Sheriff Stilinski looks up from his paperwork as his phone buzzes. “Tom, there’s a Chris Argent here to see you,” Sandy says, and Tom’s eyebrows go up in surprise. He hasn’t seen Chris Argent in over six years, he doesn’t think, and they had always been more friends-of-friends than anything else. But before he has much chance to ponder this, Sandy ushers the other man into Tom’s office. He looks pretty much the same as Tom remembers him. Hair a little shorter, a bit of gray at the temples, but that’s all. Six years hasn’t changed him much.
“Chris, long time no see,” he says, standing up and shaking the man’s hand. “Are you back in town?”
“Just for the weekend,” Chris says, “but I might be coming back long-term. I’m here about a job opportunity, so . . .”
Tom nods. “What can I do for you?”
Chris hesitates, looking painfully awkward. “I thought while I was here . . . I might check in on the Hale kids, see how they’re doing.”
“Ah,” Tom says. He’s never been one hundred percent sure of what was going on between Chris Argent and Peter Hale, but, well, he is one hundred percent sure that something had been going on between them. “Sure, of course. Laura’s away at grad school right now, but Cora still lives with me, and Derek got adopted by Melissa McCall, if you remember her. We have dinner together two or three times a week. You’re welcome to join us tonight.”
“I’d like that,” Chris says.
Tom tears off a sheet of paper and jots down an address. “We usually eat at about six, six thirty,” he says. “Nothing fancy. Don’t bring wine.”
Chris almost smiles. It’s an expression that looks strange on his face, creasing it into lines that aren’t usually present. Then he stands there for a few moments, the awkwardness increasing.
“Was there something else?” Tom asks.
Chris lets out a breath and appears to bite an extremely bad-tasting bullet. “I thought while I was here . . . I might go see Peter. But I don’t know where . . .”
“Oh, of course,” Tom says. “I bring the kids to see him once a week or so. He’s at Greenbriar Terrace. It’s a long-term care place, on the west side of town.” He’s already putting another address on the sheet of paper as he speaks. “Room 196.”
He’s not sure why, but Chris looks momentarily stricken, like he had received some sort of answer that was completely foreign to everything he had expected and it had turned his world upside down. But he tamps it down quickly, thanks Tom again, and then departs. Tom frowns after him for several long minutes before he shakes his head and texts Melissa to let her know that they’re going to have one more for dinner.
~ ~ ~ ~
“I know what you are.”
The words were spoken casually, without a hint of threat or even genuine emotion, but still Peter nearly spilled his water all over the table. He looked up at the taller boy who was sliding into the seat across from him, the boy he had spent the last two weeks making friendly overtures towards, getting coldly rebuffed every time. It had come as something of a surprise. Peter had the utmost faith in his charm and his ability to manipulate others, but this boy, this Chris Argent, had proved entirely unsusceptible.
“Beg pardon?” he asked, since there didn’t seem to be any other response in the entire world that would make sense.
Chris just continued to give him that look. A combination of wary suspicion and anger. “I’m just saying,” he said, “you can stop trying to weasel your way into being my friend. It isn’t going to work, so give it up.”
Peter feigned a laugh, focused on his heartbeat, made sure to keep it steady. “Uh, sure, okay,” he said. “You clearly have a very high opinion of yourself. I’ll stop worrying about the fact that you’re barely passing English and that you have no friends.”
The other teenager glared at him for a long minute, then shook his head. “I’ll see you tonight,” he said, and turned and walked away, leaving Peter blinking after him.
“The hell does he mean, I’ll . . .” he started, and wondered what had happened in the last six hours that he didn’t know about. He packed up what was left of his lunch and headed back to the house that his father had gotten them on the preserve. Privacy was always a necessity for hunters, though they’d been somewhat surprised that the Argent pack didn’t already live there.
It was a bold move, settling in a town with a known pack, but Beacon Hills was a hotspot of supernatural activity. “We’re needed here,” Patrick Hale had said, and bought the house. So far, Peter and Talia both had to agree. They’d been there less than a month and they’d already had to take down three vampires, an incubus, and a troll.
It was well known that the Argent pack had a code, that they never hurt innocents or turned anyone without consent. Patrick had apparently done some sort of negotiation with Eloise, the current alpha, that had left the adults satisfied. But Peter wasn’t an adult, not yet. At sixteen, he was more curious than was good for him, smarter than his father, and chafing underneath the man’s control. It had been his own decision to try to make friends with Chris Argent. Who knew what he might find out?
Nothing, was the apparent answer. There were only two Argents in his age group: Chris and his younger sister Kate. The rest of their pack was Mirielle Argent’s two siblings and their children, who were too young for Peter to be interested in. Peter had met Kate, and didn’t like her. Something about her set his metaphorical hackles on edge, and he had learned over the years to trust his instincts.
Regardless, Peter didn’t really give even half of a fuck about his grades, so he had no problem ditching school and heading back to the house. He found Talia there by herself, cleaning her guns and, when she saw him come in, looking exasperated. “Shouldn’t you be in school?” she asked.
Peter shrugged. “Probably. What’s going on? Why are you here by yourself?”
Talia frowned at him. “Eloise Argent called a meeting for tonight; Dad and Uncle Andrew went to pick some things up. They seem to think that we mean to cause trouble.”
“Why would they think that?” Peter asked innocently.
Talia’s eyes narrowed. “Somehow I feel like you’re better equipped to answer that question than I am, but I’m going to let Dad handle you.”
“Spoilsport,” Peter said, and went upstairs to wait for the axe to fall. His father arrived home half an hour later, delivered a blistering and thorough lecture on why he shouldn’t even talk to a werewolf without permission, ignored all of Peter’s protests that he was sixteen, not six, and dragged him to the Argent house practically by his ear.
Eloise Argent was a woman who had just left middle age, and she looked like she had bitten down on a lemon. She launched right into her diatribe before even allowing Patrick to say anything. Peter had to admit it was a little disconcerting, standing in this huge room with werewolves surrounding him. Instincts that had been trained into him since he was vertical screamed that he should either run or fight. Behind Eloise stood her oldest son-in-law, Gerard, who was smirking like he was really going to enjoy watching all the Hales get ripped apart.
“We allowed you to settle on your territory because we had your word that you weren’t interested in us,” Eloise railed. “I thought the word of a Hale still meant something, but apparently I was incorrect! Do you have any explanation whatsoever for the fact that your son was spying on one of our betas?”
“I wouldn’t call it spying,” Patrick said, somewhat cautiously. “Yes, he was attempting to befriend Chris, but there were no ulterior motives.”
“Why do I find that difficult to believe?’ Eloise retorted. “All the children in the entire school, and he goes out of his way to befriend my grandson.”
Peter stepped forward. “No, you’re right,” he said, and he heard his father give a little groan behind him. “I thought maybe I could stumble upon some sort of information. But the decision was mine and mine alone. You shouldn’t hold my father responsible for my actions.”
Eloise gave him a hard look. “Exactly what sort of ‘information’ were you trying to find?”
“Well,” Peter said, “if you and your pack truly don’t hurt innocents, that would put you in a very small minority. I’m sure you’re aware of that. A little independent verification seemed prudent, if we’re going to be sharing territory.”
“Peter,” his father hissed, “be quiet.”
But Eloise is looking at Peter thoughtfully. “I suppose you do have something of a point,” she said, “although the same could be said of hunters, you know. You may follow the rules set down for you, but I doubt that none of you have ever killed a werewolf without proof of wrongdoing.”
“Well, then,” Peter replied, “maybe Chris should have tried to make friends with me, too.”
Patrick groaned behind him, but Eloise let out a bark of laughter. “Well put,” she said. “All right. Patrick, I won’t hold the actions of your son against you, but I think you’d better keep an eye on him. He’s clearly much too smart for his own good,” she added, and Patrick sighed and nodded. “While you’re here, I wanted to discuss a coven that’s in town . . . privately, I think.”
“Okay,” Patrick said. “Peter, go wait in the car.”
“I’ll make sure he gets there,” Chris said, scowling. He walked over and took Peter by the elbow, not at all gently.
“Easy on the merchandise, sweetheart,” Peter said. “I don’t turn furry once a month.”
“Call me sweetheart again and you’re going to have bigger problems than a few bruises,” Chris growled.
“See, I knew we were going to make good friends,” Peter said, as the door to the audience room shut behind them. He immediately pulled his arm out of Chris’ grasp. “Okay. Where do you listen in from?”
Chris’ scowl deepened. “The room is soundproofed. This is a werewolf den, for – ”
Peter brushed this aside impatiently. “Don’t be ridiculous; I know you have a place you can listen in from. If you’re smart enough to have caught on to the fact that I was trying to be your friend for a reason, you’re smart enough to have figured out where in this rat’s maze the acoustics are right for eavesdropping.”
There was a long moment of silence while Chris just glared at him. Then he jerked his head to one side and said, “Follow me.”
So that was how Peter wound up sandwiched in a tiny space between two hallways with a werewolf. There was barely enough room to breathe, but he could hear the conversation that the others were having about the coven loud and clear. He leaned in close to Chris’ ear and said beneath his breath, “Can they hear us?”
Chris shook his head and then shoved Peter’s face away. Pity, Peter thought. He kind of liked the idea of leaning in to talk right into the other boy’s ear for the entirety of this conversation. Some other time, perhaps, he told himself, and willed his body’s reaction to their proximity away. “This is nice,” he said. “Cozy.”
“Shut up, Hale,” Chris snapped.
“Come here often?” Peter asked, arching his eyebrows at the other teenager.
He was almost expecting to get slapped, but at the last minute, Chris’ iron lack of a sense of humor finally snapped, and he let out a snort of laughter. “Jesus, you don’t give up, do you.”
“It was a valid question,” Peter pointed out.
Chris gave him a sideways look. “Yeah,” he said, “actually. I mean, my parents never tell me anything, so if I want to have even the smallest clue about what’s going on . . . I’m seventeen, for God’s sake.”
“I know the feeling,” Peter said. “My father is still convinced that I’ll do something stupid the minute he turns his back on me.”
“Depends on whose definition you’re using,” Peter said. “Risks are inevitable. This round went to me. I am, after all, exactly where I want to be.”
Chris gave him an annoyed look, but then a nod of grudging respect. “You knew I’d figure you out.”
“Wouldn’t have been worth my time if you didn’t,” Peter replied, and then they both fell silent to listen to the conversation taking place below them. In the end, it wasn’t anything Peter wanted to get involved with, or anything he thought his father needed his help with. But the inroads had been made. He let Chris tug him out of the hallway and drag him down to the car.
“Get in,” Chris said, shoving him towards the vehicle.
“You know, if you keep pushing me around, you’re going to find out something about me that you might not like,” Peter remarked.
Chris sneered at him. “Is this when you try to convince me you’re some sort of pint-sized badass?”
“Oh, not at all,” Peter said. He leaned in close to Chris and said, “You might find out that I like it.”
With that, he pushed his mouth against Chris’. The kiss was brief, only a few fractions of a second. His hope that Chris would get into it didn’t come anywhere near fruition. Instead Chris shoved him back again, and he fetched up against the car hard enough to hurt. Chris snarled at him, fangs lengthening and eyes flashing gold. “What the hell was that?”
“Gold,” Peter said on the exhale. “Good. That’s good, Argent.”
The glow faded out of Chris’ eyes. His jaw set in an unhappy expression. “Of course they’re gold, you asshole. Did you seriously just kiss me to see what color my eyes turned?”
“Well,” Peter said, “that wasn’t the only reason.” That being said, he pulled the car door open and slid inside.
~ ~ ~ ~
Chris Argent learned a long time ago that one of the secrets to going unchallenged to places you weren’t supposed to be was to look purposeful. If you look like you know where you’re going, people will assume that you do, and will leave you alone. So it’s with purpose that he strides down the hallway of Greenbriar Terrace, even if every neuron in his brain is screaming for him to turn around and run the other way.
It’s not as if he doesn’t have a right to be there, he reasons. He has as much right to visit Peter Hale as anybody. It’s just approximately the last place he had expected to be. When he had asked Tom about visiting Peter, he had expected the location of a grave, or maybe to be told that there wasn’t one.
Peter, alive. It left him reeling, breathless. He could still remember the somber look on his father’s face when he called him into his study, told him that Peter, poor Peter, driven mad by the deaths of his family, had come after him. “I had to defend myself, son,” Gerard had said. “I won’t apologize for it. But I wanted you to hear it straight from me.”
He had left town that night, planning to never look back. Chris isn’t sure what Victoria had told Allison about their sudden move. It seemed to have satisfied the child, whatever it was. He hadn’t been able to even look at his father, so he and Victoria went their separate ways from the pack for a while, moving up into the vast emptiness of Wyoming. It was only Allison that had prompted him to think about moving back. Allison was so bored and lonely living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere, home-schooled for lack of a better option. And Victoria had pointed out that if they stayed away much longer, gradually they would become omega, and that wasn’t safe.
In retrospect, Chris supposes that he can’t recall whether or not Gerard had ever said Peter was actually dead. Maybe Chris had just assumed, knowing how brutal his father could be. Maybe Gerard figured he had to be, that there was no way anyone could have survived the injuries that he had inflicted. Or maybe he had been lying. Gerard is a particularly skilled liar, second only to his daughter; Chris had learned that the hard way, over years of experience.
All of this is at the back of his mind as he looks through the door to room 196 and goes inside.
Peter is sitting in a wheelchair by the window. Chris hasn’t changed much, but Peter has. His hair is longer now – God, Chris remembers how much he hated it when his hair got in his face – and he had lost a lot of weight, most of it probably muscle mass. His face is blank and slack, the lines of his sarcastic smile or worried frown erased by time.
Then there are the scars. The entire right side of Peter’s face is disfigured by them, and Chris can see them on his hands as well, disappearing underneath the sleeves. Someone has dressed him in a sweater, but underneath it he’s wearing a simple hospital gown. He doesn’t look up as Chris comes in, but just continues to stare out the window.
“Peter,” Chris says, and thank God, his voice doesn’t crack. He pulls a chair over. Studies the blank expression on Peter’s face. His brain struggles to put it all together. His eyes are open, so he isn’t comatose, and there aren’t any tubes or wires hooked up to him, so he has to have retained a certain amount of basic functioning. “It’s Chris. Can you hear me?”
Peter doesn’t move, doesn’t even blink. Chris looks around for help, although he can’t imagine what sort of help he could possibly receive. He should have asked Tom, but it was clear that Tom had had no idea that Chris thought Peter was dead. And any questions he asks the nursing staff will make them wonder who he is and why he’s there, which is something he doesn’t want.
“Jesus, Peter.” Chris sits back in his chair, not even sure what to do or say, wondering suddenly and abstractly how he had wound up here, sitting in this nursing home with his first – well. He couldn’t call Peter his first love, precisely – what was between them hadn’t been the sort of thing they had ever put labels on, but damn it, it had been something. And not just the hormones of two teenaged boys, largely sheltered from the rest of the world. He had found himself inexplicably drawn to Peter, so even if they spent months apart, the next time they saw each other, it was as if no time had passed at all.
He supposes that it couldn’t have lasted forever.
There isn’t any point in sitting around the room in the nursing home, though. He starts to stand up. Then, on impulse, he leans forward, just barely brushes his lips over Peter’s. Then he sits back, waiting, hopefully, until he realizes what he’s doing. “Jesus, you’d kick my ass for this,” Chris says, rubbing his hands over his face. “A Disney princess, you are not. And I guess I’m no prince, either.”
He had never expected a fairy tale ending.
But he had sure as hell expected something better than this.
~ ~ ~ ~