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Tremors

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Sometimes, in the quiet moments, Stiles could still feel the imprint of Peter's hand on his sleeve-covered wrist, his grip guiding but not forceful. It had been pressure and heat, and Stiles wondered how it might have felt against his bare skin.

If Stiles had but rolled up his sleeves beforehand, maybe he would have said yes. Maybe Peter's fangs would have torn into his flesh like daggers into an offering, and maybe Stiles would have frozen, trembling while Peter held him in place, his fingers tight and hot around Stiles' wrist.... He'd been so oddly gentle in that moment. Maybe he'd have curled his other hand around the back of Stiles' neck and pulled him close. Maybe he'd never let go.

Weeks after Peter's death, in the small hours of the night, Stiles would stay up thinking of Peter's clawed fingertips pressing against the underside of his chin like they did on the field, and his whole throat would prickle with phantom tingles.

This is all so stupid, he'd always tell himself in those moments. He had long since fixed this, and he wasn't a nine-year-old with a sick mom and a depressed father anymore. He wasn't supposed to be feeling like this again. He just wasn't.

He always hugged his dad when the opportunity arose, he practically threw himself at Scott all the time, he shoved himself into as many people's personal bubbles as he could, and it was supposed to be enough. It was enough, enough to hold his... urges, at bay, at least.

And then, fists hitting harder but slower than those of Stiles' mother, Gerard happened.

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles turns away from the sight of Jackson and Lydia curling into each other, and all he can think is, They'll expect a ride home. Pulling Stiles out of his thoughts, Scott grips his shoulder, accidentally pushing down on a bruise, and Stiles flinches away. He hates the way it makes Scott’s brow furrow, so he shrugs it off and searches for a way to distract him.

Crying into her dad's shoulder, Allison's preoccupied. She won't make a good distraction, but... "How's Isaac?" Stiles asks, and sure enough, Scott rushes over to Isaac in the background, leaving Stiles bereft.

He should feel grateful. He doesn't want Scott to notice what Gerard did to him, after all. He can't let Gerard have that.

Leaning awkwardly on the tail end of his Jeep, distributing his weight unevenly to keep pressure off his bruises, Stiles takes stock of everyone in the warehouse. Jackson and Lydia sit together on the floor in the headlights of Stiles's Jeep, murmuring to each other. Chris Argent brushes the sweaty hair away from Allison's face in the corner, and Scott and Isaac huddle together in the back. Derek stands alone in the middle of the warehouse, still and staring at the floor.

He looks lost, and Stiles takes a step towards him. Maybe they can be lost together.

But Derek looks up at him and sort of —sways— back, his eyes flicking downward and the corners of his mouth drawing tight. He looks as fragile and ashamed as Stiles feels.

Forget it, Stiles thinks almost viciously. He can't fix himself, let alone a werewolf with worlds of baggage. He inhales deeply, lungs betraying him with a shudder, and he walks around the back of the Jeep to the driver's side. The Argents can drive the lovebirds back home for all Stiles cares. He has better things to do, like sleep and down a bottle of painkillers and lie more to his father.

When he rounds the back of the Jeep, he freezes when something in his peripheral vision shifts. His gaze darts over, and the supposedly-dead Peter Hale melts out of the shadows like Dracula's biggest fanboy. It's almost funny, but Stiles's breath catches, because for a split second he forgets the Peter that leapt out of the rafters and sliced his claws through Jackson's flesh. For a moment he's back at the beginning, held captive in the parking garage by Peter the crazed alpha, his heart hammering with fear, ice-cold desperation a band of iron around his chest. He swallows, and Peter halts a mere foot in front of him, cocking his head to the side in examination.

Stiles steps back before he can think about it, bumping against the door of the Jeep. The force sends a fresh burst of agony jolting up his spine. This isn't fair. He'd rather go home and curl up in his blankets, not stare his old nightmares (dreams) in the face.

Peter's eyes rove over Stiles' frozen body, catching on his cheek and landing on the hollow of his throat. The twin bruises there from Gerard's thumbs pulse, and Stiles barely succeeds in hiding his wince. His heart th-thumps wildly, but he can't for the life of him move. Peter's supposed to be dead.

'Supposed to' aside, Peter stands tall and proud in front of Stiles, his expression an odd mix of troubled and calculating. He steps into Stiles's space, raising his loosely curled hand slowly, and Stiles stiffens against the Jeep, unable to press any further back. He presses his mouth shut to hide his fear, his breath shallow.

The backs of Peter's knuckles graze his cheek, unexpectedly cool and feather-light on Stiles's hot skin, and for a second those small points of contact become the center of Stiles' universe. The pain disappears in their wake, and he almost sobs in surprise and relief. He grimaces and turns his face away in humiliation.

He should pull away. He almost does, but then Peter says, "These are new." A casual, quiet observation. Stiles isn't sure if he's truly feeling Peter's body heat sinking into his own skin, or if he’s imagining it. He's not sure which is worse, because he wants to slump into it.

Peter lets his fingers slip away and draws them down Stiles' throat, leaving paths of liquid heat smoldering in Stiles' skin like a healing balm. The moment seems to last forever, and finally, when Peter reaches the base of Stiles' throat, he traces the ring of fingerprints Gerard left. Pleasant tingles radiate from each point of contact, dulling the pain, and it makes Stiles want to close his eyes and lean in. It's only the fact that this is Peter that forces him to keep his body in check.

"What did he do to you?" Peter murmurs, his breath whisper-soft against Stiles' jaw. Stiles' eyelids grow heavy, but Peter reaches an ugly, cracked bruise where one of Gerard's fingernails broke the skin, and Stiles flinches away. Instead of mocking him, Peter stills, and a rumbling growl works its way out of his throat. It vibrates through Stiles' body. "I'll finish him off, if you like," Peter says.

The words, too intimate and intense, jar Stiles, and he jerks into motion, stepping out of Peter's space and yanking the Jeep's driver door open before he can stop himself. This doesn't matter, he tells himself, folding his lanky legs into the car. Peter's alive. This doesn't matter. And I'm fine, he tells himself as he peels out of the warehouse. Totally fine, he silently begs, eyes darting to the rearview mirror and meeting Peter's considering gaze. It's all going to be fine.

 

o—o—o

 

"I swear it was a deer," Stiles says.

"Are you kidding me?" his dad asks, jerking his hands at the Jeep. "It looks like you drove through a damn wall."

Ha. Hahahaha. "It was a buck. Like, the size of a moose," Stiles rambles. "You ever see one of those things? Canada has it rough, Dad. Moose are Death. "

His dad is having none of it. He clenches his fists together, shoulders drawn tight and shaking. "I don't care if you hit the damn Devil, Stiles. We can’t afford this.” He leans forward, brow heavy with anger. Stiles' breath catches, his stomach rolling as he shoves down the urge to put distance between them. His father won't hurt him. He never really has.

But.

After Gerard....

"I know," Stiles says to appease his dad. He ruffles his hair, like if he shakes his brain up enough, it'll come up with a miracle and fix everything. "I, look, I'll get a summer job to help pay for it." He catches his dad's skeptical look. "It'll be good, you know, give me something to do."

His dad looks contemplative. "I had a job your age. You're right, it could do you some good." And maybe that comment stings a little, but after everything Stiles has put his dad through, Stiles understands the reasoning behind it. His dad eyes the Jeep, nodding to himself.

"Yeah," says Stiles. "I'll start looking today."

And that's that.

 

o—o—o

 

A few days pass, and Stiles nudges Scott's thigh with his foot. "You okay?"

Scott glances over. "Yeah, you?"

"Yeah."

Stiles wishes he could remember when exactly they stopped telling each other the truth. Maybe it had something to do with Scott lying the whole damn time about his plan regarding Derek and Gerard's medication.

"You sure?" Scott asks.

Stiles grinds his teeth together. "Yeah."

"Stiles—?"

Stiles pulls his foot away. "I'm fine, Scott," he snaps, voice brooking no argument. He feels wrong, like his skin's too tight. He has to change the subject. "Any sign of Gerard yet?"

Scott shakes his head, and Stiles wants to punch something.

o—o—o

 

Summer advances upon them, and Stiles passes by missing person flyers with Peter's face on them on his way to his new job at the bookstore. The picture the hospital chose (because it definitely isn't Derek posting the flyers) must have been pre-fire, maybe from a driver's license. Peter looks so young in it, and God, he's smiling. Stiles can't decide if he finds the flyers funny or sad.

(The bruises heal.)

Things are quiet for the first time in nearly a year. Erica and Boyd return from their wild goose chase quiet and glued to each other's sides. Jackson visits England, and then he comes back. Allison wallows in angst and Lydia drags her out of it. Scott and Isaac wolf out and wrestle. No monsters descend upon Beacon Hills. There's nothing wrong, no perceivable danger lurking in the shadows, but Stiles still feels... prickly. On edge. Like something should be wrong. Like maybe something already is.

It happens at his new job at the bookstore. His manager, a sweet old lady with a flare for the dramatic, touches his forearm to get his attention, and Stiles jumps away, his skin tingling where her fingers brushed it.

"Oh!" She titters, titters like that's a thing that people actually do, and brings her hand to her chest. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"No, no, it's fine," Stiles says.

The tingling hasn't lessened at all.

There is something wrong, after all. It's him.

 

o—o—o

 

When he gets home from work, his dad's long gone, and Stiles tries not to think he's picking up all these late shifts purposely to avoid him. His dad wouldn't do that. Not again. Probably. Or, he wouldn't have done it a year ago. But now, after everything....

It doesn't matter. There's nothing Stiles can do about it.

When he opens his bedroom door, fully intent on folding himself into a burrito blanket, he finds Peter sitting at his desk in front of his laptop, attempting to type in his password. Stiles almost has a heart attack. "What the hell are you doing here?" He moves forward, planning to wrench the laptop away from Peter, but he stops in the middle of the room, too wary of being slammed up against the wall for being too grabby.

Without so much as a hello, Peter spins the chair around to face Stiles like the Disney villain he probably secretly strives to be. It's odd, though. His clothes hang off him too loosely, and his cheekbones stand out too starkly in his face, making him look gaunt, almost haggard. Stiles saves these thoughts to think about later because Peter gesturing at the computer remains a more pressing matter. "Log in for me," Peter says.

Stiles narrows his eyes. "Why?"

"I want to confirm something with you." While Stiles tries to puzzle out exactly what that means, Peter looks him up and down, gaze lascivious. It kicks in Stiles' fight-or-flight response, and he stills, body strung tight, eyes on Peter.

Peter holds his hand up. "Don't worry, I come in peace," he says dryly, a corner of his lips curling upward, and where this new sense of humor came from Stiles wants to know.

"Fine," Stiles says, lips pressing into a thin line. He keeps an eye on Peter while he pads closer, just in case. Peter watches him avidly. He seems amused by this.

(Shithead.)

Stiles steps into Peter's space, his skin prickling with proximity. If Peter rolls the chair closer to the desk, his legs will hit Stiles'.  If he wants, he could lean forward and reel Stiles in. He doesn't, though, and Stiles grabs the laptop and speed-walks to the edge of his bed.

Peter makes a sound like a snort, and Stiles pretends not to hear it as he types in his password, safe where Peter can't see it. (It's not like there's anything that incriminating on his laptop, but still, Stiles doesn't want Peter's dirty paws on it.)

"Okay," Stiles says once his desktop pops up. "Now what?"

Peter leans back in the chair and crosses his right foot over his left knee in the universal douche pose (a pose which Stiles, too, often uses, which is why he recognizes it for what it is). "Google Gerard Argent."

Stiles stares at Peter, heart beating a little faster. Peter stares back, nonplussed.

So Stiles looks down at his computer, swallowing, and googles "Gerard Argent Beacon Hills". The ensuing headlines make him freeze: “66 Year Old Man Dead in BH Forest Preserve.” “Body of Former Argent Weapons CEO Found — Homicide?” “Children Find Retiree's Body With Throat ‘Ripped Out’”.

Stiles stares blankly at the screen, thoughts crashing to a halt. His chest tightens. He has to remind himself to breathe. His ensuing shuddering inhale echoes loud in the silence, and his body loosens as he exhales. He feels light-headed, and when he moves to stroke his hand down his face, he feels clumsy, like his limb's weightless and he has to focus to the movement. He can't look away from the screen, can't blink.

He wonders if he'll shake apart.

Peter closes the laptop, having apparently approached at some point. He takes it from Stiles and sets it back down on the desk, and Stiles watches him, feeling oddly bereft without the weight of the computer on his lap. Peter's movements are easy and slow. He doesn't want to startle Stiles, it seems, and that confuses Stiles even more.

"Why?" he croaks when Peter turns back and looms over him.  

Peter looks down at him like he's something fragile and precious, and Stiles finds himself unable to tear his eyes away because Peter's hand is moving up and up—

“Because of this,” Peter says. He touches the side of Stiles' neck and glides his fingers over the path of freshly healed bruises. (Stiles will be feeling phantom sensations there for weeks.) "And this," he murmurs, cupping Stiles' face and tracing his thumb over his cheek. And Stiles wants  Peter to keep holding him so very badly, wants to relax into his hold, but he won't. He can't.

Peter's eyes, so calculating and hard, lock on his, and Stiles curses himself the longer he looks because he should feel scared. He should feel terrified and wary and suspicious. And he does, he does, but not for the right reasons. And he knows he should say something. Any other time Stiles would have some witty retort at the ready, but now, with Peter's hand warming him like the sun on his face, Stiles’ thoughts won’t come. They’re like sludge at the bottom of a lake.

He can't wrench his focus away from the ring and pinkie fingers curled around his jaw, the middle finger tucked behind his ear, the index finger resting on his temple. The thumb petting his cheek, the palm brushing the corner of his lips. Peter's eyes on him, relentless.

"Stiles," Peter purrs, and he rests his other hand on Stiles' shoulder, only tightening his grip when Stiles twitches backward in surprise. “Don’t I get a thank you?"

Stiles' mouth falls open, and Peter grins, shark-like, and his knee presses between Stiles' legs. "There are so many ways you could show your gratitude," he says, and Stiles' breath catches once more, his libido deciding to join the party. He hangs in the moment like a pendulum, the seconds ticking by like hours, Peter's eyes far too intent.

And then Peter's grin turns into a smirk, and he steps away, leaving Stiles cold and raw, the tingling feeling left by Peter more taunting than comforting. Stiles wants Peter's touch back, and he loathes himself for it.

The smirk falls from Peter's face. "I need your help, Stiles." His voice lowers. "I want my life back, and you're going to help me get it."

Stiles' world floods back, and he finds himself angry. "Why? Because you killed an old man who was mean to me? Please,” he scoffs. “I didn't ask you to do that."

Peter crosses his arms. "That was a gift, Stiles, not a favor in exchange for anything. No," he smiles down at Stiles and brandishes his claws. "I'm threatening you now."

"What—" Stiles' mouth falls open, and his muscles jump and twitch with outrage. "What are you gonna do, huh? Insult me?” He scoffs. “You freaked out because someone bruised me."

Before he knows it, Peter's wrapped a hot hand around Stiles’ throat just beneath his jaw, grip firm but not (yet) painful. Peter clucks when Stiles' hands fly to his wrist, his gaze unamused. The sound makes Stiles stop trying to pull Peter's hand away, but Stiles doesn't let go of Peter’s wrist, either, not even when Peter raises him up, forcing him to stand. Peter meets Stiles’ alarmed gaze with his own cold and assessing one, and he tightens his fingers around the sides of Stiles’ throat, thumb and forefinger pressing into the soft flesh beneath Stiles' jaw, making Stiles' heartbeat pulse against them. Stiles’ breath whines in his throat, and his world narrows and intensifies. He holds on tight to Peter.

When Stiles' vision blurs, Peter says, "I don't have to leave bruises, Stiles."

The words take a moment to register in Stiles’ mind through the headiness emanating from Peter's hand, and Stiles remembers all the horror stories of what people can do to each other without leaving bruises.

He panics.

"Whoah, no, no, no, no—" He claws at Peter's hand and tries to yank himself away— it works only because Peter lets go unexpectedly, and Stiles stumbles to the side with the momentum of it, tripping over nothing and falling flat on his ass.

Peter stares down at Stiles like he's a particularly interesting specimen and lifts an eyebrow. "That's not what I meant," he says.

Stiles splutters as he gets to his feet. "Then what the fuck did you mean, Creepy McCreepster? 'I don't have to leave bruises, Stiles.' Like, what in the ever loving fuck?" Peter steps closer, mouth opening, and Stiles steps back. "Woah, take a step back." He waves his arms around himself. "Respect the bubble."

Peter sighs and holds his hands up in submission. "Fine. I'll skip the fun—"

"—Fun!?"

Peter ignores him. "—and spell this out for you. Help me get my identity back, and I won't hurt your loved ones."

Stiles stares at him, silently wishing the laser beams shooting out of his eyes were less metaphorical. "Fuck you," he says.

Peter grins. "Is that consent?"

Stiles' mouth drops open. "Wha —no!" He looks around, face crumpling. "I need an adult."

Peter's grin widens, of course. "All in good time."

Stiles is so fucking done. "I'll get your identity back by dropping your dead body off at the morgue with a sticky note pasted to your cold, lifeless forehead that reads Peter Hale: pervert extraordinaire. Cremate ASAP.”

The grin falls from Peter's face, and in the space of a second he grabs Stiles by the nape of his neck, fingers slipping under the collar of Stiles' shirt, and hauls him out of the room. "Let's put your creativity to better use," he rumbles in Stiles' ear, and Stiles stays quiet, absolutely not freaking out about the warm hand turning his spine into mush.

Peter hauls him down the stairs and opens the front door, then stops before they step outside, looking sideways at Stiles. "What? No witty retort? In my admittedly limited experience, it's not often you keep your mouth shut." The corners of his eyes crinkle, and his hand is still hot on the back of Stiles' neck. It's like a goddamn heat pack.

Stiles' blush is so strong Peter can probably feel it under his palm. "Uh," Stiles says brilliantly. "I'm not here to be your entertainment, Peter," he says, and it's so weak. (So weak) Stiles is, frankly, embarrassed, an emotion he doesn't experience that frequently.

Peter, the bastard, lifts an eyebrow and smirks in amusement, and Stiles' cheeks heat up even more in response. "Oh, but you are entertaining, Stiles," he says, voice smooth like liquid metal. He gives Stiles' neck a light squeeze that sends heat rushing up Stiles' spine and smiles at the ensuing catch in Stiles' breath. Peter tilts his head just so. "For instance, your heartbeat's a delight."

Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.

Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.

Stiles' heartbeat is a delight.

Ha. Ha ha. Hahaha. Well at least Peter likes Stiles’ heart beating rather than squashed dead in the palm of his hand. Because Stiles can see that happening — Peter squashing hearts. That's something he would do. He'd totally be into the creepy slick sound it'd make.

Peter takes his hand off Stiles' neck and it's like the floor's been swept out from under him, like his whole center of gravity's gone on vacation in Rio. Stiles tenses as he tries not to sway from the loss of it. Thankfully, before he can react and show any of this, before Peter sees, Peter pushes him out the door.

 

o—o—o

 

Peter makes Stiles drive the Jeep, which totally isn't fair. If Stiles is going to be abducted, he shouldn't have to do all the legwork.

The moment Stiles' hands relax around the wheel, Peter asks,"How's the bookstore?" and Stiles tenses again.

"...Are you stalking me?"

Peter scoffs. "I have better things to do." Not buying it, Stiles side-eyes him, so Peter rolls his eyes and continues, "You smell like books and Niyati's coffee. It wasn't a hard leap of logic to make."

Niyati's Aroma Cafe has been downtown Beacon Hills' one and only caffeine stop since the beginning of time. Not even Starbucks has dared to infringe on her territory, and it wouldn't surprise Stiles at all to find out she's a witch or some such. He should 'jokingly' ask her sometime just to see how she reacts. He goes there often enough now since she's right across the street from his work that he could get away with it.

"Fine," Stiles says, begrudgingly grateful that Peter isn't actually a stalker.

"The bookstore is fine?"

The Jeep needs an eject button.

"Yes, the bookstore is fine."

"Oh, good. Does Niyati still make her chocolate tarts?"

What the fuck?

For the rest of the ride to the Hale house, Peter asks inane questions about the goings-on of the town, and Stiles wonders if he's been transported to an alternate dimension. Peter's acting well-behaved and normal, and that's just wrong.

He's almost relieved when they pull up to Hale house, because there's a silver Civic in the driveway and Peter goes right up to it and pulls a duffle bag out of the trunk, and yes, it's almost a relief that Peter's visibly up to something. Almost. Stiles hopes Peter isn't actually kidnapping him. If he is, Stiles is gonna leave him to rot sitting in a circle of mountain ash.

From the driver's seat, Stiles considers the distance between him and Peter. It's only a few feet, but maybe if Stiles acts as un-suspicious as possible...,. He eases the Jeep into reverse, foot on the accelerator tensing—

Peter straightens and gives him a look, and Stiles sinks into his chair.

 

o—o—o

 

"This is the dumbest plan ever," Stiles tells Peter.

"And what do you suggest I do? Walk into the hospital and pretend to have amnesia?"

"I don't know! Anything but rip off the Walking Dead."

"I thought you said I am the walking dead."

Stiles observes the creepy setup Peter's created that somehow manages to make the Argents' tunnel of doom seem even creepier. Peter's commandeered a workbench complete with manacles ("Calm down, Stiles. I would never buy those. The ones I prefer are much more enjoyable."), and he's laid out an assortment of used IV bags around on top of it, complete with IV stand and even a bloodied needle. The blood's long dry, and a light layer of dust covers it all. Stiles cocks an eyebrow at Peter. "How long have you been planning this?"

Peter gestures at himself. "Long enough to look the part."

Stiles takes in the state of Peter's body more thoroughly than before. He'd noticed the gauntness, but now that he's actually looking-looking, Peter appears downright emaciated. "Huh. You do look like the walking dead," Stiles says.

Peter, being Peter, leans in and leers. "Be careful I don't get too hungry." And maybe Stiles should inch away, but the tunnels make him so uneasy that hovering by Peter's side still seems safer than wandering around.

 

o—o—o

 

Once Peter's ensured his little torture exhibit's intact, he hauls Stiles off to an old (nonsupernatural) hunter's lean-to near a lake some miles into the Hale property. It’s a well-made structure, with three log walls, a roof and an elevated wooden floor about the size of a king bed. Two squirrel skins hang from a fishing line strung up under the edge of the roof, and a raggedy pair of moth-eaten clothes sits in the corner. Peter’s built a campfire several feet away from the lean-to, its coals long dead. Stiles stares at Peter. “For such a shitty plan, you’ve put way too much effort into this.”

Peter picks a pair of cargo shorts out of the clothing pile and shakes it out, looking over it with distaste. “Stiles,” he purrs, and oh, Stiles is actually annoying him now, isn’t he? “No human could possibly heal from the burns I had, and the most expensive plastic surgery could never do so fine a job as this.” He gestures at his face. “If I’m going to be a walk-in miracle, everyone’s attention will be on me. But if I divert the attention elsewhere…” He waves his hand, as if to say all the pieces will magically fall into place, which, really, is just stupid.

“Kate was a hunter, not a mad scientist. The police won’t buy it.”

“I don’t need the police to believe me,” Peter says as he shucks off his pants like the woodsman he’s trying so hard to be, and since Stiles has been in the boys’ lockerr room before and since a half-starved person, even if he is Peter Hale, does not appear physically attractive, Stiles is totally fine with this. Pantless Peter is A-okay. Totally fine. (Stiles resolutely keeps his eyes on Peter’s face.) “I just need them not to suspect me of a crime," Peter says, apparently oblivious to Stiles’ inner turmoil. He pulls on the shorts, upper lip ticcing upward with disgust.  “And pinning this on Kate should garner more sympathy for me and keep the rumor mill focused on her part in this rather than my own.”

Stiles has an objection at the ready, but before he can say anything, Peter strips off his shirt, and Stiles gawks. Peter’s skinny. He already knew this, but Jesus “Oh my God, you really have been starving yourself.” Stiles’ stomach twists out of reluctant sympathy and horror. This is just — holy shit. Suddenly Stiles wants to feed the guy.

Peter shrugs on a t-shirt smeared with dirt, then ruffles his hair. There’s no hair gel in it today, and it falls limp, shiny with grease. It's a little gross, and completely pathetic. "And here I thought you were done ruining the werewolf mystique."

"Shut up, Stiles," Peter mutters, and in a flash he's got his hand on Stiles' neck and he's hauling him towards the Jeep.

Skinny he may be, but Peter's hand is still hot on Stiles' skin and Stiles has kind of had enough touching for the day, please and thanks. It felt nice before, like a balm on the mind, but now Stiles feels like his skin might melt, might slide off and it's too, too much —"What am I? Your crutch?" Stiles snaps, trying to shrug out of Peter's hold.

Peter's fingers dig into his skin and push him along, and it's wrongwrongwrong. "The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I get to eat a full meal," he growls.

"Great, great, now get off me, I'm going." There's an irritating edge of panic to Stiles' voice even as he squirms and ducks, and he hates himself for it. He wants to peel off his skin.

Peter lets him go, stopping, looking at Stiles like he wants to dissect him. "Is something wrong?" he asks a little too smoothly, and Stiles wishes he hadn't said anything.

He grinds his teeth together. He can't say no because Peter will know he's lying and then Stiles will be fucked. So, "Yeah," Stiles says, "you keep dragging me around like I'm gonna run away, and it's getting pretty damn annoying, alright?" He crosses his arms.

Peter cants his head to the side. "That's not it," he murmurs, still analytical.

Stiles' breath shortens. "'It is none of your damn business."

Peter's eyes dart across Stiles' face. "I won't hurt you, Stiles," he says without any of his usual slipperiness, and all the agitation dissipates from Stiles' body, leaving him exhausted and aching for his bed and blankets.

Stiles runs a hand through his growing hair, now an inch long. "That's—" not the problem— "Okay, great," he says slowly, like a sigh. "Can we go now?"

Peter nods, hand flexing at his side, but he doesn't reach out.

 

o—o—o

 

It works. After calling the police about finding a missing person, Stiles "coaxes" a "reluctant" Peter into the hospital and sends all the staff into a tizzy. Peter acts like a traumatized mute and lets Stiles ramble on about the "state" he "found the poor guy in", and when Stiles' dad finally shows up, Peter’s mumbling about escape tunnels.

The doctors and a couple nurses insist on examining Peter's scarless face, but he "freaks out" like he's about to run away, and Stiles' dad, Stiles' dad, takes sympathy on him and fends them off just in time for a very confused, long-suffering Derek to show up and "take care of him." With a few carefully dropped hints from both Peter and Stiles, Peter's relatively in the clear. The story is, Infamous Serial Killer Kate Argent kidnapped him from the hospital and experimented on him horrifically, thus explaining his magically fixed face, and upon her death, Peter escaped into the woods and lived like a caveman.

(It's all very tragic.)

Despite being the apparent hero of the day, Stiles still gets in trouble for investigating a crime scene ("Oh, come on, Dad! I just wanted to know how she did it."), and he marvels at his town's gullibility. It's a little funny, a little sad, a little disturbing — it's Beacon Hills, and he doesn't know why he's surprised.

During the whole fiasco, Peter doesn't touch him once, and Stiles finds himself relieved and even grateful, until he goes to bed that night. He stares at the ceiling for hours, replaying each touch, each brush of skin over and over again. Remembering how he shrugged Peter off with such agitation sends him curling in on himself and digging his fingers into his biceps. He shouldn't have reacted like that.

He's small and alone, and blankets can only do so much good. His eyes itch, but he's too tired to cry. Self-pity's a waste of energy, and he wishes his brain would just shut the hell up.

Peter's jumpstarted Stiles' stupid little craving. Stiles hates him for it.

 

o—o—o

 

Nightmares of Gerard wake Stiles up at night. Remembering that Peter killed him lets him fall back asleep.

 

o—o—o

 

Derek calls a "pack meeting". They've never had one of those before, and last time Stiles checked he wasn't part of any pack, but if there's some supernatural threat looming over good old BH again, Stiles needs to know.

Unfortunately he's the first to arrive, and Isaac's picking up the pizza (since when do they order pizza?), so it's just him and Derek, who decides to make it really awkward.

"So," says Derek, glancing around the room like he’s looking for an escape route.

Stiles doesn't know what the hell is going on with Derek, so he just rolls his eyes, takes a seat on the end of the couch, and pulls out his smartphone. "So," he repeats after Derek, most of his attention already on his newly opened puzzle app.

Derek takes a reluctant seat on the opposite end of the couch, and asks, sounding like he'd rather be declawing himself, "How's your new job?"

Stiles' gaze snaps upward. "Did you smell that on me?"

"No," Derek says peevishly. "Peter mentioned it."

Stiles squints at him. "You and Peter were talking about me?" Yikes.

"No, Peter was..." Derek shrugs helplessly, "being Peter." He glances away, and oh, man, he is hiding something.

"Come on, what were you really talking about?"

"Nothing," Derek grumbles, and Stiles wants to know.

As if in answer to his prayers, the man in question walks through the front door. Peter walks right past the back of the couch all the way over to Derek, saying as he goes, "I was suggesting he socialize, Stiles. Maybe even visit you." He leans on the arm of the couch besides Derek and leers at Stiles. "I know I might."

Stiles glares, which makes Peter's predatory grin widen and Derek make a face.

"Peter," Derek warns.

"Well, we can't both be hermits, Derek," Peter says. Before he takes a seat in one of the two arm chairs, he ruffles Derek's hair, and Stiles watches with interest as Derek hunches inward, away from the touch. "How's your little pack bonding session going?" Peter asks, drumming his fingers against the one of the arms of the chair. His clothes fit better now.

"Pack bonding session?" Stiles asks while Derek groans.

Peter, of course, is delighted. "Oh, were you too shy to tell him?" he asks Derek.

"No, it's not—" Derek starts before turning to Stiles. "It's a planning session. We need to be prepared for anything that might come our way next." If Stiles didn't know Derek, he'd hear the exasperated tone and leave it at that, but since he does know Derek, he can hear the underlying desperation in his voice, like he's terrified Stiles will shoot him down. Jesus, this dude's a mess, Stiles thinks. He's worse than Stiles, and that's saying something.

So, "Yeah, alright," says Stiles. "Sounds good."

 

o—o—o

 

Erica explodes into the room. "Stiles!" She leaps onto the couch beside him, thigh to thigh, and practically puts him in a headlock as she hugs him from the side. "I haven't seen you in ages," she croons, and it takes Stiles a moment to register her words, frozen as he is. Her arm's hot around his neck, her cheek grazing his, and he feels like a computer flashing a red "Error! Error!" sign. He's usually the one throwing himself at people, so this is new and terrifying.

Don’t move, he thinks to himself, and she won't stop. So he holds as still as possible and laughs. "Yeah, I missed you! How've you been?"

Boyd follows Erica in at a more sedate pace, lightly punching Stiles in the shoulder before he sits down between Erica and a petrified Derek, squishing Erica even further into Stiles. Then, as if to freak out Stiles even more, Boyd throws an arm over Erica's shoulder and the tips of his fingers brush Stiles' shoulder and—

And Stiles just missed everything Erica said. He nods dumbly, desperately hoping no one noticed his scattered thoughts and possibly reddening cheeks.

"Wait, really?" Erica asks him.

Stiles' mouth falls open, and he gestures, accidentally pressing his shoulder harder into Erica's. "Sorry, can you repeat that?"

Erica grins like a shark. "Nice try, no take backs. I'm totally doing your hair once it's long enough."

What?

Peter snorts, and Stiles glares at him. The knowing glance he receives in turn makes him want to punch the guy. This is his fault, Stiles just knows it.

But, aside from Peter, and aside from Stiles' little freakout, Erica is back and seemingly none the worse-for-wear. She's a little too happy, a little too forced in her enthusiasm, and Stiles recognizes a front when he sees it. Still, she's alive and not currently being electrocuted by a creepy old dude (same with Boyd, but he's as stoic as ever, so who knows what's going on in his head), so Stiles counts this as a Good Thing. And Good Things deserve to be rewarded. "Yeah, alright, mess with my hair," he says in false resignation. "No mohawks, though."

Erica's Cheshire cat grin is worth it.

 

o—o—o

 

Erica's been pressed up against Stiles' side the whole night, and Stiles needs a break before he falls asleep on her. He's lucky Isaac showed up with pizza when he did, because if he hadn't Stiles would've completely missed Lydia's comment on his freckles, and God knows that would've been embarrassing.

So when the ongoing conversation fades once more in Stiles' ears and his world once again narrows down into warm points of contact along his entire left side, he decides he's gotta get up before it's too late.

He's cataloging the sparse contents of Derek's fridge when a large hand grips his —blessedly sleeved— elbow. "Derek's leftovers will go bad if you keep this up," Peter murmurs in Stiles' ear, his breath like the summer breeze on Stiles' neck, and Stiles freezes, his body a live wire. Like a trap, Peter's other hand moves into Stiles' peripheral vision and closes the fridge door, nudging Stiles around. Peter's gaze tears into Stiles, and Stiles finds himself overly aware of the werewolf's hands, one hot on his elbow, the other caging him in, wrist and arm ever so close to Stiles' head. Stiles tries to speak, but words, usually so quick on his tongue, fail him. They're too fuzzy for him to sort out.

Peter steps closer, and when Stiles blinks, eyelids dragging as if in a dream, it feels like the world's tilted. Peter's too close. "Are you alright, Stiles?" he asks, voice soft and quiet. His proximity's a drug that blankets the thoughts in Stiles' head, and all Stiles can manage is a slow, halting nod.

Peter's brow furrows, his eyes flicking to Stiles' lips before returning to his eyes. "Are you sure?" His lips curl into a hint of a wry smile. "You're quiet again."

And Stiles clenches his teeth together, frustration cutting through the warmth, because this? This isn't fair. "You barely know me," he says. "Maybe I like being quiet." He pulls his elbow out of Peter's hand and escapes Peter's hold unscathed, and it grates on him that he knows he was only able to get away because Peter let him get away. He grabs a lukewarm slice of pizza from the box on the counter and leaves the kitchen.

He almost wishes Peter hadn't let him get away. Maybe then Peter wouldn't affect him so much anymore.

He sits on the floor and leans his head on Erica's knee while they watch Night of the Lepus, a ridiculous B movie about giant killer rabbits. Peter leaves five minutes in out of sheer disgust, and while he walks past, Stiles presses closer to Erica as if to prove he's totally not desperate for another's touch. Everyone else has always believed Stiles' act. Peter should, too.

 

o—o—o

 

July passes before the next pack meeting. During it, Stiles initiates two game nights with Scott, and on one notably hot, muggy Saturday night, Erica drags him and Boyd out for ice cream. Scott hugs him, and Erica pokes and prods him, and Boyd nudges him, and it should be enough.

And it is enough... on those three individual days. As for the other 28 days of the month, Stiles feels... empty. Alone.

The nightmares worsen. It's not just Gerard anymore. Now it's werewolves and lizards and his mother again. It's always the worst when it's her, her nails sharp and her words sharper. Sometimes, it's like he's a scared, helpless child again, and all the work he's put into changing who he is doesn't mean a thing.

A customer startles him one day by tapping his shoulder to get his attention, and he jumps back and away, then shrinks in on himself in the same millisecond, heart racing like a fucking bomb went off. It’s… awkward. The customer, some preteen hyped up about the Hunger Games, probably thinks he’s a headcase.

None of this is normal. It isn't healthy. It isn't okay.

Stiles doesn't know what to do anymore. He's already fixed himself once. What if he can't do it again?

 

o—o—o

 

Children sicken and die, and they spend their second pack meeting seeking the cause. Stiles pours over every remotely relevant piece of literature and media he can find until the words on the pages and screens bleed into each other and Peter touches the back of his neck. It's such a light graze, only a whisper of fingers, but it makes Stiles' heavy head dip forward, his eyelids fluttering. Peter sets a granola bar and a glass of water down in front of him before pulling his warmsofthuman hand away to do some research of his own.

It's an African species of vampire feeding off the children, Stiles discovers three hours later. An adze, it's called, in all appearances a blood-sucking firefly until it transforms into a human when Scott catches it. Derek kills it before Scott can manage to convert it to the side of good.

Stiles goes home, sleeps for an hour, then drives to work, still wearing yesterday's clothes.

 

o—o—o

 

Since the adze left him no time to pack a lunch, Stiles heads to the cafe that afternoon. Niyati herself, an imposing, elderly Indian woman wearing a bindi on her forehead, greets Stiles when he comes in and asks him if he’s alright. “You look paler than usual,” she says, a smile teasing at the corner of her lips.

“It’s been a long week,” Stiles tells her. He orders his usual coffee and whatever crepe she feels like making and takes his place at the table in the back corner of the shop, opposite the door.

It’s a quiet Wednesday. Stiles’ brain is too fried to play around on his phone or read, so he people-watches instead. The crepe Niyati makes him tastes good. It’s tomato, cheese, and bacon, and the perfect pick-me-up after the night Stiles has had. It’s relaxing, just sitting, eating, and watching. His breath evens out, and he drifts.

And then Peter walks in, eyes going straight to Stiles and crinkling at the corners. Stiles sighs and glares at him. It’s more of a “why me?” glare than a “get the hell outta here” glare. Stiles doesn’t have the energy to form the latter. Peter quirks a grin before approaching Niyati, and Stiles doesn’t think a stronger glare would have made a difference.

Bearing a chocolate tart and a cup of coffee, Peter, of course, takes a seat across from Stiles like they’re not reluctant allies at best. (Perhaps not reluctant on Peter’s part, though, given the smirk on his face.) “We just spent the last two days together,” Stiles says, setting his fork down and giving Peter a look. “Haven’t you already met your monthly quota of Stiles-time?”

Leaning in, Peter grins and nudges Stiles’ calf, which Stiles absolutely does not notice, no siree. “Oh, I could never get enough of you, Stiles,” Peter purrs.

Stiles rolls his eyes so hard they threaten to fly out of his head before he digs into his food again. “You know,” he says after a moment, jabbing his fork at Peter, “I don’t know how I was ever afraid of you. You’re way too over the top.”

Leaning back, Peter pulls a book out of his messenger bag and flips it open. Without looking at Stiles, he says almost absently, “I could always murder someone else for you.”

Stiles almost spit-takes. “How is that not over the top!?” What even is this?

Peter glances up. “Well, then you’d be afraid, wouldn’t you? Not of me, of course, but of what I could do for you.” He looks down at his book.

Stiles takes a long, drawn out gulp of his coffee as he mulls this over. Finally, he asks, “Why would you want to do anything for me? Wouldn’t it be easier to threaten me as usual?”

Niyati clears her throat, sending Stiles a concerned look. He smiles at her and waves it away before looking back at Peter, who’s watching him, as entertained as ever. “There’s little I want I haven’t got,” Peter says. “I’m just putting my services out there. You never know when you’ll need a favor.” He looks down and flips a page of his book, and they lapse into silence.

Stiles peers as much as he can at the book. It looks like some sort of Nirvana biography. Huh.

 

o—o—o

 

Sometimes the world... drifts away from him. Or he drifts away from it. His friends speak clearly, but he can't distinguish the words. He's too far away, suspended above them all in a torpor, moving his limbs like his body's a puppet, and he's pulling the strings from somewhere above the ceiling. He should focus on what they're saying, but he can't. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want anything.

"Stiles," Derek snaps, and a burst of panic wrenches Stiles back into awareness.

"What?" he asks a little too breathlessly.

"I said, do you want sausage or pepperoni?"

"Oh, I don't care," Stiles says, focus on regulating his breathing and bringing himself back down.

This, apparently, catches Scott's attention. "You don't care?" he asks, brow adorably furrowed.

Stiles realizes his mistake. He loves pepperoni, hates sausage, and is almost always vocal about his opinions. He better make up for his distraction before Scott thinks there's something actually wrong. "Just distracted," he says. "Pepperoni, accept no substitutions.

Thankfully, Scott seems to buy it, and no one else notices, and Stiles shrinks back into the couch. He closes his eyes and lets himself doze, the murmurs of his friends, of his apparent “pack”, like a lullaby.

Something isn’t right.

He used to blame the disease. She used to blame it, too. It was easier that way.

He was young, and it had her in its grip for most of his life, a steady wear on her soul until the mother who used to read him to sleep drifted into memory. “I’m sorry,” she used to say... afterwards. “I… lost myself. I didn’t mean to.” And a day later she would do it again.

Stiles used to be sorry all the time, too. If he hadn’t talked back, she wouldn’t have had to hit him. If he hadn’t forgotten to clean his room, she wouldn’t have had to smash his toys. If he hadn’t, if he hadn’t, if he hadn’t….

His father intervened when he could, or when he realized he should, and Claudia rent words into his mind and nails into his skin. Sometimes Stiles wonders if that’s his fault, too. And whenever he realizes what he’s thinking, he digs his gnawed fingernails into his own palms because he shouldn’t think that way anymore. He knows better now. Claudia didn’t have to do the things she did. She didn’t have to take her suffering out on them.

Stiles’ father is an alcoholic, and Scott’s dad is an alcoholic. The Sheriff never hurt his kid. Raphael McCall did. So, alcoholism wasn’t the problem. It was the person. And alcoholism isn’t the same as dementia, but….

(This isn’t the time or place.)

He’s drilled this into his head so many times, masochist that he is. He wants to blame the dementia so very badly and he has to because his mother’s dead, her life snatched away far before its time. It would be selfish and cruel to be angry at her and only her. Right?

If he had known someone else with frontotemporal dementia, what would he have seen? Would they be the same as Claudia?

The world always seems to say, “probably not,” as callous and fickle as you please, and Stiles wants to scream, Whywhywhywhy—

Why?

Why is he rehashing this again? He ruminates over this every single night. He knows how this goes. Sometimes he wallows in guilt, sometimes in anger, and so what? Maybe he’d be a different person if his life had been better, if Claudia had been better, but then again, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe the Stiles he could have been wouldn’t have survived werewolves and kanimas and hunters. Maybe he’s better this way.

This isn’t right this isn’t right he has to figure out why it isn’t right—

He wakes up, and he still hates himself. Guilt and anger still choke him. It’s unusual. He usually swallows it all down, but now he can’t. It’s weird, but he can handle it. He always does.

Scott whimpers.

Unfamiliar voices indicate people moving about the loft, and Stiles stays still as he tries to count and locate them. It sounds like two men, one grunting as he drags something heavy towards the front door of the loft, the other somewhere closer to the kitchen, listing... prices in a deep, guttural voice. “Thirteen thousand each for the claws, up to twenty-five thousand for the liver. But if we keep him alive we could make triple that. It’s riskier, but… tempting. What about that one?” Deep Voice asks.

A chill goes down Stiles’ spine as two cool, slim fingers touch his neck and press down on the pulse of his carotid artery. “Just a human,” a woman with a high-pitched voice says with disdain, and an unnatural, visceral helplessness wracks Stiles’ body. It makes him feel like a tiny child again, curling up in the corner and praying for it to stop.

This woman’s doing something to both his and probably the rest of the pack’s emotions. He doesn’t know if it’s just to paralyze them or if it’s to do something more, but he knows he’s had worse for better reasons, and he can handle whatever she throws at him. His old therapist would probably tell him this compartmentalizing ability is unhealthy and that it’s rooted in his belief that his feelings don’t matter, which, true, but it’s advantageous to his current situation, and that’s what really counts.

Derek’s loft is still pretty sparse and utilitarian. There aren’t any convenient paperweights he can grab and bash someone’s head in, and no one brought any weapons that Stiles knows of since their “meeting” was supposed to be a glorified movie night (although Allison probably has some knives strapped to her body somewhere, but Stiles isn’t about to grope her looking for them). There’s a small lamp on the side table. Or he could pull the drawer out and hit the creepy emotional lady with it…. He really needs to start packing his own weapons.

...Maybe he could punch her? His dad taught him how to throw a punch. He nearly broke Jackson’s nose that one time. But he’d probably end up tripping over the rug or something first.

When Sir Grunts-a-Lot drags something out of the room (a werewolf body probably, or maybe Lydia), Stiles opens his eyes ever so slightly to let the light in, and then he makes his move. He tackles the creepy lady, knocking her behind the couch, and beats her over the head with the lamp until Deep Voice leaps around the couch and aims a gun at him. Stiles —somehow— throws himself over and brings Creepy Lady down on top of him, jabbing his thumbs into her eyes. Helplessness and terror seeps into his body, and he feels so, so cold, but this isn’t his mother. This person, he can hurt.

A bullet hits the floor beside his head, sending splinters of Derek’s floor cutting into Stiles’ cheek, the gunshot making his ears ring, and this is it, he’s going to die—

Boyd vaults over the back of the couch and tackles the gunman. Erica follows and drags Creepy Lady off Stiles, and Scott and Allison stumble into view.

The fight passes in a blur, and the next thing Stiles knows, Lydia’s tugging him away from all the thrashing limbs and herding him into the kitchen, out of the way of any stray bullets or throwing daggers. It doesn’t take long for the three werewolves and Allison to dispatch the third man outside, and within minutes they’ve hauled Derek and Isaac’s shaking bodies back up to the loft.

A wave of exhaustion shudders through Stiles and he stays in the kitchen when Lydia leaves to investigate the two werewolves’ apparent catatonia. Stiles leans his head back against the back wall, his side pressed against the cupboards under the sink, and just... listens. His ears still ring from the gunshot, and it takes him a while before he can make out what they're saying in the other room. Isaac seems to have recovered, but Derek....

"Maybe we just have to wait—" Scott says.

"Not with his eyes looking like that!" says Lydia.

"Dad doesn't know anything," says Allison. "But he's on his way—"

Now Isaac cuts in, voice rough and shaking. Stiles recognizes that voice. It makes him heave himself off the floor to see what's going on. "Deaton doesn't know what it is," says Isaac. He clears his throat, and his voice gets a little firmer. "He's researching."

Stiles leans in the doorway. His body's heavy, and his gaze moves slowly as he takes in the scene in front of him. Derek lies still and prone on the couch, staring up at the ceiling with cloudy eyes. Erica and Boyd hover in front of him, Isaac pressing in close to their backs. Scott, Allison, and Lydia stand off to the side. All of them (except the vegetative Derek) look clueless.

"Call Peter," Stiles says. His voice comes out a tired monotone, and everyone but Derek turns to look.

"Peter might kill him," Scott says.

Under other circumstances, Stiles might walk forward or shake his head, but right now he's too tired to move, and far too tired to put any emphasis into saying, "If Peter wanted to kill Derek, he would've done it already."

He needs to sit down. But not here in the doorway. Not in the open.

Scott still looks doubtful.

"This is rooted in emotion," Stiles says, voice still dull. "Nobody knows Derek's emotions better than Peter. Call him." He doesn't have the energy nor the will nor the ability to argue this further, so he turns around without another word and returns to the kitchen. He sinks down into same corner again, pressing his back against the reassuring solidity of the cupboard and wall. No one can come up behind him this way, not like when he was on the couch. He'll see them coming.

Time passes.

Peter arrives. Stiles knows because he hears him arguing with Scott. He can't distinguish the words, but he recognizes their voices.

At some point, Erica, Boyd, and Isaac wander in, apparently glued at the hips. Erica's forehead crinkles when she looks down at him. "Stiles, are you okay?"

Act normal, he tells himself. He nods at her. "Yeah," he says, and it's a lie, but he's so distant right now that he's positive his heart doesn't skip a beat. "I'm just... resting."

"We can give you a ride home if you want," Boyd says, sounding casual as can be, like this isn't totally weird.

Stiles shrugs and shakes his head. The movement feels like it takes a second too long to start after he thinks about it. "I've got my Jeep. I just need a few more minutes." He offers them a wan smile. "Thanks, though." He wishes they’d stop looming. Maybe he should stand up.  

After a couple more weak platitudes, they finally leave, Boyd's arm around Isaac's shoulders as they walk out. If Stiles was capable of feeling emotions at the moment, he might be jealous.

A moment passes, not nearly long enough, and Derek staggers into the kitchen and over to the sink, placing his body a foot away from Stiles. Stiles watches as Derek, shivering, fills a glass of water and chugs it before finally looking down at Stiles, who makes himself look back. The heaviness in Derek’s vulnerable stare makes his gut twist, and that warm, safe, distant feeling he’s been hiding in disappears into a cold, quivering disjointedness. Stiles needs to get out, to go home. He needs to be safe, and Derek, Derek who’s the personification of an open wound, isn’t safe.

Stiles heaves himself to his feet, making the proximity between them shrink exponentially, and Derek takes a step back. It’s only then that Stiles notices Peter watching them from the doorway. There are too many people in the room. “You alright?” he forces himself to ask Derek in as few words as possible.

Derek nods, and for all that they both know it’s not true, it’s more than enough for Stiles to make his exit. “Okay,” he says, and he should reach out and clasp Derek’s arm as he leaves but he can’t find the energy to do it.

“I’ll walk you to your car,” Peter says as Stiles passes him, and that rubs Stiles the wrong way.

He wants to be alone. “No thanks,” he says, pushing the front door open with force. Peter follows him anyway, and that… agitates him, like there’s something under his skin.

“I just want to make sure you make it home safely,” Peter says. “I wouldn’t want you to be caught off guard again.”

Stiles could argue, but it’s not worth the energy, not when he knows Peter will follow him anyway. But… “Fine,” Stiles says, stopping at the head of the first staircase. “But you go first.”

Peter smirks. “Worried I’ll push you down?”

And Stiles is just… not in the mood for this. He wants to curl up in his blankets in the dark alone and sleep, right now. And he doesn't want anyone behind him. He sighs and nods his head towards the stairs. “Just go.”

Peter looks him over, and Stiles stares him down, all the while feeling knotted up and squirmy inside. Thankfully, Peter seems to file whatever he's gleaned from the moment for later (because Stiles knows he isn’t just “letting it go”) instead of pestering Stiles further, and he goes.

Peter’s silence and complacency last until they reach Stiles’ Jeep. “You're not okay,” he says, and Stiles pauses with his hand on the door handle, his back to Peter.

"No one in our pack—" if they are a pack "—is okay," Stiles says, voice dull. He needs to sit. Right now. He can hear Peter's footsteps coming up behind him, and he rests his forehead against the window. He tries so hard not to close his eyes.

The air shifts when Peter comes to a stop at his shoulder, and Stiles should turn around, should look, should pay attention, but he can't. "Do you need a ride home?" Peter asks, his voice low and soft, and it makes Stiles' eyes slip closed. Peter sounds concerned, of all things, and it makes Stiles' breath deepen.

"I'm fine," Stiles breathes.

"Stiles," Peter says, and his voice is too soft, too close, too caring, and Stiles can’t

"What do you want, Peter?" He wishes he could take the sound of defeat out of his voice.

"You."

Stiles opens his eyes and tilts his head towards Peter, who stares back avidly. Stiles is... confused. "I am literally dissociating right now," Stiles says slowly because he can admit it, alright? He can. "If you even know what means," he mutters. "I am—"

"I know what that means," Peter says, calm as can be.

Stiles doesn't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. "Great, so you realize I am one hell of a mess, right?" The words take effort, but less than before. Stiles scrutinizes Peter, whose crooked grin says more than enough. "Or maybe you already knew that," Stiles murmurs. He's not going to be Peter's damn toy. Still lethargic, but a little more engaged thanks to Peter (and isn't that a kicker), Stiles steps back to give himself room to open the door, scoffing. "You can take advantage of my vulnerabilities another day. Right now I'm going home."

Peter catches his hand on the door handle. "You saved the pack today. The last thing you are is a vulnerability."

Stiles tries to tug his hand away, but Peter holds tight, his hand a pleasant burn on Stiles' senses. Stiles feels alive where Peter touches him. "I didn't say I was a vuln—"

Peter silences him with a look and pulls away. Stiles misses the warmth already. "I'm following you home to make sure you don't fall asleep with your foot on the accelerator. And then we'll get this—" He brushes a thumb against Stiles' cheek, dividing Stiles' attention between the touch and the newfound painful, raised lump making a line through the meat of Stiles' cheek beneath Peter’s thumb. "—out of your face."

Stiles prods the hardened lump and winces, his heart racing. "What's in my face?" He fumbles for his phone.

"A splinter. A very large splinter."

Stiles opens the camera app on his phone and uses it as a mirror. And there, embedded in the top layer of skin of his cheek, is an inch-long splinter from Derek's floor, a spot of blood marking its entrance. He whimpers, a full-body shudder rippling through him. The feeling of horror that comes with seeing it is akin to seeing a ready-to-use hypodermic needle, and he has to get it out holy shit. "Okay, fine, whatever, just get this out of my face."

 

o—o—o

 

Stiles feels uncomfortably like a kid again as he stands in the bathroom, the small of his back pressed against the sink counter, Peter's left hand holding his face in place. He doesn't like feeling like this, like who he used to be. He much prefers the Stiles who stands up to alphas and hunters and kanimas.

Thing is, he's not that person now, but he's not the kid, either.

In this moment he's not sure who he is.

Peter nudges the splinter with the tweezers, making Stiles wince. In response, Peter's fingers tighten on his face to hold him in place, and he inches the splinter out. Stiles grits his teeth, and Peter slides the splinter the rest of the way out. He's patting Stiles' cheek with gauze to staunch the bleeding before Stiles can do it himself. "There," he murmurs.

His fingers loosen their grip, but he doesn't let go of Stiles' face while they wait. Stiles should protest, but... he'll take advantage of Peter's comfort while he can, however suspicious it might be.

"You know," Peter says, and Stiles' gut clenches because he doesn't want to have to decipher words right now. "The pack wouldn't have survived without you today."

Stiles hums noncommittally. He stares at a point on the wall right above Peter's shoulder.

"I'm only saying, you're a valuable member." He tilts Stiles' face closer and looks him head on. "You know that, don't you?"

His gaze bores into Stiles' eyes, and the easiest option for Stiles seems to be to nod his head. So he nods.

Peter's gaze flickers with something. "How often do you dissociate?"

"Why do you care?"

Peter shrugs. "Call it curiosity."

Stiles shrugs back. "It doesn't matter then."

Peter shifts his grip on Stiles face so that his palm rests on Stiles' cheek. "I've told you before that I like you, Stiles. That hasn't changed." It would be so easy to lean into his touch. "I want you on my side. I want to see what you can do." He sounds like Stiles is the most fascinating thing in the world.

Stiles inhales deeply, his body still. "I don't think I can do much now," he murmurs, voice as much a monotone as every other word that's come out of his mouth in the last few hours. He has to remind himself to blink.

Peter lifts the gauze with a satisfied hum and dabs at Stiles' face with the edge before throwing it away. "That's alright. All you need to do right now is sleep." His hand —sadly— leaves Stiles' face, only to take Stiles' elbow instead, and he steers Stiles into his bedroom. Oddly enough, he stops in Stiles' doorway instead of leading Stiles in further, and Stiles lurches as soon as he feels himself start to slip out of Peter's hold. He presses himself back into Peter's hand. "Is there anything I can do to help?" Peter asks.

He should tell Peter to leave, but... if Peter stops touching him he thinks he might float away. Stiles blinks slowly, staring at his bed before staring at Peter. "I set you on fire," he says carefully.

Peter's lips curl into a smile. "Why do you think I want you on my side?" And Stiles must stare a little too long before he responds because Peter asks again, more clearly and demanding this time, "What can I do to help?"

"Just—" Peter's tone pulls the answer out of Stiles before he can stop himself, and Stiles swallows down the ensuing shiver of vulnerability. He turns into Peter, pulling his shoulder out of Peter's hand and bowing his neck, avoiding Peter's gaze. "Just let me...," he slips unsure hands around Peter's waist and dips his face closer to Peter's neckline, "breathe." They're so close but Stiles can’t

Peter's hands close around his hips, pulling him in, and Stiles lets his forehead fall into the crook of Peter's neck with a sigh of relief. "Let me breathe," Stiles murmurs, eyes slipping closed.

Peter stands still, for once keeping his mouth shut. His skin is warm and soft against Stiles' forehead and almost ticklish on the bridge of his nose, and the muscles of Stiles' neck relax and droop, making his head grow heavier on Peter's body. Peter's only response is to hold him closer, and Stiles' own hands clench around the werewolf's waist through his soft, thin shirt. Stiles can feel the muscle of Peter's sides move with his breath.

Peter smells like night air and barely noticeable cologne. His skin feels like heaven on Stiles' skin and his breath sends heat curling down his spine, and Stiles drowns in the quiet bliss of it. He breathes in and out, heat spreading through his skin. The only touch between them occurs between their hands on each other's sides and between Stiles' forehead and Peter's neck, but even with the three inches of space between them, Stiles feels embraced. Every scrambled bit of Stiles drains into Peter: the thoughts in his head, the anxiety in his buzzing bones, the cold shadow in his heart. It diffuses into Peter's touch and all Stiles can think is, Please, please don't stop.

And Peter doesn't stop. His hands slide up Stiles's sides and over his back, easing over his shoulder blades and leaving trails of sparking heat in their wake. A full-body shudder wracks Stiles, and he fights off a sob, pressing his face harder into Peter's neck. Peter doesn't say a word, just brings his hands to rest, one covering the nape of Stiles' neck, the other threading through Stiles' hair. Peter holds him there, his own neck bowing towards Stiles' shoulder, and the heat of his palms makes Stiles' knees tremble. Peter doesn't bridge the space between the rest of their bodies, and Stiles is grateful. He doesn't think he could handle that.

He breathes.

Time passes. Minutes, he thinks, just minutes, but they feel like they last forever. Peter's body heat soaks into him, and Stiles is the vessel for it, a ship so often adrift now weighted down and tethered. The house creaks like old houses are wont to do; the wind blows outside, barely audible through the closed window, and the sounds of their soft breaths mingle in the relative silence. Stiles comes back to himself slowly. His body’s heavy and warm, his thoughts alive but easy, smooth. He’s sharing a weird not-hug with Peter Hale. He should be freaked out, but he’s okay. He’s present. He’s here. He’s alive.

He’s exhausted.

He opens his eyes and takes his time getting his bearings. “You’ve filled out,” he says at last, voice rough. “Y’don’t look like a half-starved mountain man anymore.”

Peter hums, and the vibrations of his voice coax a sigh out of Stiles. “Healthy eating, a gym membership, and a humble apartment… I’m a model citizen nowadays,” Peter muses.

Stiles huffs, making the skin of Peter’s throat twitch. At least Stiles isn’t the only reactive one here. He takes one last careful breath before he pulls away, meeting Peter's intent gaze for only a second. Anywhere but Peter proves a much safer place to look. "I—" he has to clear his throat. He tries again, "Thanks for the, for taking out the splinter." His face spasms a little at the memory. "And the... you know." He gestures between them. He feels the urge to apologize, but this is Peter.

Stiles knows he should be more combative, but he's too calm right now. He's far too grounded and warm. It's weird. It's nice.

"Werewolves are tactile creatures, Stiles," Peter says, a quirk to his lips. "Trust me when I say it was no hardship. In fact," he looks down, making a show of examining his fingertips before catching Stiles in his gaze again. "Should you feel the need again, I'm always available."

Stiles swallows, because he knows nothing Peter offers comes without a price. "I think I'm good, thanks. This was... good, you know, but I've got a handle on —this was just because of the psychic or whatever she was. I'm fine." Peter lifts an eyebrow, and Stiles' breath shortens. "Really. It won't happen again."

Peter's eyes flick to Stiles chest, to his heart, and Stiles looks away. But Peter doesn't bring it up. He doesn't have to, and it makes something in Stiles crumple.

Peter takes a step back, and Stiles wants to reel him in again, to ask him to stay. He doesn't.

"The offer still stands," Peter says. He reaches out and takes Stiles' limp hand. "Whenever you need it. Whenever you like." He brings Stiles' hand between them and covers it with his other. "You understand?" He rubs his thumb over Stiles' knuckles and sets the nerves of Stiles' hand ablaze.

Stiles nods wordlessly, and Peter lets him go.

"Good night, Stiles," he says, a tiny smile on his lips, and then he leaves.

Stiles stands there, his body warm and alive, swept into a trance-like state.

Once Peter's long gone, he sighs and collapses into bed like his strings have just been cut.

He sleeps well.

 

o—o—o

 

Peter takes his time driving home, immensely pleased with himself.  Stiles has a taste for him now, and all Peter needs to do is wait.

 

Chapter Text

 

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.

Absolutely.

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

“Ah.”

“Ya’gotta tell Scott,” Stiles mumbles, sluggish, eyes slipping shut.

“What?”

“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.”

“You’re not.”

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.”

“Convenient.”

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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?

Yikes.

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.”

“Asshole.”

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

It worked.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

“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.”

“We would’ve—”

“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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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.

 

o—o—o

 

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

"To the Hills" by Laurel