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drowning in the sea of you

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When that old river runs past your eyes
To wash off the dirt on the riverside
Go to the water so very near
The river will be your eyes and ears

-"Riverside" by Agnes Obel


 

For years Stiles existed in the chaotic swirl of everyone else's feelings and Scott was his beacon of love and concern –warm, burnished orange light and crisp apples on Stiles's tongue. Scott's emotions had been concrete, pure. And then a mad –mad— alpha werewolf bit him, and both their lives turned to shit.

 

o—o—o

 

Derek reeks of so much guilt –sooty pine and salmon pink, like sour vomit—that Stiles half-suspects him of being the alpha all along, until, in all their wisdom, he, Stiles, and Scott go to the high school to summon the big bad alpha werewolf himself.

"Yeah, it was loud," Stiles says about Scott's earth-shaking howl. Scott may be a clueless mess of fear and guilt right now, but if he keeps up with the superpowers he's gonna be amazing one day. Assuming he doesn't die, which he won't, if Stiles has anything to say about it. "And it was awesome," Stiles singsongs.

Derek does not seem impressed. "Shut up."

"Don't be such a sour…" Stiles starts to say, but he trails off, attention caught by a dull pressure on the periphery of his senses. "…wolf," he finishes absently. There's a bright pulse of rage –cutting silver, an oppressive silence bearing down on Stiles's ears—biding its time nearby. Stalking. "Guys," Stiles says, shifting uneasily and looking around. He doesn't see it.

"What'd you do with him?" Scott asks Derek, nodding at the empty back seat in the Camaro where Deaton ought to be.

Stiles isn't surprised he didn't notice Deaton’s absence at first. The veterinarian’s consciousness has always had this unnerving quality of slipping under Stiles's senses. It's consistently silent and dim, with a faint whiff of a mountain stream when Stiles focuses on it.

The rage still hangs over their vicinity. Stiles's heart races as he scans the area, but there's nothing in sight. Just his and Derek's cars and the buzzing fluorescent light of the lamp posts. He'd feel so much better if he could actually see the monster stalking them.

"What?" Derek looks back at the Camaro, and the rage gets louder, more excited, heavy on Stiles's shoulders.

"Get in the Jeep!" Stiles snaps, sprinting to the driver's side. "Scott!"

The rage ratchets up as Scott jumps and scrabbles for the passenger door, his adrenaline echoing in Stiles's blood.

"What?" Derek says in confused annoyance right as Stiles, jumping in the driver's seat, yells, "Move!"

Derek turns around just in time to be impaled by the alpha's claws. Dumbstruck, Stiles watches in the rearview mirror as blood pours out his mouth. Phantom pain claws at Stiles's chest, but thankfully he wasn't close enough to Derek to really feel it. Instead it's Derek's shock and despair, the cold inevitability he feels, that makes Stiles double over in his seat even as his pulse races in tandem with Scott's.

"Stiles!"

Scott's sickly sweet panic spurs Stiles into action, and he jams his keys into the ignition right as the alpha tosses Derek's not-quite-dead, desperate body past them. As Stiles throws the Jeep into reverse, the alpha's rage turns warm and satisfied, a slow burn under Stiles's skin that feeds into his own anger. No one's dying tonight, he vows.

He slams on the accelerator, and the Jeep roars backwards with a rubber-burning squeal, aiming right for the alpha. It darts out of the way before impact, and Stiles throws the car into drive. He accelerates again and circles around the Camaro. "Where'd it go, where'd it go—" he chants, sending the Jeep roaring towards the exit.

"I don't know—" Scott starts to say, but then the alpha's triumph spikes, and Stiles knows it's about to catch them.

"Shit," he hisses, swerving to the side right before the alpha shows up where the Jeep would have been had Stiles not reacted. Confusion tints the alpha's emotions as it overbalances, flashing dots of daffodil yellow against a backdrop of hot, scythe-blade silver. "Shitshitshit." Stiles swings wide around the alpha and tries to aim for the exit again, but he doesn't have enough room to turn without jumping the curb and sending them flying—

The alpha's resolve touches Stiles's tongue, and he tightens his grip on the steering wheel. "Hold on!"

Right as the werewolf launches itself at them from the side, Stiles hits the brakes and crashes into the curb. The Jeep tips forward for a terrifying second, back tires lifting off the blacktop – then bounces back to the ground, jolting Stiles and Scott up towards the windshield, saved only by their seat belts. The alpha misses them by an inch, skidding through the grass, its frustrated confusion spiking again, and Stiles crows in victory as he accelerates backwards. The alpha’s not the only supernatural crazy in town. Stiles has totally got this.

The silver turns to slate and the silence crescendoes, pounding down on Stiles's ears and drowning out Scott's panic, but Scott's hope, warm and smooth like half-melted butter, rises and catches on Stiles’s tongue. The back of the Jeep reaches the street, and that hope turns into panic again. "Stiles—!" Scott shouts, but there's nowhere to for Stiles to turn, trapped within the tree-locked boundaries of the parking lot entrance.

Stiles looks forward just in time to see the alpha grab the Jeep by the front bumper. A rumbling growl rattles Stiles's bones and sends his and Scott's hearts racing. The alpha glares at them, red eyes gleaming, sweet satisfaction twining through its rage like the scent of dark chocolate and blood.

Stiles meets its gaze. "Okay, you got us. Congratulations." A wry hint of annoyance, a flash of fuscia, but no suspicion. It's confident, and any confidence is overconfidence in Stiles's book. He slams the car into drive again and accelerates, ramming the Jeep into the alpha's torso and driving it forward a few feet. More annoyance rolls over Stiles, followed by a wave of seafoam amusement and, dear God, curiosity –fresh and tickling, like the first spring breeze across his skin.

The alpha digs its feet into the cracking blacktop of the parking lot and stops the accelerating Jeep in its tracks, and then it waits, gauging them. Gauging Stiles.

Stiles swallows, meeting its eyes. Curiosity is the worst.

He can't break its gaze. Won't. Not with the copper scent of its need to know making his nose prickle. He has its attention, which means Scott can get away.

Without breaking eye contact, Stiles asks carefully, quietly, "Remember what I told you when we were unburying Laura's body?" He reaches slowly for the unlock button on the arm of the door. The alpha's eyes drop to his hand, tracking the movement. Another wave of amusement rolls through it, washing over Stiles so much so that he has to hold back a feral grin. He grimaces instead.

"What?" Scott asks, dumbfounded and horrified. He runs way, Stiles runs the other, and the slowest person gets caught. At least one of them will get away, right? Realization, sharp and salty, sets in. "Stiles, no."

But Stiles doesn't care. He unlocks the doors, and the alpha tilts its head just so in low-burning anticipation. Stiles knows he'll be the one to set off its instincts if he runs first, so that's what he'll do. For Scott. "Drive," he bites out, and then he takes off, feet hitting the ground hard.

The alpha snarls behind Stiles, but he doesn't have to look back, its hunger loud and clear behind him. Except, a few strides into his sprint, Stiles realizes the alpha's emotions haven't moved with him. They're still by the Jeep, where Scott remains as well, his panic and fear mounting.

Stiles's stomach plunges with vertigo as he looks over his shoulder, and he freezes as the alpha slams Scott against the Jeep by the throat. "Scott—!"

The werewolf bashes Scott's head against the Jeep hard enough to dent the metal, and Scott slumps to the ground, unconscious. The wolf turns to Stiles and drops to all fours, its smug satisfaction hot water beating against Stiles's skin. He wavers between running away and running towards Scott, but he can feel the dull warmth of Scott's consciousness on the periphery of his senses, so it's enough to know he's alive. For now. If Stiles can draw the alpha away, Scott might have time to wake up and get away. If Stiles runs fast enough.

The alpha crouches down low, ready to spring, and Stiles bolts for the school, long limbs flying. It's a chase that can only end one way, and they both know it. The alpha takes its time, growling and hitting Stiles with bursts of amusement every time it snaps at his heels. It's enjoying this, and that infuriates Stiles as much as it terrifies him. Why couldn't he have been born with pyrokinesis or telekinesis or regular old magic? What good is empathy when all it does is make his impending death obnoxious as well as terrifying?

When Stiles reaches the stairs leading up to the entrance of the school, decision, dark and bitter, replaces the alpha's amusement, giving him a split-second warning that the chase is over. Stiles darts out of the way right before the alpha goes for him. It crashes into the railing in the middle of the staircase, but instead of the near miss making it angry, it’s absolutely delighted. Still running, Stiles's own fear skyrockets even as a foreign grin tugs at his lips. This is the type of monster that likes to play with its food.

Before Stiles can so much as finish his stride, the werewolf's massive paws land on his back, knocking him facedown into the none-too-soft grass. Stiles struggles and shouts. "Get off—!"

Claws plunge into the base of his neck, and everything falls away from him – his father's distant boredom, Scott's stretched-thin consciousness, all the garbled wisps of people living and loving and aching miles away. All of them gone. For a moment, all Stiles feels, all Stiles is, is the low current of interest dancing across his skin and that familiar backdrop of silver rage. And himself.

It's been a long time since Stiles was completely able to separate himself from everyone else, but as strong as the alpha's emotions are, they're simple. Distinct. He's broken and aching, dying for revenge, and it just so happens that Stiles has caught his interest. That scares Stiles more than any claws or fangs ever could. He's spent a long time distracting and diverting people's attention away from himself, but he can't hide from this. He struggles, desperate to get away.

Sharp pain shoots down Stiles's spine, and he dimly registers one of the alpha's paws bearing down on the middle of his back, holding him in place.

Don't move, it says. Only it doesn't sound like Stiles expected. It sounds like a person.

A flash of amusement. Then words, unsteady and tentative, breaking out of stagnation.… Were you expecting something other than a person?

It's weird, having another person's thoughts in his head. They're… thinner than emotions, somehow. More clearly defined and easier to handle. Emotions are complicated, always blurring together and crashing down on Stiles's consciousness in tangled messes.

Of all things, this clarity was the last thing Stiles expected.

And what were you expecting? The werewolf’s curiosity branches in two directions, a trickle diverted towards itself, the rest aimed at Stiles.

Unable to stop himself, Stiles envisions blood and tearing flesh over the sound of screams.

Well, there is that, I suppose.

Fear sends Stiles's heart racing, and he begins to shift on the ground again, pain lancing his neck—

Stop that, the alpha scolds, pressing down harder. Why would I kill you?

Stiles bristles. He's totally worthy of being killed, okay? He's great.

Which isn't to say you should kill me, Stiles dares to clarify. Because you shouldn't. Because I'm awesome and totally not a threat. And definitely not someone you wanna eat. I'm super stringy.

Rusty, foreign amusement rolls through Stiles, warmer and much closer than he's used to. It's almost overwhelming, but not in the way everyone else's feelings usually are. It's simple and focused, sharper than Scott's and drier than his dad's. It's almost embarrassing how much Stiles wants to wrap himself up in it. He doesn't want it to stop.

The alpha pulls at the thought of Stiles's best friend, tugging at the image of Scott and bringing him to the front of Stiles's mind before he can stop himself. So that's what Scott's like, it muses.

Stiles freezes, the pleasure he’d been reveling in dissipating.

That's right. Scott McCall. Tell me about him.

Scott. Scott never should’ve been on this guy's radar in the first place and needs to be left the hell alone. Scott used to be simple and peaceful and only the usual brand of angsty until Stiles fucked it all up. Scott needs to be kept safe from the crazy ragemonster poking around Stiles's head.

The crazy ragemonster who's in Stiles's head. The crazy ragemonster whose biggest weakness has got to be his identity.

The alpha's ensuing irritation only spurs Stiles on. What's your name? Stiles asks and listens hard.

Instead of getting an answer, he gets a snarl and claws ripping out of his neck, shocking him back into reality. Derek's pain and terror crashes down on him, and the rippling canvas of Beacon Hills nearly flattens him. He tries to bury himself in Scott's lukewarm, sleeping consciousness, but it's not as easy as it used to be. Scott's consciousness is tangled and pitted now, leaving little room for Stiles nowadays. Whimpering, Stiles slams his hands over his ears and squeezes his eyes shut. He tries to curl onto his side, but the alpha's paw on his spine holds him in place.

The alpha's interest, tinged predatory and sly, spikes, quickly followed by contemplation. He snorts, breath hot and wet on Stiles's neck, and Stiles holds himself perfectly still while the werewolf draws a claw down the curve of his cheek. The alpha's emotions are clear, but it's too difficult to pick out any specific intentions. His newfound interest could mean he's considering what he'll order for takeout tonight, or it could mean he wants to see how Stiles's guts look splattered across the pavement. Whatever the case may be, Stiles doesn’t want to find out.

Indecision hangs over the werewolf, and Stiles's eyebrows shoot up as he registers want behind the indecision. Fear rocks him and he shoves revulsion and fear at the alpha before he can think better of it. The werewolf snarls and rears back, the claw on Stiles's face leaving a thin, bloody cut up Stiles's jawline.

Stiles hunches in on himself as he anticipates the impending blow, but the alpha only hovers for a moment, his own irritation and bewilderment replacing Stiles's fear and revulsion, and then he takes off.

Stiles presses his forehead to the cold, damp grass until his breath evens out and the rest of the world fades to a manageable level. Scott's consciousness flickers and twists as he wakes up, and Derek's pain and helplessness makes it more difficult for Stiles to regain focus. He pushes Derek away. He's got enough self-hatred and guilt to deal with already, thanks very much.

Stiles blinks and lifts his head off the ground, looking toward the parking lot entrance. He can feel Lydia nearing the vicinity. Her rose-tinged determination always cuts like a knife. She's annoyed and confused right now. Stiles grins. She's almost always annoyed.

His grin turns into a frown. She's also with Jackson and Allison, and they're slowing down and—

—pulling into the parking lot. Why the hell are they pulling into the parking lot?

Jackson parks next to the Jeep and steps out while Stiles finds his balance and stumbles over to them. Allison rushes over to Scott, panicking and trying to make sure he's okay. Stiles can't make out her words through the flurry of snowflakes she gives off. He shakes his head to clear it, only to wince as Derek's fear spikes. He's always so terrified of the Argents. Stiles looks back towards the school and watches him crawling around the corner to hide. Stiles looks back at Scott, conflicted.

Lydia makes up Stiles's mind for him by catching sight of him. He has to figure this mess out before he deals with Derek.

"What the hell is going on?" Lydia asks. Jackson and Allison look at Stiles, who looks at Scott, who looks at Allison and says her name with a dopy smile.

So obviously Scott's going to be no help on this.

"Stiles?" asks Allison.

Stiles blinks and goes to rub the back of his neck —only his neck hurts like a bitch because of the alpha’s claws. Claws. Claws like a wild animal. Well. "Mountain lion," he blurts out.

It's stupid and they all know it, especially since Allison received a mysterious text from Scott’s missing phone telling them to come to the school, but Stiles sticks with it anyway. It helps that he has the claw marks to prove it.

It doesn't help when his dad insists on taking him to the ER to get a rabies shot.

 

o—o—o

 

Derek disappears, Allison breaks up with Scott, the full moon makes its debut, and Scott hates Stiles. Hates him.

His loathing seers into Stiles’s skin like a jagged, rusting knife, and Stiles can't handle it. Scott runs off to fuck Allison and murder Jackson, and Stiles gets in the Jeep and drives and drives and drives.

Over the years, Stiles has tested his general range of empathy. He's attuned to his father and Scott and can feel them from across town if he really tries. As for the rest of the world, he can feel and pick out individuals within four hundred feet of him on all sides. Any further, and their consciousnesses blend together and their emotions dim, becoming more difficult to identify. The strength of the emotion matters, too. Occasionally, they're so overjoyed or terrified that Stiles can sense them from miles away; other times they're so placid he has to actively seek them out even when they're standing right beside him.

His world’s never silent, though. No matter how far he gets, he's never alone. Someone's always feeling something. 

He parks near the coast and sneaks onto the beach, letting the cold ocean tide leech the warmth from his toes and soak into the seat of his pants. He wonders, sometimes, what it would be like to walk into the ocean and never stop, to feel his skin go completely numb.

If his skin went numb, if he couldn't smell, hear or taste, would he finally stop feeling? Could he finally be himself?

A werewolf howls in the distance. If Stiles is unlucky, it's Scott, seeking Stiles out at his old haunt to apologize and cry about murdering Allison in all his moon-mad, werewolf rage. If Stiles is slightly less unlucky, it's Derek and his crushing mountain of guilt and shame, sent to find the pesky human he feels so stupidly responsible for.

Or, perhaps, Stiles is lucky tonight and it's the alpha, tracking down the prey that snagged its attention far too well. Perhaps tonight is the night Stiles dies, mangled by a monster for its personal entertainment. It could kill Stiles quickly, one long slash across his vulnerable throat. But Stiles doesn't think it would go so easy on him, not when he irritated it by asking its name. It would murder Stiles slowly, would drag his death out so much so that all the pain, all that visceral, physical pain, might drown out the rest of the world for as long as it takes Stiles to die.

It sounds like clarity. Like paradise.

Shivers wrack his body and his muscles cramp, but Stiles doesn't move. Not when a presence flairs in the distance and eats up the miles between them, not when he might still have a chance to get away. Not even when that presence sharpens into familiar rage, and not when the giant shadow of a beast skulks toward him, just within his peripheral vision. He wouldn't have known it was there if he hadn't had felt it first, its molten rage simmering beneath a more active amalgam of curiosity and desire. Not sexual desire, but something more primal. A desire to know, to own.

"You're not here to kill me, are you," Stiles murmurs, and to his own shame he sounds disappointed.

The beast stops in its tracks, weak anger bouncing off its rage before fading into its desire. At the same time, satisfaction slips into its curiosity like a puzzle piece slotting into place. The curiosity dims, and Stiles wonders exactly how much the alpha found out when it was in his mind. Did it only hear his thoughts? Or did it dig deeper, find the ragged pulse of Stiles's pulverized heart and feel everything Stiles felt? Does it know?

The beast moves again, a hideous sight crouching low on all fours, but Stiles only has eyes for the opal curls of moonlight glinting off the black, rolling waves ahead of him. Physical pain creaks through the beast as it shifts. Stiles can't tear his gaze away from the ocean, only mildly interested in the transformation taking place beside him.

He can see it well enough in his peripheral vision – the limbs shorten; the torso widens and thins, becoming more barrel-shaped; the snout lengthens; the feet shrink and round out; a full coat of fur sprouts; a damn tail appears. Whereas before it was a facsimile of a man, now it's a facsimile of a wolf, disproportionate still, but more wolflike than human. Some people might mistake it for a bear from a distance.

The werewolf settles down around Stiles's back, and its warmth burns his icy skin like a furnace. His world doesn't go quiet, not like when the wolf broke into Stiles's mind, but its consciousness rumbles around him, loud and steady enough to blanket Stiles and muffle the rest of the world. Stiles closes his eyes. He can breathe again.

His father has a similar effect on him. His mother and Scott used to have it, too, and Lydia has it as well, though to a much lesser extent. Stiles has passed a few strangers on vacations in the past who've had the ability as well, and he see it between other people. They don't know it, can't see it, not like he does, but sometimes certain people simply… fit together. They're built for each other.

It doesn't surprise Stiles to find he was built for a monster.

When the birds start to chirp and the moon's shifted from over the ocean to over the land, Stiles shivers again. It must be three or four in the morning. He can't know for sure. He doesn't have a watch, and he left his phone in the car.

The alpha gets to its feet and tugs on the back of Stiles's shirt, but he doesn't move. He doesn't want to. The wolf growls, rumbling and terrifying, sending an unwanted jolt of vertigo through Stiles's body. Stiles staggers to his feet, and the alpha herds him off the beach and into his Jeep. He turns the engine on, and the alpha slinks into the shadows, invisible except for its gleaming red eyes. They would disturb Stiles if he wasn't so tired.

He has seven texts and five missed calls on his phone, all from his father, and his heart sinks. The alpha's eyes disappear, and Stiles drives home.

He lies. Tells his dad he had had to get away because the crazy couple next door was fighting again. They really should get a divorce.

His dad doesn't quite believe him, but something in Stiles's face, something that makes his father achingly sad, makes him let it go. He calls Stiles in sick the next day, and Scott comes over after school to see if he's okay.

Of course he is.

Stiles is always okay.

 

o—o—o

 

It's not all awful. Scott apologizes the next day, and Derek pops by to see what he's learned about the alpha. Stiles takes shameless advantage of Derek's torso to get Danny to trace the text which Allison got from Scott’s stolen phone, and it would be hilarious if Danny didn't now think that Stiles is dating Beacon Hills' local bad boy hermit.

Maybe if Stiles wasn't an empath, he'd consider Derek attractive, but as it stands, being around the guy is like having a black hole of self-loathing hanging over Stiles's head, and Stiles has enough of that already, please and thanks.

On the plus side, he finds out that Derek's sense of humor is actually much more active than his eyebrows would suggest. Baiting Danny simultaneously amuses and annoys Derek, although he feels a tiny bit humiliated, too. Stiles makes a note to avoid the humiliation in the future.

 

o-o-o

 

Stiles hates hospitals. The weight of everyone's pain makes his bones ache, and everyone's so angsty and exhausted that he can barely think. He tries to hold it all at bay, to compartmentalize like he normally does, but empathy doesn't have an off switch, and hospitals are too... heavy for him to push away.

Derek doesn't know that, though. "And one more thing," he says.

"What?"

The only warning Stiles gets from Derek is a tiny rush of satisfaction, and it's too general of an emotion for Stiles to predict the reasoning behind it. He figures it out when Derek bashes his head into the steering wheel.

Stiles hates everything.

He blames the probable concussion and the hospital's hurricane of emotions for not noticing the alpha's presence lingering within the building since before Stiles and Derek even arrived. When he tells Derek over the phone that Peter's room is empty and Derek seems confused, Stiles shifts his attention to the mess of consciousnesses converging on his brain, searching for one that feels similar Derek. Family members often share the same emotional structure. Derek's uncle shouldn't be too hard to find.

Simultaneously, Stiles looks around —and there's Derek's presumable uncle standing against the wall, watching him with a tiny smile on his scarred face.

The claw marks on the back of Stiles's neck pulse, and Derek's uncle -Peter Hale- watches Stiles without so much as blinking. He opens his mouth, and the world goes silent.

"You must be Stiles."

You must be Stiles.

Stiles lowers his phone. For the first time, he hears a single voice without it being muffled or interrupted by the rest of the world. The words ring in his ears, smooth and quiet, and they all belong to one Peter Hale. Cold, silver rage. Focus and fascination. A twist of amusement. That tell-tale desire. 

He's hunting, and Stiles is the one who's afraid, who's desperate.

"What do you think you're doing here?" a woman asks from behind, and Stiles jerks around to identify her, the tumultuous maw of the hospital crashing down on him again, making him cringe and hunch his shoulders. The nurse starts to say more, but she stops when Peter raises his hand for silence.

"It's lovely to finally meet you properly," he says to Stiles, quiet and unassuming. "Peter." He steps forward and holds his hand out for Stiles to shake.

"Yeah, I got that," Stiles says breathlessly as he stares down at Peter's hand. He leans back and swallows, torn between making a break for it and finding out what else Peter has to say.

Peter fake-smiles. "You did want to know my name, after all."

Frozen, Stiles looks up and meets Peter's eyes, trapping himself. Peter's emotions remain blissfully, terrifyingly steady. He must know, mustn't he? Or, when he was in Stiles's mind, was he so focused on learning about Scott that he didn't notice the empathy?

Peter frowns, hand still out. "Where on Earth are your manners?" He tries to take the phone from Stiles, but Stiles tightens his hand around it, Derek's tinny voice squawking Peter's name. Peter's about to rip the phone away when their fingertips brush. The world drops away once more, leaving Stiles reeling. Peter pauses. "You're in pain. Everywhere," he says, his intrigue a rumbling hum in Stiles's throat. Stiles blinks as Peter sniffs the air, his confusion building. "But you're not sick." He narrows his eyes at Stiles. “I’ll take the pain away if you tell me why."

So Peter doesn't know about the empathy. It's still only Stiles and his dad.

Stiles snatches his hand away and steps back, losing his phone to Peter. "I'm fine," he bites out.

Peter frowns, annoyed, and lifts the phone to his ear. "Derek," he says. He blinks and stares at the phone. "Huh." He looks at Stiles. "He hung up on me." He pouts. Pouts. The alpha werewolf with the two-inch long fangs and razor sharp claws pouts.

"Stiles!" Derek barks from the side. Stiles jumps, heart jackhammering in his chest. He should have sensed Derek coming. "Move out of the way," Derek says, claws out, and Stiles drops to the floor.

 

o-o-o

 

For all of Stiles's suffering, the world's more complicated than pain and soul-crushing darkness. The couple next door that always fights also has two kids, Kayla, an adventurous little terror of an eight-year-old, and Edward, a quiet two-year-old who delights in making people happy —except when he's throwing a tantrum. Despite his lack of words, Kayla always knows what Edward wants, to her parents' chagrin, and Stiles loves Edward’s bursts of joy whenever she smiles for him.

Stiles's other next-door neighbors are Archie and Pattie, two happily married senior citizens who have sex more frequently than Stiles jerks off. To be fair, Stiles doesn't jerk off nearly as often as he'd like. He finds the seething hatred from the couple next door and Kayla's ensuing distress to be the opposite of a turn-on, and it's awkward when Archie and Pattie start getting their crazy on right when Stiles is pulling out the lube. Honestly, he'd probably be more annoyed by their friskiness if he wasn't always basking in their pure, sickeningly sweet love. As it is, he frequently ends up camping at Scott's house whenever they get really hard-core.

Scott's house has always been Stiles's sanctuary. Melissa's fond exasperation warms his heart, and Scott's always happy to see him. They make for a cozy escape from Stiles's dad whenever he starts wallowing in heartbreak and misery and now the whiskey Stiles plied him with to coax information on Peter's string of victims out of him.

The werewolf thing complicates everything. Before, Stiles would drop by Scott's, and they would procrastinate homework together. Now when Stiles drops by, he and Scott embark on a rescue mission to save Melissa from her vengeful murderer of a date. 

Stiles rear-ends Melissa's car. She's pissed, and Peter's simultaneously irritated and absolutely delighted.

Stiles and Scott are so screwed.

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles finds his (stolen) phone on his desk the next morning, the battery dead.

He's never leaving his window unlocked again.

 

o—o—o

 

Amidst all the drama, Stiles acquires a date to the formal. A Lydia-shaped date. In the mall where he and Scott totally aren't stalking her and Allison to make sure Peter Hale doesn't slash their throats out. He's pretty sure he's hallucinating.

His crush on Lydia has always been one-sided. He's always known that. Painfully so. But he can't help but wonder, why? They fit together. She doesn't fit as well with him as his dad or Scott, but they match up somehow. Lydia's so smart, so perceptive, and to be frank, Stiles isn't too shabby himself. He's clever and smart, too, even if he's not necessarily a genius like her. They could work.

But they can't work if Lydia's not interested in him. Which she isn't. So when she tells him they're going to the formal together, Stiles almost argues. He isn't particularly looking forward to be dragged along by someone who only resents his presence, but... maybe he'll grow on her.

"So are you trying on these all right now? All—" Stiles asks while he plays pack-mule for Lydia, but then his spider senses tingle. He grabs Lydia's arm, holding her back. Some of the dresses fall to the floor while he scans the store.

Lydia rips her arm out of Stiles's grasp. "What the hell?" she snaps, rubbing her arm.

Stiles ignores her and walks over to the escalator —and there's Peter Hale, riding up calm as can be, determined and wrathful as ever, lifting an eyebrow at Stiles.

The Hales probably have eyebrow communication trademarked.

Stiles swallows. "What?" asks Lydia from beside him, sounding more exasperated than she really is. Her curiosity's building, and that's definitely not good.

"Nothing," Stiles says right as Peter says, "Stiles," sounding surprised and pleased, like someone bumping into an old friend.

Stiles stumbles to the side to avoid being run over by Peter as he steps off the escalator.

"Nothing," Lydia repeats skeptically, following him. Great. Now she's intrigued.

Determination melting into sly amusement, Peter steps away from the escalator and smiles charmingly at Lydia. "Oh, ignore him," Peter says to her, making Stiles bristle. "He's just embarrassed to see me here. I'm an old family friend," he says, glancing at Stiles. He eyes the dresses in Stiles's hands and glances between Lydia and Stiles, grinning. "Look at you. I didn't know you had a girlfriend."

”He should be so lucky,“ Lydia says primly.

"No, no, no, no, no," Stiles says. "We're just friends." Friends are still targets. Damnit. "Barely friends, I mean. Not friends at all, really. She doesn't even like me."

Lydia squints at him, irritated, confused, curious, and a little surprised all at once.

Peter tisks. "What a shame." He looks at Lydia. "He's quite a catch, this one."

"I'm sure," Lydia says noncommittally, narrowing her eyes at Peter. She's catching on to the fact that something's not quite right here.

"Lydia?" Allison asks, walking over. "There you are. Who—"

Nope, nope, nope. That's enough of that. Stiles shoves "Threat! Danger! Danger!" vibes at Lydia and Allison and prays they follow their instincts.

Lydia sways backward and straightens her shoulders, and Allison freezes in her tracks, swallowing. Perhaps Stiles overdid it.

Lydia spots the dress in Allison's hands. "You found your dress? Good. Let's go." She narrows her eyes at Peter and says, completely fake, "Nice to meet you." And she drags Allison away.

Peter watches them go, tilting his head an inch. With Lydia practically running out of Stiles's vicinity, it's much harder to ignore him now. His consciousness pulls at Stiles, drawing him in. He looks back at Stiles. "What did you do to them?"

"Me? Do something? Nothing. I'm pretty sure that was all you," Stiles rattles off. He suppresses a wince. He will never win an Oscar.

Peter knows that Stiles is lying and Stiles knows that Peter knows that he's lying, but the only change in Peter's emotions is a pleased note of satisfaction and a spike of that increasingly familiar desire. "Well, it's been great seeing you, old family friend," Stiles says, inching away, "but I gotta—"

"Buy a suit," Peter finishes for him, leading him by the elbow over to a wheeled clothes rack. He steals the dresses from Stiles and hangs them up. "A date like her will require something nice. Something which...," he eyes Stiles up and down, making Stiles resist the urge to cross his arms over his chest, "I imagine you don't have."

"Hey!" Stiles squawks indignantly, but Peter shuts him up by hauling him off to the other end of the store. Stiles considers making a scene. He would rather avoid being stuffed into the trunk of Peter's car to be maimed upon further notice, thank you very much. He pinpoints Scott's location and finds him hovering by Lydia and Allison at the registers, oblivious to Stiles's predicament. Stiles curses Scott's love for Allison. It's achingly sweet, which is nice occasionally, but most of the time, like now, it makes Stiles want to punch Scott in the face because hello, Allison is not the only one in danger here!

Peter changes direction before reaching the store exit and herds Stiles into the men's formal wear section. "I didn't know this section even existed," Stiles grumbles.

Peter sighs loftily, enjoying Stiles's suffering. "I know, Macy's can be rather drab, but I thought you might object to me taking you somewhere more appropriate."

Stiles sputters. "That's not what I meant. And I object to you taking me here! What are you-"

Peter hums and grabs Stiles's hand, and a quiet breath escapes Stiles's lungs as the rest of the world dies down to a soft hum. Peter lifts Stiles's hand and examines it, fingers warm on Stiles's skin. He glances up, eyes narrowed liking he's psychoanalyzing Stiles's every twitch. "White would compliment your skin tone better than ivory, wouldn't it?" he asks like he already knows the answer.

Stiles snatches his hand away, and Peter's consciousness dies down to a loud thrum quiet enough for Stiles to think past. "Oh my god, wow, you are creepy." He looks away, brow furrowing. Why on Earth does he fit with Peter? Is this all part of some cosmic joke? Is Stiles creepy, too?

Actually, given the chains in his locker and his desire to find dead bodies, maybe Stiles is a little creepy himself. But not, like, Peter-level creepy. So really, his questions still apply.

"It's not telepathy," Peter muses. "But it's similar, isn't it?"

Breath catching, Stiles's eyes snap up to Peter's. 

Peter raises his eyebrows almost imperceptibly, his anticipation a pocket of vertigo besides Stiles's racing heart. "Clairvoyance? Enhanced senses?" He smirks. "Aura reading?"

Stiles shifts, stretching his senses out to locate Scott. He's out of Stiles's normal range, but he's not miles away. Perhaps he's in the parking lot or at the other end of the mall. Stiles searches for Lydia —and yep, she's near Scott, and neither of them is panicking. Allison's probably with them, too, but Stiles isn't attuned to her well enough to tell. Either way, the three of them are safe. Stiles's secret, however, is not.

He scowls. "Aren't you supposed to be finding me a suit?"

"Oh, of course,” says Peter. “Shame on me for getting distracted."

When Peter turns his back, Stiles starts to pull out his phone. "No, Stiles," Peter murmurs without looking back.

Stiles puts it away.

Twenty minutes later, Stiles almost wishes he'd let Peter jabber on about his possible super power. The guy's far too interested in fashion. Like, he is seriously invested in finding Stiles the perfect suit. Stiles thinks Peter might be planning to kill and bury him in it.

"Don't be ridiculous," Peter tells Stiles when he voices this particular concern. "That would be so wasteful."

Stiles doesn't ask whether he's referring to the suit or Stiles himself.

"So," Stiles ventures when Peter shoves him into a changing room loaded down with six different suits. ("No, they are not all the same, you uncultured delinquent. Look at these lapels.") Thankfully, Peter stays outside.  "You know Scott's never gonna join you, right?"

Outside the door, Peter's consciousness stills and shifts into full predator mode. Despite the vague urge to roll his eyes, Stiles finds himself paralyzed by indecision. On the one hand, he wants to barge through the flimsy door and bury his teeth into his own neck. But on the other hand, he wants to curl up in a ball in the corner and flood Peter with fear to send him running for the hills.

Empathy sucks.

"He will," Peter says, voice barely muffled by the door, "if you join me first."

Stiles speaks before he thinks. "Yeah, no. Absolutely not —holy—!" Peter fucking appears in the changing room and slaps a hand over Stiles's mouth, blocking out the rest of the world and drowning Stiles in his anger —not the rage that forms the base of Peter's very identity, but the far more common, pissed-off variant of anger that, when directed at Stiles, usually ends with him being punched in the face. Stiles stiffens. He has a feeling Peter's not really a punch-in-the-face type of guy.

Peter watches Stiles's face, his flare of anger morphing into consideration and desire, which somehow scares Stiles even more. Anger, Stiles knows how to deal with. This? Not so much.

Peter molds himself against Stiles's back and curls a hand around his hip. Stiles tries to twitch away, skin prickling, but Peter tightens his grip and holds him in place. "What would it take," Peter murmurs into Stiles's neck, "for you to join me?" He pauses, lifting his face to press his rough cheek against Stiles's. Even without his empathy, Stiles would be able to detect the calculation in it. "Willingly, of course."

Anger fading, Peter slips his hand away from Stiles's mouth and rests his palm over Stiles's t-shirt-covered collarbone, graciously allowing him to speak. Stiles meets Peter's gaze in the mirror for a fleeting second before looking away. Peter's far too close. Stiles tries to locate Scott, but Peter's too much to focus past. Stiles wishes he'd feel a flare of irritation or even more rage from the werewolf, anything to shut up the traitorous safe-owned-quiet-mine part of his mind urging him to push back into Peter's embrace, but Peter remains steadfastly patient, and Stiles remains stiff.

"It's not—" Stiles swallows and takes his time speaking. "It's not that I wouldn't... work with you." Peter's interest peaks, and he goes unerringly still, the heat of his body bleeding through Stiles's clothes. "...I mean that, even if I did, Scott wouldn't. I mean, it might seem like he might, but he's sneakier than you'd think, and he's got all these morals that would make him —not worth the trouble. He'd just screw it up, even if he was doing something to help you. If I’m being honest." There's no additional anger or irritation, so Stiles grows bolder. "Seriously, he can't even cheat on a test without the teacher knowing by the expression on his face, and you want him to help you murder people? That's basically asking to be caught."

Annoyed consideration. Increasing respect. Peter brushes his thumb against Stiles's collar bone through the fabric, and Stiles should be so, so creeped out right now, should be pulling away and trying to figure out how to get Peter off him without getting himself killed, but all Stiles wants to do is fall back into the space and silence of Peter's presence and... and fucking take a nap, of all things. "The police can't charge us for animal attacks," Peter reminds him.

Stiles shrugs, still avoiding Peter's gaze. "Won't stop hunters, though, and I'm assuming the Argents aren't the only ones," he mutters, mind racing. A light bulb practically goes off above his head. He looks up. "You are asking to be caught, aren't you? You're drawing them here."

A confused mix of irritation and delight answers him.

Stiles ignores it because seriously, what the hell is this guy thinking? "You're murdering people connected to the fire, and you're attracting all the hunters you can. Do you really think you can kill them all?” Peter's delight dissipates, but Stiles isn't done. Goddamn revenge. His voice hardens, and he glares, jerking his chin up. "I won't let you drag Scott into a suicide mission."

Peter snarls low in his throat, claws pricking through Stiles's clothes into his skin before he whirls Stiles around to face him. "Unfortunately for you," he drawls, backing Stiles into the mirror, "you don't have a say."

Stiles narrows his eyes, leaning in. "Oh, really? Because I bet I can run you out of town right now."

Peter goes predator-still, fingers digging into Stiles's biceps as he hones in on what Stiles just said. Stiles swallows, bravado dissipating. Why does he always have to run his damn mouth?

Peter's fingers loosen, and he leans in. "I doubt it."

Peter waits for Stiles to reveal himself, his anticipation bleeding into Stiles's nerves, and Stiles curses himself for walking right into his manipulation. He scrambles to cover his misstep. "So I might have been bluffing a little. But—"

"You were telling the truth," Peter tells him. "I heard it."

Stiles blinks. "You... heard it?" Are werewolves empathic, too? But if Peter's an empath, wouldn't he have already recognized Stiles for what he is? Stiles swallows, heart racing.

Peter smirks and taps Stiles's chest. "Your heart doesn't lie." Before Stiles can relax with relief, Peter grips his chin, his thumb brushing over Stiles's lower lip. "Unlike your mouth."

Stiles's world goes hazy as Peter's sexual desire and intellectual fascination washes over him. He sucks in a breath and tries to shake it off, but it's more difficult than usual. Stiles knows he's attractive. It's hard not to when he's constantly surrounded by a school full of horny teenagers. But usually it puts him off more than anything else. It's not much of a turn on when Jackson wants to fuck his mouth just to shut him up and humiliate him. And for all that Erica would do anything for him, being put on her pedestal makes Stiles want to hide his face in shame because he definitely doesn't belong there.

By all rights, Peter should put Stiles off as much as anyone else, probably even more so. Besides being a 30-something, revenge-driven, werewolf serial killer, Peter's feelings alone should send Stiles running for the hills. Peter feels no moral obligations towards anyone, has no empathy, no hope. Rage fuels him, and that should be terrifying. Regarding Stiles specifically, Peter feels no concern, no affection. He gets off on Stiles's vulnerability. He loves Stiles's potential usefulness.

Peter's a monster.

…But he’s a monster who respects Stiles, respects him more and more with each passing moment. Peter sees Stiles as a tool, but he also sees Stiles as a potential equal. He already sees through Stiles's bullshit and finds him fascinating. He wants to compete with Stiles, wants Stiles's attention, and Peter's one of the few people who can actually keep up with him. And for all that Stiles should find Peter morally repugnant, Stiles understands at a far more personal level than his usual empathy.

He remembers how it felt when his mother died. Sometimes he wished her disease was human just so he could eviscerate it.

Stiles was fully prepared to kill Peter for turning Scott. He still is. And Peter has to know it, too. He’s wary of Stiles — he sees Stiles as a threat.

"Stiles," Peter murmurs, and Stiles blinks into awareness to find Peter's hand slipping away from his face, leaving his skin cold and tingling, "where did you go just now?"

Stiles shakes head a little, off balance. "I..." He blinks hard. "I lose focus a lot," he says distantly. Peter tilts his head an inch, eyes unblinking as another puzzle piece slots into place, and Stiles comes to a little more. "ADHD," he hurries to explain. It's not the whole truth, but he really does have it, so it should be enough, right?

"Is that it," Peter says, and Stiles doesn't need to be an empath to tell Peter doesn't buy it at all. "So your ... ADHD. That's what you would use to drive me out of town?"

Stiles weighs his options: pretend there's nothing special about him and irritate Peter into killing him and ruining Scott's life, or take Peter's compromise and use it to his advantage. It's an easy choice to make. "Yeah," he mutters, then speaks up, "That and my unbeatable wit."

Peter hums, his satisfaction seeping into Stiles, and Stiles shifts, already dreading Peter's next words. "I'll make you a deal."

Stiles barely refrains from groaning. Nothing good ever follows those words. And Stiles would know. He's usually the one saying them.

Peter smirks like he knows exactly what Stiles is thinking. "I'll leave Scott alone, and in return," Peter says, want surging, and Stiles's stomach lurches, already knowing what he's going to say, "I get you."

Stiles's breath stutters in his lungs. He knows —they both know— his answer, but— "I don't suppose you could clarify what exactly 'getting me' means, could you?"

Peter glances away, brow furrowing, and Stiles rolls his eyes at the smug playfulness underlying the action. "I could..." Peter looks back at Stiles, grinning with too many teeth. "But it's more fun if I don't, don't you think?"

Stiles scowls and shakes his head. "No."

Peter deliberately misinterprets Stiles and pouts. "No? So you won't take the deal?"

"No!" Stiles says indignantly. "That's not—"

"A shame," Peter sighs, and Stiles knows Peter's screwing with him, he does, but it doesn't stop him from panicking. "Scott's such a nice kid—"

"Yes!" Stiles snaps, arms flailing.

Peter smiles placidly. "Yes what?"

Stiles deflates and forces the words out. "Yes. If you leave Scott alone..., you get me instead." Peter's satisfaction surges over him, and he grumbles, "Whatever that means." Hopefully it doesn't mean Peter intends to kill and eat him. That would suck.

"Perfect," Peter says, and he pulls him in for a kiss.

Tempted and unsure, Stiles lets it happen, and Peter nips and sucks until Stiles melts into a trembling wreck under his sweeping hands and all-encompassing want. Stiles can't think under the weight of it, can't feel anything past Peter. It's overbearing and loud and so wonderfully, blissfully simple. Stiles usually avoids touching people, not wanting to drown under the weight of their foreign emotions, but Peter, Peter who wants Stiles's mind and body with a singular focus and isn't ashamed to want it, whose mind pulls Stiles down into it and away from everyone else.... What a way to drown.

Peter pulls away and smiles when Stiles leans into him, ducking his head.

"And Stiles," Peter murmurs, tipping Stiles's chin up.

"What?" Stiles asks, swallowing.

"I haven't forgotten finding you by the ocean." Stiles tries to look away, but Peter's fingers tighten on his chin, holding him in place. "If you... feel such urges again, come to me. We'll figure something out."

Stiles frowns and tugs himself out of Peter's grip. Miraculously, Peter lets him. "I wasn't going to —I'm not—" He can't believe this is happening. The serial killer's worried about his mental health. Great. Although, it’s not exactly concern or worry that Peter's feeling, but more of a... fear of loss, a numbed thrum echoing in the base of Stiles's skull. Stiles crosses his arms. "It wasn’t what it looked like,” he grinds out, unable to meet Peter's eyes.

Peter watches him, taking his words and behavior into consideration. "Okay," he says with a slow nod of acknowledgment. "But you do have something of a death wish, don't you?" he asks —he asks fondly, of all things.

Stiles squints at him. "You're the one summoning a murderous throng of hunters, dude. I'm pretty sure you should be having this conversation with yourself," he raps a knuckle against the mirror, "not me."

The corners of Peter's lips twitch. "I won't let them kill me," he says, and he believes it. "Or you," he adds, and Stiles releases a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Peter grins. "I won't lose what I've only just won."

Stiles grimaces, caught between freaking out and telling Peter to fuck off. "You didn't win anything," he ends up grumbling.

Peter gives him a sideways glance. "You're right, of course. You're a person, not a thing. It was wrong of me to objectify you."

Stiles feels his eyelid twitch.

Peter smiles, eyeing him up and down. "Now, I did say I'd find you a suit, didn't I?"

Stiles groans.

 

o—o—o

 

Peter notices Scott hiding behind the clothing rack right after Stiles does. His judgment is palpable.

"I'll talk to him," Stiles sighs. He shoves his hands in his pockets and ambles over to Scott, half concerned about facing Scott, half happy to distance himself from the cash register where Peter's paying for the suit Stiles never asked for.

He leans around the overalls hanging on the rack and finds Scott crouching behind them. "Sup, dude," he says, casual as can be while Scott panics. Serves him right for leaving Stiles alone with Peter to trail after Allison.

"Stiles, he's gonna hear," Scott hisses, waving his hands in Peter's direction, and Stiles can't help but snicker. "What's wrong with you!?" Scott's angry confusion morphs into concern. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

Stiles rocks back on his heels and gestures at himself. "All in one piece. And stop whispering. He knows you're here and he's not gonna kill you. Now, at least." 

Scott stands up, eyeing Stiles, his mind abuzz with concern and that special oh-God-Stiles-did-something-again sinking in his stomach. "What did you do?" 

"Nothing," Stiles says, crossing his arms. Scott stares at him, waiting. "…Much."

"Stiles," Scott scolds in disappointment. He opens his mouth to speak then freezes, looking over Stiles's shoulder at Peter, who claps his hand on Stiles's shoulder.

"We just talked," Peter says. "Your... friend... has convinced me to slow down and plan ahead a little more."

Stiles blinks and turns to Peter. "I did?"

Peter tucks his hands into the pockets of his ridiculous coat. "You were very persuasive," he murmurs.

Scott's eyes flick between Peter and Stiles, unease setting in. "How did he persuade you?"

"Excellent question, Scott." Peter's smile doesn't reach his eyes. "He explained to me how useless you are."

Stiles cringes and cuts in, "And by that he means I explained that you have morals. And a heart."

Peter's enjoying this far too much. He nods. "As I said, useless."

Scott's mouth drops open, and he sucks in a breath, confused and concerned and deeply, deeply unsettled.

"Just go with it, Scott," Stiles sighs before Scott can stick his foot in his mouth.

"But he —this whole time—" Scott gestures between him and Peter. "It can't be that easy." He stares at Stiles again. "What did you do?"

Stiles sighs. "I told you. I talked. We came to an agreement."  He spots an exasperated Macy's employee watching them from the cash registers. He checks the time — midnight. Wonderful.

"An agreement!? Stiles, I swear to God—"

The employee leaves her post and walks towards them. Stiles wakes up his phone and shoves it at Scott. "Oh, would you look at the time. We gotta go. Get some sleep before Hump Day. Nice to see you, Peter, buddy ol'pal." Stiles goes to clap a mocking hand on Peter's arm but changes his mind mid-gesture, not wanting to die. "Take it easy. Seriously." Stiles grabs Scott and shuffles him along toward the escalator, but before he can make his escape, Peter curls a hand around his elbow.

"Don't forget your suit," he purrs in a far too inappropriate voice for Scott's precious ears.

"Gee, thanks," Stiles grumbles, snatching the bag away from Peter while Scott squawks in outrage. Stiles hustles him away from Peter, narrowly dodging the employee's exhaustion-driven peevishness.

"He bought you a suit!? What the hell, Stiles?"

Stiles jogs down the escalator, dragging Scott with him. "I didn't have a choice, okay?"

"What!? How could you not have a choice? You didn't have to take it."

Stiles jiggles the bag in front of Scott's face. "You see this? This is not a gift suit. This is a threat suit!'

"A threat suit? How can a gift be a threat? Stiles—"

"Scott!" Stiles shouts, whirling on him. To his surprise, Scott shuts up, his fear-tinged worry spiking, but for once Stiles doesn't care, pushed past his limits. "Just —shut up, okay? It's late, and I'm —I'm tired." So damn tired. "So..." Stiles shrugs, sagging. "Relax. You're safe now. Soak it in.”

Scott swallows, his concern bogging Stiles down, but fortunately for the both of them, he keeps his mouth shut.

Stiles feels Peter making his way towards them, no doubt eavesdropping, so he shoves his hands into his pockets and hurries away, Scott on his heels.

"God, I wish I hadn't finished all the booze," Stiles mutters when the cool night air hits his face.

Scott stays silent even as his concern deepens the whole ride home, and Stiles still can't bring himself to care.

 

o—o—o

 

Scott glues himself to Stiles's side the next day, and Stiles kind of wants to kill him. He draws the line when he gets home and finds Scott sitting on his porch like the damn dog from Up. "Scott, go home."

"I just wanna make sure you're safe, St–"

Scott's need to protect him grates on his senses, and Stiles's head pounds. "I don't fucking care! I can literally feel your worry, Scott. It's like a giant cloud of anxiety looming over my head wherever I go and I can't escape it because you won't leave me alone." And oh, great, now he's hurt Scott's feelings. Stiles sighs. "Look, I love you, buddy, I do, but I have a killer migraine right now and you're not making it any better. So just –go. I can't take a nap with you hovering over my shoulder."

"I can stay in the living room," Scott pleads.

Stiles yanks at his hair. "Peter's not gonna leap out the moment you leave me alone, okay?" Maybe he should finally tell Scott the flat out truth. Maybe then he'd understand. He opens his mouth to speak, but then his dad opens the front door. Stiles jumps in surprise, and pain shoots through his skull. His headache's so bad he hadn't even felt his father approaching the door.

"Scott," Stiles's dad says, "you're a good kid, and it sounds like you're trying to be a good friend, but if Stiles says you need to leave, you need to respect his wishes and leave."

Scott opens his mouth to argue but seems to change his mind when Stiles's dad stares him down. "Okay," he says quietly, getting up. "I hope you feel better, Stiles," he says softly, almost apologetically. He heads for his bike, tossing one last pleading glance at Stiles before he goes. Stiles ignores him. As endearing as Scott's concern should be, he believes he knows better than Stiles, and the thing is: he doesn't. And maybe it's Stiles's fault for not telling him everything, but it would be awfully nice if Scott would trust Stiles to know what's best for himself.

Scott bikes away, and Stiles's headache eases up a tiny fraction. He glances back at his father, who's watching him, as concerned as Scott was, unfortunately, but at least respectful enough not to press the issue. He steps aside for Stiles to come inside.

"How'd you know what was going on?" Stiles asks.

His dad shuts the door behind him. "I could hear you all the way from the kitchen. Does Scott know? It sounded like you told him the truth."

Stiles shrugs and drops his backpack by the door. The sound of it thumping to the ground makes him wince. "I tell him the truth all the time, and he never realizes it. He just thinks I'm good at reading people and passes it off as another one of my theatrics."

His dad frowns. "That's dangerous, even with Scott. You never used to be so reckless."

Stiles shrugs, looking away. "It's been a tough few weeks recently." He searches for an answer to his dad's unspoken question. "Remember that kid, Isaac? Isaac Lahey? He's been getting worse. It's been... stressful."

Something clicks in his dad's head, and Stiles only feels half guilty for not telling him the truth. And it's not like he's actually lying, not really. Even if Isaac's a tiny speck of stress compared to the rest of Stiles's life, Stiles is still telling a truth, and that's good enough, right?

"I'll look into it, see if there's anything I can do," his dad says.

Stiles smiles a little. "Thanks."

His dad claps him on the shoulder, making Stiles wince. His dad frowns. "Stiles?"

"It's just another headache. What with Isaac and Scott..." Stiles trails off and shrugs.

"Ah. Well, you know where the pain killers are. I'll leave a little early for work tonight and give you some alone time. You should get some rest."

Stiles doesn't know what he did in his past life to deserve a dad as good as his, but it must have been something great. "Oh, you don't have to—"

"I do. You have a gift, Stiles, and I don't to make it more of a burden than it already is. You're a good kid."

Stiles swallows and barely manages to say, "Thanks."

His dad spots his guilt and presses his lips together, sad and desperate to make it better. "You really are," he affirms.

Stiles offers him an unconvincing smile and barely refrains from asking, But for how much longer?

His dad hovers, feeling inadequate and a little guilty, and it kills Stiles inside. He hugs his dad hard, startling him. "Thanks, Dad." It helps a little.

 

o—o—o

 

He's about to fall asleep when Archie and Pattie next door start having sex. He knocks his head back against the pillow and stares at the ceiling. "Not again," he moans.

Do they really have to be so enthusiastic about it? Can't they just watch tv or something?

The trucker who lives across the street with her boyfriend and daughter arrives home, weary and anxious.

A car drives by full of teenage consciousnesses Stiles almost recognizes. They're so full of UST he finds himself palming his cock before he snatches his hand away, stomach rolling as Archie and Pattie's conjoined lust spikes. He feels like such an intruder and an intrudee all at once. It's all his, but none of it is his, not even his own emotions. They're all... tainted.

He's learned so much, lived through so much, because of his empathy. He's known true love since he could breathe, learned to deal with the five stages of grief long before his mother died, experienced the betrayal, friendship, hurt, hatred and kindness of a thousand lives. It's always too much and not enough all at once. It's easy for him to live vicariously through others, but because he does, it's harder for him to live through himself.

He misses who he was when he had Scott and his father to anchor him, misses who he still could be.

Pain lances through his brain again, and he rolls out of bed and grabs his backpack. He needs to be productive away from people.

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles has just finished catching up on his Chemistry homework when Peter finds him. Stiles sets his book down on the threadbare blanket beneath him and looks out across the lake. Sitting on a short, eight or so foot tall cliff overlooking the lake, he's got a good view of the shore and the trees surrounding it. Still, he doesn't see Peter. He waits and pulls out his phone. Peter will show his face eventually, or he'll lurk until he gets bored. Stiles doesn't particularly care. He's content with or without Peter's presence.

He starts to text Scott an apology for earlier before remembering Scott lost his phone when Kate attacked him and Derek at the Hale House. He switches his Chem book out for his Trig and gets to work.

As expected, Peter lurks. He's... quieter than he was yesterday. More controlled. Settled. He's still angry as fuck, of course, but he's tempered it with... something else. A bond, Stiles is hesitant to admit to himself. It feels like a werewolf thing.

It's sunset and Stiles is on his stomach and yawning through his last problem when Peter finally sits beside him and looks over the lake, his calves hanging over the cliff. Stiles doesn't say anything, determined to find x before he loses the last couple minutes of daylight.

Right as it's too dark to see the text on the page, he closes his book and gathers his stuff together, then flips onto his back and uses his backpack as a pillow. He takes a good, long look at Peter. The guy's in a waist-length leather jacket again, but this time he's swapped out the black shirt for a dark gray button-up. He looks absolutely edible. Creepy, still, but edible. Like Halloween candy. The kind with razor blades hidden inside. "So are you, like, a miracle patient now? Or mysteriously missing? Because either way, you should be making more headlines."

Peter glances down at him, gaze freakishly innocent, his emotions themselves detached and tinged with disappointment. "Missing."

Stiles doesn't think the disappointment is aimed at him. "...Are you ever going to be un-missing?"

Peter hums, still watching him. "I haven't decided. What do you suggest?"

Stiles blinks. "Uh.... Well, your options are:" Stiles ticks off a finger. "Be discovered as the missing, mysteriously healed coma patient. That'll make the news for sure." Peter listens with general contentment and consideration, so Stiles ticks off his second finger. "Then there's the option where you stay missing. That seems like it could cause some... technical problems, I guess. Like, how are you gonna use a credit card or walk around without someone seeing you and flipping out? Unless you skip town or something." Stiles expects Peter to interrupt him, but unfortunately he doesn't, so Stiles runs his mouth. He ticks off a third. "Or you could, I don't know, see if you can get yourself a new identity. Like a spy. You'd have to have money for that, though. And you'd still probably need to skip town." Peter keeps staring at him, mildly amused, so Stiles shrugs, turning his three fingers over before dropping his hand to his stomach. "That's all I got."

Peter hums. "I could make any of those work...." He looks out over the lake. "If I allowed myself to be discovered, that would attract attention. People in the know would connect the dots."

"Hunters?"

Peter nods. "Among others.... I'd make a name for myself. For us. It wouldn't be a quiet life." A thrill laces his words along with a hint of caution. "As for your other ideas, they're not bad, but if I leave town I'm taking you with me," he warns, glancing over at Stiles.

"I'm not leaving," Stiles says.

He waits for Peter's anger to spike, but instead all Peter feels is an intense curiosity, a warm tingling on the sides of Stiles's skull. "Why not?" Peter asks. "You don't seem particularly happy here." Peter looks around, gesturing at the tall firs surrounding them and the snowy mountains in the distance.  The corners of his lips quirk up in wry amusement. "Not when you're always running away to the middle of nowhere."

"I'm not running away. Not really." Even now, he can still feel the dull thrum of people in the distance. Somewhere in Beacon Hills, his father's irritated and Scott's worried. Stiles looks away and breathes carefully. He doesn't care what Peter says or does to make him leave. His mother's death shattered his father, and Stiles won't do that to him again. And he can't leave Scott, not with hunters out to kill him. "Beacon Hills is my home," Stiles says, watching the darkening sky. The night's oncoming chill sends a shiver down his spine.

Peter looks down at him and stares for a long moment, pleased and oddly sympathetic. "Option one it is," he murmurs.

 Stiles looks back at him. "Why?"

Peter raises his eyebrows. "Why what?"

Stiles swallows. In the mall, Peter hadn't cared about him, not really. Now... something's changed, and Stiles can't decide if he approves. He doesn't want to think about it. Doesn't want to think about a lot of things involving him and Peter. "Why are you giving me a choice?"

"Maybe I'm not. Maybe our wants just happen to coincide."

Stiles would be more freaked out if he couldn't feel the teasing behind Peter's toothy grin. "No, really. Why?"

Peter tilts his head an inch, gaze going blank as his mood dips. "Whatever you are, you're useful, and you've got a mind I wouldn't want working against me."

Stiles looks away, trying to restrain another shiver, the unbidden warmth born from Peter's words warring with the cold of the night. Beside him, Peter studies him, making Stiles swallow in a rare burst of self-consciousness. He's used to pushing people away, not attracting them. Peter's not exactly the usual person Stiles deals with, though.

"It's late," Peter says, standing up. He offers Stiles a hand up, but Stiles hesitates. The waning moon shines down on Peter from behind, a silver gleam on the outline of his hair, his jawline, the breadth of his shoulders and his outstretched hand. It leaves his face in shadow.

Stiles wants to take Peter's hand so very badly, but.... "Who do you have left?" Peter tilts his head. "To kill?" Stiles clarifies.

Peter drops his hand and slips his hands into his pockets. His rage ripples and simmers, and a gaping maw aches within him that makes Stiles's breath stutter with its echo. "I haven't decided," Peter murmurs. "And before you ask, I won't tell you who I'm after. Not yet." His smile is barely visible in the darkness. "As fascinating as I find you, I don't trust you in the least."

Stiles smiles back before it fades away. He sits up. "But none of them are my father, are they? You won't kill him?" His dad was the sheriff at the time of the Hale fire.

"No, Stiles," Peter says, crouching down to eye-level. "I'm not out to take your father away from you." He tilts his head forward. "But if he gets in my way, I make no promises. Do you understand?"

Stiles nods, not trusting himself to speak. Peter's telling the truth.

"Good." Peter stands up and starts strolling down the cliff.

"He's getting closer," Stiles says impulsively. Peter stops and looks back, several strides away. Stiles tosses his backpack over his shoulder and rolls up the blanket, saying, "My dad, I mean. He's figured out that you're going after people involved in the fire. Give him a week or two and he'll find the ringleader."

Stiles walks up to Peter while Peter ponders his words, his sense of urgency stirring in Stiles's gut. "Thank you, Stiles," he murmurs.

Stiles shrugs, looking away, and turns down the path, using the LED light on his cell phone to light the way. Peter falls into step beside him. Pine needles quiver and oak leaves rustle above them as they walk, and Peter's mind ripples within itself, oscillating between mild affirmation and dismissal. He's planning, and Stiles finds himself being lulled by the sway of it.

As his eyelids droop, he trips over a tree root, making Peter snort. Stiles shoots him a glare and sinks deeper into his hoodie.

"Why do you come out here?" Peter asks.

"My ferocious love of nature," Stiles deadpans.

Peter's but a shadow in the dark beside him, but Stiles can still feel him smile. It fades quickly as they walk further, Peter sinking into contemplation. Then, "What do you think of my nephew?"

Stiles glances at Peter askance. "He's a ball of sunshine. Why?"

"I haven't seen him recently. I think he might be upset with me," he muses, more amused by himself than anything else.  

"Hm. Weird. Maybe it has something to do with you, I dunno, killing his sister?" Stiles glances at Peter askance.

A violent mix of loss, betrayal, and vindictive self-righteousness burns through Peter's body, and Stiles stumbles again, feeling like he's been stabbed in the gut. Peter loops an arm around Stiles's back and curls his fingers around Stiles's side to steady him, his mentality just as quickly shifting into predator mode. Stiles stiffens, heart racing, but Peter doesn't let go. "Is something wrong?"

"Wrong?" Stiles squeaks. Peter knows. Or at least he thinks he knows. He could be wrong. "Nothing's wrong. I tripped, clumsy, blind as a bat human that I am, you know." Stiles laughs weakly and tries to pull away, but Peter holds him close, fingers flexing around Stiles's rib cage.

Stiles opens his mouth to speak, but Peter beats him to it. "Of course," Peter murmurs, letting Stiles go and walking down the trail again. "How silly of me." His amusement's like a tickle of water in the front of Stiles's brain. It makes Stiles uneasy, but he catches up to Peter anyway, keeping several feet of space between them.

Stiles keeps glancing at Peter as they walk, nervous about the patience rippling off Peter, but the more they walk, the more Stiles gets used to it. It's probably not even aimed at him, he rationalizes. It probably has something to do with Derek, since Peter was just talking about him, or all the murders, since they're so important to Peter.

A chorus of tree frogs rings throughout the forest, and the stream running perpendicular to the trail whispers in front of them. They use an aged, worn little bridge to cross it, their footsteps muffled by the damp, mossy wood. The night chill fresh in his lungs, Stiles breathes in deeply and lets himself relax. It's a long walk –three miles—and he's not going to waste the last of his precious, civilization-free time worrying over Peter.

He doesn't notice when it starts: a warm flutter in his gut that he mistakes for an extension of the safe-quiet-home feeling he always gets from being alone in nature. He notices when it spreads and grows into a familiar tension, a need that makes his heart beat faster and his skin prickle. He glances at Peter, trying to be subtle as he flashes the light closer. Peter glances back, looking unaffected, but feeling…. "Stiles?" he asks, in all appearances mildly curious. Under the surface, though, he's smug and turned on, almost teasing.

Stiles glances away quickly. "Nothing," he mutters, walking faster.

"Nothing?"

Arousal crashes down on Stiles, hot and frantic, an electric burn that blurs his thoughts and makes his limbs loose and unbalanced. The phantom of another body almost grinds against his back, its hands almost running down his sides, its mouth almost on his throat. Stiles freezes and inhales sharply as his cock swells and his knees shake.

"It doesn't smell like nothing," Peter says innocently, and phantom fingers almost wrap themselves around Stiles's cock.

"It is nothing," Stiles grinds out, hunching over and resting his hands on his knees. "Just teenage – nothing."

Peter frowns and tilts his head, sniffing. He cocks an eyebrow. "It doesn't look like nothing."

Stiles struggles to stand up and keep walking, but Peter sends another wave of want and promise crashing into him, and Stiles stumbles back against the nearest tree, gasping.

Peter wanders near, saying, "It doesn't sound like nothing."

"God, fuck off," Stiles pants. He knocks his head back against the tree, and Peter's satisfaction somehow manages to make it worse.

Peter plants his left hand beside Stiles's head and leans in. "I'm imagining fucking you right now." He looks Stiles up and down, eyes flashing. "I'd take my time with you, wait till you'd writhe and beg for my hands before I finally touched your cock." A phantom claw almost trails down Stiles's chest, and his mouth falls open. "I wonder…," Peter trails off, holding his breath as he raises his right hand to Stiles's face, their skin millimeters away from brushing. "I wonder what would happen if I touched you right now."

Eyes hooded, Stiles shudders as the tension in his groin twists. "Don’t," he whispers, throat tight.

"Don't?" Peter asks, a pout in his voice. He pulls back and tucks his hands into his pockets. "A shame," he says and steps back onto the trail. The want exuding off him ebbs away, but the satisfaction remains. It all serves to leave Stiles catching his breath against the tree, wondering what the Hell just happened.

Peter looks over his shoulder. "Coming?"

Stiles stares, aftershocks running through him. He inhales deeply. "…I don't even know where you're going."

"Well, I'm walking you to your car, of course. It's dark. You're all alone. What if you meet someone dangerous?"

The night chill creeps in again, and Stiles stands up straight, struggling to rein in the frayed strands of his consciousness. "'magine that," he mutters, shifting his weight in indecision. After a moment, he steps onto the trail again, giving Peter a wide berth, and keeps walking.

Minutes pass, satisfaction rippling off Peter, and finally Stiles ducks his neck forward, vulnerable and wary. "So what were you…?" Stiles swallows. "Do you—" know? But what if Peter doesn't know? What if all that was something else, was only Peter thinking pervy thoughts and letting Stiles know about them because he's really just that creepy? "What was that all about?"

"Define 'that'," Peter says, sadistic in his amusement.

Stiles waves vaguely behind them. "You know, that –that thing."

"What thing?"

"Back there!" Stiles stands up straight as he gestures. "With the talking and the, the not-quite-touching." He flushes even as he glares.

"Please," Peter drawls, "my intentions were quite obvious."

Stiles glances away and glares at the trail ahead of them. Whatever. Fuck Peter.

"Unless, of course, you're talking about your empathy."

Stiles freezes, and Peter stops and turns to him, his pleasure a fat purr and his expectation a pounding weight on Stiles's forehead.

Stiles holds his breath, waiting for the proverbial lightbulb to go off above Peter's head.

"Honestly, I don't see what you're so worried about," Peter says. "So you can feel other people's emotions. It's a useful skill, but not particularly dangerous." He peers more closely at Stiles, his body a looming shadow in the darkness. "What are you so afraid of?"

Stiles leans away but holds his ground. He inhales deeply. "I can control their emotions, too."

Peter tilts his head back, humming. "Oh," he says, half to himself. "That does make sense." He looks back at Stiles. "You did it to me, didn't you? After I tried to find out about Scott."

Stiles swallows and resists the urge to touch the back of his neck. He jerks his head in a rough nod, paralyzed.

"Ah." Peter shrugs. "Interesting." He tucks his hands into his pockets and turns back down the trail.

Stiles watches Peter's back as he walks away, casual and at ease. Stiles catches up to him. "So you're not angry?"

Peter glances at him, suddenly understanding, almost sympathetic. He wraps an arm over Stiles's shoulders, and Stiles stiffens at the possibility of skin-on-skin contact. "Emotions are a specialty of mine, Stiles. I'll recognize foreign ones, even if they feel real."

Stiles opens his mouth to argue, but Peter cuts him off.

"I noticed the oddness of it before, but given my… instability, I didn't realize at the time what it was. I do now, thanks to you."

"I'm not forcing you to f—" Stiles says quickly.

"No, no, this has very little to do with your empathy and everything to do with the nature of werewolves," Peter says, matter-of-fact, and Stiles perks up. "Wolves need pack to survive, to stabilize themselves, and I thought I could have one with Derek and Scott. The problem was, obviously, that I never had Scott in the first place, and currently I barely have Derek . But I have you." Peter nudges Stiles into walking with him down the trail. "Someone who understands me, at least to an extent. Someone who isn't repulsed by me, who doesn't hate me." As depressing as his words are, Peter himself only seems to feel an amused acceptance. "Someone I can respect and rely on. That's pack, Stiles."

"Shouldn't I, I dunno, have to actually like you first?"

"Your interest and cooperation are more than enough."

Stiles bristles. "Who says you have my interest? So you're a werewolf – congratulations. So is Scott now. It doesn't make you special. And sure, you're a killer, too, but you think I haven't felt that before? You really think you're the first person out for revenge I've ever been around?" Stiles sniffs. "You're nothing new. Not really."

Peter brings a hand to his chest. "Now that hurt my feelings," he says.

"No, it didn't," Stiles scoffs.

Before Stiles can react, Peter shifts his hand to the back of Stiles's skull, holding him in place. Stiles freezes at the contact, Peter's fond possessiveness flooding Stiles's senses. It's heat stirring in his gut and spreading through his limbs, a coiling softness that makes Stiles's eyelids and shoulders droop, and it's too much when Peter leans in and presses his forehead to his temple. "No, it didn't," Peter murmurs, breath cool on Stiles's warm cheek.

Stiles exhales, losing himself in Peter's presence. In the back of his mind, he thinks he should be acting more abrasive, but what's the point of being abrasive when he can have this feeling instead?

He yawns, and Peter pulls away with a tsk, leaving Stiles bereft. "We really ought to get you home," he says, tucking his hands into his pockets.

Stiles nods jerkily, and Peter starts walking ahead. Stiles follows hesitantly, hanging onto the lingering warmth and softness clinging to the edges of his senses. A part of him feels owned, and another part of him wants to own Peter right back. He wants to think it all stems from Peter, but he's not sure. Some of it feels like his own, and he doesn't want to admit it. He needs to, though, if it is.

Denial's dangerous for empaths, and self-awareness is essential. No matter how much Stiles doesn't want to want Peter, if he does, he can't afford to hide it from himself.

He stays quiet for the rest of the walk, listening to Peter's steady emotions all the way.

 

o—o—o

 

He stays awake till sometime around three in the morning, not because the world's too harsh or chaotic, but because his mind won't stop running – Peter, the murders, the hunters, Scott, his father's investigation, dancing with the girl he loves who barely acknowledges his existence.

Eventually, when his  father slips into REM sleep and has a good dream, his contentment wafts through the walls like the smell of hot chocolate on Christmas Eve, and Stiles drifts off to sleep.

 

o—o—o

 

His dad always needs to have his homemade coffee before he leaves for work, and for once Stiles decides to wake up early enough to take full advantage. Taking special care to make it right – one and a half tablespoons of fresh-ground, medium roast beans in a French press, then a splash of cream – Stiles finishes making it just in time for his dad to sit at the table, already suspicious.

"What's the occasion?" he asks, gingerly taking the mug from Stiles.

Stiles inhales to speak, holds it for a second as he stalls, and then spits it out before he can think otherwise. "So you know how I inherited that thing from Mom?" His dad nods once, so Stiles continues, "And how it's not exactly normal?" His dad nods again, a little more alert. "Are there… other… not exactly normal – things – out there? Things or people?"

"You mean other empaths?" his dad asks.

"Shh!" Stiles lunges towards his dad, throwing his hands down on the table. "Someone could be listening."

Unimpressed by his ostensibly crazy son, Stiles's dad stares at him. He looks around. "Like who?"

"Like…." Stiles swallows. "Okay, that's what I'm getting at here. What if there was someone who could hear us? From outside the house."

His dad squints at him.

"Okay, that's not really what I'm getting at. What I mean is, what if empaths weren't the only—" Stiles purses his lips, thinking it over, until he says delicately "—non-normal people out there?"

Lifting his eyebrows, his father takes a sip of coffee, watching Stiles over the brim. "You mean superhuman. Superhumans who can hear through walls. Like Superman?"

Shrinking under the judgment, Stiles offers him a half-shrug. "…Maybe more like Beast Boy."

His dad furrows his brow, jaw tightening. "That's pretty specific."

Stiles pushes off the table and shifts on his feet. "I guess. It's just a thought. " He gnaws on his lower lip. "So do they? Exist?"

His dad sighs and sets his mug on the table. "Personally, I don't know. If I hadn't met your mother, I'd think the idea of the supernatural crazy, but…" he waves a vague hand at Stiles, "look at you." He huffs and turns his head to the side, eyes lost in thought. He turns a wry look on Stiles. "And it sounds like you already have an answer."

Exhaling, Stiles runs a hand through his hair and sits across the table from his dad. "I don't think an animal's responsible for the attacks," he says. It's difficult to determine how much to say. On the one hand, he wants his dad to be careful, and he can only take the proper precautions if he knows all the facts. On the other hand, if Stiles's father learns the complete truth, he might take the facts and run straight into Peter's path, and Stiles can't have that. "I think it's something crazy, and I don't…" He swallows. "I don't want it going after you."

"Stiles," his dad says, voice full of sympathy and consolation, and Stiles doesn't want to hear what follows. He stands up again. "I don't care that this is your job, Dad. This thing, whatever it is, it has claws and teeth that will rip you to shreds, and it won't be shot down like a simple mountain lion. I'll even bet it drove that mountain lion into town itself to set everyone at ease, to make you complacent. It's smart, and –"

His father doesn't look convinced, doesn't feel convinced. His frustration and the weight of responsibility, of duty, echoes in Stiles's lungs and tightens their muscles, and it only serves to egg Stiles on. He stops his pacing and leans on the chair across from his father, knuckles whitening around the corners of the back. "I felt it, Dad, and it's terrifying. It—" He shakes his head, half not wanting to continue, half wanting to drive the point home.

His father's eyes widen. "Are you okay?"

"Yes!" Stiles shouts, throwing his arms out. "It's you I'm worried about it!" His chest heaves, and he takes a moment to catch his breath and ease the tension borne from his father's concern. He closes his eyes a moment too long for it to be considered a blink and plays his guilt card. "I am so proud to call you my father, but a Sheriff is not going to stop this thing. You'll just be another check on its tally. Do you understand?"

Stiles can feel the attempt to appease him and rein him in before the words leave his dad's mouth, and it burns Stiles to feel so useless. "What do you want me to do, Stiles? Let it murder the town? You know I—"

"Let it finish its business. Stay one step behind. I know you're getting close, but… you can't come face to face with this thing—"

"Have you ever seen it, Stiles? Or is this all random guesswork? Just because someone has monstrous feelings doesn't mean they're any less human."

"I've seen it," Stiles says desperately, and his father stiffens, alert. "From a distance. It looked like a bear, but it wasn't one. It was a person."

Now he has his father's attention. "What was it feeling?"

"Cold, slow-burning rage. It's on a mission. It's not killing randomly, Dad. If you just stay out of its way—"

"Revenge?"

"Stop being a detective!" Stiles jerks his hands at his dad, getting desperate. "I'm asking you, this one time, not to be as good at your job as you usually are. Please." He swallows and holds his dad's gaze. "For me."

That was low, and they both know it, but in that moment, Stiles doesn't really give a shit.

His dad sighs, conflicted enough to give Stiles a headache. "I'll think about it," he says, and for now it's enough.

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles is in the public library when he finally meets Kate Argent. It's after school and lacrosse practice, and Stiles could do with a shower, but he isn't ready to go home and face his dad yet, not after resorting to begging to get him to stay safe.

For the first ten minutes she's in the library, she's just another person rumbling around the back of his head, but then she notices something, and her consciousness sharpens into a narrow focus, one suspicious and hungry, bloodthirsty. She feels nothing like Chris or Allison. She feels like a nightmare. Like Peter.

He doesn't know her consideration's aimed at him at first, and he makes the mistake of looking up and making eye contact with her through a crack in one of the bookcases. He's mastered the art of seamlessly passing his eyes over those he's looking at without making it look like he's actually look at them, but by the way her suspicion grows, he's failed this time. He decides it's time for a strategic retreat, but before he can finish packing up his books at his unfortunately isolated table in the back, she sits opposite him and swings her feet up on the table like the library is her personal office. "Hey, I've seen you at the high school, haven't I? You're friends with Allison," she says with a smile.

There's a sadistic want on the edges of her investigation, one that writhes like worms under Stiles's skin. She wants to break him and laugh at the shattered pieces on the floor.

"Allison's my niece," she adds oh so helpfully when Stiles isn't quick enough to answer.

Stiles blinks and offers her a careful half-shrug. "We're sorta friends, I guess, but it's not like we really hang out or anything."

"Ah," says Kate, ostensibly noncommittally, but Stiles bristles when satisfaction and thankfulness tinges her stalking.

"I'm surprised she hasn't mentioned you, though. You said you're her aunt, right?"

Despite feeling the emotional equivalent of a pout, outwardly Kate smiles and sticks her hand out for Stiles to shake. "Yeah, I'm Kate."

Stiles stalls and stares at her hand. "I'd totally shake that, but I'm coming down with an awful, life-threatening cold, and I'd hate for you to catch it."

Hiding her annoyance, she frowns childishly and takes her hand away. "You don't look like you have a cold." She smiles with all her teeth, eyes practically sparkling. "I promise I won't bite."

"Yeah, you're right," says Stiles, slipping the last book into his backpack. "I was covering for my germophobia." He zips up his backpack. "It's horrible, but it's something I have to live with." He stands up and shoulders his backpack. "Nice to meet you –Cathy, right?"

She's gonna kill him. "Kate," she says tightly.

"Kate. Right. Well, I gotta run, so I'll just—" Stiles sidles away, not knowing what else to say. "Yep. See ya—"

"Are you running off to the woods again?" she asks, dropping the act.

Stiles freezes between the book stacks and stares at her. He debates inwardly with himself and decides to skip denial today. Denial won't dissuade her. "How do you know I do that?" He should have felt her following him.

Kate shakes her finger at him. "A girl never shares her secrets."

Stiles crosses his arms. "The moment I see you following me, I'm getting a restraining order."

She looks down at her hand and drums her fingers against the table. "Oh, you're so naïve, it's almost adorable." Looking up, she says more seriously, "Seriously, kid, you really think I need to follow you to know where you are?" She smirks. "This isn't the eighteen hundreds."

Stiles grimaces. "What the hell is wrong with you? Why would you stalk me?"

Kate swings her legs off the table and turns to face him, placing her elbows on her knees. "Oh, you know, a bit of familial concern for my niece. I like to vet her friends," she says, standing up. As she steps towards Stiles, she says, "And you, sir, are trouble. "

Stiles holds his ground as she walks up to him. They're in a public library. She can't do anything to him.

But there's no one besides them around for at least twenty feet in all directions except for the people a floor below.

Stiles gulps.

"Running around the woods while mountain lions are attacking people – that's very dangerous, don't you think?" Kate says, taking one step too many into Stiles's space.

"Well, I've survived so far, so I think I'm good," Stiles says dryly.

"Survived what?" Kate murmurs, placing an arm beside Stiles's head. Stiles reels at the clinical desire radiating off her, rooted in an ugly, bone-deep hatred that makes his blood run cold. He'll never be able to watch his kinky librarian porn again. "Ever been attacked by an animal out there?"

Stiles blinks and shakes his head. "Nope, no. No, I haven't. You wanna – you wanna back off a little?" He should've taken his phone out to record all this, but she'd probably have noticed anyway.

"Oh," she coos and draws a ringed knuckle down his cheek. The edges of the ring's facets scrape across his skin. "Am I scaring you?" She eyes his cheek and frowns, and Stiles hones in on her ring. The gem's half a petal of wolfsbane encased in silvery glass. Awesome. "Huh," she hums, confused and disappointed.

"I'm getting a little creeped out here, sooo I'm gonna go," Stiles says. "Bye!" He ducks under her arm and hightails it out of there, shuddering when Kate's amused intrigue chases after him.

 

o—o—o

 

He finds the tracking device on the bottom of his Jeep past the rear bumper. He almost stomps on it, but stops right before his foot crashes down on it. He can use this. His father won't leave the investigation alone, Stiles's pleas bedamned, but if Stiles can divert his attention away from Peter and towards the Argents….

As soon as he opens the front door, his dad startles, and his guilt crashes down on Stiles. Stiles decides to nip it in the bud.

"Dad," he says the moment he enters the kitchen. "What I said this morning –pretend I never said it. I know this is your job, and you know what you're doing, and –and I'm sorry for trying to guilt-trip you."

Confusion is the first thing his father feels, followed by suspicion, and Stiles scowls in response. His father never feels consoled when he should. "Why the change of heart?" his dad asks.

Wavering, Stiles fumbles with the tracker in his pocket. "I met Kate Argent in the library today. Well, more like she cornered me." Stiles opens his mouth to continue, but then something tugs at his sense. Peter, furious and fast approaching.

"'Cornered' you?" his father asks, but Stiles barely hears. There's a crazed alpha werewolf some two hundred feet away, and the last time he felt this wild, he was chasing Stiles down in the high school parking lot. "Stiles?"

Stiles shakes his head. Time to cut this short. He pulls out the tracking device and shows it to his father. "She knows I leave town a lot, but she doesn't know why." A thin line of fear runs through his father's mind as he takes it all in, his thoughts awhirl. He takes the device from Stiles and holds it up to examine in the light.

Peter reaches the back of the house, calming down a little, but not enough for Stiles to relax.

"What did you think of her?" his dad asks, turning the device over in his fingers.

"She was terrifying," Stiles says, bluntly. "She was—" Stiles tenses.

Peter just scaled the house. What the fuck.

His dad lowers his hand to his side, the device clutched in his fist. "Stiles?"

Stiles shakes his head. "Sorry. I –uh—it's the neighbors. They're fighting again."

Scowling, his dad mutters, "Of course they are." He raises his voice. "You were saying? About Kate?"

An explosion of rage from Peter sends Stiles stumbling back a step and clutching at his temples.

"Stiles!" His dad reaches for him in alarm, and Stiles barely manages to skitter away and avoid physical contact, making his dad's guilt flare up again. 

"Ugh, stop that," Stiles groans, flapping his hand at his dad. "I'm fine, Jesus. They're just—ugh." He leans in the kitchen doorway and shoves his hands in his pockets to hide the trembling.

His father's hands tighten into fists at his sides, anger growing. "I swear, one of these days I'm going to march right over there and—"

"And what? Tell them to keep it down? Yeah, that'll help." Aaand there's the guilt again. "Stop that! Jesus, it's not your fault."

His dad sighs, and the guilt ebbs only slightly. "Okay. Back to Kate." The ensuing flare of rage is smaller this time, barely noticeable from the usual base underlying Peter's consciousness. "What did you get off her?"

"I don't know how, but she knows there's something off about me, and she's not gonna let it go easily. She knows something about the attacks, too. She felt a lot like…" Stiles hesitates. This could definitely keep his dad from suspecting Peter right away, but it could also piss Peter himself off, and that wouldn't be good. "She felt like the animal I saw."

To Stiles's relief, Peter's interest peaks and slips into calculation, and his father nods slowly, his feelings solidifying into caution. "I want you to stay away from her," he says.

"Yeah, me, too," Stiles says.

His dad talks right over him. "And I want you to check in with me whenever you leave and arrive  somewhere."

Stiles blinks, brow furrowing. "You think it's that bad."

"People have died, Stiles. I don't wanna risk anything," is all he gets verbally, but the dread behind the words makes him swallow. His dad gestures with the tracking device and pockets it. "I'm taking this to the station now to see what we can learn from it."

"Are you sure? I could keep it at the house and bring it with me to school – make her think we don't know about it so she doesn't try anything else."

His dad cants his head to the side. "We might still try that, but first I want to find out exactly what it does. I haven't seen a tracking device of this make before." He strides past Stiles for the door and grabs his coat. "I might be gone for a while, and I know you might want to head out tonight, what with the neighbors and all, but for now I want you to stay here." He frowns, troubled. "Sorry, kiddo."

Stiles shrugs, trying to keep his cool despite Peter's impatience. "It's fine. I'll just take some pain killers and head to bed."

"Watch the dosage. You've been taking too many recently."

He shrugs again. "Okay, Dad," he sighs dutifully, and his dad gives the ceiling a long-suffering look before shutting the door behind him.

Stiles waits for his dad's car to disappear around the corner before he makes the terrifying walk up to his room, Peter's impatience only making Stiles's own trepidation worse. He turns the doorknob and pushes the door open so slowly the creak it makes must have come straight out of a horror movie. It's Peter's amusement that makes Stiles swing it open all the way.

Half-expecting Peter to yank him around and shove him up against a wall, Stiles lets out a breath when he sees Peter making himself at home in Stiles's desk chair, his legs out and crossed at the ankles and his arms folded over his stomach, his bright eyes fixed on Stiles. He looks casual enough with his coat draped over the chair behind him, but Stiles doesn't care about what he sees. Peter's on edge, ready to tear the world apart at the drop of a pin, so Stiles waits.

Peter's eyes travel over Stiles's body, analyzing and suspicious. "Did she hurt you?"

So that's the drop of a pin he's waiting for. Stiles swallows and shakes his head no, almost disturbed by Peter's concern.

"That's good," Peter says, more noncommittally than anything else. He holds Stiles's gaze for a long moment, and Stiles tries not to shift under the weight of it. At last, the werewolf sighs and relaxes, setting his arm on the desk and sitting back further into the chair.

"You're not planning to leave any time soon, are you?" Stiles asks, voice already revealing his acceptance.

The corner of Peter's lips twitches upwards. "Not particularly."

Stiles sighs. "Then gimme a minute." He walks into the bathroom and dry swallows a couple Ibuprofen, then wanders back and heads for the end of the bed. "So what's the occasion?"

"Have you or Scott seen Derek?"

Brow furrowing, Stiles shakes his head. "I haven't, but I don't know about Scott. I'll message him." He pulls out his phone and pulls up facebook. He'd use the computer, but Peter's in the way, and Stiles doesn't feel like doing the awkward tango with him.

"You two seem so close. I would've thought you'd know for sure."

Stiles shrugs. "I love Scott, but things have been so stressful recently—" he glares at Peter "I feel like my head's gonna explode, and a stressed out Scott only makes it worse."

Peter frowns. "Does he know?"

"None of your business," Stiles says without glancing up.

Peter snorts. "I'll take that as a no."

"What, are you a psychic now?" Stiles glances up. "Because that job's already taken."

"And what a fine job you're doing," Peter drawls. "What did you really think of Kate?"

Stiles tucks his phone away. "I wouldn't wanna meet her in a dark alley." He shrugs. "But then again, I wouldn't really wanna meet you in a dark alley, either."

"I'll have you know I'd make excellent company in a dark alley. What else?"

"She thought I might be a werewolf because of all the time I spend bonding with nature. She had this ring with wolfsbane in it that she touched me with—"

Peter's rage makes a comeback, along with a weird mix of possessiveness and protectiveness. "She touched you?" he snarls, darting out of the chair to lean over Stiles and planting his hands on both sides of Stiles's thighs.

Stiles cringes away and presses the heel of his hand to his head. "God, Jesus, calm down. My painkillers haven't even had a chance to kick in yet."

The mass of emotions dying down, Peter leans back a bit and curls a tender hand around the back of Stiles's neck before Stiles can shy away. "I'm… sorry," he says, not without effort.

Stiles's eyes droop as his headache drains away, finally letting him think clearly without wanting to dash his brains against the wall, and at first he thinks it's a pleasant side effect of the whole "fitting" thing he has with Peter, but that doesn't make sense. Neither Scott nor Stiles's father or mother ever had this effect on him. He forces his eyes open and sees Peter raising his eyebrows at him, waiting. There's a coolness at the back of his neck where Peter's hand rests, and Stiles cranes his neck to look at it. "What the fuck." Black, pulsing veins crawl up Peter's arm. Stiles thinks he might vomit if it stops feeling so good.

"See? I'm not a complete monster," Peter teases.

Stiles blinks and looks back at Peter. His eyes are their human blue, graced with tiny hints of crow's feet at the edges. Giant werewolf bear-lookalike or not, his frame is thinner than Stiles thinks it ought to be, probably starved from lack of exercise and years of whatever it was they fed him while he was in the coma. "Hey, are you hungry?" Stiles blurts out before he can think any better of it. Oops.

The moment Stiles brings it up, he can literally feel waves of hunger washing over him. It makes his own stomach ache for food.

Peter must be starving, but instead of admitting it, he narrows his eyes. "Not particularly."

Stiles huffs. "Uh huh. Well, I haven't eaten dinner yet, so we can talk downstairs."

Peter seems rather consternated by the change of direction, but he follows Stiles down to the kitchen, anyways.

"I don't know when my dad'll be home," Stiles says as he brings the water to be a boil, "so be ready to bolt out the backdoor the moment I tell you." Explaining to his father the grown man/missing coma patient hanging out with his teenage son might be a little awkward, Stiles imagines. "Or, I guess, if you hear him first. Huh." Werewolves. It's weird not to be the only one with heightened senses in the room, and their's are more useful, too. He grabs an orange for himself and tosses another to Peter.

"So are you gonna kill Kate, too?" Stiles asks, casual as can be as he leans back against the counter and peels his orange.

Before Peter can say anything, the desire for revenge sweeps over Stiles and makes him inhale sharply. "I'll take that as a yes," he breathes.

Peter frowns at him in annoyance.

"Hey," Stiles says, "don't look at me like that. You were the one who was so determined to 'get me'." He spreads his arms out. "Well, this is me."

"Trust me," Peter purrs. He eyes Stiles up and down and licks his lips. "I'm quite happy with my end of the deal."

"You're disgusting," Stiles tells him, flushing despite himself. He turns around to look at the pot of water and finds it simmering. That's close enough to a boil, he decides, and busies himself with the spaghetti. He's definitely not rushing the process along to avoid looking at Peter.

His efforts go to waste when want washes over him. He stiffens. "Stop that. It's creepy."

The want stops and turns to amusement. Always with the amusement.

"I've never met an empath before," Peter muses. "It sounds painful."

Stiles groans. "You have no idea."

"Do I hurt you often?"

Stiles takes care not to react as he stirs the pasta. "It's not so much that… that individuals 'hurt' me with their emotions. It – all of it, everyone together, it can be overwhelming."

"Sensory overload?"

Stiles hums in affirmation. "It just gives me headaches, is all."

"So you leave to escape. Have I made them worse, when I've found you?" Peter is more curious than concerned, and it makes Stiles leery of him. Stiles hates when people get curious about him.

"No," Stiles says carefully. "You've been – you're fine. It's only when I already have a headache and you lose your temper that you become a problem."

Peter settles against the counter besides Stiles and peers at him. "Do I help?"

And this is why Stiles hates curiosity. He stares down at the pasta and keeps stirring. "Well, you did with the whole—" he flaps his hand at Peter's arm, "—veiny, pain-sucking thing, so, yeah, I guess."

Peter crosses his arms. "I don't think that's the whole truth, Stiles."

Stiles stops stirring to scowl at him. "Well, yippee for you." He rolls his eyes and continues stirring.

"It's your heartbeat," Peter says.

Stiles scowls at him. "My what?"

Smirking, Peter says, "I know you're not telling the truth because of your heartbeat. It slows down whenever I'm close." His smirk grows into a toothy smile. "Usually. It spikes a lot when I'm around, too."

Stiles makes a face, unsure what to feel – confused, afraid, offended, disturbed, maybe even flattered? Who knows? "Oh, I forgot. You can hear heartbeats, too. That's not creepy at all." He looks away in thought, then turns back to Peter. "How do you live like that? Hearing the heartbeat of everyone around you?"

Peter shrugs. "I tune them out. They rarely ever matter to me. But you haven't answered my question yet. Do I help?"

Stiles leans away. "Why do you care so much?" All he's getting from Peter is a need to know, but he doesn't know what's behind it.

"I'll take that as a yes," Peter ventures.

"No," Stiles snaps. "No, you don't! There. You happy now?" Peter smiles, insufferably smug, and Stiles realizes his mistake a moment later. He glares at Peter. "Fine. You help. But you made it all worse in the first place, so don't think it means anything."

Peter looks back at him innocently. "I would never."

Stiles grimaces. "Oh, sure, okay." He turns down the burner, grabs the strainer and pot of pasta, and tries not to freak out internally as he dumps the pasta into the strainer. Peter's never going to leave him alone now, is he? Stiles just doomed himself to a life of boosting the ego of the town's resident monster-serial killer.

Peter stays silent as Stiles finishes making the spaghetti. "I like you a lot more when you're quiet," Stiles says as he sets a bowl in front of Peter.

"I get that a lot," Peter says. He pauses with his fork above the bowl and nods to himself. "Or 'used to' get that a lot, I suppose." He looks so nonchalant as he says it, but there's a dull pulse of loss and hopelessness in the back of his mind. Stiles can feel Peter shove it away.

They stay quiet until Stiles's dad turns onto the street and Peter disappears out the back door as promised, leaving Stiles with an empty bowl of spaghetti sauce to rush over to the sink and rinse out before his dad walks through the door.

The tracking device is a normal one made by an unknown manufacturer. There's no way to trace it back to the Argents yet. Scott facebooks back that he hasn't seen Derek. The dance is still, unfortunately, in two days. Things could be better, but they could also be worse. He'll take it.  

 

o—o—o

 

The next day, things get worse.

Peter, apparently, has a phone. Stiles knows this not because he's seen the phone, but because Peter texts him during school to ask if Scott had seen Derek. Stiles, apparently, has Peter's number. He assumes this happened sometime between the time Peter stole his phone at the hospital and the time Peter returned it in the middle of the night after Stiles rear-ended Melissa's car. Whatever the case, it's a little creepy.

Peter doesn't seem to care when Stiles informs of this, and instead decides that hey, you know what Stiles should do? He should look for Derek with his magical empathy skillset.

Stiles tells him that's not how it works, and the next thing he knows, Peter's parking in front of his house as soon as Stiles's dad leaves for work.

Stiles leans over the passenger's side door, arm resting on top of the car. "Did you bring candy? Because I only get in creepers' cars if they have candy."

Peter stares at him. "Get in."

Stiles rolls his eyes and gets in, and they start canvassing the town. "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope nope nope," Stiles says as they pass every single house. He can tell his walking, talking painkiller wants to strangle him, and it's actually kind of funny. He has this twitchy vein on the side of his forehead—

"Stiles, if you don't shut up, I'll break your pinkie."

Stiles shuts up and sits on his hands.

The trouble happens when Stiles has an awesome idea. "Hey, I've got an idea! Me and Scott think Derek might've taken Scott's phone when the Argents attacked'em. We can probably use the GPS on it to track him down."

So Peter opens his trunk, and—"Oh my god, that's a dead body."

They've been driving around the entire town with a dead body in their trunk, what the fuck.

"What were you thinking?" Stiles hisses. "What if we'd been pulled over!? And why would you kill your nurse!?"

"She set me loose every full moon," Peter says and slams the trunk closed.

"Oh." Well, Stiles can see how that might be a little traumatic. "But you still could have buried the body."

All he gets is a glare, so Stiles lets it go and finally, finally tracks Derek down. ("His username is Allison? His password is also Allison?")

Thirty minutes later, Stiles kind of hates his life. "Hey, you're the big bad wolf. So why don't you go down there and leave the puny human outside. Where it's safe."

"We're staying together," Peter says, tugging Stiles along by the neck into the sewers. ("They're not glorified sewers, Stiles. They're an underground network of tunnels." "Like I said, they're glorified sewers.")

What they find is lone hunter punching a barely conscious Derek in the face. Peter kills him in one quick slash of his claws.

It's not the first time Stiles has felt someone die. When the Hales burned, he spent three days lying in bed bawling his eyes out and vomiting. Each time a hospital patient died a floor below in the ER, Stiles had a panic attack. When his mother died, he dropped out of school for a month. It never gets easier, not even when the person dying is a hunter beating the living shit out of someone Stiles vaguely cares about.

With Derek's guilt and pain bearing down on him and the hunter's dying breath on his tongue, Stiles passes out right as the alarms go off.

 

o—o—o

 

"See? I knew he had something to do with them," Kate says some ten or so feet away.

Stiles wakes up to the smell of charred skin in his lungs and to the spiking adrenaline of Peter's rage. He keeps his eyes closed while he takes it all in. He's chained to thin metal beams by his wrists and ankles, and he thinks he's lost all the circulation in his fingers. Derek's to his right, Kate's in front of him with someone else Stiles vaguely recognizes, but Peter's nowhere in Stiles's usual range. He stretches his senses out and tries to distinguish Peter through the murmurs of the rest of the world, and to his surprise he picks out Peter right away by following the steel cold line of rage to its source. Peter's some two football fields away, more furious than ever. Just to make sure, Stiles locates Scott. He's somewhere in town, mildly concerned by something. Stiles turns his attention to his father, who's also in town, only instead of Scott's ignorant bliss, Stiles's father is panicking. Wonderful.

"He's human, Kate, and we don't know if he's hurt anyone—" says a man's voice –oh, Stiles recognizes that voice. That's Chris Argent. Which makes sense.

"There was a dead body in the trunk."

Fucking Peter.

"We still don't know that he did anything. We don't even know if Derek did anything." Derek, who is bathing in the guilt left to him by the Hale fire, and the shame born of… whatever it is that it was born of. Stiles hasn't figured that out yet.

"Have you not seen all the evidence, Chris? What more do you need?"

Stiles can work with this. He doesn't push any emotions on Chris –just… enforces the sympathy and righteousness already fighting Kate's words.

"You need to let them go," Chris says.

Kate tsks. "No can do. That boy's father is the sheriff, and we can't have him interfering."

"I thought you said he wasn't even awake when you found him. If he hasn't seen our faces—"

"He has," Kate says curtly. "And he's listening in on us right now."

And there goes half of Chris's good will. "Stiles?" he asks, and Stiles, after a moment, decides to open his eyes.

"Why am I chained to a wall—to pipes," he corrects, "and why is—" he squints at Derek, who glances at him with wide, ridiculously innocent eyes which shouldn't even make sense in his face "—that guy here?" He looks at Chris and Kate, wide-eyed. "And why are you here? Where are we? My wrists hurt. Let me down."

When the Argents blink up at him, he grins weakly. "Please?"

Kate turns to Chris. "See? That's not how an innocent person acts when they find themselves chained up in a basement." They're not in a basement. So maybe she doesn't know how involved he was.

"It's because of my ADHD," Stiles explains, and Chris squints, actually considering it.

"Do you know anything about werewolves, Stiles?" he asks, and it's such an obvious test, but Stiles doesn't know the answer.

So he plays dumb and squints at Chris like he's a lunatic. "You've chained me up to a wall, and you wanna talk about werewolves with me? Are you crazy? Get me down!"

Chris's eyes dart to Derek, and Stiles realizes his mistake was in lying with that guy right next to him. Chris sighs in disappointment and stares at the floor for a long moment. His resolve keeps coming up strong, but every time it does, Stiles unravels it. It's a dangerous game he's playing, one he stops as soon as Chris starts getting confused.

Chris shakes his head, frowning, and Kate watches him suspiciously. "I need time to think," Chris says.

"Whatever you need, Chris. I'll just—"

"Don't even think about it, Kate. You're coming up with me."

And that's the end of that, or so Stiles hopes.

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles wakes up to Allison's warm, brown eyes. "Stiles?" she whispers.

Stiles coughs. "Hey, Allison? You wanna let me down?"

"No, she doesn't," Kate says sadly, and Stiles blinks the blurriness out of his eyes and sees Kate standing behind Allison, a hand on her shoulder. "We wanna know why you're hanging around werewolves?"

"Because you hung me here next to one," Stiles snaps.

Kate frowns, and Stiles realizes that was a very bad thing to say.

 

o—o—o

 

Allison almost runs twice before Stiles gets enough resolve and sympathy in her to make her stay. Kate keeps zapping him with small doses of "human-appropriate" electricity to make him speak, and he's run out of witty comebacks. "I guessed on my own," Stiles gasps finally. "I had access to all the evidence because of my dad, and when I did my own research, tracked the phases of the moon, it started to make sense. I'm only here because I was looking for Derek and met Peter on the way. I was as surprised by the body in the trunk as you were, too."

"I think he's telling the truth," says Allison, bless her terrified, conflicted heart.

Kate watches skeptically as tears stream down Stiles's face and aftershocks shake his body. "Allison, you're adorable and I love you," she says, and God help Stiles, but she really means it. "But I don't think you really understand the magnitude of what's going on here. I think it's time to show you the alpha."

This could be bad.

Before Allison leaves, Stiles pushes the last bit of sympathy and heartache into her that he can, and he prays it's enough.

 

o—o—o

 

While Peter's writhing in pain, Allison returns alone. "I'm so sorry," she whispers as she unchains Stiles. There are tears on her own face now. "I'm so, so sorry." The feelings are her own. Stiles didn't make these.

"It's okay," Stiles tells her as he collapses to his hands and knees. Unfortunately this only seems to alarm her more. "Just help him down fast."

More alarm. "But he's a--!"

"Yeah, and he hasn't done anything wrong!" Stiles groans. He pushes himself to his feet with the help of the wall. "He doesn't deserve this."

Despair clenches around Derek's heart, and Stiles is tempted to leave him here to die just so he'll shut the fuck up. Then again, with all that angst, Derek's the type to turn into a ghost when he dies, isn't he?

Stiles's thoughts are running away from him. He really does have ADHD, and he has a feeling more than a day has passed since his last dose of Adderall.

"Allison, please!" he says, pushing down her doubt and coaxing out her altruism.

She nods slowly, the muscle of her jaw jumping. "Okay," she says, and she gets Derek down. Derek has ever even less strength than Stiles at this point, and Stiles beefs up the caring in Allison again and tones down the horror of holding up a recently tortured stranger who Allison's been taught to think of as a killer.

"Help him out," Stiles says, pointing towards where he really hopes the exit is. "I'll be right behind you."

"But Stiles—"

"Go!" Stiles urges, pushing up her fear and anxiety.

She swallows. "Okay. Be careful." She leaves with Derek, and Stiles picks up the giant wrench Kate had been using to beat up Derek.

He focuses on Peter's rage and pain and follows it down deeper into the tunnels.

 

o—o—o

 

When he finds them Kate's cutting Peter's fingers off. "Who's the next one?" she asks, and Stiles takes a moment to flood her with fear. She freezes and turns to face Stiles. "You--?" she says, starting to rally and become angry, but Stiles snatches it away. He steps up to her side and looks up at Peter, chained with god knows what type of metal and wrapped in wolfsbane rope. He cuts through the wolfsbane rope first and starts tugging it off, only to stop when Kate snarls, "What are you doing?" and tries to pull him off with shaking hands.

Before she can pull him away, Stiles shifts all the fear into helplessness. It's an easy feeling to recall, having recently been chained to a wall of pipes. Kate freezes and trembles, confused, and Stiles pulls and cuts off the rest of the wolfsbane, making Peter groan. He opens his eyes and smiles when he sees Stiles. "Knew you were a good deal."

Stiles snorts and looks around for the keys to Peter's shackles.

Kate starts to build up some resolve, her mind awhirl with thought, but Stiles shuts that down quickly enough, overwhelming her with that blank void that's so awful it drives Stiles out to the ocean at its worst. She stumbles and hits the wall.

"Where are the keys?" Stiles asks her, and all she does is shrug.

He raises the fear in her again, and she swallows and points behind him at a table pushed up against the wall.

He turns toward it and feels the last trickles of her resolve twist around her fear a moment too late. She lunges at him and he turns around and brings his arm up just in time to avoid a knife to his spine. She stabs again, and he's too slow to respond quickly enough, too worn out by hours of torture and hanging by his wrists. She shakes as she wedges the blade between his ribs before he even registers the impact, and Stiles realizes his mistake too late. He shouldn't have relied on fear so much. It was like backing a predator into a corner – they always lash out.

He stumbles backwards and cries out when he hits the corner of the table. Kate rallies herself, her real emotions coming back to her, and Stiles knows he's going to die.

She stalks towards him and rips the blade out of his ribcage, and blood pours out of Stiles's side. "Oh," he says dumbly, and she glares down at him, bloodthirsty and pissed.

Rage at an all new high, Peter snarls and transforms, shattering his shackles. He roars and crashes down onto Kate, shaking Stiles so much that he falls sideways onto the floor, the world disappearing in a blur of movement and a dull thud.

 

o—o—o

 

He wakes up in the hospital and cringes automatically, but it doesn't hurt as much as it usually does. Peter's here.

Stiles opens his eyes and sees him sitting in one of the cheap plastic chairs beside his bed, near Stiles's head. "Yo."

Peter glares at him, eyes flashing red in the darkness for a moment. "'Yo', really?"

Stiles yawns, exhausted despite having just woken up. He finds his dad and Scott, sleeping in town, probably in their own beds, or the office if Stiles's dad is feeling particularly stressed, which he probably is. "How long have you been there?" Stiles asks, casting shade on Peter.

Peter flicks his eyes up to the ceiling, then back down. "I just sat down."

"Oh," Stiles says, yawning again.

Peter smiles. "You should go back to sleep."

"With the mysteriously missing coma patient watching me? No thanks."

"I've been found."

Stiles sits up on his elbows. "No shit."

"Captured and tortured by a crazy mass murderer in an underground system of tunnels—"

"Glorified sewers."

"—tunnels, but I have indeed been found. I'm a free man, Stiles."

"Are you?" Stiles asks. That rage he'd been getting to know so well is still there, a little, but a lot of it's turned into a wandering sort of confusion, loss an aching wound buried and hidden beneath it all. "Was Kate your last?"

Peter nods slowly, almost sadly.

"What will you do now?"

Peter shrugs and says, "I was thinking of killing the rest of the Argents."

"No!" Stiles bolts upright, which is a shame, given the IV embedded in his arm. "Ow, shit," he hisses.

Peter clucks and takes his arm, taking the pain away with those familiar black veins. He's a lot calmer than he was before, but the confusion's a little jarring. He had been so… so goal-oriented before.

"It's not that bad," Stiles grouses.

Peter ignores him. "I suppose, if this is your reaction, I can hold off on killing them for a little while longer."

"And by little while longer, you mean forever, right? Right."

Peter places Stiles's arm back on the bed. "You might change your mind once you meet more of them, but I suppose we'll have to wait and see."

"Fine, I guess," Stiles says reluctantly, laying back down and looking up at the ceiling. "D'you see Scott and my dad? Any idea how they are? Are they okay?"

"A lot's happened while you were asleep, but they're fine."

Stiles turns to face Peter, alarmed. "How long have I been out?"

He can tell Peter wants to make a joke, but for some reason, Peter holds it back. "A day and a half," he says honestly.

Stiles groans. "I've missed the school dance, haven't I?"

Peter nods. "Yes, but I'm sure Miss –Martin, was it?—forgives you. You are, after all, the town's newest hero."

"You're kidding me. Did you pin this all on me?" Stiles shakes his head, biting back a yawn.

Peter touches a hand to his chest. "I would never. Now, if the press were to make a few assumptions, who would I be to argue with them? I'd recently been tortured out of a coma. I wasn't in my right mind to give a decent rendition of the story."

"'of the story'? What the hell?"

Peter rolls his eyes. "It's really not that big a deal. I'll bring you a newspaper in the morning if it makes you feel better."

"In the—how long am I supposed to be here for?"

Peter shrugs. "A couple weeks, I hear, give or take a few days depending on how the two stab wounds heal."

Stiles swallows and looks away. "And how long are you gonna be here for?"

"As long as it takes you to heal." Peter's words shouldn't make Stiles happy, but somehow they do. "Although I'll probably have to leave sometimes to avoid you father and friends. And to eat. And to have some alone time. I don't know if you've noticed, but I don’t usually get along well with others."

"Yeah." A grin tugs at Stiles's lips, his eyelids fluttering shut. He forces them open again. "I noticed." He yawns. He tries to keep his eyes open, he really does, but he's so fucking exhausted, and it's so easy to fall asleep with Peter nearby to block out the rest of the hospital.

"Good night, Stiles," Peter murmurs, settling back into his chair, the ebb and flow of his thoughts picking up as he begins to pick apart the confusion left behind.

Despite some incoherent grumbling, Stiles promptly falls asleep. It's the best, most restful sleep he's had in months.