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Build Me a River

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When Peter is six years old, he gets lost in the woods.  It wasn’t his fault, not really.  His parents were distracted with work again, he was finished his homework, his toys were boring, and he’d already read all his books.  They were supposed to go the library last Sunday but everyone was too busy to take him.  Only Talia was around today, and Peter begged and begged until his big sister sighed irritably and agreed to take him with her for a short evening run through the Preserve.

They reached a small clearing first, Talia bounding ahead, Peter scrambling to keep up.  She was already in her full-shift form by the time he caught up, balanced on a log and looking down at him with that superior tilt of her head.  Peter knew how special that was, to be able to shift all the way.  Their parents were so proud when Talia managed it shortly after her sixteenth birthday three months ago, and the celebration they threw was huge, with packs all over the States coming to offer their congratulations.

And it was pretty impressive, Peter could admit as he caught his breath and stared up at his sister.  Which was why-

“I can do it too now!”  Peter announced, beaming up at Talia.  “I can finally shift into a wolf like you, Tali!”

Talia blinked at him before she made a scoffing noise and leapt nimbly back to the ground before shifting back to human, stalking around him with a curl to her lips that’s clearly mocking.  “You, Peter?  No way, you’re too young, and you don’t even have Alpha potential like I do.”

“I can!”  Peter insisted, and then he proceeded to show her, wriggling out of his clothes first before focusing on his wolf.  It was slow, and it took all his concentration, but in the space of a few minutes, he was completely covered in fur from snout to tail.  He gave himself a shake, feeling a little clumsy as he took a few steps on paws that feel a bit too large, and then he turned eagerly to his sister with an excited bark, hoping for praise.  Full-shift was amazing, every werewolf knew that, and he’d done it!

But then he caught sight of Talia and promptly froze, faltering under the burning gold of her eyes and the slight snarl that bared her teeth at him.  His tail automatically tucked down, and he had to fight not to back away or roll belly-up.  Instead, quickly, or as quickly as he was able, he shifted back to two legs, falling on his butt in his haste.

“Tali?”  Peter said tentatively.  “Um, I did it too.  I practiced really hard at it.”

Talia blinked again before she smiled at him, but it was a weird smile, tight and sharp even though it hid her teeth, and her scent was all wrong, not matching it at all.  She smelled angry.

“That’s good, Peter,” She told him, but the words sound forced out.  “Did you tell Mom and Dad yet?”

Peter hunched his shoulders.  “I- no.  I wanted to show you first.  I thought… since I can turn into a wolf too now, we can run together more.”

“Oh,” Talia nodded stiffly.  “That’s- Yeah, that could be fun.”

Peter nodded at the ground.  She didn’t mean that though.  He didn’t know what he did wrong this time but Talia wasn’t happy with him.

“Let’s go back,” His sister said abruptly, already turning away.  “I have homework due tomorrow.  I don’t have time to babysit you all the time, you know.”

They both shrugged their clothes back on, and Peter had to hurry because Talia dressed faster, and she was already disappearing through the trees by the time he managed to pull his shirt on.  He ran after her, not wanting to lose sight of her, but he didn’t call after her to ask her to slow down.  She was mad, and he’d learned that it was never a good idea to make a future Alpha more mad, even if she was his sister.  Sometimes, when he annoyed her too much, she’d shove him into a wall or down the stairs or throw him into a tree when they were scuffling in the backyard, and he was a werewolf, a strong werewolf, so he could take it, and he wouldn’t cry about it because that’s what babies do and Peter wasn’t a baby anymore, but bruises and broken bones still hurt.  Father said he should know better than to provoke someone with Alpha potential anyway, especially because Talia was a teenager growing into her powers, which meant she had it really hard, and Peter shouldn’t make it even harder for her by causing trouble all the time.

So he didn’t say anything and just did his best to keep up.  He had shorter legs though, and Talia was fast, and she took a route that Peter wasn’t familiar with, in a thicker part of the forest with boulders and fallen trees scattered all over the place so he had to jump or climb over them every few steps, and that was tiring.  He could only catch glimpses of Talia’s dark hair and blue blouse through the undergrowth, and then, several more minutes, he lost sight of those too.

And now here he is, with the woods getting darker as the sun set in earnest, and the ominous grey clouds overhead don’t help.  Peter can see in the dark of course but everything in the woods blend that much better when there isn’t any light to differentiate one tree from the next.

“Tali?”  He finally cries out, anxiety overriding his wariness of his sister.  At least if Talia gets angry enough to want to make him submit, she’d still have to come back to get him.  “Tali!  I’m sorry I made you mad!  Please come back!  I’m sorry!”

He shouts a few more times and tries to run faster in the direction he last saw his sister, but that only makes him trip over a tree root and scrape his knee when he goes down, and Talia doesn’t come back for him.  By the time he stumbles to an exhausted halt, it’s well and truly night, and a light drizzle had started up.

His eyes sting, and his throat feels tight.  He scrubbs a sleeve over his eyes and coughs to clear his throat before taking a deep breath, which he probably should’ve done earlier if he hoped to pick up a scent trail leading back home because now all he smells is petrichor and rain, and there’s a tingle in his nose that means a storm is coming.

He thinks maybe he should climb something to get a better look at his surroundings, but then he worries whether that would get him hit by lightning or if that’s just if he stood too near a tree.  But there are trees everywhere so he should probably find some proper cover and wait out the storm, even if that means getting home late, if he manages to get home at all.  He isn’t supposed to stay out in the woods after it gets dark.

A distant rumble of thunder that sounds far too much like a hostile growl makes him jump.  Still, the weather isn’t that bad yet.  And he’s a werewolf.  He’d probably survive getting hit by lightning.

He glances around, nervously eyeing the trees and the rocks and the shadows looming large over everything.  His gaze settles on a rock formation in the distance, one that juts up and out, and when he reaches it, he realizes that it’s actually a small cliff, with a river – black and deep – down below.

The rain begins falling harder, another boom of thunder sounds, and a flash of lightning follows several seconds later.  Peter flinches at the noise, and after another moment of indecision, he ducks under the cliff and crawls into the space beneath the rock, just big enough to fit him and shelter him from both the downpour and any lightning.  He shivers a little, his clothes wet enough that it’s getting a bit chilly for him.  But at least he isn’t getting rained on anymore, and now he just has to wait for the storm to pass.  Worse comes to worst, someone will probably track him down sooner or later, even if they’ll be mad too.

He pulls up his knees and rests his chin on them.  For a while, it seems as if the storm is right above him, and his ears ring every time there’s a crack of thunder.  It feels like hours before the noise grows distant again, but the rain comes down harder than ever, turning the soil under his feet muddy.  He presses farther back into the recess that he’s taken refuge in, staring uneasily at the sheer drop only a few feet away from his toes.  He isn’t stupid enough to move too much or fool around near the edge though so he should be fine.

Eventually, he does start dozing off to the drum of the rain.  It’s still coming down pretty thick but no longer as heavy, and Peter can’t help falling asleep to it.

That is until he hears a splash, and then another, and then another, faint but still audible, and it draws him out of his slumber.  For a long, confused minute, he squints groggily into the night, trying to figure out where the noise is coming from.  It doesn’t sound like rain hitting the river below-

He yelps when the ground under his left foot gives way, and he tries to scramble back, except he has nowhere to go.  He manages to rise to his knees, and the extra height gives him a glimpse of the river, the water level now much higher than before, with the muddy ground of the ledge Peter has been sitting on slowly but steadily crumbling into the roiling depths.

He stays frozen in place for half a moment more, heart pounding in his chest, watching the rest of the ledge disappear, and then instinct takes over, his claws automatically pop out, and without thinking, he launches himself from what remains of his shelter and towards one side of the cliff instead, twisting in midair in a desperate attempt to get some kind of handhold that would save him from falling.

He slams into the rock, and for a second, with his claws digging into the mossy surface, he thinks maybe he made it, maybe he’s safe.  But then, the moss snaps under his weight like cobwebs, and with a shrill terrified scream that Talia would never let him live down if she heard, Peter plunges backwards into the dark, with nothing but the wild black currents of the river to catch him.

Water closes over his head.  He lost most of his air supply howling the way he did.  And the murky wet darkness that surrounds him can’t be cut through even with his heightened eyesight.

He thrashes hard even as the river tosses and buffets him left and right and up and down until he no longer knows which way is which.  His lungs strain for air, and he makes one last-ditch effort to propel himself in one direction and hopefully break the surface, but the burst of strength only takes him through more water, and he has no choice but to breathe in-

 


 

-and sit up gasping for air.  It takes him several disorienting minutes to catch his breath and realize he isn’t dead.  Or at the very least, even if he is dead, he still woke up… somewhere.  He’s drenched from head to toe, but otherwise, he feels okay.  Not at all like he almost drowned, much less did drown.

Slowly, Peter glances around.  It’s sunny, is the first thing he notices.  Except when he looks up, it’s not a regular sky he sees.  It’s a bright pale blue, yes, and he can make out a few white shapes that must be clouds, but it’s like staring at the sky’s reflection through water because there’s that slightly glassy, ripple quality to it, and every few seconds, tiny waves would roll by as if there’s a light breeze blowing.

But that shouldn’t be possible.  He’s sitting on a grassy bank beside an actual river with water so clear he can see the fish swimming in it, and when he looks across to the other side, he finds himself staring up an uneven sloping cliffside.

It’s the cliff he was perched on, Peter recognizes with a jolt.  Except the ledge hasn’t fallen away, as far as he can tell, and he can just see the line of trees beyond it.  It’s as if the storm never happened, and Peter was somehow dumped on the other side of the river.

Underneath a sky that’s gone all weird.  Somehow.

A snap of a twig behind him startles him, and he hastily jumps into a crouch, pressing his lips together to hide his fangs but unable to stop himself from flashing his eyes when a figure steps out from behind a tree.

At first glance, Pether thinks it’s just a man.  Tall and slender, certainly not as broad or muscled as his father, lacking the bulk that Father says werewolves should have.  Younger than his father too, with pale skin and brown hair, and dressed in a funny-looking blue robe.

His eyes though.  His eyes could almost past for a human brown if not for the fact that they’re too bright for such a normal colour, bright amber in a way that reminds Peter of sunlight bouncing off water on a summer day.

And Peter can’t hear a heartbeat from him.

The man is barefoot as he steps towards Peter, and he walks with a fluidity that’s unlike a werewolf’s prowling gait but somehow looks twice as graceful as anything Talia can boast about anyway.

“Well hello there,” The man says, his voice smooth like a hum, except with words included.  He stops a mere foot away from Peter and crouches down to his height.  He meets Peter’s eyes, and for a moment, Peter feels uncomfortably exposed.  The man tilts his head, his gaze that much sharper, never wavering.  “And who might you be?”

Peter glares suspiciously for a moment.  “Who are you?”  He draws himself up as tall as possible.  “My father is the Hale Alpha, and you’re on Hale territory!  You’re trespassing!”

Mockery flits across the man’s face, but it’s softened by a lack of malice, which throws Peter a little.  He knows mockery – Talia’s especially good at those expressions – but he’s not used to someone directing them at him without being mean about it.  He didn’t know that was possible.

“Am I?”  The man quirks an amused smile.  He blinks, and the colour of his eyes shimmer like ripples in a sunlit lake.  “And who says it isn’t the Hales who are trespassing?”

Peter stares, stunned because he’s never heard something so stupid.  “My family lives here, we’ve lived here for ages, of course we’re not trespassing!”

“Hmm,” The man’s smile widens.  “And who was here before your pack?”

Peter splutters.  Even at six, he knows his history.  “Nobody!  We were here first!  My ancestors were here before this town was even a town!”

The man cocks his head, gaze intent and unblinking on Peter.  “But that means ‘here’ had to be here before your ancestors could move here.  So, Peter Hale, where is ‘here’?  Where,” the man blinks, and for a second, it’s like squinting directly at the sun, “do you think you are right now?”

Peter gapes for a moment, and in the silence, he hears the quiet rush of the river, not just behind him but-

His head snaps up, and he stares once more at the sky that looks like a never-ending river.  Except-

“I fell in,” He says slowly, looking once more at the man in front of him.  “I did fall into the river, didn’t I?”

“You did,” The man confirms.

“And…” Peter glances up at the sky-river again.  It shouldn’t be possible but… “I didn’t get back out.”

The man is still smiling, and now Peter wishes he would stop.  “You didn’t.”

Peter swallows hard.  “Is this- Am I dead?”

The man just watches him, still and unnerving, like a statue in colour, and then he chuckles.  “Not quite.  Most people do, falling into the water like you did, especially in the middle of a storm.  But, on occasion, a select few get… washed up on my shores, so to speak.”

He rises to his full height then, and Peter takes an uncertain step back.  But the man only holds out a hand.

“Come along,” He says.  “Let’s get you out of those wet clothes, and maybe something to eat, before I send you home.”

Peter hesitates for a few seconds longer, but if what the man says is true, then Peter isn’t in his own territory anymore even if he might still be in Beacon Hills, and the books he’s read always warned about being respectful if you wandered into another pack’s territory.  This place doesn’t seem to belong to another pack, but it probably doesn’t hurt to at least be polite, especially since it doesn’t seem like this man is going to do anything bad to him.

He’s been… nice to Peter, so far.  At the very least, he hasn’t hurt him.

So Peter reaches out and carefully takes the man’s hand.  His skin is cool to the touch but not unpleasantly so, and when they start walking, he shortens his stride so that Peter doesn’t have to hurry to keep up.

They make their way deeper into the woods, and everything is familiar and not at the same time.  There are trees and flowers and birds and insects, and Peter catches glimpses of rabbits and even deer a couple times.  But also too, everything is so colourful, the leaves and grass are greener than Peter’s ever seen either, the flowers are full bloom rainbows, and there’s a clean, quiet sort of peace here that Peter has never felt in the Beacon Hills he came from.

He looks back up at the man at his side.  “How did you know my name?”

The man glances down at him.  “You live on my land.  Of course I know your name.  I know everybody’s names.”

Peter frowns, trying to make sense of that.  He’s fairly certain his father doesn’t know everybody’s names in Beacon Hills, and Father has always told them – him and Talia – that the Hales ruled Beacon Hills.  Then again, this man said the territory was his – his family’s? – even before Peter’s ancestors arrived, so maybe Father wouldn’t know everyone’s names because he doesn’t actually rule the place.

That isn’t a thought his father would like at all though – werewolves are very territorial, and an Alpha is even more so – so Peter pushes it aside for now.  Instead, he dithers over another question for a moment before accusing petulantly, “You still haven’t told me your name though.”

The man looks amused again, and Peter bristles instinctively, but the man tells him easily enough, “I haven’t, have I?  Well then, I suppose you can call me Stiles.”

Peter wrinkles his nose.  “‘Stiles’?”  What an odd name.

The man – Stiles – just nods agreeably.  “That’s right.”

“And…” Peter looks up at the sky again, this time through the arching branches of the trees around them.  “You live… in the river I fell into?”

“Something like that,” Stiles shrugs, but there’s something old and dark in his eyes when Peter looks at him again.  “But not just the one.  Every river connects to another, and here, I am all of them.  And what is a forest without water?  An impossibility.  These woods exist because I exist, and so that is why this land is mine.”

Peter listens, wide-eyed even after Stiles blinks and breaks eye-contact.  He’s not quite sure he understands completely, but even so, he can sense some kind of power behind the words, and he’s hardly forgotten the otherworldliness of Stiles’ eyes.  Stiles isn’t a werewolf but he’s obviously still something, and…

“If you’re the river,” Peter speaks up again abruptly.  “Does that mean you saved me?  From drowning?  Does that mean you brought me here?”

Stiles looks at him again, and for the first time, something like honest surprise shapes his expression, quickly replaced by a sharper kind of interest.  All he says though is, “You’re a clever one, aren’t you?”, and he doesn’t seem to expect an answer in return.

Peter still preens a little, something warm curling in his chest.  No one’s ever called him clever before.  An annoyance, a show-off, a troublemaker, even a liar when Talia twists the truth and gets him in trouble with their parents, yes, but never smart.  So even though it’s for something Peter thinks seems obvious enough after just a bit of thought, he decides he likes the praise, especially because Stiles says it like it’s a good thing.

He does remember to tell Stiles, “Thank you,” because he’s certainly thankful for not dying.  Stiles only laughs softly, and his free hand comes up to ruffle Peter’s hair.  Peter ducks his head a little, feeling flustered, but not enough to dislodge Stiles’ hand, and when the man stops, Peter himself tightens his grip around the hand he’s still holding.

If Stiles minds, he doesn’t say, nor does he pull away, and Peter finally lets himself relax completely.  By his reasoning, if Stiles wanted to hurt him, he wouldn’t have saved him in the first place.

Neither of them speaks again until Peter catches sight of something peeking out between the green high above, several white spikes that rise over the trees the closer they get, and Peter soon realizes that they’re towers.

They exit the woods at last, only to step onto the edge of a sprawling garden full of neatly-trimmed hedges and clusters of flowers and pale blue paths winding in-between them.  Directly up ahead, a fountain shoots water in the air in intricate patterns that glitter under the sunlight, and beyond that, a huge white building stands, expansive and tall and magnificent, with spiraling towers and large glass windows and more balconies than Peter can count, decorated with more greenery and flora.

“You live in a castle?!”  Peter exclaims, unable to hide his excitement because this place is even bigger – way bigger – than the Hale house, and the Hale house is the biggest in Beacon Hills.  He can’t even see where the castle ends; they disappear into groves of trees on either side so there’s no telling exactly how big the place is.

“Sometimes,” Stiles says, and Peter is left wondering if the man has more castles sitting around.

They reach the start of the garden path, and Peter blinks, puzzled, when he realizes that what he previously thought was cement painted pale blue is actually water.  Like the river above, they reflect the sky, and when Stiles steps onto the surface, ripples wobble outward from his feet, and he doesn’t sink at all.

“Coming?”  Stiles asks, and that amused slant to his mouth is back again.  They’re still holding hands but the man just waits for Peter to make up his mind instead of pulling him forward.

Worst that can happen is Peter will have to swim, and he already knows how to do that, so without hesitation, he takes an eager step onto the water path, delighting in the way he too remains standing on the surface.  Somehow, it doesn’t feel quite as solid as stone would, but at the same time, there’s no give under his feet even when he hops a few times and sends currents rolling out all around him.  There’s no splash either, he discovers, and when he stoops down to touch, his fingers can dip below the surface but they also come away perfectly dry.  Water, but not.

“That’s so cool!”  Peter exclaims enthusiastically, and beside him, Stiles grins.

“I’m glad you like it,” The man nods ahead at the castle.  “The walls are the same.”

Peter cranes his head around, trying to spot the waves, but he doesn’t run ahead, staying beside Stiles instead as they continue towards the castle.  He skips every few steps, watching ripples big and small form.  Stiles doesn’t sneer at him for being childish or annoying so Peter bounces along, trying to see how big a wave he can kick up.

They reach the steps leading to the huge glass doors, and Peter finally pulls away.  Stiles lets him go with a huff of laughter, and Peter skids over to the nearest white expanse of wall.  Sure enough, a thin layer of water runs down the wall, clear this time instead of blue like the sky, and when Peter presses a flat hand against the castle, he finds smooth stone beneath his palm even as water spills over his wrist.  Like before though, his hand is still dry when he takes it out of the water.

“How does it do that?”  Peter asks, fascinated.

Stiles draws level with him, reaching for the ornate door handle of one of the doors.

“Magic,” he drawls, and Peter scowls at the non-answer.  Stiles just grins and reaches over to ruffle his hair again before pushing open the door and waving Peter in.  “If you want to know, find out yourself.  Now come along, little wolf.  I would be a terrible host if I let you catch your death in my domain.”

“I’m a werewolf!”  Peter reminds him, pausing behind Stiles in the threshold.  “I can’t get sick!”

Stiles flicks a glance at him.  “You can.  Just not as easily as humans, but you can.”

He says it so matter-of-factly that Peter can’t not believe him, even though he’s heard from his parents and Talia all his life that – aside from wolfsbane – nothing can make a werewolf sick.  It’s one of the reasons why they’re better than humans.  He wants to ask how, or at least what a werewolf can get sick with, but then Stiles steps to the side, Peter gets his first look into the castle, and he promptly forgets what he was going to ask.

High ceilings and wide hallways greet him, and it’s almost as bright inside as it is outside due to all the windows.  Peter’s mostly just damp now instead of still dripping water but he still feels terribly out of place in his torn, bedraggled clothing and muddy shoes.

Stiles doesn’t seem to mind though.  He extends a hand again, and Peter automatically reaches for it, letting the man lead him further into the building.  Random artwork of natural landscapes and cities hang from the walls.  They walk past a number of closed doors before reaching what looks to be the main hall, and Peter ends up staring at the winding staircases on either side of the room.

Except they’re not like regular staircases, the main difference being that none of the steps touch the ground.  They float, one after the other, with twin banisters joining them together, and clear water spills down them like a stream, but otherwise, the first step hovers almost a foot off the ground, and the rest follow the same pattern, branching part way up so that one set let off on the second landing while the other continue upwards.

“This way,” Stiles tugs him towards the nearest staircase, and Peter finds himself climbing floating stairs that don’t actually feel any different from regular stairs.  They don’t shift under his weight, the banister is sturdy enough, and again, Peter doesn’t get wet or slip even as he feels the water trickling through his toes and over his feet.

They get to the second floor, just as flooded with sunlight as the floor below, and then Stiles ushers him through a door and into a guestroom that looks more like an apartment.  It’s about twice as big as his own, with sitting area and balcony and even a small kitchenette, and he catches sight of the bed through a doorway off to the side.

“Bathroom’s through there,” Stiles points at another closed door.  “Everything you need will be inside so you can take as long as you want in the shower, and I’ll have food ready for you when you get out, okay?”

Peter nods mutely, suddenly uncertain of what to say.  Thank you, again, is probably a good start, but before he can find the voice for it, Stiles smiles at him one last time before turning and slipping back out the door.

Peter watches him go before making his way into the bathroom.  The floor is a light grey, slightly rough surface, and everything else is done up in glass and stone and marble.  There’s a shower stall but Peter picks the tub instead, filling it with water and stripping out of his clothes before sinking into the hot bath with a sigh of relief as the heat chases the last of the sticky chill from his bones.

He spends a good half hour in the tub, mostly because he finds several bottles of bubble bath when he goes hunting for the shampoo, and he rarely ever gets to use them at home because Talia says they’re for girls and hates it whenever Peter poaches some from the bathroom cabinet even though Mother technically bought them for everyone to share.  He doesn’t actually like those anyway because they smell like flowers and too much makes him sneeze, but he does like the bubbles, and he doesn’t think it’s fair for only Talia to use them, so once in a while, he tosses one in the tub to play with.

The bottle he chooses now smells like lemons without being overpowering, and the tub is twice as big as the one he uses at home so he even gets to swim around the mountains of bubbles he manages to stir up.  Stiles didn’t say he couldn’t, and since he’s here, he might as well have some fun.

By the time he finishes, his fingers are pruning but he’s warm and comfortable, and he finds a robe – similar to the one Stiles wears – in his size folded on the counter that he could swear wasn’t there when he first entered the bathroom but at least he has something to wear.  He leaves his clothes to dry and exits the bathroom, stepping back out into the rest of the guestroom and immediately spotting Stiles already sitting on the balcony outside.

A second cushy chair waits for him outside, across the lone table from the one Stiles is sitting in.  Peter sidles onto the balcony, relaxing fully when Stiles turns to smile at him.  He hops up into the empty chair, perking up when he sees the plates of sandwiches on the table, along with water and apple juice.

“Eat,” Stiles tells him, pushing one of the plates towards him.  “You’re probably hungry by now.”

As if on cue, Peter’s stomach gurgles, and he flushes a bit but doesn’t hesitate as he reaches for the first sandwich, although not before he reminds himself to say, “Thanks!”

It still feels awkward on his tongue, but he does mean it, in a way he rarely does when Talia is forced to babysit him or pick him up from school or take him hunting, because even at six, he knows resentment when he sees it.  It was probably what she was feeling earlier, when Peter showed her his full-shift.  He thought – wrongly – that she would maybe be happy, because being able to shift into a wolf isn’t something babies can do, and his sister’s forever complaining about how much of a baby he is, but it was pretty clear that she wasn’t, and Peter honestly should’ve predicted that instead.

(Sometimes, he thinks he really is just as stupid as Talia and even Father think he is whenever Peter asks a dumb question or acts too childishly in front of them.  His mother, not so much – Peter doesn’t see a lot of her, and he knows she likes doting on a daughter more than dealing with a son, but at least she doesn’t call him stupid.  Still, he can’t ever seem to do anything that they actually approve of, even though he’s been trying to be better – perfect like Talia – since he was aware enough to realize that just about everything he’ll ever do – or won’t do – will always be judged.)

(Judged, and found wanting.)

He bites into a sandwich, delighted when he realizes how good something so simple tastes.  Maybe it’s just because he’s starving but he also appreciates the fact that Stiles brought him food with meat in it, along with tomatoes and onions and other filling, and it’s just really delicious.  Definitely the fanciest sandwiches he’s ever eaten.

He wolfs down two of the plates before he no longer feels like his stomach wants to eat itself, and then he sips at his glass of apple juice as he leans back in his seat and takes in the scenery beyond the balcony railing.

The view is of the garden they walked through, and everything is just as pretty up here as it was down there.  He likes how even the pathways sparkle a little under the sunlight, and the garden seems even bigger from a bird’s-eye view.

Eventually, he glances across the table again, he finds Stiles watching him, smiling again, something indulgent in the curve of his mouth, something unnameable in his eyes.  It tugs at Peter’s instincts, not quite wary but not quite fully at ease under the man’s regard either.

“Why’d you save me?”  He blurts out, his voice louder than he intended it to be.  He winces a little but persists, “I’m probably not the first person who fell into a river, even just in Beacon Hills.  Do you save all of them?”

Stiles arches an eyebrow, and Peter tries not to wonder if that might’ve been a question too far – maybe he sounded too ungrateful, questioning Stiles’ motives like that – but he wants to know, he always wants to know, even when it gets him into trouble.

A hand extends, and before Peter can blink, delicate fingers catch his chin in a grip that doesn’t hurt but somehow doesn’t allow Peter to jerk back or move in any way either.  He looks up, and suddenly, Stiles’ eyes are so far from brown that Peter doesn’t know why he ever made that comparison to begin with.  Instead, they’re now a deep, liquid gold that Peter almost feels like he could drown in if he stared too long, but he can’t seem to look away, and Stiles’ gaze bores into his own like he’s looking for something hidden, stripping Peter bare in the process.

It’s an unsettling feeling, and Peter should probably be popping fangs and claws by this point, but he can’t seem to muster up enough effort to do that either.

And then, just as abruptly, Stiles lets him go, and Peter sucks in a breath like he can’t get enough air even though he’s pretty sure he never actually stopped breathing.

Stiles is settled comfortably back in his seat again, fingers playing over the rim of his glass, and Peter watches, amazed, as the water inside surges up and twines around the man’s fingers like a miniature snake.

“It wasn’t really a conscious decision,” Stiles murmurs, and it takes a moment for Peter to realize that his question is being answered.  “But you fell into the water-” a strange half-smile graces the man’s face, “-and you so desperately wanted to live.  I suppose I was feeling kind too, so in the end, the water brought you to me.”

The Other quality retreats then, behind another disarming smile and a mostly human façade.  Peter stares, twitchy with the desire to… run?  But at the same time, he takes a breath, and then another, and the desire fades.

Somehow, Stiles doesn’t frighten him, not quite.  Close, but not quite.

An absent twist of Stiles’ fingers and the water flows back into the glass again.  The man himself glances up at the river-sky before remarking, “I should probably return you soon.  It’s almost morning on your side.”

Peter gulps down the rest of his drink before asking quietly, “Are… Are my parents looking for me?  Or Tali?”

The silence stretches until Peter finally looks up.  Stiles is already looking at him, and this time, something almost pitying flickers briefly at the edges of his expression.

“Life lesson one, Peter,” The man says.  “Don’t ask questions you already know the answers to.  Especially those kinds of questions.”  His next smile is sharp enough to cut and cold to the bone.  “There are people in the world who will rip your throat out with them if given half a chance.  Don’t give them that chance.”

Peter’s hands have gone white-knuckled around his empty glass but at least it doesn’t shatter.  He drops his gaze to his lap again, disappointed and hurt and all the more embarrassed because of both.

(He is six, only six, but even he knows his family doesn’t treat him quite right, knows that he loves them more than they love him, if only because they treat each other with more kindness and care than they’ve ever shown him.)

A hand lands on his head, and he startles a little under the touch, but fingers simply card through his hair a few times, and Peter relaxes again at the increasingly familiar gesture.  It helps him push aside all thoughts of his family, focusing instead on where he is again.

It really is a whole other world here.  Even ignoring the fact that this place is technically underwater and shouldn’t be possible, there’s a quality to everything he sees that just seems to shimmer with magic.

His mind wanders, and he wonders how big this place is, if there are other buildings, other forests, other people, or if it’s just Stiles here, with his summer woods and water garden and beautiful castle but… but otherwise nothing else.

He looks around again, and suddenly everything doesn’t look quite so dazzlingly amazing anymore.

If Peter is lonely when he’s surrounded by family and classmates and visiting packs, he wonders if he would feel better or worse to be completely alone.

He takes another peek at Stiles out of the corner of his eye, and of course, the man is looking back, amusement curling at his lips again.  Peter hasn’t said anything out loud but Stiles huffs out a breath of almost-laughter anyway, something gentle twined with a keen sort of fascination lurking in the lines of his face.

“You’re a clever one,” He repeats once more, and Peter isn’t quite sure how to take it this time.  Stiles doesn’t clarify either, only shaking his head before adding, “It makes you interesting.”

Peter blinks uncomprehendingly for a second, and then before he can think twice about it, he ventures, “Is that another reason you saved me?”

Stiles grins, baring a flash of white teeth, and while there’s no threat in it, the expression isn’t entirely friendly either.  “I saved you because your desire to live goes deeper than most people I’ve come across.”  He pauses.  “One day, you might even curse me for it.”

That, Peter definitely doesn’t understand.  He’s very glad to be alive even if his life sometimes makes him sad.  But Stiles doesn’t explain any further, and Peter can’t quite find his voice for the why on the tip of his tongue.

He exchanges his empty glass for some water, taking sips of that instead as a peaceful lull falls between them again.  In the distance, near the treeline, birds with bright redpinkorange plumage flit between the leaves, and he tracks their movements until he feels his eyelids droop.

He’s more tired than he felt even just an hour ago, and after the bath and food, he just wants to lie down and sleep for the next twelve hours.

His water glass is plucked from his hands, and he stirs enough to squint drowsily up at Stiles, who’s risen to his feet and circled around the table to stand next to Peter.  Strong arms scoop him up, and Peter instinctively curls into the warmth seeping through the soft fabric of Stiles’ robe.

“Time to get you home, little wolf,” Stiles murmurs from somewhere above him.

Peter frowns a bit, because he thinks he’d like to stay just a little while longer.  But sleep drags him down, and it becomes terribly difficult to keep his eyes open and his mind clear.  He hears a rushing noise though, like a waterfall muted by distance and foliage, and then something about the air changes, a shift in temperature and sound and lighting.  He’s placed on something soft, and it’s only when blankets are pulled up around his shoulders that he realizes it’s a bed.

Something about that makes a part of him panic like he never has before.  Stiles’ arms retreat, and Peter uses every last bit of energy he has left to claw his way back out of the Sandman’s clutches and pry his eyes open long enough to focus on the blurry outline of the man who saved his life.

“Will I see you ’gain?”  He mumbles (asks, pleads, begs, because even at six, even not knowing exactly what this man is, even not knowing anything about him at all except his name and his magical world under the water, some part of Peter – possessive and lonely and dissatisfied with the world – already wants in a way he never has any of his toys or books or clothes, wants in a way he’s only ever wanted to have people to call his own).

“Perhaps, if you need me,” comes the reply, and that’s- that’s not good enough.

“You s’ved m’life,” Peter slurs out, fighting the black that swirls across his vision.  “I wanna see you ’gain.”

He wants to say more but sleep is already pulling him back under, and all he can do is let it happen, feeling the ghost of fingers comb through his hair one last time but unable to reach out and grab onto it.

“You mortals,” is the last thing Peter hears, a quiet, contemplative sigh in the dark that floats at the very edge of his fading senses, “I wonder how you would live if you knew what was coming.  But then, I suppose that’s why you don’t know, or you probably wouldn’t want to live at all.”

Lips touch his forehead.  And then even that becomes nothing more than a memory.

 


 

He wakes with a jolt in his own bed to his father towering over him with flashing red eyes and shouting about irresponsibility and disobedience.  Peter automatically cringes and bares his throat, shrinking back against the onslaught of how idiotic Peter was to have run off yesterday when he knows he’s never supposed to stray from his sister when they’re in the woods, and he’s lucky he didn’t get his fool self killed.

Talia is hovering by the door, watching him smugly as he gets chewed out, and for the first time in his life, something like visceral hatred tears through Peter’s entire being, making his fangs itch and his hands clench, and the desire to lash out and smack that expression off his sister’s face is almost overwhelming for a split second.

The emotion ebbs though, just a little, just enough to be manageable, and Father’s still yelling.  Peter sits through it silently because he knows by now that there’s no point protesting or trying to blame Talia.  If there’s one thing his sister’s good at, it’s twisting the truth to suit herself, because technically, she didn’t leave Peter behind in the forest, he was supposed to be following her home, and it’s hardly her fault he couldn’t keep up and didn’t call out earlier than he did, only crying for her when she was out of sight and could pretend not to hear him at all.

It ends with Father storming out, Peter grounded for the next three weeks, and no breakfast today.  Talia saunters out after him, tossing one last golden-eyed haughty look over her shoulder before Peter’s bedroom door swings shut behind her.

Peter only moves when he hears all footsteps on the third landing of their house disappears.  Mother wasn’t here to add her disapproval so he guesses she must’ve stayed overnight at the office, as she does on occasion, which means he’ll probably get another earful later.

He sits up properly and pushes down his bedsheets.  He goes still when he realizes he’s still wearing the robe Stiles gave him.

Proof, he thinks even as his fingers curl into the cloth until his he can feel his nails digging into his palms.  Proof it wasn’t a dream.

Proof someone – no matter the reason – thought him important enough to save.

It settles somewhere in his chest, that knowledge, small and warm like a flickering candle, and somehow, it’s more than enough to make up for Father’s anger and Mother’s disappointment and Talia’s jealous indifference.

Peter doesn’t breathe a word of it to anybody of course.  Stiles is his secret, and he won’t let anyone take it away from him.

 


 

One month later, he sneaks into the woods by himself and tries to find the river again.

He can’t, and that hurts almost as much as his family’s neglect, but Peter never stops looking, never gives up on finding that same river, even tries wading into other rivers to see if that might take him back to that world-beneath-the-water.

Because: “Perhaps, if you need me,” Stiles had said when Peter asked if he’d see him again, and Peter clings to that with a ferocity he never knew he had.

 


 

Every year, on the day he and Stiles met, Peter finds a body of water and drops a gift into it.  It’s a thank you, at first.  And then an I miss you.  And then it just becomes habit, tradition, because the very first time Peter drops a clumsily wrapped glass figurine that reminds him of one of the birds he saw in Stiles’ woods, he goes home and finds a flower on his bed, each petal a shimmering sky blue laced with water droplets that never fall, and to this day, it still hasn’t wilted.

The next year, he gets a mug that fills itself on rainy days and tastes like fresh spring water.  The year after that, he gets an orb of water that – much to his delight after he figures it out – reshapes itself into the key of any lock that he holds it up to.

(That year, he leaves a lot of dead animals in the lockers of the kids at school who think they can torment him just because he’s smarter than they are and comes from a privileged family.)

Four years in, he starts getting presents on his birthday and Christmas too, much to his delight.  He hits his teen years and begins getting books, tomes that he’s never come across in the family library, grimoires that he’s willing to bet aren’t even in the adult private collection, and they provide a nice outlet for him whenever schoolwork is too easy and boring.

It also soothes the rage that knits itself into Peter’s bones with every derisive scoff from his father and every absent dismissal from his mother and every condescending sneer from his sister.  Over time, he doesn’t mind so much anymore that he can’t seem to make any real friends at school, only people who smell of deceit and greed and envy every time they talk to him.  He’s a grade ahead – would probably be two or three grades ahead if not for the fact that Talia was unhappy enough when he came home with a recommendation from his teacher to move up a grade back when he first started elementary – and his family’s rich, and Peter doesn’t think he’s vain when he looks in the mirror one day in junior high and acknowledges the fact that the Hale genes definitely didn’t skimp on his appearance.  He’s good at being charming too, good at getting what he wants from teachers and classmates alike, but he’s not quite good enough to hide the subtle contempt he has for every person who comes up to him and asks him for a date or a meal with the rest of the basketball team – haha, somewhere more expensive than that, Hale, you can afford it can’t you? – and maybe that’s why none of them are entirely comfortable in his presence.

Peter doesn’t care.  It’s not his fault everybody wants something from him – because of his money or his family’s connections – and he’s not pathetic enough or desperate enough to stoop to being their friends despite it.

He has Stiles, even if he hasn’t actually laid eyes on the man since he was six, but that’s okay because Stiles is very much still around, and not just to leave gifts either.  He knows, once and for all when he’s twelve and his computer at home decides to quit on him, that Stiles actually is watching him, because the very next day, when he comes home, he finds a sleek metal-grey laptop on his desk, complete with charger and an internet connection that never fails even when Talia complains about hers.  The wonderful piece of technology is more advanced than anything currently known to man, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Stiles time-travelled into the future to get it for him.  Peter’s as ecstatic as he is awed, and part of him so wants to show it off and rub it in Talia’s face, but he’s not stupid so he takes care to only use it in his bedroom instead.  Not hard; he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in the rest of the house anyway.

He can’t find a way back to Stiles, but Stiles is nevertheless still watching over him.  Peter hoards every gift he gets, and with every passing year, the attachment he feels towards Stiles only gets stronger.

 


 

A decade later, Peter is sixteen and Talia’s left hand and he kills someone for the first time in his life because they were a threat and Talia is Alpha and needed him to do it.  He stumbles through the back door of the Hale house afterwards, hands smudged with blood and grave-dirt, shaking from leftover adrenaline with the stench of cooked meat and ashes in his lungs.

Talia looks up from where she’s sitting at the dinner table.  Her eyes narrow on him, and in another part of the house, Laura and Derek’s bright laughter and chatter echo through the halls.

Talia’s lips thin with displeasure.  “For god’s sakes, Peter, go clean up before my kids see you.”  Her eyes flash the colour of blood.  She does that a lot with him.  “And in the future, don’t come into the house like this again.  Understand?”

Peter stares at her.  For a moment, it’s as if the whole world greys out and falls silent, leaving only a static white noise buzzing in his ears.  And then colour and noise flood back in, and it’s not really even a conscious decision on his part to turn on his heel and stride right back out the door.

He doesn’t stop at the treeline.  He doesn’t stop after the first, then second, then third clearing.  He doesn’t stop until he’s deep in the woods, for all intents and purposes lost, and he probably won’t be able to find his way back without using his nose.

He’s numb, all the way through, and he thinks he would’ve kept walking, right out of Beacon Hills, right out of California until he dropped, if not for the fact that when he looks up, a shower of debris fall from the ledge where the tips of his shoes are peeking over, and when he looks down, there it is.

A river.

Awareness seeps back into Peter’s immediate consciousness, and he draws a wet ragged breath.  He stares at the rapids below, at tossing waves and white foam.

When he jumps, it’s the easiest thing he’s had to do in a very long time.

 


 

“Back again,” a voice Peter hasn’t heard in ten years but hasn’t forgotten either speaks from somewhere above him.

Peter’s eyes fly open, and he lurches upright from where he was sprawled on a grassy riverbank.  “Stiles!”

He’s back.  He’s back.  Finally!

Stiles drops down to sit beside him, and Peter can’t stop staring, hungrily taking in the familiar face and brown-gold eyes and pale skin wrapped in simple flowing robes.  Stiles hasn’t aged a day; he’s still exactly the same as Peter remembers.

There were so many things he wanted to say.  He remembers, as a child, as he grew up, making up longer and longer conversations that he would one day have with Stiles, about his classes, about his books, about random anecdotes in his daily life, and about Stiles’ own world and the secrets it holds.

But right this moment, Peter can’t recall a single word of it, and instead, what comes out of his mouth, rawer than he’d like, and too vulnerable by far, is, “Can I stay here for a while?”

Stiles studies him for a long minute, silent and still.  Then he nods, simple permission that has Peter’s shoulders sagging with relief, but then he crooks a finger at the river, and a coil of water rises before swooping over to hover in front of them.

Peter’s hands are still flecked with dirt and blood even though some of it’s come off from his impromptu dip in the river.  His clothes don’t look much better, and they’re soaked through from his dip in the river.

Stiles moves again, shifting this time to kneel in front of Peter before directing the water over to Peter’s arms.  He produces a cloth from nowhere, and his hands are gentle even as he scrubs Peter’s skin clean.

On his part, Peter can’t tear his eyes away at the figure at his feet, head slightly bowed to bare the slender line of his neck, a deceptive fragility in the curve of his spine, juxtaposed by the sweeping breadth of his shoulders.  A flush rises in Peter’s cheeks because the last time he saw Stiles, he was a child, and it’s almost jarring to realize that the first thoughts he has after seeing Stiles again for the first time in a decade are in no way childish whatsoever.

Even more jarring though is the fact that Stiles is on his knees at all and doesn’t seem to think anything of it.  Peter wonders if it’s just because he’s held onto the one memory he had of Stiles since childhood for so long – powerful and ethereal with what might as well be a kingdom all to himself – but it feels wrong to see the man in such a position, even of his own free will.  Stiles doesn’t scream Alpha to his wolf the way Father used to and Talia does now, because if he did, Peter would chafe at it and fight it tooth and claw, because even now, with red eyes of her own, Peter doesn’t submit to his sister, not fully, and Talia knows it too.

Just another reason for her to hate him, except they both know he’s too valuable to kick out and leave omega.  At the very least, if he’s gone, there would be no one left to do the dirty work, not to mention the Hale Pack is supposed to be the epitome of old werewolf royalty – it wouldn’t do to have other packs suspecting them of internal strife.

With Stiles, Peter is happy to sit still and let Stiles tend to him.  It’s still a bit disconcerting to his instincts but his wolf is content enough, especially since Stiles obviously doesn’t mind.

“I killed someone,” He blurts out without meaning to.  He’s learned to be careful with his words, with his thoughts, but it’s Stiles – he probably already knows.

Stiles glances up, as calm as a lake on a windless day.  “Did they deserve it?”

The man was a hunter, Codeless and very good at hiding his tracks, and he almost put a bullet in eleven-year-old Laura’s head when she was playing at the park the other day.

Yes,” Peter growls, because he may not like his family, may even hate them a little, especially Talia, whose spawn are already taking after her – Derek walks a fine line between avoiding him and following him around with a perplexing sort of fascination, while just the other day, Laura’s sneer in response to Peter telling her not to leave her socks in the kitchen was a perfect copy of her mother’s.  The girl knows better than to push it further than that though.  She tried, two months ago, ordering Peter to buy her favourite dessert, and when he wouldn’t, especially since he was busy with studying for several exams, the brat had the gall to snarl and force the issue because you have to listen to me, I’m the next Alpha, and then even tried to make him bare throat with a ridiculous flash of yellow eyes.  Peter’s not proud of it but nobody talks to him like that, and a few barbed words – sharper and more cutting than anything Laura could ever manage – sent her running away in tears.

Straight to her mother of course, about how her Uncle Peter was mean to her, but Peter’s used to his sister yelling at him and throwing him into a wall or two by this point.

So yes, he probably does hate Talia, he certainly doesn’t like her, and he suspects he’ll come to hate Laura in time too, and probably the rest of however many more children Talia has, but they’re still his.  Still his pack, the only one he has, and no prejudiced asshole was going to take that away from him while he was still breathing.

“Then accept it and move on,” Stiles continues, looking back down at his task.  Most of Peter’s skin is clear again, and Stiles wrings out the cloth one last time.  “You did what you had to do.”

His words are brusquer than Peter remembers from when he was a kid, but they don’t sound dismissive, and he sees something fiercely proud when Stiles meets his gaze again.

“You protect what’s yours,” Stiles says simply.  “Anyone who faults you for that, especially the very people you’re protecting, doesn’t deserve you.”

Something warm unfolds in Peter’s chest, and he can feel the back of his neck go hot.  Stiles finally cracks a smile, that familiar tick of amusement at one corner, and Peter can feel the last of the jittery tension leave his body.

Stiles rises to his feet and holds out a hand.  “Come.  Let’s get you dried off and fed.”

Peter takes his hand, and he can tell exactly how little effort it takes Stiles to pull him to his feet.  Stiles lets go, and Peter ignores the squiggle of disappointment that comes with the loss of contact.  He finds his footing, and it’s startling when he notices that he’s only half a head shorter than Stiles now.

“Like old times then?”  He says instead, grinning a little as they head for the trees.

Stiles smiles again, warm and fond.  “Well, this time, I suppose you can stay a little longer.”

That’s the best thing Peter’s heard all year.

 


 

The castle is the same too, all windows and beach-white walls.  The water garden is flourishing beautifully, and Peter catches glimpses of tiny colourful gossamer wings between the leaves and petals.

He turns to Stiles, who grins a bit.  “Didn’t notice that last time, did you?”

Peter cranes his head and tries to get a better look.  “No, I- Are they pixies?”

An unexpectedly loud, indignant-sounding trill from a nearby bush is his response, and Stiles actually laughs.  “Hardly.  They’re fae.  They oversee the gardens here.”

Peter recalls what little he knows of the fae.  “I thought they’d be… bigger.”  Of course, there are small fairies in stories, like Tinkerbell, but he always thought they were stuff humans made up.

Stiles shakes his head.  “Werewolves aren’t all the same shape and size, are they?  Fae are the same.  These are just one kind.”

Peter cocks his head.  “Are there other kinds here?”

Stiles slants an unreadable look at him.  “…Werewolves are territorial.”  When Peter blinks uncomprehendingly at him, the man expounds, “Beacon Hills is ruled by the Hale Pack.  Do you really think they would stand for anyone else to live on their territory when they wouldn’t be pledge sole allegiance to the resident Alpha?”

Peter pales at the thought.  “You mean we chased them out?

Stiles’ hand comes up and cups the back of his neck, and instead of yanking himself away and snarling, Peter is leaning into the touch before he can even think about it.

“A long time ago,” Stiles tells him.  “So not the present Hale Pack exactly.”  His eyes go distant.  “Beacon Hills was built on blood and death and war.  Do you know why every pack has an emissary?  It’s a tradition, that came from the pact made between werewolves and the mages of old.  They banded together against those who wouldn’t pledge, and either killed them or forced them to flee.  But they were still native to this land, still under my protection, so…” He sweeps an arm out at their surroundings.  “I gave them a home here, and this is where they have lived ever since.  Let the werewolves hide amongst humans and pretend to be something they will never be; here, there is no need to hide at all.”

Peter is silent for a long while after that.  He almost wants to ask why Stiles didn’t offer to let him stay all those years ago.  Maybe he would’ve refused, would’ve wanted to go home still, but at least he would’ve had the option.

But maybe werewolves aren’t welcome here, and that’s the reason Stiles never offered.

Peter’s led back to the bedroom he used the first time he was here.  Right before he shuts the bathroom door, Stiles catches his face in his hands, golden eyes boring into his own.

“You had to grow up,” The man says in low, clipped tones.  “And you couldn’t do that here.”

Peter doesn’t understand that either.

 


 

In the end, Peter gets to stay for three whole days this time.  He explores the gardens and surrounding forests, follows Stiles around when the man gives him a tour of the (very empty) castle, and almost makes a fool of himself when he practically swoons over the ridiculously large library.

Best of all is how much attention Stiles lavishes on him.  He’s not dramatic about it, but for those three days, unless Peter is sleeping, Stiles eats every meal with him, takes him flying on carpets of water, reads with him in the library, and even helps translate when Peter tries to have a conversation with the garden fae.

Peter loves every minute of it.  It doesn’t even feel like he’s talking to someone he hasn’t seen in ten years because Stiles may have been out of sight but he was always there, every day of Peter’s life.  Here and now, even when they aren’t talking to each other, Stiles is a very solid, very familiar presence next to him, and when the third day comes to a close and Stiles lowers the book he’s reading with a solemn kind of intent, Peter can’t decide if he wants to rip something apart with his claws or beg Stiles to let him stay.

“Why can’t I stay here?”  Peter asks, inwardly wincing at how close to a whine his voice sounds.  “I would, you know.  If I could stay here with you, I’d- I wouldn’t mind leaving my pack behind.”

Stiles sighs, but the sting of it is softened when he reaches over and slides their hands together.  Peter… isn’t quite sure how to define their relationship but he isn’t about to complain, especially since their scents have intertwined more and more over the past few days.

“You’re blood-bound Above, Peter,” Stiles tells him, as vague as he is half the time, although this time, Peter thinks he understands.

“So I can never stay here,” Peter says flatly.  “Cuz I’m a werewolf.  Or a Hale, or whatever.”

Stiles watches him, unblinking, almost statue-like in his seat, except his eyes burn with an emotion that no inanimate piece of art could replicate.

“Something like that,” Stiles says at last, and there’s a twist to his mouth that suggests Peter didn’t quite understand completely after all.

If Stiles would just explain though-

Stiles gets to his feet, and Peter automatically rises with him.  This time, he doesn’t fall asleep so they get to trek through the woods back to the river, and Peter tries not to think about the dreary existence he’ll be returning to – to a house filled with people who can’t stand him, to a school filled with kids who only want him for his looks or his money or his reputation.  Rinse and repeat.

They come to a halt on the riverbank, and Peter turns to say something.  Goodbye, maybe.  Or when can I come back.

He doesn’t get to say either of those things because – suddenly – there are lips over his, chaste and light as the brush of a feather, and yet it might as well have seared like a brand.  Peter stares, shocked, even as his cheeks go hot, hotter still when Stiles pulls back far enough to tip a smile at him.

“Until next time,” Stiles murmurs, and then a hand on his chest propels him into the river.  Peter yelps, but the water closes around him, he blinks once, and then he’s sitting up again, gasping for breath but completely dry in the middle of a clearing that’s nowhere near as bright as Stiles’ woods.

The river is nowhere in sight, and Peter shuts his eyes and clings to the feeling of cool lips on his own.

 


 

Another decade flies by, crawls by, forever moving forward even when time seems to stand still for Peter at times.  He still gets gifts, and he cherishes each one because it means Stiles is still somewhere out there thinking of him, but he hates that – just like before – he can no longer find the river again.

He graduates high school and – against Talia’s hissed demands – moves to Stanford for a double major in fashion and history.  His sister wants him to become a lawyer because that will help the pack most, because even she can admit that Peter would be a force to be reckoned with in court, but that’s not what he wants, and the days when he would’ve done just about anything to please Talia – to make her like him even just a little – are long gone.  She can’t stop him anyway; he’s been saving up money since senior high, selling essays to college kids, and he made sure to get at least a couple scholarships.  He doesn’t need the family money to get by.

He worries most about whether or not Stiles would still be able to reach him once he was no longer in Beacon Hills, but to his relief, gifts still appear in his bedroom in his newly rented apartment once he finishes moving in.  A decrease in gifts, going from every month or so to every other month and then only on birthdays and big holidays again and then – in Peter’s final year – only on the anniversary of the day they met, but they still came, more books and fashionable but comfortable clothes and even a full set of kitchenware once.  Needless to say, he really didn’t need the family money to get by.

(In-between, he explores a little.  Goes out clubbing and gets invited to parties, makes friendly acquaintances if not friends for the first time in his life with people who seem to like him for more than just the material things he can offer.  He kisses women and he kisses men, and the only thing he discovers there is that neither really compares to the fleeting press of lips on a sunny riverbank, a promise and a claim both that he holds close to his heart.)

It’s almost a relief to graduate and move back to Beacon Hills, although instead of returning to the pack house, Peter buys himself a penthouse downtown.  He goes to sleep the first night and wakes up the next morning surrounded by colourful bursts of flowers everywhere, most of which he’s pretty sure you can’t find on this plane of existence.

It’s a good thing he lives alone because the grin on his face would’ve been terribly embarrassing.  Then again, now that he’s used to living alone, he’s taken to talking out loud, usually about his day, about his job offers, about the number of voicemails Talia’s left on his phone that he’s deleted without listening to.

It’s a bit depressing, all the one-sided conversations he’s had, and if anybody saw, they’d probably think he was a lunatic, but he thinks Stiles can probably hear him, and that’s enough for him to keep talking.

 


 

Peter is twenty-six when Derek gets a girlfriend in the form of his substitute English teacher.  Not that anybody knows for far too long.  Peter doesn’t even live at the pack house anymore – he sees his family maybe once a week at most – and he’s busy with both his new job and some new werewolf pack calling themselves the Alpha Pack, rumoured to have slaughtered at least two other packs in the past six months, and have been seen heading towards California.  Talia wasted no time dumping the problem in his lap so Peter’s more than a little preoccupied, not to mention Derek isn’t his kid or sibling, and considering how everybody else seems to consider the sixteen-year-old the baby of the family, sometimes even more so than Cora who hasn’t turned ten yet or even Matty who’s still five, Peter doesn’t think he can be blamed for thinking they would keep a closer eye on the boy.

As it turns out, they don’t watch him close enough.  Derek fucks himself over (in more ways than one), and then he fucks his family over, however indirectly, and Peter doesn’t even realize it until he’s halfway to the Preserve for the excruciating mandatory Thanksgiving dinner, only to see smoke rising over the treetops.

His car screeches onto the front lawn, and then he’s out and running for the burning house, only to slam straight into an invisible barrier that knocks him clean off his feet.  Part of him thinks hunter before it’s shunted to the side, unimportant for the time being.  He howls, half-enraged, half-terrified, because there is absolutely no lost love between him and the rest of the pack, but this is not how he wants to lose them, even he’s not this cruel, and there are children inside-

He flings himself at the barrier, clawing at the surface as half the roof collapses and the flames spread from wood to grass, licking at his legs, and – at last – eating away the mountain ash line.

He’s through in an instant, choking on smoke that clogs his lungs faster than they can expel it.  He catches movement in a basement window, and a moment later, he’s smashed it open with his fists, not even registering the glass that cuts into his flesh.

“Talia!”  He roars, only to get a sobbing Cora shoved at him, her face soot-streaked, her eyes a wild beta yellow.

“Cora first!”  Talia snaps at him, and for once, Peter doesn’t argue, hefting Cora into his arms and sprinting away to set her down well away from the fire.

“Stay here!”  He growls at her, waiting only long enough for her to nod shakily before rushing back towards the house.

Matty’s next, unconscious but breathing.  Peter dumps him in Cora’s lap before hurrying back again, only to stagger and almost lose his balance when another portion of the house comes down in a creaking groan of blackened wood and hungry flames.  The upstairs balcony collapses right between him and the basement window, and for a moment, Peter swears his heart stops beating.

“Talia!”  Peter shouts before coughing harshly, his eyes stinging painfully.  “Derek!  Laura!  Joseph!  Talia!

He stumbles forward, swaying when his vision tilts and blurs.

No, this can’t be happening.  This is not how we-

“Stiles!”  He croaks out, because if there’s one thing he can depend on, it has always been that, an age-old being who’s been watching over Peter for almost as long as Peter’s been alive.  “Stiles, Stiles, please, I need help-”

He trips over nothing and falls to his knees, another hacking cough wracking his body, and this time, he has to spit out a black, tar-like substance.

Wolfsbane.  Of fucking course.

He tries to clamber to his feet, and then when that doesn’t work he tries to shift, but he remains maddeningly human.  He can barely see now, and he’s not sure if that’s the smoke inhalation or the wolfsbane consumption making everything go dark.  Either way, he’s losing consciousness fast, which means he’s failed because half his pack is going to burn alive-

Stiles, please!  He screams, and he’s not certain if it’s out loud or just in his head, if only because his vocal chords are burning with every ragged breath he takes and they don’t feel capable of a whisper much less anything louder than that.  Please, I need you!  Stiles!

There’s a loud drawn-out crack of splintering wood somewhere overhead – whose bright idea was it to build the goddamn house out of wood? – and Peter doesn’t know if he imagines it or not, but somewhere in the distance, a high-pitched scream pierces the roar of the orange blaze all around them.

It would be easy, he thinks, to lie down and just… let go.  But no sooner does the thought cross his mind than a flicker of gold blossoms in his mind, clearing the fog and solidifying into an amber-sunlight gaze, one that seems to seize him by the scruff and bodily toss him back into the waking world.

Peter jerks up, abruptly opening his eyes and scrabbling uncoordinatedly onto forearms and knees.  He wavers, elbows almost giving out on him again, and then-

GET UP, a familiar voice booms in his head, like thunder and tempests and the unrelenting destruction of storm-tossed waters, YOU WILL NOT END HERE, PETER HALE.  GET UP.

Peter grits his teeth and drags himself to his knees, frustration and desperation surging up like a wave inside him.

Then help me!  He snarls back, and he makes it a demand for the first time in his life.  You’re supposed to be here with me, Stiles!  So come help me!

Everything-

-stops.

For a second that feels like an eternity, the wind dies, the flames freeze, and the world holds its breath.

And then, a laugh rings out, echoing like the stately toll of church bells, triumphant and free.

Yes, Stiles whispers, I suppose that will do.

Power like Peter’s never felt before ripples past him and continues on all across Beacon Hills, the wind shrieks, and the skies split open like the yawning maw of some Lovecraftian monster.  A deluge of rain crashes down on the Preserve, so strong that it presses Peter back down, and for a moment, he thinks he might drown.  But the fire is extinguished in a matter of seconds, and just as abruptly as the storm clouds arrived, they close up and disperse again, leaving the clearing flooded and sparkling with rainbows but no longer burning.

Peter coughs again, spits again and finds he can breathe again, and then shakes himself before clambering to his feet, socks squelching in his shoes and up to his ankles in rainwater.

“Talia?”  He calls out hoarsely, slogging his way forward.  Water’s spilling through the basement window fast, but even with the flood, it shouldn’t fill up that fast, and sure enough, Talia – coughing as well, hair plastered to her head and shoulders – appears in the window again, drenched but alive.

Peter pulls her out first, then Joseph, who has to knock out part of the wall to hoist himself through.

“Where’s Derek?”  Peter asks, looking between his sister and the window.  “Laura?”

Talia shakes her head, already half-jogging towards Cora and Matty, Joseph a few steps ahead of her.  “They weren’t in the house, thank God.  Laura had to stay late for work, and Derek called an hour ago to say he would be a little late getting home.  He’s at a friend’s house.”

“Derek has no friends,” Peter mutters, because even he knows that much – Derek tends to make an ass of himself in front of girls, his current mysterious girlfriend notwithstanding (Peter’s half-convinced his nephew made her up entirely), and Peter’s been to a few of the boy’s basketball games; even his team doesn’t particularly seem to like him.  Peter had no friends in high school either but that was his choice; he could’ve tolerated his classmates’ superficial idiocy until he could make them like him, it was just that he had higher standards than that.  Derek on the other hand is just plain socially awkward with a side of hormonal aggression that people who don’t know about werewolves – so pretty much everybody – wouldn’t understand and would definitely dislike.  It’s an annoying enough phase for those who do know about werewolf nature.

As far as Peter knows, Derek simply inherited none of the Hale charm.  Peter doesn’t know why; even Joseph has enough charisma to part birds from their feathers if he tries, and Hales don’t reach high positions in society by being an offensive mess in front of other people.  So Derek certainly isn’t at a friend’s house, and something stinks of a lie.  When Talia glances at him, her mouth is a grim, displeased line but for once, Peter doesn’t think it’s directed at him.

They put that aside while Talia hugs Cora and Matty tightly, the latter of whom is already stirring and even mostly dry, although Cora’s soaked through from shielding her brother from the earlier downpour.  After hugging her mother, Cora flings herself at her father and doesn’t even complain when Joseph picks her up like he used to do all the time when she was still a baby.

Sirens wail in the distance.  Peter scoffs contemptuously and looks back at the house instead.  Or what’s left of it.  They’ll definitely have to rebuild.

Talia steps over to stand beside him, Matty cradled in her arms.  She keeps checking his pulse, his breathing, his airway.

“A few days ago,” Talia says abruptly.  “Derek came home with a few bottles of wine.  He said it was from that girlfriend of his, the one he’s been so evasive about.  Her father owns a winery apparently.”

Peter arches a skeptical eyebrow.  Talia frowns harder.  “I know.  I would’ve liked to meet her but Derek said she was shy and didn’t want to come over for dinner just yet.  The wine was a gift for the family though.  Thanksgiving was coming up.  We opened a bottle this evening, and we didn’t even realize anything was wrong with it until the effects set in.  The gift itself didn’t seem… too strange, and Derek wasn’t lying.”

“He believed he wasn’t lying,” Peter corrects her.

Talia sighs harshly, and then shifts her arms to rock Matty a little when his face crinkles with discomfort.

As the first firetruck pulls up, Talia orders, “Look into it.”

Peter nods curtly.

Then his sister glances around, at the water, at the house with the fire miraculously put out, at him.  In the end, she sighs again and doesn’t ask, because for all the bad blood between them, she does know him, and she knows he’s not going to tell her a thing.  Not about this.

 


 

There are new shadows in the forest, tall and lean and clawed, small and winged and glowing faintly.  The woods are fuller than ever before, and Peter suspects he knows why.

The moment he can get away, he slips into the forest late at night.  He can feel hundreds of eyes on him, hear the whispers of thousands of voices, but he can’t find it in himself to be afraid.

After all, he’s the one who set them free.  And he has their ruler’s favour.

He steps out into a clearing where a familiar river bisects it, and he doesn’t stop until he reaches the white-robed figure sitting cross-legged on the grassy bank.  He takes a seat beside him, and for a few minutes, neither of them says anything.

Peter’s the first to break the silence.  “You saved me because you needed me,” and it’s almost an accusation.  “Because I’m a Hale, and you needed one to give you… permission to cross back over.”

Stiles’ eyes are gold.  They can’t even mimic the old brown anymore, and Peter has a feeling that this man (Spirit?  God?  Anthropomorphic personification of Beacon Hills?) has returned to the height of his power.  Or maybe he’s just free to use it anywhere he pleases now.

Peter’s claws sink into the soil underneath his palms.  “Was it all just for this?  You could’ve just asked.”

A blink of an eye later, he’s been knocked flat on his back, and Stiles hovers over him, face an inch apart from his.  Peter’s breath hitches.  He’s showing belly, and he should hate it, but Stiles has always been different, and before it’s even a thought in his head, his chin’s already hiked up to flash his throat.

Stiles’ mouth curves into a smile, slow to form but fond and warm as a summer day.

“If asking was all it took,” He murmurs, breath fanning over Peter’s lips.  “We would’ve been freed ages ago.  No, we needed someone who wouldn’t want to subjugate us or force our loyalty, and werewolves in general are possessive creatures with a rather single-minded inclination for coveting power, especially Alphas.  You wanted my help, true, but not once did it ever occur to you to take it.  You demanded my aid, but it was still my choice.  All you did was unlock the door to let me through.”

Peter takes a moment to digest all this.  “…The gifts.  You-”

“I had a strong enough connection with you to make brief visits to you on this side,” Stiles explains.  “Saving a life is a powerful thing.”

He pauses, something thoughtful passing over his features before his gaze doubles in intensity.

“…I saved you because I needed you,” Stiles acknowledges.  A hand comes up to cradle Peter’s face.  “But the gifts weren’t necessary for that.”

Peter stares, mind racing, and it takes him an embarrassingly long while for the pieces to click.  His eyes widen, and a flush heats up his neck.  “I- Was it- You were courting me?

Stiles smirks, and Peter’s attention flicks down to it momentarily.

“In part,” Stiles admits unabashedly.  “And providing for you.  I know werewolves like that sort of thing.  Besides, you were six when I first started – even I know that’s a little young for a courtship.”

Peter snorts.  Yeah, that would’ve been a little awkward.  Arranged marriages are still a thing – Talia and Joseph were an arranged pair between the Hales and an allied pack, and they knew it from the time Talia was four and Joseph was eight – but even they didn’t actually make a stab at any kind of romance until Talia turned seventeen.

Peter blinks when Stiles settles on top of him, his body a cooler counterpart to his own as they press together.  Peter’s twenty-six and part of him wants to blush again.  Instead, after a moment of hesitation, his hands come up to curl around Stiles’ hips.

“Why?” is what comes out of his mouth, too quiet, too exposed, too late to take back.

Stiles’ thumb brushes rhythmically over his cheekbone even as his shoulders lift in a semblance of a shrug.  “You were interesting.  Too smart for your own good.  Too stubborn to roll over and give in to the hand life dealt you.  You didn’t bore me.”  His head dips, and his next words inscribe themselves right against Peter’s mouth.  “You were so young and so bright, and you caught my eye.  So I staked a claim.  You were mine the moment you took my hand, and I take care of what’s mine.”

Peter’s hands clench, and then he’s surging up – he doesn’t have to go far – and this time he doesn’t let Stiles pull away as he finally kisses the man who’s been a constant in his life for almost as long as he can remember.

A chuckle vibrates between them before Stiles’ tongue sweeps into his mouth, and for the next countless minutes, they make out like teenagers in the middle of the woods, under a starry moon-bright sky.

“You’ll stay with me?”  Peter asks through swollen lips, breathless and buzzing with arousal, and happier than he’s been in a long time, with Stiles here, solid in his arms, power thrumming underneath his fingertips.  “Now that you can?  You’ll stay?”

“I will,” Stiles agrees, easily, honestly, and Peter is helpless to do anything but reel him back in for another kiss.  He loves that Stiles lets him, that Stiles wants it just as much, and Peter loses himself in this moment.

 


 

It’s sunrise by the time they part.  Peter actually dozes off in the early hours, only waking when the first rays of sunlight creep through the tree branches.  Stiles is curled around him, and he’s awake when Peter opens his eyes.

“I have to sort out…” Stiles waves a vague hand at their surroundings.  “Living arrangements.  Some will prefer staying Below; it was a decent home, even if it was just a very big cage.  But others will want to return.”

“But you’ll stay?”  Peter asks once more, because somehow, it’s harder to believe now that the sun has come up.

Stiles presses a kiss to the back of his knuckles like some sixteenth-century gentleman at court, and Peter finds himself grinning almost goofily.

“Think of me,” Stiles tells him, “I will come whenever you call,” and Peter finds himself believing him.

He’s halfway back to town, heading towards the hotel his pack is staying at, when a gust of wind blows by, and his eyebrows go up when a woman – blonde, twenty-something, and pretty enough if not for the almost rabid sneer twisting her features – is dumped in front of him, trussed up in rope and gagged but otherwise more or less unharmed.

A gift, Stiles’ voice whispers in his ears, a note of vindictive laughter underscoring it.

Peter’s nostrils flare, scenting the pungent perfume this woman is wearing and matching it to the one that’s clung to Derek’s clothing for months.  A fanged grin that matches Stiles’ laughter stretches across his face.

“My mate,” Peter tells the woman cheerfully, “gives the best gifts.”

The woman glares murder at him.  Peter laughs even as his eyes spark gold and he reaches out to grab a fistful of his prey’s long hair.

“Come along,” Peter begins dragging her down the road to where his car is parked just outside the Preserve.  “The Hale Pack would dearly like a word with you.”

 


 

Later that evening, when Peter can leave for the rest of the night while Talia is still negotiating reparations with the Tribunal down the phone, he gets home, unlocks his door, and freezes in surprise when he finds someone already there.

Stiles turns from where he’s standing at the kitchen counter, dishing out pasta as clouds of water whirl around the room, some carrying plates of steak and buttered fish and a bowl of salad, others nudging out a chair at the dining table in clear invitation.

Peter’s already smiling, something almost giddy bubbling up his throat.

Stiles smiles back, a teasing sort of affection painting it.  “I know you haven’t called yet, but I thought I’d come to you for once.  I hope you don’t mind?”

Peter shuts the door behind him, beaming like he’s six and sixteen all over again.  “I might mind a little.  But I’m sure you can figure out how to make it up to me.”

Stiles barks out a laugh, and Peter joins in, six, sixteen, and twenty-six, and still so very alive.