Stiles swallows, and looks at his reflection in the mirror. He’s got blood on his face. That’s not a new thing. This time though, it’s not his, and it’s not a sparring partner’s. It was an arterial spray, and it hit him hard and fast and hot. He thought he’d wiped it off in the car on the way back, but there are still smears of it left.
He’s been blooded.
That’s the term for it, right? When the blood from a first kill is wiped on someone’s face. An ancient tradition, probably tied up in some pagan ritual of some kind. Transference of life force, or power, something. The oldest magic, or at least the oldest religion.
His reflection’s mouth quirks at that.
Here he is, thinking like a researcher again when that’s not his job at all. Stiles is a soldier in the world’s most secret war. Only a soldier for now, but one day he’ll be a legend. One day he’ll reclaim his family’s honour, and the name Stilinski won’t be spoken in hushed voices or spit through curses.
Stiles isn’t his father.
He isn’t a coward and a turncoat and a traitor.
He’s a hunter, and he’ll never forget that.
Just… just as long as his hands stop shaking soon, he’ll never forget that.
He jolts at the sound of the old man’s voice, and hastily twists the tap on in the bathroom sink and washes his face. He wipes it on his shirt, and leaves the bathroom.
He descends the stairs quickly, heading for the study.
Packed suitcases already line the hall. They’ve been in this house for four months, planning and working, but once a job’s finished, it’s off to somewhere else. Clearly they’re not wasting any time in leaving Kroměříž. It’s a shame. From what Stiles has seen of the place—and admittedly it’s not a lot—it’s beautiful. He never did get the hang of Czech though.
Gerard Argent doesn’t speak Czech either, so the conversation Stiles walks into in the study is in English. The Horak family, their sometimes prickly hosts while they’ve been in Kroměříž, all speak English to varying degrees, except for Bohdan who communicates mostly in grunts. Bohdan might be Stiles’s favourite.
“Here he is,” Gerard says, rising from the couch as Stiles enters the study. “The man of the hour.”
Stiles warms with the praise. Gerard doesn’t give it away easily. It’s always hard earned, which makes it worth a hell of a lot.
Gerard approaches him, holding out a glass tumbler.
Scotch? Bourbon? Brandy?
Stiles doesn’t even think about it. He takes the glass and throws it back in one gulp.
It’s possibly Scotch. It’s gross, and it burns, but Stiles appreciates the sentiment.
He sets the glass down and looks at the faces around him. Gerard is wearing a proud smirk on his face. The Horaks are nodding amongst themselves. Even Bohdan’s thin mouth is twisted up in a grudging smile.
Stiles is an adult now. He’s a hunter. He’s got blood on his face and fire in his belly.
He’s a hunter.
Stiles is a little unsteady on his feet when he climbs the stairs to his room again. He sits down heavily on his bed and unlaces his boots, and then tugs his shirt off over his head. There’s still blood smeared on his throat, and it comes off in flakes when Stiles rubs at his skin with his balled-up shirt.
He tosses the shirt in his trashcan when he’s done. He can’t be bothered clean it.
Then he crosses over to his closet and pulls his suitcase out.
He’s got it half-packed when his door creaks open.
“Hey, string bean,” Kate says, leaning there with a smile. She holds up a bottle of soda. “Thought you might want something other than Scotch.”
“Thanks,” Stiles says, crossing the floor to take the bottle. It’s cold and fizzy and sugary; everything he needs right now.
“Good job tonight,” Kate tells him.
His hands have stopped shaking, so there’s that.
Kate looks at him with her head tilted. “Are you okay, Stiles?”
“What? Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“I remember my first hunt.” She shrugs. “It’s not always as easy as you think it’s going to be.”
Stiles forces a smile. “I’m fine.”
He’s not, probably, but he can’t tell Kate that. He has to work through this on his own, because he’s a Stilinski. Everyone already watches him closely, like they think he’s going to prove himself a traitor like his dad. Stiles doesn’t get to have moments of doubt or weakness. He has to be better than everyone else just to be seen to be half as good. But at least he knows that in the end, when the Stilinski name is one that’s respected again that it’ll be because Stiles has fought for that. His name will be worth twice as much because he’s had to drag it out of the mud himself. It’s a burden right now, but one day it’ll be a strength. But when even Gerard and Kate look at him like they’re sometimes not sure that he’s got what it takes, or that he won’t follow the Code like he’s sworn to, Stiles doesn’t share his insecurities.
“Are you sure?” Kate asks, her gaze trailing down his torso.
Stile’s heartbeat quickens, and he half turns away to set another pair of jeans in his suitcase. “I’m sure.”
“Okay,” Kate says. “If there’s nothing else I can help you with…”
Stiles pretends not to notice the way her gaze lingers. Kate’s made a joke yesterday about how it’d take more than a successful first hunt to make Stiles a man. At least Stiles had thought it was a joke. Maybe it was an invitation. “I’m good. I’m almost done packing.”
She laughs. “Okay, string bean. Get some sleep.”
Stiles closes the door after she leaves, and leans against it, his eyes closed.
His hands might have stopped shaking, but he can feel the hot burst of arterial blood hitting his face over and over again.
Stiles doesn’t sleep.
It’s after midnight when he climbs out of bed and slips downstairs again. He opens the back door and lets himself out into the small garden. He finds his cigarettes where he left them, hidden in a planter box, and lights one.
Closes his eyes when he inhales, and remembers when Bohdan offered him one after a training session a few months ago. Stiles had laughed, because his lungs were already burning, but he’d taken it anyway. He doesn’t consider himself addicted, but then again, he has his own packet of cigarettes now, doesn’t he?
It doesn’t matter, probably, because he’ll leave them here when he goes, and not everyone is going to be as lax about checking ID as the guy at the store where Stiles bought these.
So he’ll quit.
Smoke wreaths him as he exhales.
His dad used to smoke.
He remembers that in a sudden rush.
His dad used to smoke, but he quit when Stiles was small enough not to know it was bad for you, and old enough to remember his dad grumbling about withdrawals.
He pushes the memory away, because it comes rushing in with other things that Stiles doesn’t want to recall: his mom’s laugh, his dad’s wry smile and the way it made his eyes crinkle, and the feeling of being small and happy and surrounded by love.
It makes him sick to think of it because it’s not right to love a traitor, even if Stiles was too little to know any better.
Stiles was ten when Kate came for him. She’d been wreathed in smoke too, in a way. And Stiles had kicked and screamed because he had no idea who she was, and the world that she pulled him into had been completely unknown to him before that night.
That was another of his dad’s betrayals, he supposes. Keeping Stiles from his family’s legacy. Keeping him from the path he should have been sworn to the moment he was born. The Stilinskis were a proud hunter family once, with a history as long as noble as that of the Argents, and Stiles hadn’t known a thing about it. His dad had stolen that from him.
It had taken Stiles a while to see the truth of that. It was his legacy as much as his dad’s, and his dad had stolen it from him.
Now, six years later, Stiles has taken the first step towards taking it back.
Stiles is a man and a hunter.
The smoke shudders in the air around him, and Stiles looks down at the cigarette clamped between his fingers to discover that his hands are shaking again.
They leave Kroměříž before dawn. A little less than three hours later they’re in Vienna, and Stiles is emptying the contents of his pockets into a plastic tray at the airport. Gerard is in front of him in the line, and Kate is behind him.
Stiles thinks a little wistfully of the CZ-92 he’s been using for the last few months, and supposes he’ll have to find another favourite now. Hunters might move easily across international borders, but their weapons don’t.
He passes through the fully body scanner at the airport, and collects his Converse, his backpack, and his plastic tray of pocket contents from the end of the conveyer belt. He tucks everything back into his pockets, and moves out of the way to put his Converse back on.
In front of him, the signs point the way to the departure lounges.
A school group, the teachers already looking frazzled, do a headcount as their kids pass through security. They’re teenagers, probably the same age as Stiles, and Stiles watches them for a moment, a strange mix of disdain and jealousy curdling in his already unsettled stomach.
Stiles hasn’t been to school since he was ten.
He watches one of the boys fling an arm around the shoulders of another, and then he looks away again. He finishes lacing up his Converse and goes to wait with Gerard for Kate.
He doesn’t look back at the kids again, although he hears them laughing and calling out to each other for a long time. Stiles shuts the noise out.
The queasiness in his belly has nothing to do with the alcohol he drank last night.
It’s the fact that his boarding pass, poking out of one end of his well-worn passport, tells him his destination is Los Angeles.
They’re going back to the States.
Peter Hale has known the name Stilinski since he was a child, and began his training to be Talia’s left hand on the day that she would became pack alpha. Peter knows the names of all the most powerful hunter families: the Argents, the Caleveras, the O’Rourkes, the Horaks, the Stilinskis. He knows their histories and their family trees, their alliances and their disputes, as well as he know pack politics.
When Deputy John Stilinski moved to Beacon Hills with his wife and his infant son, Peter had noticed. He’d followed the man for weeks until one night, in an alleyway beside a bar where the deputy was kneeling over a passed-out drunk, the deputy said, without even turning his head, “Mind your business, wolf, and I’ll mind mine.”
Peter had barely swallowed back his growl. “When hunters move into my alpha’s territory, then it is my business, Stilinski.”
The deputy had turned his face toward Peter then. “I’m not a hunter anymore.”
There was no lie in his heartbeat, but Peter didn’t believe it.
Peter wasn’t a fool.
He continued to watch the deputy, keeping his distance this time, and the deputy continued to go about his business.
Peter didn’t trust him.
Peter never trusted him.
He never had a reason to.
Until the night of the fire.
Peter has spent so often lurking in John Stilinski’s back yard that he can pick his way through it even without the benefit of his wolf’s sight. The yard is well kept, but it doesn’t burst with flowers the way it did back when Claudia Stilinski was still alive. And the swing set is long gone.
Claudia and the little boy used to spend a lot of hours in the garden, Claudia working on keeping it neat while the boy worked on running in circles until he fell down laughing. Stilinski hires a lawn service now, not because he cares, probably, but because he’s the sheriff these days and people won’t vote for a man who can’t even keep his lawn mowed.
Peter listens to the creak of the sheriff’s footsteps inside the house as he climbs the stairs. He listens for a while longer too, but hears nothing except silence, and, under that, the sound of the man’s heartbeat as he sleeps.
Peter leaps over the back fence and into the easement that backs onto the Preserve.
He walks home to the loft, fighting the urge to shift and run. The wolf always wants to run, particularly on nights when the moon is bright and the Preserve is alive with scuttling little creatures to chase and toy with, but it’s a pain in the ass to have to come back for his clothes in the morning.
The loft is mostly in darkness when Peter makes it home. He lets himself in, and heads for the kitchen to grab a bottle of water.
The light is on in the kitchen, and Derek is sitting at the table with his books spread out in front of him.
“Wasn’t it midterms last week?” Peter asks him.
Derek glances up at him, and then back at his books. “I’m getting ahead on my reading.”
Like he goes to Stanford or something, not the local community college. Peter reserves the right to be a snobbish asshole about it. Peter went to Stanford. Derek had the grades to go too, but not the confidence. He’s not the kid he once was. He needs to stay close to pack these days.
“Nerd,” Peter teases.
Derek rolls his eyes, but the corners of his mouth quirk in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it smile.
Peter runs his hand over Derek’s shoulder as he heads for the refrigerator, leaving his scent on the pup. Derek would rankle if Peter knew he thought of him like that, so Peter’s never told him.
He grabs a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and cracks the seal. “Is your sister still up?”
Derek shakes his head. “She went to bed hours ago. Where were you, anyway? You missed dinner.”
“Out,” Peter says vaguely, and then waves his hand. “And about. Just generally around the place.”
Derek rolls his eyes.
Peter cultivates an air of I-don’t-give-a-fuck, but he’s not sure how much the pack believes it. The truth is, Peter hasn’t slept through the night in six years.
A lot has changed since Kate Argent burned half their pack in their sleep. Laura is harder now. Derek is quieter, and Matty still has night terrors. And Peter, though he doesn’t like to admit it, isn’t as arrogantly sure of himself as he once was. All those years stalking John Stilinski, and he never even saw Kate Argent coming.
Peter won’t make that mistake again.
He’s not entirely sure what compulsion keeps dragging him back towards John Stilinski though. His name, probably. It’s a hunter’s name. It’s a name Peter learned to fear long before he met the man attached to it. And he doesn’t fear John Stilinski now, but he’s wary. It would be stupid not to be wary.
And Peter doesn’t trust him—Peter doesn’t trust anyone—but then he thinks of the night of the fire.
He thinks of trying to break through the door of the tunnels, Matty limp in his arms, and staring out through the barred window into the eyes of Deputy John Stilinski.
And Peter had roared out his rage, thinking that he knew exactly what had happened.
A hunter. A fire. A circle of mountain ash.
It wasn’t a difficult conclusion to draw.
And then John Stilinski had dragged his boot through the line of mountain ash, and broken the chains on the door with a pair of bolt cutters.
And he’d been the first man on the scene.
There hadn’t been anyone watching him. He could have let Peter and Matty burn to death and nobody would have known that he’d chosen not to act.
But he’d acted, all the same.
And later, when Peter was getting loaded into the ambulance to have his burns tended to at the hospital, John Stilinski had leaned over him and said in a low, cold voice, “I told you I’m not a hunter anymore.”
Peter talks with Derek for a while longer, and then heads upstairs to bed. He doesn’t sleep for long. He’s awake again before dawn, and his instincts, as always, draw him toward the Preserve, to the trees and the moonlight, and the blackened heart of ash that is the Hale territory.
In the distance, he hears a howl.
And then, so faint that his werewolf hearing can hardly pick it up, a muffled scream.
Peter calls Laura.
The rogue alpha doesn’t put up much of a fight. It’s strong, but it’s out of its mind, and easily confused by a calculated attack by the Hale pack. Laura takes the lead, and Derek and Peter snapping at his heels confuses the alpha and brings him into the right position for Laura to deliver the killing blow.
The boy the alpha attacked blinks up at them blearily. He’s covered in blood. It soaks through his shirt like the fabric is litmus paper. He’s a teenager, pale and frightened as Laura leans over him and peels his shirt up carefully.
There’s a jagged bit on his side, blood pouring from it.
No, the alpha didn’t intend to kill him. The alpha bit him to turn him.
Peter meets Laura’s gaze.
He isn’t sure which is worse.
They boy is unconscious by the time they get him back to the loft where Matty is waiting anxiously. He’s still breathing though, so the bite might take. It also might not.
The boy is Laura’s problem for now. Peter has his own job to worry about.
It’s dawn when Peter arrives back at the site of the alpha’s body, armed with a shovel. Typical. The asshole couldn’t do them a favour and stay in his wolf form when he died, could he? That way Peter could have left him for birds to pick over until the park rangers found him. No, instead he’s got a body to dispose of, which means he’s got a shallow grave to dig.
It takes the better part of an hour to dig the grave, even with his werewolf strength, and then Peter takes a while to make sure the ground looks as undisturbed as possible. Everyone always thinks of the left hand as more Machiavelli than Yorrick, but being the left hand involves getting his hands dirty in more ways than one.
Disposing of the rogue alpha is only the first part of Peter’s duty. He also needs to put some enquiries out and find out where the hell the asshole came from, and if there’s anyone looking for him, either other packs, or hunters, or even law enforcement if he’s killed before.
Peter heads back to the loft, stashes the shovel, and goes inside to the laundry room to scrub his hands.
He can hear a frantic heartbeat coming from upstairs—the boy is still alive then, and he’s turning. So there’s a new complication that can’t just be hidden in a shallow grave. The boy will have to be brought into the pack, and he’ll have to be taught control, and also secrecy. Peter doesn’t envy Laura having to teach all that to a teenager. Peter’s also going to have to keep a close eye on the boy, to make sure he doesn’t expose the pack. A newly turned werewolf is always a risk—a werewolf who was turned unwillingly is even more of one.
Peter’s skin prickles.
The boy could be dangerous, even without intending them any harm. They’ll all need to tread very carefully until he learns control. Peter hopes he learns willingly.
Peter goes into his study and closes the door. He digs his phone out of his pocket and calls Alan Deaton, the former pack emissary. The new Hale pack’s relationship with him isn’t the same as the one he had with Talia. Peter doesn’t trust anyone enough to call them a friend, but Deaton is still a valuable source of information.
When it suits him.
Fucking inscrutable druids.
“Alan,” he says. “We have a problem.”
Deaton sounds as calm and unruffled as always. “Yes, I just heard. I was about to call you myself.”
Peter’s brows tug together. “What do you mean you’ve just heard? It’s only just happened.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then: “Peter, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the rogue alpha who just bit some kid in the woods,” Peter says. “What are you talking about?”
“I’ve just got off the phone from the emissary of the Acosta pack in Phoenix,” Deaton says. “She told me that Christopher Argent is moving his family back to Beacon Hills.”
Peter growls before he can stop himself, and his fangs break through his gums.
Peter knows the Argents. He knows how they operate. He knows they’ll move into an area to get the lay of the land. He knows they’ll pay lip service to their precious Code while at the same time they’re planning slaughter. He knows they like the play the long game. They’ll goad a wolf into snapping, and then they’ll use it as an excuse to attack. Or, in Kate’s case, they’ll attack first and fuck the consequences, because who polices the hunters? Other hunters.
Peter knows them.
And he knows exactly what it means when hunters move into his territory.
It means war.
And Peter can’t stop them, but this time he’ll be ready for them.
This is a test.
Stiles doesn’t look out of the window as the SUV drives down the streets of Beacon Hills.
This is a test.
He knows that Gerard and Kate will be watching for his reaction, and so he doesn’t give them one. He’s a hunter and a soldier, and he is not the same snivelling brat that Kate took from here six years ago. He’s stronger than that. He’s better. He’s a Stilinski, and he’s going to make that name worthy of pride again.
They pull into a driveway of a large house at last.
Kate peers at it through the windshield. “Nice.”
It’s a two-storey place in a gated community. It looks new. It’s big, and the whole street seems to be built from the same four or five cookie-cutter designs. They’ve lived in nicer, probably, but they’ve also lived in worse. It’s the nature of the game.
“It’ll do,” Gerard says, and kills the engine.
Stiles gets out of the car and rolls his shoulders before heading to the back to start unloading their luggage.
Kate joins him, checking her phone. “Dad? Do you know if Chris brought any groceries around, or do I have to go and get some?”
Gerard heads for the front door, keys in hand. “He said he’d make sure the place was stocked before we arrived.”
And stocked it is.
Not the refrigerator—although that probably is as well—but the basement. By the time Stiles gets all the luggage inside, Gerard and Kate are already going through the gun racks on the wall, inspecting the weapons admiringly.
Stiles feels like a kid in a candy store.
Yeah, he’s not going to miss that CZ-92 at all. Not with all of this to play with. An entire wall of the basement is given over to weapons. The rest has been fitted out as a training room, with weights, and gym mats, and punching bags. This is the best set-up Stiles has seen in a while.
Kate catches him looking, and throws him a grin. “What do you say, string bean? Fancy going a few rounds after dinner?”
Stiles returns her grin, forgetting for a moment which town he’s standing in right now. “Yeah. This looks great.”
Gerard is in a good mood as well. “Order something for dinner if neither of you feel like cooking,” he says with a benevolent smile.
Stiles’s grin grows.
It’s Beacon Hills but it’s not Beacon Hills. It’s Beacon Hills, but it’s bears no resemblance to Stiles’s memories. He’s living in a gated community way fancier than his parents could have afforded, and the streets are uniformly bland as he discovers on his morning jogs. This could be any upper middle class neighbourhood in any American town, and there is nothing here that makes Stiles think of the house he used to live in, or the people he used to live with.
He doesn’t even have to do the grocery shopping, because Kate orders everything online and it’s delivered. He spends his days working and training, and his nights wondering how big the local pack is, and how soon the fight will come.
They’re called the Hale pack.
Stiles doesn’t remember the name, but why would he? He didn’t know about werewolves the last time he lived here. His father didn’t tell him anything about them. His father didn’t tell him anything about him, and that’s not fair. He didn’t even give Stiles the choice of learning about his own family’s history. He kept that from him, and that was wrong, just like Chris and Victoria have been keeping it from Allison.
“Chris wants her too lead a normal childhood,” Kate had said earlier while she and Stiles were sparring. “Whatever the fuck that is.”
Stiles had dodged her mean right hook, and snorted.
Yeah, whatever the fuck that was.
Still, as he waits for Chris and Victoria and Allison to arrive for dinner, he finds himself struck by that same uneasy sensation that overtook him when he saw those kids at the airport in Vienna: half scornful, and half jealous of their ignorance.
Stiles has only met Allison once before, a few years ago now, and she’d spent the entire afternoon throwing him slightly puzzled glances like she wasn’t sure how he fit in at all, and whether she should treat him like a family member or a stranger. He wonders what Chris and Victoria have told her about him. Probably some story about how he’s the kid of a distant cousin who could no longer look after him, so Gerard stepped in.
It’s almost the truth, Stiles guesses. It’s close enough, at least.
Chris and Victoria and Allison arrive just on seven. Chris has more gray hair than the last time Stiles saw him, and he wears a beard now, but it suits him. He gets that same pinched, uncomfortable look around his eyes when he sees Stiles though. That’s not new at all.
Stiles will prove himself one day.
Victoria is as cold as always, but it doesn’t bother Stiles. He understands. Victoria is an Argent now, but she wasn’t always. The Stilinski name might be a stain on Stiles’s character but Victoria’s not immune to it either. She was a Stilinski once. His father’s second cousin.
Of all of them, Allison seems the most changed. She didn’t know how to treat Stiles all those years ago, but this evening she’s bright and friendly, and pulls him into a hug he’s almost too surprised to reciprocate.
Since when have Argents been huggers?
“It’s so good to see you,” Allison tells him. She has a beautiful smile. “And I’m not just saying that because I don’t know anyone else my age in this town yet.”
Stiles laughs at her obvious lie. “It’s good to see you too, Allison.”
“Have you discovered the coffee shop on Second Avenue yet?” she asks him. “They have the best bear claws!”
“No,” Stiles says, not looking at Gerard. “I haven’t really checked out anything outside of the neighbourhood yet.”
“Oh, we should go there sometime,” Allison says. “How about after school on Monday? We can celebrate a successful joint first day. Or commiserate, if it’s terrible.”
Stiles feels his smile falter a fraction.
“Stiles is home schooled,” Kate says smoothly. “He won’t be going to the high school.”
“I have ADHD,” Stiles tells Allison, which is true. He then balances that truth with a lie. “I don’t do great in a classroom environment.”
More like that Gerard decided, and Stiles agreed, that school would be too much of a distraction for him when he should be concentrating on hunting. Stiles does his schoolwork online which enables him to travel easily, and also frees up most of his time for training.
“Oh,” Allison says, her smile losing a little of its brightness. “Well, maybe we can meet up there on Monday afternoon anyway?”
Chris is looking pinched again, and Victoria is looking positively Arctic.
Stiles looks to Gerard.
Gerard laughs, and flings an arm around Stiles’s shoulders. “We’ll see,” he says. “We still have a lot on unpacking to get done.”
“Great,” Allison says.
She hasn’t spent much time with Gerard at all, Stiles thinks, if she doesn’t recognise that answer for what it was: a no.
After dinner Stiles shows Allison his room. Well, she asks to see it and Stiles can’t think of any reason to refuse her, so he takes her upstairs.
“Wow,” she says, looking around. She raises her eyebrows. “Grandpa was right. You really do still have a lot of unpacking to do.”
Stiles looks around at the bare walls and the empty bookshelves.
“Yeah,” he lies. “We do.”
Stiles wakes up on Monday morning with an itch under his skin and a restlessness that even his Adderall doesn’t settle. He goes for his morning run, hoping to rid himself of his excess energy that way, but he’s still buzzing when he gets back home again so he heads down into the basement and works his frustrations out on a punching bag.
He does his best not to think of Allison, and her first day at school, and the new friends she’s already making, because how could she not? She’s sunshine.
He does his best to tell himself that’s not his world anymore, and that he doesn’t have any reason to miss it. He tells himself that he’s a hunter, not a kid, that’s he’s a soldier and this is a war.
This is a war.
He punches the bag until his entire body aches, and then keeps punching it.
“You okay there, string bean?”
Stiles turns to see Kate leaning in the basement doorway, wearing her customary smirk.
“Yeah,” he says, sucking in a breath and rolling his shoulders to loosen them.
“Don’t overdo it,” Kate says. “I could knock you down with a feather right now.”
Stiles rolls his eyes.
He knows his body. He knows exactly how much it can take before it gives up. The last six years have taught him that lesson, over and over again.
Kate’s smile grows. “You’ve got some fire in your belly today, huh?”
Kate steps inside the room and comes over to the mats. She holds the punching bag for Stiles. “Show me what you’ve got left in the tank.”
Stiles jabs at the bag, hard and fast, and Kate flashes him an approving smile.
“Nice one. Show me another.”
Kate’s always had this way of getting people to do what she wants. Stiles doesn’t preen under her attention exactly, the way he’s seen countless other guys do. He rises to her challenge instead, so it’s the same result.
“Good job.” Kate holds the bag still. “Now give me one more, and then go and hydrate. You’re no good to me dead, Stiles.”
Stiles punches the bag again, and then steps back and draws a deep breath. “Have we got a hunt coming up?”
Usually there’s a period of recon before a hunt.
Kate looks at him with her head on an angle. “What?”
“I’m no good to you dead,” Stiles reminds her, grabbing his towel from the hook and wiping his face. “You want me in good condition for a hunt?”
Kate laughs. “You know, most other teenage boys have a very different one track mind, Stiles.” She leans into his space, and when she speaks again, her breath tickles his ear. “There’s more for you to keep yourself in good condition for, trust me.”
She slides a finger along his bare shoulder, leaving prickling flesh in her wake.
Stiles reminds himself that he’s a man now.
He’s a man, and Kate’s touch shouldn’t make him feel like a frightened child.
He holds her gaze and thinks of the wolf he killed.
He’s a hunter. He’s a soldier. He’s a man.
But he feels like a dumb, confused kid when Kate only smiles at him again, and walks toward the basement steps, her hips swaying, without saying another word.
If this is a test, Stiles doesn’t understand the purpose.
If this is a game, he doesn’t know the rules.
And if this is real…
For some reason that’s the option that unsettles him the most.
It’s not a question of if the Argents will make their move. It’s a question of when. And Peter won’t let himself be surprised. Not again. Not this time. He’s already watching the first night that Chris Argent moves back. He’s already following when Chris leaves his house in the middle of the night in his black SUV, and drives to Stilinski’s house. Peter growls lowly to himself, cursing all those years he’s given John Stilinski the benefit of the doubt, because what is this except a conspiracy waiting to be born? But Chris Argent doesn’t go inside the sheriff’s house. He doesn’t even get out of his SUV. He pulls up a few houses down, his engine idling, and waits there as though indecision has frozen him. Then, when another car turns into the street a block away, he drives on again and goes home.
Peter isn’t sure what to make of that, and he witnesses it three times over the next week as well.
The more Peter watches, the less any of it makes sense.
“We need to strike first,” Peter says, pouring himself a shot of vodka from the bottle on his desk. The alcohol does nothing thanks to his wolf’s metabolism, but he sure as hell likes the burn.
“Uncle Peter,” Laura says on a slow exhale.
“If you act against the Argents without provocation, you leave yourself open to attack from other hunter families,” Deaton says evenly. “The Code will no longer protect you.”
Peter levels a narrow stare at the druid. Why is he even here?
“The Code doesn’t protect us now,” Peter points out.
Laura opens her mouth to say something, but pauses at the sound of little feet in the hallway outside the study. Matty. She tilts her head to listen before speaking. “You’re right, Peter, of course, but if we attack the Argents without provocation, how long do you think the Calaveras will hold off from attacking us?”
“You’ve both used the phrase ‘without provocation’,” Peter says, arching his eyebrows. “Are you quite sure you know what it means? Because they tried to set us on fire!”
“Not that we can prove,” Laura reminds him. Her gaze is steady and for a moment she looks so much like her mother that Peter’s heart aches. Her scent sours with disquiet. “And, even if we could, I sincerely doubt there’s proof enough that would satisfy the Calaveras that we have a right to retaliate six years later. They’re hunters, Peter. Of course the deck is stacked against us.”
“So we find another way,” Peter suggests.
Laura shakes her head. “What other way?”
“I make it look like a fucking accident.”
“That won’t work,” Deaton says mildly. “Peter, Christopher Argent could drive his car off a bridge and the hunters would find some way to make the pack look culpable. If you escalate this, it will be war.”
“It’s already war.”
“Maybe so,” Deaton says. “But it’s not slaughter yet, and it’s in your interests to hold that part off as long as possible, don’t you agree?”
Your interests. Not our. Peter isn’t aware of when that subtle shift occurred, but it’s probably his fault as much as Deaton’s. After the fire, Peter trusted no-one, and Deaton’s enigmatic druid bullshit—his talk of balance rather than loyalty—had never sat well with Peter’s wolf. The wolf is jealous and protective. It has tunnel vision, and Peter is unapologetic about it. The wolf doesn’t believe in balance, or the greater good. The wolf only deals in absolutes.
Peter pours himself another drink. He hates that Deaton has a point. “And in the meantime?”
“You watch them,” Deaton says. “If the Argents are set on bringing war, then you need to be ready to answer force with force.” He shrugs. “In the meantime, all you can do is wait.”
If that’s not the mission statement of the druidic council, Peter doesn’t know what is.
He hates druids and their wait and see attitude. He hates Laura’s passivity. He hates the fact that the Argents can just waltz back into Beacon Hills like nothing ever happened, and the pack has no choice but to bear it.
Peter is his alpha’s left hand. He’s wired more towards intrigue and duplicity than he is toward diplomacy. It’s a bias that he tries to be aware of. It colors his perceptions, and he knows it. It edges towards paranoia, and that makes it as much a weakness as it is a strength. It’s been worse since the fire, because how could it not be? And yet, all his biases aside, Peter knows in his gut that when it comes to the Argents there is no such thing as paranoia. Attack is their best defence. It may even be their only defence.
But Laura is his alpha and he is bound to obey her.
“Send the pup away, Lulu, at least,” he says, his voice low. “Send him to Satomi.”
Matty is nine. He will be useless in a fight. He’ll be the first one slaughtered when the Argents attack.
Laura holds his gaze, her eyes dark with worry. And then she nods.
Peter exhales slowly.
So at least there’s that.
John Stilinski’s house is dark, except for the faint glow of the porch light. It illuminates a front wall in need of a fresh coat of paint, and a porch swing with cushions spotted with mildew. The Sheriff of Beacons Hills works long hours. The little jobs, Peter supposes, fall by the wayside. The lawn is mowed as neatly as all its neighbors though. It’s only close inspection that reveals the slight air of tiredness hanging over the place. It’s not even neglect, not really. Just the usual wear and tear of a lived-in house, and a man with a too-busy work schedule to find the time to address all the tiny flaws.
The boards of the porch creak under Peter’s footsteps as he approaches the front door. The house might be in darkness, but John Stilinski is awake. Peter can hear his heartbeat just on the other side of the door. The man is a hunter. He knows when he’s being stalked.
Peter presses the doorbell.
The door opens instantly.
Peter’s gaze travels down the sheriff. He’s still in his uniform, but that SIG Sauer P220 in his hand isn’t police issue. And Peter very much doubts the bullets are standard either. He can smell the faint acrid stench of wolfsbane from where he’s standing.
“What do you want, Hale?” John Stilinski asks.
“Christopher Argent is back in town,” Peter says, and watches carefully for his reaction.
There is none, except for the muscle that jumps in the man’s cheek when he clenches his jaw.
“What do you want?” the sheriff asks again.
“I want you to tell him that the Hale pack has never harmed an innocent,” Peter says.
“I’m not your emissary,” the sheriff says. “I’m not your fucking advocate either.”
Peter curls his lip. “So that oath you swore to protect the citizens of Beacons Hills doesn’t extend to us, is that it?”
He can’t say he’s surprised. John Stilinski has only surprised him once, six years ago on the night of the fire. Peter doesn’t know what the hell happened that night, and why Stilinski stepped in to save him instead of watching him burn, but clearly it was an anomaly because the man standing in front of him now is no ally. Leopards don’t change their spots.
Stilinski holds his gaze. “Even if I wanted to help you, I couldn’t. There’s no way Chris would listen to me.”
“Even if you wanted…” Peter snorts. “But you don’t want to, do you?”
“No,” says the sheriff. His heartbeat is completely steady. “I don’t.”
“So that’s it, is it?” Peter asks. “That’s your answer?”
“That’s my answer,” the sheriff says.
And then he slams the door in Peter’s face.
“But I don’t want to go!” Matty wails, his face tear-stained and his trembling arms wrapped around Peter.
“I know, pup,” Peter says, his throat aching. “I know.”
And Peter doesn’t want him to go, but Matty is nine, and Matty is human, and Matty can’t be here when the Argents attack.
“Don’t make me go!” Matty wails.
“Pup,” Peter says, forcing a smile as he leans back so he can look into Matty’s wide green eyes. “You’ll have lots of fun. You can take all your video games, and show the other kids how good you are at them. And you remember Satomi’s place, don’t you? You remember she has that tree house by the lake for all the kids to play in?”
Matty gulps and nods, but the tears don’t stop.
Peter glances up and meets Laura’s gaze. She’s leaning in the doorway, her expression serious.
“You’ll have so much fun there,” Peter repeats, and rubs a hand up and down Matty’s spine soothingly.
“I don’t want to go, Da—” Matty flinches suddenly, too late to pull the word back. Matty was only three when the fire happened. He doesn’t remember his parents. He was Talia and James’s surprise baby. He came along way after the others. When he was six, he asked Peter anxiously if Peter was his dad.
And Peter is, he thinks, in everything but name. He is, in every way that counts. If he hadn’t had Matty to worry about after the fire, because Laura and Derek were in no fit state to do it, he thinks he could have very easily lost himself to a left hand’s frenzy of revenge.
He pretends not to notice the slip. “I know, pup, I know. But you’ll be safe there. You’ll be safe.”
Matty dives in for another hug, and Peter blinks away his tears.
Downstairs, he can hear Derek talking in a low voice with Scott McCall, the teenager that the rogue alpha bit and turned. Scott is a good kid, probably, but he’s being sent away too. Well, not away, since he has a mother who would most certainly start asking questions if that happened, but right now Derek is explaining to him that it’s too dangerous for him to be around the Hale pack right now.
Peter hopes the boy has enough control to manage on his own for a while, because to be near to the Hales at the moment will only put a target on his back too. They’ll try to steer him along as best as they can, and Derek will visit him at home a few times a week under the pretext of tutoring him in math. It’s a decent enough cover story. It will give the boy plausible deniability if Chris Argent notices their association.
Peter isn’t sure it will count for anything in the end, but it’s the best they can do for him.
“Please don’t make me go!” Matty whimpers.
“It’s okay, pup,” Peter says, swallowing down his heartbreak. “It’s okay. We’ll come and get you when it’s over.”
“Promise?” Matty asks, lifted his tear-filled gaze to Peter’s.
“I promise,” Peter tells him.
He doesn’t dare look at Laura after he says it.
Peter watches, and waits, and watches some more.
One night he’s watching as Chris and his wife and daughter exit their house, get into their SUV, and drive to the other side of town. The newer side, where expensive houses have been built in a gated community.
Peter ditches his car, shifts into his beta form to get over the fence, and then into his full shift to slink through the streets on the other side. The streets are well lit, but there are enough pools of darkness for a wolf to slink through unseen. He’s already lost sight of the Argents’ SUV by the time he gets inside the fence, but it doesn’t take long for him to find it parked in the driveway of an expensive house that backs into the Preserve.
Peter, his chin on his paws, rests under the cover of a neighbors’ hedge and watches, and waits, and watches some more.
Hours later, Chris Argent and his wife and his daughter leave. Chris and Victoria looked as pinched and dispassionate as usual. The daughter is laughing and smiling.
“Allison!” a blonde woman calls, stepping out of the front door to follow them down the driveway. “Don’t forget we’re going shopping tomorrow. I’ll pick you up after school.”
Peter’s hackles rise.
She’s here too. Which means…
“Okay, I’ll see you then!” Allison calls back, hurrying toward the SUV. “Tell Grandpa I said goodnight!”
Peter’s blood runs cold.
Allison Argent is like a ray of sunshine, and Stiles is… well, Stiles is like a vampire, he guesses. He’s deathly allergic to rays of sunshine. He doesn’t feel happiness whenever Allison visits, even though he wants to, because it’s Allison. She’s sweet and funny and genuinely seems to care about Stiles, even though she hardly knows him, but all Stiles feels when she talks is a weird sense of envious disdain. She talks about school, and how she worries that she’s not fitting in, and how she misses her old friends in Phoenix, and Stiles is above all that, isn’t he? It’s petty teenage bullshit, because Allison doesn’t even know there’s a war going on—Allison doesn’t know anything about werewolves, or the multitude of other nightmarish creatures that actually stalk the world—and the stuff she cares about is childish and irrelevant, and Stiles wants to laugh at her for it, except he can’t, because whenever he tries to he feels a burn of pure jealousy in the pit of his stomach because she’s so normal. And he knows he shouldn’t want the things that she does, he knows he has a higher purpose, a birthright, but he remembers back when he thought he was just a normal kid too, and… and he thinks he was happy back then.
It’s hard to remember.
It’s harder still to evaluate his memories, because every single one of them has been tainted by his father’s betrayal. Every single one has been poisoned by the shame and the anger and the hatred Stiles feels now.
There was a time when Stiles thinks he remembers loving his father, but what the hell did he know back then? Nothing. He was just a dumb fucking kid.
“Stiles?” Allison asks, her forehead creasing. “Are you okay?”
Stiles jolts slightly. “Sorry. I zoned out. What were you saying?”
Allison smiles and elbows him. “I’m saying that there’s this boy and I think he likes me!”
“Of course he likes you,” Stiles says. “Who wouldn’t?”
They’re sitting on Stiles’s bedroom floor with their books and schoolwork spread out around them. Stiles’s curriculum doesn’t quite mesh with Allison’s, but it’s still fun to have someone to do homework with. Well, Stiles guesses everything he does is technically homework since he’s homeschooled, but it still feels nice. It feels almost normal.
That’s the trap, probably.
There’s a locked box under Stiles’s bed with his Kel-Tec PMR-30 and four clips of wolfsbane bullets in it. Stiles is still getting used to the Kel-Tec, but he likes the European-style magazine release.
Allison dropped a pencil a little while ago, and it rolled under the bed. She touched the box getting the pencil back, and she doesn’t know. They’re sitting here talking about schoolwork and a boy she likes, and she doesn’t know Stiles is a hunter. She doesn’t know he belongs to a very different world than hers. There’s something absurd about it, something jarring. It’s unsettling. Stiles has spent the last six years around hunters. He’s forgotten how to pretend to be a regular person.
Allison laughs, the colour rising in her cheeks. “That’s so sweet!”
“Totally true though,” Stiles says. “You’re smart, and pretty, and just about the nicest girl I know!”
She raises her eyebrows appraisingly. “Am I the only girl you know right now?”
That startles a laugh out of him. “Yeah, I guess so.”
Her expression softens into something uncomfortably close to pity. “I wish you could come to school with me.”
Stiles blinks down at one of his textbooks for a moment. “Yeah. Me too.” He doesn’t know if it’s a lie or not today. He forces a smile. “Anyway, tell me about this guy again. Is he cute?”
“Adorable,” Allison says. “He almost stabbed me with a pen the first time he met me.”
“That doesn’t sound very adorable.”
“It was an accident!” She laughs again. “I don’t even know how he knew I needed one, and then he shoved one at me so fast he almost fell over his feet. Maybe he tries to impress all the new girls with pens.”
“Ah,” Stiles says. “The mating rituals of the awkward teenage boy.”
“Do you have some experience with them?” Allison asks.
Stiles feels it again: that jarring, dizzying sensation. He shouldn’t have asked if the guy was cute, because is Allison… is she asking if…
Stiles flinches before he can stop himself.
“You seem like the sort of guy who’d accidentally stab a girl with a pen,” Allison says hurriedly, the rush in her words like she realised what she was implying, and backed the hell away again because she saw the flash of panic in his eyes.
“Yeah,” Stiles says with a weak laugh. “That sounds like me.”
Allison hesitates. “His name’s Scott,” she says at last, and Stiles feels a swelling of affection for her for not pushing. “He has floppy hair, and his jaw is a little crooked, and he has the most beautiful smile!”
“He sounds nice,” Stiles says.
Allison ignores the rasp in his voice. “He’s invited me to a party on Friday night.” Her eyes widen. “You should come!”
Stiles shakes his head. “I don’t think—”
“No, it’s perfect!” Allison exclaims. “Because Mom and Dad are being all weird about boys, as per usual, but if I say that you’re going with me, they can’t say no!”
Stiles bets they can. He also bets that Chris and Victoria’s reluctance to let Allison out of the house after dark has less to do with boys and more to do with the fact that there’s a werewolf pack in this town.
“I’m supposed to be concentrating on my schoolwork,” Stiles says.
“Stiles!” Allison rolls his eyes. “It’s one night! Ask Grandpa if you can come with me, please!”
God. Put him in a dark forest with an entire pack of werewolves and he knows exactly what to do. But navigate the social quicksand of a high school party? Stiles has no fucking idea how to do that.
Not that it matters, of course.
Gerard won’t approve, so it’s never going to happen.
“Sure,” he says. “I’ll ask.”
There was this boy, once.
Just a boy on the street in Budapest.
It had been winter, and everything was bleak and cold and grey, and this boy had been wearing a red coat, a flash of colour. A red coat, and a blue woollen hat, and he’d laughed, and Stiles had looked over at him—
—and Gerard had followed the direction of his stare, his eyebrows tugging together in a scowl, and Stiles had torn his gaze away from the boy.
Gerard’s stare had settled on Stiles like he was seeing him for the first time all over again, except that this time he wasn’t pleased with what he saw.
Stiles never looked at another boy on the street again.
Stiles lands on the mat, and all his breath is knocked out of him. He rolls onto his side and gets his knees under him. He tastes blood, and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand.
Gerard might be old, but he still has moves.
Not that Stiles has ever been stupid enough to underestimate him.
“Get up,” Gerard says, a growl in his voice. “If I was a werewolf, you’d already be dead.”
Stiles climbs to his feet. He sucks in a breath and rolls his shoulders. He dodges Gerard’s next punch, but a jab to his ribs has him twisting the wrong way, and Gerard punches him hard on the jaw.
Everything flares white with pain.
Stiles gets his gloves up in front of his face to protect himself. His vision is swimming, and he’s clumsy on his feet now. Still, he knows Gerard is right. A werewolf isn’t going to give him a chance to walk it off, is it? It’s fight or die in a hunter’s world, and if Stiles can’t handle a few punches from Gerard, how is he going to survive the real thing?
This time he takes a punch to the gut.
And a voice in the back of his head asks him: But if he keeps punching the shit out of you like this, how will you be in any fit state to go on a hunt at all?
Stiles ignores it, and sways on his feet for a moment, trying to find his balance.
A blow to the temple sends him down onto the mat again.
“Useless,” Gerard mutters. “Get up, Stiles!”
Stiles grunts, and tries to roll over. Flops onto his back again instead, and blinks up at the lights in the ceiling. There are more of them then there should be. He squeezes his eyes shut for a moment to try to clear his vision.
“Useless,” Gerard says again.
Stiles opens his eyes and squints up at Gerard.
Gerard is unlacing his boxing gloves. “What the hell is wrong with you tonight? You’ve got worse form than a goddamn child.”
Stiles wishes he could say the words sting more than the cut above his eye that Gerard just opened up, but that would be a lie. “Sorry, sir.”
“You’ll get yourself killed out there!”
Stiles nods and swallows, and tastes blood again.
“You think that Kroměříž counts for anything here? You think that the Novákovi are anything like the Hales?” Gerard sneers at him. “You won’t last a second against the Hales unless you get your head out of your ass and remember how to goddamn fight!”
“Yes, sir.” Stiles tries not to wince when he breathes.
Gerard huffs and shakes his head. “We’re done here.”
He tosses his gloves down on the mat, and leaves the basement.
Stiles lays there a while longer, waiting to catch his breath.
He’s not sure how long it is until he’s able to climb to his feet, but the sweat is chilling on his body when he finally manages it. He stoops to pick up Gerard’s gloves, and places them back in the cabinet. It takes him longer than it should to unlace his own, picking at the knots with his teeth.
He was useless tonight. He barely landed a hit before it was all over for him. He needs to train harder. He needs to get better. He needs to remember who he is, and what he’s here for. He’s a Stilinski, and he has a birthright. He’s a Stilinski, and he’s going to make that mean something again.
Something more than cowardice and betrayal.
He makes his way slowly up the steps, and into the kitchen. He fills a glass with water from the tap, and drinks it. Then he grabs a piece of kitchen towel and wads it up to hold against his split eyebrow.
He thinks of Allison and her normal life and her party and her crush on that boy who almost stabbed her with a pencil.
He doesn’t want that.
He doesn’t want anything like that.
He’s a hunter, not a kid.
Except later, when he’s curled up in bed trying not to move because it hurts, he finds himself texting Allison back and forth for a while and pretending, just for tonight, that he’s a regular kid after all.
And that, he discovers, hurts a lot more than any of his bruises.
Derek’s textbooks sit on the kitchen table. Peter doesn’t think they’ve been opened in days. Not since Derek learned about the Argents, and not since Matty left to stay with Satomi’s pack.
Six years, Peter thinks. Six years, and Derek was finally starting to heal, to show just the faintest glimmers of the smiling nephew Peter remembers from before the fire, and of course that’s been ripped away again. And Derek’s not the only one.
Just a few months ago Laura was talking about rebuilding the house. Talking about expanding the pack. Talking about a future like she believed they had one.
And Peter… well, he hasn’t slept through the night in six years, but at least his nightmares didn’t plague him in his waking hours. Now, more and more, he finds himself thinking of the fire. Of the screams. Of watching them all die. Of stumbling down that tunnel, of Cora’s hand slipping from his, and when he turned…
When he turned all he saw was smoke and flames.
They never found Cora’s body, and Peter has never forgotten the sensation of gripping tighter and tighter, and her small fingers slipping through his all the same. One of the investigators told him later that the fire burned so hot in some points in the basement and the tunnels that even bone could turn to ash.
And Peter had let her slip out of his grasp.
Derek and Laura were out that night.
It was only Peter who survived the fire—Peter and Matty.
And Peter has never forgiven himself for that. Why did he let her go? How did he let that happen?
He finds himself looking down at his hands more and more these days, and remembering how they failed him.
His left hand. The left hand of the left hand.
The left hand that failed.
It’s exactly the sort of clumsy metaphor that Peter would turn his lip up at in some pretentious novel, but in real life, he thinks, the sting will never end.
And that’s fine.
He doesn’t deserve for it to ever stop hurting.
Peter puts out the feelers to other packs, but he’s not surprised when none of them respond with anything more than sympathy. Packs aren’t structured the way that the hunters are. There is no council, no alliances, not even any formal treaties like in some places in Europe. America is vast, and the few werewolf packs are spread out. Territorial disputes are rare, because most territories are separated by large expanses of unclaimed land. The simple reason that the Argents do most of their killing in Europe is because there are more werewolves there for them to kill. Werewolves are territorial creatures by nature—they originated in the old world, and most remained there. They are reluctant immigrants. They don’t like to leave their homes.
They are reluctant refugees as well.
Satomi Ito and her pack lives close to Beacon Hills, but there is no animosity between her and the Hale pack. Satomi cannot offer the Hale pack reinforcements, but she does offer them sanctuary, and not just for Matty. If they run, Satomi will take them.
The idea of leaving Beacon Hills makes Peter’s fangs itch, and not solely because of his blood ties to the land.
Peter reads the email from Satomi that Laura forwarded him, his eyes stinging a little when Satomi promises there is a place for them in her territory. He closes his laptop and goes outside onto the balcony where he finds Laura sitting on the loveseat, her face illuminated by the glow of her phone’s screen. She sets the phone down when he sits beside her.
“What do you think?” she asks softly.
“I think it’s a generous offer,” Peter murmurs, looking out over the lights of Beacon Hills. It’s not a particularly impressive sight. Beacon Hills is a small town. Peter has always liked that about it.
“That’s not an answer.”
Peter shrugs, and exhales slowly. “I think that our pack is four people, Lulu, and one of them is a nine-year-old human. I think that the fact that Gerard and Kate and Chris and Victoria are all back here now is the definition of overkill. This isn’t about the Code. This is about their pride. This is about them finishing the job they started with the fire.”
Laura makes a small sound of agreement.
“Some of us lived, and that offends them,” Peter says, his upper lip curling in a snarl at the word. “If we run, they’d follow. And that’s not fair on Satomi.”
“Or Matty,” Laura murmurs.
Peter swallows. “Or Matty.”
“So it’s us then?” Laura asks. “The three of us, against the Argents?”
Peter stares out at the lights. “So it seems.”
“Deaton’s an emissary,” Peter says. “Emissaries talk, they don’t fight. And something tells me the Argents aren’t here to negotiate.”
“And even if we beat them,” Laura says, her breath hitching, “what’s to stop other hunters coming for us for that?”
Peter wishes he could lie to her.
“I don’t know,” he says at last. “Probably nothing.”
They sit together in silence as the night draws on.
Peter is loath to admit it, but it’s almost a relief when he’s woken the next morning by the sound of raised voices. Ah. Teenage melodrama. What a lovely change of pace. He climbs out of bed and pads out of his bedroom and down the steps to the living room.
“And what the hell is going on here?” he asks in his most pleasant tone. It’s a shade removed from his ‘I’m going to kill everyone in this room and not even break a sweat’ tone, and is incredibly effective of his enemies. It’s also incredibly effective on young Scott McCall, the reluctant teenage beta, whose eyes are big enough to swallow universes right now.
“Close your mouth, dear boy,” Peter says. It’s been too long since Peter has felt like anything but a weary husk, or a shivering prey creature huddled in the undergrowth. It’s positively a delight to actually be able to intimidate someone for a change. “You’ll catch flies.”
Scott snaps his jaw shut.
Derek rolls his eyes. “Scott wants to go to a party on Friday night. To hook up with a girl.”
“Not just hook up!” Scott insists, his face flushing indignantly. “I really like her!”
“Oh,” Peter purrs, heading for the kitchen and the coffee machine. “How sweet. Scott, did you miss the part where there are hunters in town, and not only should you be staying away from this loft, but you should be also staying away from anything where you risk losing control and either attacking and killing all of your friends—including the pretty girls—or painting a fucking target on your back for the Argents?”
“It’s just a party!” Scott insists, his face screwed up like a toddler’s. “I won’t lose control!”
“Oh, yes,” Peter says. “It’s just a party. And last week on the field when you almost ripped a teammate’s head off, that was just a lacrosse game, am I right?”
Scott growls, the sound rumbling in his chest in a very inhuman way and not making a case for control in any way, shape or form.
Peter meets Derek’s gaze, and Derek rolls his eyes again.
“Scott,” Peter says, forcing a gentleness into his tone that he doesn’t feel. “It’s dangerous now, for you, and for the people around you.”
Scott huffs, and throws up his hands. “Fine! Fine, I won’t go to the party!”
Peter would be a lot more sympathetic to the boy if he hadn’t been dumb enough to just lie to his face.
He lets it go.
“Good,” he says mildly, and turns his attention to the coffee machine.
When Scott leaves, Derek locks the door after him.
“He’s going to the party anyway, isn’t he?” Derek asks.
“Oh, he absolutely is,” Peter says. “And he’s going to need someone there to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed, or that he loses control and slaughters half his classmates.”
He leaves it to Derek to draw the obvious conclusion.
Derek swears under his breath. “I’m going to the party too, aren’t I?”
“Oh, you absolutely are,” Peter says with a smirk. “Have fun.”
John Stilinski’s house is in darkness, except for the kitchen light. Peter lurks on the back porch and stares in through the windows at the man.
Stilinski is sitting at his kitchen table, a bottle of whiskey within reach of his left hand, and his SIG Sauer P220 in reach of his right. He’s a mess. He’s unshaven, and his khaki uniform shirt is unbuttoned to reveal his undershirt. Peter can smell the alcohol seeping out of his pores from the other side of the glass.
He’s an attractive man despite his current state. Peter has always thought so. Stilinski isn’t a young man, and his last decade hasn’t been kind to him. He’s weathered and worn, but he carries it well. Well, most of the time, at least. Tonight might be the exception.
Tonight he looks like a fucking disaster.
When Peter was younger, when he was training to be the pack’s left hand at his Aunt Sarah’s side, he’d had to learn all the hunter families. He’d studied their family trees, their pictures. He’d seen them when he closed his eyes. And maybe he’d even incorporated some of them into his dirtiest fantasies. Janusz Stilinski and Christophe Argent had featured in a lot of those. They were all variations on a theme, where a sneaky and wily teenage werewolf got the drop on two hot older hunters and taught them a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget.
That was before Peter had seen pictures of what men like that had done though. Entire packs slaughtered, with not even the children spared.
The man in the kitchen might have been a fantasy conquest of Peter’s once, and he might look like a tired old drunk now, but Peter isn’t fooled by that either.
John Stilinski is what he’s always been: a killer.
Peter won’t forget that, not even when the sheriff exhales heavily and the sound catches on a sob.
He’s a hunter, and he’s a killer, and that moment of mercy six years ago was nothing but an aberration.
Peter slinks away into the darkness, and leaves the sheriff to his misery.
Stiles can’t believe he’s here. At a party. He can’t believe that Gerard said yes, though maybe he shouldn’t be surprised. The old man adores Ally. He spoils her, though Stiles thinks maybe that’s partly just to get a rise out of her parents, to prove that they can’t refuse him. Everything in Gerard’s world is a test of loyalty, even the smallest gestures. But still. Stiles is here. At a party. The music is pumping, the place is full of teenagers, and someone presses a red solo cup into Stiles’s hands before he and Allison are even inside the door. He makes the mistake of drinking from it as well, and whatever’s inside is sweet and sugary, and tastes nothing at all like Gerard’s expensive Scotch, but it’s got a hell of a kick to it all the same.
This is ridiculous. Stiles is a trained hunter. He’s seen things that would make these kids scream for their mommies, but at the same time he’s hopelessly out of his depth and has no idea what the fuck he’s supposed to do, or say, or how he’s supposed to act.
He flashes a panicked look at Allison, and she laughs, grabs his hand, and drags him further into the house.
There are so many people here. Guys in skinny jeans and girls in short dresses, and the bass is thumping, and Stiles—not knowing what else to do—downs the rest of his drink just so he’s doing something with his hands. He’s afraid to look at these kid too closely. Afraid that he might see someone he remembers from before. Afraid too that they might remember him.
“There’s Scott!” Allison yells into his ear above the music, and Stiles looks over to where she’s pointing as a kid comes bouncing towards them.
“Hi!” the kid blurts out, some weird mix of shy and exuberant at the same time.
“Hi, Scott,” Allison says. “This is my cousin, Stiles.”
“Hi!” Scott blurts at Stiles.
“Hey,” Stiles says, and god, should he have out his hand out for a handshake or something? A high five? A fist bump? Jesus fuck. Stiles is a teenager, and he doesn’t know how to be one at all.
“Dude,” Scott says. “What happened to your face?”
Stiles laughs, the action tugging at the cut on his lip, and reaches up to touch the healing cut in his eyebrow. “I tripped when I was jogging, and face-planted on the road.”
Scott hisses in sympathy.
“Who’s that?” Allison asks, and waves at the guy lurking nearby and sending death stares at Scott. The guy is tall, and intensely unsmiling, and wearing a black leather jacket. He looks more out of place at this party than Stiles feels.
Scott flushes. “Oh, that… that’s Derek. He tutors me in math.”
“You brought your math tutor to the party?” Allison asks, blinking slowly.
Apparently Stiles isn’t the only one here who doesn’t know how to be a teenager.
Scott wrinkles his nose and shrugs in a what-can-you-do gesture. Then he brightens. “Do you want to dance?”
“Sure,” Allison says, and she’s letting go of Stiles’s hand and suddenly he’s alone, untethered, adrift in a sea of people. He looks around, and someone presses another drink into his hands. Someone jostles him, and he stumbles, and a strong hand wraps around his upper arm and stops him from crashing into the wall.
Half his drink sloshes down the front of Derek the math tutor’s leather jacket.
“Shit,” Stiles says. “Sorry.”
Derek the math tutor stares at him. “Doesn’t matter.”
He unpeels his fingers from Stiles’s upper arm and continues to stare over at where Scott and Allison are dancing.
“So, um, I’m Stiles,” Stiles says. “Do you go to the high school?”
Derek turns his head. His eyebrows tug together. “Do I look like I go to the high school?”
“I dunno,” Stiles says, emboldened by that first drink. “Maybe you were kept back a year. Or ten.”
Derek’s mouth twitches slightly. “I’m in college.”
“Cool,” Stiles says. And then, because he can’t think of anything else to say, he says it again. “Cool.”
He leans against the wall next to Derek, and watches Allison enjoy herself. He pretends not to sneak glances at Derek, and pretends not to notice how hot he is. But he’s had that one drink, and he’s feeling a little reckless. Nobody here knows him, right? Apart from Ally, and she’s so caught up with Scott that Stiles could burst into flames and she probably wouldn’t notice. So it’s okay if he steals glances, right? Steals glances, and files it all away—that jaw line, that straight nose, that mouth, those gorgeous eyes—for later. Nobody has to know.
Maybe for tonight he doesn’t have to be a hunter. Just for tonight. Maybe he can shrug off his training, and his knowledge, and the burden of his name and the weight of both its history and its betrayal, and just be nobody. Just a kid. What would it matter, for just one night?
He takes a swig of his remaining drink and feels a rush of recklessness. He laughs, and Derek gives him the side-eye.
“How much have you had to drink?”
“This is my second,” Stiles says. “It’s so, so gross.” He takes another long sip. “Ugh.”
There’s that twitch of Derek’s mouth again. “Then why are you drinking it?”
“I’m having fun,” Stiles says. “This is how people have fun, right?”
He notices there’s no drink in Derek’s hands.
“You should slow down,” Derek tells him, and his gaze drifts back to Scott and Allison.
It’s… Stiles thinks he should bristle at that, but it’s probably really good advice. He sets his drink down on the floor, feeling a little guilty that it will probably get knocked over any second now, but it’s hardwood, not carpet, so it won’t be a total disaster.
A bunch of guys in letterman jackets—people wear those outside of school hours?—pushes through the room, a keg held over their heads. Kids whoop and cheer and clap like this is the greatest thing ever.
And just like that the magic vanishes.
This isn’t fun.
Stiles doesn’t know what fun is, probably, but this isn’t it. He doesn’t like the music, and he doesn’t like the crush of people, and he doesn’t know anybody, and he’s standing in a crowded room and he’s never felt more disconnected in his entire life.
He closes his eyes as a familiar feeling of panic claws at him.
Closes his eyes, and regulated his breathing, and thinks of how to disassemble and reassemble a Walther P99 piece by piece. His hands twitch by his sides like he can actually feel each component.
“Hey,” Derek says in his ear.
Stiles opens his eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Just, um, not really a party person, I guess.”
Well, Stiles thinks, no surprises there. Derek looks like someone pissed in his cornflakes, but that might actually just be his face. It’s a goddamn gorgeous face, and maybe Derek’s afraid it will crack if he smiles.
“I’m gonna go wait outside for Allison,” Stiles says, and pushes his way back toward the front door.
It’s not much quieter out here, to be honest, but it’s darker, and Stiles can at least breathe. He sits on the edge of the road, his feet in the gutter, and sobers up rapidly in the cool night air. He watches the patterns the moonlight makes on the blacktop as it filters through the leaves of the trees that line the road. He’s surprised when someone sits down beside him and a cup is thrust toward him.
“It’s water,” Derek says. “You look like you could use it.”
“Thanks.” Stiles takes it.
“So I take it you weren’t having fun in there after all,” Derek says after a while.
Stiles snorts. “Nah, not really.”
He holds the cup of water in his shaking hand.
In the darkness and the moonlight, Derek is a pale face and a black leather jacket.
There was this boy once, on a street in Budapest.
A boy wrapped in colour on a grey winter’s day. A boy with a bright laugh, and Stiles had turned toward him then like he’s turning toward Derek now...
There’s no colour in Derek. No colour in the night. There are only shades of silver and darkness that blur in Stiles’s vision as he leans closer, and then—
They’re kissing, and Stiles is breathless, the trembling fingers of one hand curling in Derek’s hair, his other hand still holding the cup. And Derek’s mouth is wet, but not too wet, and Derek’s tongue is swiping along the seam of Stiles’s lips, and then Stiles is opening his mouth, and he’s never done this, and he doesn’t know what to do, and when Derek’s tongue touches his he thinks he sees flash grenades exploding on the black canvas of his tightly-shut eyes.
And one of Derek’s hands is curled around the back of Stiles’s neck, and the other one is on Stiles’s hip as they lean awkwardly into each other, and Stiles sucks in a surprised breath as their mouths part, and then they’re kissing again, or still, or something, and Stiles wants this so much he’s afraid that it’s too big for his skin to contain, and that he’ll break from the force of it.
He drops the cup, and water spills down the gutter.
He grips Derek’s shoulder with his now-free hand, and the leather jacket is soft and smooth under his palm.
He leans further into the kiss, his eyes flashing open when Derek pulls back a fraction, but he’s only teasing because then he’s capturing Stiles’s bottom lip between his teeth and tugging gently. It stings a little because of the cut from boxing, but it’s not an unpleasant sensation. Derek releases his lip when Stiles huffs out a surprised laugh, and brushes their mouths together again. It’s gentle and slow, like a drawn-out elegy, and Stiles feels a pang of regret because he knows the kiss is ending.
Stiles drops his hands.
Derek leans away from him. “I should, um…” He gestures back toward the house.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, even though he wants to say Stay, please stay.
“I don’t usually—”
“Me neither!” Stiles exclaims, his face heating up.
Derek’s smile is soft, and a little embarrassed. “Can I give you my number?”
“Oh,” Stiles says, digging in his pocket for his phone and handing it over. “Sure!”
The screen of his phone illuminates the perfect angles of Derek’s face as Derek put his number into Stiles’s phone.
“So,” Derek says, passing the phone back. “You’ll call me?”
“Yeah.” Stiles clutches his phone to his chest. “Absolutely.”
“Okay.” Derek smiles at him, and climbs to his feet. “See you around. Or soon, or… you know.”
“See you,” Stiles echoes, and watches Derek while he walks back to the house.
There was a boy in Budapest, a bright flash of colour, and Stiles looked.
Stiles looked, and Gerard saw.
“Did you have fun?” Allison asks later as she’s driving him back home.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, even though he’d spent the rest of the time sitting out in the darkness, thinking of Derek, and of that kiss. “Did you?”
She flashes him a brilliant smile. “I did! So much fun!”
He’s happy for her. For her and Scott. He’s jealous too though, because Ally doesn’t just get tonight, does she?
She drops him off at the house, and he waits until she drives off before walking to the front door.
In Budapest, Stiles looked and Gerard saw.
That can’t happen again.
Tonight he was a regular boy, but tomorrow he’s a hunter again.
Stiles’s fingers shake as he stands on the front doorstep and deletes Derek’s number from his phone.
Peter doesn’t sleep on Friday night. He checks his phone for any emails and texts from other packs, and the silence is both deafening and pointed. The Hales are on their own. Deaton has emailed him. He’s heading down to Mexico to talk face-to-face with Araya Calavera, the matriarch of a hunter family known for its strict adherence to the Code.
It’s a long shot, probably, but Peter appreciates the gesture.
If the Calaveras didn’t give a fuck about the Argents going rogue six years ago when they burned the Hale pack to the ground, why the hell would they care now?
Scant hope, he supposes, is better than none at all. So Peter is grateful to Deaton for the attempt, even though he’s cynical enough to know nothing will come of it. That scant hope comes with a stab of guilt as well, because Peter has pushed Deaton away since the fire, and told Laura exactly what he thinks of emissaries and their useless advice. He hasn’t been fair to Deaton, he suspects. But then it’s been a long time since Peter has felt inclined to be fair to anyone.
It’s still dark when he pads downstairs for something to eat, even though it’s nowhere near breakfast.
Peter helps himself to the cereal. It’s some sugary brand that Matty loves and insists that they buy for him. Nobody else eats it. Peter pours himself a bowl to save it from going stale, but he discovers that he doesn’t have the stomach to finish it.
He hopes Matty isn’t too homesick. He hopes he’s enjoying the tree house by the lake. He hopes that this ends soon, and he can come home.
That feels like the most hollow hope of all.
He thinks of John Stilinski, and how defeated the man had looked the other night when Peter had watched him through his kitchen window. That’s how Peter feels most of the time, although he doesn’t have the luxury of sinking into a bottle of whiskey. Peter might not be the alpha, but his pack—small as it is—relies on him. Laura needs to know that her left hand is steady. Derek needs to know that he isn’t alone. And Matty…
Matty needs his Uncle Peter to come home to.
Peter looks up at he hears footsteps on the stairs. He tilts his head and hears Derek’s familiar heartbeat. Moments later, the loft door opens.
“How was the party?” Peter asks.
“Why are you lurking here in the dark?” Derek mutters.
“I’m cultivating my persona,” Peter says. He doesn’t need light to know that Derek’s giving him a death glare for that. “I couldn’t be bothered turn a light on.”
“How was the party?”
“Scott kept control,” Derek says.
Peter doesn’t need to be a left hand to know there’s something Derek isn’t saying. He’s his uncle. He’s been able to read him like a book since he was a toddler. “And?”
“And nothing,” Derek says, gruff and flustered.
Peter allows himself a slight smile at that. So Derek got distracted by some pretty thing, did he? It’s been a while. Peter doesn’t begrudge it. Derek’s no Scott, after all. He knows how to prioritise safety over sex.
These days, at least.
It was a hard-learned lesson though, for everyone.
Derek flops down on the couch opposite Peter’s.
“Deaton’s going to Mexico,” Peter says. “To speak to Araya Calavera.”
“What will that help?” Derek asks.
“Something Laura said the other day,” Peter says. “She said that even if we could win against the Argents, what would stop the other hunter families from coming? Well, this might.”
“You really believe that?” Derek’s eyebrows tug together.
“It’s a slim hope,” Peter admits, “but it’s better than nothing. Which is our other option, by the way.”
Derek shows him a tight, grim smile.
Peter thinks again of John Stilinski. Stilinski is like a pebble in his shoe. An irritant. There’s something about him that Peter just can’t ignore. Peter doesn’t like it when he can’t solve a puzzle, and that’s what John Stilinski is. He’s a puzzle, with pieces that refuse to fit together.
Derek leans over and inspects Peter’s bowl of cereal, and then, with a shrug, steals it and begins to eat.
Peter watches him with a smirk.
He isn’t sure how much Derek and Laura know about what happened on the night of the fire. They were both out and, when they were finally able to see Peter at the hospital, there was just so much to take in that night, and over all the followings days and nights, that he’s not sure that one little detail—John Stilinski breaking the line of mountain ash so Peter could escape—wasn’t swept away under the sheer weight of everything else.
The loss of their parents, their siblings, their pack.
The loss of their home.
Laura’s new alpha status.
Derek’s crushing guilt when he realized that the woman he’d thought he’d loved had been the one who struck the match.
Matty’s slow recovery from his burns and his smoke inhalation. There had been more than one occasion where, when he was fighting infection, that the doctors told them to prepare for the worst.
Peter stretches and stands. “I’m going out.”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “It’s the middle of the night.”
Peter flashes him a smile. “Then don’t wait up, nephew.”
It’s not the middle of the night at all. It’s almost dawn when Peter finds himself at Stilinski’s house. Peter approaches it from the back—he has a working relationship with the dog next door, and Jasper hasn’t given him any trouble since that first night years ago when Peter growled right back at him. There are lights on in Stilinski’s house—upstairs in his bedroom, and a few downstairs. An early shift? Peter might be a hell of a stalker, but even he doesn’t know the man’s roster.
And then he hears voices: low and angry.
Peter slips down the side of the house to the front yard.
There’s a black SUV parked out the front of the house, and Chris Argent is standing in the sheriff’s open doorway.
Well, he’s standing when Peter first sees him.
And then he’s flying backwards and landing on his ass on the porch, and John Stilinski is stepping out of the doorway to stand over him.
Chris Argent shows the sheriff his palms. “John,” he says, and then: “Janusz.”
“Get the hell off my property,” Stilinski says.
So it’s not a lie, and it never was. John Stilinski really isn’t a hunter anymore. He’s not an ally though either, is he?
Peter watches closely.
“John,” Chris Argent says again. He climbs carefully to his feet, and takes a few steps back. Peter doesn’t blame him. Stilinski looks like murder. “You broke the Code.”
“That’s a lie.” Stilinski’s heart doesn’t skip a beat. “If that’s what he told you, it’s a lie.”
Chris flashes a bitter smile and shakes his head. “You betrayed us.”
“You left us!” There’s more hurt in Chris Argent’s words than Peter would have thought a hunter was capable of feeling. And then his stoic mask is back, like it was never lifted. “You’re a traitor to every oath you swore to uphold, John.”
“Get the fuck off my property,” Stilinski says. “I won’t tell you again.”
Chris shakes his head again, and turns and walked down the porch steps. They creak under his boots. He stops when he reaches the ground, and turns back. “I’m sorry, John. I’m sorry it had to end this way.”
“You keep telling yourself that, you son of a bitch,” Stilinski says. “See if it’ll help you sleep at night.”
He slams the door.
“Derek,” Laura says on Tuesday night, “are you even listening to me?”
Derek looks up from his phone guiltily. “What?”
“I asked if you were even listening to me,” Laura says, rolling her eyes.
Derek flushes, colour rising in his cheeks, and shoves his phone in his pocket. “Sorry.”
“You’ve been checking that thing for days,” Laura says. “Did you and Scott accidentally bodyswap Friday night? Because I’d swear you’re as ridiculous as him right now.”
Derek glares at her.
“Oh, you did!” Laura exclaims. “You turned into Scott, and you met a pretty girl at the party too, and now you’re in lurrrrve! Any second now all your higher brain function will migrate to your dick, and you won’t be able to form a single coherent thought!”
“Shut up,” Derek mutters, the tips of his ears turning pink. “I’m not in love.” His flush deepens. Even the tips of his ears turn pink. “And it wasn’t a girl.”
Laura’s eyes widen. “Tell me everything! Is he cute? God, no, it was a high school party. Acne-ridden nerd, or acne-ridden jock?”
Derek tries to disappear into the space between his hunched shoulders.
Peter might enjoy moments like these, he thinks, moments of teasing banter, if only the shadow of the Argents didn’t loom over them.
“Alpha,” he says pointedly. “While I’d love to tease Derek as much as the next person, can we please focus on the issues at hand? This is a strategy meeting. How about we try some actual strategising?”
Laura perches on the edge of the couch, her smile fading. “You’re right, sorry.”
And Peter feels like a monster, for stealing this moment of levity from her. She’s had so few since the fire.
“So do we have a strategy?” Laura asks. “Or are we just sitting ducks?”
“We fight,” Peter says. “That’s the strategy. We take them down before they take us down, and we hope that Deaton can make a case with the Calaveras to keep the other hunter families off our backs.”
Laura nods, and exhales slowly. “It’s the only option, isn’t it?”
“I think so, yes,” Peter says.
Derek nods slowly.
“I think that—” Laura stops suddenly, and draws a sharp breath. She sways, and Derek reaches out to steady her. “Oh god!”
“Laura?” Derek asks.
And then Peter feels it too. A sharp burst of not-quite pain, like a flash of white in his vision. It shoots along his pack bonds in his mind, a discordant twanging string on a musical instrument Peter knows well enough to play by feel, suddenly out of tune with all the others.
Something’s wrong with the pack bonds.
Something’s very, very wrong.
Peter sees the bonds in his mind’s eye, and one is rapidly fraying, strands unravelling, the pieces holding it together thinner and thinner by the moment.
Peter can almost hear it when it snaps.
Laura gasps, and her hand flies to her throat. “Scott!”
Allison texts Stiles the day after the party, complaining about her parents trying to ruin her life, because Scott invited her to go to a movie, but they said no. She’s sneaking out to meet him later though, because apparently Allison never learned that Romeo and Juliet doesn’t have a happy ending.
It’s none of Stiles’s business, really, but Allison would be a hell of a lot safer if her parents actually told her the truth about the world, and about her heritage, and her future as a hunter. She’ll be the head of the Argent family one day, and she should have started training the moment she could walk, the way that Kate and Chris did.
And Scott seems like a nice guy, but there are werewolves in Beacon Hills, and Allison is an Argent. She shouldn’t be sneaking out of the house at night. It could be dangerous. But at the same time, Stiles doesn’t want to betray her trust.
He’s not sure what to do, and then remembers that, well, he’s a hunter, isn’t he?
Later that night, when Kate’s out and Gerard is dozing in front of the television, Stiles sneaks out his bedroom window, leaves the neighbourhood, and calls an Uber to get him into town. He’s at the movie theatre when Allison arrives. Five minutes later Scott joins her and they go inside. Stiles spends the next two hours hanging around the parking lot.
It feels weird, stalking his cousin, but at least this way he knows she’s safe.
His stomach swoops when a police squad car rolls slowly through the parking lot. Stiles feigns interest in the movie posters, fighting back the urge to turn and stare at the car. Then it drives on again, and Stiles’s heart rediscovers its regular rhythm.
It wasn’t even his father, probably.
Just some other cop.
He’s unsettled though, for the rest of the time he stands there.
Gerard hasn’t said anything about his father, and Stiles hasn’t asked. But it’s a test of some sort, because everything is a test. Stiles isn’t afraid that he’ll fail—he’s spent the last six years training to retake his birthright as a Stilinski—but he’s afraid his hands will shake just like they did when he went on his first hunt.
He’s afraid Gerard will see his weakness.
Stiles swallows, and stares at the posters for upcoming features, and wonders what it would feel like to be sneaking into a movie with Derek. He wonders if they’d share snacks, and hold hands inside. He wonders if they’d kiss again, and if it would feel as wonderful and desperate and earth shattering as it did on Friday night.
It hurts to think about, because he knows he can’t have that again.
Stiles is a hunter. He has a higher purpose, Gerard says sometimes, which is just a fancy way of saying he has a fucking job to do, and he needs to remember that.
He needs to remember that.
When the movie finally ends and Allison and Scott come outside again they’re holding hands. Stiles slips into the shadows and looks away as they share a kiss before Allison hops into her car and drives off.
Stiles can barely stop himself from laughing when Scott does what can only be called the world’s dorkiest happy dance right there in the parking lot.
And then his delight vanishes in an instant, and is replaced by something hot and painful in his chest, because he suddenly wonders if anyone will ever feel that way about him.
He’s pretty sure they won’t.
On Tuesday night it’s Victoria’s birthday, which means a family dinner at Chris and Victoria’s house. It’s a stilted affair. Gerard is full of his usual false bonhomie, Kate joins him, and Chris and Victoria seem to communicate entirely in shared glances laden with meaning that Stiles can’t parse. Allison, because she’s a ray of sunshine, is a little perplexed by the weird tension at the table, and Stiles sits and eats his dinner quietly like a good little soldier.
He hasn’t eaten placki ziemniaczane in years. He catches Victoria’s gaze when she serves it, and can’t read her expression.
“Potato pancakes,” Victoria says when Gerard asks, not giving them their Polish name, and Stiles wonders if she knows how much these taste like his childhood. He wonders if they taste like hers as well, and if this is a moment she’s sharing with him, or one that she’s trying to sting him with.
He knows better than to ask.
Dinner is interminable.
Stiles is in the back of the SUV when they leave, so he doesn’t see it.
Doesn’t see the flash of movement in the bushes, and the shine of beta gold eyes.
“Did you see that?” Kate asks, slamming on the brakes. “They’re stalking us now?”
She’s already reaching for the firearm she keeps in the glove compartment, while Gerard is on the phone.
“Chris,” Gerard barks. “You’ve got a stray dog problem in this neighbourhood.”
That’s when Stiles sees the werewolf—it cuts quickly across the street in front of the SUV, a flash of movement, and Stiles glimpses a shifted beta face. Fangs and claws.
He feels a stab of…of anticipation, of energy, of fear as the werewolf races past the SUV, and Kate executes a screeching three-point turn in Chris’s quiet street. And then they’re speeding down the street behind the werewolf, the headlights bouncing off trash cans and parked cars and bushes as they chase it down.
Gerard passes a firearm back to Stiles.
Stiles takes it and unclips his seatbelt, ready to leap out of the SUV as soon as it slows. A sharp left turn sees him slamming into the door with a grunt.
“Okay, string bean?” Kate asks, not taking her eyes off the road.
“I’m good,” Stiles says, rubbing his shoulder.
He squints out the window, trying to get some idea of where they’re headed. Where the werewolf is leading them.
To the Preserve, probably. Maybe the werewolf thinks it can lose them in there, with its superior speed and sight. Or maybe it’s leading them into a trap, because why the hell else would a lone werewolf let itself get spotted hanging around Chris’s house? Right about now Stiles wishes that Gerard and Kate weren’t so damn secretive about their plans for the Hale pack. Would be nice not to go in blind.
When they reach the edge of the Preserve, the tall trees looming up into the moonless night, Kate slams on the brakes again.
“It’s heading north,” Kate says. “You follow it, and we’ll try and cut if off.”
“Got it,” Stiles says.
He leaps out of the SUV and heads into the woods on foot.
Behind him, he hears the SUV roar away, and then he’s alone.
On a proper hunt, a planned hunt, Stiles would have night vision goggles and more than just a handgun. But that’s the thing about being a hunter, Kate tells him all the time. You have to think on your feet. You have to adapt. And, when it comes down to it, technology and hardware only get you so far. In the end, you only have yourself to rely on.
Stiles isn’t scared.
He ignores his own thumping heartbeat.
He isn’t scared.
He’s the predator here, not the werewolf.
He’s the hunter.
He picks his way as quietly and as quickly as he can through the dark woods. The night is cool, and Stiles hasn’t got a jacket, but adrenaline keeps him warm enough for now. Keeps him from feeling the chill that pebbles his skin.
Stiles moves by instinct more than anything else. Unless the werewolf doubles back—and it might, if it realises there’s only a single hunter behind it—Stiles is unlikely to catch it. He follows the path of least resistance through the trees, following what might be an old fire trail, because that’s probably the one the werewolf took as well. He runs, as light on his feet as he can be when he’s unsure of the ground underneath him, and covers maybe half a mile, maybe a little more, when—
He hears a shot ring out a little to the northwest, and his heartbeat spikes. He changes direction, heading for the sound, and then he hears another shot, and an aborted howl that ends on a whine.
Kate and Gerard!
They’ve got it!
Stiles keeps moving, scanning the trees as he runs. An injured werewolf is still dangerous. More dangerous, because it’s cornered with nothing to lose.
Stiles sees flashlights cutting through the trees up ahead.
He rounds a bend, coming to a sharp stop as he sees the werewolf.
It’s hurt. It’s limping, and whining, stumbling from tree to tree in a vain attempt to find cover. And then the moon sails out from behind a cloud, bathing the fire trail in light, and Stiles sees that the werewolf is wearing jeans and Converse and a maroon Vans t-shirt. The werewolf stumbles toward Stiles, and Stiles raises his firearm.
He’s not afraid.
He’s a hunter.
He’s not afraid.
The werewolf lifts its head to look at him, its beta-gold eyes going wide. And then the shift is receding, claws and fangs and fur vanishing and facial ridges sinking back into smoothness, and—
Stiles’s breath catches.
—and there’s a cute boy with floppy hair and a crooked jaw and beautiful eyes that Allison loves standing in front of him. His face is wracked with pain. There’s a hole in the thigh of his jeans, and blood soaking through the denim. He’s clutching his arm too, blood welling between his fingers.
“Stiles?” Scott asks, his face creasing with confusion through his pain.
Because all Stiles can think of right now is the way that Scott did that dumb-ass happy dance outside the cinema after Ally kissed him.
Scott’s not a monster, is he?
Over Scott’s shoulder, Stiles sees movement. Kate and Gerard, walking slowly towards them in the moonlight, weapons drawn.
“No,” Stiles says, his voice rasping, because this is Scott. This isn’t a monster. This is a kid, and if he was hanging around Chris’s house it has to be because Ally asked him to come. Because Stiles followed Allison to make sure she was safe from werewolves—dumb, since it turned out he couldn’t see the forest for the tress—but she was sneaking out to meet Scott, and Scott never hurt her. “No, wait—”
He isn’t sure which one of them shoots.
It doesn’t matter, probably.
Scott’s body jerks as the bullet catches him, and he pitches forward and hits the ground.
Peter knows that it’s already too late when he and Laura and Derek enter the Preserve. He knows there’s nothing they can do for Scott McCall now. He knows they’re already too late. The pack bond is broken, and Peter knows exactly what that means. His failure burns. He should have kept a closer eye on the boy, perhaps, but he’d thought that pushing him away would be safer while the Argents were here. Instead, all that happened was it left Scott more vulnerable.
Peter follows Laura as they run, beta-shifted, through the Preserve. Thin branches whip him, and he barely feels it. He’s aware of Laura in front of him, and of Derek a little behind. They’re spread out as they run. It allows them more manoeuvrability. It also means they’re not a single easy target.
Why the hell was the boy out at this hour? And why was he in the Preserve? He should have been home, with his door locked, watching movies and playing video games and doing a million other pointless teenage things.
There are scents in the Preserve tonight. Scents of the hunters who did this thing. Peter thinks he can even smell the faintest trace of Kate’s perfume—Kate wears it like a calling card. She makes no attempt to hide her scent these days. She’s proud of who she is. Proud of who she’s killed. Gerard’s scent lingers a little in the air too—as sour and bitter as the man himself.
There’s a third scent, one that Peter doesn’t recognise. Young, and male, and vaguely reminiscent of something more familiar that Peter can’t quite place at the moment, when his nerves are ragged and his adrenaline is pumping. Peter narrows his eyes and tries to hold onto the scent, to get a fix on it before the cool air whisks it away.
And over it all, over everything, Peter can smell Scott’s blood. Scott’s fear. Scott’s last moments of life.
It shouldn’t be so shocking, he supposes, that the Argents killed an innocent boy. It shouldn’t be shocking at all, and yet somehow it still surprises him even after everything he knows about them.
Ahead of him, Laura roars, and every single animal in the Preserve shudders into stillness at the sound. Peter can feel the chaotic waves of grief and anger rolling off her. She’s distraught. She’s also furious. She could tear the world apart tonight, and Peter will gladly offer it up to her in his bloody claws.
Peter lifts his nose as he smells the acrid mix of cordite and wolfsbane on the cool night air. He sends out a warning growl to Laura: Slow down, Alpha.
Because she is their leader, but she is also Peter’s niece. The death of an alpha, Peter has survived before. He could do it again, probably. Pick himself and keep fighting. But he’s not sure if he could survive the death of another niece.
Slow down, Alpha.
And then he hears a shot, and Laura hits the ground, and it’s fresh blood that Peter can smell.
Peter leaps over her, and takes a defensive stance in front of her.
She smells of rage and pain, but her heartbeat is still strong. Peter doesn’t dare look back at her. Not yet. Not when there are hunters in front of him.
He sees Scott McCall’s body lying on the fire trail in front of him, with a woman standing over him. Kate. She’s wide-eyed as she peers into the night, her human eyesight failing her. There’s a young man standing in the darkness behind her, and Gerard Argent is at his side.
Derek roars, and—oh, smart pup! He’s circled around so that his roar is coming from a different direction. With any luck, the Argents will think they’re surrounded.
Laura climbs to her feet, growling.
“Slow,” Peter tells her in a low voice. “Don’t give them an easy target, Lulu.”
This is her first fight—Derek’s too—and while their instincts are good, instinct will only get them so far, especially against professionals like the Argents. Except that the Argents aren’t kitted up for a hunt, are they? And there are only three hunters here. If the Hales aren’t ready for this fight, then neither are the Argents. It’s a small advantage, but Peter feels their only chance is to press it. They may not be able to win this fight, but there’s a chance they can survive it.
Laura howls: an alpha summoning her pack, and Peter remembers teaching her how to play poker as a child. Teaching her how to bluff. She sounds like an alpha with an entire pack at her back, an army about to come streaming out of the trees all around them, not just Peter and Derek.
“Back!” Gerard Argent, that poisonous old toad, calls. “Get back to the car!”
Derek roars again, and Peter dives silently through the trees to get to the other side of them and add his roar to the mix. Let them think the Hale pack is ten times the size it is. Let them think the wolves are circling them.
The hunters peel off back into the woods, Gerard and Kate slipping back into the darkness of the trees, and the young man moving after them. And then—Peter is so unaccustomed to the universe giving him a break that he can hardly believe his eyes— the young man trips and stumbles to the ground.
Peter sees a flash of pale skin at the hunter’s throat as he twists to try to get his hands underneath him to get on his feet again, and his fangs itch. He wants to rip the hunter’s throat out and repay blood with blood.
But Peter’s not the feral animal the Argents think he is. The wolf might want to rend and tear and shred until the hunter is nothing but a pile of bloody meat, but the left hand of the Hale pack knows that he can’t get intel from a corpse.
He lunges at the fallen hunter, pinning him down and wrapping a hand tightly around his throat. The hunter freezes underneath him, face pale in the moonlight, eyes owlishly wide. He smells of salt tears, and Peter hasn’t even started hurting him yet.
Peter squeezes the hunter’s throat and grins down at him, showing off all his fangs. He tightens his grip, relishing the way that the hunter struggles underneath him, his heartbeat fast and panicked as he tries and fails to pull oxygen into his lungs. Peter sees the moment the hunter loses focus, and then he goes limp underneath Peter.
Peter loosens his grip on the hunter’s pale throat and then reaches over to retrieve the firearm resting near his weak, twitching fingers.
Peter hears the snap of a twig behind him. He tosses the firearm towards Laura without looking. “Get yourself a bullet. Burn the wolfsbane out.”
He listens for Derek, and realises his nephew is tracking Kate and Gerard back to their car. Peter hopes to hell he keeps a low profile.
He hears a tear of denim as Laura rips her jeans, and a hiss of pain as she digs the bullet out with her claws.
Peter finds his thumb resting against the pulse in the young hunter’s jugular. The hunter’s not quite back with them yet after Peter introduced him to the joys of asphyxiation. His vision is clouded as he blinks dozily up at Peter in the moonlight, and his dark eyes are wet.
Peter barely spares him a glance, listening instead to the distant faint sounds of an engine, and at Derek’s footsteps as he runs back toward them.
“Oh,” Laura says softly. “Oh, Scott, no.”
Peter twists around. She’s on her knees beside Scott, holding a shaking hand above his cheek as if she’s too afraid to touch him. As if she thinks she can hurt him, when he’s already beyond all feeling.
Peter climbs to his feet, pulling the hunter with him. He’s almost a dead weight.
“We need to go,” Peter says in an undertone. “Lulu, we need to go.”
Before the Argents come back with reinforcements. Before anyone else stumbles across the scene. Before the sheriff is called in. Fucking Stilinski. There’s another human who would look good with his throat torn out, Peter is sure. There’s a dead boy lying on the ground because the sheriff’s oath to serve and protect doesn’t extend to werewolves.
“We need to go,” he repeats.
Laura stands, her eyes flashing red in the darkness.
Peter turns as Derek appears back on the fire trail. He’s growling, and his claws are extended.
“Help your sister while she heals,” Peter says. “We need to get the hell—”
He barely dodges the angry swipe of Derek’s claws as Derek lunges at the hunter hanging in Peter’s grip.
“Give him to me,” Derek snarls out between his fangs. “I’ll kill him!”
The hunter tries to twist away. He stinks of salt and fear.
“You can kill him after he talks,” Peter says, pushing Derek back with his free hand.
Derek’s blind fury is so unexpected that even Peter feels a rush of unease. There’s something here he’s not seeing, and he doesn’t like it at all. He holds up a clawed hand to forestall another aggressive lunge from his nephew.
“You need to control yourself, Derek,” he says and hears, in a cracked, rasping echo from the hunter in his grip: “Derek?”
“Derek?” Peter asks, his voice low.
“It’s the boy from the party,” Derek growls. “A fucking Argent.”
And Peter’s blood runs cold.
Peter picked up the pieces, once. All the shattered little pieces, as small as fragments of ash, left behind when Kate Argent seduced Derek and used the secrets he whispered to her to kill most of his pack.
He can’t believe they’ve done it again.
Peter is going to help Derek kill this one slowly.
The hunter—god, he’s hardly more than a child—is pale-faced and silent as Peter leads him out of the line of trees toward Laura’s Camaro. Peter has one hand holding the boy’s wrists together behind his back. His other one is on his shoulder, claws protruding enough to dig into the boy’s skin through his t-shirt. It would be the work of seconds to slash his throat, and they both know it.
Laura and Derek are walking behind them, silent and watchful. The boy flinches a little whenever one of them growls, and his heartbeat spikes every time.
The Camaro is a ridiculous car. Impractical. Barely enough trunk space for a long-legged boy, as it turns out, but the boy doesn’t complain. He stinks of blood and tears and fear, but he doesn’t complain.
If he knows the score, that will make everything much simpler.
“Little Argent honey trap,” Peter says, leaning into the trunk. He looks the boy up and down. “Huh.”
The boy stares up at him, unmoving. Not unafraid—his heart is beating as fast as a rabbit’s—but unmoving, as though he’s resigned to whatever happens to him next. The boy’s gaze is as blank as Scott’s was.
If his hands weren’t shaking like fluttering pale moths in the darkness, Peter might think the boy was already a corpse.
He slams the lid of the trunk closed.
The darkness is…
Being locked in a confined space doesn’t panic Stiles like maybe it should. It gives him a chance to know it’s okay to close his eyes and curl in on himself, just for now. It gives him a chance to breathe, even if the trunk smells like gasoline fumes and something old and musty. Right here in this moment Stiles can’t do a damn thing, so it’s okay to just lie here, his arms hugging his knees and the vibrations of the engine thrumming in his skull. There’s nobody watching him here. There’s nobody yelling at him to be better, stronger, faster, smarter.
The darkness is better than anything waiting on the other side of it.
Stiles’s eyes are stinging, even when he closes them.
Scott is dead. Scott was a werewolf, and now he’s dead, and Derek is a werewolf too. A werewolf kissed him. A werewolf’s mouth pressed against his, and a werewolf’s fingers touched his throat, and Stiles never even guessed there were claws and fangs so close to his vulnerable flesh. Gerard and Kate always say that werewolves are beasts, that it’s in their nature to kill and destroy. But Scott did a goofy happy dance in the parking lot of the cinema complex, and Derek’s touch was so soft on the night of the party.
He’s seen a werewolf’s bloodlust now, he supposes.
And he’s going to see a lot more of it before the night ends.
When Stiles was eleven, Gerard tied him to a chair in a dark basement and left him there. It took Stiles two hours to break free, working against the knots and the swelling in his limbs that made the ropes dig into his flesh. It was two hours of struggling, and of watching the rope tear his swollen skin. It was two hours of trying to twist his body into ways it didn’t want to move, just to escape the bite of the ropes.
Then, when he finally got himself free and limped up the dark basement steps, hungry and thirsty and aching in ways that were new and terrible, Gerard was waiting on the other side of the door with Stiles’s cold dinner.
“You’re too slow,” Gerard said, his thin mouth turning down at the corners in sour disapproval. “If this was real, you’d be dead.”
And then he tipped Stiles’s dinner into the trash, and walked him back down the basement steps to try again.
The moonlight feels as bright as blazing sunlight when the trunk opens again. Stiles blinks up at the beta werewolf who put him in here, and at the hand the werewolf extends. He takes it carefully, his heart beating faster, and lets the werewolf help him out of the trunk.
Stiles glances around. They’re in a narrow lane between what appear to be warehouses. Stiles doesn’t even get a glimpse of any identifying signage that might tell him where he is before the beta werewolf is steering him inside a steel door.
Stiles fights not to flinch when the door slams shut behind them.
Stiles is as good as blind in the darkness of the warehouse—the same very human failing that caused him to trip back in the woods—but the werewolf puts a hand on his shoulder and keeps him moving.
Then there’s a dull thunk from somewhere nearby, and a light flickers on.
Stiles squints until his eyes adjust.
The floor of the warehouse is concrete, and pockmarked with years of use. There’s a mezzanine level with old, dusty office spaces with windows that overlook the main floor. Maybe it was a factory once, but there’s nothing left now except the bones of the building: steel pillars, rusted girders, cracked concrete and years and years of dust and grime.
Stiles looks over at a rickety set of steps that lead up to the mezzanine floor.
Derek is standing there, with the female alpha, and Stiles feels a rush of emotion he can’t name, because Derek’s face is human now, and Stiles thinks that he was dumb enough to fall in love with Derek on the night of the party, just a little bit. Or at least dumb enough to fantasise about it. Just… he’s not sure if it’s much of a distinction. It hurts either way to look at him now.
Once, in Budapest, there was a boy. And Stiles looked, and that was a mistake.
Once, in Beacon Hills, there was a boy. And Stiles did more than look, and now here he is.
It hurts to look at Derek, and it’s humiliating.
He turns his face away, and remembers that he’s a hunter.
He’s a hunter, and he’s a Stilinski, and even if he won’t live long enough to reclaim that name and redeem it, well—Stiles pretends his eyes aren’t stinging again—well, at least it’s better to die a loyal soldier than live as a traitor like his father.
The beta wolf with the blue eyes points at a steel post. “Sit.”
Stiles does, and lets the werewolf tugs his wrists behind the post and ties his wrists.
The werewolf moves around quietly in front of Stiles, and crouches down in front of him. His hands hang loosely, but Stiles finds his gaze drawn to them, and to the implicit threat of claws in those fingers.
“Well then,” says the werewolf in a tone too gentle to be anything but a lie. “Let’s have a look at you, little hunter.”
Stiles darts another glance at Derek over on the steps.
The blue-eyed beta tuts. “Now, now. Eyes on me. I’ll be the one asking the questions, hmm?”
Stiles’s skin prickles. The blue-eyed beta must be the alpha’s left hand, which makes him the most cunning member of the pack, and possibly the most dangerous. And then Stiles looks again over at Derek. Derek is staring back at him, his brows tugged together. The alpha has her hand on his forearm.
“What did I just say, little hunter?” the blue-eyed beta asks. “Eyes on me.”
Stiles jerks his head in a nod. “Eyes on you.”
He’s shocked at how calm his voice sounds. Not that it means anything to the werewolves who can hear his racing heart. He thinks that maybe Gerard would be proud of him for not sounding scared through.
“Good,” the blue-eyed beta says. “There is a brain rattling around in that fragile little skull of yours, hmm?”
Stiles presses his mouth into a thin line.
The beta lifts his nose as though he’s chasing Stiles’s scent. “Don’t like to be teased, do you?”
Stiles stares at a crack in the concrete next to his knee. He’s cold. It’s the least of his problems right now, but the safest one to focus on. He’s cold. His fingers are going numb. Even if the beta wasn’t staring at him so closely, Stiles doesn’t think he could slip out of these knots.
If this was real, Gerard had told him all those years ago, you’d be dead.
“I think,” the blue-eyed beta says softly, “that it’s time you tell me exactly what the Argents are planning, don’t you?”
Stiles throat aches. He holds the beta’s gaze as he shakes his head, and he knows exactly what his refusal means.
“No?” the beta asks, and tilts his head questioningly.
“No,” Stiles whispers, and closes his eyes.
Because this is real, and Stiles is dead.
Werewolves, Kate told him, can kill a hunter in seconds, but they won’t. She’d said that with a laugh: But they won’t.
And Stiles watches the beta’s nails lengthen and twist into yellow claws, and he thinks I’m a hunter. I’m a hunter and this is inevitable.
Stiles has read the names of the hunter families in books that are centuries old. He’s squinted at script almost illegible to his modern eye, and sounded out the names of all is ancestors. It’s rare to find a record of a hunter who lived to be old, or who died in his sleep. Hunters die young. That’s his birthright as a Stilinski. Stiles has always known that.
He just figured, he supposes as the beta’s claws slide along the thin skin of his throat and then suddenly twist and dig in and blood bursts forth—that he’d at least make it further than sixteen.
There’s a sudden roar that shakes the roof of the warehouse, and Stiles opens his eyes and blinks through his tears at Derek’s face.
He’s here. He’s kneeling beside Stiles, and he’s pushed the blue-eyed beta out of the way. And for a moment Stiles somehow forgets where he is—what Derek is—and he thinks Derek’s beautiful. And then he feels the sting at his throat, and the way his t-shirt is wet with blood, and he thinks Oh. Oh, he wants to be the one who kills me. Because Stiles is a hunter and Derek is a werewolf, and there’s no other way this can end, is there?
But Derek's not attacking him.
“I really liked you,” Stiles mumbles.
Derek’s eyebrows shoot up.
“If we weren’t…” Stiles doesn’t finish the sentence. He shrugs instead, and feels another tendril of blood slide down his collarbone. His fingers are more numb than before, but at least he doesn’t feel cold now. The wound the beta werewolf opened is a killing wound, but he made it to be slow. He could have finished Stiles in seconds, but he didn’t. Maybe it’s punishment for being born a hunter, but Stiles doesn’t mind.
He’s not ready to go.
He thinks of Allison’s smile. He’ll miss it, but then he supposes that after tonight, even if he somehow didn’t bleed to death, that he’d miss it anyway, wouldn’t he? How will Allison light the world up with that smile once she finds out what happened to Scott?
Stiles wonders how long it will take to bleed out.
It doesn’t hurt as much as he thought, so at least there’s that.
And they're not torturing him, so at least there's that.
And he didn’t tell the werewolves anything, so at least there’s that.
Maybe he failed tonight, but he’s no traitor. He wanted so badly to redeem the Stilinski name, and he knows that this won’t be enough, but at least he didn’t betray the hunters. At least he can die a better man than his father will.
And it doesn’t hurt as much as he thought.
He flinches back as Derek lifts his hand and brushes his fingers down his cheek. Derek’s gaze might be murderous—maybe that’s just his face!—but his touch is gentle. There are no claws in it. Stiles doesn’t know why Derek is being strangely tender now. Shouldn’t he be hurting him? But it’s better than the alternative. So he’ll take it. If it messes Stiles up, if it confuses him that Derek’s not a bloodthirsty beast right now, then what does it matter? It’s too late to have a crisis about it.
He holds Derek’s gaze, and tries not to cry.
“I wish I didn’t have to hate you,” he says, and the words come out more or less unslurred.
Derek’s eyes flash. “Stiles.”
The blue-eyed beta rears back into view suddenly. “What did you call him?”
“Stiles,” Derek says. “His name is Stiles.”
And suddenly there are warm hands pushing against the wound in Stiles’s throat, stemming the flow of blood, and the steel post is jammed up against Stiles’s spine. Stiles chokes for breath.
“Call Deaton!” the blue-eyed beta yells to the alpha. “Call him now!”
The little piece of the puzzle that Peter has been missing all these years almost bleeds out on the dusty floor of a warehouse in Fisher Street. The boy that Peter vaguely remembers helping his mother in the garden of John Stilinski’s house is older now, but only a teenager, and he’s pale and shaking and his t-shirt is soaked in blood when Peter lifts him up and carries him to the car.
The boy is a hunter.
Peter sits in the back with the boy, his fingers pressed tightly against his throat. The boy’s heartbeat is tachy, and he’s losing heat.
Deaton meets them at the clinic, wearing sweatpants and a faded ASPCA t-shirt with a three-quarter tear in the side. Peter realises he’s lost track of time tonight. Is it midnight? It must be getting close. It’s past Deaton’s bedtime, clearly.
“How was Mexico?” Peter asks, carrying the boy inside.
“I only got back three hours ago,” Deaton says. “You’re lucky I didn’t stop and enjoy the atmosphere.”
“Not as lucky as this guy here.”
“I wouldn’t call him lucky yet,” Deaton says when Peter deposits the boy on the examination table in the back room of the clinic. “He’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Can you give him more?” Peter asks.
Deaton levels him with a stare. “I’m not in the habit of keeping bags of human blood in my veterinary clinic, Peter.”
But he does have plasma, it turns out, and hooks the boy up to a bag of that while he stitches his throat.
“If he goes into cardiac arrest, you’re only choice is to get him to a hospital,” Deaton says as he works. “I’m not equipped for that here.”
If he goes into cardiac arrest, Peter thinks, their only choice is to bury him in a shallow grave and pretend this never happened, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Deaton works fast at stitching the boy’s wound. And then, when he’s done, he sits down in a chair beside the examination table, jabs an IV into his arm, and connects the tube to the IV in the boy’s wrist.
“You’re lucky I’m type O,” he says mildly, and settles in to wait.
Peter goes into the back room to wash up.
The water is blasting in the sink when he senses Laura behind him. Peter tugs his bloody shirt off and tosses it into the sink before turning around.
Laura leans in the doorway. “Are you going to tell us what the hell is going on? First you cut his throat—something I’m totally okay with, by the way, given what happened to Scott—and now you’re rushing to save his life?”
“You wouldn’t remember, probably,” Peter says. He folds his arms across his chest.
“It was after the fire,” Peter said. “Everything was a mess, and I was still puzzling over why Stilinski had helped me and Matty get out.”
Laura presses her mouth into a tight line and nods.
“Or more to the point, I suppose, why he helped us that night and since then he’s looked at me like he wants to personally murder me.”
Laura snorts at that.
“Yes, it’s true that’s hardly an uncommon reaction in people,” Peter acknowledges. “Anyway, it’s funny how memory works, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that when people around town talk about our dear sheriff, they always say the same thing,” Peter says. “They always say what a shame it is that his that his wife died and he sent his son away to live with family. Doesn’t that seem odd to you?”
Laura shakes her head slightly, a questioning look on her face.
“His wife died two years before the kid was sent away, Lulu,” Peter says.
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying it doesn’t quite fit,” Peter says frankly. “And I think it’s time I had a little talk with John Stilinski.”
John Stilinski’s house is in darkness. Peter’s claws make short work of the lock on the kitchen door, and he lets himself silently into the house. He treads carefully up the stairs, listening for John’s heartbeat. It’s slow and steady: he’s asleep.
Peter leans in the bedroom doorway and watches him for a moment.
Stilinski is asleep on his side, facing the door, with one arm jammed under the pillow. He looks a different man asleep. He hardly looks dangerous at all.
Peter flicks the light on. “You said you weren’t a hunter anymore,” he says. “But your son is.”
Stilinski is awake instantly, a hand reaching for his bedside table.
“Don’t,” Peter says. He’s certain there’s a weapon there. “I’m not here to kill you. I’m here to talk.”
Stilinski squints at him, and slowly sits up. “Why are you wearing an ASPCA t-shirt, Hale? Are you being ironic?”
“I borrowed it off a friend,” Peter says. “My own clothes were a mess. Want to know why?”
That stills the man. He looks at Peter warily. “I don’t know. Do I?”
“I found a little hunter tonight,” Peter says.
Stilinski doesn’t take the bait, but Peter hears his heart beat faster.
“Six years ago you saved my life,” Peter says. “Mine, and my nephew’s. You said you weren’t a hunter anymore, but your son is, isn’t he?”
Stilinski swings his legs over the side of his bed and plants his feet on the floor. “What do you know?”
“I want to know why you let the Argents raise your child to be a killer.”
“Let?” Stilinski growls, and shakes his head. “I didn’t fucking let them do anything. I saved you the night of the fire, and Kate Argent saw me do it. They took my son to punish me.” He raises his voice, and the raw pain in his tone makes Peter’s chest ache. “My son is not a hunter, he’s a fucking hostage!”
It’s the truth.
Peter knew it before he came here, he supposes, because it’s the only scenario that fits. He remembers glimpsing the boy in the garden with his mother. He remembers watching Stilinski come home, his face breaking out into a wide grin as the kid yelled in delight and ran to him. Stilinski’s family was his life. Whatever else he was, they were his life.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asks. “We could have—”
“Could have what?” Stilinski demands, snorting. “A decimated pack with an untried baby alpha. There’s nothing you could have done to help me, even if you’d wanted to. And if Gerard got wind of it, it’d be Stiles who paid.”
“I thought you hunters had a council.”
“I was already a traitor,” Stilinski says. “There wouldn’t be a single member of the council who’d side against Gerard Argent when it came to me.”
“Because you left,” Peter says quietly.
“I left,” Stilinski echoes, his voice hollow.
“Some time tonight,” Peter says, “you’re going to get a call about a body found in the woods.” He holds up his palms. “It’s not Stiles. It’s a boy called Scott McCall. He was bitten by a rogue alpha a few weeks ago, and we brought him into the pack. The Argents killed him tonight.”
“Oh, Jesus.” Stilinski rubs a hand over his eyes. “McCall? Melissa’s boy?”
“I don’t know his mother’s name.”
“She’s a nurse,” Stilinski says. “At Beacon Hills General.”
“Yes,” Peter says softly. “He said she was a nurse.”
“I’m not sure yet,” Peter said. “But the Argents chased him into the Preserve and killed him. We were too late to save him, but we did catch one of them. Stiles.”
Stilinski looks at him sharply.
“He’s hurt,” Peter says. “I think he’s going to make it, but I’m no doctor.”
He watches as Stilinski’s hands flex into fists and back again. Stilinski blinks, and his eyes shine with tears.
“Come on,” Peter says. “I’ll take you to him.”
It’s the very least he can do.
Stiles is still unconscious when Peter and Stilinski arrive at the animal clinic. Deaton is no longer attached to him via an IV. He’s cleaning up.
Derek is lurking in the corner, staring at Stiles like he doesn’t know what to make of him. Peter can’t blame him for that, and Derek doesn’t even know the full story yet. Because Stiles is a victim of the Argents, but he’s also their tool. The Argents stole a boy, but there’s no question they’ve turned him into a killer. Just because he was kidnapped doesn’t make him less dangerous.
John Stilinski’s face crumples when he sees his son for the first time in six years.
“Mieczysław,” he murmurs.He steps forward, and curls his fingers around Stiles’s wrist. Then he stares at the bandage taped over the stitches on his throat. “Who did this?”
“I did,” Peter says. “Because they just killed one of ours, and I thought he was an Argent.”
Stilinski’s stare is hard, but he jerks his chin in a nod. An acknowledgement, Peter hopes, that there’s no place for blame here. “And who stitched him up?”
“That was me,” Deaton says. “I’m not micro-surgeon, but I have a few healing spells that I hope have made up the difference.”
“You’re a druid.”
“Yes,” Deaton says.
“He’ll live?” Stilinski asks.
Deaton nods. “Yes.”
Peter releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
He lets himself out of the examination room and finds Laura lurking in the hallway outside.
“It’s because of me,” he says. “They took his son because he helped me and Matty.”
Laura’s eyes grow wide, and she reaches out and clenches his hand tightly. “Oh, Peter!”
“You saw him,” Peter says. “In the warehouse…”
He can’t finish the thought. That boy is a hunter. He’d been willing to die for the cause. He’d barely flinched when Peter’s claws had dug into his throat, because that’s what he was trained to do. He was trained to die without speaking a word against the Argents.
Does he even know he’s a hostage?
Six years ago John Stilinski saved Peter’s life, and he and his son have been paying for it ever since.
“We need to make this right,” Peter says.
“How?” Laura asks.
“I don’t know. I don’t know that.”
“Deaton said that Calaveras are willing to listen.” Laura squeezes his hand. “They’re willing to let him present our case to them, and they might take it to the council.”
It’s a faint glimmer of hope, Peter knows, but he’ll take it. It doesn’t protect them from the Argents, but it might stop other hunters from coming after them if they act to remove the threat.
“We need them to know that Scott never lost control,” Peter says. “He never harmed an innocent, but the Argents killed him anyway.”
Laura nods. “So we’re justified in moving against them?”
“Justified?” Peter exhales heavily. “That’ll be a long bow for the hunters to draw, won’t it? But it’s all we’ve got.”
And then, from inside the examination room, Peter hears a crash as something metal hits the floor, and all hell breaks loose.
Stiles is drifting when he comes back to himself in slow degrees. He first becomes aware that he’s alive, and even though he can’t remember exactly what happened, he’s somehow faintly surprised by that. He’s alive, and how crazy is that? It feels like too much of a struggle to actually open his eyes, so he doesn’t.
He drifts again.
It takes a while to come back, and this time it’s not as pleasant.
His throat hurts, and he feels weak, and tries to lift his hand to figure out what’s going on only to find that someone is holding his wrist. It’s a warm touch, strong but gentle.
“Shh,” someone murmurs. “Shh, Mischief. You’re okay.”
That voice transports him someplace else, and for just a second Stiles is a little kid again, and he’s safe and warm and loved.
Just for a second.
Because then he remembers the man that voice belongs to is a traitor.
Stiles is weak, but he’s angry.
His father—Janusz, John, whatever he calls himself now—took hundreds of years of history, of tradition, of pride, of family, and ground it into the mud under his unworthy heel. He gave Stiles the name Stilinski, and made it a curse at the same time. He’s the reason that Stiles has to try twice as hard to prove half as much. He’s the reason that others hunters look at Stiles narrowly, and spit on the floor after he passes.
Stiles wrenches his arm away from this old sad man with his old sad eyes, and rolls off the table he’s lying on. He lands on his hands and knees on a linoleum floor that smells of bleach, a metal tray and instruments clattering down beside him.
“Stiles!” someone exclaims, and Stiles looks up sharply to see that Derek’s moving towards him from the corner of the room.
A werewolf and a traitor.
Stiles’s heart beats faster. He grabs for the surgical scissors that have landed on the floor beside him. He opens them even as his father looms over him, and then his father is pulling him to his feet, and Stiles is digging the point of the scissor into the man’s throat.
“You fucking traitor!”
“Stiles,” his father says, and his voice cracks. “Mischief.”
He’s not fighting. Why isn’t he fighting? His father isn’t a young man, but Stiles is so weak right now that he’s pretty sure they’re evenly matched. He digs the scissor point into his father’s throat, applying pressure but not drawing blood yet. His own throat throbs with pain. There’s a sort of symmetry here, isn’t there? Both the Stilinskis with their throats cut.
The door to the room opens, and Stiles sees the blue-eyed beta who injured him, with the alpha standing at his shoulder.
“Put the scissors down, little hunter,” the beta says, and his claws come out.
“Back off, Peter,” his father says. “Back the fuck off!”
Stiles steps back, getting the wall behind him, and pulling his father with him.
The blue-eyed beta—Peter—lets his claws retract.
Stiles glances to his left, to Derek, and then to his right, to the werewolves blocking his exit. His hands are shaking, and his father must be able to feel it in every press of the scissor point.
“Stiles,” his father says, and his voice is calm, “nobody here is going to hurt you.”
God. His father’s voice makes him feel dizzy, almost nauseated. Suddenly there’s a screaming kid inside him who wants his dad. But it was a lie. That kid doesn’t fucking know anything, because it was all a lie. His father is a traitor. His father stole his birthright from him.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “If you think that’s the issue here, you’re not paying attention.”
“The Argents aren’t good people, Stiles,” his father says.
“You know who was a good person? Scott. Scott McCall was a good person.” His father just keeps talking, his tone steady. “He was just a kid, Stiles, and someone’s going to have to tell his mom he’s not coming home again.”
“Shut up!” Stiles growls.
“He was just a kid, Stiles,” his father says again. “And so are you.”
Stiles tightens his grip on the scissors. “I’m not a kid, I’m a hunter.”
And then, from his father’s pocket, a phone’s ringtone blares out.
“That will be the station,” his father says. “I need to answer that.”
But he makes no move to reach for his phone, and the ringtone ends on a tinny note. A moment later it starts up again.
“Stiles,” Derek says suddenly, and Stiles turns his head quickly to look at him. “You can walk out of here. Is that what you want? To walk out of here?”
What he wants? Stiles doesn’t know what he wants. He’s got a screaming kid inside his skull, and Gerard’s voice telling him to do his fucking duty, and what he wants is to go back to that place where he’s floating and nothing hurts. He doesn’t want to think about his father, or Scott, or the million other chaotic thoughts that are colliding in his brain. But he needs to get away from here. He needs to get away.
He jerks his head in a nod, blinking away his sudden tears.
“You can tell them you escaped,” Derek says. “You can tell them you went to the hospital and someone there stitched you up. They don’t need to know you talked to us, or to your father.”
Stiles’s mind tumbles over that.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” he asks, but he can’t help thinking that he’d like that as well. He’s in such turmoil, and he doesn’t want to have to explain that to Gerard and Kate. He just wants to tamp it down and pretend it never happened. That’s safest. That’s smartest.
Derek’s brow creases. “You’re not the only one who’s been lied to by them, Stiles.”
Stiles doesn’t know what that means, and he doesn’t trust it. They’re trying to manipulate him here, and that’s fine. As long as he can see it, it’s fine. If they want to let him go—he’ll believe it when it happens, frankly—then Stiles won’t argue. He’s armed with a pair of fucking scissors. This isn’t a fight he can win.
“Let him through, Peter,” Derek says softly, and fucked if Stiles can figure out how shit works in this pack. The alpha hasn’t said a damned word, and now a beta is giving orders to the left hand? “Let him go.”
Peter and the alpha move out of the doorway.
“Our pack never hurt anyone,” Derek says, “and Kate burned down our house and killed most of my family. They’re lying to you.”
“You’re lying to me,” Stiles shoots back.
“I wish you could hear my heartbeat,” Derek says softly.
He’s a good liar, Stiles thinks. Stiles almost believes him now, just like he believed in that kiss.
He glances from Derek to the door, and back to Derek again. He feels like a cornered animal—he figures he can smirk at the irony of that later, if he survives this—and the only thing stopping the werewolves from attacking is the fact he’s got the point of the scissors jabbed against his father’s throat.
And what does that tell him? Nothing he doesn’t already know. His father is a traitor, and he’s allied himself with the enemy. If there was even a shred of a hunter left in him, the werewolves wouldn’t care if Stiles killed him.
“We’re moving,” Stiles says, and begins an awkward sideways shuffle towards the door. If his father wants to try to fling him off, now will be the time. But his father doesn’t do anything except comply.
Stiles moves out into the hallway. He can see a counter from here, and a front door. There’s a display shelf full of pet food on the wall. Is… is this a vet’s? Okay, he’ll laugh at that later too, maybe.
Peter and the alpha are watching from the other end of the hallway.
There’s nothing between Stiles and the door now.
“Stiles,” his father says, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice at last. “I love you, kiddo. Please remember that.”
Stiles drops the scissors and runs.
His throat is bleeding through the bandage by the time Stiles manages to find his way back to the house.
“Holy shit!” Kate exclaims when she opens the door to him. “We thought you were dead.”
“Got away,” Stiles mutters. His hands are shaking so much he can’t hide it. “Had to go to the hospital.”
He doesn’t know why he’s telling the lie. He thinks it might be because Derek told him to, and Derek is the one who let him walk out of there. He doesn’t know if that means Derek saved him or if Derek’s manipulating him. It scares him that he doesn’t know.
“Dad!” Kate yells. “Stiles isn’t dead! You can call off the reinforcements!”
“I need a shower,” Stiles says. He steps inside and falters when he sees Gerard appear out of the living room. “I need to get cleaned up first, please.”
Gerard’s gaze lingers on the wound on his neck. “That’s not a bite, I hope.”
“No,” Stiles says.
“Because if it is—”
“Dad,” Kate says. “Let him get showered.” She winks at Stiles, but there’s no warmth in it. “Go on, string bean.”
He climbs the stairs, not daring to look back and see Gerard’s stare.
He knows his place here. He knows the rules, and he knows what’s expected of him. He knows he’ll be punished for tonight, and he knows it won’t be called punishment. Gerard will call it training, but it’ll hurt as much as any beating.
Stiles heads straight for the bathroom and closes the door behind himself.
He takes off his shoes and socks, and then his bloody t-shirt, and stares at his reflection in the mirror. He looks pale and haggard.
He’ll have to figure out a way to shower without getting his throat wet, and he’s not going to go back downstairs for saran wrap now.
He tugs the button on his jeans free and unzips his fly. He steps out of his jeans, tugging his underwear down at the same time.
A little folded piece of cardboard goes flying from his pocket.
Stiles winces as he bends down to pick it up from the tiles.
It’s not cardboard. It’s a photograph, and it’s got creases on it from where it’s been folded over to fit in someone’s wallet. Written on the back in faded pen are the words Claudia & Mieczysław.
Stiles’s heart hammers as he turns the photograph over.
A little gap-toothed kid grins up at him from where he’s sitting in Mom’s lap. She’s smiling too, and she’s so beautiful. His father isn’t in the picture. He must have taken it.
Stiles stares down at it, his throat aching. His closes his trembling fingers around the photograph—to crush it, to throw it out, to pretend it doesn’t exist—but he can’t bring himself to do it.
Instead, he tucks it back into the pocket of his jeans so he can take it back to his bedroom when he’s finished here, and stare at it again in the middle of the night.
He doesn't understand what happened tonight. It makes no sense. The werewolves let him go, and his father didn't fight him.
Stiles will need something to stare at in the middle of the night, because he knows he won't be able to sleep.
They have a case of mutual dissatisfaction, Peter thinks, watching as John Stilinski leaves the clinic to head into the Preserve to where a couple of his deputies are waiting with Scott McCall’s body. John isn’t happy with the way things panned out at the clinic, and neither is Peter. John would prefer to have his son safe and sound. Peter would prefer to have John’s son safely locked in a cage. They are mutually dissatisfied, but they are both men used to dissatisfaction. They’ve lived a long time in the world.
Derek and Laura haven’t.
“What the hell was I supposed to do?” Derek asks with an unhappy growl as Peter wanders back inside the clinic. “Let him kill the sheriff?”
“We were supposed to not let him go back to the Argents!” Laura exclaims.
Derek glowers. “That’s not fair!”
Laura glares back at him. “Derek, you told him how to walk out of here!”
“Now, now,” Peter says. “The boy has legs and a brain, Laura. He would have got there himself in a minute. What Derek did was de-escalate some of his anger. Was it an ideal outcome? Of course not, but it’d be a lot less ideal if we had a dead sheriff to explain.”
Derek throws him a grateful look.
Laura’s only frustrated, Peter knows, but Derek is overly sensitive to criticism. One growl from his alpha and the boy is consumed with guilt for both having let her down and for being the reason it’s her job to snap at him in the first place.
“Our position is exactly what it was earlier tonight,” Peter says. “And so is our strategy. We target the Argents before they target us again.”
He thinks of poor Scott, sixteen years old and dying in the woods.
“Except that’s not true, Peter,” Laura says. “Is it? Because we know why the sheriff won’t move against the Argents, don’t we?”
“We target all the Argents,” Peter says, “except Stiles. And this is exactly where we were before tonight. We can just see it clearly for the first time.”
Laura raises her eyebrows. “So we can’t target Stiles, but meanwhile he’s targeting us.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t a shitty position,” Peter tells her. “Shitty is kind of our default after all.”
“Yeah,” Laura says, and exhales slowly. “It really is.”
Peter knocks Derek’s shoulder with his own. “Okay, kids, let’s go home and regroup.”
He nods to Deaton as they leave.
Peter doesn’t sleep. He sits downstairs in the loft, eating leftover cheesecake and watching reruns of The Golden Girls, because why not? Meanwhile, his brain ticks over in the back of his skull. Ideally he wants to get all the Argents in one place at one time—no muss, no fuss—but the Argents aren’t docile cows to be herded wherever the butcher wants. Kill one, and the rest will come gunning. And, Peter knows, they never work alone. There will be other hunters working with them. Paid no-name auxiliaries. They don’t have the Argents’ fanaticism, but they do have the weapons and the training. Peter wonders if there’s any way to find out just how many hunters the Argents can call on, who’ll come running to join the fight. What a nice thing it must be to have soldiers. Peter could use a battalion or two himself, honestly.
He reaches for the remote control when he hears Derek treading down the steps, and mutes The Golden Girls.
Derek sits down on the couch next to him.
“Okay, pup?” Peter asks him.
Derek makes a sound that’s impossible to parse. Then he draws a breath. “I don’t know why I stopped you from killing him.”
“I’m glad you did,” Peter says. “John Stilinski might make a valuable ally.”
“Well, given Stiles is back with the Argents, he’s unlikely to want to go in with guns blazing, but I’m still counting it as an advantage,” Peter says. He shoves the cheesecake in Derek’s direction. “Did you stop me because he smelled of fear?”
“No. It wasn’t that.” Derek’s brows tug together. “I think I stopped you because on the night of the party he smelled like happiness. Not in the same way that Kate did. Not like he was smug or satisfied. It was different than that. It was brighter, somehow. I don’t think he knew who I was.”
Peter remembers what Stiles said in the warehouse when he thought he was bleeding out: “I wish I didn’t have to hate you.”
“No,” he agrees softly. “I don’t think he knew either.”
“I should have followed him,” Derek says. “After he let the sheriff go, I should have followed him and grabbed him back.”
Peter allowed himself a slight smile at that. “He’s a zealot, Derek. Do you think he would have come without a fight?”
“I could have beaten him in a fight.”
“And do you think he’d stop fighting at any point?” Peter asks frankly. “The Romans had a saying, you know. Auribus teneo lupum. It means ‘I hold a wolf by the ears’. And in this metaphor, Stiles is the wolf, not you. Holding him might have proven even more dangerous than letting him run.”
Derek’s brow creases. “Do you really believe that?”
Peter doesn’t answer.
At this point he has no idea what he believes anymore.
It’s dawn by the time John Stilinski gets back from his crime scene in the woods. He looks surprised to find Peter in his kitchen fiddling with his coffee machine, but he does him the courtesy of not shooting him on the spot. Peter appreciates that.
“Thanks,” John says in a rough voice when Peter hands him a coffee. He takes a sip. “So this is us now, huh? Last night you try to slit my son’s throat, and now we’re coffee buddies?”
Peter leans back against the sink. “Last night your son helped kill Scott McCall. You can’t tell me you expect me to apologise for intending to kill him.”
John grunts, but his eyes are narrowed.
“I can’t treat every hunter like he’s a brainwashed victim,” Peter continues. “Stiles is the outlier here, and you know it. You know it better than most, actually. You were never brainwashed, were you?”
“He’s a kid,” John says, avoiding the question. “He’s sixteen years old.”
Peter raises his brows. “So was Scott McCall.”
John flinches a little at that. “You saw Stiles kill him?”
“No,” Peter admits. “And the gun I took off him still had all its bullets, apart from the one Laura needed to burn out the wolfsbane in her wound. But he was there, John, and he was on a hunt. What does it matter who fired the shots?”
“Don’t…” John draws a hand over his eyes. “Don’t hurt him again, please.”
“I don’t intend to,” Peter says. “Not anymore.”
John holds his gaze.
Peter lifts his chin. “Do you think you can get him back? Not just from the Argents, I mean. Do you think you can undo what they’ve done?”
“I don’t know,” John says. He looks tired. Not defeated, not yet, but tired as hell.
“You got yourself out,” Peter says, throwing him a lifeline.
John snorts, and his mouth quirks in a quick, bitter smile. “No,” he says. “Claudia got me out.”
Peter tilts his head. “Your wife?”
“Before she was my wife, she was Claudia Gajos.”
Peter’s jaw drops.
“They’re a relatively small pack,” John says, his voice softening. “They’re from just outside Kielce, in Poland, but they’ve been there since at least the thirteenth century. There was a report of some deaths, that turned out to be unrelated to the Gajos pack. Chris Argent and I were sent in to investigate. That’s when I met Claudia. She was human, but her parents were werewolves.” He swallows. “Bad enough I fell in love with someone like Claudia, but to have a child with her? Can you imagine how the council would have reacted if Janusz Stilinski’s son had been born a werewolf?”
“Jesus,” Peter murmurs.
“So we left,” John says. “Before Stiles was born. We both cut all ties with our families, and we left.” He sets his cup down on the table. “I did things as a hunter that I regret. I can only tell you that I thought, at the time, they were right. I did what I was ordered to do.”
“Huh,” Peter says, narrowing his eyes. “Where have I heard that before?”
“It’s an explanation,” John says. “Not an excuse. I didn’t question a damned thing until I met Claudia.”
“You and Chris Argent killed innocent werewolves,” Peter says flatly.
“Yes.” A shadow passes over John’s face. “But we didn’t know it at the time. Hell, Chris probably doesn’t know it now. Twenty years ago if you’d told me there was such a thing as an innocent werewolf, I would have laughed in your face. We went where the council told us, and did what they said needed to be done.” He holds Peter’s gaze. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, Peter, but I’m trying to make up for them.”
His heartbeat is steady.
Peter thinks of the fire. Thinks of the look on John Stilinski’s face as he broke the line of mountain ash and allowed Peter and Matty to escape. Thinks of what it cost John Stilinski to save them.
“I’m the left hand of the Hale pack,” he says at last. “I know what it means to not be the good guy.”
A moment of understanding passes between them. They are more alike than they are different, Peter thinks. In a war, nobody is clean.
“We’re going to take down the Argents,” Peter says.
“If you do that, others will come.”
“Deaton thinks Araya Calavera will stop that from happening.”
John’s mouth turns down at the corners. “That’s a hell of a gamble.”
“If we do nothing, we’re dead anyway.”
John is still for a moment, and then he nods. “Point taken. And where does my son fit in with your plans to kill the Argents?”
“Your son,” Peter says pointedly, “is not an Argent.”
John’s mouth quirks, and Peter sees a gleam in his eye that feels new. John Stilinski might be the sheriff now, but he’s still a hunter at heart. A decade and a half of community policing, budget meetings, and Say No To Drugs, Kids haven’t entirely killed that spark. And now it flares into life again.
“You won’t get to Gerard and Kate,” John says. “Not without help.”
“And here you are, offering it.” Peter folds his arms over his chest.
“No.” John shakes his head. “You need more than me for this, Peter.”
“Who do I need?” Peter asks warily.
John shrugs. “You need an inside man.”
Peter blinks. “Are you suggesting what I think you’re suggesting?”
John raises his eyebrows. “We were the best.”
“You’re fucking crazy if you think he’ll help us.”
“You said it yourself,” John says. “You’re dead anyway. What have you got to lose?”
“Hmm.” Peter snorts. “My last remaining thread of sanity?”
“Oh, you don’t need sanity where we’re going.” The gleam in his eye is back.
And Peter, more in surprise than anything else, laughs.
John Stilinski is a crazy person.
At least he’s on Peter’s side.
The books in Gerard’s study have all been unpacked, and are standing in serried leather ranks on the painted white shelves. Stiles has always loved the books—he can spend hours lost in them if he’s given the chance—but he’s a soldier, not a researcher. The Argents are matrilineal, though both Gerard and Kate buck that trend a little because Gerard is without question the leader, whereas Kate, who should be directing strategies from behind the front lines, is a soldier first and foremost. The latitude doesn’t extend to Stiles, tough. He’s a soldier and, until he can raise the Stilinski name from the mud, that’s all he’ll ever be.
It’s just after dawn. Stiles didn’t sleep well. He cut a slit in his mattress protector and slid the photograph of him and his mother inside, and then lay there with his fingers curled over the place it was hidden. He thought of his mom and tried not to think of her at the same time, because it’s impossible to divorce his memories of her from his memories of his father, and thinking about his father, thinking about seeing his face again after all these years, is too much. It’s confusing, and chaotic, a brainstorm of conflicting emotions, and Stiles hates him, but the little boy locked away in the back of his head still cries for his daddy.
“I love you, kiddo. Please remember that.”
Stiles wonders if those words were intentionally crafted to cut the way they did, sharper than a werewolf’s claws at his throat.
Stiles fixes his gaze on the spines of the books on the shelf, and waits for Gerard to speak. It’s a little past dawn, and Stiles is hungry. He hasn’t eaten since Victoria’s placki ziemniaczane last night, and his body’s been through hell since. He got fuck all sleep, so he at least needs fuel, but he knows better than to ask.
Gerard is seated behind his desk, tapping away at his laptop as he makes Stiles wait. Kate is leaning on the edge of the desk. She’s the picture of relaxation. Her arms are folded over her chest, and her boots are crossed at the ankle. Kate’s always had the knack of looking totally put together and in control, whatever the hell is being thrown at her. Stiles has always envied her that.
Gerard taps at his keyboard a moment longer, and then closes his laptop. He looks up, and Stiles can’t read his expression. That’s the thing with Gerard though. He wears that same half smile whether he’s about to praise Stiles for a job well done, or beat the living shit out of him.
“Stiles,” he says. “Last night. Talk me through it.”
Stiles resists the urge to press his fingers to his bandage on his neck. “One of them came at me. Slashed me. I got away.” He worries, the longer he talks, that Gerard doesn’t believe a damn word but is content to let him dig his own grave here. “I was bleeding pretty bad, and I flagged down a car and they took me to the hospital.”
“Did you give them your name?” Kate asks.
“At the hospital?” Stiles shakes his head. “I was bleeding enough that they saw me right away. I didn’t have to wait or sign anything. Then I said I needed to go to the bathroom, and I left before they could call the police.”
It’d be a textbook move, if it wasn’t a lie.
And Stiles still doesn’t know why he’s telling the lie, exactly. He’s scared, he thinks. Scared of how Gerard will react if he knows the werewolves let him go, and that his father was there. Stiles didn’t do anything wrong, but Gerard won’t see it that way. He’ll see betrayal. Of course he will, because right now Stiles is looking into his own heart and even he can’t tell what he sees there.
A thread of hot panic twists through his gut.
He’s lying. He’s lying to Gerard, and it benefits him, but what if it also benefits the Hales pack and his father? And it must, because otherwise why would Derek have told him to lie? There’s a wall of leather-bound books behind Gerard that contain monsters, and Stiles can’t allow himself to forget that. He can’t, and yet he’s already told the lie.
Gerard’s gaze slides over him. “Hmm.”
Stiles fights the urge to fidget.
Gerard grunts. “And how the hell did a dog get its claws on you in the first place?”
Stiles blinks. “I tripped.”
“You tripped?” Gerard asks archly, exchanging a glance with Kate like Stiles is some kind of pathetic joke.
It was dark, Stiles wants to tell him. It was dark, and he didn’t have his night vision, and he wasn’t wearing his proper boots, and they were surrounded by werewolves, and Gerard had yelled at them to get back to the car and Stiles hadn’t even known where the fucking car was since he’d come in on foot from the other direction. This isn’t his fuck up. But he knows better than to say that, or even let it show on his face.
“I tripped,” he repeats.
There’s a moment of tension in the air so thick that Stiles can feel it vibrating between them like a guitar string.
Stiles tries to remember how to breathe.
And then Gerard barks out a laugh, and the tension shatters.
“Take him into the basement, Kate,” the old man says at last. “Don’t let him come up again until he’s proved to you he knows how to lift his feet.”
Stiles’s whole body is aching and his lungs are burning by the time Kate is finished with him. Kate’s a fucking tyrant with a jump rope, but she puts her hand on his lower back to keep him from stumbling as he climbs the basement stairs. He’s light-headed.
“Want some eggs, string bean?” Kate asks him as she ushers him into the kitchen.
“Yeah,” Stiles says, going to the sink to get some water. “You cooking them for me?”
“Oh, baby’s got sass!” Kate laughs, loud and brash.
Stiles wonders how that’s even possible. Was she the one who shot Scott McCall, or was it Gerard? Jesus. He has to stop thinking shit like this. He has to, or they’ll look at him and know he’s weak, and a liar, and maybe even a traitor like his father. And Stiles is a Stilinski, but he’s a better man than his father.
This is where he belongs, isn’t it?
“If I’m cooking, we’re having cereal,” he says, forcing a smile.
Kate laughs again.
She cooks the eggs.
Allison bursts into the house just before nine, distraught and tear-stained, and she pushes past Kate and goes straight for Stiles instead. Stiles hears a buzzing in his skull as Allison tearfully tells him the news she heard when she got to school—Scott McCall is dead.
Stiles hugs her, and stares at Kate over her shoulder.
There’s a warning in her gaze that he knows exactly how to read: say nothing. There’s shock as well, because Kate couldn’t have known whose heart she was breaking when she hunted Scott last night. Stiles hopes that Kate thinks she sees that same shock reflected in his face.
“Hey,” he says to Allison, his voice cracking. “Come on. Come upstairs.”
Kate flashes him an approving look, and Stiles is halfway up the stairs before he realises why: she thinks Stiles is taking Allison away so Kate has a chance to fill Gerard in on the werewolf’s true identity—and on the fact Allison knew him. Except Stiles isn’t doing this for Kate and Gerard. He’s doing this for Ally, and maybe—selfishly—for him. Maybe he’s afraid his mask will slip for real, and Kate will see him for who he really is. And she’ll remember the way he hesitated, remember the way he faltered when the werewolf’s face transformed into the goofy boy’s, and she’ll know, and then she’ll make him pay like he deserves.
He clutches Allison’s hand and leads her up the steps to his sparse bedroom.
“I don’t know what happened,” she says, her dark eyes swimming with tears. She’s caught between grief and outrage, her expression wavering uncertainly between them. “How could someone do this?”
Stiles thinks of all the monsters in Gerard’s leather-bound books, and doesn’t know how to reconcile that with the boy who did the happy dance in the parking lot of the cinema.
“I don’t know,” he says, his voice hollow.
Allison grabs the comforter off his bed and wraps it around herself before sinking down onto the floor. Stiles follows her down onto his knees, because he doesn’t know what else to do.
She stares at Stiles from behind tendrils of her dark hair. “The only reason he was out last night was because I asked him to sneak over to my house!” She covers her mouth with her hands in a vain attempt to stop another sob from breaking free. “Why would anyone hurt him like that?”
Stiles shakes his head, his eyes burning. He tries to swallow, and it hurts.
Allison’s grief is like a storm that must be weathered, and if every squall rips into him anew then it’s Stiles duty to suffer it. Allison is hurting, so Stiles wants to hurt too.
“I’m sorry, Ally,” he whispers to her, his voice hoarse, and he tells himself that’s a thing that people say. He tells himself it’s a platitude, and that can’t be guilt, hot and slick, twisting in his gut and rising like bile in his throat.
Because if the monsters aren’t really monsters, then…
Stiles shudders, and squeezes his eyes shut. He thinks of the little boy in the photograph hidden in his mattress protector. That little boy untouched by fear and darkness and horror, and untroubled by anything just as long as he was safe in his mom’s arms. Stiles thinks that little boy was happy.
“I don’t understand,” Allison murmurs. “Stiles, I don’t understand how anyone could do this!”
If the monsters aren’t really monsters, Stiles thinks, then they’re a lot closer than he’s ever suspected.
“I don’t know,” he lies, smoothing a shaking hand over Allison’s hair. “I don’t know either.”
He sits on the floor on his bedroom and stares at his reflection in the window. His reflection’s dark, hollow eyes stare back at him.
The Argents will strike soon. Peter knows it in his blood, and says as much to John Stilinski when he coincidentally finds himself back at his house the next day. Well, it’s not so much a coincidence as the fact that Laura got tired of his pacing and growled at him to get the hell out of the loft for a while.
“They won’t,” John tells him, shoving a microwave meal across his kitchen table for Peter, and stabbing his own with a fork before setting it in the oven. His uniform shirt is unbuttoned, showing off his plain undershirt. He’s wearing socks but no boots. Peter might have knocked on his back door the moment he heard the key turn in the front. “That’s not how they operate. They don’t have the measure of you yet. For all they know you’ve spent the last six years rebuilding your pack. For all they know there could be dozens of you by now, and the Argents aren’t suicidal.”
Peter arches his brows. “And when they realise there’s only three of us?”
John shrugs. “When they realise that, then you’re in serious trouble.”
Peter growls under his breath and reaches for his fork. He can’t say this is his idea of a lunch date with a good-looking man. He can’t say anything, actually, because to draw attention to the fact that they’re eating dinner together will only highlight how fucking weird this situation is, and then Peter might not get the chance to enjoy it. If he’s going to die, and the chances are certainly high, then why not indulge in a few moments like this one? Moments where another man knows exactly who he is, and doesn’t fear him because of it. Moments where they occasionally stop talking about Argents and blood and war, and Peter thinks that he might actually like John Stilinski’s company. Crazy thoughts for crazy times.
The plate in the microwave rattles as John’s dinner cooks.
“They only went after Scott because he was on their territory,” John says. “He was at Chris’s house. They thought it was an attack, not…” He frowns and shakes his head.
“Not a lovesick kid with a crush,” Peter finishes for him.
“Yeah, not a lovesick kid with a crush.” John exhales slowly. “At the moment they’re still trying to gather intelligence. They’re trying to figure out your strength and, more importantly, your location. You should move, by the way, until this is done. Don’t sleep in the same place twice. Routine is your enemy.”
“You try telling the alpha she should leave her territory,” Peter mutters, digging into whatever godawful excuse for food this is.
“I’m not saying you should tell her to leave her territory.” John gets his own dinner out of the microwave. He peels the plastic off, tosses it into the kitchen sink, and then sits down across from Peter. “I’m saying you should be more mobile within your territory for the time being.”
Peter stabs at something that might be a bean. “You really think they won’t come for us straight away?”
“I know they won’t,” John says.
Peter raises his eyebrows. “It’s difficult to trust someone who thinks this is food.”
“Fuck you,” John says, the skin around his eyes crinkling as he fights a smile. “It’s free food for you. Look, I was a hunter. Despite what you think, there are rules. At the moment the Argents are biding their time because they’re trying to gather intel. They’re also trying to force you into making a mistake. If you panic and attack first, that gives them all the justification they need.”
“Well, I’m not panicking,” Peter says, “but I am going to attack them before they get another chance at us.”
“Which is fine,” John says. “As long as you don’t leave any of them standing.”
“That’s the plan.”
John holds his gaze. “Apart from Stiles.”
“That’s also the plan.” Peter shrugs. “Also, not an Argent.”
John relaxes his posture a little at that. “Meanwhile though, the council expects due diligence from the Argents. They’re expecting a report into all the crimes of the Hale pack. The council wants evidence that the Argents are following the code. That means they can’t just come in and sweep a pack away over the course of a weekend, you know? They have to make it look like they’ve been here long enough to have completed an actual investigation.”
Peter huffs out a breath.
John’s brow creases. “What?”
“So cavalier,” Peter muses, “about killing innocents.”
“I told you, I never questioned anything until Claudia,” John says. “Until she told me everything she’d heard about hunters. As far as I knew, Chris and I weren’t killing innocents—we were killing the things that killed innocents. As far as I knew, when the heads of the hunter families said there was just cause, then there was just cause.”
“And Claudia changed your mind on that?”
John is silent for a moment before he answers. “Claudia made me see that I wasn’t being told the full story. She made me realise that trusting in the process is a fool’s game when the process is easily corrupted by people who will lie. But it was the attack on your family that really opened my eyes. I’d lived here for a decade by then, Peter. I knew the Hales hadn’t harmed anyone in that time, but I’m betting there’s a report to the council signed by Gerard Argent that says differently.”
Council politics and corruption. Peter wonders if Deaton’s trust in Araya Calavera is misplaced. Can they really expect any hunter to speak for them? That, he supposes, is a problem for future Peter, if future Peter is still breathing. And, if he’s not, then at least he doesn’t have to eat anymore microwave dinners.
He picks out another possible-bean. “Have you approached your inside man yet?”
“Not yet,” John says.
“You lied, of course,” Peter says,” about needing one to get to Kate and Gerard.”
John doesn’t even have the decency to look ashamed. “We don’t not need one.”
“You want Stiles out of the way before we attack,” Peter says. “That’s what you want Chris for. He gets Stiles out of the way, and we’re free to go after Kate and Gerard.”
It makes sense, Peter supposes. John can’t remove Stiles from danger, and neither can Peter. If they tried, Stiles would only dig his heels in deeper. But if the boy was following the orders of an Argent? And if those orders just happened to have him out of the way at just the right time? That might just be the smartest and the safest way to remove Stiles from harm. From harm, and from being in a position where he can harm others.
He hums thoughtfully.
John pauses with his fork held halfway to his mouth. “Does that work for you?”
Peter tilts his head. “That depends. I have questions.”
“Of course you do.”
“I’m mostly curious as to if you’re still going to help us if your son’s no longer in the equation.”
“Are you fucking joking?” John sets his fork down. His expression hardens. “They stole my son from me. I want him safe, and I want him back, but I also want to make them pay. Do you need me to be any clearer than that?”
“No,” Peter says, his wolf stirring. “You want revenge. I understand that perfectly.”
There’s a corner of Beacon Hills that is crying out for gentrification. It’s old warehouses, mostly relics from the heyday of the lumber industry. It doesn’t take much for a werewolf to sniff out the places that haven’t been touched in years. Peter unrolls his sleeping bag and tries not to notice the sheer amount of dust he disturbs. Dust, and rat droppings, and-for some reason—feathers.
Laura perches on her backpack and unwraps a chocolate bar.
“You brought chocolate?” Derek asks archly from where he’s lurking by the grimy window.
“You’re just jealous,” Laura says with a grin.
Derek snorts. “Did you pack your hair dryer too, princess?”
Laura flips him the bird, and pointedly eats a square of chocolate.
There’s a strange sort of fragility in their levity, Peter thinks. Look at it too closely and it would shatter into a million pieces. They’ve lost a beta, they’re being hunted, and they’re currently holed up in a warehouse full of rat shit. If they want to bicker like two ordinary siblings on an ordinary day, Peter won’t stop them.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks the time. It’s not quite eight at night, so he makes the call. It only rings for a moment before it’s answered.
“Uncle Peter?” Matty asks.
“Hello, pup,” Peter says, forcing a smile into his tone. “It’s not past your bedtime, is it?”
“No,” Matty says. “We had dinner and we’re watching a movie before bed.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.” Peter closes his eyes briefly, and wishes he could hold Matty, scent him. It’s a physical ache in his chest. “What movie is it?”
“I miss you, Uncle Peter!” Matty says, sounding close to tears. “And Laura and Derek! When can I come home?”
Behind him, Peter’s aware that Derek and Laura have fallen into silence.
“Soon, pup,” he promises. Lies, maybe. “Very soon. I miss you too. Who else helps me keep your sister and brother in line, hmm?”
“Uncle Peter!” Matty exclaims, outraged. “Laura is the alpha! She’s in charge!”
“Hmm,” Peter says. “I thought that was just what we let her think?”
Matty giggles, and Peter smiles at having diverted him from his upset. After that it’s easy enough to prompt him into talking about his day, and how he played by the lake, and how he’s helping Asami build a diorama. Peter asks all the right questions and makes all the right interested noises and, if he keeps his eyes closed, he can pretend that Matty is right here with him now.
“Do you trust him?” Laura asks later, her voice quiet as she and Peter stare out the grimy window into the street below.
Peter watches as a police cruiser crawls slowly down the street, and wonders if it’s John.
“Yes,” he says at last. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
Laura’s brow creases. “I don’t like being told to wait. By him especially.”
And there’s the rub, Peter thinks. A werewolf’s instincts, an alpha’s particularly, push towards action first. But John is telling them that would be a mistake, and that they need to wait. But John is also Janusz Stilinski, and Peter can more than understand Laura’s mistrust.
“He wants Stiles out of the way before we attack,” Peter says. He glances over to where Derek is watching them. “I don’t think that’s unreasonable.”
“It’s not unreasonable,” Laura says, “but it’s a variable. The sheriff is a variable, and he’s introducing even more variables. He’s asking us to compromise on our timetable, and he’s asking us to trust that he can bring Chris Argent in. We don’t have control over this situation, Peter, and that makes it dangerous.” She swallows. “It scares me.”
“I know, Lulu,” he says. “It scares me too, but I don’t think we have a better option.”
Laura nods, and reaches out and squeezes his hand.
Peter looks over to Derek. “Get over here, pup.”
Derek rolls his eyes, but comes to join them by the window. Peter reaches up with his free hand and curls his fingers around the back of Derek’s neck. He wants to offer them reassurances that everything will turn out for the best, and make a million promises that they’ll all survive this and be safe and happy at last, but Laura and Derek aren’t Matty. They know exactly what promises of safety are worth.
And so Peter says nothing, and together they watch the street below and wait for the night to end.
Stiles wakes up sometime late on Friday night when his phone buzzes. He rolls over to grab it off his bedside table, and squints at the screen. It’s from Allison: Get in loser, we’re going shopping. That… Stiles doesn’t get that reference. He texts back: What?
A moment later her answer comes: I’m parked up at the gate on Northwood St. Hurry up.
Stiles rolls out of bed and dresses quickly in his jeans, Converse, and a black hoodie. He listens in the darkness for a moment, but can’t hear any movement in the house. He opens his window carefully, and drops down onto the garage roof. From there it’s easy enough to get onto ground level.
Ten minutes later he scales the fence near the gatehouse on Northwood Street, and jogs toward Allison’s little silver car.
“We’re not really going shopping, are we?” he asks as he gets into the passenger seat.
She raises her eyebrows. “You don’t watch many movies, do you?”
There’s a hint of a smile on her face, and Stiles hasn’t seen one of those from her in days. It makes his chest ache, so he disguises his swell of sudden emotion by fumbling with the seatbelt.
“Not really,” he says. He used to, he thinks. He loved movies and TV and comic books and gaming, but he has to focus on his training now, and Gerard says anything that takes away from that is a waste of time. “So where are we going?”
“We’re going to get milkshakes,” Allison says, and puts the car into gear.
Stiles glances out the window as she drives, and wonders if he should at least text Kate and let her know he’s out with Ally. He doesn’t think she’ll mind. Or at least he doesn’t think she’ll mind enough to punish him for it. If Allison is going to be sneaking out, better to do it with Stiles at her side than on her own, right? Even Gerard will have to agree with that.
But he doesn’t send the text, and he’s not sure he wants to think about why. Of all the ways he’s betraying Allison’s trust, this is probably the smallest. But it’s also the only one Stiles has control over. Maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t want to tell.
In the days following Scott McCall’s death in the woods, Allison has become a fixture around the house. On one hand, it rankles because Stiles hates lying to her. On the other hand, he loves Ally and feels a certain kinship with her—he’s a liar, and she’s being lied to, and both of them are powerless to do a thing about it. They’re the kids being kept from the adults’ table, even though Stiles is supposed to be a man and a hunter. That rankles too.
“How was school?” he asks as she drives.
She rolls her eyes. “You sound like my dad when he’s trying to make awkward conversation with me.”
Things have been strained between Allison and her parents. She thinks they’re angry she was seeing a boy and didn’t tell them. She thinks they’re horrible for not letting her go to Scott’s funeral. She’s so caught up in being the teenager whose parents don’t understand her that she doesn’t see the lies she’s being told are covering up a far larger truth. Chris and Victoria aren’t just coming down on her for arbitrary reasons, but that must be what it feels like.
“Hey!” Stiles exclaims. “That’s not fair. When your dad does it, he’s being weird and awkward, but I’m asking from a place of genuine curiosity. Home schooler, here. I want to know all about bad cafeteria food and pep rallies. What is pep, and why does it need its own rally?”
She laughs at that, and Stiles doesn’t know whether to feel pleased or guilty, or a weird sickening mix of the two.
“We don’t have pep rallies every day,” she says. “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a school that had a pep rally.”
“Well, so much for you being my inside source,” Stiles tells her.
She laughs again.
They drive a little while longer, and then Allison pulls in to the parking lot of an all night diner. It’s a dinky little place that looks straight out of the 1950s. Stiles half expects to see waitresses on roller skates, but apparently the retro-flair starts and ends with the décor, not the staff.
They get a booth, and Allison orders a chocolate milkshake. Stiles orders strawberry, with a side of curly fries. He hasn’t had curly fries in—
His mind stutters over it.
He hasn’t had curly fries since the last time he lived in Beacon Hills and his father bought them for him. Jesus. It was possibly even this exact same diner.
“Are you okay?” Allison asks.
Stiles grips the edge of the table until his dizziness passes. “Yeah. Low blood sugar or something, probably.” He forces a smile. “Guess we’re in the right place to fix that, huh?”
Allison’s answering smile is cautious, and Stiles wonders how long it will take for her to realise that he’s part of the conspiracy of lies wound as tightly around her life as the web of a spider, slowly constricting the fluttering moth caught in the middle.
When his milkshake comes, it doesn’t taste as nice as he thought it would.
Stiles sips it, and thinks of a hundred different ways to tell Allison the truth. A hundred different ways he’ll say it, and she’ll hate him for having lied to her. Scott was a monster, he wants to tell her, but he can’t even bring himself to say the words, let alone fully believe them.
Because Scott was a werewolf, but maybe that’s not the same thing.
The milkshake sits heavily in his roiling stomach.
“What happened to your neck?” Allison asks as they’re walking back across the parking lot to the car.
Stiles reaches up and touches the bandage on his throat. The wound is healing quickly, but Stiles has kept wearing a bandage because he doesn’t like to look at it. He’s been hurt before, but not like that. Not with such slow, careful intent. And that’s not even the part he doesn’t like to think about. It’s the way that Derek saved him. The way that the other werewolf, Peter, just stopped when Derek said his name. That’s not how werewolves, mad with bloodlust, should act.
“A mole,” he says. “Well, I’m covered in them, but this one was weird.”
Allison’s brows draw together. “You didn’t say anything about it.”
He shrugs. “It was last week, in the middle of everything. I didn’t want to worry you.”
He feels a rush of hot guilt at the way her expression softens.
“Oh, Stiles,” she says, and grasps his hand. “We’re friends. You should have told me. Is it all okay now?”
“Yep,” Stiles says. “Turns out it just looked weird, but it wasn’t a melanoma or anything.”
He tugs his hand free of Allison’s before she notices that he’s shaking.
“Come on," he says. “You’d better get home before your parents notice you’re gone.”
In the morning, Stiles wakes later than usual. He heads downstairs to find the house empty, and checks his phone to find a message from Kate. Her and Gerard have headed to LA to make a pick up. Of reinforcements or weapons, Stiles isn’t sure. He feels like he’s being treated like a child in Beacon Hills, when at least back in Kroměříž he’d been treated like a hunter. The lowest one in the chain of command, sure, but a hunter still. It has to be because they don’t trust him. Because they think that being back in Beacon Hills, back in a place thick with the memories of a childhood spent with his father, that he’s more susceptible to his father’s weaknesses. That he might succumb to the same treachery.
And a part of Stiles is afraid that maybe they’re right. He hasn’t felt as unsure of the ground underneath his feet in years.
Stiles makes oatmeal in the microwave, and pours a glass of water to take his Adderall with. He’s still in his sleep pants and an old t-shirt when the doorbell rings. He pads to the door and opens it.
Chris is standing on the doorstep.
“Chris,” Stiles says, and moves aside to let him in.
“I’m not coming in,” Chris says. His gaze drops to the bandage on Stiles’s throat, and then he lifts it again to look him in the eye. “I followed Allison last night.”
Stiles doesn’t react. He can’t read Chris as well as he can Gerard and Kate. He knows Chris doesn’t like him—he gets narrow-eyed whenever he looks at Stiles—but he’s never felt like the man’s actually going to hurt him or anything. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time Stiles was wrong.
“I want to know what you two talked about,” Chris says.
“School,” Stiles tells him. “Teenage stuff. And Scott McCall.”
An emotion Stiles can’t name flickers in Chris’s blue eyes. “What did you tell her?”
“I didn’t tell her anything,” Stiles says. “I let her vent.”
“And that’s all?” Chris asks.
Stiles nods. “That’s all.”
Chris stares at him without saying anything, and Stiles tries not to fidget under his scrutiny. He knows the stories. Stiles’s father and Chris Argent were legends, once upon a time. They were heroes. And then Stiles’s father left, spitting on hundreds of years of proud history, and Chris Argent—his best friend, his hunting partner, the man who’d been so close to Janusz Stilinski that he’d married his cousin—was tarred with the same brush. Chris was no traitor, but the facts never got in the way of speculation. Mud sticks. Who knows that better than Stiles?
Stiles wonders if Chris hates him for being his father’s son, or pities him for it.
“You wouldn’t have to follow Allison if you told her the truth,” Stiles says, lifting his chin. “She’s an Argent, and one day she’s going to be head of your family and—”
Chris takes a sudden step forward.
Stiles flinches back.
Chris stops. For a moment he looks puzzled, and then a weary sort of resignation overtakes his expression. He nods, and takes a step back, as though he’s dealing with a small, frightened child, and not a fellow hunter. His gaze settles on Stiles’s bandage again. “Take care of yourself, Stiles.”
“I’m glad Allison has you as a friend,” Chris says at last, and then turns and walks back down the front path toward his SUV.
Stiles closes and locks the front door behind him.
Then, his unfinished breakfast forgotten, he heads downstairs into the basement and spends the next hour unloading his fear, his shame, and his uncertainty into a punching bag. He works it until his muscles ache and he’s too tired to think.
And then he keeps going.
John Stilinski leaves the kitchen door unlocked for Peter now, so when Peter gets his text he heads over to the house before time and lets himself in. John’s in the living room, and Peter joins him there.
“Are you sure you want me here for this?” Peter asks.
John exhales slowly. “All our cards on the table, I think.”
“Does that make me the ace?”
John snorts. “More like the joker.”
Peter smirks, and inspects the bookshelves. His gaze lingers for a moment over a framed photograph of a little boy with his face painted like a tiger, and then he moves on to another photograph: a much younger John Stilinski, wearing a tie, and he has his arm around a woman in a pale blue summer dress. The woman is clutching a bouquet. She’s dark haired and smiling. She’s beautiful.
“Our wedding photo,” John says, when he catches Peter looking. “The woman in the country clerk’s office took it for us. We didn’t even have the money to buy Claudia a wedding dress.”
“I thought you hunter families were all as rich as Croesus,” Peter says.
“My bank accounts got shut down the second they knew I was gone,” John says. “We made it to the States with a few thousand dollars, and most of that was eaten in rent, and on immigration bullshit. We lived on ramen the whole time I was going through the academy.”
He smiles though, so Peter guesses the memory is a fond one.
“When Stiles was born, we didn’t have money for a crib, so he slept in a drawer on the floor. But then I graduated, and we moved here, and everything worked out.” John’s smile fades. “Well. Until it didn’t.”
Peter thinks of Matty, and how missing him is like an open wound. It’s different to how he misses Cora, and Talia and the others, because Matty is still alive, still breathing, and missing him back, and Peter can’t do a damn thing about it yet. He can’t imagine having to feel that sort of pain for six years.
“We’ll get him back for you, John.”
John swallows, and jerks his head in a nod. “Yeah, we will,” he says, his voice rasping.
Peter tilts his head to listen as he hears a car coming down the street. He moves to the window and flicks the curtain in time to see the black SUV pull into the driveway. He lets the curtain drop again.
John goes to open the front door.
Peter stands in front of the window, facing the living room doorway. His wolf is restless, anxious, and he flexes his fingers as he waits. He hears the brief conversation at the door—John asking if Chris Argent is armed, and Chris Argent denying it. A lie, probably. Undoubtedly.
Peter lifts his chin as John and Chris Argent enter the room.
He doesn’t need to ask if Chris knows who he is—the man’s expression says it all.
“This is Peter Hale,” John says. “A friend.”
“A friend,” Chris echoes, voice low with distrust. “The left hand of the Hale pack is your friend?”
Peter smiles, and lets his fangs appear. “It turns out that we have quite a lot in common. Namely, how your family murdered most of mine, and then kidnapped his.”
“Settle,” John says, and Peter isn’t sure which of them he’s speaking to. It may be to both of them. “We have done things to talk about, the three of us, and we’re going to do it with no guns, and no claws. Agreed?”
Peter makes a show of settling on the sofa. “Agreed.”
Chris nods warily, and eases himself down into the armchair.
John looks at both of them, and then seats himself on the end of the coffee table so that he’s sitting in between them. “Six years ago, Kate and Gerard attacked the Hale pack. Burned the house down, with most of the pack inside. I was the first officer on scene. I broke the mountain ash barrier, and got Peter and a child out. Everyone else who was inside the house perished.”
Chris looks grave, but not particularly bothered by that, and Peter swallows down a growl.
“The Hales tell me they never harmed an innocent,” John says.
Chris narrows his eyes. “And you believe that?”
“Do you think I didn’t check?” John asks. “Do you think I didn’t spend months when I moved here going through the files of every unexplained death in the twenty years prior? There was nothing. The Hales were clean.”
“Or very good at covering their tracks.”
This time Peter can’t stop the low rumble of a growl escaping him.
“You think I suddenly forgot how to do my job?” John asks. “The Hales were clean, but your family came for them anyway.”
Peter digs his claws into the upholstery of the sofa. “Tell him how they did it, if he doesn’t already know.”
Chris looks at John warily.
“Kate seduced one of the kids,” John says. “He was fifteen.”
Chris snorts, and shakes his head. “She would never…” But he trails of as though he can’t quite finish the thought.
“She would,” John says firmly. “And she did. She saw me there that night. And when I got home from work, Stiles was gone and Kate had left a note stuck to my fridge telling me not to come after him.”
Peter has no idea how John is keeping his voice so calm.
“Your sister stole my son to punish me, because I saw her breaking the code,” John continues. “She stole my son so that I wouldn’t speak out against your family. Not to law enforcement, and not to the hunters’ council.” His voice drops dangerously low. “What did they tell you?”
Chris’s forehead creases. “What?”
“What did they tell you when you found out they had my son?”
It’s not his claws Chris Argent needs to worry about, Peter thinks, it’s John’s.
Chris’s voice is flat. “They told me the council had authorised it.”
“And had they?” John asks, leaning closer to Chris. “Had they?”
Chris lifts his gaze. “I didn’t ask.”
When John moves suddenly and catches Chris with a stunning right hook to the jaw, Peter doesn’t know if it’s those hunter reflexes kicking in for John again, or if Chris sees it coming and just lets it happen anyway. The end result is the same. The punch connects with a resounding crack. The force of it pushes Chris backward, his head bouncing off the back of the armchair. He grunts, and clenches his fingers around his jaw.
John straightens up again. He shakes his hand and flexes his fingers. “Your father and your sister kidnapped my son, and they’ve turned him into a hunter.”
Chris moves his jaw carefully. “You were proud of being a hunter once.”
“I was wrong,” John says.
The silence hangs in the air between them.
“A teenage boy is already dead,” Peter says softly, while in the back of his head a voice laughs at him for being the voice of reason for once. “We don’t need to add another one to the list.”
“I can’t help you, Janusz,” Chris says. “I won’t. You’re a traitor.”
But Peter can hear the mans’ heartbeat skip. It’s not a lie, not quite, but it’s something. It’s uncertainty. It’s fear. It’s a chink in Chris’s armour.
“He’s my son,” John says, his voice cracking. “My son.”
Chris raises his hand from his jaw to rub his palm across his forehead briefly. Then he exhales slowly. “I saw him this morning. Stiles.”
John tenses. “And?”
“And you know how my father trained me and Kate.” Chris darts a look at Peter, and Peter thinks he’s ashamed at having this admission overheard. His brow wrinkles with a frown, and he shakes his head. “I think it’s probably worse with Stiles.”
John’s breath escapes on a shuddering exhale. “I want my son back, Christophe. Please. If our friendship ever meant anything to you… please.”
Chris Argent only shakes his head.
John is a knot of exposed nerves when Chris leaves, growling as bristling as much as any wolf. Peter talks to him calmly, hands on his shoulders, until he extracts a promise that John’s not going to go straight over to the Argents’ house to try to grab Stiles.
“Because he’s dangerous,” Peter tells him. “You know he is. Because he’s being poisoned, and we need to cut it off at the source first.”
Chris Argent has made no promises, and Peter doesn’t trust him an inch. He only hopes that they’ve given the Argents no advantage in letting them know John and the Hales are working together. It’s what they suspected anyway, probably.
And now John is angry and hurting at the thought of his son being hurt—no, not the thought. He’s lived with the thought for six years, but tonight Chris Argent gave him the reality, didn’t he? He as good as came out and said it. And all Peter can do is think of Matty and how crazed with rage he’d be if someone was hurting him.
“Soon,” he promises John, digging his fingers into the man’s shoulders in an attempt to anchor him. “Soon.”
“I want him out of there, Peter!” John bellows at him. “I want him out!”
Peter lets his eyes flash beta gold. “And we’ll get him, John, just as soon as we can.”
Peter calls Derek and Laura when he leaves John’s house.
It’s already dark when they meet him on Northwood Street.
“This is crazy,” Laura hisses in undertone. “First you tell us to stay away from the Argents, and now you want us to snoop around their house?”
“I want to be able to tell John that he’s okay for now,” Peter says.
Laura looks conflicted, but Derek only nods.
It’s easy enough to shed their human skins and slink into the gated community as wolves. Easy enough, but at the same time dangerous as hell.
The driveway at Gerard’s house is empty, but there are lights on inside the house. Peter gets close enough to press his nose up against the living room window. The room is empty. When he turns around to slink back into the darkness, Derek has shifted back into his human form and is climbing up onto garage roof.
Oh, that’s all they need, Peter thinks. For the neighbours to spot a naked guy climbing up the side of a house. What could possibly go wrong?
Derek shifts again as he leaps from the garage roof onto the roof over the living room.
“We’re going to get arrested,” Laura mutters as she shifts briefly back into her human form to join him. “Or shot.”
Peter is on four feet again by the time he joins Derek at the window. So is Laura.
Peter stares through the window into the bedroom, at the boy Derek’s gaze is fixed on.
Stiles is sitting on the flood, his back against his bed. His knees are drawn up, and he’s hugging them and rocking back and forth like a distressed child or a junkie waiting for his next fix.
Peter listens closely.
Stiles’s frantic heartbeat is the only one he can hear in the house.
Peter only came to check that Stiles was alright, so he could pass that on to John, but this is an opportunity he wasn’t anticipating at all, and Peter never misses the chance to take capitalise on those. Stiles is alone. Kate and Gerard aren’t in the house. They could just take him now and—
Derek presses his nose against the window, and it barely rattles in the frame.
Stiles moves quickly, flinging himself sideways and reaching under the bed. Before Peter even knows it the boy is on his feet, and there’s a gun in his hands and it’s levelled at the window.
It’s lit inside the bedroom, and dark outside, so Peter knows the boy can’t see them. That doesn’t mean he won’t shoot though, because there’s nothing of the distressed child in Stiles’s gaze now. His eyes are cold as he flips the safety with his thumb, and his hands are steady.
The wolves scatter back into the night.
Stiles doesn’t sleep well. He’s sure there was something at his window earlier in the night, so he dozes in the darkness, and it feels like he wakes up every few minutes to check there’s nothing there. He must sleep in the end though, because he doesn’t hear Gerard and Kate get back. Instead, he’s jolted from his sleep by the sound of an argument coming from the kitchen.
He creeps out of bed and down the stairs.
“No, I haven’t forgotten there was a wolf at my house,” Chris bites out. He sounds tense. Well, more tense than usual, and that’s saying something. “I’m just saying there’s no indication he was going to hurt anyone.”
Kate’s laugh is incredulous. “You’re joking, aren’t you? A fucking werewolf was sniffing around your daughter, and you don’t think it was going to hurt her?”
“Look, Kate, just tell me what you’ve got on the Hale pack, okay? Have they killed anyone, or haven’t they?”
“Jesus! What are you even implying?” She pauses. “Oh, wait, I think I know what’s going on here. You’ve been talking to the good sheriff, haven’t you?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Ridiculous? Where’s all this coming from then, Chris?” Kate huffs out a breath. “I tell you what. Dad will be back soon. How about you ask him exactly what we’ve got on the Hale pack?”
There’s silence then, and Stiles’s stomach clenches.
He remembers what it’s like to question Gerard. He remembers why he only did it a few times. He remembers exactly how it feels to have that old man’s smile turn suddenly cold. He remembers bracing himself for a beating that felt like it never ended.
Stiles is a man now, but he’s still afraid of Gerard’s anger.
He creeps silently back up the stairs.
There’s the thing they used to do with elephants, he remembers. They used to put a chain around a baby elephant’s leg, and hammer the chain into the ground with a metal stake. And the baby elephant tried to pull it out and get free, but it couldn’t. And then it stopped trying. The elephant never knew it was strong enough to pull the stake out, even when it was fully grown, because it had stopped trying so long ago.
Chris could easily take Gerard in a fight. Maybe Stiles could too.
But both of them, he thinks, stopped trying way back when they were still small and weak.
Stiles crawls back into bed and falls asleep with his hand over the place on his mattress where the photograph of him and his mother is hidden.
Dad’s being super weird again, Allison texts him early the next morning.
Stiles doesn’t know how to respond, so he leaves her message on read.
Stiles is eating his oatmeal in the morning when Gerard walks into the kitchen.
“Stiles,” Gerard says, and smiles his rictus grin “Have you been for your run yet?”
Stiles nods, “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” Gerard says. “Don’t overdo it, hmm? We have a hunt coming up.”
Stiles’s skin prickles with anticipation. “When?”
“In a few days,” Gerard says. “It’s time we showed these dogs their place. I want you and Chris to go through the inventory today. Make sure we’re locked and loaded.”
“Yes, sir,” Stiles says, ignoring the clench in his gut.
He’s not going to think of Derek.
What happened at the party was an aberration—in more ways than one—and Stiles isn’t going to second-guess everything he’s been taught just because of one kiss. Because of one kiss, and because Peter stopped from killing him, and because of the look on his father’s face, and—
Stiles isn’t going to second-guess.
Not when he’s so close to proving himself worthy of Gerard’s exacting standards.
He can do this.
Gerard puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes.
He can do this.
There’s a routine that Stiles falls into easily when Chris arrives and joins him down in the basement. Routine is comfortable. Gerard tells them there are six other hunters being brought in for this hunt—men Gerard has worked with before in the US—and while it’s not up to the Argents to supply these men with weapons and gear, they’ll do it anyway in case there are backups needed. There’s a reason the Argents have a reputation as the best. They operate with military precision. Every contingency plan has a contingency plan. Every fallback has a fallback of its own.
Stiles checks his own gear first: gloves, boots, kneepads, vest, webbing, pouches and belt. Then his headlamp, his night vision, his comms earpiece. Then he moves on to ammo, and a firearm. His primary weapon will be the Kel-Tec PMR-30 he keeps under his bed, but he selects a Glock as his backup weapon. He knows Glocks.
He glances up to find Chris’s gaze on him.
“You good with that?” Chris asks, nodding at the Glock.
Something flickers in Chris’s gaze. “You spend a lot of time at the range?”
“Not since we’ve been here,” Stiles says, “but I’m a good shot. I know how to handle myself.”
He wouldn’t be allowed on hunts otherwise.
Chris lifts an eyebrow, and reaches for an empty clip to fill. “It’s different on the range than on an actual hunt.”
“I know that,” Stiles says, trying to keep his annoyance out of his tone. “This won’t be my first hunt.”
Chris’s forehead creases. “What do you mean?”
Stiles slides a magazine into the Glock and feels it click into place. “My first hunt was a few weeks ago in the Czech Republic.” He straightens his shoulders. “I made a kill.”
Chris stills. “You did?”
“Yes, sir.” Stiles lifts his chin. “You can ask Kate and Gerard. I’m not just some kid.”
“I never said you were,” Chris says evenly.
Semantics. Stiles knows he’s thinking it.
Stiles doesn’t like Chris. He doesn’t trust him. He barely knows him, and those few times they’ve met he hasn’t liked the way that Chris looks at him. He never quite knows what Chris is thinking, and so he fills in all those gaps with his own insecurities and disapproval.
He does the same with Victoria.
Jesus, it’s amazing how they managed to produce a daughter as open and bright as Allison, when both of them are nothing more than silences and glances and closed off expressions.
Stiles puts his head down and keeps working.
He can feel Chris’s gaze on him the whole time.
Allison breezes into the house at lunchtime.
“Don’t you have school?” Chris asks her.
She stares back at him. “Don’t you have work?”
Stiles flinches, but Kate laughs at that, loud and boisterous.
“I have a spare,” Allison says at last. “I bought curly fries, and then decided I wanted to share them with Stiles. Stiles, are you busy?”
They hurry upstairs to his room.
“He’s being such an asshole,” Allison complains minutes later when they’re sharing curly fries on his bed. “And he’s always been cagey, but now he’s being cagey with Mom too, which makes her more of an asshole, which is…” She blinks. “Which is mathematically impossible, probably.”
“I mean, I love my mom,” Allison says, and then doesn’t seem to know where to go with that.
“But she’s a total hard ass,” Stiles finishes for her.
“Right?” She huffs out an exasperated sigh. “Ugh.” She eats another curly fry and wrinkles her nose. “I need a soda.”
“I’ll get some,” Stiles says, pushing himself up off the bed.
On his way to the kitchen he notices that Gerard’s study door is open. He steps inside, drawn to the map of Beacon Hills on the desk. There’s a circle in the warehouse district, and Stiles’s pulse quickens. Is that where the Hales are holed up? Are six mercs enough to contain them in that grid, and then tighten it?
The map shudders where Stiles is touching it. His hands are shaking again. Stiles flexes them, jams them into his pockets, and heads towards the kitchen.
He hears low voices before he gets there, and slows his steps.
“So this is what it comes to,” Gerard is saying. “I shouldn’t even be surprised, should I? I let you have your space. I agreed to let you keep Allison out of things until she finished school. I let you take a step back, Christophe, and how have you repaid me?”
Stiles’s heart clenches, and he freezes a few feet from the kitchen doorway.
“It’s not what you think.” Chris’s voice is low but calm.
Stiles hears the scrape of chair legs on the kitchen floor, and then Kate speaks. “Who’s the text to, Chris?”
Gerard grunts. “No answer, hmm? Nothing to say for yourself at all?”
“One thing,” Chris says. “Did the Hales ever hurt anyone, or did Kate burn them alive for nothing?”
“Now who would put an idea in your head like that?” Kate asks.
There’s silence again, and then Chris says, “No.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Gerard says. “I’ll make sure Allison is looked after.”
Stiles feels a cold chill. He thinks of Allison, tied to a chair in the basement for hours. Thinks of her being forced to run when she can hardly breathe. He thinks of her being punched in the face until she falls down and can’t get up.
He hears the pop of a silenced shot, and a grunt of pain.
And then chair legs again, and a shout, and the sound of something smashing. Then another shot, no silencer on this one.
He runs for the stairs, and meets Allison coming the other way.
“Move,” Stiles tells her. “Go back. Back!”
He pushes her back up the stairs, back into his room. He closes the door behind her.
“Stiles, what’s happening?”
Stiles grabs his box out from under the bed, his thumb slipping on the combination lock before he gets it open. He grabs his firearm out.
“Oh my god!” Allison exclaims. “Stiles?”
From downstairs, Stiles hears another shot. Allison jerks like she’s been hit, and covers her mouth with her hand.
Stiles pushes her toward the window. “We have to go! We have to get out of here, now.”
Allison stares at him, at the gun, at him again.
“My… my car keys are downstairs.” She blinks, and tears slide down her cheeks. “What’s happening?”
“We don’t need your keys,” Stiles says. “We’re gonna run, okay?”
“Ally,” he says, grasping her wrist with his free hand. “Do you trust me?”
She nods, pale.
“Then we have to go,” he says. “Please.”
He follows her out the window.
On Friday at around ten a.m., after a night spent in yet another rat-infested bolthole, Peter takes Laura and Derek to John’s house. John has been working late, and is still asleep when Peter cases the place to make sure nobody is watching it, and then lets them in through the back door.
“Shower’s upstairs on the left,” he says, pointing.
Laura gives him the side-eye, but not for long. Her misgivings are slim indeed in the face of the promise of hot water.
Peter hums as he loads their laundry into John’s washer. Derek leans awkwardly in the doorway and watches him.
“Are we allowed to do this?” he asks when he catches Peter’s look.
“We’re not not allowed,” Peter decides at last.
Both the kids are showered and the laundry is on the spin cycle by the time John treads downstairs wiping sleep from his eyes.
“I need better home security,” is all he says when he takes in the three Hales at his kitchen table. “Is the coffee on?”
Peter winks and slides him a cup.
It’s… it’s temporary, this weird teasing thing between them. It’s the same game Laura and Derek played with their bickering about chocolate and hair dryers. It’s a forced distraction. There’s no foundation to it, Peter thinks, and there never will be unless he can deliver John’s son to him, safe and sound. If he can do that, if they can kill the Argents and save the people they want to save, maybe there will be something there to build on. At the moment it’s a crutch, and Peter knows both he and John can use one of those.
John sips his coffee and eyes them critically. “Did any of you sleep last night?”
“On and off,” Peter says, although it was more off than on. Being in an unfamiliar place made it hard enough to settle. Being in an unfamiliar place with the threat of hunters hanging over their heads? Well, the less said about that, the better.
“The sofa in the living room pulls out,” John says. “If you want to catch a few hours. And there’s a spare room upstairs.”
Peter looks to Laura.
She’s still for a moment, and then she nods.
Good. She’s read John’s heartbeat. She’s got the measure of him now. She knows he’s an ally, and possibly even a friend. Peter only wishes that he’d seen it years earlier. He knows John was right—there was nothing the Hales could have done to help him get Stiles back before now—but at least he wouldn’t have had to drink alone.
“Are you working today?” Peter asks.
“A late,” John says. “Starting at four, unless I get called in before.”
Peter pauses at that. He hasn’t asked John directly about the official investigation into Scott McCall’s death, but the murder of the teenager in the woods has been on the front page of the local newspaper every day since it happened, and Peter wonders how John intends to handle it. Or perhaps he intends to just ignore the speculation until some other lurid crime takes its place in the local headlines, and most people just forget all about Scott McCall.
John can hardly arrest the Argents for murder, can he?
As if they’d let that happen anyway.
John jolts as his phone buzzes. “Speak of the devil.” He takes it out of his pocket and quints at the screen. “No. It’s from Chris.”
“Gerard has brought in six mercenaries,” John says, reading from the screen. “The hunt is scheduled for Monday night.” His mouth turns down. “The warehouses on Elm.”
He sets his phone on the table.
“They know where we’ve been hiding?” Laura asks, her eyes flashing red.
“Process of elimination, probably,” John says. “It’s not a big town, and that Camaro you drive is pretty damn distinctive.”
Derek’s brows tug together worriedly.
“Okay,” Peter says. “We knew it was coming. Nothing’s changed. That’s six unknown hunters, plus Gerard and Kate, plus Chris—who hopefully won’t shoot—plus Stiles, who probably will if Chris won’t get him out of the way before then.”
“Three against ten,” Derek mutters.
“Four,” John says. “And I know a few tricks still.”
“So does Deaton,” Peter says. “He’s bound to have something up his sleeve to balance out the odds. We can do this.”
Laura and Derek don’t look convinced.
“We’re the Hale pack,” Peter tells them fiercely. “We’ve got this.”
They don’t have this.
John’s phone rings a few hours later, and he answers it. His expression tightens as he listens.
“I’ll be right there,” he says, and ends the call. “That was the station. I’ve got deputies responding to reports of shots fired at Gerard Argent’s house.”
Peter feels the colour drain from his face.
They don’t have this.
The wail of the siren pierces Peter’s nerves all the way to Gerard’s house.
There are already two police cruisers in the driveway when John pulls up.
The front door of the house is open, and Peter follows John inside.
There’s a deputy kneeling on the steps leading upstairs. He’s kneeling over someone fallen there, and the steps are slick with blood. Peter sees a massive smear of it along the wall, as though whoever has been shot was trying to get upstairs, a bloody hand out for balance, when they fell.
There’s a firearm lying at the bottom of the stairs.
“Parrish,” John says. “What have we got?”
“Two gunshot victims,” the deputy says, twisting around slightly to look down at them. His gaze lands on Peter and his brow furrows, but if he doesn’t know what the hell Peter is doing here he also doesn’t ask. “We’ve got a male victim here, and a female in the kitchen. Don’t know yet if we’re looking for a perp, or if it’s one of our victims.”
“Nobody in the house,” Parrish says. “Our only witnesses are the neighbours who called it in, and they didn’t see much. There are guns all over the scene, sir. A hell of an arsenal in the basement too.”
Peter cranes his head to see.
It’s Chris Argent lying on the stairs. Peter can hear a faint tachy heartbeart, but the man’s eyes are closed and his face has a sickly greyish pallor.
“You’ve cleared the house?”
“Yes, sir,” Parrish says. “And we’ve got EMTs en route.”
John leaves Parrish and Chris on the stairs and walks toward the back of the house. Peter follows.
The scene in the kitchen is much the same. There’s blood everywhere, and a body on the floor. Peter can hear the sounds of wet, laboured breathing.
There’s a female deputy kneeling over the body on the floor. She’s applying pressure to a wound. Her blue gloves are stained with blood.
“Sheriff,” the deputy says. “We need the EMTs.”
“They’re on their way,” John says. “Go and help Parrish. I’ll take over here.”
The deputy obeys.
John crouches down beside Kate Argent. He reaches into a pouch on his belt and pulls on a pair of gloves. Doesn’t press his hands to the wound in her chest. Just crouches there and stares down at her, as her eyes weakly try to regain their focus.
Peter growls softly, approvingly.
“Hello, Kate,” John says softly. “Where’s my son?”
She sucks in another wet breath. Blood bubbles out of her mouth on the exhale.
“You came into my house, and you took my boy,” John says. He’s almost whispering, and he sounds more dangerous now than at any time Peter has known him. “Where is he?”
Kate makes a small sound, her mouth twisting into an ugly smile.
“I suppose you can’t talk,” John says. “I suppose that even if you could, it’d be a fucking lie. You’re dying, Kate. You’re done.”
Kate’s eyes narrow, and her mouth moves as she slurs out the word: “Traitor.”
“Maybe so,” John says, “but at least I’m not a murderer.” Then he hums thoughtfully. “Well, up until now.”
He puts his gloved hand over Kate’s mouth and nose.
Holds it there.
Peter glances behind them to make sure the deputies are keeping busy with Chris.
In the distance, he can hear more sirens. Ambulances.
He looks back at John. He’s a million miles away from the man Peter flirted with earlier today, and Peter thinks: Yes. Peter is a left hand, but John? John is fucking avenging angel.
Kate grunts weakly, and her legs thrash. She raises a hand and clenches her curling fingers around John’s wrist in an attempt to pull him away.
John doesn’t even flinch.
By the time the paramedics arrive, Kate is dead, and the sheriff of Beacon Hills is crouching over her, shaking his head as he tries uselessly to perform CPR.
The Preserve is beautiful in the late afternoon sunlight. Peter has always thought so. The light filters down through the trees at the edge of the parking lot, leaving dappled glowing spots on the ground. Inside, where the trees thicken, the Preserve will be cool and damp, and Peter’s skin itches with the urge to transform and run on four feet.
He squints down at the screen of Chris Argent’s phone as he hears the Camaro rumbling nearer. Of course Chris Argent is the sort of father who tracks his daughter’s phone through his. How useful.
Allison Argent’s phone is a few miles away, and it hasn’t moved in an hour. Peter’s too much of a pessimist to believe that means that Allison and Stiles haven’t moved in an hour. Most likely they’ve ditched the phone. But it gives them a starting point to catch their scent.
He walks over to the Camaro as it pulls up and Laura and Derek climb out.
“Kate’s dead,” he says.
Derek closes his eyes briefly. A breath shudders through him. When he opens his eyes again, a faint, cautious smile is playing around his mouth.
“Chris isn’t,” Peter says. “Yet. The neighbours saw two teenagers running from the house, and shortly after that the shooting stopped and Gerard’s SUV left as well.”
“Do we know what happened?” Laura asks.
“Seems like Kate and Chris had an argument,” Peter says. “Chris appears to have won. But there’s no sign of Gerard, and Stiles and Allison have bolted.” He holds up Chris’s phone to display the map. Allison’s phone is a pulsing blue dot in the middle of the green space of the Preserve. “Allison’s phone is here. Let’s go and see if we can bring the little Argents home, shall we?”
They head into the Preserve.
Just a head's up, but my posting schedule will be changing from tomorrow because of the day job. Instead of posting in the morning my time, it'll be the afternoon, whatever time that is for you.
Stiles isn’t sure why he heads for the Preserve. It’s close—it hugs Beacon Hills tightly, and the town isn’t that large—but maybe it’s because he just doesn’t have anywhere else to go. They can’t go back home, and Stiles doesn’t trust Victoria to protect Allison. He thinks, fleetingly, of his father, and the wave of nausea that rises up at the thought makes him dizzy. He’s on his knees right now, but that doesn’t mean he gets to capitulate to a traitor. And then he thinks of Derek, which makes even less sense, because Derek is a werewolf, and Stiles knows better. He’s on his knees, he’s drowning, but he still knows better than that.
“Stop!” Allison exclaims. “Stiles, stop!”
Stiles releases her hand.
Allison sucks in a few quick breaths, then lifts her tear-stained face. Her hair is loose, and hanging like tendrils. “What the hell is going on? What happened, and why do you have a gun?”
“Gerard,” Stiles says, his voice rasping. “I think Gerard shot your dad.”
“What?” Allison’s mouth twists up. “Oh, god, you’re crazy. This is crazy. What the fuck is going on?”
“The secret,” Stiles says, his heart thumping. “The secret your parents have been keeping from you? They’re hunters, Ally.” He sees the confusion on her face. “Well, they’re soldiers really, and—”
“Oh my god!” Allison steps back from him. “This is insane. My parents are not soldiers.”
“It’s… it’s hard to explain.” Stiles reaches for her, and she takes another step back. Dappled sunlight falls on her from the waving canopy of trees above them. “Ally, please, listen. There are monsters in the world, and your family fights them!”
Allison shakes her head, and presses her hands to her mouth briefly. “This is why you’re home-schooled, isn’t it?”
“You’re crazy,” Allison says, her voice faltering. “This stuff you’re saying, monsters and soldiers, you think it’s real.”
Stiles’s chest aches. “It is real.”
“No.” There’s something pitying in her eyes now. Something so soft it hurts him. “No, Stiles. Listen, I’m going to call Mom, and she can come and get us, and—”
Fuck, she has her phone.
“They killed Scott,” Stiles says suddenly. “Kate and Gerard. One of them shot him. I don’t know which one. I was there. I was… I was a part of it.”
Allison freezes. “What?”
“Scott,” Stiles repeats. “He was a werewolf. I know it sounds crazy—I thought it was too, when they first told me—but it’s true. I promise it’s true!”
“Stiles…” Allison gazes at him through tear-filled eyes, and then fumbles in her pocket and pulls out her phone. “I’m calling Mom.”
She stares at him for a moment, like she’s waiting to see him reach for the gun tucked into the waistband of his jeans, but Stiles only shows her the palms of his hands.
Allison makes the call. “Mom? Mom, I…” And then she trails off to listen. “Mom?”
Stiles can’t hear what’s being said, but Allison ends the call.
She looks blank now.
“Ally?” Stiles ventures softly.
“She told me not to come home,” Allison says. She sounds dazed. “She told me it isn’t safe. She told me to stay with you.”
Stiles lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “It’s real, Ally, and your mom is a part of it too.” He reaches up and peels off the bandage on his throat, wincing as it pulls at the skin. “I didn’t get surgery. A werewolf clawed me.”
She just stares.
Stiles reaches out and takes her hand. She doesn’t pull away this time. “Werewolves are real, and the Argents are a hunting family, and I don’t know what happened today, but I think your dad was giving information to the werewolves, and—”
“Why would he do that?” Allison asks suddenly.
Because he’s a traitor too.
“I don’t know,” Stiles lies.
“Dad wouldn’t help monsters,” Allison says, and that’s the thing she fixates on? Stiles has just turned her world upside-down, and that’s the snag that’s caught her thoughts?
“Okay,” Stiles says, because they haven’t got time to argue about this. “And I think Gerard and Kate found out, and… and that’s when I heard the shooting.”
“Oh my god.” Allison’s face crumples again. “Stiles, what are we doing, though? What are we doing?”
“We’re going to lay low,” Stiles says. “Just until we figure out what to do next. Gerard wants you to be a hunter. He always has, and your parents wouldn’t let him train you, and…” He shrugs off his sudden rush of fear. “And it’s not for you, okay? What we do. You shouldn’t have to be like…” He swallows. “Like me.”
Allison doesn’t answer, but she doesn’t let go of his hand either.
Stiles swipes his free hand over his eyes, and nods. “Come on. We have to keep moving. Leave your phone.”
They continue into the Preserve.
It gets cooler as the afternoon draws on slowly into dusk.
They need to find shelter before it gets dark.
Also, it’s been a while since Stiles was last expected to feed himself by foraging and hunting, but he thinks he can make a snare for a rabbit or a squirrel from his hoodie strings. He doesn’t even have a knife, which complicates things, but Stiles isn’t too worried about that. He can manage for a few days, at least. He’s less convinced Allison will he happy to eat squirrel, however.
And if he’s honest with himself, water will become an issue long before hunger.
“Dad used to take me target shooting,” Allison says as they walk. She has her arms wrapped around herself. “With a compound bow. I was good.”
“I’ll bet you were.”
“I always felt like there was something behind it though, you know?” She shivers. “Like it was never just about the targets.”
Training her without training her, Stiles thinks. Passing on his skills without telling Allison what they were for.
When he first met Allison again, he’d thought Chris and Victoria were fools for keeping her from her heritage. But now… “You shouldn’t have to be like me.” He couldn’t say the words before now, but he’s known they were true for a while.
They walk a little while longer, heading southward, and a break in the trees up ahead—a bright patch of sunlight—is Stiles’s first indication that they’re approaching a clearing.
It’s a house, or it was once.
The burned remains of it are still standing, more or less. The Preserve is reclaiming it though. The road is overgrown with weeds and grass, and tendrils of ivy are climbing up the blackened frames of the exterior walls.
The Hale house.
It must be the old Hale house.
Stiles and Allison approach it cautiously, but the only occupant appears to be a rabbit that startles when it sees them coming, then darts away.
Stiles’s gaze is drawn to blackened pipe sticking out of a pile of rubble. An exterior tap? He approaches it, and twists the handle. The pipe rattles and groans and a moment later the water begins to flow. It’s dirty and rusty at first, but soon runs clear.
Stiles bends and drinks, and Allison does the same.
“Okay,” Stiles says. “This has got to be better than the woods, right?”
Allison casts a dubious look at the house, and then at him. “Stiles, this is like a horror movie waiting to happen.”
Yeah, she has a point. An old burned out house, and the existence of werewolves.
But also, running water and an actual structure to keep off the wind.
And mostly, they’ve been on the move for hours now, and Allison is getting tired.
“There’s nothing in a horror movie that I can’t stop,” Stiles says frankly.
Allison looks at him first like she thinks it’s a joke, and then her expression goes blank again. She nods, and they climb the creaking steps into the burned-out house.
The wolves come at night.
Stiles hears them first when the boards on the porch creak. It jolts him from the half-doze he’d sunk into.
“Stay behind me,” he says to Allison, climbing to his feet. He doesn’t whisper it. There’s no point. The wolves can hear their heartbeats.
“What?” she murmurs, dozy with sleep. “Stiles, what’s happening?”
“Stay behind me,” he repeats, getting between Allison and the doorway.
They’re in the living room, he thinks. There’s a couch, at least, fire damaged and mildewed.
The porch boards creak again, louder this time.
Stiles points his firearm at the door.
His heart is beating fast, but his hands aren’t shaking. He’ll save that for later, he knows, if he survives this.
They’re in the living room, and there are wolves at the door.
Moonlight spills through the window frame and—
The window frame.
Stiles spins around, but he’s too late. There’s already a wolf inside. There’s already a wolf with one arm around Allison’s torso, and a clawed hand held in front of her throat. It’s the woman. Her eyes are red.
“Stiles,” she says, and her voice is so calm. She’s holding her claws to Allison’s throat, and her voice is so calm. “Stiles, put down the gun.”
Allison is shaking like a leaf in a tempest. Her eyes are wide, and Stiles can hear her panicked, rasping breaths.
The alpha holds her like a shield. “Put down the gun, Stiles.”
Stiles holds Allison’s terrified gaze, and loosens his grip on his Kel-Tec. It clatters to the floor.
And then he feels hands on him—the other wolves have come through the door—and someone is turning him, and it’s Derek—Peter is holding Stiles’s arms behind his back while Derek reaches out to touch his face.
Stiles doesn’t flinch from the touch, but his heart clenches and his eyes sting, and he turns his gaze down so that he doesn’t have to look at Derek. At Derek and those eyes. Stiles would rather remember them as green and grey and blue and all the colours of a stormy ocean instead of watching them flash beta gold and seeing the monster behind them.
“Stiles,” Derek says, and drags his fingertips softly down Stiles’s cheek. “Are you okay?”
Stiles doesn’t answer. Even if he could trust himself to speak without his voice breaking, he doesn’t know what Derek wants him to say. How much do wolves enjoy toying with their prey? Kate always said a wolf would never kill a hunter quickly if it had the choice, but Derek sounds so worried. So concerned. Like Stiles is someone who matters to him.
And it has to be a trick. It has to be. Just a way to twist the knife. Because if it’s not…
If it’s not.
If it’s not a trick, if Derek’s not the monster here, then the monster must be Stiles.
He blinks and feels a hot tear slide down his cheek.
“Stiles?” Derek asks again, his voice softer than it should be.
Stiles squeezes his eyes shut.
He doesn’t open them again until he’s being jostled outside.
Peter is tired of warehouses, so they go back to the loft. It’s a fair distance away from the warehouses on Elm where Gerard was going to start searching for them, and really, Gerard is on the back foot now. He might still have his six mercenaries, but they aren’t local. They don’t know the area. And Kate and Chris and Stiles have all been removed from the equation.
It gives them a little bit of breathing space, Peter reasons, while Gerard reels.
The Camaro purrs like a kitten as it pulls up outside the loft, like it knows it’s home.
Peter glances at Stiles in the rear-view mirror.
Stiles hasn’t said anything at all since the Preserve, actually. He’s sitting in the back seat wedged between Laura and Derek, while Allison sits in the front with Peter. Allison is the hostage here, no doubt. Her safety ensures Stiles’s compliance. But Peter has no intentions of harming her. Chris Argent has paid for her safely already, with his blood, though Allison and Stiles don’t know that.
Stiles is still and quiet, but his heart races like a rabbit’s.
“Let’s go,” Peter says. “Everyone out.”
Peter and Derek flank Stiles as they head up the stairs.
The loft is on the top floor of a yet-to-be renovated industrial building. One day it might be fancy apartments in a gentrified neighbourhood, but right now it’s as pleasing to the eye as Soviet-era architecture. If the loft has any charms at all, they’re well hidden beside a façade of cinder blocks and urban decay.
The return to the loft isn’t entirely because Peter’s feeling homesick: there’s a room here, windowless and secure, that can hold a werewolf on a full moon. It can hold a newly turned alpha unaccustomed to her new strength, or a beta so distraught with grief and guilt that he can no longer feel his anchor, and even the left hand of a pack who is consumed with rage and thoughts of revenge.
That room has seen a thing or two.
It ought to hold a baby hunter.
Laura walks ahead of them, and has the loft door open by the time they reach it. Peter keeps a hand on Stiles’s shoulder, and steers him into the loft, through the open living area, to the room with the steel door. It’s an old equipment room of some sort, Peter supposes, or perhaps there was even a safe bolted to the floor once. The room has brick walls, no windows, and that solid steel door.
“Nobody is going to hurt you,” Peter tells Stiles as Laura wrenches the steel door open. “We just don’t trust you not to hurt us.” And then, to Derek: “Get him some blankets or something to go in there, hmm?”
Derek nods and heads up the stairs to their bedrooms.
Peter prods Stiles and propels him forward into the dark little room. He holds his arm out to stop Allison following.
Allison gasps, and Peter sees the first flicker of emotion on Stiles’s face since they caught him.
“Nobody is going to hurt your cousin either,” he tells Stiles. “But I do need to have a little chat with Miss Argent before she joins you in there.”
He closes the door in Stiles’s face.
Stiles is the calm before the storm, he thinks, and wonders how long it will be before he breaks, and how wild it will be.
“Your father is alive,” Peter tells Allison as she sits in the kitchen and white-knuckles a mug of tea. “Your mother is at the hospital with him. Sheriff Stilinski has deputies watching them.”
Allison’s brow creases. “Sheriff Stilinski?”
“Yes,” Peter says. “Stiles’s father. And that’s the least crazy part, trust me.”
Allison doesn’t look like she trusts the ground beneath her feet at the moment, but Peter tells her everything anyway.
Allison Argent sits cross-legged on the sofa in the loft with the knitted throw rug pulled up over her lap. She looks hollow, carved out. Her tea has long since gone cold.
Laura sits across from her, quiet and attentive, and she looks so much like Talia in this moment that Peter’s chest aches.
Derek is sitting on the floor with his back to the steel door of the storeroom. Peter, watching from the stairs, isn’t sure if Derek has even noticed how he’s drawn to the boy. To Stiles. How, out of all the places in the loft he could be sitting, he’s chosen that spot.
Peter gets a sudden flash of memory. Before the fire, before everything that tore their lives apart, before Derek became closed off and wary. Derek must have been eight or nine, and he was late for dinner. Peter, rolling his eyes, had followed the pup’s scent and found him a mile or so from the house. He’d been crying over a dead bird.
“Oh, pup,” Peter had told him, all his previous annoyance forgotten. “I am really not the right person to give you the whole circle of life talk.”
Derek had looked up at him, wiping his eyes. “I know things die, Peter! But it’s still sad! And its mom will miss it, won’t she?” His lower lip wobbled. “Do you think it had brothers and sisters?”
Derek had glared at him. “Don’t tell Laura I cried about it!”
He’d had such a big heart for such a little kid, and Peter had known then that Derek could never be the pack’s left hand after him. He was too good for that. And later, after the fire, when Derek had been full of guilt and anger, Peter had wondered where that little kid with such a capacity for love and compassion had gone.
And he thinks, watching the way that Derek trails his fingers absently along the steel door, that perhaps he’s been here this whole time.
Allison leans forward, her hands clenching in the knitted throw. “Which one of you clawed my cousin in the throat?”
Peter inclines his head. “That would be me. Right after your cousin was involved in the death of one of my packmates, Scott McCall.”
Allison hunches over.
“There are no good guys in the story,” Peter says. “If you’re looking for a side with no stain on it, you won’t find one.”
“Our pack was innocent,” Laura says. “Our family. Before Kate started all of this by burning our house down. But since then, there have been times we’ve gotten our hands dirty in order to survive.”
“Kate’s dead, by the way,” Peter says. “I think your father shot her.”
“Huh.” Allison draws in a shaky breath. She looks at the steel door. “Stiles said… Stiles said that he was with Kate and Grandpa when Scott was killed. Is that true?”
“That’s true,” Laura says. She puts her hand over Allison’s.
“H-he was a part of it,” Allison says. She swallows, and tears spill. “Oh god. It’s my fault, isn’t it? I asked him to sneak out and visit me, and my family saw him!”
“It’s not your fault,” Laura tells her. “You didn’t know.”
Scott did though, Peter thinks, regret stabbing at him. Scott did, but Peter remembers what it was like to be a teenager, reckless and headstrong and thinking he was invincible. He should have kept a closer eye on Scott.
Allison shakes her head. “How do I know I can even believe you? You could be lying to me! You could be exactly what they say you are!”
“We could,” Peter says. “Meanwhile, your father’s lying in a hospital bed because he acted against your grandfather. You ought to be able to draw your own conclusions from that.”
She’s not being argumentative, Peter knows. She’s confused, and she’s lost, and she’s trying her best to make sense of a world that she very suddenly doesn’t understand. She reminds him a little of Scott in that respect. She’s a teenager, a high-schooler, and nothing in her life has prepared her for all the shit the universe is pelting at her today.
She lifts her chin, looking past Laura to Peter. “You have my cousin locked in a room right now. What if I draw my conclusions from that?”
Touché, Peter thinks.
Allison narrows her eyes at him. “What are you going to do with Stiles?”
And that, Peter thinks ruefully, is indeed the question.
Peter leaves Allison and Laura talking, and excuses himself to go out onto the narrow balcony to make a call. Derek is still leaning against the steel door. From behind it, Peter can hear the faint sound of Stiles’s heartbeat.
He pulls the door shut behind him as he steps onto the balcony, and dials John.
“Peter?” John’s voice is tense.
“We’ve got them,” Peter says. “They’re safe and well.”
John’s sigh of relief shudders in his ear. “Where are you?”
A moment of silence. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No,” Peter says frankly, “but we needed somewhere secure to keep Stiles. He’s calm right now, but how long will that last?”
John sighs again. “I was always told not to get caught.”
“And if you did?”
“Well, the implication was to do anything I could to escape again, or to die trying.”
“That’s a hell of an implication,” Peter says, arching a brow.
“Right? And I’m guessing under Gerard’s roof it was less an implication, and more a direct order.” John pauses. “Watch him closely, please.”
Peter gazes down at the street below. “I rather thought you’d want to come here and watch him closely yourself.”
“I’d give my right hand to do that,” John says, “but if I walk out in the middle of a murder investigation, questions will be asked. I’m heading back to the hospital soon. I’ll let Wiktoria know Allison’s safe.”
“Oh, how did that reunion go?” Peter asks.
John snorts. “Well, she didn’t shoot me, so better than I thought.”
“And you didn’t shoot her either,” Peter says. “How interesting.”
“Remember when I called Stiles a hostage? I think that Allison was one as well. Gerard had already proved he could steal my kid. What would stop him from stealing hers as well?”
Peter blinks down at a passing car. “How very understanding of you, John.”
“Oh, when this is over I’ll be having words with both of them,” John says, his voice like steel. “But at the moment we’ve got bigger things to worry about.”
“Truer words,” Peter murmurs.
“Hey,” John says. “Call me, okay, if there are any developments?”
“Of course,” Peter says.
“Or, you know,” John continues, “I’ll probably call you anyway.”
Peter smiles. “Talk to you soon, John.”
He ends the call.
And there may be a delay in posting tomorrow, because I am mentoring someone at work and can't exactly say, "This is the screen where we view the incidents, this is the screen where we dispatch the incidents, and this is the screen where we write Sterek fanfiction."
It’s dark in the room, apart from a tiny sliver of light underneath the door. It takes Stiles a long time for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There are chains bolted to the wall, with shackles hanging from them. There are claw marks in the brick walls. Stiles turns his face away so he doesn’t have to look at them.
If he was calm that one time in the trunk of the Hales’ car, he isn’t now. Because Allison is out there, and Stiles can’t help her. And he might be able to push fears for his own safety aside, but he can’t do the same for Ally.
He closes his eyes and regulates his breathing.
If Derek isn’t the monster…
No. He can’t think like that. That will make him weak.
Isn’t tunnel vision also a weakness? Kate always says that a good hunter adapts on the go. And isn’t this a form of adaptation? Or is it capitulation? It scares him that he can’t tell the difference. It scares him more that when he tries to figure it out, it’s Kate’s voice, or Gerard’s, that he hears in his head, and not his own.
Stiles drops his hand to the floor beside him, and tangles his fingers in the comforter that Derek put in here with him. A part of him wants to wrap himself up in it, but won’t that be too much like defeat?
Stiles releases the comforter and scoots forward on his ass toward the door. He can hear the low murmur of voices outside, but he can’t tell what’s being said. He thinks one of the voices is Ally’s. It scares him that he can’t get to her—can’t get between her and a werewolf if the werewolf attacks—but she’s talking, not screaming, and that seems like the only positive he can hold onto right now.
The sliver of light brightens for a moment, then settles again, and Stiles realises that there’s someone in front of the door. Standing there, or sitting there? And shifting occasionally, causing the light to change.
Stiles scoots back again, to the warmth of the comforter.
Kate and Gerard are going to be so mad at him. Stiles has… he’s overstepped in a big way. He took Allison from the house because he was afraid for her safety, and maybe they’ll let that slide if Stiles can justify it by saying he was worried he couldn’t defend her on his own, but no way in hell will he get away with it if they find out the true reason: “You shouldn’t have to be like me.” Because those words are a betrayal of everything that Stiles has trained for.
Stiles’s stomach swoops—sudden vertigo, like the ground has dropped away from underneath him and he’s falling. He pulls the comforter up and tugs it tightly around his shoulders. Squeezes his eyes shut. Tries his hardest not to feel.
The steel door squeals as it opens.
Stiles opens his eyes, and then lifts a hand to shade them against the brightness, and then the door is closing again.
“I brought you a soda,” Derek says. His voice is soft, and Stiles can barely make his features out in the gloom. “Allison says you like Mountain Dew.”
Stiles does, but he doesn’t get to drink it that often. His body is a machine, Gerard says, and it needs fuel, not junk.
Derek inches close enough to set the can down on the floor within Stiles’s reach, and then steps back again.
He’s treating Stiles like he’s the dangerous animal here, and Stiles doesn’t know whether that makes him want to laugh or cry. So he hunches over a little, and snakes his hand out to snag the can. It’s cold from the refrigerator. Beads of condensation slide down the side.
Stiles pops it open and drinks.
The sugar gives him a head rush.
His hands are shaking by the time he sets the can carefully down on the floor again.
“At the party…” He doesn’t know where the words are coming from. He doesn’t know why he’s saying them, because whatever the answer is, it’s going to cut. He lifts his gaze and looks at Derek. “Did you know who I was?”
“No,” Derek says softly. “You were a cute guy and I wanted to kiss you.”
Stiles swallows, a weight pressing on his chest.
A part of him wants to believe it, but what’s worse? That this was all a set-up by the Hales, or that it’s dumb fucking chance and the entire universe is shitting on him?
“Kate’s dead,” Derek says.
Stiles’s heart stutters.
“Chris is alive,” Derek continues, “and nobody knows where Gerard is.”
Stiles’s eyes sting, because Kate is complicated and the things he feels for her have always been twisted up in strange ways, but she was his shield against Gerard, wasn’t she? She had a way of shattering the tension with that boisterous laugh of hers. She was fearless, and bold, and just the other morning she made him eggs for breakfast.
“I was fifteen when I met Kate,” Derek says softly. “She didn’t tell me she was a hunter. She made me think she loved me. I loved her. I told her the pack’s secrets. I told her about the tunnels under our house, and she blocked them off with chains and mountain ash, and set fire to our house.”
Stiles presses his mouth into a thin line and shakes his head. “There’s a code, and—”
“The code is a lie.” Derek’s voice is as low and strong as the gentle song of the Morava River, and it’s almost enough to drown out all of Stiles’s disbelief. “Kate and Gerard have never followed the code.”
It has to be lies.
“There were kids in that house, Stiles,” Derek says.
Bile rises in Stiles’s throat, sour and burning. He grabs the can of Mountain Dew again, and swigs from it.
“I’m not saying this to hurt you,” Derek says. He crouches down. “I’m saying this because you need to know the truth. They lied to you, Stiles. They took you from your dad and—”
“He’s a traitor.”
“He’s a good man,” Derek says. “Stiles, they took you because he helped us. Because he helped Peter and my little brother Matty—he’s a human, not a werewolf—get out of the house that night. Matty was only three.”
“Why should I believe you?” Stiles asks, a sudden burst of anger flaring in his gut. “What if you’re the ones lying to me?”
Because how does he know? How is he supposed to be sure who’s telling the truth and who’s lying? How is anyone supposed to know?
Derek shakes his head slowly. “I can’t prove it. Deciding what’s the truth and what’s a lie, that’s something you have to decide for yourself once you know the facts. But I hope you’ll listen. And I knew her, Stiles. I knew Kate. I know how cruel she was.”
Stiles’s stomach twists.
There are things that he consciously pushed aside when he was training to be a hunter. Things that he told himself were for the greater good. There was a ten-year-old boy, crying and screaming when the scary lady took him away from his house. The scary lady who showed him her gun, and told him she’d use it if he tried to run.
There’s a ten-year-old boy still screaming in a corner of Stiles’s mind.
He’s been screaming for six years.
Nausea hits him in a dizzying rush, and his stomach lurches. Stiles pushes himself up onto his knees, suddenly afraid he’s going to vomit, and Derek kneels beside him and places a warm hand on his back. Rubs his palm up and down Stiles’s spine until the waves of sickness lessen, and the urge to be sick slowly fades.
Stiles struggles for breath, his heart pounding, his eyes stinging.
He was happy.
He was a happy kid and he loved his parents. His mom was so fun and so clever, and they used to play games in the garden, and she told him folktales in Polish, and they had adventures every day, and his dad would get home from work and look at them giggling, and he would say in a pretend-stern tone, “What are you two troublemakers up to?”
Stiles had been happy, and Kate and Gerard took that away with him, and replaced it with something hard and cold and terrifying. Stiles had never asked to live in a world with monsters. He’d never asked to be made into a hunter like them. He was ten.
What is wrong with him that he tried to save Allison from that, but even now he can’t admit to himself that it was the wrong thing to do to a child?
Because to admit it was wrong is to be a victim, not a soldier. It’s to be a child, not a man.
And it’s more than that too.
It’s a hunt.
It’s a hot spray of blood against Stiles’s pale face.
It’s being a killer as well.
Stiles sucks in a wheezing breath.
“It’s okay,” Derek murmurs. “It’s gonna be okay.”
It’s not, because if Derek is telling the truth then Stiles is a murderer. Stiles didn’t make the world safer like they told him he did. Stiles is the monster.
“Tell me you’re lying,” he rasps. “Tell me you’re lying, and then kill me!”
Derek’s hand stills against his spine.
Stiles flinches back, and lands on his ass on the floor. He grabs Derek’s hand, and pushes it up against his throat. “Give me your claws. Finish it!”
Derek is silent.
“Finish it!” Stiles yell at him.
Derek rubs his thumb against the tender scar on Stiles’s throat. “I’m not going to hurt you, Stiles. Nobody here is going to hurt you.”
Stiles eyes burn as tears form. Maybe they should. Maybe they should hurt him. He’s either a killer or he’s a failure, and whichever one it is, he deserves to die, doesn’t he?
He sobs, and slaps a hand over his mouth in a vain attempt to keep the ugly sound inside him. Then he reaches out to push Derek away, but Derek doesn’t let him. He pulls Stiles closer instead, and puts his arms around him.
“Kill me,” Stiles whispers against Derek’s chest. “If it’s true, you should kill me.”
“No,” Derek says, his breath feathering Stiles’s hair. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“What if I deserve it?”
“I killed a werewolf in Kroměříž.”
“You were lied to,” Derek tells him.
“I just want it to end.”
“Everything?” Derek asks softly.
Stiles nods, and closes his eyes.
“I won’t do that, Stiles,” Derek says at last. “But I’ll be here for as long as you need me. I won’t knock you down, but I’ll help you stand up again.”
Stiles can feel Derek’s heart beating against his ear, strong and steady; a promise he doesn’t deserve. But, selfishly, he’ll take it.
John arrives just after midnight, in civilian clothes and a rattling old baby blue Jeep.
“Were you followed?” Peter asks him when he meets him in the backstreet.
“No.” John jams his hands in the pockets of his jeans as they head for the loft building. Peter can taste his anxiety, sharp and acrid, in the air. “How is he?”
“Asleep when I came out to meet you,” Peter says. “Derek’s with him. He seems to be able to keep him calm. He had a small breakdown a few hours ago, but it might be too early to call it a breakthrough.”
“Yeah,” John says as they reach the steps. “I’m not expecting things to go smoothly here.”
They climb the steps slowly.
When they reach the loft, Allison is asleep on the couch with the throw rug tucked around her. Her shoes are neatly lined up on the floor beside the couch. Laura is sitting in the armchair across from her, reading a magazine in the faint moonlight.
The steel door to the secure room is ajar, and Peter can hear two heartbeats from inside. One is Derek’s. It’s as familiar and necessary to Peter as his own heartbeat. The other one, Stiles’s, is slow and steady with sleep.
Peter draws John over into the kitchen, and flicks on the light there. It shouldn’t wake the sleeping humans.
“Coffee?” he asks.
“I’ve had enough coffee today,” John says, and then squints at his watch. “Well, it’s tomorrow already, isn’t it?”
“Tea then,” Peter says, and begins to make it.
John drifts over toward the steel door, and leans there in the darkness. Peter isn’t sure if he can even see inside with his dull human eyesight, but perhaps he just wants to be close to his son.
On the couch, Allison snuffles as she wakes up.
John turns to face her.
Allison sits up quickly. “Who are you?”
“John Stilinski,” he says. “And you must be Allison.”
She blinks at him in the gloom. “You’re Stiles’s dad. My mom’s… cousin?”
“That’s right.” He gestures toward the couch, and awaits her nod before he goes and sits. “I’ve been up at the hospital today. Your father’s out of surgery, and the doctors say he’s looking at a few months recovery time, but he’s going to be fine.”
Allison exhales. “Thank you. And my mom?”
“She knows you’re with Stiles,” John says. “And she knows you’re with the Hales. She’s sure as hell not happy about it, but I guess she’s decided they’re the safest option for you right now.”
Allison nods again. “This is all so crazy. Werewolves!” She looks across to Laura. “Sorry.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” Laura says with a smile, and her eyes flash red.
Something in Peter warms at that, at Allison’s reaction. Allison doesn’t know what red eyes mean. She hasn’t been poisoned against werewolves like Stiles has, like every other child in a hunter family has. She takes Laura’s gesture exactly for what it is—showing off. Allison isn’t afraid of Laura’s eyes. She’s not afraid of any of the pack. She’s judging them by who they are, not by what they are. How unexpected, from someone with her surname.
Of course, these past few weeks have been nothing but unexpected. When all this is over, Peter resolves to never be surprised by anything or anyone again in his life.
He carries John’s tea over to him, and perches on the arm of the couch beside him.
“It’s just been insane,” Allison continues. “Not just you guys, but my dad, and Stiles, and Scott…” Her brows creases and her eyes fill with tears. “Stiles said he was there. He said…”
John darts a glance at Peter, and says, “He was lied to. We all were. Some of the old European families are particularly…” He shakes his head as he hunts for the word. “Zealous. The only good werewolf is a dead werewolf to them.”
Laura’s eyes flash again, and it’s not teasing this time.
“It took me half my life to learn it was a lie,” John continues. “It’s not a defence, Allison, it’s an explanation. When I was a hunter, if I’d seen a werewolf lurking around my family’s house, I would have chased him down and killed him too.” He passes a hand over his brow. “Scott McCall was a good kid. I’m sorry that happened to him.”
Allison swallows and nods.
It is what it is, Peter thinks.
If they survive this, perhaps in time they can plaster over the thousands of fractures between them—some tiny and some not so tiny—and learn to how to heal.
If they survive.
Allison goes upstairs to sleep in the end, in Derek’s room since he’s not using it. Laura goes with her to find some fresh sheets. John sits on the couch, his feet on the coffee table and his head thrown back, and Peter watches him doze from the window.
It takes an hour or so, but eventually Peter hears Stiles’s heartbeat change, and then the low murmur of voices.
Peter treads silently over to John and touches him on the arm.
“Stiles is awake,” Peter murmurs.
John tenses, as though he’s going to stand, but Peter shakes his head and keeps touching his arm. Then he sits down beside him.
With wild animals, Peter thinks, you have to wait until they approach you.
It takes a while—the long seconds draw out into even longer minutes—but then the door to the secure room opens a little more. Peter can see the two figures standing there, but he’s not sure if John can make them out.
“Derek,” he says softly, “turn a lamp on, would you?”
Derek detaches himself from Stiles’s side, and moves to switch on the lamp on the end table.
John blinks in the sudden light.
So does his son.
“Hello, Stiles,” John says at last, and Peter can hear the tension in his tone, the barely-disguised urge to leap up and run towards his boy. And then he’s quiet for a moment, as though wrestling with what to say. His voice rasps when he says, at least, “I’ve missed you.”
Derek crosses the floor to stand with Stiles again.
Stiles jerks his head in a nod. “I…”
And then nothing.
“If there’s anything you want to know,” John says, “about all of this, about you, about your mom and me, about my past, you only have to ask. I’ll tell you.”
Stiles swipes his tongue long his bottom lip. “We… our family. You turned your back on all of that.”
John nods, his eyes shining. “For your mother, and for you.”
“Claudia was a Gajos, Stiles.”
And Stiles flinches back, so Peter guesses he knows the names of werewolf packs just as much as does the hunter families. His expression cracks into something caught between horror and disgust. “Mom was a werewolf?”
“She was human,” John says softly. “But she was a human born into a pack. There was a chance, when we expecting you, that… well, we thought you had a chance of being born a werewolf.”
“You didn’t tell me anything about this! I didn’t know anything!” Stiles clenches his fingers into fists.
“I’d always planned to tell you,” John says. “I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner.”
Stiles opens his mouth to reply, and then closes it again. He shakes his head. “I—I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to say to you.”
And he turns and walks back into the room.
Derek follows him.
The door closes.
“No such thing as a fast resolution,” John says as he makes himself a sandwich in Peter’s kitchen. He’s wearing a brittle smile. “I’ve learned that before in the job.”
“That’s true,” Peter agrees, but he knows John is more hurt than he’s letting on, and a hell of a lot more fragile. “Baby steps.”
“Baby steps,” John says. His hand freezes over the tub of butter. “I should have brought him some photo albums. And I’ve got a video of him somewhere, riding his tricycle up and down the driveway. Claudia took it.”
“You can try that another time.” Peter takes the knife off him and spreads the butter. “You can’t push him too hard. It’s been less than a day.”
“Yeah.” John taps his fingers on the counter and nods. “Yeah, you’re right.”
But there’s a difference, Peter knows, between a thing being right and a thing feeling right. And sometimes it’s as wide as a chasm.
After the fire, after he’d found out exactly what happened, Peter had wanted to grab Derek and shake him by the shoulders. He’d wanted to scream at him to stop wallowing in his guilt, that it wasn’t his fault. He’d wanted Derek to get better, now.
But there’s a process, as the therapists of the world would say.
It’s not a straight road. It’s full of bumps and dips and potholes and detours. It gets there in the end, mostly, but the journey isn’t an easy one. And it’s sure as hell not a quick one.
“What do you want, John?” he asks curiously. “When you imagine this all somehow working out, what do you see yourself doing with Stiles?”
John exhales slowly. “Is this the part where I say I see myself on a boat in a lake, sitting with my son, and dangling a fishing line in the water?”
“If you like.”
“I would like,” John says, and shakes his head and smiles, “but that’s not the son I remember. He hated fishing. He hated anything where he had to sit still for extended periods of time. Jesus, when he was a toddler someone had to sit with him when he went on the potty or otherwise he’d just get up and wander away, and we’d find out later he’d pooped the length of the hallway.”
Peter laughs at that.
“I want a teenager,” John says. “I want a sixteen-year-old kid. I want him to play videogames, and lie about having done his homework, and bug the hell out of me for money for shit he doesn’t need.” He shrugs. “What about you? Where do you see yourself?”
“Maybe I’ll go fishing with you,” Peter says. “I know how to sit still.”
John hip checks him softly.
“I want to rebuild the house,” Peter says, his chest aching. “I want us to live in the Preserve again. I want a backyard. I want to help Matty paint his room and put those glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling. I want to get him a dog and sit on the porch and read a book while he runs around the yard with it.”
“That sounds like a good plan, Peter,” John says.
“Mmm.” Peter puts the lid back on the tub of butter. “I wish it felt like a plan, and not a crazy fucking fantasy that will never happen. Such simple things shouldn’t feel so out of reach, should they?”
And John only smiles sadly and shakes his head.
“No, they shouldn’t,” he says, and offers Peter half his sandwich.
Peter takes it.
Stiles is tired, his body heavy and sore in the same way it is after a five mile run. But behind all of that is a growing sense of urgency, a need to get up and move, because tiredness is weakness and weakness is punished. He pushes himself up off the comforter, and is confused for a moment when a large warm hand settles between his shoulder blades and encourages him back down.
“It’s okay,” Derek says. “You can sleep a little more.”
Stiles’s throat is dry and his eyes sting. He turns his head to the side and folds his arms under his cheek. “Why aren’t I scared of you? I should be scared of you.”
“Why should you be scared of me?” Derek asks him.
“You’re everything I was told to be scared of.”
“Maybe you’re just smart enough to know to listen to your instincts instead of whatever the Argents told you.”
Or his experience, Stiles thinks. Because Derek has never hurt him. Peter has, and Stiles feels a chill when he remembers the sensation of the wolf's claws digging into his throat, but Derek hasn’t. And, if Stiles can think past that visceral fear, it’s not like Peter didn’t have a reason.
His eyes sting again when he thinks of Scott McCall’s goofy happy dance in the parking lot of the cinema the night that he and Allison kissed.
And then he thinks of his father, and of his mom, and how he feels nauseated at the idea he might have been born a werewolf.
Mom wasn’t bad. Mom wasn’t scary or cruel or volatile, and it’s impossible to imagine her as any different even if she had been a werewolf, and not just a human born to a werewolf pack.
Stiles wonders if he’d be any different if he’d been born a werewolf. He wonders if he’d still be the same Stiles, but it’s hard to think about because right now Stiles doesn’t even know who he is, not really. He’s a mass of conflicting thoughts and emotions battling it out in this body.
And then he thinks of the future.
He thinks of what might happen if he fathers a kid. He has werewolf blood in him—less than his mom did, but it’s still there—so his kid could be a werewolf. Could Stiles hate his own kid? Could he fear it? Could he hunt it?
He doesn’t know.
He doesn’t think so, but he doesn’t know.
“I’m half werewolf,” he says, to test the words aloud.
“Mmm,” Derek says. “Well, it’s not really a half and half thing. You either are one or you aren’t.”
“Were there humans in your pack?”
“My little brother is human,” Derek says. “Both of my parents were werewolves, but Matty was a throwback or something, I guess. It happens. It’s not a big deal. There were a few humans in my pack. It’s no different than some of your kids being blond and some being brunet, really.”
“It’s a little more different than that.”
Derek laughs quietly. “Maybe. Well, I guess their instincts are different than ours, and their senses aren’t as sharp, but they’re pack, the same as anyone. My mom always said humans made a pack stronger, not weaker. She said diversity was strength.”
Stiles sits up, and Derek’s hand falls away from his back. “Do you think I should have talked to my father?”
He can’t read Derek’s expression in the darkness, but he doesn’t hear any hint of condemnation in his reply. “I think you should take things at your own pace.”
Nobody has ever told Stiles that before. When he was a little kid his parents were always laughingly telling him to slow down. When he was training with Gerard and Kate they were always telling him to hurry up, to be faster, stronger, better.
Stiles isn’t sure he knows what his own pace is.
“If he’s telling the truth, I shouldn’t hate him,” Stiles whispers at last. “But I can’t just flip a switch and turn it off.”
“He knows what you’ve been through,” Derek says. “We all do.”
“And if you’re all telling the truth then I should hate Kate and Gerard, but I don’t know if I do.”
Hate and fear aren’t the same thing. Stiles had always been scared of Gerard, and of Gerard’s punishments, but he’d never felt they were undeserved. He’d never hated the man, because he’d believed that Gerard was acting in his best interests. And Kate…
He’d hated her sometimes, when she’d yelled at him to train harder, when she’d added an extra hundred pushups to his routine when his arms were already killing him, but it wasn’t real hate. It didn’t last any longer than her “Good job, string bean” when he was done. And sometimes, he’d loved her. He’d thought of her as a big sister, tough but fair. He’d wanted to be just like her: loud and confident and brash, a smiling killer whose hands never shook.
He’d wanted to be Kate Argent.
“You said you loved her,” he says. “Kate.”
“I did,” Derek answers. “I didn’t see until afterwards how cruel she was. I didn’t want to see.”
Stiles is silent then, and wonders if maybe he just doesn’t want to see as well.
It’s still the middle of the night when Stiles needs to go to the bathroom, so Derek takes him out of the room. The loft is filled with moonlight, and feels brighter than it actually is since Stiles has been confined to the dark for so long. There’s a figure sleeping on the couch and Stiles realises with a jolt of recognition that it’s his father.
Whatever he calls himself.
He hasn’t left.
Stiles doesn’t know how to feel about that, so he pushes it aside. God. He’s pushed so much aside in the past twenty-four hours that sooner or later it’s all going crush him like an avalanche isn’t it?
“Where’s Ally?” he asks softly, following Derek up the narrow spiral steps.
Derek pauses at the top of the steps, and tilts his head a moment to listen. “She’s in my room. Sleeping.”
“She’s okay?” Stiles asks, needing to hear it.
Derek turns. There’s a half-smile on his face. “Stiles, you get that you’re the one we’re worried about, right?”
Stiles feels warmth spread in his chest. “Yeah, I’m starting to, yeah.”
Derek’s smile grows. “Good. But yes, she’s okay.”
When they go back downstairs Derek takes a candle from the kitchen drawer, and a book from the bookshelf in the living room before they go back into the secure room. Well, it’s not that secure anymore, since the door is left ajar. Not like Stiles could outrun a werewolf anyway.
And, increasingly, he isn’t sure he wants to.
Derek lights the candle and sets it in the corner, and then sits down next to Stiles and arranges the comforter around their shoulders. It’s not even that cold, but Stiles likes the closeness.
Derek opens the book and begins to read, holding it so that Stiles can follow along it he wants.
Stiles doesn’t. He finds his gaze being pulled from the book and back towards the door, to the living room where his father is sleeping.
He remembers his Mom used to read him books when he was too little to understand the words himself, and even after that sometimes, because it was their bedtime ritual, and if Dad wasn’t working a late shift he’d come and sit and listen. And Stiles would stare at the pictures in the book, and Dad would stare at Mom with a gentle smile on his face, and Stiles had never felt so safe and loved and happy.
He was a kid. He hadn’t known there were any other ways to feel.
Not until Mom died.
And after that, his father would read to him, his voice stumbling over the words sometimes. Not because he didn’t know them, but because they both knew it should have been Mom’s voice reading them.
That was the first time Stiles knew what it was like to be unhappy. He also learned what it was like to love someone more fiercely than he had before, because he’d been so afraid he’d lose them too. He’d clung to his dad harder than he ever had when his mom was gone.
Stiles blinks, and the words on the page of the book blur and vanish.
He wants his dad.
He wants the past six years to have never happened, but that man sleeping on the couch is a stranger, just like Stiles is a stranger to him.
He wants to be a kid again, certain of himself and certain of the people who love him.
He just wants the world to make sense again.
“Stiles!” Allison exclaims when Stiles and Derek wander out from the room in the morning. She hops off the stool at the breakfast bar and closes the distance between them to envelop him in a hug. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay,” Stiles says warily, looking into the kitchen to where Peter Hale is scrambling eggs.
“Your father had to leave for work,” Peter says casually, as though he doesn’t know how much the question was burning on the tip of Stiles’s tongue. “Also, we’re out of bacon, so it’s just eggs and toast.”
Laura walks down the spiral stairs. She’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and her hair is damp from the shower. “Do we at least have coffee?”
“Of course,” Peter says. “We’re not animals.”
Stiles, not knowing how to react, looks at the floor instead.
Peter ignores his awkwardness. “After breakfast, I was hoping we might talk, Stiles.”
Stiles lifts his hand to his throat without even realising he’s doing it.
“No,” Peter says, and something like genuine regret clouds his expression for a moment. “Just talk.”
Stiles swallows. “What about?”
“I was hoping you might have some insight into what Gerard is planning,” Peter says, his tone light.
This is treason.
The thought is there, stark and fully-formed before Stiles can block it. He curls his shaking fingers into fists.
It was inevitable they’d ask this of him, he supposes. If bringing him here and not hurting him was a ruse, then this is what it’s been leading up to. But also, if bringing him here and not hurting him wasn’t a ruse, but was instead genuine, then surely Stiles owes it to them to help?
But it’s treason.
“I…” he begins, and trails off again.
He just wants the world to make sense. He just wants the ground to feel solid underneath his feet again.
He glances at Derek. Meets his gaze and holds it, and there’s nothing there that he can see except for steady, calm support.
Maybe the world won’t start making sense again on its own. Maybe Stiles has to push it into shape himself. And maybe Stiles won’t know if the ground feels solid under his feet unless he actually makes a stand.
He looks to Peter again, and nods. “I can try.”
Peter sits on the couch and listens while Stiles tells him what he knows about Gerard’s plans. It amounts to the fact that he had a map on his desk with a circle around the warehouses on Elm, and Chris had already told them that before he got shot. So Peter steers the boy more into generalities, and Gerard’s training methods, and listens to his stuttering heartbeat while he calmly relays things, and wonders if the boy even knows what a conflicted mess he is. It’s clear that he’s terrified of Gerard—his body’s responses can’t be hidden—but it’s also clear he’s learned how to repress them.
He’s just as terrified of Peter, probably.
Peter finds his gaze drawn occasionally to the scar on his throat.
Peter doesn’t trust the boy.
And that’s not because he thinks that Stiles is another Kate Argent, another hunter wearing a false face. He doesn’t trust Stiles because he doesn’t think that Stiles can trust himself.
“Thank you, Stiles,” he says at last. “This has been very helpful.”
Stiles’s hands are shaking as Derek leads him away. They go upstairs this time, and Peter hopes Derek is showing the boy to the bathroom. He stinks of sweat and fear.
“You don’t believe him, do you?” Laura asks quietly after a moment.
“I do,” Peter says. “But I don’t trust him any more than I’d trust any other cornered animal. He’s scared, and fear drives people to crazy things.”
Allison’s forehead creases. “Scared? No, he’s like this all the time.”
Peter tilts his head. “He’s been scared for years, Allison. He’s good at hiding it, but I can hear his heartbeat.”
Allison has no answer for that.
The pipes groan and creak as the shower is turned on upstairs.
In the afternoon Peter leaves the loft, his senses on high alert. He takes the Camaro and parks it outside the grocery store on Forest Street. He goes inside and buys a few things. More coffee, some snacks, some bacon. Some chocolate for Laura. And then he walks the three blocks over to the Beacon Hills Animal Clinic, checking to make sure he’s not being followed.
The bells on the door ring as he pushes them open.
Deaton appears from the back rooms. “Peter. What’s going on?”
“Can we talk?” Peter asks. “Also, can I put this bacon in your fridge while I’m here?”
Deaton waves him through.
Moments later, his bacon safe, Peter leans up against the examination table as Deaton goes over all the surfaces in the place with antiseptic.
“You want mountain ash,” Deaton says, “but for humans?”
“There must be something, right?” Peter says. “Magic is all about balance, so where’s our equivalent of mountain ash?”
“Most people would tell you that mountain ash balances out the fact that werewolves have claws and fangs and incredible strength,” Deaton says.
“There must be something,” Peter says. “Alan, I need any advantage I can get.”
Deaton exhales slowly. “Then I’m sorry, I don’t know of any substance that would disable humans without having the same effect on werewolves. Certainly nothing you could use as a barrier in the same way humans can use mountain ash.”
“Nothing at all?” Peter asks.
“I’m sorry,” Deaton says. He taps his fingers along the counter. “Have you considered that you’re looking in the wrong place?”
“What do you mean?”
“Herbs and potions and magic might not help you against the hunters,” Deaton says, “but technology could. If you want to set mantraps, Peter, then maybe you need to take a leaf out of their playbook instead of mine.”
Peter narrows his eyes for a moment.
Deaton’s mouth quirks, which is the closest he ever comes to a real smile. “If their technology can stop you, Peter, it can sure as hell stop them too.”
And Peter supposes that yes, yes it can.
Peter returns to the loft, and unpacks his groceries. He slings an arm around Laura when she comes to inspect what he bought. She nabs the chocolate first, and then catches his gaze. Peter can’t help his smirk.
“You’re up to something,” she says suspiciously.
“I have an idea forming, yes,” Peter says.
“And is it an idea you’re willing to share with your alpha?”
“It most certainly is.” Peter listens for a moment. He can hear Allison and Stiles’s heartbeats upstairs, and Derek’s too. Derek will be able to hear him, but the humans won’t. “How would you feel about tripwires, and flash bombs, and explosives and whatever the hell else is considered an arsenal?”
“To use on the hunters?”
Laura looks hesitant. “I mean, maybe. Why? Are you planning on breaking into a military base?”
“Nope,” Peter says, and flashes her a smug smile. “I’m planning on breaking into Gerard Argent’s house.”
Laura raises her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“Look,” Peter says, “we can’t go to Chris’s house, because Gerard will be watching it to see if Allison runs home. And he can’t be lurking around his house, because you know who’s already watching that?”
“The good deputies of Beacon Hills,” Peter says. “It’s still a crime scene. But fortunately we have an in with the sheriff.”
“Peter, if there was anything in that house, wouldn’t it already be in an evidence locker?”
“Oh, I’m sure they took everything they found,” Peter says. “Just like I’m absolutely sure they didn’t find everything, or the FBI would have been crawling over the place like ants at a picnic.”
Laura nods cautiously. “Maybe.”
“Shall we go and ask Stiles?” Peter asks.
Laura nods, more decisively this time.
Peter leads the way up the steps.
He finds Stiles and Allison in Derek’s room. Derek is on the bed reading, and the humans are sitting on the floor playing some game with a pack of cards. Stiles looks better today. He’s wearing a borrowed shirt of Derek’s that’s a little baggy on him, and a pair of sweats with a pink stripe up the side: Laura’s. His feet are bare.
“Stiles,” Peter says.
Stiles looks up from his cards, and makes to rise.
“No, stay there, you’re fine.” Peter steps inside the room. “I wanted to ask you some more questions about Gerard. Specifically his house.”
Stiles glances to Derek before answering. “Okay.”
“I need to know what kind of weapons he kept in the house,” Peter says. “And not just firearms, but also things like explosives, and grenades, and, you know, the really illegal stuff.”
“Okay,” Stiles says again, and proceeds to rattle off a list. Peter only catches about half of it, and understands even less than that.
“You know what?” he says, grabbing a pen and a pad of paper from Derek’s desk. “How about you write that down?”
Peter takes his phone outside onto the balcony to make the call. It’s a bright day. A cool breeze plays around Peter as he brings up the list of contacts in his phone.
“Peter,” John says when he answers. “Everything okay?”
He says everything, but Peter isn’t a fool. He knows what John’s really asking.
“He’s fine,” Peter says. “Fed, and showered, and currently playing cards with Allison.”
John exhales. “Thank you. What’s happening?”
Peter inspects his list. “When the police checked Gerard’s house, did they find any proximity fuses? Or any short range sonic devices?”
“No.” John’s tone is suddenly sharper. “The only weapons my guys found were legal.”
“Good,” Peter says. “Then that means all the rest of this stuff is still there too. I have a list here that reads like the inventory of a particularly bloodthirsty video game.”
“What are you thinking?” John asks.
“I’m thinking that I’d quite like to use some of Gerard’s technology against him,” Peter says. He consults his list again. “Like infrared tripwires, whatever it is you do with those.”
John huffs out a laugh. “Jesus. You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?”
“None at all,” Peter says. “Those of us in the fur and fangs set have really never needed this kind of stuff. Luckily I know a guy who knows how it all works.”
“Luckily,” John responds wryly. “But what’s the actual plan here, Peter?”
“The plan is to rig one of those warehouses on Elm to explode as soon as Gerard and his goons get inside it,” Peter says.
“You’re not a fan?”
“No, I like it,” John says. “It’s a good idea, but it needs a little finessing.”
“That’s where you come in, John. You bring the finesse.”
He likes the way that John’s laugh warms him.
“But who will bell the cat, Peter?”
“It’s an old story,” John says. “A bunch of mice agree that in order to be safe, they need to put a bell on the cat so they can hear it coming. Which raises the question of who will bell the cat. And of course nobody wants to and everybody makes excuses not to, because it’s so dangerous.”
“Did you just liken an apex predator like myself to a mouse?”
“Put your ego away for a second,” John tells him. “The problem with your plan isn’t rigging some warehouse into a fiery death trap, it’s that whoever has to lure Gerard there stands a good chance of becoming collateral damage.”
“Is this where your finesse comes in?” Peter asks, more archly than he’d intended.
John isn’t ruffled. “It’s a good plan, Peter. Getting hold of Gerard’s arsenal is a good idea. We just need to find a smarter way to use it once we have it.”
Peter is somewhat mollified by that. “Agreed.”
“Okay,” John says. “So let’s focus on actually getting the weapons first. Gerard’s house is still under guard. How about I swing by there at five and tell Parrish I’m taking over for an hour or so, so that he can get a meal break? That should give us a window to find what we need. I’ll have the garage door open for you. Do not bring the Camaro, for God’s sake. Can you get your hands on something a little more nondescript?”
“I think Deaton has a van.”
“A van would be good,” John says. “A van that doesn’t say ‘Beacon Hills Animal Clinic’ would be better.”
Peter checks the time. “I think I can hire a nondescript van from somewhere by five.”
“Good.” John pauses for a moment. “I don’t suppose you’ve got any idea where to look for this arsenal?”
“I do, as it happens,” Peter says. “There’s a hidden door in the basement, behind the cabinets in the gym.”
“Stiles,” John says, a note of wonder creeping into his tone.
“Stiles,” Peter confirms.
“Is he…” John trails off.
“Baby steps, John,” Peter reminds him. “Baby steps. I’ll see you at five.”
Stiles isn’t easily distracted. He knows that’s what Allison and Derek are trying to do with him. They draw him into conversations about random things, they watch TV with him, they play cards, they do anything except talk about hunters and werewolves and Gerard and Kate. And Stiles appreciates the gesture in an abstract sort of way, but Gerard and Kate and the past six years are still right there, still an itch under his skin, still the scrape of nails down the chalkboard of his memory. Stiles is unsettled and jumpy, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide it. He sits on the couch and his leg jiggles.
It’s been over twenty-four now since he and Allison ran from the house.
The house that Peter and Laura have left the loft to go to now.
The house that contains Stiles’s supply of Adderall.
He hopes they remember to bring it like he asked.
He remembers how, when Kate took him, at first he didn’t have his Adderall. He remembers when Kate brought him some, a week or so later, and Stiles had swallowed it down eagerly, certain that he’d feel better again—that his heart wouldn’t race, that he wouldn’t cry anymore, that he wouldn’t break the things they gave him—except the pill didn’t magically make him good. It didn’t make him the sort of good they wanted him to be. And he still cried and shivered and didn’t listen.
He’s not sure when that went away.
He only remembers a feeling of profound relief the first time that Gerard told him he was a good boy, because that meant he wouldn’t be punished that day.
Stiles thinks that might have been the day he locked the crying boy away inside a room in his head, because letting that boy out only got him hurt.
He knows Gerard will never forgive his treason. And he understands that. He accepts that. He can’t say he was never warned, can he?
His heart races, and Derek looks at him.
Stiles jiggles his leg for a second longer, and then stands up and makes his way to the kitchen.
Twenty-four hours, and he’s not still locked in that windowless room, is he? He’s helping himself to a can of soda from a werewolf pack’s refrigerator.
This isn’t captivity. Stiles isn’t a hostage, and Gerard, shrewd and narrow-eyed, will spot it in a second. He’ll see it Stiles’s face the moment he looks at him, and then he’ll kill him for his treason.
He leaves the soda in the refrigerator, like that will make a difference, and goes to sit down again.
Peter and Laura are back at the loft by six, just as the afternoon shadows are starting to lengthen and soften into dusk. They bring up crates and crates of weapons, explosive and gear, and leave them stacked in the corner by the TV. Stiles approaches the plastic crates warily, and pops the lid off the first one to see inside. A couple of stun guns, some body armor, a crossbow and arrows, and a case of flash grenades. He feels somehow grounded to be looking at this stuff again. Here, in all the chaos, is something Stiles knows. He fights the urge to open the other crates as well, because he’s aware of Peter watching him closely.
Stiles is still a hunter, isn’t he?
He doesn’t really know anymore.
Allison is less constrained than Stiles.
“Hey, a crossbow!” She lifts it out and holds it. She has good form. She aims it at the TV, and stares through the sight a moment. For a moment she looks a little like Kate: sharp, focussed, cold. And then she sets the crossbow down again, and her dimples appear when she smiles. “I call dibs.”
“You don’t need a crossbow,” Laura says. “If things go to plan, you won’t get close enough to be able to use it.”
“But, just in case,” Allison says. Her tone is upbeat, but it doesn’t leave any room for argument. “I’m a good shot, and this is just like the one I have at home. Unless anyone else here can actually use it?”
The wolves don’t answer.
“Good,” Allison says. “Dibs.”
Stiles has underestimated her, he thinks. He glances at Peter and sees the same realisation dawning in his eyes. Allison hasn’t been raised a hunter, but she has been raised to know how to shoot, and she’s not the fragile flower she appears. Gerard shot her dad—or Kate did, but the distinction is academic—and Allison isn’t forgetting that for a second.
Stiles wonders if she’s also remembering how they shot Scott, and how Stiles was there. How maybe Scott would have got away if Stiles hadn’t chased him right into Gerard and Kate’s path.
Sour guilt twists in his stomach and rises in his throat.
“You found everything okay then?” he asks Peter.
Peter inclines his head, a smile playing around his lips. “Yes, thanks to your directions. Now we just need John to tell us what to do with all this stuff. Apparently my plan lacks finesse.”
Stiles doesn’t know how to respond to that. He sits down on the couch again.
“Oh,” Peter says, and digs into his pocket. He tosses a plastic bottle of pills toward Stiles, and Stiles catches them. “Your Adderall.”
Stiles squeezes his fingers around the familiar bottle. “Thank you.”
He goes to the kitchen to get a glass of water.
Stiles’s father arrives later that night. He’s still in his uniform, and Stiles looks at the badge on his shirt and remembers the way he used to play with it—it was shiny, okay?—tugging at it until his dad had to carefully unpeel his little fingers before he ripped his shirt. He’s also got four pizza boxes.
“I thought you didn’t finish until ten,” Peter says.
“Benefits of being the boss,” John tells him, setting the pizzas down on the breakfast bar. “I got two meatlovers, one supreme, and a pepperoni. I hope nobody’s vegetarian.”
“In this crowd?” Laura teases, but looks to Allison and Stiles questioningly.
“Total carnivore here,” Allison says happily, and Stiles nods.
Stiles waits until his father has selected a slice and stepped back before he moves towards the pizzas. His stomach rumbles at the smell, and he can’t remember the last time he had pizza. He grabs a slice of the meatlovers.
“Is that all you’re having?” Derek asks him.
Stiles looks at his slice.
“Take another one,” Derek says, and elbows him gently. “You have two hands.”
Stiles feels a rush of warmth, and smiles slightly and reaches for a second slice. Then he glances over towards his father, and sees him watching. Stiles flushes, and turns away.
His father isn’t a thing he can deal with. Not yet. It’s too big. Stiles still gets an almost visceral negative reaction to even hearing his name, let alone seeing him, and while he knows that’s not fair, that the hatred he feels—or felt, he doesn’t know—for the man was constructed on a foundation of lies, it’s not just a matter of knowing it. Stiles has felt it for so long, and so acutely, that he can’t just make it vanish in a heartbeat. If he could, then maybe everything would be easier, but he’s believed it for so long that he can’t just let it go.
He remembers reading the books in Gerard’s study. Remembers the burn of pride he got from learning about his ancestors. They were heroes. Stiles never doubted it. They were heroes, but it had only taken one man to break that chain, hadn’t it? To break it and trample everything into the mud. Stiles worked every day to prove to himself and to Gerard and Kate and to every person in the hunter community that he wasn’t his father. He wasn’t. He was better. The thought of it kept him going even when his body wanted to quit. It sustained him when he was tired, hungry, and even when he was terrified. And he knows now that it was Gerard and Kate who wove his hated so deeply into his every motivation, but knowing that it’s poison doesn’t mean the knowledge is a magic antidote.
He almost wishes his father would show some frustration, some anger, something for Stiles to push back against and validate his hatred a little. But he doesn’t, does he? Because that’s not who he is.
It’s too big to deal with for now.
He goes and sits on the couch, with Allison on one side of him and Derek on the other, and eats his pizza.
“Okay,” his father says at last, and clears a space on the coffee table. He unrolls a blueprint. “This is an empty warehouse on Elm. We’ve got office space at the front, and a second floor. We’ve got windows all around, with bars. Two doors on the ground level, plus the roller doors for vehicle access, and two points of entry via the roof.”
Stiles follows the explanation as his father points out each feature.
“Now, we can rig it easily enough,” his father says, “but we’re going to need bait.”
“Me,” Allison says.
“Ally!” Stiles exclaims.
“No, I mean it,” Allison says. “If I call Grandpa crying about monsters, he can trace the call to the warehouse, and he’ll come and get me.”
“It’s a good idea,” John says.
And there it is. There’s that low burn of anger in Stiles’s gut that could translate so easily into hatred.
“You can make the call,” John says, “then we get you out of there but leave the phone you’re using.”
Stiles sucks in a breath. “Gerard’s not going to fall for an empty warehouse. He’ll smell a trap a mile off.”
“Then I’ll be Allison,” Laura says. “We’re about the same size, and it’ll be night, right? I can wear her clothes, keep my face down, and lure them in. Then I’ll go out the roof.”
“While the building’s exploding?” Peter asks. “You’re an alpha, Lulu, but you’re not fucking invincible!”
“No, but I’ve got a better chance than Allison!”
For a moment Stiles is sure he’s going to see claws and fangs. Then, in the middle of the tense silence between the alpha and her left hand, he hears the very improbable blast of Rihanna’s Umbrella.
Peter growls, and tugs his phone out of his pocket. “Deaton? What’s going on?” He’s silent, but his eyes flash beta gold as he listens. “You’re sure? Fuck.” He growls again. “Okay, keep yourself safe.”
He ends the calls.
“Bad news, kids,” he says. “Deaton just spotted Gerard Argent and his goons in a black Cadillac Escalade on Hooper Street, travelling west. They’re not heading for the warehouses on Elm. They’re heading here.”
Stiles closes his eyes for a moment, and reaches out to grip Derek’s hand tightly.
So much for their plan.
“We’ve got about ten minutes,” John says. “Peter, how many entrances and exits here?”
“To the loft? The main door, and the fire escapes on the bedrooms on the western side,” Peter says. “That’s Laura’s bedroom, and Derek’s.”
John strides over to the crates and starts pulling the lids off. “Does the fire escape go all the way to the roof?”
“Yes.” Peter nods, his heart beating fast. He can feel adrenaline starting to flood his system now. He can feel his fangs itch in his gums, and his claws ache to form. He can feel a rumbling in his chest that’s almost a growl. His wolf is ready to fight for its pack.
“How close is this roof to the neighbouring buildings?”
Peter blinks as he tries to calculate it. “The closest is about twenty feet?”
“Still possible,” John says, “with the right gear. Let’s assume they have the right gear.” He lifts something out of a crate. “Okay, so we have the stairwell, the lift shaft, and the fire escape. Stiles?”
Stiles swallows and steps forward.
John passes him over a box. “Can you set these up in the fire escape? Top and bottom? I’ll do the stairwell and the lift shaft.”
Stiles nods, and takes the box. Derek leads him up the spiral steps.
Not a father and son moment, Peter thinks. Hunter to hunter, which is probably the only reason Stiles responded to it. That training, beaten into him over the past six years, is kicking in now. Peter only hopes that Allison and Derek are enough to keep the boy’s strained loyalties from snapping when it counts.
“Are you…” Peter shakes his head to clear it. “John, are you rigging this building to explode? The one that we’re currently inside of?”
John flashes him a wicked grin as he heads for the front door. “Tiny explosions, Peter. Tiny ones, I promise. Nothing structural. You’ll hardly feel a thing.”
Peter turns to look at Laura.
He wonders if his mouth is hanging open as much as hers is.
Stiles is back within minutes, and heads straight for the crates in the living room. His face is expressionless, his eyes calculating. He doesn’t look like a child at the moment. He looks like a hunter. He draws a firearm out of a crate and inspects it.
Moments later, John comes back through the front door.
“Fire escape’s done, top and bottom,” Stiles says, barely glancing at him as he slides a clip into the magazine of the firearm he’s chosen.
“Good,” John says, and goes to join him at the crates. “That’s our entrances covered. Thing is, it’ll only work once. The first one blows, and the rest of them are going to be more watchful.”
“What exactly did you do out there?” Peter asks.
“Infrared tripwires,” John says. “For God’s sake, everyone remember to disable them again before we walk out of here, okay?”
Peter smiles at that. He likes John’s certainty that they’re going to be walking out of here. Or at least the fact he won’t voice any thoughts to the contrary. Peter’s familiar with that same brand of grim positivity himself. There’s no denying they’re about to be dragged through hell, but fuck Gerard Argent, because they’re going to drag themselves out again too.
John nods at him. “Now, they’re probably going to wait until dark to attack, but they may not. So we might only have minutes left. Stiles, Derek, you two are on the top floor watching the fire escape. Peter, you and I are down here on the main door.”
“And where am I?” Laura demands, her eyes flashing red.
“You’re on the stairs,” John says. “You’re there for anyone who tries to get up them, or down them.”
“And what about me?” Allison asks, grabbing the crossbow.
“You’re our hostage,” John says, and nods toward the open door of the room where Stiles was secured. “If they make it past us to get to you, feel free to shoot any of them.”
“You can’t put Ally in a room with no other exit,” Stiles says. “She’ll be trapped.”
Allison shakes her head. “That means nobody will be able to come at me from behind though, right? I only have to keep watch in one direction.”
Stiles glowers. “And if anything goes wrong, you’ll be trapped!”
“Stiles.” Allison crosses the floor to him, and reaches out for his hand. She grips it. “I’ll be fine. We’ll all be fine.”
Peter wishes he could believe that. He meets John’s gaze, and knows that he’s thinking the exact same thing.
Outside, it’s getting darker.
Peter paces the kitchen, claws out. “How did they find us, John?” he asks.
John looks up from where he’s checking one of the firearms he took from a crate. “Isn’t it obvious?”
Peter growls. “Oh, do fill me in.”
“It was me,” John says bitterly. “Fucker must have had a tail on me today.”
“You can’t know that.”
John raises his eyebrows. “Don’t patronise me, Peter. The timing fits, and you know it.”
Peter doesn’t answer.
John lines up his firearms along the breakfast bar like they’re a buffet. “Guess I’d better make it up to you, right?”
Peter growls in approval.
The explosion, when it comes, sounds like the distant rumble of thunder. Peter feels the tremors run through the building before settling. He looks at John.
“That was the bottom of the fire escape, I think,” John says. “Let’s hope it took out at least a few of them.”
Gerard had six hunters, Peter remembers. And Deaton only mentioned one vehicle. So it’s possible there aren’t any more than that coming. How many should he hope the explosion took out? Two? Three? What if it didn’t take any of them out? What if they were sheltered from it somehow? Peter knows so little about explosives.
After the explosion, there is silence.
John was right. The other hunters are more cautious now.
The minutes tick by slowly.
It gets darker and darker inside the loft, and then Peter hears it:
“Footsteps,” he says. He tilts his head. “On the stairs, and also on the fire escape.”
“Can you tell how many?” John asks.
“Four? Maybe five?”
“Okay,” says John. “Let’s do it.”
The wolf sees the world in shades of red. It’s a predator, and Peter is happy to let it off its leash. When the loft door slides open, Peter squeezes his eyes shut. He can still see the searing strobes of the flash grenade John throws bright against his eyelids. Burning light, and a noise so loud it makes Peter sway on his feet.
“Go!” John yells.
And Peter opens his eyes and dives forward toward the hunters.
It’s been a long time since he was in a fight, but the predator never forgets what to do. It’s muscle memory. Muscle memory and the need to tear out the throats of his enemies and to taste their blood in the air.
There are three hunters.
It takes them valuable seconds for their night vision to readjust after the flash grenade. Peter grabs the first one, and rakes his claws across the man’s throat. His claws dig through body armor, and Peter growls in frustration. He punches the guy right in the goggles, relishing the wet crack of his nose, and then wrenches him back again. He grabs him by the chin, pulling it upward to expose that throat he wants. Then he jabs the claws of his other hand through that taut flesh and muscle, like popping a balloon, and drags them down.
The man drops to the floor, and Peter’s hand drips with blood.
He hears shots, and sees John and one of the other hunters exchanging fire. Peter makes a move towards them, but a sudden sharp punch to the hip sends him spinning away again. He smells blood and wolfsbane even before the pain hits him. He’s been shot.
He retreats, towards the spiral staircase, and the hunter follows him.
And then Laura is on him, and the man’s sharp scream is cut off abruptly as she twists his head with a sharp pop, as easily as some grizzled old farmer snapping the neck of a blind squealing kitten.
Peter flashes his eyes at her approvingly, and she growls.
Then, in response to a yell from upstairs, she flies up the stairs.
Peter flashes his fangs in John’s direction.
The wolfsbane in his blood is burning—burning like fucking acid—but Peter’s had worse, hasn’t he? He can still remember the sensation of his hair catching fire, of his skin starting to blister and bubble and melt. And there is nothing—nothing—that will stop him from ripping out the throat of the hunter currently shooting at John Stilinski.
Nothing is a dangerous word.
Peter doesn’t even know what hits him when a taser lights him up with fifty thousand volts.
He hits the floor, twitching. He barely has time to realise that it’s Gerard Argent himself who caught him from behind—the last to come through the loft door, like the coward he is—when the old snake raises a firearm, and shoots him in the chest.
The wolfsbane burns, and Peter fights his way past the sensation to force his eyes open again.
The lights in the loft are on.
There’s a hunter standing by the doorway, blooded and shaking, but still on his feet.
Peter can hear banging, dull and muted as though it’s fcoming from a long distance away. It takes him a moment to figure out where it’s coming from.
The secure room. The steel door is shut, but who’s inside? Peter tries to feel for his pack bonds, but it hurts too much. He can’t focus. He can barely keep his eyes open. A whine rises up in the back of his throat. It’s the sound of a wounded pup crying for his alpha.
Who is in the room?
It’s not Allison. She’s standing in the middle of the loft, her hair a tangled mess around her face. She’s pale and defiant as her grandfather stands in front of her.
And John. John is there too. His mouth is a thin line, and there’s murder in his eyes as he stares at Gerard.
Stiles is standing in front of him. He’s holding a gun. It’s pointing at John.
“Do it, Stiles,” Gerard says. There’s a sneer in his voice. A challenge and a victory all at once, and Peter can’t understand what happened, and how it’s got to this. “Do it. Show me that you’re a man.”
Stiles’s face is expressionless as his finger tightens on the trigger.
The shot might be the loudest sound that Peter has ever heard, even though it’s barely a whisper.
John staggers back as he’s hit, and then crumples to the floor.
And Peter howls.
Stiles hears the explosion—the fire escape—and then it’s silent. He stands with his gaze fixed on the window. He’s in Laura’s room. There’s a white comforter on the bed that looks ghostly in the gloom, and a few knickknacks on her dresser. There’s a stack of books on her bedside table, all of them well-read and dog-eared.
The Hales are readers.
For some reason it had never occurred to Stiles, in all those years, that werewolves had human traits like that. That they liked books, or cooking, or going to the beach, or a million different things that make them no different than anybody else.
It never occurred to him because Kate and Gerard only told him they were monsters. They didn’t tell him they were people too.
Sudden movement: a blacker shape against the darkness outside.
Stiles shoots before the guy even makes it through the window.
The glass shatters and the guy lurches back—and back and back and back. Turns out that Stiles didn’t need to make a kill shot in the dark with no night vision. He just had to hit the guy hard enough to send him over the railing.
Well, it did the trick, he guesses.
From the room next door, Derek’s room, he hears a roar, and then shots. There’s chaos from downstairs now as well, but Stiles can only think of Derek. Can only think of getting to Derek’s side and helping him.
His speed is his mistake. He rushes into the room, firearm held ready to shoot, and Derek and the hunter aren’t in the positions he assumed. Stupid stupid stupid. Derek is standing by the window, and the hunter is closest to the door. Stiles pivots, but he’s off balance, and the shot he squeezes off puts a hole in Derek’s wall and not the hunter. The hunter raises his arm to shoot back.
And then Derek is pulling Stiles back into his arms and spinning on his feet, like some intricate dance move from an old black-and-white film. Derek jerks as the bullet hits him, and Stiles feels all his breath sucked out of him in that instant.
Derek sags into Stiles’s arms, his eyes flashing beta gold.
No. No no no.
From downstairs he hears more shots fired, and the sudden yelp of a wolf.
“Sorry, Der,” Stiles whispers, and lets Derek go.
Derek stumbles to the floor with a pained grunt even as Stiles is raising his arm and firing at the hunter.
The hunter jerks and twists like a puppet before he finally drops to the ground. Stiles moves over to him and kicks his firearm out of reach. He leans down and reaches for his body armor. Tears it open with a loud Velcro rasp. Exposes his chest, and then shoots again.
The hunter lies still.
Stiles replaces his clip.
“Stiles!” Laura skids into the room. “Shit, Derek!”
Derek makes a pained sound, and sucks in a breath. “I’m okay.”
But he’s not, Stiles knows. The poison is in his blood now.
“Wolfsbane bullets,” Stiles says. “We need to remove the bullet and then burn the poison out.”
And then from downstairs Stiles hears the most terrifying sound of all—Allison’s scream.
Stiles’s brain works fast.
“Be my hostage,” he tells Laura, and points his firearm at her.
“What’s your plan?” she asks, her worried gaze drawn again to Derek.
“I’m winging it,” Stiles says. “Just go along with it, okay?”
Stiles tangles his hand in her ponytail, and tugs her head back. He jabs the barrel of his firearm against the back of her neck. “We good?”
“Yeah,” she says, and a part of him can’t believe she’s trusting him. He has an alpha werewolf at the end of his gun, and all because she trusts him. How crazy is that?
They descend the steps carefully, just as the lights flicker on.
There’s blood all over the concrete floor.
There are two dead hunters on the floor.
Peter Hale is lying near the breakfast bar. He looks like he’s been shot at least twice. The blood is still spreading out from underneath him, and his fingers are twitching against the concrete.
Gerard is here, and so is another hunter.
John Stilinski is standing with his hands up.
Allison is here too. She doesn’t have her bow. She’s shaking.
“Stiles,” Gerard says. His voice is like sandpaper over the exposed ends of Stiles’s frayed nerves.
But his mind is moving fast.
He walks over to the room with the steel door, and urges Laura inside. She resists, her suspicion catching her at last, but Stiles pushes her, and manages to pull the door shut. Then he turns to face Gerard.
“I can make it up to you, sir,” Stiles says, because there’s not point pretending there was no betrayal. “Please.”
Gerard’s stare is as cold as ice.
Laura bangs on the inside of the steel door.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and babbles like he’s a kid again. “Please, I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry. I’ll be good.”
Gerard’s eyes gleam and his expression sharpens. “Prove it.”
“Prove it,” Gerard says, and waits to see what Stiles will do.
Stiles’s brain is working very quickly. Derek is upstairs with a bullet in his spine. Peter is here, with at least two in him. They’re as good as dead if nobody helps them.
Stiles steps toward his father. He reaches out his hand—it’s shaking—and touches that shiny badge on his rumpled uniform shirt. Then he squeezes his shoulder, his thumb sliding under the collar of his father’s shirt.
He holds his father’s gaze for a moment, and says: “Traitor.”
Then he takes a few steps back, and raises his firearm.
“Do it, Stiles,” Gerard says. “Do it. Show me that you’re a man.”
Stiles aims for his father’s chest, and fires.
His father staggers back and hits the floor.
Stiles’s heart freezes, and Peter Hale howls like his world is ending.
Stiles doesn’t wait for instructions. He strides to the steel door, wrenches it open, catches a glimpse of Laura’s wild red eyes, and shoots her too.
Over the roar of blood rushing in his skull, he can hear Gerard laughing.
In the car, Allison won’t look at him. She’s sitting in the middle seat, with Stiles on one side and the surviving hunter on the other. Gerard is driving. Stiles has no idea where Gerard is planning to take them. Out of Beacon Hills, probably. He’s finally got what he wanted—the Hales have been taken care of, and Allison is in his grasp. Stiles isn’t sure if Gerard intends to keep him alive. If he is, then Stiles guesses that right now Gerard is coming up with some sadistic way to punish him for his failures. Because if Stiles knows anything about Gerard, it doesn’t matter what Stiles did right tonight—only what he did wrong in the days leading up to tonight.
Gerard took Stiles’s gun off him before he let him leave the loft.
“Grandpa,” Allison says in a small voice. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll explain it all soon, Allison,” Gerard says in that fake-friendly tone that makes Stiles’s skin crawl.
Allison unclips her seatbelt so she can lean forward. “Please, Grandpa. Where are you taking us?”
She slides a hand down her leg, fingers dipping into the top of her boot.
Stiles’s heartbeat races, and he glances across to the unfamiliar hunter. The guy is staring out the window.
Allison shifts forward again, pulling her hand back, and there’s a glint of light as they pass under a streetlight. She has an arrow in her hand, and she leans into the gap between the front seats and jabs it toward Gerard’s throat—
Stiles flings himself sideways behind her, grabbing for the unfamiliar hunter’s utility belt. He’s not sure he can reach his gun from this angle, but maybe he can stop the guy from reaching it too.
—just as Gerard turns his head. There’s a sickening squelching sound, and Gerard screams in pain.
The Escalade veers off the road.
“Ally!” Stiles yells.
Allison braces herself a second before the Escalade collides with a light pole.
The impact is shocking, jarring. Metal screeches and crumples, the windshield pops in a shower of glass, and the Escalade lurches back a few feet. The light pole snaps, crashing to the ground.
The strange hunter’s head bounces off the window. Stiles grabs his gun, shoves it under his chin, and fires.
Hot blood splatters the interior of the Escalade.
“Oh my god,” Allison says, her voice shaking, and then she scrambles over Stiles, opens the door, and tumbles out. She hits the asphalt hard, and climbs to her feet. She’s splattered with the dead hunter’s blood. “Oh my god! I got him in the eye! The fucking eye!”
Stiles leans between the seats to get a look at Gerard. “Holy fuck.”
Allison’s arrow is protruding from his eye socket. There’s…blood and goo dripping down his face. It’s disgusting, but it takes Stiles longer than he would like to look away. He can’t believe Ally did that. Jesus. She’s an Argent all right, and Stiles would follow her all the way into hell if she asked him.
He stares at Gerard a moment longer, and then scrambles out of the car to join Allison at the side of the road.
“Ally,” he says.
She backs away from him, wide-eyed. “Don’t come near me, Stiles!”
“Ally, no, listen,” he says.
“Stiles! You killed them! Laura and your dad!” She tugs at her hair like a maenad. In the flickering light of the downed light pole she’s wide-eyed and tear-streaked. “Oh god.”
A screech of tires heralds the arrival of a battered blue Jeep. It pulls up beside the Escalade, headlights blinding Stiles. He lifts a hand to shade his eyes as the driver’s door swings open and his father steps out.
“Sheriff!” Allison exclaims. She turns to Stiles. “But you shot him!”
“Technically,” Stiles says, at the same time as his dad says, “Only a little.”
And then his dad steps forward and pulls Stiles into a hug. And Stiles doesn’t know if they’re there yet, but also, fuck it. He’s shaking, and his knees are weak, and he wants to throw up. Hell, he’d take a hug off anyone at this point.
His fingers find his dad’s badge again—that old familiar shape of it. And then he lifts a hand to his Dad’s shoulder, and feels the ballistic vest under his shirt again. He lets his breath shudder out of him.
“Been wearing it since I heard the Argents were back in town,” his dad says gruffly. “Glad you figured it out, kiddo.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Me too.”
And it feels a lot like the truth.
Because if he hadn’t been wearing it, he’d be dead, and so would—
Stiles’s heart clenches.
“He’s fine,” his dad says. “As soon as you left, I saw to them. They’re all shaky and weak as hell right now, but they’re healing. You did good, Stiles.” He ruffles Stiles hair. “You did good, son.”
Stiles closes his eyes and remembers, for the first time in years, how to breathe.
The loft is covered in blood. There are more dead bodies in it than in a sophomoric slasher movie. Peter would really, really like a cold drink right now. The cans of Mountain Dew in the refrigerator are calling him. He wants sugar and bubbles and something to wash the taste of blood out of his mouth, yet he can’t bring himself to move just yet.
He and Derek and Laura are sitting on the couch. They’re dressed in fresh clothes—explaining bloody bullet holes in their old ones, with no corresponding wounds on their bodies, would be difficult. Plus, this way, it’s easier to play the part of the slightly bewildered innocent citizens who somehow got caught up in all this mess.
Peter feels the slightly bewildered part is the truth, at least.
“Amateurs, I guess,” John Stilinski is saying with some authority to his deputies. “Must have got all that fancy tough-guy gear off Amazon or something, and thought they were Rambo. They couldn’t shoot for shit, and they obviously didn’t know what the hell they were doing with explosives if they blew themselves up like that.”
Lies, all lies, but he tells them so convincingly. His heartbeat barely stutters.
There are no bloody clothes in the loft. There are no crates of weapons. The remaining infrared tripwires were disabled long before the police arrived. All of that gear is currently in the back of Deaton’s ‘Beacon Hills Animal Clinic’ van, being driven away from the scene.
“Yeah,” John continues. “I was just coming over to pick Stiles up after work. You haven’t met Stiles, have you, Parrish? He’s been living with his grandparents overseas for a while.” He rubs a hand across his face and sighs. “Well, I’m sorry he had to be here for this, but, then again, if I hadn’t turned up, who knows what would have happened?”
God. The man deserves a fucking Oscar, but Peter guesses he’ll be happy enough to walk away with his job.
“It’s some business deal that went wrong, I gather,” John says, and looks over to Peter.
Peter nods. “Yes. The Argents are arms dealers. It’s all perfectly legal. I approached Chris Argent about setting up a new business together, using his name and my capital, and I guess Gerard didn’t take it well. I mean, Chris said the old man could be intractable and that he wouldn’t be very happy about it, but nobody was expecting anything like this.”
His shudder isn’t all feigned.
They got lucky tonight. Very fucking lucky.
It could have gone wrong so easily. It very nearly did.
The moment that Stiles shot his father—
Peter shudders again.
Stiles and Allison are sitting together in one of the armchairs, wedged in like small children. Their hands and faces are clean, but their clothes are still splattered with blood.
A business deal gone wrong is a solid explanation for Gerard’s attack on both Chris, and the Hales. They just have to get Chris up to speed before he’s interviewed by the police. Luckily for them—not so luckily for Chris, probably—he hasn’t been in any fit condition to be officially spoken to yet.
Parrish is young and earnest-faced. He turns to Stiles and Allison. “You want to tell me what happened in the car?”
“I stabbed him,” Allison says woodenly. "With an arrow. In the eye. That’s when we crashed.”
She looks like she wants to be sick.
“I, um… I shot the other guy,” Stiles says. “He was going to shoot us.”
“Also they were kidnapping us!” Allison exclaims.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “They were kidnapping us.”
“It was a good shot,” Parrish says, and there’s not a question there, but there’s something expectant in his tone nonetheless. Parrish isn’t stupid.
Stiles wrinkles his nose and looks even younger than his sixteen years. “I play a lot of first person shooters.” He pulls his mouth down at the corners. “I don’t think I will anymore though.”
Parrish nods, sympathy creeping into his expression.
That acting gene clearly runs strongly in the Stilinski line. It sure as hell didn’t skip a generation here, did it?
“I don’t even know what the protocol is here, Sheriff,” Parrish says at last. “You can’t investigate it though.”
“Obviously not,” John says. “Listen, you take your initial statements, and call in Detective Garcia. She’s the next ranking highest officer under me. And I’ll be taking administrative leave until this is all resolved.”
“But in the meantime,” John continues, “I’m going to take my son and Allison back to my place, because they’ve been through a hell of a traumatic experience tonight.” He looks to Peter. “Peter, do you want to come too? The forensics guys and the photographers won’t be done for hours yet, and you sure as hell shouldn’t have to stay here tonight.”
Peter recognises a lifeline when he’s thrown one.
“Yes,” he says. “We’d appreciate that.”
They could stay in a hotel he supposes, but he knows he’s not the only one who wants to be somewhere more familiar. And John’s house has become familiar to them recently. It feels safe, like a pack den.
They head upstairs to pack overnight bags, dodging deputies and crime scene photographers. At least Peter’s bedroom is unscathed and Laura’s only has a broken window. Derek’s is a fucking bloodbath, complete with a plastic-covered dead body on the floor.
That’s going to take a lot of scrubbing with bleach.
The whole loft is.
Peter’s almost sorry it didn’t explode.
The kids fall asleep on mattresses on John Stilinski’s living room floor, even Laura. Peter tugs a blanket up over her in the darkness. There will be plenty of time for her to be the alpha again tomorrow, but Peter is always the left hand. He wanders back to the kitchen and checks the time on the microwave. It’s past midnight. Too late to call Matty. He sends a text to Satomi instead, asking her to let him know first thing in the morning that they’re all okay, and he’s sorry he missed his nightly phone call.
The hunters, he tells Satomi, are taken care of for now.
Because what was this except the opening salvo of a war?
She texts back almost immediately to tell him that she’ll pass that on to Matty, and that when he’s ready to tell her what happened, she’ll take his call.
He appreciates that she doesn’t push.
John is sitting at the kitchen table. There’s no beer in front of him tonight though.
“Okay?” Peter asks, sitting down opposite him.
“For now,” John says.
“Do you think your story will hold?”
“I think so,” John says. “Crazier things have happened.” His mouth twists and he shrugs. “Possibly.”
Peter allows himself a faint smile.
“It’s the hunters’ council we need to focus on next,” John says, and he sounds all business. “But Victoria is head of the Argent family now, and she fucking owes me. She owes you too, for keeping Allison safe. If she speaks for you, and with Araya Calavera at least willing to listen, then maybe—”
“Stop,” Peter says, and holds up a hand. “Stop, please.”
John raises his eyebrows.
“Just for one night, let’s not. I’m tired, John. I’m so fucking tired.”
John’s gaze is full of understanding. He stands up, and offers Peter his hand. “Come on then,” he says, and leads him upstairs to bed.
That’s all he does.
It feels like he hasn’t slept in months, if not years, but somehow, with John’s solid heartbeat beside him, he sleeps.
And he doesn’t wake again until the sun is already well and truly up, and John’s bastard neighbor decides that 11 a.m. is a good time to mow his lawn.
Alan Deaton turns up to the house at midday, and asks to speak with Laura and Peter.
“Anything we have to discuss, I’m happy to discuss in front of Allison and Sheriff Stilinski,” Laura says.
She doesn’t even look to Peter for approval, and he smiles at that. She’s finding her feet today. He’s proud of her, and knows Talia would be too.
“I’m going back to Mexico,” Deaton says. “To speak to Araya Calavera, to make sure no other hunters come here in an attempt to avenge Gerard Argent.”
Allison lifts her chin at that. “Why would they? I killed him.”
Deaton looks slightly taken aback for a moment.
“He broke the Code,” Allison says. “He broke the Code when he killed Scott McCall for no reason, and I killed him.”
Oh, Peter likes Allison. She’s as steely as any other Argent through and through but she’s untainted by their bigotry.
“Well that does put a different spin on things,” Deaton says thoughtfully.
Peter glances at John, and sees the way he’s watching Allison.
Maybe John was wrong. Maybe Victoria won’t be the head of the Argent family after all. God knows she’s got a hell of a candidate in Allison.
Peter won’t say that the rest of the day is smooth sailing. When Victoria arrives in the afternoon to collect Allison, he has to hold John back from punching her.
“My daughter was as much a hostage as your son,” Victoria says.
“You still got to raise her!” John yells.
Stiles scuttles upstairs when he hears that, his scent sour with sudden panic.
“John,” Peter says firmly, a hand on John’s chest. “John, leave it. Go and talk to your son.”
John glowers at him, but eventually nods and follows Stiles up the stairs.
“Janusz takes order from you now, does he?” Victoria asks. “A wolf?”
Peter lifts his lip and growls.
“Stop it, Mom!” Allison snaps. “You don’t get to judge anyone here! You and Dad stood by while Kate and Gerard hurt Stiles.”
Victoria’s expression is pinched. “We did it for you, Allison.”
“Well maybe you should have done something for Stiles too!”
Victoria’s cold façade cracks a fraction. “There was nothing we could do!”
“You can do something now!” Allison yells back. “You can tell the hunters’ council to leave the Hales alone! You can tell them to leave Stiles and the sheriff alone! You can tell them not to send anyone here!”
“Yes,” Victoria says. “Yes, we can do that.”
The fight drains out of Allison, and leaves her looking uncertain and slightly brittle, as though she thought it would be much harder than that to convince her mother. She can’t smell the guilt rolling off Victoria in stinking waves the way that Peter can.
He doesn’t pity Victoria—and she’s not looking for pity—but he does understand her.
Peter knows what it’s like to be backed into a corner.
“Victoria,” he says. “How’s Chris?”
Victoria looks at him warily. “Doing better. He’s off his ventilator today.”
“Good,” Peter says. “Then let’s talk about our official story. Things will be so much smoother for everyone if we’re all on the same page.”
Victoria stares at him for a long moment, and then nods. “Let’s do that.”
Panic drives Stiles upstairs when the shouting starts, but it’s muscle memory that takes him to the room he hasn’t set foot inside for six years. He doesn’t even realise what he’s done until he’s already pushed the door open and he’s staring his old life in the face.
The bedroom isn’t exactly how he left it—Stiles is pretty sure there wasn’t a day when his comforter wasn’t in a pile on the floor and there was crap from one side of the room to the other—but all his things are here. All the things that ten-year-old Stiles loved so much.
His comforter has the Transformers on it.
There’s a plush Yoda sitting on his pillow.
His bookcase is full of Animorphs books—ha!—and comics and Lego figurines.
There are glow-in-the-dark stickers of stars and moons and planets on the ceiling.
This is a little boy’s room.
This is what Kate and Gerard stole from him. Not just possessions. Not just dumb stuff. They stole that little boy from Stiles.
“Stiles?” his dad asks him.
Stoles jolts, and spins around. He didn’t even realise his dad was behind him. If Gerard was here, he’d get punished for letting someone sneak up on him like that. He blinks, and sees the arrow sticking out of Gerard’s busted eye. It calms him more than something that grisly should.
“You, um,” Stiles says. “You kept it all the same.”
“I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else,” his dad says. His eyes shine, and he swallows.
Downstairs, Allison and Victoria are still yelling and then, abruptly, it stops. The sudden silence feels even quieter than it should.
“I don’t remember everything,” Stiles says. “I don’t remember how to be him. That kid you lost.”
“I don’t need you to be him,” his dad says. “Kiddo, I just need you to be you.”
Stiles snorts. “Still figuring that one out, to be honest.”
“Yeah?” his dad asks, a wry smile tugging at his mouth. “Well, you take all the time you need.”
Stiles moves further into his room and reaches out to pick up a plastic toy from the desk. It’s some cheap crap that looks like it came out of a Happy Meal or something. He turns it over in his palm. “Do I… I mean, am I staying here now? With you?”
“I’d like you to,” his dad says.
“In this room,” Stiles says, “that’s full of kid stuff?”
“I’ve got boxes in the garage,” his dad says. “We can clear some of this stuff out now, if you want. Because I have to tell you, there is nothing in that closet that will even come close to fitting you now.”
Stiles thinks of his clothes back at Gerard’s house. “Shit. The photo of Mom and me. It’s at Gerard’s place. And my passport too. I need to get those back, or it’ll totally fuck with that cover story about the grandparents.”
“We’ll make it happen,” his dad says. “And, since I haven’t been able to say this in six years, watch the language, huh?”
Stiles flushes warmly. “Yeah, sorry.”
“I guess I’ll let it slide,” his dad says. “Extenuating circumstances.”
Aren’t they, though? Stiles squeezes the plastic toy in his hand until it hurts. “I’m not that kid,” he says again, his voice rasping. “That kid who fit into those clothes. I’m sorry.”
“I was making a joke, Stiles,” his dad says, his forehead creasing. “A pretty shitty joke, apparently. Hell, I’m not going to treat you like a little boy, Stiles. I promise. It’s going to take us a while to find our feet around each other again, but I don’t…” He sighs, and drags his hand through his hair. “I don’t have any expectations of you, you understand? I just want you to be happy here.”
Stiles swallows past the ache in his throat. “Okay. I’ll try.” He swipes his tongue over his bottom lip in an effort to ease the word out: “Dad.”
It sound so big.
Dad blinks, and his eyes shine with tears. “We’re gonna make this work, kiddo, you’ll see.” He clears his throat. “Now how about I get those boxes from the garage?”
Allison goes home with Victoria, though she promises to be back tomorrow. Stiles spends the afternoon going through his old stuff, with Derek beside him. Derek is… Derek is like a fire that Stiles leans towards on a winter’s night. He’s warmth and comfort and a silent promise that he’ll keep the cold away. He laughs at some of the t-shirts Stiles holds up.
“This was fashion?” Stiles asks. “Was this ever fashion?”
“I bet you were the coolest ten-year-old on the block,” Derek says.
Stiles tosses a bright red flannel shirt at him, and Derek bats it into the closest box.
“Don’t even pretend,” Derek says. “You’d still wear that if it was in your size.”
Stiles snorts, but doesn’t answer. He thinks that maybe Derek is right. Like right now his closet at Gerard’s place is full of blacks and grays and dark, muted colors. The kind of clothes that people didn’t notice. The kind of clothes that made him blend in. Stiles could wear bright red now if he wanted, or any color at all. Having that choice seems suddenly dizzying somehow, so he inhales slowly and reaches for the next shirt.
He holds up a small Batman t-shirt. “Okay, I’d wear this one if it fit.”
“You could probably get that in your size,” Derek says.
“You think I could get superhero underwear in my size too?” Stiles asks, tugging out a pair of blue and red Superman underpants.
“Oh,” Derek says with a smile. “Please do.”
Stiles snorts out an ugly sounding laugh, and feels his face burning.
He’s relieved when they turn to the toys and books.
“Hey,” Derek says, and bumps their shoulders together.
Stiles glances at him.
“I didn’t mean to embarrass you,” Derek says.
“Last night you stepped in front of a bullet for me,” Stiles says. His mouth feels dry. “I can handle a little embarrassment.”
Bullets and guns and blood and death though—Stiles knows those things. He doesn’t know this. He doesn’t know smiles and teasing and long gazes and want. He doesn’t know them at all.
But he wants to.
He shifts so that he’s sitting in front of Derek. Derek is cross-legged on the floor, and Stiles is on his knees. Stiles lifts a hand and discovers that it’s shaking, like he’s in the middle of an adrenaline dump. He brushes his fingertips against Derek’s cheek, and watches the way it pulls when Derek smiles softly.
He’s so beautiful.
He’s so beautiful, and Stiles is allowed to think that. Gerard can’t take that away from him. He can’t force Stiles to push it down, to suffocate it, the way he did with the memory of the boy in Budapest. Stiles is allowed this.
He leans in, letting his eyes close, and then his lips—a little rough and chapped—are pressing gently against Derek’s. It’s not the same kiss from the party. It’s not heated and desperate. It’s soft and slow, because, for the first time in his life, Stiles has all the time in the world.
It’s a new sensation, and he clings to it tightly.
Stiles has all the time in the world.
It’s a strange thing, to feel like a guest in the house he grew up in. When it’s dinner time, Dad and Peter are the ones getting everything together, not Stiles. It’s weird, because he thinks he remembers where the plates are kept, but also, they’re not his plates anymore, are they?
Dad makes spaghetti bolognaise and pairs it with store-bought garlic bread, and Stiles isn’t used to eating such carb-heavy food, at least not when he hasn’t trained in days, or even been on a run. There’s even dessert, which Stiles isn’t used to at all—a hot apple crumble with cream. It tastes so nice that Stiles doesn’t even mind feeling a little over-full.
Stiles rinses the dishes after they eat, and Laura puts them in the dishwasher.
“Laura?” he asks.
She looks over at him, her brow creased. “What for?”
“For tricking you,” Stiles says. “For, um, for shooting you.”
She shows him a shaky smile. “You scared the fuck out of me, Stiles. I was ready to rip your throat out there for a second when I thought you’d double-crossed us. But you saved us.”
“So we’re good?” he asks cautiously.
“Stiles, you saved us. Of course we’re good!”
And Stiles lets out a breath he thinks he’s been holding since last night.
That night Dad sets Stiles up with his laptop and directs him to Amazon.
“Get a phone,” he says. “And some clothes, and shoes, and toiletries, and whatever else you need. Don’t worry about the total, okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Dad says. “The Argents are paying.”
“Guess I’ll get a laptop too,” Stiles says.
“As long as it’s a top-of-the-line one,” Dad tells him with a grin.
Laura and Derek sit on either side of him on the couch, and Laura offers unsolicited advice on fashion, and Derek keeps reaching over Stiles to jab her in the arm whenever she does. There’s a movie playing on the TV, but none of them are watching it.
“Der, you probably need a new comforter, and sheets and a pillow,” Stiles says. “Your room was kind of a mess.”
“Oooh!” Laura leans forward. “And I bet we need new kitchen stuff too.”
“The kitchen was barely touched,” Derek says.
“The couch might have been though,” Laura says. “Do they sell couches?”
It’s fun, Stiles thinks, in a weird way. It’s fun to make the Argents pay for Star Wars themed potholders and an ugly expensive lamp just because Laura likes the look of it. It’s fun, right up until Stiles thinks of everything the Argents owe the Hales, and how a crazy online shopping spree is nothing compared to what they’ve really lost.
And then Stiles thinks of a werewolf pack in Kroměříž and what he took from them.
He shoves the laptop in Laura’s direction, and pushes himself off the couch.
He hurries down the hallway and into the kitchen, and shoves the back door open. He stumbles down the porch steps and into the yard.
The night is dark and cool.
He can hear a neighbor’s television playing a fraction too loud, and, out the front of the house, a car passing in the street.
His rich, carb-heavy dinner heaves in his stomach, once, and then twice, and Stiles doubles over and is sick on the lawn. Then, stepping away from the mess, he drops to his knees and presses his hands to his eyes.
He’s a killer.
Stiles is the monster, and he has no right to be laughing at Star Wars potholders and ugly lamps.
A warm hand on his spine startles him. For a second he thinks it’s Derek—it’s always Derek—but when he twists around, he sees that it’s Dad.
“Come on, kid,” Dad says, and draws him into an embrace. “It’s okay. It’s okay, son, I’ve got you.”
And Stiles leans into him and howls.
Two days after the shooting the professional cleaning service is finished at the loft, and Peter drags Laura and Derek home again. Derek is like a moping pup, leaving Stiles behind, and Peter isn’t much better. But Peter knows that Stiles and John need some time alone, to relearn how to be a family. Peter’s not exactly happy to be leaving either, but it’s necessary. The connection between John and Stiles is tenuous right now, and that’s something they need to work through. The Hales can’t be their buffer.
And there are things that John and Stiles need to talk about. Things that—after witnessing Stiles’s breakdown in the back yard the night before—Peter knows only John can address. Because John’s been there too. John’s been the hunter who suddenly had to face the realisation that he’d taken innocent lives.
Besides, Peter has his own family reunion to work on.
The drive to Satomi Ito’s territory is only an hour or so, but it feels much, much longer. Laura and Derek are at the loft. They’re in charge of getting food and a cake—and it had better be a chocolate cake with spinkles on the frosting, because that’s Matty’s favorite. They’re also in charge of clearing out the secure room—they stacked a bunch of boxes and assorted crap in it the night of the shooting to make it look more like a storage room and less like something out of the Saw franchise so that it would pass a cursory inspection from the deputies and that no uncomfortable questions would be asked. Still, from the look Deputy Parrish gave him once, Peter is fairly sure the man thinks he’s into some kinky shit.
Peter grins as he drives. That’s the kind of reputation he could enjoy, honestly.
Meanwhile, the front seat of Peter’s car is littered with packets of peanut butter M&Ms he picked up at the last gas station—another of Matty’s favorites.
Peter’s heartbeat picks up as he turns off the county road onto the private road that will take him to Satomi’s house. Her house, like the Hales’ once was, is a grand three-storey residence surrounded by woods. Seeing it always makes Peter a little homesick, and more than little bitter with jealousy. Woods, and pack, and family. The Hales are not what they once were.
But today, that’s all in the past.
Today there’s nothing that can dampen Peter’s mood.
He pulls up in front of the house, and raises a hand in greeting at the beta standing on the porch. He can’t remember the man’s name, but his face is familiar. The beta waves back, and steps off the porch to meet him.
“The alpha will see you,” he says. “But of course there’s someone who wants to see you first.”
The front door bursts open.
“Uncle Peeeeter!” Matty screams, launching himself off the porch and into Peter’s willing arms.
Peter catches him, laughing and crying at the same time, and spins him around in a circle a few times before hugging him tightly. He drags his nose through Matty’s soft hair and inhales deeply.
“Missed you, pup,” he says, his voice hoarse. “I missed you.”
Matty’s finger’s dig in tightly and his breath is hot against Peter’s throat. “Are we going home now, Uncle Peter?”
“Yes,” Peter says. “Just as soon as I thank Satomi for looking after you, yes, we’re going home.”
Matty leaves chocolate smears all over the dashboard of Peter’s car.
Peter doesn’t even care.
The loft smells of bleach. Even Matty’s human nose wrinkles when he first steps inside, but he’s quickly distracted by being smothered in hugs from Laura and Derek, and then by the veritable feast of junk food set out on the dining room table. Cake, and candy, and soda, and all manner of things that will have Matty bouncing off the walls in minutes, and passed out in a sugar coma soon after that.
“Did you make the hunters go away, Uncle Peter?” Marry asks through a mouthful of cake.
Peter ruffles his hair. “Yes, pup. They won’t be coming back.”
The sugar crash hits right on cue. Peter insists that Matty has a shower before his nap, because he’s managed to wear at least half his cake. Matty grumbles about it, but lets Peter take him upstairs to the bathroom.
He strips off in the bathroom while Peter gets the shower at the right temperature. Peter catches a glimpse of the old burns scars on his back and his legs as he steps into the shower.
“Uncle Peter?” he asks loudly, over the water.
“Yes, pup?” Peter gathers up his clothes and dumps them in the hamper.
“Do I really have to have a nap? I’m not a little kid.”
“No, you’re not,” Peter says. “But you’ll feel better if you have a little sleep. Your sister and brother might have bought you way too many sugary snacks, I think.”
“My tummy hurts.”
“Yes, I think you overdid things a little,” Peter says.
“Can I sleep in your bed?”
“If you like.”
Warmth blossoms in Peter’s chest. “Of course, pup.”
Minutes later, Matty is curled up in Peter’s bed, snuggling up with Peter. Peter puts a hand on his stomach to draw away his tummy ache, and Matty smiles and traces the faint dark tendrils as they curl up Peter’s forearm.
Then his smile fades. “I was really scared, Uncle Peter. I cried a lot because I thought that maybe you or Laura or Derek would get hurt, or die!”
“I was scared too, pup,” Peter says softly. “I was very scared. But we’re safe now. It’s okay to be scared, but we’re safe now.”
“Asami asked me why I don’t have a mom or a dad,” Matty whispers. “I said I don’t need them, because I have an Uncle Peter.”
Peter’s chest aches, and he holds Matty closer.
Matty looks up at him, his green eyes wide. “Would it be okay if sometimes I called you my dad? I’m your pup, aren’t I?”
“Yes, you’re my pup,” Peter says. He thinks of Talia, and of James, and of what it means to take this from them. It feels selfish, because he wants it so much, but at the same time Matty wants it too, and he can’t imagine Talia or James would mind. Not if they were here to see the desperate look on Matty’s face, and his blatant fear of rejection. “Yes, you can call me your dad if you want to, pup.”
“Thank you, Uncle Peter,” Matty whispers, and burrows close like a tick. When he murmurs the word it’s so faint that Peter’s werewolf hearing barely catches it: “Dad.”
Peter closes his stinging eyes.
Matty falls asleep, and starfishes his way across Peter’s bed. Peter leaves him and heads back downstairs to clean up, before the loft is infested with ants. He gets downstairs to find that Derek and Laura have already done it. Derek’s wiping the table down, and Laura’s putting the remains of the cake into a Tupperware container.
“I heard what Matty asked you,” Laura says.
Peter flinches. “Did you?”
“I wasn’t eavesdropping.” She seals the lid on the container. “I was going to my room to grab my phone.”
Peter waits for the flash of her alpha eyes.
It doesn’t come.
“Mom and Dad would be happy for you, Peter,” she says. “And they’d be happy that Matty has a dad. If it’s what he wants, and it’s what you want too, then they’d want it for you as well. God knows you’ve earned it. You were always here for him in ways that Derek and I weren’t.” Her expression clouds. “That we couldn’t be. You’ve been his parent in everything but name since the time he was three.”
Peter’s throat aches, and he jerks his head in a nod.
“So be his parent in name too,” Laura says.
Peter’s eyes sting. He blinks, and a hot tear slides down his cheek.
Laura steps forward and hugs him tightly.
Peter doesn’t sleep. He prowls through the loft, listening to the soft sounds of Matty’s breathing, or Laura’s, of Derek’s. The loft might be clean now, but it’s hard to shake the memory of the bloodshed. The loft was their sanctuary, but it’s been breached, and no amount of bleach and new furnishings can erase that.
It’s past midnight when Peter makes himself a tea and sits down on the new couch. He sends a text to John: How’s your boy?
He gets back: How’s yours?
So John’s not sleeping either. Peter calls him.
“I think I want a new house,” he says when John answers.
“Not sure the Argents will pay for that.” John’s voice is soft with weariness, but Peter can hear the smile in his tone.
“It might be fun to make them try. How’s Stiles?”
“He’s been better,” John says. “He’s been worse too, I guess. What was it you said? Baby steps.”
“Yeah, baby steps.”
“Alan Deaton says he knows a woman down in Redding. She’s a therapist, and she’s what he calls ‘supernatural aware’. Guess you don’t put that on your website, do you?”
“Not unless you want to be overrun with people who think they’ve been abducted by aliens, no.”
John laughs. “Yeah. Anyway, I’m gonna give her a call in the morning, and see if she can work with Stiles. The more I talk with him, the more I get the sense there’s some fucked up stuff that Gerard and Kate did to him, and I just want to yell and punch walls, you know? And that’s the last thing Stiles needs. I was an adult when I had to face this stuff, Peter, and it was something I came to on my own. Stiles is just a kid, and he’s been dragged every step of the way without having a chance to come to terms with any of it in his own time. He needs more help than I can give him.”
“Baby steps,” Peter says softly.
“Yeah, I know.” John sighs, and is silent for a moment. “I’ll bet Matty is glad to be home, huh?”
“Not as glad as I am.” Peter closes his eyes. “I gotta say, John, I really didn’t think I’d ever see today.”
John huffs out a breath. “You’re not the only one. But here we are, huh?”
“Yeah,” Peter echoes, warmth spreading through him. “Here we are, John.”
Bonus chapter today, because my posting schedule is changing. Also, you might have noticed that there is now a chapter count on this thing. The end is near!
Stiles starts therapy on a rainy Monday morning. He hates it. He’s spent the last six years learning how to keep secrets, and now this woman expects him to spill everything in her mundane little office in Redding? Stiles hates it, but he agrees to go back. On his first session he doubts he says more than twenty words. On his second session, maybe twice that. He’s frustrated in himself, in how hard it is to pull even the simple yes and no answers out of his mouth, but Pauline, the therapist, tells him that he’s doing just fine. On his third session he tells her about how Gerard used to tie him to the chair in the basement and expect him to free himself, and how he doesn’t like using the chairs in his dad’s dining room because they have arms.
Pauline tells him to tell Dad that, and Stiles scoffs because it’s so stupid to not like chairs.
But on the drive home he tells Dad, and that night they eat dinner in the kitchen.
The next day the chairs are gone.
“You can’t keep getting rid of stuff I don’t like,” Stiles tells him.
Dad just shrugs. “Those chairs were ugly anyway.”
He and his dad spend a lot of time talking about Dad’s life as a hunter. Stiles finds that it’s easier to talk about Dad’s history than his own. Dad also talks a lot about Claudia, how he met her, how he fell in love with her, and how both of them made the choice to leave everything behind to start over, together. How they never regretted it, not for a second. How happy they were when Stiles was born.
Allison visits every day after school. She stays for dinner some nights as well.
“My parents are like an echo chamber,” she says one night. “I mean, they’re trying, but if I tell them Laura and I are going to hang at the mall, you can see the moment when they just…hit this mental brick wall or something. And you can see all these alarm bells ringing in their eyes, because they don’t get that she’s a person, you know?”
“You and Laura are hanging at the mall?” Stiles asks around a mouthful of macaroni.
“That’s not the point, Stiles,” Allison says, and rolls her eyes at him.
Dad leans forward, his elbows on the table. “It’s a hard mindset to kill, Ally. I lived with it for half my life. It was ingrained in me from the time I was a kid, just like with Christophe and Wiktoria. It’s difficult to unlearn it.”
“I’m changing the Argent Code,” Allison says frankly. “From nous chassons ceux qui nous chassent to nous protégèons ceux qui ne peuvent pas se protéger eux-mêmes.”
“We protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Dad translates. He smiles. “I like it.”
“And what does the Hunters’ Council think of that?” Stiles asks, his heart in his mouth.
“I don’t give a damn what they think,” Allison says. She’s steely-eyed. “This is how it’s going to be from now on. They’ve already agreed that Gerard’s death was a family matter, and I’ve made it clear that there are no dangerous werewolves in Beacon Hills. As long as that stays true—and it will—then they’ve got no reason to intervene.” She picks an olive off her plate and pops it in her mouth. “Beacon Hills is my territory, as far as the other families are concerned.”
Dad's smile grows. “And as far as you’re concerned?”
Allison snorts. “I don’t have territory. I’m a high school student who’s trying to graduate with a decent GPA. I don’t have time to be the supernatural police. It’s Laura’s territory. It’s Laura’s job.”
“Oh man,” Stiles says. “Can you hear that noise? That’s the sound of generations of Argent matriarchs spinning in their graves right now.”
Allison flashes him a brilliant smile. “Let ’em!”
Stiles laughs, shocked and delighted in equal measure.
Finding himself, figuring out who he is, figuring out how to reconcile all the different, conflicting parts of him is a frustrating process, and sometimes Stiles just needs to get out of his head for a while. On days like those he goes to visit Derek, and wraps himself up in Derek’s arms, and exchanges soft kisses, and just lets himself be for a few hours.
Werewolves have anchors, Stiles knows.
He was never told that humans could have them too.
Dad knows about Derek. Stiles doesn’t think he could hide it even if he wanted to. When he’s in the same room as Derek, he gravitates towards him. They touch a lot. They hold hands.
One night, after they’ve eaten dinner at the loft with the Hales, Stiles catches Dad looking. On the drive home, his leg jiggling, he pushes himself to ask:
“Is… is me and Derek a problem for you?”
Dad sighs, and Stiles curls away.
“Hey,” Dad says. He pulls the car over to the side of the street, puts it into park, and turns toward Stiles. “Can you look at me, son?”
Stiles does so, clenching his fingers into shaking fists.
“I hoped we’d be a little further along getting to know each other before this came up,” Dad says, a rueful smile on his face. “I don’t have a problem with the werewolf thing. I don’t have a problem with the gay thing. I like Derek a lot. I trust Derek. I just worry that he’s older than you, okay?”
“What… what does that mean?” Stiles asks, his leg jiggling again.
“It means I’m going to worry a bit,” Dad says. “I’m not going to tell you that you can’t see him. I’m not going to ground you, or anything like that. I’m just going to quietly worry, and you’re just going to ignore me, okay?”
Stiles blinks at the unexpected answer. “Um, okay.”
“Okay,” Dad repeats, and pulls the car back out onto the road.
“Because,” Stiles says, his heart pounding, “you’d be a hypocrite if you had a problem with the werewolf thing, right? And also the gay thing?”
“I’d also hoped we’d have a while before that came up too,” Dad says. “But yes, kiddo, I’d be the biggest hypocrite in the world.”
Stiles flushes and smiles, and fiddles with the hem of his shirt. “How long have you and Peter…” And then he trails off, because he has no idea how to finish that sentence.
“Not long,” Dad says. “You and Derek?”
“Also not long.” Stiles swallows. “And we’re… we’re taking it slow.”
“Good,” Dad says. “Slow and safe?”
“Um, yeah,” Stiles says. He can feel the tips of his ears burning. “We haven’t really… well, there’s nothing to be safe about yet.”
“Slow is good,” Dad says. “You’re young. You’ve got plenty of time.”
Stiles darts a look at him. “Are you and Peter taking it slow too?”
“We’re not so young,” Dad says. “We don’t have as much time left as you whippersnappers. We have to make the most of it.”
“Oh, so that’s the story you’re going with?” Stiles asks. “You’re old? Careful you don’t break a hip falling into bed or anything!”
“Smartass,” Dad says fondly.
Stiles grins all the way home.
For all that he’s proud of making a joke about it, Peter Hale is the man that Stiles’s thoughts circle back to in the dark of the night. Peter Hale is the man who put his claws into Stiles’s throat and tore. Peter Hale is the man who almost killed him.
“Stiles,” Peter says, opening the loft door to him one morning. He looks surprised. “Derek’s taken Matty to school.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, lifting his chin. “I’m here to see you.”
Peter steps aside and lets him in.
Stiles takes a shuddering breath and stares at his feet for a moment. “Peter, you scare me.”
He lifts his gaze to find Peter watching him intently.
“You scare me, and I know I deserved what you did to me—” He stops, and swallows. “Because of Scott, and—”
This time it’s Peter that stops him. He raises a hand. “Stiles.”
Stiles sucks in a breath that does nothing to ease the tightness in his chest.
“You didn’t deserve it,” Peter says. “You were a victim of Gerard and Kate, just as much as Scott was. As much as Derek was. As much as my entire pack was. And I’m sorry that I didn’t realise that sooner, and I’m sorry that I hurt you then, and that I scare you now. I’m the left hand, Stiles. I like it when I scare my enemies. But I don’t like it when I scare my friends.” His expression turns almost hopeful. “Or my pack.”
Stiles curls his shaking fingers up. “I’m pack?”
“You and John are pack in everything but name,” Peter says. His mouth quirks a little. “And, as I’ve recently learned, that’s what counts.”
Stiles holds his gaze.
Peter lifts his hand toward him. “Can I?”
Stiles nods slowly.
Peter steps forward. He keeps his hand extended, and Stiles’s heart freezes when Peter’s fingers graze the scar on his throat. “I’m sorry I hurt you, Stiles. I’m so very sorry.”
Stiles reaches up and curls his shaking fingers around Peter’s wrist. Holds him there for a moment, while he remembers how to breathe. He can feel his pulse beating against Peter’s fingertips, so fragile.
“For what it’s worth,” Peter says softly, “the next time a wolf puts its claw near your throat, I’ll be the one who tears its heart out.”
Stiles nods, his eyes stinging. “I mean, I hope it doesn’t happen again.”
“Me too, Stiles. Me too.” He draws his hand away from Stiles’s throat. He straightens his shoulders and smiles. “Now, Derek will be back soon. Do you want to stay for brunch? I’m making asparagus, tomato and goat cheese frittatas.”
“Yeah,” Stiles says, clearing his throat. “That sounds awesome.”
“We should eat healthier,” Stiles says that night as he’s taking the frozen pizza out of the oven.
“Should we?” Dad asks, looking at his glass of soda.
“Yeah. You’re old, remember?”
“Peter made these amazing frittata things for brunch today. And they were pretty healthy, and nicer than pizza.”
“Nicer than pizza? That’s crazy talk, kid.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. “I’m just saying, we should buy more healthy stuff.”
“I buy healthy stuff,” Dad says, grabbing for the paper towels.
“Okay, but we should also eat it,” Stiles tells him. “I found a bag of salad in the bottom of the refrigerator that was starting to develop its own ecosystem.”
“Well, there’s probably some truth in that,” Dad says. “Okay, starting from tomorrow, we eat healthier.”
“Yeah?” Stiles raises his eyebrows at his Dad’s easy agreement.
“Yeah.” Dad sets everything down on the kitchen table and walks over to Stiles. He puts an arm around his shoulders and pulls him into a hug. “I only just got you back, kiddo. I want to be around a long time to enjoy it.”
Stiles hugs him back tightly. “Yeah, Dad, me too.”
It’s a crisp October afternoon when Peter follows the rattling blue Jeep out through the Preserve, onto Hale lands, and to the lake. All of the kids are wedged into the Jeep, except for Matty, who’s riding in the back seat of Peter’s car.
“Dad?” Matty asks, sticking his head between the front seats. “Will it be too cold to swim at the lake?”
“I packed your track pants and a hoodie just in case,” Peter tells him. “If it’s too cold, you can get out of the water and get into those.”
It is too cold for humans, as it happens. Allison shrieks the moment her feet touch the water and refuses to go any further. Stiles, his face scrunched up, canonballs off the dock and emerges from the water with a bellow, and Derek drags him out of the water and wraps him in layers of towels until he stops shivering.
Matty, who has always tried to keep up with the werewolves, teakes his cue from Allison and rethinks getting in the water at all, and instead helps John sort through all his fishing gear. He’s been excited to go fishing ever since John mentioned the idea to him, but, drifting on the lake in the sunlight works its inevitable spell on him, and he falls asleep leaning against Peter’s shoulder.
So much for fishing.
Peter sets his rod down and puts an arm around Matty, and listens to the whirr of John casting.
The day is quiet. Insects hum and buzz and, in the distance, Peter can hear the faint sound of power tools. The house is being rebuilt. Some time in the new year, the Hale pack will finally live in the woods again.
And some time not long after that, Peter is sure, the Stilinskis will join them.
Peter turns his gaze to the kids at the edge of the lake. Laura is still in the water. Allison is sitting on the bank, her legs drawn up, photographing something with her phone. And Derek is standing in the sunlight, dripping, with his arms wrapped around Stiles and his four layers of towels.
“It’s something, huh?” John asks wryly, catching his gaze.
“The day we thought we’d never get,” Peter agrees.
“Yeah.” John’s smile deepens the crinkles around the edges of his eyes. “Well, we might not get too many more of them. I’m back at work next week.”
“The lake will still be here on your days off,” Peter says.
They fish for a while longer.
They don’t catch anything.
It doesn’t matter.
As the afternoon draws into dusk, the kids build a bonfire on the shore of the lake. Matty waits by eagerly with his bags of marshmallows. Strange, Peter thinks, that he’s never been afraid of fire. Peter prefers to keep his distance from the flames, so Matty goes and sits next to John, and John helps pick through his collection of sticks for the best one to toast his marshmallows on.
“Shouldn’t the marshmallows come after the food?” Laura teases.
Matty gasps. “No! Marshmallows first!”
Derek snorts, and he and Stiles go and fetch the coolers from the cars.
One day, Peter thinks, they’ll bring a barbeque out here and make a night of it. But for now, cold cuts and sandwiches make for a good dinner.
“Stiles,” Laura says when they’re all settles around the fire to eat. “Are you looking forward to Monday?”
“No.” Stiles huffs out a laugh. “Unless by ‘looking forward to’ you mean ‘completely shitting myself’.”
“Language,” John chides.
“Sorry.” Stiles wrinkles his nose.
“You’ll be fine,” Allison tells him. “I’ll make sure nobody flushes your head down the toilet.”
Stiles side-eyes her. “Um, I’d like to see them try.”
Peter grins at that. Yes, he’d also like to see some schoolyard bully try to get one over on Stiles. How very entertaining that would be.
John looks less amused at the idea.
“You’ll be fine,” Derek echoes.
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Like, what’s so scary about school anyway?”
But his heartbeat quickens, and Derek reaches for his hand to reassure him.
The boy has faced a lot of monsters in his time. Peter sometimes forgets how young he really is. Put a gun in his hand and he’s as cold as ice, but faced with the prospect of classrooms and cliques, and he’s completely out of his depth. Stiles might not trust himself to navigate the unknown waters of Beacon Hills High, but Peter knows he will. He and Allison are a formidable team, and she would never let him founder.
They let the fire burn down as the night darkens, and stars appear.
Peter joins John and Matty. Matty has fallen asleep in John’s lap, and left sticky marshmallow fingerprints all over John’s jacket.
“He’s okay,” John says softly when Peter offers to take him. “I’ve got him.”
They’ve come a long way, Peter thinks, when he trusts John to do this.
They all have.
Stiles and Derek go for a walk around the lake before they leave.
Matty cranes his neck to watch them, squinting in to the dark.
“Don’t stare,” Laura huffs at him. “You won’t like it when you have a boyfriend or a girlfriend and Derek and Stiles stare at you.”
“Why?” Matty asks. “What are they doing?”
He squints into the darkness again.
Allison laughs as she folds up the picnic blankets.
John squints into the darkness as well. “What are they—No, you know what? Don’t tell me. There are things I don’t need to know.”
“Are you sure?” Peter asks. “I can see them quite clearly.”
“I don’t want to know,” John repeats.
Peter laughs, and glances across the lake.
Derek and Stiles are standing there, hands clasped. As Peter watches, they lean in and they kiss.
“Sap,” Laura says, and thwacks him on the head with her towel.
“Someone’s bitter and jealous and needs to immediately adopt twelve cats,” Peter says, sniffing haughtily.
“Um, excuse you, but I date,” Laura says. “I have a date this weekend actually.”
Peter narrows his eyes. “With who?”
“You don’t need to vet him,” Laura says. “John already did.”
Peter raises his eyebrows. “John already did?”
“It’s Parrish,” John says. “He’s a good guy. Wouldn’t know a werewolf if he fell over one.”
“Why does everyone have a boyfriend?” Matty grouses.
Allison reaches for his hand. “I don’t have a boyfriend. I guess you’ll have to be my boyfriend, hey, Matty?”
Matty deliberates. “Well, you can take me to the movies and buy me presents, but I don’t like all that kissing and stuff.”
“Deal,” Allison agrees, and wraps the picnic blanket around his shoulders.
Matty flings it out like a cape, and races for the car. Laura and Allison laugh and chase him.
John knocks his shoulder against Peter’s as they fall into step. Their fingers tangle together.
“Hold on a moment,” Peter says. “Why should my nephew be the only one who gets to make out with a Stilinski boy by the lake?”
“I didn’t want to know, Peter!” John complains.
Peter shuts him up with a kiss.
Driving back into town, the heater in the car turned up, Peter feels more at peace than he has in years, but at the same time there’s a frisson of anticipation in everything he does, in every move he makes, because the future is full of good things.
It’s full of good things for Laura, who stands tall and confident, every inch the alpha that her mother was.
It’s full of good things for Allison, the Argent matriarch, who is guided by a sense of fairness and hope.
It’s full of good things for Matty, who has already told the entire world that when he grows up he’s going to be a sheriff like John.
It’s full of good things for Derek and Stiles, who are still taking things slowly, but whose every shared look and tiny smile speaks loudly of real love. They are growing, and healing, together.
And it’s full of good things for Peter and John, both too old and too cynical and too broken to ever think they deserved a chance at happiness. But both too smart to not grab and hold it the second they saw it.
The future is full of good things, and Peter can’t wait.
It's been a hell of a ride, everyone! Hope you enjoyed it, and see you for the next one!