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Fire Is The Most Tolerable Third Party

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There’s a copper bathtub in the kitchen.  It’s rusty, covered in lichen and clearly was dragged by Aunt Noshiko after Stiles went to bed last night. This is not the first time this summer Stiles has woken up to a kitchen oddity, he thought by now he would be used to them. Noshiko is making omelettes on the stove as if there isn’t a bathtub on the tiled floor. Stiles is pretty sure she would continue to cook regardless of what appeared in her kitchen. Stiles imagines that it will be used to teach him something later.

His cousin Kira, already dressed for the day in pale green dungarees, is perched on the countertop. She texts with one hand, crams pomegranate seeds into her mouth with the other. She’s sat with her back to the window, the early morning light frames her head like a halo.

Noshiko rolls the omelette before pouring a new layer into the pan. Uncle Ken bustles in from the garden, his arms full of tulips. He sidesteps the bathtub without even looking. He is also wearing dungarees, though his are denim.

Stiles isn’t dressed, suddenly feels weirdly anxious about still being in pyjamas, which are in fact an oversized Against Me! T-shirt and black boxers.

“Would you mind putting the jug of orange juice on the table Stiles?” Noshiko asks, “we’re eating in the garden this morning.”

This commits him to pyjamas for the time being.

 

//

 

Spending the summer at his Aunt’s was not Stiles idea. However after setting fire to his bed with his newfound magical powers, John decided it would be best if Stiles learned how to control himself and thus he was shipped off here. Noshiko isn’t technically his aunt, she’s an old friend of his mom’s and apparently Stiles is a late bloomer because they were expecting a manifestation a long time ago. Noshiko believes that the trauma of Claudia passing is what kept the magic dormant. Stiles suspects she’s right.

 

The training is going well to a certain extent, Stiles hasn’t set anything else on fire. Stiles has always been a fast learner and for once his ADHD is working in his favour, his hyperfocus keeping him on track. He just wishes that his anxiety wasn’t wallowing in his gut. It’s a bitter aftertaste permanently lodged at the back of his throat, making him believe that no matter how much he learns, he’ll never be fully in control. The burns on his arm were minor but there’s a phantom pain whenever he attempts to cast.

 

Ken clicks his fingers. Stiles hands him a nail. He’s fixing a hole in the hen house and Stiles is a somewhat unwilling assistant. His job is holding nails and handing them over. It has a mundanity to it that lends itself to being distracted. Stiles watches Kira, who is painting a landscape in watercolour. She’s quite good, although there are flecks of blue and purple on her cheeks. Noshiko is hanging out the washing. The clothes flutter in the breeze, the air smelling of detergent and the ocean. The house is on a coastal path after all. It’s left Stiles skin feeling salt dusted and wind chafed. Ken clicks his fingers again. Stiles dutifully hands over a nail.

 

“Any plans for the rest of the day?” Ken asks. Hammer. Finger Click. Nail. Hammer.

 

Stiles opens his mouth to reply but Kira turns on her heel, pointing her paintbrush at him. Stiles is painted into silence.

 

“Beach crawl,” Kira says. Stiles nods.

 

“Beach crawl,” He repeats.

 

Beach crawl entails Kira and Stiles walking along the beach looking for treasure or whatever the ocean has spat out that day. Kira is a collector of most things and beach debris is not exempt from her hoarding tendencies. Sometimes beach crawl is code for a party, typically in the woods on the opposite side of the cove. Stiles usually stays on the dock, feet in the water and a book on his lap. Kira has tried to coax him into hanging out with her friends but Stiles always brushes her off, claiming social anxiety and threatening to go home so that she’ll leave him be. The social anxiety isn’t just a claim, it thrums under his skin, a loud hum that gets louder the closer he gets to the woods.

 

Stiles hands Ken the last nail.

 

“Beach crawl huh,” He says, “don’t bring back anything too big this time.”

 

“Yes Dad,” Kira says. She swivels on her heel, frowns at her painting for a moment and then paints a big orange stripe across the middle.

 

//

 

The first time John caught Stiles playing with matches was the first time that John yelled at Stiles in such a way that he believed that his father might hit him. He knew John wouldn’t, his father has never raised a hand to him but the rage was visceral and caustic.

 

Matches were dangerous and forbidden and Stiles found himself stealing them without even thinking about it. Amassing a collection of unlit matches like they were precious jewels, hiding them away and taking them out to roll between his fingers when he was truly alone. Eventually Stiles would light them only to douse them immediately. He finds that there is nothing quite like the smell of struck match and that he’s quite good at keeping secrets.

 

//

 

Kira ushers Stiles into the corner store. She likes Stiles to enter first as if she’s presenting him to whomever is present. It makes Stiles feel flustered and exposed.

 

“Hey,” Scott hollers from behind the counter. Scott is a Mexican boy who can swear in three languages and tie cherry stems with his tongue. The first time they met, Kira made him show Stiles the cherry stem trick. Stiles told Scott that it was neat and then felt instantly embarrassed.

 

Kira hops onto the counter. She’s changed out of her dungarees into a pink checked shirt and black crop top but she didn’t scrub the paint off. Kira picks up a pack of strawberry bubblegum from the counter rack and flips a quarter over her shoulder. Scott catches it. He palms it, makes it disappear and pretends to pull it out of Kira’s ear. Kira giggles.

 

She pops a piece of bubblegum in her mouth before tossing Stiles the packet. He manages to catch it with one hand, swinging his rucksack off his shoulder and slipping the packet into the front pocket. Stiles doesn’t like bubblegum. He was never allowed to have it when he had braces so never got into the habit. Kira chews it so she won’t smoke, though that doesn’t mean she won’t later.

 

“You going tonight?” Kira asks. Scott shrugs.

 

“Probably. Though if Isaac brings his guitar I’m throwing it in the sea, dude isn’t musically gifted at all.”

 

Kira nods. She blows a bubble. It’s huge and translucent.

 

“You coming later Stiles?” Scott asks. Stiles shrugs, an noncommittal noise emerges from the back of his throat. The bubble bursts.

 

“Stiles can play the guitar,” Kira says.

 

“Not very well,” Stiles clarifies, “I only know a few Mountain Goats songs.”

 

“The fact that you know chords puts you ahead of Isaac,” Kira says. She slides off the counter, blowing another bubble. Scott reaches over and bursts it with his finger. Kira makes a noise of protest, shoving at Scott’s shoulder playfully. Stiles turns to look at the rows of fridges full of cold drinks behind him, wondering when they’ll stop flirting and just ask each other out. Kira throws an arm over Stiles shoulder, steering him towards the exit. She’s much shorter than him and in doing so pulls Stiles shoulder down making him lopsided.

 

“See you later,” Kira calls over her shoulder. If Scott replies Stiles doesn’t hear it.

 

He disentangles himself from Kira, sliding his sunglasses from his head to his face. The world becomes copper and gold.

 

“So was beach crawl code for a party or do you actually want to go to the beach?” Stiles asks.

 

“It’s still early,” Kira replies, craning her neck to look up at the clock tower across the street. “I reckon we could take a walk, see what we can find.”

 

“Eventually you’re going to run out of space in your room,” Stiles points out as they walk down the high street. Beacon Hills Cove feels like a postcard town, picturesque in a way that’s all pastel perfection and candyfloss sweetness.

 

When they reach the beach, Kira hastily removes her sandles before jumping into the sand. She wiggles her toes, turning her head to grin at Stiles. Stiles shakes his head and smiles. It takes him a little longer to remove his sneakers, he always ties the knots a little too tight. Kira bounces on her feet while she waits.

 

“I’ll race you to the shoreline,” She says, as Stiles shoves his socks deep into left sneaker.

 

“You know that I’m on my high school track team right?”

 

Kira shrugs, the breeze pulling a few strands of her dark hair across her face.

 

“And I’m on my high school lacrosse team, your point?”

 

Stiles raises an eyebrow but he's not backing down. He knows he's faster than her. 

 

“Ready,” Kira says. She takes a few steps backward, grinning like a fox.

 

“Set”

 

Stiles takes a few steps forward, the sand soft and warm beneath his feet.

 

“Go!”

 

//

 

“You settling in ok?” John’s voice crackles over the line. The signal is spotty so Stiles mobile is basically useless; he’s stuck using Noshiko’s black rotary phone.

 

“Yeah I guess,” Stiles says. He picks up the rotary part of the phone, taking it over to the bed. The room Noshiko gave him is nice, well decorated like the rest of the house. Stiles, all teenage boy angles and awkwardness, feels ill at ease amongst the white linen and clean lines.

 

“No more fires?”

 

“No more fires,” Stiles confirms. He flops down on the bed. “Noshiko says I’m a spark, that it’s all a matter of will and hopefully with practise I’ll master it or whatever. So far all I’ve done is made a wonky mountain ash circle.”

 

John laughs, a sharp static sound.

 

“I’m sure you’ll get it son, you’re a fast learner.”

 

“Thanks dad.”

 

Stiles looks down at the healing burn on his arm, the shiny pink skin in a shape of peeling tree bark. He tries not to think about how his magic is burning inside of him, a spark that could quickly become an inferno. He definitely doesn’t think of burning bedspreads or lit matches or the smell of gasoline.

 

//

 

Stiles wins. The warm water laps at his ankles, soaking the bottom of his jeans.

 

“Ah jeez,” Stiles says, leaping backwards. “Don’t mock my pain. Urgh, this feels gross. Kira, stop laughing or I’ll splash you.”

 

Kira covers her mouth but Stiles can see her shoulders shaking. Stiles kicks his foot through waves, flicking a spray at Kira. She screams, jumping out of the way.  Stiles snorts, turning to look out at the horizon. He can see where the sky touches the sea, the setting sun making the sky bleed pink and orange. Stiles closes his eyes and takes a deep, calming breath.

 

When he turns back to Kira, she’s watching him with a soft smile.

 

“You should hang out with us tonight, instead of staying on the dock. I know you don’t like big crowds but my friends are nice I promise.”

 

Stiles runs a hand through his hair, shrugging. He knows in theory that Kira’s friends are welcoming and nice, but all he can feel is the anxiety churning in his stomach and his magic shooting through his blood. The combination is heady, the overwhelming emotion leading to a loss of control and Stiles can’t lose control in densely wooded area. Kira knows this, she just wants him to feel included, she’s just trying to be friendly.

 

“Ok,” Stiles says, “but promise you won’t make me play guitar.”

 

//

 

It’s not that Stiles is an arsonist. He’s not. Minus his bed, the only thing he’s ever set fire to is old paper, candles and matches. He’ll admit to some mild pyromania, which in all honesty, is why he’s not surprised his magic is a spark.

 

At night he dreams of bonfires and dripping wax and moving flames from fingertip to fingertip.

 

//

 

The party is in full swing by the time they arrive. Stiles takes a seat on a log near the bonfire. The salt makes the flames flicker blue and green. Stiles spends a good chunk of time wondering if he put salt on his own fingers and then summoned a flame, whether that would affect the colour so he fails to notice Kira trying to give him a drink until she puts it directly in front of his face. He accepts the red solo cup with questionable alcohol content sheepishly. Kira sits next to him.

 

“What do you think of Scott?” She asks. Stiles takes a swig of his drink, wincing at the taste.

 

“He’s nice,” Stiles replies, placing the cup on the ground. “Why?”

 

“Well, I’ve grown up with everyone here and, well, Scott was dating Allison until she moved away and I don’t know whether he likes me that way, and I… oh.” Kira trails off, biting her lip. Stiles follows her line of sight to where a group of people have arrived, all of them attractive in a severe, dangerous sort of way. Like they could all murder Stiles and he would say thank you.

 

“What?”

 

“Nothing, it’s just the Hales don’t usually come to these things. Well, Cora does, she’s dating Lydia, and Derek comes sometimes but never Peter.”

 

//

 

Stiles is not good at meditation. He finds it difficult to settle into the calm, to remember to regulate his breathing and silence his mind. Kira suggests that he should imagine that his thoughts are like a river and that he should wade into the quiet of the water, letting it carry him towards peace of mind. Stiles finds this imagery to be unhelpful.

 

Noshiko places an unlit candle in front of Stiles. The label states that it is Sun-Drenched Apricot Rose scented, though to Stiles it just smells of vaguely fruity wax.

 

“Light the wick,” Noshiko says.

 

“With the power of my mind,” Stiles teases. Noshiko’s face remains passive.

 

“Light the wick,” Noshiko repeats. Stiles licks his dry bottom lip. His shoulders feel tight, his lower back aching from sitting cross-legged with a straight back for so long. He looks down at the wick, his eyes glazing in and out of focus. The basement is silent, save for the creak of copper pipes and Stiles hammering heartbeat. The concept of time passing slips into uncertainty.

 

Stiles imagines the wick lighting, tracks through the chemical process of creating fire, the components needed for combustion.

 

“You can do it,” Noshiko says, her voice pressing against the bubble of silence surrounding Stiles, “be the spark.”

 

//

 

Stiles watches as Cora walks over to Lydia Martin, putting an arm around Lydia’s waist and pulling her close. When he goes to look back at the two boys he finds that one is already staring at him. The gaze is intense, like Stiles is a butterfly ready to be pinned into a display case.

 

“Peter’s staring at you,” Kira whispers.

 

“I noticed,” Stiles mutters.

 

“The Hales are werewolves.”

 

“Ok, I’m not sure what you want me to do with that information.”

 

“They tend to not like witches.”

 

“Well, I’m not a witch am I, I’m a spark.”

 

“Yeah but…”

 

“Scott’s coming over,” Stiles interrupts, pointing behind Kira.

 

Scott is actually coming over and Stiles uses his arrival to slip away. He heads for the dock, feeling more comfortable in familiar territory. He removes his shoes and socks, sitting down on the end with his feet dangling over the edge. He can still hear the party from here, the low thrum of music and the murmur of overlapping voices. He tunes it out, centering himself and listening to the waves splashing against the shore.

 

“So this is where you slipped off to.”

 

The voice is sharp and sweet like candied orange peel. Stiles keeps his head facing forward as whoever it is takes a seat beside him. Stiles is hyper aware of how close they are, the sleeve of the Peter’s jacket brushes against Stiles arm.

 

“I’m Peter.”

 

“So I’ve heard.”

 

“And you must be Stiles.”

 

Stiles turns his head at that. Peter says his name like it’s something decadent. Something worth savouring. Peter smirks at him.

 

“I wasn’t aware I had a reputation,” Stiles says.

 

//

 

“Be the spark,” Stiles mimics under his breath as he pours the mountain ash in a circle around him. His lines are off, the circle is more of a squashed oval but it’s complete. Noshiko walks the perimeter, unimpressed with Stiles artistic interpretation of her instructions.

 

“Adequate,”she finally declares. “Sit in the centre.”

 

Stiles does as he’s told, folding his gangly legs into a cross legged position. His joints crack as he roll his shoulders. All this sitting up straight might actually improve his posture, he might even be taller after all this.

 

Noshiko places a lilac candle in front of him. This one is called Sweet Nothings . Stiles is willing to be that it does not actually smell like that.

 

“Light the wick,” Noshiko instructs.

 

“This again?”

 

“You made fire once, you can do it again.”

 

“I know, I know, be the spark.”

 

“You can do this Stiles, it’s all about belief.”

 

Somehow, Stiles thinks that belief in fire isn’t really his problem.

 

//

 

“I’ve heard some things,” Peter says, “Though no one mentioned how delectable you would be in person.”


Stiles snorts.

 

“Delectable? Planning to eat me up big bad wolf?”

 

Peter smiles, all sharp teeth and sin.

 

“Or out, whichever you prefer,” Peter purrs. Stiles laughs.

 

“Has that line ever worked?”

 

Peter leans in, his nostrils twitching as he attempts to subtly scent Stiles.

 

“I don’t know, why don’t we find out?”

 

“You’re forward.”

 

“And you’re gorgeous. Tell me, do all sparks smell this delightful, or is it just you?”

 

Stiles shakes his head, trying to keep the corners of his mouth from twitching upwards.

 

“And what do I smell like?”

 

Peter hums, his eyes tracking over Stiles body, the line of his throat, the outline of his lips, the moles on his face.

 

“Wood smoke and something sweet, like caramelised sugar. Do you taste as sweet?”

 

//

 

“Light the wick.”

 

Jelly Bean scented this time. Stiles doesn’t know where Noshiko is getting all these different candles, seeing as he’s been unable to burn them. Maybe she’s a candle hoarder.

 

“I can’t, ok! I can’t do this.”

 

“Yes, you can,” Noshiko says, her tone leaving no room for argument.

 

“Ok logically yes, I have made fire before. I have the capability buried somewhere but I can’t access it. I don’t know how to light the wick, I suck at meditation, I can’t centre myself for shit. I can’t do it!”

 

Noshiko watches Stiles for a moment before taking the candle away. Stiles puts his head in his hands.

 

//

 

“We hardly know each other,” Stiles points out. Peter tilts his head in a gestures Stiles interprets as so-be-it .

 

“So let’s get to know each other. Your place or mine?”

 

“Personally not biblically.”

 

“Oh, I’d make it personal.”

 

“How the hell did you make that sound sexual?”

 

Peter grins. Stiles isn’t sure whether he’s annoyed or taken with it. Possibly a bit of both.

 

“It’s a gift.”

 

“Yeah, yeah I’m sure you’re well endowed with all sorts of gifts. It would be nice to have a formal introduction, maybe a few hobbies and opinions.”

 

Peter extends his hand. Stiles shakes it.

“Peter Hale, nice to meet you. Let’s see, I like fine art, fine wine and fine boys with whiskey eyes.”

 

“Stiles Stilinski, I like comic books, procedural cop shows and setting fire to shit.”

 

Stiles palms a match from the matchbox in his pocket, using sleight of hand to make it appear between his forefinger and thumb. The tip explodes into flame with a loud sizzle. The fluttering flames reflects in Peter’s eyes, his irises flickering electric blue.

 

//

 

When Stiles set fire to his bed with his hands and the power of his mind, it was like time had ceased to exist. Every moment felt elongated and condensed, as if he was watching everything through a time lapse. The flames sparking into being and retreating into nothingness. He didn’t even register the burns on his arm until later, too caught up in the glow.

 

But Stiles won’t ever forget the look on his father’s face. The terrified awe, the fear and the anger. The emotion rolled off of John in a way that felt tangible, a sickly bitterness blooming beneath Stiles ribs, poisoning him from the inside. It paled in comparison to being caught playing with matches and Stiles never wants his Dad to look at him like that again.

 

//

 

“So if I play with you, I’m going to get burned,” Peter teases. He blows the match out.

 

//

 

“Be the spark, be the spark,” Stiles mutters, over and over. A mumbled mantra that falls from his lips as easy as prayer. He is the spark, he can feel the low burn in his blood, deep within his core.

 

//

 

“Maybe you will,” Stiles says, eyes darting down to Peter’s lips. Peter chuckles, closing the distance between them. The kiss is magnetic, Stiles melts into it. He presses forward, moaning softly when Peter licks into Stiles mouth. Peter’s hand comes up to cup Stiles head, fingers tightening in Stiles hair.

 

//

 

Stiles is in control, he is the spark, the unlit match, the tank of gasoline, the tinder and flint.

 

He opens his eyes.

 

//

 

Peter leans back, smiling at Stiles with a fevered softness.

 

“Stiles,” Peter murmurs, “you’re making sparks again.”

 

The tips of Stiles fingers crackle with electricity, shooting small golden sparks like a sparkler.

 

“Whoops.”

 

Peter shakes his head, before leaning in to nuzzle at Stiles throat.

 

“I can’t believe you made me come to a teenage rave in the woods,” Peter says, nipping at the soft skin behind Stiles ear.

 

“It’s not a rave. Also you’re a teenager. Plus I didn’t make you do anything, it’s not my fault you find me irresistible.”

 

Peter makes a throaty growling noise in response to Stiles needy whine after sucking a mark into the taut line of Stiles throat. Peter likes Stiles throat but adores the soft skin of Stiles thighs more. Stiles has taken to wearing long board shorts to hide the constellations Peter has sucked into his flesh.

 

“True, although I will admit playing strangers with you has a certain appeal. It’s wonderful to know you’re consistently charmed by me.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, whatever.”

 

//

 

Stiles wasn’t prepared for the amount of theory that comes with practising magic. He fans his notes out across the dining room table, frowns when he realises that his notes are completely jumbled and out of order. He starts to rearrange them, trying to decipher his own messy handwriting.

 

“Where do you go when you sneak out at night?”

 

Stiles jumps at Kira’s question. She’s standing in the doorway, a half bitten apple in her hand. Stiles looks down at his notes rather than meeting her eye.

 

“Sometimes the beach, sometimes the woods.”

 

“Are you meeting someone there?”

 

Stiles blushes and Kira squeals with glee.

 

“Really? Ooh Stiles, who is it?”

 

“Just someone,” Stiles says, evasively, “it’s still new and I don’t… I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

 

“Ok, but when you are, me first alright?”

 

Stiles chuckles, banging the papers against the table to get them to line up straight.

 

“Sure thing.”

 

//

 

Stiles fingers skate along Peter’s waist, light and teasing.

 

“I’m ready to tell them,” Peter says, leaning back to look Stiles in the eye. “That you’re my mate, that I’m your anchor. That you should stay here to reach the full potential of your powers.”

 

Stiles presses a sweet kiss to the corner of Peter’s mouth.

 

“Thank you.”

 

//

 

The candle wick bursts into flame