Disclaimer: I do not own Teen Wolf.
Stiles wakes up drowsy, sticky, and squeezed into the backseat of a car speeding along a street at what has to be rocket speed. Not his everyday routine.
"What—oh, jesus," Stiles murmurs as he tries to sit up and feels a sharp twinge of agony in his stomach pushing him back down into a supine position. He hits his head on the window and feels his skull protest the impact. It's dark, well after evening, but the headlights of cars whizzing by illuminate his body in chunks of momentary light and show Stiles the clumps of blood staining his favorite plaid button-down. Dammit.
"Try not to move," a voice says from the front seat, and Stiles almost forgot that somebody has to be driving. He sits up again despite his better judgment and sees a familiar profile, Peter's profile, clutching onto the steering wheel while the overwhelming scent of coppery blood—his ownblood—filters into his nose.
"This better not be a kidnapping," Stiles slurs as he falls back down again. He shucks up his shirt, bloodied and torn like he just escaped a zombie apocalypse, and stares at the injuries slashed up his stomach. There are three jagged claw marks sliced into his skin, ripping cleanly up to his ribcage. Stiles runs his fingers through the puddles of crusting blood, feels the wetness on his skin, and promptly starts hyperventilating.
"Stiles, calm down," Peter says, and Stiles tries to listen. There's blood all over his hands, all over his shirt, all over his stomach, and he doesn't want to hear a single I told you so from the front seat. He supposes that if Scott was the one driving he'd have said it a thousand times already, that this is what Stiles gets for running into a pack of alphas with absolutely no solid plan in mind. He groans and struggles to find room for his legs, cramped into the tiny backseat and knocking his knees constantly into the door handle, and that's when a bottle of pills comes flying into the backseat.
"What's this?" Stiles says, picking it up from where it landed in the foot room. It shakes like a rattle in his hand as Peter swerves over bumps on the road, trying to focus on the tiny writing printed over the label.
"Pain meds," Peter supplies. "Take one. Or, here you go."
A carton of cigarettes goes flying into the back next, falling between Stiles' legs. Stiles picks it up with a furrowed brow and considers chucking it out the window if only because of Mrs. McCall's stern voice in his head warning him away from smoking.
"What the hell?"
"You're in pain, aren't you?" Peter says from the front seat. "I'm giving you options."
Stiles does throw the cigarettes out the window, but pops open the pill bottle. A voice in his head, the logical voice, is telling him to never accept medication from a man who has, on multiple occasions, tried to kill him, but if the getaway car he's currently lodged in is any indication, Stiles has an inkling that Peter is the one responsible for saving him. The pain in his abdomen has also now upgraded to mind-boggling, another factor that's encouraging him to swallow whatever meds are thrown into his palm and do it fast.
He tries to spend a moment wondering how on earth he ended up being driven away at ambulance speeds with Peter Hale commandeering the car when he started the evening so innocently, ready to follow Scott into his daily dose of shit as per usual, but comes up with nothing. He supposes he's been rescued from doom if the strong odor of blood and the aches throbbing through his side, his ribs, his head, his kneecaps are any pieces of evidence, but it still baffles him that Peter's the one to step up to the plate and perform any heroic acts. He swallows two pills dry and feels them hiccup down his throat as the car jumps over more potholes in the road that Stiles feels magnified tenfold with the way his very skin seems sensitive to touch.
He's barely closed his eyes and focused on letting the pain seep away when Peter swerves the car off the road and he jerks awake, suddenly aware that Peter's crawling in the backseat with him and staring down his wounds. Stiles would be concerned about what comes next if the pain meds weren't already kicking in and making the world pleasantly blurry.
"You know injuries from an Alpha are the worst, right?" Peter tells him, running his fingers gently over the sides of his wounds. It's a startlingly soft touch, just a fingertip trailing through the dried blood, and Stiles lets it happen if only because he isn't feeling sharp stabs of pain because of it. He props up his head and notices that there's a stripe of fabric wrapped around Peter's thigh and knotted tightly over a gash ripped through his jeans.
"What happened to you?" Stiles asks, reaching out to stare at where Peter's right leg is hanging over the seat limp and bloody.
"Same thing that happened to you," Peter says. "Except mine happened when I was trying to save your hide."
Stiles frowns. Saving the boy who tried to light you on fire seems a little too good to be true, like there's some revenge bubbling under the surface. He starts to struggle and Peter pushes him onto his back with a firm palm that leaves no room for arguments.
"Why aren't you healing?"
"I will," Peter insists. "Just stop moving already."
Stiles gives in, but only after mumbling something vaguely reminiscent to if you kill me make sure someone eats spaghetti with my dad every Thursday.
"I looked all over Wal-Mart, and there just isn't a thanks for saving my life card," Stiles says from where he's wavering in the doorway of Derek's loft, a thick bandage wrapped around his midsection that he's had one bitch of a time hiding from his father. "So I guess I have to deliver the thanks in person."
Peter grins from the door, but still looks unsatisfied. Stiles is not upping his gratitude to flowers and chocolate. He just isn't.
"As flattered as I am that you took the time to drive over here," Peter drawls. "You owe me."
"I owe you?" Stiles repeats incredulously. He wants to point out that he probably wasn't going to die, even with way claws had literally sunk into his torso and attempted to grab his liver as an afternoon snack, and that Peter's milking this a little. He has other stuff he wants to be doing with his afternoon.
"Your debt to me is paid under one condition."
Stiles imagines a handful of horrid options. Washing Peter's car, making him dinner, collecting him a bouquet of wolfsbane.
"What is it?"
"Go to dinner with me."
"Just so you know, this is weird," Stiles says as he balances two popcorn containers and a soda the likes of which would be enough to hydrate him through a hike up Mount Everest. "And I never agreed to a movie too."
"Dinner and a movie go hand in hand, everybody knows that," Peter dismisses loftily from where he's picking out a handful of sweets at the concession stand, handful being the operative word as Peter starts loading his elbow with packets of chocolate. It's Stiles' favorite type of chocolate, like he somehow knows without Stiles ever having to tell him how much he'll sell his soul for M&Ms.
"Get the Swedish Fish," Stiles says in spite of himself between the towers of popcorn.
"Besides, I let you pick the movie," Peter concedes as he complies with Stiles' wishes and adds more to his pile. He ends up with an armful of candy sure to put them both in a diabetic coma as he leads Stiles over to the theater and guides him with a hand on his back that Stiles shrugs off while he struggles to maintain the juggling act in his hands before his popcorn tragically spills over the carpet. Considering that this is his price for having his life saved, Stiles isn't complaining too much.
"Why are you limping," Stiles asks when they make it into the theater and climb to the top. Stiles is glad Peter isn't a front row kind of man if only to avoid the crick in his neck that would result from trying to watch a movie two inches from his face. Peter is in front of him leading the way to the highest row in the theater with a drag to his right leg, and Stiles' memory flits back to the bloody wound that shone in the moonlight the night they were cramped into the backseat together while Stiles struggled to stay conscious. "Haven't you healed?"
Peter sidles into his seat and rolls his eyes, snatching the popcorn away from Stiles and settling his drink in the cup holder. There's gum on the seat in front of them and popcorn kernels littered under their feet, and it reminds Stiles scarily of what he always wanted his first date with Lydia to be, plus some feeding each other Sno-Caps and holding buttery hands in the popcorn. He pushes that thought aside and stares at the spot in Peter's leg where he remembers there being the most blood.
"Of course I have," Peter says. Stiles leans over, grabs his thigh, and watches as Peter winces and seizes Stiles' wrist before planting it on his other leg instead. "I think first date protocol says you're supposed to wait until at least the middle of the movie before you start groping someone's privates."
"Is it because it was from an Alpha?" Stiles asks, ignoring all the sexual commentary flying right at his face. The couple sidling into their seats one row under theirs shoots Stiles a look like he's spouting nonsense and Peter promptly covers his mouth with his palm.
"Shut up, Stiles," he says, tilting his chin down and fixing Stiles with the best threat he can possibly convey without using his words. Stiles takes heed and wonders why on earth Peter wanted to willingly spend time with Stiles as his reward for carrying him away from danger when there were plenty of other things, beneficial, useful things, that he could've demanded.
One hour into the movie when Peter's hand crawls up his thigh and Stiles falls out of his seat, he gets why.
If there's one thing Stiles remembers from his father's bullet point list of Trouble to Avoid, picking up hitchhikers is definitely one of the highest on the list, superseded only by catastrophes like never believe them when they say the stains are ketchup or beware of the dog usually means beware of the fucking big ass dog.
But his mother also taught him lessons, things like be nice to people and share crayons during recess, so Stiles listens to his first instinct and takes pity on the blurry figure he sees sticking his thumb out in the middle of the road. It's raining, starting out two hours ago as a gentle drizzle that made his wipers screech over the glass and steadily ascended into a heavy collection of clouds insistently pouring onto the thirsty ground. Stiles feels something like sympathy pluck at his heartstrings in what might be true betrayal of the police instinct his father tried so hard to embed into Stiles' memory at the sight of the sopping body, small against the gray sky, and his tires slip against the road as he pulls over.
The wind whistles around his car as it quivers under the abuse of the weather, and as a shower of cold rain tumbles onto him as the passenger door is wrenched open, Stiles sees a flash of dripping hair and raindrops slipping off a sleek leather jacket, and that's when he realizes that he just picked up a pathetic, doused-like-a-wet-dog version of Peter Hale. Stiles personally hopes the waterlogged clothing and soggy underwear takes the edge off his scathing comments as he smacks his forehead into the steering wheel and curses the gods above.
"Jesus Christ," Stiles mumbles, watching as Peter throws his wet jacket into the backseat and his sodden pants start leaving a pool of rainwater on his seats. The entire car suddenly smells like extremely wet dog, and Stiles watches with a grimace as his passenger seat absorbs the moisture and acquires what is sure to be a fat, beautiful water stain in the making. "Why are you out here? Did you know I was driving on this road?"
Peter rolls his eyes at him, the derision much less effective when there are raindrops clinging to his eyelashes. "Don't flatter yourself," he says. "I got caught in bad weather."
"The big bag werewolf is taken down by a little rain," Stiles deadpans as he watches Peter pull a dripping cell phone from the pocket of his jeans and look at its sodden state like he's considering pitching it out the window. "Priceless."
"Besides, I could smell you coming up the road so I decided to hitch a ride."
"Tell me you're kidding," Stiles groans. He resists the urge to get a good whiff of himself just to check what the werewolves—basically, all of his friends—are smelling every time he wanders past them, assuming it's a rancid combination of body odor and cheap laundry detergent and maybe a little bit of Cheetos.
"Maybe," Peter says, shrugging. He peels off his shirt next, a free strip show Stiles definitely didn't pay for, and he jolts in his seat as Peter pulls it over his head, exposing a pale, defined torso that flexes under his movements before he rolls up his wad of a shirt and wrings it out in the foot room.
"Wow, dude. Not cool. Definitely unnecessary," Stiles watches as rainwater pools in the foot room by Peter's muddy shoes, getting another strong whiff of dank, moist car seats that will likely fill the entire car until Christmas or he hangs one of those scented trees from his mirror and tries not to have an asthma attack from the overload of manufactured aromas. "Just—put it in the back."
Peter gives and tosses his ball of a wet t-shirt into the backseat, lounging against the seat with a deep, satisfied breath and still unbelievably shirtless. He shifts his feet, the sound of soggy socks squelching in shoes hitting Stiles' eardrums over the pounding of the rain on the roof, and he's frankly a little surprised Peter didn't find it appropriate to throw his pants in the backseat too if only to succeed in his task of making Stiles as uncomfortable as possible. Stiles decides then that yes, his father is absolutely right, and that hitchhiking is never, ever a good idea. One shot at helping out a stranger and he gets the werewolf serial killer that terrorized the town curled into his passenger seat, face ashen and hair a dark contrast around his pale face.
"So where am I taking you?" Stiles sighs in resignation, resting his elbow on the steering wheel as he waits for the answer. He's hoping not farther than Derek's loft, because he definitely isn't up for chauffeuring Peter's half-naked ass all around Beacon Hills.
"Your house is fine," Peter says breezily.
Stiles pauses. "Who said you could come to my house?"
"Considering you had the compassion to pick up a potentially dangerous stranger on the side of the road—really, Stiles, I thought you knew better, you should be glad it was just me," Peter interjects with a disappointed frown in Stiles' direction. Stiles thinks his certainty in his own harmlessness is a little naïve. "I can only assume that your hospitality will extend to helping out a poor old soul in the rain find a nice hot cup of tea."
He leans against the headrest, giving Stiles a look unrightfully stolen from a hungry pleading puppy that almost fools him into believing Peter is actually a troubled victim of the unpredictable weather, and Stiles' every bone tells him to say no and screech off for the nearest homeless shelter to leave him to be picked up by Derek when he eventually realizes Peter's gone missing. As usual, he ignores his gut feeling governed by sure things like logic and reason, and peels back onto the wet road to his house.
"See, I knew you'd do the right thing and help out an ally," Peter says when they pull up to the first light heading back to his neighborhood, smirking when Stiles raises his eyebrow at his debatable choice of words. "We're certainly teammates against the alpha pack, so I wouldn't look so surprised."
Stiles chews on that like bad fish in his mouth the rest of the drive home, the lack of his father's car tucked into the garage a sign from up above that sometimes good deeds apparently do go unpunished.
Stiles doesn't know how to use the kettle to save his life.
He doesn't make tea, never being much of a tea drinker considering he was always too busy downing energy drinks and too much caffeine for his own system to properly process, but he knows it's the protocol to make a piping hot pot of tea when there's a chilly guest wrapped in a flimsy throw infested with mothballs from the storage closet stowed away upstairs probably looking through his mail and rummaging around under his bed for his pornography as Stiles frets over how to prepare earl gray, even if that guest happens to be Peter. He would deserve it if Stiles sneezed in his tea a few times and then used toilet water to bring to a boil.
He doesn't, though. The water is free from contamination and is popping away on the stove right before the kettle starts whistling like it's announcing the arrival of the cavalry and Stiles almost falls flat on his ass at the startling sound. He considers dumping a spoonful of sugar in the concoction after Stiles loses the teabag in the steaming water, but decides that Peter's black soul is too bitter to try to sweeten with something that isn't strong enough to rival a voodoo ritual, and then brings mug of hot tea to his room and only spills a few drops on the scramble up the stairs.
When he opens the door, he sees Peter cocooned in the throw like a swaddled toddler. A swaddled toddler who happens to be able to stumble around the room rifling through Stiles' bookshelf looking for incriminating literature, like he's expecting to see the Twilight series lurking behind the school textbooks he shoved on the shelf to accumulate dust at the beginning of the school year. Considering Stiles just spent twenty minutes of his life trying to figure out the mechanics of the kettle for the sake of a man who used to be the reason he almost wet his bed as a sophomore in high school, thank you very much, Stiles expects manners a little more refined than blatant snooping.
"It's like you're not even trying to hide the fact that you're spying and a terrible human being," Stiles sighs, and promptly shoves Peter onto the bed and thrusts the mug into his hands. Peter goes with the motions shockingly easily. Wrapped around the blanket, ratty and worn from where it had to be washed when Stiles threw up on the corner when he had the flu in second grade, Peter looks inexplicably smaller. That's when Stiles picks up on the fact that he's shivering.
"You don't look so great, dude," Stiles points out as he takes in the details of Peter's waterlogged form, skin nearly white and lips quaking like Alaskan hypothermia is starting to settle in. "I thought one of the pros of being a werewolf was the not having to deal with trivialities like the everyday cold."
"Still doesn't give me the power to create a rain-resistant shield every time I'm caught in bad weather," Peter snipes from around his cup of tea, slurping up a generous gulp. He looks very much—still—like a drenched kitten dragged onto the porch and ruffled with a towel's vigorous rubbing.
"I can see the freezing sleet hasn't taken away that winning optimistic attitude," Stiles snarks around a thumbs up that Peter promptly ignores by burying his face in the mug. He says nothing about the tea, not a single wit-warped comment about the over steeping over the teabag or a mild thank you for the free service, but Stiles didn't exactly expect a tip.
"Is this the part where you tuck me in?" Peter drawls after another long slurp. He looks at Stiles from over the rim of his cup, eyes both incredibly contemptuous and secretly challenging, like he's daring Stiles to come swaddle him, and Stiles fails to take the bait. He's grown out of double dog dares ever since Scott urged him to swallow the shriveled worm he found in his backyard under the claim that it was a tootsie roll. Stiles remembers throwing up into Mrs. McCall's rosebushes for at least forty minutes straight.
"This is the part where you thank you for not kicking your sopping wet furry ass out into the rain."
Peter says nothing, which is exactly what Stiles has been hoping for if only to give him a semblance of what it feels like to have authority, but then Peter places his cup aside and grabs Stiles' arm. His fingertips are frigid on Stiles' forearm, the hot mug doing nothing to warm his chilled skin, and he traces his thumb up a sore red mark littered up Stiles' arm where the kettle pressed into his elbow and left angry spots in place of the searing heat. His fingers tickle up the tender skin and Stiles jerks his arm back.
"You burned yourself on the kettle?" Peter murmurs, like he overheard the whole thing upstairs when Stiles let out a litany of curse words that would make his dead grandmother convulse into a seizure in her grave.
"Yeah," Stiles says, yanking his sleeve over the raw redness even as the fabric of his hoodie aggravates the skin as it scrapes over his arm down to his wrist. Peter's eyes stay glued to the spot on his arm, now safely hidden under a blue cotton sleeve.
"Now just imagine," Peter says, getting up from the bed and running his hand down Stiles' cheek to his jaw, brushing a mole on the way down to his neck, "that same burn all down your face and your body. And ten times worse."
Stiles swallows and Peter trails his fingers down past his collarbone over the wrinkly fabric of his t-shirt. The touching and the proximity would seem almost threatening if Peter's hair wasn't a mass of damp, rainy curls hugging his head and his body wasn't burritoed in a crocheted throw that made him look like the grandma the big bad wolf ate as dinner, which is the most beautiful example of irony Stiles has ever seen manifested in front of him. Stiles tugs on the wet blanket, digging his fingers into the loops of the yarn as it slips from Peter's shoulders and lands in his palm as a moist bundle of damp wool.
"Rather not," Stiles says. Peter looks up at him, somehow infinitely smaller without the throw wrapped around his body, and it's the first time Stiles notices that he has at least an inch advantage on the guy's height. "There are much nicer things I could be imagining, thanks."
Peter smirks, a semblance of his former self, perpetually amused, flitting over his face. A part of him still looks small drenched in salty rainwater, like a cat in a thunderstorm, disgruntled and taken down a few pegs, and Stiles actually smiles back for a moment.
"I'm sure you do," Peter whispers in his ear, and even his breath is cold. Stiles wants to make a joke about his heart of ice, but the tingling prickles of Peter's breath tickling his earlobe are stealing the words away as Peter picks the mug back up, downs the rest of the tea with one cursory look to where the dredges have gathered on the bottom corner, and slips past him. Their shoulders brush. "I'll leave the cup in the sink."
Stiles (9:32): did your uncle ever make it home or is he still prowling around the rain looking for somebody else's car to sit in and make it smell like wet dog
Derek (9:40): you talked to him today? what happened?
Derek (9:43): he says sorry about the wet seats in the jeep
Stiles (9:45): I will only accept naked car washes as apologies
Derek (9:48): he says that's fine
Stiles (9:49): wait I didn't mean him
Stiles (9:50): I meant naked girls
Stiles (9:52): Derek
"I'm just saying, he has a history of serial killing," Stiles mutters defiantly where he's squatting in Derek's kitchen with Scott by his side. He has no idea why Derek only ever sees reason when he's hearing it come out of Scott's mouth, but if he had to guess he supposes the constant quips and sarcasm is the main reason Stiles' ideas always fall by the wayside.
"We all do a little by now," Isaac says, and it makes Stiles wince when he realizes how right he is.
"Yeah, but what Peter did was more like rampage the entire town killing whoever stood in his way and then came back to life when he was killed. He's like a bad penny, can't shake 'em."
"This talking behind my back thing," a silken voice interrupts, and suddenly Peter's leaning in the doorway polishing an apple while Derek pinches the bridge of his nose at his appearance, "is all a little too high school for me."
He gives Stiles a pointed look, like he expects more maturity from him, and Stiles rolls his eyes. He is in high school, and might as well take advantage of the stereotypical gossiping he can get away with while he's still an adolescent who doesn't know any better. Peter takes his time leisurely biting into his apple surveying them all.
"So nice of you to join us when we didn't even know you were here, Peter," Stiles says from where he's leaning against the refrigerator.
"Besides," Peter says, ignoring him. "Why would I be interested in sacrifices anyway? And if I was, I'd have much easier methods when it came to killing them."
He makes a show of flashing his claws out into the open, wiggling his fingertips into the light. Unfortunately, he has a point.
"He has a point," Scott mumbles, completely unnecessarily, and Stiles sighs. Things would be easier if Peter was a bad guy again, and not just a sits-in-the-shadows-making-sarcastic-comments kind of bad guy, but a genuine criminal who killed people and ate their intestines. It fit him so well the first time around.
"Stiles," Peter says suddenly, snapping his head in his direction to smirk at him. "How's your arm?"
"Yes, you burned it making me tea. Remember?" Peter asks with a sickeningly innocent smile. Derek and Scott are looking at him like Stiles' secret tea parties with Peter are no thing to keep private and why would he even in the first place, and Stiles turns an attractive shade of tomato red stared down with all of their imploring glances.
"It's fine," Stiles says, by no means up for continuing the conversation further. Peter smiles, satisfied, and Stiles quickly whips around to Derek and Scott. "We don't hang out. Peter, goddammit, tell them we don't just have hang out sessions at my house where we dress up and drink tea."
He twists around at Peter, fully ready to glare him into submission and complying with his explanation, but Peter's already gone with nothing but the dilapidated apple core left in his wake.
They plan out their next attack on the Alphas more fastidiously, no longer blinded by the urgency of finding Erica and Boyd—hopefully alive—and scrambling for ways to break into banks versus scrambling for ways to launch an effective offense.
Stiles comes along to Derek's loft out of pure loyalty to Scott, perfectly aware of the fact that him showing up to a showdown is about as useful as bringing along a midnight snack to put on display for the alphas to feast on. Isaac's ready this time to fight as well, in on the huddle of planning and strategy around Derek's desk. On the couch, separated from the rest, is Peter, listening to them go over their plan of attack without a single comment or piece of advice to share.
"Why isn't he going?" Stiles interrupts in the middle of Derek's monologue of a strategy. He's developed an immunity to Derek's glares at this point, waiting until he gets an answer without withering away.
"Because I don't care," Peter pipes up, rather aggressively from the couch. He looks more aggravated than usual, and Stiles is definitely not camping out here tonight if this is the temper he'll be working with waiting for Scott to come back.
"Who pissed in his orange juice this morning?"
Derek grimaces, sending Peter a fleeting glance out of the corner of his eye. "He received some… bad news," he grits out, clearly unwilling to share more. "And he'd be more of a burden if he came along than if he stayed here."
"Why? Don't you guys need all the help you can get?" Stiles asks.
"He'd slow us down," Derek says. There's something in his eyes warning Stiles not to push further, but naturally, Stiles doesn't heed the warning.
Derek shifts, like he's considering his words, which isn't a good sign coming from somebody like Derek. Stiles raises his eyebrows, wordlessly demanding a better explanation. "His coming back from the dead left him a little… weaker than anticipated. He can't heal as well as he used to. Not yet, anyway."
It leaves Stiles with at least six more questions rather than answers, but Derek's set jaw and firm eyes are leaving no room for flexibility when it comes to continuing the impromptu question and answer session. Stiles looks over his shoulder where Peter's propped up on the couch, looking uncharacteristically grumpy and offering no scathing remarks as unhelpful advice every time Derek launches into the next step of their offence. It's odd, to say the least.
Not that he's concerned.
"Has Derek checked in with you?"
"Stop asking," Peter grits out. Stiles knows he should stop pestering, especially when Peter's fuse is much shorter than the last time he was here, but a part of him wishes he had come along to watch the squabble and even offer himself up as bait if it meant being able to make sure that Scott's all right. He should have learned his lesson last time when he did nothing but stare at the moon and listen to the sound of his own heart pumping against his neck, but he's nothing if not slow on the uptake sometimes that he can't function without knowing Scott's in one piece. Just as he fiddles in his pocket to grab his phone and text Scott, Peter growls, "Don't interrupt them."
"It's called compassion," Stiles hisses back. Peter slips off the couch and all but prowls in his direction, something predatory in his eyes. Stiles ignores, focusing instead on the way his entire face has a waxy look about it, something pale pulling at his skin and washing his features out with white like he's a painting left out in the rain or bleached out by the sun.
"Do you need a distraction?" Peter growls.
"What the hell's wrong with you?" Stiles asks before he can stop himself, squinting at his face where miniscule wrinkles have formed around his eyes. "You look like you have pneumonia."
Peter sighs, slowly and carefully, like he's about to be pushed into something he very much wanted to avoid, and before Stiles can step in and agree that his appearance and his health is none of his business and slither off to the bathroom to let Peter cool down, Peter's running his cool fingers up his arm and saying, "so yes, then."
"You need a distraction."
Stiles opens his mouth to say something but Peter's lips suddenly pressing roughly onto his silences him, which first of all, rude, and second of all, what the fuck.
Stiles responds by screeching and flailing, propelling his arms up to smack Peter over the head, but Peter anticipates his struggles and stills his arms with two strong grips around his wrists, backing him up against the wall of windows that are cold and hard against his shoulder blades. Peter's lips are dry and demanding against his own, but then they pry Stiles' mouth open and his tongue slips inside and suddenly everything is much wetter than before. Stiles stills, never so much aware of his body as he is now, every nerve on fire and every twitch and movement loud to his body, the tongue plundering his mouth brushing up against his own and causing Stiles to jerk against the windows. Peter pulls back, licking his lips, looking mildly flushed and satisfied that he's found a solid solution to shutting Stiles up.
Temporarily, at least.
"What," is all Stiles manages, wiping at his mouth and pulling back with what is surely Peter's saliva on his hands. A hand squeezes his side, reminding him of the dark theater from weeks ago when Peter was teasing him with ghosting fingers up his thigh, but that was all play, good fun at Stiles' expense that made the entire movie a blur for him. The kiss his mouth is still tingling with isn't play.
"Your kisses are sloppier than a jellyfish's," Peter drawls, once again sounded bored and unimpressed like he's critiquing a particularly bad piece of literature. Stiles couldn't be further from his calm disposition, quite ready to question this entire evening and write it off as a screwed up nightmare warning him off eating pizza leftovers after ten p.m., but Peter's hands are caging him against the window and reminding him that Peter probably has the strength to break the glass and send Stiles careening down god knows how many floors. He realizes a second later that he's just been insulted.
"Although," Peter says, pausing. "Jellyfish don't kiss as much as they sting, and yes, it was definitely as electrifying. Are you distracted?"
Peter's sighs in impatience, slithering his hand into Stiles' sweatshirt and pulling out his phone. It's not blinking with a single new message, reminding Stiles of exactly how much trouble Scott probably is in right now, and right. Distractions. Peter pockets Stiles' phone like the distressed look on his face answers his question perfectly.
"Let's try again, then, shall we," Peter says smoothly, and before Stiles can ask more questions, he leans forward and captures his lips, interrupting him in one seamless swoop again. Still rude, Stiles thinks, but this time Peter hitches up his shirt and slides his fingers over the skin there and somehow manages to shut off all coherent thought like his tongue has pressed the button in his mouth that turns off all logic, and suddenly all he's thinking about is how goddamn good it feels to make out with somebody.
Two hours later, when Stiles is lying in his bed mentally rehashing the way Scott had burst into the loft with Derek in tow and Stiles had rolled off the couch and away from Peter's roaming hands and hidden under it like a guilty teenager getting caught necking with the neighbor girl by his parents, hoping in vain that nobody in the room could hear his heartbeat pound out of his chest from where he was clutching the upholstery on the bottom of the sofa, he thinks about how something is deeply, deeply wrong with him.
"What's the big deal?" Peter says when Stiles fishes his address out of his father's police records and hunts down his downtown apartment next weekend. He answered the door in his pajamas eating breakfast, and Stiles definitely thinks this conversation is too serious for eating. Peter, who's chasing a piece of melting cheese with his tongue as he bites further into what smells like a crisp grilled cheese sandwich and invites Stiles in, clearly doesn't agree.
"Did you drug me?" Stiles persists. He's replayed the night in his mind for a whole week, almost getting detention in economics because he was too mentally occupied remembering Peter's hand on his stomach to focus on Finstock's questions.
"I wouldn't resort to that," Peter snorts. "Have you considered, Stiles, that you liked kissing me? You liked me touching you?"
He raises a single eyebrow over his meal, holding Stiles' gaze like lasers. Something still looks off about him, his pajamas practically swallowing his frame and his shirt loose on his chest. Stiles can swear he sees prominent ribs through Peter's shirt, sticking out like sore thumbs missing nutrition, but before he can stare Peter is pushing him onto a chair and kneeling in front of him.
"This is easy, Stiles," Peter says softly, almost whispering, and Stiles wishes he wouldn't if only to keep the conversation from feeling so incredibly intimate. "Tell me you didn't like it, and I'll tell you if you were lying."
A hand brushes down his forearm, ticklish like spider's legs, and Peter's close enough that Stiles can catch whiffs of melted cheese on Peter's tongue. His nose nudges his and Peter kisses him without permission, a kiss that tastes like toast and butter, and he sinks his teeth into Stiles' lower lip before pulling back and waiting for an answer. Stiles doesn't think he's playing by the rules.
"I don't," Stiles struggles to word this so he isn't lying, because goddamn, even he can feel his pulse blip against his skin with the way his heart is beating over two hundred miles per hour right now, "…want to like it. Would it kill you to use a mint?"
Peter smirks at that, backing up and finishing off his sandwich with two more crunchy bites. Stiles watches him putter about his tiny kitchen, brushing crumbs off his fingers and wiping his hands on his pajama pants. It looks domestic in a way that Stiles never pictured Peter before, the dark caves and underground lairs perfectly acceptable in molding into Stiles' idea of who Peter was back when he had asked him where he lived. Turns out, he lives like a human does, in a cramped apartment downtown that looks too modern and smells too rich to be in the middle of Beacon Hills territory.
"Fine," Peter says. "Would you like to go to the zoo?"
"Fine," Stiles says too, and then, "what?"
"I like to scare the llamas," Peter says mildly. "My eyes terrify them."
"Hold on," Stiles says, rewinding. "You want to go to the zoo with me? What are you, my grandpa?"
"I was aiming more for… friend, if you will," Peter says with a scathing look that Stiles won't fall prey to. "This isn't a trap."
"You saying that doesn't reassure me," Stiles mutters, utterly confused. "You want to hang out with me? Like a friend does?"
"Honestly, I'm hoping it will lead to benefits," Peter says, but then he stops and Stiles sees something flash in his eyes like exhaustion or remorse or maybe even an apology, and then it's gone a moment later and Stiles wishes he had the ability to replay reality so he could study the emotion in his face that appeared as quick as lightning. "But I'm not too picky."
"Are you feeling all right?" Stiles' mouth asks without his consent. He wonders if this is Peter's twisted way of apologizing for all those nights he scared Stiles half to death or chased him in the school he locked them into or terrorized him into hacking into Scott's phone to track his GPS, like maybe he's in therapy learning the secrets of redemption or Derek's beaten the urge to maim and kill out of him. More likely than any of those is that this is actually an elaborate trap that Stiles is falling headlong into because deceit is Peter's specialty.
"Come on," Peter says, pushing himself off the kitchen counter after surveying Stiles and considering his question with absolutely no interest in answering it. "The llamas won't be there all day."
"Uh, no," Stiles says immediately when he sees Peter shimmy up the drainpipe and jump onto the roof to pry his bedroom window open like hes mastered all of Tarzan's jungle skills with ease years ago. Not only does it concern him that to some—and to be honest, the majority of the population of Beacon Hills—his room is extremely easy to break into, but he is also very much against opening his home to Peter when he's in the middle of his physics homework waiting for his dad to come home so they can eat macaroni and cheese and fall asleep in front of the TV. Ditching that plan to have his father waltz up the stairs and discover his son and a questionable thirty-something stranger in his son's presence is not a favorable choice in the pool of options.
"If you're not going to open it, Stiles," Peter growls from where he's poised outside of the window. "Then I'll break it."
"Friends don't crawl into their friend's bedrooms through the window committing breaking and entering felonies in the process!" Stiles calls back through the glass. It'd be extremely easy to strangle Stiles before he even begins to report Peter to 911, but something about him isn't the slightest bit concerned about Peter resorting to violence. His nonchalance, and dare he say it, comfort in Peter's presence is, truthfully, a little bit alarming.
"Open the window, Stiles," Peter grumbles, sounding far from amused as he clings onto the window sill, and Stiles has mercy if only because Peter doesn't look any better than last time. He remembers what Derek said, about how his reviving himself lead to slower healing, and wonders when that's going to kick back in and keep him from turning into an old prune left out in the July sun if all the wrinkles are any indication of how slowly he's returning to his old self.
He opens the window and Peter rolls inside, tumbling to his feet with a reserved grace that Stiles doesn't have time to comment on.
"If my father catches you, you're dead," Stiles says offhandedly as he settles back into his chair, waiting for Peter to roll back out the window. Naturally, he doesn't. "Also, I have homework to do."
"You're not doing homework," Peter says instantly, settling on Stiles' bed. "You're researching alpha packs."
Stiles swivels around in his chair, watching as Peter peers at him from his bed, settling against the pillows and fixing him with a look like he's challenging Stiles to deny his assumption. He does have homework, a whole bunch of physics worksheets probably assigned purely out of spite, but he's also doing a tremendous job of ignoring all these worksheets in favor of more important work, like keeping his best friend and the rest of the town alive.
"You really think the internet has all the answers?" Peter scoffs from the bed, folding his hands together on his chest and smirking when Stiles shoves aside the thirtieth printed article found on only a slightly sketchy website about paranormal activity that looks like it was designed in the eighties.
"Are you here to give me the right answers?"
"I'm actually here to tell you to stay out," Peter says. "Derek agrees. You and Scott have enough to worry about as teenagers to start sticking your neck into life-threatening situations again."
"Is that supposed to be concern?" Stiles asks incredulously. "Because if we do nothing, we'll still get slaughtered. Those twins go to my school. Those people getting murdered? They're my classmates."
Peter sighs and slips off the bed again, approaching Stiles. He tangles a hand in his hair like it's natural for them to touch like this, thumb catching in the strands by his ear like their skin will have the conversation better than they can if he keeps them touching.
"And what if," he drawls. "You're the next one getting murdered?"
"Then get Scott to put something funny on my grave," Stiles quips back instantly. He's thought about this before, the lingering danger that he's marked himself as a potential threat that could be worth eliminating just by associating himself with Scott, but then again, it's been like that since sophomore year. He throws himself into hazardous situations and tries his hardest to survive and when he's extremely lucky, somebody has tremendous timing and arrives just in time to save him from somebody much larger and stronger than he is. Some of those times, it had been Peter terrorizing him, which is probably irony at its finest.
Peter pulls his hand out of his hair, and Stiles doesn't realize he was nuzzling it and arching into the touch until it's gone and his hair is left sticking into the air at unruly angles. He smoothes it down half-heartedly and offers Peter a noncommittal shrug as an afterthought to his comment.
"You aren't scared of death?" Peter asks curiously, looking at Stiles like he's miscalculated him.
"Of course I'm fucking scared of death," Stiles sighs, running a hand through his hair and promptly messing it up again. "But from what I've seen, it isn't that hard to come back to life."
He gives Peter a cheeky smile, one Peter returns with a meek smirk that doesn't pack in the normal amount of derision he uses when it comes to staring at Stiles with haughty contempt. It's a little disconcerting to see wit dwindle from his tongue, especially when that's been the Peter he's used to for at least a year now.
"Not as easy as you think," Peter says, leaning in. "If you want to do it right."
Stiles furrows his eyebrows together, not in the mood to decipher riddles. "What does that mean? Is it because you're not healing as well anymore?"
"Don't worry about it," Peter says instantly. Stiles wasn't worrying, goddammit, and Peter brushing off his questions makes him feel like he's a child poking around in grown-up topics all over again asking for details about sex and girls and all the things he's too young to understand. He's about to start complaining when Peter starts rifling through his rickety DVD rack like he secretly lives here.
"Could you not?" Stiles grumbles. Peter ignores him, twirling the squeaky shelf until he finds something that peaks his fancy, holding up The Shining like he's found gold.
"All work and no play makes Stiles a very dull boy," Peter murmurs, examining the back of the DVD case. "I'm quite partial to Steven King. And watching a man descend into madness is a personal pleasure of mine."
"Of course it is," Stiles mumbles, watching his research go down the drain. Other people, like Scott or Derek, work with a surprising amount of concentration, stopping only to binge on Oreos if they're Scott or until they're drinking the blood of their tears if they're Derek. And then there's Peter, who stands there fiddling with Stiles' pillows and prompting movie nights like he's trying to distract Stiles from what's important, and it makes Stiles wonder if he's really that annoying or if he's just that bad at prioritizing the significant things in his life, like staying alive. "You realize I'm looking up all this stuff to try to keep us all alive, you including?"
"This?" Peter says, gesturing to the heaps of crumpled paper gathered on the corner of Stiles' desk discarded as unsatisfactory sources. "No offense, Stiles, but when it comes to keeping me alive, I don't think you'll play much of a role."
He brushes his thumb over Stiles' chin before Stiles slaps it away. Peter touching him is surreal, bringing back flickers of how he pressed him up against the frigid window and claimed Stiles' first kiss with somebody who wasn't soft glossy lips that tasted like strawberry, hand splayed over his ribs and the other caging him against the wall. It's weird that now they're here, staring at each other in Stiles' room because Stiles, in a moment of panic, agreed to be Peter's friend or whatever the fuck he thinks friendship is, like they never made out on that moth-eaten couch in a haze of supremely bad ideas a few weeks ago.
"Amazing how you always manage to sneak in at least one insult every five minutes," Stiles says with a broad grin that he hopes conveys exactly how not amused he is, but then Peter's reaching over his shoulder and grabbing his laptop away from the safety of his desk, balancing it on one hand and settling onto the floor.
"Let's watch this," Peter says, and it's not a suggestion. Stiles watches, helplessly, as Peter turns his laptop on and slips The Shining into the disc player and settles himself onto the floor. He and Scott have done this countless times, grabbed a movie from the pile under his bed and camped out on his carpet eating Doritos, but this time it's Peter sitting with his legs stretched out on his rug like Stiles has slipped into another dimension or taken a nap and ended up in a wormhole where this is reality.
"You know, I do actually have work to do," Stiles insists, but he's joining Peter on the floor as he adjusts the monitor so it avoids glare from the bedside lamp. "And my dad does actually have a gun."
"And what do you think I'm packing?" Peter drawls in return, lolling his head over at him like he continues to be unimpressed with Stiles' lack of ingenuity while he slowly wiggles five impressively clawed fingers. "Fairy powder?"
Yes, Stiles thinks five minutes later to himself rather begrudgingly, because a grown-ass man is sitting on his bristly carpet with a teenage boy so underage Peter would be scratching graffiti onto prison walls for decades if he so much as laid a fingertip on Stiles under the sheriff's eye, but he doesn't voice his opinion because the movie sucks him in before he can.
In a few hours, then.
Except it doesn't feel like Stiles will ever reach in a few hours because this movie is stringing him along one shiver at a time, and no, as a boy who spends the majority of his time chasing after deadly werewolves and has never once written out a copy of his will, he should not get fucking scared.
Except he does, and it makes Stiles feel like the kind of person who can't sit through a single horror movie without making excuses about going to the bathroom and spending at least three minutes sitting in the bathtub thinking about rainbows and puppies and fearing the dark hallway all the while. Gore and horror and darkness never used to spook him so badly, back in the days when he thought werewolf costumes on eBay were great Halloween ideas and he would have the balls to do Bloody Mary in the bathroom when Scott chickened out. He supposes what's different now is that he knows that stuff like this exists, maybe not poltergeists or demonic spirits, but who knows, really. Finding out about werewolves is like opening a Pandora's box of endless potential nightmares, and maybe one day he'll leave school and walk home and turn around and there's Edward Cullen, thirsting for blood and prowling for his next victim.
"It's almost endearing how scared you are," Peter says halfway through the movie, sounding perfectly composed. Then again, Peter can crawl through the hallways with fangs at the ready if he's ever worried that a Stephen King novel will materialize and follow him home. All Stiles has is the baseball bat he stole from Scott's room. "Real life is scarier than this stuff when it comes to what you've seen."
Stiles looks over at him, the room dark except for the bright light emanating from the laptop licking up Peter's face. He has no idea when it got dark, how they passed a whole evening together without anybody threatening to cause concussions to the other.
"That's kind of the point," Stiles says, and waits a beat. "How did you know?"
Peter snorts like it's obvious and leans over to press his thumb into Stiles' pulse point at his neck. He feels his rapid heartbeat against Peter's touch and gets why. A part of him hates being this transparent in front of all of his friends, and another part feels like this is what he gets for ever lying to his mother about eating all those cookies for dinner.
"Should I turn the lights on?" Peter offers, sounding amused. Stiles leans over to shove him in the arm and Peter catches him by the wrist, snagging his hand in his grip and using it as leverage to hoist himself into Stiles' lap.
He blocks out the light of the laptop, nothing but the ominous soundtrack left to torment Stiles' ears, but there's even scarier things at hand than horror movie scores because Peter is straddling his hips, a heavy weight of a strong body sitting on his thighs and looming over him as one giant shadow. Stiles reaches out and feels what he thinks is an ear, mapping out Peter's face.
"Get off," Stiles says, wiggling his hips. The bed is pushed against his back to keep him propped upright and the mass on his legs is constricting, but Peter doesn't bother moving, instead cupping Stiles' neck in his hands and sliding his thumbs over his collarbone. Peter is always cold lately, chilled to the bone like he's spending hours at a time secluded in freezers, and Stiles is about to ask why when Peter leans in and pulls on his earlobe with his teeth.
"You'll have to be more convincing than that," Peter murmurs onto his ear, and Stiles has to give him that he's an effective distraction if nothing else. His hands grab onto the nearest thing—the carpet and the fabric of Peter's jeans, and Peter yanks off Stiles' shirt like he's skipping first base and all pretense of being a gentleman and the fact that Stiles has at least two freak outs to go through before he'll willingly lose his shirt to Peter's hands.
"What are you doing," Stiles squeaks, very aware of his body, even in the concealment of the darkness. Peter doesn't seem to mind his doubts, like he's fully aware that Stiles will say yes and give in. Stiles doesn't put any faith in Peter's magic eight ball abilities, but the hot mouth trailing a line of wet kisses to his lips is persuading him to let go with thoughts like what's the worse thing that could happen, and that's when Stiles' mind helpfully supplies be kidnapped and sacrificed like the last one.
"Shh," is all Peter says, like he's reading Stiles' thoughts just by touching him. His fingers are kneading his shoulders and trailing reverently down his chest, his ministrations blocking out everything from the movie that Stiles had fully intended to finish if only to get the personal satisfaction that he can sit through a horror movie without having to grab a nightlight.
"This is bad, so very bad," Stiles says, feeling like he has to put in his two cents if he's going to dive headfirst into this, so when he's lying naked on his sheets trying to cover up his junk with a lampshade to the disappointed faces of either his father, Scott, Derek, or the ghost of his mother he'll be able to firmly say he was against this from the start and yes, Peter can be carted off to jail.
"Stop thinking," Peter growls, a fang catching Stiles' bottom lip as he talks against his mouth. Every bone is telling Stiles not to heed his warning, his arms clawing at the air like he should be doing something to stop this, but Peter keeps grabbing his elbows and pinning his wrists down to the floor in a way that Stiles actually doesn't mind all that much, and then Peter slams the computer lid shut behind them and grabs Stiles by the shoulders to manhandle him onto the floor and roll on top of him.
"At least you've taken my advice," Stiles says when he catches a free breath, blinking through the dark and waiting for his eyes to adjust when Peter settles on top of him and starts laving his tongue up his neck. Losing his virginity, here, now, on his smelly carpet, yes, he can do that. Everybody's first time is supposed to be full of regrets and bad decisions and left to be repressed for years only to be dug out by therapists later anyway. "And started using mints."
Peter bites on his nipple for that, a hard pinch of sharp teeth, and it feels like a challenge being marked into his skin telling Stiles to give as good as he gets.
"Fuck it," Stiles murmurs into the dark, silently apologizes to all the people he loves for what he's about to do, and rolls on top of Peter to lick into his mouth.
When Stiles wakes up, it's the middle of the night and an orange streetlight is filtering through his curtains to illuminate Peter caught in the act of slipping his boots over his feet with his belt buckle hanging open on his jeans and t-shirt slung over his shoulder.
"You're an asshole," Stiles murmurs through the fuzzy sleep candor pushing through his words. Peter looks up from where he's slipping into his shirt, smiling when he sees that Stiles is barely awake and raking his fingers through his hair and digging his palms into his eyes to encourage him to wake up long enough to have a lucid conversation. "Pretty sure sneaking away from your sex buddy in the middle of the night are horrible manners."
"What can I say, I was raised in the woods by wolves," Peter says. His voice is a soft whisper that doesn't break the quiet, dark atmosphere of the night that almost lulls Stiles back to sleep. The way the moonlight curves gently over Peter's cheekbone and licks up the left hemisphere of his face keeps him awake a few more minutes. "And I figured you didn't want to wake up to me splitting a waffle with your father threatening to rip his throat out if he didn't give me the funnies out of the paper."
"You keep up with newspaper cartoons?" Stiles mumbles lazily into the dark. It feels like an important question, like most inane things do in the nighttime, his brain blatantly overlooking the mind-smashing things like I'm naked under these sheets because I let Peter Hale take off my clothing. He should probably be asking about that.
"Is that an endearing quality in a man to you?" Peter murmurs. The sound of his shoes zipping up breaks the cool silence of the night. An owl hoots like a muted siren in the distance and Stiles convinces his brain and sleepy limbs to stay awake for at least a few more seconds to watch Peter leave.
"We're not doing this again, right?" Stiles asks his ceiling. A part of himself—the morally disciplined part, probably—keeps nagging at his mind against the grain of his groggy afterglow memories to tell Peter that he is by no means a boy who spends his nights cruising dark alleyways looking for trouble, especially when trouble already knows his permanent address, but then Peter's looming over him dragging a soft, clawless fingertip down his cheek.
"See you tomorrow night, Stiles," is what Peter says, leaning down to catch his upper lip between his mouth. It's soft, lingering, just a graze of wet teeth and then he's slipping away, leaving Stiles kissing the air. Peter looks satisfied if not a little ashen, white like ivory piano keys in the shine of the moonlight, and Stiles is very much aware that that wasn't the answer he was looking for.
"Tomorrow night?" Stiles parrots as Peter slips off the bed and heads for the door. "Wait. You're coming back?"
"I'll come if the door's unlocked," Peter says, eyes cocked to the window like that's a perfectly adequate entrance as well if it's open. "Or if you do that thing with your tongue."
He winks and slips out the door, leaving Stiles to filter through his slumber-saturated mind to decipher the innuendo and desperately plea to the cosmic beings above that his father isn't downstairs snacking on Oreos and watching late night infomercials under the ruse of researching his latest burglary case to catch Peter sashaying down the stairs red-handed.
He falls asleep before he can really start worrying, and he doesn't catch onto the innuendo until he wakes up the next morning and replays the fuzzy detail of the night before in his mind.
"Do you even know what on earth you're doing?"
Derek looking at him like he's his father is downright hilarious, something like denied restraint pinching his face as he stares down at Stiles. He's going for authoritative, perhaps even paternal, but he looks like he's asking out of necessity rather than genuine kindness. Stiles still appreciates the attempted sentiment.
"Well, not really, but you never do either, so," Stiles says. Derek glares at him and Stiles glares back. "What, are you worried I'll end up hurt?"
"I'm actually worried he'll end up hurt," Derek says. Stiles doesn't expect that one.
"Are we talking about the same person?" Stiles asks. Derek's hands are twitching by his sides, like he has no idea what to do with his body in this situation. Stiles is used to seeing the threatening positions, the looming prowl, the hunkering stance that demands submission, not the Derek that delicately chooses his words and approaches him without the intent of proving his dominance. "This is the guy whose neck you sliced open in the woods."
"I know that," Derek sounds frustrated, like Stiles is the third grader he's teaching college literature to. Stiles frowns. He's out of the loop of something and people like Derek, who live on bluntness and tough love, are actively participating in hiding things from him. "Haven't you noticed. Goddammit, Stiles, haven't you seen Peter lately?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Derek's mouth dissolves into a pale line of thinly veiled exasperation. Stiles wants to scream that if Stiles is so bad at understanding, maybe Derek should actually explain, but Derek already seems to be at the end of his incredibly short rope and runs a hand through his hair as an excuse to glare at the floor.
"It doesn't mean anything," Derek says. That pinched look is back again, coating his whole face as if to expertly hide a secret concealed in his diary while Stiles tries to hack the tiny lock. "Go home, Stiles."
Stiles wonders how many times Scott's heard that tired line, a resigned order to admit defeat. It's normally when Scott's about to stick a toe into trouble and fall in headfirst, and Stiles takes offense in believing that hanging out with Peter is as bad as deliberately chasing out a premature bloody death, which is basically what him and Scott have been willingly doing for the past year.
"Fine, but you know I'll be back."
"I expect you to be."
"So it turns out my body's rejecting the resurrection," Peter says over lunch one day with a chunk of fried chicken liberally coated with ketchup in his fingers. "Just an update."
Stiles closes his mouth, denying it the ecstasy that was sure to come with a mouthful of deliciously greasy chicken wing in his fingers making the journey to his tongue. He sets it down and stares at Peter, waiting for the laughter.
"I know it might be crass to bring up something so heavy in a fast food joint, but, well," Peter shrugs, devouring another piece of chicken and licking the oil from his lips. "It appears I'm dying."
Stiles is still waiting for the joke. Not even the ghost of a smirk is playing itself onto Peter's face.
"I overheard you and Derek talking and figured it'd be better you heard it from me rather than figure it out yourself from all those hints Derek's been leaving," Peter says, wiping his mouth clean with a practiced nonchalance that Stiles hardly thinks fits the tone of the conversation.
Stiles stares. Across the room, a noisy child is loudly demanding to get the happy meal with exactly the right Skylander toy. Behind him, an elderly man is slurping down his milkshake and an employee is whistling Justin Bieber while he sweeps up the straw wrappers away from the floor. Stiles feels something heavy drop inside him, like an anvil or a hammer or something capable of crushing his vital organs. Across the booth, Peter is biting into another chicken wing.
"Yes, dying," Peter says, balling up his napkin and throwing it onto the table with more aggression than necessary. Stiles doesn't mind, considering it's the first emotional response that isn't casual indifference that's actually appropriate for discussing impending death.
"Dying," Stiles says hollowly.
"As if you didn't already know," Peter rolls his eyes, as if highly unimpressed with Stiles' reaction. "I'm weak, I barely heal, my body is shriveling in on itself."
He covers up the slightly bitter tang of his tone with a forced, sickeningly sweet smile before he folds his hands together on the table, waiting for Stiles' response. When none comes, he raises his eyebrows impatiently to demand more words out of Stiles.
Stiles stares at his chicken and tries to come up with an appropriate reply. He feels six-years-old again, sitting in his mother's lap as she smoothes back his hair and holds him tight and tells him she'll have to leave soon, but she'll be fine as long as Stiles is. Stiles can't believe he's having the same conversation twice. The chicken stares back at him without answers.
"Isn't there a way to stop it?"
"Probably not," Peter says. He's leaning back in the uncomfortable wooden bench like this is a perfectly acceptable place to have a conversation about his death. Stiles looks at him and sees the influence of something much stronger than Peter on his face, an exhaustion that seems immovably etched into his eyes. "I've already checked. What it boils down to is that what's dead is supposed to stay dead, I suppose."
Peter's foot bumps into his under the table. Stiles isn't sure if it's a wordless consolation on Peter's end or an accidental nudge. He stares at the table if only to avoid inevitably searching for signs of death in Peter's body.
"Anyway," Peter says with a heavy sigh. "I don't want you to worry about it. Stick to worrying about high school."
Stiles very much wants to punch Peter in the face. He considers it, just lunging over the table and smashing his fist into his jaw so he'll be serious about this, but the kid fixated on his happy meal is whizzing by them full of laughter and Stiles doesn't have the heart to ruin the day of the entire diner. He takes a deep breath and when he looks up, Peter's already standing up and tossing their trash away like that's that.
"Chin up, Stiles," he says, winding a hand into Stiles' hair and pulling up his head to look at him. "You weren't so upset the first time I died."
Stiles doesn't have the energy to be mad the next time he sees Derek. He guesses it's because all of his energy is otherwise occupied, what with the trying to keep the watery demons out of his eyes, and Derek seems to know instantly why he's here. His entire body language softens at the sight of Stiles, his unsure body curling into itself like it's sophomore year all over again and Stiles' shirts are too big for his scrawny chest, and Stiles rubs his thumbs over his eyes in case something salty and wet is still there dotting his cheeks.
"He told you," Derek says. He sounds deflated, like he knew this conversation would come but didn't want to ever see the day when it did.
"Why didn't you," is what Stiles says. He figures his body is answering Derek's question well enough on its own that replying verbally isn't necessary.
Derek shrugs. There's something like empathy in his eyes, a look of concern Stiles has never seen openly shared on his face before, and it makes Stiles want to seek out all the comfort he has to give. His memory flits back to unhappier times, back when his mother was dying and he'd burrow into his father's chest, shut his eyes against the warm material of his police jacket and smell his cologne, fully under the belief that if he closed his eyes hard enough the jacket would swallow him and he wouldn't have to open his eyelids to the sight of his mother lying pale and fragile in a hospital bed.
"It wasn't my place," Derek says. He looks like he's uncertainly considering the idea of letting Stiles inside when they both know he has friends better equipped to handle this situation, that Scott would bring booze and his father has arms built for mollifying distraught sons. Stiles pushes by him to make the decision for him and runs his fingers through his hair, grateful that it's finally long enough to fist and yank onto for support.
"There has to be something we can do," Stiles says. The minute he's in he starts pacing, wearing a frantic rhythm into the floorboards that Derek does nothing to stop. The world starts spinning for him like this when stress sets in, except this time it isn't a simple matter of an upcoming midterm or a burnt breakfast omelette, it's that somebody's dying, a somebody who Stiles feels attached to despite every nerve in his body warning him away. "He found a way to come back to life, we should be able to find a way to keep him alive."
"That was an ancient ritual I didn't even know existed," Derek says. He looks completely helpless in the corner, watching Stiles pace back and forth and stagger to staccato stops in the middle. "And it clearly wasn't as effective as any of us thought it was."
"There's gotta be something," Stiles persists. "Peter had a whole computer full of information, something in it has to be useful."
"You really think he hasn't checked?"
"Not enough," Stiles says. He tears at his hair like he's trying to uproot it from his scalp. "I'm willing to double, even triple check everything Peter's looked through, all right?"
He looks up at Derek, who's staring at Stiles in pity like he's looking at the familiar face of someone in his past. Stiles wonders if maybe he sees himself in Stiles' face, the same boy who wanted desperately for his family to return after the fire, who ached for the advice of his father and the loving touch of his mother and eventually had to give into the reality that they were unreachable. Stiles doesn't want to reach that point of resigned acceptance. His dad always called him obnoxiously stubborn, that he was a fighter for sticking with things that were bad for him, whether it be lacrosse or chasing Lydia or trying to keep Peter Hale out of his second grave.
"Stiles, there's not much we can—"
Stiles grabs Derek by the shirt, bunching up the worn fabric on his chest and staring him in the eye. If Derek remembers what it feels like to lose someone, he should remember what it feels like to fight for someone.
"I know that he killed your sister," Stiles says. "I know that he screwed up a lot and that he's been a dysfunctional uncle even after coming back from the dead. I know he's done awful things but I'm not just going to give up on him."
He stares hard, and Derek stares back. For a second, there's a current of thick electricity between them that Stiles is sure is pouring solely out of his limbs if the ringing in his ear and the pulse beating against his neck like a hammer is any indication of the amount of adrenaline built up in his bloodstream right now, and then, it finally reaches Derek. He lets go of Derek's shirt, staring at the wrinkles his firm fingers leave behind, and waits for a response.
"I'll help you," Derek finally says. It isn't much consolation except for the fact that now it's two bodies pouring over ancient tomes and researching the likes of supernatural magic Stiles would rather not delve in, but it's enough for now.
Peter looks like something Stiles used to see in the hospital, back when a woman with brown eyes and soft hair would smile up at Stiles from the folds of white linen. The memories have not blurred for him, not even ten years later, the smell of the ointments and the sterile walls still prickled in his nose and the sight of his frail mother swallowed by a cloud of white sheets, unbelievably small in the big wrinkly bed, as sharp as they were when he watched her die in front of his eyes.
He tries not to think about those memories, but all of them come rushing back and pound on his skull like an unwanted criminal banging on the door of his house demanding entrance when he looks at Peter. He doesn't look old, just weak, like a young man struck with a terminal illness that pulls at the wrinkles around his eyes and adds ten hard years to his smile. Peter looks eternally amused, like he knows that it's karma coming around kicking him in the ass, even while lying swaddled in a knitted quilt that Derek dug out of the closet of his loft that smells like smoke, like it was salvaged from the Hale house. Whenever Stiles sees it, it reminds him of how much he doesn't know about Peter, like what it was like to live in the Hale house when it was thriving and grand and full of life tucked away in the woods or what high school was like for him or what his hobbies used to be.
The good thing is that there isn't a hospital this time. Stiles doesn't think he'd be able to handle sitting on the end of a stiff bed with taut sheets listening to the steady sound of a monitored heartbeat beeping steadily in his ear, sure to haunt his nights, twice in a lifetime. He's sitting on a couch instead, watching Peter pick the frayed threads from the hem of his blanket and counting the age lines on his face.
"I'd appreciate the tremendous display of karma right now if I wasn't the victim of it," Peter says. Even his voice sounds different, lacking the bravado, and Stiles tries not to think of how there's a proverbial Reaper bending over him pulling the life out of his throat right now. "I believe it's the Buddhists who are the big believers in karma. That, and reincarnation. What do you think I'll come back as?"
"Somebody's toilet, probably," Stiles says in return. He doesn't have the heart to break Peter's sarcastic spirit even if it's concealing something vulnerable like fear underneath the jokes.
"It could be worse," Peter says. He's smiling, but Stiles doesn't believe it for a second. "I can't believe you're trying so hard to keep me alive."
"Would you rather all of us let you rot?"
"It's very impressive," Peter admits. "Trying to defy nature like this."
"Says the man who reincarnated himself."
"My death was never meant to be burning to a crisp while my nephew slices my throat open," Peter says, dismissing that thought with an airy wave of his hand. "Dying on a throne of sheets seems a lot more poetic, don't you think?"
"There's nothing poetic about death," Stiles grumbles. He doesn't know how Peter can be so blasé, but he guesses this is the luxury that comes with having known, seen, and had a firsthand experience with death. Peter was dead underneath rotting floorboards for months, and considering Stiles hasn't heard any barbaric stories about the afterlife or if there's pizza in heaven or wi-fi in hell, he supposes there's nothing. Just darkness.
Suddenly there's a hand curled around his thigh, a warm weight as fingers curl into his leg and squeeze. The touch feels comforting, and all things considered, Peter is the one who should be comforted. Stiles looks away and Peter tips his face back toward him with a thumb guiding his chin.
"We could've been something very interesting," he says softly, eyes roaming over Stiles' face. He looks like he's taking in everything from the way Stiles' mouth curves to the way his nose tips upward so he'll remember it long after he's gone, and the deep concentration in his eyes makes Stiles shiver. He doesn't even bother pushing the finger brushing over his chin away even though Derek is a room away and this is far more intimate than he ever wants to get with his uncle when he could potentially be watching, not that a single touch on his face crosses that line, but something low and reverent in Peter's eyes makes the entire moment feel intensely personal. "And horrible."
"We already were something," Stiles says. Peter smiles. "I meant. We are. Stop making me feel like I already have to write your eulogy."
"As endearing as I find your worrying," Peter says. Stiles instantly frowns. There's something quiet and sad in his gaze, like he knows that Stiles has a cause for worrying. Or maybe it's sadness based on the fact that he finally has somebody to worry about him and no time left to appreciate it. "Dying isn't so bad. There isn't anybody you have to explain your sins to at a big white gate."
"Good, because you'd have way too much to explain," Stiles says, and Peter digs his claws into his leg.
He can crack jokes to hide his emotions too. He practically wrote the book on that particular skill.
Stiles doesn't need werewolf hearing to successfully eavesdrop on Isaac and Derek's conversation in the kitchen, and it's only the knowledge that Derek has never met empathy and is a recurring fan of bluntness that keeps Stiles from stomping over to them and smacking them both over their heads.
"Stiles knows we can't help him, doesn't he?" Isaac is saying as Derek rummages around the pantry and a few cups clink together. "There's no way to save him anymore. Not twice."
"Stiles is determined," Derek says. "And I don't want to ruin his hope."
"What happened to nobody likes Peter and can we kill him again?"
"If I knew, I would tell you," Derek says. He sounds fatigued, like dealing with not only Peter's death but also the sudden onslaught of people actually caring about him is too much for him to emotionally handle, and Stiles can't blame him.
"I thought you said yourself that you didn't even know a resurrection ritual existed until Peter did one," Isaac persists. "So how are we supposed to dig up another one that stops nature from taking a guy who's already seen two game over screens in his life?"
"Look," Derek says. A thud sounds, like he's closed the cupboards, probably in resignation. "I still don't trust Peter, and I still haven't forgiven him for what's happened. But Stiles wants to save him, and no matter how hard he tries he won't be able to do it alone."
"So you want to help Stiles?"
There's a silence, and Stiles considers getting up from where he's been cocooned in a couch cushion and breaking the privacy of their discussion. Isaac would probably have the decency to look ashamed of being caught talking about how useless Stiles' efforts are right in front of him, and Derek's jaw would set like he'd love to go back in time just to keep Stiles from overhearing their doubts, but then Derek heaves a sigh and keeps talking and Stiles stays put.
"He's lost someone before," he mumbles, quietly so Stiles has to strain to hear. "I know we all have at this point, but I'd do whatever I could to keep you from losing someone again too."
There's another silence, like Isaac is finally getting it, and Derek sighs again. His exhales sound like the sighs of a middle-aged man who's seen the war and lost a wife, and Stiles decides not to get up and confront them. He's been told he can't do things before, whether it be his mother telling him he "can't eat the mud pie" he made in the garden or his dad telling him he "can't look through the evidence file," and Isaac saying he can't keep Peter alive just falls under the same category.
He did eat the mud pie and had to brush his teeth three times to get the dirt out from his gums, he did look through the evidence files and actually managed to steal a few, and he will save Peter from reaching his expiration date.
"It's a school night, Stiles," Derek's tinny voice crackles through the receiver. "Shouldn't you be asleep?"
Stiles ignores him, focusing on the dots and crevices of his ceiling. There's a stain up there from when he and Scott tried to make blueberry smoothies in his room, a dark purple mark splotched onto the popcorn notches that Stiles used to make into constellations when he was younger. It feels like the night comes earlier every day, and that it's a very present concern that when he wakes up the shadows will have whisked Peter away.
"If Peter's body is rejecting the resurrection," Stiles says into the phone. He's spent the last two hours staring at the shadows of streetlights filtering through his window and listening to cars cruise by considering his plan. "Then what if we redo the entire ritual."
"I'm sure Lydia would love that," Derek scoffs. "How long have you been awake?"
Stiles tilts his body to the neon numbers blinking at him from the alarm clock that dutifully read 2:53. He has an English test tomorrow that he knows perfectly well he needs at least eight hours of sleep for, but then again, he's pretty sure saving a life is more important than passing a test about Shakespeare.
"Too long, honestly," Stiles breathes through a yawn. Derek sighs on the other end, and Stiles hopes he doesn't hang up because he's not sure he'll remember any of his ideas in the morning. "I just feel like I'm wasting time. What if I wake up and he's—"
He breaks himself off and hears Derek exhale slowly on the other line. He would've called Peter if he wasn't entirely positive that Peter would hang up on him and tell him that he shouldn't be trying so hard when he has sleep and class and a life to get to.
"You know there's no guarantee that we'll find a way to make sure he lives, Stiles," Derek says, surprisingly gentle. Stiles doesn't want to hear any of that, nor does he want to accept Derek's tone of quiet resignation like he's already made peace with his uncle's incoming death. He wants to fight.
"Your problem is that your mug is always half empty."
"Stiles, you know I'm trying," Derek says, sounding a little frustrated. Stiles gets it. He called him in the middle of the night to discuss rituals he read up on Google, most of them from World of Warcraft forums. He's getting desperate.
"Sorry," Stiles mumbles, rubbing a hand over his eyes. They ache from staying open for so long when slumber is calling his name like a siren song. "I just. I want him to live. Last year I was the one to throw the damn fire bomb at him and now I want him to live. There's so much I haven't even—"
He cuts himself off again. He doesn't know when his life took this three-hundred and sixty degree turn, that now he's an insomniac using Derek Hale as his therapist because the psycho werewolf who terrorized his sophomore year has his heart in his claws. Peter has always been breathtaking, the type of breathtaking that literally stopped his heart, but he never knew that breathtaking would result in his bloody lungs in Peter's hands without any air in his chest. He takes a slow breath, feeling it rattle through his very bones, and holds off on the sentiments. Derek's silent on the other line like he has no idea what to say. Stiles doesn't blame him.
"Peter's glad you're trying," Derek finally says. "I know he's acting like he doesn't care."
Stiles sighs and digs his palm into his eye. The night feels endless, a looming dark that's hanging over him. Even the sky looks like an interminable horizon of gray like a thick, dreary soup boiling overhead never to fade into blue, and sleep pokes and prods at his boggled mind. Everything's starting to blur and he's pretty sure he's passed the point of being a functional intellectual.
"Tell him I'm not giving up," Stiles says. He knows he isn't a werewolf and doesn't have claws or unmatchable reflexes, but this, a command over the Internet and books and the capability of creating a plan that nobody will expect out of such a gangly boy, this he has.
"Okay," Derek says. "Go to sleep."
Stiles sighs and nods even if Derek can't see him, hanging up and slipping his hands free of his phone until it lands on the spot by his pillow. He's tired and restless all at once, hands itching to find answers and mind scratching for a relief for its exhaustion, and he gives in to the latter and falls asleep with thoughts of funerals in his head.
"Go fish. You're dreadful. Now give me your threes."
Stiles throws his third losing handful of cards on the ground as he hands over his threes and Peter's shark-like grin at his card collection answers the unasked question if he's won. Stiles used to be the master of Go Fish, luck always prevailing in the end in his favor, but Peter's somehow managed to win every single game of the afternoon. Stiles is starting to question if the deck is rigged. He doesn't grumble about cheating, however, because he's not going to take a few card game successes from a dying man.
"No more rounds," Stiles says, slumped against the wall. Peter's sitting on the couch in a flimsy v-neck as he shuffles the cards together, and the sight wouldn't unnerve him under another occasion if Peter didn't have the face of a decomposing man, skin pallid and alabaster gray like flaking ash on the tip of a cigarette. Stiles is afraid to touch him, like he'll explode into a powdery dust if he brushes his fingers down his face, and it makes his very fingers itch to keep researching rather than squat in Derek's loft like a sitting duck waiting for Peter to stroke with a deck of dog-eared playing cards in his hands.
"I smell a sore loser," Peter drawls as he stuffs the cards back into the case and wraps his fingers around Stiles' sweatshirt to pull him onto the couch. He's not nearly as strong anymore, so Stiles goes with the meek tug of his hand without protest.
"Surely there's something better you can do with your time than beat me at a card game," Stiles says in return, making himself comfortable on the edge of the couch. He feels like he should be offering soup, or hot tea, or a consoling hand if nothing else. He feels awfully restless, almost useless, sitting stagnant on a sofa cushion like this.
"I actually think I want your sour face as you lose to me to be my last moment," Peter says through a cheeky grin. Stiles feels something pull at his heartstrings, something like exhaustion over Peter's routine of feigned happiness when they both know he's faking.
"I hate it when you do that," Stiles mutters into his lap. "Act like nothing's wrong."
"You could hate me for a lot of worse things," Peter says in return. "So I'm fine with that."
He leans forward, breath warm and soothing on Stiles' cheek, and slides his fingers through his hair. Stiles wants to struggle and tell Peter to be serious, to focus on living as hard as he did when he went to the lengths of reducing Lydia to insanity just to crawl naked out of the dirt, but he doesn't have the energy, so he pushes their foreheads together and curls his hand around Peter's shoulder. He arches into the touch like a famished man dipping into a creek and breathes slowly, quietly, deliberately by Stiles' ear so the warm gust of his exhale tickles his neck. It feels like reassurance, like the hot moistness of his breath is proof of his life, and Stiles takes what he can get for now.
Sometimes Stiles has these moments where he realizes exactly how useless he is as one of the few humans in his group of friends made solely of supernatural creatures. He's had them for years, like when he would watch Scott jump over lacrosse players and catch balls in his net with the reflexes of a man who had the privilege of slow motion vision, or when he would stand in the corner trying his hardest not to get caught in a fray of claws and bared fangs. He was there for Derek when the kanima took his powers away, holding him up in a pool with kicking feet that were sore for days, but afterwards, Derek was back to being the same powerful Alpha as before and Stiles was left with nothing but aching arms. He never forgets that, every single day.
The others, like Lydia and Allison, they're not completely powerless. They don't have the benefits that come with in-built weapons in their fingernails and razor sharp canines, but they have their own fortes. Allison has a whole arsenal of skills hidden up her sleeves, like hotwiring cars and filleting people with daggers, and Lydia has an IQ that could rival the most esteemed politicians and masterminds of the country. Stiles has nothing.
Sometimes, that point gets emphasized in Stiles' life harder than other times. It's one thing to suck at sports and have to wait two weeks for a paper cut to heal, but it's another to watch somebody die in front of him with nothing to say except for are you okays and nothing to do but squeeze hands and tear his hair out in the next room.
He never realized before how much pain Peter's in, how his entire body rotting from the inside out isn't exactly a peaceful death, but most of the time Peter reels it in before Stiles can notice. Stiles isn't sure if he's thankful for the way Peter happens to be considerate enough to hide his agony from him or endlessly frustrated that everybody's treating him like the delicate glass figurine in the group, shivering on the edge of a shelf and close to teetering over and shattering. He wants back the Peter who fights for what's his—and what isn't—and manipulates the hell out of everybody. He wonders if his body is taking that part of him down first.
"Would you hurry up?"
"Stay fucking still," Derek grits out from where he's kneeling over Peter. There's sweat down Peter's face, a sheen of dampness layered over his forehead, like his body is trying to sweat out death like a fever or the agony of disintegrating inside out is too much to physically handle, and Stiles feels utterly useless standing in the doorway gripping his own fists just to find purchase on something.
He watches as Derek wraps his fingers around Peter's wrists, holding him still with his grip and taking a breath. Peter struggles under his tight grasp but does nothing to push him off, pinning his lower lip between his teeth as he lets Derek seize him. Stiles fidgets the whole time, watching as Derek concentrates and slowly, ropes of black start trickling up Derek's veins from Peter's arm. He pants and bites his lip hard enough to bleed the whole time, face scrunched up in something so agonizing Stiles is sure he's in pain, but then Derek lets go him and stands up, waiting expectantly for a response while he shakes his wrists like he's trying to get something sticky off his fingers.
"Better?" Derek asks gruffly. Peter still looks breathless and sweaty where he's curled up under Derek's looming gaze, but he nods once and his body slowly relaxes into a position less filled with tension and rigidity.
"Good enough," Peter grunts as he sits up. Stiles wavers in the doorway, watching as Derek sighs and moves to the kitchen to leave Peter in solitude on the couch. Peter spares Stiles a glance. "You shouldn't have watched."
"I'm a big boy," Stiles mumbles, but he's not sure he believes his own words. Watching Peter writhe in pain is one thing, watching as everybody else but himself takes smidgens of pain away and eases the agony is another.
"It's fine that you're not a werewolf, Stiles," Peter sighs as he settles against the couch, looking momentarily peaceful if only for a few hours. He closes his eyes and leans his head back, and it makes Stiles feel like he's staring at a concussion patient, the type who shouldn't close their eyes lest they don't wake up again, but he refrains from reaching out to nudge Peter awake again.
Five minutes later, when Stiles is sure he's asleep and reveling in the few hours of pain free slumber he's secured himself, he hears Peter mumble, "Although it wasn't for my lack of trying."
"Maybe we're being too textbook about this."
Derek looks up at Stiles from where he's sitting over a dusty book the size of his torso, charred pages dog-eared and singed as he smoothes them out. He digs his hands into his eyes, looking as exhausted as Stiles feels, eyes burdened with the pressure of saving Peter's life as a time bomb ticks on both their shoulders. Stiles wonders if he's sporting a mirrored pair of heavy under-the-eye bags at this point. Derek shuts his book and tosses it over into the pile of other discarded literature, the growing heap starting to dwindle Stiles' hope. They had started with so much vigor, an unrelenting spirit that Stiles knew would carry him to the right answer. By now he's wondering if there is no right answer.
"Right," Derek snorts. "Because Google will offer so much more help."
"I mean even simpler than that," Stiles says, getting up from the confinement of his chair. His body's been stiff for ages, cramped into a dark space while he concentrates on page after page of unhelpful gibberish. "We have to stop focusing on the bread and butter of these rituals and think about something even simpler. Something less tangible. Something we haven't considered because it's not concrete but it's still powerful."
"Like emotion," Derek says.
"Yeah," Stiles keeps his body moving. "Lydia, for example—she brought Peter back with a spell, but there was more to it besides dragging your body to him and shining moonlight into the room. There were things like fear, and adrenaline, and probably even a little insanity."
"What's your point?"
"The point is," Stiles' feet move back and forth, like his body's providing the fuel for his brain as long as he keeps it moving. He's stumbled on a revelation and he isn't letting it fly away from him. "Everything we've been giving to this, all this determination, it has to mean something, right?"
Derek smirks, rubbing a hand over his eyes. When he opens them again, there's something like the light of an idea on his face. Stiles bounces on the balls of his feet to coax the thoughts out of him, like they're finally on the right track, like the windmill has caught its breeze and the hamster wheel is spinning and they're rolling in the right direction.
"Peter once told me something," Derek says. "About a power that's effective and undeniable and always underestimated."
"What is it?" Stiles asks, still bouncing. He can feel success between his thumb and forefinger, only a touch away.
Derek lets out a bark of laughter and stares at the floor, like his answer is too incredulous, maybe even too cheesy, to share while he's looking Stiles in the face. "Love."
The first person Stiles goes to see is Deaton. He always has answers, not always helpful ones, but answers nonetheless, and he supposes that if he has an arsenal of magical werewolf repellant powder stored underneath the doggie anesthesia, he might have something actually helpful for werewolves too. Stiles would probably be embarrassed if it was anybody else, coming to their door and explaining the predicament that he needs to find a way to ASAP help successfully keep a previously resurrected murderous werewolf alive because the last thirty rituals and spells were hocus, but Deaton has something serene and enigmatic about him that doesn't seem to judge. Not blatantly, anyway, and at this point that's good enough for Stiles.
It's still awkward when he shows up. He tries to be vague, explain the situation as ambiguously as possible without mentioning Peter's name, but Deaton has a knowing gleam in his eyes that Stiles has only ever seen in Disney movies and comic books like he knows all of Stiles' secrets and is silently choosing not to expose them or even pretend he's aware of their existence. Stiles is grateful, but still awkward, and fiddles with the strings of his hoodie while Deaton leads him into the back room.
"Resurrection is a tricky thing to attempt to achieve, and rarely is it done right," Deaton explains while he rummages around a cupboard. Stiles knows this, but won't interrupt when Deaton might have a miraculous yellow weed hidden in the depths of his drawers that cures cancer and stupidity and even impending death. "It's not unheard of to hear of a body rejecting it."
"So you've seen stuff like this before?"
Deaton pauses to give Stiles a small smile that tugs on his eyes like a wise old monk meditating in a cabin, and Stiles braces himself for the wisdom inevitably wrapped in a puzzle. "In my line of work, you see many things," he says elusively, and goes back to poking around in his storage. "The body tries to undo the ritual and return the body to its natural stage. This reversal can take years, or it can take days, and it's a painful process that attempts to disintegrate the entire body."
"But—but you have a way to stop it, right?" Stiles persists. So far, he hasn't heard any good news, and the dread builds a tight ball in his stomach. "Derek was saying something, something about just using. Well. Love."
He feels ridiculous saying it, just like Derek probably did. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and watches as Deaton pauses again, this time considering him, and closes the cupboard like Stiles' idea is guiding him into a whole new direction of how to approach the situation. He circles the room to where the glass cabinet by the door sits, unlocking the door with a key in his pocket and peering inside.
"He might not be far off," Deaton mumbles into the cabinet, so quietly Stiles leans forward to hear him. He feels like he should be taking notes by this point, his entire hand jittery and his legs tingling because he feels how close he is. If Deaton the witch doctor can't find him answers, he doesn't know who to turn to anymore.
Deaton swivels around and considers Stiles again for a moment, like he's mentally measuring the amount of desperation Stiles is coming to him with. He takes in the nervous tick in his ankle, the way his fingers are bunched up around the chunks of lint in his pockets, and flickers his gaze back up to Stiles' eyes.
"How badly do you want to save this person?" He asks, eyes poised in question. It sounds a lot more like he's saying do you love this person? and Stiles wonders if this is the sort of magic that won't run on fairy dust or imagination or even sheer desperation, but needs something powerful to fuel it, like love. Suddenly the entire room feels heavier, hotter.
"I," Stiles manages. Deaton's staring hard at him, and he swallows. "I can't watch anybody else die. I can't—I can't watch him die."
Deaton stays silent, surveying him until Stiles feels the discomfort prickling at his skin. He feels x-rayed and one hundred percent on display, but then there's a cool glass bottle pressed into his palm. He looks down at it, blue and shiny through the glass, and watches the indigo liquid trickle up and down the neck of the bottle like syrup.
"It's borage flower essence," Deaton tells him. "Do you know what it does?" Stiles shakes his head, mouth too dry to say something stupidly hopeful like cure death? "It's a stimulator. Not all that powerful until it's given a source. A reason to work, if you will."
"What will it do?"
Deaton smiles again, gently this time like he's pulling himself back from revealing how much he knows about Stiles and his entire situation. "Sometimes, Stiles, we have all the magic we need inside of us, but we just need a little push to encourage it," he taps the bottle, continuing, "this is encouragement. It's a powerful detoxifier, something that helps to rebalance the system. It gives strength to those who have lost faith in love."
"Oh," Stiles says, rolling the bottle between his fingers. "So will it only work if I, well."
Deaton's hand squeezes Stiles' shoulder. "It'll work," he tells him, sounding so certain Stiles believes him.
Seeing Peter sleep is like watching the world dip upside down, like they're breathing in water and the blacks are whites. Back when it was Stiles' life goal to come up with an idea clever enough to trap the Alpha and torch him to the ground in order to get the nightmares of slimy paws clawing up his window out of his mind, he couldn't have looked at Peter like a human. He saw him like a villain, no grey matter to discuss when it came to categorizing the giant psychotic monster with fangs into bad or good, and now Stiles stares at his peaceful face eclipsed with the shadows and wonders why he ever thought it was that easy.
He looks serene, nothing like the walking corpse he's been. Stiles has noticed everything about him withering, from the way his hands are frail bones steepled in his lap and his eyes are sunken. He looks nothing like that when he sleeps, the same scratchy blanket he's been nested under for days pooled around his waist and his chest heaving with the soft autopilot of his breathing. Stiles doesn't see the monster nowadays, only sees a sad ghost of a young man burdened with remorse flashing in his eyes like he knows that this fate is unavoidable because he's got debts to pay with humanity. Stiles doesn't know how long he's been punishing himself, but he knows perfectly well that Peter thinks he deserves his incoming death.
Stiles has been on the cheating death page on Wikipedia enough to know that it's been around for centuries, but the moment he Googles it, the answers aren't rituals and ancient wiccan work. Suddenly it's article upon article of mystifying individuals who escaped death by the skin of their teeth despite all their odds. It was dumb luck. Peter coming back to life wasn't dumb luck; it was a proactive, greedy struggle toward immortality. It needed action more than it needed prayer or candlelight wishes over shooting stars. Maybe Stiles shouldn't expect luck to shoot down from the skies and grant Peter an extension on his expiration date.
They're cramped onto the tiny fold out bed Derek's couch provided, the creaky springs bouncing under Stiles' back as he readjusts. The moon is coming through the window in tiny rays, like light filtering desperately through the heavens, and Stiles scoots closer if only to hear the sound of Peter softly breathing into the crisp night air. The shadows hit his gaunt cheekbones and his pale complexion, nearly white in the ghostly light of the night, and Stiles shifts under the flimsy throw where his frigid feet search out warmth. He'll be complaining about the heating in Derek's loft tomorrow morning.
What it boils down to for Stiles is that life isn't as simple as it was in sophomore year. The bad had claws and the good stood by his side, and suddenly Scott's transformed and then Allison is driven mad by despair and then people like Isaac go from attempting to bodily kill Lydia in chemistry class to coming to Scott's aid when his own life is at stake. He's learned, definitely the hard way, that people surprise you. He reaches out and touches the spot on Peter's arm where the light illuminates his wrist.
Love. It was certainly rich coming from somebody as stiff about emotion as Derek, and Stiles doesn't know where to begin to use it as a weapon, but he wants it to work. God, he wants it to work. He's seventeen-years-old and the highlight of his life isn't the new Star Trek movie anymore. His aspirations aren't to ride a rocket into space and his morals are as shaky as a seesaw, and he desperately wants to save the man curled in on himself a foot away like he's a small, tiny piece in a much bigger game. He wants to do what Lydia did with Jackson, he wants to do what his father failed to do with his mother, he wants to harness the magic he used that night with the mountain ash in a moment of heart-thumping adrenaline when he opened his eyes and saw that his imagination hadn't failed him after years of disappointment.
Stiles blinks, remembering the bottle from Deaton tucked in his hoodie balled up on the floor. Magic. All he needs is a little bit of magic, like the way love is supposedly magical or love is all you need according to John Lennon. Stiles has never felt that way he did outside of the rave with a handful of sweaty mountain ash clumping in his palm again, only ever shutting his eyes so tightly they hurt and wishing desperately he could be special again just to save somebody, anybody, and he thinks now might be the moment.
Love might be easier in another dimension, and Peter might deserve to live without Stiles' assistance in another world. Maybe they find each other more easily in another time, in a parallel existence where they collide without blood or war or violence, or maybe never would. Maybe this world is the best world, the one where they're happy because they bring out the best—and worst—in each other. Stiles doesn't want to wait until he's searching for Peter under rocks in the afterlife to see if this is the best they'll ever have.
He fumbles to arch off the couch as it groans under his movement and grope through the folds of his clothes to grab the cool, tiny bottle. Deaton hadn't given him any instructions, just pressed it into his hand like he would know intrinsically how to use it, and so Stiles follows his instincts.
It looks like mouthwash, so he uncaps the cork and before any rancid scents or second guessing can fog up his mind with doubts, he chugs it. He grips the small bottle in his fist and downs all of it, every last blue drop until his throat is aching and his tongue feels numb. He bets his tongue looks like he just swallowed a blueberry popsicle, mouth all covered in blue dye and essence that tastes like minced grass and makes him want to hurl what is possibly a summer's day smashed into a glass bottle out onto the floor, but he keeps it down. He hopes to god he was supposed to swallow it, not bathe in it or drench his hands in it, but his stomach isn't churning in revulsion and his mouth is relaxing as he lets the liquid pour down his throat and settle.
He waits, one, two, three seconds. He waits to morph into the Hulk or grow fairy wings. A car honks outside, a soft alarm that beeps to an end after a few loud blares muffled by the window. And then, nothing.
It's disappointing, but more than that, Stiles feels like he's let people down. Derek, who came up with the idea to use love to their advantage, and Peter, who didn't expect to be saved but wanted Stiles to succeed anyway, and Deaton, who fully believed that Stiles loved hard enough to make something magical happen. He swallows on a dry mouth, because he isn't magical, and he isn't in love, and he's failing Peter just like he failed his mother and was forced to watch her wither surrounded by a cloud of stiff hospital linens.
He presses his palms into his eyes where the dampness is settling. A part of him thought he would be good enough, in love enough, fucking scared enough to rise to the challenge like Scott would or Derek would or even Peter would. He wipes away the tears before they can well up, determined not to cry over spilled borage flower essence, and digs the heel of his hand into his eyes until he stops and he almost pushes his eyes back into their sockets.
And then, suddenly, the palm on his face gets warm. Morning summer sun warm, warmed by the bonfire warm, and then it's fire's heat warm, hot like coals pressed into his skin. He yanks them back and blinks away the wetness and realizes he's glowing, his hands two luminous blue blobs lit in the night like glowsticks that fade into his forearm. Suddenly his entire body feels warm, stomach tumbling and heart quivering in his ribcage, and he scrambles to sit up under the too hot blanket and stare at his hands again. He wants to pinch himself or throw himself into a basin of cool water if only to make sure that he's not hallucinating and that yes, his fingers are tiny blue orbs of brilliant radiance pulling all of the dim rays of light in the room into his hands.
"Shit," Stiles says. He is fucking magical. He flexes his hands, feeling the pulsing warmth on his skin, and wishes that somebody would be awake or taking pictures just so when he wakes up in the morning, he'll be sure that this happened. He grins, something bright and warm like the light in his palm filling up his entire body, and resists the urge to pump the air before he runs out of whatever magical juice he's managed to grab a hold of with his hands.
He reaches out and wraps his hand around Peter's arm, his palm warm and trembling and glowing bright around Peter's cold forearm. The night air is cold as it hits the exposed slivers of their bodies, a contrast to the way Stiles' entire being is thrumming with anticipation. There's something inside him, something that's building up and threatening to bubble up into an eruption of either laughter or crying or power. He shifts closer until his body is breathing in the slow rise and fall movement's of Peter's slumber, hands curling around the nape of his neck and the pallid flesh of his shoulder where a hill of goosebumps have risen. Stiles wants to play connect-the-dots with each one, blanketing his skin with his fingers as he breathes in and out. His hands feel seared onto Peter's skin, welded with the sheer heat emanating from his fingers, and surely he'll never be able to pull his hands away again after it feels like they're branding Peter's skin with his fingerprints.
He closes his eyes and think about what it felt like to have magic tingling in his hand, how that momentary, fleeting minute of imagination actually worked. He burrows closer to Peter and wants to take the pain away, wants to be the one saving a life instead of being rescued. He digs in his fingers into the flesh of his arm and thinks about how much he actually loves the damaged sad thing of a man curled up in front of him, and how he'd save him just as much as he'd want to save his dad or Scott or Derek or Lydia.
Something like hot lava oozes up his arm, tickling his very veins, and Stiles' eyes shoot open. His veins are throbbing blackened blue on his forearm like burning asphalt is pouring through his bloodstream and Stiles watches, breathless and damn near ready to pass out from the shock, as the blackness seeps from Peter's very skin and pours into his hand. Here he is, a human defying the odds, and he doesn't know if it's Peter's doing or a spark of magic or essence of borage flower or somehow, despite all of his doubts, love. He remembers what Deaton said, about how the bottle was just a bottle, how Stiles is the one responsible for bringing power to it. The power seems to wind itself around Stiles like a magnetic rope with enough charge to provide electricity to the entire town of Beacon Hills, and suddenly the blanket by his knees is sweaty and the next gulp of air he takes is fresh and life-affirming. He blinks and Peter's blinking back at him, gasping.
"What did you do?" Peter asks, breathless. He grips the spot where Stiles' fingers were wrapped around his arm, seizing the mark like the heat has burned his very flesh, and stares at where Stiles' hands, still softly glowing in the dark, soak up the blackness in his veins and flicker to a dark stop, like a flame being snuffed out of a candle reaching its end. He blinks and they're back to being cool and pale, normal skinny hands like the last miraculous five minutes were a mirage of desperation.
Peter's eyes flick down to where his hands aren't hollow and his skin isn't sunken anymore. Stiles notices it too all of a sudden, no longer focused on the solar flare exploding from his palms, and takes in Peter's figure, replenished and nourished like he's been reborn. He grins, a broad, beaming grin that splits his entire face in half.
"How did you do it?" Peter asks, staring down at his own body, no longer a withered sunken mass of decomposing flesh. All the nightmares, the ones where Stiles is holding a shriveled body flaking to ashes in his arms telling him to bury him underneath Wolfsbane spirals, fade from his mind like they've been vacuumed out.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Stiles says. Peter probably would, considering the circumstances, but now isn't the time to revel in what he's done. He's just saved a life, and that life is staring back at him with blue eyes that have lost their haunted, guilt-ridden glimmers.
"I didn't deserve this," Peter says, hands balled up in the sheets. It's strange hearing something altruistic and almost selfless come out of Peter's mouth, the words foreign coming from his mouth, and Stiles rolls his eyes.
"Is this the new Peter Hale?" Stiles says. "If I knew I was getting rid of the asshole I wouldn't have saved you."
He laughs—they both do—and Stiles feels lighter than he has in months.
"You know what this means, don't you?"
"You told him how to do it."
"That's not all it took."
"Could you keep it down a bit? Stiles is sleeping."
It's adorable how everybody thinks he's asleep, how at ten in the morning Stiles is still cuddled in the sofa while Derek holds what Stiles can only assume is a hushed pack meeting while everybody marvels over Peter's newfound energy and eats cereal. He doesn't want to ruin the mystery yet, not when everybody is prodding at Peter like he's a temporary wax figure that's going to inevitably melt in the sun and return back to his old withered state, and smirks into the scratchy couch cushion pressed into his cheek. There's the sound of spoons clinking against the cereal bowls, like amidst the confusion and the doctor's exam that Peter's in the middle of to reassure everybody that he is, in fact, alive and well, breakfast is commencing and cheerios are getting soggy.
"Stiles couldn't have done it alone," Isaac's voice wafts over the din of the clanking silverware. "He's human. He doesn't have any powers. We weren't even strong enough to help him, and we're werewolves. "
"He probably had help from the ever obliging Alan Deaton," Peter drawls around a mouthful of cereal. Derek sighs, like Peter's missing the point.
"That's not it," Derek persists. "Even Deaton couldn't have just—" He sighs again, exasperated this time that everybody's overlooking the important details. He seems to be the only one boycotting the cereal if the complete lack of crunching from his end is any indication. "He couldn't actually have saved you if he didn't want to."
"Of course he wanted to," Peter dismisses breezily. "Stiles would've saved any one of us."
"Probably wouldn't have tried as hard if it were me," Isaac pipes up. There's the distinct sound of the cereal box being grabbed and more Cheerios tumbling into a milky bowl, and it's making Stiles a little hungry.
"He would've tried just as hard," Peter scoffs. "Honestly."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that despite how it seems he's only out for his own skin sometimes, Stiles is stupidly selfless and would pitch himself into a pit of lava to save a complete stranger," Peter says, like it's obvious, sounding simultaneously annoyed and inexplicably fond. There's a moment of silence where everybody seems to consider the validity of his declaration. "Probably picked that up from his father."
"You're ignoring the point," Derek says, sounding more frustrated by the second. "Do you realize what it took for Stiles to actually succeed in saving you? This isn't about a hero complex. He needed to genuinely lo—"
Stiles decides that's his cue to properly awaken, shooting up on the couch with an exaggerated yawn and a huge stretch of his arms like he hasn't been blatantly eavesdropping for the past twenty minutes. Everybody twists around to watch him push the blanket off his knees and clamber off the couch, Isaac wordlessly handing Stiles an empty bowl and the box of Cheerios when he trots into the kitchen with what he hopes is a convincingly sleepy smile. He leans his hip against the counter like the rest of them and fills his bowl to the brim with milk, fixedly avoiding Peter's gaze because there's something knowing in his eyes, like Derek never managing to finish his revelation didn't stop him from picking up on his point. Peter looks good, revived from the inside out and shining in the morning light, and Stiles feels a surge of pride remembering the way it was his hands that saved Peter's life last night. It feels like a fuzzy dream, the type of thing he would daydream up in physics class when he's droning out Mr. Harris where his fearlessness ends up saving the day.
He caps the milk bottle and meets Peter's eye over his bowl, noticing the private smile twisting his lips, smug and certain like he's figured out exactly how much Stiles loves him. Stiles won't give him the satisfaction of saying it out loud, but smiles back over the cereal box before looking away, fully aware of how much Derek is watching their interaction like a hawk like it'll give him clues as to how Stiles managed to pull off saving his undead zombie uncle when they were all sure it was impossible to cheat the reaper twice in one lifetime, three if anybody counts the fire and four if they count the coma. Some people are just lucky, he supposes, and that's exactly what Stiles is going to say if anybody asks for specifics or instructions or details on how he accomplished his feat and when Derek inevitably starts demanding to know more when he can't figure it out for himself.
"You put the milk in first? What kind of animal are you?" Isaac asks, sounding properly revolted as Stiles shakes the cereal into the milk bath in his bowl.
"Who the hell puts the cereal in first?"
"That's just wrong."
"To each his own, my brother."
Stiles meets Peter's eyes again as he swallows his first spoonful of deliciously crisp cereal, smiling around the spoon. He looks happy, happy in a way that is completely different from the way he used to smile out of sadistic pleasure and malice, and Stiles thinks that maybe, just maybe, the second resurrection is a charm.