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What Goes Around

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The cemetery in Beacon Hills is cold and damp, and Peter has his coat pulled tightly around himself as he watches the twenty-one gun salute. He’s standing back from the ceremony, partly in deference to his sensitive ears, and partly because he doesn’t really have a place there. He didn’t know any of the police officers being mourned, and he doesn’t want people asking why he’s there.

It’s been ten days since the fire. Ten days since he was woken in his hotel room, during a business trip, by the ringing phone. Ten days since he heard Laura’s hysterical crying on the other end, trying to tell him what had happened. Ten days since he had stood outside the smoldering remains of the house where he had lived most of his life, struggling to comprehend what had just happened.

It’s been ten days since the police quietly, solemnly informed him that there had been no survivors. He could not identify the bodies. The charred remains were far beyond that. They counted the teeth and the bones and estimated that there were eight of them. Eight is how many there should be, how many people are unaccounted for, so eight became the official death toll. Peter privately considers it nine, but Olivia hadn’t told anyone she was pregnant outside the family.

It’s been seven days since Peter attended the funeral of his brother and sister, their spouses and children, and his wife. Seven days since he stood on the preserve and watched them scatter the ashes. Laura was crying. Derek was pale and silent. They haven’t spoken much since then. He had never been close with Talia’s children. Hell, he had never been close with Talia. He finds himself bitterly regretting taking her up on her offer to live at the den. It was natural to live with the pack, but he had almost gotten himself and Olivia an apartment instead. In the end, instincts had prevailed, and now his wife is dead, along with the child they would have had.

It’s been four days since Peter managed to uncover evidence of who was behind the fire and go looking for her. Four days since he had found her holed up in a cabin in the woods with more guns than he could ever hope to counter. Four days since he had carefully weighed the risks and benefits and decided to call in an anonymous tip to the police about where to find her and what sort of weaponry she had. Four days since he watched from a tree nearby as SWAT stormed the house, only for it to be booby-trapped.

The explosion at the front had given Kate time to get out the back. Peter had followed, but so had somebody else. One of the other police officers had apparently seen the trap in time to avoid it, had pulled a gun just as Kate was getting to her car. He ordered her to turn around and lower her weapon to the ground.

She did as instructed, but then fired from where she was kneeling. Two of the bullets hit the deputy in the chest, where his armor protected him, but the last hit him in the throat. There was blood everywhere; Peter remembers that. The deputy fired once in return before he hit the ground, and Kate dove into her car.

It’s been four days since Peter made a split second decision to enter the scene. He knelt beside the deputy and grabbed his radio, reporting an officer down as Kate’s tires kicked up dust. Peter picked up the deputy’s gun and shot after her retreating car, fired until the clip was empty. One of the bullets must have hit, because her car and her body were found later that day. It’s a hollow victory.

It’s been four days since Peter knelt next to a dying man and tried to staunch his bleeding, tried to hear the last word that escaped from his lips. He still doesn’t know what that word was.

Two other officers were killed by Kate’s booby-trap, and the ceremony is being attended by about half the town. Peter watches as folded flags are handed to an elderly couple, a woman with shaking hands, and then a young boy. The couple and the woman are crying. The boy is not. He’s dry-eyed and distant.

Peter doesn’t think much of it until the ceremonies are over and he hears a woman say to the boy, “Stiles, how are you doing? Do you want to go?” ‘Stiles’ is the word the deputy had said before dying. Peter realizes now that it’s his son’s name, although he doesn’t know what sort of a name that is.

“Can I sit with Mom for a while?” the boy replies, which is a question that piques Peter’s interest. Why would he need permission to do that? Where is his mother?

But it becomes clear a few moments later when the woman says, “Not now, sweetie. They’re – ” Her voice chokes momentarily. “They’re digging your father’s grave next to hers, so the ground won’t really be stable there. It might be dangerous. I’ll bring you back tomorrow and you can sit with them if you want.”

Stiles just gives a little shrug and doesn’t reply. The woman gets distracted by a tide of people offering condolences. Stiles watches them, and Peter watches him. After a few minutes, the boy gets out of his chair and walks away. Nobody notices him go. Everyone is preoccupied with other things. Everyone except Peter.

So he follows him. He can’t really say why he does it. He’s curious, and desperate to distract himself from his own grief. The boy walks through the woods for about ten minutes before he sits down in a clearing, holding the folded flag in his lap. Peter realizes that they’re at the Nemeton. Interesting, that the boy would be drawn here. He could be a spark. At his age, it’s too early to know.

Peter walks over and sits down next to him. Stiles glances at him but doesn’t say anything. Peter lets him have the silence for a few moments before he says, “You’re the deputy’s son, aren’t you?”

Stiles nods. “Uh huh.”

“What are you doing out here?”

Stiles shrugs. Instead of answering Peter’s question, he says, “What are you?”

That brings a slight smile to Peter’s face. It might be the first time he’s smiled since the fire. “Following you. I’m Peter, by the way. Peter Hale.”

This generates a reaction from the boy. He looks surprised, then interested. “You killed her. The woman who killed my dad.”

“So it would seem. I think he got a shot into her as well, so it’s impossible to say which one did her in.”

Stiles nods a little. “Thanks. For calling for help and staying with him.” For the first time, his voice wobbles, and he has to swallow hard. “I’m glad he wasn’t alone.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to save him.”

Stiles doesn’t reply to that for a long time. Peter doesn’t say anything either. They just sit in silence. Finally, Stiles shifts a little and says, “Were you there because she killed your family?”

Peter’s surprised by that. Kate’s connection to the fire was unproven as of yet, although her blaze of glory certainly helped cement the media’s impression of her guilt. Peter doubts that this boy has been reading the newspaper articles about it. “How did you know that?”

“People talk. I listen.” Stiles shrugs again. “You know, people think kids aren’t listening or that they don’t understand. Sometimes it’s like we’re invisible. Why did Kate kill your family?”

“I’m not sure. Partly because I think she just liked killing. But mostly because we’re werewolves.”

For the first time, Peter sees life in the boy. His eyes go wide as he watches Peter shift, and his jaw sags slightly. Peter shifts back to his human form, and it’s like a dam bursts somewhere inside of Stiles. “Oh my God! You’re a werewolf? Werewolves are real? And you can shift any time you want, like you just did? You don’t only shift on the full moon? Was everyone in your family a werewolf? Is it a family thing, like, genetic? What happens if you bite somebody? Have you ever bitten anybody?”

Peter lifts a hand to stay the torrent of words, and finds himself genuinely smiling. He answers Stiles’ questions, one at a time. For every one he answers, Stiles has three more. They talk for a long time, until the sun goes down and the cold really starts to set in.

“So Kate was a hunter,” Stiles finally says, tucking his hands into his armpits. “Do other hunters kill werewolves for no reason?”

“Yes,” Peter says. “It happens all the time, to be honest. The people who gravitate towards that sort of work like to kill. They’ll claim they felt threatened and everyone will look the other way. They kill entire packs to pre-emptively avoid retaliation. They say that if one werewolf in a pack does something wrong, the whole pack has to pay. Because if they just kill the one wrong-doer, the rest of the pack will want revenge.”

“Is that true?”

“No.”

Stiles accepts this and seems to think it over for a minute. “But the werewolves can’t hit back because . . . that only makes them seem more dangerous?”

Peter glances over at him and smiles again. “Yes, exactly. You’re very bright, did you know that? How old are you?”

“Ten years and two months. I’m cold. Can we get up and walk?”

“Sure.” Peter stands up and starts walking, and Stiles jogs along with him. His night vision helps him guide the boy along, although he still stumbles occasionally.

“My mom died last year,” Stiles says, out of nowhere. “She had frontotemporal dementia. She got really confused all the time, and sometimes she thought I was trying to hurt her. It’s pretty rare,” he continues matter-of-factly. “I remember saying to my dad that it wasn’t fair that she would get it. And he sat down with me and said that sometimes life isn’t fair. I don’t think I believed him until now.”

Peter nods. “It’s true. Life isn’t fair.”

“It’s more than not fair. It’s awful. Bad things happen for no reason. It’s all random and pointless and that’s scary.” Stiles hugs his arms over his chest. “Kate killed your family and my dad and now she’s dead but it doesn’t matter because so are they.”

“That’s true,” Peter says, feeling a bit of a sting in his own eyes at this. “But I think we can take a little bit of comfort in the fact that she won’t hurt anybody else ever again.”

“But the others will. The people who are like her.”

Peter nods assent.

“Well,” the boy says, “if they’re going to hunt werewolves, I’m going to hunt them.”

It’s a ridiculous statement from a ten-year-old, but he’s obviously one hundred percent sincere. For the first time since the fire, Peter feels life stir inside him, feels purpose. It’s kismet, clearly. He’ll never meet the child he would have had with Olivia. Instead he’s met this boy, this brilliant, determined, cynical child with a world of potential.

Peter kneels down in front of him so they’re at eye level. “How do you feel about doing that together?”

Stiles is suspicious. “Are you making fun of me?”

“No.” Peter chuckles quietly. “Not at all. I can teach you, Stiles. I’ll teach you how to find them, how to fight them. I’ll teach you everything I know, and we’ll be the boogey men every hunter warns their children about. We’ll let them know if they touch one innocent, they’ll wake up to find us standing over them in bed. We can do that. But it comes with a price.”

“What is it?” Stiles asks.

“We’d have to leave everything behind. Ah, don’t say there’s nothing,” Peter interrupts as Stiles opens his mouth. “I don’t just mean your family or your friends. I mean everything. You’ll never have a normal life. We’ll have to move all the time, live off the grid, use fake identities. You’d be giving up the chance to get married and have kids, to have a career or a place you can call home. You’d walk away from all of it, now, tonight, and you’d never be able to go back.”

“I don’t want any of that,” Stiles says immediately. “I can’t . . . I can’t be normal now. Not after what happened. I’m going to spend every day my whole life thinking about how unfair things are and how angry I am. If I’m going to do that, I might as well get something out of it. Or give something.”

Peter nods, but asks, “You’re sure?”

Stiles hesitates. “I have to let Scott and his mom know I’m okay, though. I don’t want them to worry about me.”

“That seems doable,” Peter says, although it amuses him to think of how they’re going to react. He’ll have to make sure Stiles tells them as little as possible. “Come on. It’s getting cold, and they’ll be wondering where you are.”

They walk back into town, and stop by a convenience store where Peter picks up a pre-paid cell phone. After a brief discussion, he hands it over to Stiles, who dials the McCall house. “Stiles, where are you?” Melissa asks immediately. “We’ve been looking everywhere!”

“I’m sorry I worried you,” Stiles says. “I went for a walk. Anyway, it was really nice of you to say that I could come stay with you, but I don’t need to.”

“You don’t – I beg your pardon – ” Melissa sounds appalled.

“The woman who killed my dad, there are more people like her, so I’m going to go find them,” Stiles says, and Melissa makes sputtering noises. “I’ll be fine, so please don’t worry about me. Tell Scott I said goodbye and thanks for being my friend.”

“Stiles, do not hang – ”

Stiles ends the call. Peter takes the phone and tosses it into a nearby sewer grate, hearing a satisfying splash. “We can stay at my place tonight, and leave in the morning,” he says. He needs to talk to Laura before he leaves.

They’ve been staying in a hotel room. Laura has said some half-hearted things about finding a new place to live, but she’s also been talking about leaving town. Peter can see why, but he thinks it’s the wrong move. This territory has been in the Hale hands for generations. She’s the alpha; she should stay and guard it. But he doesn’t care enough to argue with her about it.

“You want to do what?” Laura asks, when he tells her his plan. “With who?”

Peter calmly explains again while Stiles sits on the hotel room bed and Derek lurks in the chair in the corner. “You’re welcome to join us, if you’d like.”

“Jesus, Peter, this is literally the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Laura says. “You can’t just kidnap an orphan and train him to be Batman! If you want to deal with the fire by killing every hunter you come across, fine, but don’t involve an innocent kid!”

“He wants to go,” Peter says. “Hell, it was his idea.”

“Oh, well, that explains everything.” Laura rolls her eyes and folds her arms over her chest. “What the hell is wrong with you? It sucks that his dad died, but that’s no reason to drag him into your revenge fantasy. You’re going to ruin his life!”

“Kate Argent ruined his life,” Peter says, “just like she ruined all of ours. Besides, I wasn’t asking for your permission.”

“You should,” Laura snarls, her eyes flaring crimson.

Peter grits his teeth. Laura is his alpha, and instinct is to cower, to bow, to obey. He fights through it. “We’re going, regardless of your opinion. If you don’t want to join us, fine. Go try to have your normal life somewhere. I wish you the best of luck.”

Laura takes a deep breath and tries to control her temper. “Peter, you’re not thinking this through. He’s just a kid.”

“Oh my Gawwwwwwwwd,” Stiles chimes in. “Peter, can we just go? This is stupid.”

“I’m forced to agree with you yet again,” Peter says, getting to his feet. “Let’s get moving. Laura, take care of your brother.”

“I don’t need you to tell me to do that,” Laura snaps.

Peter sighs. “I’ll see you when I see you, then,” he says, and ushers Stiles out the door.

They make one more stop, at the Hale vault. He doesn’t take a lot, doesn’t want to deplete the future resource. He’s glad there’s some cash in there as well as the bearer bonds. He won’t feel safe heading to a bank to trade them until they’re well out of Beacon Hills. So he takes all the cash, but only a handful of the bonds.

He has one good fake ID that he uses for work, so they can get a hotel for the night, as long as they get far away enough from Beacon Hills that nobody will be looking for Stiles. Peter doesn’t trust Laura not to call the cops on him, after everything she said. They’ll need a different car. He pops the SIM card out of his cell phone to transfer later, and leaves the phone itself in the vault.

“Where are we going?” Stiles asks, as they leave the high school.

“The airport in Sacramento,” Peter says.

Stiles considers this. “Why?”

“There are several ways people can be tracked,” Peter says. “How many can you think of?”

“Phones,” Stiles says immediately. “Bank accounts.” He thinks about it. “Any place you have to give ID?”

“Only if certain flags are in place, on the latter,” Peter says. “Plus, they can put out an APB on your car. So that’s the problem we are currently going to be solving.” He’s taken on the teaching tone he used with the cubs, without even thinking about it. “People will be looking for you, and before long, looking for me. Even if Laura doesn’t call the police, someone probably will have noticed that I was at the funeral, maybe even that I followed you into the woods. That means we need to get off the grid as quickly as possible.”

“Why the airport, though?” Stiles says. “We can’t fly, right?”

“Correct. But the long-term parking garage at an airport is a good place to steal a car. It’s one of the few places where it won’t be noticed that it’s missing right away.”

Stiles’ eyes light up. “Oh, I get it. You know how to steal a car?”

“I do indeed.”

“And you’re going to teach me?”

Peter smiles. “Yes, I am.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, then frowns slightly and says, “But we’re not keeping it, right? What if they don’t have insurance? How do we get a car we can keep?”

Peter glances at him, partly amused and partly annoyed. “You’re new to the criminal aspect of this, I know, but that’s not really how it works.”

Stiles’ frown deepens. “I don’t mind breaking the law if we have to, but we can’t do anything that hurts people who don’t deserve it. If we could steal a car from someone we knew was a bad person, we could keep it, but if we have to take one randomly, then we have to return it later.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Peter says. “It’s going to be interesting, hunting bad guys with you on my shoulder like a little Jiminy Cricket.”

Stiles sticks his tongue out. “So how do we get a car we can keep?”

“Once we’ve driven far enough away that nobody will be looking for us, I can buy one,” Peter says. “Going off the grid isn’t as hard as people think it is, as long as you have plenty of money. Money can get you a new identity or three, and once you have that, you can get a new car, a place to live, et cetera. Cars are easier now that Craigslist is a thing. A place to live is the hardest. Apartments come with credit checks, rental histories – things a fake identity doesn’t necessarily have. But houses – well, people are suspicious a lot of the time if you try to pay for a house with cash.”

“So where are we going to live?” Stiles asks.

“Hotels are good, especially the ones with extended-stay rates. Get your fake identity a credit card, stay in one a couple weeks at a time, nobody bats an eyelash.” Peter glances over at Stiles and sees him nodding, taking all this in. “But, hotels also come with cameras and a security presence. So it’s important to be alert, and careful not to arouse suspicion.”

Stiles nods. “How?”

“A wonderful art called grifting,” Peter says. “In this case, you have to be a particular combination of pleasant and outgoing, yet forgettable. Chat just enough with the check-in clerk to make them think you have nothing to hide, without making anything about yourself stand out.” He thinks things over while he’s telling Stiles this. “Do you speak any Spanish?”

“Nuh uh,” Stiles says. “We don’t start languages until seventh grade.”

Peter can’t help but roll his eyes. “Naturally. They wait until just after your brain has lost the plasticity needed to make it easy to learn them. How very American.”

“I speak a little Polish,” Stiles adds.

“That doesn’t really help, since we can’t get you on a plane. Getting to Mexico would be a lot easier.”

“Why do you want to go to Mexico?”

“To get away from media coverage,” Peter says. “It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually. Some missing children get an enormous amount of press, and some get hardly any. Typically, it’s little white girls that make the most news, but you . . . recently orphaned, son of a police officer who died in the line of duty, called and left a cryptic message with the woman who was looking after you . . . that’s the sort of thing that will attract not only the media, but every jackass on the internet who thinks he’s the next Sherlock Holmes. Which means we can’t just keep you out of sight for a couple days while we get to the other side of the country – it will be weeks or even months before it would be safe for you to be seen in public.”

Stiles grimaces. “Can’t you just, I don’t know, cut my hair or something?”

“I can, and I intend to,” Peter says, “in case you get glimpsed from a distance at a gas station or some such. But I think an abundance of caution will be warranted, particularly if the media goes into the frenzy I expect.”

“Bleh,” Stiles says, amusing Peter immensely.

Half an hour later, they’re at the airport. Peter pulls into the long-term lot and cruises slowly, looking for an area without security cameras. Then Stiles points to a pick-up truck and says, “We should take that one.”

“Why?” Peter asks, although a quick glance around reveals that it should work as well as any other.

“Because it belongs to a bad person,” Stiles says, and gestures to the Confederate flag sticker adorning the back window.

Peter considers this, then says, “Fair enough!” He pulls into a parking spot down the aisle. “Come on, then.”

Stiles watches in interest while Peter picks out another car, removes the license plate from the back, and swaps it with the one on the back of the truck. “Is that in case the people who own the truck realize that it got stolen before we ditch it?”

“It is indeed,” Peter says, then adds, “And that sticker will have to go, despite what it reveals about the owners. Far too conspicuous. Why don’t you see if you can peel it off?”

“Okay.”

It turns out to be a decal, not a sticker, so it comes off easily. Peter finishes with the license plates, then shows Stiles how to use the slim-jim to get the door of the car open. “Can I try?” Stiles asks.

“We’ll practice it later. I don’t want to stay here too long. Hop in.”

Stiles climbs in and watches Peter hotwire the vehicle. A few minutes later, they’re on their way out of the parking lot, and he quickly gets them on I-5, heading south. Peter sees him mask a yawn. “You might as well get some sleep, if you’re tired,” he says. “We’re going to be driving a while. I want to get to the Los Angeles suburbs before we stop for the night. I can wake you in a couple hours when we stop for gas and a bite to eat.”

“Okay.” Stiles reclines his chair and curls up slightly. He fidgets for several long minutes while Peter drives, but eventually drifts off.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

Stiles snoozes in the passenger seat while Peter goes into the motel and gets them a room. He’s yawning as they head inside. Peter wonders if he should tell him to brush his teeth or something like that. His parenting skills aren’t exactly well-developed. Then he realizes he doesn’t have a toothbrush, so there’s no point in worrying about it. Stiles crawls into one of the beds and is asleep a minute later.

Peter sleeps restlessly, and he’s up at dawn. He pulls out his laptop to check the news. As expected, Stiles’ disappearance is big news, featured on almost all the California stations. Either Laura has reported him, or someone else noticed, because Peter is listed as being the last person that Stiles was seen with.

It could be worse, though; it’s not really nationwide news, and the Los Angeles Times has already bumped them because of a shooting earlier that morning. CNN has an article on it, but it’s halfway down the page. They’re not trending on social media. It’s also not a good picture of him – it’s older, from when he was cleanshaven and had longer hair. The picture of Stiles is new, though, probably his school photo from the most recent year.

When Stiles wakes up, Peter tells him to stay in the hotel room while he goes out and picks up a few things, including some food. Stiles nods and doesn’t say much in reply. Peter goes out to the truck and drives to a nearby Wal-Mart. He grabs some basic toiletries for Stiles and then some food that will last them for a few days. He also gets a pair of scissors, some hair dye, and some tanning lotion. After a quick scan of the offerings, he grabs some pants and a polo shirt for Stiles, since the newspaper had described the clothes he was last seen in. He also picks up a pre-paid cell phone.

He leaves the truck at the store after wiping it down to erase their prints, then walks back to the hotel. Stiles’ stomach is growling, and he perks up when Peter tears open a package of pastries and hands him one.

While he eats, Peter starts sorting through the bags he brought back to the hotel. “All right, let’s review the lesson I gave you yesterday,” he says. “How many types of werewolves are there?”

“Three,” Stiles responds promptly, with his mouth full.

“Name them.”

“Alpha, beta, omega.”

“And what is the – ” Without finishing the question, Peter whips a walnut at Stiles. It smacks him in the cheek, hard enough to sting.

Stiles lets out a yelp. “Ow! What was that for?”

Peter walks over and takes Stiles’ chin in his hand, making Stiles meet his gaze. “You always have to be on guard against attack,” he says. “Every minute, every day of the rest of your life, you will have to keep your guard up. You want to hunt hunters. There are few things more dangerous than that. You have to always be prepared for an attack.”

Stiles nods, and Peter lets him go. He sits down on the bed across from Stiles. “I’ll teach you as much as I can, but there are no guarantees,” he says. “I want you to think about that. And I’ll make you a promise. Up until the moment of no return – the first time we actually make a move, which will be several years from now – you can change your mind. Decide you want to go back to a normal life. Say the word, and I’ll drop you off at the nearest police station, and they can take you home. But once we make our first move, there’s no going back. Do you understand?”

Another nod, and then Stiles says, “Thanks.”

Peter nods and gets up, going back to what he was doing. “What are a werewolf’s main weaknesses?”

“Wolfsbane, silver, electricity, and, uh, fire.” Stiles sneaks a glance at Peter, unsure if he’ll be upset by talking about this.

Peter isn’t. He continues quizzing Stiles until he’s finished eating, then has him sit down in the bathroom. Peter’s not much of a stylist, so he goes with the utilitarian buzzcut. Stiles rubs a hand over his head once it’s done, and says, “It feels weird.”

“You’ll get used to it.” Peter takes out the packages of hair dye.

An hour later, they’re both considerably tanner and black-haired. It works better on Peter than it does on Stiles. He glances at his watch and sees that it’s getting towards the time they need to check out. Stiles puts on his new clothes and they gather their things in silence.

“Where’s the car?” Stiles asks, looking around the parking lot.

“Somewhere that it won’t be noticed for a while,” Peter says. He hands Stiles a baseball hat and a pair of sunglasses. When Stiles puts it on backwards, he says, “No, the other way. We need it to hide your face.”

“Oh, right. Okay.” Stiles fixes the baseball cap. “So where are we going?”

“Light rail station,” Peter says, gesturing to the one down the road. “It’s going to be a long trip, and I’m going to be focusing on making sure nobody is looking at us too hard, so you’ll have to keep yourself entertained.”

Stiles nods. “Can I play on your phone?”

Peter glances over at him, amused. “It won’t do you any good. It’s just a burner and I’ve turned off the wi-fi to keep it from being tracked.”

“I know,” Stiles says, “but someone my age on a long train ride not staring at their phone looks weird.”

“You know, you have a point there,” Peter says. He takes out his phone and hands it over. A few minutes later, the train arrives. Peter lets Stiles have the window, and he’s dutifully tapping and swiping at the phone, even though all he’s doing is surfing through the menus.

They’re on the train for nearly two hours before they come out in Long Beach, and he relaxes a little. They’ve left behind the truck, the last piece of evidence tying him to Beacon Hills. He didn’t register it at the motel, so nobody should be able to connect his current fake ID to the Los Angeles suburb they had stayed in. He can’t quite breathe a sigh of relief yet, but he thinks they’re probably safe, at least for now.

Once they’re off the train, he finds a quiet corner at the station to make a few phone calls about getting some new identities set up. Stiles dutifully stays close to him while he visits some of his contacts, while he quickly surfs Craigslist and gets them some wheels. By the time the sun is setting, they’re on the freeway heading east.

“Where are we going?” Stiles asks.

Peter shrugs a little. “I’d like to get as far as Phoenix tonight. After that, well, where do you think we should go?”

Stiles thinks about that. “Somewhere that people won’t notice us. That means a city, right?”

Peter nods. “Cities are always better for blending in. Small towns, people are nosy. They notice newcomers and ask questions. In cities, people neither know, nor care to know, their neighbors. We will never stay more than one night anywhere that has fewer than a quarter million people.”

“Is that a lot of places?” Stiles says. “Or are we going to be moving around between the same ten cities forever?”

“Oh, no. It’s got to be at least fifty, although I don’t know how many off the top of my head.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “I could look it up if you get me a phone that has internet.”

“Not until we’re settled somewhere and I have our fake identities firmly in hand. Then it’ll be safe to get a smart phone.”

“Okay.” Stiles fidgets for another few minutes. “How long will that be?”

“A few days.” Peter glances at him and arches an eyebrow. “Bored?”

“Yeah. I guess.” Stiles looks out the window so he doesn’t have to look at Peter. “Sometimes I fidget a lot and have trouble concentrating. They put me on medicine for it. I guess it helped, but I don’t want to need it.”

“Ah,” Peter says. “Well, in the long-term I can see if I can acquire some, but it won’t be feasible in the near future, so you’re going to have to go without.”

“That’s okay.” Stiles actually seems cheered up by the fact that Peter took this in stride and didn’t immediately label him as broken in some fashion. “You know where we should go? Albuquerque. I’ve always wanted to go to Albuquerque ever since I saw it written down. It just seems like a fun place to go.”

Amused, Peter says, “I think Albuquerque is a fine choice.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“No. But that’s good. We don’t want to go anywhere that I’ve been before, where people might think to look for me.”

“Does that rule out a lot of places?”

Peter gives a slight shrug. “A lot of the west coast, plus a couple big cities out east – Miami and New York. Plus I did a semester abroad, in Italy. But to be honest, I don’t know if Laura even knows that.” He goes quiet without thinking about it. “Everyone who knows me well enough to predict where I might go is gone.”

Stiles folds his arms over his stomach, folding inward slightly. “That sucks.”

“Yes, it does,” Peter agrees. He clears his throat and continues, “But in terms of staying on the run, it’s a good thing. We can go pretty much anywhere. The world is our oyster.”

“Gross,” Stiles says, and Peter gives a snort of laughter.

They talk off and on about werewolves and other supernatural creatures during the drive. Stiles fidgets, but manages to keep himself contained. It’s getting late by the time they get to Phoenix. Peter gets them a hotel room and does a quick patrol around the building, but he doesn’t see anything unusual or smell any danger. He orders them some Chinese food and Stiles eats hungrily.

Peter’s a night owl, but he knows that he can’t expect that of a ten-year-old. He only needs about six hours of sleep a night, and he’s sure that a child will need more. He wishes suddenly that he had spent more time with his sisters and their children; he might feel more qualified to do this. It had never occurred to him that he would be raising a child without them peering over his shoulder, judging him on everything he was doing. His mind wanders to Olivia, to her curved belly and the scent of the new life growing inside her, and feels a howl of grief start to build in his throat. He wrenches his thoughts back onto other topics.

Stiles watches TV for a little while, channel surfing, and falls asleep with it still on. That answers Peter’s question about whether or not keeping a light on, or the noise of his typing, will bother him. He turns the TV off and then pulls the blankets up over Stiles. A few hours later, he goes to bed himself.

He hasn’t been sleeping well since the fire, and he’s still tossing and turning as the hour grows later. He figures that Stiles is long since asleep, and he’s thinking about getting up for a while, but then he hears a suspicious snuffle from the bed next to him. He waits for a moment, but then hears a stifled sob. Peter sits up at that, and reaches out to turn the light on.

As soon as it turns on, Stiles rolls over so he’s not facing Peter, choking down a few more sobs. “I’m okay,” he says, before Peter can say anything.

“That seems unlikely,” Peter says.

“I’m fine,” Stiles insists.

Peter gets out of bed and walks around to where Stiles is facing, sitting down on the edge of it so he’s facing the wall. “You know that you have every right to not be fine, right?” he says. “There are certainly ways your situation could be worse, but you’ve lost both your parents along with any hint of familiarity in your life.”

Stiles swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing visibly. “I have to – to be strong,” he manages. “I don’t want you to think that I’m not, that I, I can’t handle myself.”

“Ah. I see.” Peter lets that sit for a moment. “What makes you think that strong people aren’t allowed to grieve?”

“You aren’t wasting time crying,” Stiles says.

“Oh, on the contrary,” Peter says, amused a little despite himself. “This morning, before you were up, I went to take a shower. I sat in that shower stall and cried my eyes out for at least ten minutes. Probably longer. I cried so hard that I nearly threw up.”

“You did?” Stiles sits up and finally looks at Peter, wiping his eyes.

“Yes. And I have every morning since the fire.”

Stiles hesitates a moment. “But if you cry in the shower, it’s because you don’t want anyone to see you cry. You think it makes you look weak, too.”

“I have to admit that I dislike people seeing me that way,” Peter says, “but you don’t have to hide it, if you don’t want to. Crying doesn’t make you weak. Strength isn’t about not caring, or not showing your emotion. It’s about the fact that you keep going even when you’re sad or angry or in pain. You keep getting up every morning, keep doing whatever it is you’ve decided will help. But if you need to cry every now and then, that’s fine.”

Stiles snuffles a little more, then says, “Okay. Thanks, Peter.”

“Get some sleep, little cricket,” Peter says. Stiles lays back down, so Peter draws the blankets up over him, and Stiles closes his eyes. Peter turns out the light and then gets back into bed. He falls asleep listening to Stiles breathing.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is quiet the next day, and Peter lets him have his thoughts. He’s never exactly been a chatty person himself, and although he suspects from the way Stiles had questioned him in the forest that reticence isn’t his forte, he doesn’t want to push him.

They check into the extended-stay motel in Albuquerque. Stiles watches Peter give the clerk an inoffensive smile and talk about their move from Phoenix and how he had gotten a better job here. She looks uninterested and gives them their room keys. “How do you feel about pizza for dinner?”

Stiles shrugs a little and says, “It’s fine, I guess. I never ate much of it. My dad wasn’t supposed to have fatty food like that.” He folds his arms over his stomach and sinks into a chair, his voice trembling a little. “I wish I’d let him eat more of it, if he was just gonna get shot and die.”

Peter’s not sure what to say to that, so he just replies, “Werewolves don’t have to worry about things like that, fortunately.”

Stiles nods and pulls his knees up to his chest, lapsing back into silence. It’s not until they’ve gotten the pizza and they’re both finished eating that Stiles says, “Why did you bring me with you?”

“Hm?” Peter asks, unsure of what Stiles means by the question.

Stiles shifts a little, fidgeting. “You want to kill hunters, right?”

Peter nods. “I do.”

“So why bring me with you? Why train me? You said it might be years before we make the first move. But you don’t have to do that. You could start doing it right now.”

“I could,” Peter agrees, “although to be honest I’d probably still want six months or so to get in shape for it. But it would be a bad idea. For one thing, my identity would be completely obvious. Remember always that hunters are a community. They talk to each other, they share information. If they start dying or disappearing right after I survived my family being killed . . .”

“Does it matter?” Stiles asks, sounding curious. “I mean, you’re not the only one who survived. Laura and Derek did, too.”

“That’s true,” Peter says, “but I have something of a reputation.”

“Oh, yeah?” Stiles sounds impressed. “Were you already a hitman or something?”

Amused, Peter says, “Not exactly. I was a private investigator, and a fixer – do you know what that is?” he adds, and Stiles shakes his head. “A fixer is someone who works to make problems disappear. I specialized in blackmail and extortion, but I admit I’ve killed a few people.”

Stiles glances sideways at him. “Bad people?”

“Horrific.”

“Okay.” Stiles chews on a fingernail. “But still, even if they know it’s you, what does it matter? You won’t be using your real identity.”

“No, I won’t,” Peter says, “but Laura and Derek will be. And every single hunter I’ve ever met would be happy to use them against me.”

“Oh.” Stiles mulls this over for a long minute. “You could still wait six months or a year. You don’t have to wait until I’m old enough.”

“But it was your idea,” Peter says. “That would hardly be fair.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Oh, yeah, I’m sure revenge wouldn’t have occurred to you.”

“Of course it would have. But I can’t have revenge. The person who killed my family is dead.” Peter gives a one-sided shrug. “You have a sense of justice that I simply don’t. To you, the logic seems simple. To me, not so much.”

“I guess.” Stiles still sounds skeptical.

Peter sits in silence for several long minutes. It’s none of Stiles’ business. But for some reason he finds himself saying it out loud anyway. “My wife . . . Olivia . . . she was pregnant.”

At this, Stiles’ eyes go wide. “Oh . . . oh, geez. I’m . . . I’m really sorry, Peter.”

Peter nods, accepting his condolences. “I suppose to me it seemed like fate. That I should meet you and feel a connection to you, to your goals, just after I lost the child we would have had. Maybe it isn’t. I’m not sure either of us believes in fate. As you said, the universe is a random, arbitrary place. Things happen for no reason all the time. But perhaps that means that although the universe is often cruel . . . sometimes it’s kind.”

Stiles snuffles a little and wipes tears off his cheeks, then chokes out, “Okay.”

“Come on,” Peter says, wanting to change the subject. “Let’s see if we can find a movie on TV, and then get some sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll start your training.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

It’s not like Peter has any idea how to go about training a human child. But he figures that the first things he needs to concentrate on are strength and stamina. “How many push-ups can you do?” he asks, looking at Stiles’ skinny arms with some skepticism. Stiles just shrugs, so Peter tells him to just do them until his arms get tired. He does fifteen before stopping. Peter has no idea if that’s good or bad, but tells him it’s fine. He can do fifteen every day for a week and then they’ll go up to twenty. He certainly has more than enough energy to run around.

They settle in Albuquerque for the first month. They hike in the desert and the mountains. Peter teaches him about how to survive in the wilderness, how to track prey and find drinkable water. He knows more about hunting from a wolf’s perspective than a human hunter’s, but he figures it’s no bad thing if Stiles is a little more wolf than most. Their tans become more natural than store-bought.

From Albuquerque they head north, to Denver. It’s winter, and they stay inside most of the time. Stiles reads voraciously, books on every subject and at every academic level. He learns best when he can skip around, Peter discovers. Peter doesn’t want to risk getting Adderall on the black market, but a few extra cups of coffee seems to help him focus. So he reads about biology and geography and technology. He does push-ups and pull-ups and jumping jacks.

Omaha is where Stiles learns about grifting. They end up with a next-door neighbor at the extended-stay hotel who’s nosy but not too bright. Peter can play her like a violin, and before long, so can Stiles. He teaches Stiles about how to ask questions and get information without people catching on to the fact that he’s snooping. After a while, Stiles knows secrets of half a dozen different tenants. He knows about how the man in room 304 is there because his wife threw him out (he was cheating on her with three different women), the family in 207 is undocumented, the woman in 218 is hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend, and the couple in 110 are keeping two cats even though the building forbids pets.

Peter spends most of their time in Omaha tense and ready to run, because it’s inevitable one of them will eventually recognize Stiles. He watches the way people look at Stiles, wait for that sudden increase in heart rate, sharp intake of breath as they make the connection. They stay at that hotel a little longer than he usually would, just so Stiles can get more practice. On the twenty-fourth day, a newer tenant says, “You know, you look familiar. I can’t quite put my finger on it.”

Stiles smiles and spins an easy lie about how he was on a TV commercial for a local dentist. He and Peter are gone twenty minutes later.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

They work six days a week. Peter might not be familiar with child-rearing, but he knows that everyone needs an occasional break. So one day a week, Stiles doesn’t work out or have lessons or read the books Peter has gotten him. They binge-watch TV on Netflix or play video games. Stiles itches to leave the apartment, asking to go places like the arcade or the mall. It’s still too early, Peter tells him. He’s watching the media pick apart the mysterious case of the vanishing deputy’s son. There’s a lot of interest. When that has subsided, Stiles will be able to go outside on his own.

Stiles grumbles sometimes, but for the most part he accepts Peter’s judgment. He takes to reading about the various investigations into his disappearance. Sometimes Peter finds him crying, but Stiles never wants to talk about it. Peter knows it can’t be easy, reading about the people from his old life, knowing that they’re still looking for him. But for a ten-year-old, his resolve is made of steel. He never falters.

Once, and only once, he asks Peter to take him to the police station, to drop him off so he can go home. Peter does. But when they get there, Stiles shakes his head and says, “I just wanted to know if you’d actually do it.”

“Devious little cricket,” Peter replies, rubbing a hand over Stiles’ hair affectionately.

“That’s me,” Stiles says. He’s silent while Peter pulls out of the police station parking lot, then says, “You said I could change my mind, but I didn’t think to ask what would happen if you changed your mind.”

“I won’t,” Peter says.

Stiles nose wrinkles. “What makes you think that I might but you can’t? It’s because I’m a kid, isn’t it.”

“Obviously it’s because you’re a kid,” Peter says, amused.

Stiles gives a little huff. “Fine. But if you do change your mind and want to try to be normal or whatever, you can send me home. Just drop me off at a police station.”

“Would you actually go home, if I did that?” Peter asks.

For a few moments, Stiles is silent. Then he says, “I guess I would. It’s not like I’d have anywhere else to go.”

“Mm,” Peter says. “Well, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to change my mind.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. It never comes up again.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

From Omaha, they head north and end up in Milwaukee. That’s where Peter starts teaching Stiles how to fight. He’s terrible at it, at first. He falls over a lot, trips over his own feet, flails and stumbles. But he gets better, and he’s stronger than he looks. He loves learning the physics of it, learning how to use his opponent’s momentum against them.

Peter teaches him to be brutal, to go for vulnerable places with maximum force. Stiles actually manages to hurt him a few times, although he always heals quickly. They leave Milwaukee earlier than schedule due to a chance run-in with a police officer at a grocery store. He probably has no idea who they are, but it’s better not to take chances.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter wakes up to the noise of Stiles coughing. He had noticed earlier that day that Stiles seemed a little tired, and his scent was slightly different than usual. He hadn’t given it much thought, but when the coughing fit doesn’t subside, he gets up. He’s taken aback by exactly how bad Stiles looks. He’s drawn and pale and his body is hunched over as he tries to stop coughing.

“I’m fine,” he says raggedly, when he sees Peter, but then starts coughing again.

“You’re very clearly not fine,” Peter replies, and feels his forehead. It’s hot to the touch. “Is this a normal thing?”

Stiles chokes out a laugh. “For humans? Yeah, sometimes.”

“Is there something we should do about it?”

“Nuh uh.” Stiles bends over, coughing fitfully. “Just wanna sleep.”

Peter frowns but nods, letting Stiles go back to bed. But it’s difficult to sleep, listening to the noise of Stiles tossing, turning, and coughing. The next morning, when the cough is rattling dimly in Stiles’ lungs over cereal that he’s stirring more than eating, Peter asks, “How long will this go on?”

“I dunno. Couple days.” Stiles looks somewhat listless, but interested, as he asks, “Have you really never seen someone be sick before?”

“Not up close.” Peter pours himself a mug of coffee, thinking back. One of Talia’s children had been human; she must have gotten sick once or twice. But if so, Peter doesn’t remember witnessing it. He watches Stiles hack up some phlegm and holds back disgust. “It can’t be healthy to just . . . not do anything about this.”

There’s a flash of amusement in Stiles’ face, and he says, “I need cough syrup. And Tylenol. That’ll bring my fever down. Okay?”

“Okay.” Relieved that there’s something he can do, Peter stands up and heads to the pharmacy, only to find himself stymied as soon as he gets there. Why are there so many different kinds of cough syrup? They can’t all be different. Which one does Stiles need? He tries reading the labels, but it doesn’t really help.

“You look lost,” a voice says, and Peter glances up to see a middle-aged woman smiling at him. “Let me guess – your wife sent you?”

“That would be impressive, since she died last year,” Peter replies.

The woman’s eyes go wide. “I’m so sorry,” she says, and hastily moves down the aisle.

Peter realizes almost too late that he’s passing by an opportunity to talk to someone who probably knows more about this than he does. “No, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. It’s just that this is the first time my son has been sick since she died, and I really don’t know what he needs. Maybe you could help?”

“Oh, of course!” the woman says. “How old is he?”

“Eleven.”

“And he’s got a cough?”

“And a fever, yes. It’s only been going on about a day, but – ”

“But it’s hard to watch our kids suffer,” she says, with a kind smile. She looks over the shelves of medicine quickly, then picks out a bottle of cough syrup and a box of children’s Tylenol. “Just follow the instructions on the boxes. The good news is that once he’s twelve, he can take the adult stuff, so you can just give him whatever you would take when you get sick.”

“Great,” Peter says, hoping he doesn’t sound sarcastic.

“Make sure to keep him hydrated!” the woman says, waving over her shoulder after Peter thanks her.

“How?” Peter mutters, but stops by the grocery to grab a box of popsicles. Stiles smiles a bit when he sees them. He takes the cough syrup and the Tylenol, eats two popsicles, and then falls fast asleep. Peter sits with him, smoothing his hand down over Stiles’ hair, watching him sleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

In Columbus, Ohio, they take a break from physical fighting and focus on first aid and anatomy. Stiles learns about different natural remedies and poisons. They talk about how to steal medication and how to forge prescriptions. Peter makes sure to teach him what werewolves are vulnerable to. He’s going to be tracking hunters; he needs to know how they think and what they do.

From there, they head to Charlotte. Stiles learns about surveillance and counter-surveillance, about photography and lock-picking. He’s running several miles a day, and he’s putting on muscle through his sparring sessions with Peter.

Summer arrives, so they leave the south, landing at a cheap hotel in Albany. Peter starts teaching him how to drive, although he has to sit on a cushion and put a block on the accelerator. It’s good to know in a pinch, he says, despite his age. He learns about the mechanics of a car, too, not just how to keep one running but how to disable those of his enemies.

They enjoy the summer more than Peter would have expected. They go swimming a lot at the many lakes in the area. Stiles takes up rock-climbing and they spend days at a time in the forest. He realizes almost too late that they might be getting a little too feral, disconnected from humanity, when he catches people giving them odd looks at the grocery store.

So when the summer is over, they head back to civilization, settling down in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Peter has paid extra for the prime real estate, but it’s hardly worth it as they’re almost never there. Stiles soaks in the sights and sounds of New York City, spending days at a time in the libraries and museums.

It’s a little off topic, perhaps, but he’s enjoying himself, and Peter thinks that a broad education is important in any case. In the Big Apple, nobody cares about asking ‘shouldn’t you be in school’. Stiles learns how to take the subway by himself, but Peter follows at a safe distance. Stiles always knows he’s there. The first time he manages to give Peter the slip, Peter takes him out for a milkshake afterwards.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s been a year. Peter told himself he wouldn’t focus on it, wouldn’t make a big deal out of the anniversary of the fire. He doesn’t know if Stiles even recalls exactly what date his father had been murdered. But as it draws closer, he finds himself focusing on it more often than not. His baby would be six months old now, or thereabouts. He wonders what the child would have been like. For the first time in his life, he wishes he was human, so he could turn to alcohol to dull the worst of the pain.

Stiles is quiet for several days beforehand, although Peter supposes that there’s a ten day difference between their respective losses. The anniversary of the fire passes without either of them mentioning it. But it occurs to Peter afterwards that Stiles might not mourn the same way as him. The day before the anniversary of Noah Stilinski’s death, Peter sits Stiles down and says, “Is there anything you’d like to do tomorrow? Anywhere you’d like to go?”

Stiles looks down and shakes his head. “No, I . . . was thinking I kind of wished I didn’t remember the day. It’s like. Just.” He clears his throat. “I already feel awful about it every day. I don’t want to set aside a day to feel extra awful about it.”

“I feel much the same way,” Peter admits.

“That’s why I didn’t want to do anything on my birthday, either,” Stiles says. “Or Christmas. Or maybe any holiday, ever again. I don’t know. Maybe it’ll get better?” His voice chokes a little as he says it.

“Maybe,” Peter says, though privately he doubts it.

“But thanks for asking,” Stiles adds. “If I were at home, I might bring flowers to . . . to the graves. But I know we can’t go back to Beacon Hills, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.”

“Mm,” Peter says, thinking of the ceremony where the ashes had been scattered. His throat aches suddenly, with the effort of holding back tears. He wonders what Olivia would think of Stiles, of this random child that he had adopted. She would like him, Peter thinks. Olivia loved children, especially smart ones. She and Stiles probably would’ve gotten along like a house on fire.

And what would Noah Stilinski think of him? Doubtless, he wouldn’t approve. Peter thinks of everything Stiles has said about his father, about his firm resolve and commitment to justice – no, Stilinski wouldn’t approve of their mission at all, he thinks. He wonders if Stiles realizes that, if Stiles ever thinks about that. He supposes that it doesn’t matter. It’s not like Stilinski is around to take his son back. His approval, or disapproval, is entirely meaningless.

“Do you think Heaven and Hell are real?” Stiles asks out of nowhere.

Peter has to clear his throat before speaking. “I’m not sure, to be honest. In the strict religious sense, I doubt it. But one isn’t a werewolf without believing that there’s a lot more to life than we see. I’m sure that something happens after death. I just don’t have the faintest idea what.”

“I hope that it’s something good,” Stiles says. “Like, I told myself, just after . . . afterwards . . . that at least my mom and dad were together again. My dad missed my mom a lot.”

Feeling a sudden kinship with the late Noah Stilinski, Peter nods. “I’m sure he did.”

“So I hope they’re together now.” Stiles wipes his eyes. “And someday I’ll see them again.”

Peter nods, thinking about that. About the idea of being reunited with Olivia. That, of course, presumes that he deserves to go to Heaven, but he still feels very unsure of the concept of souls being split up by their inherent worth. So perhaps he will see her again. Someday, probably someday soon, if he’s going to be realistic about their chances taking on every hunter in North America. But then a thought occurs to him, and a sob wells up in his throat.

He can’t hold it back before Stiles notices, and the boy looks at him with somewhat widened eyes. “Are you okay?”

“I just – ” Peter can barely strangle the words out. He knows that this isn’t something to say to a child, but he has no one else to confide in, so it comes out nonetheless. “Maybe someday I’ll see Olivia again. But I’ll never meet our child. I don’t think – whatever the afterlife is, I’m pretty sure that people who weren’t born yet don’t exist there, so – ”

“Oh.” Stiles hesitates, then reaches out and leans his head against Peter’s shoulder. “I’m really sorry. I know it doesn’t help. But I am.”

Peter nods, trying to measure his breathing until he can force the pain and grief back into the box where he normally keeps it. How can he miss someone he never met, never knew? He doesn’t know, but the death, the non-existence, of his child, is somehow more painful than losing the others. His fingers dig into Stiles’ arm, and Stiles makes a quiet noise. “Shit,” Peter says, letting go. “Did I hurt you?”

“A little.” Stiles gives a wan smile. “Partly my fault. I’m always supposed to be on guard, and I wasn’t.”

“Ah, well.” Peter lets out a breath, feeling some equilibrium return. “I won’t hold it against you. How about we go out and get some ice cream?”

“Yeah!” Stiles jumps to his feet. “That sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I need to learn more computers,” Stiles tells him, after a long day at the library. He’s demolishing a plate of food, and Peter has had to buy him new shoes twice since arriving in the city. “I want to learn about how to get into people’s accounts and stuff like that. I can use it to learn about them, to track them.”

“Okay,” Peter says, and sends a few feelers out to the contacts he’s stayed in touch with. It’s a good idea, although one he hadn’t been planning on addressing for a while. He knows that hunters use the dark web to coordinate with one another and exchange information. Access to those forums will be invaluable, but he’s never had the patience for that sort of work.

Peter’s contacts point him to Boston, or more specifically, to Cambridge. He meets a professor from MIT and gives him a stack of cash, and the next thing he knows, Stiles is learning computers. He learns programming languages and phishing scams and how to clone cell phones. He even makes a few friends, teenagers who are learning the same things.

But he never loses sight of his goal. Everything he learns, Peter knows that he’s filing it into the correct place to help him take on the hunters. He’ll be doing a computer assignment and casually remark, “If I can learn to bypass alarm systems, that’ll help us a lot”, or he’ll be timing one of his sprints and ask, “How much do you think regular hunters work out?” He never forgets why they’re doing this, and neither does Peter.

So when Peter says they’ve been in Boston long enough, he just nods and goes to pack his things. He never says a word about the people they’re leaving behind.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter finds himself surprised when his phone rings. He gave the number to a few people, contacts he trusts, but ninety-nine percent of his correspondence is by text. He picks it up rather cautiously, saying, “Hello?”

“Hi, uh . . . Uncle Peter?” a male voice says. “It’s Derek.”

“Hello, Derek,” Peter says, surprised but pleased. He had given Laura his new number, but hasn’t heard from either of his niblings in the year and a half since the fire. “How are you?”

“I’m okay, I guess,” Derek says. “Look, um. I know that you’re kind of living off the grid, right? Moving around a lot?”

“Something like that,” Peter says. “Why do you ask?”

“I need a place to crash for a week or two,” Derek says. “Things here are kind of . . . I don’t know. Weird. It’s hard to explain. I just need to get out of here for a bit.”

“Sure,” Peter says. “We’re in Nashville right now. Got a pencil?”

Derek takes their address and says he’ll be there that night. Peter tells Stiles that his nephew is coming to visit, and Stiles looks vaguely interested but mostly occupied with what he’s doing. It’s late by the time Derek gets in, knocking on the door of the apartment where Stiles and Peter have been living. He doesn’t say much, and Peter doesn’t ask him any questions. Their apartment is small, but Derek says he’s fine sleeping on the sofa. Then he sees Stiles curled up on one corner with a thick book. “Who’s that?”

Amused, Peter says, “That’s Stiles. Remember, the deputy’s son?”

“I didn’t realize he’d be here,” Derek says.

Stiles looks up at this. “What, you think he would’ve left me on the side of the road somewhere?”

“No,” Derek snaps, “I just didn’t think you were serious about wanting to be Batman.”

“Who wouldn’t want to be Batman?” Stiles asks, and goes back to his book.

Peter gives a snort. “Yes, he’s still here, and he’s doing very well in his quest to become Batman. That being said, it’s also his bedtime.”

Stiles wrinkles his nose, sticks his tongue out, and flounces into his room.

“Brush your teeth!” Peter shouts after him, then sees Derek staring at him. “What?”

“Nothing, it’s just . . .” Derek looks away, his jaw trembling. “I shouldn’t have come here. It – it was a mistake. I’m going to – ”

Peter gets a hold of Derek’s wrist as he starts towards the door. “Derek. What is it?”

“You sound like his father,” Derek says, and Peter feels a little twist in his gut. “Like. You’re telling him what his bedtime is and to brush his teeth and you – the two of you have this apartment, have this life, just like Laura’s made a life for herself. I can’t do it. I thought it was just – I thought Laura was the one who was weird. I was angry at her for, for being okay. But you’re okay, too, which means it’s me who’s – who’s – ”

He can’t finish the sentence. Peter silently draws him down onto the sofa so they’re sitting next to each other. Once Derek has fallen silent, he says, “Did you see the book Stiles is reading? It’s about serial killers. How they think, how they behave. Because hunters are, in many ways, like serial killers. It’s heavy reading material for a twelve-year-old. He threw up while he was reading about Jeffrey Dahmer. But he keeps going, because he’s not okay. This apartment? It came furnished. These things aren’t ours. I paid cash under the table, and next week, we’ll be gone. Neither of us are okay, Derek. I don’t know how things are with Laura, but trust me, neither Stiles nor I fit anyone’s description of ‘okay’. We’re just . . . focused, on doing what we need to do.”

Derek lets out a breath. “Oh,” he finally says.

“What’s going on with Laura?” Peter asks.

“She has a boyfriend,” Derek says.

“Ah. And he’s an asshole?”

“No. That’s the worst part. He’s actually really nice. He’s doing his senior year in college and after he graduates, he’s going back to his pack upstate. He invited us to come with him. Laura wants to, but . . . the thought of having a pack again makes me sick. I can’t do it. She told me that I needed to move on, that she wasn’t going to give up something wonderful because I couldn’t handle it.”

Peter nods slightly. He can see where Laura’s coming from, but his sympathies lie with Derek. “I can’t tell you what to do about Laura. All I can say is that you’re welcome here any time, as long as you like.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Derek sleeps on the sofa for a few days, and sometimes helps Stiles with his lessons. Stiles is a little wary of him at first, afraid that Derek will make fun of him, but Derek treats Stiles and his goals completely seriously.

A little less than a week has gone by before Peter gets up one morning and finds Derek on the phone. “Okay,” he’s saying as Peter comes into the room. “If you’re sure. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

He hangs up, and Peter says, “Laura?”

“Yeah. She called to ask when I was coming home, and she . . . she’s upset. I guess she thought I wasn’t coming back ever.” Derek hugs his arms over his stomach and says, “She needs me.”

He’s obviously expecting Peter to argue with him, but all Peter says is, “Then let’s get you home.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter is in the middle of a lecture on the different methods hunters use to imprison werewolves when he sees Stiles idly drawing his finger through a pile of mountain ash. The substance is following his fingers as he draws patterns in the air. Peter stops talking and watches for a moment before saying, “Are you doing that intentionally?”

“Huh? What?” Stiles asks, and the mountain ash dissolves into a little cloud and falls to the table.

Peter can’t help but smile, pleased that he had been right back at the Nemeton. “I guess it’s time to start your magical training.”

“My what now?” Stiles asks, his eyes going wide.

They head to New Orleans. Peter has an old friend – an old flame, actually – who practices there as a voodoo priestess. Stiles is skeptical about the idea of voodoo, and Peter ends up teaching him a great deal about the religion, the differences between the different types practiced and the cultural influences on each. “Voodoo isn’t the best match for you, to be honest,” he says, “because it’s intensely tied to the religious aspects. But Eleanor is one of the few people I’m still in touch with who might be able to teach you, and if she thinks it won’t work, she’ll refer us to someone else.”

Eleanor decides after three days that Stiles isn’t a candidate to become a voodoo priest. Voodoo is dependent on mysticism, on connecting with spirits. Stiles is too practical. His magic needs to be more concrete than that. She suggests they try Wicca, and recommends somebody who lives in Vermont. For the first time, Peter breaks their rule about living in a city.

Stiles isn’t sure how he feels about the god and goddess aspect of Wicca, but he takes to the magical aspects like a duck to water. He’s starting to get good at it when he learns about the Law of Threefold Return, which spooks him. “So if I use magic to harm others,” he says that night to Peter, “it gets visited back on me threefold. It’s like karma, but . . . worse.”

“Most magical systems have some form of karma,” Peter tells him, “but I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Why not?” Stiles asks, his forehead wrinkling.

“Karma is the idea that ‘what goes around comes around’,” Peter says. “And if you hurt an innocent person, sure, karma would kick your ass. But you’re not hurting innocent people. You’re hurting guilty people. So the conclusion is that sometimes you get what’s coming around . . . but sometimes you are what’s coming around.”

Stiles thinks about that for a long moment before he nods. “Okay,” he says. “That makes sense.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

In Baltimore, Stiles learns the beginnings of knife-fighting and firearms.

In Jacksonville, he practices breaking and entering at dozens of houses.

In Austin, he reads law books and feeds stray cats.

In Las Vegas, he practices grifting on unwitting tourists.

Somewhere close to his fifteenth birthday, Peter decides he’s ready.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles didn’t want to celebrate his birthdays, so Peter hasn’t mentioned them for the past four years and change. But the day after Stiles’ fifteenth, he hands him a fat stack of folders and says, “You’re ready. Pick one.”

The folders hold cases he’s collected over the past several years. The murders of werewolves and other supernatural creatures, obviously perpetrated by hunters, where they were never caught. There are eighteen of them. He doesn’t know who committed the murders, but he’s not worried. They’ll find out soon enough.

He’s read through the case files a dozen times each, and he’s not at all surprised when Stiles slaps one down on the desk and says, “This one.” It’s a gruesome double murder from a small town in Pennsylvania that had taken place about a year previous. The victims were two werewolves, a mother and daughter. The hunter had broken into the house and laid in wait for the pair. The daughter, a sixteen-year-old girl, had gotten home first, and the hunter had taken her captive and raped her while waiting for the mother. Once she had arrived, he had killed them both.

Peter nods at his choice and says, “Okay. Where do you want to start?”

“The car,” Stiles says, with confidence. That doesn’t surprise Peter either, and it’s a sound choice although his own research has already told him it’s a dead end. One of the neighbors had seen the car and even remembered a partial plate number. It’s one of the few pieces of solid evidence that the case had. However, Peter’s already looked into it and knows that the car had been stolen a few days prior.

Stiles finds that out quickly enough, but it doesn’t deter him. He moves on to ballistics, and boot tread patterns, mining every last bit of data from the police reports. Then he takes to the hunter forums. He’s already made an impressive database matching screennames to specifics. When they talk about their guns, or their travel, or their spouses, Stiles is there, making notes. He’s gone back through the last five years of archives. Hunters don’t brag about specific kills – they’re not that stupid – but it’s not impossible to link them to specific times and places, or weapons, or vehicles.

They’re fortunate in that the gun used was a very specific model, that the police had been able to identify. Only a few of the hunters have mentioned using it. One of them also posted at one point that he always steals cars to do his jobs. He’s complained about TSA at the Pittsburgh airport, which is where the car was stolen from, before it turned up in the small town where the murder had taken place.

“I’m about ninety-five percent sure,” Stiles tells Peter.

“Ninety-five is good enough for me,” Peter says. “How about you, cricket?”

Stiles thinks about it for a moment, then nods. “We’ll make sure once we’re there.”

“Okay,” Peter says, smiling despite himself. “How do you intend to find him, though? I don’t suppose we can trace his web activity?”

“No, that’s the whole point of using the darkweb,” Stiles says, “but I think I can still use the website to identify him by making a post he’ll respond to.”

“If you do that, you’ll give yourself away to the other hunters after the fact,” Peter says.

Stiles smirks a little and says, “Only if this was my first post there. But I have three screennames on the forums that I’ve been using for almost a year, posting some questions and complaining about those damned werewolves that are everywhere.”

“Of course you have,” Peter says, laughing. “Okay, then. What’s your plan?”

They debate for a little while, then Stiles makes a post where he states that he’s just moved to western Pennsylvania and he’s looking for a good shop to purchase guns and ammunition. Two hours later, the hunter in question has replied with the one he uses, and an hour after that, Stiles and Peter are heading to Pittsburgh.

Gun shops have good security, but it’s mostly to prevent theft. Getting into the building itself is only mildly difficult, and from there it only takes a few minutes to get into their records and find someone whose purchases match the guns that their target had talked about. There’s a name, Howard Bell, and an address in Rennerdale, Pennsylvania.

“Where would you like to start?” Peter asks.

“Oh, you know,” Stiles says, “everywhere.”

They head to a coffee shop with free wi-fi, and Stiles proceeds to pull up every fact available about their target. He finds out his date of birth, blood type, family members, credit score. Stiles seems relieved that Bell is unmarried and has no children. He lives alone. His house was purchased five years previous, and Stiles gets the internet to cough up blueprints. He has the make and model of his home security system, as well as the activation logs that show Bell turns it on when he goes to bed – not when he gets home.

“Makes sense,” Stiles says, chewing on a pen while he works. “It’s one of those kinds that’s sensitive to movement inside the house, so every time he dropped something or went up the stairs too loudly, it’d go off.”

After some discussion and a little trial and error, they decide they won’t be able to get past the security system without a lot of trouble. With that in mind, they start surveillance. Peter is still better at this, and probably always will be due to his enhanced senses. While Stiles hangs back, Peter is able to get an earful of the hunter’s conversations without being seen.

“So he’s got this front as a PI,” Stiles says, shuffling through papers. “Maybe we could pretend to have a case, get him to let us in.”

“That would produce records,” Peter points out. “We don’t want records.”

“True.” Stiles is frowning. “He also goes to that bar, like, three times a week. If I hid in the trunk of his car, I could get into his garage.”

“Hm, the idea has merit . . .”

After a little more debate, they agree. They pop the trunk using a screwdriver and Stiles climbs in. About an hour later, Bell comes out of the bar and drives home. Stiles lets Peter into the garage through a side door, and they proceed into the house together. But Peter stays behind him. This isn’t his show, he’s told Stiles.

It’s easy to slip into the house. Bell has settled in front of the television with another beer and a football game with the volume up high. He sees Stiles in the reflection on the screen and jerks to his feet, but it’s too late. Stiles jams the stun gun into his shoulder and pulls the trigger, and Bell falls to the floor, convulsing.

Peter hauls him over to a chair in the kitchen and lets Stiles tie him up, although he supervises closely. They’ve practiced his knotwork diligently. When Bell is secured and Peter has double checked to make sure all the shades are drawn, they wave a capful of ammonia under his nose. He comes to with a shout.

“Who the fuck are you?” he demands, as he focuses on Peter and Stiles.

Stiles ignores the question and puts down the news article about the two people who had been murdered. “Recognize them?”

Color drains out of the man’s face, which is answer enough. “What – how – the fuck are you?” he sputters.

“That’s irrelevant,” Stiles says calmly. “These people. You killed them, didn’t you.”

Bell’s Adam’s apple bobs up and down as he swallows. “What? No. You – you’ve got me confused with, with somebody else – ”

“Dude,” Stiles says, “you have more weapons in your garage than the Michigan Militia. There is zero chance you’ll convince me that you’re not a hunter. I know exactly who you are. Hell, you recommended your gun shop to me not two days ago.”

“You – ” Bell’s eyes go wide. He licks his lips nervously. “What do you want?”

“I want your count.”

Bell blinks at him, confused. Peter glances over, unsure himself of exactly what Stiles is getting at. “My – my count?”

“Yes. I want to know how many people you’ve killed. I know that these two weren’t the only ones. So I want to know how many.”

“And if I tell you that, what then?”

“Then I’ll take you to the police station where you’ll confess to your crimes and go to jail.”

Bell hesitates, clearly suspicious, but seems to realize that he doesn’t have much of a choice. “Seventeen.”

Stiles takes out a notepad and a pencil. “Names. If you don’t have those, dates and locations will do.”

His matter-of-fact way of interrogating the hunter amuses Peter, although he’s mildly annoyed that they’re going to be there longer than he planned. He keeps a careful eye out the front window at the passing traffic as Bell describes his crimes. He doesn’t know many of the names, but he at least knows the approximate age and gender of his victims, as well as where and when he killed them.

When Stiles gets to the end of the seventeen, Peter says, “Are you quite finished?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, tucking the notepad away.

“Then we need to kill him and get out. We’ve been here too long.”

“Sorry,” Stiles says.

“What?” Bell blurts out at the same time.

“You didn’t really think we were going to let you live, did you?” Peter drawls. “Even if our primary goal was justice for your crimes, you’ve seen our faces. There’s no way we can let you go.”

“But – but you said – ” Bell’s face has drained of all color. “Please, you can’t – ”

“Are you going to beg?” Peter asks. He knows that they should just get it over with, but he has to admit that he’s enjoying watching him squirm. “I bet the children you raped and murdered begged. But did it stop you? No. So why should it stop us?” He glances over at Stiles, who’s looking through a rack of knives on the wall. “See anything you like?”

“This one,” Stiles says, taking a knife down. They had agreed ahead of time that they would use the hunter’s weapons if at all possible. That way nobody would be able to trace the weapon back to them. Peter looks at the knife and nods approval.

Bell is struggling violently, but can’t manage to slip out of the bonds. He almost tips his chair over, but Peter catches it and rights him. He watches Stiles as he walks over. His hands are trembling slightly as he presses the knife into Bell’s throat. “Not there,” Peter corrects. “You’ll be in the direct path of the blood spray. Come around behind him.”

“Jesus, you crazy son of a bitch, you fucking psycho,” Bell says, as Stiles obeys Peter’s instructions. “You don’t have to – I’ll turn myself in, I won’t, won’t say anything to anybody about you, I swear – ”

Stiles stands there for a moment, unmoving, until Peter says, “I can do it this time, if you need me to.”

Stiles shakes his head but doesn’t say anything. He takes a deep breath and lets it out, closing his eyes for a long moment. Then he thrusts the knife in, jerking it downwards along the artery the way Peter had taught him. Blood goes everywhere, and Stiles flinches back despite his best efforts, letting out a little yelp. Bell’s body spasms several times before going still.

“Jesus,” Stiles says, in a thin little whisper.

“Do you need to throw up?” Peter asks him.

Stiles swallows hard, then shakes his head. Peter takes the knife from him and briefly squeezes his shoulder before heading over to the sink. He washes it thoroughly, using the supplies they had brought, and puts it back in the hunter’s belongings. Then he gestures for Stiles to follow him. Stiles carefully places the copy of the news article they had brought about the murdered women on the table in front of Bell’s body. Then they go out the back door and over the fence. They’re fortunate in that Bell lived in a house that bordered on the woods. Stiles’ magic is especially good in a natural setting, and he erases their tracks behind him as they go.

They walk over a mile through the dark forest in silence before they come to the things that Peter had set up ahead of time. There’s a metal trash can and a can of gasoline. Stiles wordlessly strips out of his clothes and puts them into the trash can. He had worn gloves for obvious reasons, and his clothing had covered all of his skin besides his face. There are a few drops of blood on the side of his neck, but that’s all. Peter wipes them away with a makeup removal wipe, then tosses it into the trash as well. He douses it with gasoline and sets it alight while Stiles puts on the new outfit that they had left there for him.

“How are you feeling?” Peter asks him. Stiles’ silence is not unexpected, but still concerns him.

“I’m not sure,” Stiles says. “I guess . . . I’m not feeling much of anything. I expected to feel either bad or good, but I just feel . . . okay. Like. There’s a part of me that feels bad, really bad, kind of sick. But there’s also a part of me that feels good, because I was thinking about the girl he killed. How scared she must have been, how much pain she was in. And I know that he’ll never be able to make anyone feel that way, ever again. So I feel good about that. And the two things are kind of cancelling each other out, I guess. I don’t know if that makes sense.”

“It does to me,” Peter says, “although I’m not sure I should be used as a barometer for this sort of thing.”

Stiles glances at him. “What about you? How do you feel?”

“I feel an overwhelming sense of satisfaction,” Peter says. “It’s a very nice feeling.”

Stiles seems to consider this for a minute before saying, “I guess that’s okay. To be satisfied. I don’t think you should be happy, but satisfied is okay.”

“Thank you for your support, little cricket,” Peter says, amused.

Once the fire has guttered out, they start walking again. Peter has left their car in a small lot that’s deserted this time of night, and he senses no danger as they walk over and get in. “How far are we driving tonight?” Stiles asks.

“Not too far. I thought we’d head up to Cleveland. I’ve reserved us an AirBnB, self-check in, so it won’t matter that it’s the middle of the night. We’ll stay there tonight and then leave tomorrow. Cal, in Chicago, has new identities waiting for us, but we need to go pick them up.”

“Okay.” This, Stiles is used to. Sometimes Peter’s contacts will mail them packets with their new identifications, but sometimes they go and pick them up. He yawns, then looks surprised at himself.

“The adrenaline is wearing off,” Peter tells him. “You’re probably feeling a little shaky, right? Drink some of the tea I left for you. It’ll help you get some sleep on the drive.”

Stiles nods and pops the top of the travel cup. He’s asleep after three swallows, and Peter has to take the cup out of his hands before he drops it.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The first thing Stiles does the next morning is check the news from Pittsburgh. There’s nothing in it. “It could be days or even weeks before his body is found,” Peter reminds him. “Bell had no local family, no nine-to-five job. Nobody is going to notice that he’s gone right away.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Stiles says.

Peter has a feeling that there’s a problem here that they’re going to have to address, but he’s got a lot to do, so he lets it go. He thoroughly cleans the apartment, just in case anyone could have tracked them there, before they get into the car. They drive from Cleveland to Toledo, where he’s arranged to buy a new car. Then they head to Chicago, meet with his contact who has a thick packet with their next six identities. He hands the man an equally thick stash of cash. Then they’re on the road again.

They check in to another long-term stay hotel in St. Louis. Stiles is already on his new phone, looking at Pennsylvania news. When there’s nothing there, he gets out his laptop and looks at the hunter forums.

Two days later, when Stiles is still constantly refreshing the webpages in question, Peter sits down with him. “What are you doing?”

“I just want to know when people find out,” Stiles says, not looking up from his laptop. “I want to know what happens to the murder investigation of the two women.”

Peter sighs a little. “Stiles. You do know that ninety percent of that sort of information is never made public, right? They’re not going to say anything about the news article being at the murder scene. They hold back as much information as they can, so any suspect they apprehend can be assessed for knowledge of the crime.”

Stiles’ jaw squares a little. “I’d think it’ll be pretty public news when it turns out he was a serial killer.”

“Maybe. Although I could point out that they don’t know he’s a serial killer. Hell, they don’t even know that he killed the two women in Pennsylvania, although leaving the news article there will certainly point them in that direction. But they won’t say anything about it until they can verify it, which they’ll do by comparing his DNA to that crime scene. That could take weeks, months. So let’s say that they do that. Yes, then they’ll tell the families of the victims that he was the perpetrator and that he’s dead. There will probably be an article in their local news about how the case was solved – but they won’t mention how. It’s debatable whether or not they’ll tell the families that an obituary left at his murder scene led them to check his DNA.”

“They should know!” Stiles protests.

“They don’t need to know, Stiles. All they need to know is that the man who killed their loved ones has been identified and that he’s dead. That’s the closure they need.”

“But – ”

“Stiles, stop,” Peter says, so firmly that Stiles does. “You’ve got this image of yourself as the avenging angel, punishing the murderers of the innocent. We’re going to nip that in the bud right God damned now. They’re not going to hold parades for you, Stiles. There are people out there who will think you’re doing the right thing, and plenty that think you’re no better than the people you kill. You have to remember that you’re not doing this for them. You can’t depend on other people to motivate you. We’re doing this to avenge the dead and protect the unidentified, unknowing future victims – two groups that by their very nature will never show you gratitude. Your reasons for doing this have to come from in here – ” He jabs Stiles in the chest – “and never from out there.”

Stiles lets out a breath, then nods. “Okay. Yeah. Thanks, Peter.”

Peter reaches out and rubs a hand over Stiles’ hair, the back of his neck. “If it helps at all, once the hunter community figures out what we’re up to, you’ll have all the validation you need. Providing that watching them squirm will validate you.”

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says. “Absolutely. Okay. But what do we do with the information about the other people Bell killed?”

“Other than file it away so we don’t end up duplicating work? Nothing.”

Stiles’ jaw sets.

Peter sighs.

“Okay,” he finally says, “what did you have in mind?”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I learned about this while I was reading about BTK,” Stiles says, as he carries the stack of papers into the copy shop. “If you copy them several times on different machines, it gets a lot harder to find evidence of where they came from. And as long as you do it somewhere cold, nobody thinks it’s weird that you’re wearing gloves.”

“Mm hm,” Peter says, with a sigh. “What about when it’s not winter?”

Stiles shrugs. “We can save informing the police for winter time, between cases. I’ll just keep records until then.”

“Of course you will.”

The papers that Stiles is copying have one sentence on them each, typed on a computer in Times New Roman. ‘Before I killed him, Howard Bell confessed to the murder of’ and then the name of the person or people in question. Several of his kills were families, so there are only eight letters.

“And how exactly do you plan to do the envelopes?” Peter asks. “You can’t copy onto those.”

“Sure you can,” Stiles says, popping open the tray on the side of the copy machine. “See?”

“I bow to your superior expertise.”

“You have to get the ones that seal themselves, though,” Stiles adds. “And the self-adhesive stamps. There’s DNA in saliva.”

“I know that, infant,” Peter says, amused despite himself.

They do their work at several copy shops and then mail the letters one by one as they drive at random around the Midwest.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The next day, there’s a new post on the forum, the subject of which is: ‘Hunter murdered in Pennsylvania’. Stiles clicks on it eagerly while Peter leans over his shoulder.

‘Hunter and forum user Remington-Lover-783 murdered in his home outside Pittsburgh. I have police sources who have confirmed the following information:

RL783 was killed sometime between 11 PM and 5 AM on a Thursday night. Difficult to determine more exact time of death as the body was not found for almost two weeks.

No signs of forced entry. He had been tied to a chair and his throat was cut in a professional manner. Also had burn marks on his shoulder, probably from a stun gun or taser.

Last seen alive leaving Liberty Tavern alone at 10:30 PM. No security footage in parking lot, but his car was found at home in the garage.

Scene was very clean forensically. No fingerprints, shoe prints, or fibers. Doubtful any of the blood is the murderer’s. RL783 had no defensive wounds.

Murder weapon not yet identified. Police suspect that one of his own knives was used. They found blood residue on several of them and are testing them to see if any of that blood is his. Frankly I doubt it. Seems more likely that the murderer cleaned their weapon and the blood they found was from previous kills.

Most importantly: a news article was found on the kitchen table next to the body detailing the deaths of two women in Pennsylvania about a year ago. Research confirms that these two women were known werewolves. Although it’s unknown if RL783 killed them, it seems likely. There was DNA at the scene of their deaths, and the police are going to match it against his to find out.

Obvious conclusion is that a relative or friend of those two women hired a professional to take out RL783. Anyone with any information is asked to contact the US Hunter Coalition chair. They are offering a 10K reward to any info that leads to the murderer.’

“One kill and already a bounty on our heads,” Peter says, smirking slightly. “Oh, I do like that. They were impressed.”

“They think we’re professionals,” Stiles says, sounding a little bit awed.

“We are professionals,” Peter tells him.

“No, we aren’t. Professionals get paid.”

Peter thinks this over. “True. I suppose it’s less of a profession and more of an avocation.” He sees the look on Stiles’ face and says, “That can be your word of the day. Go look it up.”

Stiles does so, and then nods with Peter’s conclusion. “What now?”

“Now we move on to the next case.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Topic: Third hunter murdered

Submitted 2 hours ago by the-coalition

 

We’ve now confirmed that the death of Mitch Kelly in Tennessee was perpetrated by the same person or people who killed Howard Bell in Pennsylvania and Greg McManus in Texas. Like the first two, Kelly had a news article left at the murder scene, describing a shooting which killed a family of four outside Austin. Sources close to Kelly confirmed that he was responsible for the execution of a werewolf family which matches that article.

US Hunter Coalition has upped the bounty to 50K. Anyone with any information is asked to contact GA immediately.

 

Stonewall [2 hours ago] How are we not doing something about this???

 

blue-nordic-monkshood [2 hours ago] We are doing something about it. The Coalition is working with hunters in the affected areas to interview any suspects.

 

TheGhost [2 hours ago] We should strike back. Show them what we’ll do if they push us.

 

blue-nordic-monkshood [2 hours ago] Do not escalate. I repeat, DO NOT ESCALATE. We do not want to start a war. That puts us at high risk of exposure to the general mundane public. Right now, the killer is only targeting those who have killed innocents, particularly children. If you haven’t done that, you don’t need to worry.

 

TheGhost [2 hours ago] And if we have, we’re on our own?

 

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Pennsylvania Man Linked to Murder of Local Family

 

Almost two years ago, the town of Hawk Run was stunned by the murder of two of their residents: Carolyn Simpson (38) and her daughter, Sarah (16). Experienced police officers said it was among the most gruesome scenes they had ever encountered. Carolyn’s ex-husband was a prime suspect but was quickly ruled out as camera footage showed him to be at his job as a doctor at a hospital in Scranton. No other suspects were ever identified, and it looked to be the work of a random killer.

Today, the residents of Hawk Run and the family of the Simpsons finally have an answer. The man who killed Carolyn and Sarah was almost certainly a man named Howard Bell, from Rennerdale, Pennsylvania. It is unknown what might have brought him to Hawk Run, and it does not appear that he had any connection to the Simpsons. However, DNA has linked him to the crime scene, and an analysis of his financial records and his phone’s GPS information confirms that he was in Hawk Run that day.

Bell himself has been dead since February, and the police are not releasing what led them to consider him as a suspect. However, it has been confirmed that Bell is also suspected of multiple other murders in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and West Virginia.

“There is considerable forensic evidence that Bell was a serial killer,” according to County Sheriff Fall. “We’ve confirmed his connections to four cases and we’re still working through a lot of information right now. If anyone has any information, they are urged to contact the Pennsylvania State Police.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“What are you reading up on over here?” Peter asks, leaning over Stiles’ shoulder. “It looks technical.”

“That’s because it is,” Stiles says, chewing on his pencil. “This one case with the bomb under the woman’s front porch. It was pretty sophisticated. I’m trying to identify the parts that were involved, so I can see if we can track the purchase of any of them.”

“Shouldn’t the police have done that?” Peter says.

“Yeah. But I guess they didn’t.”

“Mm. Well, while you’re doing that, perhaps I’ll find some financial information for the investigating police officers.”

Stiles looks up at him, surprised. “Do you think they might have not investigated on purpose?”

Peter shrugs. “A lot of hunters have ties to the law enforcement community. Some of them are police officers themselves. If there’s police work here that’s as basic as identifying the bomb’s components that wasn’t done, then I feel like it’s an avenue worth exploring.” He sees Stiles turn back to his computer screen without saying anything. “Problem, cricket?”

“I just . . . don’t like to think of cops being bad,” Stiles says. “It would have upset my dad a lot.”

“Ah,” Peter says. “I can understand that. He seems to have had quite the moral compass. I’m sure he was aware that not all police officers were good people. So by bringing bad ones to justice, you’re helping carry on his work, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Stiles says, brightening up. “I’ll try to think about it that way.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

‘Obituary Killer’ Claims New Victim

 

The body of a Tempe woman was found in her car, which was parked in the visitor’s lot at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens. Police confirm that she appears to be the sixth victim of the newly dubbed Obituary Killer. A vigilante who targets people they think has committed a murder, they have been given the name due to their tendency to leave obituaries at their murder scenes.

The first two victims, Howard Bell and Gregory McManus, are now both confirmed to have killed the people in the obituaries. The third is a strong suspect, but a lack of DNA information means it might never be proven.

The police have not released the identity of the victim or of the people featured in the obituaries left behind. Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact the Tempe Police Department.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: Obituary Killer – an Emissary?

Posted 4 hours ago by on-target

 

I have serious questions about the death of Miranda Groves in Tempe. The most likely explanation to what happened is that the killer waited in her backseat and then ambushed her, but we all know to check our backseats before we start driving. How could she not have noticed he was there? Is it possible the killer is an emissary, or at the very least, a spark?

 

Stonewall [4 hours ago]

If you ask me, it’s pretty obvious that he’s an Emissary. These scenes are way too forensically clean for anything else. Six murders and not a single fiber or skin cell? The only way that happens is if he has a way to erase all traces of his passage afterwards.

 

the-coalition [4 hours ago]

Agreed. Definitely an Emissary, and a skilled one at that.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“They said I need a letter from my parent,” Stiles says, chewing on his lower lip as he looks at Peter somewhat apprehensively.

“Just wait until you’re eighteen,” Peter replies.

“I don’t want to wait. It’s important to me.”

Peter sighs. “I know it’s important to you, but my answer isn’t going to change. The less scrutiny our fake identities get, the better.”

“Oh, come on, Peter. It’s a tattoo shop, not the NSA.”

Peter puts down his book and just looks at Stiles for a moment.

Stiles squirms. “The age of consent is only sixteen in Kansas. Maybe you could drive me there? Like, as a day trip.”

“That sounds more doable,” Peter agrees. “How far is it to Wichita?”

“Only about two and a half hours.”

“Then draw up what you want and make yourself an appointment somewhere. And while you’re at it, start researching whether or not there are any magical applications. I’ve heard of people who have gotten things like shielding spells tattooed on.”

Stiles perks up. “Okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The Obituary Killer: Hero or Villain?

Posted 3 days ago by deadpool

 

I know everyone’s all in a tizzy about the Obituary Killer, but am I the only person who would honestly rather he not be caught? Whoever he is, he’s been right four out of six times. Hell, he’s probably been right six out of six and we just don’t know it. Whatever ways he’s getting his information, he’s killing murderers that the law can’t touch. Frankly, I’m okay with that.

 

McElroy: I’ve gotta say that I agree. Did you read the case files about the people Bell and McManus murdered? Seriously gruesome stuff. Three out of the four have DNA evidence because the victims were sexually assaulted. I’m sure as hell not gonna cry over them.

 

Anonnymouse: “If you kill a killer, then the number of killers in the world remains the same.” Batman said that. Are you going to argue with Batman?

 

Deadpool: Yeah but like, if you kill a hundred killers, then the number of killers goes down by 99.

 

Devils-advocate: Okay, but who gave this guy the right to play judge, jury, and executioner?

 

Speakerofthedead: Nobody gave him the right. He took it.

 

Devils-advocate: I don’t think that’s how rights work.

 

Speakerofthedead: I’m just saying that unless we as a people decide that his behavior is unacceptable and make a concerted effort to stop him, the right was there for the taking. Now, we can debate whether or not we should do that. I’m sure the police feel we should, and are working to make sure that happens even as we debate about it on the internet. But a lot of the public doesn’t feel that way. Any time you see an article about a child killer or someone who commits serial rape, everyone in the comments recommends that they receive eye-for-an-eye punishment. Whether or not it’s morally “right” might never be settled, but it seems to be humanity’s gut instinct.

 

Anonnymouse: We’re not animals, though. We should be better than this. What happens if he gets it wrong?

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Waukegan Police Officers Implicated in Cover-Up

Paul Banner, the most recent victim of the Obituary Killer, has now been linked to the deaths of a Waukegan couple in 2011. Darla and Robert Waltz were found in their burned out car, their bodies too damaged to determine cause of death. It was ruled a car accident at the time. However, new evidence shows that there were several suspicious factors about their deaths. Nobody in the area heard the type of noise that a crash would have resulted in. A mechanic determined that the car had been relatively undamaged prior to catching fire, and did not think a collision had occurred. Additionally, an autopsy showed that Robert and Darla inhaled no smoke, meaning they were dead when the car caught fire. Despite recommendations from the medical examiner, Waukegan police did not pursue the case. The Waltz family is now alleging that the chief of police was bribed to have it declared an accident. Investigations are ongoing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter glances at his phone as it rings and gestures for Stiles to pause in his explanation of how he had narrowed down the search for their current target. “Hello?”

“Uncle Peter? It’s Derek. Have you got a minute?”

“For you, nephew, I’ve got ten. What’s on your mind?”

As usual, Derek is hesitant. Peter slowly draws out of him that Laura has decided to return to Beacon Hills. She says they’ve left it alone for too long, and it’s their responsibility. Peter actually agrees with her, but it’s clear that Derek is not even a little bit interested in returning to the town where their family was murdered.

“I think Laura’s intention to go back to Beacon Hills is correct,” Peter says, because he’s not about to lie to his nephew. “But it’s up to you whether or not you go with her.”

“I have to go with her. She’s my sister, my alpha.”

“It’s your life, Derek. You could go anywhere, as long as you don’t mind being omega. And trust me, it’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“No, I couldn’t do that. She needs me.”

“Does she?” Peter asks.

Derek is quiet for a long moment before he says, “I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should come visit me and Stiles. Take some time to think some things over.”

“Maybe,” Derek says, and says goodbye. A few weeks later, Peter hears through the grapevine that Beacon Hills is back in Hale hands. He sighs a little and hopes that his nephew will find his own happiness someday, rather than finding Laura’s.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: Are we missing the obvious explanation?

Posted 4 hours ago by colonel-vance

 

Has anyone asked GA and the Coalition if they’ve looked into any werewolves killed just before Bell’s death? He was the first.

 

Blackknight [3 hours ago]

You think it’s a revenant?

 

Colonel-vance [3 hours ago]

No, I think more likely it’s a pissed off pack member.

 

Blackknight [3 hours ago]

Bell hadn’t made any kills in the four months before his death.

 

Colonel-vance [2 hours ago]

I’m not talking just about Bell. I’m talking about everyone. Whoever this is, they’re targeting hunters in general. Maybe they started with whoever killed their pack but just didn’t bother to leave an obit there, so it never got linked to the others.

 

The-coalition [2 hours ago]

I think GA has looked into this but I will pass it along when I see him at the meeting tonight.

 

The-coalition [15 minutes ago]

Not only were those mentioned above carefully interviewed, the coalition talked to any known associates of the first few victims. No evidence they were involved. Financials were also checked and it did not look like any of them had paid for Bell or the others to be killed. Whoever this is, they’re doing it for their own reasons.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: tenth victim found in Georgia

Posted two hours ago by stonewall

 

WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK IS HAPPENING

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“Ooh, I like that one,” Peter says.

Stiles nods in agreement. “I’m gonna print it and frame it,” he says, and although they both know he can’t and won’t, Peter laughs.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: Bounty for Obituary Killer raised

Posted 30 minutes ago by the-coalition

 

100K for any info leading to his death/capture. 150K if you bag him yourself. GA confirms and will back.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: the police are making connections

Posted 44 minutes ago by colonel-vance

 

This is getting serious. My source at the police says that they’ve figuring out many of OK’s victims are connected. It can’t be through the forum, if this is as untraceable as the computer gurus say. But many of us have met in real life, at weapons’ conventions or to pass along intel. We all need to lay low until this has blown over.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The Mysterious Morality of the Obituary Killer

 

The debate over the morality of a vigilante is nothing new. It didn’t start with the Obituary Killer, and it won’t end with him, either. However, in this new world where information can be shared quickly, it’s perhaps the most interactive the debate has ever been. From the websites dedicated to him to those condemning him, from the police’s tip line to the ‘OK Request Forum’ where people can talk about their own murdered loved ones and cast a request into the void in the hopes OK will see, the case of the Obituary Killer has become uniquely charged. (Aside: I am referring to OK as male for grammatical ease, given that statistically, it is far more likely.)

A quick note: personally, I neither condemn nor condone what the Obituary Killer is doing. I am approaching this from an academic standpoint only.

When is it right to kill a killer?

Let’s imagine for a moment that all of OK’s victims are indeed guilty. Studies have showed that the death penalty is not a deterrent to those committing crime. However, the death penalty does ensure one thing: the person executed will never personally hurt another person. As long as they are alive, that chance remains. They could escape prison, or hurt another inmate or a guard. Some might say that execution is the only way to be certain they can never hurt anyone again.

That’s certainly amplified in the Obituary Killer’s case, as the killers he’s going after are not imprisoned and are free to hurt anyone, any time. But that raises the question, if the Obituary Killer has evidence of their crimes – and his level of accuracy certainly suggests that he does – why not go to the police?

Of course, out of the thirteen cases currently attributed to the Obituary Killer, four of them have found evidence that the police was either actively involved in a cover up, or at the very least looking the other way. So maybe imprisonment genuinely isn’t an option. Which just leads back to the same question:

When is it right to kill a killer?

What interests me about the Obituary Killer from an academic standpoint is that he, whoever he is, clearly wants the public to view him as justified. Leaving the obituaries or news articles behind, notifying different police departments of who his most recent victim’s victims were – OK desperately wants people to think he is doing the right thing.

Many people agree. Serial killers always have their fans, but it’s generally those with a cult of personality, like Charles Manson, who have real pull. The Obituary Killer is a complete cipher, yet the response to him has been overwhelming. The fact that his first two victims had both raped and killed children is almost certainly part of why. We can all imagine the pain of those murdered children’s families, and the visceral satisfaction they must now feel.

At the very least, nobody – not even OK’s detractors – feels sorry for his victims.

The Obituary Killer may be caught some day, or he may never be. I’ve studied many serial killers over the past thirty years, and OK is one of the most careful, meticulous killers I’ve ever seen. But he’s painting himself into a corner. He has a victim profile that’s incredibly narrow, as well as being restricted to people already predisposed to violence. Sooner or later, my guess is that someone will see him coming.

Do we, as a society, want that to happen? I don’t mean legally. In legal terms, he is a murderer and he should be caught, tried, and sentenced. I mean deep down, in our gut, do we want the Obituary Killer to be caught? If he is, will we feel relief? Sorrow? Disappointment? Will we write letters asking the court to show leniency? Will we make a blockbuster movie starring Chris Evans as the killer and Tom Hanks as his lawyer?

What do we want to happen to him, and why?

Because that’s what determines where we think he falls on the moral spectrum. Not what we say, not what we post on the various Facebook pages about his activities, not the articles we compile about him. How we feel, when he’s caught, will tell us whether or not we approve of what he’s doing.

Until then, the debate will continue . . . and the murderers walking free among us will sleep with one eye open.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“I don’t, though,” Stiles says, closing the Chrome tab.

“Don’t what?” Peter asks.

“I don’t care what people think of me,” Stiles says. “I don’t leave the obituaries for random strangers. I just leave them so all the families can get closure.” He sees Peter giving him an amused look and snaps, “What?”

“You do realize that you’re arguing with an article written by a stranger by saying you don’t care what strangers think of you?”

Stiles’ scowl intensifies. “They made a specific point and I’m saying they’re wrong. I care what the families of the victims think. Not our victims, our victims’ victims. You know what I mean, stop smirking, you asshole.”

Peter lifts his hands in surrender. “I do know what you mean. And I even agree with you. But they’ll be psychoanalyzing you for the next hundred years, or possibly longer, depending on what our final tally is before we’re captured or killed.”

Stiles thinks about that for a minute, folding his arms over his stomach. “I never thought to ask . . . how long you thought we’d be able to keep this up.”

“I wouldn’t have answered if you had,” Peter says. “Not back then.”

“Will you answer it now?”

Peter sits down on the table, letting his legs dangle. “If you’d asked me back then, I would’ve figured five years, maybe. Get a dozen of the worst killers out of the way, maybe make an impression on younger hunters, before they caught us and killed us.”

Stiles looks down. “It’s already been three, and we’ve already killed eleven people.”

“I know. That’s why I said ‘if you asked me back then’. If you asked me now, maybe as long as twenty. You are remarkable, Stiles. I’m good at what I do, always have been, but you – you’re a God damned Leonardo da Vinci. And I don’t mean as a killer. I mean the whole thing, working it top to bottom. Finding them, finding a weakness to exploit, covering our tracks afterwards. I never expected you would be as good at this as you are.”

Stiles is actually flushed faintly pink. “Thanks, Dad.”

The word slips out, and both of them freeze. The moment hangs in the air, before Peter clears his throat and says, “You’re welcome, cricket. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry and I’ve got a craving for Indian food. Let’s go out and get a bite to eat.”

After a bare second, Stiles manages a nod and a smile. “Okay. That sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter has grown used to Stiles’ interrogation and meticulous note-taking, although it’s grown more difficult over the years. The hunters don’t believe he’ll leave them alive; they have no incentive to talk. Stiles can sometimes coax it out of them, but a lot of the time he can’t. It annoys him, and annoys Peter, because it means they’re often at the scene of the murder an hour or more. He and Stiles fought about it, more than once, and eventually agreed on a sixty minute deadline. If Stiles hasn’t gotten answers by then, they need to go.

It’s been forty-eight minutes when Peter sees a car slowly cruise past the window outside. There’s nothing unusual about that. It’s a residential neighborhood, and it’s late but not the middle of the night. It could just be a neighbor. Then he hears a car door shut. It’s not close, probably up the street a little bit. He peeks out one of the windows to see a man standing on the sidewalk, talking on a cell phone.

It could be nothing, but his hackles are up, that internal sense that screams danger for no reason. He turns to Stiles and snaps, “Kill him, now.”

Stiles doesn’t argue when Peter sounds like that. It’s saved them at least once before, probably twice. He does as he’s told, and a moment later, they’re out the back door. Peter hisses underneath his breath because of course they would be caught when they don’t have a good escape route. They couldn’t always be so lucky to have a target whose house was located in the wilderness. Sometimes they could take the hunter in their car, but it hadn’t worked out this time because the truck he drove had no backseat. So instead they’re at a split-level house in a Boston suburb, with nowhere to go but little side streets and other peoples’ backyards.

They hop the fence at the back and find themselves in an alley, and that’s when the gunshots start.

Peter takes the first bullet and hits the ground hard, but in the split second they were focusing on Peter, Stiles has time to act. He thrusts his right hand out with his palm facing outward, and the shield spell he has tattooed there deflects the rest of the bullets. Peter hears the whine as they pass him in the air. Then Stiles puts out his other hand and gives a wolf-like grin. “Eat this, assholes!”

There are clicks, pops, bangs. The spell is one that Stiles is very proud of: a simple ‘disrupt’ command that nature interprets any way it chooses. The versatility means it can make a gun jam, make someone pursuing trip and fall, make a car blow out a tire. It keeps him from having to focus on exactly what needs to happen, which saves valuable seconds of casting time.

Peter’s back on his feet but then drops to one knee. Stiles doesn’t argue. They’ve practiced this, all of this. They don’t want to fight; they want to run. Peter will always be faster than Stiles, so Stiles flings himself onto Peter’s back and he takes off, jumping onto the roof of a car and then one of the nearby houses.

The shot catches them mid-leap. Stiles’ shielding spell keeps it from doing serious damage, but the blunt force is still enough to send them both sprawling. Stiles lets out a grunt as they hit and he skids on the asphalt. Peter’s half-shifted without thinking, baring his fangs at the shooter. There’s a brief moment where they stare each other down, and then Peter lunges forward. The man fires two more times, but it doesn’t stop Peter from ripping out his throat.

“You okay?” he says to Stiles.

Stiles gives a little groan. “I think my arm might be broken.”

“Fuck,” Peter says, getting an arm underneath him and helping him to his feet. He looks around the alley and sees a battered old station wagon about fifty yards away. That’ll be their escape vehicle. But there’s something else they need to do first. He picks the gun up off the body he had just dropped. They’ve never bought their own, not wanting them to be traced, but using one that belongs to their dead enemy should be fine. He presses it into Stiles’ hands and says, “We need to get back in there and get the obituary.”

“We need to what?” Stiles sputters.

“We cannot have this crime scene linked to our larger game,” Peter says. “We’ve both bled all over the place. We have to make sure it doesn’t look like – ”

His head whips around as three more hunters spill out of the backyard and into the alley. Stiles reacts a hair faster, jerking up the gun and firing. He’s a great shot at the range, and hits the first man in center mass, but only clips the other two as they dive for cover. Peter takes advantage of the moment to grab one of the trash cans in the alley and throw it at the two men. It knocks them both down, and they go sprawling. He leaps on the first, smashing his head into the pavement, and Stiles takes care of the other. “Go,” Peter hisses at Stiles, and he bolts for the house. Peter can already hear sirens. “Fucking suburbia,” he mutters, looking at the nearby houses to see if anyone can see him. He doesn’t see anyone staring, although that might not mean anything.

Moments later, Stiles comes skidding back out of the house, a bundle of rope clutched in one hand. “I untied him,” he says, panting for breath. “Grabbed the ropes. I mean, it’s still obvious that his throat was cut but hopefully they won’t link it to us.”

Peter nods. “Let’s go.”

He doesn’t have his slim jim with him, because he hadn’t planned on needing to jack a car. He uses the butt of the gun to break the window, then sweeps the glass off the seat and sets the gun down on the street. Stiles gets in the other side. He’s a little pale, and he smells of pain, but his wounds will have to wait.

Peter drives carefully, just a couple miles per hour over the speed limit so he won’t look suspicious. They ditch the car about a block away from where they had left theirs, a small park with no security cameras. Peter grimaces when he sees the blood they’ve left in the stolen car, but there isn’t much they can do about it. They need to get somewhere that they can clean up.

He drives an hour out of the city, until the houses are further apart. Then he parks on the side of a road in a small town which has plenty of thick trees for cover. He looks over at Stiles, who’s been silent during the ride. “Still with me, cricket?” he asks, and Stiles nods. “Come on.”

They walk down the street in silence, until they get to a house where he doesn’t hear any heartbeats. He’s glad it’s a Friday night; the owner is probably out somewhere, and might not even return until morning. Even so, he wants to be as quick as possible. He jimmies the back door lock and lets them in. “Just sit tight for a minute,” he tells Stiles, who nods but sits down in a kitchen chair, carefully not touching anything.

Peter takes a few minutes to thoroughly clean himself up. He’ll need to clean the car later, too, or maybe just drive it into a lake. He changes into the spare clothes they had in the trunk of their car, before going over to Stiles. “How’s the arm?”

“Hurts,” Stiles says. “I don’t think it’s broken, though. Dislocated, maybe. I can’t move my hand.”

Peter nods and helps him get his shirt off. Stiles hisses through his teeth as the fabric is pulled away from the skin. His shoulder and upper arm have considerable road rash from where he skidded across the asphalt. Peter feels gently along his shoulder and down his arm. “Nothing broken,” he says, and Stiles nods, his jaw clenched and trembling. “Definitely dislocated, though. Brace yourself,” he adds, and shoves Stiles’ shoulder back into place before he can object. Stiles lets out a yelp despite himself, and then gives Peter a dirty look. Peter shrugs and goes into their first aid kit for some disinfectant. “This is going to sting like a bitch, but when I’m done I’ll give you a shot of pain drain, so buck up.”

“Okay,” Stiles says. He knows that it won’t do any good for Peter to do the pain drain ahead of time, if they’re going to layer new pain on top of it. So he grits his teeth and tries to control his breathing while Peter cleans up his back. Peter does it as quickly as possible, wishing he could bring the hunters back to life just so he could kill them again.

When he’s done and he’s drained away as much of Stiles’ pain as he can, it’s past midnight. Stiles is glassy-eyed and wobbly as Peter half-carries him out of the house. He carefully closes the door behind them. The owner might realize it’s unlocked, or might not. Either way, they’ve left no evidence of a break-in.

“Sit in the back,” he says, putting Stiles there while he thoroughly cleans the front seat of the blood stains. Then he leaves Stiles there, seeing that he’s asleep, and starts driving again. They can’t check in to their next lodging until after three PM, and there’s nowhere for them to go at the moment. They always spend the night after a kill driving.

He heads back into Boston and parks the car in front of a fire hydrant, where it’s sure to be towed within an hour and left in an impound lot until long after someone might connect it with them. Then they walk to South Station. There’s a bus leaving at 2:15 AM, heading south, and he gets them tickets. He puts the destination down as Baltimore, but they get off outside Philadelphia instead. From there, they get a taxi to their new digs.

This entire trip was made mostly in silence, while Stiles dozed on and off. He’s still obviously tired now – Peter knows that using magic takes it out of him – and he says, “We’re not going to do anything today. I’ll get us a new car tomorrow morning. Just take it easy today.”

Stiles nods. He sinks down onto the sofa in their new apartment, massaging his aching shoulder with one hand. “How did they find us?”

Peter shrugs. “No way to know for sure, but my guess is that the local hunters are starting to check in with each other at night. You can’t exactly set a clock by us, but we do have a standard MO in that we strike pretty much as soon as the hunter gets home. If we haven’t hit by midnight, they’re safe. So they probably have a group text or some such, checking in once that window has passed. Our target tonight missed his check-in, so the others came to see if he was okay.”

“That’s going to complicate things in the future,” Stiles says with a grimace.

“It’s not ideal, certainly, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world,” Peter replies. “We’ll need to vary our MO, wait until later at night, maybe. Clone their phones ahead of time so we can see what the check-in procedure is, et cetera.”

“Okay.” Stiles relaxes a little.

Peter watches him as he sits there, eyes half-lidded, exhausted and in pain. “Sorry about the obituary. I know that’s important to you.”

“Yeah. You were right, though.” Stiles sighs. “We couldn’t keep doing it forever, anyway. The hunters aren’t talking anymore. As much as I’d like to make sure every victim’s family gets closure, it wasn’t really feasible long-term.”

Peter nods, glad that he’s going to be rational about this. “I’m not saying you can’t leave the obituaries anymore. Just that we have to stop spending so much time at the crime scene.”

“I know.” Stiles glances over at him and smiles slightly. “Thanks for putting up with it as long as you did. I know you hated it.”

“I did,” Peter agrees with a snort. “Speaking of hatred, shall we see what’s up on the forum?”

At this, Stiles perks up. “Ooh, yeah.”

Peter takes out his laptop and opens it up. First he checks the Boston news, which naturally is talking about the multiple homicide that had taken place the night before. He skims the article quickly to see that it hasn’t been connected to the Obituary Killer. If the police find it odd that one body was inside with its throat slit, whereas the others were in the alley and had been shot or mauled, they aren’t talking about that to the press. The article is thin, without a lot of speculation. That’s fine by him.

Then he pulls up the hunter forum, and his mouth curves in a smile involuntarily when he sees the subject of the top post: ‘OK strikes again, kills five in Lowell Mass’. He reads it out loud to Stiles, who’s sprawled out all over the sofa.

“Five were killed in Massachusetts last night when the Obituary Killer was cornered by hunters who came to the aid of Daniel Helms after he missed a prearranged check-in,” he begins, glancing at Stiles to see him nod at this confirmation of their theory. “Helms was killed inside his home. OK was pursued into the alley, and all four pursuing hunters were then killed. One had his throat torn out. Another’s head was smashed. Two more were shot. Although this is certainly bad news, these men did not die in vain. From their deaths, we can gain vital intelligence about the killer – or, as it is now clear, killers.”

“Fuck,” Stiles mutters.

Peter keeps reading. “What we have assumed is one person for many years is clearly two people working together. From the wounds sustained by two of the men in the alley, we can assume one of them is a werewolf, although it is possible it could be an ogre, troll, et c. However, those are rare and not overly intelligent, so werewolf is certainly the best bet. The other two men were shot, by one of the guns they had brought with them, so their killer was most likely human.

“In addition to that, there was evidence that their guns had jammed, and in one case, one of the barrels had exploded. This means that the human killer is indeed as an Emissary, as has been theorized for some time. We urge you all to refer back to old posts on the forum about how to protect yourself from an Emissary’s dark magic.”

“Dark magic?” Stiles rolls his eyes and gives a snort of laughter. “Okay, good luck with that, guys.”

“We are also setting up a new post where hunters can find others in their area and set up a similar check-in system. It might be our best way to find and put a stop to the killers. Further information about services for our fallen brothers will be up later today or tomorrow.” Peter pauses, then says, “That’s it for the initial post. First comment is that our bounty has increased again! 500K.”

“Nice,” Stiles says. He worries at his lower lip and says, “But they found out a lot about us.”

“Not much that they didn’t already know or at least suspect,” Peter says. “They’ve figured you were an Emissary for a while. Now they know you’re working with a werewolf. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t tell them much about how to protect themselves. And the real upside is that they obviously have no idea that we have access to their forums. That’s going to be the real death knell for us – if they ever figure that out.”

Stiles nods. “At least I don’t have to actually post there to get information anymore. So hopefully it’ll take them a long damned time.”

“Agreed.” Peter yawns. “I’m going to have a nap, if you don’t mind keeping watch.”

“Go ahead. I’m tired, but you were up all night. I’ll wake you in a couple hours and we can grab some dinner.”

“Sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles and Peter have just gotten settled in to their new apartment when Peter’s phone rings. He glances at the screen and picks it up. “Hello, nephew. How are things going?”

“Okay, I guess. I don’t know. I can’t . . .” Derek’s voice trails off. “Where are you right now?”

“Seattle. Would you like to come up for a bit?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I would. But I know it must be more dangerous now than it used to be. Would it be okay?”

“Well, it’s not more dangerous for us,” Peter says. “Nobody has yet discovered our real identities, so it’s not like anybody could follow you to us. It would be more dangerous to you, but even so, the danger is minimal. It’s been four months since we’ve hit our last target, and we’ve moved twice since then. As long as we don’t kill anyone while you’re visiting, I think it should be safe enough.”

“Were you planning to?” Derek asks, somehow dryly.

Amused, Peter says, “Not presently.”

The first year, they had killed five hunters. But after that, they’ve spaced them out more carefully. Not only do they need time to research and find their target, but the targets are now much better-prepared and well-defended than previously. It had taken six solid weeks of surveillance to get an opening last time. They had only just identified their next target, and hadn’t planned on making a move for at least a month.

“Okay,” Derek finally says, and Peter gives him the address.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek has to admit to more than a moment’s hesitation as he stands outside the door to his uncle’s apartment. He hasn’t seen him in seven years, and it feels awkward to show up there, even with Peter’s explicit invitation. But he’s driven all this way, and it would be stupid to turn around now. So he reaches up and knocks.

It’s opened a few moments later by – someone who is definitely not his uncle. He’s about the same height as Derek is, slender but well-muscled, wearing a pair of jeans and nothing else. He’s got sleeve tattoos in black and red ink that reach up past his elbows. His dark brown hair is loosely spiked, his eyes are a beautiful amber, his lips ridiculously pink, his chest an ocean of pale skin dotted with moles just begging for attention. It takes Derek way too many seconds to stutter, “I, uh, I think I . . . have the wrong apartment.”

The young man laughs. “No, you don’t. Derek, right?”

Derek half-turns back and blinks. “Yes. I. Stiles?”

He’s so incredulous that Stiles laughs even harder. “Did you think I was going to stay twelve years old forever?”

“I didn’t think you were going to turn out like this,” Derek growls at him, as Stiles steps back to let him inside. He shuts the door after Derek and flips the deadbolt. Derek’s eyes are drawn to those jeans and the way they hang on his hips. He tears his gaze away. “Where’s Peter?”

“Doing his morning katas. He hates to be interrupted but we weren’t sure exactly when to expect you. Coffee?”

“Yeah. Sure. Thanks.” Discomfited by the fact that his uncle isn’t going to turn up and rescue him, Derek accepts the mug that Stiles hands to him. It’s got a sports team logo on it, and Derek remembers that Stiles and Peter mainly stay in places that come furnished. Stiles turns back to the counter to get his own mug and Derek sees more tattoos across his back, or more accurately, one tattoo. It’s a forest design, but the way the branches twist and intertwine creates letters. He can’t figure out what it means, though, if it’s some sort of code. “What are those tattoos?”

“The ones on my arms are spells,” Stiles says, and turns back to show him. “Protection spells, spells to stay hidden, to see in the dark, et cetera.”

“And the one on your back?”

“It’s a memorial,” Stiles says. “The letters are the initials of the werewolves that were murdered by the hunters we’ve killed.”

“Jesus.” Derek looks at the back tattoo closer. “There must be over a hundred. Have you and Peter really killed that many hunters?”

“Well, yes and no,” Stiles says, adding a ridiculous amount of sugar to his coffee. “The first guy we killed had killed seventeen people. The second guy, twenty-three that he could remember. I think it actually turned out to be twenty-six. Peter and I have only killed thirteen hunters, but the victim tally so far is a hundred forty-three. And the ones at the top, see those?”

Derek leans closer, reading the tiny letters in the leaves of the first tree. Tears spring to his eyes as he immediately realizes why Stiles is pointing them out. NS, OH, BH, TH, and so on. “Is that . . .”

“My dad and your family, yeah.”

Unthinking, Derek reaches out and traces his finger over the line of initials. Then he frowns. “BH?”

“Benjamin or Bethany Hale.” Stiles glances over his shoulder. “It’s what Peter and Olivia were going to name the baby. They didn’t know the gender yet but they had picked out a name for each.”

“Oh.” Derek turns away and draws a hand over his eyes, then takes a drink of his coffee to steady himself. “So, uh . . . Peter let you get tattoos?”

The serious mood fades as Stiles laughs again. “Dude, the age of consent for tattoos is only sixteen or eighteen, depending on what state you’re in. I’m nineteen now. I could have all the tattoos I wanted.”

“That’s not what I meant. It’s just.” Derek clears his throat. “It’s very distinctive, and Peter prefers to blend in.”

“Oh, I see what you mean. Yeah, that’s why I got it on my back, so people wouldn’t usually see it. I was just working out before you showed up, thus you being exposed to my blinding pastiness. We kind of weighed the pros and cons of having the sleeve tattoos. I got a small one at first, and it helped me focus my magic so well that we decided it was worth the risk to get others. I mean, anybody who sees us in action doesn’t live to tell the tale, so . . .”

Derek nods a little. “I get it.”

An inner door of the apartment opens and Peter comes out, dressed in a V-neck T-shirt and jeans. He smiles when he sees Derek. “Good morning, nephew. I hope Stiles hasn’t been talking your ear off.”

“Not really,” Derek says. Stiles smirks at him, and it goes right down into Derek’s groin. He has to hastily look away. “Thanks for letting me crash here.”

“Not at all. Hungry?”

“Yeah, actually.”

“Let’s go out and get some breakfast.”

They head out to a nearby diner. Peter doesn’t ask what’s going on, which Derek appreciates. He watches Stiles plow through a ridiculous stack of pancakes while he cuts his eggs into small pieces with his fork. He asks where Peter and Stiles were before Seattle, and they end up talking about the different cities they’ve lived in. They’ve been to New York City twice, and Stiles asks if Derek misses it. He both does and he doesn’t, and isn’t sure what to say or how to explain that.

“It wasn’t home,” he finally says, “but I guess I got used to it.”

Stiles nods a little and says, “It’s hard, not having a home. It’s like. Sometimes at the end of a long day, you think ‘God, I just want to go home,’ but there isn’t a place like that. It sucks.”

“Yeah,” Derek says, both surprised and relieved – and a little bit sad – that Stiles understands. “It must be tough, traveling around all the time, not having your own things.”

“I mean, we each have a suitcase with the stuff we don’t want to have to buy over and over again,” Stiles says. He glances at Peter, but he’s busily eating, letting them talk. The diner is quiet, and nobody is close enough to hear them. “Clothes, obviously. A few books, our laptops, my pillow. We used to have a Playstation we’d bring with us, but I kind of grew out of that when I realized I could just game on my computer. Other than that, we usually stay in places that have pretty much everything we need.”

“The hotels have all that stuff? Like, for cooking and everything?”

“Not so much. God, AirBnB was such a great invention. It made things so much easier on us. Anything we want that a place doesn’t have, like the last place didn’t have any spatulas, we just buy and then leave there for the next people who stay there. But most of those places come pretty well stocked with the basics. Plus they have self check-in so you never have to meet the people you’re renting from, there’s no cleaning crew that has access to your things – I can’t remember the last time we did anything else.”

“Almost two years ago now,” Peter says.

 “Isn’t it weird, to stay in someone else’s home?” Derek asks.

“Not really. I mean, so many of these places aren’t really owned by anybody. Like, the one in San Diego was being rented out by an actual company who had purchased a whole bunch of one-bedroom apartments all over the city.”

“They can genuinely make a killing that way,” Peter puts in. “They go for seventy-five, a hundred bucks per night. And people will pay it because it’s just for a week or two. If they rented it out just as an apartment, they’d never get that much. Even if it sits vacant for a few days or even a month during the off-season, it evens out.”

Derek nods. Stiles, with his mouth full, asks, “Wha ‘bout you? Where’re you living?”

“Oh, uh . . . Laura got a place. A house. It’s nice, I guess.”

Since he clearly doesn’t want to talk about it, Peter asks about whether or not he went to any of the museums while he lived in New York. They talk about the city until they’re finished eating, and then they head back to the apartment.

“I’ve actually got some errands to do today,” Peter says. “Derek, is there anything you’d like for dinner? I seem to remember that you like Mexican food.”

Derek blinks, surprised that Peter remembered that almost ten years later. “Yeah, I, uh, that would be great.”

“I do most of the cooking,” Stiles tells him. “Peter doesn’t have the patience. You like chicken fajitas?” he adds, and Derek nods. “They need to marinate for about an hour, will you be home in time for me to do that?” he says to Peter, who also nods. “Cool. I’ll text you a list of what I need at the grocery.”

“I’m afraid you can’t come with me,” Peter says to Derek. “Some of my contacts are a bit skittish.”

“Oh. Okay.” In all honesty, Derek feels like he doesn’t know Peter any better than Stiles, despite their relationship. “You’re going to leave me alone with him?”

Stiles laughs and says, “Yeah, come hang out with me. We can spar.”

“Sure,” Derek says.

Peter shakes his head slightly and says, “Try not to damage him.”

“I’ll be careful,” Derek says.

With a snort, Peter says, “I wasn’t talking to you, nephew.”

Derek looks incredulously at Stiles as the teenager throws his head back and laughs. It’s such a nice laugh, and it exposes such a nice neck, too. Derek is overwhelmed by the urge to bite it. He can’t remember the last time he felt such unrestrained lust for another person, and has no idea what it is about Stiles that’s doing this to him. Maybe it’s just the dry spell. He’s had sex with plenty of people – for a couple years after the fire he had more than his fair share, as if he could somehow bury the memory of Kate with other people – but it’s been a while. Ever since moving back to Beacon Hills, he’s been holed up in his room more often than not.

“Seriously, though,” Stiles says, after Peter drops them off, “I usually do work out a couple hours a day, and Peter taught me how to fight. So I’m definitely not a fainting flower. But we don’t have to spar if you don’t want to.”

“Maybe not right after eating,” Derek says.

“Hey, good plan. What do you want to do? Do you have hobbies?”

“Of course I have hobbies,” Derek says, glowering, but then is forced to admit, “Mostly I read.”

“I read a lot, too. So we can just hang, if you want. It doesn’t have to be, you know, a thing.”

They ‘just hang’. Stiles puts on some music – his phone is full of all sorts of it, he says, and Derek gingerly says he likes classical music then waits to see if Stiles will make fun of him. Instead, Stiles says, “Oh, you know what classical piece I love?” and then puts on Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave in B-minor like that’s a totally normal thing for a tattooed nineteen-year-old to have on his phone.

Derek takes out one of the books he brought – a compilation of short stories by Ray Bradbury – and Stiles pulls out a text on banshees. Their latest target has killed two, Stiles tells Derek, and he wants to know if that means he has any special weapons or abilities that they should be on the lookout for.

It’s more relaxing than Derek would have expected. Stiles chatters on and off about what he’s reading, or asks about what Derek’s reading. His mind always seems to be at least a quarter somewhere else. Compared to the atmosphere at the new pack den, where the betas are always bickering about something, it’s Heaven. Before long, he feels more at home in Stiles and Peter’s tiny little apartment, which they don’t even own, than he ever did in New York City or Beacon Hills.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

After a few hours, Stiles grows bored with his book and starts playing on his laptop, but he doesn’t make Derek stop reading or demand to be entertained. Peter gets home not long afterwards, and Stiles goes into the kitchen to start the chicken marinating.

When he’s done with that, he says, “Come on, let’s spar,” to Derek.

Derek puts his book aside, feeling like he could use some exercise. “Okay,” he says, rolling his shoulders to get the kinks out. He approaches Stiles cautiously, keeping Peter’s warning in mind. Stiles feints and jabs a few times, and Derek starts to relax. He’s fast, but he’s no werewolf –

That’s what he’s thinking until Stiles uses a chair to get a foot up, wraps his legs around Derek’s shoulders, and somehow flings him onto the floor. Derek hits hard and gives a grunt as the air is driven out of his lungs, and Stiles straddles him with two fingers pressed into his carotid artery. “Boom, you’re dead,” he says, smirking.

Derek grabs him by the wrist and heaves himself upwards, throwing a laughing Stiles off of him. The teenager regains his balance easily, bouncing on the balls of his feet, and gives Derek a little ‘come on’ gesture which is way too sexy for Derek’s comfort. Derek approaches more cautiously this time, and they trade blows several times before he gets Stiles pinned up against the wall, his forearm pressed against the back of Stiles’ neck.

“Nice,” Stiles says, squirming to get free in a way that has Derek thinking desperately about baseball statistics. While he’s distracted, Stiles hooks a foot around his ankle and spills them both to the ground. Derek winds up face-down on the floor and absurdly glad for it, with Stiles on top of him and an arm around his throat. Derek puts a hand on the floor and pushes up hard, tossing Stiles off him again. This time Stiles lands on his back, and Derek is quick to press his advantage. He grabs Stiles’ wrists and pins him to the floor above his head in one hand, then presses his claws into Stiles’ throat.

“Now you’re dead,” he says.

“Not for long,” Stiles says, and unclenches one of his fists. Derek has just enough time to see the magical symbol there before he goes flying backwards. He hits the wall but bounces back, ducking Stiles’ next blow. Stiles jumps onto his back, locking his legs around Derek’s waist and his arms around Derek’s throat.

“Jesus fucking – ” Derek chokes out, and Stiles laughs. Hearing that, Derek has no remorse about throwing himself backwards into the wall. Stiles lets go just in time, twisting out of the way before impact. Derek clotheslines him, and he goes stumbling backwards but manages to convert it into some sort of somersault, springing back to his feet.

“Enjoying yourself?” he asks Derek, with an impish grin.

Derek takes him in a full tackle, and Stiles hoots with laughter as they spill to the ground. He struggles to get free, and they wrestle back and forth for several minutes. Finally, Derek manages to flip Stiles over and twist his arm up behind his back.

“Uncle, uncle,” Stiles says, still laughing. Derek lets him up, and he rubs his shoulder. “Glad I don’t do hand-to-hand with too many werewolves.”

“I wouldn’t think so,” Derek says.

“Actually, I don’t do hand-to-hand with much of anybody besides Peter, for training,” Stiles adds. “I’ve fought with a few hunters, but when things go well, it never lasts long.” He gets back to his feet and stretches, his shirt riding up to reveal the last inch of his stomach. Derek tries not to stare at it. “Let’s go again.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“So what’s on your mind, nephew?” Peter finally asks, as they sit down to dinner.

Figuring that ‘your adopted son’s butt’ probably isn’t the correct answer, Derek decides to actually tell the truth. “Just. Laura’s turned some betas. They’re nice people, I guess. But I hate having them around. I hate trying to be all friendly and familiar with them. They aren’t . . . they aren’t my pack. I wish Laura had just left well enough alone.”

“From Laura’s perspective, it makes sense,” Peter says. “Keeping the alpha power without the support of betas is quite difficult. I’m surprised she managed it as long as she did. If she’s going to settle onto a territory as coveted as Beacon Hills, she would need them.”

“I know. I know why she did it. But that doesn’t mean I like it. She’s bought this big house and we’re supposed to all live together and be a pack and I can’t stand it,” Derek blurts out. “It’s not for any real reason. Like, yes, Isaac leaves hairs on the sink when he shaves, and yes, Erica demands my opinion on every outfit she wears, there are little annoyances like that, but it shouldn’t add up to this. It shouldn’t add up to my wanting to beat them all to a bloody pulp and throw them out.”

Peter gives a snort. “Cohabitating can be difficult even for people who love each other dearly,” he says. “How long have they been around?”

“She started turning them about a year ago, but we only got the house three months ago.”

“So you’re all still getting used to each other.” Peter gives a shrug and says, “I’d say to maybe address their behavior with them, but I don’t think their behavior is really the problem. If they stop doing the things that are currently annoying you, you’ll just find new things to be annoyed by. It goes deeper than that. To the fact that you don’t want a pack at all.”

Derek pushes a pepper around on his plate and says, “Yeah.”

“I can’t fix that for you, Derek,” Peter says quietly. “I wish I could. Maybe someday you’ll feel all right with it. Maybe you won’t. All I can say is that for now, I think it’s fine to keep your distance. To allow them in slowly. They’re Laura’s betas; they’re not yours. You don’t have to live with the rest of them if you don’t want to.”

“I tried telling Laura that I didn’t want to live in the house, but she got . . .” Derek sighs. “She got pissy. She says I should be supporting her, and asked when I’m going to get over my hang-up about it.”

“Your sister sounds like a bitch,” Stiles says, with his mouth full.

Derek scowls, defensive for no reason. “She didn’t say it like that. I mean. She says she wants me to be okay, and she’s trying to make a family, a pack, so we can all be safer together. She thinks that if I keep pushing people away, I’ll never get better. Maybe she’s right.” He picks up his fajita and adds, “But she also can be kind of a bitch.”

“The problem, nephew, is that Laura is an alpha,” Peter says. “Even before your mother’s death, Laura had that take-charge, full-steam-ahead sort of attitude. She thinks you can fix that sort of deep, emotional scarring just by wanting to. That she should be able to say, ‘spend some time with the pack and you’ll be okay with them’. It doesn’t work like that.”

“It did for her,” Derek mutters.

“Derek, I can’t explain how Laura thinks or feels. Maybe she genuinely is fine with all of this. Maybe she just fakes it really well. But just because Laura feels a certain way, doesn’t mean you can force yourself to feel the same way.”

“Yeah.” Derek sighs. “So what do you think I should do?”

“I think you should get an apartment and tell Laura that you’re not comfortable around the pack right now. You’ll come over to help with training – please tell me she’s training them,” Peter adds, and Derek nods. “And that you’ll be there for dinner a few times a week.”

“She won’t like that,” Derek says.

“A good compromise leaves everyone unhappy!” Stiles says, and Peter gives a snort of laughter.

“I guess I’ll talk to her and see how it goes,” Derek says.

“Just don’t let her walk all over you just because she’s your alpha,” Peter says.

Derek doesn’t reply to that, and after a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Stiles says, “So, hey, wanna hear about our latest murder?” and Derek laughs despite himself.

After dinner, Peter says, “All right, I’m going out. Shoshanna has some things I need to pick up. I’ll be late, so don’t wait up.”

“Okay, have fun,” Stiles says. Peter gets up, grabs his jacket, and heads for the door. After it closes behind him, Stiles says, “Shosh is one of the people who makes IDs for us. She’s why we’re in Seattle, actually – she needed updated pictures of us to make our new IDs. We decided to crash for a week and then head to Sacramento, where our next target is. She’s one of Peter’s fuckfriends, so presumably he’s gonna stay the night.”

“Uh huh,” Derek says. Stiles stands up and starts loading the dishwasher. Derek tears his eyes away from Stiles’ ass and says, “Let me do that. You cooked; I’ll clean.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, clearly not about to argue. Derek rinses the dishes and gets everything loaded into the dishwasher. “So, what do you wanna do now? We could watch a movie, or find something on TV, or play cards or something, or we could have wild crazy sex.”

Derek practically chokes on the water he had just taken a drink of. “What?”

“I’m just putting it out there, you know, as an option,” Stiles says. “You know, if you – ”

Derek has him pushed up against the wall and is kissing him before he can finish his sentence. He doesn’t even entirely intend to do it. It happens independent of any thought. Stiles makes a little noise against his mouth and then he’s all in, sloppy and enthusiastic, grabbing a handful of Derek’s hair. Derek hikes him up against the wall, fitting his hips against Stiles’ and rocking into them. That makes Stiles say, “Oh, hell, yes,” and throw his head back. Derek wastes no time pressing his face into the crook of his neck, breathing in Stiles’ scent and nipping at the skin. “Oh, fuck, kiss me some more,” Stiles pants, and Derek is happy to oblige. He gets his hands underneath Stiles’ shirt, stripping it over his head, and starts them towards the bedroom.

A minute later, Stiles is on his back on the bed and Derek is on top of him, and they’re still kissing. Stiles’ hand clutches at the back of Derek’s shirt and they kiss until they’re out of breath. Stiles is a little glassy-eyed when Derek pulls away to let him get in some air, nuzzling at his neck again. Derek can’t stop touching him, stop running his hands over all that glorious skin. He pops the button of Stiles’ pants, pressing his hand into the front of them.

“Oh,” Stiles gasps out, fingers digging in to the back of Derek’s neck. “Hang – hang on a sec – ” he pants.

Derek leans back, suddenly feeling uncertain. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, I, I’m fine, I just – ” Stiles blinks rapidly and then blurts out, “I’m a virgin.”

Derek feels his jaw sag slightly. “You’re a what?” is all he can manage.

Stiles moans and rolls onto his side. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I just said that out loud. Oh, fuck, I am the world’s biggest idiot, it’s just – I’ve never done this before and I really want to but I’m also kind of freaking out? Like you might guess that I don’t have the world’s most active social life, what with moving apartments every two weeks and cities every two months and I – ” The words are tumbling out of his mouth as his face floods red with embarrassment. “When I was sixteen, Peter kind of gave me the talk, you know? And he was like, if I wanted to have sex that was totally normal and healthy, but at the same time kind of inadvisable given my career choices. Then when I was eighteen, he mentioned that if I wanted, he could set me up with a professional? But I didn’t really want my first time to be with a professional so I was like nah, I’m good, I’ll just see what happens. Like, Peter’s made friends in the trade, he has a few people that he knocks boots with, so I figured I’d find somebody like that at some point.

“Then I met you and I was immediately like ‘oh damn, I want to have sex with that dude like immediately’ and I didn’t really know how to act so I just acted like myself. Peter’s always said that the key to grifting is to act like you know what you’re doing even when you don’t, pretend you’re confident all the time, so I figured, you know, I’d give it a whirl. Which seems to have worked, because here we are with half our clothes off, and I still really want to, but I’m also really nervous and I don’t know where I’m supposed to put my hands and I’m probably gonna come in like twelve seconds and I. Yeah. I’m gonna stop talking now.” He pushes himself up onto his elbows, looking mortified. “So. Now that I’ve completely ruined any chances you still want to have sex with me, I’m just gonna go. Somewhere. Not here.”

Derek puts his index finger over Stiles’ mouth to make him stop talking. There’s a part of him that wants to laugh, because Stiles is hilarious and adorable, but he squelches it because that would only make Stiles feel worse. When Stiles falls silent, he takes his hand away and then leans in for another kiss, softer. “Do you still want to?”

“Oh, God, yes,” Stiles manages, his voice trembling slightly.

Derek kisses him again. “It’s okay to be nervous. And it’s okay if you come in twelve seconds. We’ve got all night.” Another kiss. “And you can put your hands wherever you want.”

“On your butt?” Stiles asks hopefully. “Because your butt is like, top notch, dude.”

Now Derek does give a snort of laughter. “Yes, Stiles, you can put your hands on my butt while we have sex.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, the flush fading out of his cheeks as the blood is redirected south. “I’m sorry I freaked out.”

“You don’t have to be sorry. I’m glad you said something. Let’s just – take it a little slower, okay? And if you want to stop, just say so. It’s fine, I promise.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Yeah, slow, that sounds good. Okay.”

They kiss for a long time, and Derek doesn’t try to get Stiles’ pants off, focusing his attention above the waist. Stiles loosens up a little bit and helps Derek peel his shirt off, and he does grab Derek’s butt, a lot. Derek finds that he likes it, chuckling into Stiles’ neck the first few times it happens.

Stiles doesn’t come in twelve seconds once Derek gets his pants off, but he doesn’t last a lot longer. Derek assures him again that it’s fine. They have time. They make out some more and he leaves a little row of bruises on Stiles’ neck that he’s really enjoying looking at. They have time for a second round, and then later, a third.

Some time later, the room is dim and they’re listening to the rain that’s started outside. “That was awesome,” Stiles mumbles, staring dreamily at Derek’s face.

Derek traces a finger along Stiles’ jaw. “Glad you enjoyed yourself.”

“Yeah. It was like. Awesome.” Stiles yawns. “Thanks. Not for the sex, although, you know, thanks for that too, but for not making fun of me when I freaked out.”

“You’re welcome. It shouldn’t be . . .” Derek shakes his head. “It shouldn’t be a thing. I don’t know. My first time, I was nervous, too. Too nervous to even say I was nervous, because I thought she might think I didn’t want her, and . . . I didn’t want your first time to be like that.”

“Sorry, dude. That sucks.”

“Yeah.” Derek hesitates, his thumb rubbing over Stiles’ lower lip. “You know that I’m only staying a few days, right?”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says, and Derek relaxes a little. “I mean . . . that’s okay, isn’t it? That’s what it’s like for Peter with his friends. He just comes to see them sometimes. I don’t think . . . a regular relationship isn’t something that would work for either of us. Or not for me, at least. I guess maybe it would for you? But from everything you said at dinner, I kind of got the impression that it wasn’t your thing.”

“Yeah.” Derek is nearly overwhelmed with relief. “I just . . . there are a lot of reasons why I couldn’t do that.”

“So it’s all good, right? We’ll see each other every few months, hang out, give each other some mind-blowing orgasms . . . though I guess I might be giving myself too much credit.” Stiles looks anxious again. “Uh, you did have a good time, right? I mean, you seemed to be having a good time, and I figure you wouldn’t have been so eager to have round three if you hadn’t enjoyed round two, but I probably shouldn’t just assume that, and . . . earlier you stopped me when I got going like this, why aren’t you stopping me?”

“Because you’re adorable,” Derek says, and Stiles edges towards a pout. “But yeah. I definitely enjoyed myself. I plan on enjoying myself tomorrow, too.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says, and then yawns. “Okay. Better get a good night’s sleep, then. You’ll . . . stay in here with me? Or did you want to use the sofa? It folds out.”

Derek hesitates. He hasn’t slept in the same bed as somebody else since Kate. “Do you want me to stay?”

“Yeah. You smell great. I wanna cuddle with you.”

Derek smiles again. “Then I’ll stay.”

“Okay.” Stiles yawns again. “G’night.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter is drinking coffee and reading the news on his laptop the next morning when Derek emerges from Stiles’ bedroom. Derek flushes pink when he sees Peter, and although it’s tempting to embarrass him, Peter holds back. He thinks Derek and Stiles will be good for each other, so he doesn’t want to do or say anything that might make them not want to spend time together. Instead, he just says, “Good morning, nephew. There’s coffee and pastries.”

“Thanks,” Derek mumbles, going for the food.

Stiles emerges behind him, rumpled and yawning. “Morning,” he says in the brightest, most cheerful tone that Peter has ever heard from him before noon. He again resists the urge to tease. “Oh, food, awesome. I’m starved.” He drinks half a cup of coffee and then crams half a danish in his face. Derek is watching him like he can’t believe he’s attracted to him, and Peter keeps trying not to laugh. “Hey, so,” Stiles says, through a mouthful, “how’d the IDs come out?”

“They’re fine,” Peter says. “Shoshanna did excellent work, as always.”

“Cool,” Stiles says. “We got plans for today?”

“Just the usual down time activities,” Peter says, which entails mostly working out for Stiles and researching future targets.

“Awesome. ‘Cause I’m gonna be in my room having sex all day. Because sex is awesome.”

Derek flushes bright pink. “Oh my God, Stiles, seriously?”

“What?” Stiles asks. “It’s not like he doesn’t know we were having it. Werewolf senses and all that.”

Peter takes a sip of his coffee and says, “I’m pretty sure a blind, deaf person would have been able to sense the sexual tension you two were radiating yesterday.”

“See?” Stiles says, and Derek just groans.

“In any case,” Peter says, amused, “I don’t have any plans for the day, so try not to be too loud about it.”

“Roger that,” Stiles says cheerfully, and then says to Derek, “Let’s go take a shower,” before dragging him out of the kitchen.

 

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter is worried that Derek’s departure will upset Stiles, but it doesn’t. “We talked it out,” Stiles says, when he sees Peter watching him. “I mean, neither of us are really into the idea of a relationship, you know? He’ll come back around next time he needs a break from Laura.”

Peter nods, although privately he thinks that Stiles and Derek both need to look up the definition of ‘relationship’. They couldn’t possibly have spent three entire days having sex – nobody’s stamina is that good – which means they were probably also doing a lot of cuddling, pillow talk, and from the sound of it, watching idiotic YouTube videos together.

But it’s not his business, really, and if Stiles and Derek need to work into this at their own speed, that’s fine.

They head south to Sacramento. It’s their second kill since Boston, and they’re both still feeling overcautious. They track the hunter for weeks, watching for a weakness, waiting for an opening. He makes a trip to Reno every weekend for gambling and comes back late. Stiles uses magic to sabotage his car. They make quick work of him there on the side of the road, pin the obituary to his chest, and are in San Francisco by sunrise.

Nobody on the hunter forum seems to feel particularly sorry for him, shaking their heads over his foolhardiness in going to Reno even with everything else going on. Their bounty doesn’t even increase, and Stiles sulks, which amuses Peter.

“Who’s next?” he asks, offering Stiles a handful of manila folders.

Stiles chooses a young werewolf who was abducted and tortured for several days before being killed and dismembered. They leave San Francisco and spend two weeks in Tucson, soaking in the sunlight while Stiles combs through old forum posts to identify the killer. From there, they head to northern Minnesota.

This hunter lives in a cabin that’s perfect for their purposes, at least an hour away from civilization. They watch him for a while, assessing his defenses. They’re formidable, but nothing they haven’t dealt with before. A security system, cameras at the end of his driveway, several locks on the doors.

They clone his phone so they know that he checks in with his hunter friends at twelve thirty every night. Stiles runs their phone numbers and finds that the closest is forty-five minutes away. Even if he misses a check-in, it shouldn’t hinder them. But they agree to strike late, around three o’clock. Peter gathers everything they need and tucks it away in the forest a couple miles away from the cabin.

It’s nearly pitch black as they make their way through the forest. They can’t risk a flashlight, so Peter is guiding Stiles along using his night vision. Stiles has a spell that can improve his, but Peter has told him to use his magic sparingly, in case he needs it later.

But it’s Peter who steps into the trap, buried under a thin layer of leaves, and it snaps up around his ankle. He gives an involuntary howl of pain which he chokes back a second later. “Jesus, what happened?” Stiles hisses.

“Fuck,” Peter grunts. They need light so he can see how bad it is. “Stiles, light.”

Stiles produces a ball of witchlight, looks down, and goes pale. “Oh . . . oh, fuck.”

Peter tends to agree. The bear trap has sunk deeply into his calf, and it won’t be letting go any time soon. His leg is probably broken, and the edges of the trap are coated in wolfsbane, so it won’t heal even if they can get it off. He takes a deep breath and tries to banish the pain so he can think clearly. “Do you think you can get it off with your magic?”

Stiles grimaces. “Uh, I’m not really good at fine control, you know. My disrupt spell might break the trap, but it also might blow off your leg.”

“All right.” Peter grits his teeth. “Then we’ll need – ”

There’s a noise from the house. Faint voices. Peter swears underneath his breath. They’ve been heard; hunters are coming. He has no idea why there are multiple hunters at this man’s house at three AM. They gave themselves away somehow. He has no idea how and probably never will, but he can hear at least half a dozen different voices, maybe more.

Stiles is still examining the trap; his human hearing hasn’t picked up on the danger yet. “We’re gonna need some sort of clamp,” he says. “I bet the hunter has some in his stuff. He would have needed them to set the trap up to begin with. Lemme go – ”

“No,” Peter says, entirely without meaning to. He’s a little surprised at himself, but then again, hadn’t he always known it was going to end this way? “You need to go. They’re coming. Six or eight of them, I think.”

“How did they – ”

“It doesn’t matter,” Peter says. “You need to get out of here. You’ll never get me free before they get here.” He hesitates, because his honest preference would be for Stiles to kill him before he goes. The hunters will torture him for weeks, months, years, if they capture him. But he knows that Stiles isn’t capable of that, so he doesn’t bring it up. “You’ve learned enough to keep going without me. Make them pay for this.”

Stiles stares at him, his mouth working soundlessly for a few moments, before he slowly gets to his feet. He looks towards the house, where he can now hear the sound of the hunters’ approach. His lip curls up in a wolflike expression, and Peter feels a swell of pride that momentarily overrides the pain and the fear. “Oh, I’ll make them pay,” Stiles says in a low voice, and then jogs into the forest.

“Damn it, Stiles – ” Peter hisses at his back, but it’s too late. Stiles obviously has no intentions of leaving him there, and as good as he is, taking on eight hunters on their own turf, in a dark forest riddled with traps – it’s a recipe for disaster.

A moment later, he hears a gunshot. Then a shout. Then two more gunshots. Then what sounds like a hundred more gunshots. He tugs at his leg more vigorously, despite knowing it won’t do any good, and bites back a howl of desperation. They’re going to kill Stiles, his brilliant, incredible son, and he’s going to stand here and listen to it happen and not be able to stop it.

The forest goes silent.

There’s a sound that’s something between a pop and a thump, and then a scream.

More silence.

Two more gunshots.

Silence.

Then footsteps. Peter bares his teeth at the person approaching, but then a voice says, “It’s me,” and Stiles emerges from the trees. Peter can’t see him very well, but he can smell him, and he can tell that Stiles is injured and in pain and covered in blood.

“I told you to get out of here,” Peter snarls.

“Yeah, well, you also tell me not to eat a bowl of sugar every morning and call it cereal, and look how well that’s working out for you,” Stiles says, and Peter huffs out a laugh despite the pain. “I’m going to go get the clamps. Just hang tight for a minute.”

“Okay,” Peter says, since there isn’t much else he can do. He waits about another ten minutes before Stiles returns again and starts levering the trap open. When his leg comes free, he momentarily blacks out from the pain, and finds himself on the ground. “Shit,” he mutters, trying to sit up.

“Come on.” Stiles gets an arm underneath him and helps him to his feet.

Peter sways slightly, nearly overbalancing them, before Stiles manages to get them stabilized. They limp along through the forest, and he listens for the sound of anyone approaching, but there’s nothing. Finally, he asks, “What was that thump I heard?”

“Grenade,” Stiles says. “They threw it at me and I swatted it back. The thing was loaded with buckshot and silver. But it killed them just as good as it would have killed us.”

“You’re injured,” Peter says, gritting his teeth against the pain.

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

Peter huffs, annoyed. “How badly?”

Stiles hesitates, then admits, “I may have been stabbed a few times.”

Stabbed? Jesus Christ, Stiles – ”

“It’s not that bad,” Stiles retorts, sounding just as annoyed. “You’re worse off than I am. My ribs protected my internal organs; that’s what they’re there for. I stopped the bleeding. I’m fine.”

“I told you to get out of there – ”

“I will not leave you,” Stiles snaps. “Do you fucking understand that? Never tell me to do that again because it is not going to happen. We go down together or not at all.” His voice chokes and he continues, “I lost one dad to these assholes. I’m not losing another.”

Peter doesn’t know what to say to that. He supposes that it’s fair. If their situations had been reversed, he sure as hell wouldn’t have left Stiles behind. So he can’t expect Stiles to be any different. Finally, he says, “A grenade, huh?”

“Looked like a relic from World War One,” Stiles replies.

They make it to their pre-appointed spot with their things. Stiles sends up another ball of witchlight and Peter can see that he’s liberally spattered with blood. His hands and forearms are covered with it, and there are several sizable splotches on his chest and abdomen. Plenty of that blood transferred over to Peter during the walk, so they both strip out of their clothes and throw them into the barrel to be burned.

Peter lowers himself to the ground and looks at his injury. The bone is definitely broken, and the puncture marks are inflamed and ugly due to the wolfsbane. “Going to have to burn it out,” he says, trying to keep his voice even. “You?”

Stiles is examining the slashing knife wounds he received. “This one needs stitches. The rest will be okay with the Steri-Strips.”

“Okay.”

They take turns patching each other up before setting everything on fire and limping back to the car. “I didn’t leave an obituary, by the way,” Stiles says, as he pulls onto the road. Peter’s right leg is injured, so he can’t drive. “Figured that’d probably be a bad idea, given the givens. Think they’ll link this to the one in Massachusetts?”

“Maybe. Particularly if any of the victims had contact with each other.” Peter shakes his head. “We’ll be out of commission for a few months anyway, so we can lay low.”

“I just wish I knew how they’d known we were coming,” Stiles says.

“Me too. I was thinking, maybe it’s possible to tell if your phone has been cloned? We’ll have to look into it.”

“Yeah.”

Stiles drives until sunrise. They ditch the car and get on a bus, heading south. By that night, they’re in Dallas. They haven’t made reservations there, so Stiles checks them into a motel to crash. He’s slept most of the way, but he’s still exhausted. They order some take-out and flop down on the beds.

“Hey, Peter?” Stiles says, much later. “We won’t be able to keep doing this much longer, will we.”

Peter says nothing for a moment, before finally admitting, “I don’t know.”

“Mmkay.” Stiles rolls onto his side and falls asleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Derek’s second visit starts when Stiles opens the door, drags him inside, and hauls him towards the bedroom. “Shouldn’t I at least say hello to my unc – ” Derek gets out, before Stiles shuts the bedroom door behind them. Peter gives a snort of laughter, puts in his earbuds, and goes back to his book.

Several hours later, Peter’s getting the take-out Chinese sorted when Derek and Stiles emerge from the bedroom. Derek blinks at Peter and says, “What happened to your leg?”

“Bear trap,” Peter says. “Coated in wolfsbane. It’s taking some time to heal.”

“Jesus,” Derek mutters.

“What about you?” Peter asks. “How are things in Beacon Hills?” He knows that they’re not great, because Derek had called him two days ago asking where they were, saying he needed to get out of Beacon Hills for a bit. But that seems a more tactful question than, ‘what’s upsetting you this time’, which Derek doubtlessly wouldn’t appreciate.

Derek shrugs a little. “Laura turned someone else, and he’s a prick, and it turned into a disaster because he became a kanima.”

“Really?” Peter’s instantly fascinated. “Those are vanishingly rare.”

“What’s a kanima?” Stiles asks, his mouth full.

“Instead of turning into a werewolf, you turn into a lizard amnesiac with paralyzing venom,” Derek says.

Stiles practically chokes as he starts laughing. “Dude, what.”

“I’m one hundred percent serious,” Derek says. “We couldn’t figure out why the bite hadn’t taken, and then this lizard creature started showing up everywhere, and Laura’s like, ‘you’re turning into a lizard’ and Jackson’s like ‘pfff, no I’m not’, because he’s a dick.”

“‘Yer a lizard, Jackson,’” Peter says, and Stiles chokes on another mouthful.

Derek glowers at his uncle and says, “It wasn’t funny.”

“It’s a little funny,” Peter says, smirking.

Derek rolls his eyes. “So we finally got that ironed out and now instead of an amnesiac lizard we just have an enormous douchebag and his snooty banshee girlfriend and I spend a lot of time wanting to beat the shit out of both of them. Seriously, I cannot say enough about how big a douchebag Jackson is. He’s got the ‘big fish little pond’ syndrome, and he clearly thinks he’s very important. And Lydia doesn’t seem to realize that we live in a backwater northern California town where nobody cares that her handbag is Prada.”

Peter’s amused, but Stiles is frowning. “Wait, Jackson and Lydia? Is that Jackson Whittemore and Lydia Martin?”

“Yeah, actually. Why?”

“I just . . . I used to know them,” Stiles says. “We were in the same grade. Jackson was a dick even back then. He used to bully me and Scott all the time.” He rubs a hand over the back of his hair. “Wow, it’s so weird to hear about people I used to know, all grown up and turning into lizard monsters. Though I’ve gotta say, if there’s one kid in my grade I would’ve voted ‘mostly likely to secretly be a lizard’, it definitely would’ve been Jackson.”

Both Derek and Peter laugh at that. Derek picks up another egg roll and then asks, “Do you miss it? Beacon Hills?”

Stiles is quiet for a moment before he says, “I barely remember it, to be honest. Looking back, it feels like . . . it feels almost like a past life. Like I have the memories of some person I used to be, but he’s basically a stranger to me. I don’t know. It’s hard to describe and I guess it’s kind of weird.”

“I don’t think it’s that weird,” Derek says. “I mean . . . everything changed for you, pretty abruptly. I can see why it would seem kind of like two separate lives.”

“Yeah.” Stiles takes another bite and then changes the subject, saying, “So your pack must be getting pretty big now.”

“Six betas isn’t that big,” Derek says. “I think it just seems that way since we went from one to six in a year.”

“Isn’t Laura worried about attracting attention?” Peter asks.

Looking like he bit down on a lemon instead of an egg roll, Derek says, “She has a truce with the local hunting element, so no.”

Peter opens his mouth, realizes that what he’s about to say isn’t anything Derek doesn’t already know, and closes it.

It’s Stiles who rolls his eyes and says, “Yeah, ‘cause that matters.”

“Do you think I don’t know that?” Derek bites out.

Stiles winces. “Sorry.”

Peter smoothly interrupts, saying, “Stiles has this unfortunate problem where sometimes his mouth opens and sound comes out. We keep working on it, but have yet to find a solution.”

Stiles flips Peter off, and Derek laughs despite himself, saying, “I can’t believe I wanted to come here.”

“You know we’re awesome,” Stiles says.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“Sorry about earlier,” Stiles says, stripping off his shirt as they get ready for bed.

Derek shrugs. “Which part?”

“Just, what I said about the hunters. I know that living in Beacon Hills isn’t easy for you, and living there with hunters in the area must be even worse.”

“Yeah.” Derek sits down on the edge of the bed. “I don’t know. What you said, about it being like a past life . . . I kind of wish I could do that too. It feels like everyone has moved on from the fire except me. Even Peter. You know, you two are on your execution road trip, which is kind of a result of what happened, but at the same time, at least you’re doing something. I’m just . . . marking time. I have been ever since the fire.”

Stiles sits down next to him and says, “Look, I don’t want to get all Sigmund Freud on you . . . not least of all because Freud was a total hack and literally ninety-nine percent of his theories were total garbage . . . but I think a lot of that is because you and Laura don’t get along very well.”

Derek frowns. “What do you mean?”

“I know you love your sister, okay? But you don’t seem to like her very much. And to be honest, she sounds kind of like a bitch.”

At this, Derek looks away. “She’s just really . . . she’s not a bad person. But she always fucking thinks she knows best. She can never let anyone win an argument. Even if they turn out to be right, she finds some way to say she wasn’t wrong. She’s headstrong and she’s bossy and she doesn’t listen. Talking to her can be like talking to a brick wall. When I get upset or angry and she doesn’t understand why, she tells me that I’m wrong like she can dictate how I feel. It’s just . . . I don’t know. It’s not like she ever asked to be an alpha saddled with her traumatized kid brother. I know she does the best she can. But she drives me crazy sometimes.”

“But, see, that’s the thing,” Stiles says. “Peter and I are fucked up, okay, but at least we have each other. And we had each other, back when we were both clawing our way through the worst of it, through the days where everything . . . everything was so awful that it barely seemed worth getting up in the morning. Peter doesn’t get my justice boner, but he doesn’t tell me I’m wrong to have it.”

“Justice boner?” Derek’s lips twitch. “Here I thought we were having a serious discussion.”

“We are, and I totally have a justice boner, and I won’t apologize for it,” Stiles says, and Derek gives a snort. “There’s stuff about what he went through, what he’s going through, that I can’t understand, either. Like I remember when he used to change the channel every time a TV show had a baby on it because he couldn’t stand even looking at babies after Olivia died. I can’t really understand how much losing her and the baby hurt, but at the same time I don’t just tell him to nut up and get over it, either.”

Derek says nothing, because he knows Stiles is right, but at the same time, he can’t explain the sense of isolation that the fire had left him with. There are things about it that he’s never told anybody, that he never plans to tell anybody. About dialing Kate’s number the day after the fire and being confused because it was disconnected. About seeing her face on the news after she had killed the police officers and crashed her car, realizing who she was and what she had done, what he had done –

He can never tell anyone about that. Peter and Stiles can share their pain with each other; Laura can talk to the people she knows about her grief. But he can’t. The guilt of what his fling with Kate had resulted in will always, always sit below his breastbone. So Stiles isn’t wrong, but he’s not exactly right, either. Laura might be bossy and a bad listener, but it’s Derek’s own fault that he can’t talk through his feelings with anyone.

When Derek doesn’t reply, Stiles reaches out and twines his fingers through Derek’s. “Look, it’s okay to just mark time for a while. In case nobody’s ever told you that. It’s okay to not be ready to move on from what happened.”

“Thanks,” Derek says.

Stiles leans over and gives him a brief kiss on the mouth, then pulls away and says, “Now let’s get some sleep. I have big plans for tomorrow. I wanna try a reverse cowboy.”

Derek gives a snort. “Way to ruin the moment.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to try a reverse cowboy?”

“No, I definitely want to try it, but you’re still ridiculous.”

Stiles laughs, then yawns and stretches. “I can live with that.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

For almost a year, Stiles has been trying to find a hunter who has been abducting werewolf children and using them as a way to lure the rest of the pack in. He’s been active for over a decade, and he moves around like they do, which has made him difficult to pin down.

When Stiles finally identifies him, it takes another two months to track down the RV that he lives in and come up with a game plan for how to take him down. Which is why it’s somewhat concerting when his first reaction to waking up from being tased is to stammer, “Who are you?”

It gives both Stiles and Peter pause. Ever since the first year, every hunter has known who they were and why they were there. They all talk to each other, even if they don’t use the forums. They know they’re being hunted. The reactions have varied from fear to anger to bargaining, with a sprinkle of, “Of course it’s Peter fucking Hale.” Nobody in the past three years has asked ‘who are you’.

Stiles jams the taser back into his shoulder, knocking him out again. He and Peter search the RV and find nothing beyond a Glock tucked into the glove compartment. There’s no other weapons, no hunting paraphernalia, no evidence that he might be who they thought he was.

“Wake him again,” Peter says, and Stiles does. Peter pulls up a chair next to him and sets down the news article about one of the murdered families. “Do you know who this is?”

“W-What? No,” the man says, looking down at the article and then back up at Peter. “What do you want? I, I don’t have much money, but the GPS is probably worth something – and the stereo system – you could just, just take that – ”

“Jesus,” Stiles mutters, pacing around the RV’s tight confines. “Were we wrong? I can’t have been wrong. There, there was bank info, cell phone info – I was so sure – ”

Peter picks up the man’s phone from where it’s sitting on the counter and says, “What’s the code?”

Still pale, the man says, “It’s just, uh, just 1234 – my daughter set it up for me, she thought I’d forget anything else – ”

Peter unlocks the phone and scrolls through. Nothing in the texts or emails from any other hunters they know, nothing about setting up a check-in, which all the others have been doing. He frowns down at the phone. He knows how good Stiles is at this, but nobody is perfect. It is possible that he was wrong. But at the same time, it’s also possible that a smart, skilled hunter would have seen them coming and erased all the evidence. His stammering confusion could be an act.

Either way, it doesn’t matter. Peter puts the phone back where he found it. “There’s no knife to use,” he says to Stiles. “Go get that gun out of the glove compartment.”

“What?” Stiles blinks at him. “Peter, we can’t. If we’re not sure – ”

“It doesn’t matter, Stiles. He’s seen our faces.”

“I won’t talk!” the man immediately protests. “I won’t say anything to anyone, I swear!”

“Be quiet,” Peter says, and he falls silent.

“Peter, we can’t,” Stiles says. “I – I must have been wrong. Maybe there are two people with the same name, maybe – maybe a lot of things, okay? But this – this is all wrong.”

“It’s just an act,” Peter says, not because he’s sure of it, but because he doesn’t want Stiles to continue to dither. “Any hunter like him knew we would eventually come for them. He’s erased the evidence and now he’s pretending he doesn’t know who we are.”

“But we don’t know that,” Stiles says. “We can’t be sure, and we can’t kill anyone if we’re not sure.”

“Stiles, he’s seen our faces,” Peter reiterates. “Even if he’s not a hunter, how long do you think it’ll take them to figure out he might have information about who we are? I have faith in your abilities. And if you’re wrong, well, that’s terrible but this is war. Casualties happen.”

“Oh my God, shut up,” Stiles snaps. “You have to know I can’t accept that.”

Peter sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “All right. We can’t kill a possibly innocent man. Can we risk the chance of paralyzing him from the neck down?”

Stiles blinks. “Uh, what?”

Peter lets his claws out and digs them into the man’s spine. He hates doing this. He had learned how a few years before the fire, but it’s not just dangerous. To go inside someone else’s memories is like living them, and he has a feeling that these memories are going to leave more than a slight impression on him.

He’s right. The inside of the man’s mind is filthy, depraved and violent. Peter pulls back with a shudder before he can see too much, and takes a few deep breaths to try to shake off the nausea. Stiles is still just blinking at him. “Well,” Peter says, trying to keep his voice steady. “The good news is, you were right. The bad news is, I might throw up on your shoes.”

“What just happened?” Stiles asks warily.

“I told you about how werewolves can view people’s memories,” Peter says.

“You told me it was an alpha thing.”

“It’s an alpha thing because most betas don’t have the psychic power to do it. It happens that I do, and I did, and now I need bleach for my brain.” Peter squeezes the man’s shoulder, adding, “You are one sick puppy, you know that?”

“Please, I don’t know what you’re talking – ” the man starts, and Peter’s heard enough. He grabs the man by the chin and gives it a savage twist, breaking his neck with a sharp snap.

“Jesus, Peter!” Stiles blurts out, startled.

Peter takes another deep breath and lets it out slowly. “Time to go,” he says, and walks towards the back of the RV without another word. Stiles follows, clearly ill at ease and uncertain, but not arguing. They do their usual clean-up and get in the car.

Neither of them speak until almost an hour later, when Stiles finally says, “Did you kill him just because he had seen our faces?”

“No,” Peter says.

Stiles considers that for a long minute. “But you would have, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes,” Peter says, “but I wouldn’t have told you. I would’ve agreed to let him go, given him stern warnings about not saying anything to anybody. Then I would’ve left while you were sleeping, come back and killed him without telling you. So you wouldn’t have had to live with that.”

Stiles frowns. “I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.”

Peter shrugs. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel any certain way. I was telling you the truth.”

“It would’ve been my mistake, though. It still would have been my fault, even if you had been the one to kill him. Even if I hadn’t known.”

Peter sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. “But it wasn’t. You were right. You didn’t make a mistake.”

“But what happens if I do?” Stiles asks. “What happens the day I get it wrong?”

For a long minute, Peter thinks it over. Thinks about what the actual answer is, about what answer Stiles obviously wants to hear, and about an acceptable compromise between the two. “What happens is . . . I’ll kill an innocent man. You’ll feel awful about it, but doing it will keep us safe from the hunters who will kill not only us, but my niece and nephew, if they find out who we are. Then, because you’ll feel awful about it, most likely you’ll turn yourself into the police. I suppose I’ll do the same, if only because I won’t be able to stand the way you’d look at me afterwards. We’ll plead guilty so our fake identities don’t get too much scrutiny, and we’ll go to prison.”

Silence sits between them while Stiles considers this. Then he nods and says, “Okay.”

“So don’t get it wrong,” Peter adds, “because that plan sounds terrible.”

Some of the tension eases out of Stiles, and he gives a snort of laughter. “Yeah, it really does.”

“Done having an existential crisis?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek is a little surprised when Peter answers the door of the small San Diego apartment, given that it’s normally Stiles who does. “Hey,” he says, as Peter stands back to let him in. “Is Stiles out?”

“No, he’s in the bedroom,” Peter says. “I’m glad you’re here, actually. Maybe you can cheer him up. God knows I haven’t been able to.”

Derek frowns. “Did something happen?”

Peter opens his mouth, then shakes his head and says, “Why don’t you ask him? I don’t know that he’d want me to tell you.”

That seems fair to Derek, so he knocks gently on the closed bedroom door and then pokes his head in. Stiles is curled up on the bed, but he sits up when he sees Derek. “Oh . . . hey,” he says, his usual greeting muted. “I forgot you were coming today.”

“It’s fine.” Derek closes the door behind him and sits down on the bed next to him. He leans in for a brief kiss, trying to ignore how much his stomach twists at the sight of Stiles looking small and unhappy, how much he hates seeing Stiles like this. He wouldn’t have expected it to affect him like this, and he’s not sure he likes it. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s stupid,” Stiles says. “How are things back in Beacon Hills?”

“The same as usual.” Derek tells a few quick stories about the betas, about how Erica is so loud when she’s having sex, and Isaac rolls his eyes at everything and wears scarves as fashion accessories even when it’s not cold. Stiles tries to smile a few times, but it never lasts for more than a second. Finally, Derek says, “Do you want me to go?”

“No,” Stiles says immediately, which makes Derek feel better. “I’m sorry. I’m being a killjoy.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says. “I’m just worried. Did something go wrong on your last, you know, thing?”

“Murder?” Stiles snaps, then rubs a hand over his face. “No, nothing went wrong during our last murder. I told you, it’s stupid.”

Derek shrugs. “I’m pretty sure that getting mad at Laura when she called me an anti-social hermit was stupid, but you listened to me bitch about that.”

“You are an anti-social hermit,” Stiles says, mood lightening some as he pokes Derek in the ribs. Derek mock growls at him. Then Stiles sighs. “So we were in Iowa, right? Killed a guy, left the obituary, got out. Quick and clean. Then the next day I was watching the news, and there was this county sheriff talking about us. About how . . . we were no better than the people we killed, how this wasn’t justice, how he was going to make sure we were caught and stopped.

“And it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. Hell, I knew all along that plenty of people would say shit like that. I knew that when I was twelve. But this guy. He just. He looked a little like my dad.” Stiles closes his eyes and chokes back a sob. “It was like my dad was saying it to me. It just, it got to me, I don’t even know why. My dad’s dead. He can’t approve or disapprove of what I’m doing. But I can’t stop thinking about it after watching that interview.”

Derek’s quiet, rubbing slow circles on Stiles’ back. When Stiles doesn’t say anything else, he says, “I think it’s natural to wonder what our parents would think of who we’ve become. And I think that I don’t know whether or not your dad would approve. But I also know that you and Peter have saved a lot of lives. Those hunters had killed enough people to fill your back with initials. They would have killed more. And I think your dad would approve of that, at least.”

Stiles manages a wan smile. “Thanks, Derek.”

Derek reaches out and squeezes his hand. “You know what you need?”

“What?”

“A fucking break. Come on.”

Stiles frowns a little, but allows Derek to tug him to his feet and out of the bedroom. Peter glances up when they come out, and some of the worry clears off his face when he sees Stiles on his feet. “Going out?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Derek says. “I thought we’d hit the beach, maybe go to Belmont Park.”

“Okay. Have fun.”

Peter’s lack of concern seems to loosen Stiles up a little more, and he follows Derek out to the curb. “Have you been here before?” he asks, his natural curiosity kicking back in. “You seem to know the city.”

“One of my uncles lived here when I was a kid,” Derek says. “We used to come down for a couple weeks every summer. He, uh, he had just moved up to Beacon Hills to live with the rest of us, about a year before the fire.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, but they don’t linger on the tragedy. “Okay, where are we going? What’s Belmont Park?”

“It’s a little amusement park. You’ll like it.”

Stiles does like it. They go on the rides and play the arcade games, and then they splash around in the surf despite the fact that neither of them have swim trunks. Derek takes them over to Old Town to have Mexican food for dinner, and then they head into downtown. Derek has no idea which nightclubs would allow a nineteen year old, but Stiles’ fake ID says he’s twenty-one, so it’s not a problem. Neither of them drink, but they spend an hour on the dance floor. Stiles dances like an absolute idiot, because he’s got no idea what he’s doing, but Derek enjoys watching him bounce and groove and flail. When they finally leave, it’s nearly one AM, but they’re both night owls, so they head back to the beach, going to one of the smaller ones at La Jolla. It’s deserted this time of night, and Derek tucks them away in a little alcove where he can give Stiles a blowjob without anybody seeing. Stiles moans and trembles his way through it, hands braced on Derek’s shoulders as his legs go weak. He returns the favor, and then they lie tangled in the sand, listening to the waves.

“Thanks,” Stiles finally says. “I’m still a little . . . I don’t know the word for how I feel. Fucked up, I guess,” he says, and Derek snorts quietly. “But I had a really good time today.”

“Me too,” Derek says, nuzzling his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

Peter is doing his pull-ups when he hears Stiles make a noise from the other room. A second later, Stiles calls out, “Hey, Peter, I think you’d better come see this.”

Peter drops down to the floor and grabs his towel to wipe his face off before going into the kitchen, where Stiles is sitting with his laptop and some coffee. He sees immediately that he’s on the hunter forum, and grimaces in anticipation. Doubtless, they’ve figured out that the forum is compromised and they’re telling people not to use it anymore. It was really only a matter of time.

Then he leans closer to see the post’s heading, and realizes the situation is much worse.

‘Obituary Killer Identified,’ reads the subject line, and Peter doubts that Stiles would be calling him in if they were wrong.

He pulls up a chair and leans over to read the column, written by nous-chassons approximately five hours previous.

‘Hold onto your shit, everyone. I’ve figured it out. It’s Peter Hale.’

That’s the entire post, which has Peter rolling his eyes somewhat. Whoever nous-chassons is, they’re clearly a messy bitch who loves drama.

The first reply, of course, is someone saying ‘what makes you think that’ and a second reply which is, ‘Do you think we didn’t think of PH? Of course we did, but the timing is all wrong. He went off the grid four years before the first hunter was killed.’

Nous-chassons then replies again, and Peter’s stomach drops into his shoes because the reply is, ‘But you didn’t know about the kid he was training.’

“Shit,” Peter mutters.

“Yep,” Stiles replies.

Naturally, five people then chime in with ‘what kid?’ and someone says ‘stop keeping us in suspense, for Christ’s sake, this isn’t a movie and we’re all supposed to be on the same team here.’

Nous-chassons then gets down to business with several links to articles written about Noah Stilinski’s death and Stiles’ subsequent disappearance. Two of them include that Stiles was last seen with Peter Hale, and include him as a person of interest. The hunter sums up with, “Obviously Peter realized this kid was a spark and kidnapped him, then probably Stockholm’d him into helping him out.”

“Now that’s just rude,” Peter says under his breath. Stiles clearly knows what line he just got to, because he lets out a snort of laughter.

There are several more people in the comments agreeing with her and trading theories on Stiles’ motivations. One of them does give him the dignity of wanting revenge for his father’s death without needing to be manipulated. Then the hammer drops when one asks, “Isn’t Laura Hale the alpha in Beacon Hills now?”

That’s the last reply, and it was left only minutes before. Peter pushes back from the table and says, “Do you have Derek’s number in your phone?” When Stiles immediately goes shifty-eyed, he adds, “It’s a simple yes-or-no question, Stiles.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, handing his phone over. He’s gone pink up to the tips of his ears, and when Peter simply looks up Derek’s number to put in his own phone, he adds, “You’re not going to yell at me?”

“I’m not going to yell at you, and similarly I’m going to try to forget that you have him saved in as Booty McFuckmaster,” Peter says, and Stiles goes from pink to red. “Although I suppose it was prudent of you not to save him in with his actual name.”

“Yeah, that’s totally why I did it,” Stiles mumbles, not meeting Peter’s gaze.

Peter hits send and hopes that Derek doesn’t pick up with anything obscene. Fortunately for Peter, he doesn’t. “Hey, what’s up?” His tone is somewhat surprised, and Peter assumes that Stiles rarely calls him, and generally sticks to texting.

“Derek, it’s Peter. Are you at the den?”

“What? Yeah. Is Stiles okay?”

“Yes, he’s fine, but I need to speak to Laura right away.”

There’s a pause, and then Derek says, “Hang on.”

A few moments later, Laura’s voice comes onto the phone, sounding stiff and unfriendly. “What is it, Peter?”

“Hello to you too, niece,” Peter says, unable to help himself. “You should know that the hunters have finally figured out who’s murdering them. Be on guard, because they might come to try to take you captive in order to get to us.”

Laura sounds disgusted. “There’s a reason I’ve told everyone I want nothing to do with you, Peter, and it’s not just because I want nothing to do with you.”

“Charming,” Peter says. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“I have a truce with the local hunters, for your information,” Laura says. “I keep my pack in line, and they don’t step on my toes.”

“Good for you, Laura,” Peter says, unable to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “Talia had a truce with the local hunters, too, but we see how well that worked out for us. Put your brother back on the phone.”

Laura doesn’t say goodbye; she simply hands the phone over. Derek says, “Hey,” again.

“You won’t be able to come see Stiles anymore, I’m sorry to say. At least not until we’ve figured out a way to deal with this. No more texting, either.”

“Okay,” Derek says, then says, “Can I talk to him?”

“Sure.” Peter hands the phone over.

Stiles has heard what Peter said, and he picks up with, “I’m sorry about all this.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says. “I just . . . be careful, okay?”

“Yeah. We will be. Hopefully it’ll be safe soon and I can text you again.”

“Okay.” Derek hesitates, then says, “Bye, then.”

“Bye.” Stiles hangs up, and he’s silent for several long moments. When he turns around, he doesn’t say anything about Derek, instead saying, “We should go, huh? In case they get Derek’s phone and track that call.”

“Yes. Dismantle that phone and we’ll dispose of it along the way. Be ready to go in five minutes.”

By that night, they’re in a new AirBnB under new identities. They’ve destroyed any trace of their old ones and are starting clean. Stiles is quiet as they settle in, but paces back and forth, clearly deep in thought. Peter isn’t quite as worried. The hunters might go for Laura and the others, but they don’t know that Stiles and Peter can see them planning everything on their forum.

With that in mind, he pulls it back up. It’s become a somewhat spirited debate between some of the hunters that Stiles and Peter had long ago filed away as the decent kind – or at least as close as hunters could come – and the others. Nobody seems to agree on what to do next, and someone committed the faux pas of saying that Stiles and Peter had every right to want revenge on the people who killed their families. They got shouted down, but other people came to their defense. Of course, someone pointed out that Kate Argent was dead, and they were instead killing random hunters. Someone brings up some of the more terrible exploits of some of Peter and Stiles’ victims, and it goes downhill from there.

‘We’re hunters,’ Nous-chassons says. ‘Sometimes we have to get our hands dirty. If you don’t like that, GTFO.’

‘I can get my hands dirty without putting my dick in a sixteen-year-old,’ someone retorts. ‘If you ask me, most of these guys got what was coming to them, and I’m not going to be sorry for thinking that.’

‘This argument is irrelevant,’ the-coalition, the forum moderator, comes in to shut things down. ‘The point is that we have to decide what to do now. Peter Hale isn’t the kind of person who’s going to stop. We need to use this information to find him and put him down.’

‘What about the kid?’ another hunter asks. ‘If he was manipulated into this, he’s another victim.’

‘He’s not a kid anymore,’ the-coalition replies. ‘He’s making his own choices.’

‘But maybe we could explain to him that he’s got the wrong idea about us.’

‘After Kate Argent murdered his father? Not likely.’

‘Come on,’ Nous-chassons chimes back in, ‘if that guy was so stupid that he told her to lower her gun instead of tossing it away, then he shouldn’t be surprised she shot him on the way down.’

Peter grimaces a little and makes a mental note that he shouldn’t let Stiles read this conversation, although he doesn’t know exactly how he’ll stop him. Then he frowns and re-reads the reply. Scrolls back up and reads some of the other things nous-chassons has said. “Son of a bitch,” he mutters.

“What?” Stiles asks, looking over from where he’s slouched on the sofa with a book.

Peter looks up from his laptop and speaks very carefully, in an even, measured tone. He’s afraid that if he lets any emotion into his voice, he’ll lose control entirely. “On the forum, they’re discussing our motivations. The same poster who originally revealed our identities mentioned your father telling Kate Argent to lower her gun, rather than making her toss it away.”

Stiles blinks at him. “And?”

“And . . .” Peter lets out a slow breath. “Only three people were there when that happened. Your father, myself, and Kate Argent. I never told anyone the specifics of what happened because it wasn’t relevant. I just told the other police officer that she had shot him.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “Maybe they could tell from the ballistics?”

“To be honest, I doubt ballistics were run. Your father’s cause of death was obvious. They knew who had killed him. They didn’t have to prove it at trial because Kate Argent was, in theory, dead. So a detailed autopsy might not have been performed at all, let alone the sort of ballistics calculations that would let them know what angle he was shot from.”

Now Stiles is frowning. “In theory?”

Peter nods. “In theory.”

“You think . . .” Stiles has to stop and steady his voice. “You think Kate Argent might be alive? Didn’t you see her body?”

“I did, but . . .” Peter grimaces a little. “She had gone through the windshield when she crashed her car, or so they figured. The head and face were very damaged. It could have been a body double and I wouldn’t have known. Gerard Argent has a lot of money and unsavory connections. Faking Kate’s death would have been difficult, but not impossible. And I wasn’t really . . . in the sort of headspace to ask a lot of questions back then.”

Stiles is quiet for a moment before saying, “You think. Kate Argent. Is still alive.”

“I think it’s a possibility,” Peter says, “and I think it’s the most likely explanation for how anyone could have known the exact circumstances under which your father was killed.”

“Okay.” Stiles says, and is unusually still for another moment. “Okay. I’m going to go kick the shit out of a punching bag until I’m capable of dealing with this. I’ll be back in a bit.”

A few minutes later, loud rock music is blasting out of Stiles’ room. Peter continues to sit on the sofa, studying the forum, trying to decide how he feels about this. Kate being alive is unexpected, and Stiles is clearly upset. But Peter realizes that he’s not. That he’s already daydreaming about different ways to kill her, each one slower and more painful than the last. Stiles might have been satisfied bringing justice to the world, but Peter is far more taken with the idea of getting revenge for his family.

After about an hour, Stiles reemerges. He ducks into the shower without saying anything, and when he comes out, he’s calm. “Okay,” he says, “let’s start with Gerard. If he helped Kate fake her death, there’s got to be some trail that was left behind.”

The fire was ten years previous, but they’re used to researching cold cases. It’s only a few years older than many of the others that they’ve looked into. Stiles starts pulling up financial information and phone records and they quickly determine that although Gerard was not in town the day Kate killed the deputies and crashed her car, he was there the day after.

The initial police reports from the discovery of Kate’s car say that she was still alive when they arrived, and she was transported to the hospital, where she died of her wounds. “I never knew that,” Stiles says, frowning at them. “I always assumed she was dead when they got there.”

Peter glances over. “I suppose it didn’t seem relevant at the time. From what I understood, the bullet had gone through the car door as she was driving away, and into her chest through her side, and she died from internal bleeding before they could fix the damage.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip. “But that makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it? I mean, if they found a body at the car, someone would’ve had a very short window to switch it out. But if she died at the hospital . . .”

Peter nods. “They could have saved her life but still forged a death certificate, found a Jane Doe that could be used as a body double, or even killed someone who looked similar.” He frowns thoughtfully. “We’re going to need the financial records of everyone who was working at the hospital that day, particularly in the emergency department.”

“I don’t know, Peter . . .” Now it’s Stiles who’s frowning. “I think people in Beacon Hills would’ve had a hard time helping Kate escape justice after what she died. Not just the fire, but murdering three police officers. I might not remember a lot about Beacon Hills, but that sort of thing is hard to forgive, even with generous cash bribes. And you’re talking about him being able to bribe everyone who would’ve been involved in her surgery. That would be five or six people at least. None of them refused?”

“If you have a better explanation . . .”

Stiles types in silence for several minutes. Then he says, “Huh. Actually, maybe I do. When did you hear about Kate’s death? Was it the same day, or later?”

Peter thinks back. “It must have been the next day, or even the one after that. I was at the police station for quite a long time after your father’s death, being interviewed about exactly what had happened. I heard about them finding her car, and that she had been shot, while I was there, but not that she had died. I went back to the hotel and . . .” He tries to remember. “I was exhausted, but I’d had a lot of trouble sleeping since the fire. I think I took something to help myself sleep, and probably heard about her death the next day. Why?”

“Because her death certificate is dated the day after the day my father died.” Stiles takes a drink of his coffee. “She died of complications to the gunshot wound, but not during surgery. After surgery. Which leaves a much bigger window. And . . .” He turns back to his computer and continues typing. “Okay. I think I’d need to actually see Kate’s medical records to verify this. But this death certificate was signed by a doctor who wasn’t actually employed by the Beacon Hills hospital.”

“How is that possible?” Peter asks, leaning over his shoulder.

“Look, my dad died, two other deputies died, and a whole bunch of them were injured,” Stiles says. “The ER staff must have put in a bunch of overtime. It’s not unthinkable that outside doctors would have been called in. Especially if Gerard had his fingers in things by then. He could have specifically arranged for a team of outsiders to take Kate back in for surgery if she was suffering ‘complications’.” He makes air quotes. “The doctor on Gerard’s payroll pronounces her dead, signs her death certificate, and probably arranged for her to be moved somewhere else for her convalescence.”

Two hours later, Stiles has uncovered enough about the doctor who signed the death certificate to have a basic confirmation of the theory. He was licensed by the state of California, but didn’t have a practice of his own, instead traveling around to different hospitals. Yet despite no evidence of a steady paycheck, he had a lavish lifestyle that included a mansion in Woodside and a Maserati. “Probably works for criminals most of the time,” Stiles says.

Peter nods in agreement. “Do you think we should go pay him a visit?” he asks, his eyes glinting. “Or is this enough for confirmation?”

“In conjunction with the person on the forum with details of what happened that day, I’d say it’s confirmation enough.” Stiles lets out a slow breath. “Okay. So. Kate Argent is alive. But her dad must have kept her under wraps. Nobody on the forum seemed to know.”

“Mm. That is true. She’s probably been living outside the United States.”

“No, but like. Past tense. He kept her under wraps. But now she’s slipped his leash. She probably heard about us, figured it out, and she just couldn’t control herself. Look at her posts on the forum. She’s damn near giddy to know something that the others didn’t know. She fucking baits them. These are the people who are supposed to be her allies.” Stiles rubs a hand over his hair. “I don’t know exactly what I’m trying to get at here, but it feels important to me.”

Peter thinks this over, nodding slowly. “Gerard dumps her in South America or whatever and tells her to keep a low profile. But it’s been ten damned years. She’s bored, itching for action. Finds out what’s happening here, and now she’s stirring up drama. It is important. It means she can be manipulated.”

“We need to start a rumor,” Stiles says. “I’ve still got several active personas on the forum. I could post saying I’d heard that we were going to target somebody, or be somewhere, to draw Kate out.”

“It’s a good start, but they’d want to know how you knew.” Peter shakes his head. “No, there needs to be a rumor that we are somewhere, not that we’re going to be somewhere. And it’d have to be somewhere that we might conceivably stay for a little while, which means it has to be Beacon Hills.”

“Why the fuck would we go back to Beacon Hills now?” Stiles says. “It’s been ten years.”

Peter points to the computer and says, “I give it two days, maximum, before some of those jackasses decide to go hassle Laura and Derek. Once that happens, it’s quite reasonable to assume we might go back to there to protect them. That being said, we also can’t post on the forum. We want to lure in Kate, not every single hunter in a five hundred mile radius.”

Stiles grimaces and says, “Yeah, fair point. But there are local hunters in Beacon Hills. Actually, come to think of it, the guy in charge of them is Kate’s brother. Derek was bitching about it when he was telling me about the truce that Laura had made, that she would be willing to even talk to him.”

“Although I sympathize with Derek on that score, it’s probably fine. Chris Argent is as unlike his sister as is humanly possible. If he said he won’t make a move on Laura and her pack, he meant it. Not that that means anything to other hunters in the area,” Peter adds, “but it works well for us. Chris probably won’t go post on the forum about us being there, but he probably will mention it to his father, and from there it’s sure to get to Kate.”

“You talk like you know him,” Stiles says curiously.

“I do know him. Or I did. He lived in Beacon Hills at the time of the fire, and I met him a few times when other monsters were in the area.” Peter shrugs a little and says, “He’s a hard-headed, holier-than-thou piece of work with a real stick up his ass. But it’s hard to hate him, given the fact that he somehow evolved a sense of morals despite being raised by Gerard. In any case, I doubt that Chris approves of what we’re doing, but I also doubt he’s got much righteous indignation over it. Still, if we turn up, he’ll tell Gerard. He’s got some daddy issues to work out.”

Stiles’ mouth works for several moments before he says, “Wow, I am suddenly super interested in your history with this guy and absolutely plan on interrogating you as we drive, but I guess it can wait for now. If you say it’s going to work, I believe you.”

“Okay,” Peter says, amused. “Let’s roll.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles had never really planned to go back to Beacon Hills. He had figured he would spend his entire life without ever setting foot there again. He’s surprised by his reaction to it, at the way the first familiar sight sends tears stinging at his eyes. Peter glances over at him, but doesn’t say anything about it. 

There were no AirBnBs available in Beacon Hills, and there’s no extended-stay hotel, either, so they’re staying at the Holiday Inn. Peter gets them checked in and says, “All right, when can I expect you to be back?”

Stiles freezes like a deer in headlights. “Uh . . .”

“Again, not a trick question. Merely a request for information.”

“Probably three or four hours. I mean, you know. Derek.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “Yes, go have your fun. Just make sure you talk to Laura before we get old.”

“Roger that.” Stiles salutes and then heads out. He had never asked Derek where in Beacon Hills he lived, but his cell phone bill was sent to a loft apartment downtown. Stiles takes the car and parks a couple blocks away, hoping that he’s home as he jogs up the steps. The big metal door is open, so he knocks on it and then sticks his head inside. “Anybody home?”

A moment later, Derek comes down the spiral staircase at the back of the apartment, looking as gorgeous as ever. “What are you doing here?”

“Are you here by yourself?” Stiles asks.

“Yeah,” Derek says, frowning slightly.

“Then I’m taking all your clothes off,” Stiles says, pouncing on him and going in for a kiss.

Derek huffs out a laugh against his mouth and returns it for several long moments before he pulls away. “Seriously.”

“Seriously, a lot has happened in the past forty-eight hours, and neither of us will be in the mood for sex after I’ve explained it. Long story short, Peter and I decided to set up a trap for some of the hunters coming after us, and Beacon Hills was the place to do it.” Stiles slides his hands underneath Derek’s shirt and strips it off. “So I have to talk to your sister, basically because Peter finked out on doing it himself, but first I need to debauch you. Is there a bed here?”

“Up the stairs,” Derek says, getting his hands underneath Stiles’ thighs and hiking him up against the wall. “Too far away.”

“Yeah, okay, here, here’s fine,” Stiles says, moaning as Derek leans in to bite at the side of his neck.

Ten minutes later, they’re sprawled out on the sofa, momentarily sated. Stiles yawns and snuggles closer, then sighs. “Okay. So. Ready for some news?”

Derek frowns and says, “I hate the fact that you asked me that instead of just telling me.”

“I know.” Stiles sits up. There’s no way to cushion the blow, so he just says it. “We’re pretty sure Kate Argent is still alive.”

He had known that Derek would be unhappy, but he’s surprised at how he gets instantly pale and his eyes go wide. He looks away, pressing one hand over his mouth as if he feels sick, and finally asks, “How?”

“Looks like her father helped her fake her own death. After she got to the hospital and was stabilized, he brought in some outside doctor to say she was having ‘complications’, bring her back in for more surgery, and say she died on the operating table. Blah, blah, body double, blah, probably been down in South America, blah.” Stiles rubs a hand over his hair and says, “Honestly, I was upset at first but now it feels almost . . . right. Like all these years, without knowing she was still out there, I was getting ready to face her. God knows that Peter’s already come up with about four hundred ways to torture her to death.” He sees the way Derek is still pale and unmoving, and leans over him, rubbing a hand down his back. “Hey, you okay?”

“No,” Derek grits out.

“That’s fair.” Stiles just continues stroking his back for a minute. “So the plan was, we’d come back here and let Chris Argent see us a few times, because he’ll definitely tell his dad, and once Kate hears about it, she’ll show up to kill us. But Peter wants to let Laura know we’re here because, you know, alpha garbage.”

“Okay.” Derek stands up and pulls his underwear back on without another word. Stiles watches him as he gets dressed, his movements abrupt and angry. After a moment, he stands up and starts to dress, too. “Let’s go.”

“Are you pissed?” Stiles asks, as he follows Derek down to the car. “You seem pissed.”

“I am, but . . . not at you. It’s not your fault. I just. I don’t want Kate Argent to be alive, and I definitely don’t want her anywhere near me, and I just . . .” Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. “And I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, because arguing definitely isn’t going to get him anywhere. He lets Derek drive, because he loves Derek’s Camaro. They leave town and venture out onto one of the roads of the preserve. “Damn,” Stiles says, when he sees the house. “That place is enormous!”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees. “She had an addition put on.”

“Nice,” Stiles says. He follows Derek out of the car and up the porch’s front steps. Once inside, Laura immediately emerges from a side room, having heard them coming.

“Hey, Der. New prospect?” she asks.

“Not exactly,” Derek says, his tone a little stilted and formal. “This is Stiles. Remember Stiles, the deputy’s son that Peter adopted? Stiles, Laura. Laura, Stiles.”

“Nice to meet you,” Stiles says, because what the hell. A little politeness never hurts.

Laura is frowning, and she doesn’t return the pleasantry. “What are you doing here? Is Peter here?”

“He’s in town, but he’s not here,” Stiles says. “We’re here because it looks like Kate Argent is still alive.”

Stiles might not like Laura, but she has the same kicked-in-the-gut look at Derek does, if less severe. So he gives her a minute to wrestle with that before explaining the rest of their plan and asking about if any hunters had been hassling them in the past couple days.

“Yeah,” Laura says. “A couple of guys tried to rough up Boyd and Erica. They got away pretty easily, but more will come. Of fucking course Peter wants to use the problem my pack is having for his own benefit. The problem he created for me.”

“Yeah, that’s Peter in a nutshell,” Stiles says cheerfully.

Laura scowls at him. “You aren’t going to defend him?”

Stiles shrugs. “Laura, I don’t give a shit what you think of Peter. He doesn’t give a shit, either. You think he’s an opportunistic, self-centered, arrogant piece of shit. Which he really kind of is, in a lot of ways. Of course, he has positive qualities, too, and personally I feel like those outweigh his negative ones, but I’m never going to convince you of that and that’s not why I’m here.”

“Why did Peter even bother to send you tell me about his plan?” Laura asks. “You could have just gotten the details from Derek.”

“Yeah, we could have,” Stiles says, “but the odds that you would have noticed something was going on were pretty high, and we didn’t want Derek caught in the middle like that.”

Derek gives him a sideways glance, and a tiny smile touches his face. Laura looks between the two of them and then rolls her eyes. “Fine. Whatever. You two do whatever you’re going to do. But if Kate touches a single hair on any of my betas’ heads, I’m holding Peter personally responsible.”

“I’ll pass along the message,” Stiles says, and heads for the door. Once they’re outside and settled in the Camaro, he adds, “Wow, she is such a bitch.”

“Yeah,” Derek agrees with a shrug, and then shakes his head. “Come on. I’ll take you back to the loft. Just try not to involve us in this, okay? Laura’s a bitch, but she’s not wrong in that you’re putting our pack at risk so you can get revenge.”

Stiles is quiet for a minute. “You don’t want revenge, too?”

“No,” Derek says. “I don’t. I want all of this to be five hundred miles away from me. I’m not – I’m not like you and Peter. I don’t want to face the woman who killed my family. I should care about what happens to her but I don’t. I just want this to be over.”

After a moment, Stiles reaches out and squeezes his wrist. “Don’t worry, Derek. Peter and I will take care of this. I promise.”

Derek sighs. “Thanks.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

The Chinese food isn’t ready when Stiles gets to the restaurant, and he grumbles a little that Peter had made him go pick it up instead of just having it delivered. Peter reminded him that they open their doors to no one, so now he’s standing there, drumming on the counter with some cheap wooden chopsticks. He feels nervous and exposed, out and about in Beacon Hills with no Peter at his back, even though he himself had reassured Peter that nobody would recognize him. “Seriously, have you seen the computer-generated version of twenty year old me?” Stiles asked. “It could not look less like me.”

So there’s absolutely no reason for him to be nervous, but there’s this dark-haired guy at a booth in the back who’s watching him. He’s covert about it, not staring, but every once in a while he glances up at Stiles and his brow furrows. Stiles just wants to get the food and get out. It’s a relief when the order comes out. He pays cash, as always, and sticks a five in the tip jar before heading out.

The guy in the booth follows him, and Stiles transfers the bag to his left hand so he can use his shield spell if he has to. The door had just swung shut behind them when the man says, “Stiles?”

It’s the use of the nickname that flummoxes him. Being recognized was one thing, but he had expected the butchering of Mieczyslaw, not that. So he fumbles the bag and nearly drops it before he recovers and keeps walking.

“Stiles!” the man shouts. “Stop, you asshole, I know it’s you!”

Stiles reluctantly turns to face him, trying not to squint as he struggles to figure out who the hell just called him out. “Look, dude, I don’t – ”

“Don’t even start with me,” the man says. “You used to drum your chopsticks like that every time we had Chinese. It drove my dad nuts.”

“Your . . .” Stiles blinks at him, thinking about how much Peter is going to tease him for getting recognized by his chopstick drumming, for Christ’s sake. “Okay, sure, whatever you say. I – ”

“You don’t recognize me,” he finally realizes. “Dude. It’s Scott.”

Stiles blinks again, and then his eyes widen and he blurts out, “What the actual fuck, dude!” Gone is the skinny, moppy-haired, baby-faced boy he had chased fireflies with as a child. Twenty-year-old Scott probably wouldn’t look anything like his age progression photo, either. He’s as tall as Stiles, tanned and with short hair, and surprisingly considerable upper body muscle. He glances around as he realizes he just gave himself away, and he says, “Uh, we should get off the street if we’re going to talk.”

“Sure,” Scott says, and gestures to the car.

Stiles hesitates, rubbing his hand over the back of his hair. “Yeah, I can’t really take you back to my hotel. I mean. Kind of a lot has happened . . .”

“No shit, Sherlock,” Scott says. “But okay, fine. Deaton’s office is right down the street. Come with me.”

“Okay.” Stiles follows him down the road, and gets out his phone to text Peter. His fingers tap nervously at the screen as he tries to figure out how to explain this. Finally, he sends, ‘Will be an extra few minutes. Restaurant fucked up the order.’ Peter will probably be annoyed at the lie, but he’s not going to explain this over text.

Scott lets them in through a back door, and Stiles is relieved to see that the place is empty except for a few dogs in kennels. Scott locks it after him, then turns back to him and says, “What are you doing here?”

“Uh . . .” Stiles realizes he is utterly unprepared to have this conversation. “That’s kind of hard to explain.”

Scott pinches the bridge of his nose. “You better not be here to kill Chris.”

“I’m – what?” Stiles blurts out again.

“Do you think I don’t know who you are?” Scott shoots back. “Do you think you’re the only one who grew up after what happened? I know about werewolves, okay? I know about hunters. And I’ve known for years that it had to be you and Peter killing them. But you can’t kill Chris. He’s a good guy.”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says. “If you’ve really kept up on what we’ve been doing, you should know we’re not here to kill Chris. Wow. I have no idea what’s happening right now. Can we go back to the part where you tell me how you found out about werewolves?”

Scott sighs. “Allison Argent is my girlfriend. She moved here when I was sixteen. I was going through a lot back then – my dad left when I was twelve, which you would know if you had been here – and my mom was working way too much. So I spent a lot of time at the Argent house, and Chris started training me.”

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles mutters. He’s wandered into some nightmare territory. It seems impossible that his childhood best friend is a hunter.

“I heard about the serial killer and did the math. It wasn’t hard. I mean, you literally, actually told my mom that you were going to go ‘find people’ like the ones who killed your dad. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was why it took you so long to get started.”

“Uh, ‘cause I was ten?” Stiles says. “I had a lot to learn.”

“I guess,” Scott says.

They stand in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes.

“Seriously, why are you here?” Scott asks.

Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it and shakes his head. “No offense, Scotty, but I’m not telling you. I barely know you anymore. You’re a hunter, you work with Chris Argent – all I’ll say is that we’re not here for any of the local hunting contingent. I know Chris keeps his guys in line and takes care of any problems himself. We’re here for other reasons.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Scott mutters. “Being a hunter isn’t a bad thing, you know.”

“Uh, no, I don’t know,” Stiles says. “I don’t know that at all. I mean, okay, some hunters seem to stay on the straight and narrow, sure, but a pretty fair portion of them do horrible things. So I’m going to go ahead and not associate with them.”

“You can’t hold us responsible for what other hunters do,” Scott protests.

Now Stiles is pissed. “You know what, Scott, I damned well can and I damned well will. All of you are fucking complicit. There are hunters out there who commit atrocities and the rest of you just brush it off and say ‘oh, we’re not all like that’. You don’t even get on a soapbox and say, ‘hey, maybe don’t rape and murder children!’ You’re so busy worried that supernaturals are going to paint you all with the same brush that you can’t even be bothered to condemn the ones in your own ranks doing this shit!”

Scott flushes a dark red. “I’m not denying there are some bad apples, okay?”

“Oh my God,” Stiles shouts. “Do you fucking hear yourself? That argument doesn’t impress me when it’s regarding police brutality and it sure as hell doesn’t impress me now. It’s like everyone forgets that there’s a second half to that phrase! And it’s not ‘a few bad apples give the rest of the orchard an undeserved ill reputation’, it’s ‘a few bad apples spoil the barrel’. Take your apples and shove them up your ass!”

“What do you want us to do?” Scott asks. “Just let you murder people?”

“No! Do you think I wanted this? Do you think ten-year-old me sat at home thinking ‘gosh, I sure do hope I can be a vigilante someday’! I want you guys to take care of people like Kate before they burn down a house full of innocent people!”

“Trust me, I know damned well that you didn’t want this,” Scott says bitterly. “But then Peter fucking Hale happened. And you’re still going to stand there and say that we’re the bad guys.”

“Damned right I am,” Stiles says. “Especially compared to Peter.”

“Right,” Scott replies. “The guy who kidnaps and brainwashes a ten-year-old, he’s a real stand-up guy.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Stiles says. “Don’t tell me you’ve bought into that bullshit going around on the forum that I have Stockholm Syndrome. I knew damned well what I was doing. Hell, the whole thing was my idea. What do you think would have happened to me if I’d been left here? I would have been a fountain of misplaced rage – ”

“No, you would have gotten help!” Scott shouts. “You would have seen a therapist – ”

“Who would have made it okay that my father was murdered in cold blood?”

“Of course it wouldn’t have been okay! But you would have learned to deal with it. Jesus, Stiles, you talk about this like you’re the only child whose parent has ever been murdered in the history of time. Other kids learn to handle it without becoming serial killers! Sure, you would have entertained thoughts of revenge. Of being a vigilante and bringing justice to the world. But without Peter, they just would have been thoughts!”

“It’s not Peter’s fault that the world needed some damned justice,” Stiles retorts.

“No, but it is Peter’s fault that you could have been okay and you’re not,” Scott says, impatiently wiping tears off his cheeks. “You’re not okay and you’re not going to be okay and I hate him for that.”

Stiles wants to ask Scott who the hell he thinks he is to decide if Stiles is okay, but he stops before he does, because he knows Scott is right. “I might not be okay, but that’s not his fault. You can keep the blame on Kate’s doorstep. She’s the one who killed my father.”

“I’m not going to stand here and defend Kate Argent,” Scott says. “She was a killer. She was wrong. But her being wrong doesn’t make what Peter did right.”

“Oh my God,” Stiles says again, although this time it’s just an angry mutter. He takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. “Look . . . whatever. I’m not here to justify myself to you or anyone else. I didn’t even figure anyone would recognize me. We can’t change anything that happened, so why don’t we just . . . go our separate ways and forget we ever saw each other.”

“Are you fucking serious?” Scott asks. “Do you actually think we could do that?”

“I could,” Stiles says, looking away. “I gave up on all of this back then.”

“Yeah, well,” Scott says, his voice rough, “I didn’t. I didn’t get a choice.”

Stiles stops, taken aback at the emotion in Scott’s voice. He rubs a hand over the back of his head, feeling suddenly uncertain. “Uh. Yeah, okay. I’m sorry about that, for what it’s worth. Which probably isn’t much. It’s just that losing my dad really fucked me up. Which you know. Obviously. Because it’s the basis for your theory that Peter manipulated me. Ohhhhhh-kay. I’m going to stop talking now.”

Scott gives a snort. “Just tell me one thing. Are you . . . staying? Here in Beacon Hills?”

“No,” Stiles says, and sees Scott’s expression tighten. “I’m sorry, okay? I can’t just stay here. Not after what happened. I mean, I can’t stay anywhere. The hunters know who I am now, and they’ll always be looking for me. Nothing can change that now.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.” Scott shoves his hands into his pockets, shoulders hunching. “Then . . . I’ll see you when I see you, I guess.”

Stiles nods, his throat suddenly tight and aching. “I’ll see you when I see you,” he echoes, and turns and heads out the door. He jogs back to the car and then drives back to the hotel, trying not to think too hard about what had just happened.

Peter, unsurprisingly, is concerned. “Something you want to tell me?”

“I ran into my old friend Scott,” Stiles says, setting the food down. “He recognized me, so, that sucked about a hundred times over. He’s part of the local hunting element, and he thinks you kidnapped and brainwashed me. It was a real fun talk.”

“I can imagine.” Peter is looking at Stiles closely. “Are you okay?”

“Honestly? No. I feel like I got kicked in the stomach repeatedly.”

Peter nods as if this makes sense to him. “Are we okay?”

“Yeah, I mean, I guess it’s always possible he might track us back to our hotel and give that info out and stuff, but he said he knew the Obituary Killer was me for years and never said anything because he knew what the hunters would do, so I don’t think he will.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Peter says. “I meant, are you okay with me?”

Stiles glances over at him, and tries for a smile which he only partly manages. “You didn’t brainwash me, Peter. You didn’t force me into anything. I asked you to take me to the police station and let me go home, and you did it. Would I have had a better life if you had left me here? Sure, maybe. It would’ve been an easier life, that’s sure as hell true. But . . . Howard Bell had killed seventeen people, eight of them kids. Greg McManus killed twenty-six. Neither of them were going to stop. None of them were going to stop. There are people who are alive today because of what we’ve done, and that balances it out, in my opinion.” He shrugs a little and says, “Did you do the right thing? Probably not, if we’re going to dive deep into the ethical dilemma. But you didn’t do it to benefit yourself. You were grieving, too. So . . . yeah, we’re okay, Peter.”

Peter studies him for a long moment, then nods, reaching out to run his hand over the back of Stiles’ hair and his neck, then pull him in for a hug. “Okay.”

Stiles hugs him back. “Come on, let’s eat. Food’s already gotten cold enough.”

“And whose fault is that?” Peter says, and Stiles laughs.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is over at Derek’s when there’s a knock on the hotel room door. Peter goes over and looks through the peephole, and somehow isn’t surprised to see that it’s Chris Argent standing there. Despite their general ‘we open our doors for no one’ policy, he knows that Chris won’t be going away any time soon. So he cracks the door open, leaving the chain on. “Thirty-six hours? You’re really slipping.”

Chris scowls at him reflexively and says, “Open the damned door so we can talk.”

“Hm, no, I don’t think so. What do you want?”

“I want to have a God damned conversation with you without having to call in backup, or tell the police that a serial killer is staying in room 410 at the Holiday Inn so they’ll open the door for me.”

Peter sighs and closes the door so he can slide off the chain before standing back to let Chris inside. “Ten years and you still have no sense of humor.”

Chris doesn’t dignify that with a reply. “What are you doing here, Peter?”

“Protecting my niece and nephew, obviously. What are you doing here?”

“I’m trying to find a way to prevent a God damned war.” Chris paces around the small hotel room, rubbing his hands over his hair. “You have no idea what sort of can of worms you opened – or maybe you do. Not just internal conflict between the hunters, but you’re involving the God damned mundanes. The police have figured out that your victims are connected. That there’s an entire network of murderers operating in this country. So then they started investigating your victims’ victims, and realizing that a lot of them were connected. That one group of people is targeting another group. They haven’t figured out how or why yet, but they’ll get there.”

“So?” Peter goes over to the little refrigerator in the hotel room and pulls out a can of Dr. Pepper, cracking it open. “That’s my problem how?”

“It’s going to be everyone’s problem if werewolves make the six o’clock news.”

Peter shakes his head. “It was always inevitable and we both know it. As society modernizes, it was only a matter of time before someone caught something supernatural on their camera phone and posted it to YouTube. There are already hundreds of videos like that out there. People make up ways to debunk them and ramble about CGI. But the weight of the evidence is going to start to add up.”

“People are really good at not seeing what they don’t want to see,” Chris says.

“Sure,” Peter says, marveling at the way they’ve fallen back into the same old easy conversation, despite the decade that has passed. “But there’s also a lot of people who want to believe.”

Chris sighs. “You do know that your group is the one that’s going to come off a lot worse in that reveal, don’t you? People are terrified of things that are different from them. You’ll be rounded up and put in internment camps. Hunters will be the heroes.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter. “Oh, sure. You’re clearly unaware of our many, many fans online. There’s an entire website dedicated to people talking about how their loved ones were murdered and pleading for us to intervene.”

“That’s not the point.” Chris pinches the bridge of his nose. “You’re being obtuse and you know it.”

“I know that we – supernaturals in general, not me and Stiles in specific – have the moral high ground. That we’re the ones who are able to say ‘if we’re so threatening, so frightening, why didn’t you know about us decades or centuries earlier?’ I know that you and your kind are the ones who murder children.”

Chris’ face goes tight and he lets out a slow breath. “Look. About what Kate did. It’s not – it’s not that I’m okay with that. I wouldn’t have said you were wrong if you had hunted her down and killed her – hell, you basically did. But you’re starting a war you can’t win.”

“If I’m starting a war, which frankly I still think I’m not, then you’d better start thinking about whose damned side you’re on. Mine or Kate’s.” Peter takes a drink of his soda and says casually, “Did you know she’s still alive?”

It’s clear that Chris didn’t. His eyes go wide and he stares at Peter in shock. “What?”

“Your sister. Alive. Your father brought in an outside doctor to say she’d had post-surgery complications and sign off on her death certificate. He identified her body so there was no need for fingerprints or DNA. I still wonder about whose body that was. Do you think they found a Jane Doe who could pass? Or do you think your father went out and murdered an innocent woman because she had the misfortune to look like Kate?” He sees Chris’ sick expression and twists the knife. “Oh, wait. I don’t wonder. I know.” He takes out a folder and throws it at Chris. “Denise LaMonde. Five eight, one-forty, blonde hair. Went missing from Williams, California, the day before Kate was pronounced dead. Vanished without a trace, leaving behind a husband and two kids. Car was never found, but I bet they’d find it if they dredged Clear Lake. So why don’t you take your God damned concern about the war I’m starting and choke on it.”

Chris turns away, one hand rubbing over his face. Peter almost feels bad for him, but then again, Chris has had the evidence for years. The fact that he’s never believed his family would be capable of such a thing is on his own head. Finally, he says, “Is that why you’re here? Because of Kate?”

Peter shrugs. “What if I am?”

“You know that my father will show up too, right?”

“Fine by me. Saves me the trouble of having to look for him.”

Chris lets out a slow breath. “Peter . . . you’re in over your head. You can’t go up against my father and win. You know that.”

“I used to know that. But a lot’s changed in the past ten years. You might have noticed.”

“Yeah, since you ask, I did notice the fact that you abducted a child and trained him to be a vigilante. Speaking of that moral high ground you were so sure you were standing on.”

“You’ll note that when I said we were standing there, I said specifically that I was referring to ‘supernatural creatures in general’, not myself and Stiles. I’m well aware that my morals are ambiguous at best. Though frankly I do take offense at everybody’s idea that I brainwashed him. He didn’t need my help to hate hunters after Kate murdered his father.”

“He still could have had a normal life,” Chris says.

“This from the man who has an entire contingent of hunters in northern California but never bothered to do anything about Sam Stearns, the Sacramento hunter who was so careless with his wolfsbane that he poisoned two humans along with their werewolf friends? Cry me a fucking river, Chris. You don’t give a shit about Stiles, so don’t you dare talk to me about what would have been best for him.”

Chris has to close his eyes for a few moments while he wrestles with his emotions. “Fine. You do what you’re going to do. But don’t expect any help from me.”

“You say that like I ever have,” Peter shot back. “I neither need nor want your help, Chris. Just don’t get in my way.”

Chris’ jaw tightens. But then he nods and walks away. Peter slams the door after him.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles listens to the story of what had happened with Chris and then says, “So like . . . what’s up with that? You two have a history, clearly.”

Amused, Peter says, “That’s your takeaway from this discussion?”

“Well, yeah. None of the rest of it surprises me, but that, I absolutely want to hear more about.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “It’s nowhere near as exciting as you clearly think it is. Yes, we both grew up in Beacon Hills. We were forbidden to associate with each other, so naturally we were curious about each other. I met Chris rather by accident when he got a supernatural injury that needed to be treated by the local Druids. His father had a tendency to send him into dangerous situations without much information and roll the dice on whether or not he’d be strong enough to survive.”

“Sounds like what we know of the guy.”

Peter nods. “After we had a truce with the local hunters, we met more frequently. He became something of a project of me and Talia’s, as we tried to convince him to come over to our side. But he’s stubborn and hard-headed and deliberately ignorant in many ways. I got frustrated with him quickly and usually gave up before Talia did. I still find him incredibly frustrating. He’s smart enough to know all the ways he’s wrong, but continues to turn a blind eye to far too many things.”

“Okay.” Stiles considers this, then says, “So what’s our next move?”

“Nothing. The ball is in Kate’s court. We have to wait and see what she does when she gets here.”

“Chris knows where we are. Do you think that he’ll tell her?”

“No, but it won’t take her long to figure out. On the upside, I doubt she’d make a move on us here. No, she’ll go for Derek and Laura, almost certainly. I wish Laura wasn’t being so recalcitrant about this whole thing.”

Stiles shrugs. “I mean . . . Derek isn’t thrilled about this either, you know. He’ll forgive the whole ‘we put them at risk with our killing spree’ thing because he thinks we’re doing good work, but he hates the fact that we’re luring Kate here and putting their pack in danger to get to her. I don’t even think that he’s wrong.”

“I suppose not. But they’re making the mistake of thinking Kate wouldn’t come after them eventually anyway.”

“True.” Stiles rubs a hand through his hair. “I don’t know. I guess I can’t blame them for not being entirely rational about it. They’re scared, you know? They haven’t spent the last ten years training like we have.”

Peter sighs. “I suppose that’s fair.”

“So how do we protect Laura’s pack when she doesn’t want us anywhere near it?” Stiles asks. “Can we watch Chris’ house and then follow her?”

“I don’t know if she’ll stop in and see Chris. She has to know that he won’t approve of what she did. But we’ll know if she does, because I cloned his phone when he was here the other day. The other possibility is Chris’ daughter, Allison. I remember him mentioning more than once that she and Kate were close. And if Kate finds out that Allison is dating your childhood best friend, she’ll know it might give her a path to you. The third option is Gerard. He’s clearly still in touch with his daughter. If we can get to him, we can get to her.”

“I won’t say better men have tried,” Stiles says, “but I will say other men have tried.”

“Yes, but they weren’t us,” Peter says, smirking. “Remember how we were thinking it wasn’t worth paying that doctor a visit? Let’s revisit that. Hunting is a dangerous business. Gerard has almost certainly used him more than once, which means there will be a money trail. And I bet the doctor will be a lot more open to persuasion than some of the hunters we’ve met.”

Stiles nods slowly. “How far is it to Woodside?”

“Three, three and a half hours maybe. Easy enough to get there and back in a day.”

“Okay, then.” Stiles cracks his knuckles. “Let’s go.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Since the hunters know who they are now, Peter begrudgingly admits that they won’t have to kill the doctor after he sees their faces. That makes the persuasion a lot easier. Stiles goes in by himself and gets all the information they need. An hour later, he’s knee-deep in Gerard Argent’s financial records.

“Okay, got it,” he says, face practically glued to his laptop. “A few weeks after the fire, Gerard purchased a beach house in Panama. Oh, and he pays her cell phone bill, too. How touching. Now I have her cell phone! Aww, she doesn’t have her GPS turned on. Sure it’s just an oversight on her part. Let me just turn that on . . .”

Peter smiles at him fondly. “I do enjoy watching you work.”

“She is in . . . San Jose. Bet she’s flying out. Let’s see if Gerard bought her plane tickets, too . . .”

He hadn’t. Peter theorizes that he might not know she’s coming, that he probably had told her to stay where she was. Stiles nods and continues to force the internet to cough up confidential information. “I wish I could get the flight manifests . . .”

“What about security cameras?”

“The airport uses a closed system. I’d have to physically hack into it.” Stiles chews on his lower lip for a few moments, thinking. “But she’ll have to drive from Sacramento to Beacon Hills, so she’ll have to rent a car. Or steal one, I guess.”

Peter thinks about it. “I doubt she’ll steal one. It’d be in her best interest to maintain a low profile. A stolen car is the opposite of that. So she’ll rent one. Which means that we might be able to catch sight of her at the car rental station.”

“Let me pull up a map of the Sacramento airport,” Stiles says, typing. “Okay, yes. All the rental agencies are in the same place, so we wouldn’t need to worry about which one she uses. Let’s track her GPS and wait for her to get close, then stake out the airport and see if we can get close enough to clone her phone and get her car information.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Peter agrees.

Five hours later, Kate’s plane is in the air. Twelve hours after that, Stiles and Peter are on their way to Sacramento. Peter is driving, and Stiles is idly playing on his phone, when he says, “Hang on. We’re gonna have a problem.”

“Which is?” Peter asks.

“I think she flew in to San Francisco instead of Sacramento,” he says. “That’s where her GPS is showing now, and it hasn’t moved in ten minutes.”

Peter grimaces. “Think we can still catch her?”

“Not without getting pulled over,” Stiles says, and shakes his head. “Shit. She probably figured we’d try something like intercepting her at the airport and decided she’d rather drive the distance.”

“Well, it can’t always be easy,” Peter says. “What are the odds you can get into the rental car records?”

Stiles shrugs. “It can’t hurt to try, but we’d have to go through each registration individually. At a huge airport like San Francisco, there will be hundreds each day, if not thousands.”

“True,” Peter says, “although we can narrow it down some since we know what time she landed. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it’s the best idea I have at the moment. Either way, let’s head back to Beacon Hills. We need to make sure Laura and her pack are safe.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter refuses to go into the Hale pack’s den, saying he’ll patrol and keep watch on the perimeter. Stiles rolls his eyes so hard that he practically sprains a cornea, then calls Derek. “Hey, you got dinner plans tonight?”

“Not really,” Derek says, a little wary. “Why?”

“I’m heading over to the den. Figured I might buy some good will from the betas if I brought some food and cooked. You know I make a killer chicken parm, right? But I also didn’t want to step on any toes if there were like, assigned chores and shit.”

Derek gives a little snort. “No. I mean, Boyd is the one who usually cooks, or we order take-out or whatever. And trust me, he won’t mind letting someone else handle it for a night.”

“Cool. I’ll hit up the grocery and meet you there in about an hour. Oh, hey, how many people?”

“Eight plus you. No, wait, Jordan’s working swing shift today. Just seven.”

“Okay, I’ll see you soon.”

When Stiles arrives at the Hale house, Laura is standing on the front porch. Her jaw is clenched and tight, but she gives him a civil nod and says, “Derek said you’d be coming. He’s not here yet, but come on in.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, glad that Laura’s not going to make a big deal out of it.

The betas are all gathered in the living room watching TV, and Laura introduces him. Jackson keeps giving him surreptitious stares like he can’t believe the nerd he used to bully grew up to be a tattooed badass, and Erica says, “Damn, no wonder Derek has been in a better mood for the last six months!”

Stiles smirks at her and says, “Glad to be of service.”

Boyd rolls his eyes and changes the subject, saying, “Thanks for cooking.”

“No problem. Just point me to the kitchen.”

Pounding the chicken breasts flat is therapeutic, and by the time Derek arrives, they’re sizzling away. He finishes cooking while Derek spends some time with the betas, and then they sit down to dinner. “So where’s Peter?” Laura asks.

“On perimeter,” Stiles says. “I mean, we have Kate’s phone’s GPS on lock, so in theory we’ll know if she comes to play, but there’s always a chance she’ll leave her phone behind to try to trick us. So it’s better to have someone out patrolling.”

“Better him than me,” Isaac says, glancing outside, where a steady rain has started.

The conversation shifts to every day Beacon Hills business, and Stiles lets it go on without him. He’s the intruder here, and the less of a problem he causes, the better. Derek is quiet and moody, and doesn’t contribute much either. Stiles hopes that this will be over quickly. Kate seems like the type of person who will charge in heedless of the consequences. If she shows up tonight, he and Peter can kill her and be gone by sunrise.

After dinner, the betas clean up and Laura thanks Stiles for cooking in a stiff but not totally unfriendly tone. They sit down and watch a movie, after which Derek and Stiles head upstairs. Derek doesn’t live at the den full-time, but he has a room there for when he stays the night. It’s got books stacked on every flat surface but other than that is pretty barren.

Stiles kisses him a few times, but Derek clearly isn’t in the mood and Stiles can hardly blame him for that, so he backs off. Instead he picks up one of the books, a battered old copy of Anna Karenina. “Hey, can I ask you a stupid question?”

Derek shrugs one shoulder and says, “Sure.”

“What did you want to be when you grew up?”

Derek glances over at him, clearly surprised by this question, then looks away. “I kind of had this idea of being a professional basketball player. I knew it wouldn’t fly, though, because I’d give myself away.”

Stiles laughs a little and says, “Wow. I don’t think that’s what I was expecting. I mean, I know you’re a total nerd.”

“Yeah, I guess. Things changed a lot after the fire. Reading was a way for me to escape, so yeah, I read a lot. In New York City, I worked at a library for a while. I actually enjoyed that. I love old stuff, though, history and archaeology and that sort of thing.” Derek sits down on the edge of his bed. “What about you? You always wanted to be a cop, right?”

“Yeah.” Stiles sits down next to him. “And damn, I would’ve been great at it, too. Although I have to admit, investigating is a lot easier when you can break the law with impunity. Just hack into people’s bank accounts and phones and shit. Not that I want the police to be able to do that because it would be a gross invasion of privacy, but . . .”

“But it’s okay when you do it?” Derek asks, his lips twitching.

Stiles laughs. “Yep. One hundred percent.”

Derek reaches out and gives him a playful shove. Stiles lets him, then leans back towards him, pressing his shoulder into Derek’s. They sit in silence for a minute.

Finally, Derek says, “What happens after you guys deal with Kate?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles admits. He hunches his shoulders a little. “It was getting a lot trickier anyway, now that they knew we were coming. We had a couple really close calls. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do this forever, but . . .” He goes quiet before finally saying, “I was okay with that for a long time, with the idea that we’d get caught and killed. But I got less okay with it as I got older, when I didn’t need to train twenty-four hours a day and found things I actually enjoy. Or maybe just as I got further away from my dad’s death, put some of the grief behind me.”

“Do you want to stop?” Derek asks.

“I don’t want to. I still . . . I can’t say I like what I do, but I think it needs to be done and nothing that’s happened so far has changed my mind about that. But I think maybe we have to, now that they know who we are. I don’t think I’m willing to risk my life the way I used to be okay with. And I’m sure as hell not willing to risk yours.”

Derek reaches out and twines his fingers through Stiles’. “Thanks for that.”

“You’re welcome.” Stiles manages a little smile. “You know what I could do, though? Keep breaking the law to figure out who killed the innocent people, then point the cops their way. Evidence obtained through illegal means is admissible if it’s submitted anonymously. So I could still make sure the hunters toed the line. It wouldn’t be the same, but . . . at least it would be something.”

 Derek nods. “It would be.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek has a love-hate relationship with how well he sleeps when he’s with Stiles. He loves it, sleeping with Stiles tucked into the curve of his body (“little spoon all the way,” Stiles said when asked about this), feeling safe and warm and protected. But he also hates it because of what it means about their relationship, about how he’s developing feelings for Stiles that can only lead to disaster. They’d agreed they wouldn’t have that sort of relationship. He can’t just change that now.

He’s woken from this sound sleep by the ringing of his cell phone. Stiles startles awake – he’s a light sleeper for obvious reasons – and fumbles for it before realizing that it’s Derek’s, not his. He hands it over without answering it, and Derek frowns at the screen, which just says ‘unknown number’ and picks up cautiously. “Hello?”

“Der-bear!” It’s Kate’s vivacious tone, and he’s suddenly fifteen years old again, a time when hearing that voice was his favorite thing in the world. “Long time no see!”

“Jesus,” Derek swears, unable to come up with anything else to say.

“Nah, he came back in three days,” Kate says, without missing a beat. “I was laid up for three weeks, if you’ll believe that. Worst three weeks of my life. So hey, babe, I need you to do something for me.”

Derek manages to swallow around the lump in his throat. “Why would I do anything for you?”

“Are you kidding?” Kate laughs. “They still don’t know, do they? Laura and Peter. Do you want me to tell them? That you’re the one who got everyone killed? Come meet me for a coffee. The Red Light Diner is still open twenty-four hours, right? Great. I’ll see you there in half an hour.”

She hangs up, and Derek is left sitting in bed, holding the phone, his guts twisting themselves into knots. Stiles is blinking at him, having caught just enough of the conversation to know damned well who he was talking to, but not why. And Derek just sits there, unable to explain. Finally, he manages, “She wants me to meet her for coffee.”

“Okay, uh . . . what?” Stiles asks, blinking at him. “Why? What? I am made of questions right now.”

“I can’t . . .” Derek wants to curl up underneath the bed and pray for the world to end before he has to explain this to Stiles. “Kate was . . .”

“Oh. Holy. Shit.” Stiles’ eyes go wide. “Holy fucking shit, no. Okay.” He abruptly lurches out of bed and starts pacing around the room. “You and Kate. Okay. It makes so much sense, I get it now. Peter had always said that he couldn’t figure out how she got close without any of them smelling her.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek chokes out.

“What?” Stiles spins on one heel and sees the way Derek is huddled in the bed. “Oh, no. No, no, no, Der, no.” He dives back into the bed and wraps his arms around Derek, pulling Derek against his shoulder. “Don’t be sorry. It wasn’t your fault. She tricked you, she lied to you – and you were fifteen! I don’t remember how old Kate was when she killed my dad but she was very definitely an adult, like, she had to be in her mid-twenties or so. So don’t say you’re sorry. It wasn’t your fault.”

Derek clutches at him, unable to help it, burying his face in Stiles’ shoulder and letting out a hoarse sob.

“God, I can’t even imagine – like Peter and I are fucked up, sure, but you – having to carry that all these years, no wonder you were never able to just ‘get over it’ – ” Stiles hugs him tighter. “But we’re going to take care of this, okay? She wants you to go meet her for coffee, great. Just grit your teeth and sit through it because then we know where she’ll be, and Peter and I can take care of her. Okay? Then it’ll finally be okay.”

After a moment, Derek manages a nod. He swallows hard and says, “Don’t – don’t tell Peter.”

Stiles lets him go and sits back a little. “We have to tell him something, though. I mean, he’ll want to know why Kate called you, and to be honest he’s smart enough to figure it out, the way I did.”

“He’ll be mad,” Derek says. “He’ll – he’ll hate me.”

“Dude, I will kick his ass from here to the God damned moon if he’s mad at you for what Kate did,” Stiles says, running his hand over Derek’s hair and the back of his neck. “How about I talk to him, okay? You just hang out here, give me five minutes. I’ll explain everything to him.”

Derek tries to think of a better solution, but he can’t. Stiles is right; Peter will figure it out just as quickly. So he nods. Stiles climbs back out of bed and throws on some clothes, and he’s gone a few moments later. Derek has to take a few minutes just to breathe. Stiles found out the truth. Someone knows the truth, and the world hasn’t ended. He can get up and keep going.

So he does. Gets dressed and goes out the window in case any of the betas were woken when Stiles left. He finds Stiles pacing back and forth in front of the house. “Where’s Peter?”

“He went on ahead. Wants to get a chance to case the diner before Kate gets there.” Stiles reaches out and squeezes Derek’s shoulder. “Said you probably didn’t want to see him right now anyway, but to let you know that, and I quote, ‘I didn’t think it was possible to hate Kate Argent more than I already did, but now I do’. He knows it wasn’t your fault, Derek. Now come on, let’s go.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is vibrating with tension as they pull up outside the diner. He turns to Derek and says, “Lemme see your hand.”

Frowning slightly, Derek holds it out. Stiles takes a vial of water out of his jacket pocket and dips his finger in it, then traces a symbol on Derek’s palm. “Okay. Now I should be able to hear everything that you can hear.”

“Is that . . . holy water?” Derek asks, his brow furrowed.

Stiles practically hoots with laughter. “I’d probably catch fire if I tried to do magic with holy water. No. It’s not even special water. It’s just tap water. There’s a medium for every sense. Water is for listening. Earth for touch. Air for sight, and fire for taste and smell.” He traces the same symbol on the back of his own hand. “Okay. Now remember, you don’t have to make any deals with her. Hell, you don’t even have to find out what she wants you to do, because she’s gonna be dead by dawn. Just let her taunt you for ten minutes. We shouldn’t need half that. Just make sure you sit facing the parking lot, so she’ll have to put her back to it.”

Derek nods and climbs out of the car, heading into the diner. Stiles gets out of his own as well and heads around to the back, where he finds Peter. “What’s the sitch?”

“Two people inside, just a waitress and a cook,” Peter says. “No customers. I’ve obscured the security cameras. We should be good to go as soon as Kate gets here.”

“Awesome.” Stiles closes his eyes and concentrates on listening. A few minutes later, he hears a woman’s voice saying, “Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” His lip curls in a wolflike manner, and he shuts out the rest of what Kate says as they jog around to the front of the diner. The first thing he does is pop a GPS tracker into the wheel well of her car. If all goes well, she’ll be dead soon, but Stiles and Peter always like to have a backup plan. With Kate Argent, there’s a lot that could go wrong.

Peter pops the trunk to take a quick survey of her weaponry, but they don’t touch anything. They don’t want to give any sign that they were here. Stiles climbs into the well of the backseat and Peter tosses a blanket over him. Stiles enchanted it years ago to blend in with its surroundings. Even if Kate looks into her backseat, all she’ll see is the car floor.

With nothing else to do, Stiles tunes back in to Derek and Kate’s conversation. “You do know what would happen if she found out, right? I mean, forget being omega. She’d tear you to pieces.”

Derek’s voice is slow and measured. “What do you want, Kate?”

“Look, you know as well as I do that your uncle and his kid are a problem. As long as they’re alive, hunters are gonna come here and try to use you guys against them. Take you as hostages, use you as bait, et cetera. They’ve fucked you right over with their little killing spree. So let’s take care of them, together. Two birds, one stone. You can get them somewhere, and I can take them out.”

Derek is quiet for a minute. “So first you con me into helping you kill most of my family. Now you want me to help you kill more of it?”

Kate laughs. “Well, hey, at least I was up front this time.”

“I’ve got a better idea,” Derek says. “Why don’t you go play hide-and-go-fuck-yourself, and leave me alone.”

“Mm, you’ve gotten sassy,” Kate says. “I like it.”

“Barf,” Stiles mutters under his breath.

“Think about it, babe,” she continues. “Because I’m going to kill them, one way or another. It’s up to you where you want your place to be after all this is over.”

Derek says nothing. Stiles hears footsteps, and then the jingling of the bell on the diner’s door. He traces a ‘negate’ rune over the one on his hand to end the listening spell. He’s going to need to focus. A moment later, the car door opens and he hears Kate’s weight settle into the driver’s seat. Before she can even start the car, he bolts upright and jams the taser into the side of her neck.

Peter’s car pulls up alongside them bare seconds later. They transfer Kate from the driver’s seat of her car to the back seat of Peter’s. Stiles climbs in with her, and Peter pulls out of the parking lot. Stiles quickly secures Kate with zip ties and duct tape, but she’s still unconscious when they pull up to their destination: the ruins of the old Hale house.

The idea of not killing her immediately had been Stiles’, but he wasn’t surprised that Peter hadn’t argued with him. They carry her downstairs and search her thoroughly before tying her to a chair. Stiles waves the ammonia soaked rag underneath her noise. She startles awake and then gives a croaking laugh. “Not bad. You two are as good as they say.”

“Yes, that’s us,” Peter says, smiling pleasantly at her.

“So why am I still alive?” Kate asks, then coughs and adds, “Would’ve been too quick to just slit my throat in my car, huh?”

“Precisely,” Peter says. “Besides, Stiles has questions for you.”

“I just bet he does,” Kate says, with another hoarse laugh. “You want to know my victims, right? That’s your whole shtick. So you can give people ‘closure’.”

“How many?” Stiles asks her.

She smirks at him and answers without missing a beat. “One hundred thirty-eight.”

Stiles doesn’t flinch. Instead, he sits down across from her and says, “Names. If you don’t remember them, dates and locations.”

“Why should I tell you? You’re just going to kill me anyway.”

“Because you’re not like the others, are you, Kate,” Peter says, walking around behind her and gently putting his hand on her shoulder, then squeezing. “You want to brag, to boast. You want to be known as one of the most prolific serial killers of our time. I’ll see that you get your own Wikipedia page. But by all means, if you’d rather not talk . . .” His claws dig into her shoulder.

Kate laughs again. “Like you need an excuse to torture me. But you’re right about the first part. I love to brag. But I’m not the only one who does, am I right? Have you read the articles they’ve written about you two? I bet you have some of them framed.”

“None of this is relevant,” Stiles says. “Get to the point.”

“You in a rush?” Kate asks, smirking.

“Not really. But I’ve learned a lot over the years.” Stiles meets and holds her gaze. “I want to know your victims, but I don’t need to know. If all you’re going to do is taunt me, then I’ll slit your throat and have done with it.”

“Smart kid,” Kate says, nodding. “I bet your dad would be proud.”

Stiles’ lip curls, and his grip on the knife tightens. Peter sees Kate’s grin widen, and he realizes in that moment where the trap is. It’s a moment too late. The explosion is deafening, the flash of light that accompanies it blinding. He staggers forward and nearly trips over Stiles, then grabs him and drags him up off the floor. He practically throws them up the stairs and out of the house, still unable to hear or see.

“Let me,” Stiles hisses. He’s recovered enough from the shock to use his magic, and it helps him clear his vision and guide Peter through the woods. A shadow looms up out of the darkness and Stiles instinctively throws the disrupt spell, leading to a crash and a grunt.

“Wait,” Peter says, grabbing his wrist. “It’s Derek.”

“Derek?” Stiles swears. “Sorry. Shit. What are you doing out here?”

“I followed you to make sure you were okay,” Derek says, climbing back to his feet. “What the hell happened?”

Peter shakes his head a little. “She knew that there was nowhere else we could bring her, so she came ahead of time and rigged it up with flash bombs. Probably has one of her friends out here who triggered it after he saw us bring her inside.”

“Why did we run?” Stiles asks, his voice trembling. “We had her, damn it – she couldn’t have rigged up real explosives or poison gas or anything because she was in there too – ”

“We had no idea how close her people were or what else she had planned,” Peter says. “She was better prepared and she had the advantage. That’s why we ran, and you know it. So calm down.”

Stiles lets out a breath, then nods. “Yeah. Sorry. Just, she said that about my dad and I – ”

“I know.” Peter shakes his head. “She knew, too. But it’s fine. I cloned her phone and we’ve got the GPS tracker in her car – ”

“Both of which she’ll have switched out by morning,” Stiles mutters, then adds, “Ugh, okay. I’m a hot mess and I need to sleep. I guess we have to go back to the den, right? Because Kate might still make a move tonight.”

Derek’s posture tightens up a little, but he nods and says, “Yeah. Come on, my car is this way.”

They all pile into it. Peter drives, and they depart mostly in silence. Stiles collapses onto Derek’s bed, letting the last of the anger drain away. “Sorry. That we couldn’t take care of it tonight, I mean.”

“It’s fine,” Derek says, not really looking at him. Then he huffs out a breath. “No, who am I kidding? It’s the opposite of fine. But it’s not your fault, and I know Peter was right. By the time you found her in that room, blind and deaf, her guys could have come in. I’d rather you not take chances. Let’s just get a few more hours of sleep.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter watches the sun rise from the roof of the Hale house, deep in thought. He’s been scrolling through the contents of Kate’s phone most of the night, copying down her contacts and various pieces of information he can glean about her habits. Just after dawn, the GPS goes dead. Stiles was right; she’s disposed of it. If she changes cars, they’ll have no way to track her.

He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it annoys him exactly how good at this Kate was. Gerard is undoubtedly helping her, financially if nothing else, and they’re going to have to get to him as well. Peter thinks about their next move for a few minutes before he texts Chris. ‘Good morning. Your sister is in town, just in case you didn’t know.’

A few minutes later, Chris replies with, ‘Don’t involve me in this.’

‘Will you let me know if she contacts you?’ Peter asks. Minutes trickle by without a reply from Chris, and it becomes clear that he’s not going to get one. ‘Fine, be that way.’

He yawns and stretches, then goes for a quick jog around the perimeter and decides to do his katas. Stiles is a night owl by nature, and he won’t be up for a while, so Peter is a little surprised when his phone rings. He glances down to see that it’s a number he recognizes, although he hasn’t labeled. He answers with, “Hello, niece. What can I do for you?”

“What did you do to upset Derek last night?” Laura snarls. “He won’t come down for breakfast.”

Peter sighs. “We had Kate in our sights but she was prepared and we didn’t get her. Why don’t you talk to Derek about it?”

“Because he won’t talk to me,” Laura says. Her voice chokes momentarily. “God damn it, Peter. Things were finally getting better here. He was getting better, he was happier, he was – and now you guys come to town and fucking ruin it.”

“Excuse me, but no,” Peter says. “I’ll cop to the fact that we brought this down on your heads, but I won’t apologize if Derek’s made a step backwards, since Stiles is responsible for pretty much all the steps forwards.”

“You son of a bitch,” Laura says, her voice trembling. “I’ve spent the last ten years trying to help Derek and you have the nerve to claim that all he needed was a boyfriend?”

“You’ve spent the last ten years doing all the wrong things for him,” Peter shoots back. “You didn’t want to give him time and space to heal. You forced him back to the town where his family was killed, forced him into a pack. You didn’t listen any of the times he told you that it wasn’t what he needed or wanted, insisting that you knew best, that you could force him to heal. It doesn’t work like that, Laura. You – ”

“I did the best I could!” Laura shouts, her voice colored with tears. “I fucking tried, okay? So I didn’t know what I was doing, so I screwed up! God damn it, Uncle Peter! I was nineteen fucking years old! Maybe I wasn’t great at it but at least I was there! Unlike you! You left us!”

“You could have come with us – ”

“Oh, you think Derek would have wanted that? You think your little murder spree would have helped him?”

“No,” Peter has to admit, “but even so – ”

“Fuck your even so!” Laura snaps. “You wanted revenge more than you wanted to take care of us. Okay, fine. We weren’t your kids. You had your own priorities. But don’t you fucking dare say that I didn’t take care of Derek like you stepped up and did instead.”

“All right,” Peter says, struggling to keep an even tone. “I’m sorry we upset Derek.”

“Gee, thanks,” Laura says. “That’s what you’re sorry for, huh?”

“I won’t apologize for wanting revenge – ”

“Kate was dead!” Laura shouts. “Or at least that’s what we thought. It had nothing to do with revenge! Do you think I had any idea what I was doing? I had no idea, okay? I was young and scared and you, you were the one who always knew what to do, and you left us! You just walked the fuck away! I spent ten years looking over my shoulder, waiting for the day the hunters would come for us. I never felt safe. But I couldn’t show that because I had Derek to look after! And he was even more scared than I was. So I just pretended everything was fine, faked confidence that I’ve never felt in my entire life, and now you have the balls to come tell me that I did everything all wrong! Maybe I would have done better if you had helped me, but you didn’t care about me! So why don’t you take your sorry and fuck right off!”

Peter is taken aback, and it’s a long moment before he manages to speak. “I never meant to abandon you, Laura.”

“I don’t give a fuck what you meant to do,” Laura says. “You met some orphan kid under a tree and suddenly he was more important to you than us, than your real family. It wasn’t fair!”

“No, you’re right,” Peter says quietly. “It wasn’t. And the only thing I can say is that I was grieving, too.”

Laura’s sobs are the only thing he can hear for a few moments. He stares at the house in the distance, knowing he should go inside, but somehow unable to. Finally, she manages, “Have you even thought about what we’re going to do after this? You might kill Kate, but she won’t be the last. As long as you and Stiles are still out there, they’ll never stop coming for us. What am I supposed to do, Peter? How am I supposed to protect my pack?”

“I don’t know,” Peter says, and then adds, “but you won’t be doing it alone.”

“I don’t want your fucking help,” Laura says through her tears.

“That’s fine,” Peter says, “but I’ll keep you and your pack safe anyway.”

There’s a click. Laura has hung up. Peter sits down on a fallen tree and tries not to think too much about it. After a few minutes, he hears footsteps, and scents Stiles coming up behind him. “You okay?” he asks.

Peter shrugs. “I suppose you heard all of that?”

“Well, I heard Laura’s side. Pretty sure everyone in a five-mile radius did. I’m not exactly sure of what you said in reply, but I know that it can’t have been easy for you to hear.” Stiles sits down next to him. “I guess she wasn’t wrong.”

“No, she wasn’t. Maybe the fact that I was grieving is an excuse, but I can’t hold her anger against her. I don’t regret what we’ve done, but she has a right to hate me.”

Stiles sighs. “So what do we do now? Not just about Kate. About the others.”

“I don’t know. I’m going to have to think about it for a while.”

“Okay.” Stiles stands up. “You want to go grab some breakfast? Derek’s not really in a great headspace right now. Figured I’d give him some time with his sister. You and I can figure out our next move.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

The first thing that Stiles and Peter agree on is that there will be no more interrogation, no chance of torture. When they get a shot at Kate, they’ll take it. “Even if it’s in broad daylight on a crowded street and we both end up in jail,” Stiles says, and Peter nods. “I mean, not that we probably couldn’t get away from the cops, but you know what I mean.”

The second thing they agree on is that they neither want to talk about nor think about what they’re going to do after Kate is dead. Peter doesn’t seem ready to deal with his argument with Laura, and Stiles just has no idea what he wants to do. Things with Derek are getting kind of serious, and he likes it, but he also has no clue what to do with it. Sometimes he feels like Derek will want him to stick around, but then he worries that that will ruin the entire basis of their relationship.

“So what’s our next move where Kate is concerned?” Stiles finally asks, starting on his third mug of coffee. “We’ve still got the GPS on her car, although we don’t know if that’s accurate. She could’ve taken it off and thrown it on someone else’s car to give us false leads.”

Peter nods. “I don’t think we can trust it.”

“Do you think she really cared about getting Derek’s help? Or do you think she only did that to lure us in?”

“Hm. An excellent question.” Peter thinks this over. “I’m going to go with a little of both. Either way it played out, she could twist it to her advantage. I don’t think she could have known for sure we would show up – if you hadn’t been sleeping in Derek’s room, it’s extremely doubtful he would have woken either of us to tell us about her call. So if Derek came by himself, she could try to manipulate him to helping her. And if he came with us, she knew we would bring her back to the old house.”

Stiles nods along with this. “So she might not just drop this thing with Derek.”

“She might not, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to use it against her. I don’t know that we’d want to put Derek through working with her – if he’d even agree, which is doubtful, and could pull off the deception, which is even more doubtful.”

“Yeah.” Stiles grimaces. “Then let’s try to leave him out of it if at all possible. Which doesn’t leave us with a lot of options.”

“True. I still wonder if she would respond to a threat to her niece.”

Stiles chews on her lower lip. “I mean, she hasn’t seen Chris and Allison in ten years. We have to assume they’re not close, and even if they were, Kate is the kind of narcissistic monster who would always save her own skin. But even if she wasn’t . . . we still couldn’t use Allison.”

Peter raises an eyebrow. “Because?”

“Look, we don’t have much moral high ground here,” Stiles says. “Which is fine by me. I’ve never cared about that. But the little that we do have, we’ve gotta try to keep, if we want to survive this. The hunter community that’s looked the other way while we cleaned the trash out of their ranks, they won’t care if we kill Kate. They know what she did. They might not even care if we kill Gerard. But if we use an innocent to do it, threaten someone who’s never hurt anyone, then they’ll never stop looking for us. And I just . . . I want this to be over. God, I need it to be over.”

After a few moments, Peter nods. “All right. But it doesn’t leave us a lot of options.”

“Yeah, I know. I don’t – ” Stiles blinks as his cell phone starts to chime with an incoming call.

“Derek?” Peter assumes.

Stiles looks at the screen and shakes his head. “No. It’s a local number, but one I don’t recognize.” He taps the screen to accept the call. “Hello?”

“Hey, uh, Stiles? It’s Scott.”

His frown deepening, Stiles says, “How did you get this number?”

“Dude, give us a little credit,” Scott says, sounding disgruntled. “Anyway, can we talk? I don’t like the way we left things the other day. My mom’s working right now, so you could come over and we’d have some privacy. Do you still remember where the house is?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, considering his options. “Yeah, sure. Why not. I’ll see you in half an hour.” He ends the call and says, “Well, we know what Kate’s next move is, at least.”

Peter nods. “Probably told him that she didn’t want to hurt you, just me. He figures he can talk you into betraying me or at the very least looking the other way.”

“Should I just ignore it?”

“No, let’s play cat-and-mouse,” Peter says, his eyes glinting. “Or more accurately, wolf and rat. We’ll find somewhere else for you two to have your little get-together. We don’t want to give Kate the time to find a good sniper’s perch. Then I can look for her, while she’s trying to get to you.”

Stiles nods. “Okay. Ideas on a place?”

“I’m fresh out of back rooms, unfortunately. Call Derek; he knows the town better than we do at this point. Maybe one of Laura’s betas works at a hotel or somewhere they can give us some private space.”

“Okay.” Stiles taps the screen a few times, calls Derek, and explains the situation. Derek tells him to hang on while he talks to the others.

After a minute, he calls back and says, “What about a school? Boyd teaches at Beacon Hills Elementary. He says he can let you in.”

“Perfect,” Stiles says, and they agree to meet there in fifteen minutes.

They beat Derek and Boyd there, since they’re coming from the Preserve. It’s not a large building, since Beacon Hills isn’t a big town. It only takes Peter a minute to jog around it. “She won’t be able to know which classroom you’ll use, so she’ll set up as a sniper at the main entrance and hope you don’t duck out the back. Probably put some guys in the woods in case you do.”

Stiles nods. “Snipe from where? Not a lot of tall buildings around here. It’s all residential.”

“Yeah. She’ll use a tree.” Peter’s mouth curves in a smile. “But I’ll find her.”

“Okay.” Stiles looks up as Derek’s Camaro pulls up. He greets him with a quick kiss, and Boyd lets them into the building. Stiles decides to have the meeting in the school library, which is right inside and doesn’t have any windows. Boyd gives Stiles the keys and tells him not to wreck the place and to remember to lock up afterwards.

“You’re sure you don’t want us to stay?” Derek asks, looking uneasy.

“Positive.” Stiles reaches out and takes both of Derek’s hands, giving them a squeeze. “I don’t want you anywhere near her. We’ll take care of this.”

“Okay,” Derek says. He lets out a breath and then nods. “Yeah, okay. Call me when you’re done.”

“Will do.” Stiles waits until they’ve left the library before he gets out his phone and calls Scott. “Hey, so, we can’t meet at your place,” he says, keeping his tone matter-of-fact. “Come meet me at the elementary school. I’m in the library.”

“Why?” Scott asks, sounding more confused than anything else.

“You wanna talk or not?” Stiles replies.

“Well, yeah – ”

“Then come to the elementary school.” Stiles hangs up and texts Peter to let him know that Scott is presumably on his way.

It’s nearly fifteen minutes, which feels like a long time pacing the stacks of the bookshelves. He’s glad that it’s a new school, built within the last five years, because otherwise he thinks he’d be buried under the weight of the nostalgia. What grade had he been in the year his father was killed? Fourth? Fifth? He doesn’t remember, a fact which is somewhat terrifying in and of itself. He’s blocked so much of that out, filed it away under ‘the Stiles before’.

When Scott comes in, he’s not alone. There’s a brunette with him, tall for a woman, and Stiles knows it has to be Allison even though he’s never met her. “Hey,” Scott greets him. “Why’d you want to meet here?”

“Well, I am a wanted man,” Stiles says, “and no offense, but your phone probably isn’t secure. Hell, mine might not be at this point either. I’m guessing Kate cloned Derek’s phone last night, got my number, and gave it to you, right?”

Scott looks a little guilty, rubbing a hand over the back of his head. He doesn’t answer it directly, instead saying, “This is Allison. Allison, Stiles.”

“Nice to meet you,” Allison says.

“Is it?” Stiles replies. “Is it really?”

Scott huffs. “Don’t be a jerk. We’re not the bad guys here, you know?”

Stiles shrugs.

“We’re trying to help you,” Allison says, her voice earnest, even concerned. “Look, Stiles. Neither of us approve of what my aunt did. We’re not saying you don’t have the right to want to kill her. But things aren’t that simple. You know that the hunters are never going to stop looking for you. We can make sure you’re safe. A lot of them already believe that Peter manipulated you into helping him. We’re not asking you to betray him or join the other side. Just . . .”

“Just stop, Stiles,” Scott says. “You can get out of this clean, and safe. You can have a life again.”

“Says who?” Stiles asks. “Who’s going to keep the rest of the hunters from coming after me?”

“Gerard,” Scott says. “I talked to him this morning. He gave me his word.”

Stiles barks out a short laugh. “Oh, okay! Gerard gave his word! I actually feel less safe now.”

Scott rubs a hand over his face. “Stiles – ”

“Go ask Gerard how much his word meant when he lured Deucalion and his pack into the old distillery with talk of a peace treaty and then murdered them in cold blood,” Stiles retorts. “Or better yet, ask about the peace treaty that the Argents had with the Hale pack, before Kate set their house on fire! Thanks but no thanks, Scott. I’ll be a lot safer on my own than I will be hiding under Gerard’s skirts.”

When it looks like Scott might lose his cool, Allison reaches out and gently squeezes his upper arm. He takes a deep breath and then continues, “Stiles, you have to understand that this is only going to end one way for Peter. But it doesn’t have to end that way for you. You don’t have to protect him.”

“I know that,” Stiles says. “I don’t have to. But I will. He’s my dad. My second dad, adopted, sure, but my dad. He raised me. He taught me almost everything I know. He stayed with me when I was sick, protected me when I was weak. He told me it was okay to cry when I missed my parents so much that I couldn’t stand it. So you can stop trying to get me to abandon ship. I will go down with this motherfucking ship, do you hear me? I will fight to my last fucking breath before I walk away from him. You want me to let the woman who killed my first father kill my second one, too? You can go fuck yourself right in the God damned face.”

“Stiles, I – ”

“And while I’m on the subject,” Stiles continues furiously, voice rising to a shout, “what exactly do you intend happen to Kate when this is over? Because you clearly don’t want me to kill her, but you might recall that the last time the police tried to arrest her, it didn’t go so fucking well!”

Scott winces a little at that, but then rallies. “The hunters can police their own. They have a system . . .”

Stiles stands there with his jaw ajar for so long that Scott trails off uncomfortably. “A system,” he finally says. “Dude, where have you been? What do you think I’ve been doing for the past five years and change? Where was the system when Howard Bell raped and murdered a sixteen year old? Where was the system when Mitch Kelly gunned down a family outside a Dairy Queen?”

“They didn’t know,” Scott says. “They would have done something if they knew.”

“Oh my God, seriously?” Stiles says. “You’re seriously going to stand there and say they didn’t know? Have you been to the forum?”

“Of course I’ve been to the – wait, how do you know about the forum?”

Stiles groans. “For God’s sake, Scott, try to keep up. Of course I know about your forum. And if you give me two minutes, I can show you at least eight posts where people were debating whether or not they should have done something about these guys before Peter and I started killing them. And do you know what? The answer was always no. It was always ‘we can’t be held responsible for the actions of a few maniacs’ or ‘we can’t waste our time on humans when there are werewolves out there’. I’m dead serious, Scott.”

Allison looks uncomfortable. “My father – ”

“Don’t bring him into this,” Stiles says. “You’ll go home real unhappy. Remember Sam Stearns, the hunter who got killed on his way back from Reno? He’s barely two hours away. He and Chris went on hunts together at least three or four times a year. Chris gave him the wolfsbane he used to poison a couple, killing not just the two werewolves but their two human guests because he didn’t bother to make sure nobody would be caught in the crossfire.”

Allison stares at him in shock, then looks away. Scott, on the other hand, rallies. “So we’ll build a system, if there isn’t one already in place. We’ll start making sure that people like that are caught and go to jail.”

“Look, Scott, I actually believe that you mean that,” Stiles says. “One hundred percent. And thank you. It warms the cockles of my blackened heart. But if you stopped and thought about it for a minute, you’d know damned well it wouldn’t work, because unless you’re willing to kill, you’ve got no leverage. Let’s say you called the cops on Stearns, and he got arrested. Only some of his buddies pool the money and bribe a juror, or destroy evidence, or whatever, so he’s not convicted. What do you do then? Or what about if he knows he’ll be convicted so he posts bail and then takes off? What then? If he knows you’re not willing to kill him, what’s his incentive to quietly go through trial and serve his sentence? What’s to stop him from, gee, I don’t know, booby-trapping his God damned door and killing three police officers?”

“I don’t know,” Scott says, “but we’ll figure it out! We can work together, we can make sure – ”

“No,” Stiles says. “I’m genuinely sorry to say that, but no. I will not risk the life of one police officer, do you understand that? Not after what Kate did.”

His phone chimes, and he glances down. Peter has texted him, saying, ‘She must be a good sniper. She set up 300 yards away. I wasn’t looking that far; she surrounded her perch with mountain ash before I could get to her. Go out the back; we’ll regroup and wait for our next chance.’

Stiles frowns a little. Scott sees it, and says, “What?”

“Just thinking my thinks,” Stiles says. “So Kate knows you’re here, right?” he adds, and Scott flushes a little but nods. “Should I overlook the fact that you’re actively working with the woman who killed my father?”

“I did this for you,” Scott says. “To keep you safe.”

“Which is touching, really,” Stiles says, “so I’m gonna make a deal with you, Scotty. Kate’s in a sniper perch three hundred yards away. I’m gonna send an illusion of myself out the front door. If Kate doesn’t immediately blow my head off, I will at least talk to Peter about maybe taking a trip to Aruba or something and letting the hunters ‘handle’ the woman who killed his family. If she does immediately blow my head off, then you’ll stop trying to talk me into looking the other way while she murders Peter. Deal?”

“Deal,” Scott says immediately.

“Cool. Hang on.” Stiles takes his phone back out and texts Peter. ‘Come in the side entrance. I’ve got a plan.’ He waits for Peter’s affirmative, then tucks the phone away. “Peter’s coming in. Can I trust you not to kill him for five minutes?”

“Why?” Allison asks warily.

“Because illusion spells aren’t easy. It’s gonna take it out of me, and I want him here to make sure I get out safely if things get bad.”

Allison and Scott appear to consider this for a minute, and then Scott nods. “Okay.”

A minute later, Peter strolls casually into the library, hands tucked into his pockets. He nods at Stiles and says, “So, what are we doing here?”

“Apparently Kate made certain promises to Scott about my safety, as long as I agreed not to stand in their way while they kill you,” Stiles says, “so I’m going to send an illusion of myself out the front for her to shoot.”

Peter pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why?”

“Because fuck her, that’s why.”

Amused, Peter says, “Who could argue with that logic? All right. I’ve taken care of her men in the woods, so it ought to be easy enough to get out the back once you’re done.”

“Taken care of?” Scott asks, his voice tight. “Does that mean you killed them?”

“No, I sang them each a lullaby and sent them right off to sleep,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. Stiles gives him a look, and he sighs. “I knocked them out with a stun gun, actually. We’re trying to keep a low profile; I don’t want to leave a trail of bodies a mile wide.”

“Great,” Stiles says. “Let’s get to work. Scott, text Kate, tell her that I agreed to stop protecting Peter in exchange for a guarantee of my own safety, and say we’re coming out in a minute and she can meet you back at, I don’t know, wherever. Peter, I want you to take a picture of Scott and me so I have an image to work with.”

Peter nods, and he and Scott both pull out their phones. Stiles makes Scott stand a few paces in front of him so it looks like he’s walking in front of him. Then they head to the front hall. “Okay,” Stiles says, and lets out a slow breath, gathering the strength he’s going to need. He puts the tips of his fingers on the screen of Peter’s phone and closes his eyes. A few moments later, a fuzzy image of two men appears in front of them. It gains detail as the moments trickle by and Stiles pours power into the spell. Peter watches, silently impressed. Finally, with his eyes still closed, Stiles says, “Peter, open the door, pull it so you’re standing behind it.”

“Okay,” Peter says, and does so. Stiles slowly pushes his hand outward, and the illusion moves forward. The movement isn’t exactly natural, but Kate probably won’t be able to tell through her scope.

A few moments later, there’s a sharp crack. Stiles drops his hand and lets the illusion dissolve, then blinks and says, “Wait, shit. That was it, right? She just shot me?” He sees Scott’s pale, shocked face, and says, “Yep, okay, that was it. Time to go.”

“Holy shit,” Scott says. “I can’t believe she – ”

“Moral crisis later, move now,” Stiles says, gently shoving him down the hallway. He sees storm clouds on Allison’s expression but doesn’t address it. Instead, he takes three steps and then his knees give out.

Peter catches him before he hits the deck. “Easy, cricket,” he says. “How about you watch my back?”

“Sure,” Stiles says, realizing that the world is pretty fuzzy and gray. Peter kneels down in front of him, and Stiles just drapes himself over him, wrapping his arms and legs around him in a reverse piggy-back. That way he can direct the shielding spell behind him. “This’ll use up the last of my juice, though.”

“Well, I don’t have big plans for the rest of the day,” Peter says, already heading down the hallway. Scott and Allison follow. Stiles rests his head on Peter’s shoulder and concentrates on breathing as they go out the side door, holding the hand with the shielding spell behind them. Peter sprints across the empty space, into the trees, with Scott and Allison a little ways behind.

Once they’re there, Stiles lets the spell drop. He’s too tired to maintain it any longer. He lets his eyes close as Peter starts through the woods.

After a few moments of silence, Scott says, “Why do you call him cricket?”

Peter laughs. “Because when we first got started, he was like a little Jiminy Cricket perched on my shoulder, telling me about how we couldn’t steal cars from good people and couldn’t shop at Wal-Mart because they don’t pay their workers enough and it wasn’t enough to be mostly sure that our target had killed innocent people.”

Scott mulls that over for a minute. “And that was okay with you?”

Peter sighs, his breath stirring Stiles’ hair. “I’m not going to lie to you, Scott, mostly because I don’t care what you think of me. I’m well aware that I’m morally gray at best, and a darker gray at that. But Stiles saved my life. Without him, I would have gone on an indiscriminate killing spree that would have only ended one way. Kate killed my wife, my baby. I’m not going to say I wasn’t responsible for my actions when I met Stiles, but I will say that I was at least seven eighths out of my mind. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if a particular hunter had killed innocents. In my personal opinion, they’re all equally complicit. But Stiles doesn’t feel the same way, and adopting his guidelines, adopting him, gave me a purpose, a way to channel my rage. It brought me back from a place darker than you can imagine.”

“Fuckin’ sap,” Stiles mumbles into Peter’s shoulder, and Peter gives a snort of laughter.

They walk in silence for another minute, before Scott says, “What do we do now? I just . . . I just want my friend back.”

“Scott, you have to try to understand something which I think is going to be very hard for you to comprehend,” Peter says. “And not because you’re not intelligent, but because it’s just hard for people who haven’t gone through this sort of thing to imagine it. The Stiles that was your friend changed in monumental, indelible ways, the day his father was murdered. And you weren’t wrong when you say he could have moved on from it without becoming a vigilante, if he’d stayed here and gotten help. But he never would have been the same, therapy or no therapy. He said to me the day we met that he finally understood how viciously, cruelly arbitrary a place the world was. That’s a hell of a revelation for a ten year old. Maybe you two would still be friends if he had stayed here, maybe you wouldn’t. But it’s been ten years. If you want to be Stiles’ friend, you have to understand that he’s not the same person you knew. You have to get to know him again, and then decide whether or not he’s someone you would call a friend.”

Scott says nothing to that, so Allison speaks up. “Well, we can’t let Kate get away with this. I hated what she did to your family, but I hated what you did, too, when you took Stiles away. So I thought it was the lesser of two evils to work with her, if it would keep Stiles safe. If it won’t work, we have to come up with a new plan.”

“There’s no new plan,” Stiles says, lifting his head so he’s not talking into Peter’s shirt. “I don’t want you two involved in this.”

“We can’t just walk away,” Scott says, appalled. “We can help you.”

“I don’t want your help,” Stiles says. “Sorry, Scotty, but I don’t. In this whole world, I trust only one person besides myself. I’ll say to you what you said to me – just stop. Just let us handle this. When this is over, we can figure out how things are going to be moving forward. But I don’t want your help, Scott. I don’t want you risking your life to save us. We got ourselves into this, and we’ll get ourselves out of it.”

“I hate that,” Scott says.

“Well, now you understand why I told you to go fuck yourself in the face when you asked me to do it.”

Scott gives a snort of laughter. “Yeah, that . . . that was fair. I asked for that.”

“And on that note, this is where we part ways,” Peter says, glancing down to the forest path that will lead them back to the Hale den. “I’m sure we’ll see you again.”

“Yeah.” Scott clears his throat. “Stiles, be careful, okay?”

Stiles manages to toss off a sloppy salute, before Peter turns and starts jogging through the forest. A few moments later, he slows down. “Lemme down, I can walk,” Stiles says.

Peter sets him on his feet. “You’re sure?” he says, and Stiles nods, so they start walking. “You only trust one person, hm? Is that me?”

Stiles laughs. “Who else would it be, you jackass?”

“I’m not surprised that you trust me,” Peter says, “but I guess I am surprised that you don’t trust Derek.”

“Yeah?” Stiles’ shoulders hunch slightly as he walks. “I don’t, though. I mean . . . Derek and I, what we have, it’s really . . . something. But I don’t trust him, because if it came down to the wire, I don’t know if he’d choose Laura and the new pack over us. And that’s okay! I don’t want you to think of it like a bad thing. Derek loves his sister and he’s loyal to her. There’s nothing wrong with that. He can love her and still love us. But if he thought he’d have to sacrifice someone, I don’t know who he’d choose. I would be okay with it if he chose us. But I never want him to be in the position where he’d have to, so it’s easier if I just . . . don’t trust him.”

Peter thinks about that, and then nods a little. “I suppose that makes sense. I think it’s rather mature of you, actually.”

“That’s me,” Stiles says. “Mr. Mature.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter. “I’ll let that go because I know how the magic goes to your head.”

“Yeah, agreed,” Stiles says cheerfully. “I need an entire pizza and a nap.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles is trudging up the steps of the Hale house when he feels, more than sees, Peter start to hang back. He half-turns as Peter looks off into the forest and says, “Well, I’ll be – ”

“Peter, will you just come inside, please?” Stiles groans. “You were talking about wanting to stay, to protect Laura. What are you going to do, live in the woods? Come on, just rip the God-damned Band-Aid off.”

Peter growls at him, but it’s a playful growl, and after a few moments he follows Stiles inside. “Hey, it’s us!” Stiles shouts, and a few moments later, Derek jogs into the front hallway. Stiles leans into his embrace, feeling tired in more way than one. He wonders if he can talk Derek into a few hours of cuddling on the sofa, or in bed, or literally anywhere he might be able to stay horizontal for a while despite the fact that it’s barely even noon.

Before he can say anything about that, Laura comes into the front hallway. “Hey, Stiles,” she says, her tone considerably looser than it was a few days previous. She sees Peter, and her expression tightens, but she nods at him and says, “Uncle Peter.”

Peter is staring at her. Stiles has no idea why; Peter has just gone completely still, looking at his niece with an expression that seems like a dozen emotions mixed together. He’s about to ask what’s up when Peter says, “Laura . . . you’re pregnant.”

“Yes, I know that,” Laura says, rolling her eyes. “What’s your point?”

Peter still stares, like Laura hasn’t heard a word he just said and she has no idea what the significance of his words are. “Laura, you . . . you’re going to have a baby. A baby.” He practically chokes on the word.

“I know,” Laura repeats, although now she seems more confused than anything else.

“But . . .” Peter’s mouth works soundlessly for a few moments before tears start down his cheeks. He reaches out, hands hovering over Laura’s stomach but not actually touching it. “I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t figure you would care,” Laura says. “I mean, you didn’t care about Talia’s children; why would her grandchildren matter to you?”

Seeing that Peter is struck absolutely speechless – a first in Stiles’ remembered history – he hastens to intervene before Peter can break down completely. He walks over and grasps Peter’s wrist, lowering his arm, which is still hovering awkwardly in midair. Then he gives it a comforting squeeze. “How far along are you?” he asks, since he certainly hadn’t noticed. He assumes that Peter can either smell the hormonal difference or hear the heartbeat.

“Ten weeks.”

“Nice. Who’s the dad?”

“Jordan.” Laura frowns at him. “Didn’t you meet – oh, no, I guess he wasn’t here the other night. He was working the late shift. He’s my boyfriend.”

“And he’s like, here for this?” Stiles asks, gesturing to Laura’s stomach. “I mean, he’s gonna stick around and support you and everything?”

“Yeah.” Laura’s frown turns to a scowl, which Stiles figures is fair. It was a pretty rude question. But he thinks hearing that the father is involved might help Peter. “I mean, he’s not just some one-night-stand. We’ve been together almost two years. He’s actually . . .” She flushes slightly pink. “He’s proposed twice but I’ve said no both times, because, you know, I’ve got some issues about that sort of thing.”

“He’s here, now, if you wanted to meet him,” Derek adds.

“Yes, I . . .” Peter swallows convulsively. “I’d like that.”

“This way,” Laura says, gesturing for them to follow. “They’re in the rec room.”

Stiles hadn’t seen the rec room the last time he was there, and his jaw sags when he walks in. There’s a pool table and an air hockey table, along with an enormous television and two huge sofas, one of which is set up on a riser so people in the back can see. “Dude. Dude. This room is amazing. You’ve been holding out on me, Der. I need to kick your ass at pool, like, now.”

Derek gives a quiet snort, as Laura walks over to the one man in the room Stiles doesn’t recognize and curls her hand around his forearm. He and Jackson are playing pool, and he looks up when Laura approaches. He’s got short, neatly-trimmed hair and an open, friendly face. He’s also got a warm, infectious smile that tugs at his lips as soon as she touches his arm.

“Jordan, my uncle Peter, and his son, Stiles,” Laura says, and Stiles himself smiles a bit at that, acceptance she hadn’t shown him before.

“Good to meet you,” Jordan says, shaking Peter’s hand, then Stiles’. “Nice tats. Magic?”

Stiles nods. “They help boost my spells.”

“Nice,” Jordan says.

Peter is blinking at him in some surprise. “You’re human.”

“Yeah,” Jordan says. “Your point?”

“Just . . . surprised. Most people in a pack want the bite.”

“Laura told me that there was a two percent chance of a fatal rejection,” Jordan says, and shakes his head. “It’s a small risk, but not small enough. I can’t protect anyone if I’m dead, and I’m fully capable without it.”

“Are you?” Peter asks.

Jordan shows off a tattoo of his own, of the Army insignia. “Army strong.”

Stiles gives a snort of laughter, and Laura quietly laughs, too.

“I did two tours,” Jordan continues, “working with the Hazardous Device Team, before an explosion nearly killed me. Came back here to do my rehab, ended up in Beacon Hills. I don’t have the teeth and the claws, but I like to think I can take care of myself.”

“He can,” Derek puts in, and then adds to Peter, “and you of all people should know how dangerous a human can be.”

“True,” Peter says, relaxing a little. “I just . . .” He takes a deep breath and tries to steady himself out. “You’re going to have a baby, Laura.”

“You keep saying that like I don’t know what being pregnant means,” Laura says, but this time when Peter’s hands twitch toward her, she takes them in her own and presses them against her abdomen. Peter gives a little shudder when he feels the baby’s heartbeat through his fingers, and chokes back a sob. Laura wraps her arms around him, holding him tightly.

Seeing that everything is in good hands, Stiles tugs on Derek’s wrist and then tilts his head towards the room’s exit. Derek gives a little nod, then squeezes Laura’s shoulder before they depart. “You look worn out,” he says.

“I did a lot of magic earlier,” Stiles says, and sighs. “We keep getting close but then missing her.”

Derek nods. “Sit down. I’ll cook you something.”

“You’re the best.” Stiles sinks into a chair while Derek opens the refrigerator and pulls out a carton of eggs. “You didn’t tell me Laura was pregnant. Hell, you didn’t even tell me she had a boyfriend.”

“I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it. Hell, I wasn’t sure how I feel about it.” Derek cracks three eggs into a bowl and starts to whisk them with a fork. Then he turns back to the refrigerator. “But mostly I didn’t say anything because I knew that as soon as Peter found out, you wouldn’t be able to pry him off Laura’s side with a crowbar, and I didn’t want this to get in the way of you and Peter’s thing.”

Stiles nods a little. “Yeah, that’s fair. I think . . . I think that’s okay, though. Peter wanting to stay here.”

“Do you want to stay here?” Derek emerges from the refrigerator with a bag of shredded cheese and one of ham from the deli.

“Maybe. I don’t know.” Stiles shakes his head. “I just don’t know.”

Derek looks over at him, then says, “You know that’s okay, too, right? Like you told me back then. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do. If you aren’t ready to have a home yet.”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Stiles manages a wan smile, then says, “Do you . . . want me to stay?”

Derek’s quiet for a moment, as he butters a pan and sets it on the stove. He’s quiet for another moment, watching the butter start to melt as the pan warms up. “For so long, I thought that someone finding out about me and Kate would just . . . make the entire world crumble down around me. I honestly didn’t think I would survive that day. I don’t know if I believe you about the fact that it wasn’t my fault. I don’t know if I’ll ever believe that. But it means the world to me that you believe that. So . . . yeah, Stiles. I want you to stay. If you’re ready. If you want to stay, if you want to have a home and a family again, I want that, too. If you want to keep moving around, I’ll go with you, if you want me to. If you want to keep moving around on your own, that’s okay, too.”

Stiles snuffles a little, realizing that he’s crying. He stands up and wraps his arms around Derek from behind, resting his face against Derek’s shoulder while he pours the eggs into the pan. Derek lets him hang on, doesn’t make a big deal out of it, until he’s finished cooking. Then he sets down the plate of scrambled eggs and says, “Come on. You need to eat. Start on that and I’ll make you some toast. Rye okay?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, digging in. “So you said Jordan had a late shift the other day? What does he do?”

Derek gives him a slight smile and says, “He’s a sheriff’s deputy, as it happens.”

“Nice,” Stiles says, his mouth full. “Always good to have an in with the law.”

Derek gives a snort of laughter and puts the bread in the toaster. He tells Stiles about putting the pack together, meeting the betas, Jordan clearly being head-over-heels for Laura the minute he met her. He’s never talked about it much before, but Stiles finds that he likes listening to the stories about how all the pack members are so different. He yawns as he finishes eating, suddenly feeling warmly, beautifully tired. He’s only half-aware as Derek picks him up and carries him up the stairs, and he falls asleep with his face pressed against Derek’s chest.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles feels a lot better after his nap. He and Derek shoot some pool with Boyd and Isaac, and they start talking about what they’re going to make for dinner. Boyd says that he has some steaks and he was just going to grill. “Plain?” Stiles says, and Boyd shrugs. “Dude, no. I know the most amazing whiskey marinade. Lemme take a crack at ‘em.”

“Whatever you say,” Boyd says, looking more amused than anything else.

A few minutes later, while Stiles is in the kitchen, mixing the whiskey with soy sauce, he sees Peter come in. He twists a chair around so he’s sitting on it backwards, facing Stiles at the counter. “Sorry about earlier.”

Stiles shrugs. “You were upset. I get it.”

Peter nods. “I know we weren’t going to talk about what comes next until after Kate is dead, but this . . . changes things.”

“Not really,” Stiles says. “You were already thinking you were going to stay here, protect your niece, her pack. Unless . . .” He stops chopping garlic and looks up. “Unless Laura being pregnant means you’re not going to go after Kate.”

“Oh, no,” Peter says immediately, much to Stiles’ relief. “It’s a matter of safety if nothing else. We’ll never be safe as long as Kate is out there – Gerard as well. Although I certainly never would have used Beacon Hills as the setting for this if I’d known Laura was pregnant . . . well, I didn’t, so here we are. So we’ll get that taken care of. And then . . . I’ll stay. But me staying doesn’t mean you have to stay. Maybe it would be better if you don’t.” He shakes his head. “I’m not sure if staying here to protect Laura would keep her any safer. It might be better if I left, drew the hunters off.”

“No way,” Stiles says. “Even if you did that – even if they came after you – others might come here. Laura and Derek are possible leverage over you, and everyone knows it. No, if you want to protect them, stay here where you can do it.”

Peter nods. “What about you?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles admits. “Part of me wants to stay, wants it more than anything. Wants a, a home and a boyfriend and a normal life, all those things I thought I would never have. But I feel like . . . I can’t picture myself in it. A part of me will always be running. Maybe I don’t know how to stop. I . . .” His voice chokes up a little. “It’s like I ran from my dad’s death and if I stop, I finally have to face it. Which is stupid, right? I’ve been facing it for years, hitting it head on. I don’t know why not fighting to avenge his death would suddenly make it like I have to look it in the eye.”

“Because that would mean you’ve accepted it,” Peter says quietly. “And more than that, you’ve accepted that it’s okay to move on from it. That it’s okay to have a family and a life even though your father was killed. It’s okay to be happy, even though your father was killed.”

Stiles wipes his eyes. “Yeah. I guess that makes sense, in a weird way.”

“We’re slow learners, you and I,” Peter says, and Stiles chokes out a laugh. “But I think we’re capable, eventually.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says again.

“But it’s okay if you don’t want to stay, Stiles. You don’t need to stay for my sake. So if you want to keep moving around, or settle somewhere else . . . do whatever is right for you. You could do anything, cricket. I mean that honestly. I’ve seen the way you learn, the way you put puzzles together. You could do anything you wanted to do, whether it’s solve cold cases or go to law school or become the president. You are absolutely unstoppable.”

Stiles glances over his shoulder and smiles. “Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome.” Peter stands back up and squeezes Stiles’ shoulder, runs a hand over his hair and the back of his neck. “We’ll talk about it more once this is over. Okay?”

Stiles nods. “Okay.”

A few hours later, they sit down to dinner. The steaks are a big hit, even though Stiles had to fight to get his cooked to a dark pink. Erica made a salad; Lydia bought some fresh bread on the way home from work. Jackson sneers at the drink options and produces two expensive bottles of wine. They sit and talk and eat, and it feels good to Stiles. It feels natural. Derek is a little quieter than usual, clearly still anxious about Kate being out there, but nobody mentions it.

Jordan leaves after dinner, because he’s working night shift. Peter scowls at the door as it swings shut behind him. “He should be here with you at night. Protecting you.”

“I’m fine, Uncle Peter,” Laura says, with a roll of her eyes.

Stiles is thinking about the best way to adjourn from the table, because he’s finally feeling in the mood to get Derek’s hands all over him, but then the doorbell rings. Peter’s frown deepens, and he says, “I’ll go see who it is.”

“Okay,” Laura says, and Stiles immediately stands up to go with him, and behind him, he hears Laura say, “No, the rest of you stay here.”

Peter glances out the front window. “It’s Chris,” he says, his voice a little surprised. He undoes the lock and opens the door. Stiles holds himself ready, just in case. He knows that Peter and Chris have a history, but he doesn’t want to be taken off guard. “What is it?” Peter greets him.

“Hello to you, too.” Chris sounds tired and annoyed. “Do you want to explain to me why my daughter came home and started talking to me about a hunter justice system, which by the way, she wants to be in charge of?”

A smile curves Peter’s mouth, and Stiles barely covers up his chortling. “Probably because your sister promised Scott to leave Stiles alone as long as he agreed not to help me, then shot an illusion of him in the head. Oh, and it might have something to do with the fact that Stiles told her you didn’t do anything about Sam Stearns.”

“Actually, I told her that you worked with him and gave him the wolfsbane he used to kill people,” Stiles chimes in helpfully.

Chris rubs a hand over his scalp, looking a little pissed but mostly chagrined. “He said he needed it for werewolves. It’s not like I knew he was too stupid to dose it properly so it wouldn’t kill humans, too.”

“Uh, actually it is,” Stiles says. “I mean. If I gave you a gun, and you shot someone with it by accident, it would be my fault that I didn’t make sure you were competent with firearms before giving you one.”

“Is he always like this?” Chris asks dryly.

“Pretty much,” Peter says, looking at Stiles fondly. “But yes. He had a conversation with Scott and Allison about responsibility in the hunter community, and it seems they took it to heart. I’m actually quite touched. Scott seems like a genuinely decent human being, and I don’t meet many of those in your line of work.”

“So what’s their plan?” Stiles asks. “I mean, have they thought about what kind of system they want to put together? Because Scott didn’t seem to go in for capital punishment but frankly I don’t see how it would work without it.”

Chris gives him a sideways glance and says, “No, it probably wouldn’t, and Scott didn’t like it when I told him that. But after some thought, he admitted that there’s not much of a difference between killing a werewolf who’s killed people, and killing a human. The difference we’ve always ascribed to is that a werewolf can’t be imprisoned. So we figured we would give the hunter the option of imprisonment, and if they choose not to take it, well, we’d have to seek a more permanent solution.”

“So you’re actually going along with them,” Peter says, eyebrows going up. “Well, Chris, I’m impressed. It might have taken you twenty years, but you finally got your shit together.”

“Nothing’s set in stone yet,” Chris says. “I think Scott and Allison have some good ideas, but I also think they’re painting enormous targets on their backs. They need to think about how to handle some necessary anonymity, and Stiles apparently wants a way to safeguard any apprehending police officers. So there’s a lot to think about. And naturally, as soon as I as much mentioned it to my father, he disapproved on every level. ‘Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs’, as he put it.”

“If that isn’t the dumbest phrase,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “I mean, I know that it’s basically trying to say ‘sometimes sacrifices are necessary for the greater good’ but omelets are made entirely out of the insides of eggs, and endeavors aren’t supposed to be made entirely out of sacrifice. So to me it reads like, ‘I don’t understand how omelets work and I shouldn’t be allowed to create metaphors’. But then again, at least he didn’t spout off about bad apples.”

Chris is shaking his head. “Look, I know there’s nothing I can say that will make the two of you not go after Kate. But leave my daughter out of it.”

“I had no intention of bringing your daughter into it,” Stiles says, offended. “I even specifically shot down that idea when Peter brought it up. Kate’s the one who went to find her and Scott, and talk them into getting me somewhere by myself so she could shoot me.”

With a sigh, Chris says, “Fine. Just don’t encourage them. At least not until this is over. Deal?” He extends his hand to Peter.

“Deal,” Peter says, amused, and reaches out to shake it.

The instant his hand touches Chris’, his body goes rigid, convulses, and collapses to the floor. It’s so sudden that it takes Stiles a moment to figure out what just happened. That moment is too long. By the time he puts his hand up to use the disrupt spell, Chris’ gun is trained on him. “Don’t,” Chris says, and his voice cracks. “I’m sorry, Stiles. I really am. But she has Allison. I can’t . . .”

“Fucking hell,” Stiles swears, his brain still playing catch up. Chris must have had some sort of shocking device in his hand. “Chris, you – ”

“Lower your hands,” Chris says. “You think I don’t see those spells? Put your hands down. You don’t have time to activate one before I pull the trigger. I don’t want to hurt you, Stiles. Please don’t make me.”

Stiles does as he’s told. “She’ll kill Allison anyway. You know she will.”

Chris shakes his head. “She’ll take her time killing Peter. That’ll give me a chance to get Allison.” He keeps his gun trained on Stiles while he leans down and grabs Peter by the wrist, hauling him upwards. “I’m sorry, Stiles,” he says again. “But it’s my daughter. You would’ve done the same.”

His finger tightens on the trigger. Without time to activate a spell, Stiles dives to the side, into the other room. By the time he scrambles to his feet, Chris and Peter are gone.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“What the fuck just happened?” Derek asks, with the rest of the pack clamoring behind him as they charge into the front hallway.

Stiles has to take a moment to catch his breath. “Chris fucking Argent happened,” he snarls, jogging onto the front porch to see Chris’ tail lights disappearing from the Hale house’s ample driveway. “God damn it! Okay.” He has to stop and force himself to take a deep breath. They’ve planned for things like this; they have contingencies. He just has to keep his head.

“Should we follow him?” Derek asks, already halfway into his shoes.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “or more accurately, we should go after them. We don’t have to follow his car. Peter has a locator spell tattooed on his ankle. He got it the same time I got my first tattoos. It was a precaution in case we ever had to split up.”

“Okay,” Derek says, “but we don’t have much time.”

Stiles lets out another breath. “No, we do. Kate won’t kill him. I mean, for one thing, that’s just how she is. But secondly, Kate’s smart enough to know she can’t leave a loose end like me dangling in the wind. She’ll wait until I show up.”

“She can still wait for you to show up after he’s dead,” Laura says, her voice tight.

“But she won’t, because she knows or at least assumes that I’m tracking him magically, and the spell won’t work if he’s dead.” Stiles shakes his head. “No, she has to keep him alive until I get there. Derek, can we take your car? We might need to make a quick getaway . . . no, scratch that. The Camaro might be faster but it’s too distinctive. I don’t want you to end up in trouble.”

“It’s fine if you – ”

“Nope, I’m good. Lemme grab some stuff.” Stiles trots out to the car without waiting to see if anyone’s following him, and pops open the trunk. He has a gun that he’s never actually fired for anything other than target practice, two knives, and a variety of less traditional weapons. He tucks them all away and then dives into the driver’s seat.

Before he can put the car in gear, the side door opens and Derek gets in. “I’m going with you.”

“You shouldn’t,” Stiles says. “You said you didn’t want to be anywhere near Kate.”

“I don’t. But if anything happens – I might be able to help you or Peter get to safety.”

Stiles wants to argue, but truth be told, he’s off kilter from what had happened to Peter. He’s never gone into a situation alone. So he nods and says, “Okay, but stay back if things go south. In fact, if you’re coming, you can drive – that way I can focus on the spell.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter jolts awake feeling like his brain is three sizes too large for his skull. He grunts slightly as he takes in his surroundings. His wrists are handcuffed behind his back, and he’s been tossed across the backseat of a car. “Really, Chris?” he manages, his voice hoarse.

“Shut up,” Chris replies.

Peter glances around, rolling his shoulders. “Where’s Stiles?”

“At the den,” Chris says, then adds, “well, probably not anymore.”

“You left him behind?” Peter’s eyebrows go up. “You know he’ll only follow you. You could have brought him. He would have let you, you know – put him in handcuffs or knock him out or whatever you felt you had to do, if it meant he wouldn’t be separated from me. And I’m pretty sure Kate would have told you to bring both of us.”

The line of Chris’ jaw is tight and angry. After a moment, he says, “Yes, I could have brought him, but I didn’t.”

Peter thinks about this, listens to Chris’ heartbeat and assesses his scent. There’s so much fear and rage to him, but there’s something else underneath it. A grim sort of resolve. “Where are we going?”

“The distillery.”

“A good place for an ambush.” Peter nods. “You bring me there, keep Kate distracted while you rescue your daughter. It’ll give Stiles an opportunity that we might not have gotten any other way.”

Chris still doesn’t turn to look at him, but he says, “She was going to keep going through intermediaries. Derek, Scott, now me. You never would have gotten a direct shot at her. When she kidnapped Allison, I saw a chance and I took it.”

Peter nods, then says, “You know, you could have just told us.”

“Would you have trusted me?” Chris finally glances over his shoulder. “I’m well aware of the things I’ve done – or more accurately, the things I haven’t done. Would you have believed me if I had come to you and said ‘hey, I want to take you and Stiles out to the abandoned distillery and I absolutely promise my sister hasn’t got snipers set up?’”

“Well, not if you had phrased it like that,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. He chews it over for a moment, and then agrees, “No. I wouldn’t have. Stiles might have, but not me.”

Chris nods a little and says nothing, his point made. After a moment, he says, “What do you think his plan is going to be?”

Peter casts his memory back to the distillery. It’s been such a long time since he’s been there. “Can you put me near the center of the main room?”

“Sure. Easy enough. Scott and Allison are – ” Chris stops and clears his throat. “Chained to some of the pipes off to the side.”

“Then he’ll come in from above. Drop down on Kate and surprise her. His primary goal will be to separate her from me, and then take her out.” Peter wiggles a little, testing the handcuffs, and stops when he feels them start to give. “These aren’t silver reinforced.”

“No, they’re just regular handcuffs,” Chris says.

“You use those for business or pleasure?” Peter asks, smirking.

“I’m not dignifying that,” Chris replies.

Peter’s smirk just becomes more pronounced. But he returns to the matter at hand. “What about Gerard? Do we need to factor him in?”

“He’s on his way, but I don’t think he’s here yet. He told Kate not to move until he got here, but, well.” Chris shrugs. “You know Kate.”

“That I do,” Peter agrees. He looks up as the car crunches onto some gravel and then stops. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles closes his eyes as Derek pulls out onto the road and focuses on the feel of Peter at the other end of the spell. He dictates directions as best he can to Derek, although they’re often somewhat vague, like ‘take a right turn at some point’. The spell doesn’t work as a road map; they have to stop and turn around twice. After about twenty minutes, Derek says, “I know this road. We’re going to the old distillery.”

“That makes sense,” Stiles says, opening his eyes. “Gerard’s used it before; he probably told Kate about it.”

“That or he’s here,” Derek says, fingers tightening on the steering wheel.

He parks about a quarter mile away so nobody will hear them coming. There are two cars outside the distillery, both SUVs. Stiles hopes that means that Gerard’s not there, although he supposes that she could have ridden with Kate. They quietly move up to the back of the distillery, where there’s a small window he can peek through.

The situation inside isn’t great, although it could definitely be worse. Peter is on his back on the floor, and he’s regained consciousness, but Kate has a foot on his stomach and a stun baton pressed into his throat. She looks amused. Allison is still there, and so is Scott, a fact that makes Stiles curse underneath his breath. Scott is chained to a beam with his arms above his head, feet dangling a few inches above the floor. It looks like Allison had been chained the same way, but Chris has just gotten her down.

“We have to wait until he gets Scott down, too,” Stiles says, reporting all of this to Derek in a low murmur.

“How are we going to get Peter?” Derek asks.

“I’m not sure yet.” Stiles is thinking this over. A stun baton at Peter’s throat isn’t great, but it’s by far better than a gun. He can survive a few shocks. He risks another quick look and sees that Kate has a gun, too, in a holster by her side, as well as a rifle that’s sitting on a nearby table. He’s going to have to take her down before she can get to either of those.

He watches as Chris helps Allison sit down, then reaches up to free Scott. He’s saying something to Kate, but the thick walls of the distillery prevent Stiles from hearing. He traces over one of the symbols on his arms and then draws it on the window. “ – both of them,” Kate is saying. “But sure, okay, do half the job I told you to do. You’d better have my back when the kid shows up.”

“Have your own fucking back,” Chris replies, undoing the bindings around Scott’s wrists and easing him down. “You’re lucky I’m not putting a bullet in your head right now.”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Kate says, clearly not feeling at all threatened. “I’m faster on the draw than you and we both know it.”

Stiles loses patience with their conversation quickly. He can’t bring himself to wait, not knowing how long it’s going to be before Chris decides to leave. He doesn’t know whether Chris will be an ally or an enemy now that Allison and Scott are at least partially out of harm’s way. It’s no coincidence or mistake that Chris hadn’t even tried to capture him. Stiles is well aware that Chris could have killed him. Chris had had him dead to rights. Even if he hadn’t wanted to kill him, he could have shot him in the leg or shoulder to slow him down, but he hadn’t. Chris had created this opportunity for him. Stiles hates that he had hurt Peter to do it, but he’s sure as hell not going to pass it by.

“Stay outside,” he says to Derek. “Okay?”

Derek hesitates, then nods. “Be careful.”

“I will be. Hey, can you give me a boost?”

Derek looks at him quizzically, and Stiles explains his plan. Derek nods in understanding and makes his hands into a stirrup. Stiles places one foot in them and jumps as Derek gives a heave upwards, catching the lip of the roof and pulling himself up onto it.

He estimates about where Kate had been standing with Peter under her boot, then traces his finger over one of the tattoos to see through the ceiling and make sure he’s in the right position. He readjusts slightly before drawing a circle around the area, then standing up. This is going to take up a lot of his juice, but it’s the best way to take Kate down for a few moments. He actually has the tools he would need to cut through it without magic, but they would make too much noise.

He summons up the power he needs and then slams his foot down in the center of the circle. The area collapses with a crash, knocking Kate backwards and burying Peter under debris. Stiles jumps down into the room, pulling out his gun and taking aim on the way, but Kate is quick. She throws herself over the table, pulling it with her for cover, and the bullets miss her by inches.

Peter bursts out from underneath the wreckage with a snarl, shaking off the impact. Broken handcuffs are dangling from his wrists. “You okay?” Stiles calls over to him, and he nods. They both turn their attention towards the table that Kate had tucked herself behind. She emerges bare seconds later with the rifle that had been sitting on it. Stiles already has his hand out, activating the shield he’s used for years –

And the bullet punches right through it, hitting Peter in the chest. He stumbles backwards and lands flat on his back. Stiles screams and puts up his other hand, casting the disrupt spell with so much force that the rifle shatters in two. Kate staggers, drops the pieces, and then bolts for the back of the distillery. Stiles drops to his knees at Peter’s side, seeing the blood start to pool under his body. “Peter – Peter, can you hear me?”

Peter’s eyes are open, and he coughs out a mouthful of blood but doesn’t reply. Stiles grabs his knife and slices through Peter’s shirt, revealing the neat bullet hole on the left side of his chest, the dark lines already branching out from it. “Oh – oh fuck, wolfsbane, fuck – ”

“You need to get the bullet out,” Chris says, kneeling beside him and taking out a knife of his own, a hunting knife as long as his forearm. “And then burn the wolfsbane out.”

“We – we can’t, it’s too close to his heart, he won’t survive – ”

Somewhere in the back of the distillery, a door slams. Stiles’ head jerks up, knowing that it means Kate is getting away.

“We have to, Stiles, it’s the only way there’s even a chance he’ll survive.” Chris’ voice is calm and dispassionate. He, too, is looking in the direction that Kate disappeared in. “I’ll take care of it, okay? I know how it’s done. You go after Kate.”

Stiles shakes his head, looking at the blood all over Peter’s chin, the rapidly spreading darkness in his veins. “I – I can’t, I – ”

“I’ll take care of him,” Chris says.

“I don’t fucking trust you,” Stiles says, and he realizes that he’s crying.

Scott skids to his knees at Stiles’ side. “Trust me, okay? Can you trust me? I’ll help Chris. We might not be able to save him, but we’ll try, okay? I promise.”

Stiles looks at Peter. He squeezes Stiles’ hand and coughs out, “Go.”

After a moment of indecision, Stiles nods and gets to his feet. Rage and fear war for control in his body, and by the time he reaches the back door, rage has taken over. He charges out without thought for the consequences, knowing that Kate can’t be far ahead, won’t have had time to find good cover. He hears a gunshot and throws himself to the ground behind some thick bushes.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Kate calls out a moment later, from somewhere up ahead. “I know you’re out here! Killed your dad twice; you can’t let me get away with that, right?”

Stiles burns with fury, but stays crouched down, waiting.

“Nice trick, huh? Didn’t think anybody knew about your shielding spell. It was pretty obvious once I looked, though! What happened in Massachusetts was a dead giveaway. Bullets ricocheted all over the place. So I got a guy I know to etch some anti-magic onto the cartridges for my rifle. And Peter didn’t even duck! Dumb pieces of shit, him and your real dad both.”

Stiles slams his hand down into the ground, sending a shockwave through it that makes Kate stumble. He leaps on her from behind before she can regain her balance, taking them both to the ground in a tackle. Her gun goes flying from her hand, and Stiles sends it skittering further away with another blast of magic. Kate uses his moment of distraction to squirm free, turning and hitting him across the face so hard that he goes sprawling. Then she kicks him in the stomach. He grabs her ankle and twists.

She falls, but controls it well, bringing her other leg down hard, the heel of her boot coming down on his hip and narrowly missing his groin. It hurts like hell, but the pain barely registers. Then she does a kip-up, getting her back to her feet but unprepared when Stiles throws himself into her legs. They wrestle back and forth for what feels like an eternity, both of them fighting for purchase.

Stiles feels hard plastic jam into his side, and only barely pulls away before she fires the stun gun into his side. He grabs her wrist, digging his thumb in, and she grunts and releases it. He manages to twist it around and pull the trigger as it impacts with her upper arm. Her body convulses, and he scrambles to his feet, finally managing to pull out his .38.

“Fuck me,” Kate wheezes, rolling onto her back as she recovers from the shock. She sees Stiles standing above her, holding his gun and catching his breath, and she raises her hands slightly in a clear surrender. “Jesus, kid, you’re good. But you know if you kill me, it makes you no better than me.”

There’s a lot Stiles wants to say in that moment, about how flawed her logic is, but he knows she doesn’t really believe it. She’s just trying to talk her way out of what she sees coming. He could take the time to explain, but it would be a waste of breath, and on top of that, might give her a chance to go for a weapon. So instead he just shrugs and says, “Okay,” and pulls the trigger. She tries to get up, so he pulls the trigger again, and she stops moving. He walks over cautiously, not getting too close, and fires two more shots into her head. Then he wipes his prints off the gun and tosses it a few feet away. It can’t be connected back to him, and he doesn’t want to risk being caught with it on him.

There’s a long moment of silence. He realizes that he’s exhausted, and he just stands there, breathing, for several seconds. There’s a part of him that wants to run back into the distillery, but a part of him that doesn’t want to know. Until he sees for sure, Peter might still be alive. So he just stands there, watching the pool of blood spread around Kate in the dim light.

It’s not until he turns to go that a voice says, “Don’t move,” and he blinks stupidly into the forest. Gerard Argent walks over, looks at his daughter’s body, and slowly shakes his head. “Couldn’t wait for me to get here, could you. Just had to charge in.”

Stiles takes a step backwards, wondering if he can just walk away while Gerard talks to his daughter’s body. But before he can take a second step, Gerard’s turned towards him. He realizes again how tired he is, how he’s unarmed and exhausted and alone. He lifts his hand to use his shielding spell, hoping he still has the juice, but Gerard is faster. He has his gun out and has fired before Stiles can activate it, and the bullet goes through his hand, destroying the tattoo. He lets out a shout despite himself and clenches the hand in his armpit to try to stop the bleeding.

“Well, son,” Gerard says, “I hope it was worth it.”

“One hundred percent,” Stiles says, “and also, fuck you.”

Gerard’s mouth tightens in a thin line. He readjusts his aim slightly, and then a voice yells, “Freeze! This is the police!”

Stiles’ head jerks around as several uniformed deputies emerge from the trees. Gerard immediately lowers his weapon and says, “Good timing, officers. This man killed my daughter – ”

One of the men comes closer, and Stiles sees that it’s Jordan. “Gerard Argent,” he says, “you’re under arrest for the murder of Denise LaMonde, along with extensive fraud charges relating back to the faking of Kate Argent’s death.”

Gerard frowns as Jordan takes him by the elbow. “You’ve got to be joking. I don’t even know who Denise LaMonde is – ”

“She’s the woman you used as a body double for your daughter,” Jordan says, and Stiles sees some of the color drain from Gerard’s face. “And you’d better stop talking. I haven’t read you your rights yet.”

One of the other deputies walks over to Stiles and sees that he’s bleeding. She gets on her radio and calls for an ambulance. They’re all ignoring the dead body lying in the leaves, a fact which puzzles Stiles a little. The deputy helps him sit down while they wait for the ambulance, while Jordan and another deputy escort Gerard back towards the distillery, where their cars are.

“Stiles, right?” the deputy says quietly, and he blinks at her. “It’s Tara. You probably don’t remember me. I had just started at the station when your dad was killed.”

“Oh,” Stiles says. Is that why they’re ignoring Kate’s body? Because they remember what she did? Or are they just waiting for the ME and forensics to get there, since she’s very obviously beyond help?

“He gave me some really great advice back then,” Tara says, “about how to deal with it when another deputy gave me a hard time. I only knew him for a few months, but I’ve never forgotten him.”

Stiles wonders what reaction she’s waiting for here, if it’s tears or gratitude or what. He doesn’t know what to give her. He’s going numb, barely feeling anything beyond the pain in his hand and a dull sense of fear over Peter’s condition. But his silence doesn’t seem to bother her. She waves at the EMTs as the ambulance pulls up onto the road, and walks Stiles over to them. “Go on, they’ll get you taken care of,” she says, and Stiles nods. He lies down on the stretcher and closes his eyes.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles doesn’t know exactly how long he’s been sitting in the little room in the ER, but it’s long enough that the anesthetic has started to wear off. His hand aches like crazy, and he’s cold and exhausted and wishes he could leave. But he can’t. In fact – he checks, and there’s a police officer outside his door. That explains why nobody’s been allowed in to see him, too. He wishes that they would at least let Derek in. He can’t stop worrying about Peter, and his stomach is tightly knotted up with fear.

After what seems like an eternity, the door swings open and Jordan walks in. “Hey, Stiles. How’s the hand?”

“Hurts,” Stiles says, “but I’ve had worse.”

“They give you anything?”

“Some local, but it’s worn off. I have a prescription for painkillers, but – ” Stiles gestures to indicate his surroundings. “I’ll be okay. How’s Peter? Have you heard anything?”

“Back at the den. It was touch-and-go for a while, but Laura said she thinks he’ll make it.”

Stiles lets out a breath of relief that nearly turns into a sob. Now he’ll be okay, now he can deal with the rest of this. “Are we going back to the station now?”

“What? No. Why?” Jordan frowns at him.

Stiles blinks back, confused. “I killed Kate. You need to arrest me.”

“Jesus, Stiles,” Jordan says, pinching the bridge of his nose, “don’t make my job more complicated by confessing. I just got everything straightened out.”

Stiles keeps blinking, feeling slow and stupid. “Huh?”

Jordan pulls out a chair and sits down across from him. “Here’s what happened tonight. Just listen, okay? Chris found out his sister was still alive. He called in a tip to the police about her location. Kate was shot and killed while resisting arrest. Gerard was arrested both for his role in faking her death and for murder one for Denise LaMonde. We’ve got him dead to rights on that, so if we don’t press charges against him for shooting you in the hand, then we don’t even have to admit you were there. You were ten miles away, and your buddy Scott was trying to show you something with his new handgun, but oops, there was a bullet in the chamber and the gun went off. You were shot in the hand by accident, brought here, and patched up. Gerard can try to kick up a fuss if he wants, but it’ll be his word against the word of half a dozen deputies. So it’s all good. Okay?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, nodding slowly. He feels tears stinging at his eyes and he doesn’t even know why. “Yeah, okay. It’s all good. How do you have Gerard dead to rights on murder one?”

“Police work, Stiles,” Jordan says, rolling his eyes. “I mean, her body was in Kate’s grave, but also because Gerard’s cell phone data intercepted with hers the day she was killed.”

“No, sorry,” Stiles says. “I meant that I didn’t even know you guys knew about Denise LaMonde.”

“Peter told Chris – threw it in his face, the way Chris describes it – and Chris told Laura and me. He knew his father wasn’t going to go quietly into that good night, so we were taking steps to make sure we could put him away. Laura also called me as soon as Chris left with Peter tonight, then I called Derek and he told me where we could find you.” Jordan’s voice gentles a little, and he says, “Despite what you and Peter seemed to think, you weren’t in this alone.”

Stiles cries harder, then says, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s just a delayed reaction to the adrenaline. Don’t worry about it.”

“I know, I just – ” Stiles stifles another sob. “I just want to go home. I want my dad.”

Jordan hesitates. “Uh . . .”

“Peter,” Stiles clarifies, seeing that Jordan is wondering if he’s lost his marbles. “I want to see Peter, to make sure he’s okay. I want to go back to the den.”

“Right, okay,” Jordan says. “Let’s get you home, then.”

Stiles’ legs are trembling, and Jordan has to help him out of his chair. But he steadies out a little as he walks, and Derek is in the waiting room. Stiles practically throws himself into Derek’s arms, pressing his face into the crook of Derek’s neck. A little more equilibrium returns to him. Derek gives him a brief kiss and strokes a hand over his hair before they walk out to the car. Jordan says he’ll be at the station for the rest of the night, taking care of things, and to tell Laura he’ll bring breakfast when he gets off shift.

Laura lets them in and says, “I put him up in my room,” so Derek takes him upstairs. Peter is lying in the king-sized bed, looking small against the sheets. Stiles peeks underneath the bandages to see the ugly, discolored wound there. But his breathing is steady, and he’s a little pale but not alarmingly so. “It’ll take a little while to heal,” Laura says, squeezing Stiles’ shoulder. “But he survived, so he just needs time.”

Stiles nods. “Thanks, Laura,” he says, and she nods and leaves the room. Stiles crawls underneath the blankets next to Peter. He stirs but doesn’t wake. “He must be really out of it. He’s normally a super light sleeper.” He wipes his eyes and says, “Stay?”

“Sure,” Derek says, lying down next to him. “Get some rest. It’s over now.”

“Yeah,” Stiles mumbles, and closes his eyes.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Peter wakes up to an ache in his chest that sends shooting pain all the way into the tips of his fingers every time he takes a breath. For a few moments, he confusedly wonders if he’s in hell, before realizing that no, he’s at the den. The pillow smells like Laura, and to a lesser extent, Jordan. He can also smell Stiles, and turns his head to one side to see Stiles asleep beside him, and Derek asleep on the other side of him.

He tries to sit up to check Stiles over, and instantly regrets it. The wheezing noise he makes wakes Stiles, who bolts upright. “Why are you sitting up?” he demands, and Peter lets Stiles push him back down onto the pillows. “You were shot! In the chest! At point blank range! With a wolfsbane bullet that Chris then had to dig out of you with a knife, leaving behind a hole that he had to set on fire! Lie down.”

“I’m already lying down,” Peter says, although his voice is strained and he can’t deny it. Derek’s woken at this, hair flattened on one side and sticking up on the other, looking only half-awake. But his nephew reaches out and snags his hand, and the pain starts to drain a way. “Oh, Christ,” Peter says, eyes sagging shut. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Derek says.

Peter feels like he’s slipping back into unconsciousness, the pain floating away and taking him with it. He shakes himself and says, “Kate?”

“Dead, very dead,” Stiles says. “Double tap to the head, D-E-A-D, dead.”

“That’s my boy,” Peter mumbles, and he sees a smile twitch at Stiles’ lips. “You’re hurt.”

“Yeah. Got shot in the hand. Fucking Gerard. But he’s arrested now, and apparently Kate was killed ‘resisting arrest’ – ” He makes air quotes with his good hand. “So we don’t have anything to worry about right now.”

“Arrested, mm?” Peter manages, struggling to stay awake.

“Yeah. For murdering that woman whose body he used in place of Kate’s.” Stiles gives him a look and says, “Just go back to sleep, Peter. Everything’s okay.”

Peter manages a nod, and he’s unconscious moments later. When he wakes up again, it’s to the smell of food. The bed is empty except for him; Stiles and Derek are sitting on the floor not far away, devouring a plate of bacon and eggs. “Smells good,” Peter says. “What time is it?”

“About eight AM,” Stiles says, and Peter makes a face. “I know, too early, but I was starved. You can sleep longer if you want.”

“No, I’m all right.” Peter thinks about sitting up again, then decides not to risk it. “I’m not sure I should try eating, though.”

Stiles grimaces. “In theory, it would be okay? I mean, the bullet punctured your lung and did some major damage to your arteries, but everything else should be intact. But if your chest hurts a lot, maybe give it a day or so before you try anything. I’ll get you a protein shake or something.”

“Blech,” Peter says. He pats the side of the bed and says, “Come tell me what happened after I passed out.”

Stiles nods and sits down. He tells Peter about confronting Kate in the woods, about killing her, about Gerard’s arrival when he was at his most vulnerable. He tells him about Jordan and the police, and how Chris had told him about Denise LaMonde’s murder. “I guess they haven’t actually exhumed the body yet,” he adds, “but Jordan said they had enough to charge him, and they’re doing that today to check the teeth and DNA and stuff.”

“Okay.” It’s not the outcome that Peter had expected, but he decides he can live with it. In the long-term, Gerard being arrested and jailed for the death of an innocent woman will only help them with the rest of the hunters. “How long am I going to be laid up?”

“A couple weeks, probably,” Stiles says, and sees the look on Peter’s face. “I, uh, I’m really sorry. I thought . . .”

“What in God’s name are you apologizing for?” Peter asks, arching his eyebrows. “Kate’s the one who shot me, not you. And you can’t be blamed for thinking I was safe behind the shielding spell – I thought I was, too. Am I thrilled about being an invalid for the next few weeks? No. But it’s hardly your fault.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Stiles lets out a breath. “I’m probably a little fucked up right now after what happened, so just, don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“I would never.” Peter reaches out and tousles his hair.

A moment later, there’s a knock on the door and Laura pokes her head in. “Someone’s here to see you,” she says, and opens the door the rest of the way, revealing Chris Argent.

Stiles scowls at him reflexively, even though he knows that none of this is really his fault. Plus, he had saved Peter’s life when it had come down to the wire, so there’s that. Even so, he can’t help but ask, “What are you doing here?”

“I brought something for Peter,” Chris says, and hands over a sheet of paper. “Thought you might want a copy.”

Peter looks it over, and his lips twitch into a smile. “A death certificate?”

Chris pulls up a chair and sits down. “Turns out faking someone’s death is a lot easier if they haven’t killed three police officers first,” he says. “Generous bribe to the medical examiner and a doctor of your choice, and voila. No need to fake a body when the person in question hadn’t already been transported to the hospital.”

“Are the other hunters going to buy that?” Stiles asks warily.

“I think so,” Chris says. “I mean, Kate shot him in the heart with a wolfsbane bullet. I saw it with my own two eyes, plus she was taking video.”

“Gross,” Stiles says.

“Agreed. But I can cut the video before we started digging the bullet out, and post it to the forum. Then they won’t have any reason to look for him.”

“What about me?” Stiles asks.

“You’re going to channel your murderous impulses into helping Scott and Allison police the hunter community. I’ll vouch for you, so hopefully nobody will come after you. I can’t make any promises. But you can read all about it on the forum yourself, I’m sure.”

Stiles looks innocently at the ceiling. “What makes you think I have access to your forum?”

Chris rolls his eyes and doesn’t dignify that with an answer. “It’ll only work if you’re actually willing to do it, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says, and lets out a breath. “But yeah. I am. It’s not that I ever liked killing, you know. I just thought it had to be done. Maybe it won’t be necessary anymore. I don’t know. But I’m at least willing to give it a try.”

“Okay.” Chris stands up, then looks at Peter. “What about you?”

“What about me?” Peter counters.

Chris sighs. “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt like this.”

“Obviously,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. “You gave us the chance to kill Kate. And you did save my life. So we can call it water under the bridge.”

Chris lets out a slow breath, looking more relieved than he probably wants to admit. “Okay. Good.”

“You do owe me, though,” Peter adds, smirking. “I expect you to take me out for a drink once I’m back on my feet.”

“I’m married, Peter,” Chris points out.

“I won’t tell your wife if you don’t,” Peter says. Chris gives a disgusted huff and heads out the door without another word.

Stiles waits until he’s gone to choke back a laugh. “You’re such a troll,” he says to Peter.

“Guilty as charged. Though it’s not entirely trolling. If I remember Victoria correctly, he’ll be divorced by the end of the month if he actually takes up this new crusade. Luckily for him, he’ll have me to comfort him in his time of need.”

“You know, the fact that you’re actively trying to bone the guy who tased you less than twenty-four hours ago means there’s probably something very wrong with you,” Stiles says cheerfully. “And the fact that I can one hundred percent understand the attractiveness of someone badass enough to get the better of us means there’s probably something very wrong with me.”

“Well, at least we never claimed to be well-adjusted,” Peter says.

Stiles gives a snort. “That’s a fact,” he says. He falls silent for a minute before finally asking, “What do you think? About his plan to set up a hunter justice system?”

“I think we’ll probably have to kill a few more before they get the message, to be honest,” Peter says, “but that might just be the cynic in me talking. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes when the first few are arrested. But I know there were several more on our list that we had already identified, so we’ll have the answer sooner rather than later.”

“Yeah.”

Seeing that Stiles looks like he’s settling in for a long brooding session, Peter says, “Well, you don’t need to stay here and keep me company. I’ll probably sleep most of the day, anyway. You two should go out and have fun somewhere.”

“Are you sure?” Stiles asks, clearly torn.

“I’m sure,” Peter says.

Derek folds his hand into Stiles’. “Come on. Let’s go over to Fort Bragg. I’ll take you to Glass Beach if you’ve never been.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, squeezing Derek’s hand. “I’ll see you later, Dad.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Topic: Peter Hale dead, Gerard Argent arrested

Posted 2 hours ago by blue-nordic-monkshood

 

CA here. A lot has happened in the past few days and I finally have time to post this.

First things first. My sister Kate was not killed by the police ten years ago. The forum user nous-chassons, who revealed the Obituary Killer’s identity, was Kate. Apparently my father paid a doctor to write a death certificate for her and smuggle her out of the hospital, and he got her out of the country and into South America. The woman who was buried in my sister’s grave was a woman named Denise LaMonde – an unrelated, innocent bystander who had the misfortune of looking enough like Kate that my father killed her to use as a body double. I was not aware that Kate had survived, and only found that out a week ago.

When Kate heard about the Obituary Killer, she immediately figured out who it was, having followed some of the news articles about Beacon Hills after leaving the country. To anyone in Beacon Hills who knew Peter and witnessed the media frenzy when Mieczyslaw Stilinski disappeared, it wasn’t exactly difficult. In the spirit of full honesty, I’ll confess that I figured this out many years ago. However, my attempts to track Peter Hale’s real identity were unsuccessful, so I kept the information to myself so nobody would target Laura and Derek Hale. They were my sister’s victims, and I did not want to be responsible for causing them further pain. As long as Hale and Stilinski kept their killing to those among us who had harmed innocents, I decided not to say anything.

I’m fully aware that a lot of you are pissed as hell right now, but to be honest, I don’t really care. If knowing who the killers were would have helped catch them, I would have said something, but it wouldn’t have. Until they realized Kate was alive, I truly believe there would have been no stopping them.

Back to the issue at hand. When Kate posted their identities, as I expected, several hunters came to Beacon Hills to try to abduct Laura or Derek to use as leverage. Hale and Stilinski came back to protect them, which I mentioned to my father, and naturally Kate came to finish the job. She half-succeeded. She shot Peter in the heart with a wolfsbane bullet. I was there and I saw it happen. If you aren’t willing to take my word for it, she was taking video at the time, and I’ve posted that here.

After Peter was killed, Mieczyslaw Stilinski killed Kate. On the same night, my father was arrested for the murder of Denise LaMonde. Apparently Peter mentioned it to Laura, who reported it to the police. This is now confirmed. The body has been exhumed and identified via a surgical pin in Ms. LaMonde’s leg from a previous car accident. The police were able to link Gerard to the crime with his cell phone GPS data. He will be going to jail, most likely for the rest of his life, unless something very unexpected happens at his trial.

I’ve spoken extensively to Mieczyslaw in the past few days. I believe his heart was in the right place, and if he’d led a different life, he would have been a great hunter. He believes strongly in protecting innocents, which is the reason I, and I certainly hope most of you, became hunters to begin with. Although he was manipulated and misled by Peter Hale on a number of points, it’s undeniable that we have been far too lax in policing our brotherhood. I had no idea what Kate was capable of – but I’m willing to bet a fair number of other hunters did. Similarly, other forum users’ posts have demonstrated that they were well aware of the sort of atrocities Bell, McManus, and many others had committed.

We have to do better. Our job is to keep people safe from monsters, and not all monsters have fangs and fur.

Mieczyslaw Stilinski was a victim twice over: once of Kate’s, and once of Peter Hale’s. I believe it would be wrong to harm him, and now that he’s been freed of Hale’s influence, he is no danger to us. I’m willing to be held personally responsible for his conduct, and if he continues his killing spree, I will put him down myself. But I don’t believe that will happen – as long as we keep our own in line. And we do need to do that. My daughter and I are going to monitor the behavior of other hunters to insure that innocents are not being harmed. It will be an enormous task, and anyone who wants to volunteer to help would be much appreciated.

I can already hear your objections. It’s an invasion of privacy. I’m favoring non-humans over my own brothers. I would like to remind you that Howard Bell raped children and some of you looked the other way. That Chuck Gonzales placed a bomb under a front porch that killed a toddler and some of you looked the other way. That Sam Stearns killed two human bystanders with wolfsbane because it was easier to poison a werewolf couple when they had guests and I looked the other way. None of us is blameless in this.

Details on how we’re going to accomplish this will be forthcoming once my daughter and I have worked out a system. We will be transparent with you about what we are and are not monitoring. I’m disabling comments on this post because I don’t want it to become a free-for-all. If you have a problem, an objection, et cetera, contact me directly.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

“It’s so weird to read a post using my real name,” Stiles says, wrinkling his nose slightly. “I mean, just, ugh. Although actually it kind of helps? Because it feels like he’s talking about somebody else. You know, this mythical Mieczyslaw Stilinski who he’s talked with extensively and could have been a great hunter.”

Derek gives a snort and shakes his head. “He did lay it on pretty thick, but I guess that was necessary.”

“Yeah.” Stiles groans and shuts his laptop. “I’m glad he disabled the comments. Otherwise I’d be sitting here refreshing the page all day. Wanna go out?”

“Actually . . .” Derek glances down at his phone. “Yeah. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

Stiles gives him a sideways glance. “A good surprise? I’ll remind you that I have a pretty strong instinct to punch people if they startle me.”

“I think it’s a good surprise,” Derek says, “and it’s not the sort of surprise that will result in anyone getting punched.”

“Well, okay.” Stiles pulls his shoes on and follows Derek out of the house. They get into the Camaro and drive to the sheriff’s station. Stiles gives the building a wary look. “This isn’t some weird ploy to reunite me with people I knew as a kid, right? Because I don’t think I’m emotionally prepared for that. Plus I’m not sure any of the people I knew as a kid are still here.”

Derek is shaking his head. “No. There are people here I want you to meet, but they’re people you’ve never met before.”

Stiles frowns at him, but then says okay and gets out of the car. Jordan had told him that he’s officially no longer a missing person, and able to use his real identity if he wants. The urge not to is still strong. He thinks he’ll be using a fake for quite a while. But he’s an adult now, and Peter is ‘dead’; there’s no reason that he can’t go back to being Stiles Stilinski.

“Hey, c’mon in,” Jordan greets them, as they come through the door. “This whole thing with Kate still being alive turned into a God damned media circus – ”

“Please tell me I’m not here to talk to a reporter,” Stiles says.

“C’mon, Stiles,” Derek says. “Do you think I don’t know you at all?”

Stiles wrinkles his nose at him, and Jordan continues, “So obviously people wanted to know how I knew about it and why we exhumed her grave, et cetera. Long story short, I told a semi-version of the truth. People online had been discussing the strange case of the disappearance of Mieczyslaw Stilinski, on one of those true crime forums, and somebody had mentioned a detail that only someone who had been there at the time of the deputy’s murder would have known. You read it and realized Kate was still alive, and figured out how her father must have killed a woman to use as a body double. By the way, Peter did mention that although he’s the one who figured out Kate was alive, you’re the one who found Denise LaMonde’s identity.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Stiles says. “I mean, it wasn’t a big deal, just going through missing persons cases from the surrounding area until I found one that matched.”

“Well, it might not have been a big deal to you, but it was a big deal to some other people,” Jordan says, and gestures for Stiles to follow him. Frowning, Stiles does so, as they go into one of the offices. A man about Peter’s age is sitting there, with two boys who look to be in their early teens. “Stiles, this is Brett LaMonde, and his sons, Phil and Jake. Guys, this is Stiles Stilinski.”

Stiles stops dead, his mouth slightly ajar. Brett LaMonde stands up and extends a hand with a friendly smile. “Hey! Sorry to ambush you like this, but we asked Deputy Parrish if he could set something up. We really wanted to meet you so we could thank you.”

“Oh, well, uh . . .” Stiles’ voice trails off, and he says lamely, “Thanks? I mean, you’re welcome? Shit. I kind of solved it by accident, you know, I was just looking for Kate . . .”

“Not really,” Brett says. “I mean, you didn’t have to know who was in the grave, just that it wasn’t her. And they wouldn’t have even known Kate wasn’t dead if you hadn’t figured that out, so . . . look, it meant a lot to us. We kind of . . .”

“We knew she was dead,” the older teenager says, when Brett’s voice faltered. “People used to say shit about how maybe she ran off with another guy or something, but she never would have left us. You know?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, his eyes stinging with tears as he thinks of his own mother. “Yeah, I know.”

“So just . . . finally having an answer, being able to bring her home and bury her with the rest of her family, it means the world to us,” Phil continues. “We wanted to thank you for that.”

“You’re welcome,” Stiles says, snuffling a little.

“Want to go grab a bite to eat?” Brett asks.

“Yeah, that, that sounds good,” Stiles says.

“I know a good pizza place,” Derek says. “You can follow us.” He puts an arm around Stiles’ waist and guides him towards the door. Once they’re back in the Camaro, on the way to the best pizza joint in town, he says, “I know that you never met any of the people that you’d helped before. I thought you might want to. Was it a good surprise?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Yeah, it was a really good surprise. Thanks, Derek.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s three days before Peter can even get out of bed, and he knows he’s going to have to take it easy for far longer than that. But he manages to hobble down the stairs to find the pack gathered in the rec room, and sits down with them for a while. Laura isn’t there, and Boyd says she’s at work and was going to go shopping afterwards. Peter reminds himself that Laura was perfectly safe for years before he got there, and in theory, she’s perfectly safe now. It’s still difficult not to go look for her.

“So you’re staying, huh?” Erica asks, as they sit down for dinner that evening.

“Mm hm,” Peter says.

“Stiles too?” Isaac asks, then looks around. “Where is Stiles? And Derek? Or is that a question better not asked?”

“They went out to dinner with some guys Derek knows, I think,” Lydia says. “He texted earlier saying to go ahead and eat without him.”

Peter smiles a little, glad to hear that Stiles and Derek are having fun. He glances up as the front door opens, and Laura comes in. As it had before, the scent of her, the barely audible second heartbeat, makes tears sting at his eyes. But he manages not to show it, as Laura greets the pack and then says she’s going to take her things upstairs.

“Let us help,” Boyd says, and when Peter stands up, he adds, “Not you. You’re still recuperating, remember?”

“I suppose.” Peter sinks back into his chair and tries not to sulk. Erica giggles, and he responds as only a mature adult can, throwing a piece of carrot at her. Laura just rolls her eyes and heads up the stairs, with Isaac and Boyd grabbing the bags she had been carrying.

Even so, he has to admit that they’re correct. Just the act of coming downstairs and eating dinner has exhausted him. After they’ve eaten, he says, “I think I’ll go lie down. Laura, I can’t commandeer your room forever – is there a spare room or a sofa?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Laura says. “Feel up to some stairs?”

Peter eyes her suspiciously, but nods. They head up to the second floor, but instead of going into Laura’s room, she pulls down a trap door in the hallway, with steps that lead up to the attic. He follows her, resisting the urge to make a joke about her locking him away with the other unwanted things. But once he gets into the room, he stops dead.

Laura has been busy in the last few days. The little attic room has a bed and a bureau, a desk and a comfortable looking chair. Peter’s laptop is already there; they must have gotten it from Stiles. Drapes have been put up to hide the bare walls and unfinished wood. Shelving along one wall has been stacked with books of every variety. There’s even a framed picture on the desk of the Hale family, from before the fire.

“Figured you’d want the attic because that way you can come and go from the roof without disturbing anybody else,” Laura says, and gestures to a small window on one end. “I remember that you used to sit on the roof at night to keep watch, whenever Mom was worried about something.”

“Yes,” Peter replies. “That . . . that’s good. Being able to see everything at once.”

Laura studies him for a moment before saying, “Why are you so surprised?”

“I didn’t think you wanted me here,” Peter replies. “I didn’t blame you. You had every right to be angry at me. I knew I would stay, that I would protect you, but this . . . you’re making me a part of your pack, after everything I did.”

Laura sighs and sits on the desk, letting her legs dangle. “Look, I’m still pissed at you for taking off. But I thought about what you said. About how you were grieving. And I know that I can never understand what losing Olivia was like for you, let alone losing the baby. Jordan and I talked about it, and he said if I was killed, he’d go off his fucking head. I can understand why you saw a son in Stiles. Yeah, I was angry that you left us, but I wasn’t furious until you started telling me I’d fucked Derek up . . . but you weren’t totally wrong about that. I did my best, but . . . he has been a lot happier since he started going to visit you guys. I think a part of me was just really upset that you guys had helped him so much, when I resented you so much for leaving me.” She shakes her head and wipes her eyes. “We both fucked up, but we both are fucked up, so . . . I just want to be a family again. Okay?”

Peter nods. “Okay. Thank you . . . for the room. It’s perfect.”

“You’re welcome.” Laura manages a watery smile. “Stiles is going to stay, isn’t he? Derek won’t say it, but it’ll break his heart if he leaves.”

“I think he will. He was awfully shaken up by what happened, but I know that he wants to stay. I’m just worried that he’ll think he can’t, or shouldn’t. Not because he killed Kate – that doesn’t bother him – but that he’ll put the others in danger if he’s here. Or he’ll get some stupid idea in his head about how he’ll ruin his relationship with Derek if they try to actually have one.”

Laura rolls her eyes. “Derek might have to use his words for once,” she says, and Peter gives a quiet snort.

“By the way, I haven’t said it before, but . . . you have a great pack,” Peter says. “You’ve done very well, you know, considering everything that was working against you.”

“Yeah?” Laura says, smiling.

“Yeah. Would I lie, niece?”

“Like a rug,” Laura says, and they both laugh. It makes Peter’s chest ache, and he tries to hide the wince, but Laura sees it. “You ought to lie down, get some rest. Okay?”

“I suppose if you insist,” Peter says.

“I’m your alpha now. I get to boss you around.”

Peter gives another snort. “Whatever you say.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s nearly midnight when Derek and Stiles get back to the den. They say hello to Laura and hear about Peter’s reaction to his new room. Stiles had helped them with that, pointing out that what it really needed was books, ‘lots and lots of books’. He’s glad to hear that Peter had liked it. Derek gives his sister a good night hug and they start up the stairs.

“Are there any spare rooms here?” Stiles asks, after Derek has shut the door behind him.

Derek shakes his head. “It’s a big house, but not that big. Laura’s got the master suite, I’ve got this one. Then Boyd and Erica share, Jackson and Lydia share, and Isaac has one. There’s one more but Laura’s been making it into a nursery. Why?”

“I was just . . . thinking about where I’m going to stay.” Stiles tugs nervously at the hem of his shirt. “I wasn’t sure if you wanted to share or not, or if you were even going to live here. I mean, you have the loft apartment.”

“Yeah, and I want to keep it,” Derek says. “It’ll be good to have a place to go, where I can get away from the others when they annoy me. I’ve been sleeping here most nights for the past few months.” He leans over and gives Stiles a soft kiss on the mouth. “I’m fine sharing my room with you,” he says, and then sees the uncertainty on Stiles’ face and amends, “I want to share my room with you.”

“Are you sure? I mean, it’s just, it’s a lot,” Stiles says, the words tumbling out. “I know that we’ve spent a lot of time together over the past six months or so but I’m not sure a week here and there is the basis for moving in together, and we both said we didn’t want a relationship and now I sort of feel like I’m pressuring you? But I don’t want you to think I don’t want a relationship, even though that’s what I said when we first met, because I do, but I don’t want you to think that you’re supposed to want a relationship, unless you do, in which case – I’ve confused myself. I’m doing that thing again, aren’t I. I need to shut up.”

Derek bites back a grin. “I like it when you do that thing.”

Stiles makes a face at him. “This is serious.”

“I know. And I’m serious about it. I want you to stay here. Maybe it’ll be awkward at first. But . . .” Derek’s cheeks flush slightly pink and he ducks his head. “I like you. And I want you to be the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning.”

Stiles blushes, too. “Oh. Oh, wow, that’s sappy. Not that I didn’t like it, ‘cause I did. I just don’t know what to say in response to it, because I want to say something equally sappy, but I can’t think of anything. Uh. Ditto. Can I get away with saying ditto?”

Derek gives a snort of laughter. “Sure.”

“Great. Awesome. Ditto.”

Derek leans in for another kiss. “How about we go shopping tomorrow? Buy you some things? I know that you and Peter traveled light and everything you own can fit inside a backpack. You need more clothes, and there’s probably some other stuff that you want, too.”

“Oh, yeah!” Stiles perks up. “I’ve always wanted one of those little hot plates that keeps your coffee warm while you work. And more mugs. Do you guys have a waffle maker? If not, we should get one ‘cause I know you love waffles and I’m gonna make you waffles. Plus fluffy towels because the towels at that hotel were awful. I saw a shower curtain on the internet once that had a sloth riding a T-Rex, and I really want it. And a loofah. I’m not sure exactly what a loofah is for but I love saying the word out loud. Loofah.”

“We can get you a dozen loofahs,” Derek says, trying not to laugh.

“Awesome.” Stiles beams at him. “Oh my God, we need flavored lube! And furry handcuffs! There are so many things I want to try – do you think they sell that stuff at Target?”

“No, Stiles, I don’t think they sell furry handcuffs at Target.” Derek considers. “Flavored lube, maybe. For tonight, I guess we’re stuck with the plain stuff.”

“I’m sure we’ll soldier on bravely,” Stiles says. “Now take off your clothes.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles’ hands are trembling slightly as he walks through the rows of headstones, clutching at the bouquets of flowers he’s holding. He had called ahead to find out where the graves are, so he doesn’t have to explore. It still seems to take a long time to walk through the cemetery until he finds them, two matching headstones standing next to each other.

He sets down the bouquets, one on each grave, and sits down between them. For a long minute, his throat is too tight to speak. Finally, he manages to say, “So . . . here I am. I’m sorry . . . it’s taken me so long to come visit. I guess it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I was pretty fucked up by what happened.

“I’m still not sure what I think about an afterlife. Sometimes I would feel like you were still with me, watching me. I’m not sure if I want that to be true or not. I don’t know that you would approve of everything I’ve done. I still don’t really think I was wrong to do it, though. Sorry if that, uh, if that bothers you.”

He clears his throat and draws a sleeve over his eyes, wiping away the tears before they can fall. “Maybe you’re up in Heaven having a grand old time with each other, and you don’t know anything about it. Or maybe I’m just talking to myself. I don’t know . . .”

He sits in silence for a long time.

“I miss you guys so much,” he finally says. “And I look back at everything that happened and I hate a lot of it. I hate that I’m so fucked up and that I cry a lot and that I worry about how disappointed in me you would be. But I also . . . I love Peter, too, and I know that I’ve saved lives and I have good things, really good things, in my life now that I might not have had otherwise. Like Derek, because he’s so amazing and I really like him, and I know that I never would have understood him the way I do if I hadn’t . . .”

His voice trails off and he clears his throat again.

“Life is weird, I guess. Like Peter said way back then. The universe is random and arbitary, but that means that even though it’s cruel, sometimes it’s kind. I always thought that the universe was super unfair and unjust, and maybe it is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make it be more just. Does that make sense? I think it does. Hope it does. I’m going to keep trying, either way. Trying to help people and save lives and spread justice around. I’ll have to do it differently, that’s all. But I’ll come tell you about it. I won’t stay away for so long again, I promise.”

After a long moment, he stands up. He fishes a tissue out of his pocket and wipes away more tears, then blows his nose. “I’ll see you guys later,” he says, and heads for the cemetery’s exit.

As he’s getting in the car, his phone rings. He glances at the screen and then picks up. “Hello?”

“Hey, Stiles, it’s Scott,” the familiar voice says. “Have you got plans today? I thought we might go grab lunch. Ruby’s Diner is still open and I know you loved their milkshakes.”

Stiles manages a smile. “Yeah, sure. You want to talk about setting up the system to police the hunters?”

There’s a moment of hesitation. “I mean, we can if you want,” Scott says, “but I really meant more to just, you know, hang out. You can tell me about you and Derek, and I’ll tell you about how I met Allison, and if you aren’t up to date on the Marvel Cinematic Universe you absolutely should be, plus I need to hear your opinion of my zombie apocalypse plan.”

The smile on Stiles’ face grows more genuine. “Yeah, that, okay, that sounds cool,” he says. “I’ll meet you in a half hour?”

“Sure. I’ll see you then.”

Stiles hangs up and then texts Peter to say he’s going out to lunch with Scott. Peter texts back, ‘have fun’, and then, because it’s ingrained in both of them, ‘be careful’.

‘I always am,’ Stiles replies, as he always does, always is, and always will be.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It’s a gorgeous day out on the Preserve, so although Peter has to take it slowly, he doesn’t mind. It’s warm and breezy, and he’s enjoying it. It’s been a long time since he’s been able to just go on a hike, without worrying overmuch about looking over his shoulder.

Laura and Derek have planted a willow tree on the site of the Hale house, and it’s reached an impressive size in only a few years. Peter traces his hand over the bark and looks down at the little plaque that’s underneath it. All the names of the people lost in the fire. Someone has even added ‘B. Hale’, which makes tears prick at his eyes.

He sits down underneath the tree and enjoys the warm breeze for a few moments. “What would you think of Stiles, I wonder,” he murmurs to himself, but then smiles. “God, you would have loved him. So clever and snarky, but so compassionate and righteous, in a way that I never was and never will be.

“Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if you had lived. If we had gotten an apartment, and you hadn’t been there that night. I still would have been devastated by the fire, but . . . maybe you and I would have adopted Stiles together. Raised him alongside our own child. Would you have been okay with our killing spree? I honestly don’t know. Maybe that’s the sort of thing you can never know about someone until it comes up.”

He sighs quietly.

“It’s so strange to be back here. I didn’t figure I’d ever come back, at least not for more than a few days at a time. To be settling in, like I belong here . . . it feels odd, but right. I always loved this land. And protecting it, protecting the pack . . . that’s what I’m meant to do. What I should have been doing, perhaps . . . but maybe not. Would we have ever found out Kate was still alive that way? I don’t know.

“Life is funny like that, isn’t it. So full of twists and turns, butterfly effects. I’ll probably never be fully at peace with having lost you, but I can admit that it led me to a good place. I think I’m going to be okay, my love . . . maybe not today or tomorrow, but someday.”

His phone chimes, and he glances down at it to see a text from Stiles, saying, ‘Going out to lunch with Scott. Will be home in a few hours.’

‘Have fun,’ Peter texts back, then because it’s a compulsion, adds, ‘Be careful.’

‘I always am,’ Stiles replies, which is true, and Peter knows it. Stiles had always taken his warnings about being on guard to heart. He’s glad that Stiles is reconnecting with his old friends as well as making new ones. Personally, he had never had many friends. Pack had always been enough for him; he had never needed more.

Which reminds him that he wants to talk to Laura about a good perimeter security system. The fact that she doesn’t already have one set up makes him squirm. He hauls himself to his feet, running his hand along the plaque. “I’ll see you later, darling,” he says, before he turns and heads back to the den.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Gerard Argent Convicted

 

Gerard Argent has been convicted of first degree murder in the case of Denise LaMonde. In a twisted case that fascinated the media, Argent murdered the young mother in an attempt to fake the death of his own daughter after she killed eleven people and was shot by police. Denise LaMonde was abducted from her hometown and killed to be used as a body double for Kate Argent.

Argent was also convicted on a variety of lesser charges stemming from the incident, including fraud, bribery, and evidence tampering.

He was sentenced to twenty years to life in a state penitentiary. His lawyers pleaded for clemency due to the fact that he is undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer. However, this was denied.

“I’m sure that Ms. LaMonde would have pleaded for her life, if you had allowed her the chance,” Judge Felicia Iverson said during the sentencing. “You showed her no mercy, so I see no reason the court should show you any.”

Defense attorneys are expected to appeal the sentence.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

You’ll Never Believe This …

Posted 1 day ago by blackdahlia

 

I need you guys to tell me whether or not you think this is a huge coincidence, because I’m wondering if I’m losing my marbles.

Seven years ago, my sister was killed. She disappeared from the parking lot of the mall she worked at and was missing several days before her body was found. There were never any firm suspects; the police questioned some people she knew but never got any leads.

Three years ago, I posted a story about it with my sister’s name and some news articles to the request forum here. I never really thought OK would respond, but if he did . . . I was less interested in the guy who killed my sister being killed and more interested in finally knowing who it was. But nothing came of it, obviously. As far as I know, OK never responded to any of the requests that we posted here.

I moved on with my life as well as I could. Then a month ago, I got an e-mail from a guy who said he was a private investigator and was working on cold cases in my area, and wanted to know if I could answer a few questions he had about my sister. He gave me his name and his website. I Googled him, too, and he had a Yelp page with pretty good reviews. So I said sure.

The questions he asked were weird. I mean, he asked some normal ones, too, like to confirm some of the stuff that was in the news articles. But he also asked a) was my sister right-handed or left-handed, b) did she have a dog, and if so, what kind of dog was it, c) would it have been out of character for her to loan someone her phone, and d) did the apartment building she lived at have an elevator. Just seriously, the most random questions. But I answered all of them (right, no, no, and yes, in case you’re curious). He said he was working on it and he’d be in touch.

Then a week ago, the police called me and said they’d made an arrest. There was a guy who lived in my sister’s apartment building that they’d questioned once before but never been able to get any solid evidence on. They wouldn’t tell me why they’d suddenly arrested him at first, but later I found out the guy’s friend had a dog, a husky, whose hair had been found on my sister’s clothes. They’d identified it as dog hair years ago, but none of the suspects had dogs. This guy had been dog-sitting for a friend the week he killed my sister.

Naturally, I asked how they’d figured that out, and they said they’d gotten an anonymous tip. I e-mailed the PI to ask if that had been him . . . and the e-mail bounced back. Website was gone. Yelp page was gone.

So . . . what the fuck?

I have no doubt that the guy I e-mailed with is the one who tipped off the cops. But was it the Obituary Killer? If so, why did he suddenly switch from murder to getting people arrested? And if not, if it was just someone who was going through cases on the forum, why erase his e-mail and stuff afterwards?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m massively grateful for what’s happened. My sister’s killer is going to face justice, and I can stop wondering who it is. But the whole situation is just so bizarre. I don’t know what to think.

 

the-isdal-woman: I can’t imagine that OK would switch tactics like that. Whoever it is probably had some personal interest in your sister’s case . . . maybe he or she also lost a sister? And then they erased their website and everything afterwards because they must have broken a ton of laws to figure out the guy did it. They probably hacked his e-mail or something to find out that he’d been dog-sitting. Once the police got the tip, they could get a warrant and find all that shit the legal way.

 

Tamam_shud: OMG. I think the same guy e-mailed me a couple months ago. It struck me as a huge coincidence at the time but I didn’t think to post it here. Same story – he said he was a PI. I didn’t bother to look him on up Yelp or anything because to be honest I’d have answered questions from a talking hot dog if it said it might be able to solve my son’s disappearance.

He wanted to know a) if my son owned more than one pair of shoes, b) had he been in a fender bender recently, c) what his alcohol tolerance was like if I happened to know it, d) did he have a passport, and e) did he always carry his Epi-Pen with him for his peanut allergy? (Yes, at least three, yes, he swerved to avoid a squirrel and clipped a tree, terrible, two drinks and he’d be wasted, no, and yes.)

Not two days later, the police called and said they had three people in custody. It’s still really hard to talk about, but let me just say that the question about the peanut allergy turned out to be on point, and they found his body in the freezer at one of his classmates’ houses.

I e-mailed the “PI” to thank him a hundred times because I just assumed that he was the one who had tipped off the police. I asked if we could meet in person, but he never replied. I thought that was a little weird, but figured maybe he was shy or, like the-isdal-woman said above, that he had broken the law in his investigation and wanted to remain anonymous.

 

Le-prince-was-first: So someone is going through the old forum requests and just vigilante-solving them? That’s awesome.

 

MVJoyita: I wouldn’t call it awesome per se. Do you want this guy hacking your cell phone and breaking into your garage to see if there’s a body in your freezer?

 

Le-prince-was-first: I’ve got no bodies in my freezer, so I really don’t give a damn.

 

the-isdal-woman: MVJoyita, where on the internet do you think you are? We dedicated an entire forum asking this guy to come kill the people who murdered our loved ones. Do you really think we’re going to break a sweat at the fact that he might be hacking a few phones and computers along the way?

 

blackdahlia: Truer words! He can hack any phones he wants, in my opinion. But do we really think the PI is really the Obituary Killer?

 

Le-prince-was-first: Stranger things have happened. I mean, it’s worth pointing out that there hasn’t been an OK victim in over a year, and he was dropping bodies every three-four months before. Something happened to him. I mean, he might have just taken a breather, if he thought the police were getting too close or whatever. Time will tell. But don’t forget, whoever OK was, he was solving these crimes before. How else would he have known who to kill? It’s definitely not out of the bounds of reason to think he might be the mysterious PI.

 

Ladypearl: Is it weird to say I kind of hope it’s him? I mean, all the murder and stuff put him at pretty high risk. Now he can continue his work taking criminals off the street, and probably do it for a lot longer.

 

the-isdal-woman: I still think it’s just a rando who likes to solve cold cases and is good with computers. It’s a neat theory, though, especially given OK’s recent quiescence.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The piercing squeal of a baby fills the house, and everyone sitting in the rec room looks up and then bursts into cheers. It’s not that they expected any difficulty with the birth of Laura’s child, but the news that everything is going okay is still certainly welcome. Werewolves always give birth at home – hospital staff have trouble dealing with a screaming werewolf for whom the normal pain meds do nothing – but Laura had hired a midwife experienced with werewolf births.

Several minutes later, Jordan bursts into the rec room, grinning widely. “It’s a girl!” he announces, to more cheers. They had elected not to know the sex ahead of time.

“When can we see her?” Derek asks, trying not to betray how excited he is.

“Just a few minutes. They’re getting everything cleaned up right now.” Jordan is still grinning, like he just can’t stop.

The few minutes feel like an eternity to Derek, but finally, he and Peter are ushered in to meet their niece and grand-niece respectively. “Oh my God look at that wrinkly little peanut,” Jordan whispers, in a voice that is already halfway to besotted.

Derek looks over his sister, clearly exhausted but still smiling, and his beaming brother-in-law who’s holding her hand. The baby is cradled against her chest, perfect eyes closed. Peter reaches out, running his fingers along the soft down of her hair, and then has to pull away so he can wipe tears away from his eyes.

“What’s her name?” Derek asks.

Laura looks up at him and her smile turns a little sad. “You know, we thought about naming her Talia or Olivia to honor the people who are gone, but . . . I don’t want to be sad every time I look at my baby. She’s a new beginning. So we’re naming her Aurora.”

“That’s a beautiful name,” Peter says, his voice still a little choked up.

“Thank you, Uncle Peter,” Laura says.

Derek curls a hand around Peter’s forearm and gives it a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll leave you guys alone to get some rest,” he says. He leans down to kiss Laura on the forehead, then the baby. Then he leaves, gently pulling Peter along with him.

“Hey, how is she? What’s her name? Is she adorable? I bet she’s adorable,” Stiles greets them, with the rest of the pack clamoring for news as well.

“She is adorable, she’s healthy and so is Laura, and her name is Aurora,” Derek says, and everyone in the pack coos. Stiles gives Peter a quick hug, seeing that he’s a little out of sorts, and Peter manages a smile. Derek sits down on the sofa and pulls Stiles into his lap, cuddling him close as he listens to the noise of the pack. For the first time in a long time, he feels like everything’s going to be okay.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Whatever Happened to the Obituary Killer?

 

The strangest thing about the Obituary Killer isn’t that he’s dropped off the radar. It’s actually quite common for serial killers to have periods of dormancy that last years or even decades. Of course, most serial killers are driven by a compulsion to kill, whereas OK seemed to have entirely different motives. Still, it’s entirely possible that he’s simply gone quiet for now, and is biding his time, waiting.

But I don’t think he is. I think he’s dead.

The strangest thing about the Obituary Killer isn’t the fact that his victims are connected. It’s in little, coincidental ways. Paul Banner once loaned Mitch Kelly ten grand to pay off his truck. Howard Bell and Sam Stearns both attended a weapons convention in Chicago. Miranda Groves once lived with Greg McManus for about six months. Sam Stearns and Chuck Gonzales did a short stint in Folsom together back in the nineties, Stearns on an assault charge and Gonzales on a weapons charge.

Just little, coincidental connections. We could write off one or two, but looking between the Obituary Killer’s fourteen known victims – and I actually think there are more, but I’ll get to that in a bit – you can find dozens of them.

But that isn’t the strangest thing.

The strangest thing is that the OK’s victims’ victims are connected.

Darla Waltz and Carolyn Simpson were college roommates. Ryan Cohen and Jamie Garcia were business partners for a few years in the early aughts. Toby Miller dated Susan Mendehlsson a few years prior to their deaths. Hannah Sorrento and Elias Chambers both took their families to the same seaside resort the same week every summer.

Again, little, coincidental connections that would be easy to write off if there were only a few, but there are dozens. Every single one of the victims can be linked to at least two of the others.

An entire network of killers was targeting a specific group of victims. But how? Why?

The OK’s victims’ victims were a diverse group. Men, women, children. Ethnicities that ranged the full spectrum. The youngest was a toddler; the oldest eighty-three. They lived everywhere from California to Maine. Other than these odd connections, the group as a whole seemed to have no common factor.

Their killers, however, were a much more homogenous group. OK has fourteen confirmed kills, and in a moment I’m going to tell you about the eleven others I believe he killed. Of these, all but two were men, all but one was white, and they were predominately aged thirty to fifty.

These people belonged to a very specific, exclusive club who liked to hang out, go to weapons conventions, and kill people belonging to another very specific, but far more inclusive, club.

And I think they finally saw OK coming.

Here’s the thing – there are two other gaps in OK’s schedule, odd periods where he went five or six months without a confirmed kill. I think I know what happened during those two gaps, and for that, we need to go to Lowell, Massachusetts and Marcell, Minnesota.

During the first gap, five men were killed in Lowell. One was killed in his house, Daniel Helms. His throat was slit. But the scene had none of the other hallmarks of the Obituary Killer. The first, most obviously, is that there was no obituary or news article connecting him to another murder. He also wasn’t tied up as OK’s victims typically are. Then there were four more bodies in the alley, friends of Helms’, who apparently discovered his murderer in the act and gave chase.

Daniel Helms went to college with Mitch Kelly. His “friends” who were killed – one of whom lived as far away as Burlington, Vermont – also had connections within the network.

During the second gap, six bodies were found in the forest near a cabin in Marcell, Minnesota. The cabin belonged to Levi Murray, and he was one of those bodies. The scene has no resemblance to any of the OK’s other kills. They were killed in the forest, many of them by a grenade that went off. The police thought their deaths were an accident – that somehow they accidentally set off said grenade by themselves. But I’m not so sure.

Levi Murray went to the same weapons convention as Sam Stearns and Howard Bell. He once bailed Miranda Groves out of jail.

So what happened?

This network of murderers cannot have been unaware that OK was targeting them. As time went on, they became more and more prepared for him to show up. It was inevitable that they would catch him eventually.

The more hopeful among us might say that OK knew that. That he’s decided to lay low for a while, after a few close calls. And maybe those people are right. But if he didn’t stop after what happened in Marcell – and he has at least one confirmed kill after that – I can’t see why he would stop at all, until someone stopped him.

Time might eventually prove me wrong. But as the days go by and the Obituary Killer’s quiescence continues, I believe more and more that he’s been killed.

As for this mysterious network of killers, I doubt they’ve learned their lesson. But with so many connections exposed, they’re in a precarious place. Sooner rather than later, their network is going to come tumbling down, and although he might be dead, the Obituary Killer’s work will be complete.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Derek leans over and presses a kiss into Stiles’ neck. “What are you reading?”

“An article about me, like the narcissist I am,” Stiles says, half-turning so he can smile up at Derek. “People are debating the fact that the Obituary Killer hasn’t killed anyone for over a year now. A lot of people think he’s dead.”

“That’s good for you, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Although we’ll see how this case I’m working on with Scott shapes up. That dude up in Wisconsin just won’t fucking take the hint. We finally got him arrested on solid evidence and he extorted his way out of it. He may be the first official execution under the new system. Scott doesn’t want to do it, but . . . if he tries anything, his ass is grass.”

Derek nods, nuzzling into the crook of Stiles’ shoulder. “I hope you don’t have to.”

“Me too, though mostly for Scott’s sake. And a little bit for Chris’. God, he was so insulted by the hit man they sent after him. Like, not because they tried to kill him, but because that dude sucked. Chris could have caught him while blindfolded.”

With a snort of laughter, Derek says, “Yeah, let’s make sure to focus on the important things.”

“Which reminds me . . .” Stiles picks up his notebook, glances through the pages, and says, “That brings my arrest tally up to nineteen. Not bad.”

“Nineteen in a year is damned good, considering it took you five years to kill fourteen.”

“True, but hunting hunters was a lot harder than some of these random asswipes that I’m finding through the OK Request forum.” Stiles shrugs. “I’m enjoying it, so it’s all good, I guess. It keeps me from going nuts while trying to rein in these asshole hunters who are so pissed that they can’t just do whatever the fuck they want anymore.” He yawns and stretches. “Ugh, I need a break. Wanna go out for a bit? Go for a hike, have a picnic, have sex in the woods?”

Derek laughs and presses another kiss into Stiles’ neck. “Sounds good to me.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Peter watches Stiles and Derek leave the house from his little attic window. Stiles knows he’s watching; he turns and gives a little wave as they get into the Camaro. He’s smiling, and that makes Peter smile, too.

He heads downstairs and finds Laura in the kitchen, Aurora swaddled against her chest while she makes herself a cup of tea. He picks up an apple and drops a kiss onto the baby’s head as he goes by, then sits down on the front stairs and pulls on his boots.

“Going out?” Laura asks.

“Just a quick patrol. Nothing to worry about.”

“Okay. Do you want some tea?”

“Yes, please, some Earl Grey would be nice. Leave it on the hot plate; I’ll be back in less than an hour.” He ties his boots and leaves the house, heading into the forest. He walks the perimeter at least three times a day, just checking for danger. There’s always work to be done.

 

~fin~