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Stiles doesn't know when everybody fell in love and committed to themselves to relationships and generally became disgustingly happy, but he missed the bus. Majorly.

It seems to happen very suddenly. One minute, he's a bumbling teenager and all of his friends are the same and they're all stupidly single together, and the next, he's stuffed in a college dorm room one pair of sweatpants away from never getting laid again while everyone he knows forms meaningful, deep relationships that satisfy and fulfill them. And in the wake of all this happiness that isn't his, Stiles is left to wonder exactly where he went wrong.

It wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for his dad. He's only in college and he's still young and he has plenty of time to find himself an obnoxious romance to bother single people with, but he's been in a lot of... unsuccessful relationships (alternatively: total disasters) recently, some rougher than others, and it's caused his father to start worrying about him, if he's handling all his catastrophic break-ups well, if he's still alone, if he has anyone around to take care of him yet.

Stiles is a grown man who doesn't need anyone to take care of him. He wouldn't, however, mind getting sucked off now and again, and that hasn't happened in too long. Much too long.

Ultimately, he should've known better than to air these problems to someone like Isaac.

"You know, you can hire someone to help you out with that."

They're in Stiles' dorm room, even though it does feel a little stuffed with two fully grown people inside it when it clearly only has a half a person capacity. Stiles has his phone out, his father's newly arrived text message—How's your dating life going? Met anyone interesting lately?—burning holes into his eyes while Isaac puts his feet up on Stiles' made bed. Okay, fine, half-assedly made bed.

"Thanks," Stiles says dryly, sliding his phone into his pocket. "Not sure I'm ready to turn to prostitution just yet." His dignity is still somewhat intact and paying for something he's previously gotten for free seems like it might be the last punch to that particular piñata before his self-respect crumbles.

"It's not that," Isaac dismisses. "There are businesses out there. Companies that will give you the illusion of having a boyfriend.”

“What? What kind of sick joke is that?”

“Most people don’t take it seriously. It’s just to ward off people who keep asking them why they’re single. Like your dad.”

Stiles scrubs his hands over his face. “You want me to purchase a service that helps me convince my dad I’m happily in a relationship? That doesn’t sound all kinds of fucked up to you?”

“Well,” Isaac says, and his mouth twists into a smile that Stiles considers slapping him in the balls for. “You could always go and actually get yourself a relationship. But this seems more realistic.”

“Thanks for that,” Stiles says, his mouth a flat line.

“Just check it out.”

Without bothering to ask, Isaac leans over Stiles' desk and opens up a new tab on his computer's browser, typing in the address of this freakshow website. When it loads a moment later, Stiles is almost surprised. It's definitely more professional than he expected, nothing like the low-quality homemade mess with a Craigslist-like template he was mentally picturing, all of it full of modern fonts and sleek animations that does make it all seem more reputable. It's called Invisible Boyfriend and does seem to be a real, honest business.

Still.

"This is just as creepy as I thought it would be," Stiles says, refusing to show interest. "How do you even know about this?"

Isaac shrugs. "Heard about it online."

Start up now with a discounted trial, the front page says. Receive text message, voicemails, emails, and even postcards to create the impression of a strong, loving relationship. He scrolls down where there are several stock images of what seem to be happy, desperate people smiling at all the money they dumped into this disturbing idea. For a small fee, get those pesky people asking if you're single off your back, or get some extra companionship in your life in the form of an invisible, electronic boyfriend.

On a deranged level, Stiles supposes it's not a bad idea. If he could've whipped out a fake lover who sent him caring texts and left him sweet voicemails back in high school, he could've made a lot of people jealous and reaped in the rewards. All right, probably not, but he sees the point here, and definitely the appeal.

“I’m not doing this. This is weird as fuck,” Stiles says, pulling back when he feels Isaac's eyes on him. “Get the hell out of here.”

Ten minutes after Isaac leaves, Stiles pulls the site back open and makes an account.

He decides he’ll just try it out, just to see how it goes. The website seems legitimate and despite the fact that this is a plan straight out of Isaac’s misguided bag of tricks, Stiles is willing to give it a try. He clicks on the button that says BUILD HIM NOW! and gets forwarded to a screen where he basically gets to build himself a partner. Like a fucked up, adult version of build-a-bear, except he doesn’t get to watch this guy get stuffed and sewn up. This is ludicrous.

He clicks through a few terms and conditions, the summary concluding that he's not allowed to send sexy, inappropriate messages to his beau, filthy words will get his account pinged, his boyfriend is designed to stick to his role and not step out, and the company reserves the right to monitor their text message conversations at any time. It feels a little Big Brother-y, but Stiles figures that this is their circus, their monkeys, he's just here with a ticket and might as well go with it.

After checking the "I Agree" box a few hundred times, he gets to the good part. The designing a man, from his name to what he looks like to what his interests are, like he's just procrastinating and playing Sims here, except much weirder, and much less socially acceptable.

He can’t do this unless he’s going to be ridiculous about it, so he types in a grand, pompous Leonardo Maxwell Grunswick for his boyfriend’s name and continues. He sounds like the kind of stuffy kid who Stiles would’ve avoided growing up, somebody loaded who is extremely proud of his private school education, wears elbow-patched sweaters, and frequently rides horses with the queen in England.

He decides that Leonardo is twenty-five, and despite growing up in the lap of luxury, has defied all his family’s expectations and has become a weight-lifting bouncer who also has a band he plays with a few music-loving pals, in which he aggressively plays the piano. He gets to pick out a face for Leonardo out of the hundreds of selfies available, and settles on one that looks trustworthy but with a hidden wild side, traits Stiles could pick out based on a) his meticulously white teeth and b) surprisingly bouncy hairdo.

It doesn’t end there, though. He then gets to put together an entire personality for his boyfriend, and it’s all so extensive that Stiles feels like he’s putting together an alternate personality in case he ever has to hide from the law more than actually dicking around on the internet putting together a faux partner. It’s almost overwhelming. He stares at the page for a while and the different personality types offered, trying to figure out if his boyfriend should be "saucy and sarcastic," or if Stiles is saucy and sarcastic enough for the two of them, before then vacillating between "witty and educational" and "lovingly nerdy" before he has to proverbially knock on his skull a few times and remember that none of this matters. He finally settles on "fun and adventurous" and moves the fuck on.

He decides Leonardo's interests involve debate club, working out, singing, books, and video games. He actually sounds like a pretty appealing person by the time Stiles is done and thirty dollars poorer, not to mention that his invisible boyfriend might actually text him back more than any of his past real boyfriends ever did. Stiles also decides he lives in Beacon Hills, isn't commitment-shy but likes to sit on important decisions, and likes trips to old-times bowling alleys, the more he adds making everything feel that much more—almost frighteningly—real. Stiles was even able to write a fill-in-the-blank-esque story as to how they met: at the supermarket, he decides, because how cute yet realistic is that, and realism is key here.

He gets a confirmation email after he's all done, including an attached manual that comes with his new boyfriend that makes him feel disturbingly like a Ken doll. The rules are simple: no sexting, no pictures, and only one hundred texts unless he buys more for an additional ten bucks per hundred. This is going to be the easiest relationship he’s ever maintained; he’s sure of it.

The first message from the Super Boyfriend Stiles has meticulously put together buzzes in about seven minutes later. It feels a little like opening up a Christmas present you pretend you haven’t already found three weeks earlier in the laundry closet when Stiles swipes his phone open to see what it says.

Leonardo @ 1:04pm: Hi Stiles, this is Leonardo. How are you?

Stiles looks at it.

He's suddenly overwhelmingly aware of the fact that this isn't a robot, it's a real person. Somebody whose day job is to romantically please and cheerfully entertain desperate strangers. His palms get a little sweaty as he tries to figure out what to write back. He has the strong urge to clarify that he's not doing this to fall prey to a self-purchased delusion.

Stiles @ 1:09pm: Hi! I'm Stiles.

Stiles @ 1:09pm: Sorry if this something I'm not supposed to do but I just wanted to make it clear that I'm only doing this to show people who are bugging me about being in a relationship.

Leonardo doesn't respond. Stiles wonders for a second if he's broken the rules since Leo's supposed to pretend all of this is a hundred percent real, or if he's perhaps hurt Leonardo's feelings by being so blasé about why he's even bought these services in the first place, but it's hard to feel too concerned about a nameless, faceless entity that's possibly thousands of miles away.

Stiles @ 1:11pm: Anyway, I'm good. How are you?

Leonardo @ 1:12pm: Thanks for the disclaimer. It isn't necessary, though. Whatever you use this for isn't my business.

All right. Stiles' boyfriend seems a little cold, which is a little on the nose for the type he typically ends up with, and that doesn't feel like a good sign only a few minutes into their relationship.

Stiles @ 1:14pm: Well okay.

He sends that off wondering if he's doing a supreme job of wasting his hundred text messages here, and decides he's going to keep this thing with Leo brusque and short and not indulge in this any more than he needs to. It'll make him feel better in the long run anyway if he doesn't interact too much with him, even if Stiles is curious, mostly because otherwise, he'll be eaten up with nagging thoughts of who exactly is on the other side of their conversations, and those thoughts won't always be rosy. The second he starts wondering if Leonardo is a wrinkly old pervert of a man or some thirteen-year-old kid with a part-time job and a rampant imagination, he won't be able to mentally step back from those assumptions.

So he might as well keep this as professional as possible. He's not exactly a professional person, not when his very nature is to dig and blurt and stick his nose where it shouldn't be, but for his own sanity here, he really ought to put a plug on that curiosity he has telling himself to figure out who's on the other side of this phone, how different they look from the picture Stiles chose to physically represent him, why they're doing such a ridiculous job in the first place. Leonardo's not allowed to answer, and Stiles shouldn't care less anyway. This is a temporary arrangement, and it's not like he needs more people in his life to nag and bother and talk to. He has enough, so he's setting himself a rule to stick to the story he's made and leave it at that.

It doesn’t take him very long to break this rule.

--

He’s sitting in his psychology lecture one day later, bored out of his mind and tired of trying to play Pokemon Go in a barren classroom, when he decides to check in on how his boyfriend is doing.

It’s part curiosity, part because nobody else is texting him back about the conspiracy theory documentary he watched last night and he needs entertainment. When he signed up, he was told that his boyfriend would basically be at his beck and call, would always respond to his messages in a timely manner, and he could really use a conversation right now slightly more interesting than the one his professor is trying to encourage about the theories of B.F. Skinner on operant conditioning.

Besides, this is what Stiles paid for. To have convincing evidence to show people that he has an actual, viable boyfriend, and that evidence isn’t going to make itself. They haven’t talked since yesterday when Stiles gave Leonardo the lowdown on his situation, and ever since then he’s been sitting silently in his phone in his backpack like a person Stiles has hidden in there.

He rolls his phone around in his hands for a little bit while the people around him take notes nod off before he decides to just fuck it. He’s going to give his icy boyfriend another chance to make a good impression.

Stiles @ 3:32pm: Hey.

Stiles @ 3:32pm: Have you seen the new Star Wars?

Leonardo @ 3:36pm: I haven't. I'm a fan of the series though.

Stiles @ 3:37pm: Prequels or originals? ;)

Leonardo @ 3:37pm: Do I even have to answer?

Stiles @ 3:38pm: I don't know... Ewan McGregor is pretty hot...

Leonardo @ 3:38pm: I'm getting jealous.

Stiles @ 3:39pm: Ha ha! No reason. You're the one that I want.

Leonardo @ 3:40pm: Ooh, ooh, ooh.

Stiles @ 3:40pm: A Grease fan, and an original Star Wars fan, huh? You must be a big fan of seventies movies.

Leonardo @ 3:41pm: My all time favorite is actually Gone With The Wind.

Stiles @ 3:42pm: Okay, grandpa. Why?

Leonardo @ 3:44pm: It's realistic. There's love, but it's lost. There's life, and it's lost too. That's true to life.

Stiles @ 3:45pm: Yeah, but sometimes the whole point of watching a movie is to sort of escape life. Watch something totally cool that could never happen in reality that we can kind of vicariously experience.

Leonardo @ 3:46pm: Like intergalactic wars high above earth on space shuttles?

Stiles @ 3:46pm: Totally.

Leonardo @ 3:48pm: What exactly in your life do you need escaping from?

Stiles @ 3:49pm: Lots of stuff. School. Family. Myself.

Leonardo @ 3:49pm: Yourself?

Stiles @ 3:50pm: Yeah. I know it sounds dumb. It's just that nothing interesting ever happens to me, just the people around me. I guess I kind of just end up feeling useless.

Leonardo @ 3:51pm: Nobody's completely useless.

Stiles @ 3:52pm: Just halfway maybe?

Leonardo @ 3:52pm: That's true for some people. Not you.

Stiles @ 3:52pm: Why not?

Leonardo @ 3:53pm: You have potential. And I'm sure you know that.

Stiles @ 3:53pm: Aw. What a sweet boyfriend I have.

His thumbs freeze right after he sends it. He immediately wishes he had an undo button, something to erase the mistake his brain has just tricked him into making. Talking to what is, by all means, a relationship decoy, a faceless stranger, a sweet-talking actor, like he’s real is weird and dangerous. Texting him this much is weird and dangerous. The standard package is only one hundred text messages for a reason; this isn’t a friendly service meant to acquaint him with lonely people around the world looking to chat. This is all a show that he agreed to take part in but not watch, a story he paid for, and here he is standing backstage but forgetting he’s not actually in the audience.

Then all of a sudden, Leonardo chimes in.

Leonardo @ 3:55pm: That’s what I’m here for.

Everyone getting to their seats and stuffing their things into their bags alerts Stiles, reminds him that it's somehow already four and class is over. He looks at his phone like he's done something he shouldn't have, like befriend a museum statue really just there for show, and he pushes it into his backpack and doesn't write back as he winds his way out the door.

He decides he'll just doodle the next time he gets bored in class.

--

The news of Stiles' changed free-agent stratus spreads quickly, which would be a good thing—and kind of the whole point—if said news didn't also travel with the side note that the entire thing is a big fat sham.

“Isaac told me about your pretend boyfriend,” Scott says while they grab dinner one night later and wait in line at their favorite pizza place on campus. It's loud and smells deliciously like oil and seems like much too sacred a place to talk about Stiles' questionable choices and what road the internet has gone down and if it's helping or harming society at this point.

“He did, did he?”

“Did you end up going through with it?”

“Maybe,” Stiles mumbles. "It's not a big deal. Just to get my dad to chill about me finding love."

“Wouldn't it be easier to just... find love?”

Stiles pulls on his hoodie strings, frowning. “Did Isaac tell you to say that?”

“What? No!”

“Well, as it so happens, my invisible relationship is currently going better than any real relationship I've ever had, so no, this is definitely easier.” Besides, this lie isn't for Stiles, it isn't to give him the faux comfort of artificial intimacy, it's to fool everybody else. Like a master prank that only he gets to pull the strings to. “There are hardly any expectations. He doesn't mind if I'm in my pajamas when we talk. And he can't randomly dump me for someone hotter.”

“You don't think it'd be nicer to have a real guy around?”

Of course it'd be fucking nicer. Of course Stiles would prefer real, authentic human affection to the virtual equivalent of a blow up doll and all the false security it provides, but this isn't about him, and it isn't for him either. It's for all the people who think he's just half a person without being in a relationship, when really, he's just fine and fully complete on his own. He fiddled with the end of a thread on his hoodie's neckline, aggravated.

“I'm not—I'm not lonely,” Stiles says as they scoot up in line. “I'm not desperate for a boyfriend. This isn't me, like, downgrading from real life.” He shrugs, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “And you know what, it's been kind of fun.”

“What has?”

He shrugs again. “Talking with this guy. He's funny. And there isn't any pressure to like... be someone impressive.”

“You are impressive.”

“No, everybody around me is impressive, and I just ride on their coat tails.” Rather randomly, Stiles realizes he's the Chandler Bing of his friends. Gets by on his sense of humor but is, for the most part, a little pathetic. If anyone ever offers him a position in data reconfiguration, he's saying no. Firmly. “Anyway, that's not even the point. The point is that it's kind of neat that I have this total stranger around who I can always talk to who I don't have to worry about wooing or scaring off.”

“You can talk to me.”

“I know, but—you know me. And you're always nice to me.” At Scott's increasingly confused brow, he continues. “He doesn't. He's totally unbiased. He doesn't just tell me what he thinks I want to hear.”

“And you're paying for this?”

“It's nice. He's cool.” And he's made up and can never see Stiles in person or Netflix and chill with him, but oddly enough, none of that even feels important here. Just this morning, without him having to initiate anything, Leo shot him a have a good day text followed by a reminder to use deodorant and eat a big breakfast, and even reeking of cheeky sarcasm, Stiles found it... strangely uplifting. Nice. “And it's not like I'm falling in love with him or anything so you don't have to worry.”

"What?"

Stiles avoids digging deeper under that particular rock—why the fuck did he lift it in the first place—by taking hold of the convenient distraction the universe grants him with the line coming to an end. Stiles hurries up to the counter and puts their order in for two jumbo pepperoni-topped slices, busying himself by pulling out his wallet and spending longer than entirely necessary on fiddling with the bills.

"Kind of weird, though, isn't it?" Scott asks, handing over his own share of the bill and sliding it across the counter. "I mean, you have no idea who the guy is."

Stiles frowns down into the leathery folds of his wallet, counting the dirty coins gathered there. Scott and his judgment have a lot of nerve. Scott's standing there with a lovebite on his neck and that alone is offensive, really, so it shouldn't be that hard for him to wrap his head around Stiles dating the electronic version of a hug pillow. This is more of a transaction than anything else, and he's certainly not stupid enough to get legitimately involved with whoever's on the end of these messages, even if he is intrigued as to who it actually is. Maybe he's a psychopath. Maybe he's a bored convict on house arrest. Then again, he likes Star Wars and is a pretty competent flatterer, so how bad could he be, really?

"You know," Scott says gently. "I could find someone to set you up with. There's this nice guy in my physics class who—"

"No," Stiles shoots down instantly. "I don't need set-ups. I'm fine. I'm happy being single, and me pretending to date someone is not some weird, misguided cry for help."

"Are you sure, because I think you two would really—"

"No," Stiles says again, this time with extra feeling. He can't help wondering if there's a tiny voice in the back of his head saying it's because he's not ready, not yet, or if he's imagining it. After his last relationship, he should probably stay at least fifty feet away from all eligible bachelors, like some sort of detonatable grenade only affecting the dateable. "But thanks. I appreciate the sentiment."

He ignores Scott's worried look, the pinch to his brows. It almost makes him wish that Scott wouldn't be on the inside of this ruse, that he wouldn't know about Leonardo being fake, and that Stiles could whip him out to keep Scott and his concerns at bay. He hates the way people have been looking at him lately, like he's a sad pile of laundry with a mess of a person inside. He's fine. He's going to some weird lengths to prove this, but he is.

He grabs their pizzas when they slide over the counter, trying his best to change the subject and wipe that troubled frown off of Scott's face.

"So, how's that eight a.m. Saturday class working out for you this semester? Hating life yet?" Stiles asks, licking grease off his thumb, and it seems to do the trick of distracting Scott for now.

--

Leonardo @ 12:05pm: What are you up to?

Stiles @ 12:08pm: Class :(

Leonardo @ 12:10pm: What for?

Stiles @ 12:11pm: Western civ. Just a requirement course I have. I'm majoring in criminology.

Leonardo @ 12:11pm: How come?

Stiles @ 12:13pm: I like solving crimes and I already own a lot of Miami Vice suits.

Stiles @ 12:13pm: Kidding about the suits. I’m more of a graphic tee kind of guy.

Stiles @ 12:14pm: I guess it runs in the family. My dad’s a cop too. I remember helping him on cases since I was little.

Stiles @ 12:16pm: When I was in high school I was constantly trying to get my friend Scott to come out and look for trouble with me. Solve a mystery, basically. I heard everything on my dad's radio so I always knew when there was something juicy going on in town.

Leonardo @ 12:17pm: You sound like a regular Sam Spade.

Stiles @ 12:18pm: Haha not quite. Never really did get around to actually solving a mystery. We walked around town in the dark a few times but my dad would always show up and lock us into the backseat of the police car to keep us out of danger before things got good.

Stiles @ 12:19pm: And for the record, I'd prefer to be a Hardy Boy.

Leonardo @ 12:20pm: A Hardy Boy? Why?

Stiles @ 12:21pm: They're manly and cool and I reread a few of the books from the thirties not that long ago and they're hilariously racist

Leonardo @ 12:22pm: And you’d like to have the chance to be hilariously racist, is that it?

Stiles @ 12:22pm: Not where I was going with that at ALL jfc but glad to see where your brain took it

Stiles @ 12:22pm: They're also a rad duo who always can rely on each other and they're totally equal.

Leonardo @ 12:23pm: Oh, they are not. Frank is intellectually above Joe. That automatically makes him better.

Stiles @ 12:23pm: What????

Leonardo @ 12:24pm: Although I'm guessing that comment about them being equals is more a personal complex than anything else. Are all your friends smarter, stronger, or cooler than you?

Stiles @ 12:24pm: Seriously, what?????????

Leonardo @ 12:24pm: I'm guessing you feel inferior to the people around you. Like you're a sidekick and they're the main act.

Stiles @ 12:25pm: I don't wtf

Stiles types the above message even as he's thinking that yes, he has considered this very thing and yes, it upsets him that he seems to be lacking when stacked up next to his friends. Scott is more popular and Lydia is smarter and Allison is more interesting and Isaac is more annoying, and it bothers him that he often seems to pale in comparison to all their talents. And it's not like he wants to go around getting his ego pumped by every person he passes on campus, but yeah, it would be nice to have his friends throw him a compliment here or there. The main problem with that is that he knows how ridiculously childish it is.

Stiles @ 12:26pm: Okay fine. Maybe I wish I was a superhero sometimes. But I'll grow out of it.

Stiles @ 12:28pm: You know it's funny that we're even having this conversation. I was hanging out with my friend this week and I mentioned to him that I feel like the only thing that makes me special is that I hang out with special people. That on my own I'm not really impressive.

Leonardo @ 12:29pm: What do your friends have that make them special?

Stiles @ 12:30pm: Talents. Likable traits. Nice hair.

Leonardo @ 12:30pm: And you have none of the above?

Stiles @ 12:31pm: You tell me. You've been getting a totally unfiltered version of me over these messages. Am I impressive?

There's a long pause, that in a face-to-face conversation, Stiles swears would be filled with a panicked swig of a beverage or incredibly slow chewing or a long, unsure hum.

Leonardo @ 12:34pm: Yes.

Stiles @ 12:35pm: Do you have any proof to back up your hypothesis?

Leonardo @ 12:35pm: It's not a hypothesis, it's a fact.

Leonardo @ 12:36pm: This might not mean much to you, but I look forward to our conversations.

Stiles @ 12:36pm: Really now? Is it the titillating day to day topics?

It's not until the messages abruptly taper off and Leonardo seems to have found more interesting things to do than chat about crime-fighting teenaged brothers that Stiles checks his emails and realizes he has one letting him know that he's reached his one hundred text limit, but he can feel free to purchase a hundred more if he wants to keep the story going.

He knows what he’s going to do. He just wants to give himself the time where he pretends to think about it.

He just doesn’t want this to become a weird addiction, is all, he thinks as he digs out his credit card and keeps the conversation going. He doesn’t want to be reliant on some electronic boyfriend for conversation or a laugh or a smile, and he thinks about this while he pulls the site up and purchases one hundred more text messages and ten dollars wiggle their way out of eating-out-on-Fridays fund. Either Stiles really does take Isaac’s advice and gets himself a real boyfriend, or this might start getting expensive.

--

Stiles @ 11:43pm: Having trouble sleeping tonight…

Stiles @ 11:44pm: This is not a sexual pick up line implying I need you to jerk me off to sleep or anything btw

Leonardo @ 11:46pm: Not sure if it’s an adequate replacement, but jerking yourself off might do the trick.

Stiles @ 11:47pm: Is my account about to be flagged for saying jerked off? Are these my last moments with you?

Leonardo @ 11:48pm: Relax. You’ll get a warning before you’re suspended.

Stiles @ 11:48pm: All right, no more talking of jerking off then.

Stiles @ 11:49pm: Or maybe we should use code words???

Stiles @ 11:49pm: How’s find the salami???

Leonardo @ 11:50pm: No.

Leonardo @ 11:51pm: Why don't you just tell me why you can't sleep?

Stiles @ 11:53pm: My mind's just going. Can't seem to stop thinking.

Leonardo @ 11:53pm: What about?

Stiles @ 11:55pm: Weird stuff.

Stiles @ 11:55pm: Like do you think we’ve ever seen each other? Just like walking around town?

Leonardo @ 11:55pm: It’s possible.

Stiles @ 11:56pm: Do you think we might know each other?

Leonardo @ 11:57pm: Unlikely. But the thought does intrigue me.

Stiles @ 11:58pm: Do you think we’d get along in real life?

Leonardo @ 11:58pm: This is real life, Stiles.

Stiles @ 11:59pm: You know what I mean. People can be so different over text messages or online than they can in person. You have time to think about what to say and so much just doesn’t come across in a text message.

Leonardo @ 12:00am: Like what?

Stiles @ 12:01am: Like sarcasm, or closeness, or just like… affection?

Leonardo @ 12:02am: I like to believe I’m fairly authentic online.

Stiles @ 12:02am: Haha!

Leonardo @ 12:02am: ?

Stiles @ 12:03am: Just made me laugh since this entire thing is pretty much the opposite of authentic

Leonardo @ 12:06pm: Maybe it's not all as inauthentic as you think.

Leonardo @ 12:07pm: And to properly answer your question, no, I don't think we'd get along in real life.

Stiles @ 12:08am: What? How come?

Leonardo @ 12:09am: We both like having the last word and we both wield sass as a weapon. I predict there'd be a lot of bickering and eye rolling should we ever meet.

Stiles @ 12:10am: All sounds like sexual tension to me…

Stiles @ 12:10am: You have to admit it's way hotter getting all up in someone's face and arguing with them and wanting to grab them by their shirt just so they'll listen already than it is to sit down and have a pleasant chat with someone who agrees with everything you say.

Leonardo @ 12:11am: And you think we'd be the former?

Stiles @ 12:11am: Totally.

Leonardo @ 12:11am: All right. I might have to agree.

Leonardo @ 12:12am: But as friends, I doubt we'd last.

Stiles @ 12:12am: But as benefits-only kinda buds?

Leonardo @ 12:12am: We'd be like dynamite.

Stiles @ 12:13am: Idk. So far we've maintained a pretty friendly relationship and we haven't screwed each other yet...

Leonardo @ 12:13am: It's easy to get along with someone through technology.

Leonardo @ 12:13am: So many real life idiosyncrasies and deal breakers just don't make it through.

Leonardo @ 12:14am: And also you're paying me.

Stiles @ 12:14am: So if I wasn't you'd be long gone?!?!?! O how you hath wound me

Leonardo @ 12:15am: I might still be around. Depending on my mood and what inane topic of conversation you've chosen.

Stiles @ 12:15am: INANE. Wow.

Stiles @ 12:16am: So what would you want to talk about if it was all up to you?

Leonardo @ 12:17am: Myself, probably.

Stiles @ 12:17am: Like, really you? Isn't that against the rules?

Leonardo @ 12:18am: This entire conversation's against the rules.

Leonardo @ 12:18am: You always do what the rules tell you to do?

Stiles thinks briefly back to his own rule, the one about keeping things distant and professional, and about how he couldn't follow rules if they were tattooed on his chest. Hasn't been able to ever since he stole his father's police radio and started sneaking out to chase down grisly cases when he should've been inside doing homework.

Stiles @ 12:19am: The rules and me have a pretty tempestuous relationship.

Leonardo @ 12:20am: Meaning?

Stiles @ 12:20am: I'm not good at following them. Tbh I usually go out of my way to do the opposite.

Leonardo @ 12:21am: I see.

Leonardo @ 12:21am: Me too.

Stiles @ 12:22am: Seriously?

Stiles @ 12:23am: Maybe we should commit crimes together.

Leonardo @ 12:23am: I thought you wanted to follow in your father's law enforcement footsteps.

Leonardo @ 12:34am: How's this. I commit crimes, and you try and solve them.

Stiles @ 12:35am: Sounds perfect to me.

--

Stiles dreams of Leonardo that night. It's all blurry, like an old movie with a damaged film reel, and Leonardo doesn't have many distinguishable features. Stiles never catches the front of his face; it's like he's always walking behind him, or he's always turning away right when Stiles turns to him, or he's too far away to see, and it's maddening.

The Leo in his dream is fun and adventurous like advertised, and they spend the dream hiking up a lush mountain and walking further and further up to the sky. Leonardo is attached to him by the hand and his fingers are warm and soft, and something about the moment makes it all feel real. That there's a Leonardo out there who exists outside of his unconscious and the fictitious world his phone is submerged in, a guy with nice hair who wears hiking boots and encourages Stiles to push himself, someone who could be easily loved.

It doesn't exactly feel prophetic, one of those dreams that feels like it's telling the future, like any second Leonardos will start ambushing Stiles left and right, but it does make him think when he wakes up smelling the phantom air of a fresh mountaintop that actually turns out to be the new laundry detergent he's been using on his pillowcases.

--

Stiles @ 7:03pm: Hey, I thought of some more code words

Stiles @ 7:04pm: My personal favorites: pulling the taffy, wrestling with the eel, and playing with the panosh

Leonardo @ 7:04pm: Stiles, nothing about any of these is subtle.

Leonardo @ 7:05pm: Your account should be pinged for terrible creativity (and quite frankly horrid word choice) alone.

Stiles @ 7:06pm: Honestly they're crazy fun

Stiles @ 7:06pm: Try it out

Stiles @ 7:07pm: So what gets your crankshaft going when you're polishing your pistols?

Leonardo @ 7:07pm: Are you actually asking or just rubbing your juvenile euphemisms in my face?

Stiles @ 7:08pm: Both?

Leonardo @ 7:08pm: Fine.

Leonardo @ 7:09pm: The feel of fresh sheets. Collarbones. The way someone moves their hands when they're properly using utensils.

Leonardo @ 7:09pm: DSLs. The smell of a new laptop. Lean legs. Someone who knows how to use their tongue.

Stiles @ 7:10pm: Wow.

Stiles @ 7:10pm: Didn't expect an actual answer for that, so wow.

Leonardo @ 7:11pm: What about you?

Stiles @ 7:12pm: I'll tell you if you use code words

Leonardo @ 7:13pm: Fine.

Leonardo @ 7:14pm: What greases you up when you're revving the engine?

Stiles @ 7:14pm: 7/10. Lacking some originality. But I'll allow it.

Stiles @ 7:15pm: Okay. Most of these sound bizarre.

Stiles @ 7:15pm: When someone's wearing cologne. Watching TV for a really long time. Nice jaw lines. The smell of orange chicken (don't even know why). Watching someone get really into a video game.

Leonardo @ 7:16pm: TV? Why?

Stiles @ 7:17pm: I don't know? Probably because I get sleepy after watching a lot and when I get sleepy I get turned on and I tend to like taking care of business before bed. Nothing makes a good night sleep better than jerking the gherkin.

Leonardo @ 7:17pm: I refuse to accept "jerking the gherkin."

Leonardo @ 7:17pm: Anyway. I'm personally more of an early morning go-getter.

Stiles @ 7:18pm: What, so you schedule it?

Leonardo @ 7:20pm: Not quite. I just tend to have a better day when I start it off with some tension relief.

Leonardo @ 7:20pm: Probably also why morning sex is so popular.

Stiles doesn't think he's ever had it. There's the joy of early morning lessons for starters, and then there's also the complete lack of wanting to fuck some of his one night stands again when he a) sees them in proper light and b) watches them prepare breakfast sausages by skewering them onto a broken clothes hanger. But he has to admit, there's an appeal to the idea of it done right.

Stiles @ 7:21pm: I take it you're a fan.

Leonardo @ 7:22pm: Oh, absolutely. Sex is best two times out of the day: when you're just waking up and your body is too, and when you're getting prepared for bed and ready to finish off the day with a bang.

Stiles @ 7:22pm: I'm surprised at you!! Those are so the most boring times to have sex

Stiles @ 7:23pm: What about all the unconventional times?? Like in a dressing room. Or when someone gets turned on when you're out to lunch and you end up having a bit of fun under the table?

Leonardo @ 7:24pm: Speaking of lunch.

Leonardo @ 7:24pm: There’s an Italian place on third and maple street. Want to go tomorrow?

Bit of an abrupt subject change, but Stiles plays along. Why not? This is what he paid for. This is evidence he can wave under people's faces when they ask about his boyfriend, or lack of one, a handy service Stiles read about in the manual he actually bothered to look at. When he signed up, he was promised this—his boyfriend planning dates, or accepting when Stiles invites him on them. Invisible Boyfriends will occasionally make plans just to fill up a phone with oodles of convincing messages about dates and times and seeing each other again soon, just to snipe in later and cancel in case anybody asks.

Stiles refuses to even think about how they were just talking about having a nooner inside a changing booth and how this somehow devolved into Leonardo proposing they have lunch.

Stiles @ 7:25pm: Sure. Let’s go and be really annoyingly cute to piss off everybody around us.

Leonardo @ 7:26pm: You secretly hate everybody, don’t you?

Stiles @ 7:26pm: Lol no. I guess I’ve just turned into the dreaded bitter single??

He looks at what he’s typed and remembers that he really ought to stop doing this, continuously misusing this service by not staying in character. Leonardo has a role, but Stiles technically does too—he’s supposed to be the freshly in love boyfriend head over heels for his always-away but ever-caring other half. Leonardo’s not his friend, Leonardo’s a service he paid for, Leonardo could be a robot programmed to feed off of Stiles’ energy, Leonardo isn’t a bud he can text complaints to now and then.

Stiles @ 7:26pm: Ignore that. I’ll be there tomorrow with bells on.

Stiles @ 7:27pm: Love me some Italian

Leonardo @ 7:27pm: I’m actually American, just for reference.

Stiles @ 7:28pm: Ha ha ha.

--

Stiles and Leonardo text for a few more hours—only stopping when Stiles has to buy more texts—before Stiles passes out and wakes up with his phone tucked in the crook of his neck, probably dropped there at some point after midnight.

By the time eleven o’clock rolls around the next day and Scott calls to ask if he should pick up some tacos for Stiles while he’s out grabbing lunch, Stiles remembers that he technically made lunch plans yesterday. It’s almost time for them, and he’s pretty sure Leonardo is supposed to cancel on him now. That's what the rules were explicit about: all artificial boyfriends would send believable excuses at the last minute to avoid social obligations, ranging anywhere from flat tires to late nights at work. Some proof to show the friends and family all dying to meet lovely Leo at dinner tonight as to why he's not here.

But Leo isn't canceling plans and there's no excuse coming his way. Isn't that what this company is actually supposed to be used for? Putting up a delusional front for pestering relatives?

A weird thought strikes him randomly: what if Leonardo is actually going to be in that restaurant, waiting for Stiles, breaking the rules for the hell of it, bored or interested or just helplessly curious. Stiles is definitely a little curious.

So he goes to the restaurant. It's been ages since he ate something that couldn't be cooked in under five minutes in the microwave anyway, and it's nice to get out of his dorm now and again. At least, that's what he'll say to anyone who asks why he went to a fancy, pricy Italian place with romantic ambience alone in the middle of a weekday.

It really is a nice place. Leonardo has good taste. In Stiles' fictional web in which he's spun Leonardo, he imagines that Leonardo went to restaurants like this with his stuffy, rich parents, and even though once-spoiled Leo detests coming off as somebody who has pocketfuls of cash to flaunt, he does miss a nice expensive meal now and again. In the real world, Stiles wonders if this is a spot the man behind Leonardo likes. If he's brought dates here. If he's here now.

Stiles considers pulling out his phone and playing a little iSpy with Leonardo to see if he really is, but he has the feeling he isn't. The restaurant is full of what seems to be nothing but happy couples, which would make Stiles feel a little downtrodden if he weren't about to order a crazily overpriced bottle of wine and indulge.

He sits there and blows this month’s textbook money on a dish he can’t pronounce that he’s pretty sure is just spaghetti and a cabernet that’s apparently been aging to perfection in a Tuscan cellar since the nineteenth century. At least, that’s what the price suggests.

Stiles looks across the table as he eats, at the empty chair in front of him, and tries to imagine someone sitting there. It gets easier the more wine he drinks, and eventually, if he squints, he can pretend that there’s a tall, handsome stud across from him toasting to another fabulous date. He’s not picturing anyone in particular, but he is thinking about Leonardo’s dry wit, his quick comebacks, his refreshing honesty. That’d be fun, just someone to banter with for two hours over tomato sauce and split dessert with and then maybe even make out with over the gearshift on the ride home. That’d be fun too.

He starts wondering: Stiles is being real, one hundred percent obnoxiously himself, but can he expect the same from the person on the other end of these conversations? If anything, these people, these writers, are probably advised to be as far removed as possible from their genuine selves just to avoid unwanted attachments and falling into the trap of false intimacy. Maybe it's a complete hoot for them, a chance for them to be people wildly opposite than who they really are, the entire thing ultimately either a joke or a personal challenge or even acting training for the truly desperate. Even with Leo's talk of enjoying a little rule-breaking, maybe that's all it is. All talk.

He pulls out his phone as he’s finishing his second glass of red, scrolling over to his and Leonardo’s text messages.

Stiles @ 1:14pm: How true are you to your "character?"

Leonardo @ 1:15pm: I don't follow.

Stiles @ 1:15pm: Do you and Leonardo have anything in common?

Leonardo @ 1:17pm: He isn't real, you nut.

Stiles @ 1:17pm: You know what I mean. Do you have any similarities? Or is he totally removed from who you really are?

Leonardo @ 1:18pm: We use the same vocabulary.

Stiles @ 1:19pm: I mean, do you share interests? Hobbies? Anything?

Leonardo @ 1:19pm: Not really.

Leonardo @ 1:20pm: I couldn’t care less about video games and I don’t lift weights.

Stiles @ 1:20pm: Really? So what exactly makes you qualified to play him?

Leonardo @ 1:20pm: Do you really underestimate me that much?

Leonardo @ 1:21pm: You think I can’t pretend to be someone who likes video games? You think I’m that incapable?

This conversation is so out of bounds, but Leonardo doesn't have to amuse Stiles and answer these questions. As a matter of fact, he's supposed to stay completely in character at all times, but Stiles thinks he’s allowed to do a little prodding since Leonardo basically stood him up.

Stiles @ 1:22pm: All right. Let's test you out. As someone who likes video games, LEONARDO, what is your favorite?

Leonardo @ 1:23pm: You're asking me something I can very easily google? This is your plan to expose me?

Stiles @ 1:23pm: You suck at this. Like really badly suck.

Stiles @ 1:24pm: I can’t believe you get paid for this.

Leonardo @ 1:24pm: Why are you so cranky?

Stiles @ 1:25pm: I’m not cranky. I’m a little drunk but I’m not cranky.

A clinking of a glass—a toast two tables over—takes Stiles out of the conversation for a moment. He’s sitting in a romantic Italian restaurant alone all because what could easily be a computer-generated robot told him to.

God, he wishes he weren't alone here. He misses dating. He misses all those good times he had with his exes before they went sour. The couple next to him is laughing and holding hands over the salt shaker and feels like an apparition, like a cruel mirage of what Stiles wants but can't have.

Stiles @ 1:26pm: I'm at lunch. Mad you stood me up.

Leonardo @ 1:27pm: You are?

Stiles @ 1:27pm: I know what you're thinking. I came for the Italian cuisine, not you.

Leonardo @ 1:27pm: I see.

Leonardo @ 1:28pm: There was a weight-lifting emergency. My apologies.

Stiles @ 1:29pm: lmao.

Stiles @ 1:29pm: What does that really mean?

Leonardo @ 1:30pm: I didn't expect you to come.

Leonardo @ 1:30pm: I'm honestly flattered that you did.

Leonardo @ 1:31pm: Any way I can make it up to you?

Stiles @ 1:32pm: Go to the nearest Dairy Queen and pretend I’ve stood you up there.

Stiles @ 1:33pm: And be REALLY LOUD about it. So everyone knows that you couldn’t even get someone to meet you at a DQ.

Leonardo @ 1:34pm: You’re a vengeful, immature little thing, aren’t you?

Stiles @ 1:35pm: Yeah. One of my finer traits.

--

Later that evening, while Stiles is eating his spaghetti leftovers out of a Styrofoam container, Leonardo chimes in to let him know that he’s just made it home from Dairy Queen, who happens to be having a half-off special on blizzards.

It’s not quite an apology, but it feels like it’s distantly related to one.

--

Stiles @ 1:01pm: It’s been so long since it snowed here

Stiles @ 1:01pm: I really want to go skiing this winter

Leonardo @ 1:03pm: Are you a good skier?

Stiles @ 1:04pm: lol no :)

Stiles @ 1:04pm: I just miss traveling and wish I did it more

Leonardo @ 1:05pm: Where would you like to go?

Stiles @ 1:06pm: Hmmm I’d like to see Egypt. The pyramids would be cool right?

Leonardo @ 1:07pm: Tourist trap. You’d be swarmed with corrupt “salesmen” trying to con the unknowing American left and right, and once you’d finally get into the pyramids, you’d be smashed against sticky-fingered families and their children who steal every bit of history they can find.

Stiles @ 1:08pm: I can’t believe you catfished me into thinking you’re “””””fun and adventurous””””

Leonardo @ 1:09pm: I can be perfectly adventurous, in the right places.

Leonardo @ 1:09pm: For instance, Paris is nice this time of year.

Stiles @ 1:10pm: What, the Eiffel Tower isn’t a tourist trap?

Leonardo @ 1:11pm: Who said anything about visiting the Eiffel Tower?

Leonardo @ 1:12pm: What do you say to eating French bread on the Champ de Mars, the sun on your skin, my mouth on your neck, soft sheets awaiting us at the hotel?

Stiles @ 1:15pm: I can't tell if that's pretentious as fuck or actually really sexy.

Leonardo @ 1:16pm: The second one.

Stiles @ 1:16pm: YEAH OKAY

Stiles @ 1:18pm: I've never even gone overseas in a plane before. The furthest I've ever traveled is down to Mexico with one of my friends.

Leonardo @ 1:19pm: How was that?

Stiles @ 1:19pm: Pretty cool. Ate a lot of sopapillas.

Stiles @ 1:20pm: It was prom weekend and we both really just wanted to be rebels and drive somewhere since neither of us had dates to prom.

Stiles @ 1:21pm: All right so he had a date, but I didn't, and he's a good guy and didn't want me to be stuck to the gym wall all night long so he suggested we go to Mexico instead.

Leonardo @ 1:22pm: No date to the prom? What a travesty.

Leonardo @ 1:22pm: Not popular in school, I take it.

Stiles @ 1:23pm: Eh idk. I've never really been invited into the in crowd but it's not like I was beaten up in passing periods... I was just a little dorky and weird and had a lot of energy and a guess this didn't attract a lot of suitors?

Stiles @ 1:24pm: Did you go to prom?

Leonardo @ 1:24pm: Of course. I clean up very well, so I couldn't pass up the chance.

Stiles @ 1:25pm: How did you like it?

Leonardo @ 1:26pm: It was fine. Not nearly as special as most teenagers make it out to be, but an all right evening nonetheless.

Stiles @ 1:27pm: Then I'm pretty sure I got the better end of the stick road tripping to Mexico!!!!

Leonardo @ 1:27pm: I agree with you there. Traveling is almost always more exciting than anything you can do at home.

Stiles @ 1:27pm: So where would you go right now if you could? Out of anywhere in the world?

Leonardo @ 1:28pm: Good question.

Leonardo @ 1:28pm: I'd love to go to Germany. Perhaps to a lodge up in the alps.

Stiles @ 1:28pm: Drink some beer?

Leonardo @ 1:29pm: Absolutely. But the chocolate is what I'd be going for. Not to mention the bread.

Stiles @ 1:29pm: I'm getting the feeling you run a food Instagram

Leonardo @ 1:29pm: Not yet.

Leonardo @ 1:29pm: But I do enjoy cooking.

Stiles @ 1:30pm: Really? Think you could teach me?

Leonardo @ 1:30pm: Probably. Depending on how much of a hopeless case you are.

Stiles @ 1:31pm: I've mastered frozen waffles :)

Leonardo @ 1:32pm: Perhaps a professional cooking class would suit you better.

Stiles @ 1:32pm: Awww, backing down from a challenge?

Leonardo @ 1:33pm: I admire your strategy.

Stiles @ 1:33pm: Is it working?

Leonardo @ 1:35pm: Maybe.

--

Leonardo goes up against the ultimate test on Wednesday night: dinner with Stiles’ father.

It’s his first time mentioning his new boyfriend to the sheriff, and considering that he’s the entire reason Stiles even bothered investing in this service, if he doesn’t pass the test of believability here, Leonardo’s reason for existence may very well be in danger.

The opportunity to present Leonardo comes up right when Stiles is reaching for the salad. His father says:

"I guess I would just feel better if I knew you were seeing someone," he admits, and Stiles perks up. He sounds like he's wearily talking of a lost cause, which Stiles can't help but take some offense to. "Someone nice to be there for you. I worry about you, all alone up at school."

Somewhere, deep in his mind, a voice that booms like a gameshow host is saying sounds like somebody just ordered an at-the-ready fictional boyfriend.

"That's just the thing, dad," Stiles says, putting the salad bowl down to fumble for his phone. He feels almost giddy at the idea of using this service for what it was intended for, specifically deceiving loving family members and feeding them a complex, solidly built lie. "I have a boyfriend."

His father seems surprised. "You do?"

Stiles is already pulling up their texts as they speak. The last one, a quick goodnight from Leonardo since Stiles was about to pass out on his math textbook, says sleep well, precious. He thrusts it into his father's face like he's presenting evidence to a courtroom judge.

His father takes his phone and stares at the text for a while. He also scrolls around a bit, apparently taking in the hefty amount of messages that have piled up. Weirdly enough, Stiles feels eight years old again as he does it, watching him inspect a vase he knocked over, broke, and then glued back together with baited breath and fingers crossed behind his back that his deception would pass the examinations.

"Leonardo?" his dad asks. He sounds unconvinced. "DiCaprio?"

"What?" Stiles goes pink. "No." He takes the phone back. "I met him when I was at the store the other day. He needed advice on what frozen green beans were best."

The part of the site Stiles went through to put their meet cute story together flashes through his brain. He laughed when I suggested breaking open the bag and trying them. He ended up with the value brand. He had nice loafers on. Stiles wonders if adding too many details will make this entire story sound suspicious rather than increase its credibility, and he keeps those extra tidbits under his belt.

"You gave him advice on what green beans to buy?" his dad is saying. The fact that he's slowly and skeptically repeating everything Stiles is telling him is not a good sign. "Do you even know what a green bean looks like?"

"Hey!" Stiles says. "We talked for a bit and he asked me out. What's so weird about that?"

He realizes that his voice is about three octaves higher than usual. He clears his throat.

"Nothing," the sheriff says. "When can I meet him?"

He's invisible, Stiles' brain brings up not at all helpfully. So technically he's been here all evening.

"Dad, we just met. Can we maybe wait a little bit before I start introducing him to family and adopting pets together and opening up joint bank accounts?"

“Okay, okay,” the sheriff says gently. “I just want to meet the guy, see what kind of person he is.”

“He’s—well. He’s funny and doesn’t buy any of my shit and makes me laugh and is kind of a weirdo.” Stiles falters, suddenly realizing he’s not describing the Leonardo he hand-crafted on the website, but the person behind Leonardo. He tries to salvage the situation if only to avoid coming head-to-head with an unfortunate revelation with himself. “And he’s in a band. And is pretty rich.”

“And that matters?” his dad asks. He still sounds a little like he's walking around a hole of skepticism. “That he has a lot of money and can play an instrument?”

“Uh, no. But the other stuff—that does.”

“Okay," he says. He looks unconvinced, and if Stiles wasn't actually lying to him, he might be offended. He can get dates. He can even get boyfriends. He just has trouble finding good people to do all that stuff with. "As long as you're happy."

“I am happy,” Stiles says, and oddly enough, finds it to be true. He's been enjoying himself lately, getting to know his boyfriend. Try and peel the mask away. “We, uh. We make a good pair. When we're serious, I'll bring him around.”

The sheriff keeps looking at him, gaze unnervingly unwavering, and Stiles stuffs a forkful of salad in his mouth to avoid giving away any surefire tells that he's knee deep in bullshit right now. And just when Stiles is sure that his father is about to blow the top off of this entire hoax and refuse to believe—and rightly so—in this story Stiles is peddling, he says, “I'd like that. It's good to see you happy with someone, Stiles.”

“Yeah. I mean—I'm happy about it too.”

His dad smiles at him, expression so genuine that it makes all of this feel very oppressively sad for a teetering moment. Not even the part where he can't get his own boyfriend, or even that he's lying to his flesh and blood here, but rather that he knows perfectly well how this is all going to end. His dad seems so earnestly happy right now about all of this, so much so that Stiles almost gets why he was nagging so much while Stiles was single, but eventually, sooner rather than later, Stiles and Leo will "break up" and he'll certainly never pop by to introduce him to the sheriff and everything will be over and his father will be disappointed again and isn't that what Stiles was trying to avoid all this time?

“You okay?”

Stiles looks up from his suddenly depressing plateful of food. “Yeah.” Just wondering if he’s horrible at navigating life and ought to quit while he’s ahead, maybe hire one of those coaches that dictates his every move. “Are there any more bread rolls left?”

--

Stiles @ 9:51pm: I mentioned you to my dad tonight. I was very close to complaining to customer service that their product doesn't work on police force, but I think he bought it eventually.

Stiles @ 9:52pm: Oh, and he wants to meet you.

His eyes flick back up over his texts as he waits for Leonardo to reply, realizing that he's broken the fourth wall. Again. Technically, there aren't any rules on the website that says that customers have to play along or that they can't prod the illusion in the face like a Buckingham Palace Guard and see if their invisible boyfriends are dutifully following their manuals or not, which is definitely something Stiles would do, but in this case, he just keeps forgetting. He knows that Leonardo isn't real, and it just feels like giving into the madness to pretend he is. There's somebody real behind Leonardo, and that's really the only person Stiles is interested in.

Wait, not interested in. That doesn't sound quite right.

Leonardo @ 9:54pm: Our billions of text messages didn't satisfy him?

Stiles @ 9:55pm: You really think I let him see them all?

Leonardo @ 9:56pm: That is generally what this service is for, you know.

Leonardo @ 9:56pm: Does he not know that you’re into men?

Stiles @ 9:57pm: He knows. I could’ve gone for invisible girlfriend if I wanted to make him think I was straight, not that I’m sure he’d believe it.

Stiles @ 9:57pm: And before you ask, let’s just say he walked in on quite a few special moments I had with members of the male gender back when I lived at home.

Stiles @ 9:58pm: What about your family, do they know about you?

Stiles @ 9:58pm: Wait, you really are a guy, right?

Leonardo @ 9:59pm: Yes, Stiles, I am.

Leonardo @ 10:00pm: As for my orientation, I don’t keep it a secret.

Leonardo @ 10:01pm: Exactly how many times did your father walk in on you? You sound like a complete trollop.

Stiles @ 10:02pm: He hasn't in a while, and I haven't actually gone out with that many people. You have no idea how many losers I've met over the years.

Leonardo @ 10:02pm: Go on.

Stiles @ 10:04pm: Mostly just a lot of jerks who I'd hit it off with, sleep with, and then they'd be gone by morning and never talk to me again.

He thinks about Parrish, who he hasn't talked about to anyone in weeks and makes a general rule not to mention to anybody who might ask for details, the wound usually still feeling newly born and like someone's stomped salt into it whenever his face pops up in Stiles' brain. Somehow, for some unknown reason, his thumbs move across the keyboard anyway, typing away.

Stiles @ 10:05pm: And my last ex was a guy that worked at the police station with my dad who randomly decided after half a year that he'd rather date women instead of me and so I've been steering clear of the station more than usual, which sucks, because I actually like visiting my dad at work.

Stiles @ 10:07pm: And I haven't gone out with anyone much since then except for a few one night stands here and there, so enter my dad who thinks I'm lonely and sad and need someone in my life other than my friends, and that's where you come in.

Leonardo @ 10:08pm: Aha. And how has that been going?

Stiles @ 10:09pm: Better than I expected for a fake relationship with a guy I don’t know, honestly. I've been having a really nice time talking with you.

Stiles @ 10:10pm: Considering you're not even real and contractually obligated to speak to me I wonder what that says about me and my relationships??

Leonardo@ 10:10pm: Considering I’m not even real?

Leonardo @ 10:11pm: You do realize I am actually a real human, don't you? That I'm not a robot?

Stiles @ 10:11pm: Prove it!

Leonardo @ 10:12pm: Will complicated math satisfy your doubts?

Stiles @ 10:12pm: Robots can do math.

Stiles @ 10:12pm: Siri has done my geometry homework for me before.

Leonardo @ 10:13pm: Ah. Might as well admit it then; I'm a highly advanced robot.

Stiles has never met anybody who's texted with a semi-colon before. Something about it is charming and makes him smile, almost as if he's suddenly part of a Victorian epistolary story.

Stiles @ 10:15pm: Knew it. You can't fool a brain like mine.

Stiles @ 10:16pm: All right. You'll have to tell me all about the wonders of being a bot tomorrow. I have an early class and dinner with my dad to sleep off and I am gonna go zonk out on my mattress

Leonardo @ 10:17pm: Sleep well, Stiles.

--

When Stiles wakes up the next morning, he doesn't exactly feel great about himself.

For starters, his phone has a text from his father reading Had fun at dinner last night. Bring Leonardo next time, okay? which makes Stiles feel like crawling under a rug because even though this entire farce was for his father's benefit, deceiving him and then him actually buying the bold-faced—albeit elaborate—lie makes him feel like the worst son ever. And after that, he remembers his chat with Leonardo last night, how he told him all about Parrish, and that horrible feeling in his stomach upgrades into sink-into-a-hole levels of awful. God, why did he do that.

He thought he'd gotten over all that months ago, but turns out, bringing it up still feels like rubbing hot sauce into his eyes. And now he's gone and splattered all that hot sauce on Leonardo's lap as well, which was unnecessary and reminds him again that Leonardo could be anyone—literally anyone—and Stiles thought it would be a good idea to tell him intimate details about his failed love life. Leo could be that annoying cashier at the Walgreens down the street. He could be that old professor with the flyaway hair that teaches Stiles' English Lit course who’s always on his phone. He could be that obnoxious dude down the hall who throws parties too big for a dorm room every odd Saturday and never invites Stiles. And one of them could now know that he's bad at sexually satisfying his lovers. Dear god.

What the fuck happened to his rule? He had a personal rule going into this, seemingly eons ago, to keep a separation between them, to keep this business, and then, as per usual, he couldn't even follow his own well-meaning instructions. What he needs to do now is damage control.

He pulls Leonardo up in his text messages and, while he's still in bed and peeling his eyes open and waiting for the mattress to swallow him once and for all, drafts a quick apology text to send his way.

Stiles @ 11:30am: Sorry about all that sharing from last night

Leonardo @ 11:32am: Why are you sorry?

Leonardo @ 11:33am: You don't have to be.

Stiles @ 11:34am: Nah I do. All that stuff was weird and personal and I bet you were cringing at your phone the whole time you were reading it.

Stiles @ 11:37am: But since it’s already brought up... all that stuff I told you last night about my past relationship disasters...

Leonardo @ 11:37am: Yes?

Stiles @ 11:38am: It's got me thinking. Why don't you tell me about some of your relationships? Share the misery?

Leonardo @ 11:42am: Not much misery, honestly.

Stiles @ 11:43am: OH COME ON

Leonardo @ 11:44am: I'm not around long enough to become miserable. I'm more into sex than I am into relationships.

Leonardo @ 11:45am: Have you ever thought about that being the reason your relationships fail?

Stiles @ 11:45am: What do you mean?

Leonardo @ 11:46am: Perhaps you expect more out of someone than they're interested in giving?

Stiles @ 11:47am: So I'm supposed to have where-is-this-going talks with everybody on the first date?

Leonardo @ 11:48am: Not in so many words. You just have to make it clear to someone what you're looking for.

Leonardo @ 11:48am: Based on your age I'm assuming you mostly hook up with badly dressed frat boys.

Stiles @ 11:49am: I steer clear of frats, thank you very much

—except for that one time when Stiles made out with that sun-tanned stud from Phi Delta Gamma, but the guy came in his pants and seemed to forget Stiles was even there, so Stiles hardly thinks that counts—

Stiles @ 11:49am: But yes, my campus is pretty much my meat market

Stiles @ 11:49am: You can see my age?

Leonardo @ 11:50am: I can see a few things about you.

Stiles @ 11:50am: Like?

Leonardo @ 11:52am: Your first name, your location, your age, and that you like cheesy stories about unrealistically meeting someone in a supermarket because you bond over food.

Stiles @ 11:53am: Come on!!! That's totally realistic!

Leonardo @ 11:54am: If this was a Hallmark movie, perhaps?

Leonardo @ 11:55am: My point is, most kids in college aren't looking to settle down. They're looking for a bit of fun.

Stiles @ 11:56am: Woah, rewind. I didn't say anything about settling down. Isn't there a fucking middle ground between sleeping with someone and then leaving before they wake up and buying a house and a dog together?

Leonardo @ 11:57am: Cat. Buying a house and a cat together. Just so you're aware in case you'd like to adjust that fantasy for anybody who asks, I'm a cat person.

Leonardo @ 11:57am: And yes. But you have to be clear about it.

Leonardo @ 11:58am: Your generation's inability to use your words even with all of the communicative technology you're inundated with will forever astound me.

Stiles @ 11:59am: My generation??? You're not really twenty five, are you????

Stiles @ 12:00pm: Just tell me if I'm warm. Seventy three? Older or younger?

Leonardo @ 12:01pm: Are you basing this on the wise advice I'm dispensing to you?

Stiles @ 12:03pm: I'm basing this on your old man judgment of twenty somethings and all the technology they understand oh so clearly

Leonardo @ 12:03pm: I'm great with technology.

Leonardo @ 12:04pm: And I'm not that old.

Stiles @ 12:05pm: How old?

Leonardo @ 12:06pm: Older than your Leonardo. Not old enough to be your father.

Leonardo @ 12:06pm: Unless I would have been extremely promiscuous in my early youth.

Stiles @ 12:07pm: Ohhhhh goddddd

Stiles @ 12:08pm: Just tell me this much

Stiles @ 12:08pm: Do you ever chase kids off your lawn with sticks and then go be with your birds

Leonardo @ 12:09pm: I don't keep birds.

Stiles @ 12:09pm: Any taxidermy?

Leonardo @ 12:10pm: None.

Stiles @ 12:10pm: Any Hugh Hefner robes in your closet?

Leonardo @ 12:10pm: Stiles.

Stiles @ 12:11pm: Fine I'll stop.

Leonardo @ 12:11pm: Good. Let's stay on track, shall we? Why are you so eager to hook up with people who you know will disappoint you, or at least have the very strong ability to disappoint you?

Stiles @ 12:12pm: Wait a minute???

Stiles @ 12:12pm: This conversation started with me asking about your relationships and it somehow became about me again??

The phone is silent for a bit, the screen black with dormancy, probably because Leonardo had hoped Stiles wouldn't figure that out and then draw attention to it.

Leonardo @ 12:13pm: I'm sure you're fishing for juicy details here, but there's not much to tell. I keep things simple.

Stiles @ 12:13pm: Let me take a stab at this. Did your parents divorce when you were a kid and now you're scared of commitment?

Leonardo @ 12:14pm: I have no fear of commitment.

Leonardo @ 12:14pm: I just don't find it appealing.

Stiles @ 12:15pm: Why not? Isn't it nice to have someone who knows what breakfast foods you like and gets along with your friends and shares the recording space on a DVR?

Leonardo @ 12:16pm: I take back everything I said before, I know the actual reason your relationships fail.

Leonardo @ 12:16pm: DVR sharing.

Stiles @ 12:16pm: Seriously. It doesn't sound nice to you to just be with someone?

Leonardo @ 12:17pm: If it's the right person, in the right time, in the right place, in the right circumstances, maybe.

Stiles @ 12:18pm: Sounds like a tall order.

Leonardo @ 12:20pm: Exactly.

Stiles @ 12:21pm: My god you're such a cynic. You're posing as my caring boyfriend and you hardly even believe in love

Leonardo @ 12:22pm: Of course I believe in love. It's just that a vast majority of people claim something is love when it isn't.

Stiles @ 12:22pm: And that's so bad??? It's a positive emotion?? It's nice to have it in the world???

Leonardo @ 12:23pm: People in love do crazy things. It's not always positive.

Leonardo @ 12:23pm: It can be positive, but it takes time and effort to find someone who can actually positively influence you. And there are definitely easier ways to bring positivity to the world than look for love.

Stiles @ 12:24pm: Breaking news, call the Beatles, all you need is NOT love

Leonardo @ 12:26pm: The Beatles were rich, famous, and highly sought after for decades. I guarantee you, they did not practice what they preach.

Stiles @ 12:27pm: Sheesh.

Stiles @ 12:27pm: While you're at it, any other classic timeless songs you want to rip into?

Leonardo @ 12:28pm: I'll think about it.

Leonardo @ 12:28pm: And just so you know, my parents never divorced.

Stiles @ 12:29pm: So you're just naturally fucked up about people?

Leonardo @ 12:29pm: I'm hardly that.

Stiles @ 12:29pm: Oh come on. You must have some story about why you hate relationships.

Leonardo @ 12:29pm: I do not HATE relationships.

Leonardo @ 12:30pm: I just prefer one night stands.

Leonardo @ 12:30pm: They're almost always satisfying and don't shatter your expectations.

Stiles @ 12:31pm: Almost always? I smell a story...

Leonardo @ 12:32pm: I'm starting to think you don't want the juicy details, just my bad choices to revel in.

Stiles @ 12:33pm: Maybe. DISH!

Leonardo @ 12:34pm: Oh all right.

Leonardo @ 12:34pm: There was one instance when I was hooking up with a man in his shower, he slipped on the tiles, ended up knocked out cold mid-sex.

Stiles @ 12:34pm: That's pretty horrifying! What happened then?

Leonardo @ 12:35pm: I hauled him out of the shower and finished myself off while I waited for him to come to.

Stiles @ 12:35pm: SAVAGE

Stiles @ 12:36pm: Here’s me raising the ante... I once tried to sleep with a guy only to have to stop because he couldn't find his condom stash and it turned out that his roommates were using them all in a water balloon fight.

Stiles @ 12:37pm: Okay I MIGHT be starting to see what you were talking about... maybe I date people that are way wrong for me

Stiles @ 12:37pm: Like if you want to play with your condoms okay, but at least leave ONE behind...

Stiles @ 12:38pm: Also if those condoms actually worked as water balloons and broke on contact the quality of what he was buying is definitely a little worrying

Leonardo @ 12:39pm: Perhaps you ought to spend some time thinking about what it really is you want in a boyfriend.

Stiles @ 12:40pm: You mean like make a checklist? Grade people I meet? Maybe add a rubric?

Leonardo @ 12:40pm: Feel free to make fun, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Leonardo @ 12:41pm: A potential number one on your list: does not see sexual equipment or accessories as toys or outdoor activities.

Leonardo @ 12:41pm: Potential number two: values the importance of separate DVRs.

Leonardo @ 12:42pm: Potential number three: fits into your daily life, like your friends or your breakfast routine.

Leonardo @ 12:42pm: Those three alone should knock out the majority of the losers you might consider sleeping with if you really are interested in an actual relationship.

Stiles @ 12:43pm: I feel weird taking relationship advice from you.

Leonardo @ 12:43pm: Why?

Stiles @ 12:44pm: Because you're supposed to be my boyfriend, dumbass.

Leonardo @ 12:44pm: You need it. I can give it. It's very simple.

Stiles @ 12:45pm: What makes you think I need advice?

Leonardo @ 12:45pm: Your last relationship is a bit of a clue.

Stiles @ 12:46pm: About that.

Stiles @ 12:46pm: I'm honestly wondering why I brought it up at all.

Leonardo @ 12:47pm: Because it still affects you, I'm guessing.

Leonardo @ 12:47pm: What exactly happened?

Stiles @ 12:47pm: It's not a very interesting story.

Leonardo @ 12:48pm: I'd like to hear it.

God, is Stiles really going to go down this rabbit hole? He already knows what Leonardo is going to say, is talking about it really going to be helpful in the end? He'll tell him that Stiles clearly chooses the wrong men and isn't good at maintaining relationships and can only have himself to blame, all the same stuff Stiles has been telling himself since it happened.

Stiles @ 12:49pm: I know you think I'm this stupid kid who can't make good decisions and has delusions about relationships.

Leonardo @ 12:49pm: I don't.

Stiles @ 12:49pm: What do you think then?

Leonardo @ 12:50pm: Just tell me the story, Stiles.

Stiles @ 12:50pm: Fine.

Stiles @ 12:50pm: There was a guy that started working at the police station with my dad.

Stiles @ 12:51pm: Good looking. Smart. Funny. Straight as fuck, even though I kept thinking I was the exception.

Stiles @ 12:51pm: Big surprise, turns out I wasn't. He didn't really do anything wrong. Just kind of sucks that I was the one he experimented with. It's not too fun when it's pretty crystal clear that you're the one more into someone than vice versa.

Stiles @ 12:52pm: He still works at the station and it's weird as hell when I'm there. He tries to be nice to me but I guess I'm not over it.

Leonardo @ 12:52pm: It or him?

Stiles @ 12:52pm: It.

Stiles @ 12:52pm: I've been laid enough times since to get over him.

Stiles @ 12:53pm: But I haven't really seen anyone seriously since. My dad started getting worried that I was hung up or still pining or whatever, and here we are.

Leonardo @ 12:54pm: But you're not.

Stiles @ 12:54pm: I'm really not.

Stiles @ 12:54pm: But I guess I am a little scared to let people in again? I mean why the fuck else would I be in a fake electronic relationship

Stiles @ 12:54pm: It's like I'm working myself up to a real human again

Leonardo @ 12:55pm: Stiles. We've been over this. I am a real human.

Stiles @ 12:55pm: Yeah, I know.

Stiles @ 12:56pm: Thanks for listening.

Leonardo @ 12:57pm: It wasn't you, just so you know. Sometimes people are just straight.

Stiles @ 12:57pm: Logically I get that. But it still feels like a rejection.

Leonardo @ 12:57pm: It won't be the last you experience. Rejection happens. The best you can do is move on instead of stewing in it.

Stiles @ 12:58pm: Wow. You really don't pull any punches, do you?

Leonardo @ 12:59pm: How long ago did it happen?

Stiles @ 12:59pm: Like six months ago?

Leonardo @ 12:59pm: Then it's definitely time to move the fuck on.

Leonardo @ 1:00pm: If you wanted me to be the kind of boyfriend who pets you on the head and baby talks at you, you should've mentioned it in your description.

Stiles @ 1:00pm: Wow you are SO BAD at being my boyfriend

Stiles rolls his lips into his mouth as he sends that last message. He really should be angry that Leonardo's being so blasé about a situation he's extremely removed from, but Stiles is more amused than anything else. It could be that he's right and Stiles has been stuck in this weird, bitter, scratchy mourning period over a relationship that never would've made him happy in the long run and he just has to get over it.

He has no idea how this happened, how he started this conversation ready to apologize for sharing too much and he somehow ended it sharing yet more, his rule officially trampled into the ground, but he can't deny that he feels better now that he's talked about it some more, especially with someone with a fairly neutral perspective. His friends are biased, too busy supporting him and empathizing to offer actual help or real opinions on what he should do, and if nothing else, Leonardo has definitely given him some unhoneyed insight here, no sugar-coating to be seen.

He can just only hope, really fucking hope—

Stiles @ 1:01pm: Hey, you don't work at a Walgreens, teach English Lit, or live in a dorm room by chance, do you?

Leonardo @ 1:02pm: No?

Stiles @ 1:02pm: Okay good. Just checking.

--

The problem with Leonardo, or more specifically, not getting too addicted to Leonardo, is that he’s always there. When Stiles can’t sleep. When he’s bored in class. When Lydia won’t text him back what’s going to be on the Econ test.

And more recently, moments when even none of the above is happening and he just feels like talking with Leonardo. Sometimes when he’s surrounded by people. Sometimes even when people are trying to have a conversation with him. He just—he likes checking in.

It's not a fixation. It's a—a friendship. An unorthodox, but pleasant friendship.

Stiles @ 4:13pm: What's the worst thing you've ever done?

Leonardo @ 4:14pm: Killed someone.

Stiles @ 4:14pm: What the fuck????

Stiles @ 4:14pm: Are you serious??? How???

Leonardo @ 4:15pm: I was part of the California mafia for a while.

Stiles @ 4:15pm: What????

Leonardo @ 4:16pm: I'm kidding.

Leonardo @ 4:16pm: It was self defense. Long story short, I'm very good with my hands.

Stiles @ 4:17pm: I don't even know what to comment on first??

Stiles @ 4:18pm: 1) I was expecting something innocent like vacuuming up a pet gerbil

Stiles @ 4:18pm: 2) Is there actually a California mafia??

Stiles @ 4:19pm: 3) Was that bit about being good with your hands supposed to be such a double entendre?

Leonardo @ 4:21pm: 1) grow up, 2) possibly, 3) obviously

Stiles @ 4:22pm: Do you have that good with your hands bit on good authority or are you just self-fellating again?

Leonardo @ 4:22pm: I get glowing reviews whenever I show off my talents, I can assure you that much.

Leonardo @ 4:23pm: Now tell me. What was the worst thing you've ever done? I'm assuming the bit about the gerbil was autobiographical?

Stiles @ 4:24pm: No!

Stiles makes a mental note never to mention Mr. Winterbottoms, his pet rodent from third grade who suffered a tragic premature death during Sunday morning cleaning chores, to Leonardo for the remaining duration of their relationship.

Stiles @ 4:25pm: I guess I'd say the time I stole my dad's alcohol out of the basement when I was underage and then got so sloshed I ended up tping our own house?

Stiles @ 4:25pm: I also listen in on his police radio conversations a whole lot so I can sneak along to crime scenes so that's pretty bad too I guessRight. Your lifelong quest to live out the enthralling life of a crime-solving Hardy boy.

Leonardo @ 4:26pm: I'd say that's more admirable tenacity than something that would merit being the "worst thing you've ever done."

Stiles @ 4:27pm: What would you know YOU KILLED SOMEONE

Leonardo @ 4:27pm: You're saying my moral compass is skewed?

Stiles @ 4:28pm: I'm saying it's not to scale with my compass. Our maps of crime are different sizes so your worst and my worst are probably on very different levels.

Leonardo @ 4:28pm: All right. Reasonable enough.

Stiles @ 4:29pm: So what's the BEST thing you've ever done?

Leonardo @ 4:29pm: Hard to say since I haven't done a "good thing" in a while.

Stiles @ 4:29pm: How long is a while???

Leonardo @ 4:29pm: Depends. What counts as a good thing?

Stiles @ 4:30pm: You love making things hard, don't you?

"Who are you texting?" Scott asks.

Scott's voice pulls Stiles out of the conversation he was just living in inside his phone, his real life surroundings filling back in. Right. Study group with Scott. "Oh. Just Leonardo," he says. He reaches for his book, flipping a few pages over to catch up and pretend he's actually studying here. "You have the answer for number seven on the packet?"

"You've been talking to him a lot lately, huh?"

"What? No."

Scott taps the side of Stiles' phone. He looks like he's coming to conclusions here, conclusions which are just wrong. Leonardo's just some guy probably thousands of miles away who Stiles is having a good time talking to. He's paying him, so he might as well have a good time. He takes his pen and pretends to scribble something onto his homework, pretends to be focused on that.

"Is there... I don't know, something there?" Scott asks carefully.

"Something there," Stiles repeats. He feels, weirdly, like shoving his phone under his backpack, like it'll somehow hide Leonardo and put an end to this conversation. "Uh—no. He's my invisible boyfriend. He's doing a job."

"Who's he doing that job for?" Scott asks.

"What are you talking about?"

"I—never mind," Scott says, which is just about the most annoying thing he could say, as it only makes Stiles wants to know more. Under Stiles' annoyed stare, Scott continues. "The only person you're even using him for is your dad. Just seems like this is all more for you than anyone else."

He has the decency to look sheepish for sharing his ridiculous theory, but Stiles still isn't amused. This is—there's nothing going on here but Stiles getting his money's worth, and Scott couldn't be more off base, and what does Scott know about any of this anyway, Scott hasn't been single in ages and therefore his opinion is totally invalid—the point is, Stiles knows what he's doing here.

"I'm not into him like that," he says, keeping it as short and simple as possible even as his pen taps out a slightly angry rhythm against his book. "For all I know, he's some creeper living all the way in New Zealand or something and anyway, I. I know the difference between reality and—and this."

“Okay.”

“Seriously, Scott,” Stiles says, then immediately wonders if he’s getting suspiciously worked up over this. “There’s nothing to worry about. This is just a ruse.”

And I’m not falling for it, Stiles thinks about adding, then wonders if that’s overkill.

His phone buzzes with a message. It's Leonardo saying Yes, I do like making everything hard, and this time, you're the one to blame for the double entendre.

If Stiles wasn't feeling Scott's eyes on him, he'd let himself smile.

--

He gets his first voicemail one day later. It's waiting for Stiles by the time he gets out of class, and he ducks into a quiet stairwell in the Econ building to hear it play. His pulse is racing, which is stupid, because it's not real, not really, and Stiles feels unbelievably stupid for letting himself believe that it is.

The voicemail is short. It says, in a cheerful, deep voice: "Sorry I missed you last night, babe. I'll try to catch you tonight after work. Can't wait!"

Stiles listens to it a few times. It's not because it's sending his heart aflutter, but rather because something seems... off with it. It takes Stiles a moment to pinpoint his problem. Everything from the message to the voice to the way the words are being spoken just doesn't match up with the image Stiles has of Leonardo in his head, to say nothing of the virtual voice he's been seeing via text messages. Stiles doesn't know why he was expecting the same person to oversee all communication with him when it's logically some different employee at the end of each method of interaction, all frankensteining together one cohesive and totally artificial partner. It just sits wrong with him, that's all. That voice isn't right. It doesn't fit.

--

"My boyfriend is made of multiple people," Stiles says grimly over lunch on campus the next day. "I'm sure of it."

He reaches across the table for napkin that nearly flies away in the breeze. It's too windy to be eating outside, and yet here he is, soaking up the vitamin D and squinting against the sunlight because Isaac wanted to eat at the picnic tables. Stiles begrudgingly starts laying belongings on top of anything threatening to soar into the wind. It feels a little like a metaphor for his feelings, which seem to be flying everywhere lately even when he tries to desperately keep them grounded.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Isaac asks him. "Multiple boyfriends? Are you playing the field? When did you get so cool?"

"You haven't been listening," Stiles grumbles. "My invisible boyfriend left me a voicemail. It's not his voice."

"Whose voice?"

"The man I've been texting with."

"You're sure?" Isaac slants his eyebrows skeptically. "How can you know?"

This is the part that's going to end in ridicule and laughter, and Stiles quickly considers why he's having this conversation with Isaac instead of Scott. At least he didn't choose Lydia, who wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face and spent all of lunch frowning and cocking her eyebrows with heavy judgment. He found out last week that she knows about Leonardo too, in that he's not real and rather a very strange new hobby Stiles is involved in, the same way everybody Stiles knows seems to be in on the secret. It makes him feel, frustratingly, like he's not doing the whole proving-to-people-that-he's-taken thing quite right.

"I can just—I just know, all right?"

"You just know?"

"Yes! And I want to hear his real voice."

"Why?"

"Because—because I'm curious," Stiles stutters out. He doesn't have a good answer to give. He knows he shouldn't care about this, and he knows that the fact that he does is only going to end in trouble, but he's never been a master of self-control. He's used to wanting something and then finding some out-of-reach, illegal way to get it.

"The real guy. Does he live in Beacon Hills?"

"I—I don't know."

"Well. That certainly narrows it down a bit." Isaac sits up and looks around the quad, eyebrows furrowed with concentration, and points to a guy strumming a guitar around a group of chittering friends. "Maybe that's him."

No, that's not him. At least it's not how Stiles pictures him. Also there are billions of people on the planet and what are the odds. Still, he slips out his phone anyway, shoots Leonardo a text, and watches to see if guitar guy stops playing Wonderwall to pull a cell phone out of his pocket to answer a buzz. He doesn't, thank god.

"Can you be serious for a second?" Stiles says.

"Can I be serious for a second? Are you kidding me?" Isaac responds, putting his sandwich down. "You're fake dating a fake man under fake pretenses and we have to be serious about it?"

"It's not fake. At least—somebody real is texting me. It's not a robot."

"And you're just dying to find out who he is because you're curious?"

"Yes."

"And this has nothing to do with the fact that you're constantly texting him and pretending to date him?"

"No."

“Did you ever watch the movie Her, Stiles?”

God, he sounds just like Scott. Stiles' face is burning.

“Shut up. You’re not being helpful. Not that I’d expect anything else out of you, but come on.” Stiles remembers something. “You know what, I think he actually does live in Beacon Hills.”

“What makes you think so?”

“He suggested we go out to eat and mentioned a place here. In the area.”

“He couldn't have just used the Internet?”

Stiles momentarily gets distracted from Isaac’s negativity by a familiar hard-nosed face—Derek—walking by their table, and he waves at him, grinning.

“Hey, Derek!” he calls out. “Where you hurrying off to? Busting some skulls?”

Derek looks over at the two of them, briefly holding his palm up in acknowledgement. “Class.”

“Have fun,” Stiles says to his retreating back. He turns back to Isaac, stealing a pretzel from his snack bag. “He was my TA last semester.”

Isaac lifts his eyebrows for a moment. “Why don’t you hit that?” he leans in, the kind of smile Stiles wants to slap right off on his face. “Or are you too busy fantasizing about your invisible man?”

“Could we focus here? You were saying?”

He sighs, clearly wishing Stiles would have a better sense of humor about this. This is all Isaac’s fault, and it was his idea in the beginning, so Stiles refuses to take any flack from him. “I have a solution to your problem,” Isaac says. “Just ask him?”

“Can’t,” Stiles replies. “He’s not supposed to break the fourth wall.” Although, on second thought, Leonardo definitely hasn’t had any qualms doing so thus far. “You really think I should just ask him about himself? His real self?"

"Why not? What's the worst that could happen?"

Stiles shrugs; he really can't think of anything, which is surprising, because he's usually pretty good at throwing wildly pessimistic worst-case-scenarios into the air. Even more surprising is the idea that Isaac might actually have come up with good advice for him here.

"Unless he's secretly a murderer who happens to live down the block," Isaac says, voice mild. "Then it's probably a bad idea."

“You know, every time we talk,” Stiles says, snagging another pretzel, “I’m reminded to not do it again.” He picks up his bag, standing up from the table with one last handful of food from Isaac’s plate. “Next time, I’m going to Allison.”

“Is this supposed to be a punishment?” Isaac asks at him as he walks away. Stiles refrains from answering.

--

Stiles spends the entire walk home thinking over how he’s going to implement Isaac’s idea, how he’s going to nonchalantly bring up that whole rule-breaking topic again. He should’ve asked Leonardo about himself back then, just asked him how his day is going, or what he likes to do, or if he’d be interested in sharing a few tidbits about himself.

He’s just about convinced himself that this is a bad idea and that he really shouldn’t get invested anyway when Leonardo buzzes in his hand. When he opens up his phone, he sees that all of that planning might’ve been moot.

Leonardo @ 5:01pm: I want to know more about you.

Stiles @ 5:02pm: I want to know more about you too!

Leonardo @ 5:02pm: What would you like to know?

Stiles @ 5:03pm: Idk. Everything you want to share. Where'd you grow up?

Leonardo @ 5:04pm: With too many people.

Stiles @ 5:05pm: Ah. Big family?

Leonardo @ 5:06pm: Yes. It's not as pleasant as it sounds.

Stiles @ 5:07pm: Sounds nice to me. It's only me and my dad. My only living grandma is in Florida. You have nooo idea how much I wanted a brother or sister growing up.

Leonardo @ 5:07pm: Sisters are the worst. They never let you get away with anything. Consider yourself lucky.

Stiles @ 5:08pm: My dad’s THE SHERIFF. He doesn't let me get away with anything either!!!!!

Leonardo @ 5:08pm: What about your mother?

Stiles @ 5:09pm: Died when I was younger.

Leonardo @ 5:10pm: I'm sorry.

Leonardo @ 5:10pm: If it makes you feel any better, I've lost quite a few family members too.

Stiles @ 5:11pm: It's supposed to make me feel better that you've lost family???

Leonardo @ 5:12pm: Misery loves company. Schadenfreude. They're popular concepts, my dear.

Stiles @ 5:13pm: You're so weird!!!!!!!!

--

He gets another voicemail later that day. A voice—possibly the same as before, Stiles can’t even tell, it just sounds like a generic white boy voice to him—tells him that hanging out yesterday was fun, and he hopes they can do it again.

Again, it sounds incredibly wrong. Stiles deletes it immediately after, which is a kneejerk reaction that probably isn’t all too wise—after all, that’s his paid-for evidence right there in case anyone wants a digital footprint proving the existence of his loving boyfriend—but he just can’t have that sitting on his phone like he’s buying it, because he isn’t. He wants to hear Leonardo’s real voice, even just for a second, and it’s starting to bug him so much that it’s burrowing a hole of frustration into his innards that’s starting to get harder and harder to ignore, like a hangnail that just keeps snagging itself on things. This is how his mind works; it latches onto things and doesn’t let go, and now he’s stuck wondering about Leonardo’s real face, real voice, real body all day long. It doesn’t exactly sit well with his productivity.

Right after he shoots that voicemail into the garbage, he decides he’s going to settle this. He looks up the company’s number that’s provided him with such consistent stress over the last few days and dials it, waiting for the ringing to cut off while he sits at the desk in his room, idly staring at all the homework he’s neglected recently all the while. He’ll get to that later.

Eventually, someone picks up.

“You’ve reached Invisible Boyfriend, can I help you with something?” a woman’s voice says cheerfully.

"I need to talk to one of your writers," Stiles says, tapping his pencil.

"Do you have a problem you need to address?"

"No, no problem," Stiles answers. "It's just—I'm looking for a specific one. The one I'm speaking to. Through the phone, that is. Texting."

"I'm sorry, sir, that's not allowed. We prohibit any contact with your writer unless it's through the persona you've designed."

"I haven't fallen in love with him," Stiles clarifies, feeling desperate. He read the FAQ, he knew what the rules were going into this, and he's not lovestruck under some delusion that Leonardo is a real, living person he needs to find and seduce. He just wants to know who's on the other end of this ridiculous charade. He just wants to hear his voice. "I just want a name."

"I'm sorry, but it's against the rules," she insists. "If you have any complaints or problems you need to report regarding your text messages—"

"No, that's not—" He sighs. His pencil's tapping has sped up into something quick and irritated. "Thanks anyway."

He ends the call and stuffs his phone back into his pants. He must sound like a lunatic, so he’s not all that surprised that he wasn’t given any information on Leonardo even if what he was hoping would happen was that he would be sent a detailed PDF on Leonardo’s puppeteer, and then a home address and full name. He’s not used to this feeling of being in the dark about someone, mostly because his father’s police resources have always stepped in and spoiled him, but now it’s just him and his pitiful lack of tricks kept up his sleeve.

Something his father once said to him comes back to his brain: the easiest tactic is sometimes just getting the criminal to talk himself into confessing instead of going from witness to witness.

Maybe Stiles needs to go straight to the source.

--

In this instance, the source is Leonardo himself. It’s so simple it’s possibly genius.

Stiles @ 5:31pm: What's your name?

Leonardo @ 5:35pm: Leonardo.

Stiles @ 5:36pm: No. I meant your real name.

Stiles' phone stays quiet after he sends the pleading hands emoji as a follow-up. He messes with it in his hands a few times, wiping his thumb over the dark screen, idly clicking his tongue and wondering if he ought to apologize for even asking. Or maybe he should leave it alone, wait until he gets a non-sequitur text tomorrow asking how he’s doing and just leave it at that. Stop blurring the lines. Stop peering behind the curtain at whose hands are holding the dolls. Maybe it's someone totally boring. Maybe it's someone totally out of Stiles' league. Maybe it's an old wrinkly man.

He starts writing the text are you an old wrinkly man just to assuage his concerns when Leonardo chimes in first.

Leonardo @ 5:41pm: I could get fired for this.

Stiles looks at it for a while, feeling unreasonably giddy, wondering what he's really trying to say. Is it a challenge to keep prodding, a playful tease, or a warning to back off? More importantly, is anybody actually monitoring these messages? It feels like it would be a gross invasion of privacy, but then again, Stiles is texting with an invisible boyfriend he paid to have be at his beck and call. What the fuck does he know about how true the rules are. He read the FAQ, not the fine print.

But he's not all that invisible, now is he. He's a real person sitting somewhere with a real phone replying to Stiles' real texts. Somewhere beneath all this silliness and these mandatory masks, something is real.

Stiles @ 5:43pm: I won't tell anyone.

Stiles @ 5:44pm: All I want is a first name.

For the next few minutes, it's nothing but radio silence again. Stiles wonders if Leonardo is somewhere right now staring hard at their message thread wondering if he should break the rules, or if he's already laughed off Stiles' requests and is currently too distracted feeding his real legitimate partner chocolate covered strawberries to even consider responding. Stiles thinks of what his name could be. What would fit him.

Stiles @ 5:48pm: I could always guess.

Stiles @ 5:48pm: Tyler. Axel. Bob. Jake. Mark. Thor. Claude. Guillermo.

Stiles @ 5:48pm: Steve. John. Jason. Adolf. George. Martin. Francine. Just tell me if I'm warm.

Leonardo @ 5:49pm: Peter.

Stiles @ 5:50pm: Peter?

Stiles @ 5:51pm: Huh.

Stiles @ 5:52pm: It suits you.

Stiles @ 5:52pm: I like it better than Leonardo.

Leonardo Peter @ 5:54pm: I'm flattered.

Stiles @ 5:56pm: So you could get in trouble for this?

Peter @ 5:57pm: Yes.

Stiles @ 5:57pm: And... you're doing it anyway?

Peter @ 5:58pm: What kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn't oblige your wishes?

Stiles @ 5:59pm: One with free will, I suppose?

Peter @ 5:59pm: You're a little shit. You know that?

Stiles @ 6:00pm: I know :)

--

He tries calling the company again the next day, and this time, he’s armed with a first name. He just has to be nonchalant, not let it slip that he’s a customer, and see if he can scrape by. It’s not much, and there’s the looming possibility that Peter was lying to shake an insistent stalker off his shoulders and his name isn’t Peter at all, but he’s going to try. He thinks Peter told him the truth, he just has a feeling, and he’s going to see if he’s right.

“You’ve reached Invisible Boyfriend, can I help you with something?”

"Hi," Stiles says. "I'm looking for Peter."

"Who?"

God, please don't ask for a last name. Stiles' best plan should that happen is to either abruptly hang up or provide the most generic surname he can think of as quickly as possible and hope for the best. He just wants a few minutes of talk time, is that so damn terrible?

"He's one of your writers. I'm his—" Stiles mentally filters through all of the raging lies he could tell now and which one would be the most effective. "—father. And I need to get a hold of him. His cell must be turned off and it's urgent."

This is the opposite of urgent. This is sneaky and unnecessary and probably on all sorts of levels of creepy. Stiles can hear clacking coming faintly through the phone, like fingers typing on a keyboard, and wonders if this is his lucky fucking day and the woman he's talking to is looking for Peter's extension.

"I can transfer you over to him," she says. "Just a second."

Silence washes over the phone, and Stiles is left to stew in nothing but the blaring noise of his own thoughts. Is this insane? Should he just hang up now? Is he about to make a fool of himself because he’s trying to track down his invisible boyfriend because his curiosity is becoming more and more like a raging dragon in his chest that demands to be fed? What even is his endgame here?

He’s going to hang up. He’s going to stop this nonsense now because Scott was right and this can’t possibly—

"Hello?" a bemused voice says.

"Hi," Stiles says, taken aback, suddenly unsure of what to say at all. It’s like even after all their texts he’s still surprised that Peter’s a real person at all, not just a mechanical bot programmed to text him back. He starts playing with the thread hanging off the bottom of his tee, pulling on it, spinning it, knotting it. "It's—uh, it's Stiles."

For a beat, there's total silence. Then Peter starts laughing.

"Well. I knew my father hadn't risen from the dead to call me."

"Oh. Uh. I'm sorry for your loss?" Or for impersonating him. Or for screwing this up royally. Stiles can't even keep a paid-for boyfriend; this is either a joke or a total nightmare.

"Thanks," Peter says. "This is against the rules, you know."

"I just wanted to hear your voice."

"Ah. And how do you like it?"

Now that he's actually focusing on it, Stiles realizes that he likes it a lot. It's smooth and deep and something about it inherently reminds Stiles of eating chocolate, absurdly enough. It's much better than the voicemail Leonardo left him. Something about it—the velvet edge, the syrupy way he speaks, the hard consonants—fits all those text messages Stiles has been getting perfectly.

"It's nice," Stiles tells him. "What I imagined your voice to be like, honestly."

"You imagined?"

Stiles flushes. He also has a notebook full of idly scribbled doodles of what he imagines Peter to look like, and sometimes his mind wanders into thinking about what Peter smells like, and he's definitely thought about what sort of TV shows he watches in his free time, but he probably shouldn’t share all that.

"Didn't you?" Stiles says instead of admitting to all of that. "Imagine mine, I mean."

"Hmm. I suppose I did," Peter says.

"How do I sound?"

"Nervous," Peter replies. "Like you're waiting for me to hang up on you."

Stiles lets out a dry laugh. "Oh. Are you?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

His cheeks burn again. "I'm curious about you. That can't be so weird given—what you do."

"Believe me, Stiles, I've never had anyone try so persistently to talk to me," he says. "Most people can separate the story from reality."

"That's not what—that's not what this is," Stiles says quickly. "I know what the difference is. The only reason I'm even doing this is because my dad won't get off my case about being happy and drunk in love."

"Is that what he says?" Peter sounds amused.

"No, I'm paraphrasing," Stiles replies. "Point is, I'm not trying to fill any holes in my life by pretending I have a boyfriend. I don't have any holes." Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with him today? He shouldn't be allowed to speak to anybody for at least twenty-four hours. "Scratch that. I'm just. I'm just interested in you. Who you really are."

"This is highly inappropriate."

"I don't care, okay? I'm not trying to get you fired, but I'm not interested in the rules." He pauses, stopping to consider if he's being insensitive and perhaps coming off a little deranged. "Could this get you fired?"

"Oh, absolutely," Peter says. There's a squeaking sound wafting in from the background like Peter's gently tilting left and right in an old desk chair. "I'm not allowed to break the fourth wall."

"But you did."

"I did."

"Why?"

"Maybe I just didn't want you throwing more random names my way." He waits a beat, and somehow Stiles feels as if he's smiling on the other end of the phone. "Or maybe I admired your persistence." He pauses again. "Was Leonardo not enticing enough for you?"

"Leonardo was—look, you're terrible at this," Stiles says bluntly. "Which is probably why I got so curious. I said Leonardo was supposed to be fun and adventurous. You're dry as sand and narcissistic and I'm pretty sure you like to argue just for the hell of it."

"Excuse you?"

"My point is, you don't play your character very well. This probably isn't the job for you."

"Did you call me up just to give me criticism on my performance?"

"No, I didn't." A redness take hostage of Stiles’ cheeks. "I called because I got that voicemail and I just—I knew it wasn't your voice. And I wanted to hear the real one."

"I have a very distressing surprise for you, then. That picture you chose is not my face either."

“You’re hilarious,” Stiles deadpans. “Yes, I know. It’s just frustrating to me that you know so much about me and I don’t know anything about you. I’m just. I’m not very good at pretending.” He tries to find a way to put it into words correctly, that this entire service was not built for people like him that are always looking under the rugs. “I can’t just pretend that somebody I’ve never met before is my boyfriend and then play house with him over the phone. I don’t know how you’re doing it.”

“For the record,” Peter drawls, “I don’t know much about you either. Just your first name, your last initial, and that you like men who are fun and adventurous and are proficient at debate club.”

“That last one is just so he’ll be able to keep up with my quick wit.”

“Of course.” Peter chuckles. The sound is nice, all throaty and low, and there, Stiles thinks, that is what he’s supposed to sound like. “Other than that, I don’t know who you are.”

Stiles thinks of all those text messages he’s mindlessly sent as easily as if they were going to old friends, all the little nuggets of his personality he’s revealed, and has to disagree.

“What do you picture me like?” he asks.

“Hmm,” Peter hums. Stiles tries to do it too, imagine Peter’s face as he sits at his desk and swivels left and right at a languid pace. There’s a notebook in front of him that isn’t too far away—he could grab a pen and just start sketching and see how it turns out. Wouldn’t be the first time he’s done it, although it’s something he usually does absent-mindedly in class, never with too much thought or purpose. Maybe Peter’s tall. Maybe Peter wears glasses. Maybe he has blond, surfer boy hair that glows gold in the sun. “Young, energetic. Dark eyes, slim body. Tattoos?”

“No tattoos.”

“Always wearing earbuds. Side burns that none of your friends have the heart to tell you just aren’t working. Perhaps some red hair. Am I right on the nose?”

“I sound like the long lost Weasley,” Stiles says. “No. No, absolutely no.” He sits up a little taller in his chair until he can see the small mirror propped up on his sock drawer and catch a glimpse of his face. He wonders, in spite of himself, if it’s the kind of face Peter would like. If Peter has the kind of face that would make Stiles notice him on the street. “Are you projecting? Is that what you look like?”

“Actually, no. I’m quite handsome, if I do say so myself.”

Stiles lets out a bark of laughter. “Do I need to send a slice of humble pie your way?”

“I'm reasonably confident in myself."

“Anyway,” Stiles says loudly. “And if I can also add something to the record, you know more about me than you might think. You do realize I bought extra texts more than once?”

“I noticed. Why was that?”

“Because I...” Stiles wishes people would stop asking him confrontational questions about his growing obsession with his invisible boyfriend; he doesn’t have reasonable answers even close to at the ready. “…like talking to you.”

“How come?”

“Your ego need stroking or what?”

“It’s perfectly valid considering that you’ve chased me down.”

“I did not chase you down,” Stiles clarifies hotly. “It was really a very simple process.” Not really, but that’s beside the point and not really Peter’s business. “I just asked to speak to Peter.” And weaseled information about his identity out of him and pretended to be his father, but that’s also beside the point.

“After grilling me for my name last night.”

“Okay, fine,” Stiles says, because he’s pretty sure answering Peter’s question is easier—and less incriminating—than floating down this tangent. “I like talking to you because you… I don’t know. Challenge me?” He runs a hand over his face and keeps it there, shutting his eyes. “I like how sarcastic you are. It cracks me up. I like all those weird things you say and how hilariously full of yourself you are. It’s—different than any other friend I have and I guess I find it… refreshing.”

“Hmm,” Peter says. Stiles can’t make out if he seems flattered or not. “So you’d like to be my friend?”

“Well, I thought we already were.”

“I wouldn’t say so.”

“Um. Standing by for the compliment?”

“I have paperwork to prove that we’re, for all intents and purposes, boyfriends.”

“You’re just trying to make this difficult for me, aren’t you?” Stiles asks.

“It tickles me.”

“Okay, you dick,” Stiles grumbles. “I worked hard to have an ear-to-ear conversation like this and I would like to be your friend. Our conversations are fun. You're the light of my life. The apple of my eye. Your rapier wit and smooth charm have me melting. This working for you?”

“All right,” Peter says, heaving a loud sigh. He's really hamming it up, and if Stiles didn't have such a deep appreciation for sarcasm he would probably start being offended now. “We can be friends.”

“You sound thrilled,” Stiles points out. “Have you even had a friend before? It doesn't sound like you're all too familiar with the concept.”

“I work wonderfully with people,” Peter says, somehow managing to both evade Stiles' jab and preen himself up simultaneously. “But I do prefer professional relationships.” He pauses. “And there's always something very alluring about a stranger.”

“There's something alluring about a stranger?” Stiles repeats skeptically.

“They can surprise you,” Peter murmurs. He sounds like he's thinking back on a specific memory. “Like you, for instance.”

“Oh. Is that a good thing?”

“You know what?” Peter sounds like he's smiling. “I'll let you know.”

--

They end up talking for another thirty minutes before Peter hangs up to go eat lunch, mostly about incessant things, like the emojis Stiles tends to overuse or how annoying auto-correct is when it comes to cuss words, which dissolves into a fairly lively discussion about when or why anybody would ever legitimately need to use the word ducking in a text message.

It feels nice, and easy, and unforced. Like somewhere along the way with those messages, they got to know each other and now on the phone they can talk like familiar buds, like people who have met before and talked before and really interacted on a molecular level.

It sates Stiles' urge to want to hear Peter's voice, but it brings a new urge to the surface to replace it: the urge to meet Peter in real life. Watch his mannerisms, become familiar with his body language, memorize the way he moves his mouth when he talks. He wants to match a face to that voice, a body, a pair of hands, a head of hair. He wants to see Peter in front of him and impress him for real, face-to-face.

He knows, distantly in the back of his mind where the logic sits behind a very purposefully placed blackout curtain, that this isn't good. He's going down a bad road here that's left "harmless interest" in the rearview mirror and has "concerning fixation" as a destination. The more he digs here, the harder it'll be to let go when eventually, it all ends. None of it is real and shelling out all this money for text message conversations is neither sustainable nor is it doing wonders for Stiles' self-confidence, the fact that Peter's only doing all this because he's being paid not lost on Stiles. Also not lost on him is how fucking pathetic it is that he's taken an unhealthy liking to this guy, a guy who he's never met, touched, or even as much as seen.

But more overpowering than all of that doubt and nagging unease is how good it feels to talk with Peter, how it's starting to feel like Peter's walls are coming down too. He didn't have to give up his name. He didn't have to talk to Stiles when he called out of the blue. But he did, and surely that must mean something.

He thinks about it while he's brushing his teeth that night, phone in one hand and toothbrush in the other.

Stiles @ 9:27pm: Sorry if I bothered you today.

Peter @ 9:30pm: You didn't.

Stiles @ 9:31pm: Really?

Peter @ 9:32pm: Your awkward persistence was rather charming.

Peter @ 9:32pm: Now stop fishing for compliments.

Stiles @ 9:33pm: Hey! Aren't you supposed to be continuously loving?

Peter @ 9:35pm: I thought you were a big fan of breaking the rules.

Stiles @ 9:36pm: Ha, ha.

Stiles @ 9:36pm: You have a nice voice.

Peter @ 9:37pm: Is that so?

Stiles @ 9:38pm: It's sexy.

Stiles blinks at his phone right after he sends that, wondering on earth possessed him to type the words.

Peter @ 9:40pm: All of me is sexy.

Stiles @ 9:43pm: You're teasing me.

Peter @ 9:44pm: I am.

Something lodges itself into Stiles’ chest, possibly a wad of electricity that’s threatening to infect his heart and possibly his dick. This—this feels like something. Surely, surely, surely this can't all be Stiles' head.

--

That night, Stiles dreams again of Leonardo, but this time he has Peter's voice, and he's so close to Stiles, so close but not touching, just whispering endlessly in his ear. Stiles isn't listening, it might as well be Russian for all he cares, it's really just the sounds that matter, the way Peter's voice sounds when it's right up close to his eardrum.

It feels like he's lying somewhere wet and soft, like he's in Scott's backyard pulling weeds out under his fist, and that's when he realizes that he's on the grass, and the sky is endlessly blue above him, and if he tilts his head up slightly, he sees the mechanical latticework of the Eiffel Tower. They're stretched out on the Champs de Mars, just like they talked about, and Peter's hand is a warm pressure on his leg, and it smells like baguettes, and this is nice, all nice. It's nicer than hiking up a windless mountain was while a hand attached to an anonymous body pulled him up and up and up.

The only downside is that he can't turn his head and look at Peter. Every time he tries, Peter's nose nudges his chin back into place and his mouth curves wetly up the line of his jaw, ending at his ear, and Stiles shudders into compliance. Complaining seems completely pointless here, especially when there are blue skies and lips parted on his skin and a dreamy haziness to the world that isn't hospitable to negative thoughts.

He wakes up distinctly different than the last time he dreamt of Peter—or Leonardo, technically. That time he was feeling fresh and hopeful and in the mood for running up a mountain, now he feels like he’s made entirely of gelatin. A little warm in the face, a little warmer down below.

He goes to the bathroom to compose himself—maybe Peter's right about early morning masturbation—and when he comes back, he throws himself back into the bed and grabs his phone, thumbing his way to his texts with Peter.

Stiles @ 10:11am: Did you know that there's a woman out there who's married to the Eiffel Tower?

Peter @ 10:12am: What?

Stiles @ 10:13am: Yeah. She feels a strong emotional connection to it and believes people can fall in love with objects. She changed her last name to Eiffel and everything.

Peter @ 10:13am: What does she do on their anniversaries?

Stiles @ 10:14am: Takes the Eiffel Tower out on a nice date obviously.

Stiles @ 10:14am: I have no idea. I just thought it was cool.

Peter @ 10:16am: How do you know about this?

Stiles @ 10:17am: Saw a documentary once. It was all about people and their romantic attachments to things and how they believe they can access planes most people can't where they can connect with objects on mental and emotional levels.

Peter @ 10:18am: You're just a pot full of knowledge, aren't you?

Stiles @ 10:18am: Yes! Mr. Pot Full of Knowledge, that’s what they call me. I hope you're impressed!

Stiles @ 10:19am: Honestly I just like wasting time on Wikipedia educating myself on random articles...

Peter @ 10:20am: Not that I don't appreciate today's youth educating themselves on object-based attractions, but... Where did this come from again?

Stiles @ 10:21am: I had a dream about the Eiffel Tower. Paris actually.

Peter @ 10:21am: Oh?

Stiles @ 10:21am: Do you want to hear?

Peter @ 10:21am: That's why I said "oh?"

Stiles @ 10:22am: Smartass.

Stiles @ 10:22am: We were on the Champs de Mars in front of it and you were laying next to me talking in my ear.

Stiles @ 10:22am: I think your voice left quite the impression on me yesterday.

Stiles waffles between adding a "haha" or a casual "lol" before settling on "lol." The lol is unnecessary. It's just there to keep his text from sounding like a virtual wink.

Peter @ 10:23am: What was I saying in your ear?

Stiles @ 10:24am: I wish I knew!! But I couldn't really focus. You know how dreams can be.

Stiles @ 10:24am: Was that really true btw? That you'd like to go to Paris?

Peter @ 10:24am: Yes, I would.

Peter @ 10:25am: I was in France once, but never Paris.

Stiles @ 10:26am: Where did you go?

Peter @ 10:27am: I was in Nice. I was taking French classes in school and all of us went on a restoration trip.

Peter @ 10:27am: We were supposed to be cleaning up cemeteries and old historical houses but ended up skipping out on the work and going to the beach instead.

Stiles @ 10:27am: Whose idea was that?

Peter @ 10:28am: Mine. :)

Stiles @ 10:28am: I'm not surprised, you devil you

Stiles @ 10:28am: I didn't know you spoke French.

Peter @ 10:29am: Not quite. Juste en peu.

Peter @ 10:29am: I wanted to seem more irresistible and charismatic and at the time, and becoming fluent in the language of love seemed like a wonderful idea.

Stiles @ 10:29am: And now?

Peter @ 10:30am: Now I know that I am irresistible and charming with or without extra languages to boot.

Peter @ 10:30am: Anyway. I like the idea of going back with someone like you and exploring Paris.

Stiles @ 10:31am: Maybe not the Eiffel Tower. It's already taken and spoken for...

Peter @ 10:33am: I'm googling that story as we text. You were right. This woman does exist.

Peter @ 10:34am: Just when I thought the universe couldn't surprise me anymore, I find out that there are people in this world supposedly romantically involved with inanimate objects.

Stiles @ 10:35am: I think it's sort of neat honestly... like yeah, it's crazy, but think about how cool it would be if things had feelings and you could understand them all. Plus they're probably less complicated that humans.

Peter @ 10:35am: Complicated isn't always a bad thing.

Peter @ 10:36am: But you can't fall in love with something that doesn't even have a face.

Stiles thinks suddenly of all these messages sent back and forth, of his dream, how Peter was draped over him and even under the blur of sleeping, Stiles remembers feeling warm, tingly, like when you lay out at the beach under the sun just shy of too long, but how he could never see his face. How even now, he doesn't know what Peter looks like. He can close his eyes and guess, but whatever he pictures will still just be a product of his imagination. Peter's basically faceless to him, and still—

Stiles @ 10:38am: I don't know. People fall in love online all the time.

Peter @ 10:39am: Unsuccessfully. Haven't you seen Catfish?

Stiles @ 10:40am: Have I ever. Nev Schulman can getttt ittttt.

Peter @ 10:40am: Your wandering eye wounds me.

Stiles @ 10:41am: Get over it.

Stiles @ 10:41am: The point is that there's more to someone than just a face. There's the stuff you talk about and the way you connect.

Peter @ 10:43am: Faces matter. This is an evolutionary fact. Humans are more likely to be attracted to symmetry, and by extension, more attractive faces because a good looking mate means strong genes. Being shallow is a part of being human.

Stiles @ 10:44am: Are you saying that if I was a hideous troll you wouldn't love me????

Peter @ 10:45am: If you were a hideous troll I'd be reaping in the millions that would come my way for not only finding but also communicating with a rumored mythical creature.

Stiles @ 10:46am: So romantic.

Stiles @ 10:46am: All this talk of selling out your troll boyfriend for money is doing it for me.

Peter @ 10:48am: Maybe Google imaging Nev Schulman will revive your sexual spirits.

Stiles @ 10:49am: You are totally JEALOUS omg incredible

Stiles @ 10:49am: Try to contain your rampant envy

Peter @ 10:50am: I will do my best.

--

Peter @ 5:32pm: Having a horrible day.

Peter @ 5:32pm: Currently angry at everyone.

Stiles @ 5:33pm: Except for me, right sugarmuffin?

Peter @ 5:35pm: Depends on how this conversation will progress.

Stiles @ 5:36pm: You're so hard to please

Stiles @ 5:36pm: And this grouchy mood is a lovely color on you

Stiles @ 5:37pm: Okay, I'll be nice. What happened today?

Peter @ 5:38pm: I got a flat tire while I was running errands. My computer lost a bunch of files I had been working on. And then I had lunch with my ever pleasant nephew.

Stiles @ 5:39pm: You have a nephew?

Peter @ 5:40pm: Yes. A temperamental hopeless little thing.

Stiles @ 5:40pm: Is he good looking?

Peter @ 5:41pm: You're dating ME, Stiles

Peter @ 5:41pm: This day is just getting better and better

Stiles @ 5:42pm: Okay okay I'm sorry. Your lack of punctuation is actually scaring me a little, you must really be pissy

Peter @ 5:43pm: He and I fight over everything. I had fun in my youth pranking him here and there and now he's taken to distrusting me at all times.

Stiles @ 5:43pm: Can you definite "pranking?"

Stiles @ 5:44pm: While we're at it, can you also define "in my youth?"

Peter @ 5:44pm: Fuck you.

Peter @ 5:45pm: All harmless jokes. I'd sometimes scare off his girlfriends by making them think our house was haunted.

Peter @ 5:46pm: Sometimes I'd purposefully give him bad advice because it was too funny to let the opportunities go.

Peter @ 5:46pm: I once pretended to die tragically just to see his reaction when I "returned from the grave."

Stiles @ 5:46pm: Wtf??? You're a total psycho, you know that, right!!

Peter @ 5:47pm: Oh, please.

Peter @ 5:47pm: You told me you hardly have family members, you just clearly don't understand family dynamics.

Stiles @ 5:48pm: I understand what a harmless prank is!!! Bucket of water over a door! Plastic spider on the couch!

Peter @ 5:49pm: How unbelievably refreshing and innovative.

Stiles @ 5:49pm: The classics live on forever!

Peter @ 5:50pm: There is nothing classic about the moldy carpet that comes with buckets making puddles of water on the floor after being tipped off a door.

Peter @ 5:51pm: Can we focus please? This is about my bad day.

Stiles @ 5:52pm: Right. What else happened?

Peter @ 5:53pm: I then got a splitting headache after lunch, and when I came home, I was out of both ibuprofen and vodka.

Stiles @ 5:54pm: Sounds rough.

Stiles @ 5:54pm: How can I help?

Stiles @ 5:54pm: I know. I'll tell you a joke

Stiles @ 5:55pm: We should watch star wars together because yoda one for me

Peter @ 5:58pm: That was terrible, Stiles.

Stiles @ 5:59pm: It was not!!!!

Stiles @ 5:59pm: If you can't appreciate puns, there will be a serious crimp in our future!!!

Peter @ 6:00pm: I’ll work on it.

Stiles is just about to reply when he sees Derek on the quad in front of him, sat on a bench with a thick textbook on his lap. Whenever Stiles sees him around, he always looks stuck between irked and stressed, so Stiles decides to say hello.

“Derek, my pal,” Stiles says, coming to a stop in front of the bench. “What's with the sour face?”

“Bad day,” Derek says.

“School related?”

“No. Family related.”

“Sorry, man. I can relate. The stuff I do to please my dad sometimes.” Stiles thinks of the virtual boyfriend he’s carrying around in his pocket all to keep his dad from thinking that Stiles is loveless, isolated, and on his way to becoming a shut-in. Then again, it doesn’t really feel like his dad’s the reason behind keeping that up anymore, but that’s another thing to get into another time. “What happened with your family?”

Derek sighs. “It’s just hard for me to get along with them sometimes.” He closes his textbook, like all this fresh air and pleasant nature isn’t relaxing him like he hoped. “Some of them are trying on a regular day, but recently—” He breathes through his nose like a bull about to be released from a cage. “Doesn’t matter.”

“What happened, death in the family? Or did the family beach house get sold without you knowing about it?” Stiles scratches his head. “Wait, shotgun wedding?”

“No,” Derek says. “Let’s just say my uncle is having—relationship problems.” That last bit sounds like it’s causing him pain to even say it out loud. “And for some godforsaken reason, he’s chosen me to unload on about them.”

He pushes his monster of a book into his bag, getting to his feet. Stiles’ phone vibrates where it’s still tucked into his hand, reminding him that there are other people in need of cheering up. There must be something in the water today.

“You want a Star Wars pun to brighten your day?” Stiles offers as Derek starts walking away.

“No,” Derek says immediately, so that’s zero for two with Stiles’ amazing pop culture humor. What is wrong with people these days?

His phone buzzes a few more times, Peter clearly still mid-rant, so Stiles waves at Derek’s back and turns his attention back to the temperamental boyfriend in his phone.

--

Stiles @ 2:20pm: You do more than just this, right?

Peter @ 2:21pm: What?

Stiles @ 2:21pm: What’s your day job outside of charming boys like me?

Peter @ 2:25pm: I like to write.

Stiles @ 2:28pm: Really? What about?

Peter @ 2:29pm: Psychology.

Stiles suddenly remembers that he marked Leonardo's job as thick-muscled bouncer with a music career on the side, which means that this is actually Peter talking, and honestly at that.

Stiles @ 2:30pm: Is that why you're doing this? For some psychological insight into lonely people's minds?

Peter @ 2:30pm: I don’t do this for the money. And I have certainly spoken to some interesting people through here.

Stiles @ 2:32pm: Now's the part where you say none of them are as special as me.

Peter @ 2:33pm: Special is absolutely the word I'd use.

Stiles @ 2:33pm: Ouch. Somebody needs lessons in the language of love.

Peter @ 2:34pm: I'm actually very poetic.

Stiles @ 2:35pm: I'd love to see your writing if you ever felt like sharing. :)

Stiles @ 2:36pm: Especially anything you've written about me. :) :) :)

Peter @ 2:36pm: You mean my psych eval of you?

Stiles @ 2:36pm: You didn't!

Peter @ 2:37pm: Perhaps.

Peter @ 2:37pm: I'm also a fan of history, but I'm more interested in making it than I am writing about it.

Stiles @ 2:38pm: We're just gonna roll right by that jab about me being mentally vetted by you, huh

Stiles @ 2:38pm: Okay, what kind of history do you like?

Peter @ 2:40pm: World war I and II. Pretty much any war will do, though.

Peter @ 2:41pm: I like learning about how people fought. What they fought over. What they used to get what they wanted. But that's only when I have time to spare to do some reading.

Stiles @ 2:42pm: What else do you do in your free time?

Peter @ 2:42pm: Hmmm.

Peter @ 2:43pm: I like to dance.

Stiles @ 2:44pm: What kind? I'm guessing you're an urban hip hop crumper.

Peter @ 2:44pm: Ha, ha.

Peter @ 2:45pm: Ballroom mostly. Swing, rumba, tango, waltz.

A French speaking tango dancer. Stiles may faint; he had no idea people like this actually existed. So full of concepts and ideas and talents Stiles has never seen in another person before.

Stiles @ 2:46pm: Is this another skill you learned to charm people?

Peter @ 2:48pm: No, that was actually my mother's idea. She signed me and my sister up for classes when we were younger. Naturally, I was good. Enough so that I continued with it as I got older.

Stiles @ 2:49pm: So you could teach me a thing or two about dancing?

Peter @ 2:50pm: I'm sure I could.

Stiles @ 2:51pm: Could I hold a red rose between my teeth while we dance?

Peter @ 2:51pm: I take it you haven't learned much dance?

Stiles @ 2:53pm: Oh absolutely none. I'm a klutz. People typically run away when I start laying down moves. I just give off that drunken uncle vibe effortlessly. I hear some people try for years to reach that kind of level of finesse, so there's that.

Stiles @ 2:54pm: Still think you could teach me?

Peter @ 2:55pm: I'm sure there are lots of things I could teach you.

Peter @ 2:55pm: I hardly fail at anything.

Stiles @ 2:56pm: Not sure if I should focus on the astounding amount of narcissism or the fact that you continuously like torturing me with double entendres

Stiles @ 2:57pm: Here's something to take your ego down a peg: can you riverdance?

Peter @ 2:59pm: That'd be a no.

Stiles @ 3:00pm: What?? There's something you can't do?? And you're admitting it???

Peter @ 3:01pm: It's definitely a new sensation.

Peter @ 3:01pm: I did try my hand at tap a few years ago. It wasn't quite for me, but I can appreciate the intricacy of it.

“Texting with Leonardo?” Scott asks, dropping into the seat next to him.

“Oh, ah. Peter, actually.”

Scott visibly straightens up. “Who's Peter?”

“Well. Um. Leonardo, technically.”

“What?”

“He’s, uh. The guy behind Leonardo.”

“That’s allowed?”

“Technically not,” Stiles admits, fingers suddenly a little sweaty where they’re poised on his phone’s keyboard. “But we just started talking about it? And now, well. Here we are.”

He waits for Scott’s inevitable concern, for him to air his doubts about this being a good idea, for him to start asking questions about if Stiles knows what he’s doing. Scott gives him a funny look, but other than that, he doesn’t say anything, which somehow feels much more judgmental than any of his comments would’ve.

--

Stiles @ 8:11pm: Are you watching the catfish marathon on MTV?

Peter @ 8:13pm: Just turned it on.

Stiles @ 8:14pm: Have you seen this ep before??? It was HIS COUSIN!!!!!

Peter @ 8:14pm: Spoiler alert?!?

Peter @ 8:14pm: And yes, I have.

Peter @ 8:15pm: Not the best episode of them all though.

Stiles @ 8:15pm: What?? She was his COUSIN!!!!!!!!

Peter @ 8:16pm: I raise you the episode where the catfish is on a crusade to find and destroy cheaters.

Stiles @ 8:17pm: HAHAHA! That one was classic.

Stiles @ 8:18pm: Wish you were here to keep me company. I have way too much popcorn to eat by myself.

He sends it off without thinking, but after the text wooshes into the void, Stiles realizes it's true. It would be nice to have someone here with him, an actual boyfriend to throw food at and cuddle with and comment on reality TV with, and maybe that's what his father was saying all along, that it would be nice for Stiles to have that type of caring companionship. He looks around the dark dorm room, clothes on the floor and nothing but the glow of the TV to interrupt the shadows, and tries to picture somebody else here with him, their laundry intermingling with Stiles' on the carpet, their shoulder warm against Stiles' side. He thinks of Paris for some reason, of that dream where he laid happily in the sun.

Peter @ 8:20pm: Is there even such a thing as too much popcorn?

Stiles @ 8:21pm: My ex roommate was one of those extreme couponers. YES. He ended up leaving dorm living just because he needed more space for his stockpile.

Peter @ 8:21pm: And he left behind his popcorn stash?

Stiles @ 8:22pm: He left behind everything he couldn't cram into his uhaul.

Stiles @ 8:23pm: That's another show we could watch together btw. Extreme Couponers.

Peter @ 8:24pm: If I was there do you really think we’d be WATCHING anything?

Stiles has an entire handful of popcorn on the way to his mouth when he reads Peter’s text, and very nearly drops all of it in his lap. Either this is weird or Stiles is just freakishly unfamiliar with how today’s people playfully flirt back and forth without any real meaning. It probably wouldn’t have shocked him if he had gotten a text like this from Leonardo, back before he heard Peter’s laugh and changed his name to Peter in his phone, but now they’ve stripped away a fair bit of the pretensions and everything has gotten a little unclear as to what’s business and what’s pleasure.

Stiles @ 8:28pm: What exactly would we be doing??

Stiles watches with nerves bundled up in his throat as the tiny three dots blink at him while Peter writes back.

Peter @ 8:30pm: If I told you, we’d be breaking more rules.

Peter @ 8:30pm: And I don’t want your account to be suspended because of my lack of self-restraint.

Stiles doesn’t care for self-restraint, as a matter of fact, never has he hated it more in his entire life. Would it be completely inappropriate for Stiles to ask for Peter’s real number, or his email, or hell, an address to send a telegram to, anything just so they can actually continue this conversation properly.

Stiles @ 8:31pm: At least we’d be going out with a bang?

Peter @ 8:32pm: True. But I don’t want to go out quite yet.

Peter @ 8:33pm: I’m not done with you.

Peter @ 8:33pm: Honestly, I don't think I'll ever be done with you.

Stiles @ 8:34pm: I know what you mean.

Stiles @ 8:34pm: I don't feel like I ever run out of stuff to say to you.

Peter @ 8:35pm: In person I could think of many ways to occupy your mouth other than talking.

Stiles @ 8:36pm: You! Are! Murdering! Me!

Peter @ 8:37pm: All right, I'll play it safe.

Peter @ 8:38pm: Go back to telling me about coupons. I'm sure that'll settle your hormones.

Stiles @ 8:39pm: I don’t know how you expect me to switch gears to coupons now

Peter @ 8:40pm: I'm really very curious. Is this a lucrative hobby? Are these people saving legitimately valuable amounts?

Stiles @ 8:40pm: I'm not doing this here and now

Stiles @ 8:42pm: I need to go pull my taffy in the bathroom for a little bit

Peter @ 8:43pm: What did I say about code words, Stiles.

Stiles @ 8:44pm: Use them?

Peter @ 8:44pm: Nice try.

Stiles taps his finger on the side of his phone as the message flashes in, then fades away as his phone blackens again. He can hardly believe this, but he is genuinely hard here. This is the kind of thing Stiles used to wish he could do but never had anyone to do it with, send naughty messages and be an all-around sexy freak, and now he is with god knows who, and he's torn somewhere between ashamed and worried and overwhelmingly aroused.

Stiles @ 8:45pm: So... is this something we do now?

Peter @ 8:46pm: We could. If you want to.

And he should say no, stuff this in a body bag before it takes on a life of its own. He has no idea what he's getting into here, who this is, but he does take solace in the fact that it's clearly not that asshole down the hall playing a totally out of line prank. Peter's voice from the phone call thankfully put an end to that conspiracy theory.

Stiles @ 8:47pm: Yeah I kind of want to.

Stiles @ 8:48pm: If there’s a way we can do it without getting in trouble?

Peter @ 8:49pm: I’ll ruminate on that.

Peter @ 8:50pm: Go find yourself a sock and take care of yourself before you miss the end of the episode.

--

Stiles @ 4:01pm: How's your writing going for you todayNot well.

Stiles @ 4:04pm: How come?

Peter @ 4:06pm: To tell the truth, I'm trying to focus on work but I keep thinking back to our conversation last night and having terribly salacious thoughts again.

Peter @ 4:06pm: I was wondering if you might like to hear about them.

Stiles @ 4:07pm: You're killing me here.

Peter @ 4:08pm: I was thinking about what you told me not that long ago. That dream where we're in Paris together.

Stiles @ 4:08pm: Uh huh.

Peter @ 4:09pm: And I kept imagining what it would be like to share a hotel room with you. Have you all to myself. That summer Parisian breeze blowing through the open porch door.

Peter @ 4:10pm: What you might look like with nothing but white sheets wrapped around your hips.

Stiles swallows on a suddenly dry mouth. He didn't think it would be so sexy, sexting without actually talking about sex, the way Peter's skirting around any words that might actually flag the messages as explicit but still making Stiles' pulse speed up regardless.

All he knows is that if this is Peter being Leonardo, fulfilling the job he was essentially hired for and giving Stiles the boyfriend he's contractually obligated to provide, it's twisted and unbelievably mean-spirited. If this is Peter being Peter, then, well. Maybe Stiles isn't the only one starting to wonder what it might be like to take this outside of the comfortable concealment of texting.

Stiles @ 4:12pm: I just want you know that I haven't gotten laid in a few months and you're really bumming me out here

Peter @ 4:13pm: You want me to be quiet?

Stiles @ 4:13pm: .............no.

Peter @ 4:13pm: You want me to go on?

Stiles @ 4:13pm: ..............yes.

Peter @ 4:14pm: I was thinking about how warm it gets in Paris in the summer, how neither of us would bother with clothes.

Peter @ 4:15pm: How we'd probably stay in bed all day. What part of your body is the softest, the most ticklish, the most sensitive.

Jesus Christ, Stiles has never wanted to deplete his savings and buy two one-way plane tickets to France more. His fingers have gotten a little damp where they're holding onto his phone and he wants, my god, does he want.

Peter @ 4:15pm: And we’d order in dessert, but we wouldn’t eat with utensils. We’d get creative.

Peter @ 4:16pm: Doesn't that sound nice?

It sounds perfect.

Stiles @ 4:17pm: I hate to do this but I have to ask.

Stiles @ 4:17pm: Is this real? I mean is this really you? Or is this just some big game?

The sweat on his hand has gotten a little bit clammier. He waits for the answer and it feels as if a few eternities go by in the meantime.

Peter @ 4:18pm: It's really me, Stiles.

Stiles @ 4:18pm: Really REALLY you?

He hates even asking, let alone double checking, but he has to. Maybe he's just an insecure anxiety-ridden loser and always has been. Maybe he's still stung from his last few catastrophic disasters of relationships. Maybe he's thinking too hard about his own doubts, how easy and in line with the rest of Stiles’ sorry life it would be for Peter to dump ice water down his back and tell him all this is nothing more than a joke he’s indulging in.

Peter @ 4:19pm: Yes, really.

Stiles @ 4:19pm: I wish I could see a picture of you. I keep imagining but I don't think I'm anywhere near right.

Peter @ 4:21pm: Maybe one day you'll see in person.

Stiles @ 4:22pm: For real?

Peter @ 4:22pm: Why not?

Stiles @ 4:23pm: So if I were to invite you somewhere? You would come?

Peter @ 4:23pm: I’d do my best.

Stiles @ 4:25pm: And I could finally stop paying ten bucks every time I run out of messages?

Peter @ 4:26pm: Oh my god. I forgot you'd been doing that.

The message underneath is nice, and it doesn't go by Stiles: I forgot this was actually supposed to be work.

Stiles @ 4:28pm: I've spent so much I have no money left for food for pretty much the rest of the semester.

Peter @ 4:28pm: You poor thing.

Stiles @ 4:29pm: That basically makes you my rent boy you know.

Peter @ 4:30pm: Pretty cheap for a rent boy…

Stiles @ 4:30pm: A low budget rent boy. Then again it’s not like you ever give me the goods, so I think the cheap prices are justified.

Peter @ 4:31pm: I resent that. Nothing about me is cheap.

Peter @ 4:31pm: I'm a very good lover.

Stiles @ 4:32pm: Not that that's something I've gotten a taste of...

Peter @ 4:32pm: Yet?

Stiles @ 4:32pm: Are you asking or telling?

Peter @ 4:33pm: Promising, perhaps.

Stiles @ 4:35pm: Hey. Just checking.

Stiles @ 4:35pm: You're not some 80 year old super bored spinster from Canada right?

Peter @ 4:36pm: No.

Peter @ 4:36pm: Why? Is that your type?

Stiles @ 4:37pm: Ha ha ha.

--

He’s cleaning out his desk on Tuesday when he finds it: a receipt from the first night he and Jordan went out for dinner. Stiles had forgotten about it, but seeing it now, crumpled underneath notebooks and a history textbook, he remembers keeping it out of some sentimental self-torturing impulse.

Looking at the exorbitant amount Stiles was happy to pay for sushi, and the cake he proposed they split, and the tiny fading numbers down at the total, he realizes that he hasn’t thought about Jordan in a while. He used to at least once a day, usually with the bitter edge one experiences when thinking back on colonoscopies or grudges from the third grade, but he hasn’t recently. Maybe because he’s been too busy thinking about other people. Moving on.

It’s a refreshing feeling, especially when he throws the receipt away, and not even with the livid, revengeful, my-ex-means-nothing-to-me resentment he could’ve. He just tosses it out and feels better.

He then makes the snap decision to capitalize on this feeling, and before he can stop himself, he throws on his sweatshirt and makes the drive out of campus into town, stopping only when he reaches the police station and not giving himself the chance to turn back.

He should’ve done this a while ago, instead of stewing. He should definitely do this now before he dives into something else, and he’s pretty sure that he’s close to the edge of the pool right now.

He sees Parrish’s work station as he rounds the corner, the organized folders, the big computer monitor. He’s there too, in the well-fitting work clothes Stiles first saw him in and salivated over all those months ago, and Stiles walks up to it with his heart only halfway up his esophagus.

"Hey," Stiles says. He touches the edge of Parrish's desk, the cool smoothness of it relaxing, and Parrish’s head snaps up at the sound of his voice. "Do you have a minute?"

Parrish seems surprised. Stiles doesn't blame him; he's a little surprised by himself as well. Eventually, he nods and stands up. "Here?"

"Yeah, here." Stiles runs a hand through his hair, his palms hot. Parrish looks good, like he's been working out, like he got white strips for his teeth for his birthday, like he's started parting his hair in a new way. He's still classically handsome, just like he always was, but Stiles is almost shocked to realize that he isn't drawn in by it. Isn't even all that attracted to him anymore.

"So how have you been?" Parrish asks gently.

"I just wanted to say sorry," Stiles says, the words rushing out.

"You—you're sorry?"

"Yeah. For putting it all on you. It wasn't. It was my fault too. You're not to blame that I fell in love with you even though you didn't fall in love with me."

Parrish's face looks pinched, like he had somehow been hoping Stiles wouldn't prick that thorn. "Stiles—" he starts, and there's undoubtedly some very nice, totally useless comment on the tip of his tongue, but Stiles isn't interested in hearing it.

"No, I really mean it. Stuff just happens and you can't always control it," Stiles says. "I spent a long time sort of avoiding people and I blamed you for all of it and I shouldn't have. I just—I want you to know that I'm not holding anything against you." He pulls a deep breath into his mouth. "If you're happy, then, well. That's all that matters."

Parrish nods. Is this what being an adult feels like? Stiles has the sneaking suspicion that it is. Apologizing to people you never thought you would and letting go of grudges you clung onto like life vests.

"Stiles, it's going to happen for you too," Parrish promises. "It wasn't supposed to be me, but it'll happen."

"No, yeah—yeah. Right."

"It will. When it happens, you're just... sure of it. It feels real."

And without even meaning to, Stiles thinks of Peter, who he's never even met, who he's never even seen, touched, felt, smelled, but it all still feels real, so very real, so very sure, and Stiles feels it hit him almost painfully. Thoughts of late nights watching MTV and spending the summer in Paris and curling up in his tiny dorm room.

"I believe you," Stiles says. "So... no hard feelings? No more being weird around each other?"

He holds out his hand in a peace offering, a step forward that he's not even sure he would've been ready for months ago. Parrish smiles, like maybe Stiles wasn't the only one who needed this closure, and takes his hand, shaking it.

"No more," he says, nodding. "Fresh start?"

Parrish nods. "Sounds good to me."

--

Stiles @ 8:01pm: I talked to Jordan today.

Peter @ 8:04pm: You did?

Stiles @ 8:05pm: Yeah. I feel really good about it too.

Stiles @ 8:05pm: We're better now.

Peter @ 8:06pm: How much better?

Stiles @ 8:06pm: We're not back together if that's what you're asking.

Stiles @ 8:07pm: But I feel like I finally just let go of all that stuff I had built up against him and at the risk of sounding cheesy, I feel free.

Peter @ 8:08pm: You're proud, right?

Stiles @ 8:08pm: Of course I am.

Stiles @ 8:09pm: Okay so this is kind of embarrassing.

Stiles @ 8:09pm: But for a long while I had this weird fantasy in my head where I run into Parrish somewhere and I have my new boyfriend with me and we make out in front of him and I know it's childish but I wanted that SO BAD

Stiles @ 8:10pm: And now I'm kind of over it? It's like I don't feel like I have to prove himself and my happiness to him anymore.

Peter @ 8:10pm: That's a good step. Although there's really nothing wrong with a little exhibitionism to make an ex jealous.

Peter @ 8:11pm: But I'm glad you're not back together. He wasn't right for you.

Stiles @ 8:11pm: I agree.

Stiles @ 8:12pm: You know anyone who might be?

Peter @ 8:12pm: Possibly.

Peter @ 8:12pm: I’ll think about it.

--

Like every year, Stiles nearly forgets his birthday’s around the corner. Looming exams grab all of his attention and suddenly, Peter’s taking out a chunk of his time too, and coupled with goofing off with his friends and reminding himself to buy groceries, he has no time left to remember that he’s getting older.

He gets reminded soon enough, though, when he gets an email from Lydia telling him that his party’s going to be at her apartment this year, which will definitely be a major step up from the rotten hole—aka Isaac’s place—they had it in last time, but there’s still a part of him that just wants to wear pajamas and skip class and not leave the comfort of his bed on his birthday from dawn to dusk.

Okay, fine, what he really wants is to be woken up with a slow blow job that goes on for a few hours, but he’s pretty sure that won’t be happening since there’s really only one person he wants to see between his legs. So he shoots back an email to Lydia letting her know that he’ll come, but there better be fucking Twizzlers.

--

Stiles @ 3:11pm: Can I tell you something weird?

Peter @ 3:12pm: Of course.

Stiles @ 3:13pm: My birthday's next Thursday and everybody keeps dropping hints that they're planning this big party and I'm just... not excited. Idk. Is that just bizarre?

Peter @ 3:13pm: Depends. Why aren't you excited? Parties not your thing?

Stiles @ 3:14pm: Nah. I'm a party animal.

Peter @ 3:14pm: Me too.

Stiles @ 3:15pm: What??? Is there a story behind this? Are you a wild beast when the lights drop and the music turns on?

Peter @ 3:16pm: Not quite. But I've been known to encourage others to behave like wild beasts.

Stiles @ 3:16pm: So you're just the silent, evil instigator?

Peter @ 3:16pm: I like a good show.

Stiles @ 3:17pm: Okay. Moving along. No, I don't hate parties. I just hate feeling like I'm getting older and don't have anything real accomplished.

Peter @ 3:17pm: Surviving is in of itself an accomplishment.

Stiles @ 3:17pm: I meant something better than that.

Peter @ 3:18pm: What exactly is better than surviving?

Stiles @ 3:18pm: Winning Nobel peace prizes, making shit tons of money, meeting someone I want to hang out with forever. The big stuff.

Peter @ 3:19pm: You know what you need?

Peter @ 3:19pm: A good massage. You have to relax more. You're going to drive yourself into an early grave at this rate.

Peter @ 3:19pm: It's okay if it's not all happening right now.

Peter @ 3:20pm: It does not matter how slow you go as long as you don't stop.

Stiles @ 3:21pm: That's actually kind of neat.

Stiles @ 3:21pm: Wait.

Stiles @ 3:21pm: Isn't that from MySpace?

Stiles @ 3:22pm: Holy shit are you still using MYSPACE please say yes

Peter @ 3:22pm: You're getting off topic.

Stiles @ 3:22pm: Oh I think I'm totally on topic

Peter @ 3:23pm: Stiles.

Stiles @ 3:23pm: Okay fine. So the party's at my friend Lydia's place. She has this totally rad apartment that's so nice, let's just say if I scraped a wall, my grandchildren would probably me paying off my debts.

Stiles @ 3:24pm: Now that I think about it, amazing that she's actually letting everybody plan a party at her place.

Peter @ 3:24pm: Sounds nice to me.

Stiles @ 3:25pm: Yeah. It is. Guess I’m just whining.

He looks at his phone, at the blue ombre of the messages he’s just sent. He wants to ask Peter to come, tell him that he wants him there, that it would make his amazing party ten times better if Peter was there to dance with him when the slower songs come on, but his thumb can’t quite tap the words out. He just can’t stop thinking about how it would feel if Peter said no, if he wouldn’t want what Stiles wants.

He doesn’t send off a request. Instead he changes the subject to his plans for the evening and leaves it at that.

--

There’s only one bar in town Stiles likes, and that’s because it isn’t overrun with drunk freshmen and happens to serve free drinks to A-students on Thursday nights.

He has three A minus papers in his back pocket to whip out for when the waiter comes around with the bill and Isaac and Scott cramped into a booth with him, all of them fresh out of long tests and needing an alcoholic outlet. It would be just like any other Thursday if it weren’t for—

"Excuse me," somebody says, and when Stiles turns around, there's a total beefcake standing behind him with a coy grin on his face. "Saw you from across the bar and I couldn't stop staring."

"Wait, at me?" Stiles asks.

"Yeah." The guy's smile widens. "You wanna dance?"

He's a good looking guy, someone Stiles would probably make out with in a bathroom stall on a crazy night after too much vodka, but before he can even really process the offer, he's saying, "Sorry, I'm taken."

"Yeah? Real shame."

He slithers back into the crowd after a shrug, and it takes Stiles a second as he watches his retreating back to realize what he just said, and more importantly, who he was thinking of when he said it, and most importantly, who was around him to hear it.

He can feel everybody's eyes on his neck like lasers he'll have to stare directly into the moment he turns around and faces them. He should've just told the guy he had herpes. That probably would've resulted in less questions and less judgmental staring.

"So you're taken now, eh?" Isaac says around the rim of his glass. Stiles closes his eyes to give himself a moment of peace before he looks Isaac in his smug, cheeky, punchable eyes.

"It just came out," Stiles says, which isn't a lie, but saying he was taken also felt strangely like the truth. He's already fully aware that there's no way for him to explain this without everyone questioning his sanity, which is why he keeps that bit on his tongue, safely under wraps. "Doesn't mean anything."

“Yeah,” Isaac says, very flatly. “Same way that you obsessing over Leonardo and needing to know his name and where he lives and what his name is didn’t mean anything.”

“It was your suggestion to get myself a Leonardo, you know.”

“Didn’t know you would go fucking crazy with it.”

“I’m not,” Stiles says firmly, slamming down his glass. Neither Scott or Isaac flinch; they’ve been around Stiles for too damn long and have apparently been conditioned by his fluctuating tempers through the years. “Everything is fine. I’m not invested. It’s fine.”

He goes to the bathroom to get away from that humid cloud of misunderstanding before it starts raining accusatory questions about bullshit like Stiles’ feelings, and when he’s securely behind a stall door, he pulls his phone out.

Stiles @ 9:02pm: So I’m out tonight with some friends and some guy just came up to me and asked me out and I reflexively told him I was taken.

Stiles @ 9:02pm: Creepy, weird, or charming?

Peter @ 9:06pm: Flattering.

Peter @ 9:07pm: I take that back—flattering only if you were referring to me. Otherwise it seems awfully crass to be telling me about this.

Stiles @ 9:08pm: Oh yeah. Forgot to tell you?? I have like seven boyfriends

Stiles @ 9:09pm: One man just isn’t enough for me… I just have so many NEEDS…

Peter @ 9:10pm: And which one do I fulfill?

Stiles @ 9:11pm: You’re the one I tell people about when they try to hit on me?

Peter @ 9:11pm: What do you tell them?

Stiles @ 9:13pm: There's a hunksicle I'm staying true to who would hulk out right now if he saw me being wooed by wannabe suitors.

Peter @ 9:14pm: All right. I'm satisfied.

Stiles @ 9:15pm: Still flattered?

Peter @ 9:15pm: Still flattered.

Peter @ 9:16pm: If I was there I probably would defend your honor.

Stiles @ 9:17pm: How much? Are we talking angry glaring, fist fights, throwing your drink in someone's face? Or powerfully dueling over me by the back entrance?

Peter @ 9:18pm: Dueling? Really?

Peter @ 9:18pm: I'll have to unearth my medieval sword, but I'm fairly certain I would win in a duel.

Stiles @ 9:19pm: There's that classic narcissism again :) :) :)

Stiles @ 9:19pm: Ahahaha I love you

It's like his fingers are flying across the keyboard before he can even stop himself, before his filter and common sense can jump in and remind him to act like a normal, reasonable human being for once in his life.

Stiles @ 9:20pm: Omfg kidding

He sends that furiously, all the while despairing over the fact that there aren't any ads out there warning people not to drink and text even when driving isn't involved—on their lonesome, they're still dastardly lethal and now make him want to crawl underneath the toilet.

Peter @ 9:21pm: You better.

He spends the next ten minutes hyperventilating while he tries to figure out if Peter meant he better be kidding or, insanely enough, he better love him, before he remembers that Isaac and Scott are waiting for him out there. He stops thinking about all this, about the tug-o-war going on in his brain as to what he should be and shouldn’t let himself feel, sticks his hands under the sink faucet for a few seconds, decides he’s clean, and heads back outside while he wipes his palms dry on his jeans.

He doesn’t check his phone for the rest of the night.

--

Stiles @ 11:15am: Hey, will you speak more French to me??

Peter @ 11:16am: Why?

Stiles @ 11:17am: I like it.

Peter @ 11:18am: Tu me rends fou.

Stiles @ 11:21am: Heyyyy. I looked that up. That’s not very nice.

Peter @ 11:22am: Believe it or not, it wasn’t meant as an insult.

Peter @ 11:24am: I debated telling you this for a while, but if you want to know, when we started texting, I was so amused by your disclaimer that you were only using this to fool your father that I thought it would be funny to have you fall for me.

Stiles @ 11:25am: Wait what?

Peter @ 11:26am: It was a personal little goal, I suppose. It entertained me.

Stiles @ 11:26am: That’s screwed up bro

Peter @ 11:27am: The point being is that I don’t see it that way anymore.

Stiles @ 11:28am: You sure?

Peter @ 11:28am: Very.

Stiles @ 11:29am: And when did that transition happen?

Peter @ 11:30am: Pretty much immediately.

Peter @ 11:30am: You didn’t give me much of a fighting chance.

Stiles @ 11:31am: For the record you’re a horrible person and that was a shitty thing to do and I might just ignore your messages for the next three hours or so

Peter @ 11:32am: Three hours? So if I go now and take a long bath, I'll come back to your forgiveness?

Stiles @ 11:32am: You're the worst.

Peter @ 11:33am: You love me.

Stiles looks at the message as it flashes in, a smile tickling his lips that he can't quite resist. He's can't help but thinking that he's not wrong, and the second that thought pokes him in the ribs, he realizes he's knee-deep, over his head, stupidly in trouble here.

--

“I’m in trouble.”

“What’s going on?”

“I’m—” Stiles stops himself. He’s not even sure he can say this out loud; even in his head, it sounds absurd. “Listen. Can you guys promise me you won’t laugh?”

From the couch across from him, Isaac and Scott exchange glances. Isaac’s face very clearly says he promises nothing.

“We won’t laugh,” Scott says. “What’s wrong?”

“Before I say anything, I just want to make it clear that I am also aware of how stupid this is,” Stiles prefaces, staring Isaac down as he speaks. “I’m starting to get a little invested in my invisible boyfriend.”

Scott and Isaac both stand perfectly still. Then Isaac smacks Scott in the shoulder, grinning. “Ha! What did I tell you? Didn’t I tell you this would happen?”

"Dude."

"I knew it. I knew this was going to happen, I called it the second Stiles started waxing on about wanting to hear the guy's voice."

"Dude," Stiles says again. "Not helping."

"Do you think he's interested in you too?" Scott asks.

Stiles doesn't know. Hell, Stiles never knows, he hardly even dares to guess anymore these days after being wrong so many damn times about people, but at the risk of jinxing everything, he's pretty sure that this isn't an unrequited crush. After everything—unless Peter has a heart of complete stone and is playing the cruelest prank of the century, this isn't one-sided.

"I think he is," Stiles says, very hesitantly.

"So then—this is good, isn't it?" Scott asks. "You guys could really be something?"

"I—I don't know." Stiles rubs at his left temple. The irony of starting all this up with the intention of avoiding drama only to find infinitely more isn't flying over his head, even if he can't quite appreciate it. "We talked once about relationships and what we wanted in them. He's just about sex."

"How can you be sure you wouldn't be an exception?"

"Because that's ridiculous," Stiles dismisses, putting his head into his hands. "This isn't some rom-com. People don't just change because of a fake virtual relationship."

"Have you asked him?" Isaac asks. And Stiles knew that was coming, the blunt, logical answer that really can't be contested, but he wanted just to be petted on the back and be presented a magical, no-effort solution in which everything is fine and works out, and is that too much to ask?

"No."

"Well, you should do that. Just tell him how you feel."

"Like it's that easy."

"It is," Isaac insists, like he knows anything, like only a non-involved third party with no really stake in the matter could say. "You don't even have to do it face-to-face. You get to do it all over the phone, which makes it extremely easy."

"All right, enough out of you," Stiles grumbles. He turns to Scott, who he's trusting to be more reasonable about this. "I should just let this all go, right? I should cut it off before it gets worse?"

“You should tell him,” Scott says, and damn him for agreeing with Isaac. “Just find a casual way to bring it up. See how he reacts.”

Stiles groans. How are neither of them realizing just how badly this could go? What’s a casual way to tell someone you’re genuinely falling in love with them even though you’ve never even seen them solidly in front of you, much less smelled their morning breath or watched their table manners or listened to them sing along to Bohemian Rhapsody?

“I don’t want it all to go wrong,” Stiles admits, feeling small. “Recently—I don’t know.”

“You’ve been in a lot of bad relationships,” Isaac fills in for him. “We know. And that takes a toll on you, we know that too. We were here for the fucking aftermaths.”

“Do you know what being helpful means? Do you?”

“I am being helpful, dumbass,” Isaac insists. “I’m telling you that you can’t let a few shitty experiences ruin it for you and this guy if you’re into him. He might be horribly disfigured and never shower but you should give it a go if you like him so damn much.”

“You’re terrible,” Stiles mumbles. “He showers.”

“Then what are you even waiting for?”

Stiles doesn’t know. A sign, maybe? For Peter to admit to all this first? For him to not make a complete fool of himself if it’s all going to be in vain?

He has to remind himself that not every relationship is going to be a disaster, a Parrish, a painful break-up. He wants a guarantee, but there is no fucking guarantee, there’s just taking a chance, even though this one feels like a bigger leap than usual.

--

He stops for coffee on his way back from Scott’s place, splurging at the nice café on campus that almost depleted all of his food cash back in freshman year because he got slightly addicted to the macchiatos, but he’s not having a great week and thinks he deserves something sweet and caffeinated and covered in caramel. He gets in line and starts rifling through his pockets for that coupon he could’ve sworn he still had in his sweatshirt when—

“Stiles?”

Stiles turns around and sees Derek, almost out the door with a humongous cup in his hand. It looks like the biggest possible cup you can buy, close to barrel-sized, and smells suspiciously like espresso, so maybe Stiles isn’t the only one having problems that are bandaid-able with caffeine.

“Hey,” Stiles says. He points to the cup. “Rough morning?” He vaguely recalls the last conversation they had, something about trouble with his uncle. “Still having family problems?”

“My family problems aren’t going anywhere,” Derek says grimly.

“Oh. Well, hey, do you want to come to my birthday party this Thursday?” Stiles offers. “I keep being promised that there’s going to be lots of alcohol, so there’s that. Bring that uncle of yours if you think some tequila might mellow him out.”

“As tempting as that sounds—”

“No, seriously, come. Every time I see you on campus you’re always frowning. Always. You need to lighten up and just let a little loose.” He digs a scrap of paper and a pen out of his backpack and scribbles Lydia’s address on it, handing it to Derek with the finality of not taking no for an answer.

Derek sighs, but he looks down at the paper with what seems to be genuine interest.

“I’m not bringing my uncle,” he finally says. “All he does recently is bug me for dating advice.”

“Your choice,” Stiles says, clapping him on the shoulder, even though it sounds like he and this uncle could commiserate. “See you Thursday?”

“We’ll see.”

The line pulls up, pushing Stiles up to the front, and he gets in one last wave goodbye to Derek before he places his order and digs a few dollars out of his pocket.

--

Stiles’ Starbucks run lasts for about ten minutes, and then he’s left with an empty cup full of nothing but crusting foam and a stomach full of caffeine, which looking back, is probably not what he needed when he’s already stressed out.

He decides, probably unwisely, to chase that macchiato with liquor. He has some old bottles under his mattress for situations just like this, when he’s in his head too much and can’t hear anything above the frantic whistling of his own anxiety, and he pops open an expensive bottle of rum his hoarder roommate left behind and turns to it for advice.

By the time he finishes it, Scott and Isaac’s tips seem like meek, cowardly options. What good did casual confessions of love ever do for anybody? Why not just sink the fucking iceberg and go for it? He’s basically been sexting with this guy, why is he suddenly getting shy?

After the second bottle of hard alcohol comes out from under the bed, Stiles is feeling bold, free, and slightly horny. While sober, he could probably admit that this is a bad combination, but right now, he feels on top of the universe, just floating in space, lifted up from the earth and seeing all of it for what it really is. How small he is, how insignificant something like one tiny rejection is.

He has no one to stop him, and everyone keeps telling him to try out new things. So fuck it.

Stiles @ 1:02am: Listen I know this is weird and maybe even a little creepy

Stiles @ 1:02am: But I like you

Stiles @ 1:02am: The real you

Stiles @ 1:03am: I wish you were my real, non invisible boyfriend

Stiles @ 1:04am: also I wouldn’t mind having sex with you?

Stiles stares at the phone for a while—or perhaps it was only a few minutes, he can't be sure in this drunken haze—but Peter doesn't chime in with an answer. The part of him that isn't tired and sluggish and tugged into sleeping off his impending hangover wants to stay up and wait, knows that this is the kind of text to make his heart race and his head pound just waiting for a response, but he is tired, one too many swigs of liquor swimming in his stomach like an ocean swaying him sleepily from side to side.

He falls asleep without realizing it, his phone in his hand and his head pulsing.

--

Stiles wakes up swearing off rum and remembering nothing about his party-for-one except for that he had a lot to drink. A lot. Too much for someone of his weight and stature.

He cleans up his room and throws away the empty bottles, and all the while, Peter doesn’t text him. At first, Stiles doesn’t notice, too busy preparing himself hangover-be-gone remedies and shutting the bright, bright world out, but it’s right around two p.m. when Stiles realizes Peter hasn’t shot him his typical hello.

It’s weird, but maybe he’s just busy today. Maybe he’s at jury duty. Maybe his mother’s in the hospital with pneumonia. Crazier things have happened.

Right around seven p.m., Stiles gets his answer.

Peter @ 7:31pm: hey babe, sorry about not getting back to you. i fell asleep.

Everything feels off, instantly. The words. The babe.

Stiles @ 7:31pm: What's wrong?

Peter @ 7:32pm: nothin just tired

No capitalization? No punctuation? Nothin?

Stiles @ 7:33pm: No, seriously.

Peter @ 7:34pm: just busy at work that's all

Stiles @ 7:34pm: Busy writing??

Peter @ 7:36pm: what?

Stiles @ 7:37pm: What the hell’s going on?

Peter @ 7:40pm: nothin i promise

Stiles @ 7:40pm: Is this someone else? Am I talking to somebody new?

Nothing.

Stiles @ 7:42pm: What happened to the guy before you?

Still nothing. Whoever's texting him right now is firmly not breaking the fourth wall, and clearly isn't interested in answering his pressing questions.

What the fuck happened? Stiles frantically thumbs up higher in their conversations to see what exactly he said last, if last night's drinking was more detrimental than he originally thought. He doesn’t remember any specifics, just that he was texting Peter, all the words his thumbs tapped out too hazy in his mind to be concrete.

He scrolls up and sees a confession that makes him want to curl up and die, or alternatively, dedicate his life to building a time machine that will let him go into the past and take back sending those texts.

What the fuck was he thinking?

He scared Peter off. He said too much, and he got too invested in this ridiculous ruse. From the very beginning he gave Peter a disclaimer that he wasn't one of those people who was in this for the self-disillusionment, and somehow along the way he's reneged on his promise and gotten a big fat stupid crush on Peter and was dumb enough to actually admit it to him. He needs to do some damage control. He doesn't know how, but he needs to make this right. Write off his creepy confession as a byproduct of too much booze and hope for the best.

If he only knew a little bit more about Peter, this would be unbelievably easier. A last name, an email address, his real phone number. He doesn't know enough to find him anywhere on the Internet, and with this little tangible information, he doesn't even know enough to ask Parrish to track Peter down using police resources. All he has is the company number he used last time, and the sheer hope that Peter will talk to him on the phone if he can find another way to get transferred over to his line.

He seizes his laptop and boots it up, waiting for it to whir to life while his foot taps out an impatient rhythm on the side of the bed. He finds the customer service number again and gives it a call, his hands shaking as he dials. He just wants a chance to explain himself. He just doesn't want to lose Peter just yet.

"How can I help you?" a voice says after a few rings. It's a different woman than the one Stiles spoke to last time, the sound of her voice unfamiliar to him.

"I'm calling to talk to somebody who works for you. His name's Peter."

"Peter? What's his last name?"

"I don't—" Stiles rubs at the bridge of his nose. "He's a friend. All I know is that he's a writer here."

"Hold on."

He waits. He can hear typing, the clicking of a mouse, the sounds of fingernails on a keyboard. He just wants a chance to talk to Peter, see what happened, apologize if he needs to, tell him he misses his sharp as cheddar texts.

"Sir?"

"Yeah?"

"We don't have a writer here under the name of Peter," she tells him. "Well. Hold on a moment."

Stiles has a disturbing moment where he considers that maybe Peter hasn't existed this entire time, an actual invisible boyfriend that's come to Stiles from the beyond or from the exhausted corners of Stiles' mind capable of hallucinating a person after all-nighting one too many essays. He’s just about to indulge in this ridiculous premise when—

"I think I know who you’re talking about."

"Um. You do?"

"He doesn't work for us anymore," she says.

"What? Did he quit?" Did Stiles' advances seriously disturb him to the point of resigning and running into the safety of anonymity?

"No. He was recently terminated."

"He was—what? How recently?"

"This morning."

"Why?"

"He wasn't following company policy. I don't have any more information than that."

He wasn't following company policy. Exactly how many times did Peter make it clear that he was risking his job by giving into Stiles' questions and insistence he divulge details of his real life? And how many times did Stiles brush it off, apparently under the delusion that people are invincible within the privacy of a text message conversation? This is entirely his fault and the fact that he's the one responsible for ending his relationship with Peter prematurely is either morbidly ironic or just plain sad.

"Please," Stiles tries, "can you tell me anything about him? Anything at all? A phone number maybe?"

"I'm afraid I can't."

"There's nothing you can tell me?"

"Unfortunately, no."

Stiles rests the phone against his temple. He screwed this up, and he doesn't know where to begin to fix this.

"Not even an email?" Stiles tries, shutting his eyes. "Somewhere I could send a carrier pigeon to?"

Stiles thinks about what he said to Scott not that long ago about his life not being a rom-com, and if only it was, because then the woman on the line would sense his hopelessness, listen to his romantic story, and come to his rescue, giving out everything Stiles would need to know and then hiring a limousine to take Stiles to Peter's home. Naturally, it doesn't happen this way.

"I'm sorry, sir," is what she says instead, impatience lacing through her words much more than the intrigue and sympathy Stiles was holding out for. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No. Thanks anyway."

He ends the call but stares at his dial screen for another two minutes after that until his screen dims and blackens, wondering where exactly he goes from here. He doesn't know a thing about Peter aside from the stuff that really matters about people, like childhood memories and what they like to eat and which family members they have beef with, and as nice as that is, this is one of those rare moments where impersonal, hard facts about a person's records, address, or medical information would be preferred.

Okay. So what does he know?

Stiles wastes the next few hours trying to track down a Peter who lives in Beacon Hills through the Internet. Up until then, Stiles had no clue that Peter was such a fucking popular name. It seems there's one around every corner, but never the right one he's looking for.

The police are of no assistance when Stiles can provide little more than a first name and a plea for help. Why couldn't Peter's name have been something crazy creative and one of a kind? Why couldn’t he have been a Bartholomew? Why couldn't he have told Stiles his real phone number? Why couldn't they have made this work before time ran out?

"—I don't understand," his father's voice crackles through the phone after Stiles calls his dad and tries his luck there. "Who is this guy?"

"He's a—" Love interest. What if. Virtual boyfriend. Romantic pen pal. "—friend."

"And all you know about him is that his name is Peter."

"Yeah."

"You're not giving me much here, Stiles," he says, which Stiles knows. Of course he knows. If he had more to give, he'd have found Peter himself instead of following the dead ends of the hope that his father had a miracle database at the ready to solve his problem at the station. "Why's he so important?"

So easily, Stiles could say he isn't, it's nothing, it doesn't matter anymore, and move on, and his dad would stop asking questions. But he is, and it's something, and it does still matter, and if that makes him some lovesick twenty-something fool then maybe he'll finally be able to relate to Ingrid Michaelson songs.

"Because he. He's Leonardo," Stiles admits, ripping the bandaid off. No gently pulling and picking away at a corner for weeks. Rip. "He's the guy I told you about."

"But his name is Peter?"

"Peter is his real name. Leonardo is the name of the fake online boyfriend I put together to hoodwink you into thinking I was in a relationship."

The other end of the phone is perfectly silent. Then, “What?

"Isaac told me about this site where you can build a fake relationship to fool the people around you into thinking you aren't single," Stiles says. Hearing it recapped like this really doesn't make it sound all that sane. "And I went for it because ever since Parrish I felt like you thought I hadn't moved on and you—you felt sorry for me. Everybody kind of did."

“So you.” The sheriff stops for a moment, as if getting his bearings, digesting this information. “You hired someone to pretend to be with you?”

“Looking back, I know it was stupid and silly and I should’ve just talked to you but I don’t—I don’t regret it. I met this cool guy who I’m pretty sure likes me as much as I like him, so it might’ve all sort of worked out in the end, and it technically wasn’t all a big fat lie.”

“Stiles.”

“Okay, fine, it was a big fat lie, but what I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry I did that to you. I won’t do it again and lie about my relationship status in the future. I'll be more honest with you."

"This is—this isn't a big joke, is it?"

"No!" It does kind of sound like one, but no. He realizes his chest feels terribly tight and lets out the inhale trapped in his lungs to make room. "Are you mad?"

There's silence on the phone for a moment, enough so that Stiles can hear the noises of the police station faintly filtering through. He probably should've done this in person, but he's not great at making good choices lately.

"I'm a little sad, to be honest, that you can't trust me with the truth," the sheriff says. "And went so out of your way to do just the opposite."

"Yeah, that was a bad call."

"It was," his dad agrees. There's another long silence, but this one is broken by a soft, barely there chuckling that gradually grows in volume. It's not until he's full-out laughing that Stiles has to wonder if maybe, miraculously, he's off the hook and his dad finds this funny. "I can't believe you went that far. You know that I understand words, right, Stiles? That you could've just talked to me."

"Yeah. In hindsight, yeah. But I'm starting to think that maybe this was supposed to happen."

"Because of Leonardo."

Stiles' cheeks grow hot. "Yeah."

"What do you know about him?"

"Uh, he likes Star Wars. And he has a nice voice. And he knows how to rumba."

"And you like him," the sheriff adds.

"Yeah."

“That’s not a lot to go off of here.”

“I know.”

"I'm sorry I can't help you find him," he says, and he does sound genuinely sorry. "Maybe he'll pop up in your life again. You never know. The town's small."

"Yeah, I guess it is."

"And Stiles?"

"Uh huh?"

"If you do find him," his father says. "I expect you to bring him to my place."

"To prove that he's not just a mannequin or a puppet doll or someone I made up?"

"To get to meet him and have dinner with him, like I asked ages ago.”

Stiles chuckles. “You got it,” he says, and it’s sadder than it is anything else, to finally have this out in the open and have his dad’s approval about it now that it’s all over. It’s poetic, but it also fucking sucks. “If I find him, I’ll bring him by.”

--

When he goes to sleep that night, he dreams of Peter again. He dreams of seeing his face across a crowd and just knowing. He dreams of karaoke bars, of hearing a familiar voice singing an Adele song and running up on stage, joining in. He dreams of standing under the Eiffel Tower, waiting, until someone taps him on the shoulder. He dreams of finding Peter in the oddest of places, of not losing him quite yet.

--

"All right. So I screwed up. I don't really want to talk about it, but I did and everything is over and I just wanted you to know that your advice was terrible."

Stiles holds his face in his hands while he shares the news with his friends, trying to look anywhere other than their pinched, pitying faces.

He had been avoiding telling them about how things with him and Peter reached a screeching halt just to avoid hearing himself say it out loud and then deal with the inevitable follow-up questions—what happened, are you sure it's all over, is there anything we can do, didn't you expect this on some level—when all Stiles really needs to hear is that sucks, have this barrel of ice cream. But a few days have passed and Stiles' obsessive Google searching hasn't revealed anything useful and he's admitted everything to his dad, so he decides he might as well face the music and relay the message around so he doesn't get pestered about it in the future. Everything went badly and Stiles will probably wonder about the cliffhanger in this chapter of his life for years, but at least he threw his feelings out there. Like a chump, but Stiles is fairly convinced that's still better than being a coward. Possibly.

"I'm sorry," Scott says. He can't seem to wipe that pained look off his face, like he's somehow vicariously living through Stiles' agony, which isn't exactly helpful. "We didn't—we weren't trying to screw anything up for you."

Stiles sighs. "I know."

"Is there really nothing you can do?"

"Nope," Stiles says. "Peter's gone. Into the ethers. Into cyberspace. I know nothing that'll help me track him down and he might even hate me because I basically got him fired."

"How?"

"There—there were rules. Stupid rules, but still. I didn't follow them." Stiles slouches, really wishing that barrel of ice cream wasn't just a figment of his imagination. "You weren't supposed to form attachments, break the fourth wall, talk dirty, stuff like that. Your texts can be monitored by the company at any time so, well. That happened."

"Please tell me it wasn't the third one," Isaac says, nose wrinkled.

That was sort of happening, but—whatever. Stiles isn't admitting that out loud. "I basically told him I wanted to date him. The real him. I took a gamble and it didn't pay off and now I'm moving on." He touches his nose, the bridge of it where all of his stress and sadness seems to have gathered to create a stifling headache. "Look, can we stop talking about it? I didn't even—I just wanted to get it out there. Let you know."

Maybe he'll get back into Tinder. Maybe he'll take a chance on online dating or take one of Scott's blind date suggestions. Maybe he'll just cool off for a little while and be one of those sad people who dates themselves under the pretense of "finding himself." It's okay. He's young and good looking and he'll bounce back soon enough.

This wasn’t a disaster, it just wasn’t meant to be. He can brush himself off and move on.

--

His birthday party seems to come out of nowhere after that, even with him expecting it, possibly because he couldn’t be in less of a raging party mood if he tried. He mostly just wants to sit at home and think about how elderly he’s getting and single he is and pathetic his life has become, preferably with some sorbet to numb the pain, but instead he’s obligated to enjoy himself at a loud, fun, well-decorated party thrown by his thoughtful friends.

It really is well done. There are decorations on the walls, big birthday banners, and there’s enough alcohol to probably fill up their own tequila diving pool, and there are more people than Stiles actually thought cared enough to come here all over Lydia’s apartment, so many that they’re nearly spilling into the hallway.

"It's a nice party," Stiles tells Isaac as he looks out over the crowd, a crowd that’s assembled here for him.

"You hate it."

"What? No!" He puts his cup down. "Actually, I think it's pretty rad that I have friends who are willing to let their apartment get trashed and spend their free time making party mix CDs just so I can celebrate my birthday with a ton of people. Half of who did not bring gifts."

Isaac grabs the nearest bottle of vodka and starts pouring it into Stiles’ abandoned cup until it’s almost sloshing over, and then leans in to sling a warm arm over his shoulder, pushing the cup back into his hand.

“What you need,” he says firmly, “is to get out of your funk. Drink your big boy juice and find someone to fuck.”

“You’re so charming,” Stiles says, pushing Isaac away.

“Seriously, no one out there tenting your pants?”

Stiles elbows him in the ribs, but looks anyway. It’s his birthday, and maybe Isaac’s right and he just needs to let off some steam in the form of grabbing a good looking stranger by the shirt and making out through a few of the boring songs on the party playlist. He scans the crowd, looking for candidates, skipping over the familiar faces who he wouldn’t be able to look in the eye during class if he gave them a handjob.

“Hey, Derek came,” Stiles says, so at least there’s that. Stiles doesn’t know anybody else more in desperate need of a few cocktails just to help loosen up the tree trunk in his ass, and it’s nice to see this party actually benefit somebody. Plus there’s someone standing next to him in a snug shirt with trimmed facial hair that makes Stiles feel like every second he doesn’t spend talking to and ultimately being rejected by this out-of-his-league stud is a waste of time. He nudges Isaac with his elbow, carefully this time. “Who’s the silver fox next to him?”

Isaac’s head looks up from the tower of red solo cups he’s stacking into a pyramid on the counter. “Hmm? No idea.”

“Think he’d let me suck his dick in the hall?”

“You disturb me,” Isaac says. When Stiles elbows him again, he adds a reluctant, “probably.” He gives Stiles an odd look, like he knows something Stiles doesn’t, like someone’s about to burst naked through the cake and scare the hell out of him. “Why don’t you go talk to him?”

Stiles forces himself to look away from the lean line of the guy's body and make eye contact with Isaac again. Isaac is, shockingly, full of okay if not good ideas lately.

“I'm gonna go mingle,” he declares, putting his drink down.

By "mingling," he means casually groove his way over to where this guy and Derek are helping themselves at the pretzel bowl and find a way to strike up a conversation. The weather's been nice lately and that's a good opener, also that it's his birthday and he's very legal, or how about Snapchat filters, that always fires people up more than expected. He'll play it by ear.

"—whose party is this anyway?" the guy is asking when Stiles slips close enough to be in earshot, picking his way through the snack table.

"Mine," Stiles says with a broad grin, recognizing a convenient cue when he hears it, and both Derek and his friend turn around to face him. "Glad you came." Especially that friend with the biceps, Jesus Christ. "Hey, this your uncle, Derek?"

Something about this guy is tickling Stiles' mind, something striking a chord in him, something trying to remind him of who he is. Has he seen him around campus, maybe?

"I am," he says, and damn, whenever Derek spoke of his annoying uncle, Stiles definitely wasn't picturing this—more like a slowly balding, generally greasy guy with poor fashion sense and a short temper. "It's your birthday?"

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

The guy reaches up and flicks the hat on Stiles' head, which Stiles had completely forgotten until now and promptly reminds him that he's wearing a Birthday Boy hat from Party City that probably makes him look like he's a five year old loon. He leans in close enough that Stiles gets a whiff of something that smells like expensive cologne. It's nice.

"Great observation skills," Stiles says, tipping the hat so it rests at a charmingly crooked angle on his head. Derek's uncle laughs, and damn, something about him feels very deep-rooted, like Stiles has been watching him on the bus for years. "Nice of you to bring him, Derek.”

“I didn’t,” Derek says.

“Somebody named Scott called me up and asked me to come,” his uncle says, and huh—that’s strange. “He told me that someone I know would be here.”

“Who?”

“Stiles.”

“Oh.” He smiles, pointing at himself with confident thumbs. “I'm Stiles."

He expects a handshake or even a reciprocation of name-sharing; what he gets instead is a completely blank, stunned stare. The guy goes from a little baffled to a little awed to a little pleased, and hey, maybe they do know each other and he's just put the pieces together.

"You're Stiles?"

"In the flesh." Stiles gestures to himself and all his solidity. "Do we know each other?"

"I would say so," he says. "Honestly, can't you recognize your own boyfriend?"

"What?" Stiles says.

"What?" Derek repeats.

"I'm Peter," his uncle says, and what, no, this can't even be possible, what kind of tiny, romantic, improbable world does he live in where this is possible. "Or Leonardo, if you'd prefer."

"You're—you're Leonardo?"

"Who's Leonardo?" Derek growls.

A million thoughts all storm Stiles' brain at once like troops on a battlefield, starting with is this actually real, building with what the fuck, oh my god, and plateauing with I need to suck him off immediately! exclamation point and all, and that last one just went from a fever dream to an actual possibility.

Nobody else could possibly know—this has to be Peter. Real life, visible Peter. Unless Scott has bribed someone off Craigslist to pretend to give Stiles closure, which would be all kinds of not funny and Stiles might throw a temper tantrum if that’s what’s happened here. This guy’s not even close to being a wrinkly old man or anything Stiles could've ever imagined; he's fit and built and sexy just like his voice, and oh god, that voice, how did Stiles not notice it instantly? He holds onto the wall, feeling as if he needs its support.

“I—what.” He tries to find his voice. “How the hell did Scott even find you?”

Peter shrugs. “Not sure.” His eyebrow twitches. It's a tick Stiles never could've possibly pictured Peter having through the phone, but those are the sort of nuances that make a person, a real person, and now Stiles is seeing them all right in front of him. Real life, high def, for free. “Are you sure you're Stiles?”

“I’m sure,” Stiles says. “Hair not red enough for you?”

“You're definitely not what I pictured,” Peter says, and Stiles remembers sitting in his room drawing up make believe images of what he thought Peter might look like, his heart racing as loudly as gunfire just to be hearing the soft lilt of Peter's voice for the first time, wondering if Peter would be attracted to him.

“You too,” Stiles says. How did he ever think Peter had surfer boy hair? He takes a step forward, out of the doorway, some visceral reflex inside of himself urging him to get closer to Peter, like he could disappear any moment and go back to being an invisible man behind a screen.

“Hold on,” Derek says, piping up. “He’s the—Stiles is the guy you’ve been talking about to me all this time?”

“You talked about me?”

Stiles?” Derek says again, voice incredulous.

“Yes, I mentioned you here and there,” Peter admits. “You—you left an impression on me.”

“Same,” Stiles says. He still feels like he might faint, like someone with smelling salts should really be directly behind him. “Do you want to get out of here?”

Peter’s mouth quirks upward, and his eyes flick over Stiles’ shoulder. It’s only then that Stiles remembers that there’s a party going on behind himself, a party in his honor because he’s successfully made it through another twelve months alive, and right, it might be rude to vanish without explanation, but Peter’s right here and if he doesn’t grab this opportunity now, what if he doesn’t get it again?

“I think some people would miss your presence here,” Peter says, then reaches out to flick the hat on Stiles’ head. “Birthday boy.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Stiles says. “I’m sure everybody would understand.” If they don’t they’re the worst friends in the world for not having a shred of care for Stiles’ aching libido. “I’ll come back and celebrate later.”

“Nonsense,” Peter says. “Birthdays only happen once a year, you know.”

“I know, but—I really want to talk to you.”

And then Peter, amazingly enough, smiles—the kind of smile that’s stirring Stiles’ pants into an unfortunate frenzy—and he looks like he wants that too, like he’s thinking along the same lines as Stiles is that making out in the hallway would be really, really good right now, and he even reaches out to curl a hand around Stiles’ elbow, potentially to grab him and back him up against a wall and oh please yes, but then someone—someone who Stiles wishes wasn’t invited, suddenly—grabs his elbow and yells something about gift-opening in his ear and tries to tug him away.

“You're staying, right?” Stiles asks as he's pulled away—fuck the presents, seriously, most of them are fifty cent gag gifts anyway and none of them compare to getting to suck Peter off in the bathroom. “You—stay. Stay.”

Peter looks awfully smug, perhaps even a little bit charmed, if not pleased. Stiles just wants to kiss that smirked mouth until his tongue is numb and not have to deal with people paying attention to his birthday, is that so much to ask?

“What is it you want me to do again?” Peter asks, smiling.

Stay,” Stiles says again. “Don’t you go anywhere.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” Peter tells him, and Stiles gives him the benefit of the doubt and hopes to god he’s entertained enough by college kids dancing and bad dubstep remixes to stick to his promise.

--

The next two hours are like something out of a bizarre, extremely vivid hallucination. The party continues, the neighbors don’t even complain about the loud techno music, and Peter stays, perfectly content to mingle with all of Stiles’ friends, while Stiles is pulled hither and thither by people wishing him a happy birthday, the sudden popularity he has as baffling as it is frustrating. He doesn’t even know how to wrap his head around any of it. For so long, Peter was this untouchable, unreachable concept of a person that existed as if in space, and now he’s here, combined with all the people he knows and laughing with his classmates and charming his professors, a three-dimensional man. He can’t stop staring at him.

“So,” Isaac says, sidling up to Stiles where he’s trying to focus on pouring himself a drink. It’s hard when Peter’s right there, that line of his back, the curve of his neck, and he might dribble on the carpet a bit. “You talk to the silver fox?”

“The jig is up,” Stiles says, seizing Isaac’s wrist. “How did you and Scott do this?”

Isaac’s mouth twists, like he’s doing his best to keep the secret hidden, but is ultimately failing miserably. “We called the company back up. Bothered them until they told us Peter’s last name.”

“Holy shit, and that worked?”

“No, but it did when Lydia called.”

“Are you—is this for real? You guys really did all that?” Stiles asks.

“You were moping so much it was starting to get annoying, so yeah, we did,” Isaac says. “Consider it your birthday present.”

“You didn’t get me anything else?”

“I ran out of time.”

“Wow.” Stiles will let that slide this year for obvious reasons, but he’s not letting Isaac get away with it for Christmas. “In that case, I thought of something else you could give me.”

“What’s that?"

“Can you get all these people out of here so I can make out with Peter, please?”

Also, Scott's over there talking to Peter right now and Stiles is terrified this is going to devolve into a session of sharing embarrassing photos of Stiles sleeping in weird places, pictures Scott happens to have a treasure trove of on his camera roll, but Isaac isn't interested in acquiescing to the birthday boy’s wishes.

“No way. We spent way too long putting this party together for you to scoot early just to have sex,” Isaac says, grabbing his arm in a warning grip. “You’re going to open your gifts and cut the cake and have a good fucking time.”

“Are you seriously trying to bully me into enjoying myself?”

“Yes. And you will.”

--

The good news is that enjoying himself isn’t too hard to do. Allison homemade the cake and Lydia slaved over the decorations and people keep coming up to him and telling him that his date is pretty cool, which nearly makes Stiles pass out because is that seriously how Peter’s introducing himself to people? As Stiles’ date? Is any of this real life?

He pinches himself for the rest of the party. It’s not until the apartment is mostly empty, save for the mountains of wrapping paper, and Stiles sees Peter slip out onto the balcony that he realizes that his birthday’s almost over. He almost doesn’t want it to be, even with him dreading it for so long. This year’s been fucking magical.

He snags Derek by the elbow before he can leave, desperate to get just a few answers out of him.

“Peter’s really your uncle?” he asks him.

“Yeah. He is.”

“And he really mentioned me to you?”

“He wanted advice,” Derek says. He sounds like he’s grinding his teeth, and it makes Stiles remember running into him at that Starbucks on campus and hearing him complain about his annoying uncle using him as a sounding board. “Needed to know how to ask you out. If I thought you would say no.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously,” Derek deadpans, voice deadly grim. “And if you don’t mind, I’m surrendering my love doctor duties.”

“Okay. As long as you don’t ever refer to yourself as a love doctor again.”

Derek opens the door and leaves, which feels like him wordlessly agreeing. When Stiles turns around, those hilltops of ripped wrapping paper haven’t magically disappeared yet. All his friends are walking around with giant trash bags collecting the fallen cups and leftover trash, and Stiles knows that the right thing to do is join in and help, but he currently wants to do nothing more than throw all of his manners aside and prioritize the gorgeous man out on the patio right now.

“I’m just,” he says. “Do you guys need—I mean, should I—”

“Go,” Lydia says, pointing at the porch door. “But only because it’s your birthday.”

Stiles doesn’t need to be told twice; he bolts for the door and slides it open, sending out one quick prayer that it’s soundproof and he can do whatever—well, not quite whatever, since the glass isn’t tinted, but almost whatever he wants. Peter’s leaning over the railing when he shuts the door behind himself, looking out over the dark sky, dappled only with round orbs of yellow glow in the form of streetlights scattered around the parking lot. He turns around when Stiles presses the door closed, grinning. Stiles has been looking at that grin night, from all kinds of angles, and it still is making him want to rocket out into the sky.

“Hey,” Stiles says. “Thanks for coming.”

“It was no problem,” Peter says. “I had a good time.”

“No, I really mean it. You didn’t have to.”

Stiles stands next to him by the railing, following Peter’s lead and leaning his elbows against it. The stars are pretty bright tonight—that, or Stiles doesn’t bother to look up at the sky that often. Now that the music has stopped and the din of chatter is gone, the world seems unbelievably quiet, leaving nothing but ringing in Stiles’ ears. He wants to say something, but he doesn’t know how to begin. The line of Peter’s mouth and the low-cut neckline of his shirt keeps distracting him.

“I called your company,” he blurts out. “I was looking for you after you left. Some guy replaced you and I could tell it wasn’t you.”

“Is that so?” Peter asks.

“Yeah. He didn’t capitalize a thing.”

“The heathen.”

“I know!” They chuckle for a moment. “And then once I got through, somebody told me you were fired.” He scrubs a hand over the back of his head. “I guess I should apologize for that, huh?” He looks over at Peter, at the curves of his profile, and almost gets distracted again. “I really didn’t think you’d get fired for telling me about yourself. I felt pretty shitty when I realized it was actually my fault.”

He can’t tell if Peter’s mad or not. Then again, Peter’s here, and he came when Scott told him Stiles would be here, and he stayed through that entire party when he didn’t have to. He didn’t have to do any of it. It’s so easy to not do things, and to stay comfortable behind a screen, and to make promises to later be broken.

“Hey, did you ever get those last texts I sent you?” Stiles asks, suddenly remembering them.

“I did.”

“Oh.” He feels his ears burning, and only hopes the dark of night eclipses that. “Listen, I don’t know what you thought about any of them, but if it helps, I was drunk.”

“Stiles.”

“Huh?”

It happens in a flash—one second Stiles is trying to hark back to eighth grade astronomy lessons to find constellations in the stars and the next, his back is cold against the railing and Peter’s hand is fisted in his shirt and his mouth is pressed against Stiles’, and it feels like someone’s taking him apart by the seams and kissing him back together, Peter’s mouth hot and pushy against his. He reaches for Peter’s elbows, keeping him close, feeling that warm flesh under his touch, and just when things start getting good, Peter pulls back.

"Yes," Peter breathes, their mouths still slickly together. "I saw them."

"You did," Stiles confirms. He touches the shifting bones in Peter's elbows, tries to see his eyes from this blurry proximity. "And what did you think about them?"

"I thought they were quite romantic," Peter says, the smug fuck, and Stiles is going to murder him right after they get done making out. “Don’t think I would’ve come here to meet you if I had been repulsed.”

They're kissing again after that, and it feels very natural, almost normal, like this is something they've done before, a hundred times, a million times, and their mouths already know the routine. Peter's tongue drags over Stiles' lower lip and his hand slides around to the small of Stiles', pushing his shirt aside as he goes. The railing is cold against his the bare skin of his spine, an icy contrast to Peter's hot hands, but there are more pressing things to focus on, like the heat of Peter's chest, or the burn of Peter's facial hair, or the feel of Peter's thigh wedged between Stiles' legs.

"Holy shit," Stiles says when they pull apart again. The kiss has left him boneless and embarrassingly honest. "You're a really good kisser."

"Thanks," Peter says, grinning, his hand tracing lines up and down Stiles' vertebrae. "It's on my resume."

Somehow, again, the conversation derails into slow, warm kissing. Peter's mouth is soft and so, so aware of what it's doing, making it all too easy for Stiles to imagine it licking down his chest, nipping at his thighs, sucking his cock—

"We can't have sex on this porch," Stiles says into Peter's mouth, because the bulge in Peter's pants is making it pretty clear they're both on the same page right now. "Hell, this isn't even my apartment. Lydia's going to kill me."

"Well, to be honest," Peter murmurs as he moves aside from Stiles' mouth and starts paying attention to his neck, "I didn't come out here to ravish you. Immediately, anyway."

"Why did you?"

"To tell you that it was me," he says. "From the beginning, it was me." He pulls back from Stiles' neck, and even in the dimness of the moonlight, Stiles can see how pink his lips have become. “I had the feeling that that was something you wanted to hear.”

A part of Stiles knew it—hell, Peter never exactly played a convincing Leonardo, who was supposed to a free-spirited rich kid with a love of garage bands, weight lifting, and spontaneous adventures—but he didn't want to solidly think it until Peter confirmed it for him face to face. And now he has, and now he’s here, a real, touchable, palpable person who’s been on the receiving end of Stiles’ thoughts and opinions and ramblings for weeks, and it seems like he might even want to stick around.

"Are you saying you want to be my visible boyfriend?"

"Yes," Peter says, no hesitation, no trepidation, no hard to get, and something about the way he says it, all full of confidence and certainty, has Stiles seeing him in his bed, on his couch, with his friends, in his life.

"I want that," Stiles admits. "I also want to get out of here and drag you back to my place."

"Ah." Peter leans back a smidgen to steal a glance inside. "Shouldn't you help with the cleaning up?"

His hand is running down Stiles' side, tracing ribs, squeezing fluttering muscles. Stiles will not help clean. He doesn't care if the clouds part and his dead grandmother descends from the skies to demand he throw away wrapping paper and mop spilled beer up.

"Stop teasing," Stiles demands. "I'm the birthday body," he adds. "So I get what I want."

They kiss again. At this rate, Stiles doesn't see them ever leaving this damn patio, especially as Peter drags him a crucial centimeter closer and suddenly even the thin layer of clothes between them feels unnecessary and criminal, and a crazy voice in Stiles' mind yells at him to just rip off Peter's shirt already and fling it over the railing. Good god, it just doesn't make sense that this is Peter, all gently slicked hair and firm hands and smooth lips, that Stiles' luck is just this good. It very easily could've been an old hunchback, but no, Stiles gets someone completely out of his league, if he's to believe the reality laid out in front of him.

"Can I see your driver's license?" Stiles murmurs against the warm slide of Peter's mouth against his own.

"What?"

"Library card?" he tries. "Passport? Employee ID? Birth certificate?" He pulls back from Peter's dizzying kisses to give himself the room to breathe. "Any of these on your person?"

"On my..." Peter trails off, presumably in disbelief. "What's this about?"

Stiles feels himself flush red. "There's just no fucking way that my luck is this good," he admits, "and that you're Leonardo. Peter."

"You're pretty shallow, aren't you?" Peter asks even as he digs his wallet out of his pocket.

"I like a pretty face."

"We have that in common," Peter says, smirking, and slaps his ID in Stiles' hand. There, clear as day, is the name Peter Hale printed onto the plastic. Even the tiny picture is flattering, which is fundamentally unfair as Stiles was convinced nobody is actually allowed to use attractive photographs on their licenses.

"You're not an organ donor? Shame on you."

Peter snatches the card back and slots it back into his wallet. "Can I go ravish you somewhere private now? Or would you rather I blow you right here and put on a show for the neighbors?"

Stiles' heart gives a funny little jump just at hearing Peter casually suggest oral sex. It's been so long since he's felt this way, too long, and suddenly he gets again why everybody is always so damn happy when they're having sex and in love and smiling at strangers on the street, because fuck, sometimes it leads to moments like these where you can do nothing but be infinitely glad that this is actually your life. Stiles seizes Peter's wrist and pulls him back inside, shutting the glass door behind himself.

"Thanks for party, guys," Stiles yells out, already bee lining for the door. "You make me feel young again, the cake was amazing, another birthday well spent, etcetera, etcetera."

--

The drive over to Stiles' dorm feels torturously long, most likely due to Peter keeping his hand on Stiles' thigh the entire time he drives. Maybe that's another thing Stiles didn't know about Peter yet—he's possessive and touchy and really knows how to stoke someone's fire with just a touch to the leg.

He still can't believe that this is really Peter. Stiles keeps looking over at his profile while he drives, the way traffic lights glow green and red over his cheeks, how they slant into his cheekbones, how they mingle with his stubble. He's a real person. A real, good-looking, authentic, solid person who Stiles really wants to throw against a strong surface and have sex with. Lots of sex. A sex decathlon. The entire time he stares, his phone blows up with texts from his friends, all of them demanding either details, gratitude, or that he wears protection. He ignores them all, too busy staring at Peter, verifying that he really is his Invisible Boyfriend, that this is really the guy he told all about his Ewan McGregor fantasies.

"The story about the guy falling in your shower?"

"Real."

"Growing up in Beacon Hills?"

"Real."

"Knowing how to tango?"

"Also real."

"Wanting to eat food off of me in a French hotel room?"

"Just to save you some time, Stiles," Peter says as he pulls into the parking lot behind Stiles’ dormitory. "All of it was real."

"Except for your phone number." Stiles tilts his head. "Y'know, this is almost like a Catfish episode."

"It isn't. Really isn't." A hint of a smile that Peter seems to be trying to hide pulls on his lips, barely visible in the dim light of the car radio's lights before Peter turns the car off. "Give me your phone."

"Why?"

"Come on."

Stiles digs it out of his pocket and hands it over, watching as Peter opens it up and swipes around before his thumbs tap out a word or two before handing it back to him. When Stiles looks at it, he's in the Contacts page, opened on one in particular. It's an unfamiliar phone number under the name: "Best I Ever Had."

Stiles rolls his eyes and stares at the upholstery on the ceiling. "Is this supposed to be you?"

"It is." Peter's hand squeezes Stiles' leg, shooting another jolt of high voltage energy through him. "My real number."

"And the name?" Stiles asks. "Cocky much?"

"It's a guarantee," Peter says, and he sounds so damn sure of himself, voice all low and sultry and dear lord, that Stiles can't help but believe him. "You can change it in a few hours." His lips skim over Stiles' jaw. "If I disappoint."

"All right," Stiles says, voice abruptly a few octaves higher than normal. He fumbles for the door handle. "Everybody out, out of the pool. Evacuate this car, go, go, upstairs now, go."

--

It's like Stiles' clothes are magnetizing to the floor the second they make it to his room: Peter has one hand fisted around his shirt that yanks up and the other hand clutching his pants that tugs down, and in a matter of seconds Stiles is stumbling around the gathering of fabric by his ankles and wrestling his tee over his shoulders. It all feels very frantic and heated and arousing and disorienting, Peter's mouth everywhere and his hands in twice as many places, and Stiles nearly trips over himself kicking the crumpled ball of his discarded clothing aside.

He gets to work on Peter’s shirt once he’s found his footing again, but it’s a button down, of course it’s a button down, and Stiles’ fingers aren’t coordinated enough to slide buttons through tiny holes while he’s this aroused. He gets halfway down his shirt before he fumbles horribly with a button, swearing, and Peter solves that problem by promptly ripping the rest of it off. It’s unbelievably hot and also a little ridiculous and Stiles isn’t sure if he’s supposed to laugh or wrap his legs around Peter’s waist immediately.

“Your shirt,” Stiles says. “I can’t believe you just.”

“I can sew,” Peter says as explanation, pulling Stiles close to him, both of their chests bare and skin touching and damn. “I’m very good at sewing.”

“You’re just good at everything, aren’t you?”

“I suppose you’ll find out,” Peter says, grabs Stiles by the ass, and picks him up like he’s completely hollow inside. Okay, so maybe Peter and Leonardo have weightlifting in common.

Stiles laughs at his cockiness and the sexiness of what is happening to him right now—the absurd, unreal, mind-boggling sexiness—and ducks his head into Peter's neck, where a fresh whiff of his cologne sweeps into his nose. It reminds Stiles that he once told Peter that a good cologne turns him on, just like watching someone put their soul into video gaming does.

"After this," Stiles suggests, "we're playing Guitar Hero."

The list of alternate games he has stacked under his desk is swallowed by Peter dropping him on his bed, the mattress coming up to meet him with a bounce. God, he doesn’t remember the last time he was this fucking hard, his dick practically weeping where it’s trapped in his underwear, and he hurries to slide it off his legs before Peter crawls over him and officially steals the last of his cognitive thinking from him.

“How many times do you think I can make you come in one night?” Peter whispers directly onto his ear, and then his tongue slips out and slides over Stiles’ neck and things go a little wobbly. “I’m aiming for three.”

“Is that you being cocky again?”

“That’s me making you a promise,” Peter murmurs.

His teeth bear down on Stiles’ shoulder, pulling a startled gasp out of Stiles’ already hypersensitive body, and then again when he bites right under his jaw, nipping down his jugular, further down to his chest until all of Stiles is stuttering up into his touch. Peter’s lips are hot on his skin, tongue even hotter, and if he keeps heading south like this and doesn’t let up with the way he’s moving his mouth over Stiles’ body, then this might all be over embarrassingly soon.

He’s pretty sure that all this pent up sexual tension is the enemy of longevity, and despite the way Stiles tries desperately to clench the pleasure down and keep himself in control, Peter’s hand slipping over his cock and squeezing, pulling, pumping, completely smashes all of his attempts to stretch out his stamina.

His first orgasm hits him unexpectedly, like a balloon popping, eyes flying open as his abdomen rolls with the force of it all, Peter’s hand working him through each wave of pleasure. Stiles’ cheeks are on fire when he’s finished coming.

“Oh my god,” he says, covering his eyes with his forearm. “I usually—I’m not secretly a fourteen-year-old boy who can’t handle a hand on his dick, I swear.”

“Relax,” Peter says, pulling his arm away and nipping on the skin by his wrist. He seems to have a thing for biting Stiles, leaving tiny red marks in his wake. “It’s flattering.”

“Me coming the minute you touch me is flattering?”

“Yes, actually, exactly that.” Peter grins, Cheshire-cat style, and runs his hands up Stiles’ sides. “Let me clean you up. You’re filthy.”

He pins Stiles’ wrists onto the mattress while he slides down the bed and licks him clean, tongue working in long, deliberate stripes up his stomach. By the time he’s done, Stiles is half-hard and starting to wonder if he is actually a fourteen-year-old boy and his birth certificate was lying to him all these years. That, or Peter’s just really, really good at figuring out Stiles’ body.

“You’re good at this,” Stiles says. “Like, I think I might pass out.”

“Don’t quite yet,” Peter says. “I have a few more things in store for you.”

He slips to the edge of the bed, mattress croaking as he goes, presumably ready to dip down and suck Stiles off, and Stiles—the logical, stupid part of himself that isn’t quite as clouded over with hormones as the rest of him is right now—feels the need to speak up first before there’s a tongue on his cock.

"Wait," Stiles says, putting his foot on Peter's chest to still him. He feels ludicrous, undressed and achingly hard again and still pressing pause now when things are just getting good, but he has to say this, has to clarify. "A smart guy once told me it was important to be clear with people about what it is I want."

"A smart man?" Peter repeats, sounding amused, and he curls a hand around Stiles' ankle and waits for him to continue.

"I don't want this to be like—like all those other times," Stiles says. "I want to be with you. Not just for one crazy passionate wild night. I want your phone number and your email and your fax number if you have one, I don't want to lose you, and there, maybe that's the wrong thing to say, but it's honest."

Peter nods slowly. "All right," he says, and Stiles gears himself up for an awkward rejection. "I appreciate your honesty."

"You're freaked out."

"Actually, I'm wondering when I ever gave the impression," Peter says, dragging his hand up from Stiles' ankle and along his calf, to his knee, all the way to the side of his thigh, "that I would want any differently."

Stiles sits up so quickly he nearly kicks Peter straight in the throat. "You—you told me you were only interested in one night stands."

"You're an exception, I suppose," Peter says, like it's just that simple, like Stiles is just that amazing. "Which, honestly, Stiles, you should've figured out a lot sooner."

"What? How? Why?"

Peter slides Stiles' foot away, kneeling on the bed and crawling closer, something impatient lurking in the hood of his eyes. Stiles wants to get this show on the road too, but he also needs to get the facts straight before he starts the car.

"I didn't have to talk to you, you know, Peter says. "And I didn't have to tell you my name, and I didn't have to talk to you on the phone, and I didn't have to tell you about all the things I was dying to do to you if I ever had you in front of me."

He's even closer now, slotted right between Stiles' legs and near enough to reel in for a long kiss, and Stiles wants to.

“And now that I do,” Peter says, close enough that Stiles can catalogue tiny details about his face, his blue, blue eyes, the sharp curve of his cheekbones, the dark bristles of his facial hair that have already made themselves known when he was mouthing his way down Stiles’ chest. “I’m going to do all of them.”

“All of them,” Stiles breathes. “That’s going to take a while.”

“I’m counting on it.”

They both lean in at the same time, the kiss frantic and a little off-center and making it obvious that the temperature in the room has changed from warm to searingly hot, in the center of the sun hot, and that this is definitely happening. Stiles grabs the short hair on the back of Peter’s head and pulls him as close as humanly possible, suddenly annoyed that the denim of Peter’s jeans is in the way from him actually feeling their bare thighs press together, and he groans his frustration into Peter’s mouth.

They both need to be naked. They both needed to be naked since about yesterday, so Stiles wastes little time after that fumbling and tugging and doing everything short of tearing Peter’s jeans apart to get them off and then throw them somewhere Peter will never, ever find them—he won’t need them anymore, not really—while still keeping his tongue in Peter’s mouth, the sensation of kissing him somehow both dizzying and necessary.

“These—these need to be gone. Take your pants off,” Stiles demands when he pulls away to breathe, feeling insanely like if he goes another second not holding Peter’s cock, the world might end.

Peter chuckles at him, but he takes mercy on Stiles’ begging and kicks his jeans away, followed by the snuggest briefs Stiles has ever seen in his life that may or may not cause his mouth to start watering. He tugs Stiles’ bottom lip into his mouth, teeth sinking down into it.

“Any other demands?” he murmurs.

“Yeah, these too,” Stiles says, tugging on the waistband of his underwear.

They go next while Peter hypnotizes him with the movement of his tongue over Stiles’ lower lip, and then his bare hips are pressing down into Stiles’ and their dicks are touching and Stiles is pretty sure he spends a hot second experiencing thirty dimensions and parallel universes at once, that’s how disorienting all of this is, in the best, filthiest of ways.

"Dude," Stiles realizes suddenly, "we can sext now. We can talk dirty as much as we fucking want."

"Ah, you're right."

"You can tell me what you—aah, fuck." Stiles' head tips back as Peter sucks a dark, unforgiving spot onto his collarbone. "You can tell me all about our Paris hotel room."

Peter chuckles. He leans in close, mouth right by Stiles' ear. "You mean you, naked and stretched out for me, waiting for me to lick you open for my cock?"

“Uh—yeah. That.” Stiles is going to shoot off into space like an out of control firework at this rate. “When is that going to happen?”

“Soon,” Peter says. “But first, I’m going to suck you off.”

He scoots down Stiles’ body with no more warning and Stiles moans at the words alone, something about Peter’s voice and the way his hands rub Stiles’ chest while he talks already enough stimulation to drive Stiles wild. It’s been so long since he’s done this, since someone gorgeous has gone down on him and coaxed enough loud noises out of him to annoy the neighbors, and god, is Stiles looking forward to doing this so much with Peter that the people living one wall away start absolutely loathing him.

Peter swallows him down like he’s daydreaming about doing this to Stiles for ages—and hell, maybe he has—and Stiles muffles his cry-slash-groan-slash-squeal in his fist, hips moving as if possessed into the wet heat of Peter’s mouth. He’s unfairly good at this, reducing Stiles to a writhing mess that would be humiliating if he wasn’t so distracted by the illegal talents of Peter’s tongue, and Stiles promises to himself then and there that he’s not letting Peter go, not for a long time, not for years, not until he’s bored of sex and has abandoned the whims of his dick.

It gets better—holy shit—when Peter pulls off his dick to lick over his balls, suckling, driving Stiles completely insane, before dipping even lower and flattening his tongue over Stiles’ hole, hands digging into his thighs to keep him in place. This is the best he’s ever had, Stiles can say that fairly certainly, and it makes him wonder for one crazy moment if it’s only getting better from here on out, if Peter’s going to rock his world like this every time they tangle together on the sheets and get naked. He’s going to find out, oh, he’s going to do intensive research.

“Holydamnfuck,” Stiles says, his mouth no longer being controlled by his brain. “That is—I—dear god.”

Peter sucks him back past his lips at that, and Stiles props himself up and watches, determined to remind himself exactly who he’s doing this, that this is Peter, his online, invisible, virtual boyfriend actually come to life. How many people on the universe are this lucky? Three, maybe?

“Your lube,” Peter says, pressing sticky kisses to the head of his cock, eyes incredibly dark. “Where is it?”

Stiles almost gives himself whiplash turning over to yank open his bedside drawer and seizing his tube—it’s almost half empty, and Stiles has a feeling he’ll need to stock up a lot from this point onward—and also snagging a condom out of the box, handing both to Peter in what he hopes makes it clear that he’s on board with the idea of Peter fucking him. Maybe he ought to toss him a few extra condoms, so he knows that invitation is open all night—

“You do to yourself thinking about me?” Peter asks in between slow, teasing licks around Stiles’ cock. He’s also somehow multitasking into unscrewing the lube and squeezing some onto his fingers while he blows him, which feels a little superhuman since Stiles can’t successfully even focus on breathing, not ripping holes into his pillowcases with his fingernails, and having this conversation all at the same time. “After we were on the phone? After we texted?”

“Yeah, duh, of course I—fuck.” Peter’s lubed index finger pushing into him momentarily steals the words out of his mouth. “What the fuck do you think pulling my taffy means?”

Peter chuckles, the vibrations of his laughter coursing through Stiles’ dick as Peter sucks him back into his mouth, this time in-sync with his finger, a finger that quickly becomes two, both of them rubbing, circling, and breaching his pucker with a rhythm that makes Stiles’ mouth run dry.

He comes hardly feeling in control of his limbs—or his body overall, really—with his back arched and his mouth open. He's pretty sure Peter swallows it all before he lets Stiles' softening dick slip out of his mouth, and even then, he keeps softly licking at the tip while he eases his fingers out.

"All right. Third time on my cock sound good?" He sounds debauched and his throat sounds rusty, every part of him reeking of the expert blowjob he just finished.

"Um," Stiles says, feeling drunk and hazy. "Is that a trick question?"

Peter laughs. It sounds even better in person than on the phone, so much so that Stiles murmurs, "I love your voice so much, oh my god."

Peter's hands still for a moment where they're on Stiles' thighs right before they resume movement and drag their way up Stiles' shuddering hips. He crawls up his body, slowly, and by the time Peter's eye-to-eye with him, Stiles has realized that his lips have turned a swollen pink and the flavor of Stiles' come is probably on his tongue. He slides his fingers into Peter's hair, desperate to kiss him again, but Peter speaks before he can.

"Just my voice?" he says.

"God."

Peter parts his lips over Stiles' cheek, whispering into the curve of his jaw.

"Because I remember very clearly a text message I got from a certain drunk boy telling me he loved me."

"I wasn't drunk," Stiles says, apparently feeling the need to clarify this to make the situation all the more inescapable. He doesn't know what he's doing; he can't think. Peter's cock is pressed against his stomach and his own hardness is starting to grow again and they're touching in so, so many places. "I was joking. Shut up."

"So you haven't fallen in love with me?"

Stiles turns his aflame face away. "Oh my god, please shut up."

Peter grabs his chin and promptly pulls it back into view. "You see, if you admitted that you had, I'd give you a thorough thanks."

"Right. Because that's what people want after love confessions. Thank yous."

"What would you like?"

Stiles grabs Peter by fistfuls of his hair and jerks his head closer, so close that he's nearly blurry. "You know. I know you know. Quit being an asshole on purpose." Now that they're talking about assholes, maybe they should focus on that and have sentimental moments later. "Can we please fuck now?"

Stiles squeezes the handful of hair he has gripped and pulls Peter close enough to feel their breaths mingle, their lips slide together. He doesn't know how he's getting hard again, how even just being in Peter's company is somehow doing this to him, but he wants to file complaints. He's not a teenager anymore, he should be able to control his body, he shouldn't be popping boners left and right just because a gorgeous man is laying naked on top of him, yada yada yada.

“Well,” Peter says, “since you asked so nicely.”

He kisses him again, stealing any retort he had at the ready from his mouth, and it goes on until Stiles is desperate to make it three times, Peter’s mouth slick and filthy against his.

Then his fingers are prodding at Stiles' lubed entrance again, nearly pushing back in, and he pulls back to say, "Should I finger you for a bit longer?"

"No," Stiles growls, almost shouts, and squeezes the grasp he has on Peter's hair again. "If you don't fuck me right now I'm going to do it myself, I swear to god."

Peter cocks an eyebrow. "As tempting as that sounds."

"For the love of—"

"Shh," Peter says, and then he's actually paying attention to Stiles' desperate begging and pushing his legs up, shifting between them until he's all lined up and suddenly—

"Fuck," Stiles says in one dizzy breath as Peter thrusts in and steals all the coherence from his body.

“That better?” Peter asks,

He pushes in, rocking Stiles on the sheets, and Stiles wraps his arms around Peter’s shoulders and squeezes his knees around his waist and lets out a loud, unavoidable cry when Peter nudges his prostate. Any second now people are going to start pounding on the walls, hollering for him to keep it down, and right after that Stiles is probably going to lose his grip on the mattress and slide right off, but all of it still feels perfect, sweaty and satisfying and so, so worth the wait.

He wants to do this again. He hasn't done this in so long, and now he knows he won't be able to give it up, not when there are so many untapped ways for them to fuck that Stiles wants to indulge in. Riding Peter on his lap, doggy style with him holding onto the headboard, sucking Peter off and feeling him come in his throat, god, the options are endless. Peter captures his mouth in a dirty, wet kiss that Stiles whines into, hips rising and falling and pushing into each of Peter's thrusts. Every part of him feels so raw and worn and over-sensitive after already coming twice, cock aching and throat sore, but he wants to come again, wants to let Peter milk that third one out of him.

He must be mumbling some of that aloud in Peter's mouth, because Peter pulls back from his lips to whisper in his ear, to praise and encourage and swear at him, hands sweaty where they curl around Stiles' hipbones.

“How’s that?” Peter asks, voice gone raspy. “You like it, don’t you? Like me fucking your tight little ass?”

Fuck,” Stiles says again—it’s what his vocabulary has been reduced to, apparently. “Yes, fuck.”

"Next time I'll spread you out face down on the mattress and just give it to you, would you like that?"

"God, yeah."

He pins Stiles down with his thumbs digging into his waist, sure to leave bruises that Stiles is going to absolutely relish, and he shifts his hips just enough to change his angle when he slides back in again, going from barely brushing his prostate to straight on nailing it. Stiles throws his head back against the pillow and groans, trying to clench down on Peter’s dick every time he tries to pull out.

He comes practically dry that third time, body sobbing with the force of his orgasm, every part of him shaking as Peter whispers words of praise to him while he keeps fucking him, Stiles clenching down on Peter’s dick with the last of his strength to get him over the edge with him. Peter slams into him with a strength that almost pushes Stiles off the bed, Stiles moaning every time his dick thrusts into his worn out hole.

“C’mon, give it to me,” Stiles mutters, hands finding Peter’s sweaty shoulders and digging in. “Peter.”

Saying his name must be what does it for him, Peter’s entire frame seizing up as he comes, catching Stiles in a fierce, biting kiss. Even with the condom, Stiles can feel Peter’s cock pulsing inside him as he finishes, and it’s so goddamn hot Stiles is starting to think that he might be up for more sex sooner than he thought, like maybe in a few hours or a solid thirty minutes, which is translating into one undeniable fact for him: his monthly allowance is about to have a serious chunk taken out of it for sex stuff. Lots, and lots, and lots of sex stuff.

He feels pretty empty when Peter pulls out and ties off the condom, but also like he could probably sleep for thirty hours just to shake off this incredible sex haze, and he reaches out for Peter’s shoulder to pull him close again, not even minding the way their sticky skin presses together. It feels like a very victorious souvenir more than anything else.

They kiss for a little bit, just slow, languorous making out until Stiles gets oxygen back in his lungs and feeling back in his legs.

“You want to, uh,” Stiles asks, pointing lazily at the box of condoms on the nightstand before wrapping his arm back around Peter’s chest, “fill those up and have a water balloon fight?”

"Maybe later," Peter says, then slips out from underneath Stiles' arm and gets off of the bed. Then he starts rummaging, completely naked, through Stiles' piles of laundry before he finds the plastic guitar he's looking for and waves it in the air. "First, Guitar Hero."

Stiles blinks. This can't be real. He can't have found someone who has just made him come three times and now is ready for video games. Stiles is either out of his depth of exactly where he belongs. He sits up.

“Really?”

“Oh, absolutely. I’m very competitive.” Peter settles the guitar into his lap. “I should warn you. I'm a master at Ziggy Stardust.”

Stiles smiles. He grabs the second guitar where it's slid under his bed, dusting off the strings, and swings it over his lap. It's just nice, is all, to learn more things about Peter, things he hadn't even considered when they were texting.

"We playing al dente?" Stiles asks. At Peter's confused eyebrow, he adds a sweeping gesture down his body and says, "In the nude?"

"You know how I feel about code words."

“Yes. That I’ve changed your mind about them and you secretly find them endearing.”

Peter throws him a derisive look. “We’ll see,” he murmurs. “Now focus.”

-- ONE MONTH LATER --

“Hey, Stiles, you got a text,” Isaac says, arched over the table where Stiles' phone vibrates against the wooden surface. “It's from somebody called Best I Ever Had.” His eyebrows lift up into his forehead. “Who is this, and is it casual enough for me to steal their number from you?”

“It’s Peter,” Stiles says. “So no.” He taps his knuckles against the table. “He wrote that in, for the record.”

“What? And you haven't changed the name?”

Stiles shrugs, caught somewhere between amused and embarrassed. Okay, scratch that second one, he's so happy he's shameless.

“It's not wrong,” he says, fighting to keep his voice level and not inject a suggestive dance of his eyebrows into the conversation. “So might as well.”

“Wow.” Isaac wrinkles his nose, but swipes Stiles' phone open anyway to read Peter's message. “He says pizza for lunch at noon sound good?."

This type of snooping on Stiles' phone is the kind of thing that Stiles wouldn't have tolerated a month ago, but then again, a month ago Peter was still just a faceless figure he live-texted reality shows with. Now he's being laid on a regular basis and no longer has to shell out money for text messages with Peter and has an honest to God boyfriend, and those sort of mood-lifters really keep him from sweating the small stuff, like Isaac looking through his sexts. He's actually pretty proud of them. It’s been a good month.

Eugh,” Isaac says, probably finding said texts as he scrolls higher up. “Are you seriously using the words baloney pony here? Are these real words I'm seeing?”

“It's a thing we—code words are our thing,” Stiles says, picking up his phone when Isaac drops it like it's carrying the swine flu. He texts Peter back sure, but you’re buying, because he’s still a little in debt from all those extra text messages he bought from Invisible Boyfriend. Only seems fair that Peter covers their food bills for a little while. He sends another text when he remembers something, this one saying oh, and dinner with my dad tomorrow, don’t forget.

“You guys are awful,” Isaac says. “But you know who you have to thank for getting you two together, don’t you?”

“Don’t even.”

“Me,” Isaac says, ignoring Stiles’ eye roll. “This was all my idea. I deserve a little credit.”

“Glad you’re so happy for us,” Stiles says dryly. “So selflessly, at that.”

“Selfless is my middle name.”

Stiles’ phone trilling interrupts Isaac’s gloating, which Stiles gratefully accepts as a diversion from listening to Isaac congratulate himself on his matchmaking skills, answering the call. It’s Best I Ever Had, calling at just the right moment.

“Hey,” Peter says. “Want me to pick you up for lunch?”

“Would I ever,” Stiles says, already packing his things together. “Isaac is annoying the hell out of me.”

He ignores Isaac’s middle finger flipping up in his direction, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and getting to his feet as he tells Peter where he’ll be waiting on campus for Peter’s car.

“You know, I almost liked you better as a moping, single mess,” Isaac says after Stiles hangs up.

“I didn’t,” Stiles tells him. “I now get sex, someone to make out with whenever I want, and breakfast in bed on the weekends. So. The choice is pretty obvious for me.”

“And I get to hear you talk about all those things all the time.”

“You’re happy for me, admit it.”

Isaac shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “Fine. Now get out of here.”

Stiles grins, ruffles Isaac’s hair just to be an asshole, and does as he’s told.

-- ONE YEAR LATER --

“You know, I thought it’d be bigger.”

Stiles squints, tilting his head to the left to see if it changes the perspective a bit. It doesn’t. He tries the other side, stuffing the tourism booklet Allison got him into his back pocket.

“One of the greatest creations in the modern world, and it’s not big enough for you,” Peter says, voice flat.

“Hey, at least some things are big enough for me,” Stiles says, pinching Peter in the side. “It’s nice. Just—small, don’t you think?”

Okay, maybe he’s being a bit critical. It’s the Eiffel Tower, for god’s sake, and it is pretty amazing. It looms over the sky and pokes the clouds impressively, and Stiles bets it would take him a long time if he tried to scale the side of it and climb all the way to the top. It looks nothing like it does in pictures, much more intricate, much more detailed in person, each tiny thin piece of metal spiderwebbing into a larger, thicker piece and creating this grand, angular tower. Behind it, the Champ de Mars stretches outward, lush and green. Stiles reaches for Peter’s hand, threading their fingers together.

“Let’s go up it,” he suggests, walking toward it. The sun’s out and it feels like one of those early summer days where the heat feels just right on bare skin, and it’s so close to Stiles’ dream, it’s uncanny. Real life is nicer, though.

“So is it what you expected?” Peter asks.

“Not at all,” Stiles says.

“Better or worse?”

Stiles looks over at Peter, hair a little longer than it was a year ago, eyes a little brighter in the sun’s shine. He thinks of the hotel room they woke up in this morning, and how it felt to have Peter’s arms wrapped around his shoulders.

“It’s better,” he tells him, squeezing his hand. “Totally better.”