Rick watched the students cross the road on their way to the coffeehouses that lined the block around the university. He was watching for one particular student, one whose habits Rick had grown to know in the last three years. After all, the pack used him as the wrangler for the McCall-Hale pack members. Stiles’s law class was finished, he should be heading straight towards the nearest source of caffeine. The man was appallingly addicted to it.
Rick just hoped that Stiles had correctly reported his schedule to the alpha. Since Rick's pack at a university in their territory, they couldn't forbid wolves from sharing the territory, but Rick's alpha insisted on knowing the comings and goings of each strange pack member who was in his territory, and since Stiles claimed a pack, that made him subject to pack rules even if he was human. But Rick really did not want to be the one to report the transgression if Stiles had been less than accurate about his current schedule.
But the longer Rick waited without seeing Stiles, the more he feared he would have to go back to his alpha and admit defeat. Maybe Rick could just say that Stiles must have taken a day off class. It wasn't as if college students didn’t occasionally ditch class.
That is definitely what Rick would do. That way, he wouldn't have to get between Stiles and his alpha.
And if his alpha sent him out to deliver the message again, Rick would have to come up with another lie. If Rick was a lucky, lucky wolf, his alpha would send someone else with the message. Rick really didn’t want to to end up on the wrong side of Stiles by reporting that his schedule was wrong.
And to think, three years ago when Rick had first been assigned to to watch their newest visitors, Rick had been afraid of Peter. He had heard so many stories about the infamous left hand of the Hale pack, and so many stories about what happened after he went feral in the aftermath of the fire that had destroyed his pack, that Rick had been convinced that his alpha was setting him up. Peter would maul him or murder him and then his alpha would have a good excuse to kick both Peter and Stiles out of the territory.
Instead, Peter had been a perfect gentleman who would offer to share cabs, and on one particularly bitterly cold night had brought him hot cocoa while Rick had been stuck sitting in his car watching their townhouse. No, Peter was not the one to be afraid of.
That was Stiles.
Stiles had some sort of Jedi mind trick where he seemed to be rambling with his mouth moving at fifty miles an hour while saying nothing, but his words were little worms that crawled into Rick's brain and made him rethink everything. Rick hadn't noticed at first. In fact, when Stiles had filed the paperwork with the alpha saying that he was taking prelaw classes, Rick considered that amusing. He had thought those prelaw students would eat Stiles alive and leave his bones to bleach in the desert. Instead, Stiles had this affable, friendly nature that completely hid the fact that he was an world-class asshole. One who made Rick rethink his priorities in life, and that was the worst sort of asshole.
And now Rick was stuck trying to deliver a message he couldn't deliver, and he knew his alpha was going to take it out on him.
Rick had worked himself up to a good panic before he saw Stiles sporting a new buzz cut and carrying a giant coffee out of the nearest coffee shop. Relief almost made Rick's knees go weak. Thank God.
Rick hurried towards him, and even from across the street he could hear Stiles debating with a blonde student in thick black glasses. Stiles was saying something about how the current Supreme Court arrangement would have found differently in the TLO case, but Rick didn't understand any of the specifics of his argument. The woman with Stiles nodded along as though agreeing, but the minute Stiles stopped talking, she launched in her to her own counteroffensive that seemed to be centered around the Constitution. Honestly, Rick couldn't understand either of them, but they seem to deserve each other.
Stiles looked up, and the minute he made eye contact with Rick, Stiles put his hand on his classmate’s arm. “Do you think we can pick this debate up a little later? I see a friend of the family over there trying to catch my eye, so I think I need to go find out what's going on.”
The woman looked over and her gaze caught Rick. She narrowed his her eyes as though judging whether he was worthy of Stiles’s attention before she nodded and gave Stiles a crooked smile. “Sure, sure. No problem. Besides, you're probably just try to get rid of me because you know I'm right.”
“I would be thrilled to celebrate your rightness if you ever managed to be right. But since that day hasn't come yet…” Stiles walked backwards and gave her an exaggerated shrug before retreating from her weak attempt to throw a punch at his shoulder. With a laugh, Stiles turned and started trotting towards Rick. Without waiting for Stiles to catch up, Rick turned and headed for the nearest spot where they could have some privacy. The alpha had paid some local witches good money to create dead zones—benches or tables scattered throughout the city where, if a werewolf or a druid sat down, no one would be able to overhear their conversation.
Rick settled in on one of the benches that lined a tree-lined road not far from the house Peter shared was Stiles. Giving Rick a concerned look, Stiles sat and put his laptop bag on the bench between them. “Okay, what's up?”
“The alpha sent me with a message.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “If he’s all that concerned about whether I'm staying here for law school, he can call my alpha and the alphas can have a dick measuring contest where they decide who gets to set the rules for my law school attendance. I'm certainly not going to listen to your alpha just because he happens to be the local boss. I'm not local, and he's not my boss.”
Rick felt a bone-deep discomfort at having his alpha disrespected. “You've made that clear.”
“I have, haven't I? So, assuming that you're not here to express your displeasure at the thought of me hanging around for four more years instead of one, what are you here for?”
“Out west, I know that people often protect themselves through hiding.”
“that’s a strange place to start a conversation, but sure, we can start there. Yes, most will packs do try to hide. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it ends up like the Hales. In case you missed that reference, that was a suggestion that sometimes hiding doesn't work and you end up with your entire pack being burned to death around you.”
“I understood that,” Rick said. The story of the Hales was still told in the werewolf community the way a fable might be. Be good little wolves and be cautious of hunters or else the hunters will get you the way they got the Hale pack. Rick would have dismissed the stories as a fable, some morality play like his English teacher in high school always talked about, but from the references Peter and Stiles had made an even from the things his own alpha had said, Rick assumed it was less fairytale and more an unhappy documentary. If hunters tried to do that to his family, Rick would kill them. He would kill them all. So the fact that feral Peter Hale had tried to do nothing more than what every good wolf should have done had earned him forgiveness from most of the local pack. Rick wasn't sure his alpha felt the same, but Rick was also not sure that he wanted to share every opinion with his alpha.
Uncomfortably enough, he could sense Stiles’s fingerprint on that attitude.
“Around here, we don't have that option. It's harder to hide our relationships or our full-moon visits to the national forests. But it's also harder for hunters to hide. There might be more people around, but there are fewer uninhabited spaces where they can slip in unnoticed. Eastern packs have relationships with witches and druids and sometimes vampires.” Personally, Rick hated blood drinkers, but he understood their value when it came to keeping the entire supernatural community safe from hunters.
“Okay. Why am I sensing something ominous in what you are not saying?” Stiles was too insightful. Rick needed to deliver the message and then leave before Stiles found out something the alpha hadn’t told Rick to reveal.
“My alpha has learned that a team from the Argents in France have taken lodging in the city.” Rick watched Stiles carefully. Rumor said that he had an uneasy alliance with an Argent, one of the matriarch’s fathers from the American branch. But rumor also said that Stiles had killed the American matriarch. Both rumors could not be true, but Rick was unsure which he should believe.
Stiles blinked at him, his expression unchanging.
Rick grew uneasy with the silence. “The alpha thought you should know. We don't know if it has anything to do with you, but the alpha believes you should know.”
Stiles was unnaturally still. He was a man of movement. His fingers would drum on his knee or his foot would twitch. He would wring his hands or he would rock back and forth on his feet as though seeking a balance that he could not find. But now he was perfectly, utterly and disturbingly still.
“Thank your alpha for the information,” Stiles said. He stood, and Rick stood with him, feeling a need to follow him home and make sure he got to the townhouse. However, Stiles held a hand out and Rick stopped. Without a word, Stiles turned and headed towards his home. Rick was caught between wanting to protect Stiles and wanting to run for the hills. If some part of an Argent feud had landed in their territory, fleeing would be the most logical reaction. However, Rick was loyal to his alpha.
And he suspected that Stiles could take on one Argent team. Now if the Argents sent more hunters, then the outcome was less certain. Maybe the alpha would get involved then. Maybe he would call out of of the pack-associated witches to curse the hunters. Rick knew his alpha wouldn’t want to send wolves against hunters. Teeth and claws were poor weapons when put up against wolfsbane bullets and mountain ash.
But retreating from an enemy felt wrong. As much as Rick wanted to run away, he felt an equal need to throw himself at the hunters and rip their throats out. This was the family who had targeted the Hales. Maybe these were French Argents and not the American ones, but they were two branches of the same tree.
But in the end, Rick was a soldier, at least when he wasn’t doing finish carpentry work for the construction company. He had to put his faith in the alpha to navigate these treacherous waters.
And if there was a small part of Rick that didn’t trust his own alpha, then he could still wait to see how Peter and Stiles would handle this. They were formidable enemies, and Rick had to believe they could handle a few hunters. He had to.
Rick headed back toward his work truck. He needed to get back to the site.
Stiles tapped the edge of his table as he listened to the phone ring. Come on. Pick up. Back when monsters were running around Beacon Hills, Stiles remembered Chris picking up the phone much faster. Maybe he had hovered over the phone because he lived in fear of his daughter calling for backup and not being there. Stiles had no idea what he lived for now that she was dead.
“Allô?” a familiar voice said.
“Hey Chris, what's up?”
Silence answered him. After a second, Chris asked, “Stiles?” in an unsteady voice. Stiles wasn’t used to hearing that tone from the mighty Chris Argent, and it did suggest that Chris knew something about this team headed Stiles’s way. Bastard. He could have given them some warning. Stiles just hoped he could handle this before Peter found out because he wasn’t even a little reasonable when it came to anyone named Argent. Or anyone who smelled of wolfsbane. Or anyone who stockpiled weapons. So yeah, an Argent hunter team was going to hit far too many of Peter’s buttons. He had a good life here and he didn’t deserve to be dragged back into the psychological trauma, at least not any trauma that went further than Stiles and Scott teaming up to make Peter miserable over Christmas.
“Yeah, who else is going to call you from Virginia?” Stiles made his voice as happy and chirpy as he possibly could despite the well of fear and anger running through his soul.
“I’m sure I know someone else in Virginia.” Chris sounded cagey.
“Oh, I bet you do,” Stiles agreed. For three years, Stiles and Peter had enjoyed a quiet, happy life. Peter had just made partner at his law firm, and he was enjoying the fact that he got to commit mayhem in the courtroom, and his clients enjoyed it as well. And that seemed to sate any need for any literal mayhem. Either that, or the power that Peter was accumulating as he won cases and did favors was feeding his ego. Or both. Both was probably pretty accurate.
But Stiles was not ready to have his life turn into the sort of shit storm it had been in high school. He didn't want to be caught between werewolves and hunters, especially not when the Eastern packs seem to have quite a bit of magical help on their side. Deaton would never do more than treat wolfsbane poisoning or give them a place to make plans, but the Druids and witches that worked with these the Eastern packs did all kinds of nifty little magical spells. Any war between hunters and wolves here was going to get entirely too bloody, entirely too fast.
Chris had been silent for a long time, and Stiles doodled on the notepad next to him, drawing circles faster and faster and faster until the tip of the pencil snapped off.
“I take it someone told you,” Chris finally said.
“What? That the Argents sent a hunter team to my city? So is this personal? Should I get ready to run for my life because I am just accidentally ground zero of another supernatural war? Or maybe you're going to lie to me, tell me that everything is hunky-dory and there's absolutely no reason for me to worry.”
“Stiles.” Chris sounded old. Worn.
“Don't give me that, Chris. We've been through the wars together, so you can damn well give me a little honesty.”
Chris sighed. “There are parts of the Argent clan that are concerned.”
“Specifically you? No.”
Well shit. Stiles would rather they focus on him because he could take his human ass down to whatever hotel they were hiding in and read them the riot act. But if they were focused on Peter, putting them in the same zip code with a vengeful werewolf could lead to more trouble than either of them could handle. “Then Peter,” he said warily. The potential for mayhem was increasing exponentially.
“They see how popular he's getting in certain circles, and they are concerned.”
“He’s a good lawyer. People who skirt the law like good lawyers, and face it, most politicians skirt the law.”
“They are concerned that he could be building his own pack. There’s been debate about whether you’re still human.”
“Funny. I thought that was a long-standing debate among the Argent clans. As I understand it, there's one whole branch of your family that thinks that when the Nogitsune rebuilt my body, that it was unable to build a human body, and therefore I am a very young Nogitsune.” When Deaton had asked Stiles about the rumor and asked if he would take a small magical test, Stiles had nearly torn Deaton’s head off. Ironically, it has been Peter who had dragged him out of the room before any blood got spilled.
Chris didn't answer right away. He probably hadn’t known the rumor had wandered its way back to Stiles. “I told them they were wrong about that.”
“I should hope so. I fought that monster every single day. I shredded my own mind to try to give you people time to stop it, so for someone to accuse me of being one is enough to make me a little homicidal.”
“Maybe that's why some people are worried about whether you're still human. You make too many comments about wanting blood. You sound like a werewolf, more than Scott does. And you're not the only one who hears rumors. As I understand it, Peter already offered you the bite once.”
“And I turned him down. He hasn't offered since, and if he did, I would turn him down again.”
“Then you don't have anything to worry about, Stiles.” The emphasis on “you” was so slight that Stiles could have missed it if he hadn’t been expecting some sort of double talk. This is why Stiles wanted to be a lawyer—he wanted to be able to nail down the slippery shit people tried flinging at him. He’d always considered words his primary weapons, but pre-law was helping him hone his weapon of choice into some even more deadly.
“Does Peter have anything to worry about?” Stiles waited for the platitudes and soft-spoken deception.
“These Argents are not like Gerard and Kate. They will not break the code.”
“They are simply interested in finding out whether Peter is trying to build an empire.”
Stiles threw his hand into the air and considered throwing his phone in frustration. “Peter hasn't even tried to overthrow the local alpha!”
“I wouldn't expect him to. That territory is home to one of the most popular universities for supernatural creatures, who have an ironic interest in law enforcement. So overthrowing that alpha and taking his territory would require him to play politics with those he likely would not wish to.”
“You talk like Peter isn’t a political creature, as if he's not good at making alliances or working with the enemy. I hate to break this to you, but he's very good at that sort of shit.” In the last year or so, Peter had started dragging Stiles to various fundraisers and parties—introducing Stiles as a family friend and protégée. He insisted Stiles needed to network now to pin down a good internship in a successful law firm. And during all those miserable parties, Stiles had seen how terrifyingly good Peter was a schmoozing rich people. He had a talent for it that rivaled his vengeance skills.
“I understand exactly how good Peter is at manipulating.” Chris’s voice had a darkness that suggested he hadn’t fought against his family sending this hunter team. “Given the political circles Peter is maneuvering himself into, it's not surprising that the Argents are concerned.”
“Have the balls to say you’re concerned,” Stiles snapped.
A long sigh was Chris’s only answer.
“They don't have a right to any part of Peter’s life. This is our city now, and I won't have you targeting him, so you call that team and you tell them to back off.” Stiles’s hand was trembling with rage, and Stiles grabbed the edge of his desk to control it.
Chris was silent for a long time. When he did speak, anger had given way to exhaustion. “Stiles, I don't have the authority to do that anymore. My branch of the family—Gerard's branch of the family—has been left without any female heir. We have no matriarch, so another branch of the family will take over our territory. I have no decision-making power here.”
“Then give them strong advice.”
“I have,” Chris said. “I haven’t defended Peter because I don’t believe he is a good man. I never have, and I never will. However, I told the Argent matriarch that you have always fought on the side of the angels. I told her that if you saw the Argents as the aggressors, you would get involved, and it didn’t matter if you were outnumbered or outgunned. And I might have told her that you are dangerous in your inability to compromise. Allison told me how you risked your life helping Scott through his first full moon. I know you challenged Derek when he was the alpha, and I respect that you fought the Nogitsune every step of the way. I told her all that. I told her that if the Argents pushed into your life, you would be equally willing to challenge our team.”
“But you’re not going to recall the team.”
“I don’t have the power, and the matriarch chooses not to,” Chris said. “However, they are investigating Peter and how far he has taken his quest for power. They are not there to kill him.”
“Do they have permission to kill him if the team or your precious matriarch doesn’t like what they see?” Stiles wasn’t a fool. He knew that Peter took cases that allowed him to make friends in high places, and the partners let him because no one could do battle in a courtroom like Peter. He used his wolf to spot every lie. He tracked the scents of the jury and used that intimate knowledge of their emotions to tailor his arguments to them. Stiles had heard the other lawyers at those fancy parties talk about how Peter had an almost supernatural ability to control a jury and break witnesses. He might not be after an alpha spark, something that made Stiles a little suspicious, but he had not given up his quest to develop so much power that no one could touch him. Stiles understood the source of that drive, but he didn’t think the Argents would want to hear that they had helped create this version of Peter. The fire had made him both more brittle and stronger, and the Argents had no right to complain if they didn’t like this new Peter.
Chris said, “Goodbye, Stiles,” without answering.
It was time to go nuclear on the Argents’ asses.
“Hey Spencer, how is life and murder going?” Stiles slid into the diner booth and smiled at the FBI agent. Spencer looked up from his book, his finger still on the word he’d been reading when Stiles walked in.
Spenser smiled. “It's going about the same. Murder is murder. How are your classes going?”
“Oh, pretty much the same. My roommate is endlessly dismissive of the quality of legal education around here because he doesn't like some of the solutions my law professors suggest. He's a lawyer and he definitely thinks he knows more than the professors.”
“Does he?” Spenser asked. That’s why Stiles liked him—he never dismissed an idea out of hand. Back when Stiles had done his FBI internship program, Spenser had been one of the agents that Stiles had really liked, even if the profiler had only done one day with the group.
“Probably.” Peter was brilliant. He was also kind of a dick in that he liked to defend guilty, rich assholes, but that was Peter. In his pre-law classes they talked about how everyone deserved to be defended, but Peter took it one step farther by reveling in the assholiry of others.
“Hey, what can I get for you?” the waitress asked as she appeared at the table. She offered a menu, but Stiles set it to one side.
“Coffee. Lots of coffee, and do you have curly fries?”
“Homestyle,” she said.
“Then just coffee,” Stiles said.
“You got it.” The waitress retrieved the menu and left.
Spencer waited until she left to ask, “Would that roommate be Peter Hale?”
Stiles was shocked. “Did you have someone do a background check on me?”
Spencer closed his book and slid it to one side. “You did break into a federal building to attend a training that most of the officers in that federal building were hoping to avoid. There was some concern about your potential motives.”
“I just wanted to learn something interesting, and from what the professor had said, your lectures are very interesting. By the way, I agree with him. I loved the lecture.” From what Stiles had seen, the room had been divided between agents who hung onto every word and the idiots in the back who considered Spencer with barely disguised scorn.
“I appreciate the feedback, but if you are going to con your way into a secure building, you have to understand that people will do background checks on you.”
Style shrugged. “I already been in the building for the for the apprenticeship program, so I just happened to know where there were security lapses.”
The edges of Spencer's lips curled up just a little bit. “So you recognize security holes in a federally guarded building. At eighteen. That would be why the FBI did a background check on you.”
That was fair. And honestly, Stiles didn’t mind anyone looking because his juvenile record was buried as deep as Jimmy Hoffa. “You specifically know the name of my roommate, so I think it was you doing a background check.” Stiles rubbed his hands together. “I want to hear all the juicy details. What did you find out?”
“Is there some event in your past that you are concerned that I might find out?” Spencer asked.
If the FBI knew Stiles’s whole history, Stiles would have to make a new life plan. Hell, he probably end up having to follow Peter's life plan for him, which would require becoming a litigation shark. Luckily, stealing police vehicles, breaking and entering, and one tiny case of kidnapping would not show up on any public records. And that was very lucky since Stiles would not be able to explain that the classmate he kidnapped had in fact turned into a monstrous kanima, and Jackson was fine with him now because he understood the importance of protecting the pack. He was fairly sure the FBI hiring committee frowned on those sorts of ethics. Stiles traced the fake grain wood of the tabletop with his finger. “So, did you profile me?”
“That's a dangerous question to ask.”
Stiles grinned. “I love dangerous questions. And now I'm so curious that I'm dying to know what you have. Come on, lay it on me.”
“I thought we were meeting to discuss a concern you had that you thought might warrant FBI attention,” Spencer said.
Stiles poked a finger in Spencer’s direction. “Do not try and distract me with my own agenda. I want to know how you profiled me.”
There was something in Spencer’s gaze that was almost predatory. Maybe other people were put off by Spencer's slender build or his almost habitual absent-minded persona, but as another member of the ‘don't look at me I'm helpless club,’ Stiles suspected that it was all a charade. Spencer was just as dangerous as the other people on his team, probably more so because he was definitely the brain to their brawn. The seminar that Stiles had attended had blown his mind because Spencer's brain was such a thing of beauty, and Stiles knew how dangerous a brain could be.
When the alphas had attacked, Stiles had been much more frightened of Kali’s calculating nature and Ducalion’s plots than he ever had been of the giant Ennis. Brute strength might get attention, but when it came down to a battle in the real world, Stiles found that intelligence won the war. Stiles paused in his tracing of the design on the laminate table. He might be hanging out with Peter too much. Seeing the world in terms of who would come out on top if everyone decided to try and kill each other was not particularly mentally healthy.
“Are you sure you want me to answer that question?” Spencer asked.
Stiles made a grabby hands gesture. “Come on, lay it on me. I want to hear this.”
“Okay,” Spencer said. For a second, concern replaced that sharp predatory gaze. “You are a perfectionist, an overachiever. After your mother died, your school grades actually improved, which suggests that you cope by throwing yourself into work. That drive for academic achievement continued all the way up to your sophomore year where your grades slipped a bit, although they still remained excellent. The rest of the team thinks that you might've been doing something remarkably pedestrian like getting caught up in high school girl trouble or maybe a little experimenting with drugs or alcohol, but I maintain that you shifted your perfectionism to some new topic that simply didn't show up in the paper records.”
“Why can’t I be off doing something normal?” Stiles asked. He was a little freaked out at how accurate Spencer was.
Spencer gave him had flat look. “You are young man who chooses to spend his college years breaking into federal buildings in order to attend seminars. I don't think the word normal will ever apply to you, which I find refreshing. So would you like to tell me what you were being perfectionist about? That has been a topic of debate in our team.”
“Cool! The FBI's top team is talking about me.” Stiles smile faded. “Please tell me this is a talking about in terms that I might get to second base in the interview process as opposed to your considering filing a restraining order to keep me away from federal buildings.”
“I'm just going to assume that it's the former,” Stiles said. Hopefully Spencer wasn't so callous that he would laugh if Stiles’s antics had already gotten him exiled from his job of choice.
“I think most of the team is impressed with the fact that you volunteer with legal aid even though you haven't started law school. They report that you have a greater success at planning defenses than many of their lawyers. The fact that you choose that volunteer work when you are living with arguably one of the best criminal defense lawyers in the city, a man who has been attempting to introduce you to all the right people for you to walk into a six-figure salary in private practice, has impressed most of them.”
“I'm not opposed to money,” Stiles said. “If I can’t get into the FBI, I very well might take one of those jobs, but if I did, I would definitely ask to be the lawyer that does the pro bono work. I don't handle rich people well. The entitlement annoys me.”
“So you would take the money of the wealthy while refusing to defend them?” Spencer tilted his head to the side as though Stiles were a particularly confusing puzzle.
Stiles gave an exaggerated shrug. “Call me Robin Hood. And law firms love to have good pro bono cases and to be seen as the champions of the neighborhood. That doesn't mean they actually want to hang out with the sort of people who need a pro bono lawyer. It would be a win-win for everyone. They would have all of their bright and shiny new lawyers working on cases they want to work on, and I would be able to wander the darker parts of the city investigating the claims of my clients before going to court and shredding the DA.” If Stiles couldn't get into the FBI, he actually considered this plan brilliant. Peter considered him a bit of a fool for not taking a more traditional path, but even Peter admitted that law firms needed those pro bono cases in order to build goodwill.
Spencer nodded. “Given that additional piece of information, I'm going to guess that the topic that distracted you sophomore year was crime. Your father was the local sheriff, and the crime stats in your part of California are frankly horrific. Why do I suspect that you were trying to solve crimes at sixteen?”
If Spencer knew anything about the supernatural, he would have nailed the profile.
“Do you believe that someone close to you was in fact the victim of a crime?” Spencer asked. Stiles recognized his tentative voice. Every time people found out his mother had died, they got that same tone.
“Do I think my mother was a victim of crime? No. My mother was a victim of biology.”
“And yet you don't want to be a doctor.” Again, Spencer studied Stiles.
“I don't like blood. That seems a high bar to get over if you want to be a doctor.” Stiles remembered when Derek had been shot with wolfsbane and he had told Stiles that the only way to save him was to cut off his arm. Even now, that incident haunted Stiles’s nightmares. “I did ask you here for something related to that topic, though. It starts with Peter Hale.”
Stiles nodded. “When my mom was dying in the hospital, Peter was in the hospital in a coma. He was in that coma for six years, and I was felt sorry for him because he didn't have family to visit him. I would sneak into his room and talk to him.” That was a fabrication, but Stiles needed the emotional hook to justify his involvement in the case. Explaining that this was a pack issue would not going to work with an FBI agent.
“I didn't realize Peter had such a significant injury.” Spencer frowned. “He has recovered well. He is in the minority of coma patients if he was able to cognitively recover well enough to be the man he is today. Most coma patients have lingering cognitive deficiencies in some area.”
Stiles remembered all the numbers Spencer had rattled off in his lecture. Even when an audience member asked questions Spencer didn’t have time to prepare for, he could give numbers. “You know the statistics on that, don't you?” Stiles asked.
Spencer smiled. “I do. But I am practicing at saying ‘many’ or ‘most’ rather than providing the numbers. I'm finding good success at being able to build rapport.”
“I am fine with you giving the numbers. I actually like numbers.”
Spencer gave him a small smile. “Yes, but I am attempting to modify my own behavior, and making an exception this early in would be detrimental to that process, especially when I am so very tempted to start providing statistics.”
Stiles held up his hands in surrender. “Then, far be it from me to get in the way of your quest to emulate normal.”
“When dealing with crime victims, sometimes normal is preferable. I suspect you've already discovered that in your work at the legal aid.”
Stiles shrugged. “When I get excited, I still get spastic and weird, but most of the time, clients are just so thrilled that someone believes them, and is so enthusiastic in that belief that they’re pretty forgiving.”
“I imagine they are. So you said the story starts with Peter Hale in a coma.”
Stiles pulled out a folder that he had begun to collect years ago. He had any number of insurance folders, but this was the first time he'd had to use one. “Peter’s family died in an arson fire. My father started investigating it my sophomore year, when Peter was first showing signs of coming out of the coma. My dad hadn't been sheriff when the hail fire happened, but he had been in town. He had known Talia Hale and Charles and all the children who died in the fire.” Stiles offered the fire report, and Spencer took it, devouring it with his eyes had a remarkable speed.
After just a few minutes, Spencer looked up. “This says the fire was an accident.”
“And this is the evidence that the fire inspector faked that result for someone before he was brutally murdered.” Spencer took the paper Stiles offered, and once again devoured it with his gaze.
His eyebrows started to go up. “This is rather conclusive. If he weren't dead, your father would've certainly put him in prison. He was an accessory to murder twelve times over. So who committed the murder?” Spencer gave Stiles a curious look. The truth—that a feral Peter had gone on a vengeance spree—wouldn’t serve him. But luckily Spencer couldn’t hear a lie. He definitely wouldn’t recognize the Frankenstein monster of truth and deception Stiles was about to serve on a silver platter.
“I tried convincing my dad that it was Derek Hale who was newly arrived from New York. His sister Laura Hale had come to town the week earlier, but she showed up dead and cut into two.” Stiles offered that report.
As Spencer read, he said in a distracted tone, “You don't sound like you’re blaming Derek now.”
“No. I know Derek. He is an emotionally constipated sourpuss who is incapable of getting over the traumas in his life and tends to sit in dark rooms and read tragedies. But he’s not a killer.”
Spencer looked up. “You sound almost fond when you talk about him.”
Stiles shrugged. “I gave him a lot of shit and convinced my dad to arrest him. Twice.” Stiles held up two fingers. “And he was still pretty forgiving, and at one point even told me that the evidence made my conclusions reasonable. He was one of the first adults to really listen to me, although that didn't mean we had an easy relationship.”
Spencer refocused on the papers Stiles had given him. “How old was Derek when the fire happened?”
“Fifteen. But it gets worse. This is a picture of one of the teachers at his school.” Stiles handed over a photocopy from a page in the school newspaper. A smiling Kate stood with her hand on a young Derek’s shoulder. “If you ask him about Kate, he will shut down harder than an oyster you're trying to pry open for dinner.”
“Yeah, I find it weird that he talks about his teacher using her first name. And then I found out that his family were something of doomsday preppers. They died in the basement because they had escape tunnels down there, so when the fire started, instead of running out of the house, they ran down into the basement.”
“And they couldn't get out of their tunnels?” Spencer asked when Stiles hesitated. Stiles was trying to tap dance between truth and fiction and he had to wait his words carefully.
“Someone knew about their tunnels and had blocked them. Someone locked his family in the basement and watched them burn, and then paid off the fire inspector to call it an accident.”
Stiles pulled a new picture out of his file. “About the time the new murders started my sophomore year, we had a new family come to town. Allison Argent went to high school with me and this is her aunt, Kate Argent.” Stiles pushed across day surveillance photo that he had taken from one of the local supermarkets. It showed Chris and Allison smiling and Kate with a calculating expression on her face.
Spencer's gaze shot right to Stiles. “She came to town when the murder started?”
“She came to town a few weeks after the murder started, but there are hotels on the perimeter of Beacon Hills, and if I was going to start covering up for a crime I committed five years earlier, I would make sure that I was nowhere near for the first few murders. I would wait until the police had focused in on another suspect, to give myself a smokescreen.”
Spencer didn’t look convinced yet, but Stiles hadn’t gotten to his big guns. Not even close. And Spencer was listening. In fact, he nodded as he asked, “Did she show up after your father arrested Derek?”
Spencer folded his hands on top of the papers Stiles had offered him and really gave Stiles a searching look. “When people start profiling, they often see patterns where they don’t exist. If you ask a computer to randomly generate numbers, human beings will perceive patterns in that random distribution.”
Stiles pulled another picture, this one showing Kate firing a crossbow at a fleeing human. Spencer's eyebrows just about crawled up into his hairline. And then Stiles pulled out picture after another, each showing Kate in some violent situation.
“This does not appear to be a random,” Spencer said.
“Oh, it gets worse,” Stiles assured him.
He pulled a set of papers that he had stapled together and slid them across. Elk City, Idaho, a family of seven. Kate was going by the name of Catherine Rupa. She was the substitute English teacher at the oldest son's school. The entire family burned to death in their house, and the eldest son was found dead of an apparent suicide three weeks later.” Stiles had included a picture of the beautiful Catherine Rupa.
He pulled a second stack out of his folder. “Two years earlier, a teacher's aide by the name of Katie Plata worked with the special ed department in small-town Montana. One of her students was a nineteen-year-old developmentally disabled young man who had suffered a catastrophic head injury. His entire family died in a house fire caused by a faulty fireplace flue. The son was found dead from alcohol poisoning two months later.
Stiles could see Spencer's brain starting to go into overdrive. No doubt he would want to confirm every piece of intelligence Stiles was providing, but the thing is, it was all true. It was carefully edited to leave out motive, but Spencer himself in that seminar had said that motive sometimes existed only in the mind of the perpetrator. Serial killings were not like simple murders. Anything could draw the attention of a serial killer.
Stiles continued. “In Kansas she was Catherine Silvers. Again, there was a house fire. Again, she had a close relationship with one of the sons. Again, the son ended up dead. Three months later, he had a fatal single car accident. If you look at the coroner’s report on that one, it doesn't really look consistent with accident injuries, but what do I know?”
Spencer’s look turned calculating. “Have you looked at a lot of autopsy reports?”
“More than most.”
“Most what? Teenagers or crime scene analysts?”
“Probably more than most crime scene analysts,” Stiles admitted.
Spencer sighed. “Well, now I know what you were busy being a perfectionist about. You're suggesting she's a serial killer.”
“I am. And I think she would've killed Derek except Derek's sister survived the fire. She had been out of the house when it started, and the day after the fire, she grabbed Derek and ran.”
“Did she know her brother was being hunted?”
“Who knows. Getting Derek to talk to about any of this is like pulling teeth.”
Spencer nodded slowly. “If your hypothesis is correct, he was a fifteen-year-old rape victim who was targeted by a serial killer who tortured him by killing his family.”
“And now you know why he likes to sit in the dark and read tragedies,” Stiles said. “I love Derek. I really do. He was one of the few adults who respected my opinion when I was still in high school. And sometimes that meant that he threatened to eviscerate me if I didn't back off, but he never dismissed me as a kid.” Stiles touched a picture of a smiling Kate. “And the fact that this woman did that to him drives me insane.”
Spencer started sorting the papers. “Where she now?”
“Here's the thing, the reports say that she died in 2011. I even have her death certificate, but the cause of death was weird. It says a big cat clawed her throat out, but there were no claw marks on her belly or legs. When big cats attack, they kick with their back legs, tearing open the prey’s belly?” Stiles offered up the relevant documents. He was nothing if not thorough when framing people for the crimes they actually committed.
“It is unusual,” Spencer said. “But that doesn’t prove she’s still alive, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“No, the pictures I have of her from two years after she supposedly died prove that.”
Stiles pulled out the stills of Kate when she had visited her father. They were time stamped, and it was clear that either the coroner’s report was faked or Kate had recovered from a fatal injury stood up and walked out of the morgue. Of course Stiles knew the second was true, but Spencer was more likely to reach a different conclusion. “She was visiting her father who was in a seedy motel in the next town over from Beacon Hills. He showed up dead the next day.”
Spencer's brows lowered and he pursed his lips as he started flipping through the pages. Stiles had no idea what he was looking for, but Spencer flipped them faster and faster--nearly manic as he moved from one set of evidence to the next. “Do you have any sightings after this?”
“I don't.” Of course, Stiles didn't because he had helped kill her, but Spencer didn't need to know everything. “But here's my concern. Every single place Kate went to kill someone, either Gerard showed up in town, or Argent Arms made an appearance. In two of the cases, Argent Arms came to pitch contracts with the local police departments to provide weapons, and they sent a team of people to train the officers. Those teams were in town when the families burned.”
This is where Stiles’s trap started to close. If the Argents were going to target him and Peter, he needed to take the whole family out. Legally. Permamently.
“In the Kansas, Gerard rented a house under an assumed name, but it's a name I can trace to the accounts I might've hacked in Beacon Hills.” Stiles slid the evidence over. “And then in Beacon Hills, Gerard purchased a home right before the Hales burned to death. He continued to own that home over the next five years, and after I accused Derek of murder and Kate showed up, Gerard came to town. He was hired to be the school principal even though he had no experience outside of running an arms business.” Sometimes Stiles wondered how the supernatural could stay hidden in Beacon Hills because logically none of this made sense. He just needed Spencer to draw the right incorrect conclusions.
“Kate visited him the night he died?” Spencer asked.
“You think they were partners. You think that by killing Gerard, Kate was finally supplanting him as the dominant partner,” Spencer said. It was nice that Spencer didn’t dismiss Stiles’s theories.
“She had the sex appeal to target the sons, but I don't know what woman in her twenties wants to sleep with a nineteen-year-old disabled man or a fifteen-year-old kid. I think she was the submissive partner, and I think that Argent Arms became a mercenary crew who backed her up.”
Spencer sat back. “That's a serious charge.”
Stiles nodded. “I know. It’s just that after I was wrong when I accused Derek of murder, my dad was not interested in listening. To be fair, I gave my dad a lot of reasons not to listen. But my gut tells me I'm right. This wasn't a simple case of a serial killer or even a pair of serial killers with Gerard being dominant and training his daughter to use sex with minors, although that is plenty creepy enough to make the textbooks. Seriously.” A full body shiver went through Stiles. “That is screwed up on so many levels that I find myself both hating Kate with a burning passion and feeling incredibly sorry for her because her father must've done some twisted shit to get her to buy into this plan.”
Spencer looked up from the papers. “I find I feel that way about many of the serial killers we pursue. They are damaged human beings who have suffered horribly. But it is still their choice to kill. Kate Argent might have been twisted by her father's illness, but she could've refused to go along. She could have become self-destructive instead of destroying others. She could have told Child Protective Services and sought therapy. She could have repressed her memories. There are a thousand responses to trauma, so when someone chooses killing, it is a choice.”
Stiles rubbed his hand over his face. “I know it. But this is so screwed up. This is amazingly screwed up. But the fact that Argent Arms was in town on two of the four murders and the fact that her father was there for the other two does suggest this is something far beyond Kate.”
Spencer started putting the papers back into a neat pile. “Why are you bringing this to me now? It appears that you were trying to build a solid case for yourself. Perhaps you thought this would earn you attention from the FBI and show that you had the investigatory chops to hold your own.”
Stiles shook his head. “This was always more about Derek and Peter that it was the FBI. Did I keep working on it in my spare time? Yes. It felt disrespectful of the Hale family to let this go. But Kate is in the wind and hasn't shown up on any official paperwork since she was declared dead, and I don't know where to look for her on surveillance videos. I only knew to look for those videos because I knew her father turned up dead.”
“Have you secured copies of the videos?”
Stiles wanted to pump his fist in the air. Spencer wouldn’t have asked about the original videos if he wasn’t concerned about the chain of command. And he wouldn’t care about chain of command if he didn’t plan to investigate. Maybe his team wouldn’t take the investigation far, but in the law enforcement community, a hint of a scandal would be enough to ruin the Argent name in America. Any time they had anyone in town, the local cops would get suspicious, and it would be hard for any hunter teams to work without having someone crawl up their ass.
It was perfect.
“I might have forged my father's signature so that the surveillance was entered as evidence in whatever crime I could find anywhere nearby,” Stiles said with a casual shrug.
Spencer chuckled. “I did say you were overachieving at something, but you appear to have exceeded even my expectations. But as long as this is in an official chain of evidence, we can use it, even if it was taken into that chain under questionable circumstances.”
Stiles knew this would likely mark him as a rogue who was unsafe to have on a team. People admired initiative, but they never wanted their underlings to have too much of it. But that was a price Stiles was willing to pay.
Besides, if he lost his dream of going into the FBI, he could get used to wearing fancy three-piece suits while defending people who lived under the poverty line and making the DA eat his words in court. That actually sounded like a fairly good life plan. Scott would have a heart attack if Stiles followed Peter into private law, but he’d get over it.
Spencer leaned forward. “Why are you bringing this to me now?”
“Like I said, this has always been about Derek and Peter. It makes me nervous that these crimes include so many cover up murders. If you look at the other fires, each one had one or two suspicious murders somewhere around it. In one case, the coroner overdosed. In another, the fire inspector got drunk and was involved in a head-on collision. Individually, those appear unremarkable, but I see patterns here, and I don't think it is me seeing something in random events.”
From the frown on Spencer’s face, it was clear he didn’t agree. But at least he wasn’t dismissing the possibility. “You have enough here to justify an investigation, but you haven't answered the question about why you're bringing this to me now.”
Stiles lowered his voice to a whisper and leaned closer. “Because Argent Arms just sent a team to my town. They are here to get a contract with the local police department to provide weapons. That sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?”
Spencer's eyes grew wide. “Do you think they are targeting Peter?”
“He is the survivor of one of their fires. He's a loose end.” Stiles grimaced. “Unfortunately, he's a loose end who can't remember anything because he spent six years in a coma, but I don't think these are the sorts of people who will rely on amnesia to protect their secrets.”
Spencer looked down at the papers with a much sharper gaze. “Have you told Peter this?”
Stiles shook his head. “He worked hard to recover himself. When he woke up from the coma, he was so angry that if you came near him, he was just as likely to grab you by the shirt and slam you into a wall as say good morning.”
Spencer nodded. “That sort of anger and frustration is very common in trauma survivors.”
“Well, it took over a year for him to rediscover anything that approached human behavior, and then it was just awkward. He knows about Derek… about Kate. There's a distance between them, which is one of the reasons why I talked him into moving out of Beacon Hills. Derek might be his family, but I'm not convinced they're good for each other. There was another sister who survived. Cora. But she has emotionally pulled back from both men. They may have all survived the fire, but the fire still destroyed something vital. I don’t want to drag this shit back up.”
Spencer tapped a finger on the corner of the stack of papers. “If we talked to Derek, would he admit to the abuse?”
Stiles blew out a breath. “Maybe. He likes to stick his head in the sand and pretend that if Gerard and Kate are gone, then everything is hunky-dory. But, he does care about Peter, and he cares about his friends more than is reasonable sometimes. Of course he is shit at showing that caring, but you read between the lines, you’ll realize that he has a deep well of fluffy feelings.”
“He sounds like a good man trying for form new connections.” Spencer’s voice was rich with sympathy.
“He is,” Stiles said. And since he had reclaimed an alpha spark, he had committed himself to being a better leader. Scott took days or even weeks off now, but Derek had this need to keep all the betas near and make sure that each and every one was safe every single day. He was a better alpha the second time around.
“If you approach this as a potential threat to Peter because this is where Argent Arms has turned up, he might talk,” Stiles said. “If you show him that someone is targeting witnesses in general, he also might talk to protect people in Beacon Hills. He won’t want anyone to suffer because of what he considers his bad judgment in trusting Kate.” It still killed Stiles that Derek would blame himself when he’d been a kid. “Whoever you sent out there, don’t let them show too much sympathy,” Stiles advised. “Have them approach the issue matter-of-factly. I am the opposite of calm and I use facts a little like bullets in a machine gun, so I always annoyed him into shutting down.”
“Do you have anything else in that file?” Spencer asked.
Stiles slid over his last sheet. “That's every case number that I hid the evidence under at the station. I also have a list of murders in Beacon Hills that I think might be related to the Argent case, but I simply didn't have the evidence. Kate liked fire. That was her signature, but I suspect that it was all the other Argent employees who were cleaning up the loose ends and hiding their crimes by making them look like accidents or overdoses or animal attacks. There's no pattern to the deaths, which is why I think it's a cleanup crew. But I don't have the evidence to prove any of that.”
Spencer leaned back and gave Stiles a searching look. “You’ve done well. You were a single investigator who started this when you were sixteen years old, but trust that my team has more resources. If there's a connection, we will find it.”
A thrill of victory ran up Stiles’s spine. Even if the FBI couldn’t find enough evidence to convict, the Argents were so fucked. So very, very fucked, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer family. Allison was the only decent Argent, and she had tried to murder their classmates. Chris wasn’t horrible, but he also didn’t do much to help, either.
“This team that showed up here... Your paperwork says they are French nationals.”
“We have a friend with connections in the State Department.” Spencer’s predatory smile had returned. “For an investigation of this seriousness, I think we can get their visas pulled. That will send them home until we have a chance to investigate the company as a whole. This has the potential to turn into the most complex serial killer case in American history.”
Stiles rested his chin on his palm. “Argent Arms is a French company. Are you really so certain that their crimes are limited to America?”
Stiles stood before Spencer could recover from that verbal bomb, and then he beat a hasty retreat. The nuclear bomb was now falling, and very shortly the Argents were going to find out what it meant to piss him off. Hopefully, they would never recover.
Stiles folded and unfolded the same piece of paper until the crease weakened and the page started to rip along the edges. Stiles really did not want to talk to Peter about the Argents. The man might not be the nicest in the world—and Peter was definitely an asshole to anyone outside his chosen group—but what the Argents had done to him went beyond unforgivable.
If they had stolen Peter's money or hired legal sharks to make Peter look like an idiot in court, Stiles probably would've cheered them on. Instead they had burned a house full of innocent people and left Peter to suffer. And now Stiles felt like he was helping to hurt Peter by bringing the topic up.
But he and Peter had promised each other to be pack.
They were sad little pack of two, and Stiles was very aware of the fact that Peter relied on the law firm to provide much of the stability a wolf would normally find in a pack. He had his pseudo-betas, the junior lawyers that he, by turns, humiliated for stupidity and mentored toward into brilliant legal minds.
He had his pseudo-alpha with the senior partner, an elderly woman who had started the firm back when women had a tough time in law and the only way for her to succeed was for her to be a bigger asshole than anyone else in town. She had succeeded, and Peter admired the hell out of her.
But Peter’s only pack bond was to Stiles, and Stiles felt that responsibility. It wouldn't be fair to hide what he had done, especially not when it might become public. Stiles didn't know how far Spencer would take the investigation, but Stiles couldn't discount the fact that it might become national news. Peter did not need to be ambushed with that.
The key turned in the lock, and Peter walked in the door, looking entirely too pleased with himself. His waistcoat was buttoned, but he had his suit jacket held in one finger and draped over his shoulder. The V cut of the three-piece suit reminded Stiles very much of the V-neck sweaters that Peter favored on his days off. As a joke, Stiles had even bought him a whole stack of turtleneck and crewneck sweaters, but Peter did love his V-necks.
Peter hung his suit jacket on the rack next to the door. “Why Stiles, I thought you would be holed up in your bedroom playing with that murder board of yours.”
“It's not a murder board. They don't let me work on the murder cases yet, so it's more like a petty larceny and arson and grand theft auto board.” At this exact moment, Stiles was working on three different cases, but he was almost sure that in two of those cases, the legal aid client was guilty. Stiles didn't plan to report that right away because the third case, the arson case, was really complicated. Stiles suspected that the neighborhood had a serial killer in-training targeting small pets and setting fires. But he was having trouble tracking down who that might be. If Stiles reported to his supervisor at legal aid that he had found conclusive guilt against two of the clients, the man would dump two more cases on Stiles’ desk. Stiles already cleared more than any other investigator, including the full-time lawyers employed by legal aid, so he didn't feel guilty about playing for time.
“I stand corrected,” Peter said. He narrowed his eyes and studied Stiles. “What's wrong? Has my true failure done something to annoy you?”
“Why would you jump straight to Scott doing something stupid?”
“Because it's January. Any time you're in a mood in either January or February, I assume that our precious true failure has made you feel guilty about the changes he's seen in you when you visited at Christmas.” Peter emptied his pockets onto the table next to the door.
“You could help run interference by coming with me next Christmas.”
Peter actually laughed. “If you choose to maintain a friendship with our dear failure, I do not feel any obligation to save you from your stupidity.” He gave Stiles a shark’s grin. “However, I am happy to remind you of said stupidity whenever you indulge in self-pity. Your life is not only successful, but you are annoyingly ethical and assisting the common man in surviving the harsh realities of the American legal system.”
Peter folded himself artfully over one of the armchairs. The man had a physical presence that he was very aware of and he enjoyed displaying his body. If a woman had sat sideways in the chair with one leg up over the arm to highlight her crotch area, Stiles would be tempted to think of her as a little slutty. He would then immediately feel guilty about slut-shaming, but that initial thought would still be there. And with Peter, he could definitely think of Peter as a slut without any guilt. Stiles raised an eyebrow as he took in Peter's pose.
Peter smiled and started unbuttoning his waistcoat. Now he was approaching pornographic levels of sexy, which should not be possible when he was fully dressed. But if Peter was in a mood to play, Stiles definitely needed to redirect this conversation.
“I found out bad news that has nothing to do with Scott. In fact, it has to do with the Argents.”
Peter set up immediately, both feet flat on the floor. “I assume you discovered their team from France had arrived here?”
Peter waved the question off dismissively. “Of course I knew, I am Peter Hale.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. The only thing that was higher than the general level of assholy glory that Peter indulged in was his arrogance. Although that might actually be a subset of his assholiry. Stiles should do a Venn diagram to determine the overlap between arrogant and asshole.
“How did you find out?” Peter asked.
“Rick came with a message from the alpha. The pack recognized the name.”
Peter leaned back. “They would. I suppose I'm surprised they informed us, although they failed to inform me as the senior member of the pack, which is a gross violation of pack etiquette.”
“Rick is their favorite Peter and Stiles keeper, and he's not exactly comfortable in your law firm, and this is not something he's going to leave in a message with your secretary.”
“Point taken. He does have a level of scruffiness that is far more appropriate on a college campus than at the firm.”
Stiles was almost sure that was an insult, although he wasn’t sure toward whom. “Hey, you be nice to Rick.”
Peter huffed. “That man is stupid. I doubt he would even understand my more subtle digs, so you don't need to worry your pretty little head about Rick. However, we should make plans concerning the Argents.”
Immediately, Peter sat up and narrowed his eyes. “What did you do?”
“What?” Stiles demanded defensively. “I didn't do anything!”
This time, Peter rolled his eyes. “You most certainly did, and don't make me torture information out of you, I would enjoy that entirely too much. It's unwise to put temptation within my reach.” Peter held his hands out and then popped all of his werewolf claws at once. It was an impressive display.
“Yeah, yeah, you’ve threatened me with death and dismemberment enough that the threat has lost its shine. However, you need to know. Do you remember that FBI agent that I really liked?”
For long seconds, Peter froze. “Please tell me you're not talking about the brilliant young man whose lecture you broke into.” Peter's disdain dripped from every word.
“Hey! He's a great lecturer.”
“The partners are convinced you're some sort of legal idiot savant, and do note that they included the word idiot in that.”
“You're not supposed to use that term anymore. It's offensive to people who are savants.”
“Noted, and your concern is dismissed.” Peter sounded like he was getting genuinely cranky, as opposed to the normal levels of crank he indulged in any time he talked about people. Peter wasn’t a fan of humanity. “Now, what did you do?”
“A long time ago, I started collecting evidence on certain individuals just in case I needed some sort of insurance.”
Stiles hesitated, not sure how to explain his logic.
Peter, however, developed a pleasant smile. “Very wise of you. Even when someone is an ally, one should always attend to any secrets one can in order to maintain the superior position. I would say it is only with pack that one can lower one's guard, but if one has a pack member who consistently abuses one and maintaining a sense of moral superiority that precludes common sense, one is allowed to maintain a secret file against them as well.”
“Okay.” Stiles drew the word out as he tried to figure out whether Peter was talking about Stiles and his relationship with Scott or Peter's relationship with his late sister Talia. The longer they lived together, the less Stiles believed the whole story about Talia Hale being the perfect, glorious, infallible alpha. Hell, she sounded a whole lot like Scott, and Stiles knew how Peter felt about him.
“So what information do you have in your Argent blackmail file that we might use?” The minute Peter asked that, a horrified expression crossed his face. “Oh dear God. That Spencer man. Did you simply hand over your blackmail material to the FBI?”
Stiles nodded. “But it wasn't exactly just blackmail information. I might have creatively selected evidence that was entirely and completely true in order to imply that not only was Kate Argent a serial killer, but that she is still alive and that Argent Arms acted as a mercenary and cleanup crew for her murder spree.”
Peter Hale stared at him, his expression frozen.
Feeling butterflies in his stomach, Stiles started talking faster. “I don't know if Spencer's team is willing to launch a full investigation. It could be that Spencer is simply going to poke around a little bit to confirm the evidence. He certainly seemed to think that it was questionable that Argent Arms’ so-called sales teams appeared exactly when Kate was on her murder sprees, so he may just make them nervous with a few search warrants for computer records.”
All ten of Peter’s claws rested on the knees of his thousand dollar suit. “Nervous would be good, but do you feel that's the most likely outcome?”
Stiles folded the paper again, and this time the fibers failed entirely and Stiles was left holding two separate halves with a fuzzy cut that divided them. He put the two papers down and pushed them away as he tried to control his fidgeting. “Probably not.”
Peter took a deep breath. “And what is the most likely outcome?”
“I'm fairly sure Spencer's going to go nuclear on them. They might launch a national manhunt to try and find Kate, and he's probably going to bring in the State Department to ban French nationals from the company from coming into the United States. He will probably audit the American offices to determine how much assistance they were providing, and who might have known about the killings.”
Peter rubbed a small circle right between his eyes.
“I wanted to make sure that they knew they couldn't mess with us,” Stiles said in his own defense. He didn’t think he needed a defense, but with every passing second, it was clear Peter thought he did. Peter was not appreciating the brilliance of Stiles’ plan.
Peter took a deep breath and slowly blew it out. “When you are dealing with a dangerous enemy, you never want to back them completely into a corner. An enemy that feels trapped and cut off from all sources of support is likely to be far more dangerous than one who believes they have the ability to engage you in strategy. You must think of life not as a game of checkers, but as one of chess. Always look steps ahead to what your opponent’s moves might be before you commit to a strategy yourself.”
“Um…” Stiles wasn't sure what to say. This sounded like it went beyond Peter disapproving and landed somewhere around Peter thought Stiles had been stupid.
Peter rubbed the point between his eyes again. “When the Argents took everything from me, I was left with no reason to restrain my anger. I was free to kill and maim and torture as I like to because there was nothing for me to lose, quite literally.”
“I appreciate your uncharacteristic conscience when it comes to not destroying the Argents, but this isn’t the same. They were assholes who took everything away from you, I'm just publicly humiliating them.”
Peter leaned back, his lawyer-expression front and center. That look scared Stiles. It usually meant Peter was plotting someone metaphorical or literal evisceration. “For a wolf,” he said, “the pack is the reason for existence. Perhaps I had issues with certain members of my pack who were arrogant and entitled, but I still valued the pack as a whole. Those children were my reason for existing, and the only death I regret from the time that I recovered from my coma is the death of my niece.
“However, for hunters, their raison d'être is often hunting. They believe they are making the world a better place by targeting either rogue supernaturals who threaten humanity or in some cases anyone with supernatural powers. But what you have done is to block that reason for existing. Even if Argent Arms is not shut down as a criminal enterprise, they certainly can't continue to operate with impunity. This could cause those members who are unable to let go of this quest for human supremacy to fragment into much smaller groups that are harder to track and more dangerous in that they have nothing to lose.”
Now that Peter explained it in those terms, Stiles was feeling a little bit like he had missed the mark. “So I definitely shouldn't have gone nuclear on them,” he said softly. That was guilt gnawing at the inside of his ribs because Peter’s logic made sense. Stiles should have talked to him before going to Spencer.
Peter tapped his chin thoughtfully. “It is not the approach I would have taken, but it is not necessarily a bad approach. It will certainly warn the other hunter families that you are not to be crossed easily. I will need to make sure to inform the local alpha that you have acted precipitously and with great youth in striking out to defend your pack.”
Peter had a thoughtful expression on his face, but Stiles could interpret that well enough. Peter was very invested in convincing everyone that he was the sane member of their tiny pack. That was fine. The fact was that Stiles was an asshole, so if Peter chose to cast him as the larger one, Stiles wasn’t going to correct him. Of course, if anyone ever mistook Peter for helpless or fluffy, they were stupid enough to deserve what was coming, and that included the local alpha.
“Why don't you ever tell me the name of the alpha?”
“Because I have never been given his name,” Peter said. “Considering he runs a territory where he is forced to accept large numbers of unrelated wolves into his pack lands, that is a reasonable security measure. Unless I happen to run into this alpha at some social gathering unrelated to pack business, I am sure I will never be invited to know his name. I'm sure that's also the reason that Rick is the only one who has ever interacted with us. If we choose to betray this pack, we have a limited amount of information to actually do damage.”
“In other words, you can't plot against him to steal his alpha spark.”
Peter gave a moue of disgust, but he didn't answer. The more Stiles poked him, the more Stiles suspected Peter already had an alpha spark, and he wasn't sharing that information. The sad thing was Peter came home to Beacon Hills at least once a year, and neither Derek nor Scott seem to have noticed anything. But if they were incapable of recognizing another alpha on their territory, Stiles was not going to get in the middle of that. They were on their own when it came to dealing with Peter.
“So if this does turn out to be a nuclear strike and Spencer takes down the American branch of the Argent family, how do we minimize danger from these potential splinter groups?”
“Well, first, we need to shore up your defenses.” Peter looked at Stiles like he was a piece of meat.
“You need to start developing your spark. The magic user that I had set wards would be a suitable teacher for you.”
“Wait. You hired a magic user like Deaton?”
“I most certainly did not hire anyone like Deaton,” Peter snapped. He took a deep breath before continuing. “One of the clients I defended in court found himself embroiled in a larger supernatural issue. I helped solve his problem, and he gifted to me his blood debt to a local witch. She is more than capable of the sort of offensive of magic you need than Deaton ever will be.”
“Because he’s Deaton and you think he’s an idiot or because he's a druid?”
“Both.” Peter's disdain was unmistakable. “Druids gain power by maintaining balance. Most of his influence comes from his knowledge of the supernatural, and I assure you I am far more knowledgeable than he. His magical talents are limited to small acts that return balance to the world. So he works in that veterinarian's office and he collects small debts of death so that his magic becomes unbalanced towards death. Then when he has a need to heal, he releases that tension and he has the ability to repay all of those tiny deaths in one moment with an active healing. I've also known Druids who worked as surgeons or doctors. They saved those that would be otherwise relegated to die and they collected debts of life.”
“Which they could then trade in to kill someone,” Stiles said, following that logic.
“Precisely. That is why Jennifer had to use human sacrifice.”
“But she was killing, so that would suggest she was trying to give life, but she was far more interested in telling the alphas.”
Peter shook his head. “With Druids, it is always more complicated since they play with their own rules. She killed in order to generate a large well of life. She then performed magic that was far beyond her ability to sustain, and she traded in that death magic to give herself life.”
“I do quite admire her style,” Peter said. Somehow it wasn’t surprising he looked all nostalgic over one of Beacon Hill’s villains while he criticized Deaton who had done everything to help them. That was Peter, and Stiles had grown used to his weird moral judgments.
“However, the very act of trying to balance magic that way is ridiculous. It limits what sort of magic you can perform to that which is dependent solely on knowledge such as runes and mountain ash which can be activated with the tiniest human spark, or that which is balancing some debt which they have had to set up well in advance.
“Witches are far more capable of responding in a defensive or offense of way. They have magic spells and potions which they can practice or prepare ahead of time and deploy on a moment’s notice, and they channel magic which is available from whatever realm they choose to specialize in. One which might use ancestral magic while another might use death magic and be most powerful in a cemetery. Some use nature magic or weather magic. The opportunities are endless, at least, assuming that the human in question has a spark to feed the spells in the first place. Some people are magically dead, so no amount of attending the magical fires will ever create that spark.”
“If being a witch is so great, why don't you learn witch magic?” The fact was, Stiles was far more concerned about Peter than himself. If there were hunter teams out there, they couldn't exactly justify targeting a college student who was one hundred percent human. It was far more likely that they would go after Peter, especially given with his morally dubious background. Maybe the local werewolves were convinced that Peter was a calm, rational, reasonable being, but Stiles was fairly sure most hunters would have a different opinion.
“I've told you before. A werewolf is magic. We are remarkably poor at performing magic. In fact, typically only alphas are able to, and even then, they risk their alpha spark. Magic requires a flame to ignite it. An alpha spark is a limited resource. If an alpha were to use too much of the spark without giving that flame time to recover, a wolf can stop being an alpha. Betas have no ability to do magic at all.”
“Is that what happened to Derek when he healed Cora?” Stiles asked. He’d asked Derek why he’d lost the alpha spark, and Derek has said he had sacrificed it for Cora, but he hadn’t understood why that was necessary. He only knew that he could feel the Hale spark sputtering and dying and he knew he had to give up either the spark or Cora. He’s chosen his sister.
“Exactly. He used up all of his available fire, and as a werewolf, he cannot simply reignite that spark the way a human might if that human were caught in something like a magical backlash.”
Stiles’s brain spun in a million directions at once. “But Scott lit his own alpha spark. He's a true alpha.”
“He's a true failure,” Peter snapped back, rather predictably. “However, there are many theories about why some werewolves are able to ignite that spark in their soul again. Some believe it has to do with rejecting the wolf and embracing humanity. By clinging to their human side, they repress the wolf and make it possible for the spark to reignite. Since they are a werewolf, that spark becomes an alpha spark.”
“So Scott became a true alpha because he sucked at being a werewolf?” That actually made a little sense. “That would imply that anyone who is a true alpha is actually bad at the werewolf thing.”
“Our true failure does seem to support that hypothesis.” Peter lifted his hand, looking at it for a second before his claws vanished. “However, other magic users believe that true alphas actually gain their spark from a human who has gifted them with magic over and over until the magic takes hold in the werewolf.”
“So Deaton,” Stiles said. He could believe that. As far as Deaton was concerned, the sun shine out of Scott's ass. Stiles loved Scott like a brother, but that meant that, like a brother, he was sometimes really annoyed with the man.
But Deaton never saw anything wrong in Scott's actions. Stiles could admire the hell out of Scott's moral code and his determination to be better. Given that he had been bitten by Peter while Peter was feral, it would've been natural for Scott to lose control and start biting anyone who pissed him off or anyone that he felt a strong attraction towards. Stiles figured that he and Jackson and Allison all would've been in danger if Scott had even an ounce less of that strong ethical core.
But the same steel core that gave him strength also made him stupidly inflexible. He had compromised so many times in order to maintain his ethical stance that sometimes he put the whole pack in danger. Stiles could say that he eighty percent admired Scott was still admitting that he had left Beacon Hills because he couldn’t stomach the other twenty percent. But, for Deaton, Scott was the pinnacle of perfection.
Peter tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair in time with some music that only he heard. “There are other theories, of course. But you can see how Scott's ascension to that rare status probably has less to do with him being a true leader than it does to do with some magical manipulation.”
“So, a human can create an alpha spark in a werewolf?”
“New alpha spark have to come from somewhere since werewolves are capable of destroying their own. The Hale spark was one of the oldest in existence, passed on from family member to family member for six hundred years before Derek chose to destroy it.” Peter’s lips twisted into a sneer.
“Hey! He saved Cora with that spark, so as much as I am sorry that he damaged family history, you do not get to criticize him for that.”
Peter grimaced. “Considering Cora has rejected any pack affiliation with me no matter how distant and strained, I reject the argument that I must be grateful that my family's heritage was destroyed.”
“You are a real dick sometimes.”
“I agree. I am,” Peter easily offered. “However, we need to focus on strategy, and right now my ability to be a dick is our greatest weapon. The first goal is to feed to that spark of yours. If you can learn to nurture your spark into a flame, you could be a formidable magic user.”
“Would that make me a warlock or a magician?”
Peter gave him a dirty look. “Warlock is a term created by Christians to justify murder, and a magician is someone who uses cards and sleight-of-hand to trick tourists. You would be a witch.”
“I'm not sure my manhood can handle that word.”
“Your manhood will recover,” Peter said dryly. “But if Argent hunters come after you, your flesh might not. You need to feed your spark before you can begin learning defensive magics, so we need to add magical studies to your curriculum. Luckily, that school of yours has a notably inferior curriculum that requires little time to master. You may need to cut back on some of your hours at legal aid, though.”
“Hey! No way. Those are important cases.”
Peters stared at him until Stiles started to squirm. Right, Stiles had caused this with his nuclear option.
“While I appreciate your assiduous nature,” Peter said, “I promise you that legal aid existed before you and they will survive after you. However, if you do not master magic, you may not survive. This is non-negotiable.”
“You are not the boss of me,” Stiles said sulkily. Maybe Peter wasn’t, but Peter clearly understood strategy better than Stiles.
“I assure you, I am. If you want, I am very happy calling Derek and telling him that you have both riled a formidable enemy and are now refusing to prepare for the inevitable counterattack. I'm sure Derek would be very amused.” Peter gave him a sweet smile.
“Asshole,” Stiles muttered.
“Says the man who appears to just gone nuclear on the entire Argent clan. If I am an asshole, I fail to find the proper term to describe you.”
Stiles thought about that for a second. “Nuclear asshole,” he finally said.
Peter’s smile turned more genuine. “That is one of the things I admire most about you.”
Derek Morgan flipped through the papers, his frown growing deeper with each passing moment. Hotch had already read them, and he spent his time watching the team, likely judging their reactions. Hotch often based his decisions off the team’s preferences, which was the opposite of how Gideon had handled the team. Gideon had been Spencer’s mentor, but he preferred Hotch’s approach. Emily and David kept looking up at Hotch, so they had their minds made up, and Spencer thought they preferred taking the case.
JJ was harder to read. She often held herself back, which Spencer did not understand, but Derek had told him to drop it—that some people were more comfortable in the background.
Spencer preferred the background himself, but he wouldn’t hide his skills. So the only one left to make up his mind was Derek. Spencer could see the case bothered him. Several times, he ran his hand over his bald head.
“Are you sure this Stilinski kid was telling the truth about doing this himself?” Derek asked.
Spencer understood his disbelief because people tended to underestimate the young. Spencer had dealt with that for most of his life, and even now that he was a grown, his youthful features often led people to underestimate him. That was useful when it came to letting suspects underestimate him, but it was still annoying.
Spencer took a deep breath as he attempted to sort all of the possible responses before finding one that would both reveal the depth of his aggravation at Derek’s dismissal of Stiles’ skills and be within professional bounds. He smiled sweetly at Derek before saying, “I did argue that he must've found something else to indulge his perfectionist side.”
“The work is his,” Spencer said firmly. “It sounds like he was motivated by a need to save someone and Peter Hale was in the hospital when Stiles was unable to save his mother.”
“Okay,” JJ said slowly, “that's a reasonable motive, but this feels like an unreasonable level of involvement in police activities.”
“Stiles admitted that he had forged his father's signature in order to preserve some of the evidence, so I can't argue that.” Spence could see shock ripple through the team. Derek had a juvenile record and Emily described herself as a bad-girl in her youth, but Spencer doubted either had delved quite so deep into legally dangerous territory.
“Whoa!” Emily stared at stared at Spencer with wide eyes. “He falsified police documents? And this is the same kid who broke into a federal building to go to one of our seminars?” She looked around at the others.
Hotchner cleared his throat. “Any illegal activities on the part of our informant are outside the purview of this team. We need to focus on the information in front of us. Do we have sufficient evidence to conclude that we have a serial killer who is gone unnoticed in the community?” Hutch looked at Derek first.
Derek frowned and considered the paperwork on the table, clearly uncomfortable with how much of it had a dubious providence, but after a second, he nodded. “There is definitely evidence against Kate Argent, and I think a little digging will probably reveal good evidence against Gerard. I think Spencer's probably right that he was the dominant in their partnership.”
David spoke up. “But that leaves us with one suspect is dead and another suspect who has not been seen for four years. It's possible that she’s dead. After all, Penelope has not found any fires matching the pattern that she established.”
Before Spencer could say anything, Emily spoke up. “What if the fire wasn’t Kate's signature? Gerard was dominant. And when eliminating witnesses, they seem to have favored animal attacks followed by accidents and then suicides.”
Derek closed the file in front of him. “To be fair, it's possible that some of these people did commit suicide. To get manipulated into helping a serial killer would cause significant trauma, especially in a young man.” Everyone at the table went silent for a moment, and Spencer could tell they were all thinking about Derek Hale, the only survivor of these murderous fires. Most of the other victims that Kate Argent had sexually preyed on had died at their own hands.
Emily continued. “If fire was Gerard's signature, it makes sense for the fires to stop.”
Derek considered the evidence with an unhappy scowl. “If she killed her father and completed, what in her mind was a rite of independence, she may have developed a new signature.”
“It's possible,” David said. “But if she was raised with this signature and this victimology, I can't imagine her changing both in the middle of her career. If she identified fire setting as her father's preference, I would think that she would hold onto her preferred victim profile. Otherwise, there is no continuity between her early career as a killer and her late career, and that is exceptionally rare.”
“So what we know about the victims?” Hotch asked.
Relief washed through Spencer. Hotch wouldn’t have asked that unless he intended them to take the case. It was funny, but Spencer felt a kinship with Stiles the way he rarely did with other prodigies. Technically Stiles had never shown the sort of talent required for that label, but looking at the evidence he had gathered, Spencer believed he fit the profile of one. In the past, when Spencer met others who had shown talent equally young, he had felt like they talked past each other. But Stiles had a way of sharing information and listening that Spencer appreciated.
Derek jumped in. “All the victims are successful, many having multiple professionals within the same household. They have close family ties, with multiple generations looking together. We are probably looking at victims who represent what the Argents wish they could have.”
Emily nodded. “Jealousy. Gerard wanted to have close family ties, and so he twisted his daughter to fit into his murderous view of the world, but we have good evidence that Chris Argent rarely lived anywhere near his father, and on the one occasion that they lived in the same city, Chris Argent’s wife was dead within a year, and his daughter was dead within three.”
Spencer disliked that line of thought, but he couldn't find a logical flaw. There was a very good chance that either Gerard or Kate had killed the rest of their own family. The teenage daughter might have gotten curious or perhaps Gerard was trying to mold her to follow in Kate's footsteps.
“Could it be that Gerard was seeking a replacement for Kate? Perhaps he wanted to mold a new child to follow him on the sprees,” Spencer mused. “That would explain the way the killers devolved in Beacon Hills. They went from being carefully controlled and hidden to leaving bodies all over town.”
“The pair was definitely under stress,” Derek said, following Spencer's line of thought. “Perhaps Kate was devolving and Gerard didn't trust her anymore, so he was trying to find a replacement for his junior partner.”
“Either that, or Gerard was devolving,” Emily said. “We know from the medical records that he was dying of cancer before he was murdered, so it's possible that he was starting to feel desperate and had gone on a killing spree as the culmination of a lifetime of murder. And his daughter would have tried to cover up the crimes, but since her father was the dominant partner, she would've had a difficult time reining him in.”
“Does it matter?” JJ asked. “Whichever one of them devolved in Beacon Hills, it's clear that it ended with Gerard dead and either Kate is now trying to stay under the radar or she has changed her methodology enough that tracking her going to be difficult.”
“We should look for family annihilations,” Hotch said, “especially where the family is close-knit and successful. Three of the four families were also known for being isolationists. There's some indication that the Hales might've even been survivalists with hidden tunnels under their house. That might be an element of the crime as well. It's harder to kill a family in the city than it is someone who is more isolated. And since Kate Argent worked for the family company, she would have access to illegal signal blockers that would make cell phones inoperable. That would make an isolated target more attractive.”
David picked up one of the files and started flipping through the pages. “If she is still out there, we need to find her. She is arguably one of the most prolific serial killer in history.”
“We don't know that she would be able to match the record of this Samuel Little with 93 kills much less Pedro Lopez or Harold Shipman who were implicated in 240 and 218 deaths, respectively.”
“Good job being less specific,” Derek teased.
Spencer blushed. “I assume that as a profiler you are already aware of the statistics on the most prolific serial killers.”
Derek held his hands up in surrender. “So, are we going to investigate Argent Arms?”
Everyone looked at Hotch since this was a strictly legal question. Suggesting that a company was complicit in the serial murders of multiple families would ruffle a lot of feathers, but if the Argents had used company contacts and company funds to logistically arrange for the massacres, it was difficult to ignore the possibility that Kate Argent was still doing the same.
Hotchner looked like he was suffering a severe case of indigestion, but he gave a single nod. “We need to bring the State Department in and will need to have our forensics auditors do a complete examination of company books. We need to know every person on their payroll and determine whether any of them is a front for Kate Argent.”
“That's going to be a lot of footwork,” Derek warned.
Hotch’s displeasure seem to grow even more intense. “I am aware. But given the scope of this crime, and the financial resources available to the suspects, we can't do any less. I'll talk to Strauss and make sure that we have both the financial and logistical support. She will want to go public on this. Argent Arms is a very powerful political player, and she is going to want to make sure that they do not have the ability to retaliate before she goes on the offensive.”
Emily's smile was not even a little nice. “She's going to turn the public against them so that they can't scream about unfair persecution.”
“They still aren’t going to go down quietly,” JJ said. “I will work with Strauss to determine the final details of any press release. If the law enforcement community is aware that Argent Arms was facilitating mass murder, we may find more witnesses to what actually happened in these cases.” JJ looked at the papers across the table with a frown.
“And what about the Stilinski kid?” Derek asked. “How do we explain that a sixteen-year-old identified a serial killer that we missed?”
“In our defense,” JJ said, “we weren't in Beacon Hills. I assume if any of us had been there when this killer was devolving, we would have recognized the signs.”
“Stiles was in one of our internship programs by eighteen, and his father was a sheriff,” Spencer said. “He has arguably been exposed to law enforcement information longer than I have.”
“That does not speak well for his father,” JJ muttered. “There is no way I would want any child of mine near these crimes.”
“It doesn't matter,” Hotch said firmly. “We need to make this case on our own. We will list Stilinski in the paper as an unidentified informant and follow the leads independently. Spencer, is he likely to go public with what he knows?”
“No,” Spencer said firmly. “He didn’t even want to tell me. He’s afraid that people are going to judge him if he’s part of this case, so it could be that he’s been accused of being obsessed with murder some time in the past. But he felt so strongly about this case that he needed to tell someone, even if it cost him a chance to get into the FBI after he finishes his degree.”
“He already broke into a federal building. That won’t do great things to his chances,” Derek pointed out.
Hotch ignored the comment. “If we rely on Mr. Stilinski’s evidence, we are opening the door for a defense attorney to challenge everything. So we start over from the beginning. We’ll need to interview Derek Hale, but I want us to have some concrete evidence before we do that. Dave, I think you would be best to take point on that, so make sure that you get all the background information on the Hales. JJ, I need you to liaise with all of the relevant police departments. Tell them that we are looking at a series of arsons and we are trying to determine whether cases are part of our pattern or not. Let's not give them too much information. Argent Arms is very popular and they likely have allies in those departments.”
JJ nodded and took notes.
“Spencer, Emily, I want you to work with Penelope and I want the paper trail nailed down. She can request the original surveillance videos and I need you to do a timeline. Make sure that you flag evidence that Kate survived her supposed murder. Strauss is going to want proof that we are chasing a live murderer and not seeking to place blame on someone who is unable to defend herself.”
“Should I talk to Peter Hale?” Derek asked.
Hotch seemed to think about that for a moment. “Take Dave with you, but realize that he was in a coma for the vast majority of this. He was still in the hospital when the murder spree started, and he was not legally declared competent to handle his own business for almost a year and a half after that. He's a victim, so don't approach him with any other tone.”
Dave scoffed. “Peter Hale is a victim. Given that man's reputation, if we had interactions with him, I was expecting to be cursing his name as he got someone off for a murder charge. I never thought I'd be interviewing him as a victim.” He shook his head.
“Maybe that's why he is such a shark,” Derek said. “He wouldn't be the first person completely changed by a trauma of this extent.”
JJ shook her head. “I had Penelope look up the major players. Peter Hale was known as a ruthless lawyer before the fire. He just focused on commercial and copyright law back then. Since the fire, he switched to criminal law, but his reputation for having a photographic memory of the law and an uncanny ability to connect with the jury predates the fire.”
Hotch looked around the room, his gaze serious. “People, be prepared for this to be a very long and difficult case.” The whole team looked back, and Spencer could feel the determination settle into their bones. They were going to find Kate Argent, and they were going to find anyone who helped her commit murder.
Hotch dismissed them, and everyone headed for the exit. Derek fell in next to Spencer. “So, is this little buddy of yours, another wunderkind?”
“Are you talking about Stiles?”
“That’s who appears to be the centerpiece of this case. The internship director told me how this Stiles figured out where suspects were going to try fleeing during a case where he was doing a ride along. It was an exit that everyone else had dismissed because it would've taken a parkour runner or a superhero to reach the windows, but when he dismissed Stiles’s suggestion, Stiles put himself in the path of the fleeing suspects with nothing more than a radio in hand.”
Spencer nodded. He had heard that story a few times. Stiles had lost a toe in the subsequent shootout, and the internship program had a severe change in policy that forbid interns from going on raids, even if they were staying in the van to observe logistics.
“Derek Hale saved him back then. He seems very involved in the Hales,” Derek said.
“I agree. He couldn't save his mother and I think that need to help someone was transferred to the Hales.”
“So all of this work he's done, is this just the output of someone who struggled to adjust his mother's death?”
Spencer considered the question carefully. People around here took Derek's word as some sort of golden standard. If Derek told people that Stiles was emotionally unstable and trying to overcome the death of a parent, no one would even interview him. If Derek decided that the kid was an investigative savant, units would trip over themselves. Spencer wasn't sure which would be kinder to Stiles. He weighed his words.
“I don't know how healthy this attachment to the Hales is. Certainly they must feel something in return. Derek Hale was wanted as a suspect in those crimes, and yet when he could have fled the scene, he stayed to protect Stiles. He let himself be arrested and sat in a cell until the team managed to figure out that he was a victim. Peter Hale moved across the country with Stiles and pays for the townhouse they share.”
“Do you think it's sexual?”
Spencer shook his head. “He didn't have any of the mannerisms I would expect if he was discussing a lover. He reacted far more the way I would expect someone to react to a threat against parent or perhaps an uncle.”
Derek nodded. “Okay. I had to ask. Stiles was sixteen and it sounds like he didn't have a lot of adult support in his life, not if he could get away with forging the Sheriff's signature without the sheriff noticing. Sometimes kids look for something from other adults.”
Spencer knew how much it had to hurt Derek to say that given that he had been abused. “He has the right circumstances, but I don't think the Hales ever engaged with him on that level. If anything, there were times Stiles sounded annoyed by them, which is not the profile if one of them was a sexual predator.”
“No, the annoyance would suggest a friendship.” Derek looked at Spencer knowingly, but then Spencer already knew that they annoyed each other on a regular basis. In some ways, Derek reminded Spencer of the bullies who ever targeted Spencer. It'd been hard to work with him at first, but now Spencer understood what a good man he was. They were friends.
There still times Derek annoyed him.
“Well,” Derek said after second, “let's go make the record books. One prolific serial killer plus one company being used as a front for murder operation—why do I suspect Dave is going to get a good book out of this one?”
Derek headed towards his desk, and Spencer had to admit that it did sound a lot like fiction. But Argent Arms and the evil they had done was not anything as simple or as innocent as a work of fiction.
Celeste opened the door, unsurprised to find Peter waiting outside. She plastered on a friendly smile. Peter was certainly far better than Abraham, but Abraham had been an utter and complete asshole, so that was not a high bar. Her relationship was an early phase with Peter and she did not yet understand him. The rumors she'd heard suggested that he would not always be as amiable as he had been so far.
“Celeste, my dear.” Peter offered her a sweet smile before holding out his hand. Celeste offered her own, and he lifted it to kiss the back of her knuckles. It was an old-fashioned gesture, but one that always made Celeste nervous. It left his very sharp teeth dangerously close to her wrist. Even in her youth she would not have been able to fight off a werewolf who had already put a hand on her, and now that she was approaching her sixties, the odds were not in her favor.
“Please, come in.” The invitation was about as genuine as their smiles. The nature of the blood oath which she owed him meant that technically he owned whatever she possessed, including her parents’ house. They would've been horrified. Not every witch believed that vampires and werewolves were evil, but her parents had been particularly fond of their prejudices. Maybe that's why amused her just a little when Peter strolled into the front room and settled in on the couch that had once belonged to her mother.
Celeste closer to the front door and ran a finger over the privacy ruins before following him into the parlor.
“You are looking well, my dear.”
“I find that being able to keep all of my blood inside my own body improves my health significantly.”
Peter grimaced. No doubt he was questioning her sanity for pledging a blood oath to a vampire, but she had had her reasons. And since Peter had defended that same vampire in court and had done whatever favors had been required to gain the transfer of the blood oath, he had no room to critize. They had both found Abraham’s powers useful enough to trade for them.
Celeste settled into her chair, a Queen Anne reproduction that she had found on the street and refinished and restored herself.
“I have an apprentice I need you to train.”
Celeste was shocked. Of all of the tasks she had expected a powerful lawyer and werewolf like Peter to ask, she had not expected this one, but that did not mean she had a choice in the matter. She nodded and smiled. “Of course. I will train him to the best of my ability, but an apprenticeship can require years before one developed any ability to handle spells. Celeste didn't say that if the apprentice in question was a werewolf, the odds of them developing any significant magic was negligible. The only werewolf she had ever heard of that could perform magic was Deucalion, and his magic was limited. He had burned out any number of alpha sparks belonging to the fool alphas who had chosen to follow him.
“I have no doubt you will be able to provide the magical instruction required for him to perform defensive magics within a month. No more than that.”
That was unreasonable. “I cannot invent magic where none exists.” Celeste could certainly feed a young magic user some of her own spark since her skills, but that was dangerous. Even an inexperienced magic user would feel the allure of her power and could accidentally rip the flame from her. And once a witch’s flame was extinguished, there was no recovery. She would be a cinder—unable to provide even a tiny spark required for mountain ash lines and simple runes.
Celeste hated that the magic in her blood had so often put her in difficult positions, but magic was part of her soul.
Peter crossed his right leg over his left, his ankle resting on his left knee as he leaned back in a pose that would've been appropriate on a GQ cover. “I am not concerned about his access to raw magic, although one of the first defensive skills you need to teach them is how to shield his spark.”
Celeste's eyes grew wide. “Are you implying that someone has been feeding from an untrained magic user?”
“I am. He always had a spark of magic, but approximately five years ago, that spark started to grow.”
“Was he experimenting with spells at that time?” Once a human started to use spells, it was like exercising a muscle; the magic would naturally develop and strengthen over time.
“He learned to manipulate mountain ash, and he appears to have survived a number of improbable situations using good luck.” Peter wrinkled his nose as though disgusted. Celeste understood the sentiment. Good luck spells were some of the easiest to cast, but they were next to impossible to take advantage of. Good luck would only nudge you in the right direction, and a person still had to be able to take advantage of whatever tiny opportunities magic provided.
“Why do you believe his spark was drained?”
Peter flashed his eyes. They were red.
Well, that did answer one question. Celeste had wondered if he was an alpha, but the local rumors firmly suggested that he had lost his alpha spark when he'd been ritually killed and then resurrected. Of course, rumors also suggested that he was a feral out-of-control monster, a killing machine with no remorse. No one could call Peter Hale out of control.
But he if he was an alpha, he possessed a spark, which meant that he could sense magic, even if using large spells threatened to drain that spark.
“I can feel his magic increase through May, but when he returns from vacation every August, it is once again faint. The same thing happens over Christmas. He will have larger reserves of magic in December when he leaves and when he returns in January, he is low again.
“Returns from where?”
This time Celeste grimaced. That cursed town seem to corrupt everything it touched. “Could he be using his magic?”
Using spells at the edge of one’s ability could cause that pattern of draining and recovery. Celeste's own mother had attempted to hold her father in stasis until she could find a way to bring him back to life, and each renewal of that spell demanded more and more of her magic, until she could sustain nothing other than that one spell. An immature magic user could drain himself with a far less intensive spell.
Peter picked a piece of lint off of his jacket sleeve. “He knows only that he has a small spark. He has been specifically told he is unremarkable because most humans have that spark.”
Peter looked at her, his gaze flat and dangerous. “Before he leaves to go back to Beacon Hills, each time he verges on becoming a flame.”
Celeste reared back. It took some witches years to be able to achieve that feat. A flame could perform much stronger magics because their power was burning and that provided more energy for each spell. “What is he using to feed his magic?”
Peter's intensity faded and once more he looked bored. It was a complete charade. “I am unsure. He does not seem to seek out nature, so that is an unlikely source, but he was possessed by a Nogitsune, so it is possible that he is absorbing dark magics.”
Celeste hissed. Dark magic was powerful, but it could burn a person to the ground before they could shed the excess energy. Peter was essentially asking her to train a nuclear weapon, and to hope that it didn't go off in her face.
She considered her words. Peter held her blood debt, and he was not a charitable or forgiving man. “I doubt I have the skills to train a dark witch.”
“You misunderstand me,” Peter said. “He shows no signs of being a dark witch, but the dark channels may be open in his mind. It is possible that he is absorbing what is around him, and he needs to understand the dangers.”
“Prodigious danger,” she whispered.
“He is not by nature dark, and if he is absorbing that magic, you need to help him shift to another source of power.”
If he had touched dark magics, nature magics would never be enough to feed him. It would slip away from him like sand, escaping the large holes made by the more powerful forces. “Storm magic would be the only compatible source.” That would give him incredible power during storms, and a far more limited power source than most witches at any other time. However, storms were violent enough to mimic the chaos or death magic most dark witches favored.
“The first task is to teach him to defend his flame. After that, focus on defensive magics he can quickly deploy. The Argents have fired a warning shot across our bow, and I fear he has returned fire recklessly. He needs to be prepared for a counterstrike either from the Argents or from an allied family seeking to avenge them. He also needs to defend his magic from whomever is draining it.”
“Are you certain it's being drained?”
“I am. I believe it is a druid that performs some sort of spell each time Stiles returns to Beacon Hills.”
Celeste shook her head. “A druid couldn't take spark energy without simultaneously giving spark energy, so what would be the advantage in him draining this Stiles?”
Peter scoffed. “The druid in question has encouraged Stiles to spend time with the true alpha who rose in Beacon Hills several years ago.”
That complicated issues. A druid could certainly maintain balance while both taking and giving magical energy, but it would be a dangerous spell. It would risk stripping Stiles of his entire spark. An open channel would naturally be biased towards a flow in one direction or another. If the flow favored Stiles, the druid would be hard-pressed to pull magic out at all, but if the flow favored the true alpha, then Deaton would risk losing control of the magic and destroying Stiles’s spark. “I’m not sure even a druid would be foolish enough to transfer magic that way, and I don’t know any druid who would have enough control to manage it more than once.”
“Do not underestimate the enemy,” Peter said. “He is quite skilled and knowledgeable, and worse, he believes his actions are justified. Those who are fueled by their own righteousness are often able to overcome obstacles that others cannot.” A look of disgust crossed his face. “But with the Argents on the verge of suffering a major attack, I am out of time to handle this situation delicately. You will do whatever necessary to ensure that he can defend himself. And you will not to inform anyone that you have taken an apprentice. Stiles’s best defense is that no one knows that he has the capacity to become a flame.”
Celeste nodded. Her master had given an order, and by the terms of the blood oath, she was obliged to follow it to the letter.
She thought this was the end of the conversation, but Peter put both feet flat on the floor and leaned forward towards her, all pretense and affability and friendliness gone. His eyes burned red and his teeth elongated. All of his fingernails turned to claws as he considered her. “You will teach him to defend himself using any means necessary. He is my pack and if you fail him, your death will be neither pleasant nor short.”
A cold shiver went down Celeste's spine. In the blink of an eye, Peter's werewolf features faded and he leaned back against her mother's couch, his mask of gentlemanly manners in place again.
“Of course, Stiles is quite protective of anyone he considers a friend. Luckily, his morality is limited. He would never intentionally cause harm to someone, but he largely does not champion people unless it is either a task he has assigned himself, such as one of his legal cases, or one of his friends. If you can make a friend out of Stiles, he will do anything to defend your position, including challenging me and demanding that I free you from the blood curse.
“Now me?” Peter looked almost amused. “I am a pragmatist. Having a witch slaved to my needs is exceptionally convenient for me. I would never free you on my own, so a grateful and strong Stiles is your opportunity. Train him. Protect him. Teach him to be a threat worthy of respecting, and he will surprise you by what he will choose to demand.”
Peter stood, and once again he was the calm, controlled lawyer. Celeste was starting to think that the rumors of a feral Peter might not be entire fabrications. She bowed her head, showing the back of her neck.
“I will ensure that he is protected, even if I must sacrifice my life or my spark to do so.” Celeste looked up at Peter, and he had an affable smile that made a shiver go down her spine. For the first time, she understood that Peter might, in his own way, be as dangerous as Abraham. Maybe Peter didn't plan on feeding on her blood, but it was quite clear that he had no problem using her life as a tool to get what he wanted.
If he wanted Stiles to be dangerous, it was her obligation as his blood slave to ensure that happened.
It looked like she had inherited an apprentice. God help them all if he was a dark witch.
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