‘The more things change, the more they stay the same,’ Talia had once said, laughing as she had listened to the description of a fight that Peter had had with his boyfriend. Peter had laughed, too, but not for the reason she thought. Everyone thought Talia was so wise and understanding, but a lot of the time, his sister was an idiot.
The more things changed, the more they changed, until suddenly you’re standing in the ashes of a dystopian hellscape that used to be your life, wondering how in the world you wound up there. The sister who had spoken those words to him has been cold in the ground for six years, and he hasn’t spoken to that boyfriend in almost as long.
Instead of a sister that he begrudgingly respected and a boyfriend he was constantly, playfully at war with, now he’s left with a ragtag pack of children. Derek is their alpha, if he can really be called that, and the pack has fragmented and rejoined what feels like dozens of time because he can’t keep them together. They’re too frightened and too stubborn. Nobody trusts anybody. Too many people have died for trust to still be a thing in Beacon Hills.
That’s part of why Peter makes sure he stays just slightly apart from Derek’s pack. He’s really the only adult in their little group of survivors. So they come to him for advice, or what he supposes passes for wisdom. Which he frankly finds laughable, and he’s sure that Talia would be laughing as well.
He’s up front with them. His advice basically always boils down to ‘look out for number one’. And if they can’t see the inherent flaw in taking advice from someone who lives by those words, well, they’ll probably get themselves killed without needing any help from him.
Because those are the words he lives by. He looks out for his own skin first and foremost, which is why he doesn’t want to be burdened by a group of helpless teenagers. Their soft-heartedness has gotten them into trouble more than once. Rescue missions end with three people dead where before it would have just been one. Trying to stay together has attracted attention which has gotten people killed.
They want to be a family, and in Peter’s opinion, there’s nothing more dangerous than that.
There had been a time, years ago, when he had stood over his sister’s grave and sworn to get revenge. He had carved the spiral in the tree next to where her body lay.
But he’s been beaten down again and again since then, and by now all he cares about is survival. The sting of his family’s loss hasn’t exactly faded. It’s more that everything has faded. It’s hard to care about revenge, about loss, when you’re shivering in an attic and you haven’t eaten in days.
All Peter wants to do now is live.
And these stupid teenagers, they don’t get that. They don’t get that survival should be their goal, each of them, individually. And so they’ve been dragged through the mud over and over again. They’ve lost people. A lot of people. And every time they disagree, things break into factions, and Peter can’t stand listening to them squabble.
It never breaks down the same way twice. The root of the conflict is almost always Derek versus Scott – the most ungrateful, obstinate beta that Peter has ever had the misfortune to know – but the way the others fall changes. Cora usually sides with her brother, but if Lydia falls into Scott’s camp, she can be swayed. Isaac, Derek’s first beta after his sister, logically sides with Derek but then emotionally sides with Scott. Malia, a daughter after Peter’s own heart, flips back and forth like a coin in midair to whichever side she thinks will win. Erica and Boyd always side with each other, and whoever decides first gets to pick.
Then they’ll split up angrily, Scott will take whoever sides with him off into the night, and things will be quiet for a little while. Until someone gets lonely, and they all wind up crashing in one place. Nobody bothers apologizing. It’s just how they live now.
Or at least, it was how they lived until about six months previous. That was when Stiles walked into their lives, and everything changed.
It was insane to trust him. He was the son of Chris Argent. He was part of the militia run by Gerard and Kate. He had been brought up to hate and fear everything supernatural, he had probably assisted in the murder or capture of dozens of their friends. When he showed up on their doorstep to warn them that their location had been betrayed and there was going to be a raid, they should have killed him right then and there.
But they didn’t, because Scott was a soft-hearted idiot who wanted to believe the best in everybody, and because Derek trusted Stiles for a very, very stupid reason. It was the same reason that Peter wanted to trust Stiles, despite all the things that told him what a bad idea it was.
It was because of a chocolate bar.
Stiles had always been a rebellious kid, and four years previous, he had gotten pissed off at his father and run away from home. It was a stupid enough idea for any kid to wander around Beacon Hills, especially a kid who smelled like silver and gunpowder. He had run afoul of a couple of Satomi Ito’s betas, who had figured out who he was within two minutes. They had kicked the shit out of him and decided to hold him for ransom.
That was probably a pointless plan, which Peter could have told them, because Gerard Argent most likely didn’t give a plugged nickel about his grandson’s life. And it was coincidence that Derek had run across them, while a bruised and battered Stiles spat all kinds of obscenities at the two betas and promised revenge.
“He’s just a kid,” Derek said, when he saw what Stiles looked like.
“He’s an Argent,” the beta retorted. “We’re going to make him pay for our friends in blood.”
“Yeah, I’m sure he’s been out here killing your friends personally,” Derek said. “What are you, kid, eleven?”
“I’m thirteen!” was the indignant response.
Derek gave the betas stern looks and judged them with his eyebrows until they reluctantly let Stiles go. Derek brought him back to the den, or more accurately, to the rundown tenement that they were calling a den on that given day. Laura had ripped his head off for bringing the kid back to their hideout, but Derek just shrugged and said, accurately, that it was almost time for them to move anyway. It was too late at night for Stiles to walk back home himself, and Derek wasn’t going anywhere near Argent territory to take him there.
“I’m not going home,” Stiles said, face creased in a scowl.
“Most of the people here would kill to have your life,” Laura responded, exasperated.
“You don’t know anything about my life!”
“Well, I know you don’t live in a God damned hole in the ground,” Laura retorted. “I know that you know where your next meal is going to come from, and that you don’t have to worry about people hunting you down. I know that you don’t have to worry about your water source being poisoned, or what you’re going to do next time it rains. So maybe you should get over yourself!”
Peter didn’t think that sort of rant was going to get them very far with a thirteen year old, but Stiles looked surprisingly pensive for a few minutes before he just said, “Okay,” curled up, and went to sleep in the corner.
The next morning, in the chilly, predawn air, Derek and Peter had walked him back to the edge of the Argent complex, or as close as they could come without getting shot. Stiles had climbed over the fence and disappeared without another word. Peter watched his retreating back for a minute before saying, “Come on, let’s go get ready to move.”
After some discussion, they decided to stay one more night in the tenement. They needed time to scope out a new place, make sure it isn’t already occupied, make sure it’s secure. They all agreed that the odds that Stiles was going to go tell his family about their location were pretty slim. Not unthinkable, and moving was a good precaution, but even Peter wasn’t too worried.
He wondered if he should have worried when he heard a quiet thump outside their door the next morning. The others slept through it. He climbed down from the loft he had been sleeping in and eased the door open. There was nobody there, but there was a box. He examined it for several minutes, sniffing carefully, but didn’t smell anything dangerous, so he brought it inside.
The others had woken during this noise, and Derek was rubbing sleepily at his face. “What is it?” he asked, as Peter flipped the top off the crate and stopped in surprise.
It was food. And not just food, but some other sundries as well. There were two bags of beef jerky and a large box of granola bars – good, nonperishable food. Then there was a bottle of water purification tablets, three boxes of matches, a battery-powered lantern and a collection of batteries. Right on top there was a chocolate bar. Plain old Hershey’s milk chocolate, wrapped in a piece of paper that read in chicken scratch handwriting, ‘thank you for helping me’.
Laura unwrapped the chocolate, and the scent of it made all their mouths water. Things like candy were a luxury they just didn’t get anymore. Not since the Argents had taken over. They had to scratch the ground just to survive. Who had time for something like candy?
With shaking hands, Laura split the bar into four equal pieces and handed them out. They each accepted it and ate it in solemn silence. Cora, who was only twelve herself, sniffled a little. Laura cried, too.
They moved that night, and they hadn’t seen or heard from Stiles in the intervening years, but somehow when he turned up at the warehouse the pack lived at, it seemed completely natural to the three remaining Hales. And Peter trusted him. Not because they had saved him, or because he had brought them supplies that had saved them. Because he had brought them a chocolate bar. Because he realized that just because they were werewolves didn’t mean they weren’t people. He had treated them like human beings.
Stupid, Peter thinks, staring at the ceiling while he listens to the pack bicker. He wonders where Stiles got it from. It sure as hell wasn’t from his father. Peter closes his eyes and thinks of Chris Argent, of his strong hands and straightforward demeanor and take-no-bullshit attitude. He thinks of Chris naked in bed with him, of the many times Chris had talked about what a terrible idea this was, but always swung back to Peter like he was magnetic north. He thinks of asking Chris for help getting his family out of the rapidly building chaos in Beacon Hills, and he thinks of Chris refusing, two days before Talia and the others had been killed.
No, Stiles is nothing like his father. Not in any of the ways that matter.
~ ~ ~ ~
“Hey, Dad.” Stiles drops his jacket on the back of a chair as he goes through the living room. He’s cold and covered in mud and too tired to care about the look that Victoria gives him.
“Hey, long day?” Chris asks, looking over from where he’s cleaning his gun at the dining room table.
“Field exercises from dawn ‘til dusk. When’s dinner?”
“About another twenty minutes,” Victoria says.
“Cool. I’m gonna duck into the shower.” He heads into his room and strips out of his muddy uniform, tossing it into the hamper. He hates the uniform almost as much as he hates the field exercises. But there’s no help for either of those things. Gerard runs his teams with military precision. The smallest screw-up and he’d be out on his ass, no matter who his father is. And if that happens, he loses all the access to information and supplies that he’s been using for the last six months.
He turns the water on in the shower but leaves it tepid. The Argents might live in comparative luxury, given the conditions in Beacon Hills, but even they only get so much. The town is completely cut off, and everything is run by gas generators now. They only get electricity at certain times of day, and hot water will only last about ten minutes. Victoria will want it for the dishes after dinner, so if he uses it up, she’ll be pissed at him.
Laura hadn’t been wrong when she had said that he didn’t have to worry about food or shelter. The Argents controlled everything coming in and out of Beacon Hills, so they got the best of everything. But even they only had so many luxuries.
Beacon Hills was nestled in a little valley in northern California. There was only one road in or out, and it had been blocked off for years now. Things outside were bad, Gerard Argent warned the townspeople. The werewolves and supernatural creatures had taken over everywhere, killing for sport and taking what they wanted. Here, by the grace of Argents, the civilians were safe.
Anyone who tried to get out came back in pieces. A casualty of the werewolf packs that roamed the forest and the mountains.
Stiles had seen a few of those bodies. Oh, they came back in pieces all right. Gerard even had a set of werewolf claws he used to do the job. Nobody noticed the bullet hole that had actually killed the person. But it had been a while since that had happened. Nobody tried to leave anymore. Stiles wonders sometimes how bad the outside really is. He wouldn’t be surprised if supernatural creatures had taken over, if they had banded together to fight the humans who want to kill them just for being what they are. But he also wouldn’t be surprised if they had been eradicated, and Gerard just kept Beacon Hills isolated because he liked being a military dictator. Maybe when every last supernatural creature in Beacon Hills is dead, Gerard will release his iron grip on the city.
He wants desperately to get in on one of the supply runs that Kate makes, but that’s an elite team of professionals and he’s years away from that. Once a month, Kate leaves town with five or six guys, and comes back with food and supplies. Some of it does look pretty old and battered, and she can’t always get what they want or need. So Stiles thinks that there are probably kernels of truth to Gerard’s tales of the outside world. He just doesn’t know which kernels are true.
Once Kate comes back, the supplies are distributed to the townsfolk. People who have reported supernatural activity get an extra share. Anyone whose tip led directly to the capture or ‘disposal’ of a supernatural creature will get a special gift. So the civilians of Beacon Hills are always eager to help the Argents and their militia hunt down their former neighbors.
Stiles looks in the mirror and realizes that his lip has curled up. He stops and takes a deep breath, forces his expression back into calm. He’s been spending too much time with the Hale pack. He should just drop off the supplies and go. But it’s hard. He wants to spend time with Scott and Isaac and play lacrosse like regular teenagers. He wants to flirt and talk comic books with Erica. He wants to – well, when it comes to Derek Hale, it’s probably a better idea not to think about what he wants. There’s a romance that’s going to go nowhere quickly. Stiles is well aware of how Kate Argent had gotten the information that had gotten three quarters of the Hale family killed.
From now on, he’ll just give them the supplies and the patrol schedule and then go. And if they ask why, he’ll tell the truth. He’s getting too close, picking up too many mannerisms, and someone is going to notice. They’ll understand that.
He rinses the mud out of his hair and then gives it a quick scrub with soap. They don’t have any shampoo or conditioner at the moment, but people washed their hair with soap for centuries. He gets out of the shower and throws on a T-shirt and sweatpants.
The civilians of Beacon Hills piss him off sometimes, but he knows he can’t blame them. They’re frightened. They’ve bought into Gerard Argent’s narrative of evil werewolves who will steal their babies, and that isn’t really their fault. Gerard’s fearmongering tactics are a time-proven method of getting a populace on your side. Supernatural creatures are scary by default, and people want to trust their soldiers, their government.
In any case, there’s not much reporting left to do. Very few of the supernatural creatures even try to lead a normal life anymore. Hell, hardly anyone does. There’s still school for children, but most of the people in town work directly for the Argents now. There’s no point in stores when everything that comes in is carefully rationed. They don’t have the room to farm, although some people do have their own gardens, and Kate sometimes brings in seeds. There are some professionals who still work in their old jobs – doctors and nurses, an electrician, a plumber or two, a barber of all things – but everything is done by a barter system now. A barter system that is, of course, heavily regulated by the Argents. The rest of the town works for the militia – sewing uniforms, doing maintenance on their trucks or weapons, or whatever manual labor the militia needs at the moment, whether it be repaving a road or building a new guard station.
People still spot the supernaturals occasionally if they leave their haunts, and will definitely report it, but most of the hide and seek is done by the militia itself. That’s why Stiles joined. Knowing the patrol schedule has been infinitely helpful in keeping the Hale pack safe, among many others. And it’s not actually that bad. Three days of training or field exercises, two days on patrol, and two days off.
“Hey, Stiles!” Allison greets him as he walks into the kitchen. She’s setting the table.
“Hey, what’s up, do anything fun today?” Stiles asks. At Chris’ insistence, Allison is kept as far removed from the war as possible. She’s home schooled, although Victoria takes her into town twice a week so she can socialize with a few other non-supernatural teens. Like all of them, she reads a lot, because it’s something to do, so she’s smart as a whip. She’s just completely indoctrinated into the Argent way of life, and there’s not really anything Stiles can do to change that.
“I finished reading that book I was telling you about, the one about Vietnam?” Allison says. “You’d like it. I’ll loan it to you now that I’m done.”
“Okay, cool.” Stiles helps her set the table and then sits down. They have spaghetti and meatballs and a salad. The lettuce is pretty wilted, but nobody says anything. It’s a week to the next supply run, so the fresh food is getting pretty old at this point.
“I don’t like the fact that they’re making you crawl around in the mud in this weather,” Chris says, after listening to Stiles talk about the obstacle course he had spent most of the day doing. “You could catch a cold.”
“I’ll be fine, Dad,” Stiles says.
The specter of illness looms over all of them. Kate’s supply runs often come back with some basic medicine – antibiotics or painkillers – but a serious illness would basically be impossible to treat in these conditions. That was how both Erica and Scott had wound up in the Hale pack to begin with. When the town had gotten cut off, access to the medication they both needed – Erica for her epilepsy and Scott for his asthma – had dwindled. As their conditions had worsened, both families independently decided that they would have a better chance as a healthy, hunted werewolf than as a sick human.
“Pathetic,” had been Gerard’s opinion when he had found out about Scott’s defection. Melissa had worked as a medic for the militia, so they knew her. But she had disappeared underground at the same time that Scott had.
A cold, if left unchecked, could become pneumonia, and that could kill even a healthy teenager like Stiles. So he could see why Chris was worried. Personally, he wasn’t worried. If he really got that sick, he would just leave and go to the Hale pack to be turned. It would suck to lose their inside man, but Stiles would prefer that to being dead. They had survived years without his help. They could do that again, if they needed to.
The radio crackles before they’ve finished eating, and Chris walks over to get it. All communication is done by radio now. It’s old-fashioned, but it works. Phone lines have been down for years, and the Argents prefer to keep it that way, so the townsfolk can’t talk as much among themselves.
“Chris, you there, over.” It’s Kate’s voice on the other end.
“Go for Chris,” he says into the radio.
“Hey, just got a hot tip!” Kate sounds cheerful, bloodthirsty as always. “Someone spotted one of the werewolves rooting around in the dump. We’re suiting up. Are you game? Over.”
“Kate, I’m eating dinner with my family, over,” Chris says.
“Suit yourself, old man,” Kate replies. “Over and out.”
Chris rolls his eyes and goes back to the table. Everyone in the room – possibly everyone in the town – is aware of how much both Gerard and Kate disdain Chris’ choices. He still works for the militia, still runs patrols, but he sticks mostly to training now. He has two kids to look after.
Stiles is also well aware that Chris never wanted him in the militia to begin with. But the fact that preteen Stiles had been a simmering ball of rage had been problematic for everyone. He had run away from home half a dozen times, had gotten into trouble, picked fights. Once he had gotten far enough out of town to almost get shot by one of the perimeter patrols, who had recognized him just in time.
“The militia will be a good outlet for some of his energy,” Kate had said at the time.
Gerard had been more blunt. “Put him in the militia, or I’ll put him down.”
Good times, Stiles thinks. Gerard has always loved him.
The feeling is mutual.
But Laura’s words that night had made him realize that the militia was the best place for him to be. The militia was where he could do the most good. So he had gone home that morning and told the truth about where the bruises came from – a couple werewolves had beaten him up but he had managed to get away – and said he wanted to join. He was so young, that at first it had all been training. But he had been doing patrols since he had turned fifteen. And it had helped control his anger issues. Chris couldn’t complain, but Stiles knew he didn’t like it.
Now he has a dilemma, though. He knows that the Ito pack has been living at the edge of the dump lately. They’re sure to be caught.
Sometimes when he gets wind of a raid, he can get away from whatever he’s doing without arousing suspicion, sneak off the complex, and warn whoever’s in harm’s way. It takes Kate and one of her teams about twenty minutes to suit up, and Stiles knows every shortcut in town. But sometimes he can’t, and now is one of those times. There’s absolutely no way he could get out of the house right now without his parents wondering where he had gone and why.
It’s hard when this happens. It’s the hardest part of his double life, when he know that someone is going to die, but there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
“Stiles?” Allison asks, and laughs when he jolts. “Earth to Stiles. You okay?”
“Yeah, sorry,” Stiles says. “Just really tired.” He puts down his fork and forces himself to smile at his sister. He loves her, and he hates her sometimes, but mostly he just pities her. “I think I’m going to go sack out with that book you were talking about and get some sleep.”
“It’s your night for dishes, Stiles,” Victoria says, with her laser stare. Victoria had been very firm that she didn’t care if Stiles was in the militia; he was still a member of this family and expected to do his part. Ironic, given that her idea of being his mother had always been cold efficiency at best, so markedly different from how she treated her biological daughter.
“Come on, Vicky, look at the poor kid,” Chris says.
When Victoria didn’t bend, Allison says, “I’ll do them for you tonight if you’ll take my turn doing laundry this weekend.”
“Deal,” he says, and he loves his sister again. He feigns a yawn and heads for the bedroom. He can’t sneak out that way. There are bars on his windows – put there after the third time he had run away. Chris had wanted to take them down. Gerard hadn’t allowed it. He likes Stiles knowing that he’s trapped, even when he’s on his best behavior.
So there’s nothing he can do for the Ito pack, beside close his eyes and hope that they manage to get away from Kate and her goons. And there’s nothing Chris can do for him, because every time he tries to get Gerard to soften up on his son, it only makes him harder.
Stiles doesn’t care. He’s tough. And the day of reckoning for Gerard Argent is coming. That thought puts a smile on his mouth as he drifts into sleep.
~ ~ ~ ~