“Good afternoon Mr. Hale!”
Peter ignored the intrusion and didn’t bother looking up from his crossword, preferring to simply wait out the afternoon wellness check from the nurse.
“You have a visitor!”
Peter did look up at that. He narrowed his eyes at the cheery man in scrubs, watching him check the bedcovers and make sure there was soap in the bathroom.
Peter didn’t get visitors.
Laura and Derek had called once after he’d woken up, but the conversation had been sharp, short, and not repeated.
Cora probably would have visited, but Brazil is far away and painful memories are a powerful repellant. She called though. But that was exactly it: she called. She didn’t visit.
“Mr. Stilinski is just signing in, he should be back here in just a minute. Have a good chat!”
The nurse swept out of the room, an endless fountain of bubbling positivity in the assisted living facility. God, Peter couldn’t stand him.
Mr. Stilinski. Mr. Stilinski.
Not Sheriff Stilinski.
What did the Stilinski kid want with Peter?
The sound of a rapid knock echoed through the room a moment later, followed by silence. The door didn’t immediately pop open- whoever knocked was actually waiting for a response rather than simply letting themselves in.
A rarity, in a place like this.
Despite the extra effort it took, Peter willingly got up and haltingly moved to open the door, his more severely burned leg dragging a little more today.
Peter opened the door, expecting to see the gangly, buzz headed sixteen year old that had been acquainted with his nephew. But, of course, instead there was a twenty two year old man in business casual wearing an ID badge on a lanyard.
Another reminder of the six years he was missing.
“Mr. Hale?” Stilinski inquired, as if he didn’t know damn well whose door he’d knocked on. “I’m Stiles Stilinski.”
Instead of responding, Peter simply walked back to his chair, leaving the door open. He was abruptly exhausted.
“What do you want?” he asked bluntly, easing himself back down and watching Stilinski shut the door behind him.
Stiles came a little closer, hands casually stuck in the pockets of his trousers, but stayed a few steps away.
“I wanted to ask whether you’d be interested in a service shifter,” Stiles said.
Peter simply looked back, using every centimeter of mobility he had in his scarred face to say what a dumb fucking question that was. Instead of getting offended, as Peter had expected, Stiles smiled back wryly.
“My clinic isn’t quite like other providers of service shifters and service animals,” Stiles said. “We work specifically with long-term care facilities rather than a more… capitalistic model. My goal is to make service animals more accessible to everyone, including shifters who need help from shifters.” He looked expectantly at Peter.
Peter’s mind raced with questions
“What makes you think I need a shifter as opposed to a regular animal?”
Stiles hesitated for a moment, considering his words carefully.
“I remember you, before. Derek and I didn’t spend a lot of time together, but I remember watching you spar with his mom once. Your alpha. You almost won.” He paused again before continuing. “It obviously wasn’t through brute strength- you were smart. You were calculating. You have exactly the kind of skills that can make a PTSD flashback incredibly dangerous for everyone.”
Peter was silent.
“If you have a shifter companion, obviously the first line of defense is for them to provide emotional support and prevent a vivid flashback in the first place. However, if it can’t be avoided, then a shifter would be able to restrain you as necessary. A regular service animal couldn’t do that.”
The words were bald, free of any dainty step-arounds and oblique references.
Peter was in an assisted living facility because he might accidentally kill someone who didn’t have immediate access to tranquilizers.
… and Stiles thought he could change that. The hope that he was dangling in front of Peter felt cruel.
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but shifters don’t exactly feel safe with other shifters,” Peter ground out, his scarred vocal cords making his voice even rougher for a moment. “A shifter companion isn’t going to be much help if we both want to fight each other on sight.”
Stiles’ smile was much more amused this time.
“Our companions are trained for that too, along with a few extra tools.” Stiles reached inside his shirt and pulled out a pendant. “This suppresses aggressive chemo signals within a 5 yard radius. We haven’t attacked each other yet, so I think I can safely say it works,” he finished with a raised eyebrow.
“You’re a shifter?” he asked, disbelieving.
“Hereditary magic is funny like that. Sometimes it manifests as generations of wolves, sometimes it manifests as witchcraft, and sometimes it manifests as something no one was expecting.” He tucked the pendant away in his shirt again. “So what do you say to a trial, Mr. Hale? Want to run some errands tomorrow?”
Peter still wasn’t sure about any of it. He wasn’t sure he could actually see a shifter and know it was a shifter without getting aggressive. He wasn’t sure that a shifter would actually be able to restrain him during a violent flashback.
He wasn’t sure he could stand another day in this assisted living hell hole with Perky Nurse.
“Two o’clock. We’re getting coffee and books.”
Peter waited nervously on the side of his bed, door open so he could look down the hall.
He was dressed as nicely as possible without restricting his motion even further than his injuries already did, and trying not to think about how pathetic he felt for being this excited just to go to a bookshop.
He wondered how big Stilinski’s shifted form was. He wasn’t a wolf, that much Peter was sure of.
He was a probably a dog.
Oh God, he was probably a cocker spaniel.
What if Peter had a flashback in the middle of the shop and ripped out Stilinski’s throat? What if he couldn’t be sedated, what if he went completely feral-
A scent caught Peter’s nose, and his head snapped up to look out his door.
Delicately avoiding wheelchairs parked in the hall, a giant 400 pound black bear approached his room on all fours.
As soon as he reached the doorway, it became apparent that he wouldn’t be fitting through without a tight squeeze, so he plopped down on the tile and just poked his head in, waving at Peter.
Peter’s mouth hung open for longer than he would ever admit, but eventually he got up, dusted off his sleeve, and simply said, “Shall we?”
Surprisingly few people looked at them as they slowly walked down the block to the shop Peter wanted to visit. He supposed it might be due to the bright vest Stiles wore that proclaimed him a service shifter, but he thought it was more likely that the town had just already gotten used to seeing Stiles out and about as a bear.
“Have you provided this service often?” he asked.
Stiles shook his head.
“You just spend a lot of time shifted, then,” he surmised.
The black bear’s massive head bobbed back and forth in an indeterminate answer.
Peter supposed conversation was better saved for human mouths.
When they reached the bookshop, Peter’s leg desperately needed a rest. He took a seat at the end of the small coffee bar at the front of the shop, Stiles seated on the ground next to him. Peter was surprised when, along with the latté he’d ordered, the barista placed an iced coffee with an absurdly long straw in front of Stiles. He happily leaned forward to slurp it down, and for a while they just sat together quietly with their coffee.
Once the coffee was gone and Peter felt his leg had rested long enough, he finally got up to peruse the shelves. Stiles followed him into the history section on all fours, patiently waiting near him when Peter got distracted by a book on shifter theory through the nineteenth century.
As absorbed as he was, it still would have been hard to miss when Stiles stood up on his hind legs to his full height. One gigantic paw reached up to the top shelf, and a single sharp, yet careful claw turned back the cover of the book so Stiles could read the inside of the jacket.
Peter couldn’t help the smile in the corner of his mouth. It was just so-
A huff of bear breath blew in his face. When Peter looked, the expression of What, huh? couldn’t have been more obvious.
With a roll of his eyes (and who knew bears could roll their eyes?) Stiles turned back to the book jacket.
Eventually they continued on, Peter settling on a few books to buy and reluctantly admitting it was time to go back.
He checked out, Stiles a steady, hulking presence behind him, and they left.
They were just outside the store when it happened. It was nothing, really. Nothing anyone else would have even noticed.
A woman lit a cigarette.
The lighter was lit for less than a second before Stiles huffed it out with a gust of air, ignoring an indignant “Hey!” from the woman, and pushing Peter along the sidewalk, staying between him and the lighter.
Peter’s heart was beating out of his chest and his breath was coming quickly. His hand found Stiles’ fur and fisted in it, gripping tightly. Stiles guided them between two buildings, hidden slightly in a shadowed nook.
Peter was still breathing rapidly, trying to maintain a grip on the present, sternly telling himself that there was no danger, nothing to be afraid of.
His lungs wouldn’t listen.
His breaths were getting shallower, coming more quickly, until a massive cold, wet nose stuck itself into his cheek. Peter’s gaze shot up to Stiles, who looked back at him seriously. Both of Peter’s hands wound their way into Stiles’ fur, feeling the coarse strands between his fingertips.
It wasn’t quite like anything else he’d ever felt before. Not like wolf fur, not like cat fur, not like faux fur- it was new. It was something uniquely Stiles.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Peter’s breathing returned to normal.
They stayed in the shadowed nook for another five minutes before Peter’s leg began to protest the lack of movement, and Peter finally nodded.
Stiles led the way back out to the road, and then stayed beside Peter for the rest of the walk back. Peter felt almost normal by the time they arrived.
Well. Normal for life now.
Stiles was back on all fours when they arrived back at the front desk. Peter was amused that, for all his bulk, his shoulders didn’t clear the desk height.
“Oh, hey Peter! How was your day out?!” Perky Nurse popped out from the office to bounce up to the desk.
Peter grinned, glancing down at Stiles.
“It was fine. My new service companion was very helpful.”
The nurse’s eyes lit up.
“Oh! You decided to go with animal from Stiles’ clinic? Who did you-”
Stiles suddenly reared up on his back legs, bringing his arms up and baring his teeth in a snarl to loom over the desk.
Perky Nurse screamed and fell backwards, disappearing to the ground.
A rusty sound ground out from Peter’s throat as Stiles dropped back down and looked at him, mischievousness spread across his furry little face. It was a beat and a half before Peter recognized the sound as laughter. He ended up needing to lean against the desk for a moment to regain his breath, and thus got a full view of the nurse scrambling back up to his feet.
“Goddamn it Stiles! Just because I grew out of my asthma doesn’t mean you can scare me like that!” He was clutching his chest dramatically and glaring down at the bear, who was very clearly grinning.
Peter finally gathered himself enough to finish signing in, listening to the nurse grumble about childhood friends and betrayal. He was still smiling even as he walked back to his pathetic little room and deposited his books on a table. Stiles sat in the hall again, waiting for his final word.
Peter finished fussing around and looked at him for a moment, taking in the bulk of the bear and thinking of the man who’d visited yesterday.
“Come back tomorrow, Stiles. I’d like to work out a schedule.”
They started out three times a week for three hours. Then it increased to five days a week for three hours. By six months, they were spending five hours a day together, five days a week, and Peter was pretty sure he was Stiles’ only client.
Not that he cared about having more of Stiles’ attention. It was simply a matter of professional curiosity. He was often speaking on behalf of the clinic after all. He was one half of their first shifter/shifter companion system, and they used blurbs from his reports in their promotions. It was only natural that he’d want to be the focus of his companion’s energy.
He couldn’t help it if his foolish wolf insisted on confusing professional attention with personal attention.
Their trips were usually uneventful. Most of the time they simply went out, did a few things, and came back, Stiles’ presence enjoyed by unnecessary. Of course, the few times when something didhappen, his presence was very necessary.
Stiles had only had to forcefully restrain him once, when a television display suddenly changed to a fireplace recording. Stiles had immediately recognized the change in his demeanor and tried to pull him away, but a drunken jackass chose that moment to shove into both of them. Peter had his claws at the man’s throat in a heartbeat, but in the next he’d been pushed back and barricaded by Stiles’ bulk. He slashed and beat at Stiles, unable to do much damage through the thick fur and muscle, and it wasn’t long before Peter’s weakened body gave out.
Peter had to be driven back to the assisted living facility that day, but Stiles had wormed his way into his room and set up camp next to his bed, keeping himself within touching distance of Peter. Peter didn’t say a word to him about it, but kept a tight grip on his fur, rubbing the strands between his fingers until he fell asleep.
Aside from that single incident, Peter’s mental and physical condition had improved drastically. It still took him twice as long to do most things, but he could do them, and he was determined to move out and prove it.
It chafed considerably that he had to get the agreement of his psychiatrist, who only agreed under the provision that Peter continue to use Stiles’ services. But, once it was done, he was free.
Stiles showed up in his human form to help him move, along with Perky Nurse who turned out to be named Scott, and who unfortunately was also a friend of Stiles’.
His depressingly small amount of possessions didn’t take long to move, and it was only the work of an hour before all the boxes were in his new apartment. Scott immediately left, to go blow bubbles in a park or something equally absurd, Peter was sure. Stiles, however, stayed to help him unpack.
“You’re not on the clock, you know,” Peter said, rinsing the dust off his dishes. “I can do this by myself. You’re not obligated to be here.”
Stiles snorted and snagged a dish to dry it.
“If you think I’ve ever done anything out of obligation, then we don’t know each other as well as I thought.”
A smirk grew in the corner of Peter’s mouth, threatening to turn into a fully fledged smile if allowed.
“So you just have a fondness for helping people move, then?”
“More like I have a fondness for the person moving, you dork.”
Reveling in the warmth that that statement gave him, Peter gasped in hyperbolic offense.
“You would insult me? Me, your star client? Your spokesperson? Your-”
A damp dishtowel hit him in the face, and he couldn’t help the laugh that it startled out of him. He pulled it off, about to shoot it back when there was a knock at the door. They both looked over, surprised.
“Eager neighbors?” Stiles suggested. “Want me to answer it?”
“Sure. Tell them you’re my live-in rent boy-” another towel hit him in the face.
Peter couldn’t quite see the door from the kitchen sink, but he listened to Stiles’ footsteps cross the floor. The new door creaked a little as it opened and revealed a louder sound of not one, but two new heartbeats.
It wasn’t until he heard Stiles speak that his own heartbeat stopped.
Derek and Laura sat next to each other on the couch, while Peter sat in the single armchair and Stiles lingered on the periphery of the room, waiting to see where and how he would be needed.
“Dr. Kiddle called and said you were moving out of the facility,” Laura said. “He recommended that we come check on you and make sure everything’s okay.”
Peter tapped his fingers along the armrest, appearing as unconcerned as possible while wishing horrific things on his psychiatrist.
“He also recommended that you either return to Beacon Hills or move my comatose body to New York in order to provide me with the pack bonds I needed to heal.”
Derek and Laura both flinched at that.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Peter-” Laura pressed forward, “We just- we couldn’t-”
Everyone startled at the smell of fresh blood as Peter’s claws cut into his clenched fist.
Stiles hurried over and ran a hand down his arm, quietly asking, “Do you want me to change?”
As soon as Peter nodded Stiles squeezed his arm once and then quickly walked to the bathroom.
Laura and Derek watched the exchange reservedly, darting looks at each other back and forth.
“What’s Stiles doing here?” Derek asked gruffly as soon as the bathroom door closed.
Peter consciously kept himself from reforming a fist, and said, “He’s my service companion. Emotional support, among other things.”
Laura’s face screwed up in distaste.
“A service shifter for a shifter? Are you serious?”
“It works very well. Certainly well enough to help me find the physical and mental stability I’d lost after my pack abandoned me.”
Derek flinched again, but Laura lifted her chin this time.
“This can’t possibly be a long term solution, Peter. I think it would be better for you to move back into the assist-”
The bathroom door banged open and Stiles came out, moving quickly but delicately in the small space. As soon as he entered the living room Derek let out a wild yelp and Laura actually lifted her feet off the ground to scramble back further on the couch.
Stiles sat himself down next to Peter and quietly laid his head on the armrest. Peter dug his hand into Stiles’ fur and let the texture soothe him.
It took a few minutes, but Derek and Laura’s stunned silence eventually wore off.
“He’s a bear?” Laura nearly yelled before turning on Derek. “Why didn’t you say?”
Derek just shook his head, still apparently shocked.
“I didn’t know. I just knew he was some kind of shifter. What-” his voice cut off in a squeak and he cleared his throat. “What kind of service did you say he does?”
“Emotional support. Mostly by scaring the shit out of people I don’t like.”
Stiles curled back his lips and rumbled a sound so threatening that Derek shot out of his seat.
“We need to go. Laura, we need to go. I’m so sorry Peter, for everything, but I’m glad you have Stiles.” Derek was out the front door two seconds later, Laura following him close behind.
Silence rang through the mostly empty apartment for a moment, and Stiles carefully watched Peter, waiting to see how he felt.
When his shoulders started to shake, Stiles was instantly concerned, and shoved his face up against Peter’s to see his expression.
He was utterly startled to hear a sudden gasp for breath, and then such a hearty, loud laugh that it echoed back from the kitchen. Peter kept going, peal after peal of laughter bubbling up for minutes before hiccuping himself back to quiet.
Delicately wiping a tear of mirth from the corner of his eye, he finally spoke.
“They’re both terrible. Laura more than Derek, but they both bear a tremendous amount of responsibility for my pain that she at least will never fully admit to. But I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the best thing I’ve seen since waking up.” He looked up at Stiles, cheeks aching from his grin.
Stiles, unsatisfied with his wordless state, changed back into his human skin and grabbed a blanket to cover himself before saying, “Yeah, but it would have been better if I’d told them I was your rent-boy first.”
Peter’s renewed laughter lasted long enough for Stiles to get dressed and finish putting away the dishes.