Criminal Hunters
Rated TEEN

Chapter 1

Stiles looked around at the shocked faces around him. Some of these people Stiles knew very well, like Liam and Isaac, neither of whom had left Beacon Hills to go to college. Well, technically Isaac had come back to Beacon Hills after the other left. They were sitting on a bench in front of the windows looking a little shell shocked. Maliahe knew too well. Looking back, Stiles couldn't help but think that their relationship had been slightly unhealthy.

But then, Stiles imagined most high school romances were not the stuff of psychologically healthy relationships. Seeing his old friends made him miss Lydia who had just started medical school and even asshole Jackson. But that had been his pack in high school.

This was now Scott’s pack. Or it had been before Scott lost his alpha spark.

The others had come after Stiles left for college, so he only knew them from Scott's stories or from brief interactions on holidays.

There was Penny who sat on the edge of a dining room chair Derek had pulled into the living space. She was a twenty-six-year-old werewolf who taught at the local grade school and had the ability to do a full shift. Chris and Scott had rescued her from that stupid werewolf army, and she decided to stay in Beacon Hills where she had the protection of pack. Maybe the hunters knew where she was, but they wouldn't come after her.

Beacon Hills had never been lucky for the hunters.

Johnny and Barrett, a couple who proved that Beacon Hills was still able to skew the ten percent gay statistic heavily in favor of gayness, shared one overstuffed armchair. They were both juniors in the local high school and the youngest members of Scott's pack. They had fled to Beacon Hills when they escaped from the werewolf who had turned them, and they looked a little like their world had just crumbled around their ears. They hadn’t handled the news of Scott’s de-alphaing well. Sitting in the matching armchair was Corey, a chimera who had showed up during the Dread Doctors disaster, but Stiles didn’t know him well.

Celeste sat on the spiral staircase, the position that Peter had historically taken, but he had gone back to Virginia. Stiles clung to his back bond with Peter to reassure himself. The man hadn’t gotten himself killed yet. But if Peter were going to do something immoral and necessary, in some ways it was better that Stiles not be around. Stiles was very aware of the fact that Peter curbed his more violent tendencies when Stiles was near, and right now was not a time for moderation.

Add in Scott, and one werefox, and the pack was bigger than Stiles was used to. Bigger and more supernaturally supercharged. They had traded in one half-helpful druid for one superpowered witch and Stiles’s in-training flame. There wasn’t a single human in the room, and the pack still had two alphas with Derek and Peter, although Stiles wasn’t sure the rest of the pack knew that yet. They were struggling with the revelation that Scott wasn’t an alpha anymore. Peter said that he would establish pack bonds with any shifters who wanted one after they had settled in.

Stiles felt like they had entered some period of nuclear proliferation. Werewolf packs were trying to get bigger to defend themselves from hunters, and hunters were reacting to the increased werewolf recruitment by trying to kill them. It was not a good situation.

And Stiles had just thrown the grenade in the middle by siccing the FBI on the Argents. The next time Stiles considered doing anything that stupid, he seriously hoped that Peter would sit on him. Stiles knew he tended to flail a little during battle, both physically and metaphorically. He would never abandon his pack, but he also wasn’t a fighter… unless he could drive a car into the problem. That worked. But apparently his flail technique of fighting had spilled over into strategy as well.

Did Stiles like the idea of watching the Argents go down? Oh hell yes. He was just a little terrified that other hunting families might feel a need to retaliate. That retaliation should come in the form of them being pissed at the FBI, but Stiles knew that hunters had a unique ability to blame werewolves for everything. If a hurricane showed up, they would find a way to blame a werewolf.

Derek stood by the wall, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched the betas. The last member of the pack, a werefox named Frank, perched on a stool not far from Derek. Stiles hadn't gotten a good feel for Frank yet, but he suspected there was some great trauma in the man's background because he seemed to channel Derek’s gloominess. He was nineteen and blonde and lithe, but despite all the physical differences, he projected a Derek ‘stay-away’ vibe.

Scott sat in the middle of the couch with Malia on one side and Penny on the other. Scott curled and uncurled his hands, his werewolf claws on full display.

“So the spell backfired and now I'm not an alpha at all. I can't believe Deaton did that.” This was the fourth time Scott had said some variation of this, and each time, the pack grew more tense.

“I can,” Stiles muttered, but no one other than Derek seemed to hear him.

“You can just get another alpha spark. You can kill an alpha,” Malia suggested with a strange sort of cheerful mien.

Scott glanced up at Derek, and the temperature in the room seemed to drop about ten degrees. Immediately, Scott shook his head. “I won't kill someone for an alpha spark. That's wrong.”

Maybe Scott thought that would make things better, but the emotional temperature in the room dropped another ten degrees and he threw that not-so-subtle insult at Derek.

“Then be a true alpha again,” Malia said. She never did like being told something wasn't possible. It was one of the traits Stiles liked best about her.

Penny looked at Celeste. “Is that possible? Can he become a true alpha again?”

Celeste shrugged. “Anything is technically possible,” she said. “He would have to break his pack bonds so that he is not tempted to rely on his wolf for stability, then he would need to ensure that his anchor was human and then he need to find two or three humans who loved him with the devotion that a beta loves their alpha and then he might become a spontaneous alpha.” She pursed her lips. “No magic user has ever been present at the moment when a spontaneous alpha finally solidifies their power, so I can't say I understand what the final ingredient is in the spell, but I do know that he would need to start with those conditions at the very least.”

Malia looked at Stiles and nudged Scott with her shoulder. “You already have Stiles as a beta. So you only need one other human. We can find you a human.”

Scott cringed, probably thinking about the fact that he had refused to allow Stiles to be his beta; however, there was a bigger problem. Stiles spoke up. “I'm not entirely human anymore. The fact that my spark has tipped over into being a flame means that I have natural defenses on my power. I can't be one of the people who fuels his spontaneous spark because I don't have the sort of steady slow trickle a human possesses.”

Celeste spoke up just as Malia opened her mouth. “Given that Stiles is one of the most volatile flames I have ever worked with, I would suggest that attempting to use his natural energies would be akin to using a fire hydrant to wash your dishes. I would anticipate a lot of breakage.”

Stiles could see Malia's disappointment.

Penny looked around the room. “I know this means that we've lost a fighter.” She stopped and gave Scott a stricken look. “Well, it's not that we lost a fighter, because you can still fight, but you always say that that the betas should leave most of the fighting to the alphas because you're stronger. So it's not that you can't fight; it's just that you won't be as um… as… you know… um… strong… now.” She stopped.

Stiles was happy to know that someone had taken up the mantle of awkward and inappropriate conversations now that he had left. Penny was bright red, and Malia looked homicidal.

“Derek,” Stiles said as he frowned at Derek, willing him to get in there and say something or do something or just pretend to be more involved than a wall decoration. Derek stared at him while Celeste was looking from Derek to Stiles and back with amusement. She had just a little bit of sadism in her, which probably explained why Peter liked her and was even willing to trust her wards to keep him safe while he was in Virginia.

“Scott is a better fighter because he doesn't hide from fights like you,” Malia snapped at Penny.

Penny sat up straighter. “I fight any time my alpha has asked me to fight.” Knowing Scott the way he did, Stiles was guessing that meant never. Scott was pretty good at martyring himself.

Malia glared at Penny before turning to Scott. “Well, if you won't kill someone…” Malia looked at Scott expectantly, but he just shook his head. “Right. Then we just need to find you human pack members. And then we temporarily break the bond until you get your spark back, and then we go and we kill Deaton.” She seemed pretty confident in her plan.

Scott's mouth fell open. “What? No!”

“I don't know. It seems reasonable to me.” Barrett offered.

Scott growled at him. “No, it isn't. Deaton made a mistake. If we were going to kill people for making mistakes, where would that end?” Scott had the nerve to look right at Stiles. Stiles loved Scott, but sometimes the self-involved prick had the survival skills of a lemming. Stiles took a deep breath before he accidentally unleashed his magic. It wasn't like he was stable right now.

“Scott,” Isaac said quietly, packing a world of disapproval into that one word.

Stiles offered Isaac a grateful smile. “I understand why your betas are so aggravated,” Stiles said. “As far as screw ups go, this was bad. And long term. And intentional.” After Barrett got a smug look on his face, Stiles added. “But you're right that he was just trying to help. It was stupid, and misguided, and very arrogant because he thought that he could control spark magic even when he saw that I was on the verge of coming online as a flame. But it wasn’t intended to hurt us.”

Scott winced, probably biting back a defense of his mentor. Stiles looked over at Derek again, but he was still silent. Stiles reached for the pack bond he shared with Derek and pulled it. Hard.

Derek jerked forward a step and looked around as if startled. When the whole pack looked at him, he said, “We're not killing Deaton.” He looked over at Stiles, and Stiles rolled his eyes. Peter might not be entirely wrong about Derek's omega depression. But this pack could not afford to have Derek sit on the sidelines and nurse his bad mood.

Scott turned to Malia with his puppy-dog eyes. “If you don't want to continue with us, I get it. I'm not the alpha now.” Scott's gaze dropped to the floor, and Malia reared back.

For a second, she stared at him in horror and then she backhanded him across the arm. Hard. “Do you really think I would dump you just because you're not the alpha?”

Scott's gaze shot back up to her and he stared at her with his eyes wide. Malia backhanded him again. “You idiot. I like you, even when you're being an idiot. And I don't care if the color of your eyes is red or gold or blue. I'm not that shallow.” She narrowed her eyes and made it very clear that she considered certain people very shallow for caring about that sort of thing. Stiles did love her. She said all the things he wanted to.

Stiles looked at Derek again, but he continued to stand there with an expression that came closest to a deer caught in headlights.

Stiles got up and headed for Derek. “The two of us are going out for pizza. You guys get the movie together and give Scotty some love. It's been a hard day for him.”

Celeste stood. “I should go with you and monitor your magic.”

Stiles gave her a flat look. She was the one who told him that as long as he didn't feel a burn or perform magic that he wasn't going to blow up. So he knew full well that she was trying to play bodyguard because of Peter's mile-wide overprotective streak. “I'll be just fine with Derek. Derek tell her she can't come with us.” Derek looked from Stiles to Celeste as if unsure what to do, and Stiles planted an elbow in Derek's ribs.

Derek growled at him, but then he looked at Celeste and said, “We’re just going to the pizza place. We’ll be fine.” Derek caught Stiles his arm and jerked him towards the door so fast that Stiles lost his balance and had to cling to Derek to avoid falling on the floor.

“Hey! Human here!”

“Annoying human,” Derek countered.

“Well, yeah, but you knew that way before you agreed to have a pack bond with me.” Derek pushed him out the door and slid the loft door shut behind them. The ride down in the elevator was silent and Derek kept his arms crossed over his chest as though aggravated. Stiles had no idea what he had a right to be aggravated about. He was the one that was screwing up.

They got out to the street and the brand-new Jeep Peter had rented for Stiles. Stiles started the jeep before Derek finally asked, “What did you want to talk about?”

“You're assuming I wanted to talk, as opposed to wanting someone to carry all the pizza boxes? Do you have any idea how much pizza werewolves eat?”

The look Derek and gave him was classic Derek Hale. Stiles backed out of the parking space and started down the road. “Order on your phone so that we can wait in the parking lot until the pizzas are ready,” he said.

“Unlike Scott, I actually am your alpha,” Derek said.

Stiles waited until they were to stop sign before he turned to look at Derek. “Fine. We'll order the pizza once we reach the pizza shop and then I will have more time to tell you how much you’re screwing up. I wouldn't mind a little extra time to get in the specific details.”

Derek glared at him for the entire length of the red light, but once Stiles started driving, Derek pulled out his phone to make an online order. Stubborn man.

“Derek, I happen to think you are a great alpha in a lot of ways,” Stiles started.

“Why do I hear a ‘but’ in there?” he asked dryly.

“But,” Stiles said dramatically, “you need to not make the same mistakes Scott did.”

“I am nothing like Scott,” Derek snapped.

Stiles nodded. “Okay, let's play a little twenty questions. What did Scott do that aggravated me so much that it would've it ended our entire friendship if I were not an amazingly understanding and forgiving friend?”

“You’re neither understanding nor forgiving,” Derek pointed out. He wasn’t wrong. “However, you are obsessive about holding onto the people you see as yours, so much so that you are nearly a werewolf yourself, only one without the heightened senses or claws or the fangs or any of the strength that would allow you to defend yourself. So you have all the obsessions with none of our advantages.” Derek gave Stiles a smile that was worthy of Peter. It occurred to Stiles that he liked some pretty big assholes.

“Snarky, but also true,” Stiles said. “Now, back to what Scotty did to screw up.”

Derek sighed dramatically. “He pushed you away protect you. He didn't think you could take care of yourself, but if you can handle Uncle Peter, you clearly have some skill.”

Stiles made a buzzer noise. “Close, but wrong. Scott tried treating me the way he wanted to be treated. He wanted someone to give him an out on all the supernatural stuff. He wanted to be able to leave town and not feel tied down. So he gave me what he really wanted. He never asked what I wanted.”

“And I would never treat you like Scott did. You’re part of this pack.” Derek rubbed his sternum. Stiles wondered if Derek felt the bond the way Peter did. Peter always said that Stiles’s bond was like a steel rod anchoring him. Or skewering him. He had mentioned skewers once or twice.

“And I appreciate that more than you can know. But my question is, what the hell were you giving Scott back there in that meeting?”

Derek gave him a blank stare. “What?”

“Malia was talking about Scott cutting all the pack bonds. Scott was implying that he felt useless now that he's not an alpha. What were you doing?”

“Letting them discuss the options.” Derek looked confused.

God help them. Stiles had assumed that Peter was leaving him in Beacon Hills to protect him, but he was starting to suspect that Peter might be right about Derek needing some assistance with the pack. Stiles calmed his voice. “Derek, what do you know about Scott?”

“He's annoying,” Derek said. His expression had gone back to that trademark flat look that he seemed so fond of.

“True,” Stiles conceded. “But then he was always an asthmatic kid, never popular in school. He and I had each other and no one else. And then the werewolf thing happened, and that first year, our lives were pretty much about terror. We thought you were trying to kill us and we were mostly wrong. We thought the feral alpha was trying to kill us, and we were sort of right. The alpha pack tried to kill us. Jennifer tried to kill us. There is a lot of potential death in our lives. And then Scott became a true alpha, and things started to change.”

“I’m fairly sure everyone was still trying to kill you,” Derek pointed out.

“Yes, but we had a pack. We had people we could count on. It wasn't the two of us flailing through all of the shit together. It was a team. A wolf pack. Scott's alpha spark gave him the ability to create those bonds. He thinks that he wants to escape the supernatural, and maybe if he could stop being a werewolf altogether, he would. But right now, what is he thinking about if he's lost his alpha spark?”

Derek grimaced, so he got it, or at least some of it. “They told him that he was still pack. He can't be afraid of losing his pack.”

“Maybe. But the most important member in a pack is the alpha. What have you done to reassure Scott of his place?”

Derek pressed his lips together angrily before he said, “It's not my job to hold his hand.”

Stiles reached inside himself for that pack bond and jerked on it as hard as he could. Derek lunged forward and caught himself with both hands on the dashboard.

“That's what I feel from you,” Stiles said. “I feel that strong connection from you and from Peter, but all these other people who reestablish pack bonds with me—Liam and Malia and Isaac and Penny and even Celeste—they are threads. If I pulled, they would break.

“The alpha is the one who holds the pack together, and that's you.” Stiles poked a finger in Derek’s direction. “So you need to pull your head out of your ass and figure out what Scott needs. And you need to make sure that you do not pull Scott's trick of giving everyone what you think they need or giving people what you wish you could have. You want space, but don't assume that means others want the same.”

They'd reached the pizza place, and Stiles pulled into a parking space way too fast and slammed on the brakes so hard that his seatbelt locked up. He threw the Jeep into park and turned to look at Derek. “He needs his alpha, and that's you. He needs that rock-steady anchor that he can hold onto when it feels like his whole life is falling apart because the mentor that he looked at as a father figure stole something precious, and he can never get it back. Worse, his former best friend inherited all of his power, which is a kick in the teeth. He needs his alpha to weather this storm.”

“You're his best friend, not his former best friend,” Derek said.

Stiles scoffed. “I come back twice a year and play Call of Duty with him. I don't think that's best friend material.”

Derek looked at Stiles sadly. “Scott has never let anyone in the way he let you in. He holds all of the betas at arm’s length, and I thought that that was his leadership style. Maybe it was, but now that he's not the alpha, I don't know what's going to happen. You're telling me he needs his alpha, but I'm telling you he needs you to be his friend.”

Stiles blew out a breath. He had assumed Liam or Isaac had taken up his mantle, especially since Scott had been drifting away from their friendship even before Stiles moved. In the long run, Stiles wasn’t sure they were sleep-overs and secrets type best friends anymore, but if Scott needed him, he would never turn his back. Besides, other than Peter, Stiles had never let anyone else close. Sure, he liked his werewolf study buddy and he had classmates he loved to argue with and annoying Rick was always fun, but he didn’t have anyone he called a friend.

He had Peter, but he wasn’t sure what they were. They were friendly, but their relationship was too complicated to call them besties. “I can do that. I'm going to be here through the end of the semester and then it's summer so I can stay here for four or five months and help him through this. But I can't give him the kind of support an alpha can.”

Derek nodded. “I'll tell him that I need his help… that I don't know how to navigate the personalities in the pack.”

“At least it’s not a lie,” Stiles said. Derek gave him a wry grin.

Stiles continued. “And on the same note, I need to know what I can do to help you through this shit with the FBI. I'm not going to say that I regret raining hail and brimstone down on the Argents. But I regret that this has put you in the crosshairs. What can I do to help you?”

All emotion faded from Derek's face, but there was a tingle of horror and fear whispering through the pack bond. Derek stared out at the night and at the garishly lit pizza sign. “I'm fine.”

“You can't lie for shit,” Stiles said. “Look, what you need me to do? Hang around while the FBI is asking questions or disappear so you have privacy? Do you want of me to show up with beer or do you want me to send Scott so you guys can go raging through the woods and eat whatever little fluffy bunnies you run across? There are a hundred things I could do, but I don't know what you need me to do to help.” Stiles watched Derek. The man looked stoic. Borderline angry. The bond felt like broken china being crushed underfoot.

Derek sat and stared into the darkness. “I don't think they would let you stay while they questioned me.”

“They would be asking you questions as a witness, not questioning you, and in case you haven't noticed, I can be pretty damn persuasive.”

That startled a laugh out of Derek. His phone chimed, and Derek looked down at the display. “Our pizzas ready.”

“That was fast,” Stiles said. “They're probably going to give us pies that they premade and reheated.”

“Probably,” Derek said. “Do you really think the pack is going to care?”

“Not really.” Stiles open the Jeep door. “If you put cheese on it, I'm pretty sure they would eat cardboard.”

“When melted cheese has leaked onto the pizza box, I'm fairly sure they have eaten cardboard,” Derek countered.

Stiles grinned at him before getting out of the Jeep and heading towards the pizza place, and Derek followed. Maybe if he had someone to point out when he was making mistakes, Derek could make it work this time. Peter was certainly a better alpha the second time around. And maybe Stiles would stick around to make sure he didn’t fuck up too badly. After this semester, he only needed sixteen credit hours to finish his Bachelor’s, and he could get a bunch of those classes online.

Stiles heart ached because he hated thinking about moving back to California when Peter was in Virginia. He wouldn’t abandon one Hale for another, but he was starting to think he needed to figure out how to support both of them.

Chapter 2

“I don't need supervision to do this interview.” Derek was more than a little annoyed that Hotch had invited himself along on the Peter Hale interview.

“I know you can,” Hotch said calmly.

Derek parked the SUV and turned to his boss. “Then why are you here?”

“With Dave and Emily headed to California, you needed a partner on the interview.”

“And you think I need my boss to look over my shoulder just because this is some bigshot lawyer?” Derek took a breath before he could lose his temper. Hotch tended to assume he was the only one who could handle other lawyers.

“As you said, Peter Hale is a partner in a powerful law firm. If he requests to speak to the head of the investigation, I would rather be there to address his concerns immediately.”

Derek had no doubt that was at least part of Hotch’s rationale, but it was hard to believe he didn't have some ulterior motive. After all, this investigation was turning into a white whale, and no one could handle the politics better than Hotch. He should be back at the office trying to navigate the various obstacles Argent Arms had started putting up the moment they realized what the FBI was investigating.

“So, what's your plan?”

Hotch frowned. “I intend to have you lead the questioning. I am simply here to observe and address any concerns that Peter Hale may have for me as the head of the unit investigating his family's deaths.”

“Wouldn’t that be Strauss?” Derek asked. Maybe he was being peevish, but Hotch got under his skin when he got high-handed and changed the plan without explaining his reasons.

Hotch inclined his head in Derek's direction. “He may request to speak to Strauss, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.”

Derek got out of the SUV and headed for the main reception. Every corner of the law firm was tailored to project wealth and power. Original artwork and fountains and ridiculously large windows overlooking the street all warned potential clients that if they intended to hire this firm, they were going to have to be prepared to pay the price.

“It's hard to see someone like Stiles Stilinski ever working here,” Derek said. From the research they done, Stiles had been introduced around the law firm as Peter’s protégé. But a kid who spent all his time investigating for legal aid didn't exactly fit the image of this place.

“Just because we've investigated him on paper does not mean we understand everything about him,” Hotch said.

Derek snorted. That was obvious. The kid had talked his way onto an FBI operation, broke into an FBI office to attend one of Spencer's lectures, and had apparently uncovered a serial killer in his spare time. Derek was fairly sure Stiles had all kinds of layers. Since they had reached the main desk, Derek kept his opinions on Stiles to himself. The receptionist offered them a plastic smile and then invited them to head up to the twelfth floor where Peter Hale had his office.

The opulence continued in the elevator where the people who rode up with them spoke in hushed tones and the carpet was deep enough to muffle the sounds of footsteps. The whole place smelled of money and elegance, which did match Peter Hale’s public persona. Taking Hotch at his word, Derek took lead as he stepped off the elevator, striding down the corridor door to the right. The hallway was flanked with arched entrances, and behind each was a windowless work room where 2 to 4 individuals had desks. Derek assumed these were paralegals or secretaries for the various partners, but he had to walk all the way to the end before he found the archway that was labeled “P Hale.”

When Derek stepped into the semi-private space, a young man with an unfortunate haircut looked up and smiled. “Are you Mr. Hale’s four o’clock appointment?”

“We are,” Derek said. “SSAs Morgan and Hotchner.” Hotch remained at his side, silent and watching.

“You can go right in. Mr. Hale’s waiting for you.” The man gestured toward in elaborately carved wooden door set between a pair of flanking desks. The people at those desks were busy with files and didn't even look up as Derek passed between them and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a voice called.

Derek opened the door and got his first look at Peter Hale. There was no sign of the extensive scarring that had once covered the side of his face, but then he had the money to pay plastic surgeons. Peter Hale stood and offered a charming smile that immediately made Derek want to check to make sure that his wallet was still in place.

“So which of you would be Agent Hotchner and which is Agent Morgan?”

“I'm Derek Morgan and this is SSA Aaron Hotchner,” Derek introduced both of them. Hotch studied Peter with the sort of intensity that Spencer used when faced with spreadsheets of data. Peter nodded at each of them without offering to shake hands.

“Please. Have a seat. I understand you have opened an investigation into the fire that killed most of my family.” On the last few words, the amiable façade fell away and Peter's expression turned hard and cold. That was the man Derek had been expecting to meet. Peter Hale had a reputation for destroying people on the stand and manipulating juries like they were his own personal puppets. Watching that mask slipped made Derek feel a little bit more confident that he was seeing the real Peter Hale.

“We were hoping we could ask you a few questions about your time in Beacon Hills. Do you mind if I record the interview?” Derek slid a recorder out of his pocket.

“I would prefer you not,” Peter said. Derek hesitated, but after a second, he slipped the recorder back in his pocket. For the first time, he was grateful to have Hotch and his memory along. Writing notes always slowed an interview and made a witness hesitate to elaborate, so Derek decided to rely on Hotch’s recall and just focus on asking questions.

“Do you mind talking about Beacon Hills… about your family?”

“Of course not.” Peter settled back down behind his desk and offered a charming smile. “Anything I can do to help the FBI, I am more than happy to oblige.”

Derek had toyed with a number of different approaches, but he got the idea that if he tried playing any games, Peter Hale would start working angles. So Derek opted for bluntness. “Did you assist Stiles Stilinski in preparing any of the materials he brought to the FBI?” He could tell that the approach startled Peter, and for a moment, a grimace twisted his handsome features.

“I assure you, I did not. Argent Arms is rather powerful, and despite knowing at least some of Stiles’s suspicions, I would not have encouraged him to go to the FBI without actual proof. I find that kicking a wasps’ nest is not a fruitful use of one's time.”

“So do you think Argent Arms is innocent or are you simply unwilling to challenge them?” Derek asked.

Peter leaned back in his chair and pressed his fingertips together. “I believe the law has very little to do with morality or justice. Were I representing Argent Arms, I would be able to rip your case to shreds rather easily.”

“You're assuming you know what evidence we have,” Derek said. “Do you?”

Peter offered him a wry grin. “I admit I do not. What I know is the general direction Stiles’s speculation took. And while I admit that his intuitive leaps are likely correct, I don't think that the FBI will ever be able to make a case beyond the one against the lovely Kate and her psychotic father.”

Lovely. That was about the last word Derek would use to describe the woman. “Did you know Kate Argent?”

“I knew of her alleged involvement in the fire,” Peter said, sounding every bit the lawyer, “but I was under the impression that she was dead, and so I never pressed for details when I should have.”

Derek nodded, “So you believed the official death certificate.” Derek still couldn’t figure out how the Argents had managed to bribe the ambulance service, wildlife service, coroner’s office and funeral home to create detailed records for a body that didn’t exist.

“I did,” Peter said without hesitation. “When one is given to believe that an individual has had their throat ripped out and ended up on the coroner’s slab, one does tend to believe they are dead. Given how the Argents had bribed previous officials, I regret I did not confirm her death myself. If I had been physically able, I assure you that I would have gone down to the coroner's office, found the bitch, and cut her body into appropriately sized chunks. Or discovered the Argent’s ruse in my attempt.”

Derek was starting to suspect that the Argents were not the only sociopaths in this drama, but at least Peter Hale had channeled his rather cold outlook on life into a productive career that didn't include rape and murder. Hopefully. Derek got the feeling that Hale wasn’t someone to mourn over some spilt blood.

Derek looked over to see if Hotch was showing any interest in seeking his own line of questioning. They were certainly outside of what they had prepped back at the office. Instead, Hotch appeared almost disinterested in the conversation. He had some sort of brown feather that he was slowly twirling between his fingers.

Derek turned his attention back to Peter who was almost amused as he watched Hotch. Derek cleared his throat. “Did you have any interactions with the Argents before the fire?”

“I certainly heard their name about the house, but fear I am not going to be terribly helpful,” Peter said.

Derek leaned forward. “It's hard to tell what sort of information might help us put all the pieces together. Anything you could tell me would help.”

Peter pursed his lips. “Northern California is far more conservative than most people realize. My parents were intensely private people. They would assist in local charities and were on the boards of various schools and businesses, but they maintained a social distance from anyone in Beacon Hills.”

“Why?” Derek asked. He didn’t see how the information connected, but he assumed it did. Peter Hale knew what sort of evidence the team would need to convict, and he wasn’t likely to mention anything irrelevant. Derek just had to figure out why Peter was leading him down this path.

Peter gave him an amused smile. “If you manage to find a necromancer who can speak to the dead, feel free to ask them that question. However, I was quite young when my parents died. I'm sure you have the records.”

Derek did. Both of them had been killed in a head-on car accident when Peter had been thirteen and his sister Talia was twenty-six. On the state paperwork, Peter's grandmother had taken custody, but there was little evidence of anyone taking a directly parental role in Peter Hale's life. The few records they had been able to find from Peter Hale’s school days listed Talia as the emergency contact, so Derek wasn't sure what family dynamics were going on inside the household, but he suspected they were not terribly healthy. No thirteen-year-old boy wanted his sister as a parental figure.

“Did your sister ever mention the Argents?”

Peter frowned. “My sister and I had a difficult relationship after my parents passed. She felt that as the breadwinner in the family, it made her head of the household, and the rest of the family tended to agree with her. I was rather rebellious, and unabashedly bisexual. In fact, I believed that I had a right to take companionship where I wished. And in that rather conservative town, that would not have gone over well. Since Talia very much wanted the Hales to become pillars of the community, we had more than one disagreement about how my choices reflected on the family. I wish I could tell you the exact nature of the relationship between Talia and the Argents, but I was not her confidant.” Peter presented a lot of emotionally laden baggage with an almost bored tone. Derek didn’t buy it.

“But you worked for your family, handling their legal cases,” Derek said.

“Oh yes. I was raised to believe that family was the most important thing in life. The Hales never wavered on that fundamental fact of life. So when I showed a certain talent for,” Peter paused and then dramatically gestured with his hand, “manipulating information,” he finished, “I used my skills in order to protect and advance my family’s positions. However, that does not mean I was privy to all of my family's intrigues.”

“That's an interesting word. Intrigues.”

Peter offered a lopsided smile that was no doubt intended to charm the recipient. “A rather specific word, is what you're suggesting.” Peter was not even attempting to be subtle I how he guided the questioning. “And yes, my sister did have grand plans. However, how those plans intersected with or interfered with the Argents, I cannot say.”

Derek decided to change tactics since he was not getting much out of Peter Hale. He glanced over at Hotch again, but Hotch just continued to slowly twirl that feather between his thumb and forefinger. Derek considered Hotch a little stand-offish and eccentric, but this level of disengagement concerned him. He was starting to worry that Hotch was showing signs of stress. This whole case was a political nightmare for both Hotch and the FBI. “What can you tell us about your nephew, Derek Hale?”

“I can tell you he shares not only your given name but also your preference for plain speaking.” Peter raised an eyebrow at Derek. “My father always said that a person's occupation should follow their true nature, and so I entered law and Derek fixes cars. He quite likes to take something which is broken and get it to work again.”

“At the time, were you aware of any relationship between Derek and Kate Argent who was using the name Kate Silver?”

Peter's eyes turned cold and he put both his hands flat on his desk. “I assure you that had I known an adult was touching my underage nephew, I would have removed each of her fingers one at a time in the most painful way I could devise.”

Derek looked to Hotch. The man had to have an opinion on that, but Hotch was just studying Peter. “An interesting position for a lawyer to take in front of two FBI agents,” Derek said.

Peter shrugged. “A position so extreme that any jury would dismiss it as hyperbole, especially if they were to be told that Derek was subjected to a serial killer's attention.”

“So you didn't know anything about this relationship before the fire?”

“I most certainly did not. You specialize in psychology. I imagine you know something about the concept of a golden child.” Peter traced the edge of his desk’s blotter.

Derek frowned. “That's a lay-term, and one that is a gross oversimplification of family dynamics, but I have heard of it.”

Peter nodded. “Derek was his mother's golden child. He excelled at basketball, academics, he even volunteered for the local nursing home. He was perfect, and I am not ashamed to say that I avoided him at all costs. There is nothing more destructive to family bonds than being unfavorably compared to someone almost a decade younger. I graduated law school with honors and Talia couldn’t be bothered to come to my graduation, and yet she insisted that the entire family show up to celebrate every success that Laura and Derek achieved.

Peter shook his head, and some of the hard edges faded into sadness. “Even Laura could not live up to the sainted Derek. His mother not only thought he was perfect, but she expected him to live up to that ideal. I wonder if he would not have been better served to have a mother with a more realistic view of the world.”

Derek didn't think it was fair to blame a dead woman for the fact that her son had been targeted by serial killer, but he could admit that unhealthy family dynamics put some people at risk for being preyed on. Derek sometimes wondered if he hadn't been vulnerable because his mother had made such a fuss about him being the man of the house once his father died. Having someone treat him like a kid and let him act like one provided such an emotional outlet that he hadn't recognized that he was being groomed for abuse until after it was far too late. If Peter Hale was telling the truth, he could understand the man's frustration with Talia Hale. However, Derek felt like he was being led somewhere, and he could not see Hale’s motive in revealing this.

“Is there anything you can tell us about the Argents?”

Peter pursed his lips and leaned back, once more the consummate professional consulting with lesser beings. Derek wasn't sure why he got the sense that Peter Hale was condescending because his body language remained open and his tone professional, Derek still couldn't shake the feeling.

“If some of Stiles’s more outlandish theories are correct, I would say that you should guard your own backs. If these people are willing to go to such lengths to defend serial killers, one really must wonder what lengths they would go to in order to defend their good name.”

Hotch stood and held out a hand to Peter Hale. “We appreciate your time.”

Peter stood and gripped Hotch's hand. The feather Hotch had been playing with floated to the desk. Peter frowned at it and picked it up. “Is it yours?”

“I found it on the chair,” Hotch said.

With a quick frown, Peter dropped it into the wastebasket. “I truly do hope that your investigation bears fruit, and more than that, I hope that the investigation does not cost me more of my family.”

Derek stood and offered his hand, and Peter had an unusually firm grip. He wasn't squeezing it in some macho display, but he had power that Derek hadn't expected from a lawyer who sat behind a desk ten hours a day. “Our goal is to make sure that no one gets hurt.”

“I certainly hope you are at least marginally capable, or else I fear that your goal may be unattainable. If you need anything else, please feel free to call the receptionist and schedule an appointment. Your request to see me on such short notice has placed me in a difficult position with a number of cases. I really must go. Have a good day gentleman.” Peter gestured towards the door.

As they retraced their steps, this time with Derek following Hotch. They rode down in the elevator, and wary of microphones, they didn't speak and so they were back at the SUVs.

“He's hiding something,” Derek said.

Hotch nodded. “I suspect he's hiding many things. Do you think they are relevant to this case?”

That was a question Derek couldn't answer. So he didn't. He started the SUV and backed out of the visitor spot. Now they just had to hope that Emily and David had better luck in California because nothing Peter had given them was going to be useful in making a case. But it did pose more questions. Intrigues. That suggested the Hale family had some dealings with the Argents. Derek was going to sic Pretty Boy and his Information Goddess on that trail.

Chapter 3

David parked in the industrial area of Beacon Hills.

“For a place that has suspiciously large number of animal attacks, this doesn't feel particularly rural,” Emily said.

David snorted. It wasn't rural at all. And while they had driven through woods to get to the town, he couldn't imagine many townspeople were wandering a federal wilderness area at night in order to get mauled by mountain lions or wolves or bears that were never seen in the light of day. David had no idea how the Argents had managed to fly under the radar so long if they were this cavalier about covering up for murder.

“Do you want to take lead, or should I?” Emily asked.

David looked up at the windows where Derek Hale's apartment was. “If our suspicions are right, he was sexually abused by a woman. It might be best if I took lead.” David still didn’t understand why Hotch had sent Emily along instead of Derek. Derek had been sexually abused, so he had an ability to empathize with Hale, and a woman would run the risk of triggering him. However, David trusted that Hotch had his reasons, even if he wasn’t great at explaining them.

Kate Argent had falsified a teaching credential just to get close to a fifteen-year-old boy who, according to their research, had been mourning the loss of his girlfriend who was killed in a wild animal attack. It made David wonder if Kate and her psychopathic father had killed the boy’s first girlfriend just to create an emotional weakness.

The more he read about these Argents, the more concerned he was that this was not a serial killing case as much as some sort of militia. They had connections to homegrown terrorists and right wing radicals all across the country and in Europe, and they targeted families who were largely isolated and self-sufficient. It almost felt as if some survivalist group had fractured and the Argents were determined to kill anyone that did not follow their political beliefs. After all, the Argents had financial and political ties to the towns where the murders took place that went back three and sometimes four generations. The Argents and their victims had lived in close quarters for a long time before Gerard and his daughter started their killing spree.

The closest analogy David could find was Ervil LeBaron who led a religious splinter group with a habit of murdering anyone who tried to break away. David wondered if that’s what they were looking at—a rogue religious extremist eliminating anyone who challenged the faith. It had taken decades to put LeBaron in prison for murder, but this case was looking to be more complicated and bloody.

“You ready?” Emily asked.

David got out of the SUV and headed towards the building. He always hated interviewing adults who had been victimized as children. Society was so unkind to child sexual abuse victims, particularly the males, and particularly when their abusers had been female. The adults often internalized much of that disapproval, so David wasn't sure what he would find.

He knew that Derek Hale had money, inherited from his family and from insurance settlements, and he worked part-time as a mechanic. But David hadn't been able to get any feel for the man himself. The few individuals who seem to socialize with him were all closemouthed.

The most they'd managed to get out of anyone was the schoolteacher. Penny Sullivan had said that she had no idea what was going on with Derek but that she loved him like a brother and if he were underage, her role as a mandated reporter of child abuse would put her in an unenviable position. She then said Derek never talked about anything personal. She continued to maintain that even when they pointed out that they were known around town as friends and a few locals thought they were a couple.

David suspected she was not as ignorant as she claimed because when Emily had shown her a picture of Kate Argent, Penny's eyes had dilated in her whole body had gone stiff. She knew something, but David couldn't blame her for protecting her friend, and her knowledge was secondhand. That meant they needed to get Derek to talk if they wanted to make the primary case.

“Interesting choice of living accommodations,” Emily said as they rode the elevator up.

David nodded. “Very industrial. Very isolated.”

“A continuation of his parents’ teachings or damage done by Kate Argent?”

David looked at her, but he didn't have an answer. He just hoped that Derek wasn't too damaged to give a statement. If they caught Kate Argent, David wanted to be able to throw the book at the woman. Even Hotch seemed to be taking this case personally, and Hotch was frighteningly detached. When David had come back to the team and first met him, David had been concerned that the man was on the verge of burnout because he didn't seem to engage. Since then, he had figured out that what Hotch cared about was justice, not the individual victims.

Most of the time, that provided the team with balance. Spencer noticed numbers and patterns. Hotch cared about the law and justice in general. That freed up the rest of them to focus on the victims. But this case was so egregious and far-reaching that even Hotch was showing the emotional strain.

David knocked on the loft door and then stepped back to wait for someone to answer. He'd expected Derek Hale, but a young man with a crooked smile and an Avengers T-shirt opened the door. “FBI?” he asked.

David glanced at Emily before answering. “I'm Special Agent David Rossi. This is SSA Emily Prentice.”

Before David could say anything else, the young man was backing up, and he bellowed, “Derek!” He studied David and Emily. “So, you must be Spencer's friends.”

David tried to keep the neutral expression, but Emily smiled. “You’re Stiles, the one at the center of all of those stories about the internship program.”

Stiles held his hands up as though surrendering. “It wasn't me.”

“Yes it was,” Derek Hale said as he came out of a back room. He was large and physically intimidating. David wondered if he had developed that physique is a defense mechanism. He'd seen victims do that before, just like he'd seen victims get fat out of a mistaken belief that a perpetrator wouldn't desire them if their body wasn't traditionally attractive, or seen them become hoarders using physical objects to try and create a barrier that made them feel safe.

Stiles clutched his heart. “Derek, you wound me. That was not my fault.”

“You shouldn't have been in the middle of a shootout,” Derek said.

“Yeah, well, if you didn't put yourself in a position to get shot at, I wouldn't be there in the middle shootout. So stop getting shot at and everything will be fine.” Stiles shrugged as though that answer were the most reasonable in the world. David liked this kid. He had moxie. He was also a menace, but David liked that too.

Derek glared at Stiles, and David was getting definite family vibe. Spencer had profiled Stiles as seeing the Hales as family replacements for his mother, and David agreed. “Mr. Hale, we were hoping we could speak to you.”

Any trace of emotion vanished as Hale turned towards David. “About Kate Argent?”

David nodded. If Stiles was willing to give up a semester of university to come back here, he would've already of told Derek Hale everything.

Derek gave a jerky nod and gestured towards the couch. David kept his movements slow and easy as he settled in on one half of the couch and Emily perched on the other. She seemed far more interested in Stiles than Derek, either that or she was redirecting her attention so that Derek didn't feel as targeted. Solid strategy. Emily had good instincts.

“The FBI has opened an investigation against Ms. Argent and her father for murder, arson, assault, and a number of other crimes.”

“Other crimes,” Derek echoed flatly. David got the feeling that Derek was not someone who hid from his demons. This man hadn't become a hoarder, he had pushed his body so that he could be strong enough to fight back. That suggested he would prefer a direct approach.

“We have a number of cases where Kate Argent appears to have targeted underage boys before killing their families. In one case, she had a relationship with a mentally disabled man of nineteen whose medical records report had the mental age of a six-year-old. However, of all the young men we can confirm she targeted, you appear to be the only one who survived. We were hoping you could talk to us.”

Derek was staring at the wall behind David's head, and Stiles took a step closer before stopping. Derek's hand slowly came up and he rubbed his sternum before he focused on David's face again. “What do you need to know?”

David took out a recorder and placed it in the middle of the coffee table so everyone could see it. He turned it on before saying, “This is SSA David Rossi with SSA Emily Prentice I am here with Derek Hale with Mieczysław Stilinski present.” David technically could have asked Mr. Stilinski to leave, but he got the feeling that Derek needed the emotional support. He kept his voice calm as he said, “I'm hoping you can tell us what sort of interactions you had with Kate Argent.”

Derek looked over at Stiles, his face was without expression, but he kept swallowing nervously, his Adam's apple bobbing.

“Please,” David added.

“I didn't know she was Kate Argent until I was in my 20s,” Derek said. “When I first met her she was Kate Silver.”

David nodded encouragingly. “And where did you meet her?”

Derek swallowed and clenched his fists. “She was a substitute teacher at my school and she started helping out with some of the afterschool sports. She was nice to me.”

David continued nodding, giving Derek space to tell the story in his own way. Stiles moved closer to Derek and rested a hand on his arm and that seemed to spur Derek into movement. He came and sat in one of the armchairs closest to David. Even now he was keeping his distance from the only woman in the room. Stiles backed up and sat on a spiral staircase that led up to a loft, silent but watching.

“What interactions did you have with her?” David asked when the silence became oppressive.

Derek shrugged. “At first, she would just ask me to help out in the classroom after school. She would tell me how hard it was coming into the school halfway through the year, and she would ask for help with simple grading or organizing papers for the next day. I was struggling and angry with my family, so it seemed like a good way to stay out of the house.”

David nodded. Maybe his family hadn't understood his emotional turmoil over the death of his friend. Paige. Adults often underestimated the depth of children’s grief. David still wondered if the Argents hadn't been involved in the girl’s murder. Killing someone to create an opening seemed in character for them.

“You say that's how the relationship started. Where did it go from there?” David asked.

Derek gave David such a flat stare that David felt a tingle of fear up his spine. This was a man who was damaged, but not broken.

“She started with putting a hand on my arm or leaning against my back when I was working in the classroom. She started telling me that I was more mature than anyone else in my grade and that she cared for me.”

“How long was it between meeting her and these encounters?” David kept his voice calm and he watched Stilinski for any reaction. Most of their profile was built off what Stilinski had told Spencer. Left to his own instincts, David would be tempted to show more sympathy.

“These encounters?” Derek chewed on his lower lip for second before answering. “She'd been at the school for four or five weeks before she started touching. It was only about three weeks after that that she kissed me.”

“Under what circumstances did she kiss you?” With vague answers, there was too much room for defense attorney to argue that the situation was avuncular.

Derek scoffed and rubbed his sternum again before he made eye contact with David. “She pinned me up against the wall next to the file cabinet, and I was afraid to push her off because I didn't want to hurt her. I was an athlete and I thought I was stronger than her, but she put her knee between my legs and fisted my hair and kissed me harder than any woman has done before or since. And when she finished kissing me, she put her hands inside my pants and grabbed me.”

Derek looked away. His face showed very little emotion, but Stiles’s expression was caught somewhere between stricken and murderous. If Kate were to walk in the room right now, David wasn't sure which of these men would try and kill her first.

“Did she have sex with you then?”

Derek shook his head. “She got me hard and then ran a hand down my cheek and told me how beautiful I was like that before she walked away. She was out of the classroom before I came in my pants.”

If this had happened within a month or two of Kate showing up at the school, Derek had still been fifteen and she’d already been plotting to turn Derek into an accessory in his whole family’s murder. David had seen a lot of monsters in his days, but Kate Argent was up there with the best.

“What happened after that?”

Derek gave a rough laugh. “I went home.” Again, he his gaze slid off to the side, and David let silence fill the room as he gave Derek time to regain his emotional composure. This was a man who didn't like making himself vulnerable, and he was clearly struggling to maintain his façade. The least David could give him was time.

Once Derek had managed to make eye contact again, David asked, “Did you have sex with her?”

Derek started rubbing his sternum again. The nervous gesture made David wonder what had happened to that spot.

“On my sixteenth birthday I told her I had to be with my family, but she told me to tell them I was having sleep over the next day. I went to her apartment and we slept together.”

Compared to the level of specificity, when Derek described the kiss, that seemed a rather bland description. However, David was not willing to push that detail right now. “How many times did you have sex?”

Derek swallowed and licked his lips nervously. “Not often. Only when I could convince my parents that I was having a sleepover. She said it was important that we didn't get caught because no one would understand.”

David nodded. That was a common tactic among child predators.

Derek rubbed his sternum again. “Then she said she wanted to be able to visit me in the house while my parents were out. There was a day when everyone was going to be gone except Cora and my little sister liked to run in the woods. Kate said she wanted to come over, but she didn't want to get caught going through the door.”

Derek fought his own emotions, and David could see where this was going. They had speculated on how Kate knew where the family’s escape routes were. She had clearly blocked them before the fire started.

“How did you and Kate get around that problem?” David asked.

Derek was silent for so long that David feared they had lost him altogether. He stared at the wall and David waited for him to order them out of his apartment. A minute passed. Five minutes. Ten. When Derek spoke again, it was a whisper. “She asked if there was any other way into the house, and I told her my family had escape tunnels that led into the woods. She said that was the perfect way for her to get into the house so that we could spend the day together. I was so stupid. I thought…” Derek stopped and shook his head. “I wasn't thinking at all. I had some fantasy of Kate loving me and having a family with me and having her in the house was just a stupid teenage fantasy. I wanted to pretend to be someone I never was.”

Stiles shot off the stairs and crouched down next to Derek's chair as he grabbed Derek by the arm. “Hey. We’re all idiots when we’re kids. Do I need to remind you how stupid I was with Lydia? Hell, that was sane compared with all that other stupid shit junior year. Teenagers are morons. Ask Peter.”

Derek looked at Stiles, and a little bit of the pain leaking out seemed to ease. Derek nodded his head once, and continued. “Three days later she gave me detention and coach was really upset because we had a meet coming up, so he made me stay after the rest of the team and practice. My sister Laura stayed to drive me home, and by the time we got to the house…” Derek stopped again and rubbed his free hand over his face. Stiles was still clinging to his left arm, and Derek didn't try and reclaim it.

“By the time we got to the house, my family was gone.”

“Did anyone else know about the tunnels?” David asked.

Derek shook his head.

“I am sorry, but I need a verbal answer,” David said softly.

Derek took a deep breath. “No one else knew about the tunnels. Mom said they were a family secret and no one was allowed to know where the exit was.”

David's heart broke for this kid. Argent had found him when he was vulnerable, had intentionally made sure that he was out of the house so he would survive in order to suffer, and then used his knowledge to kill his family. He knew that some of the team wondered what Gerard Argent had done to his daughter to turn her into a psychopath, David found he didn't care. The pain she inflicted on Derek Hale and the other boys negated any chance that he would ever feel an ounce of sympathy for the woman. She targeted the most vulnerable and then ensured they would suffer the most. It certainly wasn't an accident that Derek had been given detention on the day of the fire.

“What happened after the fire?”

Derek shrugged. “My sister was eighteen and she said we had to leave. I didn't want to.” Derek pressed his eyes tightly together. “I didn't want to leave Kate because I thought I thought she would be worried about me.”

“Did you see Kate or Gerard Argent after that?” David already knew the answer, but he needed Derek to continue telling a story.

Derek nodded. “When I was twenty-three, Laura said she had to come back to Beacon Hills. She said someone had sent her a message and she had to deal with it, and that she would come back when she was finished. She stopped returning my calls, so I came to town shortly after that.”

The paperwork had told that story, especially since the local sheriff had arrested Derek for the murder of his sister. He'd been cleared of it, but that did create a rather unassailable paper trail. The paper trail said Kate Argent had come to town a few weeks after that, but that had been a little less concrete. They couldn’t put her anywhere with any degree of certainty in the days before Laura Hale’s murder, so she may have been in town to send a message. Gerard had been in Montana at that time, and the small town he’d visited had suffered an unusual number of missing persons cases that month.

“When did you next see either of the Argents?”

Derek shrugged. “A few days after I got here I was at a gas station and Chris Argent and two of his buddies surrounded me. They told me that they didn't like my kind in town and then took a crowbar in my car.”

David traded looks with Emily. Chris Argent hadn't been on their radar. As far as they could tell, he'd been another victim, but perhaps that was inaccurate.

“What did he mean by your kind?” David asked.

Derek shrugged. “I don't know. I know Mom never liked the Argents, but I don't know why.”

All that did seem like evidence that this was some sort of splintering of a religious or political extremist group. Maybe the Hales were trying to back away from the more aggressive policies the Argents advocated. “What did Chris Argent do after that?”

“Nothing.” Derek studied the floor.

“Did you see him again?”

“All over town,” Derek said. “I'd see him at the high school lacrosse games and at the grocery store, but he didn't talk to me again.”

That raised an interesting question. David wondered if Kate’s brother was backing her play in targeting a victim or if he'd been trying to get Derek out of the way to protect the kid. If it was the latter, it suggested that Chris Argent was aware of the murders and attempting to stop them. That did not legally excuse him, but it was one more piece of a confusing puzzle.

“Did you see Kate Argent in town?”

Derek physically winced.

Stiles leaned forward until he rested his forehead against Derek's shoulder, and he wrapped his one arm all the way around Derek's. Nothing in the paperwork suggested a connection between Derek and Kate after the fire, but Stiles’s reaction made it clear that he knew exactly what it happened. Emily shifted uncomfortably, and David held out a hand for her to wait. “What happened when you saw Kate after your sister's murder?”

Derek swallowed and looked at Stiles before he made eye contact with David. “She took a stun gun to me and then dragged me to the basement of my family’s burned out home. She took me where they died. She chained me there and hooked electrodes to me and told me that it was more fun now that she didn't have to pretend to like me. She told me how she would enjoy riding me, that having sex with me was going to be almost as fun as killing my family had been.” Derek's tone was utterly flat. But his eyes shone. Derek clenched his jaw.

David took a deep breath to get control of his own anger before he continued. “Did she let you go?”

Derek shook his head. “Someone else found me.” Derek's gaze flicked towards Stiles without ever landing on him. That was a telling reaction. Stiles hadn't just investigated a serial killer, he had been close enough to her to steal one of her victims.

“Do you mind telling us who let you go?” David asked. He looked to see of either Derek or Stiles would confess to this part. It would give them another witness, and it also made David wonder what had happened to Stiles. He had been either fifteen or sixteen when Kate Argent came to town, and that was an age group she preferred.

“I'm not going to drag them into this,” Derek said flatly. After a second, he shook his head and said more firmly. “No.”

David wondered if Stiles had whispered something in Derek's ear, maybe an offer to come forward. But if Derek was determined to protect Stiles, they couldn't talk to Stiles about it here. David needed to find another time to talk to Stiles.

“Did you tell anyone about this assault?”

Derek shook his head. “She was a beautiful woman, one I had already had a sexual relationship with. And our sex wasn't always vanilla. I did things, and she had pictures. I knew if I went public that she would have everything she needed to paint herself as the victim of a scorned man trying to get her back for breaking up.”

Emily finally spoke up. “You were sixteen when you had sex. That is not a scorned man.”

Derek's gaze shot to her, and anger finally seeped through that mask he wore. “Do you really think that anyone cares that a sixteen-year-old got his rocks off with the teacher? That thirteen-year-old boy on the news… the one who got his teacher pregnant… that woman only got a few years in prison, and then they got married when she was released. I was sixteen. Who the hell was going to consider me a victim?”

“Derek,” Stiles whispered. Derek started rubbing his sternum again, and David suspected that one of the electrodes had been attached there. Kate might've been warped by her father's views, but she was a sexual sadist in her own right.

“Did you see her after that?” David kept his voice calm, hoping to get more details. They already had more than they had expected, but this case was big and the Argent lawyers were already circling the wagons. They needed to get every little duck in order.

Derek rubbed his face and stood, dragging Stiles to his feet with him. “I can't do this anymore. She's dead and gone, and you can let this drop.”

“Why are you so sure?” David asked. At this point, David wouldn't be surprised if Derek announced he had murdered Kate and had her body in the freezer. Hell, David would probably call the man a lawyer. He might even pay for it out of his own pocket.

Instead, Derek gave a rough laugh. “I knew Kate was alive until about three years ago. That’s when she stopped showing up in my loft. That’s when she stopped sending me little notes about how much she missed our time together. She stopped threatening my family. And if you knew Kate, you would know she would never stop. Not until she was dead or I was. I think it's time for you to leave.”

David reached for the recorder and turned it off. “I apologize for intruding on your time. If there is anything you would like to add to your statement, you are welcome to give me a call.” He put his card down on the coffee table. “I will have this typed up and I would appreciate it if you would be available to read it over and sign it.”

Derek nodded. With that, David tucked the recorder away and headed towards the door. “It was very nice to meet both of you,” he offered. Emily gave them both warm smiles. And then they left. Emily remained silent until they were in the elevator.

“I did not expect that,” she said.

David had no idea if Emily was talking about the depths of Kate Argent’s sexual sadism or Stiles’s unusual reactions. David hadn’t been prepared for either. The fact that Argent had stalked Derek for years spoke of a level of obsession the paperwork hadn’t revealed, and Derek might be right about her being dead. If she was that obsessed, she would have found a way to continue playing with him.

After a long silence, Emily said. “Stiles went up against that woman.”

David nodded. “Yep.”

“He had to have been sixteen years old. His father was the sheriff. What the hell was he thinking going into a serial killer’s kill zone to rescue someone?”

David shook his head. “I have no idea, but this is the man who talked his way onto an FBI raid and then landed in the middle of a shootout.”

“He did that to save Derek Hale as well.”

“Yep.” David had a kid older than Stiles, had he was getting hives even thinking of Kate Argent getting anywhere near Joy. David would kill Argent. No hesitation.

“And yet, I don't get the sense that's an unhealthy relationship.” Emily sounded curious.

David watched the elevator doors open on the first floor. “No, but I do get the feeling that there's a lot here we don't understand.”

“No joke. And for one, I would love to pin the sheriff down and find out why his son is confronting serial killers while he is letting them walk around town.” And there was Emily’s temper. She did hate it when people in authority didn’t do their jobs—specifically when cops didn’t protect people. She and Morgan were the same in that, and it didn’t bode well for the Sheriff. The man was lucky that Morgan was with the group at the office trying to coordinate the massive effort to pin down the Argent empire.

“Has it occurred to you,” David asked, “that Spencer is convinced that Stiles is a helpless academic who has been researching this from a distance?”

Emily snorted. “Yeah, well, Spencer is an idiot because that kid is not distanced from anything.”

David looked at her. “Yeah, but he convinced Spencer he was.”

Emily's eyes grew large, and David headed to the SUV. Yep, this Stiles kid had bluffed Spencer. David had no idea what was going on, but he sure as hell wasn't ready to underestimate Stiles Stilinski. Apparently he could go toe to toe a serial killer and bluff Spencer. That was someone to keep an eye on. David had a little sympathy for Sheriff Stilinski because he had no idea how someone tried to parent a kid like Stiles. No, David didn’t blame the sheriff. He had his eye on the Argents. That’s who he wanted to take down.

And if he couldn’t do it with the justice system, he could just write another book detailing all their dirty little secrets.

Chapter 4

Stiles watched Derek's back as he leaned into the wall as though trying to hold it up. The man wanted to use anger as his anchor, but that wasn't even a little bit healthy. Normal wolves used their pack, and Stiles needed Derek to be a little more normal. He was the poster boy for doing your own thing, but there was eccentric and then there was mentally unhealthy.

“You have a pack to call on if you're hurting. What would make you feel better right now?”

“Stiles,” Derek said with his voice strangled with emotion, “I need some time to myself.”

“No you don't. You’re a wolf, and wolves rely on their pack. I could call Penny so that you guys could go out to lunch. Isaac and Liam or Scott could go with you on a run through the preserve. Face it, once word gets out that Scott's not an alpha anymore, you know you're going to have someone challenge you for the territory. You really should be keeping an eye on the preserve to make sure no one is moving in. You could go play video games with Johnny and Barrett or spar with Frank. He looks a little, but I know from experience the little ones can be mean. So, what sounds good?”

Derek turned his head to the side and considered Stiles with a perfectly flat expression. “Ripping your throat out.”

Stiles laughed. “I’ll tell you the same thing that I've told Peter a dozen times. You’ve threatened that so much that the threat has lost its shine. You have pack bonds to tend. You’re the alpha, so tend to them.”

“Fine.” Derek turned around and crossed his arms. He was so totally retreating into anger. Dork. “I will tend my pack bond by sitting on the couch while you watch something stupid on television.”

“Oh hell, no. I have it on good authority that my pack bond is the only one that never needs tending.” Stiles rubbed his chest where he could feel Derek like a rock anchoring him. Maybe that rock wasn't as large as Peter, but it was definitely rocklike. Peter said Stiles felt the same from his end. He said that he hadn’t felt a bond with such a solid anchor since his parents had died.

Stiles gentled his voice. “I know you’re used to isolating yourself, but you are the only alpha this pack has right now. They're hurting too, and while their hurt is only a fraction of the pain you’re suffering, they don't have to suffer alone any more than you do. Pack bonds will make you stronger.”

Derek snorted. “Did my uncle teach you that?”

“Actually, Celeste did. Since I'm a pack witch, she is adamant that I learn everything I need to know about feeding the magic in wolves. It turns out that locking yourself in dark rooms is not healthy. Who would've thought?”

Derek stared flatly at him.

Stiles sighed. He was starting to wonder if the Hales had some congenital mental health issues.

“Do you trust her? Peter hired her.”

“So are you going back to not trusting Peter?” Stiles asked wearily.

Derek narrowed his eyes. “I never trusted Peter. I don't now. He's my uncle and he's pack, but that doesn't mean that I trust his motives with any of this.”

“That’s probably fair. Peter has done a lot to break the trust, so if it takes you time to come around, I would say Peter made that bed and he can lay in it.” Stiles shrugged. He wasn’t going to stick up for Peter on that front.

Derek lunged into Stiles’s space so he was inches from Stiles, his eyes red. “Peter worked with Kate, plotted to help her kidnap me when she took me to Mexico, or did you forget that?”

“Nope. I'm not forgetting it, and I gave Peter a piece of my mind about that,” Stiles said. “If it makes you feel any better, his ultimate plan was to kill Scott, capture Kate, torture her until she was insane and begging for death, and then revive the younger you, the you that didn't have all the horrible memories of what happened in those intervening years. Then the two of you could be a happy pack in control of the Hale territory. Peter was trying to fix things, although I am perfectly willing to say that Peter’s version of fixing things is deeply, deeply disturbing.” Honestly, looking back, Stiles felt like an idiot for not figuring it out earlier. The second they’d found Derek de-aged to the point that he couldn’t remember the fire, they should have started looking at who might have wanted to spare Derek from those memories. That didn’t describe Kate. She was always most cheerful when describing her murderous past. She was creepy that way.

“Is that what he told you?” Derek demanded.

“Yup. From Peter's point of view, it would have been a perfect world.”

Derek shook his head. “You think you know him so well.”

“I think I know him better than someone who looks at Peter and remembers the man he was a decade ago.”

Derek snorted and headed for the kitchen. Stiles followed. “I don't need a babysitter,” Derek said.

Stiles leaned on the wall and crossed his arms. Dealing with Derek was exhausting. “What would your mother say about you using anger to anchor yourself?”

Derek kept making tea. “She isn't here to ask.”

“You're right. Neither of us have our mothers,” Stiles said. Derek looked over at him with a frown, but Stiles kept talking. “What is the primary goal of any wolf, of any alpha? Hell, even when Peter was being a bad guy he remembered this.”

Derek continued to stare at him.

“It's not a hard question Der-bear.”

“Don't lecture me on what it means to be a wolf.”

“Then act like one,” Stiles shot back. “You’re hurting, but instead of turning to your pack bonds for comfort, you're trying to shut them out. I can feel the bonds pinching. Do you think they can't?” Stiles threw an arm out towards the city where their pack lived in separate houses scattered across the city. Stiles pulled on his own pack bond with Derek. “Do you think they can't feel it when you damage your end?” Stiles pulled on his pack bond again. He had no idea how many times he was going to have some variation on the same conversation, but Stiles could out-stubborn any wolf ever born. Or bitten. Or anyone not a wolf. Stiles could just outstubborn any sentient or sapient creature in the universe. He just didn’t expect to have to prove that so often.

Derek slammed the kettle down on the counter. “Stop it. Stop manipulating that bond, and stop manipulating me.”

“Or what?” Stiles pulled the bond again.

Derek wolfed out, his eyes red in his teeth snapping. “I'm warning you, stop it.”

Stiles eased his hold on the bond and crossed his arms again. “That's what every single one of your wolves is feeling. They all feel the pull of you trying to retreat into yourself. And when they had Scott to hold onto, I'm sure your issues and your neglect of the pack bond were nothing more than a nuisance in the back of their mind, a wrongness that they recognized even if they didn't know how to talk to you about it. But Peter didn't take their pack bonds. You are the only alpha they have, and now you are doing that to all of them.” Stiles poked his finger at Derek before he gave the pack bond one more hard pull.

Derek lurched forward and caught himself with a wolfed out hand on the kitchen wall. Stiles stared into his face. “You’re hurting your pack.” Stiles pronounced each word slowly and carefully. “Scott is my friend, do you really think I'm going to let you hurt him? Do you think I'm going to let you hurt a couple of high school kids who are stumbling through this the way Scott and I had to? Do you think I'm going to let you hurt someone like Penny who wants nothing more than to find a safe place to live in a way to make the world better?

“Do you think I'm going to let you hurt Liam and Isaac when I know how much they've been hurt already? And Frank, how much is he suffered? I see the way he pulls back, the pain he’s in every day. What is he feeling like in his apartment as his bond to his alpha is squeezed tighter and tighter? How many people are you going to hurt Derek?”

Derek stared at him, and Stiles sighed. He put a hand on Derek's chest and opened up his own pack bond, letting his energy feed into Derek. It was a dangerous maneuver when he didn't have Celeste sitting in the next room to keep him regulated, but his gut told him it was the right move. Stiles had been pushing pack energy toward him during the interview, but it was like he kept hitting a wall.

Stiles hadn’t pushed then because Derek could be volatile under the best of circumstances, and these were not great circumstances. However, now he forced magic through the bonds. “Pack bonds give you strength, Derek. Your mother taught you that. What matters to the wolf is the pack.”

Slowly, Derek's werewolf features faded and he took a step back. “What did you do?” He shook his head as though dazed. If Peter was right and Derek had been starved of healthy pack bonds for so long that he didn’t know how to feel them anymore and subconsciously blocked them, he needed someone to remind him.

“I gave you a little of the power and comfort you would get from pack bonds if you would stop trying to strangle them. You think that you’ll be okay if you just retreat into that anger of yours. You think the rest of us would be better if you weren't here. Do you think I can't feel your fears?” Some days Stiles thought he should get hazard pay for dealing with emotionally constipated werewolves. Derek made Peter look downright mentally healthy, and after living with Peter for three years, Stiles knew how terrifying that was.

Slowly, Derek's stony expression faded into a more honest weariness. Stiles let more of his spark energy flow through the bond.

“Enough,” Derek said quietly. “You made your point.”

“Be the alpha,” Stiles said. “You were never responsible for what you did at fifteen or sixteen. If you're going to play that game, then you would have to blame me for everything the Nogitsune did. It tortured me, but in the end, I answered its riddle. I opened the final lock because I was lost and afraid, and I thought I was losing myself to dementia the way mom did. That's not the same as being innocent. So either you blame both of us for those disasters or you recognize that both of us were used and hurt by forces out of our control.”

Derek shook his head. “Getting targeted by a Nogitsune not the same as thinking with your dick.” His features twisted with self-hate.

“And it's not all that different. When you're young, emotions feel stronger. It's easier for others to manipulate us. But neither of us are kids anymore. Now we have to take responsibility for what we do now.”

Derek rubbed his face. “Just stop manipulating the bond.”

“Will you start attending your pack bonds?” Stiles asked. “Because I'm not going to make any promises until you do. It’s your job to make your pack feel useful. They need to know how to help and you need to let them.”

Derek ran a hand through his hair. It felt as though they were perched on the edge of a cliff and Stiles was prepared for Derek to go into full retreat rather than have a genuine emotion. After a few minutes, Derek sighed. “Call around and see if anyone is available to run the preserve. We can check for any signs of intruders.”

“Awesome!” Stiles said. When Derek gave him a dirty look, Stiles wiped the smile off his face and tried to tone down the emotion. Right. Too soon for happy emotions. “I’ll check with Scott, Liam, and Isaac. I should get the others’ numbers. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before.” Stiles wandered away before Derek could change his mind. Baby steps. It was all about baby steps.

Chapter 5

Stiles was cleaning the kitchen when his phone rang. The display lit up with the word “Creeper.”

“Is everything okay?” Stiles answered the phone with. He could admit that he was nervous. Terrified. Horrified. Living in fear that the Argents would target Peter while he was isolated.

“Everything is fine on my end; however, I noted that you were manipulating my nephew’s pack bonds with your usual subtlety. I thought I would check in and see how you're doing.”

“Are you accusing me of being unsubtle?” Stiles asked.

“Me?” Peter got an offended tone before sliding seamlessly into sarcasm. “I would never make such a baseless accusation. So, is everything alright on your end?”

“The FBI left an hour ago, and Derek admitted to both the abuse when he was a kid and to getting kidnapped by Kate when he came back to town. He painted Kate as quite the psychopath.” Of course, she was one, so that wasn’t exactly a difficult task. Stiles had the feeling that the FBI agents might have looked the other way if Derek had tried to kill Kate right in front of them. Luckily that wasn’t an issue since she was already dead.

“Is my dear nephew wearing a hair shirt?”

“Not anymore. He was trying to use anger as his anchor, but I sent him out with Scott and Liam to run the preserve.”

Peter scoffed. “I am boggled at the idea of any wolf using anger to anchor himself. I am ashamed that it is my own blood that is attempting to do so.”

“Yeah, well, you aren’t exactly a paragon of a mental virtue yourself, Mr. Vengeance Wolf. You don't get to pick on Derek. Especially not after the day he had.”

There was a longer silence, and Stiles wondered how long he was going to have to do this weird tap dancing between the two Hale men. Derek might be depressed and on the edge of going omega, but Peter had insecurities that would take a squadron of psychiatrists to even dent. Two squadrons. And Stiles didn’t want to hurt him, but he knew that Peter sometimes did some really dumb shit when he thought he could get away with it... shit like teaming up with Kate.

Did Stiles understand why he’d done it? Yep. He’d lost his alpha spark and his only family, and here had come Scott and he got everything Peter wanted. Looking back, the whole murder-Scott thing was pretty damn predictable. So he had to support Peter without giving the man permission to run off plotting.

“As long as you do not allow my idiot nephew to hurt himself or the pack bonds and you prevent my true failure from pushing into the leadership of the pack, I will keep my opinions on his mental health to myself,” Peter eventually said.

“Good,” Stiles said, “because I’m already dealing with Derek stupidity and that’s as much stupid as I can handle on my plate. I think you’re right about the whole omega thing. I’ve been pushing pack energy toward him, and I finally got him to stop blocking it on his end. However, he acts like he’s stunned that pack bonds feel good. He’s clearly an idiot for not noticing the problem and clinging to anger instead of pack, and I don’t need you sharing any truth with him before he gets his head screwed on straight.”

“That is my nephew for you. He has never been one for self-reflection.” Peter sounded much happier now that Stiles had thrown a few well-placed insults in Derek’s direction.

“You owe me for getting his head screwed on straight. I’m talking massive quantities of owing,” Stiles said.

“Anything for you, darling. So, did he perform well for the FBI?”

“Um, I’m not sure ‘well’ is the correct term for it.” Stiles actually thought it had been damn painful. Stiles had even whispered that he should go get Scott. After all, Scott had seen Derek in those tunnels under the Hale house. But, like usual, Derek preferred to carry that burden himself. Derek was self-sacrificing and Peter was insecure if not told that he was the favorite. They both needed therapy. That’s why it was so damn weird that Stiles felt Peter’s absence like an ache in his soul. Maybe he needed therapy too because he hated this separation.

“Did Derek follow my advice?”

“He toed the company line and told him that his mother had never liked the Argents, but that he didn't know why.” Stiles sat on the couch and pulled his feet up under him. “Do you know what would make it easier to convince him to help? If you would explain exactly what you're trying to do. What are you trying to get the FBI to believe?”

“Nothing,” Peter said. “I can’t possibly imagine what narrative they will construct around the evidence I have left for them. However, they are human. That means they will invent some human motive for the hatred between the Argents and their various enemies. I'm sure you remember what happens when there is widespread hatred and fear around supernatural creatures.”

Stiles did remember. That cluster fuck was one of the things that convinced him he needed to live somewhere else. He had needed time and a little distance to get over his raging case of PTSD. “So, you’re hoping they come up with a more plausible human motive. What motive do you think they're inventing?”

“Were I a betting man, I would suspect that they are contemplating some long-standing allegiance gone wrong, possibly something related to militias since the Argents are so devoted to their weaponry,” Peter said. Someone else might have suggested he sounded bored, but Stiles knew better. This was Peter’s ‘aren’t I clever’ tone, the one he used when he was so clearly brilliant that any other tone would sound unnecessarily arrogant.

“If the Argents are some militia group, what would that cast the Hales as?”

“I am hoping it will suggest that my family was attempting to leave a dangerous militant organization; however, I cannot control the direction of this narrative. The Hales very well may end up painted with the same brush as those psychopaths. But I will not abandon a useful strategy simply because the dead members of my family may end up with tarnished reputations.”

Stiles had the feeling that Peter might actually prefer for his dead relatives to have a tarnished reputation. It wasn't like his conflicts with Talia were a secret. “Derek was upset about that time you helped Kate kidnapped him.”

Peter sighed as though weary of Derek’s unreasonable reactions. In this case, Derek wasn’t even the unreasonable one. “He really should let that drop. After all, he helped Scott shove me into Eichen House. I consider us even.”

“All of this is stirring up his feelings around Kate, so I'm not sure Derek would agree with you. He seems pretty hurt about the fact that you sided with Kate against him.”

There was a long silence on the other end before Peter asked, “Given that I would never ultimately side with an Argent against my nephew, is he hurt enough to break our bond?” The question was asked with such a lack of emotion that Stiles knew that Peter was having some damn strong emotions. He just wasn't sure whether Peter was worried about suffering a broken bond himself or worried that any bond breaking would destabilize Stiles and his magic.

“I don't think he's going to break your bond, but he is feeling pretty cranky. I pointed out that in your plot, he would have been younger and happier and safely protected under a Hale alpha, but he does seem stuck on the whole you helped Kate kidnap him.”

“At the time, I was unaware of how far Kate had gone with him. Derek never shared details. And I will point out that I never allowed her to touch him. The most he suffered was a headache from being held unconscious. It was that idiot friend of yours that I was trying to kill.”

“Yeah, you may not want to bring that up,” Stiles said.

“I have never hidden who I am.” Peter’s voice had a formality that suggested his insecurities were front and center.

“Nope, and I think you’re awesome anyway, but then I’m a bit of an asshole myself and I know I’d try to kill anyone who threatened my pack. I might not succeed, but I’d sure try.”

“Is that a threat?” Peter’s voice slid right into amused teasing.

“Since you’re not going to threaten a beta in your nephew’s pack since it might be your pack one day, no problem. You’re going to have to suck up to Scott and Derek, though.”

“I will not do anything of the sort. Scott might not be a true alpha anymore, but he will always be a true failure.”

“Pack,” Stiles said in a sing-song.

Peter sighed. “You are pack. Even when I had no ties to him, Derek was pack, as is Cora. I will happily accept most of Derek’s motley crew, but Scott McCall will never be my pack.”

“Peter,” Stiles said with a sigh.

“No,” Peter said, cutting him off. “Not every member of the pack has a bond to every other member. If you choose to forgive McCall his failures, I will keep any condemnation of your stupidity confined to behind your back so you don’t have to listen to it. However, McCall put himself above the pack. He asked Derek for permission to deliver the fatal blow when I lay dying because he wanted to date a girl; however, he refused to kill to protect you or the betas foolish enough to pledge themselves to him. He put you in such difficult positions that your father was temporarily removed from his job. You had a restraining order put against you. Your potential career with the FBI might still be impacted if they learn of these events.

“Derek suffered at Kate’s hands, and I do not forgive her for that, but I also refuse to forgive McCall for forcing Derek to bite Gerard Argent. When an alpha bites an individual, the bond is automatic. That is nature’s way of ensuring that new wolves do not run mad before their alphas can get control of them. The bond can be broken, but for a time, Derek was subjected to that man’s mind touching his because of Scott McCall. McCall refused to train, refused to listen to those with more information because of his own judgmental nature, refused to listen to anyone outside of a cryptic druid who offered very little practical assistance, and allowed others to suffer in their misguided attempts to protect him.

“He believed Theo Raeken while turning against his wolves. He accused you of being too untrusting when he trusted every villain to come to town, including me. He condemned me for giving him the bite against his will, and then did the same to his little friend and then tied him up. He will never be my pack mate,” Peter finished.

Stiles sighed. He’d hoped to convince Peter to let go of some of the aggravation now that Scott wasn’t an alpha anymore. Apparently not. “If I list his good qualities, would that convince you to change your mind?”

“No,” Peter said firmly.

“He has lots.”

“I am uninterested.”

Stiles sighed again. “Right. No pack bonds with Scott. However, lots of these wolves think of Scott as their leader, so you are probably going to have to come to some sort of truce if you want to be the grand poobah and chief alpha of Beacon Hills.”

“I shall take your concerns under advisement,” Peter said. Based on Peter’s tone, there was more he wasn’t saying. Stiles chewed his lip as he tried to figure out what Peter had in his head. Derek didn’t rely on his pack because he retreated for him pack bonds, but Peter was just as bad in his own way. He didn’t trust his pack, and Stiles knew he had reasons for that, just like Derek had reasons for his depression. However, it was exhausting sometimes.

“I must go,” Peter said, “I have a client waiting.”

“Peter, wait…”

“I’ll call you later, sweetheart.”

The phone disconnected, and Stiles glared at his phone. Peter would call back later… after he’d retreated from the feels. Stiles wondered if the Hales had been this screwed up before the fire. If so, Stiles really questioned what sort of pack Talia Hale had run. Wolves. They were such pains in the ass.

Chapter 6

Chapter Notes

Hotch felt a whisper of magic against his skin. It had been years since he had openly embraced his nature, but he could not mistake this subtle touch, this cold slide of intent that slipped under his wards and scraped across his soul.

Standing, he unhurriedly moved to the office windows and closed all the blinds. Once he had done that, he whispered his own magic into the air and watched as darkness sealed up the edges and silenced the air to offer perfect privacy. Then Hotch settled behind his desk and waited. His visitor was in no hurry, so Hotch returned to the personnel reviews.

Derek Morgan still struggled with a need to prove himself. Hotch tried to balance those struggles against Derek’s potential to be an outstanding agent. The routine of providing this judgment soothed his jangled nerves. This was familiar. He only had to phrase his criticisms in such a way as to inspire growth, but it was easier when he understood the insecurities Derek was attempting to hide. Even before the team had uncovered the child abuse that he had suffered, Hotch had still known the condition of Derek's heart and the strength of it, even if he had never investigated the specific cause. He also suspected that Derek had a problem with Hotch’s leadership because he instinctively recognized that Hotch was hiding something. He was far too insightful.

He was almost finished with Derek's evaluation when the air warmed and shimmered like the desert on a hot summer day. The shimmer grew more intense and then he stood there. Sometimes Hotch wondered how any human could look at this creature and assume that he was one of them. There was too much strength, too much control. Or perhaps that was simply Hotch resorting to his own nature and judging that which others were incapable of perceiving.

“Hotch,” he said as he settled into one of the visitor chairs. Hotch inclined his head. He had no idea what name his visitor was using and he chose to not ask. Because of their natures, they often end up working near each other, and it was easier if Hotch could simply assume that every name that came across his desk was that of a human.

“You made this situation with the Argents sound critical,” the visitor said as he examined his nail. It lengthened and became a golden claw. Hotch never liked games. He found them unnecessary and annoying, but he certainly knew how to play them. He let his own claws show—ten, long black nails that looked delicate but that could flay a man alive.

His visitor smiled. “You must feel it is serious to get so emotional.”

Hotch inclined his head. He understood that the words were meant as an insult, but Hotch didn't feel it necessary to embrace every human emotion. During this lifetime, he was exploring familial love. Of course Jack was not his because any child of his would be trapped in a heritage Hotch did not wish to inflict on a mortal child. But Haley's infidelity had provided a son Hotch could claim, and Hotch found the act of nurturing a child satisfying as few things had been in five thousand years.

He would not have Jack's future jeopardized because rogue hunters had forgotten their function in this world. So while Hotch might be indifferent to humanity in general, he was very attached to defending humanity as it currently existed for at least the next two or three hundred years, until both Jack and any descendants who reminded Hotch of Jack had passed to the next realms. “The Argents have grown indiscreet beyond forgiveness.”

“I saw your team had taken this case. Was that some sort of canid solidarity?”

Hotch snarled at the insult. He would never compromise himself to do favors for the descendants of other gods’ blessings.

His visitor held up a human-appearing hand. “Apologies. I know you are uncompromising on the issue of your duty. I suppose that is why I find it amusing that you appear to defend these wolves. After all, the werewolf blames his own kills on the hunters he targeted. I approve, but I didn’t think you would.” The visitor gave a grin full of too-sharp teeth. “That one is clever. Will you kill him for his temerity?”

“No.” Hotch had been prepared to, but the judgment did not favor death, and Hotch did not condemn those whose actions did not condemn themselves. He oversaw judgment, but he did not judge others in the way that others often assumed.

After a long silence, his guest finally asked, “How serious is the risk?” Nothing outwardly changed, but he drew his magic closer so Hotch’s office felt infinitely smaller.

Hotch withdrew his claws. “Spencer is already considering the possibility of an occult motive. He has noticed that animal attacks are statistically far more likely on or near the full moon and the killers favor traffic accidents on or near the new moon. He believes the Argents are choosing the method of execution based off of superstition.”

His visitor nodded, none of the tension leaving his body. “And this is the young man you've talked to me about before?”

“He is. His mind is remarkable. Under the right circumstances he could trigger an awakening himself, but if you combine both the loudness of his thoughts and thousands of others suddenly invoking the names of the old ones or their descendants, I do not see how we would avoid an awakening.”

“And you truly believe the Argents have the ability to trigger this?”

Hotch considered his words carefully. This one was a master of deception and logic, and Hotch would not have his words twisted to serve another’s goals. “The Argents could be a trigger, but more significantly, there is an unfortunate convergence of minds which would appeal to certain old ones. Peter Hale has all of the loyalty of wolves blessed by Leto, but he also has a ruthlessness better fitted to those in the line cursed by Zeus. And yet, even after he unloosed vengeance worthy of a Lycaon wolf, his next plot centered around rebuilding his pack and saving his nephew from damaging memories. He is complicated, embracing both lines of werewolf descent.”

“And this is the same wolf who defeated death by using the banshee?”

“The same. How many of the old gods would be interested in him?” Hotch asked.

His visitor grimaced. “Too many.”

“And if the Argents are allowed to continue this ridiculous expansion, how long will it be before their human minds create too much noise for the gods to slumber? How long until one wakes long enough to take an interest in human thoughts that turn too often to that one?” Hotch didn't say anything more because no more needed to be said. They both knew which gods would be fascinated with Peter Hale. If he and the rest of the world were lucky, someone like Athena would get there first. She always did like the clever ones. However, there were far less ethical gods out who could easily take an interest. If Enki or Zuzeca woke long enough to take an interest, all of them would suffer—human and demigods alike.

“I have already told you of Spencer. I suspect Isis would be fascinated by him.” Unfortunately, enough others would be as well. Divine jealous always ended with mortals hurt, and Hotch did not want that for Spencer. “And then there is Stiles,” Hotch continued. He wondered why the young human chose such a ridiculous name when he had such a proud one of his own. The glory of the sword. It was a name fit for one who would choose to fight for his pack. But as one who chose identities to suit his needs, Hotch respected that in others. Therefore, he would think of the mortal as Stiles.

“Stiles may not have the raw brilliance of Spencer, but he is quite remarkable in his own way. His strength of will allowed him to stand against a Nogitsune and escape the Wild Hunt. He risks everything for love of his wolves and that love allows his wolves to reach above their natures. Many of the gods would find that even more attractive than Spencer's brilliance or Hale’s dual nature.”

“You’ve weighed his heart,” the visitor said in an almost accusatory tone.

“I’ve weighed the hearts of all of them,” Hotch agreed. “You know how our gods valued loyalty and how rarely they are given it. Stiles would tempt them.” Hotch paused. “Stiles would wake them, and if too many humans think on his deeds, a wakening is inevitable.”

His visitor nodded. “I will admit that having these individuals within one generation is dangerous.”

“Every day more humans think about them, especially Peter Hale and Stiles. I cannot hide them as I do Spencer.”

The magic tightened around Hotch’s visitor and more golden claws appeared. Perhaps he finally understood the danger of their situation. “We could kill them all,” his visitor suggested.

He meant that he would kill them all. Hotchner judged, he avoided killing. Even now as an agent, he killed only under his authority as a human. His claws were designed to rend the flesh of those dead who were judged unworthy. He was not a hunter. “If you do so, then you will send all of them to the afterlife at once. While that will prevent them from living in a world with wakened gods, it would not necessarily ensure the continued slumber of our masters. In fact, I rather think it would be more likely to wake them.” Hotch did not add that he was fond of Spencer. He did not want to watch him fall to a danger he did not even know existed.

His visitor pursed his lips. “Then we must quiet the Argents. They have grown too large and their thoughts too loud. We should kill them.” He sounded more determined on that front.

“And the three individuals in question would ask why so many died. They would seek us out if only to determine why we had removed the threat.”

“Then we send the Hunt to remove them from reality.”

The Hunt had been damaged in their last interactions with the Hale pack, so Hotch questioned involving them again. True, this time they would target Stiles’ and Peter’s enemies instead of taking those two, but danger remained. Hotch kept quiet, waiting as his visitor reached the logical conclusion.

“Are you attempting to protect more of your humans?” he asked after a long silence. “Are you protecting Argents as well as these wolves?”

Hotch chose to not take offense. “I am largely unconcerned with the fate of humans willing to burn others alive or tolerate the continued existence of those who do. It is in my nature to judge and I have judged them as unworthy.”

“Then send the Hunt to remove them.”

Hotch let his black claws appear. “They have been judged and those who are guilty will suffer. However, they are humans, and we allow humans to handle human business.”

“The way you have stayed away from this human business?” His visitor asked, his voice turning sibilant.

“A human brought a case to the humans in this unit. I do not direct my humans as if they were vassals charged with carrying out my will.” Hotch understood the horror of never being allowed to make any choice your superior would not approve of. He had lost most of his brothers and sisters to the rebellion and anger that inspired.

His visitor’s gaze grew unfocused and he tilted his head to the side, no doubt conferring with his own kind. With the old ones sleeping, they were the most powerful force in the supernatural world, at least when they chose to act. They rarely did. However, after a second, his gaze cleared and he looked at Hotch. “Go to the Argents and tell them to handle this in their human way or we will burn every bit of Argent blood out of the human race. We will erase them from reality. We will do anything to ensure that their foolishness does not grow loud enough to wake the sleepers. Make sure they understand what they face if they displease us, and ensure that you do not displease us by any failure to accurately communicate our anger.” With that, his visitor was gone.

Hotch sighed and whispered a magical word to release the security on his office. He would have to schedule time between work and home to make a short and unpleasant trip to France.

Chapter End Notes

Oh how I have been waiting to drop this bombshell. I wrote 70K in a month because I was trying to get to this chapter and the next one (and then some future ones that I am still writing my way toward). My professional Lyn Gala Patreon and publishing has been on hold for this because this plot bunny has eaten my soul. Or I sold my soul to it... I'm not sure on that one.

Chapter 7

Hotch arrived in a wide corridor with stone floors that were cold under his paws. He rarely allowed himself to indulge in his true form, but these humans needed to understand what they had done. Who they had disturbed. It was only right for them to see him as he was.

He swiveled his ears forward as he listened to the sounds of his enemy. The matriarch herself upheld the code that the Argents claimed guided them, but she knew which of her people did not. She looked away rather than stir discontent within the ranks of her followers by punishing misbehavior. Hotch had some respect for those who simply hated the wolves. They were bigoted, but they put their lives on the line to fight for their cause, as misguided as it was. But the current matriarch simply did not respect her own code well enough to challenge her underlings over their excesses. Hotch had no respect for such a weak individual.

He reached a junction with a staircase leading down to his left, and he spotted his first Argent. He was a broad man with a deeply scarred face. Hotch expected him to flee. In his true form, Hotch stood over eight feet tall. His head resembled the jackals or wolves of his desert home, but the resemblance was only in passing. There was no mistaking that a god had formed him. He had strong limbs covered in short black fur and three inch claws on both his fingers and toes.

Hotch would've liked to have appeared in the Argent home displaying all his glory, but given that the leader of the Argents was woman, he chose to wear a white loin cloth embroidered with gold.

On seeing Hotch’s true form, most humans would've collapsed in fear or begged for their lives. The Argent soldier opened fire. Hotch could and had, in the past, allowed bullets to damage him. One could not feign humanity without learning the skill. However, this time the bullets impacted his magic and then fell uselessly to the ground at his feet. The Argent had emptied his automatic weapon before he unclipped the weapon with practiced ease, allowing it to fall to the stone floor while pulling a knife. He threw one before he leaped into battle with a second.

Hotch caught him by his throat and held him so that his toes barely supported his weight. While Hotch certainly could lift him by the neck, that would likely kill the man. Since Hotch was attempting to allow humans to sort this matter without the others getting involved, Hotch decided on mercy.

“No human can kill me,” Hotch said, allowing a reverberation and a long forgotten Egyptian accent to color his voice. He felt as though he were stretching after being confined in a small space. He felt like he was running after sitting for days in his office or in the jet. He breathed in the fear that the Argent soldier projected, but despite that fear, the man maintained his composure and brought up the leg to attempt a counterattack. Unfortunately for him, Hotch’s limbs were far too long for the man to be able to reach any target.

Hotch continued down the corridor door toward the matriarch's office, dragging the captured soldier. A team of Argents came racing into the corridor both behind and in front of Hotch. They opened fire, and Hotch had to pull his captive close so that he could envelop him within protective magic. Otherwise, the teams would have killed their own comrade.

Hotch ignored the hundreds of bullets slamming into his magical shields as he calmly walked towards the matriarch’s door. He was the servant of the god of the underworld, or one of the gods of one of the underworld, and that meant that no secret could be kept from him and no door could remain closed. Hotch reveled in the power as he touched the wood and watched the magical and mundane locks yield to him.

For so many years he had buried all he was under layer after layer of humanity. He did not regret his choices because he took joy in Jack's smiles and his curiosity. But allowing his true powers and his true senses to unfurl was a joy that would make returning to his human life infinitely more difficult. Haley was gone, so perhaps it was time for Hotch to consider some new life. If he were around those less perceptive than his team, he might not have to bury his true self quite so deeply.

Two new Argents stepped between Hotch and their matriarch. One had a magical object that Hotch recognized. It would be as worthless as the guns, so he dismissed it. The other held the camera. That was far more interesting. If the Argents were recording their encounters with the supernatural, there might be far more danger than even Hotch had understood. Hotch reached for the camera, allowing decay to drip from his fingers. In the space of a few seconds, rust had corroded its metals and the plastics grew brittle with age and cracked.

“Enough,” Marie Argent said.

Hotch released his captive and turned his attention on this woman who had lost control of the empire she inherited. The matriarch before her had been a far more formidable woman. Gerard would not have been able to wrest so much control from her, but then she had been a much more unforgiving soul. Few had mourned her, and many still told stories of how she turned on her own hunters when they'd gone too far.

She had not been popular, and many of the Argent hunters had chosen to emigrate to America where Gerard had promised them protection from a matriarchy that had, in their view, put a madwoman in charge of their lives. Hotch walked to her desk and let his long claws rest against the wood of it before he slowly pressed down. He left eight perfect dimples an inch deep in her antique wood.

“Enough. Guns and cursed objects cannot kill a god,” she spat out bitterly.

“I am not my master,” Hotch said. “I am one of his servants, but I was formed by the hands of the god himself, so nothing you do can harm me. When your family first declared that you would choose to stand in the supernatural world, what vow did you make, Argent?”

She lifted her chin. “We hunt those who hunt us.” She held up a hand to stop those soldiers at Hotch’s back. If they opened fire, the matriarch was in far more danger than Hotch.

Hotch shook his head. “That was a vow you made to yourselves. But you made another promise. You made an oath that you cannot break or else the consequences will burn you from this world.” Hotch leaned forward. “What vow did you make?” Hotch had not been the one to secure the promise, but every time humans grew too involved, the promise that the old ones extracted was the same. If Stiles continued to get as involved with the supernatural as he had in the past, sooner or later someone would come and demand the same vow of him.

“Is this because of Gerard and Katherine? Will the American Argents haunt me forever?” Her face twisted in hate.

“I judge based on what you have refused to do. I judge on what you will either do or refuse to do in the near future. And your choices will have consequences.”

Marie turned to the woman with the cursed object. “Get Chris in here, and I want the three elders. Everyone else clear the room.”

“Ma'am!” The woman glanced towards Hotch, clearly distressed at the idea of leaving the matriarch alone with a supernatural creature.

“He will not kill me. He is a messenger dog. He does not have the authority to kill.” She gave Hotch a dismissive look before she glanced towards the man Hotch had released. Rather than taking his gesture as one of compassion and mercy, she chose to interpret it as weakness. That revealed more of her psychology than she likely intended. Sometimes Hotch met someone whose heart was heavy with sin only to see them years later and realize they had changed their fate. This one would not change her fate. However, it was not Hotch's business today to deliver that judgment.

So Hotch waited, silent as the Argents rearrange themselves according to their matriarch’s request. Two older men and a woman whose body was twisted with age appeared. The woman's eyes grew large as she considered Hotchner, and he searched the threads of reality to find her name. Francine. She had been the last matriarch’s sister, passed over because she was seen as being cut from the same unforgiving cloth as her sister. Everyone had chosen Marie is the more merciful Argent, and now they were going to learn the price of mercy when it came at the cost of justice.

They continued to wait, which might be Argents attempting to set up some trap or might be an indication that Chris Argent was housed somewhere far from the matriarch. Hotch’s skills lay with judging people and so he could pluck the threads of reality to explore that aspect of humanity. But he was not omniscient.

“What is this? What is going on?” One of the two men asked, but Marie waved him down. He scowled, but he did not attempt to contradict her.

Eventually, Chris Argent appeared. He was unshaven and wore loose close it indicated he had thrown something on in a hurry. Even without a feather, Hotch could read the guilt and shame he carried, but he lacked the heaviness of sin and evil.

“Marie?” Chris asked, but he kept his gaze on Hotch even as the Argent guards closed the office doors, leaving Hotch alone with the individuals the matriarch had chosen. The old woman spoke. “Marie, would you like to explain what is happened that might attract one of the old ones?”

Marie's gaze shot straight to Francine. “Do not speak of what you do not know.”

“I know he is an old one. Either that, or he is in fact Anubis, but if the gods who slumber have awoken, it is far too late for us to do anything to mitigate the damage.”

“Gods?” Chris looked from the matriarch to Hotch, his alarm growing exponentially with each passing second that the matriarch did not deny Francine's accusation.

One of the men scoffed. “There are no such things as gods, only monsters masquerading as such.”

“Enough,” Marie snapped. She focused on Hotch. “If you have come to complain about the American Argents, there is the last remaining member of the ruling family of that cursed consonant. Take him and be done.”

Chris's back stiffened and he glared at the matriarch, but he snapped his mouth closed without a single protest.

“I am less concerned with his mistakes than I am with the mistakes you have led your clan to make,” Hotch said.

Marie waved her hand as if a queen dismissing her vassals. “We had nothing to do with the burning of those families. That was Gerard and his spawn.”

“You never answered my question,” Hotch observed. He curled his claws allowing the divots he dug into the wood to turn into eight long gashes. The man who had not yet spoken winced, no doubt disturbed either by the evidence of Hotch's strength or the damage done to an antique.

Marie looked away. “We live by our own code, not yours.”

“Then the one with whom the first Argent made her deal will return, and the Argents will be ripped from reality.” Hotch lifted his arm and curled his hand into a fist one digit at a time. “He has promised that every creature with so much as a drop of Argent blood will die, and your memories will not be ripped from reality by anything as clumsy as the removal of records. He will send the Wild Hunt after everyone you have touched so nothing remains. No child. No records. No pictures. No names etched into buildings listing you as patrons of the city. The name Argent will vanish,” Hotch warned. “What is the rule, matriarch?”

It was clear that both the two elderly men and Chris remained in the dark, but Francine settled into one of the chairs near the door. “Tell them Marie. Tell them the deal that our ancestor made once we went beyond hunting the beast and decided to hunt supernatural creatures.”

Marie glared at her. “Do not involve yourself, old woman.”

“Then tell them, because I assure you that the Anubis dog knows.”

Hotch inclined his head in her direction. He did. He slowly turned his attention back to the matriarch.

She finally spoke. “We agreed to ensure that no one woke the sleepers. To that end, I have never called on any of the ancient gods, nor will I allow anyone in the Argent's employ to do anything so foolish. So we are not interested in waking any gods at all.”

“But they are already restless,” Hotch said. “You have so many soldiers that their thoughts grow loud with forbidden knowledge. There are right now so many humans thinking about those blessed by Leto’s line that if she were to stir, she might hear those humans plotting the deaths of her children. She might hear her children calling out for righteous vengeance. And if Leto wakes, which other gods and goddesses will wake with her?”

Hotch lowered his arm. “The Argents agreed to quiet the supernatural, and yet you have spread its news. Your thoughts are a cacophony which disturbs the quiet. Either you quiet them, or the old ones will remove you from reality to still these waters before the waves grow too great. Or perhaps we will allow the waves to reach shore and wake the sleepers. I have always served my master well, so to have him return would not be as burdensome as you might imagine. But humans will not fare well. You can read the old stories of lustful and capricious gods.”

“What is he talking about?” Chris Argent asked.

Marie stared at Hotch, but Francine answered. “Our ancestors hunted the beast, but once he was gone, we appointed ourselves as the hunters of the supernatural world. Very few families are allowed to do that, and all of them have made a deal with the old ones. Demigods, like humans, have a vested interest in ensuring that the old gods continue to sleep. We agreed to keep the world quiet.”

“Enough,” Marie said. “If you are in search of silence, then you may have it. No one will speak with the FBI.” She pursed her lips as though expecting that Hotch should consider this a great favor.

Hotch opened his mouth in a canine smile, showing his long fangs. “It is not enough. You have shared our secrets with too many humans. They think too loudly and know too much.”

“You can't mean that we should…” Marie stopped. “No. No, I am not my mother, and Argent will not kill Argent.”

“Argent has already killed Argent,” Hotch said. “The devourer is awake, and the Argent name is in her mouth. What happens to a soul that dies when the devourer knows their name and can summon them?” Hotch would not say the name of Ammit the destroyer when she was already awake and entirely too likely to hear him, but he assumed that those in the room knew the old stories.

“We don’t belong to her,” Marie said.

“If she calls your name, I will judge you. I will weigh your sins. I am an Anubis dog. I do not lie.” Hotch raised his hand again, and this time when he closed his fist, the twisted remains of a gnarled human appeared.

The smell of burnt meat filled the room and the humans all withdrew in horror. The tortured form writhed and opened his mouth in a silent scream as his torn and burnt body spasmed. At first, he did not seem to realize he had, however temporarily, escaped his tortured hell. But then slowly the body began to heal the worst of the wounds and bone vanished under flesh that knitted itself back together. He uncurled his gnarled limbs as he looked around through milk-white eyes.

As he crouched on the antique rug beside Marie's desk, his skin unblackened. His hair grew. The chunk of flesh missing from his side where the devourer had consumed his liver filled in, and the weeping wound slowly stopped.

“Marie?” Gerard asked, his voice rough, but then moments ago, his throat had been so destroyed by fire that he would not have been able to speak at all.

“Dad?” Chris took a step forward before stopping. Gerard glanced towards his son, but then he focused on the matriarch.

“You have to save me. The lake of fire. The things it does. It's a monster. Kill it.” He then screamed, “Kill it!”

Hotch waved a hand in Gerard fell silent. His lips still moved, but he was one of the dead, and Hotch had authority over the dead.

“The torture will continue until the destroyer chooses to consume his heart, and only then will the torture end. And at that moment, every reference to Gerard Argent, every memory, every sign that he ever existed will vanish from reality because she is the devourer. But until she chooses to take that final step, he will feed her hunger.”

Gerard's mouth opened in a silent scream, and then his flesh began to curl. Muscle appeared and then white bone. His body was caught in a loop of healing, even as the fire continued to devour him. His shoulder was laid bare to the bone, healed until blackened skin covered twitching muscle, and then the fire consumed it again. He writhed on the ground, and then the devourer tore into his stomach. Hotch flicked his wrist to send the body away before the Argents could see the worst of her excesses. Let them think of every myth they'd ever read and imagine the torments. Human imagination was more effective than visual demonstrations.

“It was a trick,” one of the older men whispered in horror.

“I am an Anubis dog. We do not lie. That was Gerard Argent.” Hotch didn’t bother turning to look at the man. He focused on Marie. “Now that the devourer has the name of your family in her mouth, she can call your soul upon your deaths. She can demand the weighing of your heart, and if your sins are heavier than that of a feather, you will belong to her. There are only two ways to escape. Are your sins light enough for my feather to outweigh them?”

None of the Argents answered, but Francine began to chuckle.

“What's so funny?” one of the men demanded.

Her laughter did not abate. “We have all sinned too much to be innocent. I suspect the devourer will feast well on the Argent dead.”

Hotch could not tell for sure without them touching the feather, but he had a good instinct for weighing souls by looking at them, and at least two of the Argents might survive the weighing. The other three would be damned, and he would weigh their hearts and deliver them to the damnation.

“What's the second way to survive?” Chris asked. Hotch appreciated that he was a practical man.

“To allow the devourer to slide back into sleep. To reduce the number of people who are thinking about the supernatural so she grows tired of the monotony. To end the feud with Leto's descendants so that they may live in peace. To avoid any feud that would have you align yourself against the entirety of a god’s blessed or cursed descendants. The Argents will return to what you were intended to be, a family that hunts only when the supernatural has grown too powerful. You will relinquish your corporation, your empire, your extended family lines, your wealth and your holy quest to purify the world.”

Chris frowned and studied the matriarch. Hotch wondered if he was thinking about his own daughter and the way he had tried to help her escape her fate. If she had been born later, escape might have been possible. Time was unkind that way.

“Leave us, dog.” The matriarch was clearly attempting to take control of the conversation, but her voice shook. No doubt she was thinking of the ceremony with the feather and of the likelihood that she herself would fail. If she was to have any salvation, she needed the devourer to slip back into sleep.

The problem was that the devourer was far more restless than the other gods. Once woken, she rarely fell back asleep until she had consumed ten thousand souls. Given that humans were invisible to her unless they thought about supernatural creatures or supernatural creatures thought about them, the Argents would be the most fertile hunting field for her for the next century. If Marie wished to escape Gerard's fate, she would have to lighten the burden of her sins. But sin was a tricky thing. If she moved in the right direction only out of a selfish purpose, her act no longer erased her sin.

“Take action because the old ones will not send another messenger,” Hotch warned. “The next time you see one of my kind, either the old ones will have woken and I will be here to collect what is ours or ones who are far more dangerous than I will be coming to collect every drop of Argent blood.”

Hotch started towards the exit. His magic burned hot, and there was too great a chance for people to be injured if he teleported out of this room. As he was passing, the old woman touched his hip. “Do you have a feather, dog?”

Hotch considered her. “That knowledge is dangerous.” Typically, Hotch did not tell individuals, even if he did judge them. The truth rarely improved one’s life.

“I'm an Argent. I've never run from the truth. Give me your feather.”

Hotch pulled the feather of the waistband of his loincloth and handed it to her. She took it and twirled it between an arthritic thumb and forefinger before she looked up at him. “So?”

Hotch rested his knuckle against her cheek. “You have sins, but your heart is good. I will not deliver you to the devourer, even if she knows your name.”

Francine handed in the feather back. “Good. Then all I have to do is avoid sinning anymore. I should probably stop sleeping with Darlene's husband.”

A jackal’s laugh slipped out of Hotch. “You sleep with both Darlene and her husband, and I do not think what the three of you do is a sin. You hurt no one.” The old woman blushed and Hotch took his feather back. Without looking at any of the other Argents, he left the room.

Dozens of Argent soldiers stood guard outside. Most of these men and women would have to die. These minds were far too loud and far too knowledgeable, and there were far too many of them. Hotch wished the world were not unfair. The Argents had pulled people into this world and now they would sacrifice these same lives in a vain attempt to save themselves. However, Hotch had no power to make the world fair; he could only judge the sins of those he was called to judge. And in the next few years, he suspected he would be called often.

Given what the Argents had done, the thought did not disturb him as much as it normally did. Hotch called his magic to him. The scent of petrichor and copper and sand filled his nose and then he vanished in the light.

Chapter 8

Chris stared out the window into the Oregon forest. The sun was the sun was sinking below the trees so that each branch had an unearthly glow behind it. He had lived here with Victoria and with Allison. They were long gone now. Maybe that was a mercy, or at least it was with Victoria. If the Anubis dog was telling the truth, then Chris suspected that Victoria never would have survived the weighing of her heart. She hadn't been a psychopath the way his father and Kate had been, but she had never cared about the code.

And neither had Chris.

How many times had he used nonlethal methods to take down a wolf for interrogation, and how many times had his nonlethal method sent the wolf spiraling out of control, so terrified of being helpless around a hunter that it had gone mad?

And if a wolf under those conditions broke through the restraints or refused to calm down long enough to listen to reason, then Chris had felt justified in putting a monster down to protect civilians. He'd been raised to believe he had the right, but looking back, he wondered how many of those same wolves would have been good men and women had Chris approached them with respect and reason.

Perhaps Allison was the only Argent who would have survived the weighing of her heart, but she was gone and Victoria was gone and Chris had hoped that Victoria had passed soon enough to avoid the Destroyer. If the destroyer was awake when Victoria had taken her own life, then she would be next to Gerard in that hell.

And Chris suspected he would soon be joining his father. He wondered if it was better to know what was coming or if he would be better off like most of the men and women at the French compound who had their memories erased at Marie's orders. They wouldn't know the danger the Argent family had dragged them into until they died. Hopefully the fact that most of the hunters were employed by the Argent but not family would save them from his father's fate. Chris wasn't sure how those magics worked, whether being associated with the Argent family would be enough for the old gods to track a soul after death.

Chris held the coffee close to his face and breathed in the steam as he tried to imprint on his memory this moment of quiet. He was determined to appreciate every single one of those that he had left. The sun sank until the trees were nothing more than black forms against the gray sky. They were too far out for any city lights, and so the sky was brilliant with stars on this rare clear evening. Chris looked out the window until someone cleared his throat behind him.

Chris turned to see Renard waiting the telephone in hand. “We have a new group of names for you to call.”

Chris held out his hand and silently took the list of names and phone numbers. These were the names of all the hunters who had worked for the Argents in America. Marie was thinning her ranks in France, deciding who would be told to go into retirement and who would have their memories erased and who would die in some convenient accident and who would be allowed to remain hunting with the much smaller remains of the family.

But there would be no thinning in the United States. Marie had decided that the American Argents had brought ruin on the family, and her punishment would be swift and ruthless. Funny, Victoria had always talked about how much she didn't respect Marie because the woman didn’t have the soul of a hunter. She said that Marie was too weak to make the decisions necessary for a family of hunters, and that she had hoped that one day, either Kate or Allison would be chosen as the matriarch of the entire extended Argent clan. Victoria had been wrong on more than one count.

Chris scanned through the names, but he stopped when he saw Zoe's.

“Not Zoe Duchenne. She's a good woman, and she has never broken the code. My father was dismissive of her because she had such strong convictions, and she's the one that Gerard would send to the Calaveras when they had a joint hunt. I won't call her.”

Chris had no illusions. If he refused to call Zoe to this conference of American hunters, she would still die like all of them. But Marie would have to send a team to make her death look like an accident. That would spare her family from the horror of believing that she had killed herself. That would preserve any life insurance claims they might have, and ensure that her two sons had some sort of financial security going into the future. Chris couldn't offer that mercy to many of the men and women he worked with, but the ones that he knew were good… he owed them that.

The rest would be fuel for Marie's new narrative.

Kate and Gerard would be cast as cult leaders, and hunters from across the country would commit suicide in one mass event in Oregon to mourn the death of Gerard’s divine heir, Kate Argent. The scandal would forever taint the name Argent, and Chris suspected that he would be one of the dead found piled in the basement when the FBI tracked this property, but it would remove humans who knew the truth. It would quiet the minds that the old Anubis dog had warned about, and Marie believed that it would provide her only hope of escaping the Destroyer’s claws.

Chris didn't allow himself to believe in false hopes, but he would use what little leverage, he still had left to save a few of his people from the indignity of going down in history as being part of a doomsday cult. And Zoe Duchenne was worth making a stand for.

Without waiting to see how his guard would react to Chris's petty disobedience, Chris headed to the table to set his coffee down before he started making calls. He used their most urgent code words to make sure that the hunters abandoned whatever self-appointed tasks they were on to come running to the aid of an Argent. Perhaps some of them stayed in contact against Argent policy, and they would compare notes, trying to figure out how many operatives have been pulled in and speculating over what danger had appeared in Oregon to call up so many.

If any of them kept in touch with the few hunters that Chris was trying to save from this ignoble fate, the others would likely whisper that the only ones left out were the ones Gerard questioned. They would assume that Chris had a hunt worthy of Gerard. After all, it was only those who Gerard did not trust who were being left behind.

Perhaps they believe that Chris was finally stepping up to follow in his father's footsteps. Chris imagined they would be grateful that he was finally acting the way that they felt a proper werewolf hunter would. Chris had heard from the few hunters he still talked to that the others condemned him for leaving Beacon Hills in the hands of werewolves and for running away to France. He'd even sheltered Isaac for a time, choosing to help raise a werewolf teenager while turning his back on the men and women who had been his father's most faithful confidence. They’d condemned what they saw as Chris’s weakness.

The hunters were coming to Oregon truly deserved what was going to happen.

So did Chris.

Chris finished his calls and was still sitting at the table with his cold coffee. The only light was from a lamp beside the leather couch, and Renard stood near the kitchen door, his gaze always alert. Marie had suggested that his job was to protect Chris from any of the American hunters who might suspect the truth, but Chris knew better. After all, if she planned to leave him alive, she would've wiped his memory of the Anubis dog.

Chris folded the paper and pushed it across the table towards Renard. “All of them agreed to come except Xavier Smith. His wife is having a difficult pregnancy.”

Chris wasn't sure how he felt about Xavier being spared his part in the suicide plot. On the one hand, he had been one of Gerard's favorites, always willing to shoot first and ask questions only if Gerard told him it was appropriate. However, he had a dozen children and a wife who knew nothing about what her husband did for a living when he wasn't trying to convince Police Department to purchase Argent Arms equipment. She could use the insurance money.

Certainly, the families wouldn’t be getting any severance pay after the news went public. Marie had already used magic to not only shut down the European branch of the arms business, but to make it appear that it had been closed ten years earlier, and that any deals made since then were running through the American branch.

She would argue that she had walked away from the increasingly volatile politics of her American brethren and therefore avoid the worst of the accusations, although nothing would clear the Argent name. As soon as the FBI publicly declared that Gerard and Kate Argent had been at the head of an extended doomsday plot associated with serial killing, insurance fraud, arson, and rape, the business would fold.

It was funny, Gerard had always made fun of the Calaveras. He'd always pointed out that the family was as old and as respected as the Argents in the supernatural community, but that they had never parlayed that position into any real wealth. His father had made more than one racist comment about how brown people simply didn't understand how economics worked and how to take advantage of the resources they were given.

Turned out that the Calaveras understood this world far better than any Argent, and now the Argents and their allies would pay the price for that hubris. Gerard was still paying the price. Chris wondered how many centuries he would suffer before the destroyer finally ate his heart.

Chris wondered how many he would suffer. At least the Anubis dog had inadvertently given Chris the one escape route still open. Chris was not arrogant enough to think he would pass the weighing of his heart, but the dog had said that the destroyer could grow bored. If that was the only weapon Chris had, he was determined to wield it well.

He would suffer every flame of hell, every torment, every wound ripped into his body without screaming. He would suffer silently and patiently until such time as the Destroyer grew so bored with him that she ate his heart. Perhaps in that way he could earn less suffering than his father.

The sound of his father screaming for Marie to kill the creatures tormenting him, that was the sort of hate that could fuel a god. Chris would hold onto memories of an Oregon sunset and a perfect cup of coffee or of his little girl standing on the steps of her school on the first day of kindergarten smiling, and he would count himself lucky for having those few good moments of existence. He would endure everything else as the price he had to pay for them.

No. That wasn't fair. Moments like that didn't require any price to be paid. When he suffered, he would suffer because he never spoke out against Gerard. He never spoke out against Victoria or Kate. He suspected what they did, suspected it so strongly that he had tried to drive Derek Hale out of town before Kate could get a hold of him. But even though in his heart he knew that his family had become something dark and twisted, he never spoke out, except for a few worried whispers shared with Victoria in the dark of night in their marriage bed. And when she had dismissed him, he had accepted her judgment.

That was the sin that would weigh his heart down. That was why he would pay the destroyer her price without complaining or calling for a death that no Argent could deliver.

“It's time for dinner,” Renard said.

Chris nodded. His agreement was not really required since he was not in charge here, but it did make these last days less unpleasant. The hunters would arrive in three days, and Chris would take whatever peace he could find until then. Chris wondered if Marie’s men would resort to spiking the alcohol or have some magic user place a compulsion on all of them to commit suicide. Since Chris had no control over what happened, he didn't bother asking. Instead he asked, “Do you have any steaks left?”

Renard gave him a long and searching look before he nodded. “I believe we do.”

Renard touched the tactical radio in his ear and whispered something to the cook. Abandoning his cold coffee, Chris returned to his spot at the window and watched the stars.

Chapter 9

Spencer passed a long line of local police officers as he climbed the stairs of the lavish hunting lodge.

“Lots of locals,” Emily whispered.

Spencer had expected as much, and Emily probably did as well. Cult mass suicides were rare, but this one more than most. While not was large as Jonestown, these suicides were not preceded by strange religious fervor like in Jonestown or with the Bhatia family. A hundred and thirteen men and women with middle class backgrounds and average lives had come together in a lavish mountain retreat in order to drink poison.

On the one hand, Spencer could see how this was the logical culmination of the Argent insanity. They had clearly seen themselves as cleansing society of the undesirables. Local police had arrested two individuals associated with Kate Argent, and both had insisted that they were eliminating evil from the world. And both had committed suicide under rather mysterious circumstances in jail.

That combined with the timings of the animal attacks and the fact that many of the victims were beheaded or bisected certainly suggested ritual reminiscent of religion. Had these deaths occurred two decades earlier, it's no doubt they would have been lumped in with the fictitious Satanist fears that had swept the country at the time.

But Spencer couldn't escape feeling that the fact that didn't add up. Certainly the Argents’ religious fanaticism would explain the aconite shipments or the way that every Argent stronghold they'd identified had contained not only huge numbers of automatic and semi-automatic weaponry, but also occult items.

But it didn't explain why the French branch of the Argent family was so rabidly opposed to any law enforcement interest in their business. If the two families had, as Marie Argent suggested, parted ways over philosophical differences, then the French Argents would have no motive for blocking law enforcement investigations. Yet they continued to hide something.

And if the American Argents were the religious fanatics, then why did so many of them hold onto artifacts of European fanaticism? Spencer would understand if a French Argent were to grow obsessed with the family legends of hunters and loup garu, but why would the American branch of the family cling so tightly to those legends instead of inventing their own mythologies better suited to the new world? When religious groups moved from one continent to another, they adapted culture and ceremony in order to better fit than a narrative that explained their existence in their new world. Yet the American Argents held to French symbolism. In fact, as far as Spencer could tell, all the Argents spoke fluent French.

While he approved of developing linguistic skills, it was odd that so many of the Argents chose that language, especially since they had several homes in the American West, where Spanish was a far more common second language, or even Tagalog. Spencer did not like how the pieces didn't line up for him to understand. After all, he had studied psychology so thoroughly because he lacked the intuitive sense of what a human being might do that the others seem to have. Derek could look at someone and have a gut intuition.

But Spencer lacked that. So he had studied psychology and profiling and strove to get the facts to line up in such a way that he would understand. And yet now, he could not.

One of the techs on the stairs handed them a gas mask, and Spencer pulled over his face and tightened it to ensure a good seal before he followed Emily down the stairs into a large fortified basement. It had shooting galleries along either side and an enormous center area. The locals thinned at this point. Being in the house might be a draw for local law enforcement, but no one would want to be in this basement unless they had to be.

Spencer swore that even through the gas mask, he could smell decomposition. The odor would no doubt be infesting the rest of the house had not one of the hunters thoughtfully turned on a heavily filtered exhaust fan that blew much of the air out into the forest after running it through charcoal filters.

And that was another detail that did not quite match what Spencer would expect. If these men and women were so callous that they believed they had a right to burn their enemies out of the world, then why would they turn on an exhaust fan to prevent the house from being soaked in the odor of death? The basement was sealed concrete and steel and fortified bulletproof glass. Someone could come in and spray these walls with bleach, but if the smells of death had permeated the upper floors with their textile and wood, the whole house would have to be abandoned or stripped back to its studs. So someone had turned on the fan and preserved a multimillion dollar asset for the Argent empire.

Spencer did not believe any of these bloated corpses had been concerned about corporate bottom line when they drank the poison.

“Oh God,” Emily muttered, her words muffled by the gas mask.

Spencer didn't say anything, but he agreed with her sentiment. At the very least, they no longer had to worry that the Argents were choosing any last targets before being rounded up by the FBI. Every single individual named in any of their warrants was now officially accounted for. And that too seemed entirely too convenient.

Hotch came down the stairs behind Spencer, and he stopped just short of where the techs were staging bodies to be removed. Once photographic and video evidence was taken of the crime scene and the techs had taken their measurements, coroners bagged each body and stacked them as they waited for the vans to return from the nearby town for another load. “Strauss believes this ends the investigation,” Hotch said.

It was a statement of fact, but Spencer still had the feeling that Hotch was studying him, waiting for some response. “Chris Argent is not listed among the dead, and after David's interview with Derek Hale, we did want to talk to him.”

Hotch hesitated before he nodded. “I will tell Strauss that you want to finish that interview before we close the case.”

Hotch was probably getting pushed to close this since it appeared that any suspect they could make a case against was dead. The team largely agreed with Derek Hale's statement that if Kate Argent were alive, she would've made contact with him. The fact that she had been obsessed with Hale would not allow her to make reasoned choices when it came to the object of her obsession. If she had not contacted Derek in three years and had not appeared in any Argent action during the same time period, she likely was dead.

The notes that a few of their suicide victims had left indicated that they wish to follow the true heir Kate Argent to the next world and continue her holy quest in the higher realms, but why did they decide to take such a drastic action now? If Kate had been gone three years, the timing of this was suspicious. Spencer knew that sometimes they didn't get answers. Sometimes the demands of the living were too great for them to chase every secret held by the dead.

Even now, the backlog of local law enforcement agencies requesting assistance had grown terrifyingly large while the team worked on this case, but Spencer's brain continued to circle around these details that seemed both too convenient and too out of place. Derek Morgan had told him that he was too focused on finding rational answers when the Argents were clearly irrational creatures, and Hotch had simply stared at Spencer as though waiting for him to either provide some concrete evidence or admit that there was no evidence to be found.

But Spencer still didn't like it.

It was like with Stiles. Stiles was clearly brilliant enough to identify a serial killer no one else recognized. If David and Emily were right, he had stolen Kate Argent’s kill from her, which might explain why she had become obsessed with Derek Hale. Stiles had, according to David, likely stolen him right out of her chains.

So Stiles had an incredible ability to see patterns, and yet Stiles had missed this level of religious fervor. He had thought that Gerard and Kate Argent were sexual sadists, a theory that matched every piece of evidence Stiles had brought to that diner. But how had Stiles found all of that evidence and missed the evidence that the Argents were a cult and that the Hales Stiles had adopted as a substitute family were likely part of a breakaway fragment of that cult?

Either Stiles was oblivious, in which case he shouldn't have noticed anything or Stiles was brilliant and he should've picked up on the religious iconography.

And if he had gotten close enough to Kate Argent to actually find Derek Hale in chains, why hadn’t he gone to his father? Derek Hale's reluctance to speak made sense, especially given the way American culture dismissed male victims of rape. But Stiles’ father was a sheriff. He had every reason to trust his father.

Spencer had wondered if perhaps Sheriff Stilinski was incompetent or abusive, but every bit of research he had done suggested the opposite. Which again left contradictions that Spencer could not explain away. His team seemed uninterested in following up on these threads. When he asked Penelope to dig a little deeper, she had actually patted him on the hand and suggested that he take a break because he was getting obsessed with the case. Spencer always got obsessed with cases. She knew that.

But her behavior had joined the list of clues that he was accumulating, although he could not imagine what pattern they could create.

“Hotch.” Emily moved between Hotch and Spencer. The masks muffled their words so much that it was hard to be understood unless you were standing next to someone. “Look,” Emily said as she pointed to the far end of the room. There was a huge projection screen rolled up near the ceiling, and set into the wall was the stylized wolf figure that they had found in so many of the Argent strongholds. Wolves were not common in heraldry, but it stood under a sun, which symbolized glory and above a thick chain. Chains were not typical heraldic symbols, but they were associated with portcullis which generally included both chains and spikes to suggest protection.

“Were they identifying with the wolf or the chain?” Emily asked. The team had asked themselves that question dozen times, but so far the theory seemed equally plausible on each side.

Hotch ignored her question. “Get any personal devices to Penelope. If there are any Argents who chose not to kill themselves, they are going to be most dangerous in the next forty-eight hours. They have very little left to lose, and they’re likely heavily armed.”

Emily nodded. “I'll talk to JJ about a press release and get an alert out to any PDs with Argent Arms contacts.” Emily headed up the stairs, and Hotch didn't even turn to watch her go. His gaze remained locked on the carnage in front of them. Spencer moved closer.

“If there are any Argent followers still out there, the Hales would be the logical target.”

Hotch nodded. “I've already alerted police and the FBI in Virginia and California. Apparently one of young Stiles’s friends has a father in the FBI and he has requested leave to stay in Beacon Hills and keep an eye on the situation.”

“Will it be enough?” Spencer asked. Sometimes if he asked Hotch a question in a casual tone, Hotch would give an answer that he couldn't possibly know. Hotch had the same instinctive understanding of the world that Derek did, he just didn't ever want to share that insight. Perhaps it was because he was a lawyer and much more connected to logical ways of thinking than instinctive. But this time, Hotch didn't have any quick answers. He just looked over at Spencer, his eyes curious.

Spencer looked back towards the basement massacre. “I don't want Stiles hurt. He's been dealing with this since he was fifteen or sixteen years old.”

“So has Derek Hale,” Hotch pointed out. Of course, he was right, but Spencer didn't know Derek Hale. He knew Stiles. He understood him in a way he rarely understood people. But then he knew what it was like to have a brain that spun so fast that other people couldn't keep up and they dismissed your observations because they couldn't imagine making those same observations themselves. Spencer knew it was dangerous to identify with someone involved in their investigations. He had been written up once for identifying with a suspect who had been subjected to small-town bullying. Spencer acknowledged that his emotional responses were inappropriate and had alienated the witnesses they needed cooperation from. But he was still concerned that someone needed to have Stiles’s back.

After a long pause, Hotch said, “I will call and offer him protection. From what David and Emily said, it sounds like Derek Hale has built himself a fortress. If Stiles is staying with him, he's likely already protected.”

“I hope so.”

Hotch finally turned his attention back to the bodies. “What are you hoping to see down here?”

“I'm not sure,” Spencer admitted. At this point, he wasn't sure where the next clue would come from, but his gut told him there would be another clue. Perhaps he couldn't read people like Derek Morgan or situations like Aaron Hotchner, but Spencer could read a mystery.

Hotch nodded and then turned his back on the crime scene techs and their gruesome work. “The coroner’s vans should be back in about twenty minutes. Make sure you've cleared the stairs so they have room to get more bodies out.”

And with that, Hotch headed back upstairs. Spencer stayed on the bottom step for a while, watching the crime scene techs strip the bodies of any personal effects, and place them in clear numbered boxes before they moved the body into a white bag and marked it with the same number.

It was hard to tell from a distance, but everything Spencer could see looked so mundane. Cell phones, wallets, car fobs and house keys. There were a large number of sidearms and knives, neither of which was unusual given that these were Argent allies. Looking at the boxes stacked near the bodies, Stiles could see St. Christopher metals and St. Hubertus symbols and crucifixes and quite a few Roman coins strung on chains. Those were all remarkably common among Argent allies. Nothing here suggested that this was anything other than the sad result of religious fanaticism, and yet…

Spencer couldn't escape the feeling that there was something vitally important just out of his reach. One way or another, Spencer planned to solve the mystery of what had driven the Argents mad.

Chapter 10

Peter looked up when his office door came open. “Mr. Hale, there is an FBI agent who would like to speak to you for a few minutes.”

“Richard, are you seriously wearing the same shirt as yesterday?” Some days Peter did not know what he was going to do with this young man. He had a brilliant legal mind, but he needed a keeper. If he didn't remind Peter so much of Stiles, Peter would have exiled him from the office.

Richard smoothed his palms over his wrinkled shirt and gave a half grin. “I got really caught up in the McMillan case last night and I didn't have time to go home.”

Peter stared at his baby lawyer in horror. “Please do not tell me you slept in the office again.”

Richard shook his head. “I used the corporate account to get a hotel room like you told me, but I had forgotten to replace the go bag in my trunk so I didn't have a change of clothing.”

The boy definitely needed a keeper. “Do I need to have another discussion with you about the importance of appearance and how critical it is to ensuring that clients trust us?”

Richard shook his head. “No, Mr. Hale. I apologize. I will pack you two go-bags in my trunk next time. I promise. I know this is unprofessional.” His scent drifted towards panic, and Peter sighed.

“And what did you discover on the McMillan case?”

Richard immediately lost himself in the joys of litigious splendor. Without having to look at any notes, he started weaving a legal strategy using a dozen precedents. His mind was beautiful, and Peter let him ramble on for nearly ten minutes, following the various twists and turns of his thinking. The strategy would never work in front of a jury, but the right to judge with a love of law and regulation would definitely see the beauty in Richard's vision. Peter leaned back and closed his eyes as he envisioned Dubois's face when McMillan laid claim to their joint property. Oh, this could be a thing of beauty. The other partners had been fools for giving up on Richard just because the boy had some quirks. But then, they lacked Peter's advantages as a werewolf. Wolves sheltered and protected their pups until they could grow into their own, and Richard was going to grow into a vicious litigator.

“So what you think?” Richard asked, he leaned forward, clearly desperate for some approval to balance out Peter's earlier condemnation of his appearance.

Peter nodded slowly. “A jury would dismiss the strategy out of hand, but if we can convince Dubois to go for a bench trial, we could have a glorious victory.”

“So it's good?” Richard looked so hopeful.

Peter leaned forward. “It could be brilliance with the right audience, or horrific in front of the wrong one. But this is certainly a strategy to employ if we can manipulate the trial circumstances in our favor.”

Richard’s smile was incandescent.

In that moment, Richard reminded Peter of little Adam Hale who had died in that fire. He'd always been such an insecure child. But when one could convince him that he had done a specific task particularly well, he would light with joy. Peter wondered what he would have been like had he been allowed to grow up. Talia had been a strong alpha who understood politics and had protected the territory well for many years, but she had not been a good mother.

Ironically, in the end, she'd failed as an alpha as well.

Peter had done far better. While he did not understand the Argent matriarch’s purpose in burning her American family so completely to the ground with that ridiculous story of a suicide pact, he knew it had something to do with the maneuvers that Stiles and Peter had made. Perhaps Stiles had initiated this nuclear attack, but instead of attempting to blunt the damage and seek peace, Peter had backed his play by filing civil suits against dozens of members of the Argent Arms community and spreading rumors into those areas where the law could not reach. He had not even backed down when a clearly not-human Agent Hotchner had shown up in his office. Instead, he’d taken the pieces and moved them into attack positions.

Peter refused to ever be anyone's left hand again. He refused to be the executioner sent after the pack’s enemies, but he still possessed those skills, and he knew how to use them at his own discretion. “Did you say something about an FBI agent waiting,” Peter asked Richard.

Richard looked almost startled. “Oh yeah. It's not one of the two that came before, but he said he needed to talk to you, and he would wait until you are available.”

Peter sighed. He had hoped that with the Argents dead, the FBI would lose interest in this case. Apparently not. “Send him in. It's best to get this over with and get him out of the office.” Susan was already aggravated at how much law enforcement attention Peter had brought to the office, and Peter did not want to aggravate the senior partner any further. She was vicious woman, and Peter adored her. He would not disrespect her territory by inviting the FBI to stay longer than necessary.

Richard nodded and rabbited out the door. One day he would mature enough to present himself as a dangerous enemy, but today was not that day.

Peter stood when a young FBI agent walked into the room. He had not expected this agent. “Dr. Spencer Reid is it not?”

Richard offered a smile and backed out of the office, closing the door behind him as the young agent studied Peter, his expression calm and serious and perhaps a little bewildered. “I am. Thank you for seeing me Mr. Hale.”

“Of course. I would have asked Richard to let you in earlier had I realized it was you. Stiles is quite impressed with your insight, which I assume you already know given that he broke into the FBI to attend your seminar.”

Spencer laughed. “That did raise some eyebrows.”

Peter grimaced. “Stiles is brilliant, but I fear that his enthusiasm and physical appearance have often led people to underestimate him, and in response, he sometimes oversteps boundaries. I apologize if that ruffled any feathers over at the Hoover building.”

Peter settled in his chair, and Spencer sat across the desk, his hands folded in his lap. Interestingly, he did not offer to shake hands at all. This was not an individual Peter would've expected to be an expert in human psychology. “At this point, I think most of the Hoover building is amused by Stiles’s antics and waiting for the next installment.”

Peter felt a tingle of fear. “I hope you plan to keep his involvement in the Argent Arms business private.”

Spencer frowned. “Of course I do. The case is closed given that all of our suspects appear to be dead, but we do not discount the possibility that there are individuals who might seek revenge. Stiles’s name will never be associated with the case.”

Peter nodded. He had no doubts that the matriarch could close shop effectively, so he suspected that every hunter attached to the American Argents was dead, either in that ridiculous mass suicide, or in various accidents across the country over the previous weeks. However, other families could take offense to a human siding with wolves when the result was so many hunters dying at once.

“I have a number of questions, issues that do not seem consistent with our current theory of the crime.”


“Do you know what aconite is?”

Peter carefully did not react. “I can safely say it is not a legal term,” Peter offered, which wasn't technically a lie.

Spencer nodded and pulled a clear ziplock his messenger bag. Wolfsbane. What in the world was he doing with that?

Spencer opened the top and poured a small quantity in his palm. “This is aconite. The more common name is wolfsbane or monkshood. It’s a poisonous member of the buttercup family often used as a decorative plant.” Peter watched as Spencer carefully let the dried wolfsbane fall onto a tiny pile the edge of Peter's desk. “And this,” Spencer turned back to his messenger bag and brought out a second clear package before opening it. “This is mountain ash.” Again, he poured a small quantity into his hand before allowing it to trickle onto the desk. He repeated his trick once more with dried mistletoe. Spencer considered the three tiny piles before he looked at Peter again. “The Argents were purchasing large quantities of dried these. Would you have an explanation?”

Peter shrugged. “On the news they suggested that the Argents were a cult. Perhaps their interest in these botanicals relates to their religious beliefs.” Peter was getting a bad feeling about this. These were not the types of questions he wanted someone as brilliant as Spencer asking. More to the point, these were not the type of questions Spencer would ask unless he knew too much already. Peter kept his expression carefully neutral as he tried to decide how to handle this.

Spencer drew a finger through the pile of wolfsbane dragging it so that it created two lines and merged with the mountain ash and mistletoe. “In most matters, the Argents appear supremely practical. Their interest in these products is curious.”

Peter leaned forward even though every instinct screamed at him to get away from the danger. “I admit that I don’t understand why you are telling me this. If those,” Peter gestured towards the offensive piles on the far side of his desk, “are involved in a serial killer’s religious beliefs, I believe signature would be the appropriate word here, then surely discussing them with me is a breach of protocol.” He gave Spencer a cold look.

Spencer didn't even twitch at the veiled threat. He took a pinch of wolfsbane between his finger and thumb and rubbed his fingers as it drifted back to the desk. “What would happen if I were to throw wolfsbane at you, Mr. Hale?”

“I would contact your superiors and suggest that you are overworked and in need of time and perhaps professional assistance to regain your emotional balance. What is the point of this exercise?”

Once again, Spencer appeared unbothered by the threats, despite the fact that Peter had been far more overt this time.

“The sort of burns you suffered in the fire often require extensive surgery and prosthetics to maintain pressure on the area so scar tissue does not build up again.”

“Perhaps the hospital exaggerated the extent of my injuries. Medical fraud is rampant these days.”

Spencer nodded slowly. “I believe in following the evidence, even when it goes to dangerous places.”

“You are an FBI agent, I had assumed that danger was part of your job description. It is one of the primary reasons I have encouraged Stiles to take a job in private practice instead.” Peter struggled to contain his supernatural features as the danger grew more acute.

Spencer nodded and got an almost fond smile on his face. “Stiles has already put himself in considerable danger, though, hasn't he? Agents Rossi and Prentice believe that Stiles stole Kate’s kill in Beacon Hills.”

Peter had gathered as much from his sources, which was ironic since it had been Scott who entered that kill room. But if the FBI wished to credit Stiles for Scott's actions, he would not object, especially since he had an interest in making sure that Scott McCall stayed off the FBI's radar. McCall’s inability to lie effectively was just one more fault that made him unsuitable as a wolf. Peter had never regretted anything in his life so much as biting that petulant boy. And now Stiles wanted him to play nice. Peter would do a lot for Stiles, but not that.

“Dr. Reed, I will admit that I do not understand what conversation we are having here, but I am exceptionally busy. If you have a point, I would appreciate you coming to it.”

Without changing his expression for twitching or moving it all, Spencer said, “You're a werewolf.”

Peter's eyebrows went up. “Excuse me? I am sure I misheard you, either that or perhaps you are suffering some sort of psychotic break and I could offer you some assistance.”

Spencer rested a finger on Peter's desk next to the pile of aconite he had made. “We both know I could prove this easily, but I am more interested in understanding what is really going on here. Are the Argents psychopaths, or were they a supernatural police force?”

Peter debated bluffing, but with aconite, mistletoe and mountain ash in the hands of someone who had a significant spark of his own, it would be entirely too easy for Spencer to call that bluff. Instead, Peter ran his hand over a rune Celeste had carved into the side of his desk and whispered a word to kill all electronics.

Spencer watched silently, his gaze measuring and weighing every move Peter made. Peter would never bite this one. He would never turn into a wolf; he would be something infinitely more dangerous. Peter raised his hand and let his claws lengthen and the fur on his knuckles appear. Spencer nodded as if he had expected no less.

“The Argent family began as a supernatural police force of sorts generations ago, but within the last century and certainly within last fifty years, they become nothing more than common psychopaths who recruited racists and bigots who enjoyed having a new target for their hate.” Peter had not expected Spencer to believe him, but Spencer nodded.

“That makes sense.”

“Does it? I find that when humans first learn of the supernatural, they are inclined to believe that humans are good and supernatural creatures are therefore left to play the part of the villain.” Peter retracted his claws.

“I'm not most people,” Spencer said calmly. “I've seen how evil humans can be, so I do not expect that moral turpitude would be defined by species lines. Did the Argents commit suicide?”

“That is a complicated question,” Peter said. “In the past, hunters have eliminated those who violated the code and targeted the innocent, but nothing like that has happened in the last thirty or forty years as far as I know. That said, my best guess is that the Argents have cut off a diseased limb of the tree in the hopes that it will placate you and end the investigation. However, I have no way to know.”

“So hunters killed hunters,” Spencer said. Oddly, he nodded as if that pleased him in some way.

“Werewolves often kill supernatural creatures who hunt on their territory. Communities do tend to police themselves,” Peter pointed out.

Perhaps that was enough of an explanation because Spencer changed the subject. “Is Stiles a werewolf?”

“No,” Peter said. “I offered him the bite, but he chose to remain human. That is one of the reasons why I am rabid about his protection. He does not have the ability to defend himself the way another wolf might.” That was no longer technically correct since Celeste had been training Stiles as a pack witch, but that was information he was not willing to share with Spencer.

“And Derek is a werewolf; that's why Kate targeted him,” Spencer said in a distracted tone of voice. “But if she was killing wolves and justifying that by defining them subhuman, sleeping with so many wolves displays a psychopathy that is horrifying in its implications.” Spencer pinned Peter with a sharp look. “Is she still alive?”

“I don't believe so,” Peter said. “But then, I have killed her, her father has killed her, and in this world, death is not always permanent.”

“What about the hunters we found in Oregon? Are they dead?”

“Oh they’re most certainly dead,” Peter said. “Once decomposition sets in, it takes quite a skilled practitioner or a powerful force of will to reverse death.” Luckily, Peter had possessed one of those two.

“Your sister was a werewolf.” Spencer frowned. “Why did she not notice that a serial killer was targeting her underage son?”

The question struck a deeply painful nerve. Peter knew he had withdrawn from the family after the Paige incident, and he carried some of the blame for what happened to Derek because of that. It was the responsibility of adults to shield the pups. However, he would never forgive Talia and Robert for being there and still not noticing. “That is an excessively personal question.”

Spencer blushed. “I'm trying to understand what happened.”

Peter sighed. Part of him wanted to send Dr. Reid away to stew in his own ignorance, but he was too much like Stiles. He would never let a mystery go, and if Peter could not maintain his secrets, than the next best option was to develop allies. Besides, a curious Dr. Reid would, most likely, be very loud. “As I told your colleagues, my sister was obsessed with appearances. She was determined to be the most respected wolf on the West Coast. To that end, she appointed me as her left hand, an archaic position that required me to do most of the unpleasant work while she got to play peacekeeper and diplomat. I must admit that she excelled in that role.” Had she been the right hand to another alpha, she likely would have been just as respected outside the pack without inflicting damage within it.

Spencer frowned. “That seems like an unfair division of labor.”

“It is,” Peter agreed. “An alpha should do his own difficult work. Otherwise, it is entirely too easy to discount the price one pays for those choices. She was also unprepared for the less direct methods enemies might use to infiltrate the pack because of her decision to distance herself from what she felt were the more unsavory aspects of a werewolf leader’s role. I have endeavored to learn from her mistakes and do better.”

“So, you're in charge of the pack now? But you live here and from what I can tell, most of the people who are closely associated with your family live in Beacon Hills.”

“A pack does not always have just one alpha,” Peter corrected him.

“But alpha would indicate the person of greatest respect, unless alpha has a different definition with werewolves, which makes sense because the use of alpha and beta in a wolf pack is from flawed research that focused only on animals in zoos, and even the David Mech who first posited that there was an alpha werewolf has repudiated his own work.”

Peter smiled. He did understand why Stiles was enthralled with the man's mind. “For wolves, the most important difference is that an alpha is capable of using magic. An alpha can create new wolves and maintain the pack bonds between wolves to maintain their mental stability. Because a wolf is magical by nature, it takes a significant amount of magic to not only maintain the wolf's existence, but to perform these necessary pack tasks.”

“Pack bonds.” Spencer frowned, and Peter could practically hear his brain spinning out of control. Stiles and Spencer could take over the world if they could manage to focus long enough to complete the task. However, like Stiles, Spencer’s questions suggested his mind was darting from topic to topic, from the Argents to supernatural policing to werewolf biology. “If wolves have psychological bonds to one another, then shouldn't your sister have been even more aware that there was someone targeting Derek?” he asked.

This one was entirely too insightful. “Perhaps. But as I said, Talia was very focused outside the pack. There were rumors that my parents’ deaths were not an accident, but she didn’t know where the danger was coming from—out of control hunters or another wolf pack hoping to destabilize the Hales and take our territory. She wanted the pack safe from assassination, which likely inspired her to do more than any other wolf before her to unite the local packs and create mutual defense treaties. Her passion made her focus outside her pack.”

“That’s why the Argents targeted you,” Spencer said quietly.

“Perhaps,” Peter said. “They targeted another alpha named Deucalion for trying to create a unified wolf governing body. However, they may have simply seen an opportunity when Talia did not defend her home as much as she did her territory. She left most family dynamics to her husband who was a beta and did not have the advantage of controlling the pack bonds as she did. My guess is that when Derek stopped feeling so lost about the death of his first girlfriend that she was simply relieved to have her son finally behaving as a proper Hale again. I suspect that relief prevented her from looking any farther into his circumstances.” Peter had never explained this to anyone. Stiles was already unforgivably stuck between pack members and he didn’t need to carry the burden, and Derek would not hear any criticism of his sainted mother.

Spencer frowned. “And how does Stiles fit?”

Peter smiled. “He has the heart of a wolf and he would protect the pack, which is why he went to you with that file when the Argents came to town. He was attempting to protect me, despite the fact that I did not need protecting.”

“Was that because he has pack bonds to you that made him overreact to the threat?”

“Pack bonds don’t work that way. We can feel each other's emotions and an alpha can pull on the bond. That can help the alpha find a beta that is lost or trapped.”

Unless, of course, the alpha in question had strangled the pack bonds to such an extent that he no longer felt them, and he allowed to betas to be held captive and tortured. Ironically, Deucalion's attempt to trap Derek failed not because Derek was a strategically brilliant thinker, but because he was a wholly inadequate wolf. Peter did hope that Stiles’s unsubtle brand of therapy improved that situation. If Derek simply stopped strangling his pack bonds and felt his pack’s love, he would be able to overcome his ridiculous self-hatred. Then again, Peter suspected he was strangling the pack bonds so that he could wallow in self-pity more effectively. Luckily, Stiles was not a fan of wallowing. In the long term, Peter would have to make sure that Stiles did not overwhelm Derek, but in the short term, Derek quite deserved what Stiles was likely to do to him.

Spencer leaned forward, curiosity etched into his face. “Can you feel Stiles from here, even though he's on the other side of the country?”

Peter rubbed his sternum. “I can. When he is feeling particularly strong emotions, I can sense that. If someone were to break into his house and terrify him, I would immediately know he was in danger.”

“And yet Derek's mother did not know he was in danger.”

Peter pursed his lips. “For her, I suspect it was enough that Derek felt happy. She did not delve any further.”

Spencer nodded. “The evidence fits now.”

Peter was grateful that the man’s curiosity was sated, but that still left Peter in a difficult position. “Will you tell the others on your team?”

Spencer shook his head. “They’re happy with the answers they found. If they ask, I won't lie. But I doubt they will ask.”

Peter nodded. That was the best he could hope for without having Celeste here to perform a memory spell. “If you have questions or concerns, you are welcome to call me or Stiles.” Peter pulled a business card out and flipped it over to write their personal phone numbers on the back. “This is not a safe world, and sometimes just knowing about it is enough to create danger.”

Spencer took the card Peter had offered and tucked it into his messenger bag. Then he swept the piles of noxious botanicals into his hand before putting them in his bag. “If I think I'm in trouble, I will call you first,” he said as he used a disinfecting wipe to remove any last dust from Peter’s desk. He might be willing to use threats to get his way, but at least he was polite enough to clean up after himself.

Spencer stood. “Mr. Hale, thank you for your honesty.”

Peter smiled. “Thank you for your discretion and for being someone who inspires Stiles, even if you have inspired him to follow a ridiculous path that will preclude him from ever gaining the financial respect he deserves. And may I say, I don't think the FBI financially respects your skills as much as they should either. You are quite impressive.”

Spencer gave him a small smile.” I've never associated finances and respect, Mr. Hale. And they offer me the respect I need.” Without any formal words of parting, Spencer turned and walked out of the room. He was a very interesting man.

Chapter 11

Chapter Notes

Peter sank into Celeste's oversized chair and grimaced. He missed his own townhouse and the smell of Stiles permeating every room. Even Peter's room smelled of Stiles because the man would come in and dramatically throw himself on the bed to complain about some collegiate tragedy while Peter was getting dressed in the morning.

But this house smelled of petrichor and dust. He would go home, but Peter was still wary of any potential counterattacks. Just because the Argents had chosen to eliminate the American branch of the organization didn't mean that someone else wouldn't come knocking to demand retribution. And he was nervous about Spencer Reid’s interest in the supernatural. On top of everything else, Chris Argent had not yet made an appearance, either among the living or the dead.

Peter had once driven rebar through Chris's stomach, pinning him to the wall of the sewer and leaving him to die. That was the sort of thing that a man would hold a grudge over.

His phone rang, and he checked the display before answering.

“My beautiful goddess, what can I do for you today?” Even over the phone, Peter refused to use names. While all of his communication was secured with magic, he was very aware that anything one witch did, another could undo. He hoped one day that Stiles would be able to perform some of this magic, but he also understood that being a pack witch meant that most of his magic would focus on werewolves, which would make technology outside his purview. But then technology was outside the purview of a nature which, and Celeste was rather competent with it.

“How is my beautiful, big, strong alpha tonight?” she asked.

“Better after hearing your voice. Is all well on your end?”

“Things are finally quieting down. I did a hundred and nineteen background searches and dug through a hundred and nineteen digital profiles, and can I just say that of those, seventy-four were incredibly indiscreet about who they texted and what they took pictures of?”

Fools. “Have you taken care of that problem?”

“Am I not your goddess of all things technological?” she teased.

“My dear, you certainly are. Not only are you my goddess, but were you to give me the word, you would be my pack in a heartbeat.”

“Maybe someday, but right now I do love where I am. But I wanted to let you know that all of the digital evidence has been suitably disposed of.”

“I am very relieved.” Peter knew the Argents had been growing increasingly bold, but he never would have guessed that many had kept souvenirs of their supernatural encounters. They would need to monitor social media for any threads of danger from those on the receiving end of any texts or pictures, but he could trust his goddess with that task. “I had a visit today from someone you know.”

“Would that be a piece of chocolate perfection who is very aggravated that you are hiding things?”

“I had thought it was offensive to refer to people's race using food references,” Peter said dryly. Personally he saw nothing sweet in Derek Morgan, but his goddess had unique tastes.

“Is it? Human culture changes so fast that sometimes I have trouble keeping up.”

Peter found that rather ironic given that she knew every piece of technology within minutes of its inventor conceiving of it. “In response to your question, no it was not your inappropriately named chocolate friend. It was someone of a quieter and more intellectual nature.”

“Oh! Really? He didn't log any interview with you or I would've called you and told you he was coming. Spencer is breaking the rules,” she sing-songed.

Peter rolled his eyes. For a woman of her age, she was still delightfully young. “He managed to figure out that I'm a werewolf.”

For long seconds, she was silent. It wasn’t often that Peter could shock her enough to make her speechless. “You didn't confirm anything for him, did you?” She sounded worried. She was so fond of her team that Peter suspected they were pack to her.

“Considering that he poured a pile of aconite on my desk and asked what would happen if he threw it at me, capitulation did seem the best strategy.”

The phone was silent for several more minutes. “What's he going to do?” She paused. “What are you going to do?”

“He has promised me discretion, and I tend to believe the offer was genuine. But I plan on asking you to keep an eye on the situation.”

“I don't think it's a good idea that he knows all this stuff,” she warned.

“Of that I am quite aware. But I thought it was a worse idea for him to continue searching for answers. My guess is that his curiosity is quite loud. Can you imagine what would happen if your mother were to hear him?”

“I know you can't see from there, but I just gave like a full body shudder,” she confessed. “Yeah. That would be so bad. So let's make sure he doesn't wake her up. I'll find a nice gruesome mundane case that is completely unsolvable, and I'll throw that it Spencer.”

“Excellent plan.”

“Oh, speaking of supernatural hijinks, Hotch finally used his magic in the office, so I can now definitely tell you what he is.”


“Anubis dog!” She sounded so excited, but Peter's heart sank. He had touched one of the dog’s feathers. Would the repercussion of this war with the Argents never end? Peter knew his own sins, but he did not feel comfortable in allowing others to judge him, especially when an Anubis dog had powers over the dead.

“What do you want to bet that Hotch using his magic in the office for the very first time has something to do with the Argents tucking their tail between their collective legs and running like hell?” she asked with a malicious sort of glee. Normally Peter would revel in that attitude, but he was distracted.

“Having an Anubis dog anywhere near me is making me want to flee,” Peter said uneasily.

“Oh, you are my big, fluffy cuddle-wolf of treachery. You're like treachery light. You never betray anyone who totally doesn't deserve it, so you do not have to worry about that damn feather.”

“How did you know I touched one of his feathers?” Peter wondered if she had been spying on him.

“I didn't. I was saying you didn't have to worry about it if he came and offered you a feather in the future. Seriously? You touched a feather? Whoa. I'm pretty sure Anubis would not like him doing that with actual live people who haven’t died yet.”

“Well, then it's lucky that Anubis is not awake.”

“Given how many times Anubis kills his own dogs, only totally. He is one seriously unforgiving god, which probably explains why Hotch all the no-magic man.”

“Well he's using magic now.”

“Probably because the Argents were an even bigger threat than him using a little bit of desert mojo. You, however, have no reason to worry. None. My friends do not get thrown into lakes of fire because my friends aren’t evil. But if someone confuses you with evil, I will set them straight. Now, back to the real problems here. I put up a few more subtle protections around the building. Now that I know what Hotch is, it's easier to avoid his wards.”

Peter smiled at the idea of the Hoover building having not one but two millennia old creatures warding their offices. And the fact that she had offered him so much without asking for payment showed the size of her heart. “Have I told you recently how lucky I am to have you on my side?”

“You know how I love the smart ones.”

“You are just like your mother in that.”

“To be honest, I'm kinda surprised you didn't wake her up with the whole coming back from the dead thing. Pretty sure all the demigods heard that.”

“Well then I shall endeavor to not die again so I don't need to repeat the trick.”

“If you die again, I'll just come for you this time. I’m not joking about that. Maybe I have to let human stuff happen to humans because that’s their business and I can only intervene in human ways,” she said, and Peter ignored the need to point out that her technological skills had a little divine assistance. She would draw her interference lines where she thought appropriate and in accordance with what she had to do to keep her family sleeping. “But you are not human and I don’t have to follow human rules with you.”

“That would definitely wake your mother,” Peter warned, although it did comfort him that she thought enough of him to take such a risk.

“Yeah, but if the Argents kill you, they would totally deserve to have her around. You have no idea how vicious she can be, and since you are one of my favorites, she would make them sorry they were ever born. True, the rest of the world would be sorry, too, but… eh.”

“Which is why we are avoiding waking her. But as sweet as your offer is, I prefer to avoid dying in the first place,” Peter said firmly. Sometimes he worried that she didn’t take matters seriously enough despite knowing the danger.

“Well, so far it seems like things are quieting down. From what I've heard on the demigod grapevine, people are thinking about Argents, but in a totally human way. Even the team is dismissing them as a human variety of crazy, and if human crazy woke the old ones, they would never be asleep. The Argents who survived the purge are mostly thinking about the Destroyer, but humans are so weirdly afraid of death and hell and the devil that the Argents are getting drowned out in the general din of irrational human phobias.”

“That is good to know,” Peter said dryly. He was unimpressed with her general dismissal of human fears around hell, especially if, as she had earlier suggested, the Destroyer was awake. That one inspired perfectly reasonable phobias.

“Yep, so we can back down off Defcon one and go back to life as normal. Are you going to bring Stiles back to the East Coast? I do miss that little bundle of freckled cuteness.”

“You do know you traumatized him the last time we went out for lunch.”

“Yes, but he is so much fun to traumatize. He is such a cutie. I swear, I don't know how you've avoided claiming him. I would have jumped that boy by now.”

“That boy is fourteen years younger than me,” Peter pointed out.

“And I am like a thousand years older and you had no problem jumping my bones, thank you very much. In fact, I'm pretty sure you jumped my bones three or four times in that one night, which I enjoyed greatly. I feel like I should send you flowers or something.”

“Please don't. I'm not sure that my male ego can take getting flowers.”

“Now snookums, don't be like that.” She laid the flirtation on heavily. “Toxic masculinity is not good for you.”

“So you understand toxic masculinity, but you don't understand that calling a black man ‘chocolate’ is offensive?”

She huffed. “He has never had a single negative thought about my word choice. He's amused by it.”

Peter suspected that some of Agent Morgan's feelings were inspired by his protective instincts, which was amusing given that she could easily crush a mortal man or werewolf. Sleeping with her had been intoxicating for that reason. However, she was able to play the part of the human far better than anyone Peter had ever met. The first time Peter had met Agent Hotchner, he’d known immediately that the man wasn't fully human. He would never have guessed Anubis dog, but looking back, it certainly fit.

But his beautiful goddess of the computer seemed entirely human. Sometimes he suspected that she buried herself so completely in her role that she even forgot that she was something more. Had Celeste not told Peter of her suspicions, he never would have identified her as a potential ally.

“So, are you bringing my little bundle of cuteness back?” she asked.

Peter tapped a claw on his knee. “I don't know that I can. Derek is far closer to becoming an omega than even I suspected. Stiles is having to force energy down the pack bond just to get him to accept it, and without a strong alpha, his betas run the risk of becoming omega. If I pull Stiles out of Beacon Hills, we might just have another disaster to navigate.”

“But you can't just abandon your freckled little stud muffin in Beacon Hills.”

Peter's eyebrows went up. How could a thousand year old demi-goddess think that was appropriate? “Now I am traumatized. However, the larger concern is that I am unwilling to leave my nephew and his betas vulnerable. At least Stiles can stabilize him long enough to get him to start feeding the pack bonds.”

“And you? Do you really think you deserve to be exiled from your pack?” Her voice had a more serious note now. While Peter had never explicitly described his conflicts with Talia’s pack, he was not surprised that she knew.

“I assure you that Stiles’s pack bond is stable enough for me to maintain a healthy connection.”

“He's totally a pack witch, isn't he? I knew it. I have a sense for these things.”

“Considering that your father is literally the disembodied magical force of the universe, I would expect you to have a strong connection to magic.”

“Hey, no ducking my question. How are you going to reconnect with that little babe-magnet if you're here and he's there? As much as I would love for him to come back, if that's not possible, then you need to go to him.”

Peter had been considering that, but he wasn't sure his career could handle another upheaval.


“There are many complications to consider,” Peter said. He would not be bullied, not even by her.

“Do you or do you not love Stiles?” She demanded. “Do you or do you not want to live with Stiles? Those are the only two questions you need to ask.”

“I assure you it is not.”

“I assure you that it is.”

“While I greatly value your support and input, this situation is fraught with difficulties. Many of Stiles’s friends in Beacon Hills do not trust me, and Derek needs Stiles's attention. Having me there would be a distraction.”

“Having you there would give Stiles the support he needs to be a good pack witch. If he's always feeding Derek's his energy, who is feeding him? That needs to be you, oh grand alpha of the hotness.”

“I assure you that Stiles has enough magic to feed every wolf in that pack.”

“Yes, but pack witches need magic from their pack to stabilize them. They get many of the advantages of wolves, but they get the disadvantages too. You can't ask Stiles to do all the dirty work of fixing your idiot nephew while you sit over here and argue court cases.”

“That is a low blow. I have never asked other people to do my dirty work,” Peter snapped. If he had been in wolf form, his hackles would've raised.

“My little softy-wolf, I know you're not thinking you are, but you kinda are. Stiles needs you, so what's more important, your law career or your Stiles?”

Peter growled at her. “I would never choose my career over Stiles.”

“Good. Then don't.”

“It's not as easy as you are making it sound.”

“Perhaps not,” she admitted. “But I'll tell you a secret. That terror who owns your law firm is dying.”

“What?” As far as Peter knew, Susan was perfectly healthy. She just taken on a new client that week.

“Yep. And in true tyrant fashion, she plans on working up until the day that she drops dead of cancer.”

“And what does this have to do with my current situation?” Peter had no doubt it related because she was the only person who could out strategize Peter himself. It was a tragedy that she chose to not interfere with mortals because she could rule the entire east coast supernatural community without lifting a finger.

“Imagine how grateful your vicious boss would be if you were to offer her a way to extend her life. She knows you're a werewolf. She knows a good chunk of your clients are supernaturals, so why not take it that one step farther and give her what she wants and see what she will give you in return?”

“She is in her sixties and apparently dying of cancer. She would never survive the transformation.” As much as Penelope’s vision was tempting, the practical concerns were just too great to overcome.

“She would if she had someone to magically prop up her spark until the wolf could manifest,” she said.

“Are you offering?” Peter asked slowly, not sure of what ground he was treading on. He would never ask that kind of favor from a demigoddess.

“I am,” she said. “The only reason any human can't turn is because either they guard their spark from the wolf or their spark is too weak to feed the wolf until it reaches magical critical mass. Either I can give her spark a little boost, or I can arrange for you to run across a certain grimoire that lists a spell that allows a pack witch to reinforce the magic and allow anyone to turn by feeding the new wolf directly.

Peter’s mind spun out the possibilities. “If she is in my debt, she might consider doing something like opening a branch in Sacramento.” That would put Peter within an hour drive of Beacon Hills, at least if he chose a house in the suburbs on the north side of the city. Peter could handle the suburbs. He wasn't sure they could handle him, but that was their problem.

“Now that's the Peter I know and love. I can hear the wheels in your head grinding from here. You go and be with your cute little pack witch of snuggliness and make sure that your pack has what they need to be happy and healthy. Seriously. That town has been cursed for long enough. And, you have a nature witch. I'm pretty sure she can do something about that wretched Nematon.”

Peter could see the possibilities now. Yes, this could work out very well indeed. “My darling I owe you.”

“After the ride you gave me, I'm gonna owe you for the remainder of your very short lifespan. I'm just glad I got in there before that little stud muffin because I know he's not going to share.”

“Will you please stop insinuating that I'm going to crawl into bed with a pup?”

“You are so cute when you're in denial.”

Peter hung up on her. He had a plan to arrange, and while he trusted that she would get him that grimoire in a timely fashion, he needed to find clients with a strong enough connection to Sacramento to provide at least some rationale for the firm's decision to open a branch there. Susan might be known as a tyrant, but she couldn’t make arbitrary decisions. She and the other junior partners would insist on profits, even if she would technically be one of Peter's betas. She would be his first beta since reclaiming an alpha spark.

Peter was starting to feel good about where the future was leading.



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