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In Sickness and in Fire

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When Peter arrives at Astrid’s Cafe, Stiles is already there, sitting at their usual Saturday morning corner table. It’s unexpected but not unheard of for Stiles to arrive before him, but this early, there are fewer customers and Peter’s sense of smell is unimpeded by others’ conflicting scents. Stiles is deeply anxious about something, the scent acrid and irritating to Peter’s nose. Even more of an indicator is the fact that Stiles’ laptop is out but shut off and the pile of papers and books is missing from the top of the table. By now, he should be in his own world either studying for a test or researching the newest issue plaguing Beacon Hills, but Stiles is only sitting there and staring out the window, his fingers tapping against the wooden table.

Peter watches him for a moment from his place in line before placing both his and Stiles’ order. Whatever is the problem, it’s likely that crepes and coffee will be needed to resolve it. At that moment, Stiles starts tapping out a classical tune that has Peter changing his order to one coffee and one hot chocolate, the latter being Stiles’ go-to for the worst of his problems. Once he has the two drinks in hand, Peter heads over to the table and slides into the booth across from Stiles.

He places the hot chocolate in front of Stiles, who takes one look at it and says, “You’re denying me coffee?”

“You seem keyed-up enough already,” Peter drawls, giving Stiles a once-over that should have Stiles squawking about his virtue in faux offense. “Out with it, Stiles.”

Instead of speaking, Stiles sighs into his cup, taking the lid off and breathing in the too sweet smell of the drink. Peter doesn’t have to be a mind reader to know something is wrong. He hasn’t seen Stiles for a week and a half. Stiles had skipped their last Saturday morning meet-up with a text about too much homework and had been evasive in the week afterward, so Peter hadn’t realized just how far into this state Stiles had fallen. And it is a state, one with anxiety pouring off his skin, hair too messy even for Stiles’ usual ‘haven’t brushed my hair in days’ look, eyes rimmed with red from lack of sleep.

Peter wants to hate Stiles for the stupid feelings that Stiles’ unhappy state brings up in him, but he’s known Stiles for two years now. Two years of the two of them going from enemies to reluctant allies to allies with research benefits to this. Two people who guard each other’s backs in fights, who meet weekly for hours even if half the time they’re each in their own little world, who can call each other pack with no waver in their heartbeats. Peter is well-used to sentiment when it comes to Stiles.

“Should I guess?” Peter asks, his voice coming out gentler than he means for it to. It’s inescapable, this need to put Stiles to rights.

“You can try,” Stiles huffs, his eyes lighting up briefly when one of the staff places an egg and sausage crepe in front of him. The sound he makes when he takes his first bite causes a different inescapable need to rise within Peter, but that one he is well-practiced at pushing down. “Mm, you really do love me.”

“Slander,” Peter replies, but it’s not slander if it’s true, even if he’s never admitted it aloud. “Is it school?”

Stiles shakes his head. “It’s the final stretch until graduation. I barely even have homework.”

“A person, perhaps? Scott? Your father? One of the others?”

But nothing changes in Stiles’ scent or heartbeat other than an easing of his fear as he banters with Peter. Not fully, not even halfway, but enough to send some satisfaction through Peter. Stiles is comforted by his presence, and it is only because they are friends, and good ones at that, but it still something.

“Cold,” Stiles says, lips quirking up humorlessly.

“Me?” Peter asks, raising an eyebrow. But no, it isn’t. “You.”

And there it is, that spike in Stiles’ heartbeat, made clearer by the way worry has already altered the beat of his heart.

“Yeah,” Stiles says, swallowing. “I have a small confession. Tiny one, really.”

“Is it murder?” Peter asks. But Stiles wouldn’t be so bothered over a spot of murder, nor would he be worried about telling Peter about it. “You can tell me if you’ve killed someone, Stiles. I’ll help you bury the body.”

“I know you would,” Stiles replies, and despite everything his voice is fond. The reminder seems to give him the strength to stop beating around the bush. “You remember that I was hurt in the fight against the Morrow pack nearly two weeks ago?”

Peter inclines his head. The Morrow pack had tried to take the McCall pack’s territory from them in order to get access to the nemeton, their greed far outstripping their rationality. Their pack had run them off for good, but the confrontation hadn’t been bloodless. “You said your wounds weren’t bad.”

“They weren’t. Or rather, I didn’t think they were.” Stiles stops to take a sip of his hot chocolate. “The fight was a mess. I don’t remember who I was fighting half the time and that alpha of theirs seemed to be everywhere at once. Someone clawed down my side, but I just patched myself up at home afterward. When I woke up the next morning, my wounds were gone. All of them.”

“The alpha,” Peter gathers, but no, that’s wrong. “You don’t smell like a werewolf, so you couldn’t have been turned.”

Stiles bobs his head. “I went to Deaton immediately, but he said I wasn’t turning. I’m not a banshee like Lydia, either. And then a few days later, the hallucinations started. Small things, but my mind is a fucking steel trap now when it comes to that sort of thing. I noticed.”

“What did you see?” Peter hadn’t been worried when this conversation had begun, but now he is.

“Wolfsbane.” Stiles looks like he’s forcing himself to continue. “I kept finding fistfuls of it, and then I was throwing it up. I thought it might be it again.”

“We’ve killed it,” Peter assures him. “And if it were another nogitsune, I wouldn’t rest until it was dead.” They’re not always useful—never as much as Stiles—but Peter also adds, “Neither would the rest of the pack.”

“I know. Deaton said he doesn’t know what’s happening, but I called up Jackson. He told me he hallucinated, too. I haven’t tried to eat the class snake yet, but everything else lines up with that happened to him.”

“When he’d been turning into a kanima.” That’s— Peter doesn’t even want to consider it. “That’s not what’s happening.”

“It’s a reasonable explanation,” Stiles says without looking at him. “Look, it makes sense. A person becomes a kanima because of strong unresolved emotional issues in their past, right?”

“Allegedly,” Peter reminds him. “If every person with deep emotional issues became a kanima upon receiving the bite, there would be more kanimas than werewolves. I didn’t know them well, but Erica and Isaac were hardly examples of perfect mental health and they both turned successfully. I’ll grant you that Jackson’s issues were deep—”

“—as deep as the Mariana Trench—”

“—but emotional issues relating to adoption aren’t uncommon and kanimas are extremely rare. It could be that Jackson simply had a genetic predisposition toward becoming one.”

“I considered that,” Stiles says, leaning back and taking a glance around the room. “Which is why I broke into Eichen House to see if they had any more information.” He grimaces, and his scent turns sour. “I hate benefiting from any of their shit, but I needed to know. They’ve locked up two kanimas before. One of them turned from a scratch by an alpha and both of them had deeply unresolved issues. Not because of becoming possessed by a demon fox who used them to kill people and made them think they were going insane, but my case is a little out there.” Stiles rubs at his temples. “I knew I should’ve tried therapy.”

“You didn’t exactly have many options,” Peter says as he considers the issue.

“Yeah, fuck Morrell. She and Deaton are tied for least helpful people in town. I’ve been trying to work through my emotional issues myself before the full moon,” Stiles grumbles.

“Stiles,” Peter huffs, finding some humor in the situation despite himself. “I don’t think even you can make trauma disappear so easily.”

Stiles rolls his eyes at him. “I know. But I didn’t know what else to do.”

“For one, you could have come to me right after you were bitten instead of spending nearly two weeks letting this fester,” Peter says. “Let me guess, you haven’t told anyone else, either.”

“Do Deaton and Jackson count?”

“I don’t see them being of any use, so no.”

“I came to you now, didn’t I?” Stiles’ eyes are so very brown as he rests his gaze on Peter. It’s impossible to imagine his eyes any other color. Two years ago, Peter had offered him the bite, but since then Stiles’ humanity has become one of the only stable things in a town where everything could change in a matter of moments. “I was scared. I still am.”

But it’s not only fear in Stiles’ scent. Peter reaches over to take Stiles’ hand, intertwining their fingers firmly. “I still think there might be an explanation other than you becoming a kanima, but I trust your judgment. And the immense amount of research I know you’ve done. But you growing scales instead of fur isn’t going to change the way I see you.”

Stiles squeezes Peter’s hand. “I don’t know. Jackson was really ugly, remember?”

“Werewolves in beta shift don’t win any beauty contests either.” Peter had grown up a werewolf, so his form has always looked perfectly natural to him, but he knows how turned wolves often react. But Stiles isn’t vain, and Peter knows it isn’t really the scales that worry him. “You’re not broken, Stiles, and whatever form you take, you’re going to be the same person in three days as you were two weeks ago, courageous and loyal and completely irreplaceable.”

“Still your favorite packmate?” Stiles asks with an attempt at a smile.

“You know you are,” Peter tells him, because even if it’s too honest, Stiles needs to be reminded. “And if Jackson could come out the other side a werewolf, so can you. I’ll even make an effort to find a way other than running you over with your Jeep to do it.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says, and there’s only sincerity there. And maybe a hint of sarcasm, because even in the worst of times, Stiles is always Stiles. “I think I really needed that.” A pause, and Stiles smiles, this one real. “Needed you, really.”

“Of course you did. I am a master of uncomfortable emotional conversations.” It’s taken two years, Peter’s death, Derek’s almost death, lots of drunken conversations, and the occasional fistfight, but he and Derek have found their peace with each other. “Compared to the Hale family drama, this will be easy. Now, show me your research.”

The fact that Stiles slips his hand out of Peter’s to do so is regretful, but necessary. Stiles is a tactile person, giving hugs and bumping shoulders as easily as breathing, but his touches rarely last long enough for Peter’s tastes. It’s enough for friendship, for pack, but Peter has never been able to stop himself from wanting more. He’d wanted Stiles from the moment they’d met and two years have done nothing to crush that want, only to settle it into something steady, something that’s settled into his heart as well as his instincts. He’d had some hope of reciprocation in the beginning, but when his early come-ons had resulted in Stiles shutting him down or seeming uncomfortable, Peter had put a stop to his attempts. It had been the right choice—Stiles is pack now, and that’s not something Peter has much of outside of his remaining family—but far too often he looks at Stiles and wonders. Stiles isn’t uninterested in men, and his few attempts at relationships have always fizzled out. Maybe if Peter had tried a different way, maybe… But it’s not worth thinking about for long, especially not when Stiles needs Peter’s help, not his feelings.

They go through the Eichen House files, the scant information from the Argents’ bestiary, the additional research Stiles had been able to find online, but there isn’t much that Peter hadn’t known previously, and nothing that definitively points to Stiles becoming a kanima. Peter allows himself a moment to linger on the heart-stopping realization that Stiles could have died instead of begun the process of turning into something—and could still die if something goes wrong on the night of the full moon—and dives into making plans. The full moon is in six days. Whatever else they do, they will still need a place to spend the night.

“Are you sure you don’t want Scott to be there while you turn?” Peter asks just once.

Stiles looks up from his laptop with a complicated expression. “I trust you to keep me contained. I don’t, fuck, I love Scott but if this thing messes with my mind, I could play him like a fiddle. He cares about me too much.”

“And I, of course, do not,” Peter gathers.

Maybe something gives him away, because Stiles softens a little, lips curling up in a half-smile. “You do, but you’ve still always been able to make the hard decisions. If it has to be anyone, I want it to be you.”

“You’d trust me not to use you to kill anyone?”

Stiles nods. “You’d won’t let me hurt anyone. But if it’s not possible… You’re pack. Your enemies are my enemies.”

Peter raises an eyebrow. “That’s not always the case. Especially with certain people.”

Stiles huffs. “Fuck off, you don’t actually want to kill Scott, no matter how much he annoys you.”

“You have too much trust in me,” Peter tells him, but the extent Stiles’ trust warms him so completely. Peter sighs and dips his head further, inhaling Stiles’ scent. Still only Stiles, human as ever. Peter has a sudden, visceral hatred of the knowledge that Stiles’ scent will change once he turns. Stiles won’t ever be the same. Oh, he will be himself, and he will be magnificent, but he won’t be the same. “I’ll refrain from using you as a weapon, no matter how shiny you’ll be.”

“Shut up,” Stiles mutters. “But, uh, actually, you should get a jar of my venom while I’m still a kanima. That shit could come in handy.”

It’s moments like these when Peter knows falling in love with Stiles was as inevitable as breathing. “Of course.”

He will never tell Stiles how close Peter had once come to deciding to kill Scott, once upon a time. There’s no use. Stiles would only be hurt and angry, and he would ask why he hadn’t acted on it, and Peter’s answer would reveal far too much. Stiles, it has always been Stiles. Scott will always be safe from him by virtue of being Stiles’ oldest friend. And even though he still plans to be an alpha again one day, these days Peter has all he needs. His identity has been reinstated and his license to practice law renewed. He has pack bonds to his remaining family members—he can feel Cora’s contented safety all the way in South America, Derek’s irritation about something across town, and Malia’s glee as she learns to hunt deer as a human with Chris somewhere deep in the preserve—and a deep friendship with Stiles, though they don’t have a pack bond, no matter how deeply Peter’s feelings run. It’s impossible since Stiles is only human. If one good thing comes out of this, it will be that Peter will be able to feel Stiles just as deeply as he feels his family.

And Stiles will be able to feel him.

But that’s not something he can change, and Peter’s more worried about Stiles’ survival than what Stiles will learn from their pack bond once he’s able to feel it.

Stiles doesn’t want to be near civilization if he turns into a murder monster, his words, so they settle on spending the night of the full moon in the Hale hunting cabin deep in the Hale-owned part of the preserve. The property has been sitting empty for most of the eight years since the fire, but Peter lived in it for a month after his resurrection while he worked sorting out his official paperwork. Derek also uses it from time to time when he needs a break from civilization, so Peter sends off a few a texts to let his relations know the cabin will be occupied next weekend.

Romantic getaway? Derek texts back.

If only. Just plain getaway. I need a vacation.

If you want company, see if Stiles wants to join you. Scott says he’s been looking tired at school.

Peter smirks down at his phone. He won’t even need to bother with an explanation. That sounds like an excellent idea.

Peter arrives to the cabin on the morning of the full moon. He’s simply taken the Friday off work, but it’s hours before Stiles will even be out of school. Wryly, Peter sighs at the fact that he’s in love with a teenager. Unrequited love, even, which makes him feel like he’s a teenager himself. The whole situation makes him feel foolish, but spending time with Stiles makes him happy, and after six years of hell, Peter isn’t one to turn down something that causes him joy, double-edged as it is. In a month, Stiles will be out of school, and in four Peter will be able to say he’s in hopeless love with a college student instead.

He throws the steaks and the rest of the groceries in the fridge for later, then gets the cabin ready. It’s visited rarely enough that it can do with some airing out, and it seems Malia tracked mud in the last time she was here. Peter complains and gets a laughing emoji from Stiles and a shrugging one from Malia. The hours pass with some last-minute research and a conversation with a former kanima with whom Peter’s developed a much better acquaintanceship with than he ever could with Jackson. Morgan cautions him not to be overconfident in case Stiles’ kanima doesn’t accept Peter as its master. While Peter’s a vengeful person, his main vendetta has long been settled. But in any case, Peter has a wide arrangement of chains, rowan, and wolfsbane rope to keep Stiles inside.

By the time he hears Stiles’ Jeep clunk its way up the gravel path, Peter has mostly settled himself. He’s pushed the thought of something truly going wrong so far down that the possibility of Stiles’ death isn’t even an option. There isn’t much good in this world, but Peter refuses to consider that fate would be so cruel. There is nothing he can do but trust.

“I’m going to die,” Stiles moans as he walks through the cabin door and drops a bulging backpack next to the couch.

It would be so much easier to trust if the object of his worries would do the same. “You’re not going to die,” Peter tells him, crossing his arms. It’s not late yet, but he says, “Come help me with dinner. How do you actually feel?”

“Same as yesterday,” Stiles says, which Peter takes to mean ‘freaking out, but not about to do something rash’.

Chopping vegetables isn’t much of a distraction, but it gives Stiles something to do with his hands and Peter an excuse to have him in near proximity to calm his own nerves. When he takes the steaks out of the fridge, Stiles leans down and sniffs a slab.

“I don’t feel an urge to eat this raw,” Stiles says, poking at it. “Or chase down bunnies.”

“I don’t, either,” Peter says dryly.

“Maybe that’s a bad sign. Maybe I should go outside and practice, you know, get my inner animal pumping.”

“Maybe you should,” Peter tells him. “If only because it’ll wear you out and keep you from jumping off the walls until sundown.”

“I’m not a toddler,” Stiles grumbles, pinching him. “Wanna hear about the newest developments in Malia’s crusade against Principal Waters?”

“Go on.” Peter does have a private bet running on whether Stiles and Malia will run the man out of town before graduating. Months ago, he would’ve been convinced of an easy yes, but it seems the high school’s newest principal is dead set on staying—and making an earnest attempt to force his students into complying with the school’s attendance policies.

Dinner flies by before he knows it and the two of them retire to the couch, where Stiles pretends to watch Star Trek and Peter watches Stiles for any sign of change. When darkness finally falls, Stiles stands up without a word, and Peter joins him. He hooks his claws into a discreet wooden panel in the wall and slides it across, revealing a stone wall with all sorts of chains attached to it. It’s useful with newly turned werewolves, although they’ve only had two of those, but Peter had never thought he’d be attaching Stiles to these chains.

“Kinky,” Stiles says as Peter wraps a pair of thick metal handcuffs around his wrists.

There’s a waver to his voice that Peter hates, but there’s nothing he can do but pull on the chains to make sure they’re secure. “Breathe,” Peter orders. “You’re going to be fine.”

Stiles wraps his hand around Peter’s, around the cuff on his own wrist. “What if I accidentally kill you?”

“Then I’ll be very irked upon my return to life,” Peter tells him.

“You’d better come back,” Stiles says. “I can’t— If anything ever kills you, you have to.”

“I’ll do my best.” It’s the only answer he can allow himself to give. He can’t truly say whether he can pull off a second resurrection; his first had taken so much out of him that it had taken years to set himself to rights. But if he does die, he will make every attempt to return to the world of the living, if only because he knows he would have people who would mourn him. It is precious enough to have someone who would care if he dies. If the worst happens, Peter won’t allow Stiles to mourn him long. (But no, that is not the worst. The worst is holding onto Stiles’ lifeless body and knowing there is nothing he can do to bring him back. Peter will take death, even permanent death, over that.) “And I’ll hold you to that same promise.”

“I have too much to do to die yet.” Stiles’ heart is beating so fast. “I’ll survive being a kanima. I will. At least I’d have a cool tail.”

“That’s the spirit,” Peter says, testing the chains. “And you’ll be incredibly helpful in a fight, considering how strong kanimas are. We’d just have to calm your need to murder guilty people on another’s say-so.”

“Simple enough.” Stiles slumps down onto the floor, sitting cross-legged.

Peter mirrors him. “You’ll be magnificent, no matter what happens.”

“Maybe I’ll turn into a werejaguar. I wonder if the berserkers come free with the change or if I have to pay extra.”

“I don’t think you could pull off insanity well enough to keep them around.” Peter rubs circles on the skin above the handcuff, then takes Stiles’ other hand to do the same.

Stiles leans into him, shuffling forward as much as the cuffs allow until he’s resting his head in the crook of Peter’s shoulder. Peter lowers his head and breathes. Still human. Maybe Stiles really is immune. Maybe he isn’t a banshee, but something else, something immune to a werewolf’s bite… But what are the odds?

“I’m glad it’s you here,” Stiles says, his words muffled. “Out of everyone—I need it to be you.”

Peter opens his mouth to speak and catches the beginning of a scent, so subtle that he would’ve missed it if he weren’t so close. “It’s starting.”

Stiles burrows his head even closer, something Peter wouldn’t have thought possible. Logically, he knows he should push Stiles back. It isn’t safe to have a turning teenager so close to his neck. One spike of moon-addled aggression and Stiles could be biting into his throat. Peter wouldn’t have a chance. But there’s no violence in Stiles’ scent even now, so Peter allows himself to trust. The scent is odd, something he’s never smelled before. Jackson hadn’t had a scent as far as Peter remembered, which was another wonderful point in favor of Stiles not becoming a kanima. Stiles’ scent heightens, becoming something else, something more, but never gaining a sickly element of rot. Peter lifts Stiles’ hand by the wrist and sees five claws dipping down from the nailbeds. There isn’t even a hint of scales.

“Verdict?” Stiles mumbles, his voice slightly deeper than normal.

“Claws,” Peter tells him. “Nice ones. Very good for ripping out people’s throats.”

“Scales?”

“None whatsoever.”

“Bloodlust and search for a master?”

“I think you’re safe.” It’s not a kanima that Peter smells. It’s not Stiles, either, or at least not the scent he’s learned to associate with Stiles, but Peter can relearn it.

Stiles lifts his face up from Peter’s shoulder, but he doesn’t move away, their knees touching. It’s disconcerting to see Stiles’ face so drastically altered, but Peter can’t look away, drinking in the sight. Stiles’ transformation resembles a regular beta shift. His ears have become pointed and his teeth slip out from his mouth as Stiles runs his tongue across the points. But the color of the fur running down the sides of Stiles’ jaw is a light gray instead of the dark brown that Peter is used to seeing, and his eyes are a deep, beautiful orange.

“You are lovely,” Peter says, feeling so helpless with relief. Stiles is alive, scaleless, sitting across from him and sniffing the air as he takes in so much more than his previous human senses allowed. Stiles could look like a goblin and Peter would be just as relieved, but Peter isn’t lying—Stiles’ beta shift is charming, whatever type of wolf he is.

And there is a bond slowly growing between them, bright and shining as it begins to connect to the wolf inside Stiles.

Stiles grins at him, then stands up to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror across the cabin. He whistles, the sound catching against his fangs. “Nice. Okay. I can live like this.”

Peter gets onto his feet only to experience Stiles back in his arms in the same position they’d been in only minutes before, taking a deep breath and running his nose from the crook of Peter’s neck up to his temples.

“You smell great.” Stiles asks, lips tickling against Peter’s skin. “Like spring. You’ve been holding out on me.”

“Only because you couldn’t properly appreciate it as a human,” Peter says. He runs his fingers through Stiles’ hair, dragging his thumbs down the fur at the sides of Stiles’ face.

Stiles makes an appreciative little noise. “I like it. I like everything about you.”

Peter’s never been so amused in his entire life. Stiles is the furthest thing from a seething, angry newly turned werewolf he’s ever seen. Instead of trying to rip Peter’s throat out, he’s cuddly and eager, moon-drunk as he is. There’s no deception here, not in his voice nor in his scent, and Stiles wouldn’t have the control for something like that yet anyway. The moon heightens Peter’s aggression even after a lifetime of controlling himself, but his own wolf has no urge to kill or dominate the other shifter in its territory. The wolf wants to run with Stiles, to nip at his heels and pin him playfully, to watch as Stiles makes his first hunt.

“Can we go outside?” Stiles asks, leaning back to meet Peter’s eyes.

Every part of Peter wants to say yes. Peter has the quiet realization that now that even his wolf is enamored with Stiles, it will be next to impossible to say no to him ever again. But even though Stiles seems fine right now, there’s still a chance of him reacting badly upon meeting a human outdoors. “On your next full moon, alright?”

“Fine,” Stiles grumbles. He rolls on the balls of his feet once, twice, and looks like he might run for the door anyway. A spark of something enters his eyes. “I’m going to try something.”

“What is it?” Peter asks, wary, but Stiles is already ignoring him.

He’s concentrating on something, staring at his reflection with a determined look in his shining orange eyes. Peter’s own eyes widen as he sees the fur on the side of Stiles’ face begin to multiply. It happens quickly. One moment, Stiles is standing in front of him, and the next he’s crouching smaller and smaller, disappearing into himself until there’s nothing left but a pile of chains and clothes that an animal that doesn’t reach Peter’s waist is trying to untangle himself from. Peter huffs a laugh as he pulls Stiles’ plaid shirt from the creature and the next breath he takes hits too deep.

“Oh, Stiles,” he breathes, crouching down in front of the gray fox his beloved has turned into. Stiles’ fur coat is a beautiful thing, black fur studded with white and gray down his back and sides while streaks of orange run up from his stomach to his neck and up his long ears. His long tail twitches from side to side as Stiles walks over to the mirror next to the door and glares up at it. Although he’s large for a gray fox, he’s not tall enough to see his reflection in a mirror meant for a human’s height. Peter stretches his arms out in front of him and says, “Come here.”

Stiles yips and bounds into his arms, heavier than he looks but not heavy enough to knock Peter down. Peter holds him firmly and lifts him up to the mirror. Stiles growls a little, but doesn’t give into any instinct to bite. Peter wonders if the same easy control goes for all fox shifters or if it’s this particular young man being as surprising as always.

Stiles rests his nose mirror and makes an approving sound.

“You should be very proud of yourself,” Peter agrees. “I’ve never seen anyone master the shift as easily—or become so cute.”

Stiles bites at him playfully and seems done with admiring himself in the mirror, so Peter returns him to the ground. There isn’t much to do in the cabin for a creature of Stiles’ energy—he can already imagine Stiles running wild on the next full moon, jumping over streams and climbing trees as he grows used to his new skin—but Peter can at least keep him company. He strips, throwing his clothes onto the couch. When he glances back, Stiles has already gotten up onto the kitchen counter and stolen a steak. He’d mostly picked at his food during dinner, but now the fox pushes it down onto the floor and attacks it. Peter is only happy that Stiles refrains from sending the plate down along with it.

Once nude, Peter stretches his arms and lets his wolf out to play. It had taken him years, but Peter has managed to regain the full shift he’d been briefly capable of as an alpha. Not the monstrous misshapen wolf form he’d terrorized Beacon Hills with, but a true wolf’s coat. It had largely been a matter of mind over matter, of remembering how the transformation had gone and trusting his wolf not to lead him wrong. Now he can stride up to Stiles as a gray wolf twice the size of Stiles’ fox shift, his coloring pitch black except for his glowing blue eyes.

His silly, fearless young man yips in hello, abandoning his work of tearing apart the steak in favor of licking Peter’s snout. Peter does the same, meeting Stiles as a wolf instead of a man, instincts running high. But when the animal takes over as much as Peter will allow, his wolf only snags the steak from Stiles and runs across the cabin. Stiles leaps after him. They fight, mock growling and snapping and ripping the steak to shreds even though Peter could devour it one bite. Stiles runs him ragged, snapping at Peter’s tail and running around. There isn’t much room in the cabin—a bedroom, bathroom, and a combined kitchen and living room area—but there are enough surfaces to leap on and pillows for Stiles to claw at. Peter is never again going to be able to berate his daughter and nephew for leaving this cabin a pigsty, not when he and Stiles have caused such a thorough mess.

When they fall asleep, it is on the king-sized bed, curled up together tiredly. Stiles’ new scent isn’t odd anymore, instead just as comforting as his old one. Peter can’t say when he shifts from wolf to man, only that he falls asleep with Stiles’ fur tickling his snout and wakes up with his arm over his eyes to block out the sunlight. It’s one of the best full moons he’s had in years, Peter thinks lazily as his brain gets used to being awake and human instead of wolf. He’s lying on top of the covers, having not had the presence of mind last night to get underneath them. But the other half of the blanket is lying on top of him in what Peter assumes is Stiles’ attempts to preserve some modesty. Stiles’ modesty, since Peter doesn’t have much of it.

“I can hear you being awake over there,” Stiles says, sounding much too smug and clearheaded for the early hour.

Peter opens his eyes briefly to see him standing next to the mirror and practicing his beta shift. In boxers. Peter groans and grabs the other pillow to put it over his head. It doesn’t do much to smother him, but it helps with the bright sunlight. “Stiles, it’s too early.”

“Are you saying you don’t want to hear my theories on what happened last night?”

Peter throws the pillow at Stiles instead of trying to smother himself again.

Stiles catches it easily, grinning down at it like it’s the best thing he’s ever seen. “Holy shit, my reflexes.”

“You finally have some, yes.”

“I do. This went about a thousand times better than I thought it would,” Stiles says.

“I told you so. You had nothing to worry about.”

Stiles grins. “I can literally hear you lying.”

“I’m going to need some time to get used to that,” Peter grumbles. Stiles usually catches his lies even without super hearing, but he’s gotten used to telling him the occasional feelings-related falsehood. “Make me some coffee and I’ll forgive you for keeping me up all night.”

“You liked it,” Stiles retorts, completely confident in his words.

He should be, Peter thinks with a huff. “I did. You were fucking adorable.”

“Excuse you, I was fierce and fucking adorable,” Stiles says as he heads for the kitchen.

Peter listens to Stiles’ monologue about his new claws and teeth as he closes the bathroom door behind himself. With Stiles now much more aware of how good a shifter’s hearing is, he continues talking even as he heads to the kitchen to make some coffee. Peter’s treated to a whole treatise on the research Stiles has done in the two hours he’s been awake and it’s not a bad soundtrack to brush his teeth to. Stiles is so happy, so enthusiastic, that Peter can’t bring himself to feel anything other than contentment.

Even in the face of the fact that soon Stiles will ask Peter about how to feel out pack bonds and Peter will tell him. It’s not something he can avoid. It’s not something he wants to avoid, because having a proper pack bond with Stiles is thrilling outside of the fact that Stiles will be able to feel Peter’s emotions when concentrating on the bond. And Peter’s love will be right there for him to see. It will be embarrassing, but Peter has lived through much worse than embarrassment. Stiles knows how to be tactful. When it comes to people he cares about, he usually even remembers to be so. It will be a tiny hiccup in the long road of their friendship. Peter might even try to promise to work on getting over Stiles. But no, Stiles will hear the lie. Peter’s tried it before and it hasn’t stuck, trying to feel only friendship for this ridiculous young man. Making the effort again sounds so futile.

Peter throws on a robe and pours himself some coffee from the pot into the second mug he reaches for. The first is filled with bullets and Peter doesn’t know whether to blame Braeden or Chris. At least Peter is one Hale who hasn’t shacked up with a hunter, honestly. He hopes Cora has the sense to join him. Maybe she’ll find some nice Brazilian werewolf. Cora does have a surprising amount of common sense compared to the rest of the Hales—Peter occasionally included—so he isn’t too worried. He adds some milk to his coffee and leans against the counter, watching Stiles trying to meditate on the couch.

For a born wolf or someone who’s been turned for years, it’s as easy as breathing to fall into that meditative space. Between one step toward the couch and another, Peter’s pack bonds shine brightly in his awareness. He sits down on the other side of the couch from Stiles, leaning against the armrest and watching him as he drinks his coffee. He can both see Stiles concentrating and feel it, the bond between them growing with acceptance from both sides. Stiles is so deeply curious, poking and prodding and tapping his foot as he figures things out. Stiles’ awe is infectious.

Peter waits him out.

“Oh my fucking god, is Derek brooding? I can feel his angst all the way from here,” Stiles whimpers. “How do I make it stop?”

“You send him a pissy text message,” Peter says. “Or one to Braeden.”

“Can I send my own feelings to him?”

“No, all you can do is get a sense for his.”

“Dammit.” Stiles’ eyes are still closed.

Peter wonders what it could be like if he were closing them for a different scenario. A scenario where Peter could lean in and kiss him and Stiles wouldn’t awkwardly say it’s not you, it’s me. Or worse, kiss him back but only stick around for a night.

“Is that— I can use this to locate people, can’t I?”

“You can,” Peter agrees.

“Damn,” Stiles breathes. “Scott never told me how cool this is.”

Peter can imagine a whole future of Stiles always being to find him, always being able to understand him on such a deep level, and he wants it so much it threatens to take his breath away. He lets it, ripping the bandaid off. Trust is such a small, easy word for everything he feels for Stiles, for the certainty that even if his feelings case some awkwardness for a time, they will be able to get through this.

“I can feel you,” Stiles says, lips curling up in a smile. He reaches out to rest a hand on Peter’s wrist. “You’re never going to be able to pretend you don’t give a shit about me.”

“No, never,” Peter admits, something hard in his throat.

Stiles’ brow furrows and Peter can’t watch his realization like this. He closes his eyes and allows himself to look into their pack bond instead, the way it’s still so strong even through Stiles’ shock. But behind that shock…

Peter knows what romantic love feels like through a pack bond. His parents had never been a very good example, but Talia and Joseph had been deeply in love for most of Peter’s life until the end of theirs. He knows what it’s like to feel a packmate’s mushy emotions for another person, and on occasion he’s been the target of feelings of familial love. But this? It’s not familial, it’s not friendship, it’s such a deep and all-encompassing warmth of feeling that Peter wants to sink into it and never leave.

Stiles’ hand tightens around his wrist. When he speaks, his words are so very fond, and that fondness sinks into the bond. “You really have been holding out on me.”

Peter huffs. “You knew I wanted you. I was never subtle about it.” He opens one eye, then the next, and Stiles’ eyes are already open.

There’s a shine to Stiles’ eyes that isn’t strictly human. “But that was before we were friends. I thought, I mean. You stopped hitting on me once we really got to know each other. I thought things had fizzled out on your end.”

“I wasn’t about to push you,” Peter explains. “You didn’t want me and that was—well, it wasn’t fine, but I want you, Stiles. Whether it’s your friendship or your love, I’ll take it.” His words don’t taste bittersweet anymore, not with the knowledge of how deep Stiles’ feelings run, each bit of warmth directed only at Peter. It feels as though his ribcage can’t contain the joy pumping through his veins. “Frankly, I think it’s you who’s been holding out on me.”

Stiles reaches to take Peter’s mug of coffee from him and set it on the table. “In the interest of not holding out on you…” He stands up only for a moment, only to shift his position, settling his knees on each side of Peter’s hips and grasping his hands in Peter’s robe. “I am really, disgustingly, madly in love with you.”

Peter rests his hands on Stiles’ hips and tugs him down to sit in his lap, to press Stiles’ lips against Peter’s, to fulfill every fantasy he’s had ever since meeting this young man and thinking him. It’s Stiles, always Stiles, skin warm against Peter’s as he opens his robe to run his hands against Peter’s chest. When he comes up for air, Peter murmurs, “I love you, too, in case that wasn’t already exceptionally clear.”

“Still like hearing it,” Stiles says in reply, kissing the corner of Peter’s mouth. “I like it a lot.”

Peter’s about to kiss him again when the thought crosses his mind. “What did you mean about having theories on why you didn’t turn as a wolf?”

“Oh, that?” Stiles leans back for a moment and lifts his hand. There’s a suspiciously smug quirk to his lips. “Just this. No biggie.” Foxfire springs from Stiles’ hand, orange and black and nothing at all like fire should look. The orange matches the glow in Stiles’ eyes. “I think the hallucinations my body trying to reconcile what was left of the nogitsune and the directive to turn into something. I’m pretty sure I can do more, but I haven’t figured everything out yet. I don’t know for sure if it’s because of the nogitsune, but even if it is, I’m keeping it. I still feel like me—just stronger.”

Peter kisses him again, because honestly, sometimes there’s nothing else one can do when confronted with the many beautiful contradictions of the man he’s in love with.