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The Hunting of the Snark... I Mean Spark

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Peter listened as the water stopped and various cabinets in his bathroom were opened and closed and waited for his guest to reappear. Stiles, scrubbed red from the shower, walked into the room rubbing viciously at his hair with a towel. The fragrance of borrowed shampoo clung to him even more tightly than the damp fabric of Peter’s bathrobe and seeing the young man like that, covered head to toe in Peter’s things, in Peter’s scent, caused his wolf to lift its head and rumble in satisfaction, even if the reason the boy was in his den was less than optimal.

“Three times, Peter.” Frustration sharpened Stiles’s voice, pulling the man’s attention back from his wolf’s wanderings. “You know what that means.”

Peter knew. One is an incident, two is a coincidence, three's a pattern, and four is enough for a warrant. Not that they could get a warrant, even if they did end up with a fourth body. It didn’t matter to Stiles, though. He, like his father, was a cop at heart—protect and serve was etched in their bones. Usually, Stiles also had a streak of ruthless practicality that balanced that idealism out, but this time was different. Peter hoped it didn’t come back to bite him in the ass.

“Proving the pattern to the rest of the pack is going to be… difficult.”

Amber eyes rolled and Peter smothered a smile.  It still surprised him how much pleasure Stiles’s snark generated in him.  Like calling to like.

“Tell me something I don’t know.” Stiles flung his towel at the hamper and missed.  From four feet away. Peter shook his head. How the boy had survived this long in a world full of predators was truly a mystery. “Lydia will believe me. Probably.  And Danny.  But…”

“But they’re not wolves.” Peter nodded and leaned back in his chair. “They aren’t the ones who’re going to want to believe it’s possible in the first place.”

Stiles walked to the corner of the desk that dominated the office and propped one hip on it, everything about his posture telegraphing his irritation with the situation.

“Scott’s going to think I’m crazy—literally—and he’ll suspect anything coming from you because you’re clearly still trying to manipulate him.” His lip curled a fraction and Peter wasn’t sure if it was the beginning of a smile or a snarl. “That means we’re going to have to go at the problem sideways, again, because as much as I’d like to say he wouldn’t go there again, I’m sure you’re with me on the Never Going Back to Eichen bandwagon.”

Peter gave his own eyeroll at that. “Our True Alpha does have a limited repertoire of responses, and you’re right, Eichen House is not on my list of spa retreat destinations. My question for you is simply: since we know he won’t listen to reason, why bother trying to convince him? It isn’t as if the people Hengstrom is using aren’t willing. If Scott wants to throw in with the crazy mage, why not let him?”

Stiles shifted his weight, swinging a lean leg absently. “I guess it’s the lying that gets me, because I don’t believe he doesn’t know exactly what his miracle cure does. You can’t wield that kind of magic if you don’t understand it intimately. That leaves two options,” he held up one long finger. “One, he’s leaving details out because he doesn’t think they’re important—which would be stupidly shortsighted—or two,” he held up a second finger, “he knows the details are important and he’s not telling people on purpose, which leads to another whole line of questions about why he’s keeping them secret and what he’s getting out of the de-wolfing process that’s so important that he doesn’t want to risk scaring his victims away.”

Peter nodded. When the mage arrived, he’d introduced himself to the local Alpha and had bemoaned the fact that Deaton wasn’t currently in residence because he wanted to share his new skill with the druid. Invoking the emissary’s name worked like magic—all puns intended—and the True Alpha had warmly welcomed the man to the territory and had immediately begun questioning him about this new and wonderful spellwork he’d invented.  Hengstrom had been hesitant to speak of it, saying he didn’t want to step on Deaton’s toes—but Scott reacted the way he always did when there was something new and shiny that he wanted: he poked and prodded and wheedled and insisted until the mage caved and laid out the framework of what he called his “life’s achievement.”

It was delicate work and Peter had been impressed with Hengstrom’s ability to play the young Alpha right up until he uttered the phrase “werewolf curse.” McCall’s spine had stiffened and red crawled up his neck as he ducked his head and looked away, shame and self-loathing oozing from every pore.  Every wolf in the room stiffened, feeling the negativity of their leader through the pack bonds, and Peter was no different.  His gums itched and his fingers ached, claws and fangs closer to the surface than they should be, and he knew his wolf was feeling threatened in a way that born wolves weren’t supposed to feel.

The mage promised Scott, and any other bitten wolves that were interested, the chance to be human again, and he knew immediately what the True Alpha’s reaction was going to be. Hell, anyone with a braincell that had known the boy for more than two seconds knew what he was going to do.  He never even paused to think how giving up his wolf would affect the rest of the pack.  No, McCall was consistent—he wanted what he wanted and screw anyone that might get in the way of him getting it.

He did, at least, ask a few questions and the mage passed his minimalist lie detector test—Yes, he’d performed the rite dozens of times. The rite had 100% efficacy. All the people he helped went back to their human lives with nary a trace of wolf left in them. Here’s an oddly convenient list; call them if you want to.—And then the idiot didn’t think, didn’t pause, didn’t hesitate for a minute, he simply reached out and swept the mage into the biggest hug Beacon Hills had ever seen, and then had run off to tell Kira the good news.

Stiles and Peter watched the interview silently, doubt clear on both of their faces, but once their Alpha had made his approval clear, Stiles shook the man’s hand briefly, took the list of “cured” that was proffered, and directed the mage to the hotel in town that the pack had an arrangement with.

Then Stiles went to work.

It took the Spark six hours to contact most of the people on the list, but there were a few he hadn’t been able to get through to.  Finally, one number that had been calling incessantly—his magic nagging at him that it was important—picked up and the tearful woman on the other end informed him that yes, her husband, Oscar, had undergone Hengstrom’s procedure and had been thrilled with the results.  Unfortunately, he’d died a few months later. They hadn’t been able to determine a cause of death—he simply didn’t wake up one morning. It was possible that the procedure had been hard on his heart or something, but no one could really say. She was sorry she couldn’t be more help.

After another six hours he’d found two more people who’d had their wolves removed who had mysteriously fallen ill afterwards.  One was currently in a coma, and the other had been committed to a mental institution after having attempted to kill his family, the whole time screaming for them to kill him, please kill him. That he couldn’t stop it.  It wouldn’t let him.

That report reminded Stiles too much of his possession by the Nogitsune; he and Peter were on a plane the next morning.  Three hours and several Jedi mind tricks after landing, they’d gotten to visit the last victim… and the minor demon that was squatting in his soul.  Peter had struggled with seeing the man strapped to his bed, flashbacks of his own time imprisoned in a similar bed with nothing free to move but his head setting his teeth on edge, and Stiles… well, the Spark had his own fight to fight. His spark hovered just beneath his skin, setting the boy almost aglow, and while his wolf was used to the temptation, the demon was immediately overwhelmed with hunger.

The body on the bed strained and lurched against its bindings as they listened to it rave about how Stiles was perfect, how the fire under his skin was nice but the darkness around his heart was beautiful and infinite and vicious, how he had a demon-shaped hole in his soul that just cried out to be filled.  Stiles waited as every word left a wound behind, and Peter could smell the blood on him as he bit his lips to remain silent. Finally, the demon released its host deciding that it was worth giving up the body it had for the chance of controlling the power of a Spark. Peter sucked in a breath, terrified that they wouldn’t make it out of the hospital without a demonic stowaway, but then his impossible, incredible boy burned the creature out of existence in the flash of an eye before it could jump bodies. He listened as Stiles’s breath caught on a silent sob in his throat, and Peter ached to gather the bowstring-taut Spark into his arms and tell him that yes he was perfect, that the demon had no idea how beautiful his darkness truly was because he used it to defend the ones he loved, that if there was a hole in his soul Peter would crawl into it and fill it and wrap him up in protective arms, keeping him close, and safe, and his… but he knew that all it would take would be one uninvited touch and Stiles would shatter, so he kept his hands to himself, and bided his time.

A moment later the victim woke from his possession in grateful tears, but when Stiles explained that he couldn’t repair the holes in the man’s spirit that had allowed the demon to take up residence in the first place, he insisted they leave him in the hospital, that it was where he wanted to stay, where he needed to stay. He’d do anything to protect his family from going through that nightmare again.

Stiles told him that evening that he suspected the man wouldn’t be around long enough to regret that decision; his life force was already leaking out through the holes in his aura. Listening to the Spark whimper in his sleep as he thrashed on the hotel bed that night, Peter knew Stiles would regret the decision enough for the both of them.

One good thing came out of the whole nightmare. After explaining what had happened to her husband, the last victim’s wife was more than willing to answer their questions, and she was much more expansive than the mage. She told them that Hengstrom only pursued weres that had been changed within the past five years, claiming that anyone that had been a werewolf longer than that wouldn’t ever be able to truly erase the behaviors they’d learned. He’d asked other questions—where her husband fit in the pack hierarchy, how he’d been turned, whether his wife was a wolf—before agreeing to remove her husband’s wolf, but that the one thing that seemed most important to him was whether they were going leave the territory after the procedure.  He implied that continuing contact with the members of the pack would hinder her husband’s healing process.  He said that her husband’s scent would change, and the other wolves wouldn’t be able to trust him anymore and that it would be safer for everyone if they cut ties completely, but he’d also said that any exposure to the supernatural would make it harder for her husband to transition back to his human life. She hadn’t questioned it at the time, but it had made the whole situation more difficult when he’d started showing signs of deterioration because she didn’t have the pack as a support system and since they didn’t have their emissary available to ask for advice.

Oh, and their emissary hadn’t been around when Hengstrom had arrived, either.

Stiles had looked at Peter at that point and quirked an eyebrow, an entire conversation in the tiny movement.  Who knew they would ever actually be sorry that Alan Deaton wasn’t around?

Stiles stopped swinging his leg suddenly. “Did Scott ever mention that Kira was a kitsune?”

Peter thought back over the conversation he’d witnessed and shook his head. “No. Hengstrom asked if he was mated to another wolf and Scott said no, but that was as far as it went.  Why?”

He paused and raised his eyes to the Spark’s as the penny dropped. Oh. Ohhh.

Scott was going to have a problem. Kira wasn’t a wolf, but she was a kitsune but more importantly—she was pack. The only thing McCall valued more than his own vaunted humanity was his mate, and after the youngest Argent died, he’d become even more protective of the little fox.

Stiles grinned, sharp and vulpine, clearly ready to hunt. “I think we need to have a little chat with our Alpha’s mate.”

Peter grinned back letting his own fangs drop a fraction and resting a heavy hand on Stiles’s knee. “You know, sweetheart, I think you’re right.”

***

 

Kira wasn’t alone when they got there, but it could have been worse.  Ms. Yukimura wasn’t a fan of Stiles’s—she still saw too much of Void in him to ever be comfortable—but she would listen more than Scott would, so Peter considered it a win.

“And you destroyed the demon?  You’re positive?” She lifted a delicate hand and poured another cup of tea.  If Peter hadn’t been watching so closely, he’d have missed the fractional tightening of muscles in her fingers.

“As positive as I can be,” Stiles replied. “I know it isn’t in Peter, and I know it wasn’t in Mr. Anderson when we left him.  If you’d be so kind as to make sure I haven’t brought him along with me, I would be… grateful.”

It cost the boy something to make the request, but when the older woman’s eyes settled on him and she nodded once, the silent stress that had been hiding in his spine melted away and Peter could almost feel a sigh of relief pass over him.

“There is nothing… new in your aura, Spark,” she said with a dip of her head, and Peter had to fight back a growl at the cautionary phrasing and silent implication that there was something extra in his aura already, but that was a fight for another day. “The demon must, then, have truly been vanquished. Your skill has grown. I congratulate you.”

Stiles forced himself to dip his head in acceptance.  His skills had grown through necessity, and so much of that necessity could be laid at this woman’s feet.  It was amazing that he was even able to stay in the same room. Peter wasn’t sure he could have.

“I’m just sorry that I wasn’t able to do more for Mr. Anderson.  As I said, the procedure that Hengstrom subjected him to has left his spirit shredded.  He will die; it’s just a matter of how long it will take.”

Kira twisted her hands in her lap. “You’re sure?  There isn’t anything else that could’ve caused the damage?”

Stiles shook his head. “I’m sorry, Kira, but you know I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t sure.  I know how much this means to Scotty, and yeah, him giving up his wolf would throw the pack into chaos, but we’ve dealt with chaos before and survived.  I wouldn’t take this chance away from him on a hunch.  The problem is that because of the chaos we’ve been through,” he threw a hard glance at the elder kitsune, “Scott doesn’t trust my judgment. He thinks I’m paranoid.” He let out a bark of laughter. “He isn’t wrong.  But neither am I about this.”

Kira pushed her hair behind her ear and sighed. “I believe you.  I was talking to mom before you came about how something about this just felt off.  Hearing you explain what you’ve found just makes that feeling stronger.”

Peter sat back and crossed his legs. “So, how do we make your husband listen to the truth?”

Kira quirked a lip and tilted her chin to one side, her inner fox clear and sharp. “The way I see it, the only way he’s going to believe it is if it comes from Hengstrom himself.”

Stiles’s whole body stilled, his normal state of constant movement frozen. “I like where you’re going with this, but it’s going to be tricky.”

Kira looked at her mother and they both smiled their trickster-kitsune smiles. “Leave that to us.”

***

In the end, it was surprisingly simple.  Painful, but simple.

“You should let him try this on Peter, first.” Stiles said, innocence personified.

Scott perked up. “On Peter? But he wouldn’t want to…” he swallowed what he’d been intending to say and turned to look at the mage. “Could you actually do that?  Take the wolf from a born wolf?”

Hagen Hengstrom looked as Swedish as his name sounded.  Tall, blond, buff—he didn’t look like any of the mages Peter had ever met, but then Stiles himself didn’t look like them, either.  His blue eyes were pale and clear and there was something old and cold in them that Peter didn’t want to be close to, but he was bait, so, he stepped forward.

Hengstrom shook his head, one fist tightening minutely. “No.  Definitely not. There is nothing in him that isn’t infiltrated with wolf.  He’d go mad without it.”

Stiles snorted. “Like we’d be able to tell the difference.”

Scott looked surprised that he would say such a thing, but then laughed. “I suppose you’re right.  Not much to compare it to as far as sanity goes.”

Peter forced himself not to snarl at the boy and let Stiles go on.

“I mean, if the procedure is 100% effective…” he left the sentence hanging, and the mage stepped right into it.

“It is 100% effective,” he insisted, “it’s just that his wolf is so embedded in him that it would rip his soul to pull it out.”

Stiles tilted his head and raised an innocent eyebrow. “Rip his soul?  That doesn’t sound good.”

Kira shifted closer to Scott and put an arm around his waist. “No. No it doesn’t.”

Scott looked down at his wife and frowned. “You said before that it didn’t hurt.”

Hengstrom froze and then shook his head. “That isn’t what…”

Scott frowned harder. “You said you’d performed this rite dozens of times.”

Hengstrom nodded enthusiastically. “Yes!  I’ve done this dozens—hundreds—of times.  It does exactly what I’ve promised.”

Stiles made a non-committal sound. “But actually, all you said was that it removed the wolf and the people went back to being human after.  You didn’t say anything about whether they were healthy and happy, did you?”

Kira tugged on Scott’s shirt. “Did he?”

Scott shrugged. “I don’t actually remember.  I was so excited by what he was telling me that I don’t think I asked.”  He turned back to the mage who looked decidedly paler under his golden tan. “What happens to the people after you take their wolves? Are they healthy?  Can they…  have families? Does it mess with any of that?”

The mage frowned and took his time before answering.  “I don’t stay in touch with all of the people I’ve helped, so I don’t know exactly how they all are. But I can assure you the rite did exactly what it was supposed to do, and they were all completely human afterwards.”

Stiles made another noise. “I’m sure it’s fine, Kira,” he waved his hand between Hengstrom and Scott, “I mean, if there was a problem I’m sure Deaton could fix it, and the pack would be here to…”

Hengstrom lurched forward, hand up. “Um, that’s not…” he swallowed, “I mean, I’m certain that Druid Deaton is very skilled, but this magic is specialized, and he wouldn’t be familiar with the process.  It’s best if the blessed can accept the return of their human status completely, make a clean break with their previous packs and limit their exposure to the supernatural.  As humans they’re so much more susceptible to injury and you wouldn’t want to endanger your family that way unnecessarily, would you?  You and your wife would be able to move on, have children, start your own veterinary practice without all of this hanging over your head.”

Scott’s frown had deepened to the point that Peter thought he could get a playing card to stick in the crease between his eyebrows.

“My wife is supernatural.” He hugged Kira tighter to him and Hengstrom frowned.

“But you said you weren’t mated to another werewolf!”

Kira looked at him, adorable confusion on her face. “He’s not.  I’m a kitsune.  I’m surprised you couldn’t feel my magic.  Dr. Deaton says it’s unmistakable. Plus… I’m pack.”

Hengstrom looked bewildered, wondering how things had gotten so out of hand.

At that point Liam stepped forward, his back stiff and eyes slitted. “It seems to me that there’s more to this rite than you initially let on. So, tell me just one thing: If Scott lets you take his wolf, what will happen to his Alpha spark?”

Peter forced his face to stillness.  Finally, someone was asking the right questions.

The mage frowned. “I’m not sure.  I’ve never removed the wolf from an Alpha before.”

The whole pack took a step towards Scott, finally sensing the threat to their Alpha.

“You don’t know?” Liam sounded strangled and he turned to look at Scott. “You mean you didn’t ask? You were just going to let him take your wolf and leave us all omegas?”

Scott deflated a little. “I just figured it would go to the next person in line in the pack.  Maybe you.  Maybe,” he frowned, “maybe Peter. I mean, he’s been an Alpha before.  Not a good one, but still.”

Liam was livid. “You were just joking about him being crazy, Scott!  Plus, you’re a fucking True Alpha!  It isn’t like it’s got a line to revert to.  Maybe it just disappears into the ether it came from, and then what would happen?”

The mage was slowly stepping away from the angry young wolf, trying not to draw attention to himself, but Peter’s Spark was having none of it.

“All politics aside, the thing I worry most about is what would happen to Scott’s soul if you ripped the True Alpha spark out of it.  I mean, think about it, Scotty.  The only reason you’re an Alpha at all is because of your soul---it’s got to be tangled up tightly in there.  If there is, what did you call it?  Tearing? When you remove the wolf?  What?  Does it leave holes in his soul or something?  Mess with his aura? Is that why he shouldn’t be around supernatural stuff afterwards, because something could get in through those holes?”

Kira took her cue like a professional, one dainty hand flying to her mouth as she gasped in fear for her beloved. “Oh my God, that can’t be, right?  Nothing could get into his soul, could it?”

Hengstrom knew he was trapped.  A room full of wolves would hear if he lied. “It’s…  possible.  But, in a world of magic anything is possible.”

Kira moved to stand in front of her husband. “I’d think you’d have led with that fact.  As a matter of fact, the fact that you didn’t makes me wonder what else you don’t tell people about your precious rite.”

Mason gave a side-long look to the man. “Makes me wonder what he gets out of it.”

Peter allowed himself a smirk.  Mason certainly had potential.  He would have to spend a little more time with the boy. The True Alpha needed someone who could see through false altruism that didn’t have a history with him.  It would be much easier to get him to listen, then.

A rumble from the back of the room drew his attention.  Ah.  Reinforcements.

Alan Deaton swept into the room with all the gravitas of an opening night diva, every eye upon him, and he glided to a stop beside his  wide-eyed protégé.

“Remind me never to accept an invitation to a conclave I am unfamiliar with, Scott.  It always seems to lead to trouble,” he said, dark eyes resting on the now surrounded mage.

Peter wondered if that meant that the druid had been lured away somehow, but that could be sussed out later.  Right now, he wanted to know what the man intended to do with the interloper.

Deaton was a terrible emissary, but he wasn’t a bad magic user and when Peter saw his eyes widen and a rim of green flash in them, he couldn’t help but wish he, too, could see things with druid’s sight.

Whatever it was, it didn’t make the man happy.

“Scott?” The druid didn’t look away from Hengstrom. “Have you allowed your guest access to you or any others in the pack?”

Scott shook his head, a little sheepishly. “No. We were about to get to that.  Lucky for me, Kira was here.  She seemed to know right away that something was weird.” He hugged his wife tightly, and the little fox met Peter’s eyes and smiled.  Leave it to her, indeed. It was a good reminder never to get on the woman’s bad side.  He looked at Stiles and they shared an incredulous look that quickly devolved into twin smiles of satisfaction.  Working together like this behind the scenes was often frustrating, but the connection it built between the two of them wasn’t something Peter was ever going to willingly give up.

“I believe Mage Hengstrom and I have some things to discuss.  I’d appreciate it if a few of your pack members would escort him over to my offices.  Then, I think you all could do with a quick check up.  Just to make sure that there isn’t anything…  missing.” His voice softened. “Or extra.”

A noisy exodus followed, leaving Stiles and Peter alone. Together. Again.

“She’s impressive,” Peter nodded his head in the direction of Kira’s disappearing back. “I don’t know what she sees in him.”

Stiles laughed then, only a little bitterly. “She sees what I once saw in him.  A bottomless well of faith and singlemindedness that sometimes,” he sighed as he watched everyone leave, “sometimes feels like devotion.  I hope she never loses it.”

Peter looked at the Spark and wished with all his heart that he could erase the heartache that Scott McCall’s fickleness had caused. Since he can’t, though, he will make do with replacing fake devotion with constancy, and human fickleness with a loyalty that the wolf-kings of old would bow down to.

“Since Alan has the mage under control, what do you say to a milkshake?  My treat.”

Stiles smiled then, weak but sincere. “And curly fries?”

Peter wrapped his arm around the Spark and guided him towards the door. “Of course, sweetheart.  What kind of man do you take me for?”

Stiles’s smile got a little more mischievous and Peter rolled his eyes. “Don’t answer that.”

The smile brightened even more. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Zombiewolf.”

And well, if the boy’s heart stuttered on the lie Peter wasn’t going to call him out for it.

***

Peter listened to the water falling in his shower and the one monopolizing it. Again.

“Three times, Peter!” Stiles was ranting. “I told him.  I told him after the first time.  I told him again after the second time, but this is three times.” The water stopped and the glass door opened with a tiny squeak. Peter imagined what Stiles looked like, skin red from the heat of the shower and his own frustration, and wished that just once the boy was flushed and rosy in his shower for a better reason than Scott fucking McCall’s incompetence.

Peter lounged on his bed, legs stretched out in front of him, ankles crossed, and waited with calculated patience. It didn’t take long.

Stiles stomped in wrapped in Peter’s robe, a wave of scented steam swirling around him and a prickle of agitated magic washed through the room causing the fine hair on Peter’s arms to stand. The Spark was actually angry this time.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Stiles stomped into Peter’s closet, opening and shutting drawers more violently than necessary, looking for something to wear.  Peter didn’t mind. His wolf loved seeing the boy in his clothes, and if he’d bought a few things that ran a little smaller just for the Spark to “steal” well, his tailor didn’t need to know.

“Can’t do what anymore, dear heart,” he asked, aiming for calm. He watched the shadows move on the floor as the boy stripped just around the corner from him.  It was a good thing the Spark couldn’t hear his heart. He’d probably run out of the apartment faster than he ran from the troll earlier.

Peter was always the scariest monster when it came down to it.

“I can’t keep trying to save his ass and having him ignore me.  I can’t keep manipulating things from stage left hoping that it works out and that nobody fucking dies.” He stomped out of the closet, a pair of Peter’s jeans slung low on his hips and a V-neck that was a size too large falling off one shoulder. He tossed his towel at the hamper. He missed.  Again. At least some things never changed.

“Mason almost died tonight, Peter,” Stiles flopped, all long legs and arms like a puppet with its strings cut, on the end of the bed. “If Liam hadn’t doubled back for him, he wouldn’t have had a chance.  And it could have all been avoided if Scott had just listened to me.”

Peter rumbled sympathetically. Stiles needed comfort, not fuel for the Scott McCall Is A Terrible Friend fire.

The Spark sighed and dropped back onto the bed, exhaustion finally catching up with him.  He’d gotten better in the years since Peter bit Scott.  He was stronger. Had more stamina. Had magic to reinforce his bat when he swung it, and potions to help him heal faster when he didn’t manage to get through a fight unscathed… but he was still human, and he was tired.

“You did what you could, sweetheart,” Peter tried to console, but it was hard. He’d love to point out every flaw, every shortcoming, every insult and betrayal, but his boy was smart. He already knew all those things; pointing them out would just hurt. “It’s Scott.  It isn’t like he’s finally going to learn a lesson from all of this.  Deaton will support him no matter what, and until either he or Kira force him to change, he won’t.”

Stiles didn’t say anything for a long time.  If his breathing hadn’t stayed the same Peter would have thought he’d fallen asleep.

“Scott won’t change, so it’s up to me.” The words were soft, but very final sounding.

“What’s up to you? Do you have a plan for forcing him to change?”

Short curls shook in a negative. “I can’t change him, but I can change me.”

Peter’s wolf growled in the back of his mind at the thought of Stiles changing.  He was perfect. He shouldn’t have to change because his packmate—his so called Alpha—wasn’t worth his teeth.

“And how do you intend to change? More Spark studies?”

Stiles rolled onto his side and gave Peter an assessing look. “I got a call from a pack outside of Las Vegas last week.”

Peter stiffened and curled his fingers so that Stiles wouldn’t see his popped claws. NO. He couldn’t leave. Peter wouldn’t have it. He’d…

“Calm down, Zombiewolf,” Stiles said, sitting the rest of the way up and smirking a little. “It wasn’t like that. They aren’t looking for a new packmate, they just need a little help.”

Peter felt the panic drain away, and a new kind of caution take its place. Trust his boy to read him so well. He’d have to be more careful.

“What kind of help?”

“Seems they have themselves an aqrabuamelu.” Stiles watched him for recognition, and Peter couldn’t help feeling satisfaction when the Spark looked proud that he nodded.

“Scorpion man. Not native to the area…  how’d it get to Nevada?”

Stiles shrugged carelessly, the V-neck hanging even lower to expose the shadow of a collarbone. If Peter didn’t know better, he’d think the Spark was teasing him. “What happens in Vegas rarely stays in Vegas, dude.  I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet someone brought the fucker in for some sort of supernatural freak show and it got away from them.” He grinned, looking all of ten years old and full of mischief. “Like the alligators in the sewers where someone flushes an overgrown pet.”

Peter shook his head. The boy was a menace. “I’m assuming they don’t know how to handle the creature?”

“Got it in one.  They’ve heard about our successes in driving off weird monsters and were wondering if we could help.  I thought about telling Scott and seeing if he wanted to curry some favor with a relatively close pack, but…”

Peter watched and waited.  Then he prompted. “But…?”

But… I was thinking maybe I’d go out there and take care of it for them.  Maybe negotiate a non-treaty kind of fee for assistance.  Like a contract hit without the Mob, I mean, Pack involvement.”

It wasn’t a bad idea.  As long as McCall didn’t get his knickers in a knot over Stiles killing things again. That problem didn’t seem to be that much of a factor in Stiles’s calculations, though.

“McCall won’t like it.  He’s made it clear how he feels about this kind of extermination.” There was no judgment in his tone, but Peter couldn’t let him commit to something like this without being sure he knew what he was getting into.

“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem.  Not after yesterday.” Stiles’s scent soured under the cucumber-citrus bodywash.

“Yesterday?”

The Spark flopped back onto the bed again, this time more hopeless than boneless. “Yeah.  When I was trying to convince Scott about my plan for the trolls, he said it again.”

Fuck.  That idiot.

“You know he doesn’t mean it.” Peter tried to soothe, but he was just a little too angry on Stiles’s behalf for it to be truly soothing.

“Oh, he meant it.  And I know he meant it because of this.” A long arm shot up from the bed and the Spark shook the thin black leather band dangling from it. “I made it last new moon.  A charm bracelet to beat all charm bracelets.  Take that, Pandora!” There was an almost hysterical edge to his tone. “The emissary of the Parker pack taught me how to make it.  She uses one to allow her to stand on equal footing with her wolves—she can scent them and listen to their hearts with it, even though she’s human.”

Peter couldn’t stop the rising of his eyebrows as he stared at the innocent looking thing. Stiles had been able to hear his heart. To read his scent. His brain spun in denial.  For a month.

Stiles hadn’t said anything, though, so he would do the same.  Maybe he could salvage things.

“So, you listened to his heart when the two of you were planning?” He tried to steer the conversation back onto slightly less terrifying ground.

“You mean when he told me, again, that I shouldn’t worry about planning because I wasn’t pack?” Pain was threaded through Stiles’s words, but under it there was a clear note of just being done with it all. “Yep. And Scott’s heart was clear as day---not a flutter to be heard. He truly believes I’m not pack, and if the Alpha says I’m not pack, then I’m not pack.  That means, among other things, that that self-same Alpha can’t tell me what to do.  As a best friend Scott could still do that, but he hasn’t been a friend, not to mention a best friend, in a long time I think.”

Peter didn’t argue.  The brat had been many things over the past few years, but a good friend was rarely on that list, and even more rarely as far as it applied to Stiles.

“I don’t believe McCall will see it that way,” Peter poked at the argument gingerly, trying to see where Stiles was going with this. “Is that why you’re telling me? Do you want me to cover for you while you’re away?”

He couldn’t help feeling a little hurt by the idea that Stiles would be moving on without him, but he knows that getting out of Beacon Hills even for a little while would only do the boy good.  As long as he intended to come back.

“No,” Stiles shook his head and levered himself up and off the bed, whiskey brown eyes fixed on his in the lamplight. “I want you to come with me. I mean… how often are you going to get a chance to face off with an aqrabuamelu? Plus, Vegas.  Who wouldn’t want to go to Vegas?”

Peter’s wolf sneered. Who wouldn’t want to surround themselves with perfumed, alcohol soaked, despair ridden people in buildings full of too-bright lights, and bells and whistles shrieking twenty-four hours a day?

“Sounds like just what the doctor ordered.” He found himself saying, even knowing that the Spark would hear the lie. “When do we leave?”

Stiles grinned—a wide, true thing that made Peter’s chest tighten. “Well, first we need to swing by Home Depot.  I need to buy a fuckton of diatomaceous earth.”

***

They stood in the Vegas packhouse, a wolf and a Spark, covered in diatomaceous earth and blood.

“I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done, Spark Stilinski,” the Alpha would have bowed if there had been an ounce less steel in her spine, Peter was sure. As it was, she dipped her head in thanks and held out a leather satchel full of goods. “I know you hadn’t expected to walk into a hostage situation, and because of that I’ve added a few,” she made a vague gesture to the bag, “items to our payment agreement.  My niece’s life is priceless to me; I only hope that this is satisfactory recompense.”

Stiles took the bag and shrugged it over his shoulder. “You didn’t have to do that, Alpha Garcia, but your generosity is appreciated. I’m just glad that Peter and I were able to help.”

The Alpha looked at Peter and he forced himself to stillness.  A Beta this far from his Alpha, without his Alpha’s approval…  well let’s just say he didn’t want to get into the matter if he didn’t have to.  I appeared that today was going to be a good day, though, as Alpha Garcia just nodded to him as well.

“The two of you fight well together,” she said, “I can see how it works.” She looked between the two guests, filthy and tired, and then actually bowed. Deeply. “Your sister would be happy to see you so settled, Beta Hale.  May your moons be ever bright.”

Peter felt his breath catch and chanced a glance at Stiles, but the Spark’s expression didn’t change except for a tiny arch of an eyebrow, almost challenging him to respond to the Alpha’s blessing. His wolf, though…  his wolf wanted to howl and preen that the Alpha thought Stiles was his mate and would bless such a union so publicly. It made the blood in his veins rush and his heart pound, and then, then, Stiles smiled, soft and fond, and he knew the little monster had let the Alpha believe they were mates from the beginning. Had wanted her to see them that way.  Had wanted all of them to see them that way.

Had wanted him that way.

Peter was many things, but a fool was not on the list.  He gave Stiles one piercing look before turning back and bowing to the Alpha, grasping this last best chance at happiness with both his clawed hands. “May your days be ever joyful. My sister spoke highly of you and your pack. Your blessing means more than I can say.  Thank you.”

He let the truth of his words ring clear and watched, fascinated, as Stiles’s skin pinked in pleasure.  Oh, how he looked forward to exploring how far down that blush went.

“Yes, Alpha Garcia,” the Spark said, not meeting Peter’s gaze. “Thank you.  But, if you don’t mind, my…” he stumbled over his words and the blush deepened when he accidentally made eye-contact, “Peter and I need to get all of this stuff off before it begins eating through our skin the way it did the aqrabuamelu’s. Spells can be made to be specific, but potions can’t really differentiate between types of skin.”

He sounded sheepish and young and it must have appealed to the Alpha’s protective instincts because she immediately acquiesced and sent them back to their hotel to rest and lick their wounds with a smile and an open invitation to visit whenever they were in the area.  It was, in Peter’s not so humble estimation, the best possible outcome. 

***

Stiles wandered out of the bathroom wrapped in an acre of terrycloth and a haze of Peter’s shower gel. Again. The boy had made a break for the bathroom claiming dibs on the first shower as soon as they’d arrived, and Peter had been impatiently waiting his turn alternately trying not to think too hard about the stuff on his skin or the naked young man in the shower. One was decidedly easier to ignore than the other.

While sitting there it occurred to him that Stiles taking over his shower and appropriating his bath products was becoming a habit he didn’t mind. As a matter of fact, he thought he could be happy smelling that particular combination of scents for the rest of his life. That was a thought for later, though. For now, he had another priority, and he pushed his way into the shower stall, determined to scrub himself raw if necessary, to get the noxious paste of blood and potion off his skin. Once he was behind the shower curtain, though, he was practically overwhelmed by Stiles’s scent. Clearly, he had been enjoying more than just getting clean, and it made Peter’s wolf whine with want. His mate was teasing him, but he’d get even soon.

It took longer than he wanted to get the hardened goo off, but he managed without causing too much secondary damage. Finally, he wrapped himself in one of the hotel robes and sauntered back into their room.

Stiles was stretched out on the bed he’d slept in the night before, eyes slitted, almost closed, and Peter could smell exhaustion on him. “Tired sweetheart?” he asked, and the boy made a grumble of acknowledgment.

“Killing giant scorpion monsters in the desert takes it out of you.  Who knew?” Stiles yawned, jaw cracking. “The desert always does this to me, though. I remember being bedridden for two days after mom dragged me and dad to White Sands National Park. It made no sense—nothing but gypsum sand for miles. Not a milkshake or a curly fry in sight.  I was miserable. At that point I was like, screw this dry heat/wet heat argument. How about a nice place where it never gets hot enough to melt your balls or cold enough to hurt your face? That sounds good to me.”

Peter perched on the edge of the bed and reached out to lightly touch Stiles’s knee. The skin was still slightly tacky with damp but soft under his fingers, and he didn’t think he imagined the delicate shudder than ran through the young man’s body. “I’m not particular,” he said. “I find that good company makes up for a multitude of environmental sins.”

Stiles looked at him, gaze steady. “So, you don’t have a dream destination? Chalet in the Alps? Cottage in the south of France?” He paused and licked his lips. “Red-tile roofed villa in Argentina?”

Peter stopped his exploration of Stiles’s skin. “Argentina? What ever made you think of Argentina?”

Stiles shifted, the robe slipping and baring yet more long leg. “Well, you said good company was important.  I thought maybe that included, I don’t know…  extended family?”

Peter’s heart stuttered at the thought. Derek and Cora. They’d been gone long enough that he’d begun to accept that he wouldn’t see them again. “I’ll admit, the idea of family has its pull, but family of choice, pack and mate, is more important.” He cupped the back of Stiles’s knee and squeezed. “I wouldn’t run off chasing rainbows when what I really want is already closer to home.”

Stiles rolled over on his side. “And what do you want, Peter?” The fact that he used Peter’s name instead of a silly nickname brought home how serious the Spark was feeling. “If you could have anything, what would you ask for?”

Peter stared down into amber eyes and gathered his courage in his claws again; facing Alpha Garcia was nothing compared to baring his soul to Stiles. “If I could have anything, I would have everything, sweetheart.” He shrugged a carefully careless shoulder, trying not to show just how vulnerable he felt. “I’d take you as my mate. I’d be an Alpha again. I’d bring Derek and Cora back and have them become pack again. We’d find our own territory—it wouldn’t have to be Beacon Hills; Hale territory stretched much farther afield than that. We’d rebuild the Hale Pack.” He dropped his gaze to his curled fingers. “Maybe adopt a couple of pups to raise. Sell our services to smaller packs to refill the coffers and regain the respect that the Hale name used to command.” He reached out and grabbed Stiles’s hand and brought it to his mouth, pressing a fang-laced kiss to the knuckles there, emotions riding him too hard for him to hide them anymore. “But if all I could have was you, forever? I’d be the happiest wolf in the world.  Never doubt that.”

Stiles sat up and pulled Peter into a hug. “I’m glad you weren’t upset that I let Alpha Garcia think we were together. I thought… well, I won’t go into what I thought. I’m just happy I wasn’t wrong.  I mean, I could have been. You haven’t even tried to kiss me.”

Peter rumbled deep in his chest, arms snaking around Stiles’s waist. “An oversight I intend to rectify immediately, if not sooner.” He dragged his cheek along the Spark’s neck, scenting him heavily before pressing their lips together, reveling in his boy’s trembling breath and grasping fingers. “Kiss you. Touch you. Cover every inch of your skin in my scent so that any were that comes in contact with you can smell that you’re mine.”

Stiles’s groaned and leaned into him. “Want that,” he pressed hot lips along the edge of Peter’s jaw, and they both shivered, “want that so much. Want everything with you.”

Peter grinned into his skin. “Everything, hmmm? I like the sound of that.”

Stiles made a noise of frustration. “Yes, everything, but it’s going to have to wait at least a little bit longer.”

Peter made a moue of distaste, dropping another kiss on Stiles parted lips. Stopping was the last thing he wanted, but he refused to rush his mate in this. “I do not like the sound of that. But you’re probably starving. You’ve only eaten four times today.” He pulled Stiles tightly against his side, letting his hands trail under the edge of his robe one last time to tide his wolf over. He wasn’t a saint, after all. “Let’s put our clothes on—dear God I can’t believe I’m saying that. You are a terrible influence on me.—and I’ll take you out to dinner and to see a show. It is Las Vegas, after all.  It would be a shame to leave without seeing a tiger or Celine Dion or something.  Something that isn’t likely to attack us, anyway.”

Stiles rubbed his face into Peter’s neck, mouthing gently along the skin and nipping at it for his teasing, but there was breathless laughter in his voice when he spoke. “Yes, being attacked by Celine Dion would be terrifying. Regardless,” he said, sitting up and moving so there was a little space between them. “We at least need to go to Caesar’s Palace.”

Peter laughed, heart lighter than it had been in years. Caesar’s Palace? Why not? “Is Caesar’s Palace on your bucket list, dear heart? Or is it just the pinnacle of tourist trap kitsch and you feel the need to commune with it somehow?”

Stiles shook his head and gave him a mischievous smile. “No. It’s just that Caesar’s is where Derek and Cora are going to be staying.  They should be getting into town in about, oh,” he peeked around Peter’s shoulder and glanced at the bedside clock, “two hours.  Just long enough for us to make out a little before we have to go meet them. Or get some dinner.  Whichever you want.”

Peter was stunned. Derek and Cora were coming to Las Vegas? And Stiles had already arranged it? What else did his Spark have planned? He looked down at the force of nature in his arms and wondered, not for the first time, how he’d managed to find such a perfect mate. He forced his words through a dry mouth. “And what if I want everything, Stiles?”

Golden eyes glowed and the mischief faded into determination. “Then you’ll have everything, Peter. I knew when I made this move what I wanted; luckily, my wish list and yours are almost identical.  I know that you were waiting until I was ready before you made any sort of move, but you were never going to believe that I was unless I did something drastic, so… I did something drastic. The Alpha’s blessing was an unexpected bonus. Derek and Cora were the easy part. They know you’re not perfect, and it’s going to take a lot of work to build your relationship back to anywhere near where it needs to be, but they’re willing to give it a chance if you are.”

“And the rest?” Peter asked, almost afraid of the answer. “There’s no pack without an Alpha, and I lost my red eyes a long time ago, sweetheart.”

Long fingers combed through the scruff of his beard. “About that,” Stiles tilted his head to one side and smiled. “I got a call from an Alpha in Saskatchewan.  Seems they have a rogue Alpha running around biting people without asking first, and you know what they say.”

“No, sweetheart,” Peter said, closing the space between them, thoughts flashing through his mind and hope fluttering wildly in his chest. “What do they say?”

Stiles pressed even closer. “Well, it’s like it was the garage.” He held his wrist up and shook the little black bracelet that covered his pulse point just a breath away from Peter’s fangs. “Consent is sexy.”

Peter stared at the limb, longing to bury his teeth in the tendons, and thought, not for the first time, that this boy would either be the life or death of him.

***

“Canada?” Scott sounded confused.  It was sad that Peter could identify the flavor of confusion.  This one was Someone is offering me something that’s too good to be true, and I want to believe them, but the last time I did I ended up with no motorbike, a pocket full of magic beans, and sleeping on the couch.

There was a reason Kira was Peter’s favorite packmate.  Or… soon to be ex-packmate if all went well.

“Yes, Canada, Scott. There’s a pack in Saskatchewan that Talia had a treaty with, and they’ve reached out and asked if I could come up and help them with a training program for some of their younger wolves.  They don’t have much interaction with other packs because they’re so isolated, and their Left Hand is getting old enough that he isn’t able to keep up with the young ones’, ah, enthusiasm.”

Scott grinned. “You mean you’re volunteering to move to the Great White North and let a bunch of teenagers beat up on you?”

Peter sneered a little. “It isn’t like I don’t have experience with it.” He gave the teenagers that surrounded them a significant look. “And they don’t have anyone else to turn to.  I didn’t think you’d mind if I took a little… time away. In the name of pack inter-relations.”

Scott waved a hand. “No. No, of course not. Take all the time you need.” He looked at Liam and grinned. “In Canada. I’ll let Deaton know that you’ll pass our good wishes on to the Alpha there.  Hey, maybe we can even get some sort of treaty out of it.”

Peter simply stared. “Perfect.  I’ll have their emissary contact Alan after I arrive. In the meantime, since I’m not going to be in residence, but since I intend to keep the property in my portfolio the pack should continue to use the loft as a base. I know it is hard on Kira to try to host everyone at your apartment.” He gave the kitsune a half-smile and she nodded back, grateful of his consideration.  He almost felt guilty for all the listening devices he’d hidden around the loft over the past week.

Almost. 

With Scott McCall and Alan Deaton in charge, it paid to keep a close eye on things.

“Alpha McKittrick is expecting me by the beginning of next week.  Will that be a problem?”

McCall looked like Christmas, New Year’s and his birthday had all come at once. “Not at all. Not at all. Next week sounds great, doesn’t it, gang?”

The gaggle of teenagers made approving noises, even if Mason and Kira shared a look that held more understanding than Peter was comfortable with.  It didn’t matter. As long as they kept their thoughts to themselves for a couple of weeks, everything should go as planned.

He’d braced himself for questions when he returned from Nevada, but no one had even missed him. He didn’t know whether it was better or worse that McCall hadn’t realized that Stiles had been gone as well, but he’d take the oversight it if it meant that his mate had less confrontation to deal with, even if it meant having to face the unpleasant fact that his former best friend had completely left him behind.

Peter couldn’t wait until the truth came out and McCall realized what he’d thrown away.  He’d be a laughingstock amongst the packs, no matter what his pet druid told him, and he’d known men like this True Alpha before.  Looking the fool was the one thing they couldn’t abide. It would eat him alive, and Peter looked forward to watching the feast.

He cast a look around and realized that the next time he saw these faces it would be with an Alpha Mate Spark and red eyes. As far as he was concerned, it couldn’t come fast enough.

***

Alpha power scoured through him, blasting away at his control and consciousness, and he howled in pain and confusion as his soul was re-written.

“Hell of a power-up, huh, Zombiewolf?” Stiles was there by him, hands warm against his wrists, magic washing over him like warm ocean waves, voice soothing and comforting the terrified animal in his mind, and Peter nodded to show he was there and aware even if speech was impossible around the mouthful of fangs he was sporting.

“You’ve got this,” his mate sounded so confident, so calm, “you’re stronger than you were last time. Better.  You’re going to be an amazing Alpha.  My Alpha, Peter. My mate. Just hang on a little longer for me, okay?”

Peter could feel Derek and Cora running over the snow-covered ground.  They’d stayed out of the fight on his order; he wouldn’t have been able to focus if he’d been worried about their safety, too.  Stiles had also stayed back, but his skills worked from a distance, and his added magic made the fight much less painful than it would have otherwise been.

He remembered what the Las Vegas Alpha had said, that they fought well together.  It was true.  They did everything well together. As Alpha mates they would be amazing together.

A rumble started low in his belly at the thought, hungry and wanting, and he breathed in Stiles’s scent—ozone and petrichor, the camphor of ancient forests, the sweet notes of apple and woodsmoke, and over it all Peter’s own god-damned shower gel—and he managed to put hid fangs away, his desire to keep his mate safe stronger than the wolf’s yearning to rip and tear and wallow in the meat of battle.

“You with me, Peter?” Long fingers stroked up his arms, and Peter nodded. Stiles let out a satisfied hum. “Told you. Told you you’d be perfect like this. Powerful. Beautiful. Perfect Alpha. Just perfect.”

And it felt perfect—like he always it imagined it would after he watched Talia become Alpha. Like it should have felt when he took the spark from Laura.—red tingeing the edges of golden pack bonds between him and Derek and Cora. He could sense their emotions now, their hunger for a strong pack, their hope that he’ll become the Alpha they need as well as the family they want. And Stiles? Even without the bond in place yet, his wolf knows his mate. He could pick that heartbeat out of a thousand.  Could scent him from a mile away. Already his in so many ways.

“Think you can stand up now?” Stiles asks and Peter realizes they were still crouched in the snow where he’d fallen after killing the rogue, legs knocked out from under him by the strength of the Alpha spark.

“Yes, sweetheart,” he said, pushing to his feet and pulling the younger man up with him. “If I needed to, I think I could almost fly.”

Stiles snorted and gave his chest a thump. “Riding that high, are we?” Derek and Cora were standing just beyond arms reach sharing a smile and for once Peter didn’t feel like he was being laughed at. No. His pack was laughing with him, joyous in the moment, and he shook his head and let them laugh.

“It feels,” Peter tried to find the perfect words and couldn’t, but he needed to explain somehow. “Good. Right. Last time it didn’t feel like this, but now it’s like a shoe that was too tight finally stretched and now fits.”

Derek nodded. “That’s what happened when I was Alpha. It was like the Alpha power didn’t fit. I thought at the time it was just because I hadn’t been trained for it, but I think it’s more than that. I think the person has to fit the Alpha-power instead of the other way around. Whether that’s from birth or growth or whatever:  you can’t fake it and have it work right.  This,” he waved a hand at Peter and looked at Cora for confirmation. “This feels right.”

Cora leaned into her big brother and Peter could see relief in every line of her body, as if she’d finally been allowed to stand down from a perpetual state of alertness. “It does.  It hasn’t felt like this in a long time.  Not since…” her voice faded, and Derek hugged her hard. “Not since mom.”

Stiles had been silent during this exchange, allowing the remaining Hales their moment of healing, but he wasn’t one to be quiet for long. “Awesome. Glad to hear it. Couldn’t be happier about it, and am looking forward to talking about it more, but as the token human I need to say something.”

Peter raised an eyebrow. “And what would that be, dear one? Have you some hidden wisdom concerning the nature of the Alpha spark?”

Stiles shook his head. “No, but I do have some wisdom concerning the care and keeping of pack humans. The instruction manual says that humans aren’t meant to be kept out in the snow this long, and that means that if you three wolfy space-heaters don’t get me inside soon, I’m going to be a Spark-cicle.”

Peter barked out a laugh and swung his mate-to-be up in a bridal carry, pulling him against his chest  and letting him bury his face in the heat of his neck. “Well, there are too many things that I’d miss if they froze and fell off, so I suppose we should head back to the cars. I, at least,” he wrinkles his nose and then rubs it into Stiles’s hair, “need to change. I don’t think the hotel will let me in looking like a serial killer.”

Stiles smirked into his skin. “I’m sure hunting is a thing around here. You could always say that Bambi fought back---if your wolfy pride could stand it.”

His wolf chuffed at the insult. A deer got the better of an Alpha werewolf? Never. Peter sniffed dismissively. “I’d rather walk up to the reception desk naked.”

He didn’t tell the Spark that his murmured I wouldn’t mind wasn’t quiet enough to not be heard, but the peal of laughter from his niece and nephew made it clear.  At least Stiles’s ears were warm after that.

***

Later that evening they lay together bundled up in blankets in front of an unlit fireplace.  Stiles had lined every shelf in the cabin with battery powered candles and had brought out a pair of enchanted logs that he placed on the andirons.  They radiated heat without flame, and Peter had to fight back tears in the face of his Spark’s sensitivity. Maybe it was the new Alpha power making him overly emotional.  Maybe it was just Stiles.

It was probably just Stiles.

“Feeling okay, Z?” Stiles rolled in his arms and looked at him with concern.  Apparently, he wasn’t as good at hiding his emotions as he thought. “Not having Alpha blowback or anything, are you?”

Peter tightened his hold and shook his head, trying to find his voice.  “No.  I was just thinking about how I never thought I’d get this.”

His boy nodded and settled back down. “You’d probably written the whole Alpha thing off.  I’m glad it worked out, though.  Thanks for going through with it.  I know it’s hard.”

Peter shook his head again. “That’s not it.  Honestly, the Alpha spark has been the easiest part of all of this.  I’d always believed that I’d manage to get my Alphahood back someday.  It’s…”

A cold nose pressed against the side of his neck and Peter could feel him nod more than see it. “Having Derek and Cora back. Family. Pack. I get it.”

That just made the wolf growl and grumble in the back of his mind, because clearly he didn’t get it.  He didn’t get it at all. “No, Stiles, that isn’t what I meant either.  Don’t you understand yet?  All these other things?” He tried to calm his voice, but his wolf was riding him to make his mate understand. “The pack, my niece and nephew, the Alpha spark---all of these are wonderful, and I wouldn’t give them up for anything now that I have them, but they would never have happened without you.  You are the everything.  You are my everything. I never thought I would find a mate, find my soul’s match.  Hell, for more than half my life I was convinced I didn’t have a soul, and then you came along. Brighter than any flame. Stronger than any force of Nature. You crashed into my life and nothing has been the same and I am so fucking grateful.”

He pulled Stiles up so he could look into the whiskey depths he dreamed of every night. “I wouldn’t be here without you.” Stiles opened his mouth to argue, because his boy always argued, and Peter shushed him. “No. I mean it.  If I hadn’t scented you in the woods.  Hadn’t had you so close to me in the garage. If you hadn’t killed me and then taken me back in when I was too stubborn to stay dead. If you hadn’t found something in me to value, something you could care about…” he pressed their foreheads together. “I wouldn’t be here.”

Peter resettled them, pressed his lips against Stiles’s temple, and listened to his heart race in his chest. “I am a selfish bastard. I’ve been called a narcissist more times than I can count and until the past few years I’d have agreed with that assessment and embraced it proudly.  Now, though, I know it isn’t true because I know, just as surely as I know your scent and the sound of your heart, that there is no me without you.”

Stiles laid in his arms unnaturally still. “Oh.”

That one syllable conveyed a whole conversation full of self-doubt and fear and isolation and yearning, and Peter’s wolf only settled when a sweet cherry-blossom note of hope threaded through the Spark’s scent. “You really mean it.  It isn’t just that I’m useful.”

Peter frowned and a frustrated rumble rolled through him. “You’re everything.  You could sit on the couch and read comic books and demand foot rubs and curly fries every day for the rest of my life and I would thank the Moon that I had you to love and cherish and care for. You’re my mate, Stiles.”

“I just thought that since you hadn’t…” Stiles’s voice faded into an insecure mumble and Peter recognized the damage he’d done by not explaining himself earlier.

“Sweetheart, if the only thing on the table had been our relationship, I would have asked you to mate me as soon as you were legal.  First, though, there was the problem of McCall, because as much as I loathe the brat, he was important to you and I wasn’t going to ask you to choose between us. If I’m honest, I was afraid if I pushed, you’d choose him, and I wasn’t willing to give up the parts of you I had for a slim chance at more.  After Las Vegas, everything was different.  I knew you wanted me, and I wanted you more than anything—there were full moons I had to leave Beacon Hills so I wouldn’t find you and drag you off to my bedroom to mark you, to mate you, to make you mine in ways that no were could mistake.  You had a plan, though, and if that worked out, we could have everything together, and I wanted to give you that, to give you everything. I couldn’t mate you before I fought the Alpha, though.”  He squeezed tighter. “If… if it hadn’t worked…  If I failed to defeat the rogue, you would have suffered terribly if you had a mate bond already in place. You’re not a wolf, but as a Spark, you’d have felt all of it—all my pain—and if I’d died? Well, let’s just say I wasn’t willing to run the risk of putting you through that.”

Stiles was shaking in his arms by that point, and Peter ran a comforting hand down his spine. “The worst didn’t happen, though, and now that the threat has passed, I want you in every way I can have you.” He grasped the boy’s chin in his hand and turned his face so he could see him in the flickering candlelight. His eyes were wide and wet, his lips pink and bitten, and Peter had never seen anything more beautiful. “Can I have you, sweetheart?” He was so close they were sharing breath. “Will you be my mate? Be my everything?”

He should have been expecting it, but the Spark still managed to catch him by surprise, lunging up and flipping them in their blankets until Peter’s back was against the couch and he had a lap of warm, clinging boy. He waited for the Alpha wolf to rebel, to push back and demand submission, but all it did was rumble pleasure at his strong mate.

“I thought you’d never ask.” Stiles dropped a kiss on Peter’s open lips, chaste and sweet, and then another, this one hot and hungry, while threading his fingers through the short hair at Peter’s nape. He tugged gently and the wolf tipped his head back so his mate could lick into his jugular notch. The Spark made a low satisfied noise before pulling away and smiling, trust and happiness glowing in his eyes and magic flaring and rippling around them.

Peter remembered something his Grandfather had told him, long ago under a forgotten full moon: “Faint heart never won fair maiden.” His life had proven that to be true.  If he hadn’t finally bitten the bullet, finally put himself on the line, he’d have missed this.  Missed everything.

He pulled Stiles back down into another kiss and then flipped them back over, pinning his boy under him. Stiles squawked in surprise and Peter grinned. His mate was going to hate finding out he was the fair maiden in their story, but Peter had definitely come out on top this time. 

Maybe next time he’d let Stiles come out on top.  He was flexible.