the door behind Melissa and turned back to Peter. “Yes, I do. Part of me is afraid this might all be a dream and you might disappear,” he said, too honestly.

“Your idea of a dream is to let yourself be captured and nearly killed?”

Chris shrugged. “You rescuing me is probably exactly the sort of thing I’d dream.”

Peter looked like he didn’t know what to say to that. “Well, if you’re going to stay, make yourself useful.” He tossed the book to Chris.

Chris grinned. He sat on the bed, back supported by the pillows, feet hanging off the side so he didn’t get the bedding dirty. Chris opened the book to the end. “From where we left off?”

“From the beginning,” Peter said.

Chris flipped back to the beginning and began to read.

~*~

“I thought you were going to Lydia’s to study,” Chris said when Allison appeared in the office doorway after school.

“You nearly died last night,” Allison said, exasperated. “Of course I came straight home.” She gestured towards the laptop. “What are you doing?”

“Pulling my hair out.”

Allison glanced at the top of Chris’ head.

Chris ran a self-conscious hand over it. “Funny.”

Allison grinned. “You gave me the perfect opening.” She gestured towards the laptop with her chin. “The fire case?”

Chris sighed. “Yeah.”

Chris had stopped by the Sheriff Department to see John and fill him in on everything that had happened since he’d left Chris alone with Nurse Jennifer’s body. From the expression on John’s face when he spotted him, Chris knew that something had gone wrong. John waved Chris into his office.

Chris waited until the door was closed to ask, “What’s wrong?”

“Reddick hanged himself in his cell last night,” John said.

Chris swore. Reddick probably wouldn’t have been able to give them any more information about the person who’d hired him and Unger, but he was a puzzle piece and now he’d been taken off the board. Which led to a larger problem.

“Someone in this department is working for the hunters,” Chris said. “Or maybe just the specific hunter who’s responsible for the fire.”

“What do you mean?”

“The hunter community has a network of sources, a lot of them in law enforcement,” Chris explained.

“You didn’t think I needed to have this information sooner?”

“I ran the names of everyone who works here against the list of informants; there were no matches. I hoped that meant your department was clean.”

John scrubbed a hand over his face, then pointed a finger at Chris. “You should’ve told me so I could protect my witness.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t think anyone would be so bold as to kill someone in custody. Did the cameras show anything?”

“What do you think?” John sighed out his frustration.

“So what are you doing?”

“We’re questioning everyone who was here about what happened without letting them know we suspect foul play, and checking the keycard log-ins.”

“Damn it,” Chris said. “Any luck finding Unger?”

“Not yet. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this news doesn’t send him scurrying even deeper into whatever hidey-hole he’s found.” John took a breath. “What I don’t understand is, why now? Why Reddick? Why not Myers?”

“Maybe Reddick knew something, or Unger, that Myers didn’t.”

“You think one of them might’ve seen the person who hired them?”

“Maybe.”

John shook his head. “It’s all guesswork until we find and question Unger.”

“Yeah.”

“How’s Peter?”

“Peter is . . . awake,” Chris said. “I can’t believe he’s awake.”

“Yeah,” John said. “Or that he was controlled into killing Laura, and very well could’ve killed you.”

“As if it wasn’t bad enough that nearly his entire family was killed in a fire.” Chris scrubbed a hand over his face. “I don’t suppose you know of a therapist who’s aware of the supernatural?”

“Unfortunately, no. Even if I did, the whole died-in-a-fire slash mind-controlled thing might be even too much for them to handle.”

Chris couldn’t help but think that it might be too much for Peter to handle, as well.

“Can you talk about it?” Allison said now, drawing Chris out of his thoughts.

“No,” Chris said, falling back on ‘protocol’ to keep Allison from getting involved. “But there is something else I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Sounds serious. What is it?”

“Peter will be leaving the nursing home soon. The only reason he’s still there now is for appearances and so there’s a paper trail of his recovery.”

Chris checked Allison’s reaction before continuing. “Peter’s going to need someplace to stay, at least temporarily. You’ve seen the state the Hale house is in.”

“Are you asking me if I’m okay with allowing the man who tried to kill you to move in?” Allison said with an ‘are you kidding me?’ expression.

“Nurse Jennifer tried to kill me,” Chris said, “using Peter as her tool. I’d like to put it out there that Peter actually saved me.”

“Maybe, but he killed Nurse Jennifer . . .”

“She probably deserved it.”

“. . . and his own niece.”

“Yeah.” Chris sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Yeah. That’s probably gonna fuck him up.”

“Do you think Peter would hurt you or me?”

“No!”

“You’re a hunter, former hunter,” Allison corrected before Chris could interrupt her. “And we’re talking about a werewolf that has killed two people. Why do you trust him so much?”

“I just . . . do.”

“I know you knew him in high school, that you were friends, but that was twenty years ago. He could’ve changed.”

“I’m sure he did change,” Chris said, “and I’m partly responsible for that.”

“What do you mean?”

Chris shook his head and thought about the turns his life had taken. He in no way wanted to have this conversation with Allison, but he also didn’t want her finding out from anyone else. Especially Peter.

“Peter and I weren’t exactly friends in high school,” Chris said. “We, uh, we dated.”

Allison squeaked. “You dated a boy? Wait. You dated a werewolf?”

“It wasn’t common knowledge,” Chris said. “We couldn’t let it get back to my father.”

“It’s just like Romeo and Juliet,” Allison said.

“Yeah,” Chris agreed heavily. “This was a tragedy, too.”

Allison winced. “Sorry. What happened?”

“Gerard found out. We were stupid to think he wouldn’t.”

Allison waited in silence for Chris to continue.

“I don’t want you to think I didn’t love your mother.”

Allison took Chris’ hand. “I know you loved her. You wouldn’t have been so angry when she killed herself if you didn’t.”

“When did you become so perceptive?”

Allison hugged Chris’ shoulders. It hurt to be reminded of their loss.

“Finish your story,” Allison said with mock authority.

“Not much left to tell. Gerard gave me an ultimatum – he’d leave the Hales alone if I broke things off with Peter. So . . . I did. And everything went to shit anyway.”

“Daddy,” Allison said.

Chris waved away her concern and blinked the sting out of his eyes. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have laid all that on you.”

“Grandpa’s such a dick.”

Chris choked out a laugh before he could stop himself. “Allison, language. Although, that does nicely segue into something else I need to talk to you about.”

Allison leaned forward. “What?”

“Gerard was not happy when I quit hunting. It reflects badly on him. He threatened . . .” Chris had to swallow down the lump clogging his throat. “He threatened to take you away from me and raise you to be a hunter.”

“Do you think he really would?” Allison said, eyes wide.

“I think it was bluster, but I also want you to be careful. Peter’s awake now, and that changes things. And if, when, Gerard finds out Peter’s staying here, even temporarily, he won’t be able to stop himself from intervening. Luckily, we have a support network here.”

“Sheriff Stilinski and Mrs. McCall,” Allison said.

“Yes.” Chris didn’t mention that Peter and Derek, as well as Satomi, were also part of that network. “Think about it,” he said. “Give me your answer tomorrow before school in case they let Peter go tomorrow.”

“You’d really let me say no?”

“Of course! This is your home, Alli. Your comfort will always come first.”

“Alright,” Allison said. “But I need more information on which to base my opinion.”

Chris narrowed his eyes at her. “Like what?”

Allison shifted until she was comfortable in the chair. “I need to know more about Peter Hale.”

“Allison . . .”

“Tell me how you met.”

Chris took a deep breath. “We moved here when I was a sophomore. Early December. Basketball season was just getting into full swing. Peter was the only sophomore on the Varsity team, and he was such a cocky asshole. I hated him the moment I laid eyes on him.”

“Sounds romantic,” Allison said.

Chris snorted.

“When did you start ‘going steady’?” Allison said with a glint in her eyes.

“Junior year.”

“How did grandpa find out?”

“I don’t know,” Chris said. “We slipped up somehow . . .”

“Was it serious?”

“We talked about running away together, going someplace where no one knew the Argents and the Hales. But Peter never would’ve forgiven himself if anything happened to his family because of us.”

“His parents and his sister?”

“And Laura and Derek. Laura was two and Derek wasn’t even a year old yet when we graduated.”

“Okay,” Allison said. “Enough of that. Give me the yearbook.”

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

Allison raised her eyebrows and waggled her fingers in return. “Fully informed decision.”

Chris rolled his eyes, but he passed over the yearbook. “I don’t know how this is going to help.”

Allison ignored him and flipped the pages until she got to the one she wanted. She whistled. “He’s a cutie. I can see why you were attracted to him.”

“You’re taking this awfully well,” Chris said.

“I am,” Allison said. “You’ll remember that when I need to you take something well, right?”

Chris groaned and watched Allison flip through the yearbook. “I should probably warn you that Peter could be arrogant and bitchy. Probably still is.”

“Sounds fun.” Allison snapped the yearbook closed and stood. She laid the book on the desk and said, “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“To get the guestroom ready.” Allison paused. “Unless you . . .”

“Guestroom!” Chris said quickly, not missing Allison’s grin. He stood to follow her. “There’s one more thing.”

“Spill.”

“I’m pretty sure Derek’s living in the Hale house.”

Allison paused on the stairs. “The burnt out Hale house.”

“That’s the one.”

“You want to move in two werewolves?”

“Yes?”

Allison continued walking. “Is it going to be awkward, two werewolves living with an ex-hunter?”

“Extremely,” Chris said.

Week Two: Friday

Chris called John the next morning to see if there was an update on Unger’s location or Reddick’s death. There wasn’t, so Chris stopped by Espresso Yourself for two coffees to go.

“Good morning, Mr. Argent!” Gail said when Chris stopped by the reception desk to sign in. “Isn’t it wonderful that Mr. Hale has woken up after all those years?”

“Yes,” Chris said. “It’s a miracle.” He didn’t mention that he was especially happy because Peter waking up when he did had saved Chris’ life.

“You must be very happy,” Gail said with a sigh that brought heat to Chris’ cheeks.

“I am.” Chris escaped before Gail could say anything else.

Chris was happy, though it was muted by their complicated history. Visiting Peter had assuaged some of Chris’ guilt for leaving him, but now Peter could flay Chris with his acerbic tongue and Chris was afraid the rift between them would remain, or deepen. Awake, Peter could reject Chris’ olive branch the way he couldn’t in the coma. Which was utterly selfish and why Chris tried very hard not to imagine what the future held for them now.

Peter was sitting in the chair again this morning. The only difference was that today he was dressed in a pair of gray sweat pants and a green long-sleeved t-shirt. Derek once again sat stiffly on the edge of the bed.

“Good morning,” Chris said. “Derek, I didn’t know you were going to be here or I’d have brought you something, too.” He gestured with the take-out cups.

Chris was met with silence. “Am I interrupting?”

Peter snorted at that. “You mean the silent staring?”

Derek glared at nothing from under his eyebrows.

Chris handed one of the coffees to Peter. “I don’t know how you like your coffee these days, but I figured I couldn’t go wrong with one of their sickeningly sweet concoctions.” Chris turned to Derek. “I’d offer you my coffee, but I’ve already drank from it.”

“I’m fine,” Derek said angrily.

Chris sipped the coffee to have something to do. He was glad the cup hid some of his face when Peter made a pornographic sound after trying the caramel blah, blah that Chris had gotten for him.

“Like it?” Chris said dryly, covering his reaction.

Peter’s only response was to take another sip and moan again.

Chris quickly turned to Derek. “How’s Scott’s training going?”

Derek turned his glare, which Chris was coming to understand was his default expression, onto Chris. Then again, it could be because he blamed Chris for him having to suffer through the sounds Peter was making, or because of Scott. Chris raised an eyebrow and Derek finally replied.

“It’s going fine.”

“Really?”

“Satomi ignores Scott when he complains. She tells him a story that’s supposed to teach a lesson to distract him. It just confuses him, but by then he’s done what she told him to.”

“What method is she using?” Peter said.

“Self-awareness,” Derek said, his tone saying that it was the stupidest thing he’d ever heard of. “Yoga and . . . meditation.”

“Don’t tell Stiles,” Chris said, trying to hide his grin.

“Scott already has. He was insufferable.”

“Stiles?” Peter said, perking up. “Is this John’s boy, the one who has a crush on you?”

Derek shot Chris a betrayed look. “It won’t last,” he directed to Peter, softly adding, “It never does.”

Peter’s brow furrowed as if he was trying to figure out what was going on with Derek.

“Has Scott’s control improved?” Chris said, keeping the subject on something less volatile.

Derek shrugged. “No. But it’s early days yet. He is doing better at practice – hasn’t shifted even though that Whittemore kid is being an ass.”

“David Whittemore’s son?” Peter said. “He always was an entitled ass. Remember when . . . ?” Peter cut off when he realized he was bringing up their shared past.

“What about you?” Chris said to Derek. “Satomi said this would help you, too.”

Peter’s eyes flashed red. “What’s wrong with your control?”

“Not my control,” Derek said. He took a few breaths before continuing. “My anchor.”

“Okay, then what’s wrong with your anchor?” Peter said.

“My anchor, it’s anger. It has been since . . .”

“Derek,” Peter said.

Derek raised his head and looked at Peter with a stoic expression.

“Come here,” Peter commanded.

Derek rose jerkily, shoulders hunched as if he thought he was going to be punished. Peter stood gracefully, belying the frail act he was putting on for the Beacons Crossing staff. When Derek was near enough Peter hauled him into a hug. Derek stood stiff for a long moment, then he just melted.

Chris turned away to give them some privacy when Derek’s arms came up to clutch at Peter’s shirt. Chris didn’t turn back until he heard the two separate and return to their respective seats. Both men looked better for the hug.

A nurse Chris hadn’t met showed up to check on Peter. Her name tag read ‘Grace’. “Good morning,” Grace greeted them. “How are you feeling this morning, Mr. Hale?”

“Fine,” Peter said weakly.

“I’m happy to hear it.” Grace checked Peter’s vitals. “Will you be with us for lunch today?”

“If breakfast was any indication, I can only hope not,” Peter said. Grace’s dutiful smile didn’t waver.

“Have you heard anything about when he will be released?” Chris said.

“I haven’t,” Grace said, her tone apologetic. “Your vitals are great,” she told Peter. “Hopefully you’ll be able to go home soon, but after six years, what’s one more day?”

“One day too long,” Peter said.

Grace patted Peter’s shoulder as if he was a dotty old man. Chris bit back a grin.

“It’s really too bad Jennifer isn’t here,” Grace said. “She’d have been so happy to see you awake.”

“I’m sure she would have,” Peter said with a low growl that Grace thankfully missed in her perky assertion that someone would be by soon to take his lunch order.

Chris waited until Grace had left the room to speak. “Have you thought about where you’re going to go when you leave here?”

Peter glanced between Derek and Chris. “By your expressions I’m guessing the house isn’t an option.”

Derek looked away. Embarrassed? Guilty?

Chris said, “No one’s lived there since the fire.” He ignored the fact that Derek had most likely been squatting there and Derek didn’t contradict him.

“I guess we’ll have to rent something for the time being,” Peter said.

“You could, yes . . .”

“Spit it out, Christopher.”

“You’re both welcome to stay with me and Allison as long as you need to. At least until you find a place you like.”

“Won’t that be awkward?” Peter said.

“Probably.” Absolutely.

“Where are you staying now?” Peter said to Derek.

Derek hesitated. “At the house.”

Peter’s eyes flashed at Chris. “I thought you said it wasn’t habitable.”

Chris merely raised an eyebrow.

Peter got the message. “Derek, why are you staying at the house?”

“Where else would I stay?” Derek said. “It’s ours. It’s all we’ve got left.”

Peter looked at Derek long after Derek lowered his eyes. “Chris.”

“Yes?”

“We accept your offer.”

Peter didn’t sound thrilled about it, but as the alpha he had to think about Derek as well as himself. Derek looked like he wanted to argue, but Peter forestalled him.

“The house isn’t safe, Derek. We’ll stay with Chris and Allison until we find someplace else.”

“I don’t want someplace else,” Derek said.

“We’ll figure it out,” Peter said. “But first I need to get out of here.”

~*~

Chris stopped the Tahoe at the end of the driveway. Peter stared silently at the charred remains of the house. Peter got out of the SUV and took a few steps towards the house before stopping. Chris got out and stood beside him.

“I’m investigating the fire,” Chris said. “I’ll find out who did this.”

Peter didn’t answer right away. The words sounded thick when he finally did. “Why wasn’t it investigated before now?”

“Because whoever did this paid the insurance investigator to lie. He said it was electrical. Everyone believed it was a tragic accident.” Chris sighed. “Except for John. And Melissa probably. It never sat right with him. When I moved back he asked me to look into it.”

“What about you?” Peter said. “Did it sit right with you?”

“I wasn’t here,” Chris said, as if that was answer enough. “I wasn’t here.”

“I’ll be right back,” Peter said. He headed for the house.

Chris didn’t try to stop him. He leaned against the Tahoe and waited.

“Do you know who did this?” Peter said when he returned.

“I suspect it was a hunter,” Chris said, “but I don’t know who yet.”

“And you’re okay with turning in one of your own?”

“I told you, I’m not a hunter anymore. But even if I was, no one who breaks the Code is ‘one of mine’.”

“I want to know everything you know about the investigation,” Peter said. He got back into the Tahoe without giving Chris a chance to reply.

Chris took a deep breath and joined him. Peter stared out the window as they drove through town.

“There have been a lot of changes since I’ve been here.”

“It has been twenty years,” Peter said. “Things change.”

Even if Peter hadn’t just visited the site where most of his family died Chris would’ve given him a pass. Chris was the one who’d left, after all.

The Camaro was sitting on the street in front of Chris’ house when he pulled up. Chris didn’t react to Peter’s gasp when he saw the car. Derek had been sent to retrieve his belongings from the house and to purchase Peter some more clothes while Chris found a nurse Peter could cajole into giving him a form he could sign to release himself AMA.

Chris slowed the Tahoe and lowered the passenger side window. “Pull in the driveway,” he called across the SUV to Derek.

Chris turned into the driveway and pulled forward into the garage. He glanced into the rearview mirror to see Derek pull the Camaro in behind him. Chris got out and walked to the back of the Tahoe. “You need help carrying everything in?”

“I’ve got it.” Derek pulled a duffel bag and two Target shopping bags out of the backseat.

Chris didn’t comment on Derek’s lack of luggage, just led the way into the house through the garage entrance, which put them in the laundry room/half-bath off the kitchen.

“I’ll give you a quick tour and show you to your rooms. You can rest, shower, whatever you want to do from there.”

Chris pointed out the formal dining room at the front of the house as he took them through the kitchen at the back and into the hallway. They passed the office and living room on the way around to the staircase. The master suite and one of the guest bedrooms were on the left. Two guest bedrooms separated by the guest bath were on the right. Allison had taken the bedroom at the back of the house, the furthest from Chris’ room. Chris directed Peter and Derek to the other two.

“I’ll just let you two get settled in,” Chris said after pointing out the linen closet.

Chris stood at the bottom of the stairs, wondering what he should do next. Food. He went to the kitchen and went through the refrigerator and cupboards and made a grocery list that contained a lot more red meat than usual.

Chris ran upstairs to tell Peter and Derek that he was going to the grocery store. The guest bath was locked so Chris followed the sound of buzzing to the master bath attached to his bedroom. Peter stood at the sink with Chris’ clippers in hand and he’d already shaved off a stripe of hair, leaving about half an inch in a buzz cut.

“What are you doing?” Chris said.

Peter raised an eyebrow at Chris in the mirror, but didn’t turn his head. “I know your eyes are working.”

“But why . . . ?” Chris started. “You love your hair.”

Peter’s eyes flashed. “You don’t know anything about me. Not anymore.”

It was true, so Chris didn’t know why it hurt so much to hear Peter say it. Chris swallowed down his emotions. “I just wanted to let you know I was going to the grocery store. Is there anything you want?”

“I want my family back,” Peter said softly, then turned the clippers on and raised them to his head so Chris couldn’t respond even if he knew what to say.

Chris took his time at the grocery store. He filled the Tahoe’s tank. He called both John and Melissa to let them know that Peter had signed out of Beacons Crossing AMA and that he and Derek were staying with Chris until they found a place.

“How’s that going?” John said, concern and amusement warring in his voice.

“I left him shaving his head,” Chris said. “He told me I didn’t know him anymore.”

“It’s probably a grief thing,” John said after a slight hesitation, all amusement gone.

Chris flashed on Stiles’ shorn head and sighed. “Yeah, of course. I should’ve realized.”

They made plans for John to stop over later to help Chris fill Peter in on the fire investigation. The Camaro was gone when Chris pulled into the driveway. Peter appeared when Chris carried the groceries into the kitchen.

Peter silently emptied the bags, setting cans and boxes and packages of meat in separate piles for Chris to put away. They worked without speaking for a few minutes before Chris broke the silence.

“Where’s Derek?”

“Making sure Scott doesn’t skip out on training.”

Chris checked the clock on the wall. He hadn’t realized how late it had gotten while he procrastinated coming back home. “You didn’t want to go?”

“I didn’t want to disrupt Satomi’s training,” Peter said. “I’ll meet Scott some other time when it won’t distract him.”

Chris nodded. That was actually a good idea.

“Plus, I wanted to apologize.”

Chris was tempted to say, wow, things really have changed, but he didn’t want to ruin the quiet moment they were sharing. “You don’t have to,” he said.

“I’m mad at you,” Peter said. “I’ve been mad at you for so long I don’t think I know how to not be mad at you. But that, before, wasn’t about being mad at you.”

“I know.” Chris let his gaze move to the top of Peter’s head for the first time since he got home. The buzz cut was strange, but it didn’t look bad. “I’m sorry about your family.”

Peter nodded. His lips worked and then he turned his head way, but not before Chris saw the glossy sheen of tears in his eyes. Chris didn’t know if sympathy would be appreciated, so he finished putting away the groceries to give Peter time to recover.

“Any preferences for supper?”

“No.” Peter cleared his throat. “Anything’ll be better than hospital food. Even your cooking.”

“Hey,” Chris said, trying to match Peter’s forced joviality. “I’ll have you know that my cooking has improved greatly.”

“It would have had to,” Peter said. “Though I would kill for a cup of coffee.”

Chris started the coffee. While that brewed he marinated chicken tenders in Italian dressing, then washed vegetables for a salad and potatoes to go in the oven. Chris was telling Peter that John was coming over later when he heard the garage door open. He checked the clock and realized he’d lost another chunk of time.

Chris turned to Peter. “Be nice.”

Peter’s eyes widened and he touched his chest in a ‘who, me?’ gesture.

Chris dried off his hands and moved to intercept Allison. “Hey, sweetheart.”

“Hey, dad. Why are you greeting me at the door? And blocking my way into the house?”

“He’s trying to warn you about the big, bad wolf,” Peter said from right behind Chris.

Chris rolled his eyes.

Allison looked over Chris’ shoulder and her eyes went wide with . . . something Chris didn’t want to think about.

“I meant to text you, but I forgot. Peter checked himself out of Beacons Crossing AMA, so he and Derek moved in today.”

“Okay,” Allison said. “Can I get past now?”

Chris reluctantly stepped aside so Allison could pass. She gave him an expectant look.

Chris rolled his eyes again, this time at Allison. “Allison, this is Peter Hale; Peter, my daughter Allison.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Peter said, laying on the charm.

“You, too.” Allison took the hand Peter held out. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Peter’s eyebrows went up and he paused in raising Allison’s hand to his lips. “Have you?”

Allison leaned in conspiratorially and said, “I’d like to hear more.”

Peter’s eyes danced. “Would you?”

Chris groaned and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Don’t you have homework to do, or something?”

Allison gave Chris a cheeky grin. “I do, actually. In fact, Scott’s coming over later to study.” She glanced between Chris and Peter. “Will that be a problem?”

Chris looked to Peter for his opinion.

“I should meet him sooner rather than later, and a controlled situation is probably best.”

Chris determined that Scott didn’t have to work that evening (something he hadn’t bothered to mention when he claimed to be too busy to train), so he told Allison to invite him for supper. Chris texted Derek to warn him that he’d have to bring Scott to the house after practice, and called Melissa to inform her that Scott would be meeting Peter that evening if she was free to come over. He had to leave a message, and Melissa later texted back that she was working a double and to let her know how it went.

Chris got out another steak and washed up more potatoes. When he had the potatoes cut up, seasoned, and in the oven, Chris fixed himself a cup of coffee and carried it into the living room where he found Peter sitting on the couch.

“I thought you were upstairs practicing your alpha stare, or something.”

Peter gave Chris a look. “It was never my place to be the alpha.”

There was nothing Chris could say to that. “Want another cup of coffee?”

“No,” Peter said, then belatedly, “Thank you.”

“Worried about meeting Scott?”

Peter scoffed. “No.” He glanced at Chris. “Should I be?”

“Well . . .”

“Don’t badmouth Scott,” Allison said.

“Is it badmouthing if it’s true?” Chris said. “Besides, as Scott’s alpha, Peter needs to know about him.”

“Then you tell me about him,” Peter said to Allison.

Allison’s eyes went wide. “Really?”

“Just don’t tell me how pretty his eyes are, or that his smile makes you swoon.”

Allison blushed. “I won’t. But when I’m done you have to tell me something.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “What do you want to know?”

“Whether dad was a real dork in high school.”

Chris groaned, but he couldn’t help being pleased by Peter’s huff of surprised laughter.

“Deal,” Peter said.

Allison extended her hand and they shook on it. Chris wanted to leave, but he also wanted to hear how Allison described Scott. He hoped it would give him an indication of how deep she was. Then again, maybe he didn’t want to know.

Allison used words like kind and sweet, but admitted that he was dorky and that he tried hard in school. She told the story about how he’d given her a pen the first day of school. Chris took a sip of coffee to hide the eye roll. It was worse than he thought.

“Okay, your turn,” Allison said.

Chris stood up quickly. “I should check the potatoes.”

Allison laughed as Chris hurried out of the room. He did stop at the oven to peek in on the potatoes, and continued on to the enclosed porch. He started a fire in the grill outside and sat on the porch to keep an eye on it.

What remained of Chris’ coffee was cold when Peter stepped out onto the porch. Chris glanced over warily and saw the yearbook in Peter’s hand. He bit back a groan, but Peter could hear the rabbiting of his heartbeat, so it probably didn’t matter.

“I didn’t know you kept this,” Peter said, his voice deceptively calm.

Chris shrugged. “I couldn’t keep much.” What he really meant was that he couldn’t keep the most important thing.

Peter sat in a chair and slowly leafed through the pages, pausing occasionally to study a photo or to read what someone had written. Chris sensed when Peter reached the swim team photos, where he’d hidden his own comment so Gerard wouldn’t find it.

Chris closed his eyes and silently recited the words he’d memorized. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us and can do whatever we want. Boldly go. But of course they hadn’t.

“What would you have said?”

“No,” Chris said.

Peter gave Chris a look.

“I was not a dork.”

Peter laughed. “We can argue that later. I meant about Scott.”

“Oh.” Chris futilely hoped Peter couldn’t see the flush heating his cheeks. “One word: single-minded. He’s got his sights on two things, so technically dual, lacrosse and Allison.”

“Well, he is a teenaged boy.”

“Yes. As I said before, he’s enjoying the perks of being bitten, but doesn’t want to deal with the hard part of learning control, especially when it interferes with playing lacrosse – there was a scrimmage on the full moon – or hanging out with Allison. It took me, Derek, and Melissa’s mom-voice to keep him out of the scrimmage and away from the party after, and then to get him to attend training sessions.”

“Okay,” Peter said. “I think I know what I’m dealing with.” He looked at Chris. “You’re right.”

“About what?”

“You weren’t a dork. You were irritating, like a stone in your shoe . . .”

“Me!”

“. . . and a bit of a nerd, but not a dork.”

Before Chris could respond further Peter’s head tilted as he went on alert.

“What is it?”

Allison appeared in the doorway, breathless. “Scott’s here.”

“Bring him and Derek out here, would you, please?” Peter said.

“Okay.” Allison disappeared as quickly as she’d come.

“Do you want some privacy for this?”

“I think it would be best if there were people here Scott already knows and likes.”

“That makes exactly one of us.” Chris stood when he heard voices coming closer. “Hello, Derek, Scott,” he said when they stepped onto the porch. “Scott, I’d like to introduce you to someone.” Chris gestured towards Peter. “This is Peter Hale, Derek’s uncle.”

“Hello, Scott.” Peter extended his hand.

“Um, hello.” Scott took Peter’s hand, jerking back when Peter’s eyes flared red. “Are you . . . Did you bite me?”

“I did,” Peter said, releasing Scott’s hand. “For which I apologize. In my defense, I was not in my right mind at the time, having been in a coma for six years and mind-controlled, so I wasn’t at my best when we ran into each other. The bite is a gift . . .”

“So Derek keeps telling me.”

Derek growled at the sarcasm and disrespect in Scott’s tone, subsiding only when Peter glanced at him. Peter otherwise ignored Scott’s comment and continued. “. . . and I regret that I bit you without getting your permission first. Still, we’re pack now, so you won’t be alone.”

“I’m not alone,” Scott said. “I have my mom and Stiles and Dr. Deaton and . . .” He cut off and glanced at Allison, who smiled back at him.

Chris bit his tongue so he didn’t make a sound.

“And now you have Derek and I, as well,” Peter said smoothly. He squeezed Scott’s shoulder. “We’ll answer any questions you have and help you remain under the radar so you don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself. And by extension, to us.”

“But I don’t want to remain under the radar!” Scott said. “I want to play lacrosse! I’m good at it now!”

Derek’s mouth opened and closed again as he deferred to Peter.

“You’re good at lacrosse because you no longer have asthma and you’re enjoying the benefits of increased speed, strength, endurance. None of which you’ll continue to enjoy if you’re dead.”

Scott’s eyes went wide. “Did you just threaten me?”

“Not at all,” Peter said. “I’m warning you. Now that you’re a werewolf, there are people out there, hunters, who are just waiting for you to make a mistake so they can kill you.”

““You’re just trying to scare me.”

“I’m trying to impress upon you the danger you could be in if you’re not careful.”

“He’s not exaggerating,” Chris said. “I’ve already told you a little bit about hunters; you shouldn’t take them lightly.”

Allison, brow furrowed with worry, took Scott’s hand. “You need to be careful. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to you.”

“Of course I’ll be careful,” Scott assured her.

“Can we go study now?” Allison said, looking from Chris to Peter.

“Of course,” Peter said.

Allison led Scott off the porch, glancing back over her shoulder and giving them a ‘that’s how it’s done’ look. They waited in silence until Peter gave the all clear.

“I’m glad she’s on our side.”

Chris stifled a laugh, but couldn’t keep down the twinge of pleasure at Peter’s comment. He and Peter hadn’t been on the same side in a long while. Chris had missed it.

~*~

They’d finished eating when John showed up with Stiles in tow. Chris escorted them to the living room where he’d been sitting in uncomfortable silence with Derek and Peter. Chris offered John and Stiles leftovers and Stiles gave him a suspicious look. “Grilled chicken and tossed salad.”

Stiles indicated his approval and John said, “How could I turn down more salad?”

Stiles clapped John on the shoulder. “That’s the spirit, dad!”

Peter stood from the couch and said, “John.”

“Peter.” John took Peter’s hand and pulled him into a hug. “Damn, it’s good to see you awake and on your feet. Sorry I couldn’t get back to Beacons Crossing yesterday.”

Peter squeezed John’s shoulder as they separated. “You did more than enough, thank you.”

“Any time.” John twitched when he realized Stiles was still standing there. “Stiles, this is Peter Hale. Derek’s uncle and an old friend. Peter, this is my son, Stiles.”

“I remember Stiles,” Peter said, “but this can’t possibly be him. You’ve grown; you’re no longer the child I remember. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“You, too.” Stiles glanced between Derek, Peter, and John. “You know about . . . ?” He tilted his head towards Derek and Peter.

“Werewolves? Yes, Stiles, I’ve known for years.”

Stiles’ eyes went round and he flailed. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

“What are you reading?” Peter said.

“What?” Stiles said, distracted by the interruption. He lowered his head to look at the book in his hand. “Oh, Fahrenheit 451. I’ve got to do a report for English.”

“Well, if you need help you could always ask Derek.”

Stiles flailed so hard at that he nearly fell over. “What?”

“Derek loved English. Didn’t you?”

Derek glared a hole in Peter’s head, but said, “Yes.”

“Oh. Okay. Well, thank you. I guess I will, if I need help,” Stiles said, sounding unsure.

“You’re welcome,” Peter said.

“Are Scott and Allison upstairs?”

“Yes.” Chris was actually surprised that Scott hadn’t heard Stiles and John arrive, but didn’t want to think about why he might be preoccupied.

“Okay, I’m just going to . . .” Stiles gestured towards the stairs with the book.

Peter watched Stiles leave, then turned to John with a strange expression on his face. Chris understood; looking at Stiles was like looking at a ghost.

John clapped Peter’s shoulder. “I know. It hits me in the gut every time I see him.” He addressed Chris. “Please tell me you saved me some of that steak.”

“A little bit,” Chris said.

Chris, John, and Derek gathered around the kitchen table and spent the next hour bringing Peter up to speed on the investigation.

Week Three: The Following Friday

Chris didn’t know what he thought living with Peter and Derek would be like, but he barely saw them over the next week. Chris heard from Melissa that Peter had visited her and that he’d started attending Satomi’s meditation training with Scott and Derek. Chris reminded himself that, no matter what had happened since he’d returned to Beacon Hills, he’d been the one to leave Peter and he had no right to feel left out of Peter’s life right now. Especially since Peter was feeling the loss of his family as if it had happened yesterday rather than six years ago.

Saturday night Allison and Scott went bowling with Lydia and the Whittemore kid. Chris invited Melissa to go bowling.

“You want to crash their date?” Melissa said, sounding scandalized.

“I want to make sure Scott doesn’t give away the fact that he’s a werewolf.”

Melissa laughed so hard tears ran down her cheeks when Chris told her that Jackson Whittemore had already confronted Scott about where he was getting his ‘juice’. “Oh my god,” Melissa said, sucking in air. “My mom does the grocery shopping!” And she was off again.

Chris waited until she’d calmed down. “So, is that a yes?”

Scott had been horrified to see his mother walk in with Chris, but Allison had just rolled her eyes. Chris had given Allison a hug, patted Scott on the shoulder, and thanked Lydia for helping Allison acclimate to the new school. He’d given Jackson a long look and mentioned that he recognized him from practice the other day.

Chris and Melissa took a lane far away from their kids. Though it had been a while since Chris had bowled, it came back to him quickly. Melissa still beat him handily. As a reward he bought them both milkshakes and they shared a basket of fries.

“If I ignore the fact that my sixteen-year old son is right over there, I feel like I’m back in high school.”

If they were back in high school, John and Claudia and Peter would be there. “Yeah,” Chris said anyway.

Melissa smiled and gave Chris a pass on the obvious lie.

~*~

Allison spent Sunday shopping and studying with Lydia. Chris was at loose ends, not even having a visit with Peter to look forward to, until John called to tell him they’d finally picked up Unger. Chris spent most of the day at the Sheriff Department while John questioned Unger, who couldn’t give them any more information about the person who’d hired he and Reddick than Myers and Maring had.

Frustrated, Chris began looking into chemists and past arson investigators. He made a list of arson investigators for the past twenty years and another list of local companies that employed chemists. It was a long list, and it only covered Beacon County. If they’d found someone further away it would be almost impossible to find them. It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack as it was.

Chris spent the week in fruitless interviews and going to the gym John had recommended to work off some of his frustration. One afternoon Chris arrived home from the gym to find a real estate magazine on the kitchen island.

“We’re looking for something temporary,” Peter said, sweeping it up. “I’ve talked to a couple of construction outfits about taking down the house and rebuilding.”

Chris nodded. “Of course.” He waited until Peter had disappeared up the stairs to head back outside and go for a run. Chris hated running.

Maybe it would be better if Peter and Derek left. The distance between them was emphasized by living in the same house and only rarely seeing each other. If they had their own place, though, Chris would probably never see Peter.

~*~

Friday afternoon Chris answered the knock on the door to find Kate standing on the other side. “Kate,” Chris said, shocked.

“Hey, big brother,” Kate said. “You gonna let me in?”

Chris narrowed his eyes. “What are you doing here?”

Kate pouted. “You don’t sound happy to see me.”

“You didn’t call.”

“I was in the area. Thought I’d drop in to see how you’re settling in.”

“We’re settling in just fine.” Chris stepped back just enough to allow Kate to squeeze past him.

Kate gave Chris a triumphant smirk as she passed him and stepped into the entry. Kate had never been a gracious winner. Chris took a deep breath as he closed the door, steeling himself to deal with Kate. She’d stepped further into the entry and was looking into the living room.

“Nice place,” Kate said without any sincerity. “Gonna give me the grand tour?”

“The tour can wait until you tell me why you’re really here.”

Kate’s eyes narrowed. “Where’s Allison?”

“Allison’s still at school.”

“Good. Then we can talk without being interrupted.”

Kate sashayed into the living room. Chris reminded himself to remain calm and followed her. Kate took off her jacket and laid it over the back of the couch before sitting down and stretching her legs out, resting booted feet on the coffee table.

Chris noted the way the jacket lay heavy on one side. There was something in the inside pocket; probably the stun baton Kate preferred. Chris couldn’t see it, but there was probably a pistol in a holster at her back and a knife sheathed at her ankle.

Chris sat in a chair that gave him a view of Kate as well as the front door. “What do you want, Kate?”

“Dad wants to know when you’re going to stop sulking and return to the family business.”

Chris ignored the first part and addressed the second. “I’m never going to hunt again.”

Kate studied her nails and spoke as if she didn’t care either way. “Pity. I told dad you were stubborn and that he should wait longer than a few weeks before approaching you.”

“It wouldn’t matter.”

Kate shrugged. “What have you been up to?”

That overly casual tone was Kate’s tell – finding out what Chris was doing in Beacon Hills was why she was here. Chris didn’t let on that he was suspicious, but he studied her reaction when he replied.

“I’ve reconnected with some friends from high school.”

If there was a twitch it was lost in Kate leaning forward to pick up the yearbook. Chris forced himself to not react.

“Is that why this is out?” Kate made a show of casually flipping through it.

“No,” Chris said. “That’s out because Allison thinks it’s funny to ask my old friends if I was a dork in high school.”

Kate smirked. “Were you?”

“I had too many calluses on my fingers and too much darkness in my heart to be a dork.”

Kate raised her gaze to look at Chris over the yearbook. “I don’t remember you being so melodramatic back then.” She gave the yearbook a sneer and closed it. “What else?”

“Grocery shopping, cooking dinner for Allison, and contemplating my future. In the meantime, the Sheriff has asked me to consult on a cold case.” And there it was. Somehow it had gotten back to the hunter community that someone was investigating the Hale fire, and Kate had been sent to feel things out. Chris continued in a steady voice. “That keeps me from doing too much navel gazing.”

“What kind of case could you consult on?” Kate kept her voice even, but there was a thread of tension in her shoulders.

Chris pretended not to notice but watched closely. “There was a tragic fire six years ago. Killed nearly an entire family.”

“Wait,” Kate said, covering her look of surprise with feigned shock. “Are you talking about the Hale fire?”

“You remember it?”

“Hard to forget,” Kate said. “If I remember correctly, there were quite a few celebrations. An entire family of monsters taken care of and we didn’t even need to lift a finger.”

Chris didn’t bother arguing with Kate over her view of werewolves – she had too much Gerard in her to change – but said, “Someone lifted a finger.”

“Why does it matter?”

“That family was innocent!”

“No one’s innocent,” Kate scoffed.

“They hadn’t broken the Code,” Chris said, “and there were children in that house.”

“Children that would’ve grown up to be monsters,” Kate said coldly.

“You really don’t see anything wrong with it?”

“I think someone saved us a whole lot of trouble down the line.”

“That’s not what we do.”

“You gonna police the Code now?” Kate mocked.

“Maybe someone should.”

Kate took a breath and visibly reigned herself in. “I thought that fire was ruled electrical,” she said. “A ‘tragic accident’.” Her tone implied exactly what she’d already said – that she didn’t think the death of an entire family of werewolves was tragic at all.

Chris forced himself to ignore it. “The fire was ruled electrical at the time, but new evidence suggests it might be arson.”

“Since when are you an arson investigator?” Kate said with a dismissive laugh.

“I’m not,” Chris said. “But I’m uniquely qualified to know that when mountain ash is used a hunter is probably involved.”

Kate looked relieved. “That’s all you’ve got, mountain ash?”

“It’s something,” Chris said. “And if l keep digging I’m bound to find more.”

Kate stood abruptly. “I need to use the bathroom.”

Kate might’ve hoped that Chris would send her upstairs, but he led Kate to the half-bath off the kitchen. He waited until she’d locked the door to go out to the garage. Chris got a tracker out of a locked drawer and a whole chicken out of the freezer for cover.

Back in the kitchen Chris put the chicken in a bowl of water and started a fresh pot of coffee. He pulled out his cell phone and texted Derek, Kate’s here, stay away for now. Chris deleted the text and changed Derek’s name in his contacts, just in case Kate got a hold of it.

“What are you doing?” Kate said.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “Checking my messages.” He slipped the phone back into his pocket. “Coffee?”

“Does that mean you’re going to let me stay long enough to see Allison?”

“Of course,” Chris said, as if that hadn’t even been a question when it very much had. “Allison adores you.”

Chris fixed the coffee and they returned to the living room. When they tried to make small talk, Chris was struck with the realization of just how little they had in common outside of hunting. Kate told him about the omega she’d been hunting in Ashland, Oregon and that one of Gerard’s lieutenants was expecting another child. Finally she offered job advice.

“It’s best to find something where you can utilize your talents. So maybe security, or the route most retired law enforcement officers take if all those books are to be believed – private investigator.”

They weren’t bad ideas, but Chris wasn’t in the mood to discuss his future with Kate. He said, “Or maybe I could continue consulting for the Sheriff Department.”

“That won’t keep you very busy.”

“Actually, there have been more supernatural incursions into Beacon Hills since the Hales were murdered.”

Kate’s eyes flashed with anger at Chris’ bluntness.

“That’s what happens when a stable pack is wiped out.”

Chris was glad he was sipping from the coffee cup when he heard the familiar rumble of the Camaro’s engine approach the house, idle, then pull away. Chris checked his watch; Derek had probably gone to pick up Scott. Hopefully he’d warn Scott to lay low and also pass on news of Kate’s visit to Satomi.

Chris schooled his expression when the key turned in the lock and the front door pushed open, though he was tested by Peter calling out, “Honey, I’m home!”

Kate, who must’ve been expecting Allison, rose to her feet with the grace of a lioness. The welcoming smile slid off her face and was replaced by a fake smile and gritted teeth. “Peter Hale,” Kate said. “I heard you’d woken from your coma.”

That was news to Chris.

“Good news travels fast,” Peter said.

“But I didn’t realize you’d shacked up with Chris. Daddy’s going to be so disappointed.”

That last was directed at Chris.

“Gerard can kiss my ass,” Peter said with a smile.

The sentiment was mutual, but Chris merely said, “Peter and I aren’t ‘shacking up’. He needed a place to stay until they can rebuild the house.”

“They?” Kate said.

Chris gave himself a mental kick for the slip.

Peter smoothly said, “My pack is small, but I do still have one.”

“How precious,” Kate said.

Chris frowned. Peter’s claws came out and his eyes flashed red. Kate couldn’t hide her surprise, but she recovered quickly.

“I need to run some errands,” Kate said. “But I’ll be back later to see Allison.”

“Of course,” Chris said. He picked up Kate’s jacket and helped her into it. “You can stay for dinner.”

“I’d like that,” Kate said.

Chris walked Kate to the door and waved before she pulled away. He closed the door and returned to the garage where he got out a tablet. Once it was powered up, Chris opened the tracking program. He watched the dot that represented Kate.

“What did you do?” Peter said from his position lounging in the doorway.

“Dropped a tracker in her pocket,” Chris said.

“I didn’t know you were that devious.”

“You must’ve rubbed off on me,” Chris said. Thankfully Peter didn’t leap on the opening.

“Where do you think she’s going?” Peter said.

“To report to Gerard.”

“That we’re ‘shacking up’?”

“That you’re the alpha now.”

“Why would that elicit their interest?”

“Everything elicits their interest,” Chris said. “But in this case it means you’re not an omega they’d feel duty-bound to kill, and it means there was a change in leadership of the Hale pack while they weren’t paying attention. And they know you’re not the only Hale in town due to my misstep.”

“They would’ve found out soon enough,” Peter said. “We’re not exactly hiding.”

Chris took the tablet into the kitchen and stood it on the counter. He refreshed his cup of coffee and poured one for Peter. They both sat at the island and watched the GPS dot as it moved through Beacon Hills. Kate finally stopped at a motor inn on the outskirts of town.

“Interesting,” Peter said. “Why would she be staying at a motel if she was visiting you and expected to be invited to use the guestroom?”

“Because she’s not staying there,” Chris said. “Her team is.”

Chris immediately sent off two texts. The first to Allison, Come home after practice. Kate’s coming to dinner. The second to Derek, Kate’s here with a team, use caution.

“We need to get you a cell phone,” Chris said to Peter as he dialed John.

Peter withdrew a phone from his pocket and laid it on the island. Chris tried not to feel hurt that he hadn’t known about the phone, that Peter had neither given Chris his number nor asked for Chris’.

“Kate’s in town,” Chris said tersely when John answered.

“Why?” John said, immediately understanding the danger she represented to Peter and Derek, and possibly to Scott and Allison.

“Claimed she was in the area and wanted to see how we were settling in,” Chris said, his tone making clear his disbelief.

John snorted.

“But she brought a team with her, so . . .”

“Things could get ugly.”

“Yes.”

“Where’s Scott?”

“At practice. Derek went to pick him up for training with Satomi after.”

John suggested that Chris call Satomi and he’d call Melissa to pass on the warning. Chris ended the call and opened the text message he’d received while they were talking. He’d thought it might be a reply from Allison, but it was from a number he didn’t recognize. Chris opened the message, which merely said P.

“My number,” Peter said, his gaze on the tablet screen where the red dot hadn’t moved.

“Thank you.” Chris tried not to make too much out of the fact that Peter had his number after all, and had voluntarily sent his number to Chris. He called Satomi and passed along the information about Kate’s ‘visit’.

Chris leaned against the island and scrubbed a hand over his face. “I knew Gerard wouldn’t leave us alone forever, but I thought I had more time to prepare.”

“Maybe that’s why he had Kate come now,” Peter said. “I won’t let anything happen to Allison,” he said, going straight to the heart of Chris’ unease. His eyes went unfocused for a moment, then he said, “Allison’s car.”

A moment later the garage door opened and Allison’s car turned into the driveway and pulled into the garage. Chris stared at Peter, who shrugged.

“I know what her engine sounds like.”

Instead of trying to come up with a response to that, Chris went to greet Allison.

“Dad!”

“Everything’s fine.” Chris wrapped Allison in his arms, hoping it was true.

“What does Aunt Kate want?”

Chris told Allison what he knew. “She’s not here for you. I think word got out that Peter woke up and Gerard sent her to check it out.”

“How’d they find out?”

“I’m pretty sure Gerard has a spy in town. It’s a common hunter practice.”

“Do they know about Scott?”

“No, Alli, Scott’s safe.” Chris squeezed Allison’s arms. “He’s staying under the radar.”

“How long is she staying?”

“I don’t know.”

~*~

Chris had been on guard, but dinner had gone well. Kate wasn’t aware that Allison knew about werewolves, so she’d been forced to be circumspect. Peter and Derek had stayed away, and when Kate brought them up Allison had shrugged Peter off as ‘some old friend of dad’s from high school’ and changed the subject.

Allison talked about starting over at a new school and making a friend and there being a boy she thought might like her.

“Melissa McCall’s son,” Chris said. “She was Delgado when we were in high school.”

Kate looked like she couldn’t care less about that, which was what Chris wanted.

Allison also told Kate about her classes and one teacher in particular who was a jerk. Kate raised an eyebrow in response and said, “Chemistry never was my forte.”

Kate gave edited accounts of the places she’d visited since she last saw them and asked Allison if she was keeping up with her archery. It was the closest she came to insinuating to Chris that Allison should be using her skills for hunting instead of competing.

After the leftovers were put away and the dishes stacked in the dishwasher, Kate said, “How do you feel about ice cream?”

“I’d love some ice cream!” Allison said. “Dad?”

“I thought maybe just us girls,” Kate said.

“Oh,” Allison said, caught off guard. She glanced at Chris.

“It’s fine, sweetheart.” Chris kissed the top of Allison’s head. “I’ve got to get used to you doing things without your old man.”

“We’ll bring you back some,” Allison promised.

“Thank you.” Chris followed Allison and Kate to the entryway and waited while they put on their jackets. He picked up Allison’s gloves from the table where she’d laid them and handed them to her. “Don’t forget your gloves.”

“Thanks, dad.” Allison gave Chris a kiss on the cheek and followed Kate out to her car.

Chris waved and waited until Kate had backed out of the driveway to close the door. Chris immediately called John, who promised to keep an eye on Allison. Chris didn’t think Kate was going to abscond with Allison, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

“Where’s Scott?” John said before they hung up.

“With Derek and Peter,” Chris said, then jumped when Peter cleared his throat behind him. “With Derek and . . . Stiles,” Chris corrected after Peter mouthed the name to him.

“I thought you were with Scott.” Chris slipped the phone into his pocket after he ended the call.

“Scott’s in good hands. He’s playing video games, completely oblivious to any danger. No one’s watching the house,” Peter added. “In case you were worried about that.”

Chris hadn’t been worried, exactly, but it had been a concern. “Have you been out there the whole time Kate was here?”

“You can never be too careful,” Peter said. “I could follow them,” he offered.

“If Kate sees you she’ll be suspicious.”

Peter gave Chris a look. “Kate would never see me.”

“Nevertheless,” Chris said. He retrieved the tablet from the office and they watched the two dots move with synchronicity through Beacon Hills to the diner while Chris reheated leftovers for Peter.

“Why are there two dots?” Peter said.

“Did you really think I was going to let Allison go anywhere with Kate without having a way to track her?”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “Does she know that?”

“She probably figured it out when she put her gloves on and found the tracker.”

The wait for Kate to bring Allison home was interminable, though they were gone for less than two hours. Making sure the kitchen was spotless and staring at the unmoving dots could only take up so much time.

“Kate suggested I use my experience to go into security or become a P.I.,” Chris said.

“Or you could do something completely different,” Peter said.

“Like what?” Chris said, skeptical.

“Landscaping, open a used book store, become a pastry chef,” Peter said immediately.

Chris swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat as he was reminded about the daydreams he and Peter used to share when Chris had dared to imagine he could be free of Gerard. And now finally he was, and he could do . . .

“You can do anything you want to,” Peter said.

Peter left Chris alone, but Chris was sure he hadn’t gone far. Finally John called to tell Chris that Kate and Allison had left the diner. Chris sat on the couch and watched the dots move across the screen until he heard Kate’s car pull into the driveway.

Chris slid the tablet into the drawer of the coffee table and leaned back into the couch, forcing himself to relax. He glanced over his shoulder when the front door opened and said unconcernedly, “Hey, sweetheart.”

“Hey, dad!” Allison swept into the living room, bringing the outside cold with her. “We brought you a milkshake.”

“Oh, thanks. You didn’t have to do that.”

Allison leaned over the couch to hand Chris the milkshake. She kissed his cheek. “We wanted to.” Allison straightened. “Have you just been sitting here?”

“I was thinking,” Chris said.

“About what?”

About something Kate said earlier.” Chris acknowledged Kate standing behind Allison.

Kate raised an eyebrow.

“Regarding what I’m going to do with all my free time.”

“Are you looking for a job?” Allison said.

“I’m still in the process of thinking about it.” Chris set the milkshake down and stood, taking the tracker Allison had stuck to the side of the cup and slipping it into his pocket. He hugged Kate. “I wish we could offer you the guestroom.” The words were easy to say now that Kate was leaving. “Will you be staying in town?”

Kate raised an eyebrow.

“It’s the weekend,” Chris said. “Allison’s off school; maybe we could do something together.”

“We could go shopping for shoes!” Allison said.

“Hard pass,” Chris said. “Maybe bowling.”

Allison blushed. “Speaking of bowling, we saw Mrs. McCall and Sheriff Stilinski at the diner.”

“What’s the bowling connection?” Kate said.

“Dad and Mrs. McCall went bowling last weekend.”

“We’re just friends,” Chris said. “We went to high school together,” he said to Kate.

“So you said. Melissa mentioned that, too,” Kate said.

They’d ended up back in the entry where Allison hung up her coat. “Please say you’ll stay, Aunt Kate.”

“Maybe for another day,” Kate said.

Allison hugged Kate, then Chris, before heading through the dining room to the kitchen.

“Maybe we could go to the range before you and Allison go shopping,” Chris said.

“Sounds good,” Kate said. “I’ll call you.”

Chris didn’t turn away from the door until he could no longer hear Kate’s engine. Allison was standing in the dining room doorway. “Why do we want her to stay?”

Chris swore under his breath. “First.” He took the tracker out of his pocket, showed it to Allison, then dropped it into her jacket pocket. “Don’t leave home without it.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“You can never be too careful where Gerard is concerned,” Peter said, but he never took his eyes off Chris.

“Second,” Chris said. “Both of you need to stop sneaking up on me.”

Peter and Allison shared a look.

“Third. As for Kate, she’s too intrigued to leave now – she knows Peter’s awake and that he’s the alpha, she knows he’s got a pack. It’s best if we know where she is.”

“Okay. Will she stay long?”

“Until she’s satisfied,” Chris said. He didn’t mention that he had no idea what would satisfy Kate.

“Can I call Scott?”

“Yes, but Alli, he doesn’t know there was need for concern.”

“I won’t tell him. I just want to make sure he’s safe.”

“You can tell Derek it’s safe to come home now,” Chris said. “Come back, I mean.”

Peter texted Derek while Chris went to retrieve the tablet. He looked up and saw Peter staring at the milkshake. “Want to share? Allison brought it back.”

Peter shook himself. “I’m going to make sure she’s really left.”

Chris gestured towards the tablet, but Peter was already gone. He drank the milkshake and watched Kate’s dot as it returned to the motor inn. It remained motionless for the next hour that Chris watched. He tried to wait up for Peter and Derek to return, but the stress over Kate’s unexpected visit had taken a lot out of him. He went to bed and never heard them come in.

Chapter Text

Week Three: Saturday

The next morning Chris met Kate for breakfast at the diner. As he’d expected, now that they were alone, she harangued him about telling Allison about werewolves and training her to hunt.

“I’m out,” Chris said. “That means Allison’s out.”

Kate gave Chris a pitying look. “You know it doesn’t work that way.”

Luckily John approached their table before Chris had to answer. They shook hands and Chris introduced John to Kate.

“We ran into each other last night,” John said as he extended his hand to Kate. “I remember Kate, but it took me a few minutes to place her, since the last time I saw her she was, like, ten. It’s good to see you again, Kate.”

“Thirteen.” Kate smiled as if she hadn’t just been talking about training Allison to kill people. “You, too, Sheriff.”

“I heard you and Melissa were here last night,” Chris said.

“Yeah, we get together once in a while when our schedules sync up. As single parents we sometimes need someone to talk to and bounce stuff off of.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Kate said.

Chris could tell that her sympathy was faked and it grated on his nerves. “Would you like to join us?” he asked John.

“Nah,” John said. “I got my order to go. But thank you. You two have a good day now.”

“We will.” Chris waited until John had taken a step away to say, “Does Stiles know you’re here?”

“If he feeds me another veggie burger tonight I’ll know who told him,” John called back over his shoulder.

Chris chuckled. Before Kate could return to their earlier topic he said, “Firing range?”

At least there they wouldn’t be able to talk.

~*~

Even though he’d suggested it, Chris was concerned about Allison spending the afternoon alone with Kate. That worry nearly evaporated when he realized the strange car in their driveway belonged to Lydia Martin.

Chris whispered, “Smart girl,” into Allison’s ear when he gave her a hug goodbye. Allison grinned and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze when he pulled back.

Chris watched the three women pile into Lydia’s car and the car back out of the driveway. Allison had given Kate the front seat so they were separated and unable to talk. Not that they’d have been able to talk about werewolves with Lydia there in any case.

Chris smiled as he closed the door, proud of Allison’s ingenuity. Unless Kate was willing to knock Lydia out to accomplish it, there was no way she’d spirit Allison away during this shopping trip. Chris turned around and jerked backwards when he saw Peter standing right behind him.

“Jesus christ.” Chris made an aborted move towards his chest. “I know you’re doing that on purpose.”

Peter raised an eyebrow that neither confirmed nor denied. “Are you going to tell me to stop?”

Chris pushed away from the door. “No.” After everything Peter had been through because of Chris and whoever’d murdered his family, Chris figured he deserved a little payback. “What did you want?”

“We searched Kate’s room this morning,” Peter said.

“We?” Chris said. “You were supposed to be watching Allison.”

“I meant ‘we’ in the general sense. I didn’t leave your daughter alone,” Peter reassured Chris.

Chris sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face. “Sorry. I’ve never been in the position where I had to worry about my own family like this.”

“Mmm.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Let’s table arguing about Gerard, unless you don’t want to know what we found in Kate’s room.”

Chris really didn’t want to argue about Gerard, now or later. “How did you get in without being seen?”

“We didn’t try not to be seen,” Peter said. “Satomi knows someone who works there in housekeeping. She waltzed right in with her key and searched the room while she made the bed and restocked towels.”

“You’re kidding.” Chris shook his head at the irony that a werewolf worked at the motor inn where a group of hunters had decided to stay. “What did she find?”

“Not very much. Kate is very careful. She only has one weakness.”

“Which is?” Chris said when Peter paused.

“She likes to keep a journal about ‘special’ hunts.”

“What do you mean?”

Peter hesitated before handing over a memory card from a camera. “There’s only one entry in this journal. Chris . . .” Peter’s head went up. “We’ve got company.”

“Where?”

Peter concentrated. “Two in the front, two in the back.”

They’d waited until Allison was out of the house, at least.

“Call John.” Chris took off for the garage. He had the pistol he’d taken to the range on him, but he’d need more than that if these men had any kind of fire power.”

Chris met Peter in the kitchen.

“John’s coming.”

Chris nodded. “Where’s Derek?”

“Helping Stiles with his book report while Scott complains that he couldn’t see Allison this afternoon because of her aunt’s visit.”

Just as Chris was trying to determine where they’d breach first, the front doorbell rang. Chris and Peter exchanged looks. It could be that they were trying to send Chris running to the backyard where there’d be fewer witnesses, especially if they didn’t know Peter was inside the house and had sensed the men waiting back there.

Chris and Peter communicated with silent gestures and raised eyebrows. “Coming!” Chris called as they got into position.

Peter opened the door and darted into the dining room. Two hunters pushed into the house and followed the movement. They raised their weapons to fire at Peter. Chris stepped out from around the living room doorway and fired his Desert Eagle twice. Both men dropped without getting a shot off.

Chris rushed over to make sure they’d stay down. He kicked away their weapons and closed the front door. Chris searched and disarmed the men of additional weapons while Peter stood to the side, his claws extending and retracting as he stared off into the distance, listening to the men at the back of the house.

“They’re making their move,” Peter said.

A moment later the crash of breaking glass had Peter and Chris turning to face the back of the house. Two men entered from the enclosed porch, carelessly stepping on broken glass from the sliding door. Peter leapt in front of Chris, taking the bullet meant for him.

Peter’s body jerked with the force of being hit, but he recovered and charged the two men. After he confirmed they wouldn’t be shot in the back, Chris followed. There were two more shots before Peter knocked the gun out of one man’s hand. Peter picked up the man and threw him into the second man. The second man pushed the first off him and raised his gun. Peter kicked the gun hand and, if the sound Chris heard was any indication, broke the man’s wrist.

Chris ignored the man’s cries of pain and searched them both. The front door slammed open and Chris leapt to his feet, bringing his gun up. He recognized John at the same time John announced, “Beacon County Sheriff Department!”

“Clear?” John said.

“Clear,” Chris confirmed.

They both began to lower their weapons, but Chris noticed that the Deputy behind John still had his weapon aimed at them. John turned around when he realized Chris wasn’t lowering his gun, and was looking behind him.

“It’s okay, son,” John said.

Deputy Haigh stared at Chris – no, Chris realized, at Peter – for a long moment before he turned to John with a nervous nod and holstered his weapon. John instructed Haigh to call for a couple of ambulances and made his way to Chris.

“What happened, home invasion?” John said loudly.

“Yeah,” Chris agreed.

“Any idea what they were looking for?”

“Maybe they heard about my weapons collection.”

“All registered, I hope,” John said.

“Of course.”

As they spoke, Chris kept his attention on Deputy Haigh. He’d been with the Sheriff Department for almost six years. In fact, he’d started a few months after the Hale fire. It didn’t have to mean anything, but Chris didn’t like coincidences. And he didn’t like the way Haigh had looked at Peter before lowering his gun.

“We’ve got a minor problem,” Peter said. He raised his shirt to show them the black lines radiating from the bullet wound in his side.

“Aww, hell,” John said.

“Shit.” Chris looked over the guns he’d kicked aside for the one that had shot the wolfsbane bullet. “Distract your deputy while we take care of this.”

Chris grabbed the gun and shoved Peter into the kitchen when John sent Haigh out to the cruiser to get the evidence kit. Chris rushed around getting a bowl and a lighter while Peter opened two bullets and emptied their contents into the dish. Chris lit the powder on fire. He waited until the flame went out to scoop up some of the burnt wolfsbane and press it into the wound while Peter held up the shirt and gritted his teeth.

“It’s working,” Chris said. He raised his head to find Peter watching him with a strange expression.

Peter looked away. When he looked back it was gone. “I liked this shirt,” he said.

Which reminded Chris that Peter still had a bullet in him. “We need to remove the bullet and get rid of it.”

Chris dug out the bullet and handed it to Peter. “Flush it. And get rid of that shirt.”

Chris washed his hands, washed the tweezers and bowl, and wiped down the counter. The first of the ambulances pulled up outside just as he finished. Chris went out to watch the first of the men being loaded up. All four were being taken to the hospital for an exam even though one had merely been thrown about.

Peter returned before the fourth man had been transported to Beacon Hills Memorial. He stood in the dining room doorway and watched Deputy Haigh catalogue the guns and collect bullets from the drywall in the entryway. Peter’s regard appeared to make the deputy extremely uncomfortable. Chris thought he saw Haigh’s hand inch towards his holster more than once.

When Haigh was done in the front, Clarke in the back, John sent them out to lock the evidence in the back of his cruiser and impound the hunters’ vehicle.

“Wolfsbane bullets,” John said when they were alone. “They knew Peter was here.”

“Peter might’ve been their cover, but I’m pretty sure they were here for me,” Chris said, trying to keep any inflection out of his voice. He’d walked away from Gerard, but it still hurt that Gerard would see him dead so he could get to Allison.

“Kate or Gerard?” John said.

“Are they different?” Peter said.

“Gerard,” Chris said. His hands shook as he pulled out his phone, luckily undamaged from the firefight, and called Allison. “Hey, sweetheart.”

“Hey, dad. Everything alright?”

“Everything’s fine,” Chris lied. “I just wanted to check on you.”

“I’m fine. I got a new pair of boots.”

Chris groaned like he was supposed to. “Do I want to know how much they cost?”

“No,” Allison said airily.

“That’s what I thought. Have fun. And Alli?”

“Yes?”

“Be careful.”

“I will,” Allison promised.

Chris was pretty sure Kate wouldn’t attempt anything while Lydia was with them, but it was still difficult to not race to the mall and snatch Allison away from Kate. Instead he cleaned up the blood and made a run to the nearest Home Depot to get a replacement sliding door which Peter helped him install.

Chris checked his watch and let out a breath. They’d finished just in time; Allison would be home soon. Chris packed away his tools and carried the box out to the garage. On his return, Chris stood in the middle of the kitchen and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“What’s wrong?” Peter said.

Chris didn’t jump, but only because he was too tired. “I need to make supper.”

“It’s taken care of,” Peter said.

Chris’ head came around. “What?”

“Supper,” Peter said slowly. “It’s taken care of.”

“How . . . ?”

“Go clean up,” Peter said. “You don’t want Allison, or Kate, to see you looking like this.”

Chris nodded. He didn’t want to think that Kate had anything to do with the men who’d tried to kill him (and/or Peter), but she’d always been her daddy’s girl and followed Gerard’s orders without question. Would she have gone so far as to be part of killing her own brother? Maybe. If she thought he’d betrayed them by quitting. And if she really wanted to get her hands on Allison.

Chris washed his hands and face, ran wet hands through his hair. He changed his shirt, which he just now noticed had drops of blood on it, and which he’d fear-sweated through. In the living room Peter had already poured an inch of scotch into a tumbler that he handed to Chris. Chris drank the whole thing, letting it burn down his throat and send tendrils of warmth throughout his body. Peter raised an eyebrow, but refilled the glass.

“Sip this one,” Peter suggested.

Chris took a sip and watched Peter’s graceful movements as he returned the bottle to the cabinet. “How’s your side?”

“All healed up,” Peter said blithely, as if he hadn’t just had a life-threatening experience.

“Let me see.”

Peter raised an eyebrow.

“Please,” Chris said. He didn’t know why it was so important to him to see for himself that Peter was going to be fine. Or maybe he did.

Peter studied Chris for a long moment, then raised the hem of his shirt. Chris stared at the unblemished skin – no hole, no blood, no black lines. He nodded and Peter lowered the shirt.

“Like I said, fine. Sit,” Peter said. “The food’ll be here soon.”

Chris wanted to ask questions, but he was just too tired. He sat and sipped, and he tried to not think about the fact that he might have to go to extreme measures to keep Allison safe from Gerard.

Peter, who’d been silently keeping Chris company, stirred and stood. Chris heard a car pull into the driveway and tried to rouse. Peter stayed him with a hand. “It’s not Allison.”

Peter opened the door before the bell rang and John, loaded down with take-out bags, stepped into the entry.

“John,” Chris said, finding the energy to rise.

John smiled and gestured with the bags. “I hope you’re hungry.”

John moved towards the kitchen and Derek came in behind him, scowling. Derek had barely gotten out of the way when Stiles and Scott fell through the doorway. Everyone followed the scent of food until it was just Peter and Chris again.

“I feel like we’ve just been invaded.”

Peter closed the door. “You’re not alone.”

Chris contemplated repeating those words to Peter, but didn’t know if it would be appropriate since he’d lost most of his family and was literally alone except for Derek. By the time Chris said, “And you’ve still got people who care about you,” Peter had also followed the scent of food.

The kitchen was controlled chaos. John was setting out containers, Peter was getting down plates, Scott was stealing shrimp from one of the containers, Derek was in a corner glaring at everyone, and Stiles was lecturing John on how he should at least have a salad while John nodded in agreement even though there was conveniently no salad in sight.

John stepped back and let Stiles and Scott fill their plates first. Chris held back while the other adults filled their plates, not wanting to eat without Allison. Chris bit back a chuckle when all three werewolves reacted at the same time. Peter nodded at Chris, though Scott’s flush would’ve given away Allison’s return.

Chris went to the front door and stepped outside to greet them. He gave Allison a hug, and invited Lydia to join them for supper. Kate didn’t look surprised to see him, and Chris hated that he couldn’t tell if the look with which she swept the entry was more than casual interest.

After they removed their jackets, Chris showed the ladies through to the kitchen. “Kate, I think you know everyone except Scott and Stiles . . .” Chris gave Peter a look when he noticed that Derek was missing. Peter shrugged.

Chris continued his introductions. “Lydia, Sheriff Stilinski and Peter Hale. Go ahead and dig in.”

The adults carried their plates to the dining room, leaving the kitchen to the teenagers. Kate looked tempted to stay with Allison, but ended up in the dining room. The conversation miraculously stayed away from the events of that afternoon, but John managed to turn the conversation so it seemed normal when he asked Kate for how long she’d be visiting.

“I’ll probably be leaving tomorrow,” Kate said.

“It’s a shame you can’t stay longer,” John said, somehow managing to sound absolutely sincere. “It was nice of you to visit Chris and Allison to make sure they’re settling in all right. Melissa, Peter, and I are doing our best to make them feel welcome. Aren’t we, Peter?”

“Has everyone forgotten that I was in a coma until last week?” Peter said, but John was already continuing his conversation with Kate.

“But friends, even close friends, aren’t a substitute for family.”

Chris was watching Peter when he should’ve been watching for Kate’s reaction, so he saw Peter look towards the entryway. Chris glanced over his shoulder to see what Peter was looking at. Kate noticed Derek standing in the doorway at the same time Chris did.

“Well, hello,” Kate said.

Chris turned to look at Kate askance and saw the flicker of recognition in her eyes.

“Derek Hale,” Kate said, her eyes moving over Derek with an interest Chris could only describe as avarice. “You grew up fine.”

Derek didn’t reply, and when Chris glanced back at the spot where he’d been standing, it was empty. Chris turned back to Kate. There was a speculative expression on her face that fell off when she realized that Chris was looking.

“How do you know Derek?” Chris said. Derek had been just a baby when they’d moved away from Beacon Hills, and Kate thirteen. Gerard hadn’t let her have any contact with the Hales, and even if she had, she would hardly remember Derek.

“Dad and I came back to Beacon Hills to visit a few times,” Kate said.

She meant hunts, which Chris would’ve known even without having checked the database. Kate didn’t elaborate, and Chris didn’t know what else to ask.

Eventually everyone moved away from the tables. Kate left (to report to Gerard, Chris couldn’t help thinking), the four teenagers settled in the living room to watch a movie, Peter disappeared between one breath and the next, and Chris and John packed up the leftovers. John took some of them for Melissa, and Chris sent the rest home with John because he had a growing boy and newly-turned werewolf spending the night. It would probably all be gone by morning.

Chris walked John to the door and stood on the front steps as the cruiser pulled away. He leaned in the living room doorway for a moment, just watching Allison and her new friends. “Don’t stay up too late,” Chris said when Allison looked up and saw him.

Allison gave him a strange look, but nodded. Telling her what had happened could wait until tomorrow. Chris considered going to his office, but decided that heading to bed was the better idea. At the top of the stairs Chris stopped outside the closed door of the guestroom Derek was using. He knocked, but there was no answer.

“Derek,” Chris said. “I’m coming in. I want to know if you’re alright.”

Chris slowly pushed the door open. Derek was decidedly not alright. The room was in darkness and it took a few moments for Chris’ eyes to adjust to the light filtering in the window and to see Derek sitting on the floor, pressed into the corner as far as he could get.

Before Chris could ask if he was alright, Derek spoke. “She’ll stay.”

“What?”

“Kate. She’ll stay.”

Chris recalled Derek’s brief appearance earlier. “Because she saw you.” Chris tried to work through it in his head. “Why?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.” Derek turned his glare onto Chris. “You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Chris’ capacity for believing the unbelievable had increased quite a bit when hunters had invaded his home that afternoon, intent on killing him. “Maybe I would.”

Derek remained silent and Chris eventually backed out of the room. Chris continued on to his room at the front of the house. He cleaned out his pockets as he undressed and found the memory card Peter had given him earlier. So much had happened since then. Chris didn’t think he could take anymore right now.

Chris set the memory card on the bedside table and finished getting undressed. He showered off the events of the day and went to bed where nightmares awaited him.

Week Three: Sunday

Chris dove for the wastebasket beside the desk and emptied his stomach. He’d only had coffee this morning so there wasn’t much to come up, but it was unpleasant anyway. Chris thought about what he’d just read and his stomach heaved again.

When he was sure he wasn’t going to throw up anything else Chris took the bag to the kitchen to dispose of it. He rinsed his mouth and drank some water. The glass slipped in his fingers when Chris saw Peter leaning against the island.

Chris set the glass down with exaggerated care. “Why do you do that?”

“Because it’s fun. What’s wrong?”

Chris swallowed hard and affected a casual tone. “Nothing’s wrong.”

Peter raised an eyebrow, then headed out the door to the hallway. Chris followed Peter into his office.

“Peter!” Chris hissed. “Peter, don’t . . . !”

Peter stopped at Chris’ desk. The photos Satomi’s contact at the motor inn had taken were still on the laptop screen. Peter’s shoulders were tense – Chris had a flash of memory of rubbing them before a big game, but he didn’t move any closer.

“You read Kate’s journal,” Peter said, his voice too even.

“Peter . . .”

“I guess it’s gratifying to know that it turned your stomach.”

Chris felt like he’d been hit by a truck. “You know what it says?”

“I know the gist of it. Sarah read the first few lines before she took the photos. To find out if it was important.” Peter looked at Chris. “Is it important, Chris?”

Chris didn’t want it to be, but, “Yes.”

“Are you going to stop me from reading it?”

They both knew that Chris couldn’t stop him. “No, but I wish you wouldn’t.”

Peter narrowed his eyes. “Because it reflects poorly on your family?”

“Because it will hurt you.”

“Hmm,” Peter said, sounding surprised. “Nevertheless, I need to read it. You know I do.”

Chris flung his arm out, frustration, permission. He paced the room, scrubbing a hand over his face while Peter sat in the chair and read the journal. Chris recalled some of the words he’d read and once more felt bile rise in his throat.

It was little Samuel’s first time away from home; he was so easy to seduce.

I planted the seed, telling Sam how much I’d miss him, and how I wished the winter break wasn’t so long.

I told Sam I’d come up and he could sneak out to meet me. He did one better and invited me to meet his family. I get to learn the layout of the house first hand!

I waited one week after Sam returned to college before I went back. I lit the fire myself and watched them burn. Their screams were better than sex.

You should’ve seen Sam’s face when I told him. Now he has to live the rest of his life knowing he was responsible for the death of his entire family.

Chris stopped pacing when Peter leaned back in the chair. He studied Peter’s face, but couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Did she do this to us?” Peter said, his voice dead.

“Jesus christ,” Chris said. He’d been so horrified by what he’d read that he hadn’t thought about the implication that this wasn’t the first time Kate had done this. “I don’t know.”

Suddenly Kate’s reaction to seeing Derek, a reaction Derek had fully expected, Derek disappearing whenever Kate was around, and Derek’s words from back when they’d first met – Only one person outside my family knew about the tunnels . . . Because I told them about it . . . You wouldn’t believe me; it’s better if you figure it out for yourself. – made a horrifying kind of sense.

Chris’ knees wouldn’t hold him and he sank into the chair beside the desk. He lowered his head into his hands and pulled his hair hoping he could wake and this would all have been a terrible dream. “Why would she do that?”

“It took you twenty years to escape Gerard, and you didn’t even want to be there.”

Chris raised his head. “Peter, I’m sor–.”

“We don’t have time for that right now,” Peter said.

“Right,” Chris said. “Right. First . . .” Chris shook his head to try and clear his mind so he could think. He took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. “The first thing we need to do is verify that Kate actually did this . . .” Seduced a young man and killed his entire family. “. . . this thing, and that it’s not merely some sick fantasy.”

“How do you propose we do that?” Peter’s claws extended and retracted with a ‘snicksnicksnick’. “Torture?”

Chris gave Peter a look. “Research. But first we need to find a way to keep Kate busy while we do this.”

Allison agreed to distract Kate that morning. Chris knew he wasn’t doing a spectacular job of hiding his emotions, but Allison somehow knew not to ask any questions. Allison called Lydia and Scott and arranged a soccer game in the park followed by hot chocolate at Espresso Yourself (at Chris’ recommendation).

When Kate picked up Allison she gave Chris a look. “Arranging some alone time with Peter Hale?” she said, probably using Peter’s last name to remind Chris that Peter was a werewolf. Her tone was teasing, but she couldn’t hide the disgust in her eyes.

Kate moved closer and spoke so only Chris (and Peter) could hear her. “I hear they’re animals in the sack.”

Bile rose in Chris’ throat as he recalled the journal entry he’d just read that morning and he swallowed it down.

When Kate turned back to Allison she smiled as if nothing untoward had happened. Allison gave Chris a look before she followed Kate out the door. Chris had to remind himself that the tracker was located in Allison’s jacket pocket and that she’d be safe surrounded by all her friends.

“Alright, let’s get to work,” Peter said as soon as they heard the car start up and back out of the driveway.

“We need to make sure . . .”

“Derek will alert us if Kate returns.”

“Derek’s going with them?” Chris said, horrified by the thought of exposing Derek to Kate, especially if what he suspected was true.

“Of course not,” Peter said. “He’ll follow them and remain out of sight.”

Peter called Satomi to see if she’d heard rumors about an entire werewolf family having been killed within the last month, leaving one survivor, a boy named Samuel. Chris called Deaton. Neither had heard anything and both promised to look into it.

Chris set Peter up with the tablet to search news reports. If Kate had used the same M.O. as the Hale fire it would have appeared to be an accident. Kate hadn’t specified the college Samuel was attending, or the town where his family had lived, so it was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack unless Chris could narrow the search.

Spurred on by something Kate had said earlier – I was in the area – Chris turned to the hunter database. If Kate had been in one place too long, as this ‘long con’ suggested, she’d have needed an outlet.

Chris filtered his search by date and Kate’s name. There were one in November, two in December, one in January, and one in March, just days before Kate had arrived on Chris’ doorstep. As he’d suspected, the March entry was for an omega in Ashland, OR. He ignored that one and looked at the others.

Chris made a note of the four remaining hunts before getting out a laminated map of the United States and unrolling it. He spread the map out on the desk and anchored the corners, then marked each hunt with a large red ‘X’: Cheyenne, WY; Fort Collins, CO; Scottsbluff, NE; and Boulder, WY.

“Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska,” Chris said out loud. He studied the ‘X’ that represented the fourth hunt in January. “Wyoming,” he said. “Look in Wyoming. Western Wyoming near Boulder.”

Peter didn’t ask how Chris knew that, but grunted and tapped at the screen.

The first three hunts had probably been Kate blowing off steam while she was seducing her mark. The fourth had been while she was biding her time until Samuel agreed to meet her during winter break, and she’d no doubt moved closer to wherever he lived.

Chris went back to studying the first three locations. Kate wouldn’t have been stupid enough to hunt where she was, well, hunting. Especially if she was going rogue. Though Chris doubted there was much about what Kate had gotten up to that Gerard didn’t know about and implicitly (if not explicitly) condone.

Chris traced a line with his finger between Cheyenne, Scottsbluff and Fort Collins. His gaze kept being drawn back to that final ‘X’. The school Samuel had attended wouldn’t be located in any of the three cities where the hunts took place, but it had to be close. If he lived in Wyoming it was possible that he’d gone to school in Wyoming.

Chris Googled colleges in Wyoming. There were eleven; two, including the University of Wyoming, were located in Laramie. There were seven colleges within 100 miles of Scottsbluff and fifteen within 50 miles of Fort Collins. Chris separated them by state and noted how many of them were in Wyoming, but didn’t know what that told him.

“I found something,” Peter said. He didn’t sound happy about his success. Peter handed over the tablet without reading the article.

Chris glanced at the screen. Hoback Junction Family Killed in Fire and Hoback Junction Fire Ruled Accidental Chris went back to the map. Hoback Junction was located in Bridger-Teton National Forest about an hour and a half north of Boulder, WY.

As much as he didn’t want to, Chris read the articles so Peter wouldn’t have to. When he was done Chris forced himself to calmly send the links to himself instead of screaming at the horrors Kate had perpetrated with such glee.

“That wasn’t her first time,” Peter said.

“No,” Chris agreed, retaking his seat at the desk.

“What are you doing?”

Chris pulled up the database and reset the search parameters. “I’m going to see where Kate was in January of 2005.”

Chris’ blood ran cold when he spoke the date – he wondered if there was any significance to the two fires both occurring in January. He searched Kate’s name from December 2004 through February 2005. The search netted three entries: Redding, CA; Mendocino, CA; and Grants Pass, OR.

Chris normally would’ve thought nothing of seeing three hunts so close together – time-wise or location – but the knowledge of the fire in Wyoming gave everything a nefarious tint. Kate had been close to Beacon Hills at the time of the Hale fire. It wasn’t definitive proof, but it was something.

“She could’ve done it, then,” Peter said when Chris told him. “How do we prove it, especially when none of the upstanding citizens she dealt with saw her face-to-face?”

“Someone had to have seen her,” Chris said, doing his best to ignore the fact that this was his sister and not some stranger they were talking about.

If Kate was the culprit, her M.O. in the Hale fire had been different from the most recent fire, where she’d seduced Samuel while he was away from home for the first time and alone. And she’d done the deed herself. Has the Hale fire been her first? Had it given her a taste for it? Had she perfected her method over the intervening years?

Chris searched for all of Kate’s hunts and scrolled to the end of 2005. She’d been in Louisiana, and there was a similar grouping of hunts in November, December, and January. The following year was Illinois, then Washington State, Maryland, Arizona, and Massachusetts.

Chris made more marks on the map and Peter searched for news articles about entire families being killed. Chris saved links and printed out the articles and placed them in a file folder. The information was circumstantial and alone wouldn’t prove that Kate had done these horrific deeds, but they helped to build a damning case.

Chris was thinking of going even further back in time to see whether the Hale fire had actually been the first when Peter’s head came up. “They’re back.”

Chris checked the time. He hadn’t realized how late it had gotten. Time flies when you’re trying to prove your sister was a mass murderer. Chris pushed away from the desk to go greet Allison and her friends. And Kate.

“Smile, Chris,” Peter said. “You look like a man going to the gallows.”

Chris gave Peter a glare, then pasted a fake smile on his face.

“Tone it down. Now you look like a crazed clown.”

Chris settled on something between gallows and Pennywise and greeted Allison when she and the others fell through the door, laughing at something. “How’d the soccer game go?”

“Great,” Allison said. She gave Chris a hug and a questioning look.

Chris patted Allison’s back and ignored the look. “You guys must be hungry.”

Stiles and Scott agreed immediately; Lydia and Jackson were too good to admit to being hungry. As Chris looked over the group he noticed that Kate was missing from their number. “Where’s Kate?” he said, more sharply than he’d meant to.

“Probably went looking for Derek,” Stiles said with a mixture of jealousy and disgust.

“Why do you say that?”

“Aunt Kate kept asking about Derek,” Allison said. “Was he going to join us, was he staying at the house . . . ?”

“She didn’t like it very much when Stiles said she was a little old for him,” Scott threw in.

“Well, she is,” Stiles said. “It’s creepy.”

“Order pizza,” Chris said. “I’m paying.” He gave Allison a kiss and returned to the office where Peter had waited and overheard the entire conversation. “Where’s Derek?”

“He was here long enough for the kids to get inside, then he took off.” Peter finished entering a text and sent it before shoving the phone into his pocket.

“The house,” Chris said. It was where Derek had been staying, where he’d unaccountably felt safe, and where he’d probably return if he felt the need to hide. And if Kate was responsible for the fire, the one place she’d know to look for him.

Chris grabbed his jacket off the hook and headed for the kitchen. “Allison.”

Allison followed Chris and Peter into the garage. Her jaw dropped when Chris pulled out guns and clips. “What are you doing?”

“I don’t know if Kate has back-up,” Chris said, loading the guns.

“What are you talking about?”

Chris pulled on the shoulder holster. Allison helped him straighten out a strap as if she’d been doing it all her life.

“Dad, is Derek in danger from Aunt Kate?”

Chris slid the guns into the holster, put on his jacket over them, and loaded his pockets with the extra clips. “Stay inside, Allison. Keep everyone here and make sure the security system is set after we leave.”

“Be careful.”

Chris kissed the top of Allison’s head as if she was still a child. “Love you, sweetheart.” He went around the Tahoe to the driver’s side.

“Don’t you need a weapon?” Allison said.

Peter extended his claws, then retracted them before getting into the SUV. “I am the weapon.”

Chris rolled his eyes. He opened the garage door, then started the engine. Chris checked the rearview mirror – Lydia’s car was parked in front of the other garage door, Stiles’ jeep parked crookedly behind that. He backed out and closed the garage door. Chris watched until he could no longer see Allison’s face.

Once they were on their way, Chris had Peter call John and put him on speaker. John confirmed that the men he’d arrested yesterday had been the same men staying with Kate at the motor inn. Between the guns they’d been carrying and those stashed in the SUV, the Sheriff Department had found enough unregistered guns to hold them on weapons charges without involving Chris in the case. And that wasn’t counting what they’d found when the police had searched their rooms.

Peter told John they were headed out to the house to make sure Kate hadn’t cornered Derek there. Chris explained their suspicions about Kate and the Hale fire, and at least six other similar fires. It was hard for him to get the words out, but it would’ve been even more difficult for Peter.

John said he was going to meet them there. Chris hoped everything was over before he arrived. The good news was that Kate was unlikely to have back-up. And even if she did, it was unlikely that she thought she’d need it if she was merely planning to confront Derek so she could twist the knife.

Chris stopped the Tahoe at the end of the Hale driveway and let Peter out. Chris was going to go in the front while Peter ran through the Preserve and approached the house from the back. “Peter,” Chris said.

Peter looked at Chris for a beat, then closed the door and disappeared into the trees. Chris put the SUV into gear and started forward. When he emerged out of the woods that lined the driveway, Chris saw Kate’s car parked in the clearing surrounding the house. Even though he’d expected it, Chris’ stomach dropped.

Chris parked directly behind Kate’s car to make it more difficult for her to leave. Chris glanced around him, habitually checking for the glint of metal that meant Kate had somehow gotten back-up after all. He didn’t see anything suspicious. Nor did he get the hoped-for glimpse of Peter. Chris slid out of the Tahoe and strode up the overgrown path to the front steps.

Chris made noise as he climbed the wooden stairs and crossed the porch. He didn’t want to startle Kate, and he also wanted her attention on him. It took a moment for Chris’ eyes to adjust. When they did he saw Derek standing frozen in place, a mixed expression of fear and anger and guilt on his face. Kate was just pulling her hand back. She glanced at Chris; a look more annoyed at the interruption than anything else.

“Chris. What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” Chris waited, raised his eyebrows.

“Just catching up with Derek,” Kate said with a syrupy sweet tone that held zero sincerity.

Chris nodded as if he accepted that. “I’m just here to take another look at the house. I told you that I was consulting on the fire,” he added.

“What do you think you’re going to find?” Kate said, a slight edge in her voice.

“I don’t know,” Chris said. “That’s why I’m looking.”

“Before you mentioned new evidence,” Kate said with a pitiful attempt at casual interest.

Chris glanced around as if they might be overheard. “It’s an ongoing investigation, so I trust you’ll keep this to yourself?”

“Of course.”

Chris brought their heads together and Kate leaned in.

“The insurance investigator has admitted that someone paid him to lie about the cause of the fire.”

“What?” Kate said. “I mean, why would he do that after all these years?”

“Guilt?” Chris said as he studied Kate. She’d sounded genuinely surprised. Did she really not know what was going on with the case? Someone had killed Reddick while he was in custody; had they not passed on the news that the case had been reopened to Kate? Or maybe they weren’t working for Kate. Which meant that someone else out there (Gerard, no doubt) knew that the fire hadn’t been an accident.

“Did he tell you who paid him?”

“No,” Chris said. “Unfortunately they never saw the person.”

“That is unfortunate.”

“But I have a pretty good idea who it was.”

“Who?”

“You,” Chris said sadly. “Why’d you do it, Kate?”

Anger crossed Kate’s face, but only for a moment before she recovered and looked only shocked at the accusation. “Chris! I don’t know what you’re talking about! How could you think . . . ?”

“California,” Chris said, staring at Kate, unable to bring himself to look at Derek or Peter. “Louisiana. Illinois. Washington. Maryland. Arizona. Massachusetts. Wyoming.”

With each word, Kate’s mask slipped a little bit more until she looked barely human. “They’re animals,” she spat. “And the Code is outdated. We can’t wait for them to make the first move, it puts us at a disadvantage. We need to strike first. Daddy knew you’d never understand because you’re weak.”

The dig didn’t hurt as much as Kate probably thought it would.

Kate whirled towards where she’d left Derek standing, pulling the taser from the inside pocket of her jacket in a smooth, practiced motion. Peter, who’d moved Derek to a safer distance and taken his place while Kate was distracted, was ready for her; he grabbed her arm before the taser could strike. Peter squeezed Kate’s wrist until she dropped the taser.

Peter kicked the taser and it went rolling away. Kate cradled her wrist against her chest and began to laugh like a maniac. Chris briefly wondered if they’d broken her.

“The irony of this is killing me,” Kate said when she finally calmed down. “This was your fault, you know,” she told Chris, gesturing with her uninjured arm to the charred timber surrounding them. “You and this . . . thing.” Kate indicated Peter without even looking at him.

“What are you talking about?”

“You just couldn’t stay away from him,” Kate said. “What was so great about Peter Hale? I figured werewolves had to be amazing in the sack, but they’re no better than any other man.” Kate’s gaze found Derek and Chris’ stomach twisted with revulsion. He’d been on the verge of throwing up again since reading Kate’s journal entry. At the time of the fire Derek had barely been sixteen and Kate had . . .

Chris spoke around the lump in his throat. “Gerard said he would leave the Hales alone if I ended things with Peter, and I did that. I left Beacon Hills.”

“You came back,” Kate said.

“Once!” Chris said. “For a god damned funeral! Because a friend I hadn’t been able to see since high school died.”

Kate sneered. “That’s not all you came back for.”

“What the . . . ?” Chris’ voice broke. He recalled seeing Peter. How they’d fought, and how fighting had turned to kissing. Their coupling had been angry and left Chris with bruises that he’d had to lie about coming from a hunt. Chris had walked away from Peter again and hadn’t seen him for the past eight years until he’d quit hunting and moved back to Beacon Hills. He’d gone on with his life thinking no one had known, that the Hales were still safe . . . He should’ve remembered that Gerard had spies everywhere. Chris glanced at Peter and saw his own horror mirrored in Peter’s eyes.

“Gerard had you kill the Hales because of one moment of weakness?”

“We left some alive,” Kate said. She glanced at Peter. “But instead of spending the last six years contemplating the error of your ways, you fell into a coma and got off easy.”

Chris jumped between Kate and Peter, grabbing Peter before he could leap on Kate and tear out her throat. “Not that way.”

“It’s no more than she deserves,” Peter snarled.

“Maybe,” Chris said. “But killing her like this, whether she deserves it or not, will only bring more hunters down on Beacon Hills.”

Peter jerked out of Chris’ hold and turned his back on both of them. Chris waited until he knew Peter wasn’t going to turn back around and attack. He forced himself to face Kate again.

“What about the others?” Chris said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I read your journal.”

Kate’s face went red with anger. Chris remembered that look from when Kate was a child and hadn’t gotten her way.

“And I did a little research. Uncovered half a dozen mass killings with the same M.O.”

Kate studied Chris’ face. When she realized she’d find no sympathy there, Kate snapped. “I was doing the world a favor!”

“And it had nothing to do with you having a taste for it?”

Kate smiled. It sent a shudder of repugnance down Chris’ spine.

“I can’t deny that the set-up was fun. And seeing their faces when they realized what I’d done – what they helped me do – was so rewarding.”

Kate glanced at Derek, and Chris followed the motion. Derek stood with his head down, hands clenched at his side as he absorbed the verbal blows.

Kate turned back to Chris. “It never gets old.”

“Have you heard enough?” Chris said.

John stepped inside the house, still holding the cell phone through which he’d heard Chris’ entire conversation with Kate. Peter stepped back into view and held up his own cell phone. He smirked at Kate, and Chris remembered wanting to smack that smirk off his face on many occasions. Kate must’ve felt the same way, because she lunged towards Peter, her one good arm raised, fingers curled into claws.

John drew his weapon. “Don’t move.”

Kate looked at John and laughed. “You can’t arrest me. Unless you want the world to know about the existence of werewolves.”

“Not planning on arresting you,” John said.

Kate glanced at Peter. “Can’t kill me, either. Not if you want to save what’s left of your precious Hale pack. Besides, you’re too straight and narrow to shoot me, and Chris is too weak to do the deed himself.”

“Not planning on killing you either.”

“Guess it looks like I’m going to walk right out of here,” Kate said with a look of contempt.

Before Chris could correct Kate’s misconception, Stiles said, “You could die in a tragic fire at the scene of your first fire slash murder. How’s that for irony?”

“Stiles, what are you doing here? And what is that in your hand?” John said.

“Molotov cocktail,” Stiles said. “Thanks to Lydia.”

John groaned.

Stiles gave Lydia a nod, then turned to Derek. “How you doin’, big guy?”

Derek growled.

“Yeah, I get that.”

While they’d all been distracted with Stiles, Allison had appeared in the doorway with her bow, the arrow pointed right at Kate. “No one would believe it wasn’t an accident if you were killed by an arrow while we were out in the Preserve practicing.”

“Allison,” Chris said. He didn’t look away from her, but he was going to give Peter a piece of his mind later for not having given him a heads up.

“Allison,” Kate said urgently. “You don’t understand, sweetheart. Chris wouldn’t let us tell you, train you. If you knew the truth . . .”

“That you killed innocent people?”

“They weren’t innocent,” Kate said, desperate to convince Allison. “They were animals. Monsters.”

“Because they were werewolves like Peter and Derek?”

Kate couldn’t hide her surprise. “So Chris did tell you.”

“He did,” Allison said. “And I think I know who the real monster is.”

Kate’s face twisted with disgust. “You’re soft, just like your father. Daddy would’ve trained that right out of you.”

“Too bad for you he’ll never get the chance.”

Kate took a step towards Allison. The motion got Chris moving. He knocked Kate’s feet out from under her and held her down with a knee between her shoulder blades while John used a generic plastic tie to bind her hands behind her back.

“My wrist,” Kate ground out, but Chris wasn’t going to take any chances.

“Search her,” Chris said as he stood and went to Allison. “She likes to carry knives and lock picks.”

Allison dropped the bow to her side and Chris wrapped his arms around her. “I thought I told you to stay home,” he said while hugging Allison to him even more tightly.

“We couldn’t just sit back and wait,” Allison said.

Scott stepped into the house and stood behind Allison, close enough to touch. Chris wanted to roll his eyes, because of all of them, Scott was the one they needed to keep away from Kate. Behind him, Chris heard John say, “Why exactly do you have a Molotov cocktail?”

“Because we don’t all know how to shoot a bow and arrow. But we have a Lydia.”

When Chris looked, Lydia was holding two Molotov cocktails and had a look daring anyone to say anything about it. Beside her, Jackson Whittemore raised both hands, which were empty, and said, “I just drove.”

Stiles snorted and Jackson gave him a look that didn’t bode well. Chris and Peter shared a look. They’d have expected nothing less from David Whittemore’s kid.

“I thought you weren’t going to arrest me,” Kate sneered.

“I’m not,” John said. “Just holding you until you can be transferred.”

“Transferred to who?”

“Hunters police their own,” Chris said.

Kate’s expression showed her understanding and she began to struggle. “No! Chris, you can’t do this!”

Chris remembered the little girl he used to hold on his lap, whose hair he used to braid, who he taught how to hold a gun. He swallowed hard. “Put her in the cell.”

Peter grabbed Kate and leapt into the hole in the floor. Chris heard Kate’s startled scream, the thump as Peter landed on the hard packed floor in the basement, and the clang of the cell door closing. It sounded final; like the end of something.

Week Four: Monday

Peter and Derek moved out Monday morning. Chris had been expecting it, but he thought he’d get a little more notice than coming down for coffee and seeing two duffel bags sitting by the front door. Both men sat at the kitchen island with mugs of steaming beverages. Given the tiny marshmallows floating on top of Derek’s, he’d made use of the milk and chocolate powder Chris had bought when they first moved in.

Chris poured a cup of coffee, added a dollop of milk and took a sip before turning around to face Peter and Derek. “You’re leaving,” Chris said. He kept his voice even, but he couldn’t control the way his heart raced.

“Yes,” Peter said. He didn’t sound particularly eager, nor did he sound all that broken up about it. “We signed a lease on Friday. I meant to tell you, but things got crazy.”

If by ‘crazy’ Peter meant ‘discovered your sister was responsible for the fire that killed most of my family, as well as doing the same to at least a half-dozen other werewolf families’, then the weekend had indeed been crazy. “Yeah. Can I ask where you’re going?”

“A remodeled loft down at the waterfront,” Peter said. “I’m actually considering purchasing the building. It would make a good investment.”

“How long will you be staying there?”

“Hopefully not long. They’re going to start taking down the house as soon as it’s empty.”

By which Peter meant Kate. “The transfer should happen this afternoon,” Chris said. “You found a construction company?”

“Satomi helped there,” Peter said. “They’re werewolves, so they won’t bat an eye at the cell in the basement.”

Chris quirked a smile. “Good thinking.”

“Well.” Peter slid off the stool. “We should be going.”

“Of course,” Chris said.

“Thank you for letting us stay here until we could find a place.”

“Anytime.” Chris hated that they sounded like polite strangers rather than old friends. Past lovers.

Peter nodded at Chris, said, “Derek,” and walked out of the kitchen.

Derek stood and hesitated before following.

“Call me if you need anything. I mean it. Anything,” Chris said.

Derek nodded. “Thanks for the hot cocoa,” he said, and then he too was gone.

Chris listened to the front door open and close, to the Camaro start up and pull away. When he could no longer hear the engine, Chris dumped his coffee in the sink and left the room. He’d slept later than usual and Allison had already left for school, so Chris could mope without any witnesses.

For the past twenty years Chris had moved on with his life; it was the height of hypocrisy to be upset because Peter wasn’t willing to forgive and forget. It was going to be weird living in Beacon Hills again and not being able to call Peter a friend. Ally, maybe, but nothing more personal, it seemed.

After Kate was handed over, Peter and Chris could go their separate ways. They’d still be connected by their friendships with John and Melissa, and by Allison’s growing relationship with Scott, but that would be it. Chris had been naive to think that merely moving back to Beacon Hills would bridge the chasm between them.

Chris slapped his hand on his legs. No time for moping. They still had work to do. He called John. “You ready?”

“Yep. See you in half an hour.”

Yesterday Chris had made the phone call to initiate Kate’s custody transfer. Afterwards he’d given the standard speech about werewolves and hunters and the need for secrecy – to which Stiles had said, “The first rule of fight club . . .” – over pizza. Today there were a few loose ends that needed to be tied up.

When Chris arrived at the Sheriff Department he greeted the deputies and shook their hands, thanking them for responding quickly on Saturday. Haigh looked like he’d bitten into a lemon, but he accepted Chris’ handshake. Chris patted Haigh on the shoulder before following John to the break room for a cup of coffee neither of them needed or wanted.

Chris glanced around the bullpen on their way to the interrogation room where John had spread out papers across the table, pretending he needed the extra room to work. His lips tightened when he didn’t see Haigh.

“How’s Kate doing?” John said as soon as the door was closed behind them.

“I checked on her this morning,” Chris lied. “She’s spitting mad, but not going anywhere.”

“It was a good idea to hold her in the cell at the Hale house. No one would think to look for her there. Is it okay to leave her there alone?”

“That cell was built to hold werewolves on the full moon,” Chris said. “It’ll hold Kate.”

John stood, signaling an end to their conversation. “Thanks for keeping me updated.”

Chris stood and shook John’s hand over the table. “My pleasure.”

They stepped out of the interrogation room and John glanced around. “Where’s Deputy Haigh?”

“Just left. Said he was going on patrol,” Clarke said.

“Okay.” John walked Chris to the door. “Call me when it’s over.”

“Will do.”

As soon as he stepped out of the door Chris slipped the ear bud into his ear. Haigh was already on the phone with someone. “Tell him I need to talk to him. Now. It’s important. It’s about Kate.”

Chris guessed the ‘him’ Haigh was talking about was Gerard. He wasn’t surprised that Haigh was forced to use a go-between. Chris turned the Tahoe towards the Hale house, keeping an eye out for the cruiser Haigh was driving. Chris saw Haigh standing on the sidewalk in front of Espresso Yourself with a cup of coffee and a pastry. Even assholes liked good coffee, apparently.

It was a few minutes later when Haigh’s phone rang. Chris could only hear Haigh’s side of the conversation, but it didn’t sound like he was happy. After passing on everything he’d overheard from the observation room, and a moment of silence during which Haigh must’ve been listening to instructions from the other end, Haigh said, “But I can get her out now! No one’s watching her.”

The call ended and Haigh swore, slammed a fist into the steering wheel. Haigh muttered something to himself about not being appreciated and only being allowed to do the rinky dink jobs, even after he’d proved himself with Reddick.

Chris watched the dot on his cell phone screen to confirm that Haigh was moving towards the Hale house. Chris parked behind the house and entered through the back door. The two men Satomi had provided to keep an eye on Kate greeted Chris warily.

“How is she?”

“She never shut up,” one of the men said. He looked a little green, which made Chris wonder what Kate had been saying.

Chris sent them to the woods to wait so their faces weren’t seen. He found a spot near the front door that offered a view out the front window. Haigh arrived a minute later. He sat in the car, as if making sure Kate was alone, or psyching himself up.

Haigh got out of the cruiser and looked around. He unsnapped his holster and rested his hand on the butt of his service weapon as he walked towards the house. Chris listened to the sound of Haigh’s feet on the steps, crossing the porch. The door opened inward and Haigh stepped into the house. One step, two, and he swung the door shut behind him.

Chris stepped onto the board he knew wouldn’t squeak and pressed the muzzle of his Desert Eagle to the back of Haigh’s head. “Don’t do that,” Chris said when Haigh’s fingers flexed on the gun. “This house is due to be demolished, and no one will notice a little blood.”

“Gerard’s coming for you,” Haigh said, full of false bravado.

“I’m counting on it,” Chris said. He knocked Haigh out with the butt of his gun and let him crumple to the floor.

Chris used Haigh’s cuffs to restrain him. He stripped Haigh of his duty belt and back-up weapon, removed the tracker, and turned out Haigh’s pockets to make sure he didn’t have anything hidden in them that he could use to escape.

“Company for you,” Chris said when he stuck Haigh in the cell with Kate, ignoring the vitriol she spewed.

The cruiser was moved for someone to discover later, and Satomi’s men relieved by two others. Chris checked his watch. The team that would take custody of Kate was coming from in from El Paso. They’d been dispatched immediately, but that would still take about twenty-four hours. Which meant he had six hours to kill, and during which to hope that Gerard didn’t arrive first.

~*~

“He’s here,” John said. He’d taken up position at the well-known speed trap just outside of town, hoping that they’d guessed correctly at the direction Gerard would be coming from.

“We’re ready,” Chris said. He ended the call and slid the phone into his pocket. Chris took a breath. “Gerard’s in Beacon Hills.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I’m sure.” It was the only way he could ensure Allison’s safety, not to mention Peter’s, short of killing Gerard himself.

Chris waited until the two SUVs pulled to a stop in front of the house, waited until Gerard got out of the front passenger seat of the lead vehicle, waited until he’d take a few steps towards the house. Chris stepped out onto the porch. Six guns came up.

“Chris,” Gerard said, not lowering his gun even after identifying his son. “What are you doing here?”

“Waiting for you,” Chris said.

“I don’t understand,” Gerard said, but Chris knew very well that Gerard was fully aware of the part Chris had played in Kate’s capture, if not the details.

“I knew you’d come for her.”

“She’s my daughter.”

Chris didn’t bother pointing out that he was Gerard’s son. “Why did you do it?”

Gerard raised an eyebrow.

“The Hale fire.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Gerard said, but the look he shot the house was full of dark satisfaction.

“I left Beacon Hills like you’d asked. You had no reason to . . .”

“I knew he’d always have a hold on you.” Gerard sneered. “You proved that true. So I took care of the problem.”

“There were children in this house!”

“Children that would’ve grown up to be monsters,” Gerard said, parroting the same words Kate had spoken.

“Did you even think about what this would do to Kate? Did you know about the others?”

“All of them monsters,” Gerard said dismissively. “As long as Kate used her talents for the good of humans, who cares?”

Chris wanted to throw up, but he didn’t have the luxury. “Tell your men to lower their weapons.”

“Why would I do that?”

“You’d have them shoot me?”

Gerard shrugged. “You’re a traitor . . .”

“You betrayed the Code!” Chris said.

Gerard ignored him and continued. “. . . and you’re standing between me and what I want. Collateral damage. Besides, with you out of the way I can train Allison to be a proper hunter.”

“That’s never going to happen.”

Men stepped out of the trees to surround Gerard and his men, their weapons drawn and pointed at them. Their leader stepped out of the house and stood beside Chris.

“Araya Calavera,” Gerard said contemptuously. “I should have known.”

“Drop your weapons,” Araya said, her voice strong despite her years. “Unless you wish to face the same charges of violating the Code as Gerard Argent.”

Gerard had hired some people with questionable morals, but they weren’t stupid. They lowered their guns and set them on the ground. Gerard looked almost as apoplectic as he had when Chris had told him he was quitting.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Gerard demanded.

Araya moved down the steps with the grace of a panther. “Taking out the trash,” she said.

Once Gerard and his men were restrained with zip ties, Araya called back the van. They shackled Gerard in the back with Kate and Haigh. They dropped the SUVs filled with hunters off at a McDonald’s just down the street from the Sheriff Department, where they’d be discovered, reported, and processed on gun charges.

Chris, parked in the Sheriff Department parking lot, watched the black SUVs and van until he couldn’t see them anymore. He sent a text to Peter. the house has been cleaned out Chris entered the Sheriff Department to let John know it was over. The case had been solved, if off the record. Still, given his own family’s involvement, Chris didn’t know if it would ever be over for him. For them.

Week Four: Tuesday

Melissa showed up Tuesday morning with a bottle of cheap wine.

“Isn’t it a little early?” Chris said, ignoring the memory of getting tipsy on Boone’s Strawberry Hill in high school and letting Peter get to second base.

“I just got off shift,” Melissa said, dropping her jacket and toeing off her shoes. “And after the weekend you just had, is there any such thing as a bad time to get drunk on cheap wine?”

“When you put it like that,” Chris said dryly. “I’ll get the wine glasses.”

“Wine glasses are too good for this.” Melissa withdrew two plastic cups from her purse. “I stole them from the break room.”

Chris chuckled and led the way to the back of the house. They settled on the enclosed porch and Chris opened the bottle and poured. He grimaced after taking the first sip.

“Good, huh?” Melissa laughed. “Do you remember the first time we did this?”

It had been after a basketball game that first year after Chris had moved to Beacon Hills. He and Peter hadn’t started going out yet, and Chris had drunkenly confessed his attraction to Peter. Melissa had kept Chris’ secret through the rest of that school year, over the summer break, and into the next. Through trips to the lake and study sessions and milkshake runs where Chris and Peter did nothing but bicker.

“You were a good friend,” Chris said, and wondered if he was already feeling the effects of the cheap wine.

“Damn right I was,” Melissa said, and refilled their plastic cups. “About what, exactly?”

“Not telling Peter my drunken confession.”

“Ahh,” Melissa said. “Yeah, that.”

“Mel,” Chris said.

“Okay,” Melissa said, “but I didn’t tell him about it until after your first kiss.”

“Peter told you about that?”

“Please,” Melissa said. “Peter was the biggest girl out of all of us.”

Chris thought he should be insulted, but he couldn’t figure out why. “Why did he tell you?”

“Because he thought you’d figured out he had feelings for you,” Melissa said.

Chris laughed. “What did you tell him?”

“Well, obviously I told him to pull up his big girl panties and ask you out.”

“Obviously,” Chris said.

They finished the bottle, and when Melissa passed out on the lounge chair, more from exhaustion than the wine, Chris covered her with a blanket.

~*~

Chris hadn’t been invited to attend the trial, for which he was grateful. His presence – as an ex-hunter and as an Argent – would only muddy the waters and he didn’t want to see Gerard or Kate again. After what they’d done to the Hales because of Chris and Peter, they were already dead to him. Chris had given Araya Calavera all of the evidence they’d collected (though he wasn’t quite so trusting that he hadn’t kept a copy of everything locked away in his office), and she’d promised to call him when a decision had been made.

The days and weeks loomed ahead of Chris. Since returning to Beacon Hills his days had revolved around visiting Peter and trying to solve the Hale fire. Chris looked at the calendar and realized he’d only been back in Beacon Hills for three weeks. So much had happened in that time.

Chris ran into Satomi at the grocery store Tuesday afternoon. He asked after her pack, and how Scott’s training was going. Satomi volunteered the information that Peter was dealing with everything that had happened to him.

“You should talk to Peter.”

Chris snorted in reply, then apologized. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” He hesitated. “Peter and Derek moved out.”

“Perhaps he needed to be able to deal with you as an equal, rather than someone accepting your charity.”

“Charity? It wasn’t charity, it was . . .” Chris wanted to say friendship, but it had been a long time since Chris and Peter were friends. If they’d ever been friends. They’d gone from ‘frenemies’ to lovers and skipped that part.

“Guilt?”

Chris opened his mouth to deny that guilt had anything to do with it, but he’d felt guilty for leaving Peter even before he’d discovered that Gerard and Kate had been responsible for the fire. Guilt would forever be a part of every interaction he had with Peter.

“Perhaps you should speak to Peter,” Satomi reiterated.

“Talking isn’t going to fix things, not after . . .”

“You’d be surprised.”

Satomi left Chris standing alone in the canned vegetables aisle with a can of kidney beans in his hand. He shook himself and continued to gather the items he needed to make chili, and then hit the baking aisle.

At home Chris started the chili, then unpacked the bags of flour and sugar and small jars of spices and extracts. When the bags were empty Chris surveyed the items on the countertop. He’d start with something simple. Chris glanced at the bag of chocolate chips and decided on cookies.

For the chocolate chip cookies Chris followed the recipe on the bag of chips. For the cocoa drop and peanut butter blossoms, Chris pulled out his mother’s recipe book – the only thing of hers he’d taken with him when he left home. Chris’ mind stilled as he stirred and baked and frosted. He’d put away the ingredients, stacked bowls and spoons and cookie sheets into the dishwasher, and wiped down the counters by the time Allison came home.

Allison stared at the cookies spread out on the island. “Did a bakery explode in our kitchen?”

“I did some baking.”

“Some?”

Chris poured two glasses of milk. “Remember when we used to have milk and cookies after school?”

Allison raised an eyebrow. “Yes? Those were store bought because mom couldn’t bake.”

Chris smiled at the memory. “Have a cookie with me.”

Allison sat at the island and accepted the glass of milk. She chose a peanut butter blossom and took a bite. “Mmm, this is good.” She gestured towards the trays of cookies. “What brought this on?”

“Memories, I guess,” Chris said. “Your grandmother taught me how to bake when I was very young. I loved spending time with her in the kitchen.”

“What changed?”

“Training took up more and more of my time,” Chris said. “And then she died.” Chris swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I hated her for a long time. For leaving us alone with Gerard.” Chris had often wondered if things would’ve been different if his mother had lived. He shook himself. “And then we moved to Beacon Hills and I met John and Melissa. And Peter.”

Allison came around the island and hugged Chris. “I love you, dad.”

Chris squeezed Allison and blinked against the sting of tears. “I love you, too, Alli-bug.”

Allison gave a little huff at the old nickname. She plated a couple of cookies to snack on while she did homework and indicated the rest. “You’re going to get rid of these so I’m not tempted to eat them all, aren’t you?”

“Sure,” Chris said. “There’s chili on the stove . . .”

“Turkey?”

“Of course. I’ll make cornbread later.”

Chris divided the cookies into three plastic containers and set them aside. He looked at the recipes he’d needed for the cookies, but Chris hadn’t had a chance to sit and go through his mother’s recipe book in a very long time. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat at the island with the few cookies he’d saved out and opened the book to the first page.

Week Four: Wednesday

Chris delivered cookies to the Sheriff Department and hospital the next morning. John looked around as if Stiles might pop out of the woodwork and took one. “This is so good,” he moaned around the bite of cookie. “Who made these?”

When Chris admitted that he had, John clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Welcome back to Beacon Hills.”

Melissa said, “Oh my god, thank you! I’m in the middle of a double and I need the sugar to get through the rest of the day.” She gave Chris a kiss on the cheek and let him escape before the other nurses and orderlies could get it in their heads to thank him in the same manner.

Chris didn’t have anywhere to be so he wandered downtown, taking note of the businesses that lined the streets and the empty storefronts. There were a few, but not as many as Chris would’ve suspected with so much supernatural activity over the past six years. He hesitated, then called the number on the signs in the window to set up an appointment to see them.

While he waited, Chris went to the diner for an early lunch. Derek showed up and Chris waved him over. “What are you doing?”

Derek’s glare was a lot less menacing when you realized he was mad at the world in general (with very good reason), rather than at you.

“Peter says I need to find something to do with my time.”

“Like a job?” Chris said. He shouldn’t be surprised that he and Derek were in the same boat, both being at loose ends and looking for something to fill their days.

Derek shrugged. “I might go back to school.”

Chris tried not to look surprised. “What were you going to school for?”

Derek gave Chris a look as if he suspected Chris was making fun of him. He finally decided Chris wasn’t, and said, “I got my English degree at NYU. I was getting my masters at Columbia when I . . .” Derek broke off.

“Impressive,” Chris said, ignoring the fact that Derek had left New York City to return to Beacon Hills only to discover his sister’s body. “Well, if you don’t go that route, you could always work with me. I’m looking for something to do, too,” Chris explained at Derek’s look.

“Like what?”

“That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s been suggested that I go with my strengths – security, P.I. Yeah,” Chris said at Derek’s expression. “I’d probably be bored to death installing security systems or taking photos of cheating spouses. Plus, I got out of hunting for a reason. Someone else suggested I follow my dreams.”

“What would that be?”

Chris shrugged. “I have no idea.” He shook himself. “Want to look at some office space with me? I’ve got a couple lined up for after lunch.”

Derek agreed with about as much enthusiasm as Chris could expect.

“If this doesn’t work out they’re looking for help at the bowling alley,” Chris said.

Derek gave Chris a look that made him laugh.

~*~

Chris went to the first lacrosse game that afternoon, even though it was an away game. He sat a row above Allison and Lydia and overheard them talking about their chemistry teacher, Mr. Harris. It reminded Chris of Kate’s comment to Allison that chemistry never was my forte. He hadn’t had any luck with chemists and arson investigators, but he hadn’t considered chemistry teachers.

Peter and Derek were there to support Scott (and make sure he didn’t lose control) so Chris took Derek aside and asked him if Harris had been teaching at BHHS when Derek had been in high school.

“Yes. Why?”

“I don’t know yet,” Chris said, ignoring Peter’s gaze.

He hadn’t thought about this aspect of the case once Kate confessed, but finding out who helped her set a fire that wasn’t immediately detectable as arson would wrap things up. Not to mention give him something to do.

Chapter Text

Week Four: Thursday

Chris got up early and made two pans of cinnamon buns. Allison looked at them with dismay. “Dad.”

Chris nudged a plastic container towards her. “Take some for your friends.”

Allison poured coffee into a travel mug and grabbed a yogurt out of the refrigerator. She gave Chris a kiss on the cheek and picked up the container. “How long is this going to last? I’m asking for my waistline.”

~*~

Chris had a cup of coffee with a still-warm cinnamon bun, put chicken halves in a plastic container with some marinate, then headed out with the two remaining cinnamon buns. He delivered one to John in a bag from a health food store he’d found in the cupboard. Chris hadn’t been there, so Allison must have visited, probably with Lydia, since he doubted that Scott, especially now, would be satisfied with kale smoothies or whatever they sold there.

“Don’t tell me Stiles has converted you,” John said in alarm when he saw the bag Chris carried.

“What can I say?” Chris said as he handed over the bag. “Stiles is very persuasive. Can we talk?”

John made a noise of disgust, but indicated that Chris should follow him into his office. “This doesn’t smell like a salad,” John said. He opened the bag and made a sound that Chris wished he hadn’t heard.

“Save the orgasmic noises until I’m gone,” Chris said.

“Then you’d better make it snappy,” John said, pulling out the cinnamon bun and setting it on the smoothed out bag.

“Remember I was looking into chemists,” Chris said.

John’s head came up at that. “Yes.”

“I discovered an avenue I hadn’t thought of; chemistry teachers.”

“You want to follow up on it?”

Chris nodded.

“Why? We already know who did it, and she won’t be getting a trial.”

“Closure,” Chris said. “Something to do.” Besides bake.

“Guilt?” John suggested.

“Maybe.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to know who this person was, and whether they’ve done this sort of thing before. You still have your badge?”

Chris indicated that he did. He delivered Melissa’s cinnamon bun and then went home to research chemistry teachers in Beacon County.

~*~

Chris waited until Allison and Lydia were sitting on the bleachers with textbooks on their laps to enter the school. There were five school districts in Beacon County, but Chris decided to begin with BHHS because it was closest. He remembered Vice Principle Bradley pointing out the chemistry lab to Allison the first day, so he headed down the hallway, peeking into the rooms he passed – office, gym, cafeteria.

Chris paused when he reached a room with lab tables. He poked his head inside to see a man sitting at a desk at the front of the room. Chris knocked on the open door and the man’s head came up.

“What is it?” the man said. Irritation slipped away to be replaced with an insincere smile when he realized he wasn’t dealing with a student.

“Mr. Harris?” Chris said.

“Yes,” Mr. Harris said. “What can I do for you?”

Chris filed away small eyes behind a pair of rectangle frames and a pinched mouth as he stepped into the room. “I’m Chris Argent.”

“Allison’s father.” Harris stood to walk around the desk and extended his hand. He didn’t appear to recognize the Argent name other than in relation to Allison. “The parent-teacher conference isn’t until next Friday,” Harris pointed out.

“I’m not here about Allison,” Chris said, ignoring Harris’ condescending tone. Chris put his hands on his hips, pushing back his jacket and revealing the BCSD consultant badge he’d clipped to his belt.

Harris’ eyes dipped to follow the motion. He paled when he saw the official badge. “What are you here about, then?”

“I wanted to ask you a few questions.”

“Is one of the students in trouble?” Harris said.

“No, this isn’t about any of the students. I was hoping you could help me with a cold case I’m working on.”

Harris leaned his hip against the desk. It could’ve been casual, but his movements were too jerky. “What cold case?”

“There was a house fire in Beacon Hills six years ago. It killed almost an entire family. Were you here then?”

Harris swallowed hard. “I was. I knew some of those people. That was a . . . tragedy.”

“Yes. It was declared accidental at the time, but we’ve come to learn that it was arson.”

“Arson?” Harris said. “But, how . . .?”

“The insurance investigator was paid to lie. The arsonists involved weren’t smart enough to figure out how to make a fire look like an accident. I think they must’ve had help from someone who knows how to mix chemicals.”

“You think I had something to do with the fire?” Harris said, attempting to sound insulted, but only managing scared.

Chris hadn’t, but now he really, really did. Chris raised his eyebrows. “Did you?”

“I swear, I had no idea who she was!” Harris said, folding like cheap suit.

Chris’ stomach felt like it was filled with lead. He said, “I think you should come with me and tell the Sheriff everything you know.” Harris looked like he might balk at that, so Chris added, “Unless you want him to come here.”

Harris deflated and agreed to accompany Chris to the Sheriff Department. “I knew,” Harris muttered as Chris drove him. “I knew as soon as I heard about that fire, but I wanted to pretend I was wrong, that I hadn’t, and then they said it was electrical . . .”

Chris delivered Harris to John. He watched from the observation room while John questioned Harris. Chris glanced at the crude drawing John brought to show him – the Argent family crest pendant Kate wore. Chris nodded, unable to speak. He already knew what Kate had done – she’d admitted it herself – so Chris didn’t know why this extra layer of evidence was hitting him so hard.

“I’m going to bring in a sketch artist, see what else she can draw out of him.”

Chris nodded again, then managed to say, “Good idea.”

John clasped Chris’ shoulder. “Go home. I’d recommend having a drink, but that’s a slippery slope.”

Chris knew John had had a drinking problem after Claudia’s death, and it was like a gut punch to realize Chris hadn’t been there for him then.

“You could always bake something,” John said hopefully.

Chris managed a smile that fell off his face the moment he turned his back on John to leave. In the Tahoe, Chris checked the time. It had been less than an hour since he’d confronted Harris. It felt longer. Still, Allison would be home soon. She couldn’t see him like this.

Chris texted Allison that he was stopping at the gun range before coming home and that there was chicken marinating for dinner. If he pictured Gerard each time he pulled the trigger, no one had to know. Once he’d exhausted his own feelings of anger and guilt and despair over what Gerard and Kate had done, Chris put the gun away and went home.

Week Four: Friday

Friday morning Chris made his mother’s coffee cake, which elicited a sigh from Allison when she stepped into the kitchen. “You’re not trying to buy me friends with baked goods, are you?”

“I would have if I’d thought of it,” Chris said. “Fortunately, you made friends all on your own before I had to resort to that.”

Allison went through her usual morning routine of pouring coffee and snagging a yogurt. She gave Chris a kiss and left with another plastic container of baked goods tucked under her arm.

Chris waited until Allison pulled out of the driveway to call Araya Calavara and tell her about their new witness – one who’d actually seen Kate this time. Araya requested that a copy of Harris’ statement and the sketch be sent to her so she could add them to the file. “Do you want to know how it’s going?”

“I only want to know if there’s a chance Gerard or Kate might get free and return to Beacon Hills to harm Allison or my friends.”

“I don’t think it’ll come to that,” Araya said. “I’ll call you when a decision has been made.”

Chris packed up the last of the coffee cake and headed for the Sheriff Department. He absently locked the Tahoe with the key fob and immediately ran into Peter when he turned away from the truck.

Peter sniffed the air. “A little birdie told me you’d been baking.”

Chris had no reason to be embarrassed about that, but heat crept up his neck anyway. “Yes. I’ve had some time on my hands.”

Chris held out the bag he carried before he could think better of it. Peter raised an eyebrow and reached out slowly to take the bag from Chris. He opened it and peered inside.

“Coffee cake.” Peter raised his eyes to Chris’. “Your mother’s?”

“Yes.”

Peter tried to hand the bag back, but Chris said, “Keep it. Unless you don’t want to . . .”

Peter studied Chris for a moment before he folded the top of the bag closed.

“What, um, what are you doing here? You weren’t stalking me for baked goods, were you?” Chris said, trying to keep his tone light.

Peter raised an eyebrow, then looked away. “John wanted to tell me about the eye witness who was able to identify Kate.”

“Oh, right, of course.”

“You found him.”

Chris wanted to hide from the intensity of Peter’s gaze. “Yes.”

“Why?” Peter said. “The case was essentially closed; we didn’t need this piece of the puzzle.”

“It fell into my lap, really,” Chris said, downplaying his role.

“Mmm,” Peter said. He gestured with the bag. “Well, thank you for the coffee cake.”

“You’re welcome,” Chris said, but Peter was already walking away. Chris watched Peter slide behind the wheel of a . . . Toyota RAV 4. Chris blinked to make sure he wasn’t seeing things, then turned away before Peter could catch him staring. Chris unlocked the Tahoe and retrieved the other piece of coffee cake. He needed to see John about sending the copies Araya had requested and that might take some bribery.

He’d apologize to Melissa with a cup of coffee from Espresso Yourself – maybe the one Peter had enjoyed so much – and give her extra next time.

Week Four: Saturday

Chris was up again early on Saturday. He stirred up a batch of cranberry-orange scones and then a batch of blueberry muffins that he baked in a mini-muffin tin. Saving out one of each for himself to have with coffee, Chris packed the rest in containers to take to the game later. By the time Allison came down Chris had cleaned up the mess, but she gave the kitchen a suspicious look anyway.

Chris sipped his coffee and watched Allison prowl the kitchen until she found the plastic containers. She ate two blueberry muffins with her coffee without comment.

Allison jumped up when the doorbell rang. “That’s probably Lydia. We’re going to the library. I’ll see you at the game later?”

Chris agreed that he would be there.

Allison paused to press a kiss to Chris’ cheek before she left. “You’re getting rid of all these at the game today, right?”

Chris promised that he would. He followed Allison to the front door and watched her put on her coat, hat and scarf. His gaze dropped to the gloves hanging out of her pocket.

“I’ve still got it,” Allison reassured him.

Chris nodded and hugged Allison. He reluctantly released her, clearing his throat as he stepped back. “Have fun.”

After Allison left Chris texted John and Melissa, I’ve got the baked goods for the game. Who’s providing coffee?
don’t tell stiles John texted back.

Meet me in the parking lot with coffee and he’ll never know you had any.

are you trying to bribe an officer of the law???

get it from espresso yourself Melissa texted.

that’s in the opposite direction from the school John protested. isn’t the place near the sheriff department good enough??

NO Melissa said.

Derek likes their hot cocoa. Chris added.

that’s dirty pool John said.

Chris smiled as he slipped the phone back into his pocket. He spent the morning looking up the requirements for becoming a private investigator in California. The more he read, the less he was interested. If he didn’t want to get an Associates degree in criminal justice he’d need 6,000 hours of paid investigative work over three years. That was a lot of time invested in something he wasn’t even all that excited about.

Chris searched how to open a café in California instead. There was a list from preparing a business plan to permits to equipment to location, but Chris found himself eagerly clicking link after link and taking notes. By the time he left for the game, Chris had bookmarked half a dozen links and written several pages of notes.

John was waiting for Chris in the BHHS parking lot. Chris grinned as he got out of the Tahoe.

“Quit grinning and give me the goods,” John said.

“You got the payment?”

“Right here,” John said, then realized how it sounded. “I hope no one overhears us.”

Chris chuckled as he opened one of the containers on the hood of the cruiser. John took a mini-muffin, quickly peeled back the paper and bit it in half. He moaned as he chewed.

“I’d pay you to be my supplier,” John said, and shoved the other half into his mouth.

“Good afternoon, Sheriff,” a woman said as she passed them.

John gave a the woman a nervous smile and an awkward, “Afternoon, Mrs. Delaney.” To Chris he whispered, “Shit.”

An elderly woman gave John a nasty look at the curse word.

“Hello, ma’am,” John said with an even more strained smile and wave.

Chris laughed silently. John shoved a second muffin into his mouth and wiped the crumb evidence off the front of his jacket.

They walked over to the lacrosse field together, each balancing a drink carrier on top of a plastic container. John gave his container of mini muffins to Stiles, who gave him a suspicious look.

“What?” John snapped guiltily.

Stiles leaned in. “Let me smell your breath.”

John gave Stiles a look and placed his hand flat on Stiles’ face to push him back. “Pass out those muffins to the other boys before I take them back.”

“You didn’t make them, you can’t take them back!”

“I can confiscate them,” John said.

Stiles yelped and pulled the container back when John reached for it. John took the opportunity to escape.

“Shut up,” John said.

Chris’ smile widened. “I didn’t say anything.”

Melissa had saved them a seat. Chris climbed up the bleachers and sat next to her with John on the outside so he could leave easier if he got a call. Derek was sitting in front of Melissa, and Allison and Lydia were below him. They passed out the drinks. Chris had two coffees in his carrier, one with his name on it and the other with Melissa’s. John had three drinks; he passed one to Derek.

“Hot chocolate,” John said when Derek hesitated to take it.

Derek glared at the cup as if he hated nice things and said, “Thank you.” Melissa gave Derek’s shoulder a brief squeeze and he glared harder at the cup.

John took his coffee from the carrier and set it and the remaining cup on the bleacher seat in front of him. Chris didn’t think anything of it until Peter appeared, smiling as if he’d just done something that would’ve gotten them all in trouble in high school. Peter scooped up the carrier and removed the cup as he sat. He stacked the carrier in the one still sitting on the plastic container in Chris’ lap and winked at Chris as he took a sip of coffee.

Chris’ heart had started hammering at the mere sight of Peter, but the wink made his stomach twist in a way that might’ve been pleasant if there was any chance that Peter’s was doing the same. Chris didn’t know why he was reacting this way; it wasn’t as if he hadn’t known Peter would be there. Chris felt off-balance, and it reminded him of the days before he and Peter became Chris&Peter.

Thankfully Melissa said, “What did you bring?” and drew Chris out of his spiraling thoughts.

“Cranberry-orange scones and mini-blueberry muffins,” Chris said. He set the drink carriers on Peter’s head and opened the container. He’d even brought napkins, and he took them out of his pocket so Melissa could take one. Everyone took a napkin and a baked good – even John, though he held the scone down so Stiles couldn’t see it if he glanced over, and even Derek, though Chris had to nudge him before he did. Allison took two more mini-muffins and Lydia a scone.

About five minutes into the first quarter Stiles glanced up at them from his spot on the bench. He pointed two fingers at his own eyes, and then at John in the ‘I’m watching you’ gesture. John, having finished the scone, raised both hands (one holding the coffee cup) to prove his innocence, then brought his free hand down so it was hidden by his body and gave Stiles a one-fingered gesture. Stiles’ jaw dropped and he flailed so hard he nearly fell off the bench.

The whole exchange startled a laugh out of Chris.

“I love him, but jesus,” John said. “I wouldn’t have to sneak around if he wasn’t such a hard ass about it.”

“Spoken like a true addict,” Peter said.

John flicked Peter’s ear.

Melissa leaned into Chris and slipped her arm around his back. “This is fun,” she said.

Chris hugged her back. “Yeah.”

Even though Derek and Peter were there, Chris kept an eye on Scott and the Whittemore kid. Scott seemed to have a better grasp on his control, and Jackson glanced up at them in abject fear when he accidentally tripped Scott when they were both going for the ball.

Without thinking, Chris smacked the back of his hand into Peter’s shoulder. “What did you say to him?”

Peter smirked. “Do you really want to know?”

Chris didn’t know if he did, but the moment was over anyway. The rest of the game went without a supernatural hitch, though the Cyclones lost. Chris heard a low rumble when it appeared that Scott was going to smash his stick against the ground. Scott looked up at them, at Derek, and Chris realized that Scott heard it, too.

Scott took a deep breath, and another, and then his fingers loosened on the stick. He nodded at Derek and turned back to listen to their coach.

Melissa slid her hand over Derek’s shoulder. “I wish I knew that trick when he was a colicky baby.”

Even though the game was over and the teams were shaking hands and most of the other spectators were leaving the bleachers, they hadn’t moved yet. Suddenly Melissa said, “Let’s do something.”

“Like what?” John said.

“I don’t know, but I took the day off so I could come to the game, and even though I could use the rest, it’s Saturday, and I don’t want to just go home. So let’s do something.”

“What’s there to do in Beacon Hills?” John said.

“We could always go bowling,” Peter said dryly.

“Yes!” Melissa said. “Let’s all go bowling!”

Which is how they all ended up at the bowling alley at four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Even Jackson, who’d said, “Anything to not have to watch ‘The Notebook’ again,” and his friend Danny. (Given the tight smile on Lydia’s face, Chris figured Jackson would be paying for the comment later.)

While they were waiting in line for shoes Chris pointed out the ‘help wanted’ sign to Derek. Chris laughed when Derek turned his usual glare on him. Stiles approached, looking between the two of them with a considering expression.

“Stiles!” Chris said. “How’d you do on your book report?”

“Oh my god!” Stiles smacked Derek in the chest. “Dude. I aced it! Derek really knows his shit.”

Derek glared down at Stiles’ hand, but didn’t growl for him to remove it. Though it was difficult to tell in this light, it looked like the tips of his ears had gone red.

“You, however, are in a lot of trouble.”

Derek smirked at Chris now that Stiles’ attention was off him.

“Me? What did I do?”

Stiles flailed. “Are you kidding me? You’re my dad’s dealer. Did you think I wouldn’t find out that you were supplying him with baked goods?”

“Are you eating the goodies Allison brings to school?” Chris said casually.

Stiles hesitated. “That’s not even the point.”

“Ha!” John said. “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”

Stiles gave John a look. “Number one, you are so very wrong. And number two, who’s the goose in this scenario?”

Chris gratefully took the shoes Melissa handed him and escaped to put them on.

“I can’t believe you have your own bowling shoes,” Stiles said to Lydia when he came over and sat next to Chris to put on his own shoes.

Lydia gave Stiles a look. “Like I would wear second hand shoes that don’t have a single sparkle?”

“Yeah, but, bowling.”

“There’s a reason I don’t let my nails grow long.” Lydia held up her hands. “It’s so I can kick ass at bowling.”

Stiles laughed nervously. “That’s so hot.”

Before Jackson could stand up and pummel Stiles, Derek was there pushing him back into his seat. Jackson only subsided after Derek’s growl.

“Fuck,” Stiles breathed. “So is that.”

Stiles blushed furiously when he realized he’d spoken out loud. Chris took pity on him and changed the subject.

“Derek, you gonna play with us or the kids?”

Derek turned his glare onto Chris. “I don’t bowl.”

“Come on, nephew!” Peter said. “You and me against these other three.”

Derek turned his glare onto Peter.

“No fair,” Melissa said. “You two should be separated.”

“Might I remind you that I’m only a couple weeks out of a coma?”

“Wow,” Stiles said. “Are you still milking that?”

Peter turned the full weight of his attention onto Stiles. “Yes, Stiles, I’m still milking that.” He sounded almost fond.

Stiles’ eyes went round. He turned around to escape Peter and ran into Derek. Stiles squeaked when he started to fall over. Derek caught Stiles and set him on his feet, then walked around him. Stiles stared after Derek with an expression of awe.

“Stiles, please, son, I’m right here,” John said.

Chris said to Melissa, “Please tell me we weren’t like that.”

“Wish I could,” Melissa said.

“No, you don’t.”

Melissa grinned. “No, I don’t.”

Chris left Melissa to sort teams and went to the counter to get a round of beers for the adults. The fellow working the grill, who was too young to have been there twenty years ago, told Chris that Peter was running a tab and covering all their fees. Stiles overhead and ordered curly fries with cheese to go with his cherry Coke.

Chris handed the bottles out, saying, “Thank you,” when Peter took his.

“You know I can’t get drunk,” Peter said.

“When has that ever stopped you from trying?” Melissa said.

Chris passed the last bottle to Derek and pretended that he wasn’t having flashbacks to high school.

“Oh man,” John said after he took a sip of beer. “Do you remember the time Peter told you he was drinking beer laced with wolfsbane or some shit . . .”

Chris groaned at the memory.

“. . . and you agreed to a drinking contest?”

“Wait, what?” Allison said.

“Nothing!” Chris said. “Shouldn’t you be paying attention to how your team is doing?”

Allison ignored him. “Who won?”

“I did, of course,” Peter said.

Chris turned on Peter. “Because you were a lying asshole!”

Peter raised his hands, beer still held in one. “I didn’t think you’d believe me about the wolfsbane. That shit’s poisonous. I figured a hunter would know better.”

“Bite me,” Chris said. “I thought I was learning something new.”

Peter smirked, and John and Melissa laughed, but Melissa rubbed his back to take some of the sting out of it. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s play.”

It was inevitable that more memories surfaced as they bowled, but it was a lot less awkward than Chris had expected it to be. When it was Derek’s turn in the first frame, he studied the pins for a long moment before sending the ball towards them. The ball went straight until about halfway down the lane when it began a slow veer to the right and knocked down a single pin.

“Derek,” Peter said, aghast. “I taught you better than that.”

Derek shrugged. “I haven’t played in a while.”

Peter goggled. “Neither have I!”

The moment passed and they continued to bowl. Peter improved until he was throwing mostly strikes and spares. Derek got as many gutter balls as pins knocked over. Peter was getting frustrated the further ahead Chris, Melissa and John’s team got, but Derek remained unruffled at his poor performance.

Derek was the last one to go in the first game. He asked what the score was before he picked up the ball. Peter mumbled something about them being so far behind they wouldn’t win even if Derek got a strike. Derek raised the ball and studied the pins. He took three steps and released the ball. Derek turned around without watching where the ball went, but Chris couldn’t take his eyes off the ball, which never veered to the right or left.

Chris, Melissa and John cheered when Derek bowled a strike. Peter stared stupidly at the setter as it raked up the fallen pins.

“That . . . Did you . . . ?”

“Lucky shot,” Derek deadpanned.

Peter studied Derek. “You asshole,” he said. “You played me.”

The corner of Derek’s mouth twitched before he pulled it back down into a frown. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Peter wasn’t listening. He pounded Derek on the shoulder and grabbed him around the neck. He dragged Derek’s head down and kissed him on the top of his head. “Well played, nephew.”

When Peter released Derek he looked like he was fighting back emotions. “I’ll go get us another round,” Peter said, and disappeared with their empties. Chris watched Peter’s back until he was distracted by Stiles.

“Dude! That was amazing!” Stiles said to Derek, holding up his hand for a high-five.

Derek raised an eyebrow and stared at Stiles.

“Come on, man, don’t leave me hanging.” Stiles took Derek’s wrist and raised his arm. Derek didn’t resist, but he didn’t flatten his hand so Stiles ended up high-fiving Derek’s loose fist. “We should have our own handshake.”

“No.”

“Don’t worry, big guy, I’ll think of something.”

“That’s what worries me,” Derek said dryly.

Stiles grinned. Derek watched Stiles walk away with a strange expression on his face. Chris looked away before Derek caught him staring.

The next game Derek didn’t hold back. His score was higher than Peter’s by a few pins.

Peter threw his hands up when Melissa and John teased him. “Coma!”

In the next lane Stiles raised his hand and rubbed his thumb and index finger together. Chris snorted, which made Peter turn to look.

Peter gave an exasperated sigh. “I like you, Stiles. I don’t know why, but I do.”

Stiles flailed and tried to hide behind Lydia, but ended up tripping and falling into one of the bench seats.

After the second game Melissa took a head count and placed an order for cheeseburgers, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks, french fries, and milkshakes. They started a third game while the food cooked and took a break to eat before finishing it. Afterwards the adults sat on the bench seats and watched the kids finish their game.

Chris carried up a bunch of empty bottles and a tray of used paper dishes and napkins. Peter was at the register settling up the bill. Chris was planning to leave without speaking to him, but Peter spoke, surprising Chris.

“What?”

“Where’s Victoria?” Peter repeated. “You and Allison are here in Beacon Hills without your wife, which is a pretty big elephant in the room.”

Chris huffed and shook his head. “I wasn’t trying to keep it secret. In fact, I told you all about it while you were . . . But, of course you don’t remember now. It feels like you already know. Sorry.”

Peter shrugged as if it didn’t matter, which was when you knew something really mattered. “You talked to me about Victoria?”

“I talked to you about a lot of things,” Chris said. He hesitated before answering the original question. “Victoria was bitten by a werewolf.”

“It didn’t take?” Peter said, sounding worried.

“We’ll never know,” Chris said. “Victoria killed herself. I begged her not to, told her that being a werewolf didn’t make you a monster . . . She couldn’t overcome the hunter’s teachings.”

“I’m sorry,” Peter said.

Chris glanced at Peter, unable to read the expression on his face. “Thank you.”

Peter, who rarely allowed his unease to show, looked uncomfortable. “That’s why you quit?”

“Gerard and hunting had taken so much from me,” Chris said. “You. Victoria.” He looked down at the lanes where Allison was talking to Scott and smiling. “I don’t want them taking anything else.”

Week Four: Sunday

Lydia spent the night so Chris made brunch the next morning. Allison and Lydia stared at the variety of food spread across the island.

“What?” Chris said. He looked again and had to admit that he’d made way too much for the three of them. “Invite the boys,” he said, and soon the house was filled with the sound of teenagers.

It was so different from their home when Allison was growing up, and even when Chris was younger. It was nice.

Week Five: Monday

On Monday John stepped into the empty storefront where Chris was sitting on the floor. “Chris, what are you doing?”

“Thinking.”

John squatted down beside him. “About what?”

“I keep trying to imagine a waiting room here, a reception counter, offices in the back, but I can’t do it.”

“What do you see?”

“A couple of high top tables in the windows. A counter along that wall with the kitchen in the back. A gas fireplace along this wall with some comfortable chairs, maybe a couch. Tables filling the rest of the floor space. Bookshelves on the wall.”

“That sounds nice,” John said. “Cozy.”

“Yeah.” Chris sighed. “I’m good at being a hunter.”

“You spent twenty years doing something you were good at,” John said. “Maybe it’s time to do something you love.”

“Follow my dreams,” Chris said.

John clapped Chris on the shoulder. “Exactly.”

Chris went home and made pie crusts.

Week Five: Tuesday

Stiles gave Chris an expectant look when he showed up at the game on Tuesday. Chris pretended he didn’t know what Stiles wanted, then handed over a plastic container of brownies. Stiles’ reaction when he opened the container and saw the variety of brownies was very satisfying.

Chris sat next to Derek on the bleachers and took the coffee he offered, trading the container of brownies he’d set aside for Peter and Derek. Chris knew that John and Melissa were still working (though Melissa hoped to make the second half of the game after her shift ended), but he’d hoped that he might see Peter.

Chris took a couple sips of coffee and turned down a proffered brownie (he’d already eaten too many; the peanut butter cup ones were his favorite) before allowing himself to ask where Peter was.

Derek didn’t give Chris a look, knowing or otherwise, merely said, “At the house. Supervising,” he added dryly. “But he said one of us still needs to be here for Scott.”

For Scott, right, Chris thought. But since Derek hadn’t commented on Chris asking after Peter, Chris kept the thought to himself.

Week Five: Wednesday

Chris had baked an apple pie on Tuesday after the brownies were cooling. Today he made a lemon meringue and chocolate cream that he stuck in the refrigerator to set, and a raspberry that needed to go in the oven. The apple was for John, the chocolate cream for Melissa, the raspberry for Chris and Allison, and the lemon meringue . . .

“What kind of pie would I be?” Peter said as they lay together on the blanket watching the stars.

“Lemon meringue,” Chris said immediately. “Sweet and tart.”

Peter rolled over and shoved his hand down Chris’ shorts and there was no more talk of pie.

Chris delivered the pies: to John at work (so Stiles didn’t intercept it) and to Melissa at home since she had the night shift. Chris took a deep breath and drove out to the Preserve. He wavered between telling himself he was doing the right thing and telling himself to turn the fuck around.

There were a bunch of trucks parked in the clearing around the house, including Peter’s RAV 4. Chris stared at the spot where the Hale house had once stood. All the burned timbers had been removed and the frame for the new structure was already going up.

Chris slid out of the Tahoe and got the pie out of the backseat. He’d had to put it in a cake carrier so the meringue didn’t get smashed. Chris stood at the front of the SUV and watched the men hammering and carrying and calling out to each other. Peter stepped away from the others and started towards Chris, who could only stare at him because Peter was wearing jeans and, of all things, a tool belt.

Chris had never imagined that a tool belt would be sexy. Chris forced his gaze away from Peter’s waist and made the mistake of meeting Peter’s eyes.

“I can’t believe you’ve gotten this far already,” Chris said, just to have something to say.

Peter glanced over his shoulder at the house, as if he hadn’t just been working on it. “They understood how important it was,” he said.

“Right,” Chris said. “Um.”

“That wasn’t intended as a dig at you,” Peter said.

“Okay, I . . .”

“What are you doing here, Chris?”

Chris shoved the cake carrier out in front of him.

Peter glanced at it, then studied Chris’ face. “You’re adding us to your baking detail?”

“If you want,” Chris said, feeling awkward as hell.

Peter studied Chris for just a moment longer, then reached out and took the cake carrier. “What did you make today?”

Chris took a step backwards. “Um, pie.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “That’s a lot more work than brownies. Which were good, by the way.”

“I’m glad you liked them,” Chris said, stilted. “I, um, I hope you like the pie.”

“What kind is it?” Peter said.

Chris took another step backwards. “I’ve got to go. See you later.”

Peter still stood there watching Chris when he turned the Tahoe around and headed down the driveway. Chris glanced in the rearview mirror as Peter lifted the lid to check out the pie. Chris was torn between wanting Peter to remember that throw-away conversation and hoping like hell that he didn’t.

Week Five: Thursday

“What’s wrong?” Allison said the next morning when she walked into the kitchen and saw Chris staring absently at his mother’s recipe book.

Chris closed the book. “I’m thinking about what to do with the rest of my life.”

“Heavy,” Allison said as she poured coffee. “What are you thinking?”

“Kate said I should go with my talents, but I don’t want to do that anymore. And someone else said I should go with my dreams, but . . . I enjoy baking for you, and for my friends. But I don’t know if I’d enjoy having to do it everyday for strangers who might say something unkind about my mom’s sugar cookies.”

Allison smiled. “Then continue baking for friends and family, and think of something else to do for a work-type thing. Something you’d be good at and that you’d enjoy.”

“Easier said than done,” Chris said. He changed the subject. “So, your birthday’s tomorrow.”

“Yes, it is,” Allison said.

“I’m ashamed to say that, with everything going on, I haven’t given your present much thought. Any ideas?”

“You mean solving a cold case and arresting your sister and father didn’t leave you much time for planning a birthday party?”

“Yeah.”

“Speaking of,” Allison said. “Can we do something on Saturday instead of Friday? Scott wants to take me out and Saturday is . . .”

“The full moon,” Chris said. “Sure, we can switch nights, that’s no problem.”

“Thanks, daddy!”

Chris returned Allison’s hug and kiss. “About that present?”

Allison thought about it while she poured coffee, got out a yogurt and surreptitiously looked around the counter for baked goods. “Can you find a place where I can shoot my bow?” she finally said.

“Yeah, sweetheart, I can absolutely do that.”

Allison had been busy with her new friends since they moved to Beacon Hills, but Chris had let things with Allison slide. He really needed to start being a better father.

“Hey,” Chris said, following Allison to the front door. “Tomorrow is also parent-teacher night. Anything you want to tell me before I get there?”

“No. I’m an angel, you know that.”

“Yeah, you are,” Chris said. He was damned lucky.

“Also, don’t believe anything Harris tells you; he’s a real dick.”

Having met the man, Chris couldn’t argue.

Week Five: Friday

“Scott’s grades are slipping,” Melissa said as they sat in the corner booth at the diner and waited for their milkshakes.

“He’s had a pretty big life change,” John said.

Chris snorted. “You can say that again.”

“He’s had a . . . Ow!” John cut off when Chris kicked him under the table.

“He’ll level off,” Chris said to Melissa. “Training took up a lot of his time, and his senses going haywire didn’t help.”

Melissa made a noncommittal sound, then said, “How’s Stiles doing?”

John groaned. “According to Finstock, he’s the lacrosse coach and the econ teacher,” John explained to Chris. “Stiles is smart, but doesn’t apply himself. Also, he wrote an essay on the history of male circumcision for the final question on his mid-term.”

“His econ midterm?” Melissa clarified.

“Yes.”

Melissa winced and turned to Chris. “How’s Allison doing?”

“Good,” Chris said. “Great, actually. I mean, she’s always done well in school, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure how much studying was getting done when she and Lydia ‘went to the library’,” Chris said, making finger quotes.

Melissa snorted.

“Speaking of Allison,” Chris said. “Her birthday is today.”

“Scott mentioned it,” Melissa said. “Only, like, a million times.”

Chris grinned. “Since she’s busy tonight, she wanted to celebrate tomorrow. I’m going to ask if she wants to invite Lydia, and I wondered if you guys wanted to come over. Scott’ll be with Peter,” he directed to Melissa.

“Talking about me?” Peter said.

“Speak of the devil!” John said. He extended his hand across the table for Peter to shake.

Peter took John’s hand, then leaned down to kiss Melissa’s cheek. He sat on the bench seat with Chris, and Chris automatically moved over to make more room. Peter gave Chris an expectant look.

“What?”

“Were you talking about me?”

“No! I invited Melissa and John to spend the full moon at my house.”

“Afraid we’re going to go mad and attack them?”

“What? No!” Chris shoved Peter’s arm. “Today is Allison’s birthday, but we’re celebrating tomorrow because she’s . . .”

“Out with Scott, yes, I know. He might’ve mentioned it once or twice,” Peter said dryly.

When the milkshakes were delivered there were four of them. Gus, who’d owned the diner for as long as Chris could remember, stared at them. “You kids keep it down back here,” he said before walking way.

They all looked at each other and tried to stifle the laughter that bubbled up.

“I can’t believe he said that!” John said.

“We’re adults now!” Melissa added.

“I’m the god-damned sheriff,” John said petulantly, which set off another round of smothered laughs.

Week Five: Saturday

Chris planned that evening’s menu over coffee. He went shopping and then made the angel food cake that was a favorite of Allison’s, and chocolate chip cookies for anyone who didn’t want the cake. He sliced up the strawberries and cleaned up the mess he’d made. By then it was lunch time.

Luckily there was no lacrosse game – which made Chris wonder if someone at the school knew about the supernatural, taking the full moon into account when they made up the schedule – but Allison was at Lydia’s so Chris was on his own. He made himself a turkey sandwich and went over the notes he’d made the other day. Chris tried to imagine himself getting up at five o’clock in the morning, or earlier, everyday to bake enough to fill a display case.

Chris had been baking nearly everyday for the past week, but he’d known the people he was baking for, and he knew they’d enjoy his offerings. Chris pushed the pad aside and woke the laptop. He looked up other property that was for sale or lease in Beacon Hills, filtering the search for commercial and mixed-use.

Chris’ neck and shoulders were stiff by the time Allison came home. She called out and came to the office when Chris answered her.

“How was your day?” Chris said, leaning back in his chair and stretching.

“Good. I finished my chemistry lab report.” Allison indicated the screen. “What are you looking for?”

“I don’t know. I hope I’ll know it when I see it.”

Chris checked the time; he’d been sitting in front of the computer longer than he’d thought. He returned to the kitchen and threw together two pans of lasagna – a small vegetable for Allison (and anyone else who wanted it) and a large ‘meat lovers’ with ground beef and Italian sausage for everyone else. Chris cleaned up, then put the two pans in the oven and went upstairs to take a shower and change his clothes.

The loaf of Italian bread had been sliced and set out on a cookie sheet, just awaiting a brush of garlic butter, when Melissa arrived. She brought two bottles of wine – not Boone’s, thankfully – and this time they used actual glasses. Allison came down and the three of them sat around the island talking until John and Stiles arrived.

Melissa and John hugged and John joined them at the island while Allison and Stiles moved to the table. Every once in a while Chris caught snatches of their conversation – the chemistry lab, movies, someone named Heather. Allison jumped up when she heard Lydia’s car in the driveway.

Chris took out the pans of lasagna he’d kept warming and switched the oven to broiler. While it heated he brushed garlic butter on the bread, then slid the sheet onto the rack.

“No Jackson?” Chris said when he realized Lydia had come alone.

“No,” Allison said quickly. “We thought we’d do a girls’ night.”

Stiles squawked. “What about me?”

“Don’t front, Stiles,” Lydia said. “You know you want to be one of the girls.”

Stiles looked like he was going to argue, then just shrugged.

They ate at the dining room table because it was a special occasion. It was nice, having more people around the dinner table than just he and Allison. Chris turned down Allison’s offer to help with clean-up since it was her birthday dinner.

“Alright, we’ll start one of the movies Lydia brought until dessert is ready.” Allison kissed Chris on the top of his head and she and Lydia headed for the living room. “Come on, Stiles!”

“Is it ‘The Notebook’?” Stiles said, pushing back his chair.

Lydia paused and leveled a look at Stiles. “Would that be a problem?”

“Are you kidding? I love that movie!” Stiles let the girls get ahead of him before looking at the adults and shaking his head, mouthing, ‘No I don’t!’

“I saw that!” Lydia said from the living room.

Stiles jerked around and high-tailed it after them.

Melissa mixed up the whipped cream while Chris put away leftovers and John rinsed the dishes and stacked them in the dishwasher. Chris started a pot of coffee and put candles in the cake while Melissa got out cups and flatware.

When everything was ready Chris called the kids back in. They sang ‘Happy Birthday’ and ate cake with strawberries and whipped cream, and chocolate chip cookies. Afterwards Allison opened her presents. Lydia got her a blouse that must’ve cost a fortune given Allison’s reaction. John and Stiles gave her a gift certificate to the bowling alley, which made Allison laugh. Melissa gave her a gift bag of scented lotion and such.

“I might’ve made Scott ask Lydia to find out what your favorite scent was,” Melissa said. “I hope he got it right.”

“Thank you,” Allison said, opening one of the bottles to sniff before putting some on her hand. “I love it.”

Allison hugged and thanked everyone, and then the kids returned to the living room. The adults cleaned up and refilled their coffee cups (and wine glass, in Melissa’s case) and went out to the enclosed porch. They talked about everything from being single parents to the cost of gas to the last movie they’d seen. When they weren’t talking, they fell into a comfortable silence.

“You know what we need?” Melissa said abruptly. “Music.”

John waited until Melissa was out of range to groan. “You know what this means?”

“No. What?

“She’s gonna want to dance.”

Chris laughed, hit by the memory of Melissa dancing in bare feet on the soccer field one night after she’d had a little bit of Boone’s under her belt. Then he groaned, because she’d inevitably make one of them dance with her.

Melissa returned with an iPod in one hand and a portable speaker she’d borrowed from Allison in the other. She set it up and stepped back as the first song began to play. “Scott got me this iPod for Christmas. He said he paid for it with money he saved from his job at the clinic. How bad is it that I worried he’d stolen it?”

John excused himself to use the bathroom so Chris was the only one there when a slow song came on. He and Melissa were slow dancing in a bit of open space between two lounge chairs when John returned. John looked like he wanted to turn back around and leave, but Chris forestalled him by asking about the kids.

“They’re playing something called ‘Cards Against Humanity’?”

“Alright, cut in, John,” Melissa said.

John groaned, but he came over anyway. Chris released Melissa, but instead of turning into John’s arms, she stepped back. Chris went along with her play and took John into his own arms and whirled him around. Melissa laughed, which made Chris and John laugh and stumble. Chris released John who danced with Melissa. They took turns dancing with Melissa for the next three or four songs.

Melissa said, “God I miss sex,” which made John sputter and turn red. Melissa slapped his shoulder. “Not with you! Or you,” she said to Chris. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Chris said dryly as he stared into the back yard. He could’ve sworn he’d seen movement out there, but nothing stirred now that he was watching for it.

They stayed on the porch until Melissa yawned so wide it nearly cracked her jaw, which set them all off. Since it was late and they’d been drinking, Chris invited John and Melissa to spend the night. “I’ll make breakfast,” he offered.

They stopped by the living room so John could let Stiles know they were spending the night. “You’ll share with me,” he said.

“Afraid I’m gonna get myself some three-way action?” Stiles said.

“Not if these ladies have any taste,” John said.

“Hey!”

“And not given the way you’ve been looking at Derek . . .”

Stiles flailed and fell off the stool he’d been perched on. “I don’t look at Derek! I don’t,” he insisted.

“You keep telling yourself that,” Lydia said.

Chris took John and Melissa upstairs and pointed out the two guestrooms and the bathroom. He told them to make themselves comfortable and use whatever they needed. Chris returned to the porch. He carried the wine glasses and coffee cups into the kitchen and put them in the sink. He went back out and unhooked the iPod from the portable speaker and turned both of them off.

Chris started back into the house, but something made him stop. He looked out over the back yard again. Chris couldn’t see anything, but he’d learned not to ignore his gut. He set down the items in his hand and unlocked the porch door. Chris went down the back steps and stood at the base, straining to see or hear whatever it was that had his instincts going haywire.

Chris had the thought that he shouldn’t have come outside without a gun, especially after the incident just two weeks ago, in case Gerard had somehow managed to get word to one of his men who hadn’t been swept up during his capture. Just then a pair of red eyes appeared at the edge of the yard. The hairs on the back of Chris’ neck stood up on end. He only knew of two alphas in Beacon Hills, but that didn’t mean another hadn’t arrived.

The eyes were about three feet off the ground, which argued for a fully-shifted wolf, or one that was squatting. Chris was close enough to the house that he could get inside if the werewolf charged him, but it would take him a precious few minutes to get to the guns he kept in his office, much less the rifles in the garage. The werewolf would be able to break down the doors between them with ease if it wanted to.

Chris was calculating the distance when the alpha stepped out of the shadows. In the light of the moon Chris could see that it was a full-shift wolf, which argued for Peter. Chris didn’t lower his defenses. Of all werewolves, Peter had the most reason to hate him, since the fire was ultimately Chris’ fault. Peter moved slowly. Chris couldn’t tell whether Peter was trying to allay his concern or draw out his uneasiness. With Peter it could’ve been either. Or both.

“Aren’t you supposed to be with Derek and Scott?” Chris said, hoping he sounded less disquieted than he felt.

Chris studied Peter’s form. He hadn’t seen Peter in a full shift since the night at the Nemeton, and that form had been misshapen and . . . wrong. “Your lessons with Satomi must be paying off,” Chris said. Peter’s wolf was large, easily weighing one hundred pounds and standing thirty inches at the shoulder. The moonlight shone on Peter like a spotlight and reflected off the rust-colored fur.

Chris couldn’t resist the urge to touch Peter when he moved close enough. Peter gave a low grumble, but sniffed at Chris’ wrist, then turned his head away so that his teeth weren’t near Chris’ hand. Peter pushed into the pet and simultaneously shifted under Chris’ touch. Caught by surprise, Chris’ continued the petting motion and his hand ended up on Peter’s bare hip when Peter stood before him, fully human.

Chris left his hand there for a moment, frozen by the feel of Peter’s bare skin under his palm. He couldn’t keep his eyes from moving down Peter’s body. Chris had only seen Peter naked twice as an adult. The first time had been frantic and angry, and the second full of desperation and fear that one of them might die. Given the way his clothes fit, Chris knew Peter had put on weight since he’d woken from the coma. It was different seeing it. “You look . . . healthy,” Chris said.

Peter smirked. “Is that how I look?”

Chris realized his hand was still on Peter’s hip. He raised it off slowly even though his palm felt as if it had been burned. “What are you doing here, Peter?”

“I should be asking you that,” Peter said. “Why did you return to Beacon Hills?”

“I told you,” Chris said, part of him wondering whether he’d only had the conversation with Peter when he’d been in the coma. “After Victoria . . .”

“You could’ve gone anywhere,” Peter said. “Why here?”

Chris swallowed around the lump in his throat. Talking to Peter had been a whole lot easier when he’d been unconscious. “Because this is the only place that ever felt like home.”

Peter tilted his head as he studied Chris, then nodded. “Why did you give me that pie?”

“I gave John and Melissa a pie, too,” Chris said quickly.

“Why did you give me that pie?”

“No particular reason,” Chris said.

“Liar,” Peter growled. “What kind of pie would I be?” he said, repeating his question from over twenty years ago.

Chris’ stomach twisted. He swallowed to wet his suddenly dry mouth. “You remember that?”

“I remember everything,” Peter said. He moved closer until they were separated by only a hair’s breadth. “Answer the question, Christopher.”

“Lemon meringue,” Chris said, the words punched out of him with his own breath.

Peter made a sound that could’ve been anger or satisfaction at Chris’ admission. He curled his hand around the back of Chris’ neck and dragged him into a kiss that Chris returned greedily, as if this kiss might be their last. Chris put his hand back on Peter’s hip and pulled their bodies together. They both moaned when their hips came into contact. Peter slid his free hand around the small of Chris’ back and deepened the kiss as if he had also been craving this moment.

Chris tore his mouth away from Peter’s. “How long can you stay?”

Peter studied Chris’ face, and for a fearful moment Chris thought Peter had come to his senses. “Long enough,” Peter said.

Week Five: Sunday

Chris woke up the next morning alone in his bed. He was disappointed, but not surprised. He closed his eyes and took some deep breaths before forcing himself out of bed. Chris bit back a moan as muscles he hadn’t used quite so strenuously in a long time protested the movement.

Chris showered and dressed in a comfortable pair of jeans and t-shirt before going downstairs to start the coffee. It was later than he usually got up, but the house remained silent. Given the late night, everyone else appeared to be sleeping in as well.

While the coffee brewed, Chris stirred up a batch of banana nut muffins. He cleaned up the mess while the muffins were baking and got out everything he needed for breakfast. Chris had a few minutes alone with his coffee before John came down.

“Whose idea was it to drink two bottles of wine?” John said as he took the cup of coffee Chris poured for him.

“At least it wasn’t Boone’s,” Chris said.

John groaned and buried his face in the cup.

Allison appeared, still in her pajamas, and silently poured three cups of coffee. She kissed Chris on the cheek before disappearing upstairs with them.

Melissa showed up just after Chris pulled the muffins from the oven. He let them cool for a few minutes before taking them out of the pan and setting them on a rack. He placed a half dozen on a plate and set it in the middle of the table. John immediately ate two and placed the incriminating wrappers in front of Melissa, who laughed.

“These are so cute,” Melissa said of the mini-muffins before popping the bottom half of one into her mouth. “I hope Scott was okay last night.”

“I’m sure he was,” Chris said, hiding the heat on his cheeks behind the coffee cup.

“Because of Peter?” Melissa said.

All three of them remembered the pranks Peter had pulled in high school.

“Because of Satomi,” Chris said.

Melissa nodded.

Chris changed the subject. “Do you have to go to work today?”

“No, I took the weekend off.” Melissa leaned back in the chair and sighed. “I can’t remember the last time I had an entire weekend off.”

“Hey,” Chris said. He remembered her comments about affording Scott’s inhalers and, now that he was a werewolf with a higher metabolism, food. Chris laid his hand over Melissa’s. “Is everything alright? Money-wise? Don’t be too proud to ask for help if you need it. And that goes for you, too,” Chris directed at John.

“Funny you should say that,” Melissa said wryly. “Peter sent someone over to look at the roof. I knew it was going to need to be fixed at some point, or possibly replaced, but I was putting off getting an estimate. Scott must’ve overheard me talking about it and said something.”

“That’s great,” Chris said, his heart doing a little flip in his chest at the evidence of Peter’s generosity with his friends.

“I was managing,” Melissa said with a hint of irritation.

“And now you’ve got a weekend off,” John said.

Melissa scoffed. “Pot, kettle. And you don’t even get paid overtime for all the extra hours you put in.”

“We’re friends,” Chris said, interrupting what could become an argument since money was involved. “More than that, we’re the family we chose. And we’re here for each other.”

John raised his cup and Chris and Melissa reached in to clink theirs to his and to each other’s. “Hear, hear.”

Chris put the bacon in the oven. If the kids were awake, they’d probably be down once the coffee worked its effect. He poured himself another cup of coffee and sipped it while he watched the bacon. The front door opened just as Chris was laying the bacon on a paper towel-covered plate to drain. It could only be one person, because no one else (who wasn’t already inside the house) had a key. Chris’ knees went a little weak and his hand stuttered as he laid the last piece.

Scott was the first one into the kitchen. He gave his mom a hug before asking about Allison and Stiles. Melissa told Scott that they were upstairs. “Why don’t you tell them to come down,” she suggested as she looked Scott over to make sure he was alright.

Scott ran off, ignoring Derek and Peter other than to skirt around them. Derek rolled his eyes. Peter ignored Scott because his gaze had pinned Chris.

“Peter!” John said. “Derek, hi. I didn’t know you guys would be here.” John clapped Derek’s arm and dragged Peter into a hug.

Chris sagged when he was released from Peter’s stare.

“Chris didn’t mention that he invited us?” Peter said as Melissa took her turn getting a hug.

“No,” Melissa said, giving Chris a questioning look.

“I didn’t know if you were coming,” Chris said, trying to keep his tone even. He glanced at Peter who gave him a look, but thankfully didn’t take the opening Chris had inadvertently left him. “There’s coffee,” Chris said, changing the subject.

Peter moved towards the coffee pot, but stopped beside Chris. “I had to go pick up the kids,” he said in explanation to the question Chris hadn’t asked.

“Okay,” Chris said, paying close attention to the eggs he was cracking onto the griddle, hiding his heated cheeks. Though maybe if anyone saw it they’d think it was from the oven.

“Wait, what do you mean you had to go pick up the kids?” Melissa said. “Weren’t you with the kids?”

“Of course I was with the kids,” Peter said. “Until they fell asleep.”

“You left Scott alone?”

“I left Scott with Derek and Satomi’s entire pack. He was perfectly safe, Mel, I promise you that.”

Melissa was slightly mollified by Peter’s reassuring tone. “Wait, why weren’t you with the kids?”

“I paid a visit to an old friend,” Peter said as he poured himself a cup of coffee and held the pot up, offering a refill to the others.

“On the full moon?” Melissa said, shaking her head. “You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

Peter took a sip. “Well, he did say, ‘Peter, you’re killing me’ once or twice, but I don’t think he meant it like that.”

“That’s enough, Peter,” Chris said, somehow managing to keep his voice from rising.

“Is it, though?” Peter said.

“Why don’t you just piss on him and get it over with?” Derek muttered.

Everyone, including Chris and Peter, looked at Derek in surprise. Derek looked a little bit surprised himself.

Chris grabbed the interruption like a lifeline and said, “Derek, would you like some hot cocoa?”

Peter, however, didn’t miss a beat. He said, “Well, I would, Derek, but it’s been over twenty years; I don’t know if he’s into that.”

Chris’ face flamed.

“Oh my god,” Melissa said. “You’re the old friend? You two . . . ?”

Peter smirked.

John groaned. “I need brain bleach. Please don’t say anymore, I beg you.”

Melissa rested her chin in her hand and stared at Chris and Peter. “No, please, say more.”

“I also vote for no,” Derek said.

“Me, too,” Chris said quickly, more thankful than he could say when he heard the stampede of four pairs of feet coming down the stairs. “You say a word in front of my daughter and I will castrate you,” Chris hissed to Peter.

Peter mimed zipping his lips shut. Chris didn’t trust him, but he turned away to get out the milk for Derek.

“Hey, kids!” Chris said, a little louder than necessary. “We have milk, juice, water, and coffee. Anyone want hot cocoa?”

“Hot cocoa? I do!” Stiles said.

“Okay, two hot cocoas coming up,” Chris said, tapping Derek on the back to make sure he’d heard.

“What’s going on here?” John said, his tone carefully neutral.

“Lydia and Allison gave me a make-over,” Stiles said. “What do you think?”

There was enough of a challenge in Stiles’ tone to make Chris look over after he’d flipped the eggs.

“The eyeliner makes your eyes pop,” John said.

Peter took a step closer, staring. Stiles gave him a wary look.

“Jesus, those eyes,” Peter said, emotion thick in his voice.

“I know,” John said. He stood up and gave Stiles a hug.

“What’s going on?” Allison said, sensing something in the air.

“Allison, why don’t you get drinks for the rest of you,” Chris said, giving John and Stiles a moment.

“Dad, you’re squishing me!”

“Sorry, kid.” John pulled back, but didn’t let Stiles go. He brushed a hand over Stiles’ head. “What’s with the pink?”

“I just wanted to try it,” Stiles said. He glared at Lydia. “Lydia told me it would wash out if I didn’t like it.”

“And it will,” Lydia said serenely.

“In a week!” Stiles said.

“You should try a different color.” John said.

“Like what?” Stiles said defensively. “Blue or green?”

“Purple,” John said thoughtfully, then they both spoke at the same time, “Orange!”

“Blue and orange,” Stiles said.

John sighed. “I can’t believe I raised a Mets fan.”

“You raised me to be a free thinker,” Stiles retorted.

“And someone who roots for the underdog, apparently,” Derek said.

Stiles’ eyes went wide at the insult to his team, but was distracted when John gave his head a gentle shake. “Obviously.”

“How do you like your cocoa?” Derek said.

“Um, chocolate-y?”

Derek glared. “There’s marshmallows.”

Stiles perked up. “I love marshmallows!” he said, then, “What?” when he caught Derek staring.

“It looks good,” Derek growled, and returned to the milk heating in the pan on the stove.

Stiles was silent for a whole ten seconds at the compliment, until he saw John sneak a piece of bacon.

Chris caught Peter’s eyes at the exchange and they both smiled. They’d all been through the wringer to varying degrees, but he thought they might be alright from here on out if they stuck together and had each others’ backs.

Peter moved close to Chris. “I promise not to piss on you. Unless you ask me to.”

“I appreciate it,” Chris said dryly.

“You can’t blame me for wanting to mark you,” Peter said, his voice low enough that even the other werewolves in the room would have trouble hearing.

Of course Peter was still dealing with the fact that Chris had left once, and could do so again. Chris set down the spatula and turned to Peter. He took Peter’s face in his hands and kissed him. The tips of Peter’s ears turned pink.

“I’m not leaving,” Chris said, staring at Peter until he nodded. Chris released Peter and went back to the griddle. “Who wants eggs?”

A half-dozen voices answered him. Chris found himself smiling as he piled the eggs onto a plate. He glanced around the kitchen – Allison was smiling at something Lydia said, Stiles had Scott in a headlock he could easily break if he wanted to, Melissa had moved to stand next to Peter, John took the mug of hot cocoa Derek had poured for Stiles and took a sip before handing it off when Stiles squawked and released Scott to save his hot cocoa.

Chris felt everything slot into place. Finally he was back where he belonged.

It was good to be home.

Epilogue: Three Months Later

Chris felt an additional set of eyes on him, but he didn’t glance down from where he hung off the rock wall at Silver Bullet Fitness. (Chris had taken great pleasure in subverting the meaning of the phrase, especially when Allison had suggested that since he wasn’t a hunter anymore, they come up with their own family motto: We help those who cannot help themselves. So, instead of being the cause of death, the silver bullet became a symbol of justice.)

Chris reset his foot and braced himself so he could reach into the bag at his hip and re-chalk his hand. Chris stretched for the next hold, gripped, and pulled himself up. He had to move to the left to reach the next hold. A moment later Chris reached the top. He clung there for a moment, then pushed away from the wall and rappelled down to the floor.

Peter slow-clapped as Chris unhooked the harness and handed it to James, who’d been acting as his belayer. James was a member of Satomi’s pack. Having someone with the reflexes of a werewolf working at the gym made sense to Chris.

“What are you doing here?” Chris said. “I thought you’d still be at your meeting.”

After rebuilding the Hale house, purchasing the building their rented loft was in, and helping Chris purchase and refurbish the warehouse they now stood in, Peter had put his energy into drafting a proposal for a waterfront revitalization project. He was now working to pull together a group of investors.

“It ended earlier than I thought it would.”

“I’m sorry,” Chris said.

Peter shrugged off what must’ve been an unsuccessful meeting. “Looks like I’m just in time,” he said as he raked his gaze over Chris in his form-fitting uniform of jogging pants and a t-shirt with the gym’s logo on it.

Chris raised an eyebrow. “We don’t have time for any of your shenanigans.”

Peter smirked.

“I have a client in a few minutes,” Chris protested, but didn’t stop Peter from pulling him into a kiss. Anyone who came to the gym was familiar with the sight, though even after that night back in March it seemed as if they’d taken two steps backwards to every step forward in order to reach this point.

There had been land mines (the anniversary of Victoria’s death and Laura’s birthday), disagreements and silences, and amazing make-up sex. The evening Peter had taken Chris into the Preserve for a picnic had been the moment Chris realized that they were going to be alright.

“Our spot,” Chris said as Peter spread out the blanket, and then immediately wondered if that was still true.

Peter gave Chris a knowing look. “I never brought anyone else here,” he said, answering the unasked question. He took Chris in his arms and kissed him. “I thought about it, trying to erase you, but in the end I couldn’t do it.”

“Peter, if we could go back . . .”

“We can’t,” Peter said, forestalling Chris from saying the words, making a promise there was no way he’d be able to keep now. Chris felt a frisson of dread until Peter said, “We can only go forward.”

“Can we?” Chris said.

“It won’t be easy . . .”

“But the best things never are,” Chris finished.

“That’s why I love you, Christopher,” Peter said.

Chris kissed Peter then because it was the first time Peter had said it since he and Chris had started down this path again. Though not again, because this was a different path, it had to be.

“I love you, too,” Chris said, and let Peter draw him down onto the blanket.

Their kiss was interrupted by Stiles blowing into the gym like a hurricane. “It’s not fair!” he proclaimed.

Chris gave Peter one last kiss, then reluctantly pulled back. “What’s not fair?”

“Derek was a substitute teacher today for our English class!” Stiles said as if it was the worst thing in the world.

“Could’ve been worse,” Peter said. “Could’ve been a serial killer.”

Stiles glared at Peter. “You mock my pain.”

“Well, yes,” Peter said.

Chris pinched Peter’s arm. “Why is that not fair?” he said.

“You’ve seen Derek in jeans and a t-shirt, right?”

“Yes,” Chris said, afraid of where this was going.

“It’s unfair that he looks just as good, maybe better, in slacks and a button-down!”

Derek stepped into the gym. He must’ve heard what Stiles said, but his expression was neutral.

Stiles looked over his shoulder at Derek and threw his hand out, as if to say, ‘See?’

“Hello, nephew,” Peter said.

“Uncle Peter.”

“You look very professional,” Peter said, biting his lip to keep from smiling.

Derek gave Peter a deadpan look.

Stiles looked at Derek and blushed. He said, “You’re the worst,” to Peter. To Chris he said, “Please tell me you made cookies,” and took off for the employee break room without waiting for an answer.

“Brownies,” Peter said after sniffing the air. “With peanut butter cups.”

Stiles fist pumped and walked even faster.

“I’ll get changed,” Derek said.

Chris watched as Derek headed to the locker room to change into his uniform. Derek was working at the gym (when he wasn’t substituting at one of the five schools in Beacon County) until classes started at the end of August. He’d decided to go back and get his masters in teaching and creative writing.

Chris had opened Silver Bullet Fitness because of something Allison had said. Two things, actually. Her request for someplace to shoot her bow, and her suggestion that Chris do something he was good at and would also enjoy. He looked around the ground floor. A three-sided rock climbing wall stood in the middle of the large space that was once a warehouse – one side for bouldering, another for top-rope climbing, and the third for lead climbing.

To the right of the door when you entered was the front desk and behind that the office and employee break room. Clockwise around the room was the weights area and the locker rooms, with rooms for various classes (self-defense, tai chi, and yoga) taking up the rest of the space. The second floor was divided into an archery range and laser arena.

Everything a human who ran with werewolves would need to get in shape and learn how to protect themselves in a fight under the guise of having fun.

Allison and Lydia arrived next. Allison was teaching Lydia how to shoot a bow, and they were both taking a self-defense class. Chris got a hug from Allison before they headed to the locker room.

“Stiles!” Chris called.

Stiles appeared, stuffing the last of a brownie into his mouth.

“Get changed. Your session starts in five minutes.”

“I’m going, I’m going!” Stiles said as he headed for the locker room.

“What?” Chris said when he saw Peter staring thoughtfully after Stiles.

“How long do you think it’ll take Stiles to realize he’s in there alone with Derek?”

A squawk came from the men’s locker room.

“Not very long,” Chris said.

Erica was the next to appear. She was finally settling into her powers and accepting the fact that she would never have another seizure. Peter had taken Erica to Satomi after he’d bitten her and together they’d trained her to control her new-found powers.

During those first few weeks Erica had explored her sexuality by flirting outrageously with everyone, including Peter. Finally he’d said, “I’m in a relationship, darling. Not to mention, very gay. Also, old enough to be your father. Not that I’m kink shaming, if that’s your thing, it’s just not mine.”

Erica had been mortified. Though it took some time, she finally admitted that she wanted to spread her wings and she considered Peter to be safe. Peter’s eyes had gone wide. “You take that back!” Chris’d had to turn away to hide his laughter.

After greeting them, Erica went to the break room to do homework until it was time for Satomi’s tai chi class that she took with Peter. Derek appeared from the locker room followed by Stiles. It took Stiles a few minutes to forget that Derek was in the same building, but he was getting better at rock climbing. After his session, Stiles spent some time in the break room with Erica, which Chris was sure he would’ve done even without the lure of whatever Chris had baked that morning.

As the evening wore on, Melissa showed up after her shift for yoga, and John to use a treadmill. Both of them detoured to the employee break room before heading to their respective locker room. A family of five showed up and Derek got them outfitted for laser tag.

Later, Peter came out of Satomi’s tai chi class with a sheen of sweat that Chris wanted to lick off. He purposely looked away so he could concentrate on the woman he was showing how to use the beginners wall.

“How was class?” Chris said as he stepped back and watched Cheryl try it on her own.

“I prefer getting sweaty for other reasons,” Peter said, downplaying the fact that he was still working on his mental health. Might be doing so for a while yet to come.

Chris reached out and took Peter’s hand. He squeezed and Peter squeezed back.

“We still on for tonight?” Peter said.

“Derek’s closing and Alli’s staying at Lydia’s,” Chris said.

“I hope that means yes.”

Chris chuckled. “Yeah, that means yes.”

“I look forward to it,” Peter said. “I think I’ll go bug Stiles until John’s done, and then I’ll hit the showers.”

“I hope that doesn’t mean getting sweaty later is off the table,” Chris said, then called out a word of encouragement to Cheryl.

“I can’t imagine a time when that would be off the table,” Peter said. “Barring broken bones, and maybe not even then. Speaking of tables, we haven’t christened the dining room yet.”

“And we’re not going to, given the glare Derek is giving us,” Chris said. He stepped closer to Cheryl and offered her some advice on her next move.

Peter glanced over at Derek. “Well, alright, I’ll think of something else.”

“I’m sure you will,” Chris said, thinking of the time . . .

“Do you remember the time we had sex on the lacrosse field?”

“Yes. And we’re not having sex on the lacrosse field,” Chris said.

“Spoil sport.”

“I’d rather John not have to arrest us.”

“Arrest you for what?” John said.

“Having sex on the lacrosse field,” Peter said before Chris could silence him.

John winced. “Why do I leave myself open for this?”

“Because you want to live vicariously?” Peter said.

“Who’s living vicariously?” Melissa said, wiping her face with the tail end of the towel thrown over her shoulders.

“No one!” John said at the same time Peter said, “John.”

“Is Peter giving out details of their sex life again?” Melissa said.

“Yes.”

“Why do you always do that when I’m not around?”

“Please don’t encourage him,” John said.

“Why don’t we go to the break room and let Chris finish up his session.” Peter gave Chris a kiss and put his arm around Melissa’s shoulders. “I’ll tell you all about it.”

“You just want to tease Stiles,” John said.

“I do enjoy how flustered he gets,” Peter said, and waved to Derek.

Chris watched his friends, his family, walk away and smiled before turning his attention back to work. It had been a long time coming, but who said you couldn’t go home again?