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Two Roads Converge in a Graveyard Town

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Beacon Hills hadn't been planned. But Stiles had been between jobs, with only long stretches of road and a lonely full moon to look forward to, and then the Deadpool had dropped, and he'd figured why not? More money is always good, and the murder list even includes some very famous names whose deaths would cause quite the ripples throughout the supernatural world.

 

So, even if it was quite a bit out of his way, Stiles had pointed his jeep west, and alleviated his boredom during the drive by researching all the targets on the Deadpool.

 

Quite a few of them have rather interesting histories and reputations. It will be fun to see whether or not the people in question will live up to them once Stiles has them in his crosshairs.

 


 

It takes Stiles less than three days in Beacon Hills to realize what a chaotic shitshow this entire town has become.

 

He's heard of the Hale Pack Tragedy, same as everyone else. He hadn't realized that almost seven years later, the land once guarded by one of the oldest and most respected packs in the western hemisphere has been reduced to a joke in the hands of a bumbling teenager.

 

Scott McCall - seventeen years old, recently bitten barely a year ago but rapidly ascended to become a True Alpha, with everything from the fall of the Argent family to the destruction of the Alpha Pack credited to him and a diverse close-knit pack that welcomes more than just werewolves. Stiles expects a strong and charismatic leader, maybe a genius tactician or someone with prodigal skills in battle. Rumour says he even has connections in local law enforcement and the hospital. Rumour says he's powerful enough to make even the infamous former left hand of the Hale Pack bow to him.

 

It's nothing like that in reality. In reality, Stiles transfers himself into Beacon Hills High and spends a week watching McCall play lacrosse and pant after the kitsune girl in his pack. A pack that isn't really a pack, not with the near-nonexistent bonds between them, no clear lines of communication, and an Alpha oblivious to the fact that his territory has been overrun with assassins and supernatural creatures both. His father is an FBI agent, his stepfather is the Sheriff, and his mother is a nurse, but that's where his connections begin and end. He doesn't even have proper alliances with the packs nearby. And as far as Stiles has managed to dig up, all his achievements so far have been largely down to luck and associating with people just competent enough to pull them through without too high a body count each time.

 

It would be laughable if the discrepancy between hearsay and truth wasn't as wide as the Grand Canyon. Even the whispers about the last of the Hales falling into line behind McCall is a farce. There's something funky going on with Derek Hale, who isn't even in town half the time, and Stiles hasn't even glimpsed Peter Hale's shadow, although judging by the way the others talk about him, there's definitely no lost love between them, while Cora Hale isn't even in the country anymore.

 

McCall does at least seem to know something is wrong - if he couldn't even tell that, what with the corpses dropping all over the place, then Stiles would really despair for the future of all werewolves if this is supposed to be their ideal - but he seems terribly reluctant to do anything about it, and he doesn't appear to know what to do about it regardless.

 

It's truly an insult to supernatural creatures everywhere that this boy has the highest bounty on the Deadpool.

 

Still, at the end of the day, what this… McCall Pack wants to do, or is capable of doing, isn't any of Stiles' business. If they were more interesting, then he might want to investigate further. But he loses all interest the day McCall accidentally bites another kid while fending off a wendigo, and then promptly panics and kidnaps the poor child and duct-tapes him to his bathtub until the banshee - Lydia Martin, much smarter than McCall, but also very ignorant of a world she should've grown up in - finally slaps some sense into him. The very next day, Stiles almost dies from suppressing his laughter as he eavesdrops on McCall's heartfelt speech of brotherhood to his new very unwilling and very incredulous Beta.

 

No one would ever believe Stiles if he told them this story, not even in a bar full of drunks.

 

He takes a step back after that. Seeing as neither McCall nor any of his friends has taken more than an initial vaguely curious glance in Stiles' direction when he'd first enrolled, Stiles isn't particularly worried that they might figure him out anytime soon, if at all, but there's no need to tempt fate. More importantly, he should really get to work if he doesn't want all the good targets taken by the other half-dozen assassins in town.

 


 

Stiles has always been odd, by werewolf standards. He has no pack, but he's never felt particularly unhinged, and he likes to think his mind is as sharp as ever. He was born with red in his eyes and a family that didn't want him but also didn't want anyone else to have him, a bastard born from a cousin's mistress but with more Alpha potential than any in his generation. They'd done their best to squash it out of him, but in the end, all that just culminated in Stiles turning seventeen and taking off on his own. He only had to rip out a dozen throats or so before his dear family got the message.

 

Now he's twenty and still alone, still with no great desire to surround himself with Betas despite the occasional pang of longing for company, and still perfectly content to wander as he pleases. He kills for money because it's an occupation that lets him set his own schedule, and murder's always come easily to him. He doesn't have an Alpha's instinct for setting down roots and carving out his own territory, nor does he have their impulse for direct confrontations, far preferring the silent hunt-and-kill methods of an assassin, which suits his mercenary lifestyle perfectly.

 

Devil's left hand, one Alpha who'd hired him to take out a few troublesome hunters in the area for her had chuckled when Stiles had dropped off the bodies of his prey at the woman's feet, each corpse's throat neatly severed at the ends of Stiles' claws in the dead of night.

 

Stiles has never understood the point of open brawls when a stab in the dark would do. Quicker, quieter, and no unnecessary bloodstains. He's not so rich that he can afford going through clothes like they're disposable, and he hates doing laundry.

 

So here he is, ten at night and following a man down the street. The fog is thick and heavy, and there's not another soul in sight, but just as Stiles knows he's not alone, the man also knows Stiles is only a dozen steps behind him.

 

His pace is deliberately slow, like he's waiting for Stiles to catch up and pass him.

 

Stiles hides a smile in the collar of his coat and obliges. Five feet, three feet, two. He draws level, and in the split second of time as he makes to walk past him, Stiles catches a glimpse of multiple rows of fangs and glowing white eyes as the wendigo's mouth stretches into a wide gleeful smile, right before he chokes on his next breath as Stiles' claws sink deep and unforgiving into the back of his neck.

 

The crack of shattered bone is a little loud, but Stiles ignores it as he wrenches out part of the wendigo's spine and vocal cords, taking two steps back to avoid the arterial spray and falling body, and then waits until his target stops breathing.

 

Patrick Clark - $1,000,000, and Stiles barely had to do anything.

 

He leaves the corpse and walks away, fishing out some wet-wipes to clean his hand. It will be front-page news by morning. One million right off the bat. He should treat himself to some curly fries to celebrate.

 


 

"They ripped out his spine?!" Scott exclaims with more than a little horror.

 

"He was a wendigo," Braeden says dismissively, rifling through the reports of the recent string of murders. "And a serial killer. Or serial eater maybe. So at least they picked a target we can afford to lose."

 

"They shouldn't be killing anyone," Scott mutters mutinously. "We need to catch them and put them in jail."

 

He is summarily ignored in favour of bigger problems.

 

"Who could do that though?" Lydia points out very logically. "You'd need enhanced strength for something like this, right? But aren't all the assassins humans? The Orphans, the Mute, the Chemist…"

 

"They have been so far," Braeden agrees. "But there's no law that says supernatural creatures can't be assassins too. That's why I'm going back through all these. It doesn't look like anybody else got their spines ripped out though. It's not a style I recognize anyway, not from any of the big names that have popped up so far. Orphans are dead besides, and both the Mute and the Chemist are very hands-off."

 

"So there must be at least one more assassin we haven't accounted for," Kira concludes anxiously. "Do you think they'll come after us?"

 

Breaden shakes her head. "Hard to say. Some people draw the line at children. Although…" She looks amused for a moment. "Usually younger than you." She glances back down. "For now, all you can do is wait. It doesn't look like they left any clues behind, and since they've only killed once, we have nothing to go on. In the meantime, just…" The amusement returns. "Try not to die."

 

Lydia sighs, and Kira wrings her hands. Derek looks like he has a headache, and Scott insists they need to stop the assassins from killing anybody else, although how he wants to go about doing that is anyone's guess.

 

On the stairs, Peter listens with half an ear, but most of his attention remains on the morning paper in his hands, detailing the murder of Patrick Clark. He reads it over, then shuffles back to the glossy photos he'd poached from the police file earlier.

 

He stares at the top picture, the wendigo's neck on full gory display. There's not a single other injury on the body. It's a very decisive and very efficient killing blow. Despite the ugly aftermath, it's actually also very clean. The killer wouldn't have needed to do anything else to ensure the wendigo's death. Even most supernatural creatures can't come back from a near-beheading, and going for the throat like this ensures that they wouldn't have even been able to scream for help.

 

It's very practical, and very ruthless.

 

And it's exactly what Peter would've done - had done - whenever Talia needed him to remove a problem quietly and permanently.

 

He studies the photo for a moment longer, and his mouth slowly curves up into a smirk.

 

The handiwork of a werewolf left hand. Who would know it better than him?

 


 

Stiles takes out Joanne McLaughlin the next night, and then Steve Grace the night after that, a hag and a weretiger respectively, one million each. Tom Hill and Liz Moore - a husband and wife incubus/succubus duo - go the same way on the fourth night, and Stiles is suddenly five million dollars richer than he was less than two weeks ago. Who would've thought some backwater town in California would pay this much?

 

It helps that all the other assassins seem to be dropping the ball on this one. The Orphans were dead within days of Stiles' arrival, and he got word of the Chemist's death after a very boring day in quarantine at the school. The Mute is the only one that doesn't come as a surprise, if only because Stiles heard he was mauled to death by one very elusive Peter Hale.

 

The man's reputation precedes him, and this one at least has genuine achievements to back it up. The stories that people still whisper about the Hale Pack's most feared member are still circulated across America today, and Stiles is vaguely tempted to track the other werewolf down, maybe to get an autograph, maybe to exchange murder tips, or maybe just to try and straight-up murder him, just to see if Stiles can, but that particular urge is one he's long since become accustomed to ignoring. After all, he didn't survive all these years by succumbing to the more reckless, hungry part of him that's always wanted to reach out and take and claim, by hook, by crook, by blood and tooth and claw.

 

It is a pity though. More than one unsolved murder back in the day was - at least in the supernatural world - attributed to Peter Hale, even if no one could prove it, beautifully executed but never leaving a trace of the perpetrator behind. The Hales' left hand was a ghost, and Stiles admires his technique very much. But by that same token, because Peter Hale deserves his respect, Stiles knows better than to mess around with him for no reason. Who knows? McCall doesn't seem to like him, but Peter's clearly still around and at least nominally attached to the kid's pack - what if the former left hand takes exception to Stiles' presence?

 

Maybe Stiles is stronger, or maybe Hale is. But they have no quarrel with each other, Peter isn't even on the Deadpool, and Stiles doesn't dance with death when there's no payout.

 

So he sets that idea aside with only minimal regret and gets back to work. For the fifth night, he looks over the Deadpool and sets his sights on Noshiko Yukimura.

 


 

As a general rule, Stiles doesn't usually go after underaged kids. It can be a murky area though. Most of the time, he doesn't go after children for the simple fact that they're not much of a challenge, and a lot of the time, kids only get bounties because their parents or caretakers or some other adult figures around them have it out for each other. Normally, it doesn't have anything to do with the children, and Stiles isn't interested in vendettas like that.

 

But other times, you get kids who fuck around with things they shouldn't and end up possessed by a demon or addicted to the blood and power rush of a spell or ritual. Or it might not be their fault at all and they're just unlucky enough to fall prey to one creature or another with no way of coming back. In those situations, Stiles has no problem getting his hands dirty. It's unfortunate, but someone has to do it, and he's not so altruistic as to get hung up on things like that, just because they're short and small and haven't lived that long.

 

On the other hand, while McCall and company are neither possessed nor a danger to society (that last one is debatable), they are the kind of underaged that Stiles doesn't usually care about. They're seventeen, on the brink of adulthood - Stiles would've ripped someone's face off if they told him he was still a child when he was seventeen - and honestly, it's not like they've done anything to impress Stiles into writing off the literal tens of millions that some moron out there thought they're worth. If there weren't other targets on the list for him to go after, he wouldn't care at all. McCall's twenty-five million alone is highly tempting.

 

But there are other targets, so Stiles is willing enough to turn a blind eye. No promises if they get in his way, but considering they still haven't even suspected the new 'student' in their class of being the culprit, he isn't holding his breath.

 

Noshiko Yukimura is a name that most of the supernatural world has heard of. Long-lived creatures inevitably leave their footprints on history if you know where to look, what rumours to listen to, and everybody knows of the kitsune kin-betrayer. She's persona non grata amongst her own kind, which is a big deal because it takes a lot to piss off kitsune. Their very natures ensure a long fuse and more tolerance than most; trickery and mischief are in their blood. But Noshiko betrayed her own kind - one who came to her in good faith - and she committed one of the few sins that even kitsune find despicable.

 

The backlash of the broken contract between her and the nogitsune had halved her power and marked her in a way that all kitsune can apparently recognize on sight. Her own kind had rejected her, and then they'd made sure everyone else knew why.

 

There's a reason she's playing happy families with a human while keeping her head down. No other community will accept her these days, only the ignorant and the desperate, and Stiles will be making a lot of people happy once he ends her life.

 


 

Peter looks over the Deadpool again, checking off the latest two picked off just last night. That's five dead in total, and still not a hide or hair of them to be seen.

 

Peter approves. This assassin doesn't even seem to have a calling card, which frustrates Braeden to no end, and one of the others even suggested that it might be different people continuing the murder spree, but Peter doubts it. The second victim had her neck snapped, the third had his whole heart yanked out from behind, and the couple from last night had their throats slit. Forensics said knife; Peter would bet claw.

 

The methods of murder are all different. But the one thing that stays the same is the single killing blow.

 

And now they're basically down to a handful of small-fry worth $250,000 each, and McCall and his assorted muppets all worth millions. So far, the remaining assassin still going strong in Beacon Hills hasn't gone after anyone below a million, so Peter is inclined to rule out everyone in the former pool.

 

But that leaves the latter, which means things are about to get exponentially more interesting.

 

"What are you smirking about?" Derek growls, and Peter glances up to find his nephew looming over him with a scowl.

 

Peter smiles winningly at him, which never fails to rile Derek up, and it's just as effective this time. His nephew is so predictable, it's boring.

 

"Nothing much," Peter says blandly. "Just wondering which person our resident assassin will go after next." He pauses, then angles the list in Derek's direction. "What do you think?" He asks gently. "Lydia perhaps? Or Kira? Or Malia maybe. Scott would be the grand prize though, and they're clearly good enough at their job to give it a decent try."

 

"You-!" Derek snarls, taking a threatening step forward. His eyes remain their regular hazel though, and his claws don't come.

 

Peter holds up a finger. "Ah-ah, watch that temper of yours, nephew dear. You don't have the strength to overpower me right now."

 

Derek glowers at him, but he's at least self-aware enough to back down, however grudgingly.

 

Peter goes back to scanning the list. Would it be one of the brats? Or someone more on the peripheral of McCall's pack?

 

"Do you really not care?" Derek abruptly interrupts again, and Peter has to suppress a sigh. His nephew crosses his arms, eyebrows scrunching even further. "Maybe not about Scott or the others, but Malia's your… your daughter."

 

Peter huffs a scoff of amusement before he can help himself. "Derek, I don't even know her. Your mother made sure of that. And Malia wants nothing to do with me. I had no hand in raising her, and she's already found her adoptive father again. Blood is not actually thicker than water, no matter what some might say."

 

He stops, and not for the first time, he does try to find some part of him that might feel even just the tiniest bit of attachment to this truly unexpected familial tie. There isn't any, of course. That's never been the way he works. At most, he feels a pang of regret for what could've been, twined through with resentment at yet another choice being taken from him, but it's not something that bothers him to the point where he feels he has to do something about it. Nothing can do that anymore, not after the fire. Nothing except the fire.

 

It might be different if Malia showed any indication of wanting a connection with him. But she's firmly in McCall's camp, and Peter doesn't want her attention nearly enough to muster up the energy to fight for it. McCall can have her.

 

He folds up the hit list and rises to his feet. Derek squints suspiciously at him. Peter smiles back coldly and brushes past him towards the door.

 

He's long since gotten tired of this town and its residents. He'd only stuck it out this long because he had nowhere better to go, and he still had the money to live a comfortable life while entertaining himself with McCall's idiocy. But getting dragged into one mess after another, almost getting killed repeatedly because nobody in this town has the self-preservation instincts or the common sense of a suicidal lemming, and watching a bunch of teenagers all but desecrating the lands his family had protected for hundreds of years is a lot less funny in reality. And now he's even lost a hefty amount of his money, and on top of that, he has to put up with the crazy banshee girl who'd stolen it in the first place and then had the audacity to blame his coma-trapped mind for her crimes, while somehow managing to get everyone else to agree with her and fuss over her like she's some lost little lamb led astray by the big bad Peter Hale.

 

Frankly, Peter is exhausted.

 

He's thought about leaving Beacon Hills for a while now. He probably would've left already if not for the Argent-shaped loose end he has yet to tie up, and the identity of this mystery assassin to keep him occupied.

 

He'll stay a bit longer. He really does want to find out who this assassin is. To kill so competently and so confidently, they're definitely worth following up on, if for no other reason than the fact that you can never have too many professionals - in any field but especially this kind - on speed-dial. And Peter really should work on reconnecting with the supernatural community at large.

 

Anyway, the assassin first. He's pretty sure he'll have a better idea of the kind of person they are after tonight's kill, and he can get started on tracking them down tomorrow. As for Kate Argent… well, she can wait a bit longer. Maybe Peter would be more obsessed with killing her again if he had nothing else to distract him, but between a cockroach of a woman who'll meet her end at Peter's claws sooner or later and a fascinating little puzzle happily running rings around the McCall Pack, Peter knows full well which one he wants to play with more.

 


 

It is laughably easy to kill a woman who's betrayed her kin - the same one too - not once but twice. She's basically human at this point, and she's sloppy, not hiding where she lives, who she cares about, or even the fact that she's more or less defenseless at this point. Does she think living on a True Alpha's territory - if you can call Beacon Hills that - affords her some sort of protection?

 

What a joke. There's not so much as a patrol along the borders, no scents or wards or even a detection spell, and no real fighting force to repel intruders. No wonder people keep trying to take it, or take a chunk out of it. McCall might as well put up a For Sale sign. One would think one of the Hales at least would teach him to do better, but apparently even they can't be bothered.

 

Whatever. All the better for Stiles. The kids don't even bother lowering their voices at school - Beacon Hills' residents have reached a truly enlightened level of denial to still be oblivious to the supernatural world when people like McCall are entrusted with keeping it a secret - so it takes almost no effort for Stiles to put together a schedule of their extracurricular activities.

 

Noshiko's daughter, Miss Six Million But Off-Limits, likes sneaking off to her boyfriend's house two or three nights a week. Stiles gets the impression that Scott would be the one sneaking into the Yukimuras' house if not for the fact that Noshiko has sharp ears, and McCall is a very poor excuse for a werewolf. So Kira is the one who goes to the McCalls' for midnight rendezvous, and Stiles is pretty sure her mom knows about that as well and just hasn't said anything.

 

Gotta stay in the True Alpha's good graces somehow, right?

 

Stiles only cares insofar that it gets the kid out of the house, and usually on the same nights too - every Friday and Saturday, and occasionally Thursday.

 

Tonight is Friday, and like clockwork, Stiles - curled up in the crook of a tree branch across the street - watches as Kira climbs out her window and tiptoes off the property at just past midnight, neatly avoiding the single surveillance camera in the corner.

 

He isn't in any rush. He waits for another hour, motionless and patient, eyes on the lightless interior of the house, listening to the slow, steady heartbeats of the couple inside. At two-thirty, he finally makes his move, nimbly taking the same path Kira had inadvertently shown him before scaling the side of the house in silence. The girl's even done him a favour by shutting off the alarm and leaving her window cracked open when she left.

 

It's a matter of minutes to make his way into the master bedroom. He slips in through the door and stands in the darkest corner for a while, counting breaths again, heavy and deep. Neither of them stirs when Stiles makes his way over to Noshiko's side of the bed.

 

He makes it quick, a single slice of his claws across her throat, deep enough that whatever accelerated healing factor she has left can't repair it as she drowns in her own blood. Her eyes snap open, body twitching, mouth opening and closing on wet muted gasps.

 

One of her arms flops over and smacks her husband, but it doesn't matter. Stiles is already out of the room, out of the house, and zigzagging his way back through the streets of Beacon Hills by the time the wail of sirens shrieks across the night sky.

 

Hours later, his phone beeps with a notification of five million dollars being transferred into one of his accounts. He checks it, puts it back down, and goes back to his book and coffee and eggs benedict in the quaint little diner he'd driven past when he'd first arrived.

 


 

Peter isn't sure what's worse - the crying, or McCall's endless, pointless stream of comforting words, mostly consisting of variations of it'll be fine, we'll catch the person who did it and make sure they're locked away for good.

 

Scott's been saying that for days. Have they made any progress? Of course not. So what exactly makes him think that this time will be any different? The girl's grieving, not brain-damaged.

 

But who knows, maybe it's helping. Kira hasn't left after all, not since - from what Peter's heard - the police figured out the most likely way the assassin had broken into the house without anyone the wiser, and Kira's mild-mannered father had lost his temper.

 

Peter doesn't really care - he doesn't think he's said five words to the girl since they met, and Noshiko Yukimura's death has only ever been a matter of time. You can only outrun your sins for so long, and even before the fire, the ostracism she'd faced had been an open secret. Even Talia wouldn't let her into the town, although she'd looked the other way whenever the kitsune had gone to visit Satomi. If Peter had known that she'd imprisoned the nogitsune in the Hales' Nemeton though, he probably would've just killed her back then and saved everyone a lot of trouble.

 

Still, he holds his tongue and says nothing. He has no great enmity with the girl, for all that he seriously questions her tastes in lovers, and she's just lost her mother - Peter can refrain from mocking her, even if he does think it was stupid to go and mess around with her boyfriend when they all know the names on the list. It could've just as easily been her death last night. Would've probably been even easier than going after Noshiko, and it would've paid better too.

 

But that does slot another puzzle piece into place for Peter. This assassin seems averse to killing children, or at least they don't care for it when there are other targets to go after. By that logic though, that means there's only three people left on the Deadpool that they'll consider hunting down.

 

Satomi Ito.

 

Jordan Parrish.

 

And Kate Argent.

 


 

Peter thinks he can cross off Satomi for now - she's not in town, off dealing with the deaths of the majority of her pack, and it seems unlikely that the assassin would leave when he still has targets in Beacon Hills to choose from.

 

Kate Argent has been difficult to track down even for Peter. If it was him, and if it was just that issue, he'd go after Parrish first, if only for the easy access.

 

But on the other hand… well.

 

Parrish is an interesting target. Interesting enough that if it was Peter, he wouldn't go after him at all, and not for any kind of altruistic reason.

 

(In his heart, he knows that he's probably more like a hunter than he likes to acknowledge, even to himself. He's never cared overly much about whether or not the people he's killed happen to be innocent or not in the strictest sense of the word. The reason he hates Kate and the Argents and other hunter families like them has never been because they like a spot of murder a bit too much for this day and age. He hates them because they claim to do it for the greater good, even though anyone with eyes can see that they do it just because they enjoy inflicting pain on others. He hates them because they lord their nonexistent laws and morals over the 'animals' they hunt, even though the majority of them have committed worse crimes than any of their victims. Most of all though, he hates them because it was his pack they went after and burned alive all those years ago, and nothing matters to him more than that.)

 

But the mystery assassin might still try, so it's Parrish whom Peter goes and finds and settles in for the long haul. It's his best chance of meeting the assassin, and he isn't going to risk missing out.

 

He wants to see if they'll attempt something even he'd err on the side of caution for.

 

He wants to see if they'll succeed.

 


 

Jordan Parrish is an interesting target. Stiles doesn't go after him the next night, or the next. Instead, he goes through the files he'd hacked about former deputy Thomas Haigh's attempted murder on his partner, and while it doesn't actually say so, he can read it from a supernatural slant and glean the likely fact that Parrish is immune to fire. That's not much to go on though - off the top of his head, Stiles can name half a dozen creatures with immunity to fire.

 

What's even more interesting is how the man himself doesn't seem to know what he is. That, or he hides his tells very well. Stiles follows him for a few days, mostly during the evenings after the man gets off work and goes downtown for dinner or grocery-shopping. He doesn't even seem to realize someone is shadowing him, so either he's lacking the enhanced senses most supernatural creatures have or he's so good at pretending that even Stiles can't pick up on anything.

 

On the third evening, when they're coming out of the local supermarket, Stiles deliberately parades himself right in front of the man as he makes his way back to his jeep with a bag full of frozen lunches, and yet… nothing. Not a sniff, not a cocked head, not a second glance after the first cursory one where they catch each other's eye and smile and nod politely the way passing strangers do.

 

Granted, Stiles doesn't flash his eyes, and it's not actually possible to smell the exact kind of creature on someone. Everybody's innate scent is unique, although those in the same pack or coven or other close-knit group tend to share similar scents, and some are easier to pick out than others due to their powers. Kira smells like ozone. Lydia smells like death and lilies.

 

Up close, Parrish smells like a bonfire.

 

Werewolves don't have a werewolf smell, but Stiles makes it obvious, changes the slightly clumsy shuffle he's adopted at school to his usual prowling silent gait. He makes it all the way back to his jeep that way, and… yeah, still nothing. This is getting ridiculous.

 

The official story is that Parrish found out about werewolves from McCall and his friends very recently. If that's true, then for someone with no prior knowledge of the supernatural, it's not surprising that he doesn't automatically pick up the signs Stiles is flaunting. Maybe he really doesn't know what kind of creature he is. But that also means it's dormant enough that Stiles isn't going to be getting any hints on that front.

 

He sighs as he reaches for the driver's door. Then his hand stills for a split second longer than strictly necessary on the handle, and then he opens it without a hitch, busying himself with tossing the grocery bag into the backseat. He gets in, shuts the door, and then darts a glance at the sideview mirror.

 

There's someone watching him.

 

He can't spot them, and it's not Parrish, but even now, he can sense the focused intent behind it. There's too many heartbeats in the vicinity for him to pick out one in particular too, especially since whoever this is seems perfectly adept at blending in.

 

He starts his car. There's no point sticking around, and if they saw his little show earlier, if they - unlike Parrish - could tell the difference… well, it's too late now. His cover's blown.

 

And considering Stiles never picked up on anyone following him or even following Parrish over the past few days, unless there's a brand-new player in town, the list of people who can potentially get one over him is very, very short. And people wanting to get one over him generally aren't conducive to Stiles' continued wellbeing.

 

He drums clawed fingers on his steering wheel as he leaves the parking lot behind.

 

It seems he's lingered too long already. It's time to wrap things up.

 


 

Peter watches the blue jeep peel out of the lot, and he can't help it - he laughs, utterly delighted.

 

So this is the mystery assassin that's been haunting Beacon Hills for the past two weeks.

 

He's so young. Not quite baby-faced, but he can't possibly be past his early twenties at most, even by shifter standards. Peter had been imagining someone older, with years of experience under their belt to polish their craft and find their anchor on their own without falling into an Omega's insanity, and they'd only been stable enough and capable enough to start making a name for themself after the Hale house fire, so Peter wouldn't have heard of them.

 

He hadn't expected that the reason he hadn't heard of them would be because they would've been literally too young to be running around as a professional assassin seven years ago.

 

He's young, but competent. He'd noticed Peter the moment Peter had noticed him. And Peter had only noticed him because he'd been making it obvious for Parrish. Thinking back, he'd caught glimpses of that red hoodie a couple times over the past few days, hadn't he? But he hadn't paid it any mind, not when he'd looked young enough to pass for a teenager, and he hadn't seemed anything out of the ordinary.

 

Peter grins and feels his fangs itch as he remembers all the murders over the past week and a half, how easily he's slipped under the radar, how harmless he'd seemed right up until he'd chosen not to be. Young, competent, and pretty too, all pale skin and bright eyes and a lithe figure Peter would love to see dancing through a fight.

 

He wonders what colour his eyes would be, shifted. Gold? Or blue?

 

Peter laughs again and starts making his own way back. The little assassin should be done for the night, but he also won't stall for much longer, which means tomorrow will probably be the climax, for better or for worse. If nothing else, Peter's looking forward to a good show.

 


 

Stiles spends the rest of the night packing up, erasing his presence from the school's database, and then checking into a different hotel under a new alias before bunking down for a research binge. It probably won't deter whoever's tailing him for long, but he doesn't need more than another twenty-four hours, and then he can go to ground. He doesn't sleep that night, digging through page after page of information he's collected on every supernatural creature with an immunity to fire he's so much as heard a myth about, and by sunrise, he's finished.

 

Whether it's demons or djinn or firebirds or salamanders, fire giants or dragons or hellhounds or imps, not a single one of them should be able to survive decapitation for long.

 

Destroy the head, shatter the skull, cause enough brain trauma to drown a phoenix in a dozen rebirth cycles. If Parrish happens to be a demon, Stiles will have salt and holy water and an exorcism incantation on hand; if Parrish is a one-in-a-million chance phoenix, then Stiles will just make sure he has some iron to finish him off.

 

He's never been one to leave a job half-done. He's decided on this bounty, so he'll see it all the way through. For once, five million might actually be less than Parrish is worth, but Stiles didn't become an assassin just for the carefree lifestyle.

 

Half the fun's in the challenge. And while a dance with death is costly, Stiles always pays his dues.

 


 

He naps for most of the rest of the day, not bothering with school anymore. He wakes in the afternoon, grabs a shower, orders room service, and watches the sun dip below the distant horizon.

 

He doesn't wonder if it'll be his last sunset. He never does. He knows what he can do, what he's survived. He's strong enough to meet the sunrise once more.

 

He eats, then packs what little he unpacked, checks out of the hotel and squirrels his jeep away, and then gets down to business.

 

It's not difficult to lure Jordan Parrish out into the woods after night falls. A bit of lurking in front of the man's apartment, pretending to break in just as his car pulls up, and then taking off with a dramatic flash of fangs, just slow enough to ensure Parrish sprints after him in hot pursuit.

 

It's a foolish thing, to hunt a creature on their own hunting grounds. But by the time Parrish seems to realize that, they're cloaked in the dark of the Preserve's trees, and Stiles gives him no more chances to run away.

 

He circles behind, and then surges forward, quick as a cobra, aiming for the man's throat. There's no way a mere human would be able to react in time.

 

But at the end of the day, whether he knows it or not, Parrish is not human.

 

The imminent threat to his life seems to trigger something in him because he drops his gun, whirls around, and his eyes blaze with an inner fire that's almost blinding to look at. He snarls, fangs bared as molten flame begins igniting all along his body, and he meets Stiles' claws with his own, swiping out at Stiles himself.

 

Stiles twists, deflects, and then slams an elbow down hard enough to break one of Parrish's arms. He lands, kicks off again, and flips back out of grabbing distance, but he doesn't wait, diving into the fray, ignoring the fire, and aiming for Parrish's neck again.

 

Parrish doesn't falter, arm already knitting itself back together as he growls and leaps forward as well, obviously looking to grapple Stiles to the ground. But Stiles has never done direct confrontations and open brawls when a stab in the dark would do, and he isn't about to start now. He lashes out with one foot, kicks off Parrish's outstretched hand, and listens to the startled yelp of pain as the man's claws scrape and snap against the steel sole of Stiles' boot.

 

He lands again and doesn't rest, weaving in, taking his pound of flesh when he can, and then dancing back out of reach again to avoid his opponent's fangs and claws. At this point, all of Parrish's body has started to change - his clothes have been burned to ash, and his skin is beginning to look like molten rock.

 

Stiles blows out a breath as he flips back once more, reaching out to grab a nearby branch and swinging himself up onto it before looking down at Parrish again.

 

"Hellhound then," Stiles says out loud, studying the sluggishly bleeding wounds that even Parrish's new partial shift hasn't quite managed to heal. The dog part of him clearly hasn't woken up all the way, and its human vessel is slowing down. Stiles smiles. "I'm relieved. It would be way more troublesome if you were a phoenix."

 

Parrish roars at him and rushes forward. Stiles waits until the very last second, waits until the hellhound is all but underneath him, waits for that fraction of a moment when he crouches and drops his center of weight, that much heavier on the ground as he prepares to spring upwards.

 

Stiles beats him to it. He shoves off the branch with a single flex of his legs, lunging for the hellhound's head, contorts around the slash of his claws and ignores the sting of them when they rip open his thigh, because it is already far too late.

 

Stiles' claws sink into Parrish's shoulders, his whole weight bearing down on his prey, and normally that wouldn't make much of a difference, not when Stiles' human form is admittedly on the lean and light side, and Parrish himself is bigger. But between one breath and the next, and with the enraged howl of a hellhound ringing in his ears, Stiles shifts.

 

His bones melt together and apart, man to wolf in the space of heartbeats, a hulking beast of a wolf with more than enough muscle mass to force Parrish to his knees.

 

His jaws yawn open, fangs glinting under the moon. And then he lets instinct take over, snapping his jaws shut around the back of the hellhound's neck, around his throat, through skin and tendons and blood and bone.

 

He bites down, and rips.

 


 

The aftermath is messier than he likes. He'd taken most of Parrish's head with that first bite too, and then he'd gone ahead and torn apart most of the rest of the body until the fire went out completely, but at least like this, there's no way the hellhound is getting back up again, not with this vessel.

 

Stiles shifts back with a sigh, looking ruefully at his torn clothes before pulling out wet-wipes to get the some of the blood out of his nails. At least the claw marks along his thigh is already scabbing over.

 

"Ugh, this is fucking gross," He mumbles, running a tongue along the back of his teeth. Then he checks the body. Or what's left of it anyway.

 

…Yeah, he'd probably eaten some of the guy. Whoops.

 

He sighs again. This is why he doesn't favour drawn-out battles. He knows himself, and he knows he can get a bit… savage, when he's that in tune with his instincts. And nothing gets him more in tune with them than a decent fight.

 

…This one was a pretty good one. Nothing's gotten his blood pumping like this in a while now.

 

He peers over at Parrish. "Sorry, dude," He mutters. "At least there's still enough for a burial though, right?"

 

He glances down at himself again. He doesn't even have shoes anymore, there’s viscera between his toes, and his favourite coat is well and truly beyond saving. He should've taken it off beforehand. Five million is definitely not worth this.

 

He shucks off most of his clothes until he's down to his pants, and even then, the remaining fabric is barely clinging to his hips. He makes his way to the nearest backroad, and then pulls out a miniature of his jeep, puts it on the ground, and taps out a rhythm pattern against the biggest rune inscribed on it.

 

His car enlarges itself in a rippling wave of gold light, and then he's free to open up the back, sacrifice a few bottles of water to rinse himself off, and get himself a new set of clothes.

 

He's pulling up a pair of sweatpants when he finally speaks. "So, are you just going to watch me forever, or do I get an actual introduction?"

 

He doesn't look up, although he has all his senses trained on the innocuous presence he'd sensed as far back as when he'd hit the treeline of the Preserve with Parrish several feet behind him. He’s willing to bet they’d been following him even before that.

 

They'd never smelled antagonistic though, or even aggressive, only… curious, so Stiles had let it be. He'd sensed them during the fight too, but they'd hung back, polite enough not to cut in, and while the stench of blood and smoke had been too thick in the air for Stiles to detect anything else at the time, he'd been aware that his stalker had watched that battle far too closely to be anything but interested.

 

And now? Now they just smell fascinated. And very, very aroused.

 

The deliberate scrape of footsteps on gravel cuts through the silence. Applause follows, and Stiles glances up as Peter Hale saunters out of the cover of the trees.

 

He's only a little surprised. There aren't many in the world who can hide so well from him, even if he wasn't actively hunting them down. Going by Peter's notoriety, this man should be one of them.

 

Peter comes to a stop a few feet away, hands slipping into his pockets, stance casual but weight perfectly distributed between his feet. He has dark hair and blue eyes and a neatly trimmed goatee. His clothes aren't anything fancy - v-neck and coat and jeans - but all of it looks effortlessly tailored to hint at the strength and grace of the body wearing it, and it pairs wonderfully with the smirk curling at Peter's lips.

 

“I guessed werewolf, and I guessed left hand," The older werewolf starts, words light and pleasant. "I expected Beta, and I even expected blue eyes." His smirk widens, revealing the faintest glimpse of fang. His eyes don't flash, but they glitter under the moonlight anyway, unblinking and riveted on Stiles' face. "But never did I once expect Alpha.”

 

Stiles doesn't move, but he lets his eyes burn red once more, just as they had during the fight. Peter's own eyes light up in response with the cold of ice and steel, and the expression on his face is ravenous.

 

Idly, Stiles wonders if he's going to have to fight again tonight.

 

"Not many do," He says out loud, taking a seat on the bumper and pulling out another pair of shoes. "I don't advertise it." He wriggles his feet into the sneakers before offering a sharp smile in Peter's direction. "It makes people get all sorts of bad ideas about it."

 

Amusement flickers across the other werewolf's face. "I'm sure it's terribly troublesome. You know what they say though - lone Alphas are weak Alphas."

 

Stiles barks out a laugh as he pushes to his feet again. "You're welcome to test that with me if you want, Mr. Hale. Just don't blame me if it doesn't go well for you."

 

This close, Stiles can feel it - Peter Hale is a Beta, but only just. There's a razor edge of madness rusting the fringes of his scent, and this time, when Peter smiles again, Stiles can see it too, lurking in the practiced stretch of his lips and the detached mirth in his face and the defensive chill in his unwavering gaze. This man may have more years of experience, with all the calculating proficiency of a left hand everyone had acknowledged once upon a time, but he's also five steps left of feral, if that, and Stiles isn't ever going to fall to a shifter so at war with themself.

 

"You've misunderstood," Peter tells him in deceptively mild tones. He's still not anything like hostile though, and the intrigue hasn't faded a bit from his scent. "You've provided me with more entertainment this past week and a half than I've had in years. This town-" A humourless smile of disdain crosses his features. "-is chock-full of the dullest people you can possibly imagine. Your arrival was a godsend. Your skills in wetworks - impressive. And the sheer frustration and terror you've indirectly inflicted on the McCall Pack - icing on the cake. It's only right, then, that I should at least find out the name of the assassin who's so thoroughly caught my eye, don't you think?"

 

Even Stiles is momentarily stunned. He rakes a critical eye over Peter, picks out the lies in his smile and his scent and his posture, but catches too the truth of his attraction and his recognition and his refusal to bend more than he already has. This man is a dichotomy of painted masks and barely cauterized scars, and abruptly, Stiles thinks he finally has an inkling of just what Peter is assessing him for.

 

Huh.

 

That's-

 

Stiles isn't sure what to think about that.

 

"…Stiles," He says at last, watching Peter watch him with the same patience they've probably both pulled out on cold nights and lengthy stakeouts. "My name is Stiles."

 

Peter hums, head tipping to one side like he's running through a mental list of shifter packs. "No surname?"

 

Gajos, Stiles doesn't say, because that's not him anymore, if it ever was. One of the oldest packs in Europe, and he hasn't had anything to do with them in over three years now. If Stiles has his way, he won't ever again either.

 

So he shrugs instead, all spread hands and wide eyes in a way he knows makes him look harmless. "I'm a self-made man."

 

Peter's mouth twitches. "Of course." His gaze slides down Stiles' body, then up again in a slow blatant sweep that's basically a leer. "Very well- made too."

 

Stiles - embarrassingly enough - splutters, speechless as heat crawls up his neck. Peter smirks, looking pleased with himself. Stiles regains his speaking capacities.

 

"The best left hand in America is a creep!" He huffs, scandalized. The arousal from before was obvious enough, but that's normal. Well, normal if you have tastes that skew in a certain direction. Shifters in general all appreciate a good fight. Left hands in particular prefer a darker flavour of violence, and there's been that in spades tonight.

 

Stiles hadn't expected Peter to be so shameless about it though.

 

Peter arches an eyebrow, not at all sorry. On the contrary, a hint of surprise, followed by a guarded sort of delight, turns his smile into something more genuine. "So you've heard of me." Sly amusement slips into his expression. "And you still came to play around on Hale territory?"

 

Stiles raises his eyebrows right back, and he'll blame his wolf's bad habit of poking sleeping dragons for his looser tongue. "This is still Hale territory?"

 

A long beat of silence follows as they stare at each other, tension quivering like a taut harp string stretched between them.

 

And then Peter scoffs, part derision, part sardonic humour, and the pressure deflates.

 

"True," He agrees with only the faintest trace of bitterness. "If it was still Hale territory, Beacon Hills wouldn't be half the joke it's turned into." His eyes narrow. "And I wouldn't have let you put one foot over the border."

 

Stiles has to snort at that one. "If this was still Hale territory, I wouldn't have come."

 

He likes a challenge. He's not suicidal.

 

But that seems to appease something in Peter, who inclines his head, and the last of the strained atmosphere dissipates.

 

"So then, Stiles," The older werewolf says the name like he's savouring the syllables. Stiles eyeballs him dubiously. Peter smiles, all suave charm once more. "What do you plan to do now? You've earned… what is it, ten million now? That's quite the haul already."

 

Stiles blinks, then scoffs, moving to shut the back of his jeep. "You have to ask? I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm not finished. I don't much care about Satomi Ito - the Chemist already decimated her pack, and I don't like picking up other people's leftovers. But Kate Argent…" He finds himself smiling, absently adjusting the cuffs of his shirt. "Twelve million dollars and an Argent to my name. That'll make this whole trip worthwhile."

 

"Then," Peter interjects, drifting a few steps closer. "Might I suggest a temporary partnership?"

 

Stiles cocks an eyebrow.

 

"I have information on Kate Argent," Peter explains, and his eyes spark a brighter blue once more. "And every reason to see her dead. The forces she has at her beck and call however are more than I can handle on my own." His mouth twists a little like he's bitten into something sour, but he forges on regardless. "I can help you find her. I can help you kill her allies. And after it's over, the twelve million is yours. But in exchange," The shift slips over his features, carving harsh lupine lines into his face. The look in his eyes is cold enough to burn. "I want to help put her down. I don't need to deliver the killing blow. But when she dies, I want to be there."

 

Stiles is silent for a long minute. He thinks of all the gossip he'd heard about the fire that wiped out the Hale Pack, the official story and the whispers underneath, the truth everyone knew but never talked about.

 

Taking out Kate Argent alone would be an achievement that even the most jaded of supernatural creatures would respect. But there are other Argents in the world, and even Stiles has some propriety left in him. There's an order to this sort of thing, an unspoken courtesy that one should adhere to, and that includes giving right of way when it comes to a shifter's claim on a blood feud. It's unfortunate, but…

 

Stiles sighs. "Fine. But you better not shaft me halfway. I know you've never heard of me before I came here, but that doesn't mean I'm not one of the most dangerous people you're ever going to meet." He lets the Alpha power in his soul spill bright and red into his eyes again, warning and promise both, because no matter what Peter says, he's not so stupid as to believe a former Beta turned Omega, turned Alpha, and then turned Beta, near Omega again, wouldn't at least consider stealing Stiles' own spark for himself. "If you underestimate me, I'll gut you like a fish, string you up by your intestines, and paint this whole town with your lifeblood. Understand?"

 

Peter's answer comes swift and sure, accompanied by a dark, seductive knife of a smirk. "I would never do either of us the disservice of underestimating you."

 

He pauses, and his smirk looks more suited for a beast than a man. He looks at Stiles like he wants to devour him.

 

“Young, competent, pretty, and vicious,” Peter croons, blue eyes glowing like ghost-light and foxfire. “Sweet boy, I do believe we'll get on splendidly."

 


 

It would be a lie if Peter were to say he never considered reaching over and ripping out that pretty little throat. In that final crowning moment when Stiles had leapt from that tree like some kind of bird-shifter instead of a wolf, fast as lightning and twice as deadly as his form had flowed from two arms and two legs to four paws and russet fur, fangs the size of steak knives, and eyes that had shone crimson in the night, bright as blood and wine and rubies, and Peter had wanted. Wanted that power, wanted that boy.

 

Parrish - or the hellhound residing inside Parrish - hadn't stood a chance, not against someone with such absolute control over his Alpha shift. Peter doesn't know who Stiles inherited his spark from, but it was obviously from a powerful line, untainted and fully merged with the werewolf it had chosen as much as Stiles had chosen it, and the result is a glorious thing to behold.

 

Peter had forgotten how awe-inspiring an Alpha can be - a true Alpha, who knows what they are and what they're doing, certain in every step and stride they take the way only those with the confidence to make the very earth itself seemingly move to their benefit alone can be. Stiles went into that fight with all the assurance and resolve of a man determined to seize his victory by the throat, and he'd more than accomplished it, drenched in blood and bathed in moonlight in the brutal aftermath. Beside him, the likes of Derek and Scott and Deucalion and even Peter, deep in the throes of his rage-driven madness, pale miserably in comparison.

 

Looking back, Peter doesn't know how he could've ever mistaken Stiles for a Beta. He has all the hallmarks of a left hand, but he wears the bearing of an Alpha like a second skin.

 

An Alpha spark like that is highly tempting. Peter could do so much with it, could kill Kate, kill all the remaining Argents still poisoning this planet, could challenge Scott and take back his family's lands and even make Beacon Hills great again.

 

And yet.

 

For one, he'd have to overpower Stiles first, and while Peter is sure he can at least give the boy a run for his money, he's not so certain he can actually win. And once he has a thought like that in his head, he knows he's already lost half the battle.

 

For another, he's tried his hand at Alphaship. It didn't exactly work out, did it? Insane or not, he'd had no pack, no allies, no one who'd even sympathized with his cause, no goal beyond revenge, and while he'd be hard-pressed to do worse in his second go-around, the effort he'd have to put in makes him feel tired just thinking about it.

 

Stiles is a lone Alpha, but he's anything but weak. He's quick on his feet and clever, and in his line of work, he's undoubtedly seen his fair share of the dirtier side of the world but had still come out of it with blood on his claws and a smile on his face.

 

He also isn't looking for a pack. But if there's one thing Peter knows how to do better than anyone, it's how to make himself indispensable.

 

He knows himself, knows he's slipping, inch by terrifying inch, to that cliff's edge of no return. He doesn't care about any one thing strongly enough to make it his anchor - even his thirst for vengeance had only reignited recently upon the discovery of Kate's survival, and that won't last beyond her death - so he knows he needs a proper pack bond before time runs out and he becomes an Omega again. He's never going to get that from any of McCall's bunch, not even Derek, doesn’t want it either, so at this point, the only tentative strategy going forward is to see if Stiles can be what he needs.

 

He does want to kill Kate, or at least see her dead with his own two eyes. But this way, he can show off what he can do in front of Stiles as well. It seems like Stiles already has a favourable impression of him anyway - "best left hand in America," his memory purrs, and everything in him preens - if only due to his previous reputation, so at least he won't have any pesky morals to contend with. It almost comes as a shock, how ludicrously refreshing it feels to not have McCall's high-handed preaching constantly buzzing in his ears like an adult voice from Snoopy.

 

It's a plan, anyway, the first viable plan he's had since clawing his way back from beyond the grave. Only time would tell if his gamble will be worth it.

 


 

Stiles generously gives him a ride out of the Preserve and back to Peter's apartment after sending an anonymous tip off to the police about a disturbance in this part of the woods. The body will be found before dawn.

 

Sitting in the passenger seat, Peter has to admit that the beat-up-looking jeep that - from the exterior - appears to be one breakdown away from the junkyard is actually a thing of beauty. It's warded to the nines and far bigger on the inside, with enough extra room in the back to give the laws of physics a heart-attack.

 

"Feel free to use the bathroom," Peter tells him once they're inside. He ignores the way Stiles looks around, eyebrows raised; ignores too the flutter of embarrassment in his stomach at knowing what he sees - an elegantly furnished flat devoid of anything with personality. It might as well have jumped out of a catalogue. Even the scents that have settled into the walls aren't rooted deep enough to express any kind of attachment anyone else would have to their home.

 

Stiles says nothing, and Peter is grateful for that. He scrounges up a set of clean towels and a new toothbrush - bone between the teeth is terribly annoying - before leaving him to it and ordering takeout. He'd cook, but he has manners. They've just met; no werewolf in their right mind would eat another's cooking this early on.

 

The food arrives just as Stiles steps out with damp hair, a few water droplets still clinging to his skin, and a new shirt that bares strong, lean arms. Peter doesn't hide his appreciation. Stiles rolls his eyes but the tips of his ears turn pink for a moment.

 

They sit down for a late-night meal, and Peter doesn't refuse when Stiles pays him for his portion.

 

Stiles is going to leave with no less than twenty-two million dollars of Peter’s original one-seventeen. He’s certainly not lacking for cash. Even Peter feels a bit awkward bringing up the truth of the Deadpool though, so he refrains. Besides, just from what Stiles showed him tonight, Peter would’ve paid him for the enthralling performance anyway.

 

He still has something of a nest egg hidden away so it’s not as if he’s fallen into dire straits quite yet. The loss of the bearer bonds in the vault had been more of a blow to his pride than anything particularly world-ending, although he’d played it up in front of the others. They like seeing him take a loss, and he likes letting them underestimate him. Weak from his resurrection, and now barely a penny to his name - harmless.

 

He’s admittedly not as comfortable as before, but he has options for alternate sources of income - the world’s never short of people who require the services of those with Peter’s skillset - and he’s pretty sure he can get some of the stolen money back once he has the spare time to deal with Meredith and Brunski. The former’s too closely guarded at the moment so Peter’s been putting it off.

 

For now, it’ll keep. And he has a far more interesting guest to focus on anyway.

 

Neither of them are ready to sleep after they finish their food, so Peter pulls out a map and begins recounting what he knows of Kate’s history in Beacon Hills, and her current whereabouts, state of being, and firepower.

 

"She's living in the sewers," Stiles says in such flatly unimpressed tones that Peter has to laugh.

 

"As a werejaguar, yes," Peter nods, smiling indulgently at the younger werewolf. It's been so long since he's been able to trash-talk an Argent with someone. "She doesn't have adequate control over her shift, so she has purple skin and jaguar spots all over. She's come out a few times, but mostly, she stays underground with her berserkers. I don't know exactly what she wants to do, but I'm sure killing all the supernatural creatures here is somewhere on her bucket list."

 

Stiles' eyebrows go up, then down, and then he shakes his head and goes back to looking over the map. "The supposed ruling Alpha has a homicidal ex-hunter living literally right under his feet, and he has no plans to deal with it. Your town is a mess, dude."

 

Peter snorts and doesn't bother with verbal agreement. Not a single situation since the fire hasn't gone to shit in this town, of course it's a mess.

 

"Well, it shouldn't be too hard to lure her aboveground," Stiles concludes. "Full moon's in two days - if her control is that shitty, she'll be out for blood, and if she hates McCall as much as you say, that's who she'll be targeting. Berserkers are easy to take care of - destroy their heads and they're done for. A gun will get that done quickly enough. And werejaguars are the same as any shifters - wolfsbane and mountain ash should be able to trap and kill her if neither of us can get close enough."

 

Peter stills at that, glancing over speculatively. "…It's rare for a werewolf to use a hunter's weapons."

 

Stiles stares right back, unashamed. "I use whatever works. Besides, I blend in all the better when people see me waving a gun or mountain ash and wolfsbane around." For the first time, mockery curls at Stiles' lips. "Precisely because of prejudice like yours, so I suppose I should be thankful for that."

 

Peter arches an eyebrow. He must've touched a sore spot; that came out a little more forcefully than anything Stiles has said so far.

 

"Was I judging?" He asks mildly. "I admit, I don't prefer it, but if it works, then it works. I assume you have a supply of the stuff in your jeep somewhere?"

 

Stiles stares at him for a moment longer. His eyes don't shift, but there's a hard look behind them that doesn't relent for a good thirty seconds. Then he blinks, and he doesn't apologize, but there's a sense of the beast in him sitting back on its haunches as he shrugs. "Yeah. I'll pull it out if we need it." He looks back down at the map. "Where are the most likely places McCall will be on the full moon?"

 

Peter bows his head as well and returns to the task at hand, and they spend the rest of the night discussing the pros and cons of using the McCall Pack as bait and plotting the murder of one of the most prolific hunters to ever plague the earth.

 

It's a novel experience for Peter. Even before the fire, this was the kind of work he did alone. But Stiles bandies ideas back and forth with him without batting an eye at even the bloodiest suggestions Peter proposes, and he gives back as good as he gets. The irony of Kate dying from a wolfsbane bullet is met with laughter; the proposition of simply kidnapping McCall beforehand, dumping him in a remote area, and laying a scent trail for Kate to follow is built upon to include a poisoning or severing the Alpha's hamstrings in addition to closing both shifters in a mountain ash ring, in order to make double-sure that neither of them can escape, because some legends about True Alphas insist they can actually dispel such barriers when they're desperate enough, so better safe than sorry.

 

They talk long into the night and into the early hours of morning, and by the time Stiles leaves for a nap in his jeep, Peter's made up his mind.

 


 

With two werewolves who specialize in hunting things that don't want to be hunted coming after her, Kate Argent - unhinged and unfamiliar with the instincts of a shifter - doesn't really stand a chance.

 

Taking Scott from his bedroom is like taking candy from a baby. Peter wants to weep for his past self for turning such a useless werewolf, because the boy doesn't even twitch when Peter breaks into his house. Melissa's on a night shift, the Sheriff is working overtime, and Kira won't be sneaking out of her house again anytime soon, so Scott is alone and vulnerable and doesn't even get the chance to do more than mumble a groggy "Huh-?" when Peter hauls him out of bed before he's knocked out cold again.

 

Then it's just a matter of dragging him along some backroads, close to the manholes where Kate likes to come and go from most, before legging it into the Preserve.

 

The crude howl of a werejaguar cuts through the night, and the stench of wet cat and death soon spreads out across the woods like fog.

 

The first crack of a gun sounds like an explosion, bursting from somewhere up in the branches of a tree, and from his own hiding place, Peter watches as the first berserker bursting through the foliage collapses into a pile of dust after its skull shatters. Several more shots ring out, each one finding its mark in their targets, and Kate's little army steadily drop like flies.

 

Peter can get used to a shifter wielding a hunter's weapon if he gets more demonstrations like this. It's made even easier by the fact that the berserkers on their own don't seem to be capable of much individual thought either, although the last handful at least attempt to skirt around the range of the Stiles' firearm and ambush him from behind. Those ones meet their end at Peter's hands. He may be weaker than the average Beta, but when his prey isn't expecting him, and he knows exactly what to aim for, crushing their skulls between his hands is simply a matter of course.

 

Amongst all the noise, even Scott groans and stirs and sits up with a familiar look of confusion. Then he's scrambling to his feet just as Kate comes barrelling into the clearing, and Peter is there to intercept her, jamming his claws into her gut before flinging her back into a tree.

 

"Peter?!" Scott exclaims, backing up into the barrier of the mountain ash circle. "Wait, is that Kate? What happened? How did I get here? No wait, you can't kill her!"

 

Peter doesn't pay him any mind. Scott has done his job as the bait, and now all that's left is to take Kate Argent down once and for all. The werejaguar snarls and throws herself at him, but for all her supernatural reflexes and flexibility, Peter has been a werewolf all his life, and it's easy to dodge her swinging claws before slashing at her throat. He catches her shoulder, gouging strips of flesh out of her before she wrenches herself away with a yowl of pain, and for a moment, they circle each other closely, looking for an opening.

 

"Hey!" Scott hollers from the side, slamming against the mountain ash ring, and maybe there's some truth to that legend after all as the powder on the ground seems to shudder, and the barrier itself becomes visible to the naked eye as it ripples ominously under the force of Scott's shoulder. "Stop! Peter, you can't just kill her! We agreed we'd lock her up!"

 

Peter doesn't remember agreeing to that. To be honest, he can't remember anyone else agreeing to that either.

 

Scott hammers against the barrier, and Peter is genuinely baffled at the boy's incomprehensible love for all things Argent. He'd even spared Gerard, and surely even a saint wouldn't be able to find anything redeemable about that man.

 

Well, at least Peter doesn't have to understand. He's never listened to a single order Scott's tried to issue him, and he isn't about to begin now. Although all this caterwauling is going to draw unwanted attention soon. Kate's loud enough; Scott somehow trumps even her.

 

The boy throws himself at the barrier once more, perhaps sensing that it's about to give. But then, in the next second, he's crumpling to the ground instead with a howl of agony, clutching at his bleeding knee where a bullet has torn straight through from behind. A moment after that, two more shots ring out, and Kate staggers back, clutching at her stomach.

 

Peter doesn't waste the opportunity. He's on her in a heartbeat, snapping the arm she throws out in a frantic attempt to swat him away, and then he's bowling her to the ground and ripping into her with all the rage and grief and relish of thirteen pack bonds burnt to ash, six years screaming in the depths of his mind, and the obsessive demand of a vendetta finally laid to rest.

 


 

The grass is wet and almost black with blood after it's over. Kate is well and truly dead this time - even she won't be able to come back from being torn limb from limb. Several feet away, still trapped in the mountain ash circle, Scott is heaving up his dinner.

 

Peter steps away, takes a deep breath, and then lets it out in a great gust of air before pulling out his handkerchief to wipe his hands. Then he glances over his shoulder as Stiles appears, meandering over while holstering his gun.

 

"Thought you were going to stay hidden?" Stiles remarks. He makes an appreciative noise in the back of his throat as he looks over Peter's handiwork.

 

"Thought you weren't," Peter counters, because yes, that was the plan after all.

 

They glance at each other, and then they both laugh a little. Seems like they'd both had the same idea if the situation happened to swing that way, which it had.

 

"You-" Scott interrupts, sounding disgusted and fearful and even outraged. "How could you- She was Allison's family! You could've just stopped her without killing her!"

 

Stiles frowns, looking taken aback. Peter rolls his eyes. They both turn to look at the boy, who's managed to stagger shakily to his feet. He's still bleeding, and judging by the way it's festering, Stiles hadn't switched his wolfsbane bullets out for a regular one. Scott still manages to point a trembling finger at them. It's almost admirable.

 

"You- You must be that assassin!" He accuses, and then - for some reason - shoots Peter a betrayed look of all things. "You've been working with him all this time?!"

 

Peter… thinks about correcting him. Thinks about killing him. An Alpha's an Alpha after all, and he's long wanted to… fix his very first mistake that had started all this over a year ago. But…

 

He glances at Stiles again, who seems to sense his gaze and looks over as well, cocking an eyebrow in question.

 

"I don't think I'll be able to stay here much longer," Peter muses. The Mute was one thing; Kate's another entirely. Scott might even be able to convince Christopher to put a bullet between his eyes this time. Short of that, Eichen House has been a peripheral threat for a while now, ever since Deaton brought it to their True Alpha's attention, and this will probably be the last push needed for the McCall Pack to act. On his own, even Peter doesn't much like his chances against all of them.

 

Stiles scoffs in reply. "Should've thought of that before jumping around in front of McCall over here."

 

"I don't want to stay here much longer either," Peter retorts.

 

They stare at each other again, the silence stretching on once more, not wholly comfortable but charged with a different, more anticipatory kind of tension this time.

 

"I've never needed a pack," Stiles eventually says, and for the first time since they met, he actually looks a little awkward. "And no one's ever wanted to be my pack either."

 

They both ignore Scott's gasp of realization.

 

"There's a first for everything," Peter says blithely, smirking when Stiles rolls his eyes at him. He continues, more somberly, "I'm not asking for a pack bond right away. But I've enjoyed your company so far, we share much of the same instincts and philosophies when it comes to our… dispositions, and I think we work well together. If you take me with you, we can see if that lasts in the long-term. And if something more comes out of it…"

 

He trails off with a deliberately nonchalant shrug. This is… more of himself than he'd usually reveal, but he knows he needs to put something on the line before he loses his chance entirely. Stiles won't stick around for much longer, and Peter needs to make clear what he wants. Pack bonds - real ones - can't be forced, and no matter how much he likes Stiles or how much he needs an anchor, even he won't dive into this before making sure they fit each other well enough for a bond to form naturally.

 

Others in his position might jump the gun, and it's actually terribly rude to ask an Alpha to hold off on establishing a generic pack bond because Peter wants to test him. Hierarchy-wise, it's a break in decorum that most werewolves would be appalled by. But if Peter was willing to accept anything less than the best even at this point in his life, he would've bared his throat to Derek or Scott months ago. And for an Alpha like Stiles, who can remain perfectly sane and in-control without a single Beta tying him down despite possessing the wilder, more primal instincts of a natural-born left hand, Peter thinks the trial period is something he would favour as well.

 

Peter isn't asking to become pack right away. He's just asking for a chance.

 

(A chance is all he truly needs.)

 

Stiles heaves a sigh and scrubs a hand over his face. Then he looks from Peter to Kate's remains, and after a few contemplative seconds, his mouth quirks into an amused smile as some passing thought seems to occur to him. His gaze rises to meet Peter's again.

 

"I have no territory," Stiles informs him bluntly. "I don't even have a house. I have contacts I touch base with in-person semi-regularly so there are cities I travel to more frequently than others, but I don't have any one place I call home. I go wherever my work takes me, and more often than not, I live out of my jeep. If you come with me, I'll expect you to pull your own weight. Anything we earn, I'm willing to split fifty-fifty."

 

He pauses here, and his eyes bleed to a rich blood-red even as his voice adopts a deeper, solemn timbre. "I don't know what other packs are like. But when you're with me, even without a proper pack bond yet, there are things I expect. If we need to separate for whatever reason, you can't leave without at least telling me where you're going and for how long, and of course I'd do the same. Your personal history and private life are yours, but if it's something that could hurt you or both of us, I expect you to share. Your enemies will be my enemies, but I'd appreciate being told about them before I have to rip their throats out because they're breaking into our hotel room or something just to try and kill you. As for me, I don't have that much baggage, but if something becomes a problem, I'll tell you too, and I expect you to help me with it. And lastly," Up until now, Stiles' eyes haven't lost their otherworldly light, so perhaps it makes his next words all the more impactful when this is where he lets them fade back to their usual amber-brown, even as a smile - guileless and almost friendly - tips the corners of his lips up. "If you betray me, Peter Hale, I will never let you know peace again, even after death."

 

A werewolf practiced in fighting with both fangs and claws and a hunter's weapons, with a car in his back-pocket spelled to the heavens and back. With that in mind, Peter doesn't think he's being paranoid when he takes that last sentence literally.

 

Still, he listens to Stiles' conditions, waits for more when he stops, and when nothing comes after it, all he can really do is chuckle rather helplessly.

 

"Stiles," He says fondly. "Is that all?"

 

Stiles frowns. Peter shakes his head, still smiling. He doesn't know for certain if this is the Alpha for him, if Stiles can give him the pack he wants, but… from the very first moment he'd noticed this shifter in the beauty of his kills and the silence of his approach, he thinks some instinctual part of him had already been able to recognize it - this person would be important to him.

 

He walks the few steps it takes to put him in Stiles' space, and while Stiles narrows his eyes, he doesn't otherwise react as he waits for Peter to say his piece.

 

"My darling Alpha," Peter says silkily, because while it's not official yet, Stiles is an Alpha, and he is Peter's, in one way or another. "You should learn to ask for more from me. As selfish as I can be, even I must insist on higher standards. But, for now," He smiles and tilts his head and flashes throat, more subtle than most wolves would be, but far more than he's ever given anyone outside of his mother and Talia. He doesn't flinch when slender fingers find their way to his neck, resting over the beat of his pulse. "I accept your terms. I shall remain by your side for as long as you allow it. What is mine will be yours - you need only say the word. Your enemies will be my enemies, and any who dare come after you, I would lay their corpses at your feet."

 

He presses closer, feels the warmth of Stiles' hand against the curve of his throat, feels the drum of his own heartbeat in the cradle of Stiles' palm, feels the first fragile golden thread of a pack bond begin to bloom without any conscious will behind it. Stiles' eyes are red again, and Peter can feel his own eyes shift to reflect them.

 

Some things in this world are meant to be. Time would tell if this is one of them, if this is where Peter was always going to end up and rise anew.

 

"As for betrayal," Peter murmurs. "Only a fool would attempt something so monumentally stupid, and I have many vices, Stiles, but those I respect have nothing to fear from me. And I would never have asked to come along if I did not respect you enough to want to follow."

 

A rumbling growl swells up from Stiles' chest, and Peter offers a fanged grin in return.

 

"You'd better not regret this," Stiles mutters, hauling him in close enough to kiss, close enough to bite. "Because I might not let you go even if you do."

 

"Werewolves are possessive," Peter concurs, finally reaching up to wrap his own hand around Stiles' wrist, thumbing over the swift but steady pulse. "Left hands even more so. Aren't we quite the match?"

 

Stiles mirrors his grin with one of his own. "Made in heaven or hell?"

 

Peter laughs. "Only the devil would welcome me, sweetheart, so I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to accompany me below."

 

Stiles hums with mirth and approval both. "Well, it's a good thing I was headed there anyway."

 

Peter opens his mouth to respond - it's been so long since he's had someone to banter with - but of course, all good things must come to an end, and maybe Peter should just be grateful that Scott McCall has managed to keep a lid on his sermon for even just this long.

 

"Peter isn't going anywhere!" Comes the outburst, and they both reluctantly pull away to meet Scott's glare.

 

"I don't think your opinion counts for anything," Peter sneers.

 

"He's killed people!" Scott bulldozes on, eyes on Stiles. " You've killed people! You won't get away with it!"

 

Stiles squints at him, then squints at Peter. "Is he for real?"

 

Peter shrugs helplessly. Not for the first time, he regrets ever meeting Scott McCall that fateful night.

 

"Let's just go," Stiles says, already turning away and losing all further interest in the trapped Alpha.

 

Peter nods his agreement, but he turns, then stops, and then sighs when Stiles glances back. The younger werewolf studies him for a moment, then looks at Scott, then back, and then he reaches into a coat pocket and retrieves a bullet and a lighter, and hands them over without a word.

 

Peter dips his head, then makes his way over to Scott, who squares his jaw and puffs out his chest as if that will somehow ward Peter off when he can't even stand straight anymore, poison rushing through his system as he bleeds out into the grass.

 

Peter tosses both objects into the mountain ash ring. Scott freezes.

 

"This is," Peter tells him quietly. "The last time."

 

He says nothing more, leaving the clearing with Stiles, not looking back even when Scott shouts after them.

 

Stiles still doesn't ask. He knows the general points - that Peter bit him once upon a full moon, fresh out of his coma and high on Alpha power - but not much else. But he doesn't judge, and Peter relaxes as he falls into step beside him.

 


 

Weeks and miles later, after leaving Beacon Hills behind for good with several more deaths under their combined belts, Stiles sits cross-legged at the end of the mattress in his jeep, leaning back on his hands and staring out the open back at the canvas of stars above. The night wind is a low whimsical croon overhead, and the trees nearby whisper secrets between their rustling leaves. Beside him, Peter slumbers on.

 

The universe works in funny ways. Stiles had gone to Beacon Hills for a job. Who would've thought he'd leave it with a potential Beta in tow? And for that Beta to be Peter Hale too. It would be a grand joke if it wasn't Stiles' new reality.

 

He sighs and glances at his new… partner? The man's half a packmate already, whether either of them acknowledges it or not. What waiting? What testing? They've been partially bonded before they'd even left Beacon Hills. When McCall had led that druid of his to intercept them in some kind of last-ditch attempt at taking them down, nobody even had time to blink before he'd ripped Alan Deaton's throat out before the man had finished spitting out even half the spell he'd been chanting. Scott had wheezed in horror before leaping at Stiles with a furious roar, only for Stiles to catch him by the throat, toss him into Roscoe, and let his car zap him into unconsciousness.

 

And then there were none. The woods were silent again. And when Stiles had turned to check on him, Peter had stared back like Stiles had hung the fucking moon.

 

And now here they still are, Peter's belongings tucked away with Stiles', on their way to collect on a new bounty, with vague plans to head to Ireland in the near future to introduce Peter to a dullahan Stiles is friends with, just to make sure that Worm Moon Ritual didn't have any unforeseen side-effects. From what Stiles has heard, Peter had cobbled it together from coincidence and a fuzzy memory of three pages in a long-lost tome. Stiles isn't leaving anything to chance.

 

For now though, they follow the road and the horizon, and the fact that Peter can fall asleep beside him, and Stiles can fall asleep beside Peter, is testament enough that there's really only one way this is going to go.

 

It's not even that he minds. For all that Stiles has never needed nor wanted a pack, Peter's company isn't bad, isn't even just tolerable. But he has no experience in being an Alpha with a pack, had admittedly not thought it all the way through when he'd decided to try, solely because Peter had asked and Stiles had never clicked so well with another person, and so all he can now is make it up as he goes.

 

At least Peter's never seemed to mind. For a man who would've been third-, maybe fourth-in-command of a pack revered as a long-standing pillar in the western hemisphere, he's settled quite happily into the nomadic life, as far as Stiles has been able to tell. Some invisible weight had disappeared from the man's shoulders the moment they'd left his hometown behind, and he seems ridiculously enchanted by the inner workings of Stiles' jeep. He's also tactile and touch-starved, and while it had taken Stiles several days to adjust, he hadn't balked from scent-marking Peter in return, which had definitely pleased the other werewolf. They sleep in the same bed every night, draped over each other the way Stiles hazily remembers his brothers and sisters and cousins doing sometimes, and even if it was somewhat awkward at the beginning whenever Peter so much as slung an arm around him, let alone curled himself at Stiles' back like an aggressively affectionate bur, damn if Stiles hasn't grown to enjoy it too.

 

Still, for someone who only wanted to see if they'll "last in the long-term", Peter's certainly pushing full-steam ahead, and not even just on the pack issue. Stiles isn't blind, not to Peter's attraction, nor to his own. Peter had called himself selfish, he remembers. Maybe that had been a warning too, that he'd take absolutely everything he possibly can, and Stiles had better be prepared.

 

It's probably at least half Stiles' fault. He'd given Peter an inch to work with, and the werewolf had shamelessly gone and taken an extra ten miles. Maybe it's Stiles who should've known better than to underestimate Peter all this time.

 

"Why are you still awake?" The man himself grumbles from behind him, and when Stiles glances over his shoulder, the man is peering at him through half-lidded eyes, looking adorably sleep-rumpled.

 

Stiles mentally slaps himself for that thought, but it's not like he can take it back from himself, and really, he should've known he'd signed his soul away that night under the full moon, standing in a bloodstained clearing with a werewolf in possession of the exact same cutthroat ruthlessness Stiles was born with when it comes to the things they want.

 

Stiles growls under his breath, and then flops back onto the bed with a groan. "No reason. I hate you. Everything is terrible."

 

Peter hums patronizingly at him, clearly not even listening, wrangling him back under the covers instead, and then closing his eyes again. "Yes, Alpha. Now sleep. You'll feel better in the morning."

 

Seriously, what an asshole.

 

Stiles sighs again and gives in to the inevitable, snuggling into the warmth of Peter's chest. Peter rumbles contentedly and soon drifts off again. Stiles stays awake for a little longer, watching him sleep, wondering where they'll end up in a week, a month, a year, five years, ten.

 

And then he shuts his eyes as well, touching the brilliant light of the pack bond anchored in his chest, in his heart, straight down to his very soul.

 

He doesn't think it matters. Wherever they end up, they'll end up there together, and maybe Stiles has no need for a pack, no need for friends or companions or lovers or mates. Maybe he's never wanted any of it before either. But that was before Peter walked into his life, and maybe that's always been the sticking point - he's never wanted it before, because he hadn't yet met the person he'd want it with.

 

His life has always been a winding road, and he's always travelled it alone. But if Peter insists on travelling it with him, then who is Stiles to refuse him when he has no desire to do so anyway?

 

Stiles sighs one last time, buries his nose in Peter's throat, and finally lets slumber carry him away.

 

Tomorrow is another day, and he finds himself looking forward to it more when he knows Peter will be there to meet it with him.