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In Your Footsteps (I Will Walk)

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When Eichen House collapses around him, Peter doesn’t care that he breaks bones and rips a few nails out and cuts himself open again and again just to claw his way out of the wreckage.

He’s a survivor to the very end, and he swore to himself he would live through this too.

The last thing he expects to hear when he takes his first ragged gasp of fresh air under a near-moonless sky is the crack of a gunshot.

Then again, it’s Beacon Hills.  Violence and death is par for the course.

Fortunately, whoever the shooter (hunter?) was aiming at, it wasn’t Peter, and Peter doesn’t waste any time hunkering back down into the rubble all around him, thankful – for the first time – for the drab grey sweats and shirt that’s been his prison garb for months (years? How long has it been?), now torn and stained with blood and dirt and dust, and it blends right in with the asylum’s dark skeleton.

Then he waits, as still and silent as physically possible.

Another shot rings out, this time accompanied by a screech of pain, soon cut off by three more gunshots.  Something only a few feet away from Peter heaves aside some debris, coughing as they crawl out into the open, only to be gunned down seconds later as well.

Peter doesn’t so much as twitch.  He doesn’t know why, doesn’t know who, but his mind is already rapidly putting the pieces together.

Someone brought Eichen House crashing to the ground.  There were moments inside during the quakes that rattled the building’s very foundations that Peter was sure an explosion would kill him before he found a way out.  Someone very deliberately destroyed the place – probably hoping to kill as many inmates locked up inside as possible.

And now they’re waiting outside to pick off the ones who managed to survive being buried alive.

Another scream rings out, stopped short again by the discharge of a gun and the splatter of brain and skull fragments against the ground.  Someone else tries to run, gunshot, a body falls.  Rinse and repeat.

Peter closes his eyes and waits.

 


 

He loses track of time again.  He doesn’t know how long he lies there, half-concealed under a piece of wall, something sharp digging into his spine.  But he hasn’t been noticed, and with every creature executed (forty-three at last count, forty-three heartbeats extinguished), he breathes a little easier because that’s one more target drawing the killers’ attention away from him, one more target that isn’t him.

There’s more than one, Peter’s fairly certain.  More than one set of footsteps stalking around, searching for any movement in the madhouse’s gutted remains.  Certainly more than one heartbeat have crossed paths with each other enough to tell Peter that they’re on the same side.

But time passes, the shrieks and pleas and gunshots grow farther and farther apart, and eventually, the killers move on.  After the last pair of boots stomp away, Peter spends at least another half hour straining his ears for any kind of unnatural sound before he even dares to begin wriggling out from the makeshift crevice he’s been hiding in, but when he lifts his head and cautiously scans his surroundings, nobody leaps out to try and kill him.

Slowly, stiffly, movements clumsier than he’d like, he pushes himself up into a crouch.  He’s barefoot and bleeding again; the chips of rock and pieces of metal littering the area does no favours for his feet, but he’s still alive.  He’ll heal.

He… doesn’t understand what’s going on.  In what universe can a group of people blow up a building in an American town and then shoot anyone trying to come out without fear of any consequence?  That sort of thing only happens in movies and warzones.  Peter can’t even hear any sirens so there’s obviously no ambulances or even police coming.

He gives himself a bit of a shake.  That doesn’t matter right now.  What matters is getting somewhere safe, somewhere he can catch his breath and sleep off the wolfsbane withdrawal he knows will be hitting him soon.

Everything else can wait.

 


 

He goes to Derek’s loft first.  Except there is no loft, only piles of glass and brick sprawled across the warehouse district, and for a moment, Peter thinks he must have gotten turned around, and the loft must be somewhere else.

But no, this is the place, and he has no idea what happened or why all the buildings look like they were hit with a wrecking ball.

He doesn’t stick around to try and find out.  He’s cold and tired, and his thoughts are getting fuzzy again, only adrenaline still keeping him going.  He doesn’t go to his apartment – it’s too exposed, and Peter’s not at his best so he probably won’t even make it there without getting spotted.  Instinct says he should head into the Preserve, into the woods, but he doesn’t know whether the people killing supernatural creatures will be there too, and he doesn’t want to risk it.

So, the vault then.  He knows both Kate and… that girl, the one who pinned all that Benefactor bullshit on him just because he said a few things while he was completely out of his mind, things he honestly can’t even remember saying – he knows both of them know where it is, but he doubts they’ll suddenly pop up in the vault so randomly, especially since they would need a Hale to get in.  And of course, McCall and the idiots who flock around him know it too but Peter dismisses them for the same reason.

It’ll be underground, familiar, and hopefully still hidden.  Still safe.  Peter can hide there for a while.

 


 

The vault is dark and cool, the air stale – perfect for Peter to curl up at the very back in the darkest corner.

He’s asleep within seconds.

 


 

He wakes up, hours (days?) later.  He feels… not better, but maybe less shaky, and less like he wants to run and run and never stop.  He stumbles over to a cabinet, prying the doors open and retrieving a bottle of water and a box of crackers.  He inhales both in a matter of minutes and goes back for seconds.  He thinks some part of him wants to cringe at the way the crumbs spill into his lap and even the way he keeps stuffing as many crackers as he can fit into his mouth at one time, as quickly as he can after each swallow, but that’s shunted aside by the much larger part of him that really can’t care less.

He’s polished off a third box of crackers and another bottle of water before he finally slows down enough to get a better look around.

The shelves are empty, is the first thing he notices.  Well, almost.  A few empty jars have been left behind to gather dust, this cabinet obviously went untouched, and of course, his money’s long gone.  But the books and artifacts seem to have been cleaned out, and it’s been long enough that Peter can’t smell who was responsible for it and whether or not he should feel indignant or even angry that someone’s taken the very last of his family’s heirlooms.  It’s hard to dredge up much of any emotion that isn’t exhaustion or fear or a hollow, disconnected kind of loss though; anything more than that takes more effort than he can muster.

Rage used to come so easily to him.  Now it’s difficult to even imagine where he managed to find the energy for it.

He glances around again.  Did the pack leave?  With whatever is happening in Beacon Hills, did they finally cut their losses and run like Cora and Derek had?

Well, at least he still has a couple boxes of crackers.  And water.  That’s important.  He should probably try to find out what’s going on next.  Figure out what kind of disaster McCall’s attracted this time because it’s always something.  Peter’s never met a more ineffectual safeguard as Scott McCall.  The boy has literally never been able to handle a problem thrown his way without a bunch of people dying first, which – of course – meant he wasn’t handling the problem at all, and it looks like this time is no different.  Frankly, he’d be less useless dead; then at least nobody would come try their luck at taking a chunk out of the town just because they heard how Beacon Hills’ Alpha will always let his enemies go free to try again.

Peter climbs to his feet, wincing a little at the aches protesting deep in his bones.  He’s not sure whether that’s one of the aftereffects of the drugs or the fact that he’s gotten old.  Older.  He’s lost so many years of his life that sometimes it feels like he’s never known anything else but this pitiful existence.

He circles the vault, fingers brushing the walls, pausing at the entrance that would take him through to the basement of the Hale house.  Or what remains of it anyway.  Derek never rebuilt, Cora didn't even ask.  He doubts anything’s changed on that front, and he still doesn't know who might be waiting for him at the other end.

He makes another round of the vault, trying to decide if he should risk going outside again.  It’s not like he'll discover anything new down here.  His body's still very weak though, and a few deep breaths tell him that his ribs still aren't entirely healed.  Constant beatings and then an entire building coming down on his head isn't exactly conducive to his health, werewolf healing or no.  Besides, he’s an omega through and through now.

He takes another breath, trying to determine how bad his injuries are, and that's the only reason he doesn't miss it – a familiar scent reaches his nose, and his head snaps around to stare at the empty jars on the shelf he just passed.

They're just jars.  There's nothing in them.  And yet, when he draws closer and takes a deliberate whiff, they smell like Stiles.  Like Stiles had rubbed his hands all over them.

Peter eyes the three jars warily before finally reaching out to pick up the closest one.

Nothing happens.

Peter’s shoulders sag, and he's not even sure why it comes as such a disappointment to him.  It's clear glass, there's nothing inside; Stiles probably held them when he – presumably – came down here to get something.  It's just- It’s something familiar.  He knows he was never Stiles’ favourite person, knows Stiles has no obligation to do anything for him, but for a moment, he thought maybe… maybe, if everyone he knows really has left, then at least he hasn't been entirely forgotten (abandoned, again, even if he might deserve it this time).

Frustration and bitterness and – for just a split second – a dizzyingly overwhelming wave of loneliness make his fangs itch, the urge to bite and tear and rend the world apart burning inside him like he’s trapped in a fire all over again, and oh, there's the anger that was so hard to summon up earlier.  Just as swiftly comes a surge of self-disgust on its heels, and that’s enough to bring out his claws and make his eyes spark.  He moves to toss the jar away, and that's when he freezes.

Because the jar he's holding and even the two on the shelf are no longer empty.

Peter stares for several long moments, stunned, and then something shamefully close to a sob rasps up his throat, with the slightest edge of hysteria shaping it.  He fumbles with the lid, almost dropping it in his haste.  He can't really make out the dark shape inside but it looks like folded paper.  A map, maybe?

As it turns out, it isn’t a map.  It’s a bunch of newspaper clippings.

With a confused frown, Peter flattens out their creases, and with his wolf eyes, he can see the slightly faded writing even in the dark.

Of course, then he starts reading, and superior sight is not such a blessing after all.

 


 

He sits, for an indeterminable amount of time, on the cold cement floor, back against the wall.  At his feet are the three news clippings, and even though he’s not actively reading anymore, words and phrases still jump out at him, branded in his mind almost the same way his time in Eichen House has left him with ugly puncture marks up his arms and surgical scars crisscrossing his back and chest.

‘Monsters Are Real’, one article screams, complete with slightly blurry photographs of a shifted werewolf.  Peter can’t quite recognize the face – the lighting is bad, and the werewolf’s in mid-run and half turned away – but the red eyes are unmistakeable, the figure is clad in clothes typical of the average teenager, and coupled with the fact that it's the Beacon News, he’s willing to put money down on it being Scott McCall.

‘Highly dangerous’ is another; ‘mindless’, ‘beasts’, and ‘wearing human faces’ are more.  ‘Kill on sight’ comes up over and over again.

The last clipping has actual mugshots printed in neat rows like the criminals they’ve been painted as.  This time, Scott’s face is front and center, along with all the people in town involved with the supernatural.  It looks like the newspaper dug up their school pictures, and each one is tagged with their full name.

Derek and Cora aren’t among them but Peter is, on the far right, a picture of his face pre-fire, with his full name printed underneath it, and Incarcerated beneath that.

Peter draws a breath that feels too unsteady by far.  How could this happen?

How could any Alpha be so incompetent that this could happen under their watch?  Their world’s first and most important rule – in some ways their only rule: don’t get found out – and Scott McCall had well and truly shattered it to pieces. The boy wanted to be Alpha of Beacon Hills? Then he should’ve damn well shouldered the responsibilities that came with that title too.

And now… it's so surreal he would think it's some kind of practical joke if not for the fact that he's already witnessed the result firsthand.

With a bleak grimace, Peter reaches for the second jar.  This one, he sees, is a phone, and when he tries the power button, the screen lights up in response.

There isn’t much on it, just the usual functions.  There aren’t any contacts listed, no photos, no missed calls or texts from unknown numbers either. There's a calendar, and Peter has to put the phone down and just focus on breathing for a while when he realizes it's been over three years since his incarceration.  Give or take.  He can’t remember what day he was locked up, or even what month.  Early in the year, he thinks.  And now it’s September, three-nearly-four years later.

He pulls himself together.  Now isn't the time.  There’s a notes app, and when Peter taps that, he gets several paragraphs’ worth of text that looks like it was written in a hurry:

Peter,

I hope it's u reading this, if its not n ur one of Monroe or Gerard’s ppl, fck u n good luck tracking us w this stuff, if theres any justice in the world ull trigger the bomb I planted.

If it is peter, dude I dunno wat to say. If uv read the articles I left u then u no wats going on now. Long story short, we- our town- got too loud, n scott let too many ppl go. Mostly Gerard, u remember scott made derek bite him to try and kill him but it didn’t work all the way? Scott didn’t actually finish him off ofc n I guess that’s on me, I should've done it, but I didn’t n chris stashed him in some nursing home n he fcking healed n then he came bak n scott decided it was a good idea to make an alliance w him.

Guess wat it wasn’t a good idea.

Anyway with all the supernatural shit we had to fight, someone- bitch named Monroe found out n instead of jumping onboard the scott bandwagon she went and told other ppl n then teamed up w Gerard who told her he could teach how to kill monsters, more shit happened, n basically now every supernatural or “human sympathizer” is enemy no1.

Wer all fcked. Scott keeps trying to talk to them, said if we could just show them we’re good n not dangerous n made of puppies n rainbows or sth n idk wtf he’s on bc hes had some pretty prejudiced feelings bout werewolves from the very beginning.

Im rambling. None of that’s important anymore. Listen, EH is too well-guarded, n hunters- we’ve taken to callin them all hunters now even if ther not actually certified n have like zero code- anyway hunters r constantly patrolling streets, nobody goes out unless we have to or Scott talks Monroe into another meeting which is just another chance for them to shoot us up with bullets cuz its already happened three fcking times

Fck. Sry. U cn prob tell I hvnt had many ppl to complain to. Anyway my point being I can't get u out. Place is warded to the nth degree from inside n only way anyone's getting in is if they bomb it from air or sth. N I won't try break in if its not sure thing.

Sry. I no how bad EH can be n even u don't deserve that shit. But I can't risk it n if u manage to get yrself out ull prob come to the vault so that's where I'm stashing this stuff.

I'm leaving. I know a losing battle when I see one n this went past that months ago. If it was just me

My dad’s dead. So’s Scott’s mom. So’s a bunch of other ppl. Kids my age. Lydia's almost completely comatose, she's lucid maybe few minutes every few days, she can't handle all the deaths. Liam's flipped his shit since his gf n best friend died. We had to lock him in mountain ash cuz he almost killed Scott n we havnt let him out since. I think it kinder if we killed him at this point. Kira's a mess, her dad died early on, her mom died two weeks ago in ambush after saving our collective asses. Malia almost died of wolfsbane poison the other day cuz she got shot during one of Scott's diplomatic suicide crusades. I had to kill a guy to get a bullet in time n Scott got pissed. Said I was ruining chances of peace. Malia healed up n first thing she did was break his nose. She's practically feral these days, it's her instincts I think, wer being cornered n her coyote’s been telling her to run for months. Idk how she's managed to stay so long.

We have no more allies. Ito pack left as far as I can tell. It's not like Derek or Cora or even ur around anymore n I don't think she's ever liked Scott.

I love Scott I do he was my bro growing up but

Idk wats wrong w him these days, I swear he wasn’t this bad before but hes so

Unreasonable? He keeps trying to talk to our enemies which isnt anything new but he loses his temper w us a lot now, whenever we don’t agree w him n that’s happening more and more esp since its not just me arguing w him anymore.

He's gonna get us all killed. He refuses to kill any hunters. Malia tore one to pieces cuz he was aiming a gun at Kira's head n he hasn't looked at her the same way since. He looks at her like he used to look at u n that's bullsh

It's just talk n talk n talk n he has no other plan n honestly it's too late for that anyway

Malia cried n begged me to leave yesterday. Not like I hvnt thot bout it. Or been planning it. Been doing that for months. Even brought it up w Scott once but he said wel look guilty if we run. Idk how he doesn't get wer already guilty just by existing.

N if it was just me, if my dad died n I had no one else to care bout cept Scott I'd prob stay n pretend scotts preaching will work one of these days but

This is my choice. I'm not asking forgiveness or confessing or what the fck ever, I mean it's u, it's not like u care. But I guess I thot u might understand.

I'm leaving n taking as many ppl w me as I can. I'm gonna try talking to Scott one more time but honestly he hasn't listened to me in yrs. Maybe since nogitsune. Maybe before that.

I’m leaving a way for u to track us if u do get out. I wouldn't be surprised if u manage to survive. If we aren't all dead by the time u read this, n if u want to, n u don't try to fck us over, I promise you'll have a place with us.

See you on the other side creeperwolf,

Stiles

 


 

(Peter reads the letter once, twice, three times.  And then he laughs and laughs and laughs, because, in a way, he has been waiting for this exact reaction from the moment Scott turned up with red eyes and an even stronger belief in the fact that his own righteousness meant always right.

Because someone had finally gotten the balls to throw Scott McCall’s mistakes in the boy’s face instead of overlooking them as per usual, and everyone else had seen them too.  It was never a proper pack, what Scott had, and by the sounds of it, once his little friends started – finally – losing faith in him because he cared more about making nice with their enemies than protecting his own, even the flimsy, tenuous pack bonds that once anchored his wolf to sanity began to fray.

Unreasonable, Stiles called him, and taking his frustrations out on his own pack.  That was all the signs of an Alpha going omega because he’d abandoned his pack and his pack had realized that, and in Peter’s opinion, it was a fall from grace that had been a long time coming.

And whether he knew it or not, as Left Hand, as Witness, as Judge and Executioner, Stiles had passed judgement on the Alpha, and he had found him wanting.

And apparently, it only took the end of the world as they knew it for it to happen.

There’s as much satisfaction in that as there is a bitter sense of too little too late.)

 


 

Peter stays in the vault for another two days.  He has enough food and water for that.  As it turns out, he has enough food and water for a lot longer than that too.

The third jar he opens contains – puzzlingly enough – several balls of cloth.  He unwraps one… and unwraps and unwraps and unwraps in a way that’s definitely not possible without the aid of magic because when he finally gets one of the black cloths spread out to full size, it looks like a family picnic blanket, and a small mountain of non-perishable foods and bottles of water is somehow sitting in the center.

The second cloth ball unfolds to reveal a few sets of clothes, nothing special but clean, and Stiles even included two of his v-necks.  He wants a shower but he doesn’t want to leave unless it’s for good, so after using some water to scrub as much of the dried blood and dirt off his skin, he sacrifices a pair of pants and a long-sleeve, setting aside a coat and shoes as well before packing the rest away again.  He can always find someplace to wash them later.  His prison uniform is tossed into a corner.  He’d set it on fire if he could.

The third ball of cloth contains essentials, mostly money, cash, a driver’s license with a fake name, and a passport with the same.

The last is actually exactly as big as it looks.  Peter blinks when a clear glass bauble rolls into the palm of his hand, smooth all over save for a circular indent on one side, about the size of a coin.  He has no idea what it’s for.

He scans Stiles’ message again but there’s no mention of anything like what he’s holding.

…No direct mention anyway.  Stiles supposedly left a way for Peter to find him.  And all these things were left for Peter.  Stiles isn’t the type to make empty threats, so if anyone else had gotten a hold of the jars and somehow discovered what was inside, it would’ve potentially exploded in their faces.  And one of the most sure-fire, airtight ways to differentiate one person from the next…

Peter looks again at the bauble, and then he cuts his thumb open with one claw and presses it against the indentation.

A flash of near-blinding white light floods the vault, the blood disappears, and suddenly, the bauble rises into the air, hovering in front of Peter’s face even as the light gradually dims and changes colour until it’s a warm orange glow, like a lantern in the dark.  Peter touches it lightly, and it’s like holding his hand near a lit fireplace on a winter night.

It bobs for a moment, spinning lazily in the air before darting away to float next to the vault door instead, and there it stays, waiting.

Peter stares after it for a moment.  He’s far too jaded, he thinks, to feel any kind of positive emotion anymore, but then he glances down once again at the message Stiles left specifically for him, all the supplies he gathered and left here for Peter to make use of, unable to save him but confident nonetheless in Peter’s ability to save himself and had therefore prepared accordingly despite the fact that he could’ve just as easily left Peter to hang without helping at all, and in the end, it seems Peter can still manage a strange blend of wonder and joy and gratitude after all.

 


 

He leaves as soon as night falls two days later, all his current worldly belongings easily tucked away in a pocket as he surfaces from the vault, locks it behind him, and then turns to lope after the ball of light heading due north.  As he soon learns, it never strays further than five feet, and it even guides him into the dark space between two buildings seconds before the stomp of boots reaches his ears.  Peter worries for a moment about the glow that anyone with eyes would see, but the bauble hovers at the entrance of the alley, too far away for Peter to reach without giving himself away, and he’s relieved when the patrol passes by and never even slows.  They don’t see the light at all.

He leaves Beacon Hills behind within the hour.  He reaches the nearest highway within another two, and the bauble flies back to tuck itself in the collar of his jacket so Peter takes that as a sign to simply keep walking.  There are barely any cars, and Peter is careful to stay out of reach of the headlights of the few that trundle by.

It’s a quieter world than he’s used to.  Eichen House was always full of screams from himself and from his fellow inmates, jeering from the guards, the doctors’ clinical voices, and Valack was forever talking, taunting Peter with his own memories until he snapped one day, burned right through his latest dose of drugs, and thoroughly eviscerated his cellmate.  He paid for it with an even larger dosage of wolfsbane in his system from that point on and enough time under the doctors’ scalpels that there were days when he knew nothing but relentless, never-ending agony, but it was worth not having to put up with Valack ever again.

By the time dawn arrives, Peter’s left Beacon County behind entirely.  He skirted around another town at around three in the morning, and it was horrifying to see the damage done to the place.  There was still life within, lights shining through windows, the rumble of cars in the distance, but also too there was a fire in a crop of woods on the town’s east side, and – against the anxious bobbing of his guide – Peter snuck into the town and watched from the shadows as a group of hunters tossed body after body into the roaring flames, interspersed by cheers and the clink of beers.

He killed three of them on his way out of town.  They weren’t even really in his way, but they weren’t too far out either, and at this point, murdering them was probably doing the world a favour.

The sun’s halfway up by the time Peter stops for a break.  He finds an abandoned farmhouse, no people or animals in sight, long gone too judging by the dust, and he very pointedly does not wonder what happened to them as he breaks in.  There's still hot running water, and while he does keep an ear out for any approaching heartbeats, he also stands under the spray for a good half hour before stepping back out, pulling on fresh clothes and sticking the dirty ones in the washer.

He sleeps the rest of the day away, only waking up again around sunset.  The bauble is where he left it, waiting vigilantly on the coffee table beside the couch he slept on.  It stirs when he sits up, and it follows him into the kitchen when he goes to raid it, still glowing like a single candlelight.

He finds a few cans of food that haven't expired yet, and he heats up a broth for dinner.  He doesn’t touch the food Stiles left for him.  No sense in doing that when he doesn’t need to, and you can never have too much food saved up for later.

Night falls, he grabs another shower while his clothes are in the dryer, and then he packs up what little he unpacked and sets off again.

(He has to walk past the barn.  He catches the scent of old blood and follows it inside to find a family of four – two adults, two kids, all with faces frozen in varying degrees of shift that look distinctly bear-like – with a bullet hole in each of their heads.  A sheepdog lies curled up next to the little girl, no sign of injury on it but dead all the same.  It could be asleep if not for the smell and the fact that it isn’t breathing.

Peter thinks maybe he should feel guilty for ransacking their house.

He doesn’t.

But, well, he leaves.  And then he comes back, scrounges up a shovel, and doesn’t take off again until he’s buried all five bodies.)

 


 

His days blur together even with a phone that never seems to lose power no matter how much he uses it.  Mostly, it’s just to check the weather and time, and reread Stiles’ message.  It gives him something to cling to, reminds him that at least one person might still be waiting for him.  The note is dated over a year ago, but the magic guiding light still works so surely Stiles must still be alive.

He travels during the night and finds out-of-the-way places to sleep and eat during the day.  He avoids towns and cities when he can, sticking to the countryside and long stretches of empty road.  On occasion, he hitches a ride on a bus, but only when there are other people onboard, not too many but not just one or two either.  Wouldn’t do for the driver to recognize him, however slight that chance may be.  He’s gotten a glimpse of several news channels – there’s a hotline these days for people to call if they suspect someone of being supernatural or if they come across one of the faces plastered across the nation, accused of “crimes against humanity”, and from what Peter’s seen, most of the Beacon Hills natives have been included.  This time, he didn’t see his own picture but it’s better to be cautious.

It’s a very different world they live in now, even if some things are still the same.

(The world is quieter than he remembers.  There’s still life in most places, shops and restaurants still open, houses still lived in, but everything is muted in a way that speaks of a country plundered by hatred and swallowed by fear.)

 


 

By the time he arrives at his destination – Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin, says Google Maps – it’s been nearly four months since he first began his trek cross-country, there’s a thin layer of snow on the ground, and trees around him are laden down with white.

It’s just past seven in the evening.  Peter’s been weaving his way through dense forest ever since the ball of light in front of him veered off the paved road between two towns and into woods largely untouched by man.  He has no clue where he’s going, there’s nothing but woodlands around him as far as the eye can see, but he’s followed Stiles’ magic this far, he might as well keep going.

The floating bauble flits between two trees, and Peter shuffles after it, stepping over a log in the process.

His boots crunch on snow on the other side, and all at once he goes still as something shivers up his spine, and for just a moment, his sight warps and slides sideways before righting itself again almost as quickly and slapping him with a brief bout of vertigo.

He blinks, and where before there was only tall trees and gently sloping land and the dark of night made bright with snow, now – up ahead, at the top of a small hill – there is light.

For a second, his mind jumps to fireflies.  There are dozens of them, orange and warm and lively, spread out in no particular pattern, too far apart to form any kind of cloud but enough of them that they light up the forest in a way that reminds Peter of a festival he attended when he vacationed that one time in Japan.

One of the lights whiz to his side, and he realizes it’s his own, the one he’s been following all this time, the one that looks exactly like all the ones in the far distance.  The glass ball drops onto his shoulder now, seemingly content to perch there now that its job is apparently done.

Peter takes a stumbling step forward, then another, and another, an odd sense of breathless disbelief tangled up inside him.  He strains his ears, and he can actually hear the murmur of voices carried on the wind now, along with the familiar-foreign scent of a barbecue – probably several – at work.

He slows to a halt, suddenly unsure of what to do next.  Should he just walk up?  Or make his presence known some other way first?  But surely somebody knows he’s here by now; the wards have to be tied to someone.

The decision is taken out of his hands when one of the lights separate from the bulk, a heartbeat speeds towards him, and a moment later, a figure – distinctly female, bundled up lightly, eyes flashing blue – crests the hill and makes a beeline straight towards him, her own light soaring above her head.

It actually takes Peter another few seconds to recognize her.

“Malia,” He says, and his voice comes out in a startling croak, hoarse with lack of use.

And it is her, all grown up now, the last of the baby fat gone but well-fed and healthy, her hair tumbling down her back from underneath a soft grey toque, her features more angular than his own but her eyes the same beta blue.

She flies towards him, and for a moment, Peter thinks she’s either going to throw her arms around him in a hug or punch him in the face.  She does neither, shoes skidding through the snow instead as she brakes in front of him, eyes wide and surprised as she takes him in.

“Peter,” She exclaims.  “It’s really you!”  She shakes her head and rocks back on her heels.  “Well, Stiles said you were coming.”

Peter straightens.  “Stiles is here?”

Malia’s expression slants into something almost amused even as she points to the bauble on Peter’s shoulder.  “Well duh, you wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t.  Come on,” She hesitates, then her jaw sets into a determined line, and she reaches out and takes Peter’s hand before proceeding to tow him back the way she came.  “I’ll take you to him.”

Peter follows her in a bit of a daze.  Her hand is warm in his own, and he wants to shake her off just as much as he doesn’t.  They trek up the hill, and Peter is treated with the awe-inspiring sight of a huge clearing that doesn’t seem to have an end and is also conspicuously clear of snow, leaving only flat dry ground instead.  There are a couple cabins built starting on the far right, at least a good twenty feet separating each one, and Peter suspects there are more stretching back behind them out of sight.  There are people coming and going with food from a building on the left side, and there’s a bonfire going at the center, surrounded by benches and picnic tables.  Beyond that, through another copse of trees, Peter thinks he can see the splash of moonlight glancing off a frozen lake.

And there are people gathered in small groups, chatting with each other or just enjoying their dinner.  Thirty large, maybe, Peter guesses from a quick scan of the immediate vicinity, although of course, there’s definitely more people he can’t see.

Red catches his eye, and Peter recognizes Lydia sitting in a chair on the porch of the kitchen(?) building, hair braided over one shoulder, a boy – young man – who looks vaguely familiar sitting beside her and tapping away at a laptop.

She’s already watching him when he meets her gaze, and maybe it’s the distance, but he can’t find any hostility in her face or even posture.  The man beside her says something, and she looks away from Peter to answer.

“Peter, come on,” Malia urges, tugging him along, and Peter observes – with a surprising touch of fondness – that the impatience is still the same.

“What are the lights for?”  Peter asks as she guides him towards the cabins.  “In case people get separated?”

Malia tips her head to glance back at him.  “Sort of.  I mean, if someone gets lost or something, then yeah, it could work like that, but also it has your blood signature on it, and that creates a kind of… connection with Stiles because it’s his magic in them.”  She shrugs.  “Not everyone’s a shifter capable of pack bonds.  This way, even the humans are linked to Stiles, and since they’re blood-bound to each person, no one else can steal them or whatever, and they’ll only break if the person dies.  Everyone gets one if they live here, and it helps people feel like they belong somewhere again.”

Peter can read the most important bit between the lines.  “…Stiles is Alpha?”

This time, Malia turns all the way around just to arch an eyebrow at him, and her expression right then is like looking in a mirror.

“It’s Stiles,” She says as if that explains everything.  But it’s also Peter she’s explaining it to, and so it very much does.

Part of Peter wants to laugh – he always knew Stiles was capable of it.

They weave around two cabins and past a third, deeper into the housing area.  There are still lights, but these ones come from actual lamps hanging from the eaves of each cabin.

“Stiles isn’t eating?”  Peter asks next.

Malia shakes her head.  “He probably is.  The cabins have their own kitchens.  It’s just that most of the time, we like eating together.  Also we took in a family of brownies who used to own a restaurant so they like cooking for a whole bunch of people at a time.  And-” For the first time, her words falter, and Peter glances sharply at her but the werecoyote forges on a moment later without looking at him.  “Stiles likes his privacy.  I mean everybody does.  Sometimes he doesn’t feel up for hanging out with other people.”

Peter studies her back for a while longer, and then – with a deft twist – detaches their hands.  He doesn’t stop walking, and Malia doesn’t either, but she looks back over her shoulder long enough for him to catch her eye and ask evenly, “Who got out of Beacon Hills?”

Malia’s eyes flash, and all at once, her expression goes hard and flat with a helpless kind of rage that somehow makes her look ten years older.

“Not Scott,” She retorts harshly before spinning around again and finally coming to a halt in front of a cabin that pretty much looks the same as all the others.  There’s light coming from the windows though, and Peter thinks he can hear voices from inside.

Malia marches right up and lets herself in without knocking, gesturing for Peter to follow as she throws the door open.

“Stiles!  I brought him!”

Peter lingers on the front stoop, just out of immediate line of sight, just for a moment.  And then he takes a breath and steps across the threshold.

It’s homey, is the first thing that registers.  Not particularly big, although certainly big enough to fit two or three people comfortably, everything is in warm, rich mahogany colours, and the interior is outfitted with furniture and thick rugs and lights that cast a cozy glow over everything.  A small kitchen is situated on the left, with a dining table attached, bar top style.  A hallway curves around it, probably to the bathroom, or another room, or even a backdoor, or really, all three.  To the right is a flight of wooden stairs that spirals up to a loft, and Peter can see another window set in the ceiling above it.

Peter takes all this in in seconds, and with perfunctory consideration at most.  It’s a nice place, certainly better than anything Peter’s had in a long time, but most of his attention almost immediately hones in on the two other people inside.

Kira – older too now, and exuding less of that bright innocence Peter remembers from her – is cooking something at the stove, although she turns upon his and Malia’s entrance, and for the briefest of moments, her shadow against the fridge bends into something more fox than human.  But she dimples a smile all the same, nodding at Peter like he’s perfectly welcome and wasn’t an enemy once upon a time.  Malia bounds over to her, and Peter’s eyebrows go up as he watches them exchange a brief kiss with affectionate familiarity.

Well.  Okay then.

He turns, more interested in the figure sitting on the far couch, half-turned away and idly paging through a book in his lap. It’s unmistakeably Stiles, dressed in sweatpants and an overlarge t-shirt.  He looks taller, even sitting down, and broader across the shoulders.  He’s still moon-pale, but he’s lost the gangly awkwardness of his teens, and his profile is all lean lines and subtle strength now.

And then he looks up, twisting to face Peter, and Peter’s breath freezes in his lungs.

Stiles’ eyes have always been an enchanting shade of brown, seemingly reflecting an inner light that made them brighter than any regular human iris should be capable of, and his gaze that much more intense because of it.

Now though, there’s a blankness in them, still brown but lighter as if someone’s drained half the colour from them.

Or as if someone physically damaged them beyond repair, because the scars that run sideways from Stiles’ left temple to right cheekbone and right over his eyes are stark and deep and unmistakeably werewolf.

It takes a moment for Peter to realize that the person growling is himself.  He cuts off the noise, well aware that all eyes are now on him.  Or, well, two pairs are; Stiles’ are on a spot somewhere over his right shoulder.

“Who?”  He demands before he can think better of it, and then Malia’s words surface in his mind, and he changes tracks, “Scott?  He did that?”

Silence stretches for several tense seconds, and then Stiles heaves a sigh, levers himself to his feet, and waves a hand at Kira and Malia.  “You two go home; I don’t need a babysitter.”

“But!”  Kira brandishes a wooden spoon around like it’s a sword.  “I’m cooking!”

Stiles snorts.  “You’re right next door, just take it with you.”

Malia huffs and crosses her arms.  “Are you gonna eat?”

Stiles jabs a finger at the door.  “Yes, Mom, I promise.  You can even come back and check later.  Now get going.  I need to talk to Peter.”

There’s quite a bit of grumbling, but a few minutes later, Stiles does manage to chivvy both women out the door – Kira with her pot of pasta – all while busying himself with making two cups of what smells like hot chocolate, movements as sure as someone who could see.  The door shuts behind them, and Stiles crooks a finger at Peter.  “C’mere.  Sit.  You must be tired.”

Two minutes later, they’re both seated at the bar top with a mug of hot chocolate each.  Stiles stares sightlessly down at his drink.  Peter stares at him.

“You got out,” Stiles speaks first.  He levels a disconcertingly focused gaze on Peter.

Peter shrugs even though Stiles can’t see it.  He fishes out the phone and sets it on the table.  “You expected me to.”

Stiles smirks a little.  “Well, it’s you.”

The flash of good humour ebbs, and one of his hands reaches up to rub at the scars at his temple where they're thick and puckered.  He’s silent for a long while.  Peter waits it out, taking sips of his drink instead.

“I think he went feral, at the end,” Stiles says at last, leaning back in his seat, eyes falling shut with an ease that says he probably keeps them closed more often than not.  “Or something.  Things were… pretty bad by then, had been for a while.  I brought up leaving again, Scott said we couldn’t ’cause it would be like admitting we were guilty of everything the hunters were accusing us of, so I said I’d take anyone who wanted to come and leave.”  He touches his scars again.  “That’s when he lost his temper.  I was stupid I guess.  I was standing too close.  He’d been getting angrier with us for months, the smallest thing would set him off in a rant.”

He lifts his head without opening his eyes.  “My magic kicked in before I bled out.  Defense mechanism probably.  But it couldn’t heal my eyes all the way.”  His mouth curves into a strange half-smirk.  “No Deucalion comparisons please.”

Peter scoffs.  “I would never.”  He pauses.  “Did you kill him?”

Stiles’ lips purse.  “No.  Malia, she attacked Scott first, got the drop on him and managed to throw him out a window – we were at the loft – before she grabbed me and hauled ass outta there.  I dunno what I would’ve done without her, she’s amazingly level-headed when she needs to be and I love her for it.  It took a while for my magic to stop the bleeding but I was at least conscious and on my feet again in a few hours.  Didn’t bother talking to Scott again.  Malia had to do a lot of the heavy-lifting though.  I’d already prepared a few cars beforehand, and we’d already packed, thankfully, so she got Lydia out, and Kira.  We picked up Finstock- Coach, one of our teachers, and he brought along a couple students.”  His nails clack against the mug in his hands.  “We had to leave Liam.  There was just no reasoning with him at that point.  We couldn’t even let him out of the mountain ash circle without risking getting mauled.”  He pauses again.  “I broke his neck.  With my magic.  Clean kill.”

He stops again, and Peter wonders if Stiles is waiting for him to judge.  Which would be ridiculous, so he says nothing at all.

“We left Scott too,” Stiles carries on more brusquely, and he doesn’t smell of guilt or even regret so much as a tired sort of resignation.  “We didn’t see him again after-” He gestures at his own face.  “Three months later, national television plastered his picture on the evening news and assured everyone that one of the main ringleaders of the cult in Beacon Hills had finally been captured and killed.”  He shrugs.  “We all live with our choices, right?  Or, well, we do until we die for them anyway.”

Peter offers no platitudes.  He doesn’t say he would’ve done the same because they both know he would’ve.  Actually, he probably would’ve gone the full mile and killed Scott.  A feral Alpha is an Alpha that needs to be put down.  A feral Alpha with a pack depending on him, even more so.

“Do they hurt?”  He asks abruptly.  He has no wish to discuss Scott McCall any further.  He’s dead, and that’s all Peter needs to know.  But Alpha wounds are…

“Nah,” Stiles shakes his head.  “Not really.  And the not being able to see thing isn’t that bad either once I got used to it.  My magic is very…” He trails off, and a moment later, the smell of ozone and summer winds makes Peter’s nose tingle, and the faintest of orange light ripples off Stiles like sunlight before fading away again.

“It’s a bit like echolocation,” Stiles explains, a grin flitting across his face.  “So you know, I can handle myself.”

Peter’s never doubted that.

“You’ve done pretty well here too,” He says instead.  “For a lot of people.”

Stiles smiles at last, and even if it’s a little worn around the edges, it’s also genuine.  “We have.”  He waves a hand.  “This was private camping property actually, now warded to the nines of course.  It belonged to my mother’s side of the family though, hers when she was still alive, and mine after she died, so Wisconsin wasn’t a random choice, even if it was kinda far.  Far was good.  It used to be just a handful of us but I had Chris’ number so we met up with him just outside California, and he had Isaac with him, and they both ended up coming with us.  We were almost in Wisconsin when Lydia finally woke up long enough to call Jackson, and the ass was still alive so we managed to meet up with him and a few of his werewolf friends.  And after we arrived, we’d make trips out to save anyone we could find, or just bring back anyone who needed a safe place to settle.”  His features crease with a frown.  “We still haven’t found Derek or Cora though.  Neither of them ever came back to Beacon Hills, and they never left phone numbers either.  I’m sorry.”

That’s… disappointing, he has to admit, even though it’s to be expected.  Peter allows himself a few seconds to wonder where they are, if they’re still alive, and then he banishes those thoughts to the back of his mind.  No point worrying about it.  They either are or aren’t.  And it’s not like they ever cared about what happened to him.  He really should learn to wash his hands of his family one of these days.

Stiles doesn’t say anything else for a long while after that.  Instead, they sit in an almost companionable sort of silence, and in the distance, Peter hears voices and laughter, and for the first time in months (years), he can smell no fear.

“So?”  Stiles says when they’ve both polished off their hot chocolate.  His eyes flutter open, and his smile is knowing and as warm as his magic.  “Are you staying?”

Peter stares for a moment before huffing a laugh.  What a question.  From the moment he realized someone – Stiles – was waiting for him, he’d never, not for a second, not even once thought about going anywhere else.

“Yes,” Peter replies, steady and full of a relief he’d never voice out loud.  “If you’ll have me, yes.”

Stiles’ smile widens, and when he reaches over, fingers brushing unerringly over the bauble still shining softly on Peter’s shoulder, and then further still to curl a gently possessive hand around the arch of Peter’s throat, Peter only draws a shuddering breath and leans into it, eyes falling shut as a pack bond – bright and silver twined with orange – snaps into existence between them.