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It takes Peter ten years to leave Beacon Hills.

He has no idea why it takes so long. He’s been watching people disappear around him for much longer, watching his plans crumble and the entire town look through his facades.

He remembers the day he came back to life clearly, like it happened yesterday, how he pushed himself free from the dusty floorboards and stared down his dazed nephew and the petrified redhead and how not even his impaired powers could stop the racing of his ideas. He remembers what it felt like to breathe life in again, how it filled up his whole body and nearly shattered his bones. He’s never experienced that feeling again in his life.

The rest, Peter doesn’t remember well. Whatever happened, it didn’t go as planned, and he guesses that’s the repercussion life deals out when somebody tries to cheat death and gets away with hiding behind the Reaper’s cape. He vaguely recalls things like Derek never trusting him, his entire pack side-eyeing him when he stood sentinel in the corner of his cold loft attempting to catalogue everybody’s weaknesses. He remembers people changing, people coming together like they were all getting too old for rivalries, and how chasing trouble away became a priority over having fun. Peter won’t lie, all the drama, all the rushing, all the danger knocking on the front door, it was interesting and exactly the type of entertainment he was up for watching from afar.

It happened in a lightning’s flash―Derek grew wrinkles, the burden on his shoulders pulling age from his haunted face. The pack separated and clashed back together more times than Peter could count. He tried endlessly to manipulate, to try his hand at the age old poker faces, and how after a few years nobody bothered with Peter anymore and nobody believed his bluffs. All of them started moving away just like Jackson did, without a trace and without hope of turning back, and if they weren’t running off to brighter pastures, they were dying. Sometimes Derek would look at Peter in his peripherals, these fleeting, accusatory glances that packed all of his sour opinions about his uncle into one momentary look. He’d say things with his eyes like you know all of this goes back to you and you biting Scott started all of this, and Peter would roll his eyes and look away.

Once when Peter blinked, he woke up and everybody was gone. Stiles had moved and Lydia had practically been escorted out of the country by her intelligence. Scott was living in his picket fence American dream like he wasn’t a supernatural creature of the night and Derek shut his door to outsiders. They all ran into their corners like soldiers licking their wounds and catching their breath behind dumpsters before the shooting started up again, all acting completely oblivious to the fact that they had spent the majority of the past decade in each other’s trust, saving each other’s lives and crying on each other’s shoulders. Things stopped being fun.

All of that is blurry, though, just like his memories from the coma. It makes Peter feel like he had never really been resurrected, like all of this is just slow death and he isn’t realizing. The entire town treats him like he’s a ghost, anyway.

“How long before you get it,” Derek says from the doorway of his apartment. He looks uncomfortable, one hand on the door handle like he’s ready to usher Peter back out into the hall again but is refraining if only to chew him out. Peter wavers in the kitchen, ready to rifle through the fridge, but Derek’s firm hand on his shoulder stops him. “You don’t belong here.”

Peter shakes off the fingers pulling him back and opens the fridge. There’s nothing but a banana and a tub of mayonnaise.

“I think the novelty of your solitude has worn off,” Peter points out idly, shutting the fridge again. “For how long are you going to decompose in here pretending you’re having a good time?”

Derek’s eyebrows knit together like Peter’s crossed the line that was holding Derek back from using blunt honesty as a weapon to get Peter to leave his loft. He crosses his arms over his chest like he’s using his forearms as protective barriers, and Peter refrains from pointing out his hostile body language.

You don’t belong here,” Derek says again, harder this time. “Everybody has moved on but you. Everybody’s trying to live a normal life, but you, who keeps trying to dig up old trouble.”

“So you’re supposedly happy like this?” Peter snipes back. “Watching Scott have his two point five kids and watching bygones be bygones?”

Yes,” Derek grits out. “Everybody’s fine except for you. Doesn’t that give you some sort of a clue?”

They stare at each other, hard and long, Derek’s chiseled expression unwavering as he waits for Peter to make the last snide comment that gives Derek the push to herd him out of his home. What’s sad is that Peter doesn’t have it in him to press back and push Derek’s buttons, the idea of Derek’s hardly amused face and endless impatient sighing not even slightly appealing. It used to be fun to tease and prod and get under Derek’s skin. Peter wonders when all that changed, if it was in the same moment when he blinked and his world turned from thrilling climax to rolling credits. How long has his movie been over for?

He goes to say something, open his mouth and defend his honor against all the accusations Derek’s crossed arms are conveying, but Derek speaks first, jaw set and voice terse.

“I think you should go,” Derek says. “And I don’t just mean here. I mean town. You should leave, start over.”

His movie’s been over for a while. He’s just the one guy who forgets to leave the theater, who sits there with the empty popcorn bowl in his lap waiting for a surprise at the end of the credits. There is no surprise. There is no blooper reel, no alternate ending, no bonus three-hour movie for those patient enough to stick around.

He tries to think of the witty last words he can walk away with, something that’ll have Derek hanging his head when he shuts the door behind him. It’s his expertise, and yet, his tongue is lacking all the spark of a sarcastic comeback.

“Fine,” is what he ends up saying. It feels flat and it sounds flat as it leaves his mouth, more like a resignation than a promise to rise from the ashes as a stronger, more persistent villain who promises to deliver the blow that will shock the entire audience. The audience is already gone.

So he takes Derek’s advice, and he leaves.

--

Peter doesn’t leave without a few kicks and struggles, though, which ultimately metaphorically manifest as Peter stealing Derek’s Camaro.

Derek doesn’t use it anymore, having stored it away to collect dust and rust by the wheels in favor of more “responsible vehicles,” but Peter’s pretty sure Derek’s abandonment of the car was because of the memories attached to it. The way the backseat still smelled like Laura and how the car made him feel too fast, too reckless, too careless as he raced down the rickety roads leading to the woods. Maybe it was Derek’s attempt to blend in. Maybe it was his attempt to ignore the past. Whatever it was, it’s now Peter’s mode of transportation.

He pulls it out of the storage unit with the leaking overhead pipe, cleans off the hubcaps and the dashboard, and slides in. The entire car still smells like fresh leather, like it hasn’t been sitting in a dank, rotting storage unit for the past decade, and it makes Peter feel like he’s transported back in time, back when he was an alpha and revenge was easy. It pushes a renewed vigor through his muscles, like maybe hotwiring Derek’s car is the perfect start of his do-over. If he’s going to rebel, he’s going to do it right.

He drives for a long while, until the gas needle is dangerously near empty and the car is close to teetering to a tired stop on the side of the road. He doesn’t know where he ends up, mostly because he doesn’t look at road signs. Fuck that.

He wonders how long it’ll take Derek to notice that his car is gone. Peter doesn’t know how often he checks in on the Camaro, if he lets it be as a figure of his past better left tucked away or if he spends afternoons staring at its sandy hood turned gray from dust, and if the latter is true, if he’ll know it was Peter who grabbed it when no one was looking. His phone is still quiet, has been for all the hours he’s been driving in random curves, letting the road guide him wherever it looks brightest, and he doesn’t know if he wants the messages to come flooding in or everybody to leave him alone. Probably a mixture of both.

The car is too warm, warm enough to make him sleepy and lured to the winding paths of the road as the crickets chirp from the sidelines. He opens the windows to more scorching heat that gusts in without invitation, creating a thin layer of sweat on his chest where his v-neck rests. The sky turns into a charcoal blue and the heat turns unforgivingly humid.

He ends up in the shabby parking lot of an equally shabby motel, the only building in the entire town Peter’s been cruising through that has apparent signs of life in the form of orange light filtering through the windows. The clock in the dashboard says it’s 9:06pm, late enough that Peter knows he’s been driving since before noon hit. He’d like to believe that even his nose couldn’t guide him back to Beacon Hills now, too occupied with the scents of country grass and stifling heat. He's far out now and completely clueless as to where, purposefully ignoring signs in the road if only to get as hopelessly lost as possible. He's still not sure if he wants desperately to be left alone or for someone to try valiantly to find him.

The motel is a dump, as expected. It smells of remarkably old wood and even older cologne saturated into the tables, but the owners keep the keys in cubbyholes. It's a small thing, probably more for organization than anything else, but it looks cozy. Individual. Peter takes room thirty-two without hesitation, jots down Derek’s credit card number on the paperwork, and rides the rickety elevator probably moving on nothing but a frayed string up to the third floor. The halls are quiet, nothing but the occasional murmur of the television wafting through the walls, and Peter walks into his nondescript room with his nondescript bag of clothes to dump on the nondescript sheets and thinks that in a place like this, he could be overlooked as normal. Maybe even human.

He drops his bag, sagging in on itself and somehow managing to condense his life into two feet of space, and shrugs off his shirt next. The hotel is still humid but fogged over with a clammy cold that has Peter shucking off his pants and heading for the bathroom fit for half a person. He turns on the bathtub tap and waits for the water to steam up his skin.

He’s so far away from Beacon Hills he can’t even convince himself he’s actually home.

--

Okay, so maybe he really is a rotten person. Some people are just born that way.

The water in the tub sloshes back and forth as Peter bubbles under until his nose is pushing air into ripples of water, his eyes even with the shaking water level as the warmth pulls his body under. The water took about twenty minutes to heat up properly, but what exactly is Peter expecting from an establishment that looks like it was constructed by pilgrims back in the nineteenth century?

He lets his fingers play with the surface of the water, his palms floating with the waves his body pushes into the stillness. The entire room smells like lemon Pledge and a musk that only comes with old wood that’s seen termites and cluster flies and chinks and scratches. It’s a comforting smell next to the soapy scent of the tiny bottles of shampoo stacked up on the rim of the bathtub, like aged floorboards and clean tubs.

He grabs the slippery bar of yellow soap from the nook in the wall, sliding it down and up his arm until his skin feels lathered and waxy. Obviously he isn’t winning any uncle of the year awards, or citizen of the year awards, or honest Samaritan of the year awards, but he knows he has his good sides. He’s charming, always has been, knows how to quirk his lips and play with his words to gain the trust of innocents, and he’s seen comas and fires and deaths. He has a million stories inside of him, some traumatic enough to make excellent Lifetime movies, some of them fond and hilarious, and nobody to share them with. Nobody who cares.

Maybe it was the fifth deception, or the third, or the seventh. Maybe it was his second attempt at being an Alpha. Maybe it was when he killed Laura. Apparently, there’s a limit when it comes to testing someone’s patience, or their tolerance for dishonesty, or their acceptance of deceit. Peter loves testing boundaries until they break, love how their veins will tick and how he can smell blood boil, how easy it is to stretch the rubber bands of their lenience until they snap. Peter likes people raw and open and angry the best, much better than the attempts to keep flaws and truths hidden under smiles and decorum.

But maybe, considering that years later, his lies have gotten him nowhere but sulking in solitude in a bathtub in a hotel on the outskirts of reality, maybe it’s time to try a different technique. He’s had his fun, and he supposes everybody has to grow up sometimes, stop tripping kids in hallways and leaving blood in their lockers to watch them scream. He’ll give it a fair chance.

He washes the suds off his forearms and steps from the tub, watching the water drip down his legs in rivulets as he reaches for the plug with his toe and the water swirls and gurgles away. A droplet of water falls from the tip of his nose and the ends of his hair, and it makes him feel like an animal in the rain shivering through the wetness. A part of him expects arms to wrap a towel around him and pat him down.

Instead, he grabs the towel himself, stiff and scented of lemons, and wraps it around his waist before he wipes the fog off the mirror.

--

He sleeps well that first night in the hotel, too used to new mattresses and different shelters to be bothered by the way the pillow doesn’t smell like his shampoo and the sheets aren’t silky like his own. His nights aren’t dreamless, though, full of dusty ashes thrown over his eyes and fire scratching at his throat.

His body lays suspended on dirt, on leaves and twigs and debris of nature, and when his eyes come to, glowing red in his skull and burning with the pain his lungs can’t scream, Derek is there, claws poised. It comes as a surprise each time, and each time Peter feels his throat burn with the searing of his own smoking flesh. He tries to say, you’ve already decided, but instead what comes out is this won’t fix anything because it never did for him.

And if he expects it to end differently, it doesn’t, because then Derek’s hands slice down like a guillotine and Peter is agonizingly hyperaware of the way his skin is torn and the blood spills from his neck. He keeps his eyes open, tries to see something other than the gray trees and the sooty sky with his last look before he goes under, and that’s when his wooden ceiling comes into view.

The burns are gone, replaced with smooth skin and quivering arms and the shakiness of reality. He inhales and smells smoke, like there’s the residue of a bonfire in the backyard wafting through the windows, but then it fades from his nostrils and Peter’s left turning the pillow over onto the cool side just to get relief from his scorching skin.

It still feels like it’s on fire when he wakes up the next morning, and the ice cold showers do nothing to help.

--

Peter goes looking for a permanent residence after four stagnant nights at the hotel. The overwhelming scent of lemon Pledge and the way the maids tuck in his bed and leave the tip of the toilet paper folded into a tiny point turns mundane and frustrating all too quickly, and Peter grabs his bag of clothes and packs up in ten minute’s notice, leaving a wrinkly bed in his wake.

He’s standing on the cusp of the hotel sidewalk an hour later after he checks out with the ever-wearied desk attendant, staring out into the bumpy road and endless line of crooked trees in the distance. Rickety cars whizz by, and in the far off, Peter sees a dinky shop with a brown roof. He wavers there with his duffel over his shoulder for a few seconds, wondering if people even have the desire to stop and live in this town without zooming by to a larger, busier city where they can lose themselves and watch the desolate huts and creaky motels in their rearview mirrors. Some people probably do stop, and it makes Peter wonder if any of them are anything like him.

He grabs the Camaro and goes to find out. His gas needle whines and shakes at him the entire ride, and it brings him a total of four miles before grumbling to a stop. Apparently, he’s close enough to the extent of the town’s real estate, and Peter finds a tiny, clean cul-de-sac guarded by a man smoking tendrils into the sky.

“You looking to buy?” he asks him when he sees Peter’s duffel slung over his arm.

“No,” Peter says, eyes raking over the cookie cutter clones of houses littered into a tight-knit circle of driveways. “Was out for something a bit… out of sight.”

He only has three conditions: sturdy walls, running water, and enough undergrowth to shield him from the rest of the population, which Peter suspects doesn’t tick over double digits. The man gives his sleek car and his one minimal bag a once over, like he’s not sure if Peter’s not keeping bodies in the trunk, but finds him a place anyway.

It’s tiny enough to fit half a person, and if it was any more rustic, it’d be built of wooden logs and have hay heaped onto the roof. It’s completely secluded.

“It works,” the man tells him. He’s still smoking, another cigarette tucked into the cupid’s bow of his lips while he guides Peter through the rooms. “And the fridge does too. Also the toilet and the shower.”

Peter ignores him to stare out the dusty windows. The front yard is desolate, nothing but a granite stoop and scrawny pebbles leading out onto the sidewalk framed by dark green trees and unmowed grass. A tiny road, uneven and quiet, sits next to the sidewalk. It could work.

“There’s pretty much nothing in the back,” the man continues. “So looks like I filled your requirements, right?”

“Right,” Peter murmurs, staring through the mass of trees. He thinks he’ll carve a hole in the brambles with his claws to slide the Camaro into, cover the dashboard with leaves and twigs. He thinks with the dismal state of the gas tank, he’ll have to push it into confinement with his own hands.

Peter buys the house, the veritable hut with functioning plumbing, and spends another hour wandering down the sidewalk winding next to his yard getting acquainted with the curving sidewalks until he makes it to the nearest store that carries more than just cigarettes and coffee. He buys a mattress, a lumpy couch, and a TV that survived the nineties. Then he lugs it all back to his house and falls asleep on the mattress wondering if this, this musty house with a leaking sink, is where he’s going to be forever.

Well. At least Derek would be happy.

--

Peter’s illusion of solitude is only broken by the sunlight pushing through his unsheltered windows in the mornings, the sound of birds chirping on nearby trees, and the way his ears zero in on the steady dripping from the bathroom sink.

He considers breaking the sink two hours into the night later on and his fists itch to crush the pipes as he lies on the scratchy mattress irritating his backside. The sheets don’t help much against the way the mattress squeaks and the moonlight glares bullyingly into his eyes, and Peter sleeps in broken increments that leave him feeling drugged and drowned whenever he awakens to another ray of moonlight prodding through his eyelids. It’s too warm in the house, the heat seeping into every corner and settling into the walls, and even when Peter does sleep he dreams of more haunting fires. He dreams of flames looming over his body right before he turns to ashes, to hints of dust that crackle and fade away into the earth. Sometimes the dreams are different, and his nightmares take place in a dirty grave under the floorboards while his fingers search for light.

Nights like that, he’s always grateful come morning, when the sun chases away the dreams and the birds pull him from slumber. His entire body feels full of fragile twigs instead of solid bones sometimes, and it makes him never leave the sanctuary of the bed until night falls again. He wonders if his bones are heavy with guilt, or sadness, or loneliness, or if that’s all that things Peter’s only hoping he has the capacity to experience.

He lays there and thinks. Think about himself, instead of think about how delightfully damaged everybody else is. And it all boils down to this: what’s the reason of his life?

Not life in general, but rather specifically, his own. What was the reason he was born if not to torment his nephew and make a name for himself in hell before it was time for his reservation, or more importantly, what was the reason he survived the fire to do it all over again? What about the time after that, when he crawled from the floorboards of his decrepit home to brush away the game over screens and start over?

The true question is if his cockroach immortality is a second chance helplessly repeating itself to grant him a blessing, of if it's a punishment waiting to be recognized. Maybe his problem isn’t death, it’s finding out how to live. He remembers death perfectly as a single blink. Months of rotting underground translated into a nanosecond of darkness before suddenly, the layers of endless black gave way for life. The bright shining of the moon and the cries of Derek as his forearm bled under Peter’s brittle claws. All Peter remembers of death is darkness. Endless darkness. He wonders if that’s what death is like to everyone. Maybe it was just the makeshift coffin, staring him back in the face until he realized there was no light.

Peter has no fucking clue how to live, at least not any differently than what he’s been doing for decades. That way always ends in death, so maybe he’s doing something wrong. Maybe he’s not enough of a shining Samaritan. Maybe he hasn’t had his fair share of tragic trauma yet to appease the cosmic beings dictating his life. Maybe he’s just too fucking fun to kill off.

He thinks he could learn how to be different, out here in this house with no air conditioning and not enough curtains to keep out the sunlight. He thinks he could when people aren’t there. That’s it. People, his Achilles heel, not because they threaten him, but because his very bones itch to threaten them. He sees the vulnerable eyes, the breakable bones, the overflow of emotion, and it’s too much of a field day to resist. People ruin him as much as he ruins them.

Out here, in this house framed by nothing but silent trees and loud birds, he can detox. He can forget the curves of Derek’s frowns and the smell of fear on innocent humans. He can spend time with his own tortured mind and see what happens.

Peter’s fucking terrified.

--

The convenience store is small and smells of aged jars of honey and homemade soap, just like the rest of the town. It’s quaint in a mom-and-pop kind of way that makes Peter simultaneously want to murder the whole village just to get the smell of a grandfather’s cardigan out of his nose and sit down to eat a piece of pie in the woods.

The cashier looks killable. It’d be so easy, just like old times. He’d come up to the counter with an innocent smile of a lost shopper who needs help finding the detergents, the same charming smile that’s helped him worm his way into people’s lungs and rob them of their air, and she’d lean in to hear his question and that’s when his claws would sink into her side and listen to the way the life falls from her throat in one sharp breath. The blood would crust under his fingernails, would smell of a familiar metallic destruction that used to be second nature to him. Killing people for revenge is liberating; killing people for fun is entertaining.

He doesn’t kill the cashier, though, even though it would certainly spice up the town newspapers a bit. He’d have to grab the Camaro and run again, run until he wouldn’t be able to smell the blood he left behind or hear the chatter of a murder investigation in another homespun god-fearing town on the police radio. And then he’d do it all over again, soak in a tub that smells of lemons and mull over his own twisted mind and try to pinpoint when and where the wiring in his brain all went wrong, and it’d happen all over again when he sees a lady jogging on his lawn that looks like her Achilles heel could be sliced with the simple drag of a claw. It makes him wonder if murder and deceit and corruption is programmed into his brain, the same way some people crave ice cream or can’t turn away from a television show until they’ve seen every episode twice with no breaks for showers.

He drags his eye away from the cashier and the winding line that’s trickling from it. An elderly man shuffles up to the counter, nothing but a box of tea and cough drops in his wrinkled hands, and the cashier says “did you find everything all right” in a voice like death, a voice that shows absolutely no interest whatsoever if the man spent thirty minutes wandering aimlessly around the dairy aisle because he couldn’t find the right brand of heavy cream to appease his wife or not. Peter looks away, moving his gaze instead to an endless collection of shelves housing box after box of cereals.

Fifty percent less sugar, the one on the left says. Extra fiber! promises the one adjacent to it. Peter doesn’t give a shit. All he wants is to grab some steak, rolls of bread, and granola that he can let sit in his cupboard for months.

He skirts past a man huddled around the chocolate sauces having a hushed argument with his wife on the phone over which type of sauce she specifically requested―magic shell, or with hints of peppermint―and tries valiantly to ignore the superficiality surrounding him as he rolls his eyes hard enough to fall into the back of his skull. His detox of humanity to humanize him, he realizes, won’t work when he’s surrounded by humans. He can practically feel his claws itching to tear out a throat where they’re stuffed in his pockets. He just needs to grab his shit, and go.

He rounds the corner, and that’s when he sees it. The one thing that’s worse for him than an entire supermarket full of shrieking children, whipped husbands, and people who stare at two brands of eggs like choosing one over the other is the most important life decision they’ve ever been forced to make. Stiles.

He’s recognizable from miles away, with his propensity to layer plaid shirts and his worn Nike shoes as he swings a basket full of pop tarts and milk back and forth. Peter knew he moved away, saw the way the Jeep wasn’t parked by the police station during Thursday fast food dinner nights with his father anymore. He didn’t know where, didn’t know if he went to Russia or China or just one neighborhood away, but now it’s clear that Peter should have done his research. Stiles is here, in the same town small enough to be crushed into oblivion by the head of a pin that Peter swerved into just because the gas tank was suffering, and Peter’s first instinct is to change his mind and go ahead and rip the head off the nearest hapless customer and start a massacre.

He breathes in and regrets it a moment later, because Stiles’ scent is the still the same. Weathered cotton seats, musky deodorant masking the immaturity that runs further than just skin deep, and the tiniest tingle of cheese crackers. The only thing missing is sweat and fear, which is how Peter remembers Stiles best, running off of fumes and adrenaline and pure terror to save lives and his own skin.

Fuck.

Stiles turns around―of course he does, he couldn’t have just turned right or continued on ahead―and he does the same double take Peter did. His face has the same childish features, the quirky smile and the bright eyes, plus a defined jaw and longer hair that makes him look like an honest to god adult. He doesn’t look upset, or frightened, or even thoroughly exasperated to see that he attracts creatures of the night to him like mosquitos to a streetlight, which is upsetting if only because Peter felt all of the above catching a glimpse of Stiles.

“Didn’t think I’d run into you here,” Stiles says. His voice is deeper, just barely, but enough for Peter to notice. It’s lost the perpetual edge of panic and urgency to it, replaced instead by a smooth casualness that has wit bubbling at the ready under the surface. He steps forward, basket still swinging from his fingers. “Is Derek with you too? I haven’t seen him in ages.”

“It’s just me,” Peter says. Stiles is still looking him up and down as if looking for things that have changed, subtle things like wrinkles by his eyes or new shoes on his feet. Peter knows he hasn’t changed. He’s been the same unchanging monster for decades, and that’s why he left, that’s why he ran the car on fumes until he reached a town small enough to fit in his palm, and then Stiles is here to remind him of everything he’s supposed to be forgetting. Just looking at Stiles makes him want to feel the same rush of power that came from stepping in too close and grabbing his wrist by his mouth, the same rush that came with scheming together and listening to his jackrabbit heartbeat pulse against his chest. “Do you live here?”

“Yeah, actually. Right down the street. I dunno, it’s just a nice place. Plus when something rustles around behind me I can pretty safely assume it’s just a stray dog instead of another brand of dangerous monster,” Stiles smiles like all those times he and his friends nearly died are all good laughs to share over Saturday phone calls. His heartbeat is steady. “Are you passing through or what?”

“I… live here.”

He should’ve said yes, just passing through, because how the fuck is he supposed to live here now with the living, breathing reminder of his past down the street from the closest convenience store. Stiles brings back a million recollections at once, each as petrifying as the last because it overloads his brain and makes him want to do the craziest of things. He remembers him and Stiles, bent over the trunk of a car in a cold parking garage while he watched Stiles’ nimble fingers stutter and type on the keyboard of his computer. He remembers Stiles pressed against the window of Derek’s short-lived loft, how the darkening sky would silhouette him perfectly while Peter sat perfectly still in the shadows of the winding staircase.

“Here? Where?”

Peter points vaguely over his shoulder where the woods are, right before remembering that the woods are everywhere. That had been the allure of this town, just him and approximately eighteen other people. Turns out it’s bigger than he anticipated. “Just found a place,” he says.

“I didn’t know you were leaving Beacon Hills.”

“I didn’t know you were here,” Peter says. It sounds defensive even to his own ears, but the coincidence is mind-boggling and Peter feels his skin itch at the thought of ending up here of all places, in this dinky convenience store with Stiles staring at him a foot away. The pop tarts slide to the other end of Stiles’ basket.

“I left a long time ago,” Stiles shrugs. He sounds like that’s all he wants to share, like maybe Peter’s fucking responsible for him leaving because his need for power and blood was too much for Stiles’ brain and his pressure to handle after college. Peter feels an indescribable urge bubble under his skin like thorns sticking into his bloodstream, and it takes a few seconds for Peter to realize it’s the urge to apologize. He refuses.

“I didn’t chase you out here,” Peter says carefully. He feels incredibly defensive and hot like burning all over, like seeing Stiles is like getting a sniff of a drug he’s been successfully withdrawing from. The scent of home; the scent of trouble.

“I know,” Stiles says a second later, back to swinging his cart. “And I’ll believe that right up until I see you napping outside my window.”

Peter doesn’t know if he’s being threatened or gently warned or even just mildly laughed at, and he frowns at Stiles like the idea is absurd. It is. He knew his nephew might have resorted to such tactics when he was younger and felt the need to police the entire supernatural population of the town, starting with Scott and ending up with an entire hoard of misfit teenagers under his watch, but Peter was always a classy brand of criminal. Snooping outside a window was hardly his thing.

“That’s hardly my thing,” Peter feels the need to verbalize. “I’m not insane.”

He realizes the last part is debatable. He isn’t up for discussing it, and thankfully, neither is Stiles, who finds that moment appropriate for clapping him on the shoulder like he’s a long last pal from school. He isn’t. He’s the guy who bit his friend in the woods more than ten years ago and made his life a living hell, and he wants Stiles to see him, shake his head, drop his cart, and walk away. He wants Stiles to yell at him to get the fuck out of his town and not let the door kick his ass on the way out. He wants him to treat him like all the other people in his life who point out he’s better off dead like he used to be. Instead, Stiles squeezes his shoulder.

“Always good to see someone get out of murder rehab alive,” Stiles says, the most infuriating blend of jovial and sarcastic, and Peter doesn’t know what to think of him, if he wants the boy back or if he should be appreciating the newly formed man. “Anyway. These pop tarts are calling my name and the cashiers don’t like it when I eat them before actually buying them, so.”

He gestures over Peter’s shoulder and slides around him, swinging his basket back and forth until his food skates from one end to the other. Peter never wants to see him again, not with the way he’s making him remember the way Stiles used to ramble and prod and outsmart everybody in the room with his sharp-tongued wit. All it took was one summer and Stiles was done with Peter’s shit, no longer scared of his fangs or his claws. It was almost embarrassing. Just like it is now.

“You haven’t changed,” Peter says, and he feels a bit like a grandfather staring down his son. Except Stiles has, he’s grown from his core and tripled everything that made him what he was. He’s annoyingly confident, annoyingly snide, annoyingly annoying, just like high school but more.

“Hey,” Stiles says, just as he’s almost headed for the cash register. “If you ever want to stop by for a beer, I’m up for it.”

No, Peter thinks instantly.

“Okay,” he says.

But really. Never, Peter thinks as he watches Stiles walk away with a thumbs up over his shoulder. He’s never going to see Stiles again if he has anything to do with it.

--

So of course, he does see him again. He sees him two days later.

Two days is the maximum amount of time Peter can live off of an empty fridge before the feeling of decomposing in his own skin settles it. The feeling’s a little too familiar for comfort, so Peter leaves his stuffy house after it’s complete with the brand new necessities of clean sheets, shampoo, and a pack of ten essential utensils. It looks nothing at all like a home, or even much of a house, but Peter doesn’t need it to be.

What he does need, however, is food.

He doesn’t go back to the same store. He’s almost positive he would still smell Stiles’ aftershave in the dairy aisle, would be able to feel the leftovers of his scent in the air as a permanent mark of his existence here in the same town, god knows how many miles or minutes away from Peter’s corner of the woods. So he walks farther, at least fifteen minutes in the sweltering heat until the sweat dapples at his hairline and drenches him, and makes it to a store as quaint as the last with a pile up of rusted carts in the parking lot. Peter is too hungry to judge.

He’s reaching for the bananas when somebody beats him to it.

“Jesus Christ,” Peter groans, and yanks the banana away.

“Your manners are lovely,” someone says, and Peter doesn’t even have to look up to know Stiles is there, not when his voice is as familiar as ever and coated in an even more familiar glaze of derision. “So you weren’t kidding when you said you moved here.”

“I would’ve kept going if I knew you were here,” Peter grits out. And he would have. He would have run the car on fumes until he would’ve driven right into the ocean rather than live in a town with Stiles present. If he listens very closely, he can hear the fates above laughing.

“I’m a hilarious person,” Stiles defends himself. He’s smiling, and Peter wants to see him frown because that’s exactly the type of emotion he should evoke out of Stiles. He doesn’t know if what he’s seeing now is ignorance or maturity. “This is a great place to be just because of that.”

“Sure,” Peter says, and rolls his eyes at the ceiling. The lighting is blinding, bright white and stretching deep into the store that Peter originally thought was small enough to house nothing much more than a shelf of fresh fruit. He swings the bananas into his grip and backs away. “Don’t follow me home.”

“I was going to say the same thing,” Stiles calls after him as Peter walks away. When he turns around, Stiles is still there, leaning against the banana shelf and watching him with a frown to his face like Peter’s entire existence is suddenly an enigma again. Peter can relate.

--

The nights get hotter, imperceptibly so, until Peter is fighting off the blankets with his feet and laying naked with nothing but his sweaty boxers hanging off his thighs. Fall is miles away, like a prospect too far to reach and wrap his hands around, and the warmth is stifling.

He starts watching television on the nights when it gets too hot to sleep through the thick haze. He hasn’t seen TV for years, not since it was white noise in the hospital room pulling him in and out of restless sleeps. It takes an hour and ten minutes to plug in the cables and convince the signal to tip in the right angle, and even then, the picture is fuzzy and the sound is grainy, like the TV’s been hauled out of a lake and will only function through waterlogged glitches. Peter takes it as it is anyway.

He flicks through the channels and he finds enough shitty reality TV to rot away his brain cells. He still sits for hours, watching girls scream at each other and teenagers have unprotected sex in the back of cars before starring in their own pregnancy drama. It’s all staged, and horribly presented, and the commercials are endless, but it makes Peter feel a little bit better about his own life watching how fucked up everybody else’s is.

Yes, but you killed people,” Derek’s nagging voice flits through his brain. If Derek was here, this is what he’d say, in a voice of acidic condescension that would drip of his foul opinion of his uncle. “Basically for a living. That’s more fucked up than teen pregnancy.

“Shut the fuck up,” Peter says aloud to the empty spot on the couch next to him. He reaches out and slashes his claws at the air, feeling them rip into the tweed cushions. It leaves marks that tear into the couch and leaving wool oozing out of the rips, and Peter stuffs a pillow over the damage.

He falls asleep to the sound of tinny laughter and the sobbing of adolescent girls that night, curled into the corner of the couch on top of the pillow hiding his burst of unbridled aggression with a frown etched on his face. He doesn’t feel any better.

--

Deep in the musty cavern of a hand-me-down bookstore run by a man wrinkly enough to be mistaken for an alabaster raisin sitting behind the counter, Is Your Mind Disturbed?, Creating a Better You Through Strength, Companionship, and Healthy Snacks, and How to Not Give in to the Urge to Set A Neighbor on Fire: A Guide to Aggression stare up at Peter imploringly.

All of this is bullshit, is his first thought. There's somebody sobbing in the corner flipping through a book detailing the horrors of divorce and there's a man dressed in rags that Peter sincerely hopes is homeless if only to explain his choice of attire rifling through the depression books two shelves away, and Peter knows he doesn't belong here amid the freakshows. He's a special brand of freakshow, one nobody here can patiently instruct how to fix in a three-hundred page self-help book. There isn't a single piece of literature surrounding him that he would entertain buying, mostly because the books he would be in need of purchasing don't exist. Where's Nearly Burnt Alive and Then Suffered Through a Painful Coma? or Losing All Your Family to a Sociopathic Bitch: How to Cope Properly or Help! The Only Way I Know How to Deal With People is to Deceive, Manipulate, or Murder Them? Peter scans the shelf again. No such novels catch his eye.

The thing is that people like him, people who've ding-dong-ditched the Reaper so many times there's a long past expiration date stapled to his forehead, people like him shouldn't be alive. There's only so much one person can physically handle before they either find life-affirming messages from God in their toast, drink themselves to death, or get offed by fate by choking on olives or stepping out in front of a bus as a pity death.

That's the other thing, though. The ever present, nagging thought that all of those things, the fire, the throat-slitting, the endless lies and loss, actually had nothing to do with how fucked up Peter is. Like maybe even after all that trauma is pushed aside, Peter's just an unfixable, heinously bad person who came out of the womb plotting havoc. There's also no book called Born Inherently Evil With A Desire to Bulldoze Everything and Everybody Functional?

He remembers being young, just shy of six-years-old and squishing ants under his fist. The way he'd press his ear to the sidewalk to hear if they'd scream. Or how two years later, he'd hand out lemonade in bottomless mugs and swipe people of their money just to laugh over their indignant faces that a pudgy seven-year-old successfully duped them. And then even older, how he'd spread lies just to watch those blissfully ignorant junior high couples who took up the whole school hallway with their linked hands start to distrust each other and throw potatoes at each other in the cafeteria. It was always fun, watching people believe his tricks and lies, over and over again, like he had an unlimited supply of power over people that would be a shame to ignore and let rot. If people were that easy to deceive, they deserved what they got.

The spine of Finally Finding Yourself: How All The Answers You Need Are In The Meals You Eat slides over his gaze. Amazing how little it takes to be published. Amazing how easy it is to be featured in a dinky bookstore that probably is one blow of wind away from crumbling to a dusty pile of wooden planks and embossed book covers, one that smells of Lemon Pledge like the rest of this whole goddamn town.

Next to Tweet Your Way To A Better Life is How To Influence Friends and Family--with Force!. Peter gives it a once over and expects his own name to he printed in cursive on the side under the author's section. He picks up another, this one called Why Do You Feel So Great In A Dress? A guide to accepting your inner drag queen.

“That one helped me loads.”

Peter should have smelled him coming a mile away. He still smells the same, of reckless curiosity and spastic youth, and he's standing right there.

“Stiles,” Peter says, twisting to face him. “I should have known.”

Stiles grins, like he’s oddly satisfied at his ability to sneak up on Peter unlike years ago, and taps his finger on the cover of the book in Peter’s hands.

“I’m sure this one will help you find yourself,” Stiles says sagely, much too cheeky for comfort, and Peter rolls his eyes at the dingy ceiling. There’s spots of dampness and rain in nearly every corner begging to cave in and Peter is no longer impressed with the novelty of tiny towns with no functioning facilities. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

“Your nosiness is atrocious,” Peter says idly, stuffing the book back onto the shelf. “So is your knack for following me places.”

“Considering that I lived here first, I don’t really think that’s applicable,” Stiles tells him, unfazed, pushing him aside with his hip to let his eyes graze over the book titles. Gratefully, he refrains from sending Peter any looks at his choice in literature, only twisting wordlessly to rifle through the poorly organized shelf of comic books. “The town is just small. Smaller than Beacon Hills, which I didn’t actually think was possible.”

“I’ve noticed,” Peter says, watching Stiles leaf through the worn copies of Batman. “But not small enough.”

Stiles pauses, like he’s generally intrigued by Peter’s aura of mystery. Considering that Peter’s actual plan was to ward him off with ambiguity, he’s not exactly pleased. “You won’t think that forever,” Stiles mumbles, more to the comic books than to Peter’s face. “It’s amazing how much you can feel like the only person in the world when you get lonely.”

“Do you?”

“You have to in a place as tiny as this,” Stiles sighs, and grabs three comic books, all dog-eared and previously loved by hand-me-down owners, and rolls them into his hands. “There’s nothing else to do.”

Peter looks at him and has the insane urge to cage him up against the dusty books and memorize the way his eyes flick down to the ground and his eyelashes frame his gazes. He wants to see if he can revel the same way he used to in listening to Stiles’ heartbeat. He focuses his ears and hears it, steady and sure and slightly sluggish, like the muggy weather is dragging him into a pit of laziness. Peter wonders if he’s going to spend his day lying in the grass reading comic books since he happens to not be busy with intervening in the world’s supernatural axis tilting precariously in all directions anymore.

“You don’t miss the werewolves, then?” Peter has to ask.

“Of course I do,” Stiles says instantly. “But you know what’s cool? Surviving adulthood. That’s pretty cool too.”

“It’s not that special,” Peter tells him. They stare at each and something hangs between them like a fizzing bolt of electricity or a rope nagging into their skin, like Stiles is trying to figure out how the gears in his head turn. Good luck trying. They both have more questions for each other, but Peter isn’t in the mood for asking or answering, so he turns away and keeps his tongue at bay. It’s definitely a first.

“Well,” Stiles says dryly. “You’re basically a walking motivational poster. I’m going to go read about lives more interesting than mine.”

And with that he slides away to the wrinkled cashier. Peter hears the sound of the register snapping open and the way the door jingles as Stiles pushes it open to wander back home, wherever home may be. Peter looks down at the shelf of books never bought, and his eye catches on Wish You Understand Humanity?

He buys three self-help books that day, all of them as full of unnecessary fluff and psychobabble as the last, but it makes Peter feel like he’s trying anyway.

--

The worst thing about being Peter Hale is living with what he’s done.

A good chunk of his life, all he remembers is numb anger. A dull burn that tried to spark to life while he was paralyzed, comatose, an anonymous victim to the world, that always sizzled to a premature death because he couldn’t rise from the ashes his life had become. Nothing but searing pain, the burnt remains of his face, the way he felt the very urge to kill and let the wolf inside of him roar to life and do it for him.

And then, when he did, how amazing it felt. How he killed Laura and felt his entire body rise to power like there were strings looped around his organs pulling him to his full potential. That was his best time, at his fullest, when he was the Alpha after years of helpless stillness. He knows he’ll never feel it again, the way his entire body thrummed with power when he went from man to beast. The way people would quiver in his grip and beg for mercy. It was classic Shakespeare―mindless revenge because his very bloodstream pumped only for the satisfaction that came from ripping apart a body responsible for destroying his family.

Losing a member of pack was like losing a limb, Cora had once said. And it was true. He watched as the scumbags responsible pleaded for relief and pity, how they howled in the pain that Peter had felt, the pain that was hundreds of times worse than burning in the crumbling and collapsing ruins of his home while the smell of seared skin and the sound of helpless cries etched themselves into his brain permanently, like a tattoo with no hope of removal. The pain of losing his pack.

He’s killed a lot of people. He’s dumped their bodies into burning garbage bins, clawed the skin from their chest, snapped at the heels of running boys so he could sink his teeth into their flesh and hear their screams echo in his bones. But he knows that the worst part is that he doesn’t feel bad about it.

He knows he should. Criminals hang themselves in prison out of guilt and murderers fall onto their knees in courtrooms to plea for forgiveness. There’s supposed to be something in the human body that warns against wrongdoing, says modern psychology and the morality that hangs over everybody’s self-appointed halos, and Peter’s missing it. He’s primitive, like he should be in prehistoric museum displays hunting down fellow men for food in the winter.

But he doesn’t have the same instinct. He’s numb to it, like a part of him maybe always has been. Maybe he was born without empathy, maybe his brain is missing the crucial part that actually cares. Maybe it was burned out of him, maybe it died with the coma. But he doesn’t regret a single moment of his murders, the way it made his blood bubble to the surface and filled his body with the power that could only come with taking a life. He’d stare at them and watch them sob and think come back from this like I did, knowing all the while they wouldn’t. It was exhilarating.

He thinks about all the things he’s promised people over a lifetime. How he’d tell Talia that he’d try to stop teasing Derek. How he’d tell Derek he’d promise to help him even after he slashed his throat from ear to ear. And then, how everything he promised, he never did.

There’s something wrong with him, that much he knows. A part of him even thinks he’d like to change. And another part of him knows that that’s bullshit, just his own nonexistent halo attempting to take shape over his damned head because everyone keeps wishing he’d grow one. It would take a few miracles to change who he was, to surgically remove the badness inside him. It grew there, took root in his soul and fed on the way it made him preen and laugh.

Talia pops up in his brain, like she always does, a blurry figure with a fierce look to her eyes that had the dominance of an Alpha in it long before she ever was one, how she would kneel by him and grip his knee. Peter would always brush her hand off and roll his eyes, and she never learned better, always leaning by him and gripping him by the shoulder or the wrist like an anchor to reality. He knows what she’d say, how he’s only as good as his goals. How all the things he’ll do can make up for the things he’s done. Peter always hated the psychobabble.

That’s when there’s a knock on the door, a loud rap of knuckles against wood, and Peter feels his thoughts scatter. He’s not exactly immersed in a suburban neighborhood where people leave plates of snickerdoodles on his porch to welcome him to the esteemed town, and he gets up cautiously as he approaches the door.

When he opens it, he expects Derek. A grumpy face, a sternly set jaw telling him to come home and give back the car. So naturally, it isn’t Derek. It’s Stiles.

“Are you stalking me?” is what comes out of Peter’s mouth. He’s not exactly the host of a party, willing to open his doors to dole out cups of cranberry juice, he’s in a hideout contemplating his life and his complete lack of ethics. It feels ridiculous when it solidifies into a thought, so ridiculous he definitely can’t use it as an excuse to get Stiles to go away, even if Stiles is one of the few people who are one hundred percent unhelpful when it comes to his recovery.

Recovery. What a load of bullshit. Peter wants to laugh.

“I just accidentally followed the scent of complete creepiness and wound up here,” Stiles says. He’s wearing a cap on his head, the kind that ruffles his hair and ducks under his ears, and looks completely out of place standing on Peter’s sad excuse of a doorstep. He shrugs pathetically when Peter has no response. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

“Are you waiting for me to tell you why?” Peter asks when silence settles again. Stiles looks like the same awkward sixteen-year-old again standing lost and aimless in front of him, his ankle fidgeting in a steady rhythm against the dirt, plus a few wrinkles of long ago laughter around his eyes.

“No,” Stiles says. Peter is starting to wonder how Stiles found him, if it’s the Camaro tucked in the undergrowth or if this town is really just that small. “I was just sort of surprised. To find that you really did live here.”

“I didn’t follow you here, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Peter tells him. He feels like he should add a don’t flatter yourself to the end of his sentence, but a part of him pulls himself back. Maybe it’s the halo flitting over his head like a poor signal channel flickering in and out. He never signed up to the idea of being a better person. Just a person without a plan or a scheme or a tick to his smirk, and seeing Stiles makes all the ideas of planning and scheming soar back. Stiles is a bad influence, the way Peter remembers his shivers and his pulse skyrocketing out of fear on the lacrosse field because he knew what Peter was capable of. He’d like to get his pulse up like that again, and the urge makes him want to bolt out past him and murder a passerby. Just to see Stiles’ face.

“I actually considered it,” Stiles admits. He’s smiling a bit, which Peter doesn’t remember ever seeing when he was in the vicinity. It’s foreign, just like this town, which is what Peter wanted. He guesses. “But then you looked like a bird had just shit on your head when you saw me at the store, so.”

“Excuse me?”

Stiles shrugs, and suddenly he’s pushing a bag of sliced bread into Peter’s hands. The slices slot between Peter’s fingers as he feels the soft bread through the bag. This is the kind of bread peasants eat, the one that’s crusty and stale before it even hits the shelf, and Peter has half a mind to throw it out onto the sidewalk if Stiles wasn’t still right there.

“I thought you could use some food. I just… you know. Didn’t want to wake up and read a story in the paper about guy who ate a deer in the woods.”

“That’s hilarious,” Peter mutters, and no longer has the heart to throw the bread onto the street. He still won’t eat it. “You bought me bread?”

“Ah, not really,” Stiles says. He’s rubbing at the back of his neck with his palm. “I accidentally bought two and remembered that you… were here. I have no fucking clue why you’re here, by the way.”

He’s looking at Peter like he’s waiting for enlightenment, like he’s standing on his doorstep because he’s here to know why Peter’s suddenly here, like a jack-in-the-box collecting dust on the shelf that everybody thought had run its course suddenly popping open.

“I’m not here to murder anyone, if that’s what you mean,” Peter says, unimpressed. “The opposite, actually.”

“Oh god. You’re not here to resurrect anybody, are you?”

“Absolutely yes. Would you like to help? I could always use the blood of obnoxiously nosy boys in my rituals,” Peter says.

Hey,” Stiles pipes up. “I’m all man now.”

He says it with such comical bravado that Peter has to check, has to grin and look him up and down from the way his ankle is still tapping out a nervous rhythm on the ground and how his jeans are slightly snugger around the hips. His forearms have soft hair and his face is weathered with a steady abuse of school and work and maybe even some residual tension from werewolves. Peter wonders how many stress lines on Stiles’ face he can personally take credit for.

“Thanks for the bread, Stiles,” Peter says instead of something about how his hands are rougher, older, or how his eyes are darker. If he was still the same charming high school boy he’d lean against the doorframe and tell him to come in like all accommodating hosts would, but he knows how much of a bad idea it is. Peter loves bad ideas, spends his days breeding them, but the whole point of this excursion was solitude and introspection and attempting some honest to god good ideas. Nothing about Stiles is a good idea.

“No problem,” Stiles says, shuffling backward. If he looks disappointed because he wasn’t invited inside, his face doesn’t show it. Maybe the bread is a peace offering, something that says please don’t remove my kneecaps in my sleep or please don’t murder the town, I like the librarians a lot, and all Stiles wanted was a good look into his lair to make sure blood wasn’t dripping from the fridge door and bodies weren’t draped over the couches. Peter wouldn’t be surprised. “I’ll see you around.”

“Maybe you will,” Peter says, and watches him retreat into the darkness. He still looks like a boy from far away in the shadows, the way he walks with staccato steps of uncertain enthusiasm, the way his hands swing at his sides.

He closes the door before the moths can make themselves at home in his lampshades and pushes the bread on the counter. It really is disgusting bread, so Peter can come up with no logical explanation as to why he eats it for breakfast the next day.

--

The full moon creeps up on him without asking. Suddenly, it’s there, shining through his window and itching under his skin like a scratchy mosquito buried into his flesh. He feels more pent up than usual and leaves his confinement, shakes off the detachment of his walls and walks through the underbrush cluttered through the backyard. There are weeds poking out from the ground that Peter steps on as he wanders through the beaten paths, nothing but soft earth with subtle footprints to guide him.

The air is warm and summery, still hot enough to cling onto his clothes and make his forehead gleam with beads of sweat. He was ready for fall months ago before the heat ever settled in, ready to shake off this never ending mugginess hanging on his back, and he pushes through the trees and the thorns until he finds a murky lake. It’s emanating a cooler air than the rest of the world, so Peter stops to sit beside it and stare at the ripples of the dark water and count the lines of gnarled trees littered around the perimeter.

He thinks about peeling off his socks and shoes and dipping his toes in the water, breaking the film of murk with his feet and absorbing the cool water, just like he used to do at the beach with his sister. They’d drive for miles with their father and Peter would make lines in the sand with a pointy claw before floating in the water. He’d go out for what felt like miles sometimes, just to float in the center of the abyss of rocking blue and entertain the idea of being small enough for the ocean to swallow him. Now, here by the muddy bank of a humid clearing framing a shadowy pond, Peter pushes his feet in and tries to feel the same reckless youth he felt all those years ago.

The moon shines down in bright flickers on the lake, full in all its glory, and Peter feels drunk watching the way the moonlight filters the world into grainy shades of blue. The lake tugs him further down, makes him want to slide his body into the depths and dip his head under the oppressive darkness, but he stays on the dirty ledge with his feet kicking life into the stillness of the water. There are stars out here, the same stars Peter would watch from Beacon Hills on full moon nights, and he lays down and pillows his head on his forearms on the damp earth watching the moon hide and peek out from beneath films of clouds. The moon doesn’t have a grip on him anymore, not like it used to after the fire or when he was young. He feels a sharp pull all month around, like magnets or hooks keeping him upright, that are suddenly pulling in the opposite direction and throwing him helplessly off balance when the moon is full, but at least the urge to slaughter just to breathe is gone.

He lays there for what feels like hours, and maybe it is. The cool earth is moist on his back and the moon shines over the waves of the pond and skips over his ivory skin. He feels most like an animal during times like this, when his entire body is bathed in the light of the full moon and the claws come out just to find purchase in the soft ground. He lets his teeth grow just to slide over his tongue, and he considers howling if it didn’t mean the entire neighborhood turning on their lights and overhearing the racket. He doesn’t have a pack to summon, after all. They’re all miles away and never had the urge to come to him unless he pulled at their primal instincts with his howls. He’s pretty sure that’s not how Alphahood works.

He wonders if Stiles will be walking along the path at one point and run into Peter. He’s always had a knack for wandering around when it was least smart, when the moon was full or where the undergrowth kept out the illumination of the streetlight and he was most likely to be eaten whole. But all night long, Peter hears no approaching footsteps.

Maybe Stiles learned better. Peter hopes not.

--

When Derek first falls in love with a girl, he makes the mistake of telling Peter.

He's unabashedly smitten, red cheeks and uncontrollable smiles pulling his lips apart. It takes over his whole body like an unearthly possession of unhealthy emotion, and he pretends not to think about her when people are talking to him and spends hours away from home to ruminate over her by the rushing water of the preserve. He plays the part of love struck teenager very well, Peter thinks, and he’s almost positive it’s going to be his downfall one day.

“They’re not as good as you think,” Peter tells him bluntly one day while they’re eating cherries in the yard.

“Women?” Derek asks.

“People,” Peter specifies. They’re really not. They’re disposable, only good for a certain amount of time before the warranties expire and the ugly truths rear their heads. “Trust me.”

Of course, Derek doesn’t. Derek knits his eyebrows together over the cherry pits he spits from his mouth and goes out that night to meet his girl. Peter doesn’t know what happens, if they go to school dances and wear taffeta gowns and corsages to homecoming and hold hands by their lockers, mostly because he always knew better than to find out himself. Charming and seduction came naturally to him, the way he could wink across the classroom and spy the responding blushes across four desks. Actually finding someone worth seducing was the problem.

Derek stops telling Peter his stories of crushes and love after his crush goes south, so Peter spies to try to figure out what love is supposed to feel like. After a few years, he realizes love feels like gasoline, fire, and a warped and misguided idea of tragedy.

--

The outside of the house is actually cooler in the inside when summer drones on into a humid mist of warm rain and incoming heat. The air conditioning is poor and the insulation is worse, so Peter throws open the rickety windows and tries to find relief from the mugginess.

It doesn’t work, and it makes Peter wish the pond out back wasn’t infested with murk and catfish just so he could lay in its coolness. He gives in and sits on the porch, or the sad excuse of a crooked granite step sagging into the mud, and listens to the sound of the crickets. It drives him mad after four minutes, the way they chirp endlessly and rile up the rest of the sounds, from the whirring cicadas shrieking on the edge of his porch and the mosquitos swarming by the lamp. It’s too hot to bother.

He thinks maybe he’ll sweat out his memories, if he sits out here long enough, like a fever patient in a sauna. It’s going to be infinitely worse in his bedroom; the sheets are going to stink of heat and the mosquitos are going to tap on his window all night. He might as well wallow in the humidity like a thirteen-year-old boy suffering through summer cap who talks his friends into skinny dipping to beat the heat. He doesn’t think this heat will ever be over.

The heat makes the world hazy and the mugginess casts a film over the air, filling it with aimless mosquitos and the lingering stench of burned pavement. The air is thick, thick enough to lure Peter into a sticky sleep here on the hard ground of the porch if only to avoid slumbering in the clammy pile of sheets that is his bed.

He sees a cricket trapped under the edge of his shoe and stomps on it, feeling it grind under the sole. That’s one less sucker dying in the heat who doesn’t have to stare at the dirt wondering what the point of it all is. Peter’s not sure if he’s jealous.

“It’s a hundred degrees out here,” a voice is saying overhead. Peter snaps his head up, and there, glowing in the streetlamp, is Stiles. He’s in plaid shorts and sneakers and a hoodie that’s unzipped on his chest, the light filtering over the sliver of chest hair on his exposed skin. Peter wonders if he really lives that close or if he’s just that paranoid about Peter’s intentions. “Too hot to be outside for no reason.”

“It’s also too late for walks around the neighborhood,” Peter says. “But you don’t seem to mind.”

Stiles doesn’t keep walking like he should. He stops, flip flops grinding on the sidewalk as he takes a step closer. The sweat’s pushed his hair back, and it’s longer than Peter’s ever remembered it. He imagines Stiles endlessly ringing his hands through it, pulling at the ends and slotting the strands between his fingers, just like Peter remembers. Every part of Stiles is always touching, always moving, like his body is determined to have conversations with itself that his brain isn’t aware of.

“I thought it was only the vampires who only came out at night.”

“The werewolves too, but for different reasons. Nobody sees us eat our young,” Peter says, and he gives into the urge to wink. It’s second nature to him. Stiles wrinkles his nose.

“Why don’t you go inside?”

“It’s hotter inside,” Peter tells him. Why the hell is he explaining anything to Stiles? Why does Stiles give a shit? “The air conditioning doesn’t work.”

“Do you want to come back with me?” Stiles asks him. He doesn’t sound hesitant, not like he’s asking a bloodthirsty monster to follow him back into his permanent residence. He is. Peter wonders if he doesn’t notice the fact that Peter’s metaphorically wearing his grandmother’s cardigans and Stiles is in the proverbial red cape. He really hasn’t learned a thing from high school. “Come on. I have chips.”

“What am I going to do with chips?”

“Fine,” Stiles grumbles. “Popsicles.”

Stiles looks at him, the yellow streetlamp licking up his cheeks and curving into the contours of his cheekbones. He really is older, from the way he stands taller and surer in his own shoes. Peter can’t deny him.

Fine,” Peter says, grumbling just as much and picking himself up off the stoop. There’s a bunch of crickets he never got around to putting out of their miseries, but he supposes it’ll have to wait.

They walk for seven and a half minutes in complete silence, Stiles’ hands in his pockets and his flip flops noisy on the sidewalk. Peter hears more cicadas on the way and listens to the way they cry out for attention and break the peace of the night instead of focusing on Stiles’ steady breathing, the way his pulse rises and falls gently even with Peter not a foot away from him. He wishes he knew if he was less threatening or if Stiles was less fearful, or if in the end, it’s just too hot.

His jeans cling to his legs like a layer of sweat at the end of the almost eight minutes, and that’s when relief comes in the form of a tiny, cramped, blissfully air conditioned home that Peter was never, ever planning on visiting.

--

Stiles’ house is everything that epitomizes Stiles, from the way clutter refuses to be organized along the floor and the shelves and a very air of adrenaline seems to jump off the action figurines crooked on the mantle or the posters taped on the wall like he’s still living in a college dorm. There are pictures of him and Scott on the walls, pictures of his father, and grainy photographs of his mother propping a grinning baby up on her hip secured in a macaroni frame. Everything smells like Stiles, like unadulterated boy even though Stiles is right and he really might be all man now.

“Sorry about the mess,” Stiles says as Peter closes the door behind him. It’s tiny, tiny like this is his first adventure in managing his own finances and his own household and this veritable shack featuring mismatched furniture and thrift store curtains represents home and safety to him. Peter wonders if he should be honored to even step inside.

“It’s fine,” Peter says, even as he pushes a pair of Stiles’ shoes out of the way and watches Stiles disappear into the kitchen to putter through the cabinets. The scent of Stiles’ laundry detergent, his sweat and his favorite brand of Popsicle is almost overwhelming, every step feeling like another stride into Stiles’ brain. That’s what his home really is, lit up with bright yellow lamplight and protecting all the trinkets that have been shaping his life for years, a place for his mind to foster and rest and run free.

“It’s not a five-star buffet,” Stiles’ voice is saying as it wafts out from the kitchen. Peter zeroes in on the sound of tumbling chips and clinking bowls. “But it’s more than whatever you have in that creepy little house you’re in.”

He emerges a moment later with snacks in both hands, served in bright bowls and filled to the brim with salty pretzels and potato chips. Peter reaches out to grab a chip and slide it into his mouth, and after months of a rather unremarkable diet, it tastes like redemption on his tongue.

“At least it isn’t burnt to a crisp and lacking running water,” Peter says around his mouthful. “Then I would be the living copycat of my nephew.”

“You know, I haven’t seen the guy in years,” Stiles says, “but I still know exactly how hard he’d eye roll at you for that comment.”

“He leaves that impression,” Peter mumbles. It was the last look he ever saw of Derek, the impatient, patronizing eye roll that runs in the family and Peter is usually immune to. He invented the damn eye roll, and Derek still uses it as a weapon against him. A second later, Stiles is guiding him to the couch.

“Again, it’s not much,” Stiles says, and it sounds like apologizing for how much his personality leaked over his home. Peter wants to nest in it, wants to bury himself into the cushions and breathe in the ease and the carefree messes on the floor, and he thinks it might be the heavenly puffs of air conditioning convincing him. “But it’s a nice place to live. I dunno. It’s nice.”

“It is,” Peter agrees, sinking into the sofa. It has the sink factor that swallows him into the pillows, like many have sat in this seat before him, making it soft and worn and just right for his body. His couches have never had the sink factor, nor have Derek’s. Maybe it’s because all of his couches always smelled of smoke and burning ashes, even the new ones.

“Beacon Hills was nice too, but,” Stiles says, the bowl of pretzels on his lap. Peter is still trying to memorize all the nooks and trinkets of his home while he listens.

“…it has too much weight. Too much past,” Peter finishes for him. He doesn’t even have to phrase it as a question. He knows he’s right. Stiles said as much in the convenience store, how this place is the safe haven that was robbed from his childhood and his entire high school career. High school is supposed to be about prom and pranking teachers and scaring the hell out of freshmen. Peter’s never been on the opposite side of the spectrum, the one being scared the hell out of like Stiles, but he’s pretty sure it’s not as exhilarating.

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees even though he’s already nodding. “I miss my dad, though. And Scott too. Sometimes my coworkers suck up to me and I even miss Derek and the way he would slam me into steering wheels when I made fun of him.”

“If you miss that, I can always slam you into things,” Peter offers off-handedly while grabbing for another pretzel. Stiles smiles, but Peter thinks he should be throwing pillows at his head. Peter feels the air push from his lungs in a heavy sigh. In his muggy house, he can feel young and reckless and rebellious, like he’s running away from home to prove his worth. When he’s sitting on Stiles’ couch watching him stuff his hand into the pretzel bowl and compromise all the snacks, he feels infinitely older. Wryly, he says, “I ruined it, didn’t I.”

“What?”

“This,” Peter says, pointing at Stiles’ mess of a house. The way the windows have probably never been bashed in and his carpet has probably never seen blood. “I ruined your safe little town by moving here.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, and then starts laughing. Peter frowns and Stiles gives him a twisted smirk. “I actually thought you would too. But you’re actually making my life interesting again.”

Peter narrows his eyes. “What are you saying? You want me to murder the town because TiVo is getting dull?”

“Uh, no thanks,” Stiles says. “Damn. Give a guy an inch.”

“So you don’t mind that I’m here?”

“I will if you give me a reason to mind,” Stiles says. It’s evasive and snide like always, and Peter gets the message. Don’t fuck up for once. He thinks Stiles is one of the only people on earth still willing to give him a second chance, and it makes an inexplicable amount of pressure mount in his hands. “You know, I still know a lot of people who own firearms and use them for a living.”

“That’s cute,” Peter snorts. “What, did you lose your baseball bat?”

“Right,” Stiles says, and then, all in the same breath, “Do you want to go the aquarium with me this weekend?”

Peter blinks and then Stiles is stuffing his face with pretzels again. He’s not Stiles’ friend, he never has been, and it makes him wonder if Stiles is clinging onto what he symbolizes: the home he abandoned, the friendships that faded, the family he said goodbye to. He sees all the same things when he looks at Stiles, except those thoughts always make him want to sleep off the past and wake up in a newborn’s body.

“What would that entail?” Peter asks slowly.

Stiles shrugs instantly. “Your eyeballs and my eyeballs. Fish. Glass between those two.”

It sounds so harmless that Peter almost believes that it is. “There’s an aquarium here?”

“It’s about the only thing here,” Stiles says. “I’ve only been about thirty times. But always alone. The fish don’t make faces back at you, which is sort of depressing.” He looks at Peter like he knows he has nothing better to do. “I know you never leave your house. Fresh air is good for you.”

“You can’t know that,” Peter says skeptically. Stiles shrugs again.

“Think about it,” he says, getting up and pushing the bowl of pretzels into Peter’s hands. He’s brushing the salt off his knees when he catches Peter’s eye and cocks his head to the fridge. “I promised you a Popsicle, after all.”

--

He sleeps on Stiles’ couch that night without meaning to, and he’s grateful that Stiles doesn’t say a word or offer him a crocheted throw or guest towels stowed into the cupboards.

“It’s really hot,” Stiles says. “You can stay if you want.”

His voice is gruff with exhaustion, so Peter can’t bring himself to do more than nod. He thinks about sneaking out and walking home anyway if only to avoid slumbering on a couch that smells of Stiles and Stiles’ shampoo, but then the air conditioner clicks on and crackles to a start and the entire house is bathed in gentle, divine coolness that keeps Peter from leaving. Stiles goes upstairs down a dark hallway without any more sentiments or unnecessary goodnights, and Peter pillows his head on his arms and stares out the window from the curves of the couch.

He wonders if nobody told Stiles not to invite strangers home, or to leave proven serial killers alone in his living room without cameras to watch his every move, and if that’s why Stiles attracts so much trouble. Naiveté. Carelessness. Considering that there was a time when Stiles was very much on the bandwagon of having Peter executed via electric chair, he wonders why he’s still here. Why he’s in Stiles’ house at all. Will he wake up with any eyeballs or is Stiles’ plan to exact revenge like the look on his face ten years ago always very much said he wanted to?

You’re making my life interesting again, Stiles had said, with that half-smirk on his face that seemed defaulted into his mouth. Like the last few years have been dull like he never knew he didn’t want. That maybe a town full of werewolves and lizards and a handful of other villains born to life from the Monster Mash song was better than nothing at all.

It starts raining as the night drags on, from soft patters to insistent pounds on the window like thieves trying to break in. He knows it’ll make the morning wetter, the air thicker, and the way his shirt clings to his chest worse, but the sound is rhythmic and makes Peter fall asleep better than he has in the last few weeks in his overheated cabin tucked into the trees.

Right before he tumbles into his dreams, he thinks do I have this all wrong, like maybe people are actually better for him than nobody at all—or maybe just Stiles—but he has no time to consider it further. The arms of slumber pull him away, and when he wakes up in the morning to the sound of weary raindrops on the window casting a gray film over the sky, he remembers nothing.

--

Peter never gets the chance to say no to the aquarium. Stiles just shows up.

It’s an odd feeling, being picked up to go out to see the town like he’s an eleven-year-old kid without a license, and Peter realizes that Stiles has no idea that a perfectly drivable Camaro is hidden like the stolen goods it is under the broken brambles by his house. Instead, he pulls up into the street in his whining Jeep, the same Jeep that Peter remembers from years back. It’s a miracle it lasted this long, the blue paint only slightly faded in the harsh light of the sun and the dashboard still hopelessly minimal. There’s a tinny radio installed next to the steering wheel, the only thing worth stealing in the entire vehicle, and Stiles doesn’t even bother turning off the engine as he swerves onto the lopsided path of misfit pebbles scattered up to Peter’s door.

“Come on,” Stiles yells out at him. Peter should’ve stayed inside today, watched more shitty TV and cleaned out his fridge of the one banana remaining on the shelf. “You’ll survive a few hours staring at fish.”

He looks at Peter with the exasperated eyes of a father cajoling his son to get in the car and come get the dentist over with, and Peter wonders why he’s trying so hard.

“Don’t you have any friends?” Peter calls in his direction from the shady spot under the overgrown oak planted by his porch. Stiles has been here for years now, probably has a few coworkers and neighbors who’d be interested in pushing their way through the crowds of yelling children dragging their sticky hands down the glass of the tanks while shrieking at the sharks. People who aren’t him.

“Yeah, I do,” Stiles snarks, the engine still rumbling loudly against the gravel. He revs it to encourage Peter to get off his ass. “But you don’t, so come to the aquarium. I’ll never let you sleep on my couch again. What are you gonna do when your heating breaks in the winter and you get frostbite, huh?”

“You’re trying awfully hard at this,” Peter mumbles, but gets up anyway. He’s almost positive this is a bad idea. People are not a good idea. He wants to smash Stiles’ head against his dashboard just to get that message across as he climbs into his car.

“Finally,” Stiles mutters under his breath. Peter shoots him a glare, because honestly, when did he get confident enough to grumble and snark to his face? Was it really all that recent, or was it already happening ten years ago when Peter was too focused on the way Stiles’ adrenaline pumped through his blood and he used his hands too much when he spoke? “If you absolutely hate it, I’ll put you in the shark tank and let it eat you.”

“Sounds a lot like my plan for you,” Peter says, and Stiles actually smirks, just a casual upward tweak of his lips that Peter’s eyes happen to catch.

He doesn’t remember the last time he was able to laugh about murder, but it feels good.

--

“Favorite type of fish?”

“I really couldn’t care less.”

“That shark tank thing is still on the table, you know.”

Stiles is next to him, sending eyes of death over the greasy fish sticks he’s scarfing down for lunch, not a foot away on the bench they’re sitting on. Their thighs are touching, pressed together through the denim of their jeans, and judging by the space on Stiles’ side of the bench, it’s unnecessary.

“Eating fish in an aquarium is a little morbid,” Peter observes as Stiles licks the oil off his fingers and balls up the greasy napkin in his hand. Stiles gives him a look like Peter is the last person to be talking about morbidity.

“You’ve killed people,” Stiles deadpans, leaving it at that, and misses the trash can he aims for. The napkin hits the side and lands pathetically on the ground.

“That’s what happens when you spend four years of high school playing lacrosse,” Peter says idly, stretching his feet out. Their thighs are still touching and Stiles doesn’t seem to mind. Peter does, but he isn’t moving.

“You didn’t play?”

“Basketball was my thing,” Peter tells him. Stiles looks genuinely curious. “I was captain.”

“Huh,” Stiles says. His trash is still sitting abandoned on the floor, but Stiles seems in no hurry to clean it up. There’s a humongous tank in front of them, shining blue and bright, with coral reef waving on the floor and fish darting between plastic rocks. “My favorite are the Zebra Danios, by the way. The little striped fish.”

Stiles bumps their knees together and points ahead to where a school of black and white fish with bold stripes slither through the water. They’re not too special, with the exception of their pattern, and Peter resists on making the obvious comment, that Stiles is the fish with no extraordinary talents or remarkable size but still manages to look pretty fascinating.

It’s quieter than he expected in here, not too many children being chased by their bedraggled parents. Peter’s glad if only for the fact that he’s not up for anybody testing his patience quite yet when he was ready to behead a man at the grocery store just for having a major identity crisis over two brands of cereal. The fish are unbelievably dull, with nothing to do but swim back and forth and stare past the heads of the onlookers, but Stiles stays true to form and does make faces back at them. It does little to amuse the fish, but it does amuse Peter even if he doesn’t let himself laugh.

“It’s not too bad here,” Peter finds himself saying. Stiles grins.

“I knew it,” Stiles shifts on the bench, still with the shark-eating grin. “Nobody ever comes to the aquarium. That’s why I knew you’d enjoy it.”

Peter thinks about saying something along the lines of maybe I wanted to rip off a little girl’s head today, did you think of that, but Stiles is still smiling like he’s got Peter and his nature retreat all figured out. He bumps their knees together again and keeps their thighs close, and Peter feels it all like forgiveness, or second chances, or a surprising amount of maturity from somebody who spent the last two hours imitating blowfish through the tank glass.

--

There’s something between him and Stiles, Peter knows this. He knows this every night when he lies in his sweaty bed and tries to block out the moonlight cascading invasively into his room, and all he can think about is how many things Stiles knows about him and how much Stiles doesn’t seem to care anymore. Derek did. Scott did. They never let him forget a moment of who he was, the monster underneath and on top, so Peter had no choice but to become the monster. He and the monster were one, had been one being for almost as long as Peter remembers grinding cockroaches under his heel as a child, and Stiles suddenly separated the two.

When they were younger, more reckless, Stiles was easy to decipher. He was a kid of simple morals, a boy whose sheriff father made right and wrong simple enough to be put into words and rules. It was bad or good, black or white, and there was no in between. Gray matter was not a thing, and neither were excuses, tragedy, or redemption. The bad were bad, and Peter was inexplicably bad. He had the fangs to prove it.

And then, things changed. It only takes a few years of life with werewolves to learn that it isn’t that easy. Stiles was as bad as the rest of them, jumping to kill the bad over going through the hassle of saving them. He remembers the way he itched to accuse Stiles of his hypocrisy, to tell him that he’s just as unthinkably terrible as the rest of them, but he refrained if only to wait to watch Stiles notice it himself. Stiles had the potential to be just as bad as he was, even worse if he gave into it, the complete and utter contrast to angelically ethical Scott. It was a beautiful yin and yang concept that Peter would pay to see in the movies, especially the part where the sidekick realizes he’s better off corrupted.

But Stiles had reasons to stay good. His loyalty to Scott, the memory of his mother, the disciplinary hand of his weary father. Peter never did, and that was the difference between the two of them. Other than that, they were the same, alarmingly so.

Ten years later, the one person who gave him the most shit for his revenge schemes and his mind games doesn’t give a fuck that he is and always will be a killer. He thinks about murder as much as his mind churns, how easy it would be to kill the jogger passing by his decrepit path or how nobody would even notice if he slaughtered the entire fast food diner down the road. He killed once, twice, one too many times for reasons he knew had been noble at the time, and now killing is in his very bones. He wonders if Stiles knows.

The worst part is that he likes Stiles, just like he did all those years ago when the wrinkles on his face had been less pronounced and Stiles had been as jittery as a caffeine-addled monstrosity. Stiles shows all the potential of a crazy genius, of someone who doesn’t fall for a single veil pulled over his eyes or isn’t afraid to call somebody out on their shit show. It’s unfair how much Peter admires him, because he’s really still just a stupid kid in his way.

He makes every part of him burn in the worst way, in a way the fire never did. He lies in bed and thinks about the hair on his forearm and how it trickles down to his knuckles, how his lips move when he talks. The novelty isn’t his hopeless chastity or cluelessness anymore. It’s just him.

Sometimes, in the hottest of nights, Peter pulls at his cock and closes his eyes to wait for Stiles to show up behind his eyelids. He always does, sweaty like he was the night he found Peter boiling on his porch, except this time he’s pliant under Peter’s grip and kissing away his sins like water to be licked from his back. Stiles kisses him slowly and murmurs all the while things Peter can’t imagine ever deciphering, and Peter lets Stiles touch all the places he’s only ever let himself for years. It’s been years, so many years, and Stiles makes the wait worth it because Stiles lets him wreck him from top to bottom.

Peter comes onto the sheets afterward, panting with the waves of his pleasure and feeling stickier than before. It doesn’t help with the stifling warmth, only making it that much more unbearable, and Peter stays tangled in the sheets until his lungs can no longer breathe through the heat.

He doesn’t feel guilty, hasn’t since he was thirteen-years-old and jacked off in the silence of the bathroom at four in the morning, but he feels wronged, if only because this is so not what he fucking wanted. He wanted isolation and introspection, and what he got instead was Stiles and humanity and too much of the past materialized in front of him to imagine the future.

--

Peter starts walking through the woods he discovered behind his house, treading past the lake and the muddy path and into the depths of the overgrown grass. The air is cooler there with the trees shrouding over the sky as shields from the sunlight, and Peter walks to find release, to find whatever he’s thirsty for that’s emptying from his cells. The woods remind him of Beacon Hills, like if he keeps walking, he’ll find a desolate has-been mansion standing tall and formerly glorious in the center of the trees, or maybe he’ll find Derek sitting on the steps with a paintbrush, trying to cover the imperfections of his mistakes.

He finds other things, like abandoned tree houses and bird nests fallen from trees too high. He walks until he’s made circles around the leafy path, retracing his own steps and ending up by the foggy lake.

When he makes it back to his house, there’s a note taped on the door, a tiny piece of paper torn from a notebook with smudgy ink scribbled on it reading hot night tonight. my place is cooler. want to come?

There’s not a signature, like Stiles knows perfectly well Peter hasn’t reached out to a single other soul in this town. It’s a little cocky, and Peter tears it off the door. On the back, as an afterthought, we’ll have a beer is scratched.

Sounds terribly like another bad idea. But as a master of bad ideas, Peter leaves his sweltering house at six that night and makes his way over to Stiles’ home anyway.

--

Stiles' company is exactly what it used to be: sardonic, annoying, frustratingly fixated on getting the last word, and on exactly the same wave length as Peter is. The only difference is that Peter isn't considering slowly tearing his throat from his neck every time he outwits one of Peter's comments anymore.

It's a bit worrying how refreshing it is to be in Stiles' company. It makes him wonder if his quest for solitude is all a load of shit, that becoming an actual human with human thoughts and human feelings really only works if he opens himself up to somebody as human as they come. Stiles is exactly that: vulnerable and victim to paper cuts and feelings he tries to hide under a veil of humor.

He sits in his corner of the couch, pretending to watch the television while his peripherals scope out Stiles' face. It's older, yes, imperceptibly so, the effects of age recognizable only with eyes as sharp as Peter's. The flickering light of the TV licks up Stiles' face like soft candlelight would, mounting his cheekbones and casting a shadow of his eyelashes. His fingers are perfectly still where they're resting on the armrest, like Stiles really does have the ability to just be, no twitching or fidgeting required.

“Funny,” Peter murmurs as his eyes rake down Stiles' face. “Maybe all it took was ten years of maturing for us to get along.”

Stiles snorts, reaching to curl his fingers around the neck of his beer. Peter doesn't feel like enough time has passed for Stiles to drink alcohol legally, not when it feels like it was just yesterday when he was crouching in the woods on all fours listening to Stiles let out slurs of inebriated woes into the air thanks to the contributions of a Jack Daniels bottle while Scott sat unaffected by his side. If Stiles is somehow magically over twenty-one, how fucking old does that make him?

“Speak for yourself,” Stiles tells him, eyes on the TV. “I was plenty mature ten years ago. You were the playground bully who thought violence was the answer to everything.”

“It's nice,” Peter says. He thinks about how nice it is that he hasn't torn flesh or dislocated bones in months. Maybe one day he'll have a shiny badge that says ten years sober from murder! on it in retro font. “Not wanting to maim you all the time.”

Stiles snorts again. He's not looking at the TV anymore, the sounds seeming to be nothing more than white noise to his ears as he watches Peter. The beer has slowed his heartbeat to a slow, sluggish crawl through his veins that seems to ease the very nature of the room. It feels like a hot day from his childhood at the beach that burns his skin, the way his father would pull and guide him with the pushes of the salty waves and he would swallow mouthful after mouthful of warm ocean water and still demand again, again just to feel the surge of the wave's power under his chest. Stiles is that wave, pulling him into the ocean and swaying his body along to a beat that matches his heartbeat but somehow seems unfamiliar to his own ears.

“I know why you're here,” Stiles says. “I thought Derek kicked you out but you did. You kicked yourself out because you wanted to get rid of that feeling, right?”

Peter considers what he's saying. He's asking if he wanted to cleanse himself of the urge to kill, if he wanted to remove the part of his brain that hungered for humiliation and power at the expense of others. Peter thinks about how all those things are still inside of him, right under the surface, and to ignore their presence would be just as bad as saying the self-help books are working or the fresh air is washing his limbs of whatever filth they've proverbially acquired.

“Not exactly,” Peter says. “I came here to learn how to feel things.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, and his mouth curves with the single syllable like that's all it takes for him to understand. Peter expects a joke about how he’d have to grow a heart first, but Stiles lets the opportunity pass. “Have you?”

The million dollar question. Have months of watching grainy reality TV and sitting in musty bookstores trying to get to the core of his psychology problems done the trick? Is he recovering, or is in hopeless delusions and in the middle of an agonizing withdrawal? Is he actually fixable, like a grandfather clock that stops ticking or a bone that snaps but still knows how to reshape itself? Peter has no idea what the answer is.

“I don't regret it,” Peter says because no or yes would be too easy. “The murders, the lies―I don't. I didn't come out here because I wanted to pray for forgiveness or become someone different than who I am, because I'm not and I won't ever be. I came out here because I wanted to try being someone better. If it felt good or if it would even work.”

There's a silence, and Peter's eardrums focus on the television until his ears are humming steadily. Stiles shifts next to him.

“You might not be a better person, but the fact that you wish you could change to become one already means you sort of are,” Stiles says. He sounds just like Talia, full of infinite wisdom that flew out one ear the moment it landed in the other. “Besides, the whole time you've been here you haven't tried to kill me or any townspeople in a violent death, so I think you're definitely not the same guy as ten years ago, right? Baby steps.”

Peter feels an ache. A part of him wonders if it's because he misses that guy, so full of charm and power and fortitude, with goals in sight and manipulation as good as any weaponry in his pocket. The other part thinks the ache has to do with Stiles, and how far away he is. How out of reach he is, even on this tiny couch.

“I'm not good,” Peter says, just to make sure Stiles isn't full of any disillusions. “I don't think I want to be. It sounds awfully boring.”

“You would be boring good.”

They stare at each other again, and Peter can't remember the last time he was in someone's company for this long without feeling the urge to harm or violate. It's new, just like all of this is supposed to be, and then Stiles reaches for the trail mix just to busy his hands. Peter listens to how his teeth crunch as he eats, watches him lick his lips and wipe his salty fingers off on his pants.

“Stop staring,” Stiles says, side-eyeing Peter as he reaches for another handful of food. “I'm not that exciting.”

“You are,” Peter murmurs. They look at each other again, different this time, and god, all Peter wants is to have him closer so he bury his nose in the crook under his ear and memorize his smell.

And maybe Stiles wants that too, because he's leaning in. He's encroaching slowly, unsure of his own confidence, and he's a breath and a touch away. Peter breathes and yes, he smells exactly he did. Exactly like his past. He jerks his head away.

Suddenly everything is shaky again, like he's back in the ocean in the swaying waves, so far from shore he can't see the colorful towels on the beach and is getting seasick. He breathes out through his teeth and tries not to notice how Stiles stops dead and leans away again.

“I'm really tired,” Stiles is saying, and it would almost be convincing if it wasn't for the hurt waver at the edge of his voice, laced with indignant betrayal. “You should go home before I pass out.”

Peter nods, and Stiles doesn't even usher him out the door or wait for sure signs of his departure. He vanishes upstairs with an inhuman speed, out of sight before Peter can grab him by the cheeks, dig his fingernails in the skin there and kiss him boneless, which is probably a bad idea anyway.

--

He sleeps fitfully that night, like there are chains caging in his organs while he rolls from side to side. He dreams not of fire, not of burning ashes and screaming children, but of his father pushing him into the ocean and holding him captive by the feet when the wave comes crashing in.

And at the shore, Talia is laughing when seaweed tumbles into his mouth when the wave keeps coming. It surges his entire body up closer to the sky, shakes him like a boat out on the rough seas, so of course that's when the waves turn from cool splashes of water into burning flames licking up his thighs. The hands holding his ankles are gone, and he falls into the fire without arms to catch him.

Peter howls until he can't anymore, until his throat is hoarse and his body is heaving with the pain of singed flesh. His eyelids feel waxy, shut tight like he'll see the flames roar back to life on his chest if he opens them, but he does anyway. The details are blurry, like he doesn't know if a hospital ceiling or Derek or a filthy grave will be above him, but instead there's a figure, soft around the edges, in the shadows kneeling by him.

“Talia,” he chokes out through a seared throat. “Don't.”

“He's not as bad for you as you think,” Talia is whispering, her hands in his hair. “He could help you.”

And Peter knows who she means. Of course he does. His subconscious made it all up. Everything from the way the fire burns his lungs to the way his father's fingers felt around his ankles, keeping him afloat as the waves crash in.

The thing about his life is that he lives on impulses. Most people spend years, sometimes past their childhood, learning the art of controlling their urges because of the consequences and the repercussions. Peter spent his life following his urges, chasing everything that his body wanted, from revenge to murder to manipulation.

Everything except for Stiles.

It's always been Stiles who Peter didn't let himself touch, even when his hands itched for it and his wolf demanded it. He's always been prey to his baser urges, no matter who it hurt or who it inconvenienced, and then something in him like handcuffs on his instincts kept him at bay from touching Stiles, corrupting Stiles, robbing him of his innocence. It was still there, whether Stiles knew it or not, long after he knew about werewolves and involved himself and nearly sacrificed himself for the cause because of his spectacular clumsiness.

Ten years later, it's the same hold on his urges all over again. Maybe it's because his instinct knows what trouble Stiles would be, the challenge and the chase more effort than the outcome was worth. Maybe it's because he knows that Stiles brings out the worst in him, the bloodthirsty, ravenous side that's unleashed and out of control.

And what the fuck kind of love story would that be? The serial killer werewolf messed up beyond repair and the spastic boy living in a grown man's body who's stupid enough to get involved with the proven sociopath? It's a terrible story that's never been written, never will be, because there's not enough morality involved for people to care and not enough logic for people to understand. They'd move on to the next half-off book stuck in a dusty hole-in-the-wall bookstore because the first five pages wouldn't be thrilling enough. In the end, it's all Peter's head. His head is a car wreck, an ashen heap of debris with only one goal: to destroy. He can't convince himself to do anything else.

Maybe in a different universe, where Stiles loves Peter whole-heartedly and Peter lets him just as vigorously, he could live with letting his entire body need Stiles like how a sunflower arches into the sun. Natural. Irresistible. He knows what Derek would say if he heard him. Something along the lines of you’re conflicted like every other human on the planet, where’s the actual problem, and his eyebrows would knit together and his forehead would crease.

But oddly enough, he doesn't want to wreck Stiles. Not anymore. Not since Stiles was showing signs of something he hasn't seen in over a decade: somebody who trusts him. Somebody who brings him bread when he thinks he might be hungry and wants to kiss him when they're watching television, somebody who is surprisingly adept at forgetting how morbid his past is. And he knows how easy it would be to destroy him, how much he'd bleed or sob or hide under snide jabs if Peter betrayed him. He could test Stiles' patience just like he tested everybody else's if he wanted to.

He doesn't want to.

--

The next morning, Stiles is gone.

He doesn't want to snoop through Stiles' garage or look through his windows, but he does. His curtains are thin enough to look through, so Peter spies through the film of the window glass when Stiles doesn't answer the door after four knocks. He's done worse.

His things are still there, exactly like before. Stiles' beer bottle is still on the table, like an untouched scene that's been preserved from the night before. Peter presses his ear against the glass, listening for a steady sleeping heartbeat upstairs or the sound of soft footsteps padding through the hall. Maybe the sound of Stiles valiantly pretending he doesn't hear the knocking because he hasn't come up with a witty comeback to throw in Peter's face after last night's embarrassment. Nothing.

A hot wave of anger flits over Peter's chest like pinpricks of warmth riling him up into a familiar aggression that's used to bubbling in his chest. He thinks about breaking in just to smash a window, and he reels himself in just in time. He's past the point of throwing furniture just to threaten people who are inexplicably unimpressed by him.

What comes next is the fear. The thought that Peter's stretched the rubber band of Stiles' patience without even trying. He thinks about how he drove away from Beacon Hills to find solitude and answers and instead, he found Stiles and something that might have been a home.

He realizes a second later, hunched in Stiles' garage that smells like coolant and hoodies stained with car grease, that he's petrified of losing a human. He's tormented by the idea of a vulnerable, insignificant person leaving all because of the way he makes Peter feel, like he's not beyond help. Like it doesn't matter that he isn't pretending to carry around a halo.

This is never what he expected.

--

For a long time, it hurts. It hurts like anger cooped up inside his body just like he just stays cooped up in his dusty house. The faulty air conditioning whistles helplessly every day in the unrelenting warmth, and Peter doesn’t shave for days. He lets the stubble scratch at his palms each time he touches his chin and he only ever eats when his stomach hurts as much as his head.

It sucks learning that he misses someone, especially if that someone is an irritable brat who knows far too much about him. It makes Peter wonder why he sticks around after knowing what shit Peter’s pulled in the past. Maybe he wants his own turn at humiliating Peter, at deceiving him when he least expects it. It seems plausible as much as it absolutely doesn’t.

He thinks that was one of the reasons he drove until the heat in his car overwhelmed his head. He wanted to find people who had no idea who he really was, who he could disillusion into thinking he was somebody harmless and mysterious. He could have been anybody, from a cookie cutter accountant monkey to a soup kitchen volunteer. Nobody would have known how the gears in his head churn, how he thinks about death and he’s three and a half miracles short of ever being let out of hell when he dies for good. And then there’s Stiles, who knows all of these things about Peter and has experienced them firsthand, and still shows up bearing gifts of crusty bread.

It’s like the universe opened up beneath him to spray a come shot of hope on a life that he was ready to resign to living in the isolation of a dingy house being eaten alive by untamed shrubbery, and Peter still doesn’t know what the fuck any of it means.

He stares out the windows, wishing desperately he could see past the overgrown trees swarming along the path. All he sees are dense, gnarly trunks and graying leaves. Is fall coming? When did summer end without taking the muggy heat along with it? Where the fuck is Stiles?

Peter ignores it all and tries not to give in to the desire to run wild until he finds a deer and devours it. That would make the news, maybe even a headliner. It’s easy to ignore a sane guy with all of his cylinders straight, not so easy to ignore the crazy cannibal who likes to feast on the flesh of innocent wildlife.

Peter thinks he’s already pretty crazy, so he’ll forego the deer.

--

The day Peter woke up in the hospital after the fire, he woke up to nothing but shades of colorless gray on the ceiling. The light was dim and the room was deadly silent, with the exception of a steady beeping.

Beep, beep, beep, went a machine on his left. You’re alive.

He couldn’t move. He couldn’t speak. He tried to ball his hands into clammy fists on the scratchy hospital sheets, tried to scream into the muted darkness, tried to close his eyes and go back to what he remembered last. The second he remembered the flames, his entire body heated up with a pain so unearthly his back ached to arch for relief and his mouth watered to scream. It hurt more on the inside than the burnt, tainted skin did.

For a few days, he wanted to die. He wanted to decompose in the hospital bed that smelled of chemical cleaners and the lingering promise of death. He wanted to wither to a tragic end right there on the stiff mattress and the rigid sheets. He tried to remember the coma, tried to remember the feelings of hands wrapped around his or voices in his ear. He remembered nothing, even though he knew it happened. He knew somebody survived and wanted to know he was alive as well. He knew he wasn’t the only one.

Nobody arrived, not for weeks. Nobody but the nurse who flicked light into his eyes looking for responses and patted him on the ankle like a few maternal touches was all it took to spring back to life. He listened to the sound of the machine, how the beeps turned from steady reminders of his own survival to the sound of persistent guilt and agony.

Beep, beep, beep, the machine would persistently say. Why did you survive?

Better people didn’t.

The pain stayed, made itself a home in his brain and festered on his thoughts. It infested his brain like an unshakable virus, overgrowing the agony of his physical pain. It made him numb from the inside out, cold like the vegetable his paperwork claimed he was. Was now the time to believe in fate? Was now the time to believe in God? Or was that years ago, when he stole a pie from the bakery and ate away his remorse through golden apples and buttery crust, and how that turned into burning all the love notes in his high school crush’s locker because they weren’t his own? Was it when he scared a kid with his fangs when he wouldn’t let him cheat off his test, or was it when he spied on his nephew from the shadows for the sake of uncle duties? Was it when he killed a man on accident and spent hours by the pond washing the blood out from the crevices of his claws, or when he still felt the adrenaline hours later?

Beep, beep, beep, God talked back when Peter prayed. Nobody feels sorry for you.

Peter knew he was a heartless bastard, knew it when he was born evil and had no chance of recovering the good in his bones the moment he inhaled his first breath of life. What kind of God makes people like me? Peter thought, paralyzed on the bed and lifeless everywhere but his pumping heart. Was he just the fucking textbook example, the warning label, the cautionary tale to crooks-to-be and malicious souls everywhere? What the fuck was a life like this anyway?

And that was when it happened. The pain turned from desolation and the grief from loss morphed into something different, something that gave him life and took away just as much humanity. Anger. White hot anger that gave him a pulse point again, anger that overwhelmed his entire being and fueled his heartbeat. It was the purpose he was missing, and it raised him back to life. For a while, anger made him feel like the only thing in the world, something that shone brighter and grew bigger than even the black holes and the voids.

So he took his anger, and he used it. And that’s when everything went shot to hell.

--

The flares of fear and anger trade off intermittently before tapering off into a dull ache of loneliness.

He's not angry at Stiles anymore, too busy being angry at himself for being upset that Stiles leaving affects his mental health so much. Sometimes it morphs into sadness, a terrible gripping fear that Peter is turning human, a man who knows what dependency on another person is like.

He remembers later that solitude is what he wanted, that Stiles was the unexpected factor that had originally screwed with his plans of hiding in seclusion and utter confinement to be left alone with his thoughts and his instincts. Maybe this is exactly what he needs, time alone to fulfill his original purpose and find out who the hell he is when there isn't a lie to be told or a scheme to plot or a boy to distract him.

When the anger comes back, he decides to make a splash with it. He sees a dump of a car outside a convenience store, and considers smashing the front window or setting it ablaze and basking in the destructive light of the fire. Instead, he slashes the tires with his claws, feeling the air push out over his fingers as he punctures the rubber. He waits to see if it feels as good as it used to. It doesn't.

It used to be that nothing made him feel quite like destruction did. It was the truest, most primal form of entertainment. Man wasn't on this earth to cheer on those who succeeded; man was here to laugh at those who failed. And now, here he is, watching the air sag out of four defeated tires as the thick slashes of his crime slump into a roll of black rubber, and he doesn't feel the same rush.

The anger goes away for good watching the tires deflate, like it's actually all the muddled messes inside of him being rinsed away slowly.

He realizes then that he's changed back when he wasn't even paying attention. Stiles isn't to blame, and he isn't entirely to thank either. Peter is.

All right, so maybe he's obsessed and dependent. Maybe he's replaced all of his fury and his hate with other irrational emotions that aren't good for him, things that Stiles and a muggy house in a homespun town brought out of him.

He leaves the tires whistling into the hot air as the entire car sags. He doesn’t look back, not even to finish the job and scratch the paint with his claws and shatter the mirrors. He goes home, and he opens the windows, and airs out the dust and the heat, and fiddles with the signal on his TV until it flickers back to life and he’s watching Rachael Ray preserve tomatoes.

He plugs in his phone for the first time in months that night. A part of him is surprised that it even boots up and flickers to his home screen anymore after all the weeks of neglect in the corner, but it dutifully resurrects itself and returns Peter to the reality of his old life. It all comes crashing back like the wreck of a freight train jamming into his stomach, the way the missed calls pile up.

Seven are from Derek, accompanied with angry voicemails that Peter deletes without bothering. Two are from his landlord, telling him he’s evicted from the apartment he left behind. One is from an unknown number he knows is Stiles. It comes with a text message that says going to visit beacon hills to wallow in the memories of my terrifying youth. hope you’re still home when I come back.

Home. It sinks in slowly, like an egg cracking over his head. Yes, he supposes he is home.

I’m not going to water your plants, Peter writes back. But yes, he is going to stay.

--

Peter wakes up feeling better than he has in days. His nights are dreamless and his sheets are finally cool against his skin after an endless summer, and when he awakens from slumber he decides to eat breakfast and exercise.

He hasn't in a while, and it feels frustratingly like relief to go be one of those assholes who jogs by the neighborhood mailboxes while the six a.m. dawn dissolves into a pale light in the morning sky. His lungs push him harder, remind him what it feels like to have to his muscles ache before they heal again in the burn of his work out, and he doesn't stop running until he’s sopping in the satisfaction of his sweat.

His phone goes off in his pocket as he makes it back home, a soft vibration alerting him of a message from Stiles. It's a picture of a sloppy hamburger with cheese oozing out the sides, and it’s a pointless message that Peter keeps anyway because he recognizes the disco tablecloths and the tacky plates from the place he used to take Derek after school to grab a bite of tremendously greasy fast food if he felt generous enough to treat his favorite brooding nephew. He imagines Stiles in the booth with Scott beside him, eating too much sugar and reminiscing. Maybe he even casually mentions how Peter Hale is waiting for him at home. Peter can imagine Scott’s answering face like an oil painting taped up in front of his eyes. He’s almost sad he misses it.

Instead, he grabs all the books piled up in the corner collecting flies, the ones titled Grudges and You: How to Put Your Aggression Into Pilates and Why Serial Killing Is Never the Answer After a Bad Day At Work, and returns them that afternoon.

The bookstore cashier, wrinkled as always, pushes exact change into his hand and calls him a crazy loon under his breath when Peter’s on his way out. Peter doesn’t drag his claws through the flowers he’s growing in tiny pots hanging under the windows of his shop as he walks away, and he considers that real growth.

--

"Did you know that Scott's helping out at the hospital now? He makes all the rest of us with desk jobs look selfish," through the poor reception of his phone, Stiles pauses. "Well, except for you. You're unemployed."

Stiles' tinny voice sounds like a string of familiarity Peter can hold into, even when he's mocking him and throwing quips back and forth. He feels something in his chest tighten, similar to the feeling of a member of pack being too far away, and tries to remember the last time he's felt those same twinges. It's been eons.

"Sounds boring," Peter drawls. "Exactly what I expected out of Scott."

"I dunno, man. After those first two years of high school I was sure he'd be homeless for at least a few years. He almost flunked gym."

"Then he should be happy a certain someone was around to speed up his athleticism," Peter says. He's pathetic, he really is, because he's glued to the wall while his phone charges just so he can hear the grainy sounds of Stiles' laughter.

"I'm sure he sees it that way."

"Hey," Peter points out. It feels oddly refreshing to joke about a time in his life when he was hopelessly crazy and ready to murder any obstacle in his sight. "I also indirectly―but single-handedly―managed to land him a girl, popularity, and a purpose."

"Wow. I'm very glad you're not an Alpha anymore just so I can go to sleep at night knowing you're not turning the town into a werewolf army," he laughs at his own comment, clearly amused by something that would have elicited a snide insult about consent issues and sociopathic tendencies a few years ago, and Peter thinks that's the effect of maturity. "What have you been up to?"

"Slaughtering the town," Peter mentions nonchalantly. "The usual."

"Without my influence around you're just a big mess, aren't you," Stiles coos through the phone. "When I get back I'll find you a nice therapist."

Peter rolls his eyes at the ceiling. It looks like it's sagging from moisture from the humid summer and Peter wonders if he'll still be around next year to fix it. He thinks he will be.

"Give Derek an obscene hand gesture for me if you see him," Peter tells him, breezing over his humor. "Or tell him I send my love. The sarcasm will be too thick to miss."

"I haven't seen anything but the inside of my dad's house and Scott's impressive collection of video games," Stiles says. "I gotta say, Beacon Hills used to be more interesting. Or I dunno, maybe I'm just homesick."

There's something soft at the end of his voice, like maybe what he's really saying is I never thought I would but I miss you. Peter might be projecting.

"Then… I'll let you get back to your productivity," Peter says. Stiles noncommittally hums instead of defending that his time is truly well spent.

"Thanks," Stiles says. Both of them don't hang up, Peter spending a few seconds listening to his unsure breathing. "I'll see you soon. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"No fun," Peter says. Stiles laughs gently, and that's the last sound he hears before the beep clicks loudly in his ear.

--

For the first time in a long time, Peter's senses don't fail him and he smells Stiles coming. It's subtle, scents of car seats and Scott and greasy road trip food blending with the usual, familiar smells that Peter associates with Stiles. Cheez-It crackers. Too much aftershave. Lemons. Smelling it feels like coming out of the coma again.

He hears his footsteps on the gravel outside his door before he hears the knocks, but before all that, he hears his own heart thud in his neck. He's so very petrified, not of what awaits him on the other side of the door, but of the idea of Stiles not coming back. He could have stayed in Beacon Hills forever, could have been swayed by his father's cajoling to take a job at the local police department or by Scott's easy company. Instead, he's on Peter's door.

He opens the door and watches as the smile grows on Stiles' face. There's a mirrored one on his own mouth that he isn't aware of until his cheeks start aching, and suddenly Peter remembers what feeling is like. It's not just pain and agony and wrath, it's all the complimentary emotions on the other side of the spectrum as well. Unexpected bliss. Relief. Love.

“You shaved,” is the first thing Stiles says. He sounds impressed and breathless and a little hoarse, like he just spent the last few hours singing boy band hits in the car to keep himself amused and awake.

“You're an eyesore,” Peter says, determined to stay true to character. “You could've showered after god knows how many hours in a stuffy car.”

“Shut up,” Stiles says without missing a beat. “You know you missed the hell out of me.”

They look at each other like long lost sweethearts separated by high school tragedies, which is ridiculous. It's been a few weeks, not years. What's funny is that Peter has gone years without Stiles before, without his sharp wit or his gangly limbs or his blunt openness, and yet here he is now, staring at what feels like the anchor to his own sanity.

So Peter does what feels natural, leans in and latches his lips over Stiles’ pulse point beating on his neck, and for once, his instincts don’t steer him wrong.

He hears Stiles’ breath hitch in his neck, feels his fingers flex against his sides and his mouth exhale slowly. Peter isn’t thinking anymore, too busy feeling out Stiles’ body with his lips and feeling his skin respond to him with words of its own. He pushes his mouth where he can feel the pump of Stiles’ blood under the flesh, lets his tongue flit over the salty taste of his neck and his nose breathe in his scent where his hair is tickling his cheeks. Stiles lets out another breath and Peter refuses to back away.

“You son of a bitch,” Stiles mumbles, but his hands curl around Peter’s hips and grip him tightly enough to keep him in place. “When I tried to kiss you―”

“I was wrong,” Peter says. “You don’t bring out the worst in me, you bring out everything. I want to kill you for all the things you make me feel, especially because most of the time it’s about needing you to never leave.”

“Are you going to keep me hostage?” Stiles asks, but he sounds breathless and the fingers curled around Peter’s hips seem desperate, the fingernails digging into the skin there saying all the things he can’t think of a sarcastic comment for. Things like me too, you big psycho.

“Unless I can think of a way to keep you here by your own will,” Peter says. Stiles pushes at his cheek until he pulls back from his neck, grips his cheekbone and looks him in the eye like he’s looking for traces of deceit. The moment passes and Stiles smirks, all signs of potential distrust wiped away to be replaced with a look of feral hunger. Peter knows that look if only because he’s seen it in the mirror for years.

“Think of a way,” Stiles tells him, low and a little hoarse. Peter still isn’t used to the way his voice can dip down deep, like he’ll turn around and suddenly the boy of seventeen will be there again, all flailing limbs and running legs. Stiles grips him at the nape of the neck and squeezes.

Peter kisses him, and he pours all the anger and desperation and urges to smash windows into the way his mouth rubs against Stiles’ responsive lips. If Stiles wants a reason to stay, he’ll give him one involving his tongue, his hands, every asset he has to offer. He pushes their hips together and suddenly Stiles is stumbling against the door that creaks under their combined weight, Peter kissing him harder and roaming his hands up his torso. He’s still lean and slender like he always has been, but now Stiles fights back and has just as much of an upper hand if he wants it.

They fit together nicely, bodies slotted into one mess of limbs and fists, and Peter remembers all the times he thought about doing this years ago just to shut up Stiles’ rambling mouth. It would’ve felt like victory back then, the way Stiles would’ve squealed under his grip and shoved him away, but years later it feels like coming home because Stiles sighs and melts into his grasp. The grasp of a man who’s killed with his bare hands, and Stiles still wraps his arms around his neck and pushes their hips together in a slow, delicious rub of friction.

Stiles’ tongue darts out at the same time Peter’s does, their mouths nudging together as Peter deepens their kiss and Stiles let him take control. He was right about the cheese crackers, Stiles tasting of salty road trip snacks and too much soda, so Peter sucks on his lower lip and nips at the sensitive flesh there until he tastes of nothing but himself. For so much emotion bubbling under his very skin begging to erupt, Peter explores Stiles gently, slowly, if only to repeatedly hear the sounds of his aroused sighs and unrestrained whimpers. His hands are stuttering on Peter’s back, curling up in the fabric of his shirt and scraping the skin underneath, and Peter pushes up the fabric of Stiles’ t-shirt to latch onto the bare skin at his waist.

It’s exactly what Peter imagined kissing Stiles would be from the first moment he envisioned it. Too wet, too urgent, too needy. Stiles talks too fast and moves too clumsily, but his kisses are slow and thorough like he’s spent time mastering the art of slowing down and holding the pleasure in his hands. Peter cages him against the door and revels in the feeling of their bodies pressed together, from their bumping chests to the knee slipped between Stiles’ legs, and Stiles tapers off their kisses with soft, open-mouthed presses of his lips to Peter’s parted mouth. Peter bites onto his lower lip right before he pulls away, feels Stiles’ breath hitch under his hands and soothes the pain with his tongue.

“Did you miss me?” Stiles whispers with a wicked smirk, tangling his fingers in Peter’s unkempt hair. He grinds their denim-clad cocks together torturously, so slowly that Peter can almost feel an animal inside his body rumbling to life to claim what he wants.

“Don’t know why I did,” Peter murmurs, encircling Stiles’ wrists to pull them from his hair and pin them to the door. He looks delicious like this, swollen lips and hooded eyes while his hips slide against Peter’s. “You’re infuriating.”

“You like it,” Stiles says, not fazed for a second, and then leans in to dip his lips up Peter’s neck. It’s amazing how well they fall into this, how their bodies align and their mouths seek each other out without a moment’s hesitation, without the awkward fumbling and unsure touches that might have been present years ago. Peter would have been rough and Stiles would’ve been wracked with the guilt that could only have come with a horny teenager turned on by the creepy serial killer, and now, with something deeper like strings connecting their loneliness, it’s much better than it ever would have been.

Stiles’ tongue enters the equation and drags up Peter’s neck, settling behind Peter’s ear to nip and suck blood to the surface that fades away moments later.

“Can’t mark me,” Peter reminds him, smirking, and Stiles sucks harder.

“I can try.”

He bites down hard on Peter’s neck, hard enough for pinpricks of blood to slide from his collarbone, and Stiles licks them up before they can heal and fade away. The bruise is mottled for seconds only, dissolving into seamless flesh once more that Stiles licks over again and again. Their hips are still moving together, uneven rolls of friction that pull the air out of Peter’s lungs increment by increment. He lets go of Stiles’ wrist and tips Stiles’ chin up with his finger, watching the way he licks his lips and smiles.

“I have a bed,” Peter feels the need to tell him. It’s already hot in here, has been for weeks, but now it’s infinitely hotter because Stiles is pressed up against his body so close that Peter can feel his lungs heave under his stomach. “I want you in it.”

“Hmm, effective,” Stiles hums, dragging his foot up the side of Peter’s leg. Tease. “But maybe a little too simple. I prefer classy wooing over dirty pick-up lines.”

Peter growls and picks him up, hitches his legs over his hips and moves him to his wrinkled mattress. Stiles is laughing, trying to wrangle himself free of Peter’s grip from where he’s holding him by the ass, so Peter drops him right on his sheets and crawls over him. He’s never laughed during sex before, never even considered doing so, but the sound of Stiles’ breathless mirth fuels his erection all that much more. He doesn’t even remember getting hard, just suddenly being hot all over while Stiles pressed up against him, and Peter slithers up the v of his legs to roll Stiles’ shirt up his chest.

Stiles watches him carefully, wrapping his arms around his shoulders as Peter hitches up his top while he drags his tongue up Peter’s ear, stopping to whisper, “I like on top better,” and suddenly he’s pushing Peter onto his back and pulling shirt over his head to toss into the abyss of Peter’s sparse bedroom. His lap is full of a pushy boy, one who slides their dicks together while Peter kneads his ass and watches his eyes flit over Peter’s body, too full of clothes to get anything done properly.

“Wanna suck you,” Stiles tells him, a sly fleeting smirk on his face, and Peter grabs him by the belt loops just to pull him down onto his chest and kiss him senseless. There are too many clothes, too many fabrics heating up the entire room, and Peter starts pulling at his own shirt when Stiles is already there, frantic knuckles curling around the hem and all but ripping it from his neck.

“C’mon,” Peter mumbles, and suddenly Stiles is just as eager as he is. Their bodies are thrumming, practically shaking as they slot their lips together and Peter tangles his tongue with Stiles’, and Peter rakes his blunt nails up and down Stiles’ naked chest. He’s not as scrawny as he used to be, filled in at the all the right places, and he gives into the urge to surge up and bite at the flush in his skin, Stiles groaning all the while. He’s quick to respond and easily riled up, and Peter hopes he doesn’t need his inhaler anymore because he’s going to spend the rest of the evening attempting to leave him panting and breathless.

Stiles pushes him away with hot fingers a moment later so he can focus on the task at hand—effectively removing Peter’s pants for good—and Peter feels himself grow even harder at the way Stiles takes control, nothing at all like his younger self. His nimble fingers are a godsend as they pull Peter’s jeans down to his knees and slide out of sight in Peter’s boxers, wrapping around his length and stroking. It’s perfect, just enough of a grip to get Peter to arch off the bed, and Stiles’ fingers are soft and warm on his dick as he squeezes.

“You promised,” Peter mutters, hips pushing into Stiles’ grip, “your mouth.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and yanks Peter’s underwear off until Peter is nothing but an overheated, naked mess in Stiles’ hands. He trusts him, he trusts Stiles to touch him and get close enough to damage him, and Peter grips Stiles by the tousled hair just to make sure he knows that. Stiles looks up at him, smirks, and nuzzles the lines of his hipbones.

“So impatient,” he murmurs on the skin of his thigh, leaving a trail of wet kisses up to his cock, and that’s when he takes Peter into his mouth and presses his tongue flat against the underside of his erection and the world shakes.

His mouth was definitely built for this, Peter thinks, and he can’t have been the only one to know. That’s probably why Stiles is so good at this, deft and detailed with his tongue’s work like he’s had time to practice using his mouth for something other than quips and banter. Stiles locks eyes with Peter from between his legs, and Peter’s pretty sure he’d be smirking if he didn’t have a mouthful of Peter’s dick between his lips, so Peter rubs his thumb down his cheek and thrusts up into the heat. Stiles keens and sucks him that much harder, eager to please and unravel Peter all at once. His hands don’t stay still, they roam up his legs, squeezing his thighs and traveling down his hips, just soft, bare touches that Peter feels his body respond to nonetheless.

He watches his cock disappear into Stiles’ mouth, watches it slip out and in rhythmically, his fingers all the whiles rubbing praising circles into Stiles’ neck as his legs tremble with the force of it all. He doesn’t know if he deserves this, if this is just another punishment in disguise for his past, or if maybe now and again life throws him a bone that comes with Stiles kneeling between his legs trailing his tongue up his dick. Whatever it is, Peter isn’t complaining.

“Stop,” Peter mumbles, gripping Stiles’ jaw. “Wanna fuck you.”

Stiles lets his cock slide from his mouth with one last sticky kiss to the head, licking up the precome gathering there and humming gently. “I don’t put out on the first date,” he says smoothly, but he’s already unbuttoning his pants and pulling them off his ankles to straddle Peter’s hips. He’s more tempting than ever naked, raw and bare for Peter to feast on, from the patch of hair on his chest that dissolves into the smattering of hair leading down his hips to the soft skin of his thighs.

“Can I?” Peter asks with a raised eyebrow. He wouldn’t have asked years ago, would’ve flipped Stiles over and dragged his cock between his ass cheeks until he’d be begging for it, but there’s something dark in Stiles’ eyes that he knows will say yes anyway.

“What do you think, asshole?” Stiles mutters, sliding their naked cocks together. Peter’s dick is still wet from Stiles’ tormenting tongue, and there’s a fever inside of him boiling to breaking point at the sight of Stiles rolling his hips on top of him, ready to be fucked into oblivion.

“Dirty mouth,” Peter grins, arching up to slide his tongue into his mouth while he wraps his hand around Stiles’ backside. The curves of his back are soft under his fingertips, and he slips his hand down to slide over his ass when Stiles reaches behind to grab his wrist.

“Damn right,” he says into their kiss, and guides his hand to his lips to lick two fingers into his mouth. Peter indulges in his oral fixation until his fingers are glistening wet, pulling them from Stiles’ mouth and replacing them with his tongue so he can rub his efficiently wet fingers against Stiles’ hole. The muscle furls and pulses against Peter’s touches, tight and anxious as Peter listens to his heartbeat speed up. He smells of sex and passion and unbridled ardency, and Peter slides his fingers in with one slick push just to listen to the missed beat in his heart rate.

Their kiss turns sloppy as Peter slides his fingers out and back in, Stiles’ mouth shaky against his own as he speeds up the tempo of his ruthless fingers. He loves seeing Stiles like this, already knows it’ll be an addiction he won’t be able to deny himself from this point on, and he keeps up the steady push and slide of his fingers just to watch Stiles’ eyes flutter closed until Stiles pushes him down onto the bed and lets his hand slip free.

“God, you’re so eager,” Peter groans as Stiles positions himself right over his cock, hands firm on his chest as he slides down. He doesn’t beat around the bush, not when both of them are aching for it, and Peter fists Stiles’ hair as Stiles settles onto his cock. “Won’t let you leave.”

“How could I?” Stiles says hoarsely, and his voice is already quaking and ruined as he rocks back and forth on Peter’s dick. “You clearly love me too much.”

Stiles grins and Peter glares, hands in his hair pulling at the strands there until Stiles whines and moves faster, sliding up and down on his dick while Peter bucks upward. They form a rhythm like a practiced symphony, their bodies moving together in slick, wet, rhythmic pushes that feel just like the ocean. Peter closes his eyes, hands firm on Stiles’ hair as he loses himself completely in Stiles, in Stiles’ sounds, Stiles’ smell, the way Stiles rocks back and forth on his hips. Behind his eyelids, he’s back in the ocean, the world swaying steadily from left to right. The wave comes and Peter surges up just as Stiles slides down, and the feeling is like breathing.

His fingers find Stiles’ cock and he strokes him, wrings the moans and needy sighs from his throat. If someone had told him ten years ago he’d be sitting in a stuffy, sweaty house with Stiles riding his cock like he was built for him, Peter would roll his eyes. He still feels the very same urge now, years later, except this time other instincts take over, like the instinct to growl for more and mumble at Stiles how unreal he is.

When he comes, Stiles is sinking down on his length, and it feels just like exactly what he’s been waiting months for. A release, a release from reality and life and his own brain, and Stiles has effectively done that to him. He’s turned his life around one hundred and eighty degrees until he’s dangling from the sky by his ankles, watching his life unfold before him with no control over his own reflexes. They’ve changed, he’s changed, and he’s grown and developed into something he thought wasn’t even in his blood. It feels like the sort of relief that comes with a freight train knocking into his chest.

Stiles comes on his stomach, sticky and warm, and Peter doesn’t mind. He pets Stiles cock and his hair through it, watching his face contort with pleasure and pull his mouth open. Peter kisses him while he’s still coming, pulling him down and pushes their lips together insistently until Stiles is kissing back and lax with the laziness of their tongues brushing. Every movement between them feels just like summer does—warm, overwhelming, and unthinkably lethargic.

“’M sticky,” Stiles murmurs on his mouth, squirming, and Peter nods and kisses him for another twenty minutes.

They resurface just to breathe, Stiles groggy with sleep on his chest before Peter coaxes him up. They pull the sheet off the mattress and tumble on the mattress with nothing but the pillow and the scratchy covers, the mattress springs groaning with their combined weight. Stiles doesn’t seem to mind the heat or the itchy pillow, just curls himself over Peter’s torso and tangles himself into the sheets. The moonlight pushes through the window and lands right on Stiles’ shoulders, skin soft and milky white in the glow, and Peter feels incredibly at peace. The feeling of burning, of fires licking up his hands and searing his throat, is gone, replaced with a sweaty satisfaction.

“Missed you too,” Stiles murmurs into his collarbone, and Peter feels the stretch of his smile on his neck as he leaves a soft kiss there. “No clue why.”

It sounds familiar, the same confusing thing Peter’s been thinking on repeat like a broken record for weeks. He pushes his nose into the soft brown hair at the crown of Stiles’ head, breathes in the scent of his conditioner, and for once, is fine to be part of the confusion.

--

When Peter wakes up, cramped into a tiny bed with Stiles nuzzled beside him, the air is cool and the haze of humidity is replaced with a calm freshness, and it feels like Peter can finally let the overheated breath out of his lungs. Stiles’ toes are cold where they brush up against Peter’s ankles and the nip in the morning air bites gently at his nose, but he stays warm even through the flimsy sheets that always used to be too hot, too much, too constricting, because Stiles is pillowed on his shoulder.

Stiles is soft in his arms, like leaves that haven’t crisped, his muscles calm in his grip while he sleeps. Half of Peter’s leg is draped off the mattress, too small to fit two people—one of whom finds it necessary to monopolize most of the bed space with his stretching limbs—and he thinks he might have to redecorate. Put in a painting. Buy a larger mattress. Get a toaster.

“Did you know,” Stiles grumbles into his shoulder two minutes later, squirming to life. He’s still soft all over, like he has no intention of tensing and stiffening away just because he’s awoken in Peter’s arms, “that you snore like a motherfucker? Fuck. It’s cold.”

“Finally,” Peter agrees. Stiles can live with the snoring.

They lay there in the coolness before Stiles tumbles on top of him, arms draped over his chest and tracing the lines of his collarbone. He looks sleepy, like he could go for another two hours of uninterrupted napping if Peter doesn’t compromise the comfort by getting up. Peter doesn’t think he will. He won’t stare out the window to glower at the joggers, and he won’t walk endlessly through the woods out back to wallow in his own misery. He’ll stay in bed, right here, all day, until Stiles turns frigid from the chill in the air and bothers putting clothes on again.

“This is kind of crazy, isn’t it?” Stiles asks, smiling while he presses his thumb into the sore spots on his neck. Peter rubs at them as well, thinking about leaning in and making them darker just to listen to Stiles complain about the hickeys. “So much for this town being boring as fuck.”

That part’s definitely gone to shit. It won’t be the same anymore, not the tiny village with the vintage bowling alley and the dull aquarium that the world can’t penetrate, not the tiny house in the middle of the woods with the ex-serial killer tucked away behind its walls.

“You weren’t built for boring,” Peter tells him easily, and Stiles doesn’t argue. Instead, he starts sitting up and fumbling blindly along the floor for his pants. Peter frowns. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“To go buy you more sheets,” Stiles says, throwing his shirt over his head. “Unless you want me to freeze tonight.”

Peter watches him slither from the bed and buckle his pants up, and thinks no, he doesn’t. And if Stiles wants to stay here tonight, and the night after, and the night after, he won’t complain.

--

Two weeks later, Peter wakes up to the feeling of Stiles palming his dick through his underwear, his nose burrowed into his neck, and the incessant sound of Peter’s cell phone trilling alerts.

“Are you gonna get that?” Stiles murmurs in his ear, his hand moving lazily in circles over his half-mast dick through the thin fabric of his boxers.

Peter’s awake within seconds, cock stirring in his pants. His phone chirps again and he all but knocks it from the night stand in his effort to silence it.

It’s a text message, shining brightly on the screen from Derek. There’s no capitalization, and no punctuation, and Derek clearly means business.

Derek: so am I ever going to see my car again or are you not coming home anymore

He smirks, Stiles tucking his chin over his shoulder and peppering slow kissing up his neck. It’s far more interesting than whatever conversation Derek is in the mood for starting, so Peter keeps this short.

Peter: no.

Peter: sucker.

He already is home, anyway.