Stiles avoids Peter like the plague. At pack meetings, he sits as far away as possible. If Peter’s in the kitchen, Stiles stays out. If Peter enters the kitchen when Stiles is already there, Stiles leaves, giving Peter a wide berth. He makes sure always to leave Derek’s apartment at the same time as someone else so he won’t be caught alone with Peter. He lines his room with mountain ash (but not his house because you never know when your werewolf buddies will have to charge in and save you from a nonsupernatural monster.) And he even begins buying Niyati’s food and then eating it in the breakroom at work just in case Peter shows up there again during Stiles’ lunch hour.
And he’s totally fine.
He almost gets killed by the redcap Scott refused to kill? Totally fine. He researches and strategizes hours into the night until he collapses from dehydration? Great! Gets shunted to the side because Scott’s cuddling Allison? Fantastic! Makes his father dinner only for him to never show up? Awesome, more food for Stiles! Has nightmares every night? Really, who needs sleep anyway?
There aren’t enough places to sit in Derek’s apartment for all of them, so the apartment accumulates a floor of pillows and blankets between the couch, the loveseat, and armchairs. Erica usually sits on the three-person couch between Boyd and Isaac, so as much as Stiles would like to sit at her side, it’s not usually an option, and he doesn’t feel like squishing himself beside Boyd or Isaac and the arms of the couch. They might kill him. Allison and Lydia take the loveseat, and the only person who seems at home making space with them is, on occasion, Jackson. But usually, it’s Scott, Stiles, and Jackson who make themselves comfortable on the ground. Sometimes Scott and Stiles sit side by side and their shoulders and legs brush. It’s… nice, but it isn’t enough.
One day, Jackson, sitting on the loveseat, reaches for his flask of wolfsbane-spiked whiskey on the coffee table. His forearm slides over Stiles’ shoulder, and Stiles’ can feel the closeness of his body behind him. It makes Stiles’ breath stop.
And then Jackson grabs the flask and leans back out of Stiles’ space, arm not touching Stiles as he pulls it back, and Stiles exhales carefully, body taut and agitated like a plucked string. He looks around, looks anywhere but Peter, and most everyone’s attention is on Isaac and Lydia’s not-fight about the pretentiousness of Isaac’s favorite French “film auteur” — Boyd, Erica, and Derek watch Isaac and Lydia raptly; Scott and Allison make moon-eyes at each other; and Jackson seems to be trying to drink himself to death.
Stiles finally lets his gaze flick to the last person in the room.
Peter’s eyes are already on his.
School starts, and it’s… overwhelming. Students have always crowded the hallways of Beacon Hills —Stiles spent his freshman year learning how to slip and shove his way through them— but this year’s different. To combat the (perhaps somewhat supernatural) “disorderliness” of the last school year, the administrators’ have shortened the six minute passing period to four minutes. This means everyone’s in a rush to get to their classes. Stiles gets bumped, pushed, hair whipped in his face, a couple elbows, and in one memorable instance, he gets trapped in a veritable throng of students with everything but his ankles, neck and face plastered against someone else.
It’s awful. He doesn’t know these kids (at least not that well). He certainly doesn’t trust them. The whole time he’s trapped all he wants is to get away.
He spends the rest of the day a twitchy mess until Jackson tackles him to the ground during lacrosse practice. Jackson’s heavy and solid on top of Stiles as he hisses, “God, Stilinski, what’s your problem?” for what must be the thousandth time in his life, and Stiles shoves Jackson off him with a grumble and a scowl.
He feels better after that, and that’s… really probably not good.
The weeks wear on, and Stiles dreams. He pinches the ventilator tube shut, but Claudia doesn’t die. The nurses arrive in time and pull him away from the bed, but before they can Claudia yanks the mask of the ventilator off her face and grabs his arm. She drags him close and says, “You little snot—”
And Stiles is a chubby pipsqueak of a five-year-old again being hauled away from the playground, sobbing, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry—” and Claudia’s snapping, her fingernails digging into his forearm, “Stop whining!”
Sometimes she turns into Gerard, occasionally even Harris. Those nightmares are easier.
On one notable occasion, Stiles dreams about Matt and the Kanima in the police station. Matt points his gun at the Sheriff. He gives his little speech about drowning, and as he speaks he shifts into Stiles’ mother.
And Claudia pulls the trigger.
Witches witches witches, witches are a thing and Stiles wants to sing. Thing and sing rhyme. Thing. Sing. Ring. Swing. King. Ding! Zing. Ting. Ping. Wing. Bing…. Bing. What a sad little search engine. The little search engine that could. Except it couldn’t—
“For fuck’s sake, Barry, gag him already,” Chad the Fratty Witch says.
Stiles never expected witches to look like frat boys, but before he can express this, Barry the Beefy stuffs a dirty rag in his mouth. It tastes so nasty Stiles is pretty sure it’s the towel Barry uses to wipe the sweat off his armpits every time he benchpresses two hundred pounds. Stiles gags on it, but he doesn’t really care. Everything’s so… floaty. But also cold.
There’s something Stiles has to tell Scott.
They knew there was a witch in town trying to siphon the life out of everyone, but they hadn’t thought there was more than one. Stiles had only figured it out at the last moment, and by then it was too late.
He strains against the zipties around his wrists. He knows, theoretically, how to get out of these. If he concentrates—
Something hot and liquid plops onto his chest, and Stiles forces himself to tilt his head up and look. Oh, blood, he thinks, and he should probably be concerned about that.
“Watch him,” Chad says, and Barry pushes Stiles’ head back down onto the workbench, his hands warm on Stiles’ temples. Stiles doesn’t think he’ll join a frat when he’s in college. God, college. Which ones should he visit? Will any accept him? What if he gets rejected from every single college he applies to? What if they reject him because the supernatural monsters stop him from taking the SAT and ACT every time he’s signed up for one? What if he dies before the testing dates? Can he take them post-mortem?
Stiles can no longer see Chad, but he can feel him: two gentle fingers gliding through the blood, spreading it over Stiles’ torso in sweeping arcs and curves. It’s mesmerizing. Stiles thinks he would lie here forever under this treatment if he could.
An ear-piercing alarm goes off, loud and bright. Its spinning red lights flash in Stiles’ eyes. It hurts.
“Shit, hold’em off!” Chad says, and Barry goes running off. Chad fingerpaints Stiles faster now, pressing harder into Stiles’ skin, and something’s sucking the heat out of the room because it feels like a freezer and Stiles is getting cold, cold, cold.
He can’t feel his toes anymore.
That’s not how frostbite works.
Stiles twists his hands around hard now. He might dislocate his thumb, but he’s so cold it wouldn’t matter.
“I’ll take a hammer to your wrists if you don’t quit squirming,” Chad snaps.
“Oh, but his squirming’s so cute,” says Peter’s voice from right behind Chad.
“What—?” Chad’s saying, but Peter’s already slipped out of the shadows and sliced his throat open before he can finish.
As Chad’s body thuds to the floor, Stiles stares at Peter, wide-eyed. “Whoa,” he says, and in answer, Peter rests his hands on the top of the workbench besides Stiles’ side, smirking. “I’m so glad you’re on our side,” says Stiles.
Peter draws his finger over the ziptie on Stiles’ closest wrist, smirk falling from his face. “Are you?” he murmurs.
Stiles squints at him. Is Peter getting hard of hearing? “Yeah,” Stiles says emphatically.
Peter grins down at him. “You’re high,” he says, shaking his head like he’s heard the best bad joke in his life. He slices a claw through the ziptie on Stiles’ wrist, then moves onto the next one.
“I’m cold,” Stiles corrects.
Peter slices through the zipties on Stiles’ ankles next, humming in consideration. “It’s probably the blood loss and lack of circulation.” He stands up straight and holds his hand out for Stiles. “Eat a decent meal, have a good night’s sleep, and you’ll be fine.”
Stiles uses Peter’s hand to haul himself off the workbench. The world spins and wobbles, and like a deer taking its first steps, Stiles falls into Peter. Instead of righting himself, though, he stays put, one hand on Peter’s arm, the other hand clenched in Peter’s dumb v-neck, and his forehead pressed against Peter’s shoulder. He sighs. Peter’s warm.
“Stiles?” Peter asks, voice tinged with amusement.
“Just let me—” Stiles readjusts himself, pushing his face into Peter’s throat and pulling them close. He sighs in contentment and closes his eyes.
“Let you what?”
Stiles presses closer. “Smush.”
Peter snorts and wraps his arms around Stiles, and Stiles snuffles closer. “What on Earth did they give you?” Peter asks.
“Spell,” Stiles mumbles.
“Ya’gotta tell Scott,” Stiles mumbles, sluggish, eyes slipping shut.
“Tell’im it’s a setup. S’a trap.”
A hand threads itself through his hair, making him sag further into Peter. “Scott got your message, Stiles. He and the pack are taking care of the trap right now.”
A huff of air hits the back of Stiles’ neck. “Well, we can’t all be fighters. Someone’s got to rescue you, after all.”
Another huff of air, and Peter tugs at him. “Come on. Let’s get you out of here.”
He doesn’t remember getting home. He does remember being tucked into bed. It’s… disturbing. It’s nice.
Maybe it was the spell; maybe it was the whole… touch-neediness thing that followed, but whatever the case, it’s enough to make Stiles realize that this problem of his will not be solved by ignoring it or by clinging to the minor affections he receives from his friends.
But he can’t actually say what he wants aloud. That would just be… humiliating. And what if Peter says no?
The fact that he’s even considering doing this is humiliating. But for all he talks about ignoring the problem until it goes away, he’s never actually been one to hesitate when he knows he needs to take action, so he takes action. A tiny bit of action.
Come winter break, he stops avoiding the cafe, and sure enough, Peter finds him there his second day going, which means Stiles might actually be being stalked, and at the moment, he doesn’t particularly mind. If that doesn’t spell out I-S-S-U-E-S then surely nothing else does.
“Hi, Peter,” he says, cool as a cucumber while his heart tap dances a harmony against his ribcage. His eyes can’t decide whether to stare at Peter or not look at him at all, so he blinks at the chocolate tart in Peter’s hand and says, “Do you ever actually eat lunch?”
Peter takes a seat across from him. “Niyati might have cornered the Beacon Hills coffee market, but believe it or not, other food venues do exist.”
Stiles gives him a look. “Yeah, but Niyati’s food is the best.”
“Only if you exist on an all-breakfast diet.”
“Don’t diss breakfast. Breakfast is great.”
Peter nods in acknowledgement, then adds with a sly twist to his mouth, “It’s also cheap.”
Stiles narrows his eyes at him. “That is a low blow.”
Leaning in, Peter says, “Let me make it up to you. Over dinner.”
Stiles runs his hands through his hair. This, whatever this is, or whatever Peter’s trying to turn this into, is not what Stiles is looking for, and he just feels so tired all of a sudden. He takes a moment to gather himself, which makes Peter’s brow furrow, which is… weirdly attractive... in an objective sort of way.
(Stiles is fucked.)
“Look,” Stiles says. “Give me a decade, okay, before you...?” He gestures a Peter vaguely. “Or maybe even five years, who knows. Just, not now, okay?” He doesn’t even know why he’s saying this. He should “just say no”, like Peter’s a drug or something. And it’s not like Peter will listen—
“Okay,” Peter says.
Stiles blinks, jaw dropping. “What?”
“Okay,” Peter says again, lips quirking. “I’ll wait.” He tips his head to the side in contemplation. “Sort of. I’ll keep my options open, but we can always be friends.” He smiles with his teeth a little too sharp, and Stiles blinks again.
Did he just friendzone Peter? Or, did Peter just friendzone him?
Stiles holds a finger up. “To be absolutely clear, I make no promises.”
“I want you on my side, Stiles,” says Peter, taking out his book. “One way... or another.” He flips to his bookmark, a blackened, silver, flat rod hooked over the spine.
Stiles isn’t sure if that was a concession or a threat. Since it’s Peter, it was probably both.
Stiles scrutinizes Peter as he reads. He seems comfortable, his demeanor quiet and sincere. “I’ll always be on Scott’s side,” Stiles murmurs. “You can’t change that.”
“I don’t intend to,” Peter says without looking up.
“I can’t even do that much.”
“You can. And soon enough you’ll be able to do even more.”
Stiles stuffs a piece of crepe in his mouth and chews angrily. “What does that even mean?” he asks, words muffled by his food. If Peter wants him so bad, he better be aware of what he’s getting.
Peter glances up. “Whatever challenge next presents itself, you’ll figure out how to get us out of it. That’s what you do.”
Stiles sighs angrily and jabs his fork towards Peter. “You know, Deaton’s supposed to be the cryptic one, not you.”
With a grin, Peter says, “Oh, but it’s so much fun to rile you up.”
Stiles scowls. “Ten years, remember? No teasing.”
Peter gives him a look. “Teasing is in my nature, Stiles.”
“Murder’s in your nature,” Stiles hisses, more for show than out of any real sense of anger. “That doesn’t give you a free pass.”
Peter smirks. “It does if no one finds out.”
Stiles groans in dismay and shoves another bite of food in his mouth. “...I totally should have seen that coming.”
Peter nods without looking up. “You should’ve.”
Niyati gives them the stink-eye —perhaps Stiles should have been a little quieter about the murder— and they lapse into silence, Peter apparently enthralled by his book and Stiles content to people-watch. Stiles’ bones seem to strengthen, and he sinks more deeply into his seat. Typical indie coffee shop music plays, and before Stiles knows it, his lunch hour’s nearly over.
He gets up slowly, readying himself. “I gotta get back to work,” he says, stuffing his phone into his pocket.
Peter glances up at him. “See you soon, Stiles,” he murmurs, and God save Stiles if that doesn’t come off somewhat ominous, but hey, it’s Peter.
Stiles snorts, takes a fortifying breath, and passes Peter, brushing against Peter’s side and curling his hand over Peter’s shoulder for a split second before carrying on his merry way. “Yeah, see ya later, Peter,” he says, a wry tilt to his mouth and his heart racing.
He’s too afraid to look back.
It was one little touch, and Stiles doesn’t think he’ll be brave enough to do it again.
Hopefully Peter’s freakish observation of Stiles will catch this, too.
The next day, Stiles returns to Niyati’s. This time, instead of sitting in his usual corner with his back to the wall, he sits in the opposite chair, with his back to the door. It’s unnerving, not being able to see the entrance. He looks over his shoulder every time the bell over the door rings, and each time it sets him a little more on edge, but at last his effort pays off.
Peter walks in, smiles when he sees Stiles (as if he’s actually surprised to see Stiles there, what a joke), and Stiles quirks a pale smile back before burying himself in a puzzle app on his phone. He doesn’t actually pay attention to the puzzle. Instead, he listens as Peter orders his usual, listens as Peter’s footsteps near, listens as Peter says, “Stiles.”
And finally, Peter closes a hand over the back of Stiles’ neck, and Stiles releases a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. Peter’s hand is as large and warm as ever on Stiles’ skin, and while Stiles has felt it curled over the nape of his neck before, the warmth flooding down his spine feels just as blissful as ever, too, if not more so because of his anticipation. For a moment, his world goes quiet, and when Peter slips his hand away not a second later, he leaves a tremulous memory burned into Stiles’ skin.
He sits across from Stiles, and it’s all Stiles can do to focus on him and his knowing, self-satisfied gaze. Stiles can’t even bring himself to feel annoyed by Peter’s smugness.
And it keeps working. A week passes, five weekdays of Peter squeezing his neck or his shoulder at the cafe and two days which Stiles spends feeling oversensitized and wanting. The nightmares don’t abate, but it’s easier to get through them now that Stiles has something to fill the empty space they leave behind.
Another week passes of the same, and Stiles starts to expect Peter’s touch rather than fear Peter will suddenly stop. He doesn’t feel so uncomfortable sitting with his back to Niyati’s front door, because Peter’s sitting opposite him watching it for him.
They have a pack meeting, and when Stiles follows Peter alone into the kitchen, ostensibly for a glass of water, Peter smiles and tugs him in and tips his face into Stiles’ neck and Stiles does the same and breathes him in, and it’s, it’s only for a second, but it makes Stiles’ whole day feel a little more complete.
Another week, and Stiles starts to want more.
And that is… troubling. Because while all these little touches are questionable at best, they’re still socially acceptable and easy to get away with; they’re still easy for Stiles to pass off as nothing.
And he… he can’t bring himself to ask for more. He’s already proven himself this needy and weak, and to show exactly how starved he is for affection —it would be pathetic, and Peter might expect something more from him in exchange, or worse, not give it at all.
So Stiles stays quiet. What he gets from Peter is more than he’s gotten since Scott turned into a werewolf, and he should be grateful for it. He is grateful for it.
It’s not enough, but it’s all he has.
So even when winter break ends and Stiles goes back to working only weekends and the occasional evening again, thus spending fewer breaks at Niyati’s, and the touches remain the same but fewer and far between, he takes what he can get.
“Stiles, no!” yells Scott, and with a shout of frustration and anger Stiles drives the spiked head of the mace into the Sphinx’s skull. For a moment the world holds its breath — and Scott says in dismay, “Stiles—”
Stiles snaps. “Do you hear yourself? Do you hear the words that come out of your mouth?” He rips the mace out of the Sphinx’s bludgeoned face and whirls on Scott. “Do you understand how many people have died because we let her run around after your first redemption speech?”
Scott struggles against his chains, and Allison and the other werewolves (minus Peter, Stiles’ wayward partner in crime) watch him awkwardly. “That doesn’t mean we should be as bad as her. We have to be better.”
“Better!? Oh my god—” Stiles swings the mace down onto the Sphinx’s fallen body, unflinching as blood spatters across his face. “‘Better’ was going to kill you.”
“No, you wouldn’t. Why? Because you couldn’t answer her damn riddle. You know who could? Lydia. Oh, wait, that’s right, it put her in the hospital. So you know who else could and did answer her riddle? Me. But no, you left me behind because you thought I was fucking useless—”
“We didn’t want you to get hurt—” Derek butts in.
“Oh, shut up,” Stiles snaps at him. Ever since Scott forced Derek to bite Gerard, Derek’s been kissing his ass, and that is just — Stiles does not have time for that shit. “I’m not useless, Scott. I answered her riddle. I found the only thing that could kill her, and I drove halfway across the country just to get the right welder to fix it, and I dipped it in a stupid enchanted pond in a secret cave hellbent on killing me, and then I saved you. I saved all of you. I’m not helpless—”
“You killed her, though. That’s not saving anyone.” Scott looks so desperately earnest and sad, and Stiles’ hand clenches around the bat.
“She killed thirty-two people in the last five years. Thirty-two!”
The Sphinx’s paw twitches, and Stiles spins around and clubs its ribcage with a resounding crack barely muffled by its lion fur, and Stiles is done, done, so done. He swings and swings until Scott’s voice fades away and his muscles burn, and it’s not enough. He can’t stop—
“Stiles,” comes Peter’s voice from behind him, and a familiar hand curls around his neck and squeezes. Stiles sags, the mace falling to his side. His breath shudders; his hands shake. Peter doesn’t let go. “I found the rest of the bodies.”
Stiles closes his eyes.
“You can deal with those,” Peter says, voice aimed away, towards the group, and Stiles turns just in time to see Peter haphazardly toss the key to their chains over to them. It falls on the floor short of any waiting hands, but in a feat worthy of a professional acrobat, Allison manages to nudge it up with her foot and flip it up into her waiting hand. Stiles might under other circumstances find this amusing, but now he doesn’t care. Allison, someone who should, perhaps, understand the most out of all of them, avoids his gaze.
“Let’s get you home,” Peter says, nudging Stiles forward. Stiles goes more than willingly.
“Stiles,” Derek says, but Peter silences him with a glower.
Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles notices Scott watching with his jaw agape, but he can’t bring himself to look.
Once they’re in the Jeep, Stiles having handed his keys over to Peter, Stiles stares at his quivering hands, dotted with blood, and says, “I can’t go home.” Peter makes an inquisitive sound, so Stiles explains, “My dad might actually be back tonight, and I can’t—” he gestures vaguely at himself, drained and bloody, “—not like this.”
Peter hums. “You can clean up at my place,” he says too casually, and Stiles’ gaze snaps to him. Peter, of course, smirks. “I promise to keep my every action wholesome and respectable.”
Stiles heaves a heavy sigh and rolls his eyes.
It’s answer enough.
One tenant, a bleary-eyed woman in multicolored polkadot pajamas carrying a basket of laundry, stops and stares at Stiles as they step out of the elevator on Peter’s floor.
“Theater,” Peter explains with a charmingly chagrined smile, and the woman nods like that makes perfect sense, or like it’s past her bedtime and she’d rather sleep than deal with a possible violent offender…. Stiles might be projecting.
Peter guides Stiles into his corner apartment, hand shifting to Stiles’ side as he closes the front door behind them. Ever since they got out of the car, Peter hasn’t stopped touching him. It’s the only thing that’s kept him from falling against the nearest flat surface and sinking to the ground.
Peter’s apartment is not the complete opposite of Derek’s industrial loft, but it’s still different. It’s clean-cut with light wooden floors, taupe walls, and bay windows plus a sliding glass door opening out onto the corner balcony. There’s a sleek black marble and silver kitchen partially visible through an open doorway on Stiles’ right, and a living and dining space in front of them. It’s open and bright without feeling hospital-sterile, and there’s a warm feeling to it; it’s not exactly cozy, but it’s safe.
(It doesn’t appear very flammable.)
Peter steers Stiles around the corner opposite the kitchen, which leads to a bathroom flanked by two bedrooms. Peter opens the bathroom door and holds it open without entering. “Take a shower. The towels are under the sink, and I’ll get you something to change into.”
Stiles resists scratching the dry blood off his itching skin. “I have spare clothes in the back of the Jeep.”
Peter nods. “I’ll get them.” He looks Stiles up and down. “Any requests for dinner?”
Stiles swallows and looks at the floor. “I’m not hungry,” he says.
Peter’s hand clamps down on his side. “You’ve barely eaten since Lydia trapped the Sphinx, and now that I think about it, you haven’t drunk anything except a soda, either.”
Stiles wants to wash off the blood, but he doesn’t want Peter to stop touching him either. “Then I’ll have a glass of water,” he says.”
“Did you know, between two to three days after you’ve stopped eating, your body undergoes a process called ketosis to turn excess fat into energy?” Peter’s grip tightens to the point of pain. “You don’t have any excess fat, Stiles. Your body’s burning muscle, and that’s the last thing you need.” His grip loosens, and his voice softens. “You need to eat.”
The thought of food makes Stiles’ stomach churn, but Peter doesn’t seem like he’ll be deterred. “Okay,” says Stiles. “I don’t care what it is. Just make whatever.” It’ll all taste the same anyway, like ash in his mouth.
“Okay,” Peter says. In a moment too short for Stiles to comprehend all at once, Peter nuzzles Stiles behind the ear, squeezes his shoulder, and walks away. The front door clicks shut behind him, and it takes a second after for Stiles to get his bearings, his head fuzzy. Peter’s never nuzzled him before, and Stiles is afraid to consider the implications of that. It makes his head tingle, though.
Take a shower, Peter had said, so Stiles steps into the bathroom.
Hot showers ground him. The water’s sensual and encompassing, and it lets Stiles simply be. It keeps him present while holding his thoughts at bay, its steady sound soothing and hypnotic.
Time usually passes loosely when he showers, but today he ends his early. It’s different being in Peter’s apartment, being in Peter’s bathroom. The room’s crisp, clean, and altogether fancier than the Stilinskis’, with the werewolf’s expensive hair products and body washes a constant reminder that Stiles is out of place and that today is not a normal day.
The shower sluices the blood off him, the last traces of it almost pink as it slips down the drain in streaks. As soon as the water runs clear, he shuts the shower off without a thought.
There’s a knock on the door, and Stiles realizes he’s been standing there in the silence long enough to start shivering, which, now that he’s paying attention, needs to stop. “Coming,” he mumbles, grateful he doesn’t have to raise his voice for human ears. He finds a fluffy black towel under the sink and wraps it around his waist before opening the door halfway. He feels like an old wound with its stitches torn. He feels like he might split apart and crumble into dust if someone doesn’t hold him together.
How that someone turned into Peter, Stiles wishes he didn’t know. (Life would be so much easier if he wasn’t so fucked up.)
Peter hands him his clothes and looks him up and down in a more concerned than lascivious way, thankfully. “There’s a heater if you want.” He flips a switch, and the heat fan in the ceiling whirs to life. He and Stiles eye each other for a moment, Stiles taking in Peter’s at-home appearance (barefoot Peter — weird), Peter taking in whatever it is he’s taking in about Stiles (probably nothing flattering), and Stiles wonders what the hell he’s doing.
And for once in a long time, he admits it. His voice comes out rough and lilting with vulnerability. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Peter considers him for a moment, and Stiles’ breath grows shallow. His skin prickles, oversensitized from the new heat. “You’re letting me take care of you,” Peter says carefully, and then he adds, even more carefully, like he doesn’t want to say it, “Aren’t you?”
He’s giving Stiles a way out.
Stiles looks down, acutely aware of the foot of space between their bodies. Within the silence there lies something heavy between them, something terrifying and soft. His body feels hot. He should say no. He should say no and walk away and never look back.
But he wants to say yes.
He considers. If he says no, Peter will close the door. Stiles will change into his fresh clothes. He’ll mumble a thanks when Peter gives him back his keys and he’ll walk out the front door, down the stairs and out to his Jeep. He’ll sit there in the driver’s seat for fifteen minutes or maybe an hour while the world blurs by him, and then he’ll go home. He’ll curl up in bed alone with his thoughts until he falls asleep out of exhaustion, and he’ll wake up in the early hours of the morning with hitched breath and silent tears on his cheek.
Rinse and repeat.
He meets Peter’s patient gaze, and he nods, chest tight.
Peter smiles. “I’m glad,” he says softly. He reaches up and runs his hand through the tips of Stiles’ wet, floppy hair. He seems to do it almost thoughtlessly, though Stiles is sure he’s anything except thoughtless, but the casual way he does it lets Stiles take a deep, tension-releasing breath. “Then dry yourself off,” Peter says, “get changed, and meet me back in the living room. Okay, Stiles?”
Stiles nods, and Peter lifts his eyebrows expectantly. Oh. “Okay,” Stiles mumbles.
“Good,” Peter says. He closes the bathroom door gently, leaving Stiles to himself.
He takes a breath, bracing himself against the door, feeling… something. He’s like a mosaic of broken glass, and he wants to break apart, needs to break apart and be put back together right for once in his life.
He wants to curl up on the floor and pretend Peter’s not out there waiting for him, but Peter is. For once someone is.
Stiles doesn’t know if there will ever be someone again, so he better take this opportunity while he can. He can let himself have this, just this once.
Just this once, he promises himself, and then he pushes himself off the door and does as Peter told him.
He leaves the bathroom with baited breath and quiet footsteps, and he hesitates at the end of the hallway. Peter’s sitting on the end of the couch closest to the front door, his feet up on the coffee table and a smartphone in hand. He glances up at Stiles. “Come here,” he says, nodding at the rest of the couch.
Stiles circles the coffee table and stalls in front of the two remaining seats. It would be weird, wouldn’t it, if he took the seat right next to Peter when there’s a perfectly good spot on the other end. But….
Peter takes pity on him. He pats the cushion next to him. “Sit here, right next to me.”
And Stiles does, very gingerly, careful to remain just shy of touching Peter, just in case —just in case he’s reading this wrong and Peter doesn’t actually want to touch him. Just in case Peter’s trying to get this over with so that he can get back to his phone—
Peter wraps his arm around Stiles and pulls him across the inch of space between them, and Stiles’ brain blanks at the feeling of being pressed thigh-to-thigh and side-to-side with Peter. He sits straight, back stiff and taut, Peter a hot line against him and over his shoulders, and he stares straight ahead so he doesn’t have to look at Peter because he doesn’t know what to do—
“Is this okay?” Peter asks. His thumb circles over the bare skin of Stiles’ upper arm, and it’s almost too much. It makes Stiles remember the plaid button-up wadded up in the back of the Jeep in case of emergencies, too, but Peter only brought up Stiles’ undershirt and jeans. And this is Peter. It must have been on purpose. So if he’s touching Stiles where he wouldn’t have if he had brought up the shirt, and he didn’t bring it up on purpose, then he must… want this. “Stiles?”
Stiles sags into him, and it’s so nice. His eyes flutter. “Mhm.”
Peter squeezes his arm, then shifts forward, drawing Stiles’ attention back to the coffee table. A glass of orange juice and a plate with a thick slice of bread sit on top of it, and Peter hands the plate over to Stiles. “You’re not allergic to banana bread, are you?”
Stiles takes the plate, shaking his head. “No.” He tilts his head towards Peter, finally meeting his gaze as he asks, “Banana bread?” Peter doesn’t seem like a banana bread kind of person.
Peter half-shrugs with the shoulder touching Stiles’ shoulder, and it makes it hard for Stiles to think. “I charmed it out of a neighbor,” he says.
“Oh,” Stiles says, lips twitching. He kind of wants to comment on Peter’s lack of charm —really, he probably just creeped the neighbor out until they gave him the bread to get rid of him— but that would involve actually speaking a full sentence, words and tone and enunciation and all, which... intimidates him.
With the arm draped over Stiles’ shoulder, Peter gestures at the plate, his forearm slipping over Stiles’ upper arm and brushing his chest. Stiles holds absolutely still, torn between pulling away and staying put. Seemingly unaware, Peter says, “Try to eat the whole thing,” and Stiles’ attention returns to the slice of bread. His stomach sits heavy in his body, and he frowns down at the slice. “Just try,” Peter says. “The orange juice is for you, too.”
Stiles gingerly picks up the slice. It’s heavy in his hand. “Okay.” He forces himself to take a bite and chews slowly. It tastes better than he expected. It’s not flavorful or full of life or anything, but it doesn’t taste like ash, either, and that’s… doable.
He takes another bite, and Peter picks up his phone even as he resumes stroking circles into Stiles’ upper arm. It eases something in Stiles, knowing that Peter cares and knows better than to spend the next ten minutes watching him eat.
And eat Stiles does. He still doesn’t want to, but he can stand it. The orange juice in particular piques his meager hunger, and he makes it through nearly the whole slice of bread before his digestive system rebels. His last swallow of bread goes down his throat like a stone, and he stares at the bite-sized piece of bread on the plate in distaste. Just looking at it makes him want to throw up.
He sets the plate back on the coffee table and sinks back into Peter, who sets his phone down on the side table and tightens his arm around Stiles. It makes Stiles’ head dip towards him, and he barely stops himself from resting his head on Peter’s shoulder.
“How do you feel?” Peter asks.
Stiles thinks. He wasn’t hungry before, it’s true, but now he seems to sink into the couch and the crook of Peter’s body, heavier and full. Peter’s body heat deepens Stiles’ breath, and the pressure of his body weighs Stiles’ eyelids down. Peter’s thumb, still circling, circling, spreads tingles out through Stiles’ body and makes the world grow fuzzy.
Stiles blinks once, slowly. “Good.” His head droops again, and Peter slides his hand up Stiles’ arm and into Stiles’ hair, guiding Stiles’ head down onto his shoulder. Stiles lets him with a grateful sigh and closes his eyes. “S’nice."
Peter nuzzles the top of his head, and an endless minute of time passes, Stiles’ breath slow and even, the only sound in the room. He can feel Peter’s gentle breathing, too, his rib cage pushing into Stiles’. It’s hypnotic in its simplicity, and Stiles wishes he could live in this moment forever. There’s something in the silence, though, that tugs at his chest, that makes him want something more.
“I don’t mean to be like this,” he finally says, his voice an exhausted murmur.
Peter’s fingers twist in his hair. “I know.”
Stiles has to suppress the urge to say he’s sorry. Because he’s not. He shouldn’t feel like he has to apologize, but he does. “I used to be normal. Well,” he scoffs, “as normal as a kid with ADHD can be.” He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “She got… sick when I was three, and she —my mother— she changed. I changed, too.” Peter draws his hand through Stiles’ hair and tugs on the ends before running his fingers through it again, and Stiles pushes into it. Words twist in his throat.
“I think I’m broken,” he whispers.
Peter fists Stiles’ hair. It’s almost painful, and Stiles opens his eyes at last. “You’re not broken,” Peter says, an edge to his voice as he angles Stiles’ head to look at him. And then his grip loosens, one corner of his lips quirking. “I would know, wouldn’t I?”
Stiles’ gut clenches. “It’s not the same.” When Peter opens his mouth to argue, Stiles cuts him off, pulling away a little. “What you did to Laura was different,” he insists. “My mother—” Stiles swallows, eyes skittering away. Coldness seeps through his limbs. “She said so many things; she did so many things, and I wanted…. I thought…. It would’ve been so easy to — to just make her stop, and I —sometimes I….” His breath rattles.
“Did you?” Peter asks, curling his arm around Stiles again. He doesn’t even try hide the curiosity in his voice. At least it’s better than shock and horror.
Stiles wants to crawl under Peter’s skin and hide, but he can’t do that, so he settles for turning his face into Peter’s shoulder. “She asked me to,” he says, the words final, and he shouldn’t be saying this, shouldn’t be admitting it aloud, not to Peter, not to anyone, but the words, they just come out, and he’s so tired. He wishes he could collapse further into Peter.
“Oh, Stiles,” Peter says on a breath, his voice a mixture of sympathy and awe and want. “You’re perfect, and you don’t even know it.”
Tensing, Stiles makes a noise of confused indignation in the back of his throat, and Peter grins. Of all the reactions Stiles expected, it wasn’t a statement of his so-called “perfection” and a grin. It’s like he’s the butt of a joke. Like he’s some pathetic kid Peter’s digging into just to get his rocks off.
Pulling away, Stiles pushes to his feet, but Peter’s hand clenches around his arm, leaving Stiles awkwardly bent over him. “Stiles,” Peter says, his voice soothing and low, almost a plea. It makes Stiles pause —but he remains tense, poised to leave. “I said you’re perfect,” says Peter, reaching out with his free hand to grip Stiles’ other elbow. “Let me tell you why.” He pulls Stiles in towards him, and Stiles stumbles forward half a step, knocking their knees together.
At first he doesn’t understand why Peter keeps tugging him —there’s no room for him to move forward; what does Peter expect? And then, when Peter pauses, his grip insistent but not painful, Stiles moves one foot around Peter’s knees to ease the strain on his bent back —and he realizes what Peter wants. His mind stutters to a halt, panic clamping down on his chest, “But you said —you promised…” His breath shortens, panic bubbling in his throat.
“Wholesome and respectable, I still promise,” Peter assures Stiles. “I just want to hold you. That’s all I want.” He holds eye contact with Stiles, and Stiles can’t look away. He thinks he might break. “That’s all you want, too, isn’t it, sweetheart?”
Stiles swallows and bites his lip, his breath hitching and his rapid heartbeat loud in his ears. An abrupt, quiet whine escapes the back of his throat.
“Sit down, Stiles.”
And Stiles sits, knees sliding into the back of the couch by Peter’s hips, his body heavy astride Peter’s lap. He presses his too hot face to Peter’s neck to hide his shame, and Peter folds his arms around Stiles and pulls him close. “There you go,” Peter murmurs, and Stiles grips Peter’s arms as if to hold him in place.
“Now this isn’t so bad, is it?” Peter asks quietly. He loves the sound of his own voice way too much, Stiles wants to tell him, but Peter strokes slow circles over his back, and the words die in his throat. Stiles hums quietly instead, offering a vague sense of affirmation.
“I’ve always admired you…,” Peter murmurs, his lips brushing Stiles’ ear. He breathes in deeply and sends shivers down Stiles’ spine. “…From the moment you tricked me that night in the high school. You were so quick-thinking and loyal, and that attitude….” His body’s so warm under Stiles, and his voice far too soothing. Stiles’ eyes slip close, and he slumps into Peter, his body growing heavier. “When you challenged me over Lydia’s life, I knew I wanted you.”
And that should send Stiles running for the hills, he knows it should, but before he can so much as express his disapproval, Peter grips his neck, digging his fingers into Stiles’ skin in a mini-massage. His mouth falls open, and he groans out a soft, “Huhh.”
“You know how to make the hard decisions, sweetheart,” Peter says, his voice firm, “the decisions others don’t have the strength to make. That’s a heavy burden to bear, especially for someone so young. You don’t need to punish yourself for it, too.”
Peter’s massage eases Stiles’ urge to respond, and his grip on Peter’s arms loosens. Peter presses his fingers into the sides of Stiles’ spine and drags them outward, working the muscles and leaving Stiles languid and lax in his lap. The world narrows down to Stiles-and-Peter, and the silence seeps into Stiles’ bones.
Peter’s ministrations cease, and he buries his hand in Stiles’ hair and dips his face closer to the corner of Stiles’ jaw. Lowering his voice, almost as if he’s talking to himself, Peter says, “I wish I had bitten you when I had the chance.”
In answer warmth stirs in Stiles’ stomach. The topic of Peter biting him of all things shouldn’t make him feel safe and wanted, but God, it makes him want to tuck his face even further into Peter’s throat. He does, and they breathe together for a long moment, molded to each others’ bodies. Stiles doesn’t think he’s ever breathed so deeply before. He turns his face down, his lips grazing Peter’s collarbone. The stillness around them draws the weight off his shoulders.
“Sometimes,” he whispers, a confession in the night, “I wish you had, too.”
Peter stiffens beneath Stiles, his chest stilling mid-inhale, and Stiles snuffles closer, bone-weary and content. After a moment, Peter breathes again, looping his arms around Stiles’ waist and pulling him closer. Stiles shifts, tucking his hands between his and Peter’s chests, and he drifts into sleep, heavy, warm, and safe in Peter’s embrace.
The first time he wakes that night, it’s when they change position —or rather, Peter changes their position. He shifts under Stiles, nudging Stiles into a hazy, half-awake state, and tilts and slides them until they lie together longways across the couch. Peter lies on his back, his head on one of the couch’s small pillows, and shuffles Stiles into place on top of him.
Stiles falls back asleep.
The second time he wakes up, nothing’s happening. The silence of the night permeates the air, and moonlight pours through the glass windows, weightless on Stiles’ back and bright on Peter’s sleeping face. Stiles moves up and down with Peter’s breath —a ship adrift a calm sea.
The third time he wakes, it’s to the sun in his eyes and the warmth of it on his back. He finds Peter in the kitchen making breakfast and cracks a weak joke about the bacon being made of people. Peter says he’ll take Stiles’ cannibalistic preferences into account next time he makes them breakfast. Stiles sputters, and Peter smiles his usual predatory smile.
Stiles doesn’t deny that they’ll have breakfast again.
When Stiles leaves, longing already heavy on the back of his tongue, Peter stops him at the door and pulls him close. This time, Peter buries his face in Stiles’ neck instead of the other way around, and it feels right.
“You’re always welcome here,” Peter says.
“I know,” Stiles says, and they both know he’ll come back sooner rather than later.
Stiles… Stiles is okay with that. He likes that. God help him.
It just warms Peter’s heart to see his projects pay off, and Stiles is his biggest, most important project yet.
There are so many things he could mold Stiles into. A weapon. A pet. A broken toy. But Peter wants Stiles for what he already is: a force of nature —clever, determined and loyal, and far more powerful than he realizes. And he’s all Peter’s.
He guides Stiles through his last year and a half of high school, easing him through panic attacks and drawing him out of his dissociative episodes. He takes him on the last of the college visits his father doesn’t have time for and leads him to the contacts Deaton never wanted him to know about. He watches Stiles marvel at the college acceptances flying in and holds Stiles as he comes down from the high of enchanting his first weapon.
They debate and plan and argue, and Stiles grows increasingly attached to Peter’s side. Peter considers letting the pack push Stiles away, as they seem unintentionally wont to do, but Stiles wouldn’t be the same without his loved ones, and Peter prefers him whole and relatively functional. (Also, Peter is an introvert. If he was Stiles’ sole source of attention, Stiles would never leave him alone, and that would get very old very quickly. Peter needs his alone time.)
So he nudges Stiles in Lydia’s direction —because Peter prefers Lydia over Scott, and she’s pragmatic enough to make a decent contact once she gets over how Peter treated her— and Stiles and Lydia become the best of friends.
(She whispers warnings in Stiles’ ears and glares death at Peter until Stiles, the manipulative little shit, gets her and Peter to bond over fashion. He learns to regret that decision when she and Peter team up against him.)
Stiles and Lydia work out, but Scott… Peter offers Stiles no help with Scott, and Stiles doesn’t ask.
Stiles gets two major offers, one from UCLA with the bare minimum of need-based financial aid, and one for a full ride at Cornell.
(Peter used to teach at Cornell, and he loves the gorges and forests surrounding it. It’s convenient, too, how distant it is from Scott and Stiles’ father, bound to California as they are. Now that Stiles is stable enough, it’s time to rattle him a bit and leave him with only Peter to lean on. Lydia, at NYU, will be close, but not too close.)
Ever aware of his father’s financial needs, Stiles, as planned, chooses Cornell. Peter follows.
He considers asking Stiles to live with him rent-free, but in the end he decides being Stiles’ escape from a terrible one-room college dorm makes for a much more grateful and compliant Stiles than a live-in one would be.
Ultimately, it proves a good decision. The university might frown on a student living with their professor, after all.
(“Ugh, you’re so gross,” Stiles tells him through a mouthful of curly fries. He glowers and mumbles, “Besides, I’m not even in your class and half of them already think we’re fucking.” He groans and drops his head to the table.
“Well,” Peter considers, pressing Stiles’ leg against the wall with his own, “we could be.”
Stiles doesn’t look up, and his ears go pink. “So gross.”)
They don’t fuck each other, but they don’t fuck others. They don’t date each other, but they don’t date others. And they definitely don’t bicker like an old married couple.
There are a lot things they “don’t do”, according to Stiles.
In the end, it doesn’t matter to Peter what they do or don’t do. They’ve come so far, and they can’t go back. He knows for sure the first time Stiles kills for him.
His plan’s played out and paid off. He’s become what Stiles needs, and in return Stiles will never let him go.
They’ll never be alone again.
Stiles screws around a little in his junior year. He has to. He feels obligated to himself to do it, just to —just to see what it could be like. So he has something to compare any future escapades to. Not that he expects to have any future escapades. He definitely, totally doesn’t.
A surprising number of students on campus think he’s going steady with Peter, which is really goddamn annoying because if people think he’s getting some, he should actually be getting some. And he’s not getting any at Cornell’s parties because for some strange reason, no one wants to piss off Professor Hale.
Ugh. Peter would find this hilarious.
But Stiles is determined, and he’s come to accept that he is, at the very least, attractive enough to warrant a tipsy one-night stand, so he goes clubbing. On Friday night, an Anita from Ithaca College takes him home. On Saturday night, he takes a Bilal from out of town home.
And on Sunday, after a completely thorough but useless shower, he visits Peter.
He has a key, and when he comes in, Peter takes one long, assessing look at him from his place on the couch. He lifts an eyebrow. “How was it?”
Stiles glances down at the floor, shrugging. “Was okay. It was, uh…” he risks looking back up at Peter, who’s still and as expressionless as before. “Perfunctory, I guess is the word.”
Peter stands up, lifting an eyebrow. “It can be better,” he purrs. His lips curl up into one of those insufferable smirks of his as he prowls forward, and Stiles’ mouth goes dry.
“Can it?” His voice comes out quieter and breathier than he intended.
Peter curls his hands around Stiles’ waist and neck. “I can prove it.”
It’s Stiles who steps forward and presses their lips together, and Peter tastes like relief. “I’d like that,” Stiles says, and Peter pulls him closer.
I feel it here
On my skin like demons
Cry with joy, 'cause I know hell follows me
Out here, in the garden of angels,
I felt what it was like to be free