Stiles slept through most days lately. He didn't have the strength for much else. When he'd ask to watch a movie, he'd be asleep twenty minutes after it started, snoring softly in between the wheezing breaths. Peter had been instructed to turn him to one side or the other at certain intervals, to stave off the development of bed sores.
Night had fallen, late January, and the wind howled outside. It would be a full moon that night, but Peter wouldn't enjoy it. He doubted he'd ever enjoy another full moon again.
As he sat on the bed beside his resting husband, gently trimming Stiles' fingernails, he kept watch, his ear always to Stiles' weakened heartbeat. It ticked like a clock. Soon it would stop. How soon was anyone's guess, but Peter knew it was close. Stiles must know it, too, as he'd peppered Peter with questions about the afterlife over the last couple of weeks. Every time he asked, Peter would tell him something different: the afterlife was a long and winding river, with trees swaying in a light breeze; the afterlife was mountains and valleys and perfect wisps of cumulus clouds; the afterlife was dark and quiet, a stillness that cradled you like a newborn.
He didn't know if he could tell him the truth.
Stiles' hands were pale now, the color having long since receded along with the warmth. Even his nails lacked their usual pinkish tint.
Peter filed away a tiny imperfection, then buffed the nail until it shone.
He'd always complained about the job Stiles did of his own fingernails. Later, when the illness made it too hard for Stiles to do much of his own grooming, Peter cursed himself for ever mentioning it. It was like some unseen force in the universe had heard his complaints and made certain that Peter paid for them.
With each nail he finished, Peter ran the pad of his thumb over the edge of it, then massaged the finger itself, desperate to ease some heat back into Stiles' hands.
Stiles stirred a moment, and Peter stilled, waiting to see if the movement would lead to Stiles waking up.
But he settled quickly, only a light cough disturbing the relative quiet surrounding them.
An errant tear escaped down Peter's cheek.
After placing Stiles' hand over his stomach, Peter retreated to the bathroom and gripped the counter to keep himself from listing; staring down into the sink, his eyes unfocused, his mind racing, he chided himself. Occasionally he would allow himself these moments, always out of Stiles' line of sight. But he shouldn't take these breaks; every moment he had left with Stiles was precious. How dare he squander them like this, feeling sorry for himself?
So Peter plucked the hand lotion from under the sink and returned to the bed, his eyes darting away from the tray of food left sitting on the bedside table.
Stiles hadn't eaten dinner that night; Peter knew too well what that meant.
Being careful not to jostle the bed, Peter sat on his side of it, facing Stiles, who appeared peaceful in sleep. Peter ran fingertips along Stiles' arm, lifting it slightly, taking Stiles' hand again and warming it between his own. Then Peter squeezed some lotion onto his palm and warmed it before massaging it into Stiles' skin. He watched his own veins blacken slightly, curling tendrils spiraling up his arm, then fade away soon after.
He took only minor comfort in knowing that Stiles didn't seem to be in much pain these days.
Another task done, and Peter went through his mental checklist again, desperate to do more for him, to do something tangible for Stiles that would anchor him to Peter. Maybe if he bound them tightly enough together, Peter would take the journey with him.
It sometimes happened with mates, although Peter hadn't heard of it happening to anyone in his lifetime. Nor did it typically occur with non-wolves. They'd tried the bite early on, before Stiles even began what would prove to be fruitless treatments - hospitalizations that marred their new life together.
They'd tried the bite, but Stiles was immune.
Peter decided to take the tray to the kitchen. The food might soon start to smell, and he feared it would trigger Stiles' nausea. Scooping up the tray, he tiptoed to the door, but he mustn't have been quiet enough.
He turned, tray in hand, heart sinking at the weakness in Stiles' voice.
He watched Stiles swallow, a concerted effort that stretched his features into a grimace.
Immediately, Peter returned the tray to the night table and climbed back into bed. There was no time for it now; there was no time for anything.
"No," Peter heard in his own voice, felt the word scrape up his throat, tearing its way free.
Stiles spoke, his voice catching like a scratched record. "Been thinking about what to say here," he whispered, a faint smile dancing up to his eyes. "Can't come up with anything, just... I love you. I love you, Peter, that's... that's all I know to say. I'm sorry, I--" His breath caught in his throat.
"Shh, shh," Peter murmured, pulling himself closer to Stiles. He wrapped both hands around Stiles' face, came down to kiss his lips. "It's all right. You don't have to say anything."
"But I want--" Stiles breathed in sharply, taking in as much air as he could muster. "I want to. Want to tell you... something special."
Peter smiled broadly, despite the tears now streaming down his face. "You already did," he said.
Stiles shut his eyes, steadying his breathing. When he opened them again, they shone with tears. "Will you tell me the truth this time?"
"Please?" The single word was so small, so lonely, like a glimpse into Peter's own future.
He gave Stiles a nod, ran his thumb under Stiles' eye to dry it, and leaned in, pressing another kiss to his lover's forehead.
"I wasn't--" Peter paused, shaking his head. He hated himself for prolonging the lies, building Stiles' hope that someday, when it was really important, he'd tell him the truth.
"You weren't what?"
"I wasn't dead," Peter said. "Not all of me. I was still tethered to this... to this plane of existence. A piece of me was still alive, inside Lydia's mind."
Peter drew in a shaky breath. "I'm sorry, Stiles, I-- I can't tell you what it's going to be like. Because I don't know."
Stiles stared at Peter for a single second before he shut his eyes again, scrunching them up as he fought not to cry.
"I'm so sorry," Peter repeated, lips pressing a kiss to Stiles' temple, his words barely audible even to his own ears.
His hand bunched Peter's shirt, the grip feeble and short-lived. Listening hard, Peter heard Stiles' heart skip a beat, slower when it returned.
"It's okay," Stiles whispered.
He looked at Peter then, eyes half-lidded but bright with affection. Peter marveled that Stiles could still look at him that way after hearing the truth.
"I'm just... glad I didn't go in my sleep," he said.
Peter pulled both of Stiles' hands to his chest. "Why?"
Stiles smiled. "I wanna be looking at you when the lights go out."
Peter fought tears, but he wasn't very successful. He held Stiles closer to him, wrapped him up in his arms, as if he could will the boy's soul to stay inside his body.
Stiles drew in another shaky breath. "Can we go outside?"
Peter took a moment before getting up, wanting desperately to give Stiles every last wish he made, but also fearing what might happen if he did. He gathered his composure and kissed Stiles before standing, walking around to the other side of the bed so he could lift Stiles out of it, into his arms, and carry him out to the porch.
He headed for the bench swing at the far end of the house, settling Stiles across his lap as he sat. Stiles leaned his head on Peter's chest, the move outside having winded him, even though he'd done none of the work to get there. He let his arms sit useless on his thighs while Peter held onto him, rocking him gently.
"Wanna... see the sky, Peter," Stiles mumbled.
Had he been human, Peter might not have heard Stiles speaking into his shirt.
Resituating both himself and Stiles, Peter maneuvered his frail partner so that he was lying back, head cradled by Peter's arm. Peter glanced up, over his own shoulder, to gauge the vantage point the new position gave him: plenty of sky behind a few tree branches, the full moon bright and unobscured.
When he turned back, he caught a smile spreading across Stiles' face.
"The moon... behind your head," Stiles said, smile brightening. "It's like a halo."
He drew in a sharp breath, and briefly Peter thought he was choking on the air. Then he stilled, the smile dropping slightly, eyes staring up at Peter.
Peter barely heard his own voice in the quiet, his own pulse pounding in his ears. The wolf inside him knew before he did, howled from within his chest using his own foolish heart.
He let out a single wretched sob, drew up his knees to clutch Stiles as close as he could, and nuzzled into Stiles' neck, catching the last of his scent before it faded for good.