It doesn’t take long for Peter to realize something is wrong with Derek.
Peter had expected he would need a little time for readjustment after Kate’s death. It was a big change. A catharsis, of a sort, followed by an uneasiness with the remaining Argents. But Derek is still spending too much time away from the pack. He’s too helpful when he is there, and Peter might be the only uncle in the world to complain about his nephew being too on point, and certainly the only Alpha.
The tipping point comes when Derek starts picking Stiles up after lacrosse practice and comes back smelling like locker room; sweat and soap scum, harsh cleaners, the scent of dozens and dozens of boys, and Stiles most of all. Peter would think about being jealous, if Stiles weren’t bent towards an excess of loyalty, and if Derek didn't smell so frustrated.
It's laughably easy to find Derek at lacrosse practice one afternoon, to lope through the woods around the field until Peter sees him tucked under a tree. At least faintly inconspicuous; he's learning.
Derek ducks his head a little when Peter steps up next to him.
"I wondered what had your attention lately," Peter says, and Derek averts his eyes from the field. Not quick enough to really make a difference. "Whittemore?"
"Jackson," Derek offers. "He's co-captain with Stiles."
Peter's nostrils flare. "Ah. He did smell familiar."
They sit in silence for a moment.
“It’s difficult,” Peter says. “To think about expanding the pack.”
After losing the family they had. After Laura. Stiles was an accident, a stroke of some kind of luck - to bring someone else in so deliberately, with forethought, feels like a leap. And Derek never was good at asking for things.
"He looks strong. Driven."
"He is." He smells like blood, Derek wants to say, and not the kind that washes away easily. Like something primal, something sunk into his bones too deeply to ever remove. Something that Derek is attuned to, too ready to seek out on his own to ever miss. "He's - "
After a moment Peter appears to take pity on him. "We do need to build the pack. You know three isn't nearly enough."
Three is a problem. Two was alright for Derek and Laura because it was family. Because it was small - no one would mistake them for a threat. Just an alpha and a beta, passing through, running from something, not looking for anymore trouble. But a growing pack attracts attention, one way or another, and an Alpha with only two Betas isn’t nearly strong enough. Before the fire, Derek's family had thirteen full members, werewolves with a sprinkling of humans. If they're going to stay in Beacon Hills - and Derek can't see them running -
"We need to be stronger."
"Much stronger," Peter agrees, and claps him on the back. "Why don't you go back to the house? I'm sure Stiles can find his own way home."
Derek nods. He knows when he's dismissed, even as he relishes the weight of the Alpha's hand on his back.
There's someone delicately running his hand through Stiles's hair, and isn't this a flashback.
"Mrrrph," Stiles groans, and blinks up from his nest of blankets. "Why -"
"Just wanted to talk," Peter says, and slides under the sheets with him before Stiles can blink. Peter is fast for a werewolf - very fast for an Alpha, Derek told him once - and sometimes Stiles still has a hard time keeping up.
"Sowhassup," Stiles slurs, all one word, as Peter tucks Stiles neatly underneath his chin. Stiles's arms slide around his neck, soft and easy, and he yawns. "Been 'while since we did this." For good reason, really. Ticking off Stiles’s dad is not on either of their list of priorities. The teenage werewolf life does not do well with a strict curfew.
"I wanted to pick your delightful little brain about a few things."
Stiles tries to stifle a yawn into the hollow of Peter’s collarbones. "You said. This have anything to do with why Derek wasn't there after practice today?"
Peter smiles into the top of Stiles's head. "Observant."
"S'why you keep me around," and he gets the best little shiver of pleasure from knowing that's not actually why at all. "Also he smells of leather, like, constantly. So."
"We've talked about the pack."
"Expanding," Stiles murmurs, and he doesn't remember that talk entirely fondly. 'Needing more' still sounds a lot like 'needing better than you', and that’s pretty much Stiles’s sore spot. "Sounds like you've made up your mind."
“Not entirely,” Peter says. “Well. I wanted your input on our plan of attack.”
“I’m assuming you don’t mean that literally. Consent's on the table, right?"
"Of course," Peter says. He isn't even mad that Stiles asked. Like that was a perfectly reasonable question. Stiles realizes the inherent problem there, but then again - o brave new world. "I have better things to do than chase down a bunch of wayward betas." The way his hand has slid to the front of Stiles's boxers, cupping his half-hard cock, said a lot about Peter's current priorities. "I'm sure you can be quiet enough not to disturb your father."
"Yes," Stiles blurts, and he can - particularly on nights like this, when his dad passes out on the couch after watching American Pickers. Snoring like a banshee. "Quiet as a church mouse," he says earnestly, and Stiles can hear the whisper of Peter's smirk against his hair.
It doesn’t take much for Stiles - never does, he thinks, and it's only partly annoyance. He doesn't know if it's the overlap between sixteen and beta, or if it's just Peter, if it's just Stiles, but there's a baseline of absolute bliss in just this moment - humping up against Peter's leg, his hand, as needy as he was that first time. A puppy begging for bellyrubs, and even the cloud of shameful embarrassment doesn’t dampen his enjoyment. Maybe adds to it, in some mildly sick way.
Hey, Stiles has literally never claimed to be alright upstairs, okay? Never. Don’t try to pin this on him.
Afterwards, Stiles is once again tucked up under Peter’s chin. The smell of warm and safe and sex, a home that isn't Stiles's home, but very close. He's slightly taller than Peter, but it matters less when they're horizontal and Stiles has his nose tucked into the hollow of Peter's throat, his knees bent slightly, to curl up and around. He can hear his father downstairs, restless, but not really awake. Dreaming.
"So," Stiles says, and snuggles closer. He noses at Peter's Adam's apple - a vicious thrill, sometimes, his teeth at his Alpha's throat. "New beta, huh? Is this like getting a new sibling, or - uh, distinctly not a sibling?"
Peter seems to hear the question Stiles doesn't ask. He always does. "Depends on the beta. On the pack. We were much more typical, before."
Before the fire, of course. Before everything changed, before they lost everything. It would be strange, wouldn't it, to try to make it exactly the same? The only person Stiles has ever lost is his mother, and he always thought it would be strange to replace her. Cruel to ask him to.
"Then again,” Peter continues, with something not quite a sigh, “we were mostly related before."
"Two out of three ain't bad, huh."
Peter rolls his eyes. "You'll be happy to know I have no interest in your father."
"Been there, done that." His dad really did have some awesome shotgun skills. Stiles was definitely going to get his dad to take him to the range one of these days. Claws and fangs were awesome, don't get him wrong, but there was something to be said for having a long range offensive. "So who are we gunning for?"
"Jackson Whittemore," Peter says. "And it was Derek's suggestion."
“Suggestion or stalking victim?” Stiles asks, and squints a little before his forehead clears. “Jackson. Huh. I… can see it? Kinda?” Stiles doesn’t not like Jackson, shockingly. He's a good co-captain, and Stiles could count on him when the chips were down, like the night at the high school when Kate had them pinned in. The way he took care of Lydia, his friendship with Danny - Stiles suspected there was a surprisingly decent dude behind all the douchebaggery. Although lots of douchebaggery, to be fair. “He’s kind of a big Alpha in the high school pond, though. If you’ll let me mix a metaphor.”
“Allowed,” Peter says, generously. “We need to build the pack, but I’d prefer we keep mistakes to a minimum."
"Haste makes waste, repent at leisure, etcetera, etcetera," Stiles says, and yawns.
"Precisely," Peter says.
The only thing Stiles does the next day at school is watch Jackson.
Okay, no, not the only thing. Obviously. They only have four classes together, and Harris decided to give them a pop quiz because he is so entirely evil that Stiles thinks, sometimes, about slashing his tires, and only occasionally about tearing out his throat. Not really. Kidding. Probably shouldn't indulge his homicidal influences even in his head.
But he watches Jackson, and by extension Danny and Lydia, and then Scott starts giving him the eyebrow raise, like, 'does your boyfriend know you're looking at Lydia again?', which - Scott has been, overall, fairly understanding about the whole werewolf thing, but he's a little less on board with the Peter thing. Which is understandable, considering there was that brief period of time Peter went around terrorizing people into getting Stiles to join his pack. Peter's got boundary issues. They're working on it. Point is, Scott needs to keep his trap shut, because the last thing Stiles needs is Peter twitching at the dinner table while "subtly" mentioning seeing Lydia at Macy's, or wherever he stalks her to this time.
"Don't give me that look," Stiles says. "I'm researching."
"Lydia's measurements?" Scott asks tartly, and Stiles is never going to forgive Melissa for getting them hooked on Ugly Betty. Not that Stiles doesn't admire Wilhemina's snark.
"Jackson's, actually," Stiles shoots back, because there is a face Scott makes that can always be accurately labeled 'puzzling out the mechanics of gay sex' and it never fails to make him laugh. "I told you that packs are stronger together, right? Well, the bigger the pack, the stronger we are. So."
"So you're picking Jackson?" and Scott's tone of horror is not entirely undeserved. Jackson is a douche. But if there's anything Stiles has learned in these past few months, it's that however people choose to display themselves usually has little to do with the person underneath. Stiles understand that - he’s got a mask for his father, a mask for school. A mask for Scott, even when Stiles is too weird or annoying or just pretending he isn't feeling ignored. He's not saying Jackson doesn't act like a douchebag - because he does - or that he might not be an even bigger douchebag under all the outer layers of douchebaggery - because he very well might be - but he's worth a second look. He's certainly worth a second look for Derek.
Peter and Stiles love Derek, and Derek loves them, but it isn't the same. They know. It's unspoken, sure, but they all know. Peter is enamored with Stiles - his first, his perfect beta - and Peter is Stiles's Alpha, the center of his universe, and Derek only orbits the outside of them. Derek deserves something of his own - to have someone to himself, someone wholly and utterly his. He deserves that. And if that happens to be Jackson, otherwise useless? Well, there's a lot of dead weight Stiles would carry for Derek.
"Well, who would you pick?" Stiles shoots back, and Scott opens his mouth. Shuts it again.
"Good point," he says, and goes back to his PB&J.
Peter listens to what Stiles tells him about Jackson. That’s he adopted, extremely rich, near the top of his class if not quite the smartest. At the top of the high school food chain and holding onto it with an iron grip. Co-captain of the lacrosse team, ex-boyfriend to Lydia Martin - and that’s a point in his favor, if nothing else. Lydia didn't seem the type to suffer fools lightly.
"Loyal," Stiles says after a moment. "If he thinks you're worth it - which, most people aren't, apparently, but he's been Danny's best friend for years. I don't remember if I ever told you about Danny? He's our goalie on the lacrosse team, and he's an awesome dude, but he's gay, so -"
"Teenagers are cruel," Peter infers, and Stiles nods. Head jerking up and down like a puppet on a string.
"Teenagers are horrible. I mean, you wanna talk about monsters? Which - wow, jocks being jerks, special news report at eleven - but Jackson gave everything they served back, tenfold. Then had his dad call up the school and threaten them with a lawsuit if they didn't get their shit together about Danny."
"Jackson's father is a lawyer?"
Stiles shrugs. "Yeah. I forget exactly what his mom does, but something equally impressive, I'm sure."
“It’s something to consider.”
"Could be useful though, right?" Stiles asks, grin and eyes bright. "Having a lawyer in the family?"
"If he's worth it." Derek's mother had been a doctor, once upon a time. Stiles's father is the Sheriff. Peter can't say the idea of branching out around Beacon Hills doesn’t appeal.
What Peter learns on his own is that Jackson is driven. Remarkably in control, for how afraid he is all the time - another thing he'll have to teach Stiles to sniff out more properly, the fear, because the fear was certainly worth mentioning - and that, more than anything else, he wants a place to belong. Unequivocally. Perhaps not entirely surprising, considering his issues around being adopted, but an easy fix. all old. Everyone else is going about it all wrong. His parents are lax and giving and easy when Jackson wants rules and structure and expectations. They want him to be happy, and Jackson won't be happy until he's the best, and no one is willing to tell him what that means.
Peter can tell him. Peter has a very exact idea.
"He's perfect," is what Peter announces, one night, and Stiles grins. There's a - a wave of scent from Derek, so fast and sudden that Stiles can't even parse it all out. Mostly good. Definitely mostly good. But also scared, maybe. Or nervous.
"Aw." Stiles runs over to tackle Derek in a flying hug. Derek catches him while looking annoyed about it, shoulders stiff. Stiles just hugs harder. “We’re going to be a foursome," and Derek stiffens more. "Don't give me that, I'm not the one who wants to sleep with him."
Peter purses his lips.
"Much," Stiles amends, taking a step back. "Pretty sure. You've all seen him, my teenage hormones can't be held totally responsible," and Derek begins to growl.
"Stiles," Peter chides, gently, and Stiles sighs.
"Fine. I know. Besides, I think we're counting our chickens before they hatch. Or wolves before they turn. I mean, we are, aren't we? We're not just going to go bite him? Because that's the dumbest plan I've ever heard of, just sayin'."
The quirk of Peter's eyebrows says he agrees, but Derek growls again. "Why?"
"Uh, because Jackson is kind of an entitled jackass? Don't get me wrong, I want him to be our entitled jackass, but he's the kind of guy who's gotten everything his whole life and he still thinks the world owes him. You show him werewolf speed and strength, and he's going to want it, and he's not going to care about anything else. He's not going to care about pack."
From the way Derek clenches his jaw, Stiles knows he's made his point.
"We'll simply have to be a little more patient," Peter says. "Which I know is going to be supremely difficult for you," and this time Derek's growl has a much more human grit to it.
Stiles throws himself back into Peter’s lap, legs haphazardly sprawled. "So, not to be a downer, but how do we even do this? Because Jackson doesn't even know werewolves exist. Which on one hand is good; because if we can't keep a high school student from figuring it out we're going to have bigger problems - " Peter snorts, delicately. "But seriously! You were both born into it, and I got the crash course, which I personally do not recommend. And Jackson - I dunno. I told you, I veto the shock and awe option."
"So what do you suggest?"
Stiles jerks his shoulders. Bites on the inside of cheek. "What do you usually do?"
"You can be pack and not be a werewolf." Peter's pause is almost infinitesimal. "Or become pack before you're a werewolf."
Stiles brow clears. "Ah. So then I get to be the point man on this one."
"Well, yeah. It's not like Jackson even knows either of you yet. We'll have to call it... co-captain bonding. Maybe get Finstock in on it." Stiles let his head rest against Peter's shoulder. "He's lonely, you know." Stiles has smelled it on Jackson before - despair. He tries not to think of how often he smells it on his father. "But he's still not going to make it easy."
"It wouldn't be any good if it was easy," Peter says. "You weren't exactly a cakewalk, if you remember."
"Like you didn't love the chase."
Derek rolls his eyes.
"Aw, c'mon sour wolf. Can't pretend you didn't have a little fun too."
"I'm not looking for fun," Derek says sullenly, and Stiles has to roll his eyes, because Derek never is. He really needs to get over that.