Stiles waits until Chris Argent has left town the next night with his half-dead (pity Scott couldn't even do that right) father stashed in the backseat like the dirty family secret he’s become.
Gerard Argent will die, either on his own or by Stiles' hand, since it's clear nobody else has the balls to go through with it, even when the asshole has been reduced to little more than old flesh and brittle bones and veins full of poison. But as much as Stiles is tempted to go after the bastard right away, he still has to heal up before he's capable of anything more strenuous than walking around, plus Gerard's no danger to anyone for the foreseeable future. So for now, Stiles lets him go, lets him play the distraction to lure Chris out of town, and in the meantime, Stiles is free to break into the Argent home and swipe all the files Gerard probably keeps on his personal laptop. The guy was paranoia personified, and while Stiles had guessed that much on his own, he wouldn't have caught a glimpse of Gerard's study - or the study he commandeered after taking over the Argent home - at all if not for the fact that he'd been kidnapped and tortured and then dragged through the house on his way back out.
One good thing to come from that ordeal. Stiles is still going to burn Gerard's whole world down around him for that alone.
Allison isn't a problem. Somehow, Lydia has forgiven her as easily as breathing, and Stiles heard them making plans for a sleepover earlier at school. It's probably one of the reasons Chris is willing to leave Allison alone in this town, however briefly. Not that Lydia will be much of a deterrent if anything really wants to harm his daughter. Sometimes, people make no sense to Stiles.
But in regards to Allison, Stiles is still undecided there. On one hand, credit where credit is due - Gerard was partly responsible for Allison going off the deep end. On the other, credit where credit is due - Allison was still responsible for abducting and torturing kids her age, and Stiles wasn't in so much pain that he hadn't seen her sitting in the kitchen as he was hauled out the back door. She hadn't looked in his direction as he was being dragged past her, but she'd been straight-backed and proud, with that arrogant, righteous set to her chin that she'd adopted ever since she decided werewolves and anyone allied with them deserved to die, and Stiles had wanted to strangle her.
Ah well. He has time. Maybe in a couple months, he'll feel a little more magnanimous about the whole situation. It's not likely, because if nothing else, his grudges don't usually have an expiration date, but it's possible.
For now, she and her father get to live. Stiles has bigger fish to gut.
The house is empty, and the locks are standard and easy to pick. The study turns out to be a treasure trove. Stiles grabs the laptop and the three phones in one of the drawers, and then he opens the two file cabinets in the corner and finds stacks of reports on everything from supernatural creature movements and territories to secret Argent bases all across the globe. A lot of it's been blacked out, and even from a cursory perusal, he can tell that there are pages missing, so there isn't too much detail in them, and of course no names, but that still leaves a lot of damning information just lying around. Heck, the missing pages are probably included on Gerard's laptop.
Stiles is fucking speechless. Why is none of this stuff in a safe, at the very least? Are the Argents just that confident about their ability to keep thieves away? Is their reputation really scary enough to stonewall everyone they've wronged?
Of course, then he remembers how Laura Hale did nothing after her family was burned alive, how she took her brother and disappeared off the face of the planet for six years and never risked coming back even for her own comatose uncle, hiding away until she couldn't anymore. He remembers Gerard boasting a bit about how many animals they've ended, how many monsters they've put down, and yet their empire only grew stronger with every death, no one left to avenge the fallen, no one brave enough - or maybe crazy enough - to dare.
Until Peter Hale of course.
Stiles recalls too the way none of the Argents or the hunters working under them seemed to have any kind of subtlety when they rampaged through this town like it was their very own hunting grounds, bribing or blackmailing their way into control of the school, snatching teenagers as if none of them have family, even ignoring the police like they were untouchable and they knew it, probably because they've been getting away with murder for literal centuries.
Their confidence, Stiles has to admit, isn't entirely misplaced. And it really is a minor miracle that the supernatural hasn't already been outed, but that's Beacon Hills for you - most of its citizens bury their heads so deep in the sand that Stiles sometimes can't believe they can still breathe.
Still, the Argents have never had a Stiles on their tail before either, and Stiles is not so much brave or crazy (much) as he is simply and unforgivingly petty.
Nobody has ever beaten him down and broken him apart and made him helpless the way Gerard Argent did, the way all the Argents have, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, by going after Scott, by putting his father in danger, by being the ultimate cause of so much grief and so many deaths since arriving in this town.
No, since they set their sights on the Hale Pack six years ago. It took six years, but the Argents were only picking up from where they left off. It's just that this time, they pulled a hell of a lot of other people into their fanatical crusade and didn't give a damn.
And Stiles. Stiles spent half his childhood at the station; all the dead officers he's had to attend funerals for in the past month were practically family. Jackson was the weapon, and Matt was a killer in his own right, no matter what sob story he had. But at the end of the day, it all still traced back to the Argents and their belief that they can hurt and kill anyone they want and still walk away like their hands aren't dripping red, and Stiles will never forgive them for that.
It's not about right or wrong, really, even if Stiles does think their prejudice is illogical, hypocritical, and disgusting. But the truth is, if everything that had happened in Stiles' hometown had happened somewhere else instead, Stiles wouldn't care half as much. But it was this town, and it was Stiles' people who got hurt. Got killed.
So it's not about right or wrong. It's just that not even Peter - big, scary, half-mad Alpha werewolf bent on revenge - managed to strike as deadly a blow against everything Stiles cares about as the Argents have. Claudia Stilinski came close, but… well. Stiles had the last word there too, hadn't he?
So his reasons now can be narrowed down to this: they hurt him, and so, he'll hurt them back. And Stiles has never been one to do things halfway.
He takes everything in the study, emptying both desk and cabinets. Gerard was meticulous about his files, his achievements, his trophies, reaped by a family he reigned over. All the better for Stiles. Next, he pokes around until he finds their stockpile of way too much wolfsbane, mountain ash, and even mistletoe, and steals as much of that as he can too. He leaves the ridiculous amount of guns stashed in each room; he has no need for them, and not enough hands to carry them all out anyway. He does grab one of the knives though. Probably infused with wolfsbane, and small enough for him to carry around discreetly.
He ventures into the basement last, something unforgivably like fear pounding in his throat. He pushes past it and makes himself go in, and even with his human nose, he can smell the lingering copper tang of blood inside. The torture rig that Boyd and Erica were strapped to is still sitting in the middle of the room, although void of their victims now. Stiles isn't surprised. The Argents may not be suspects, yet, but law enforcement doesn't take too kindly to their own being killed, and the Argents have been a little too cavalier in their plots and murder sprees, too noticeable for eyes to not be drawn to them, and with Gerard out of commission, it's no wonder every Argent-employed hunter has already vacated the town. And if someone decides to take it a step further and come with a search warrant for the Argent house, the last thing Chris and Allison can afford is for the police to find two kids strung up in their torture dungeon of a basement.
Although, as it is, this is still pretty damning. They really should've gotten rid of their torture equipment too, but Stiles supposes one's a little busy protecting what's left of his evil father, and the other is busy playing up whatever poor-manipulated-girl trauma that Scott has clearly lapped up.
Stiles checks the door. Yup - almost completely soundproof, and thick enough to withstand quite a bit of damage.
He smiles. Well then, let's see how Chris and Allison handle this.
He hasn't decided whether or not he's going to kill them too. But in the meantime, that doesn't mean he's going to make life easy for them.
Twenty minutes later, Stiles is looping through one of the back roads of Beacon Hills, keeping to the shadows, two duffel bags full of purloined goods slung over his good shoulder. His ribs twinge with every breath he takes, and he can't put too much weight on his right ankle, but he knows Beacon Hills like the back of his hand - knows how to avoid cameras and streetlights and patrol routes - and even if he wasn’t cloaked in the little chameleon spell he finally managed to figure out last night, he knows he has no need to run.
In the distance, behind him, hungry flames lick their way through the Argent house, casting an ominous orange glow across the night sky.
Karma would've been if Stiles waited until Chris was back and Allison was home, and then set the house on fire. But karma isn't his to give, and Derek is off licking his wounds, and Peter is who-knows-where.
So this? Well, he supposes this is just the beginning. A declaration of war.
Even if nobody will recognize it as such quite yet.
Seven years ago, shortly after Claudia died, Stiles rented out a storage unit under the Sheriff's name and moved all of his mother's paintings into it. To this day, his dad still has no idea it exists, and Stiles prefers it that way.
Three days after Claudia's funeral, John had destroyed two easels, five paintings, and a shelf of art supplies in a fit of drunken rage before passing out on the sofa, and Stiles had known then that he couldn't leave the contents of his mother's studio in the house. But it was never for any sentimental reasons, the way the employees at the storage facility have believed ever since Stiles tottered in holding a stack of painted canvases and mumbled about how his father couldn't stand the sight of them but Stiles couldn't bear to lose the last pieces of his mother either. Claudia wasn't world-renowned or anything, but her art still sold for a pretty penny, and after all the accumulated hospital bills she left them with, Stiles and his father needed that money. She stopped selling her work after she got sick, but she didn't actually stop painting until she had to be moved to the hospital permanently, and Stiles has mastered the art of online sales and cutthroat haggling over the years.
But, as he learned very early on, sentiment can open nearly as many doors as cash or favours or threats, so it was sentiment he wielded to convince the storage facility to let an underaged kid come and go from the unit with his own set of keys. So long as it was the Sheriff's name on paper, and the payments came on time every month, nobody looked any further. They even started giving Stiles a discount six months in. They sympathize, or they just don’t want to be that asshole, so they look the other way and pretend Stiles doesn’t sometimes treat this place like a home away from home.
John never questioned where the paintings went. Stiles is pretty sure he thinks Stiles either threw them out or hid them away in his own closet. They've never talked about it, and that suits Stiles just fine too.
It's the storage unit he goes to now. It's the only one in town that's open twenty-four/seven, and the lady on night shift - Sarah - doesn't even bother with surprise when she sees Stiles clattering through the door.
Stiles has been coming here for years, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, when the house grew too silent, when his mother's ghost loomed too close, when his father's alcoholism and absence made him too angry, when Scott's oblivious - and lately lovesick - carelessness became too much. When the world roared too loudly, Stiles would make the trip out here, and the employees have long since accepted the half-lie of him coming here to paint, in order to feel closer to his mother.
He does, sometimes. Art was something his mom was happy to share with him, when she still could, and once upon a time, he enjoyed hours of messing around with charcoal and colour with her in her studio. He doesn't really have her talent for it - his own paintings still don't sell as well as hers - but it's still a calming activity when he just needs his brain to shut up for a while.
But only sometimes. Other times, he comes here to pick out another portrait to sell, or he spares a bit of time to hack the passcodes from his dad's computer that the station changes every month, or he just crashes on the mattress in the corner when he's tired but can't fall asleep in his bedroom back home.
It varies, but the point is, he's made a habit of being seen, and encouraged the belief that he comes here when his muse strikes and he wants to paint in his mother's memory, and it's all paid off now because Sarah just waves at him as he limps past with two bags filled with misappropriated items. She does do a double-take when she realizes how beat-up he looks, but a sheepish "lacrosse accident" smooths away most of her concern, and then he's alone again as he makes his way to his unit.
Said unit is about twice the size of his bedroom and feels more like a small apartment than anything else, although it’s only window had to be specially installed - one-sided and bulletproof, with a heavy-duty lock, and it only opens from the inside. One corner of the unit has all his mother's paintings - the dozen and change left that haven't been sold yet - safely stashed away to prevent damage. Another corner is sectioned off as a makeshift art studio for himself when he feels like drawing something. The remaining space includes his mattress, a desk and chair, various electronics and books he's been able to afford over the years and didn't want to leave at home, and a safe almost as tall as he is.
It's amazing what people will overlook when they think it's just Stiles Being Artsy And Weird. So long as he updates his website with new pieces every once in a while, he can throw a tarp over whatever he wants to bring in, and nobody will bat an eye.
Tonight, once he's locked the door behind him, he dumps the bags by his desk, boots up one of his laptops, and then opens his safe for one of the USBs stashed inside. He moves a few of the handguns to a lower shelf to free up some space, and then turns back to the bags to pull out Gerard's laptop.
It's going to be a long weekend. Fortunately, his dad stopped asking after his whereabouts years ago so long as he picks up his phone when he happens to call, and Scott hasn't picked up Stiles' calls in months. Nobody else will be looking for him.
He turns on his TV, switches to a news channel, and then mutes it. Then he eases into his chair, grimacing when his ribs protest, and gets to work.
Peter crouches in the shadows of some bushes, watching the Argent home burn from a safe distance. There are firetrucks and police cars parked on the street, and while no one has been harmed, the firefighters are still working on extinguishing a couple smaller patches of flames on the front lawn. The neighbours are out in force, evacuated for their own safety and herded back behind yellow tape, gossiping with each other as they stare at the smoking spectacle.
Allison Argent is teary-eyed and sniveling in front of an officer, who's taking her statement. Lydia stands beside her, huddled close as if to provide comfort.
Peter scoffs. He doesn't know what she's crying about. Unlike his family, her house was empty when it went up in flames.
But that does beg the question - why is her house on fire?
Peter will put himself back in his own grave before he'll believe it's an accident, especially when one of the cops who've been given the go-ahead to begin examining the interior returns and shouts something about the basement, and darling Allison's face suddenly goes… squirrelly. Nervous, like prey being cornered.
Peter finds himself smirking even as he turns and leaves. He has a good idea where this is going, and he'll see it all on front-page news anyway once word gets out. He doesn't know where Christopher is - although what he's doing is pretty obvious, considering Peter wasn't able to find hide or hair of Gerard, frustratingly enough - but the man isn't going to be having a good day when he gets back.
Serves him right. Peter can't wait to see the Argents dragged through the mud. Even if they manage to wriggle out of this, it won't come free.
Which, Peter is willing to bet, is exactly what the one responsible for tonight's bonfire show wants. And while the list of people who hate that hunter family could probably stretch the width of the Pacific Ocean and then some, the list of those with reason, nerve, and disposition to seriously go after the Argents could probably be counted on one hand.
It only takes about half an hour to reach his destination. Perched on a branch outside the window of an empty bedroom in a house absent of heartbeats, Peter grins, hungry and delighted both, his eyes flaring a bright electric blue as he wonders what other mayhem his favourite little firebug will be sowing in the future.
An empty house, set ablaze, with a fire strong enough to summon half of Beacon Hills' law enforcement but too weak to burn away whatever damning evidence is still inside.
Not an accident. But not a threat either.
It's a gauntlet thrown. A declaration of intent. A promise wreathed in fire and rage, cradled in the heart of someone who does not forgive and does not forget - I will burn your empire to the ground.
Peter tips his head back and laughs softly into the night. He does so love being right, and there was always something about Stiles that made Peter's own darkness sit up in recognition.
It was the right decision after all, to claw his way back from the dead. He hadn’t had much of an idea of what to do beyond survive when he took his second first breath with lungs full of grave dirt and death, but now…
Now he has a purpose, and one that he can finally share with someone. He just has to find Stiles first and convince him that a partner is exactly what he needs.
Stiles stumbles out of the storage facility early Monday morning, half-blinded by the weak sunlight and all but dead on his feet. He hasn’t slept in over two days, his instant ramen and bottled water stash needs restocking, and he’s in desperate need of coffee and a shower. The only reason nobody’s checked up on him is because they’ve seen him shuffling to and from the men’s room a couple times a day.
Waving to Laurence at the front desk, Stiles pulls up his hoodie and begins staggering home. He’s exhausted, and he wonders if he can get away with skipping school today, but considering everything he’s learned, a bit of missed sleep isn't much of a price at all.
By the time he gets home, his whole body is aching even more than before. He makes the executive decision to give school a pass and lurches into the shower instead, standing under a blast of hot water until he's halfway to dozing off. He only has enough energy to pull on some pajamas, check his phone for texts (just one from his dad telling him he has to pull a few extra shifts because of the newly opened Argent case), and make sure the mountain ash line on his window sill is still intact before rolling into bed.
He's out like a light in less than thirty seconds.
Twenty-four hours later, with a cup of coffee in one hand, Stiles feels a little more human as he drops off a few textbooks at his locker, and all he wants is a slow day to relax and not aggravate his wounds any further. So of course he's interrupted when Scott appears from behind him, clapping Stiles on his bruised shoulder with a heavy enough hand that Stiles almost crushes his coffee cup as he struggles to breathe through the sudden spike of pain.
"Ease up, Scott," Stiles snaps irritably, shrugging him off, and okay, maybe he isn't entirely over the fact that Scott had seen the condition Stiles was in that night, undoubtedly smelled Gerard all over him too, and had said nothing anyway, trotting after Allison the minute she'd made to leave with her father.
Scott doesn't even pause. "Stiles! Have you heard? It's all over the news! Mr. Argent's been arrested, and Allison's on house arrest or something!" His brow scrunches, clearly upset. "You have to get your dad to release them! They didn't do anything wrong! It was all Gerard!"
Stiles… does not even know where to start, and after a second's consideration, he decides that he also doesn't have the patience to figure it out.
"My dad's the Sheriff," Stiles says flatly. "That doesn't mean he can just break the law on someone's say-so. Especially when Allison and her dad have been exactly as shady as the police think."
Scott gapes at him, and then he draws himself up, bristling with indignation, his jaw setting in that familiar gratingly righteous line. "Gerard made Allison- He made her do all those things! And she was in a bad place after her mom died cuz Derek went and bit her! It wasn't her fault-"
Stiles' locker swings shut with a clang, cutting Scott off, and it takes effort for Stiles to not snarl the first thing that jumps to mind. Or the second, or the third. He goes with the fourth.
"Derek bit her because he was saving you, because she was trying to kill you," Stiles bites out as calmly as he can. "And she didn't die cuz Derek bit her, she died because she was a bigoted asshole who thought that gave her the right to kill anyone she considered less than human. She killed herself, literally, and didn’t give a fuck what that would do to her family, and that was her own damn choice. As for Allison, sure, Gerard manipulated her a little. But he didn't put a gun to her head and force her to do everything she did. She was still the one who kidnapped and tortured Boyd and Erica, she hunted werewolves like you guys were animals, she shot you before Gerard ever even came to town, and frankly?" He hefts his bag higher over his good shoulder and turns to leave. "I think she, and her dad, deserve everything they're going to get."
Scott is flushed completely red by the time Stiles finishes, and when Stiles takes a step down the hall, his hand - tipped with claws - shoots out and slams Stiles back against the locker.
"You take that back!" He snarls, eyes flashing an obvious yellow. "It wasn't Allison's fault! Peter started it by dragging all of us into this-"
"Peter dragged us all into this," Stiles snaps right back through bared teeth. "But he didn't start it; Kate Argent did. Is your head stuck so far up Allison's ass that you can't tell her whole family's full of psychotic serial killers?"
He doesn't wait for Scott to reply, kicking out instead to grind his heel into Scott's knee with as much strength as he can muster because a werewolf won't go down otherwise. There's a muted crack, and Scott yelps as his knee buckles and his grip on Stiles loosens just enough for Stiles to slip out of his clutches and back away.
"And if you still can't watch your fucking strength," Stiles continues in low seething tones. "Then keep your fucking hands off me."
"What is wrong with you?!" Scott bursts out, and there's anger there, but even more than that, he's confused, as if he has no idea why Stiles is even arguing with him.
Stiles snorts and shakes off as much of the coffee splashed across his hand and sweater as he can before dumping the rest of the slightly crumpled cup into the nearby garbage bin. At least he didn't drop the whole thing.
"What's wrong with me?" Stiles shakes his head. "What's wrong with you?"
"It was Gerard, and Kate-!"
"It was Gerard, and Kate, and Victoria and Chris, and Allison," Stiles tells him, unyielding and cold, all the way down to his bones. "I don't blame her for what her family's done. But I also won't blame her family for what she's done. People lose parents all the time. They get lied to all the time." He breathes and breathes and pours more words into the hollow void left in the wake of his mother's shrieking accusations and his father's alcohol-stained grief. "That doesn't give them the right to hurt and murder innocent people."
He stops. Turns to leave. Turns back, because he has to know. Well, he already knows, but- "She was there in the house, when Gerard and his hunters dragged me back to their fucked up basement too."
Scott flinches. His eyes flicker away, then back, guilty. And then he opens his mouth again. "It wasn't Allison's fault! That was all Gerard-"
Stiles walks away and doesn't listen any further.
He already knew, but now he knows.
Well, anyone with two braincells to rub together could've guessed - Allison and Gerard had arrived together after all. Stiles rolling up afterwards, no doubt stinking of Gerard, of Argent, of blood and pain and looking like the poster boy for abuse - even Scott can put two and two together. He just hadn't wanted to, and so of course he hadn't asked, and had probably hoped - maybe even expected - that Stiles would say nothing either.
Stiles wonders, briefly, if he'd lost Scott the moment a pretty girl had smiled at him. Then he thinks that if he could lose Scott that easily, it was probably because he'd never had him in the first place.
Stiles is halfway home when he feels someone's eyes on him. Because he isn't an idiot, he doesn't spin around to try and find the source, but he does reach into the pouch of his hoodie for the knife hidden inside. Human or werewolf, they'll get a nasty surprise if they try to ambush him. Either way, Stiles isn't getting grabbed again without a fight.
He gets all the way home, inside and up to his bedroom, before his stalker finally reveals himself.
Somehow, he's as surprised as he isn't when Peter Hale knocks politely on his window like some weird gentleman caller with a phobia of doors.
Stiles opens the window but doesn't break the mountain ash line. Peter - back from the dead and looking better than he ever did during his rampage, dressed snugly in a v-neck and jeans - rocks back on his heels on the thick branch of the tree outside and smiles, charming and pleasant and about as harmless as a bullet to the head.
"What do you want?" Stiles asks flatly.
"No hello?" Peter pouts in a way no grown man should be able to pull off, but he does anyway. "I'm hurt, Stiles. I came all this way just to make sure you survived last week's ordeal."
He pauses, blue eyes avid on Stiles' face like he's searching for a specific response.
"I swung by yesterday too," He continues in casual tones. "But you were asleep so I didn't want to wake you. And I came over last Friday and a couple times over the weekend as well, but you never seemed to be around at all." He pauses once more, then adds, "Funny how all the trouble Christopher and his darling daughter are in right now rained down on them at about the same time, don't you think?"
He stops as if waiting for an answer. Stiles gives him one by pulling out the bag of wolfsbane he keeps in his nightstand, and even through the plastic, he can feel the grains quiver against his fingertips. Peter just grins like he's enjoying some private joke.
"I don't know what you're getting at," Stiles says evenly. "But if you're talking about their house going up in flames, I saw the news too. A gas leak or something. Lucky nobody was home."
"Yes, how fortunate," Peter smiles again, eyes glittering. "Not so fortunate that their little torture dungeon survived though."
Stiles shrugs. "Shouldn't have been torturing kids then. Boyd and Erica still aren't back at school yet."
"But you are," Peter points out, softly, needlessly. His gaze drifts along the days-old mottled gash along Stiles' cheekbone, and Stiles very seriously considers flinging the wolfsbane at him. "You've been very busy, haven't you, Stiles?"
Peter knows, and he knows that Stiles knows he knows. That doesn't stop Stiles from staring woodenly at him. "What do you want?" He repeats, and then, crueler, "I set you on fire once. Don't think I won't do it again if you overstay your welcome."
This at least makes Peter's eyes flare winter-bright. "If I remember correctly, it was the littlest Argent who set me on fire," He says lightly like the ice in his eyes isn't cold enough to burn. "Two for two now, when it comes to me, that family. Some people just have all the luck." He sways forward, his balance as perfect as a cat's. "But I would never dare underestimate you, Stiles. If you think I give a damn about how deep a grave the Argents dig themselves into though, you're crazier than I ever was."
Well, obviously, Stiles didn't think Peter would care. He'd probably even celebrate if all the Argents drop dead tomorrow. That doesn't mean Stiles has any desire for anyone - let alone someone as dangerous as Peter - to know more about his… extracurricular activities than they strictly have to. And Peter's already way over that line as it is.
"If you're just here to ramble about how much you hate the Argents, I'm already aware," Stiles says shortly. "So you can leave now. Don't let the doggy door smack you on your way out."
Derek would've growled at him and flexed fangs and claws for good measure, all aggression and posturing bravado. Peter just arches an eyebrow, like he's mocking Stiles' cute attempt at an insult. "But sweetheart, if I leave, who will be left to applaud your brilliant handiwork?"
"You haven't applauded," Stiles says dryly.
Peter doesn't miss a beat. "Because your show isn't over. What kind of heathen do you think I am? Nobody should interrupt an artist in the middle of their work."
A long silence ensues when Stiles doesn't retort right away. It's moments like this that reminds him why he's always felt… antsy around this guy. He can deal with being shoved into walls, he can deal with someone he thought he could trust leaving him to literally drown, he can deal with mindless lizards and bloodthirsty hunters, he can even deal with all the blood and bodies that seem to come with the supernatural package.
He can deal with threats and danger. It hasn't killed him yet, and so long as he's alive, he can handle whatever life throws at him.
But Peter. Peter, who snarks and banters and uses words the same way Stiles does, silver-tongued and sharp, to deflect, to shield, to hurt and bait and ruin, who watches Stiles as warily and curiously as Stiles watches him, whose first instinct when saving his family was no longer an option was to burn his enemy's whole world to the ground, and Stiles doesn't know how to deal with someone whose flavour of destruction aligns so closely with his own.
(If someone had come and killed his dad just for being something he was born as, if Allison had succeeded in killing Scott just for existing, nothing on earth would've stopped Stiles from paying them back tenfold. As it is, they had hurt his dad, hurt Scott too even if he's turned out to be a miserable excuse of a best friend, hurt Melissa and police officers who spent years piling casseroles on him so he wouldn’t have to cook and a bunch of Stiles' classmates too, and he may not like most of them, but this is his home and they touched his family, and those things alone are enough of a reason to set Stiles' sights on the entire Argent empire.)
He looks at Peter and sees the same shadows staring back, and is it any wonder Stiles has always felt the oddest dichotomy of wanting to reach out and touch and wanting to back away and run when it comes to this burnt out monster of a man?
Stiles drops the wolfsbane but flicks his fingers up at the same time, and a spiral of purple powder snakes up into the air to curl around his hand.
Peter stares, and for a moment, his expression is positively ravenous.
"Peter," Stiles says one last time. "Leave."
Peter blinks, and then finally eases back a little. A smirk tilts his lips. "As you wish, sweetheart. I really only came today to tell you - if you ever need some help with the matches, I'm always happy to lend a hand."
And then he's gone, leaping down from the tree and loping away across the yard to disappear into the treeline.
Stiles watches him go. For a burn victim, twice over, there is something in Peter broken enough to no longer care. That, and of course, he handles his weaknesses the same way Stiles handles his own - dash them against the floor, and bleed the pieces dry; strip them of their vulnerable cracks by shattering them beyond repair, and they will never have power over you again.
Stiles sighs and drops the wolfsbane back into its bag. A few minutes later, with his laptop open in front of him and a USB plugged in, he opens the first folder and thinks of Peter's offer.
Peter wanted to push, of course he did, but he doubts it would've helped his case if he didn't back off when he did. He wants Stiles to know that Peter eagerly and whole-heartedly approves of his little vendetta against the remaining Argents, but at the same time, he's also willing to respect Stiles' wishes.
He always has, mostly. He hopes Stiles remembers that.
For now, it's a waiting game. He watches Stiles go to school, go home, and he follows the boy around enough for the guarded narrow-eyed looks to gradually soften to grudgingly exasperated ones. He leaves baskets of Tylenol and teas and Egyptian cotton towels and bath salts on Stiles' doorstep, and smiles from the bushes when Stiles calls him pretentious but hauls the gifts inside anyway. He watches over the boy from afar and lets him adjust to Peter's presence.
The only times Peter loses him is when Stiles disappears in-between his daily routine. Somewhere downtown, and usually at night, but Peter hasn't managed to track him to his destination yet, which is impressive in and of itself, even if Peter isn't putting all his effort into it, for now. He has things to take care of too, like regaining his identity and getting himself a place to live that isn't Derek's sad little hovel or the wreckage of their ancestral home.
He's had six years to brood (and grieve, and beg, and rage, and let it all drive himself insane). Now that he has something new to focus on, he has even less interest in joining Derek in his self-imposed punishment, or whatever it is he's doing these days with those wayward pups he bit.
He's washed his hands of his nephew. What Derek does now is up to Derek, and if Peter never has to deal with the fallout of his fuckups ever again, it will be too soon. The one thing he'd happily do for him is rip out McCall's throat for working with Gerard and using Derek the way he did, but Derek won't ask him to, and for now, even though he's fairly certain Stiles and Scott are no longer talking, Peter's decided to play it safe and keep his claws away from the idiot boy.
He can be content with knowing that McCall has fucked up the one relationship he really should've prioritized above all others, all to get into an Argent's pants.
Over the course of the next month, he keeps an eye on the girl and Christopher too, and it's annoying but not unexpected when they eventually manage to pin the majority of the suspicion and blame on Gerard, who's supposedly fled town, and some money in the right hands pave the rest of the way. Sheriff Stilinski may be an upright and honest officer of the law, but the same can't be said for every member in every department connected to the Argent case. Peter suspects they've even paid off the Boyd and Reyes families, and that's the reason neither teen has pointed fingers at Chris or Allison, only Gerard, when some of their blood was found in the Argent basement. Neither comes from particularly wealthy backgrounds, while the Argents have money to spare.
Nobody mentions Stiles either. Peter recalls the easy manipulation of wolfsbane Stiles had revealed - not even six months in the supernatural world and already taking to it like a duck to water - and he wonders if the boy had done something to scrub his own presence from the house, or if all parties involved had simply come to the unspoken agreement to not overcomplicate the matter, preferring to gamble on Stiles' silence instead.
Either way, the Argents ultimately wriggle free with barely a slap on the wrist, and it's annoying but not unexpected. Allison goes back to school and is immediately surrounded by Scott and Lydia, and any student who might've asked prying questions or taunted her about her brush with the law wisely think better of it. Likewise, while the two remaining hunters in town get some bad press, Christopher certainly knows how to put his lawyers to good use, and even the most nosy don't overstep after the first time one is mysteriously fired overnight.
The Argents walk, as they always have, and the storm seems to blow over for them.
Once, though, Peter watches from across the street, half-hidden in the shade of a few trees, and he sees the way Allison relaxes between Lydia and Scott's assurances, but he also sees the way brown eyes and a blank face track her from across the school courtyard, glinting amber under the sun, a wolf in sheep's clothing, not quite done with its meal.
The former three move on, joined by a gaggle of other kids. Stiles makes his own way out of the school, pace unhurried, a thoughtful tilt to his head. He stops briefly on the sidewalk though and looks directly at where Peter is standing. Peter doesn't bother hiding, smirking instead and letting it grow when Stiles only rolls his eyes.
Perhaps it's time to push again.
Stiles is at the storage facility again, and this time, he knows Peter is lurking outside. He ignores the presence for now, more intent on one of the maps he'd pinned up and marked with various pins and notes and threads over the course of the past month. Summer vacation is right around the corner. Falsifying a summer camp to go to that would supposedly keep him out of trouble will come as a relief for the Sheriff, and then Stiles will be free to attend to his own business.
He studies the red pin positioned two counties over, at the G - last he'd scribbled on the note attached to it. He isn't actually sure if Chris Argent wants his father dead but was just too chicken to do it himself so he's hoping someone else will do it for him, or if he just shouldn't ever apply for a job with Witness Protection, but either way, it hadn't taken Stiles long to track Gerard down to a nursing home in another dingy town in California. Who knows, maybe all the staff have been bribed or replaced with Argent-affiliated people. But Chris didn't even get Gerard out of the state; pathetic. Did he think nobody in Beacon Hills would go after him?
Stiles pauses at that and considers the fact that no, Scott would never go after Gerard despite his failed attempt at murder. And Stiles' dad is decent at his job but he doesn't have all the pieces that would lead him to the correct conclusions. As far as anyone else is aware, Gerard Argent's already fled the country.
Stiles shakes his head and shifts his attention elsewhere. For now, that threat has been nullified, so he'll stick to his original plan. Gerard will die, but only after his precious kingdom falls.
And Stiles knows just where to start.
The thing is, the Hales weren't special. The Argents have been eradicating werewolf packs for centuries - the Hale Pack was just another notch on the belt for them, albeit a particularly prestigious one that Kate undoubtedly took pride in when she succeeded, and she did succeed. The Hales weren't special. There have been survivors before, scattered and grieving for their dead, but that's just it - they ran, with the threat of hunters hanging over their heads and crippled from broken pack bonds and too afraid and too weak to retaliate against a family as powerful as the Argents, and eventually, they were picked off the way omegas always are. Laura and Derek were the same, although Stiles supposes they could be congratulated for surviving as long as they did, even if they made for pretty shitty family when it came to Peter.
But bottom line, the Hales as a whole weren't special. The only reason half the American branch of the Argents met their end in Beacon Hills was because Kate made the mistake of leaving Peter Hale alive. If she'd made sure to kill him too while she still could instead of leaving him to suffer, Laura never would've lifted a finger against them, and the Hale Pack would've just been another trophy added to the Argents' legacy.
It's to all those other trophies Stiles looks to now though. Every pack that burned, every supernatural creature monitored and murdered at the Argents' leisure, every person of interest the Argents are even now planning to go after in the future - Gerard had kept it all on file.
And now all of that information is in Stiles' hands, to be exploited as he sees fit.
The way Stiles figures it, working backwards is probably his best bet. It would be easy enough to find a way to France and take a shot at Lucienne Argent, Gerard's sister-in-law, who is the one most likely to take over the family now that Gerard's iron grip on the empire has broken. Allison might fly back to France over the summer to challenge her for it, but even if she does, Stiles can't see how she would win.
She knows archery and has taken years of gymnastics lessons. That doesn't make her leader material or hunter material. She didn't even know what her family did for a living five months ago, and then after she found out, she spent half that time off-the-wall crazy.
…On the other hand, that might actually make her a more appealing candidate in her family's eyes. Still, it doesn't seem likely that those with far more experience would cede control to a seventeen-year-old girl and obey her just because Kate was matriarch before her and she's descended from the main line. Doubly so when she - and her father - have been under so much media attention lately.
It doesn't really matter to Stiles, in the end. The root of the problem is the Argents, true, but if he starts there, there's a good chance that all the hunters affiliated with them will scatter the moment word gets back to them that someone's taken out the big bosses. Then they might try to find protection under the banner of another hunter family, or they might go to ground entirely, and while Stiles is confident he could track them down sooner or later, he'd rather not put in so much extra effort when he doesn't have to.
Because his other - and far more strategic, in his opinion - option is to go at this in the reverse direction. Kill the minions first, which will doubtlessly provoke the Argents once they notice. But unlike their underlings, they won't run. They'll sit tight, send their soldiers out perhaps, and demand their blood price in the form of Stiles' head, but they won't run. If they're even half as much like Gerard and Victoria and Kate, their pride and arrogance will be their downfall.
No one has truly challenged them in centuries. No one has dared to declare war on them. No one has managed to put so much as a dent in them since their inception, and therein lies their greatest weakness - those who don't believe they can be defeated usually fall the hardest in the end.
They depend on their bloody history and fearsome reputation to protect them. But Stiles grew up with neither, and he defeated his bogeyman a long time ago. Gerard made him feel fear, but not enough to stop a boy whose boggart had already died in a hospital bed seven years ago.
So it's the multiple hidden bunkers all across America that Stiles focuses on next, but this isn't a movie, and he doubts even fanatical hunters spend all their time in underground bases plotting the demise of supernatural creatures everywhere. Surely they have families, alternate jobs, places of residence, and of course, to kill the creatures they hate so much, they actually have to go out and do the work, and unfortunately, Gerard's files didn't include home addresses. But anyway, simply destroying the bases is no good and will simply show Stiles' hand a lot sooner than he wants.
Which is why it's the trophies he's been digging into. More specifically, the ones who survived an Argent purge and haven't been hunted down yet, the allies who turned a blind eye in the hopes that they wouldn't be next, even the mundanes who don't know about the supernatural but knew their neighbour up and disappeared one day after getting some visitors, or heard about the local family that somehow all died in a hiking accident, or was a friend of the flower shop owners before they were found dead in an alley.
So many loose threads, when one bothers to look. Stiles honestly has no idea how nobody has seen it before - all the footprints that the Argents never bothered erasing, so secure in their own authority and strength.
Stiles can't wait to topple it all.
It's the Sinclair Pack he's interested in now. Well, what's left of it anyway. An entire family up in Oregon, killed in their sleep just last December after their house went up in flames from an electrical malfunction that was ruled an accident. The only survivor was out of town at the time, delayed by a cancelled flight. Newspaper reports say he collapsed at the airport, presumably because he'd been watching the news on his phone.
As far as Stiles has been able to tell, Sebastian Sinclair is still alive and kicking, although judging by the handful of YouTube videos some dumb kids posted on the internet of their local ‘Crazy in the Woods’, the guy’s not exactly what one would call mentally stable. Stiles suspects the only reason no hunter’s put him down yet is because every Argent in America has been occupied with making a nuisance of themselves in Beacon Hills since January. Compared to the Hales, the Sinclairs are small-fries, and Stiles highly doubts any Argent ever thought they wouldn’t be leaving Beacon Hills alive.
Stiles doesn’t actually need Sebastian, although the guy might prove useful to talk to. But the general plan is to go in, ask around about anyone visiting the town recently, maybe moved in for a job and left in a hurry just a few months back, and possibly hack the local police database for good measure, and then follow whatever he finds to the hunters responsible.
Then rinse and repeat until either Gerard’s network has been completely dismantled or until summer vacation ends. Even Stiles can’t get away with missing school entirely after all.
But the Sinclair Pack is a good starting point. They’re the Argents’ most recent victims, not counting the mess in Beacon Hills, and it’s the freshest trail Stiles will get. If he’s lucky, finding one set of hunters will point him at even more.
A sudden click behind him, followed by the slow cautious groan of the storage unit door sliding open, brings him out of his thoughts and back into the present. When he glances up, he isn't surprised to find his werewolf stalker finally slipping inside, only a hint of supernatural blue in his eyes as the man swiftly takes in his new surroundings.
Stiles is pretty sure Peter already tracked him to this facility about a week ago, but it wasn't until today that he's managed to slip past security and actually tried the door.
"Didn't anyone teach you to lock your doors?" Peter remarks in bland tones. "Who knows what unsavoury characters could creep in while you aren't looking."
Stiles huffs before swiping the keys from his desk and tossing them at Peter, who grins and dutifully turns to secure the door properly.
"I expected you to try the door sooner, honestly," Stiles mutters, casually flipping the tarp down to cover up the maps before sitting back down in front of his laptop. He feels more than sees Peter slink up behind him, brushing heat across his back as he passes in a way that makes Stiles' shoulders twitch and the bags of mountain ash in the corner rustle. Peter hums a note of amusement but doesn't linger, making a meandering circuit of the room instead, taking everything in with gleaming eyes.
"One can never be too careful," Peter replies glibly, as if careful can even factor into the equation when the first person Peter decided to obsess over after coming back from the dead was the boy who set him on fire a second time, never mind who shattered the Molotov in the end. "You weren't very welcoming the first time, as I recall."
Well excuse Stiles for thinking the man he helped kill might've wanted some revenge. And who knows, maybe Peter still wants that and he's playing some kind of long con. But after a month of having a werewolf dogging his footsteps and leaving care packages or whatever they’re supposed to be on his doorstep, Stiles has - reluctantly - reassessed the werewolf's threat level. At least to him. At least for now.
Of course, none of that precludes the fact that Peter as a person still makes Stiles… restless. It's just that now, unfortunately, his curiosity is finally overruling his wariness. Or his self-preservation instincts. Or his good sense. Then again, he never had much of either of the latter two to begin with, so maybe he was always going to end up here anyway.
The point is though, Stiles supposes it wouldn’t hurt to let Peter poke around a bit more since he seems unusually fascinated by what Stiles is - supposedly - getting up to.
Give him what he wants, give him what he expects, and he won't look any further. Such has always been the way of the people in Stiles' life.
"You should air this place out more often," Peter continues, sauntering over to the window and frowning when it only opens outward about three inches. "It smells like ink and paint thinners in here, Stiles. I hope you know breathing in too much of that can be toxic."
Stiles rolls his eyes. "You haven't been in here a minute and you're already insulting my super secret clubhouse? Not cool, dude. Besides, it hasn't killed me yet so I don't care. Be glad I had the window installed, and if you don't like it, you know where the door is."
"Now, now," Peter murmurs, parting the curtains that section off Claudia's paintings to peer inside. "No need to be hasty. I wasn't judging, merely… observing."
Stiles snorts and turns back to his laptop, only to pause when Peter comments almost offhandedly, "Claudia Gajos. Talia was a fan. She bought several paintings from your mother's exhibitions when she was still hosting them, and then two more in the year after she passed away, from an online auction. Talia always wondered who took over management of her unsold works when the artist herself had stopped selling them for years by that point."
Stiles remains motionless at his desk for a long moment, then flicks a glance over at Peter, who's watching him again with a steady, considering gaze.
"…Her patronage was welcome," He finally says, and then pointedly stops the subject there by opening the camera feeds he'd planted around the new Argent property after Chris and Allison had bought the place. He makes a face at the familiar silhouette sitting on the roof above Allison's bedroom - seriously, he probably has enough evidence recorded by now to get Scott arrested - and then checks up on one of his spare phones. It was ridiculously easy to access Chris' phone and laptop in Evidence to clone the former and hack the later while the hunter was still in lockup. Stiles has more or less had free reign of the station since his dad was still a deputy. Somehow, the officers knowing him as John Stilinski's son and the boy they'd collectively babysat whenever he stayed at the station after school just naturally translated to nobody really batting an eye when they saw Stiles wandering through the building.
To this day, Stiles still doesn't really understand how that works in their minds, but it gets him what he wants so he can't complain.
Peter hums and does the courteous thing and steers the conversation away from Stiles' mother. Instead, he makes his way back over to Stiles, glancing fleetingly at the tarp-covered stand before turning to peer over Stiles' shoulder with a smirk. "So then, what is Beacon Hills' Puppetmaster up to tonight?"
Stiles scoffs, still scrolling through Chris' emails. "Puppetmaster? Really?"
"Do you prefer Mastermind?" Peter enquires with audible amusement. "Or Shadow King perhaps?"
"I prefer 'Stiles'," Stiles deadpans, and then rolls his eyes again when the phone is unceremoniously plucked from his hand.
"What a busy summer the Argents will be having," Peter muses. "Flying back to France next week, as soon as school lets out. I suppose I can't blame them for running away with their tails between their legs. They certainly haven't been having a good few months, have they? But doesn't that put a wrench into your plans for them? Or are you going to get them arrested again to keep them here?"
Stiles leans back in his chair and snatches the phone back. "Quit making it sound like I can just snap my fingers and make things happen, Peter. What kind of influence do you think I have anyway?” He tips his head back and widens his eyes into his best approximation of innocence. “I’m only sixteen, you know.”
If anything, that just makes Peter look… hungrier. Also a bit like he wants to laugh in Stiles' face. “I think you have exactly as much influence as you need, sweetheart,” He purrs. "And I'd love to hear what you have in mind for them. Perhaps I can even help."
Stiles doesn’t answering right away, studying the man above him instead. At first glance, it really did seem like death had granted Peter a clean slate, and he’d come back at the peak of physical health. But up close, lines on his face seem deeper than they should be, the strain of tragedy carved into the corners of his eyes and the ridge of his brow, and Stiles thinks there’s a gauntness to Peter’s cheeks too that has nothing to do with vanity or even lack of food. If anything, it probably has more to do with a lack of appetite. It’s not anything particularly noticeable even now, but the fact that Stiles can pick it up at all on a werewolf certainly doesn’t indicate good things.
Staring back, Peter’s smirk doesn’t falter, but his eyes are suddenly colder than they were even just a few seconds ago, and Stiles suspects the only reason he doesn’t back away is because he refuses to yield even this much.
Stiles blinks and tips forward again. "I was actually gonna give them a break. Even hunters deserve a vacation, right? And considering how much money they have, I can throw evidence of their crimes at the police all damn day and none of it will stick."
"…You're not giving up just like that though," Peter says after a frosty moment of silence that thaws when he speaks. It isn't a question.
Stiles spins around in his chair, dragging the toes of his sneakers along the concrete floor. “But I could, don’t you think?”
Peter cocks his head. "I think you wouldn't bother putting effort and energy into an endeavour you don't plan on seeing all the way through."
They stare at each other for a moment, and the silent echo of a Molotov cocktail exploding, the crash of a car ramming into a kanima, and the roar of a fire engulfing the Argent home - all ring loud between them.
Peter smiles first. "I do like you, Stiles."
Stiles snorts. "Flattery will get you nowhere, creeperwolf." But, "Here, take a look at Victoria's rap sheet. It's almost as long as Kate's."
The next few minutes are spent watching Peter's eyebrows go up, and the disgusted curl of his lip is telling, but when he finishes, he only remarks quietly, "The dead are dead, Stiles. They don't really care. Or even if they do, it doesn't matter as much, in the end."
Stiles shrugs. "No," He agrees just a touch bitterly. "But I bet Chris and Allison will care."
Peter stills. And then a grin blooms across his face, fanged and feral. "Oh sweetheart, I should've bitten you in the woods that night."
"And then you would've been dead even sooner," Stiles retorts with a roll of his eyes. He feels like he does that a lot around Peter. "Now stop talking nonsense and help me figure out what we should shove at the police first after Allison and Chris leave town."
It's how they spend the rest of the night, migrating to the mattress in the corner and scrolling through the mountain of evidence and organizing them into packages.
It will be interesting to see how the Argents will deal with this blow. Will they come back early? Or will they leave it until the end of their trip? And will another breach of security be the final nail that knocks Allison out of the running as the next matriarch of the Argent family?
"Summer camp," Peter repeats.
In front of him, Stiles smiles winningly like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. "Yup! It's a tech camp, basically coding for beginners, and it sounds interesting so I want to go, but it's also for most of the summer, so I was hoping you could take over handling the Victoria case. You don't even have to do much, just drop off the packages we prepared at the station and the newspaper office and then keep an eye on the trainwreck that follows. If you can't though-"
"I can," Peter interjects, still staring unblinkingly at Stiles. "It'll be easy enough. But I would've thought you'd want to stay here to watch it all go down."
Stiles shrugs. "The summer camp sounds more fun, and it's not like I won't have my phone with me so you can text me updates, and I can always check the news. Plus I may or may not have hacked my dad's computer ages ago."
Peter snorts, but he's also still staring, like he's waiting for Stiles to say something else. Stiles only stares back expectantly until the werewolf sighs in defeat.
"Very well," Peter agrees with a dramatic little half-bow. "I shall hold down the fort in Beacon Hills while you go to… summer camp."
The two of them practically beam sunshine at each other for a moment, and Stiles has to turn away to hide a grudging sort of amusement.
"Fantastic!" He chirps in response.
Behind him, Peter scoffs, and they both pretend he doesn't know full well that Stiles is lying.
A week later and Stiles is gone, off to… summer camp, and Peter spends the first night breaking back into Stiles' storage unit with the copies he'd made of its keys.
Darling boy shouldn't have handed them to him for even those few seconds if he didn't want Peter coming back on his own; it's not even the first time he's used clay molds for nefarious purposes. And the surveillance in this facility really needs an upgrade. Ah well. All the better for Peter.
As soon as the door is shut behind him, he makes a beeline for the inconspicuous tarp-covered stand pushed against one side of the room. It's the only thing that Stiles never let him get even a glimpse of in the time he was here. The boy even opened the safe in front of him, although he did shield the combination and keycode from Peter's line of sight. Still, those were a lot of illegal guns and important-looking documents, and if Stiles didn't care about letting Peter see that, then whatever's under the tarp must be important.
He gets points for leaving it out in the open though. Anyone else probably would've dismissed it as another painting or even just random junk.
It's the work of a second to flip the tarp back. And then-
"Oh," He says softly, unbidden, as he takes in the criss-cross of strings and multi-coloured pins and meticulous notes plotted all over the one large world map in the middle and the smaller maps of various individual countries on the side. "Oh."
G - last, one note says, which Peter can guess at, and while a part of him itches to go after the man right away and finish what McCall couldn't, now that he has a fairly good idea what Stiles is really planning, he knows it's better if he doesn't, and not just because Stiles will probably be annoyed with him.
Lucienne / Reine, Seraphine, Vivienne, another note reads, smack in the middle of France, in Toulouse, ancestral home, research blueprints, follow-up on new matriarch.
That isn't the only one. Three different headquarters are neatly labelled in various cities in the States, along with a list of Argents living in each one. Five more dot the length and width of Europe, likewise labelled with names and bullet points of Stiles' tentative plans for them. And then there are the victims, those the Argents have gone after, those whom the Argents have killed, a roadmap of red weaving across America and parts of the rest of the world - the Arrington Pack, the Collins Pack, the Haywood Pack; the Fiore Coven, the Vasile Coven, the Laurens Coven; and so on and so forth, all dead and gone now, all declared as accidents by the mundanes while the supernatural world knew better but said nothing - and Peter thinks again of the fire that had raged through the Argent home only a month ago.
How utterly stupid of him. Of course Stiles would never torch it just for a bit of petty revenge.
And likewise, of course Stiles would never go after a mere two, maybe three, Argents when he has the whole damn clan ripe for the picking.
Peter has been thinking far, far too small, and some part of him is genuinely appalled with himself. He'd wanted Kate's head on a platter, and the heads of those who'd worked with her to burn his pack, and the rest of her immediate family too if he could. But he'd never once considered - the Argent family is a blight on humanity; why not drag the whole lot to hell while I'm at it?
In some ways, maybe it's because he was born a werewolf, and raised in a world where he was taught to stay away from hunters, to pacify them whenever he could, to only retaliate when it was clear beyond a doubt that they'd broken their precious Code and even other hunters wouldn’t be able to refute it, and triple all those things when it came to the Argents, hunter royalty if ever there was any, all but sacrosanct no matter who they killed. And it wasn't like Peter hadn't heard plenty of rumours about them even before they'd gone after his pack, especially about Gerard. But families of supernatural creatures disappeared, whispers of Argents in the area leaked, and time after time, the whole world continued turning a blind eye.
That was how afraid they were, how conditioned they were to be afraid.
And Peter doesn't think he's ever consciously realized that until this moment, until he's looking at Stiles' work, at his plans, at the goal he's set himself.
Stiles does not know this fear, was not raised on it, does not care. The Argents had crossed him, and that was all that mattered. He is sixteen and human and so very breakable, but he also has every intention of painting the world with Argent blood, and Peter thinks he might actually be a little in love.
His eyes find Sinclair Pack on the map, up in Oregon, an entire family burned to death just last December.
Summer camp his ass.
Peter grins, wide and uncontrollable, something like exhilaration rushing through him.
He'll take care of dragging all of Victoria's skeletons into the light, as promised, and then… well.
He can keep an eye on Beacon Hills from afar just as well as Stiles. But he'll need to hurry if he wants to catch up with his boy. He'll probably need to talk Stiles around once he finds him, but at the same time, he'd rather end up in a second grave than miss even a moment of the truly brutal storm of misfortune heading the Argents' way.
Stiles rolls into the dingy little town of Mirville Valley in middle-of-nowhere Oregon at one in the morning. He's grown his hair out in the past month, and coupled with some fake ID, it lets him pass for barely eighteen, fresh out of high school and backpacking across America, enjoying the newfound freedom of adulthood before he settles into the trudging grind of sleep deprivation and student debt. The motel staff doesn't bat an eye.
He doesn't go to sleep right away, even if he is tired from the day's drive. Instead, he checks the GPS tracker on Allison's phone - safely in France and blissfully ignorant of what's about to happen - and then answers Peter's text - a picture of a plain cardboard box left on the police station doorstep - with a thumbs-up and a reminder to drop the other box off at the news station in twenty-four hours.
:Obviously.: comes the immediate unimpressed reply.
Stiles huffs a laugh, leaves his phone on the nightstand to charge, and shuffles to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
He'll need his rest before he goes to pay his respects to the Sinclair Pack.
Stiles spends most of the following week getting to know the locals. He visits the - one and only - library, the newspaper archive section in particular, and gets to talking with one of the older librarians about the fire that robbed most of the Sinclairs of their lives. He stops by the old folks' home and chats the residents up for stories of Eileen Sinclair who used to work there before she died. He checks out the bar Elliot Sinclair owned, with various nieces and nephews helping out - now boarded up and still for sale - and pays a homeless man huddled in the alley behind it to tell him about how the family never minded giving the poor a free drink and a warm place to put their feet up on cold days.
All of them agree - “It’s strange. Middle of winter with three inches of snow and even more coming down. Who’d die in a house fire in weather like that, let alone the whole family?”
The Sinclairs were well-established and well-liked, smaller than the Hales and not as old, but still one of the oldest families in this town, and so people also remember - “Yes, there was a woman, passing through, had a one-year contract as a caretaker here. Her name was… Caitlin, I believe. She became good friends with Eileen. They often went for drinks at her brother’s bar after their shift. A pretty lady. Shared an apartment downtown with a couple others. Friends of hers maybe? Or family. All nomads, didn't stay past the year. Got part-time jobs of their own while they were here though. One of them was a teacher, filling in for someone on maternity leave. Another worked in construction, spent a good few months on the bridge leading out to the Sinclair property since it collapsed back in… October? Yes, October. Wood must've been getting old. And the last was an instructor at… the gun range? Yes, that’s what my grandson said. He’s a police officer, you know. A deputy now.”
Stiles listens and files every piece of information away and mentally thanks small towns everywhere for their excellent gossip network. In-between interrogating the good citizens of Mirville Valley, he sits in the dark of his motel room and compiles everything he learns - profiles of all four hunters responsible for the tragedy in this town, cross-checking each one - except Kate - for outstanding warrants and bounties, hacking into each of their workplaces here and tracing the forged ID trails they'd left back to places they'd previously used them in, in other towns and cities, for different hunts and murders.
He asks, last, about the Sinclairs' only survivor.
"Poor bastard," is Caleb's gruff opinion. "Hear he doesn't do much 'cept wander around in the woods these days. He's come by a few times, to the bar, but all he does is sit on the front stoop. We none of us really know what to say so we just leave him to it."
Stiles digests this with a nod, tucks another fifty dollars into the man's coat pocket as thanks, and discreetly fixes the fraying seams of his clothes, along with a couple spells to make them waterproof and warmer or cooler depending on surrounding temperatures.
He visits Sebastian Sinclair at the end of the week. He waits for night to fall, and then he makes his way out to the Sinclair property, isolated like the Hales’ was, forest on all sides.
He still hasn’t figured out tracking spells, or honestly that many other spells at all, if they can be called spells in the first place, no matter what Peter probably thinks. He can do little things, simple things, like repairing or strengthening objects, or hiding himself by blending in with his surroundings, or even literally sparking a flame out of nothing, and for some reason, manipulating wolfsbane and mountain ash comes easily to him. But he can’t do much else, no particularly large feats of magic, and that includes tracking, which has been a huge disappointment because it would make his life so much easier.
Ah well. Trial and error. It’s how he’s been learning to use his ‘Spark’ so far anyway. Deaton’s never going to teach him (and what can Stiles learn anyway from a man who refuses to help even when those asking are desperate? It's better not to become reliant on someone like that), and it isn’t as if Stiles has any other magic-users on speed-dial. Besides, he hasn’t had magic at his disposal for fifteen years, and he’s gotten by just fine. That doesn't change just because he's gained a few shortcut tricks since stumbling into the supernatural world.
He makes the trip on foot, not bothering with his car. It's probably not his brightest idea, going out to look for an omega (omega-Alpha?) werewolf while armed with only a flashlight, some mountain ash, and a gun, but he's done more dangerous things in the past month alone, and he figures if Sebastian can still wander into town without mauling someone along the way, his sanity can't be all gone.
He comes up on the house first, or what's left of it, a tar-black husk, swaying a little every time a gust of wind whistles by, its remaining supports creaking like they might snap and topple over if someone so much as taps the dilapidated structure.
It looks like the Hale house, but somehow better and worse at the same time, not yet faded to grey like an old photograph, not yet a tragedy buried and forgotten with no one left to care. Some of the windows are still intact, and they rattle angrily when another rush of wind howls through the crumbling holes in the walls, as if its former residents still linger, restless and unhappy.
Stiles listens for a while, then takes a seat on the part of the front steps that are still relatively whole. And then he takes out a box of matches.
It's a little cruel, he supposes, but this way will be quicker than wasting the rest of the night stumbling around blindly through the woods. Even with a flashlight, it isn't as if he has any experience with following footprints or whatever.
The rasp of a match being struck is loud in the night. The tiny flame wavers and steadies, glowing bright under the curve of Stiles' palm.
It doesn't even take two minutes.
Footsteps thunder towards him, a snarl rents the air, and Stiles barely catches a glimpse of movement coming from the left before a hulking black shape bursts out of the trees and barrels straight towards him, red-eyed and furious and all desperate instinct.
Even Stiles winces when the werewolf slams straight into the mountain ash barrier he'd laid on the ground mere minutes ago with a silent command. There's a distinct whumph sound, and the gold of Stiles' magic darts briefly over the invisible shield before disappearing again. In its wake, a concussive force sends the werewolf flying back with the telltale cracks of bones breaking, and then he lands with a yelp of pain and ends up skidding several feet across the lawn before finally coming to a whimpering halt of twisted twitching limbs and a handful of cuts and bruises.
Ouch. That must've hurt.
Stiles blows out the match and stuffs it in a pocket for good measure. Then he clambers to his feet and begins ambling over towards the downed werewolf. The mountain ash circle follows him, keeping pace with each stride. "Hey dude, sorry about that. I didn’t wanna end up as wolf chow, but I guess I could've toned that down a bit. You okay?"
A groan answers him as broken bones reset and heal themselves. It's slow-going though, much slower than Stiles thinks an Alpha should heal. He stops a foot away, crouching down to meet glaring red eyes and bared fangs and nonstop growling even as the werewolf struggles into an upright position, or at least something not so vulnerable. He fails and slumps back over, half on his side and bleeding all over the grass.
"Sorry," Stiles repeats, and he even means it, a little. "But I wanted to talk to you. Your phone's been disconnected though, or I would've called ahead." He studies the werewolf carefully. Up close, his hair is darker and dirtier than the pictures Stiles has managed to scrounge up, tangled and unwashed, and his clothes look expensive under the grime. He's thinner than Stiles expected, but tall. He looks about Peter's age, maybe, but that's harder to tell with his face all wolfed out. "You sane enough to understand me?"
He gets a vicious snarl in reply, and the anger is as plain as the confusion, but at least he doesn't seem quite as feral anymore. At least he's rational enough to be confused.
"The night your family burned," Stiles begins, and Sebastian looks at him like he wants nothing more than to rip Stiles' throat out. Hah. Joke's on him. Derek's made him immune to that look. This guy's eyebrow game's got nothing on Derek anyway. "You weren't in town, cuz of your business trip." Sebastian flinches like Stiles struck him. Whoops. "But you usually work here. You're an architect, and you co-own a firm in Portland, but most of your work can be done from home." He pauses. "Or co-owned, I guess. Your partner's sort of taken over, just a heads-up."
Sebastian is… quiet. He's stopped growling under his breath, just lying there instead as his body knits itself back together at glacial speeds, and at the mention of his not-great business partner, he makes a noise that sounds like it took a wrong turn on laughter and ran off a cliff instead.
"Right. Well, anyway, your trip was only a week long, and you were mostly in town for the year before that." Stiles shuffles half a step closer, eyes intent on the werewolf's face. "Did you notice anything? New friends your family made maybe? Cool new teacher at school? Drink mix-up at Starbucks with someone you've never seen before?"
Silence. And then, "Mirville doesn't have a Starbucks," Sebastian says, voice hoarse and gravelly like he hasn't used it in a long while, but he's finally put the fangs away, more man than wolf now, and his brown eyes glint with only a hint of red as they narrow on him, more focused than Stiles would've thought possible from someone neck-deep at the other end of the spectrum just minutes ago. "Why do you wanna know? Who are you?"
Stiles hums. "A concerned party, I guess. Does it matter?"
Sebastian laughs again, short and sharp and harsh. "I don't have anything left to lose, so I suppose not. And if you're asking questions like that, then you didn't burn my family. You make for a very odd hunter boy anyway."
Stiles wrinkles his nose. He'd rather not be mistaken for a hunter, thank you. Then again, he supposes that's not technically wrong. He is hunting. Just… hunting hunters. A hunter of hunters. It's a mouthful.
"…My nieces - twins - had a substitute teacher for… English, I think," Sebastian recalls haltingly, flat on his back and staring up at nothing now. "The actual teacher was on maternity leave until January. They never said much about him though, or at least not to me. Just that he was new, kinda boring, smelled bad."
Stiles cocks his head. "Smelled bad how?"
Sebastian frowns. "Too much body spray. Most humans are like that these days. We deal." His eyes flicker down. "You think he was covering something up?"
Stiles hums noncommittally. "Anything else?"
Sebastian resumes staring into some middle distance. "…Elliot - my brother, the Alpha - he owned a bar. His daughter made a friend at work. Caitlin. Even I met her a few times. We never- She wasn't Pack, but we knew her well enough that it wasn't strange to see her at the bar most evenings. She liked to bake, so she'd bring food, and we didn't bother charging her for drinks after a while." He pauses, then snorts. "A little too much perfume though."
Another silence ensues. Stiles waits it out, and eventually, Sebastian closes his eyes and sighs. "There was a new instructor at the gun range. It's a small town, the police has their own practice range but some teach classes at the public one when they have time. My nephew did; he was a deputy. He mentioned a new instructor, decent with a firearm, taught beginner classes, didn't really stand out otherwise." He pauses. Stiles says nothing, and eventually, the man tells him, "The bridge. You must've crossed it on your way here. It broke a few months before- before the fire. A construction team was out there working on it five days a week. Took longer than it should've. There were some… mechanical failures? Or equipment malfunctions, or something like that. Anyway, our mom had a habit of bringing lunch down for them." He shakes his head a little. "It was nothing. She stayed to chat with them sometimes, but it was small talk. Mom wasn't even that old, and definitely not senile. She wouldn't have…"
He trails off, less like he can't find the right words to finish the sentence and more like he'd simply run out of breath and has no energy to draw another, and then he just… lies there, still enough to look dead if not for the shallow rise and fall of his chest. Stiles watches him for a minute, two, and then he stands.
"That's all I wanted," He says briskly as he turns to leave. "Thanks."
He makes it three steps before something glances off his mountain ash barrier, and a hiss of pain follows it. When he glances back, Sebastian is sitting up and cradling his hand.
"My mistake," Sebastian growls, sunken eyes glowing red again as he stares up at Stiles. "Not a hunter. Why did you want to know, little witch boy?"
Stiles considers him for a long moment. "…I have some unfinished business with the people responsible for-" He waves a hand at the gloomy, desolate house.
Sebastian looks at the house, then back at him, then releases another ragged laugh. "If it was anyone, then it was hunters, and if it was hunters-" He shakes his head. "My pack was not particularly big or important, so if we disappeared," His hands curl into fists, and even from just the dim light of the moon, Stiles can see blood leaking from where the werewolf's claws have sliced into his palms. "Most probably wouldn't even notice. But regular hunters don't usually go after entire packs. They prefer picking us off one by one, or at least in smaller groups. So, if it was hunters, then the list of those with enough balls for it is much shorter. It would have to have been one of the old names, and if it was one of the old names," He lifts his gaze again to meet Stiles', expression twisted into one of bitterness and mockery and unending self-loathing. "Then what can any of our kind do against any of them?"
Stiles looks at him, at the house, at the mountain ash between them. Then he shrugs again. "Well, you never know until you try, right?" He ignores Sebastian's disbelief and turns in the direction of the town once more. "Thanks for your help, dude. Try not to die out here, yeah? It's kinda pathetic, to be honest. At least Peter did something."
He walks away, and this time, he leaves unhindered.
Stiles is gone by morning. He leaves one evidence box on the police’s doorstep and drops another at the post office a few towns over, to be sent to the news office in Mirville Valley in seventy-two hours. Both point fingers at Kate - or Caitlin de Silva - and include every conjecture and piece of evidence Stiles managed to fit together between not-so-legal research back in Beacon Hills and the past week’s worth of interviews. And of course he also throws in copies of the actual reports sent by Kate and her hunter minions to Gerard, modified for mundane eyes.
What happens next is up to the local citizens now, but at the very least, the Argents won’t escape without more unwanted publicity and investigation.
And even better, Stiles has multiple leads on the three hunters Kate brought with her when she set her sights on the Sinclair Pack.
The Argents covered their tracks pretty well, Stiles has to give them that much. And what they couldn’t cover, they bribed, blackmailed, and killed their way in and out of. It’s been their modus operandi for centuries, as far as Stiles can tell, and they've raised it to an art form.
Still, they're not perfect, no matter what they'd like to think, and three days later, Stiles is sitting in a park in Spokane, enjoying a coffee as he waits for the middle school across the street to let out.
Edwin Vance in Mirville Valley, aka Edward Travers in Spokane, aka a lot of other names in a lot of other places, aka Evan Tremblay at birth, really is an actual-facts teacher. Legit teaching degree and everything, with a more or less permanent position in Spokane, Washington, most of the time, though he tends to get shuffled from school to school, on-call for most of the year when he isn't off doing the Argents' dirty work. Middles on the totem pole, passable with a gun, and jumps when the big bosses call. Partially responsible for the deaths of at least three different packs in the past ten years, in addition to at least twenty solo hunts in the past five years, and his targets are an assortment of supernatural creatures, not just omega werewolves. He's usually contacted by Kate for a job, occasionally Gerard himself, and sometimes just someone higher up on the chain of command, he takes a week or two off from regular work, and he gets paid once it's done. He's been in the Argents' employ since he was nineteen years old, and at his current age of forty-two, he has some very expensive sailing equipment in the garage that no teacher should be able to afford with their salary.
He also has a bad habit of buying body spray in bulk from the same store to cover up the scent of wolfsbane when he needs it to approach supernatural creatures without tipping them off right away. He takes a backseat and does what he's told when an Argent is leading the mission, but on solo hunts, his preferred method of murder is simply covering himself with an extra dose or ten of body spray before walking right up to his target in broad daylight and poisoning them with a particularly nasty crossbred strain of wolfsbane - EdwinEdwardEvan had developed it himself and works on most creatures - that numbs the skin upon contact and and kills the target twenty-four hours later with very few symptoms beforehand that would really point to anything wrong. EdwinEdwardEvan wears a ring that hides a needle infused with the poison, and even just a graze is enough to kill. Most hunters seem to prefer more painful deaths for their victims and even a bit of a dramatic chase prior to the kill, so the poison isn’t too popular even if it’s probably one of the most effective methods, but EdwinEdwardEvan prefers efficiency over playing with his food.
You know the bar is pretty low when that already makes him slightly better - morally speaking - than his fellow hunters.
Stiles' phone buzzes with a notification, and when he fishes it out, it’s to find another news segment broadcasting out of Mirville Valley. Stiles’ little gift was delivered this morning, and the news station hasn’t wasted anytime calling for the case to be reopened while they no doubt also do their own investigating into the incident. And no matter how many police officers Kate managed to bribe or blackmail in order to get the case closed without looking too closely at what happened, there’s no way they’ll be able to ignore a public outcry like this.
He switches over to Beacon Hills news next, smirking a little upon seeing the multiple headlines still happily shouting Victoria's crimes to anyone paying attention. There'll be more in the next few days; the police haven't released everything - or anything really, but they didn't have much of a choice in at least giving a few statements when the news station received the same package they did - and the news station is probably doing their own investigation right now. It's a mess and a half, but honestly the family in question deserves it.
Looking back, the Argents probably haven't done much to endear themselves to the town. Stiles very much doubts Gerard and Victoria actually went through the proper channels to make themselves part of the high school staff. At the very least, neither of them have teaching backgrounds, so they either falsified the papers or strong-armed their way into getting what they wanted. Or both. Probably both.
Aside from that, none of the Argents got actual jobs in Beacon Hills, they didn't go out of their way to fit in, and anyone with two brain cells to rub together has most likely come to the realization that bodies only really started dropping after they arrived. The fact that the Argents seem to be connected to so much crime and scandal probably doesn't surprise many at this point.
They haven't been careful enough, because they never had to be in the past. But they never had Stiles exploiting the hell out of it either, and now it's coming back to bite them in the ass.
The muted shrill of an alarm draws his attention back to the school. Kids begin pouring out the front doors within minutes, and Stiles downs the rest of his coffee before getting to his feet.
Time to get this show on the road.
Peter arrives in Mirville Valley and immediately knows Stiles is already gone. For a sleepy little backwater town, the place looks like a madhouse, especially when he drives past the police station - people are out in force, not quite rioting but definitely demanding some signs of progress from the harried-looking officers manning the doors.
The Sinclairs had been well-loved, it seems, and it makes something in Peter chafe when he sees the evidence of it. The pack here wasn't as big as the Hales, or as old, or even as rich, but they'd integrated with their townsfolk far better than the Hales ever did. His family had always been… aloof, maybe. Distant. Sure, they held important positions or worked important jobs, but they were always separate, and they liked it that way, for the most part, raised their kids - even the human ones in their pack - that way, encouraged the division because they were werewolves and they had to hide their oddities and oblivious humans were… not lesser exactly but still not one of them. And because they weren't one of them, the Hales in turn - no matter how much they gave to charity or how successful each of them grew up to be - were never quite one of the citizens of Beacon Hills either. The children had classmates or friendly acquaintances at school but no real friends, and the adults had subordinates or bosses or colleagues but no one they'd go out of their way to spend time with, no one they'd invite over to meet the family, hardly anyone they'd even go out with for the occasional drink as a group.
A good chunk of Mirville Valley had obviously mourned when the Sinclair Pack died, even if the rest of the supernatural world hadn't much cared or even noticed.
Peter wonders how long it took for Beacon Hills to forget the Hale Pack. Not long at all, probably. And out of everyone who had been dragged into the mess six years later, Argents aside, from Peter's own observations and a few things Derek had mentioned, only Stiles had remembered the family that had been burned alive in the Preserve, and only Stiles had taken the time to put together the pieces of what had really happened in the end.
What does it say about them, when a mere six years was enough to erase the Hale name from most people's memories? Beacon Hills as a whole is not a town that cares much for its own. But also too, the Hales had never put much effort into endearing themselves to anyone beyond what was necessary. They’d been memorable, but only in that distant those are the Hales, mysterious and rich way that people might mention to tourists passing through. Memorable, but not particularly loved or missed once gone.
Peter pushes the grim thoughts aside. If he thinks too long about it, he'll probably start killing people again, and he's been trying to cut back lately. At least until he catches up to Stiles.
He concentrates on making a few circuits around town instead. There's no point checking into a hotel when Stiles has already left, but he needs a new lead to follow. From the notes Stiles left in his storage unit, there were four hunters responsible for destroying the Sinclair Pack. Kate's out, but Stiles must've figured out something about at least one of the other three worth following up on. Peter just has to figure it out himself.
He doesn't waste anytime. It's a bit of a surprise, when he tracks Sebastian Sinclair to a comfortable-looking apartment downtown. Stiles' notes said he was squatting in the woods somewhere but maybe recent events had driven the man back into civilization. At the very least, the person who finally opens the door after Peter knocks and doesn't leave for the next five minutes only looks vaguely scruffy and infinitely more tired but not as if he's one wrong word from snapping and eating the local populace.
He also flashes red eyes at Peter the moment the door is open enough for them to see each other properly, and for half a second, Peter debates reaching out and claiming that spark for himself. It would be easy. Even a month back from the dead and teetering between omega and beta, Peter's certain he's at least stronger than this Alpha.
But the urge passes. Being Alpha again is no good without a pack - he has firsthand experience with that now. He needs a pack first, needs Stiles first, before even contemplating of ways to become Alpha again, and that's not going to happen if he goes around murdering innocents. Stiles has a thing about that, and Peter - now that he's mostly sane again - doesn't much care for bloodying his hands either when there's no real point to it.
"Werewolf," Sinclair says flatly. He doesn't open the door any wider but he doesn't slam it either, and his hunched stance squares up a bit like he's preparing for a fight. "You get points for politeness, but the territory isn't up for grabs."
Peter arches an unimpressed eyebrow. "Then I suppose it's a good thing I'm not here to grab it."
He takes a subtle but slightly deeper breath and… there. Just a hint of Stiles' magic, like the wind before a storm, like lightning after it hits.
He's pretty sure Stiles still isn't aware of it, but these days, the boy’s magic is a constant ebb and flow of raw power around him, like the stirring coils of a dragon roused from its long slumber. Peter doesn’t know if he’s simply more observant than most or if his trip to the brink of the afterlife and back granted him a touch of something more, but ever since he crawled out of his own grave, Stiles has shone like a flame in the dark to his senses despite nobody else noticing anything special, and it only makes Peter want him more.
“I believe you’ve met an acquaintance of mine,” Peter says instead and notes with idle interest the way Sinclair goes preternaturally still. “If you could point me in the right direction, I’ll be out of your hair, and I’m sure we’ll both be happier for it.”
Sinclair blinks once. “I have no idea who you’re talking about,” He says, and his heart doesn’t skip.
Peter smiles, sharp and almost amused. Almost. “How sad. Allow me to refresh your memory then.”
He takes out his phone and pulls up one of the photos he technically shouldn't have but couldn't help himself. It is - of course - of Stiles, bent over under the hood and tinkering with his car in the driveway. From Peter's angle, the picture captures both the lean lines of Stiles' body and most of his face. He's also flipping Peter off with a long-suffering expression pulling at his features.
"Him," Peter tips the screen in Sinclair's direction, watching as the werewolf glances at it with just the right amount of detached curiosity-- but also far too briefly to pass for someone seeing a stranger for the first time. "If you could tell me what you told him, or better yet, tell me where he's gone, it would be much appreciated."
Sinclair gives him a flat look. "I still have no idea who you're talking about. And even if I did, why would I send a 'wolf after a kid just because you showed me a picture of him?"
Peter sighs and pockets his phone again. How tedious. He considers his options. He supposes he could barter here with some information the police and public - and therefore Sinclair - still don't know, but Stiles might actually kill him if Peter inadvertently sends Sinclair after the Argents and messes up Stiles' plans for them. And Peter isn't too amenable with sharing this particular revenge with anyone but Stiles either.
"The woman who burned your pack," Peter finally says, and Sinclair freezes again in an entirely different way, something not quite stable edging into his bloodshot eyes. "She's already dead. I killed her myself."
The door creaks in Sinclair's grip. "That's not- What-" He sucks in a breath, and there are fangs in his mouth when he speaks again. "Why? She killed my pack, I should be the one-"
"Well she killed mine first," Peter cuts him off, and it comes out mild enough to make Sinclair's eyes flash red again. "And I already waited six years. First come, first serve, as they say."
Peter pauses. Damn it, he's already said too much. The supernatural has mostly forgotten, but a reminder would probably be enough for at least some to recall the fall of one of the oldest packs in all of America-
"Six years," Sinclair parrots, right on cue. "Hale. Peter Hale?"
The Hale Pack's once infamous left hand. Of course Sinclair would know that name. But that doesn't explain why his first guess would be Peter at all, and really, Peter's about had enough. His diplomacy skills were never his strongest suit anyway, much to Talia's despair and disapproval in turn, and he has even less patience for it these days.
What Stiles doesn't know, Peter will make sure won't hurt him.
Sinclair doesn't have time to react at all when Peter lashes out, catches him by the throat, and shoves him back inside in one fluid tackle. He kicks the door shut behind him just as Sinclair snarls and his claws come up to defend himself, but Peter's already twisting away, bringing both of them to the ground even as he presses his own claws to Sinclair's carotids and stomach respectively. The other werewolf is taller than him, but it's clear that he has both surprise and superior skill on his side.
Sinclair jerks to a statuesque stop. Alpha eyes blaze up at him, lips peeled back in a furious snarl.
Peter returns it with a reprimanding look. "If you'd simply answered my question from the start, I wouldn't even be here anymore. You only have yourself to blame." He lets the supernatural blue bleed into his own eyes. "Now, if you would be so kind as to tell me where the boy went, I'll be on my way." He pauses. "Also how you knew who I was. You obviously didn't recognize me when I first showed up."
Sinclair twitches like he's testing Peter's grip. The scent of blood fills the hall when Peter doesn't give an inch. Idiot.
"What do you want with him?" Sinclair snaps, still glaring.
Peter pulls back a little, gauging the defiance in the man's expression. "Why in the world do you care? He couldn't have been here for more than a week, and I doubt he spent even that much time with you."
"Yes, because it's crazy for someone to be a little wary of sending an adult werewolf with your kind of reputation after a boy who I'm quite sure hasn't even hit his eighteenth birthday yet." The sarcasm in Sinclair's voice speaks volumes.
They stare at each other for a long, tense minute. Stalemate. Unless Peter actually goes through with his plan of simply rifling through Sinclair's memories for what he wants, but…
It's unexpected, this pseudo-concern. Just by the sight of him, Peter wouldn't have thought this man had enough heart left in him to care about anything except maybe hunting his family's murderers down, and even that… well, he obviously hasn't gotten anywhere with that for the past six months, has he?
Sinclair relents first. "…The new leads the police have been looking into," He rasps out. "The case being reopened because of all the new evidence, right after that boy came through asking questions. No way that's a coincidence." He swallows before sucking in a shuddering breath. "That's already more than I've been able to do. And more than anybody's done for my family. I don't know who he is, and he didn't explain anything to me, and I doubt he did any of it for the benefit of me or my pack, but he still did it, and I owe him for that."
His eyes flash, and that's the only warning Peter gets before a deft twist of Sinclair's whole body and a brutal jab of his elbow to Peter's ribs loosens his grip just enough for Sinclair to throw him off, albeit leaving the Alpha with a score of claw marks through his shirt and along his shoulder. Peter's on his feet again in the next second, flipping around to regain his footing as Sinclair leaps up as well, each of them eyeing the other with banked hostility.
"Unless you can prove to me you mean him no harm," Sinclair snarls. "I'm not telling you shit."
Peter scoffs but also eyes him with a grudging sort of respect. "…You knew who I was, once you realized which pack I was from. How?"
Sinclair's eyes narrow. "The boy mentioned your name." His lip curls with something like derision and disgust, all aimed inwards. "I guess that's what he meant. That at least you did something, as opposed to my nothing."
Peter studies him at length, and then he sighs, utterly put-upon because it really would be easier to just look through Sinclair's memories, but…
It's this situation, Peter thinks, finally acknowledging the uneasiness he's been feeling since entering this town. The tragedy that took place here, and this man here too, with half a foot in his family's graveyard and only alive out of spite and grief and aimless helpless rage, and it all just… strikes a little closer to home than Peter had thought it would. He's not usually this undecided otherwise.
He takes out his phone again, and it only takes a few seconds to pull up one of the handful of articles that various newspapers had managed to print before - Peter suspects - the Argents had gagged them. They had wanted Kate's death to be as quiet as possible, and it had been their luck that she'd died in a small town like Beacon Hills. Even now, most people in the supernatural world probably don't know of the former Matriarch's demise yet, and they definitely don't know that Gerard is on the last legs of his life.
“This is the woman, right?” Caitlin de Silva, seriously.
Sinclair drifts a step closer, then another, then another, his expression falling into something past shaken, all broken edges barely held together. His guard is suddenly way down, and Peter could probably tear out his throat and Sinclair wouldn't remember to defend himself in time.
Instead, he lets Sinclair take his phone remains silent as the Alpha devours the article announcing Kate Argent's death and the supposed circumstances that led to it (animal attack, of course), even including a smiling portrait of her that someone had managed to get their hands on somehow.
"…Argent?" Sinclair eventually asks, his voice gone thin with horrified disbelief. “She was an Argent? But-” A beat, and then, inanely, sounding far younger than his years, as if it matters at all, “-we didn’t even do anything.”
Peter rolls his eyes but also turns sharply away because-
-because he’d thought that too, hadn’t he? During his coma, when he could think past the pain and grief and growing rage, he’d thought the same thing - but why we didn’t even do anything why why why - and he had prided himself on never being as naïve as Talia, had always understood that living peacefully and never harming humans didn’t matter one bit to hunters when it came down to it, and in the end, he’d been proven right.
What a thing to be right about.
"What am I saying," Sinclair mutters, and when Peter turns back, he can tell that the other werewolf knows it too.
“Do- Do the police know?” Sinclair asks instead, still sounding halfway into shock. “I haven’t heard anything about it.”
“They weren’t given the name,” Peter admits. “But at this point, they have no business being officers of the law if they can’t even connect this much, and public pressure will ensure they won’t be able to cut corners or hide evidence.” He pauses. “Don’t break my phone.”
Sinclair’s grip relaxes again but a muscle jumps in his jaw, and Peter gets the feeling that anyone who took a bribe from the Argents probably won't live out the month.
There's a spark of something dark in Sinclair that Peter recognizes very well. But that's none of Peter's business, and he's more than ready to leave this town behind.
"The boy," He presses once more, dragging Sinclair's attention back to the here and now. "Tell me what you told him."
Sinclair stares at him for a moment, then glances one more time at the article on Peter's phone before tossing it back to him. "This doesn't actually tell me you mean him no harm."
Peter has to suppress the urge to drop fangs. Loyalty, he reminds himself, even as strangely skewed as it is here, should always be - in Peter's opinion - an instinctive core value for any werewolf with even a modicum of self-respect. It's at least half the reason he has zero regard for Scott and Derek and even Derek's puppies. And probably seventy percent of the reason he ripped Laura's throat out. Most werewolves these days just aren't made the same. Peter had his differences with Talia, but he honestly doesn't know where she went wrong with her kids. If his sister had survived, no matter how many times they'd butted heads over the years, Peter still believes that she would've died before she left him behind.
He shakes away the what-ifs; they don't matter anymore. The trait is frustrating, coming from Sinclair, but Peter can still respect it, especially since it's for Stiles, so instead, he looks down at his phone once more, pulling up a number he's long since memorized. It takes less than two rings for Stiles to answer.
"So rude," Peter teases, biting back a satisfied smirk as recognition dawns on Sinclair's face. "I haven't talked to you in almost two weeks; one would think you didn't miss me."
"I don't," Stiles retorts. "You've texted me every day; when would I have had the time to miss you?" His frown is audible in his next words. "So why are you calling? Is something wrong?"
"No, no," Peter assures. "But it's been ever so boring without you around. No decent conversation at all, and there's only so much entertainment to be found in lamenting my nephew's life choices, you know."
Stiles' sardonic snort reaches him in a rush of static. "My heart goes out to you. But if that's all, I'm hanging up. I have stuff to do.”
Peter hums, privately pleased that even busy, Stiles took the time to take his call. “Does ‘stuff’ include ruining a hunter’s day?”
A noise of amusement floats over the line. “Summer camp, remember?”
“Of course,” Peter says agreeably. “I'll leave you to it then. Wouldn't want you falling behind your fellow campers. I'll text you another update tonight."
He hangs up and bares his teeth in a facsimile of a smile at Sinclair. "If that's still not enough proof for you, I'm afraid we're going to have a serious problem, and neither you nor your apartment will be coming out of it intact."
There's only so much leeway he's willing to give, and he's already several leagues past his usual limit for someone he doesn't even care about.
Sinclair… still looks tempted to press, to ask more questions, but the last of the suspicion has eased from his scent, and in the end, he sighs and relents and says, "I didn't actually tell him much, but he didn't ask me that many questions either. He just wanted to know-" His features spasm with a jagged blend of rage and regret. "-if there was anyone who seemed particularly close to my pack over the past year. I told him about Cait- about Argent. She worked at the same place as one of my nieces, befriended her, and eventually she was invited over to the bar we own. Owned. I own-" Sinclair cuts himself off and scrubs a hand over his face. "She was… likeable enough. Normal. Came in with baked goods every week and shared them around. Punched a guy for getting too handsy with my niece once. There was nothing off about her. She was kind."
He falls silent for a few seconds, and Peter wonders if Sinclair's still talking to him or if he's just trying to convince himself. Eventually, he blinks a couple times, shakes his head, and continues a bit raggedly, "There was also a new teacher in my other two nieces' English class, just filling in until the winter break. There wasn't anything special about him, or at least my nieces didn't mention anything aside from him wearing too much body spray. Then there was a new instructor at the public gun range. Nothing strange about him either, nothing that my nephew noticed anyway. And… And a construction team worked on the bridge connecting my pack's property to the town for a couple months, after it broke. Sometimes our mother - mine and my brother's and my sister's - she'd bring lunch down for them, maybe stay for a chat. But that's it." There's defiance in the way he looks at Peter now. "And none of us would've been stupid enough to- to reveal anything. What would we have told them anyway?" He makes a rough scoffing sound. "We never invited anyone outside the pack to the house, not even Caitlin. Argent. Argent."
He laughs, abrupt and humourless, eyes flashing as he struggles for control again. Peter watches him for another moment, then shrugs and points out casually, "Well she wouldn't have had to go to your house, would she? Sounds to me like you'd been eating her food for months."
Sinclair goes motionless. Peter straightens, ready to leave. He should be able to figure out where Stiles has headed with a bit of digging now.
Sinclair's gaze snaps up again, and he takes a step forward as Peter takes a step back. They both stop again.
"That's all you wanted?" Sinclair asks at last.
Peter shrugs. "I did tell you. What you do now - I really don't care."
Except, he amends, if Sinclair goes after the other three hunters still alive and killing. He doubts it'll be anytime soon though, even if Sinclair gets it in his head to try. Kate and her subordinates might've been the main instigators, but those who took bribes from them are probably still in town - Sinclair will most likely want to clean house before he does anything else, and Stiles won't be idle in that time.
He makes for the door again, keeping eyes on Sinclair, but this time the Alpha hangs back and lets him go.
"Why is he doing this?" Sinclair calls out just as Peter reaches the door.
Peter pauses, mulling that question over.
Because they hurt him.
Because they hurt those under his protection.
Because they drew blood in his hometown, and he's enough of a wolf to consider an attack on his territory as an attack on him as well.
But also, least of all, most of all-
"Because he can," Peter answers simply, and in another breath, he's out the door and making his way back to his car.
Time to go.
EdwinEdwardEvan dies from a single muffled sniper shot to the neck through the open porch doors, slumping face-first into his chicken broth at the dining table where he'd been sitting down for a light dinner. Well he's not quite dead yet, but he will be soon, and he'll be unconscious until his heart gives out. There are houses on either side, but tall trees line the property and hide most of the house from view, and the yard backed right into even more trees, with the back lane beyond them, impossible to see from the yard and vice versa.
Stiles slings his sniper rifle over one shoulder, climbs deftly down from his perch in one of the trees, and packs up before jogging back towards his car. He pauses only for a minute after he slides back into the driver's seat, stripping off his gloves before spreading his hands in front of him and studying the wide palms and long fingers.
They don't shake.
But then, they didn't shake after his first kill either, and that was infinitely harder than killing a killer he couldn't care less about.
He starts the car. EdwinEdwardEvan probably won't be found for at least another seventy-two hours. A stomach bug is easy enough to imitate with laxatives and a few other drugs, and the man had already called in sick today after a very uncomfortable night on the toilet. Even a no-show on Monday probably won't rouse enough suspicion for someone to check up on him.
Once they do though… well. An autopsy doesn't do much good when the dart Stiles fired would dissolve within three hours, and the wolfsbane cocktail making its way through the man's body right now - tweaked to affect humans according to EdwinEdwardEvan's own notes - won't leave any trace after twenty-four.
Dead by the weapon this hunter had developed and used on far too many victims, and even a cursory inspection of the man's house will unearth quite a bit of incriminating evidence of his crimes. Karmic justice at its finest, and Stiles didn't even need to interrogate the guy for all the information he'll need to track down the other two hunters that EdwinEdwardEvan had most often worked together with on group hunts.
Apparently, they go out for drinks sometimes.
A spot of ironic murder, and an entire Argent cell dismantled by Sunday at the latest.
Stiles does so enjoy a productive week.
Peter catches up to him three days later. He settles himself against the side of the boy's car - not the jeep, a rental perhaps, grey and non-descript, Peter approves - and peruses a local newspaper for recent deaths (none of course) as he waits for Stiles to return.
He looks up when quiet footsteps slow to a halt a few feet away.
"Fancy meeting you here," Peter greets, smirking at the way Stiles' eyebrows are twitching. "How goes the summer camp?"
His smirk widens as Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose, then levels an incredibly peeved look on Peter. "What are you doing here."
"I got bored," Peter admits freely, and it's even mostly true. "And honestly sweetheart, did you really expect me to not come after you? Considering what you're doing?"
He can see the moment Stiles seriously thinks about pushing the summer camp lie, but he gives it up almost as quickly. It's late in the evening with not another soul in sight, the house behind him is silent and dark, and Peter will eat this newspaper if Glenn Hendrickson, the last of the hunters responsible for the Sinclair fire, isn't freshly dead somewhere inside.
Stiles scowls instead and moves around to the back of his car to dump his backpack inside. "…Let me guess - you fucking made a copy of my keys."
"Shouldn't have let me hold them if you didn't want that," Peter replies cheerfully.
Stiles pointedly sticks his head back out just to shoot him a dirty look. "Most people have morals."
“Sounds horrendously dull,” Peter counters, smirking when he sees the answering smile tugging at the corners of Stiles' mouth. He folds up the newspaper and saunters over to join Stiles as the boy slams the trunk shut. He makes to speak, then stops and glances down, not truly surprised to find the muzzle of a gun pressed lightly to his abdomen. He looks back up and cocks an eyebrow. "Really, Stiles?"
Stiles' head tips to one side in an equivalent of a shrug. The gun doesn't waver. "I don't like it when people intrude in my business."
Peter rolls his eyes. "Stiles, you aren't going to shoot me in the middle of the street."
"And my body left smack in the middle of the front lawn of this fine gentleman whom you've most likely gone to the trouble of staging an accidental death for?"
"I could move it."
"You could. Good luck scrubbing my blood from the sidewalk and grass though."
Stiles stares at him for a long moment, something dark and cold and infinite in his eyes, and all Peter wants is to see where that darkness might lead, whether it'll accept his own or if it'll swallow him whole instead.
He wonders if this is what people mean when they warn of the abyss.
At last, Stiles snorts, the darkness receding like the ocean tide, banked again but no less dangerous. He shoves the gun away and turns sharply towards the driver's side. "Get in the car, creeperwolf."
Peter grins triumphantly.
"I'm gonna be killing a lot of people, you know," Stiles remarks as he starts the car and Peter reaches for his seatbelt. "And mostly just cuz a few of them pissed me off."
"Oh sweetheart," Peter croons in return, and he can feel his own eyes flare with supernatural light. "I can't think of a better way to spend our first road trip together."
Working with Peter is… difficult. Mostly because it's so damn easy.
The first night they hole up in yet another hotel together, Stiles spreads out his maps and picks his next targets, and then he just spends the next three hours lobbing ideas back and forth with Peter, hypotheses of where the hunters are, how to go about cornering them, what paper trail of evidence to leave once they're done, how to stage the 'accidents' in ways that will circumvent the police's suspicions once they catch up.
It's their planning session back in the storage unit all over again, except even worse, because Stiles is cutting a bloody swath across the States, and all Peter does is smirk and offer tips and goad him on.
(Stiles has known for years that there is something very wrong inside him, and he has known for just as long that if his dad or Scott or Melissa ever found out, their horror and disappointment would be the least of his worries.
Not once has he ever expected to meet someone like Peter Hale, whose moral compass is about as broken as his, and - even in the short time they've really known each other - has always looked at Stiles like he's far more than just an unwanted reminder of a dead woman or a convenient shield for a friend.)
"Gregson has a family though," Peter is saying, lounging back in the armchair as he scrolls through the corresponding file on his laptop, tapping away at the keyboard as he makes his own notes. "A wife and two kids. Are you doing away with them too?"
There is no judgement in his voice, none in his gaze either when he glances up to gauge Stiles' reaction.
Stiles studies him in return, and for all that looking at Peter sometimes feels like looking at a mirror, the werewolf is still a long ways away from an open book to him.
"Would you?" He wonders, genuinely curious. Where is Peter's line in this?
Peter seems passingly amused, but that fades into something more distant, his gaze falling back to the laptop screen but not quite seeing it.
"Talia's youngest, Matthew, was eight," He says out of the blue, voice carefully nonchalant. "And Mira, my other sister, she had twins, William and Alice. Both thirteen years old." He looks up again and smiles, an empty stretch of facial muscles that makes even Stiles' fingers itch for a weapon. "Only Alice was a werewolf. Obviously, they were all killed anyway." His gaze slides to the balcony doors, to the moonlight creeping in through the curtains. "…if these were Kate's kids, or Gerard's, I might. I don't even know if I would've been able to help myself, especially right after the coma. But," He meets Stiles' eyes again and shrugs with a calculated sort of ease. "They aren't. So if you want to, I don't much care. They're…" He checks his laptop. "Sixteen and fourteen? And already being groomed as the next generation of Argent subordinates. The Gregsons have been in the Argents' employ for years now. Even the wife's a piece of work, although she seems to be retired these days. So, if you want to," Peter offers a faintly toothy smile this time. "Don't expect me to stop you. I'd even help, if you want it. But if you don't, then I'm fine with that too. It's up to you, Stiles."
Stiles hums and lowers his chin again into the pillow he's using to prop himself up. He's sprawled on his belly on one of the beds, his own laptop next to him. Sixteen isn't really a kid anymore, is it? And when Stiles was fourteen, he set a student’s backpack on fire - while she was still wearing it. No lasting damage… if you didn’t count the mental trauma and a few burn scars anyway. But then the bitch shouldn’t have switched out the medication in Scott’s inhaler for dust and pollen, all for a dare. Stiles would’ve been impressed that she’d been able to pull it off at all, except he’d been a lot more pissed that she’d succeeded in sending Scott to the hospital, and that she didn’t think he’d track the prank back to her. Idiot.
He digresses. Bottom line, Stiles actually doesn't think anyone into their double-digits can be considered a kid, especially when they're already in the process of being indoctrinated into extremely discriminatory murder, but that's likely just him. In this, it's probably best to follow Peter's standards.
He sighs. "Can you still do the claw-memory thing?"
Peter blinks at him. Then smirks. “I can. You want me to remove their memories?”
“Just of the supernatural,” Stiles clarifies. “And just the kids. I still want the husband and wife.”
Peter settles back in his seat, satisfaction edging into his expression. "I won't know what to take until I'm actually in their heads, but I can check their daily schedules and see when I can get that done. Before their parents' deaths but after they see them for the last time seems like the best window."
He's as good as his word, probably pulling up school locations and phone records and license plates, and Stiles' attention lingers, captivated. "…For a guy who was out for six years, you're pretty good at this sort of thing."
Peter rolls his eyes in response, but he also preens like Stiles' indirect compliment was the best thing he's heard in a long time. "People have been coming up with ways to hunt their targets down for eons, Stiles, and six years ago, we weren't exactly back in the Stone Age. And I was left hand. This was more or less part of my job, and anything I can't do myself, my contacts can. Those don't have an expiration date, you know, although-" He breaks off and flashes another smirk that makes Stiles' own lips quirk with reflexive amusement. "-they did seem rather dismayed when I called."
Stiles can imagine. "They would. Must've been the worst surprise ever."
"News of my demise had been greatly exaggerated," Peter agrees in deadpan tones, and Stiles laughs before he can stop himself.
"You're terrible," Stiles mutters, more to himself than anything, and even he's not sure who or what he's referring to.
"Pots and kettles, sweetheart," Peter volleys back, and Stiles can only sigh because that's the entire problem, isn't it?
He huffs, amusement gone, more unsettled than he'll ever admit. "Get back to work."
Peter toasts him with his coffee mug, honesty walking the ledge of mockery, and Stiles thinks he really should've killed this guy when he'd first popped back up out of the grave.
It would certainly have been the smart thing to do.
Stiles sleeps late and - when he can - wakes late, and when he has his way, he only shuffles from bed like a particularly grouchy zombie sometime past ten.
The first time Peter has his coffee - a sugary monstrosity that makes Peter shudder just looking at it - ready for him, the boy stares at it like it either holds the secrets of the universe or he thinks Peter's poisoned it. But he takes it, and he drinks it, and Peter will call that a win. Having brunch ordered up and waiting for Stiles when he comes out of the shower is another win when Stiles looks torn between delight and disgruntlement at the assortment of dishes laid out on the table every day.
Likewise, one week in, when Stiles steps out for drinks after a long afternoon of plotting murder and comes back with Peter's favourite brand of tea, Peter decides to take that as a win as well.
"I know what you're doing," Stiles grumbles over the curly fries Peter produced for him after spending the past two hours mocking up animal attacks in the woods.
"Yes," Peter says agreeably because he wasn't exactly hiding it. "But the important part is whether or not it's working."
Stiles glowers at him.
He also eats the fries.
Peter radiates smugness for the rest of the day and doesn't even get stabbed for it.
As a rule, Peter doesn't like firearms. They're a hunter's weapon, which means whenever he comes across one, it's usually being aimed at him or another supernatural creature, for no reason other than the fact that they're not baseline human.
But Stiles. Stiles wields his gun like it's an extension of himself, and the first time they work together and Peter lures their target out into the woods, Stiles melts out of the shadows like he was created from them and doesn't even stop to take aim before firing a single shot over Peter's shoulder. The bullet slams into the hunter's forehead just as she lunges for Peter's back, and she's dead before she even hits the ground, a dagger slipping from her fingers as she falls.
He's not great in a scrap, as Peter soon learns. He knows some basic self-defense, and he's okay with a knife, but it's clear he has no real formal training with either, so - now that Peter is with him - he tends to leave any necessary physical confrontations to Peter. But mostly, Stiles prefers carefully detailed plans that corner his prey from afar, and when they least expect it, he takes his shot, and he never misses.
Others might've called it cowardly, that he's so hands-off most of the time. But Peter has always subscribed to the school of practicality, and in his opinion, a good stab of his claws in the back of his prey when they least expect it is infinitely smarter than duels of honour in broad daylight.
Stiles fights like him, outwitting his enemies and taking them out as quickly and efficiently as possible, and even if their means are different, their methods and mindsets align with a flawlessness Peter never wants to go without again.
And if he has anything to say about it, he won't.
"Why didn't you kill Derek?" Stiles asks, truly apropos of nothing considering the fact that Peter's currently elbow-deep in a grave and Stiles is in the process of hefting two bodies wrapped in black tarp out of the trunk. Vanessa and Colette Bouchard were not nice people, and Peter still has the phantom ache of three wolfsbane bullets in his thigh to prove it.
He and Stiles had agreed though, that their little murder spree can't all end up as accidents - even the cops aren't that incompetent. So it's best to make some of them disappear instead.
Still, grave-digging is never going to be Peter's favourite activity. At least he has company nowadays.
The question takes him by surprise though, and he pauses to lean against the shovel for a moment, watching Stiles dump the two bodies next to the grave. "…Do you think I should have?"
Stiles shrugs, absently toeing open one of the tarp sheets. "Derek was a victim too, so I get if that cancels out him being unable to keep his mouth shut about the family secrets in your books, even if it still pisses you off. But then he also left you behind, and that was a large part of why you killed Laura, right? She abandoned a packmate, her own family, and that's like an even bigger deal for werewolves than it would be for humans. But Derek did the same thing, so I just wondered why you didn't kill him too."
Peter doesn't reply right away, going back to digging the grave instead. "…Laura was Alpha; she was in charge of making the decisions so I can understand Derek not wanting to disobey her, especially right after the fire. She was older, and she's always had a… strong personality, takes after her mother in that regard, whereas Derek's always been a bit of a doormat." Peter shrugs and stabs the shovel in with a little more strength than strictly necessary. "He was a traumatized child, and I did eventually kill his sister. Knowing him, it would've hurt less if I'd just killed him instead." He stops again, staring down at the grey-brown dirt. "I'm probably never going to forgive him, but then he's never going to forgive me either. At this point, it's best if we just stay out of each other's way." He glances up and smirks thinly. "No promises if he comes after me again though. He only gets to rip my throat out once."
Stiles hums, and nothing about the sound or his expression or his scent tells Peter he approves or disapproves. Peter suppresses the urge to bristle and asks instead, "Why the sudden question?"
Stiles shrugs again, plopping down at the edge of the grave, legs hanging over. "Like I said, I've been wondering for a while. You're not exactly the type to not go the extra ten miles. If it weren't for that Molotov, you would've killed Allison and Chris after Kate, and I don't think that was completely down to you being crazy. You've chilled out a lot since coming back from the dead, but it's not like you haven't been all-in since your nosy ass started stalking me."
"Is it stalking if the stalkee knows you're there?" Peter points out smugly, swiftly dodging the half-hearted kick of a sneakered foot. "You'd be bored without me around, Stiles."
"I would be no such thing," Stiles grumbles as he hops to his feet again, dusting off his pants. "Now come on, let's get this finished."
The grave's about deep enough, Peter judges, and when he looks up, he finds Stiles' hand waiting for him.
He blinks, then smiles and takes it, letting Stiles pull him up out of the grave. The momentum plants him right in Stiles' personal space, which immediately earns him a scowl, especially when Peter doesn't let go of his hand right away.
"Don't be a creep, Peter," Stiles huffs, but Peter is more intrigued by the flush rising in the boy's cheeks.
"I thought we already agreed that was part of my charm," Peter purrs, brushing a thumb over the racing pulse in Stiles' wrist. Trying to scent him would probably be pushing too far right now, even if all of Peter's instincts want it.
His head dips. His cheek brushes a stripe of heat along Stiles'.
A split second later, his feet's been swept out from under him and he's thudding ass-first onto the ground, just barely missing the grave. Above him, Stiles arches an eyebrow, all traces of flustered embarrassment tucked away again as he crosses his arms. "Seriously?"
Peter makes a moue of disappointment before rolling to his feet. "Can't blame a wolf for trying, sweetheart."
Stiles scoffs and boots one of the corpses into the grave. "I have no Alpha, Peter."
Peter hums thoughtfully as he grabs the other body. "Well, maybe we can work around that."
Stiles eyes him suspiciously. Peter smiles back innocently and drops the second corpse into the grave.
After all, there's no point being an Alpha without a pack.
It takes a little over one month - one month, five dead or disappeared hunter cells, thirty-eight and counting reopened cases all across North America, and numerous alarmed minions probably making calls to each other and their bosses - before someone in France sits up and takes notice. And proceeds to send out a recall of all Argent-affiliated hunters to their home base.
Unfortunately for them, the recall comes far too late and also at exactly the wrong time.
Peter finishes drowning Yolanda Flint - a playmate of Kate's back in the day, one of Gerard's personally trained subordinates, and most recently responsible for the deaths of two witches with a gift for psychometry and their three-year-old empath daughter - in the bathtub, tosses the blow-dryer in, snags a towel to wipe his hands with, and re-enters the living room just as Stiles finishes decrypting an email on Flint's computer.
"You asked me once how I know how to do this sort of thing," Peter comments as he moves to join him at the desk. "But I'm much more interested in how you learned."
Stiles shrugs distractedly. "I was a curious kid. Got into everything, and when that everything was in a police station, quite a few people were pretty invested in making sure I didn't shoot my own foot off or get myself handcuffed in some corner without surveillance cameras." He enlarges the email to full-screen. "Also had a lot of time to myself. Mom got sick and died, dad was busy, neither were big on parental supervision. Nobody ever told me what I could or couldn't do, so I just… dabbled."
"In crime?" Peter asks dryly, perching on the arm of the chair.
Stiles bares his teeth in a too-sharp smile that looks like it should include fangs. Peter sometimes wonders if the boy learned it after werewolves entered his life, or if the core of him has always contained something too wild for his human skin to hide.
"Believe it or not," Stiles tells him. "I don't actually kill people on a regular basis - in fact, you were only my second - and any other law I may or may not have broken either only affected myself or helped the cops solve a case, and you can't prove it either way anyway. Now stop being Judgey McWolf and take a look at this."
Peter wonders about my second - the unintentional possessiveness and inadvertent double-meaning of it makes his wolf roll belly-up, which he acknowledges is messed up even for him. Also the fact that he's Stiles' second murder - although he could argue that point, again - almost makes him ask, but he bites it back because it's clear Stiles doesn't want to talk about it. Peter knows when to press his advantage and now isn't one of those the times.
He leans forward and skims the email instead, eyebrows rising with every word. The contents aren't particularly long but they do hold all relevant information - namely, time and date and place of the week-long "weapons convention" that the Argents will be hosting in Toulouse two weeks from now.
"Looks like we've been cordially invited," Peter smirks as Stiles begins scrolling through past emails to check response codes. There doesn't seem to be any, just short confirmations of missions accepted and missions completed, interspersed with succinct verification of whenever Gerard called and Flint had put in an appearance. The only subterfuge was the encryption and the vague and sometimes misleading wording of the emails received.
"We've been mucking around with the small-fries long enough," Stiles mutters, wrinkling his nose in aggravation. "I don't mind the legwork of course, but considering the Argents' showing in Beacon Hills, I honestly expected them to take the bait sooner. At least they're finally getting this show on the road; it would be so annoying if we couldn't wrap this up before school starts again. And if they're gonna do us a favour and group all the family fanatics together in one place, it would be rude not to pop in to say hello."
Peter nods but stays silent this time, opting to glance down at Stiles instead to scrutinize his expression. However glib the words came out, Stiles is serious.
People have wanted the Argent Empire gone for centuries and called it impossible for just as long, Peter thinks with an incredulous sort of hilarity bubbling up inside him. And here you are, fed-up that it's taken over a month for the Argents to bite because you don't want to miss math class.
As if feeling his gaze, Stiles glances up sharply. “What?”
Peter shakes his head because he can never put this - put Stiles - into words, not if he wants to do him justice. “You are a marvel, sweetheart.”
Stiles looks - and smells - equal parts exasperated and confused, with just a touch of surprised pleasure. Peter doesn't think he's aware of the latter, of how it permeates his scent every single time Peter compliments him, as if no one has ever taken the time to stop and admire him before.
Probably no one has. Stiles' taste in friends could use some work, to say the least, and the less Peter thinks about the Sheriff, the better for everyone involved.
It's fine, now. Peter will just have to make up for the deficit.
"You're so weird," Stiles murmurs, turning resolutely back to the computer. "Stop being weird and buy us tickets to France." He pauses. "I mean, assuming you're coming of course. I guess we didn't really discuss our endgame-"
"I assumed," Peter says mildly as he takes out his phone. "That this would always end with Argents, even before I realized the extent of your goals. Granted, I didn't quite think you'd planned to do it all in one summer, but we all need our ambitions." He starts checking for flights to France within the next week. "We still have two of Flint's underlings to kill though. It shouldn't take more than three days."
Stiles nods his agreement. "Don't want to leave it any longer than that anyway, just in case they catch wind of their leader going MIA."
Peter makes a noise of acknowledgement. "Two tickets for Thursday then."
“I’ve never been to France,” Stiles muses. “But it’s bound to be a… blast.”
Peter snorts, Stiles grins, and the Argents’ clock ticks ever downwards.
The last night they spend in the States before they fly to France is spent in an out-of-the-way corner of the airport. The place is near-empty this time of the night compared to the bustle of the day, and Stiles and Peter are simply two more people waiting for their flights.
"They could stand to make these seats more comfortable," Peter grouses as he attempts to find a more comfortable position to lounge in.
Stiles can't disagree, but it's late, and for once, insomnia hasn't kicked in, and he's more interested in getting some sleep, even for just a few hours. Killing people is hard work, and the last of Flint's minions had actually been sharp enough to realize he was being followed. He'd even given them the slip a few times, but in the end, he was no match for Peter's tracking skills.
Still, six hours dogging one guy back and forth across the city was not how Stiles wanted to spend his day. They hadn't even had time to sit down for dinner before they had to get to the airport, and the only thing open this late are the convenience stores.
Next to him, Peter shifts again with a dramatic sigh, and Stiles makes an annoyed sound before kicking off his shoes and then twisting around to sprawl out across the seats, conveniently using Peter's shoulder as a backrest instead.
Peter goes still.
"Stop. Moving." Stiles growls. "I'm going to sleep, and I don't wanna be woken up until our flight is called."
And with that said, he closes his eyes and lets his thoughts settle. He's tired, and it's been a long day.
Against his back, he feels Peter breathe in, deep and slow, then out again. He moves only to recline back in his seat, as comfortable as anyone can be in these chairs, and then he too settles down.
Stiles drifts off, letting the background noise around them fade to black. He opts not to think about how easily he finds it, to doze off in the presence of a predator and especially this predator. And if he feels the warmth of a hand running through his hair, it's easy enough to forget as sleep drags him under.
(Peter dares not move. From what he's seen, Stiles doesn't sleep much, but when he does, he's a surprisingly heavy sleeper. Still, they're in a public space, and Peter doubts it would take much to wake Stiles up here.
So he stays still as much as possible and keeps an eye on their surroundings and doesn't let himself nod off, because Stiles may not have asked, but he's still dead to the world and that means he's depending on Peter to keep them both safe.
If he coaxes Stiles into lying down, halfway draped across Peter's lap, and Peter releases a relieved breath when the boy stirs but doesn't wake. If he then curls possessive fingers in Stiles' hair, no one else is around to call him out on it, and Peter will never tell.)
It is luck, pure and simple, that sends Chris and Allison back to Beacon Hills before Stiles and Peter's flight even lands in France. Well, luck, and the new matriarch's own machinations. The word's gotten out that Allison has lost her bid for matriarch of the entire family, soundly beaten by her grandaunt in the challenge for the title, but Lucienne Argent had magnanimously permitted the girl to remain head of the American branch, officially because her line knows the country best.
Stiles is of the mind that Lucienne's decided to wash her hands of the absolute mess in the States, at least for now, while she focuses on recementing Argent presence in other parts of the world. The Calavera family - based out of Mexico and second strongest hunter family in America - has been making noise ever since half the main Argent branch were slaughtered or fell off the face of the planet and their subordinates were likewise turning up dead or not turning up at all. Anyone with eyes can see the power vacuum left in their wake, and Stiles would've been very surprised if no one had started to move to take advantage of it.
Of course, he'd also bet Roscoe that Allison hasn't noticed at all. He highly doubts Lucienne or any of her daughters had taken the time to actually teach the girl even half the things she should know as a hunter - their alliances, their contacts, their safehouses, who to watch out for and who to make nice to - and Chris is only one man, and a soldier with a serious lack of spine besides. He couldn't even stand up to his own daughter when she was completely new to the supernatural world and susceptible to influence from every member of her family, couldn't stop his wife from killing herself, couldn't even kill his own psychotic fuck of a father even when Gerard was completely helpless; there's no way he'll suddenly grow some independence now.
No, Allison will be left to sink, her father with her. It wouldn't do for the rest of the world to see the Argents so divided that their own would stoop to killing each other, but with a depleted network of allies and almost zero resources on hand, it would only be a matter of time before the Calaveras or some supernatural creature that the two can't handle alone gets rid of them for good, and Lucienne will be free to swoop in and seize back all the lost territory with all the might of the Argent Empire behind her.
And Allison doesn't even realize it. She would never have left France without making sure her grandaunt had taken care of the cascade of legal problems waiting for her in Beacon Hills if she did, but Stiles has already gotten word that both Chris and Allison had been arrested the moment they stepped foot back in Beacon County, and there's been no sign of communication between them ever since.
With the recent recall of the remaining hunters in America, as well as leaving Allison and Chris to handle their problems with the law by themselves, Lucienne has effectively cut them off both the network of allies amassed in the States, as well as the bank accounts controlled by the matriarch. Stiles has no doubt Gerard had a decent fortune of his own tucked away that Chris can probably access, but sooner or later, especially with the recent termination of his weapons contracts with the government, he and his daughter are going to run out of money. No money, no bribes. No bribes… well. It's a tossup, whether they'll end up dead or imprisoned first, and while the Argents' reputation might take a bit of a hit if it's the latter, once the main branch is well and truly neutralized, Lucienne's reign will only strengthen in the long run, and her line will become the main branch once there is no one left to challenge that.
Stiles might actually want to shake the matriarch's hand if he didn't dislike that whole family so much. Lucienne Argent is far more like what he would expect of the leader of a centuries-old order dedicated to eradicating entire species while hiding itself in plain sight from mundane history. She's still as arrogant and stagnated as the rest of her family, which will be her downfall, but Stiles can admire that sort of ruthlessly cunning foresight. The change of pace is almost refreshing after all the bullshit of the past six months. Gerard had been powerful, in his own way; he never would've gotten one over on Stiles if he wasn't. But he'd also been heavy-handed and greedy, made impatient by his hatred, and in the end it had led to his defeat. In this, Lucienne seems his opposite, and Stiles almost regrets taking her down the way he's planning to. It might've been fun to go head-to-head against her, but he's also not stupid - giving her any kind of forewarning would significantly decrease his chances of success, and he isn't willing to let that happen.
Besides, school starts up again in August. It wouldn't do to disappoint his dad if Stiles isn't back by then.
Only heroes are fair enough to give their enemies time to prepare, and Stiles isn't a hero. His admiration won't be enough spare her, or her people. Her long-term strategy is a good one, but it won't ever come to pass.
“I hate hiking,” Stiles sulks as they tromp through the countryside with little more than Google maps and Peter’s nose to guide them. The Argent château is - unfortunately - not actually smack in the middle of Toulouse. Instead, it’s a few hours outside the city, which means they actually have to walk there.
“We can’t take a car, darling,” Peter reminds him, sounding unbearably amused. Stiles would kick him if his motivation wasn’t currently in the negatives. His stamina isn’t terrible - if he can hold Derek Hale’s deadweight up in a swimming pool for two hours, he can damn well walk twice as long without much trouble - but that doesn’t mean he enjoys it.
He supposes he should be grateful he doesn’t have allergies at least, considering their surroundings.
“Do werewolves get allergies?” He wonders out loud.
Peter shoots him an odd look at this, but answers all the same. “Not that I know of.”
This is why Stiles likes Peter. Peter’s answers are never “I don’t know and I don't care” or “shut up, Stiles”.
“Not even hay fever?” Stiles persists, quickening his stride to catch up to Peter instead of lagging behind. “Like, you guys still sneeze, right? If you breathe in pollen or whatever, your body should still work to get rid of it. That’s where the runny noses and itchy eyes come from.”
Peter glances at him again, less odd, more intrigued, like he's never really thought about it before. "I can't say I have ever come across any shifter afflicted with hay fever," He says slowly, still looking a little amused but also more contemplative. "But I suppose we could be. Werewolf healing is just human healing sped up to a superhuman degree, so technically speaking, we could have an allergic reaction, or get sick, but our bodies heal the damage before it really shows."
Stiles nods. Okay, that makes more sense. Although now he kind of wants to know if older werewolves can be affected by illnesses like regular humans. Bodies start breaking down once you hit a certain age after all, and surely werewolves are no different in that regard. It would be strange if their healing abilities remain perfectly functional all the way up to their deathbeds, right? And speaking of, how long do werewolves live anyway? Since they have better healing, their cell division probably lasts longer.
He pauses, then frowns when he sees Peter watching him with a faint smile. "What?"
Peter huffs something like a laugh. "Nothing, Stiles. Just… I find you fascinating, that's all."
Stiles flushes without his say-so, but seriously, what? What does that even mean? "I just asked a few questions!"
Peter's still smiling, and even Stiles can't mistake that expression for anything but fond. "You ask strange questions."
Stiles stares at him and doesn't understand at all. "And… that's a good thing?" Because literally nobody thinks that's a good thing.
Peter shrugs, "It's a different thing," which doesn't answer anything at all, but then he raises an eyebrow and prompts, "Do you have any other questions?"
Of course Stiles does. But, "…You don't mind?" and almost wants to slap himself for that.
The corners of Peter's eyes crinkle when he smiles the way he does now, and the blue in them is very warm. "I don't mind, Stiles. If you want to know more about the supernatural, I'm more than happy to help. Besides," His smile curves into a smirk, but somehow, it remains soft. "If nothing else, it'll take your mind off of all the hiking we're doing."
Stiles immediately grimaces. Ugh, there is that. He sighs and shoulders his backpack a little higher. "Isn't there a werewolf biology textbook you could point me to?"
Peter snorts. "I'm afraid not. But maybe you could write one one day."
Hm. Maybe. It doesn't sound very interesting, but who knows. For now though…
"Whatever. Tell me about your eyes then."
"Yeah. Why do they glow in the first place? Normal eyeballs don't glow. Are they born glowing like that? And are all werewolves born with gold eyes or can you be born an Alpha? How does that work in a pack anyway? Is it always the oldest who becomes the next leader? What if they're really bad at it? And what about…"
The questions pour out in a rush, and Peter doesn't tell him to shut up. He listens, eyes sharp and intent, and the moment Stiles pauses for breath, he jumps in with his own responses.
He can't answer all of Stiles' questions. Apparently, even a werewolf doesn't know everything about a werewolf. But he answers what he can, theorizes what he can't, and he never grows bored or loses his temper as their conversation dives into one discussion after another.
This is why Stiles likes Peter. Because Peter chases knowledge the same way Stiles does, and like this, keeping pace with each other is as easy as breathing.
In the end, the Argent Empire falls, and Stiles even does it the dubious honour of letting it go with a bang. The explosion that takes out the Argent château rocks the countryside for miles around, and the fire that engulfs it feeds not on oxygen but on magic, and all the more lethal for it.
It's not even hard, and a few times, he can see the funny twist in Peter's expression as they plan and prepare and finally execute their last move and then succeed, something between confusion and disbelief, like he's watching it all go down but his brain still has trouble understanding how. Not the mechanics of it, but that the looming entity of Argent can so easily die.
Stiles knew it on some level, before, but he thinks it's only now that he really sees it - the Argents were perhaps the supernatural world's monster under the bed, it's shadow rooted deep and long from centuries of glutting itself on the fear of those they've hunted, the bogeyman that its prey could never grow out of because nobody ever told them just how mortal it's always been.
Peter learns it now though. Stiles is the spark that razes the château to the ground, but Peter is the one with a head full of runic knowledge, the one who draws the ward schemes for Stiles to activate, to contain the fire and ensure no one escapes.
It's not without its complications. For one, the area - not just the property but the woods around it as well - has more security cameras and traps hidden in the foliage than Roscoe has duct tape. Stiles' chameleon spell comes in handy, but they still have to spend several days locating every camera and snare - everything from pitfalls to barbed wire to landmines - first. They can't even deactivate them; they're probably monitored, and the last thing they need is to alert the Argents that there are intruders in their woods.
Then there's the fact that laying the wards makes for terribly obvious work, which means Stiles has to spend a few sleepless nights modifying his chameleon spell into an array that they would be able to layer over runes so that the cameras wouldn't pick them up. And he and Peter can't even divide the work - Peter knows runes because he'd found the subject fascinating, but the magic he was born with lies entirely in his wolf; on the other hand, Stiles has the innate talent for magic ("The ability to turn the theoretical into reality," Peter crooned, his smile sly and thrilled, and Stiles will have to pick his brain about it later), but his education in this department is frustratingly lacking.
Then of course, there are the numerous hidden underground passages that they have to find and seal off. Stiles' magical stamina isn't infinite, and the smaller the area that the wards will cover, the more magic Stiles will be able to pour into the fire itself. Still, the château is big, and it wouldn't do for even one of their enemies to get lucky and have the initial detonation miss them, giving them time to flee through an escape route. Peter is the one who sniffs them out - cement and plaster and metal amongst the flora - while Stiles cobbles together a locking spell with a self-destruct component, far less conspicuous than mountain ash, especially since mountain ash won't work here.
They have two weeks to prepare, and it isn't as if the meetings will be over within a day, so while they are kept busy, Stiles isn't overly worried that they won't finish in time. On the day that everyone is set to arrive, he and Peter take cover under a nearby copse of trees, wrapped in a chameleon spell as they watch car after car pass through the front gates, each one stopped and checked for ID before being let in.
Peter exhales, slow and restrained, a puff of breath at Stiles' ear, when the last car trundles inside and the gates swing shut. When Stiles glances over, the werewolf’s eyes are bright with bloodthirsty anticipation.
"Have I mentioned," Peter murmurs. "How grateful I am that you allowed me to join you on your little road trip, Stiles?"
Stiles rolls his eyes. "As if you wouldn't have come anyway." Because Stiles could've threatened to shoot him all he wanted, but he hasn't actually wanted to kill Peter for a while now, and so long as Peter wasn't six feet under, there was no chance of the guy not following him around. "Besides," He adds with only a half-hearted sort of irritation. "You didn't really think I'd chase you off in the first place, and not just because we were on someone's front lawn."
Peter blinks, then tips his head in consideration. "No, not really," He agrees glibly, grinning when Stiles elbows him. "Come now, Stiles. You don't like boring things. I have never been boring a day in my life. It stands to reason we'd get along."
Stiles can't help the snort of laughter that escapes him. "Is that why we get along?"
Peter smirks. "Well, not only that. Our shared hobbies probably help."
"Probably," Stiles sighs, and can't honestly bring himself to regret it.
He likes having Peter around, likes having someone to be himself around, likes that Peter never flinches from him. Not that he'll ever admit it, but then, he probably doesn't have to for Peter to know.
Still, he looks at Peter again and wonders when the idea of having the werewolf constantly underfoot stopped making his hackles rise.
Pack, he thinks, and wonders if that's what Peter has ultimately been after all this time. Stiles wasn't lying though - he has no Alpha, wants no Alpha. He chafes under authority on a good day, and it's been a very long time since anybody has been able to order him around. God knows the Sheriff gave up years ago, when he bothered trying at all.
If Peter's still hoping for it, he's going to be disappointed, and… and as much as Stiles has grown to like having him around, he can't give Peter this.
Stiles sighs again and climbs to his feet after double-checking the spell still cloaking the two of them. "Come on, let's finish up the wards."
He ignores the way Peter's too perceptive gaze follows him, and likewise pushes away the thought of what will happen once they return to Beacon Hills. Derek is still Alpha there, and Peter can't survive as an omega, but Stiles also refuses to answer to Derek, and Derek has never wanted him around anyway.
Stop, he tells himself sternly. Whatever happens, happens, and it isn't as if he isn't used to being on his own anyway. For now, he has a job to finish. He can deal with what will happen in Beacon Hills once he's back in Beacon Hills.
They strike on the third night, just a little past midnight, and the first explosion takes place in the left wing where an innocuous-looking fireball - wrapped in a chameleon spell and sent soaring over the walls and down through a chimney - hits a gas line and promptly detonates.
Stiles sends two more fireballs inside, one to the right wing and another dead-centre of the guardhouse just inside the gates to ensure the night shift won't be able to run, but even that much is overkill as the fire spreads, searing along pipelines and eating up the walls and tearing through the corridors. Technically speaking, the fire isn't really even fire - it's pure magic, Stiles' magic, with the ability to burn anything and everything in its path, and so long as Stiles has energy to feed it, not even dumping an ocean on it would be able to put it out.
Within the first ten minutes, the entire château has been set ablaze. There are very little shouts and screams though, not many heard over the roar of the flames, and those that are are cut off soon enough.
The fire rages, devouring wood and stone and grass, pounding against the first layer of wards before doubling back in search of more quarry.
"Karmic justice," Peter murmurs beside him, eyes avid on the flames, orange light reflected in the blue as they glitter feverishly with something like madness all over again.
Stiles glances at him, then at the fire, absently severing another string of his control, and then he knocks his knee against Peter's. "Stop being crazy, Peter," and yeah, nobody ever accused him of having a heart.
But Peter jumps a little like he honestly forgot Stiles was there, and then, gradually, some of the coiled up tension in his shoulders and spine leaks out of him. It takes a few minutes, but when he sways to one side and his shoulder presses against Stiles', Stiles doesn't shrug him off.
For a while, they sit there just like that, and it's probably a lot messed up, that either of them can feel any kind of peace in that moment considering they're literally watching a building burn down with a bunch of people inside it, but the silence between them is companionable, and nobody's opinion matters but their own.
"We should start taking down the wards," He eventually says. "Remember to stagger them." Because it would be hella suspicious if the fire stops at a perfect square around the estate.
Peter nods, as much acknowledgement as shaking himself free from whatever memories the fire has dragged up. "I'll start on the left, you start on the right. Make sure to keep an eye out for traps though, just in case."
Peter's been fairly certain he's managed to find them all, and both of them have a map of the area with all the traps marked down, but better safe than sorry.
Stiles reaches for the fire and cuts another string between them, reducing the strength of the flames again. "You be careful too."
Peter smirks as he rolls to his feet, "Aren't I always?" And slips away before Stiles can do more than scoff.
"If either of us were careful people," Stiles mutters as he sets off in the opposite direction. "I don't think we'd be here."
But at least they're both meticulously paranoid enough to survive being less than perfectly safe.
Or so Stiles thought. But, apparently, he had failed to anticipate Peter rushing in like some reckless idiot on a white-knight bender when Stiles accidentally trips a trap - probably the one and only trap in this entire damn countryside that they had missed, because his luck is just like that - and it was Peter's luck that he was close enough at that point to both shout a warning and throw himself in the way as a whole bevy of darts comes hurtling out of some nearby shrubs.
It's Stiles' fault. He isn't too proud to admit it, but he is too busy making sure Peter doesn't die to apologize.
"I could've handled that," Stiles fumes, and even he isn't sure if the tight knot in his throat and the seething fire in his gut means anger or affront or something else entirely as he aggressively burns wolfsbane ash into the multiple puncture wounds dotting Peter’s torso. Although they're less puncture-sized now and more swiss cheese. They're shallow enough, and they would've been harmless if not for the wolfsbane. As it is though, Peter had jumped in front of Stiles, taken a chest full of darts with a mangled roar of rage and pain, and then just didn't stop screaming as he went down in a heap of thrashing limbs.
Thank fuck Stiles can snap flames into existence on command these days, even after throwing big feats of magic around like he'd done for the past two hours, and cracking open the darts had given him enough wolfsbane to burn. Maybe he should start carrying around lighters though, just in case his magic ever fails him, because apparently he now has a fucking stupid werewolf to drag around, and even a nick from a blade could kill him if it's infused with a lethal enough strain of wolfsbane.
"I'm not doubting your capabilities, Stiles, but getting turned into a dartboard isn't anyone's idea of a good time," Peter grits out, shivering and sweating, five shades too pale and still bleeding from where he'd bitten through his lip. He also has the gall to tack on stubbornly, "Besides, I'm fine now."
If this is fine, Stiles would hate to see…
Well okay, this is Peter. Anything above crispy-and-dead is probably pretty fine for him.
Still. To think, he actually thought Peter Hale had some self-preservation instincts to spare. He'd said be careful, damn it.
"My self-preservation is second to none," Peter wheezes out as Stiles burns more ash into the worst of the injuries when the purple tendrils stretching from each one seem determined to continue spreading. His shirt's definitely beyond repair.
"Doesn't fucking look like it to me," Stiles mutters, giving up on trying to swallow down the choice words pushing against the back of his teeth since apparently his filter is shot anyway. "You're such a fucking dumbass. I'm not some damsel in distress who needs saving. Look after your own damn skin so I don't fucking have to."
Peter smiles, blood in his teeth and devious glee in his eyes. "Worried about me, darling?"
Stiles digs his nails along the febrile edge of one of the bleeding wounds and listens to Peter's yowling hiss. No one has ever accused him of being kind either.
"You insisted on sticking your nose in my business," Stiles glares, looming over the incapacitated werewolf, and the fire inside him burns and burns and burns, and he hates it because he knows now, knows with absolute certainty, that there's no walking away after this. Because his heart had stopped for a second that had felt like an eternity when Peter had gone down, and all he'd really wanted as Peter had convulsed under his hands and Stiles had fought to apply the ash as quickly as possible was to burn the Argents alive all over again.
He had never felt like that for Scott, or John or Claudia, or Melissa, or any of the officers at the station, or any of the kids at school. He'd taken plenty of petty vengeances for those closest to his heart over the years, and he'd gone after the Argents for tramping all over everything Stiles had silently vowed to protect years ago, but Peter.
Peter is the first to dredge up the instant visceral outrage currently churning like a storm in his chest, violent enough that it feels like he can't even breathe.
It was just a dumb trap. Maybe it would've hit him, or maybe he would've gotten out of the way in time. But the truth of the matter is that Peter had leapt into its path for Stiles, and under all the resentment and indignation and umbrage he feels is nothing less than fear, and Stiles has always known too that fear is what makes him angriest.
Maybe, in the end, this was always what it came down to - Stiles cannot abide by anything that scares him, has never learned how to hunker down and suffer terror in valiant silence. Claudia Stilinski had scared him with her broken mind and deranged violence, so he'd killed her, problem solved. The out-of-control madness that had driven Peter's actions by the end, that would've turned his sights from Argents to Derek and Scott and Stiles, had scared him less, but it was there all the same, and so Stiles had helped kill him too. And Gerard Argent and all the blood and pain and death he'd brought with him had scared Stiles more, so here Stiles was, matches in hand and an entire empire burning at his feet, and no more fear to worry about.
He should've killed Peter when he had the chance.
"You insisted on staying, and I let you stay," Stiles snarls, angry at Peter, angrier at himself, because here is a fear he cannot kill. "That means you don't get to leave until I say so. Anything less is a betrayal. Do you understand, Peter?"
Peter Hale is the first and only person who knows all of what Stiles is and still chooses to stay, and a part of Stiles loathes how vulnerable it makes him, but at the same time, he thinks he lost this war before the first battle even ended.
("Do you want the bite?" A madman had asked, and Stiles hadn't, that was true, but he'd also seen cleverness and devotion and resolve in Peter's insanity, along with a darkness full of rage and destruction, screaming into a void that mirrored his own, and that, Stiles had wanted too much.)
He wants Peter in a way he's never wanted anything else before, and he's invested too much of himself by now to allow even death to take the werewolf away a second time. Peter is not Scott. Not John. Not Claudia. He doesn't get to walk away, not without consequence, not when he forced Stiles to care. Stiles will no longer allow it.
(Stiles' brand of caring has always been too much for those he wanted to offer it to. He has always known this, and so he has never let himself give all of it to any one person. Not until Peter, who sees, who knows, and demands nothing less than everything, who'd stolen it from Stiles before Stiles was even fully aware he'd lost it.)
Lying beneath him, Peter's eyes burn like the hottest of fires. He reaches up with one claw-tipped blood-slick hand, and this time, when he cradles Stiles' cheek in one palm, blatantly scenting him with the same possessive intent that makes up at least half of who Stiles is, Stiles does not push him away.
"Such a demanding thing you are," Peter murmurs, but his eyes glow brighter, and something in his expression shines, exultant, even as he slowly tips his head back, bold and deliberate as he bares his throat, "As you wish, Alpha."
Stiles' next breath rattles in his lungs.
He thinks, so that's how it is.
He thinks, how would I even be that, I'm human.
But most of all, he thinks, fiercely, viciously, good, now he won't leave me, I'll make him sorry if he tries.
Maybe some of that shows on his face, because Peter grins at him, blood in his teeth, challenge and dare and just as much a promise to do the same if Stiles ever abandons him the way Laura did.
This too is why Stiles likes Peter. Because sometimes he thinks they were dragged into existence from the same abyss no one sane would ever want to look too closely into.
One of his hands flattens over Peter's chest, over the thud of his heart, the other curls along the curve of his throat. Peter's eyes fall to half-mast, completely at ease under Stiles' hands.
Something snaps into existence between them, hooking into the back of Stiles' mind, twining with his magic, delicate as cobwebs, brilliant as stars.
Stiles sucks in a startled breath, and Peter closes his eyes and laughs.
It takes almost three hours from start to finish for anyone to come out and investigate, sirens wailing in the distance. In the middle of nowhere and notorious for their insistence on privacy, secrecy, and strict reclusiveness, the neighbours who felt the quake are slow to call for help, and the police and rescue services sent to investigate are even slower to respond.
But three hours is enough to erase all traces of both the triggered booby trap and Peter's blood. Stiles decides the first thing he'll be learning when they get back home is a decent teleportation spell, but in the meantime, they make their way back to Toulouse, pile into their rental, and then drive three cities over to check into a hotel room that they'd booked beforehand.
It's exhausting, but for once, Peter is the one about ready to drop as Stiles half-supports, half-levers the werewolf into the shower and then into bed.
Dawn is already splashed across the sky through the satin curtains. Peter's already asleep, deep and dreamless, as Stiles sits vigil next to him, the curve of the werewolf's back pressed against his hip.
Stiles is tired too, but he stares at the shifting shadows on the far wall and considers his options, going forward. He's fairly certain he can assume the Argents are done, their chapter in the world's book finished. The knowledge sates his anger; heck, the methodical dismantling of their entire empire has done that over the past several weeks. Now he's just... satisfied, with the way things have gone. Already, the investigation into Allison's family has stretched the length and width of America, and as soon as this latest incident in France hits the news, the case will go international. Somehow, the cops still haven't found Gerard, but Stiles figures it's only a matter of time before Chris gives him up to save his own and his daughter's necks.
Stiles doesn't think he'd mind that. Gerard will die, at the end of this, one way or another, but what better way to drive home the destruction of his empire than to parade all the evidence in front of him? That might even be the best outcome. Stiles makes a mental note to call in an anonymous tip to point the Beacon Hills police in the right direction later, if Chris continues dragging his feet. He'll need to time it right - can't have Gerard transferred to the FBI before Stiles is finished with him - but that shouldn't be too difficult.
Besides, there's a far more immediate matter that deserves his attention now.
Alpha. Him? How would he even go about that? He's human.
He sighs. He'd like to think he isn't the impulsive sort, but sometimes… well. The situation speaks for itself. Although he blames at least half of it on Peter.
He glances down at the werewolf in question. Can there even be two packs in one territory? Possibly, if the Alphas can come to an agreement, but Stiles isn't about to hold his breath for that. Then again, Derek isn't exactly what Stiles would call a stellar Alpha. Scott certainly isn't in his pack, and nor is Lydia or Allison. Derek has three teenagers to his name, newly bitten with more issues than the Beacon Chronicle, and the Alpha himself can barely take care of himself on a good day, let alone three betas, two of whom have already abandoned him once. His short tenure certainly doesn't speak well of Derek's ability to lead or his betas' capacity for loyalty.
So it's pretty safe to conclude that Derek has zero authority in his own territory. And if it's about claim, well, Stiles has lived just as long as Derek in this town by now, and he dares say he's had infinitely more influence on the goings-on inside it. It would not be hard to… get rid of Derek, whether that means chasing him out or killing him. On the other hand, Stiles is pretty sure Peter won't like that, even if the werewolf won't outright admit as much either, and… he has to take what Peter wants into consideration now, doesn't he?
Ugh. He can't believe he's seriously thinking about this. Goddamn werewolves. Life was less complicated before them.
He supposes he could always just ignore Derek and his puppies. Keep an eye on them, of course, but if they can settle and just live like normal people, albeit ones with a penchant for running around in the woods, then Stiles would be perfectly happy with not getting more involved with them than he already is.
He heaves another bereaved sigh, and then wriggles down until he's lying flat. Derek aside, there's Scott to worry about too. However… annoyed he is with the other boy, killing Scott isn't something Stiles particularly wants to do. But Scott will never accept Derek as his Alpha, and Derek would have to be an imbecile to forgive Scott. So does that make Scott an omega? Is Derek going to do anything about that? Omegas are usually run out of a pack's territory, aren't they? But Derek hasn't done anything so far, and Stiles doubts Scott would ever agree to just up and leave.
A stray thought hits him, and he has to hold back a laugh when he imagines Allison being imprisoned in a different city if the charges actually stuck. Would Scott follow her there? For visitation? What a textbook trashy romance that would be.
His mirth fades. All joking aside, having an omega in town isn't exactly healthy for the populace. It would be like having a deranged mass-murderer on the loose.
Stiles pauses for a moment of self-reflection.
Huh. He probably fits that category at this point, doesn't he? But he isn't deranged, so at least he has that going for him.
Scott's mental state on the other hand, once he loses touch with reality enough, would be… less than ideal to try and contain. At that point, Derek would probably advocate killing him, and then Stiles would have to stop him, but then he would still have to deal with Scott. Honestly, it would be so much easier if-
Stiles blinks. Beside him, Peter stirs, the mattress shifting underneath them, and the werewolf rolls over to squint dubiously at him. "What in the world is so important that you need to think so deeply about it right this instant?"
Stiles rolls his eyes and says nothing when an arm snakes daringly over his waist. "Hey Peter, I know that line Derek fed Scott about how killing the Alpha that bit you would turn you back into human is complete bullshit, but is there a way to turn a bitten werewolf back into a human?"
It's Peter's turn to blink, once, twice, and then the last vestiges of sleep clears from his eyes as they sharpen with something far more speculative.
"Scott?" Peter asks, and it isn't even really a question, with how distracted it comes out, like his mind is already five steps ahead.
Stiles smiles, and he supposes taking on the responsibilities of an Alpha isn't so bad if Peter Hale is what he gets out of it. "So is there?"
"…Usually, no," Peter admits. "Once you're a werewolf, you're a werewolf. The bite changes you on a soul-deep level and overwrites your DNA from the ground up, and there isn't any known magic in the world that can reverse the effect. There are ways to remove Alpha power, and even ways to block a shifter's ability to shift, but to turn one back into a baseline human? It would be like trying to carve out a piece of your own soul, and this isn't Harry Potter. Easy enough to add sugar or milk into coffee. Not so easy to take them out again without removing more than you want."
Stiles hums in thought. "But you said 'usually'."
"I did." Peter props himself up on one elbow to stare down at him. "You realize it isn't normal for magic-users to do what you do, right?"
Stiles blinks. "What."
Peter's mouth twitches. "Consider our friendly neighborhood vet." A puff of laughter leaves him when Stiles' face immediately screws up into an expression of distaste. "Yes. But, as a druid, he does technically fall into the magic-user category. And from what I know of him, his affinity lies in herbology." The line of his mouth twists. "It certainly isn't wards. But plants, the poisons and antidotes created from them, the medicinal value one can derive from them, probably even rituals in general since a lot of those use plants in some way - that is his area of expertise. That, and he does have quite a collection of books to fall back on. Not that that changes how forthcoming he is in any situation."
Stiles makes a mental note to follow up on the wards thing later, because either Talia was stupid enough to accept an emissary who couldn't raise a decent set of wards, or Deaton was a shady motherfucker, which Stiles already knows he is, but he might also be a shady murdery motherfucker with an agenda, and Stiles doesn't want that in his backyard. And unlike Scott, he doesn't mind killing Deaton if it becomes necessary.
For now though, he mulls over the rest of what Peter's told him. "So what you're saying is, Deaton can kick ass with plants but can't really do anything else."
That sounds… boring. In contrast… Fire comes easiest to Stiles these days, but manipulating wolfsbane and mountain ash still takes barely a thought, and the handful of spells he's managed to create out of necessity or curiosity has yet to fail him even now. He personally doesn't think it's anything to write home about (figuratively and literally), because surely there are spellbooks and tomes out there that could teach him far more, written by druids or witches who would naturally know much more.
The only thing Stiles has been doing is muddling through on his own. Admittedly, in very Potter-esque ways, but it isn't as if he has a manual he could refer to.
(When J.K. Rowling's fiction is your best reference in real life, you know you're probably doing something wrong. But at least Stiles was doing something wrong explosively, and no one could argue with the usefulness of his results.)
He meets Peter's gaze again, and Peter smirks before making himself comfortable on the bed again, still with one possessive arm draped over Stiles. "You are what mythoi would call a Spark, Stiles. Very rare. And very powerful, if you want to be."
"…If I want," Stiles repeats haltingly.
Peter smiles, indolent as a cat and twice as satisfied with himself. "If you want. Although honestly, you'd be a force to reckon with even without a drop of magic at your disposal."
Stiles preens before he can help himself, and then rolls his eyes at the indulgent amusement on Peter's face.
"Oh go back to sleep," Stiles grumbles, tugging at the blankets so they cover his shoulders. The air-conditioning's a bit high, and he's too lazy to get up to lower it. Besides, he has his own personal furnace now, one who doesn't seem to mind at all when Stiles sticks his cold feet under his legs. The arm around his waist tightens briefly, and then they both settle down, relaxing into the bed as morning rolls by outside the window.
"Do you want to be Alpha?" Stiles asks, voice pitched low in the hush of their room.
Peter doesn't reply right away, and for a moment, Stiles almost thinks he's actually fallen back asleep.
Eventually though, "I tried that once already, it didn't exactly work out, if you recall," comes the dry response. "…I want a pack more than I want to be an Alpha. I'm already more stable now with you for a packmate than I ever was as an Alpha on my own. If I could have both, I probably wouldn't say no, and it isn't impossible for an Alpha to follow the lead of another Alpha in a pack. But I'd much rather have you than go after something I can do without."
Stiles makes a sound of acknowledgement. "And if we figure out how to take Derek's Alpha spark and give it back to you without killing him?"
He feels Peter stiffen beside him with shock, and when he glances over, the werewolf is wide-eyed and gaping.
Stiles snickers a bit. "Food for thought then, for the future. I wanna figure out Scott's situation first anyway. And of course, we gotta wrap up the Argents."
Peter huffs, and then tugs Stiles even closer with a quiet growl. "Gerard."
"Yeah," Stiles' lip curls. "I doubt we'll be able to pass it off as an accident this time, but I don't really care either. A pyre for the Argent patriarch is the only fitting send-off, I think."
Peter's grin is positively feral. "I couldn't agree more, sweetheart." He pauses. "What about Christopher and his daughter?"
Stiles considers it, examines the lingering embers of his previous rage, pokes at the pettiest part of himself that still can't forget the unrepentant pride on Allison's arrogant face when Stiles was hauled through her kitchen, inspects the rest of him that doesn't really care anymore.
"Weeds can choke a garden if you don't pull them all out," Peter remarks.
Stiles hums his agreement. "I'm still undecided. We'll play it by ear, and in the meantime, it's not like we can't continue tormenting them."
Peter chuckles darkly. "There is that. Alright, I suppose it hardly matters so long as they're not a threat to us anymore."
Stiles nods, and then cracks a yawn that's mirrored by Peter a few seconds later. "Right, sleep, we both need it."
Peter sniffs. "I'm not the one keeping us up, darling."
Stiles rolls his eyes, and then rolls himself onto his side to curl into Peter's warmth. In for a penny, in for a pound.
He hears Peter swallow before exhaling a shaky breath that sounds a lot like wonder. And then he calms again, his body a comfortable weight against Stiles' own, and they fall asleep just like that, curled around each other in the shadowed wings of the morning.
A week before school starts up again, Stiles and Peter roll back into town after picking up Stiles' jeep from a long-term parking lot in San Francisco. They stop by the storage facility to drop off various not-very-legal objects, and then they go their separate ways - Peter back to his apartment, Stiles back to his childhood home, both of them in need of a hot shower and a decent meal.
Two days later, Gerard Argent is found and arrested in all his goo-vomiting glory, and the livestream of him being carted out of the nursing home - his expression a caricature of baffled fury and shocked panic - makes Stiles smile for hours. He taps into the station's surveillance cameras that evening, and he and Peter watch Gerard's interrogation live. The dawning realization, the incandescent rage, and the mad increasingly frantic denials are even better than Stiles had imagined.
A day before school begins, Gerard is transferred to the station's medical wing, slated to be picked up by the FBI come morning. Overnight, the cameras go black, the two officers on duty are knocked out and dumped in the bushes outside, the smoke detectors and fire alarm are disconnected, and by the time someone spots the smoke spilling from the windows and calls the fire department, it is far too late.
Gerard Argent is a disfigured husk in a charcoal bed, handcuffed to the melted rails in an otherwise empty locked ward.
("You!" Gerard snarls, hacking up black tar even as his features twist into something as disbelieving as it is hateful.
Stiles, perched at the end of the bed with Peter at his shoulder, smiles wide and carefree. "Us," He agrees genially. "Just wanted you to know before you die." He grins, teeth bared, eyes gleaming unnaturally under the fluorescent lights. "Should've left me and my town alone, asshole."
"I barely did anything to you!" Gerard, half-yells, half-croaks, straining against his handcuffs, practically frothing at the mouth, bloodshot eyes bulging. "It wasn't even about you, you disgusting little monster-whore!"
Stiles rolls his eyes. "Creative. But yeah, you know, that was the worst part." His smile drops, his eyes go dead. "I don't like being collateral, fuckhead. Nobody fucks me up like you did and gets away with it."
He hops to the floor as Gerard pants for breath and gnashes his teeth together like he wants nothing more than to rip Stiles' throat out with them.
It's funny how similar the hunter becomes to the very things they hate.
"Welp, I'm not really one for lengthy monologues," Stiles says, regaining his manic cheer. "How 'bout you, Peter?"
"I got my monologue in with darling Kate," Peter shrugs, smirking coldly when Gerard switches focus and shrieks incoherently at him. "And to be honest, it wasn't that satisfying, so I think I'll pass this time."
"There you go then," Stiles raises a hand, and fire blooms. For the first time since they entered the wing, Gerard falls silent, still breathing hard, his face a contrasting sickly white. Stiles thinks of fists and pain and nobody coming for him, and he smiles and smiles and smiles, because that's how he's always shouldered the things life threw at him, with loud jokes and shallow laughter and worthless babble that deflect attention from the truth, except here and now, Peter is the one standing beside him, and Stiles smiles and thinks he can mean it.
"Die in a fire, you hypocritical old bastard," Stiles says brightly, and the world collapses into flames and ashes.
Gerard screams and screams and screams. The time-limited runes glittering on the ground outside ensures that nobody can hear him, and Stiles' newest invention - his teleportation spell - whisks him and Peter away to safety.)
Gerard Argent dies. It's a bit of a scandal, and accusations of incompetence are flung around, but it's not as bad as it could be.
Gerard Argent dies, and aside from the inconvenience of it, no one can say they're particularly sorry.
"Is this a date?" Stiles asks one night when he's over at Peter's yet again, curled up on the sofa as Leverage loads on the screen and Peter comes back with the popcorn. He looks up and takes in the werewolf with an appreciative eye, dressed in a soft sweater and sweatpants, hair tousled, feet bare.
"Do you want it to be one?" Peter asks in return as he settles comfortably next to Stiles, the two of them fitting together with the ease of familiarity.
Stiles munches on popcorn for a minute before shrugging carelessly. "We've had a lot of dates."
They have. Stiles spends more time at Peter's apartment than in the Sheriff's house, especially whenever they finish taking care of something supernatural with a murder hard-on. The guestroom has been turned into his personal magic workshop, a good third of Peter's closet is filled with his clothes, and there's a painting hanging on the wall signed Mom & Mischief.
In for a penny, in for a pound. They're pack now, and never let it be said Stiles doesn't devote his all when it comes to the things that are important to him.
"We have," Peter agrees easily, and then he tugs Stiles over and brushes a kiss over his cheek.
Stiles doesn't blush from that, but he looks over at Peter, and the warm patient regard staring back does colour his cheeks pink.
"Sap," Stiles grumbles, but he also leans over to steal a proper kiss from Peter, who laughs against his mouth and doesn't let him go until Stiles is breathless and his lips are swollen.
Peter embodies smugness.
"You're terrible," Stiles informs him as he snags the popcorn bowl before snuggling back into Peter's chest.
"It keeps me up at night," Peter quips, slinging an arm around Stiles. "Luckily, I have you to fall asleep next to, and that's never going to be a hardship."
Stiles' face floods red. "Sap."
Peter smirks, but his eyes are soft, the way they only ever are around Stiles. "Only with you, sweetheart. Only with you."