Stiles is standing in the meat section of the supermarket, considering the merits of two different cuts of beef roast, when Walking On Sunshine starts blaring from the general vicinity of his crotch. Setting the roasts back in the cooler, Stiles wipes his hands on his thighs and fishes his phone out of his pocket. He doesn’t even look at the screen, just presses it to his ear.
“So, I’m torn between a prime rib and a sirloin.” He doesn’t bother with hello. Being literally raised by wolves apparently leads some people to ignore normal civil greetings ninety-nine percent of the time, so why waste his breath. “But they’re both on sale. I could get both, and freeze one, right? That makes sense.”
“Stiles, shut up.” Derek sounds like he hasn’t slept in a week, and decided to take up chain smoking and gargling glass instead, to while away those lonely, late night hours. It makes Stiles swallow in sympathy.
He’s pretty sure this Tom Waits with strep throat thing is a very recent development, and that makes it more concerning. He saw Derek yesterday, and the guy had been fine.
“Dude, you sound like shit.”
“I know— You, you need to come to the house.” There’s a scuffle on the other end of the line, like something heavy being moved roughly around, and yeah, Stiles is getting legitimately freaked out now. Derek grunts like he’s been punched in the gut, and there’s an edge of panic in his ruined voice that has Stiles abandoning the meat cooler and starting towards the store entrance with long strides.
“Yeah,” he says, as a thousand different scenarios start playing out in his brain, each one more terrible than the last. Was it ghouls? Witches? Fucking kobolds again? “I’m on my way. Be there in fifteen, tops. Should I bring anything?” Like a bus ticket out of this freaking death trap of a town, even just for a vacation. A couple of weeks without something weird, pissed off, and deadly breathing down their necks.
The goddamn Nemeton is an aggravating son of a bitch. Like an asshole roommate that keeps having wild, unwelcome keggers and inviting the worst kind of creeps to trash the place.
“Just get over here,” Derek snaps, with what Stiles presumes is a mouthful of fangs, considering how he’s slurring now. “Because this is your goddamn fault, Stiles, and you’re going to fix it, or I swear to god—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa—” Stiles stalls in an aisle, surrounded by bags of dried pasta. He stops so abruptly that his sneakers shriek against the linoleum floor. “What the hell do you mean, my fault? What’s my fault? What’s going on?”
“Peter’s gone into rut.” The bottom of Stiles’ stomach swoops down to land somewhere near his feet, but no, that’s not possible. “And it hit him like a fucking train. He’s so far gone he’s non-verbal and tearing my house apart, so get your ass over here and talk him down—”
“I didn’t do anything!” Glancing up and down the aisle, Stiles gives epic stink eye to a middle-aged dude browsing the elbow macaroni, until the man tosses two boxes into his cart and flees down toward the jars of sauce. This isn’t a conversation that needs an audience.
“I couldn’t do anything,” Stiles grits out between his teeth, turning to face the shelves and hunching over his phone for some illusion of privacy. “Even if I wanted to. I’m on suppressants— I’ve been on suppressants since I was nine.” Ever since his first heat triggered early, a couple of months after his mom died. His therapist recommended it to his dad, to help reduce complications at this difficult time. The pills are low dose, a fairly expensive brand that doesn’t interact badly with his Adderall and is thankfully covered by his dad’s insurance, and any longterm side effects are supposed to be minimal. Even after he stopped seeing that therapist, convincing his GP to keep writing prescriptions had been straightforward enough, so Stiles never stopped taking them.
“Well apparently they’re not working anymore!” Derek grunts again, cutting off his shouting in Stiles’ ear. “Fuck, ah— because Peter— stop, stop, put that down right now— Peter is prowling around, stealing every single blanket he can find. He’s got sheets, and comforters, all the couch cushions, my pillows— hey, no, that’s enough, you asshole— piled up in this goddamn love nest he’s building. And he stinks so bad I’m going to need to reupholster everything after this, maybe even pull up the carpets. I’m never getting this smell out of my nose. I hate you both, so much.”
Throughout Derek’s increasingly shrill rant, Stiles had been trying very, very hard not to be charmed. Not even a little. Because this is not normal. This is not cute and sort of romantic, and it’s not making him feel squishy, or squirmy, or inordinately flattered. And it’s definitely not making something dark and hot throb low in his gut, like a filthy, delicious counterpoint to all that sweetness. None of that is happening.
“Okay, I’m going to say it louder for the people in the back,” Stiles says, even though he doesn’t actually raise his voice above a furtive whisper. “I am on suppressants, which I take religiously, like clockwork, every freaking day. Whatever the hell is going on with Peter, is not my fault. And anyway, if I had put him into a rut, I’d need to be going into heat, and I’m not—”
“Are you kidding me?” Derek rasps out a harsh, almost hysterical laugh. “How do you not— you’ve been all over him for a week. You two couldn’t be in the same room together without making me want to gouge out my eyes at least once every ten minutes. Every time he sat down, I thought you were going to climb into his lap. Half the time you did.”
“Uh, dude, news flash? Your uncle is a grabby bastard who never keeps his hands to himself. And even if he wasn’t, I’ve got blanket permission to get all over that smoking hot bod pretty much whenever I want.” Stiles ignores Derek’s half-formed protest, barrelling on. “Have you see his arms? Or his ass? You guys are lucky I’m not just gnawing on his ridiculous neck, like, twenty-four seven.”
“Oh my god.” Derek makes a wounded noise, choking on air. “Stop. Just stop, and listen to me. Why were you looking at beef roasts, when you’ve been harping about cutting back your dad’s red meat? What’s in your cart right now?”
Stiles doesn’t have a cart, he’s got a shopping basket still looped over his elbow, and he glances down with a bizarre sort of trepidation. As if he’s not sure what he’s going to see, even though he’s the one who grabbed it all off the shelves.
“Shit.” The word is out before he can swallow it back, and the sheer level of overbearing smugness suddenly radiating through his phone is nearly more than he can stomach.
“That’s what I thought,” Derek says, because Derek is a shithead and a beta, and doesn’t have to deal with this crap.
Stiles’ basket is weighted down and packed much fuller than he expected, or if he’s being honest with himself, fuller than he’d hoped. The pile of food, taken out of context, isn’t especially damning— greek yoghurt, dried fruit, fresh spinach, granola, protein bars, and peanut butter. All healthy, nutrient rich choices. Fairly normal.
What’s less normal are the amounts. He doesn’t need five boxes of protein bars, or three large tubs of yoghurt. And at what point did he think that six jars of peanut butter was a reasonable amount to buy at one time? It’s just him and his dad, and the occasional packmate wandering through the Stilinski house looking for a snack.
Three of the jars are labelled in green, and three of them are red. Because Peter’s a weirdo who thinks crunchy peanut butter is an abomination and an affront to basic decency.
“Shit,” Stiles says again, softer this time. “What if it’s… this doesn’t mean… I’m not.”
“You’re such an idiot.” Derek sighs, the insult lacking any bite, and it’s easy to imagine the weary way he’s probably rubbing at his forehead. “By the way, Malia and Lydia were here when Peter stormed in, already in full rut.”
Stiles snarls, loud and savage; someone in the next aisle gasps audibly, and the wheels of their cart rattle and squeak rapidly away. Malia’s not the reason his free hand is curled into a tight fist, bitten-down nails digging hard into his palm. She’s an omega too, but it is unbelievably rare for people to be affected by alpha or omega pheromones of their immediate family. And if by some chance they are influenced, it almost always manifests as an urge to protect, to coddle and care for, rather than anything sexual.
Lydia is a different story— an omega, one of the most breathtakingly amazing and gorgeous women Stiles has ever met, and right at this minute, competition.
“Oh yeah, you’re not in heat,” Derek says flatly. “What was I thinking. And before you ask, or wrap your Jeep around a tree trying to speed over here, Lydia’s long gone.”
Stiles doesn’t sag back against a shelf of oven-ready lasagna noodles, boneless with relief and the rush of adrenaline. He doesn’t.
“She got one whiff of Peter, and literally gagged,” Derek carries on, while Stiles just breathes for a minute. That was mortifying. What the hell? “He didn’t even look at her, but she couldn’t get out of here fast enough. Which I think also negates any half-assed excuses you might try to dream up about some other omega throwing him into rut, by mistake or otherwise.”
Other than Malia, Lydia, and him, there aren’t any other omegas in the pack, and Peter is one of only three alphas. Four, if you count Braeden as pack. The rest of them are all betas, which is to be expected, considering the beta population outnumbers the other dynamics combined. The generally accepted breakdown is something like two-thirds of people identifying as betas, with the remaining third split pretty much evenly between alphas and omegas.
Because of the suppressants, Stiles has spent most of his life basically living as a beta, enjoying a few fun extras without the hassle of worrying about his hormone cycles too often. And since it takes an exceptionally strong rush of pheromones for your average beta to identify a person’s dynamic by scent, he’s rarely been asked about it. Most betas, and thus most people, assume he’s a beta too, and that’s fine.
Weaker beta senses also mean most people assume they aren’t an open book to him— Jackson’s overbearing alpha swagger might be pretty convincing, but Stiles has known the guy's a beta since Junior High. Or, more specifically, he knows that Jackson doesn’t exude an ounce of alpha pheromones, or omega for that matter. Even on suppressants to keep his heats in check, Stiles still walks around in a haze of eau de omega every day; it takes much higher doses of different sorts of blockers to stop that shit from happening.
Stiles might hate Jackson’s guts a lot of the time, mostly because the dude’s always been an arrogant, pretentious douchebag with a cruel streak a mile wide. But he’s never said anything to refute how Jackson presents himself to the world at large, and he likes to think he never would, no matter how much Jackson pisses him off. Some people’s dynamics don’t match their hormones. Maybe Jackson really is an alpha, regardless of biology. Doesn’t make him less of an asshole.
Derek’s a beta, but also a werewolf. His senses are pretty acute because of the latter, and he’s family, so it’s not shocking that he’s bothered by the scent of Peter’s rut. If this actually is a rut. Stiles is clinging to skepticism, even if he’s hanging on by his fingernails at the moment.
Of course, Lydia smelled it too, easily. There’s still some significant, occasionally almost homicidal tension between her and Peter, but the fact that she had such a viscerally bad reaction to whatever pheromones he’s giving off is… weird.
Stiles is determined to stick with weird. There might be better explanations, but they’re so absurd, they don’t bear thinking about. There are probably a dozen different reasons for an unbonded omega to get grossed out by the scent of an unbonded alpha’s rut.
It’s supposed to be a pleasant, soothing aroma, even if there’s zero sexual desire or intent. Even if the alpha and omega are perfect strangers, or mortal enemies. It’s supposed to be a simple, unbiased biological reaction. Like how any omega should be able to calm an alpha in the throes of a rut, or any other situation where their baser instincts flare up to unmanageable levels.
Stiles used to have a synthetic rut inhaler, prescribed when he started having panic attacks, and he still remembers the warm, comforting rush. It’s not like it’s some kind of magic cure-all, but it did help keep him from fainting or having a full-on heart attack on a couple of occasions. He thinks it might still be kicking around somewhere in his room, probably crammed in the back of the drawer he tossed it in, after the first and only time Scott had gotten it mixed up with his Albuterol and almost died.
As it turns out, synthetic rut isn’t all that helpful for asthma. And when the asthmatic is an alpha like Scott? It makes things a thousand times worse. Stiles didn't take the chance of it happening again; he refused to let his own bullshit risk killing his best friend.
Maybe Lydia is just honestly so repulsed by Peter that he does smell awful to her, or more likely, she wanted to pretend he did. Maybe she didn't want to admit he could have the slightest effect on her outside of her conscious control, even though they had been making some slow strides toward a relative peace. That actually makes sense. It doesn’t have to mean that Peter is—
“And if Lydia couldn’t stand the stink of him either,” Derek says. “You have to get over here. If you and Peter started a bond, you need to—” Oh, that is not a road they’re going down. Not a chance.
“Put Peter on the phone,” Stiles says, too sharp to be polite.
“What?” Derek sounds completely thrown by the imperious interruption, faltering. “Stiles, I don’t think— Okay, you’re obviously not understanding what’s happening here. Peter isn’t talking. He’s basically just growling at this point, and he’s rounding on anyone that gets too close. Malia couldn’t calm him down at all. He actually bit me when I tried to take back my pillow. I nearly lost a thumb.”
“Derek.” The reality of this shitshow of a situation is finally kicking in, undeniably, and Stiles needs to hear Peter’s voice. “Just trust the omega, okay? Tell him it’s me, and give him the damn phone.”
“If he breaks it, I’m breaking you,” Derek says, followed by more shuffling in the background. “Peter? Peter, look, Stiles is on the phone, he wants to talk— Jesus, shit—” Sounds of a struggle ensue, but it’s only a few harried seconds before Stiles has heavy, wet panting in his ear.
“Peter?” There’s a wordless murmur, deep and rumbling and so familiar, and Stiles closes his eyes briefly. “Hey there, wolf. How’re you feeling? You okay?”
Another rough rumble answers him, but this one is tinged with a whine, tapering off miserably at the end. It makes something in Stiles’ chest clench painfully, and before he can over think things, he’s abandoning his basket in the middle of the aisle and marching towards the entrance of the store. Hopefully somebody will find it before the yoghurt is unsalvageable, but he doesn’t currently have enough focus to spare to give a shit about that.
“I’m coming,” he says, as he weaves around a pair of women and four kids crossing the automatic doors. Both of the women noticeably sniff the air when he passes, and the shorter one with the bantu knots wrinkles her nose like she just got a whiff of something nasty. “Okay, Peter? I’m on my way.”
He’s fumbling his keys out of his pocket, eating up the distance to his car in hurried, unsteady steps, when a terrible thought hits him.
“But only if you want me to.” They’ve never talked about this. Ten months of dating, and a couple more months of whatever the hell they’d been doing before that (mostly dancing around each other and driving everyone in a hundred yard radius up the wall), and they’ve never seriously discussed what they’d want to do in case of a sudden rut or heat. Because Stiles is on suppressants that have never failed once in ten years, and Peter hasn’t gone into a rut since before the fire.
Not that the second thing is common knowledge. In fact, Stiles is pretty sure he’s the only living person Peter’s told.
“Peter, are you with me?” God, he needs a real answer here, because otherwise he can’t just waltz into the rebuilt Hale house and let nature take its course, or whatever. He needs to know, and for that to happen, Peter needs to speak. “Say something, babe. You’re freaking me out here.”
“Stiles.” It’s hoarse and strung out, like his name is gravel dragged over Peter’s tongue, but it’s a start. Stiles opens the door to his Jeep, climbing into the driver’s seat, but not sticking the key in the ignition. Not yet.
“Yeah, wolf, I’m here.” He has no idea what he’s going to do if Peter doesn’t want him to come over, or isn’t able to articulate. He’s going to stay away, obviously, but other than that? Probably an agonizing amount of pacing. Screaming into a pillow. Standing in his backyard and shouting obscenities at an uncaring universe. “Listen, I don’t… I don’t want to come over if that’s not what you want. If you want to handle this on your own, or whatever, that’s okay.”
Rubbing his hand over his jaw, Stiles pushes on through the tightness threatening to strangle his voice in his throat. “This is my fault, probably. Somehow. But you gotta know that I never meant to, and I’m so sorry. I’ll help, I swear to god I’ll fix this, if you want. Or if you want me to stay the hell away, for now or— fuck, or forever, I get it. I promise. I’ll do whatever you want, Peter, okay?”
“Stiles. Shut up.” Peter’s still doing the huffing breathing. It’s very similar to the way he sounds in the sweet, sticky afterglow of particularly enthusiastic sex, when he's usually panting against Stiles’ throat or the nape of his neck. It’s Pavlovian at this point: Stiles feels heat pooling in his boxers. He’s getting wet. “I want— So much. It’s so much. Want you here. I want you.”
Yeah, definitely getting wet. Stiles bites his lip hard enough that it nearly splits, holding back a shuddery moan. Now is not the time. He’s the omega here. It’s his responsibility to keep his head on straight when alphas get rut-drunk and loopy.
“Yeah, okay.” It’s good. It’s progress, and it might be all he’s able to get, but it’s still not enough. Stiles wants to scream, because Peter sounds desperate, and maybe a little anxious, and it’s all so wrong. “Okay, babe. I just… Can you remember, before the rut got this strong, did you still want me there? Please, Peter, tell me the truth?”
“Yes,” Peter hisses. “Always. Always you.” Shit, Peter is so rut-drunk, and Stiles feels like an enormous sleaze, but he starts the Jeep anyway.
“Babe, I’m putting you on speaker.” He thumbs the button to do that, and jams the phone into the cradle he’s got mounted to the dash. Peter’s the one who bought and installed the phone cradle, after the thing with the shtriga. In emergencies, Stiles can't be trusted not to use his cell when he’s driving, and it makes a vein in Peter's forehead visibly throb.
“You still with me? Hear me okay?” he asks as he peels out of the parking lot, and Peter hums a wordless affirmative. “Hey, did you really bite Derek?”
Peter’s answering growl is mostly a laugh, raspy but clearly amused, and that touch of normality is such a relief that Stiles can hardly breathe for a second. He’s never seen Peter in rut, and they’ve never really discussed it. Even if they had, Stiles isn’t sure he’d know what to expect anyway. Some alphas handle it better than others, while some get utterly devastated by their instincts. The ruts Peter remembers from his early twenties might be miles away from what’s happening now, especially after so long without experiencing one.
“Didn’t even want it,” Peter says, and it might be wishful thinking, but he sounds a bit clearer now that Stiles is talking him down. Still grumbly, not as articulate as normal, but less stoned out of his freaking mind on alpha juice. “The pillow, it reeks. Took it anyway. Tore it open, threw it out the window. Asshole deserved it.”
“Oh god,” Stiles says, choking on his own laughter, and heads toward the Preserve. Derek has gradually been embracing a less punishingly ascetic lifestyle over the last year or so, ever since he’d decided to sell his misery loft, buy back the Hale property, and rebuild. He isn’t in the same league as Peter when it comes to shameless hedonism, but he did shell out for some creature comforts, including very nice feather pillows. Very nice, very expensive feather pillows that had probably smelled at least a little like Braeden, which Peter wouldn’t be able to stand at the moment. “Man, you know, you could try to be nicer when you’re ransacking his house.”
“No,” Peter scoffs, and Stiles can hear him rustling around with something. “Said he was going to spray me with the hose, so. Lucky I didn’t tear him open. I have… I needed to build. A safe place.” There’s a snarl, a thud, and then Peter’s speaking again. “Where are you? This is— fuck. This is so stupid. Why am I— stupid, so idiotic. Nothing’s right, the smells, and I can’t think—”
Pressing down harder on the gas, Stiles silently begs any higher power that might be listening to please let him avoid getting pulled over by one of his dad’s deputies. Peter’s getting agitated again, and if Stiles gets caught in a traffic stop, even if it’s just a warning, he’s more than a little concerned that he’ll end up with a rut-drunk werewolf boyfriend hunting him down from across town. He’d rather not explain that while also trying to talk his way out of another speeding ticket.
“I’m nearly there,” Stiles says, which isn’t a lie, since he’s probably less than ten minutes away now, depending on whether or not he hits traffic. Or a speed trap. Still, it feels too far. “And it’s not stupid, what you’re doing. It’s good. Tell me about what you built—”
“Don’t fucking patronize me!” Any louder, and that would have been a bone-rattling roar, not just a shout. As jarring as it is echoing through the cab of the Jeep, Stiles is immensely glad for speaker phone. He’s not a fan of tinnitus.
“Hey,” he snaps, raising his own voice maybe half as much. The other end of the line is deathly silent. “Don’t even start that shit with me, Peter, I swear to god. I’m not patronizing you, for fucksake. I’m asking you what kind of den you think is good enough for this sweet little omega ass, because let me tell you, I’m expecting some quality here. Something worth my notice.”
It’s a gamble, but Stiles is running on a heady mix of impulse and instinct now.
“Somewhere I can get very, very comfortable. But only if you play your cards right.” His words are coming low and slow now, all sly and goading. “Impress me, alpha.”
Peter’s quiet for a moment, just long enough to make Stiles hyper-aware of his own hammering heartbeat. If playing to Peter’s primal drives to help him focus and calm down is a monumental misstep, he has no idea how to salvage this.
“You’re such,” Peter says finally. “Such a little shit. The worst.” And it’s perfect. It’s still Peter, not just some grunting alpha knothead, falling all over himself to pander to his omega. Stiles has never wanted that crap. It’s one of the main reasons he’s stayed on suppressants for so long, when most omegas his age are more than eager to enjoy the less carnal benefits of their heats, even if they don’t want to get fucked until they can’t walk. A few days of getting doted on by any alpha in range, every three months or so, is supposed to be some kind of payoff for the period cramps, and the bloating, and everything else that’s sort of shitty about their dynamic.
Stiles can understand that it’s fun, and it’s not really hurting anybody, but it’s not his thing. His suppressants are gentle enough that he still sometimes deals with an overeager alpha holding doors for him or trying to pay for his coffee. It only happens rarely, but it’s ridiculous.
But Stiles is self-aware enough to grudgingly admit that it doesn’t seem quite as ridiculous when it’s Peter doing the indulgent alpha thing. It should be stupid— Peter’s apparently gone the old school, traditional route and decided to make a freaking den, by stripping every soft surface in Derek’s house and piling his misappropriated loot into what Stiles can’t help but imagine as the classiest, most extravagant pillow fort known to modern man. God, it should be laughable, but Stiles’ knuckles are bleached white where he’s gripping the steering wheel, and a glance in the rear-view mirror confirms that the warmth crawling up his face is a splotchy pink flush. He’s itchy, and so slick that he won’t be surprised if he leaves a goddamn wet spot on the seat, even through his boxers and pants.
“Yeah. But I’m so cute, though,” Stiles says, turning off the paved road and onto the packed dirt of Preserve. The new Hale house isn’t built over the foundations of the old, literally or figuratively, but it’s still in the middle of freaking nowhere. “C’mon, wolf, what’d you make me? Is it nice? Does it have Netflix?”
“Wait and see, brat.”
“Aw, tell me!” Sucking his top lip for a second, Stiles can taste salt. He’s sweaty. His shirt clings damply to the small of his back every time he shifts gears. “Tell me, Peter, tell me, tell me—”
“Not going to work,” Peter says, and it sounds like he’s smiling.