“Derek!” The leaves crunch under Peter’s boots. “Derek!”
His beta is close. Derek positively haunts the charred remains of their family home like a ghost. There’s nowhere else he would be. More than that, Peter can smell him. He smells like pack, like misery, and like ashes.
Peter steps up onto the front porch. The blackened boards creak and groan under his weight. The front door no longer closes properly. The heat of the fire warped those parts of the house that remain. Peter pushes the door open and steps inside.
He wonders if he will ever stop feeling that moment of sickening shock whenever he walks into the house. If, in the future, he will only look at it and see the bones, the ruins, and not somehow expect it to be whole, and clean, and full of laughter. Peter has only been conscious again for a few weeks; the loss is still so fucking fresh. He doesn’t know how Derek can stand the place.
At last his nephew appears at the top of the precarious stairs, pale-faced, clenched jaw, and wearing a customary glower. Peter can taste the hatred rolling off him, souring his scent. He can taste something else too. A strangely fragrant hint of need, of yearning. Peter is the pup’s only remaining pack. He is his alpha. There is a bond between them that is stronger than hate. Derek struggles with it every day.
Peter doesn’t blame him. But then it was Derek’s bad judgement that had brought them here to ashes anyway, wasn’t it? Nobody is innocent.
Derek slinks unwillingly down the steps.
“We have a problem,” Peter says.
Derek curls his lip and doesn’t answer.
“Oh, yes,” Peter says, stepping forward and gripping Derek by the jaw. He twists Derek’s head slightly, forcing his growling beta to bare his throat. “We. We are a pack, Derek, for what it’s worth, and we have a territory to defend. Unless you’d prefer let someone else walk in and take it?”
Derek jerks free of his grasp, but only because Peter allows it to happen. He takes a step back and, glowering, raises his hand to rub his jaw. “Who’s trying to take it?”
Peter let his eyes flash alpha red. “Deucalion.”
“Deucalion?” Derek’s brow scrunches in confusion.
Peter turns on his heel and moves back outside onto the porch. It’s easier to look out into the Preserve instead of into the house.
Derek walks outside with him. “I thought Deucalion was our ally?”
“He was Talia’s ally,” Peter says. “He signed any treaty with her, not with me.”
Derek looks anxious, and for a second Peter sees the ghost of the skinny teenager he remembers from what feels like only weeks ago. Sometimes Peter forgets he’s lost six years, but the face that regards him in the mirror each day is older, sharper. And Derek isn’t a pup anymore.
His nephew’s worry almost amuses Peter. What? Six years of hell, and Derek still doesn’t realise that most people will absolutely take the opportunity to fuck you over when you’re weak? Deucalion might have been their ally once, but he’s still a predator at heart. Or perhaps a scavenger.
Deucalion is someone Peter had counted a friend, once. Possibly still, even, if Deucalion hadn’t wanted to steal his territory. After all, they could have bonded over the way hunters had betrayed them and killed everyone they cared about. Twisted them beyond recognition, leaving them with nothing but bitter memories and a taste for revenge.
Peter sits on the porch and watches as Derek paces back and forth through the overgrown grass and weeds that had once been a well-manicured lawn.
Once, everything was different. Brighter. Peter’s sharp edges hadn’t been honed to jagged points yet. Derek had smiled. The alpha of the Hale Pack had been Talia, Peter’s infuriatingly competent older sister, and Derek’s mother. Their pack had been family, both human and wolf. They were one of the oldest packs. Beacon Hills had been their territory since the first Hale had ventured west sometime in the 1800s. Their pack had been stable, and well-respected.
Before the Argents.
Before the fire.
It’s all gone now.
And now the predators are coming to fight over their bones.
In the sunlight Derek looks even paler. Peter wonders if he has been eating enough, or sleeping enough, but he doesn’t ask. They aren’t the people they had been before the fire, and they never will be again. It isn’t just years ago that Peter had given Derek piggyback rides and fed him candy behind Talia’s back. It is an entirely different lifetime.
“Why would Deucalion want to take our territory now?” Derek asks.
Peter smiles slightly at the petulance in his tone. He stretches his legs out and watches as a bug crawls over the toe of his boot. So what if he draws the silence out a little? He’s always enjoyed being just a bit theatrical, a little bit cruel.
“Well,” he says at last, looking up to meet Derek’s gaze. “Deucalion was always fond of Laura. Maybe he didn’t want to kill her, so he waited until I’d done the job for him.”
Derek flinches like he’s been slapped.
After Derek runs into the woods with his tail between his legs, Peter returns to the edge of town. He’s not pleased about his godawful two-star motel room on the seedy side of Beacon Hills, now with bonus suspicious stains, but until he can get to the family money it will have to do. And, greasy curtains and mildewed tiles aside, it’s nicer than Derek’s digs.
Peter is keeping a low profile.
As far as he is aware, it’s not at all typical for a man who’s been in a coma for six years to one day just walk out of his room. Even if he woke up, the muscle wastage should have literally crippled him. It’s entirely possible that the hospital staff and the police think that Jennifer, his nurse, kidnapped him. Peter isn’t sure if that’s what he was going for when he bundled her body into the trunk of her car and drove it away. He doesn’t remember a lot about what happened when he was newly awoken from the coma.
Peter is better now.
A relative term, probably.
He only knows that all the rage that had been coursing through him that night, that had been building up inside him for years while he lay trapped in the burned husk of his own body, all of that had flooded away in an instant when he’d looked down and seen Laura bleeding out on the forest floor.
And then the rush of alpha power had hit him, and he realised exactly what he’d done.
Peter sits in his little hotel room and tries not to pick up on the scents of every person who’s stayed there—slept there, ate there, fucked there; their scents are overlaid with grease and sweat and cheap alcohol—and tries to pretend that this isn’t hell he’s living in.
In the woods, in the red-tinged vision and the madness, there had been a boy. Boys. Teenagers, who smelled of sweat and fear and sweet pounding blood. Peter bit one. He knows he did. He can feel the presence of his newest beta around the town. Can feel his anger and his confusion and his fear, and his new wolf’s aching need to be with its alpha. The boy must have figured out by now what’s wrong with him—although the bite is a gift, not a curse—and yet he stays away. Peter doesn’t push, for now. Until the threat of the alpha pack is resolved, a newly-turned beta will add nothing to the game but a higher body count. And Peter doesn’t have the time or the patience to train a new beta yet.
If they actually come out of this alive, then he’ll seek out the beta. Or, rather, command the beta seek him out. In the meantime the boy will either succumb to monstrous bloodlust, or he’ll somehow manage to learn control. Either way, he’ll be an asset to the pack.
“Peter. Good evening.”
It’s late. Close to midnight. Peter wouldn’t be out otherwise. He’s still a missing coma patient, after all. But the gas station is on the edge of town, and doesn’t get many customers at this hour, and the clerk is clearly a stoner who wouldn’t recognise his own face let alone Peter Hale’s, and, well, sometimes a man just craves a blue raspberry slushie.
Peter leans back against the hood of Derek’s Camaro. “Duke.”
He wonders if the slight smile that lifts the corners of Deucalion’s mouth is because of his lack of respect, or because the old nickname reminds him of when they were actually friends.
“I heard you were awake,” Deucalion says.
“Then you also heard I’m an alpha.”
“Yes.” Deucalion raises his eyebrows, and stares at Peter through his dark glasses. He claims blindness, but Peter’s not sure of that. Deucalion still manages to give the impression he can see more clearly than most men. “Poor Laura.”
Yes. Well. Peter tells himself that the man he was died in the fire, and that only the wolf survived. And the wolf is a predator. He tells himself that, but when he blinks in the sickly yellow light of the gas station forecourt, he can still see Laura’s bright eyes and her evil little grin as they planned some mischief together. Can still see her pigtails bobbing on top of her head and hear the slap of her little sandals on the floor.
“Stop following me around, brat.”
Can still see the way she jutted out her chin and poked her tongue out at him. “No!”
Stubborn little monster. He’d adored her.
The man he had been would have died rather than hurt her.
The man the fire killed.
“What do you want, Duke?”
“I want Beacon Hills,” Deucalion says, and at least he’s honest.
Peter rolls his eyes. “I thought you had a treaty with the Hales.”
“That treaty was with your sister, not with you,” Deucalion says, predictably. “You’re unstable, Peter. Derek’s not much better. Neither of you can be trusted to maintain this territory anymore. Beacon Hills deserves an alpha who can keep it safe.”
“Well, how generous of you to offer to step up.” Peter keeps his hands in his pockets and slouches a little. This is a friendly chat between old friends, right? Not a challenge. Not yet. Peter won’t make the first move. Not because he gives a flying fuck about a worthless treaty and an even more worthless friendship, but because he knows if this becomes a fight, he’ll lose. Everything about Deucalion screams power, and Peter is still trying to come to grips with this whole alpha business. He’s untried. He got lucky with Laura, he knows. She wasn’t expecting him to attack. She loved him. He forces a smirk. “And Derek and I will do what? Move to Minnesota and keep bees?”
“Bees?” Above his dark glasses, Deucalion’s forehead creases in a frown.
Is the climate even right in Minnesota to keep bees? It doesn’t matter. It was worth it just to force an Arrested Development quote on an oblivious Deucalion. Peter takes his victories where he can find them.
Around them, Peter’s aware that there are others watching, slinking slowly out of the darkness and into the edges of the light. Deucalion’s pack, probably. Not the same one killed by the Argents. Not the dregs of a pack that Peter is reduced to. Knowing Deucalion, he’s come back from the brink of death bigger and better than ever. Peter wishes he could say the same about himself. He catches a glimpse of movement in his periphery, but isn’t stupid enough to look away from Deucalion.
“Or possibly ostriches,” Peter says.
Deucalion smiles, and shows his fangs. “Do you remember how we used to talk about doing something great, Peter? Something that would change history?”
Oh, now that takes him back.
“I remember how you used to talk about how werewolves were the dominant species,” Peter says. “You had great plans for, what was it? Enslaving humanity?”
Deucalion’s smile vanishes. “For reclaiming our rightful place. For no longer living in the shadows, in fairytales.”
“Really? I’m sure there was at least some implied enslavement in there somewhere.” Peter flashes his own sharp smile. “Idle talk and hypotheticals, Duke. When the things lower than you on the food chain have tanks and nuclear weapons, it’s kind of hard to feel so smug about the claws and the fangs.”
“It’s not.” Peter stares at him intently. “You out our kind, and it won’t just be hunters that’ll come for us. It’ll be all of them. Every human in the world.”
“It can be done,” Deucalion says, and Peter realizes that he’s not the only mad one in this conversation. In fact, he might even be the sane one here. That’s new.
“So why do you want Beacon Hills?” he asks, even though he knows the answer.
“The Nemeton,” Deucalion says, his voice as low as a prayer.
Peter is a lot of things, but no.
The Hales have never used the power of the Nemeton. They’ve guarded it, and kept it secret. It’s too powerful to use. Even Peter knows that.
“No,” he says.
“You can be in my pack, Peter,” Deucalion tells him. “I’ll even take Derek, if that’s what you want. Don’t look at me and pretend you don’t want to make them pay.”
Oh, but he does.
He wants to make the Argents pay. But he’s not crazy enough to believe that a war between wolves and humanity is the way to do it.
“No,” he says again. “I am the Alpha of Beacon Hills. This is my territory now.”
He’s not at all surprised when Deucalion attacks.
The fight is actually over in minutes. It starts with posturing, with growling, and with the flash of alpha red eyes. And not just from Deucalion and Peter. Jesus Christ. Deucalion’s pack is made up of alphas.
Peter is definitely going to die.
Still, at least he’ll die trying to do the right thing. It will never be enough to wipe his slate clean, but maybe…
It will never be enough.
Peter howls in agony as Deucalion’s claws swipe down his chest, barely missing his throat. He spins away from the Camaro, drops into a protective half-crouch, and all he can see are flashing red eyes.
Red. Red. Red. Then blue.
Red and blue. Red and blue.
He becomes aware of the wail of sirens, and breathes a prayer of thanks to the stoner clerk who apparently still has at least one or two brain cells he hasn’t fried with weed tonight. Deucalion and his alpha pack melt back into the darkness, and Peter fumbles with the keys of the Camaro, dropping them once before he can find the ignition.
He guns the engine and peels away from the gas station just as the cops are pulling in.
All he can smell is blood.
Back at the hotel, Peter bleeds miserably into the bedsheets while Derek does his best to tend his wounds until they heal. It’s hard. Derek both craves his alpha’s approval, and distrusts it. It both comforts him and distresses him, and Peter isn’t sure which one amuses him more.
“The police came,” Peter mutters at last when his skin finally knits.
Derek narrows his eyes at that. “What?”
“Idiot,” Peter hisses, and then rolls his eyes at Derek’s expression. “Not you. Deucalion. Risking our exposure like that.” He sighs. “Of course we’ve got more to lose than him. I’m a missing coma patient, and you’re some sort of creepy weirdo who was discovered burying his dead sister beside his burned down house. A reputation like that, Derek? It sticks.”
“Don’t.” Derek’s eyes flash blue, and his voice lowers to something a lot like a growl. “Don’t even joke about that, Peter.”
Peter’s not sure it was a joke, but he lets Derek’s attitude slide for now. There will be plenty of time to correct him later, provided they’re not both dead.
Peter slumps back down on the bed, and runs his fingers over his abdomen. It’s been hours, but the scars are still pink. “Deucalion has an alpha pack, and he wants the Nemeton.”
Derek’s eyes widen, and Peter knows he doesn’t need to explain any further.
They’re both screwed.
Deucalion sends him a text message, of all things. It’s hardly super villain standard, but it is convenient. He wants to meet again.
Fuck that for a joke.
Peter calls him. “Duke.”
“Peter.” Deucalion’s voice is as smooth as warm honey. “How are you feeling?”
“Just dandy,” Peter says, his voice sharp.
“Have you thought any more about the offer to join my pack?”
“I’ve thought of little else,” Peter says. “My answer won’t change. Have fun plotting your little war when you don’t even have this territory yet and you’ve already managed to get the police involved. How long, I wonder, until they view the footage from the gas station and call in the army?”
Deucalion’s laugh is low and amused. “Well, call me again when you’re ready to talk terms. In the meantime, don’t worry about the police. We’ve given them something far more important to worry about.”
He ends the call.
That night Peter hears his unknown beta howling in the woods.
The sound of it chills him, and reverberates in his bones.
It sounds exactly like heartbreak.