Once Upon a Pack
Stiles pulled his Jeep up into the driveway of a fancy's banish style home in a sea of other fancy Spanish style homes. Stiles was just relieved to see Peter in the front yard because it was hard to distinguish one house from another. If Stiles were still sixteen, he would've been tempted to switch the house numbers around and watch confused people try and their keys on the wrong door because they couldn't recognize their house from the neighbors.
Hell, Stiles was tempted to do that now.
He might, except he was never the most physically graceful person in history, and this was the sort of place where they had neighborhood watches and he would definitely get caught. And talking Scott into doing it for him would probably be an asshole move, not that Stiles was against being an asshole, but maybe he shouldn't drag Scott into that.
Stiles got out of the jeep, and immediately Peter smiled as Stiles walked up the drive. “Fancy new place, you've got here, Peter.”
“You do know I like my creature comforts. Would you like the grand tour?”
“On a place this size, it's going to be grand.” Stiles frowned at the bright red envelope in Peter’s hand. “Problem?”
Peter followed Stiles’s gaze and laughed, which was totally unfair. When Celeste put things into red envelopes, it meant that she was warning him about possible life ending consequences if he screwed the spell up. She found color coding the spells they were working on and categorizing them into envelopes worked best. Maybe Stiles wasn’t up to actual helping-the-pack magic yet, but he was doing enough to require a few magical warnings.
“Not at all,” Peter assured him. “This is from the home owner’s association. They have chosen to interpret the HOA rules in the most ridiculous manner possible. They are offended that while moving I employed the use of moving trucks as They are commercial vehicles.”
Stiles frowned and ran that through the logic circuits in his brain a second time, but it still didn’t make sense. “How else are you supposed to move? I'm pretty sure that slave boys carrying household goods on litters is a little out of the question.”
“They insist that the prohibition on having commercial vehicles parked within the association means that slave boys would be preferable to moving trucks, although they did not phrase it quite so colorfully.” Peter stepped aside to allow Stiles into the house. The doors were almost two stories call with embedded iron work and runes worked into the wood carvings. Ostentatious and practical.
“Have you warned them you're a lawyer?”
“I did, but you understand better than most that being a lawyer is not the same as being an excellent lawyer. I might not have mentioned the latter.”
“Then they’re idiots because any lawyer who could afford a multimillion dollar home has to be an excellent lawyer. And sadly, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't even take a decent lawyer to get that fine overturned. A mediocre lawyer with common sense could do that.” Stiles stepped across the marble floor feeling a little out of place. He also wondered what would happen if the pack was in beta shift and they tried running across the tile. He could imagine them all slipping and sliding like graceless dogs before crashing into Peter’s walls.
“That’s the problem with living within an HOA in the suburbs. People assume that their problems are somehow significant, when in reality they are simply underemployed and overfunded. They will learn.” Peter closed the front door and turned to face Stiles with an utterly sadistic smile.
“I feel like a bad person because I'm really looking forward to them getting a legal slap down.”
Peter rested his hand at the small Stiles’s back and ushered him into the… lobby? Foyer? Obnoxiously large entry? “I assure you that doesn't make you a bad person; it makes you justifiably annoyed at idiocy. Idiocy should always be punished.” Peter’s voice turned particularly harsh on the last sentence.
Stiles frowned, feeling like there might be a dig for Scott somewhere in there, and Scott was having a hard enough time without Peter poking him. Scott was even more freaked out than Derek at the idea of having Peter back in California on a permanent basis.
And Stiles got it.
Peter had done Scott wrong. Stiles could not pretend that the whole involuntary biting thing was okay in any way shape or form, because it wasn't. And knowing that Peter was going to be pack adjacent and potentially could be one of the pack alphas was freaking Scott out a little. He kept talking about how he had tried to kill Peter and how Peter wouldn't forgive him for that, which was ironic because Stiles was the one who had thrown the Molotov cocktail, and Peter was weirdly proud of him for taking a stand. He had also expressed his appreciation that Stiles had waited until after he had torn out Kate's throat. Too bad she hadn't stayed dead.
Stiles focused on the house instead of the pack drama. Where their townhouse had been decorated in modern tones of gray and white with dark wood accents, this place was far more traditional. Rich walnut trim would was accented with burgundy and taupe. An antique grandfather clock stood in the front entry opposite from an ornate marble-topped console table where Peter had tossed his keys. The wide staircase curved up to a second floor balcony of sorts that ran along the front room and off that balcony doors stood open so Stiles caught a glimpse of bedrooms. Lots of bedrooms.
“Are you planning on having a horde of lawyers move in with you?” Stiles wouldn't be surprised if Richard moved in because Richard pretty much worshiped the ground Peter walked on. However, he had assumed that even if Susan became a werewolf, she would want some space. Stiles was not entirely convinced she would be a wolf when she fully turned. She had a bit of a sadistic jaguar cruelty to her. Luckily for the rest of the world, she had chosen to use the law to attack her enemies instead of fire.
“It's just the two of us and Celeste,” Peter said. “But I had assumed that while you finish your degree in Sacramento, that pack members would use the opportunity to visit and perhaps get to know me away from the toxicity of Beacon Hills.”
“Aww. Are you being thoughtful?”
Peter glared at him, and Stiles laughed.
But the mirth faded as he considered the reason for their cross-country transfer. Stiles had loved his old school, but now everything was different, and his pack needed him. They might not know it yet, but they needed Peter too.
Derek still struggled to get in touch with his wolf, and the more he loosened the pack bonds, the more the betas were painfully aware of the psychological wounds Derek carried. Penny was the only one who handled that well. When Derek would get into one of his dark moods that stained every one of his bonds, she would come over and sit in the loft’s living room and silently grade papers and create lessons while he sat in the shadow.
At one point in his life, Stiles had nursed one or two fantasies about Derek Hale, but the more he got to know Derek, the more he could see that what Derek needed was someone who had the ability to give him space to sort out his own feelings. Derek would always love Stiles, but that inappropriate edge of violence that marked their early relationship had really been Derek begging for enough space to breathe. Unfortunately, Derek and words had a difficult relationship. The one had an inability to use the other.
Stiles remembered when he and Derek had been trying to get into the police station to get Isaac out, and Derek had promised that he could distract Tara without going all werewolf. Instead of trusting that, Stiles had demanded that Derek demonstrate. He had asked a rape victim to practice using his own looks to manipulate someone else. That was almost worse than asking Derek to do the actual distracting. Stiles had some guilt over that.
Long story short, the pack needed another alpha, and Peter was the only one around to fill the role. More importantly, he had turned into a damn good alpha in the last three years. Being around people who expected him to be in-control and reasonable had sanded down the lingering resentments and feral edge. Stiles wrapped his hands around Peter's arm. “I love that you bought something big enough for the pack. I say we have a housewarming party.”
Peter rolled his eyes. “Glorious. Just what I want, a gaggle of adolescents drinking me out of house and home.” Despite his words, the bond hummed contentedly.
Stiles poked Peter in the side. “Don't be like that. You know as well, as I do that it's important that we pull together before the next shoe drops.”
Peter was always so much better than Derek and Scott at reading Stiles’s mood because he recognized the fear in Stiles’s voice. He caught Stiles up in an embrace and held him tight. “There will not be another shoe that drops. The Argents are done in America. You can put them out of your mind. Don't even think about them.”
The words opened up a dam in Stiles’s emotions. Guilt and grief and shame and anger poured through the breach. “Was it my fault? Did the matriarch kill all of those people because I put them on the spot?”
“No,” Peter said so firmly that Stiles could almost believe him. Peter guided him towards and overstuffed couch that turned out to be scary comfortable. Peter held him close with his left arm and tangled their fingers together with his other hand. “You listen to me, you did nothing wrong. The Argents violated their code and violated a code so fundamental to the supernatural way of life that there would be consequences. The fact that the Argents chose this solution over any other is on them.”
Stiles frowned as his brain caught on one phrase. “What code fundamental to the supernatural way of life?”
Peter sighed. “You would pick up on that.”
“What are you talking about?” Stiles pulled away from Peter’s embrace and scooted around so that he could look into Peter's face as he wrapped his awareness around their bond, but Peter held his hand tightly, maintaining that contact. Peter was definitely hiding something, and as much as Stiles loved Peter, there was this little part of him that got exceptionally nervous when Peter hid things. Especially when one of Peter's first requests of Stiles as a pack witch was to help him turn a new beta as scary as Susan. She might be old, but she was mean old. Nothing scared Stiles quite as much as mean old. They'd had a lot of time to work out all the nuances of how to do vicious really, really well.
They were the opposite of teenagers who flailed around and tried to be vicious but actually did more damage to each other when they were trying to be nice. Pathetic, but weirdly true. However Susan, that was one woman who knew exactly what direction to aim if she wanted to do maximum damage. Give her claws, and Stiles would pretty much not want to have her in his pack, which was ironic.
Peter sighed. “There are things in the supernatural world which I'm not entirely sure that even Derek knows, but most wolves who are destined to be alphas are trained in them.”
“Well, then you'd better get to training Derek,” Stiles said, masterfully avoiding the fact that Scott had been the primary alpha, and if there were something alpha-worthy Peter should have been teaching him. But asking Peter to teach Scott was going too far, even for Stiles, and Stiles was a master of too far.
“At some point I shall have to.” Peter turned their joined hands so that his was on the bottom and then he let his fingernails grow long and thick. “What is the difference between the claws of an alpha and those of a beta?”
“Alpha claws are longer. Of course, your claws are not as long now as when you went on your whole crazy spree. Turns out that crazy and feral makes for one seriously bulked up werewolf.” Stiles tightened his hold on Peter's hand. If Peter was trying to scare him, he had lost that fight a long time ago. In fact, he had pretty much lost that fight when he had asked for permission to turn Stiles and then respected Stiles’s decision to stay human. It was hard to convince someone that you were a monster when you listen to informed consent.
“If I put these claws into your neck, what could I do that a beta could not?”
“Scramble my memories. And if you do that,” Stiles said sharply, “I will make you the sorriest werewolf who ever lived. I don't need to have all my memories to remember to hold a grudge.”
Peter gave him a fond smile. “Trust me, I am aware of that. In fact, I appear to hold a grudge against my sister even though I don't have the memories of why.”
“I noticed. So why are we talking about werewolf claws?”
Peter studied Stiles for a second. “What ability do vampires possess that would erase memories?”
“Compulsion,” Stiles answered quickly. That was an easy one. Vampire power of compulsion scared Stiles way more than fangs.
“And how would fey erase memories?”
“The Wild Hunt. I'm pretty sure you and I know that one intimately.” Stiles was about to make another offhanded comment, when his brain caught the pattern that Peter was alluding to. “Are you saying that every form of supernatural creature has a way to erase memories?”
“One that Scott is entirely too slow to use, which has caused a number of problems. I understand that Alpha Ito offered to teach him to use his claws and he refused outright.”
“Okay, if you are suggesting that erasing people's memories is like a go-to when people figure out about the supernatural, I'm going to call you a raging asshole, which is one step up from the normal asshole I normally call you.”
Peter sighed. “Stiles, what is the source of magic?”
“Telluric currents and ley lines.”
“No, that is the flow of magic, the river. What is the source of that river? What is the iceberg from which the water originally flows?”
Stiles frowned. “Nothing I have ever read in any the grimoires suggests there is some grand source of magic. Celeste certainly hasn't said anything.”
“I do not know whether Celeste is aware or not. If she is, she will likely wait for me to broach the subject because it is dangerous, especially for someone who is at the center of so much supernatural noise.” The way Peter said the last word made it very clear that it was something important, something far more significant than a word like disaster or massacre. But Stiles couldn't figure out why noise would be so significant.
“What are you talking about?”
Peter tightened his grip on Stiles’s hand. “Werewolves believe that we come from old gods. Leto enjoyed taking the form of a wolf and blessed her most sacred followers with the ability to shift into that form to follow her. Zeus was incensed when a king attempted to feed him human meat.”
Stiles finished that story. “He cursed King Lycaon and all of his sons to become wolves. Werewolf religion 101.”
“Certainly in the West,” Peter said with a smile. “There are other religions more popular in other parts of the world. In Europe many looked to Fenris, one of the sons of Loki. In the East, there are a number of werewolf origin stories, many related to the kitsune or kurtadam.”
“And?” Stiles was usually very good at making connections between random facts, but either his brain needed more caffeine or Peter had left a few details out.
“And they are all real. Magic comes from gods, old ones.”
“Okay, but what does the origin of magic and old, dead gods have to do with noise?”
“They aren’t dead,” Peter said softly. “They sleep, and it is the responsibility of the supernatural world to ensure they remain asleep. If they wake, then the world will return to another age of mythology where gods manipulate the lives of mortals and rape and pillage without concern for who they hurt. People might enjoy reading the story of Odysseus, but do you think Odysseus enjoyed living it? And he was a favorite. The lives of other mortals were infinitely more difficult. So the supernatural world works very hard to keep things quiet.” Peter nearly whispered the last word.
Stiles stared at him in horror, searching for some sign that Peter was playing the world's most elaborate practical joke. He wasn't.
Peter untangled their fingers and smoothed the fabric of his suit pants, which was always a sign that he was intensely uncomfortable with what he was saying. But despite that discomfort, Stiles could feel the truth shining through their bond. “Old gods?”
Peter nodded. Stiles ran a hand through his hair and tried to sort out how he felt about that. He'd read the mythology. He liked the stories, but desperately did not want to live in any world that resembled them. The gods were constantly spawning monsters and women were raped about every other page. Worse, the stories would describe the rape in weirdly consensual terms like she chose to sleep with Zeus when he had disguised himself as the woman's husband. That was not a choice. That was straight up rape.
“What does this have to do with the Argents?”
“They had grown too large. There were too many human minds thinking about the same supernatural creature, which ran the risk of waking that creatures associated that god.”
Stiles' eyes grew wide with shock. “They were thinking about you.”
Peter nodded. "I filed a number of lawsuits naming every Argent I could identify as accessories to my family's murder, targeting them in a storm of wrongful death lawsuits. Most of those cases would've been thrown out because I could not prove a direct line of support between the individual and Kate Argent, but a few of them would have gone to trial. I suspect I am from either Leto’s line or Fenris’s, and having so many Argents thinking about me at once created a single sound that risked cutting through the general din of humanity to wake a god.
Stiles frowned. "You aren't blaming yourself for the fact that Argents are dicks that killed their own guys are you? And worse, they used a weird suicide cult story to cover up the murder. That was really shitty. It's one thing to die in this war, but to have your name forever associated with that kind of crazy? That hurts every one of those men and women's parents and spouses and children and friends. All of them are going to spend the rest of their lives wondering why they didn't notice the crazy. That is all on the Argents. And I'm the one who started the legal war.” Stiles brain spun as he considered a million new possibilities.
Peter sent a sharp bolt of aggravation down the bond. It was his version of a kick in the pants, and it always made Stiles’s chest ache. “Neither you nor I triggered what they did. And if I did feel responsibility for the deaths, I would only feel pride at having taken out so much trash at once, but no, I do not give myself the credit. The old ones left guardians, and one visited the Argents and told them that either they had to quiet the thoughts of their people or they would face the Wild Hunt.”
“Okay, as one of the victims of the Wild Hunt, I will say that I was super unimpressed. But I wouldn’t choose to be remembered as a crazy suicide cult member. It wasn't like being in that train station was painful.”
“No, simply boring. And sometimes a boring afterlife is preferable to the alternative.” Peter's expression twisted into a grimace and the bond was oddly empty. Stiles had the feeling there was more than one thing he was not understanding because Peter had blocked the bond.
“So, are you suggesting that the Argent problem has been solved by one of these guardians and that the biggest thing we have to worry about is your cranky HOA?”
Peter leaned back and now the bond sang of weariness. “I suspect we have far greater problems than that. I have no idea how to repair the wounds in this pack, and I believe that should take precedence over other concerns for the moment. But I do not want you worrying about the Argents when forces far more powerful than you or I have already ended that threat.”
Stiles squinted as he thought about the pieces on the board. “They didn't end the threat as much as they did ensure that the threat couldn't come at us with an army. And I'm very grateful for that because I was getting very fed up with Monroe's army. However, Marie could still send a small team after us.”
“And why would she bother? Her power bases in Europe.” Peter sounded very dismissive of the concern, which meant that the faker understood the danger perfectly well and was trying to convince Stiles that he didn’t have to worry. Giant overprotective worry-wolf.
“We completely humiliated her family. Do you really think she’s going to drop it?”
Peter took his hand again. “All the more reason for us to settle the pack bonds now. Derek and I will always have different connections to different members of the pack, but we need to ensure that as much of the pack is integrated as possible. Certain individuals like Scott and Susan will always be joined through only one alpha, but the pack can maintain the overall bonds as long as most are able to acknowledge us both, and as long as both of us can work together.”
Peter took a long breath, and Stiles could feel the discomfort. He felt bad that life had conspired to pull Peter back to the one place he had tried so hard to get away from. But there was nothing that a puppy pile couldn't solve, even if it was a puppy pile of two.
Stiles toed his shoes off and then pulled his feet up under him as he settled in against Peter’s side. “We'll work it out,” he promised. Peter put an arm around Stiles and pulled him closer before resting his cheek on the top of Stiles’s head. I do hope so. And I hope you and I can continue to have a quiet life. I quite enjoy being free to practice the law and nag you about being mindful of your safety around disreputable humans.”
“We’ll make it work,” Stiles promised. “And on that note, Spencer called. He is hooking me up with the local FBI office for an internship program. So it turns out I might not have shot myself in the foot with the FBI. At least not metaphorically. Obviously, I did get myself shot in the foot literally, and apparently the agents enjoy telling that story around the water cooler.”
Peter tightened his hold on Stiles, but that was exactly what Stiles had intended. Any reference to Stiles getting hurt turned up Peter's overprotective instincts and completely distracted him. “Since Derek went out of his way to save you, he is worth saving. And if we want this, we are certainly powerful and smart enough to make this work.”
“Oh, we definitely can. We can make this work.” Stiles really hoped he was telling the truth
Stiles pulled his Jeep into the driveway of Peter's McMansion. It was weird to think that he was going to be driving everywhere again after living in a walkable neighborhood in Virginia. But between the spread out places he needed to get to and the lack of good quality public transportation, Stiles needed to get used to being a driver again. And part of him really enjoyed having Roscoe back in his life.
Maybe he was too emotionally attached to a Jeep, but he felt a connection to his mother when he drove her jeep. And it was a lot more fun to drive now that his dad and Derek had bonded over essentially rebuilding the entire engine. Stiles was almost sure that there was no duct tape to be found under the hood, which was a huge change. Hopefully if Stiles got called out to any pack emergencies, he wouldn't be stranded in the forest somewhere between Sacramento and Beacon Hills trying to get AAA to come give him a jump.
Looking back, he had fond memories of the time Roscoe had broken down in the middle of Mexico when they'd been trying to rescue Derek, but at the time that had been slightly terrifying. Amazingly terrifying. Stiles had been equally terrified that he was about to get eaten, and that he would survive only to find that Scott was dead due to a lack of backup since Melia and Kira had been With him when the car broke down.
He was lost in memories when a very hot MILF with an expression that screamed Karen came from the house kitty corner from them. “Excuse me,” she said loudly. “Excuse me,” she repeated before Stiles could even respond to her first call, which seemed a little rude.
Stiles turned and offered her his best smile. “Good morning.”
“There is a strict two hour parking limit for any guests.”
“Thank you for sharing?” Stiles wasn't entirely sure how he was supposed to respond to that, so he gave his brain free rein. “In California it is illegal for women to drive a motor vehicle while wearing a housecoat.”
“What?” She looked at Stiles like he should be in Eichen House or whatever lunatic asylum they used in the suburbs. Stiles had a lot of negative associations with people looking at him like that.
“I thought we were exchanging random facts about social rules.”
The woman's frown grew deeper. “I saw your jeep here all day yesterday. Your jeep cannot be parked here for longer than two hours.”
“Oh. You think I'm visiting Peter,” Stiles said. The woman just didn’t like having a poor person’s vehicle cluttering up her neighborhood. Stiles plastered his best customer-service smile on his face. “I'm not visiting. I'm actually on the deed of the house with Peter.” And boy wasn't that a mind fuck. Stiles had no idea how he was supposed to handle the fact that Peter Hale was legally sharing a multimillion dollar house with him. He would be more freaked out, only Peter was also sharing the house with Derek.
Celeste suggested that pack politics made shared ownership practical so the resources were available to the whole pack. She'd even suggested that Derek put the loft in Peter's name. And that had not gone over well.
The MILFy neighbor was stared at Stiles in horror. “What?”
“What what?” Stiles asked.
“You live here? You own this house?” She pointed at Peter’s place, which was significantly larger than her own McMansion, although they were both obnoxiously large. At least Peter could claim he needed space for the pack, but the rest of these houses seemed practically empty. “And you drive that?” She poked a bony finger in Roscoe's direction.
“Hey! Be nice to the Jeep. It was my late mother's, and I am very fond of my Roscoe.”
“You absolutely cannot leave that parked in the driveway. This is not the sort of neighborhood where vehicles like that are welcome.”
“Do you have something against blue? Or maybe you don’t like the make of the car. Are you a car racist?” Stiles didn't finish because the woman huffed and puffed up so much that for a second Stiles was concerned she might actually be a demon. She spun on her heel and stomped back towards her house.
Only then did the front door open and Peter was there, leaning on the doorjamb. “Darling, you have surpassed even my ability to aggravate that battle-ax. I am quite impressed. And since I now consider her my arch-enemy, I owe you for vanquishing her.”
“Wait. Her? Is she the idiot who testified against you in the HOA court case?”
“One and the idiotic same,” Peter said as he stepped to one side to let Stiles into the house. “The furniture from Virginia came. I set us up in the four bedrooms on the north side of the second floor. I am on the corner, and then it is my office and then your office and then your bedroom.”
Stiles frowned. “We’re taking up four bedrooms? But this whole place only has like seven.” And a finished basement and two formal living rooms and an informal family room and a library and enough space that Stiles still thought of it as a museum more than a house.
“I have Celeste set up on the south side and a room set aside for Derek. As the other pack alpha, he should have some perks.” Peter's smile grew a little more strained, but then Peter and Derek hadn't reached any formal agreements yet, so Stiles did understand that things would be tense until the two Hale men figured out how to pack together. There was a lot of bad blood under that bridge.
Peter continued. “There is one bedroom that I'm reserving for an actual guest room, but if the pack is here for any length of time, I assume we will simply have a sleepover in the informal living room.”
Stiles grinned. “Puppy piles for the win. Dude, that is excellent thinking.”
Peter raised an eyebrow, but if he insisted on calling Stiles things like darling and sweetheart, Stiles had the right to call him dude. “Would you like to help me inspect the gym downstairs? I believe the workmen are nearly finished.” Peter headed towards the back of the house.
“Won't Susan be staying here for a while?” Stiles respected the woman’s fortitude and he suspected she would get control over the wolf way faster than any of the teenagers Stiles had seen through their transitions, but it still seemed weird that a new beta wouldn’t live with her alpha. And clearly Stiles was a hypocrite because he’d never even considered making Liam or Jackson live with their respective alphas.
“Susan can use the guest room or basement during full moons, but she has already purchased her own home in a more affluent area.”
Stiles eyebrows climbed up into his hairline. “More affluent? Exactly how much wealth you need to show off?”
“Don't be naïve Stiles. One can never show off too much wealth.”
“Newsflash, you totally can. In fact, this level of wealth approaches douchebaggery.”
“Then I shall trust you to make sure I don't fall over into utter and complete douchebaggery. I don't mind someone assuming I am a villain, but I do have certain standards to uphold.”
Stiles rolled his eyes.
Peter headed into a finished basement. “I certainly could have purchased a larger home, but I was trying to get something on this side of Sacramento since it would reduce the commute time for any weekend visits. And having a large and active pack requires more room than you might think. I suspect some of the pack tensions result from being confined in a space too small for the wolves to feel comfortable. There is a reason my family had such a large home on the edge of the preserve.”
“That is surprisingly thoughtful of you.”
Peter gave him an inscrutable look, and then Stiles tabled the conversation because he saw that there were strangers in the house. “Stiles,” Peter said, "this is beta Cameron Fisher from the Sacramento pack. He is installing a werewolf-appropriate gym for us.”
A beta with red hair and a definite dad bod gave Stiles a wide smile. “Nice to meet you. Are you the pack witch everyone has been talking about? My grandmother knew one back seventy years ago or so, and she was always very impressed with what they could do.”
“I'm new at it, so I mostly a pack witch light. I'm just talented at annoying alphas.”
Cameron laughed. “Sometimes that is the greatest talent of all. Alphas need someone to annoy them. So, would you like to inspect the place, Mr. Hale?”
Peter walked around the equipment, tugging on a few pieces without showing too much interest in any of it.
“So, is the Sacramento pack okay with Peter moving here?” Stiles asked. He knew it was probably a rude question, but his curiosity was always bigger than his polite button, something that had always annoyed his dad a bit.
“It’s been a good twenty years since we've had a law firm that could handle the supernatural. Having Peter Hale back in the state more than makes up for any aggravation, but it helps that he's going to have territory up in Beacon Hills. That is one nightmare territory that none of us want to get dragged into, so having more experienced wolves to handle that area means that we are more than happy to welcome Peter to the neighborhood.”
Peter hummed. “You are simply worried that you’re the first stop on the freeway down from Beacon Hills and any crazy could spill over into your territory.”
“Hell yes,” Cameron said with zero shame. The beta leaned closer to Stiles. “Good luck with that place.”
Stiles wrinkled his nose. “I would take offense, only that seems like a really reasonable reaction to hearing that someone is voluntarily living in Beacon Hills.” Although technically Stiles lived here and was just staying with his dad while the pack got sorted. If Stiles stayed in Sacramento too long, Derek got a little more broody than the rest of them could handle.
The beta snorted and gave Stiles a shoulder bump that immediately earned a nasty glare from Peter. And if Stiles stayed in Beacon Hills too long, Peter got a little more jealous than Stiles could handle. The beta took a quick step away. “If there are any changes you want, let me know and I can make adjustments.”
Peter curled his claws around a weight bar that was way heftier than anything Stiles had ever seen in a regular gym. “I may need some adjustments after my nephew in the younger betas workout down here, but for now this seems adequate.”
“I will take adequate. You have our number if you need anything. Good luck,” he said to Stiles as he held up a fist for a bump. Stiles fist bumped him back and then the beta retreated fast even while a low growl reverberated through the air.
“Dude, anger issues,” Stiles said. Peter stopped growling, but he didn't look any happier.
“Is Derek coming?”
“Yep. He should be about half an hour behind me, maybe an hour of he stops to fix his hair.”
Peter rolled his eyes, exactly like Stiles expected him to. For someone who spent an hour getting dressed in the morning and color coordinating all of his accessories, Peter was pretty dismissive about Derek's hygiene habits. Maybe that was because Derek could spend the same amount of time and look like he had artfully tousled hair after rolling out of bed. When Peter put himself together, he looked like he was ready to walk down the runway in Milan. “Is he likely to offer a leadership role in the pack?”
That was a tricky question. “I think so. I assume so because he needs a co-Alpha, and I think he's realizing that. Now that he's loosening up on the pack bonds, everyone feels how stressed and miserable Derek is, and that's making all of the betas a little restless. He knows they need stability.”
Peter nodded, but the bond still echoed with unspoken stress. Stiles went over and rested a hand on Peter's arm. “You'll be good for the pack. They need a crazy uncle who will kick their butts if they get out of line, but who they can trust to come to their rescue if someone is so emotionally constipated that he's not able to do what he should.”
“I might be horrified that you are essentially telling me that I am responsible for the emotional needs of the pack.”
“Well if you want, you can be responsible for the physical needs and move back to Beacon Hills to fight the bad guy of the week.”
“Out of the question,” Peter said sharply. “If I had my way, I would recruit heavily from local packs and have them set up patrols to take care of most of these issues before they could reach Beacon Hills. In return, I would offer them certain financial support.”
That was a solution Stiles hadn’t considered. “Would that work?”
“It would work better than waiting until villains reached Beacon Hills and became corrupted by the Nemeton. While the distorted magic won’t change the essence of a person’s soul, it makes it more difficult to stop evil on the territory. That’s why Talia set up so many alliances around the territory.”
“And can we repeat her trick?”
Peter sighed. “That might be a strategy to bring up in a year or two, but I'm pretty sure the local packs are going to be a little cautious about having an alliance with the Hale pack right now.”
There went that hope. Celeste had warned him that Peter's time as left hand and then as a feral alpha had damaged the pack’s reputation and Scott's inaction and willingness to allow clear dangers to leave the territory in order to prey on other packs had damaged it more. Even Derek with his emotional constipation left other packs wondering just how stable this new pack might be. So until the pack could develop a reputation for being sane, they were going to have to take care of the territory on their own.
“Do you think we could use some of those financial resources to get Derek a Batcave?”
Stiles scratched the side of his neck. I was thinking maybe we could hire someone who was really good with computers to set up monitoring stations. We can have them magically enhanced and set up a control room in Derek's building and then the pack would have a better idea of what's going on in the territory.”
Peter pondered that for so long that Stiles expected a refusal. Instead Peter started to nod. “I might be to free up a few resources for that.”
It was weird to think of pack defenses in terms of what resources they could purchase. For so many years defending the territory meant flailing from one disaster to the next. Hell, half the disasters they’d faced—like the Nogitsune—were the result of some half-assed attempt to fix the previous problem.
Stiles took a deep breath and debated with himself whether he should bring up the next subject. Part of him wanted to avoid it, but if they were going to figure out how to be a pack, he needed to clear the air. And as much as Stiles had tried very hard to ignore his father's inappropriate comments, they had crawled into his brain and made it hard to think about anything else.
“Before Derek gets here, do you think maybe we could talk about what sort of relationship we have?” Stiles hated that his voice had risen as if he were unsure. Immediately, his pack bond with Peter quieted. He was way better at closing down his ends of the pack bonds, but he never did unless he was trying to hide his feelings from Stiles. And that made Stiles feel horrible because it meant that Peter was making all the wrong assumptions.
Stiles hurried to get words out before Peter could draw all the wrong conclusions. “It's just that my dad keeps saying things that are getting in my head it and making me feel like I'm crazy.”
Peter frowned and concern flowed through the pack bond as he loosened up on his end of it. “Is your father still annoyed that I threatened Deaton?”
Stiles huffed. “Actually, I think he's annoyed that you used me as bait for a trap for Deaton. And he might be annoyed that you were so happy about it working. He had just gotten off the phone with me where I told him I got knocked on my ass, so he probably would've preferred a little more violence.”
“I do believe that is the first time anyone has told me that I was inappropriately under-aggressive.”
Stiles shrugged. Everyone thought of his dad as being so laid-back, but the fact was, he wasn't always. Stiles remembered back when his mom had first gotten sick and they had gone to some doctor who had said that he couldn't do anything because the condition was untreatable. His father had yelled so loud that Stiles had heard him from the waiting room. His dad definitely had a temper if you pushed the right buttons. Hell, if someone had burned his family alive, Stiles was pretty sure his father would've done exactly what Peter had. He frowned as he realized for the first time that the two men actually were terrifyingly similar. That was potentially a little more Freudian than Stiles was comfortable with.
“Stiles?” Peter sat on the bench next to him. “What is going on in that brain of yours?”
“My dad has this weird idea that you like me,” Stiles blurted.
“You are sarcastic, vicious, and utterly dedicated to those you consider pack and family. What is there not to like? I even appreciate your ability to annoy my nephew. Too few people are willing to do that. I blame his mother's freakishly good genetics. Perhaps if her children had been less attractive, they would not if grown up quite so entitled.”
Derek had a lot of flaws, possibly as many as Scott, and Stiles could count every one of those. However, he would never call Derek entitled. Shortsighted? Oh yeah. Aggressive? Excessively, although not as much as Peter. Insecure? Possibly as insecure as Stiles himself. In short, the man was a bundle of neuroses all wrapped up in a lot of psychological dysfunction and past trauma. That said, Stiles did understand that Peter and Derek had rather unrealistic views of each other. It did make Stiles worry about how this merging of the packs would go.
“Disturbingly enough, my dad has the impression that we might be dating.”
Peter's eyebrows went up and shock radiated through the bond.
“Exactly!” Stiles threw his hands up into the air. “That was exactly my reaction. Why can't be friends with someone and live with them for three years without dating them?”
“I've watched you chase any number of inappropriate partners from that inadequate school of yours, so I am very aware of how possible it is. What gave your father the impression that we were dating?”
“I have no idea. I'm pretty sure he's just delusional. We may want to have him check for dementia.” Stiles grimaced. Fifteen years after his mom's death was still too soon for that joke. Peter rested his hand on Stiles’s leg.
“The ironic thing is that the witch who gave me that pack grimoire suggested something very similar,” Peter said.
“Garcia? She of the inappropriateness? Well, I don't take her too seriously, because I'm pretty sure she has naughty thoughts about everyone. Unless I miss my guess, she writes some really hard-core fanfic in her free time.”
“Most likely,” Peter agreed in a distracted town. “But she was rather convinced that we were a couple.”
“Yeah, well I know you are way out of my league. Way.” Stiles said. “I am more of a flannel guy. Hell, your daughter was out of my league, and she grew up a feral coyote in the middle of nowhere.”
Peter frowned. “I’m certainly not out of your league. What would make you say that?”
Stiles gestured to Peter's immaculate outfit and then his own Star Wars T-shirt and ripped jeans. “We do not exactly look like a matching set.”
“And the fact that we are so different might be a valid reason to not date; however, it does not make me out of your league. If anything, the reverse is true. Compared to you, I am an old man. As you said, you dated my daughter. And, I have a rather sordid background that includes multiple cases of murder. In fact, if your father assumed we were dating, I am frankly surprised he did not show up with wolfsbane bullets, threatening to kill me for eyeing his son.”
“And I have a history with the Nogitsune. I’m pretty sure there was murder involved there too. At least you only killed assholes who were actually guilty of something, well, that and nurse Jennifer.” Stiles shuddered as he remembered the decomposing body of Peter's nurse shoved into the trunk of her car. That was not a happy memory.
“Actually,” Peter said, “Derek killed her.”
“What? No he didn't.”
Peter shrugged. “I'm not entirely sure he realized he killed her, but when he was trying to save you from me, he elbowed her in the face. It drove the facial bones into her brain.”
“Ew.” Stiles wrinkled his nose.
“Exactly. And since I drove my claws into his brain stem so I could share my own memories of the fire, he was unconscious, leaving me to deal with her dead body. I was very aggravated.”
“Probably not as aggravated as her since she was dead. However, that makes my point even better. That means you have literally never killed anyone who wasn't already a murdering asshole. You have standards for your murder plots.” Stiles mentally rewound that last sentence. Yeah, if he ever said that out loud in front of Scott, there would be tragic eyes and lectures in his future. If he said it in front of Derek, there would be eyebrows of doom.
“Stiles, I assure you, your morals are much stronger than mine,” Peter promised. “Had you been in the same situation, you would've been clever enough to find a way to frame each and every one of them, and send them all to prison. I accept my moral culpability in choosing to kill them.”
“Wait.” Stiles frowned. “Are you trying to tell me you don't think you're good enough for me?” Shock stole his ability to form words. Luckily, nothing could stop Stiles’s ability to talk for long. “I can promise you that you are good enough for me. I’m not all anti-murder, although don’t phrase it that way to my dad. But you have no idea how many times Scott and I got into serious disagreements about his black and white moral stances on pretty much everything. Growing up the son of a cop, I totally see gray. It's not as simple as shooting someone is good or shooting someone is bad. Sometimes it's the thing that happens even when you don't want it to happen because there's no way to have it not happen without worst things happening.”
Peter gave animate him an amused look. “Was that supposed to make sense?”
“It did in my head.” Stiles grabbed Peter’s hand and held it tightly. “I thought you were okay with what you did.”
“I suffer no guilt over it. You are right that I believe that all of those I killed deserved it. But I also accept that not everyone will agree with me. Derek, for example. This meeting with him is likely to be exceptionally uncomfortable.”
“Everything is uncomfortable these days with Derek. The whole pack is uncomfortable with Derek, and then he tries backing away from the pack bond so that people are less uncomfortable. And that's even more uncomfortable because then they don't feel the discomfort and realize Derek's just trying to soak up all the misery for himself. Does occur you we should probably have a therapist on retainer?”
“It has. Perhaps we can table that discussion for another day. I admit that I am rather confused about what conversation we’re having. What exactly did you want to clarify in our relationship?”
Stiles scratched the side of his neck. “You know, I have no idea. I thought I was warning you that my dad was being crazy balls and that you should completely ignore the potentially delusional man who thought we like-liked each other. Now, I'm not entirely sure what conversation I'm having with you.”
Peter nodded slowly. “Might I suggest you are having the ‘it's uncomfortable that my father is trying to project a relationship on to me despite the fact the man in question is more of a father figure than a romantic interest?’ Because if that is the conversation we’re having, I entirely understand.”
“I should probably go with that,” Stiles said. “The problem is, I'm pretty sure I don't have father-figure feelings towards you, or if these are father-figure feelings, I need that therapist way more than you and Derek. And trust me, you two are in desperate need of therapy.”
“Stiles?” Confusion filled the bond.
“I don't want to make this awkward,” Stiles blurted out. “You set up a room and an office for me, so I don't have to feel like I'm trapped, but more than that, you understood that I did feel trapped spending all that time with my dad and Derek, both of whom have real trouble seeing that I’m not a hyperactive little kid anymore. They both love me, but there is smothering going on. And Scott. Oh god. Did you know that Scott actually thought I would drive the hour and half from the university back to Beacon Hills every single day? Yeah, because three hours of driving time a day sounds just glorious, that on top of living with my father who keeps making inappropriate comments about my love life. And no one else really hears me when I tell them what I’m thinking or feeling because they assume they know how I should think or feel.”
Peter put his hand over Stiles’s. “Stiles, are you suggesting that I might have a chance if I were to be interested?”
“I wouldn't say you don’t have a chance,” Stiles said. “I'm just saying I would be horrified if you took a chance and then the chance you took ended up making things more awkward between us.”
Peter held Stiles’ hand tightly. “Darling, you helped set me on fire. I'm fairly certain that if we can overcome that awkwardness, we can overcome any difficulties that might follow from a relationship.”
Stiles looked at him. “So, are we doing this?”
Peter smiled. “Oh, sweetheart, we are definitely doing this.”
“Derek, come in.” Peter desperately wished they did not have to do this at this exact moment, but Stiles did have questionable timing. He always had.
“Nice place,” Derek said while his tone managed to somehow convey the exact opposite.
“Compared to the loft, it's not bad.” Peter enjoyed his little dig until he turned to see the disappointed look on Stiles’s face. And that was followed up by a sharp pull on their pack bond that made Peter’s ribs ache. Stiles really was quite the little tyrant.
Peter headed for the kitchen. Perhaps food would reduce the tension somewhat.
“There's an entire workout room in the basement,” Stiles said with a little too much enthusiasm. “It would be totally awesome to get the pack over here and really let them workout on equipment that's designed for werewolves. Wouldn't that be awesome?”
Peter walked faster, so he didn't have to listen to Derek's response. He had no doubt that Derek would keep the betas as far away as possible, but as long as a significant number of them had a secondary bond to Peter, that was fine. Derek was welcome to play the happy pack-maker.
Peter reached the kitchen and headed for the refrigerator. He had a snack tray ready to go just in case the situation turned out to be as awkward as he had expected, and he now pulled it out and put it on the quartz island. Stiles and Derek followed a second later and Derek studied the layout of the rooms, his gaze growing more suspicious with every passing minute.
“Nice place Uncle Peter. This must've cost a lot.”
If Peter was correctly applying his Derek to English translation matrix, that meant that Derek was questioning who Peter had robbed. “I am a partner in one of the most vicious litigation firms in the United States. I think you will find that top-notch lawyers can command their own price.”
Derek gave Peter a slitty-eyed look.
“Perhaps we can discuss pack roles,” Peter said sailing right into the thick of the problem. “I will not be your left hand, so do not assume that you can put any disagreeable task off on me.”
“What?” Derek appeared genuinely bewildered. “I would never expect that of you. Maybe we don't get along, but we’re family.”
“And I was family with my sister. As many arguments as Talia and I had, and we had many, we loved each other. And yet, when I was fourteen or fifteen years old, she sent me to Alpha Ito to learn strategy so that I could become an left-hand. So being family does not preclude one from asking fellow pack members to sacrifice their lives.”
Derek threw his hands up. “Here we go, same old Peter. When all else fails, blame Mom.”
Peter barely contained a growl, but then Stiles stepped right between them and held his hand out in each direction before he gave such a hard pull to the pack bond that Peter had to catch himself on the island and Derek physically jerked forward.
“Good, if I have your attention now, maybe we can start on slightly less difficult territory. For example, maybe we can work on having a stronger pack bond between you two.”
Peter and Derek eyed each other suspiciously. Peter was starting to question this whole plan. As much as Peter hated his little McFail Wolf, perhaps he could talk the moron into fighting for an alpha spark and retaking his position. Derek had certainly worked well with him for many years.
“Pack bond?” Stiles asked in a sharp voice. Derek gave a huge sigh, but then Peter felt his bond to his nephew slide into place. It was a weak and tenuous thread, but it slowly grew until Peter could feel the distrust and fear. That was his nephew. His body might not show the scars, but his soul clearly still had them.
Sighing, Peter reached out towards that connection and let his own suspicion and wariness flow through the bond. Maybe Derek had cause to worry about this alliance, but so did Peter. He had not been used well by his family, and Derek could complain all he wanted about how unfair it was to criticize a dead woman, but Peter had lived under her reign far longer than Derek. He had seen the consequences of her mistakes. He had lived through them in a way that Derek never had.
“Good,” Stiles said. “Step one complete. So now we are all perfectly aware of how miserable everyone else in this room is. Great.” Stiles grimaced.
“Sweetheart, you knew this would be difficult,” Peter said.
Stiles snorted. “Developing the first nuclear bomb was difficult. This goes beyond difficult, but I am the mighty pack witch, and we are going to figure this out. Either that or I’m going to double the misery quotient in this room. So, Derek, tell me one thing you really need from Peter.”
Peter raised his eyebrows. Someone had definitely been coaching Stiles, although Peter wasn't sure whether it was Susan or Celeste who had given him a course in negotiations.
“I want him to stop badmouthing Mom,” Derek said.
“I don't think speaking the truth is badmouthing. Or perhaps you think I should lie about what Talia ask me to do as a fifteen-year-old child in order to spare your feelings.”
“Peter,” Stiles said in a warning voice.
Peter picked up an expensive Italian salami and shoved it in his mouth before he could say something less charitable about his idiot nephew.
Stiles turned to Derek. “He is not going to stop talking about the life he has lived, but he might agree to make factual statements about your mom mother instead of passing judgment on her abilities as an alpha. However, factually stating that she asked him at age fifteen to live with Alpha Ito and learn strategy in preparation for becoming left-hand is not a criticism of your mother's leadership style. It could be taken as critical if someone thought that asking a fifteen-year-old to plan for a career as an executioner was cruel and inappropriate, but he did not use those words.”
Peter was not entirely certain that Stiles entirely grasp the role of a negotiator. Derek looked even more sour now than he did before Stiles started speaking. Surprisingly, Derek snapped out an unhappy, “Fine. Factual statements only.”
Stiles gave him a wide grin and patted Derek on the arm. Derek narrowed his eyes and the threat of violence whispered through the bond. Peter slapped both of his hands down on the kitchen island and Derek and Stiles both looked at him in surprise.
“So if it is my turn, then my first condition would be that you stop using your superior strength against Stiles. You do not threaten him, you do not slam him into walls, you do not slam his head into steering wheels, you do not knock him down or force him to let go of something. You do not take any of your foul moods out on any human member of the pack, but especially Stiles.” Peter surprised himself with the venom in his voice, but he had always been aggravated with the way that Derek took advantage of Stiles’s overly forgiving nature. And since Peter took advantage of that nature himself, he was hypocritical, but he had never claimed to be a good man.
“Dude, way to sound a little unhinged,” Stiles whispered. Peter pinned him with an angry glare and Stiles held both hands up in surrender. “Fine. That's your first condition. Derek would you like to comment on that?”
Derek chewed on his upper lip for a second before he focused on Stiles. “I apologize for that.” He sounded pained saying that, but Peter could feel the genuine regret through the bond.
“No problem, Sourwolf. But I do agree with Peter that you do need to use your words. Words are good.”
Derek nodded unhappily.
“Derek, what is your next condition?”
Derek straightened up and looked Peter in the eye, and for the first time Peter had a sense that he was an alpha facing another alpha. “You need to stop calling Scott names. No Fail Wolf, no One True Failure, no McFail. No references to Scott being stupid, nothing.”
Peter sucked air through his front teeth. “In front of you, in front of Scott, in front of the entire pack, or at all?” he asked.
“At all,” Derek snapped.
Stiles winced. “Maybe we can limit that to Peter will only say things like that in front of me? You know I don’t actually listen to his whining about Scott.”
“Stiles, Celeste, and Susan,” Peter added. “I will refrain from calling him anything other than McCall if there is anyone else present.”
After a second, Derek nodded. “Deal.” He wisely did not attempt to convince Peter of Scott's finer qualities. Peter put up with that from Stiles, but he wouldn’t from Derek.
Peter considered his next move a little more carefully. “Even if I am not in Beacon Hills, you will inform me of anything of interest. You will not attempt to fix problems without me or take care of something before I find out. For the most part, I have no interest in running back and micromanaging you. I have a law career to manage and a new satellite office to run. Susan only plans to stay here long enough to get the office running and get control of her wolf. After that she will split her time with the majority of her time being in Virginia. But I do not want you to use my physical absence from the pack as a way to stage some sort of functional coup where you decide how the pack should handle potential conflicts and I find out only after the fact.”
Derek frowned. “I wouldn't do that to you Uncle Peter.”
“Really? I'm fairly certain there's enough bad blood between us that you would find it easier to solve problems without my input.”
“Even Mom always trusted that you could find creative solutions that kept everyone happy, and when you couldn't, you’d find solutions that protected the pack. I wouldn't cut you off of information. So I agree that that would be best for the pack. But the other side of that is that you can't keep secrets. You can't act like you know better than the rest of us and that you're the only one who understands the reality of the world. That means no deals behind my back. No tricking us into supporting you. For example, all this stuff about Stiles blackmailing you into going to Virginia with him… I have no idea what all of that was about, but I know you were behind it all. I would just like to know what schemes you have going so that I'm not constantly wondering what plots you have going.”
Peter chuckled. “Stiles was convinced you would believe that was his scheme.”
Derek rolled his eyes. “Stiles’s schemes about snack foods and who gets to order the pack dinner. He doesn't blackmail people into helping pay his college costs. He has more morals than that.”
“Technically, I don't,” Stiles said. “Peter forming a pack bond with me was completely his plot and a really creepy one because he stripped the skin off of his own back and then showed up with an excuse that I needed to help him with ointment so that I would touch him long enough to form the pack bond. But once I figured out that he didn't have pack bonds to anyone else, I am the one who told him he had to come to Virginia with me. So me backing him into a corner to get him to pay my cost-of-living during college was pretty much all me. I am obviously not too good to do exactly that.”
Derek stared at Stiles blankly, and Stiles shrugged. “Sorry dude. Didn't mean to tarnish your image of me or anything, but I thought we already knew that Scott was the morally upstanding one in this pack.” Stiles didn’t have even a trace of guilt. Peter did love the little scallywag, and he enjoyed the utterly dumbfounded expression on Derek’s face.
“And on that note,” Stiles added. “I want something from both of you. We do not shut each other out. What you guys did with Peter, leaving him to potentially go omega because you were personally uncomfortable with him, that is crap. We need to talk about feelings in this pack. Talk. With words. You know the sounds that come out when you use your diaphragm and project air through your vocal cords. I'm not even to tell you what language you have to use, but we need to talk about things instead of getting butt-hurt and then making decisions that could go potentially sideways. Because Derek, you and I were both there during Peter's insane feral stage the first time, and crazy Peter is crazy and you could have created a dangerous situation by going along with Scott's dumb-ass plan to drive him away by denying him pack bonds.
“How do you know Scott made that decision alone?”
Stiles crossed his arm and glared at Derek. “It's a dumb ass plan that completely ignores any werewolf instincts. Of course it was Scott.”
Derek and Peter both grimaced.
Derek looked at Peter. “You turned him.”
“I was entirely not in my right mind at the time.”
Derek shrugged, but there was a sort of acceptance in the bond.
“Okay invoking my rule of talking and Derek's rule of not keeping secretiveness, Peter would you like to say something about why the Argents are dead,” Stiles suggested.
Peter winced. He had not intended to get into matters that serious until he knew that Derek would honor any leadership agreements. But Stiles was right that Peter had to honor the spirit of their truce. “Derek, if you had trained as an alpha or if you had gone up to speak with Alpha Ito, you would have learned that most of the magic in the world comes from old ones, gods who are the source of most world mythology.”
“Like King Lycaon and Selene are the gods of werewolves?” Derek asked. Ironically only one of those names was accurate, but Peter chose to ignore the details and focus on the bigger picture.
“Those stories are not myths as much as distorted records of real events. Most of the magic in the world is derived originally from these old ones. The leaders of supernatural communities take vows to keep the community small and quiet so that our thoughts do not grow loud enough to wake the gods that we are associated with.”
“But mom always prayed to Selene at the full moon ceremonies,” Derek said in confusion.
“Exactly,” Peter said. “Selene is an entirely made up goddess. It allows us to honor the gods we came from without speaking loudly enough with one voice so that there is a danger they would hear us. When the gods are awake, one need only look to mythology to know how miserable they can make this world.”
“No joke,” Stiles muttered. “If the mythology is even ten percent true, the old gods are total dicks.”
“Perhaps you would like to think that more quietly,” Peter suggested. “I have a friend who is very old and very magical. She suggested that the dragons might be stirring, and that the Argents had been warned to quiet their hunters.”
“And their definition of quieting them is to kill them all?” Derek asked in horror. It was ironic that Marie had managed to overcome Derek’s hatred for the Argents long enough to inspire sympathy.
“It does mean that there are significantly fewer Argents thinking about the Hale pack, and it means that there are significantly more humans who consider Argents a mortal form of insanity. If Hitler and Pol Pot and Stalin could not wake the old ones, I promise that no amount of mortal stupidity will. It is only supernatural stupidity that we need to worry about.”
Derek pulled out a chair and sat heavily. “If I couldn't feel you,” he said, rubbing his chest, “I would swear you were trying to pull some strange practical joke.”
“I assure you. I am not. And to that end, we need to make sure that the Hale pack is keeping Beacon Hills quiet. I've asked Celeste to look into cleansing the Nemeton, and we need to make sure that no one else learns about the supernatural creatures. There can be no telling little friends in high school, no bringing new people in, and definitely no biting humans.
“And, I know that I started that,” Peter said as he held a hand up to stop Derek's coming protests. “I respect that my choices exacerbated the situation. But if the dragons are stirring and the old ones are sleeping restlessly, there is no room for us to make another mistake. And to that end, we cannot tell this truth to anyone else in the pack. I have never told Celeste, and I will not approve of telling anyone else, not the sheriff, not Scott, and certainly not high school students who do not even have fully formed frontal cortexes, much less the ability to handle a secret on which the fate of the literal world hangs. In fact, we need to agree that we do not turn teenagers. Ever.”
Derek look like he was going to object, but Stiles interrupted him. “Dude, he's kinda right. I mean, I was there for all the teenage drama, and it was not pretty. It was totally not pretty, and looking back, a little bit of maturity would have solved at least thirty percent of our problems.”
“I think the percentage probably would've been closer to seventy,” Peter said dryly. “Don't forget, I was there too. For a time, I existed only as a thought in Lydia's head, so I was more than aware of some of the irresponsible behaviors of pack members. Stiles, you openly discussed werewolves while walking down the hallways of your high school, and you kept chains in your gym locker.”
Stiles winced. “Not my finest moment.”
“If one wishes to keep secrets, keeping them out of a high school seems best.”
Stiles didn't wait for Derek to agree. “He's got a point. We can take in teenagers if something happens to their pack, but turning teenagers should probably be a no go, and that makes sense because with this new spell, I can make sure that older people can turn. We don't have to worry about approaching someone when they are young enough that their mind is still open to change. As long as they have even an ounce of creativity that allows me to hijack that pathway into the spark, I can make sure that the turning goes right.”
Derek slowly nodded. “That sounds reasonable.”
Peter looked at Derek. “It seems possible for us to work together, but I am still concerned about what role you think I will play if you are the primary alpha of Beacon Hills.”
Derek study Peter for a long time. “I thought maybe you could be my right hand?”
Peter was shocked. He thought perhaps Derek would ask him to take the role of an advisor. Usually those were much older wolves, but it would give them a legitimate relationship and would allow Derek to remain the primary decision-maker in the pack. As an advisor, Peter's status would've been below both Derek and his right hand, who Peter had honestly expected to be Scott.
The thought of being technically second in a pack structure to Failure McCall had been galling, but Peter had braced himself for that reality. But this was far better than Peter had expected from his nephew, and that made him wonder if he had misjudged his nephew badly.
Peter slowly nodded. “I would be proud to be your right hand.” Peter smiled and the tension drained out of their bond. Maybe he and Derek would never like each other, but maybe there was a chance they could learn to respect one another.
“You are entirely too fond of that trick with the pack bonds,” Peter said after he had closed the door behind Derek. Stiles might duck his head and blush and flail, but when one looked past all the outward symbols of submission, he was the least submissive person Peter knew, and he counted Susan in that calculation.
Stiles shrugged without denying it. “If I let you to work at your own pace, you would never accomplish anything. If I have to yank you around by the pack bonds for the next year or two, it's a small price to pay.”
“That is downright pessimistic,” Peter said without denying it. He certainly hadn’t wanted to establish a bond with Derek. He had done so only to placate Stiles, but now he knew the depth of Derek’s grief over not only their shared losses but their estrangement. Peter had assumed Derek hadn’t forgiving him, but while the trust was absent from their bond, affection was not. Given how badly Peter had treated Derek both before and after the fire, that had surprised Peter.
“Excuse me very much, but I do tend to be a little pessimistic when it comes to the mental health of the Hales,” Stiles said with a snort.
“You're not entirely wrong.” Peter wondered if that was a function of the fire or whether all of them had been doomed to some form of emotional constipation long before the Argents. It wasn't as if home had been pleasant before the fire. The last time Peter could remember true unreserved joy had been before his parents had died.
There was certainly laughter in the home. Peter could not imagine a home with children that did not ring with laughter. However, the adults always hovered on the edge of that childlike joy and watched, never quite able to join. Now that Peter was an alpha, sometimes he looked back and wondered if Talia’s frustrations grew out of having to carry more than she should. It seemed like most of the packs in California expected her to mediate for them, to provide some wise insight, to find some impossible solution. That last had often meant her pushing Peter to find an impossible solution.
Sometimes Peter taken that as a challenge, and sometimes he had been so damn tired that he had lashed out at her. Talia had, by turns, lashed out at him for pulling away from the pack and guilted him into returning. However, Peter had never felt entirely at home there. That's why he had expected Derek to relegate him to the role of left hand. But instead, Derek chose to take that responsibility for himself and to take Peter as his right hand.
Stiles closed the distance between them and rested his hand on Peter's chest. “I really think you two could like each other if you would stop hating each other.”
Peter smiled perhaps. “For right now, I think I will work on not hating him.” Despite his words, Peter was afraid the bond had already made him vulnerable to his nephew.
“Excellent goal.” Stiles shoved his hands in his pockets and then rocked back and forth nervously.
Peter could smell the tension in the air. He rested his own hand on top of Stiles’s, trapping him. “Stiles?”
Stiles cleared his throat. “This is way more awkward than I thought.”
“Now Stiles, I happen to know for a fact you are not a virgin.” Peter had smelled that evidence more than once when Stiles had come home late from some university class. His wolf had raged each time, not necessarily out of jealousy, but just out of a general sense of wrongness that someone as close to him as Stiles would sleep with an individual who wasn't even pack. Maybe there was a little jealousy.
“Well, yeah,” Stiles said, “but those were people that I slept with. They weren't people that I liked.”
Peter's eyebrows went up.
“That sounded amazingly wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Let me try that again,” Stiles blurted. “The people I slept with in college were experiments to see what felt good. That was me scratching an itch. It wasn't me trying to figure out how to have a relationship with someone who is important to me, and it definitely wasn't me scared of screwing up something I have that I really, really value.”
“Why Stiles, are you saying that you value me?” Peter preened.
Stiles smacked his arm. “You know damn well I value you. You don't have to fish for reassurances.”
Peter grimaced, his contentment of a second ago evaporating like smoke. “I wouldn't describe myself like that.”
“Yeah, well, I would. But then, I am plenty insecure and I not only fish for reassurances, but blackmail people into spending time with me, so I don't have any room to criticize. What I mean, though, is that what I have with you is not about making the body feel good.”
“I think I'm offended,” Peter said. “It's not as if I am geriatric or incapable of pleasing a partner.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. This thing between us is more real. If I screw it up, it's not about me losing a night of slap and tickle.”
The sentiment warmed Peter. He didn’t want a purely physical relationship with Stiles. He wanted to take the emotional connection they had, that they had built over the last three years, and deepen it. However, he could not resist the urge to tease him. “That is a truly offensive way to put it, and every time you open your mouth, I reconsider my decision to adore you.”
Peter expected Stiles to retaliate. Instead he stepped closer and whispered. “I can't lose you.” His voice was low and heavy with meaning.
Peter wrapped his arms around Stiles and pulled him close. “You will not lose me. Whether we are ultimately compatible in bed or not, we will always be pack mates. You are the one pack mate who stood with me when everyone else refused. Do you really think my wolf would ever give you up?”
“Oh, sweetheart.” Peter tightened his hold and had an intense moment of regret that his various plots to kill Scott had failed. In the short term, Scott's death would've devastated Stiles, but in the long run, Peter would've been much happier. And he would've made it up to Stiles. Well, too late now. If Derek was going to throw a fit about calling the moron stupid, he was certainly not going to react well to any attempt to kill the idiot. Pity.
Peter ran his knuckles over Stiles his cheek, and Stiles looked at him. “I want you. I will always want you,”Peter said. “I do not let go easily.”
“I might be terrible in bed.”
“I sincerely doubt it, but if you are, in fact, the worst lover I have ever bedded, then I will enjoy teaching you.”
“Oh no.” Stiles held a finger up millimeters from Peter’s nose. “You will not teach in bed. There is creepy, and then there is creepy that’s a step too far, even for you.”
“My dear, you have no idea how creepy I can be.” Peter wiggled his eyebrows.
First, Stiles stared at him, and then he started laughing. Peter let himself be swept up with the joy in that sound. That's what Stiles brought to his life. Joy. Before Stiles had even stopped laughing, Peter leaned in and kissed him.
Their lips pressed together, and after a heartbeat, Stiles parted them just enough for Peter to deepen his kiss. He curled his fingers around the back of Stiles his neck and held him still as he angled his head to better plunder that mouth. Stiles tasted of coffee and spice and magic and joy.
After a second, Stiles found his own courage, and he grabbed Peter's shoulders tightly. He might be younger, but he was no shy neophyte struggling through unfamiliar territory, no matter what he said. Stiles had power, and had ever since Peter had known him. While Scott had stumbled from one bad decision to another, Stiles acted decisively. Often times, his decisiveness was equally wrong, but Peter had made enough mistakes that he did not hold that against Stiles. He also did not hold Stiles his lack of coordination against him, and it was entirely possible that Stiles was going to be utterly unimpressive in bed. Based on his stealth, archery skills, and fighting style, Peter would be grateful if he got out of this encounter without injury. But he didn't care.
Peter wanted Stiles’s joy, his loyalty, his warmth in Peter's bed. He wanted to wake up curled around Stiles and hear his heartbeat in the middle of the night. And he wanted permission to kiss Stiles whenever he wanted because right now Stiles was squirming and clutching Peter like he would never let go and filling the room with the scent of desire.
Once Stiles was panting and his heart pounded out a dangerously fast rhythm, Peter pulled back. “I have an absolutely lovely king-sized bed upstairs, perhaps you would like to help me christen it.”
The minute Peter loosened his hold, Stiles collapsed back into the wall, his hand grabbing the windowsill as if he were about to fall over. For a minute, he blinked, those beautiful lips still parted as he stared blankly at Peter. Peter preened a little at the evidence that he could still leave a younger man breathless.
When Stiles recovered, he nodded. “Bed. Bed would be awesome. I so hope we are not about to completely fuck up this happy family life we have.”
Peter leaned in and nibbled the side of Stiles’s neck. “I assure you, we are not.”
Rather than listen to another round of Stiles’s fears, Peter kissed him again. This time he was more aggressive. Teeth clashed against teeth and Stiles bucked his hips forward. They were both hard. Maybe Stiles was nervous, but he definitely wanted this. Peter grabbed Stiles and threw him over one shoulder so that Stiles his arms hung down Peter's back has he bounded for the stairs.
“Put me down.”
“When I have you in my bed,” Peter said. He used his most licentious tone, and Stiles started to laugh, only to have the sound turn into an awkward gurgle.
“I am totally going to throw up down your back,” Stiles warned.
“Is that some strange new kink I need to worry about?” Peter teased, but he slowed down so he wasn’t jostling Stiles so much.
Peter deposited Stiles on the floor at the foot of his bed, and then it was a gentle push to make Stiles tumble into it.
“Freak,” Stiles said.
“You are the one that brought bodily fluids into a discussion of our sex life.”
Stiles was sprawled on the bed, his limbs inelegantly flung in four different directions, but he sat up and grabbed Peter's belt and jerked it hard enough that Peter collapsed onto the bed on top of Stiles. “You brute,” Stiles teased.
“You are such a dork,” Peter retaliated. “I have fallen for a dork. What has become of my life?”
Peter shifted to one side and slid his hand under Stiles is atrocious comic book T-shirt and in one motion had it up and off.
Stiles blinked at him for a moment and then reached for Peter sweater. He started pulling on it, but he got the sweater and the shirt underneath tangled and they got caught under Peter's armpit. Stiles started muttering under his breath, and Peter took over, solving the problem by simply pulling on the sweater hard enough to pop a line of stitches. Then Peter stripped off his shirt. For a second, he knelt on the bed, his body on display, and Stiles looked up at him with wide, hungry eyes. Feeling risqué, Peter let his beta shift slide into place. The line of hair below his bellybutton thickened and his arms grew hairy as his nails turned into claws.
Stiles never stopped smelling of desire. He caught Peter's shifted hand in his own and turned it over so that he could kiss the center of the palm.
“Oh, sweetheart.” Peter gently kissed Stiles’s neck, cautious of that his fangs never drew blood. He peppered kisses down Stiles’s chest and to his naval. Stiles started squirming, his breath coming in hungry gasps as Peter unfastened his jeans. When Stiles lifted his butt off the bed, Peter pushed Stiles’s jeans down, revealing a hard cock with precum gathering at the slit.
Peter had taken lovers during his years in Virginia, and he prided himself and leaving each satisfied. But each time, he'd needed to seduce them, woo them. None of them had looked at Peter and had such an instant desire for him that their bodies were hard and aching the way Stiles was. Giving into temptation, Peter bent down and licked the shaft of Stiles his cock like a lollipop, ending with a kiss just on the tip where he could taste the salt.
Stiles cursed and arched his back and kicked his left leg up so fast that Peter barely moved out of the way before he got a face full of knee.
“Shit. I'm so sorry.”
Peter stripped his own pants off as he chuckled. “Sweetheart, do you have any idea how gratifying it is to have a lover who wants me so much that he loses control? Never apologize for that. That is a gift I will treasure forever.”
“You won't say that if I give you a black eye.”
Peter was naked now, his own cock hard and proud. He let his beta shift fade away before he leaned in and kissed Stiles’s Adam's apple and then the underside of his chin and then his mouth. And the whole time that Peter had his teeth at that vulnerable spot, Stiles never smelled of anything but desire.
“You could give me a dozen black eyes and I would feel exactly the same,” Peter admitted. He had learned young to avoid being vulnerable, but Stiles made him turn his back on those lessons. Before Stiles could argue, Peter lowered his body onto Stiles and grabbed both of their cocks in one hand and started thrusting.
Stiles arched up off the bed, his head thrown back and the curve of his neck exposed.
“Fuck. Fuck, yes.” Stiles squirmed, and Peter thrust into his hand, their cocks pressed together so that every twitch and flail that Stiles made was transferred straight into him. Peter's own lust nearly over whelmed him, and the hard pattern of thrusts that he had set up disintegrated into something wilder and needier.
Stiles raked his nails down Peter's arm, and the pain of that tangled with the scent of pure lust that swirled around the bedroom. A need to bite, to own, to feel Stiles’s wolf under him nearly overwhelmed Peter, and he froze, his body arched over Stiles on the bed.
Stiles blinked up at him.
“My wolf wants you to much. It's not safe,” Peter confessed. He felt like glass that had been heated too quickly and now threatened to shatter.
Stiles rested his hand against Peter's chest. “I’m safe. I'm always safe with you.” Stiles looked up with perfect trust, his body vulnerable and laid out in front of Peter like a sacrifice. Peter kissed Stiles hard and started thrusting into him again. This time, Stiles reached between their hot and sweating bodies to grab Peter's cock, and that was enough. Peter came with a shout, biting into Stiles’s neck with human-dull teeth. Stiles came a half second later, the smell of their combined release heavy in the air.
Peter panted, and for a second, he feared that he had lost himself to the wolf and bitten Stiles, but when he opened his eyes, he saw only a very human love mark.
“Oh fuck. And that was only third base. You're going to break me before we get all the way round to home,” Stiles said.
“I certainly hope so,” Peter said a little smugly. He opened his eyes to find Stiles studying him. Peter rested his palm against Stiles’s cheek and brought his own head close until their foreheads rested together. “You are the best lover I've ever had,” Peter said, “because you are the one who really sees me.”
“Aw, you're just a sappy wolf.”
Peter growled at him, but from the cheeky grin he got in response, Stiles understood the threat came from a place of love. Peter collapsed on the bed next to him blinked up at the ceiling as his body slowly cooled.
Stiles phone started to ring, and Stiles groaned.
“Ignore it. If it's important, they’ll call back,” Peter said after checking his pack bond to Derek. As usual, Derek was a maelstrom of emotions—shame and fear and a deep strain of lust. Peter wondered if he was with Penny. She had a certain fondness for her alpha that went above a wolf’s loyalty. It was strange to have such a stable bond to his nephew again. He wondered what would've happened if he had been able to restrain himself long enough to form a bond with Laura instead of killing her. Could he found this earlier? Peter was not given to introspection, but there would always be a part of him that wondered whether there was a universe out there with a version of himself who had made fewer mistakes.
After a second, the phone started to ring again. Stiles groaned and did a weird sideways belly crawled to the foot of the bed before he groped for his jeans. He first pulled up Peter's pants before he threw those to one side and got his own on the second try. He pulled the phone out of the pocket, and connected the call. “What?”
“Stiles,” Derek said, his voice strained. Peter pulled Stiles back down next to him so he could curl around him.
“Let me talk to him,” Scott shouted from somewhere behind Derek. Peter groaned. Of course those two idiots would ruin this moment.
“Both of you hand it over,” Celeste's voice said sharply. Clearly she won whatever argument they were having because her voice came over the phone. “Stiles, we need to work on your control of the pack bond before you do that again.”
Stiles looked at Peter and frowned, but Peter could only shrug. “Do what?” Stiles asked, suspicion, heavy in his voice.
“Whatever you just did to make Derek come all over himself,” Scott shouted down the phone, and Peter felt a flare of humiliation from his nephew’s bond.
“Oh fuck,” Stiles whispered.
Stiles stood at the loft door and shifted nervously from foot to foot. What the hell did someone say after doing something as horrible as what he had done to Derek? The whole drive up to Beacon Hills, Stiles kept replaying the moment over in his head.
Why hadn't he realized that he was projecting through the bond? Why did he have to drop all that lust on Derek? Not that anyone deserved to have lust like that dropped on them. Well, if Stiles had been whacking off in his bathroom and he dropped the lust on Peter, maybe that would've been fair because Peter at least was interested in being lusty. Stiles didn't even know whether Derek was sexual anymore. After all his bad luck, he might have become an avid asexual, which made it worse.
Derek slid the door open and Stiles’s brain froze. “Derek.” And that was the end of his ability to form words.
Scott pushed his way in front of Derek and swung the door the rest of the way open. “Are you seriously sleeping with Peter Hale?” he demanded.
Stiles rubbed a hand over his face. “Scotty, do you think maybe we can have this discussion later?”
“We can have it now,” Scott said firmly. “You do remember that he's a bad guy, right? He's tried to kill me multiple times. I never should've let him go to Virginia with you because now he has you all twisted around and thinking that you want this. You're not even gay. You like Lydia.”
Scott's rant actually kick started Stiles’s brain, and he focused on his friend. “Scott, Lydia and I dated for a month and it was an absolute disaster. Do you have any idea what happens when two pushy people try to occupy the same space? I can tell you, it isn't pretty.”
“Which is another great reason for you to not date Peter Hale,” Scott insisted.
Derek turned and headed into the loft, and Stiles realized he needed to get this back on track. “Scott, I love you brother, but you need to give me some time with Derek.”
Scott crossed his arms. “We need to talk about this.”
Celeste was coming down the stairs and she looked from Derek to Stiles and back again. Yep, that was the relationship that needed to get fixed. If it could be fixed. Stiles might've really fucked this up. “Scott, if you come to the house tomorrow, I promise to listen to every single one of your objections, but right now I really need to talk to Derek.”
Scott looked like he might continue to argue, but Celeste crossed the room and caught his arm in hers. “Maybe you can walk me down and sit with me until Stiles is ready to go. He's giving me a ride back to the house so that we can have a discussion about shielding power.” She pinned Stiles with a distinctly unhappy look. Yep. Stiles was getting yelled at, and he totally deserved it. He was actually looking forward to an hour of being verbally eviscerated because he deserved it that much. She pulled Scott towards the door, and Stiles stepped to the side to let them out. She really was one of Stiles's favorite people. Whatever Peter was paying her, you should double it.
Stiles waited until they left and then he slid the loft door closed before turning towards Derek. “First, I apologize. I apologize so much that I don't even have the words to apologize for how much I apologize. That was so wrong, and I am going to work hard with Celeste to make sure that I know how to limit my end of the bond at all times.”
“It's fine,” Derek said. But then again, this was Derek. This was the man who at one point had considered cutting off his own arm a viable solution. Stiles did not trust Derek and his self-assessed “fineness.”
“I am not going to pretend to know how to make this better, so you tell me what I need to do.” Stiles stayed right next to the door even though he desperately wanted to pat Derek on the arm or give him a hug or do something vaguely puppy pile-ish. Right now that was amazingly inappropriate.
“You don't need to do anything. I get it. You are a young witch and you lost control.”
“No. No no no. You do not get to excuse my bad behavior, because ignorance is not an excuse for shittiness. Do you want me to keep my distance for a while? Do you want to sever our bond?” It physically hurt Stiles to make that offer, but if Derek didn't trust the bond anymore, then Stiles needed to let it go.
“What?” Red bled into Stiles Derek's eyes and he took a step closer. “Why would you sever the bond?”
“If you need to break the bond so to feel safe from my manipulation, I won't be upset. I totally understand that I'm the one that went over the line here.”
“Does our bond mean so little to you that you could break it over a mistake?” Derek's eyes were fully red now, and Stiles saw the trap only after he had stepped in it.
“Of course not! I hurt just thinking of not having your bond.” Stiles rubbed his chest where he could feel Derek and Peter, twin rocks that anchored him. He wondered if they felt that way because they were the alphas or because Stiles had such a long and complicated relationship with both Hale men. He loved both of them, although in very different ways. If he were a nicer person and Derek were bisexual, Stiles totally would've made a play for him. But since neither were true, Derek was another brother to him. For an only child, Stiles had been blessed with some pretty awesome brothers. Annoying brothers, but as he understood it, that was par for the course.
Derek stared at him blankly for a second. “Do you really think I’m so fragile that this is going to traumatize me?”
“No?” Stiles cursed the uncertainty in his own voice, and Derek narrowed his eyes into an angry squint.
Stiles sighed. “I pushed those feelings off onto you without any warning, so you have a right to be pretty angry.”
“I'm not angry.”
Stiles frowned, not sure what to say now. He had planned this whole conversation in his head, and this is not how it had gone. Derek rolled his eyes and dropped down into an oversized leather seat, one of his more recent additions to the loft. “I had warning.”
Stiles frowned because that didn't make any sense.
“I felt something,” Derek said.
When silence felt on the room again, Stiles made a go-on gesture. “Something?”
“Pleasure,” Derek snapped. “I felt pleasure through the bond. And I could have shut it off when I felt that, but I thought you were enjoying a new video game or having a really great dinner. And the pleasure felt good. I enjoyed it.” The wrinkle between his eyebrows was Derek-speak for guilt.
Stiles edged into the living room far enough to sit on the arm of the nearest sofa. “The bond is supposed to feel good. You have a right to feel what you're feeling without me tromping in and making you feel too much.”
“The ending was unexpected,” Derek said with a grimace. “Next time I am definitely going to stop listening sooner.”
“There will definitely not be a next time because I am going to learn to control my end of the bond. Derek, I promise I will never do that again. The fact that I made you come…” Stiles shuttered. “No one should ever do that to someone else.”
Both Derek's eyebrows went up. “I'm sorry, but I was under the impression that you actually had been an adolescent boy at one point.”
“What?” Stiles felt like he had slipped into an alternate conversation, only he didn't catch the exit from their previous one.
“Pleasure taking over the body. I'm pretty sure every guy experiences that at least once. Are you going to tell me you never had to slip a textbook into your lap in class?”
Stiles’s brain finally caught up with Derek's train of thought. “Of course I have, but that's not the same.”
“No, sometimes that's worse,” Derek said. “In middle school we had this teacher who was the cheer coach and she wanted to show solidarity with her team. So every Friday she dressed up in the cheer uniform. She was a thirty-year-old woman with an hourglass figure wearing a miniskirt in a classroom full of thirteen-year-old boys. You can't tell me that wasn't intentional. What she did was worse than what you did because you slipped. What you did was the equivalent of me walking in and finding my parents having sex.” Derek grimaced. “Disturbing, especially considering Uncle Peter is involved, but I am far more concerned about your taste in men than I am what happened with the bond.”
“But nothing, Stiles. Is it harder to shut your bond down than it is another wolf? Yes. It is as hard to shut your bond down as it was the bond I shared with my mother. That's the power of the pack witch has. But understand that when I was a teenager, I did shut down my bond with my mother. She pushed me so hard to get over Paige and pretend that everything was okay. Even in here.” Derek rubbed his chest. “And I know she just hoped that if I pretended to be okay, that one day I would wake up and I actually would be, but it was so hard to feel her disapproval every time I grieved. I couldn't take it anymore, not from Mom. So I closed off my bond with her. Stiles, you don't have more power in this relationship than an alpha mother has with her own child. So I can shut the bond down. I just didn't want to because it felt good. And that's on me.”
“No, do not do the patented Derek masochistic self-blame thing. I'm the one who knew what I was doing and knew that a happy ending was eminent. I should've realized that I had to control the pack bonds.”
Derek sighed and looked at him. “Are we going to keep fighting about who's to blame?”
“Maybe,” Stiles said. “You know Reddit lied to me. Reddit says that when you have family fights, everyone is supposed to blame everyone else.”
Derek shrugged. “We have a weird family.”
“That we do. I'm still going to feel guilty about this for a long time.”
“Don't,” Derek said, his voice dark. “I do not need you treating me like a victim. That pisses me off.”
Stiles bit his lower lip. Maybe Derek didn't want to feel like a victim, that didn't mean he didn't carry the scars of one. Even Spencer's team had seen that, and they were experts in victims. “Well, if you're entitled to your irrational guilt, then I'm entitled to mine. And I promise I will not abuse, flood or yank on the pack bonds again.” Stiles had been so enamored of having a little power that he had definitely lost sight of moral center.
And really, that wasn't all that surprising. Stiles had meant what he told Derek; Scott was the moral one in this pack. Stiles was the one who totally would've helped Peter kill everyone if he had had the whole story. The only reason he had been on Scott’s side that first year was because he hadn't understood what those assholes had done.
Before Stiles could blink, Derek was up and right in front of Stiles. He rested both his hands on Stiles’s shoulders and tightened until it was just short of painful. “Don't you dare,” he said.
Stiles stared up at Derek in shock, once again, completely lost about what conversation they were having. Usually Stiles was the one who confused other people, so this was a new and slightly frustrating experience for him. “Don't I dare do what? Abuse the bond? Totally. I will not.”
“Don't you dare pull back so much that you compromise our pack's ability to be a pack.”
“The pack bonds,” Derek said. “Peter and I need you to be the one in the middle managing those pack bonds because neither of us has a lot of trust for the other.”
“Trust will come over time. Peter will eventually figure out that you won't abandon him again, and you'll figure out that if he is not fearful of being abandoned that he actually is...” Stiles paused. What was Peter? He wasn't a good guy, definitely not. But he also wasn't a bad guy. “He's loyal to family,” Stiles finished.
“Do you really think Peter and I would've ever reached an agreement in that kitchen if you hadn't been there, jerking on the pack bonds?”
“You are both adult men, so you could have…” Stiles hesitated again, and then he sagged. “You could have completely pissed each other off and ended up in a fist fight in Peter's new kitchen.”
“Exactly. If you are about to walk into a kanima den, I don't care what I told Peter about not using my superior strength against you. I'm going to jerk you back. If Peter and I are walking into an emotional danger zone, we need you to do the same, which does not give you permission to use that power in any other circumstance. If you start using the pack bond to make me happy or make me forget something, then I will do what I have to protect myself from you. Clear?” Derek leaned closer and his eyes grew red.
“Completely clear. Geez, I'm feeling guilty about accidentally manipulating you. Do you really think I would intentionally do it?”
“You intentionally manipulated Peter when you took him to Virginia.”
“Yeah, but that's because he was intentionally manipulating me to finagle permission to live in another territory.”
Derek snorted. “You two deserve each other.”
Stiles shrugged without disagreeing.
“I just wish that Scott hadn’t been over here when it all happened.” Derek retreated to the chair and sat, a sour expression on his face. Then his gave Stiles an evil smile. “Of course, that means you now have to deal with him knowing you’re sleeping with Peter. Have fun with that.”
“Asshole,” Stiles muttered, grateful that they could get back to their normal sniping. “Friends?” Stiles asked.
Derek stared at him for a second before he caught Stiles up in a hug. “Family,” Derek said in response.
“Scott,” Stiles said brightly when he opened the door. He wished being a pack witch meant he had a wand that he could wave to make the last twenty-four hours disappear. Still, he supposed it was better to deal with this now rather than later in front of the whole pack when they had Susan’s turning party in two weeks.
“Hey Stiles.” Scott wrinkled his nose, but Stiles knew for sure that there was no smell of sex anywhere in the house. Stiles had made Celeste teach him that spell when she’d worked with him on control of the bond. There was humiliation and then there was adding more humiliation on top of a pile of humiliation. Stiles was really not a masochist.
“So, you and Peter?” Scott sounded horrified.
“You are supposed not supposed to know about that, and the way you found out about that was more than creepy, so maybe we can avoid the subject.” Stiles turned and headed into the house. Behind him, Scott closed the door and followed. Stiles could not handle humiliation on an empty stomach, so he headed for the kitchen.
Scott didn't say anything until he was sitting at the countertop as Stiles fixed himself a sandwich. “But Peter? Peter Hale? The guy who tried to kill me, kill Derek, and he did kill a dozen people?”
Stiles shrugged. “We all make mistakes.”
“He never tried to kill Derek, most of the people he killed had killed his pack, but you’re right that he totally wanted you dead. And you shoved him in Eichen House. You two have a tit for tat thing going.”
“I never tried to kill him,” Scott said with horror.
“No, but that's only because you don't believe in killing. Besides, you don’t get to judge Peter’s past. You liked Deucalion more than Peter, and we’re not going to talk about how many wolves he killed.” Sometimes Stiles did not understand how Scott made his moral judgments. Ouija board maybe.
“For all you know, Peter killed more, and now he has all this money and power…”
“Okay, stop,” Stiles said firmly. “I do not let Peter tear into you, and you do not get to tear into him. Has he done truly shitty things? Yes. And he can’t blame being feral for all of it because that scheme of his to de-age Derek and kill you was Peter at his sane best. However, that was the past. He has saved me more often than anyone else in the last five years, and he’s changed.”
“So he's told you,” Scott said with a snort.
Now Stiles was offended. “No, so I know from having been the pack researcher who talks to other packs. Thank you for assuming I’m clueless though.” Stiles started making his ham sandwich, but he was so aggravated that he stuck the mayo knife through the bread and ended up having to grab another slice.
Scott gave a dramatic sigh. “I never said that. I just don’t know why you have to date Peter Hale.”
“Because Derek is straight and I have a fetish for werewolves,” Stiles said with a perfectly straight face. Scott's mouth came open and then closed and then it opened again and then he sat there for long seconds before he closed it again. Then he took a long breath. “Stiles, this is serious.”
“I know it is. And I am hugely sorry that you found out the way you did. I'm even more sorry that my sex life spilled over into the bond and landed on Derek. That makes me feel like shitty human being.” Stiles was also wondering what the hell kind of curse Derek was operating under that this stuff always happened to him, and Stiles needed to talk to Celeste about checking for magic. Stiles slapped the top slice on a sandwich. “This doesn’t have anything to do with you, Scott.”
“I'm the one who had to see Derek falling to the floor, coming all over himself.”
“I'm pretty sure that still means you were less traumatized than Derek. And it won't happen again.” Stiles held up a hand to stop Scott from saying anything more. “I am serious about that thing with Derek never, ever, ever happening again. Celeste has taught me to guard the pack bonds seven ways from Sunday.” Really the only way this could've been worse is if he had accidentally broadcast to the whole pack. If he done that, he would've moved to Siberia. Of course, Stiles was still considering moving to at least Outer Mongolia where he would never again have to look Derek in the eye. And having Derek forgive him didn’t really make it all hunky-dory again.
“You could just stop sleeping with Peter Hale and that would fix it. Stiles, you are way too good for him. The others don’t get that. Celeste and even Derek are all weirdly pro-Peter right now, which makes me even more suspicious, but he doesn’t deserve you.”
“That’s bullshit,” Stiles snapped, but before he could continue, Scott interrupted him.
“What? No, it isn't. Stiles, you're awesome. You stuck with me when all this stuff started. You are the most loyal friend anyone could ever ask for, and you deserve better than Peter fucking Hale.”
“Considering that Peter fucking Hale is the most loyal son-of-a-bitch I know, it seems like we would be a good match.” Stiles shoved sandwich into his mouth. He understood that Peter had caused most of this distrust and he hadn’t done much to ease tensions with Scott. Maybe if they had a few years of being in the same pack and avoiding any One True Fail Wolf comments, they could start to heal the rift, but right now Scott had reason to dislike Peter. That said, Stiles skill kinda liked Peter. A lot. A whole lot.
“Peter? Loyal? That man has no loyalty, no honesty and no moral center at all.”
“That man is exceptionally loyal,” Stiles snapped. “He ran into a burning building to try to save his family and spent the next six years in a coma. He killed Laura while he was in a feral rage, and that is not okay. That is not okay at all, but if he had no loyalty, he would've killed Derek for abandoning him and for telling Kate Argent about the tunnels. He never even considered it as an option because he is loyal to family and pack. And for the last three years, we have been pack. Even if we had never slept together, we would still be family. And as you know, we are definitely sleeping together. Enthusiastically sleeping together. Blissfully even.” Stiles took a little too much joy in the pained expression on Scott’s face.
Scott pressed his lips together in that patented expression of frustration that Stiles knew so well. Rather than say something unkind, Stiles took another bite and chewed as he waited for Scott to work through whatever stupidity he had in his mind.
Finally Scott said, “Stiles, I don't think you should be with any werewolf.”
“I'm pretty sure you don't get to decide that.”
“I'm trying to look out for you.” Scott’s frustration was front and center. The pack bond they shared was still a tenuous thread, starved as often as not from Scott’s side. Stiles suspected that Derek had put his foot down and insisted that Scott allow the connection. But now Stiles carefully probed the bond. Distrust. Okay, Stiles had expected that and he assumed it was directed toward Peter. But he also found worry. Intense, deep, painful worry.
“Scott, I love you like a brother, but you have no right to tell me how to run my life. I am happy with Peter.”
Scott threw both hands up into the air. “Don't you get it? Werewolves aren't safe to be around. You need to go find yourself someone human or even someone witchy. Find yourself a nice boy or girl and have a good life, and don't hang out with werewolves.”
Stiles put a sandwich back on his plate. “Scott, you're a werewolf.”
“I know. And that's how I know you shouldn't be hanging with werewolves.”
This was sounding like more than just Scott's typical biases. He wondered how much of Scott’s distress was over Peter and how much was a more generic concern about Stiles’s involvement with werewolves. This could take a little experimentation. “What would you say if I told you I had the hots for Penny? I mean, she has that whole grade school teacher thing going and you know how I felt about teachers in grade school. Woof.” Stiles gave an appreciative whistle. Penny really was hot in a glasses and school-marm skirts kind of way. And Stiles could admit that he could have gone for her in another lifetime. In this lifetime, he was enamored of v-neck sweaters and tailored pants.
Scott stared at him in horror and the pack bond roiled with fear and loathing. Okay, that did suggest that Scott’s main concern was the werewolf part, which surprised Stiles. His father was approximately fine with the werewolf part, but seriously freaking out about Peter’s murderous past. If Stiles went home and announced he had dumped Peter for Penny, his dad would throw a party. Rude, but Stiles got it. Apparently Scott would be just as upset.
Scott burst off the stool and did a full three-sixty before slapping both his hands down on the counter. “Dammit, Stiles, this isn’t a joke. Your life should not center around werewolves.”
“My life shouldn't center around gun violence, either, but have you seen the latest statistics are California? I swear, it's just getting worse all the time.”
Scott’s body grew more and more stiff, and his elbows poked out, and he vibrated in barely repressed fury. “It's like you don't even understand how dangerous werewolves are.”
“Oh, I do. I know I dangerous werewolves and kanima are. I can talk first hand about the perils of the Wild Hunt and wendigoes and hell hounds and Oni and chimeras. I've been slammed into so many walls by so many creatures that I feel like I should get a memorial T-shirt for all the dangers I understand. It would be like a band tour shirt, only bloodier.”
Scott rubbed a hand across his face. “Stiles, werewolves aren't like people.”
Scott glared at him, but Stiles felt perfectly justified in his sarcasm because Scott was not making a lot of sense.
“You're really gonna make me say it, aren't you?” Scott asked.
“It would be nice so that I knew what we were talking about because right now I have no idea.”
Scott sank down onto the stool and his whole body radiated defeated worry. “Werewolves are more like wendigoes than humans.”
Stiles frowned. “No they aren't.” Scott stared at him uncomprehendingly. “They completely and totally aren't,” Stiles said firmly. “Trust me, I've known both wendigoes and werewolves and there is not a lot of overlap in that particular Venn diagram.”
Scott grimaced. “There's more than you think. Werewolves don't have the same conscience you do, people do. They don’t have your guilt.”
“What?” Stiles couldn’t come up with a more coherent response because Scott’s words made no sense.
Scott burst up and started pacing. “You don’t get it. When you set Peter on fire, you were trying to stop him from killing. I was going to rip his throat out because of what I wanted. I wanted to be human again, to date Allison and not have to be afraid, and I was so fucking afraid.” Scott had never described that night in those words.
Stiles gentled his voice. “We were kids. I think that’s pretty normal.”
“No,” Scott snapped. “No, it’s not normal. I was going to murder for me. For myself. And I didn’t even feel guilty about it. And Deaton explained that the wolf is a beast—an animal. Werewolves don’t have balance. They’re violence and status and defense of territory, but they pay for the strength that comes with those instincts. They lose their moral center. They lose their humanity.
“And I try so fucking hard, but Stiles…” Scott’s voice broke. “I feel so much rage and sometimes I want to kill every fucking asshole who invades the territory and I have to fight so hard to hold that part of myself back. If I didn’t, I would have so much blood on my hands. And every single wolf has that. They have that monster under their skin.” Now that the words were out, Scott sank down onto the kitchen stool again, and the bond sang like a violin string that had been pulled too tightly and threatened to break.
“Oh, Scotty,” Stiles said softly. Deaton. It always came back to fucking Deaton. Probation and a fine had been a fucking slap on the wrist compared to the actual damage he had done. Deaton had wanted to make Scott into his perfect fucking image of a balanced werewolf—a true alpha—that he had gutted the boy inside that wolf.
Scott whispered, “I’m evil just like Peter is evil and even Penny is evil. We can control it, but it’s there.” Scott let his claws come out so the tips rested on the quartz counter. Then he looked up at Stiles. “I do control it. I never let it define me. But Peter does. He talks about how he embraces his wolf, and that makes him dangerous. You deserve better.”
Stiles’s heart broke. He walked around the counter and hugged his big idiot-brother-friend from behind. “Why didn’t you tell me any of this?”
Scott didn’t move. He didn’t try to escape Stiles’s arms, but he also didn’t lean into him or touch him or do anything to suggest he wanted to be touched. “I didn’t want you to be afraid of me, and I thought you saw it. I thought you saw how Derek was violent, even when we were trying to help him.”
“Derek was hurt,” Stiles said. He didn’t add that it sounded like Scott was hurt too. “We’ll work through this together, but I want you to believe one thing,” Stiles said.
Scott looked at him. “What?” Those big, brown eyes were so full of pain that Stiles started plotting ways to make Deaton pay.
“Deaton was wrong. The idea of balance is stupid. The world doesn’t need good and evil to be balanced. There’s not an equal amount of land and water. You shouldn’t fail as many classes as you pass, and you don’t make sure that any knowledge you gain is offset by your own ignorance. Deaton and his balance is a crazy religious belief, that’s all. Do you remember what you and I decided about your Grandmother McCall?”
“She was crazy,” Scott said as he wrinkled his nose.
The woman had been bug-fucking nuts. She had prayed over Scott’s asthma and then blamed a ten-year-old boy for not having enough faith to overcome it. Stiles suspected that at least some of Rafe McCall’s drinking came from that strident and crazy old woman who had once visited and decided to smack Stiles with a Bible because he wasn’t grateful that his mother was dead. She had, according to Grandmother McCall, escaped the earth and gone back to the heavenly father and crying over her was a sin. Yeah, Stiles had issues with religion.
Scott frowned. “Deaton isn’t Grandma McCall levels of crazy.”
“Isn’t he?” Stiles asked. “When your grandmother hit me, I thought maybe I was wrong for crying over my mother, and then my dad came over and threatened to arrest her and chased her out of town, and I decided that I believed my dad more than her, but Deaton hit you with a big old guilt bible and told you that you couldn’t trust yourself.”
“I couldn’t. I can’t. You don’t know what kind of things I want… how much I want to hurt people.”
“Scott.” Stiles sighed. “If my father had known about Kali and Deucalion or half the shit that went on in Beacon Hills, he would have shot those bastards between the eyes, so if your instincts told you to kill them, that wasn’t evil. That was you having the same instinct that a good cop does—the instinct to protect.”
Scott shook his head.
Stiles didn’t say any more. This trauma was too deep to undo in a day, so he rested his head on the back of Scott’s shoulder and mourned that he had carried this self-loathing for so long. Stiles was totally making Peter hire a pack therapist. They could keep one working full time for at least a year. And Stiles was going to find Deaton and skin him. Okay, maybe not literally, but Stiles needed to find a way to metaphorically strip a little skin off the bastard’s back. Scott hadn’t deserved any of this.
And the sad thing was, the asshole had done it out of love. Give Stiles werewolves any time because people sucked. They sucked so fucking hard.
Derek had ignored the knocking on his door when he’d been in the shower, but it came back now. He fastened his jeans as he crossed the room. “What?” Derek pulled the door open. He expected Scott or maybe Peter, but Stiles stood there, bouncing on his toes. “Derek come on. You're going to be late for the big turning party.” Derek shook his head at the ebullience. Sometimes he wondered how Stiles and Peter made it work because they were so different. But he knew too well how well how much they cared for one another.
“Have you had too much sugar today?” Derek asked.
“Nah. This is pure Stiles.” Stiles threw his arms out.
“He's just excited,” Penny said as she came from behind Stiles. “I think it's cute.”
“See, Sourwolf? I'm cute.” Stiles had the audacity to smirk at Derek, and Derek rolled his eyes.
“I'm coming, and you're not that cute.” He tossed his towel onto the bed and grabbed his shirt. “Peter's not going to start the ceremony without you.” Derek slowly tucked his shirt into his pants one inch at a time. Penny rolled her eyes at him as if she knew he was stalling to annoy Stiles, and Derek felt his ears get warm.
“Oh my god. Will you two please flirt later? This is my first major piece of magic as a pack witch, and I don't want to start late. You have no idea what a terror Susan is when her schedule gets blown to hell.”
Derek didn’t like the sound of that. A beta shouldn’t make demands on her alpha or Stiles as the pack witch. It was the alpha’s job to balance the needs of everyone in the pack, and only the alpha, and Stiles as pack witch, could feel the bonds strongly enough to make everyone’s needs were met. Celeste had given Derek that lecture, and he had assumed she had inflicted the same torture on Peter. “She's going to be Peter's beta; she's not going to be his boss.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. “She is literally Peter's boss at work. She owns the law firm, and werewolf pack hierarchies do not matter outside of werewolf packs. Do you really expect to be the boss at the car shop just because you're an alpha?”
Okay, Stiles had a point, but Derek didn’t need to give him the satisfaction of scoring that point, so he said in a flat voice, “Yes.”
Stiles stared at him, his mouth open. “You have issues,” he finally declared before storming out of the room with a shouted of “Hurry up” over his shoulder.
Derek looked at Penny. “Too much?”
She laughed. “You two enjoy winding each other up, so I am going to plead the fifth. But we should get down there.”
Derek nodded. Somehow, the ceremony felt more permanent than Stiles transferring to UC-Davis or Peter buying this obscenely large house. This was them changing the nature of the pack together. Susan would be Peter's beta, not his, and Derek was one hundred percent fine with that. Powerful women still made him deeply uncomfortable in ways that he did not like to think about. Even Lydia made him nervous, so Susan with her strident voice, and willingness to explain others' stupidity in blunt terms made him want to run the other direction.
But Peter clearly respected her. And now she was going to be part of Derek’s extended pack. And Derek was trusting Peter’s judgment about expanding their small pack and protecting the territory, even when that judgment was counter to Derek’s own. Susan. An involuntary shiver of dread went up Derek’s spine. However, Peter worshipped her. If Peter were not so clearly in a relationship with Stiles, Derek suspected he might've taken a run at getting into her bed.
Peter had never minded seducing older women. Or older men. And now that he was in a relationship with Stiles, apparently younger men.
That relationship still worried Derek, although he tried to hide it. Peter had redeeming qualities, and Derek knew that. He knew that Peter had spent a lot of years taking care of Stiles in Virginia and Stiles’s joy when they’d slept together had been nearly addictive, which explained why Derek hadn’t pulled away from the bond quickly enough to avoid humiliating himself. For one second, nothing had mattered except the excitement and love and security that thrummed through the bond, and Derek envied Stiles that pure expression of desire. But Peter also had a deep well of cruelty. Derek knew that firsthand. And if he ever subjected Stiles to the sort of sadistic games Peter had played with Derek when Derek was young, Derek would tear his throat out. Again.
But Derek needed to make sure the pack saw the two alphas as united on policies, even if they weren’t best friends.
Penny stopped when Derek did, and they looked down at the living room. Susan sat in an armchair, her legs crossed and her one foot bouncing slightly, either in nervousness or frustration. Derek didn't know her well enough to judge which. Liam and Frank stood next to the fireplace, their heads bent close together as they cast suspicious looks out on the rest of the pack. That probably meant they were discussing the various betting pools pack members had over who was going to sleep with whom and who could find proof.
Derek refused to lower himself to that level, especially since his relationship with Penny was one half of the betting pool. Besides, the subject of Peter and Stiles sleeping together was still intensely uncomfortable for Derek. He didn’t blame Stiles, and now that Stiles had better control over the bond, Derek felt the bond go numb on a fairly regular basis, so he knew Stiles was careful to keep their sex life away from Derek. But if Liam wanted to talk about the possibility of Peter and Stiles having sex, Derek knew he would blush.
Stiles chose that moment to trip over the corner of a rug and go flailing forward. Peter lunged forward and caught him before he could actually go headfirst into the coffee table.
“Does he really want to go into the FBI?” Penny asked softly. “What if he trips on a suspect?”
The thought made Derek deeply uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t disrespect a pack-brother. “He’s tougher than he looks.”
“Not hard,” Penny muttered. She cleared her throat when Derek frowned at her. “I know his magic makes him powerful, but he can’t exactly use it to get through the FBI academy.”
“If he wants it badly enough, he’ll find a way,” Derek said. Maybe Stiles was annoying and loud and clumsy, but he had a way of surviving. Hell, back when Derek had hated him, Stiles had backed Derek into a corner and demanded help. And that was the best thing that had ever happened because Derek had needed to help someone. He had needed to feel useful when his sister's death had made him feel like everything he touched turned to dust.
“Are you ready?” Penny asked. She stood next to Derek, waiting for him to make the decision.
Derek nodded and headed down the stairs. Scott and Malia had retreated to a far corner from Peter, which was fair because Peter either made a sarcastic response to everything Scott said or grimaced as though it was painful to refrain from calling him stupid. Derek hoped that one day those two could bury the hatchet, but that day was clearly not going to be today or tomorrow or possibly any time in the next decade.
Derek crossed the living room and held out his hand towards Peter's perspective new beta. She would never survive a turning without magical help because she was far too old to have enough spark remaining to fuel the new wolf. “I'm Derek Hale. Pleased to meet you.”
She stood and took his hand in a firm grip. “Peter's infamous nephew. I have heard stories about how young Stiles accused you of murder. He is a rather impetuous young man.” She gave Stiles a fond look, and he ducked his head and busied himself studying a lampshade. Susan chuckled.
“He has grown up some, but I do remember a few times where I might've threatened to tear his throat out with my teeth,” Derek admitted. Peter's eyes flashed red, and Derek flashed his own right back. Peter could be an overprotective ass all he wanted, but the truth was that Derek had been friends with Stiles longer than Peter had.
“You skipped the part where you slammed my head into my own steering wheel,” Stiles pointed out.
Derek raised an eyebrow. “I also skipped the part where I went flying into a fight against my insane feral uncle, knowing that I would lose, in order to save your life.”
“Point,” Stiles said. “Rude since your uncle is standing right there and it's kind of not nice to bring up his whole feral, murderous days, but point.”
Susan chuckled. “Are they always like this?”
Peter came over and sat on the arm of her chair. “They are. One would think that they were littermates raised in the same pack.”
“They do sound a lot like my grandchildren. Of course, my grandchildren are four and six,” she gave Derek and Stiles a motherly look. Stiles blushed and retreated, but Derek just stared at her right back. Maybe she wouldn't be his beta, but Derek would not back down to Peter's beta. He had no idea how it would work that Peter would be the alpha, but she was still in charge of running their law firm.
“So,” Celeste said as she clapped her hands together. “Are we ready for the ceremony?”
“I don't see where she gets a ceremony, and all I got was Derek biting me in the side,” Isaac muttered unhappily.
Susan lifted her eyebrow in a way that reminded Derek very much of Peter. “You said yes to an alpha who was homeless and living in, I believe that I remember the story correctly, an abandoned train station. I am saying yes to an alpha who is one of the most powerful litigators on the East Coast. Life is not fair, and one must live with the consequences of one's choices.”
Derek took a step forward, immediately unhappy with the tone of her retort. It had entirely too much condescension in it, not to mention the way it dismissed Isaac circumstances at the time. Before Derek could say anything, Celeste slid in front of him. “Yes, but most teenagers have the ability to survive the bite. Someone of Ms. Grant’s age requires more assistance.”
Derek smirked at the well done insult, and Susan pinned Celeste with a very unhappy look. Derek was on the verge of feeling some righteous satisfaction when it occurred to him that they were essentially one pack. A pack with deep set resentments against one another. A half second later, Peter's hand clenched, so Derek assumed that he had gotten a jerk on the pack bond.
“We are one pack here,” Peter said firmly. “Save any vitriol for our enemies.”
“Like the Argents,” Derek said. He found that having a common enemy often pulled people together, but that name cast a pall on the pack, and Derek cursed himself for drawing their attention to that mess. Maybe Marie Argent had killed large numbers of her own people, but Chris Argent was still missing and Derek had no doubt that Marie would seek her revenge sooner or later.
Stiles came over and patted Derek on the arm as if he were a puppy.
“I rather think the fact that Ms. Grant is suffering from cancer in is the more significant problem,” Peter said. “Gerard Argent spent years strengthening himself with magic spells before he tried to get the bite. We’re just lucky that he didn't know that Stiles was a potential pack witch or Scott’s plots could have ended far worse.” Peter smiled at Scott.
“This is all is delightfully awkward as you promised, Peter.” Susan smiled up at him.
Peter shrugged. “Pack his family. I'm sure you understand how incredibly awkward family can be.”
“I do. Of course, my family tends to limit themselves to emotional and legal bloodletting. Yours appears to go for something more literal.”
“I did warn you, they had killed me.”
Susan looked over at Stiles before saying, “Yes, something which, quite frankly, shocks me.”
Stiles went to the sideboard and began gathering magical supplies, and Celeste went to his side. “You never saw me back then, Susan. I was quite out of control and mad with grief and vengeance.”
“That does not bode well for your neighbors, then, does it,” she asked with some amusement.
Fear shot through Derek as he considered that Peter might be targeting humans. “His neighbors? What's going on?”
Corey laughed. “Did you see the stack of boulders in the front yard?”
“Yes?” Derek had assumed that Peter had some sort of construction project going that required three and four foot boulders to be stacked up like a lopsided pyramid, but it wasn’t his business to tell Peter how to handle his own pack house.
“The HOA's site Association fined Peter for having a commercial vehicle in the neighborhood when he was moving,” Corey said as if that explained the situation. It didn’t.
“Commercial vehicle?” Derek looked around the room. Liam and Frank smirked and amusement filled Stiles’s bond. Scott was whisper-explaining HOAs to Malia, and only Penny seemed as confused as he was.
Peter offered one of his condescending smiles and practically shimmied in pleasure. “Yes, apparently they felt that me having a moving van while I moved was inappropriate. They have convinced a local judge that the HOA tenants should be interpreted strictly rather than through the lens of common sense. So prohibitions against parking a commercial vehicle have been interpreted to mean that moving vans are not allowed.”
Peter studied his nails. “Apparently this is their way of getting a two hundred and fifty dollar fine from every person who moves within the association. Since they have decided that all of the association tenants must be interpreted strictly, I have found that certain rules can be interpreted in the home-owner’s favor under that theory of the law. If one has xeriscaping in the front, one is only allowed river rock in the 1 to 3 inch range or river boulders of the size you see in my front yard. Unfortunately for them, no one specified how many rocks of each kind were required. So that monstrosity in my front yard is my new landscaping.”
“You're leaving it there?” Peter loved appearances and having finer things. Anyone who looked around his house understood that, so Derek could not imagine him leaving something so ugly in his front yard. Hell, even the room Peter had set aside for Derek was so tastefully decorated that Derek was afraid of getting stains on bedding that probably cost more than Derek made in a month.
Peter smirked. “Indeed. I am leaving that there until we have a court hearing, at which time I will force the association's pet judge to apply the same standards of literal and strict interpretation and force him to cancel all the daily fines that are accruing. Then I shall leave them there until I choose to do something more onerous and damaging to the local property values.”
Susan laughed. “I do love how vindictive you are. I have never regretted hiring you.”
“Of course you don't,” Peter said. “I am magnificent.”
She lifted her glass towards Peter. “You truly are. I would feel sorry for your neighbors; however, the morons have brought it on themselves by picking a fight before looking up their opponent.”
Peter let his werewolf claws appear. “I plan to financially destroy them with legal fees until such time as the rest of the association decides to vote out the power hungry bastards who are attempting to use the neighborhood as their personal fiefdom. The only fiefdom around here will be mine.”
Celeste came over with a small table and supplies. “If you could start your calligraphy work, we are ready to get started.”
Susan considered the table with a sigh. “Why must I engage in this?” Despite her objection, she picked up the black and gold pen.
Stiles answered. “You could do anything that creatively inspires you. You're the one that suggested calligraphy.”
She wrinkled her nose. “The law is creative. I could creatively read some legal briefs or plot strategy in the Makeesi case. I dislike leaving junior partners to handle that.”
Derek was surprised to see that Stiles didn't back down from her sharp tongue in the least. “If you were Richard and you solved legal problems creatively, that would be great. But when you think about legal issues, your spark doesn't flicker all. Since calligraphy is where you indulge creatively, I need you to open up the creative channel into your spark so I can feed it. If you prefer, we can let Peter do the biting without the pack witch stuff and then you can just die.”
Susan considered Stiles, her eyes narrowing slightly. “You are a vicious young man.”
“I am,” Stiles said proudly. “I'm also a little obnoxious, so I'm not going to avoid the obvious. Dead. Dying. Muerto. Kicking the bucket. Over the rainbow bridge. Wait. I think that’s for pets. Anyway, I’m not going to shut up until you stop being stubborn.”
Susan looked up at Peter. “You deserve him.”
Peter gave Stiles a fond look. “I do,” he agreed. Susan eyed the calligraphy supplies with a weary sort of disdain, but she dipped the fountain pen in the ink well. “I have not practiced for years. There's no way I can produce anything legible.”
“I don't care. I just need you to be creative,” Stiles said.
She twirled the pen to create a large swoosh on the paper. “I spent days making all of my own wedding invitations,” she said as a second swirl turned into a G. “I had those invitations longer than I had that husband.”
“Shocking,” Isaac muttered softly. Derek shot him a sharp look, and he ducked his head.
Stiles stood next to Peter, his hand on Peter's shoulder and his other holding tightly to a crystal. He chanted, and power made reality wobble for a moment. Derek didn't have a better word to describe the intense feeling that everything slid a little out of shape. Peter looked at Stiles, and when Stiles nodded, Peter took Susan's hand and pushed the sleeve up to reveal her forearm. His fangs descended before he bit down into the soft of her arm.
Stiles continued chanting, but he moved his hand from Peter shoulder to Susan's. The feeling of reality warping intensified, and Penny grabbed Derek's arm and held tightly as though seeking something firm to hold onto. Derek pulled her close and then moved toward Corey and Isaac. Scott and Malia stumbled toward the fireplace where Liam and Frank clung to the mantle.
Stiles chanted louder and the sense of imbalance grew stronger. Nausea began crawling up Derek's gut and Corey clutched his leg.
“Stiles, enough,” Celeste called out loudly.
The world grew fuzzy at the edges, and Derek started to wonder if he would actually throw up. But then Peter grabbed Stiles’s arm and jerked him away from Susan. Stiles’s mouth was open, and his expression bewildered. He tried to reach back for Susan, but Peter caught both of his wrists and held him tight.
“Stiles, stop,” Peter said firmly.
Stiles had stopped chanting, but power flowed through the room like rapids. Peter held both of Stiles his wrists in one hand and then curled his other hand around the back of Stiles’s neck. “Sweetheart, look at me. You need to stop. Now.” Stiles blinked and the world came back into focus with such a snap that Derek fell to one knee. He would've been embarrassed at his weakness, only Isaac, Scott, Malia and Frank all collapsed in a heap near the fireplace.
“Oh my,” Penny whispered, her grip painfully tight on Derek’s arm.
“I didn’t like that!” Malia announced loudly. Frank vomited on the hearth.
Stiles blinked and looked about the room, and the scent of shame drifted through the air. “Oh my God. I am so sorry. Oh shit. What sort of shitty pack witch am I?”
He tried to pull away, but Peter wrapped an arm around his waist. “You are a glorious pack witch, and Susan does not have to transition at all. She is a full werewolf. That is a power that few pack witches could bring to bear.”
“But I hurt my whole pack!” Stiles voice trembled, and the horror drove Derek to get to his feet.
Derek closed the distance and rested a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. “We're fine. You threw us for a loop, but you helped the pack member who was in real danger. That's what a pack witch does. That’s what pack does.”
“Not by sending all of you crashing to the floor. What if this had been a fight and I was trying to help someone?”
Celeste clicked her tongue. “Witchcraft is a craft, and that requires discipline and practice. Might I suggest that you avoid using large spells in battle until such time as we can help you regulate the magical flow?”
“That might be wise,” Peter said. “But for now, you did exactly what a pack witch is supposed to. You used the power of the entire pack to protect the member who required protection. And now, we can eat the frankly obscene amount of food that I had catered.”
“Yes, food,” Malia said. “I was promised a large quantity of good food.”
“How can you eat?” Frank asked as Isaac helped him up.
“I’m hungry,” Isaac said. “How about you?”
“Starving,” Scott answered.
“The kitchen is open and the ovens are pre-heated if anyone would like to put the covered trays in there,” Peter said. “Drinks are on the third shelf of the refrigerator.”
Derek thought he was too nauseous to eat anything, but he realized he was starving, too. He met his uncle's gaze, and in that moment, Derek realized that they would get through this. Maybe they would never be close and maybe Derek would always be suspicious about whether Peter was going to play some trick on him, but he could trust Peter to take care of their pack. Peter might not be a great uncle, or even a good uncle, but he was a strong alpha. Derek could respect that.
And next time they had a pack meeting, Derek was going to make sure Johnny and Barrett came. They were kids, but Peter could be trusted around the pups.
A single white flower opened. The edges of the petals seemed to strain against their neighbors before the delicate white membrane split and individual pedals separated to seek out the sun. Every day the same flower opened in exactly the same fashion. The same heatless sun tracked through the sky without creating shadows.
He stood and walked to the edge of a koi pond. The largest fish would soon surface, rolling onto his side so his golden scales would shine in the sun. He liked that image, so he often chose that over the other side of the tree where a white cat would stretch and jump down from a low branch to stalk across the garden, her tail jerking with each step.
Something told him that he couldn’t follow the cat. His life existed in this corner of the garden and he needed to stay below the camphor tree that loomed overhead.
A man appeared at the edge of his vision. That was nothing new. He remembered that he had been bothered by that once. He hadn’t liked being watched. However, he no longer had the energy to care much. But then the figure did something unexpected. While he watched the koi, the figure came over and rested a hand on his head.
“How are you, Chris?” the figure asked.
Chris. It took a moment for him to realize that was his name. Chris. He didn’t have an answer so he sat on the grass and watched the koi repeat the same barrel roll it did every day. The figure vanished, and the second it was gone, Chris forgot it had ever existed. He got up and headed to the stone lantern where a dragonfly would be landing soon.
Peter opened the door, surprised to find Malia on the other side. He still had no idea how to feel about his daughter. The fact that Talia had removed all of his memories of both her and her mother made it difficult to understand how he could have become a father at fourteen and it made him wonder if the Desert Wolf wasn't some variation on Kate Argent, another predator who had targeted Hale men because Talia as an alpha was too distracted with pack politics to defend the home fires.
But no matter how Malia had come to be his, she did not carry any of the blame for what must've happened when Peter was fourteen. More than that, she was part of the Hale pack, and as the second in command, it was Peter's obligation to welcome her. He stepped back and gestured her into the house.
“Please. Come in.” The harpy from across the street opened her front door and crossed her arms as she glared at Peter. She had already called the police, suggesting that Peter was selling drugs just because of how many visitors he had in a day, and the police had tripped over themselves apologizing as soon as they figured out who they were questioning. So now the harpy knew she couldn't call the police, but she did enjoy standing on her front step glaring. One of these days Peter was going to have to answer his door naked and give her something to really look at.
But he would save that for some time when it wasn't his daughter visiting him.
Malia walked into the living room. “Where’s Stiles?”
“I’m not sure. I assume he's at his campus, but he may also be checking out the local legal aid or his internship at the FBI. Or Susan might have roped him into some project at the law office. Would you like me to text him and find out when he will be here?”
“No.” She shifted from foot to foot. Peter wasn't used to seeing Malia look uncertain.
He gave the harpy across the street a jaunty little wave. He couldn’t wait until she figured out what he had planted in his front yard. Then Peter closed his front door and turned his attention to his daughter. “Well then, perhaps I can help you with something.”
“Why did you come back here?” Malia blurted.
Peter gave her credit for being direct. At least one never had to wonder where one stood with her. “I came back because Stiles did, and at the time, he was my only pack bond. I know that coyotes do not have the same need for pack bonds that wolves do, but I can assure you that I will do a lot to defend pack bonds.”
She frowned. “Is that supposed to be some subtle insult about how Scott shouldn't have cut you off from your pack bonds?”
“I hadn't tried to insult Scott, but if you choose to infer blame from my statement, I will not disagree with you.”
Her frown only deepened.
Peter sighed and headed for the living room. “Malia, I am not able to read minds. If you have a problem, perhaps you can simply explain it.”
“Derek says you're the second in command now.”
“Do you have a problem with that?” Peter knew integrating into this pack would be difficult, but he had hoped Malia would be a bridge rather than an obstacle.
“Scott is afraid that you're going to push the pack to do things that are unethical.”
“Well, if Scott says it, it must be true.”
“Don't do that,” Malia snapped.
“Don't do what? I assure you that I am not trying to do anything in particular.”
“Don't get sarcastic about Scott. I know he messes up. He is so scared of killing that he lets dangers get away rather than confronting them.”
Peter nodded. “He does.”
“Is that why Derek decided he couldn't be the second in command?”
This was painful. “I actually have no idea. I was quite surprised when Derek requested that I take the position as his second. I had expected to be a pack elder, so I don’t have an explanation for you.”
Malia dropped down onto one of the couches across from Peter. “I don't trust you.”
“Given the remarkable number of things that I have done to earn your distrust, I find that a rather reasonable position for you to take.”
Instead of accepting that as the peace offering Peter had intended, Malia narrowed her eyes. “And I don't like that you say stuff like that.”
“Like that,” she said. “Like you're giving me permission to be pissed at you. I don't need permission. You and my mother abandoned me so that I was raised by humans who didn't even know I was a shape shifter. My adoptive mother and sister might have survived if they had known the truth.”
So Malia was looking for some bloodletting for old wounds. “I quite agree with you. I have no idea why Talia would've placed you with a human family without warning them. No doubt she expected to be able to come for you if you showed any sign of being a shifter, but once she was killed, there should have been some sort of contingency plan.” Some days Peter couldn’t understand most of what Talia had done. She always talked about how pack was all that mattered. Even her insane drive to be respectable came down to making sure the pack was too well positioned to be vulnerable. And yet she had thrown him away—sending him to Alpha Ito to train as a left hand the second their relationship had grown difficult. She had thrown Malia away by giving her to human parents and had not even noticed when Derek was vulnerable to Kate’s schemes. For someone who claimed to care only about pack, she had failed spectacularly.
“You were the left-hand of the pack,” Malia said. “Wouldn’t contingency plans be your job?”
“Yes,” Peter agreed easily. “No doubt Talia relied on my expertise in those matters far more than she should have, especially when she had stripped any memories I had a fathering a child. The memory blocks that an alpha places are not absolute. In certain circumstances, a person can overcome them if they know enough information about the original memory, so she likely kept me away from anything related to the Tates or the Desert Wolf out of fear that I would recover an inconvenient piece of memory.”
That didn't seem to comfort Malia in the least. She was still frowning, her scent rich with discomfort. Peter supposed he should be the adult in the situation, but he regretted that neither Stiles nor Celeste was here to mediate between them. Peter was much more comfortable confronting people than he was reconciling. Talia did consider that one of his greatest personality flaws, and she might've been right. When he'd been younger, Peter had thought compromise was a tool of the weak as they attempted to scratch some benefit out of the situation. The older he grew, the more he could understand the advantages of not backing others into corners. “Malia, I am invested in the success of the Hale pack. If you are uncomfortable with something, I would like a chance to try and help you overcome that discomfort.”
Malia pulled her feet up under her, propping her dirty tennis shoes on their thousand dollar couch. Peter repressed a wince. “You abandoned me when I was a baby. I don't know how I'm supposed to trust you now. You put yourself before the pack. You tried to kill Scott, and you were willing to go through me in order to kill him.”
Scott McCall. Peter was starting to think that that man child was the bane of his existence. “First, I never would have damaged you in my quest to kill Scott. At most, I tried to move you out of my way.”
Malia narrowed her eyes. “By throwing me into a stone wall.”
“True,” Peter admitted with a grimace. “You could take that as a compliment, you know. I put my faith in your strength and your ability to survive that treatment. But I assure you, I never intended to cause you any permanent harm. Kira could have died, and I would not have been terribly concerned because she was not pack or family, but I was very clear with Kate Argent that if she hurt you, Stiles, Lydia, or Derek that all deals were off and that I would give the pack every piece of information I had on the berserkers and help them destroy her.”
“You could've helped us destroy her from the beginning.”
“Ah, but my two goals were to remove Derek's memories of the fire and to get rid of Scott McCall. His inability to deal decisively with enemies made the entire pack look weak. I was afraid that someone that I did consider pack would be killed because someone like Deucalion thought they had a free pass to come back to Beacon Hills.”
“If Deucalion had come back, Stiles and Kira and I would've found a way to kill them,” Malia said firmly. And Peter hated Scott a little bit more. His daughter should not be in a position where she had to kill for an inept alpha.
“That is precisely my point,” Peter said firmly. “Scott was your alpha. An alpha fights from the front of the pack. An alpha does not ask members of the pack to do things that he himself would not. I did not want my pack and my family burdened by his stupidity. I had lived through that once.”
Peter sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. “Talia wanted to maintain her position as a peacemaker, and that meant that I had to carry out most of the dirty business of the pack. But when the person who has to make the hard decisions is not the person who has the final say, it is entirely too easy for the alpha to make compromises that should not be made. If Talia had been out running the boundary, if Talia were the one investigating rumors of hunters going against the code, then she would have been able to make decisions to better protect the pack. But because she put all that off on me, it allowed her to stick her head in the sand.” Familiar resentments burned in Peter’s chest. “I would not have a new pack replicate the worst mistakes of my old one. If I had to kill Scott McCall to save the rest, I would. I do not regret that choice.”
Malia leapt to her feet, flashing her blue eyes at him before snapping the air with coyote teeth. “I won't let you kill Scott.”
Peter leaned back and held his hands up in surrender. “I don't have to now. He is a beta in Derek's pack. He can't make decisions that will put everyone in danger, so I don't need to take any action.”
Malia pulled back and looked at him, clearly confused. “So you don't hate Scott anymore?”
“Oh, I definitely hate Scott,” Peter said without an ounce of remorse. “I think his pathetic attempt to cling to humanity and his self-hatred is utterly contemptable. However, I don't think he's a danger to the pack. There are many people in this world who I hate, and others that I simply have very little respect for. I do not generally kill all of those people.” Peter certainly put Penny in that category. He saw how his nephew looked at the wolf, and he was disgusted that Derek could like such an ineffectual and weak excuse for a werewolf. However, he would never consider killing her. “I only kill people who are a danger to my pack.”
Malia frowned. “You should kill people who are a danger to the pack.”
Peter smiled. “That's my girl.”
“Don't say that.” She dropped onto the couch again. “This is really awkward.”
“Trust me, I am aware. After all, I am now second to a nephew that I once turned over to Kate Argent. The awkwardness is ubiquitous right now.”
“That was a pretty shitty thing to do.”
Peter shrugged. “Perhaps, but he was not dealing well with his memories of the fire, and I hoped to save him from that. Unfortunately, the spell was not completed and so he returned to his natural age and regained those memories.”
Malia narrowed her eyes. “That seems overly complicated.”
“It was quite a complex spell, I am quite proud of finding some of the rarer ingredients, and of course, only a werejaguar could use that temple, so convincing Kate Argent to work with a Hale did take an impressive amount of maneuvering.”
“Manipulation,” Malia corrected him.
“That, too,” Peter agreed. “However, you must admit that getting my enemy to assist me in trying to save Derek was particularly inspired.”
“You could've just found an alpha to kill and then used your claws to remove the memory,” Malia said. “Working with Kate Argent was really slimy.”
Peter shrugged. “One should always treat enemies as chess pieces. Sometimes, one must remove them from the board, but other times they are best used as distractions or even as pawns in your own games. As to why I didn't use alpha claws, an alpha's ability to remove memories is flawed.”
“Flawed? Because if a person knows part of the story they can recover the memory?” Malia tilted her head to the side and Peter considered that she was pumping him for information. She was her father’s daughter. But they were in the same pack now, and information that benefited her, benefited the pack as a whole. It had been a long time since Peter had thought of the good of a larger pack, but the old instincts were still there.
“Yes,” Peter said, “but also in that removing a specific memory does not remove a person's feelings around that memory. For example, I do not remember the circumstances of your mother's pregnancy, but I do know that when I was fourteen years old I grew increasingly resentful of Talia's control over my life. I hated that she considered herself my alpha when I considered her nothing more than an annoying sister. Our conflicts grew so serious that she sent me to Alpha Ito for training. For the life of me, I can't recall why I was so aggravated with her, but given your age, I suspect that she removed memories and then found herself with a fourteen-year-old werewolf who would forever resent her because he could not remember the event that led to that resentment so he could not forgive her.”
“What you mean you couldn't forgive her?”
Peter considered the best way to explain it so she would understand. Her years as a coyote meant that she occasionally missed the nuance of human interaction, which is why Peter found it so ironic that she had chosen Scott McCall as a mate. “You remember what I did to you in that temple in Mexico. You know that I physically attacked you and attempted to kill Scott. You also know that I did it because I believed that Scott was a danger to this pack. You can now consider all those facts and decide whether or not you forgive me. But imagine if I were to remove the memory of that attack in the temple.” Peter held up his hand and let his claws grow. “If I were to slip my talons in and remove that day, you would still feel the same resentment, the same suspicions. And if you did not understand the source of your distrust, how would you ever overcome it?”
Malia slowly nodded. “You think that's what happened with you and Talia?”
Peter shrugged. “I have no idea. I had hoped that finding you and learning about your mother would jar memories, but it is never happened. So I can only theorize that whatever memory Talia removed involved me feeling resentful of her.”
“I understand why you wanted to kill Scott.” Malia studied Peter for a long time. “But I still don't trust you.”
“That's fair. I'm actually far more comfortable with your distrust than I am with McCall's habit of forgiving everyone.” Peter made a moue of disgust, and Malia wrinkled her nose as well. Apparently she was also not a fan of Scott McCall's worst habits.
“But you won't hurt him?”
Peter held up one hand and put the other over his heart. “I give you my word that I will not hurt Scott McCall. As a beta, he doesn't have the power to damage the pack the way he did is an alpha, and after he admitted to Stiles that his moral code is a twisted version of Deaton's own lunacy, neither Stiles nor Derek will forgive me if I kill the moron.”
Malia nodded. “I feel like I can believe that.”
“You can. I may lie to outsiders, but I try very hard to avoid lying to pack. It breeds resentment.”
Malia gave him a stone cold look, and Peter laughed. “Worse, this pack has a habit of uncovering the truth. I am trying hard to prove that I am no longer going to take advantage of pack members, and that means I can't afford to get caught lying.”
“Okay,” Malia said. The confusion cleared from her face, and it appeared that Peter had passed whatever test his daughter had set for him. She leaned back on the couch, her body language clearly more comfortable now.
“So you really don't remember anything about my mom? About why she gave birth to me if she knew that girl baby would steal her power?”
“No idea,” Peter said. “I can't even imagine how I would've gotten her pregnant. At the time, I would've been fourteen. I was a rather scrawny little wolf back then, so I'm not sure what a coyote as powerful as your mother would've seen in me. Perhaps she just needed a beta and I was available because of my own difficult relationship with my sister.”
“Why would she have needed a beta? I didn't think coyotes had alphas and betas the way wolves did.”
“They don't, not really. Every female coyote is a type of alpha. And I don't believe they feel the same need for betas, although certainly female coyotes are known to keep males around. I wish I could give you answers, but nothing I have done has brought back any of the memories I have of your mother. However, I hope you know that you will always be my cub, and I will always put your safety first, even ahead of my own.”
Malia cocked her head to the side as she studied Peter. Peter kept his expression neutral and did his best to appear unbothered, but his daughter’s expression left him uneasy and feeling exposed.
“I'm the reason you tried to kill Scott,” she said slowly.
“That is a bit of a reach,” Peter said airily.
“That's not a denial,” Malia said. “You tried to kill him because I was willing to kill for the pack and Scott wasn't. You thought he was turning me into his left hand.” Malia looked at him in horror.
Peter considered lying. He considered making up some story that would explain his sudden desire to kill Scott when the idiot had certainly deserved death earlier without Peter actively seeking it, but her expression was too firm. She clearly understood more than Peter had intended her to ever understand. He sighed. “When you have an alpha who is so committed to being perfect, it is entirely too easy to allow others to make difficult choices. Was it only you I was concerned about? No. Was I willing to allow my daughter to become executioner for an alpha who was unwilling to clean up his own messes? Equally no.”
Peter hated exposing his own weaknesses, but she needed to know the truth. “Understand that even back then I had offered Stiles the bite, and I loathed how often a human was sailing into the middle of dangerous situations and how little Scott appeared to care. I understand better than anyone that restraining Stiles when he feels an obligation to get involved is a fool’s errand, but Scott should have at least gone out of his way to protect Stiles's position. Furthermore, I am the one who bit Lydia and woke her banshee powers. That made her my responsibility. If she had gotten herself killed, she would've been another person on my conscience. I am not a good man, and I never will be, not by the way society defines goodness. The world could burn and I would largely remain unconcerned as long as my pack was defended. However, I am perhaps not an evil man. I am a focused man. And Scott threatened those I was focused on.”
Malia crossed the room and sat next to Peter. “You're not evil. You sometimes stupid, but sometimes I'm stupid too.”
That felt almost like acceptance.
“So, you know Scott’s screwed up ideas come from Deaton. What are you doing to do to him?” Malia asked with unvarnished glee.
“If he dies, Stiles, the sheriff, and Scott are all going to be out for blood.”
“Which is not the same as saying that you’re going to let him get away with his shit,” she said confidently.
“Perhaps,” Peter said. “I have someone working on that. Once you know what a person values most, it’s possible to make them regret living.”
Malia rubbed her hand together in anticipation. “Good because he really screwed Scott up. I say we make him miserable.”
“Patience,” Peter counselled. “All things come to those who wait.”
“I hate waiting.”
“And I hate having my plans upended by moving precipitously. Revenge is a dish best served cold and with the proper seasoning of preparation. But have no doubt that Deaton has not escaped my noticed.”
Malia said, “Good,” and in that moment, her voice reminded Peter of some rusty memory he couldn’t quite catch before it vanished again.
Stiles had expected an FBI office to be higher profile, but this place was the definition of non-descript. He might think he was in the wrong place only the large, white street numbers matched what Spencer had texted him. But Stiles wasn’t going to complain. Nope. Nah uh. Not even a little, not when Spencer had gone out of his way to make sure Stiles had another chance with the FBI. Between the internship drama with Derek and setting off the Argent investigation, Stiles was dangerously close to being labelled ‘trouble’ and he knew it.
He was signing in at the front desk when an older man within impressive nose came out through security door. “You must be Stiles Stilinski,” he said. He sounded amused, which immediately made Stiles worry about what stories the guy might've heard.
“Um, maybe,” Stiles said.
The guy laughed. “I have heard that Derek Hale story so many times that I’m looking forward to hearing from someone who was there. Then I can decide if the entire agency is exaggerating.”
“The entire agency?” Ice water rushed through Stiles’s veins.
The guy laughed again. “Totally. The entire agency. The FBI does not like change, and you got them to rewrite the field manual for internships.”
“In my defense, I should have been safe in that spot in the alley. By their own calculations, none of the bad guys were going to come out that direction.”
“And by your calculations, that was a potential point of egress. Obviously we know who was right.” The guy came around the desk and gave Stiles a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Good job with that. The FBI as an entity might like their regulations, but I think you're going to find that most agents are more concerned about getting the job done. You stopped the bad guys and saved the kidnapping victim.”
Stiles winced. “Well, a little bit more like the kidnapping victim saved me since I wasn't armed.”
“And you're not going to be armed during this internship either,” the guy said. “But the good news is we don't go in the field. I'm a Special Agent Evan Coburg.” He held out a hand, and Stiles took it and shook. “Did Dr. Reid tell you what we do here?”
“No. He just said that there was a field office that I could do an internship with, and since I'm still trying to repair bridges after the whole getting myself shot on an FBI operation accident, I agreed to do any scut work. So if you need me to make coffees and carry paper, I'm your man.”
“I'll introduce you around. Come on.” Coburg took Stiles behind the security door, and the inside was just as unassuming as the exterior. There weren’t any windows in the place and after a short hallway that had doors to a couple of bathrooms and a break room decorated in early-eighties colors, they came out in a large bull-pen style room with a dozen desks and just as many white boards and bulletin boards covered with reports and pictures, some of which looked pretty gruesome, even from a distance.
Okay, that explained the lack of windows. These people clearly didn’t secure evidence the way they had in the other building where Stiles had worked. Coburg introduced him to Agents Ricky Armstrong and Verona Patel. The latter was a rail thin woman who had a nervous tick and an inability to make eye contact. Stiles’s gut said autistic, so he kept his distance and exchanged small talk with Armstrong who Stiles immediately slotted into the “jock” category right next to Jackson. Armstrong bemoaned that lacrosse was the only sport Stiles played and pressed for Stiles favorite football and basketball teams, neither of which Stiles actually had. He didn’t even really like lacrosse.
When Coburg finally pulled Stiles away, he whispered, “Don’t take Patel’s standoffishness personally.”
“I don't,” Stiles responded easily. Hell, he liked her more than Armstrong. Introductions to Agents White and Lopez went more smoothly and then Coburg walked him to an office in the back. “Special Agent in Charge Anderson runs this office, and he'll explain our overall purpose, although you're going to be working under me.”
“Doing what?” Stiles asked.
“Anderson will explain in more detail, but let's just say we look for patterns.” Coburg knocked on the door. “Boss? Are you free?”
“Come on in.”
Coburg pushed the door open and gestured for Stiles to head in.
Stiles put one foot in the room and froze. There were stacks of paper everywhere. Note cards were pinned on every wall in star clusters and circles with enough string that it looked like a macramé project in process. Stackable trays filled with papers lined the bookcases and binders were lined up against the wall on the floor. Anderson's desk was the neatest place in the office, but that was not saying much. A rainbow array of sticky notes covered the surface with only a laptop and a decorative wooden tray with knickknacks appeared unmolested by paper. “Wow.”
Anderson stood. He was a fit man who might be in his thirties or fifties—it was hard to tell. His black hair had only a touch of gray at the temples and he had tiny laugh lines around his eyes, but otherwise his skin was smooth. “That is the kindest reaction I’ve gotten yet. I do believe Dr. Reid managed to get both feet in, but then the chaos nearly sent him running.” He looked around at his cluttered walls. “However, it all makes sense to me.”
“Totally,” Stiles agreed. “I can see that you’re grouping events and trying to find patterns. I'm just not used to seeing this many different patterns being explored all at once. I thought the FBI was more into doing this on computer, too. When I did my internship at the other office, they were a little dismissive of my preference for paper.” Stiles looked around curiously. One cluster featured pictures of buildings connected to a second cluster of art pieces. Another had women’s mug shots. A third had a series of random words.
Anderson gestured towards the guest chair, but then he frowned and came around the desk to collect the pages he had stacked there. Stiles waited until Anderson had gone back to before he took his seat.
“Most agents work very straightforward cases,” Anderson said. “In this office, we have two jobs. The first is to keep an eye on the big picture. We track crimes that occur along highways, railroads, or coastlines to find any patterns that might be missed by anyone taking a local approach to the crime. Any potential paths of travel are fair game. We are also sent cases from any field office where an agent suspects there is a pattern that they cannot identify.”
Stiles frowned. “I thought Spencer's team handled potential serial cases.”
“They handle serial killers. We are more generalists. If an agent suspects there is a pattern, whether it is financial or ritualistic or criminal, they can send it through to us. The vague nature of that mandate means we tend to have a low success rate, which is why we are not a prestigious office. However, we have identified a number of problems, so the FBI finds our quaint little operation necessary.”
Stiles nodded, but there was something in Anderson's wording, something in the way he seemed amused by his superior’s dismissal that reminded Stiles of Peter. It was like the way Peter would get a mysterious smile when some buff gym rat of a college student threatened him. They even had the same striking blue eyes. Stiles had the feeling that his new internship supervisor was not exactly human. However, inhuman was not always problematic, and if Stiles said anything to Peter, Peter was definitely going to throw a fit. But this was Stiles’s career and Stiles’s internship and Stiles’s last chance to prove to the FBI that he was not a loose cannon who couldn't be trusted. What Peter didn't know wouldn't hurt him.
“So what will I be doing?”
“I'm afraid you will have the least desirable job in the least desirable office in the FBI,” Anderson said apologetically. “When requests for review come in, we will need you to take the case files and put each element of the case onto a separate card or piece of paper or electronic data slip, depending on which agent is assigned the review. White and Patel prefer to have the data on electronic no cards so they can move it about on our smart screen. Other agents prefer 3 x 5 note cards or paper or sticky notes. Despite our differences, all of us operate on the theory that a case should be broken into individual elements in order to better rearrange those elements and spot patterns.
“So the first thing you need to do is recognize which elements are most likely to be critical to identifying a pattern.” Anderson turned around and grabbed three binders from the floor. “Here are three cases that this team managed to identify a pattern in. I need you to look at the original case files we were sent, and then study how we broke the information up into discrete pieces. Once you believe you understand our working process, I have a fourth binder I will use to test you. If you pass, then you can start working active files under Anderson, although you will need to explain each case you finish to him before it goes to the agent in charge.”
That was actually far more meaningful work than Stiles had anticipated. He’d thought he was going to be making photocopies and coffee, not actively assisting with cases. “That's awesome. I can totally do that.” He leaned across the desk to take the binders, but Anderson held onto them for a minute. That left them uncomfortably close as each leaned across the desk. Anderson's weird collection of gemstones and pearls in their little wooden tray poked Stiles in the stomach and he waited, certain that something supernatural was going on.
But then Anderson let go and leaned back in his chair. “This is boring work, but it's important. If we miss a pattern, it could be years before perpetrators caught, if ever. So while the vast majority of the cases will turn into nothing, you can never let your guard down and assume that the next case will turn into nothing.” Anderson had an intensity in his gaze that made Stiles understand that the boss cared desperately about the work. Passionately, even. Stiles respected that.
“I will take every case seriously,” Stiles promised, and he felt the weight of his words like a vow. For second, Anderson held his gaze, and then he nodded.
“Fair enough,” he said. “Welcome to the team. And please keep Derek Hale and any potential suspects looking to shoot you in the foot out of my unit. I enjoy having a reputation as being eccentric and boring. Please ensure I maintain it.”
“Absolutely,” Stiles agreed, but even he could hear the uncertainty in his voice. Stiles had never been particularly good at boring, but in order to have a good relationship with the FBI, he would try. He feared he might fail spectacularly, but he would try.
Celeste walked through the trees, offering polite nods to the few druids who stopped to look at her. Having a stranger show up during high holidays was not unusual, especially in this day when few knew the difference between being a real druid or witch versus playing with supermarket crystals. But Beltane was one of the holy days, a day of rebirth and restarting, and this celebration was isolated and hidden by magic.
Even Celeste with her nature magic would not have been able to convince the trees to reveal the location had she not already placed a tracking spell on one of the members that waited for moonrise somewhere in these woods. It had taken months of patience, but Celeste had finally tracked her prey to this grove of druids. This is where he retreated every time his soul was weary. This was his haven, the home of his magic where he felt safe. So this was the haven she would deny him.
Celeste touched the bark of a pine tree and listen to it whisper of magic and pain and memories. After a second, she broke contact and started her leisurely stroll toward her prey once again.
The old witch families rarely celebrated Beltane. Her parents had disdained it as a ridiculous formality plastered over the top of what they truly valued—pure magic. However, Celeste could see the value in associating certain days and certain rituals with specific aspects of magic, like rebirth. Belief was a significant part of making a spell work.
Perhaps that was why Stiles had access to so much power. He believed with his whole heart. She suspected that was a side effect of growing up under the illusion that magic and werewolves and monsters were all children's tales before finding out that they were real. It meant Stiles had very little he considered truly impossible.
She would have to monitor him carefully as he learned to work with his pack because that deep well of belief, coupled with the significant power he could gather from Derek and Peter Hale was a recipe for disaster. Those two alphas were part of the oldest werewolf tradition in the New World. Hales had been among the earliest settlers of the country. The daughters they left behind in marriage became mothers to most of the werewolves in America.
And that long and storied history gave them power. After all, not every werewolf could have returned from the dead. When Celeste had first learned that her original master had sold her contract to a werewolf lawyer, she had been furious. She had carefully selected her master after calculating who would be most advantageous to her in achieving her goals and who would be easiest to slip away from once she had paid by serving a reasonable term. Every magical contract had a loophole after all.
So having her contract traded to a complete unknown had thrown her. But now, she was quite grateful that her previous master had been so poor at handling his money that he had been forced to hand over another asset. After all, Peter did send her on the most delicious tasks. She ran her fingertips over the moss growing on the bark of a tree and listened to it whisper of water and thirst. Then she finally spotted her prey. He stood next to the druid dryw, no doubt ingratiating himself with power.
Celeste wondered if any of them—Peter or Derek or Scott himself—had realized that first Peter and then Deaton had latched onto the McCall boy because, like Stiles, he possessed a deep well of magic. Deaton could speak of true alphas and Peter of spontaneous ones, but the fact was that an alpha was simply a wolf who had so much magic that he could maintain the flame.
If Stiles were to be turned, he would become an alpha immediately. As would she.
So for Scott to develop an alpha spark was really no different than Stiles training his spark into a flame. Celeste had met Melissa McCall, and she had no magic beyond that of an ordinary human, so she suspected that Rafe McCall had some heritage beyond mortal. And that made sense. Often times, those with magic did suffer difficulties. Stiles had developed ADHD and apparently Rafe was a raging alcoholic. Both were common responses to magic building up in a person's soul and having no outlet. But she couldn’t know for sure without meeting the senior McCall. She could only make assumptions based on what she knew of magic, and she knew a lot.
After all, her parents had been high royalty. They had trained her spark from the time she was in diapers, keeping her out of school and isolating her from others to ensure that the secret of magic was held close. Most witches chose to not train their children’s sparks until such time as the children were old enough to maintain the secret on their own, but her parents had always valued magic more than her.
Celeste stayed in the shadows as the night grew longer. She needed all the druids to gather for this, so she watched patiently. The dryw looked towards her a few times, and the wary expression made Celeste suspect that the woman recognized her. That was not a problem. Celeste did not intend to keep her identity secret. But a dryw was not the same as a high priest or priestess. The dryw could not expel Deaton on her own. Celeste needed the entire grove and order to reject him, so she waited until more druids gathered.
When druids began to filter in through the trees, forming a rough circle around the dryw, Celeste finally stepped forward. The forest had gone silent, respectfully waiting for the ceremony to begin, but Celeste co-opted that silence. “I name the druid Alan Deaton a darach,” she said loudly. The forest echoed her words, and every druid looked at her in horror. Deaton physically jerked, his surprise palpable.
“Who are you to say something like that about Alan?” a statuesque woman with dark skin demanded.
“One from the pack he has targeted,” Celeste said firmly. “He has manipulated a young wolf for his own ends, and has damaged that wolf to such an extent that the pup has retreated into his pack, giving up both school and work because he no longer functions within the wider world. Is that not the description of a darach?”
The younger woman took one step toward Celeste, but the dryw raised her hand and everyone froze. She walked slowly towards the center of the clearing, placing her cane carefully before each step. “This is a holy night. Who are you to interrupt our services?”
Celeste stepped forward so that she too was in the clearing, and magic washed over her. This was a place for truth. “I am Celeste de Mornay,” she said proudly. Her name caused a ripple in the gathered druids.
“The de Mornays are witches, not druids. You're not welcome here,” Deaton's young ally snapped.
The dryw offered him a baleful look, before returning her attention to Celeste. “The de Mornays are a respected family, but their rule is over. Your parents are both gone, targeted by vampire, wasn't it?”
Celeste inclined her head. “My father was. My mother burned out her magic attempting to save him.” Celeste still suspected that her mother was more concerned about the magic she would lose if her husband died. They had bound their magic together, and bound Celeste’s magic to it in order to become the most powerful witches on the East Coast. If her husband had died, that spell would be broken and her mother would be left with only her own magic. No doubt she considered that a fate worse than death. So she had chosen death.
“And what business is this of yours?” the dryw asked. Her voice was strong and implacable in its demand for honesty.
She had cast this truth circle, and Celeste respected the power she felt behind both the words and the spell. Because this was a place of truth, Celeste had intended on saying that she was enslaved to one of the packs alphas, but instead she said, “I am a member of the pack Alan Deaton targeted.”
Around her druids shifted uncomfortably and now Deaton stepped into the circle. “I tried to help Scott McCall find balance.” He focused his appeal on the dryw. “Scott was a true alpha. He had managed to balance his wolf nature with his human morality, and he was the pack alpha until Peter Hale intervened. This is the same Peter Hale who broke our most sacred laws to return from the dead, and he used a young banshee against her will in order to do it.”
The dryw swung her gaze from Alan back to Celeste. “Peter did return from the dead,” Celeste admitted. “He was feral and seeking vengeance for his pack who were burned alive in front of his eyes. But any punishment he was to face for that transgression would've come from the old guardians, not from Alan Deaton or other druids.”
“And I never tried to punish him,” Alan said.
“Scott says that you advised him to place Peter in Eichen house, is that not punishment?” Celeste would rather die than end up in that twisted temple. Every region had some variation on the place—sacred ground where the supernatural was quieted because of magic that had soaked into the ground at that spot. She would die before allowing her magic to be smothered, and she could not imagine how Peter who so embraced his wolf nature had suffered in such a place.
“The alternative would have been to kill him, and I assume he would not have preferred that,” Alan snapped back.
Celeste took a step farther into the circle. “Why did you not wish Scott McCall to kill? Peter is honest about trying to kill Scott. It was a fight between two wolves. Is not the death of one of the wolves the natural outcome of such a fight?”
Deaton’s ally spoke up. “Are you advocating for killing Peter Hale? After all, there are rumors that you are very happy to kill those who are closest to you,” she said with a malicious glee.
Celeste smiled gently. “My taste does not run towards violence, but death is often the natural outcome of such a conflict. Death is natural, is it not? Do not druids worship death as much as life? Is it not that part of your sacred balance?”
The dryw slammed her cane tip into the ground and Celeste inclined her head towards the woman, offering a silent apology. “I hear nothing that suggests that Alan is darach,” the dryw said.
“You have, but perhaps you do not recognize the pattern,” Celeste said. She flirted with disrespect, but the woman appeared one who would prefer directness over compliments. “Deaton advised Scott not to kill Peter, not to kill Deucalion, not to kill monsters who invaded his territory. He guided Scott to activate a damaged Nemeton in order to increase the magic available, but then he crippled Scott so that Scott could not keep control of the territory.
“It was Deaton who has made Beacon Hills a source of such noise that it threatens all of us.” Celeste pinned the dryw with a sharp look so that the woman understood exactly what Celeste was saying. Had Deaton and his schemes woke the gods, all would have suffered. But that was not a reason the grove or order would accept because it was not their place to know the danger that all of them lived in. So Celeste had to craft a second reason, one that would convince others.
“You worship balance and see balance in all things, but Deaton taught Scott to deny his wolf. He taught him that killing was wrong in all cases, a belief system better fitted to Christian practitioners than a druid. He taught him to distrust his wolf and his instincts, which drove Scott away from his personal truths as a werewolf and away from his bonds. He has denied Scott balance to the point that Scott cannot function in either the werewolf world or the human one because he has no balance in himself.
“And to feed an alpha spark that was starving because the wolf that owned it could not accept the pack bonds, he stole magic from my disciple over and over. Stiles was on the verge of breaking into a flame before I ever met him because Deaton had pulled so much magic through him that his spark had been agitated to the point of eruption. What would've happened if an untrained and unaware witch broke into flame in the middle of his college campus?” Celeste turned to address this to the druids gathered outside the circle. They looked to each other nervously. Deaton might be one of them, but each and every druid here knew he had risked revealing magic. Sometimes Celeste worked through magic, but this spell she would cast with carefully chosen words. None of these druids would ever again offer friendship or succor to Alan Deaton.
“Deaton has betrayed balance at every turn,” Celeste finished.
Deaton stepped forward. “I deny that categorically. Stiles said multiple times that he wished to remain human, and I respected that by removing the excess magic that built up because of his vampiric magic. He pulled that magic from the wolves, and I returned it to the alpha of those wolves. I helped magic find its way back to its original source.”
Celeste laughed. “Vampiric magic? Stiles is a pack witch. That does not mean he drains his pack of magic.” At least not always, although Celeste kept that knowledge to herself.
The dryw turned to Alan. “Did you encourage a wolf to deny his own nature?”
“I taught him to embrace his humanity.”
“But he was not human. How did you teach him to embrace his wolf?”
Deaton stared at her blankly.
Celeste huffed. “Scott became a spontaneous werewolf. That requires both the denial of the wolf, and a source of significant magic. Where did the magic come from, Deaton?” For witches and druids alike, stealing magic was a cardinal sin. That was why witches hated vampires. Vampires drank blood, but they never took enough to kill an individual. However, their true feeding ground was magic. And Deaton was on the verge of being declared a magic thief.
“Scott possessed magic when I met him, and that was before he was bitten by the mad wolf,” Deaton said as if that excused what he had done to Stiles. “Scott had the ability to become a true alpha from the time he was bitten.”
“Were you intending to train him?” The dryw asked. Deaton opened his mouth, but no words came out. In a truth circle, that was a damning action.
“He was too young to train,” Deaton said after a moment. “He was indiscreet, as was his young friend Stiles. Most of the things that happened in Beacon Hills happened because the two of them were incapable of maintaining any level of discretion. Scott went from an asthmatic who landed in the hospital on a regular basis to the star captain of the lacrosse team. Of course that made others suspicious enough to begin asking questions. Scott and Stiles practically begged the hunters target them and Beacon Hills through their immaturity. I could not and would not train either Scott or Stiles because of it.”
“And yet you stole magic from Stiles,” Celeste said.
“I returned magic to its rightful owner,” Deaton said firmly. He believed that or he would not be able to say it in the circle, but his beliefs did not make it true, and Celeste could see that the other druids were turning against him.
The dryw turned all the way around so that she faced Alan and had her back to Celeste. Celeste took a step back to indicate her willingness to cede ground to the other woman. Celeste’s parents and their thirst for power meant that the de Mornay name would always make magic users uncomfortable, and Celeste would do her best to put them at ease.
“Did you feed power into the damaged Nemeton,” the dryw asked.
“I did. A darach was targeting Scott and Stiles and a young woman named Allison. Giving the Nemeton enough power to fight back and reveal itself was the best way to ensure that the darach did not finish her fivefold knot of sacrifices.” His tone practically begged his leader to believe him.
The dryw appeared to consider this for a moment before she continued. “And what did you do to balance this power you activated?”
“I supported Scott as the alpha of the Beacon Hills pack.”
“So you taught him to embrace his werewolf nature?” she asked, her voice loud, but now with a hint of a tremor in it. The gathered druids watched silently.
Deaton looked around at his fellow druids for a second before focusing on the dryw and her question. “Scott was a new kind of werewolf, one with balance, one who accepted his humanity instead of clinging to his wolf and giving in to his base nature.”
“Explain what you mean by base nature,” the dryw said.
Celeste was enjoying the show. Deaton could see the trap now, and he looked towards the woman who had earlier attempted to defend him, but even she was silent. “Peter Hale went mad and killed a dozen people in Beacon Hills, and everyone excuses that because it was his right as a wolf to avenge his pack. That sort of violence is dangerous. Violence breeds more violence, and it was Peter Hale's vengeance that brought hunters into town. How many of the horrors of Beacon Hills could've been avoided if Peter Hale had embraced his humanity more than his wolf? He could've gone to the police and helped build the case. He is smart enough to understand how to either find or manufacture evidence, but instead he turned immediately to his claws in his teeth to solve the problem. That is what Scott was avoiding.”
Celeste felt the condemnation from the gathered audience. Deaton had condemned himself with his refusal to acknowledge that the magical and mundane communities were separate. Tales of that speech would be carried far and wide in the magical community so that druids beyond this one would reject Deaton.
The dryw’s voice was soft and dangerous. “Do you maintain that mundane authorities have more relevance to our lives than our own justice?” A number of druids muttered unhappily. Giving up autonomy to mundane authorities was not an option.
“An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” Deaton snapped.
The dryw looked around at the gathered druids before focusing on Deaton once more. “You continue to quote foundational beliefs which are not druidic in nature. A druid would say that Peter Hale had a right to inflict on his enemies as much damage as they inflicted on him. That would serve balance. What do you serve Alan?”
“Balance,” he said fiercely. He might believe that true, but from the uncomfortable shifting of the druids gathered around them, they could all see better.
“And what balance is there in a werewolf who does not respect his wolf as well as his humanity?”
“I never told him to distrust his wolf. I only told him to not lose his humanity, to not become the same vengeful monster that Peter Hale became.”
“And did helping him embrace his humanity include counseling him to never kill?” the dryw asked.
Deaton opened his mouth, but again he could say no words. The circle did not permit lies, and that forced silence was nearly as condemning as any words he might've spoken.
The dryw slammed the tip of her cane into the ground again. “I do not have evidence that you’re darach, although removing excess energy from a mundane is both ill-advised and dangerous; however, you have proved that you are not a druid. You embrace Christian ideals, so you must find your place in Christian communities. Alan Deaton, from this time forward, you will find no sanctuary and druid circles. You will take no part in druid magics. You will have no home in druid woods. You are not druid. You are outcast.”
She raised her hands and called out a magic spell so quickly Celeste could not catch the individual words, but magic rushed out of her and spilled out into the world. It was a strong spell, one that would carry far and stain Alan himself so that if he tried to escape its reach, he would drag the spell along with him.
“No,” Alan cried out in horror, but the dryw turned her back on him.
One by one, the other druids did the same until only his young ally looked at him sadly, but eventually even she turned her back. The magic pushed Deaton, driving him away from a space that was sacred to druids and which he was no longer allowed in. Deaton fought it, leaning forward into the circle, as if he could break the dryw’s magic with his will, but he could not.
He took one step backwards and then another and another until finally he turned and fled.
“Please leave us,” the dryw asked Celeste.
She bowed her head respectfully and retreated. Her task was complete, so she made her way through the trees. Celeste wondered if Deaton would take the same route her mother had, railing against reality until he finally destroyed himself. If he did, it was no business of hers. She ran her fingers over the trunk of an old tree, and it chittered with amusement. Trees were always amused at the antics of humans. No doubt to creatures that lived hundreds of years, humans were amusing with all their schemes and plans. But at least Celeste could go back to Peter and report that their current scheme had been successful. Hopefully other threats against the pack would be easier to deal with, but it was always difficult when someone was emotionally attached to the source of danger.
Celeste knew that too well, so she had some sympathy for Scott and his desire to protect Deaton. Sometimes it was easy to love the people who did you the most damage. That was why one needed a grove or a coven or a pack. One needed someone at one’s back in that situation. And when it was impossible to kill an enemy, removing their source of support and power was a close second to murder in effectiveness.
Celeste did enjoy working for Peter.
Peter frowned at the older man standing at his doorstep. “Agent Anderson?” he asked.
The man smiled widely. “Of course, trust the infamous Peter Hale to recognize his young companion’s teammates.”
Peter raised an eyebrow. “I understood you to be a supervisor, not his teammate. I am much more cautious about any teammates Stiles works with.” Now that Supervisory Agent in Charge Gary Anderson had shown up on his doorstep with words like infamous, Peter definitely needed to expand his research into Stiles’s world, especially since Anderson didn’t strike Peter as particularly human.
“I have no doubt you are. May I come in?”
Peter weighed his options. Nothing in Anderson's scent even hinted at the supernatural, and yet Peter’s instincts told him that this man was not human. That contradiction made Peter deeply uncomfortable, but if there was danger here, he would not leave Stiles exposed to it. Peter stepped back to allow Anderson into the house.
“Interesting landscaping,” Anderson said as he stepped into the sun-drenched living room. Peter was absolutely not ashamed of the rows of corn planted in his front yard. It was a nice contrast to the pile of boulders near the corner. When his neighbor had declared war, she had not understood the lengths Peter would go to in order to win.
“I am in a conflict with the HOA. I assume they regret instigating it, but I'm not willing to call a cease-fire until I have exhausted my opportunities to torture them.”
Anderson smirked. “I approve.”
“I don't care,” Peter shot back. He closed the front door and followed Anderson into the living room. Anderson sat at the far end of one of the couches and crossed his legs, every movement, elegant and economical. Perhaps that's why Peter had the feeling that he was not human. He used his body with far more skill than most humans could. Rather than sitting, Peter leaned on the wall and crossed his arms. “How can I help you?”
Anderson studied him. “The great Peter Hale who returned from the dead.”
Peter again lifted an eyebrow. Anderson had entirely more information on Peter than he should.
“The infamous left hand of the Hale pack,” Anderson continued. “Your sister was quite famous in certain circles for her attempts to mediate peace. She was quite dedicated to the goal of quieting the world.”
“And?” Peter asked. This one was dangerous and Peter was not going to give away one ounce of information until he had gathered enough intel to understand the battlefield they were playing on.
Anderson smirked and Peter was reminded uncomfortably of his own face. “I come to ask a favor, one that would serve a similar function of quieting the world.”
“And do you believe the world needs quieting?” Peter assumed they were talking about the old ones, but in magic circles, one was never quite sure who understood the precarious nature of the world. After all, if too many people knew the danger posed by the sleepers, that would, ironically, wake them. It was best to leave the names of the old gods and the goddesses in the mouths of only those who would confuse magic for spiritualism and who would order crystal talismans from online bookstores.
Real magic users learned to edit even their own thoughts. Anderson settled in and rested his arm along the back of the couch. “The Argents have quieted their members to a certain extent, but there is noise that persists.”
So they were talking about the old ones. Peter feared he knew exactly what favor this man might ask. When Peter had died and left a part of himself tethered to Lydia, he knew that he ran the risk of waking the old ones. Coming back from the dead was a trick that always involved the gods in mythology, but at the time he had been too angry to care. But if this was another Anubis dog come to warn him that the old ones were stirring, Peter wasn't sure what price he would pay to help quiet the world, a world that his daughter and Stiles and the rest of their pack had to live in. Peter couldn’t refuse without considering both the costs and the benefits. “What favor would that be?”
“It is not in the nature of my kind to ask a favor without offering one. We maintain a certain reputation for wisdom and fairness that would require me to offer a boon first.”
“And what kind of creature would you be?” Peter asked. He knew of more creatures that would lie about that sort of moral imperative that he knew creatures who would live by it.
Anderson studied Peter. His eyes were a storm gray blue, but now Peter could almost see the clouds roil in their depths, and when Anderson held up his hand, long, pearlescent talons grew and an iridescent shimmer covered the back of his hand. Peter dropped his arms to his side. “Dragon?” These were the oldest and most powerful magic users still on the planet. Anderson closed his hand and in a blink, the illusion of humanity returned. “What favor can I offer to the infamous Peter Hale?”
Peter blinked away his shock. “I would never dare to claim a favor from a Dragon.”
Anderson leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees. “But the favor that I shall ask is one of such difficulty that I must offer you one in return.”
“Perhaps you should find someone else to help you with this favor,” Peter suggested even though his gut told him that no one else could offer it. If a Dragon had come to him, that suggested only one thing. The Dragons stirred themselves only when the old ones were on the verge of waking.
While this Dragon had clearly altered reality to the point that he had inserted himself into the FBI, he had done that, no doubt, only when the Argents and their foolishness threatened to disturb the balance of the universe. And now he had come for Peter. Fear curdled in Peter's guts, especially since he'd already touched an Anubis dog's feather. He burned once, and the idea of burning for an eternity until the Devourer ate his heart was not an ending he had ever seen for himself. If he had, perhaps he would've released the threads that Lydia anchored and let himself slide into the next world.
At the time, he'd thought only of himself and what he deserved, and unlike Dragons, Peter could not rewind time and make a different choice. So if a Dragon had come to claim him, there was very little Peter could do.
Anderson watched him with those blue eyes that spoke of storms and seas. “I would offer something that you may find a value, and if you decide that what I've offered is not worth the favor that I would ask, I would accept your decision. I would only ask you to remember that refusing my favor, could have dire consequences for everyone.”
Peter crossed his arms over his chest again. “I'm less concerned about everyone, or even the world in general, than I am my pack.”
“A proper answer for a werewolf. You are a child of Leto's blessing, and she was much like the creatures she loved. You remind me of her more than most werewolves.”
“I'd always assumed I came from one of the lines of Lycaon’s curse.”
“I assure you, you do not. Will you accept my blessing?”
Peter hesitated. Accepting a favor from a Dragon was in some ways even more dangerous than asking for one. If Peter found cause to ask for a favor, he could have planned for contingencies and plotted for eventualities. But if a Dragon offered a favor, Peter would be forced to accept it at face value. But refusing it would be even more dangerous, especially since this creature was already close to Stiles.
“Does Stiles know?” Peter asked.
“That I'm a Dragon or that I'm here offering you a favor?”
Anderson got an almost amused look. “No, but he does suspect I am something. I am rather surprised he has not talked to you about that, but I believe he hopes to protect me from your overprotective streak.” That explained why the Dragon was amused. Peter would not pose any threat to one of these old beasts.
“Since you have me at a disadvantage, it does seem accepting your terms would be wisest.”
“It would. However, I do not expect creatures who live less than a millennia to employ reason.”
“Then I shall endeavor to prove you wrong.”
Anderson’s smile grew wider. “At best you could prove yourself an exception to the rule. Come. Sit next to me.”
Fear circled in Peter's guts, a familiar old friend that he had thought to drive away. But every time he thought he had succeeded, life proved his efforts futile. Peter only wished he’d had a chance to say some last words to Stiles. Unfortunately, the universe rarely afforded one time to get one’s affairs in order. He'd learned that lesson more than once. Despite the fact that he had no illusions that he had managed to hide his fear from this creature, Peter walked calmly to the couch and sat on the middle cushion next to the Dragon.
The Dragon slowly let his pearl claws extended again. “I believe memories were taken from you. Werewolves have some skill in blocking them, but the Dragons possess far more talent in that area.”
“Talia,” Peter said. He'd already known that she had locked away far more of his memories than he had ever managed to access. But the Dragon would not be offering them him this unless it knew something specific. “Why are you doing this?”
The Dragon smiled, his teeth too sharp for a human's mouth. “Because I need you to owe me a favor.” His hand darted out, catching Peter by the back of the neck. Before Peter could protest, his body went stiff as claws slid into his spine.
Peter was fourteen years old and standing in the lobby of Beacon Hills Hospital. Talia was in front of him, her hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail and her T-shirt reeking of sweat. It was night, and the corridors were empty. “How could you?” Talia demanded. “This is not the sort of secret you have any right to keep.” Peter's mouth answered even though Peter felt disconnected from the scene. This memory had been locked away from him for so long that it was, in some ways, no longer part of him. Instead, his body went through the motions while he was an observer.
“You have no right to tell me what I can and cannot do.”
“She's an adult. You are fourteen years old. What the hell are you even thinking?”
“We’re shifters. It's not the same for us, and you know it. Besides, she's only four years older than I am.” Skinny, scrawny adolescent Peter shoved his finger into Talia’s chest. If adult Peter had done that, she would have slashed him badly enough to require medical assistance. But this half-sized version of Peter only earned a patented Talia eyeroll.
“Exactly, which means she is an adult and you are a fourteen-year-old child.”
Peter's eyes flared gold. “I am not a child, and you are not my parent. Corinne and I agreed to have this child together, and we are going to raise her together.”
“Do you have any idea what it means that she's a werecoyote?”
“Of course I do!”
Talia threw her hands up. “You can't, or you never would've allowed her to care your child. If that child is a female werecoyote, she will inherit part of her mother's power. Every coyote female carries a type of alpha spark, and that spark is split with their daughters. Corinne will kill that baby if it is a girl to make sure that she is not left powerless.”
Peter's claws extended from his fingers. “Corinne already knows it’s a girl. We've agreed to name her Nancy, and we’re going to raise her together, and if Corinne has less power, that's okay because I'm going to be there to protect her and we are going to raise Nancy together and she will grow up to add her power to her mother's. I'm not an idiot. We discussed these things.”
A flood of memories washed through him. He wanted to name his daughter after the veterinarian in Hot Zone because she had been so smart and willing to do whatever it took to stop the ebola outbreak. Corinne had laughed at his passionate description of Nancy’s description in the book and admitted that she had never come up with girl names because she had always assumed that she would abort any female fetuses to make sure she didn’t lose her powers. But she had trusted Peter. She was willing to have a little girl because she knew Peter would take care of her and their daughter. They would be a family and defend each other.
Talia pressed into Peter’s personal space. “Clearly you haven't thought this through. The first time she shifts and discovers how much for power she's lost, she's going to be tempted to kill that little girl. She's going to murder your daughter and you are going to be helpless to stop her because you are fourteen years old.” Talia's voice shook with emotion.
“She won't do that because we have discussed all these possibilities,” Peter shot back. He remembered conversations in Corinne’s bed. He remembered sitting in the front seat of her car as they talked about how afraid she was of losing so much of her spark and how they could help her recover at least some of her power.
Then-fourteen-year-old Peter had been utterly and completely convinced that Corinne would be as loyal to their little girl as Peter already was. He felt Nancy's pack bond in his soul right next to Talia's. In fact, he suspected that the bond snapping into place had woken Talia in the middle of the night and sent her running to the hospital. Through Peter, she had sensed a new member of the pack being born.
But adult-Peter had a different perspective. Perhaps everything Corinne promised was true. Perhaps, had Talia not interfered, Corinne and Peter and little Malia then called Nancy would have formed a happy pack. But years of experience as a left-hand whispered that Talia's fears were not entirely without merit. It was one thing for a person to discuss hypotheticals of power and consider giving up that power, but when faced with the reality, many people panicked.
Weighing the two sets of memories, Peter still believed Corinne had been reasonably well-prepared to sacrifice for her daughter. But there was a chance she would have tried to kill Malia. And if that had happened, she would have needed to go through Peter first. She would have gone through Peter because he had been no match for Corinne back then.
“Peter, you are so naïve,” Talia told the fourteen-year-old brother who was driving her crazy. Her scent was weary. No. It was exhausted. She ran fingers through her hair, pulling half her ponytail out before she cursed and ripped out the elastic tie. “We need to get you and the baby away from her.”
“Don't argue with me, Peter!”
“Don't act like you're my mother. You aren't. You're my sister.”
“And I'm your guardian.”
“Good job acting like it,” Peter snapped back. “Go off and play with your pack politics and leave me and my family alone.”
“She is not your family,” Talia said, her voice rich with stress. “I am.”
“You killed my family!” Peter snapped.
Talia reared back as though slapped. “What are you talking about?”
“Do you really think I can't put two and two together? I know it was your fault.”
“I called them because I had had too much to drink, so yes, I’m the reason they were in the car. But that doesn't mean that I am to blame for them dying. Blame the idiot driver who hit them.”
“You had too much to drink?” Peter demanded incredulously. Most young werewolves indulged in some wolfsbane whiskey at some point, but not Talia. She was as square as they came. “You never drink. When you called that night, both mom and dad went screaming out of bed to get to you. If you had too much to drink, one of them would've come to pick you up, and it probably would've been mom so she could lecture you within an inch of your life about irresponsible choices. Drinking doesn't explain why both of them would've been on that road. You called them, but it sure as hell had nothing to do with you being too drunk to drive back home. There was something else out there that scared you, and instead of handling the danger yourself, you dragged both of our parents into it. They raced out of the house to save you, and they died.”
Talia had lost all the color from her face. Until that exact moment, Peter hadn’t been certain that he had put all the puzzle pieces together in correct order, but it was the only thing that made sense. “Did you at least take care of the danger or did you let someone to kill mom and dad and then get away?”
“Don't talk about what you don't know,” Talia said in a voice far colder than he had ever heard his sister use.
“Why not? You love to talk about what you don't know. You love to talk about how Corinne is going to kill our little Nancy, our little baby girl. She is not going to do that.”
“You assume she's not going to, that is not the same thing. Now come on, we’re going home.”
“No.” Peter braced his feet and strangled off his end of the pack bond he shared with his sister as best he could.
Talia narrowed her eyes and anger was etched into every line of her face. “Don't argue with me about this.”
“Do you really think I'm gonna roll over and show you my belly like the rest of the family does? Really? After you got mom and dad killed and won't even be honest about how it happened?”
“Get in the car,” Talia said with a sort of forced calmness.
“Now!” Talia roared the word with her alpha voice, and Peter flinched back, the tone cutting through every defense and making his wolf whimper. Before he could recover, Talia had him by the arm and was marching him out to the car. Peter glanced at the elevator that could carry him up toward Corrine and their child, but that would have to wait until later. Talia couldn’t hold him captive forever. Peter would come back and he would start his own pack. After all, Corrine was an alpha of sorts. Peter could get used to life without a wolf alpha.
The ride back to the house had been silent and sullen. Even at fourteen, Peter had known that he had not handled Talia’s discovery with anything approaching maturity, but he’d been both unwilling and unable to blunt the worst of his aggravation. She pretended to be his mother when she wanted to control him, but then she would refuse to give him the affection and love their mother had always shown him.
And Peter would never forgive her for getting their parents killed. He had no idea what she had called them out for in the middle of the night, but if she thought her made up story would fool him, she was stupidier than she looked, and Peter figured Talia looked pretty damn stupid. He hated her some days. Adult Peter and adolescent Peter blurred together in that moment.
She pulled up in front of the house and Peter got out and slammed the door behind him. He stomped up the steps before she could start lecturing him again. Inside, Peter looked up to see little Derek staring down at him.
“Did Momma find you with the funny smelling lady?” Derek asked, his big eyes blinking from lack of sleep. Peter’s fury rolled through him as he realized that Derek had been spying on him and Corrine—that’s how Talia had known Peter was the source of the new pack bond. That’s how she had figured it all out too fast for him and Corinne to get out of the hospital. Derek was a snot-nosed, creepy little mutt who always followed Peter around and ratted him out.
“You little monster.” Peter started toward the stairs, but Talia caught him by the arm.
“Oh, no you don’t. You don’t get to blame Derek when you’re the one making bad decisions.”
Peter sucked in a breath and opened his eyes to the tastefully decorated living room of his Sacramento home. It all made so much more sense. Corinne hadn’t accidentally carried Malia to term—she had understood the risk to her spark and had chosen Peter and their child over her own power only to have Peter abandon her and Talia steal the infant. Peter wondered if she knew he had never been given a choice in the matter.
And when Derek had his own secret love with Paige, that must have triggered every deeply held resentment in Peter’s soul, even if Peter couldn’t consciously understand why he was so jealous and angry.
“Removing memories causes dysfunction, and when the memories are so integral to who you are as a person, the damage is significant,” Anderson said.
“I wonder if that was the moment Talia decided to have me train as a left hand,” Peter said as he rubbed the back of his neck where Anderson had pulled out his talons. Peter had, in that moment, shown both an ability to put together clues and a clear need for a task that would keep him busy. It was hard to reconcile these newly recovered memories to what he already knew, but it seemed as if the timeline matched.
Talia had hidden his child and then sent him to study to take an archaic role as pack enforcer, a role that would leave him forever on the outside of the pack. Maybe she believed he deserved it for trying to abandon his pack that night. Maybe she thought he didn’t feel the pack bonds strongly enough to care that the tasks she assigned him would forever mark him as an outsider. The opposite was true. Peter felt every pack bond so sharply that they often cut his soul to shreds.
Anderson studied Peter, his head tilted to the side, and Peter started to suspect that Peter’s death might not be the favor. If the dragon wanted to kill him, then revealing this memory would be of no value. This memory would only be helpful in healing the wounds between himself and his nephew. After all, some part of Peter had never forgiven Derek for stealing his chance to have a pack with Corinne because he literally could not remember the events to forgive them. As an adult, Peter could see that Derek had been a child, little more than six or eight at the time. He had probably been confused about why his favorite playmate had stopped playing with him and started coming home smelling of a strange shifter. Certainly the rest of the family wouldn’t have noticed.
But any fault for mishandling the situation lay at Talia’s feet, not Derek’s. Sadly, Peter could even empathize with his sister now that he remembered the entire event because she had acted out of her own prejudices, but also out of a desire to protect her pack. He’d forgotten how young she’d been back then. From his fourteen year old perspective, she’d been an adult, but looking back, she’d been little more than a child herself. She’d been in her twenties when she’d inherited alpha powers and an adolescent brother she didn’t know how to talk to. He’d thought she was like McCall—always so sure she knew right and so often terrifyingly wrong. And later, she had been. But the sister he remembered from the hospital had been frazzled and desperate and frustrated.
“I will admit that your favor could help me heal the wounds in my pack. For a wolf, nothing is more important. So, what favor would you ask in repayment?”
Anderson waved a hand, and suddenly Chris fucking Argent was sitting on the sofa across from them, his eyes wide and his mouth half-open in shock. “I was hoping you could take custody of an Argent I’ve inherited.”
Stiles looked towards the basement stairs. “Wait. Are you trying to tell me that my boss at the FBI gave you Chris Argent?” Stiles was fairly sure his brain had cramped somewhere in the middle of that statement. He looked over at Derek who had no expression at all on his face. That was generally not a good sign. An even worse sign was that Peter looked smug.
“Your boss is a dragon,” Peter said. He’d said that before, but Stiles was still having trouble getting his brain wrapped around all this.
Stiles scratched the side of his neck. “Please tell me that’s some secret society that I don't know about because if you mean dragon the way I think you mean dragon, that is not making me feel better.”
Peter raised a single eyebrow; the asshole was enjoying this. Derek glanced towards the basement door as though expecting Chris Argent to burst out of the basement door with guns blazing, but so far he seemed exhausted. Stiles wasn’t sure Chris could blaze even if his life depended on it. Derek cleared his throat and turned his attention to Peter. “Where has he been?”
“You should ask him that. He gets delightfully confused any time he tries talking about where he's been. Given that the Wild Hunt gets many of their powers from dragons, I will assume he was in some equivalent of their train station.”
Stiles whipped his head around. “The Wild Hunt get their power from dragons?” Peter gave him an amused expression that bordered on condescension. Stiles narrowed his eyes. “If you ever want to have sex again, consider carefully the tone you use when you provide an answer.”
“Can we avoid talking about your sex life?” Derek begged.
“Why nephew, now that you and young Penny smell of sex on such a regular basis, I had assumed you would be less of a prude.”
Derek's expression was thunderous. “I'm not,” he said flatly. The two Hale men stared at each other for a second before Peter rolled his eyes.
“Most magic in the world is filtered through the dragons. Some people believe that even the most basic of all human magic, the possession of a spark, can originally be traced back to those old beasts. And as to why we inherited an Argent, it appears that there is some concern that the Hale pack is rather magically loud.” Peter said that last word like a curse, whispering it in a horrified voice.
Derek snorted. “That would be mostly you.”
“You might be right,” Peter agreed. “For certain creatures, my foray back from the dead happened just a heartbeat ago. When one has eternal life, the passage of time is rather distorted. Our benefactor has woven spells around Chris in order to make him an effective sound dampener.”
Stiles leaned back in the chair and tried to wrap his brain around reality having taken another sharp turn to the left. He had just gotten used to the fact that Chris Argent was probably dead. The French Argents had killed the rest of the American branch, so there hadn't been any reason to believe Chris would've escaped. Stiles had even felt bad about it. Chris had taken in Isaac when Isaac felt like he couldn't trust the pack anymore, and Stiles been a big part of that with the Nogitsune. And yeah, Chris had been a dickless, wonder in his youth and had let his father and his sister bend the family code into a pretzel to justify their own homicidal tendencies, but when push came to shove, he had chosen to do nothing. Which for an Argent, was the as close as they got to being morally upright.
Stiles might not have gotten over all of his fear and resentment of the Argent family in general, and the Beacon Hills Argents specifically. However, Chris was more pathetic pawn than vicious queen like Victoria or Kate, and the less said about Gerard, the better.
“What are we going to tell the rest of the pack?” Stiles asked.
Derek's gaze snapped over to him so fast that Stiles was surprised he didn't give himself whiplash. “You can't possibly be considering letting Peter keep Chris Argent.”
“You can't possibly be considering rejecting a gift given by a dragon,” Peter countered.
“He's a human being,” Derek snapped, “not a chess piece to be moved around aboard. And he is certainly not your slave.”
Derek was sticking up for an Argent. Stiles was fairly sure that some version of hell was freezing over right now. And it was a version that was normally very hot.
“He could do significantly worse than living here.” Peter gestured towards the house, which was beautifully decorated and meticulously maintained by a team of housekeepers. “I can easily support one more person with an internet shopping habit.”
“Peter,” Stiles said softly.
Peter sighed wearily and turned his attention to Stiles. “One simply does not reject a gift from a dragon.”
“And I'm not suggesting you should,” Stiles said. His boss was a dragon. Boring Special Agent Anderson was a centuries’ old dragon. Yep, that still made his head hurt. Stiles focused on the more immediate problem. “I am just suggesting that Derek is right that maybe we need to talk to Chris about this. After all, I do believe you are the person that shoved a piece of rebar through his stomach and pinned him to the wall of the sewer. He probably has some bad feelings around that.”
Peter sniffed. “I wouldn’t have done that had he not gotten in the way.” His words were confrontational, but there was just a touch of what might be guilt somewhere under all the aggravation. That had been during Peter’s whole plan to kill Scott, so Peter probably hated that his schemes left Stiles in the unenviable position of trying to defend him when the pack brought it up.
“Peter,” Stiles said, “I adore you. I love you. I would burn the world down for you, but if you had done that to me, I would go out of my way to behead you.”
Peter gave him a weirdly affectionate grin. “You would be successful,” he said proudly. “However, I don’t have anything to fear from an Argent, and one exiled from his pathetic clan at that.”
Derek rolled his eyes so hard he probably gave himself a brain cramp.
“In case it is escaped your notice, Chris is a hunter with more beheading skills than I have,” Stiles said. He appreciated that Peter put him on a bit of a pedestal, but Stiles was more realistic than that.
Peter scoffed. “All Chris has is an ability to use weaponry. I don’t see any heavy armaments around here.”
“He's not going to remain locked up here like a prisoner,” Derek said.
“I am certainly not as jailer,” Peter said amiably.
Stiles narrowed his eyes as he parsed the potential meanings behind that statement. “Are you implying that someone else is?”
And Peter’s smug look was back. There were days that Stiles wondered why he loved this man quite so much because he could be annoying. That was probably fair because Stiles could be annoying too. Maybe he should feel sorry for Derek for having to put up with both of them.
“Not long after the dragon returned to work, Chris attempted to leave the house,” Peter said. “However, the minute he took one step outside the house, he grew very quiet and childlike and confused.”
“So the dragon didn't give him to you as much as loan him,” Stiles guessed. “Maybe I could go to work and talk him into breaking the spell.”
Now both Derek and Peter were looking at him like he had lost his mind. “What?” Stiles demanded.
“If you're going to confront a dragon, I'm going to be there,” Derek said with a snarl.
Derek growled when Peter gave a dismissive snort. “Oh yes, because that would make it so much better. The dragon has clearly altered the very fabric of the universe in order to maneuver himself close enough to Stiles to protect him, but you believe Stiles would be safest if you went and threatened the dragon with your tiny little werewolf teeth.” Peter held up a finger and thumb in a fair approximation of the length of a fang.
Derek slid into beta shift and showed his teeth.
Peter crossed his right leg over his left. “Shall I show you a picture of dragon teeth?” he asked dryly. “Or perhaps we can find a magical dealer and purchase a dragon scale for you to gnaw on so you will realize how utterly useless to those teeth would be. I promise you, you and I are little more than gnats compared to that creature. If he has taken a liking to Stiles, our best bet is to hide behind Stiles in the event of any world ending danger.” Peter reached across and caught Stiles’s hand in his. Peter’s words were all pragmatism and self-preservation, but the bond thrummed with affection and a whispered promise that Peter would defend Stiles, even against Anderson.
“What do you mean he took a liking to me?”
“Did he or did he not alter reality in order to provide a position for you in the FBI?”
“I don't know. Maybe he just works at the FBI because it's a good way to keep track of potentially noisy magic users. Quite a few people like the Argents make enough noise for law enforcement to notice.” If Stiles wanted to keep track of stupid people, that’s where he would plant himself. Although Stiles wouldn’t make himself the head of a unit that reviewed documents. He’d make himself a unit chief over one of the specialty units that travelled all over the country. Or their equivalent in other countries. Stiles had always wanted to say he was from Scotland Yard, so that would be near the top of his list.
“Yes,” Peter said, “but when the Argents made noise, they were clearly encouraged to murder their cousins and employees in order to quiet them. When we made noise, you were given a job you adore and I was gifted an Argent who I do not adore, but who I will endure in order to avoid offending a dragon. Anderson said Chris is to stay near one of us at all times, whichever was most likely to be magically loud at any given time.” Peter gave Stiles a meaningful look.
“Me? I can't take him to work with me.” Stiles protested.
“Work? No. But your office has a dragon who can shield you from listeners. However, when you were practicing your magic, that's when you need to have Argent with you.”
“Why can't you keep Argent with you?” Stiles asked mulishly. He almost didn’t hate Chris Argent, but that didn’t mean he was comfortable around the man. He had threatened to kill Scott way more than was reasonable. Hell, he’d threatened to kill Scott more than Stiles had, and Chris had meant those threats.
“If I have cause to bring myself back from the dead again, I will make sure to keep Argent close,” Peter promised. “However, we both know you are far more likely to be magically loud than I am at this point.”
“I thought you inherited an Argent. When did this become my problem?” Stiles was sulking and he knew it. Peter gave his hand a squeeze before he let go.
“When you made enough noise to attract the attention of dragon. And hopefully with Argent's assistance, you can avoid ever doing that again.” Peter's look was sharp with fear, and Stiles felt apprehension stain the bond between them. Maybe Peter was hiding behind arrogance, but this visit had freaked him out.
Stiles sighed. “How exactly am I supposed to explain my best friend’s dead ex-girlfriend's father hanging out with me?”
“I would suggest you not explain it that way.” Peter said. Stiles flipped him off.
“Might I suggest that you introduce me as a bodyguard?”
Stiles spun around to see Chris Argent standing behind him. Neither of the werewolves looked surprised. Stupid werewolf senses. “Um… Mr. Argent. Looking… uh, good.” Stiles winced at his own stupidity.
Chris Argent’s hair was wet and he was wearing poorly fitted sweats that he must have stolen from someone's locker in the basement gym. He certainly didn't have any of the polish Stiles remembered. Chris Argent had always been larger-than-life—the sophisticated hunter who knew everything. Of course, at sixteen, Stiles had been insanely easy to impress, so that might have something to do with his impression.
“Um, how are you doing?” he tried again.
Chris leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. “Are you referring the fact that I have been missing and apparently held captive for four months or the fact that everyone I ever knew is dead or the fact that I have been essentially ordered to remain with the complete psychopath who has somehow gotten himself alpha power and manipulated a young man into sharing his bed.” Chris glared at Peter.
“Hey! Ixnay on the anipulationmay. I sleep with whoever I want, and I do not get manipulated. I manipulate others.”
Chris gave Stiles a flat look that would've made Derek proud.
“Sooner or later, the French matriarch is going to want revenge for what happened to the Argent name. She’ll keep her head down for a year or two in the hopes that the old ones will forget and move on, but Argents don't forget. Ever.”
Stiles noticed that Chris had changed the topic rather than agree with Stiles’s assessment.
“Your kin are uniquely qualified at holding grudges,” Peter said.
Chris nodded. “Yes, we are. The Argents keep track of their grudges, pursue them through generations, consider it a matter of honor to always treat life like a game, and to win each round. You handed the French matriarch a major loss, and she is eventually going to try and even that score.”
“The Argent started this by killing our whole family,” Derek snapped. His werewolf features were back again.
Chris’s gaze fell to the floor for a moment before he looked up at Derek. “I know. Kate and Gerard were convinced of their own infallibility, and they believed they could get away with anything. I know the Argents started this war, but now that I have been traded like a past-his-prime pitcher, I'm trying to help you understand the world as they see it.
“They will blame you for the deaths of every American Argent, and they will believe that the number of Argent dead dwarfs any losses you've taken. In their minds, that will justify any attempt to retaliate. At best, they will wait until they think no one is expecting it. At worst, they are going to drag other hunter families into this conflict through a tapestry of lies and manipulation. So Stiles,” Chris said as he turned his attention to just Stiles, “you need to introduce me as your bodyguard. I know most of the French Argents, and more importantly, I can recognize their training. Even if they send someone young enough that I've never met them, I should recognize the way they move. I've lived to the Calaveras long enough that I have a fairly good shot of recognizing them as well.”
Stiles looked from Chris to Peter to Derek looking for someone to say that this was all paranoia. All three men stared back at him. Stiles scrubbed his hand over his buzz cut hair. “Is this feud ever going to be over?”
“Certainly not in our lifetimes,” Peter said quietly. He looked up at Chris. “Just to make it clear, I don't care if there's a dragon involved. If you do anything to put Stiles at risk, if you fail to do something that could protect Stiles, I will tear your throat out. And unlike Derek, I know to always check my kills. You will not be coming back to life.”
“I wasn't the one who killed Kate so she could come back,” Derek grumbled.
Peter glared at him. “No, but you killed me so that I was unable to check my kill, which meant the obligation fell to you.” Derek winced and Peter's expression immediately softened. “Of course, given your relative histories, it’s hardly surprising, but Chris, I am quite serious about killing you if you fail this family.”
Chris uncrossed his arms and took a step forward.
“Before my father turned hunting into a vendetta, I had no problem with being a hunter. I had no problem at the thought of my future children being hunters. The Argents were part of a large alliance of humans and supernatural creatures that worked together to make sure that neither side got out of hand. If my daughter had been born into the world that I lived in until I was six or seven, I would've had allies when the Nogitsune targeted us. I would've had magic users who would've provided research. I would've had hundreds of hunters who would've dropped everything to deal with a threat that significant.
“But my father's radical extremism drove away every ally who wasn’t completely human. I will always blame him for what happened to our family because Gerard Argent is the one that took an obligation to improve the world and turned it into an obsession with purifying it. And anyone who has studied history knows that those who attempt to purify the world always leave it a worse place. Gerard turned the world into a place where I had very few allies and no support when my daughter was on the front lines.”
“Gerard screwed all of us,” Stiles said softly. Some days he wondered if Kate had been a psychopath on her own or if she’d been one more victim. Chris said his father had started twisting the family when Chris had been six or seven, so Kate would have been two or three, a perfect age to start grooming her. Stiles thought about those high-school documentaries about Hitler youth.
“Yes,” Chris said quietly, “he did. And the Argent matriarch in France is cut from the same cloth. I don't give a shit what you think about me, Peter, and I'm not particularly afraid of you. The worst you can do is kill me, and then I get the pleasure of knowing that the dragon will come for you. But I'm not going to let Allison's friends get sucked into this feud, and I'm not going to let the Argents win, not when they killed every good person who ever stood at my side.” Chris stopped and pressed his lips together, and pain radiated out from him. Stiles held his breath, afraid of breaking the moment, afraid that Chris would shatter into a million pieces. But after a moment, Chris swallowed and met Peter's contemplative gaze. “I'll protect Stiles with my life because that's what it's going to take to screw over that bitch in France.”
Slowly, Peter smiled. He picked up his tumbler of whiskey from the coffee table and saluted in Chris's direction. “To Argent deaths,” Peter offered.
“Oh hell no,” Stiles said firmly. “To keeping the world quiet and making sure that if anyone stick their foot out of line, that we are strong enough to chop it off,” Stiles corrected him.
“I like that, Derek said. That can be our family motto.”
“It's a little long, but I could get behind it,” Chris said. “Peter?” he asked.
Peter sipped his whiskey for a second, but he finally nodded. “Deal. We’ll protect our own, develop our resources, and prepare to cut off a whole lot of feet when the Argents cross the line,” he said. Stiles noticed that Peter had said “when” and not “if.” He wished he could put that down to Peter’s paranoia, but Stiles had the feeling he was right.
“Perfect,” Chris said. “As you pointed out, I'm the human who has to use weapons to get the job done, so I'm hoping that we can purchase a whole lot of weapons. And we need to train your wolves. If there's one thing a hunter doesn't expect from a wolf, it's a semi-automatic weaponry. Let's make sure we take advantage of that blind spot.” Chris smiled, but his expression was as predatory as any werewolf Stiles knew. His own family had thrown him away, and Stiles had the feeling they were going to live to regret that.
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