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Devil of Mercy

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Peter can vividly remember the first time he went to the mating ceremonies. He was eighteen, and he thought they were stupid. The concept of choosing who to spend your life with based on a few days of interaction seemed idiotic to him in and of itself, and in eighteen years on the planet he had never met anyone he would consider even close to his equal.

No, as far as he could tell, the mating ceremonies were just an excuse for werewolves from all over the region to get together, drink a lot, brag to each other, and have their pick of willing men and women. Not that he has any idea why the willing men and women are there. He doesn’t know how it looks to the outsiders, or why anyone would think it was a good idea to attend. Usually five or six people would claim someone during the course of the ceremonies, spout a lot of crap about their chosen prospect being ‘the one’, and everyone would fawn over them and declare them lucky.

Peter had gone once when he was eighteen and once when he was twenty-five, when Talia had badgered him into it. Now he’s thirty-six, and Talia has been dead for nine years, and he’s going primarily out of boredom. He hasn’t interacted with another werewolf in months. They avoid him, and he doesn’t have a pack, so he’s deemed an outsider. Technically, he’s granted a place in the Court of Alphas. They can’t exclude him entirely, but they don’t give him the time of day.

He returns the favor by ignoring them as much as possible. He hates all the butt-sniffing and ass-kissing that comes with court politics. He’s kept to himself since the fire – first out of necessity, and then out of choice. But he’s bored, so terribly bored, playing nice and gathering material wealth. So when he had gotten the usual invitation to the mating ceremonies, he had decided to attend, just to see if anything’s changed.

There are three levels of the ceremonies: alpha, beta, omega. The alpha room is for only the highest-class candidates, which in reality meant the people who could deliver the biggest bribes to the ceremony organizers. Werewolf society might be a subculture known only to a few, but to those few, winning an alpha was a prize beyond compare, the highest of high society.

The beta room was for ‘regular’ participants, which was about ninety percent of the candidates and eighty percent of the werewolves. That’s where the majority of the socializing took place.

Then there was the omega room. While technically candidates, the humans there never got chosen. They were prostitutes, brought in to make sure that werewolves who didn’t find a partner could slake their lust in someone who wouldn’t argue about being used. After all, one couldn’t expect a group of werewolves to be surrounded by attractive humans all day and not end the day without a burning urge to bury their dick in something, or get one buried in them.

Or so it was said. Peter thought that was bullshit, too. Werewolves in general had a problem that balanced precariously being self-control and self-entitlement. They used ‘instincts’ as an excuse to do whatever they wanted.

It wasn’t that Peter didn’t enjoy a warm body in bed with him. He did. Often. But he found the lack of self-control implied by the omega room’s existence to be an insult to werewolves in general.

Then again, after an hour in the beta room, he was starting to think that anything would be preferable. An hour of mingling, drinking mediocre wine, and hearing ‘my goodness, Peter Hale, we haven’t seen you in ages’ to his face and ‘what was he thinking, showing his face here’ behind his back. He’s aware of his reputation, treasures his reputation in fact. The less high werewolf society likes him, the better he feels about his place in the universe. It’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians with fangs, and he has no time for it.

He could head to the alpha room – he’s technically entitled – but it would only result in even more buzz and disapproval. So he goes downstairs instead.

The ceremony coordinators had rented the entirety of a lodge north of Lake Tahoe for the event, and it would last three days. The main rooms of the lodge were crowded with the betas and the candidates, as was the huge outdoor courtyard. There were lanterns strung up and live music. The celebration started at dusk and would go on long past midnight. It was only the first night, and he doubted he would stay past noon the next day.

The alpha room was in whatever swanky room they used for weddings, all glassed in and beautiful, but the omega room was in the basement. It was a nice place, or had been in a past life. An earthy sort of room, with a huge fireplace and wooden walls that had a warm glow, decorated with the traditional American habit of animal corpses and skeletons. (Peter often didn’t like human society any better than werewolf society; as a general rule, he shunned both.)

The werewolves have taken this room over, however, and it smells of musk and sweat and blood. Peter wrinkles his nose and almost turns around and heads right back up the stairs, but at the last moment, hesitates. Another scent has caught him, something he can’t identify that’s strangely intriguing. He moves further into the room.

There’s a partially shifted werewolf in a corner, mounting a human with large, obviously fake breasts. Her cries of delight are just as fake. Peter rolls his eyes and moves on. Half-dressed werewolves and fully naked humans are everywhere. They rush in and among the crowd, fetching drinks or drugs for whatever werewolf has command of them at the moment. Peter wonders how they got chosen for this duty, and why in God’s name any of them would be here.

He sees a knot of werewolves in the corner, hollering and egging each other on as one of them is undoing his pants. He steps up onto a table to see over them and sees a body in the center of the circle. A young man, his back dotted with freckles and moles, on his hands and knees with his head down. He’s trying to stay still, but his body is trembling. There are several lash marks on his back, and Peter glances over to see one of the other werewolves holding a riding crop. He rolls his eyes. Tacky. But some werewolves like their conquest to be in pain and bloody before they mount it.

“What, pray tell, is going on here?” Peter asks, and the group backs away with almost hilarious speed. He looks down at the boy – though that description is a little ungenerous, the kid is probably taller than he is – on the floor. He doesn’t look up, but behaves as a good omega should, keeping his eyes trained on the floor, head bowed. He doesn’t even seem to notice that he’s naked, that the marks on his back are bleeding.

“None of your business,” one of the betas replies.

“I think I’m making it my business,” Peter says, but he’s barely looking at the beta because the curve of the boy’s shoulder has caught his attention. He couldn’t really say why.

“You know the rules, Hale,” the beta says. His hormones are running high from the ceremonies, his buddies egging him on, or else he wouldn’t dare talk to an alpha that way, and Peter knows it. He’s patently unimpressed with the man’s bravado. “He came in here of his own volition, and we can do anything to any of the omegas. Those are the rules.”

“Until such time as they are claimed,” Peter agrees. “I’m claiming him.”

He can’t say why he does it, precisely. Something about the boy has piqued his interest. What is someone so young doing in the omega room? Did he not know the danger? Peter thinks that’s unlikely. The way he’s behaving shows that he’s very familiar with and educated about werewolves. Then what drove him to participate in such a dangerous ritual? What was he doing there? He had endured the abuse without even a small noise, stayed utterly still while waiting to be violently raped. Brave, then, or desperate, or accustomed to pain; intriguing regardless.

There’s a murmur going around the room, primarily because omegas hardly ever get chosen and everybody knows it, but also because of Peter’s reputation, and, well. Nobody really wants to get between him and someone he’s claiming, regardless of their pack status.

The betas he had interrupted are giving some token blustering, but the fight has gone out of them. They can’t fall back on ‘the rules’ this time; Peter is one hundred percent in the right. If anyone wants to challenge his right to claim the boy, it would come down to a fight, and nobody there wants that. Well, Peter wouldn’t mind, but certainly none of the betas are interested.

Within moments they’ve scattered to find better prospects, and the boy is still on his hands and knees, quivering, not moving. Peter kneels down in front of him, putting a finger underneath his chin to get a better look at him. Amber-colored eyes, a lanky build, a sprinkling of moles and freckles, intriguingly pink lips. “Get up,” he says, and the boy does. “Come with me.”

At this, the boy nods a little, and follows. Peter glances around the room, and most of the betas look away, and go back to whatever omega they’ve been entertaining themselves with. The boy follows him out of the room and then out of the building, to the small set of rooms he’s been given in one of the outlying buildings of the lodge.

Peter lets them in, then locks the door behind them and flips the deadbolt. He turns back to study the young man, who’s shivering slightly. “What’s your name?”

“Stiles,” he says.

Peter frowns slightly. “Is that a first or a last name?”

“It’s a nickname.”

“Tell me your real name, then.”

There’s a glint of sullen resentment in the boy’s eyes, but he answers readily enough. “Przemysław Stilinski.”

Peter blinks. “Stiles it is,” he says, and this gets a tiny, reluctant smile to tug at the corner of the young man’s mouth. “I’m Peter. Peter Hale.” He studies the boy’s face intently. There’s a flicker of recognition in his eyes, then a bit of uncertainty, then a welter of emotions that Peter hadn’t expected. They barely show on his face, but he can smell them. Frustration, anger, disappointment. He recognizes the name, but he isn’t happy about it. Peter decides to let that go for now. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-one.”

“No, you aren’t,” Peter says dismissively. “That’s how old you said you were, because you have to be twenty-one to get into the omega room. How old are you actually?”

Stiles licks his lips nervously. “Nineteen.”

“Still older than I would have guessed,” Peter says, giving him a critical look, but then decides to let that go, too. “Are you hungry?”

“No,” Stiles says.

“Fine.” Peter points to the bed and says, “Sit.” Stiles does. Peter leans over to examine the wounds on his back. They look superficial. All but one of them has stopped bleeding, and a few moments of pressure with one of the towels from the bathroom gets that one to stop as well. He cleans them up with a wet washcloth. He doesn’t have any sort of first aid equipment; it’s not the sort of thing a werewolf needs to carry. “Those should heal all right.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, not looking up.

Peter turns to his suitcase. He rummages around and pulls out a pair of clean boxer shorts and a T-shirt. “Go clean up,” he says, tossing the clothing to Stiles, and points to the bathroom. “Don’t get your back wet. Just use the bath.” Stiles takes the clothes and disappears into the bathroom without another word. The water starts running a few moments later.

Peter takes the opportunity to strip down to his underwear and crawl into bed. He didn’t bring pajamas, doesn’t even own any. At home, he sleeps naked, but he’s not going to do that here, with this strange boy in his bed. He’s heard people talk about what it felt like when they saw their mate for the first time, from those who actually believe in the mystical bullshit. Like a magnet, like gravity. Peter just feels . . . sharply curious. More intrigued than he probably would be under normal circumstances. He wonders, for the first time, if the boy really is his mate, if that’s just how it is for him, and then dismisses the thought.

He has to give some credence to the idea of mates, even if he finds the ceremonies themselves to be nothing more than an exercise in showing off. Talia had a mate, and he respected his sister enough to take her word for it when she said she knew from the moment he met him that they were meant to be together. It probably does happen. Some combination of werewolf mysticism and human pheromones. It’s probably just a lot more rare than most people think it is. Either way, he’s not about to make any commitments to a boy almost twenty years his junior.

Stiles comes out of the bathroom about ten minutes later. With his hair damp and limp, his thin frame looking swallowed by Peter’s loose T-shirt, he looks even younger. Peter holds the blankets up so Stiles can get in the bed with him. Stiles does, without hesitation.

“Are you going to fuck me?” the boy asks, with little more than vague curiosity in his tone. No fear, no lust, no anticipation in any sort of direction. Just a flat request for information.

“Would you like me to?” Peter asks.

Stiles shrugs. “We can if you want.”

Peter leans in and kisses him. Stiles’ mouth is every bit as promising as it had looked, and he licks at the seam of the boy’s lips until Stiles opens his mouth to let him in. He kisses him slowly, deeply, explores every corner of his mouth. Then he pulls away, smiling a little. “No, thank you,” he says. “I prefer some honest enthusiasm on the part of my bed partners.”

He’s not sure what to expect from this enigma of a young man. A protest, an agreement to fake it, tearful gratitude, another question. All he gets is a nod of acceptance. Then Stiles lies down on his side, facing away from Peter, and closes his eyes. Mere moments later, his breathing is deep and even. He’s already asleep. Peter has slept with enough people of different backgrounds over the years to recognize that. This is a boy who’s not only sleep-deprived, but who has had long practice at catching a few minutes of sleep whenever he was allowed. A street child, maybe – or a slave. The latter would explain why he had been so unconcerned about what had been happening in the omega room. It could be treatment he was used to.

None of the questions are going to be answered right away, he knows, so after a few more moments watching the young man he had claimed, Peter lies down and goes to sleep himself.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter snaps awake to find the room bathed in gray, pre-dawn light that’s leaking from around the edges of the curtains. His night vision is good enough that he can see that the bed is empty. He gets up and pads out to the main room to see Stiles unlocking the dead bolt. “And where do you think you’re going?”

He expects fear, especially since Stiles had clearly recognized his name. But the teenager just glances at him and says, “None of your business.”

“Well, it really sort of is,” Peter says, “particularly since you’re wearing my shoes, have a backpack full of my things, and I’m willing to bet that that bulge in the pocket of my jeans is my wallet.”

At this, Stiles does flush somewhat guiltily, but he holds his ground. “Only your cash.”

Peter simply points to one of the armchairs in the room. Stiles hesitates, but he’s caught and he knows it. He walks over. Peter’s hand remains held out, so he forks over the bag and the cash, and then kicks off the shoes. He keeps the jeans, though. “Now, as I was saying,” Peter says, “where do you think you’re going?”

“Look, I know you didn’t claim me for real, okay?” Stiles says, his voice blunt and abrupt with anger. “I know who you are, I know you don’t have a pack and don’t want a mate. So, you know, I’m grateful that you stepped in with the betas, but – ”

“Really?” Peter purrs. “You don’t sound very grateful.”

Stiles’ mouth thins and he snaps out, “Okay, fine. I’m not grateful. I could have handled it myself, but you had to swoop to my rescue and now I’ve got a problem.”

“And what problem is that, exactly?” Peter asks. Stiles looks away and doesn’t answer. “Let me make something perfectly clear to you, Stiles. Regardless of your opinion on whether or not my feelings are ‘real’, I claimed you. I did it publicly. If you go out there without me, or try to find someone else, or show your face in the omega room, it will weaken my standing in the Court of Alphas. It will mean fights, and ridicule, and a lot of bullshit that I have absolutely no intention of dealing with. So unless you want me to hogtie you, put you in my trunk, and leave the rituals right now, you’re not going to go sneaking out.”

Stiles’ jaw clenches, and he’s practically vibrating with anger. He still doesn’t respond.

“Here’s how things look from over here,” Peter continues. “You’re obviously here for some reason. Now, you can either work with me, or against me. But my advice would be that you at least tell me why in God’s name you’re so angry at me for trying to help you. I’d think, since I saved you from being whipped and gang raped by a group of werewolves who likely would have torn you apart, that you owe me at least that much.”

For a long moment, Stiles just sits there with his fists clenched and his body trembling, but then something inside him seems to break. He hunches over and looks up at Peter. “I’m looking for my father.”

“Here?” Peter asks.

“No. Not exactly.” Stiles swallows convulsively. “He disappeared three years ago. I’ve been looking for him ever since. He – he was kidnapped by a witch who was going to use him in a spell. She got killed by an alpha named Deucalion before she could do the spell, but my dad was never found. I thought, if I could get into werewolf society, if I could find Deucalion, he might know what had happened to him.” He swallows again, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. “It’s taken me three years to get this far and you – you came along and ruined it by claiming me, you, an alpha without a pack, outside werewolf society. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that. I entered the omega room because omegas don’t get chosen as mates, but they sometimes get claimed as concubines. I thought that was my best way into a pack.”

Peter considers all this, and then nods. “Well, regardless of whether or not that was a brilliant plan – because it borders on suicidal, frankly – I have to admit I did cock it up for you. But if you agree not to go wandering off and damaging my reputation, I can help you ask a few questions about your father.”

Stiles looks suspicious at this. “Why?”

“Well, because you’re my mate, remember?” Peter says, with a toothy grin.

If anything, Stiles looks even more suspicious after that. “I did tell you that I’d heard of you, remember?”

Peter laughs at that, strangely amused by this teenager who knows who he is but isn’t afraid to mouth off to him. “Yes, fair enough.” He yawns and stretches. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m not used to seeing the sunrise unless I’m on the wrong side of it. If we can get a few more hours of sleep, we can talk things out over breakfast.”

Stiles droops, and Peter can see true exhaustion in his face. “Yeah, okay,” he says, and trudges back into the bedroom. He kicks off the jeans and crawls back into bed.

Peter gets in next to him, watching him as he settles in. He wants to kiss the teenager again, which surprises him. He’s had a relationship now and then, but they’ve never been the sort that come with a lot of kissing. But his eyes keep going back to Stiles’ mouth, every time he’s not thinking about it. His mind, unbidden, supplies a picture of what Stiles would look like on his back, lips swollen and bruised, back arched, head tilted back. He banishes it for the time being.

When he wakes up again, it’s mid-morning, just past ten. He’s alone in the bed again, but he can hear movement out in the apartment, hear Stiles’ heartbeat, and smell coffee. So he takes his time getting up, takes a quick shower, shaves, and gets dressed. He comes out of the bedroom about twenty minutes later. Stiles is sitting on the sofa with an empty coffee cup.

“I was going to cook some breakfast,” he says, gesturing to the tiny kitchenette the suite came with, “but you don’t have any food.”

Amused, Peter says, “Meals are provided, in any case.”

“Not for us,” Stiles says. “At least, not before this morning.”

Peter nods acquiescence. “I didn’t think to ask last night if you have any things here that you need to retrieve.”

“Well, I did have shoes, but uh . . . I have no idea where they wound up, and my clothes got all torn to shit, so . . . nope,” Stiles says. “That’s all I came in with. They, uh, they said not to bring anything with us, ‘cause we’d probably just lose it.”

“They won’t care too much about your shoes as long as we stay on the compound,” Peter says, and gestures to the door. Stiles is again wearing his jeans and T-shirt, and there’s no point in making him change into clothes of Peter’s choosing. The jeans are loose on him, but he’s belted them, and they’re staying on. “Shall we?”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He still seems ill-at-ease, but a lot more relaxed than he had been at five AM. He follows Peter out of the small cabin. It’s about a five minute walk to the main lodge, and breakfast is still being served at their restaurant. There are a lot of late nights during the mating ceremonies, and breakfast is served until noon, buffet style.

Stiles’ eyes go wide at the vast array of silver dishes and platters, and Peter hears the uptick in his heartbeat, watches him lick his lips and swallow hard. “When was the last time you got a decent meal?” he asks, taking in the teenager’s skinniness again.

“I try to take care of myself, you know, I mean, I can’t help my dad if I’m dead, but – ” Stiles swallows again. “All you can eat?”

Amused, Peter gestures and says, “Help yourself.”

Stiles grabs a plate and loads it with bacon, hash browns, and scrambled eggs. He dumps that plate on a table and then gets a second one, with he fills up with French toast drowned in syrup. Then he gets a glass of apple juice and a mug of coffee. Peter opts for the somewhat more conservative omelet station. He sees both of them getting a few sideways looks, and smiles toothily at anyone who looks at him for too long. This makes a lot of people extremely uncomfortable.

“So,” Peter says, once they’re sitting down, “how much do you know about the Court of Alphas?”

“Not as much as I wish I did,” Stiles says, mouth already full. “I got as much information as I could, but there are some things I couldn’t find out.”

Peter nods. “Well, as you can probably assume from the name, the Court of Alphas is the upper echelon of werewolf society. You’re trying to get to Deucalion, and it won’t be easy. He is – somewhat amusingly – a Duke.”

“Duke Deucalion.” Stiles gives a snort of laughter. “That’s pretty high up, right?”

“Very high,” Peter says with a nod. “In terms of hierarchy, there’s the king and queen, then it goes archduke, prince – not the type of prince as in ‘son of the king’, it’s a ranking of its own – then duke, count, viscount, baron, and lastly a ‘gentleman or lady of the court’, which is the lowest rank.”

“What are you?” Stiles asks. “You said I could weaken your standing with the Court of Alphas, so you’re in it, right?”

Peter gives a somewhat wry smile. “I’m a jack. It’s a ranking reserved specifically for alphas without packs, and until you have a pack, it’s impossible to rise in the rankings, the way the others do. Which has actually suited me fine. I’ve no desire to wade into political bullshit.”

“Yeah, too bad, I didn’t either,” Stiles says glumly. “But I did find out that Deucalion was an alpha, so I figured I would probably have to.” He lets out a breath and then picks up a piece of bacon. “Is he here?” he asks, before cramming the piece into his mouth.

“No,” Peter says. “Which is of no surprise. It’s rare for alphas to attend the mating ceremonies. We won’t be able to approach him here or get any sort of invitation to his court. We need to focus on an alpha named Ennis. He’s Deucalion’s right-hand man, and I saw him here yesterday.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “So this is when I would go lick his boots, but now I can’t go do that.”

Peter nods. “We’ll have to draw his attention some other way. And I have to admit that my presence will make it more difficult rather than the opposite.”

“Not good at buttering people up?” Stiles asks.

“On the contrary, I’m excellent at it,” Peter says. “Flattery is a key part of manipulation, and I’m very, very good at manipulating people.” He eats a bite of his omelet and says, “Rather too good. I have something of a reputation. Anything I do will, by default, be assumed to have strings attached.”

“Well, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even know who to talk to, so . . .” Stiles shrugs and continues to shovel food into his mouth.

“Ah, so you’ve decided you’re better off with me?” Peter asks, smirking.

“No. I’m still mad at you. I’m just taking advantage of you regardless.”

Peter gives an amused snort at this. “Do you know what a supermoon is?”

Stiles nods. “It’s a really big full moon, right?”

“That’s a simplified explanation – ”

Stiles’ eyes narrow. “Okay, it’s what happens when the full moon coincides with the perigee of the moon’s elliptical orbit. I just didn’t know if you would know that, so I simplified. It’s a really big full moon. So what?”

At this, Peter outright grins. “So, the Court of Alphas has a once yearly celebration whenever a supermoon occurs. This year it’s going to be in August. That’s six weeks away. And that, Deucalion will attend. So if we can finagle ourselves an invitation to the ceremony – jacks aren’t invited, more’s the pity – then that would be a chance for you to get to him.”

“Okay.” Stiles considers this, then nods. “And Ennis can get us into that?”

“Any of the alphas can, actually,” Peter says. “There are only a few jacks, and I’m the only one here. So every alpha here is a full member of the court. Ennis is a baron, and that makes him one of the lowest ranking court members at the ceremonies. Which will make him more approachable than the others.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles shoves another piece of French toast into his mouth. “So if alphas don’t normally come to the ceremonies, why is he here? Why are you here?”

“The higher one is in the court, the less likely one is to attend something like this.” Peter thinks for a moment about how to explain it. “Did you go to high school?”

“For a couple years, yeah. Didn’t graduate.”

Peter nods. “Good enough. The Court of Alphas is eerily similar to the popular crowd in any given American high school. They all pretend to like each other while secretly stabbing each other in the back to curry favor with those even higher than themselves. So if a semi-popular high school student were to throw a party – ”

Stiles is nodding along. “All the wannabes show up to impress each other, but the really popular people won’t bother, ‘cause it isn’t worth their time.”

“Precisely.” Peter smiles again. He finds himself, almost alarmingly, growing attached to this clever, intuitive boy. “And I’m the outcast with the grunge band who decided to crash the party just to turn heads.”

Stiles actually gives a snort of laughter at that. “A grunge band? How old are you?”

“Thirty-six. Grunge was very popular in my day.”

“Yeah, I bet.” Stiles finishes off his coffee and sits back with a flourish, looking satisfied and almost sleepy after the huge meal. “Okay. What now?”

“Until tonight, nothing. Everyone will spend today sleeping off whatever they did last night, and then the ceremonies will start again at dusk. Then we’ll approach Ennis. He’ll be in the alpha room, but now that I’ve chosen you, we have the right to be there. Fortunately for our goals, Ennis is something of an idiot. He will almost certainly attempt to insult me and tell me I don’t have a right to be there. We’re going to use that as a way to manipulate him into inviting us to the supermoon ceremony.”

“Reverse psychology,” Stiles says with a nod. “Okay. I get it.”

“You will want to stick very close to me,” Peter says. “It’s customary for someone who’s just chosen a mate to be all over them, and if we act in any way out of the ordinary, people might start to ask uncomfortable questions.”

He can see Stiles go a little tense at that, but then he just nods. “Okay.”

Peter finishes off his own breakfast and says, “Now, I plan to spend the majority of today in the sun, with a book. You’re welcome to join me, or not. If you’d like to go hiking or what have you, just make sure you’re back before dusk.” He puts down his empty mug and says, “If you wander off and start trying to flirt with other werewolves, or make me look bad in any way, I will kill you, weigh your body down with rocks, and throw you into the lake. Do we have an understanding?”

Stiles doesn’t flinch. “Understood.”

“Excellent.” Peter stands up and says, “I think you and I are going to get along just fine.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles thinks that he should probably be more nervous about the fact that he’s about to show his throat to a bunch of werewolves who would kill him as likely as they would talk to him. Somehow, he isn’t. He thinks it’s probably part exhaustion. The six weeks leading up to the ceremonies had been awful, as he played every chip he had, called in every favor, offered up everything he had to give, to get an in.

It had taken all those chips and favors, but he had found the location of the ceremony, gotten the pass phrase that would gain him entrance, forged the ID that made him twenty-one, and landed at the lodge less than an hour before they were going to start with nothing but the clothes on his back and the phone in his pocket. He had turned his cell phone off and hidden it in one of the bushes in the courtyard. Hopefully, he could pick it up again before he left. Before they left, because somehow, against all odds or reasons, he’s been chosen.

Which is the other reason he’s not nervous. He can’t say what it is about Peter Hale that has this effect on him. He should be terrified of the man. He’s heard all about him, all about the brutal murders he committed to avenge his family. But he had slept more soundly and peacefully in the curve of Peter’s arm than he had in weeks.

And as they head up towards the lodge, Peter exudes this supreme sort of confidence that’s infectious. Arrogance, Stiles thinks, but if that’s what it is, it was well-earned. Given everything Peter’s been through and everything he’s done, he’s gained the right to a little arrogance. And if there’s one thing Stiles has learned from dealing with werewolves, it’s that they smell fear and exploit weakness. Confidence is key, he thinks, and repeats that to himself several times as they walk up to the main building.

He’s dressed, well, not to the nines, but about to the sixes. Peter had looked at the T-shirt and jeans he was still wearing and then given him a button down shirt and slacks to wear. He doesn’t have a tie for either of them. Stiles had seen people in the main room the day before, wearing spiffy suits and evening gowns. Peter clearly doesn’t care about that. He’s wearing a blood red shirt with black pants and a black jacket. He looks good, although Stiles doesn’t really take notice of it. For the last several years, he’s evaluated every possible sexual encounter with two things: how much will it hurt, and what can he get out of it. He has no interest in sleeping with Peter, or sleeping with anyone, for that matter.

“This way,” Peter says, pushing the back door of the lodge open and then sliding an arm around Stiles’ waist. Stiles presses close against his side as they make their way through the throng of the crowd and towards the alpha room.

It’s much quieter there. The main lodge has several hundred people inside, but the alpha room has thirty, maximum. Instead of a small band, like there is outside in the courtyard, there’s a string quartet. A few waiters come in and out with trays. Peter picks up a glass of champagne off of one of them and offers it to Stiles. He’s never had champagne, and his first impression of it is that it’s horrible. But he gulps it down anyway.

He’s the youngest person in the room by far. He would guess that most of the room’s occupants are in their twenties or thirties, although a few of them are older than that. He sees one venerable looking older man who he’s pretty sure is a senator. Everyone is physically fit and good-looking and dressed sharply. He feels ridiculously out of place.

Only two things stop him from turning tail and running. The first, obviously, is the thought of his father. He’s come this far. He’ll make it through this, and then he’ll be one step closer to finding out what happened to him. The second, surprisingly, is what Peter thinks. He’s gotten the definite impression that the werewolf is strangely delighted to have someone on his arm who doesn’t fit the mold. Who is, in all likelihood, the opposite of the mold. He’s not sure why the fact that Peter’s happy with him makes him happy, but it does, and it gives him the courage to keep walking into the room.

Their entrance does cause a momentary hush, but nobody’s looking at him. They’re all staring at Peter. It takes a moment for conversations to start up again. A woman wearing a slinky, low cut dress walks up to them and says, “Peter Hale. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Isabelle,” he says politely, with a nod. Her mouth tightens in what looks like annoyance. Stiles remembers what Peter had told him about the court earlier that day.

‘The reason nobody likes a jack,’ Peter said, ‘is because we don’t have to answer to anybody. The Court of Alphas has a very intricate structure. Not only do you have to bare your throat to anyone with a higher standing, but it’s divided by region, so there’s always someone directly above you as well as people peripherally above you. But a jack exists outside that. Technically we’re the lowest, but since we can’t rise or fall in rank, there’s no real consequences if we don’t show the proper respect. So we do whatever we want, and it really pisses off all the good little court-going alphas who have fought and scrambled to get where they are.’

‘Couldn’t they, I dunno, beat the shit out of you?’ Stiles asked.

Amused, Peter said, ‘They could try.’

Another reason Peter isn’t popular has nothing to do with court standing, and everything to do with how he became an alpha, but Stiles is smart enough not to bring that up. He knows the story, everyone knows the story, of how Peter had murdered his niece for her power. But for the first time ever, Stiles finds himself wondering if there were reasons he did it beyond ‘he was crazy’. He suspects – although he hasn’t confirmed – that there are very specific rules if someone wants to challenge an alpha. Peter had obviously bypassed them.

“And you have someone with you,” Isabelle says, eyeing Stiles over her glass of champagne.

“Yes, this is Stiles,” Peter says, leaning over to nuzzle at Stiles’ throat. It’s strange, but not bad-strange. Stiles has seen werewolves exchange affection; he knows what it looks like.

“And you found him in the omega room, how unusual!” another woman says, coming over to surreptitiously sniff at Stiles.

“Just goes to prove that status doesn’t always matter,” Peter says, with an easy smile, and everyone in the room bristles.

‘The key to getting into the supermoon ceremony,’ Peter told him earlier that day, ‘is to make it look like we’re too good for it. That it’s not worth our time. That’s a sure way to have someone extend an invitation there.’

A load of bullshit, Stiles thinks. But if diving into a pile of crap is the way to find his father, he’ll do it with a smile on his face and a song in his heart.

It’s been three years since Tom Stilinski went out to follow a lead and never came home. Three years while Stiles has painstakingly, heart-breakingly, pieced together what happened that night. While he’s followed every lead and run into dozens of dead ends. While he’s asked questions, poked his nose where it doesn’t belong, gotten said nose broken (along with his arm). While he’s traded money for information and when he ran out of money, traded his body. Three years, and he’s finally close to someone who might have an answer. All he has to do is smile.

‘The thing about werewolf society,’ Peter said over dinner, ‘is that you never know who’s going to be where on any given day. Any alpha can issue a challenge for position to any other alpha – jacks can be challenged but can’t issue a challenge, by the way – so a baron could challenge the king himself, if he were suicidal enough. That means you can’t afford to insult anybody.’

‘Except the jacks,’ Stiles said.

‘Correct. But we don’t play by the rules, so they usually won’t dare.’

They tour the room with Stiles pulled tight against Peter’s side. They stop occasionally for Peter to nuzzle at him or kiss him. Peter’s a damn good kisser. He has a way of making even Stiles pant for breath, which is hard to do. Stiles follows him around and tries to look besotted, ignoring the incredulous stares.

One alpha, and one alpha only, brings up Stiles’ situation when Peter found him, making a comment about Peter just wanting to ‘rescue’ him. Peter arches his eyebrows and says, “Yes, because I’m such a giver,” and Stiles breaks into chortles despite himself. Peter smirks at him and then leans in to bite at his ear.

“You two deserve each other,” the alpha mutters, and wanders off.

For the most part, it’s boring as hell. The werewolves are talking mostly about politics and business, two things that Stiles knows little about and cares even less about. Occasionally the topic of other supernatural creatures comes up, and then he always pricks his ears up. Information is currency in his world; sometimes he’s been able to deal only in information and avoid the less appealing aspects of his job.

They mingle for about an hour, and by then Stiles has a healthy buzz on from the champagne, and he’s giggling and cuddling with Peter like he means it. Peter looks on with amused tolerance while the other alphas give them narrow-eyed looks of disgust. Then he gradually steers him over to Ennis, a hulking behemoth with a shaved head and a sour attitude.

Stiles isn’t sure how they should approach him, but doesn’t have to worry about it. Ennis almost immediately response to their presence, scowling and saying, “Your kind isn’t wanted over here.”

“Oh dear,” Peter says, clearly amused. He looks at Stiles and says, “Which one of us do you think he’s talking to?”

Stiles snickers and presses his face into Peter’s upper arm. “Be niiiiiice,” he slurs.

Peter shakes his head and looks back at Ennis. “It’s nice to see you too, Ennis. How’s business?”

“None of yours,” Ennis retorts, and turns his back on them.

Stiles feels a stab of anxiety, but Peter’s hand just gives his arm a tight squeeze. The alpha turns to him and says, with a patient voice of a teacher, “Sometimes when a low-ranking alpha wins the favor or someone much higher in the ranks, they can get a bit full of themselves. It’s unfortunate when this happens. It makes them step out of place, and they usually wind up getting slapped down.”

Ennis spins back around. “Say that to my face,” he says.

“How is Deucalion?” Peter asks. “I haven’t seen him in years. Is he doing well?”

“Yeah,” Ennis says, sneering. “And he’s not going to be happy that you insulted someone in his court.”

“Really?” Peter feigns surprise. “If I were him, I’d be unhappy that someone in my court needed my protection. But to each his own, I suppose.”

Ennis’ lip peels back in a snarl, and for a minute Stiles thinks he’s actually going to attack them. But then he says, “You want to step into the ring, I’d be happy to fucking oblige you, Hale.”

“No, thank you,” Peter says. “I’ve got my sights set a bit higher. I need to meet with Deucalion, but I doubt he’s going to want to see me anywhere but a public setting.” He shrugs and remarks to Stiles, “The next one of those will be during the supermoon, but God, what a waste of time. Just more circling and butt-sniffing.”

Ennis gives his shoulder a rough shove. “You think you’re too good for the sacred rituals, is that it?”

“Well, they were invented a thousand years ago, and presumably they had a purpose back then,” Peter says, “but I don’t really imagine it’s relevant anymore.”

“You show up at the supermoon ceremony and I’ll show you how relevant it is,” Ennis says.

“Is that an invitation?” Peter asks.

“Call it whatever you want,” Ennis sneers. “But if you don’t show up, I’ll tell everyone in the court that you’re a fucking coward.”

Peter’s face breaks into a wide smirk. “I’ll be there,” he says. “Just tell me where.”

“Death Valley,” Ennis says. “Follow your nose.”

“I will. Valet parking?” Peter inquires innocently, and Ennis snarls at him. “Just a joke,” Peter says, raising his hands in surrender, laughing. He leans in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck and says, “Come on, I can see where we’re not wanted.”

They retreat to a far corner of the room. Stiles is buzzed and excited. “It worked, it actually worked!” he says.

“I told you it would,” Peter says.

“Yeah, but you don’t – you don’t understand.” The exhaustion and the alcohol are combining to make him come a little unglued. “I gave everything I had, if this hadn’t worked I wouldn’t have – it would have just been another dead end and there have been so many, so fucking many dead ends, and I just – ” He chokes a little and leans on Peter, letting the alpha take his weight. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Peter rubs a hand over the back of his hair, the back of his neck. “Now, now, let’s not get sentimental,” he says. “We should get out of here before someone else takes exception to our presence.”

Stiles nods. Peter exchanges a few more words with some people so it won’t look like he cut and run as soon as he got what he wanted, and then they head back to the small cabin that they’ve been living in. Stiles flops down on the bed, still in his nice clothes. He’s trying to think of something else he should say. He’s sure he has questions, but they’re eluding him at the moment. He’s dimly aware of someone taking his shoes off before he slides into sleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s not a common name, Przemysław Stilinski, and although Peter doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to spell the first name, the last one is easy enough. He sits down with his laptop and types ‘missing Stilinski’ into Google. The information pops up immediately with a headline from the Beacon Hills Tribune. Good old Beacon Hills. He hasn’t missed it.

‘Sheriff Tom Stilinski disappears during murder investigation,’ the headline reads, and Peter settles in to read the details. It’s somewhat gruesome. There had been a series of murders in Beacon Hills, twelve all told. On the night of the twelfth murder, Stilinski had told his men he was checking out a lead from an anonymous tip, and after that he had never been heard from again. His car was found at the high school, along with the twelfth body, a history professor.

Had Stilinski known who the next victim was going to be, and hoped to catch the murderer in the act? the article boldly asks. Peter doubts it. If he had realized that the murderer was going to be there, he would have brought backup. No, more likely he had wanted to ask someone at the school some questions, and intercepted the murderer by accident.

The article mentions that the body was found in the classroom of Jennifer Blake. Peter knows all about Jennifer Blake, knows about her vendetta against Kali and Deucalion. It was big news at the time. Derek had been involved, and although Peter hasn’t seen him in years, he tries to keep track of his nephew. A little more Googling reveals that Jennifer went missing a few days later.

So, Blake had killed her twelfth sacrifice and taken Tom Stilinski hostage for her thirteenth. Only Deucalion had killed her, and Stilinski had never been found. Interesting.

The article did mention that Tom was a widower with one son, sixteen years old. Peter watches Stiles sleep and wonders what the last three years of his life have been like. Obviously, they hadn’t been any picnic. Stiles clearly knew exactly what he had been getting into. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand what the omega room would entail. He had done all of this in full knowledge.

Peter found that kind of determination incredible. He remembered the single-mindedness of the vendetta, how he would have given anything, sacrificed anyone, to avenge his family. He imagined Stiles felt the same way, and so for the first time since he had woken in the hospital in unfathomable pain, he’s met somebody that might understand him.

Realizing what’s going through his head, Peter chuckles a little. “I must be going soft,” he says, and decides to go to bed. He sets the alarm for ten. It’s going to be a long day driving home the next day, but he doubts Stiles will be up any sooner than that.

In fact, Stiles is still sleeping when Peter gets up, so he starts the coffee maker and gets into the shower. By the time he’s out, Stiles is up, sleepily sipping at the coffee. “Are you hungry?” Peter asks, and he nods eagerly. “We can have breakfast before we head out.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He’s gotten dressed in the same T-shirt and jeans from the day before. Peter packs his suitcase and brings it with him, so he won’t have to walk all the way back to the cabin, and they sit down in the restaurant. Peter watches in amusement as Stiles loads up his plate with waffles and a ham-and-cheese omelet.

“So I take it we’re leaving?” Stiles asks.

Peter nods. “No point in sticking around, in my opinion.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. He looks relieved. “Uh, where are we going? I mean, the supermoon ceremony is six weeks away, you said. What are we going to do until then?”

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I have a job,” Peter says.

Stiles scowls at him and stabs at his omelet. “I have a job,” he says. “I just don’t imagine it’s one you’re gonna be real enthusiastic about your mate doing.”

Peter adds creamer to his second cup of coffee. “I assume you’re a prostitute?” he asks, and Stiles just nods. “How does one your age get started in that field, I can’t help but wonder.”

“Most of the people in my field got started around the same age as me,” Stiles replies.

Peter considers this non-answer, and then nods and accepts it as the subtle ‘none of your business’ that it’s meant to be. “Well, you’re right. I don’t particularly like the idea of you continuing to do that, although I don’t really have the right.”

Stiles gives a shrug. “To a certain extent, you do,” he says, which surprises Peter. “A lot of my clients were in the supernatural world, so it could get around, damage your reputation.” He pours more ketchup onto his plate and starts eating again. “I’m not going to say that I’d hate to give it up. Trust me, I have no problems giving it up.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says. “You can be a kept man, in that case,” he adds, and Stiles smiles despite himself. “We’ll head south. I live in Corona Del Mar.”

“So you’re like . . . super rich?” Stiles asks, and Peter just nods. “What do you do?”

“I work at a law firm,” Peter says.

“Figures,” Stiles says, with a snort. “You seem the type.”

Peter just smiles at him, amused. “In any case, I drove here, so we should probably get on the road sooner rather than later.”

“I figured you would’ve flown,” Stiles says. “Like, a private jet or something.”

“I dislike flying,” Peter says. “Most werewolves do, actually. We’re creatures of the earth, and it’s somewhat unsettling. I’d wager most of the werewolves drove here. Do you have a car here?”

Stiles shakes his head. “I flew into Sacramento and hitch-hiked the rest of the way. Or really, walked most of the way. Hitch-hiking isn’t anywhere near as easy as people seem to think it is. I guess it’s probably easier for girls. But hey, I did get a lift about halfway, only cost me a blowjob.”

“Good for you,” Peter says, shaking his head. If Stiles had really walked most of the way from Sacramento, it was no wonder he was so exhausted. That had to be at least a hundred miles. “Well, time and tide wait for no man. Shall we?”

“Yeah.” Stiles stands up and downs the rest of his coffee. He follows Peter outside, whistles when he sees the Audi that Peter drove up to the ceremonies. A few minutes later, they’re on the road. Stiles fidgets for a few minutes, then pulls out a phone and starts to poke at it. “So . . .” Stiles says, about ten minutes later. “Is this gonna cost me a blowjob?”

Peter glances sideways at him. “As I said. I prefer some honest enthusiasm from people I have sex with.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles fiddles, not looking up from his phone. “I could, though. I give great head.”

“I’m sure you do,” Peter says, but doesn’t otherwise respond.

Another few minutes of silence pass.

“It makes me nervous,” Stiles blurts out. “People helping me but not wanting to fuck me. I don’t get it. I don’t know why you’re helping me.”

“Because you’re my mate, remember?” Peter asks, smirking at him.

“That makes the opposite of sense,” Stiles mutters.

Peter doesn’t dignify that. “How do you feel about The Who?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, and Peter fiddles with the stereo for a few minutes. “My dad liked classic rock,” Stiles finally says.

“Mm?” Peter glances at him again. “Tell me about him. Tell me what happened when he disappeared. Maybe I can help shake something loose.”

Stiles lets out a breath, then nods. “From what I’ve been able to figure out, Jennifer Blake had this big vendetta against Deucalion. She came to Beacon Hills and she started killing people. The second person who died was a girl named Heather. She was a friend of mine. So, I was like . . . I wanted to know what was going on, what had happened to her. I figured out she was making these sacrifices. I already knew about werewolves, see? Because my friend Scott had run into one the year before, so we had sort of gotten some of that information.

“My dad thought I was kind of crazy when I started talking about virgin sacrifices, but I wouldn’t let it go. I just kept poking my nose into it. Looking at his files and that sort of thing. And then Scott’s boss, Dr. Deaton, disappeared. He nearly got sacrificed, I guess as a healer, but Scott and I got to him in time. And we, like, we put some pieces together and figured out it had something to do with this werewolf named Deucalion and a bunch of people he and his pack had killed.

“I tried to tell my dad about it, but he looked at me like I was crazy. He didn’t believe a word I said . . . or at least I thought he didn’t. But he must have. Because he figured it out. Something I told him, some piece of information, some clue . . . it fell into place for him. He went to the school to talk to Jennifer, he must have known she was involved . . . but then she took him. And I never found him.” Stiles’ breath catches in his throat. “I know she didn’t sacrifice him because she had to do it in groups of three, and when her body was found, only two people had disappeared.”

“Who was the other person?” Peter asks.

“Oh. Melissa McCall. Scott’s mom. She was found in the forest the next day, said that Jennifer had grabbed her, but she didn’t remember anything about what had happened afterwards. Magic, I guess. So she survived. It’s possible my dad did, too. But I swear, I walked every inch of that forest a hundred times. They brought in dogs and special trackers and everything.”

“Mm.” Peter doesn’t say what he’s thinking, that if Jennifer Blake had used magic to hide Sheriff Stilinski, he would probably never be found. Stiles doesn’t need to hear that.

Besides, there’s no harm in looking into it. If nothing else, it will certainly keep life interesting for the next few months.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles has dozed off by the time the car pulls to a halt. It’s such a smooth ride, and the two days at the Mating Ceremonies exhausted him. He’s still stiff and sore, although he doesn’t want to admit that to Peter. Peter obviously thinks he ‘rescued’ Stiles, and Stiles isn’t about to tell him that the guy who was about to fuck him would have been the third to have a go that night. Besides, it’s late, nearly midnight. But he jolts awake when the car stops, aware of the change, even if he isn’t totally cognizant of what it is.

“We there?” he asks, rubbing sleep out of his eyes, and Peter says yes. He gets out of the car, yawns again, and indulges in a lengthy stretch. The air is fairly warm, although there’s a cool breeze, and he can hear the distant sound of the ocean. Then he turns around and catches sight of the house. “Whooooaaaa,” he says.

Peter opens the trunk of the car and grabs his suitcase. “Come on,” he says, gesturing for Stiles to follow him.

In the dark, it’s hard to get a good view of the house, but Stiles gets the definite impression of its size: at least three times larger than the house he grew up in. He can see that it has a three car garage, and the front path is dimly lit by lamps that are probably solar-powered. Peter takes them in through a side door off the garage. There are three cars already inside, each one perfect and shiny.

“Jesus,” Stiles mutters, as he follows Peter inside. The interior of the house is just as intimidating. It’s a modern design, open and airy, with gray stone floors and white walls with minimal artwork. One wall is entirely glass, and although it’s black outside, Stiles would bet money that it has a magnificent view of the ocean.

The living room leads off into the kitchen, one of those obviously expensive ones where everything is polished chrome. He can see another door and guesses that there’s a formal dining room. Peter goes the other way, heading into the house’s foyer, which is brilliantly lit by a crystal chandelier that’s at least twenty feet above them. There’s an open staircase along both walls that opens onto a balcony.

“This way,” Peter says, beckoning Stiles onward. He seems unaffected by the majesty of the place. Stiles supposes that makes sense, given that he lives there.

The stairs are polished wood, but the upstairs is carpeted in lush tan that his feet sink into. There’s a set of double doors at the top, opposite from the balcony, but Peter goes past them and around a corner. “You can take this room,” he says, pushing a door open. It leads into a room which is blessedly less intimidating. It’s still large, but no bigger than his father’s master bedroom had been back at their old house. It’s obviously a guest room, with a bed and a bureau but no other furniture, slate blue walls and dark blue curtains, same tan carpet. There are large windows and two doors. One leads onto a balcony; the other is only ajar but Stiles can see blue tile. A bathroom.

“You don’t – ” Stiles stops and swallows. “You don’t want me with you? In your room? Rooms?”

“I figured you would be more comfortable here,” Peter says. “There’s plenty of space.” He pushes a hand through his hair. “I’ll most likely leave before you’re up. Make yourself comfortable.”

“Oh . . . okay. What time do you get home?”

“Five thirty, six o’clock, thereabouts. Good night, Stiles.” Peter leaves the room, closing the door behind him.

Stiles sits down on the edge of the bed and takes a few deep breaths. He’s not panicking. He’s definitely not going to have a panic attack. He’s fine. He heads into the bathroom. It’s big, and shiny, but it’s just a bathroom. There’s already a set of towels there, so he decides to take a shower. It might help him relax.

Despite the extremely comfortable bed, he sleeps restlessly. He tends to have two modes of sleep. Sometimes, he sleeps like a log, whenever he can get a free moment. But when he’s caught up on his sleep, he almost always has trouble, particularly in unfamiliar places. And he slept surprisingly well on the last night of the Ceremonies, tucked up against Peter. He tries not to think about that.

To be honest, he has no idea what to make of Peter. He’s nothing like what Stiles would have expected, having heard his reputation. For that matter, he’s nothing like anyone Stiles has ever met before. Stiles isn’t sure if he’s just being courteous, letting him settle in before he starts making demands, or if he honestly has no intention of making any demands. Even less does he know what to do with Peter’s repeated assertions – humorous as they are – that Stiles is his mate. Do werewolves do this? Do they just bring a stranger into their home and act as if this is normal? He doesn’t know Stiles. Stiles could steal all his obviously expensive things and be out of town before Peter got home the next day.

He tries not to dwell on it, but it eats at him, and he tosses and turns before finally drifting into an exhausted doze around dawn. When he wakes up again, it’s mid-morning.

He slept naked, because he still only has the one set of clothes Peter had given him and he hasn’t dared say anything about that. Peter’s fit him well enough, but there’s no way he feels confident enough to go poking around in the werewolf’s closet. But he can’t wear these again; this will be their third day in a row and honestly they’re getting kind of rank.

Rich as Peter is, he has to have a washer and a dryer somewhere in the house. Stiles wraps a towel around his waist, takes a minute to psych himself up, and leaves the bedroom.

He takes a minute to look around. There are two other doors in the hallway, but they’re both shut, and he doesn’t want to pry. Peter said ‘make yourself at home’ not ‘explore every nook and cranny’, and any laundry machines are almost certainly going to be on the first floor. So he heads down the hallway. The double doors at the top of the stairs are again closed. He thinks they lead to Peter’s room. But the hallway bends back again and he peeks around the corner to see a few more doors.

It’s symmetrical, he decides. The foyer has the staircase that runs up both sides. Peter’s rooms are in the center, and then there are the two little wings off to each side. His windows overlook the front of the house, so Peter’s probably overlook the back, the ocean. The first floor probably follows the same plan. He creeps downstairs, carrying his dirty laundry with him.

He discovers that he’s correct very quickly. There’s a hallway opening under each staircase. He heads the way they came in and finds what he deems the informal living room. There’s a television (a sixty inch flatscreen, to be exact), some black cabinets and shelving, a sofa, and two armchairs. Then there’s the kitchen. When he heads through the kitchen, he finds the dining room, which looks like it’s never been used.

The space behind the stairs with the marvelous ocean view is obviously a room meant for entertaining; there are several small tables and different chairs. The other side, where it curves around again, has a room with some exercise equipment, and a small office which is suspiciously free of clutter, obviously unused. Meant for guests, maybe.

But no laundry. Stiles mutters to himself, turning around and around, wondering if Peter honestly just sends all his clothes out, if everything is dry-cleaned.

He ventures towards the garage, and sees a door he hadn’t noticed earlier. He edges it open and finds a staircase leading down. He flips on the lights and heads downstairs.

“Whoa,” he breathes out again, because this is the most awesome room he’s ever been in. There’s a bar with four barstools, rows and rows of wine bottles, an actual pool table – it’s insane. He explores for a minute and finally – finally – finds a little alcove with cleaning supplies and a washer and dryer. He tosses his clothes in, adds a little detergent, and sets it to go.

He’s not about to wander around the house naked, because if Peter came home early he’d have to do a swan dive off the balcony, so he lays the towel down and sits on top of the washer. He has his phone, so he can at least keep himself occupied.

He stares at it for a moment, debating silently, before he texts Scott. They haven’t talked in weeks, possibly months. He knows that Scott worries about him, but sometimes that’s the problem in and of itself. He knows that he didn’t handle his father’s disappearance well. Scott’s concern was reassuring at first, but then grating, and then suffocating. And he can’t help but resent Scott, who still has his mother.

Scott had disapproved of a lot of the choices that Stiles had made, and he wasn’t afraid to say so. When it came to finding his father, Stiles made no bones about the fact that he would do anything. Lie, cheat, steal, whore, probably kill although it had never come up. Scott knew that his father wouldn’t want him to do that, but Stiles didn’t care. He pushed Scott away, pushed him and pushed him and pushed him until he finally went.

But even after all that, Scott is still his brother, and so Stiles tries to let him know that he’s okay once in a while. He lets out a breath and just texts, ‘hey’.

Scott’s response is almost immediate. ‘Hey! How are you? Where are you?’

‘South of LA. I’m ok.’

‘What are you up to? Any news?’

‘No.’ Stiles’ finger hovers over the button to send, then sighs and continues to type. ‘I got myself a sugardaddy.’

‘Not like the last guy, I hope,’ Scott replies.

Stiles has to admit that his last foray into having a sugardaddy had not gone well. Everything he needed had turned into a blowjob or a rimjob or some other kind of job. He could handle that, but the guy had a serious humiliation kink and Stiles couldn’t stomach it. It had only lasted a couple weeks. ‘No, he seems nice. And he’s super rich.’ He takes a photo of the basement room with its wine cellar and pool table and sends it to Scott.

‘Holy crap,’ Scott responds.

‘How’s your mom?’ Stiles asks.

‘She’s okay. You know.’

Stiles does know. He knows that what happened three years ago changed all of them, Melissa McCall included. He saw her struggle desperately to remember what had happened that night so maybe she could give Stiles some clue about what had happened to his father. He saw her fight against the guilt that came from being Jennifer Blake’s lone survivor. And losing his father was tough on her, too; they had been close.

‘You should stop by Beacon Hills next time you’re up this way,’ Scott says.

‘Yeah, I’ll think about it,’ Stiles says, and they both know he won’t. The day he had finally left, Scott had asked when he would come home. “When I find my dad,” Stiles had answered, and he’s given the same answer ever since. ‘Gotta go,’ he adds, even though he doesn’t really need to, but because he doesn’t want to talk anymore.

‘ok, be safe,’ Scott says, like he always does.

Stiles really does want to keep sitting there until the laundry is done, but his stomach is rumbling uneasily. After a few minutes to debate, he wraps the towel around himself and heads up to the kitchen. Peter had said ‘make yourself at home’; surely that included having something to eat.

The pickings, however, are unfortunately slim. The refrigerator has several twelve packs of soda and six packs of imported beer, some condiments, and not much else. He tries the freezer, and it’s virtually empty. He wants to believe this is because Peter was just gone for a week, but somehow doubts it.

The first drawer he tries is full of take-out menus, which bodes ill. But he doesn’t have any money, so he keeps looking. There’s a pantry, which at least has some crackers, peanut butter, and some canned goods. It’s enough to keep him from going hungry, although by the time he’s eaten, there’s practically nothing left.

He stands at the counter and stares out the huge windows while he eats. There is indeed a good view of the ocean, but also of the enormous backyard, set on several tiers before it finally drops away to the cliffs and the sea. There’s a pool, because of course there is, and a hot tub, as well as several obviously manicured gardens that are clearly taken care of by someone who knows what they’re doing.

He jogs back into the basement and puts his laundry in the dryer. With nothing better to do, he starts trying to teach himself how to play pool, watching instructional videos on his phone. He’s never played before, but winds up getting engrossed and wasting a good portion of the afternoon. After that, he winds up vaguely twitchy. He paces around the house, or at least around the parts of it that he’s explored, trying to keep himself occupied. He wonders if there’s any chance that he can get some Adderall now that he’s going to be in one place for a while.

Asking for that seems awkward, though. Hell, asking for anything seems awkward. He’s not even sure how he’s going to approach the topic of groceries, so medication is probably fairly low on his priority list.

The closer it gets to five o’clock, the twitchier he gets. He’s wasted the entire day. He feels like he should have done something, even though there’s nothing to do. The last time he had been living with someone, it was basically as a maid/cook/whore. Then the situation with his previous sugardaddy had involved a lot of menial work. But there’s nothing to do at Peter’s place. Everything is already sparkling clean; he obviously has a cleaning service come in.

He can’t help but be nervous, and when he hears the garage door open, he jolts to his feet and winds up hovering near the door that leads to the garage.

Peter comes in a minute later, dressed in a business suit and looking very clean-cut and handsome. Stiles swallows and says, “Uh, hi.”

“Hello,” Peter says, setting down a briefcase and toeing off his shoes. His gaze flicks up and down Stiles once, a sort of measuring glance, but not overtly sexual. “Hungry?”

“Yeah, uh, starving,” Stiles says.

“I usually order dinner after work and then go for a swim while I wait for it to arrive. Do you like Chinese food?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, and Peter takes out his phone. He asks what Stiles wants, and Stiles feels bold enough to order two entrees so he’ll have something to eat for lunch the next day. Peter makes a call and orders in Chinese, which leaves Stiles shaking his head. Then he hangs up his phone.

“Care to join me in the pool?” he asks.

Stiles wouldn’t mind, but he doesn’t have swim trunks. “No, uh . . . I’m okay.”

“Suit yourself,” Peter says, and heads out the back.

Stiles paces and fidgets while he waits for the food. He’s never been good at things like this, never been anything other than hellishly socially awkward. The car ride the day before had been okay, because mostly they had just listened to music, and the day at the ceremonies had been all right because they had mostly been talking about strategies and werewolf business. This feels strangely like a first date, and he hates it, and a small part of him hates that he doesn’t hate it. That even though it’s awkward, he feels strangely okay in Peter’s presence.

He should be terrified of Peter, given the demands that the other man could place on him. Or angry, since he’s stuck with him now. But he reminds himself that he didn’t have to take Peter up on his offer. For that matter, he had volunteered to give up his so-called career, and Peter had even mentioned that he didn’t have the right to stop Stiles, if he wanted to continue.

“Jesus, what’s wrong with me,” Stiles says, leaning against a wall. “A guy offers me free room and board without making demands, and I can’t stop looking for the strings attached.”

He watches Peter do laps in the pool, every stroke precise. Aesthetically, it’s a nice view. He might not be interested in sex at the moment, but he can’t help but admire Peter’s body. Especially when he exits the pool, displaying said body to its fullest potential. Fortunately for him, the doorbell rings at that moment. He goes to answer it, then realizes he doesn’t have any money. “Oh, uh, I don’t . . .”

“Don’t worry, it’s already paid for,” the delivery boy says.

“Yeah, but I should tip you . . .”

“Already done. Seriously, don’t worry about it.” The delivery boy turns around, leaving Stiles with boxes of food that smell delicious. Stiles picks them up and carries them into the kitchen. Peter is just coming in from inside, rubbing his hair with a towel that he tosses over a chair. “He said not to worry about tipping him?”

Peter nods and goes into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator. “I order from them about once a week and they have my credit card on file. They just add gratuity so I don’t have to worry about doing math at the door; it’s easier. Soda or beer?”

“I’m underage, you know,” Stiles says.

“Beer it is,” Peter says, amused, but he withdraws from the fridge with two cans of Coke. “Let’s eat.”

Peter seems content to eat right out of the take-out containers with the flimsy wooden chopsticks provided, so Stiles does the same. The food is amazing, the best he’s had in years, and he wonders exactly how much weight he’s going to gain, sitting around the house all day and letting Peter buy him food. Maybe he should go swimming. Of course, it’s nothing he needs to worry about yet. He could stand to put on a few pounds.

“So like . . . are you a lawyer?” he asks, slurping up some noodles.

“No.” Peter shakes his head. “I’m a research consultant.”

“Cool. Are you shady?”

“When the occasion calls for it,” Peter says, amused. “Yes, I’ve been known to do some unsavory things when necessary.”

“Must pay well,” Stiles says, gesturing to the house.

“Oh, it does,” Peter says, “though much of this is family money.”

“Right, right. The Hale family.”

Peter pauses halfway through an eggroll and glances at him. “Yes, I suppose I should ask you exactly how much you know about me. Since you certainly recognized my name.”

Stiles shrugs a little. “I knew about the Hale fire. My dad was the sheriff, you know. Not at the time, he was just a deputy then, but later. Anyway, when Jennifer Blake was in town, I met – I guess he’s your nephew? Derek? – and when we were trying to figure out if he was good or bad, I did some research and found out about how Laura had died, how you had disappeared from the nursing home. I didn’t know what it all meant then, but once I really had my feet in the supernatural world, I heard the rumors. About how, uh, how you killed her to become an alpha.”

“Mm hm. And your opinion on that?”

Stiles gives another shrug. “It’s none of my business, man. I don’t know why you killed her. I don’t know anything about her. Maybe you’re psycho. Maybe she deserved it. I don’t know, and . . . I’ve gotta live with you for the next six weeks, so I don’t want to know.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says, picking up the egg roll again and dipping it in duck sauce. “I haven’t seen Derek in years. How’s he doing?”

“Uh, I dunno. Was it normal for him to be really surly?” Stiles asks, and Peter gives an amused nod. “Then I guess he was doing okay. Though, he can’t have been happy afterwards, I mean, he was dating Jennifer Blake and then she turned out to be evil and she was only using him and that can’t make a guy happy.”

“Mm,” Peter agrees.

“I think he went to South America or something like that,” Stiles adds, when Peter is quiet for a minute, wondering if he’s thinking about his family.

“Yes, he and his sister Cora,” Peter says. “They live in Brazil now, I believe.”

“Yeah? Do you keep in touch with them?”

“It’s more accurate to say that I keep tabs on them.”

“Creepy,” Stiles says, smiling despite himself.

“I am what I am,” Peter says.

“Yam,” Stiles corrects.

Peter blinks. “Beg pardon?”

“You didn’t say it right,” Stiles says, and then uses an exaggerated Popeye voice. “I YAM what I YAM.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Peter says, smirking. “You had already mocked me for liking a grunge band, I didn’t think referencing a cartoon from the sixties was the way to impress you.”

“Dude, I’m impressed enough; you have a pool table in your basement.”

“Do you play?”

“I do now.”

Peter snorts with amusement. “Well, after dinner you can show me what you’ve got.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It feels strange to Peter, having someone else in his house, in his space. It’s been a long time since he had had to share with anyone. Just waking up and hearing someone else’s heartbeat, even muffled by two layers of walls, is strange. It isn’t strange in a bad way, though. If anything, it’s something of a comfort.

As the days have gone by since meeting Stiles, he’s growing into the acceptance that the declaration he had made on a whim had clearly been spurred by some deeper instinct. He had never expected to have a mate, never looked for one or even really wanted one. But now he has one. He had one from the moment he laid eyes on Stiles, and even if something could change that – which it can’t – he doesn’t want it changed.

Stiles still doesn’t believe him, and Peter isn’t going to press the issue. As time goes by, Stiles will accept the reality of the situation. It’s awkward to a certain extent, but he can’t imagine how entering into a long-term relationship with someone who’s virtually a stranger wouldn’t be awkward. There’s no point in obsessing over it.

He’s good at this sort of thing. Good at putting people at ease, charming them, manipulating them. He can manipulate Stiles into being comfortable with him, and hopefully over time it will turn into something real.

When he gets home on the second day and Stiles is in the same place – hovering anxiously by the door – he offers him a warm and reassuring smile. His smiles aren’t really genuine, not anymore, but it’s better than nothing. Then he frowns as he comes to a realization. “Those are the same clothes you were wearing yesterday.”

“Uh, yeah.” Stiles’ hands tug at the hem of the T-shirt. “They’re the clothes you gave me.”

Peter opens his mouth to say that Stiles could have gotten something else out of his closet, but then decides against it. Stiles is awkward and anxious and he’s still obviously afraid that at the first wrong word, Peter is going to throw him out onto the streets. “How terribly remiss of me,” Peter says. “Let’s go shopping.”

“Uh – okay?” Stiles says.

“I suppose we probably need groceries, too,” Peter says, glancing over into the kitchen. “I’m so used to eating out that it didn’t occur to me. What did you eat for lunch?”

“The leftover Chinese from last night.”

“Ah,” Peter says. He tilts his head to one side and considers Stiles curiously. “Do you know how to cook?”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” Stiles says, and brightens up a little. “Do you want me to cook?”

Peter doesn’t particularly care. He’s lived off take-out food for three years, and although he’ll occasionally buy an expensive steak and grill it himself, he doesn’t feel the need for home-cooked food. But he has nothing against it, either, and he thinks that if Stiles had something solid to do, some way to feel like he’s contributing to Peter’s life, it might make him more at ease. “That would be nice. There’s a grocery service that delivers – ”

Stiles snorts and says, “Of course there is,” unable to hold it in.

Peter keeps talking. “So why don’t we make a list and then we can get some things for the house. Dinner first, I think. Greek?”

“Sure,” Stiles says.

Peter orders the food and goes for a swim as usual. The cool water feels good against his skin. The heat of the fire always, always lingers for him. He dreams about it. Sometimes even if he drifts off during the day, he’ll feel his skin start to crawl with it. That’s one of the reasons he likes to swim so much.

He gets out just as the food arrives and they eat on the back porch. He hasn’t bothered to put any clothes on, and he’s still damp. He’s aware that he cuts an impressive figure, and once again notices Stiles’ utter lack of interest in his body. Well, he can hardly blame the younger man for that, but he suspects that over time, it will change. He can feel his own hormones kick into gear whenever he sees Stiles, and the same must be true in reverse. Mating hormones can be powerful, but as long as Stiles isn’t interested, he’ll keep his hands to himself and play nice.

Over dolmades and souvlaki, Stiles asks Peter about what kind of food he likes and takes some notes. Peter takes out his laptop and lets Stiles compile a grocery list. “I tried to cook mostly healthy stuff, ‘cause my dad had – has – a family history of heart problems. I guess that’s not the sort of thing I have to worry about with you, huh? Though I guess I should watch my own diet.”

Peter shrugs. “I didn’t think to ask you because so much else was going on. Do you want the Bite?”

Stiles nearly drops a grape leaf on Peter’s laptop. “Dude, you can’t – can’t just ask me that.”

“Why not? It’s a simple question.”

“I thought that there were like, rules, and stuff, you don’t just offer it to any random dude you meet on the street.”

“Of course not. But you’re not a random dude. You’re my mate.” Peter continues to eat complacently while Stiles ducks his head and looks away. “There’s only a slight chance it would kill you. It would make you stronger, faster – you wouldn’t have to let anyone hurt you ever again.”

Stiles’ jaw firms up and says, “First things first. I didn’t let people hurt me because I was weak. I let people hurt me because I could get something out of it. Money, sometimes, but mostly information. I dealt in my body because that was the currency I had to offer, so don’t you – ” His voice trembles, then steadies. “Don’t you ever imply that I let people fuck me because I couldn’t stop them. That’s not how it was.”

“Apologies,” Peter says smoothly. “That’s not how I meant it.”

Stiles looks away. “I’m not going to deny that it’s tempting, but if there’s even a small chance that it might kill me, I can’t take it. I have to find my father, and I can’t do that if I’m dead.”

“Fair enough. But if you’re worried about your physical health, you can of course feel free to use the pool, or the exercise equipment.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Stiles stuffs another grape leaf in his mouth and goes back to compiling a grocery list.

Peter glances at him and says, “You can use anything in the house, for that matter. You don’t have to sit around feeling awkward all day.”

“Mmmfhmf,” Stiles responds.

Peter lets it go. He changes the subject to something innocuous, a client he had met with that day, and waits for Stiles to finish the grocery list. Once it’s been sent, they head out to the car.

“So, uh, I guess we’re probably not going to a Wal-Mart, huh,” Stiles says.

“I don’t believe there is one for twenty miles,” Peter responds. “No. But I don’t plan on taking you to the same tailor I use. You would pass out if you saw the prices. There’s a perfectly serviceable mall not too far away.”

“Okay. But I don’t do Abercrombie.”

Amused, Peter says, “We can stick to Dillard’s, if you’d rather.”

“Dillard’s,” Stiles mutters, but he doesn’t argue.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

By the time they get back to the house, it’s late, and the grocery delivery person has come and gone. Stiles marvels at the fact that not only does grocery delivery exist, but they left everything neatly packed in coolers since nobody was home to receive it. Rich people truly do live in a completely different world.

He had seen evidence of that at the mall. Salespeople literally could not leave them alone. It was like they smelled Peter’s wealth, or could read it in his fashion sense. Stiles just wanted to throw some jeans and some T-shirts and a flannel or two into the basket and move on, but nobody would let him. After the third time he tried to duck out of something, Peter had said, “Stiles, I don’t want to have to do this again in two weeks, once you’ve grown more comfortable with me and decide you want to ask for all the things you didn’t buy this time. All right?”

Somehow that turned into half a dozen pairs of jeans, four pairs of shorts, two pairs of dress slacks, and an ocean of shirts. He got packs of socks and underwear, and after that proclaimed himself done, but Peter kept thinking of things that hadn’t occurred to him. “Do you have a watch? A belt?” he asked. “You didn’t want to swim because you didn’t have swim trunks, right? You should get those.” Ten minutes later, “You know, your shoes are awfully worn out. We should get you new ones. Not here, of course, but there’s a good shoe store on the second level.”

When he was done with that, it occurred to him that it would be nice to have some things like a razor and deodorant. There’s a pharmacy on the first floor of the mall, so they stop there and load up their purchases. Across the way is a kitchen store, and Peter said, “You know, we bought you food to cook but it occurs to me that I don’t have any of the things you’ll need to cook it,” and so they wound up there buying cutting boards and spatulas and mixing bowls and roasting pans.

After watching Peter drop literally thousands of dollars without batting an eyelash, Stiles felt brave enough to suggest they go to the bookstore, and Peter said, “good idea.” They wound up spending an hour there while Stiles collected books with his usual eclectic taste and Peter remarked on things he had read, and they got coffee at the little shop before finally heading home.

All in all, it was a hell of a second date.

Stiles is pretty wiped out after all of that, even though Peter had done the majority of the carrying, so they bring their purchases inside and he puts the perishables in the refrigerator and then he heads to bed.

It’s nice to wake up the next morning and shower and dress without having to worry about having to run his clothes through the laundry again. He drinks three mugs of coffee to make up for the lack of Adderall. It’s a gorgeous midsummer morning, so he lounges on the patio reading for a bit before he heads inside.

It takes about an hour to get all of the kitchen purchases unpacked and placed in cabinets and drawers. Then he decides to bake something.

Peter’s takeout menus are mostly ethnic food, but Peter had said that wasn’t due to taste, but due to the fact that most American restaurants don’t do delivery as a matter of course. He was rich enough that he could get anything he wanted, most likely, but he tended to order from places that were more accustomed to delivery, since they were less likely to screw up.

So he makes banana nut bread, because you can take the curly-fry-addicted father away from the rabbit-food-obsessed son, but you can’t take the rabbit-food-obsessed-son out of the curly-fry-prevention mindset. Besides, banana nut bread is tasty, he thinks. Then it’s afternoon and he makes himself a sandwich and decides to go for a swim.

Around four, he starts dinner. He’s going to make chicken pot pie, because that’s about as American as he can get. He wonders vaguely if Peter would like pierogies. He turns the stereo on and turns the volume up, drinks three more cups of coffee and throws himself into it. For the first time in years, he forgets that everything is terrible and just dances around in the kitchen and chops vegetables and sings along.

He’s got the music turned up so loud that he doesn’t hear Peter come in, and so he jumps when he sees him standing by the kitchen’s entryway, dressed in his usual sharp suit and looking entertained. “Jesus!” Stiles says, nearly falling on his ass. “How long have you been home?”

“About five minutes. I was enjoying the show.”

Stiles blushes furiously. “Yeah, well . . . dinner’s almost ready so go get your swim on.”

“Sir, yes sir,” Peter says, clearly amused.

Stiles scowls as Peter jogs up the stairs. He comes back down a few minutes later, but Stiles doesn’t really notice because he’s busy with the food. He glances up as he takes the pot pie out of the oven to see Peter just getting out of the pool, dripping water as he walks over to the chair where he’s draped his towel.

For the first time, Stiles feels a little stirring in his stomach, a flutter of interest. It’s not that he finds the entire concept of sex abhorrent. He appreciates it for what it is. It’s just never done much for him, most likely due to the fact that he’s never had a partner who was even remotely interested in Stiles enjoying himself. Watching Peter, he sort of wonders what sort of sexual partner the werewolf would be. While he’s got a reputation as being entirely self-centered, his actions over the last few days have given the lie to that. Stiles still isn’t sure why Peter is helping him, but it’s undeniable that he is.

It still puzzles Stiles that he’s offered to let Peter fuck him, offered to give him a blowjob, and yet to all outward appearances, Peter is completely uninterested. That flies in the face of everything that Stiles has read about alphas and about mating. According to every common source, an alpha around a bunch of eligible prospects would go into heat too strong to be denied; that’s the whole purpose of the omega room at the ceremonies. It’s supposed to be even more powerful if they meet their actual mate.

So either he’s not really Peter’s mate, or most of what he’s heard is wrong, or Peter simply has iron self-control which will inevitably give out someday. Stiles would much rather not see the aftermath of that. If Peter wants to fuck him, he wishes that he would just do it already, whether Stiles is his actual mate or not.

Peter pulls on a T-shirt as he comes inside and says, “That smells good.”

“Yeah, uh. Do you like pierogies? My dad was a huge fan of them. I was thinking about making them.”

“Sure,” Peter says. “I’m not really a picky eater.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles starts dishing up the food.

As he had the night before, Peter has a store of funny anecdotes and amusing stories from his day at work. They get off onto a tangent about racism in law enforcement, which turns into a spirited discussion about body cameras for the police. Peter is surprised to find that Stiles heartily endorses it. “I thought you might find it insulting, since your father was a police officer.”

“No, Dad said – ” Stiles has to stop and finish chewing a mouthful of chicken. “That any cop who argued with wearing one was probably the one who needed to wear it the most.”

“A wise man, your father.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “He is.”

They’re so into the conversation that he doesn’t realize they’ve been sitting there for almost two hours until Peter’s cell phone rings and he goes to answer it. “No rest for the wicked,” he says, picking up. Stiles starts cleaning up in the kitchen, surprised to realize that it’s eight o’clock. He can’t explain why he just feels so comfortable around Peter. He worries about everything incessantly when the man isn’t around, but when they’re just sitting together, talking, it’s completely fine.

He listens to Peter’s half of the conversation while he puts the leftovers in some brand-new Tupperware. “This is Peter Hale. . . . yes? Mm hm . . . well, that did come in handy after all, then. What? . . . oh, no, I’ll file the necessary paperwork in the morning . . . yes, if she’s threatening to talk, that probably . . . fine, if you feel you can handle it. All right.” He gives an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Yes, you do what you feel is best. Just text me once you’ve spoken to her. All right.” He sets the phone down and shakes his head. “One of the downsides for working for insanely rich people is that they’ll call whenever they feel like it and expect you to drop everything and fix it.”

“How horrible for you,” Stiles says, amused. “Who’s threatening to talk?”

“Oh, the pregnant mistress of a truly obnoxious politician.” Peter rolls his eyes and adds, “Why these people can’t keep it in their pants is beyond me.”

Stiles shrugs. “People get weird about sex,” he says, as Peter starts tapping away at his phone, presumably sending text messages about the woman in question. Since he seems partially distracted, Stiles decides it’s a good time to ask. “Isn’t that . . . what the whole omega room thing is about, anyway? Werewolves who have to have a physical outlet for, uh, that kind of thing?”

“No.” Peter gives a snort and doesn’t look up. “Don’t tell me that you’ve internalized all that bullshit.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip nervously, unsure of how far he can push this without being insulting. “I haven’t internalized anything. I’m just looking for answers. Isn’t that why the omega room exists? Because werewolves can’t control themselves?”

“Oh, they can,” Peter says. “They – we – absolutely can. Most of them just don’t feel like it. They use hormones and pack dynamics as an excuse to do whatever they want without having to apologize for it. Yes, I won’t deny that we can have very strong instincts. But that’s what they are. Instincts. We’re not animals, and we’re fully capable of controlling ourselves. To be honest, I find the implication that we can’t to be rather insulting.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says, wincing.

Peter waves a hand. “It’s the sort of bullshit rumor and myth that’s perpetuated around werewolves. And a lot of them pander to it because it gets them what they want.”

“I guess I can see that.” Stiles considers for a minute. “But you still have the instincts? The hormones and stuff?”

“Yes. Same as any human. Why do you ask?”

Stiles blurts it out before he can think better of it. “Are you attracted to me?”

Peter glances up at him and says, readily, “Yes. You’re my mate, so yes, I find you sexually attractive. But like I said, just because we have the impulses doesn’t mean we have to act on them.”

“You could, though,” Stiles says. “I mean. I don’t want to, to make you suppress your natural instincts, and okay, I’m still not sure about this whole ‘mate’ thing but you seem pretty committed to it, so I guess I’ll stop asking questions about it, and anyway, my point is that I don’t think it’s fair to you to make you wait if you actually want to.”

“What would ‘fair’ be?” Peter asks. “Fucking you even though you personally have no interest in doing it?”

“I don’t know, I just, I don’t fucking get this, I don’t understand any of it,” Stiles says, tugging at the hem of his T-shirt. “I wish you’d just fuck me and get it over with. This, it’s like having the Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Peter sets his phone down on the table, giving Stiles his full attention. “All right, Stiles,” he says. “I’ll tell you exactly when I’m going to fuck you. I’m going to do it when you actually want me to, rather than offering it to me so you can, as you say, ‘get it over with’.” He sees the look on Stiles’ face, confusion mixed with frustration mixed with gratitude. “Let me tell you why. It’s hormones.”

“Hormones?” Stiles echoes.

“Mm hm. Think of it like . . . wine. Everyone has their own particular tastes. Some people prefer a dry wine, or a sweet one, or an earthy one. Et cetera. Hormones and pheromones work much the same way, and because of the closeness that sex entails, they become somewhat overpowering during the act. The hormones you produce when you’re genuinely aroused are quite different from the ones you produce when you’re afraid or in pain. Some werewolves like the latter smell. Those are the werewolves who frequent the omega room, or use their prostitutes harshly. Personally, I don’t care for it. It isn’t the fear or pain specifically, it’s the . . .” He gestures slightly for Stiles to provide the word, as he’ll almost certainly know better.

Stiles swallows and says in a thin voice, “Revulsion.”

“Precisely. So to answer your question, Stiles, the day you truly want me to fuck you, I’ll know. I’ll know before you even figure it out yourself, and on that day, I will take you into my bed and show you what being mated to an alpha really is. But not a day before. Is that understood?”

Stiles nods. He lets out a breath. “What if that day never comes?”

Peter picks up his phone and smiles. “It will.”

After a long moment, Stiles lets out a breath. “You’re kind of a creeper in some ways, you know that? That should be creepy. It should make alarm bells go off in my head.”

“Most likely,” Peter says.

“I mean, the implication is that eventually the mating hormones will cook my brain and I won’t have any choice.”

“Is that what you took away from it? I meant that I would eventually seduce you with my wit and charm.”

Stiles can’t help but smile at that. “Oh, that’s what you meant to imply? That’s okay, I guess.”

“There you are, then.” Peter taps his phone’s screen one final time and then says, “There, that’s done. How do you feel about a movie?”

“Yeah, okay,” Stiles says. They bicker about movies for a few minutes before settling on something. Peter sprawls out on the sofa and pats the cushion next to him. Stiles sits down beside him and hesitantly scoots a little closer.

Peter leans in and nuzzles his face into Stiles’ neck. “I do enjoy your scent, Stiles,” he says.

“Creeper,” Stiles tells him.

“Mm. As you say.”

“Shush, I’m watching the movie,” Stiles says, laughing. He lets Peter lean into him, and it’s a surprisingly nice feeling, a warm, solid body next to him. He feels that flutter again, and it’s not exactly arousal, but a strange kind of warmth. After a few moments, he decides that he likes it.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter goes into work the next morning to find a folder on his desk nearly an inch thick. He pulls strings for a living, and obtaining public records is almost as easy as breathing. Obtaining private records takes a little more effort, but is by no means something he considers difficult. But it comes as paper documents most of the time because that’s more difficult to trace.

He starts at the beginning, the day after Tom Stilinski’s disappearance. It’s a story of pain and distress that spreads out over the course of weeks, then months.

For the first few days, there’s nothing about Stiles specifically. Everyone was too concerned about Tom’s disappearance to think about what was going to happen to Stiles. He was staying with friends. His dad would turn up, and they wouldn’t have to worry about long-term plans. Except Sheriff Stilinski didn’t turn up. He has records of the search, and they were thorough.

Sheriff Stilinski had disappeared at about seven thirty PM on a Wednesday evening. He had been gone for about twenty-four hours when Melissa McCall had likewise disappeared from the hospital where she was working. She had been found the next day. He has a copy of the transcript from her interview with the police. It’s hardly illuminating. She remembered Jennifer Blake asking for her help in the emergency room. The next thing she remembered was waking up in the forest when one of the police officers found her, curled up half underneath a fallen log for shelter.

She didn’t remember seeing Tom Stilinski in the intervening time, but she definitely had, because she was wearing his jacket. The generally accepted theory was that Jennifer Blake had taken her back to whatever hideout she was keeping Stilinski in, then gone out to look for a third victim. Unfortunately for her, she got killed by Deucalion. Either Melissa had escaped on her own, or they had escaped together and somehow gotten split up.

Either way, the question was, where was Tom Stilinski?

And the answer was that nobody knew. That despite exhaustive efforts, no trace of him could be found. He was a police officer, and well-liked; he got the full treatment. They brought in the FBI, they brought in dogs and helicopters and special trackers. Half the town, it seemed, had volunteered to comb the preserve where Melissa had been found in an effort to find him. But there was nothing. He had simply vanished off the face of the earth.

Two weeks after his disappearance, the state finally took custody of Stiles. Melissa McCall petitioned for custody, but because of her own ‘resultant problems’, which the court did not detail, she was denied. Stiles was put in a foster home.

Peter’s friendly little bird has obtained copies of all the internal correspondence from the Department of Child Welfare, and he reads the notes in interest. Stiles had not taken well to foster care, primarily because he wanted to spend ninety-eight percent of his waking time and about eighty percent of his sleeping time looking for his father. The more he was told to let the authorities handle it, the more belligerent about it he became. There were dozens of reports of truancy, as he had a tendency to skip school and chase down leads. The courts got involved again, so he ran away.

They found him about a week later, living in a loft that Peter knew had once been Derek’s. They returned him to foster care and told him that truancy would not be tolerated; if he continued skipping school, he would be put in a group home and much more closely monitored.

Stiles had solved that problem quickly and efficiently by vandalizing every window in the school building and getting himself expelled. ‘No more school, no more problem,’ he reportedly said to the arresting officer, which made Peter grin.

Charges were pressed, and Stiles got sixty hours of community service, mostly because the judge obviously felt sorry for him. Stiles promptly blew that off, too, and landed in the afore-threatened group home. He was reported missing less than twenty-four hours later.

Three months later, the Stilinski house was foreclosed on by the bank. The police officers got together and paid for a storage unit for the belongings inside, while the house was emptied and then sold. Tom Stilinski continued to draw pension, but the bank account was converted into a trust. Peter goes through the finances to find that up until that moment, Stiles had been quite happily spending huge chunks of his father’s money, presumably on bribes for information. It was no wonder the house had been foreclosed on.

A month after that, the town of Beacon Hills quietly, with as much respect as possible, elected a new sheriff.

There’s only one more record of Stiles in the Beacon Hills police system, when he was arrested for breaking and entering about a month after his seventeenth birthday. Peter’s source has thoughtfully included a jump drive with a video of that particular interview, and Peter pulls it up.

Stiles might not have been the picture of health when Peter had met him, but this Stiles was much, much worse. He was thin as a rail, hair spiked lopsidedly and a complete mess. His skin was pale, lips cracked, eyes red-rimmed and shadowed. His hands drummed nervously, incessantly, at the table, while he waited for the officer to come in. When the door opened, his head jerked up.

The officer was obviously someone who knew him, because he dropped the folder on the desk, sank into the chair, and said, “Stiles. Really? What were you thinking?”

“I had very good reasons,” Stiles said, and at seventeen he clearly wasn’t old enough to think about asking for a lawyer. “I’m really onto something this time.”

“Yeah?” the cop said, more of a gentle prompt than anything else, a tried-and-true interrogation technique. If the suspect wants to talk, by all means, let him talk.

“It doesn’t look like much, I know, but I’m convinced that Ms. Morrell knows something about what happened to my dad,” Stiles said, and he’s off and rambling, obviously trying to convince the officer while steering clear of any supernatural information.

“Stiles,” the officer finally said, more of a sigh than anything else. “Jesus, Stiles. You’ve got to stop this.”

Stiles ignored him. “So it didn’t pan out, but if you would let me talk to her – ”

“Talk to her. To the woman whose house you just broke into.”

“Yeah,” Stiles said, nodding urgently. “She wouldn’t talk to me when I tried to find her at school, but I know that she knows more than she’s saying. There’s this guy named Deucalion, and he had a problem with Jennifer Blake, I think he might have seen her that night so he might have seen my dad, too. If I could just – ”

“Stiles, enough!” the man said. Stiles jerked back as if he had been slapped. The officer took a slow, deep breath. “Okay, Stiles. Ms. Morrell doesn’t want to press charges, for which you are damned lucky. But we’re going to . . . we’ve found a place for you to stay for a week or two. Okay?”

“I won’t go back to that group home, everyone there was a prick – ”

“No,” the officer said. “It’s a hospital.”

Stiles jerked away again. “A what?”

“Stiles, you need help,” the officer said. “You’re not dealing with this. I understand that losing your father was hard on you, but you can’t keep going like this. It’s a nice place, we checked it out, it’s called Eichen House, it’s on the south side of town.”

“You’re putting me in a loony bin?” Stiles’ voice rose.

“It’s a hospital,” the officer replied, stressing the word. “You’re sick, Stiles. They’re going to take good care of you there.”

There was a brief moment while Peter could practically see the gears turning in Stiles’ head. While he put everything together and formulated a plan of action. Then, abruptly, his face crumpled. Tears started to stream down his face. “I’m s-sorry, I’m sorry, I just w-want my dad,” he sobbed, burying his face in his arms.

“It’s okay, Stiles,” the man said, rubbing at his back. “We’re going to take care of you, okay? I’m just going to make a few calls.”

He got up and left the room. Stiles’ tears instantly ceased. He sat up straight and looked at his watch. Peter is impressed. Stiles knew that continuing to be belligerent was only going to get him an armed escort. He knew that crying would get the man to lower his guard. He also knew, apparently, exactly how long it would take him to walk down the hallway and be out of sight.

Forty-three seconds later, Stiles stood up and left the interrogation room. The Beacon Hills police hadn’t seen him since.

“Clever little monkey,” Peter says, his mouth curving in a smile.

There was one more arrest, in San Francisco about a year later, for prostitution. He was over eighteen by then, so DCW hadn’t been notified. It was his first arrest, so they had let him off with a warning. The cops in big cities didn’t care about the whores; they wanted the pimps. Stiles served them his on a silver platter and then walked away clean, and again, disappeared.

Peter shakes his head and starts going through the case file on the murders that Jennifer Blake had committed. He has all the crime scene photos, the witness statements; every piece of the investigation is in his hands. He also knows a few things that the police at the time didn’t: who Jennifer Blake was and the reason for her vendetta.

He’s sure that he’ll end up repeating some of the work that Stiles has already done, but he would prefer to start clean, without anyone else’s opinions getting involved. While it’s true that they have an invitation to the supermoon ceremony and will be able to ask Deucalion directly later that summer, there’s no reason to wait if they don’t have to. There’s every chance that Deucalion will have no idea what happened to Tom Stilinski, and even if he does, he’ll have no reason to tell the truth.

From everything that Peter knows about Deucalion, he’s an arrogant, pompous asshole who’s most likely insane. He doesn’t have any reason to do Peter any favors, although Peter thinks if it came down to it, he could probably engineer a way to get Deucalion in his debt.

Regardless of what Deucalion does or doesn’t know, Peter isn’t about to forget that Deucalion’s minions had killed two out of Derek’s three betas, destroying his pack. Stiles doesn’t seem to know that; he doesn’t need to know that, but if all of this gives Peter a chance to rip Deucalion’s throat out, he’s going to take it with a smile.

It’s not that he’s friends with Derek. He hasn’t seen him since he left Kate Argent dead at his feet and left Beacon Hills behind. Derek hates him for killing Laura, and like Stiles, he doesn’t want to hear any of Peter’s reasoning. That’s fine with Peter. But despite all that, Derek is still his nephew, and Peter has  been mulling over now how this might lead him to an opportunity to make Deucalion pay for what he had done.

But in the meantime, if they can find out what happened to Tom Stilinski, it will be one fewer thing to worry about. The most likely explanation is that Jennifer had some magically guarded hideout, and the former sheriff’s bones are still there collecting dust. But if that’s true, he should be able to find it, and at least put Stiles’ search to rest.

And if they do find Tom Stilinski, who probably won’t approve of a single thing Stiles has done in the past three years and definitely won’t approve of Peter Hale, well . . . Peter’s never really been known for backing down from a fight. Or for giving up what’s his.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

Stiles isn’t sure what to expect going into the weekend. The idea of sitting around with Peter all day is still a little nerve-wracking, despite everything that’s happened. Peter sleeps in on Saturday and Stiles makes him breakfast. He half expects Peter to tell him that he doesn’t need to cook, but he seems to have figured out that being able to do that makes Stiles a little less nervous.

When Peter suggests that they go to a museum, Stiles thinks for a moment that maybe Peter has figured out too much about him. He seems well aware that lying around the house all day will only make Stiles feel awkward. Still, Stiles supposes he’s never exactly been an international man of mystery, and Peter is intelligent and good at reading people.

Art museums aren’t really Stiles’ thing, so they go to natural history museum and he wanders around looking at exhibits for a few hours. Peter is fairly knowledgeable about some of the exhibits, but when it comes to useless trivia, Stiles has him beaten by far.

They hit the beach and Stiles just bakes in the sun and listens to the waves. Peter’s reading a book by Tom Clancy. “These thrillers are so ridiculous,” he says, when Stiles questions his taste in literature. “I could read them forever. I have an enormous stack of them at home.”

“Oh, yeah? Where?” Stiles asks, yawning.

“In the library. Have you not seen the library yet?”

Stiles sits up. “You have a library?”

“Upstairs. It’s in the wing opposite from your bedroom.” Peter seems amused by the fact that Stiles still hasn’t gone in any rooms on the second floor besides his own. “I’ll show you when we get home.”

“This is gonna be like in Beauty and the Beast,” Stiles says, excited.

“Oh, really?” Peter asks, arching an eyebrow.

“Yeah, have you never seen it?” Stiles says, and shakes his head. “I guess you don’t seem like much of a Disney fan. Anyway, the beast wins Belle’s heart by giving her a library.”

“Is that the way to your heart?” Peter asks, still amused.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Stiles says. “Well, that and food. Which you also have covered, so you know, there’s that. So what’s in the other rooms I haven’t gone in?”

“Well, your wing is entirely guest rooms, not that I ever actually have guests. The other wing has the library.” Peter glances at Stiles and sees that he looks confused. “Oh, the library takes up all three rooms in that wing.”

“Oh my God,” Stiles says, dramatically collapsing back onto his blanket. “We should go back to the house right now.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter. “Let’s get dinner first.”

They do, at a little seaside café that manages not to be snobby despite the neighborhood. Then they head back to the house, and Stiles immediately buries himself in books. One of the rooms has a comfortable armchair that he curls up in, and he falls asleep there, immersed in an old book about werewolves and other supernatural creatures.

He’s quite happy to spend almost the entire next day in the library, while Peter goes about his own business. He comes down to find lunch around one o’clock and looks out the back windows to see that Peter is lounging in one of the reclined chairs near the pool. He decides that a swim sounds like a good idea, so after a quick sandwich, he changes clothes and jogs outside.

Peter doesn’t look up when he comes outside, and Stiles realizes that he’s asleep. He’s about to go to the pool anyway, when Peter’s body gives a twitch and then a little shudder. “Hey, Peter?” he says, stepping closer. Peter makes a small grunting noise and shudders again. Stiles is worried that he’ll fall off the chair. He starts towards him, but then thinks better of just grabbing him. He’s an alpha werewolf; he could easily kill Stiles if the dream he’s having is a violent one.

Instead, Stiles grabs the empty glass from beside Peter’s chair, fills it up with pool water, and splashes it in Peter’s face from a safe distance. Peter jerks upwards immediately, his shoulders heaving for breath, eyes wide open and bright crimson. He’s partially shifted, his teeth bared as one lip curls in a loud snarl.

“Peter!” Stiles says, still staying back. “It’s me, it’s Stiles. You’re okay, it was just a dream.”

The look on Peter’s face flickers from confusion to recognition. “Stiles,” he says, voice a little hoarse.

“Yeah, dude, it’s Stiles.” He takes a hesitant step closer. “You okay?”

“I – ” Peter swings his legs over to the side so he can lean over, bracing his head in his hands, elbows on his knees. He’s still breathing hard. “Yes, I’m – fine. Thank you for waking me.”

After a moment of hesitation, Stiles sits down beside on the lawn chair beside him. “Were you dreaming about the fire?” he asks.

“Yes,” Peter says. He straightens up, then, tilting his head back a little. “It happens a lot if I get too warm in my sleep. I didn’t mean to fall asleep out here.” He spreads his hands and looks down at them as if he still expects to see the scars. “Not that it only happens when I’m warm. Sometimes it just . . . happens.”

Stiles is silent, wanting to offer support but not knowing what to say. He’s never been good at things like that.

“The funny thing is,” Peter finally says, “that I rarely dream about the fire itself. Oh, it was horrible, naturally, but it’s the aftermath that I dream about. You can’t imagine the agony. It’s like I can still feel the fire underneath my skin, burning. Always burning. And there was nothing I could do, no way to fight, no way to get away from it. I was completely helpless in the face of it.”

Stiles reaches out, twines his fingers through Peter’s, still saying nothing.

“That’s what I dream about,” Peter says. “I dream about being trapped, helpless, burning for eternity.”

“Is that what being an alpha is about for you?” Stiles asks.

Peter nods, but doesn’t look at him. “I never want to be that helpless again.”

“I feel that,” Stiles says, and squeezes his hand. Peter’s breathing evens out a little. “Is this why you swim all the time?”

After a moment, Peter glances at him, and his tone regains some of its normal tenor. “Very astute of you, Stiles. Yes, that’s why I like to swim so much. The cool water against my skin helps the phantom pains that I still have from time to time.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, then grins suddenly. “Last one in’s a rotten egg!” he says, and darts up off the chair. He’s only two steps away from the pool when Peter crashes into him, sending them both into the water. He surfaces laughing, treading water for a moment before swimming back to the shallow end. Peter comes up a moment later and shakes his head at Stiles.

They splash around for a little while and Peter teaches Stiles how to dive, which he had never really been able to do before. It’s about an hour later before they get out.

“Hey, uh . . . how often do you have those nightmares?” Stiles asks.

“More often than I’d like,” Peter says dryly, toweling his hair dry.

“Yeah, but . . . like once a month? Once a week?”

Peter glances over, clearly wondering why Stiles is asking and debating whether or not he wants to answer. “Two or three times a month, I’d say. Why?”

“Just curious.”

“Mm hm,” Peter says. “Did you have plans for dinner?”

“I thought I’d grill some chicken,” Stiles says, then blurts out, “I should sleep in your room.”

Peter looks over at him, eyebrows going up. “Oh?”

“Well, yeah. Because you have nightmares. And it sucks that nobody’s there to wake you up from them. I’m a super light sleeper. It comes from, you know, sleeping a lot of the time when it wasn’t really safe. If you started dreaming, I’d wake up, and then I could wake you up. I mean, it wouldn’t be a perfect system, obviously, but that’s better than having to suffer alone, right?”

Peter smiles at him and says, “Stiles, if you’re lonely at night, you can just say so.”

Stiles aims a kick at his ankle. “Jerk.”

Still smiling, Peter leans over and kisses him. It’s a nice kiss, open but not too deep, lingering but not pushing. Stiles enjoys it, feeling more of that warmth that’s not quite arousal gather in his stomach. When Peter doesn’t back away, there’s a sudden spike of aversion, almost fear, that Peter doesn’t mean to keep his word. Then Peter does pull away, and taps his finger over Stiles’ lips. “Not yet,” he says. “I can wait.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, barely a whisper.

He falls asleep in Peter’s room that night, with Peter at his back, a few inches of space between them so there’s room for Peter’s right arm between them. His left arm is draped over Stiles, a comforting weight against his abdomen. He can feel Peter’s breath against the back of his neck.

He’s shared the beds of many men before, lying there in silence, waiting for them to wake so they can make their demands of him. Even knowing that Peter isn’t going to do anything, it’s still hard to fall asleep. He finds himself jerking back awake every time his eyelids get heavy. There have been so many times when he just doesn’t dare.

“Shh,” Peter murmurs against his back, his thumb rubbing against Stiles’ stomach. “Go to sleep,” he says, and Stiles does.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter comes home from a long day of soothing tempers, borrowing favors, and breaking promises to find Stiles more antsy than usual. He’s learning to read his mood from his stance, his scent, the set of his shoulders. But the six dozen cookies on the counter are a good indicator, too. “Everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, not looking up from the peppers he’s chopping. “Fine.”

Peter considers this and decides to let it go for a little while, to see if he can coax Stiles into talking about it rather than pushing him. He goes out for his customary swim, and comes inside to find Stiles finishing up, some Asian-inspired dish with chicken and peppers and cashews. A few conversational attempts go nowhere.

“You,” he finally says, “are not fine.”

“I’m just – ” Stiles pushes a hand through his hair. He won’t look at Peter while he speaks, pushing his food around on his plate. “I’m just bored, that’s all. Well, no, I’m not really bored, there are a million books and a computer and your DVD collection is insane, I just – I know that we’re going to see Deucalion at the supermoon ceremony and I know that’s five weeks away, but – I hate waiting.”

Peter nods a little. “I imagine you must feel a little at odds with yourself. Like you should be doing something.”

“Back before, you know, before we met, everything was always a struggle and it was like, if I wasn’t trying to follow leads or get information, I was working to feed myself and stay off everyone’s radar, and now I just, everything’s being given to me all of a sudden and it’s like I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Well,” Peter says, wielding his chopsticks with expert aplomb, “if you’re bored sitting around the house all day, you don’t have to. We could get you a job, or enroll you in classes if you’d prefer.”

“Uh, I didn’t actually graduate high school,” Stiles reminds him.

Peter scoffs at this. “Details,” he says. “Don’t forget, Stiles, I pull strings for a living. It would take me fifteen minutes, maximum, to get you either a job or an acceptance letter to a college of your choosing. Don’t underestimate me.”

Stiles looks away and rubs a hand over his arm. “Why are you doing this?” he asks. “I mean, why are you helping me? And don’t just say ‘you’re my mate’, God, I’m so sick of you saying that. This doesn’t make any sense, none of it makes any sense. Don’t get me wrong, I like you, but you aren’t the type of guy who helps people out of the goodness of his heart. You just aren’t. You pull strings for a living and I feel like I’m one of those strings.”

Peter regards him seriously for a moment, which is unnerving, before he pushes his plate away. “I consider you an investment,” he says.

“How?” Stiles asks, his eyes narrowing.

“I’ve never met anyone that I would have called my equal,” Peter says. “My sister Talia was amazing in many ways, but everything that was amazing about her was basically in direct opposition to me. And then there was the fire, which left me basically crippled, for a very long time. It took away everyone that I loved. My niece and nephew survived, but they left me, abandoned me to handle years of unimaginable pain by myself. When I finally put myself together, all I cared about was revenge.

“It’s probably not difficult for you to imagine this, the single-mindedness of the vendetta, so let me paint an unhappy picture for you. Let’s say for a moment that your father had been killed, sacrificed, and that Jennifer Blake had gotten away. Would you have wanted revenge?”

Stiles bites his lower lip, but nods. “Yeah.”

“And you would have done anything to achieve it, am I right?”

“Yeah.”

“So let’s say you did. Then what?”

Stiles blinks at him. “What?”

“Precisely,” Peter says. “I poured everything I was into finding the people responsible for the fire and ending their lives. And I did it. And that left me . . . adrift. I had nothing, after that. No pack. No family. And no purpose.

“Life moves on, you know, whether you expect it to or not. I found new things. I found a career that I actually enjoy doing, I found some amusement, if nothing else, in gathering and displaying material wealth. But I was alone. I was always going to be alone, and I knew that. It’s difficult for a wolf to be alone, especially an alpha. You have to constantly struggle to maintain the alpha power when you aren’t supported by a pack.

“But I do that, because for me it’s far preferable an option. The idea of turning betas, making a pack, it revolts me. Of trying to . . . to replace, somehow, what I lost in the fire. I can’t do that, and I won’t. But then there was you. I never had a mate, not even any real long-term relationship. So you’re not a replacement. You’re another new thing that can bring some sort of purpose to my life.

“And not only that, but you . . . I don’t give out compliments easily or unwarranted, as I’m sure you might expect. But meeting you, imagining what the last three years of your life have been like. You possess a number of values that I prize highly in my associates; you’re intelligent, devious, courageous, loyal. Willing to break the rules to get what you want. I look at you and, mating hormones and mysticism aside, I want everything that you are. I want you on my side, because at the end of the day, you’re the only person I’ve ever met that I can envision keeping my interest. And if that means a little effort now to help you crawl out of this bad place that you’re in, I’m willing to provide it, especially when it really won’t cost me anything to do so.”

Stiles ducks his head, feeling a blush rise to his cheeks, and not at all sure how to respond to that set of statements. “It’s hard to . . . think of myself that way.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. You’ve clearly spent the better part of the last few years being told your only worth is what you can provide in the bed.” Peter picks up his chopsticks again. “But as I said. I consider you an investment. I see your potential, and I want to help you develop it. So I can have it at my disposal, and use it for my benefit. There are the strings you were looking for.”

A smile touches Stiles’ cheeks despite himself. “That reminds me of what I said to you the day at the ceremony. That I was angry at you but still going to use your help.”

“Exactly. We’re birds of a feather, you and I. Isn’t it a nice feeling? To have met a kindred spirit?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Yeah, I . . . it really is.” He rubs a hand over the back of his hair. He’s torn on the idea of classes versus a job. A job seems better on the surface. It would give him some money that would be all of his own, it would give him a way to contribute to the household, it would give him a backup plan if he needed to get gone. Before what Peter had told him, before he was looking at himself as an investment, he would have gone for that. But given everything that had just happened . . . “I’d like to take some classes. That would be cool.”

“So mote it be,” Peter says gravely.

Stiles smirks. “You’re kind of a dork, you know that?”

“Oh, yes, I’m aware,” Peter says. “I do have a penchant towards the dramatic. So what would you like to study?”

“I guess I’ll need my GED,” Stiles says.

Peter waves this away. “Yes, I’ll have that for you in short order. I meant college courses.”

“Oh, uh . . . I really want to be some sort of detective when I grow up? So I guess criminology, law, psychology, forensics – that kind of stuff.”

Peter nods. “Well, I’ll see what I can do. Though you probably won’t be able to start until September at this point.”

“If I know what I’ll be taking, I can study up,” Stiles says, feeling immensely cheered up by this prospect. “Though, uh, if I’m going to be trying to take actual classes . . . is there any way you could get me, uh, some Adderall?” He rubs a hand over the back of his head. “I have ADD. But I haven’t been able to get my meds for a really long time.”

“What dose are you supposed to take?” Peter asks, and Stiles tells him. He picks up his phone and taps at the screen for a minute. “I’ll take care of it.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. He blinks as something occurs to him. “If – you know, if – things are the same in September. I don’t know that they will be. I guess it’ll depend on what happens at the Supermoon ceremony.”

“Mm. That’s true. I suppose that’s something we haven’t really considered, what would happen if you found your father.”

Stiles looks away. He finds that the words stick in his throat. “I don’t – want to leave here. I really – I really like it here. I like you,” he adds, flushing pink. “And, you know, you’ve helped me a lot, and if it’s an investment then I want you to be able to cash in on it someday, you know? But my dad – if I find him alive, I don’t know what sort of shape he’d be in, what sort of care he would need. And I can’t just – ”

“Well,” Peter says, “there are certainly enough guest rooms here that if your father needs some time to get back on his feet, I don’t see that it would be a problem.”

Some of the tension goes out of Stiles’ spine. “Yeah. I – yeah, thanks.”

“If he’s anything like you, he sounds like he would be helpful to have around,” Peter adds, smirking.

“Oh, he isn’t,” Stiles says, and laughs a little, although it’s a sad laugh. “He’s nothing like me. I mean, he’s a really good person. He’s smart and he’s tough and he’s a really good detective and he just, he believes in justice and order and all that stuff that you and I are too cynical to believe in. But my dad could make you believe in it, you know? Because he really is that good of a person.”

“No offense, but I’ll believe that when I see it,” Peter says.

“Fair enough,” Stiles agrees. He taps his chopstick against his plate for a few minutes. “I just – I know that waiting for the supermoon ceremony is the next logical step. I know that at this point, a few more weeks doesn’t really make a difference. But I just . . . like you said. I’ve spent the last three years focusing everything on finding my dad and now there’s just nothing I can do. I feel like there must be something I should be doing.”

Peter considers this for a moment. “I can see how that would drive you a little stir-crazy,” he says. “Perhaps I can cobble together some information on Deucalion and his pack that you could look into. You may not be a prostitute any longer, but you were obviously working as an information broker, and I don’t have a problem with you continuing along those lines.”

“That would be cool,” Stiles says. “I know that, that time isn’t really a factor at this point, but still.” He heaves a wobbly little sigh and pushes a hand through his hair. “Sometimes, you know, I think about how he’s probably dead, how he’s probably been dead for years, and sometimes I think it would be easier if he was dead. Not better, just easier, because at least then I would know, I could finally stop, and then I hate myself for thinking that, for even the smallest part of me thinking he should be dead. I try to be realistic, I know the odds are against ever finding him alive, but until I find his body, I can’t stop hoping, and I don’t want to stop hoping.”

“I don’t see why you should,” Peter says complacently. “Yes, the odds are high that he’s dead. But nothing in our world is certain.”

“I guess you’re right,” Stiles says.

“In any case, it’s hardly hurting you to keep looking at this point,” Peter comments.

Stiles manages a tight, worn little smile. “I got in so many fights with Scott and Melissa after my dad disappeared. About how I was going too far, how I was hurting myself. They kept trying to tell me about how my dad wouldn’t want this for me. But I couldn’t let it go, and I couldn’t make them understand. I couldn’t make anybody understand, and eventually I just had to leave.”

“Logic is no match for that sort of overpowering emotional drive,” Peter says. “I know that quite well for myself.”

“I got Melissa to stop, at least,” Stiles says. “I looked her in the eye and asked whether or not my father would go just as far for me, even knowing that he was hurting himself. She admitted that he would, and she didn’t say anything about it after that. Scott, though, he just . . . he really hated that I started whoring.”

“Why?” Peter asks, and Stiles blinks at him. Peter nabs another cashew and says, “It seems to have been a logical decision on your part, and you certainly reaped the benefits, if it got you this far. Is Scott a prude, a homophobe, or both?”

“Neither, really,” Stiles says. “Well, maybe a little bit of a prude. It’s like, he doesn’t think sex is bad, but he thinks meaningless sex is unhealthy. And, uh, I was having a lot of sex for a while. I guess he thought it wasn’t good for me. I mean, to be fair to him, it wasn’t good for me. It messed me up pretty proper. I just thought it was worth it, and he didn’t.”

“I suppose in a way that’s understandable,” Peter says. “Your first priority was your father, but Scott’s first priority was you.”

“Yeah.” Stiles sighs. “I was kind of a jerk to him in a lot of ways. But I can’t apologize because I wouldn’t take any of it back, you know? The day I find my dad, dead or alive, maybe I’ll be able to face him again. Until then, I just can’t.”

“Well, in a way, maybe all this is what led you here,” Peter says.

“I don’t believe in fate,” Stiles says. “And I sure as hell don’t believe in that whole thing where ‘bad things happen for a reason’, like if my father had never vanished I never would have met you. Maybe that’s true. Or maybe I would have met you anyway. The world is a fucked up place. I don’t know why people believe that bullshit.”

“I think they find comfort in it,” Peter says. “We can’t have the bad things unhappen. So thinking that the bad things led us to good things is a way to make them less terrible in our memory.”

“Self-deception,” Stiles says.

“Yes,” Peter says, “and no. Objectively, what happened to my family was horrible. But subjectively, only I can decide how horrible it was. Coming back from it, finding a mate, building a new life, that doesn’t make their deaths any less tragic. But it does make my life after the fact less so.”

“I guess,” Stiles says, looking pensive. He shakes his head. “There’s no way to approach Deucalion beforehand?”

“I don’t actually know where he lives,” Peter says. He shakes his head and says, “And no. It would be a bad idea. Alphas are very defensive of their territory, and they don’t take trespassing lightly. Now, that only means I couldn’t go. Not that you couldn’t go. But Deucalion would have no reason to see you, no reason to speak to you. At a public ceremony, we’ll be able to approach him.” He sees Stiles’ frustration and says, “Patience, Stiles. You knew the mating ceremonies were your best bet; that’s why you went. Don’t rush into things now.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Stiles heaves a sigh. “Okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“So,” Peter says, as Stiles is clearing the dishes, “a little birdie told me that it’s your birthday.”

Stiles glances over his shoulder and arches his eyebrows. “You know, it wouldn’t surprise me if actual birds brought you information.”

“You know, messenger pigeons were actually the most reliable way of sending information for quite a long time,” Peter tells him. “But that’s beside the point. Truthfully, I have known your birthday since a few days after I met you. Do you want your present?” he adds, in a teasing tone, and is surprised when he both feels and smells a wave of revulsion come from Stiles. His eyebrows go up. “A tender subject?”

Stiles swallows and turns away, his complexion a little green. “I’ve just had a lot of men say that to me before shoving things into my mouth or my ass, depending on their predilection.”

“Noted.” Peter doesn’t dwell on it; it’s obvious that Stiles is embarrassed. “Well, I meant it genuinely. I did get you something.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, taking a minute to close the dishwasher and regain his composure.

Peter holds out an arm. “Shall we?” he asks, and Stiles nods. Peter goes up the stairs with Stiles behind him, and heads towards the library. He’d had someone come and move some of the books to another room, and has set up this room for Stiles. There’s a map of Beacon Hills on one wall, with each of Jennifer Blake’s murders marked with a thumbtack. There’s a desk and a file cabinet, into which he’s moved all of the paper files he has on Deucalion and anybody else involved. A bookshelf sits next to the desk, filled with all the supernatural reference books he has, and there’s a brand new laptop on the table.

“Ho . . . holy shit,” Stiles says, gaping. He starts rifling through the piles of papers. “How did you get all this? You’ve got the, the photographs, the crime scenes, the actual police reports – I was never able to get a tenth of this – ”

“Oh, there’s more,” Peter says, enjoying this. “I have dossiers on Deucalion and all of the alphas in his court, along with all the involved players from what happened three years ago.”

Stiles looks over from where he’s running his fingers along the ley lines marked on the map. “Really?”

“Mm. You said you wanted to keep trying to solve it. So I figured it would be helpful to give you as much information as possible. And some space of your own.”

“This is amazing,” Stiles says. “Can I trade this information? Can I sell it?”

“You can do whatever you want with it. It’s yours.”

“Sweeeeeeet,” Stiles says, already digging through the files with abandon. Peter decides to leave him to it. He goes back downstairs to make some coffee. He sits in his favorite armchair and reads for a little while. It’s easy enough for him to hear Stiles moving around upstairs, muttering to himself, occasionally tacking things up on the walls.

After about an hour, he heads back upstairs. Stiles has been busy, constructing a crime wall surrounding his father’s disappearance, tacking up photos and writing on posterboards, connecting all of them with strings. He looks up as Peter comes in, a highlighter stuck between his lips. Peter arches his eyebrows and the marker falls out of Stiles’ mouth.

“Shit,” Stiles says. “I got so involved, I didn’t even thank you.”

“Which is exactly what I figured would happen,” Peter says, amused. But he approaches Stiles anyway, leans in and kisses him. Stiles responds with enthusiasm, tilting his head to one side and letting Peter explore his mouth, letting Peter hoist him up so he’s sitting on the desk, his legs dangling down on either side of Peter’s body.

Peter puts his hands on the small of Stiles’ back, tugging him forward so their bodies fit against each. It’s a good kiss, a warm, welcoming kiss. He can feel Stiles’ body responding to his, smell the lust and excitement that’s drifting off him, so he lets one of his hands slide up underneath the back of Stiles’ shirt. Then Stiles’ scent changes, not quite a strong enough reaction to be repulsion, but a prickle of nervousness, a hint of what can only be described as ‘do not want’. He lets his hand move away, takes the kisses back a notch, until Stiles’ scent evens out again. “I’m glad you like your present,” he murmurs against Stiles’ mouth.

Stiles pulls away and says, “Hang on. Are you . . . are you wooing me?”

Peter’s eyebrows go up. “How do you mean?”

“Well, most guys would give their significant other flowers or chocolates or something, but you’re not like that, so you’re giving me crime walls instead.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Peter says, amused.

Stiles picks up the highlighter he had dropped and fiddles with it for a minute before saying, “Hey . . . am I really your mate? Is that, like, actually a thing?”

Peter sits down on the edge of the desk and replies, “To be honest, I didn’t believe in it much myself, before I met you. My sister had a mate, and I trusted her judgment, but I figured it had to be extremely rare. Maybe it is. But yes, I believe you are. This doesn’t make your initial opinion on it incorrect, mind. I did claim you out of some combined sense of curiosity and whim. It wasn’t until several days after we got back here that I realized my instincts had been correct. So yes, I believe you are my mate.”

“What does actually mean?” Stiles asks. “I mean, is there some mystical bond here?”

“No,” Peter says. “It just means that you and I fit together. It doesn’t need to be complicated, does it?”

“I guess not,” Stiles says. “I like the way we fit together.”

“There you are, then.” Peter leans in and gives him another kiss. “I’ll leave you to this. Come to bed whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay.” Stiles returns the kiss, with interest. “Thank you.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

For the next week, Stiles spends almost all his free time in the room Peter had given him. He organizes and reorganizes. There’s enough information there to float a battleship, but so much of what he had had nothing to do with the real question: where might Jennifer Blake have hidden her victims?

With Peter’s help, he’s finally managed to put together exactly what Jennifer was doing. He has a picture of the five-fold knot up on his wall. Each of the victims has been profiled. Virgins, then warriors, then healers, then philosophers. Melissa McCall and Tom Stilinski were the last side of the knot: guardians. All of the murders had taken place along the ley lines, so wherever she was going to sacrifice the guardians, it had to be, too. But would the hiding place be in the same place?

And why had she taken them all together? Each of the other victims had been sacrificed one at a time. Why hadn’t she killed Tom before sacrificing Melissa?

Or maybe, he thinks for the first time, she had. Maybe Melissa had only wound up with the jacket because Jennifer had – as unsavory a prospect as this is – taken it off the Sheriff before she either killed him or disposed of his body. But Melissa was unmistakably alive. So if Jennifer hadn’t left her – wherever – to go find a third victim, where had she gone, and why?

He focuses on the events of that month in Beacon Hills. Everything had been about the vendetta between Deucalion and Jennifer Blake, even if the alpha hadn’t realized it at first. Everyone else had just gotten swept up in it. Heather, Derek Hale, the Stilinskis. All the people who had been murdered, all the people who had disappeared. The fight between the alpha and the darach had all but decimated Beacon Hills.

It had done quite a number on Derek Hale, too. That’s unmistakable. He had just become an alpha, just started building his own pack. But Deucalion had killed two out of the three betas he had turned. Stiles isn’t sure why. To knock Derek down a few pegs so he couldn’t help Jennifer? To try to threaten Derek into helping him instead? Or was it just the random acts of destruction by a madman? Peter said that Deucalion was probably insane. It could be that he was right.

What does Peter think about Deucalion? He obviously disdains the entire Court of Alphas, but there’s always a little something more, an edge of something darker, when he talks about Deucalion. He’d have every reason to hate Deucalion – but then again, Peter isn’t exactly close to his family. Still, if there’s something going on, if he’s using Stiles’ attempts to get to Deucalion for his own reasons, Stiles needs to know.

It takes some time for him to decide how exactly he wants to handle this. He thinks very carefully about everything he knows about Peter, and more than that, everything he knows about Peter’s feelings for him. Then he brings it up casually. Peter is out for a swim on a Saturday morning. Stiles settles in one of the lawn chairs with a drink for both of them.

He waits for Peter to get out of the pool, give his hair a quick towel dry, and then sink into the chair next to him.

“So,” Stiles says, “when were you going to tell me that Deucalion killed two of Derek’s betas?”

Peter glances over at him, and Stiles knows he’s handled it correctly when he gets that wickedly curved smile. The one that tells him that Peter is truly pleased with him. “I wasn’t going to. You seemed to have figured it out all on your own.”

“Well, you did give me an entire room full of information,” Stiles says. He pulls his knees up to his chest and rests his chin on them, unconscious of his defensive posturing. “You want revenge on Deucalion?”

“Revenge? No.” Peter shakes his head. “That isn’t the right word. Trust me, I know what it feels like when I want revenge, and this is much lower-key than that. I simply feel like Deucalion should pay for what he did. That’s all.”

“And you’re using me to get to him?”

“Hell, no,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. “I could have gotten to Deucalion at any time, if I had really wanted to. But it wasn’t worth the effort and certainly wasn’t worth the risk. However, if I’m going to be getting to him anyway, I might as well take a shot at him for this, too. Kill two birds with one stone. And if we can keep him focused on what you need from him, he might not notice what I’m up to.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip, considering all this. “No, that won’t work,” he says. “He’ll know you’re using me as a distraction. And then I might not get the answers I need. We need to come at him straight on.”

Peter’s eyebrows go up. That slight smile flits across his face again. “Was there something you had in mind?”

“Maybe,” Stiles says. “Is weregild a real thing?”

“Where’d you run across that term?” Peter asks curiously.

“I think I heard it a year ago. Someone told me that if Deucalion had killed my father, I could request weregild.”

“He wouldn’t give it to you,” Peter says. “You’re beneath his sight line. But you might have a point. Yes, weregild is a real thing. And although it would be more appropriate for Derek to demand it, being in that it was his betas that were killed, as the alpha of the family I could demand it myself. That would be Deucalion paying for what he’s done somewhat more literally than I intended.”

“But it doesn’t have to be money, right?” Stiles asks. “Weregild can be anything. You could ask for a service, for protection, for information – you could even demand he let you kill two of his betas to even the score.”

“That’s correct,” Peter says, “although the more ridiculous the demand, the less likely he is to grant it.”

“That’s my idea, though,” Stiles says. “Don’t ask for something ridiculous. Ask for something reasonable – but something that will give you access to him. Then you’ll be able to get your non-revenge.”

“You know,” Peter says, “the purpose of demanding weregild is so the debt will be forgiven. Or at least forgotten. If he granted weregild, and I used it to destroy him, the Court of Alphas would frown upon that very heavily.”

“So . . . it’s a bad idea?” Stiles asks.

“No, it’s a wonderful idea and I’m incredibly attracted to you right now,” Peter says, smirking at him.

“Yeah?” Stiles uncurls and moves over to Peter’s chair, sitting in his lap. It’s a move that makes him a little nervous, a bold, assertive move. But he’s starting to realize that he trusts Peter, in a lot more ways than one. Peter sits up and puts a hand on the back of Stiles’ neck, pulling him into a long, languorous kiss. Stiles just lets himself sink into it, lets his hands rest on Peter’s shoulders.

Peter moves away, still with that little half-smile. “Getting continued access to him is easy enough. I can just ask for his protection, tell him I’ve made some enemy. That will be easy enough for him to believe.”

“Aww, but everybody loves you,” Stiles jokes.

“As you say,” Peter replies, his hand resting on the small of Stiles’ back. “I thought you would be angry.”

“Because you hate Deucalion, too?” Stiles shrugs and moves out of Peter’s lap, plopping back into his chair. “No. I mean, you made it pretty clear from the beginning that you usually have ulterior motives for everything you do. If anything, I feel a lot better knowing this is what it is. You should’ve just told me, though,” he adds, and aims a kick at Peter’s ankle. “Jerk.”

“Guilty as charged,” Peter agrees, “but I was curious to see how long it would take you to figure it out.”

“How’d I do?”

“Oh, fairly well.”

“Damned with faint praise.” Stiles shakes his head. “You don’t even talk to your nephew, though. Why do you care?”

“First of all,” Peter says, “it’s a point of pride. The Hale family might be far diminished, and will probably never recover. I certainly don’t plan on having children, and God knows that Cora and Derek are both antisocial enough that they’ll probably never find anyone willing to breed with them. But we are what’s left of an old, prestigious family, and I dislike letting people step all over us just because they feel like they can.”

Stiles nods. “Okay. And?”

“And, Derek is my nephew,” Peter says. “I do have a certain . . . proprietary interest in his well-being.” He sees the skeptical look on Stiles’ face. “You don’t believe me.”

“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, you did kind of murder your niece.”

“Yes,” Peter says. “But I thought you didn’t want to talk about that.”

Stiles shrugs. He hunches in on himself again for a minute, then lifts his eyes to Peter’s. “Tell me why?”

Peter regards him in silence for a long minute. “When I woke up in the hospital after the fire, I was alone,” he says. “I had never been alone before. Although there were certainly times when I felt ready to throttle my perfect, overbearing big sister and my irreverent, boisterous older brother, they had always been there. I was the youngest. Family, pack, it was . . . a constant in my life. So when I woke up in the hospital, alone, I assumed I was the only survivor. I didn’t know what had happened to the others, but it was the only explanation in my mind.

“Months and months later, someone made a comment that sank in and I realized Laura and Derek were alive, that they had left town, that they had left me. I didn’t blame Derek. He was a child. But Laura was an adult, and more than that, she was my alpha. Protecting me, one of her betas, was her duty. She abandoned her duty and she abandoned me. She didn’t even have the common sense or courtesy to put me in some facility under a false name after hunters tried to murder our entire family. She wasn’t fit to be an alpha.”

Stiles continues to watch him, not saying anything.

“And,” Peter concludes, “by that point I was out of my mind from the pain. I would have done anything for it to stop. Once I had the alpha power, I would be able to heal. Killing the niece who abandoned me to suffer by myself didn’t really seem too great a price to pay.”

“That makes sense,” Stiles says. “I mean, I’m not saying I’m happy you did it, but I think that at least I can understand it.”

“I wouldn’t ask for more,” Peter says. “I never asked Derek to forgive me. I never will. But this much, at least, I can do for him. Show the court that he still has my protection, no matter what else happened.”

“Family is important,” Stiles says gravely.

Peter gives him an amused look. “You don’t say.”

Stiles just smirks at him. “C’mon, let’s go get coffee and talk about how to infiltrate Deucalion’s court and make him regret he ever heard of Beacon Hills.”

“I couldn’t imagine anything I’d rather do.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles settles in gradually, but Peter can tell he’s growing more comfortable by the day. He swats at Peter when the alarm goes off instead of immediately getting out of bed to make sure Peter doesn’t want or need anything. He gets absorbed in his research, forgets to cook, and instead of apologizing repeatedly he just asks Peter what he wants to order. He starts spending hours on the internet, reading up on various subjects and classes he wants to take.

Peter watches him come out of his shell with genuine enjoyment, the amount of which actually surprises him. It’s rewarding in a way that he wouldn’t have expected, given how anti-social he was as a general rule. He watches Stiles and thinks, yes, this is the human he wants to spend the rest of his life with, this is the human that will rival him, once he’s back on his feet and confident in himself.

It’s been about three weeks when Stiles jogs downstairs on a Monday evening and says, “Hey, uh. Can I go out of town for a couple days?”

Peter arches an eyebrow at him. “I could remind you that I’m not in charge of your whereabouts, but mm, no, I’m curious. Where are you going?”

Stiles huffs out a breath. “It’s called common courtesy, asshole,” he says. “Anyway. This contact of mine might have a bead on Ms. Morrell. I know that she was far more involved in all of this than she ever admitted. So I want to go see him. He lives up in San Mateo.”

“Ah,” Peter says. “Well, again, you’re welcome to leave or not leave. I’m not your warden.”

“Yes,” Stiles says, and rolls his eyes so hard that Peter is surprised that they don’t pop out of his head, “but I’ll have to borrow one of your cars, and I think you would probably appreciate me checking that with you.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says. “You’re welcome to them. Do you want one in particular?”

Stiles fiddles. “Are any of them manual?”

“The Audi is, yes. I take it that’s your preference?”

“Yeah, that’s how I learned, on this beat-up old Jeep. I mean, I can drive automatic, obviously, but I like manual, it gives me more to focus on while I’m on the road.”

Peter nods. He stands and goes to the little shelf next to the door to the garage, plucks out the appropriate key, and tosses it to Stiles. He nabs it out of the air with a nod of thanks. “How exactly are you going to pay for this information?” he asks. “I’m only curious, mind.” It isn’t his business to tell Stiles what to do with his body, but he has to admit that Stiles leaving to have sex with someone else will rankle, even if he knows Stiles won’t enjoy it.

Stiles gets it right away. “No, it won’t be like that,” he says. “Luka’s not into guys. He’s someone I met once I had been whoring around long enough that I had my own store of information to trade. So that’s how we do. I’ve got more than enough on Deucalion and a few other alphas that I can buy anything Luka’s got to sell.”

“Ah,” Peter says.

“Would it bother you?” Stiles asks.

“Yes,” Peter says, his tone forthright. “In fact it would take me a great amount of self-control not to travel to San Francisco and rip out the throat of anyone who touched you. But again, I’m not your warden.”

“Aw, that’s sweet,” Stiles says, laughing a little. He steps in close, just barely touches his lips to Peter’s, breathes against him. “Mating instincts?”

“Yes, actually. We get extremely territorial over such things.”

“Well, trust me,” Stiles says, “I’m getting to the point where the thought of sex with you is actually kind of appealing, but I definitely don’t want to have it with anyone else. I’m done with all that.”

“Mm hm.” Peter gives him a soft kiss. “Are you ever going to tell me how you got started with that?”

At this, Stiles pulls away. “Someday,” he says.

“Someday,” Peter agrees. He sits back down and pats the sofa next to him. Stiles comes over and sits down. “Have you ever – and this is a question of honest curiosity – enjoyed a sexual experience?”

Stiles shrugs. “Not really. But I’m guessing that that’s because I’ve never been involved with anyone who was remotely interested in me enjoying myself.”

“Mm hm.” Peter reaches over and rests his hand on Stiles’ thigh, his fingers tapping at the inseam of Stiles’ pants. He drops his voice to a purr. “Have you ever had a blowjob?”

“Uh,” Stiles says, swallowing hard. “No. Yeah. Twice.” He shakes his head. “I was drunk both times, didn’t do much for me.”

“They probably had poor technique,” Peter says. “I, on the other hand, have excellent technique.”

He’s pleased to see Stiles’ breathing hitch a little. “Oh, oh yeah? You don’t really seem the type. To do that. I mean. I have a lot of experience with men and, uh, you just. Don’t seem the type.”

“No, I enjoy it very much,” Peter says, letting his hand drift a little higher, enjoying the way Stiles’ scent is just going mad with lust and hormones. “I enjoy drawing it out . . . making my partner feel so good that he begs . . . making it so I’m the only thing that exists in their world.”

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles says faintly. Peter takes that as a good sign and leans in to nuzzle at his neck, nipping at the joint of his shoulder. His hand never stops that rhythmic motion on Stiles’ thigh. But as soon as he ventures towards the button of Stiles’ pants, there’s that spike of apprehension. He pulls his hand away, kisses Stiles’ neck a few more times, and then withdraws to his part of the sofa.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles gulps out. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Peter lets him have his space. “You don’t need to apologize.”

“I, I do though, you’re being so good about this and I’m just – I just can’t – ”

“Stiles,” Peter says, “it’s been three weeks. I didn’t expect it to be quick, or easy. The sort of abuse you’ve been through takes time to overcome, even with mating hormones playing a role. I have to push so I can determine where your limits are, but never apologize for stopping me when I’ve gone too far.”

Stiles takes a few more deep breaths. “Yeah,” he says shakily. “Yeah, I – okay. Thanks.”

“To be honest, I’m rather enjoying this,” Peter muses, almost to himself. “This sort of seduction. It’s not in my usual playbook, but you are, as ever, worth venturing outside my comfort zone for.”

“Wow, that was really, I’m not sure if that was sweet or creepy,” Stiles says, shaking his head.

“Oh, it was probably both,” Peter says. “Sweet and creepy, that’s the dead center of my comfort zone.”

“You know what, I would totally believe that,” Stiles says, and he’s laughing now, and things are okay.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter isn’t surprised at all to find that he sleeps very poorly when Stiles is gone. Even though it’s only been three weeks – two since Stiles started sharing his bed – he’s grown accustomed to him rapidly. It’s not intellectual; it’s instinctual. A matter of touch and scent and a heartbeat in the same room. He has bad dreams, and not just the nightmares about the fire, although those certainly manifest in abundance.

Stiles would only be gone a couple days, so it seemed logical enough to Peter to simply stay up while he was gone. Werewolves didn’t need as much sleep as humans, and alphas needed even less. It was a matter of course for him to get four or five hours a night without it being a problem.

The day after he left, Stiles texted Peter to say, ‘mtg went well’ and then a minute later ‘following the lead, be back soon’.

Peter does his work and watches television and swims and eats take-out food. He doesn’t pine. Stiles crosses his thoughts several times a day, but only at night does he feel that keen sense of longing. There’s a sense of relief when he hears the familiar engine coming down the road, and the garage door opens.

Stiles pokes his head into the house, clearly a little anxious and not sure what sort of entrance is appropriate. “Hi,” he offers, seeing Peter on the sofa.

“Welcome back,” Peter says, since he doubts ‘welcome home’ is what Stiles wants to hear. “How did it go?”

Stiles gives a little shrug and toes off his shoes. “Dead end, as usual. I swear, Morrell’s like a shadow. I don’t think I’m ever going to catch her. Have you eaten?”

“Yes, about an hour ago. There’s leftovers in the fridge, if you’re hungry.”

“Cool.” Stiles goes over to the refrigerator and pulls out a few containers of leftover Greek food. He comes over to the sofa with the cardboard containers and a can of soda and sits down next to Peter. “Um, hi,” he offers again.

“Hello,” Peter says, amused, and leans in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck. Then he keeps right on going, letting his head drop into Stiles’ lap as the rest of him sprawls out comfortably on the sofa.

Stiles laughs. “Cool, I can feed you olives and stuff.”

“Yes, excellent idea,” Peter says, and immediately falls asleep.

He’s peripherally aware of Stiles shoving him around later that evening, but doesn’t really wake until well into the next morning. He finds that he’s still on the sofa. Stiles is now sprawled out as well, on his back, with Peter’s head on his chest. Their legs are twined together.

“This is cute,” Peter drawls, his voice a little rough from sleep.

“You’re telling me,” Stiles says, laughing. He’s clearly been awake for a while; he has his phone out and is playing a game on it.

“You could have woken me so we could go to bed.”

“Geez, I tried,” Stiles says, still amused. “You were out cold. One time I got you to wake up, like, ten percent, and you just snarled at me. I figured it was safer to just sleep down here.”

“I see,” Peter says, and decides not to apologize.

“You didn’t sleep the whole time I was gone.” Stiles’ voice is unmistakably smug. “You missed me. Like crazy.”

“It was a strategic, proactive means of preventing nightmares,” Peter says, and then inches up to give Stiles’ neck a firm nip. “And I did miss you. Terribly.”

“Good. Now get off me. I’ve needed to piss since like eight AM.”

“How charming,” Peter says, but he sits up and pushes one hand through his hair, rubs his hand over the rough stubble on his chin, as Stiles gets off the sofa and heads into the bathroom. He picks up the teenager’s abandoned phone and checks the time. It’s half past ten. He’s lucky that he sets his own hours and doesn’t have any sort of boss to check in with.

“Breakfast?” Stiles says a few minutes later, emerging from the bathroom.

“Absolutely,” Peter says. He makes a quick stop in the bathroom himself, then retrieves his own phone. He has several messages, which he answers while Stiles makes French toast and bacon. After some thought, he decides against going in to work. Everyone can live without him for a day. There are a few minor matters of business which he directs to his subordinates via email, and then he settles down for a lazy day by the pool.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles has to admit a small amount of relief that his return to Peter’s house wasn’t a big deal. All teasing Peter aside, after he’d gotten some sleep, it was just like a normal day. They laid around the pool, he made dinner, they watched a movie. Peter nearly fell asleep on him again, and Stiles laughed at him. It’s a little odd to think of Peter missing him. He doesn’t seem the type.

“It’s just instincts,” Peter says, as Stiles prods him up off the sofa and towards the bedroom. “I’m used to you being here now, that’s all.”

“Sure,” Stiles says, amused. Peter smirks back at him, daring him to say something, and then when Stiles opens his mouth, he uses the opportunity to steal a kiss. Stiles shoves him towards the bed and says, “I’m going to take a shower,” and heads into the bathroom.

It’s impossible not to think about what sex with Peter would be like at this point. He doesn’t know if it’s because of the whole ‘mate’ thing or because Peter’s an alpha or if it’s just because he’s a nineteen year old male who’s been used to getting sex regularly, even if it was awful sex. He supposes that at his age, he’s supposed to be preoccupied by sex, terrible experiences aside.

But he thinks about the sort of things Peter has said, the way he’s always so attentive to Stiles’ mood and level of desire. Thinks about it from an alpha’s point of view, wanting to please their mate, wanting, as Peter had said, to be the center of their universe. Stiles knows that sex can be amazing; he’s good enough at blowjobs to know that people enjoy the hell out of them.

He thinks about Peter while he showers, giving himself a quick scrub and washing his hair. Thinks about Peter shirtless, emerging from the pool. Thinks about Peter’s way of seeking out the sensitive places on his neck and shoulder, making all his nerves jump to attention. He doesn’t really intend to start jerking off, but before long that’s exactly what he’s doing, leaning the back of his head against the shower wall, fingers wrapping around his cock and tugging. A rush of breath escapes him as his eyes flutter shut. He wonders what it would feel like if Peter did this to him. There’s no element of surprise when it’s his own hand, even though it’s the most enjoyable sexual experience he’s had to date.

His pulse is so loud in his own ears that he almost misses the quiet knock, and then the door opens and Peter comes into the bathroom. “D’you mind?” he asks, his voice deceptively casual.

“W-What?” Stiles forces his hand to stop moving, figuring that Peter needs to use the toilet or something. “Oh, uh, no. Whatever.”

Peter closes the door behind him so the steam won’t all escape. But he doesn’t go towards the toilet; he sits on the counter by the sink. His form is blurry through the steam on the shower’s glass door, but Stiles can practically picture his toothy smile. “Don’t stop on my account,” he says.

“Pervert,” Stiles accuses him, but his hand is already moving again on its own volition and he lets out a small moan despite himself.

“Mm, guilty as charged,” Peter says. “Are you thinking about me?”

“Well, I would be, if you’d shut up and let me do this,” Stiles pants, trying not to focus on the sound of Peter’s voice. It should be awkward, jerking off with only that wall of frosted glass between himself and Peter. He knows that Peter can see him, if only as a vague shape. But any sort of sexual mores or shame had gone by the wayside long ago. The kinkiest things barely made him bat an eyelash at this point; Peter wanting to watch him rub one out through the shower door seems completely benign.

“Imagine what I’d do if I were in there with you,” Peter says, his voice lower, barely audible over the shower. “You do have an amazing ass, have I mentioned that to you? I’ve been thinking about the day I’m going to get my hands on it. I can do things that would make your eyes water. Has anyone ever given you a rimjob?”

“No,” Stiles pants out, slowing his strokes. He’s not sure why, but he wants this to last longer. “And I don’t want one. They’re gross.”

“While I can sympathize that being forced to give one to any of your clients, who were probably lacking in the hygiene department, would be revolting, I can assure you that you’d enjoy one from me,” Peter says, that hint of amusement in his voice. “But all in good time. There are plenty of other things I want to do to you. Do you know, I’ve made a study of your moles? I want to lick my way between each and every one. Where else might you want my mouth, Stiles?”

“Uh,” Stiles says, more of an exhalation than anything else. “My stomach. ‘Sreally sensitive.”

“Your hips, too, I bet,” Peter says. “And the backs of your knees. Your nipples. I wonder if I could make you come just by playing with them.”

Stiles makes a little whimpering noise he won’t admit to later. He’s getting close now, and he thinks that he should say something, except he’s strangely sure that Peter knows.

“Your cock, though, that’s where I really want my mouth to be,” Peter says. “I want to suck you until your entire body is trembling. I don’t think you realize how beautiful you’d be like that. I’ve been thinking about that more and more lately. I thought about it while you were gone and did exactly what you’re doing now. Do you like that, Stiles? That I made myself come while thinking about you?”

“Oh, Jesus, yes,” Stiles blurts out, and he comes hard because he knows that Peter is telling the truth, that Peter doesn’t just want to use him, Peter wants it both ways. He leans against the shower wall, loose-limbed and breathing hard.

Peter gives a low chuckle. “Clean up and come to bed,” he says, and leaves the bathroom in another bellow of steam.

It takes Stiles a minute to put himself back together, turn off the shower, and dry off. He crawls into the flannel pants and T-shirt that he typically sleeps in, and then he wonders if he shouldn’t. ‘Come to bed’, Peter said; there are definitely implications to that. Peter has been good to his word so far, but given what just happened, Stiles can see how he might expect things to be different now.

He’s nervous and a little shaky as he goes into the bedroom. Peter is reading in bed, and he too is dressed, wearing a T-shirt and boxers as usual. Stiles’ breath leaves him in a rush of relief, and he crawls into bed next to Peter. The werewolf puts his book aside and turns out the light. He leans in to give Stiles a kiss, but it’s a gentle, easy kiss that doesn’t make any demands.

“Hey,” Stiles says quietly, into the dark bedroom. “You want to know how I became a whore?”

Peter reaches out and rubs his thumb along Stiles’ cheekbone. “Yes, I do,” he says.

Stiles says nothing for a few minutes. Then he rolls onto his back so he isn’t facing Peter anymore. “It was a few months after my dad disappeared. Four or five. Before I’d gotten expelled from school. I was still in foster care then; everyone was still trying to pretend that my dad would be found. And I was just . . . doing anything I could, I was bribing people and breaking into files and paying this sort-of friend to hack into computer systems and I was still coming up empty.

“Finally I met this guy who had been a friend of Jennifer Blake’s. He said he knew a lot about how she did her magic, he might be able to help me find her. He agreed he would tell me everything he knew about her, but I had to do him a special favor. He was a sorcerer, see, and he had found this spell that would, I don’t know, make him irresistible to the opposite sex or something. But the spell got its power from sex. And it had to be a virgin. A willing virgin. Like, he nailed a virgin during the spell and that’s what made it work. I’m still not very good with magic, who knows.” Stiles’ voice cracks a little, but then he takes a deep breath and steadies it out.

“So he asked me if I was a virgin and I was, and he said if I would let him fuck me, he would help me. And I said yes because I would have done anything, and I figured it couldn’t be that bad, everyone enjoys sex. He said he would make it good for me, that the better the sex was, the better the spell would work, so I figured he had incentive to make me enjoy it, right?

“I had to do this whole purifying ritual and a cleansing ceremony and there was a lot of being naked and having this guy look at my naked body and I was a little uncomfortable.” Stiles glances at Peter and then quickly away before he can really register whatever expression is on Peter’s face. “I remember thinking at one point that this was the guy that they warned you about, selling candy out of a windowless van. But God, I was insane at that point. So I didn’t say anything. It had to be a willing virgin so I thought, the minute I expressed any sort of doubt or, or reluctance, he would decide that I wasn’t good enough for the spell and I would never find out what he knew about Jennifer.

“So I got down on my hands and knees on this cold tile floor and I was surrounded by this circle and there were all these symbols and it was kind of freaky. But I kept telling myself ‘this is for your dad, don’t wimp out, you can do this’. So he fucked me, and I tried, I had tried to prepare myself for it, like I’d put a couple things up my ass in the past, no big deal, but it was just nothing like what I’d thought. It hurt, a lot, and I tried not to cry but I did, and he put in absolutely zero effort to make it good for me, believe me.” Stiles is quiet for another long minute, but Peter still doesn’t interrupt, waiting for him to give some signal that he was done talking.

“Afterwards I could barely walk but I was just happy because it was over, and he was happy because the spell had worked, or at least I guess it did because he never said it didn’t. So I asked him to tell me everything he knew about Jennifer, and he, he laughed at me. He’d never even met her. He’d just heard that I was trying to find her hideout and he told me what I wanted to hear so I would let him fuck me.

“I was so angry and so hurt and I just . . .” Stiles’ voice cracks again and he wipes impatiently at his eyes. “I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened, I was too embarrassed. I felt like an idiot. I just went home and waited to stop hurting. And I, like, I told myself it wasn’t a big deal. It was just sex, you know, everybody does it. Virginity’s just a social construct. It didn’t matter that I’d lost mine to a liar and a jerk.

“Three days later, I went out to this club. Jungle. It’s a gay club. I went in and I had this fake ID and I got drunk and sucked a guy off in the bathroom. I was just so desperate for what had happened to me not to mean anything. I told myself sex was just a thing people did. A thing I did. So it wasn’t a big deal. It was like, the more sex I had, the more meaningless it became, and the less what he did to me meant. I don’t know if that makes sense. That’s when Scott started to get really worried about me, because I was alternating between looking for my dad and getting drunk and sucking cock.” Stiles gives another quick glance at Peter, chewing on his thumbnail.

“About a month later, I finished going down on this guy and he said I was pretty good at it, and if you were good at something, never do it for free. He gave me twenty dollars and that’s how I got my first pimp, a guy who quoted the fucking Joker in the bathroom at a gay club. I traded up a couple times after that, got good at what I did, figured out how to bargain for information and not just money. So that’s how I became a whore.”

Peter’s listened to this story in silence, studying Stiles as their eyes adjusted to the dim light in the bedroom, the moonlight that leaks around the curtains.

“I never told anyone that,” Stiles says after a few moments. “Not even Scott. Whenever he would talk about being worried about me because of the whole sex thing, I just told him that he was making too big a deal out of it. I told him the same things I told myself. That it was just sex. It didn’t mean anything.”

When he falls silent again, Peter says, “If it helps at all – and I understand that it might not – your reaction was actually quite common. Although a lot of rape victims become sex-averse, there’s also a large number of them that become extremely promiscuous. In an attempt to normalize the experience, render it powerless over them.”

Stiles shakes his head a little. “Yeah, well, it’s different for actual rape victims, I guess, but that’s not what happened to me.”

“Oh, it is,” Peter says, his tone still mild. “It absolutely is. In more than one way, actually. The first, obvious point, is that it was statutory rape. You were only sixteen, and the age of consent in California is eighteen. That makes it rape right there. Adding in the factor that from your description, this man was significantly older than you – not that I can talk – but even if you had been fully willing and enjoyed the experience, it still would have been rape.

“Secondly, it’s a specific kind of rape called ‘rape by deception’. That would be the legal term for it; I believe it’s more commonly referred to as ‘rape by fraud’. It means that, although consent was granted, it was done under terms which were then invalidated later, rendering your consent null and void. There was a famous case of it recently where a woman accused a man of rape by fraud because he had lied about his religion. She stated she would not have had sex with anyone who was not the same religion as she was, and the courts did find him guilty.

“This man coerced consent out of you by promising you information that he never had any intent to provide, which makes your consent void. So yes, Stiles, it was definitely rape, even without going into the larger issues of the fact that he took advantage of your desperation and you were clearly intimidated by him to a certain degree, in that you were hesitant to voice your doubts. You don’t actually have to say no to withhold consent. Being in a situation where you’re afraid to say no is just as much rape as the man who holds you down and fucks you while you scream. I understand why you felt embarrassed and blamed yourself, but what happened to you wasn’t, in any way, your fault.”

“Oh.” Stiles swallows hard, and his voice breaks. “Hey, if I – if I start crying now, will you – will you think less of me?”

Peter answers with actions rather than words, reaching out and pulling Stiles against his shoulder. Stiles lets out a hitching sob into Peter’s shirt, and Peter rubs a hand up and down his back, murmurs into his ear. “It wasn’t your fault,” he repeats. “You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It was him. He took advantage of you, and that is not your fault.”

Stiles cries so hard that it takes his breath away, curled up against Peter, his entire body shaking. Peter just holds him until the worst of it has passed. When his sobs trail off, Peter thumbs the tears off his cheeks. “You are amazing,” he says. “Do you know that? Because you were alone, and hurt, and afraid, but you never let it stop you. And you’re never going to be that powerless ever again. Not because you have me. Because you have you. And I’m going to help you become powerful in your own right, because when all this is over, we’re going to come out on top, and I’m going to rule over the ruins with you at my side.”

Stiles’ breath hitches but he manages a wobbly smile. “That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me. Also the most disturbing.”

“Yes, well,” Peter says. “I yam what I yam.”

Stiles gives a snort that turns into a little giggle, the edge of hysteria bleeding off. He nestles closer.

“I don’t suppose you know this man’s name,” Peter remarks.

“Why?” Stiles asks, feeling a little sleepy now that the worst of it is over. “Are you going to go kill him?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Peter says. “Though not at first. To start with, I’m going to ruin his life. I’m going to take away everything that’s important to him. I’m going to leave him standing in the ashes wondering how his luck turned against him so fast. Then, once he’s been appropriately broken, I’m going to tell him why. I’ll make sure he understands why he’s being punished. Then I’m going to kill him.”

“That sounds amazing,” Stiles murmurs, and slides into sleep without another word.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“So,” Peter says, leaning in to nuzzle at the crook of Stiles’ neck while he’s mixing batter for muffins. “I was wondering if you would be interested in helping me out with a little job that I have to do.”

“Oh yeah?” Stiles asks, glancing over his shoulder.

“Mm hm.” Peter hauls himself up to sit on the counter across from where Stiles is baking. “You see, I need some bait, and you fit the bill remarkably well.”

“Wow, that’s how to get me to say yes,” Stiles says, and rolls his eyes. “Start at the beginning, why don’t you?”

“The beginning of the story depends on who’s telling it,” Peter says.

“If you keep up this cryptic bullshit, I seriously will not let you lick the spatula when I’m done with these.”

Peter gives a snort of amusement. “There’s a man in this city who has a habit of luring in cute young twinks and then selling them to a slaving ring,” he says, and Stiles goes still for a moment. “Yes, I thought you might be interested. As far as we can tell, he’s been doing it for about two years. He goes to the kind of clubs that the homeless gay youth who’ve turned to prostitution go to. Talks them up, drugs their drink, and the next thing they know, they’re in handcuffs on a plane out of the country.

“We know this because the fathers of one of these boys hired a private investigator to find his son after he went missing. Apparently, the man lost his job and the family wound up on the streets, and the boy decided prostitution would get them some money – without his father’s permission, obviously – but then went missing a few weeks later. The investigator tracked the boy down, and he told his father everything. The father went to the police, but they asked for evidence, and of course they had none. The man in question is wealthy and influential, the family poor and, as one of the lovely police officers put it, ‘attention seeking’.

“When abandoned by police, the father did what any good man would do – he tried to hire a hit man to kill the man who raped and abducted his son. Unfortunately, hiring a hit man isn’t quite as easy as Googling ‘local contract killers’, and he promptly got caught. Now, my firm is representing the father in court, and we’re trying to find evidence of what the rapist did, to gain the sympathy of the jury.”

“Would that even be admissible?” Stiles asks.

Peter shrugs. “What is and isn’t admissible isn’t my problem. I leave that to the lawyers. They asked me to get information, and that’s what I do. But the man has been very careful and he has extremely good security. By far the easiest way for me to get into his apartment would be if he brought some bait there that could then let me in. And that’s where you come in.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Would I have to let him fuck me?”

“No, certainly not,” Peter says. “All you have to do is switch drinks with him. From what we’ve been able to tell, he doesn’t drug his victims until he has them back at his place. Then – ”

“One more drink before we go to bed,” Stiles says dryly. “Yeah, I’ve heard that before.”

Peter glances at him and says, “You are, of course, free not to participate.”

“No, I want to,” Stiles says, his jaw square and stubborn. “I just want to make sure that we have all our ducks in a row, that’s all.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not about to let you get sold into slavery, trust me,” Peter says. “And I do believe that you’re quite adequate at taking care of yourself.”

“Yeah, which is why I would’ve smelled this guy’s scheme a mile away,” Stiles says. “But okay. I take it that your plan is to get into his place, get all your evidence, and then . . . what? Submit it to the police? It still won’t affect your guy’s trial.”

“Well, if we can find specific evidence of his son’s abduction, then yes, it would.” Peter shrugs. “But again. That part isn’t my job. Cooler heads will prevail on that subject.”

“Your head is very cool,” Stiles says, smirking. “Okay, what would you do with it?”

“Oh, I would get the list of buyers and blackmail all of them into oblivion,” Peter says. “But turning them into the police works just as well. And it will make sure that the children get the help that they need. So we’ll have to be satisfied with that. Besides, child molesters are extremely unpopular in jail, so I imagine justice will be served one way or another.”

“Mm, talk about justice to me some more, Peter,” Stiles says.

Peter gives a snort of laughter and hops down off the counter, pressing a kiss into the back of Stiles’ neck.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Surprisingly, it goes down more or less as planned. It takes them about a week to figure out exactly where the guy is going. Stiles gets a new outfit and does some makeup to make his cheeks look a little more hollow, to put dark circles under his eyes. Peter eyes the outfit critically, and says, “Are you sure – ”

“Which one of us was a homeless teenaged hooker?” Stiles asks, not looking away from the mirror.

“You,” Peter says.

“Then ask yourself if that question is really necessary,” Stiles says. Peter apparently decides that it isn’t, because he doesn’t say anything else. Stiles finishes doing his makeup and smoothes down his hair. He’s left it lying flat, because homeless teenagers can’t afford product for their hair. “Okay, I’m good to go.”

They drive into downtown Los Angeles and Stiles heads into the club that a lot of the victims have disappeared into. A quick visual survey reveals their target sitting at the bar, nursing a drink but his gaze flicking around the club periodically. Stiles knows that look; he knows it very well. He approaches the bar about halfway down and gets a drink. Then he takes out a stack of folded dollar bills and carefully counts off the number he’ll need, feeling the man’s gaze zero in on him.

He takes a few sips and starts to half-heartedly flirt with the guy he’s sat down next to. It’s a gay bar, so he doesn’t get slapped, but the guy gives him a critical look and says, “No thanks, kid,” and walks away. Stiles chews on his lower lip and starts to surreptitiously count the money he brought with him, giving the appearance that he’s trying to figure out whether or not he’s got enough to last a few days.

He comes to the ‘conclusion’ that he can’t, and turns so he’s leaning against the bar, glancing around for a ‘target’. His gaze lights on a younger man at the end of the bar, so he tries his luck, and again fails. He feigns frustration for a few minutes, gets another drink, and gulps it down. Then he finally looks over at their target, and sidles over.

“Hey,” he says, offering a smile. “What are you having?”

Peter had argued with him about this for nearly half an hour. ‘Let him approach you,’ the werewolf had said. ‘If you approach him, he might suspect that you’re a plant.’

‘If I don’t approach him, he won’t know that I’m a prostitute,’ Stiles had replied. ‘Jesus Christ, Peter, let me handle this. I know my business, okay? Yeah, if I head into the bar and walk right up to him, he’ll know I’m a plant. But if I let myself get shot down by a few other guys first, he won’t suspect. If I just sit there at the bar, there’s way too good a chance he won’t approach me at all.’

Peter clearly wasn’t happy about that, but Stiles shut him down by reminding him that he had asked Stiles to do this precisely because Stiles had experience with this sort of thing. He’s rewarded now to see the man give him a measuring glance, which then quickly transforms into a charming smile. “Manhattan,” he says. “Would you like one?”

“Only if you’re buying,” Stiles says, leaning into his personal space a little. There’s a time and a place for subtlety, and a homeless teenager trying desperately to pick up one last john so he can afford food the next day isn’t it. “But that wasn’t what I meant. What are you having?” he asks, dropping his voice a little and looking up from underneath his eyelashes.

The man gives him another one of those appraising looks and smiles. “I knew what you meant,” he says.

“What’s your name?” Stiles asks.

“It’s Carl. Why do you ask?”

“I like to remember men who smell nice.”

Carl’s grin widens. “What should I call you?”

“Whatever you want,” Stiles says.

Two drinks and twenty minutes later, and they’re leaving the bar. Carl ushers him over to a silver BMW, and Stiles’ trails his fingers along the hood as he circles around it to get in. He keeps up his somewhat awkwardly seductive chatter as they head through the city to a high-rise apartment building. The security is indeed excellent. Stiles watches Carl swipe a keycard at the main entrance and then head up to his apartment. That has a more traditional lock and key, and once they’re inside, a quiet beeping sounds. Carl heads over to a panel and punches in a combination. He either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care that Stiles watches him do it.

“Nice place,” Stiles says, letting admiration color his voice even though after Peter’s house, it’s decidedly unimpressive. He pretends to be awed by the score he’s managed to make for himself.

“One more drink,” Carl says, leaning over and smacking his ass, making Stiles jump and fake-protest. “Then we’ll go to bed.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and lets him busy himself in the kitchen, purposefully not watching until Carl calls him over. He’s taken two rocks glasses and filled them with about an inch of liquid. Stiles puts his hand on one but then leans in and gives the man a kiss, deep and thorough and absolutely filthy. He keeps his eyes open and glances down at the glasses. Carl still has his hand on his, so he can’t just swap them out, so he just upends his over the other one. He’s betting the man won’t notice his had more liquid than before, not when it’s just a shot. Then he pulls back, curling his hand around his glass to hide its emptiness, and pretends to quaff it. Carl smirks and knocks his own back as well.

Since he doesn’t know exactly what was in the drink, he has no idea how long it’ll take to have an effect. But it isn’t long. He’s sitting on the edge of the bed and taking off his shoes while Carl gropes him from behind when the man suddenly slumps over his shoulder, muttering something about feeling dizzy. Stiles eases him backwards so he’s lying down and kisses him until his body goes slack.

“Sleep tight, you piece of shit,” Stiles says, rolling him onto his side so he probably won’t choke to death if anything happens. He takes out his phone and dials, and Peter picks up on the first ring. “Hey, I’m in, he’s out,” he says.

“Excellent,” Peter says. “I’ll be right up.”

A minute later, the intercom buzzes, and Stiles hits the button to let him into the building. Carl had re-armed the alarm system, so Stiles goes over and punches in the same code that he had watched him put in a few minutes earlier. Then he pulls the door open just as Peter is getting out of the elevator. “Hi,” he says, and leans in for a kiss.

Peter’s nose wrinkles and he pulls away. “You smell like him. That’s revolting.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says, partly amused but partly genuine. “I had to let him get to second base before he passed out.”

“How horrific,” Peter says. “I’ll make it up to you later.”

A quick exploration of the apartment reveals a room with a computer and several locked file cabinets. Stiles finds the key to them on the ring in Carl’s pockets, and opens them up, while Peter works on the computer. It isn’t password protected; he obviously didn’t expect to need one in his own home.

“Brilliant,” Peter says, scrolling through what looks like a spreadsheet. He pulls a jump drive out of his pocket and starts to whistle while Stiles uses his phone to take photographs of some of the documents. “His organization was even bigger than I suspected. I suppose it would be bad form to suffocate him on our way out the door.”

Stiles casts a dark look in the direction of the man’s bedroom, but doesn’t argue. Instead, he goes into the kitchen to wash the glass he had used and wipe his fingerprints off of it. It’s the only thing he touched without gloves, besides Carl himself. Twenty minutes later, they have everything they need. Peter is already on his phone as they lock the apartment after themselves.

“This ought to be a wonderful story in tomorrow’s news,” he says, clearly on the chipper side as they head back to Corona del Mar.

“They’ll move that fast?”

“Oh, with a case like this, absolutely,” Peter says. “Particularly given their earlier negligence. They won’t want to admit that somebody else had to do all the work for them. They’ll have the warrant first thing in the morning and most likely be knocking on our friend’s door before he’s even hauled himself out of bed tomorrow, wondering why he feels so hungover.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says. “Do you think they’ll be able to, you know, find any of the kids?”

“Some of them, yes, at least the ones that stayed in the country,” Peter says. “I don’t know about all of them, but they’ll probably make a decent effort.”

“That’s good,” Stiles says. He’s quiet for the rest of the way home.

“Go shower,” Peter tells him, as soon as they’re inside.

“Sir, yes sir,” Stiles says, with a salute. He heads up to the bathroom, takes off the makeup, and scrubs himself thoroughly. By the time he leaves the bathroom, Peter’s in bed, and Stiles crawls in next to him. “Hey, so, how much of what you told me about this case was the truth?”

Peter gives him a look and feigns being offended. “Well, I never,” he says.

Stiles leans over and bites his ear. “Come on. I’m not an idiot. You knew I was bored and twitchy and chafing at the bit to do something. I don’t believe that this case just fell into your lap the way you said it did.”

Peter smiles, amused. “No, that’s true. The case itself was as described, but my firm wasn’t involved. The father who hired the hitman never could have afforded us, good lord no. But I heard about the case while I was talking to a court clerk the other day and thought it might interest you. I called in a few favors to convince one of the partners that we should represent the father pro bono – a human interest story, you understand – and got the information that way.”

“You’re so romantic,” Stiles says. “Some people’s boyfriends get them flowers and chocolates, but I get crime walls and sex slaving rings.”

“Don’t hold me responsible for your likes and dislikes,” Peter says, smirking at him. “If you would prefer flowers, that’s what I would be giving you.”

“Manipulative piece of shit,” Stiles says.

“You wouldn’t want me any other way.”

“True.” Stiles rolls onto his back and tucks an arm under his head, then glances over at Peter. “But I don’t think you really understand what this meant to me. I mean, to you, this was like . . . this was your idea of a fun date. And it was. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. I just . . .” He looks back up at the ceiling. “For the first time in years, I feel like I did something that would make my father proud of me.”

Peter considers that. “You know, I think your father would be proud of you just for being able to get out of bed and face the world every morning,” he says.

“Maybe,” Stiles says, and gives him a little smile. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. But still. This felt good. You know?”

“I know,” Peter says.

Stiles is quiet for a long minute. “Can we do one more thing? It’ll cost a lot of money, but I’ll do all the work.”

“Well, money is something I have in abundance,” Peter says. “What do you have in mind?”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter looks at the front door of the house where he’s scheduled to have dinner and wonders how he wound up with a mate who’s so soft-hearted. It isn’t that Stiles isn’t capable of being a stone-cold badass when he needs to be – as evidenced – but when it comes to the weak, the people in need, Stiles has a soft spot a mile wide. It’s one quality that Peter most definitely does not share with him. He has a tendency to simply overlook those people. They can’t be of use to him, so why concern himself?

“I’ve been in their shoes, and so have you,” is what Stiles says, when Peter mentions it. And this is true. The difference is that both Stiles and Peter were strong enough on their own to fight through it. Nobody helped them. Why should they waste their time helping people who can’t do the same?

It doesn’t make sense to him, but Stiles doesn’t ask him to agree. Just not to stop him. Which Peter is fine with. Stiles is growing into some confidence, and if this is how he wants to express it, that’s his prerogative. Besides, it was only half a million dollars. Barely a drop in Peter’s ample bucket.

So now he’s standing in the kitchen of a small but relatively nice house in suburbia, watching Stiles making lasagna. They’re slated to have dinner with the boy who had led to the discovery of the slaving ring, and his father. Stiles had put it all together, with skill that made Peter impressed (and vaguely turned on). He had pulled strings, asked favors, gotten people to agree to things that surprised Peter immensely.

The lasagna is just coming out of the oven when the doorbell rings, and Stiles goes to answer it. Peter has met the father, but not the boy. Felipe Alvarez is small for his age, at least half a foot shorter than Stiles, thinner than looks healthy but quite attractive, with full lips and dark eyelashes. Peter can see how he attracted the slavers. His father, Javier, is about the same height, but much heavier and muscled from a life of manual labor.

“Dinner just needs to cool for a minute,” Stiles says, once he’s greeted them. He had met them a few days previous, after the arrest of Carl and several of his compatriots. He intercepted them at Peter’s law firm to explain his involvement and issue the invitation. “Felipe, c’mon out back, I’ll show you the pool.”

Peter isn’t thrilled to be left alone with the father, but gets them both a beer, then employs his usual charm and offers some tips in case Javier ever needs to hire a hit man again.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“It’s nice, I guess,” Felipe says quietly, sitting down at the edge of the pool. Stiles sits next to him, dipping his feet in.

Stiles watches him for a long minute. “Look,” he says, “the reason I wanted you guys to come over is because I wanted to say that I know what you’re going through. Not all of it, obviously – I don’t think things ever got as bad for me as they did for you – but I know at least some of it. And I just – I wanted to say – you can be okay. I know it doesn’t seem like it, God, I know that, but you can be. And I’m here to help you, whatever you need. Okay? You don’t have to tell me anything about it or anything, but if you ever want to grab a coffee or go see a movie or whatever, call me.”

Felipe nods, his throat working. “Things are just – so bad,” he says. “My dad isn’t working, I mean, he could go to jail, you can’t really blame people for not wanting to hire him, right? I don’t know what we’re going to do, and I – ”

“And you keep thinking, you could make some money,” Stiles says quietly. “I know. I’ve been there.”

“It seems so easy, but at the same time, the thought of it just – ” Felipe gives a little shudder.

“You don’t have to,” Stiles says. “You never have to do that to yourself again. Okay? We’ll work something out. I don’t think your dad is going to wind up going to jail. I mean, after it hit the paper, at least someone bailed him out, right? So he doesn’t have to wait in jail until the trial.” Stiles is, in fact, the good Samaritan who bailed Javier out, but he doesn’t want Felipe to know that. Not yet, at least. Right now, he just wants Felipe to talk to him. “I think at most, it’ll get put down as time served.”

“Yeah. I hope you’re right.”

Felipe doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t need to. Stiles knows how bad the situation is, how they don’t have a place to live, how he’s been living on his uncle’s sofa while his father was in jail, how his uncle is basically a jerk. He knows, more than anything, how badly Felipe needs his father. He needs to feel safe.

They go inside and Stiles serves dinner and they talk, for a little while, about the trial and the number of children who have been rescued (forty-three) and other people who have been arrested in conjunction with the slaving ring (nineteen). The case is still being built, and there are probably going to be more.

Once the food is gone, Stiles is itching to drop the bombshell that he’s had tucked away, so he fakes yawning and stretching and says, “Well, we should probably get going.”

“Oh, should we – ” Javier says, half-rising to his feet.

“No, no need,” Peter says. “The house is for you.”

There’s predictable jaw-dropping which Stiles really enjoys. “I knew that you guys were having a really hard time. I wanted to do something to help.”

“But – you can’t just – ” Felipe stammers.

“Oh, we totally can,” Stiles says. “Don’t worry about the money, this asshole won’t even notice that it’s gone,” he adds, waving at Peter, who gives an amused snort. “Just got a few things for you to sign. Got a couple job interviews lined up for you, too.”

Javier’s jaw sets a little and he says, “We don’t need charity – ”

“No, but your son needs security.” Stiles’ voice is firm and unyielding. “He needs to have a safe place to sleep, he needs to know he’s not going to have to start whoring again. He needs you. So if you want to view this as a loan, okay. But please accept it.”

Javier glances at his son, and then sighs. “I don’t like being told I can’t provide for my son,” he says.

“Well,” Stiles says, “in a way, you are. You’re the one who hired a private investigator to find him, and are subsequently broke. You’re the one who tried to get the guy in charge of the slaving ring assassinated, thus drawing the entire disaster to our attention. The fact that you did your best to take care of your son is why we’re giving this to you. Because you deserve it. Both of you deserve it.”

“You were pretty badass, Dad,” Felipe says.

“I guess so, huh?” Javier says, reaching out to tousle his son’s hair.

Stiles watches the two of them and feels a sharp pang of envy. He thinks of Javier’s desperate search for his son, so similar to his own for his father. He pushes aside the jealousy. They had been reunited; he’ll find his father, too. He just has to keep looking.

Peter talks them through the paperwork, and then they head outside to where they’ve parked on the street. Stiles gets his seat belt on and then just doubles over with it, missing his father so much that it makes his chest ache. Peter leans over and presses a kiss into his temple. “The Supermoon is next week,” he murmurs.

“I know,” Stiles says.

“Are you frightened?” Peter asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

“Don’t be,” Peter says. “I truly believe you could take on the world and win.”

“Yeah, well,” Stiles says wearily, “so far the world has been kicking my ass.”

“True enough,” Peter says, “but next week is the week we change that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The day they’re slated to leave for Death Valley, Stiles is practically out of his mind with nervous excitement. Peter threatens to drug him if he doesn’t try to calm down, but Stiles can’t help but flit around the house and talk a mile a minute. It’s not like there’s anything to talk about. They’ve gone over their strategy in detail. They know exactly what they’re going to say. Peter has told him all about the Court, how Deucalion is the highest ranking member in the region and as such is the host of the event. Stiles knows who’s going to be there and who they should avoid and how he should handle himself. Luck favors the prepared, Peter says, and they are quite prepared.

But Stiles can’t help it. This is the culmination of three years of hard work and sacrifice, and the fact that in less than forty-eight hours he might know what happened to his father has him half out of his mind. Peter had intended to leave the day of the full moon and get there sometime in the evening, but Stiles drives him so insane that he decides to leave early. At least once they’re at Death Valley, there will be new scenery for Stiles to look at. So they pull out of Corona del Mar at about four PM the day before.

It’s about a five hour drive, and he only has to threaten to duct tape Stiles’ mouth shut twice. He puts on loud music and sings and drums along and tries to channel all his nervous energy into something less obnoxious. They stop for dinner halfway, so it’s late by the time they get there. Peter has called ahead to the small inn they’re going to be staying at to make sure they can check in a day early. The inn’s owners said it would be no problem. Unsurprisingly, August is not a busy time for tourists in Death Valley.

In fact, it’s so hot there that even though it’s well after dark, Peter feels uncomfortable as soon as he exits their air conditioned car. He grimaces and wishes that the Supermoon Ceremony was being held just about anywhere else.

As with the mating ceremonies, the werewolves have rented the entirety of the resort for the day before and afterwards. Even though they’re a night early, the place is practically deserted. It’s a gorgeous place, all tan stone and red tile. Their room has a balcony, but it’s too dark to really see much of anything.

“We can explore tomorrow, I suppose,” Peter says, thinking that at least there’s a pool. He might spend all day in it while Stiles ‘explores’. If the teenager wants to walk on the salt flats at Badwater Basin in triple-digit temperatures, he can do it by himself.

Stiles sits on the edge of the bed and nervously clasps and unclasps his hands. “I can’t believe we’re really here,” he says. “I can’t believe we’re going to see Deucalion tomorrow.”

“Yes, I know,” Peter says archly. “You’ve been saying that all day.”

“Like you weren’t excited the day before you killed Kate Argent,” Stiles says.

“Fair enough,” Peter remarks, but then shakes his head. “Well, I’m going to go take a shower and then head to bed. It’s late.”

Stiles just nods and watches him go.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

For a long minute after Peter heads into the bathroom, obviously intending to take a shower in the coldest water available in Death Valley, Stiles just sits on the edge of the bed and bounces. He can barely hold all the energy inside, even though it’s late. He realizes that he’s terrified. Not of finding out that his father is dead – he long ago came to terms with the possibility of that outcome – but of not finding anything. Of having to go back to the beginning and start again. Even with Peter here to help him now, the thought is daunting.

And that’s presuming that Peter would have any interest in doing so. Regardless of whether or not Deucalion knows anything about what happened to Tom Stilinski, this is the opening move in the game between Peter and Deucalion. This is their request for weregild, their entry into his court. Peter is going to be wrapped up in that now, in making Deucalion pay for what he did to Derek Hale and his pack.

Stiles can’t blame him for that. But what if Peter doesn’t want to help him anymore? What if Peter won’t care, now that they’ve gotten to Deucalion?

That should scare him, but it doesn’t. He realizes in that moment that he knows that won’t happen. That they may indeed get wrapped up in Deucalion’s court, but Peter will always be willing to help Stiles look for his father. Even if they do it the rest of his life.

His breathing eases a little. He can do this. As long as Peter is here with him, he can do this. No matter what the outcome is, he’ll face it and keep walking, knowing that his father would be proud of him, even if he fails. ‘Not obtaining the outcome you want isn’t failing,’ his father had told him once, after he had gotten rejected from the lacrosse team yet again. ‘You only fail when you give up.’

Stiles chews on his fingernail and then glances up as the air conditioner turns off. He glances over at it and walks over to the display, turning it down a few degrees. Peter will want it cold. He keeps his house chilly, too, but Stiles doesn’t mind. He just wears sweaters when he needs to. And it certainly won’t be a problem here. If he gets cold, five minutes on the balcony will fix that problem.

He walks out onto it and feels his skin immediately start to prickle with sweat. It’s over ninety, even though it’s dark. They’re on the back side of the resort, and there aren’t many surrounding lights. He looks up at the sky to see a welter of stars, more than can be seen anywhere in the Los Angeles area. “I wonder where you are, Dad,” he mutters. “And if you’re looking at the same stars. Like in some kid’s movie.” He starts to whistle ‘Somewhere Out There’. He had always loved that movie as a kid.

Inside the room, he hears the door to the bathroom open, so he heads back inside. Peter has come out of the bathroom, hair wet, dressed only in a pair of boxer briefs. Stiles feels every hormone he’s ever made come roaring to the surface, combining with the nervous energy to make him go from zero to horny as hell in six seconds.

Peter senses it instantly and one eyebrow goes up. “See something you like?” he asks, turning in a slow circle.

Stiles feels his mouth go dry and, with effort, swallows. “Only everything,” he says.

Peter smirks and walks over to him, eyes travelling up and down Stiles’ body. He leans in and kisses him, thoroughly, with all sorts of intent. Stiles feels his knees go a little weak with it. He’s never, never, wanted like he does right now. He can’t think about anything else; there isn’t room for fear or shame. Peter’s hand has curled around the back of his neck, his thumb brushing over the short hairs there in a way that sends sparks all through his body. It shouldn’t happen like that, he thinks distantly; nothing that simple should feel so good.

Peter kisses him for what feels like hours, never pushing him, but just reveling in it, until Stiles is panting and completely dazed. When he pulls away to try to catch his breath, Peter nuzzles at the crook of his neck, licking at the skin there and clearly enjoying the way his scent is saturated with lust. He pushes his hands under Stiles’ T-shirt and tugs it over his head. Then he takes a few steps forward until the back of Stiles’ knees hit the bed, and makes him lie down.

Stiles squirms a little until his head is on the pillow and twines his hands in Peter’s hair as the alpha starts dropping kisses and nips along his collarbone. Stiles instinctively tilts his head back, baring his throat, and he hears Peter suck in a breath and catches the red gleam in his eyes. “Good boy,” Peter murmurs, all tongue and teeth along the cords in Stiles’ neck, and Stiles whimpers. He feels the press of Peter’s teeth, a claiming sort of bite even though it doesn’t break the skin, and just digs his hand into the back of Peter’s neck, keeping him right where he is.

Somewhere in there, he realizes, he’s gotten incredibly hard. He’s writhing against Peter’s body without even meaning to, against the firm press of Peter’s thigh between his legs. Peter realizes it at the same moment, and withdraws a little. “Easy, Stiles,” he says. “Not so fast.”

“Nnnng,” Stiles says, in a show of true eloquence, as Peter starts to work his way down with his mouth. He tries to remember how to speak. “I’ve never – never been hard like this,” he pants.

“Good,” Peter says, his thumb rubbing against Stiles’ bottom rib as his mouth concentrates on one of his nipples. All of the air leaves Stiles’ lungs in a rush. Peter takes another geological era to lavish attention on his chest and stomach, noting the sensitive places with pleased noises. Stiles just tugs on his hair and lets it happen. When Peter’s tongue delicately traces the line of hairs leading down into his pants, he goes still for a moment. So does Peter, waiting. He looks up at Stiles, eyes gleaming crimson. “You’re doing so well, Stiles,” he says. “I’m going to make you feel things you’ve never felt, I promise. Just relax. I’ll stop any time you want.”

Stiles nods and gulps for air. His hands stroke absently at Peter’s hair, almost petting it. “Take my pants off,” he demands. “Or I’m gonna come in them.”

Peter laughs quietly. “Sir, yes, sir,” he says, and slides Stiles’ pants down and off. Stiles can feel Peter’s gaze on him, can even hear the alpha’s breath in his throat, his breathing light and rapid. “I should tease you more,” he says. “Someday I’m going to – but today I’d much rather just – ” And without a word of warning, he tugs Stiles’ boxers off and goes down on him.

Stiles lets out a noise he will definitely deny later and practically yanks on Peter’s hair. It’s so good, impossibly good. It can’t feel like this when he does it to other people. They never would have wanted him to do anything else. Peter just gently pushes his legs apart to give himself a little more room to work, hands bracing Stiles’ hips, occasionally running his fingers over the insides of Stiles’ thighs. Stiles can feel that pool of warmth gathering low in his body, and sure, he’s had orgasms before, but it’s never been like this. He can feel it through every nerve in his body, building into some kind of insane crescendo every time Peter sweeps back downwards. He feels the head of his cock hit something and realizes it’s the back of Peter’s throat, and the alpha doesn’t even flinch but just swallows around it and Stiles nearly jumps out of his skin.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Peter,” he whines, tugging on Peter’s hair, which works so well for him, he’s never realized that before. He’s never been allowed to do that before but now he feels like he could spend days just pulling on Peter’s hair while Peter does whatever he wants.

Peter pulls away long enough to lick his lips and says, “That’s it, Stiles, let me hear you,” before going back to what he was doing. Stiles lets out another shocked sort of noise and makes an aborted thrust up into Peter’s mouth, only to be pinned back down, writhing.

“No, no, let me,” he pants out. “Let me fuck your mouth, Peter, please, please,” and the grip on his hips has loosened and is gone and he slams his hips upwards without even the slightest second thought to Peter’s comfort. Not that it matters much; one more thrust and his eyes are rolling back in his head and he’s just a bunch of spasming limbs and nerve endings and he comes so hard that he thinks he’s going to pass out.

“Good boy,” Peter purrs again, right into his ear, and Stiles just moans while he comes down from it. He eventually manages to open his eyes to see Peter lying next to him, propped up on one elbow, studying his sweaty, limp body. He’s still wearing those boxer briefs, and Stiles can see how hard he is, see the damp patch at the front of them.

“You wanna fuck me, right?” he manages to mumble.

Peter leans in and nuzzles at his neck. “I believe we did have a talk about how werewolves actually are in control of their instincts,” he says.

“Yeah, but . . .” Stiles shakes himself back awake. “You’re not just a werewolf. You’re also a man. And I know men pretty well, and I’m pretty sure that you really want to fuck me right now.”

“I suppose I can’t really deny that,” Peter says, and his hips twitch a little, like he’s trying not to think about it.

“You should,” Stiles tells him. Peter gives him that arched eyebrow. “I want you to,” he says. “I want to feel your cock in me. I want to get my hands all over it. I want to pull your hair while you fuck me because I’m rapidly learning that I really like having big handfuls of your hair to tug on.” He’s watching Peter, watching his pupils dilate and his breath start to come hard and fast. “Fuck me, Peter, you’re my alpha, you need to fuck me, you need to claim me, I want that.”

Peter lets out a breath and says, “Roll over.”

At this, Stiles balks. “I’d rather be on my back.”

“Yes, I know,” Peter says, “and when I fuck you, you will be. But the prep will take some time and trust me, it will be more comfortable for you if you’re on your stomach for it.”

“Oh. Okay.” Stiles rolls over and grabs one of the pillows, tugging it underneath his chin. Peter grabs another one and uses it to prop his hips up. “No rimming,” he adds, voice tightening a little.

“As you like,” Peter says. “I might put my tongue on your ass but I promise I won’t put it in your ass. Is that acceptable?”

“Yeah, that works,” Stiles says, gathering himself a little so he can tilt his hips up towards Peter.

“I do truly believe you have one of the most attractive asses I’ve ever seen,” Peter says, his teeth grazing over it, and Stiles gives a shudder. Peter kisses and licks his way down Stiles’ spine, and Stiles can already feel himself getting hard again, which just shouldn’t be physically possible. “I’m going to remind you of that at every possible opportunity. Now just stay still for a moment,” he adds, and gets off the bed. Stiles’ gaze follows him as he goes over to their luggage and extracts something from one of the pockets.

“Luck favors the prepared?” Stiles asks, amused.

“Absolutely,” Peter says, smirking as he flips the cap off the bottle of lube. He sees Stiles go tense, rubs a hand at his spine until he’s relaxed again, then presses a finger inside him. He’s tight, and almost immediately clenches down.

“Hang – hang on just a sec,” Stiles says, and Peter stops. Stiles takes a deep breath, lets it out even more slowly. He does that twice, and the muscles loosen.

“Handy trick, that,” Peter says, sliding his finger the rest of the way inside, carefully spreading the lube.

“Self-preservation taught me that one real fast,” Stiles says, sounding a little breathless. “If you breathe out slower than you breathe in, it triggers your parasympathetic nervous system.”

“Good to know,” Peter says. He leans down and drops more kisses along the small of Stiles’ back, keeping him relaxed and distracted while he slides a second finger inside. This, Stiles is used to, at least a little. He’s had at least some clients who cared enough to give him a thorough finger fucking before proceeding onto the main event. He lets his head drop down, pressing his forehead into the pillows, and relaxes into it. It feels weird, as always, but not bad-weird, a bit of a burn but the lube cuts that down. There’s no rhythm, not really, Peter is taking it slow and it surprises both of them when Stiles presses back against his fingers.

“Easy, easy,” Peter says, as Stiles starts to tremble a little. He bites at the curve of Stiles’ ass and draws a startled squeak out of him. Then he curves his fingers slightly, and Stiles gasps more out of shock than anything else because that’s new, that’s something he hasn’t felt before and it’s good. “It’s amazing,” Peter says to him, “how many men have apparently not given even half a damn about finding your prostate.”

Stiles whines, fists clenching down in the pillow, and presses back against Peter hard.

“It’s tempting to just – ” Peter adds a third finger and Stiles gives a low, choked moan. “Just do this until you come again. You would enjoy that. I want to make you come so many different ways, Stiles, I want to teach you all the ways your body can be used for your pleasure. Your scent – when you come – you don’t understand what it’s like to a wolf, how intoxicating that can be. I just want to make you come over and over until you’re exhausted and you can’t even move.”

“Fuck,” Stiles chokes out, and then Peter’s fingers are gone and his body gives a shudder at their absence. But it’s only a moment before Peter flips him over, pressing a kiss into his knee as he pulls Stiles’ hips up, hooks one of Stiles’ legs over his shoulder. Stiles wraps the other one around his waist to help him keep the position, and then Peter is pushing inside of him. The burn is back, but he doesn’t even care. Peter’s making soft, growling little noises as he rocks into Stiles, each movement precise and careful but fast, like he just can’t wait any longer. “Fuck,” Stiles slurs out again. “Fuck me,” he adds, and Peter does. He shifts him a couple times until he has the angle correct and then Stiles just shouts, stars dotting his inner vision, and he shakes his head to clear it because watching Peter like this is amazing. Watching Peter lose that completely cool, refined exterior that he displays all the time, watching him pant and growl and thrust harder and knowing that he’s the one responsible for Peter looking like that.

The burn is long gone and there’s nothing except that feeling of being filled and fulfilled in every possible way, and that place deep inside him that Peter hits on every stroke. Stiles tugs on his hair and digs his fingers into Peter’s back as he feels it start to build again. He wants to come, wants it desperately, but holds off, trying to make it last, trying not to come too soon.

Peter can tell, though, from his scent and his face and he says, “Come for me, Stiles,” and wraps his fingers around Stiles’ cock, and Stiles just does, just gives that to Peter like he thinks he would give Peter anything else that he asked for. He’s still panting and moaning and generally feeling amazing when Peter gives a sudden, low growl and his body arches against Stiles. Stiles reaches up and tugs at a handful of his hair and presses against Peter while the werewolf comes inside him. It’s so intense that he thinks Peter is going to collapse on top of him afterwards, like so many men do, but Peter lowers himself down carefully, a little bit to one side, pulling Stiles tight against his body.

“You and I,” he murmurs, “are going to do that all day tomorrow, yes?”

“Yes,” Stiles says, because really, who wants to see Death Valley in August anyway.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Despite all odds, they do actually make it out of their hotel room for a few hours the next day. Death Valley has a strange, alien beauty to it. Stiles enjoys the day that they spend there, driving around and taking photographs. It would be nice to hike, but it’s just too hot. Five minutes out of the car and he’s drenched in sweat, and Peter refuses to leave the car at all. That’s okay with Stiles. He feels like a tourist, which is something he hasn’t felt like for a long time.

The full moon rises early, but the ceremony won’t start until after the sun has set. They’ve got several hours to pass until then, most of which they spend with Peter between Stiles’ legs. They finally emerge after the ceremony is in full swing, and Stiles is wobbly and almost giddy and well aware that they absolutely reek of sex and of each other.

“That’s disgusting,” the first alpha they see greets them.

You’re disgusting,” Stiles retorts, and laughs so hard that Peter has to hold him upright.

“Is that what you call a comeback?” Peter inquires, as the offended alpha huffs away into the night.

“That’s me, the comeback kid,” Stiles says, smirking at him. Peter just shakes his head, clearly amused, as they venture further into the clearing. There’s a huge bonfire and a lot of alcohol. The atmosphere is nothing like the mating ceremonies, which were almost all elegance, apart from the omega room itself. This is more primal, a lot of loud drumming, shouting, and fighting. They’ve left the resort proper and ventured out into the surrounding desert. “Hey, there are actual wolves here,” Stiles says, surprised.

Peter glances around. “So there are,” he says. They withdraw a little so they can speak to each other without shouting. “The ability to transform into an actual wolf is quite rare.”

“Can you do it?” Stiles asks.

“No, although Talia could. This is different, though.” Peter is still studying the wolves in the clearing, watching them slink around. They’re thin, almost mangy, cringing at every loud noise or raised hand. “I’ve heard rumors of this sort of thing. Alphas that can force their betas into a wolf shape, who use it as a punishment for bad behavior.”

“Why is it a punishment?” Stiles asks. “Is being a wolf that bad?”

“When you’re forced into it, yes. It’s a cage of sorts. You can’t speak, can’t transform yourself back. Most of the time, if a beta is forced to stay in wolf form for more than a few weeks, they start to lose their humanity. Eventually, they can’t come back from it.”

Stiles grimaces. “So Deucalion is a jerk. Nobody’s surprised.”

“Indeed,” Peter says. “Shall we go say hello?”

Stiles takes a breath and lets it out. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, let’s do that.”

It’s not quite as easy as that. Deucalion is nowhere to be seen, and most people seem to agree that he hasn’t showed up yet. Peter reassures Stiles that he’ll be there, and when Stiles doesn’t seem to be calming down, plies him with a couple drinks and some making out behind a shed.

“Maybe we should go find Ennis,” Stiles says, staring up at the sky while Peter works an enormous hickey into the side of his neck.

“Really, Stiles?” Peter asks, almost purring. “I’m trying to get past second base and you’re thinking about Ennis?”

Stiles shoves at his face. “You’ve been around the bases three times today, and you can go around another three times after we talk to Deucalion.”

Seeing that he won’t be deterred, Peter laughs and withdraws. “All right, then,” he says, and they head back into the crowd. It’s gotten thicker, and the smoke is making it a little difficult to figure out who’s who. Ennis is fairly easy to find, since he looms above most of the crowd, and when they get to him it’s obvious that he’s had a few drinks himself. He’s gotten hold of a piece of wood from the firewood and is giving it a swing as they walk towards him. It hits one of the wolves with a solid thunk, and the animal hits the ground and skids a few feet, whimpering.

“Get up!” Ennis roars, and the wolf stumbles back to its feet. Ennis laughs an ugly laugh and starts to swing again.

“Hey!” Stiles darts into the crowd and grabs Ennis by the wrist before the length of wood can connect. “What the fuck is wrong with you, beating a helpless animal? Is your dick really that small?”

“Who the fuck are you?” Ennis snarls. He jerks his wrist back and his other arm comes up to grab Stiles by the throat. But Stiles has been on the streets too long to fall for an obvious move like that; he darts to one side, ducks underneath Ennis’ arm, and slams the heel of his hand up into Ennis’ nose. The alpha actually staggers back a step, and few drops of blood scatter. He shakes his head, bewildered for a few moments before the confusion turns to rage.

Peter steps in before Ennis can actually tear Stiles’ throat out. “I’ll have to ask you not to lay a hand on my mate,” he says.

Ennis stops and snarls again. “You,” he says, and spits into the dirt. “You need to teach your whore some manners.”

Peter’s eyes narrow, but he decides to let the insult pass. Instead, he says, “Very well,” and turns to Stiles. “The etiquette of the Court of Alphas dictates that I do the fighting for you. Would you like me to challenge him?”

The people around them have all fallen silent, watching this little drama unfold. Stiles has knelt down beside the injured wolf, helping it to a more comfortable position. He looks up at Peter and then shakes his head. “No. I’m fine.”

Ennis clearly doesn’t find this sufficient at all. “You’d better make him fucking apologize.”

More amused than angry, Peter turns to Stiles and says, “You heard the man.”

Stiles looks up at Ennis and says, “I’m sorry that you were offended.”

Ennis scowls but gives a sullen nod. Peter nearly laughs in his face; the alpha seems completely oblivious to the fact that Stiles’ apology wasn’t an apology at all. By saying he’s sorry that Ennis was offended, he’s placing blame for the incident squarely at Ennis’ feet, refusing to take any responsibility at all. Ennis just turns back to the wolf and snaps, “Get the fuck out of my face,” and the wolf staggers back to its feet and limps away through the crowd.

The noise is returning to its previous level, and Peter is about to suggest they withdraw again when a deceptively pleasant voice says, “Well, well. What have we here?”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter turns to face Deucalion and is surprised to see that he’s no longer wearing his tinted glasses. He had heard rumors that his eyesight had been restored by Jennifer Blake before her death, but hadn’t been able to verify them. “Deucalion,” he says, placing one hand over his heart and giving a shallow bow. Regardless of how little he cares for court politics, Deucalion is far more powerful than he is, and showing some respect won’t kill him.

“Peter Hale.” Deucalion’s gaze flicks over to Stiles, then to the enormous scowl on Ennis’ face. “I see you’ve been throwing your weight around.”

“My mate can be a tad impulsive,” Peter agrees. “It bothers him to see others in pain.”

“How touching,” Deucalion says, amused. “I hear you wanted to speak with me.”

“Yes. Privately.”

Deucalion considers, then nods and holds one arm out in a gesture for Peter to walk with him. When Stiles starts along with him, Deucalion says, “Privately includes your mate?”

“Well, I’m not about to leave him with Ennis after what just happened,” Peter says, and Deucalion laughs and nods acquiescence. They walk about five hundred feet from the bonfire, where there’s a small cabin. Deucalion has obviously been there for some time; there’s a bottle of aged scotch on the table and a record playing. There are only two chairs. Peter sits down and points at his feet. Stiles gets the meaning and sits down on the floor next to him.

“What’s your business with me?” Deucalion asks.

“You killed two of Derek Hale’s betas,” Peter says evenly, “and never answered for it.”

Deucalion raises his eyebrows. “I killed nobody in Beacon Hills, as I’m sure you know.”

“Please,” Peter says. “Kali and your mighty morphin omega rangers did the work, but everyone knows it was on your orders. I’d like to know why.”

Deucalion sighs slightly. “That was years ago. I was a different person then. It was a regrettable incident, but – ”

“You think you can feed me that line and that I’ll buy it?” Peter asks. “You might be able to use that on my poor, naïve nephew, or any other number of werewolves I could name, but it won’t fly here. You murdered two werewolves that belonged to my nephew and I would like to know why.”

“I wanted Derek to join me. He was recalcitrant, even after I made the offer on good faith.”

“You had a pipe through his gut. And I might add that that was after you had already killed Erica Reyes.”

“She tried to escape.”

“And nobody escapes you, I see,” Peter says, gesturing as if to indicate the smattering of wolves throughout the clearing. “Very well. I’m here to demand weregild.”

Deucalion’s eyebrows go up. “You have no right.”

“Derek is no longer in the Court of Alphas, which means that, as my nephew, he falls under the umbrella of my protection, whether I’m a jack or not. That means that restitution for his murdered pack members goes to me, regardless of his own personal beliefs.”

“You’re exploiting your nephew’s murdered betas for your own personal benefit?” Deucalion asks. “Even for you, that’s low.”

“No,” Peter says evenly. “I’m demanding restitution for my nephew’s murdered betas because you murdered his betas. The fact that it benefits me is really just a bonus. If you were really a ‘changed man’, you would have offered my nephew weregild without prompting, as would have been appropriate. Since you didn’t, I’ll take it from you, whether you want to give it to me or not.”

“Is that a threat?”

“More of a promise. You might have seen what happens to people who hurt my family.”

Deucalion’s smile thins. “You’re welcome to issue a challenge.”

“Oh, I don’t do challenges,” Peter says. “It’s one thing to throw one at Ennis, because I could beat him in my sleep. But I have no interest in fighting you. You’d kill me in a fair fight, which in my opinion is a major disincentive to fight fair. If you deny me weregild, I’ll destroy you every bit as thoroughly as I did the Argent empire, and trust me, whether your vision is restored or not, you will never see it coming.”

There’s a long silence while Deucalion sips his Scotch. “What’s your price?”

“Protection and a place in your court,” Peter says. Deucalion’s eyebrows go up, but Peter doesn’t flinch. “I have, unfortunately, made a rather powerful enemy of late. I need a place to lie low where nobody would think to look for me. Secondly, my mate here needs the answers to some questions about something you were involved in.”

Deucalion considers. “Six months in my court,” he says. “I’ll text you the coordinates of my complex.”

“Done.” Peter hands his phone to Deucalion and then nudges Stiles with his toes. “Ask your questions.”

Stiles straightens up. His breathing is thin and shallow. “Three years ago, when you were in Beacon Hills,” he says. “The night you killed Jennifer Blake, she had taken two captives, a man and a woman. The woman was found, but the man never was. Do you know anything about what happened to him?”

Deucalion tilts his head to one side, obviously puzzled by this line of questioning. “No,” he says. “I didn’t see either of her captives. I intercepted her on her way to obtain a third.”

Peter can feel the tension in Stiles’ body, the fact that he’s close to snapping. He reaches down to grip his shoulder, to ground him.

“However,” Deucalion continues, before Stiles can say anything else, “if it helps at all, I do know where she was holding them.”

“What!” Stiles blurts out, then chokes down the hasty reply. “Yes. That might be helpful.”

“She was drawing on the power of the Nemeton,” Deucalion says. “She threatened to collapse it and kill the captives, when she was fighting me. Not because I cared, personally, but she was trying to manipulate Derek into helping her defeat me. So that’s where she was holding them.”

“What’s a Nemeton?” Stiles asks.

Peter has already stood up. “Thank you, Deucalion. I’ll be seeing you.”

Stiles jumps to his feet and jogs after Peter as he heads around the bonfire, back towards the inn where they were staying. “What’s a Nemeton?” he repeats.

“It’s a place used for sacred rituals,” Peter replies. “Mostly by Druids. That would make sense, given Jennifer Blake’s powers. I wouldn’t think she would have wanted to dirty consecrated ground like that, otherwise I would have thought to check there. It’s usually underneath some enormous tree, where the root system is large enough to make a small chamber underground.”

“Do you know where it is?” Stiles is practically hyperventilating.

“Yes, there’s only one in Beacon Hills, and I was there when I was younger,” Peter says. “Talia took the memory from me, along with some others – she seemed to think I might use it to cause trouble – but not long after I left Beacon Hills, I had those memories restored. I know exactly where it is.”

“But why didn’t we ever find it?” Stiles asks.

“It has magical protections on it,” Peter says. “You can’t find it unless you already know where it is, unless you’re meant to.”

Stiles is practically shaking from excitement. “Can we go? Now? Can we leave right now?”

Peter considers saying no. It’s one o’clock in the morning, and it’s going to be at least a ten hour drive. Then he thinks better of the idea. Stiles is much too jittery to wait, and he’ll be terrible company until they’ve gotten their answer. He’s awake and alert; he can drive for a few hours and then let Stiles take over. “I don’t see any reason why not.”

At this, Stiles all but throws himself onto Peter, who’s obliged to put his hands underneath Stiles’ thighs before he can be toppled backwards. Stiles kisses him with all the enthusiasm he can muster. Peter sets him back down and says, “That will only delay our departure, you know.”

“I did promise you another three turns around the bases,” Stiles says, giving a nervous laugh.

“I’ll take a rain check,” Peter says. “Let’s get moving.”

It takes fewer than ten minutes to pack up their things, fill out their ‘early check-out’ form and leave it in the room with their key. Then they’re on the road. They don’t talk much at first, because the road out of Death Valley is narrow and twisty and Peter wants to focus on the road. Stiles is brimming with excitement for the first half hour or so, but the smooth motion of the car gradually lulls him into sleep.

Just after dawn, Peter pulls over into a gas station. He wakes Stiles, who goes in to get himself some coffee so he can take the next leg of the drive. Peter slouches more comfortably once they’re back on the road. “I’m going to nap for a while.”

“Okay.” Stiles turns the radio to something quiet and continues to drive. He seems to have fallen into a pensive silence. Peter doesn’t make any effort to prod him out of it. For one thing, he wants his sleep. Secondly, he can understand that Stiles is wrestling with the implications that, one way or another, his journey might be over before the end of the day. It’s a lot to deal with, so Peter stays quiet to let him deal.

He wakes up when they stop for a quick lunch. Traffic on the 101 is terrible, and they don’t get in until mid-afternoon. Peter wonders if Derek’s loft is still unoccupied, but decides to stay at a hotel instead. He hopes that Derek and Cora are still in South America. He has absolutely no interest in running into either of them.

Stiles seems to have the same opinion of Beacon Hills. He visibly shrinks when he gets out of the car. Peter doesn’t blame him. A lot of bad things have happened in this town, and a lot of them have happened to Stiles. He reaches out and folds Stiles’ hand into his, and they start walking through the preserve.

It takes about an hour to reach the enormous trunk of the Nemeton. Peter takes in a hesitant breath, but doesn’t smell anyone or anything having been there recently. With Jennifer Blake dead, the place has been abandoned. “Are you ready?” he asks Stiles, and he just nods, his jaw set in grim determination. He’s obviously steeling himself to find a body.

The entrance to the cavern is partially collapsed, and minutes trickle by as Stiles and Peter try to find a way in. Eventually, Stiles manages to squirm through the opening. Peter pushes aside several rocks and joins him. It’s smaller than he remembers. The roots dangle from the ceiling, and there are a few large support beams that have been added. One of them is broken where part of the cave had collapsed. He sees some ropes next to one of them, but nothing else. The place is empty.

Stiles prowls around for what seems like a long time, checking each nook and cranny for any sign of his father. Peter could have told him it was useless; if a body had decomposed here, he would be able to tell. The smell would linger, even after years. But he knows that Stiles doesn’t want to hear it, so he says nothing, puzzling over it himself. He has to admit that he had expected the sheriff’s body to be here. If he did get out, then what happened to him?

Finally, Stiles sits down heavily and chokes out, “He isn’t here.”

“No.” Peter lifts up the ropes. “These were cut. They got out, somehow.”

“But then where – ” Stiles takes a deep breath, but he’s falling apart and he can’t stop it. “I thought this was the answer,” he says, giving a small sob. “I thought I’d finally be done and I – I didn’t want him to be dead but at least I would – oh my God, I can’t – ”

Peter sits down next to him, pulling Stiles against his chest and thinking it all through. Stiles just falls against him and gives quiet little shudders until he finally falls silent. “I think this is a good sign,” he finally says. “I think it dramatically increases the likelihood that he’s alive. The far most likely explanation, to date, was that Jennifer Blake had hidden him away somewhere and he had died of thirst, exposure, et cetera. That obviously didn’t happen. Without that possibility, odds are increased that he was abducted, or went into some sort of dissociative fugue, et cetera.”

“But then why can’t I find him?” Stiles chokes out. “I’ve followed all those leads, I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t – it’s just another dead end and I don’t know what else to do, where else I can look.”

“We’ll find something,” Peter says. “I know you’re tired. But I also know you. And I don’t think you’ll be giving up any time soon.”

Stiles lets out another shuddering breath. “No. I guess – I guess not.”

“Come on. You need a break.” Peter stands up, hauling Stiles with him. “Let’s go get some food and plot out how we’re going to use six months of Deucalion’s time to destroy him.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, with a wan smile.

“You know,” Peter says, as he crawls through the cavern’s exit, “it might help to bring Melissa here. If her memories are suppressed due to trauma or some such, rather than magic, seeing this place might help jog them.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Stiles says. He brightens, but then frowns and shoves his hands into his pockets. “I don’t know, though. I mean, she’d be willing. But I don’t know that I can face them. I told them I wouldn’t come back until I found my father.”

Peter shrugs. “You haven’t found him yet, that’s true, but you have made substantial progress. I think it would be worth it.”

“Yeah . . . okay.” They start walking through the preserve again. When they get back to the car, Peter hands Stiles the keys, since he’s the one who knows where they’re going. It’s only about a ten minute drive to the McCall house. Peter gives it a quick glance. It’s large and well-kept, with neatly trimmed bushes and a freshly mowed lawn. From the way Stiles has talked about it, he presumes that Scott still lives at home.

“This is gonna suck,” Stiles mutters, but he gets out of the car and walks up the front path without prompting. He only hesitates for a moment before ringing the bell.

Peter can hear someone faintly saying, “I’ll get it,” and then the thud of footsteps. Stiles’ complexion has taken on a vaguely green tint, but he holds his ground while the front door swings open. The boy standing there has floppy dark hair and clothing that’s too loose on him to be stylish. He takes one look at Stiles and then grabs him in an enormous hug. “Oh my God, it’s so good to see you,” Scott says, clutching at his friend.

“Yeah, hi,” Stiles mutters, but he can’t resist the embrace. He knots one hand in the back of Scott’s shirt and hugs back tighter.

“Mom!” Scott shouts, letting go. “Come see who’s here!”

A minute later, a woman with dark, curly hair comes into the front hallway. “Stiles!” she exclaims, and then she has to hug him too, and Stiles just stands there awkwardly.

“Oh, uh,” Scott says, finally noticing Peter. “Hi?”

Stiles pulls out of Melissa’s embrace and says, “Yeah, uh, this is my, um, my boyfriend. Peter.” He gestures a little and adds, “Peter, this is Scott, and his mom Melissa.”

“Nice to meet you,” Scott says, seizing Peter’s hand and shaking it like they’re old fraternity brothers.

Peter gives Stiles a look that’s partially skeptical, partially amused, but says, “Likewise.”

“Come on in!” Melissa says, ushering them into the house. She takes over and gets them all sitting down with tea and cookies.

“Look, I’m not here for a social visit,” Stiles says.

“Yeah, sure,” Scott says, and proceeds to be extremely social with him, telling him about the classes he’s taking and the work he’s doing at the clinic and how he has to say for dinner because his mother is making chicken parmesan and he knows that Stiles loves chicken parmesan and he wants to know how Stiles met Peter and where Stiles has been living.

Finally, Stiles gets him to shut up long enough to say, “I found Blake’s hideout.”

Melissa’s head jerks around and she nearly knocks over a cup of tea. “Oh,” she says. “Are – are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I was wondering if you might go there with me. It might jog your memory.”

Melissa squares her shoulders and forces a smile. “Sure,” she says. Then, more hesitantly, she says, “He . . . wasn’t there?”

“No, nothing was there,” Stiles says, rubbing a hand over his head. “I mean, I guess that’s good. Since the most likely explanation was that he, he had died there, but he didn’t, so . . .”

“Right,” Melissa says, reaching over and squeezing his hand. “I’ll be happy to go.”

“It’s too late today, though,” Scott says, jumping back in, even though there are several hours of daylight left. Stiles gives him a look that’s more tired than anything else, but he seems to understand that Scott just wants him to stick around a little longer. So he doesn’t argue, and then Melissa has dinner on the table and they sit down to the meal together.

Melissa asks Peter what he does for a living, and Peter decides it would benefit all of them if he put the McCalls at ease. So he tells them a little about what he does for the firm, tells funny stories about men who got caught with their nannies and women with eighty unpaid parking tickets. He skirts around the darker aspects of his job. He tells them about how it’s been a genuine pleasure to get to know Stiles and help him get his GED and enroll in college classes. Melissa starts to cry when she hears that. Stiles just blushes and looks embarrassed and mutters about how it isn’t a big deal.

After dinner, Peter asks whether or not a particular hotel he favors is still open, but Melissa insists they stay the night. She says she’ll go make up the guest room. Arguing obviously won’t get them anywhere, so Peter goes to get their things from the car. They don’t have much, so he brings it straight up to the bedroom.

“So is that the guy?” he hears Scott asking from downstairs, and decides to wait and eavesdrop rather than go right back down. “The sugardaddy you told me about?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

“He seems nice,” Scott says earnestly.

“He’s not,” Stiles says, laughing.

“Come on,” Scott says. “What’s he like?”

“He is . . . smart. Charming. Arrogant and egotistical and ruthless as hell.”

“He sounds perfect for you,” Scott says.

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees. “We met . . . it sounds kind of weird now? But we met at a werewolf mating ceremony and he chose me. I thought he was just screwing with me at first, but . . . I don’t think that anymore. I know it’s sappy, but I think we were meant to be together. And he’s just . . . he helped me a lot. I don’t think I could have handled today without him. I’m really . . . I’m really in love with him.”

“That’s awesome, dude!” Scott says excitedly. “Come on. Tell me everything. Tell me every last detail.”

“You realize he can hear every word we’re saying, right?” Stiles asks, and Scott lets out a squawk of surprise.

Peter jogs back downstairs and gives Stiles a winning smile. “Sugardaddy? Really?”

“It was pretty appropriate at the beginning,” Stiles replies, smirking back. “Hell, it’s still pretty appropriate.”

Peter leans down and kisses him. Stiles leans up into it. “Well, I’m going to go upstairs and perhaps I’ll listen to some music with my earbuds in, and perhaps I won’t. You can stay down here and catch up with your friend. But don’t leave me waiting too long.”

“I won’t,” Stiles says. Peter heads back up the stairs and decides to take a quick shower. It was a long day in the car, and they hadn’t showered before the bonfire. Melissa is happy to provide him with towels. He takes his time, washing his hair with Scott’s combination shampoo-and-conditioner, then toweling himself dry and putting on clean pajamas.

As he gets out of the bathroom, he hears Stiles talking downstairs. “ – all this political bullshit, and I was in so far over my head. I mean, you weren’t wrong about that. So I – I’m sorry. Really. I was a jerk to you, and I know that you were just – worried about me. It’s not like I regret the stuff I did, ‘cause I don’t, but I’m sorry that I was so pissed at you. I know you just wanted to help me.”

“I was maybe kind of a jerk about it, too,” Scott says. “I mean. Maybe I was a little heavy-handed sometimes.”

“Maybe,” Stiles says, and then there’s a soft thud and Stiles is laughing. “Ow, you asshole.”

“You deserved that,” Scott says, but he’s laughing, too. “I’m just – I’m really glad you’re here, man.” He chokes a little over the words. “I’ve missed you so much. Jerk.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says quietly. “I’ve missed you too. I’m glad I came back. Even if it’s only for a couple days. I can’t stay. You know that, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Scott says. “I won’t ask you to.”

Peter turns to go into the guest room and sees Melissa standing in the doorway of her bedroom. She’s obviously been listening. She walks over to Peter and grips his hands in hers, hard. “Thank you so much,” she says. “For helping him.”

“It’s been my pleasure,” Peter says, smiling.

“Do you think – do you really think Tom might be alive?” she asks, choking a little on the words.

“Honestly? I think that a lot more today than I did yesterday. I was ninety-nine percent certain that if we could just find where Jennifer Blake had held him captive, we would find his body. But his body wasn’t there, and that means that the slim chance he was still alive just got a lot less slim.”

“Do you think we’ll ever find him?” Melissa asks.

“If we don’t, it certainly won’t be for a lack of trying,” Peter remarks dryly.

Melissa casts a look down the stairs and gives a fond smile. “He’s an amazing young man, isn’t he.”

“Yes, he certainly is that,” Peter says. He bids her good night and goes into the bedroom. He does actually put his ear buds in and listens to music while he types on his laptop, taking care of some work.

Stiles comes in about an hour later. Peter glances over his shoulder, hearing the noise of the door even over the sound of his music. Stiles leans over him, nuzzling his face in the crook of his neck, mouthing at his ear. “Thank you,” he whispers. “Thank you.”

Peter turns and scoops him up, tossing him onto the bed and straddling him. He goes in for a kiss without further hesitation, and Stiles returns it with interest. Then he says, “We can’t have sex in here. It would be rude.”

“She’s going to change the sheets after we leave anyway, what does it matter?” Peter purrs.

Stiles tugs on his hair. “Come have sex with me in the shower.”

“Oh, I suppose if you insist,” Peter says.

He learns in the next few minutes that Stiles is every bit as good at giving head as he claimed to be, with the stamina and lack of gag reflex that only years of practice could develop. Stiles keeps Peter’s cock in his mouth for what seems like hours, oblivious to the water running over his shoulders, concentrating only on how long he can drag this out and the muted growls coming out of Peter’s mouth. When he finally comes, Stiles sucks down every last drop, drawing one last wracking shudder out of the alpha. Even Peter feels wobbly after that, sitting down on the floor of the tub while Stiles rubs soap all over him and massages his shoulders. Peter finally gets himself together enough to get his hands around Stiles, using a generous handful of body wash that smells like strawberries. Stiles bites back a quiet moan and rolls his hips into it, and Peter stays still, just letting Stiles fuck into his hand, leaning forward to bite at his chest and collarbone.

The water is chilly by the time they finally get out, and Stiles collapses into the bed, sleeping the deep sleep of the well and truly fucked. Peter surprises himself by falling asleep just as fast.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Melissa is trembling slightly as they walk through the forest. Scott walks close to her, gripping her hand in his. After a few moments, Stiles walks over and takes her other hand, squeezing it in reassurance. Peter leads the way but doesn’t talk to them, doesn’t interrupt their silence. He doesn’t say anything at all until they get close to the Nemeton.

“So to get the greatest effect from this,” he says, coming to a halt, “I want to try to reproduce the experience with as much accuracy as possible. Melissa, would you be willing to let us blindfold you, so you don’t see anything until you’re inside?”

Melissa’s throat works as she swallows, but then she nods. “Whatever you think is best,” she says.

Peter produces a handkerchief and ties it over Melissa’s eyes. Then they lead her the last quarter mile and help her down into the little cavern. “Sit here,” Peter says, guiding her over to the post opposite the entrance. Then he crouches down in front of her and says, “All right, I’m going to take the blindfold off. Remember, this might not work. Just try to stay calm.”

He can feel Stiles giving him a look of gratitude. The teenager has talked some about how difficult it was for Melissa, feeling like she could be the key to finding Sheriff Stilinski, but unable to remember anything that had happened. Peter can sympathize to a certain extent. He removes the blindfold and backs away.

Melissa blinks a few times, adjusting to the dim light. Her breath is coming a little rapidly, but she stays calm as she looks around. “I don’t . . .”

“It’s fine,” Stiles says. “Just take your time.”

Melissa nods. She closes her eyes for a long minute, just breathing slowly, through her nose. Then she opens her eyes and says, quietly, “I’m sorry. I really don’t remember. Nothing about this is familiar.”

Peter frowns, considering this. He hadn’t expected Melissa to suddenly be able to shed light on everything or give them a perfect explanation for where Tom Stilinski had disappeared to. But this complete lack of memory, even of recognition, seems strange to him. Stiles doesn’t seem to notice, pushing a hand through his hair and saying, “Okay, well, it was worth a try. Thanks for coming here, I know it can’t have been easy for you.”

Melissa tries to smile, and Scott helps her to her feet. Peter is still brooding over the facts as they leave the cavern.

“Melissa,” he says, as she sits down on a fallen log outside to center herself, “I’m wondering if you would let me try something.”

“What is it?” she asks.

He holds up a hand and lets his claws show. “There is a ritual that would allow me to view your memories. It’s rare, and usually only alphas can do it. There are some slight risks to it.”

“I’ll do it,” Melissa says, at the same time that Scott says, “What risks?”

“Well, the nails embed at the base of the neck, so if it’s not done skillfully enough, it can cause paralysis,” Peter says.

Scott chews on his lip and looks askance at Stiles. The teenager lets out a slow breath and says, “Do you think we could actually gain something from it?”

“Yes,” Peter says. “I have a theory, and I may be able to explain a few things.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and looks at Scott, who nods.

Peter kneels down behind Melissa and says, “Now, this won’t be very comfortable, for either of us. I might have to hold you down, if only to keep my nails from slipping and hitting a nerve. Just try to take some deep breaths. Scott, would you – ” he adds, and gestures. Scott nods and trots over to take his mother’s hands in his. “Ready?” Peter asks.

“As I’ll ever be,” Melissa says.

Peter takes a moment to prepare himself and then digs his nails in. Almost immediately, he feels like he’s sitting in the cavern again. He’s cold, and thirsty. He can’t feel his feet. He looks around like he’s just waking up there, seeing the dirt ceiling and the debris, feeling Melissa’s fear and confusion surging through him. He’s peripherally aware of his body in the present, of Stiles’ hands on his shoulders to help steady him.

As Melissa-in-the-memory calms down, so does Peter. He looks around again and, for the first time, sees Tom Stilinski in something other than a photograph. He’s tied up across from Melissa, a bruise on his forehead and a smudge of dirt on his cheek. So now he’s confirmed that at least Tom and Melissa were alive in the same place, at the same time.

They talk for a little while, commiserating over their situation and talking about their children. Then the ground starts to shake, dirt raining down from the ceiling. Both of them are struggling to get free, and then, abruptly, part of the ceiling caves in. The support beam that Tom was tied to breaks in half. He’s half-buried in dirt and stone, but manages to squirm free. With the pole broken, he’s able to slide the ropes up until he can get free of it completely. Melissa is laughing in relief and joy.

Tom hurries over to her and finds a piece of sharp stone and manages to use it to cut the ropes that were tying her to the beam. He shrugs out of his jacket and offers it to her, and they climb out of the cavern together.

By then, the shaking has stopped. The night is quiet. Melissa is breathing a little more easily, holding onto Tom’s arm as they go through the forest. Then – whatever Tom Stilinski hears, Peter can’t hear it. But his head comes up like an animal scenting danger, and he frowns. “Someone’s here,” he says, and a few moments later he makes Melissa huddle up and hide in some brush.

The memories are starting to become fragmented, disjointed. Tom jogs off into the forest, but Peter isn’t sure why. To find help? To draw away the danger? Melissa stays where she was put, but a few minutes later she sees a shadow, and a gleam of crimson light. Everything goes completely blank there, for the space of what feels like a few minutes, and then she’s staggering through the forest and onto the road.

Peter pulls away from her. Melissa is trembling, and Scott immediately pulls her into a hug.

“That was unpleasant,” Peter murmurs, mostly to himself. But he comes around the log and sits down in front of Melissa. “Well,” he says, “if nothing else, I know why you can’t remember anything. Your memories were taken from you, in much the same way as I just tried to recover them.”

“A werewolf?” Scott says.

“An alpha,” Stiles says, picking up the implications immediately.

Peter nods. More to Stiles, he says, “The earthquake that Jennifer Blake caused inadvertently freed your father from his restraints. He got Melissa free and the two of them left the Nemeton. But he seemed to think they were being pursued. He had Melissa hide and jogged away. That was the last she saw him.”

Stiles’ jaw is set and angry. “And then an alpha came and took her memories. Was it Deucalion?”

“There’s no way to be sure unless he admitted it,” Peter says, “but he’s the only alpha we know for sure was in the forest that night, so it would be strange if it wasn’t him.”

“He said he never met or saw either of Jennifer’s captives,” Stiles says.

“That he did,” Peter agrees.

Stiles takes a moment to breathe. “Okay, but why take her memories?”

“He must have thought she could have seen or heard something that he didn’t want her to know about,” Peter says, “but as to what that might have been, I don’t know.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to ask him,” Stiles says, his voice tight with rage.

“Mm. It’s a good thing we’ve an invitation to his court.” Peter helps Melissa stand up. “It was very helpful, Melissa. Thank you.”

She nods, pale and shaky but trying to smile. Stiles hugs her for a long time before they start walking back to the house.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Parting with the McCall family isn’t as awkward as Stiles had feared it might be. Scott slaps him on the back and gives him a hug and makes him promise to text more often. Melissa presses some cookies on them, and then they get on the road. It’s going to be a long day back to Corona del Mar.

Peter asks a question or two, occasionally makes a comment, but Stiles doesn’t really feel like talking. He’s torn between being overcome with joy that his father at least made it out of the Nemeton alive, and devastation that his search isn’t over. More than anything else, he just feels tired. Peter glances at him a few times, but overall lets him have his silence.

The house in Corona del Mar is just a pit stop. They pack up what they’ll need for a long vacation and leave the next morning, heading west.

Deucalion lives with the rest of his court in the Arizona desert, about fifty miles northwest of a small town called Wickenburg. There’s nothing but rocks and cactus in every direction, and the heat is almost as bad as it was in Death Valley. “They must have one hell of a commute when they want to get groceries,” Stiles says, glancing around.

“They probably have everything delivered,” Peter remarks. “It’s truly amazing what you can get through Amazon these days.”

Stiles gives a little snort as they pull up to a gate in a tan stone wall. The gate itself is made of wrought iron, and there’s a man waiting in a little booth who jumps out when he sees their car. His nostrils flare as Peter rolls the window down, but Peter forestalls his questions by saying, “My name is Peter Hale. Deucalion is expecting me.”

The man nods and says, “All the way down the main road, turn right.”

“Thank you,” Peter says, rolling the window back up and heading through the gate.

Inside is what looks more like a small town than anything else: a cluster of houses and differently sized buildings. Most of them are adobe style, and the entire town is either tan or red-brown. Stiles wrinkles his nose at it. “Is this normal?” he asks. “I mean, for a pack to live out in the middle of nowhere like this?”

“Oh, yes,” Peter says. “My family lived out on the preserve, you know, a good twenty miles from town, and that was actually unusually close. Werewolves are very territorial, and they need room to run, to hunt. This is actually very typical, although it’s larger than most. But that would be expected of Deucalion, given his status.”

Stiles nods a little as they pull up outside a large building, this one a shade redder than most. He gets out of the car when Peter pulls to a stop, and they head inside. The door at the front is made of solid wood, but propped open, so they come out into a large, airy courtyard. The building makes a rectangle around them, and the second floor has an open balcony that overlooks the courtyard.

“Peter Hale?” a voice says, and both of them turn to see a diminutive Hispanic woman approach them. She must be an alpha, because Peter gives her that same polite nod that Stiles has seen him give to the others. “My name is Yseila. Deucalion is indisposed right now. He asked that I show you to your lodgings and extend his invitation to dinner tonight.”

“We’d be delighted,” Peter replies.

“This way, please,” she says, and heads back out the front. Peter follows along with Stiles trailing in his wake. He leaves the car where it is, and Yseila leads them about half a mile. From what Stiles can tell, the complex is laid out in a circular fashion, with Deucalion’s house being in the center and the other roads coming off like spokes in a wheel. While they walk, Yseila is gesturing to buildings and describing the complex to them. There’s a small gym, a general store, a mechanic, and a library with a tiny movie theater attached.

The house that she shows them to is barely the size of Peter’s master bedroom suite, but it’s modern and clean. The floor is all stone, and it has a pleasant Western charm to it. It’s fully furnished, with everything done in dark wood and tan upholstery. The backyard is xeriscaped, mostly rocks and cacti, but it does have a pool, which has a smile twitching at Peter’s lips. “I’ll go get the car,” he says, since he’ll be able to cover the distance in a quarter of the time it would take Stiles. “And then I’m going for a swim.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and as soon as Peter is gone, he strips out of all his clothes and throws himself onto the sofa. Peter comes back a few minutes later, carrying one of their suitcases, which he promptly sets down when he sees Stiles naked.

“On second thought, the pool can wait,” he says.

About an hour later, they finally get around to unloading the car. Neither of them have brought much, but they are going to be stuck there for several weeks or months or longer. It’s going to take time to decide exactly what to do. Their first task, Peter has said, is reconnaissance. They need to know all about where Deucalion lives and what sort of people he’s surrounded himself with. An opportunity for revenge will present itself.

So they each have a suitcase full of clothes and toiletries, and both of them have their own laptop. They’ve brought some books and a few of their favorite movies, and although they had figured the kitchen would have some basic appliances, Stiles brought his espresso maker. They unpack and then they do actually go for a swim.

Yseila had told them that they typically ate late, around seven or eight PM. By then, it will be cool enough to sit outside in the courtyard. “Cool enough for who?” Peter muttered when she said that. It isn’t formal, she told them, so not to worry about that.

Peter will be the guest of honor, as a visiting alpha, and although normally he would have brought some lavish gift, since his stay is weregild, that would be considered tacky. So they’re empty-handed as they walk back to Deucalion’s home at seven thirty. There are torches lit even though the sun is still up, and about a dozen people are gathered in the courtyard. There are four round tables, covered in white cloth.

“Welcome,” Deucalion says, with that smug smile that Stiles immediately wants to slap off his face. He narrows his eyes, remembering that Deucalion had lied to his face about what had happened in the woods that night. He’s going to get the truth out of him one way or another. And he hates the fact that Deucalion is flanked by two wolves, both of them clearly undernourished, one with a notched ear, their heads hanging down. He knows that Deucalion saw how he reacted to the wolves at the Supermoon Ceremony; he can’t help but feel like Deucalion is shoving it in his face. Then a woman walks out from the inside of the house. She’s somewhat shorter than Deucalion, with dark skin and hair, and Stiles does a double-take. “This is Marin. Marin, Peter Hale and his mate, er . . .”

“Stiles,” Peter says.

“Fancy meeting you here, Stiles,” the woman says, smiling at him.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Stiles says, forgetting his manners in his surprise. “I’ve been looking for you.”

Peter and Deucalion look politely clueless. Marin continues to smile and says, “Well, you’ve found me.”

“I knew you were involved with him, you were – ” Stiles takes a breath and forces himself to calm down. “Why are you here?”

“I’m part of Deucalion’s court,” Marin says.

Peter glances between the two of them and says, “You aren’t a werewolf. I assume you’re his Emissary?” he adds, and Marin inclines her head in a slight nod.

“What’s that?” Stiles asks.

“The Emissary is a Druid,” Peter tells him. “It’s their job to keep their alpha grounded, stay in touch with their humanity.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, and then adds to Marin, “You kinda suck at your job.”

Peter clears his throat to cover a laugh.

“It was a difficult year,” Marin says, without missing a beat.

“Uh huh.” Stiles looks pointedly down at the wolf cringing by Deucalion’s side, head bowed and trembling. Marin follows his gaze and a complex look flits across her face, a combination of sorrow and guilt and tight anger.

Deucalion either misses the interplay or, more likely, doesn’t care about Stiles or his opinions. “Shall we?” he asks, gesturing to the closest table. Peter follows them over and pulls a chair out for Stiles. He sits down without a word.

They talk about boring things that Stiles doesn’t care about for a while. Peter asks why he chose the Arizona desert, and Deucalion leaps onto the opportunity to brag about his complex. This is, of course, exactly what Peter wanted, because he wants to hear all about the complex. Stiles tries to stay interested, but it’s difficult when he just wants to throttle people and start demanding answers. He cuts into his steak and glances down at the mournful wolf that’s been forced to lie at Deucalion’s feet. When nobody’s looking, Stiles drops a chunk of steak onto the ground and nudges it towards the wolf. It looks up at him, notched ear batting uncertainly. Stiles nudges it a little closer. Hesitantly, so hesitantly, the wolf gives it a cautious lick. When nobody reprimands it, it grabs it in its mouth and swallows.

“So what’s with the wolves?” Stiles asks, during a lull in the conversation.

Deucalion smiles at him. “I’ve found it’s a wonderful teaching tool,” he says. “To help my betas get in touch with their inner wolf. Those of us who were born as werewolves don’t have some of the issues that turned werewolves do, in learning to anchor and control themselves.”

“Does starving them teach them control?” Stiles asks.

“Yes,” Deucalion says, his smile never faltering.

“You know, psychological studies have proven that reward is a more effective tool than punishment,” Stiles says. “Specifically, variable ratio training. It’s the same thing that makes slot machines so addictive. An uncertain payout. Maybe you should incorporate that into your ‘teaching methods’.”

“The real world isn’t a Skinner Box,” Marin says.

“Yeah, well, it’s worked out pretty well for Vegas,” Stiles says.

Deucalion remarks to Peter, “He’s quite a bright one, your mate. I heard that you met him in the omega room at the ceremonies this year?” he adds, and Peter simply nods. “And what was someone like you doing there?” he asks.

“Taking it up the ass,” Stiles replies without missing a beat.

For the first time, Deucalion’s smile tightens. Peter has to hide another laugh. “You know,” Deucalion says, “while I personally appreciate a certain amount of spirit, I can’t promise every alpha here would feel the same way. You really should think about teaching your mate how to show the proper amount of respect.”

“Oh, I promise you, Stiles respects the Court of Alphas every bit as much as I do,” Peter says. “What’s for dessert?”

There’s tiramisu, and coffee. Marin Morrell watches Stiles with a veiled gaze before she finally says, “How is the search for your father coming along, Stiles?”

Stiles sets his fork down with a click. “Given the way you avoided me every time I tried to ask you questions, am I allowed to ask why you suddenly care?”

Marin looks a little sad, and says, “I couldn’t talk to you then. My identity as the Emissary was confidential. Now that you’re in this court, you can know. You can ask me anything you like.”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Stiles says, disgusted. “Now I know my father was still alive when he left the Nemeton. If you’d told me that back when I first tried to ask you where she might have kept them, I might not have wasted the last two and a half years of my life figuring that out. But clearly your Secret Identity was more important than an orphaned sixteen year old, so again I have to ask, why the fuck do you suddenly care?”

Peter’s hand digs into his knee, and Stiles snaps his mouth shut. He knows that every werewolf present can smell the frustration and grief that’s just boiling over, and if anyone makes a patronizing comment after Deucalion had lied to his face, he thinks he might lose his shit.

“I am sorry, Stiles,” Marin says gently.

Stiles rubs impatiently at his eyes and nods without saying anything. His throat is tight and aching, and he can’t squeeze out a single word. Peter lets go of his knee and rubs his back instead.

“I think I’ll be taking him home,” the alpha says. “Thank you for your hospitality, Deucalion. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon. Marin, it was a pleasure to meet you.”

There are a few polite comments, and then Peter draws Stiles to his feet and out of the courtyard. Stiles doesn’t say anything until they’re about halfway back to the house they were given. “I’m sorry,” he says dully. “If I – if I fucked things up, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t – ”

“It’s fine,” Peter says. “Just more bullshit etiquette. The role of the Emissary is looked on as somewhat sacred. Not that I have any idea why. I’ve done just fine without one, after all.”

Stiles manages a laugh that’s slightly hysterical. “Yeah, grounded in humanity, that’s you to a T.”

Peter stops on the corner and kisses him, then leans in to murmur, “Don’t forget, Stiles. We’re going to leave nothing but ashes behind when we settle our debts with Deucalion and his court.”

Stiles nods and lets Peter embrace him. They walk the rest of the way in silence. It’s not late enough to go to bed, but the house has cable television, and they’re trying to find something to watch when Peter glances up. “Someone’s at the door,” he says, although Stiles didn’t hear anything. But the teenager gets up and follows him. Peter swings the door open to reveal the wolf with the notched ear standing there. It looks up, but then quickly back down, its tail giving a slow, hopeful brush of the ground.

“Well, hello there,” Stiles says, surprised but giving the wolf a welcoming smile. “Come on in.”

Peter glances up. “What’s he doing here?” he asks, and Stiles gives a shrug, standing back from the door.

The wolf pads inside, and Stiles sees that he’s limping. He immediately sits down on the floor and says, “Let me see.” Clearly nervous, the wolf lifts up a paw and lets Stiles examine it. There’s a nasty-looking burr embedded in one of the pads. “Ooooooh,” he says. “This might hurt a bit, okay?” he asks, and when the wolf gives a little nod, he tugs the burr out. The wolf yips, but then settles. “Here, let’s put some ice on that.”

He stands up and heads to the kitchen, and winds up sitting on the tile floor with the wolf’s head in his lap, holding the ice to his paw and just slowly running his hands through his fur. It’s dirty and matted, and he can feel old scars underneath. “Poor thing,” he mutters. He wants to say something like ‘don’t worry’ or ‘we’ll take care of this’, but he doesn’t dare. It could be a trick, some sort of trap where the wolf might tell Deucalion what he had heard. All he can do is try to help the animal the best he can.

About an hour later, the wolf suddenly rises to his feet, leans in to nudge at Stiles’ cheek with his nose, and then walks over to the door. Stiles stands up and lets him out, and the wolf vanishes into the darkened street.

“You do have a soft spot for those who are suffering,” Peter remarks, as Stiles rejoins him on the sofa.

“Comes of having suffered,” Stiles says.

“One fundamental way in which you and I are different,” Peter says.

Stiles shrugs. “I don’t care if you share my soft spot, as long as you don’t try to stop me from having it. Anyway, it could be helpful. That wolf is only a beta, but now he might be an ally. Who knows what might happen in the long run?”

“True,” Peter says. “And it is possible to be strategic and be a decent person at the same time. I just tend to focus on the former, while you focus on the latter.”

“Yin and yang,” Stiles agrees.

Peter leans in and kisses his cheek. “We should get some sleep. We’ll need to stay on our toes while we’re here.”

Stiles sighs and nods. “Okay,” he says.

Peter seems to know what he’s thinking. “Patience, Stiles,” he says. “We’ll get our answers, one way or another.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The first week at Deucalion’s complex is all research. They go out to the public places and meet people, delicately inquire as to their position in the court. They map out who lives where and, as much as possible, gain insight into their opinion of the other people living in the court. As Peter has expected, there’s plenty of rivalry to be exploited.

All this information is kept on their laptops. As much as Stiles works better with a physical crime wall, they don’t dare put one up. There are no locks on the doors. “It would be pointless,” Peter says, when Stiles asks about it. “Unless you installed a steel-reinforced security door, any werewolf could break through it. And an alpha could probably break through one of those, although, why bother when there are windows to go through.”

Locks would give them an illusion of safety, of privacy, but that’s all it would be. So nobody bothers. It doesn’t seem to trouble Peter. He’s lived in werewolf complexes before; he knows what the rules are. So all their information has to be protected, lest somebody discover what they’re up to.

The complex houses about eighty people. Seven of them are alphas, not including Peter himself. Each alpha has their own betas, as few as four or as many as twelve. There are only two humans: Marin Morrell and Stiles himself.

Deucalion is the ranking alpha, of course, and according to Peter, the nearest alpha who could outrank him is about three hundred miles away, in Utah. The alpha they had met the previous day, is Yseila. She’s a countess, and thus the next ranking alpha in the complex. Everyone else is at least two steps lower. Ennis is a baron, as is one other alpha, and then there are three ‘members of the court’: a pair of twins named Ethan and Aiden, and a woman named Jill. The twins have the largest pack, as they run it together, nearly twenty members.

“You know what I find odd,” Peter says, studying the list of names and positions that they’ve constructed. Stiles glances over at him, fiddling with a pen. “Deucalion doesn’t seem to have any betas himself.”

“Does he have to?” Stiles asks. “I mean, technically that would make him a jack, but since all these alphas swore allegiance to him, aren’t they sort of his betas, in a way?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Peter says, shaking his head. “They swear allegiance because he’s above them in the Court of Alphas. Deucalion shouldn’t be a Duke. Not unless he’s got betas here that he’s hiding.”

“Those poor bastards forced into wolf form are his betas, aren’t they?” Stiles asks.

“No, I don’t think so,” Peter says. They’ve discovered that there are three werewolves in the complex that are constantly in wolf form: two male and one female. None of them have names, as far as they’ve been able to ascertain, so Stiles has named them himself, after famous literary or film werewolves. Remus is the tan colored wolf with the notched ear, David is the gray wolf that slinks around after Ennis, and Selene is the smallest and darkest. (“Selene was a vampire,” Stiles had said at the time, “but I can’t think of any female werewolves, so screw it.”)

“David is clearly part of Ennis’ pack,” Peter says, “and Selene is most often with Yseila. I’m not sure about Remus. He might be Deucalion’s beta, but more than anything he seems to be everyone’s omega.”

Stiles’ nose wrinkles. He likes all the wolves, feels sorry for all of them, but he has a special soft spot for Remus. The wolf comes by once every few days, always at night, and sits with Stiles for about an hour while they watch television. He’s less feral than the other two, has probably, according to Peter, been bound in his wolf form for less time. Stiles feeds him bacon and hamburgers, but Peter cautions against treating him too much, lest his alpha or Deucalion figure it out and punish him.

“So can we do something with that?” Stiles asks. “I mean, if he shouldn’t be a duke at all?”

“I’m honestly not sure,” Peter says, frowning slightly. “It’s odd how little he seems concerned about it, like he doesn’t care if we figure it out. Theoretically, we could tell the other alphas in the region, but he doesn’t seem to care if they know.”

“They might just be afraid of him,” Stiles says. “I mean, he killed all his previous betas, right? So maybe nobody wants to be his beta now.”

“Perhaps,” Peter says. “In theory, we could notify people higher than him in the court, who would strip him of his rank. But if he isn’t worried, he’s probably already bribed or persuaded them not to take action against him. It’s just . . . odd. There’s no reason for him not to have betas. Maintaining the alpha power without them is difficult, as I’ve told you. Those few of us who do it generally have our reasons.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want them, after killing the ones he had,” Stiles suggests.

“That is a possibility,” Peter says, but he doesn’t seem convinced.

“We could always just ask,” Stiles adds. “He knows that we’ll notice. I mean, he clearly respects your intellect.”

“True,” Peter says. “That isn’t a bad idea.”

They’ve discussed outright asking Deucalion why he lied about meeting Jennifer’s sacrifices, but for the time being, Peter has vetoed the idea. Something happened in the forest that night, something that he didn’t want anybody to know about. Something that he was afraid Melissa might have witnessed, although it seems she didn’t.

“Maybe he just wanted to make sure nobody saw him kill Jennifer Blake,” Stiles suggested, when they first talked about it.

Peter shook his head. “That sort of thing wouldn’t worry him. He lives off the grid; he wouldn’t care if there was a witness to his crime. No, we’re missing a piece of this puzzle. Something that happened that night will explain all of this, I’m sure of it.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip, studying the list of alphas. “He wasn’t in Beacon Hills alone,” he says. “He had the other alphas with him. They might know what happened.”

“That’s true,” Peter says, nodding. “Ennis and the twins were there, along with Jennifer Blake’s former paramour Kali, who she killed. Ennis won’t say anything. He’s stupid, but not that stupid, and he hates both of us in any case. The twins, however . . . it might not be a bad idea to try to strike up a friendship with one of them. They’re only a few years older than you, and Ethan is gay, it seems, so you would have something in common with him.”

Stiles considers all this. “We should get in a fight,” he says. “A messy, public one. Where they can witness it. Then I can bitch to Ethan about boyfriend troubles. Gay boys love to gossip.”

“What a lovely stereotype,” Peter says, and laughs. “All right. What would you like to argue about?”

“Being stuck in this hellhole?”

Peter snorts. “Too unrelatable. We have to assume that the twins are here by choice. How about, not standing up for you when Deucalion is snide in your general direction? That’s something anybody ought to be able to sympathize with.”

“Oooh, that’s good,” Stiles says. “Jerk,” he adds, with a pretend elbow to Peter’s ribs.

“Yes, I’m completely unredeemable,” Peter says, with his usual charming smile, and leans in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck. “Now. We’re expected at dinner tonight, so be sure to mouth off to Deucalion so he can get annoyed at you and I can fail to come to your rescue.”

“That ought to be hard,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “Every time he opens his mouth, I want to punch him in the face. Why don’t you tell him that you’ve heard controlling betas is really difficult and ask if he has any tips or if it involves locking them all in a closet, since we haven’t seen any of his?”

“I’ll have to be about five times more subtle than that, but the idea isn’t bad,” Peter says.

It turns out to be marginally more difficult than they anticipated, because they’re ‘expected’ at dinner but Deucalion seats them at a different table, nowhere near him. On the upside, they’re seated at the table next to the twins, who will be able to overhear their ‘argument’. Since he can’t antagonize Deucalion directly, Stiles settles for making a disparaging remark about him, and Peter immediately slaps him down. Stiles spends most of the meal sulking.

“That’s what happens when you pick your mate out of the omega room,” Yseila remarks, smirking at Peter.

Peter shrugs. “He doesn’t know all the rules, but I prefer someone . . . spirited,” he says, smirking at Stiles. “Besides, since I don’t have a pack, who I choose as my mate is much more important. You don’t have a mate, do you, Yseila?” he adds, and she shakes her head. “Well, if you ever find one, you’ll understand. You do have a lot of betas, though.”

Yseila smiles proudly. “As befits my place in the court,” she says.

“You know, I don’t mean to belittle your position, but I’ve found little connection between the number of betas and the place in court,” Peter says, dishing himself another serving of potatoes. “My sister, Talia, was an arch-duchess, you know. Second only to the king and queen. But she only had about a dozen betas, and I’ve known many alphas with more.”

“It was different for your sister, because she was a born wolf, with a family,” Yseila says. “She didn’t recruit the way most alphas do.”

“True,” Peter says. “But Deucalion has fewer betas than you, doesn’t he? I’m not sure how many.”

“That’s his choice,” Yseila says. “It’s different for Deucalion.”

“Because he killed his previous betas?”

“And that made him more powerful,” Yseila says. “In a way, he still has all of those betas. Their power lives inside him.”

“Interesting,” Peter murmurs. “So the fact that he has no betas now doesn’t matter, because nobody would dare to challenge him.”

“Or something like that,” Yseila says.

Stiles scowls, and his sulk intensifies, as he pokes at his food and generally acts uninterested in the proceedings. While he does that, the gears in his head churn away at this topic, and he wonders if maybe Deucalion has had more betas – but he kills them not long after he gets them. That would enable him to keep his position in the court of alphas, and increase his power at the same time.

“It’s feasible,” Peter allows, when Stiles asks him about it later that night. “It seems unlikely, but that might be my own prejudices coming into play.”

Stiles rolls over in bed, resting his chin on Peter’s bare chest. “How so?”

“Losing a pack member isn’t just like losing family,” Peter says. “It’s like losing a limb. That’s why Deucalion is insane in the first place, at least according to popular theory. He lost several of his pack members to Gerard Argent, and it drove him nuts, and he killed the rest after they mutinied against him. But it would take a special kind of, of masochistic insanity to keep making and then murdering pack members. Deucalion is many things, but he doesn’t strike me as a masochist.”

“Fair,” Stiles says with a sigh. “I just can’t . . . I can’t stop working at it, you know? I need to understand him, I need to know what happened. It’s all I can think about.”

“Well,” Peter says, rolling them over and pinning Stiles to the mattress, “I think I know something that can help with that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Making friends with Ethan is moderately easier than Stiles had expected, if only because he actually seems to be a halfway decent guy. They keep track of his movements for a few days and find that he spends a lot of time with his betas, that one of them is his boyfriend, that he likes to go to the gym and work out. That gives Stiles a great idea for how to get to know him.

He and Peter wait outside the gym until Peter hears Ethan approaching and then Peter starts their argument with, “How about, you’ll do as I say, because I say so,” in an acerbic tone.

“Come on!” Stiles protests. “Look, I’m sorry that I’m not all big and buff like all the betas who wander around but if you wanted a werewolf, you could’ve picked one of them. It’s not my fault that you picked my skinny ass!”

“You have a lovely ass,” Peter says, “and it belongs to me, and you will make me look good in front of the other alphas. No more of this insolence. Am I clear?”

“You’re such a jerk,” Stiles retorts, and then storms into the gym just as Ethan comes around the corner. He stands in the little lobby for a minute, fuming and feigning frustration, then startles when Ethan comes in and hastily rubs a hand over his eyes. “Oh, uh, sorry,” he says, when he ‘realizes’ that he’s in Ethan’s way.

“No big,” Ethan says, frowning at him. “You okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” Stiles says, and looks around. “Is there a locker room in here or something?”

“Here, I’ll show you,” Ethan says, and gestures for Stiles to follow him, which Stiles does. “There aren’t really lockers, though, I mean, it’s just a changing room. We don’t worry too much about locking up our stuff.”

“Yeah, I’d noticed,” Stiles says, and dumps his bag on a bench. “It takes some getting used to, but I guess it’s all right.” He strips his shirt off and looks in a nearby mirror with a glum expression, then looks over at Ethan and sighs. “I guess Peter’s right. You probably heard that, huh? With your werewolf hearing. I do look like a little punk compared to you guys.”

Ethan shrugs. “Well, he still chose you, right?”

“That means less when he apparently doesn’t like anything about me,” Stiles mutters, mostly to himself. “Like I know what to do with gym equipment anyway. Do I look like a guy who knows his way around a weight room?”

At this, Ethan laughs. “It’s not hard. C’mon, I’ll show you the ropes.”

Ethan is so genuinely good-natured and helpful that Stiles starts to think about what’s going to happen to the other alphas if they take out Deucalion. Up to this point, he hasn’t cared about any of them; they’ve all seemed equally horrible in his eyes. He’s met Aiden on a couple of occasions and the alpha struck him as a smug prick. He had expected Ethan to be the same way, but he isn’t.

They set up a daily gym meeting and rotate weights and cardio and games of racquetball, and Ethan says once the weather’s nicer he goes out running in the desert and it’s nice to get out of the complex for a while. “Not that I don’t love my pack, but man, this place can get claustrophobic after a while,” he remarks.

The complex’s only coffee shop/café is a couple doors down from the gym and they go there a few times a week to get something to drink after they work out. Ethan is a health food nut and he laments the fact that he has to have almost all his food shipped in because he won’t eat a lot of what the others like. Stiles gives him some recipes and they have a hilarious failure of making some of them.

“You actually like him,” Peter says after the first week, surprised, as Stiles is getting ready to go to the gym.

“Yeah, I didn’t expect it either, but he’s actually a pretty nice guy,” Stiles says, tying his shoes.

He’s waiting for the reprimand, for Peter to remind him that they’re only using Ethan, but it doesn’t come. “Interesting,” is all Peter says, and then he leans in for a kiss. “Have a good time.”

He does. He’s actually starting to see some results of his work with Ethan, which is exciting in its own way. And as a method of getting close to the alpha, it’s working out perfectly. He has to let his guard down first, of course, and he tells Ethan about how his mother died and his father disappeared and he wound up working as a prostitute. He tells Ethan that even though Peter can be a jerk sometimes, he’s really glad that Peter chose him, and his life is much better now.

“I can understand why Peter wants to impress the others,” Ethan says from where he’s doing curls. “I mean, being a jack makes him look vulnerable, and if people think he can’t even control his mate, how would he ever get a pack?”

“Maybe I’m just not very good at politics,” Stiles says.

Ethan shrugs. “Sometimes I’m not, either. I let Aiden handle most of that stuff.”

Stiles learns that Ethan spends more time with the pack while Aiden spends more time with the other alphas. He learns that they were the omegas of another pack – the ‘whipping boys’, he says – until Deucalion challenged their alpha and killed him. They owe Deucalion a debt, and that’s why they serve him, even though Ethan personally doesn’t seem to like him very much.

Ethan backs up Yseila’s theory that Deucalion is allowed to not have betas but maintains his position because he still has the power of the betas he killed. “It’s all about power,” he says, shaking his head. “That’s all most alphas think betas are good for. So as long as he has the power, what does it matter whether or not he actually has betas or not?”

“Peter says – ” Stiles is on the treadmill, speaking between deep breaths – “that most alphas – want betas. That – being a jack – is really rare. If they don’t – have betas – there’s a reason.”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Ethan says, “but that sort of makes sense for Deucalion, doesn’t it? I mean, he lost a bunch of them and then the rest mutinied. I wouldn’t want to get a bunch more betas if that happened to me, either.”

That made sense to Stiles, and Peter agreed. Deucalion had gone years after the incident with Gerard Argent without having betas, so they supposed it honestly might not have anything to do with what had happened in Beacon Hills.

The first full moon after their arrival, everyone goes running in the desert, even Peter. He has no real interest in doing it, but it’s hard to stay cooped up on the full moon, and he says it would look odd if he didn’t go. They don’t want to arouse suspicion. Stiles wants to take the opportunity to poke around Deucalion’s house, but Peter tells him not to forget that Marin Morrell will still be there, and she’s obviously a witch of some power.

So he’s surprised to hear the familiar scratching at his door when the werewolves have all been gone about an hour. He opens it up to see Remus sitting on the doorstep. The wolf looks better than he had a month previous; his coat is still matted but the fur has more shine to it now and he’s not quite as thin, but it’s more than that. He actually looks up when Stiles open the door, mouth lolling open in a canine grin.

“Hey!” Stiles says. “You didn’t go out running with the others?” he adds, unnecessarily. Remus’ head dips. “Oh, are you not allowed to?” he asks, and Remus gives him sad eyes. “But let me guess – you’re still full of energy and you want to run around?”

They wind up on the main street. Stiles grabs a ball from the gym, one of the ones they use for racquetball, and plays fetch with the wolf. Remus is clearly excited from the moonlight, with more bounce in his step, occasionally jumping to catch the ball in midair. Stiles laughs at his antics, enjoying himself.

He had asked Ethan about the wolves and at this point wasn’t surprised to find that Ethan didn’t really approve of the punishment either. “I think it’s actually Marin who locks them into that form,” he says. “I mean, it’s magic, right? It’s not something we can do, or at least if we can, I don’t know how.”

“How long have they been like that?” Stiles asks.

“I dunno, a few months maybe? Some of them longer than others. I saw one that he kept like that for a year, and when he finally changed him back, he was completely feral. Deucalion had to kill him.” Ethan’s jaw is set and he doesn’t look at Stiles while he speaks. “That tan one seems to like you, huh?”

“Oh, the one with the notched ear? Yeah,” Stiles says. “He’s my buddy.”

“I think he’s the newest,” Ethan says. “Been stuck as a wolf for three, maybe four months. So he would maybe okay if he got changed back soon. You’d better be careful, though. Deucalion won’t like it if he catches you feeding him.”

“Deucalion can kiss my ass,” Stiles says.

Ethan shakes his head a little, but doesn’t say anything to deter him.

Stiles plays fetch with Remus for about an hour, and then he’s panting and obviously exhausted. Stiles gives him some water and they sit and watch a movie. Remus falls asleep curled up on the sofa in their little adobe house. He doesn’t wake until Peter comes in, and then his head comes up suddenly, like he’s scenting danger. He scrambles off the couch and bolts out the door before it can swing shut behind Peter.

The alpha looks after the retreating wolf quizzically. “Did you have a good time?” he asks.

“Yeah.” Stiles is frowning. “I think he’s worried that Deucalion will realize that he didn’t stay . . . wherever Deucalion put him.” He shakes this thought off. “What about you, have fun?”

“Yes, actually,” Peter says. “It’s been a long time since I actually went out during the full moon. I should do it more often. Very liberating.”

“Run the streets of Corona del Mar,” Stiles says, laughing, and Peter chuckles as well.

The next day, they’re notified that they’re ‘expected’ at dinner. This is not unusual; Deucalion seems to host a meal once every few days and invite whichever alpha he chooses, or sometimes more than one. He’s serving veal, which Stiles doesn’t like, and since Peter is supposedly taking a hard line with him, he can’t ask for anything else. He decides to eat rolls and vegetables instead. Or, he thinks, he can slip the entire thing to Remus when nobody’s looking.

That’s what he’s half-planning, but when he gets to the courtyard, he finds the four tables arranged around a pole that Remus has been chained to. The wolf has fresh marks on him, and he won’t look at Stiles when the teenager comes in.

“What the hell is this?” Stiles asks, directing the question towards Deucalion.

“This is our omega,” Deucalion says, with his usual pleasant smile. “Are you familiar with the purpose of an omega in pack hierarchy, Stiles?”

“They’re sort of the pack’s whipping boy, right?” Stiles asks, glancing at Ethan. The twin won’t look at him.

“Precisely,” Deucalion says. “Any grievance that someone has with another pack member that cannot be resolved is then resolved with the omega.”

Stiles’ jaw tightens. “So, if one of Yseila’s betas picks a fight with one of Jill’s betas, and she can’t strike back because Yseila outranks Jill, they take it out on the omega? And then it’s forgiven and it’s like the fight never happened?”

“Indeed,” Deucalion says. “As ever, you demonstrate a quick understanding of how things work. It’s a once monthly ceremony, the day after the full moon.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He looks at the wolf, who whimpers, and then tugs off his shirt. “Fine. I’ll be your omega this evening.”

Peter makes a little hiss between his teeth, but doesn’t outright protest.

Deucalion arches his eyebrows at Stiles. “That isn’t exactly how these things work,” he says.

“It’s how I work,” Stiles says. He has to bite the words out, hardly able to speak through his rage. “If anyone in this complex lays one finger on that wolf, I’ll – ”

“Easy,” Peter murmurs, coming up beside him. “Easy, Stiles.” But he doesn’t argue. He takes in the way Stiles’ body is taut and his teeth are bared, and doesn’t try to dissuade him. Instead, he turns to Deucalion. “I do believe that by the rules of the court, anyone can volunteer to take the place of the omega.”

Deucalion smirks and says, “It’s very gracious of you, Stiles, but you wouldn’t be able to handle it.”

“Try me,” Stiles snaps back. “If I can get through the ceremony and still be on my feet afterwards, then you’ll promise me that you’ll let him – ” He jabs a finger in Remus’ direction – “off the hook for this month without punishment.”

“Agreed!” Deucalion says, clearly amused. He gestures to Yseila, who unchains Remus. The wolf runs over to Stiles’ side, sinks his teeth into the cuff of his pants, and tries to drag him away. Stiles kneels beside him, pets him for a minute, and then pushes him over to Peter before he walks over to the pole. He keeps his gaze trained on Deucalion as they get him chained up.

It’s not as bad as it could be. He’s lived through worse. They throw rotten vegetables and fruit at him, shout taunts and insults. People with specific grievances throw stones or hit him with branches. The stones hurt the worse. One of them hits him above his eye and makes him see stars. But he doesn’t duck, doesn’t flinch.

When it’s over, they sit down to dinner, leaving him standing there, covered in filth and blood, while they eat. Peter glances at him a few times, but doesn’t go near him or say anything about it. Remus is curled up at Peter’s feet, looking mournfully in Stiles’ direction, apology written all over his face. Once all three courses of dinner are over, they hose him down to clean him off. He holds onto the pole to keep his balance. They finally unchain him, and he claws his wet hair back out of his face and looks for Deucalion in the crowd. The werewolves back away. They seem a little intimidated by him, although he has no idea why.

“Is that all you’ve got?” he asks Deucalion.

The alpha’s mouth tightens into that thin smile of his. “I’m impressed, Stiles,” he says. “And I’m not easily impressed.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Stiles retorts.

“So I see,” Deucalion says, and walks away. The other werewolves drift away uneasily, and although Stiles could sit down now, it’s over, he chooses not to. He stays on his feet.

Remus trots up to him, holding Stiles’ shirt in his jaws. Stiles takes it and pulls it back on. “Thanks, buddy,” he says, scratching the wolf behind the ears. “Come on, let’s go get a cheeseburger.” He walks over to Peter and rubs a hand over the back of his hair, feeling awkward. Peter just looks at him. “Sorry,” Stiles says. “I guess I just felt like it was something I had to do.”

“Yes, I saw that,” Peter says. His voice is quite calm.

“I’m kind of surprised you let me do it, to be honest.”

Peter gives a shrug. “I couldn’t have stopped you, and had no desire to make that obvious in front of everyone else. Besides, as I’ve told you repeatedly, I’m not your warden. You’re free to do as you like, even if what you do makes absolutely no sense to me.”

“Well, yeah, but . . .” Stiles thinks about this for a minute. “I mean, you probably hated watching them do that, right?”

“Yes, I did,” Peter says.

“Then I’m sorry,” Stiles says. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Well, I’m not as fragile as that,” Peter says, and shakes his head. “Come on. You can make it up to me.”

“I don’t, uh, don’t know if I’ll be up to anything that strenuous,” Stiles admits.

Peter’s jaw tightens. “Yes, we have to see to your injuries as well,” he says, and heads back to the house without another word, with Stiles on his heels and Remus trailing along behind them, tail brushing through the dust.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“You’re nuts,” Ethan greets Stiles at the gym two days later.

“I’m a badass,” Stiles says.

“You’re nuts,” Ethan says. “Why would you even do that? Volunteer to get the shit kicked out of you for some dumb animal?”

“Remus is smarter than most of the guys here,” Stiles says. “Besides, that isn’t the point. It isn’t right to take all that shit out on him just by virtue of the fact that he’s the lowest ranking member of the pack. If I see a wrong being committed, I’m gonna step in. I’ve got fucking standards.”

Ethan just shakes his head and mutters, “you’re nuts” one last time before heading for the racquetball court. “Well, I’ll take it easy on you,” he says.

“Don’t you dare,” Stiles says, laughing. “Everyone seemed super impressed with me and I honestly have no idea why.”

“Because you can’t heal,” Ethan says. “That scares the shit out of most of us, to be honest. We don’t know how you humans handle it. Because we heal everything, we’re not very good at dealing with pain.”

Stiles frowns, thinking back to Remus’ old scars. “Omegas don’t heal?”

“Wounds from alphas don’t heal,” Ethan corrects. “So we all try to avoid it whenever possible. Hey, look, I’m sorry about the . . . the whole thing. I don’t like to participate, you know, ‘cause I used to be on the other end, but Aiden’s always afraid if we don’t, it’ll make us look weak. Let me get you a drink and make it up to you.”

“Sure,” Stiles says.

There isn’t a bar in the complex, so they wind up back at Ethan and Aiden’s place. Aiden rolls his eyes when he sees them, makes a comment about his twin going soft, and leaves. Ethan just ignores him and takes a six pack out of the refrigerator. It’s some sort of organic microbrew. Stiles thinks it tastes like dirt and he can practically chew the barley, but he pretends to appreciate it anyway.

“Really, though,” Ethan says, halfway through his second beer, “you should stop antagonizing Deucalion. Peter can only protect you so much, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says. “Is Deucalion really insane?”

“’Swhat everybody says,” Ethan says.

“Yeah, but you’ve known him for years, right?” Stiles says.

“But I never knew him back before, when he had his own pack,” Ethan says. “Maybe he was always a jerk, I don’t know.”

“I heard that he was different after the whole thing in Beacon Hills,” Stiles says. “Like, when he got his vision back.”

“Yeah. That shit was weird.” Ethan shakes his head and downs the rest of his beer. “I mean, really, I get why that witch wanted to kill Kali. She kinda had it coming. And okay, Deucalion is basically the one who convinced Kali and Ennis to kill their own packs, so, it makes sense that she wanted them dead, too. But giving Deucalion his eyesight back, it’s just weird.”

“I heard that she wanted him to see what she had become,” Stiles says.

“Yeah. And maybe it freaked him out. I mean, it was after that, that he decided to come out here and build the complex. Before that, we just travelled around, killing hunters, you know? But you know what I heard?”

“What?” Stiles asks.

Ethan glances around as if to make sure that his twin is still gone. “D’you know what a death curse is?” he asks, and Stiles shakes his head. “Well, Jennifer Blake was a witch, right? And most witches, especially dark witches, when they die, they can release one last spell. They call it a death curse. They don’t even know what it’ll do, exactly – they just target whoever killed them. And a lot of people think Jennifer Blake used her death curse against Deucalion and that’s why he decided to hide out in the desert and hardly goes to court functions anymore.”

“Crazy,” Stiles says. “Wouldn’t it just kill him, though?”

“See, that’s the thing about death curses, they don’t do that,” Ethan says. “They’re usually . . . ironic somehow. It’s like the curse finds the thing that would hurt the most, and that’s what it does to the person it targets. Like, once this witch got killed by a really powerful vampire, and the curse made it so he couldn’t feed anymore, and he slowly wasted away.”

“Deucalion sure as hell doesn’t seem to be wasting away,” Stiles says.

Ethan shrugs. “It’s just a rumor. You want another beer?”

“Sure,” Stiles says.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I always thought death curses were a myth,” is Peter’s opinion, when Stiles tells him everything that Ethan had said. “I figured, if Blake had cursed Deucalion in some way, we would have seen the effects years ago. I doubt it would have anything to do with what’s going on now. But, I do have some contacts who know more about magic than I do, so let me get in touch with them and see if they have any ideas.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, not looking up from the notes that he’s been making on different people in the pack. “If you were going to curse Deucalion, what would it be?”

Peter shrugs a little. “I would probably draw from my own experience, leave him catatonic and in agony. You?”

Stiles chews on it for a minute. “I would make him an omega,” he says. “Everyone’s omega.”

“It really does bother you, the way they treat Remus,” Peter says, sitting down next to him, leaning in to kiss Stiles behind the ear.

“I’ve been in his position,” Stiles says. “So have you, in a way. The position of being powerless. To both of us, that’s the most frightening thing, isn’t it? But it wasn’t – it wasn’t the same. We had one event, one single thing, knock us down. And we had to struggle to get back up again, but we did it. Remus – every time he tries to get back up, they just knock him down again. And even that I could handle, but they – they love it. I hate the way they enjoy hurting him. I would make them all omegas, if I could.”

Peter runs his hand up and down Stiles’ spine. “I do love hearing you talk about destruction and retribution,” he says.

“You have a hard-on right now, don’t you,” Stiles says.

“Mm hm,” Peter says, continuing to press kisses into Stiles’ neck. “But I do agree with you, at least to a certain degree. I’ll strike against people with power, but I tend to ignore the powerless. Of course, they usually can’t help me.”

“True,” Stiles says. “But Remus can. He knows this place, these people. And he can’t talk to us, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t help us.”

“Agreed,” Peter says, tugging on Stiles’ earlobe with his teeth. Stiles decides it’s time to be done with research for the day.

Several days later, he comes home to find Peter on the phone, talking in a language he doesn’t know. He starts dinner and waits. Peter finally says, “Spasibo,” which he thinks is Russian, and then “Dosvidanya” which he knows is Russian, and hangs up.

“How many languages do you know?” Stiles asks, curious.

Peter has to count on his fingers. “Seven fluent, and at least four others where I could get by if I had to.”

“Is that a werewolf thing, or a ‘you’ thing?” Stiles asks.

“It’s a Hale thing, actually,” Peter says. “Talia was very good with languages, too, and of course we traveled a lot. Derek knows as many as I do, if not more, since I presume he’s learned Portuguese at this point and I barely speak that at all. Do you know any?”

“My Spanish is pretty good – I was in third year before I dropped out of school, and then I bumped into a lot of Hispanic crowds on the streets in California – and I know a lot of Polish though I’m probably pretty rusty by this point.”

“Hm, I don’t know any Polish. You should teach me,” Peter says. “But in the meantime, that was a friend of mine confirming that death curses are real, although exceedingly rare, and can only be cast by a witch or warlock who is extremely powerful. Jennifer Blake does, of course, fit that bill. But if she put a curse on Deucalion in the final moments of her life, I’ve no idea what it is. She certainly didn’t do what either of us would have done.”

Stiles is quiet for a minute, thinking this over as he flips the pork chops he has grilling. “Do you think that’s why he erased Melissa’s memory? Maybe he was afraid that she saw what happened, that she knew what had been done to him.”

“A valid theory,” Peter says. He thinks back. “From what Melissa remembers, your father went in the direction that Deucalion then came from. It would have been almost impossible for them to miss each other. So perhaps your father saw it, too.”

“Maybe Deucalion killed him,” Stiles says glumly.

“Why kill your father, but then erase Melissa’s memory?” Peter counters. “That doesn’t fit.” He closes his eyes. “Put yourself in Deucalion’s shoes. You’ve just had a fight with a powerful enemy. He couldn’t have done it without taking some damage. He wins, but he’s injured. He might or might not have felt the curse hit him, and he might or might not have known what it did. Then . . . what? He turns around and there’s a middle-aged man standing there in nothing but jeans and a T-shirt, in the forest, in the dark. Why not just turn and run?”

“I’m Deucalion,” Stiles says. “I’m hurt, and maybe I know I’ve been cursed.”

“So I do what I’ve done before,” Peter says, opening his eyes. “I kill one of my betas.”

“He didn’t have any betas,” Stiles says.

“No, he didn’t,” Peter says. He waits for Stiles to get there on his own, not wanting to shove it down his throat.

Stiles gets it almost immediately, and he looks sick. “You think he turned my dad, and then killed him.”

“It would fit, to a certain degree,” Peter says. “He already had one body to dispose of. I’m not certain of whether or not he would have gotten that much power from it. It takes time for the bite to take, for the bond to develop. But if he was desperate, if Jennifer’s curse had rendered him powerless, he might have been willing to take a chance.”

“But then why erase Melissa’s memory?” Stiles asks, frustrated. “Why not turn and kill her too?”

Peter thinks about that one for a minute. Then he shakes his head. “I don’t know.”

“Damn it,” Stiles says, under his breath. “Damn, I just – ”

“We’ll figure it out,” Peter says implacably. “Look at it this way. We’ve been here five weeks, and we already know infinitely more about Deucalion and his pack than we did before. We’ve found weak spots. Remus may be an omega, but he has access to Deucalion’s house and nobody looks twice at him, wherever he goes. Ethan is an alpha who isn’t loyal. Jill and Yseila hate each other. David could probably be persuaded to murder Ennis in his sleep. There will be a way to destroy this place.”

“Yeah, but I want the answers before we do,” Stiles says.

“And we’ll get them,” Peter says. He stretches and says, “That smells good. Do I have time for a swim beforehand?”

“Yeah, go ahead. We can eat outside.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles had noticed the previous couple of months that Peter gets slow and draggy around the new moon. He sleeps more than usual, seems disinterested in food, and foregoes his usual swimming in favor of lounging around on a pool raft. When he asked about it, Peter told him that it was normal for werewolves to feel that way. “I imagine it’s a lot like how being human feels,” he said at the time. “I don’t know how you manage it.”

It’s going to be interesting seeing how a complex full of werewolves handles that. He’s not surprised when, two days before the new moon, Ethan says he won’t be at the gym for a few days. “Just gonna crash and watch some movies and stuff,” he says.

There is, in fact, a movie marathon the night of the new moon. Stiles asks Peter if he wants to go – they’re showing some decent classics – and Peter says sure. Almost every werewolf in town is there, and half of them are asleep halfway through the second movie. Even Deucalion is yawning and resting on Marin’s shoulder. Stiles decides to go for a walk to stretch his legs. He’s never been good at sitting for long periods of time, and probably never will be.

“Be careful,” Peter murmurs, half-asleep himself, as Stiles leaves the theater.

“Will do,” Stiles says, but he doubts he’ll get in much trouble with everyone else in town somewhere else. He walks the empty streets for about half an hour, kicking a rock around and chewing over everything they’ve learned since coming to the complex.

When he heads back towards the theater, he’s surprised to see Remus sitting outside. The wolf is clearly waiting for him, because as soon as he sees Stiles round the corner, he trots toward him. “Hey, buddy,” Stiles says, scratching behind his ears. “You get bored, too?”

Remus makes a chuffing noise and then walks a few steps away, towards Deucalion’s house. Stiles frowns at him. Remus walks back, noses at his hand, and then deliberately walks in the same direction and stops, looking at Stiles expectantly. “Okay, I can take a hint,” Stiles says, and follows him. It occurs to him that this is pretty smart of Remus. Everyone else in the complex, even Marin, is at the theater. Whatever Remus wants to do, nobody will see them.

They head back to Deucalion’s and through the courtyard. Stiles has never seen the rest of the house, but it looks a lot like the one he and Peter were given. Open and airy, stone floor, warm colors. Remus continues on through the house and uses his mouth to pull open a door in the back corner. It looks like a pantry.

“What, you hungry?” Stiles asks.

He could swear that Remus rolls his eyes at him, and the wolf goes inside and ducks his head underneath a shelf, pushing it upwards. A seam at the back of the pantry opens into a door. “Oh, wow,” Stiles says, seeing the narrow slice of darkness open up. He peeks through and wrinkles his nose at the stale air. There’s a stone staircase, and he heads down. “No point in locks,” he says to himself. “Secret rooms, though, those are something else . . .”

The room he comes into is utterly dark. He has to stand and let his eyes adjust before he can even see that there are two narrow windows at the top. They would let light in during the day, but it’s midnight and there’s no moon. He takes his phone out and pulls up a flashlight app. As soon as he taps it to turn on, he hears a whimpering noise from in front of him, and nearly jumps out of his skin.

It’s a square room, cement on all sides with a rough stone floor. The only thing in the room with him are four solid metal cages – three of which house a wolf. “Jesus,” Stiles breathes out. He’s seen dog crates that are bigger. They barely have room to move. There’s a bowl of water in the center of the room, which he supposes they can reach if they’re willing to stretch, to dip a paw into and then lick it off. That’s all there is. There’s no food, not even a God damned chew toy.

“Are you guys okay?” he asks, although he knows he won’t get an answer. One of the wolves is a tan color, like Remus, and the other two are grey. They’re ragged and mangy, and whenever he approaches one or points his light at them, they whimper and cringe away. “Jesus, how long have you guys been down here?”

He’s never seen any of them before. He’s sure of that. David, the grey wolf that he’s met, has a dark stripe down his back that none of these have. They simply don’t look anything like Selene, and Remus is, of course, upstairs in the pantry. He kneels beside the closest cage and examines it carefully. The latch has a padlock on it, and he assumes that if Remus knew where the key was, he would have already pointed that out. “How the fuck am I going to get you out of here?” he murmurs to himself.

There’s a scratching and a whining noise from upstairs, and Stiles takes that to mean that he needs to go. “Listen, you guys, I’m coming back for you,” he says. “That’s a promise, okay? It’s a promise.” He jogs up the stairs. Remus lets the panel close behind him and trots out of the house without another word. Stiles hastens to follow.

“What the fuck was that, Remus?” Stiles asks. “Why are there three wolves locked up in a fucking dungeon underneath Deucalion’s house?”

Remus whines and scuffs the dirt with one paw before proceeding down the street. Stiles follows, not sure of where he’s going now. The wolf heads to the library. It’s dark but unlocked. Stiles uses his flashlight, so people won’t notice that all the lights are on if they walk by. Remus trots to one of the shelves and pulls a book out with his teeth.

It’s interesting to watch him, because Stiles thinks he’s been planning this for a while, figuring out a way to communicate. He pulls out a book that Stiles recognizes. It’s a basic text on lycanthropy; Peter has a copy in his library as well. Remus carefully sets it on a table and starts leafing through, using his nose to move the pages. He stops and the places his paw on a page, nudging Stiles with his muzzle.

Stiles looks down to where he’s pointing and reads ‘An alpha must have three betas to be considered a pack’. He knows that. He’s known that for years. “Right, okay, the three betas in the dungeon are Deucalion’s,” he says, and Remus nods. “We’ve all assumed he doesn’t have betas, but he does. But why hide them? Why does he not want anyone to know he has them? When did he even get them?”

Remus tilts his head to one side, clearly considering Stiles’ questions, but doesn’t attempt to answer them.

“Have they been here longer than you?” Stiles asks, and Remus’ head bobs in an affirmative. “Okay,” Stiles says, and hauls himself up to sit on one of the tables. “Do any of the others know about them? The other alphas?” he asks, and Remus gives his head a shake. “So they’re secret even from the other alphas. Marin must know, though, right? Because she’s the one who keeps them locked in their wolf form,” he adds. Another nod from the wolf. “How do you know about them?” he asks.

Remus gets a hold of the cuff of Stiles’ pants and tugs on him. Stiles follows him out of the library, and Remus trots down an alley and starts drawing in the dirt with his paw. He draws a large square, then four smaller squares. He looks up at Stiles expectantly.

“That’s the dungeon,” Stiles says, to confirm that he’s with Remus. Remus nods, taps one of the smaller squares that represents the cages. Then he curls up in a ball and closes his eyes. “What? Oh! You sleep down there?” Stiles asks. Remus springs back to his feet and nods. “That’s where they keep you at night so you don’t go wandering off,” Stiles surmises, and Remus nods again. “So you’ve probably watched them go in and out a hundred times. He must let them out to eat and, and pee and stuff. Do you know where he keeps the key?”

Another nod. Remus stands up on his back legs and touches his nose to Stiles’ chest.

“Deucalion keeps it with him?” he asks, and Remus shakes his head. “Morrell?” he guesses, and gets a nod. “Great. That’ll spice things up. But I still don’t see why. I don’t get it. Why keep them hidden away? Having no betas makes him look odd, makes him look weak. Why wouldn’t he want anyone to know that he has them? Unless . . .” His mind is starting to put pieces together. “Unless he thinks that would make him look weak. Unless there’s some reason why having those betas . . . is a bad thing. Oh my God. I have to see Peter. I have to – ” He stops and throws his arms around Remus. “You are amazing,” he says. “You’re so brave, and I’m going to get you out of here, that’s a promise. Just lie low for now. I’m gonna need your help.”

He takes off towards the movie theater and heads inside, practically shaking from excitement. He wants to talk this out, wants to see if Peter puts the pieces together the same way he did. It feels right, feels like it could be the answer to everything, but he can’t be sure. And he knows that as soon as he lets himself start feeling again, he’s going to slip dangerously close to rage. He needs to keep his head clear.

Peter is asleep in his seat, and Stiles nudges him awake. “Hey,” he says softly. “Hey, come with me. I need you.”

“Mm,” Peter says, and gives a long, indulgent stretch. “Just blow me here, nobody’ll notice . . .”

“That’s not why I need you,” Stiles says.

“Pity,” Peter murmurs. He rubs a hand over his face. Then he sees Stiles in the dim light, and frowns. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, I just . . . come with me, okay?”

Peter gets to his feet and follows him. Stiles puts an arm around his waist and kisses him a few times on the way out, so their departure won’t seem out of place. Peter seems to enjoy this, although he’s still yawning as they make their way back to the house. Finally, they’re inside, and the door is shut, and Stiles turns to him and says, “Deucalion has three wolves locked up in a secret room in his basement.”

For a long minute, Peter just blinks at him. “Why in the hell . . .” he asks, more to himself than to Stiles. “How’d you find out?”

“Remus showed me. He sleeps down there. They’re in cages, only Deucalion and Morrell know about them, and Morrell keeps the key with her at all times.”

“Why would he hide them?” Peter immediately gets stuck on the same thing that had bothered Stiles. “Unless . . .” Peter meets his gaze, and Stiles can see in that moment that Peter had come to the same conclusions that he did. “He met your father in the forest. He was weak, and he knew it. He turned your father, made your father his beta, intending to kill him . . . but couldn’t. Jennifer’s curse. That’s what it did. It kept him from killing his betas, from gaining power from their deaths. But he didn’t have enough power left to stay an alpha without the help of betas, not after the fight he’d had with Jennifer. So he made himself the requisite three, and hid them away, so nobody would realize that he couldn’t kill them, that he could never gain more power that way.”

Stiles’ breath is rapid, and he feels almost light-headed. “Do you think – ” He nearly chokes on it. “Do you think one of them is my dad? None of them seemed to know me. They all seemed afraid of me.”

Peter’s mouth sets in a thin line. “Unfortunately, Stiles, if he’s been keeping them in wolf form for years, he probably wouldn’t.”

“Let’s – let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” Stiles says. If saving his father is impossible, he doesn’t want to know. But this is the first theory he’s had that feels like it actually could make all the pieces fit into place. “Why didn’t he turn Melissa?”

“My guess would be because, in that moment, he was still working out what had happened,” Peter says. “All he knew was that he had turned your father, and then been unable to kill him. He could have been afraid he was unable to kill at all, and decided that erasing her memory would be more expedient. Then later, he was able to work out more of the specifics, and decided to turn two others and keep them locked away with your father.”

“So what do we do?” Stiles asks. “We need to get those betas changed back to their human forms. We need to – we need to know. How do we do that?”

“Well, it won’t be easy,” Peter says. “Strong-arming Deucalion and Morrell will be difficult at best. And we’ll have to get them out of the damned dungeon, too.”

“That might be easier than you’d think,” Stiles says. “All it would take is a pair of bolt cutters.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says. “I believe it would be easy enough for me to get Deucalion and Morrell out of the house long enough for you to sneak in. But what then? They aren’t going to do what we want because we say pretty please.”

Stiles thinks about it for a minute. Then he says, “I have an idea, but I’m going to need your help.”

“Is it mean and vindictive and unnecessarily harsh?” Peter asks.

“Yes, yes, and yes,” Stiles says.

“I like it already. Let’s hear it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter wonders vaguely if it’s wrong for him to be so very, very attracted to Stiles when he’s like this, all fired up and full of rage. The teenager isn’t looking right or left as he strides into Deucalion’s home, marches past the beta who’s ineffectively trying to tell him that he can’t come in, and into the courtyard.

Deucalion is dining alone except for Marin, as he had predicted. Peter glances around and finds that everything looks approximately as expected. No surprises. That’s good. As long as Remus manages to do his part, then everything should go to plan, and Peter sees no reason why he won’t. It was easy to get the wolves out of their cages. They ordered a bolt-cutter online, waited until it was delivered, tested it with some pad locks.

After that, Peter used his by-now-extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the complex to get Jill and Yseila to get into an enormous fight. It was almost too easy, drop a comment here and there where people thought he didn’t realize they were listening, about certain things the women had done or said. It turned into a full scale brawl so impressive that Deucalion and Marin had been forced to leave their house and come settle matters. While they were doing that, Stiles eased back into the secret room and cut the bolts on all the cages. Remus would wait downstairs with the wolves so he could bring them up at the appropriate moment. Peter’s not worried about being discovered. He doubts that either Marin or Deucalion go down there more than necessary, and is willing to bet that Marin is responsible for the bulk of the betas’ care. Deucalion wouldn’t want to be reminded of his failures.

By the time the fight was over and everyone’s feathers had been unruffled, it was just past dark, the dinner hour. Deucalion had decided to dine alone, annoyed by the day’s drama, as Peter had anticipated that he would.

Marin sets down her wine glass in some surprise as Stiles walks in, and Deucalion gives them one of those friendly smiles of his. “What an unexpected pleasure,” he says, mostly to Peter. “What occasions the visit?”

Stiles doesn’t wait for Peter to say anything. He faces Deucalion head on and says, “Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I’m done with this bullshit. I’m done with your fake charm and your fake manners. I’m done letting you pretend that you’re my friend while you lie to my face and hurt people I care about. Is all of that clear?”

Deucalion sips his wine and says nothing.

“Good,” Stiles says. “Then here’s the rest. I’m going to give you one chance to come clean and stop lying to me. Do you hear me? One fucking chance.”

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Deucalion says.

Stiles’ mouth tightens, but he doesn’t argue. “Okay,” he says. “Fine. You’ve had your chance, you didn’t take it. So let’s move on to step two.” He raises his voice and shouts, “Bring them in!”

Now Deucalion does look startled, as the three betas from his dungeon limp into the courtyard. Remus pads in after them, nudging the straggler with his nose, herding them into place. The three wolves are all looking anywhere but at Deucalion. One of them whines; another has his tail between his legs. “How did you – ” Deucalion begins, and then he sees Remus. His eyes narrow. “We’re going to have a talk later.”

Remus does cower a little at this, but Stiles isn’t wasting time. He points to the betas and says, “Change them back, Morrell.”

Marin shakes her head and says quietly, “I can’t do that, Stiles.”

“Oh, I think you can,” Stiles says. “Actually, I know you can. I’ve done my fucking research. You’re the one who caged them in that form, so you’re the one who can release them. And if what you mean is that you won’t do it, at least not unless Deucalion tells you to, I think you’re going to find that you’re wrong about that, too.”

“And why is that?” Deucalion asks, amused again.

Stiles gives him a nasty smile and says, “Because I poisoned your wine while you were dealing with Jill and Yseila.”

Silence falls in the courtyard. The look of amusement vanishes from Deucalion’s face. He looks down at the bottle of wine, which has about one inch left in the bottom. “That,” he finally says, “was unwise.”

“Oh, you think so?” Stiles says. “I think it’s the best thing I’ve done since I got to this hellhole. It won’t affect you, since you’re an alpha, but Morrell here, well . . . I’d give her about an hour before her internal organs are dissolving into sacks of useless pus.” He holds up a small bottle of clear liquid. “Here’s the antidote. Change the betas back to human, and I’ll let you have it. Oh, and before you think about just killing me and taking it from me, that’s a bad idea. It has to be dosed specifically. Don’t take enough, and it won’t work. Take too much, and it’ll kill you just as thoroughly as the poison will. So how about it, Morrell? Are you willing to die just to obey his orders? What about you, Deucalion? You seem to like killing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if you’d let her die. But is she going to let you do that? What do you think?”

“You are a clever one, aren’t you,” Deucalion says, and there’s nothing humorous in his expression anymore.

“I know what you did, you piece of shit,” Stiles says, “and I’m done letting you lie to me.”

Nothing happens for a long minute. Then Marin lets out a breath and rises from her chair. She kneels down in amongst the wolves, murmuring underneath her breath. Remus changes back first, into a surprisingly young man, about the same age as Stiles. The others follow a few minutes after. While Remus looks around and smiles, stretching out his arms like he’s glad to have them back, the others curl up, whimpering and cringing.

Stiles’ gaze is fixed on the pile of wolves, and for a minute he doesn’t react, and Peter wonders if they honestly could have been wrong. But then the teenager sucks in a breath and jogs over to the wolf farthest from him. He drops to his knees beside him and says, in a strangled voice, “Dad.”

The beta is naked and filthy, his hair down past his shoulders and with a beard almost as long, all of it matted and lank. He flinches away as Stiles touches his shoulder, holding up one hand as if to shield himself. But Stiles is gentle, patient. “Dad, it’s me,” he says. His voice has evened out. The beta looks up, his face creased with fear and confusion. “It’s me, it’s Stiles. It’s – it’s Przemysław. It’s me.”

He reaches out to touch his father’s cheek, but the man flinches away again, and Peter sees the agony and grief in Stiles’ face for the briefest of moments before it transforms into an incandescent rage. Stiles gets to his feet and Peter hurries over, gripping him hard by the shoulder. “Well, who would have thought,” Peter says, with false cheer. “Stiles’ search for his father is finally at an end. He’s been here, with you, the entire time.”

Deucalion’s face is blank. “I had my reasons to conceal him.”

“Oh, I’m sure you did,” Peter says, nodding. “But I’m also sure that you can appreciate how emotional this must be for my mate. Perhaps if father and son were allowed some time to get reacquainted? Just a few days.”

“The antidote,” Deucalion says. “Then we’ll discuss it.”

Peter takes out a small bag from his pocket and tosses it to Deucalion. “Oh, you didn’t think what Stiles showed you was actually it, did you?” he asks, and shakes his head. “No, we aren’t that stupid. How much wine did you drink, Marin?”

Marin is giving him an impassive look. “About two and a half glasses.”

“Seven drops, then, should do it. Mix it in a glass of water, drink it all at once.”

Deucalion is still staring hard at Peter, as Marin stands up and leaves the room. “What are you gaming for, Peter Hale? This may have been your mate’s goal, but I see your fingerprints all over this.”

“Would you believe that Stiles actually came up with everything by himself?” Peter asks, looking at Stiles fondly. “I did have to help him some with the poisons, but everything else, he did all on his own. My mate is truly a remarkable individual.”

“You deserve each other,” Deucalion says. “Now, my betas are not allowed to leave this complex.”

“Certainly,” Peter says. “We’ll take him back to our house.”

“And what if I decide not to allow it?” Deucalion asks.

“Now, Deucalion, what possible reason could you have for that?” Peter asks, eyebrows going up. “Is there something that you’re afraid he’ll tell us, that you don’t want us to know? I doubt very much that he could, given his condition, but I’d be quite willing to poke my nose where it doesn’t belong and figure out what it is. Or you could just let Stiles and his father have a quiet day or two together, and I could drop the whole thing.”

Deucalion’s eyes narrow. “Twenty-four hours,” he says, “and then you and your whore will leave the complex. Without my betas. I’m revoking my protection – if you ever needed it in the first place, which I’m beginning to doubt.”

“Fair enough!” Peter says. “Come on, Stiles. Let’s get your father cleaned up.”

“Remus is coming with us,” Stiles says, his voice ragged, but firm.

Deucalion gives him a blank look. “Who?”

“Your omega,” Stiles says, pointing at the teenager who’s now sitting on the ground, examining his fingers as if he’s trying to figure out where they came from. “Because if I leave him here with you, you’re going to beat the shit out of him.”

“Fine,” Deucalion says, with a dismissive gesture. To Remus, he says, “I’ll deal with you later.”

“Ffffff,” Remus replies, and then looks startled at himself, as if he had expected words to come out instead of sounds. Then he shrugs and gets to his feet.

“One more thing,” Stiles continues. “I can’t do anything about your other two betas, not right now, but believe me when I say that I’m not going to let you keep them like this forever. I’m not done with this.”

“Remind me to shake in my boots later,” Deucalion says.

Stiles ignores the dig. He kneels down beside his father and says, “Hey, Dad. Come on. We’re going to go get you cleaned up and get you something to eat, okay? Can you stand?”

After a few moments, Tom tries shakily to get to his feet, but he doesn’t get all the way there. He winds up hunched over, trying to touch his hands to the ground, trying to walk on all fours but unable to figure out how in his human form. Stiles chokes back a sob and says, “That’s okay, Dad, let me help you.” He moves slowly, getting his arm underneath his father’s shoulders and steadying him.

“Are you all right to walk?” Peter asks Remus.

“Yuh,” Remus says, and again looks somewhat surprised at his inability to make words. But he turns and follows Peter and the others out of the building. Deucalion’s gaze follows them the whole time.

Stiles is sobbing quietly, biting on his lower lip to muffle the worst of it, as they hobble down the road. Peter silently comes up on Tom’s other side and tries to help support him, but Tom shies away so violently that he nearly knocks Stiles over. So they take it slowly. On the bright side, the former sheriff seems to be calming down by the time they get back to the house. Stiles is able to touch him without him flinching, as he guides him into the bathroom. Peter brings in a chair for the man to sit on.

“Remus – is that your name, by the way?” Peter asks.

The omega blinks at him and then shakes his head. “Don’ – don’ r’member,” he says.

“Remus it is, then,” Peter says. “You can have something to eat or drink if you like. You’re safe here, I promise you.”

Remus’ head bobs and he heads into the kitchen. Peter goes back to the bathroom to find that Stiles is sitting on the closed toilet, facing his father and just rubbing a hand over his hair and his back, murmuring soothing words. He’s stopped crying, although his eyes are red and swollen. He glances up as Peter comes in. “I need to – ” His voice is so ragged that he stops and takes a deep breath. “I need to do something about his hair first, I think.”

Peter nods. “There’s a little pair of trimming scissors in the drawer there, but I’m not sure he’ll let you use them.”

“Yeah.” Stiles lets out a breath. He gets the scissors but keeps them tucked away in his hand. “Hey, daddy,” he says again, reaching out with his free hand to rub his thumb over his father’s cheek. “I’m going to trim your hair a bit, okay? Can you just close your eyes for me? Just for a minute, just close your eyes.”

He repeats himself over and over, for much longer than Peter would have had the patience to. Finally, Tom’s eyes flutter shut. “Good, Dad, that’s really good,” Stiles says, as Peter moves behind him and starts to cut off the grimy, knotted hair in chunks. Tom flinches away a little, but Stiles just holds his hands and continues to talk to him in a low, soothing voice. Peter cuts the hair as short as he dares, and doesn’t worry about making it look good. He trims off the tangled beard, too.

It’s obvious to him that Tom Stilinski has been in this form for the entire three years that he was missing, but there’s no reason to point that out. Stiles has probably figured it out himself, and talking about it will only upset him.

Once Peter’s done with his hair, Stiles runs some lukewarm water into the tub and gets a few washcloths. He has his father sit in the tub and starts gently scrubbing him off. Peter grimaces when he sees the layers of dirt start to come off, and goes to get another stack of towels. Stiles accepts them and then says, quietly, “I can handle this. Could you go get him something to eat? Something simple?”

“Sure,” Peter says, since he’d rather not linger in the bathroom anyway. He heads into the kitchen to find that Remus has eaten half of what was in the refrigerator, then curled up on the sofa and gone straight to sleep. He finds some leftover hamburger and potatoes and heats it up in the microwave, pours a glass of water to go with it.

It takes Stiles about half an hour to get his father cleaned up, and he looks like a different person when they emerge from the bedroom. He looks like a person. He’s still clearly an inch away from bolting, but he looks like a person again, and Peter can see the shadow of Stiles’ father in his face. Stiles gets him sitting down in the bedroom and sits right next to him on the bed, still touching his shoulder and his back every opportunity he gets, as if to reassure himself that his father is actually there.

“Hey, we brought you something to eat, okay?” Stiles says, and offers the plate to him. Tom reaches out to take it, hesitates, and then lets Stiles place it in his hands. He doesn’t bother with silverware; Stiles doesn’t seem to care. He just sits there with his father, keeping his breathing slow and even. Peter stands in the doorway and watches.

By the time the plate is empty, Tom is drooping with weariness. Peter can’t blame him. He can only imagine what this is like for him, to have been so suddenly thrust back into his human form. Stiles sits across from his father, folding his legs underneath himself and taking both of Tom’s hands in his.

“Feeling better?” he asks, giving his father a smile. Peter is actually a little surprised at how good Tom looks. Now that he’s been cleaned up, he’s obviously been treated better than Remus. He’s not starved; he doesn’t have visible scars. The damage to him is psychological, the regression from being kept in his animal form. And from what Peter knows, it’s probably permanent.

Stiles lets out another slow breath. “You’re safe here, we’re going to take care of you. We’re never going to let Deucalion hurt you again, okay?” he adds, and gets another blank look. “Do you remember me, Dad? I’m Stiles.” He touches his own chest. “Stiles.” Then he reaches out to touch his father’s chest. “And you’re Tom. Tom Stilinski. Do you remember?”

“Mmmmuh,” Tom replies, and a frown creases his face. It’s the first noise he’s made, and it’s not encouraging.

But Stiles doesn’t seem daunted. He just nods encouragingly. “That’s good, Dad, do you want to say something? It’s okay, take your time. And it’s okay if you don’t want to say anything. You can just sit here with me for a while if that’s what you want.”

It clearly isn’t what he wants. His mouth is moving, and he looks somewhat frustrated, like he’s trying desperately to remember how to talk, to get across something he finds important. He reaches out and touches Stiles’ shoulder. “Mmuh,” he says again, shakes his head. “Mmm . . . mine.” His hand squeezes Stiles’ shoulder. “My . . . my boy. Mine.”

There’s a moment of shocked silence before Stiles manages, “Yeah, Dad, that’s really, really good, that’s great.” He nearly chokes on it. “I’m your boy, your son, that’s right.” He bites off another sob. “That’s great, Dad, you’re doing really well. I’ve been – I’ve been looking for you and now I found you and we’re together again.”

“Mine,” Tom murmurs again, and his arms creep around Stiles’ body. The teenager gladly moves in for the hug. “My boy. Found me. Mine.”

Stiles hugs him tightly, burying his face in his father’s shoulder, hands clenched down in the back of the shirt he had given him. They stay that way for a long time. Finally, Tom’s body relaxes, and Stiles realizes that he’s fallen asleep. He carefully eases out of his grip and helps him lie down. He’s obviously been crying again, absently wiping the tears off his cheeks as he curls up next to his father, not wanting to leave his side.

Peter sits down on the edge of the bed, next to him, and murmurs, “I’m sorry.”

“What?” Stiles looks up at him blankly. “Why?”

Peter looks at Tom and says, “I doubt this is what you imagined.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Stiles gives him a smile that’s raw and wounded but still, somehow, full of joy. “He’s alive. He – he’s alive.” He swallows hard. “I had given up – hoping for that. I realized that, when we went back to Beacon Hills, when we found the Nemeton. That I had given up hope of finding him alive. I just wanted to know what had happened to him.” He wipes away more tears. “He’s alive and he knows me. Everything else is just – just details. If he gets better, that’ll be amazing. But if he stays like this, that’s okay. If I have to take care of him every day of the rest of my life, that’s okay, too. He’s my father. He would do the same for me.”

“Mm,” Peter says, thinking back to his own family. He looks back towards Deucalion’s house, thinking. “I’ve got some arrangements to make, Stiles. You stay with your father, get some sleep.”

Stiles nods and closes his eyes. Peter watches him for a few minutes before he leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles wakes up with a start when the sun hits his eyes. He flails his way upright, legs tangling in the blankets, and nearly falls out of the bed and faceplants on the floor. He looks around wildly and finds his father still asleep, next to him. It takes a minute for his breathing to even out. He glances around and finds the clock. It’s just past seven in the morning, still early.

He gets out of bed, as stealthily as possible, which isn’t much. But his father doesn’t twitch. Stiles just watches him sleep for a long minute before he gathers himself together and leaves the bedroom. He goes into the kitchen and starts the coffee maker. Then he starts looking for Peter. First he finds Remus, asleep on the sofa, sprawled out underneath a blanket.

Peter, unsurprisingly, is in the pool. Stiles sits down on the edge, dipping his feet in and watching Peter do laps. The alpha notices him a few minutes later and gets out. “How’s your father this morning?” he asks.

“Still sleeping,” Stiles says. He fidgets for a few minutes, gets up and starts to pace, thinking this over. “I’m not letting Deucalion have him back.”

“No, I didn’t figure you would,” Peter says, grabbing his towel and rubbing it over his hair.

“If we can get out of here, you – ” Stiles swallows. “You don’t have to help me. You could go tell Deucalion – make it look like I did it without your permission. Keep yourself out of trouble.”

“You think so?” Peter stops and tilts Stiles’ chin up, going in for a kiss. “No, Stiles, I would be in every bit as much trouble that way. Perhaps more, since it would make me look weak. I’d rather look devious and complicit, thank you very much.”

Stiles lets out a breath and manages a wan smile. “Then what are we going to do? Deucalion’s got to suspect we’re going to make a run for it. There’s always someone at the gate. They won’t just let us drive on out of here.”

“On the contrary,” Peter says, “that’s exactly what they’re going to do. I’ve made a few calls. Pack up anything that you can’t bear to leave behind, and wake your father. Our ride is going to be here in about an hour.”

Stiles nods. Then he leans in for another, more generous kiss. “I never could have done this without you,” he says quietly.

“I know,” Peter says, smirking at him. “Don’t worry. You’ll have ample opportunity to pay me back, when you’re a little more in the mood.”

“Pervert,” Stiles accuses, letting go of him. Peter just laughs, and Stiles heads back inside. There’s not much to pack. They hadn’t brought anything with them that they really couldn’t bear losing, in case they had to make a quick getaway. So it’s just his computer and a few books. He drinks two cups of coffee, checking on his father every other minute to make sure he hasn’t woken.

He hasn’t, but Remus has. The werewolf gets off the sofa and gives a long stretch, oblivious to his nakedness, and scratches amiably at his chest. “Mornin’,” he says, shambling past Stiles and heading for the coffee.

“Hey,” Stiles says. Now that he’s not focused on his father with one hundred percent of his being, he’s able to really take a look at the other young man. He’s tall and lanky, with a fair number of scars scattered all over his body. His hair is a little too long to be stylish, framing his face in loose brown curls. He looks strangely familiar to Stiles, now that he’s actually looking at him, but he can’t place him. He wonders if he had met him before at one of the other werewolf gatherings. “Thanks for all your help yesterday. You’re coming with us, right?”

“Not staying here,” Remus says with a snort. “Peter said . . .” He frowns and takes a minute to formulate, to remember how to talk. “He would find. A place for me.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. “Okay, good. Whatever you need, man.”

Remus takes a mug of coffee with a puppyish grin, and Stiles grins back despite himself, because he can see the wolf that he played fetch with during the full moon in that grin, the wolf who risked everything to help him. “Do you remember anything?” Stiles asks. “About, like, who you were? Where you came from?”

“Nuh,” Remus says, shaking his head. “I’ll figure it out.” He downs another swallow. “Yer dad’s up,” he adds, and Stiles practically trips over his own feet, running towards the bedroom.

His father is sitting up in bed, looking around. He’s obviously confused, but he doesn’t seem upset. More than anything, Stiles wonders if he’s confused because he’s warm and comfortable. “Hey, Dad,” he says, edging into the room, moving slowly so he won’t startle him. “How are you feeling? Are you hungry?”

This doesn’t get a response beyond a blank stare, so he moves a little closer, sits down on the bed next to him. Apparently, that’s what Tom wanted, because he hooks an arm around Stiles’ shoulders and pulls him in for a hug. He just sits there for a long time, holding onto Stiles, and Stiles is happy to be held. He doesn’t care what time it is.

Eventually, Peter knocks on the door and pokes his head inside. “Stiles? You need to get him ready.”

“Y-Yeah,” Stiles says, sitting back. “Come on, Dad. Let’s get you some shoes and stuff.”

Tom doesn’t want shoes. He keeps toeing them off as soon as Stiles gets them on. He doesn’t like the socks, either. Stiles gives up after the third try. Peter says it doesn’t really matter. “Not yet, anyway,” he adds. It’s warm enough that Tom can go barefoot without a problem. Remus is eating the last of what’s in the refrigerator when the doorbell rings.

Stiles looks up and sees that Peter’s method of escape is brilliant in its simplicity. At the door is a man in a FedEx uniform, with a FedEx truck. He’s backed into their driveway so they’re able to bundle Tom and Remus into the back without anyone seeing them. Stiles insists on riding in the back with them, and then finds that Peter plans to as well.

“The man at the gate will, of course, find it suspicious if he’s suddenly gained a passenger,” he says, climbing in.

“Is he really from FedEx?” Stiles asks curiously.

“Oh, certainly not,” Peter says. “Just a man in a costume with a painted truck. But the complex gets so many deliveries that nobody will find it odd. As for the wolves Deucalion assigned to watch the house itself, well, I took care of them while you were getting your father ready. They won’t be reporting in for some time.”

He’s completely correct. The man at the gate waves them through without even stopping them. They ride in silent darkness for about twenty minutes while Tom makes little canine whining noises because he doesn’t like being closed in. Stiles soothes him as best as he can. Then the back of the truck swings open and all of them blink in the sudden light. They’re in a dirt parking lot, and there’s a car already waiting for them.

“Thanks for your help,” Peter says, handing their driver a thick stack of bills. He tosses off a jaunty salute and hops into his truck. Stiles gets his father loaded into the back of the new car; Remus rides in the front with Peter.

“So!” Peter says, as they pull onto the road. “Where shall we go?”

“Home,” Stiles says, clutching at his father’s hand. “I need to take him home. He’ll do better there, I know he will.”

“It’s risky to go back to Beacon Hills,” Peter says.

“I know,” Stiles says.

Peter’s quiet for a minute, then he says, “It’ll be a long day in the car. I’m going to put on some music.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

It is a long day, but it’s made more tolerable by Remus, who’s so excited to be out of the complex, which is all he remembers, that he exclaims at everything they drive past. He’s fascinated by how fast the car goes, and by the way the vegetation changes. He’s intrigued by the valley full of wind mills they go through, and he eats five slices of pizza for lunch with something approaching rapture. His metaphorical tail wags at everything, and it’s hard to be depressed about anything when he’s there.

Stiles sits in the back with his father and just talks to him almost the entire time. When he’s explaining things or describing them to Remus, he addresses his father as well. When he’s not, he tells his father about things that have happened in Beacon Hills, in the world, in his life. He doesn’t say anything about the hardships he’s endured; he doesn’t want to burden his father with that. His father doesn’t talk, but he listens, and he holds Stiles’ hand the entire time, and that’s more than enough for Stiles.

It’s late when they roll into Beacon Hills, almost ten PM, but the lights are still on at the McCall house. They pile out of the car, except for Remus, who has fallen asleep. They leave him snoozing in the passenger’s seat. Stiles studies the door for a few minutes before he grimaces and says, “Hang on just a sec.” He pulls out his phone and dials Scott.

The other teenager picks up almost instantly. “Hey! What’s up? Where are you, what’s going on?”

“Slow down,” Stiles says. “I’m, uh, I’m actually at your door. But I need you to promise me something, okay? Promise me that you won’t freak out when you open the door.”

“Oh, geez, what’s wrong,” Scott groans. “Are you hurt? What happened?”

“I’m fine. Just come open your front door and don’t freak out.”

“Okay, okay,” Scott says, and hangs up.

Peter glances at him. “Why didn’t you just tell him?”

“He wouldn’t have believed me, or he would’ve freaked out and run down here and jumped all over us and – ” Stiles breaks the sentence off as the door swings open. He’s much more worried about Scott’s reaction scaring the living daylights out of his father than he is about Scott’s tender psyche. So he braces himself as he sees Scott’s concerned face.

Scott’s gaze immediately zeroes in on Stiles, and when he sees he’s not hurt or dying, flickers over Peter and then Tom. He stops and his eyes go wide, jaw unhinging slightly, and Stiles can practically see him restraining the emotional reaction. He chokes a little and says, in a small voice, “Oh . . . oh my God. Is that – ”

“Yeah, hi,” Stiles says. “Can we come in? Don’t freak out!”

Scott takes a deep breath and then steps backwards to let them into the house. Tom’s head jerks around at the new surroundings, identifying threats and exits. Stiles keeps a tight hold on his hand and says, in a level voice, “My dad was being held captive by some very nasty people, and he’s a little skittish, so we’re all going to stay very calm, right?”

“R-Right,” Scott says, eyes still huge. “Hi, Mr. Stilinski. C’mon in. Do you – want anything to drink or anything like that?”

“Coffee,” Stiles says immediately.

“Nothing for me, thanks,” Peter says, keeping an eye out the front window.

“Is your mom home?” Stiles calls after Scott as he goes into the kitchen.

“Working swing. She’ll be back soon.” Scott comes in with two mugs of coffee. He hands one to Stiles and then sets the other down on the table in front of Tom, so he won’t have to take it from him. “Nasty people?”

Stiles nods, gulping down some of the coffee. “Alpha werewolf. Kept him locked in wolf form. It’s kind of bad for the brain. But he’s doing great.” He squeezes his father’s hand. “It’ll take some time for him to get readjusted, that’s all.”

“Will they – come looking for him?” Scott asks, frowning. “We got a security system put in about six months ago,” he adds hopefully.

Stiles glances over at Peter, as the alpha lets out a soft, amused snort. “Yeah, they will,” he says. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I just needed somewhere – somewhere familiar to bring him. We don’t have the old house anymore, so . . .”

“Yeah, yeah, you can stay here as long as you need to, no problem,” Scott says.

“Don’t worry too much about Deucalion,” Peter says. “I’m going to take a little trip tomorrow and make sure he ends up on a wild goose chase that will bring him nowhere near here.”

Scott relaxes a little. Stiles looks up and smiles at Peter, who just smirks back and leans in to murmur, “I’m keeping score of what you owe me, you know.”

“I look forward to paying it back,” Stiles tells him, and Scott flushes bright red. “Geez, you need to get lai – ” Stiles says, and then abruptly remembers that his father is sitting right next to him. Tom is blinking at him, as if waiting to see where the sentence was going. “Aaaaand, never mind. Peter just likes me because I spit in Deucalion’s face. Not literally. Metaphorically. Actually I poisoned his wine.”

“Metaphorically?” Scott asks hopefully.

“No, literally,” Stiles says. “I literally poisoned his wine and strong-armed him into giving my father back and then we smuggled him out of the complex in the back of a FedEx truck. It was like something from a movie, really.”

The garage door opens before Scott can ask for details. “That’ll be my mom,” he says, bouncing to his feet. “I better warn her.”

“Tell her not to freak out,” Stiles calls after him, as he leaves the room.

Melissa apparently does freak out, because Scott is gone almost five minutes, and when he finally comes back with Melissa, her eyes are red and she’s obviously been crying. But she has a smile on her face as she sits down on the coffee table across from Tom and Stiles. “Hey,” she says, leaning over to give Stiles a hug. Then she looks at Tom, whose gaze is flicking between her and Stiles anxiously. “Hey, Tom. How are you?”

Tom looks at Stiles for a minute, and his face takes on that anxious frown that Stiles is starting to recognize. He squeezes his father’s hands reassuringly. “Sometimes it takes him a few minutes to figure out what he wants to say,” he tells Melissa. Then he turns back to Tom. “It’s okay, just take your time. This is Melissa, Scott’s mom. You remember Melissa, right?”

Tom’s head bobs a little. “Mmm,” he says, that little preface to when he’s trying to speak. Then he looks up at Melissa and says, “You . . . okay?”

Melissa bursts into tears despite her best efforts, and Tom’s eyes go wide, looking at Stiles like he’s wondering what he did wrong. Stiles just squeezes his hand as Melissa manages to regain control of herself. “I’m okay, Tom,” she says. “Thanks to you. I’m fine.”

Before things can get more awkward, Scott says, “So tell us all about how you rescued him, it sounds awesome.”

Stiles nods and says, “It may take a while. I have to explain some werewolf politics first . . .”

At this, Peter walks over and says, “I’m going to need to be up early, so I’m going to turn in, I think. Presuming that’s all right?” he adds to Melissa.

“Oh, let me – let me change the sheets for you – ” Melissa says.

“Don’t worry about it,” Peter says. “I just want to get some sleep. It was a long day in the car.” He leans in and presses a kiss onto Stiles’ temple. “I might leave before you’re up tomorrow morning. But I’ll be in touch.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter has only been in bed for about ten minutes before he hears water running in the bathroom, and about ten minutes after that, Stiles comes into the bedroom. He looks up in surprise. “I thought you’d be an hour at least.”

“You’re leaving in the morning,” Stiles says, tossing the towel he’s wrapped around his waist over a chair. “I couldn’t just stay downstairs.”

“Mm hm,” Peter says, as Stiles runs a quick comb through his damp hair. “What about your father?”

“He fell asleep on the sofa before I had told one tenth of the story. I went out to get Remus and he growled at me but I made him come inside anyway. Melissa and Scott said they’d take turns staying up with my dad to make sure he didn’t need me. I can tell them the story tomorrow.”

“I see,” Peter says. Stiles crawls on top of him. “I thought it would be rude to have sex in here.”

“Well, when we were only staying the night, yes,” Stiles says. “And my father’s sleeping like a log, but Scott and Melissa are still up, so are you gonna roll me over and put your hand over my mouth so they don’t hear me, or what?”

 “Put your own hands over your mouth,” Peter says. “Mine are going to be busy.”

“Wait, I have an idea,” Stiles says. He rolls off Peter and onto his stomach, dragging one of the pillows up so he can rest his face on it. His rear end cants into the air attractively, and Peter rubs a possessive hand over it. “I did just shower,” Stiles says.

Peter immediately understands what he’s offering, and runs his fingers down the cleft of Stiles’ ass, provoking a shiver. “You’re sure?”

There’s a pause, and Stiles says, “Yeah. I trust you. And everything else you’ve said will be awesome has turned out to be awesome, so, I don’t see any reason why this would be the exception. Just don’t expect me to do it to you, at least, not tonight. Besides, I do owe you. Never could’ve done it without you, remember?”

“You really don’t have to pay me back with sexual favors,” Peter says. “Not that I’m objecting, mind you,” he adds, pressing kisses and nips into the small of Stiles’ back. Stiles settles himself a little more comfortably. Peter slides down the bed and uses his thumbs to pull Stiles’ ass apart. He’d love to bite and leave some marks, but he’s mindful of the fact that Stiles is going to need to be able to sit down the next day. Some other time, perhaps.

He takes it slowly, just licks at first, then working his tongue in slowly, a little bit at a time, enjoying the sound of Stiles’ muffled moans in the pillow. He can tell that Stiles is trying to be quiet, but his body doesn’t lie, with the way it trembles and arches back into Peter’s mouth. He keeps doing what he’s doing, occasionally pulling back to run his fingers along Stiles’ spine, caress the inside of his thighs. Every time he does that, Stiles tries to spread his legs a little wider, to coax Peter back into what he was doing. His hands clench down in the bed sheets as he tries to rock back into Peter’s mouth.

When Peter judges that he’s appropriately desperate, he reaches around to find Stiles’ cock with one hand, giving it a few quick, rough strokes in counterpoint with the movement of his tongue. The response is a gratifying, “Oh, oh,” before Stiles remembers himself and buries his face back in the pillow, muffling most of the noise as he comes.

Stiles’ body is still trembling as Peter helps him roll onto his back and gulp for air, giving little post-orgasmic shudders. “Good?” Peter asks, dipping his head to press a closed-mouthed kiss against Stiles’ lips.

“Mmmm,” Stiles agrees, barely able to move. His eyes are half-lidded as he watches Peter start to jerk himself off. “Wanna fuck me?” he slurs out.

“No, I’m all right,” Peter says, breath coming short and sharp. He’s incredibly hard from listening to Stiles moan and gasp, and he won’t need more than a minute. He lets go of his cock and grinds against Stiles’ hip instead. Stiles reaches up and digs his fingers in Peter’s shoulders, pulling him in for a kiss, long and deep and thorough, breaking off when Peter comes, head tossed back and eyes closed.

He manages to get them cleaned up, even though Stiles is already mostly asleep, before curling up and turning out the light. “Just wait until I come back in a few days,” he murmurs into Stiles’ ear. “I hear that absence makes the dick grow fonder.”

Stiles snorts in response and falls asleep without a rejoinder.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

By the time Stiles wakes up the next morning, Peter is gone. He feels a little slow and confused, probably due to the fact that it’s the first good night of sleep he’s had in months. As soon as he remembers where he is and figures out exactly why he’s feeling warm and comfortable, he jolts upwards and runs down the stairs, barely remembering to pull some clothes on first.

When he sees his father still asleep on the sofa while Melissa sits in the armchair next to him, reading a magazine, he has to stop and try not to melt with relief. Melissa looks up and smiles at him, a soft, almost sad little smile. “He slept the night through,” she says. “No problems. He’s okay, Stiles.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and takes a few deep breaths. “Yeah, okay. Okay.”

“Are you hungry?” she asks, getting to her feet, and he nods eagerly. “I thought I’d make some pancakes. Sound good?”

“Got any bacon?” Stiles asks hopefully. “If anything can cheer my dad up, it’s bacon.”

Melissa laughs quietly. “I think that can be arranged,” she says, and heads into the kitchen. Then she pokes her head back out. “Oh, Scott and your friend – Remus, is it? – are upstairs trying to find some clothes that fit him. I still have some old things of Rafael’s that will fit him better than your clothes.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. He thinks about going to check on them but in the end just winds up sitting there with his father, watching him sleep. He’s suddenly tired again, but it’s a good tired. It’s not over – not with Deucalion undoubtedly on a rampage – but the worst part is done. His father is back. Everything will be okay, somehow.

About ten minutes later, Scott comes bouncing down the stairs with Remus behind him. The omega is dressed in an LA Lakers T-shirt and a pair of jeans. The front of his hair has been pushed back and secured with a clip that probably belongs to Melissa. It looks a little silly on him, but they haven’t had time for a haircut and he doesn’t seem to care. In fact, he’s clearly smelled the bacon, because he says, “Breakfast?”

“Dude,” Scott says, laughing. “You already had breakfast. Twice.”

“Third time . . . charm?” Remus says, smiling. “Or something.”

“He’s going to eat us out of house and home,” Scott says to Stiles, shaking his head. “But he looks like it wouldn’t be a bad thing to pack on some pounds.” He reaches out and punches Stiles in the arm. “You’re gonna tell me everything now, right?”

“Right,” Stiles says. And he thinks his father would like to hear it, too. He had kept secrets from his father, and that had contributed to some of this. Even if Tom isn’t well enough to fully understand the story, Stiles still wants him to hear it. He sits down on the edge of the sofa and reaches out to give his father’s shoulder a gentle shake.

He’s half-expecting his father to lash out, but he’s not altogether surprised when instead, he flinches away. If Stiles hadn’t had a good grip on him, he would have been across the room, hiding in a corner, within three seconds. But Stiles does. He holds onto him, waits until Tom looks around and some sort of recognition dawns. “You’re safe, you’re home, remember?” he says, over and over again until Tom nods. “Let’s get you something to eat.”

It takes a little bit of wrangling, but they get Tom seated at the kitchen table just as Melissa is setting down plates of bacon and eggs, pancakes and syrup. Stiles gets himself a mug of coffee and drinks about half of it in one swig before refilling it. Melissa has put a plate down in front of Tom and then pauses as he dips his head and begins to eat, not even using his hands.

There’s a moment of awkward silence before Remus shrugs and says, “Wolves, ya know?” and begins to do the same thing.

“Sure, why not?” Stiles says, laughing, and picks up a piece of bacon. In the grand scheme of things, his father reenacting a scene from Beauty and the Beast barely makes an impression. Melissa shakes her head at all of them and tells Scott to mind his manners.

In between bites, Stiles tells them everything that’s happened. He has to explain the Court of Alphas, everything that happened with Deucalion and Gerard Argent and Jennifer Blake. It’s a lot of back story to go through. He glosses over exactly how he met Peter, only saying he had gone to the Mating Ceremonies as a “low-level candidate” to try to meet some werewolves.

He tells them about Peter’s reasons for wanting to get back at Deucalion, for killing two of Derek’s betas. Remus gives a low growl at this, and then looks surprised at himself. Stiles explains the concept of weregild and how Peter is, admittedly, abusing it for their purposes. He tells them about the complex in Arizona and the death curse and how Remus had helped him find his father.

“That is one hell of a story, young man,” Melissa says, shaking her head in wonder. “What happens now?”

“I’m not sure,” Stiles says. “I mean, obviously, my priority is Dad,” he says, reaching out and squeezing Tom’s shoulder. “You know . . . there’s some recovery and, and rehabilitation that’s going to be needed. Which is no problem at all,” he adds, for his father’s sake. “But we can’t let anyone know he’s here, okay? Not a single soul.”

Scott and Melissa both nod seriously.

“Peter was going to head south and lay down some false trails for Deucalion to follow,” Stiles says, “so hopefully we should be safe here for a little while. But I don’t know how it’ll play out in the long run.”

Tom looks up at this, gaze training on Stiles for a few moments before he shakes his head. “Not . . . not safe,” he mumbles, ducking his head. “Never safe.”

Stiles reaches over and grips his father’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay,” he says. “I know that Deucalion’s probably pissed as all hell, but he’ll get over it. We’ll find a place where we can be safe from him, even if we have to go hide out in the rainforest like Derek did.”

Tom shakes his head again, eyes going a little wide. His mouth moves and his face screws up in that expression of tense frustration that Stiles is getting used to. He’s trying to find the words for what he means. Stiles squeezes his hands a few times and tells him to take his time, nobody’s rushing him, it’s okay if he can’t remember.

“Not safe,” Tom finally says again, but then shakes his head. “Weak. Deucalion. Alpha.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “We’re not much compared to him. But we’ll work it out.”

“No,” Tom says, frustrated, but he lapses into silence, rocking himself back and forth.

Melissa reaches out at this, rubbing her hand over his back. “You’ll figure it out, Tom. Just take it easy, okay? The words will come back to you.”

After a moment, Tom nods. They finish eating in silence.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles doesn’t really have any idea how one goes about rehabilitating someone after years of being a wolf. But he does have the internet, and even if his father’s situation isn’t exactly described there, he can still find resources. People have been kidnapped and held hostage, people have been prisoners of war.

He wants his father to feel safe, so he doesn’t want to push. And to be honest, most of the quirks in his father’s behavior don’t bother him that much. So he eats without silverware and refuses to wear socks. Who cares? The fact that he doesn’t want to go outside at all isn’t a problem, either, because they can’t risk anyone seeing him. Stiles gets him to sit on the back porch for a while, but he doesn’t like it. It’s bright and sunny and after two years or more in that underground room, it seems to cause him pain. The feeling of breeze on his face bothers him, too.

Stiles slowly reintroduces him to things that he had once enjoyed, not just things like food and drink but hot showers, the feeling of different fabrics against his skin, the smell of autumn rain or Stiles’ mother’s favorite perfume, the music he had listened to. Everything is a discovery. Some of it he shies away from, but some of it he enjoys, and some of it unnerves him at first but then later he wants to hear it or smell it again.

Language is another problem, obviously, but one that Stiles is less worried about than the others. Immersion is the best way to learn a language, and Tom still obviously understands most of what they’re saying. It’s just a matter of rebuilding pathways so he can formulate his own thoughts into sentences. So Stiles just keeps talking to him. Rambling has never been a problem for him. They watch a lot of movies, too, old favorites from when he had been a kid.

What bothers Stiles most is how skittish his father is. Scott accidentally knocked over a lamp and Tom bolted, wedging himself into a corner of the living room next to a bookshelf. During an early autumn thunderstorm, Tom got so frightened that he hid underneath one of the beds.

There’s no cure for that besides time; Stiles knows that. Time and the constant reassurance to his father that he’s safe now, that Deucalion isn’t going to hurt him again. The problem is, Tom doesn’t seem to believe that. Whenever Stiles tries to reassure him, he mumbles, ‘no’ and ‘weak’ and ‘won’t stop’. But whatever he’s trying to say, he can’t seem to find the words.

Melissa is home almost all the time. She calls her work and tells them that she’s come down with a nasty case of the flu and needs a few days off. Being in healthcare, nobody wants her at the hospital if she’s sick. So she’s always around to help, and she watches Stiles try to coax sentences out of his father and tries to help translate.

Stiles feels somewhat bad about how little time he has for Remus now that they’re out of the complex. Fortunately for him, Scott and Remus have instantly bonded and seem to be in the process of becoming fast friends. They fool around and play lacrosse in the backyard, and Scott is teaching him how to play a bunch of video games.

On the fourth day after Peter’s departure, Melissa corners Stiles while he’s reading to his father from one of his favorite Tom Clancy novels. “Scott and Remus are going to go out and pick up some pumpkins to carve,” she says. “I know you always used to like going out to the farm. Why don’t you tag along?”

“Is it Halloween already?” Stiles asks, avoiding her question. He turns back to his father. “Do you remember Halloween, Dad? We used to – ”

Melissa puts her hand underneath Stiles’ chin and gently turns him to face her. “Stiles,” she says firmly, “you have to get out of this house for a few hours. You’ve done nothing but sit right next to your father for four days. Some fresh air will be good for you.”

“But I – ”

“Honey, I know what you’re doing,” she says, “and I know it must be hard for you to take your eyes off him even for a moment. But you’re setting a really bad precedent for yourself. He’s going to be okay, Stiles. I’ll stay with him while you’re gone. You need to take a little time for yourself. Okay?”

Stiles hesitates, torn between not wanting to leave Tom for an instant and the terrible cabin fever he has. Finally, he reluctantly nods. “Okay. An hour or two, that’s it.”

“Okay,” she says. Stiles gives his father a hug and promises to be back in an hour, and makes Melissa promise to call if anything out of the ordinary happens. He stands and stretches, working the kinks out of his shoulders, before heading out to the front.

Scott has a car now, an old clunker that’s obviously at death’s door, and they drive the twenty minutes to the edge of town where there’s a small farm. They’ve always bought their pumpkins there, along with other fresh vegetables. Scott picks out some things that his mother has asked him to get, and they each grab a pumpkin.

It would be nice to say that Stiles is enjoying the freedom, but he’s really just overwhelmingly anxious. His imagination is conjuring up all sorts of horrible scenarios that involve his father disappearing again. It takes effort not to call Melissa and check to make sure everything’s all right. He spends most of the time at the farm taking deep breaths and petting one of the rabbits in their cages because he finds it soothing.

As they’re driving home, Remus is leaning against the window, enjoying the fresh air, when he suddenly stiffens, head going up. “Can we pull over?” he asks.

Scott does as asked, pulling the car up onto the shoulder. They’re next to a little graveyard. Remus gets out without saying anything, and Stiles hastens after him. “Hey, you okay?”

“I know this place,” Remus says. He’s looking around and scenting the air, obviously trying to place it. “I’ve been here before . . . lots of times, I think.” He hops over the fence and keeps walking, while the other two tag along. He heads unerringly for a section at the back of the cemetery, and winds up standing next to a small white stone. “This one,” he says, running his fingers along the engraved text, which reads ‘Erica Reyes, 1995-2011’. “And this one,” he adds, moving to a different gravestone a few yards away. ‘Vernon Boyd IV, 1994-2011’. “I knew these people. I . . . I used to come here all the time.”

“Jesus,” Stiles says, and he suddenly realizes why Remus looks familiar, why he’s seen his face before. “Jesus, I know who you are. You’re Isaac. Isaac Lahey.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“Isaac, huh?” Scott, with no real idea of why Stiles is surprised, is merely enthused to learn his new friend’s real name. “Okay, cool. Isaac.”

Stiles stares over at Isaac. “Why were you at Deucalion’s complex?” he asks. “Do you remember?”

Isaac’s quiet for a long minute, chewing on his lower lip, and Stiles thinks that he’s putting pieces together, trying to remember how and why everything had happened. “He . . . he wasn’t a bad alpha,” he finally says.

“Who?” Stiles asks. “Derek?”

“Yeah. Derek. That sounds right.” Isaac hunches his shoulders inward. “He didn’t really know what he was doing, but he tried to take care of us. After Erica and Boyd died, he tried to push me away. He didn’t . . . he didn’t mean to hurt me. He was just trying to keep me safe.”

Stiles doesn’t interrupt, letting him sort things out for himself.

“Then he left,” Isaac says. “He and Cora. He didn’t even say goodbye.” He rakes a hand through his curls. “I understand why. He was hurting. He was . . .” Isaac’s voice trails off. “But it left me omega, and I didn’t know anything about being a werewolf. I tried to learn. I left Beacon Hills, wandered on my own. I found a pack or two, but never . . . never joined one. God, so much of it is coming back now.”

“Here, let’s sit down,” Scott says hastily, taking Isaac by the elbow and guiding him over to the low stone wall at the back of the cemetery. Isaac sits with one of them on each side, hands knotted in his lap. He’s quiet for a long time, but they don’t push him.

“Losing Erica and Boyd . . . it hurt,” he finally says. “It’s hard to say how much. Hard to put into human words. It leaves this, this hole inside that nothing can fill. So I started looking for Deucalion. I knew it was stupid, knew that I could never be strong enough to challenge him. I knew it, but I couldn’t let it go. They were family. The best family I’d ever had. I wanted to find Deucalion and kill him.”

“I get that,” Stiles says. In a way, Isaac’s story seems like his own. Left to fend for himself, Isaac had adapted to survive, the same way he had.

“I moved from pack to pack. Picking up things here and there. And finally I met Deucalion. Some winter ceremony. The good thing is, with so many alphas, so many packs, what’s one omega? I tagged along to their complex. Everyone figured that I belonged to someone else, and nobody really noticed. I just watched for a long time. Six months, maybe? I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I had to have some sort of plan or I would just get myself killed.”

“Did he figure you out?” Scott asks, with wide eyes. “Is that why he locked you into that shape?”

“No,” Isaac says, shaking his head. “I found the, the betas. While I was sneaking around. I didn’t understand what it meant – didn’t know enough about Deucalion or Jennifer or anything – but I knew it wasn’t right. I was trying to get them out, but Deucalion caught me.”

“Why didn’t he just kill you?” Scott asks, and Isaac shrugs.

“Probably because he didn’t want anyone to ask why,” Stiles says. “Isaac had been there long enough at that point that people knew him. In a place like that, you can’t just vanish. If Deucalion had killed him, people would have wondered why, would have asked questions Deucalion didn’t want to answer. Transform him into a wolf, and it left him in plain sight but unable to tell anyone what he had found.”

Isaac nods a little. “Yeah. I guess.”

“So how long had you been a wolf when we showed up?” Stiles asks.

“Not sure,” Isaac says. “A few months, maybe. Hard to tell time when you’re like that. I didn’t know why you were there, but I knew you . . . weren’t like him. And I knew you hated him. Everyone knew that. You couldn’t hide that, not from a wolf’s nose. It boiled over every time you looked at him. Most people just figured it was because he was a jerk, but you hated him from the first moment you saw him.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, with a sigh. “I guess some things are out of my control.”

“So all I had to do was wait for the new moon,” Isaac says. “I knew that nobody would be around then. I didn’t know what you would do about the betas, but I guess I thought you’d figure something out.” He shrugs. “And you did.” He looks up suddenly, eyes flashing gold. “But I’m not done. Not with Deucalion. Not after what he did.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t think we’re done with Deucalion any more than he’s likely to be done with us,” Stiles says.

Isaac’s head dips into a nod.

“Come on.” Scott squeezes his shoulder. “Let’s get home before my mom gets worried about us.”

“Yeah.” Stiles springs back up off the bench. He’d been so occupied with Isaac that he had almost stopped being a nervous wreck about his father for a few minutes. But now he’s in a rush to get back to the car. Scott annoys him by driving the speed limit on the way back to the McCall household. But when they get there, Tom is fine. He’s still sitting on the sofa, right where Stiles left him. And the way his face lights up when Stiles comes into the room makes the entire trip worth it.

“Hey, Mom, we figured out Remus’ real name,” Scott says, while Stiles sits next to his father and hugs him tight. “It’s Isaac.”

Melissa smiles at Isaac and says, “I guess we can officially welcome you to the family now, Isaac,” and Isaac blushes but nods.

She makes a pot roast for dinner while Stiles sits with his father and tells him all about the farm, lets him try a bit of homemade fudge that he had brought back, lets him run his hands along the corn husks and hay to see what the texture is like. Isaac talks a bit, too, reassembling bits of memories from his time in Derek’s pack. Erica, with her sassiness and the way she would pout if she lost an argument and her long blonde hair. Boyd, quiet and steady but better in a fight than either of them, who had just wanted friends. They had been Isaac’s family, even if it had only been for a few months.

His feelings about Derek are obviously conflicted; he misses his old alpha, but can’t help but be angry at him. Stiles thinks that maybe, when all this is over, he’ll help Isaac get back in touch with him. If nothing else, it might help him to be able to yell at the man. But he can understand why Derek did what he did. He can understand why the thought of losing anyone else would have driven Derek halfway to insanity.

“The worst thing,” Isaac finally says, “is that he didn’t even really have a reason to kill them. I mean, he just . . . he would say one thing, then another, like it was about making Derek join him, or about making him suffer, or . . . but really I think he just did it because he likes killing. He’s still like that. I remember when he killed that one wolf that had gone too feral. He . . . he enjoyed it. Everyone else seemed to feel kind of sorry for it, but not Deucalion. They say he didn’t always used to be like that, but I don’t know. Is it possible to change that much?”

Stiles shrugs. “I have no idea. Everyone says he went insane after Gerard. That losing his sight and his pack betraying him was just . . . too much. But I can’t help but think you’re right. Either way, I don’t think there’s any coming back from it. And I sure as hell won’t forgive him for what he did.”

“But maybe you guys should quit while you’re ahead,” Scott says, and looks at Stiles somewhat anxiously. “You got away from him, right? You got your dad back. He’s not going to chase you to the ends of the earth, will he?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “He seems kind of vindictive.”

“Yeah, but at some point he’s got to cut his losses, right?” Scott says. “He’s an alpha. Can’t he just make himself another beta?”

“Just because he can doesn’t mean he will,” Stiles says.

“Won’t,” Tom mumbles, and he tugs on Stiles’ sleeve. “Won’t stop. Won’t . . .” He struggles for the words.

“It’s okay, Dad, take it easy,” Stiles says. “Deucalion won’t stop, that’s what you’re saying, right? He’s not the kind of guy who just cuts his losses.”

Tom nods, but then shakes his head. “Nnn . . .” he says, pushing his hands through his hair. “Don’t know,” he says, frustrated.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Stiles says, rubbing his back. “We’re gonna get this figured out, Dad, I promise. Okay?”

After a long moment, Tom gives another nod and allows Stiles to pull him in for a hug.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

After four days of fast food and cheap hotels, Peter finds himself surprisingly happy to see the sign for Beacon Hills. Given his history with the city, he had never expected to be happy to be back there, but he is. He pulls up to the McCall household and parks on the street.

Stiles obviously knows he’s there the instant he’s left the car – one of them has been keeping watch, a sensible move that Peter approves of – and has come outside and thrown himself into Peter’s arms. Peter presses his nose into Stiles’ neck, breathing in his scent, feeling relaxed and reassured to return to his mate in a way that, again, he hadn’t expected. It was like the world had been tilted slightly in the wrong direction, and now things have settled back into the correct alignment.

Given that, he can’t help but sneak in a quick endearment. “Hello, lover.”

Stiles flashes him a grin and presses a kiss against his mouth that goes from innocent to filthy in about two seconds. He pulls away gasping. “Missed you too,” he says, and then glances around. “Come on inside before we catch the attention of the neighbors.”

Peter nods and follows him in. The house smells good, like apples. He looks over to see Tom Stilinski sitting on the sofa with a mug, watching the television. “He’s looking good,” he says, giving the beta a critical look. There’s more color in his cheeks, and his beard has been trimmed again, a little more neatly.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, letting out a breath. “Yeah, it’s . . . he’s better. Oh!” he says suddenly, and gestures for Peter to follow him. They go into the kitchen, where the other two young men are setting the table. Stiles points and says proudly, “Meet Isaac. Isaac Lahey.”

Peter’s taken aback, recognizing the name immediately, and then nods. “You’ve been busy,” he says to Stiles.

“It was mostly chance, to be honest,” Stiles says. “Isaac was looking for Deucalion for the basic reasons you would expect. Except he wasn’t interested in weregild, he mostly just wanted him dead.”

“A sentiment we can all appreciate,” Peter says. “Is that cider I’m smelling?”

“Oh, yeah, let me get you a mug,” Stiles says, but gets distracted by another kiss. Peter keeps Stiles pulled into his embrace for several long minutes, again settling into that feeling of a return to normal. It’s a little frightening, to be honest. He never would have imagined another person could be so important to him.

“Should we leave you two alone?” Scott jokes, handing Peter a mug since Stiles has gotten distracted.

“I’m sure we can manage to keep it in our pants for a few hours,” Peter says, rubbing his hand down Stiles’ spine in a way that makes promises for later. “So, if I’ve done my job correctly, then Deucalion thinks we’ve joined Derek in the Amazon rainforest.”

Stiles frowns. “Won’t that get Derek in trouble?”

“I doubt it very much,” Peter says. “The rainforest is two million square miles. The odds of Deucalion finding anyone there are incredibly slim. Which is why I imagine Derek went there to begin with. Deucalion isn’t exactly the sort of person to hire a guide and start trekking through some of the most dense and remote territory in the world.”

“Good point,” Stiles says. “But I hope he does. I hope he gets eaten by a crocodile.”

“At the very least,” Peter says, “he may decide it’s more trouble than it’s worth to pursue us.”

“No,” Tom says from the doorway. He’s watching them talk, and shakes his head. “Won’t,” he says, and gives Stiles an appealing look.

“He’s been at this for days,” Stiles says, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. “Every time we talk about it.” He reaches out and leans against his father. “He just says ‘won’t’ or ‘won’t stop’ and sometimes ‘weak’. We know we’re weak compared to Deucalion, I don’t see why . . .”

What he obviously wants to say is ‘I don’t see why my dad has to keep pointing it out’, but he’s trying not to sound angry with the man. Peter considers Tom for a long moment, watching him. “He’s having trouble figuring out what he wants to say?” he presumes, keeping his tone even, and Stiles nods.

“Weak,” Tom says, and rakes both hands through his hair. “Weak. Alpha. Deucalion.”

“Yeah, Dad, we know, we – ”

“Wait.” Peter holds up a hand, cutting off Stiles’ resigned refrain. He studies Tom intently for a minute. They all know how weak they are compared to Deucalion. So why is Tom making such a big deal out of it? “Tom, you’re not saying that we’re weak, are you? You’re saying that Deucalion is weak.”

Tom’s eyes go a little wide and he nods. “Yes,” he says. “Deucalion. Weak.”

Stiles pulls away, frowning. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“Oh, but it does,” Peter says. “Don’t forget, Stiles, your father has spent the last three years at Deucalion’s side. And since he couldn’t talk, Deucalion probably wasn’t careful about what he heard. If anyone would know about Deucalion having a weakness, it would be your father.” He thinks about this again. Deucalion. Weak. Won’t stop. “There’s a reason you think he’s going to come after us,” he says to Tom. “Beyond petty rivalry or revenge. There’s more to it than that.”

Tom nods again. “Nnn,” he says, tugging Stiles’ sleeve again.

“Wait,” Peter says again. “Let me help. He’s going to come after us? Or he’s going to come after you?”

Tom touches his chest. “Me. Weak. Weak . . .”

“Because of you?” Peter asks, and Tom shakes his head. “Without you.”

“Yes!” Tom nods, relief etched into his face. “Nnn . . . needs me. My body. His body. Same.” He makes a motion like he’s drawing his claws over his throat. “His. Mine.”

“Jennifer cursed him so he couldn’t kill you,” Peter says, nodding slowly. “Not without killing himself. That’s why he was keeping you locked away, why he wouldn’t let you go back to your family. Because his life literally depends on yours.” He shakes his head and says, “In a very backwards sort of way, he was protecting you.”

“He was protecting himself,” Stiles says, in a thin, angry voice. But he doesn’t actually argue.

“This does engender some interesting ideas,” Peter murmurs, studying Tom as he clutches at Stiles’ hand. “But no, you’re right. The technical term, for those of you who are curious, is a phylactery. They’re typically used for the subject’s benefit – store your life force in a small, nondescript, or virtually indestructible object, and render yourself immortal. This is the first I’ve heard of someone using the concept of a phylactery against someone else. Quite clever, really. Deucalion couldn’t kill his beta because doing so would kill himself. And now, if anybody hurts Tom, or kills him, Deucalion will suffer, too.”

“Does it go both ways?” Scott asks anxiously. “Like, if Deucalion gets hurt, would that hurt Mr. Stilinski?”

“I’m afraid there’s no way to know, not yet,” Peter says.

Isaac looks up. “Yeah, there is,” he says. He purses his lips and thinks for a minute. “An alpha challenged Deucalion not long after I joined his court. They had a fight. Deucalion won, obviously, but he was hurt. His arm was ripped halfway off. It healed within a day or two, but . . .” He looks at Tom. “I kind of think you would have noticed if that had happened to you. Did it?”

“Nn,” Tom says, shaking his head.

“Okay, good,” Stiles says, practically melting with relief. “Good, that . . . that’s good, it means that he won’t be hurt if Deucalion is killed.”

Peter nods. “Then all we have to do is figure out how to arrange that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

After that discussion, Peter isn’t particularly surprised that Stiles isn’t in the mood for anything beyond some cuddling. He’s preoccupied with figuring out a way to protect his father, to make sure he doesn’t end up in Deucalion’s hands again. Peter isn’t exactly sure himself. As nice as it would be to simply drop a bomb on Deucalion’s complex, it isn’t that easy in real life. He has a few ideas, but it’s going to take some time for them to fully develop. Which is fine. They’re safe enough, at least for a week or two.

Stiles tosses and turns that night, and Peter considers fucking him out of self-defense to get him to sleep. He’s in a bad mood the next day, sticking close to his father but not wanting anyone else near him, and eventually falls asleep on the sofa around midday.

“Is he okay?” Scott asks anxiously, flicking a glance at Tom as if he’s not sure he wants the former sheriff to hear their discussion.

“Of course not,” Peter says, not bothering to hide it from Tom. “He’s a nervous wreck and he’s taking far too much of this on himself, as always.”

Scott chews on his lower lip. “Should we try to talk to him about it?”

Peter shrugs. “We’re not the person he needs to talk to, unfortunately,” he says, and having planted that little seed, he gets up and heads into the other room.

It takes less than an hour for the seed to blossom into exactly what he predicted. Stiles starts to mumble in his sleep, clearly having a bad dream, and startles awake. When Scott asks him if he’s all right, he says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Just gonna go make myself some tea. Dad, do you want anything?” he adds, forcing a smile.

Tom shakes his head, but he watches Stiles leave the room pensively. When the teenager comes back a few minutes later with a mug, Tom pulls him down onto the sofa. Stiles goes willingly, always ready for another hug from his father. Tom searches for the words for a few minutes before saying, “What’s wrong?”

“What? Nothing,” Stiles says, with that same forced smile. “I mean, besides us needing to figure out how to get away from Deucalion, but you knew that already.”

“Nnn. No.” Tom shakes his head. “You. You keep secrets. Something’s wrong. You have . . . bad dreams. You hurt. I can tell.”

“It’s nothing, Dad,” Stiles assures him. “Just . . . you know, it was hard. While you were gone. That’s all.”

There’s a long silence, and Peter wonders if that’s it, if Tom is just going to drop it. But it seems in the end that the man is simply taking a moment to gather his thoughts, because when he speaks again, it’s the most eloquent that Peter has heard him. “No. Not nothing. I know it was hard. Was . . . hard for me, too. Missed you. But you. You always do this. Hide things from me. Take too much on yourself. Try to take care of me. I should be taking care of you. I’m your father.” The words are coming more fluidly now as Tom studies his son in earnest. “You say you’re okay but you’re not. Just trying to convince me. Convince yourself. I’m not . . . I know I’m not okay either. You’re helping me. Get better. Put things back together. But I need to help you too. Because that’s how I can be okay. Being your father again. Taking care of you.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I can’t,” he says. “I can’t just . . . I just got you back and . . . what if you, you’re mad at me? I did, did things I’m not proud of, I used people and I, I broke laws and got in trouble but it doesn’t matter, okay? Because I found you. Yes, sometimes I got hurt and yes, sometimes I still have bad dreams but none of it matters, I wouldn’t take any of it back. It was all worth it because I found you.”

“He called you . . .” Tom takes a breath and then squares his shoulders. “Deucalion, he called you Peter’s whore.”

Stiles flinches.

“Thought he was just . . .” Tom waves away the word he can’t find. “But he wasn’t.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles says stubbornly. “It was worth it, because I found you.”

“But it does,” Tom says. “Does matter. You matter. You . . . you were hurt. It matters. Why would you . . .”

“Because this was my fault!” Stiles suddenly shouts, pulling away from his father. “Because you, you were gone and . . . and all of that was my fault, because I stuck my nose where it didn’t belong, because I wouldn’t let it go when you told me to, because I lied and kept secrets and then when it mattered you didn’t believe me, and everything, everything I went through was just . . .” He has to take a moment to impatiently wipe tears off his cheeks. “I would have done anything to find you because, because all of this was my fault, and because now Deucalion’s not going to let you go and I have to protect you, okay? So stop trying to tell me that it’s time for you to take care of me because I, I don’t deserve it. Not from you. Not until I . . .” He stops talking, still trying to choke out words as his father pulls him into an embrace, lowers him gently to the floor.

“Okay,” Tom says quietly. “I’m here. Not your fault. None of it. None of it was your fault, Stiles. It was him. Deucalion. It was all him.”

Peter watches in silence and doesn’t interrupt.

“I just wanted to see you so bad,” Stiles chokes out. “I didn’t know what had happened to you and I, I was scared. What if you were dead and it was all my fault? What if I got you killed? It didn’t matter what happened to me. I didn’t mind letting people hurt me. I just wanted to see you again.”

“I know,” Tom says. “Tried to tell him. That I had to get home to you. He wouldn’t listen. Wouldn’t let me go. When I tried to get away . . . he made me wolf. Put me in a cage. Wouldn’t let me go. Every morning, when I woke up, I remembered that I had to get back to you. Told myself about you, so I wouldn’t forget. Your name. Your birthday. First words. First steps. Remembered it all. Told myself every morning. Even after I had forgotten why. Was . . . was never angry with you. Wasn’t your fault. I know you hurt. But I’m here now. Home now. You’re going to be okay. I promise.”

Peter’s distracted from the heartfelt conversation and how well it’s going by a sudden itching on the back of his hand. He rubs at it absently, watching Stiles curl into his father’s embrace, and the skin feels warm. He glances down to see the triskele forming on the back of his hand, a bright crimson mark that can’t be ignored.

“Ah,” he says. So it’s going to be that, then.

“W-What is it?” Stiles says, looking up and wiping tears off his cheeks.

Peter holds his hand up to display the mark. “I’m being summoned,” he says, “by the Queen of the Court.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“What does that mean?” Stiles asks. He pulls out of his father’s embrace, shaky but vertical, and helps his father up as well. Scott and Isaac, who were obviously listening in from the kitchen, poke their heads in as well.

“It means exactly what it sounds like,” Peter replies, glancing at the others. “The Queen of the Court of Alphas requires my presence. It’s a magical summons, not the kind delivered by mail, so it can reach an alpha anywhere on the globe, regardless of whether or not they want to be found. In this case, it means that Deucalion went to the Queen and cried foul, said I used weregild against him, and now she’s calling me on the carpet.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip while he thinks this over, still leaning heavily on his father. “Well . . . do we have to go?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Peter says. “There’s no ignoring a summons from the Queen of the Court of Alphas. I’d have to have a death wish. She could find me anywhere. And Deucalion knows that, of course. He wasn’t able to find us, so he’s bringing us to him.” He tilts one head to his side while he thinks this over. “It’s a bold move. Somewhat risky. Technically, he’s quite correct to do so. She would be the mediator in any court disputes, particularly since we move in different circles.”

“But?” Stiles prompts, exchanging an uneasy glance with Scott and Isaac.

“Well, it does rather give the impression of him running to his mommy to tattle on me,” Peter says, lips quirking in an amused smile. “But I suppose he’s not really worried about his reputation.”

Stiles lets out a slow breath and rubs one hand up and down his arm. “So what does it mean?”

“It means he’s desperate,” Peter says. “To a point, I sympathize. To have his life rest in someone else’s hands must be quite terrifying. It’s not what I would have done by any means, but I can understand why he kept your father locked away.”

Stiles’ jaw tightens and he opens his mouth to say something, but then just shakes his head and looks away. Scott walks over and gives his shoulder a squeeze.

“Every day that passes brings more risk to Deucalion,” Peter says, “either that your father will recover enough to tell us about the spell, as he did, or that he might get killed some other way. And my own reputation is probably coming into play here. Deucalion is undoubtedly afraid that if I found out what the spell would do, I would kill your father just to get to him. Not that I would,” he adds, reaching out to caress Stiles’ cheek, rub his thumb over Stiles’ lips. “But Deucalion could definitely believe that it was a possibility. He could even believe that your father would kill himself, or that we would kill him out of mercy if he had gone too feral.”

“So Deucalion runs to the queen to force our hand,” Stiles says. “Tells her that we abused weregild. What will she do?”

“Well, to use weregild against him like that would likely carry the death sentence if I had actually managed to harm him,” Peter says. “I haven’t, yet, but I could be stripped of my alpha power and rank. That’s the most likely punishment.” He gives Stiles a slight smile and says, “Fortunately for me, Deucalion has forgotten something.”

“Wow, you have an ace in the hole?” Stiles asks. “I never would have guessed.”

Peter outright grins at that. “Deucalion’s forgotten that the weregild had two parts.”

Stiles’ face is blank for a few moments, and then his eyes go wide. “I asked him about my father . . .”

“And he lied to you,” Peter says, nodding. “Technically, that means he abused weregild before I did, and I have every right to say that I was still simply in pursuit of the debt he owed me. He refused to give you the information I required as part of my price, so I took it. No harm, no foul.” He gives a little shrug. “But that will only get us so far. We did still steal his beta, and that’s generally regarded as a breach of conduct.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles chews on his lower lip for another minute. “Do you know the queen? Have you met her?”

“Several times, yes,” Peter says with a nod. “Satomi Ito. And her knowledge of me may or may not help us.”

“Gee, color me surprised,” Stiles says.

“Satomi was close friends with Talia. That means that Satomi would consider me a friend . . . if not for the fact that I killed Laura.”

Stiles grimaces. “Yeah, you don’t get brownie points for that from anyone.”

“Now, Satomi is very honorable and all about pack,” Peter says. “She, more than anyone, might actually consider my reason for killing Laura valid. Laura didn’t protect me, so I protected myself. But the best it will gain us is neutrality.”

“Well, hey, I’ll take neutral if it’s the best we can get,” Stiles says.

“Given the givens, she certainly doesn’t have any reason to like Deucalion, either,” Peter says. “The problem is that we’ve both broken the rules. He lied about information we requested; I lied about needing his protection. We stole his beta, but I suspect that Satomi will take a very harsh line on his keeping his betas in a closet, locked in their wolf form.”

“What’s your best guess on what she’ll do?” Stiles asks.

“Probably decide that we can duke it out – pun not intended – in a challenge match. Whoever wins, fate was on their side, so they were in the right.”

“A trial by combat,” Stiles says.

“Yes, precisely.”

“You can’t win one of those,” Stiles says. “Not against Deucalion.”

“Well, not if I fight fair.” Peter gives him another smirk. “But I’m hardly known for that, am I? But it probably won’t come to that. I can decline the match, forfeit, and let Satomi decide the penalty. Whatever she decides will be far less grueling than Deucalion ripping my throat out.”

“But Deucalion won’t stop,” Stiles says, his voice rising in true panic. “He’ll never stop coming for my father.”

“True. And we are going to have to find a permanent solution for that. But all of that is moot pending Satomi’s decision.”

“Well, I’m going with you,” Stiles says firmly.

“So am I,” Isaac says. “Deucalion owes me, too.”

Scott nods and gives Stiles another shoulder squeeze. “So where are we going?”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Satomi Ito and her pack had once been in Beacon Hills, Peter says, but she moved north not too long ago. They travel into the wilds of Oregon, driving at least an hour away from anywhere civilized. Stiles is getting used to the isolated locales for werewolf business by now. They’re a little cramped in the car Peter had rented, but he squeezes in the back with the two other teenagers while Peter drives and Tom rides in the passenger seat.

Stiles would have much rather not had his father anywhere near Deucalion, but Peter says they have to bring him. “Satomi is certainly going to make an issue of the fact that we stole Deucalion’s beta,” he said, when Stiles objected. “If we don’t bring him, it’ll only irritate her. No, he’ll come along. If we’re lucky, this will be a public matter for the court.”

“Why?” Scott asked.

“Because that means it’ll be in front of other alphas,” Peter said. “And my guess is that Deucalion will agree to a lot once he realizes that we know how dependent he is on Tom to live. He won’t want anyone else knowing about that weakness. That’s half of why he kept Tom locked away, and the reason he kept Isaac in wolf form – probably the other two wolves, as well. Anyone who found out about his betas was kept in wolf form until they had gone too feral to communicate, and then killed.”

But it seems that in that matter, Deucalion has anticipated them. As soon as they get to the set of cabins in the forest where Satomi lives, they’re informed that they’re going to have a private audience with the Queen. Peter discusses this with the alpha who greets them for several long minutes, until he’s allowed to bring Stiles and Tom with him. Isaac and Scott have to wait outside, and they obviously aren’t happy about it.

Satomi Ito is a Japanese woman of medium height and a stern face. Her hair is graying in places and her face has some wrinkles, but she gives the impression of being ageless rather than old. She gives Peter a shallow nod after he gives her a deep bow, and nudges Stiles into doing the same.

“I wasn’t sure whether or not I should expect you,” Satomi says, waving to the alpha who had brought them in, who nods and leaves the room. “If anyone would refuse a summons, it would be you.”

“Even I would never dare,” Peter says, with a charming smile.

Satomi doesn’t return it. She looks faintly troubled as she studies Stiles and Tom. “Alpha Deucalion has told me a disturbing tale,” she says.

“And it’s probably at least half true,” Peter returns. “I’d like very much to face my accuser.”

“I figured you would,” Satomi says. “Asato is fetching him. Is there anything you wish to say before he arrives?”

“No,” Peter says. “I’m happy to make all my accusations straight to his face.”

Satomi gives him a long, pensive look for a few moments, then nods. “Good. And this must be your mate.” She gives Stiles a shallow nod and says, “I confess I’ve seen your name written down but wouldn’t dishonor you by attempting to pronounce it.”

“You can call me Stiles, Ito-sama,” he replies.

Satomi arches her eyebrows at him, then a slight smile touches his face. “You know a little of Japanese culture, I see.”

“I’ve, uh, watched a lot of anime and Kurosawa movies,” he says.

At that, Satomi laughs and shakes her head a little. Her gaze focuses on Tom and becomes serious again. “And this must be your father.”

“Yes. This is my dad, Tom Stilinski,” Stiles says. He prods his father forward a little, but he shies away. Satomi frowns, and it looks like she might say something, but at that moment, Deucalion comes in. He’s alone, and he has his usual swagger on.

“Ah, thank goodness,” he says, with that fake smile of his. “I’ve been so worried about you, Thomas.”

“You son of a bi – ” Stiles starts forward, but Peter squeezes him by the shoulder, hard.

Satomi gives a look that sweeps around the room and silences everybody. “Alpha Hale,” she says, “you’ve been accused of the abuse of weregild. Deucalion states that you used weregild to gain access to his complex and abscond with one of his betas, Thomas Stilinski. How do you respond?”

“Well, I can’t deny that I did in fact abscond with Tom,” Peter says, “but I deny that it was an abuse of weregild.”

“I only allowed you onto my complex as an act of weregild,” Deucalion says.

“True!” Peter just smiles at Deucalion toothily. “As it happens, I recorded the conversation where we discussed weregild. Your Highness, if I might play it so you know exactly what Deucalion here agreed to?” he asks, and Satomi gives him a narrow-eyed look but then a nod. He takes out his phone, taps the screen several times, and his voice of several months ago comes out. “Protection and a place in your court. I have, unfortunately, made a rather powerful enemy of late. I need a place to lie low where nobody would think to look for me. Secondly, my mate here needs the answers to some questions about something you were involved in.”

“Six months in my court,” Deucalion’s voice replies. “I’ll text you the coordinates of my complex.”

“Done. Ask your questions.”

Peter taps his phone again. Deucalion is frowning now. “So, Your Majesty, you can see that Deucalion’s agreement hinged on two separate parts. I could continue to play the recording, but it’s faster to summarize. Stiles asked Deucalion if he knew what had happened to his father. Deucalion said no and then proceeded to give us false information. When I realized he had lied to us, I figured we could use the time granted in his court to find the truth. However, since he agreed to answer the questions and then did not, weregild was never granted. How could I abuse something that he did not grant?”

“Very clever,” Deucalion says to him, not looking at all shaken.

“I try,” Peter replies.

Satomi sighs. “Gentlemen,” she says, “please try to keep your egos in check. Hale, I do understand that Deucalion gave you false information. However, I’m sure you can appreciate, given the situation with his beta . . .”

“Oh, he told you!” Peter says, eyebrows going up. “Bold move, Deucalion. Didn’t anticipate that. So, you told her about how if anyone harms Tom, that harm lands on you.”

“I needed to make sure the queen understood my motives in keeping my beta hidden,” Deucalion says.

“How about your motives in keeping him chained up in an underground room, locked in his wolf form until he could barely remember how to speak English?” Peter asks.

Deucalion’s mouth tightens. “It was an unfortunate set of circumstances.”

“Unfortunate for whom?” Peter asks with a snort.

“Alpha Hale,” Satomi says, “I know you too well for you to tell me that you didn’t plan on finding some way to use the place Deucalion gave you in his court to hurt him. You had no other reason to be there. I believe you truly did want to help Stiles find his father, but that can’t have been your only motive. Although I’m sure you must agree that the idea of you protecting your nephew raises some eyebrows.”

Peter shrugs. “I’m not concerned with what people’s eyebrows are doing.”

Since he didn’t argue, Satomi then turns to Deucalion. “As for you, I respect that the death curse Jennifer Blake put on you has placed you under some difficult restrictions. However, complaining that Hale abused weregild after you deliberately failed to grant it to protect yourself is dishonorable at best, cowardly at worst.”

The Queen is quiet for several long moments while the others wait uneasily and Stiles clutches at his father’s hand. Finally, she nods and says, “As far as I can tell, both of you have abused and broken the rules of the Court. For that reason, I am ending this feud between you. No further reprisals for past behavior are to be taken on either behalf. Hale, you might not have gotten exactly what you wanted, but I would say you have caused Deucalion enough suffering to make up for any perceived wrong he had done you. However,” she continues, “this decision is based on the fact that it was Derek Hale’s betas he murdered, not yours. Derek himself is still free to seek weregild from Deucalion, if he chooses, and Deucalion, you will grant whatever he asks. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” both men say.

“On the subject of your stolen beta . . .” Satomi mulls this over for another moment. “It is an unusual circumstance, to be sure. Hale, I cannot allow you to keep custody of Deucalion’s beta, given the harm he risks. He is to be returned immediately.”

“But!” Stiles starts to protest, and Peter squeezes his arm in warning.

“However,” Satomi says, cutting off his objection, “your treatment of him has been absolutely abhorrent. Your life depends on his and you will treat him with the utmost respect, along with your other two betas or any others you choose to have. This is not something that I consider up for negotiation, and believe me, I will be checking up on you to make sure you comply.”

In that silky tone he uses, Deucalion says, “I only confined him because he wouldn’t obey my orders to stay by my side.”

“Which is perfectly understandable, since you denied him access to his child,” Satomi replies. “I understand that you don’t want Hale anywhere near you, but Stiles will be allowed to stay at your complex as a human guest whenever he chooses, and you will treat him, again, with respect.”

“So he can enact Peter’s plans of vengeance?” Deucalion asks.

“Hale will make no further reprisals. You’ve both agreed.”

“And I’m to trust that?” Deucalion asks.

Satomi gives him a hard stare and says, “You came here to me for judgment. That is my judgment, and you will accept it.” She sighs, then adds, “However, given the nature of Hale’s character, I do tend to agree. Stiles, you may stay at Deucalion’s complex, but you must renounce any ties you have to Peter Hale.”

Stiles’ eyes went wide, and his gaze flickered between his father and Peter. “But . . . I can’t . . .”

“I don’t exactly find that acceptable,” Peter says evenly. “He is my mate, after all.”

“Oh, please,” Deucalion scoffs.

It looks like Peter might have something pithy to say in response, but everyone stops when there’s a low growl to his left. “No,” Tom says, speaking for the first time since they’ve entered the room. “Can’t . . . won’t . . .” There’s a long silence while he struggles, trying to find the words. “It’s not fair.”

“That is the Queen’s judgment,” Deucalion says. “The Queen is always fair.”

Something in his smug face snaps Stiles’ temper. “No, he’s right,” he retorts. “It isn’t fair. None of this is fair, and you – ” He turns back to Satomi. “You’re not fair. You don’t trust Peter and you’re taking it out on my father and me and that, that isn’t fair. It would be different if my dad had been his beta before Jennifer’s curse, or if, if Deucalion had asked him before turning him, but he didn’t. He found my father in the woods and he bit him, he turned him without consent with the intent of murdering him right afterwards, and for some reason he gets a pass for that?”

There’s a flicker of emotion on Satomi’s face, but Stiles isn’t done. He can’t stop, won’t stop. “I spent three years trying to find my father and when I finally did he was locked in a cage and hardly able to talk, and so yeah, I stole him. I’m not going to deny that. Now Deucalion comes to you and cries foul and he gets to take my father back? And I’m supposed to act like as long as I can visit, that’s okay, oh, but only if I don’t ever talk to my boyfriend again. That’s supposed to make up for the two years I spent letting people fuck me to get information? That’s supposed to make up for the year I lived on the streets, eating out of dumpsters to survive? That’s your idea of justice?” He bites the word out with vicious anger. “Fuck you, lady, I don’t care what you’re the Queen of. You can’t make me choose between my father and my mate. I don’t give a fuck what you say.”

Satomi regards him in silence. Then she turns to Deucalion and says quietly, “You didn’t mention that you turned him without consent. Is that true?”

Deucalion spreads his hands in a placating gesture. “I was in pain, and not thinking clearly.” He adds to Peter, “I’m sure we’ve all made poor decisions under those circumstances.”

“Shut the fuck up, you supercilious asshole,” Stiles retorts. “Don’t you dare make this about things that Peter’s done. This is about what you did. You killed Jennifer – who had every fucking right to be pissed off at you, I might add – and then when you realized how badly she had hurt you, you turned my father without his consent, tried to kill him only to realize that you couldn’t, and then you took him away from me.” Stiles is crying now, angrily wiping the tears away before they can fall. “When he tried to get back to me, tried to explain to you that you had just orphaned a sixteen year old, you wouldn’t let him. When he fought you, you forced him to stop being human and you put him in a cage! And then when I finally got close to you, you lied to my face and you hid him and you, you wouldn’t give him back! My father, and you wouldn’t . . . you . . .”

Stiles is crying too hard to talk now, and his father gives a low, buzzing growl, stepping up beside him.

“It changes matters,” Satomi agrees.

Peter glances at her and says, “You do realize that no matter what you say to him, he isn’t going to let Tom go, yes? You may all view me as the duplicitous one – a title I don’t deny – but Deucalion is hardly going to let Tom walk away.”

Satomi nods slowly. “It is difficult,” she says. “Deucalion has not done enough to warrant a death sentence, and I daresay that would be the only solution that would leave you satisfied. Am I correct in thinking that?” she added, and Peter gives a one-shouldered shrug. “And Deucalion probably feels similarly inclined. Therefore I’m given no choice but to leave this to a trial by combat.”

Tom looks up at this. “Okay,” he says, and turns to Deucalion. “I . . . challenge you. For . . . my son. For what you did to him.”

Deucalion’s eyes go a little wide. Satomi looks startled as well. It takes both of them a moment to recover, and then Deucalion says, “That can’t be allowed. Given the results of the death curse . . .”

“Not . . . not my problem,” Tom snaps.

“He does have a point,” Satomi says. “The results of that curse are your own fault, Deucalion. We can never know precisely what Jennifer Blake intended. It’s possible that the curse would have been different if you hadn’t turned Tom without consent, or if you hadn’t attempted to murder him. And although physical damage you inflict on him will be reflected back upon yourself, your stamina will be much greater, which gives you an advantage over him. Therefore, you will accept your beta’s challenge. Moonrise tonight.” She stands up. “That is my final decree.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles is strangely quiet on their way out of the queen’s chambers. He says nothing while Peter explains what had happened to Scott and Isaac. “A beta can make a challenge in the Court of Alphas?” Isaac asks, clearly surprised.

“Only to their own alpha,” Peter says, “but yes. They can challenge their alpha for control of the pack.”

“Well, this is good, right?” Scott asks. “Deucalion can’t hurt him, so . . .”

“Deucalion can’t kill him,” Stiles snaps. “He can still hurt him. As long as he can deal with being hurt himself.”

“So, wait, then, what’s the point?” Isaac asks. “They’ll both end up with the same injuries, unless your dad manages to get in a lucky hit on Deucalion. So how can either one of them win?”

“It’s a match of stamina,” Peter explains. “It’s true that they’ll technically be injured the same way. But eventually one of them won’t be able to handle it any longer.”

“Right, which is why it won’t be happening,” Stiles says. “We’re leaving. Right now.”

“No, we will not be doing that,” Peter says, taking hold of his wrist. “That would be an extremely stupid idea.”

Stiles whips around and squares off with him. “I am not going to stand around while that son of a bitch has another shot at my father, do you understand me? It’s not happening. And don’t think that I’m letting you off the hook for this, because you’ve forgotten how well I know you. You knew going in that this was your best shot at getting Deucalion killed, so you’re willing to risk my father’s life for you to get your, your petty revenge. You can just take that right the fuck outside.”

“Stiles,” Peter says, keeping his tone mild, “Deucalion won’t stop until he’s dead. Which means that this is far more about your father’s long-term safety than it is about my personal desire to see Deucalion killed, and you know that. Besides, this wasn’t my decision.”

“But you knew – ” Stiles’ voice practically boils over with frustration.

“Enough, Stiles,” Tom says, putting a hand on his shoulder and turning him away from Peter. “My choice. For you. Because . . . I need to stay with you. Deucalion can’t stop me. Won’t stop me.”

“I can’t,” Stiles chokes out. “I can’t watch you get hurt.”

“I’ll be okay,” Tom says. “He can hurt me, but he can’t . . . be hurt. Alpha. Not good at being hurt. I can be hurt. I can win.”

Stiles takes several deep breaths. Then he grinds out, “Fine.” He turns to Peter and says, “But we’re not done with this. You could have talked to me about it, at the very least.”

“You would’ve said no,” Peter says. When Stiles opens his mouth to protest, he says, “You’re not thinking clearly, Stiles. I went through the options. This is the best one. Forcing Deucalion into a challenge match with someone he literally cannot kill, with someone who has the incentive and moreover the willpower to win a fight to the yield. I knew you wouldn’t want to allow it but there weren’t better options. I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but the plain fact of the matter is that I want all of us to survive this, and this was the surest path to that conclusion.”

“I hate it when you talk like a lawyer,” Stiles says, but the anger is draining away.

Peter just shrugs. “You know, your father is an amazing man,” he says, giving Tom a slight nod. “To have retained his self while trapped in his wolf form for years, to be capable of speech at all, let alone this sort of complex decision making – I’ve never heard of anything like it. He did that because he knew he had to get back to you someday. And that’s how I know that he can win against Deucalion. Because doing that will keep you safe.”

Stiles rakes both hands through his hair and darts an anxious look at his father. Tom pulls him into a hug, and they stay that way for a long time.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Deucalion might have wanted the meeting private, but he wasn’t quiet about what he had gone there to do. A large crowd is gathering at the group of cabins in Oregon, and word has spread far and wide that Deucalion is going to be in a challenge match. It amuses Peter that most of the people who have showed up have done it under the assumption that Deucalion is going to be fighting him.

It makes sense. Deucalion had known that Satomi would end up resolving things with a trial by combat. Since they had both broken the rules, it was the only way that would be fair. What he hadn’t anticipated was being challenged by Tom instead. Now he’s going to have to fight his beta in front of half the alphas in the court. Even if he manages to win – which Peter is very sure he won’t – his secret will be out in the open for everyone to see.

All in all, things are going well, and if Stiles is anxious and sulking, Peter can’t really blame him. He’s curled up in his father’s lap, glaring at anyone who comes near him. Scott and Isaac have withdrawn to their side of the room, talking quietly to each other but not bothering Stiles.

Given the givens, Peter isn’t even sure that Deucalion will participate in the match. But he apparently decides that forfeiting or turning tail will make things even worse in the long run, because as the sun sets, they find him standing in the clearing that Satomi has designated for the match. She’s drawn a line in the dirt, using a square made by four trees to mark the borders of the ring. Peter sees all of Deucalion’s alphas in the crowd and a fair number of their betas, including about half a dozen wolves.

Deucalion is standing in the circle, dressed in his usual T-shirt and jeans, and he has that expression of fake concern on his face. “Thomas, we don’t have to do this,” he says, as Tom pulls his shirt over his head and tosses it to Stiles. He’s already barefoot. They still haven’t been able to convince him to start wearing shoes again.

“Didn’t,” Tom says, “until you took me away from my son. Now we do.”

“You’re only hurting yourself,” Deucalion says.

“Actually, the opposite of that is true,” Peter murmurs, just loud enough for the werewolves in the crowd to hear. Most of them are confused, but a few of them let out little titters of laughter.

Satomi steps into the ring, tall and regal even though she’s dressed casually. “Beta Stilinski has challenged Alpha Deucalion. Due to unique circumstances, this will be a fight to the yield. The consequences are thus: if Stilinski loses, he will remain as Deucalion’s beta. If Deucalion loses, he will be stripped of his alpha powers and his place in the Court.” She stepped out of the circle, lifted her arm, and said, “Begin.”

Deucalion charges across the ring and slams Tom down into the dirt. There are hoots and hollers from the crowd of werewolves that have gathered. Stiles winces and clutches at the hem of Scott’s shirt. He’s standing between Scott and Isaac, several yards away from Peter, who he’s still giving the cold shoulder.

As an opening move, Peter approves of it. Deucalion wants to get the fight over with as quickly as possible. He knows he can’t kill Tom, but it’s possible that a heavy blow might knock Tom unconscious while Deucalion, with his increased stamina, would stay standing. That would count as a victory in this sort of fight. But Tom doesn’t stay down. In fact, he comes up swinging, slamming his shoulder into Deucalion’s groin as he lunges back to his feet and garnering a pained ‘oooooh’ from their audience.

Deucalion is knocked backwards but recovers quickly. He executes a neat spin, obviously intending to kick Tom in the face, but Tom blocks the kick and then tries to duck around Deucalion to get in a hit of his own. Deucalion’s arm flashes out and his claws rake over Tom’s chest. Moments later, the same wounds open up on his chest, and he lets out a pained grunt.

There’s a long moment of stunned silence from the crowd, into which someone says very loudly, “Holy shit.”

“Yes, don’t get cursed by a Darach,” Peter remarks casually, just loud enough for everyone to hear, as Tom and Deucalion start trading blows again. “Particularly not when you’re known for killing your betas to gain their power. Fate has a cruel sense of humor.”

Low murmurs sweep through the crowd. Peter enjoys them immensely.

Deucalion slams his fist into Tom’s face so hard that he goes stumbling backwards and lands in the dirt. Stiles makes a small noise, still clutching at Scott, and for a moment things look bad, but then Deucalion goes staggering as well. He’s clutching his own jaw, making uncharacteristic wheezing noises. Blood drips from his face, and he spits a mouthful of it on the ground.

Tom manages to roll to his feet and charges forward, slamming his shoulder into Deucalion’s gut and taking them both to the ground. He presses the advantage, trying to get his hands around Deucalion’s throat, but the alpha is still much stronger, and throws him backwards. Just as Deucalion tries to get on top of Tom to administer another blow, both of Tom’s hands come up and he slams them over Deucalion’s ears.

“Oh, good move,” Peter murmurs. Boxing someone’s ears is painful enough on a human, but on a werewolf it’s even worse because of their sensitivity. Deucalion goes reeling, and Tom draws his fist back, this time aiming for Deucalion’s throat. Deucalion stops his fist only an inch away and twists him around. This time Tom lets out a yelp, and everyone winces as the bone in his arm snaps.

Tom might yelp, but Deucalion screams, a high-pitched noise of agony. He rolls away, cradling his now-broken arm to his chest. And Tom just gets up, takes a moment to catch his breath, and then kicks some dirt at Deucalion. “Get up,” he snarls. “Yield or get up.”

Deucalion groans and rolls onto his hands and knees, looking up with eyes that flash bright crimson and his face drawn into a grimace. “You can’t beat me,” he snarls, getting to his feet.

“Already beaten you,” Tom says, thumbing some blood off his lower lip. “Hurt you.”

“I can handle it,” Deucalion says, slowly circling him.

“Not as well as I can,” Tom replies. He opens his arms, leaves himself completely vulnerable. “Hurt me. Dare you.”

Deucalion snarls at him but doesn’t make a move.

“See? You don’t want to,” Tom says. “Don’t want to hurt. Don’t know what pain is like. But I know. Better than you could ever imagine. Nothing you can do to me would hurt more than not being able to go home to my son.”

Stiles gives a little shudder, still standing with his hand locked around Scott’s arm, digging in so tightly that the other teenager is going to have bruises.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Deucalion says.

“Stop me,” Tom says. Deucalion growls and his fist flashes out. Tom doesn’t block or dodge, and takes Deucalion’s fist across his jaw, stepping back a little but not falling. Deucalion’s claws are out now, and they dig furrows in Tom’s chest and abdomen as Deucalion lands blow after blow. Tom just stands there and takes it, absorbs every hit without making a sound.

Deucalion finally stands back, heaving for breath. His hands are dripping blood and his shirt is soaked through with blood from the wounds he’s opened on his own body.

Tom looks at him and says, flatly, “Yield.”

“You can’t do this forever,” Deucalion says. “You’ll pass out from blood loss.”

“Not before you yield.”

“Jesus,” Stiles blurts out. “Daddy, I don’t – ”

“I’m fine, Stiles.” Tom’s gaze never leaves Deucalion. “He’s going to answer for this. What he did to you. What he did to us.”

“You will answer to me,” Deucalion growls, and charges forward again, arms extended and claws out. Both hands slam into Tom’s chest, and he makes a small choking noise as Deucalion drives him backwards, against one of the trees. Stiles starts forward, and Scott and Isaac both grab him to keep him from rushing into the ring. “Now yield, you pathetic piece of trash, or I’ll – ”

“You’ll what?” Tom wheezes. “Kill me?” He grabs Deucalion by both wrists, holding his arms in place, and slowly pushes away from the tree. Deucalion’s claws sink another inch into his chest.

The alpha gasps in pain as the same wounds open in his own body. They’re not deep enough to kill – yet. Deucalion tries to wrestle away, but Tom has his wrists in an iron grip, and the prolonged injury, so unfamiliar for the alpha, has weakened him. He can’t push forward because he would just impale Tom further, and can’t pull away because Tom won’t let him. All he can do is stand there as Tom pushes himself onto his claws.

“Stop it!” he finally shouts, after a few moments of futile struggling, and then spits out a mouthful of blood. “You’ll kill us both!”

“You can’t kill me,” Tom says, “and you know it.” He gives Deucalion’s wrists a firm, final tug. His fingers are in Tom’s chest all the way to the last knuckle.

“Jesus, he should be dead,” Scott whispers, staring at the two men in shock.

He should be, Peter thinks, but he clearly isn’t. Jennifer’s spell had made sure that, no matter what happened, Deucalion’s betas would never die at his hands.

Deucalion is another matter. He collapses backwards as Tom finally releases him. His body shudders and then goes still as a pool of blood starts to spread.

“Dad!” Stiles shouts, and pulls free from Isaac’s now loose grip. When Tom looks up at his son, his eyes are bright red. Peter can see the wounds on his chest already healing. Stiles jumps on his father, oblivious to the blood all over him, throwing his arms around Tom’s shoulders and clutching at him.

“Shhh, okay,” Tom says, holding his son close. “Okay, I’m here. Not leaving. Never leaving you again.”

The crowd is quiet now, ripples of shock still going through them, but becoming accustomed to the new landscape. Satomi steps forward and kneels down to check Deucalion’s pulse. Peter approves. It’s generally not necessary in the death of a werewolf, particularly when power is transferred, but it’s a strange death even by their standards.

“We shall consider this matter concluded,” she says after a few moments, rising to her feet. “Welcome to the Court of Alphas, Duke Stilinski.”

Tom looks up at her, petting at Stiles’ hair, and frowns. “Not a Duke.”

“I’m sorry, but you are,” she says, a note of amusement in her voice. “Deucalion was a Duke, and you killed him in a rightful challenge match, so you assume his title along with his mantle of power. Presuming that you do intend to keep a pack. Deucalion’s other two betas are here, I gather, but due to their . . . unfortunate circumstances, they aren’t attending the match. You would need a third, of course.”

“He has a third,” Isaac says, stepping forward. He’s looking at Tom in some surprise. “That was like . . . Boyd. The way they killed Boyd. How did you know?”

“You talked about it,” Tom says. “After you remembered yourself. I heard. I remembered.”

“Thanks,” Isaac says.

“Thank you,” Tom replies. “Got me out of Deucalion’s dungeon. Owe you everything.”

Isaac ducks his head and blushes a little, rubbing a hand over the back of his head, but he doesn’t argue.

“Very well, then,” Satomi says. “With three betas, you are indeed a Duke in the Court of Alphas. Whether you would like to be or not. You can resign your position – but I’d advise against it, at least until you’ve had time to deal with the change and think about your options. Having power is no bad thing, Mr. Stilinski. Especially when you have people to protect.”

Tom appears to mull that over for a long minute before he nods and says, “Okay.”

Satomi gifts him with what appears to be a rare smile, then turns and walks away. The crowd starts to break up, people talking over the match, wandering away in small groups. Two of Satomi’s betas come over to deal with Deucalion’s body.

“You’re okay?” Stiles finally chokes out, patting at his father’s chest and shoulders as if he wants to make sure.

Tom looks over himself, then nods and says, “Good as new.”

“Jesus, you scared the crap out of me,” Stiles says, impatiently wiping away tears. “I’m supposed to be the reckless one, remember?”

“I remember,” Tom says dryly. Then he hooks an arm around Stiles’ shoulders and says, “C’mon. Let’s go home.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It won’t be quite as easy as that, Peter points out, but he waits until the next morning, once everyone has gotten some rest. Satomi provided a cabin for them to stay in and tells them that they’re welcome to stay a few days until Tom has gotten acclimated. She likes him, Peter notes, which doesn’t surprise him but does please him. To be in the favor of the Queen of the Court is by no means a bad thing.

But Tom Stilinski officially disappeared three years ago, and he can’t just walk back into Beacon Hills without a lot of people asking a lot of questions. Peter has been thinking about that, and he has a few possible solutions. It will be easier from Los Angeles, where he has his connections to get him paperwork or fake IDs. By far the easiest thing to do would be to simply obtain Tom a new identity, but Tom rejects that idea. People are worried about him, not just his family, but his coworkers and his friends. He doesn’t want to leave them thinking that he’s dead or vanished the rest of their lives.

Stiles wants to leave the next morning, but there are things to attend to first. Tom spends most of the morning and early afternoon with Satomi, learning about his powers and his place in the court. Since he was turned without consent, before he even really knew werewolves existed, he knows practically nothing. Deucalion hadn’t provided much in the way of education. Satomi talks to him about anchors and phases of the moon and how to run a pack.

After lunch, they go to see Deucalion’s former betas. They’re in one of Satomi’s cabins, guarded by two of her men so they don’t run away. Deucalion hadn’t bothered to force them back into their wolf shape, but he hadn’t done much to try to help them readjust, either. They’re both naked and filthy, cringing against the far wall of the cabin when people come in.

But they respond well to Tom. Either because they remember him from his days in the dungeon with them, or because they can tell he’s their alpha, they calm down when he approaches. They let him smooth down their hair and talk to them quietly about how he’s going to take care of them. “Do we have any idea who they are?” Stiles asks.

“I do,” a voice says, and Marin Morrell steps out of another room in the cabin. Stiles immediately scowls at her, and Peter gets the impression that if Stiles were a feline, he would be puffed up, hissing and spitting. “After the . . . unfortunate choice of your father, made in the heat of the moment, Deucalion was smart enough to take people that nobody would look for. They’re both homeless people from Phoenix. Turned with consent.”

“I bet he didn’t explain he was going to lock them in a dungeon and force them to lose their humanity,” Isaac comments.

“No,” Marin agrees, “he didn’t.”

“Then it’s hardly ‘consent’,” Stiles growls, and Marin doesn’t argue. She simply introduces the two betas as Jemma and Clarence, and then leaves the cabin.

“What do you intend to do?” Satomi asks Tom.

“I got better,” Tom says. “Maybe they can too. Even if they can’t, I’ll take care of them.”

Satomi nods. “So be it, then.”

Stiles is staring hard at the door through which Marin made her exit. “What’s going to happen to her?”

“Nothing,” Satomi says. “She was acting under Deucalion’s orders. Is it possible she could have fought against him or changed his mind? Perhaps. But he assumes the responsibility for her actions, and he has been punished accordingly.” She sees that Stiles is about to argue and says, gently, “Perhaps she was held hostage by him as well, in her own way.”

Stiles rakes both hands through his hair and sighs. “Yeah, maybe,” he mutters.

“There is one more person who has requested an audience with you,” Satomi says, and gestures for them to follow. Scott agrees to stay behind with the two betas, to try to get them cleaned up with help from Satomi’s pack, so they can travel. The others follow Satomi outside and across the small complex.

“Oh, hey!” Stiles says, seeing Ethan sitting on a fence, looking uncomfortable.

“Hey,” Ethan says, not really looking at any of them. “I just wanted to . . . I gave up my place in the Court.”

“What, you did?” Stiles asks, startled.

Ethan nods. “Aiden’s already talking about maybe challenging Ennis or . . . trying to get more power and I just . . . I don’t have the stomach for it. He’ll take control of our pack and take care of them. I’m still an alpha, I’m just a jack now.”

“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Peter says, garnering a few amused looks.

Ethan huffs out a breath, but when he looks up, he doesn’t address Stiles or Tom. Instead, he looks at Isaac. “I wanted to apologize . . . for my role in what happened to your friend. Boyd, right? I’m not . . . I didn’t know they were going to kill him. I thought we were just going to hurt him, to, to scare Derek into accepting Deucalion’s offer. That’s not an excuse, I’m not . . . I don’t deserve your forgiveness and I won’t ask you for it. I just wanted you to know that I’m really sorry. And I’m sorry for not stepping up to help you when you were omega. I should have. I knew what that was like and I . . . I guess in the end what it comes down to is that I’m a coward. I’m going to try to get stronger, but I won’t do it like Deucalion did, like Aiden wants to. I’ll have to do it on my own, in my own way. I just wanted you to know that.”

Isaac looks at him thoughtfully for a long minute, then nods and says, “Thanks.”

Stiles shakes Ethan’s hand and says, “And thanks for helping me, for being my friend. Stay in touch, okay?”

“Sure, okay,” Ethan says. “If you want me to.”

They exchange phone numbers, and then Tom declares it’s time to go.

Satomi says it’s tradition for the Queen of the Court to give any new alpha a gift depending on their new rank. This is true, although as far as Peter knows, the car she gives Tom is a little extravagant. On the other hand, they’re going to have a hard time all getting home in the car he brought, and Tom graciously accepts. He can’t drive yet, and Stiles isn’t about to be split up from his father, so Scott agrees to drive the new car home along with Isaac and the two new betas, while Stiles and his father ride back with Peter. Peter suggests that they go straight back to Corona del Mar, where he can do what he needs to do to get Tom back into his old life, and obtain new identities for the two betas as well. Everyone agrees with this. Isaac says he can handle the two betas for a few days – he did stay with them in the dungeon at nights, so they seem to like and trust him – and they agree to meet back in Beacon Hills.

They’re heading the same direction for the first several hours of the drive, until Scott and the others turn east to head to Beacon Hills while Peter continues driving south, towards Los Angeles. He’s in the front alone. Stiles is in the back with his father, and as the sun sets he falls asleep, slumping over into his father’s lap.

Tom is silent for a long time, apparently mulling over everything that happened. Finally, he says, “Tell me about my son.”

Peter glances in the rearview at him and nods, understanding the question that Tom is really asking. So he tells Tom about meeting Stiles at the Mating Ceremonies, about their first weeks together in Corona del Mar. He makes sure to make it clear that he didn’t rescue Stiles out of the goodness of his heart, but more for his own amusement. But he makes it equally clear that Stiles didn’t really need rescuing, that he was there of his own free will and knew what he was getting into.

Tom listens without saying anything. There are some things that Peter knows aren’t his to tell, so he doesn’t say anything about Stiles’ life before he met Peter, about why he became a prostitute or the years afterwards. Stiles will have to tell his father about it eventually, but he thinks it would be good for him to do it himself. So he only tells Tom about what happened after they had met, about his agreement to help Stiles find his father. He tells Tom about the conclusion that Stiles was his mate, that this clever, determined, devious boy was the only one in the world for him. Tom smiles a little at that.

“Thanks,” he finally says, when Peter is done. “For helping him.”

“You’re welcome,” Peter says.

“What now?” Tom asks, looking down at the way Stiles has passed out in his lap. “You’re good for him. Wouldn’t make him choose. Like Satomi did.”

“To be fair to Satomi, I doubt it crossed her mind for an instant that I thought of Stiles as anything but a pawn,” Peter says dryly. “She doesn’t have a very high opinion of me. Which is fair. But in any case, I told the truth. I won’t give him up.”

Tom chews on this for a few moments. “We . . . share?” he said.

“Yes, all right,” Peter says. The concept amuses him. A custody agreement for a twenty year old between his father and his lover. In many ways Stiles is still the frightened sixteen year old boy who lost his father. But in many other ways, he’s much, much older. “At least until we can get things situated for the long-term. Presuming you will, of course, allow me to live on your territory.”

Tom just gives a snort. “Was yours first.”

“My sister’s,” Peter corrects. “Never mine. But I found that I didn’t mind living in a court as much as I thought I would. I’ll never have a pack again . . . but it’s all right to have friends.”

“Friends,” Tom agrees, and gives Stiles a squeeze. “Family.”

“Family,” Peter echoes quietly. “Maybe so. In time.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

Stiles is still giving Peter the cold shoulder the next day, but it’s more of a grumpy cold shoulder than a truly angry cold shoulder. He’s conflicted about what Peter had done, knowing that it was probably the best thing to do, knowing that it worked, but still unable to agree that putting his father in danger was okay.

He’s quiet as they roll back into Corona del Mar. The house is pristine even though they’ve been gone for almost two months. There’s not a speck of dust anywhere or a single leaf floating on top of the pool. Tom is yawning, so Stiles takes him up to the room that Peter had given him at his arrival and puts him to bed. He sits with him for a long time, watching his father sleep, before he finally goes looking for Peter.

He finds him outside, enjoying the cool night air and the ocean breeze in one of the chairs by the pool. He sits down next to him and doesn’t speak for a long time. Finally, he says, “Did you tell my dad to challenge Deucalion?”

Peter glances over at him. “No. I didn’t need to. When he learned what had happened to you – the hardships you had endured – it became basically inevitable. Especially if Deucalion made an effort to reclaim him, which of course he would. I let your father make his own decision on that matter, but I knew what decision he was going to make.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Are you the reason he learned what had happened to me?”

“Not entirely,” Peter says. He sees that Stiles looks skeptical and adds, “I might have made a comment or two about it, but again, he made the decisions on his own. I didn’t need to manipulate that into happening – it was bound to happen at some point.”

After a moment, Stiles huffs out a sigh. “You’re a jerk,” he says.

“Yes, that’s true,” Peter says complacently.

Silence falls for a few minutes. “Will you just say it?” Stiles finally says. “That you’re a jerk without whom I never would have gotten my father back?”

Peter shrugs. “I don’t need to say what you’re already thinking.”

“God, you’re such an asshole,” Stiles says, but he’s smiling again, just a little. He can’t help it. Because whether he liked Peter’s plan or not, he fell in love with the man knowing exactly what sort of person he was, and he can’t be surprised by what Peter did. “Okay. I assume you’ve already worked out exactly how we’re going to do this. Do you feel like sharing the details with me?”

Peter just gives him a smirk and then explains his plan. Stiles relaxes in the chair, watching the ocean gleam in the horizon. Corona del Mar is beautiful, and he likes it, but it isn’t home. He wants to go back to Beacon Hills, but the thought of leaving Peter here alone makes his stomach churn.

“Of course, it will take some time for the building permits to go through,” Peter is saying when Stiles tunes back in and realizes that he’s still talking.

“Wait, what? Building permits?”

Peter arches an eyebrow at Stiles and says, “Yes. The deed to the Hale property is mine, and I’m signing it over to your father. We talked about it while you were sleeping in the car. He’s going to need a place for himself and his three betas. Four if he turns Scott, which I expect he’ll do at some point; he was asking me questions about whether or not the Bite would cure Scott’s asthma. You’ve seen the way werewolves live. He’ll need the space. But there are currently no houses on that land, so, we’re going to need to build some. Only one for now, but more will come.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Why?”

“Well, if the betas recover, they might want their own place, and I assume Isaac would like his own, though he might be willing to share with Scott – is that just me, by the way? – and then we’ll need one for the two of us, of course.”

“I figured I would just stay with my dad when I went to visit,” Stiles says.

“Oh, for now, certainly,” Peter says, “but in the long-term, it will be easier if we have a house there. I’ll probably still come to Los Angeles on business occasionally, but Beacon Hills does have a municipal airport, so that will be easy enough.”

“Wait,” Stiles says, blinking at him. “Are you planning to move back to Beacon Hills?”

Peter gives a one-shouldered shrug. “I’m not attached to this place, you know. Showing off material wealth was something that kept me occupied when I didn’t have anything better to do with my time, but I do believe those days are past. There’s no reason to stay here, not when I have reasons to want to be elsewhere. Beacon Hills is where you want to be, and I see no reason to make you choose. I can be quite happy there, you know. I’m not the sentimental sort who would avoid a place just because of bad memories.”

“If it’s okay with you,” Stiles says, breathing out slowly. “I didn’t want to ask.”

“Well, I’ll keep working on you,” Peter says, smirking. “You’re an investment, remember? And the day will come when you’ll just tell me what you want.”

“I’ll tell you what I want right now,” Stiles says, settling into his lap.

Peter gets an arm around his shoulders and swings him around, kissing him until he’s out of breath, kissing him until he moans. “Have you ever had sex in a pool?” he asks.

“No,” Stiles pants.

“Good thing we have one right here, then,” Peter says, and Stiles can only breathlessly agree.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter’s plan to get Tom Stilinski home only takes a day or two to put together. There’s some paperwork he needs to get, but he knows exactly where to obtain the proper forgeries. Less than forty-eight hours after their return to Corona del Mar, he’s on the phone with the Beacon Hills police department. “This is detective Hardy with the Burbank PD,” he says, not bothering to disguise his voice. “We’ve gotten a hit on a missing persons case of yours, Tom Stilinski?”

The deputy on the other end of the phone clearly knocks over his mug of coffee in his excitement, and it takes a minute to get him calmed down. “What did you find?” he asks.

“Tom Stilinski,” Peter says, and the deputy drops the phone. Peter arches his eyebrows and murmurs to Stiles, “Your father is clearly very loved by his department.”

Stiles gives a slight nod and a little smile.

“Yes, hello?” Peter says, as whoever was on the other end recovers. He spins a tale about a group of people who were holding veterans captive and cashing in on their benefits. Tom Stilinski had served before Stiles was born, including a year in Desert Storm. Stiles knows that the Beacon Hills PD had put out a flag on anything involving his social security number, but Peter just glides past that, saying they “had ways” of avoiding detection. The deputy he’s talking to is so happy to hear that the former sheriff is okay that he doesn’t ask a lot of questions.

“All the victims are currently at the hospital, being evaluated, but they seem to be okay overall,” Peter says. “In his case I couldn’t get a hold of any next-of-kin to come pick him up.”

“We’ll send someone down,” the deputy says, and Peter agrees. He has to meet them at the hospital to give them all the paperwork, and is dressed in a suit with a fake badge just in case they ask. Stiles wanted him to rent a uniform, because he thinks Peter would look amazing in a policeman’s uniform, but Peter points out that he’s supposedly a detective, who would wear plain clothes.

“Perhaps later,” he says, seeing Stiles’ disappointed pout. It conjures up a number of intriguing possibilities. He heads to the hospital with Tom, and they sit down in a quiet lobby where they’ve agreed to meet the police officer. He has all the discharge paperwork from the hospital that Tom never stayed in, all the police transfer forms.

The deputy who shows up is a slight, black woman who introduces herself as Tara and then hugs Tom for several long minutes. “We looked for you everywhere,” she says, trying not to choke up. “We all thought . . .”

“I know,” he says, and hugs her back. Then, because he has to, because Tom Stilinski would, he asks, “How’s Stiles?”

“Oh, we . . . haven’t seen him in a while.” Tara forces a smile. “He kind of went out looking for you, actually. But I’m sure the McCalls know where he is. I didn’t want to call anyone until I had seen you, seen that . . . it’s really you. But I’ll call them now and I bet Stiles can be back in town by the time we get there. Unless – do you want to call them?” she adds, taking out her cell phone.

Still speaking a little awkwardly, he says, “Why don’t you – give the news? Then I can talk to her. Melissa.”

“Oh, good idea,” Tara says. She takes out her phone and taps at the screen for a few minutes before getting Melissa on the phone. She’s expecting the call, of course, but plays her part very well, letting out an extremely realistic gasp and then genuine tears when Tom gets on the phone. She promises to call Stiles and get him back to Beacon Hills.

“You take care of yourself, Mr. Stilinski,” Peter says, shaking Tom’s hand before Tara takes him by the elbow and guides him over to her car. A minute later, he’s back in his own car, where Stiles has been waiting. “Okay, let’s go.”

Peter apparently drives a lot faster than a police officer, which surprises nobody. He gets to Beacon Hills well before Tara and Tom do, so by the time they arrive, Stiles is pacing around in the McCall’s front yard, waiting. It looks very genuine, though Peter knows that at least part of it is real anxiety. Stiles still doesn’t like letting his father out of his sight for more than a few minutes. It will probably pass in time, although Peter thinks it would by no means be a bad idea to get Stiles some actual therapy. But that’s an argument he’s prepared to have another day.

So when Stiles sees his father get out of the car, the way he runs across the yard and throws himself into his arms really isn’t faked at all. The demand of “Where have you been” is feigned, but Tom just pats him on the back and says that he’ll explain everything.

“Hey, Stiles,” Tara says, stepping forward and offering him a smile. “You look . . . you look pretty good.”

Given the way he had looked last time the Beacon Hills PD had seen him, the comment doesn’t really surprise Peter. Stiles just shrugs a little and says, “I tried to take care of myself. You know. When I could.”

Tara smiles at him and doesn’t say anything about it. She just gives Tom another hug, promises she’ll check in the next day, and then departs. Tom glances after her, then pats Stiles on the back and says, “She told me some things. What happened after I disappeared.”

Stiles seems to shrink in on himself. “Which things?”

“You. Getting expelled. Getting arrested. Running away from the home.”

“All those things are technically true,” Stiles says, “but I only did them because they weren’t doing a good enough job of looking for you. I, uh, I have my GED now. If that helps.”

Tom sighs and rubs a hand over Stiles’ hair. He seems to be thinking the same thing that Peter was, that Stiles might need a lot of help before he’s able to return to anything like a normal life. Peter is certain that Tom will make sure he gets what he needs. Which is fine. Stiles being well-adjusted won’t make him any less devious or less enthusiastic about punishing wrongdoers.

Melissa walks over and joins them in the hug for a long minute before saying, “Come on, guys. Let’s get inside and get some dinner.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Tom settles back into life in Beacon Hills more easily than Peter would have expected. He has years of pension saved up, so he doesn’t need to go back to work any time soon. That’s good, because as much as he’s recovered, there are still things he needs to work on. His speech is still stunted a lot of the time, and he reacts badly to people touching him without permission. He’s severely claustrophobic, but somewhat agoraphobic as well. Loud noises and bright lights bother him. His diet was very limited as a wolf, and readjusting to normal food causes him a lot of nausea and stomach pain.

They have work to do with the betas, as well. Their recovery is much slower than Tom’s. Months after getting out of Deucalion’s dungeon, they still can’t speak more than a few words. They’re a lot more relaxed now, but still more animal than human. Nobody’s particularly bothered by this. As long as they’re content, Tom says, he isn’t going to rock the boat.

He does decide to turn Scott, who takes to being a werewolf extremely well. He makes it through the winter without being hospitalized for pneumonia or bronchitis for the first time in his life. He and Isaac are fast friends before Christmas.

Peter alternates between Beacon Hills and Corona del Mar, dealing with things at his job and selling the house, and Stiles spends more time with him than he had expected. He thinks that the teenager is somewhat uncomfortable in Beacon Hills, reminded of his past life, even though he wants to be with his father. He has panic attacks sometimes where he has to call Tom and make sure that he’s okay before he can calm down.

It’s easy enough to keep him occupied, though. The lawyers at Peter’s firm are still deconstructing the remnants of the sex trafficking ring that Stiles and Peter had helped expose. Stiles is happy to help investigate, sometimes acting as bait or just breaking into houses cold to see if anyone who’s there doesn’t want to be there.

By the time the first house is built, Stiles has rescued another sixteen children and put eight more people in jail. He tells his father about it in animated detail while they tour the new house and move the things out of the storage unit they had been kept in. Tom smiles a lot more than he used to, as Stiles talks about how he’s going to be a world-class private investigator, solving crimes that the police won’t or can’t touch, how he’s getting enrolled in college classes for the spring.

Peter has been spending his time doing a different project. He knows some people who specialize in finding other people through his work, and spends several months paying them exorbitant sums of money to talk to the locals in Brazil and look for Derek and Cora. He eventually finds them living with a small group of missionaries outside a Brazilian town near the Pantanal, an enormous tropical wetland.

He doesn’t see them himself, but delivers them a video message, explaining that there’s now an alpha in Beacon Hills, a good man who will take care of the territory and would welcome them as his betas should they like to join him there. He’ll understand if they don’t want to come. He knows that what he did is unforgivable, but he promises that if they decide to come to Beacon Hills, he’ll keep his contact with them as limited as they want.

The reply, when it comes, is only four words long. “We’ll think about it.” It’s better than Peter expected.

The second house is finished about a week later. Isaac says that Peter and Stiles can have it, that he’s happy living with the pack for now. Compared to his previous lodgings, the bedroom seems palatial. Stiles tries to argue, but it’s half-hearted and everyone knows it. Peter moves the furniture he cares about, buys new what he doesn’t. They move in box after box of books and they have sex in the middle of the half-unpacked mess.

“Are you sure?” Stiles finally asks, studying the brand new ceiling. “That you’re okay staying here? What about your job?”

“I’m hardly attached to it,” Peter says. “I have enough money for several lifetimes. But I’ll stay in touch with my contacts, take a job every now and again. It was never the sort of work that kept me busy from nine to five anyway. And we can take some jobs together,” he adds, and Stiles rolls over to look at him. Peter shrugs. “I’m not exactly an altruist, which you well know, but you like to help the suffering, and I like to hurt the people who make them suffer. It’s an excellent partnership. We’ll take things as they come. There’s no harm in living a life like that. Yes, sometimes I’ll get bored and go down to Los Angeles to wreak havoc, and sometimes you’ll come with me and sometimes you won’t.”

“It just seems weird,” Stiles says. “I mean, you living here but working in Los Angeles, and me still taking college courses, and . . .”

“Don’t define yourself so traditionally,” Peter says. “We’re not exactly the sort of couple who are going to have two point three children and a picket fence. We’ll travel and we’ll argue and we’ll ruin people and destroy their lives and then save other people and give them their lives back. We’ll be gods among men. And your father will need help, you know; he’s high up in the court now, and there’s always going to be people who want to take his power or use it for their own ends, though I doubt anyone will dare challenge him for a while after what he did to Deucalion. But he’s strong enough to be the King someday, and there’s no harm in helping someone like that. I do like the idea of being a kingmaker.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, then surprises both of them by laughing. “I see we’ve returned to the comfort zone of ‘sweet and creepy’.”

“I yam what I yam,” Peter agrees solemnly, and kisses him for what feels like hours.

 

~fin~