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Nothing but the Flowers

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It’s a nice day when life as he knows it comes to an end.

To be fair, life as they knew it came to an end six months ago, but whatever. Stepping into a faerie trap? Stupid, he thinks, looking down at the perfect circle around his feet. Beyond stupid. Deathly stupid. 

That’s what stupid mistakes mean now, they mean death, and Stiles really does know better. He’s made it this far past the end of world, but he won’t make it much longer if he keeps this shit up. Stiles rummages in his pack for the iron nail—three months ago, scavenged from a farm—and holds it tightly in one hand. He uses the other to touch the apotropaic talisman looped around his neck—since the beginning, looted from Deaton’s house—and grits his teeth, stepping back out of the mushroom ring.

Nothing happens.

There’s no sense of relief though. Stiles clutches the nail harder and swallows against the sour taste in his mouth.

Eventually, he has to move. 

Stiles walks. He goes slowly through the woods, following the curve of the road. He almost wants to chance it, but walking in plain sight on the highway carries its own risks. The only things left to see him are exactly what he doesn’t want to see. He pays closer attention to where he steps and continues beating himself up. It’s what he’s best at anyway.

At the edge of the town, Stiles hesitates and listens hard. He still has that intuitive feeling of not right, but it’s been sitting in his gut since he stepped in the fae trap. He’s waiting for the consequence to catch up to him, he just doesn’t know what it is yet. So yeah, that’s... sufficiently terrifying.

Stiles heaves a heavy sigh. The hollow feeling in his stomach wins out. He heads toward the first house he sees, keeping his head on a swivel and resting a hand on the knife holster at his side.

The door is unlocked. Most of the time they are. Whatever caused most of the population to disappear, whether it was faeries or witches or whatever, did it at dinner time when the majority of people had been home. The dining table is still set for four, meal long lost to time and microbes. A salt shaker lays on its side, overturned. Stiles digs around in the pantry for some shelf-stable food.

Jackpot. Stiles rips open a box of granola bars and eats half of one in a single bite. There’s a case of bottled water on the floor too. Stiles chugs the water and finishes two bars before dumping the rest into his knapsack.

The house is a two-story, so Stiles heads upstairs. The bedrooms all look the same: tastefully decorated, beds made, everything covered in a thin layer of dust. This family had been pretty tidy. For that he counts his blessings; Stiles has scavenged at some houses that make Hoarders look like a joke. He picks a bedroom, opening a window to get the air circulating, and then digs through a linen closet for some clean sheets, pressing them to his face. Laundry detergent always had such ridiculous names. What had this one been called? Lavender Fields? Summer Rain? Residue of Civilization? Stiles snorts.

He changes the sheets and wrinkles his nose at the contrast, unpleasantly reminded of the layer of grime stuck to his skin. It’s been a few days since he’s had a bath. Or a week, maybe? Whenever he’d last filled his bottles in the stream. Time is a construct; Stiles doesn’t know anymore.

What he does know is apocalypse baths, and he’s gotten pretty good at them. Stiles finds a washcloth, a plastic cup, and a bottle of shampoo, and then takes the lid off the toilet tank. He hums a little as washes his hair. It’s too long now, especially in the back, but Stiles hasn’t had much luck lately finding a battery-powered electric trimmer. When he’s as dirt free as you can get during the end of the world, he rummages through the closets until he finds something he likes, and then checks his reflection in a mirror.

The baby fat is gone. Now it’s skin stretched tight over his face, now it’s a hardness in his eyes that never used to be there. This is what grim acceptance looks like, because whatever life used to be? Yeah, it’s not coming back. Stiles sure as shit doesn’t look sixteen anymore. He glances down at the shirt he's picked out, and his lips twitch upward involuntarily.

OKAY, I’M HERE!  it reads. Then the following line, continuing in a much smaller print, so what are your other 2 wishes?

Alright, so maybe he’s still a little bit sixteen. It’s nice to be reminded.

A glance out the window tells him he’s got a few hours left before sunset. Stiles isn’t tired yet, but what he is is out of Adderall. Going off the stupid-ass mistake he made today it’s clearly taking its toll, so he shoulders his backpack and decides to wander into town to look for a pharmacy. The town doesn’t seem very big. He can spend two hours exploring and make it back before nightfall.

The silence is definitely the worst thing about the end of the world. Stiles hates it. What he wouldn’t give to hear the sounds of civilization again. The rush of traffic, the echoes of music cranked too loud, the murmurs of conversation. Fuck, he can’t even make conversation with himself. Staying quiet, it’s always about staying quiet. Funny what you can change about yourself when you have to survive. But the supes are the only ones left alive, and Stiles is way at the bottom of that totem pole. Even Scott hadn’t been able to get away.

The sudden stab of grief is sharp, but Stiles pushes it away and keeps walking.

He smells the rancid grocery store long before he sees it and gives it a wide berth. The pharmacy won’t be nearly as bad, but Stiles prays for a family-owned place anyway. He’s in luck. Across the street, he spies a faded white awning that announces Madison Family Pharmacy since 1973.

Stiles pulls the door open and nearly jumps out of his skin when the bell jingles. He shakes his head, laughing a little. How fucking nostalgic.

He quickly takes stock of the pharmacy’s condition. It’s dusty and untouched. Good sign. Stiles hops over the counter and walks to the back, spying the emergency exit. Rule 8: When In Doubt, Always Know Your Way Out has saved him more than once. Stiles props the door open just in case and sends a silent thanks to whomever that at least his apocalypse doesn’t involve zombies.

“Still in stock,” Stiles whispers to himself when he finds his medicine. He grabs a sandwich bag and fills it up way past the thirty-pill limit.

He’s feeling a little gleeful and a lot bored, so he pokes around. Some of the drug names he recognizes, but most he doesn’t. He’s trying to remember what that dude in Wolf of Wall Street took when he hears the bell tinkle again.

Stiles freezes. Slowly, so fucking slowly, he turns his head toward the front door.

He’s about 5’10”, Stiles thinks. Maybe late 30s or early 40s. The way he holds himself makes Stiles guess shapeshifter, but there’s no way to know for sure. Adrenaline floods into Stiles’ bloodstream as they continue to stare at each other, unmoving.

“That’s, uh. Listen,” Stiles says, voice raspy from disuse. “This isn’t what it looks like, officer.” 

It works. The shifter lets out a startled laugh, disarmed, and Stiles takes his cue. He tightens his grip on his backpack and flees, sprinting for the back door.

“Wait!”

Stiles halts.

The man creeps closer, the lines of his body graceful, predatory—definitely a shifter, maybe a wolf? Jaguar? Stiles’ heart is thudding in his chest, his every instinct screaming at him to get out, to leave, but his legs aren’t listening.

“You’re the first person I’ve seen in months.”

Yeah, must be nice to smell like natural deterrent. Stiles scowls. “Have you tried deodorant?”

Up close, under the scraggly beard, he’s sort of handsome. Blue eyes, great cheekbones. He even has a nice smile.

“You’re funny,” he tells Stiles.

“Yup,” Stiles says. “Dinner and a show, that’s me.”

The shifter rolls his eyes. “I’m not going to eat you. What’s your name?”

“McLovin.”

“Uh-huh. Tell me what your friends call you, McLovin.”

“Stiles Stilinski,” he blurts, not really sure why.

“Peter Hale.” He’s holding his hand out, and it takes Stiles way too long to realize it’s for a handshake. Peter’s hand is enormous in his grasp. “So, what’s a pretty thing like you doing in a place like this?”

Stiles’ stomach does a weird somersault at being called pretty.

“Oh, you know. Same thing you’re doing.” Stiles is careful to keep his tone light. He’s not going to be able to overpower Peter, so he’ll have to take him by surprise. “Taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order.”

“Aren’t you a bit young for a life of drugs and crime?” Peter asks mildly.

“Hey now,” Stiles says, giving his pill bag a little shake. “You’re never too young to fight for universal healthcare.”

“Just how old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” Stiles lies.

Peter gives him a look that seems overly skeptical. “Be honest.”

“Sixteen.”

It’s more than impulsive. Stiles has ADHD; this isn’t that. Maybe compulsive would be a better word for it. He’s starting to feel kind of light-headed. He needs to get away. Stiles looks toward the tall shelf of medicines nearby, mentally calculating where he should push it to have it fall on Peter.

“Don’t even think about it.”

Stiles’ mind goes blank. He turns back to Peter. “Huh?”

“I said, don’t even think about it.” Peter’s eyes are a bright, electric blue. “I’d hate for you to get hurt.”

He has no idea what the hell Peter is talking about. It must show because Peter’s eyes fade back to normal, and he stares. Really stares at Stiles, head tilted to the side, his eyes moving back and forth across Stiles’ face like he’s trying to work something out. Stiles tries to remember what he was thinking, but it’s slipped away like smoke, leaving behind prickly, uncomfortable thoughts about how Peter’s rude scrutiny is making him feel some kind of way.

“Stiles.” Peter glances into the middle distance, concentrating, and then meets his eyes again with a devious, little smile. “Hop on one foot.”

He does, not even questioning the strangeness of it until he’s four hops in. 

“What the fuck?” Stiles sputters.

“Stop.”

Again, he complies. It’s reflexive. Automatic. There’s no thought until after he’s fulfilled Peter’s command and—oh no. Fuck. Fuck. Stiles’ stomach clenches around the remains of his two granola bars. Not this, he thinks. His knees wobble.

“No,” Stiles whispers, sinking to the floor. Please, no. It can be anything except this.

“You’re under an obedience spell,” Peter says, awed.

A nice smile? Stiles takes that thought back. His heartbeat is thrashing in his ears, a cold sweat bubbling out of his pores, and he knows that his abject terror must be stinking up the whole room, pouring off of him in waves. But the whole time Peter Hale just towers over him, baring his teeth in joy.

Stiles scrambles for the exit one last time.

“Stay,” Peter commands.

He has no control over his body. Not even over the tears that start. They’re hot as they spill down his face. Peter steps closer and his terror grows, mushrooming inside him like a bomb.

“Shh, it’s okay, Stiles. I’ll take good care of you.”

He sobs harder. Fuck. Fuck the universe. What could he have done to deserve this?

“Stand up,” Peter says. “Take a deep breath, and calm down a little.”

The oxygen is good going into his lungs. The panic ebbs slightly, but Peter’s order does nothing for the nausea rolling in his gut. Peter’s eyes move over Stiles’ chest, creasing at the corners as he reads the words.

“Nice shirt.”

The fear slides sideways into anger, and for that Stiles is grateful. As nastily as he can manage, he spits out, “The irony isn’t lost on me, don’t worry.”

Peter just laughs.

“Follow me,” he says.

Stiles obeys.

-

He only manages to stab Peter once.

“Very impressive.” Peter grits his teeth and pulls Stiles’ knife out of his shoulder. “It would’ve been more effective to slit my throat, but good effort.”

Stiles isn’t sure why Peter is giving him constructive criticism. It kind of seems like a dare.

“Look at me, Stiles,” Peter says, and Stiles’ eyes follow without thought. Peter’s gaze is steady as he speaks. “Do not attack me again. Do not ever do anything with the intent of causing me harm.”

Oh, Stiles thinks, as the command lands. Peter is smart. This order is a little different from the others; he can actually feel it this time. It trickles down into his mind like a bead of sweat, settling there, uncomfortable and ever present.

“Yes, master,” Stiles says, snidely.

Peter’s lips twitch, and he drops the knife in the kitchen sink. Stiles is satisfied, watching Peter remove his torn shirt, that he’s managed to ruin something at least. Even if it is just a shirt. But the high from his small win is short lived. He frowns as Peter beings to clean the already-healing wound.

“So, you’re a werewolf then?”

“Mm-hmm,” Peter says. “And you? You smell human.”

“That would be due to the fact that I am.”

Peter raises his eyebrows. “Except humans didn’t survive. They were all dusted.”

Dusted. Wow. Way to appeal to Stiles’ nerd humor. He’s pretty sure there aren’t any superheroes working behind the scenes to unfuck their world though. There definitely isn’t anyone coming to save Stiles. Everyone he’s ever loved is dead.

There’s that gut punch of grief again. Stiles pinches his lips tight to stop them from trembling.

Peter turns away. “Just to be clear,” he says, rummaging through the cupboards. “Tell me the truth.”

“I am.” Stiles hates how whiny it comes out. He keeps his head still, his face hot as he deliberately looks away from Peter. “I don’t know what to tell you. My best friend was a werewolf and I guess I was sort of in a pack, but I’m a hundred percent human, I promise.”

A thought rolls around in his brain, one that’s come to him many times before. Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets and struggles to find the words, a strange, phantom pressure on his tongue.

“Someone told me once that I had a spark of something. I guess whatever it was...” He rubs his fingertips together, unseen. “Maybe it was enough to save me.”

Peter makes a noncommittal sound and Stiles figures that was good enough.

The conversation goes still, and Stiles goes quiet, thinking. The kitchen island he’s sitting at is huge. It puts a lot of space between Stiles and his captor, very welcome space, but obviously the correct amount of space would be too fucking far to hear Peter’s orders. He thinks about the structure of Peter’s words. He’d very specifically told Stiles he couldn’t attack or do anything to cause Peter harm. But he hadn’t said anything about escape, Stiles realizes with a fluttery feeling in his belly.

He darts a sidelong glance at Peter, who is moving around the kitchen. Stiles can play along for now, biding his time until he gets the chance. Better to lull Peter into a sense of security then blow his only shot with a panicked escape attempt.

A strangely familiar clicking sound starts and Stiles looks over, startled to see Peter igniting a flame under a pan. His mouth falls open further as Peter empties a container of food into the wok. “You have electricity?”

Peter tilts his head. “Some. But this is a camp stove, it runs on gas.”

“What are you making?”

“Come see.”

His body moves automatically, sliding off the bar stool. The pan is sizzling loudly and it only gets louder as his hesitant, shuffling steps draw him nearer. The hot aroma wafts up, sticking to his face and throat. He can see rice, and peas, and meat, and egg, and it would maybe even smell good except that Stiles is very close to Peter. Closer than he wants to be.

“It’s leftovers,” Peter says, by way of explanation. “Do you want soy sauce?”

Stiles nods stupidly. He wants to say that he doesn’t want it, that he’s not hungry, but it’s been so long since he’s had a hot meal. And maybe it does smell good. Peter plates the stir fry and hands him a fork. He ushers Stiles to a table in the corner of the room and sits him down before disappearing. Stiles stares at the meal in front of him, shifting in his chair until Peter returns with two open beers.

“Here.”

Stiles’ hand almost curls into a fist, but then it straightens and he takes the bottle. It’s cold, though Stiles has no idea how. He drags a finger through the condensation and then traces his bottom lip, spreading the wetness there. It feels like opulence.

“You didn’t have to wait for me.” Peter grins, and Stiles frowns and looks down at his plate. Had he been? “Go ahead, enjoy.”

He does. He doesn’t know if it’s only because Peter told him to. The food is hot and delicious. Stiles makes an embarrassing sound on the first bite, and a weird look passes across Peter’s face.

“Good?”

Stiles swallows. “Uh, yeah. Thanks.”

They eat in silence for a while. The clink of silverware is familiar in such a bizarre way. The whole situation is bizarre, Stiles knows, but everything becomes normal at some point, right? Even the end of the world. He purposefully scrapes the tines of his fork across the bottom of the plate. Stiles hates the sound, but just hearing it again makes his chest tighten with an unnamed feeling.

“It’s not poisoned, you know.”

“What?” Stiles looks up. Peter is staring at him, eyebrows raised.

“Your drink,” he says, gesturing to it with his fork. “I haven’t poisoned it.”

Stiles frowns. “Obviously. Why would you poison your own slave?”

“Slave?” Peter shoots him a lopsided smirk. “What a loaded word.”

A tendril of anger comes loose inside him and Stiles isn’t quick enough to smother it. “What else would you call this?”

Peter shrugs as he picks up his beer. “Dinner.”

He’s infuriating. Goddamn fucking infuriating, Stiles thinks, as he finally picks up the bottle and takes a pull. The beer is actually a cider, crisp and sweet, and he chugs half of it hoping it’ll do something to offset the sour resentment in his gut. Remember the plan, Stiles reminds himself. He draws in a slow, steady breath and plasters on a fake smile.

“Do you often kidnap your dinner guests?” Stiles asks in a honeyed voice.

Peter huffs a laugh. “No, not often.”

“Guess I should be flattered then.” 

Stiles takes another sip of the cider. The label is soft under his fingers as he peels the paper from the glass. His legs vibrate with energy, and he bounces them as he focuses on shredding the label into tiny pieces. The scrape of Peter’s chair draws his attention.

“Want another?” Peter asks, holding up his own empty bottle.

“You know, you don’t have to get me drunk to…” Stiles swallows the rest of the joke, his face suddenly hot. No need to give Peter any ideas. “I mean, uh, okay. Sure.”

Peter’s eyes are squinted in barely-held amusement, but he just nods to the cider on the table. “Alright. Finish that before I get back then.”

Stiles clenches his teeth behind a closed-mouth grin as his hand moves to the bottle automatically.

“Your wish is my command,” he says, but Peter has already left the room.

‘Finish’ is kind of vague; if he pours the rest out on the floor, will that satisfy the order? His arm refuses to obey, so yeah. Signs point to no. Stiles drinks the rest of cider, unsurprised it can’t wash the bitter taste out of his mouth. He sets the bottle back down on the table harder than necessary.

It takes a while for Peter to come back. Long enough for a buzz to set in, which was maybe Peter’s aim. Stiles takes the second cider with a mumbled thanks when he returns, breath already coming a little easier. There’s nothing he can do tonight anyway. Might as well drink to forget his problems.

A warmth spreads throughout his chest as Stiles drains the bottle of his own accord this time, pleased with this small measure of independence. His body is loose and a little foggy. It’s not the first time he’s had alcohol, but it’s been a while. He and Scott had drowned their sorrows in whiskey and wine coolers at the beginning of it all, but since then Stiles has been very cautious not to make it a habit. Only this feels different, maybe?

Whatever. Stiles can’t find the energy to care. He slides his eyes to the side and studies the wall for a bit. There’s a spot where the paint doesn’t quite match. His head moves without permission, lolling from one side to the other, and Stiles gives it a little shake. The blurry edges of Peter’s face sharpen.

“Where are you from?” Peter is asking him.

Oh. Stiles blinks. His mouth softens into a smile, unbidden. “Beacon Hills.”

“You don’t say.” Peter is smiling too, but there’s something about it Stiles can’t place.

“Yeah.” Is this situation funny? Stiles laughs a little. “You know it?”

“You could say that.”

Stiles can’t stop smiling. He shakes his head at himself. This is funny. Drunk off two beers, sitting in a kitchen with a werewolf who’s twice his age. A werewolf, twice his age, with total control over him because Stiles is an idiot. Right? An absolute idiot. This is probably exactly the kind of situation the faeries who had made that trap were thinking of. Thought of. Had thought of?

“Stiles.” Peter’s face comes back into view as Stiles’ head jerks up, lifted by invisible strings. Puppet strings. Stiles giggles again.

“Yesss?” he slurs.

“Let’s get you to bed.”

Stiles floats where Peter guides. The house is big. He can feel Peter’s hands on him in the darkness as he stumbles, their gentle push and pull. It’s like waves, he thinks with a laugh, waves ebbing and flowing. They rise up and crest on a dark, fuzzy feeling as Stiles tumbles back onto something soft and enveloping. He sinks deeper into oblivion, Peter’s voice a faraway drone, and then there is no more.

-

He thinks Peter has been here a while. Stiles and Scott had never stayed in any place too long, but Peter seems perfectly comfortable with squatting in a swanky, eco-friendly house. Stiles can’t say he blames him. Whoever built this place must’ve had an overzealous love for sustainable living. Maybe they had seen a few too many prepper shows. Maybe Stiles hadn’t seen enough.

Anyway, the house is sprawling and gorgeous, but more importantly it has a library. And most importantly, the library is full of supernatural books. Figures Peter is a bibliophile; he certainly seems pretentious enough. The shelves are stuffed end-to-end, and there are still piles and piles littering the floorspace—those are probably Peter’s additions. Stiles finds a promising stack and sits cross-legged, opening an unmarked tome.

It’s a fae diary, he thinks, insides vibrating with excitement. But fifty pages in the faerie is getting railed in the ass, and it turns out to be a gay paranormal romance. Stiles sighs and sets the book aside.

He tries another book, and then another, eventually finding something more encouraging: The fae often have a unique and wry sense of humor, he reads. Some factions are more likely than others to meddle in human affairs, whether for good or evil, but know that all fae maintain an appreciation for irony, which is ironical itself in this humble author’s opinion...

Stiles’ eyes whip back and forth across the page, pencil held tightly between his teeth. He pauses every so often to scribble down a few thoughts on a notepad.

  • sense of irony (dicks)
  • is it a curse or spell or hex? is there a difference?
  • loopholes???

He feels a little breathless and has to bite down on a smile. The hyperfocus is comfortable, like a warm blanket, and Stiles loses himself to it. Everything fades away except the text in front of him until Stiles’ legs move abruptly, pushing him to his feet and bringing reality back. Peter is standing in the doorway. There’s an expectant look on his face and Stiles freezes, the throb of his heartbeat loud in his ears as he becomes fully aware that he’s standing because his body obeyed a command.

“Good book?”

Stiles’ pulse quickens. Obviously, Peter hadn’t ordered him to stay away from library. But Stiles hadn’t asked either. His fingers go a little cold.

“Uh huh.” Stiles hears the strain in his voice. He chews the inside of his cheek and waits.

“Well,” Peter says. “So long as you’re not doing it with the intent to harm me.”

Stiles stares at the expanse of skin under Peter’s neck and imagines being free to drag his knife across it. Pictures bright red blood seeping out, slippery, wet under his hands. Peter gives him a little smile.

“Enjoy,” he says, leaving with a wave.

Stiles watches Peter go and then picks the book up once he’s out of sight. He opens to where he left off, but the letters are a blur. Stiles blinks and shakes his head to clear it. When that doesn’t work, he rubs his eyes, but the words keep floating off the page, rearranging themselves into incomprehensible garbage. He makes a frustrated sound and tosses the book aside. He’d been researching how to break the curse so he could break the fucking curse, not so he could kill Peter.

It would’ve been a nice bonus though.

Had Peter put the idea in his head on purpose? Stiles rubs a hand over his face, a dark paranoia writhing in the corners of his mind. Peter could’ve just ordered him to stop if that’s what he’d really wanted though. Stiles sighs and rips his sheet of notes from the notepad. He folds up the page, shoving it into his pocket and shoving his suspicions away.

If Peter seems surprised when Stiles walks into the kitchen, he doesn’t comment on it.

“You’re just in time for lunch.”

“Not hungry,” Stiles replies.

Peter frowns. “You need to eat.”

“I’m not hungry, Dad,” he snarks back, petulant to his own ears.

“Okay.” Peter shrugs, unaffected. He points to the floor next to him. “Kneel here.”

Stiles doesn’t have time to get mad about the order until he’s already on his knees next to Peter’s chair.

“What the hell! Seriously?” Stiles clenches his hands into fists in his lap. Very vividly, he imagines punching Peter right in his smirking mouth.

Peter gives him a look that says he knows perfectly well what he’s thinking. “You need to eat, Stiles.”

“And what, I need to do that kneeling on the floor?”

“No,” Peter says. “But this is more fun for me.”

Stiles stares at the edge of the table in his eyeline, shoulders rigid. He tries lifting his fist to deck Peter for real, but of course his hand doesn’t move from his lap. A question dances on the tip of his tongue. He’s afraid of what the answer will be, but Stiles takes a deep breath and forces himself to ask it anyway.

“What do you even want with me?”

“Right now?” Peter’s tone is mild. “I want you to eat something.”

The urge to punch Peter is only getting stronger.

“Were you always this much of an asshole?”

Peter holds out a spoonful of rice and beans. “Yes. Now, eat.”

It’s unfairly delicious, like all of Peter’s cooking. Stiles chews angrily. He did spend months surviving off of granola bars and peanut butter, though, so maybe Peter’s cooking isn’t all that great. Lots of things would probably taste delicious by comparison at this point.

“Good?”

Stiles nods, short and sharp. Peter smiles softly and presses a palm to Stiles’ cheek.

“What do we say?”

Useless rage billows inside him like a great wave. Stiles clenches his jaw, hoping Peter can feel the muscle twitch, filled with the urge to turn and defy that maxim about biting the hand that feeds you. Peter has him on his knees, is spoon-feeding him like a child, and he’s actually expecting Stiles to thank him for it?

Stiles chooses to do the only thing that he has control over. He says nothing, remaining silent. 

“Okay, Stiles. If that’s how you want it.” Peter sighs, putting the spoon down. “Pinch your thigh. Hard.”

The dark, tight purl in Stiles’ chest is sharp, but it’s quickly replaced with a hotter, sharper stitch. He hisses through his teeth as his fingers find purchase, pinching the soft meat of his inner thigh. Peter can’t seem to take his eyes off Stiles as he squeezes harder, the throb branching out, going white-hot. The pain and rage swirl together, churning inside the prison of his body, and as time ticks on Stiles becomes more and more aware of just how short the distance is from his thigh to his dick.

There’s a flutter of something else in the depths, something raw and dangerous, and Stiles shudders. He screws his eyes shut and sucks in his bottom lip, breathing out hard. The crush of anger and despair is too much. The waves suck him under, battering him in the rip current, until—

Until it doesn’t. An eerie calm rolls over him like a fog and he seizes it with the desperation of a drowning man.

“That’s enough.”

Stiles lets go. The pain has already faded to a dull and distant throb, far removed. He thinks he feels Peter’s hand land on the back his neck. Stiles opens his eyes.

“Let’s try again,” Peter says, bright and warm. “What do we say?”

Stiles blinks, feeling stupid. The pause is long enough for Peter’s hand to tighten in warning, and then Stiles remembers.

“Thank you,” Stiles says quietly, from behind the haze.

Peter feeds him the rest of the meal and Stiles thanks him, flat and emotionless, for every bite.

-

Eventually, Peter shows him the pool. Well, he shows Stiles all the outdoor parts of the house, like the solar panels and chicken coop, but the pool is what gets his attention. Because wow, calling it a pool is really generous.

“Whoa.” Stiles stops in his tracks. “Nice swamp. Really great monster aesthetic.”

“Thank you, I thought so,” Peter says, deadpan. “I’m working on it. Come and watch.”

He opens some kind of pool chemical kit and goes through it with Stiles, showing him the water testing strips and explaining what pH balance they’re aiming for. Stiles watches each step with rapt attention. At the end, Peter demonstrates how to skim the leaves out of the water before handing Stiles the long metal pole.

“Go ahead, take over.”

Stiles sweeps the skimmer through the water. He’s gotten most of the leaves, Peter watching comfortably from a patio chair, before a spark of suspicion ignites.

“Wait.” Stiles pauses and tries to straighten, but the hand holding the skimmer jerks and keeps moving. “Are you seriously training me to be your pool boy?”

Peter’s eyebrows shoot upward, and his mouth twists in a way that tells Stiles he’s not going to like whatever is coming next. Stiles is reminded of the many, many times his mouth ran away with him at school.

“Take your shirt off,” Peter commands.

The stupidity melts into hot shame. Stiles’ cheeks burn as he pulls the shirt over his head. 

“Oh my god. You’re so creepy.”

Peter studies him for a long moment. Stiles shivers.

“You like creepy,” he finally says.

Stiles’ mouth opens and closes, going dry. It’s not a lie. Why else would he have dragged Scott into the woods to search for a dead body? Why else would he have kept an animal skull on his bedroom shelf? Stiles can’t deny that he’s always had an attraction to the morbid and macabre.

He bends his neck and focuses on the task at hand, moving the mesh net through the dark green depths of the pool. The late winter sun is warm on his skin, yet his arms still prickle with goosebumps. Stiles isn’t sure if it’s from the breeze or from Peter’s gaze. He can sense it roaming over him, imperial and suggestive. His ribs ache for some reason. They’re too tight. Stiles has a weird vision of Peter planting a flag between them.

“Is this good enough?”

Peter hums in consideration. “A little more, I think.”

Stiles worries his lip with his teeth and concentrates on cleaning the pool. When enough time has passed that Stiles’ shoulders are beginning to ache, Peter says, “You can stop now.”

It’s practically right into his ear, so much closer than Stiles expects. He jumps and takes a stumbling step backward over the water, flailing for a second, before Peter grabs him with steady hands.

“Easy there. Sorry,” Peter says, his fingers burning like brands on Stiles’ naked arms. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s okay.” Stiles swallows. His throat is dry. “My impressive displays of clumsiness are unparalleled. Being awkward is kind of my thing.”

Peter is close enough for Stiles to focus on his eyes. There’s a tiny ring of brown in the center of each one. His hands are still wrapped around Stiles’ biceps.

“I don’t think you’re awkward,” Peter says, and Stiles snorts. “Well, maybe a little. But it’s charming.”

Stiles really wants Peter to let go. He does. “Didn’t know you could be charmingly awkward.”

A wicked smile dances on Peter’s lips. “I bet there’s a lot of things you don’t know,” he murmurs.

The fluttery sensation in his stomach is spreading exponentially, growing hotter. A seam of panic splits open inside Stiles as he recognizes the beginnings of a well-known and totally unsolicited throbbing in his shorts. Peter’s grip tightens as Stiles tries to lean away.

“Something you need, Stiles?” Peter asks mildly.

“Nope,” Stiles chokes out. “Nope! I’m good, that’s— yeah, totally good. All good.”

Peter’s smirk is all-knowing and a little feral. “I know you are.”

One of Peter’s hands moves, the tip of a finger tracing his bones. Stiles freezes as Peter tracks the lines of his ribs, the jut of his hip, tsking softly. “You need more meat on you.”

He releases Stiles and steps away, and Stiles lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. The air is colder now, somehow. Maybe it’s just the hot echo of Peter’s touch.

“Um.” Stiles flounders, desperately reaching for a distraction. “I saw a shelf of games inside the hall closet.”

Peter, presumably having hit his daily torture quota, asks him, not unkindly, “Would you like to play one?”

They settle on some kind of dice game. It’s easy enough to learn. Stiles wins the first two rounds.

“Not bad, huh?”

Peter rolls his eyes. “It’s a game of chance.”

“Beginner’s luck, then,” Stiles says, grinning. He stretches out his legs and raps his knuckles on the table. “One more?”

Stiles wins that one too, delighting in Peter’s folded arms and the sour twist of his mouth.

Things could be worse.

-

“This good?”

Peter squints at his find. “Not exactly. We want the one that looks like a little minnow.”

They’re on a quest for the perfect lure. The sporting goods store is hard to navigate, especially in the dark. Stiles sweeps his flashlight over the colorful boxes of fake fish hanging in neat rows.

“Remind me again why we’re doing this?”

Peter scoffs and rolls his eyes. Not that Stiles can see the eye roll, but he’s pretty sure of it.

“Remind you of your own idea, you mean?”

Stiles pauses. “My idea?”

“Yes, Stiles,” Peter says, a hint of exasperation in his usually patient tone. “Remember? You wanted to go fishing instead of killing one of the hens?”

He has a vague sense of what Peter’s talking about. Stiles scratches his nose. “Well, Princess Lay-a and Hen Solo are soulmates. It would be cruel to kill that kind of love.”

“And so, here we are,” Peter drawls. “Aha! Here.”

Stiles holds his flashlight beam on the shelf while Peter stuffs a few boxes into his backpack.

“Mission accomplished, comrade. Do we need anything else?” Stiles asks.

“Don’t think so,” Peter says. “Unless there’s something else you want while we’re here?”

Stiles shakes his head. “No, I’m good. Let’s go.”

It’s gotten a lot grayer outside. The clouds are lower now, more menacing, scudding across the sky quicker than they’d been when he and Peter had gone into the store. Stiles isn’t sure how much time has gone by. Maybe they were inside for an hour? He’s not sure how much time has gone by with Peter either. Usually, Stiles can use his meds to mark the passage of the days, but he’d grabbed so many pills that day at the pharmacy. He’s lost count. A few weeks, at least.

A flock of crows catches Stiles’ attention. The clouds are so dark and swollen with rain that they’re a little hard to see as they take to the air. He watches them stream left to right into the sky, a cacophony of caws. Stiles says a prayer to the heavens to hold back, but it’s out of his control. It doesn’t start slow. One moment the storm is looming over them, and then in the next it’s letting loose all at once. Stiles is soaked within seconds. The last thing he remembers is scrambling for the car.

He blinks.

Stiles is standing in the backyard shower room. It’s cleverly designed, like most things in their squatters’ paradise, built to trap steam inside just like a normal bathroom. The air is warm and humid right now, like the water had been running just a minute ago. Stiles touches his head with a shaky hand. It comes back slippery with shampoo.

He doesn’t remember how he got here.

A sudden, overwhelming dread balloons inside of him and Stiles has to sink to the floor. His heart speeds up, pounding in his chest quicker and quicker, until it seems impossible. He’s going to die. Stiles takes a shuddery gasp of air into his lungs and brings his head to his knees. He closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to look at the spots in his vision and breathes through the panic attack.

When he’s sure that he’s not actually going to die, Stiles stands back up. He pulls the chain, letting the hot water wash over him as the shower starts again. Stiles rinses his hair and tries to remember. They’d been out scavenging. Scavenging for fishing gear, right, and then the storm had started. Peter had grabbed the gear. They’d raced for the car, and then... and then Stiles was naked in the shower.

The water stops as Stiles lets the chain go, exhaling heavily. The in-between is a blank. He runs a hand through his hair and frowns. Why can’t he remember? There’s a tiny mirror in the corner of the shower room and Stiles rubs the steam away to peer into it. His stomach loosens a little. Okay, still his face. Still him, at least.

He’s reaching for a towel when he catches a flash. Stiles pauses, wrapping himself in the towel, and looks back at the mirror. He has to stand on his tiptoes to see it, but there’s a purpling mark at the base of his throat. Stiles frowns and traces it with a finger. Where had that come from? He looks down at his chest and finds a second, about the same shape and size. It’s not the first time Stiles has found a bruise and not remembered the cause. Bruises can take a little while to form, he knows that. But those are usually on his arms and legs, not his chest.

It’s been weeks.

The realization hits him like a big, six-ton truck. It’s been weeks that he’s been with Peter now. Stiles’ pulse quickens, a jolt running through his body. It’s like a fog has cleared away, like he’s coming to his senses. Weeks. Why the fuck hasn’t he tried to escape yet?

Stiles towels off, changing into clothes he doesn’t remember leaving on the stool in the corner. The hoodie is soft and warm. His shoes are waiting outside the shower room door. He slips them on and strides around the side of the house with purpose. Peter is nowhere in sight. That’s good.

He doesn’t need to take anything. Stiles knows he’ll be able to find whatever he needs along the way. He survived for months on his own; he can do it again. He knows he can.

The chicken coop is near the latched gate leading off the property. Stiles plants his feet and stands for a moment, thinking. The nearest house isn’t too far. Maybe five minutes if he goes at a flat out run? So long as Peter doesn’t hear him leave. If he’s quiet, very quiet, then by the time he borrows a car it’ll be too late for Peter to catch up to him.

Stiles’ muscles are coiled tight, ready to bolt, but he forces himself to take a deep breath. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. If Peter follows him with his own car, that’ll be a bit harder. Most of the traffic had careened off-road when it happened, but the city intersections will be different. He’ll need to stick to the county roads. Even then, no guarantee that he’ll be able to lose Peter. He should disable Peter’s car.

Stiles licks his lips and shifts back. Slashing the tires will be too loud, he knows that from experience. Maybe he can disconnect the battery? The car is probably unlocked, so he can pop the hood easily enough. That’ll be loud to werewolf ears though. Stiles sets his jaw. Probably better to take his chances and pray for luck.

He stands in front of the gate and makes his decision. It’s now or never.

Unlatch it. Do it, Stiles. Do it now.

His body is tense, every line rigid and stretched tight. Stiles is singularly focused on the bolt. He visualizes reaching for it and sliding it into place. The metal will be cold to the touch. He’ll grab it with his forefinger and thumb. No. He’ll curl his whole hand around it using every ounce of strength within him, every cell in his body, to unlock it, to push the gate open. Stiles wills himself to move.

Time stretches on and on, long enough for his racing heart to slowly fade into a dull thud. Stiles’ arms go limp at his sides. They feel twice as heavy, too heavy to move. He swallows against a painful lump in his throat, despondent and weary, and tries very hard not to cry.

It’s just not the right time, Stiles tells the hollow place inside himself. Tomorrow.

He can escape tomorrow.

-

It’s the smell that wakes him.

It’s a sweet smell, familiar. Something is baking. The memory comes to Stiles vividly.

He’s nine. An old song is playing on the radio and the dough is sticky under his fingers. His mother grabs his hand and spins him around, singing along at the top of her voice. Stiles can’t help but laugh. She teaches him the steps to a dance while the cookies bake in the oven, their sweet, buttery smell diffusing throughout the kitchen as they turn a perfect golden brown.

It’s a nice memory. Sometimes remembering can make him sad, but not today. Today, Stiles’ chest is light and relaxed as he gets out of bed. He tracks the delicious smell to the kitchen and then hangs back for minute. Peter is humming to himself in the morning sunlight. Another memory takes him, striking and bright.

He’s nine. An old song is playing on the radio and Peter is spinning him round and round. Stiles’ bare feet are on Peter’s leather shoes as he turns them around the kitchen—

Wait, what? That’s not right.

“Hey,” Peter says, catching sight of Stiles. He wipes his hands on a dish towel. “I wasn’t expecting you to be up yet.”

Stiles moves closer. He can see something pink and fluffy cooling on the counter behind Peter, a container of white frosting nearby. Peter makes a dramatic gesture and steps aside.

“Happy birthday!”

Stiles tilts his head. He’s not really sure what it is, but there’s something off about this.

“How do you know it’s my birthday?” he asks. Peter flips his wrist, showing Stiles his watch. April 8th. Huh. Stiles looks at the counter, the corners of his lips turning up. “Is that a cake?”

“Strawberry,” Peter says with a wink. “Vanilla frosting. Your favorite.”

It is his favorite. Stiles plunges a finger into the creamy, white icing and sticks it into his mouth. It tastes just like he remembers. Peter shoos him away, playfully smacking his hand.

“What do you want to do today?” Peter asks. He sweeps a hand over Stiles’ head, and then brushes a thumb along his jaw. It makes Stiles hot and shivery in a way he can’t explain.

“Um.” Stiles hesitates. “I don’t know. What do you wanna do?”

Peter huffs a laugh. “No, no, it’s your birthday. Wait, let me give you your present now. Maybe that’ll help you think of something.”

“Present?” Stiles perks up with sudden interest.

Peter hands him a gift bag and Stiles shreds it, ripping the tissue paper out like a brutal evisceration. It’s a handheld game system, the kind with a double screen and stylus, and Stiles is giddy with nostalgia. He hasn’t seen one of these in ages. Stiles burrows further into the bag and pulls out a solar powered charger, and that small detail fills him with such stupid and breathless happiness that he has to duck his head, pressing his fingers to his smiling lips.

“You like it?”

Stiles beams at Peter. “I love it. Thank you.”

“Good.” Peter smiles back. “Anything for you, sweetheart.”

The way Peter is staring at him has Stiles feeling simultaneously gooey and unsteady on his feet. He flips the game device over in his hands. “Can we go shopping?”

They drive to a mall. Peter parks right next to a row of flowers. Most of them are withered and lifeless, choked by weeds. There’s a chill still, haunting the air like a persistent ghost, and Stiles shivers, pulling his jacket tighter. Sometimes it seems like the winter will never end. The game store is pristine though, beautiful in that weird, post-apocalyptic way, frozen in time. Even the smell of unwashed bodies lingers. Stiles battles through the floating dust motes to dig through the cases and finds enough RPG and puzzle games to last well past his next birthday.

“Ready?” Peter asks.

They head further into the mall, away from the skylights, footsteps booming in an otherwise soundless void. Stiles snaps his head left at an unseen scratching sound.

“Just an animal,” Peter murmurs.

Stiles’ body feels like one big, raw nerve as Peter takes his hand. It’s sweaty in Peter’s grip and he wants to pull away, but he forces himself to hold on. Peter steers them toward an upscale department store. Stiles grimaces.

“Oh, it won’t be that bad.” Peter rolls his eyes. “I think we both need some wardrobe updates, don’t you?”

“Right, sure,” Stiles says dryly. “For all those social engagements we have coming up.”

Peter chuckles and squeezes his hand. “Come on.”

Stiles debates the merits of making a bratty complaint about his birthday, but lets Peter drag him into the store without any more objection. They pass by a pair of mirrors that catch the light just so as to give the illusion of two Peters. Stiles stops for a moment to fool around with Peter’s double reflection. Peter allows it with a warm smile, a playful, knowing glint behind his eyes.

The racks are full of clothes that cost more money than Stiles has ever spent in his life, so it’s a weird, nihilistic pleasure to snatch up whatever catches his eye with no mind to the price tag. So many things are different now. Peter abandons him to explore the housewares section and Stiles picks out a few more things, unabashed about trying them on where he stands. It’s not like anyone is watching.

He wanders through the empty store, idly dragging his hand over the clothing racks as he passes by. Stiles pauses in front of a display of ties. He stops to indulge, rubbing the silk between his fingers, and wonders how many different knots Peter knows.

A loud crash shatters Stiles’ thoughts. He freezes, rooted to the spot.

“Peter?” he calls out, uncertain. No answer. “Peter?” Stiles tries again, louder.

There’s a low, rumbling sound behind him. The hairs on his neck stand up all at once. Stiles’ roots snap, and he runs.

“Peter!” Stiles’ heartbeat hammers in his ears. “Peter!”

His feet slip on the floor. Stiles sprints around a corner. A blind animal terror is flooding his veins as he desperately races through the store searching for Peter. Everything in him wants to look back over his shoulder, wants to be sure that whatever made that growl isn’t about to catch him with its jaws, but Stiles can only keep his eyes forward. He runs. He focuses on nothing else. The only thought he has is on outrunning the hot breath of death whispering down his neck.

Something grabs him around the middle and Stiles screams. He writhes and claws, trying to escape, his ears ringing with the echoes of his own fear.

“Stiles! Hey, hey, it’s me! It’s me, Stiles!”

He flinches away. Peter’s voice says something again and the strings holding up his panic are abruptly cut. Stiles sags into Peter’s hold.

“Hey, shh, hey,” Peter soothes. “It’s okay. What happened?”

Stiles fists his hands in Peter’s shirt and presses closer. “It was— I heard someone,” he says. “A growl.”

Peter pauses. “There’s no one else here, sweetheart. Just us.”

“There was. I heard it,” Stiles says, firm. He knows it’s true, knows it in his bones. His chest rattles on a shaky inhalation, heart still pounding against his ribs with residual fear.

“Look at me, Stiles. Take a deep breath.”

He does.

“Repeat after me: there was never anyone else here. Your mind was playing tricks on you.”

The words slide off his tongue with no thought at all. “There was never anyone else here. Your mind was playing tricks on you.”

“Good enough.” Peter snorts. “Trust me. It’s been only us the whole time, okay? Take another breath and calm down.”

Stiles relaxes further, melting against Peter’s chest, breathing in his anchoring scent. Maybe Peter’s right. Stiles hadn’t actually seen anything. There’s no proof that whatever it was existed outside his imagination, and besides, he trusts Peter. Stiles sighs as the last traces of his panic disappear. Chalk it up to extreme paranoia? Auditory hallucinations? Whatever it had been, it’s over now.

“Can we go home?” he asks in a small voice.

Peter presses his lips to Stiles’ hair. “Of course.”

That night, Peter makes fried chicken for dinner. It reminds Stiles of something, but he can’t quite grasp it.

“Everything okay?” Peter asks.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, shaking his head. “Yeah, everything’s perfect.”

Peter decorates his birthday cake with too many candles. Stiles’ forehead wrinkles, his eyebrows coming together as he tugs his bottom lip with his teeth.

“One for good luck,” Peter explains.

It sort of makes sense. Anyway, the cake is amazing. Peter lets him have two pieces.

At the end of the day, Stiles tucks himself into bed and realizes he hasn’t made a birthday wish. But what would he even wish for? He has everything he needs here with Peter. There’s a thread of unease in the fabric of that thought and Stiles pulls at it, trying to find the seam, but it’s no use. He tosses and turns for what feels like hours. Finally, he gives up and wraps a blanket around himself with a sigh.

Stiles pads down the hall to Peter’s bedroom. Peter is still awake, sitting up in bed, his face cast in strange shadow by a book light. He looks up when Stiles steps inside.

“I can’t sleep. Can you tell me—” Stiles hesitates, reaching for something in the corners of his mind. “Can you tell me a story?”

He’s sure that’s not what he wanted to ask, but Peter follows him back to bed anyway. Stiles climbs in and gets comfortable as Peter tenderly tucks the covers around him.

“Once upon a time,” Peter begins, voice pitched low. “There was a young boy headed for his grandmother’s house when he lost his way in the woods...”

Stiles listens to Peter weave the story with heavy eyes. When he’s finished, Peter leans in and kisses his forehead.

“Go to sleep,” he whispers, and Stiles does.

-

The flowers are blooming now. Orange, pink, and gold silky petals wave in the wind. The backyard is full of them. Stiles is laying on the hardwood deck next to his solar charger as they both soak up the sun. It’s quiet today. The sky is wide and open above him, free of clouds, and so blue that it hurts to look at for too long.

The sound of the shower room door opening grabs his attention, and Stiles sits up to watch Peter emerge, a towel wrapped around his waist. A few rivulets of water run down his chest. Stiles studies them with interest like a cartographer drawing a mental map, his breath coming a little faster. What’s the study of rivers called? You used to be able to look that kind of thing up, he thinks. It’s so long ago it feels like a dream.

Peter catches him staring. He cocks his head with a smug smile and every inch of Stiles’ skin flushes with heat.

“Enjoying the sun?” Peter asks, coming closer.

Stiles hums in response, consumed with a vague and blinding desire to be touched. It grows stronger with every step toward him that Peter takes. He shuts his eyes, afraid to let Peter see. He’s not sure why.

Peter’s fingers are gentle under his jaw as he tips Stiles’ head back and kisses him. Stiles makes a choked sound and jerks, like he’s going to pull away which is stupid, and then responds hungrily. Peter’s mouth is soft and wet. He’s annoyingly patient as Stiles tries to deepen the kiss and when he pulls back, Stiles is left breathless and wanting.

“Stay here,” Peter says. His hand lingers as he steps away, one last point of contact until he’s out of reach. “I’ll be right back.”

Stiles stays, closing his eyes and tipping his head up to the sun. He’s got nowhere else to be.

He hears Peter return but doesn’t open his eyes, trusting and a little excited about what Peter has planned. It’s reflex to tumble back as Peter kisses him again, just as easy as breathing, Peter’s hand curled around the back of his neck to soften the fall. The wood is warm under his skin. It’s a counterpoint to the burning heat of the hands moving over him.

Stiles pants into the kiss as Peter slides under his shirt, the drag of blunt fingernails ending in the pointed twist of a nipple. Stiles’ body throbs with sharp pleasure. He leans back to pull his shirt off, the movement almost frantic in its intensity.

“Someone’s eager today,” Peter teases.

Stiles feels impossibly hot under Peter’s gaze. “More, please?”

“Such a polite boy,” Peter says against his lips.

Stiles makes a soft sound as their bare chests meet. He arches up under Peter’s touch, feeling like a big mess of insatiable hunger as Peter grinds down against him. It’s so good, like lightning, like little fireflies of pleasure in the night, and god, Stiles wants. He wants so much. Peter’s towel falls open and Stiles scrambles to tug his own shorts down. It’s awkward, Peter grinning into the kiss, but then he’s helping Stiles and soon they’re both naked and Stiles has everything he’s ever wanted.

Peter slides his thigh between Stiles’ own as he moves to suck kisses and bites into Stiles’ neck.

“Good, baby?” Peter asks. His lips vibrate against Stiles’ throat. It tickles.

“Uh huh,” Stiles says breathlessly.

Peter curls a hand around Stiles’ cock, swiping a thumb over the wetness at the tip, and Stiles shivers with a pulse of pleasure. He squirms, rocking up into the touch. He’s on fire everywhere Peter touches. His cock is leaking in Peter’s grasp as a steady stream of soft, needy noises spills from his throat. There’s the click of a cap opening, and then a gentle finger is brushing the rim of Stiles’ hole.

That’s when the fissure cracks open inside him.

It’s swift and merciless, making his vision swim, and Stiles has to suck in a deep breath. As Peter’s finger slips inside, Stiles awakens to two certainties. One, Peter is going to fuck him. He knows this. He knows it with an eerie, blind intensity he can’t define. And two, just as fiercely, Stiles is sure that he needs to prevent it.

“Peter,” he says, strangled. “Stop.”

“Shh.” Peter grinds his cock against Stiles’ belly, leaving it sticky. “Call me Daddy, baby.”

Stiles hiccups. His stomach twists with a different kind of heat as Peter continues stroking his cock with one hand and his hole with the other.

“Daddy, stop. Please. I-I don’t want to do this.”

“Sure you do, sweetheart,” Peter says easily. “You asked for this, remember? Good boys don’t lie. Tell Daddy you want this.”

It’s not true. It’s not true. Stiles bites down on his tongue, tasting iron, but it doesn’t work. His body jerks, retches, his eyes watering as the words spew out. “I want it, Daddy.”

Something is wrong. Why did he say that? There’s a part of him that knows the answer, somewhere, buried deep. Stiles’ body is shaking like it’s going to come apart, like all the screws inside him have been loosened and there’s nothing left to hold him together but faith and prayer. He needs to do something. He needs to stop this.

“Doesn’t it feel good, baby?” Peter asks. “Tell me.”

“It feels good,” he says. He doesn’t know if it’s a lie. Why do the words feel like they aren’t his own?

A second finger joins the first. Stiles wants to curl up. He wants to hide. But there’s nowhere to go. There’s a darkness in Peter’s eyes as he fucks Stiles with his fingers, and Stiles has to turn his face away. When Peter’s hot tongue licks the tears from his cheeks, Stiles is surprised that it doesn’t scald him right down to the bone.

“Daddy,” he sobs helplessly.

“Up,” Peter orders. “Turn around, on your hands and knees.”

Stiles obeys. He always obeys.

He chooses to focus not on the slick fingers stretching his asshole, but on the pressure of his knees on the wood. The feeling of wrongness percolates, drifting over him like snow, but the wood underneath him is solid and warm. Peter’s fingers sweep over something that sets his nerve endings ablaze, that has Stiles choking on a breath, and he shudders, relaxing into it. Then he realizes what he’s doing and lurches away, ashamed.

“Don’t struggle,” Peter says. Stiles goes limp. “But make all the noise you want, okay baby? You can let Daddy know just how much you like it.”

This is his fault. Peter thinks he wants this. It’s not for no reason.

Peter’s cock doesn’t burn when it slides inside him. It goes in gently, inch by inch, meeting no resistance as if that’s where it was always meant to be. 

He can’t see the oranges or pinks or golds anymore. Everything is gray. The edges of his vision are a smudged, dizzying blur as his body moves. Stiles feels outside of himself. Floaty. Like it’s someone else being burned alive, someone else being rocked forward by Peter’s thrusts.

Stiles knows he can make as much noise as he wants. But in the end, he doesn’t scream. He doesn’t yell. In the end, he doesn’t make a peep.

In his defense, there’s nothing but the flowers to listen anyway.

-

Red. Purple. Green-yellow.

There are new bruises every time Stiles looks in the mirror. He tries not to do that too much. It’s easy to get lost, ripped down in the undertow of emotion, and Stiles never knows where he’ll come back up.

There’s a game he likes to play where he imagines where each one came from. Stiles trails his index finger from bruise to bruise like a mystery dot-to-dot. This one he got in a fight. This one, from sleepwalking. This one, Stiles gave himself.

This one, on the inside of his wrist, is from Peter.

It’s fading, but for now it’s still stark and beautiful in the moonlight. Yellow, with a stamp of brown for each tooth. Did Stiles ask for it? Did he beg? Peter likes it when he does that.

“Who are you?” Stiles watches the lips forming the words in the mirror like they’re someone else’s. Which, aren’t they?

The phantom in the mirror, this ghost, is it really him? It doesn’t feel like it. This body doesn’t belong to him anymore. Stiles has a hazy remembrance of the days in the before, when it wasn’t a stranger staring back in his reflection, but it doesn’t do any good to think about the past now. There’s no use in wanting the impossible.

All of his resistance is gone, blown away, crumbled to nothing. Maybe he has too.

Stiles breathes and touches a newer bruise. Does it even matter what the truth is anymore? His fingers squeeze around the skin, twisting the dull ache into a hurt that’s sharp and bearable. This pain is real. He can feel it. It might be the only real thing Stiles has left.

He pinches himself over and over until the hurt coalesces into something bigger, rising up in him like the sun. Stiles keeps his fingers on his pain, owning it, as he looks out the window. There’s a spider hanging from one of the corners. Stiles watches her build a web with interest. She moves around in a circle, spinning her elegant trap, and then lays in wait. Stiles knows the spider is just biding her time, waiting for the inevitability of some distracted creature’s poor mistake.

Stiles lets his fingers fall open. At least, he thinks with a self-deprecating grimace, at least at the end of everything Stiles can confidently declare that the universe hasn’t lost its sense of irony.

-

Stiles misses dryers. He misses the spin cycle on washing machines too, but he can get the same results with lots of elbow grease. Line drying though? That’s a different story. Everything turns out stiff and crunchy no matter what he tries. It’s fine once he puts the clothing on, doesn’t take long to break in, but still. Being nostalgic for the dryer song is something that Stiles never could’ve anticipated.

There’s a pair of jeans on the line that he hasn’t seen in ages, and Stiles has no qualms about stripping down right there to pull them on. The fit is just as perfect as he remembers, though they’re maybe a bit shorter in the ankles now. Stiles pats the pockets and discovers a folded square of paper. He squints down at it, trying to decipher the smudged letters.

  • se  e of i  ny (di  s)
  • is   a c  se o spel or ex?   t  re a    ence?
  • loo  ol s? ?

Stiles frowns. Something about it is familiar in that faraway way he often feels. His skin tingles. None of the words are complete, but this one, he thinks, this one is probably spell?

The paper crumples in his hand. Spell. The obedience spell.

Stiles sucks in a panicked breath. Everything outside is suddenly too bright and vivid as it rushes back. The faerie ring. The sense of dread. Meeting Peter in the pharmacy. How long has he been here, living in a trance under Peter’s command? A blank, all-consuming fear tears through him. Stiles weakly leans against a post.

How does he get out?

He looks back down at the paper. The last word is loopholes, he remembers that now. Peter has likely ordered him against escape, just as he’s ordered Stiles to never attack him. So, what if Stiles doesn’t think about it as escape? What if he frames it in his mind as something else?

Stiles takes a long moment to consider, being careful to think the right things. He doesn’t want to get away. He just wants to take a long drive. Nothing wrong with that, right? It’s a nice day. Who wouldn’t want to spend some time alone on the open road?

“It’s a nice day for a long drive,” Stiles says, under his breath. He repeats it in his mind as he finishes collecting the laundry. 

It’s a nice day for a long drive. Stiles yanks a sheet from the line. It’s a nice day for a long drive. He grabs the top two corners. It’s a nice day for a long drive. He folds the sheet in half and in half again. When all the laundry is gone, Stiles tucks the basket against his hip and heads inside.

Peter is in his favorite chair, working on a crossword puzzle. There’s an empty feeling in the pit of Stiles’ stomach. He tightens his grip on the basket and tries not to fidget.

“Hey,” Stiles says, hoping he’s projecting a confidence he doesn’t feel. “Is it okay if I go for a drive today?”

A flash of surprise cuts across Peter’s face. “A drive?”

“Yeah. I was just thinking it seems like a nice day for it.”

The tick of Peter’s watch is deafening in the silence. It sounds unnaturally slow to Stiles’ ears.

“Sure,” Peter finally says. “We can go on a drive if you want, baby.”

Shit. Shit.

“Well, uh, I was kind of hoping I could go by myself?” Stiles winces. “I mean, I have my license and everything. Please? I’ll be careful, I promise.”

Peter’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “And why do you want to go on a drive by yourself, Stiles? Be honest.”

Moment of truth.

“It’s just a nice day to spend some time alone on the open road.” As the words leave his mouth, Stiles has to fight to conceal his overwhelming relief. “That’s all.”

Peter’s gaze is probing, but then he shrugs. “Alright,” he says. “The keys are by the door.”

“Wait, really?”

“I don’t see why not. Put that laundry away first, and then you can go.”

Stiles practically skips through the house as he follows Peter’s order. When he’s finished, he sticks a hand in his pocket and rubs the note like a talisman before heading for the front door. There’s only one key ring on the rack. Stiles is careful to keep the lines of his body loose and relaxed as he reaches for his ticket to freedom.

“Wait,” Peter says, and Stiles’ feet freeze in place. A deep and uneasy anticipation sprouts in his chest like a weed. “Aren’t you forgetting something?”

Stiles hesitates. “Um?”

Peter heaves a dramatic sigh. He taps his lips pointedly. It takes every ounce of willpower Stiles has to force himself to walk over and press his mouth to Peter’s in a chaste kiss.

“Bye, Daddy,” he says, ignoring the way the words crawl over his skin.

“Bye, baby,” Peter says as Stiles grabs for the keys. He twists the knob. “Be careful. And be back by four.”

No. Stiles sags against the door, breath hitching. No.

He feels the order catch in his brain like a snag, jerking him back into hopeless reality. A lump rises in his throat as his eyes fill with tears.

“Oh, baby,” Peter says, pitying. “You remembered, didn’t you?”

Stiles clutches his abdomen and chokes on a sob. He’d been so close. So close. He presses one hand to his mouth. The other is still holding the doorknob.

Peter sighs. “Come here, sweetheart. It’s okay.”

His feet carry him all the way to Peter’s lap. Stiles’ heart hurts like it’s being yanked into a thousand pieces and he sobs bitterly into Peter’s neck, hating himself more and more with every whispered comfort Peter breathes into his ear. After a while, his cries taper off.

“What made you remember, Stiles?” Peter asks. “Tell me the truth.”

Stiles sniffs and tells Peter’s shirt, “Found a note.”

“Let Daddy see.”

With long fingers, Peter takes his last chance at freedom and buries it in his back pocket.

“Shh, it’s okay. Deep breath,” Peter says, low and soothing. “Look at me, Stiles.”

He sits back and glares at Peter, a roiling heat in his belly, hoping that Peter can see exactly how fervently Stiles wishes for his death.

“Forget about the spell.”

Stiles blinks. “What?”

“I said, do you want tuna for dinner?”

Stiles feels fuzzy. Dreamlike. He’s not sure why his face is wet. “Oh. Okay.”

He leans on Peter’s chest, tucking himself safely under Peter’s chin as he stares out the window. A pair of birds has found the feeder in the front yard. Stiles watches them with a wistful smile as Peter rocks him back and forth. They hop from branch to branch, light-footed and chirping, their wings the flutter of a few heartbeats. A bizarre, pining feeling lodges in his chest and Stiles rises up to press his mouth to Peter’s, knowing Peter’s kiss will chase it away.

“Hey,” Peter says softly after Stiles pulls back. “Hey there, sweetheart. There you are.”

Peter sweeps his thumbs over Stiles’ cheeks, wiping away the mystery tears. Stiles flicks his eyes toward the birds one last time as Peter’s lips brush against his temple, gentle and adoring.

It’s nothing at all to surrender to the devotion of Peter’s touch.

“My good boy,” Peter whispers. “There’s my good boy.”