“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.
Alan Deaton was Talia Hale’s emissary. Emissaries, like treaties, it turns out, are non-transferable. Peter learns that the hard way when he steps into the Beacon Hills Animal Clinic the next morning, and can’t get past the damn counter. Deaton’s lined it with mountain ash.
The place stinks of animals, antiseptic, and strange werewolves. Peter’s lip curls up in a snarl.
“Have you been entertaining Deucalion’s pack, Alan?”
Deaton must be shocked to see him, really, but the man has never had the good grace to appear surprised in his life. He just wears that same curious look he always does, head tilted on a slight angle like a bright-eyed bird inspecting something shiny. He regards Peter from behind the counter. “Peter Hale. You’re the alpha.”
“I’m an alpha,” Peter tells him. “One of many currently in town, unfortunately. Therein lies the problem.”
The bells on the door jingle as Derek slinks inside.
Something almost pitying crosses Deaton’s face, and Peter feels a stab of annoyance at that. Derek is a sorry specimen indeed if Deaton is actually moved to make a facial expression.
“Derek," Deaton says.
Derek meets Deaton’s gaze for a second, and then looks sharply away again. His guilt grates on Peter’s nerves. He resents it, he finds, because he’s enough of an asshole to wonder if Derek’s only doing it all for show. To make a point. To taunt Peter with his melodramatic self-loathing and his misery because Peter doesn’t act guilty enough. Because Peter doesn’t feel guilty enough. Because if he’s not rending his clothes and wailing on the floor, it must not be enough.
Derek’s fucking judging him, Peter knows.
As though Peter hasn’t lost exactly as much as Derek has.
Derek lifts his nose to take in the strange scent in the clinic. His eyes flash blue, and he curls his lip in a silent growl.
“Are you Deucalion’s emissary now?” Peter asks Deaton. “This place stinks of were.”
“I am not and never will be Deucalion’s emissary,” Deaton says. There is a hint of steel in his usually mild tone. His heartbeat doesn’t skip. It means nothing of course. An emissary knows all the tricks. “I was Talia’s emissary. I swore to serve only the Hale pack.”
“You watched us burn,” Peter says softly.
Deaton’s expression falters, and might just show actual human emotion for a second there. “There is nothing I regret more in the world than what happened to the pack, Peter.” His glances shifts from Peter to Derek and then back again. “To all of you.”
Peter shrugs. “Still, you seem to be doing quite well for yourself.”
Deaton runs his fingers along the counter separating them. “I’m doing fine.”
“Good,” Peter says, smiling. “Good. How nice for you.”
Derek’s mouth twitches in what might be the first smile Peter has seen from him since he woke up. It's brief and bitter.
“Still, to get to the point,” Peter says, “Deucalion has an alpha pack, and he wants Beacon Hills. And I have Derek.” He raises his eyebrows. “You see the problem.”
Derek growls under his breath.
“Apparently madness is de rigueur this season,” Peter tells Deaton. “You remember how Duke got after a few hours on James’s wolfsbane whiskey? He had all the grand plans. He remembered all the old songs too, and the most embarrassing stories.” He huffs out something that is more or less a rueful laugh. “Well, apparently he thinks it’s time for us to come out of the shadows and take our rightful place in the world. Which, for some reason, Duke thinks will end in glory and triumph. I’m more of the opinion it will end with my moth-eaten pelt on the floor of some asshole’s trophy room.”
Deaton’s brow furrows. “Deucalion always used to think so too.”
“Ah, but now he’s remembered the Nemeton,” Peter says. “All the ancient druidic power he could possibly want. That thing could withstand a nuclear blast, surely? A nuclear blast, or a chemical weapon, or whatever miracle of science the humans could turn on us.”
“Theoretically, perhaps.” Deaton shrugs. “But the Nemeton is dead. It has been for years. Deucalion must know that as well.”
“Dead?” Peter asks. “Or just asleep? Because, trust me, it’s very easy to get those two things mixed up. Very easy to assume a sleeping thing is never going to wake. Right, Derek?”
Derek’s glance is full of hurt, and so it should be. They left him. Laura and Derek ran away from the ashes of the family home, and they left Peter trapped in the hospital in a coma, while his wolf went mad. Who knows now if their presence would have calmed him, or helped him to heal faster? Maybe if Laura had stayed, had held his hand sometimes and told him with an alpha’s quiet authority that he was going to be okay, then maybe it would have been true. Maybe he wouldn’t have hated her so much that moment they met again in the woods. Maybe his wolf wouldn’t have needed to hurt her like she’d hurt him.
Or maybe that’s not why he killed her at all.
He’s not even sure anymore.
“Is there any way to wake the Nemeton?” Peter asks.
“I don’t know,” Deaton says. “I suppose it’s possible.”
“The man has a pack full of alphas. I certainly wouldn’t discount anything about him,” Peter says. “Speaking of, how do we kill a pack of alphas?”
“I’m not your emissary, Peter,” Deaton reminds him.
Peter’s half-surprised it took him this long to push back. “I’m well aware of that, Alan. But unless you actually want Deucalion to start a war with humanity, then maybe we should pool our knowledge at this point.”
Deaton’s expression is impossible to read. So is his scent. “Yes,” he says at last. “I’ll look into it.”
“Good,” Peter says. “And Alan?”
Deaton meets his gaze steadily.
“It stinks of werewolf in here,” Peter says, lifting his nose. “If I find out you’ve been dealing with the alpha pack behind my pack, I’ll tear your throat out.”
“You have a strange way of buying loyalty, Peter.”
Peter smirks at him. “I’m not in the market for loyalty, Alan. Just information. I find it’s less disappointing to everyone involved.”
He sweeps out of the clinic, and Derek follows in his wake
Derek paces a lot in the confined space of Peter’s rented motel room. Peter watches him, his wolf alternately on edge or amused by his beta’s restlessness. It would be simple enough to growl at Derek to stay still, to force him into submission, but something about watching Derek’s unease settles his own. Let him wear a track into the thin, ugly carpet. It could only improve the look of the room, really.
Peter sits at the small table and looks out the window into the parking lot. The “No” in the “vacancy” sign keeps flickering on and off, on and off. Peter doesn’t know it that means there are any spare rooms or not. He can’t imagine there are people lined up to stay in a place as thin-walled and cheap and miserable as this one, but who really knows?
It’s late summer. The leaves in the Preserve will be turning gold at the edges, and then red. Whispering together as the wind hides amongst them. Peter has always loved the Preserve in summer. He wonders if he still would, now that the heart of it, the Hale house, smells like ash. Peter won’t have the opportunity to find out as long as he’s confined to this damn hotel room.
He watches the passing traffic. He expects a visit from the Sherriff’s Department.
They would have seen the Camaro on the footage from the gas station. Would have found out who it was registered to. They would have seen Peter as well. Seen missing coma patient Peter Hale and a blind man transform suddenly into monsters.
Peter feels a chill at the thought of it.
He wonders who the police will call first: the National Guard or the CDC?
Whether they treat it like an invasion or an outbreak, the result will be the same: exposure.
Except nothing happens.
Maybe Deucalion wasn’t just bragging when he said not to worry about the police.
Maybe he really has come up with something that can distract them from looking into a random fight at a gas station where nobody stuck around to make a complaint, and where any stories about fangs and flashing eyes can be put down to the drug-induced hallucinations of the stoner clerk.
“Can he really do it?” Derek asks eventually, sounding like the words have been dragged kicking and screaming unwillingly all the way into the light.
“Really do what?”
“Can he really start a war between humans and us?”
“Well…” Peter shrugs. “I don’t know, Derek. I’ve been in a coma for six years. I haven’t exactly kept up on either human or werewolf politics, have I? For all I know this talk of war is just to make us turn tail and run, and this shit about revealing our existence to humans and claiming the Nemeton is just to prove how fucking crazy he is so that I don’t challenge him.” He sighs. And drags his fingers through his hair. “I don’t know.”
Derek hunches over slightly, like he’s trying to vanish into the space between his shoulders. He jams his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. Derek in a leather jacket. It’s funny, really. Derek shouldn’t be able to pull of that look at all. Not when Peter still can’t shake the idea of him as a sixteen-year-old skinny mathlete.
But Derek’s not a kid anymore. Not a pup. He’s strong. Not strong enough to be much use against an alpha pack, but who is?
Not Derek, and not Peter either.
The unknown beta tugs at the edges of Peter’s consciousness. He’s frightened and angry and confused. He’s volatile. Derek feels it too. Peter can tell. It’s not just the presence of the alpha pack that’s making his nephew unsettled. It’s the beta. It’s the howl at the core of him that echoes through the pack bond.
It’s not the howl that a wolf makes to the mother moon, telling her that he’s here, that he sees her, that he loves her light.
It’s the howl of a creature afraid he’s trapped in the darkness forever.
“Deucalion is a wolf,” Peter says the next morning.
Derek stares at him.
“He thinks like a wolf,” Peter says. He’s reclining on the bed, flipping through the Gideon’s Bible. He’s already torn out three pages and folded cranes out of them. “He thinks he can issue a challenge, we’ll fight, and he’ll win. I’ll either be killed, or I’ll make myself his subordinate. Those are the only two options he envisages. The wolf is a deceptively simple creature, really.”
Derek shrugs. “So?”
“So our only advantage, nephew, is to think like men.”
The knock on his neighbor’s door wakes Peter from a slumber. He blinks around in the soft light of the early morning. Derek isn’t here. He’s probably gone for breakfast, or to lurk up the burned-out remains of the house again. Peter doesn’t know what satisfaction he can possibly get from that. Derek was honestly never the sort of kid who enjoyed wallowing in self-pity. Unlike Peter at times, he’ll allow. Perhaps he feels closer to the pack there, to their ghosts. Perhaps he closes his eyes and shuts out the sight of the ruined house, and lets them come to him one by one, a procession of insubstantial memories and the echo of voices he will never hear again. Perhaps it’s not pain he’s seeking, but solace.
Or perhaps it’s his guilt that drives him there, and always will.
Peter doesn’t know.
He rubs his eyes and listens to the low murmur of conversation from next door. He could sharpen his focus and pick up every word if he wanted, but he can’t imagine it’s anything worth hearing.
Until the door snicks shut, the chain is drawn back across it, and a pair of steady footsteps makes their way to Peter’s door instead. There’s a moment of silence, then three sharp raps.
“Police. Open up, please.”
The please throws him a little. He stands up and then crosses the door to open it.
A deputy gives him a polite smile. She’s short and delicate. She looks like she can barely hold up the weight of her utility belt. It’s deceptive, probably.
“Good morning, sir.”
“Morning.” Peter is a missing coma patient, but the last time anyone saw him at the hospital half of his face was still covered in scars. Peter hopes that should be enough to prevent the deputy from making the connection. Derek’s Camaro isn’t in the parking lot. There is nothing here that should link Peter to either the gas station melee, or the Hale name.
“Just routine,” the deputy opens with, even though Peter hasn’t asked. She thrusts a piece of paper toward him. “Have you seen this missing person?”
It’s a photocopy of a photograph. Peter can see where the photocopier has preserved a series of bends and tears in the edges of the original photograph. He thinks that someone tried to shove it into a frame a fraction too small for its size. He feels the absurd urge to try and rub the bends away.
A boy in a Beacon Hills High lacrosse uniform beams out of the photocopy. He’s pale. Prominent cheekbones. His face is dotted with moles. He has wide dark eyes. He looks as deceptively fragile as the deputy doorknocking the hotel. His hair is buzzed into a style Peter would happily call tragic, except it’s very likely that given the way the police are showing his photograph to strangers, that the boy’s definition of tragedy has recently expanded to encompass much more than an unflattering buzzcut.
“No,” he says. “I’m sorry, no.”
“If you think of anything, or if you see him, please call the Sheriff’s Department immediately,” the deputy says. Her scent smells sour with anxiety. It’s a small town. It’s not unlikely that she knows him.
“I will,” Peter says. He takes another look at the photocopy, to prove to the deputy he’s being a good citizen more than anything, and then hands it back.
“Thank you for your time, sir.”
Peter closes the door, and lies back down on the bed. He folds his arms behind his head and stares at a faint watermark on the ceiling.
Derek arrives back at the hotel about half an hour later with a bag of takeout. He sets it out on the table, glowering slightly when Peter thanks him. A folded-up flier falls out of the bag with the napkins. Derek opens it.
It’s the boy again.
STILES STILINSKI, the flier says. MISSING.
“Stilinski,” Peter muses as he unwraps his burger. The name is familiar. “There’s a deputy called Stilinski, isn’t there?”
“He’s the sheriff now,” Derek says, and reaches for the flier. “This is his kid. He was hanging around the station when I got questioned about…about Laura.”
Maybe one day Peter won’t feel the sting when he hears Derek say her name. Half accusation, half heartbreak. Today is clearly not that day.
“Ah,” he says, his stomach twisting, and looks at the kid’s picture again. “I suppose that’s what Deucalion meant when he said he’d given the police something bigger to worry about.”
He and Derek finish their breakfast in silence.
Wolves are noble creatures.
Humans… not so much.
It takes Peter three days to find out where Deucalion and his pack are holed up. It takes another two to source aconite from Deaton.
It’s still a week to go until full moon. And Peter wants this finished before full moon.
“What?” he asks as Deaton regards him passively. “You’d rather Deucalion won this territory?”
Deaton slides the jar of powder across the counter, leaving it on the very edge where Peter can reach it. “No. But needless to say I don’t agree with your methods.”
Peter wraps a towel around the jar before he picks it up. “Well, if this works, I’d be happy to subject myself to a lengthy lecture about my morality, or lack thereof. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll find Deucalion a fair and just alpha.”
“You were never this flippant before, Peter.”
“Before what?” Peter asks, nestling the heavy jar in the crook of his elbow. “Before I lost literally everything that was worth living for? Well, pardon me if I don’t give enough of a fuck to be duly invested in Deucalion’s super villain shtick.”
Deaton’s gaze flicks to the front window, to where Derek is pacing outside. “Surely you didn’t lose quite everything?”
“Don’t be so certain,” Peter tells him. “We’re not the people you knew. Derek will put me in the ground the second he thinks he’s strong enough.”
“And you’ll let him?” Deaton asks mildly, raising his eyebrows.
“Everything, Alan,” Peter tells him. “It was everything.”
“Then why are you trying to stop Deucalion?”
Peter considers that for a moment.
Because this is his territory, and no fucker gets to just think they can take it.
Because this is his home, and he really would rather die than leave.
Because somewhere out there in the world there are other packs like his was once—peaceful packs, living their quiet lives, laughing with their mates, playing hide and seek with their pups in the woods—and if Deucalion starts a war with humanity then those other packs will be slaughtered.
Because even though he’s a monster, can’t he be more than that too?
Because he owes it to his pack. To Laura. To Derek.
Because he sometimes likes to think there’s a part of him that the fire didn’t quite destroy, and he owes it to himself as well to try and be a better man.
Of course he can’t tell Deaton any of that. He can’t even properly articulate it to himself.
Peter only smirks, and pats his jar of aconite powder. “Have you seen daytime television, Alan? I’ll take a hopeless crusade over Doctor Oz any day of the week.”
Peter’s skin itches. He’s as restless as Derek. He wants to get out into the Preserve and run. It’s impossible though. The Preserve is crawling with people. With deputies, with volunteers, with hunters. Chris Argent is back in town, and playing the family man and concerned citizen. He’s out there every day with the rest of them, combing the woods for a lost boy with big eyes and a buzzcut.
The Preserve isn’t safe.
Peter and Derek stay in their hotel room, caged and on edge.
Peter wonder if his beta feels the pull of the woods as well.
He wonders if he knows enough to stay away.
Peter doesn’t need to look at Derek to know that his nephew thinks this isn’t going to work. Hell, he agrees, if he’s honest. But what else have they got?
Deucalion and the alpha pack are holed up in a warehouse on the southern end of town. What is it with villains and warehouses? Okay, so Peter’s hotel room is hardly the Ritz, but at least it has running water and a mini-fridge. He wonders if Deucalion prowls around in the dark warehouse and dreams about all the palaces he’ll claim when humanity is dead.
Like humanity isn’t petty enough to take civilization with them when they go. Like they wouldn’t raze their own cities before letting them fall to the enemy. They’ll raze their cities and scorch the Earth before they hand it over.
Deucalion is a fool if he doesn’t see that.
But maybe he does.
Maybe he knows he’s talking bullshit. Maybe he just wants revenge. Maybe he just wants to kill as many humans as he can before they kill him.
Peter can understand that. More than most, probably.
Peter wipes his bloody claws on a handkerchief, and drops in the flimsy fabric into the footwell of the Camaro.
He and Derek get out of the car and head for the warehouse.
“We’re here to talk,” Peter says.
The woman, Kali, grins at them. “You walked right into our den, Hale.”
“So I did,” Peter says. He’s not going to be intimidated by her, by the wildness barely contained by her skin. She moves like the wolf is just below the surface. She prowls. “But if you really want to know where the Nemeton is, you’re going to need to keep me alive. You could wander the Preserve for years without ever stumbling on it.”
“Or we might find it in an hour,” Kali growls.
“Perhaps.” Peter shrugs. “If that’s a gamble you want to make.”
“Kali,” Deucalion says, a smile curving his mouth. “Peter and Derek are our guests. Do show them some courtesy.”
How very civilized of him.
“They were invited, after all,” Deucalion continues.
Kali peels back with a flash of her eyes.
Deucalion wouldn’t be Deucalion without having brought in a few luxuries. In the vast dusty space of the main warehouse there are chairs and couches scattered around. A dank little court for a mean little emperor. Deucalion takes a seat on the most comfortable of the armchairs. Derek and Peter share a couch. The rest of the alphas—four of them—perch on various chairs.
Peter jumps right in. “I want an alliance,” he says.
Popular belief says that werewolves can’t lie; their elevated heartbeats will give them away every time. The trick is to learn to lie without an elevated heartbeat. It’s not so hard. Many sociopaths can manage it. And Peter has always skirted very close to sociopathy. It’s a feature, he told Talia archly once, not a bug.
“Really?” Deucalion asks, a slow smile spreading across his face. “You seemed a lot less amenable the last time we spoke.”
“I’ve had time to think,” Peter says honestly. “To view the reality of the situation. I don’t agree with revealing ourselves to humanity, but if you’re bringing a war, I know which side I’d rather be on.”
Deucalion is narcissistic enough to assume Peter means his side.
“I don’t make alliances anymore,” he says finally, his smile fading. “But I will welcome you into my pack.”
“No,” Peter says, and Derek looks at him warily. Please. As if Deucalion doesn’t want him to play a little hard to get. Where’s the fun in forcing dominance on someone only too willing to submit? Wolves like a challenge. “I’m offering to share my territory, Duke. But joining your pack? I’m not ready to do that. Not yet.”
He leaves the yet there as a shining lure spinning on a hook. It gives something for Deucalion to circle around for a while, before he snaps it up in his jaws.
Deucalion seems pleased. He thinks he’s winning. That’s good. That’s exactly what Peter wants him to think.
The wolves all sit up a little straighter, wary, as they hear the sound of an approaching car. A little old yellow Mazda, if Peter remembers rightly. It’s only a few minutes late.
“Food’s here,” one of the twin alphas says, pushing himself up from his chair.
“You found someone who’ll deliver out here?” Peter asks, raising his eyebrows. Like he doesn’t already know the answer to that question. It didn’t take long to figure out the alpha pack’s routine at all.
Deucalion laughs. “We tip well.”
“You’d have to,” Peter says, looking around the place.
He listens to the low exchange of conversation between the twin and the delivery driver, and a moment later the twin pads back into the main room with bags full of Thai food. It’s spicy and pungent. It’s perfect.
Peter listens as the car starts up outside again, and rumbles away.
“Oh god! Oh my god! I carry less than twenty in change, man! Please don’t hurt me!”
Derek wrenched the guy out of the driver’s seat by the front of his shirt, and pushed him face down against the hood of the yellow car.
“What the hell, man? Please, come on. Look, take my wallet, and my phone, but please don’t hurt me!”
“I don’t want your wallet or your phone,” Peter said, reaching into the car to pull the bags of food out.
“You want the fucking Pad Thai? Seriously?”
Peter rolled his eyes and set the bags down on the hood. He rolled the plastic down and opened each of the plastic boxes inside. Fragrant steam rose from them. Peter pulled on his latex gloves, and opened the jar of aconite powder.
“What is that?” the guy yelped. “What the hell are you doing?”
“None of your concern,” Peter told him. “Just deliver it like usual.”
“I can’t do that! I can’t do that, man!”
“You can,” Peter told him, watching the powder dissolve into the plastic boxes. He pressed the lids back on.
“I can't poison my customers!”
“Trust me,” Peter told him, letting his claws pop free. He moved around behind the guy and pressed his claws to the back of his neck. “You won’t even remember this happened.”
It takes the alpha pack less than a few mouthfuls to realize they’ve been poisoned. The beauty of aconite though is that it’s incredibly fast acting.
“No!” Peter says as Derek goes for Kali’s throat. She’s writhing on the floor, choking. He can’t have Derek kill an alpha and become one. “Leave the killing for me!”
Derek glares at him, but nods. He holds Kali down while Peter tears her throat out.
They leave Deucalion for last. It’s almost a shame. He’s really not coherent by the time Peter gets to him, covered in blood, claws dripping.
“I get it,” Peter tells him, crouching over him. “Don’t think I don’t get it, Duke. The Argents killed my pack too. But revenge should be as precise and exacting as a scalpel. Not as fucking indiscriminate as a shrapnel bomb. Where’s the pleasure in that?”
He rips his claws through Deucalion’s throat.
He takes no real joy in doing it.
They were friends, once. Whatever else has happened since, they were friends.
And tonight Peter is going to get very drunk on wolfsbane whiskey and remember that.
When Peter comes back to himself from the red-tinged world of his alpha’s vision, Derek is slouching by one of the twin’s bodies, looking down at him like he’s expecting to feel something different than whatever it is he does. Peter wonders if he’s even killed before, or been this close to a kill. The madness, at least, protected Peter from most of the horror. Provided a barrier for it, or something. When he started killing those who’d helped Kate Argent kill his pack, he’d felt nothing but satisfaction. It hadn’t even occurred to him to take a moment to come to terms with the fact he was now a killer before he’d moved onto his next target. He might have been a killer, but he was no worse than those he killed.
“What now?” Derek asks him, his voice soft. Vulnerable. He’s holding a can of gasoline he must have fetched from the Camaro when Peter was still high on the rush of power from killing so many alphas.
Derek knows what the plan is, of course he knows, but of course he can’t start a fire. Not without Peter’s order. The idea of it sickens Peter too. Not because he gives a fuck about Deucalion and the others, but because fire. He can still feel his skin melting. Can still feel the agony down to his bones.
“Do it,” he growls out.
Derek splashes the gasoline around, his face paler than usual.
“Light it up.” Peter’s tired. He wants to shower. He wants to sleep. He doesn’t want to deal with a needy beta. “We’ll go back to the hotel, get cleaned up, get some takeout and—”
They both turn toward the sudden noise from further back in the warehouse. Too big for a rat.
There are old offices or storerooms built into the back wall of the warehouse. Peter walks toward them slowly. He’s close when he first picks up the faint, rapid heartbeat. Oh yes. Much too big to be a rat. And the stench of fear, and of pain, can only be human.
He pushes open the unlatched door to one of the small rooms. Slides his hand up the wall and is gratified when he finds the switch and the light actually works. The bulb pings and buzzes into life.
The boy in the corner flinches still.
He’s sprawled on a thin, dirty mattress. He’s naked, and covered in scratches and blood. Bruises, both fresh and those mottled brown and yellow with age, make him appear like some sort of grotesque Impressionist painting. His wrists are tied behind his back. He’s blindfolded.
“Holy shit,” Derek whispers.
The boy jerks at the sound, and tries to draw his shaking legs up.
Peter crosses the floor, claws extended. He kneels behind the boy and slices the ropes free. The boy doesn’t move his shaking hands from the small of his back.
Peter is afraid to touch him. His heartbeat is as rapid as a rabbit’s held in the jaws of a wolf. Why the hell didn’t Duke kill him already?
The boy draws in a shuddering breath, and moves at last. He hugs one arm to his chest. He reaches out with the other one to touch the wall in front of him. Is he situating himself? Peter doesn’t know. He only stares at the bloody handprint the boy leaves behind on the wall. Then the boy drops his hand to the mattress. His fingers twitch and he mumbles something.
It takes Peter a long time to actually parse the sounds into words:
“Save me. Please save me. Dad, please.”
Shit shit shit.
Peter eases the blindfold off.
Tear-filled eyes the color of amber stare blankly up at him for a second before the boy curls into himself and starts whimpering. He’s shaking still, and delirious either with fear or pain, or with starvation and dehydration.
Peter’s too tired, he thinks, to be outraged on behalf of this boy. Too bone fucking weary to summon up something even resembling anger. He reaches down and rests his palm on the boy’s shoulder. The boy stiffens and sobs, but very gradually begins to relax as his pain ebbs slowly away.
Pain is a strange thing. It’s not a bad thing, not in and of itself. Pain is merely the body’s warning that it’s injured. Peter might be taking his pain, but he knows he isn’t healing any injuries the boy is carrying. He urgently needs a doctor.
“I’m going to lift you now,” he says, and bundles the boy into his arms.
The boy cries silently.
Peter walks through the warehouse with him. He senses the moment the boy’s gaze falls on the bodies of the alphas, hears his sharp intake of breath.
“I said to light it up, Derek!” he growls.
He’s at the door when he feels the sickening wall of heat at his back. The boy in his arms stares up at him. The reflection of flames flickers in his eyes.
“No such thing as werewolves, sweetheart,” Peter says, the old endearment sounding twisted somehow. Tasting bitter. “Understand?”
“Y-yeah.” The boy’s voice is raw, probably from screaming.
“Good,” Peter tells him. “That’s good.”
Peter stands in the darkness long enough to make sure the sheriff answers the knock on his door. He melts away when he hears the man’s voice break on his son’s name. Sees him drop to his knees on the porch and gather the kid into his arms.
Derek is waiting a block away with the car.
“What if he turns?” he asks. “What if they bit him?”
“He’s still human,” Peter says, clipping his seatbelt on.
“What if he tells?”
Peter thinks of the kid, broken and traumatized. “Who would even believe it?”
He thinks of the boy’s answer. His shaky affirmation. He decides he’ll believe the boy was aware enough to know what he was promising. He decides that the boy is clever enough to know that if he tells the truth, he’ll end up in Eichen House. Whatever story the kid comes up with, Peter knows it won’t contain werewolves.
“I thought you were going to kill him.”
“So did I.” It’s not a lie.
But he couldn’t.
Please save me. Dad, please.
There was too much of an echo in the boy’s voice for Peter to pretend he didn’t hear it. To pretend that the way the boy was delirious but still calling for his dad didn’t hit exactly the same pitch of desperate fear as Caleb’s voice once had.
Daddy! Daddy! Daddy, it burns!
Six years ago, but it feels like weeks.
He couldn’t save his own son that night.
But tonight he saved another man’s.
It doesn’t make it even. It doesn’t begin to tilt the balance into anything like justice. It doesn’t wipe Peter’s slate clean. It’s something though. Peter just doesn’t know what.
“We need to stop for whiskey,” he tells Derek as they drive back toward the shitty side of town.
Back at the hotel, the flier from the diner a few days ago is still unfolded on the table. The picture of a grinning Stiles Stilinski seems to mock them all.
Once the sheriff’s son is home again, the woods are empty of search parties. It means that Peter can finally get out of the hotel again, and breathe. Even Derek seems to loosen up a little, and for the first time Peter wonders if maybe Derek’s not planning on killing him after all. He wants to, of course, but what then? He’ll have no-one. He’ll be the only Hale left. And the prospect of that, Peter knows, is truly horrifying.
They won’t ever be what they were, but maybe they can forge something new out of the shattered pieces of their lives. Maybe. It’s hard for Peter to know if he’s being realistic, or if that’s just wishful thinking.
“How would you feel about rebuilding the house?” he asks idly a few days after they’ve taken care of the alpha pack.
In the clearing, the charred bones of the house mock him.
“I don’t know,” Derek says. It’s not an answer, but it’s painfully honest.
Peter reaches out and grips him by the wrist. Pulls him close and scents him. Derek is unwilling, his scent soured, but Peter only has to apply a little pressure with his thumb to have Derek bare his throat. He feels the moment that Derek submits. It tastes like relief.
Derek’s resentment is like a bucket under a leaking roof. It’s easy enough for Peter to tip it out once it gets full, but the roof just keeps on fucking leaking, doesn’t it?
He lets Derek scent him in return, and for a moment at least they’re comfortable enough in each other’s company.
Peter studies the house, and imagines rebuilding it.
Then he imagines rebuilding his pack.
Three days until full moon.
The beta is barely keeping it together. He’s always there, right at the edge of Peter’s consciousness, worrying it with his teeth and claws.
And Peter thinks that yes, it’s time to bring the beta into the pack.
He stands in the Preserve that night and howls, and waits for the beta to come.
But he doesn’t.
It’s tearing him apart, but he doesn’t.
Peter doesn’t know much about bitten wolves. He might be the unknown beta’s alpha, but he can’t know exactly how difficult the beta is finding his transformation. It will be harder now the full moon is closer, but that’s all Peter can be certain of. Despite what his recent history might prove, Peter was born with control. He has rarely struggled with it since. Puberty… oh, puberty was a test at times, when the urge to run and hunt got mixed up with the entirely new and wild urge to run and hunt and fuck, but even humans, Peter has learned since, go stupid with hormones.
He finds himself re-evaluating his initial ambivalence towards the beta. At first he’d thought the beta would either find control himself, or he would become a killer. That’s still true, of course, but Peter discovers he would prefer a beta he doesn’t need to keep on a short leash, as it were. Maybe it’s because of Deucalion, and because Peter’s been forced to consider the real ramifications of exposure. A near-feral wolf is an unnecessary risk. Maybe it’s because Chris Argent is still in town, and Peter doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction of hunting down and killing a pack member. Or maybe it’s because Peter has had his fill of half-destroyed teenagers this week.
It will be in everyone’s best interests for Peter to take charge of the beta.
He tries to track the beta, but can’t quite get a fix on the scent he only vaguely remembers from the night he bit him. He remembers sweat, and fear, and something medical. Albuterol, perhaps. It’s not unique enough to pick from the threads of a million other scents lying thick on the air in the town. Peter thinks he has it one evening, and instead finds himself standing outside the sheriff’s house lifting his face to catch the scent of the wrong boy. Of Stiles Stilinski.
Stiles’s scent is still coppery like blood. His wounds, until they heal, will overshadow whatever other notes his scent usually contains.
Peter looks up at a lighted window, but sees no movement.
He goes back to the hotel.
“I’m thinking of getting a cat,” Peter announces when Alan Deaton appears from the back room of the clinic. “What do you think? Something skinny and scrappy from the shelter, or one of those ridiculous and fluffy Ragdoll things?”
Something that’s almost a smile hovers around Deaton’s mouth. “I’m closed, Peter.”
“I know,” Peter says. “You need to invest in better locks. I mean, I presume you keep drugs on the premises? I would have thought you’d have top notch security.”
“I keep my drugs in a safe,” Deaton says. He glances at the shelving display Peter’s leaning up against. “But you’re welcome to steal the kibble.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Peter says. “You should see the state of the minibar at my hotel.”
“What do you want, Peter?”
Peter sniffs the air. “Why does it still smell of werewolf in here?”
Derek lifts his nose as well.
Peter almost laughs as he realizes. “It’s the beta, isn’t it? You know my beta.”
It’s not just the beta’s scent. Peter sharpens his hearing, and takes in the rapid thump thump thump of a heartbeat other than Deaton’s. The beta is here, now, somewhere in the back rooms. Listening.
“You’ve been keeping him from me.”
Deaton raises his eyebrows. “Peter. This town was overrun with alphas. I had no way of knowing which one bit him.”
“Well, now you know,” Peter says. “Hand him over.”
“That’s not my decision.”
Derek juts his chin out. “He’s pack. He’s our pack.”
“Derek,” Deaton begins, and at that moment the door behind him opens.
Peter doesn’t remember the olive-skinned boy with the floppy hair and the dark eyes. He doesn’t remember him, but at the same time he knows him.
“What does that mean?” the boy asks. “Pack?”
“It means control,” Peter says. “Safety.”
“It means family,” Derek says, his voice soft.
“Scott,” Deaton says, and puts a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Scott, this Peter Hale and his nephew Derek.”
Scott regards them warily. “So,” he says at last. “So, um, what now?”
The diner on Oak Street makes a mean cheeseburger. Peter devours his while Derek picks at his fries, and Scott McCall sits across from them in the booth and works his way through a caramel milkshake that appears as thick as wet cement.
Peter finds his beta absolutely fascinating. On the surface he’s exactly what he appears to be: a harmless teenage boy. Underneath that, he’s much more complicated. He’s angry, naturally. Angry at Peter for biting him, angry at the world for not being what he understood it was, and angry at himself for having no control of his life anymore. He’s afraid. He’s completely out of his depth. But he’s trying.
“You have better control than you think,” Peter promises him.
“Have you killed anyone?” Peter asks him.
Scott almost spills his milkshake. “What? No!”
“Then you have better control than you think.”
Scott looks to Derek for confirmation. Derek nods.
Interesting. He doesn’t trust Peter, and possibly he never will, but he’s willing to trust Derek.
“I don’t have any control at all,” he says. “The first full moon? My best friend had to chain me up!”
“You told him?” Peter asks.
Scott frowns. “No! He was the one who figured it out. I thought he was crazy! Then, this other time, I changed, and I got away from him, and spent the whole night sitting on the roof of this girl I like, like a creeper. How is that control?”
Peter and Derek exchange a look.
“It’s actually an incredible amount of control,” Derek says at last. It’s more words than Peter thinks he’s heard from him since he woke up from his coma. “Most newly bitten wolves, unless they have an alpha keeping them in line, end up hurting people. Even killing them. It might not feel like you’re in control right now, but you should be proud of how you’re handling this.”
Scott stirs his straw around in his milkshake. “I’m not handling it, I don’t think.” He glances at Peter. “Because, I mean, first you bite me and turn me into this, and then you don’t even help me? Why should I be in your pack anyway?”
“Because you are,” Peter tells him. “Because I bit you, and that makes you mine. This is how it works.”
Scott narrows his eyes.
Peter thinks about forcing his submission, but what would that get him? Just another unhappy, unwilling beta, and Derek has already filled that quota. “I wasn’t in my right mind when I bit you, but I won’t apologize for it. The bite is a gift.”
“I didn’t ask for this! I don’t want this!” Scott’s tone catches the attention of the waitress, and he flushes and then lowers his voice to a whisper. “This is ruining my life!”
“Are you sure about that?” Peter asks him. “You don’t smell like you’re using your inhaler anymore. What was it? Asthma? It’s all cleared up, I take it.”
Scott frowns, and looks like an unhappy puppy. “Oh, sure, I don’t have asthma anymore, but what’s the cost? You’re telling me if I can’t control this, I could kill people.”
“But you are controlling it,” Peter says with a smirk. “Look at you, still murder free.”
“You are,” Derek says. He doesn’t smile. “Scott, I know it must be a lot to deal with, but you’re doing really well. You shouldn’t have had to go through this without a pack at your side, but Peter and I, we weren’t in a position last month where we could help. We will be this time. We won’t chain you up. We’ll teach you. Running under the full moon? It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Peter and I.
Derek’s words might not be having much of an influence on Scott, but they settle warmly in Peter’s chest. He knows he’ll never have the relationship with Derek he once did. There’s been too much broken between them to ever repair. Derek will always be more likely to kill him than forgive him. Strangely, Peter finds he can live with that.
And it’s just possible that Peter’s wolf wasn’t entirely mad when it drove him to bite Scott McCall. With only Peter and Derek in the pack, they had nothing to do except focus their misery and resentment on one another. Perhaps the wolf saw that what they needed was someone else, someone whose presence alone could diffuse some of the tension between them. Could knock them out of this ever-tightening spiral of hate and recrimination. Could put the brakes on the inevitable decent into mutual destruction, at least for a while.
Scott McCall is already changing how they interact.
Peter has no idea how it will end, but for now he’s content to let it play out.
Peter howls, and his betas answer.
The woods feel alive tonight.
Peter feels alive too, for the first time in a long time. Something inside him, something black and bitter, breaks off and dissolves under the light of the moon. Just a tiny piece, but Peter feels its absence.
His body has already healed. Maybe now the rest of him is starting to follow.
“He’s an idiot,” Derek grouses from the shelter of the tree line, but there’s fondness in his tone.
Peter hums in agreement as they watch lacrosse practice. For a kid who was recently an asthmatic klutz, Scott is playing well. Too well. Peter doesn’t miss the jealous looks his teammates throw him.
“He needs to learn to dial it back,” Derek says. “You remember how Mom always came and watched my games? I used to think she was there to cheer, but she was probably just making sure I remembered to miss a few baskets here and there.”
“It was both, I think,” Peter says, smiling despite the ache in his chest. “Do you really think she would have made all those ridiculous signs if she was only showing up to monitor you?”
Derek ducks his head to hide his own smile.
Peter’s attention is caught by a boy walking slowly out onto the sidelines. He’s wearing a lacrosse uniform and carrying a stick, but he makes no attempt to step onto the field. Just sits down on the bench and sets his stick across his knees. He turns his head to watch the players, and Peter sees his face.
He’s pale. He has dark circles under his eyes. A red scar bisects his right cheek, from the corner of his eye all the way down to his top lip.
Peter watches as the coach jogs over to talk to him. He’s too far away to hear what’s said between them, but Stiles nods, and the coach pats him awkwardly on the shoulder. The coach turns his attention to the boys on the field again. Stiles stands up again and walks slowly back toward the locker rooms.
Peter watches the way a few of the boys jostle each other and point after him. He can’t be certain, but he suspects they’re grinning underneath their helmets.
He growls, the sound building in his chest and reverberating. He doesn’t realize how loud he’s gotten until Derek says his name.
Peter takes a breath.
“Let’s go,” Derek says. “Scott’s meeting us after practice. You can growl at him then for being an idiot.”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Peter says, and he and Derek slip away into the trees.
Peter doesn’t know what Derek tells Scott about him. The truth, probably. He’s spiteful enough to wonder if Derek thought to tell the truth about himself as well, but not quite petty enough to ask. It doesn’t matter. Peter killed Laura, and he bit Scott. What does ancient history like the Hale fire matter to a teenager like Scott? And Peter knows, he does, that while Derek is to blame for showing Kate Argent their weaknesses, that he was manipulated into it. He knows, even if Derek hasn’t had the guts to tell him, because she tried it with Peter first.
That smile, that sway of her hips. That unspoken promise that she’d be the best fuck he’d ever had. Peter had seen it for the ploy it was, because that’s the way his mind works and has always worked. Kate doesn’t own the monopoly on deviousness.
Peter can even blame himself a little. After he rebuffed her he’d never thought she’d try it with Derek. It had never even occurred to him, because Derek was sixteen, and an awkward kid still growing into his limbs. Evidently Kate had thought him old enough. And he had been, of course, law aside. Old enough to want her, but too young and naïve to guess he was being played.
Peter had overlooked Derek. He can admit that now. They’d been close once. But stuff got in the way. College first, and then Miriam, and then a marriage and a baby and a divorce. Hell of a year that had been. Miriam hadn’t wanted a baby. A part of Peter had known it even at the time, but he’d been so enthusiastic when she’d told him she was pregnant that the weight of it had carried them through the next few months. It was only when the whirlwind of their courthouse marriage, of moving in together, and of Caleb’s birth had finally settled that they’d both taken a look at one another and known it wasn’t going to work. Peter had returned to Beacon Hills with Caleb, to raise his son in his pack.
Caleb had been three when Kate burned the house down with the Hales inside.
It’s six years, but it’s only been weeks to Peter.
He can still see Caleb’s face whenever he closes his eyes. Can still feel that twinge of astonishment that something so wonderful came from him. That he did that. That miracle there, he helped create that.
He can still feel the howling loss inside him with every breath he takes. It feeds an anger inside him that wants to tear the world apart. He doesn’t though, because he’s not Deucalion, and because what fucking difference would it make?
The night after the full moon he returns to the Preserve alone, and tries to recapture that moment when he felt like he was changing, healing.
He can’t. Not tonight.
Finds himself standing outside the Stilinski house again.
Please save me. Dad, please.
He feels a sudden burst of envy for the boy who had been dragged through hell, and who still clung to the belief there was enough of him left to save.
Peter rents a loft in a warehouse on Gable Avenue. Well, Derek rents it, given that he has all the useful credentials needed, like a credit history and a valid ID, and is not a current missing person. Peter gets the money from the family vault, and waits out of sight while the agent prattles on about gentrification, and how Derek is getting in on the ground floor, well the top floor—pardon the pun—of an exciting new stage in real estate development in Beacon Hills.
Peter barely resists the urge to rip the woman’s throat out. When she finally hands the keys over and leaves, he and Derek take stock of their new space.
It’s not pretty, but the electricity is on, the hot water works, and the rest of the building is currently empty. Peter takes his new laptop, sets himself up in the corner, and orders furniture online.
It takes a few days for the furniture to arrive. In the meantime, Peter has sent Derek to buy a refrigerator, a television, and whatever smaller appliances they need. He’s gratified when Derek returns with a top of the line coffee maker. It seems as though living like a hobo for the past few months hasn’t totally ruined his nephew after all.
The result is a loft that is liveable, if not exactly welcoming. It could almost pass as one of those industrial spaces that architects are so fond of, that grace the pages of glossy magazines. Exposed brickwork, high ceilings, and only the barest concessions made to the fact that someone has to live there. Those apartments are always full of empty spaces. There are never any weird knickknacks on the shelves or photographs on the refrigerator; the detritus of a life packed full of family and friends. Peter and Derek don’t have those things either.
On a Wednesday afternoon, Peter tells Derek to invite Scott over.
Scott turns up after school, with a cactus plant in a shiny blue pot.
“Um, it’s a housewarming present?” he offers, when Derek looks at it dubiously. “My mom always gets people plants.”
“It’s perfect, Scott,” Peter says. And it is. He sets it on the kitchen counter where it will get a little sun. It will be something for him and Derek to look at now and then. Something they didn’t buy for themselves, but was bought for them. A potted cactus now, knickknacks and photographs later. Perhaps that’s how one goes about building a den.
“Wow, this place is really big,” Scott says. “Cool view!”
It’s a view of downtown Beacon Hills, but it’s okay.
“Well, you’re got twenty seconds to enjoy it,” Peter says, reaching for the keys to Derek’s Camaro. He really shouldn’t leave them just lying around like that if he doesn’t want Peter to drive his car. “Because after that we’re heading out to the Preserve. It’s time you learned to follow a trail.”
Scott looks to Derek first, like always, and then he nods. “Okay, cool.”
Over the next few days Peter lets Derek take charge of Scott’s training. They have a rapport that Peter will never have with Scott. They spend a lot of time around the ruins of the Hale house, and Derek teaches Scott how to defend himself, and how to attack. Usually their sessions end with the pair of them lying in the grass catching their breath, while Peter watches from the porch steps half-sunk in memory.
Scott talks happily about the girl he’s in love with, Allison, and he says her name so reverently that Peter almost expects cartoon birds to start fluttering around him, and all the woodland creatures to come and bask in his pure goodness and love, Disney-style. It’d certainly make it easier to hunt them down. He might mention this once. Derek snorts at the idea of sinking his teeth into Thumper’s fuzzy little neck. Scott looks predictably horrified. He’s made almost entirely out of sunshine, Peter thinks.
“Peter?” Scott asks one afternoon. “Would it be okay if I brought my friend with me sometimes?”
“I presume this is the friend who knows about werewolves?” Peter twists a blade of grass in his fingers idly.
“The one who figured it out, yeah.” Scott wrinkles his nose. “It’s just I’ve kind of been ignoring him lately because of all this? And he’s like in a pretty messed up place right now.”
Peter looks at Derek. Derek shrugs.
“Fine,” Peter says. “If he can be trusted.”
“He can,” Scott says. His relief is palpable. It smells like fresh rain. “He totally can.”
Afterward, Peter isn’t sure why he never put two and two together. Possibly it’s because Scott didn’t give him enough information to make the connection. But it’s probably because Peter really couldn’t bring himself to care who Scott’s friends were.
But the next day when a blue Jeep rumbles to a stop at the house, and a pale, thin boy climbs out of it, Peter is actually taken aback.
“Hey!” Scott leaps out of the passenger seat. “This is my best friend, Stiles. Stiles, this is Peter and Derek.”
Stiles jams his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “We’ve met.”
“Stiles,” Derek says, keeping his voice even.
“At the station,” Stiles continues, his heart beating wildly. “We met at the station. And when you told us not to trespass. Sorry about that. Trespassing.”
“It’s okay,” Derek says.
“Cool,” Scott says. He’s regarding Stiles worriedly, but Stiles flashes him a quick grin and his concerned expression shifts into a smile. “So anyway, I’ve been working on my moves.”
Derek nods. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Peter sits on the steps and watches as they play-fight. He watches Stiles too. At first Stiles stands by the Jeep, but then he gradually moves closer to the house, and eventually sits down on the other end of the wide step Peter is sitting on. He hunches over and chews his thumbnail.
“Scott’s very new at this,” Peter says in a low voice, watching as Derek throws Scott toward the trees. It’s the sort of move that would break a human. Scott only laughs and leaps straight to his feet again. “He can hear your heartbeat. He just can’t tell yet if you’re nervous, or if you’re lying. But he’ll figure it out eventually.”
“What was I supposed to say? Oh yeah, I remember these guys from when they saved me from the pack that—that…” Stiles swallows, and his throat clicks. He clamps his mouth shut and shakes his head. “I shouldn’t have come.”
“I’m surprised you did.”
“Well, it was this or homework,” Stiles mutters. “What the fuck kind of choice is that?”
Peter smiles slightly. “Well, exactly.”
“I know who you are,” Stiles says, glancing at him quickly. “I know you’ve killed people.”
“Did Scott tell you that?”
Stiles twists his mouth. “Please. As if. I figured it out myself. You killed the bus driver, and those guys in the woods. And the only thing they had in common was a connection to this house, to the fire. Someone did that to my family, I’d kill them too. The only thing I can’t figure out is why you killed Laura.”
This whole time Peter has viewed this boy as a fragile victim, as naïve and childlike as Caleb. But of course he’s more than that. He’s clever. He’s unashamed of his potential to be vicious. And he came here today, when he knows exactly how dangerous werewolves can be in general, and exactly how dangerous Peter is specifically. Peter briefly considers reminding him of the old saying about curiosity and the cat, but then he sees the way Stiles’s expression shifts as he looks across the clearing toward Scott. Stiles isn’t here because he’s curious and reckless. At least, he’s not here just because of those things. He’s here to make sure that Scott is safe. Despite the fear that must be clawing desperately in his belly at being around wolves after what happened to him, his friendship means more to him than anything else.
It’s strange to see such loyalty in someone so young. Most teenagers, naturally, love to proclaim they’d die for their friends. And yet not many, Peter suspects, would be here now under the same circumstances. There is something very extraordinary about Stiles Stilinski.
“Well,” he says at last, “if you ever manage to figure out why I killed Laura, do let me know.”
Peter’s answer might have been glib, but Stiles isn’t smiling. He holds Peter’s gaze for a moment. His brows are drawn together in a slight frown, and there’s a tiny line at the top of his nose that Peter wants to reach out and rub away with his thumb.
“You don’t know?” he asks.
“A hundred different reasons.” Peter shrugs. “And none of them good enough. She was my favorite, you know? Out of all my nieces and nephews, she was my favorite.”
“And she left you,” Stiles says quietly.
“Not enough of a reason.” Peter wonders why the hell he’s even telling Stiles this. Because he’s a third party, perhaps. He’s not pack. Because if Peter ever tried to have this conversation with the one person who matters, with Derek, then it would only end in bloodshed as their rage and their grief took over again.
Stiles nods, and fixes his gaze on Derek and Scott again. They sit in silence for a long while, before Stiles speaks again.
“You knew that I knew,” Stiles says, his gaze flicking to Peter and then back to the ground. “At the warehouse. You told me werewolves weren’t real. You were warning me not to say anything.”
“There were injuries under the blindfold,” Peter tells him. “I knew you hadn’t worn it the whole time.”
“Sherlock,” Stiles whispers, with something like a smile in his voice.
Peter’s glad he can’t hear the lie. The truth is so much worse. Deucalion and the alpha pack had raped him and they’d tortured him. And what better torture than to show him they were monsters while they did it? Peter’s enough of a monster himself to know how to think like one. It’s always been his nature. He doesn’t want Stiles to know that about him. Peter Hale is no-one’s savior, not really, but it’s a warm enough fantasy as long as he doesn’t examine it too closely.
They don’t speak again. Peter’s not sure that they have anything more to say.
They sit on the porch and watch Derek and Scott spar, and the afternoon light slowly softens into dusk.
Stiles becomes a regular fixture at their afternoon training sessions. Sometimes he sits quietly on the steps and watches, and sometimes he takes his homework out of his backpack and starts on it.
“You never told Scott, did you?” Peter asks quietly one afternoon.
Stiles doesn’t need to ask what he’s talking about. “No.”
Peter idly flicks through a few pages of Stiles’s chemistry textbook.
“The thing about Scott…” Stiles shakes his head and starts again. “If I’d told him it was werewolves, then he’d pile all this guilt on himself because he’s one too. Like he tried to kill me once, did he tell you?”
Peter raises his eyebrows.
Stiles picks a leaf off his homework. “When he first turned. He tried to attack me. I got lucky and managed to lock myself away from him. But for ages after that he was convinced I was afraid of him, afraid of what he was. So if I told him what really happened…” He shrugs. “Scott’s my best friend. He’s my brother. I’m not letting him do that whole pushing me away for my own good bullshit.”
“What does he think happened?”
Stiles’s mouth quirks. He raises a hand to trace the pink scar bisecting his cheek. “He thinks the same as everything thinks. That some assholes my dad put in jail got their payback by making me their bitch.”
Peter is silent.
“It’s almost the truth anyway,” Stiles says with a shrug. “They targeted me to get my dad off your backs. Pretty effective strategy.”
Peter is intrigued by Stiles. He’s fascinated by the way he compartmentalizes. It’s probably not healthy, but Peter Hale is hardly the poster boy for mental wellness, is he? But he admires the way Stiles divorces himself from his trauma, and dissects what happened with detached precision. His mind is as sharp as a scalpel.
“He had that whole evil monologue thing happening,” Stiles says, and rolls his eyes. “Do you know why you’re here, bitch? Do you think your daddy’s looking for you? Think he’d like what he’d see?” He shrugs. “Joke was on him. Not for one fucking second did I think my dad would be ashamed of me.”
His heartbeat quickens, and shows his weakness.
“No!” Stiles scrawls in the margin of his homework. “But he thinks I am, because I won’t tell him what happened. I just tell him I can’t remember. He’ll stop asking sooner or later, I guess.”
“And are you?” Peter asks. “Are you ashamed?”
“What sort of fucking question is that, Peter?” Stiles’s voice hitches, and Peter knows he’s gone too far. Knows that even Stiles’s compartmentalization has its limits, and that there is nothing rational about shame.
“I got kicked off the team because I’m injured. I get pulled out of class in front of everyone for counselling. The whole school, the whole fucking town, knows what happened to me.” His voice rises, and cracks. “So no, I’m not ashamed, but when every decent person I’ve ever met looks at me like I’m ruined, or when every asshole tells me they bet I liked it, then how am I supposed to fucking feel?”
From the other side of the clearing, Scott and Derek are staring at them.
Stiles launches himself to his feet in a flurry of limbs and red flannel. “I’m going home. Fuck this. I’m going home.”
He bolts toward the Jeep, leaving his scattered homework behind.
From outside Stiles’s bedroom window, Peter is listening as the sheriff tries to talk to his son.
The bed creaks, and Peter imagines the sheriff sitting down on the mattress. He knows Stiles is curled up on his side, facing the wall. He was lying like that when Peter first arrived and peered in through the window, and Peter hasn’t heard him move since.
“The school called,” the sheriff says, and Peter hears the soft rub of a palm against fabric. It’s rhythmic, soothing, but still Stiles doesn’t move. “You were supposed to see the counsellor today. You missed your appointment.”
The protracted silence is broken by the sheriff’s sigh.
“You need to talk to someone, Stiles. Please.”
Stiles makes a vague noise that might mean anything. Yes, no, whatever.
The sheriff sighs again. “I love you, kiddo.”
A few minutes later the sheriff stands up and treads slowly back downstairs.
“That fucking idiot!” Derek exclaims two days later, slamming the door behind him as he stalks into the loft.
Peter sets down his iPad and looks at him curiously. “Who?”
“Scott!” Derek exclaims. He looks close to feral. His claws are pushing out of his fingertips, and he’s clearly fighting the need to transform.
“What’s he done now?” Peter asks. He keeps his tone neutral, hoping it’s enough to keep Derek grounded, even though a cold ribbon of dread is curling through his gut. Whatever this is, it’s more than Scott almost wolfing out on the lacrosse field.
“Allison,” Derek snarls. “Allison, with the smile and the dimples? Allison, the light of his life?”
“I am aware of Scott’s inclination toward pretty girls and bad poetry, yes,” Peter says.
“Her name is Allison Argent.”
Oh, and there it is.
There’s the moment Peter’s been half-waiting for since he awoke from his coma.
There’s the other shoe dropping.
Chris Argent lives in a very nice house on the eastern side of Beacon Hills. A very nice house, with a very nice SUV parked out front, and, though the windows, Peter can see his very nice family. Well, not very nice at all. Victoria is probably as poisonous as ever, and the daughter… Allison. Yes, she has dimples and a beautiful smile. But she’s a born predator, as much as any wolf.
Peter watches as Chris himself passes in front of the large living room window. He has a few more gray hairs than Peter remembers, a few more lines, but it’s hard to feel smug about aging better than the son of a bitch when Chris is standing inside his living room with his wife and his very-much-alive child.
His very-much-alive child who’s been trained to keep one hand on a Hale boy’s dick while the other one reaches for the knife?
Peter doesn’t know. He can’t be sure, when it comes to Chris. Chris has always been the best of a bad bunch, he supposes. He might actually believe all that shit he spruiks about The Code, about only hunting those who hunt them. Total fucking lies, because nobody in the Hale pack ever lifted a claw to a human in living memory, but Kate Argent still burned them all.
Even the humans.
Even the children.
“Daddy? Show me your growly face?”
And Peter had obliged of course. He was wrapped about his son’s little finger, happily.
“Will I do that when I grow up?”
“Only wolves can make a growly face.”
“Can I be an astronaut?”
“Of course you can, my perfect boy. Of course you can.”
He’d spent hours one afternoon sticking glow-in-the-dark stars and planets to the ceiling of Caleb’s bedroom. And then, a week later, the house was ashes. The blink of an eye became six entire years, and Peter slowly came awake in a cold, sterile hospital room.
As best as he can tell, Chris and his family are the only Argents back in Beacon Hills. It’s still three too many.
He catches Scott’s scent on the air before he hears his footsteps.
“What are you doing here, Peter?”
“Knowing my enemy,” Peter says mildly.
“Allison doesn’t even know anything about werewolves!” Scott hisses.
“You don’t know that. And, if you were stupid enough to ask, I promise that she lied to you.”
“I didn’t ask! She just doesn’t know, okay? I’d know if she was hiding something from me!” Scott’s face is twisted up like he’s a child desperately trying to get a parent to believe some ridiculous truth. Like Caleb’s, when he’d promised he’d finished his vegetables even though Peter could smell them tucked into his sleeves or shoved under the edge of his plate.
“The Argents are hunters,” Peter says firmly. “Either Chris or Victoria would put a wolfsbane bullet through your skull without a second thought. So either they don’t suspect you, yet, or you’re being played. And going on their history, my money’s on the latter.”
“Allison isn’t like that!”
“They’re never like that,” Peter growls, “until they’ve got the knife in your fucking back, Scott! Don’t be so naïve. It’ll only get all of us killed.”
Scott juts his chin out. “Deaton says that Allison’s parents follow The Code!”
“Then Deaton’s a naïve fucking fool as well.”
“Enough!” Peter reaches forward and grips Scott’s chin tightly. Forces him to tilt his neck so his throat’s exposed. “I am your alpha. You stay away from the Argents, Scott, or I’ll deal with you myself.”
Scott’s eyes flash gold as his wolf submits. His wolf does, but the boy remains mulish.
Peter doesn’t give a fuck about mulish. He doesn’t give a fuck if Scott runs home with his tail between his legs and cries into his pillow for a month. At least he’ll be alive.
“You go near that girl again, or that family, and I will make you regret it, Scott.” Peter can feel his vision start to bleed red, and holds himself back from anger with difficulty. “Ask Derek if it’s worth it, just to get your dick inside some pretty girl.”
Scott’s eyes are wide, and he’s breathing heavily. “What are you talking about? What’s it got to do with Derek?”
“Oh, didn’t my poor little nephew tell you?” Peter regards Scott narrowly. “He fucked Kate Argent and gave her all our secrets. And then we burned.” His breath escapes him on the end of a growl. “Then we all burned.”
They’re old wounds for Derek, and he walks around for the next few days like someone’s ripped the scabs off, torn the scars open, and cut him to the bone anew. Old wounds. What a fucking luxury that must be.
It feels like only weeks ago to Peter that he lay with Caleb in his bed and they plotted constellations on the ceiling.
Peter gets back from the bakery one morning to find Stiles sitting on the couch in the loft. Peter checks his phone. It’s not quite midday. On a Tuesday. He exchanges a look with Derek, who’s leaning against the wall. Derek shrugs.
“School out early today?” he asks archly.
Stiles doesn’t look up. Just shrugs his shoulders.
“Is Scott here?” If there’s one teenager Peter actually wants taking up valuable space, it’s his beta. But he’s still off sulking, or licking his wounds, or whatever. As long as he’s not sneaking off to be with Allison—and Derek’s been following him outside of school to make sure he’s not—then Peter doesn’t particularly care. He’s pack. He’ll come crawling back.
Derek shakes his head.
Peter slumps down on the other end of the couch to Stiles and opens his bag. Two apple Danishes. He takes one, shrugs apologetically at Derek, and tosses the bag to Stiles. Stiles catches it in his lap. Doesn’t open it. Just stares at his shoes some more.
He smells of misery. He smells of barely faded panic. He smells of tears.
“What happened?” Peter asks, his voice too close to a growl.
Stiles flinches at the tone, and Peter silently castigates himself for sounding too much like a wolf.
He tempers his voice. “Stiles?”
Stiles turns his face toward him. “Did you know werewolves can’t get through a barrier of mountain ash?”
Stiles flashes him a wavering grin. “Of course you know that. I wish I had, last month.” He looks away again. “Probably wouldn’t have made a difference though. I mean, I was stopped at a red light when they grabbed me.”
Derek slinks silently away.
Peter licks a speck of glace icing off his thumb. “Probably not.”
Stiles toys with the bag. “So today I thought, fuck it, man up, there’s nothing out there that’s worse than what’s already happened, right?”
Peter nods slowly, unease curling into a knot in his gut.
“There’s this girl I like,” Stiles says, swallowing. “I’ve liked her forever. I guess I love her? And I thought, okay, so do it. Once and for all, just ask her out. Then that way everyone will know you’re normal still. Like Dad will know, and the school counsellor will know, and you’ll be better, and nobody will give you shit any more, or ask how you are in that really awkward way. How are you, Stiles? How are you?” He blinks, and a tear slides down his cheek between his nose and the scar on his face the alpha pack left him.
Peter sets his Danish on the coffee table.
Stiles stares at his shoes again. “So I started walking over to her table in the cafeteria, and of course I lose my nerve halfway there and turn around, but it’s too late because her douchebag boyfriend has already seen me. So he stands up, and top of his voice, yells out, ‘Keep walking, Stilinski. No girl wants some guy who’s taken more dick than she has.’ Top of his fucking voice.”
“Want me to kill him for you?”
Stiles huffs out a strangled laugh, like he thinks it’s a joke. It really isn’t. He shrugs. “So, I kept walking, and here I am, and I’m done with school. I just can’t. I’m done.”
“And where was Scott when this was happening?” Peter asks, struggling to keep his voice even.
“It’s not his fault. He was stuck in the library working on his English project. If he fails, he’s off the team.”
“What can I do, Stiles?” Peter asks.
Stiles shrugs again, then quirks his mouth in a grin that doesn’t meet his eyes. He picks up the bag and opens it. “You got me a Danish. That’s a pretty good start.”
Stiles sits on the couch for most of the day. The television is on, but he’s not watching it. When he hears Derek rattling around in the kitchen he seems to jolt awake.
“Shit. It’s late. I should go home.”
“You can stay if you want,” Peter tells him.
Stiles shakes his head. “My dad will be home tonight. He freaks out if he doesn’t know where I am, like every second of the day.”
“Do you want a ride home?”
“Maybe to the school? I need to get the Jeep.”
Peter doesn’t need to ask. Derek tosses him the keys to the Camaro, and he ushers Stiles outside.
On Thursday, Peter runs into Chris Argent at the grocery store. How very mundane. Meeting his sworn enemy over the Roma tomatoes. It’s not quite the showdown Peter had envisaged.
“Peter Hale,” Chris says, staring at him blankly.
“Keep your voice down, Christopher. Some of us are missing coma patients.”
“Missing coma patients don’t usually browse the produce section.”
“I contain multitudes, Christopher. Surely you remember that?” Turns out he can still make Chris’s eye twitch. Good to know. “Speaking of the unexpected, what are you doing back in town?”
“None of your business.”
“This is my territory now. You know that better than anyone.”
Chris stands there, holding a cucumber, and somehow managing to make it look like a weapon instead of a cheap joke. “I came to hunt the alpha pack.”
“Well, that’s been all taken care of,” Peter says with a smirk. “So you can run along again whenever you like.”
“It’s not just them you took care of,” Chris reminds him.
Oh, of course. The bus driver and the two guys in the woods. “Yes, I had a tiny little murder spree. But none of them were innocent. I haven’t broken your precious Code.”
“What about Laura?”
Peter pretends that doesn’t hurt. “Pack business, not yours.”
“You’re playing a very dangerous game, Peter,” Chris says. “Stay away from my family.”
“Right back at you, Christopher.” Peter makes a show of choosing the best tomatoes. When he looks up again, Chris is gone.
Scott is a coward.
Someone drops a bombshell in his lap, and he’s too afraid to come and see Peter directly. He sends a text instead: Allison told Lydia that she won’t be able to go shopping for prom dresses with her at the end of next week because her Aunt Kate is coming to stay.
When Derek comes home, Peter shows him the text. Derek goes pale, and clenches his jaw so tightly Peter is half surprised it doesn’t snap.
“What do you need me to do?” he asks.
“Whatever I ask.”
Derek jerks his head in a nod.
Well, Peter guesses his little murder spree isn’t done yet.
There’s a lacrosse game on Friday night. Derek goes to lurk and watch Scott play. Peter lurks somewhere else entirely: outside the Stilinski house. The sheriff is home. He listens to the man make awkward conversation with Stiles over dinner. Listens to Stiles mumble and deflect, and scrape his fork across his plate slowly.
After dinner the Stilinski men wash the dishes, and then the sheriff settles down in front of the television. Stiles goes upstairs. Showers. Peter follows his progress through the house by watching which lights flick on and off. A while later he goes downstairs again, the steps creaking slightly under his weight.
“Dad?” His voice is tremulous, as though he’s unused to using it. Peter wonders if there’s anyone Stiles talks to, apart from him. He’s an odd choice, he thinks. A monster. But, also, he saw exactly what the alpha pack did to Stiles. Stiles doesn’t need to explain it to him.
“Stiles?” The sheriff’s voice is full of hope, and Peter thinks that yes, this is the first time in a long time that Stiles has initiated a conversation.
“You know I love you, right?”
The sheriff’s voice is muffled when he answers. By an embrace, Peter thinks. “Yeah, kiddo, I know. I love you too, okay?”
“Okay.” Stiles sniffles. “Just… I just wanted to say that, before I went to bed.”
“Love you,” the sheriff repeats. “Goodnight, kiddo.”
Stiles treads back up the stairs.
The light in the bathroom turns on again. Stays on. Peter hears the snick of a lock.
He hears the sound of the football game on the television: the cheering crowd, the excited commentator. Hears the squeak of leather as the sheriff settles his weight in his chair again.
Hears Stiles clear his throat and swallow.
Another snick. A sharp intake of breath. And then the scent of hot blood floods Peter’s senses. He’s leaping onto the roof below Stiles’s bedroom window before the realization even hits him. Before all the little pieces come together.
“I just can’t. I’m done.”
Peter is acting purely on instinct.
“You know I love you, right?”
Save him. Save him.
He gets his fingers in the crack between the window and the frame, and wrenches the window up. He tries to get inside, and is repulsed. It’s like hitting a brick wall.
“Did you know werewolves can’t get through a barrier of mountain ash?”
Clever little Stiles.
Not a flaw in the plan, except one.
Peter drops back down onto the ground and lurches toward the front door. He presses on the doorbell, bangs a fist on the door. “Sheriff! Sheriff Stilinski!”
The door opens. The sheriff is in track pants and a worn Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department t-shirt that must be at least ten years old. His hair is standing up at odd angles. “What the hell is going on? Who are you?”
He sees the confusion on the man’s face as he stares at him, looking for shiny burn scars that are no longer there. “Peter Hale? You can’t be—”
“Sheriff,” Peter says. “Your son is locked in the bathroom, and he’s cutting his wrists.”
The sheriff doesn’t even ask how Peter could know. Doesn’t demand he prove anything. Doesn’t think he’s crazy. He just turns on his heel and heads for the stairs. “Stiles! Stiles!”
Peter follows him. Drags him aside as he tries to shoulder the bathroom door down, and does it for him instead. And maybe his eyes flash alpha red when it happens, and maybe the sheriff sees, and maybe none of that fucking matters right now, because Stiles is hurting himself.
The door bursts inward, and the scent of blood hits Peter even harder.
Stiles is in the shower cubicle, in his pajama pants, holding a bloody razor blade in his shaking fingers. His left forearm is dripping blood. He gapes up at Peter and the sheriff, and drops the razor blade.
The sheriff already has a towel in his hand, and he wrenches Stiles’s arm out and wraps it tightly. Crushes it between them as he hauls Stiles into a tight hug.
“What are you doing, kiddo? What the hell are you doing?”
Stiles sobs into his father’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. M’sorry!”
Peter allows them their privacy. He steps outside, pulls his phone out of his pocket, and calls 9-1-1.
Hospital coffee tastes like shit. The cafeteria is closed, so it’s from the vending machine. Peter sits on a bench outside Stiles’s room, and tries his hardest not to look like he’s a coma patient. The consciousness helps a lot. So does the lack of scars.
The sheriff slumps down next to him. He leans forward and wipes his hands over his face. “He’s gonna be okay. It wasn’t deep. He’s gonna be okay.”
Peter lets out a breath he feels like he’s be holding for hours.
The sheriff sits up again, draws a breath, and looks Peter square in the eye. “I think we need to talk.”
“Yes,” Peter says mildly. “I think we probably do.”
Peter tells the sheriff everything.
“Werewolves hurt my son?” It’s a testament to John Stilinski’s composure that he doesn’t immediately call for backup and a psych evaluation team. Still, Peter notes the way his gaze lingers on his unblemished face, and knows that John sees there’s more going on here than can be explained by conventional means.
“Yes,” Peter says.
They’re sitting in Stiles’s room, for privacy. Stiles is sleeping. Every so often he shifts restlessly, and the sheriff’s gaze flicks to him each time. Checking he’s still breathing. Checking he’s still really here.
“And you’re a werewolf?” John clarifies. “But you didn’t hurt my son?”
“I didn’t,” Peter says.
John draws a deep breath. “Jesus. That warehouse fire. Those bodies…”
“I killed them,” Peter says. “Full disclosure, Sheriff. I’ve killed ten people in the last two months.”
“My nurse,” Peter begins. “She knew what I was and was trying to exploit it. Wolves don’t like to be exploited.”
John doesn’t say anything.
“The bus driver.”
“Garrison Myers,” John supplies. “The former insurance investigator who ruled the fire that killed your family was an accident.”
“Mmm.” Peter flexes his fingers. “The two men in the woods.”
“Unger and Reddick. Both had previous for arson.” John shakes his head slowly.
“And the five werewolves who abducted your son.”
“That’s nine,” John says.
Peter looks him in the eye. “Laura.”
“She have something to do with the fire too?”
“No. I was angry. Hurt. I wanted her strength. She’s the only one I feel guilty for.”
“Are you done killing people now?” John asks quietly.
Peter figures the least he owes the man is an honest answer. “No.”
“Jesus Christ,” John mutters. “Who?”
“Kate Argent,” Peter says. “And any of the Argents who try and stop me.”
“Kate Argent.” John frowns, and looks so much like Stiles that Peter wants to smile at him. “I remember her. Are you telling me she’s behind all this?”
“Yes. She planned the whole thing. Brought the merry band together. Killed eight members of my pack. Almost killed me. Would have got Derek and Laura too, if they hadn’t been out.”
“You’re asking me to turn a blind eye to the fact that you’ve killed people. The fact that you’re planning on killing someone else?”
“This isn’t about justice, or revenge, or some other abstract, philosophical concept. They’re luxuries I can’t afford right now. This is about survival, pure and simple. Believe me, Sheriff, if Kate Argent is coming back to town it’s only because she wants to finish the job. Isn’t there such a thing as pre-meditated self-defence?”
“Not in any criminal codes I’ve ever seen.”
Peter smiles at that, because the sheriff isn’t making any attempt to arrest him. Some of that has to be down to self-preservation, but John appears to be every bit as sharp as his son. Every bit as aware that the world isn’t painted in black and white. Everything is subjective, morality most of all. And Peter knows that he’s the lesser evil here.
“Your son…” John glances over at Stiles again before looking back. “I don’t know if you want to hear this or not, but he wasn’t burned. It was the smoke. I was there when they brought him out. I tried CPR, but he was gone. I’m sorry.”
Peter’s eyes sting and he looks away. He wishes he didn’t remember the truth. Caleb might not have had any burns on him, but he’d been close enough to the flames that he’d screamed the heat was hurting him. And Peter had tried so hard to get to him.
He doesn’t like the anger that boils up in him in this moment.
I saved your son. Why couldn’t you save mine?
It’s as irrational as the jealousy that follows, because John Stilinski got to hold Caleb when Peter couldn’t. Got to smooth his hair back and straighten his little limbs and hold his tiny hand. Those moments should have been Peter’s. A nightmare, but he would have taken it.
He nods sharply to tell the sheriff he’s heard, because he doesn’t trust himself to speak. It’s a long moment before he can look the man in the eye again.
“So I guess it’s not fair of me to be glad you killed the bastards who hurt my son, and then tell you that you can’t do the same to the people who took your boy away from you.” John’s gaze is dark in the low light. “Tell me that you’re sure she’s guilty.”
“I’m sure,” Peter says.
“Now tell me that you’ll stop when she’s dead.”
John is silent for a long while, and then he nods. “Make sure I don’t hear about it, Hale. Make sure I don’t have to come looking for you.”
“You won’t,” Peter promises.
“Good.” John looks over to Stiles again, and watches as his son’s fingers twitch against the covers. “Now maybe you can tell me how my kid got messed up in all of this? That your fault too?”
“Partially.” Peter grimaces. “You remember the fight at the gas station? Right before Stiles went missing? That was the alpha pack.”
“There were no complaints. Nothing much in it.”
“No,” Peter agrees. “But Deucalion wanted to make sure the police wouldn’t look into things too closely. He gave you a distraction.”
“Jesus.” John goes pale. “They took him because of my job?”
“Yes.” Peter closes his eyes briefly. John’s expression is still tortured when he opens them again.
The covers rustle as Stiles moves his hands across them, and his eyes open. “Dad?”
“Hey, kiddo.” John is at his bedside in seconds, leaning over him to embrace him gently. “Don’t you scare me like that again, okay?”
Stiles nods, and blinks over John’s shoulder at Peter. “Peter?”
John releases his son. “Peter was just filling me in on what’s been going on in town. Hell of a story.”
“Wh-what?” Stiles looks anxiously between them. “What story?”
“Werewolves,” Peter tells him. “Deucalion. The Argents.”
“No such thing as werewolves,” Stiles whispers.
“No more secrets,” Peter says quietly. “Not anymore.”
“Okay.” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut. “I’m sorry, Dad. For tonight. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. Just… just promise me you won’t do that again. If you feel like that again, you talk to me. You talk to me, and we’ll figure something out.”
Stiles blinks, and tears slide down his cheeks. “Okay. I promise.”
John embraces him again, and Peter takes the opportunity to slip away.
Outside, in the parking lot, Peter calls Scott.
“Is that about Allison? Because I didn’t talk to her! I only heard it from Danny who heard it from Lydia, because he’s pissed that now he’s got dragged into going shopping with her instead, and everyone knows he’s had his tux for weeks.”
“It’s not about Allison,” Peter tells him, rolling his eyes. “It’s about Stiles.”
“Who’s the girl that Stiles likes?”
“And who’s her douchebag boyfriend?”
Peter’s skin prickles and his wolf becomes alert at the promise of a hunt. “And where does Jackson Whittemore live?”
“Over on Kellerman Drive, I think? Why?”
“You and Derek,” Peter says. “Meet me there.”
He ends the call.
Jackson Whittemore has a silver Porsche. It’s parked in the driveway of his parents’ house.
“Earlier tonight,” Peter says, circling the car, “Stiles tried to kill himself.”
Derek flinches back.
“Is he okay?” Scott demands, eyes wide with shock.
“He’ll be fine.” Peter lets a single claw extend from his index finger. “Now, I’m not saying it’s entirely Jackson Whittemore’s fault, but I am saying fuck that guy, and fuck his car.”
He drags his claw along the paintwork of the Porsche, taking care to gouge every single panel.
“He’s really gonna be okay?” Scott asks, sounding younger than he has since Peter has known him.
“It was shallow. We got to him in time.” Peter points his claw at Scott. “When you’re at school, you stick to him from now on. I don’t care if you fail every class. Pack sticks together.”
Derek’s eyes flash, and he scrapes his claws over the hood of the car. The sound is like nails on a chalkboard. It’s delicious.
Scott nods, and pops his claws. They made such pretty patterns on the windshield. Glass powder sprays like tiny, glittery snowflakes.
“And if anyone,” Peter says, “if anyone makes any comment about how he wanted it, or how he asked for it, or how he liked it, you find a way to fuck them up. You understand me?”
“Yeah.” Scott growls and snaps the aerial. “I understand.”
Peter punctures a tire. “Stiles is pack now. We defend pack.”
Derek makes a fist, and punches out a headlight. He uses such force that the car rocks, and the alarm begins to sound.
“That’s our cue, kids,” Peter says with a satisfied smile, and they melt back into the shadows. They’re half a block away when they hear Jackson Whittemore’s yell of despair.
It’s a thing of beauty.
John Stilinski comes knocking on the door of the loft the next morning. Derek lets him in.
“Coffee, Sheriff?” Peter asks him from the dining table. “Derek makes a mean macchiato. I keep telling him he should become a barista, but his customer service skills are somewhat lacking.”
Derek growls, and his eyes flash blue.
“I’m good,” John says, and waves Derek away warily. “Got a report of vandalism last night, on Jackson Whittemore’s car. You know anything about that?”
“No,” Peter says. “Is there any reason you think that I might?”
“Me and Stiles had a long talk last night. Jackson’s name might have come up.”
“The Cyclones won last night,” Derek offers. “Probably the other team getting revenge.”
Peter smirks, pleased.
At that moment Scott comes barrelling in the door, gaze fixed on his phone. “Holy shit! Jackson’s car is all over Facebook! He’s so pissed! It’s awesome!” He looks up finally, and the color floods from his face. “Sheriff!”
“Scott,” John says evenly. “We were just taking about Jackson’s car, as it happens. The thing looks like it was mauled by mountain lions.”
“I hear there’s a lot of that going around,” Peter offers, and John can’t quite hide his grudging smile.
“You said you wouldn’t give me a reason to come looking for you, Hale.”
Peter raises his eyebrows. “Since when is some spoiled rich kid’s car a decent reason?”
“Don’t test me,” John warns, but there’s no heat in it.
“Is Stiles okay?” Scott asks, eyes wide.
“He’ll be fine. Like I said, we talked.” John looks troubled. “Is what happened all over Facebook too?”
“Yeah. Kind of.” Scott chews his lip. “I think maybe one of the kids from school was there when they brought Stiles in? So everyone sort of knows.”
“I figured,” John sighs. “Well, he’s agreed to see a counsellor at the hospital, and we’re talking again now, so we’ll get there.”
Quiet confidence, or the stubborn refusal to see it any other way? Peter chooses to believe it’s quiet confidence, with a dash of faith thrown in. Stiles seems like the sort of boy who can inspire a little faith.
By Wednesday afternoon Stiles is back on Peter’s couch. This time he’s got Scott on one side of him and Derek on the other, and they’re playing some sort of video game. On some sort of video game system that Peter wasn’t aware he owned. He raises his eyebrows at them as he brews a coffee, and Stiles smiles at him. It’s a shy smile. Uncertain, as though Stiles isn’t sure himself of how he feels.
“Did my money pay for that abomination?” Peter asks.
Stiles’s smile grows.
“You have no ID, no credit card, and no way to access a bank account,” Derek reminds him. “It’s technically my money.”
Peter rolls his eyes.
Stiles gives up on the game after a few minutes and wanders into the kitchen.
“How are you feeling?” Peter asks him.
“Stupid. Embarrassed. Couldn’t even kill myself properly.” His tone is wry, but the smile doesn’t quite reach his amber eyes.
“Well, if you must fuck something up, I’m glad it was that,” Peter tells him. “Coffee?”
“Makes me sleepy.” He shrugs at Peter’s look. “I have ADD. Caffeine works differently on me.”
How like Stiles to go against the grain in all things.
“How was school?”
“It sucked balls,” Stiles says frankly. He crosses to the refrigerator, and pulls out a can of soda. Since when has Derek been buying Stiles’s favorite brand of soda? “Except guess what?”
“What?” Peter sips his coffee.
Stiles pops the can of soda open. “Lydia, the girl I like, she dumped Jackson for being a dick. Took her long enough. Anyway, she’s going to the dance with me. Just as like friends or whatever, but it’s still pretty cool. I don’t know yet if it’ll actually cut me some slack with the popular kids or turn her into a total pariah.” He snorts. “So yeah, either it’ll be really awesome or a total cringe-worthy disaster. Story of my life.”
“You’ll be fine,” Peter tells him.
Stiles pulls a face, and then shifts his can from his left hand to his right.
“Is it hurting?” Peter asks, nodding at his bandaged wrist.
Peter sets his coffee down and holds out his hand.
Stiles looks at it for a moment, then cautiously lifts his arm. He settles his palm, cold and damp from the soda can, into Peter’s, and Peter links their fingers loosely together. Stiles’s eyebrows shoot up as he watches the thin black tendrils of his pain get drawn into Peter’s hand. They’re hardly noticeable to Peter. Barely a twinge. They vanish before they reach his forearm. Still, the thought of Stiles carrying pain when it’s not necessary is one he won’t countenance.
“Wow,” Stiles says, his breath slipping out of him in a sigh. “You did that at the warehouse, didn’t you?”
“Thought I imagined it.” He looks up and meet’s Peter’s gaze. “Does it hurt you to do it?”
“Only a little.”
Stiles moves to pull his hand away, but Peter holds it.
“You don’t have to.”
“Let me.” Peter rubs his thumb over Stiles’s.
In front of the television, Derek and Scott are laughing as they blast away at aliens. They might as well be a world away. Stiles holds Peter’s gaze, and a smile gradually spreads across his face. He has beautiful eyes.
The last of the tendrils fade away, and Peter releases Stiles’s hand.
“Thanks,” Stiles murmurs. He doesn’t move away.
Peter looks at the moles on his face and thinks of the constellations he and Caleb mapped out on the ceiling. A lifetime ago now, but as immediate as if it had only been minutes.
“Thanks,” Stiles says again. His heart thumps wildly. “Thank you for saving me.”
Peter steps aside and reaches for his coffee. “Of course,” he says, because, for one of the rare times in his life, he can’t think of anything else to say.
It’s late when the sheriff arrives to collect Stiles. Scott’s already left to head home and catch dinner with his mother before she goes to work. Dinner at the loft was pizza. John looks covetously at the empty boxes when he steps inside. Stiles is lying on the couch, his socked feet in Derek’s lap. He’s chattering on about something, and Derek is alternately nodding, or trying to ignore him. It reminds Peter of how he was with Cora and Matty when his younger siblings were badgering him. Derek’s half annoyed, half indulgent. He pretends he’s not really paying any attention, but whenever Stiles rubs his injured wrist, Derek curls his fingers around his ankle and draws away the pain.
“Got a visit from Chris Argent today,” John says. “Couldn’t figure out if he was trying to warn me off you and Derek, or find out what I know.”
“That’s Argent for you,” Peter smirks. “A riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an asshole.”
“Dad!” Stiles exclaims, sprawling off the couch onto the floor, and then bouncing to his feet. “Where are my shoes?”
“Where you left them,” Derek mutters.
“You’re not helping, sourwolf,” Stiles says, and pokes him in the chest.
“I’m not here to help,” Derek shoots back. Stiles pokes him again. “They’re in the kitchen, you idiot!”
He pads off to collect them, and John rolls his eyes.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on him.”
“It’s no trouble,” Peter says.
Derek growls something about him being a lot of trouble.
“I heard that, Derek!” Stiles shouts, reappearing with his shoes in his hand. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow?”
“We’ll be here,” Peter tells him with a smile.
He watches as John ushers Stiles outside, and then listens until they’re safely down the stairs and into John’s car. When he turns around again, Derek’s clearing up the pizza boxes.
“I’ve been thinking,” Derek begins tentatively.
“You asked me a while ago if we should rebuild the house.”
Derek nods. “I think we should.”
Warmth spreads in Peter’s belly.
“We have a pack now,” Derek says. “Scott, and Stiles too. And we wouldn’t have to rebuild it exactly the same, right?”
“No,” Peter tells him. “It would never be the same.”
Derek nods again. “Okay. Then I think we should do it.”
Peter feels a tiny sliver of something cold and dark break off from him and vanish into dust. “Yes,” he says. “I think we should.”
Hi everyone! I'm back to work today (boo, hiss!) so updates will drop back to one chapter a day, posting about this time each day hopefully.
The woods around the old Hale house are dappled in sunlight. Stiles sits cross-legged on the porch, chewing his pen while he works on his homework. Peter sits on the top step and watches him, glancing out at Derek and Scott every few minutes to be certain they’re still training. They’re working on Scott’s control today, sitting together in the sunlight while Scott sheathes and unsheathes his claws, over and over again. Derek is a good teacher. He’s like a patient big brother. It gives him something to focus on that isn’t grief or betrayal. Scott is unsullied by all of that.
“Solve for x,” Stiles mutters “If the value of a is… ugh. Just ugh.” He shoves his book off his lap. “What is even the point of this?”
Peter shrugs. “Ask Derek. He was the mathlete.”
Stiles’s eyes grow wide. “Derek was a mathlete?” He pulls a face. “Really? With those shoulders, and those abs? And that face?”
“Mathletes can’t have shoulders or abs?” Peter asks with a smirk. “Or faces? Besides, he didn’t have muscles like that when he was sixteen.”
Stiles pokes his own belly. “I think my six pack is hiding behind all those curly fries.”
Stiles works at his homework for a while, and gradually his expression shifts into something more serious. At last he sets his book aside again. “Can I ask you something, Peter?”
Stiles chews his lip for a second before he speaks. “If I’m pack, is Kate Argent going to try and kill me too?”
“You’re not a wolf,” Peter says. “She might not realize you’re pack.”
“Okay.” Stiles raises his eyebrows. “The psycho who killed your entire family and is coming back for you and Derek will err on the side of compassion, right.”
He has a point. A sarcastic little point.
“Will you train me?” Stiles asks. “Like, I know I can’t do anything like Scott can do now, but you’d have to have a couple of pointers right? I mean, I’ve never even been in a proper fight at school. The only time I come anything close to having ninja moves is when I accidentally walk through a spider’s web.”
Peter laughs at the image.
“Please?” Stiles asks.
“Yeah!” Stiles climbs to his feet and bounces on his heels. “Rock music training montage coming right up!”
“That’s not how it works,” Peter says.
“Let me see if I’ve got Eye of the Tiger on my phone!”
“If you do, the deal is off,” Peter tells him, voice dry.
Stiles leaps down the steps onto the ground, stumbles, flails, and would have face planted except Peter grabs him by the back of the shirt.
“There are those ninja moves now, I see.”
Stiles grins at him.
Training Stiles is not quite a pointless exercise, Peter rationalizes. It’s not as though a few days learning to block a punch, or throw one, will make any difference if it comes to a fight with Kate Argent, but there’s no harm in helping Stiles rebuild his self-confidence. And, if Peter has anything to do with it, Kate won’t make it near Stiles or either of the betas.
Peter strips his shirt off, and tosses it toward the steps.
“Oh,” Stiles says, his heartbeat quickening. He flushes, clears his throat, and stares at some point just over Peter’s shoulder. “Okay. Because that’s how we do it.”
Both Derek and Scott train shirtless. It cooler, and werewolves run hotter than humans. But before Peter has a chance to tell Stiles he can leave his shirt on if he wants, Stiles is shrugging off his baggy flannel and then stripping off the t-shirt he wears underneath.
His pale, lean torso is crossed with pink scars where the alphas tortured him. Some are still fading. Some, Peter guesses, never will. Peter blinks, and sees Stiles as he was that night: covered in open, bloody wounds. This is an improvement. But, from the way Stiles is obviously fighting not to shrink over and cover his body with his arms, he doesn’t feel the same.
“Okay,” he says, holding Stiles’s gaze. “Let’s see what you’ve got.”
Stiles huffs out a breath. The sunlight makes his pale skin gleam. “Right. Says the werewolf.”
Peter rolls his shoulders. “I’ll let you throw the first punch.”
Stiles snorts. “Um, yeah, you will, because this isn’t a real fight! That’s kind of the point, Peter.”
“Are you trying to talk my ear off in the hopes I’ll throw the fight?”
“Would it work?” Stiles asks hopefully.
“Not a chance, princess.”
Stiles snorts again. “Princess, really? That’s your trash talk?”
Peter shrugs. “If the glass slipper fits…”
Stiles laughs, delighted. “You are such an asshole!”
He’s laughing. For just this moment, he’s forgotten his scars. His scent smells bright and fresh. Sunlight makes his eyes shine.
“Still waiting for that punch, Stiles,” Peter reminds him.
Stiles throws a punch.
It’s terrible. Peter catches his fist easily and blocks it, and twists him off balance.
Stiles groans. “Dammit! That was supposed to take you by surprise!”
“Punching me when I asked you to punch me was supposed to take me by surprise?”
“Yeah!” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Because obviously only an idiot would punch you when you asked, and you know I’m not an idiot, and therefore you weren’t expecting me to do it. It was like an elaborate double bluff or something.”
“Mmm.” Peter tilts his head and regards him curiously. “Has it occurred to you that you may be overthinking this?”
“I accidentally forgot to take my Adderall today. I’m not overthinking anything. I’m surface-thinking six million different things.” He grins.
“Let’s see if we can tire you out then,” Peter offers.
He doesn’t put any real force into the punch he throws, but it’s enough to connect with Stiles’s shoulder, and to make Stiles leap back in surprise. “Ow!”
“Did I hurt you?” Peter asks immediately.
“You seriously bruised my pride!” Stiles glares at him, and rubs his shoulder. Then he starts a complicated little dance from foot to foot, that reminds Peter of nothing as much as a toddler who really needs to pee. “Okay, no, look. I’m shaking it off. This is me shaking it off.”
“I can’t hit you, you’re too pathetic.”
Stiles lifts his arms in victory. "My plan worked!”
“Hit me again,” Peter says, and rolls his eyes.
It’s… fun. Is fun the right word? It’s been so long since Peter had fun that he’s not sure if this resembles it or not. But Stiles is smiling—and ducking and weaving like an idiot—and this might be fun.
And then it’s gone again, the moment he thinks it, because fun is something that belong in another place, in another time, not here. The precious things that Peter hoards? His betas, Stiles, and moments like this. They must be fleeting. Kate will try to destroy them.
His smile slips. “Wait.”
Stiles breathes heavily, his chest expanding. Scar tissue shining like brightly-colored threads. “What?” His own smile falters uncertainly.
Peter’s darkening mood sours further, and turns toward something like melancholy, as though Stiles is just as much a ghost as anyone who died here. Peter relaxes his stance, lets his fists fall open. Tries to smile again at Stiles, and steps away instead. He turns toward the trees.
“Hey! Peter, what are you—” Stiles reaches out and grabs him on the top of the shoulders. His thin fingers dig into the muscle of Peter’s neck.
Too close to his throat.
His claws are out before Peter knows it. His vision is alpha red. His growl tears through him. He twists and throws the threat off him. Realization follows only a fraction of a second after panicked instinct, but Stiles is already on the ground. Peter can already smell blood.
Stiles is on his side. He’s trying to roll onto his knees, to crawl away.
“Stiles!” Peter steps toward him.
Derek is there suddenly, wrenching Peter back. Growling at him. “Leave him! Back off!”
Scott drops to his knees beside Stiles, hands hovering over him. “Are you hurt? Did he hurt you?”
Stiles’s panic tastes sharp on the air, but his voice hardly wavers. “I’m okay. I touched his neck. That’s bad, right? That I touched his neck?”
Jesus. Even when he’s teetering on the edge of a panic attack, he’s sharp enough to know what went wrong. Peter’s wolf whines. Peter might call the boy pack, but the wolf… the wolf has never scented him properly. Doesn’t know him like that. The wolf is trigger shy.
“Derek,” Peter murmurs. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
Derek releases him slowly.
“Stiles?” Peter steps forward, his stomach twisting. “Stiles, I’m sorry.”
Scott helps Stiles to his feet. There’s a scrape on his elbow, pebbling with blood. His heart sounds as though it’s trying to break free of his chest. His scent is sharp with adrenaline.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says again.
Stiles flashes him a shaky smile. “Please. I’ve had worse every time I play lacrosse.”
Except Peter growled. Pushed him and hurt him and growled. It doesn’t take a fucking psychologist to figure out exactly where that association would have led Stiles. Straight back to that warehouse. Straight back to Deucalion and his pack.
“I get it,” Stiles continues. “I mean, you were like in a coma for six years, and that whole time all these nurses and doctors were always touching you and you couldn’t stop them. And that’s before we even get to the whole wolfy side. I get it.”
Stiles Stilinski. This fucking boy. He’s incredible. He’s proven himself capable of surprising Peter every single day.
“I’ve never scented you,” Peter says. “That was remiss of me.”
Stiles rubs at his bleeding elbow, and one corner of his mouth turns down. “I shouldn’t have touched you like that though.”
“Shut up.” Stiles steps forward into Peter’s space and, wrinkling his nose and looking dubious, lifts his chin up so that his throat is exposed. Then he tilts his head to the side.
Peter can see his carotid artery pulsing under his skin. Can smell the sweet copper tang of his blood so close to the thin surface of his skin. He reaches out and curls his fingers around Stiles’s sun-warm neck. Slides his thumb up under his jaw, and tilts his head a little more. Stiles’s eyes widen, and his mouth falls open slightly. The tip of his tongue moistens his bottom lip, and his heartbeat spikes.
“That’s it,” Peter says in a low voice. “Just lean into it.”
Stiles swallows. His mouth twitches. “You sure you’re not a vampire?”
Peter smiles at that, and lowers his head to press his face gently against the crook of Stiles’s neck. He inhales: warmth, sweat, sunlight and something that smells a little like burned sugar. Knowing Stiles, it probably is.
Stiles relaxes at last, closing his eyes as Peter scents him. Then Peter leans back again, and takes Stiles’s right hand in his. He lifts it, and presses Stiles’s palm against his throat. He lets the boy touch the wolf’s jugular. Stiles’s fingers find a tiny patch Peter missed this morning with his razor, and rasp against the stubble.
“Do you know me now, wolf?” Stiles whispers.
“Yes.” Peter closes his eyes for a moment.
Stiles. Stiles. Stiles.
The wolf has his scent now, freely given. Peter won’t mistake him for a threat again.
“Good,” Stiles says softly.
Peer opens his eyes again. Lets go of Stiles hand, pleased when Stiles keeps it on his throat. He runs his fingers down Stiles’s extended arm, brushing the graze on his elbow. Just a tiny bit of pain, but Peter draws it away. His fingertips tingle.
Stiles drops his hand at last, but stays standing close.
Later, when he decides to work on his math again, he sits on the top step next to Peter and leans against him. It would be a careless sort of intimacy between humans. Between a human and a wolf, it’s more.
It’s pack, and safety.
“You’re wrong about Scott,” Stiles announces one morning, dumping his school backpack on the floor of the loft.
Peter looks up from his brunch. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“I was,” Stiles says. He sits down at the table beside Peter, and reaches out to filch a piece of toast. “But then I had an epiphany, and had to come and tell you immediately.”
“I do enjoy a good epiphany,” Peter admits.
“Of course you do,” Stiles agrees. “Anyway, you’re wrong about Scott.”
“How am I wrong?” Peter asks curiously.
“You should tell him to go out with Allison again,” Stiles says.
Peter can’t help the growl that escapes him.
“I know,” Stiles says around his mouthful of toast. “Argents. But, listen, apart from the fact that Allison is so not what you think—she’s like created entirely out of fluffy clouds and baby animals, I think—you’re overlooking one tiny, Machiavellian detail.”
“And what is that?”
Stiles swallows. “Okay, so. Mr. and Mrs. Argent clearly don’t know that Scott is a werewolf. I know you think they might know and they’re trying to manipulate him like Kate did to Derek, but, dude, they hate Scott. He’s kind of bad with the whole meet-the parents-thing. Also, Lydia said that Allison’s mom found a condom wrapper in her bag. And I think finding a wrapper is probably a lot worse than finding an unopened one, right? Because an unopened one just means that, oh, my kid has taken all that theoretical safe sex stuff on board. But just the wrapper? That’s a whole different ballgame. That’s holy shit, my kid is being violated!” He laughs a little too brightly, and Peter wonders if the joke misfired and the word twisted in his gut the same way it did in Peter’s. “Or maybe, my kid needed an emergency water balloon, but that’s not as likely.”
“Not as likely, no,” Peter agrees.
“Anyway,” Stiles continues. “Alison’s scary parents totally know that her and Scott were doing it. Except if they’re all about luring Scott in with the irresistible power of Allison’s—of Allison, then why would they then try and break them up? They don’t know he’s a wolf, Peter. They just think he’s some grubby teenage boy doing gross things with their daughter!”
“This was your epiphany?” Peter asks. He can admit it’s some solid reasoning, but Allison is still an Argent. And Stiles wants him to let Scott date an Argent? “Are you back on the lacrosse team? Did you suffer a concussion?”
“Shut up,” Stiles says. “Because listen. They don’t know. And we know they don’t know. But we know!”
“This is getting rather confusing,” Peter says mildly.
“Peter, if Allison isn’t the femme fatale, then Scott totally could be!” He wrinkles his nose. “Homme fatale? I don’t know. My point is, that we can use Scott to get information out of Allison. Oh, hey Allison. When is your aunt coming to stay? Is she staying with your family? Meeting up with any old friends?”
Peter is silent for a long while as he regards Stiles’s eager expression. Then he shakes his head slightly. “Stiles, it’s not a game. She’s a killer.”
“I know.” Stiles’s face falls. “I know that. And we could use any advantage we have, right?”
There’s a thread of darkness woven into the core of Stiles Stilinski. A ruthlessness. It mirrors Peter’s own.
“It’s a good plan,” he says at last. “But Scott would make a terrible spy.”
“He would,” Stiles agrees. “So we don’t tell him.”
“We don’t tell him he’s a spy?”
“Nope.” Stiles’s eyes are bright. “We let his spazzy best friend be the annoying third wheel in their relationship, and ask all the questions.”
“Peter! Come on!”
“No!” Peter flashes his alpha eyes at Stiles before thinking twice. For a second he’s afraid of the implications, but Stiles only huffs and slumps in his chair. Peter softens his tone when he speaks again. “No. I don’t want any of my pack going near the Argents. It’s too dangerous.”
I don’t want you going near the Argents.
“I just want to help, Peter. You said I’m pack.” Stiles scowls.
“You are,” Peter tells him. “That means it’s my job to protect you. And that means making sure that none of you take unnecessary risks. Understand?”
“Fine,” Stiles mutters.
“Good.” Peter slides his plate away. “Now let me drive you back to school before you get a detention.”
Stiles mutters and complains the whole way there.
Peter doesn’t see Stiles for another two days. He worries that Stiles is sulking, but when he finally shows up again, outside of school hours for once, he’s as talkative and frenetic as always. He only goes still, goes quiet, when Peter takes a moment to scent him. He closes his eyes when Peter traces the scar bisecting his cheek with the tip of his index finger.
“Deucalion did that one himself,” he says, opening his eyes when Peter lifts his finger away. Stiles’s gaze could strip a man’s soul naked. “I hope wolfsbane poisoning is painful.”
“Exceedingly,” Peter says, stepping back to put some distance between them.
“Good,” Stiles says, narrowing his eyes. He seems to shake himself awake suddenly. “Want me to teach you how to play Halo?”
“I would rather die,” Peter tells him.
Stiles laughs, and heads for the couch.
“He’s only just turned sixteen,” Derek says, out of the fucking blue.
“I know how old he is.” Peter sips a glass of wine. Because he’s a pretentious asshole, that’s why. And if Derek is drinking beer, then Peter is drinking wine. And yes, it was expensive. “Any reason you feel the need to mention this now? Or at all?”
“I’m not going to put my dick in a child, Derek,” Peter says, enjoying the way Derek’s expression sours at his crassness. “Still, I hear some sixteen-year-olds really get off on sleeping with older people. Isn’t that right?”
It’s a cheap shot, but sometimes the cheapest shots hit the mark in the most satisfying way.
The sheriff is working, and Stiles needs an adult. That’s literally the text that Peter gets: I need an adult!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The over use of exclamation marks is enough to make Peter want to decline on principle alone, but it’s Stiles. He hasn’t figured out how to say no to Stiles. Perhaps that’s not exactly true. When Stiles wants to do something dangerous, Peter can shut him down in the space of a single heartbeat. But when Stiles wants to do something ridiculous, trivial, or unimportant? Those are the things Peter is apparently powerless against.
Nothing else could explain why he’s standing in a store, watching as Stiles flicks anxiously through a rack of shirts.
“These all look the same!”
“They’re not the same,” Peter promises him. Who buys a suit piecemeal off a rack anyway? But when he’d suggested Stiles get something tailored, Stiles had looked at him like he’d grown a second head. “Do you prefer a classic collar or a tab collar?”
“I just want a shirt?” Stiles’s face goes slack with confusion. “With sleeves and stuff? Why does this have to be so complicated?”
He does need an adult.
One hour and a brief tutorial on collar styles later, they’re sitting in the foodcourt. It’s garish. The artificial light is too bright, the competing smells of a hundred different styles of cheap food is disgusting, and the music is a criminal assault on the senses. But Stiles has his trousers and a dress shirt and a tie for the school dance—he’d refused a jacket, because, in his words, when the hell is he going to need a suit again? Peter suspects the decision had as much to do with Stiles’s budget as it did any other practicalities—and is devouring a burger and fries, so Peter considers it a successful mission.
Stiles slurps at his soda and picks up some story he’d started back in the store. Something about some kid who was sick on the bus. He tells it like it’s hilarious and, the way his mouth stretches in a grin and his eyes get impossibly wide with delight, it kind of is.
“Anyway, extremely long story short, Coach is getting tired of Jared always throwing up on the bus, so he’s said he’s going to let me try out for the team again. He really wants to cut Jared. And I know I can play better than Jared. Also, I don’t get car sick.”
Peter raises his eyebrows. “Do you want to be back on the team?”
Stiles shrugs. “I guess so. I mean, Jackson is a dick and so are some of the other guys. But there are a couple who are okay, and Scott’s co-captain. Anyway, Jackson’s kept his head pulled in ever since you guys wrecked his car, so I can deal with him.”
“And I imagine the team can really use your ninja skills.”
“Shut up! I’m not that bad. Plus, it’s time I tried to get some normal stuff back in my life, right? Like as normal as things get around here. I mean, I can’t just keep hanging out with you every day.”
“I don’t mind,” Peter tells him.
Stiles snorts like he thinks it’s a lie. “Right.”
Peter lets it slide.
He doesn’t want to make Stiles uncomfortable by hitting him with the truth. He does like spending time with Stiles, and it’s not just because Stiles is pack. It’s because Stiles is ridiculous, and has no filter, and laughs a lot. A boy like that wouldn’t spend time with a monster, would he?
That the crux of it really.
Peter feels like less of a monster when Stiles is by his side.
Peter should have known better than to assume that by forbidding Stiles to use Scott in a plan to get closer to Allison Argent, that the issue was settled. Peter’s just arrived outside the Argent house one evening—the intel he gathers might be negligible at this point, really, but he enjoys standing in the darkness and fantasizing about burning the place down while Chris and his family scream inside—when he catches a very familiar scent.
Peter vaults soundlessly onto the garage roof, and makes his way toward Allison Argent’s window.
“-and,” he hears a familiar reckless little idiot exclaim, “Danny’s not even bi!”
It must be the end of one of Stiles’s typical my-life-sucks rants, designed purely to entertain others, because Allison laughs, and then makes a small sympathetic noise.
“Danny could not get more girls’ phone numbers than you.”
“He could!” Stiles exclaims. “I’m pretty sure he does, but I have no idea what he does with them after that!”
Peter edges closer to the window. He shifts over and looks inside. Stiles and Allison are sitting on her floor, books and papers spread out around them. Oh, it’s a study session. Peter has to fight not to growl at Stiles’s wilful disobedience. At the danger he’s putting himself in.
There’s a knock on the bedroom door.
Victoria Argent might be wearing a smile, but there is nothing about her that actually manages to look warm. “Almost dinner time. Allison, is your friend staying?”
“No, thanks, Mrs. Argent,” Stiles says brightly. “I’m making my dad lazanki tonight. It’s Polish. I have no idea what I’m doing, but can you really go wrong with cabbage and noodles?”
Victoria’s uncomfortable smile tightens.
Stiles climbs to his feet and gathers his books together. He shoves them into his backpack. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Allison!”
Peter hears the purr of an engine, and flattens himself against the side of the house moments before headlights arc through the darkness. The SUV pulls into the driveway, and Chris Argent climbs out.
“That boy is odd,” Victoria says in a voice too low to carry to Stiles as he heads downstairs, but easily reaches Peter’s ears.
“Mom!” Allison protests. “He’s nice. He’s a good friend.”
“Is that all he is? A friend?”
“Oh my god, yes!”
Ah, domesticity. How nice. Peter leans away from the window as he hears the front door open.
“Hi!” Stiles blurts brightly. “You must be Allison’s dad.”
“And you’re Stiles,” Chris says.
There’s a moment of awkward silence there. Awkward even for Chris, and silence is his wheelhouse. Peter hears the sound of Stiles’s soles shuffling on the floor.
“I recognised you from your picture,” Chris says as last. “I was in the search party.”
“Oh, right. That.” Stiles’s heart thumps a little faster, and his scent sours a little. “Um, thanks, for, um, for looking for me.”
“I’m glad you made it home,” Chris says gruffly.
He wouldn’t be so glad, Peter thinks, if he knew Stiles was a part of Peter’s pack now. Peter rolls his shoulders and spreads his fingers. His claws are itching to come out.
“Me too.” Stiles throat clicks when he swallows. “It was nice to meet you, Mr. Argent.”
“Take care, Stiles.”
Peter feels a rush of relief when Stiles steps outside the Argent house, and the door closes behind him. He leaps soundlessly down from the roof, and slinks through the darkness after Stiles.
Stiles doesn’t even jump when Peter falls into step beside him.
“I told you not to go near the Argents.”
Stiles digs in his packet for his car keys. “Allison and I got partnered up for an assignment. That’s hardly my fault.”
Peter curls his lip in a faint snarl. “Let’s not even pretend you didn’t engineer it, Stiles.”
Stiles shrugs, and swings his keys in the end of his finger. “Do you want to know what I found out, or not? Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with AP History.”
“What did you find out?”
“Aunt Kate is arriving on Wednesday,” Stiles says, his expression darkening. “Allison hasn’t seen her in years, because Allison’s dad had a falling out with the rest of the family. Allison doesn’t know how long she’s staying. And her parents are being really weird about it.”
“Wednesday,” Peter repeats softly.
They reach the Jeep. Stiles has parked it in a side street. Behind a dumpster.
“Really?” Peter asks.
“What? Like I was going to park it right out in the street when I knew you’d be lurking?”
“Stiles.” Peter reaches forward and grabs his wrist. Brings it close to his face so he can scent it. “I’m the alpha. You listen to me.”
That tone might work on Derek or Scott, but it washes right over Stiles. He wrenches his arm free, and then straightens his shoulders and juts his chin out. “I want to help! I can help! I can go places you can’t!”
“And I am telling you not to!”
Stiles scowls at him, and slaps the hood of the Jeep. “Why the hell won’t you just use me? I can do it, Peter!”
“And what the fuck are you trying so hard to prove?” Peter demands, raising his voice.
Stiles flinches, and goes still. His chest rises and falls rapidly.
“Stiles.” Peter sighs. “What are you trying to prove?”
Stiles seems to crumple. He turns away from Peter, and leans up against the Jeep with his forehead cradled against his arms. “I can do it. I’m not weak. I’m better. I’m better.”
This is a pain that Peter can’t draw away. He puts his hand on Stiles’s shoulder anyway. Rubs a thumb over the knot at the top of his spine. Leans in and rubs his cheek against Stiles’s terrible buzzcut. “You’re still hanging on by a thread, aren’t you, sweetheart?”
Still snorts a little at the endearment. He possibly mistakes it for sarcasm. “Not the only one though, am I?”
Peter closes his eyes briefly, and smiles. “No.”
The bells jingle as Peter pushes open the door to the Beacon Hills Animal Clinic. Alan Deaton is talking to a woman holding a birdcage when Peter steps inside. His gaze lands on Peter, then goes straight back to the worried woman. His heart doesn’t even skip a beat.
Peter and the parrot regard one another suspiciously, and then Peter browses the kibble for a while. Oh, look. There’s one that targets temperament. He wonders if it’s laced with the dog equivalent of Valium. He wonders if he could slip it into Derek’s muesli without his noticing.
Deaton finishes up with the woman and the parrot, and locks the door behind them when they leave.
“Peter,” he says evenly. “What is it that you need?”
“Books,” Peter tells him. “I presume you still have a few emissary volumes lying around somewhere.”
“A few,” Deaton agrees. “Is there any book in particular you were chasing?”
“No,” Peter says. “Something on pack history, perhaps. Something general, but not too dull. A werewolf primer, I suppose. The sort of thing that would be useful for a human packmate with absolutely no idea what the hell he’s doing, and an insatiable urge to get involved nevertheless.”
Deaton raises his eyebrows. “I’ll see what I can find.”
“I also need the number,” Peter says, “of a mutual friend.”
It’s nearly full moon, and the need to run rises like an ache in his bones. His skin feels like like it doesn’t quite fit. His fingers clench for no good reason except his claws want to appear, and his gums itch to let his fangs descend.
“I know that look,” Stiles says when he opens the door to Peter. “Bambi’s gonna get it tonight.”
Peter flashes his eyes at him.
The Stilinski house smells lived-in. A little dusty in places, a little musty in others, and Stiles has definitely lost a ripe pair of socks down the back of the couch cushions sometime fairly recently, but it’s comfortable. Stiles shows Peter toward the kitchen, smothering a yawn with his hand.
“Dad’s at work,” he says. “What are you doing creeping around at this hour? Shouldn’t you be at the house making sure Scott and Derek don’t get tummy aches from eating too many bunnies?”
“I’m sure they’ll be just fine without me. You, on the other hand…” Peter sets his bag down on the kitchen table and gestures to it. “I brought you something.”
“Is it waffles?” Stiles asks hopefully.
“Why the hell would I bring you waffles?”
“Why the hell would you bring me anything?” Stiles retorts, and opens the bag carefully. “Holy shit.”
Peter never had any doubt the books would appeal, despite Stiles’s hatred of homework. That hatred, Peter knows, comes from being confined to staying on topic, and not being allowed to dive off in a million different, fascinating tangents. Stiles does not work well within narrow parameters. Let him explore where he wants though, and he’s unstoppable.
Stiles sinks down into a chair, pulling the first book toward him. “Is this even in English?”
“It’s called Spencerian penmanship, Stiles. Even children used to be able to master it.”
“It makes my fingers cramp just by looking at it.”
“This is pack history,” Peter tells him. “This is what I want you to learn.”
“This is just a way to get me to forget about doing my assignment with Allison, isn’t it?” Stiles asks.
“It’s a way to get you to understand your place,” Peter says. “You’re absolutely right that I can’t scare you into submission. You and I will never have the relationship I have with my betas. Pack hierarchy isn’t instinctive with humans. It has to be learned.” He taps his finger on the books. “So learn it.”
Stiles’s eyes narrow slightly. “You know, Peter, you kind of lost me at ‘understand your place’. Guess where I’ve heard that before?”
Peter’s wolf growls.
“Guess,” Stiles says again, undaunted.
“Exactly,” Stiles says.
Peter isn’t aware his claws have extended until they’re digging into his palms. Blood wells out around them. “I need you to be safe.”
Stiles’s expression changes in an instant. Something cold snaps into place. The blood drains from his face.
“I’m not a child!” he says, his voice rasping. “I’m not your child! Caleb’s dead, remember?”
Peter hears a rush of sound inside his skull like the roar of the ocean. It drowns out everything else. Peter is buffeted by it. Has to grip the side of the kitchen table to steady himself.
“Shit. I’m sorry.” Stiles looks stunned. “Peter, I don’t even know what the fuck that was, okay?”
“It sounded like cheap pop psychology,” Peter tells him. “I expected better of you.”
“Me too.” Stiles swallows.
Peter sighs and shakes his head. He casts one last glance at Stiles, at the books, at whatever the hell he thought this moment meant. Whatever the hell he thought he might actually accomplish here. “Read it anyway. You might enjoy it.”
He’s almost at the front door when he hears Stiles rushing after him. He turns, and Stiles pushes into his space, crowds him against the wall, and he might be human but he’s whimpering like a pup. He presses his face into Peter’s shoulder, his breath hitching.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles whispers. “I’m sorry.”
Peter rubs his palm over Stiles’s scalp, feeling the prickles rasp. He stares over Stiles’s head to where a framed photograph is hanging on the wall. It’s John, years younger and carefree in a way Peter can’t even imagine him now. He has his arms around a dark-haired woman. The woman has a toddler on her hip. All three of them beam out at the camera like they have no idea what’s coming.
Nothing ever hurts like retrospection.
Kate Argent is the most dangerous killer Peter has ever known.
The week before she’s due to arrive in town, Peter calls the second most dangerous killer he’s ever known.
“Peter Hale,” she says. “I thought you were dead.”
“I thought you were dead,” he replies. “But, if you’re not, then I’d like to you offer you a job.”
“You don’t even know what the job is yet.”
“I don’t have to. Fifty thousand.”
“I’ll make it sixty if you’re here by the weekend.”
“I’ll be there.” She ends the call.
Peter has always liked Braeden.
Braeden turns up in time for dinner on Sunday night. Really, it’s enough to make Peter wish that he and Derek were the sort of family who actually had dinner, rather then each of them just slouching to the refrigerator whenever they get hungry.
They order takeout, and Derek watches warily while Braeden strips off all her weapons before joining them at the table. For a woman who wears her clothes so tight, she certainly manages to squirrel away a lot of weapons.
“I heard you had a problem with an alpha pack,” she says over her kung pao chicken.
“We took care of it,” Peter tells her.
She raises her eyebrows. “You took care of an alpha pack? Just the two of you?”
“I can’t imagine what the hell you need me for then,” she says.
She can though, of course. She’s smart.
When it came to Deucalion, Peter had thought he might die. And what did he care, really? He’d die on his terms, in his territory. With Kate, everything is different. Kate… well, even if Peter dies, he needs to make sure that bitch dies too. Kate doesn’t get to survive this. Even if Peter is dead and rotting in the ground, he needs to know that someone will finish Kate if he can’t. And he trusts Braeden to do it.
“Kate Argent,” he says.
Braeden nods her understanding.
It’s as simple as that.
It’s strange to trust someone like Braeden. Peter really knows nothing about her, not even her last name. But Talia trusted her implicitly, and Peter will admit that Talia was a good judge of character. She had a way about her. She could look right through whatever façade a person was presenting, and see their true self underneath. It’s probably why she and Peter fought so much. Either he was always acting like more of an asshole than he really was, or the other way around. Peter’s never really sure himself.
But Talia liked Braeden. Let her into the house, around the pups, knowing that she was a killer. A killer with a good soul. There’s something hilarious about that. Or tragic.
Peter’s gaze drops to the prominent scars on Braeden’s throat for a moment.
“You should have said,” Braeden tells him at last. Her tone is light, but it’s nothing near a lie. It’s not even a joke. “I would have given you a discount.”
Peter smiles a little at that.
Apparently Braeden had liked Talia too.
“Why is there a terrifying Amazonian goddess in Peter’s loft?” Stiles asks the next day in a stage whisper. Scott elbows him to shut him up.
“Boys,” Peter drawls. “Meet Braeden. Braeden, this is Scott, my beta, and Stiles, my…”
“Yappy puppy,” Derek supplies, raising his eyebrows.
Stiles squawks in outrage.
“Stiles is pack,” Peter finishes.
Stiles flips Derek the bird. Braeden looks at them both curiously, clearly expecting Derek to put the scrawny human in his place for being disrespectful. She looks slightly surprised when Derek actually smiles. An actual shows-his-teeth smile, and not in an I-will-rip-you-throat-out-in-a-second way.
“And this is Braeden,” Peter tells the boys. “Braeden is a consultant.”
Stiles looks her up and down. “A consultant as in one who consults, or as in she’s carrying more firepower than a small Pacific nation?”
Clever boy. Peter smirks.
This was supposed to be a pack meeting, but it’s derailed very quickly into a talk about the high school dance. It’s been moved forward because the school gym needs to be fumigated or something next week. So the dance is now tomorrow night. Peter doesn’t mind the distraction. He doesn’t want Stiles more involved than he already is when it comes to Kate. And in many respects Stiles is a typical teenager. Kate might be coming to town on Wednesday, but today is Monday, and tomorrow is the dance, and Wednesday might as well be centuries away.
“Wait,” Derek says, his eyebrows doing something complicated and judgemental. “What’s the gym being fumigated for?”
“Rats, I think,” Stiles says.
“And they’re moving the dance forward, not back? To a Tuesday?”
“I know, right?” Stiles says. “Like anyone will bother turn up to school on Wednesday.”
Derek seems more troubled about the fact that the school is letting their students congregate in a rat-filled gymnasium, to be honest.
“It’s going to be a total disaster,” Stiles continues happily.
Peter smiles at him, feeling a rush of unaccountable warmth.
The girl Stiles is taking to the dance, the girl he claims to have been madly in love with for years, is called Lydia Martin. Peter’s curiosity was piqued enough to seek her out from a distance. She’s pretty, he supposes. He won’t fault Stiles’s taste. She’s also a haughty little high school princess. A queen bee. A bitch. At first, watching her hold court with a group of eager to please girls, Peter had been a little disappointed in Stiles. He’s so used to the boy surprising him, and then he does something as cliché as falling for that girl? It didn’t take long for Peter to reassess his assumptions, however, and to see the truth.
Lydia’s only playing dumb. And in high school, where beauty is a more valuable currency than brains, it’s an incredibly sharp tactic. It’s also incredibly devious. Lydia could be someone Peter could actually like, and there are very few people he can say that about.
He leaves the pack in the living room and heads into the kitchen to make himself a coffee.
Stiles follows him.
“I read the book,” he says.
Peter presses the button on the coffee machine. “Did you like it?”
Stiles shrugs. “I learned my place.”
The sting Peter feels when Stiles says it like that, Peter knows, is intentional.
“It’s weird,” Stiles continues. “Like, Scott gets all of this now purely on instinct, and I’m a bit jealous. But also, I kind of need to argue, you know? Like I don’t want to be someone you can just shut up with a growl or whatever. I’m not a wolf. I wouldn’t accept that. I mean, I would, because you’d scare the shit out of me, but I’d resent it, you know?”
“I don’t want to hate you,” Stiles tells him. “But you can’t treat me like a wolf. And I… I guess I can’t treat you like a human. That protective alpha thing, that’s instinct too, isn’t it? And every time I do something you’ve told me not to, it’s like a direct challenge to the alpha, isn’t it? Even if that’s not how I mean it?”
“It is,” Peter agrees.
“Okay.” Stiles presses his mouth into a thin line and frowns slightly. Then he shrugs again. “You’re not trying to make me feel small and weak, are you?”
“And you know I’m not trying to make you mad?”
“Then I guess we’ll figure it out,” Stiles says. “If you still want me in the pack, I mean.”
“You’re pack,” Peter says. “That’s a done deal, Stiles. No take backs.”
Stiles smiles, and his body relaxes. “Good. I kind of like all you idiots.”
“High praise indeed,” Peter says.
The coffee begins to dribble into the cup.
“It said in the book that most packs are between ten and fifty members,” Stiles says.
“That sounds about right.”
“We have four.”
Peter sips his coffee, and leans back on the counter. “And?”
“And we should have between ten and fifty,” Stiles says. “You bit Scott. Why haven’t you bitten anyone else?”
“Because I’m not mad anymore?”
“Jury’s still out on that,” Stiles tells him. “But listen. You bit Scott because you were a new alpha and the wolf was running purely on the instinct to make a pack. You’ve got the wolf reeled back in now, which is great for those townsfolk who want to live their lives without being turned into werewolves, but the need to build the pack is still there, isn’t it? I mean, you want to rebuild your house. You wouldn’t do that if you weren’t planning on rebuilding your pack.”
“True,” Peter says. “And the reason I haven’t done a single damn thing about the house yet is because of the Argents. Why build what they’ll only destroy? That goes for the pack as well. Now is not the time.”
“Okay,” Stiles says, and helps himself to a soda from the refrigerator.
Peter doesn’t trust that for a moment. “Okay?”
Stiles pops the soda open. “Okay. This is me respecting your authority as the alpha. Okay.”
“But?” Peter asks, knowing there’s a hell of a lot more to this.
“But when the time is right, there’s a kid on the lacrosse team who would probably take the bite if you asked. He’s like, a total dick to me, but only because I’m one of the few things lower on the high school food chain than him. And I think it’s mostly a front.” He wrinkles his nose. “I’m pretty sure there’s something going on with him at home.”
Peter stills. He doesn’t doubt Stiles’s instincts. But it bothers him. This bothers him. The fact that Stiles seems to think he has any interest or inclination toward rescuing some kid who is meaningless to him. Again. “That sounds like something you should tell your father, not me.”
“But you saved me,” Stiles says, his gaze wide.
And there it is. Stiles’s childlike certainty that Peter is one of the good things in the world. How is it possible that someone as clever as Stiles, someone who can so easily navigate the gray area of moral relativism, can believe that? How is it that his reality can crash up against his faith like this, and his faith can still come out swinging? How is it that he can stare at his scars in the mirror every day and still want to stand shoulder to shoulder with wolves?
And suddenly Peter finds that he doesn’t want to be the one to destroy Stiles’s faith. He could shred it with a word, if he wanted. It would be so easy. But perhaps it’s something worth preserving, for both of them.
“When it’s done with the Argents, I’ll look into it,” he says at last. “If you still think it’s a good idea.”
Stiles smiles at him. “Thank you, alpha.”
There’s not a trace of sarcasm in the word.
Peter reaches out and rubs his palm over Stiles’s buzzcut. The warmth that settles in his belly has nothing to do with his coffee.
Kate Argent returns to Beacon Hills on Tuesday, not Wednesday. Peter knows, because she picks up a speeding ticket courtesy of John Stilinski about twenty miles out of town. Peter idly wonders if John’s heads up, delivered by text, is enough to make the sheriff an accomplice in what will hopefully end in Kate’s death. John might be a man of the law, but he’s not a starry-eyed idealist. He knows he can’t stop Peter. He knows exactly why he doesn’t want to try to stop Peter. He knows the rules count for shit when it’s about family.
Peter likes the Stilinskis. Good people. Good, ruthless people. John and Stiles are both cut from the same cloth. They’d both raze the world to protect their own.
They’d make good wolves.
Peter stares down at his phone, and then looks out to where Derek is standing on the balcony. Just standing, as still and expressionless as a statue.
Kate Argent is here.
Peter wonders if she is as beautiful as he remembers. She could always own a room just by walking into it. She’s vibrant. She’s brash. She moves with the self-confidence of a woman who knows exactly who she is.
Derek must have thought he’d been blinded by the sun when Kate had first flashed her smile at him.
Peter can’t blame Derek, not in good conscience. But since when has Peter given a fuck about his conscience, good or otherwise? He’s not proud of continuing to needle Derek about Kate. He’s selfish though. He doesn’t want to be the only one who still hurts so acutely. Why shouldn’t Derek remember exactly what he did?
Of course, Derek would remember even without Peter’s helpful digs.
Or course he would.
But Peter is a very selfish man.
“What’s the plan?” Braeden asks.
“We lure her out,” Peter says. “And we gut the bitch.”
“I do like a simple plan,” Braeden says, studying the map of Beacon Hills spread out over the table. “And what about the other Argents? You want me to stick around for that inevitable fallout?”
There’s something a little challenging in her tone.
“What?” Peter asks.
“If you pay me, I’ll do it,” she says.
“No discount rate for the rest of the family?” Peter asks archly.
Derek, leaning against the wall, looks worried.
“Chris and Victoria have always lived by the Code,” Braeden says. “If you want me to help take them out, it’ll cost you. Fifty apiece. Thirty for the daughter.”
Kids’ prices. How nice.
“If they’ve always lived by the Code, it won’t be an issue,” Peter counters. “If their Code is so fucking precious, they won’t come after us for killing Kate.”
“I said they’ve always lived by the Code,” Braeden says. “Not that I think they always will.”
It’s a good point.
“I’ll pay you to stick around,” Peter tells her, then sends a text to Stiles and Scott to warn them Kate is in town early, and to meet at the loft straight after school.
The sooner they do this—the sooner they put Kate Argent in the ground—the better.
“Peter!” Scott’s panic is palpable. He’s breathing heavily, and sounds like he’s on the verge of hyperventilating, his voice raw like he’s close to tears. “Peter!”
Peter clutches the phone tightly. “What’s happened?”
Derek’s by his side instantly, fingers spreading as his claws extend. Scott’s not on speaker, but Derek can hear every word too. Braeden can’t, but her gaze has sharpened and she’s ready to move.
“Stiles got into her car!”
Peter’s blood runs cold. “Scott. Tell me exactly.”
Scott draws in a rasping breath. “He was giving Allison notes for their assignment, in the parking lot after school. And then this car pulled up. And Allison got in. And I don’t know… I don’t what happened. I don’t know what she said. He didn’t want to go. His scent went bad, like in a second. He was so scared. But he got in Peter. He got in the car!”
Peter’s ice cold. His vision floods red.
“I tried to follow the car, but I lost it.”
“Where did you lose it?”
Scott’s voice goes a little distant, as though he takes his mouth away from the phone while he looks around. “I’m on Sixth, I think. Near the old tire place that shut down?” For the first time Peter hears the physical pain in his voice, teasing the edges ragged.
“Are you hurt?”
“I came off my bike. I’m healing.”
“Then get here. Now.” Peter ends the calls.
Rage rises up in him. A rush of it. A bright flaming wall of it. The wolf burns to fight, to rend, to kill.
He will tear her throat out.
He will rip her into pieces.
Peter throws back his head and roars. The sound builds and echoes. It shakes the walls.
He will eat her fucking heart.
The look of surprise on Chris Argent’s face is one that Peter would love to take the time to savor, but that’s a luxury he doesn’t have right now. He just curls his clawed fingers around Chris’s throat, slams him into the wall, and raises his free hand to point a claw in Victoria’s direction. “Move one more inch, and I’ll make you a widow.”
Outside, Derek is standing on the sidewalk, keeping watch with Braeden. Ready to dive in, Peter hopes, if this turns to shit. Scott is in the car, keeping the engine running. Peter highly doubts that Scott is anyone’s ace up the sleeve, but the fact that the Argents probably don’t know he’s a werewolf might prove an advantage. It also might not, but Peter doesn’t like to give any advantage away, even if he can’t see how it will prove useful.
Peter tightens his grip on Chris’s throat. Feels his claws pierce his skin, but Chris doesn’t even flinch. Peter leans in close, relishing the sensation of having his fangs this near to Chris’s jugular.
It’s been a while.
“Where’s Kate?” he asks, the words sinking below his growl.
“What?” A flicker of confusion passes over Chris’s face.
“Where is Kate?” Peter digs in harder with his claws, and Chris chokes.
Victoria is the one who answers. “Kate doesn’t get here until tomorrow.”
“Then how did she manage to pick Allison up from school today?” Peter demands.
The look that passes between Chris and Victoria is one that’s difficult to read. It's certainly mistrustful. It could even be distressed, but that might have as much to do with the fact that Chris is turning a rather vivid shade of red as anything else. Peter regretfully loosens his grip a fraction.
“I’m calling. I’m calling Allison.” Victoria pulls her phone out of her pocket. She stabs at the screen with a shaking finger, and lifts the phone to her ear. She purses her lips tightly as the phone rings and rings and rings. “She’s not answering.”
Peter growls, and shoves Chris back into the wall again. Releases his throat and steps away.
Thin trails of blood slide down Chris’s throat. “What do you want with Kate, Peter?”
“Don’t play the fool, Christopher. It doesn’t suit you.”
“Who the hell do you think set the fire?” Peter demands. “Are you really this obtuse? Your darling little sister fucked my underage nephew for information, and used it to kill my entire family! My sister. The children. Caleb.”
“Kate…” Chris looks genuinely shocked. “Kate wouldn’t…”
Evidently he knows as well as Peter that Kate would, because he can’t bring himself to finish the thought. Peter hasn’t got time to hold his hand through the realization his sister is more of a monster than any creature she ever hunted. Not when Stiles is in danger.
“Where would she go?” he demands.
“I don’t know,” Chris grates out.
Peter shifts his gaze to Victoria. “Tell me,” he says.
Victoria holds her phone up, and Peter nods. Victoria dials, and Peter tilts his head to listen as the call is answered.
“Kate,” Victoria says. “Where are you? Is Allison with you?”
Kate’s laugh is just like Peter remembers. The sound of it sickens him. “Ally’s okay. I’d never harm a hair on her head. But you can tell Peter that I’ve got his little human ready to die exactly where the rest of his pack did, and that I’ll be waiting for him and Derek, and they’d better come alone.”
The color floods out of Victoria’s face. “Kate, what have you—”
Kate ends the call.
“Peter!” Chris reaches out and grabs his wrist. There are very, very few people who can do that without inviting immediate death. Strange that Chris is still apparently one of them. “Peter, who does she have?”
“Stiles,” Peter says. “She has my Stiles.”
Peter has Stiles’s scent. It curls around him like a breath of air. It is his oxygen.
It’s different than the connection he feels with the betas. It is both more immediate, and less tangible. It has become necessary.
He can smell it as he approaches the ruined remains of the house, with Derek at his side. He can also pick up at least six other scents. Kate’s not working alone.
Of course, she never has.
Tunnels run under the Hale house. Tunnels that were blocked by barriers of mountain ash when Talia and the others had tried to force their way out. Tunnels with doors that were locked and chained, because Kate hadn’t just targeted the wolves in the pack. She’d known there were humans too. It hadn’t mattered to her.
One of the tunnels opens a few hundred feet from the house, in a dip of the land that’s hidden in a copse of trees. The entrance looks like nothing more than an old root cellar or storm shelter. Peter wrenches the door open, disturbing a sheet of dirt, and descends the steps. Derek follows silently.
It’s dark inside. It takes his eyes a moment to adjust.
Frankly he’s surprised there’s not immediately a bullet in his skull. Although she probably thinks a quick death is too good for him. It might even be the truth.
The tunnels are close and dank. They smell mostly of loam and damp, but death too. Peter is sure he can smell death. Sure he can smell burning flesh. Sure he can hear their screams. Is this the same tunnel he fled down? He remembers very little about the fire, actually. It’s probably a mercy. He knows he tried to get to Caleb. Couldn’t. Part of the cellar ceiling had collapsed, blocking his way. Then, choking black smoke and walls of flame. Perhaps he’d thought he could get out, come back in another way. He’s still not sure how he lived.
A part of him will always regret that he did, but not today.
Today he has to kill Kate Argent.
For Caleb. For the pack. For Stiles.
There is no other option.
Of course he knows he and Derek are walking straight into a trap.
It still hurts like a motherfucker when he gets a taser in the neck.
Stiles is talking.
Jesus. Why is Stiles always talking?
Peter manages a half-hearted growl before he registers the underlying panic in Stiles’s tone, and the sour smell of his fear. He blinks his eyes open.
He and Derek are chained to a wall. Excessively chained, in Peter’s opinion. He knows from the burning sensation in his wrists that the shackles are laced with wolfsbane, but what’s with all the extraneous chains looped around them like tinsel? His bleary gaze follows them to their source.
And that’s a stack of industrial batteries.
So that’s more electrocution on the cards then. Good to know.
“Oh my god, seriously?” Stiles is blathering. “This doesn’t feel like overkill to you? Bad choice of words. Is there such a thing as overkill to you?”
Peter growls as Kate drags Stiles closer. Stiles appears unharmed, but he’s pale in the darkness, and his heartbeat is jackhammering wildly like a frightened rabbit’s. His hands are cuffed behind him.
Kate loops another length of chain around the cuffs, and hooks Stiles up to her little makeshift electrical array as well. He’s not close enough for Peter to reach, but Peter strains toward him anyway. Stiles smells like fear and unshed tears.
Peter tilts his head to sniff the air. There are at least four other hunters close by. Maybe more. Guarding the tunnels, possibly. Clearly Kate doesn’t think she needs them here in this room. Clearly she thinks she has this all under control.
She should have brought a bigger army.
If Peter closes his eyes he can still see a row of shelves. Still see jars and jars of preserves and jams, and James’s homebrew kit bubbling away in the corner. The tunnels and the basement rooms under the Hale house never used to feel sinister at all. He opens his eyes again.
There’s a pretty dark-haired girl standing in the corner. Her eyes are wide and red-rimmed.
“There they are,” Kate says, stepping back. “All my little ducks in a row. Now I don’t need to explain this to you, do I? If the puppies are bad, they get the electricity. Hurts like a bitch, I know, but you’ll heal. Your little human pet won’t though.”
“The boy has nothing to do with this,” Peter says, and wonders if there’s actually ever a way to say something like that without sounding like it’s been scripted by some cheesy Hollywood writer. “Let him go.”
No. No there is not.
“Bullshit,” Kate says, smiling at him like he’s the most amusing thing in the world. “The kid’s been marked. I knew the second I saw him he was your little chew toy. And I knew if I took him, you’d just have to come play fetch with me.”
The scar on his face.
Kate thinks that Stiles is… is to Peter what he was to Deucalion’s pack. It’s not unheard of. So what if a wolf’s urge to claim and mark sometimes lines up beautifully with a human’s masochistic streak? Peter has met humans before who roll that way, and have the scars to prove it. But only someone as twisted as Kate could assume scars like Stiles’s, on a kid his age, could possibly be consensual. But, Peter supposes, what other way is there to explain a boy so damaged, who chooses to run with wolves? Anyone less extraordinary would lock their doors and close their windows and line their walls with mountain ash.
“Aunt Kate!” Allison says, her voice ragged. “Aunt Kate, Stiles was attacked. This is crazy! God, please just stop! There is something wrong with you! You’re sick. It’s not real.”
“Oh, honey,” Kate says, and steps over to the batteries. “It’s real.”
The electricity lights Peter up, forces the wolf to the fore. Forces his eyes to flash, his face to shift. Claws and fangs and an alpha’s roar. On one side of him Derek is growling too, his face ridged, the animal pushing out. Monsters. Monsters.
On the other side of Peter, Stiles’s thin, reedy scream of pain is cut off short as the electricity pushes his human body past beyond what it can take and he slumps forward. Hangs from the chains by his cuffed hands. Body twitching like a fish on a hook.
Allison Argent’s face is a mask of horror. Her wide, dark eyes swim with tears, and she raises her shaking hands to cover her mouth.
“Do you see them?” Kate asks her, her voice low. “Do you see what monsters there are in the world? Do you see what we have to fight? This is a war, Allison.”
Peter rolls his shoulders, shakes his head, drags the wolf back in. “Stiles is human.”
“Wars have traitors,” Kate tells him.
“He’s a child!” Derek roars, not bothering to keep his wolf contained.
Allison flinches back.
Kate’s expression sharpens, brightens. “Oh, honey,” she says. She steps forward and slides a finger down Derek’s chest. “Look at you, sweetie. You grew up in all the right ways, didn’t you?”
Derek growls, but Peter can hear the waver at the end of it that’s close to tipping over the edge into a whimper.
“Now surely,” he says, to draw her attention off his nephew, “he’s too old for you now. There’s nothing more of a turn-off than a boy who can vote, am I right?”
Kate’s gaze cuts to him, and she drops her hand from Derek’s heaving chest.
“Careful, Peter, I don’t know if your little pet can handle many more volts.”
Peter lifts his lip in a snarl. He hates how quickly he has shown her his Achilles heel.
Stiles mumbles something, and Kate moves toward him.
“What’s that?” she asks him, reaching out and tugging his head upright by the ear. Her voice is thick with fake sympathy. “What are you saying, baby?”
Stiles’s eyes are unfocussed, and his body is still trembling from the thousand tiny aftershocks of the electricity, but he forces the words out anyway. Because he’s stubborn. Because he doesn’t know when to shut up. Because he’s extraordinary.
“Not a pet,” he rasps. “Beta.”
Kate pushes his head back against the wall, baring his throat, and laughs. Then she lets his head drop again, and turns to Allison. “Your parents should never have kept you in the dark. Ignorance is weakness, Allison. You need to know what’s out there if you’re going to survive! You’re an Argent. You’re a hunter. You were born to kill dogs like these.”
Allison is in shock, Peter thinks. She’s immobile, frozen, still trembling as though she’s the one who’s been electrocuted.
“They’re monsters, Allison,” Kate says. “They’re monsters.”
Derek growls, the sound rumbling through the room.
“What…” Allison seems to shake herself suddenly awake. She looks from Derek to Peter to Stiles, and then back to Kate. “I believe you.”
Stiles makes a sound not unlike a sob, but of course he does.
He can’t tell she’s lying.
Allison squares her shoulders and turns to face her aunt. “What do you need me to do?”
Kate has always thought that wolves are monstrous.
Her sense of irony isn’t as well developed as she like to think, Peter reflects.
But she’s also always thought that wolves are animalistic creatures driven by base instinct and bestial urges alone. It takes a special sort of cognitive dissonance to hold onto the belief that your enemy are mindless savages when they live in the same town as you, and go to the same school as you, and hang out at the same places as you. But no, perhaps it’s not cognitive dissonance at all. Perhaps it’s just the good old fashioned human ability to look into your neighbour’s eye as you round them up for the latest purge.
Kate thinks that Peter is nothing more than a beast. She has underestimated him, and that’s a mistake. She thinks him incapable of strategizing like a man when, really, Peter could outthink Machiavelli on any day of the week.
If he survives this, he really must remember to take the time to gloat like a motherfucker.
Also, Stiles accused Kate of overkill.
That’s funny, because he’s about to find out that Kate has nothing on Peter when it comes to overkill.
“Peter?” Stiles whispers.
Kate is unpacking a case full of knives. Lots of shiny, shiny knives. Peter imagines that Kate is about to give Allison an impromptu but very thorough lesson on werewolf anatomy.
“Peter, I’m really sorry.”
“Shh.” The last thing Peter wants is for Stiles to attract Kate’s attention again, and remind her that it’s been a while since she ran electricity through their bodies.
“She had a gun,” Stiles whispers. “I wouldn’t have got in the car, but she had a gun.”
People like Kate usually do.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Peter tells him in a low murmur.
“I’m supposed to be taking Lydia to the dance tonight,” Stiles whispers back. “She is going to be pissed!”
Peter can’t help but smile at that. She will be, he thinks, if she has any notion at all of the value of this boy. Peter would certainly feel cheated if someone deprived him of Stiles’s company.
“I’m sure you’ll find some way to make it up to her,” he promises, his voice as low as he can make it.
Stiles’s mouth quirks in a smile that is at once regretful and wry. “But who’s going to make it up to me? You gonna dance with me when we get out of here, Peter?”
“Any time you like, sweetheart.”
That exchange would easily have been worth another few hundred volts of electricity, Peter thinks, if only they didn’t have to go through Stiles as well.
Peter is not a particular fan of torture, especially when he’s on the receiving end. But he growls and postures as Kate traces bloody ribbons on his chest with one of her shiny knives, because this is what she wants. And Peter will give her what she wants as long as she doesn’t use the electricity again. As long as his pain is amusing enough to her to keep her from hurting Stiles.
“Watch,” she tells Allison, digging the point of the knife between Peter’s ribs. “Watch this.”
She drives the blade in, and Peter roars.
Allison is pale, eyes still swimming with tears of horror, her heartbeat racing wildly. She’s her parents’ daughter, though. It will take more than a little horror to break her.
Kate pulls the blade free. Peter’s blood drips down her wrist.
Peter’s tired. The wolfsbane is making him weak. It takes longer and longer to heal every time, and this dance is getting old.
Peter slumps in the chains, panting, and Kate turns her attention to Derek.
“Kate,” Derek moans as she shoves the knife into his gut, and Peter wonders if he ever sounded so desperate when they fucked.
Kate laughs, and Peter thinks that yes, yes he did. This is a sick echo of how he moaned and writhed underneath her once, how he strained and begged and called out her name, and it delights her. Derek can hear it too. He roars at Kate when she pulls the knife free, and the sound is full of hatred. Hurt, too.
Of course Derek’s hatred is laced with a layer of betrayal that Peter can never really understand. Who knows what sweet things she whispered to him once, to make him think that he loved her, that he could trust her? Who knows what’s running through Derek’s head right now, here in the place where his family died because of her? Derek might hate Kate, but he also hates himself.
Not your fault, Derek.
And maybe Peter’s only thinking that because he’s weak and he’s hurt and his instinct is to offer comfort to the beta who feels the same. But maybe it’s also true. Derek made a mistake. Peter’s no stranger to those. There was a time when Peter wanted Derek to suffer for what he’d done. But now, with that little fantasy come true, Peter realizes he was wrong. Derek is his nephew. Derek is pack. And nobody gets to hurt him like this.
He turns his head to look at Stiles. Stiles’s eyes are open, but Peter’s not sure he’s fully aware of anything that’s going on. That might be a blessing, except that Peter needs him on his toes. Needs him to be able to duck and cover once all the pieces fall into place and the bullets start flying.
Which should be any minute now.
“Look at you, sweetie,” Kate tells Derek. “Aw. You should be thanking me. I’m going to put you out of your misery. Won’t you like that? Isn’t that going to be better than being stuck with your psychotic uncle and a little human fucktoy that call themselves a pack?”
Derek whines, and tries to twist away from the blade.
“God, I’m actually embarrassed for you!” Kate laughs. “This is all that’s left of the great Hale pack? Talia must be spinning in her grave!”
Peter growls, low in his throat.
Kate had told Peter and Derek to come alone. What are they? Idiots? But she’s also assumed they have nobody willing to help them.
There are five entrances to the basement. Four of them are tunnels. Peter tries to take some comfort in the fact that at this very moment, Braeden is creeping down one of those tunnels.
Chris Argent is heading down another.
In the third, Alan Deaton is picking his way through the darkness, a tranquiliser gun at the ready.
And John Stilinski should be in the fourth tunnel right about now.
Because Peter might not have much of a pack anymore, but he can still raise an army.
The fifth entrance, of course, is right above them, through the remains of the house.
And Peter can hear Scott’s heartbeat as he gets closer.
Derek growls, his eyes flashing blue as Kate drags the blade of the knife down his sternum. Blood follows it.
Allison moves quietly, quickly. She’s an Argent, alright. She’s plucked a knife from Kate’s case before Peter even sees what she’s doing. And then she’s jabbing it toward Kate’s back.
Oh, little girl, Peter wants to tell her. Always aim for an artery. You don’t get points for effort in a fight to the death.
Of course, Kate is an Argent too, and she’s spent a lifetime training to react to any threat. In that, she’s as instinctual as the wolves she hates. She turns when she senses movement, her face a mask of pain and shock as Allison strikes, but the blow is shallow. Too shallow.
“Traitor!” she gasps, twisting with her own knife still in her hand. Her other hand goes for the gun in her thigh holster.
Allison stumbles back, her knife clattering to the ground.
Derek kicks out. His legs are chained, but he’s got a few inches of movement. It’s enough to jostle Kate a little, to send her staggering sideways. It’s not enough to prevent her from regaining her footing, from drawing her gun and aiming it at her niece’s chest.
“I’m trying to save you, Allison!”
“They’re monsters!” Kate yells.
“And you’re crazy!” Alison yells back.
“I’ve got one rule, Ally,” Kate says, sliding the safety off. “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”
Really, Peter shouldn’t be surprised she’s going to kill her own flesh and blood. He regrets it a little, because Allison Argent clearly isn’t his enemy, but there’s nothing he can do to prevent it. And, like always, Peter can see a way to turn this to his advantage. He won’t have to deal with Chris’s objections now, will he? He can probably ask Chris to hold Kate down while he eviscerates her. Because this will destroy Chris, make him mad with rage. And Peter can use that rage.
Tears are running down Allison’s face. “You’re crazy,” she says. The poor girl has run out of things to say. “You’re crazy.”
Kate’s mouth twists into the approximation of a smile. “And you’re a traitor.”
She raises the gun, and points it at Allison’s face.
An unearthly roar above them reverberates through the basement room and rattles Peter’s bones.
And then, in a shower of blackened boards and dust and dirt, the ceiling explodes and a wolfed-out Scott McCall drops though onto the basement floor.
His timing is impeccable.
Kate spins, and fires.
Scott jerks back at he’s hit, hunkers down. His eyes are gold, and his face is the wolf’s. He’s growling, the sound teased ragged at the edges with pain. He smells of blood and hot metal and wolfsbane. He positions himself between Kate and Stiles, but he keeps looking from Kate to Allison. His instincts are to protect the humans, but he can’t shield them both.
From the tunnels, Peter can hear gunfire. Then he hears the sharp pop and fizz of what might be a flash bomb, the light flickering like strobes under the door to the basement room. That has to be either Chris or Braeden.
Beside Peter, Derek is struggling hard against his shackles.
That door needs to open. That door needs to open right now, because Scott can’t shield both the humans. And because Peter knows that someone like Kate Argent won’t go quietly into the night. She’ll try and take as many of them out as she can.
Peter wrenches against the chains. The sharp edges of the shackles tear into his wrists.
Kate fires at Scott again, and he yelps. The impact of the shot sends him sprawling, and in that moment there is nothing between Kate and Stiles.
Allison—Jesus, who the fuck is this girl?—launches herself at Kate from behind again, just as she fires.
It’s not enough.
Stiles makes a small, shocked noise as he’s hit, and slumps further over in his chains.
Peter’s whole world turns red.
When he was mad before, it was because of the pull of the moon. He was unanchored then, and the moon had dragged him along through the dark, choppy waters of his own insanity.
Now he feels his anchor cut from him again
Now he feels that pure rush of rage so hot it bursts like a supernova. It’s wild, elemental, and uncontained. It could burn entire galaxies.
Chains can’t hold the madness.
Peter breaks the chains.
Everything that happens next comes to him in flashes. Some crimson-splashed tableau where each panel reveals some new bloody detail.
The first person through the door is one of Kate’s hunters. He’s the first person that Peter kills, simply because he blunders close enough for Peter to reach out and drag him close. Slash his throat with his claws, and drop his wet, red, struggling body to the floor.
It’s the work of a heartbeat.
And then Peter is moving toward Kate.
Oh, he has her now.
All her attention is fixed on him.
Which one of them is the biggest predator in the room?
Peter rolls his shoulders and bares his fangs in a snarl.
It’s high time they find out.
Human bones make such a satisfying sound when they break. Kate is on the back foot now, and Peter doesn’t give the bitch an inch.
It’s Braeden who releases Derek from his chains.
Deaton who catches Stiles when she frees him.
And then John is in the room, uniform splattered with blood, his expression filled with horror. There is a lot of blood. Bodies on the floor. Scott is still moving, still alive. Stiles…
Peter can hear his heartbeat, but he doesn’t trust it.
It seems so very fragile to him now.
How is it that something so fragile can be his anchor?
There is one more hunter. Peter catches a glimpse of the man from the corner of his eye. One second his face is there, and the next second it’s gone. Blood and brain matter splatter against the walls. Braeden reholsters her gun.
Chris Argent is holding a gun to his little sister’s forehead, and she’s laughing.
She won’t be laughing long.
“Scott?” Allison’s hands flutter like pale moths in the glooms. Pale red-stained moths. “Oh god. Scott?”
How strange to see an Argent’s hands brush so gently over the ridges of a wolf’s face.
Deaton kneels beside them, and begins to work.
“Chris. Chris, you can’t be serious!” She’s still laughing. There’s a thin ribbon of blood twisting down her temple from underneath her hairline. “Chris!”
Chris stares at her for a moment, a tiny frown creasing his brow, and then he steps back and lowers his gun. Turns his head and catches Peter’s gaze, and nods at Kate. A tiny gesture, but it’s laden.
She’s all yours.
Not that Peter needs any fucking permission from Chris, or from anyone, but it’s worth it to see the look on Kate’s face when she realizes her own brother is quite literally throwing her to the wolves.
Peter comes back to himself, more or less, with blood drying in tacky patches on his muzzle, and the sweet, thick copper tang of it filling his mouth. Kate’s glassy eyes stare up at him from the blood-soaked floor. Peter has torn her throat out with his teeth, leaving nothing much behind but exposed gristle and spongy tissue.
Peter drags his claws down her chest, and wonders how it would feel to tear her ribs open and rip her still-warm heart free. All his senses sharpen at the sweet prospect, but in the end it’s a different heart that catches his attention.
Thump thump thump.
Peter twists his neck to seek him out, and shifts back into his human mask.
Stiles is lying on the bloody floor with his dad crouching over him. One of his arms is extended, the index finger extended a little further than the others. It reminds Peter a little of Adam’s hand in Michelangelo’s masterpiece, waiting almost tentatively for the touch of another. Stiles’s eyes are fever-bright. His cheek is resting on the cool stone floor. His face is spattered with someone else’s dried blood, and a dark stain spreads like ink through blotting paper on his left upper arm.
As Peter looks, John clamps a wadded cloth over the wound, and Stiles hisses. “Ow, Dad, Jesus fuck!”
Those are not the despairing words of a dying boy.
Peter sinks to his knees beside Stiles.
“Is Scotty okay?” Stiles asks, his voice hoarse, craning his neck to see.
Deaton’s voice floats over to them. “He’s doing fine.”
Peter reaches out and laces his bloody fingers through Stiles’s. “Are you?”
“Dad says it’s a flesh wound,” Stiles says. The grin on his face doesn’t quite sit with the hollow look in his eyes. “Did we win, Peter?”
“Oh, okay,” Stiles says. “Then I’m just gonna close my eyes for a bit, because the sight of blood makes me kind of want to…” His eyelids flutter closed.
Peter holds back a growl with difficultly as John hoists his son up into his arms and begins to walk with him toward the exit.
It’s only right that John should carry his son out of here.
Peter never had that chance.
John drives Stiles to the hospital.
Allison and Scott huddle together in the back seat of Chris Argent’s SUV.
“Scott,” Peter says, and Scott tumbles out of the car and comes hurrying toward him.
Deaton and Chris are clearing up the mess in the tunnels and the basement. Chris is doing it, Peter thinks, because he feels responsible. His father raised him a good little soldier, and he’s always fallen back on that in times when the world fails him by not being exactly black and white. He’s always fallen back on his family name, on the Code, and on the sort of rigid morality that, when pressure is applied, Peter has always suspected will break before it bends.
Peter’s not sure why Deaton is helping him.
He will ask though.
Once he’s clean and healed and wearing something not covered in blood, he will ask. Peter has mistrusted Deaton since he awoke. Perhaps that was a mistake.
Because none of them betrayed him tonight.
Not Deaton, who Peter has never been able to read.
Not Braeden, who’s in it for the money.
Not John, who doesn’t really know him at all.
And not Chris, who chose to stand back and let Peter do what needed to be done.
Peter raises his hand and claps it on Scott’s shoulder. “Thank you, Scott.”
Scott straightens up, and nods seriously. “Alpha.”
Peter allows himself a smile. “But you’ll definitely want to stay away from Allison now that Christopher knows you’re a werewolf.”
Scott winces, and looks worriedly toward Chris’s SUV.
Peter listens to Derek’s footsteps as Derek approaches from behind him. Derek stands a little to the side, a little behind. Slots right in like a beta should, protecting his alpha’s back instinctively.
Well, that’s not the only instinct that counts.
Peter turns and steps toward him, pulling a surprised Derek into a hug. It’s not a scenting. They’re both too covered in blood and gore for that to be anything but wholly disturbing. It’s an embrace.
Derek holds himself stiffly for a moment, and then his shoulders sag and the tension bleeds out of him.
“It’s done,” Peter tells his nephew. “It wasn’t your fault, and now it’s done.”
He holds him for what feels like a long time. It also doesn’t feel like anything near enough.
It’s the middle of the night before Peter slinks back inside the corridors of Beacon Hills Memorial Hospital. He follows Stiles's scent to his room. Stiles is asleep, curled up on one side with his injured arm hanging off the bed. That can’t be good. Peter gently takes the pillow from under Stiles’s head and uses it to prop his arm.
Stiles makes a tiny aggravated sound in his sleep, and then snuffles like a puppy.
“What?” Peter asks him quietly. “You thought I’d leave you without one? My favourite beta?”
He slides the pillow he brought from Stiles’s bedroom carefully under his head. Then he leans down and presses a kiss to the boy’s forehead, and leaves him to sleep.
Braeden packs up and leaves the next day, apparently satisfied that Peter won’t face any retribution from the Argents. Peter’s not as confident about that at all. While Chris and Victoria understand that Kate needed to be put down—it helped a lot that she pointed a gun at her own niece—there are other Argents out there. And zealots like Kate aren’t created in a vacuum. Still, whatever is coming, Peter is confident he and the pack, and their ragtag allies, are equal to the challenge.
In the meantime, he has a house—and a pack—to rebuild.
What’s that saying about the best revenge being to live well?
Peter’s going to try that for a while, and see how it feels.
He invites Alan Deaton to a pack meeting, and then invites him to resume his duties as the emissary of the Hale pack. Deaton agrees.
It feels a little like things are falling into place at last.
Two days after Kate’s death, John Stilinski shows up at the loft with a bag of muffins in one hand, and a folder of paperwork in the other.
“Here’s your driver’s license,” he says, “and your social security card, and a few other bits and pieces you’re gonna need. You weren’t missing. You were transferred to a clinic in Portland, and the paperwork got screwed up. Goddamn bureaucracy. And now you’re awake again. Congratulations.”
Peter inspects his new ID. “Thank you, John.”
A complicated expression crosses the sheriff’s face. “Well, you can thank me properly in November when I’m up for election again.”
“You can count on my vote,” Peter promises.
“I’d damn well better,” John tells him, and shakes his head ruefully.
“How’s Stiles?” Peter asks, when he can’t hold the question back any longer.
“Back at school already,” John says. “I’ve forbidden him from getting involved with anything dangerous for the rest of his life, so I’m sure he’ll ignore me completely and keep turning up here regularly like a bad penny.”
“I was always told pennies were lucky,” Peter says, raising his eyebrows.
John looks at Peter intently. “Just… just keep him safe, please. He’s reckless. He’s stupidly brave. He’ll always be the idiot who runs into the burning building.” He winces a little.
Bad choice of words.
“I know,” Peter says. He also knows better than to try and make promises that he can’t keep. Peter thinks of the picture of John and his wife and toddler Stiles on the wall of their house. This is a man who knows exactly how false platitudes can be. How fleeting happiness can be, and safety, and security. There are no certainties, not in this world. Not in life. It’s all too precarious. “This is a dangerous world, John. I wish I could promise you that nothing would ever hurt him, but I can’t do that. But I’ll do my best. I’ll put myself between him and harm, any time that I can.”
John nods and exhales slowly. “That’s the best any of us can say, isn’t it?”
And Peter thinks that yes, it probably is.
Peter is attempting to sleep in when a familiar scent wakes him on Friday morning, a moment before a familiar body drops onto the bed beside him.
“Stiles,” he says, eyes still closed, with a smile.
“Wake up, big bad wolf,” Stiles tells him.
Peter opens his eyes.
Stiles is smiling back at him, like there’s nothing at all odd about climbing onto a grown man’s bed and stretching out beside him. But then, what’s odd to somebody like Stiles Stilinski?
He’s wearing jeans and a short-sleeved t-shirt, having forgone his flannel cover-up. The bandage on his left wrist has finally been removed. The scar there is thinner than the others that mark his arms, cleaner and newer. A bandage still pokes out from the bottom of his right sleeve, and Peter’s gaze lingers on it as guilt settles over him.
Stiles pokes him in the ribs. “Derek is making pancakes.”
“Then clearly I’ve woken up in an episode of the Twilight Zone.” He squints at Stiles. “Shouldn’t you be at school?”
“I have a study period,” Stiles tells him. “I’m studying pancakes.”
“That will look wonderful on your college applications.”
Stiles snorts, and stretches. “Actually, I came to invite you and Derek to the game tonight. Guess who’s back on the team? Well, the bench, but, let’s be honest, that’s as close as I was ever going to get to the field anyway, unless someone else on the team has a horrible accident or something.”
Peter raises his brows and contemplates that for a pleasant moment.
“Do not maim anyone on the team, Peter,” Stiles tells him firmly before he can offer, and then laughs.
Peter’s not entirely sure the offer would have been a joke. It’s probably good that Stiles doesn’t realize that. Peter’s not sure the boy would have any impulse control at all if he even began to guess the things Peter would do for him. Both the lengths he would go and the depths he would sink. One of them has to at least have a nominal moral compass, after all. And that’s never going to be Peter.
Stiles shifts, the warmth of his long, lean body resting against Peter’s. Peter curls an arm around him and runs his fingers over his buzzcut. Stiles hasn’t actually buzzed it since they met. Either he’s growing it out intentionally—something Peter approves of, by the way—or he’s just too lazy to get it cut and doesn’t care that he looks like a Chia Pet right now.
Peter turns his head and nuzzles against Stiles’s cheek. Stiles lifts his chin, letting Peter inhale deeply against his throat. His scent settles the wolf in a way that few things can. Peter imagines closing his eyes again, and drifting off to sleep with Stiles beside him. It would be so peaceful.
Stiles, of course, destroys the fantasy in a second because of his inability to shut up for even five minutes. It doesn’t grate on Peter’s nerves the way it really should. The way it would from anyone else.
“So, you’ll come to the lacrosse game?” he asks.
“Good. Because it’s going to be hilarious. Or possibly bloodthirsty.” His eyes widen. “Scott might have accidentally invited Allison to come and watch him play. In front of Chris.”
“That boy will be dead of wolfsbane poisoning in a week,” Peter sighs.
“Shut up. It’s romantic. They’ve got a whole Romeo and Juliet thing going on.”
“You know how that play ends, right?”
Stiles snorts. “Of course I do. And I’ll be pretty pissed if it turns out I’m Mercutio, that’s for sure.”
“The sarcastic smartass best friend of the lovesick main character?” Peter muses. “I can see the similarities.”
“I’ll just make sure not to get into any duels then,” Stiles promises.
Peter pets his hair. “Good boy.”
The middle of the day finds Peter and Derek back at the house.
Peter watches as Derek prowls around the blackened ruins, treading up the porch steps, curling his hands around burned frames, crouching down to touch charred floorboards. It’s as though he’s trying to summon up the ghost of the house from the broken skeleton alone, to find a way to force his memory to reform reality, to cleanse the death from this place.
It’s still too close for Peter, too fresh. He hasn’t had six years to come to terms with a loss as vast as this one. He could never do what Derek is doing right now. Could never find peace in the ruins. The sooner the house is bulldozed and rebuilt, the better.
Peter can barely stand to look at the house. He keeps it at his back, and gazes into the woods instead.
“Oh, come on!” the wild-eyed lacrosse coach screams at the umpire as the whistle blasts. “Are you serious right now? Lahey, get the hell back here!”
Stiles is supposed to be sitting on the bench, but he’s crept into the bleachers instead. “That’s him,” he says, leaning close to Peter. “The kid I was telling you about.”
Peter raises his eyebrows questioningly.
Stiles lowers his voice, and bumps him with his shoulder. “For the pack.”
Peter keeps his eyebrows arched. “The dirty lacrosse player who just gave away a penalty to the other team?”
“Like you couldn’t use a dirty player on your team,” Stiles mutters.
He has a very valid point.
Peter watches as the boy wrenches his helmet off and the coach berates him. The boy has an arrogant cast to his ridiculously handsome face, and looks like he’d like nothing better than to yell right back at the coach, and maybe throw a punch or two. Adrenaline from the game, or something that runs a little deeper? Peter trusts Stiles’s judgment. He trusts that there is something going on at home with this kid. The lacrosse field might just be the only place he gets to punch down.
“Well?” Stiles asks.
Peter remembers that Stiles said this boy was an asshole to him. That’s certainly going to change if Peter brings him into the pack.
“I’ll think about it,” Peter says.
“Cool,” Stiles says. “Also, there’s this girl with epilepsy—”
“Stiles,” Peter warns. “I’m not running a halfway house for unfortunate teenagers.”
“Cool,” Stiles says again, but his eyes shine, and Peter knows he’s not done with this. “Oh, look, it’s Chris and Victoria!” He waves at the Argents, who are making their way along a row to where Allison and Lydia are saving space for them.
Peter catches Chris’s gaze.
That’s never going to not be awkward. Luckily Peter is the sort of man who takes perverse pleasure in the discomfort of others.
Allison waves back at Stiles. Lydia pointedly does not.
“Am I going to have to wreck that girl’s car?” Peter asks in an undertone.
Beside him, a grin tugs at Derek’s mouth.
“No,” Stiles says. “She totally can’t wave at me in public because everyone thinks I stood her up at the dance. Apparently Jackson went up to her and said that since she was alone, he supposed he’d take pity on her and date her again.” He grins. “Every time I hear the story, her smack down gets more epic. I think she’s still carrying his balls around in her purse. So, like, while publicly she has to detest me, it turns out I sort of did her a favour. We're having a study session at Allison’s place tomorrow night. I think we’re accidentally friends or something now.”
“Secret friends?” Peter asks archly.
“Dude, high school is complicated,” Stiles tells him. “Also, Scott’s coming, and if it looks more like a group things than a Scott and Allison thing, Chris and Victoria are less likely to start plotting Scotty’s murder.”
“Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,” Peter tells him with a smile.
“I totally do,” Stiles grins, then almost falls down the bleachers when the coach yells for him to get back to the bench.
Peter hates the architect.
He is probably going to kill him.
He doesn’t care what school this idiot went to, and he doesn’t want an indoor reflecting pool, fuck you very much. He doesn’t want the house to feel like a five-star resort. He wants it to feel like a home.
Derek proves himself an adept mediator between Peter and the architect.
It takes a while, but eventually they come up with a design that works.
When the bulldozers move in, Peter takes Derek back to the loft and they get very, very drunk.
Stiles sits on the kitchen counter and sips from his soda. He drums his heels lightly against the cabinets while he watches Peter make pizza. Making pizza from scratch appears to be fascinating to Stiles. Peter thinks he truly believes they only come in greasy boxes.
Derek and Scott and Allison and Isaac are sprawled in front of the television, watching some stupid movie. Stiles is supposed to be with them—he picked the stupid movie—but Stiles always gravitates toward Peter. The pack accepts it.
“There is something going on between them,” Stiles whispers conspiratorially while Peter chops olives.
“Of course there is,” Peter tells him. “They’re dating.”
“Derek and Isaac are dating?” Stiles gasps. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“What?” Peter almost cuts his thumb off. “I thought you were talking about Scott and Allison.”
The thing is, Peter trusts Stiles’s judgement in most things. Most things. Because Stiles is smart and clever and devious, but also he’s sixteen. Just because Derek and Isaac are close doesn’t mean anything. They’re wolves, for starters. Wolves are tactile. Isaac misses his older brother, and Derek misses all his siblings. It’s not the first time Stiles has mistaken fraternal devotion for something a lot less innocent. Exhibit A: Supernatural.
Still, Peter’s going to keep an eye on that. Just to find out for sure.
“You’re an outrage,” he tells Stiles.
Stiles snorts, and then reaches out to steal an olive. “I finished reading the book.”
Stiles’s throat clicks as he swallows. “Am I your anchor, Peter?”
Peter freezes with the knife held above an olive. His heart beats so loudly for a moment that he’s sure his betas will hear it above the sound of the explosions on the television. He sets the knife down carefully and turns his head to look at Stiles.
“Yes,” he says. “You are.”
“Okay,” Stiles says. His dark eyes are wide. “I’m not really sure what that means though.”
“It means you keep me here where I belong.”
Stiles is silent for a long moment. It might as well be a lifetime for him. Then his mouth quirks in a smile and he draws in a quick breath.
“Make a joke about a leash, and you’ll regret it,” Peter warns him gently.
Stiles’s smile softens, and he holds out his hand. Peter takes it, and lets Stiles draw him close. Lets himself stand in the space between Stiles legs, and wraps his arms loosely around his slender frame. Stiles rests his head on Peter’s shoulder, and turns his face toward his throat. His breath is hot against Peter’s skin.
Peter runs a hand down his spine, and closes his eyes.
He could stand like this forever, probably.
“I don’t like the word anchor,” Stiles says at last, his voice soft. “Makes me think I’m dragging you down.”
“Keeping me grounded, you mean,” Peter tells him quietly. It’s strange, really. Stiles is loud, clumsy, and full of frenetic energy. And yet he calms Peter like nothing else has since he awoke from the coma. Someone like Stiles, with his pinball brain, his urge to fidget, and his total lack of impulse control, shouldn’t be so soothing. And yet here they are, close and quiet, and it works.
Peter leans back a little, and Stiles blinks up at him, then lifts his chin to expose his throat. His eyes gleam almost gold in the light, just like a beta’s.
Peter ducks his head to scent Stiles’s throat, which is exactly when Stiles twists his neck. He smears his mouth against Peter’s, and Peter freezes in shock. Then Stiles curls his long fingers around the back of Peter’s neck, holding him there, and there’s no way now that they can pretend this was an accident.
“Please,” Stiles whispers against Peter’s lips. “Oh, fuck, please.”
He smells of tears, of humiliation, and something deeper. More bitter.
Peter draws back. He traces the path of a scar down Stiles’s cheek with his thumb, following the scar. “Stiles, no.”
“Is it because of what happened to me?” Stiles asks in a whisper. “Because of what the alpha pack did?”
“Nothing they did can ever make me not want you,” Peter replies, tracing the scar again. He loves this boy. It’s not a secret, it is? It’s been so gradual that Peter isn’t sure exactly when it happened, but it’s not a secret. “But you’re sixteen.”
“Really?” Stiles narrows his eyes as though he’s searching for the lie. “That’s like the only thing stopping you from totally ravishing me right now?”
“Well, that and the fact I really should get this pizza in the oven,” Peter tells him. He cups Stiles’s cheek with one hand. Keeps the other one on his back, rubbing warmth between his shoulder blades. Just to reassure him with warm touches that the joke isn’t meant to sting.
Stiles gives a shaky laugh, and drops his head on Peter’s shoulder. He mumbles something into Peter’s shirt.
“What’s that?” Peter asks him softly.
Stiles lifts his head a fraction, just enough to let the words escape: “Oh god, Peter. You’d better watch out, because when I turn eighteen, I’m coming for you!”
It’s the most interesting threat Peter’s ever received, that’s for sure.
He laughs, and looks into Stiles’s amber eyes. “Stiles…”
Stiles’s eyes widen, and he looks impossibly vulnerable. It’s that dichotomy that Peter finds so endlessly fascinating. So vulnerable, yet Peter knows Stiles is as stubborn as a damn mule, with a core of cold steel, and that he will never give Peter even an inch.
Only a few weeks ago Peter couldn’t imagine a future.
And now he can’t imagine one without this infuriating boy smack in the middle of it.
Peter smirks at him. “Sweetheart, I can hardly wait.”
Now is the time to stop if you want this to remain a dark but still kind of sweet fic, with nothing too explicit happening.
Otherwise, feel free to hang around for the epilogue.
Two years later
The late afternoon sunlight slants across the floor of the library, washing the boards gold. Peter has spent most of the day immersed in Sir Orfeo. It’s not his favorite, but he enjoys the rhythm and the cadence of the story. Middle English is so satisfying to read aloud. The words that often seem strange and foreign on the page coalesce into something different when spoken. Meaning finds them.
The house is quiet.
The team is playing a game in Beacon Valley tonight, and the pack is making an overnight trip of it. Scott is co-captain of the team, and Isaac is in first string. Stiles is still warming the bench after all this time. The girls—Allison and Lydia and Erica—have all gone along to cheer. Derek and Boyd have been dragged along with them and, Peter expects, they will both sit in the bleachers and stare gloomily at the field and wish they were somewhere else.
Peter isn’t expecting to be disturbed, least of all by the familiar rattling engine of Stiles’s Jeep as it bounces down the road through the Preserve and stops with a squeal of the brakes outside the house.
He hears the car door slam, and then footsteps on the porch steps, and a key turning in the lock of the front door.
Peter sets his book aside and looks up as the library door opens. “What are you doing back here? Did you forget something?”
Stiles actually flushes. “I told coach I had a stomach bug.”
“Do you need anything?” Peter asks. Human sicknesses are very much a mystery to him. Caleb never had anything worse than the sniffles. “Tylenol? Some of that awful pink stuff?”
“I’m not actually sick,” Stiles tells him, but Peter can hear his elevated heartbeat. Can see from his flushed skin that his temperature is running higher than usual. Stiles pulls his phone out of his pocket. “I lied.”
“How very devious of you,” Peter says approvingly, rising from his chair at last. He tilts his head curiously. “Why?”
Three days ago he gave Stiles a watch for his eighteenth birthday. A cracked, charred silver watch that had been pulled from the remains of the original Hale house by the construction workers on the new house, and had once belonged to Peter’s grandfather. It doesn’t work, and probably never will again. But it’s one of the few things Peter still had that tied him to his family. He doesn’t part with those things easily. Stiles had hugged him tightly, and thanked him, and then been swept back into the party.
Still, Peter couldn’t help but remember what he’d said all those years ago about what would happen when he turned eighteen. He doubts Stiles has forgotten either.
Stiles lifts his chin. “You owe me a dance.”
That’s not what Peter was expecting him to say at all. “Excuse me?”
“The night Kate had us, you said you’d dance with me.” Stiles presses something on his phone, and a soft jazz ballad begins to play. Well, at least it’s not the Violent Femmes. Stiles has recently discovered Blister in the Sun, and thinks he’s incredibly cool and whatever the opposite of mainstream is. Peter doesn’t have the heart to tell him that everyone discovers Blister in the Sun when they’re eighteen. It’s a rite of passage. Stiles sets his phone down on the coffee table. “I’m here to collect.”
Peter laughs, and motions Stiles forward. It’s so very easy to settle his hands on Stiles’s hips. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t do it, to hold Stiles gently in place while he scents him. This time there’s no scenting though. It’s just Peter’s hands on Stiles’s hips, Stiles’s arms coming up to loop around his neck, and the soft music to sway to.
The press of Stiles’s mouth against his own isn’t completely unsurprising, but the sensation is so new, so full of promise, that Peter’s heart skips a beat. His isn’t the only one. This kiss is a lot better than their first awkward mash of lips in the kitchen of the loft two years ago. Peter lifts a hand to rest it against Stiles’s face, to angle his jaw just right, and to hold him there while he pushes his tongue into Stiles’s mouth. Stiles tastes of warmth and home and… and fucking Twizzlers and soda. Of course he does.
Stiles kisses shyly, and Peter wonders if he’s even done this with anyone else, or if this is really his first time. Peter takes his time with the kiss, gentling it, drawing Stiles’s confidence out, encouraging Stiles to bring his tongue into play. When they finally part, Stiles is flushed, his pupils large and dark, his dick digging into Peter’s hip.
“Take me upstairs, Peter,” he whispers.
Peter takes him by the hand and obeys.
In the sanctuary of Peter’s bedroom, Stiles goes deathly quiet. He sits on the end of the bed, hands twisting in his lap. His face is red, the scar bisecting his cheek a bright white line, and he can’t meet Peter’s gaze.
Peter crouches down in front of him, and takes his hands and draws his arms out. He pushes one of Stiles’s baggy sleeves up, exposing the scar on his left forearm.
“Lots more of those,” Stiles mumbles.
Peter presses his mouth to the scar. “Does that bother you?”
Stiles’s gaze flicks to his quickly and then away again. He shrugs.
Peter kisses the scar again. “If you’re not ready for this, that’s fine. But don’t be ashamed of your body. You’re beautiful, Stiles.”
Stiles pulls his arm back. For a moment Peter thinks he’s changed his mind, but then he’s struggling out of his flannel shirt, letting it pool behind him on the bed, and he’s tugging his t-shirt up over his head. His chest rises and falls rapidly as his breathing quickens. Peter wonders if he’s bracing himself for rejection.
The scars left by the alpha pack are… they’re not insignificant. Peter can see why Stiles might be afraid to reveal them to someone. Every day something as simple as taking a shower or changing his shirt must be a reminder of what happened to him, what the alpha pack did. And for Stiles to be here now, to unveil himself like this… Peter really suspects the boy has no idea how strong he really is.
“You’re beautiful,” he says, holding Stiles’s gaze. “Incredible.”
A faint disbelieving smile curls the corners of Stiles’s mouth. “Shut up.”
“Although you don’t know how to take a compliment,” Peter muses.
Stiles’s smile grows as they move into more familiar territory: snark. “Asshole.”
Peter stands, and tugs his shirt off. His wolf preens at the way Stiles’s eyes widen as he takes in Peter’s chest appreciatively.
“What kind of dick are you for making me wait so long for this?” he demands.
Peter raises his eyebrows. “The kind of dick who didn’t want your father, the sheriff, to shoot me?”
The sort of dick who didn’t want to push a traumatized kid into something he might later regret, actually, but Stiles doesn’t need to hear that right now. Not when they both know it’s the truth anyway.
“Fair point,” Stiles admits, and fumbles at the button of his fly. He peels his jeans open, and lifts his ass off the bed to shove them down. Then he’s lying on Peter’s bed, his dick straining against his ridiculous Captain America underwear. Because of course he wears superhero underwear. Peter wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Peter shoves down his own jeans, and underwear too. He’s a wolf. He’s unashamed of nakedness. He crosses to his bedside cabinet and looks for his lube. Then he climbs onto the bed beside Stiles, settles his hands on his hips again, and kisses him.
“This doesn’t have to go anywhere,” he reminds him. “If you’re not ready.”
Stiles’s hips jerk. “I want it. Want you in me. I’ve wanted it forever.”
Therein lies the problem, Peter thinks. Expectation. He remembers the reckless things that Stiles did after the alpha pack, to prove that he was healed, to prove that he was better. If this is one of those things, and if Stiles can’t do it, what then? Stiles has always pushed himself too hard when it comes to his recovery. He’s always expected too much of himself.
“We can just kiss for a while if you want,” he says, brushing his lips against Stiles’s. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t have sex.”
Stiles curls his fingers in Peter’s hair. “I know that, Peter,” he says, his eyes bright. “But I want to try, okay?”
“Okay,” Peter says, and kisses him again.
If it’s hard for Peter not to think of Deucalion and the alpha pack when he finally slides a lubed finger inside Stiles, then he hates to think of what it’s doing to Stiles. Stiles tenses, and then sucks in a shuddering breath. Peter can feel the moment he forces his muscles to relax.
“We can be done,” Peter reminds him quietly.
“No,” Stiles says. He swallows. “Just… it’s weird. Like I don’t want you to even look at me right now, but also I think I do? I need you to see me, Peter. Me.”
Yes. Stiles is embarrassed, and nervous, and he’s afraid as well. He needs to know that he’s not just a body to Peter, not just some thing that can be used and then discarded when this is over.
“You are my anchor, Stiles,” Peter tells him, twisting his finger gently and making Stiles shiver. He holds his gaze. “You mean more to me than I can ever properly express.”
“I love you,” Stiles whispers, blinking away tears. “I trust you.”
Peter is very probably undeserving of both those things. And he really isn’t sure which of them is the most miraculous.
Stiles gasps when Peter finally gets his mouth on his dick. It’s been a while since he’s done this. College, probably. And somehow everything with Stiles feels new. The weight of his dick on Peter’s tongue, the drag against his lips, the taste of him that makes Peter’s mouth water and his wolf whine desperately.
He keeps one finger inside Stiles, pressing and turning gently, crooking it every now and then to tease Stiles’s prostate. Every time he does that, Stiles’s dick jerks in his mouth.
It’s delightful how easy it is to map this boy’s pleasure with just his fingers and his mouth. Peter could spend hours doing this alone. Turning Stiles into a shivering, sweaty mess and a series of incomprehensible moans.
Except he doubts Stiles will last more than a few minutes at this rate.
And also, Peter wants to kiss him again.
The seconds fade into minutes, and possibly into hours. It feels like a lifetime until Stiles is relaxed enough, turned on enough, dozy enough with pleasure that his anxiety has been smothered enough for Peter to even think about getting his dick inside him. In the end it’s Stiles who whispers brokenly that he’s ready, that he needs it, and please, Peter, please, please.
Peter lowers himself into the cradle of Stiles’s thighs. It would be easier, probably, to do this with Stiles on his hands and knees, but Stiles needs to see him. Needs to see that this is Peter, and that he is safe, and that nobody is hurting him now.
The first press of Peter’s dick inside Stiles is so fucking tight. Tight and hot and slick with lube. Stiles mouths at Peter’s jaw. Hooks his legs around Peter’s thighs and urges him forward. Peter pushes forward through the resistance—Stiles’s eyes flash open, wide and panicked—and then he’s in, and Stiles is gasping out his name.
Peter stills. He holds himself above Stiles, searching his face for any signs of pain. Stiles’s scent is sharp with anxiety again, but not true fear. Peter lays a trail of kisses against his sharp collarbone, and then his throat.
“Oh wow,” Stiles whispers. “You’re kinda big!”
“Too much?” Peter asks.
Stiles clenches around him, and they both moan. “No. Just go slow?”
Peter kisses him, and Stiles digs his fingers into his shoulders.
One day, Peter thinks, he’ll lie back and make Stiles ride him, fast and hard. His body will shine with sweat. It will glisten on his skin, on all his scars, and Stiles won’t even notice them. He’ll be too wild with pleasure. He’ll be brazen, bold.
But today is not that day. Today Peter moves almost painstakingly slowly, thankful for his wolf stamina. He’s fascinated by every micro expression that crosses Stiles’s face: worry, tension and discomfort very slowly give way to something else. To surprise, to cautious relief, and finally to real pleasure. Stiles’s scent sharpens with arousal again, and he begins to lift his hips to meet each one of Peter’s slow, careful thrusts.
Throughout it, Peter holds Stiles’s gaze.
If Stiles is Peter’s anchor, then Peter is also his, and he needs to keep him here, right in this moment. Here with Peter, and not some place his nightmares live.
Stiles’s breathing quickens. He moans and shifts restlessly. Slides one hand between them to curl around his dick. His knuckles bump against Peter’s abdomen as he starts to stroke himself. His pale skin is flushed pink with exertion. Sweat darkens the hair at his temples.
“Come on, sweetheart,” Peter tells him, feeling his control start to slip a little. He’s so close. “Want you to come all over me.”
Stiles’s climax is sudden, intense, and oddly quiet. He grips Peter tighter as he shudders, and bites into his shoulder as he moans. That’s all the added stimulation Peter needs to be pushed over the edge into his own orgasm. They cling to each other. Stiles is trembling.
Peter kisses him, and pulls out.
Stiles unhooks his shaking legs from around Peter, and sinks back into the mattress.
“Are you okay?” Peter asks, rubbing a thumb along his cheekbone and feeling the dampness there. He’s not sure if it’s a tear, or if it’s sweat.
“Yeah,” Stiles whispers, pupils blown. “Oh wow. Yeah.”
And then he blinks, and seems to refocus, and abruptly starts to giggle.
Peter smiles at him, rolls his eyes, and draws him into an embrace.
They’re going to be just fine.
“So,” Stiles says the next morning, crawling into the porch hammock on top of Peter. He somehow manages to elbow him in the stomach and knee him in the balls before he settles.
“So?” Peter asks, raising his eyebrows.
Stiles grins at him. “Just wondering how we’re going to break it to the pack.”
Peter smirks. “Oh, I’m pretty sure they’ll be able to smell it.”
Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Gross.”
“Hot,” Peter corrects, and holds a squirming Stiles still while he licks a stripe up the side of his face. It’s partly to hear him squeal, but it’s mostly payback for the knee in the balls.
Stiles’s squawk of outrage turns into a laugh, and then he slumps down on top of Peter with his cheek resting on his chest. Peter curls an arm around him and plays with his hair. It’s taken a while, but Stiles has finally found a style that suits him. And Peter definitely approves of the fact there’s enough hair to card his fingers through. He listens as Stiles’s breathing evens out.
“Peter?” He sounds pleasantly drowsy.
“I love you.”
Peter swallows around the sudden ache in his throat. “I love you too, Stiles.”
Stiles slides his arm up and brushes his curled fingers against Peter’s throat. “You always gonna save me, Peter?”
It must be last night that has the memories of the alpha pack and that filthy warehouse playing in the forefront of Stiles’s mind. Association can be a cruel monster. But Stiles is still relaxed, warm and pliant, his scent sweet.
“Of course, sweetheart,” Peter says. He’s an unlikely savior. An unlikely man to prevent a war, to destroy a monster or two, and to build a peace. But Stiles is an unlikely savior too, and Peter doesn’t doubt for a second that he is one. What the hell would Peter be now, if he had never found his Stiles? He kisses the top of his head. “That only seems fair.”
And we're done! Thanks for reading!