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Peter first meets with Stiles on a Monday right at the end of summer.

He’s never heard of him before, although Derek, who got him the job, keeps assuring him that Stiles is “all the rage” right now among young Hollywood, which Peter understands to mean that fourteen-year-old girls across the country are currently in the process of taping posters of this kid up on their bedroom walls. Probably a little bit out of Peter’s demographic.

He's careening toward overwhelming fame, is what Derek had said, although it sounded suspiciously like something that came out of a pamphlet, so Peter suspected that those words came straight out of the mouth of Stiles’ PR manager. Peter takes the job anyway. Obliviousness to who or what Stiles is might even be an advantage to Peter as someone who'll be so close to him so frequently.

The day they meet, he nearly misses Stiles. He’s very young. Peter actually mistakes him for a frazzled college student when he first sees him, ambling down the steps of an apartment toward Peter’s car, dressed in sneakers and a hoodie that swallows him up, and Peter pays him no mind until he steps right in front of him and extends his hand.

“Hi,” he says. “You’re Peter, right?”

He doesn’t really look like anything special. Peter surveys him, appraises him, tries to see that flicker of glitterati glamour in him he was expecting, but all he sees are youthful brown eyes and jittery fingers. He grabs his hand, shaking it, and half expects the palm to be sweaty. “His popularity is just starting to snowball,” Derek had said. It seemed very evident to Peter that this newfound popularity didn’t sit comfortably on him quite yet.

“I am.” He thinks back to the name Derek had sent him in the email describing his new client, the one that had him assuming he was going to be meeting a strong-boned eastern European man today. “So you’re Mi—”

“Stiles,” he says instantly. “Just call me Stiles.”

A stage name, then. Peter can’t say that that doesn’t feel a little like a case of overinflated pride, but then again, his first name is something of a nightmare, so Peter can’t blame him for finding himself a nom de plume.

“Um,” Stiles says. He licks his lips, clearly not sure how to behave himself, and Peter finds himself wondering just how long Stiles has been in Hollywood. A day? Possibly two? He seems fresh-faced to an almost naive degree. “So this is the car?”

“It’s actually a helicopter,” Peter says, deadpan.

Stiles seems surprised by the joke. His eyebrows lift for a moment. “I thought you were a professional,” he says.

“I am,” Peter assures him. “I also happen to have a sense of humor.”

Stiles’ surprise only seems to grow at that comment, but this time, a hint of amusement piques his expression as well. He straightens out his hoodie, pulling it down his chest. “Really?” he says. “Me too.”

Peter isn't so sure about that, but he supposes he'll find out soon. He steps aside and opens the car door to the backseat. Stiles peers in, examines the soft leather seats, and looks to Peter as if for permission to get inside.

A beginner to this life. A complete beginner.

“After you,” Peter says, gesturing toward the seat. He shuts it after Stiles crawls inside, and his own skeptical reflection looks back at him in the tinted windows.

--

Peter’s been driving celebrities around for a while now. He used to drive around an entirely different kind of cargo, namely, loot and money, until he got a little tired of all the danger and constant threat of hold-ups, and his nephew turned him onto a much safer occupation involving his car and has since been hooking Peter up with highbrow elites and on-the-rise entertainers and showbiz narcissists. It’s as much of a curse as it is a financial blessing.

Stiles doesn’t seem any different from the rest, at least not at first. His schedule certainly reflects a dozen other actor’s. Early start, usually before sunrise, and long nights, not capping off until past midnight or longer on particularly rough days, and very little reprieve on weekends either, Saturdays and Sundays typically full of parties, elbow rubbing with executives, award shows, or keeping up an unrealistic level of fitness at the gym. Peter has to be there for all of it, driving to and fro the set and gas stations and the airport and Stiles’ apartment, which despite not being smack in the center of Los Angeles, is not immune to the traffic that always befalls Peter the minute he enters the bustle of the inner city.

It's demanding, that's for sure. His job right before this one was chauffeuring around a one-hit-wonder, who at their busiest time, hardly needed Peter at all beyond being dropped off at a club and then picked up a day and a half later after a very long bar crawl with other people in their fifteen minutes of fame. This tapered off into occasional drives to contract offices and recording studios, which then filtered down even further into the kind of services a cab could provide for cheaper, which then grinded to a complete halt, and now Peter's here, zipping around all of Hollywood like a bumblebee for a kid who supposedly is still just at the beginning of what smells like a very lucrative future for his career. If he gets any busier, Peter can sell his apartment and just live out of his car.

It’s hard for him to understand Stiles’ appeal initially. Why he's so famous, or at least in demand enough that he needs a chauffeur. He vaguely recalls Derek telling him that Stiles is in a TV show, so perhaps he's a good actor—or just a good liar, Peter's found that those are often interchangeable—or maybe his awkward, gangling appearance is tickling some people's pickles. It's hard to be sure with actors. Everyone just behaves differently when someone's on TV, no matter how homely or short or anti-social or impolite someone is. Seeing someone through that magical box with the moving pictures has an almost hypnotic effect on a susceptible audience, enticing people, drawing them in. Making them adore and drool over celebrities they wouldn't have looked twice at on the street if they weren't public figures.

Peter assumes that's what's happening with Stiles. He's not exactly classically attractive. He doesn't look anything like the majority of the handsome Hollywood hunks that can be found sitting in every audition in the city, the ones that might as well all be cloned mannequins taken from a window display. He's… lanky. And loud. And doesn't have any sense of style. And seems to have zero control over his limbs.

“He's interesting, that one,” Peter says to Derek over the phone after dropping Stiles off at home. “I can't fathom why he's a public figure. How fast before he fizzles out?”

“You're wrong about him,” Derek replies. “He won't. He's doing remarkably well. People like him.”

How is that even possible? Apparently Peter has no grasp on the wants and desires of adolescent fangirls. Why that upsets a part of him so profoundly is another mystery for another time.

“Who?” Peter demands. “What people?”

“People who watch his show. It’s popular. And he’s good in it.”

That sounds an awful lot like opinion instead of just facts about ratings and reviews. Peter dreads to think that this is the kind of TV Derek watches these days, this absurd drivel meant for junior high schoolers.

“Trust me, you'll be driving him for a while. If you don't drive him away, that is,” Derek says, adding the second bit with an unfair amount of judgment. Peter is an absolute joy to have behind the wheel. “Let me guess, you don't like him.”

“He's fine,” Peter tells him, shrugging. “Very different from the others.”

“Different?”

He shrugs again, even as he's aware that Derek can't see him. It's hard for him to adequately put Stiles into words. “He doesn't seem very Hollywood.”

“He's new.”

“I gathered. Which is also why he won't last long here.”

“I think he’ll surprise you,” Derek says. He sounds like he knows more than Peter does, which is as mind-boggling as it is disturbing. “Get used to him being in your car.”

“Do you want to bet money on that?”

“Just believe me,” Derek insists. “Try not to get into any fights with him.”

Peter doesn’t believe him, on principle. Stiles isn’t going to last a month.

--

Stiles likes to talk. He doesn't at all the first day even though he clearly wants to, Peter constantly catching his curious eyes in the rearview mirror before he looks away and goes back to fidgeting with the backseat. Pulling at fabric. Laying a palm flat on the ceiling. Fiddling with headrests. He's like an ape gone loose in the backseat, minus the noises.

He doesn't talk the second day either. It's like he thinks he's not supposed to, that he's just meant to keep to himself and not bother the man behind the wheel. Maybe he thinks Peter has to concentrate unfailingly on the roads. Maybe he finds Peter intimidating. If he does, this fear wears off quickly, because by day three, he's talking.

“This is a nice car,” he says, the first thing he's said since he's introduced himself. “This is yours?”

Peter has always taken pride in his choice of automobiles. He doesn't quite appreciate the implication that he has to borrow a car like this.

“No,” he drawls. “I hotwired it from a parking lot. The police will be coming for it any minute.”

“Hilarious,” Stiles says, voice flat. A moment passes. Then Stiles twists around and checks the back window, presumably for incoming flashing lights. It’s possible that he's a total idiot. Peter hasn't decided yet. “You don't have a GPS in here.”

“I do,” Peter says. He pats the glove compartment. “I just don't need it in the city. I'm familiar with it.”

“Grow up around here?”

“Basically.”

And the conversation doesn't end there. Stiles keeps it going, like a man rowing against an opposing stream, and keeps asking Peter questions and commenting on all the road work happening in the city and griping about how tired he is. It seems almost like a nervous tic. Like he's filling the air with words to try and be more comfortable.

“You want me to shut up, don't you?” Stiles asks at one point.

Peter shrugs, because he's not actually sure yet. It's different, that's for sure, because his past clients tended not to say anything to him beyond directions and destinations, and he's still working out if Stiles’ tendency to talk lots is annoying or refreshing. If nothing else, Peter likes gossip, and he likes using freely-given information against someone at opportune moments in the future, so he might as well let Stiles go on.

“Maybe,” he admits. “Keep talking. I'll make up my mind soon enough.”

Either he’ll grow to be a stench Peter just can’t wait to air out anymore or an acquired taste, something he’ll learn to enjoy eventually. He’s not sure yet. But he might be leaning toward…

“All right. Well, let me know when you’re done writing an evaluation.”

...the latter? Peter must be not right in the head. That kid is such a little snot.

“You’re a little irritating,” Peter feels the need to say, just in case Stiles doesn’t know. Sometimes someone becomes famous and never gets told the hard truth again.

“No one’s ever said that to me before,” Stiles says, completely deadpan, and continues on with whatever he was talking about before. He must be purposefully trying to annoy Peter, because he throws in more storytelling details than anybody really needs, dragging out every moment of his side of the conversation. He’s smart, that one. Just about as smart as he is aggravating, which is a dangerous combination.

--

Peter learns a lot about Stiles from the people he brings into the car with him. The most frequent visitor is a boy named Scott who Peter knows plenty about just from listening in: he’s an old friend stretching all the way back into the elementary school era who knows everything about Stiles from his shoe size to the age he lost his virginity. It's like people always forget that watching a road doesn't eradicate one’s hearing.

Sometimes he brings a redheaded girl, but she's typically on her phone reading him schedules or ordering him around or not laughing at his jokes.

Sometimes he brings a pretty man with him, Peter’s least favorite co-passenger. There’s something familiar about him that Peter doesn’t manage to pin down until he realizes that he’s seen him in GQ ads, typically in various states of undress. He's one of those underwear models who looks like he would fit in well as a mannequin at the display of an Abercrombie & Fitch store.

“Is that your boyfriend?” Peter asks at one point. He makes sure that his voice doesn't sound too interested.

Stiles looks out the window. The smile he's fighting back does a tremendous job answering the question for him. “Jordan? I don't know,” he says. “We’re just having fun.”

Stiles doesn't quite look like the type of person who can have fun without consequences. Peter guesses that he gets himself in trouble half the time, and the other half, he's caught in an oil slick of bad luck and bad decision making. All Peter knows is that that man, model good looks and all, isn't a good idea.

“We met at this party,” Stiles tells him without needing any prompting. “He’s been in this business a lot longer than me, so he kind of took me under his wing.”

“Just his wing?”

Stiles smirks. He blushes, or perhaps that’s just the red traffic light glowing on him. “C’mon, can you even blame me?” he says. “The guy’s a freaking model.”

“And that's what matters to you, is it?”

His face pinches with a frown. “No. But—is it so bad if it at least matters to me a bit?”

Peter doesn't think that's bad at all. As a matter of fact, he doesn't think looks being the only thing that matters is bad either; if anything, it's evolutionarily smart. Peter knows he definitely couldn't tolerate anybody with a face that looks like it's been pieced together by Dr. Frankenstein, no matter how big their heart or sweet their disposition or frequent their donations to charity might be. Actually, fewer donations to charity might be preferred—Peter wouldn't know what to do with that kind of pointless altruism anyway.

“No,” he says. “I think that's perfectly reasonable.”

Still, he does find himself wondering if Stiles is genuinely interested in him or just enjoys the novelty of dating a model. He's still new enough to the scene to probably find the idea of sleeping with a celebrity exciting, if he's not secretly convinced that his fame is one unlucky snap away from vanishing and that he better get in all his famous fucks in while he still can. Stiles still has that glassy-eyed disbelief in his eyes that makes it obvious to Peter a part of him expects all of this to be a wild dream. And in dreams, if given the chance, why not have sex with a model?

On other occasions, he doesn't bring a person at all, just climbs in with his phone to play with or a pillow to nap against or a thick pack of stapled lines to rehearse. Sometimes Stiles asks to stop at a drugstore or a supermarket and he comes back with handfuls of plastic bags that say plenty about Stiles too just from the products Peter can make out pressed against the side of the bag.

The usual suspects: Pretzels. Dip. Toilet paper. Condoms. ADHD medication.

That always paints a detailed picture all on its own. Then again, it actually fits in cleanly with the image Stiles is projecting to Peter: namely, the wrinkled hoodies and the unstyled hair and the decade-old tennis shoes. He looks and eats and spends money like a young college student whose budget is severely limited and who probably shouldn't be living alone in a dorm somewhere without supervision.

“I don't really have time to eat healthy,” Stiles tells Peter when he catches him eyeing the junk food in the bags.

“Don’t have the time?” Peter stifles his snort. “Who do you think you are, George Clooney?”

“No,” Stiles jumps in, annoyed. “Not because—being famous or whatever doesn't have anything to do with it. I've just never been all that good at managing my time.”

“Probably a good skill for you to try learning.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, dad.”

Peter rolls his eyes outwardly, but inwardly, he’s wondering when the fuck he was assigned a parental role in Stiles’ life. Just because he drives him everywhere doesn't make him his father, for fuck’s sake.

And then some days, he comes in completely empty-handed, usually when Peter picks him up from a long day on set, sometimes late at night, sometimes unbearably early the following day, and he doesn't do anything but mumble a few words that might be hellos and how are yous and then slumps in the backseat and falls asleep within moments. It's always horribly embarrassing, because Stiles sleeps with a gaping mouth and murmuring tongue and lolling head that wet noodles all over the place, but Peter finds he learns the most about Stiles in those moments. More than the other people teach him, because this is an insight into how Stiles interacts with Peter. That he’s comfortable enough around him to let himself fall asleep.

--

As far as being famous goes, Stiles is a complete beginner. Peter figures this this when he realizes that Stiles doesn't know how to tie a tie.

Not that hints weren't dropped beforehand that Stiles is a bit of a fish out of water when it comes to popularity and flashing cameras and being in demand, but the tie cinched Peter's assumptions. He clambers into the backseat of the car one night with what is probably supposed to be a very sophisticated, expensive outfit—a dark navy suit, lace-up shoes, and a watch that reeks of impulsivity, most likely a purchase made the first time Stiles realized his bank account had real money in it—except that it looks completely haggard, all wrinkled edges and sloppy execution. The patterned socks don't help matters either.

“Honestly,” Peter murmurs under his breath, watching Stiles fumble to knot his tie correctly in the back. He jerks off the road into a parking lot: a gas station stinking of spilled diesel. He meets Stiles’ harried eyes in the mirror. “Come on.”

“It's for a party,” Stiles says once Peter's gotten out and yanked Stiles out of his seat to tie the damn thing for him. “A birthday, I think.”

Peter opts not to say anything judgemental in a valiant effort to be nice. It's clear that Stiles is still in a phase where he accepts every invitation that comes his way, regardless of personal interest, like he's still positive that his fame is fleeting and he better get in his experiences at the a-listers’ houses while he still has the chance.

“Elegant choice of wardrobe for a birthday party,” he says instead. That's also a little judgmental, but Peter's being very careful to use the right inflection in his voice to avoid being construed as antagonizing.

“You think I'm overdressed?”

“Not at all,” Peter says. “But as a general rule, don't wear clothing you don't know how to put on without someone else's help.”

Stiles blinks; he obviously wasn't expecting something so blunt. He obviously already has people telling him exactly what he wants to hear in his ear, just like the majority of his fellow juvenile celebrities, and perhaps he likes it that way. Peter secures the tie’s knot in place against Stiles’ throat before he can reply.

“Is it supposed to choke me?”

Peter gives him a shark's grin. “That part’s all me,” he says, tightening it just enough that Stiles mock gags and grabs him by the wrists to quell his strangulation attempts.

He looks quite odd in formalwear. Peter looks him up and down, all decked out in a brand name blazer and actually combed hair, and finds it’s like looking at a goat trying to pass itself off as a horse, none of the details quite graceful enough, to say nothing of how unfamiliar Stiles seems to be in clothes like these.

“What?” Stiles asks, squirming under Peter’s critical eye.

“Nothing,” Peter murmurs. He straightens the tie out, smoothing a wrinkle away. “Don’t mess with that.”

Stiles reaches up to touch it, perhaps out of discomfort, but then decides not to under Peter's withering glare. He ducks down to look at himself in the car’s wing mirror, examining different angles of his chest with the tie. There's a good chance he's never worn one of those before.

“I'm not usually one for clothing like this,” Stiles explains, plucking at the side of his pants. “I'm more of a t-shirt kind of guy.”

“You don't say,” Peter says.

“I always feel like I'm going to fucking prom or something when I wear this stuff,” Stiles says, plucking at his lapel. “Do I look okay?”

Even with his evident discomfort, Stiles still looks better in an ensemble like this than in his usual combo of hoodies and dirty sneakers and flannels. More grown-up.

“You do,” Peter assures him. He imagines that it wouldn't take too long to polish Stiles up properly—a stop at Hugo Boss for a quality suit, a quick trip to the tailor, a speedy shoe-shining, a respectable haircut. Peter could clean Stiles up very nicely. There's—there's potential there. “Now get back in the car.”

Stiles does. He sits carefully, like he's aware of every wrinkle he may be causing and is dying to be wearing a nice and comfy plaid button-down, and hardly moves, about as comfortable as if someone's stuck a wooden plank down his shirt to keep him still.

What is he like at home, Peter wonders. When he’s actually comfortable. Louder? Messier?

In comparison, Stiles’ “boyfriend”—the quotes are necessary if only because Peter still doesn't think Jordan qualifies as such—is clearly much more at home with his fame. He's older than Stiles, and has been riding the Hollywood carousel longer than him, and has already perfected his camera face, an expression made only for paparazzi presence.

A lot of celebrities are good at avoiding it, though, Peter’s learned that much. The cameras are often predictable, as are the cameramen. There are certain spots in LA that are teeming with them, zoos of expectant paparazzis, and then there are quiet areas, ones that are easy to disappear into.

Jordan, however, seems to like basking in the attention.

Peter isn’t thrilled whenever he has to pick him and Stiles up from a throng of shutterbugs. The photographers aren’t the most considerate people in the world—they yell, push against the car, scratch up Peter’s paint job, jam their lenses against the window. Jordan gets in the car, smooths his hair back into place, while Stiles sidles in next to him and rubs his eyes, as if erasing the aftereffects of the blinding flashes. He always looks shaken whenever it happens, hands imperceptibly trembling and body taut, but Jordan doesn’t ever seem to notice.

It makes him wonder, is all. What Stiles and Jordan really have in common. What they talk about. Why exactly they're in a relationship.

They're thoughts he doesn't say out loud, though.

--

“I'm new at this,” Stiles confides on day five, telling Peter what he already knows. “I honestly have no clue how to—how to be famous.”

“You don't say.”

“Yeah. It's like everyone wants something from me or expects me to just—just know how to do all this, and I’m pretty much lost.”

Peter has the feeling Stiles might be fishing for a compliment here. That, or none of his friends are very good at being stand-in therapists. Needless to say, Peter hasn't seen anything Stiles has acted in before, and therefore has no compliments about his craft to hand over to fluff him up. He also isn't a big fan of coddling in general.

“You'll find your way,” Peter says, a meaningless platitude.

“I liked it at first,” Stiles says. “Because I—well, I was never really that popular in school. Never could turn a girl’s head. And suddenly I could, and that was nice. I just didn’t think it would get on my nerves that fast.”

“What exactly is it that's getting on your nerves?”

Stiles helplessly lifts a hand in half a shrug, obviously frustrated with his inability to express himself properly. “I don't know. People on Twitter, like, bombarding me? People who never talked to me once in high school suddenly reaching out because we've always been suuuuch good buddies?” He lets out a long, weathered sigh. “Wondering why they all even like me, and if one day they'll figure out I’m not actually anything special, and just how fast everyone will realize that I'm a total rookie?”

“Isn't everyone a total rookie in your profession?” Peter asks.

“No. Some people have—have training. They go to theater schools and have acting degrees and I'm a total newcomer who's literally just doing everything touch-and-go.” He sucks in a breath through his teeth. “You know what? Never mind.”

Except that never mind doesn't really mean never mind, because Stiles lasts through six seconds of silence before launching into his insecurity again.

“I’m not even sure if I’m any good at it, honestly,” Stiles says. He’s cloaking his words in a chuckle, but the self-deprecation peeks through regardless. “I keep telling Scott I’d do better in radio.”

That would be such a waste of a pretty face, Peter thinks but doesn’t say. “What exactly would you do on the radio?”

“I don’t know. Be one of those people who just talks. Just talks shit like, all night.”

Peter lets out a quiet huff of breath and wonders who exactly is going to listen to that, but then he thinks about how Stiles is new and young and hip and fresh on the scene and in one year’s time, he could easily be famous enough to have millions of people listening to him talk about nothing of significance. It won’t do to underestimate the power of preteen girls, a group that Stiles is most undoubtedly popular with.

“Sometimes it hits me that I'm—I'm actually on a TV show. And not just hanging out in my room making something stupid for YouTube.” Dry laughter escapes him. “I keep waiting to wake up. For someone to pinch me and for me to realize none of this is real.”

“It's real,” Peter says.

“I know that,” Stiles mutters.

Well, this is all very illuminating. Peter had his suspicions, as it were, that Stiles was green and inexperienced and uncomfortable in his skin—that is, a skin worth recording and photographing and filming—but he hasn't realized how deep the self-doubts ran. They're ridiculous, Stiles’ insecurities. This isn't an easy business to break into, but yet here he is, and that should count for something, and he'll most definitely need to grow a thicker skin than this at some point or the rest of his career is going to be a total nightmare.

“What does everyone want from you?” Peter asks after a few moments, the curiosity biting at him.

“Huh?”

“Earlier,” he explains. “You mentioned that everyone wants something from you. What is it?”

The question seems to startle Stiles. “Um,” he says at first. “My attention, I guess. My time.”

“Learn to say no,” Peter says. He has the nagging feeling that it's something Stiles desperately needs to hear. “Everybody might want something, but they don't all need something.”

Stiles doesn't say anything at first. Then, a few long pauses later, he says, “I think you might be right.”

Peter doesn't care for that wording. “Might be?” he repeats.

Stiles clearly isn’t expecting that. Surprise quickly morphs into a badly-hidden smile that he tries to twist into a frown, unsuccessfully. “Yeah, might be. You’re not Confucius, wise guy.

In time, he'll learn that Peter is smarter than he looks. Peter's sure of it. Everybody always underestimates the IQ of a handsome face. “I'm right,” he says. “You'll see.”

“Yeah, all right, all right,” Stiles says. And then, more softly: “Thanks.”

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” Stiles says quickly. He hides his grin behind a curled fist, propping his arm up on his knee. “Nothing at all.”

--

The early mornings are a major downside to the job. Stiles, like most actors still at the height of their relevance, has to be on set by six a.m. most days, and even earlier some others.

Caffeine is the only solution, and even that is a meek opponent against such an enemy. Peter quite likes sleeping in, likes waking up to a gentle daylight and a sunny window, which by now seems like little more than a nostalgic memory. Now it's all beeping alarms and blinking awake in pitch black bedrooms and grumbling the entire time he brushes his teeth while his neighbors are still deep in a REM cycle. Peter needs two espressos just to make it to eleven a.m..

He goes on lots of coffee runs when Stiles isn't around, usually starting with one before he even picks Stiles up. Nothing like a weaponized black coffee to keep him sane on a long morning, although Peter would happily drink a triple caramel mocha latte with chocolate sauce and whipped cream in a pinch if he desperately needed a caffeine-pumped wake-up call.

“I smell coffee,” Stiles says one morning at the grisly time of five-thirty.

Peter lifts his cup and waves it in Stiles’ general direction to solve that particular mystery.

“Why didn’t you get me any?” Stiles asks.

“I'm not a concierge,” Peter says hotly. He can't get into arguments like this without at least finishing his first cup of the day. “Get your own.”

“Wow,” Stiles says. He draws the word out like Peter's somehow horribly offended him. “You don't really like us celebrity types, huh?”

Peter huffs. “Celebrity types?” he repeats. “That's how you self-identify?”

Stiles shifts, the seat’s leather groaning as he does. “I just think that’s how you see me, right?” he says. “Don’t make me seem like some—some pretentious asshole.”

Peter shrugs. Stiles is far too immature and jittery and inexperienced with formalwear to come off as an arrogant actor; if anything, he seems like a boy out of his depth who feels a bit like a sheep among the wolves, unsure of how he managed to fool any of them into thinking he’s the real deal. Peter has actually met and driven the cocky, self-fellating narcissists Stiles thinks he is, and those people always give themselves away within five minutes of shaking hands.

“Change of plans,” Stiles says suddenly. His finger appears next to Peter's head, pointing down the road. “Take the exit here.”

“Why?”

“Because there's a Starbucks here,” Stiles says, “and I want coffee.”

“Now that,” Peter says, “makes you sound like a celebrity type. Spoiled out of their mind. Gets what they want immediately.”

“Fine,” Stiles snarls. “I'll get you something too, then.”

Peter considers this compromise. He doesn't like polishing the silver spoon someone like Stiles has sticking out of their mouth, but if he himself benefits—

“All right,” Peter says, pulling the car over to the exit lane. He's never minded that he's easy to bribe. It's worked out well in life for him so far.

“But I get to pick,” Stiles says, because being deliberately difficult is probably an entertaining pastime for him. “Deal?”

The Starbucks is already in view once Peter's on the off ramp. “No caramel,” he says firmly.

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

The drink Stiles ends up ordering for Peter is a frappacino with rainbow sprinkles and extra whipped cream, and for himself, a triple espresso. Peter would love to swap drinks, but then he watches Stiles down the espresso like a shot, two quick glugs, and thinks maybe he needed the caffeine. He looks down at his own colorful beverage, a cloud of cream puffed on the top, and decides he might as well enjoy it, even if has no intention of making that evident to Stiles.

“This is revolting,” he says as he realizes it's actually quite good. “Do you drink things like this? So sweet you can feel the cavities forming in your mouth?”

Stiles shrugs. “It's good,” he says, upturning his cup over his mouth to try and lick the last drops of the espresso up. “Don't pretend you don't like it. Everybody likes sprinkles.”

Peter surreptitiously takes another sip. “Sprinkles are always unwelcome,” he says. “They're chalky and flavorless.”

“Are you fucking—stop the car. Those are fighting words.”

“Do you even know how to fight someone?”

Stiles lifts his fists in an attempt to show that yes, he understands the general concept. Peter will eat the steering wheel if Stiles has ever actually been in a fist fight.

“So stage fighting is your area of expertise, then,” Peter says.

“Hey, it’s really not that different from actual fighting. Actually, it takes a lot more body control, if you think about it.”

“Of course.”

Stiles’ responding wide, indignant eyes speak for themselves. “You don't believe me, do you?” he asks. “You're being a little shit up there, aren't you?”

“That’s just my shimmering personality,” Peter says, and then Stiles laughs. Really laughs. Stiles finds him funny.

“I’m gonna get you sprinkles every time now,” Stiles promises. “I think you deserve it.”

--

They sit in traffic a lot. It's inevitable here in the navel of Hollywood, but it still does a marvelous job of reminding Peter of just how much he doesn't actually like Los Angeles. When standing still amid rows and rows of squeaking cars, it's easy to look around and take in the sorry state of the city. The dirt. The smog. The noise.

Stiles gets nervous in traffic jams, or possibly just bored. He drums his fingers on the windows a lot, hums under his breath, generally drives Peter slowly insane and makes him wish that there was a partition to raise up between them. Most of the time Stiles just jiggles his knee, which is always most noticeable when the car is at a standstill on the road but is still being shaken like a drink tumbler by the sheer force of Stiles’ nervous leg.

One day, Stiles curbs this boredom by reaching across the console and handing Peter a tiny black cord.

“AUX cord,” Stiles explains when Peter does little but furrow his eyebrows at the proffered gift. “Plug it in.”

Peter does, stupidly, out of some curious instinct that should still know better than to plug things with unknown origins in at random. Ten seconds later, truly horrible music is blasting through the speakers.

Peter turns it down instantly. “This is terrible,” he says. “Is this your preferred music?”

“Yeah. What’s wrong with it?”

“It's complete garbage,” Peter says. He by no means considers himself a musical prude as far as modern songs go, but this noise is making him nostalgic for the old days. “Is this what you kids listen to nowadays?”

“Didn't realize you'd prefer the hymns of your youth, grandpa,” Stiles shoots back. “Do you prefer Beethoven, then?”

Actually, Peter is quite pleased with what’s on the radio for the most part—he’s always had a bit of a soft spot for R&B—but this, whatever this out-of-tune wailing is, is probably much too alternative to ever be on the radio. He extends one arm into the backseat, reaching out expectantly for Stiles’ music device. After a few moments, a phone lands in his hand.

“Should you really be looking at that and driving at the same time?”

“I'm hardly driving at the moment,” Peter says. The car’s even in park, lodged in too much gridlock to be going anywhere. “I'm just going to take a look.”

He unlocks Stiles’ phone—no password, which is an incident waiting to happen that Peter is just going to lightly snort over for now—and scrolls through his musical library. Everything is very alternative. Very… out of the mainstream, save for—

“Boybands?” Peter asks. “Really?”

“Don't act like you're above them,” Stiles says. “You're not. None of us are. Accept it.”

“Sure.”

Accept it.”

Peter stops scrolling when something acceptable catches his eye—another indie band, but one he doesn’t mind so much. He picks a song and Stiles makes grabby hands between the front seats for his phone.

“No,” Peter says firmly, sliding the phone into his lap. “I’m controlling the music now.”

“Come on.”

“No. You’ve lost your privileges.”

Which is made clear each time a tolerable song ends and shuffle moves along to something truly atrocious, like a Salt-N-Pepa hit from the eighties that Peter would prefer to keep firmly in his past, and Stiles proceeds to sing along in the most intentionally obnoxious voice possible, off-key and loud and insanely delightful.

--

“Do you like car games?” Stiles asks one day at random, when the ride is a little longer than usual. Traffic only ever seems to grow in LA, like a tide that never recedes back into the ocean. “Like the alphabet game or something.”

“No,” Peter says. “Not particularly.”

Stiles looks as puzzled as he does affronted. “What about I Spy?”

“Freakishly boring,” Peter says. “And the car’s moving too fast to even successfully play it.”

“Nuh uh. Check this out.” Stiles waits a beat, surveying the area. “I spy with my little eye… a grumpy chauffeur.”

Peter doesn't know why he looks down at himself as if to verify his own identity. He knows perfectly well that he's the subject of Stiles’ ribbing, and frankly, Stiles could come up with something sharper than that. “I think I see him too,” Peter says. “He's about to throw a kid out of his backseat.”

“Is he really,” Stiles says, very dryly, and then adds, “Well, now I see a formerly employed chauffeur who's selling handbags at the side of the road for money.”

“Is that really what you think I'd be doing if I weren't driving you around?”

“No, but imagining it gives me a weird amount of joy.”

It should be strange, how fast they've developed this silver-tongued rapport. It feels like it almost grew overnight, and now Stiles is content to swap wit with him without a second thought, and Peter is left to wonder when all this easygoing comfort between them even happened.

“We could also play the license plate game, if that's more your style.”

“Or we could play the hitchhiker game, in which I pick up hitchhikers and guess which ones will try to murder you.”

A beat. “I like the license plate game better,” Stiles says.

“What about the silent game?”

“What about this,” Stiles suggests, scooting closer to the front seat. He’s not buckled up back there, the irresponsible little shit. “Whoever wins I Spy gets to pick the next game.”

If only the roads were busier, and Peter could blame having to concentrate to deter Stiles.

“Unless you’re scared I’ll beat you.”

This shouldn’t work. This shouldn’t work. This shouldn’t work, because Stiles is just a kid trying to provoke him and Peter is a strong-willed grown man—

“Fine,” he says. “You go first.”

--

Stiles’ friend, the one reserved for having fun, the ubiquitous model Jordan Parrish, comes back more than Peter likes. He always knows when to expect him—Stiles will slide into the car smelling of aftershave and ask Peter to head to an address that's deep in the pricy part of downtown, right next to the most expensive shops in the city—and then in comes the man of the hour, always in an overpriced leather jacket and reeking of baby oil or whatever the fuck they slather him with at his modeling agency, and Stiles won't pay all that much attention to Peter anymore. Peter knows that this is the general role of a driver, just to be an invisible force behind the wheel, but Peter finds it disturbingly annoying when Stiles doesn't acknowledge him, doesn't even make any effort to remember his existence.

The more Peter gets to know Jordan, the less he likes him. It started off as just intuition, as bad vibes, as Jordan just giving off a very unsettling atmosphere, but his hunch that Jordan is a little bastard becomes more and more solid each passing minute he spends in Peter's car all but soiling the seats.

It’s a formerly pleasant Wednesday morning when Peter sees him again. Peter's blowing cool air on his coffee through the lid, car idling outside of Stiles’ apartment, when he sees Jordan slide into the backseat of the car, followed quickly by Stiles, wondering when the day took such a sharp turn for the worse.

“Morning,” Peter drawls, quite woodenly, and Jordan does little but meet his eyes for a brief moment in the mirror before glancing away again. Either he's afraid of Peter or he just don't find it necessary to socialize with him, although Peter enjoys supporting the former.

Jordan's hair is messy, and it takes Peter a dark moment to realize that he just descended the steps from Stiles’ apartment with him. He probably spent the night. And woke up with Stiles in the morning. And now Peter's imagining, for some unexplainable reason, what it would feel like to punch Jordan in the face and then lick the metallic taste of his blood off his knuckles.

“Hey, could we drop Jordan off at his place before we head to set?” Stiles asks, leaning forward between the front seats. “It's not far.”

Peter begrudgingly agrees, and only because he's contractually obligated as Stiles’ driver to follow directions given to him, even though he'd much rather drop Jordan off in a bear-inhabited cave somewhere. He's not even entirely sure where all this hostility is coming from; he just knows that he doesn't want that man in his car, arm slung over Stiles’ shoulder, knee touching Stiles’.

Peter looks down at the occupied cupholders under the radio, full of two cups of coffee, one bought with the intention of giving it to Stiles. He's really too generous. To think that he actually cared about Stiles’ well-being and thirst this morning while Stiles was tangled up in bed with Jordan tucked around his presumably naked body.

Stiles seems to notice the cups too. “Hey, did you get me coffee?” he asks.

“No,” Peter says on some childish instinct that he is too petty to be above. “They're both for me.”

Stiles shoots him a look in the mirror like he's unimpressed by Peter's greed and Peter shoots a look right back that says he's unimpressed by Stiles’ choice in men. Peter grabs one of the cups without a hint of shame, guiding the lid to his lips as he sips.

He steals a few more glances via the mirror that morning when Stiles isn't looking, listening instead to Jordan prattle on about something neither interesting nor important, and finds himself wanting. Wanting to shove Jordan out of the car and drive off. Wanting to drag Stiles out too, but for a different reason. He's not sure where this came from, but Stiles feels like something of a treasure that he can't stop looking at. It occurs to him that this chest-gripping emotion is probably the same that a thousand fangirls feel when they stare up at their posters of Stiles and scroll through pictures of him on the internet. He's never been in such company before.

Peter would love to write this off as some starstruck reaction of working in close proximity with a celebrity, but Peter's never cared much for Hollywood circles or A-lister news or even ever been enticed by the glittering appeal and hype that surrounds those lucky enough to be in the now. He's never read a People magazine and he feels like a better person for it. He’s worked for celebrities before, and always managed to keep a hypothetical wall between them and himself, usually always out of complete disinterest in their glitzy, plastic lives, even if eavesdropping would've rewarded him with plenty of information to turn around and sell to the highest bidder.

What happened to that wall, exactly? When did it evaporate and leave Peter to furtively listen in on all of Stiles’ conversations, mentally deciding which of his friends he likes and which he doesn’t and which of his laughs are actually genuine and which he’s faking—when did that happen?

“What do you think about him?” Stiles asks one night after Peter drops Jordan off—a modeling emergency, apparently. Peter wouldn’t be able to keep the sneer off his face if he said those words aloud.

“About Jordan,” Peter clarifies slowly, and Stiles nods. Peter wonders if Stiles is the type of person who only wants to hear what they want, who doesn’t actually want real answers to anything. It’s possible, but as it so happens, Peter is the type of person who likes to talk in blunt tongues. “Hmm.”

He takes a moment to consider his words. So far, Peter has made plenty of observations about him, none of which are very flattering.

Stiles jumps in before he can find the right cutting descriptor. “You don’t like him,” he says. “All my friends are always telling me—well.” He shakes his head. “Never mind.”

Peter doesn't need Stiles to finish that sentence to know what he was going to say. They don't like him either.

“I know he comes off a little—” Stiles stops himself. “I don’t know. He’s actually a nice guy.”

In Peter's experience, no nice guys are ever reliably identified as such, especially not by people wrapped around their dick, so to speak. He doesn't say anything, positive that anything that comes out of his mouth will come off as disparaging, but Stiles doesn't seem pleased by the silence either.

“You don't really know him,” he continues, like he's determined to have Peter admit the error of his ways. Even if Peter was wrong—he isn't—he doesn't make a habit of ever confessing to it. “Just sitting in a car with him for twenty minutes doesn't really tell you much.”

Peter would disagree with that. If there's anything he's learned over the years in this job, it's that it's remarkably easy to read people in cars. The same way it's easy to read people on trains, or buses, or airplanes. You just have to look out, to listen.

“I know enough,” Peter ends up replying.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Stiles says, sighing. The weariness in his voice coupled with the fact that he doesn't shoot back with a rebuttal makes Peter think that he's had this conversation dozens of times with his friends, always leading to the same dead end.

--

Peter has a few simple rules when it comes to his car: 1. No food that makes a mess. 2. No animals, plants, or other non-human living beings allowed in any area of the car. 3. The front seat is Peter's and Peter's alone; guests and clients are to remain firmly in the back.

They're not outlandish, unheard of rules. They're reasonable expectations to have of his passengers. The same way Peter extends a courtesy to them by not smoking up musty cigars, failing to pay attention to the gas gauge, or masturbating in a parking lot while waiting, he expects similar courtesies to be observed from his clients. Stiles, however, didn't get the memo on this. He broke rule number one almost immediately when three days in, he brought doughnuts into the backseat, failed to pick up on Peter's disgusted sneers and heavy huffing as he crumbled glaze all over the upholstery, and left a sticky mess in his wake. He broke rule number two when he brought a Shamrock plant in with him—a gift from one of the on-set assistants for good luck, apparently—and it tumbled all over the backseat when Stiles felt confident enough to balance it on his knee and busy himself with texting, resulting in a monsoon of dirt.

And then he tries to break rule number three.

“Can I come to the front?” Stiles asks.

“No.”

Stiles arcs his head around the seat as if to check if someone's sitting there. “Why not?”

“It's rude,” Peter responds. “It's like asking a bartender to join him behind the bar.”

“It is not,” Stiles insists. “Just let me up front.”

“The only reason I'd let you is if you're getting nauseated enough to throw up,” Peter warns.

A pause. Then, “I'm getting nauseated,” Stiles says carefully.

“You aren't.”

Peter doesn't want Stiles in the front. His infernal leg shaking and swinging will rock the car like a Ferris wheel cart, and then Peter will feel compelled to still him by putting a hand on Stiles’ thigh and that altogether just isn't a scenario he should even be mentally entertaining.

“Come on. Nothing’s moving.” Stiles shakes the papers in front of Peter, causing a massive driving hazard. “Just read lines with me.”

“No.”

Come on,” Stiles says again, dragging the syllables out like a needy child.

Peter doesn’t respond, finding it best to just ignore Stiles entirely and pray he gets bored, like a toddler not being shown attention. The only problem is that Stiles is not a toddler, but rather a fully-functional, grown-up man who’s in control of his limbs, because a second later, Stiles is muttering a few choice words under his breath and crawling into the front seat. He doesn't belong here, sitting amongst Peter's cupholders and GPSs and organized front seat. He belongs one tier back, stretched out over what should really be a large enough space, not here as a co-pilot with direct access to the radio.

“No,” Peter says loudly when Stiles’ shoulder knocks into his, followed by a knee to the gearshift. “No.”

“Too late!” Stiles says, tumbling into the passenger seat. He quickly grabs the seatbelt like being buckled in means he's now immovable, impervious to Peter's protests, and straightens out his script. “Nice view from up here, you know that?”

“You're testing my patience,” Peter grumbles.

Stiles—the little bastard—seems delighted. He grins. “Am I?”

So Peter reads a couple lines. He has no clue what's going on—it sounds like it might be a questionably researched medieval drama at first, but then there are werewolf nests, and completely inappropriate romance, and Peter has absolutely no clue what is going on nor a desire to figure out what is. Stiles’ delivery is fine, if not a little stale at first, although that might be attributed to the truly awful storytelling. At least it's more entertaining than the sitting traffic.

“This is terrible,” Peter feels the need to say. He skips ahead a few pages in the script and finds that things are only getting more and more unsalvageable. “This reads like a bad soap opera.”

“Your mom reads like a bad soap opera,” Stiles says.

“That’s the best you can do?”

“No,” Stiles admits on a sigh. He scrunches up his nose, face pinched. “But I'm tired and hungry, leave me alone.”

“If you're so tired and hungry,” Peter says, “why are you memorizing lines right now?”

“Time waits for no man,” Stiles says—grumbles, really—and flaps the script around. “I gotta know these by Tuesday.”

“By Tuesday?” Peter repeats. He reaches across the car and snatches the script away from Stiles. “All right. Then try without the lines right in front of you.”

Stiles colors. “I don't know them all yet.”

“Well. I suppose you did admit to having dismal time management skills,” Peter murmurs. “Has this half-assed system always worked out for you?”

“Hey, it isn't half-assed,” Stiles says, straightening up. “Well, maybe a little, but I've never once shown up to work not knowing my lines.”

“What's your technique?”

“For memorizing lines? Just reading them. Over and over.” The side of his mouth twitches. “Okay, sometimes I imagine them being read in Darth Vader’s voice and that helps me sometimes. Don't ask me why.”

Why is that so endearing? No, it isn’t. It definitely shouldn’t be. Peter doesn’t find that endearing, no, not at all.

“Hey, can I sit in the front seat again tomorrow?” Stiles asks.

“No,” Peter says. “Absolutely not.”

--

The next morning, Stiles doesn't even bother with the backseat anymore. He comes up to the car and goes straight for the passenger side door.

“No,” Peter says, as firmly as possible.

“Yes,” Stiles responds, slipping into the seat anyway. “Come on. I'm an adult.”

“Is there an infant’s car seat I'm making you sit in back there?”

“I'm just saying, it's weird to not sit in the front when it's empty,” Stiles says.

He'll have to purchase a mannequin, Peter thinks. Something to occupy the space so Stiles won't feel tempted to sit in it.

--

“So how long have you been doing this?”

“About a year,” Peter says.

“Really?” Stiles says. He sounds surprised. “That’s doesn’t seem like a long time.”

“Mm,” Peter says. “And how long have you been acting again?”

That quiets Stiles, the one exception being the snort of derision he lets out under his breath; Peter assumes it’s more aimed at himself for being outwitted.

“For your information,” Peter decides to elaborate, “I only just started driving people around in this last year. Before that, I drove other vehicles.”

“Other vehicles?” Stiles asks.

“Armored cars,” Peter explains. “Money. Expensive equipment.”

“Seriously?” At Peter's nod, he asks, “Why’d you stop?”

It got boring is the easy answer. It became demanding, dangerous, painful, irritating, and never-ending is the long answer. It took Peter a while to really realize it, but as it turns out, for as much as he loves money, he loves actually being alive to spend it more.

It was an easier transition out than most get. He started with politicians, high-powered execs with the ability to buy control of countries with their pocket change, who just needed help getting from A to B without looking up from their phone calls to do it. Then it morphed into word of mouth getting him something of a has-been athlete as a client, which grew into a life of its own as more and more celebrities found out about him. Perhaps his discretion or complete lack of interest in their lives was an appealing benefit that many famous people were looking for.

“Always be worth more than your cargo,” Peter says. “Otherwise, you're frighteningly expendable.”

“So were you like a getaway driver?”

“No,” Peter says. If he's going to take part in a criminal heist, he definitely isn't going to be the guy waiting in the car. “I just drove money around.”

“This wasn't the secret service, was it?” Stiles asks. “Or—holy shit, the mafia?”

“If it was,” Peter says, “I definitely wouldn't be telling you about it.”

“Client-employee-confidentiality?”

“Not a thing,” Peter says.

“It could be?”

Peter catches a glimpse of his hopeful eyes in the mirror. He shakes his head.

“Fine,” Stiles huffs. “Keep secrets. Fine by me.”

“I don't ask you for your life story.”

“Yeah, and it wouldn't hurt for you to show a little interest,” Stiles says, huffing again. He crosses his arms. “I'll tell you anything you want to know.”

“I doubt that,” Peter says, but suddenly his mind is swarmed with questions he'd be quite curious to hear Stiles answer. “Most celebrities want their lives to be kept as private as possible.”

“Yeah, well. I'm not most celebrities,” Stiles says. “Besides, you're my driver. Aren't we supposed to be friends or something?”

“Not a requirement,” Peter tells him.

“Well, I think we are, so suck it up,” Stiles says.

“That was a very aggressive invitation to be friends.”

“It wasn't an invitation,” Stiles clarifies. “It was just a fact. We're friends. I tell you things. You tell me things. That's just how it works.”

“Thank you so very much for that lesson on friendship.”

The quip Peter expects in return from Stiles doesn’t come. When he looks in the mirror, he sees that Stiles is texting, thumbs fast on the screen. Peter finds himself thinking about if he's texting Jordan, if he's saying something nauseatingly sweet to him right now about how much car rides without him here suck. Even just imagining that is riling Peter up a bit.

He's not entirely sure what his problem is. Jordan just rubs him entirely the wrong way. Like someone is dragging sandpaper up his butt crack.

“Is that your…” Peter feels his lip curl in a sneer. “Jordan?”

Stiles looks up from his screen. “Sorry, what?”

“Who you're texting,” Peter says. Someone pulls ahead of Peter on the road without bothering to use their blinker and he's seized by the violent impulse to rear-end them, although most of that anger is most likely meant for Jordan and is just being poorly misdirected into his driving.

“Oh. It's Scott. You’ve met him before, kind of.”

“I remember,” Peter says. The fact that the relief he feels is so palpable is—well, it’s worrying. “Your friend from school.”

“Yeah.” Stiles pauses. “How’d you know?”

“As it turns out, one can listen and drive simultaneously.”

“Are you serious? So you’re just a fly on the wall for all my conversations?”

“Yes,” Peter says. “It’s a benefit I have as the driver. An untouchable benefit, at that.”

“Wait a minute,” Stiles says. “So you get to hear everything about me and my life, and I don’t get to know anything about yours?”

“That’s correct,” Peter says. “You do realize that’s a side effect of fame, yes?”

“Yeah, but.” The rest of his response seems to wither away, silence falling on him. Peter sees something in him then, just a flicker of it, a hole of loneliness that Stiles is walking around and around. He wonders if anybody told Stiles before he dove headfirst into the silver screen that it’s not always easy, or fun, or friendly, or full of cash and glory. Maybe it’s gotten hard for him to maintain his friendships with the little time he has to spare. Maybe it’s gotten hard for him to tell apart the genuine from the deceitful.

“It wasn’t the mafia,” Peter divulges. He can feel Stiles’ eyes zipping to the back of his head without even having to check. “It wasn’t nearly as scandalous as you’re imagining.”

“Or as glorious, I guess?”

“Oh, no, there was plenty of glory,” Peter says. “And grandeur. Don’t forget that.”

“Right. And now you’re here.”

“Now I’m here.”

“Did all the grandeur get overwhelming, then?”

“I preferred something… simpler.”

“And I’m simpler?” Stiles asks.

Peter looks into the backseat where Stiles is messing with the window controls, smoothing his thumb over the car door, and thinks of all the horrible music and I Spy and the fresh smell of Stiles’ deodorant that’s become an almost familiar scent for him to have in the car. “Not really,” Peter says. “But we’ll see.”

--

It takes Peter two weeks to give in and watch one of Stiles’ movies. It's on TV anyway, and it's not like Peter recorded it to watch it again later or anything. Not at all.

The movie is garbage. The plot is trying to do too much, and the characters are hollow, and the camera angles are atrocious. But Stiles—

Stiles doesn't fidget so much behind the TV monitor. He seems more pulled together, less controlled by his own complete lack of filter and rather kept inside the lines by the script, even if his body language and voice inflections and even just the emotion behind his eyes are pushing him out. He doesn’t go overboard, but he doesn’t play it safe either. He’s right where he should be.

He's a better actor than Peter expected. There's a realness there, a raw array of emotions that might just be Stiles’ very own peeking out from beneath the surface. He's out-performing everybody around him.

The only annoyance is that Stiles has clearly spent unnecessary time in the makeup chair before filming these shots. His lips are a bit pinker than usual, not that Peter's been studying them. His eyelashes seem more pronounced too, drawn gently to attention with a soft curve. Peter doesn't think he needs all the extras. He's eye-catching enough as it is.

And that’s nothing if not an alarming thought. Thoughts Peter knows better than to entertain. Stiles is so young, so clueless, so not Peter’s type, and if that’s a lie, well. Peter can definitely work on convincing himself of that being true.

He deletes the recording and tells himself he's not going to watch any more of Stiles’ work.

That might be a lie too.

--

Nothing ruins a day faster than Jordan showing up. Peter decides this after the third eye-roll-induced headache that correlates directly with Jordan's presence in his car, his self-felicitations and beefy arm muscles wearing thin on Peter’s nerves.

He can’t very well say no when Stiles brings him along. Oh, he would love to. But he can’t.

“You want to go to a party tomorrow?” Jordan asks one evening, tight against Stiles’ side in the backseat. “It’s at that new place off of 10th street.”

Peter looks up at the ceiling, and there goes the first eye roll of the night. He wonders if that shortcut to Stiles’ apartment is open again or if the roads are still closed for construction, because he’d really like to cut this drive as short as possible.

Stiles groans. “God, no. Tomorrow's my first off-day in forever and I have no plans on leaving my bed,” he says.

“You have a free day and you want to sleep?”

“Hey, I happen to like sleeping,” Stiles says hotly. “It's one of my favorite things to do, and I don't get to do very much of it these days.”

Jordan sighs like a child being denied a sugary drink. “You're not very good at this whole... being a celebrity thing, you know that?”

“Yeah, I know that,” Stiles says, but his voice sounds a little flat, a little deflated around the edges, and it reminds Peter of a conversation they had in this car before, one in which Stiles admitted to just how much of a bumbling, scared novice he is, and Peter wonders if Stiles has never confessed that to Jordan.

Or maybe he did, and Jordan just wasn't listening.

A mildly tense silence trickles over the backseat, Peter very easily able to gauge the mood even from the front. He's an asshole, Peter wants to nonchalantly say to Stiles while gesturing to Jordan, he doesn't even realize that he's being such a massive human toilet, the kind full of shit and clogged up to the point of stinking up the entire room. He has the sneaking suspicion that saying such a comment out loud wouldn’t get him the applause and standing ovation he’s looking for, though.

“Hey,” Jordan says, fingers grabbing hold of Stiles’ chin as he tries to break the simmering silence.

Peter looks up and catches the two of them, pressed close over the expanse of the wide backseat, in the tiny rectangle of his rearview mirror. Stiles is smiling, and Jordan’s stroking the underside of Stiles’ jaw, and then he’s leaning in for a kiss that Stiles tries to make quick.

Someone’s honking. Someone’s honking, and it takes Peter a moment to realize that it’s directed at him. He looks back at the dark road, at the lane he’s almost veering into, and yanks the steering wheel back into place.

Nobody in the back seems to notice Peter’s erratic driving. Jordan’s too busy pushing himself further and further into Stiles’ space, nose disappearing into his neck as he gifts attention to the skin there.

“Missed you,” Jordan’s whispering.

“Jor,” Stiles says. His hand finds Jordan’s wrist, stilling it. “What are you doing?”

Jordan's heavy breathing and pushy hands and wet tongue should really make all that clear. Peter hates him. It hits him suddenly—a scorching, purposeful loathing slamming into him as he listens to Jordan hum suggestive words into Stiles’ ear. He hates him.

“Just showing you how much I missed you,” Jordan says.

“Jordan—c’mon,” Stiles says. He arches away from the mouth on his neck, but Jordan pulls him back into place, arms encircling his waist. “Not—not here.”

“Why not here?” Jordan asks, voice muffled in the crook of Stiles’ neck. Peter can hear little but the sound of clothes shifting, of slick lips sliding over skin, but it's painting quite a picture for him regardless. “Windows are tinted.”

“There's,” Stiles starts. “There's someone in the car with us, you know.”

Jordan makes a vague noise of dismissal. “He's not going to say anything.”

“No, Jordan—aah.”

Peter shouldn’t look. It has nothing to do with respecting Stiles’ privacy; he just knows that if he does, he’ll cause a pile-up, possibly accidental, possibly not, but he looks anyway, unable to disobey his impulses.

Jordan has his hand sliding up Stiles’ thigh, feeling him through his jeans, murmuring secrets in his ear, words Peter can’t hear, something he’s grateful for if only for his own sense of survival, his fingers tight on the steering wheel. Stiles is squirming, and without actually meaning to, Peter looks down and sees he’s hard in his pants, even with all of his obvious discomfort. Stiles is pushing at Jordan’s arms, twisting on the leather, but each time he opens his mouth to say something—to protest, perhaps—nothing but soft moans come out. Peter is pulverizing the steering wheel under his hands.

And then Peter looks in the mirror again and finds Stiles’ eyes staring at him, stealing a glance he probably thinks is furtive but burns straight into Peter's gut anyway. Something of a heat licks up Peter's body.

“Been too long,” Jordan says. The noises of his mouth moving on Stiles’ skin are all hot and wet and insistent. “Missed this.”

Peter wonders, inanely, if this is for his benefit. If Jordan's making a proprietary statement here, or if he really is that eager for Stiles. Insanely enough, both options make sense. Stiles’ lips, Stiles’ flushed skin, Stiles’ broken moans—Peter would be eager for that too.

Stiles catches Peter’s eye again in the mirror. This time it feels a little less accidental, a little less shameful. Peter’s on fire. He’s burning up here in the front seat, the steering wheel digging into his palms. Someone's touching Stiles right now and Stiles is looking at Peter, looking directly at him.

“Mm,” Jordan hums on Stiles’ collarbone, and then there’s the unmistakable sound of a zipper, of Stiles’ zipper being pulled down.

“Jor—shit, Jor, wait,” Stiles says. He’s a little breathless, and Peter doesn’t want to be hearing this, doesn’t want to know what it sounds like when Stiles has a hand on his cock, because not even a chisel could chip that out of his memory. “We’re almost there, just wait.”

Jordan laughs, and the sound is like a cheese grater on Peter's brain. He's about two seconds away from screeching the car to a halt and demanding that Jordan get out. He can walk to the nearest bus stop and that'll be that and Peter won't have to listen to the stifled sound of him laughing in Stiles’ neck over and over in his mind like a skipping record all night long. He can pull Jordan out of here by his erect penis until it (very quickly) wilts back into something impressive and flaccid.

“Fine,” Jordan finally says, and he scoots to a more agreeable distance. He keeps his hand on Stiles’ leg, though, and Peter takes a moment to fantasize about cutting it off. He makes a noise, a little snarling promise of death, but it’s too quiet to carry into the backseat, and whether or not that’s a good thing is something Peter hasn’t figured out yet.

Ripping the rearview mirror from the ceiling might fix this. Technically, patch it, because fixing it would be hauling Jordan out by the neck and zooming off, which feels like a very satisfying solution but also the hardest to explain. No matter what he does, there is no good option: either he hurries to Stiles’ apartment and lets them take this peepshow upstairs, or he purposefully delays it and just drives around LA for as long as he possibly can until Jordan either tires or decides waiting just isn't a choice anymore, at which point he'll pounce and mount Stiles like a dog in heat right there in his backseat. Or, the third option that's just now occurring to him, slide the car into reverse and back up into a lamppost at fifty miles an hour and get into a whiplash-inducing accident.

He's going to need to amend his rules. He's going to add a number four, no sex in the car, and he's going to laminate it, and he's going to hand it to Jordan next time he slides in here like a waiter handing out a non-optional menu, the specials of which are Not Sharing Blowjobs While The Car Is In Motion and Being Aware of the Driver a Few Feet Away Before Sliding A Hand So High On Someone’s Thigh and Definitely Not Having Sex On A Nice Car’s Leather Seats.

He brakes harder than he necessarily needs to at a traffic light, hard enough to slip Jordan's hand off Stiles’ leg and have Stiles grabbing for the back of Peter's headrest for support as the car screeches to a halt. If he's lucky, Jordan will get the hint here. If not, that intentional self-rear-ending is still an option.

It's quiet in the backseat the rest of the ride to Stiles’ apartment, save for the sound of Stiles’ fingers tapping restlessly, nervously on his knees. By the time Peter comes to a stop, Jordan wastes no time getting out and does it so quickly Peter can't even check if he's still hard. He's very much hoping that he isn't.

Stiles goes to leave too, but doesn't. He stops mid-slide, lingering in the car.

“Hey, uh,” Stiles says. He scoots closer to the front and grabs hold of the passenger seat headrest, fingers tight. “Sorry about that.”

His voice is strained, uncomfortable. He's not able to make eye contact either, gaze fixed straight to the middle of the dashboard.

“Happens all the time,” Peter says in response.

It has, of course it has. But never like this.

“Well—I’m still sorry.”

He gets out of the car. Even the way he closes the car door behind himself is uncharacteristically gentle, not at all like the typical clumsy slam Stiles tends to go for. Peter watches Jordan grab his hand and pull him up the steps to the apartment, Stiles a lanky figure behind him, and thinks about how they'll probably be fucking in ten minutes. It's a thought that settles in his stomach a bit like rotten cheese, like something he shouldn't be digesting at all.

By the time he’s on the road, he thinks about it anyway, how they’re most likely having sex at this very moment. He thinks about Jordan continuing what they started and stripping Stiles off all his clothes. He thinks about Stiles stretched out on wrinkled bed sheets, naked and wanton, flushed and pretty, and then stops thinking about that, because he’s driving, and if he crashes into a car carrying infants and a hard-working family and paralyzes them all, Peter will never hear the end of it.

--

He doesn't see Stiles again until the next day, well into the afternoon. He wasn't actually expecting to see him at all, sure that Stiles would follow up on his promise of sleeping away his day off and catch up on missing energy, but then he texts Peter around noon asking if he can come around and pick him up, which Peter is more than happy to do when he sees Stiles waiting on the curb alone, no boyfriend to accompany him, no Jordan to dampen the mood of the drive. It leaves Peter to imagine scenarios like Jordan leaving last night, sexless and frustrated, after Stiles immediately passed out on the couch after going upstairs, which is an assumption Peter will happily ride into the sunset. Almost as good as the one in which Stiles and Jordan fought all evening long over all of Jordan's many shortcomings before Stiles eventually told Jordan to take his sorry ass back home and never call him again.

Anyway.

Stiles also isn't in clubbing clothes when Peter picks him up either, dismissing any ideas that he's headed to that new bar Jordan mentioned last night. He's dressed extraordinarily comfortably, in a worn graphic tee with peeling letters and an even older hoodie, which actually looks unfairly good on Stiles. It suits him, this casual, boyish, low-maintenance outfit that Peter wouldn't be caught dead in.

“So no party tonight?” Peter asks as Stiles buckles up. With Jordan, he thinks, and feels oddly like he’s won something.

“No party.” Stiles sighs. “Do you know that there’s such a thing as too many parties?”

“Is there?”

“Yeah, I was surprised too.” He sits up and pushes an address scribbled on a piece of paper to Peter. “Can you drive there?”

It's a fair distance out. It isn't even in LA, and might hardly even still be in California for all Peter knows. “Is this where your drug dealer lives for the sake of discretion?”

“Very funny,” Stiles says. “It's my dad's house.”

“Your dad’s.”

“Yeah. Gotta visit at least twice a month or I feel like a shitty son.”

“Daddy's little boy, are you?” Peter murmurs, running his thumb over the scribbled zip code to smooth out the numbers.

“Don't ever say that again,” Stiles says immediately. “Just shut up and drive.”

It's a far drive out, made even longer by the congested traffic on LA’s highways. Half an hour passes before the car moves at paces larger than two to three inches, and another half hour passes before they enter suburb country, made apparent by the wider streets and the fewer pedestrians and family supermarkets popping up, ones with accessible parking lots and everything.

Before long, Stiles is guiding him down smaller streets because he apparently knows better than the GPS, knows all the shortcuts around here, and then Stiles is unbuckled and pushing forward into the front seat to give directions until Peter pulls into a quiet neighborhood that smells of clean, wet grass. Peter drives by house after house, all of them the complete polar opposites to LA residences, until he reaches a sweet little brown house with a front porch and a lawn mower visible from the garage and a big trash can at the end of the driveway, all of it looking like the epitome of simple town life in an American neighborhood, nothing like the smoke and exhaustion and energy and loud world that is Hollywood.

“You grew up here?” Peter asks as he pulls the car up to the curb.

“Yeah. Home sweet home and all that.”

It certainly looks like the kind of house that inspired such a slogan, its typical American charm and mowed green lawns and tall wooden fences all pulling together to create a very comfortable image. It's easy to imagine Stiles living here. It fits him better than all the commotion and noise and superficiality of Hollywood, and it makes Peter wonder just how hard the transition was for him.

“Okay, well. I'll probably be a few hours so maybe you want to cruise around town for a bit?”

Cruise around town. Peter imagines he could take in the entire place in under two minutes and come away with an accurate impression and have seen everything worth seeing in this podunk city. “All right,” he says, holding back his snort of derision. “I'll… cruise around town.”

“The movie theater’s good,” Stiles says, and isn't every town’s movie theater good if not passable? Maybe this is why he lives in LA now. Ran out of stuff to do here.

“I'll find a way to occupy my time,” Peter assures him, and nods him goodbye.

Stiles seems to believe this, never mind that this town looks like a suburban nightmare full of chain supermarkets and soccer mom vans roaming the streets, and gets out of the car and shoots Peter a thumbs up before heading up the path. The concrete in the driveway is cracking a bit and the plants by the windows look like they haven't seen a proper trimming in ages, and Peter can easily imagine what kind of upbringing Stiles had here. Friends with the neighbors. Yard sales every other month. Learning to ride a bike down the sloped sidewalk.

Peter hasn’t even turned the car back on again when his phone buzzes where it’s sitting in the cupholder. He picks it up.

Stiles @ 1:50pm: you still there?

Peter @ 1:50pm: Yes?

Stiles @ 1:51pm: come in

Peter @ 1:51pm: Why?

Stiles doesn’t write back, leaving Peter to drum his fingers against the wheel and wait for three little dots to pop up on his phone that don't come. Three minutes of silence later, he finally gives up and leaves the car, heading for the house. He's not a fucking delivery man, but he still does it on the off chance that Stiles is being brutally murdered inside this house and his father is being of no help.

He knocks on the door. A minute later, a middle-aged man in a police uniform who is definitely not Stiles opens it.

Wonderful.

“Hi,” the man says, extending his hand. He has a warm smile and warmer eyes. Stiles’ eyes, Peter realizes when he looks closely enough. “You must be Peter.”

“I am,” Peter says. He shakes the extended hand. “And you're—”

“The dad, yeah,” he says. “Come on in.”

It becomes less of a suggestion once he curls a hand around Peter’s shoulder and starts leading him inside what is a lovely, quaint, old little house. If all the pictures on the walls are any indication, Stiles clearly grew up here.

The hand on Peter's shoulder squeezes him. “You drink coffee?” Stiles’ father asks.

“Yes.”

“Yeah, he does,” Stiles calls out from what seems to be the dining room, then appears in the doorway. The house is fairly small and old, full of dark untreated wood and creaky floorboards, but there are hints of revitalization all around, like the remodeled fireplace or the new carpet. Stiles must be putting all his newfound acting money to good renovation use here. “But he never bothers getting me any.”

“Stiles, the last thing you need is more caffeine,” his father tells him. He turns into the kitchen, fiddling with the coffeemaker, and Stiles trails after them.

“He wanted to meet you,” Stiles explains, sticking his head in the fridge to push snacks around. “Make sure a psychopath wasn't driving me around town.”

“I never said that,” his father says. “I just said I wanted to see what kind of person you are,” he clarifies as the coffeemaker starts to bubble to life. “How long have you been in this business, Peter?”

“Too long,” Peter says. “But the paychecks are extraordinary.”

“And the people?”

“Headaches,” Peter replies. “Stiles is no exception.”

“That sounds about right,” the sheriff says. He rummages around a cabinet full of mismatched mugs, coming back with a few that all happen to be different sizes. One is shaped like a stormtrooper helmet. “Stiles, close the damn fridge already. You're letting all the cold air out.”

Stiles shuts it, sighing. Peter can't help but wonder where Stiles’ mother is, why she's absent here among the bustle of the kitchen, and realizes that all he'd probably have to do is check Stiles’ Wikipedia page for the answer. It might be bordering on strange and unnecessary behavior to start researching Stiles on the internet, but it's certainly better than asking point-blank.

“Stiles tells me you were driving armored cars before this,” the sheriff says. Peter isn’t really listening, suddenly distracted by the photographs visible on the fridge now that Stiles has closed the door. They’re mostly of a much younger Stiles, a cheeky, crooked smile on his face. He seems to be about fourteen, fifteen in one, sporting a sharp buzzcut and an oversized plaid button-down. He’s carrying a backpack that has a lacrosse stick poking out the top too. “How come you switched to driving people?”

“VIPs, dad,” Stiles cuts in. He winks, and his facetious show of arrogance distracts Peter from the pictures. “Not just people.”

“I got sick of the hold-ups,” Peter answers. “And keeping sawed-offs in the glove department.”

“I take it you're familiar in self-defense, then,” the sheriff says. “So if someone decides to jump Stiles, he might actually have a chance at survival?”

“Hey!”

“Fighting off assailants isn't in my job description,” Peter says. He accepts the mug of steaming coffee handed to him a moment later. “But I could, yes.” He lifts it to his nose, smelling a strong brew. “Do you suspect that many ne'er do wells have their sights set on your son, then?”

“Well, that stint I did for the mafia has to bite me in the ass eventually,” Stiles says, and he winks again to the room at large.

“Don't joke about that, son,” the sheriff says, sounding a little weary, like he's more than used to telling Stiles to watch what comes out of his mouth with little success. “Let's just say that Stiles is like a magnet for trouble.”

“Not hard to believe,” Peter mutters around the rim of the mug.

“Ever since he was a kid, always causing trouble,” the sheriff continues, shaking his head. “Always stealing my police radio so he could listen in to the crimes being reported around town. And always roping friends like Scott into it—you've met Scott by now, I’m guessing.”

Peter realizes with a funny little pinch to his stomach that in fact, he's met practically everybody important in Stiles’ life. Childhood friends. Family members. Even untrustworthy, snake-like hook-ups.

“I have,” he says.

“The two of them were always running around making a big mess. Messes that I was always cleaning up, by the way.”

“Hey, we cleaned up lots of messes ourselves that you don't even know about, dad,” Stiles says. He's in the fridge again, hands pawing through the shelves. “Maybe I shouldn't have brought that up.”

“You shouldn't,” the sheriff agrees. “Let me take a guess and say that by we cleaned, you mean Lydia cleaned.”

“Not always,” Stiles mutters to the fridge light bulb.

“You must've met her too by now,” the sheriff says to Peter. “Stiles had quite the crush on her back in high school.”

“Did he, now?” Peter asks. He wonders exactly when that changed, when it went from pretty girls to surfer boy men, and even more interestingly, if his father knows. He looks at Stiles, who has one arm so deep in the refrigerator he looks like he's trying to reach for Narnia, too occupied to pay attention.

“I outgrew that,” Stiles says. “Decided my time was better spent on other people who also had no romantic interest in me whatsoever.”

“You mean like Danny?” his dad asks.

Okay, so there goes that mystery. Definitely no closet to hide in around here.

“Yeah, maybe let’s not talk about all my failed conquests?” Stiles says, then cuts his own exhale off with a sudden sound of disbelief. He pulls a plate of leftover pizza out of the fridge. “Seriously, dad? What happened to eating healthy?”

“What, I can't have a cheat day now and then?”

Peter listens to them quabble over the acceptable amount of pizza for Stiles’ dad to eat on a weekly basis, taking leisurely sips from his coffee. This is strange, he thinks. It feels weirdly like he’s part of the family, getting this peek into their unfiltered interactions while he sits at the kitchen table. This is something of a new experience for him.

He didn’t expect that when he took on this job. He didn’t expect it after he first met Stiles either, but now here he is, feeling a little like he’s been sneak-attacked into caring about the whole Stilinski family.

He didn’t sign up for that.

“Peter,” the sheriff says suddenly, cutting off Stiles’ rant on fat intake with a loud exhale. “You staying for dinner?”

“Thank you, but—”

“Stay,” Stiles says. “You drove all the way out here. And my dad makes the best burgers in the world.”

Peter looks at Stiles’ expression, perfectly earnest, and at his father's too, very welcoming, and then out the kitchen window and at the big grill and wooden chairs on the patio on the other side, so suburban and familial that it's reached the complete opposite of the spectrum in terms of places Peter would be and things that Peter would do. He should really say no, but—

“All right,” he agrees. “Dinner sounds splendid.”

--

It's past one a.m. when Stiles is crawling into the car two nights later, body weary and energy low and corn syrup blood left forgotten smeared over his temple.

Peter grabs a napkin from the glovebox and hands it to him. “Don’t leave any stains on the seats,” he says idly.

“What? Oh.” Stiles reaches out to dab his thumb over his temple, smudging the fake blood around. “Shit. Forgot about that.” He grabs the napkin Peter’s offering him, wiping at his face until he comes away with make-up and syrup.

Stiles works plenty of night shoots. He's worked at least five since Peter's started driving him around, always stumbling into the car with an overworked tiredness clear in his eyes. Sometimes he's even borderline delirious with sleepiness, which Peter finds the most amazing, as Stiles will quickly reach a state of suspension between sleep and consciousness, brain slowly shutting down for the night but mouth still forming incoherent sentences.

“I got attacked today,” Stiles says mildly as he folds the napkin in half in search of a clean spot and keeps wiping down his temple. “Well—my character does.”

“Are you going to have amnesia?” Peter asks dryly.

“No.” A hint of red rushes over Stiles’ cheeks. “I told you this isn't a soap opera.”

“You're sure?”

“I’m sure.”

Peter runs his thumb down the side of Stiles’ face, picking up the last of the stickiness. It isn't until he licks his finger clean, tasting dull sweetness, that he realizes that Stiles is watching him with wide eyes, totally silent.

“Blood,” Peter says to explain.

Stiles doesn't seem to comprehend this. “What?” he asks, sounding a little dazed.

“You missed some blood,” Peter says.

“Oh,” Stiles says. “Oh.” He touches the spot Peter just did, then quickly shakes his head. “Thanks. You know what?” Stiles says. “I’m starving. Are you hungry?”

Peter looks at his watch and thinks no human being with a balanced diet should be eating right now, but then again, Stiles keeps the hours of an overworked security guard. Who knows when he finds the time to eat or even has the chance to.

“Let’s get fast food or something,” Stiles suggests. “Like tacos. I could go for tacos. You?”

And then Stiles is clambering into the front seat by way of the console, squeezing his way forward headfirst, his elbow connecting with Peter's temple along the way.

“For the love of god, get back in the backseat,” Peter demands, but Stiles isn't listening, nearly tripping on the gear shift before ultimately making a safe landing in the passenger seat. This is why he’s been locking the passenger door.

“Nah, this is good,” Stiles insists. “Tacos, yeah?”

Peter, excruciatingly enough, doesn't quite have the overarching authority to deny the request. Ten minutes later they're parked in a Taco Bell and Stiles keeps trying to force a churro past Peter's lips.

“These late nights are brutal,” Stiles says right after his sixth attempt to sneak-attack food into Peter's mouth, an attempt that was promptly thwarted by Peter's quick reflexes. “But they wouldn't be so bad if we didn't also have these early fucking mornings. Do you have any idea when I get up in the morning?”

“I do,” Peter says. He idly wipes cinnamon off his cheek from the last time Stiles tried to coax food onto his tongue. “You realize I have to get up just as early to pick you up, yes?”

“And stay up just as late, yeah.” Stiles seems to give up on force-feeding Peter dessert, taking a few bites out of the churro for himself. “How is all that for you? Is it hard?”

“I get paid for it,” Peter says. “So it's all right.”

“Am I the best person you've ever driven around?”

“Hardly,” Peter says, but thinks yes. Dangerous to let confessions like that out. Best to let people think he doesn’t like anyone. “The sheik I drove around Dubai tipped like a generous king.”

Stiles snorts. “You didn't drive around a sheik in Dubai,” he says, doubtful, but a moment later he's asking, “Did you?”

Peter didn't, incidentally, but he still enjoys trying to convince Stiles regardless.

“He was very wealthy,” he says. “His suits were nearly hewed out of gold.”

“And you were paid in, what exactly? Dubloons?”

“Rolexes,” Peter answers.

Stiles cracks open his window, letting in the noises of the highway next to the parking lot. Los Angeles is so damn loud. It makes Peter wonder why he actually likes this city, full of never-ending sound and barely any space.

He looks over and finds it to be an unwise decision. Stiles is bathed in the passing lights of a police car, momentarily dappled in a blue and red shine, and the colors draw attention to the smooth lines of Stiles’ profile. He's a handsome boy. Peter can't deny that he's the owner of a certain amount of dorky charm, if not also nice arms. The kind of arms that are easy to watch flex as they reach to unwrap their second taco.

And then a mouthful of shredded lettuce and ground beef goes tumbling out of Stiles’ taco before it can make it to his mouth and Peter is promptly reminded of just how prominent the dorky part of Stiles’ dorky charm is.

“Aw, fuck,” Stiles says, mouth full. “Got any more napkins?”

Peter hands him another. “You wouldn’t be making stains, would you?”

“No,” Stiles says immediately, cleaning up his pants. “God, I feel like I'm about to be sent to the backseat again. Like I'm one second away from time-out or something.”

“You should be in time-out,” Peter says, pleased by the suggestion. “You’re out way past your bedtime, after all.”

“I don’t have a bedtime,” Stiles says. “I’m an adult.”

“Sure you are.”

And then, eager to disprove his own point, Stiles throws the last of the taco in his mouth, wipes his hands clean, and says, “Let's play I Spy.” He balls up the empty taco wrapper. “It's round two. Time for my redemption.”

“Dear god, no,” Peter protests. “Enough of that infernal game.”

Stiles reaches over the car to elbow him. “Admit it. It’s growing on you.” He grins, cheeky and unreserved. “And I am too.”

“I’ll admit to nothing,” Peter says, but thinks that Stiles might just be on to something.

--

Peter is, for all means and purposes, off the clock when Stiles sends in a text message at 10:21pm one night later. He doesn't get a lot of days off, really, in a job that essentially requires 24/7 assistance whenever called upon, but now and again Peter just doesn't want to be in a car anymore, he wants to be at home, chili con carne bubbling on the stove, The Bachelor on TV, and Twitter open on his phone in case he feels like getting into any internet quarrels for shits and giggles.

Besides, he worked hard for this day off. He fed Stiles a very well-worded persuasive lie about his nonexistent brother needing help with post-colonoscopy recovery, and Stiles had said fine, he could go old school and take cabs or ride with friends for one day, and yet that was clearly a bold-faced lie, because here Stiles is, texting him for his services.

Stiles @ 10:21pm: hey, you up

Peter @ 10:24pm: It's ten thirty.

Stiles @ 10:25pm: can you come and get me

Stiles @ 10:27pm: i know you're probably at home in a hugh hefner robe and a cigar but please

Peter taps the side of his phone when the second message comes in. He's not sure what happened, but it doesn't feel like the spoiled spewing of a bragging actor letting fame go to his head until he mistreats the staff. If Stiles was in a ditch, or jail, or naked and cuffed to a headboard in a sleazy motel room, Peter might feel bad about ignoring these messages in hindsight come tomorrow.

Peter @ 10:29pm: What’s happened?

Stiles doesn’t respond until suddenly, an address pops in. A club in Hollywood, the type you have to be worth half a million for just to stand in proximity of. What’s the big emergency, exactly? Is he out of condoms? Are one too many people asking for autographs?

Stiles @ 10:33pm: please

Peter looks around at the comfortable, pleasant evening he's built for himself: the melted wax squares, the book in his lap, the entertaining social media on his phone. He has half a mind to tell Stiles to call a Lyft since this is, after all, a town ripe with uneducated self-employed drivers who have no respect for the intricacy of chauffeur work, but then he'd risk missing out on the drama, which he's become, admittedly, quite invested in.

Stiles @ 10:34pm: peter?

And that shouldn't work; that shouldn't be as effective as it is. But it does, and it is, and a few minutes later, Peter's in his car.

--

Stiles is already outside the club when Peter pulls up to the curb, not that he notices. He's engrossed in something else, in pacing in front of Jordan and poking him aggressively in the chest. His body language leaves little to be questioned about the nature of their discussion, Jordan's brow furrowed and arms crossed and Stiles’ body's equally taut.

Peter watches like a bat from a cave, shutting the car off so the headlights don't catch Stiles’ attention, but not before he cracks the windows to see if he can pick up on anything from their argument. He almost surprises himself with just how much he wants to hear this. He was never one for soap operas, after all.

“I just don't think you're being fair,” Jordan says at one point, lips tight.

“Not fair?” Stiles repeats. “You think I'm not being fair?”

“I think you don't really know what you're talking about. You're just a kid.”

Stiles goes silent. Peter can hear noise down the block: the thump of music, drunken laughter, the crash of beer glasses breaking on the sidewalk. All he really wants to hear is Stiles’ footsteps kicking off, heading for the car, Jordan not in tow.

“I don't know what you want from me,” Jordan says to break Stiles’ stretch of quietness.

“Nothing,” Stiles replies, voice hard. “I don't want anything from you.”

“Stiles,” Jordan tries.

Peter turns the car back on so the rumble of the engine will catch Stiles’ attention, provide him with an escape route out of this conversation. It works as intended; Stiles swivels around, avoiding Jordan's attempts to keep the conversation going, spots Peter, and climbs into the car, slamming the door with more force than necessary. Peter locks the car immediately after just in case Jordan tries to climb in right after him.

Stiles doesn't meet Peter’s eyes in the mirror. He's looking fixedly at the foot room, shadows grabbing his cheeks, and doesn't say a word at first, although Peter gets the sense Stiles is dying to ask exactly how much Peter overheard. He doesn't ask, though.

“I want to go to a bar,” Stiles sighs, sounding more like he wants to go home and crawl under a comforter.

“Okay,” Peter says, and he puts the car out of park.

“Do you?” Stiles asks.

“Do I?”

“Do you want to go to a bar?” He clears his throat. “With me.”

Peter isn't sure that's a very good idea. Peter isn't sure that Stiles is even old enough to be let into a bar, but then again, those lips are probably incentive enough. He meets Stiles’ eyes in the mirror, finds them tilted with a weariness that probably won't be curable with alcohol.

“You realize I have to drive this vehicle, yes?” Peter points out, tapping the steering wheel with his thumb.

“Then don't drink,” Stiles suggests.

“Come to a bar with you and don't drink?”

Stiles pauses for a moment. “Yeah,” he finally says, although it sounds more like the word please in hiding. “Far away from here, preferably.”

It sounds horrible. Like a wasted night, really. Hang out with his heartbroken client, abstain from any and all liquor, and be bumped and grinded into by graceless dancing twenty-somethings for hours in a Beverly Hills bar that reeks of old money and family connections.

He sighs. Then he turns the car on.

--

As per Peter's assumption, the bar’s bouncer doesn't card Stiles. He doesn't card Peter either, which stings a little, because Peter quite likes being carded. Likes it more and more the older he gets.

The bartender shares the bouncer’s laissez-faire attitude, sliding drinks over to Stiles without a single glance at his ID, but that might have something to do with the conversation he and Stiles had over the bar. They were practically shouting to be heard over the music, and still Peter only caught a few words: big fan, autograph, great, sure. A minute passes and Stiles is signing a napkin and being handed a Cuba Libre.

The music is too loud in here. It feels a bit like being inside a speaker, plus bonus body odors, epilepsy-inducing disco lights, and too many unflattering bodies in too tight clothes. Peter smothers his grimace in the lemon water he's been forced to stick to for the sake of being responsible.

And then Stiles starts talking. Most of it is completely drowned out by the bass line, thumping through the floor like an earthquake, but he seems oblivious to the fact that Peter only hears about every other word. From what he can tell, this is his woebegone story about Jordan, a story that Peter really needs to be imbibing alcohol just to listen to.

“He thinks I'm too young,” Stiles says, eyes drawn to all the bubbles in his drink like they're his intended audience for the story.

Peter thinks about what he wants to ask in turn, and how he most likely shouldn't ask it. He asks it anyway. “And did you think he's too old?”

Stiles shrugs his shoulders, and that seems to be the extent of his answer. That, or he's just forgotten that Peter's asked a question by the time he draws his mouth away from his straw, drink sucked dry. “You know what,” he says, putting the glass down. “I want to dance.”

“All right.”

“With you,” Stiles says. “I want to dance with you.”

He gets to his feet and grabs Peter's wrists, tugging him off his chair, clumsily enough that Peter could pull away if he wants to. Stiles is such a mess. His cheeks are splotched red and his eyes have lost a certain amount of clarity and his body is no longer moving with the upright fluidity of a sober man.

He's such a child, Peter thinks. Knows. He knows this, and still, Peter lets Stiles crowd into his personal space and breathe out hotly on his jawline and dance against him along with a rhythm he's not quick enough to keep up with, always a few steps behind. Peter shouldn't indulge him, should really just grab him by the scruff of the neck and bring him home, but he doesn't, though. He lets Stiles sweat out whatever's in his system, lets him dance and shake and rock along with the ear-pounding remixes and push into Peter's personal space.

Peter learns a lot more about Stiles out on that dance floor, including what his toothpaste, shampoo, detergent, and aftershave smell like. What his hands feel like pressed flat against Peter’s chest. How his hips look when he’s trying his very best to swing them in time with the music. He gets more enthusiastic the drunker he gets, at least up until the point he reaches the peak of that particular mountain and then proceeds to rocket down it, after which his intoxicated energy fades away into intoxicated exhaustion.

“Stiles,” Peter says. “It’s time to go.”

“No,” Stiles insists. He drapes himself over Peter, clinging onto his shoulder, a heavy weight. “I don’t want to go home.”

A ridiculous part of Peter’s brain suggests that Peter say then come to my home, but he’s smarter than that. Being this close to Stiles, having his nostrils full of Stiles, feeling Stiles’ breath on his neck, it’s disorienting him a little.

“You’re going to pass out,” Peter tells him. “And you can’t sleep here.”

“Maybe I don’t want to sleep.”

Or perhaps it’s the waking up that’s the problem. Specifically the moment when Stiles will wake up tomorrow morning and remember all the sour events of the night before, like the fight with Jordan on the street that ended with tight mouths and damp eyes hidden behind crossed arms. Peter wants to tell him that he’s doing a horrible job at looking at the bigger picture. The truth of the matter is—at least, the truth to anyone looking at the situation with enough distance—is that Jordan is an asshole, and Stiles can do better, and it should be that simple. Peter wonders if he perhaps doesn’t have enough schooling in the world of emotions to be doling out such advice, but it still seems like the best and cleanest solution.

Stiles is pressed up close against him now, no longer dancing, no longer moving, just resting his forehead tiredly against Peter's shoulder in what Peter assumes is a wretched hybrid of exhaustion and sadness.

“I hate this,” he mumbles into Peter's neck. “Break-ups are the worst.”

Peter is starting to have trouble listening to him with Stiles pushing himself closer and closer like this. It's like he's going blind to anything but the sweaty expanse of Stiles’ throat, the curve of his cheeks, the pink color of his lips, and those are all dangerous thoughts to entertain about someone when they're hanging off of you like a koala bear. It would be so easy, he thinks, to swoop in now and claim what Jordan left behind. Just slide his tongue over the sheen on Stiles’ neck and feel his heartbeat against his mouth.

Then someone jostles him as they shove their way through the bar and whatever spell is strung between them snaps, Stiles picking his head up like he's freshly awoken, blinking rapidly. There must be quite the rum-inspired fog draped over his eyes, because he looks around like he's almost forgotten where they even are, what they're doing here. He looks at Peter last, at the arms he has wrapped loosely around him, and goes red under the techno lights, looking embarrassed and fiercely apologetic. Peter speaks before Stiles can put those feelings into words.

“I'm taking you home,” he says, leaning in close to Stiles’ ear so he hears him.

Stiles just nods, tacit agreement clear as Peter grabs him by the wrist and leads him to the door. He should probably get fluids in him, probably should've never taken him here at all, but Peter had clearly been enjoying playing with fire, with poking the embers, and now—well. He got what he wanted, definitely, and now he's not so sure it was such a bright idea.

Stiles doesn't say anything else the entire ride to his apartment, doesn’t even protest when Peter puts him in the backseat. He's nearly asleep by the time Peter pulls up to it, and he all but hauls him up the stairs like Santa’s sack of toys when they arrive.

“You gonna be here when I wake up?” Stiles asks—slurs. His words are hardly solid by the time Peter’s patting him down in an effort to find his keys.

“Of course,” Peter says. “I’ll be downstairs. Waiting in the car.”

“Not what I meant,” Stiles says, but he nods off before he can elaborate.

--

“Listen. This is hardly a surprise. We all knew he was an asshole.”

Pulling onto the highway, Peter pretends not to listen to the conversation happening behind him in the backseat. Lydia’s here today, slid right in after Stiles without a shred of hesitation this morning, and carried on their chat without so much as a nod of acknowledgement in Peter’s direction. Peter doesn’t mind her ignoring him; it makes it all the easier for him to pretend to ignore her and Stiles in kind.

Not that he even could. Lydia’s very loud, not bothering in the slightest to hush her voice as she berates Stiles for wallowing in the memory of his and Parrish’s relationship like she’s his no-nonsense mother.

“Lydia,” Stiles starts to say.

“We did,” she interrupts firmly. “Did we or did we not tell you he was bad news?”

Stiles sighs. “You did. Because you know everything, and I’m a sorry little simpleton.”

There’s a long pause in which Peter assumes Lydia’s staring Stiles down, unamused. The silence is broken by Stiles’ laughter.

“For god’s sake, Lydia, I’m kidding.”

“It’s not funny, Stiles,” she says. “You have to actually start considering your image. What type of person you're choosing to be for the world to see.”

“Yeah, yeah, ‘cause they're watching oh-so-raptly.”

“Stiles, stop with the jokes,” she snaps. “You are who you date around here, and Jordan was a loser.”

Stiles briefly meets Peter's eyes in the rearvjew mirror. He smiles, Peter seeing it in his crinkled eyes, before his gaze flicks away again, and it momentarily feels like they're in on something together, have just had an amusing conversation with their eyes alone.

“I'll remember that,” Stiles says, turning back to Lydia.

“I'm serious,” she says. “Have you deleted him out of your phone?”

“Yeah. I did it last night.”

“That's good,” Lydia says. Her voice tightens. “Let me see.”

“Lydia, for fuck’s sake.”

She doesn't relent. There's a dead silence in the backseat that is probably a staring match in the making, and when Peter checks the mirror and sees Lydia’s merciless, condescending, wide-eyed glare leveling against Stiles’ unimpressed, flat eyes, he's fairly certain he's right.

“Give it to me.” Peter can hear the sound of her bracelets jingling when she expectantly lifts her palm. “Stiles.”

Stiles huffs but eventually does as he's told. There's a tense quiet for a few moments while Lydia checks Stiles’ phone for signs of leftover Jordan, during which she clicks her tongue slowly.

“Entire messaging thread deleted?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says.

“Contact gone?”

“Yeah.”

“No pictures left behind?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, but he cuts himself off just a moment too soon. “Wait. Maybe for your… own viewing pleasure I should check the photos first.”

“You're kidding me,” Lydia says. Her voice is such a grave deadpan that it actually borders on genuinely frightening, eyes unblinking and mouth pressed in a flat, unamused line. “You have any idea how—what if you get hacked?”

“Uh.” Stiles scratches the back of his head. “Free publicity?”

“So you're fine with the entire internet seeing your penis?”

“Could we—could we not talk about my penis, please?” Stiles says, desperately hushing his voice near the end but failing to make it quiet enough to keep Peter from overhearing. “Especially not like it's some horrifying disfigured thing we have to shield the internet from?” He mutters a few words under his breath, like he's ready to tuck and roll his way out of this car if this conversation continues any longer. His embarrassment is nearly poking the side of cute, which is not a thought Peter should be considering. “I'll delete the pictures, all right? Now can you be a bit nicer to me, please? I just got dumped.”

“You mean you just got freed,” Lydia amends. She gently pats his thigh. “You can do better.”

“Or maybe I should just—I don't know. Not focus on any of that right now. Only work.”

“Sounds good to me,” Lydia says, not sounding the least bit titillated by any of Stiles’ life decisions. She pats him again. “No distractions. You have that press tour to do in Europe in a week and that’ll need all your attention anyway. Have you started packing yet?”

“For something that's a week away?” Stiles asks, and despite his audible incredulity, Lydia must nod, because Stiles immediately huffs. “No, I haven’t. Could you maybe give me some fucking slack?”

“Could you maybe start taking all this a little more seriously?”

There's a sound like the back of Stiles’s head thudding repeatedly against the leather headrest, over and over. Lydia sighs, the sound so heavy it nearly creates a breeze.

“Driver,” she says sharply. “Pull over here. Stop.”

Driver. Driver? Good fucking lord.

Peter pulls over to the curb, listening to Lydia gather up her purse and phone. There's a little bistro here, an Italian eatery where Lydia might have lunch plans, but it wouldn't surprise Peter if Lydia just wanted to get out of the car and leave with the last word, no matter where they were. She goes to open the car door, giving Stiles one last pat on the knee.

“Have fun on set,” she tells him. “And think about what I've said.”

“Love you too,” Stiles says, not lacking any surplus of dryness, and waves her out. The minute she closes the door behind herself and clacks down the sidewalk, heels loud even from a distance, Stiles rubs the bridge of his nose. He looks like a child who's been lectured by an authority figure and has now heard the same lesson about fifty times. “Hey, Peter,” he calls out. “Any chance there's a liquor store open this early?”

Peter checks the time. Drinking before noon is notoriously classy, after all, but drinking before eight a.m. might just be stepping into the waters of uncouth. “I can only think of one,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“My place,” he says.

“You wouldn’t be,” Stiles starts, pausing only to quickly smile down at his knees, “wouldn't be propositioning me, now would you?”

“Stiles,” Peter says. He shifts the car out of park. “If I were propositioning you, I promise you, you would know.”

He sneaks a glance to the rearview mirror, hoping to catch a glimpse of an embarrassed blush. Instead, he sees Stiles very obviously chewing on the inside of his cheeks.

“You might be the only person I know who manages to make everything you say sound like a weird come on,” he says, almost wonderingly. “It's a real talent.”

You're the one who first mentioning propositioning, Peter wants to point out, because Stiles is hardly the innocent flower girl he makes himself out to be here, unless he really just enjoys pushing Peter's buttons. There's a good possibility that that's the truth, especially when combined with the idea that Stiles probably likes to hide behind his sardonic humor like an armor.

“I'm glad you appreciate it,” Peter ends up telling him, and pulls back into the sway of traffic.

--

If Stiles is in mourning, he doesn't show it, even though all his friends continuously harp on it in a manner that at one point feels more like unhelpful badgering than anything else. Peter imagines that Stiles doesn't have the time to sit around and binge sad movies and stuff his face with junk food and post passive-aggressive tweets to help alleviate the pain of his break-up, which is probably something of a benefit of celebrity life. He has scripts to memorize and auditions to prep for and even an international trip coming up and all that must be taking mental priority over crying over Abs McGee, his real name one that Peter has already vowed to purge from his memory.

He also likes to imagine that Stiles doesn't have any actual sadness to hide at all because his relationship was completely meaningless and had zero real impact on him and is very easy to brush off now that it's over, but Stiles’ friends refuse to believe this idea.

“I’m fine,” Stiles says on the phone while Peter drives to McDonalds. Stiles had just come off a long night shoot and was craving something fried and greasy and too salty, and Peter was halfway to the nearest fast food place when Stiles’ phone rang, and now Stiles is reiterating himself and his wellness over and over again to whoever is on the other side of the line. “I'm not lying, Scott. I'm over it.”

A tinny voice—Scott's, then—comes through the phone. It sounds, even from the distance Peter's hearing it from, a little belittling.

“No,” Stiles says firmly, and then again, “No. Don't.” Stiles pauses, knuckles white where he's gripping the center console. “For god’s—no, Scott! I’ve been through break-ups before, don’t be stupid!”

Peter can imagine the other end of that conversation. Are you sure you don’t need me to talk to Jordan for you? Do you miss him? Should I bring ice cream over tonight? Is the dark void crushing in on you? He pulls into the McDonalds, and Stiles takes one look at the winding line of the drive-through and sighs.

“Scott, I have to go,” he says, already pulling the hoodie of his sweatshirt over his head, casting enough shade over his face to hide his eyes. “I’ll call you later.”

He hangs up the call and dumps his phone in a cup holder, slamming the car door on his way out. Peter would’ve waited in the drive-through, but it seems like Stiles could actually use the fresh air and chance to stretch his legs, shake some of that rising tension out of his muscles. Peter finds a place to park and hopes that Stiles will find him when he comes back out, assuming he hasn't been mobbed by the staff, and looks out over the unimpressive view the windshield is offering him of the road.

Something in the car buzzes. It's a soft vibration, just a little electronic rumble against—ah, the cupholder. Stiles’ phone.

Peter would ignore it if he were a better person, someone who valued someone else’s privacy. He isn't, though, and he doesn't, so he snatches up Stiles’ phone and sees what caused the notification to pop up.

Of fucking course, it's trouble.

Jordan @ 3:46pm: Just let me talk to you.

Jordan @ 3:48pm: Or are you planning on ignoring me forever?

Something in Peter's gut tightens. Stiles is an idiot, if only because he's clearly still clinging on to Jordan, who's an even bigger idiot. If Peter were to look around, would he find saved voicemails of Jordan's sad breathy voice apologizing? Or would he find a disgusting selfie of the two of them as Jordan's contact picture?

The car door opens and Stiles slides in a second later, McDonalds bag in hand.

“I got you onion rings,” Stiles announces. “All because I'm a marvelous person.” He opens up the paper bag, pulling out food, when he looks over and seems to recognize the device in Peter's hand, smile wiped off his face. “Nosy much?”

He snatches the phone out of Peter's grip, cheeks bright red.

“No one ever taught you basic manners, I guess?” he asks.

“I thought you deleted him.”

“What?”

“You told Lydia that you deleted Jordan out of your phone,” Peter says. If he was still holding it, now would be the time when he'd be sticking it in Stiles’ face with the pointed arrogance of a poker player showing off a full house. “You didn't.”

Embarrassment floods Stiles’ ears with blotchy pink. He turns away to try and hide the evidence from Peter. “What are you gonna do, call my father?”

Peter would love to, but he wouldn't be surprised if Stiles’ dad didn't even know about Jordan, which would definitely derail that phone call into murky waters just a tad. “No,” he says, watching as Stiles rummages around for longer than necessary in his bag of fast food. “You're an adult, aren't you?”

“It's not a big deal,” Stiles says—snaps, really. “I'm just—I'm just keeping his number there in case.”

“In case of what?”

“In case he—I don't know. In case I change my mind,” Stiles says, and his sentence tapers off into a murmur by the time it reaches its end, the shame more than obvious. Peter feels the sudden, insistent urge to bite down onto the steering wheel. “People are allowed to do that.”

“Change your mind and want him back, I suppose,” Peter says slowly. At Stiles’ loaded silence, he sighs. “Is that your plan?”

Stiles stuffs a handful of French fries into his mouth, and then spends a long time chewing like he needs a few uninterrupted moments to think. Finally, he swallows and says, “You think that's stupid.”

“Yes,” Peter answers easily. “Supremely.”

Stiles, already on his second fistful of fries, frowns. His overstuffed mouth makes the sight of it a little comical. “You don't—I mean.” He lets himself chew before speaking up again. “You don't know anything about me and him and what—what that's like.”

Peter resents that. He knows more than most. Being a driver is like being a fly on the wall, a permanent voyeur into anything and everything that happens in the backseat, and a lot happened in that backseat.

“I know how much you drank the night you broke up with him,” Peter says. “And I remember what you had to say about him.”

Stiles seems momentarily stumped. He looks like he’s about to get angry, to tell Peter that it isn’t fair to hold against him what he did when he was drunk, or maybe he’s just valiantly trying to recall what it is that he said that night. Perhaps he doesn’t remember—the way he pulled Peter out onto the dance floor, how he looped his arms around him. Peter certainly remembers.

“You know what?” Stiles says. “I’m not giving you those onion rings anymore.”

“For shame,” Peter says.

“No. No. You know what?” Stiles seems to be biting down on a smile, doing his best to keep it contained. “You don’t deserve them.”

Peter isn't that easily deterred. He doesn't drop the subject, instead digging in further. “I agree with your friend,” he says. “You can do better.”

Stiles doesn't seem to believe that, eyes rolled up to the ceiling. Maybe he's heard it from too many people, not that that makes it any less true. “Yeah, okay.”

“You can,” Peter says, and he won't have it, he's vehement about Stiles understanding this. “He's an asshole. He treated you like something to tide him over until the next best thing came along, completely oblivious to the fact that you are the best thing.”

He wants to hear Stiles promise he won't step back into this mess. He doesn't care how good the sex is (after all, Peter's better, he knows this is a fact) or how many connections Jordan has or how nice he might secretly be underneath all those layers of pompousness. He wants Stiles to delete those messages, or preferably send back a strongly-worded rejection to be followed by a restraining order, and he never wants him to think about letting that cockroach back into his life ever again.

Then Stiles’ eyes narrow. “You really want the onion rings that badly, huh?”

Peter doesn’t even like onion rings. He doesn’t admit to that, though. He takes them when Stiles pushes them into his hand, even tries one—they're still awful—and then flings the extras out the window when Stiles isn't looking.

“Thanks,” Stiles mutters ten minutes later, more to his lap than to Peter's face, proving he does actually know the word and how to use it. He digs his hand into the paper bag for more food, fingers a greasy fry-seeking claw, and comes away with nothing more than the tiny, salty bits in the corners.

“What was that now?”

“Don't push it,” Stiles advises. “How were the onion rings?”

Peter pretends not to be thinking about those onion rings soaring out his slivered window. “Great,” he says, followed by a convincing nod.

It takes him a little bit—a good two hours later, perhaps—for Peter to realize that this is the first time in a long time he's lied for a reason other than personal satisfaction, control of power or money, or just for shits and giggles with his own entertainment in mind, but rather out of concern for someone else’s feelings. It’s an odd, prickling thing to come to terms with.

--

The early morning drive to the airport is a nightmare. It doesn’t help that it’s seven o’clock and the sun is still a weary, dusty yellow in the distance, but even so, the streets are already crowded and full of a symphony of impatient horns that only get louder the closer they get to the airport.

Stiles fidgets more than usual in the backseat. He doesn’t ask Peter to hurry up, even though Peter can tell that he very much wants to. Derek sent him Stiles’ weekly schedule last night and there, in red ink and surrounded by attention-grabbing stars, were the words must get to airport THREE HOURS EARLY in preparation for an overseas flight. It’s only Peter’s refusal to be cut off and pushed around on the road that gets them there on time.

Stiles has been talking about—complaining, actually—this trip for a while now. It's a business obligation, a promotional duty to his show, something to increase viewership in Europe. He's staying in five-star hotels and will be awash in the cultural heavens that are multiple European capitals, so Peter really thinks his whining is unjustified, but then again, Stiles is consistently pessimistic whenever possible. And apparently hates traveling alone.

The airport is alive and kicking by the time they arrive, as awake as ever and bustling with passengers. The air is crisp this morning, a little bit of a breeze out and about, the kind that encourages people to stay in bed and keep cozy, but Peter isn’t there, he’s out here, fighting for an empty parking spot in front by the curb of the airport terminal.

Peter lifts Stiles’ suitcase out of the trunk while Stiles slings his duffel bag over his shoulder and waits, shifting from one foot to the other, by the car door. It strikes Peter that Stiles probably hasn’t ever flown alone before, and maybe hasn’t left the US before either. Something about Stiles just seems sheltered, an impression Peter might be getting because of Stiles’ clumsy, unsure attitude toward his new life, his fame.

“Thanks,” Stiles says, grabbing the suitcase from Peter. “I’ll text you when I land?”

“Do that.”

“Okay.”

Stiles looks at Peter a moment longer than expected. Peter imagines he’s mentally calculating whether or not he’s supposed to tip Peter after all the speeding and aggressive driving it took to get here on time, but Peter’s wrong about that, because a second later Stiles is leaning in and pulling Peter into a one-armed hug, hand broad on his back.

He feels quite nice in his arms, Peter notes without meaning to. That lanky, flailing body is firmer than it looks. Why didn't he notice that the night Stiles was draped all over him dancing?

“See you,” Stiles says, almost directly on Peter’s ear. He pats Peter on the back. “Wish me a turbulence-less flight.”

He pulls back, leaving behind a whiff of his laundry detergent. Ludicrously enough, Peter had expected him to smell of money, of crisp bills. He doesn't, though. He smells of coffee and warm fabric and freshly chewed gum.

He gives Peter a two-fingered salute in lieu of a wave and heads for the doors, leaving Peter to watch him and his low-slung sweatpants weave their way through the people until the thickening crowds swallow him up and steal him from Peter's view.

He stands for just a little bit longer, until the airport police come around to shoo him off. Just in case Stiles comes back for something.

--

Peter watches Stiles on TV while he's gone traveling. It feels like a cheap imitation, watching him through the screen instead of through the rearview mirror, where Stiles is his more authentic, anxious self, but it's interesting nonetheless.

His voice has an odd effect on Peter. It was too persistent and too much when Peter first met him, but it’s become almost like an acquired taste, something he’s now strangely fond of. Something he misses hearing behind himself from the backseat, even with Stiles only gone for a few days.

The show is truly terrible. Peter can't pardon any aspect of it, and yet he still can't change the channel. Stiles keeps him riveted, bound as if by witchcraft to keep watching until the episode ends and then continue this torture with the next episode. The storyline is awful and the script seems to be written only with preteen girls in mind, pandering only to the brain and lifestyle of a wistful teenager, but Stiles—he looks good on TV. Looks like he belongs there in the screen. The camera is unfairly flattering on him, highlighting his slender frame and long fingers and fair skin.

Once the show ends, Peter switches to some mindless sitcom to use as little more than background noise and pulls up a web search on Stiles on his phone, too curious to deny himself anymore.

His Wikipedia page is still pretty sparse, his fame still in the process of growing, but some basic information is present, like his birthday, and a blurb about his early life, and a photo of him from an interview he did about a year ago, a loose sweatshirt over his chest and a candid smile caught on his face.

Stilinski was born in Beacon Hills, California before pursuing acting during his high school years. His mother died at a young age due to a neurodegenerative disease, leading to Stilinski being raised primarily by his father, a law enforcement official in his hometown.

Stilinski came to acting when he landed a role in a local theater-in-the-park production and was spotted by a talent agency. He had planned on attending Southern California University to study criminal science, but ultimately decided to pursue acting instead. He has since gone on to star in movies and is currently best known for his role in a TV drama.

Derived from his last name, Stilinski prefers to go by “Stiles” instead of his first name, Mieczyslaw, (Polish pronunciation: [mʲɛtʂɨˈswaf]) and has said in interviews: “It’s not that I’m not proud of it. My mom gave me that name. It just also happens to be a total nightmare.”

Peter scrolls a little further, looking over Stiles’ filmography and another photo of him at what seems to be last year’s Comic Con. His hair has gotten a little longer since, not so short and spiky anymore. It's like with each passing day, he grows into himself a little more, becomes more blindingly handsome, grows more confidence.

Peter thinks of Stiles in Europe right now, on a completely different schedule, in a completely different timezone. He imagines him, surrounded by old buildings, by garbled accents, by colder weather, and wonders if there are also attractive men. Europe is full of attractive men, and Stiles is an attractive man—a pining attractive man who could very well be wheeling for a rebound, at that—and it could very well be that Stiles is spending his nights in an expensive Copenhagen apartment in low light forgetting all about Jordan thanks to a beautiful man who wears loafers and feeds him fresh danishes. Peter doesn't really enjoy thinking about it, but it's possible.

Peter taps his phone. He considers if the outrageous fees he’d be charged for an overseas text would be worth it to figure out if Stiles is alone right now.

Although—he supposes there would be easier ways to figure that out. Perks of being plastered all over the internet during a modern age of technology, and all.

Peter winds up on Twitter after he starts googling Stiles, on a page dedicated to stalking-slash-tracking all of Stiles’ movements for the sake of updating all his rabid fans of his whereabouts. The first few tweets are all low-quality snapshots of Stiles in Europe, hair mussed, eyes hung with exhaustion, oversized flannel loose on his chest, and arm tucked around a young girl as he smiles for the camera. Ran into Stiles OMG he's SOOO NICE BUT ALSO HE WAS RLLY TIRED the tweet says.

And that should be enough, really, but then five minutes later Peter is scrolling through Stiles’ own Twitter page (which consists of occasional promotion, shoutouts to his castmates, video game recommendations, opinions on various junk foods, and total gibberish) and then his Instagram (pictures of his friends, selfies of himself pulling wacky faces, amusing road signs, and snacks), and then fan-run galleries of him, full of fan photos, behind-the-scene shots, and paparazzi pictures featuring Jordan. He's also learned that Stiles used to have a hamster, is a massive Star Wars dork, and used to sit on the bench for his high school lacrosse team. By the end of it, he feels a bit strange, almost like a pirate plundering a treasure that wasn't meant for him, and unlike most of the people digging this information up from the dusty corners of the internet, desperate to learn more about Stiles, Peter has the luxury of just asking him face-to-face. He sees Stiles so damn much as it is, from crack of dawn morning to middle of the night twilight, and yet a part of him still felt it necessary to scour the internet for traces of him?

Who the hell is Peter?

It hits him that Derek's prediction—the bet Peter had been all too confident to place—from weeks ago has somehow proven to be true. Don't fight with him, he had said. He’ll be around for a while, he said. Somehow, though, Peter doesn't think Derek would be thrilled to hear that Peter's starting to veer on the complete opposite end of the spectrum as far as fighting is concerned.

Peter can practically hear him, almost like he's mere inches away, chastising his heart out.

He's a kid. You're taking advantage of him. What the fuck are you thinking? Or are you just opting to not think at all? Is this funny to you? He's a client. And he's too young for you. What have you done? Blah, blah, blah, BLAH, blah—

He closes all tabs of Stiles’ social media and cleans his history out. This is going to be one of those trees-falling-in-the-wood-that-no-one-heard situations. Nobody saw him creep his way through Stiles’ accounts, so as far as Peter's concerned, it didn't happen. And for the record, Stiles is juvenile and dresses funny and no, Peter does not carry any sort of flame for him, don't be absurd.

He checks Stiles’ return flight times three times just to be sure before he goes to bed that night, but no, there is absolutely no threat of a flame.

--

Stiles’ eyes are encircled with deep, tired lines when Peter picks him back up from the airport. He's wearing a cap that he ditches the moment he's in the backseat, revealing flattened hair that probably hasn't seen shampoo in a few days.

“That was a long flight,” Stiles says while his head tips back on the seat. “Couldn't even sleep. Too many people.”

“Too many people?”

“I need quiet,” Stiles explains. “To sleep, I mean. And it's like the entire plane stayed awake the whole time.”

“Ah.”

“And there was this kid—cried for three hours straight. It was horrible. Parents didn't even do anything.” Stiles rubs the bridge of his nose. Peter suddenly realizes that Stiles has let his shaving go by the wayside these last few days of traveling, a scratchy-looking accruement of facial hair on him. “I'm telling you, the whole reason TSA takes anything dangerous away from you is to keep you from using it on screaming children.”

“Anything can be a weapon if you try hard enough,” Peter tells him.

“Good advice for next time.”

He gives Peter a weary thumbs-up, eyelids drooping as if weighted down. He quiets after that, the words clearly too heavy for his tongue when he's this tired. The silence in the car is almost unsettling, usually kept full by Stiles’ yammering, replaced with an unrelenting quiet that's broken only by Stiles’ steady breaths, the sound small but true. Peter listens to it, finding it bordering on mollifying.

“Can you drop me off at home?” Stiles asks. “My dad’s, I mean.”

Peter nods, but then says yes out loud when he notices that Stiles’ eyes have fully closed by now.

He falls asleep with his head lolled against the headrest, the smooth roll of the tires on the street drawing him into slumber. Stiles looks even younger sleeping, like a boy, even. His mouth falls open for him to snore through and his eyelashes twitch as he dreams, neck swaying along with each turn of the car and bump on the road. Peter—more subconsciously than anything else—tries to smooth his driving out to keep from disturbing Stiles, but soon finds it unnecessary. Even the sound of loud drills and noisy shouting when the car drives by road work doesn't wake Stiles, his slumber as sure as ever.

He must need it. Peter doesn't know much about his schedule beyond when he picks him up and drops him off, but he imagines that very little of the time he spends outside of this car is used sleeping.

The sight of Stiles back there, curled up into an awkward ball, one leg hoisted up onto the seat and arms slung over the knee, makes Peter want to scoop him up and carry him to bed. It's an odd urge, one Peter tries to promptly stifle by turning his head away and focusing exclusively on the road.

The sheriff’s out in the front yard raking up leaves when Peter pulls up in the driveway. He looks up, squinting in the sun, and waves as he recognizes the car. He walks over and leans his forearms on the passenger side’s open window, ratty garden gloves leaning into the car.

“Hey, Peter,” the sheriff says. He talks to Peter like they're good friends. “Nice sloth you got in the backseat there.”

“He's jetlagged,” Peter says.

“I'll say.” He peers in the back, taking in the way Stiles has stretched out over the entire seat, limbs akimbo. There's a soft fondness in his eyes as he looks over his son that Peter hopes isn't in his own eyes too when he glances at Stiles. Then everything would be—well, someone could easily get the wrong impression. “I'll get him inside.”

He knocks on the window over Stiles’ head with his knuckles until Stiles starts shifting.

“Wass goin’ on?”

“C’mon, sleepyhead,” the sheriff says through the window. He opens the door, dislodging Stiles’ shoulder where it’s pressed into the door’s padding and jolting him awake. “Let’s get you to a real bed.”

Stiles grumbles, clearly a little disgruntled about being woken up, but lets his father pull him out of the car and to his feet. Some visceral beast in Peter’s chest is demanding that Stiles stay there, stretched out in Peter’s backseat, in Peter’s car, under Peter’s watch, but he lets Stiles totter off to the house anyway, rubbing at his eyes as he shuts the car door behind himself.

The sheriff watches him with something that seems to be a hybrid of affection and exasperation, then kneels down to regard Peter through the car window again.

“You want to come in?” he asks.

“No, thanks,” Peter declines.

The sheriff doesn't seem deterred. “Next time, then?”

Peter feels a little disturbed by all the friendliness before he remembers that he's in the suburbs. There's a chance that he's gotten too comfortable with big city curtness, something he's always appreciated because it's allowed him to be borderline rude to strangers without judgment, and is now being slapped in the face with the bizarre niceness of small town living.

“Of course,” he murmurs, not one to throw a stop sign up to Stiles’ father. “Next time.”

“Are his bags in the back?” he asks, and Peter nods. “I'll get them out of the way for you.”

Peter nods again, listening to the sheriff round the car and pull Stiles’ luggage out. He drags them up the driveway and waves Peter goodbye and heads inside the house, and Peter wants, inexplicably, to follow him. To be back inside that small house, drinking strong black coffee, listening to stories of Stiles’ childhood.

He just… feels like something's missing. Something he could find if he didn't drive away in this car. If he went inside too and tucked Stiles into bed and curled himself around him and slept, just slept.

He drives away anyway, drives further and further away until the house disappears from his rearview mirror.

--

Derek sends Peter Stiles’ new schedule for the next few weeks that evening. It’s not an easy life, that of a driver, but it dawns on Peter that it’s not all that easy for the one he’s driving either. Stiles’ agenda is absolutely packed.

The last few weeks of filming his show are crammed in, squeezed next to new auditions, dinners that would be rude to refuse, meetings with stunt coordinators, lunch with his agent, and a radio show appearance to increase publicity, leaving barely any room for the bare necessities of eating, sleeping, and showering.

Stiles is barely starting out. He's still a fresh new thing, a glittering ornament, a newborn star, and he already hardly has the time to breathe in and out. This is a celebrity’s life, Peter knows this, but it had been startlingly difficult to imagine Stiles surrounded by all this mounting fame and pressure the first time he ever met him. Back then he just seemed like a slacker, like a boy without an iota of sense of how to dress himself, how to give someone a proper handshake, and now he's at a point where he'll probably soon have bodyguards and handlers and will have to set up an address to divert all his fanmail to. Soon he'll be up on Oscar stages stumbling over the words of his own acceptance speech and maybe someone like Jordan will be in the audience waiting for him, someone with a pretty package that's easy to flounce around in front of the cameras.

Peter thinks about him during an evening like that, surrounded by screams, by flashing lights. And before he arrives, how he’d prepare up in his apartment, unable to properly knot his tie. How Peter would have to go up and do it for him.

Peter’s never been all that good at wanting. He can’t just yearn; he can’t train his body to long and then receive no prize. He’s not very good at understanding the art of losing, of not having. And he thinks he must be even worse at wanting something that everybody else wants, too. It's like having to share—something Peter's always hated—or having to give up—something Peter's always hated even more—and Peter isn't interested in that kind of unnecessary drama. It's dangerous to be enthralled by someone like Stiles, someone on the up-and-up who isn't looking back, not once. Someone who's already such a star, they've grown themselves a gravitational pull that yanks half the country into their orbit, titillating them, amazing them.

There’s nothing Peter can do with that, or about that. Best to leave it be.

Leave Stiles be.

--

Stiles sleeps like the dead for the next forty-eight hours shaking off jet lag in his father's house. At least, that's Peter's assumption considering that Stiles doesn't text him until two days later, at which point he rises from his international travel coma and asks if Peter can drive out of the city again and pick him up.

The drive there is very quiet, and it takes Peter a bit to realize he's still hopelessly missing the extra noise Stiles brings to the ride. Those days when he hardly spoke a word in the backseat seem like a far off, distant hallucination by now, and ludicrously enough, the car feels very empty without Stiles insisting Peter play his music or dragooning him into the alphabet game. He's back home now, dammit, and there's no good reason for Stiles to no longer be chattering away in the backseat annoying the hell out of Peter.

It’s a little cloudy once he leaves the city, dreariness enveloping the suburbs he drives into. There’s a certain charisma to the rainy day ambience in such a small town, trees gently blowing in a moody sky as Peter pulls into the neighborhood and finds Stiles’ father’s house, the sloping driveway a familiar sight by now.

The sheriff must have seen him coming, because he opens the front door as Peter climbs the steps up to it, waving him inside.

“Hey,” he says. “Come on in, son.”

Peter steps into the house, but not before his eyebrows briefly disappear into his hairline thanks to that chummy nickname. Well. That's a first.

“In the mood for coffee?” the sheriff asks once they've adjourned to the kitchen. “I was just about to make myself some.”

This should be weird, by all accounts. A man not all that older than Peter calling him son, slapping him good-naturedly on the back, inviting him in for a cup of coffee. It definitely should be.

“That would be great,” Peter says.

The sheriff starts up the coffee machine right away and grabs another old ceramic mug, like Peter fits into any of this. Like it makes sense for him to be standing here sharing homemade coffee with Stiles’ chummy father. It doesn't.

The mug he's handed looks like something Stiles might've made as an unsuccessful project in an art class back in junior high, the handle lopsided and the proportions of the entire cup a complete mess. Peter takes a very slow sip from it. The coffee’s quite good, just like last time.

“Listen,” the sheriff says abruptly, moving his mug from one hand to the other. “How's he been doing?”

“Stiles?”

“Yeah.” He waves one dismissive hand in the air as if to take the seriousness off the edge of his words, even though his face is pinched together in poorly hidden concern. “He's just so busy lately. Busier and busier. I know he's an adult and all, but he's still so…”

“Green?” Peter offers.

“Yeah, I guess he is. This just all happened so fast, you know.” He pinches the bridge of his nose. “One minute he was just a kid raiding my fridge all the damn time and now he's a—a celebrity. The cop in me just wants to follow him around all the time to make sure no psychos are stalking him or something.”

“Something tells me Stiles wasn't exactly less of a handful before all this either,” Peter says mildly.

“Oh, you can say that again. Kid’s a damn devil of mischief.” The sheriff looks long and hard into his own coffee, like there are mysterious answers swirling in the dark depths. “About that. Can we talk about something?”

For fuck’s sake. Peter's back stiffens, expecting the worst. That had the subtle undertones of a father about to transition the conversation into his hefty collection of police-issued guns, and Peter can't help but wonder if Stiles told him about the night at the club.

He takes a moment to belabor the conversation by taking another long, controlled sip from his cup. “Of course,” he finally says.

“I know this isn't in your job description or anything like that,” he says, Peter dreading the rest, “but do you think you could keep an eye out for him? Keep him out of trouble?”

Oh. Oh. That's much nicer than the confrontation about Peter's borderline unhealthy and burgeoning affection for his son he was anticipating from the sheriff.

The last time they discussed all this, Peter had really been joking when he had rejected any suggestions that he protect Stiles should any violent vagabonds come their way looking for altercations. He already has been, as far as he's concerned. A driver’s responsibility extends beyond just driving.

Although it doesn't usually stretch to accompanying someone on a post-break-up clubbing spree.

“I can do that,” Peter says.

The sheriff looks visibly relieved, breathing out into a smile. “Great. ‘Cause he's a magnet for trouble and it's good knowing he's got someone watching out for him.”

Peter isn't thrilled with how this wording seems to imply a certain amount of paternal camaraderie, but he's smart enough to not bring that up as a complaint. As far as he's concerned, he's already protected Stiles from generally untrustworthy snakes, even if that protection entailed driving him to a club to drink himself into a stupor. At least he removed him from Jordan, which feels like something he should be promoted for all on its own.

“You don't have to worry,” Peter assures him. “I'm good with trouble.”

“Seems like it,” the sheriff says. “He really likes you.”

Peter doesn’t know what to say to that. He takes a long sip from his coffee, finishing it. “You sure he doesn’t just like being driven around?”

The sheriff shrugs. “Maybe,” he says. “But I think he appreciates the company more.”

He looks at Peter with a smile on his face, a smile Peter thinks is genuine but has no fucking clue about. He’s used to reading celebrities, to their lack of earnest words, to their dramatics, but he’s not used to this, this small town honesty and genuine politeness.

“Anyway.” He takes Peter’s empty coffee cup from him, setting it into the sink. “He's in the garage,” he says. “If you want to say hi.”

“All right.”

Stiles is, in fact, in the garage when Peter heads there to check. He's in the middle of waxing a bright blue Jeep, hands caked with grease and forehead a little smeared too.

“Hey,” he says when he sees Peter in the doorway, squeaky door hinges giving him away. “I was just showing my girl here some love.”

He pats the side of the car, then wipes his hair out of his face with the back of his palm and manages to drag another streak of dirt across his temple. Peter holds his smile back.

“This is your car?” he asks.

“Yeah.”

“So you can drive?”

Stiles’ smile is sheepish. “Yeah. I know, I know, why the fuck do I have a chauffeur then, right?” he says. “Honestly, it wasn't even my idea. Lydia said I should do it. And to be fair, parking in LA is kind of a nightmare.”

He looks a lot better, a lot more rested. He's also clearly washed himself, his hair back to its usual state and shirt tighter than what Peter's used to seeing, like it's a tee Stiles still has left behind in his old room from when it fit him a few years ago and threw on after an early morning shower.

“Want a ride?” Stiles offers, patting the car again.

Does he, ever. Peter bites down on the inside of his cheeks, knowing he should say no. It's a complete reversal of their roles, a shattering of their professional relationship as it has so far existed. Up until now, it's been simple—or at least simple-ish—and now Stiles wants to add joyrides in cheap Jeeps that are probably past their due date for an oil change.

“Okay,” Peter says. This is probably a bad idea. “How old is this thing?”

“Relax, it's not an Amish wagon,” Stiles says, already climbing into the driver's seat. The entire car groans like an arthritic old man. “Also, note how I'm letting you ride shotgun. Unlike some people.”

Peter rolls his eyes and gets in the passenger seat. Amazingly enough, the car actually looks better from the outside, the interior truly dismal. It's certainly a worn, thoroughly used, basic vehicle without a single bell or whistle. The kind that a nobody in high school drives around, not a Hollywood celebrity with an ever-growing bank account. It reminds Peter that up until recently, Stiles was the former.

“It's not so bad, right?” Stiles says. He's stroking the dashboard like one might touch a woman’s thigh. The amount of pride he has for this battered car is as confusing as it is amusing for Peter. “We've had lots of times together, I'll tell you that much.”

Times that Peter can only assume failed to ever include necessary tune-ups or mechanical appointments given how the car stutters down the street once Stiles backs out of the driveway. The seats are lumpy and the cupholders are full of sticky change and there are even handcuffs in the glove compartment, ones that Stiles casually admits he stole from his father's cop car a few years ago just in case an opportunity for a heroic citizen's arrest would ever arise.

He drives them once, twice, three times around the block. Stiles turns out to be an erratic, jumpy driver, which fittingly enough, is exactly how he walks his own body around as well. Peter is acutely aware of how much he prefers being the man behind the wheel the entire time Stiles is driving, ignoring stop signs and rocketing past speedbumps like a blind man with a falsified driver’s license.

“My dad’s a cop,” Stiles explains, and of course it all makes sense now that Peter pieces it together. “So I've never technically gotten a speeding ticket.”

“I think Lydia was right to suggest you hire a chauffeur,” Peter says. He keeps imagining a driver like Stiles in a setting like Los Angeles streets and mentally coming back with nothing but car crashes and pile-up accidents. “And also looking out for your survival.”

“What, you didn’t like my driving?”

“Your driver’s license should be confiscated.”

Stiles laughs at that, kicks his head back and really lets himself enjoy Peter’s sense of humor, and he's still laughing when he pulls the car up the slope of the driveway and back into the dusty garage. He kills the engine, which responds with a loud, croaking, unsure groan as the A/C powers off and the car does too. It sounds remarkably like an ancient roller coaster shutting off at the end of the day, all noisy hisses and moaning metal.

“Forget the license,” Peter says, eyeing the dashboard uncertainly. “This car should be confiscated first.”

“Don't talk about her like that,” Stiles insists. He cups his palms over the air vents like they're ears. “She's sensitive.”

“And you're missing a few marbles,” Peter says, watching Stiles delicately stroke the radio and telling himself all the while that it’s preposterous to be jealous of an inanimate object. “I'm getting out.”

He opens the door and slips back to the ground, full of a deep longing for his own car and its sleek leather and working parts and clean upholstery that doesn't have bits of hot pocket ground into it. The entire car also smells worryingly like giant wet dog, or possibly multiple wet dogs, all of them shaking out their fur against the seats, and the musty garage, full of sawdust and old wood and jerrycans for the lawn mower, smells like a spa after he shuts the car door behind himself.

The sheriff is standing in the garage’s open door watching them when he does. He looks awfully amused that Stiles managed to coerce Peter into riding with him at all.

“You always feel glad you’re alive when you get out of a car Stiles has been driving,” the sheriff says from where he’s leaning against the doorway, wiping a plate dry with a dishcloth. He shoots Peter a pointed look. “See what I mean?”

“I do,” Peter says, because he does have a point—if Stiles stumbles through life even remotely similar to how he drives, twenty-four-seven surveillance is probably his best hope at survival.

“What are you talking about?” Stiles asks, hopping out of the car. “Dad. Don't tell me you gave him some weird speech or something.”

“Relax, we just had a chat,” the sheriff says, holding up his hands in surrender. “I didn't show him your baby pictures or anything.”

“Thank god for small miracles.”

“Come on,” the sheriff says. He waves them back into the house and out of the garage, ready to get back to the dishes he has waiting in the kitchen. “I'll get started on lunch.”

“Ooh,” Stiles says. He turns to Peter. “You can stay for lunch, right?”

Peter really wasn't planning on it, but then Stiles is looking at him with that broad, inviting smile on his face, and—what the hell. Why not.

--

Stiles regales them all with memories and fond stories of his blue Jeep while they eat, hardly stopping to take a bite of his own food while he shares his tales—some, Peter thinks, definitely happened to somebody else, and some others probably didn't happen all. Most of them involve his friends and some half-baked cockamamie idea to search for wild adventure, and by the end of story number four—the thrilling anecdote of the spontaneous road trip to Mexico—Peter understands the sheriff's concern for his son’s well-being and his need for general care.

“I understand perfectly now,” Peter murmurs to him while Stiles is mid-story, but Stiles still manages to hear him, cutting himself off.

“What?” he asks. “Dad, what did you say to him?”

“Nothing,” Peter says. “Why don’t you tell us a bit about your trip?”

Stiles does. The good news is that his story isn’t ripe with tall, gorgeous men looking to sweep Stiles off his feet during his time off—if anything, it seems he had very little time off at all. It’s a theme that’s persistent in Stiles’ life, because he’s back to work again tomorrow, back to five a.m. mornings on set.

“At least you got the chance to get back on California time,” his dad says, rubbing his shoulder. “They work you hard. Can’t forget to sleep, get some energy back in.”

“I know, I know, dad.”

The sheriff packs up the leftovers for Stiles to take and eat, apparently convinced that Stiles isn’t nourishing himself or sleeping as much as he should anymore, sending him off with a box of sandwiches. He makes Peter something too, a cup of coffee he puts in a thermos that Peter can “bring back whenever,” which has a certain amount of trust in Peter’s return implied with it.

“Let me know if he gets in any trouble,” the sheriff whispers to him as they leave, after he’s hugged Stiles goodbye, and he hands Peter a card with his number at the police station on it, something he assures Peter he can call whenever, at any time.

He waves them off from the driveway. He looks undeniably sad watching Stiles go off to his big Hollywood life, but not as sad as he could, and Peter likes to believe he himself might have something to do with that, that it assures the sheriff to a certain point that Peter’s there for his son.

“Listen,” Stiles says once they're out of the neighborhood. “Whatever my dad told you about me… needing protection, or whatever. It isn't true.”

“Oh?”

“He just worries a lot.” The car comes to a stop at a stop sign, but Stiles’ jiggling leg, as per usual, keeps the car in motion. “You don't have to do it.”

“I'm aware of that,” Peter says. “I don't mind.”

“What?”

“I don't mind,” taking care of you, his mind supplies, but ultimately feels much too intense, like something out of Stiles’ not-soap opera, “keeping an eye on you.”

Silence graces the car. When Peter looks over at Stiles, he sees his mouth quirking up at the ends, smile crooked and borderline cheeky.

“You know what I just heard?” he says. “You like me.”

“Thought that was obvious by now.”

Stiles has the audacity to scoff. “Oh, it so wasn't,” he says. I have coffee with your father whenever I come by, Peter wants to say, because he hasn't exactly been strutting around like Stiles’ arch enemy. He calls me son. “But for the record—seriously. I'm a big boy. I don't need a babysitter or anything.”

“Yes, we're all very proud,” Peter murmurs. “You can tie your own shoelaces and everything, big boy.”

“Dear god,” Stiles mutters, going pink at the term. “I hate you, you know that?”

“Oh, you do not. Your father's told me otherwise.”

Stiles’ entire body straightens out like someone's pushed a metal rod into his spine. “What?” he yells. “What else has my father told you?”

“Everything,” Peter says. “Absolutely everything.”

“This conversation ends now,” Stiles says, and then he's jamming his phone into the AUX cord—how does Stiles keep finding it when Peter keeps stuffing it further and further underneath the seat?—and plugging it in, filling the speakers with Empires of the Sun.

And Peter doesn't even mind the song all that much, or the one that comes after, or even the one proceeding, and maybe he's spending too much time with Stiles if he's starting to like this garbage, but he is.

The rest of car ride is nice, with Stiles singing along off-key and fiddling with the A/C when he thinks Peter isn't noticing, so nice that of course it can't last. Nothing good ever does, and that's why Jordan is waiting by Stiles’ apartment when Peter pulls up to the entrance, clearly desperate to throw a wrench in Peter's previously nice day with Stiles. Peter very nearly keeps driving, just refuses to stop and jerks back onto the main road. Nearly.

Stiles seems to notice Peter's reluctance to park. He slides a hand over Peter's shoulder and says, “It's okay.”

Peter knows it's not okay. He's seen enough of Jordan, has met enough Jordans, to know that even if Stiles is charmed by that overgelled hair and those sweet lips, he should be on his guard. He has the feeling that if he were to tell Stiles this, he'd be accused of acting like a father, which is an insult Peter would rather not hear leave Stiles’ mouth a second time.

Stiles gets out of the car. Peter watches without shame what happens next; as far as he's concerned, he's allowed to see how it all plays out from the safety of his vehicle. Jordan catches his eye, his displeasure not hidden in the least on his face, instead written hard all over his features. I’ve met his father, Peter thinks, returning the glare just as stonily. Have you?

Stiles’ body language stays buttoned up the entire time he and Jordan talk. It looks like two uncomfortable strangers chatting until the conversation seems to take a turn for the worse, and suddenly Jordan is rolling his eyes and standing as if on defense while Stiles’ arms windmill through the air, making his thoughts heard. It doesn't look like a successful conversation, that much is for sure.

He's not getting Stiles back. Peter refuses to let it happen.

The discussion doesn't get any smoother the longer they stand there. Peter craves to see more than just the back of Stiles’ head, than his hands and arms, which occasionally explode outward in a burst as he seems to explain something and aggressively articulate himself. Finally Jordan steps roughly forward and grabs Stiles by the forearm, grip tight enough to dig through Stiles’ sleeve, fuck no, fuck that, fuck off, and with blind instinct carrying him, Peter's out of the car.

It happens in choppy increments for him after that, like a comic book panel. All Peter really knows for sure is that he slams the car door and strides to Stiles’ side and wrenches Jordan's offending arm behind his back, and then suddenly, the red fog clouded over his eyes lifts a little.

“Oh my fucking god,” Stiles is saying after that. His hand finds Peter's forearm, gripping it tightly. “Peter, it's fine, it's fine.”

Peter lets go of Jordan's arm despite his personal wish to keep him locked into that state of crippling discomfort forever. Stiles’ hand stays digging into Peter's elbow as Jordan falls to the ground, nursing his shoulder, shaking. The sight is satisfying down to Peter's very soul; he'd snap pictures of this if it would be even remotely acceptable right now.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Jordan demands, his face twisted with pained anger. Peter can’t help but note that he doesn’t look even remotely attractive like this, nothing like the pretty boy model Stiles first dragged into the car with himself, features warped and spun with shock and anger.

Peter reels his rage in, inhaling it as he pushes back the pressing urge to strike Jordan across the face, marr it up further, leave a mark.

“Don’t lay a hand on him ever again,” he warns.

“Peter, for god’s sake,” Stiles says. Peter vaguely registers somewhere past the seething white noise that Stiles is pulling on his arm, pulling him back. He kneels down to Jordan’s level, and seeing that only makes Peter angrier, a white hot pressure pushing at his eyelids.

“Stiles, go inside,” Peter demands before Stiles finds it appropriate to bring ice packs and tender loving care to Jordan's aid. Stiles looks at him, eyebrows tucked together, full of annoyance at Peter's presence here, which seems like a poor attitude to have toward your knight in shining armor, so Peter repeats himself. “Go inside.”

He says it without enough conviction, so little that Stiles only gets to his feet. “Peter,” he says.

Peter isn't in the mood for Stiles to now decide that defiant rebellion is a part of his shtick. He steps closer, just in case Stiles can't see just how deadly serious he's being. “I promised your father,” he says. “Now go.”

Stiles looks for a second like he intends to stay and argue, like he's furious that Peter would even dare and bring his dad into this. He rolls his lips into his mouth, flicks his gaze between Peter's foreboding figure and Jordan's quaking shoulders, and finally relents.

“Fine,” he says, but he doesn't sound happy about it. “Don't kill each other.”

The moment Stiles is out of view, Peter carefully crouches town next to Jordan, measuring the level of fear in his eyes with great care. He leans in under the pretense of smoothing out Jordan's collar and then doesn't let go of the fabric, ready to use it to haul Jordan to his feet—or toward his own fist, whatever the situation calls for—at any given moment. Through the fabric, he can feel Jordan's erratic, hectic heartbeat.

“You're going to get out of here,” Peter says in a voice he's honed for decades, a voice of menace and screeching violins and calm disaster, “and you're never, ever going to bother Stiles again.”

Or so much as look at him. Or linger over his number in thoughts of calling him. Or try and send apology texts that confuse Stiles out of doing the right thing, which is ignoring this loser for the rest of eternity and never giving him another thought. Jordan's eyes are wide, pretty face contorted into something shocked and cowardly and upset. He tries to push Peter's hand off, but Peter's grip is too tight to be unseated.

“Unless, of course, you're eager to lose those model good looks of yours,” Peter says, eyes flicking over the handsome curve of his nose, his plush mouth, his nice teeth, all things that could so, so easily be punched around. “Because I'd be more than happy to make that happen.”

Jordan twists away from him, trying to get to his feet. Peter puts a hand on his shoulder to keep him in place.

“Do you understand?” Peter asks, digging his fingernails in. He knows how to do this, how to intimidate somebody with carefully enunciated syllables and a laser-like gaze, has been perfecting the craft of it for years, and he grabs hold of Jordan that much tighter.

Jordan stops struggling. His eyes flick over Peter, like for one ill-advised moment, he’s trying to figure out if he can find Peter’s weak spots and wiggle a surprise punch in there—not something Peter would encourage, but that’s Jordan’s decision to unwisely make—before he decides to abandon that idea, going instead for a slow nod.

“Good,” Peter says. He lets go of him and stands up, noting how Jordan’s shoulders immediately unclench as he shakes Peter’s hand off and scrambles to his feet. He watches this shatteringly staunch show of manhood, and wonders what exactly Stiles ever saw in this quaking jellyfish of a boy. “I’m glad we had this little talk.”

Jordan doesn’t stick around to return the sentiment. He turns on his heel and power-walks down the sidewalk, not looking over his shoulder once, which is such a rewarding sight, Peter would pay to have the moment forever captured on canvas with paint. Pay good money.

He has to settle for the mental snapshot, though. That, and hope that he'll never have to see that asshole ever again in his life.

--

Naturally, no good deed goes unpunished. Peter goes a blissful forty minutes being happy with himself and pleased with how neatly he's handled the situation before Derek comes to yell at him about it, which is really just more proof that Peter should stop answering the phone when Derek calls.

“I got a call tonight from Jordan Parrish’s management company,” Derek says to him on the phone that night. “He says you assaulted him.”

“I would hardly call it an assault.”

Derek pauses before answering. Something about that lingering moment gives Peter the strong hunch that he's about to be thoroughly lectured.

“What would you call it, then?” Derek says instead. If Peter listens closely enough, he can hear Derek's molars being ground down in his mouth.

“Stopping an act of barbarism.”

“You’re not Stiles’ bodyguard,” Derek says. “You realize that, right?”

For god's sake, Peter's not stupid. He knows that he's not Stiles’ fucking bouncer, and it's not like he'd take a bullet for him. He just twisted the arm of an asshole getting needlessly handsy with him on the sidewalk. It's not a big deal.

“He's threatening to go to court.”

“Oh, he won't take me to court,” Peter says. “He's a fucking coward.”

“Peter,” Derek says, like a warning. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“My job,” Peter says. He’s not taking the bait here. “Bodyguard or not, if the kid dies on my watch, whose ass is it on the line?

“This isn't like your old jobs,” Derek points out, and Peter knows, he knows that perfectly well. “This is different.”

Of course it’s different. Of course Stiles isn’t suitcases of money strapped into the back, currency strapped down in the trunk. By all accounts he isn’t even as valuable, but it's different when a real person is back there. Someone who speaks and listens and laughs and shakes their leg too much. Someone who needs protection, protection that Peter is inclined to give.

Stiles isn’t even anything like his newer jobs either. Peter’s never cared about those a-listers in the backseat, never before, their glitterati lives and manufactured happiness, but it’s different with Stiles. Stiles is like—like a parasite, something that fidgets and wriggles its way under Peter’s skin and festers there, confusing him, gripping him. Maybe Derek’s right to warn him to stay away.

“What I'm trying to say,” Derek continues, voice like unbending steel, “is that whatever you're playing at, don't. He's just some bumbling kid and you're...”

He doesn't finish his sentence, most likely wrapped up in trying to find the nastiest, most well-worded metaphor for just how much of a big bad monster Peter is. Whatever.

“Fine,” Peter says, because he isn't in the mood for fighting. At least not about Stiles. “I'll be good.”

--

Stiles doesn't look like he’s slept a single wink when he slides in the car the next day at five a.m., eyes a little red around the edges from lack of energy. That, or he's been up all night crying because of all the emotions seeing Jordan again has stirred up in him, in which case Peter would rather blast mariachi music from the radio than hear literally any details about that story.

Stiles is silent for the first ten minutes of the ride, eyes glued to the window as still-sleeping neighborhoods pass them by. Peter has to wonder if he's angry or just too tired to bother with conversation, although it's completely likely that he isn't too pleased with Peter's orders that he go hunker down inside while the grown-ups talk without him. Peter has no intentions of apologizing for that.

“Heard about the whole assault thing,” Stiles finally says, a good five miles later.

“Did you?”

“Not like, on the internet or anything. Jordan texted me.”

“He texted you that he's going to sue me?”

“Not in so many words, really,” Stiles says.

On the road, a red light is staring at Peter. The lamp’s broken, causing the bulb to flicker, blinking bright red in Peter's face. Underneath him, the car purrs, waiting for the light to transition. Some traffic lights in this city linger on red for too long.

“I'm not apologizing,” Peter says. He means to say it normally, but somehow, it wings its way out of his mouth like angry venom.

Stiles huffs out his exhale. “I didn't ask you to. It's not like I think he deserves it.”

“An apology?”

“Yeah.” He sighs, feet rolling back and forth in the foot room. Maybe the stillness of the car is making him as restless as it is Peter. “God, it sucks how everybody but me figured out that he was a douchebag.”

Peter’s eyebrows lift upward, surprised by that. He didn't think Stiles would admit that so soon, especially considering that they were still out clubbing together not that long ago, Jordan's arm perpetually slung around Stiles’ shoulder, Jordan's laughter always ending up in Stiles’ neck. Maybe the cracks in their foundation were there long before Peter noticed them.

“I used to be a really good judge of character,” Stiles admits. “I don't know what happened. You think it's this city?” He points out the window with his thumb. “You think it's made me into a robot?”

Peter sidesteps the question. “A robot?” he asks. “Hollywood technology has come further than I expected,” he says.

“Funny,” Stiles murmurs. “Seriously, do you think I’m losing my edge?”

Peter doesn't feel qualified to answer that question, lacking the proper comparative material to actually make an accurate conjecture. Although he will freely say that he doesn't think it's possible for someone like Stiles to ever be without their edge. With people like Stiles, it's not up for grabs. It isn't for sale and it certainly can't be stolen away from him in the dark of night.

“No,” Peter says. The light finally turns green.

“You should've gone for his face, you know,” Stiles says.

“What?”

“Jordan,” he clarifies. “Then he wouldn't be able to work. That's his moneymaker.”

“That's a tempting offer,” Peter says, extremely honest. “Perhaps I should first be dragged to court to deal with the first assault?”

Stiles shakes his head. “He won't. I convinced him not to,” he says. “Oh, and he doesn't have the guts to admit that he couldn't hold his own against you anyway.”

Peter wonders, with a clawing demand of curiosity, what exactly transpired in that phone call between Stiles and Jordan. What did they talk about, aside from Jordan's mewling and bellyaching about Peter's threats?

What exactly will Stiles think if he asks?

The desire to know the answers wins out in the end. “What else did he say?”

“That my driver is fucking nuts and that I should fire him,” Stiles says. “And that I didn't even let him explain himself, and I'm being a child for not hearing him out, blah blah blah.” He shrugs, doing his best to look unaffected, but his extremely tight shoulders give him away. “I tuned him out at one point.”

Peter isn't entirely sure what to say in response. It's almost shocking, because Peter always has something to say, something that's usually silver-tongued and barbed with wit, but he's drawing a blank here. It's like his ears are ringing, mind unable to focus on anything except how Stiles is feeling right now. Has he finally gone and deleted Jordan out of his phone? Did they discuss getting back together last night, even for a moment?

“Who do you think is right for me?” Stiles asks. His voice sounds—it’s different. It takes Peter a moment to realize it’s because there’s no joke in his tone.

“Start with someone who puts up with you,” Peter advises. “And go from there.”

Stiles nods, a small hum of agreement leaving his mouth. When Peter spares a glance at him in the mirror, he's watching the cars speed by outside the window, ducking his head to hide a smile that Peter sees anyway.

--

Jordan doesn't end up pressing charges.

It's a miracle. One Derek is more than happy to remind Peter of on a daily basis (“You really have to be more careful, Peter.” “You're lucky this didn't go much worse.” “Can I get a promise in writing that you won't assault any more celebrities?”) until Peter is no longer even bothering to check his text messages when he sees Derek's name flash up on his screen.

“See,” Stiles says when Peter tells him the news. He's in the front seat again, and Peter can't figure out how he's sneaked his way up this time. “I told you he's too much of a chicken.”

“I'm glad you were right,” Peter admits. “That probably wouldn't have reflected well on me as a chauffeur.”

“Please,” Stiles snorts. “You're working with me for the rest of your life. Don't even try and ditch me.”

“Wouldn't dream of it,” Peter says, and Stiles grins in return.

The drives have been nicer than ever lately. No more Jordan to besmirch the seats. Even Stiles’ insane schedule has calmed considerably, the shooting of the season coming to an end, making way for more pleasurable drives, like ones out to coffee shop drive-throughs and shopping centers and Stiles’ hometown.

All this time spent together—it makes his promise to Derek harder and harder.

“It's weird, sleeping like a normal human again,” Stiles says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “I’m actually keeping normal hours right now. It’s nice. Makes me wonder why I chose a profession where I rarely ever get anything more than a few naps here and there.”

“Your second choice wouldn’t have been that much better,” Peter says.

“Huh?”

“Law enforcement,” Peter tells him. “Being a cop is hardly ever a nine-to-five job, you know.”

The passenger seat is quiet for a long moment. Then Stiles seems to let out a chuckle, a pleased little noise. “How did you—” he starts, then stops. “Have you—you haven't been googling me, have you?”

Peter freezes. Fuck. “No,” he says.

“How’d you know I was gonna be a cop, then?”

“Your… father told me.”

“Mm, don’t believe you,” Stiles says, sounding much too smug. Much too smug. Peter might have to insult him later just to balance the scales out. “Where else have you stalked me? Instagram? Twitter?”

“Social media isn't a form of stalking,” Peter says, swooping aside from the questions. “It's modern day communication.”

“Snapchat?” Stiles continues, relentless.

“No,” Peter says. He's pleading the fifth, unwilling to admit that yes, he's been on Stiles’ Instagram and yes, he's gone back to 2013’s tweets on his Twitter page, and yes, he's seen him a few times on Snapchat by now too. Stiles doesn’t ever have to know. Stiles doesn’t have access to his Internet history.

“Watched any interviews?”

“I’ve seen nothing,” Peter says, as coolly as possible. “No offense, Stiles, but I couldn’t care less,” he lies.

“Right,” Stiles says. “Very believable.”

“Why would I need to see more of you than I'm already forced to when you spend so much of your time in my car?”

“Because I'm not always around,” Stiles reminds him. “And I bet you miss me, you big ol’ softie.”

Peter wrinkles his nose. Dear lord, is that what that was? Was he missing Stiles when he looked up all that stuff about him on the internet and ended up in a Stiles vortex of misinformation and the squeals of impressionable fans and YouTube clips? That's just abhorrent.

“I might've watched one of your movies,” he admits, but keeps his tone light, very casual. “When it was on TV.”

“You did?” Stiles asks. “What'd you think?”

Peter shrugs, letting his lip curl. “Eh,” he says.

“Eh? That's all I get?”

Peter refrains from telling Stiles that he'll have to earn anything more. He doesn't like to make habits out of raining compliments around left and right, and Stiles—that Cheshire Cat grin on his face isn't something he should be feeding.

“The movie was awful, I'll say that much,” Peter says, diverting the conversation slightly to the left. “Honestly, Stiles. When are you going to make the effort to get hired in something with actual quality?”

“Make the effort?” Stiles repeats. “Actual quality?

“You can't earnestly look me in the eye and say you enjoy this dramatic bullshit you're part of right now.”

“You mean my show? Seen that too, have you?” Stiles asks, and good lord, how did that happen? Peter's certainly not owning up to it. “What do you expect to see me in, period dramas?”

Peter doesn't let himself imagine Stiles in a cravat and a suede coat and embroidered vest. Not even briefly.

“All I'm saying is that it wouldn't hurt for you to actually challenge yourself,” Peter says hotly. “Do your profession proud and find a role that pushes you to your limits. Makes you connect with the audience.”

Stiles is busy brushing his thumb over the radio buttons to answer. Peter thinks he might not even be properly paying attention until Stiles sighs and says, “Yeah, I get what you're saying. Scott keeps telling me I should do more movie roles, but—I don't know. Not sure if I'm good enough, really.”

Peter bites back the fiercely angry you are before it can slip out, suddenly very aware of the conversation he had with Derek weeks ago on the phone when he had first met Stiles. He barely knew Stiles at the time, certainly not past the external judgments he’d made of his boring clothes and fidgety attitude, and had scoffed at the idea of Stiles maintaining his fame, let alone deserving it in the first place. He was wrong. He's not one to usually admit to such a declaration, but he figures it can't hurt when it's safe inside his own head.

“I think you’re capable of more than you expect,” Peter says. A bizarre, possessive impulse grabs him by the nostrils, and next thing he knows, he’s reaching over the car and squeezing Stiles’ knee, something he doesn’t fully realize he’s doing until he feels Stiles tense underneath him.

Stiles’ eyes are unblinkingly wide when Peter spares him a glance. It occurs to Peter that there’s a slim possibility that he’s been misreading all of this, that he’s been pushing innuendos and flirtations where they weren’t any. It seems unlikely, almost barbarically impossible, but then again—

"That's weirdly nice," Stiles admits, voice crackling a little at the edges. "Thanks."

He looks down at his leg, eyes undoubtedly drawn to the hand still possessively curled over his knee. Peter pulls it back, wondering if Stiles is expecting an apology.

"Don't sound so shocked. I'm extremely nice," he says.

Stiles snorts. "Yeah." He shifts his legs, as if shaking off Peter's touch, and everything somehow snaps back into place, the tension evaporating. "Sure you are."

--

Stiles is clutching a casserole dish when he steps into Peter's car two nights later. It's been raining, and Stiles’ hair is slightly damp, hands too occupied with the dish to also hold an umbrella, leaving a moist smell of muddy springtime lingering in the car.

Peter looks at him, sees a raindrop slide down his upper lip that Stiles’ tongue flicks out to lick away, and then immediately looks further down at the casserole. He can make out a few sloppy layers of beef, tomato sauce, and noodles through the glass.

“Hungry, are we?” Peter asks.

“Hilarious,” Stiles says. “It's not just for me. It's dinner night at Scott’s place.”

He says dinner night like it's some sort of upstanding tradition, although Peter imagines that it hasn't been keeping to schedule all that often since Stiles’ claim to fame. The casserole might even be a guilt casserole, the kind of dish you make only when you think multiple layers of cheese will encourage everyone to forgive your wrongdoings, and in Stiles’ case, absences. Peter's made quite a few himself for Derek, although they've never exactly been received with grateful open arms.

Peter imagines that Scott reacts differently, and that thought alone sends him spiraling, like a skydiver, into unpleasant territory.

“Just the two of you?” Peter asks, realizing that all those layers could also spell romance once he looks at it again and sees bits of cheddar present. Casseroles speak too many languages and sculpt too many images for his tortured mind.

Stiles and Scott watching TV on a too-small couch, Stiles’ legs draped over Scott's. Scott providing a comfort just barely tipping over into the realm of inappropriate for just friends to help out his newly single friend. Stiles knocking the popcorn bowl out of the way and clambering into Scott's lap and—

“Nah, there's a whole bunch of us,” Stiles says. “Some friends from school.”

“Friends from school,” Peter repeats slowly.

“Jordan's not going to be there, if that's what you're thinking,” Stiles says, and it wasn't, although Peter supposes it wasn't all that far off. “Unless somebody invited him just so I could show off how happy I am without him, which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.”

Peter very much doubts that's the case. Jordan doesn't seem like the kind of person who so much as steals a glance of a piece of cheese, much less imbibes it and all the oil and sauce and pasta it's mingling with in that lasagna Stiles is carrying.

“By the way,” Stiles says. It sounds like he's working overtime to make sure his voice sounds super casual and has ended up tremendously overshooting his goal. “Um. I don't think I ever thanked you for that night.”

“Which night?”

“The one at the bar,” Stiles says. “You didn't have to do any of that.”

“I know that,” Peter says, although it isn't really that black and white. Tedious abstinence from liquor aside, Peter enjoyed it. Peter would do it again if it meant watching Stiles, vulnerable off a well-deserved break-up, dance up close against him, breath smelling of lime juice and hands clumsy but curious on Peter's torso. It wasn't exactly a chore.

“Was that.” Stiles stops. He picks his sentence back up again like a loose thread a few moments later. “That wasn't because my dad asked you to, right?”

“Yes,” Peter says. “Your father begged me to take his son out to a loud bar full of half-naked patrons and get him wasted.”

“You're a jackass, you know that?” Stiles says.

“Perhaps you'll recall that you were the one who asked me to bring you to a bar that night.”

“Yeah, but.” Stiles’ voice veers back into quieter territory, like arms finding their way along a dark wall. Peter can't help but wonder what it is that Stiles is holding back, what words he’s obviously keeping tucked away. “Never mind.”

He's quiet for the rest of the ride, except for small requests like that Peter change the channel on the radio because that new Justin Bieber song he can't stand is on again. Peter keeps watching him in the backseat, body clearly stretched taut with unspoken things, and wishes he'd just spit them out already. He’s starting to get sick of pretending he doesn't know what's happening here, that Peter hasn't been able to decipher his own gripping possessiveness, his fascination, his interest in Stiles. Right now there's a People magazine hidden under Peter's seat full of quotes Stiles most likely never said but Peter's read anyway that would slide into the backseat if he took a turn too sharply, and then Stiles would probably be able to figure it all out too, unless he's purposefully trying not to.

Perhaps he's still afraid of Peter in some subconscious way. Or perhaps he has reservations about getting personally involved with his staff, although that's a line Peter thinks he crossed the first time he stepped over the threshold into Stiles’ father’s house. Or perhaps he's still in love with Jordan, and that thought alone, the thought of Stiles ever really being in love with Jordan, is making Peter hit the gas pedal a little harder than necessary.

Nighttime has fallen by the time Peter pulls up in front of Scott's apartment complex. The casserole must be cold and awful by now, if it wasn’t already before, and yet Peter still finds himself wondering what it tastes like.

“Okay, well.” Stiles unbuckles himself. “Thanks for the ride. I'll call you when dinner’s over. Although I could crash at Scott's if it gets late.”

“Fine,” Peter says coolly, even as his insides very fervently snarl no because he's not sure he'll ever get to sleep tonight if he so much as pictures that happening. He knows he’s being unreasonable, he knows this is getting out of hand, but he’s not quite sure he has the power over himself to do anything about it.

Stiles’ fingers pause where they're holding onto the car door handle. His lower lip is drawn into his mouth, released a moment later after a nervous tongue swipes over it. Stiles’ mouth is… very expressive, to put it gently. It gives away more about his mood and regard of a situation than even his eyes do.

“Unless, well, maybe,” Stiles begins to say. “Do you want to come up too?”

“Escorting you to the threshold isn't in my job description.”

“No, I mean. For dinner.”

Peter knows what he meant. He's just not sure how to respond. This doesn't sound like an invitation that applies to him, even with Stiles’ offer suggesting otherwise.

“No, thanks,” Peter ends up saying, hands tight on the steering wheel. “Not my crowd.”

Stiles’ smile is hopeful. “I’m your crowd, aren’t I? And this is just an—an extension of me.” He snaps his fingers. “Plus there are board games.”

Peter wonders if Stiles knows what he's doing here. Maybe he doesn't quite get it yet, that Peter doesn't have to be his friend. That not including Peter in his life isn't a major social faux pas. That he's allowed to keep this professional, as it were.

It isn't helping that Derek's well-meaning words of warning are burning in his skull more than ever.

“I think I'll have to pass,” he says, voice level.

“You wouldn’t be scared, right?”

Peter smirks. “You're not trying to bait me, are you?”

Stiles shrugs. “Maybe.”

And boy, does Peter want to be baited. He wants Stiles to convince him. He wants Stiles to screw the party upstairs altogether and fling the casserole out the window and ask Peter to drive them somewhere, anywhere, and then see what happens.

It won’t happen. It also shouldn’t happen, not really. Peter’s just—weak. Stiles is starting to weaken his resolve.

“Goodnight, Stiles.” He turns the car on, listens to it rumble to life. “Enjoy your evening.”

--

Stiles’ last day of shooting for the season runs long. Peter idles in the lot for a long time, alternating between catching up on reading and cleaning up the car, namely shaking out all the floor mats Stiles has been spilling crumbs all over for weeks. Patience, he learned a while back, is a mandatory requirement for all high-profile drivers.

By the time Stiles comes out to the car, it's well past nightfall, and he's clutching food in his hand.

“Here,” Stiles says, handing Peter a slice of over-frosted sheetcake on a napkin. He sees just the edge of a piped sentence—congratu in blue icing, the U cut off—and examines the cake itself. Vanilla. “A little gift from me to you. Just something we had because it was the last day of filming.”

“Is this how they keep you going for twenty-four hours at a time?” Peter asks, eyebrow furrowed. “Pump you full of sugar?”

“Actually, they hook me up to batteries when I'm not needed in a scene.”

“That explains so very much.”

“Right?” Stiles nudges Peter's side with his elbow. “Eat the cake.”

Peter does, even though it's outlandishly sweet. The icing coats the roof of his mouth like wax and the cake itself is a sugar bomb, fluffy but also slightly crisp around the edges after being left out too long. Peter thinks about how this must have happened, how Stiles went back and grabbed another piece because he had Peter on his mind. He imagines it sitting on a table in Stiles’ trailer, an untouched treat that Stiles intended Peter to have and enjoy.

“Listen,” Stiles says while Peter’s finishing up the piece of cake. “There's a party tonight. A wrap-up thing for the show.”

“Mhm,” Peter acknowledges. “What time am I picking you up?”

“Well, actually,” Stiles begins to say. He pauses, like he might just be losing his nerve, and when Peter twists around to look at him, he has his lips rolled into his mouth before he finally says, “Come with me.”

“Come with you?”

“To the party,” he clarifies. “Look, you already blew off my friends. You can't say no to each invite I give you.”

Peter feels a muscle in his jaw tic. “Who says I can't?”

“Just come,” Stiles says, working wonders with his persuasive tactics. Peter has a strong feeling Stiles was never on the debate team, and it then occurs to him that Stiles was most likely an insatiable theater kid. “I'll even pick you up if you'd like. Or we can take an Uber and both sit in the backseat for a change.”

The idea of sitting, shoulder-to-shoulder, with Stiles in the back of a musky stranger’s car is not only undesirable, but also feels a little dangerous, for reasons that have nothing to do with the trustworthiness of their Uber driver. Despite some major moments of blindness, if not complete disregard of self-restraint, Peter's been trying to keep this as professional as possible. He may not have been doing a very good job, but this feels extraordinarily like pushing it. If Derek could hear all this now—

“What do you think?” Stiles asks.

“You're definitely not picking me up,” Peter says. “Once was enough.”

“But you'll come?”

Peter can think of so many things he should be doing instead. But what he wants to do is a whole different story, and what he wants definitely includes getting pushed up against Stiles’ backside at a crowded, sweaty Hollywood party while Stiles casts his attention on no one but Peter, no one at all.

“All right,” he says.

--

There's something a bit strange about going with Stiles to the party that night. For starters, Peter can't just drop him off at the entrance and zoom off; instead he has to find a parking spot—the nearest available being a good six blocks away—and actually get out of the car with Stiles, walk with him side-by-side. And then there's the bit where he actually felt the need to gussy up more than usual under the pressure of knowing all of Stiles’ friends would be buzzing around him. And there's also the added mystery—Peter refuses to say pressure—of trying to figure out exactly what Stiles is even trying to say by inviting him, of reading his body language tonight and making educated guesses based on that.

So far, Peter would say he's… nervous. His fidgeting thumbs and continuous lip-licking is giving him a clue there.

He expects Stiles to abandon him and be swept up in the attention tentacling out to him once they arrive, but strangely enough, Stiles stays close to Peter, almost as if he's worried that if he takes Peter out of his sight, he'll take off and ditch the party altogether.

Peter doesn't intend to. There's something enjoyable about experiencing a side of Stiles’ life outside of the car, to see what kind of person he is as a friend and a colleague and an employee. Turns out, he's very similar to the man Peter's been talking to every day in the car: dryly sarcastic whenever possible, loud, and almost endearingly clumsy. Just on a larger scale now that he's surrounded by a bigger crowd.

The party is pretty full, even though the apartment they're in is sizable enough to be the director’s, with a large kitchen and a spacious living room and wide hallways. Stiles introduces Peter to lots of the people they bump into, points a few out from a distance, and then he taps someone on the shoulder: a redhead who Peter recognizes as the brash, blunt woman Stiles has had accompanying him in the car a few times before. If her bossiness is anything to go by, Stiles’ manager.

“Hey, Lydia,” Stiles says as she turns around. “This is Peter. You guys haven't officially met yet.”

She gives him an icy once-over. Something gives Peter the feeling that this is the treatment every newcomer in Stiles’ life gets from her. “The driver,” she says. “The one who was too shy to come up for dinner?”

“Not quite,” Peter responds. “I just happen to be a busy man.”

“Sure you are,” Lydia says. “Nice to put a face to the name.”

The handshake she gives him is remarkably tight. Peter doesn't remember the last time someone was so forthright about their suspicion with him, because even without speaking a word, Lydia makes it very clear that she expects Peter to prove himself as worthy of being in Stiles’ presence. If she didn't wear her confidence quite so well, Peter would find it ludicrous.

“You're the longtime flame, then,” Peter says, remembering that comment from Stiles’ dad.

“No need for jealousy,” she says. “That flame’s long burnt out.” The look on her face briefly changes into something… curious. “Besides, I'm not exactly his type these days.”

“His type?” Peter repeats.

“Okay!” Stiles says loudly, very loudly, and then also feels the need to clap his hands together. “I'm going to say hi to the crew. You two—find literally anything but that to talk about.”

He cuts Lydia a stern look, like a child wordlessly begging—and simultaneously warning—their sibling not to embarrass them.

“So,” Peter says. “Shall we talk about his type?”

Lydia smirks. “We really shouldn't,” she says. “Besides, I’d much rather hear more about you.”

The way she says it doesn't sound like she's innocently intrigued. More like she's a cop trying to hide the fact that she's mid-interrogation. “Looking to vet me?” he asks. He'd love a glass of alcohol in his hand right around now if this is just a taste of how the evening will progress. “Protect Stiles from me?”

“Stiles can protect himself,” she says.

“Yes,” Peter murmurs, wondering if he should let his next thought slip out or stay hidden. He lets it slip out. “Which is why he did so very well with Parrish.”

She nearly seems to wince under that firm veneer of hers. “Most of the time,” she amends. “He can protect himself most of the time.”

Peter scans the crowd. Most of them have faces that are somewhat familiar to Peter, having seen on them on TV parallel to Stiles. He doesn't remember a single name, though, and realizes then that his focus might have been somewhat limited to Stiles when he was watching the show.

Perhaps the biggest miracle of all is that Jordan isn't here tonight, slithering around and laying his moves on Stiles in his second attempt to be taken back. He seems to be blissfully vacant from the entire room.

“Oh, we’re all fucking thrilled about that,” Lydia says, sounding caught somewhere between relief and underlying irritation, and Peter realizes he might've just said all that aloud. It clearly isn't a controversial opinion, however; he seems to be preaching to the choir. “Scott would probably drag him out by the ears if he saw him.”

“He's a clown,” Peter says, and Lydia hums in agreement.

“Stiles has horrible taste in boyfriends,” she murmurs, eyes distant as if remembering all the instances his bad romantic judgment reared its head. “Not great at picking girlfriends either.”

“So basically just shouldn't be trusted to form his own opinions.”

Lydia turns to look at Peter again. “He's not stupid,” she says.

“I know.”

Something in her expression changes, and Peter can feel her opinion of him develop at this very moment. Peter doesn't feel the need to impress her, but still, feels inexplicably pleased that there's a good chance she'll pass on her approval to Stiles later about his choice in chauffeur.

By the time Stiles resurfaces from the crowd, he and Lydia have gone on to disparage Parrish some more, which is some of the best ill-meaning gossiping Peter's partaken in in years. Stiles brings many more friends around for Peter to meet, and some castmates too—like his best and oldest friend Scott, a friendly kid with dark hair who Peter’s seen in the backseat many a time, and the director of his show, a stiff bespectacled man in a blazer too big for his frame, and one of his co-stars Boyd, a nice guy whose fit physique could probably be spotted from the moon. They all treat him like they've heard of him before, eyes always warm with the light of recognition, and it makes Peter curious as to what exactly Stiles has been saying about him, and while he's at it, how much he's been saying. Maybe he told them about Peter's knight in shining armor moment out on the pavement with Jordan.

He watches Stiles talk with someone across the room, hands moving animatedly and smile wide, and thinks he looks good here. He fits here, surrounded by people who support and love and praise him. He's practically shining. A strange surge of affection tickles Peter's stomach.

“Has he always been like this, then?” Peter asks Scott. “The acting star? The Shakespearean lead in all the school plays?”

“Oh, hell no,” Scott says. “You couldn't have paid him to join an after-school club. Especially not theater.”

“Really?”

“The Stiles we all knew in high school never had the guts to go stage and perform anything,” he continues, shaking his head. “He definitely wasn't an uppity thespian, or whatever you're imagining.”

“More like a nervous, asthmatic loser,” Lydia chimes in, rolling her eyes.

“Well, he’s still asthmatic,” Scott says.

“So when exactly did he start with.” Peter waves around at the bustling party around them. “All this?”

Scott scratches at his jaw. “Um. After we graduated. Think he realized it was a good outlet. He kind of wasn’t ever the best at dealing with stuff, and.” Scott stops, looking uncomfortable. “Things happened to him when he was younger that he never really processed all that well.”

“You mean his mother dying,” Peter says, filling in the blanks Scott is clearly trying to edge around.

“You know about that?”

Peter shrugs, not all that comfortable revealing his sources: namely, that he’s spent time looking Stiles up on the internet like a preteen fanatic. He pulls something out of his ass instead. “He mentioned it in an interview.”

“Oh, I did not,” Stiles says, popping up out of nowhere, big cheesy smile on his face that is definitely the result of the alcoholic drink in his hand. He smells like beer and sweat, a scent that Peter gets a whiff of when Stiles swings an arm around Peter’s shoulder. “He googles me.”

“I don't,” Peter says instantly.

“He does. Does it all damn day.”

“I don't,” he says again.

“Isn't he just precious?” Stiles says, pinching Peter's cheek before Peter seizes him by the wrist and guides him out of pinching, prodding, and poking proximity. He thinks back, fondly, to those few happy days when Stiles was too intimidated to even say anything while he sat in the back.

Stiles doesn't leave his side again that night. He stays immeasurably close, closer still when one drink becomes two, and three, and then one beer to top off, leaving him a borderless, tipsy cuddle monster with no knowledge whatsoever of personal space. The most charming part, in Peter's eyes, is that Stiles isn't actually all that drunk, which is made clear when Peter spots him pouring refills of orange juice into his solo cup. He's really just pretending, and perhaps this is an excuse to touch Peter without judgement, a chance to tuck an arm around him without facing any odd looks, and Peter finds he doesn't mind, doesn't mind at all.

“Thanks for coming tonight,” Stiles tells him once the party winds down. He's standing very close, possibly because of the crowded space, possibly not, and Peter is reminded of the night at the bar. Except that Stiles’ breath isn’t as clouded with alcohol tonight. “I'm glad you got to meet everybody.”

“Even though I’m so very shy?”

Stiles’ resulting grin is much prouder than it is shameful. “That’s what you get when you blow me off,” he says. “I get to tell people whatever I’d like about you.”

Ah, there's that topic Peter's been hoping they'd land on. “And what is it you've been telling people?”

“It's all boilerplate,” Stiles says, shrugging, but certain things suggest otherwise. Like the way he's been close to Peter's side nearly all night, magnetized there whenever he's gone away for too long like gravity is pushing him close again. “Nothing special.”

“Can I just sample a taste of what you've been saying, then?”

Stiles shakes his head, but he's smiling now, the kind of unwavering smile that's right on the edge of infectious. He takes a minuscule step forward, his beer bottle clinking against Peter’s.

“I'm glad you're here tonight,” he says. His voice has gotten lower, more private. “You glad you came?”

What he’s more glad for is that Stiles is standing so close to him, close enough to feel the nearness of his body heat. As much as he dislikes admitting it, Peter understands why people are frothing at the mouth for someone like Stiles, sitting too close in front of their TVs to watch him, buying merchandise with his body on it. Peter wishes he could be a better person, the sort of person who doesn't crave someone like Stiles, who isn't drawn into his absurd charm, who doesn't spare a second glance at his whipcord muscles and large hands and crooked smile. He isn't, though, and he's stupidly fascinated by all of the above, much like he imagines a lump sum of teenaged girls are.

It's belittling, but not enough to drive him away. It’s almost hard to remember the time when he didn’t understand Stiles’ charm at all.

“It's been enjoyable,” Peter says. “Your friends have the most amusing anecdotes about you.”

The smile is instantly wiped off Stiles’ face. “What did they tell you?” he demands. “Please say nothing about high school. Definitely not the sophomore year camping trip.”

“They didn't,” Peter says. “Although now I won't rest until I have heard it.”

“No. No, no, no,” Stiles says. The ends of his ears are turning pink, and it occurs to Peter that Stiles might be careful about what he lets Peter see of him for a reason. “We should probably go and never ever let you talk to anybody I know again.”

Peter acts on an animal instinct, bolstered by the scent of Stiles standing so near, near enough to hear whisper, and grabs Stiles by the jaw.

“Afraid I'll run scared if I hear about your prom night?” he asks. “If I see the man behind the tabloids?”

“You've already seen him,” Stiles says. “He sits in the back of your car every day.” He pushes Peter's hand off his face, smothering a self-effacing huff of laughter with a quick ruffle to his hair. “Maybe I just don't want you seeing the weird gangly unpopular loser I was before all this.”

“What makes you think he doesn't sit in the back of my car every day too?”

It takes Stiles a second for the offense to reach him, pulling his mouth open. “Jerkoff,” he says. “Did you just call me a loser?”

You did, actually,” Peter says. “I just agreed.”

Stiles ducks his head, hiding a smile. He leans in, tilting forward just enough to murmur something for no one else to overhear, and says, “You want to ditch this place?”

His hand reaches around the back of his head to scratch at his hair again, a movement that looks casual enough but that Peter has learned to understand means he’s secretly feeling horribly insecure. Peter should really think it’s juvenile, but really, he finds it oddly endearing. He wants terribly to reach out and—and smooth away the uncertainty, touch Stiles’ chin, stroke the hair by his ear, but he holds back. They’re not in the privacy of the car, after all.

“Let’s,” he says. “I’ll get out jackets.”

“And I’ll let everyone know we’re leaving.”

Peter sees right through that, too. “Checking with Lydia about my grade?” he asks.

“What?”

Peter tilts his head toward her general direction. “She's formed an opinion of me, I'm sure,” he says. “You must be interested in what she thinks.”

“There wasn't a quiz, if that's what you’re assuming,” Stiles says, but he's gone a bit spluttery around the edges of words.

“Not in so many words, no,” Peter says, then tilts toward Lydia again. “Go on.”

Stiles goes, making his rounds of quick goodbyes. He and Lydia chat for a fast moment—about Peter, undoubtedly—and Peter can't help but watch their mouths move across the room, wondering what words are being exchanged. He thinks about teenage Stiles and how infatuated he purportedly was with Lydia, this gem of a girl out of his reach, and then the people who came later: Danny, who he apparently couldn't get at all, and of course Jordan, who seemed unreachable but wasn't. Peter wonders if there's a pattern there.

“Okay, let's go,” Stiles says, appearing right in front of Peter again. “Come on. Long walk back to that garage, you know.”

“Are you expecting me to offer you a pick-up service?” Peter asks, slipping into his jacket.

“Shut up,” Stiles says. His voice softens. “I don't mind it.”

The walking or the company, Peter's not certain. His ego is vying for the latter.

They leave the party to a chorus of waves and see-you-laters and step out into the dark night, illuminated only by street lamps. It's soundless out here. They're near LA’s financial district, which is never overrun with tourists or crowds at any point, but especially not at night. It makes for a quiet walk.

“So you and Lydia,” Peter brings up when his curiosity can't be denied any longer. “That's—?”

“Totally over and never really begun in the first place?” Stiles cuts in, expression firm. “Yeah. She's great, and we're good friends, but yeah—no. Not anymore.”

He scratches the side of his noise. Peter watches him, his usually uncoordinated ambling (seen mostly when running late) replaced with a slow, fidget-less strolling. Sometimes it still baffles Peter that he's even allowed to look, that he can stare at Stiles as much as he wants without some bodyguard hip-checking him to the ground.

There's somebody around a street corner with a camera snapping pictures. The first one comes as a bright, lightning-like flash, causing both of them to turn around and see the perpetrator: a low-budget paparazzi carrying a camera in the distance. He scurries once he sees he's been spotted, frantic footsteps loud on the cold pavement.

Stiles snorts, watching him run. “Guess I should get used to that,” he says. “That was the first time that’s ever happened.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, kind of. I mean, I’ve had people come up and take pictures with their phones, but never like—an actual paparazzi. Not just me, anyway.”

“You happy about that?”

Stiles stops. “Are you going to think it’s totally weird if I say yes?” He doesn’t quite look Peter in the eye. “I mean, I’m sure I’ll be sick of it soon, but right now it just feels neat.”

Peter will be in these pictures, he thinks with a slight prickle of smugness. It feels awfully satisfying to imagine celebrity rags trying to identify him, or even better, someone like Jordan seeing the photographs and coming to conclusions. Inaccurate conclusions, but ones Peter doesn't mind him thinking nonetheless.

They reach the car, Peter unlocking the doors with a soft beep. Stiles gets into the passenger seat without any hesitation, not bothering to ask for permission before he's making himself comfortable, going as far as to lever the incline of the seat back further. His knees lift up, feet stretching out, and Peter promptly grabs onto his shins.

“No feet on the dashboard,” he says.

Stiles groans. “You're so fucking bad at this,” he grumbles. “I'm the client. You're supposed to accommodate me.”

“Were you expecting grapes fed to you by hand?”

Stiles seems to think about it. “Wouldn't have hurt,” he says. He slides his feet off of the dashboard, but compromises by pumping the chair back even further until he's nearly reclined. The sight of it is, admittedly, a little intoxicating. It would be remarkably easy to just crawl over there and straddle Stiles’ hips and yank his shirt off and—

“There’s a fancy schmancy dinner I have to go to Friday,” Stiles tells him as he buckles up. “An award show banquet thing, basically.”

“Uh huh.”

“Black tie and everything.”

Peter cuts him a sideways glance. “And you need to borrow a grown-up suit?”

Stiles smacks him in the chest. “No. I—uh.” He fiddles with the hem of his sleeve, thumbing the bone on his wrist. “I was thinking.”

He doesn't finish his thought. He's looking steadily at the foot room, as if concentrated, as if trying to find the words for a request—or perhaps the bravery—but then Stiles is sitting up and shaking his head and abandoning that line of thinking entirely. He cheats his throat.

“Yes?” Peter prompts.

“Never mind,” Stiles says. “Nothing. I mean—can you drive me?”

It seems silly for him to ask. It’s Peter’s job, driving Stiles around, but Stiles is acting like it's almost an imposition, a chore he's pushing off onto a friend. Peter isn't sure when this transition in their relationship even happened, when it went from just driving Stiles around Hollywood to more, impossibly more, but it has.

Peter nods. He knows what Stiles really wanted to ask, and he's fairly certain he would've agreed. Or more accurately, wouldn't have been able to say no.

--

Stiles @ 3:56pm: black shoes or dark brown shoes for tonight?

Peter @ 3:56pm: Pictures?

Stiles @ 3:57pm: [attachment]

Peter @ 3:57pm: Both look like they need polishing.

Peter @ 3:57pm: Is this supposed to be for your awards banquet?

Peter @ 3:58pm: You don't have anything cleaner to offer?

Stiles @ 3:59pm: unavoidable side effect of being in my closet

Stiles @ 3:59pm: should I go with the black

Stiles @ 3:40pm: or suede?

Stiles @ 3:41pm: what do you think of suede

Stiles @ 3:41pm: help

Stiles @ 3:42pm: show’s in three hours!!!!!

Stiles @ 3:43pm: come over?

Peter @ 3:45pm: I just started brewing a cup of espresso.

Stiles @ 3:45pm: HELP

Stiles @ 3:45pm: there are these great things called travel mugs

Peter @ 3:47pm: What’s the magic word?

Stiles @ 3:47pm: the magic word is employment

Stiles @ 3:47pm: and salary

Stiles @ 3:47pm: and come fucking on

Stiles @ 3:50pm: and please, i guess

Peter @ 3:51pm: Be there in fifteen.

--

Peter’s not sure what he expected of the inside of Stiles’ apartment, but perhaps glitzier is the word he's looking for. It's quite plain, and very messy, and there are video game consoles in the corner and unwashed plates piling up in the sink and altogether, this isn't a luxury living space. It's a regular apartment that doesn't say television star! at all.

He finds Stiles in his bedroom, hair damp from a shower, standing in front of three pressed suits hanging on the closet's door frame. He's wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants and looks a little frazzled.

“What do you think?” he asks Peter when he walks in the room. He fiddles with the pant leg of the leftmost suit. “I like this one, but apparently navy blue is out.”

Peter looks at the unmade bed where Stiles’ phone is repeatedly lighting up with unread messages from Lydia, and suddenly Peter has an idea of who exactly has been ambushing him with fashion tips. Or possibly fashion instructions-slash-demands.

Peter looks at the suit in Stiles’ hands, then at the sweatpants loose around his thighs and the t-shirt slung low over his chest, and thinks he looks just fine as is. He tucks his hands into his pants pockets and clenches the fabric in there.

“Navy blue is definitely in,” Peter says. “But the black would be lovely as well.”

“Ah. That's so helpful, thanks very much,” Stiles says, voice dripping with sarcasm. He shakes the tux in his grip. “Choose one, you idiot. Unless you suggest I mix and match.”

Peter does want to suggest that, if only to take pictures to forever chuckle over on his phone, but his brain is physically aching even just imagining such a fashion faux pas, so he shakes his head. “Are you insane?” he asks, then cocks his chin toward the all-black ensemble spread out on the bed. “Go with the black.”

“All right,” Stiles says, throwing the navy onto the pillows. “You'll help me with the tie, yeah?”

“I will.”

Stiles grabs the suit and doesn't emerge from the bathroom again for a few minutes, leaving Peter to both a) roam around his bedroom looking for personal belongings and b) be excruciatingly aware of the fact that a few feet away, behind a closed door, Stiles is currently in some state of undress. He licks his lips, finding his mouth to be quite dry, and opens a drawer on Stiles’ bedside table. Comic books are sitting inside.

He lifts the comic books. An iPhone charger, rolling medication bottles, and a tube of lube. Peter expected dirtier.

Stiles comes out of the bathroom a minute later. The suit is horribly wrinkled, clearly not hung properly in Stiles’ mess of a closet, but he still looks undeniably… sharp. Grown-up. Handsome.

“I always feel like an idiot in these things,” Stiles huffs under his breath, stepping in front of the mirror. He fiddles with where his button down is tucked into his pants, alternating between stuffing more fabric in and pulling it out. “Like I’m going to prom or something.” The conversation seems awfully familiar, and it throws Peter back to the one they had weeks ago while Stiles was in the backseat in a wrinkled, ill-fitting suit. This one’s much better tailored to his figure.

“You shouldn't,” Peter says. “You look incredible.”

It seems to take Stiles a moment to realize Peter's being serious. He turns to him, all the sarcasm leaking away into nerves.

“Really, though? Do I look okay?”

“What part of incredible do you have trouble defining?”

Stiles looks at him, caught somewhere between being flattered and annoyed. Peter doesn’t know why he’s surprised. Peter’s complimented him before. There’s even a chance he’s done it too much.

“Thanks,” he says. He then holds out a dark tie. “Think it’ll match?”

Peter nods. He takes the tie when Stiles doesn't lower his arm, instead shaking it insistently below Peter’s chin, and slides it around Stiles’ neck and underneath his collar.

It feels, weirdly, different from the last time he did this. Now it seems almost intimate. Stiles’ breath keeps exhaling on Peter's jaw and he seems unbelievably close, in the kind of proximity that would lend itself so easily to just leaning forward and jerking Stiles in by his tie and biting down on his bottom lip hard, surely, demandingly, and it doesn't help that when Peter looks him in the eye, Stiles is already looking straight back. He closes his mouth to swallow, the sound audible, and Peter traces the movement of his throat with his eyes. That smooth, exquisite throat, just begging to be given attention to, pleading to be marked by Peter's mouth…

“Good?” Stiles asks, jerking Peter out of his reverie.

“Hm?”

“The tie,” Stiles says. He sounds weirdly out of breath.

An insistent voice in Peter’s head is telling him to do it now, just grab Stiles by the hair and fuck the hell out of him, yank all these clothes off instead of doing the opposite and helping Stiles get dressed—absurd, really, the idea of Stiles putting more on rather than stripping down for Peter—but then Stiles is backing up and turning to the mirror, examining Peter’s work. Stiles has never looked more fuckable than right now, all smooth lines of that suit speaking to Peter like poetry, and more and more, resistance seems stupid, ridiculous, an absolutely ludicrous option when the other is giving in and taking what he wants.

“Okay,” Stiles says, fingercombing the hair at the top of his head. “The tie doesn't make me look like I'm trying too hard, does it?”

“No,” Peter says. “If you weren't wearing it, I'd say you'd be trying too little.”

“Ah, but laziness is so my thing,” Stiles says, and he lets out a dry huff of laughter, which still isn't enough to break the layer of sexual tension now floating around the room like fog. “Which shoes do you think?”

He points toward the scattered pile of dress shoes by the closet. Some are tossed underneath dirty sneakers and Peter sort of wants to weep a little.

“I'll find some,” he says. "You do something about your hair."

--

“I hate these things,” Stiles says the entire drive, about a dozen times. Possibly more. “Can’t I just skip it?”

Turns out, he can’t, because the second Peter pulls up to the party—gated off, the sound of laughter and clicking cameras not far away—Lydia is there, here to collect Stiles. She opens the car door, preening down at him.

“Good choice in suit,” she says. “You look very put-together.”

It wouldn't sound like much of a compliment coming out of anyone else’s mouth, but out of Lydia’s, it seems like it's veering on the edge of proud. Stiles steps out of the car, fancy shoes clacking on the sidewalk.

“All right,” he sighs. “Let's do this stupid thing.” Lydia clears her throat, and Stiles quickly adds, “You look nice too.”

Lydia grabs the car door before he can close it. “There's a garage about two blocks down that isn't full yet,” she tells Peter. “I’d advise you wait there.”

“No,” Stiles cuts in. “Just let him—do his own thing. This could take forever.”

“He’s working. He’s on your time, not time to do his own thing.” Lydia points down the street. “The garage is that way.”

“Lydia.”

Lydia doesn't bother sparing Stiles any attention, even as Stiles starts saying her name on repeat. She ignores him, leaning further into the car. “I hope you have a book on you,” she says, delicately patting the side of the car in lieu of a goodbye wave.

Over her shoulder, Stiles gives Peter an apologetic grimace. It makes Peter want to grab Stiles by the elbow, yank him back inside, and zoom off like a thief getting away with stolen goods while Lydia shrieks after them to come back this instant, dammit.

But cars have started filling up around them near the curb, vying for Peter's precious spot, and so Peter graciously decides to take Lydia's advice and adjourn to the garage. It's not a terrible idea. After all, he wants to be nearby in case Stiles needs him.

He tells himself, although even the voice inside his head isn't all too convincing, that this is all part of his promise to Stiles’ father.

Just admit you like him, you fucker, the same voice jabs at him a moment later.

“I’m off,” Peter says, turning the car on. He gives Stiles one last look. It's suddenly very easy for him to imagine himself standing next to Stiles instead of dropping him off, also decked out in a fine suit and a slick hairdo, arm tucked around Stiles’ waist. He remembers how close Stiles was to asking him, to making that a reality. “Stay out of trouble.”

He half expects a tired yes, dad in response. Instead, Stiles just shoots him a thumbs up and a regretful little smile as he drives off.

--

The garage is exactly where Lydia said it would be, outrageous Hollywood parking prices and all, and Peter finds an empty spot on the second level in row G, which he texts Stiles just in case he needs an escape plan and wants to know the location of the getaway vehicle.

Stiles doesn't text back, though. There's a good chance he's wrapped up in schmoozing and toasting to fame and fortune and being complimented on his suit, so his phone is probably tucked away somewhere out of sight.

Not that Peter needs entertaining. He fishes the People magazine featuring Stiles out from under his seat and flips back to the interview he was reading last time he had downtime in the car while waiting for Stiles. The interview is complete shit and might be one hundred percent made up, but Peter flips through it anyway, amused nonetheless.

A few hours of reading, abusing the Solitaire app on his phone until it freezes, and browsing Stiles’ social media—so he looks through his Instagram every now and then, so what—later, it’s well past eleven p.m. and Peter’s starting to get a little cramped in the front seat. He has no idea what Stiles’ obsession with the passenger seat is; the back is much, much roomier, after all. Unless he feels like more of an adult in the front, or perhaps, perhaps he enjoys the company the front has to offer?

His tingling thought is interrupted by his phone vibrating on the dashboard.

Stiles @ 11:43pm: you there?

Peter @ 11:44pm: Yes.

Stiles @ 11:46pm: okay good. done with the show. heading your way

Peter @ 11:47pm: Don't. I'm on my way.

Peter drives out of the garage and up to the curb where he dropped Stiles off, but when he looks out at the window, but it doesn't look like the show is over, the streets still unpacked and the area not thrumming with tipsy celebrities leaving the premises.

He turns the car off and gets out to get a better look, see if he can spot Stiles in the distance. He's about to grab his phone and ask Stiles if he's really sure the event’s finished, when he notices Stiles power-walking down the sidewalk toward him. He comes back with a noticeable ire in his step as he walks, which might have something to do with the tie that's become something of a tangled noose around his neck.

“How'd it go?” Peter asks.

“Fine,” Stiles spits out, even though his tone of voice suggests otherwise. “Although the food was pretty shitty and I hate wearing suits.”

Peter thinks he looks rather good in a suit, but refrains from saying so, seeing as Stiles is focusing all of his clumsy attention on his tie. His fingers are long, elegant, even wrapped in a fidgeting mess. Peter thought this the first time he met him, but now and again, Stiles always takes care to remind him.

Well, maybe not the very first time. But Peter's opinion of Stiles changed fast. He marvels at it sometimes, just how unusually easy it was for Stiles to reverse Peter's impression of him from goofy, spastic kid into endearing, impressive man. Does Stiles have any clue?

“What's wrong with suits?” Peter asks.

Stiles makes a face. “I don't know. The fabric is stiff. It always feels like I'm playing dress-up in my dad’s closet. Fuck. This tie.” He exhales, dropping his hands from the object in question. He lifts an arm helplessly. “Could you help me with this?”

Peter smiles, amused, but takes pity on the situation and decides to help. He steps closer, pressing Stiles against the side of the car to try and keep him still, and gets to work on the tie. Stiles has pulled the knot impossibly taut.

“And I don't really like ties, either,” Stiles adds, voice quieting. Either he's calming down from all the injustice of black tie events or he's taking note of the fact that Peter's much nearer now and doesn’t need any yelling right on his eardrums.

“They're not so bad,” Peter says. He's managed to get a little wiggle room in the fabric by now. “If you know how to wear them, that is.” He pauses, holding onto the long end. “Didn't your father ever teach you?”

“Nah. He might’ve tried and I just didn’t pay attention, though.”

“Your attention span is exceedingly small.”

He wiggles the tie free, managing to pull it from the knot Stiles has inadvertently created. Stiles breathes out when Peter undoes it like he's a man released from handcuffs, rolling his neck left and right as if to quell a headache, and rubs at his forehead. He looks beautiful like this, even annoyed as he is, tie slung around his neck and blazer unbuttoned, an effortless show of handsome dishevelment. When he notices Peter watching, he frowns.

“What?” he demands.

“You seem to be in a mood.”

Stiles exhales, the sound loud in the quiet street. “You know those days when everything just… rubs you wrong the way?”

Peter nods slowly. He tilts his head toward to where the dinner is undoubtedly still continuing. “No luck networking, I suppose?” he asks. “No accolades won?”

Stiles’ face hardens, mouth thinning. “Is that all you think of me?” he snaps. “My head so far up Hollywood’s ass that all I care about is winning awards or something?”

Peter says nothing, just lifts his eyebrows. His quiet condescension deflates Stiles visibly, who goes from hackles raised to back hunched, weary.

“Sorry,” Stiles mumbles. “I'm just annoyed.”

“Why?”

Stiles drags his shoe down the street, scuffing the bottom. It's probably a three thousand dollar shoe, and it pains Peter a little on the inside to watch Stiles treat designer loafers like this, but he's enough of a reader of atmospheres to know not to say anything about that now.

“I was talking with Lydia tonight,” Stiles says. “She just wore out my buttons, let’s say it like that.”

“Insisted on the tie, did she?”

“She thinks I shouldn't be dating anyone right now,” Stiles says. He sounds palpably disappointed. “That it's bad for my growing image, or whatever, if I don't seem available.”

Peter considers the hundreds of prepubescent girls who consider Stiles a heartthrob, and how their numbers grow ever wider each day, like a frightening army. They probably picture themselves copied and pasted into Stiles’ life a lot, at least into the interesting bits. Lydia might be right about the availability appeal.

“Isn't that kind of screwed up?” Stiles asks, kicking the sole of his shoe against the pavement.

“It isn't nonsensical,” Peter says. “What's the big problem?”

Stiles fixes him with a long look. He draws his lower lip into his mouth, then abruptly releases it again. “What if I want to date someone?”

Peter fights the urge to eyeroll to the moon. “Jordan?”

“No,” Stiles says sharply, quickly. “Not Jordan.”

His eyes are very intense when Peter looks at them again. Dark, moonless, challenging. Something snaps in the levee of Peter's carefully controlled mind, letting through a tidal wave of unrestrained want. He doubts he's misreading this. The only doubts he actually has are with himself, if he's sure of what he's about to do.

“Mhm,” he says, stepping closer. He grabs one end of Stiles’ wrinkled tie, smoothing a thumb over the creases. “I see.”

He can feel Stiles’ eyes on him like glue, riveted. Peter waits for a moment for morality to swoop in and stop him, but of course it doesn’t, it never does, so he lets go of Stiles’ tie to roughly cup his cheek. Stiles’ mouth parts, the gasp that falls out nothing more than a hitch of his breath, and Peter thinks that if he doesn’t want this, he only has about one-point-five seconds to make that clear before Peter pounces.

“There you are,” someone says loudly behind them.

Stiles jerks, eyes snapping away to look over Peter’s shoulder. He visibly straightens, stepping aside until Peter’s hand falls from his jaw.

“Hi,” he says. The flustration is clear in his voice. “What’s up?”

Peter feels Lydia’s gaze prickling hot on his shoulder before he turns around to see who it is. She stomps toward Stiles, unamused. “Going somewhere?” she asks, eyes flickering to the car, and then briefly at Peter. The look she fixes him with speaks volumes. Peter considers that she may’ve just overheard the entire conversation he and Stiles were having moments ago. “There are a bunch of people in there expecting to talk to you. Like that director? Unless you’d rather treat your career like a disposable tissue?”

Stiles’ attempt to lie is foiled by his horribly uncoordinated sentences. “I just. Ah. Just stepped out for a second.”

“Right,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Come on. You’re not finished in there.”

She seizes Stiles’ wrist and drags him with her as she goes, leaving Peter to feel like an animal teased and baited, bewildered and howling to yank Stiles back and finish what he started. He's not done here, he was in the fucking middle of something, and it takes every ounce of his control to not grab Stiles by the ankle and pull him back and refuse to let Lydia stalk away with him.

But he doesn't. He can't twist everybody’s arms like he did with Parrish when they approach Stiles, can't keep him from blossoming and moving on and being swayed toward different paths and whatever the fuck else is sure to come up in the future the next time one of them gets closer than strictly platonic barriers. He's a fucking rising star. He's best to be watched from a distance, shining in the sky, untouchable, not as close as they seem. This is what he kept reminding himself of, what Derek did as well, and then Stiles—fucking Stiles—waltzed into his best intentions and shook them all up like a can of fizzing soda, and now he wants Stiles more than ever and he's practically on his way to morphing into a teenage girl, braces and acne and unrealistic celebrity crush and all.

It's hard, having all this bottled up want and not knowing what to do with it. Not having somewhere to put it. Not being able to use it on whom it’s intended. He can practically smell an aneurism coming on.

How long can he keep this up exactly? The mental tug-o-war is going to kill him, slowly but methodically. The battle between taking what he wants versus knowing better. Between backing off or being forced to share with the world. Between not getting involved with a young, bumbling, show business kid or grabbing him by the wrinkled blazer and memorizing the taste of his tongue.

He knows which side he's heading towards, no matter how much the side of logic and reason are trying to guide him away. It's inevitable.

So he decides to stay where he is. Right here in this dark street outside of a celebrity venue until either Stiles comes back out here and they can finish what they started, or a traffic cop shoos him off. But he's staying.

--

At least two hours pass before Stiles comes back, although Peter is quick to realize that it's really just a mouthpiece of Stiles when he sees Lydia’s knuckles rapping on the window. Time has felt incredibly slow since Stiles was dragged off, as if stuck by glue to that moment when Peter very nearly flattened him against the car and explored his mouth, and it doesn't sit with him all that well that Stiles isn't the one here now.

Peter opens up the window. Lydia gives him a tight smile.

“Stiles and I are staying for a few after parties,” she tells him. “So you can go home.”

Peter reaches out to curl a hand around the steering wheel, feeling the need to squeeze something. It feels suspiciously like she isn't trusting Stiles to be around him, or maybe the other way around, depending on whom she thinks is the instigator among the both of them. Peter, for all his willingness to lunge at Stiles’ bare neck, is prepared to blame Stiles. All those glances across the console, the crowding into his space at parties, the hugging him goodbye at the airport—that can't all have been born out of some innate kindness.

And then there was that look on Stiles’ face earlier when Peter grabbed him by the cheek and was milliseconds away from swooping in for the kill.

“I can wait,” Peter says carefully.

Lydia doesn't back off. “It'll be extremely late by the time we're done,” she says. “You don't have to sit here half the night.”

She's saying all this like she's doing Peter a favor, but the only thing Peter truly wants right now is to heave Stiles into the backseat and pick up the bookmark rudely pushed between them earlier. “It's my job,” he says, which isn't a lie. The next bit is gritted out. “I'll wait.”

“You shouldn't,” she responds, then steps back from the car, done with the discussion. “He’ll let you know when he needs you tomorrow.”

She probably thinks she's being a good friend, Peter thinks as he watches her walk away, or perhaps a good manager. Regardless, Peter doesn't appreciate it, and right now he can't imagine Stiles does either.

He fucking stays. He goes back to the garage, his old spot still vacant, and stubbornly parks. He's not going to be chased off, not when there's a chance—however small—that leaving too soon tonight is going to end with disappointment for him. He already didn't go into Stiles’ dad’s house when he should've, and he didn't go up to that lasagna get-together when he should've, and he didn't make a move after Jordan left when he should've, and he's not making the same mistake again now.

The tug-o-war is reaching an end, and it’s pulling in the direction of giving in.

The rest of the garage starts emptying out. The dim lights in here aren’t giving any impression of the time, but Peter knows it’s late, which is confirmed each time he looks at his watch and it’s only climbing closer and closer to early morning and slowly surpassing late at night. He’s racking up an abhorrent parking bill with this garage, he’s sure of it.

At the two a.m. mark, it hits Peter that it’s possible that Stiles took a cab home, or that Lydia told him that Peter left a long time ago, or that Stiles is planning on partying through the night and didn’t find it necessary to keep Peter in the loop. This very well may be a low point in Peter’s life, sitting in a car in a quiet cave of a parking garage, waiting for someone who may or may not show up.

He’s not admitting this to anybody. He can already picture Derek’s deeply disapproving face, so cross that it’s practically folding in on itself.

At three a.m., he promises himself only half an hour more.

Nine minutes before his self-imposed last call, he hears footsteps in the garage. Loud, echoing footsteps that pull Peter out of the car and to his feet.

And then Stiles rounds the corner, looking exhausted and hopeful and drained, and his eyes fall on Peter and all the weariness seems to lift off his body, expression perking up. His tie is stuffed into his pants pocket, barely peeking out, and his hair is a mess, and his blazer isn’t so neatly ironed anymore, and instantly Peter can imagine him roaming the streets, looking, looking, searching for Peter.

“Hey,” Stiles says, lifting a hand in what he was probably intending as a wave before his arm seems to lose its nerve. He approaches the car as Peter rounds it. “I was hoping I’d find you here.”

“Lydia told me to leave,” Peter says.

“Yeah?” Stiles asks, and Peter nods. “I’m glad you didn't.” He huffs a little, dragging his shoe against the floor. “Don’t take it personally. She’s mad at me.”

“She’s mad at you? For what, not taking her fashion recommendations?”

Stiles isn’t looking him in the eye. He looks everywhere else instead. The ceiling, the neighboring cars, the white parking stripes. “I admitted something to her today and she just—well. She thinks I’m doing something stupid, that’s all.”

Does this have anything to do with what Stiles mentioned she said earlier? That bit about having to nurse his single image of perpetual availability?

“Listen,” Stiles says. It isn’t until then that Peter notices that his bottom lip is red, bitten raw. “Can we revisit that—that thing we talked about before?”

“That thing,” Peter repeats.

“Yeah.” Stiles takes a step forward, and it looks like he’s coaxing himself into bravery, a hard layer of steely determination over his eyes. “That thing. About me dating.” He swallows; Peter can see it flutter under his neck. “Someone.”

His eyes are alive with more words. His body language is too, leg shaking, shoulders moving, eyes wide, hands nervous by his sides. Peter can read it all.

He doesn’t hesitate this time. It’s hardly a even conscious decision; it’s just a fast-moving reflex.

He pushes in and kisses Stiles, and somehow, Stiles doesn’t seem to expect it, exhaling hard against Peter’s mouth before grabbing hold of Peter’s hair, pulling his head close. He makes a noise—many noises, really—that could drive Peter to insanity, helpless little desperate whimpers as he tugs Peter as close as possible. Peter responds in kind, crowding Stiles against the car until Stiles is flush against the door.

“Shit,” Stiles says when Peter pulls back from Stiles’ lips, wet from Peter’s tongue, eyes glazed. “Are we really—”

“Yes,” Peter replies. “And it’s overdue as it is.”

“Yeah,” Stiles breathes, yanking him back in.

Peter lets him. Stiles’ enthusiasm is intoxicating, the way he slides their lips together and twists their tongues and pushes close, hands tight on Peter’s shoulders. He’s clinging and breathless and aching under Peter’s touch, the very embodiment of the fantasy Peter’s been imagining him to be, and Peter refuses to hold back anymore. He pushes his leg between Stiles’ thighs and feels Stiles’ hands tighten on him.

“You want to date me?” Peter asks when the kiss ends, even as Stiles goes lunging back in for more, whining.

Yes, for fuck’s sake, isn't that obvious?” Stiles cries. “I want to date the fuck out of you, and sleep with you, and drive around town with you, and eat lunch with you, but also kiss you, like right now, so can we get back to that?”

“Let’s.”

They fall back into a rough kiss. Stiles kisses exactly like Peter expected, with intent and purpose and an almost unreal amount of energy, full of gasps and groans and all kinds of desperate noises that Peter gulps down. Stiles is already hard in his pants against Peter’s thigh, and instantly, Peter is consumed with the idea of making Stiles come all over that expensive suit, in those brand-name boxers.

He reaches between them to palm Stiles through his crotch, feeling the weight of his hard-on in his hands, and pulls back from Stiles’ mouth when Stiles bites down on Peter’s bottom lip in surprise. He’s a dream, he’s a fabulous, whimpering, shaking wet dream come to life in front of Peter’s eyes, and all of this is coming to him so easily, as naturally as the rest, as it always came to him in his mind where Stiles never failed to be panting and desperate and needy for Peter, thrashing in the backseat of a car. The reality is a million, perhaps billion times better than the version created by his imagination.

“All right,” he says, voice low. “I’m going to put my mouth on you.”

He’s standing, but one blurred moment later he’s on his knees, unbuttoning Stiles’ pressed trousers and easing his cock out of his underwear. Stiles responds long before Peter even touches him, sucking in a loud, fast breath, body seizing, hands flexing, and all that multiples once Peter wraps his hand around him and sucks him down.

The garage lamps here don’t do him justice, Peter thinks as he looks up at him, not nearly illuminated enough in the dim light. His mouth is open and his eyes are closed; Peter can see that much from this angle, and can feel him struggling to breath properly now that Peter has his mouth around him. The sounds he’s letting out are sinful, all these cut-off whines and broken gasps that are echoing beautifully through the garage.

“Thought about this for so long,” Peter swears he can hear Stiles say, although he’s slightly focused elsewhere on the taste of Stiles’ cock in his mouth. “I can’t even begin to tell you how—how many times I just wanted to climb in your lap and ride you right there in the car.”

Peter would agree with that if his mouth was free for speech right now. As it stands, he does little but hum around Stiles and show his agreement the nonverbal way, mouth harsh and unrelenting and tight in a way he knows Stiles is enjoying if his soft whines of bliss are any indication.

At least, up until Stiles starts repeating, “Stop, stop, stop, stop,” and he bangs his head backward against the car a few times for emphasis.

Peter pulls away. He licks his lips. “Problem?”

“C’mere,” Stiles demands, eyes wild, and he grabs Peter by fistfuls of his shirt and hauls him to his feet. He yanks the car door open and drags Peter inside and on top of him, making full use of the expanse of the backseat, and now this really is like one of Peter’s dreams, Stiles tugging Peter on top of him and pushing his erection into Peter’s thigh.

“Something you want to tell me?” Peter asks, rutting right back down against it.

“I didn't think words were necessary,” Stiles says, and he wriggles hard underneath Peter until he manages to kick his pants off from where they're stuck around his ankles, jabbing his foot into the car door in the process. Peter both loves and laments that they're doing this here, because on one hand, the space is dreadfully small and not nearly large enough to let Peter spread Stiles out like he wants, slowly and expansively, but on the other hand, this car of his has been the receptacle for so much mounting sexual tension over the last few weeks that Peter can’t quite imagine having his way with Stiles for the first time anywhere else, his mouth nearly watering at the idea of making Stiles sweat all over the leather.

Next thing he consciously knows, Stiles is sitting up, tugging the car door shut, and pulling Peter into his open lap, legs spread. Peter desperately wants to continue what he started. Stiles is kissing a harsh trail down his neck right now, fingers unbuttoning his shirt as he goes, but Peter’s zeroed in on the feeling of Stiles’ cock on his tongue, Stiles’ full-body shakes as he sucked him down, away Stiles’ fingers tight in Peter's hair. He grabs Stiles by the back of the shirt, hauling him up from the mean hickey he's dedicated to on Peter's collarbone, and tries not to be distracted by Stiles’ flushed cheeks and destroyed hairdo, now an extraordinarily spiky mess.

“On your back,” he demands.

Stiles complies, even if he does nearly tumble into the foot room in the process, only managing to catch himself on the headrest. He wiggles his way underneath Peter, half-dressed and breathing heavily, literally the living version of one of Peter's mastubatory daydreams, and hooks a leg over Peter’s hip, the rough edge of his shoe digging into the back of Peter's leg. Shirt on, no pants, and socks and shoes still in place shouldn't be a thing, certainly not a thing that turns Peter on, but right now it's driving him wild, his need for Stiles skyrocketing like a needle going haywire on a steam gauge.

The second time he takes him into his mouth, he does it with no less enthusiasm than the first time. If anything, he's hungrier by now, having had a teasing taste of Stiles that's left him craving more, craving him unraveled and writhing and trembling under Peter’s mouth. He's usually not quite so brash with the blowjobs, rather prefers a slow build-up and a coy show of kissing the hipbone, gingerly biting the inner thigh, rubbing his thumbs into the underside of knees, licking just the head for a few torturous seconds, but with Stiles, his surefire moves are falling out the window to give way for blind desire, desire that has been roaring for relief for practically months now. All those days that Stiles sat in the backseat, all gorgeous and whip-smart and hilarious and annoying, was the longest, most strenuous, most trying foreplay of Peter’s life.

And now here's the payoff. A payoff that Peter would equate with winning so big at the casino that the machines go crazy and blink like Christmas lights and spill coin after coin after coin out of the slots.

“Can you—ohhhh yes, just like that, don't you dare fucking stop,” Stiles all but howls as Peter drags his tongue up his length, then goes straight down again. Stiles’ hands have found Peter's shoulders, mindlessly alternating between quick circular rubbing and fingernail imprinting. “Peter, Peter, holy shit.”

“Love the way you say my name,” Peter says, because it's true—it sounds perfect coming from Stiles’ mouth mid-blowjob, all breathy and hoarse and urgent. No one is ever going to touch Stiles ever again, only him, only Peter, and he won’t stand for Stiles being anyone else’s, and that’s a heady promise he makes to himself right now. “Say it again.”

Peter,” Stiles whines, not one to disappoint. His hips tremble and then jerk up into Peter's mouth, feeding him his cock. “Shit, sorry.”

“Don't be,” Peter says, pulling back just to lick his lips. He grins. “Nothing I can't handle.”

“Fuck,” Stiles says, and maybe that's turning him on—the sight of Peter prowled between his legs, ready to suck him off into another dimension, eyes wild. He cards his hands into Peter's hair as if holding on to a lap bar for a rough roller coaster ride. He gently tugs. “Can I?”

“Go ahead,” Peter says, and swallows him back down, taking the opportunity to show off some of the skills he has that are completely unrelated to just how well he can navigate midday Los Angeles traffic. Stiles certainly seems impressed.

He comes into Peter’s mouth with a massive shudder and an adjoining cry, hands going tight and then weak on Peter’s hair, falling limp onto the seats. He seems to have completely forgotten where they are and that they’re in public and that tinted windows are currently the only thing hiding them from the very public parking garage surrounding them, his world narrowed down to nothing but Peter. That's how it always should be, Peter thinks. The rest of the world can fuck off and Stiles can spend all of his time concentrating on Peter and falling in love with him.

Peter's just started laying kisses up Stiles’ stomach when Stiles’ fingers reach for Peter’s hair again, twining fingers between the strands.

“We should,” Stiles says, swallowing. He looks overwhelmed—no, awed, perhaps—and can’t seem to take his eyes off of Peter. “We should really do this somewhere else.”

Peter shifts, tilting his own throbbing hard-on into Stiles knee.

“You don’t find the backseat to be an appropriate place to have me fuck you?”

Stiles laughs, breathless. “No. No. Three times no.” He grabs Peter’s jacket, tugging him closer and dragging his erection up his thigh. “Did you forget that I’m famous? I’m like—I’m a big fucking deal.”

“Good lord.”

“No, I am,” Stiles insists, grinning. Peter doesn’t think he’s ever seen him smile so wide. It looks like it’s nearly erring on the side of painful for his cheeks. “I have paparazzi following me. And I can’t have my naked ass all over some Perez Hilton article all because I let you fuck me in a car in a garage outside of an award show.”

“You really think you’d make it into a Perez Hilton article?”

Stiles grabs his jacket more tightly, leaving wrinkles behind. “Bring us somewhere else, driver.”

“Where to?”

“A bed,” Stiles says, urgency clearly winning out over pickiness, his fingers flexing impatiently on Peter's lapels. “My place?”

Peter nods; that's a request he and his cock are all too happy to fulfill. He leans down and kisses Stiles, seized by a sudden affection that pinches him like needles, and does it hard enough to leave Stiles chasing his mouth, practically whining for more.

“Your place,” Peter agrees, touching Stiles’ shining lower lip. He nods again. “Sounds splendid.”

He, reluctantly, pulls himself off of Stiles’ deliciously supine form, the way he's lying there with tousled hair and flushed skin and undone clothes an almost cruel thing to not be constantly touching, and straightens out the unruly creases in his clothes before he opens the car door.

He slides into the driver's seat, hard enough to let his penis sword fight but motivated enough by the promise of what's to come once they reach Stiles’ apartment to fully concentrate, and one moment later, Stiles is slipping into the passenger seat.

“Shh,” Stiles says before Peter can tell him to return to the backseat. “I'm just gonna.”

He cracks his neck, tilting left and right like he's about to initiate a football play, and then abruptly leans over and pulls Peter’s cock out of his pants. Then he ducks down before Peter can even entirely comprehend the situation and licks one eager, suckling stripe around the head of his dick. It feels a bit like an electric eel shocking all the blood in his body to boiling point, and Peter freezes, body seizing up at the sordid sensation of Stiles curving his tongue around Peter's length.

“What are you waiting for?” Stiles asks, eyes alight with wicked mischief when he glances up at him. Peter wonders, in the back of his mind, if he knows what he’s gotten himself into. “Drive.”

So Peter does, albeit some of the worst driving of his entire life. He hardly feels compelled to adhere to traffic laws, finding the red traffic lights to be inconsiderate suggestions whenever he screeches to a halt in front of them and Stiles doesn't stop, not even for a moment, mouth working him like a starving man finding his salvation. Peter clutches him by the back of the head and tries to walk the tight-rope of paying attention to the road while simultaneously appreciating the obscene noises coming from his lap and the boy currently arched over it, slick mouth and talented tongue working him to completion. Peter pets and grips and fists his soft hair with one hand and squeezes the life out of the steering wheel with the other, knuckles white as he maneuvers the car around.

It's very easy to see why this is an unsafe driving practice. It's very distracting, having a boy’s head bobbing up and down on your cock, begging to steal your attention away from anything above the dashboard, like the road and neighboring cars and streetlights. A car goes narrowly whizzing by and Peter jerks the car back into the center of the lane. Stiles feels the swerve, and one second later he’s pinching Peter’s thigh, looking up reproachfully.

“Look at the road,” he says. “Sheesh.”

Peter gives him a particularly rough hair tug for that, but Stiles doesn’t seem to mind the coarseness, diving back in with an unparalleled enthusiasm as he draws Peter’s cock back into his mouth. Peter looks down at the sight, swears, and hits the gas pedal a little harder.

--

Stiles is a very heavy sleeper. Peter figures this out when Stiles all but falls unconscious on Peter's chest after they adjourn to Stiles’ bedroom and finish round two, and stays unperturbed even as a traffic symphony plays a never-ending tune outside Stiles’ window all night long.

They're noises Peter hears every day on the road but would like to tune out when he's trying to sleep, noises of hissing busses braking, of honking trucks, of screeching tires. Peter can't ignore them, and he waits one valiant hour before he's quite tired of watching Stiles’ peaceful sleeping face and decides that if he's up, Stiles has to be up too, and proceeds to shake him awake.

“You need a better apartment,” Peter tells him, gesturing to the window and all the offending noise coming through it. “Don't you hear any of that?

“I like this apartment,” Stiles mumbles, as petulant as he is groggy, rubbing his cheek against Peter's chest as he tries to find the ideal pillow simulation on Peter's body. “Just don't listen.”

Charming advice, really. Peter doesn’t let that be it, though, and keeps shaking Stiles until he gives him more attention.

“Can't sleep?” Stiles mutters into his shoulder.

“No,” Peter says. “Wake up.”

“Why do I have to be awake?” Stiles whines.

“Because I am,” Peter explains. “And I'm a guest at your apartment.”

“You're about to not be anymore,” Stiles grumbles. “Do you need me to sing you a lullaby or what?”

“Your company would do just fine.”

There's a silence in which Peter almost assumes Stiles has fallen asleep again, but then Stiles lifts his head and seems to smile. The shadows are making it hard to tell, but Peter is ninety-nine percent sure regardless.

“Can't be upset with you for waking me after you say something like that, now can I?” Stiles says, sounding thoroughly touched. He leans in to plant a quick, appreciative kiss on Peter's chest, and then another on the curve of his neck. “Not used to the noises?”

“Not at night, no,” Peter says. Stiles keeps kissing him, just soft little pecks up his shoulder. It's possible that he's as enamored with his permission to touch Peter as Peter is with his sudden grant to touch Stiles. He runs a hand up Stiles’ side, feeling smooth, arching skin. “My apartment has thick walls for this exact purpose.”

“I've never been there,” Stiles says. “You should invite me.”

Peter makes a noise of agreement. Naturally, given the progression of things, he's planning on doing so. It would be a sin to let the week pass without fucking Stiles on every plausible surface at his place.

“How come you haven't before?” Stiles asks.

“Didn't seem very professional,” Peter says. Not that this—being in bed, very naked, very tangled up—is exactly following the definition of the word either. “We van change that, however. You'll be in love with it by the end of the month, mark my words.”

“Just the apartment, then?”

Peter smirks. “I make no promises.”

Stiles laughs into Peter's chest, a happy, tired sound that vibrates against his skin before it's abruptly interrupted by a yawn that ripples through his throat. He hitches his leg over Peter’s knee, burrowing even closer like he’s waiting for them to meld together like two halves of a sleeping bag being zipped up.

“Hey,” Stiles says, half-asleep and lovely and warm where he’s pressed against Peter, stuck there. “Can I take you on a date?”

“A date,” Peter repeats.

“Yeah. What do you like to do? Eat?”

Peter's mouth twitches; he can feel it unsuccessfully resisting a smile. “I do like to eat.”

“Great. Me too,” Stiles says. “We'll go eating, then. And I'll get us a cab.”

“I have a car. As you really should know by now.”

“You shouldn’t have to drive,” Stiles says. He digs his fingernails into Peter’s skin, fingers probably too weak with sleepiness to pinch. “Idiot. It’s a date.”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know yet,” Stiles says. “Somewhere—somewhere where there aren’t cameras.”

Peter strokes a hand over the nape of Stiles’ neck. “I thought you enjoyed the cameras.”

“Yeah, but.” Stiles pauses. “Maybe I like the idea of not sharing you with everyone quite yet?” He puts his chin on Peter's chest a moment later. “Am I creeping you out?”

“No,” Peter promises. He thinks about his urges to keep Stiles hidden from all his admirers for only Peter to adore, and he thinks about how Stiles and Jordan paraded around, soaking in the limelight, and how Stiles wants to keep him tucked away, a sweet special thing, and finds that nicer than he thought it would. “I think that sounds… charming.”

“I'm glad,” Stiles says. He scoots up a little bit higher on Peter's chest, licking his lips, and the sight is so tempting that Peter can’t deny himself the pleasure of reaching forward and pulling Stiles into a kiss. It takes a while before either of them fall back asleep after that.

--

Stiles is slipping onto the passenger seat the next morning, holding a sandwich between his teeth as he buckles up, when he says, “I don’t think Lydia will approve.”

“What?”

Stiles takes the sandwich out of his mouth, licking butter off his lips. Crumbs go everywhere, running into the foot room, and Peter laments the state of his car, mourning its appearance before Stiles ever showed up. Even more so when Stiles starts looking around for the aux cord. He repeats himself, this time no bread muffling the words. “I don’t think Lydia will approve of us,” he says again. “Since she thinks I need to be some available bachelor or something.”

This morning had been—different. In the best of ways, if not also the weirdest, because Peter woke up not to his alarm telling him it was time to pick up Stiles, but to Stiles himself curved into his grip, his elbow whacking Peter in the nose and knee digging into Peter's bladder. And then they had gotten up and made breakfast together and all of it felt so startlingly normal that Peter actually had to remind himself that this wasn't reality, at least it hadn’t been up until that point, no matter how many times his daydreams had painted such an image for him to relish in. And now he knows many things about Stiles’ morning routine he could only guess about previously, like that he likes ham on his bread or spends ages in the bathroom.

More crumbs go spilling into each crevice of the car as Stiles takes another bite.

“What did I say about making a mess?” Peter asks, sighing.

Stiles stops mid-chew. He looks down at his lap, sprinkled with breadcrumbs. “Oh. At least we live in a world of vacuums.”

“That’s it. Get in the backseat.”

“What? No!” Stiles cries, indignant. He brushes the crumbs off his thighs, sending them flying into the nooks of the floor mats, which Stiles apparently thinks is sufficient cleaning. “Could we focus here? Lydia.”

“Yes, fine,” Peter says. “Just don't tell her anything.”

“She already knows, idiot.”

Peter frowns. “How can she know?”

“She's known since the wrap party,” Stiles says. “Maybe earlier than that.”

Good lord, she’s astute. Why doesn't Stiles have dumber friends? Oh fucking well, not like it matters. She can't exactly force him to stop seeing Stiles.

“I mean, if I'm happy, she won't tell me to stop dating you or anything,” Stiles says. He's stopped eating, sandwich held a little unsurely in his hands. “She definitely won't let me parade you down red carpets or anything, but. That's not going to be a problem, is it?”

When Peter looks at him, he realizes that Stiles is genuinely worried about what answer he's about to get. He's trying to hide it, to be nonchalant, but Peter can see through him, can see all of his absurd concerns.

“If you're happy,” he repeats. “And? Are you happy?”

Stiles immediately huffs, snorts, does everything but acknowledge the question. What an idiot. Peter's in love with—what an idiot.

“Stop,” Stiles says, grin so wide it looks like it hurts. It's not the first time he's seen such a grin in the last twenty-four hours. Peter's starting to think he's responsible.

“What?”

“Stop trying to pull compliments out of me. I bet you know pretty damn well that I'm happy.”

Peter supposes he does, even if he's fairly sure that it wouldn't hurt Stiles to admit it out loud with his own words. Maybe Peter makes him nervous. Maybe Peter's always made him nervous, since the beginning, and it’s never actually stopped.

“I had my suspicions,” he says, watching Stiles stuff the last of the sandwich into his mouth. His lap is a hungry mouse’s dream right now. So many crumbs. “Feel free to use words to prove me wrong.”

Stiles’ eye roll seems to act in the stead of an actual rebuttal. There's a very evident amount of fondness underneath there, though, and Peter wouldn't be too surprised if the same affection was mirrored back on his own face.

“No,” he assures Stiles. “I don't need to walk the red carpet with you to be pleased with our relationship. After all, I know who's driving you home at the end of the night.”

“Who?” Stiles asks, licking his thumb clean of butter. He must think he's adorable, playing the fool like this.

“Me,” Peter says. “Does that work for you?”

“Mm. Depends. Can I start sitting in the front seat? Permanently?”

“I think we can work something out.”

He starts the car, listening to the engine rumble awake, then reaches over to slide his hand over Stiles’ thigh. He keeps it there during the entire drive.