Stiles opened his eyes to the sight of a dark room with a ceiling instead of the light of a full moon and instantly knew it had worked. Time travel, like something straight out of a comic book. No matter how far he and Peter had actually traveled—with their luck it could be just a couple days instead of the full year they needed in order to succeed—this was huge. Stiles slipped his hand out from under the blanket and felt for Peter. He didn't find him, which was… strange.
He couldn't see anything in the dark, but the dimensions of the room were all wrong. And for some reason he'd been sleeping on the floor, something his back was really not going to appreciate the next day. Stiles felt around for the light switch and flicked it on to illuminate what turned out to be Scott's childhood bedroom, complete with scattered clothes, Playstation games, and Scott himself snoring softly on the floor a few feet away, his hand clutching a controller. They'd stayed up late, a part of Stiles' brain realized, and snuck out of bed to play after Melissa had gone to sleep. He didn't remember this specific night, but it had been a common enough thing that he could guess with confidence.
The other parts of his brain continued having an existential crisis, because this was not the image he'd expected to see.
He could've survived failure, as much as it would've hurt.
He would've grasped success with both hands and never let her go.
This was… something else.
Deaton had warned them that time travel often fell to the whims of fate, but Stiles had taken that to mean it might fail or cause them to arrive too late, not to deposit them over two decades into the past.
"Stiles…?" Scott groaned. "Turn the lights off."
"One sec," Stiles replied. He didn't even sound the same. He pulled out Scott's covers and shook Scott's shoulder. "C'mon, up."
Scott pouted without opening his eyes, but he let Stiles maneuver him off the floor and into his bed, and seemed to fall right back asleep the second he hit the pillow. It couldn't have been very fun, sleeping on the carpet. Stiles tucked the covers around his best friend, turned off the lights, and crept out of the room. He tiptoed downstairs, avoiding the creaky steps with ease. He knew the McCall house better than any other except his own. He'd practically grown up in it, and then after Melissa had moved in with Stiles' dad, Scott and Kira and their mini lacrosse team of a family had taken the house. As Chief Babysitter and Keeping-Scott-and-Kira-Sane-Spokesperson, Stiles hadn't been allowed to ever forget his way around the house.
The landline wasn't the best option, but it was the only good one.
Stiles pressed it to his ear and concentrated, blocking out the physical world and focusing on the one just beyond it. His mind drifted through the channels of magic in the earth that connected the nemetons of the world. The closest one whispered to him in the language of power and emotion, the only one it knew. Come, see, kill. There was his favorite murderous tree trunk alright.
For the moment, he ignored it, and traced not the ley line that this town was situated on but on the pack bond that stretched far from him. Phone lines stretched across space so conveniently, connecting everyone in a giant web of wire. Connecting to cell phones was much harder, especially since Stiles didn't have any idea what Peter's number was. At least this far back, Peter would definitely have a landline to connect to.
The phone closest to the end of the pack bond rang. It only got in one ring before it was picked up by person whose voice Stiles most wanted to hear.
"Stiles," Peter said, sounding almost no different than he would in twenty years. "I suppose you've noticed our little problem."
"It was hard not to," Stiles replied, closing his eyes and hoping he didn't sound as panicked as he felt.
"Are you alright?"
"I'm at Scott's house. Scott and I were having a sleepover. I'm— I'm not sure how old I am." He was young, that much he knew. Much younger than his actual thirty two years. To find out more, he'd have to look in a mirror. Or a calendar.
"It's 2005," Peter said. "The night of July 3rd, to be precise."
"It's a week before the fire. Stiles—we could save everyone."
Stiles wished desperately that he were next to Peter right now, because the fragile hope in Peter's voice made his heart ache. Going back this far and actually preventing the fire had never been a part of their plan, but now that it was possible, the thought took hold of Stiles. He hadn't been affected by it himself, but the loss of their family had been a barely-healed wound in Peter, Derek, and Cora for the rest of their lives. If they could stop this…
"Are you in Beacon Hills?" Stiles asked, thinking hard.
"No, I'm still at my old apartment. I only arrived in Beacon Hills the day before the fire, on the day before the reunion. I can be there in two hours, though."
"We still have time. Better not to arrive in the middle of the night and spook Kate. You should drive down in the morning. Get some sleep, throw out the milk, make some arrangements on your end. I'll wait for you. I just need to deal with the nemeton tonight because it's seriously overactive right now."
"It was awoken by Paige's death," Peter said, thoughtfully. "That happened last year, I believe. Kate took the job at his school the following year. Derek should be turning seventeen this summer. I wouldn't be surprised if the nemeton had helped the fire along, adding strength to the mountain ash. Even if it wasn't a proper sacrifice, the demise of a pack as large as ours would've still been powerful event."
"Alright, it's time for some chopping."
"Are you up to it?"
"I better be. I have fifteen years' experience with dealing with it. I'll be fine."
"I'll hold you to that. Don't stray too close to the Hale house; Talia sometimes takes midnight walks."
"I'll approach from the opposite side. Want me to meet you somewhere tomorrow?"
"It's fine, I'll find you."
"You're my favorite stalker-wolf, you know that?"
"I hope I'm your only."
"But then I wouldn't have anyone to compare you to," Stiles said, mournfully, and said his goodbyes before this lasted too long. He had to get to the preserve and back before Scott woke up, which didn't leave him much time.
Stiles considered Melissa's car keys, which were hanging on a hook near the door, but he'd never be able to raise the garage door without her waking up. He was also simply noticeably too young to be anywhere near the wheel. Christ, if it was July of 2005, that meant he was eight years old. Peter was already twenty six, if Stiles' math was right, and working as a baby lawyer somewhere in San Francisco.
Stiles kept to the smaller residential streets as he walked, keeping a watch out for cop cars and nosy neighbors. Thankfully, the McCall place was only a half hour's walk from the preserve, and inside, the nemeton hastened Stiles' path. It wanted his power. It sensed the blood that had stained his hands before.
Malia was out here somewhere, Stiles knew, but this wasn't the time.
And in no time, the nemeton was right before him. Its stump was half the size that it had been in the future—the ritual he, Scott, and Allison had done to find their parents had done quite a bit for the nemeton—but Stiles could still lie down on it without any part of his young body hanging off. He sat down on its center and pressed his hands onto the rough wood.
Hello, he said, and it was so different from their first meeting. He'd been a boy, so scared and too young for the crap that had been heaped upon him and his friends.
Now as a man—even if he didn't look it—Stiles didn't fear it. His spark wove into the wood, joining with the nemeton. He didn't have the raw power that the nemeton did. Stiles was much too human for that. But he had freedom of movement and control. And he'd dealt with things far worse than the nogitsune, which, trapped as it was in the wood, died under the stab of his magic.
On the nemeton, he conducted the ritual he'd taken to doing yearly in the future. With all that had happened in this town, it wouldn't purify the tree completely in one night, but Stiles would be back the next day, and the next.
He came out of the ritual roughly, his hands still shining with lightening-like light. Go, the nemeton nearly spoke.
Stiles opened his eyes to see Kate Argent standing in front of him under the moonlight, gun pointed straight ahead.
"Are you a witch?" she asked. "Not that it matters, but I've never met a witch before."
"Witches or warlocks are outcast druids who practice black magic," Stiles educated, not that it would do much use. "I'm a druid."
"Mm. You're the good kind." Kate's smile, from what he could see, wasn't anywhere near nice.
"Mostly," Stiles replied, and released the lightening in his hands. If Kate had known anything about the nemeton, she would've known to approach him after he got off of it.
He would've been a sitting duck without it. There was a reason druids generally began their schooling as adults, and it wasn't that Deaton just sucked as a mentor. His spark was still growing, and without the nemeton's help, he couldn't focus much raw power like the kind to launch an offensive attack. On it, though…
Kate vanished into the woods before he could launch a third blast. It was a pity, but no one had ever called Kate Argent dumb.
Stiles almost fell asleep there. This much power had almost been too much for him in his current state. But Melissa and Scott would panic if he suddenly wasn't there in the morning, so Stiles trudged back to the McCall house, the nemeton's song still in his ears.
A freak thunderstorm rolled through the annual Beacon Hills Fourth of July picnic.
It was not terribly unusual for the month, but John had checked the weather twice this morning and there hadn't been a hint of rain in the forecast. He'd blame the weatherman, except Bill from their local news channel was a couple feet away and currently trying to pat himself down with a picnic blanket. It was hard to blame a man who'd gotten so thoroughly drenched along with the rest of the adults once they'd realized they had to get all the food under the pavilion before the holiday took an even worse turn.
"There were no signs, I swear," Bill muttered, throwing someone's small kitchen towel at John. At John's look (because the towel really wasn't big enough to be of any help), he said, "For your face, at least."
John could've killed for the mostly clean towels he had stashed in the trunk of his car, but he'd have to walk through the rain to get at them. At least, he told himself, the rain would probably end as quickly as it came. "Thanks. Have you seen my kid around?"
Bill shrugged. "There's a bunch of them playing ball in the rain."
It was hard to tell which short dark-haired munchkin was which, but John was reasonably sure none of them were his. Probably. He remembered packing Stiles' favorite Darth Vader t-shirt with him before dropping him off to Melissa's last night, and from the glimpses he'd seen of him today, he was wearing it. Scott and Stiles had run off as soon as their feet hit the ground of the park, but John had only exchanged a weary look with Melissa before deciding to get them something to eat in a bit. The boys got caught spying on the Simmons' cat again, she'd groaned, you'll have to apologize next time you come by, because according to the kids, there's nothing to be sorry for. It's a demon cat, of course.
John wasn't especially worried now, either. He made a round around the pavilion until he found Scott eating a slightly soggy hot dog.
"Have you seen Stiles?" he asked.
That sort of wide-eyed expression was never a good sign on a kid's face. Scott had never been a very good liar, unlike Stiles, who'd somehow gotten both John's instinct for people telling untruths and Claudia's way with words. They'd met at a college poker tournament, where she'd wiped him clean of gummy bears, and had continued to do so for the rest of her life. The memory brought a pang of pain to his chest, but no more. Last Fourth of July, he had barely able to keep the anger and sadness at bay. He was getting better, he thought.
"Where is he, kiddo?"
"That way," Scott pointed, past the benches and into a small forest. "He told me he'd meet me back here."
When John squinted, he could almost make out colors that didn't look natural against the green and brown of the trees. He wondered what had brought Stiles out there in the first place, and without Scott, too. The tiny canopy of trees couldn't be much shelter from the rain. Any longer and he'd be stuck with a sick kid for a week. And Stiles, bless his heart, would whine about it the entire time.
John picked up Melissa's picnic blanket—it had tough, plastic underside to keep the dirt off the fabric, which would hopefully work something like an umbrella—and braved the rain. He crossed the distance at a light run, though it still took him a couple minutes, and only nearly lost his shoe in the mud once.
By the time he arrived at the line of trees, he was shivering. At least it wasn't for nothing. He heard Stiles' voice as soon as he arrived.
"You're insane," Stiles said, and that just wasn't right. The words were right, but the tone of voice was all wrong, too cold. "What makes you think—"
"I saw you," a woman's voice all but snarled. "That was you, wasn't it? I don't know who you are but if you think—"
John was getting closer, but he wasn't fast enough.
It happened fast, like violence always did.
Stiles said, "I'm eight years old you bitch," and the woman made a move for her holster, and John only sped into the clearing in time to see a man grab the woman and force the gun out of her hand. He knocked her into the nearest tree, holding her hands behind her back.
"Let's be civil," the man said. John's eyes were playing tricks on him. He blamed the rain, because there was no way he hadn't noticed the man, and there was no way he could've moved that fast.
"Stiles, come over here," John said, trying not to spook his kid.
Stiles didn't turn immediately, his eyes still on the woman. When he did, John was struck by something in his expression that he couldn't identify. Christ, if something had happened—
And then it was gone, and Stiles took a stumbling step toward him.
"Dad," his son says, his voice shaky in a way John had rarely ever heard it. Even as he opened his arms, Stiles was already sliding in for a tight hug, burying his face into his chest. "I— I missed you. I missed you so much."
"Are you alright? What happened?"
"I don't know. I came over here to catch a toad but then she was here and being creepy. I think she's been following me or something. This guy saved me."
"Mr. Hale?" John had finally put a name to that face. Peter Hale, he'd gone to school with Rafael's sister. Last John had heard, the man had moved out of Beacon Hills. He must've only come down for the weekend.
"I was just in the right place at the right time. I saw her enter the woods and noticed she was carrying. The situation… it just felt off."
Peter's last sentence was the only one that John believed completely. "And Ms.—"
"Argent," Peter said, just as the woman said, "Hayes."
Peter raised an eyebrow. "My apologies. You must look just like someone else I know, a Kate Argent. No relation?"
"None at all," she replied, but the two shared an ugly look. "This is really just one big misunderstanding."
"That's quite alright, ma'am," John replied. "We'll sort it all out at the station."
He knew when he was being pushed into something, alright. But this woman could have hurt his kid. She'd definitely scared him. That was enough to see this situation through. As they made their way to John's car, John realized that somewhere along the way, Stiles had separated from him and clung to Peter's hand.
"This isn't funny at all," Stiles muttered under his breath.
Stiles hadn't felt so young and weak in too long, and really, he wasn't a fan. His dad's assistant had actually pinched his cheeks! He was a thirty-two year old man, for Christ's sake.
"Such a cutie," Peter repeated, smirking. "Is this why you've refused to show me any of your childhood photos? Because you—"
"I will gut you."
"Don't worry, I'll heal. But did you have to start that thunderstorm?"
Stiles grimaced. "It was an accident."
Peter looked at him sharply. "You haven't had something like that in years."
Stiles leaned back in his seat and double checked that his mouth won't be caught by the security cameras. "My body's all wrong," he admitted quietly, "and my control's off, too. You're lucky you're old."
"I don't have to go through school again and I don't have nice old ladies pinching my cheeks. It's not bad. But you do enjoy being underestimated—you'll have that in spades now."
"Yeah." Stiles thought of years and years of this and it made his head hurt. "This really wasn't the plan. I'm glad we can save your family, but… This wouldn't have been my choice."
"Do you want to look for a way back?"
"We'd have to go forward in our current bodies, and then I'd just be eight years old in 2029. I don't think it would work anyway. And the future between now and then would end up happening without us, which would probably screw things up completely. Dammit, I wish…"
"I know," Peter said. "I've missed my family—not Talia, admittedly, but the others—but I've lived an entire life without them. I don't need them. Not like—"
Peter closed his eyes and Stiles wished so badly that he could touch him, hug him, anything, but they were nearly strangers in a crowded station. He knew he was already acting differently. He couldn't help it. He wasn't the same awkward kid he'd been at eight years old. Peter wasn't the same adult. Their priorities and mannerisms were so different that Stiles only hoped it could all be attributed to Peter's family not having seen him for a while and Stiles' dad assuming Stiles was just growing up.
It had been good to see his dad, though. Really good.
"I know," Stiles murmured. "It'll be fine. We'll just alter our plans a bit. I… seriously wish things had worked out differently last night. It would've been easier to kill her."
"A life sentence wouldn't be so different," Peter said. "It wouldn't be hard to arrange."
"We'll have to make sure it sticks." And by we, Stiles mostly meant Peter. He'd be able to move around much easier than Stiles.
John stuck his head out of his office and called for someone to give the high school principal a call. Things were moving along.
It looked like dropping the Argent name had been helpful. They hadn't been positive if Kate's records could be accessed at the station—the FBI had been nosing into the Argents for years even during this time, trying to figure out where their surplus of weapons was going if it wasn't to foreign mercenaries, so her file had never been complete—but the system had found that she was wanted for questioning in several murders. With the added identity theft issue, Kate wasn't going to be leaving the station anytime soon.
The police were working on getting a warrant for her apartment, but it would be a couple of hours until they could track down a county judge who wasn't MIA for the day. None of the deputies who'd been called in were especially happy about working the holiday, either, but there were few complaints. Everyone here knew John's kid.
"My dad's so different. He looks so young," Stiles said, nodding toward the room John had disappeared into. "It's so strange."
"Are you going to tell him?"
"I don't know. He deserves to know."
"But fuck, he was never happy, knowing that the supernatural world existed, that there were so many things out there that couldn't be brought down with a Glock." There were some people who thrived on the unknown, who—if not liked—accepted their world views changing constantly when myths suddenly became real. John wasn't one of them. By the last couple years of his dad's life, when life in Beacon Hills had finally settled down, they'd come by a policy of just not talking much about the supernatural world. He settled on, "I'll tell him if something comes up."
Peter shrugged. "He's your father. It's up to you."
"You're not telling any of your family, either."
"I'm not the one who's eight years old."
"I hate you."
"I love you. Are proceeding with an altered plan G?"
"You think it's better than plan C?"
"Plan C isn't bad, but it's messy. It doesn't fit the situation. Not yet." Rolling his shoulders, Peter got up from the hard wooden bench. To the nearest deputy, he said, "I'll be leaving now. If the sheriff has any questions for me, please let him know I'm currently staying with Talia Hale."
"I've already given my statement and Stilinski's focus for the past hour has been Argent's ravings. I have a life I'd like to return to."
And with that, Peter turned around and left. Within minutes, Stiles was accosted by deputies who thought he looked too thin and oh would you like a sugar cookie? Stiles scowled as he munched on them. He'd had the option of going home once he'd told his dad everything that happened in the woods, but he'd pretended to be clingy in order to stick around the station. He wouldn't be able to enter the room they were holding Kate in, but Beacon Hills was a small town that rarely made an interesting arrest. All the cops were gossiping about it now.
Stiles glanced longingly at the coffee machine. Coffee would go so well with the cookies, not to mention he was feeling tired. He'd been up half the night with the nemeton and then Scott had woken him up because he'd seen the neighbors' cat. Add in the second run-in with Kate and trying to act normal and not like this was the first time he'd seen his dad in years, and Stiles was pretty much done.
He could leave the rest up to Peter anyway.
"Can I go home now?" he asked the nearest deputy. "I'm tired."
"Of course," she said. "Let me see if your usual babysitter is available."
Stiles tried not to make a face. Mrs. Winters was great. She was a former officer, part time novelist, and newly a grandmother. That didn't mean he wasn't going to try proving to his dad that he was now officially old enough to stay home alone.
Back at home, Mrs. Winters made Stiles some nice salami sandwiches and let him go up to his room to read Everything You Want to Know About Bats.
He should've been out there with Peter, having his back and helping him set up the necessary evidence in Kate's apartment, but Stiles was just too young, too noticeable to be of much help. He probably couldn't even reach the pedals to drive. In one word, it was bullshit.
He dealt with his boredom by going into his dad's room and using the landline there to call Scott. Scott was a blast at any age, he decided fondly, and made plans to go to the animal shelter with him next week if their parents agreed. (There was a reason Scott had gotten a job at the animal clinic even before he'd become a werewolf, and it wasn't because Deaton could see the future.)
Afterwards, he poked around the house, seeing it with new eyes. There was more clutter than he was used too. Less photos of Claudia. More childish drawings. Less electronics.
And, Stiles realized as he opened the kitchen cupboards, so much more junk food. There were four different kinds of potato chips alone. Holy crap, did his father even know how to cook? Racking his brain, Stiles realized he'd eaten a lot of mac and cheese after his mom died. And stew. That was where he'd gotten the incentive to learn to cook anyway, and badgered Mrs. Winters until she taught him some recipes. She'd also berated his dad into taking proper cooking lessons.
Stiles was still going through the cupboards when John relieved Mrs. Winters of her duties.
"Has that been going on long?" he heard his dad say in hallway.
"About an hour. He says he's going to prevent your next heart attack. I'm certainly not opposed to it."
John sighed. "I knew I shouldn't have let Rob leave those heart healthy pamphlets at the station."
They chatted some more, but Stiles stopped keeping an ear out. It wasn't anything about the Argent case. By the time Mrs. Winters left and John entered the kitchen, Stiles had a whole collection of things that had to go laid out on the kitchen table.
He should've prepared a couple printouts. This John wasn't used to Stiles' healthy eating rants. Which, in theory, would at least make him more susceptible to them for a couple months until he got used to tuning them out.
"Are we having a party?" John asked with little hope.
"We are planning a healthy lifestyle," Stiles said, pulling out a seat for John to slump into. "Did you know that anyone can have a heart attack if they don't eat right for a long time? And Dad, you're old."
"I'm only thirty-four," John said, which broke Stiles' brain for a second. His dad was only two years older than him.
"It's never too early for heart health," he told him very seriously. "You can keep the beef for now, though."
"I can—" John took a deep breath. "Kiddo, something scary happened to you, and it's alright to be worried. I was worried, too; hell, I was terrified. But that woman isn't coming back. Nothing is going to happen to me."
"This isn't about that. Mostly. But look, we could die, Dad. Like Mom." Maybe he was laying it on a bit too thick. After years of living with Peter, he'd found being blunt was the best antidote to Peter's plans within plans. "Heart attacks cause nearly one fourth of all deaths. And didn't grandpa have a heart attack?"
"He didn't die from it," John tried.
"But he had to go to the hospital and hospitals are really boring. You don't want to go to one."
John sighed. "No, I don't. Let's start out small. I guess you want to throw all this away?"
"How about we only throw away two a day? That way we can transition into healthy eating."
His dad probably thought Stiles would give up on the crusade in a couple days, Stiles thought, suppressing a fond smile. He'd learn.
Talia Hale didn't hide her stare. It had never been in her nature to be subtle. Nor did she have time for that sort of thing, with alphahood and motherhood taking up most of her days. But today, her evaluation had little to do with those two things; it had been years since she'd seen Peter regularly enough to be his alpha, and even longer since she'd tried to mother him. She looked at him almost through a stranger's eyes, because something had changed.
He was different, her brother. Nothing overt. Nothing pointed. But there was an easy confidence in the lines of his shoulders that Peter had never quite managed before.
He'd arrived to their reunion a whole week early, kissed her on the cheek, and didn't even sneer much at her kids. She couldn't imagine what had happened to make this change.
Afterwards, he'd nearly immediately gone off to town, where he'd gotten involved in some strange matter of a schoolteacher and the second amendment, or something. He'd returned last evening without giving many details. And now they sat in her soundproofed office on the second floor of the Hale house and Talia had too many questions she wasn't quite sure how to ask.
She'd never seen him so at completely calm, Talia realized. She took a sip of her coffee, pondering the thought. Peter had never been an angry man, per se, but he'd always been discontent, his heartbeat never quite calm.
"Will you be staying until the reunion?" she eventually asked. Peter didn't have to. She preferred calling home her pack each year and having them all at the house at the same time—it gave a good surge to their pack bonds, strengthening them before everyone left for their distant homes and schools—but it wasn't necessary for Peter to stay the whole week. Talia expected Peter to say of course, I don't want to spend another moment here. They may be sitting, eating breakfast in the house they'd both grown up in, but Peter's memories of it weren't as fond as hers.
Instead, he nodded. "I'll be staying beyond the reunion, too. I'm opening a law practice in Beacon Hills. I'm only letting you know as a courtesy—I've already signed the lease for an office in the town center, just off of Maple."
Talia breathed deeply through her nose. Ah, there it was, Peter's insistence that he was going to do whatever he wanted, and leaving her with the consequences. The two biggest incidents stood out clearly in her mind—Derek's girlfriend last year and the child with the Desert Wolf of all people—but there had been too many smaller events to even count them.
"Why?" she asked, instead of lecturing him.
He looked at her for a long moment, and Talia wondered what he saw, because his next words were, "I never thanked you, did I?"
"You practically raised me, along with your own kids. I know I wasn't quite the perfect brother—" the death of their parents plus werewolf adolescence plus being carted off to live with a much older sister he barely knew… it hadn't been a good combination, Talia could admit "—but you tried. I'm grateful for that. That is… something I've wished to say to you for a very long time."
"I—" Everything in Peter's words rang true. Talia was at a loss for words. "I appreciate it."
Peter snorted. "Is that that best you can do?"
"Springing feelings on someone is very rude," Talia huffed, softening the words with a smile. "But I love you, of course. You're my brother. I'd do anything for you."
Peter reached out and she let him take her hands in hers. It was a kinder moment than they'd had in years, and Talia felt strangely unsettled.
His voice was almost kind when he said, "But I will be taking my daughter back."
Talia's hand twitched in Peter's hold and met nails instead of claws, but there was steel in his eyes that spoke of how easily the conversation could turn into something less bloodless.
"You won't believe me if I deny it," Talia said, slowly, testing out the words. How had he found out?
"No, I won't. Let me tell you a story of how it must have been. One day one of your betas sleeps with an internationally known killer—and I don't mean Derek, but do have a chat with your son about his extracurriculars before the police begin that line of investigation—and maybe he knows who she is, maybe he doesn't. The great miracle of life happens despite it being one night of kinky but frankly mediocre sex. Corinne realizes it early. So do you. You plead with her, bribe her, perhaps. I'm not sure how exactly you could have convinced her to actually give birth when Corinne would've known full well that she'd lose most of her powers upon the birth."
"Blackmail," Talia said, numbly.
"My favorite strategy. I'd approve, except for the part where when I find out, you decide the best course is to take away my memories of everything that happened and send me back off to college. It was the last time I even came back here for school breaks; I remembered having such a boring winter holiday here that I simply stayed away. I do wonder why."
"Your memories were the only things I changed. I promise you that."
"You didn't want to go further? Change me into your vision of what a nice, kind person I could be, instead of the problem child you got stuck with?"
"Peter, you weren't ready for—"
"Of course I wasn't. I would've helped Corinne get an abortion and that would've been the end of it. Who'd actually want to have a child with the Desert Wolf? She's a psychopath. There wasn't even any reason for you to get involved and you still did. And for Tiberinus' sake, you actually adopted her out to non-family. Not even that, but a human couple who don't even know the first thing about raising a werewolf or werecoyote or whatever she becomes."
And there was that anger that Talia had thought missing. Strangely, despite the situation, Peter's anger seemed colder than she was used to. It wasn't the anger of a young man being unhappy with the world. Sometime in these months since she'd last seen him, Peter had grown up.
"I thought I was doing the right thing," Talia said. "You've never been… unaware of your faults, Peter. You don't like people unless you can toy with them like a cat with a mouse in a mousetrap. How was I supposed to leave you with a kid when just last year you manipulated Derek into biting a poor girl?"
"And eight years ago you had the ability to see the future? Shit people become parents all the time. Ours weren't much better than I was and you consider yourself to have come out alright. Sure, I teased Derek. He's easy to tease. But I came here for a week for the signing of the Oregon treaty, not to brainwash him into turning random high schoolers. My life does not revolve around Derek's teenage angst."
"I don't believe you. I can't believe you believe yourself, either. And you slept with the Desert Wolf. Good lord, what were you thinking?"
"I have a thing for powerful people," Peter replied, his lips quirking up with amusement that Talia couldn't understand. "And the Corinne doesn't lack power or brains. Do you really think you hid our child well enough that she couldn't find her?"
Talia's lips thinned. "No, I don't. But it's too late now."
Peter couldn't hurt the girl, not with the child having died in a car crash a couple years ago.
There was a quiet sadness in Peter's expression that Talia never expected to see. "It's never too late," he said, but wouldn't explain.
Remembering Peter's earlier words, Talia asked, "What did you mean when you mentioned Derek?"
"I'm sure you'll find out soon enough. The police force in this town isn't completely incompetent." He stood. "I've said enough. I'm not here for you, sister. None of, well, this was for you. I'm not moving back to more helpful to the pack or Derek out of his next legal troubles—and oh does your boy have quite a few anger issues at this age—and I won't be attending pack meetings. I'm your brother. I'll always be. But that doesn't mean we're forced to forever be pack."
Talia wondered if Peter knew he wasn't even part of the Hale pack, not truly. She'd realized this morning that their pack bond had snapped at some point. Talia could admit to being lax in her meditation and checking on her pack bonds, so it could have happened at any point in the past couple months.
"If that's the way you feel, so be it," Talia told him. "But you'll always be welcome in this house. Always, Peter."
Talia had gotten used to life without Peter. Now, despite Peter's words, she knew she would see him more than she had in the past decade, if only when they bumped into each other around town. She walked him downstairs and opened the door to the sight of a boy around Cora's age holding a pie.
"Hi!" he said. "I'm Stiles. I wasn't sure where to find Mr. Peter, so I came here. I made a thank-you pie."
"Ah," Talia said, nonplussed.
Peter took the pie from Stiles' hands and immediately handed it off to Talia. "I'm not much of a fan of pie."
And the man actually had the nerve to complain about her fixing his situation. He'd never been good with her own kids and wasn't being kind to this poor confused kid, either. She couldn't imagine Peter being such a good Samaritan that this Stiles would track him down to bring him baked goods.
"Did something happen?" she asked.
Stiles nodded his head quickly and about ten times. "Mr. Peter is awesome. He's like Batman, but better."
A human's ears wouldn't catch the quiet for fuck's sake that slipped out of Peter at the kid's words, but Talia nearly smiled. "Really?"
"There was a mean lady and Peter helped me. Dad said he's going to stop by here later to talk about things, but I wanted to say thanks too."
"Fine. You're welcome," Peter said curtly, and began walking down the driveway. "Did you walk here? Let's go, I'll give you a ride home."
Stiles followed with a wide grin.
Talia thought she heard Peter say, "Stop interfering, it went fine," but it must've been something else, because Stiles only asked in return, "So can I call you Uncle Peter?"
It had been a strange day, Talia could only conclude. The pie smelled delicious, though. And it was her favorite kind.
Peter entered the woods alone that night, despite Stiles' offer to come with him. He took a winding path along the edge of the preserve, not even shifting in case he spooked the wildlife or was noticed by any of his roaming family members. They usually didn't go out this far, not even on the full moon, but he played it safe.
He heard her far before he saw her. A quick heartbeat in a den some ten yards ahead. A soft growl that would be his only warning of her strike.
Peter didn't continue any closer. Instead he settled against a tree and clicked on a small flashlight. It was only a pinprick of light in the dark forest, but it let him read the words of the book he'd pulled out of his bag.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit," he began, the words almost catching in his throat. "Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort…"
He could catch her, Peter knew. Draw her out with food or simply overpower her in his wolf form, then work on getting her to remember her human form. But he wasn't sure he'd be able to get her trust back afterwards. Trust was such a fragile thing for the Hales.
Peter cared for Talia, but he didn't trust her. He'd never forgive Talia for erasing his memories of his kid, but he'd had years to come to terms with his feelings about his older sister. Talia Hale would always do what she considered right. Whether he hated it or merely disliked it, her meddling would be a price he'd have to pay in the new future he and Stiles were creating.
Derek trusted him so easily even now. It would take Peter killing his sister to break him of that trust. This time around, it wouldn't happen.
Malia trusted the forest and the pads of her paws—for a couple years now, it was all she had. Eventually, she'd remember some of her past, but even twenty years into the future she remembered very little of her time before she became a coyote. Her most vivid memory had been the deaths of her family.
In the future, her relationship with her adopted father had splintered. Henry Tate hadn't been able to relate to a daughter that had lived as an animal for years and would never completely fit into human society again—she didn't want to fit neatly into human society. She didn't need a father figure when she could provide for herself. Feral, Henry had called her.
And yet, she'd let Peter lend her some semblance of support. He'd given her a room on the first floor of the house he'd bought with a part of the insurance payout. She'd gotten keys to the front and back doors. She'd come and gone and returned at will, and Peter had come to treasure it. Treasure her, she who hadn't been planned or known or raised by him, but allowed him in her life anyway. She hadn't even judged him when he'd started seeing her ex-boyfriend, but that could more likely be attributed to coyote morals than anything else.
Somehow he'd taken to fatherhood, and that had surprised no one as much as it had surprised Peter himself. He may not have had a hand in her raising, but he'd taught her control, he'd made a place in his life for her, and she'd taken it. And that was it. Years of something closer to friendship than fatherhood that bridged Peter's life from the insanity and anger of his first couple years out of the coma to the life he'd built afterward. He'd always assumed he'd die before her. Not only for selfish reasons, but he'd been content with the knowledge that his daughter was strong as both a human and a coyote.
And then she'd died and Peter had refused to accept it.
He listened for her as he read, wondering if she understood him. Perhaps he could've chosen something more sentimental—she'd love The Hobbit, but she had only read the book at age twenty—but casual snooping while the man was at work hadn't revealed any children's books in Henry Tate's home.
It could be that Malia needed more than someone trusting her to still remember how to be human. It could be that this would spook her completely. But Peter hoped.
Light dawned slowly onto the forest. Peter's voice was raspy despite the three water bottles he'd drunk over the course of the night. By the time his eyes closed and didn't open back up, he'd finished reading three quarters of the book. He dreamed of hobbits and dragons and a pack of three people that had existed between them in the future. It wouldn't be the same again, but if it was anything like it, anything at all…
Peter awoke to the touch of a cold nose against his palm. His eyes shot open, but he didn't move for fear of startling the coyote that had settled down next to him. Malia still moved a foot away when she noticed, but she didn't run. Her fur was knotted and she looked a little thin, but she was still the most wonderful thing he'd seen since arriving in the past.
"Will you come with me?" He didn't have much to promise her, nothing that he could prove. "I'll feed you, make a den for you, anything you want. Just— please, Malia."
Rising slowly, he watched her watch him with her yellow eyes.
She didn't follow his first step, or his second.
Next time, he'd finish reading the book, Peter decided, and ignored the feeling in his chest. Maybe he'd start on The Fellowship of the Ring, even if in the future Malia'd had many thoughts on how much The Hobbit was better than the trilogy.
He almost didn't notice the coyote that had settled into a stride beside him. Later, when she wouldn't bite him for it, he'd hold her close. For now he only breathed deeply and considered whether Malia would feel offended by the den he'd bought her from Petsmart. If he was lucky, she'd transform back into a human form to complain.
She conceded to getting in his car with him, growling continuously under her breath as they drove, and jumped out over him as soon as he opened his door. The office space he'd found was a little small, and currently only held a small desk, a futon, and in the corner a huge dog bed with pillows and a blanket roof overhead.
Malia gave him a look before entering it.
"If you transform back you can have a four poster bed," Peter tried, and collapsed onto the futon. "There's food behind the desk," he managed to say before falling asleep again.
This time, he didn't dream at all, his brain too tired from a night of reading to bother. Malia trusted him, just a little, just enough to come with him.
He could take it from there.
He must've left the door unlocked, because when he woke up next, Stiles was sitting against the wall, talking softly to Malia's den.
"I know, having cousins is overrated, but yours are pretty great. There's Derek—he's a grouch but he's really nice—and Laura—I don't know much about her but Derek missed her when, uh, something happened so I think that's a good sign—and Cora—she's a blast, you two could go travelling through the woods together if you want, she's the type who'd totally climb Mount Everest if the opportunity came up—and I dunno about the others, the Hales aren't a chatty bunch. You have an aunt but she sucks. You could learn about them and report back to me if you want."
"Feel free to avoid them forever if you'd like, though," Peter offered, smiling at the snout that peeked out of Malia's makeshift den.
When she felt safe, she'd return to her human form again. Peter would wait as long as he needed to for that day.
Stiles glanced over at him and grinned. "Yeah, you can be antisocial like Peter."
"Where does your dad think you are right now?" Peter asked.
Stiles huffed. "Shut up. Do you know how long it took to find you? Tracking based on pack bonds is really not my best talent." He walked over to Peter's futon, though, and bounced onto the other side of the bed. "How did you sleep on this? It's like a rock."
Peter winced as he sat up. "Not especially well, but then I don't have much of a choice. I didn't have much in savings at this time and knowledge of the future isn't going to get me instant returns." The office itself wasn't great as well; it was too small and the air conditioning system needed work. But his old—future—office was still occupied by Terry. It would only free up in a couple years when the man decided to retire. This would have to do until then. "Makes me almost wish I had the insurance payout again."
Stiles leaned into him and they sat shoulder to shoulder for a long while, until Stiles said, "I feel like I should apologize for making you uproot your life. You could stay in San Francisco. Take Malia—if she wants that is—and just leave. It's not like it'll be very interesting here. Just," he waved an arm, "all this crap and your family."
"San Francisco wasn't much of a home anyway," Peter replied. He barely remembered his old friends and coworkers. None of those ties had lasted through the years he'd spent in a coma. "I'm sorry, too. If I hadn't brought up going back, you wouldn't be stuck the way you are now. Besides… you're here. There isn't a universe where I'll leave your side for so long. You'll have to deal with it, I'm afraid."
"It's not like I won't be fine. I was the first time around. But this is going to be boring as fuck."
"We'll deal," Peter said, though he realized he did so with the advantage of still continuing to be an adult. "Besides, I'm rather looking forward to my stock portfolio doing extremely well."
"And my dad is going to be the healthiest sheriff in the state," Stiles vowed. "But more importantly… how soon do you think we can get together again without freaking everyone out?"
Peter didn't have to think long. "When you're eighteen."
"I'm pretty sure I read about evil werewolves of hundreds of years ago getting it on when their mate was fourteen."
"Mm. I remember that book. I believe there was also the tale of the werewolf who, after having met his mate, refused to complete their mating for thirty years because he believed himself unworthy of his mate's love."
"You would not."
"Eighteen really is a good compromise, if you think about it that way."
"I'm not sure you know how compromise actually works, but fine. You better have an amazing proposal planned to make up for it. I'm gonna say no if it's not up to snuff."
"Your exact words when you proposed to me were, I'll trade you an engagement ring for the remote. I'm not sure your standards were very high to begin with."
Stiles' grin was so smug. "And you still said yes. The look on your face when I pulled it out of my suitcase, oh my god."
They still had so much to deal with. Gerard, a Chris who was still loyal to Kate during this time, Eichen House… Kate wasn't even safely in a maximum security prison yet. But sitting here with Stiles, Peter could see a future fold out in front of them, and he was ready to see it happen.
"I love you," Peter said, a little helplessly, because love wasn't always enough in this world. "And you, Malia," he called to the corner of the office.
"I know," Stiles replied, because he was a nerd, but he also added, "I love you, too."