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Truth and Consequences

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The thing Stiles hates most about death is the silence it leaves behind.

He’s always hated silence in general, since before he can remember. His father told him once that he used to babble to himself in his crib until he finally fell asleep. He plays loud music and puts the television on in the background while he does his homework. Maybe it’s his ADD; maybe it’s his anxiety. Either way, he just hates the quiet.

And the silence left behind after someone dies is the worst kind, because it’s always unexpected and there’s never a way to prevent it. They’ll be sitting at the table in the cafeteria and Scott will say without thinking, “Oh, yeah, Allison told me that – ” and then the table just falls silent while everyone grapples with her absence. Sometimes he manages to continue; sometimes someone else leaps in and changes the subject.

Stiles will be listening to the radio in the Jeep and a song by Lady Gaga will come on that he remembers Allison singing and he has to pull over before he can lose control of the car.

The teacher will be giving a lecture and the mere words ‘partner up’ will make everyone look at Allison’s empty desk and shudder.

Her absence pops its head up at the least expected moments, and there’s no preparing for it, and nothing to do but sit and wait for the wrenching in his gut to subside.

There have been a lot of sleepless nights lately. A lot of nightmares. A lot of stuff he doesn’t want to talk about with anyone. Everyone wants him to be okay after what happened with the nogitsune. Stiles has adopted ‘fake it til you make it’ as his mantra. Scott and Lydia are dealing with Allison’s loss. Derek’s got his own shit going on. And he doesn’t want to worry his dad, after everything that’s happened.

 The problem is that one sleepless night turned into two, turned into a week, and is getting close to a month now. He gets a few hours here and there. It’s enough to keep him functional, but not much more than that. He’s cold all the time, and he’s never really hungry. He forces himself to eat, but everything tastes like cardboard.

He’s dealing with it the worst out of everyone, and he hates himself for that. Scott and Lydia have both found constructive ways of dealing with their grief. Lydia is studying her family heritage and how to control her banshee powers. Scott is training a lot and learning about how to be an alpha. His relationship with Kira was a little awkward for a few weeks. Kira wanted to give him space while he was dealing with Allison’s loss, but it left her in a weird sort of limbo, and Scott, for his part, just wanted to be able to love her without reservation. They talked about it a lot, and Scott talked to Stiles about it while Stiles tried to hide how much hearing about it hurt.

He has no right to be more upset about Allison’s death than Scott and Lydia, but while they move on and build something from their grief, he can’t. He can’t even think about Allison without feeling the nogitsune’s delight in their pain. It twists his stomach and clogs his throat and makes him want to be sick.

Some days he even wants to talk about it. He wants to spill it out all over whoever’s nearby. But he can’t. He has no right to inflict that sort of pain on Scott or Lydia, and to be honest, they wouldn’t understand anyway.

So he says nothing. He drags himself out of bed every morning, exhausted after restless sleep and bad dreams, eats protein bars to keep himself from starving, forces himself to do his homework, catches a nap when he can.

Everyone treats him with kid gloves, and it annoys the hell out of him. They’ll stop talking when he comes into the room, or pester him into finishing his energy bar even though he doesn’t want it. He knows that they’re just worried, but that only makes it worse. He doesn’t know why they think he’s worth all of this, after what happened. They don’t seem to understand that he’s the one responsible for what happened.

They did so much to save him, but he doesn’t feel saved at all. And that only makes the guilt a hundred times worse.

So he fakes it, keeping in mind the idea that someday he’ll make it. He goes through the motions, goes to class and lacrosse practice. He makes salads for his father and tries to convince him to eat them, he pokes his nose into his father’s detective work not because he cares, but because he knows it will look odd if he doesn’t.

He’s not usually involved when supernatural shenanigans are afoot, because everyone is trying to keep him safe. But he tends to hear about them afterwards, when they’re crashing at Derek’s so he can explain to them exactly how little they know about all this stuff.

“So what’s a wendigo?” Scott asks one evening, having called a pack meeting.

“Cannibalistic shapeshifter,” Derek says, not looking up from his book. “Why?”

Scott regales them with the story of how one had attacked him at the hospital, how he’d had his hands full with a kid from the lacrosse team who was there for – Stiles stops listening at that point. He’s cold and his stomach is growling and it’s making it hard for him to concentrate. He unwraps one of his energy bars and takes a mouthful, forcing himself to chew and swallow the unappetizing mess.

“So then I’m halfway off the roof with that guy on my back,” Scott is saying, “and I only barely got him off in time to grab Liam before he could fall. I was this close to grabbing his arm in my teeth.”

Derek glances up at this and says, “Probably a good thing you didn’t.”

“Why?” Scott asks. “I mean, better that than falling to his death, right?”

“Well, yes, but still.” Derek looks back down at his book and continues, “Ever wondered why werewolf bites are always in the abdomen?”

 Scott blinks a little, and at this, Stiles looks up curiously. “I guess I thought it was to hide them. You know, you don’t want your nearly turned beta wandering around with a bite wound for hunters to see.”

 Derek shakes his head. “The place you give the Bite has meaning. Biting someone on the side is to make them your beta. It makes them your subordinate, but it also invites them into the pack with the full protection of the alpha. Biting someone on the legs indicates that you’re turning them to an omega. And biting someone on the arm, particularly the wrist, turns someone as your equal. It’s a mating ritual.”

 Stiles nearly chokes on a mouthful of granola. “A what?”

 The others give him the side-eye, but Derek says, “A mating ritual. You know, wolves mate for life and that whole thing.”

 “Whoa, that would have been awkward!” Scott says, laughing. “I don’t know, I know that it’s normal for an alpha to turn betas, but . . .”

 He gets sidetracked onto that topic, while Derek doesn’t say much because the loss of Erica and Boyd are still so fresh to him. Neither of them notices the way Stiles is still sitting with his jaw ajar, thinking of Peter holding onto his wrist that day in the parking lot. It seems like it was eons ago, to be honest. So much has happened since then.

 He’s never really understood why Peter offered him the Bite, for a lot of reasons. He doesn’t understand why Peter would want him in his pack, and he especially didn’t understand why Peter gave him a choice – and not only that, but respected his refusal. He had chalked it all up to ‘Peter is weird’ but now he’s wondering if there’s something else to it.

 It’s been a while since he’s seen Peter, now that he’s thinking about it. He had made himself scarce during the final days of the nogitsune’s presence – a rather intelligent move, all things considered. Even before that, Stiles hadn’t been exactly sure what to make of him. He’s an asshole, sure, but Stiles knows that he can be an asshole sometimes, too. That didn’t bother him.

 Peter had done terrible things, but Derek still seemed to want him around for some reason, so everyone else tolerated him. And he had never, even in their brief moments together, said anything to Stiles about having proposed werewolf-marriage that day last winter.

 Stiles resolves not to worry about it. He’s probably just misunderstanding some aspect of werewolf culture. It can’t actually mean what he thinks it means, and even if it does, who cares? He turned Peter down. It was over a year ago now. He hasn’t mentioned it, and probably doesn’t want to talk about it.

 That thought gets him home, through a bowl of cereal, and a tepid shower. He crawls into bed and tries to pretend he’s going to sleep.

The thing is, it’s a bad night, even worse than usual. He tosses and turns, and dozes briefly but wakes up shouting after a nightmare. His father is working night shift, which he hates. He constantly worries about his father, and it’s even worse when he’s working nights. He reminds himself that he can’t just text his father every time he’s worried over nothing. He wouldn’t do anything else.

But he can’t stop worrying, and he can’t focus, and he just wants to sleep, and the frustration is so thick in his throat that he can almost taste it. Somehow, and he’s not really sure how, this leads to him getting out of bed just past midnight, throwing on some clothes, and heading over to Peter’s apartment. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say, or why he’s doing it. He just wants to feel something. Maybe it’ll be good if Peter gets angry at him. Anger has to be better than this nothingness that’s consumed him ever since the nogitsune spit him out.

 With his luck, he’s half-expecting that Peter won’t be there. But he is, still up and dressed in one of his ubiquitous V-necks and jeans. He arches an eyebrow and says, “Look who the cat dragged in.”

 Stiles takes two steps forward and kisses him.

 It’s not much of a kiss. Then again, he doesn’t really have a great track record when it comes to kissing. He enjoyed kissing Heather, but the kiss he shared with Lydia was weird, and everything after that is hazed over. He thinks he kissed Malia in Eichen House, but it’s so hard to know what of all that was real and what wasn’t. He hasn’t wanted to think about what happened in Eichen House, and he’s done his best not to.

 Peter doesn’t really respond, although he doesn’t push Stiles away. They stand there with their lips mashed awkwardly together until Stiles pulls away and tries to take a deep breath.

 “Are you ill?” Peter asks him.

 “Yes,” Stiles says, without thinking. “I’m not – I’m not right. I can’t feel anything anymore. I just wanted to feel something.”

 Peter cocks his head to one side, looking at Stiles with some curiosity. Then he closes the door behind him and backs Stiles up to the wall. “Like this,” he murmurs, and kisses him again. Stiles lets Peter coax his lips open, feels Peter’s tongue against his teeth. He waits for his body to respond, but it doesn’t.

 After a few moments, Peter pulls away. “Better?”

 Stiles shakes his head, and is suddenly aware that he’s crying. “Nothing’s real,” he says, and the dam bursts and everything he’s kept inside for the past month comes flooding out. “This isn’t even my body. The nogitsune stole my body and spit this one out and now I’m stuck in it. I can’t feel anything. Sometimes I feel cold, I guess. I’m tired all the time. Everything I eat tastes like ash, nothing, nothing’s real anymore – ”

 He continues in this vein for quite some time while Peter draws him over to the sofa and sits him down. Peter doesn’t say anything, although he does take a book off a shelf and start flipping through. It’s some huge magical text, labeled in Latin.

 Finally, Stiles winds down. “Okay, wow, sorry. I didn’t really mean to show up at your door at midnight, throw myself at you, and then cry all over your sofa.”

 “You’re right, you know,” Peter says, glancing up.

 “About which part?”

 “About not being right.”

 “I’m right about not being right?”

 “Precisely.” Peter gives him a sideways look and a smile that shows teeth. “I had done some research on the nogitsune back after we found out that was what we were dealing with. I’m the one who knew how to get it out of you, if you recall. I think I know what’s happened.” He sits down in the chair across from Stiles. “A person, no matter their species, consists of four parts. Body, heart, mind, and soul. All of those things come together to form one complete person. But you’re . . . detached. You’re all in one place, but you haven’t come together to be whole again.”

 Stiles’ jaw sags slightly. “Oh, I . . . that sounds, you know, bad.”

 “It is bad. Given time, you’ll probably deteriorate even further. But the good news is, I can fix you.”

 At this, Stiles eyes him suspiciously. “Why?”

 “You’re a great kisser.”

 Stiles gives a snort of laughter despite himself. “No, seriously, why?”

 Peter is quiet for a long moment. Then he says, “Because I know what it’s like. To blame yourself for things that aren’t your fault. To lose so much that it’s hard to remember why you have to keep going.”

 Stiles looks away, and snuffles a little. “Okay. Yeah. What do I have to do?”

 “You’re going to need a few things . . .”

 Stiles listens while Peter describes the spell. About an hour later, he’s back at Peter’s loft. Peter has drawn an intricate symbol on the floor and has Stiles stand in the center. “Here, drink this,” he says, handing Stiles a cup of tea. It’s a little tart and astringent, but not bad. They put down the items Stiles has gathered at the cardinal points. A lock of his hair, for the body. A coil of red string from his crime wall, for the mind. Some dirt from Allison’s grave, for the heart. And his father’s still-crumpled Sheriff’s badge, for the soul.

 Peter sits across from Stiles and reads some Latin for so long that Stiles is swaying on his feet by the end of it. He thinks there are some flashing lights and some mist or something like that, but honestly he doesn’t even know. He’s barely aware as the spell comes to an end.

 “How are you feeling?” Peter asks.

 “Just . . . tired,” Stiles mumbles.

 “Come lie down,” Peter says, steering him over to a door that Stiles hadn’t noticed. He feels fabric against his skin and then someone is tucking a blanket around his shoulders and then he’s asleep.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 When Stiles wakes up the next morning, he’s warm and comfortable. Something smells good. He rubs his face into the pillow, trying to figure out where the hell he is. Then he realizes the smell isn’t the pillow. It’s food. He crawls out of bed, memory returning in dribs and drabs.

 Peter’s in the kitchen, wearing an honest-to-God apron, which Stiles takes only passing notice of. He’s much more focused on the food. There’s bacon and French toast. Peter hands him a plate and he’s filling his face before he even says good morning.

 It’s the best God damned food he’s ever tasted. He’s had orgasms that weren’t anywhere near as good as the first piece of bacon that passes his lips. He practically moans. Peter looks amused but doesn’t say much, letting him eat, and finally saying, “Go take a shower. You smell. I’ve left some clothes for you on the bathroom sink.”

 Stiles flips him off but does as he’s told. The hot shower feels almost as good as the breakfast tasted. He doesn’t leave until the water starts to turn tepid. Peter has left a pair of sweat pants and a T-shirt that Stiles puts on. He goes back out into the other room and finds Peter curled up on the sofa with a mug of tea. “Thought you were going to stay there all day,” Peter remarks. “How are you feeling?”

 “Actually not too bad,” Stiles says. “I mean, two years ago I probably would have said I felt normal. But in comparison to how I felt yesterday, I feel like I could fly.”

 “Yeah?”

 “Yeah. That spell was legit, so, you know. Thanks.”

 Peter sets the book aside and gives Stiles that toothy grin. “That? Oh, I just made all that up.”

 Stiles’ jaw sags. “What?!” he squawks.

 “You want to know why you were cold and tired all the time? Because you weren’t sleeping. Want to know why everything tasted like cardboard? Because the only thing you were eating were those disgusting energy bars. Nothing magical about it.”

 “But there were like – lights, and, and fog, I think? Honestly I’m not even oh my God you drugged that tea, didn’t you.”

 Peter nods, still smiling. “While you were out gathering the components, I set up a little light show. That plus the drugs made it seem like some real magic had happened.” Peter stands up, tossing his book aside, but he’s surprisingly serious as he says, “Everything that happened with the nogitsune – it’s no surprise that you were fucked up. I just gave your brain a little reboot. All you needed was an excuse to start feeling okay again.”

 Stiles’ mouth opens and shuts several times. “I’m not sure if I should be punching you or kissing you.”

 “Well, kissing me didn’t seem to do a lot for you last night,” Peter says, and quirks that damnable eyebrow again. “Care to give it a try again today?”

 Stiles leans in, and Peter closes the distance. It’s . . . nice. Not exactly earth-shattering, but warm and gentle and pretty much the opposite of everything Stiles would have expected. When he pulls away, he searches for something to say. What comes out is, “So, um. This is happening.”

 Peter gives a snort of laughter and returns to the sofa. “You should probably go. It’s nearly noon, and people will be wondering where you are.”

 “Yeah, okay. Thanks. I, um, you know. Just. Thanks.”

 Peter picks up his book again, and doesn’t look up as Stiles leaves.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

By the time a few days have passed, what happened at Peter’s apartment feels almost like a dream. It can’t have actually happened the way he remembered it. No way was Peter that reassuring, that helpful, that kind. It flies in the face of everything Stiles knows about him – although he has to admit that in reality, that isn’t much. If he considers everything that happened between the fire and Peter’s resurrection as a bout of insanity, he really doesn’t know much about Peter at all.

Peter seems to disdain most of them, but it can’t be denied that he’s helped them, for the most part. He might be loath to actually get his hands dirty, but he helped them look for Erica and Boyd, helped Derek plan how to face Deucalion. In the hospital, he had been genuinely worried about Cora. So maybe he isn’t as bad as Stiles has been assuming he is.

Of course, if everything that happened actually happened the way he remembered it, he feels like he should say or do something. Send Peter a fruit basket, maybe? Did Hallmark make a ‘thanks for fixing my brain’ card?

All of which is somehow secondary to the fact that he can’t stop thinking about the fact that he and Peter kissed. Three times. Okay, they weren’t exactly the best kisses in the universe, but that means he’s kissed Peter more than he has kissed any other person on Earth (he thinks. He’s still not sure about Malia, and still doesn’t want to probe too deeply into those memories.).

He keeps finding himself thinking about Peter at odd moments, when his mind wanders. Peter’s mouth. Peter’s arms. Peter’s neck.

It’s embarrassing, frankly. There are other things he should be thinking about. He’s not a lovesick kid. Now that he’s not as fucked up, he needs to focus on school and lacrosse. He should be making sure Scott and Lydia are okay – but it’s still so painful to be around them. He sure as hell can’t talk to them about this. They both hate Peter – not unreasonably – and how can he talk to Scott about anything romantic, after what happened to Allison?

All in all, he’s a mess. Okay, he’s a functional mess now, a mess that’s going to school and able to enjoy a hot shower and eat pizza with friends. A mess that has been jerking off while thinking about Peter Hale way too much. A mess who still has insomnia. A mess who is currently standing on Peter’s doorstep again because he can’t sleep, wondering what the fuck he’s doing there.

He stands there for far too long. At least a full minute passes, before Peter opens the door and says, “Are you going to stand out there all night?”

“I was thinking about it, yeah,” Stiles says. Peter rolls his eyes and steps back, leaving the door open for Stiles to enter or not. Stiles walks in and shuts it behind him. “I, uh, I couldn’t sleep,” he finally says. “Maybe you could give my brain another reboot?”

“That trick only works if you don’t know what I’m doing,” Peter says, placing a bookmark in the book he’d been reading and setting it aside. “But you knew that, didn’t you. So what are you actually doing here?”

“Jesus, I don’t know, okay?” Stiles says. “All I know is that last time I was feeling super fucked up, I came here and I left actually feeling like a human being again. I don’t know what I want you to do. Just, just fix me, okay?”

Peter sighs. “You do know there’s not actually a magic wand I can wave, right? Yes, last time I made you feel better. But I’m not your therapist.”

“Yeah, last time I talked to one of those, she turned out to be a witch who worked for an insane alpha,” Stiles says. “Then I wound up in what was theoretically a psychiatric hospital but actually turned out to be a haunted torture chamber. I barely remember what happened there. I think I might have killed somebody, I definitely might have had sex in their basement with a girl I barely knew, I’m pretty sure I just walked out when the nogitsune took over without anyone batting an eyelash, and now they’re charging my father thousands of dollars for the quote-unquote care I received. I think I’ll pass on the possibility of trying that again.”

Peter considers that for a moment before he says, “Fair enough!” and settles back onto the sofa. “But I’m trying to watch this, so if you want to stay, you’ll be quiet.”

“Okay.” Stiles toes his shoes off and sits down next to him. Peter has already taken the video off pause, and Stiles sees that he was watching a nature documentary about carnivorous plants. Stiles isn’t sure what he was expecting, but somehow this seems perfectly in line with the Peter he knows. Stiles sprawls out against the arm of the sofa and falls asleep within minutes.

When he wakes up the next morning, still on the sofa, he finds that Peter is again cooking. This time he’s making eggs benedict, which is certainly more complicated than anything Stiles ever bothers to make. “So do you like to cook?” he asks, as he steals Peter’s mug of coffee.

Peter gives him a look and points at the mug rack and the pot of coffee sitting on the counter. “As it happens, I do.”

Stiles considers that as he makes his own mug of coffee and downs half of it in one swig. “Yeah, you like . . . have an apron. That says ‘I believe I can fry’. I mean. Did you buy that for yourself? Did someone give that to you? You’re seriously fucking with my world view here, I want you to know that.”

“Yes, I can see how the concept of an individual who requires sustenance to live knowing how to cook would be completely unfathomable,” Peter says.

“Just gonna glide past the apron with the stupid pun? Okay.” Stiles takes a bite of the eggs and moans. “Oh God these are good.”

Peter shakes his head a little as he dishes up his own plate. “The apron was a gift from Talia.”

“Oh.” Stiles swallows and thinks that over. “Huh. Okay. I didn’t think you really had anything . . . left from back then. Which is probably super insensitive of me to say.”

Peter shrugs. “I have plenty of things from back then. I didn’t live at the house, if you didn’t know. I had an apartment. Not this one,” he adds, gesturing to their surroundings. “One out on the east edge of town, closer to the den. After the fire, some benevolent soul packed up my things and moved them into a storage unit for me. When I got this place, I went and retrieved them. Curiosity satisfied?”

“Yeah. I guess. No.” Stiles frowns. “Why were you at the house that night, if you didn’t live there?”

“Because I’d heard a rumor that it might be attacked. Not that my being there mattered.” Peter sets down his fork. “That’s the last question I’ll answer about that. Your turn. Why are you showing up on my doorstep when you feel like shit? Don’t you have friends for that sort of thing?”

“I can’t – ” Stiles’ throat is suddenly tight, and he has to force down the food he’s got in his mouth. “I can’t talk to Scott and Lydia about this. Allison was – she meant so much to them. There’s a part of me that knows it wasn’t my fault, but – I just can’t. I try but the words dry up in my mouth. They’re both trying to heal in their own way. I don’t want to drag them down with me.”

Peter sighs. “Your father, then.”

Stiles shakes his head. “I’ve made him worry about me too much as it is. I want him to think I’m okay.”

“Leaving aside your terrible logic, as I’m sure he would rather know you’re okay and have you actually be okay, I’m sure there must be someone else.”

“There isn’t.” Stiles studies his hands. “There isn’t anybody who would – understand.”

“Wonderful,” Peter says.

Caught between amusement and annoyance, Stiles says, “Hey, pal, this is on you. You could’ve thrown me out that first time, but instead you drugged my tea, put on a light show, and fixed my brain. You’re stuck with me now, whether you like it or not. You’ve really only got yourself to blame.”

Peter rolls his eyes and takes another drink of his coffee. They eat in silence for several minutes before he says, “Allison’s death wasn’t your fault.”

The food turns to ash in Stiles’ mouth. He has to fight down a wave of nausea at Peter’s words, thinking of the way the nogitsune had controlled him. He puts down his fork and focuses on breathing for a few seconds. “I remember, you know. I remember all of it. And if it had just been controlling my body while I rode backseat, that would be awful enough, but . . . but it was part of me. I felt what it felt. I felt strong, powerful . . . amazing. I can’t stop thinking about that. It’s not bad enough that that thing killed people. It’s that it loved killing people, and so while it was me, so did I. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how that felt.”

Peter regards him for a few moments before saying, “That still doesn’t make Allison’s death your fault.”

“I know,” Stiles says. “But I feel like . . . every day, for the rest of my life, I’m going to go to bed and see her dying in Scott’s arms. Every night, I’m going to dream about what that thing made me do, made me feel. I can’t . . . it’s been over a month and I’m already pretty much out of my mind. I can’t even think about how to deal with this in the long-term.”

“Then don’t,” Peter says. “Take it one day at a time. That’s what I’ve always done, and look at how well-adjusted I am.”

Stiles gives a snort. “So, I’m doomed. Okay. Good to know.”

But it is good to know, really. Because despite Peter’s many flaws, he’s still in one piece. He still gets up every morning and keeps walking. Well-adjusted or not, Peter is smart and strong and has survived the unsurvivable. If Peter can do it, so can he.

It gives him the courage to face the day, at least. It’s a school day, and he goes home to grab his things. One day at a time, he tells himself as he looks at Allison’s empty seat in history class. Survive today, then worry about the next.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

A few days later, Stiles takes a nap after school and wakes up from the nightmare in a cold sweat. He forces himself through his homework, through making dinner, but as soon as his father leaves to work night shift, he flees the house. He can’t stop thinking back to Allison’s body, to the feeling of the nogitsune’s lust for pain flowing through his veins. He nearly throws up twice on the way.

When he knocks, nobody answers. He knocks again, more loudly and rapidly. Still nothing. Frustrated, he takes a bobby pin out of his wallet and picks the lock.

The apartment is dark and empty, so at least Peter wasn’t just ignoring him. Stiles wishes he was there, but finds that even just being in Peter’s apartment is easing his nerves. He wraps himself in a blanket and curls up on the sofa, turning the television on. He channel surfs without thinking, letting the tension seep out of his body.

The key turns in the lock about a half an hour later, and Peter comes in carrying a paper grocery bag. He gives Stiles a long-suffering look. “Did you break into my apartment?”

“Cry about it,” Stiles says.

Peter rolls his eyes. This time, he doesn’t bother to ask what Stiles is doing there. He just heads into the kitchen. Stiles watches him over the back of the sofa, and blinks in surprise when a black cat emerges from the bedroom and jumps up onto the bar that separates the kitchen from the living room. “Whoa, I didn’t know you had a cat.”

“He doesn’t like new people, so he was probably giving you a wide berth the first few times you were here,” Peter says. “But now it’s his dinner time, so he’s willing to brave the stranger.”

Stiles watches the cat, sleek and short-haired with round green eyes, as it rubs its face against Peter’s shoulder and makes a mrow noise. “What’s his name?”

Peter hesitates for just a moment before he says, “T’Challa.”

Stiles blinks again. “You. Have a black cat. Named T’Challa.”

“Yes, I do,” Peter says, staring him down. “What’s your point?”

“My point is that if you’re a closet nerd, I’m going to be delighted,” Stiles says, with a mile wide grin.

Peter’s gaze turns icy. “I’m not a nerd.”

“Who’s your favorite Avenger?” Stiles asks.

After a long moment, Peter mutters, “Wasp. It’s fucking criminal that they left her out of the movies.”

Stiles chortles, heaving himself up off the sofa. “Oh my God. This is the best day ever.”

“I don’t see what you’re so excited about,” Peter says, shaking cat food into a dish and then getting a can out of the pantry while T’Challa makes demanding noises. “I grew up reading those comic books, like many other men my age. Having a favorite Avenger doesn’t make me some sort of circus freak.”

“Oh, I know, but like . . .” Stiles tries to think of a way to explain this. “We actually have something in common. That’s a little weird.”

“We have a lot in common,” Peter says, spooning cat food into the dish and setting it down on the bar. “Despite whether or not you’d like to admit it.”

“Okay, true, but we have something normal in common. Do you like Star Wars? Tell me you like Star Wars. Tell me that you own the originals and not the weird ‘updated’ versions. Tell me Han shot first. Tell me that you think it’s ridiculous that they discarded the extended universe rather than bringing Mara Jade to the big screen.”

“I was disappointed by that,” Peter says, “but I quite liked Finn and Rey so I decided it could be forgiven.”

“Holy shit,” Stiles says. “I am so turned on right now.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter and says, “That’s an interesting kink you’ve got there, Stiles.”

“Shut up and come watch Clone Wars with me.”

He falls asleep on Peter’s sofa again, with T’Challa sprawled across his stomach.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

 Peter’s apartment quickly becomes his safe place. When he’s overwhelmed dealing with life, with his family or friends, with supernatural bullshit or school work, with anything, he finds sanctuary there. Sometimes Peter is there, sometimes he isn’t. When he’s not, Stiles curls up on the cushion under the big bay window with a book and some tea. The cat will usually come over and rest just out of arm’s reach as if his being in Stiles’ presence is a complete coincidence.

When Peter is there, they’ll watch a movie or some TV, or they’ll talk about books or comics or the random trivia that they both collect. They rarely talk about whatever trouble is plaguing Beacon Hills. Stiles isn’t even always in the know. He’s aware that his friends – Scott particularly – are trying to keep him sheltered from any danger that comes to town. Part of him is grateful, another part insulted. It balances out to resignation. Whatever Peter knows – probably far more than anyone realizes – is unimportant to him.

It’s rare that they talk about their own lives, past or present, but Stiles slowly learns things about Peter, things he never would have guessed. For one thing, Peter doesn’t just like cooking – he loves it. He’s the sort of person who drives an extra twenty minutes to get to the grocery stores with ingredients he can’t find locally. He owns a sous vide cooker and a dehydrator. He has more recipes memorized than Stiles has ever made.

And it’s not just that he likes to cook – he clearly likes to cook for Stiles. He asks what sort of things Stiles likes, modifies recipes so they’re more to his tastes, has Stiles sample things while in progress. It’s a little bit weird, but Stiles finds that he likes it, a lot more than he would have expected if someone had told him about it two months prior.

Peter went to college at Berkeley and majored in history and political science. He spent a semester abroad in Denmark and had been slowly working towards getting a Ph D in the history of the supernatural, in “how mythology and legend are based in and color our perceptions of reality”. He had been to archeological digs on three different continents.

He had owned two cats at the time of the fire. They had been picked up by the same good Samaritan who had packed up his things, and rehomed. He’s thought about trying to get them back, but it’s been six years. He assumes they’re content with their new families.

He had never gotten along with Talia, which seems to make his anger and guilt about her death worse. Like Stiles does, he second-guesses things he did in the days before the fire. He doesn’t talk much about it, but it’s in the little things he says, the tone underneath his words. Although he hadn’t much cared for her, he had loved her children, a brood of five of which there were three survivors. He mentions time he had spent with them, gifts he had gotten for them. His grief over the death of the two youngest is clearly still strong. He talks about them frequently, especially when he cooks, but he never mentions Laura. The one time Stiles tries to ask about her, Peter just turns to him and says, flatly, “No.” Stiles hadn’t argued, and he didn’t ask again.

After a month goes by, Stiles is going over to Peter’s three or four times a week, and not just when he needs to escape his father’s concern or his friends’ grief. He’s going over just because he likes going there. He has no idea what to make of Peter’s actual personality, and can’t come up with a good way to ask. It’s not like Peter isn’t still his snarky self – Hell, half of the fun they have is judging other people together – or that he’s any less, well, Peter about it when the others need his help with something. But it’s still so hard to reconcile that with the things Peter did when they met, or the way he acts around the others.

Once, and only once, he makes the mistake of going over to Scott’s straight from Peter’s, without stopping at home to shower and change clothes. Scott immediately frowns as soon as he gets his scent. “Was Peter bothering you?” he asks, forehead wrinkling with concern.

Stiles notes with tired amusement that Scott immediately assumes Peter is the bad guy in this situation. But he doesn’t bother to correct him, because he’s not up to an argument. “No, I went over to his place to see if he had a book on banshees,” he says. They’ve been helping Lydia learn about her heritage and her powers lately. Lying to werewolves isn’t that hard with enough practice – and his heartbeat always feels too fast these days anyway. “He had to know about her somehow, right? I thought he might have something that could help out.”

“Did he?” Scott asks.

“No. Says he lost most of his books in the fire.” Another lie. But Scott accepts it, nodding. Stiles gingerly tests the waters. “He’s actually been less of a jerk lately, huh? I mean, he did help out when I was possessed.”

“He only did that because Lydia agreed to tell him who his daughter is,” Scott says.

“Oh, yeah.” Stiles had almost forgotten about the fact that Peter has a daughter. He doesn’t know what to make of it, and Peter doesn’t talk about it. He makes a mental note to try to broach that topic and see how far he gets with it.

Scott changes the subject, asking about something that had happened at school. They hang out for a little while, until the conversation trails off. Whenever this happens, Stiles feels the silence in his bones. He always feels like there’s something he needs to say, but he never knows what it is. It’s an awful feeling, being uncomfortable around Scott. He knows it’s not Scott’s fault, but even so, he flees the McCall house as quickly as he can.

Peter glances up from the sofa as Stiles lets himself back in. “Didn’t think you’d be back today.”

“Yeah, I . . .” Stiles can barely choke out the words. The rift between him and Scott is a physical pain in his chest, in his gut. It’s hard to breathe around it. He sinks onto the sofa, and then before he can think better of the idea, crawls into Peter’s lap and buries his face in Peter’s shoulder. He feels Peter’s quick intake of breath at this, as if the physical contact is a shock to his system. It doesn’t make much impact on him at the moment. He just curls up in and tries to swallow around the pain. After a moment, Peter’s arms come up to circle him, pulling him closer. He presses his forehead into Peter’s neck and curls tighter, while Peter’s hand rubs up and down his back.

After a while, the worst of it passes. He takes a few deep, even breaths, and says, “Sorry.”

Peter gives a little shrug against Stiles’ cheek, and says, “It’s fine.”

Stiles accepts that, and he starts to pull away, but Peter’s arms around him cling tighter for a second too long before letting him go. Stiles settles back into his embrace without saying anything. He realizes that he never really sees anyone touch Peter, not even Derek. He’s not sure about how tactile werewolves really are – some of what he’s read suggests that touch is a part of hierarchy, but other websites decry that as romantic nonsense – but Peter’s a person, too. It would be normal for him to crave contact.

Peter doesn’t say anything, and the silence, so natural and comfortable, is a blessed relief. It isn’t a black hole that he feels an intense need to fill. It’s just quiet. He relaxes more heavily against Peter’s shoulder while Peter’s fingers idly wander over the back of his neck.

Nearly ten minutes have gone by before Peter finally says, “Are you hungry?”

Stiles has noticed that Peter’s go-to strategy when Stiles seems upset is to try to feed him. He wonders if that has to do with being a werewolf, too, if feeding him makes Peter feel better. So it’s with some reluctance that he says, “Not really.” But he squirms a little to make himself more comfortable and turn so he can see the TV. “Hey, pull up Hulu, the newest episode of The Good Place is up.”

“Sure,” Peter says, reaching for the remote. He doesn’t tell Stiles to move, so Stiles doesn’t. A few minutes later, they’re both laughing at the show, and things seem okay, or at least as okay as they can be.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Stiles glances up as the front door to the house opens, and waves to his father as he comes in. “Hey, Dad. Rough day?”

“No more or less than usual.” Sheriff Stilinski takes off his shoes and hangs his gun holster on the usual hook. He’s frowning slightly as he walks over to the table. “But there are a few things we need to discuss.”

Stiles has to squelch the immediate urge to run for the hills. “Uh, sure. What’s up?”

“You weren’t home last night,” Noah says, leaning back in his chair. He’s slouching, which is good, but his arms are folded over his chest, which is bad.

“Yeah, Dad, I was at Scott’s,” Stiles says.

“No, you were not,” Noah says. “You have not been at Scott for most if not all of the nights you had told me you were going to Scott’s. I know this, because I saw him last night, and he is an exceptionally bad liar.”

“Oh.” Stiles makes a mental note to thank Scott for at least trying to cover for him, and realizes this is why Scott had texted him that morning, asking where he had been the previous night. He’s glad he had lied and said he was over at Derek’s loft, rather than saying he was at home. Scott had accepted that, although he’s probably going to have a boatload of questions the next time they see each other. “Uh, yeah, so. What happened is – ”

“Nope, stop.” Noah holds up a hand. “I know the face you make when you’re concocting some story to tell me. I’d like to know where you were, Stiles, but I’m not going to make you tell me.”

Stiles blinks. “Uh. What? You’re not?”

“No. You want to know why?”

“Yeah . . .”

“Because whatever it is you’re doing, it’s helping you.” Noah leans against the table, looking at his son earnestly. “I know how much you’ve been hurting, kid. I also know that you didn’t want to talk to me about it. Maybe you thought I wouldn’t understand, or that I’d be upset. Or maybe you were just being a teenager. But I knew you were hurting. How could you not be?”

Stiles looks away, fiddling with his pencil.

“But I know that lately, you’ve been feeling better. You’ve been talking more, you’ve been telling me about the random stuff you learn on Wikipedia, you’ve been sleeping better – on the nights you’ve been home. You’ve put some weight back on and you’re playing lacrosse again. I know that things aren’t perfect, that you’re still having bad dreams and trouble in class. But you’re better. If you want to tell me where you’ve been going, I’d love to listen. But if you don’t feel like you can, I’m not going to push.”

Stiles has to swallow the lump in his throat, wiping at his eyes impatiently. “Thanks, Dad.”

Noah nods. “The reason I’m bringing it up is because someone was killed last night,” he says, and Stiles’ head whips up. “An omega werewolf. Decapitated. It might be an isolated incident. I’ve talked to Derek about it. I won’t ask where you’re going, but I need to know that you’re safe, that you’re not wandering the forest or sitting at Allison’s grave where you’d be vulnerable.”

“Yeah, I . . .” Stiles realizes that he actually wants to tell him. He’s so sick of lies and secrets. The problem is, his father is almost guaranteed to freak out. He doesn’t know Peter the way Stiles does. Nobody knows Peter the way Stiles does. “I mean, I’m safe. I’m at a friend’s place.”

“You promise?”

“Yeah, Dad, I promise.”

“Okay.” Noah reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”

“Yeah. Well, no, not really.” Stiles winces. “I mean, I am still a teenager. But, uh . . . I’m sorry I didn’t come to you when I was so messed up. I wanted you to think I was okay. And I know that you would’ve been happier with me actually being okay, instead of not being okay but pretending, but . . .” He has to struggle for composure. “Sometimes I feel like . . . I cause you so much trouble. I didn’t want to keep piling it on.”

Noah nods slowly. He’s silent for a moment before he says, “You do cause me trouble. You are a sarcastic, unpredictable teenager with too much brains, not enough focus, and nowhere near as much respect for the law as I would prefer. Nobody has kids without thinking that they might cause trouble. Does having you in my life make things tough, and complicated, and sometimes scary? Of course. But I wouldn’t give it up for anything, do you understand that? You are more important to me than anything or anyone else in the world. So if you ever stop for a second and think that I would be better off without you, I want you to know that you’re wrong. Not just a little wrong. Epically wrong. Got it?”

Stiles nods and wipes a few more tears away. “Okay. Thanks, Dad.”

Noah gives his shoulder another squeeze. “Okay.”

“I have a boyfriend,” Stiles blurts out, which is kind of funny that that’s the truth he manages to tell, when it’s not even a truth at all. He has no idea how to describe what he has with Peter, but he’s pretty sure that ‘boyfriend’ isn’t really the right term for it.

Noah blinks. “Shit, that’s what you felt like you couldn’t tell me? That you’re gay?”

“No, Dad, I – ” Stiles stops. “Well, you know, there was that time you tried to tell me that I couldn’t be gay based on how I dressed, which was pretty uncool of you, Dad.”

“When was that?” Noah asks, frowning.

“At the club. The night the kanima attacked Danny. I said we were clubbing and you said ‘you’re not gay’ and I said I could be, and you said ‘not dressed like that’.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s not what I meant, though. I see how it sounds, but – ” Noah flaps a hand at Stiles’ clothes. “I just meant, if you were trying to impress a boy, you would’ve shown more care with your outfit. I watched you change six times before Lydia Martin’s Christmas party your sophomore year. You don’t just throw on the first thing that fits.”

“Oh!” Stiles laughs. “Okay, yeah. Point. I would not have worn that outfit to a gay club if I was actually looking for a date there. Uh, I’m not gay, though. I’m bi.” His gaze darts anxiously at his father and he chews on his thumbnail despite the fact that intellectually, he’s sure his father is fine with this.

“Okay,” Noah says. “And you have a boyfriend?”

Stiles nods. “He’s, uh. Not part of the clique, but he knows about supernatural stuff. I started talking to him when I was really messed up and he talked me through some of, you know, the worst of it. We’re keeping it casual. I’m not really . . . in a good headspace for anything serious right now. So mostly we watch movies and cuddle a lot, which, God, is so lame now that I’m saying it out loud. But honestly, right now cuddling with him and watching movies is my favorite thing on earth.”

Noah is smiling, a truly fond smile. “When I was seventeen, the summer before my senior year, your mother had a job at the diner downtown, as a waitress. And I went there every day and sat at the counter and just chatted with her in the down times. That was my favorite thing back then. So I get it.”

“Thanks.”

“Anything else you want to tell me about him?”

“You wouldn’t like him.”

“He’s made you feel a lot better. I like him already.”

“That’s just ‘cause you haven’t met him.”

Noah gives a snort of laughter. “I’ll take your word on it. I would like to meet him someday, though. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

About a week later, Stiles comes home to find that his father has bought some steaks to grill. Expensive steaks. He gives his father the side-eye and tries to find a polite way to ask about their financial state, given how worried he knows Noah has been.

“I see you looking at me, you know,” Noah says, as he starts the grill. He shakes his head a little and says, “We’re celebrating, because Eichen House has decided they’re going to forgive the debt.”

Stiles blinks. “Forgive the – does that mean we don’t owe them money anymore?”

“That is exactly what it means,” Noah says. “I guess some inspector is making them nervous about the treatment of people at their facility and they can’t risk anyone causing a fuss right now. Go make a salad, okay? There’s lemonade in the fridge.”

“Awesome,” Stiles says. They eat dinner and talk about lacrosse and school, and afterwards he says, “I’m going to my boyfriend’s for a while,” a sentence which he’s found he really likes to say now that he can.

When he gets to Peter’s, he’s slouched on the sofa with T’Challa on his lap, feet propped up on the coffee table and an air of smug satisfaction. “Okay, what’d you do?” Stiles asks.

“Me?” Peter asks, feigning innocence.

“Yes, you, you smug jerk,” Stiles says, plopping onto the sofa next to him. “I know that Eichen House didn’t just magically decide we didn’t owe them money anymore. It’s not like my dad hadn’t argued with them about charging us for my stay after everything that happened while I was there. They stuck to their guns until now. Why?”

“Did you know,” Peter says, “that you don’t actually need a lawyer to file a civil suit? As long as you know how to fill out the paperwork, you can represent yourself.”

Stiles gives him a sideways glance. “Okay,” he says. “So you sued Eichen House?”

“I actually just threatened to sue them. After stealing your records and the security footage.” Peter gives a toothy grin. “They were really quite unhappy that I had those things. I asked them what they thought a jury would think of your stay there, and if they realized they could face criminal charges for administering a drug a doctor had not prescribed – the Haldol – which had resulted in injury to one of their other patients. He’s not dead, by the way – the boy that the nogitsune controlled.”

“He’s not?” Stiles breathes a sigh of relief. “God, there’s so much about that whole thing that I don’t remember. I really thought I had killed him.”

“No, you only knocked him out – and I use the term ‘you’ loosely, since it wasn’t really you at all. You also didn’t have sex with Malia, by the way. You passed out around second base.”

“Oh, thank God,” Stiles says. “Wait, how do you know that?”

“That place was covered in security cameras, Stiles. Almost everything that happened there was caught on tape.” Peter shrugs a little. “It seemed like it was troubling you, and it was easy to take care of. Eichen House will never close – the supernatural prison is too crucial to the area – but they also definitely don’t want to be dragged into the spotlight. They’d have to spends tens of thousands of dollars on lawyer for a case that they almost certainly wouldn’t win, and it just wasn’t worth it to them to continue to pursue it.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says. “Really, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Peter goes back to his book.

Stiles ponders all of this for a moment before he says, “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“You can always ask.”

“Malia . . . she’s your daughter, right?” Stiles says, and Peter nods. “Isn’t that weird for you? I mean, do you want to get to know her? Do you remember her mom, what happened to her? Is her mom still around?” Now that he’s started asking the questions, he can’t seem to stop. “Why did Talia take the memory of her from you? Why was she adopted out instead of just letting you and her mom raise her?”

Peter sighs. “Are you done?”

Stiles shrugs. “I guess. Just . . . tell me whatever you want to tell me about her.”

“And if I don’t want to talk about it?”

“Then I’ll still be curious but I’ll have to shut up about it.”

Peter gives a snort of laughter. “As for why we didn’t raise her, to the best of my recollection, I was around your age when she was born. I’m not even the paternal sort now; I definitely wouldn’t have been in a position to raise a child when I was seventeen. I don’t remember her mother very well, but the fact that Malia is a were-coyote means I know who it was, a girl I dated named Corinne, who was also a were-coyote. Wolves and coyotes typically don’t get along; there are pack politics and territory issues, so it was a bit of a Romeo and Juliet sort of thing. By far the safest and least controversial thing to do with the child was to give it to mundane parents. I’m guessing that one or both of us kicked up a fuss and that’s why Talia took our memories of the child.”

Stiles mulls all that over for a minute before saying, “That’s just a really horrible thing to do.”

“Well, yes and no,” Peter says. “I’m sure Talia had the child’s best interests in mind, and I was, shall we say, stubborn at that age. So I can see why she did it, even if I don’t like it.”

“I get that, but it’s like she didn’t trust you to listen to reason.”

“Of course not.” Peter looks amused. “That’s the way Talia was. She knew best, period, end of story. If she couldn’t get her way by going through the obstacles, she would go around them. And that, of course, assumes that she didn’t try to reason with me and I resisted her explanations, which remains very possible.” He’s quiet for a minute. “I hate the fact that she did that, that she took my daughter away from me, that she took my choices away from me. But she’s dead. It doesn’t matter now.”

Stiles nods, pulling his knees up to his chest while he thinks all this over. “So what now?”

“If Malia was an orphan, if she was living on the streets, I would take her in and do my best to be her father,” Peter says. “But she’s not. She has a father who loves her very much, who raised her, who takes care of her – eight years of living as a coyote notwithstanding, which neither he nor I can be blamed for. It’s better if I don’t interfere. As I said, I’m not the paternal sort. I’ve never really wanted children. So it’s fine. I’ll keep an eye on her and help out if needed.” He frowns slightly and adds, “I did send some tutors over, since some moron decided that they could just drop her back into high school as if she hadn’t spent eight years living in a forest. I think Mr. Tate was confused, but I had them tell him it was part of a program the state sponsored for children who had been abducted or had their schooling interrupted in some other way. He believed that. Not a suspicious man, apparently.”

Stiles realizes he’s smiling. “You’re such a marshmallow.”

“I beg your pardon,” Peter says, affronted.

“You are,” Stiles says, laughing. “You’re so soft and gooey on the inside. I might be the only person in the world who knows that, but I’m sure as hell never going to let you forget it.”

Peter sighs. “I suppose it’s too late to convince you of anything else, even if I reminded you of all the people I killed.”

“They deserved it,” Stiles says, shrugging. “Well, except Laura. And your nurse.”

“I didn’t kill Jennifer,” Peter says, then amends, “Well, not Jennifer Morrison, anyway.”

Stiles blinks. “There’s a Jennifer you did kill? I don’t – oh, that’s what happened to Jennifer Blake. Okay, cool. No complaints here, since she tried to kill my dad and everything. But seriously, you didn’t kill your nurse? You had her body in the trunk of your car.”

“I had her body in the trunk of her car,” Peter says. “And no, I didn’t kill her. She had her issues, obviously. A substantial drug problem. Yes, I manipulated her, convinced her to help me. I’ll make no bones about that. She became obsessed with the idea that we would run away together once I’d gotten my revenge. I told her it wasn’t going to happen, and she got upset, so I left. Next time I went to see her, she was dead of an overdose. I don’t know if it was intentional or not.”

“So you . . . put her in the trunk of her car?” Stiles asks, trying not to look as dubious as he feels.

“I needed a car. Hers was available. But if someone found her body, they’d be looking for her car. So yes, I put the body in the trunk.” Peter sighs. “It wasn’t my finest moment, and I’m not exactly proud of it, but I also wasn’t precisely sane, so I did it. Still think I’m a marshmallow?”

Stiles shrugs. “Sometimes I really think of you as two people, you know? The real you, and the crazy guy who did all that stuff back then.”

Peter shakes his head. “That’s wrong, Stiles, and it’s dangerous, too. Everything I did back then was me. Was I a bit unhinged? Sure. But it wasn’t a Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde sort of situation. It was me. I murdered people, I stalked and tormented your friends. I’m capable of monstrous things if I think they’re justified, and I have no delusions about the fact that my ideas of justified and other peoples’ ideas might not match. Never, ever forget that.”

Stiles isn’t sure what to say to all of that. He knows that Peter means every word, but he still can’t help but think that after six years of unimaginable pain and solitude, he could have been fully in control of his actions. The fact that Peter did horrible things should matter to him, but the fact that Peter has been so kind to him matters, too. Finally, he says, “Okay, but . . . if Jennifer Blake had killed my dad, I would have done things every bit as bad as you did, or worse. So maybe you’re not a marshmallow. But I don’t think you’re as terrible as you seem to think you are.”

“No?” Peter looks faintly amused. “Whatever you say, Stiles.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Having the weight of the financial problems off makes Stiles realize exactly how much it had been stressing him out. He’s sure that his father would be annoyed by this, since he had repeatedly told Stiles it wasn’t his problem and not to worry about it. Even so, he finds himself far more willing to buy things out of the school vending machines and treat himself to a new book or movie with his own pocket money.

“I’d ask where you get money, but . . .” Peter says, when Stiles shows up at his place with a copy of Spider-Man: Homecoming.

“Writing papers online,” Stiles says, immediately and without shame. “It’s a real racket. I get a bonus if they get an A.”

“Of course you do,” Peter says, his mouth curving in an amused smile.

His friends can clearly tell that he’s feeling better, too, because they seem more comfortable around him. They don’t hang out as much as they used to, but they do hang out, and he even goes to the spring fling with Lydia, just as friends. He wonders what will happen once summer starts, when they want to do stuff and he just wants to hang out at Peter’s every day.

Lacrosse season is in full swing, so he’s getting plenty of exercise even though he hates all the running. With effort, he manages to convince Scott that he shouldn’t hold himself back when Stiles is groaning and gasping at the back of the team. Scott being team captain is important to him, and Stiles doesn’t want to mess that up for him. Plus, if he doesn’t have to put in as much effort, he enjoys it more, just jogging on the trails outside the school without caring too much what his time will be.

He’s trotting along on one of these days when he catches up with Garrett, who’s sitting by the side of the trail, massaging his ankle. “Hey, man, you okay?” Stiles asks.

“Just twisted my ankle,” Garrett says. “I’ll be fine.”

Stiles doesn’t really like Garrett, but there are rules about this sort of thing, so he says, “C’mon, I’ll give you a hand. You shouldn’t just languish in the forest.”

“Thanks,” Garrett says. Stiles extends a hand and pulls him to his feet. He takes a step back as he does so, to give Garrett more room, and half-trips over a branch. It ends up saving his life, as he stumbles backwards and the knife Garrett thrusts towards his stomach ends up only tearing a shallow wound in his side.

“Ow, what the hell!” Stiles sputters, not realizing what had happened at first. Then he sees the knife, and takes another few steps backwards as Garrett slashes forward again. “The fuck, dude!”

“You’re pretty quick,” Garrett says, grinning at him. “What are you, anyway? You’re not a werewolf. Figured you had to be, since you hang out with McCall all the time, but guess not.”

“Uh, no,” Stiles says, holding one hand to his sweatshirt, where blood is starting to soak through. He glances down at the wound through the gap in the fabric and sees a sticky yellow substance. Some sort of werewolf poison, probably, from what Garrett had said. “Why the fuck did you just stab me?”

“Why do you think?” Garrett asks, advancing on him again. Stiles keeps retreating, wondering where he can get a weapon. He doesn’t have a lot of options, and he doubts he can outrun Garrett. He’s seen him at the sprints.

“Are you a hunter?” Stiles asks warily, as he takes steps backwards. “Because I know you guys aren’t supposed to kill humans, and all jokes about being an abominable snowman aside, I check out.”

Garrett shrugs. “I thought the list was only supernaturals, but hey, maybe I was wrong.”

“List? What – ”

Garrett doesn’t let him finish the question. Stiles has to duck another blow, and since trying to get away isn’t working, he grabs Garrett’s wrist in both hands as he strikes. They struggle for a few minutes. Garrett’s strong, but Stiles isn’t exactly a weakling anymore. He tries to pry the knife out of Garrett’s hand, closing his hand on the blade and wincing in pain.

“Hey!” a blessedly familiar voice shouts, as Scott comes over the rise to see what’s going on. “Let him go!”

“Carefully, Scotty, he’s got some sort of poison on his knife!” Stiles shouts.

That’s the least of Scott’s concerns. Garrett hasn’t let Stiles go; instead, a young woman drops out of a tree behind Scott and throws a wire over his head. It glows bright red, and for a moment Stiles can smell burning flesh as the wire cuts into Scott’s throat. Then he grabs it in one hand, pulling it away, his eyes even more crimson than the thermal wire.

“Holy shit,” the woman gasps, as Scott yanks the wire out of her hand and then throws it aside. She takes a few steps back as Scott snarls at her, and her defensive pose does absolutely nothing against him as he picks her up and throws her across the clearing.

“Violet!” Garrett shouts. Stiles takes advantage of his momentary distraction, slamming his forehead against the bridge of Garrett’s nose. Garrett yelps and staggers backwards, leaving the knife in Stiles’ bloody hands.

“You okay?” Scott asks, jogging over. Violet isn’t moving, and within a bare second, Scott has Garrett’s arms yanked up behind his back and his body pinned to the ground. When Stiles nods, Scott looks at the two assassins and says, “You’d better call your dad.”

“Yeah.” It takes Stiles three tries to get his phone to unlock, since his hands are covered in blood. He manages to dial and briefly explain the situation to his father, and a few minutes later, the police and an ambulance are there. Stiles wants to go to the station, but his father insists he go in the ambulance after the EMT looks at the wounds and says he’ll need stitches.

It’s over an hour later, and they’re almost done with him, when his father shows up at the hospital. “So?” Stiles demands, and his father gives him a weary but amused look. “Hey, no more secrets. We both agreed.”

“We did,” Noah says, raising his hands in surrender. “Garrett and Violet aren’t talking, but it looks like they’re professionals. We found a bunch of stuff in their car. And when we got their phone unlocked, we found this ‘list’ that they were talking about. A list of names and dollar amounts. Plenty of known supernaturals – Scott, Kira, Derek, et cetera.”

Stiles watches as Melissa continues to bandage his hands. “I’m on there?”

“Yeah. Best we can figure is, someone doesn’t realize that you and the nogitsune were separate.”

“Who else is on there?”

“A lot of people. Almost a hundred names, total. We’ll run them down, make sure they’re all forewarned about whatever new type of hunter this is. It includes the man who was decapitated – presumably with that thermal wire that Violet uses – and a girl who was found dead a few days ago.”

Stiles frowns. “You guys didn’t tell me about that.”

“We were hoping we wouldn’t have to,” Noah says, and Stiles’ frown deepens. “Okay, okay. We should have told you. I think we’ve all been a little too careful with you. If you’d known that Demarco’s death wasn’t an isolated incident, you probably wouldn’t have let Scott outdistance you by that much during the run.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “I mean, at least we caught them, but . . . is there any way to trace the list?”

“Not that I see, but there may be a way to trace the payments the two of them have gotten so far. So we’ll work on that. You, stay safe, don’t go out alone. Okay?”

“Okay.” Stiles wonders how he’ll manage to go to Peter’s without people knowing if he’s not supposed to go out by himself, then figures that as long as he drives straight to Peter’s and doesn’t get out of the car, he’ll probably be fine. “You be careful, too. Your name isn’t on that list, is it?”

“No. But I’ll be careful.”

“Thanks.”

Noah reaches out and tousles Stiles’ hair, then leaves, saying he has a lot of work to do and not to wait up for him. When Stiles is released, Scott is waiting for him. “Hey, you okay? I’ll take you home.”

“My Jeep’s still at the school,” Stiles says.

Scott shrugs. “You shouldn’t be driving with your hands like that. I can pick you up for school for a few days.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, since there isn’t really anyway he can argue. To be fair, he’s not sure how he would drive with his hands numb and bandaged anyway. Scott drops him off at home and then says he wants to go check on Kira and talk to Derek about identifying some of the other people on the list. “I could come with you,” Stiles says.

“No, man, you rest up. You’ve had enough of a day,” Scott says. They hug briefly, awkwardly, before Scott leaves.

Stiles sinks onto the sofa and sighs. He takes his phone back out and studies it. He has Peter’s number, but he’s never actually called it, always just going over whenever he feels the need. He taps the screen a few times. Peter picks up a moment later. “Hey, it’s me,” Stiles says. “I was gonna come over later but I can’t, I don’t have a car.”

“What happened to Roscoe?” Peter asks.

“Nothing, but I didn’t drive him home and now I’m stuck here and – ugh, it’s a long story. Apparently there are some supernatural bounty hunters wandering around.”

“Oh, I heard. Derek called me. I’m only worth five million, which I think is insulting. Derek is worth fifteen! In what world is Derek three times the werewolf I am?”

Stiles sniggers at Peter’s pettiness. “I wonder how much I’m worth.”

He can practically hear Peter’s sudden snap to attention. “You’re on that list?”

“Yeah, that’s why I’m stuck at home. One of them tried to kill me during lacrosse practice. Scott took care of it; he was super badass. But I tried to get the knife away from him and my hand got cut up, so I had to get stitches. Anyway, long story short, Scott drove me home and my Jeep is still at the school.”

“Are you alone?” Peter asks.

“Yeah, but I’ll be fine, the doors are all locked – ”

“I’m coming over. Don’t leave.” Peter hangs up without another word.

“Ooooookay,” Stiles says to his phone, rolling his eyes. He surfs Reddit for a few minutes before the back door opens and Peter comes in. “I’d ask when you copied my keys but that’s just doomed for failure, isn’t it.”

“Mm hm.” Peter is frowning as he scents the air. “You’re hurt.”

“I told you I was hurt. Cut up my hand getting the knife away from him, remember? Plus he kind of, uh, stabbed me a little.”

Peter snarls. “Stabbed you?”

“Only a little! It’s a few inches long and shallow. It’s stitched up and I’ll be good as new. Geez, don’t get all fussy over a few stab wounds.” Stiles sees that Peter is looking more annoyed at him and decides to change the subject. “Anyway, they got totally arrested and my Dad’s going to throw all the books at them, so you don’t have to come baby-sit me. I’m fine.”

At this, Peter shakes his head. “With bounties in the millions, they were the first of many. And you’re a high priority target. I called Derek on the way here to get the list of bounties, which he got from your father. You’re worth twenty million.”

“Jesus!” Stiles feels like he’s been punched in the gut. “Twenty million?”

Peter nods. “Second only to Scott, who’s worth twenty-five.”

“Why the fuck am I at the top of the list?”

“Presumably because whoever put it together doesn’t realize that you and the nogitsune are not the same entity. Which says something interesting about them – whoever they are, they’re not wholly versed in the supernatural. I’m not sure how they would have put the list together. It’s got about a hundred names on it, and there are ten times that many supernatural beings living in this area. The Nemeton draws them in like moths to flames.”

Stiles nods, thinking this over. “So they picked ones that had been in the news lately, metaphorically speaking.”

“And in some cases identified one, which led them to others. Satomi Ito is a well-known alpha, and they’ve identified nearly all of her pack members.” Peter gives a little shrug. “The nogitsune made quite a splash when it was impersonating you, so it doesn’t surprise me that you’re a high value target. But I’m not going to let you sit at home alone when all this is going on.”

“Look, I won’t argue with you for tonight because I’d rather hang out than fight, but you can’t spend every second with me.”

“I won’t try. I’m sure you’re safe as houses when Scott and Derek are around. Just don’t go off alone.” Peter takes out his phone. “Hungry? I’ll order us some dinner.”

Stiles throws in the towel. “Sure, why not.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles frequently falls asleep on Peter’s sofa, partly because it’s one of the most comfortable sofas he’s ever experienced. But he hardly ever sleeps the night through. He’s always been a light sleeper, and it’s worse in unfamiliar environments. Not only that, but T’Challa has a habit of jumping up onto his feet in the middle of the night.

When that happens, he knows it’ll be a while before he falls back to sleep, if he manages to at all. Usually when he falls asleep, it’s while the TV is still on and Peter is there on the sofa with him. In the middle of the night, when it’s dark and silent and he’s alone, it’s much more difficult. He doesn’t like to turn the TV back on because he doesn’t want to wake Peter, so he’ll put on music on his phone with his headphones on, and eventually fall back to sleep.

Just as he’s fumbling for his phone, he hears a noise from the bedroom. He’s momentarily frozen with fear, but then realizes what it has to be. He gets up from the sofa and edges cautiously into the bedroom. Peter leaves the door open, so the cat can come and go.

Peter’s gotten the sheets wrapped tightly around himself, his body twitching slightly as one hand grips at the blanket. His eyes are squeezed shut, and there’s sweat beading on his forehead.

Stiles’ immediate impulse is to reach out and shake him awake, but he knows that would be a bad idea. Peter might not be an alpha anymore, but he’s still a werewolf. He could snap Stiles like a twig if he’s startled. After a moment’s thought, he jogs into the bathroom and fills a cup with water. He throws it onto Peter from about six feet away.

It’s not far enough. The next thing Stiles knows, he’s pinned up against the wall with Peter’s hand around his throat. Peter’s eyes are gleaming bright blue, mouth twisted into a snarl.

“Peter, it’s me,” Stiles chokes out. Peter’s claws dig in for a brief moment, and Stiles reaches up instinctively, not to try to pry them off, but to touch Peter’s cheek. He can’t say what prompts him to do it. He traces his thumb over Peter’s cheekbone, keeping his touch gentle. Peter gives a small shudder, and the gleam fades out of his eyes. “Hey. It’s me.”

“Fuck.” Peter releases him and stumbles a few feet away, sinking down on the edge of the bed. “Did I hurt you?”

Stiles gingerly touches his throat, then says, “Just a few scrapes. I don’t think I’m bleeding.”

“You shouldn’t have woken me.”

“I couldn’t just leave you like that,” Stiles says. “I have bad dreams too, you know.”

“I know. Still, it was dangerous.”

Stiles shrugs. “I guess I’m not afraid of much anymore.”

“A healthy attitude, I’m sure,” Peter says.

With a snort of laughter, Stiles sits down next to him, close enough so his thigh is pressed against Peter’s. After a moment, he asks, “Do you dream about the fire?”

“Sometimes,” Peter says. “But usually not. I dream about what happened afterwards. About lying in the hospital, unable to move, unable to speak. It was . . . such a strange, frightening feeling. Claustrophobic. I wish I couldn’t remember it, but I remember every minute. The pain was unimaginable, but the isolation was worse.”

“I can see that,” Stiles says. “Hell, I’d have gone nuts after six days of that, let alone six years.”

“Oh, I did,” Peter says, with a dry smile. “And then I went another five years and three hundred fifty-nine days more nuts. Werewolves aren’t meant to be alone like that. The healing, the pain, I could have handled, but being alone . . .”

Without thinking, Stiles reaches out and twines his fingers through Peter’s. “You’re not alone anymore.”

Peter leans over, resting his head in the crook of Stiles’ neck. “You don’t even tell your friends that you’re coming here.”

Stiles blinks at him, a little startled. “Well, no, granted, but that’s just they’d make a huge fuss and I didn’t feel like dealing with it. Does it bother you? Because if it does, I’ll tell them. Hell, I’ll hang up posters around Beacon Hills. If they want to say I shouldn’t be around you, they can say it to my face, and I’ll fucking throw down.”

That smile twitches at Peter’s lips again. “That seems a bit excessive.”

“Yeah, ‘cause you’re such a model of restraint.”

Peter gives a snort, and both of them end up laughing.

“C’mon,” Stiles says. “My mom always swore by cocoa and cartoons after a nightmare. You probably don’t have anything as plebian as Swiss Miss in your kitchen, but I’m sure we can find something that’ll do.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

After a week has passed and nobody else has tried to remove Stiles’ head, everyone relaxes a little. Sheriff Stilinski hasn’t had any luck tracing the payments, because they seem to have come in cash. It’s not surprising, according to Peter. A lot of illegal activity results in cash payments. Stiles presumes he would know as well as anyone would.

“Where did the people running this show even get all this money?” Stiles wonders aloud, while Peter is making him dinner on a Friday night.

“That’s an interesting question, but there are lots of possibilities,” Peter says. “Plenty of people involved in the supernatural world have under the table activities. Arms dealing, primarily. That’s how the Argents made their money.”

“Right, right, the Wal-Mart of guns,” Stiles says, nodding. “Okay. But why would someone like that be hiring bounty hunters instead of doing the dirty work themselves?”

Peter shrugs. “I don’t pretend to understand the mind of every monster. Human or non-human. Only my own.”

“We gonna have to have that talk again?”

“I don’t feel the need to have any talk about that at all, no.” Peter half turns with a spoonful of the sauce he’s making. “Too much ginger?”

Stiles takes the spoon and licks it off. “Nuh uh. Perfect.” So perfect that he wants to dive headfirst into the stir fry. “Hey, if you like to cook so much, why don’t you ever cook for the others?”

“What others?” Peter asks.

“Well, Derek, mostly,” Stiles says.

Peter shrugs. “Derek doesn’t want me around, so I try not to inflict my presence on him when it isn’t necessary.”

“I guess, but . . .” Stiles searches for the right question. “None of the others even know you like to cook, or that you have a cat, or love Star Wars. It’s like you’re a totally different person around them.”

“Yes, and that person is one who can tolerate being around them without strangling Scott with his own T-shirt,” Peter says, and Stiles gives a snort of laughter despite himself. “No, I don’t feel the need to ‘share’ with him, or any of his motley little crew. Why should I?”

“You share with me,” Stiles points out.

“Because you actually spend time with me voluntarily, and expressed interest in getting to know me as a human being, rather than simply calling me every time you wanted to take advantage of my expertise.”

“Well, you know. You can’t exactly blame the others for not wanting to be besties.”

“I don’t blame them. I even provide said expertise when requested, as long as it’s not too far out of my way or will put me in danger. But I’m still not going to talk to them about Star Wars or ask their opinion what kind of curry I should make this weekend.”

Stiles thinks this over for a minute before deciding that it basically makes sense. “Derek, though. I mean, he’s your nephew, you clearly care about him an awful lot. I honestly have no idea if he likes Star Wars or not, but he probably wouldn’t say no if you wanted to make him dinner.”

Peter turns away from his food and gives Stiles an annoyed look. “Are you being deliberately obtuse?”

“No,” Stiles says, scowling.

“Really? Are you really going to sit there and try to convince me that you don’t know why I’m not just going to show up on Derek’s doorstep and say ‘hello, nephew, I brought you some lasagna!’”

“I just think that you could try actually repairing your relationship with him instead of – ”

“I killed his sister!” Peter snarls, his eyes flaring blue. “He will never forgive me for that, and I will not ask him to. Drop the subject, Stiles. Now.”

Stiles goes quiet. After a moment, he says, “I’m sorry. I just don’t like – seeing you unhappy.”

Peter’s shoulders, which he’s been holding tense, relax slightly. He turns back to the food so he doesn’t have to look at Stiles and says, “I’ve made peace with the consequences of my actions, Stiles. I don’t need you to ‘fix’ me. Now hand me that jar of sesame seeds.”

Stiles nods and does so, and Peter cooks in silence for a few minutes. Fortunately, the meal is almost done, and once they’re eating, Stiles can talk about the food and some memories he has of how much his mother loved Chinese food. It diffuses the worst of the tension. Before long, they’re talking about Lord of the Rings as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Scott mentions Peter’s encounter with the mouthless assassin in passing, as if it’s something that doesn’t matter to him at all. Stiles, unfortunately, blurts out, “The fuck, is he okay?”

“What? Yeah, he’s fine, he’s like a fucking cockroach,” Scott says, frowning at Stiles. “Derek went to see him, and then he was going to talk to your dad about the fact that we’ve got another bounty hunter in town.”

Now Stiles is distracted. “Whose idea was it to get my dad involved in this? That’s a terrible idea! Mouthless assassins with tomahawks, Scott!”

“Come on, man, your dad can handle himself, and Derek will be with him.”

Stiles scowls. “Even so, I don’t like it.”

“Nobody likes any of this, man. But your dad is the sheriff and he’s been very, very clear about needing to be kept in the loop. Especially since you’re on that list.” Scott reaches out and squeezes Stiles’ shoulder. “We’re going to keep you safe, okay?”

“Yeah, I . . .” Stiles heaves a sigh. “Okay.”

“Come on, I’ll take you home.”

Stiles would really much rather go to Peter’s, but he doesn’t want to say that to Scott, who will undoubtedly make a huge deal out of it. He’s also not quite stupid enough to try to go there on his own, after Scott gets him home safely. He’d get kidnapped or murdered or worse. So he sits at home, silently fuming. He thinks once or twice about calling Peter, but if he’s injured, he doesn’t want to bother him.

It’s late before his father gets home, and he looks tired but otherwise unscathed. “What happened, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Stiles,” Noah says. “Everything’s fine.”

“Mouthless guy?”

“Taken care of. How about we order a pizza?”

“Absolutely not! If you’re hungry, I’ll make you a sandwich, with things that won’t clog your arteries.” Stiles sees his father giving him a fond smile and says, “Ugh, you baited me and I fell for it! I’m making you a sandwich anyway. Then can I go to my boyfriend’s, if the assassin is gone?”

“Sure,” Noah says, clearly amused. “But go straight there. No stops.”

Stiles makes the sandwich (turkey on wheat bread with low-fat mayo, which makes Noah roll his eyes) and then grabs the keys to the Jeep. He texts Peter to let him know that he’s on his way over, but doesn’t wait for a reply.

The healing wound in Peter’s chest is so awful-looking that Stiles barely even notices that he’s shirtless. “Yikes, you look like hell,” he says, taking in Peter’s overall appearance. He’s sprawled on the sofa, wearing only a pair of jeans, with an open bottle of whiskey. His eyes are red and swollen, so he’s probably been crying, although Stiles knows he would never admit it. “That’s from Tomahawk guy?”

“Yeah.” Peter’s voice is a little hoarse. “Derek had to burn the wolfsbane out.”

“Gross.” Stiles steps over and examines the wound more closely, the reddened, angry skin surrounding it. “I know that I’m not innocent in this particular matter, but people have got to stop setting you on fire.”

Peter gives a little snort of laughter despite himself. “I admit I’m not a fan of it.”

“How long will it take to heal?”

“A couple days. Burns are the slowest wounds for werewolves to heal, even now that the wolfsbane is out.”

“Does it hurt?”

“Excruciatingly, yes, thank you for asking.”

“I wish I could do that pain drain thing you guys do.”

“I wish you could, too.”

Stiles frowns. “Okay, but if Derek burned the wolfsbane out, couldn’t he do it? How long ago was that, how long does it last?”

“Not long. Only about an hour. Although in this case it’s irrelevant, because he didn’t do it.”

“Ugh.” Stiles makes a mental note to kick Derek’s ass next time he sees him. Maybe sign him up for some magazine subscriptions or have a bunch of pizzas delivered to his loft. “Fucking rude.”

Peter glances over at him and says, “I’m not up to an argument about my relationship with my nephew, so don’t start one.”

Stiles sighs but says, “Okay,” before sitting down on the sofa with Peter, nudging Peter’s leg with his. “Is the whiskey helping, at least?”

“No. And I don’t even like the taste.” Peter takes another swig. “I just keep drinking it hoping that it’ll do something.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and takes the bottle out of his hands. Peter lets him, so he stands up to put it away, then decides to order them some dinner. He peruses the take-out menus neatly pinned to Peter’s fridge and calls over, “I’m ordering from Cho’s whether you like it or not. You shouldn’t be on your feet and moving around.”

Peter’s response is a rude noise, and Stiles wonders exactly how much of the whiskey he had imbibed, and if it was enough to actually get him tipsy. He orders their food and then comes back into the living room, rifling through Peter’s movie collection before selecting Alien and putting it in the DVD player. Peter allows this without argument, and when Stiles flops onto the sofa and puts his feet in Peter’s lap, he curls one hand around Stiles’ calf.

They’re barely five minutes into the movie when Stiles’ phone rings. He glances down at it and sees that it’s Scott, and says, “Hang on,” before hitting the button to accept the call. Peter gives him a somewhat sour look but pauses their movie regardless. “Hey, what’s up?” Stiles asks.

“Ugh, I’ve had the worst day,” Scott says, with feeling, before telling him about how he had to help Derek dispose of the body of the Mute. He vents for several minutes about how Peter didn’t have to kill him, how they had him disarmed and helpless, and how awful Peter is in general. Stiles watches Peter, who can clearly hear every word Scott says, looking at first amused but then annoyed as the rant goes on.

“Okay, Scotty, I’m gonna interrupt you here,” Stiles says, “and ask what in God’s name you were gonna do with a mouthless assassin.”

“What? I don’t know, but we had him captured, we could – ”

“Put him on trial for murder?” Stiles asks. “You think a mouthless assassin would play well on the six o’clock news?”

“No,” Scott says, clearly aggravated, “but even so, he can’t just kill whoever he wants.”

“Dude, the thing put a tomahawk in his chest,” Stiles says. “Pretty sure that killing it wasn’t an overreaction. I mean, I know, you’re against killing as a general rule, and as a general rule that’s completely fine by me, but sometimes things just need killing, you know? And I’m pretty sure ‘mouthless monster who has committed multiple murders with a tomahawk’ is one of those things.”

“Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure Peter is one of those things, too,” Scott says.

Stiles’ stomach goes cold at the idea of the idea of Peter having been killed, at the idea of suddenly not having Peter in his life. He only barely manages to squelch the instinctual snarl that wants to escape. “Okay, I’m not going to ask you to create a Peter Hale fanclub any time soon, but you know as well as I do that ninety percent of what he did was because he was nuts after the fire, so let’s not throw stones, okay?”

“I’m just saying,” Scott says, sounding pissed. “He might not be nuts now, but he’s still a murderer.”

“Okay, sure,” Stiles says, “but I still don’t see anything wrong with him killing the Mute.”

“We can’t just do that,” Scott says. “We have to be better than that.”

Stiles wants to reply to that, but he’s suddenly thinking back to the nogitsune, to its dark amusement, its certainty in the knowledge that the others would never kill Stiles, that they would never risk harming him. It could rely on that, even rely on them to protect it from the Oni, if it meant protecting Stiles. He has to take a deep breath, fighting back nausea. Wanting to end the conversation, he says, “Great, go . . . go be better, Scott. I’ve gotta go.” He hangs up and tosses the phone away, putting his head between his knees and concentrating on breathing. A moment later, he feels Peter’s hand on his back, rubbing up and down his spine. He manages to choke out, “I’m okay.”

“Mm hm,” Peter says, his tone conveying an entire universe of skepticism.

“I just . . . sometimes I wonder, if they had just killed me as soon as they knew I was possessed, would Allison have survived?” Stiles says. He half-expects Peter to tell him to shut the hell up, but he doesn’t. “I think of Chris Argent pointing his gun at me, so close to pulling the trigger. I wonder if he thinks about it, too, about how if he had killed me then, his daughter would still be alive. They had – they had plenty of chances. If they had killed me, it would have died with me. But they wouldn’t.”

“Of course they wouldn’t,” Peter says. “In their shoes, you wouldn’t have either.”

“I’m not exactly a saint,” Stiles says, trying to smile. “I was willing to kill you. Hell, I was willing to kill Jackson, when he wouldn’t own up to the fact that he was the kanima.”

Peter shrugs. “Okay. But would you have been willing to kill Allison?”

Stiles’ stomach turns. “No.”

“Even if you knew you were putting your own life at risk, by trying to help her, cure her, rather than end the threat by killing her?”

Stiles can’t manage to choke the word out through his aching throat. After a moment, he just nods.

“There you are then.”

“But Allison – Allison was good,” Stiles chokes out. “She was a better person than I was. I – I should have been better, should have fought harder. I tried to fight against it but it was so hard. It killed innocent people and I couldn’t stop it. Allison would have stopped it.”

“You have no idea if that’s true,” Peter says, “and everything we know about the nogitsune suggests that it isn’t.”

Stiles hunches up tighter and says nothing.

Peter gives him a minute, then says quietly, “Allison’s death was awful. It was unfair. So your mind struggles to find a way to prevent it. But even if we could change the past, there’s no way to know what might have made it happen differently. You are not the nogitsune, Stiles. You didn’t imprison it. You might have inadvertently fueled its release, but you only did that because Jennifer Blake was threatening to kill your father, and in that, Allison was just as culpable as you.”

“But why me?” Stiles manages. “Why did it choose me? There, there must have been something about me – ”

“It chose you because you were a spark. That’s all. You can’t be held responsible for that, any more than Allison can be held responsible for not being a spark.”

Stiles stays curled up for a moment, struggling against the nausea. Finally, he manages to take a deep breath, and the tightness in his throat eases. “It’s not fair.”

“No, it’s not. And survivor’s guilt is a bitch. Trust me, I know that from intimate experience.”

Stiles glances over at him. “Do you ever – stop wondering? Why you survived?”

Peter’s quiet for a moment, before he shrugs and says, “I haven’t yet.”

Stiles knuckles a few tears out of his eyes. “Thanks for being honest,” he says, and crawls into Peter’s lap, resting his head against Peter’s shoulder, careful not to touch the healing wound. Peter leans back against the cushions to give him a little more room. After a few moments, he picks up the remote and puts the movie back on.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is more than a little surprised when he goes to the station school and finds that Scott is there, and is engaged in a debate with his father. He catches, “But that’s not the point!” as he comes into the office, and then Scott looks surprised to see him, and a little embarrassed. “Hey, I, uh, I thought you were going to go straight home.”

Stiles gives him a sideways look. “I did go home. And then I came here, with his dinner.” He holds up the brown paper bag, then adds, “I put in some almonds. They’re good for you, so eat them.”

“I like almonds,” Noah says mildly.

“Good. So are you two gonna tell me what’s going on?”

“It’s nothing – ” Scott starts.

At the same time, Noah says, “Scott and I have been discussing your ability to protect yourself from the bounty hunters. We couldn’t come to a compromise, so maybe we should just ask you. Would you rather carry a Taser or a gun?”

Stiles frowns and says, “Dare I ask how many bounty hunters I haven’t heard about?”

“Five,” his father says. “None of them got near you, and three of them have been arrested. I don’t think the other two plan on coming back. But since this isn’t going to be settling down any time soon, and I can’t keep you in a bubble, I want you to be able to defend yourself.”

“I’m not allowed to carry a gun on school property,” Stiles says, “so I guess a Taser. Though, maybe also a gun. And I could just carry it when I’m not in school.”

Noah studies him for a long moment, then nods and says, “Okay. I’ll take you down to the range and teach you how to use one.”

“Stiles,” Scott says, his voice painfully awkward, “I don’t want you to have to carry a gun. Just let us protect you, okay?”

“Look, if someone tries to kill me and you’re standing right there, sure, I’ll let you take the lead on that,” Stiles says, “but we aren’t together twenty-four-seven. My dad’s right; I should be able to protect myself.”

“Okay, but it’s one thing to say that and another thing to do it,” Scott says. “Especially after everything that’s happened.”

Stiles frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I just – I just want you to be okay, Stiles,” Scott says earnestly.

Noah reaches out and squeezes Stiles’ shoulder. “He will be. Okay, Scott? I’m going to talk to him, we’ll make sure he’s safe.”

It’s clearly a dismissal, and although Scott is still clearly uncomfortable, he nods and accepts it. He gives Stiles a hug and then jogs out of the room. Stiles is left blinking at his retreating back, until he turns to his father and says, “What the hell am I missing?”

“Apparently,” Noah says, his voice carefully measured, “you said some things to Scott about the Mute that left him concerned. He’s afraid that you’d be willing to kill to protect yourself, or possibly jump too quickly to that option, and he doesn’t want you to have to do that.”

Stiles feels his gut twist a little, with both anger and guilt. “Yeah, well, it’s not like I want to. But Scott talks like nobody ever has to kill anybody, ever, like he doesn’t live in a world full of magic and monsters.”

“Come on,” Noah says, “let’s take a ride. We’ll head down to the range.”

“Fine,” Stiles says, sighing, sure that he’s now in for a lecture.

Once they’re in the car, his father says, “I don’t think you’re entirely wrong about the Mute, you know. I’m not sure what exactly we would have done if it had survived. And I realized after the fact that a lot of my opinion on what happened – and probably Scott’s opinion, too – was colored by the fact that it was Peter Hale pulling the metaphorical trigger. I realized that if this thing had attacked Derek, or Scott, and they had killed it in response, I would have felt that was appropriate. So I don’t really think it’s wrong for Peter to have done so; we just all have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to Peter.”

“Yeah, I guess. I mean. He did bad shit,” Stiles admits. He plays with the hem of his shirt, thinking about what his father would think if he found out about his relationship with Peter. “I dunno, though. I mean, he was getting revenge after his family was brutally murdered, which seems pretty fair, honestly.”

Noah glances at him and says, “I think the desire for revenge is natural. And I know that neither of us can imagine what those six years were like for Peter. But we have a justice system for a reason. If he knew Kate Argent had killed his family, he should have told the police that, not murdered everyone involved.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agrees.

“And that’s not even going into what he did to Scott, to you and Lydia – he hurt innocent people, and that’s never okay.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says again, realizing that he doesn’t actually know why Peter did some of these things, beyond generic ‘he was half out of his mind’.

“But that’s besides the point,” Noah says. “All I’m saying is that if you have to kill someone to keep yourself alive, then I trust you to make that judgment call in the moment, and yes, I want you prepared and capable of using lethal force if necessary.”

Stiles folds his arms over his stomach and says, “But Scott doesn’t.”

Noah sighs. “I don’t think it’s a reflection on his opinion of your character,” he says. “I think Scott just . . . wants to live in a world where killing is never necessary.”

“Must be nice there,” Stiles mutters.

His father surprises him by giving a snort of laughter. “Yeah, I bet it is,” he says. “But Scott’s had a pretty rough year, so let’s just let him have it for now, okay? We’ll cross that bridge if we get to it. Hopefully we’ll figure out who’s behind these bounty hunters and it won’t even come up.”

They spend about an hour at the range, and by the time they leave, he’s moderately decent at hitting the target. Of course, he’s not even legally allowed to own a gun at his age, but Noah says they’ll overlook that, given the circumstances. He gives him a thorough lecture on gun safety and then turns him loose on the world.

Stiles heads over to Peter’s. He’s not there, so Stiles curls up on the sofa with T’Challa, and turns the television on. Peter arrives about an hour later, with a few bags from one of the grocery stores he goes to. He says he’s going to marinate some steaks.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” Stiles says, watching Peter chop garlic, and Peter gives his usual shrug. “Why did you bite Scott?”

Peter glances over at him, a glance that seems simultaneously amused at the question and puzzled as to why Stiles has chosen to ask it now. “I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take Kate on by myself, so having a couple betas was in my best interest.”

“Okay, yeah, but . . .” Stiles thinks about this for a few moments. “Trying to force him to do what you wanted? To kill people?”

“Oh, it was a terrible decision,” Peter says, without hesitation. “I wasn’t thinking clearly at all, and it backfired on me spectacularly, and I deserved it. It was a combination of stubbornness and ego, two of my least attractive traits. I hated the fact that some random, goody-two-shoes teenager I stumbled on in the woods was fighting back – and winning. So I dug my heels in and tried to pull it out, when a far smarter thing to do would’ve been to give up on him and choose somebody else. Will you grab the Worchestershire Sauce from the fridge?”

Stiles gives a little snort and goes to do so. “Hey, did you know that Worchestershire Sauce was invented by accident? Like, these guys had this stuff in a barrel for years and forgot about it, and when they found it they decided to try it, and it turned out that it tasted good.”

“Interesting.” Peter looks amused. “And here I thought we were talking about my bad decisions.”

That makes Stiles laugh. “Yeah. You did some fucked up stuff back then.”

“I did. I don’t deny it.” Peter measures out the sauce carefully, and then reaches for his black pepper grinder. “But like I told you, I would have done just about anything to get to Kate. The morality of my actions was completely unimportant to me.”

“Do you regret doing that stuff?” Stiles asks, curious.

Peter shrugs. “I regret hurting Derek.”

“And Laura?” Stiles prompts.

Peter’s hands tighten convulsively, and the pepper grinder shatters. Stiles blinks at him, as he looks down at the marinade, now full of splintered wood. He clears his throat and says, “Yes. And Laura.”

“You, uh . . .” Stiles says, at a bit of a loss for words. “Do you want me to . . .”

“No.” Peter’s voice is harsh and abrupt. He picks up the bowl and dumps it into the sink, washing the sauce and the bits of wood down the drain. He sweeps the remains of the pepper grinder, along with all the pepper, into the trash, while Stiles watches. By the time he’s finished doing that, he’s composed. “Let’s order some take-out.”

“Okay.” Stiles hesitates, then says, “Sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up. I know you don’t like to – ”

“It’s fine. Papa Gino’s?”

“Sure.”

Peter gets on his phone and places an order, and by the time he’s finished, he seems mostly back to normal, putting the marinade ingredients away and saying, “So they just found an old barrel of sauce in their basement and decided to try it?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Stiles says. “But if you think that’s bad, wait until you hear about how artificial sweeteners were discovered . . .”

Peter gives a snort of laughter and says, “All right, let’s hear it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

It’s probably not normal for someone to survive being trapped in a car and burned alive, so after it happens to Jordan Parrish, the group puts their minds together to figure it out. It turns out he’s a Hellhound, which certainly isn’t what Stiles had expected. When he thinks ‘Hellhound’ he doesn’t picture ‘mild-mannered but slightly smart-mouthed deputy with cute green eyes’. Deaton explains it, but to be honest Stiles has stopped listening because he’s trying to remember something he had read about banshees.

He finds the book he wants and practically runs the Jeep off the road in his haste to get to Peter’s. He slams the book down in front of him and says, “Tell me if you think this would work.”

Peter glances down at the text. A slight frown furrows his forehead, and then he says, “Obviously not, you don’t have – ”

“A Hellhound?” Stiles interrupts. “Yeah, I do. Deputy Parrish is one. We just found out.”

Peter’s frown deepens as he reads the text. Finally, he shakes his head. “It’s far too risky.”

“Risky?” Stiles asks, his voice rising. “Who the hell cares? We – we could bring Allison back! And, and Erica and Boyd – even Laura!”

“There will be no bringing back of anyone,” Peter says, slamming the book shut. “Bringing people back from the dead is immensely difficult.”

“This from you?” Stiles asks incredulously. “You literally did it to yourself!”

“Yes, and it was possible because of a very, very specific set of circumstances, that I bit a banshee less than twenty-four hours before my death,” Peter says. “I don’t recall Allison doing that.”

“Okay, yeah, but this spell is something different, you have to see that,” Stiles says. “You need all four parts. A banshee to channel the dead, a kitsune to start the heart, a Hellhound to carry the body, and a spark to act as the guide. We have all those four parts! I could do this, I could go across the barrier and bring people back!”

“Stiles, no!” Peter shouts, and Stiles stares at him in shock. “You have no idea how many ways a spell like this could go wrong. You could open a door you can’t close, you could bring across something that’s not one of your friends. You could get stuck there, or lost there, because there’s a fifth part I notice you’re conveniently not mentioning: an anchor to keep the spark tethered to the living. Lydia could anchor you when you went looking for the nogitsune but she wouldn’t be able to do it this time, if she’s keeping the channel open, and it would have to be an incredibly strong bond – ”

“Like a mating bond?” Stiles asks, lifting his eyes to Peter’s in challenge.

“Yes,” Peter retorts. “Like a mating bond. Which is something we don’t have.”

“We’re – ”

“Not mates, Stiles!” Peter shouts. “You refused me. You were right to do it and I don’t blame you. But only an alpha and a spark can be mates, and only if the alpha offers the Bite and the spark willingly accepts. We can’t be mates anymore, not today, not tomorrow, quite possibly not ever. And while we’re on the subject, if you were going to accept the mating bond now, just to do this, I wouldn’t want it anyway.”

“You know what, fuck you!” Stiles snaps. “You’re only saying all of this because you don’t want me bringing Laura back! Because you don’t want to face her after what you did!”

Peter’s mouth tightens. “And you’re only doing this because you still feel guilty about Allison’s death, so what’s your point?”

“That’s a hell of a lot more noble than what you’re doing! Hiding from the possibility that we could get our friends back because you killed your own niece and you can’t face up to that.”

“You’re not thinking clearly, Stiles,” Peter says, a little more quietly. “You don’t have any idea what a spell like this could do – you could literally tear apart the fabric of reality because you can’t face the fact that Allison’s death wasn’t your fault.”

“Forget it,” Stiles says, grabbing the book before Peter can stop him. “I don’t need your help anyway. Scott can anchor me. He’ll do it – you know he will, if it’s for Allison. So you can just, just fucking forget it.”

He storms out of the loft and down to the Jeep. He has to stop and take several deep breaths in order to calm down. Then he gets out his phone and texts Scott, Lydia, and Kira, saying to meet him at Derek’s loft. That’ll be the safest place to do it, the only place, really. He doesn’t want to risk going to Deaton’s – it’s far too likely that the veterinarian will have a similar opinion to Peter’s. They can call Jordan once he’s gone over it with the others. He says he’s going to grab some things and he’ll meet them there.

They beat him there, because of the stops he has to make – and so does Peter. He gawks slightly at the sight of Peter in the room with the others, talking to them like they don’t hate his guts. “What are you doing here?” he demands.

“I’m preventing you from doing something colossally stupid and taking all of us off the cliff with you,” Peter says.

“How did you even know – ”

“Come on, Stiles. I’m not an idiot. Obviously you would call them right away, and obviously you would have them come to Derek’s loft. I also knew that you would present this spell like the result that you want is a foregone conclusion, and not mention any of the risks that I just told you about.”

Stiles can barely talk, he’s so pissed. “You son of a – come on, Scott, you, you know Peter’s a liar! He just doesn’t want us to do this because he doesn’t want us to bring Laura back!”

Scott looks more worried than anything else. “Yeah, I know that Peter lies all the time, but I also know that magic like this is tricky and, and this sort of thing doesn’t come without a price. So I called Deaton – ”

“Fuck me,” Stiles says.

“ – and he backed Peter up and said that the best case scenario is that Allison would come back okay, but Erica and Boyd have been gone so much longer, not even mentioning Laura, that it might drive them nuts to come back – ”

“So, so, okay, we’ll just get Allison, then,” Stiles says. “If Allison is the only person who can come back, that, that’s still worth the risk, right?”

“That’s what I said to Deaton and he reminded me that that was the best case scenario and that it was way, way more likely that we’d get a demon masquerading as Allison, or bring something else over with her, if you managed to find and bring back anyone at all and didn’t just get stuck between the world of the living and the dead.”

Stiles feels tears starting and he hates himself for that. “But it’s Allison, Scott.”

Scott has to take a deep breath. “Allison – Allison being gone is awful. I wake up with it every morning, how awful it is that she’s dead. But we have to accept it and find ways to move on. I hate that as much as you do – ”

“No, you don’t!” Stiles shouts. “Nobody does! Nobody knows what this is like, knowing that – feeling what it was like to kill her. The Void wasn’t still inside me when the Oni killed her but I know what it felt, I can feel it every night when I close my eyes, the way it reveled in the cruelty of taking her from us – ”

“Stiles, stop,” Scott says, taking Stiles’ shoulders in both hands. “Allison’s death wasn’t your fault. I won’t let you risk your own life, your own soul, to bring her back. She’s dead and she’s gone and, and it’s horrible and it’ll always hurt, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice yourself to try to save her. I can’t lose you too, okay?”

Stiles is crying too hard to speak. He folds into Scott’s embrace. After a few moments, he feels Lydia come up behind him, wrapping her arms around both of them. He sobs so hard that his chest aches and his eyes burn, and at one or two moments, he thinks he might throw up. But gradually, the worst of it passes. He pulls away, his entire body trembling. Scott lets him go, leaning back into where Kira is waiting to comfort him. They’ve both been crying, too, and so has Lydia. He looks around and sees that Peter is gone.

Derek brings them over a box of tissues and sits down on the floor with them. “Thanks for thinking of Laura,” he says quietly.

“Yeah.” Stiles blows his nose. “Sorry Peter ruined it just because he didn’t want to face her.”

Derek’s eyebrows go up. “Is that what you think he did?”

“Obviously,” Stiles says, still feeling sore about this.

“I don’t think so,” Lydia says. “I mean, I only understand about a tenth of what’s going on with him, but he was genuinely freaked when he got here. He practically shook Derek’s teeth out as he demanded to know if you were here and what you’d told us. He was really worried about you.”

“I’m still going to kick his ass,” Stiles mutters.

“Why did he know what you were going to ask us to do before we did?” Kira asks. She’s not as familiar with Peter’s history, isn’t as wary of him. “Did you have to ask him about the spell?”

“I, uh, I run things by him sometimes. He knows a lot, you know, and as someone who actually came back from the dead, I figured he was probably the resident expert on the matter.” Stiles sees both Scott and Lydia look somewhat skeptical of this explanation, despite it being one hundred percent the truth. He sighs. “Look, um. After . . . everything that happened . . . it was hard for me to be around anybody. Especially you guys. I knew that losing Allison had hurt you so much, and I couldn’t . . . I just didn’t want you to see how much I was hurting, didn’t want people worrying about me. One night when I was super fucked up, I went over to Peter’s. I’m still not even sure why I did it. Maybe I thought he would beat the shit out of me like I felt like I deserved. But . . . he didn’t. He was actually . . . really nice to me. I know it sounds weird. But he made me some tea and let me have my hysterics on his sofa until I finally fell asleep, and then he made me breakfast the next morning. So I kept going over. He talked me through some of the worst of it, and when I asked why he was so nice to me, he said it was because he knew how it felt to lose so much that it felt impossible to keep going. I know he did a lot of bad shit, but he’s not actually as bad as he seems. You know, when he’s not fucking up my plans to bring my friends back from the dead.”

“Yeah, that was pretty reasonable of him,” Lydia says, and shrugs. “I’ll never be his number one fan, but if he’s helped you, I’m glad.”

Scott wrinkles his nose, but keeps his opinions to himself, and Stiles can’t help but be relieved. He sees the pensive look on Derek’s face, and reaches out to prod him in the arm. “You look like you’re thinking deep thoughts.”

Derek scowls reflexively at him. “I’m just – he’s my uncle, but I feel like I barely know him anymore.”

“Oh, yeah, we’ve talked about that,” Stiles says. “He just says that you’ll never forgive him for killing Laura, he won’t ask you to, so therefore it’s better if he doesn’t try to be your friend. Do with that what you will. I’m not getting involved.”

Derek is still scowling, but it’s a little less harsh. “Whatever,” he mutters.

“Come on, let’s get you home,” Scott says, helping Stiles off the floor. “Did you bring the Jeep? Great, I’ll drive. I can come get my car later.”

“Fine,” Stiles says with a sigh, leaning against him. But he can’t help but smile a little at Scott’s concern. Once they’re in the car, he closes his eyes, exhausted. The silence doesn’t feel as oppressive as it used to.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

It takes Stiles three days to muster up the courage to go talk to Peter. In the interest of buttering him up a bit, he brings food. Peter likes to eat almost as much as he likes to cook. There’s a Vietnamese place downtown he’s especially fond of, so Stiles picks up take-out and heads over. He knocks before letting himself in, figuring that some politeness wouldn’t go amiss right now.

Peter is in his usual place on the sofa, with a mug of tea and a book. He glances up as Stiles lets himself in, then looks back down at his book without saying anything. A bare moment later, the scent hits him and his gaze sneaks back up. “Is that from New Dong Khanh?” he asks.

“Yep,” Stiles says, heading into the kitchen with the bag. He hears Peter give a huff behind him, but then follow him. “It’s a peace offering. Or, well, an apology offering. I fucked up and I’m sorry.”

Peter gives him the side-eye again, but he’s unable to resist the smell of Bo Luc Lac. He grabs one of the take-out containers. “Glad to see you’ve returned to your senses.”

“Don’t push your luck,” Stiles says, reaching for the dumplings, and Peter gives a snort of laughter. They eat in silence for a minute, before Stiles mentions something that had happened at the restaurant. They chat while they eat, and although there’s an underlying note of tension, it’s not as bad as it could be.

“So . . .” Stiles says, when they’re done eating, “I guess we kind of have to talk.”

Peter shrugs. “I don’t see why.”

Stiles sighs. “Look, I was a dick, and I’m sorry. I’m not mad at you going behind my back because I totally deserved it. So we don’t have to talk about my moment of insanity or bringing back the dead or any of that stuff, but we kind of have to talk about the mates thing.”

“Not really,” Peter says. “As I told you, it’s not something that can happen now.”

“Yeah, I remember, but . . .” Stiles struggles to figure out what he’s trying to say. “I need to understand it. Because you say we’re not mates, but at the same time, I feel kind of . . . drawn to you. I need to know what that’s about. I mean. I guess it makes more sense that you’ve been putting up with me all this time. If I’m your mate, you have to.”

Now Peter is the one who sighs. “It’s not like that. It’s not some irresistible compulsion.”

“Then what is it?” Stiles asks.

“It’s just . . . it’s a little hard to explain, actually, but think of it like a sixth sense. When you meet someone, you’ll notice the way they look, the way they sound. An alpha can sense . . . the way they are. And there’s a sense of compatibility. Scent is probably the best metaphor, or taste. Sometimes they go well together, some don’t. Like this.” Peter gestures at his food. “The basil, the garlic, the peppers – all of those are compatible flavors.”

“So like, you’re a walking piece of garlic, and if you meet a piece of pepper you’re like ‘hey, that smells good’ but if you met a banana you’d be like ‘ew, gross’?”

Peter huffs a little but says, “It’s as good a way of thinking about it as any.”

“Okay.” Stiles thinks about all of this. “So when you met me back then, you thought . . . what, exactly?”

“That you would be a good match for me. In a variety of ways.”

“You know, you could have told me at the time that you were offering to werewolf-marry me.”

Peter snorts. “Yes, that would have made you even more eager to get the Bite, I’m sure. I’m not going to defend my actions that night. At least, not that one.”

Stiles chews on his lower lip, pondering. “So if all it is, is the ability to sense a compatible person, why are you so convinced that I’m not your mate anymore?”

“It’s not ‘anymore’. You’re not my mate; you were never my mate. You were, and are, a potential mate. But until you get the Bite from me, all you are is that potential.”

“Then what does it mean to be a mate? There’s a bond, right?”

“Yes. Like the bond between an alpha and his betas, but stronger. It would allow me to find you when needed, to know if you were hurt or in trouble. To draw your idiotic soul back through the Veil if you were dumb enough to cross it.”

Stiles flips him off. “I said I was sorry. And okay. So unless you become an alpha again, I can’t be your mate, officially. But aren’t we still like . . . something?”

“Sure,” Peter says, rolling his eyes. “We’re ‘something’. What an amazing insight.”

“Hey, here’s a thought – try not being a total asshole about this.”

“What do you want me to say, Stiles?” Peter asks. “I told you that I didn’t blame you for refusing me. It’s probably a good thing you did, considering everything that’s happened. But you don’t get to blame me for being pissed about losing the chance to have that bond.”

“I don’t blame you, but that’s just it,” Stiles says. “You’re talking about this like the fact that we can’t have some official, mystical bond means we’re nothing to each other. That I’m just a guy who hangs out here in the evening while you put up with my presence. Then you roll your eyes at me when I say that, like you don’t understand why on earth I would think that. I like you, okay? I like hanging out with you. I want to know if you like me, too.”

“God, that is so junior high – ” Peter says. He’s interrupted when Stiles pushes his chair back and stands up to go. He snags Stiles by the wrist. “I do like you, Stiles. I told you that back then, didn’t I?”

“You didn’t even know me back then,” Stiles says, but he sits back down. “But okay. I guess you did.”

They sit quietly for a moment. Then Peter says, “Why didn’t you tell me that you knew?”

“I dunno,” Stiles says, but realizes that he does. “It’s just like, I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t trust it. I didn’t know if you had been serious or if it was something you might offer again. So I didn’t want to say anything. Then once we were hanging out, I was just . . . afraid of screwing things up. Of losing what we had by trying to have something else. I mean, I was drowning, you get that, right? Having a safe place here was a lifesaver, possibly literally. I was afraid if I brought it up, things would get weird and you wouldn’t want me around anymore. I didn’t want anything to change.”

“I suppose.” Peter looks dubious.

“It’s not like you said anything to me,” Stiles points out. “You assumed I didn’t know and you were happier with me in the dark, so don’t get up on a high horse about me keeping my secrets.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says.

Stiles fidgets a little. “So . . . where do we go from here?”

Peter takes a drink of his tea, looking at Stiles over the rim of his mug. “You said you didn’t want things to change, so in my opinion we should put this behind us and never talk about it again.”

Stiles gives a snort of laughter. “Sounds like a good, healthy coping mechanism.”

“That’s me. The paragon of healthy coping mechanisms.”

After a moment to consider, Stiles says, “Okay, but can we like, kiss sometimes while we don’t talk about it? I don’t want things to change, but maybe we could add some stuff, because to be honest I’ve been obsessing over the fact that you kissed me for months now.”

“Have you, now?” Peter says, arching an eyebrow in a way that is just ridiculously attractive.

“Maybe a little.”

“You didn’t say anything about that, either.”

“Obviously.” Stiles shrugs. “For the same reason. Not wanting things to change, not wanting to lose what we had by trying to have something else. But since we got through the whole discussion of the mates thing pretty much unscathed, I figured that after that, bringing up kissing was probably safe.”

“Mm hm.” Peter reaches out and snags Stiles’ wrist again. He raises it to his mouth and then pauses, waiting to see if Stiles is going to object or pull away. This time, he doesn’t, and Peter presses his mouth against the inside of Stiles’ wrist, first with a kiss, then with a little nip, not quite hard enough to break the skin. Stiles can practically feel his eyes glazing over as Peter continues to press kisses up his arm.

“That is just . . . way sexier than it should be,” he manages, and Peter glances up and smirks at him. “Oh, fuck. Okay. I’m gonna come in my pants and it’s gonna be super embarrassing and I don’t even care, will you just kiss me already – ”

Peter does, and it’s glorious. Stiles doesn’t know a lot about what he’s doing, but he leans into it, letting Peter take the lead. He reaches up to trace his fingers along Peter’s face, and Peter pulls away with a sharp intake of breath. “What?” Stiles asks, worried. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, not . . .” Peter lets out a breath. “That side of my face is still sensitive, is all.”

Stiles nods, realizing that he was caressing the side of Peter’s face where the burn scars were. He reaches up to do it again, rubbing his thumb against his cheekbone, trailing his fingers down along Peter’s jaw. “It doesn’t hurt, right?”

“It does not hurt,” Peter confirms, his voice a little tight, strained.

“Then . . . does it feel good?” Stiles asks, and he can’t help leaning forward, ghosting a kiss over Peter’s cheek.

“Son of a bitch,” Peter says, his hand curling around the back of Stiles’ neck. “That’s quite enough of that,” he adds, turning his face to capture Stiles’ mouth with his own again. But he eases off after a few moments, turning the kisses more gentle, softer, before pulling away entirely. “How about dessert? I have ginger ice cream.”

“Oh, hell yes,” Stiles says happily. “Best day ever.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Chapter Text

 

“Hey! Stiles, wait up!” Scott catches up with Stiles just before he can get in the Jeep and head home after school. “Hey, where are you off to? Have you got a minute?”

“Sure, hop in,” Stiles says. “I can give you a lift home.”

“I’m not going home, Kira and I were going to – but we can just talk for a few and then you can drop me off back here if you want.”

Stiles has a sneaking suspicion that he’s not going to like this conversation, and that Scott wants to have it in the Jeep so Stiles won’t have to look at him or be able to hit him. But he’s been waiting for that for almost a week now, so he sighs and gets in, pulling out of the parking lot.

“So what’s up with you and Peter?” Scott asks.

Stiles gives him a sideways glance and holds back a sigh. “I told you what’s up with me and Peter. We’ve been hanging out.”

“Okay, but like.” Scott’s brow furrows. “What’s up with you and Peter?”

“You know that asking the exact same question with different inflection won’t get you a different answer, right?” Stiles says.

Now it’s Scott who sighs. “Okay. But I don’t get it. How can you want to be friends with him?”

“I literally already told you. I was fucked up. He was nice to me, and he made me feel better. You don’t need to make a big deal out of it.”

There’s a pause while Scott mulls this over, clearly trying to decide whether or not he should push this, and if so, how far. Finally, he says, “Look, I’m worried about you. Not just the whole thing with Allison. But what you said – about the Mute. Like, knowing that you’ve been hanging out with Peter kind of puts it in a different light. Like he told you that you should be okay with him killing it.”

Stiles opens his mouth, closes it, and wrestles for a long moment with his temper. “Okay, so, I’m gonna say a thing or two that you won’t like. The fact that you don’t like that Peter killed the Mute has nothing to do with the Mute, or larger morality, or anything other than Peter.”

“We can’t just – ”

“You didn’t have a problem with me and Jackson setting Peter on fire,” Stiles says, “with every intention of killing him. You didn’t have a problem with Derek finishing the job, beyond the fact that it meant you couldn’t finish the job and see if it really cured your lycanthropy. Oh, and let’s not forget the time you literally poisoned Gerard Argent with mountain ash and then maneuvered him into getting an alpha’s bite, with the full intention that it was going to kill him. And he was human! We could’ve put him in a freakin’ jail cell. So this new golden boy attitude about killing because of your True Alphaness needs to take several seats.”

Scott’s jaw tightens. “It’s different.”

“Yeah, exactly. It’s different. It’s different for you. You don’t hold yourself to the same standards as the rest of us and it’s not fucking fair. You don’t want me to carry a gun to protect myself because you don’t trust my judgment when it comes to whether or not I should kill to protect myself or others. You hate the fact that Peter killed the Mute because Peter did it, even though if you’d been attacked by a thing with a wolfsbane-laced hatchet, you probably would have killed it yourself. But it’s different for you, right? Because you’re the True Alpha. Because you didn’t have to kill to get your Alphaness. You’ve conflated these two things in your mind but they’re not related, okay? Killing to survive and killing for power are two entirely separate things.”

Scott’s quiet for a minute. Finally, he says, “Okay. I mean, at least about the last thing. I don’t know if I would have killed the Mute if it had attacked me. We could have put it in Eichen House, I guess.”

“Oh, yeah, that would’ve been more kind than killing it.” Stiles resists the urge to roll his eyes into the next hemisphere. “Anyway, my point is just that if you think Peter corrupted me into thinking that it was okay to kill monsters, you’re five hundred percent wrong. Okay? That’s all.”

“Okay,” Scott says. “And I guess I can see why you might have started going over there when you were messed up, but – you’ve got us, you know? You don’t have to hang out with Peter.”

“I like hanging out with Peter. We watch Clone Wars together.” Stiles sees Scott’s frown and says, “I’m not asking you to like him. Hell, I’m not even asking you to like the fact that I’m friends with him. I’m just asking you not to believe that he’s turning me into a horrible person. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Scott says, although he still sounds a little dubious.

“Super.” Stiles turns to head back to the school. “Look, I know he did bad things. I even asked him about what he did and he admitted that he was wrong about what he did to you, and stupid on top of it. He regrets a lot of what he did, that he hurt Derek, and especially that he killed Laura. He still can’t even talk about her with me. He wanted revenge for his family so badly that it seemed justified to him. I’m not saying he deserves to win awards for it, just that I don’t think it’s entirely right to judge him for what he did when he was out of his mind. We can agree to disagree on that if it’ll make you feel better.”

“Okay,” Scott says again, as Stiles pulls back into the parking lot. “Hey, this Friday, we’re going out to see the new Fast and Furious movie. You should come. Okay?”

“Sure,” Stiles says. “Sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles is relieved to find that their conversation really doesn’t change anything. They still watch movies and talk about random crap. They kiss, yes, and kissing is awesome and amazing and he enjoys the hell out of it. Sometimes Peter leans in and nuzzles his neck, a gesture which is somehow both wolfish and adorable and sexy all at the same time. But other than that, the only real change is that they can go out in public together without Stiles worrying about his friends having a freak-out. They still don’t know the full story, but they know enough that he figures they could handle hearing about him and Peter at the grocery store together.

“Don’t you worry that people are going to recognize you?” Stiles asks curiously, during a quick trip to Whole Foods. “I mean, you’re supposed to be dead.”

Peter shrugs. “People are incredibly inobservant, and it’s not like there are ‘wanted’ posters hanging for me everywhere. Who cares?”

“I guess,” Stiles says, laughing.

“Besides, let’s say somebody did recognize me. What are they going to do about it? Report me to the police? I’ll just say I’m somebody else. I have multiple fake identities – ”

“Of course you do.”

“ – and my fingerprints aren’t on file anywhere. Plus, Peter Hale is not technically wanted for any crime, so even if they suspect I’m him, they can’t do anything about it.”

“I get it already; you’re a genius,” Stiles says, rolling his eyes. “Ooh, strawberries, is it too early for strawberries? They’re probably from Mexico or something, whatever, let’s buy some strawberries and some chocolate and then let’s eat chocolate-covered strawberries and make out.”

“You are a ridiculous creature,” Peter replies, but he puts two containers of strawberries into the basket of the cart. “I was going to make chicken cacciatore.”

“Okay, but, counterpoint,” Stiles says, “it’s a gorgeous day out. We could buy some stuff at the deli and some chips and strawberries and go have a picnic and make out in the woods.”

“You just like finding different places for us to make out,” Peter says, rolling his eyes.

“Well, yes, obviously,” Stiles replies.

Peter doesn’t say anything else about it, but he gets a bunch of stuff at the deli and then the bakery and before long they’ve checked out and he’s heading towards the preserve. Stiles slouches into the passenger seat, enjoying the purr of the car beneath him. Peter’s car is incredibly sexy, and he doesn’t mind telling Peter that at every opportunity. Peter always just smirks as if to say that he knows that.

Peter parks the car on the side of a dirt road, and carries the two bags from the grocery as well as a blanket he keeps in the trunk of his car for emergencies. They’re walking for about ten minutes before Stiles breaks down and asks where they’re going.

“There’s a nice little picnic spot not far from the old house,” Peter says.

“Oh my God,” Stiles says, excited. “Are we going to your teenage make-out spot? And don’t front with me and say you didn’t have one, because I already know you had a kid when you were seventeen so you definitely weren’t keeping it in your pants.”

“No,” Peter says, amused. “I never took Corinne here, or any of my teenaged flings. This was a family place.”

Stiles stops walking, startled although he can’t say why. “You’re taking me to a family place?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Just . . .” Stiles lets out a breath. “I’m surprised but I’m not sure why. Like. I know what losing my mom was like, so I know how big a deal it is to bring someone to a special family place.”

“It’s a clearing in the woods. Don’t get excited.”

“I’ll get excited if I want to,” Stiles says, and sticks his tongue out.

“Don’t stick that out if you don’t intend to use it,” Peter says, and Stiles trips over a branch and nearly face-plants into a tree. Peter keeps walking without stopping to help him.

It is just a clearing in the woods, but it’s a nice clearing in the woods, shaded by some big oak trees and next to a little brook. Peter shakes out the blanket and starts setting out the food. Stiles makes himself a sandwich and sets to it, enjoying the sunlight and the warm breeze. “You know what’s weird?” he says, and Peter gives him a questioning glance. “I feel okay. I mean. I feel good. Not like, super happy or excited or whatever, but just kind of mellow, that sort of good. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel good again.”

Peter gives a little nod. “Glad to hear it.”

“What about you? Do you feel good?”

Peter’s slight moment of hesitation gives away the answer, but at least he doesn’t lie. Instead, he says, “I feel all right.”

“Better than other days?”

“Yeah,” Peter says. “Better than a lot of them.”

Stiles eats a couple chips and says, “Do you think you’ll ever feel good again? Like, before-the-fire, old-Peter-Hale good?”

“I don’t know,” Peter says.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “That’s an okay answer. You know that, right?”

“Since when are you my therapist?” Peter asks.

“Hey, turnabout is fair play,” Stiles says, smirking, and Peter just rolls his eyes. But when he changes the subject, Stiles allows it. They talk off and on while they eat, occasionally lapsing into a few minutes of companionable silence. Stiles eats way too many of the strawberries, and Peter eats too much of the chocolate.

“So did you guys have picnics here, back in the day?” Stiles asks, as he’s sprawled out on the blanket.

“Yes, on occasion. Normally we’d just eat in the backyard, but this place was nice enough that we would trek down here for special occasions.”

“Is this a special occasion?” Stiles asks, excited.

“No,” Peter says, “but we can’t exactly eat in my backyard anymore, can we.”

“Oh, yeah. Guess not. What if – ”

Peter lifts a hand, his head suddenly up, scenting the air. Stiles immediately snaps his mouth shut, because he’s seen that behavior on all the wolves, and it never bodes well. He waits while Peter scans the horizon. “We should go,” Peter says. “Leave the food. There’s not much left anyway. I’ll come back for the blanket later.”

“Okay.” Stiles scrambles to his feet. Peter takes off at a brisk walk, and Stiles practically has to jog to keep up with him.

Bare seconds later, he hears a high-pitched whine and then a thwap and then he’s staring down the head of a crossbow bolt an inch from his face and he nearly pisses his pants. “Jesus fucking Christ!” he blurts out, as Peter tosses the bolt away.

“Run,” Peter says, and Stiles does. They’ve been running about twenty seconds, which felt like a short eternity, before Peter tackles him and throws him out of the path of another bolt. It tears a sizable gash in Stiles’ thigh as it goes past, but doesn’t impact directly. Stiles has barely climbed to his feet when Peter snatches another bolt out of the air, and then they’re running again.

Peter is a few paces ahead of him this time, so Stiles has a clear view of it when he suddenly stumbles and falls. Stiles tries to stop, overbalances, and lands on his ass in the dirt and leaves. “What is it?” he asks, panting for breath and searching the trees for the assassin.

“My fucking hand,” Peter grits out, holding it out where Stiles can see. Stiles looks at the angry red weal across his palm and swears. Dark red lines are already branching out of it. “Coated the bolts in something, then barbed the stems. Was hoping it wouldn’t kick in so fast. One I could have handled, but two – ”

“What do we do?” Stiles asks, but he’s already on his feet and dragging Peter’s arm up over his shoulders. He wobbles and nearly falls; his own wound isn’t exactly minor.

“We’re almost to the old house.” Peter helps balance him and the two of them manage to stagger along. No more bolts come their way. Stiles realizes, with a sinking feeling, that the assassin probably believes the wounds he’s given are fatal. All he has to do now is wait – why waste more bolts?

They manage to get inside the house, and collapse in the front hallway. Stiles looks down at the blood soaking through his pants and swears. He’s bleeding heavily. He manages to get his pants off and then strips his shirt off as well, folding it and applying pressure. Fortunately, the wound is on the outside of his thigh, so it’s easy enough to sit down and put his weight on the makeshift compress.

Peter has slumped against a wall. He’s pale and breathing heavily, sweat beading on his forehead. “Red wolfsbane,” he says, panting. “Not good. Even a low dose is fatal.”

“What do we do?” Stiles asks.

“Always felt like I’d end up dying here,” Peter says, eyes tracking aimlessly over the ceiling. “This is going to be the third time I’ve done it, counting the fire – which I do. What are the odds of that?”

“Peter!” Stiles gives him a light slap upside the face. “Focus. Is there any treatment?”

“There’s an antidote, but it’s not like I carry it on me. Deaton would have it.” Peter’s eyes sag shut. “Never liked him. Such a sanctimonious ass.”

Stiles ignores his rambling and grabs his phone. He’s halfway through composing a text to Scott when he realizes he has no signal. “What the fuck! I’ve had signal here before, I know I have – ” He swears profusely. Whoever has them cornered must have a signal blocker. He forces himself to take a deep breath. Those things only have a short range. He doesn’t know which side of the house their attacker is on, but if he goes up to the second floor and moves around, he might be able to get a signal. “Peter, I have to go try to get a signal so I can call the cavalry. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”

Peter just nods. Stiles stands up, and the world grays out in front of him. He finds himself on the floor again, blinking up at the ceiling. “Fuck, how much blood have I lost?” he mumbles, mostly to himself, since Peter certainly doesn’t seem to be listening. He grits his teeth and sits up, then uses the wall to support his weight as he eases back to his feet. Nausea twists at his gut, but he doesn’t faint again. After a moment, he hobbles towards the remains of the staircase.

It takes far more effort than he had anticipated, and he has to stop twice, gamely hanging onto the railing and trying not to vomit. But he manages it through sheer stubbornness, and heads into the first room. No signal. The second room. No signal. Third, fourth, fifth . . .

One bar.

He takes a deep breath and opens a group text to his father, Scott, and Derek. He doesn’t know if it’ll take more time for a longer message to go through, so he’s brief. ‘Trapped at Hale house by assassin. Poisoned bolts. Be careful but hurry.’ He hits send.

His phone processes the message for a brief eternity before popping up ‘message could not be sent’. He swears and tries again, with the same result.

He looks around and places himself in the building. He’s in the back, in a corner. That makes sense – the assassin had followed them to the front and presumably set up camp there. He knows he’s got them cornered, knows that the wounds he’s dealt Peter at least are fatal – why bother coming in and risking himself, when he can simply wait outside until they’re dead?

There’s a window on the back wall. Stiles shuffles over to it and holds his phone outside, hitting send with his thumb.

It still doesn’t work.

“God damn it,” he spits out, nearly crying from frustration. “Come the fuck on!”

He climbs onto the windowsill, leaning the top half of his body out the window, wishing Peter was there to hold his legs. Stretches his arm out as far as he can. Hits send.

It takes so long that he thinks it’s going to time out again, but then the little time stamp appears. Sent. The relief is so strong that he nearly drops the phone. He hauls himself back inside and nearly throws up. He takes a moment to just sit and apply pressure to the wound again.

Either several minutes or hours later, he realizes that he had passed out. He shakes himself and decides not to risk getting up. He shuffles down the hallway on his hands and knees. Of course, his wounded thigh does not like doing that at all, but the stabbing pain at least keeps him conscious. He half lowers himself, half falls down the stairs.

Peter hasn’t moved. His eyes are a little glassy, and the dark red veins have spread all the way up past his elbow. “Son of a bitch,” Stiles mutters, wishing there was something he could do. Peter blinks at him slowly. “Come on, Peter, stay with me.”

“Thought you had gone,” Peter coughs out.

“Dumbass,” Stiles says. “I’m not leaving you alone.”

“You should,” Peter mumbles.

“You just fucking saved my life like, three times in the last hour,” Stiles says. “Don’t be stupid.”

Peter shakes his head. “Couldn’t save them,” he says. “Should’ve seen it. Talia . . . she depended on me. But I didn’t see it.”

“Peter, it’s not your fault,” Stiles says. “Look, you’re the smartest guy I know, okay? If you didn’t see it, nobody could have. No matter what happened, I know that you did the best I could, that you never would have just let it happen.”

Peter’s eyes close. For a moment, Stiles thinks he’s passed out, but then they open again, looking glassy, disoriented. “Never would’ve thought she could . . .” His voice trails off. Stiles decides that unconsciousness might be his friend at this point, so he just holds Peter’s uninjured hand in one of his own, using the other to press his shirt against his wound. “How could she?”

“Kate was psycho,” Stiles says, not really paying attention to Peter’s feverish ramblings.

“Not Kate,” Peter says. “Laura.”

Stiles frowns. “Laura?”

“I didn’t see it,” Peter says. “Things she said . . . she wanted to be alpha. She wanted . . . Talia was hard on her. On everybody. But she . . .” His hand curls around Stiles’ squeezing hard. “How could she?”

Stiles feels the breath has been kicked out of him. “Wait, wait. Peter. Are you saying that Laura helped Kate kill your family? Is that . . . is that why you killed her?”

Peter rolls onto his side and gives a faint groan. “I’m sorry, Talia. I’m so sorry. I should’ve seen it.”

“Jesus Christ,” Stiles says, because he feels like he has to say something, but hell if he knows what the appropriate response to this is. “Peter, come on. Stay with me here. Tell me – tell me about Laura.” He hopes that will keep Peter awake, which always seems important in the movies.

“I knew she hated Talia,” Peter mumbles. “Never really blamed her. Talia – expected so much. And she was – controlling.” He pants for breath. “If she had killed Talia – I would have forgiven her. Accepted her as my alpha. But she didn’t want anybody to suspect her. So she killed – everyone.” A shudder rocks his body. “I should have protected them. After – the fire – being alone like that – it hurt so much. We aren’t made to be alone. I was alone for so long.”

“I know,” Stiles says, squeezing his hand.

“Then you came . . .” Peter’s thumb traces over Stiles’ knuckles, and then his eyes close.

“Hey, hey, stay with me,” Stiles repeats. He leans down and presses his mouth against Peter’s. His lips are colder than usual, and he doesn’t respond. “Come on, Peter, stay with me. You’re not alone anymore, and I – I don’t want to be alone either, so don’t – don’t you dare leave me, you son of a bitch – ”

Peter coughs, and his body convulses. He draws in a shuddering breath and then goes limp again. Stiles swears viciously and checks for a pulse. It’s there, weak and erratic against his fingertips. “Come on, come on,” Stiles mutters, shaking Peter hard. He still doesn’t wake, although he coughs again. Stiles looks down at his arm, at those dark red lines snaking up past his elbow and almost all the way to his shoulder. “Come on, Peter, don’t do this, you are the toughest son of a bitch I have ever met, you can’t die here – ”

Stiles practically jumps out of his skin when the front door to the house bangs open and Scott charges inside with Derek on his heels. “The assassin – ”

“Your dad’s got him; he’s passing him off to one of the deputies,” Scott says. “Fuck, you’re bleeding, that looks bad – ”

“Don’t worry about me, it’s not too bad, but Peter – he’s poisoned, he said it was red wolfsbane and that Deaton should have the antidote, but he passed out a minute ago and I can’t get him to wake up.”

Scott gets an arm underneath Stiles’ shoulders and helps him to his feet. Derek scoops Peter up, slinging him over his back in a fireman’s carry. Stiles tries to follow them, but Scott is pulling him in the other direction, and he nearly falls. “No, wait, where are you taking me?”

“To the ambulance, dumbass,” Scott says, although his voice is patient. “That’s not just a scratch; you’re going to need stitches.”

“No, I – I have to stay with Peter – ” Stiles says, trying to break free. His father jogs up, face creased in a frown. “He’s been alone for so long and if he thinks he’s alone again it might, might – I don’t want him to think he’s alone again – ”

“He won’t be alone,” Derek says abruptly. “I’ll take care of him.”

Stiles wants to argue, but he knows they don’t have time, that Derek needs to get Peter to Deaton now, and that he wouldn’t be able to keep up anyway. He can keep fighting with Scott at the hospital. “Okay, but – but you have to stay with him, okay? You have to stay with him and do the pain drain and, and try to remember that he’s your uncle and you love him, or at least you used to. Promise me, okay?”

Derek’s looking at Stiles like he’s grown another head, but after a bare second he nods and says, “Yeah, I promise,” before he takes off at a run.

“Come on, Stiles,” Scott says, and tugs him over to the ambulance. Stiles goes with him, and grumbles as they get him up into the ambulance. Now that he’s not so focused on Peter, he realizes that his leg hurts like a bitch. It takes what feels like a small eternity to get to the hospital, whereupon he only has a brief wait before he’s examined and it’s agreed upon that he’s going to need stitches.

“Whatever gets me out of here fastest,” Stiles says, itching with the need to check on Peter.

“You’re not going anywhere in a hurry,” the doctor says, examining the wound. “You’ve lost a lot of blood. Not enough to need a transfusion, but definitely plenty of saline and rest. We’ll keep you overnight to be on the safe side.”

“But – ” Stiles says.

“Let’s get some painkillers into you,” the doctor says, and Melissa comes over with what she needs for an IV.

“Look, I really can’t stay overnight,” Stiles says, as she approaches. His father is looking at him with a pinched expression on his face. He swings his legs over the side of the bed and stands up. “I’m fine, I just – ooh, I’m on the floor. When did that happen?”

“Stiles,” Noah intervenes here, as he and Scott get Stiles back onto the stretcher. “Pipe down and do as you’re told.”

“Yes, sir,” Stiles says meekly. He lets Melissa get the IV started, and then there are painkillers, which, okay, he’s glad he stuck around for that. He stares up at the ceiling and frets in silence while the nurse cleans out the wound and then the doctor stitches it up. They tell him they’re going to come get him when they have a room ready and then leave him in the little ER alcove with his father.

“Where’s my phone?” Stiles asks. “It was in my pants. Where are my pants?”

“Your pants are in the trash, and your phone is here.” Noah seems to debate not giving it to him, but then decides that would just be cruel and unusual. He hands it over.

Stiles immediately calls Derek, who picks up on the second ring. “Hey, how is he? Did you get him to Deaton’s? You are still with him, right? You promised. Is he – ”

“Stiles,” Derek says, with a hint of exasperation. “Yes, I’m still with him. Deaton is drawing the poison out, and it’s a bit of a process, so I can’t really talk right now.”

“But he’s going to be okay?” Stiles asks.

“He’ll live,” Derek says. “Deaton wasn’t sure if he’d keep his hand, though. The wolfsbane did a lot of damage to it and Deaton had to draw it all back to the lower arm to make sure it didn’t reach his heart.”

Stiles winces, thinking of how he’s watched Peter deftly chop vegetables and grind herbs and, well, do a lot of things that require two hands. He reminds himself firmly that lots of people are disabled and get by fine. “Okay. Can I talk to him?”

“No. He’s not conscious.”

“Okay, well, call me when he is,” Stiles says, and hangs up. He sees his father regarding him pensively. He looks down for a moment, but then decides he’s not going to let himself be embarrassed. He meets his father’s gaze and says, “He saved my life today, Dad. He caught that second crossbow bolt even after he knew they were poisoned. He could have let me die to save himself, and he didn’t.”

After a moment, Noah nods. He reaches over and tousles Stiles’ hair, saying, “Well, then, I’m glad he was there. Now you get some rest, okay?”

Stiles sighs and nods in return. “Okay.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

Surprisingly, Stiles does fall asleep. The blood loss and the exertion have taken their toll on him. When he wakes up, it’s because his cell phone is ringing. He fumbles around for it in something of a daze, then hears his father’s voice. “Hey. Yeah, he’s sleeping, I don’t want to – ”

That’s as far as Noah gets before Stiles wakes up enough to tug the phone out of his hands. “’Lo?” he mumbles.

“You wanted me to call you when Peter was awake,” Derek says abruptly.

“Yeah, I – ”

Derek has clearly handed off the phone already, because a few moments later, Peter’s hoarse voice says, “Hello, Stiles.”

“Oh, thank God,” Stiles says. “Are you okay? How do you feel? Did Derek do the pain drain? He promised he would.”

“I’m all right,” Peter interrupts. “My hand feels like it was dipped in lava, but it seems to still be attached. Give me a day or two and I’ll be back to normal. What about you? Derek said you were – how did he phrase this? – acting more weird than normal.”

“Well, I thought you might die,” Stiles retorts. “And I just – didn’t want you to wake up alone. You were, uh, kind of out-of-it and I thought if you woke up and thought you were back in the hospital and your pack had abandoned you again – I don’t know, okay? I lost a lot of blood and I was worried about you.”

“Noted,” Peter says, then a little bit more softly, “and appreciated. Now get some rest and I’ll see you in a few days.”

“Okay.” Stiles says goodbye and hangs up, and sees his father giving him that look again. He fakes a huge yawn and closes his eyes without saying anything in response to the look. After a few moments, he feels his father tucking the blankets around his shoulders.

He’s discharged the next day, although his father makes him promise to take it easy. They’ve got the assassin in custody, but both his father and Scott seem inclined to hover. He doubts he’ll get a chance to go see Peter in the near future, so he texts him frequently, mostly about everyday stuff but occasionally just to check in.

“How do we still not know the deal with these guys?” he asks his father over dinner the next day.

Noah grimaces. “Well, part of the problem is that we’re pretty good at our jobs. We can’t try to trace payments if none are being made, and since we became aware of the list, none of the bounty hunters have been successful.”

“Wow, hey, we’re awesome,” Stiles says. “What about the list itself? Where did it come from?”

“E-mail,” Noah says, shaking his head. “From a throwaway address that anybody could have used. All we know is that it was sent from Beacon Hills. The IP address that was used to send it was the free Wi-Fi at a coffee shop.”

“Ugh,” Stiles says. “This blows.”

“I’m not fond of it either, trust me,” Noah says dryly. “On the upside, you and Peter’s misadventure yesterday has given us an opportunity. We’ve kept it quiet that we apprehended the guy, and there hasn’t been anything in the news. So since Peter was badly wounded, we can use the assassin’s phone to say that he was killed and request a payment. If whoever’s behind this pays, that might be something we can trace. And if he doesn’t, we’ll have to figure out how he knows that the claim isn’t legit, and there are only a handful of ways he’d be able to know that.”

“Nice,” Stiles says, nodding approval of this plan. “Okay. Keep me in the loop?”

“Will do.”

The next day, Scott has retrieved the Jeep from Peter’s loft, where he had parked it before everything had happened. “So, uh . . . why were you over at Peter’s?” he asks, handing Stiles the keys.

“To get his banana bread recipe,” Stiles deadpans. Scott gives him the side-eye but seems to decide he doesn’t want to push the issue. He says he’ll see Stiles at school the next day and departs. Finally, Stiles is able to head over to Peter’s, and finds, to his annoyance, that he’s not there. He texts Peter, ‘where are you?’

A few minutes later, Peter texts back, ‘Getting a check up.’

‘Okay,’ Stiles replies, flopping onto the sofa. T’Challa immediately jumps up onto his lap and settles in. ‘I’m at your place, stealing the love of your cat.’

Peter doesn’t dignify that with a reply. He gets back to the apartment about half an hour later, carrying a paper bag in one hand. The other is wrapped in bandages and is somewhat pungent. “Geez, what did Deaton do to you?” Stiles asks.

“Cured me, or so I’m told,” Peter says, setting the bag down. “The poultice is helping the skin heal. They drew the poison out through the veins in my hands, an experience only marginally less painful than being burned alive.”

“Derek did do the pain drain, right?” Stiles asks suspiciously.

“Yes, but there’s only so much it can do,” Peter says. He sees Stiles’ face and adds, “I’m fine, Stiles. I certainly hope I’ll never repeat the experience, but I think I’ll recover with no major scarring, physical or otherwise.”

“You just . . .” Stiles shifts from foot to foot. “You got hurt like that to protect me.”

Peter arches an eyebrow at him. “Yes. A position I voluntarily put myself in. It’s not like I didn’t know you had that bounty on your head. What’s your point?”

“My point is that – I don’t like it,” Stiles declares, and leans in for a kiss.

Peter huffs out a laugh against Stiles’ mouth, then returns the kiss a little more generously, reaching up with his uninjured hand to run his fingers through Stiles’ hair. “I’ll make a note of that.”

“Good.” Stiles pulls away. “Uh, but, we should probably talk about the whole thing with Laura.”

“Laura?” Peter looks slightly blank, although Stiles isn’t sure whether or not he’s faking it. “What about her?”

“Look, uh.” Stiles rubs a hand over the back of his head. “How much of what happened in the house do you remember? Because you kind of said some stuff about Laura, and if you don’t remember saying it, I might have to back up a little.”

Now Peter looks wary. “I don’t remember a lot after the poison took hold, and I definitely don’t remember saying anything about Laura. And if you’re waiting for me to give away things I don’t want you to know by having me ‘guess’ what I might have told you, that’s going to be a long wait.”

“No, I really don’t need to do that,” Stiles says. “You pretty much told me everything. About how you killed Laura because she killed your family.”

Peter’s face closes off. “I don’t know what I said, but – ”

“Don’t try to convince me you didn’t mean it or that you were delirious and imagining shit,” Stiles says. “Come on. Don’t fucking insult me. It makes sense now that I’m thinking about it, because I’ve never understood why you killed Laura. Or why you were so vehemently against any chance I might be able to resurrect her.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Peter shouts, startling Stiles. Then he looks away and says flatly, “It doesn’t matter.”

“Okay, but it really, really does,” Stiles says. He lets that sit for a moment before saying, “How did you know?”

Peter sighs. Seeing that Stiles isn’t going to drop it, he says, “Process of elimination. I knew that whoever had set the fire had an inside source. The Hale house had a tunnel that led into the woods. Only the pack knew about it. But the night of the fire, it had been blocked off. That meant that somebody inside the pack had helped the killer. There were only three survivors. I knew it wasn’t me, obviously, and it couldn’t have been Derek. That left Laura.”

“You do know that Derek thinks it was Derek, right?” Stiles says. “I mean, he was dating Kate. He thinks he gave something away somehow. I don’t know how much detail he has about what happened that night.”

Peter shrugs. “It wasn’t Derek, though. Because once I realized it could be Laura . . . a lot of things fell into place. She never got along with Talia. I’ve told you what Talia was like, how she was domineering. Laura chafed under her control. We all knew that. They fought more as Laura grew up. Laura would talk about how she couldn’t wait until she was alpha.”

“Even so . . .”

“I knew it was Laura,” Peter continues, “because Laura left me.”

Stiles winces. “I can see why you’d be upset about that, but what does it prove?”

“Hunters had just killed our family. But she left me behind, in a long-term care ward, under my own name. She didn’t care if I lived or died – probably would have preferred the latter. And that was her decision. Not Derek’s. The only reason Laura would have done that would have been if she wanted me dead – or at the very least, wanted to make sure I wasn’t around her long enough to think about her involvement.”

Stiles thinks it all over, thinks about what he knows about Talia, about Laura, about Peter. Then he nods. “I’m surprised she didn’t just have you killed, if we’re going to be honest.”

“She obviously originally intended that, but I think she left me alive for the same reason she let Derek live. Again, the process of elimination.”

“Meaning?” Stiles asks, frowning.

“If there were only two people alive, the innocent would know that she was guilty. But if there were three survivors . . .”

Stiles nods slowly. “You could think it had been Derek, or at least you might not be sure it was her. And Derek might think it was you.” His frown deepens. “Didn’t she know about Derek and Kate?”

“Of course she did. She and Kate planned it all together. But the idea was to muddy the waters as much as possible.”

“How much of this do you have confirmation of?” Stiles asks. “Did you talk to her when she came back?”

“Oh, Lord no. I wasn’t about to give her a chance to escape.”

“Then how do you know?” Stiles asks. “I mean, how do you know? It could – could still be that Derek told Kate – ”

“Nobody could have accidentally told someone about that tunnel,” Peter says. “And that means it wasn’t Derek. If it wasn’t Derek, and it wasn’t me, then it had to be Laura, and it had to have been on purpose.”

Stiles thinks about it for a long minute. Then he lets out a breath and nods. “Okay. Yeah, okay. But why haven’t you ever told anybody? Derek, I mean. It’s not like you’re going to start a conversation with a stranger about it, and I know you don’t give a shit what the cops think, and everyone else is dead, but – Derek.”

Peter gives him a look. “It took ten minutes to convince you that I was right, and you came into this conversation predisposed to believe me. Derek would never believe Laura was capable of such a thing. It’ll just look like I’m trying to avoid responsibility for killing Laura, manipulate him into forgiving me for murdering his sister.”

“Okay, but he deserves to know,” Stiles says. “He still thinks it’s his fault. Can you even imagine what living with that has been like for him?”

“I would lift that burden from his shoulders if I could,” Peter says, “but I can’t. Because he won’t believe me.”

“You could lay it all out for him, the way you did for me.”

“He wouldn’t let me get past the first sentence, and you know it,” Peter says. “And more than that, if I tell him about the tunnel, he might start thinking that I was the one responsible, because he’ll know he didn’t tell Kate about that.” He shakes his head. “No, Stiles. It’s a miracle that Derek even lets me live in the same town as him. If I try to bring this up, he’ll never speak to me again. I have worked my ass off to stay in a position where I can protect him. I’m not going to risk it for this.”

Stiles sighs. He can see where Peter’s coming from, and he knows how deeply Peter loves his remaining niece and nephew. In Peter’s shoes, he wouldn’t want to take that risk either. “Okay. Derek wouldn’t believe you because, well, you’re kind of a liar by trade. What if I – ”

“Make them think that I’ve manipulated you into believing me? Yes, what an excellent idea.”

Stiles flips him off. “What if I find evidence,” he says. “There’s got to be something we can find, some concrete proof we could give Derek so he’d have to believe it.”

“Like what? I very much doubt Kate and Laura were texting each other about their murder plans, and even if they were, they’re both dead now. I can’t exactly go investigate them.”

“Kate’s technically still an unsolved murder, so her phone and stuff are in evidence,” Stiles says, “which, okay, would maybe be a dead end. But she might have said something, told somebody something – there might be a way. It’s at least worth trying, isn’t it?”

Peter shrugs.

“Look, it’s obvious that you still blame yourself for not figuring out what was happening,” Stiles says, and Peter snarls at him. “You keep trying to find a way you could have prevented it, just like I kept trying – still keep trying, to be honest – to find a way to prevent Allison’s death. But if that wasn’t my fault, then this wasn’t yours. I know that you did everything you could. But if you won’t do it for yourself, then do it for Derek, because I know that he still hates himself for what happened. He blames himself just as much if not more than you blame yourself, and you know how much that sucks. So if you really love your nephew, you’ll find some way to tell him the truth.”

“I’m not sure knowing that Laura did it will be that much better,” Peter says.

“It will be.”

“I suppose.” Peter sighs. “All right, fine. If you want to look into it, go ahead. Just don’t say anything to Derek until you’ve talked to me about whatever it is you find.”

“Okay. And if I can’t find anything, well . . .” Stiles steps closer and wraps his arms around Peter, hugging him tightly. “At least I know. So you don’t have to carry it alone anymore.”

“How sentimental of you,” Peter says, but one of his hands is gripping the back of Stiles’ shirt, and he presses his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck. After a long moment, he says, “I loved her, you know. Laura.”

“I know,” Stiles says, and he holds Peter for a long time.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

“Okay, so, I need your help with something,” Stiles says, thinking that if he talks very fast, he might be able to glide past the details of the situation without his father asking too many questions. “Let’s just say that, hypothetically, I think someone involved in the Hale house fire might have escaped notice, and that, hypothetically, I wanted to look at Kate’s phone to see if she’d had contact with anyone that Peter missed. In that hypothetical situation, could you get Kate’s phone out of evidence for me?”

Noah pinches the bridge of his nose, looking like he feels a migraine coming on. “Hypothetically, you should be in school.”

“Shit, is it a school day? Uh, well, we can talk about that later,” Stiles says, and his father looks even more pained. “Come on, Dad. Help me out. I know you love a mystery. And you’re the best detective I know! So if anyone can help me – ”

“Stop,” Noah says, and points to the chair. “Sit down. Cut the flattery.”

“Yes, sir.” Stiles plants himself in the chair and looks at his father hopefully.

“Now tell me why you’re suddenly going on about the Hale house fire.”

Stiles hopes that some half-truths will suffice, since he certainly isn’t going to tell his father whole ones. “While we were trapped in the house and waiting to be rescued, and Peter was kind of delusional, he said something about the fire. About how the tunnel out of their basement had been blocked off. But how could Kate have known to do that? All this time, we’ve assumed Derek accidentally let something slip to her – but he couldn’t have accidentally told her about the tunnel, and he wouldn’t have purposefully told her about the tunnel. Which means that Kate might have been talking to somebody else.”

Noah listens to this with a faint frown, and to Stiles’ relief, he doesn’t immediately argue. Instead, he says, “I guess that’s possible. But to be honest, I don’t see that it matters now. If she was talking to somebody else, it would have been somebody else in the Hale family, and they’re all dead now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says, “but for Derek’s sake, I think it might help him to know that he didn’t betray his family, accidentally or otherwise.”

“Fair point.” Noah chews on this for a minute. “But why do I feel like there’s more to this than you’re telling me?”

Stiles looks innocently at the ceiling. “Well, geez, Dad, I don’t know. I guess you have a suspicious type of personality – ”

“And I’m the best detective you know?” Noah says, and Stiles rubs a hand over the back of his head, chagrined. Noah is still frowning at him thoughtfully. “You think it was Laura, don’t you.”

“Whaaaaaat?” Stiles says, trying to maintain his composure. “That, uh, that’s a bit of a leap, right? How’d you come to that conclusion – ”

“Because Laura was the only survivor besides Peter and Derek,” Noah says, giving his son an unimpressed look. “Which means that if someone betrayed the family, it’s most likely that it was her. And since Peter saved your life the other day, even risking his own to do it, you might have started thinking about what kind of a person he really is. And you should probably know, although I’m pretty sure it’s going to piss you off, that Scott was in here a couple weeks ago expressing his concern about the fact that you and Peter seem to have struck up some sort of friendship.”

“Oh my Goddddddddd,” Stiles says, immediately forgetting about Laura entirely. “I’m going to kill him. I told him that I was fine, that it wasn’t a big deal, and I knew he didn’t like it but did he seriously go behind my back to tattle on me like we’re still in elementary school – ”

“Scott is worried about you,” Noah says, “which isn’t a bad thing. And don’t get me wrong, in your shoes I’d be pretty annoyed at him too. But he has valid reasons to dislike Peter, so – ”

“Yeah, I know,” Stiles says. “We had a whole God damned discussion about it. If he didn’t like what I had to say, he can address that with me, not go behind my back and – ” He stops and forces himself to take a deep breath. “What’d you say to him?”

“Nothing he wanted to hear,” Noah says, and Stiles feels at least a little of the tension go out of his shoulders. “I told him that you were old enough to make your own decisions about who was and was not your friend, that you knew all about what Peter had done so you weren’t making those decisions in ignorance, and that since your friendship with Peter obviously wasn’t hurting you, I thought we should let it ride.”

“Thanks,” Stiles says.

Noah waves this aside. “You think Peter killed Laura because she betrayed the family?”

Stiles nods and says, “He did a lot of bad things. I won’t deny that. Hell, he doesn’t deny it, and when I told him that I thought of it like he was a separate person back then, he himself told me not to give him the easy out like that. That he was capable of doing awful things if he thought they were justified and he knew it. But I never got why he killed Laura. The way he talks about his nieces and nephews – he really loves them. Everything else he did, I could understand, but that – I don’t know, Dad. I just feel like it’s worth looking into.”

Noah studies him thoughtfully for a moment that goes on much longer than Stiles is comfortable with. He’s keenly aware that he’s totally given himself away, that his father knows damned well that Peter is his mystery boyfriend, and that he might or might not choose to have an opinion about it. Finally, he says, “I can get Kate’s phone out of evidence, but I wouldn’t pin your hopes on it. The fire was a long time ago now. Even if they were working together, odds are good that there won’t be any evidence of it now.”

Stiles lets out a breath that he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Okay. Thanks, Dad.”

“Now you get home. You’re still injured and I don’t want you gallivanting around. I’ll be home around six.”

“Okay.” Stiles stands and goes around the desk to give his father a hug. “I’ll see you then.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Kate’s phone is just as much of a dead end as Stiles had been afraid it would be. He does a little quiet research on his own that he’s one hundred percent sure his father wouldn’t approve of. Since Derek had been a minor at the time of the fire, his portion of the insurance money and his inheritance had gone into a trust that Laura was the executor of. There’s a lot less in it now than there had been at the beginning. Stiles supposes that some of it might be legitimate withdrawals, that she probably spent plenty of it on Derek or at his request, but he still doesn’t like it.

Investigating Laura herself was harder than he felt it should have been. She feels like a cipher to him – a blank slate that other people’s opinions were cast onto. He didn’t know her. It seemed like nobody did. She hadn’t had any friends he could talk to now. She hadn’t had a blog or a journal that he could read.

Laura’s phone had been given to Derek, after her death, and Stiles has no idea what he had done with it or how he might get it now.

“I told you that it wouldn’t go anywhere,” Peter says, not looking up from his book while Stiles paces around his apartment, grumbling about all the nothing he’s found. “It’s not like Laura left a ‘how to murder my family’ to-do list lying around.”

“Well, can we check to see if the tunnel is still blocked off?” Stiles asks. “That’s evidence in and of itself, right?”

“Evidence that somebody betrayed the family on purpose, yes,” Peter says. “Evidence that Laura did it, no. Besides, it’s not a great time to be wandering around in the forest. I seem to recall an overabundance of assassins in Beacon Hills.”

“Yeah.” Stiles groans. “And we’re still no closer to figuring that out, either. Dad tried to fake your death, right? Used the guy’s phone to request payment. But it didn’t go anywhere. Either there was a code word or something, or whoever’s in charge knew you weren’t dead and didn’t pay.”

“Hm.” Peter’s frowning slightly as he considers all this. “I assume they’ve tried to trace the number that the text was going to?”

“Yep. It’s a burner.”

“Of course it is.” Peter taps his fingers against the end of the sofa. “If there was a code word, then it would have to be on the original list, since there’s no evidence that the assassins were corresponding with whoever wrote it. Since there’s not, it means that whoever’s in charge knows I wasn’t dead. How could someone have known?”

“Well, Deaton knew,” Stiles says, “but as much as he’s a shady, cryptic jerk sometimes, I doubt he’s behind this. I mean, I’d consider it if you were the only one targeted, but Deaton would never target Scott.”

Peter nods. “Someone could have seen me leave the clinic the next day, I suppose.”

“Yeah. I guess.” Stiles mulls this over. “This red wolfsbane stuff – hard to come by?”

“Extremely. It’s one of the most potent forms of wolfsbane that a hunter can use. As you’ve seen, even a small amount is lethal, and quickly so.”

“And there wouldn’t be a lot of people who would just have the antidote lying around,” Stiles says, “so if the guy who nearly got us was known to use it, then whoever’s financing the operation might have known to check Deaton’s after he got the text.”

“I was gone from Deaton’s by then, though.”

“Jesus, I don’t know.” Stiles flops down onto the sofa next to Peter. “My head hurts.”

“Want me to kiss it and make it better?” Peter asks, with a slight smirk.

“Hell, yes. Though, I mean, you can’t really kiss my brain, which is the part of me that’s hurting right now, but still – ” Stiles is cut off as Peter leans over and gives him a kiss, which was really his intention all along. Peter’s an amazing kisser, and Stiles is left breathless, as usual, by the time Peter pulls away. Stiles pursues his mouth, crawling into Peter’s lap for better leverage. One of Peter’s arms snakes around his waist, his fingers sliding up underneath Stiles’ shirt in the back, just a few inches. Stiles breaks off the kiss so he can hook his fingers under his shirt and pull it off entirely, but Peter gently pushes his hands back down, leaning in to nuzzle at Stiles’ neck. “What?” Stiles asks.

“What, what?” Peter asks, not pulling away.

“Why’d you stop me?” Stiles asks, feeling awkward and uncertain. “Am I doing something wrong?”

“No,” Peter says. “There’s just no need to be in such a rush.”

“What if I want to be in a rush?” Stiles asks, leaning back so there’s more space between him and Peter. “I mean, come on, we’ve been dating or whatever you call this for like six weeks now. But we still haven’t even made it to second base with our clothes on, let alone off. What’s up with that?”

Peter pinches the bridge of his nose. “Stiles. I hate to break this to you, but you’re seventeen.”

“I know that,” Stiles says.

“I’m thirty-four.”

“I know that, too.”

“Which means that I can’t have sex with you. You’re underage.”

Stiles’ jaw sags. His mouth works for several long moments before he blurts out, “You’ve killed people! Since when do you give a shit about the law?!”

“I try not to break the law if I don’t have to, which you well know.”

“Yeah, but – ” Stiles pulls away entirely, getting off the sofa. “But you don’t have to fucking lie to me, if you don’t want to have sex then just fucking say that, don’t make up bullshit excuses.”

“Stiles,” Peter says, looking pained. “It’s not entirely a legal issue, it’s that – ”

“No, you know what, forget it,” Stiles says. He shoves his feet into his shoes, cheeks burning with embarrassment. “Just – just forget it,” he adds, and slams his way out of Peter’s apartment, feeling the rejection down to his bones. What was the point of any of this if Peter doesn’t want him? Is Peter even attracted to him? Is the whole ‘mates’ thing on a purely psychological level, and now Peter is stuck with a scrawny teenager that he finds repulsive? Is he repulsive? His self-esteem has never exactly been great to begin with, and now he can’t stop thinking about it. If even his werewolf mate doesn’t want him, how disgusting must he be?

He’s been thumping around in the kitchen, vigorously chopping carrots, for five minutes before his father says, “You’re in a mood today.”

“Ugh, don’t even ask,” Stiles says, with feeling.

“Mm hm.” Noah pulls out a chair and sits down, watching Stiles move around the kitchen. “Fight with your boyfriend?”

Stiles scowls at him. “It’s ridiculous that you can put your finger on that so quickly.”

Noah has to hide a smile. “Well, son, I am a detective.” He takes a drink of his beer, still regarding Stiles with some amusement. “You want to talk about it?”

“No,” Stiles says, grabbing the peeler. “No, I do not want to talk about it, because I know you, and, and you’ll agree with him and then I’ll just be pissed at both of you.”

“Uh huh,” Noah says. “If you think I’ll agree with him, it means you privately think he’s right, but just don’t want to admit it.”

“You know, contrary to popular belief, you are not right about everything,” Stiles says, and his father just gives him a skeptical look. “Arrrrrg, oh my God, okay, I know you’re going to agree but I just have to vent because he won’t have sex with me.”

Noah chokes on a mouthful of his beer, so that’s satisfying, at least. He manages to clear his throat and says, “Uh. All right. Any particular reason why?”

“Because! I’m seventeen!” Stiles gestures with a carrot. “I’m underage and he actually cares about that shit! Or so he says. But maybe he just secretly thinks I’m hideous and doesn’t want to hurt my feelings – ”

“You’re not hideous, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be your boyfriend if he thought you were,” Noah says patiently. “Is your boyfriend over the age of eighteen?”

“Yes,” Stiles mutters.

“Then you’re right. I agree with him.”

“Ugh, Dad,” Stiles says. “I knew I shouldn’t tell you. It’s a stupid law! What the fuck does it matter? You don’t just turn into a different person on your eighteenth birthday. Does he really think I’m going to be that much more mature in three months than I am now, that some, some switch is going to be flipped in my brain that will magically make me ready for sex? Come on! It’s a, a ridiculous, arbitrary line and I’m not going to front with you, Dad, my boyfriend has broken many laws, so the fact that he cares about this one is just fucking bizarre!”

Noah gestures and says, “C’mere. Sit down. We’re going to have a talk about this.”

Stiles groans and flops dramatically into the chair.

“You’re right.”

Stiles nearly falls out of the chair as his butt hits it. “Wait, what?”

“It’s an arbitary line. Most seventeen and nine month old people are ready for sex. Most seventeen and a half year olds are. Some sixteen year olds are. People mature at different rates, and many people are mature enough for sex before they hit their eighteenth birthday. But eighteen was the age at which professionals decided the vast majority of people are ready for sex. They err on the side of caution. To protect people who mature more slowly, who aren’t ready for sex as early as some other people are, they forbid everyone from having sex until that line. Now, is that fair? You could argue either way. But since nobody is being hurt by having to wait an extra few months, I think it’s worth protecting the late bloomers. Don’t you?”

There’s a pause while Stiles really thinks about that, before he sighs. “Yeah. I guess so. Though we could have a long argument about how some people are hurt because they’re penalized for sleeping with an underage person – ”

“But those people made a choice, Stiles. They chose to break a law that’s in place to protect people. I’m not in love with the idea of a nineteen year old getting prosecuted for having sex with a seventeen year old. But unless there was a lack of consent on the nineteen year old’s part, which is a whole other ball of wax, then they should have considered not breaking the law.”

“Yeah, okay, but Pe – my boyfriend is not really a law-abiding sort of guy. I just don’t get why he cares. If he cares, and didn’t just say that to put me off.”

Noah sighs. “Okay, I’m trying to avoid making any assumptions about your mystery boyfriend, but I’m assuming when he breaks the law, whatever it is he does, he’s not hurting anybody that he cares about. But he cares about you, he wants to do right by you, so he’s decided to defer to the law’s judgment on the age of consent.”

Stiles is a little taken aback by this, by the idea that Peter wants to ‘do right by him’ in any sort of conventional sense. “Uh. I guess. That does kind of make sense.”

“Okay. Good talk.” Noah stands up and squeezes his shoulder. “Were you a jerk about it?”

“Define ‘jerk’?” Stiles says, and Noah gives him a look. “Well, I kind of didn’t believe him and accused him of lying to me. Which, okay, was probably the sort of thing a jerk would do.”

“You might want to think about an apology.”

“I guess.” Stiles’ nose wrinkles as he gets up and starts working on the carrots again, albeit with less vigor. He finishes making dinner, and they talk about school and lacrosse while he eats. Then he heads over to Peter’s and finds the werewolf on the sofa with a book. “So, uh, I was a dick,” he says. “Sorry.”

Peter looks over the top of his book, and shrugs. “I probably could have explained it better. You know it’s not that I don’t want to have sex with you, right?”

“Yeah. I get that.” Stiles blinks. “Wait. You want to have sex with me?”

Peter lets his head hit the arm of the sofa and stares at the ceiling. “Good lord. You’re an idiot.”

Stiles rubs a hand over the back of his head. “Yeah.” He walks over and sits down on the end of the sofa, by Peter’s feet. “Are you attracted to me?” He half-expects Peter to make fun of him, but Peter just nods. “Okay, like, really? You’re actually attracted to a skinny, pale dork like me?”

“For one thing, yes,” Peter says, “I would be attracted to you if you were a pale, skinny dork. That’s what you were when I first met you, and I was attracted to you then. Secondly, you should really look in a mirror and update your self-esteem about a year. When the term ‘glow-up’ was invented, they probably put your picture in the dictionary.”

Stiles flushes bright pink. “Okay, no, that is not accurate.”

“It really is. So yes, Stiles, I am attracted to you, and I want to have sex with you, and you had better tell all your friends that your eighteenth birthday is hereby reserved, because I’m going to spend the entirety of it showing you exactly how much I’m attracted to you and want to have sex with you.”

“Okay, wow, this room got very hot all of a sudden,” Stiles says, and Peter smirks. Stiles drops his face into his hands and moans. “Oh my God. You’re the worst. We can’t have sex yet but you had better prepare yourself for the fact that I’m taking my shirt off next time we make out.”

“Are you, now?” Peter swings his feet over the side of the sofa so he’s sitting, and quick as a flash, he has Stiles lying down and pinned beneath him. “What if I do this?”

There’s a knock on the door. Stiles groans and closes his eyes. A moment later, he feels Peter’s weight lift off him. He hears Peter swing the door open and then says, “Sheriff Stilinski, to what do we owe the pleasure,” and his eyes pop back open and nearly out of his head.

“What are you doing here?” he sputters at his father.

“Well, after some things that were said earlier today, I decided it was high time I met this boyfriend of yours,” Noah says, and Stiles flushes bright pink. “I brought a six pack. The Giants are playing the Cubs.”

Peter’s mouth twitches into a smile and he stands back. “Come on in.”

“Peter!” Stiles protests, but he’s not sure who he’s supposed to be protesting. “Dad! What?! Why! How?!”

“Come on, kid, I’ve known who your mystery boyfriend was ever since that whole thing two weeks ago,” Noah says. “It was pretty obvious at that point, and if you think Scott and the others don’t know that you two have something going on, you’re deluding yourself. I was trying not to have an opinion, because he had obviously helped you a lot, so despite my initial impulse being to arrest the shit out of him, I held off. And now I’ve heard that there’s nothing I can even arrest him for, at least not in regards to you, so I figured we should get to know each other.”

Peter arches an eyebrow at Stiles and says, “You told your father about our fight?”

“Uh . . . yes,” Stiles says. He’s cringing a little, but then he rallies and says, “And apparently he’s decided that it means he’s not going to chop your nuts off, so maybe you should be okay with that.”

“Fair enough,” Peter says, and settles back on the sofa, turning the television on. “What channel?”

“How do you not know what channel the game is on,” Noah says, rolling his eyes.

“He’s a nerd, like me,” Stiles says cheerfully, snagging Peter’s book and dropping into the armchair. Peter shrugs and accepts this without argument. Noah shakes his head at both of them and cracks open a beer.

Stiles has never been a big baseball fan. Far too much of the game is repetitive and boring for his taste. Peter gets into it after a little while, although Stiles thinks that he might just be feigning interest in an effort to get on Noah’s good side. Before the game is halfway over, he’s yawning. “You gonna stay here all night, Dad?”

“Well, at least until the game is over,” Noah says, not looking away from the TV. “I mean, what is this screen, forty-eight inches?”

“Fifty-two,” Peter says, somewhat smugly.

Stiles gives a snort and shakes his head. “Okay, I’m going to bed, then. G’night, Dad.”

He’s aware that his father is watching him as he heads into Peter’s bedroom, but given the events earlier that day, he’s not really worried about it. He brushes his teeth, strips off his clothes, and crawls into bed. He can still hear the low murmur of the TV in the other room, and it quickly soothes him into sleep.

It’s rare for him to sleep through the night, and this particular night is no exception. He wakes a few hours later from a bad dream and decides to get up and make himself some tea and see if Peter’s still up.

Not only is Peter still up, but Noah is still there, too. “ – sleep in there often, then?” is what Noah is saying as Stiles yawns his way towards the door. He stops to listen.

“Yes, he started sleeping in there because the cat was pouncing his feet at night,” Peter says, and Noah huffs out a laugh. “But also because he has fewer nightmares when he’s there. So do I, for that matter.”

“Mm hm.” Noah’s quiet for a minute. “Have to admit that I’ve got some questions for you on that topic.”

“I figured you did.”

“I know why you killed Laura,” Noah says, and Peter must make some kind of face, because Noah adds, “The real reason. My kid is a lot of things, but subtle ain’t one of them. He asked me for help getting Kate’s phone out of evidence. Which amazes me, to be honest, since I’m pretty sure that six months ago he would’ve just broken into the evidence room.”

“Truth,” Peter says with a snort. “Fair enough. So if that’s what you know, what do you not know?”

“You knew Kate was responsible for the fire, right?”

“I had a strong suspicion. Although I didn’t actually confirm it until I talked to that chemistry teacher.”

“But you didn’t have evidence.”

“No,” Peter says, “but if you’re trying to turn this into some sort of situation where I didn’t go to the police because of that, you’re going to be disappointed. I won’t lie to you, Sheriff. I could have had a taped, signed confession and a mountain of physical evidence, and I still would have killed her. Would have killed all of them. And if that was because of my bout of insanity, then I must still be insane, because that hasn’t changed.”

Stiles lets his head thump against the wall and mutters, “Peter, we want him to like you.”

“Well, I appreciate your honesty,” Noah says with a sigh. “I think. And if we get into a debate over the death penalty we might be here all night, and I don’t have enough beer for that. So okay. But you also hurt innocent people. Scott, Derek, Lydia – probably more people even if I don’t know about them.”

“Yes, that’s true,” Peter says. “I did it to get to Kate. I didn’t hurt them because that was my idea of a good time. Everything I did since I opened my eyes in that hospital room was to get to Kate. I’m well aware that I did reprehensible things, and I won’t pretend otherwise. To me, it seemed worth it. You have every right to disagree.”

“Do you regret it?”

There’s a long moment of silence. Then Peter says, “I regret that I felt it was necessary. I’m not disclaiming responsibility, understand – only trying to explain how I feel about it. It’s not something I took pleasure from doing. If I had been able to get to Kate without involving another soul, I would have done so. But I can’t undo it. I can’t take it back. All I can do is try to make up for it, now that Kate is gone.”

“Okay,” Noah says. He seems to think about that for a moment, before he says again, “Yeah, okay. Understand that part of my opinion is based on the fact that Derek seems to want you here – since he would have happily told you to go to Hell if he didn’t – and that Scott and Lydia both seem to have accepted your presence even if they don’t like it that much. But since they’re all okay with it, I can be okay with it.”

“More than fair,” Peter says. There’s the scrape of his chair against the floor as he gets up. “Though I have to admit you haven’t asked me the question I was really expecting.”

“Which is?”

“My intentions towards your son.”

Noah barks out a laugh. “I don’t need to ask about that. I mean, even if you hadn’t risked your life to save his a few weeks ago, I saw enough tonight to reassure me on that score. Every time Stiles wasn’t looking at you, you were looking at him like he hung the God damned moon. I’m not worried about your intentions.”

Peter clears his throat. “It doesn’t seem odd to you? That I would be interested in him?”

“No, it doesn’t seem odd. My son is brilliant, determined, devious – everything you would like in a person. He’s also loyal and brave and a handful of other qualities that I imagine most people would find appealing. Hell, I find it more strange that the others don’t seem to see it. It makes perfect sense to me that someone would fall for my son.”

Stiles knows he’s flushed pink, and wonders if his father knows he’s listening. Probably not, although it’s very possible Peter does.

“And you’re not worried about his taste in men?”

Noah sighs. “Look, Peter. There are things about you that I don’t like, that’s for damned sure. But you helped him out of a place so dark that I, I couldn’t go there to help him myself. You were willing to die to protect him. What the hell more could I ask for?”

Peter quietly lets out a breath. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’m gonna take off, then – it’s getting late. Tell Stiles if he doesn’t go to school tomorrow, I’m ordering pizza for dinner and he can’t stop me.”

Now Peter laughs. “I’ll tell him.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

Chapter Text

 

After some thought, Stiles decides he should come clean about his relationship with Peter to Scott and the others. It feels weird and awkward to not talk about it when he’s ninety percent sure that they know. Hiding it makes it seem like he’s ashamed of it, like he agrees that their inevitable disapproval is warranted.

He knows that it’s Scott who’s really going to be the problem, so he decides to tackle each of them separately. With Lydia, it’s a casual, “You know Peter’s my boyfriend, right?” to which she replies with an epic eye roll and a tart, “Duh.” With Derek, it’s the slightly less casual, “So are you okay with me and Peter being, like, together and shit?”

Derek gives him a look that clearly implies he wants no part of an actual discussion of this, and says, “Would my opinion make any difference?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says. “Maybe.”

Derek sighs. “Whatever, Stiles. It’s not my business.”

Stiles takes that as a win, since Derek is usually happy to make things his business if he really has an opinion on them. He guesses that Derek feels somewhat conflicted on this, loving the person his uncle used to be but still wary of who he is now. Stiles decides that a more detailed discussion of this can follow after he’s found evidence of what Laura did.

That leaves Scott, and Stiles knows he won’t be able to have this discussion in four sentences or less. He debates how to handle it until the next time Scott is over at his place. Noah is working night shift, and rather than going over to Peter’s like usual, Stiles invites Scott over to stay the night, since he doesn’t want to be alone in the house.

They play Call of Duty and eat a ton of nachos and for a while, things are a lot like they used to be. He realizes how much he’s missed it.

“So how are things with you and Kira?” he asks, after they’ve worn themselves out and decided to go to bed.

“They’re good,” Scott says, and waxes poetic about his amazing girlfriend for a while.

When he finally runs dry, Stiles says, “So you wanna ask me your hundred questions about me and Peter now?”

Scott rolls over so he’s lying on his stomach, chin resting on his arms, so he can face Stiles. “You don’t mind?”

“I’ll mind if you’re a jerk about it, but in your shoes, I’d be pretty curious too, so no. Ask whatever you want.”

“Are you two, like, dating?” Scott asks immediately.

“Yeah, basically,” Stiles says, although he doesn’t think he and Peter have done many things that qualify as a traditional date. He supposes that the picnic probably counts, interrupted by assassins though it may have been. “He’s my boyfriend.”

Scott’s face scrunches up a little. “Are you . . . in love with him?”

Stiles hesitates. “I don’t know, man. I like him a lot. I guess I might be falling in love with him.”

“Okay, but, like. How?” Scott asks.

“I’m not sure I can really answer that question,” Stiles says. “I mean, who knows how or why you fall in love with someone? Yeah, when we met he was off his gourd and did a lot of terrible things. But he’s different now. He is trying so hard to make up for everything back then, but because he doesn’t talk about it, it’s like you don’t see it. He risked his life to save me two weeks ago. He could have run off and left me, but he didn’t.”

“So he gets an award for that?” Scott asks.

“Sure,” Stiles says with a snort. “He gets a ‘not as big a jerk as he could have been’ award.” He sees the blank look on Scott’s face and groans. “I mean, for one thing, he gets my pop culture references. I just like him, Scott. He’s super smart and really funny a lot of the time, and he loves to cook and he loves cats and Star Wars and a lot of the same nerdy things that I like. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. I understand why it doesn’t make sense to you. You don’t know him. And I’m not blaming you for that, I mean, it’s not like you’ve had any reasons to be his pal. I’m just saying, you would probably understand better if you actually spent some time with him in a non-world-ending, lives-at-stake, emergency situation.”

“I guess,” Scott says. He lets out a breath. “Does he make you happy?”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Really.”

“Well . . . okay, then.” Scott’s nose crinkles again, but he adds, “Does he like the Marvel stuff?”

“Dude, he has a cat named T’Challa.”

Scott gives a burst of startled laughter. “Okay, well, when the next Avengers movie comes out, maybe he should come with us when we go see it.”

“Okay.” Stiles can’t help but smile. “That sounds good.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Stiles has long considered himself pretty good at solving mysteries. That’s why it’s so annoying to find himself banging his head against not one but two brick walls. There’s literally nothing he can find that links Laura to the fire. He has a few pieces of circumstantial evidence, but nothing that would change the mind of a skeptic.

He had known it was going to be an uphill battle, but it’s not until he’s staring at his crime wall in defeat that he realizes how badly he had wanted to succeed. Not just for Peter’s sake, but also for Derek’s. He doesn’t know how much longer he can keep the secret from Derek, knowing what he believes about the fire, but he can’t imagine trying to tell him.

It occurs to him that it’s possible he and Peter are overthinking it. They don’t know that Derek got along with his sister, that he even liked her. He wanted to solve her murder, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he thought she was a great person. For all they know, he could tell Derek ‘Laura killed your family’ and Derek would just think for a second and then say, ‘Yeah, that makes sense’.

But he can’t find a way to bring it up that wouldn’t be awkward or suspicious as hell, so he continues to gnaw on it in the back of his brain while he works on the other brick wall, which is that there are still assassins everywhere.

At least on that, there’s something to work on. The latest assassin they caught had received an updated list a few days prior, with higher bounties for Peter and Stiles. Peter is somewhat smug about that, because his bounty is now higher than Derek’s, which Stiles is happy to tell him is an idiotic thing to be smug about.

The list had been sent from another throwaway address, using the wi-fi of another coffee shop. It’s not too far from the first, however, and Stiles and his father think that means he probably lives nearby. It’s not a rich area, though, so Noah is trying to find any evidence of someone there who might have millions of dollars to burn.

“What about the e-mail addresses themselves?” Peter asks, perusing the evidence they have so far. “Are they meaningful?”

“Nope. Just gibberish.” Stiles sighs. “Whoever this guy is, he knows what he’s doing.”

Peter frowns thoughtfully. “I can see why a hunter might start a list like this, but I don’t understand why they would hire out rather than just doing it themselves. It’s unlike them, for the most part.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.” Stiles pinches the bridge of his nose. “Maybe we should try to set a trap.”

“Like, go somewhere and look vulnerable?” Peter looks interested, but then shrugs. “That might draw out a singular bounty hunter, but it won’t draw out the mastermind. He clearly considers the bounty hunters expendable, so he won’t care if we capture one, and since they don’t know the identity of whoever’s behind this, they can’t give us any information about him.”

“Nrrrrg,” Stiles says, annoyed.

It’s frustrating. School is finally out and it’s summer and he wants to have fun. He wants to go down to the lake and go swimming, or organize games of Ultimate Frisbee, or do anything other than sit around in protective custody. He stares at the map that his father had drawn of the area around the two coffee shops. “There’s barely even anything here! Some houses – not mansions, just regular old houses – a strip mall or two, an antique shop, an old folks’ home, a park, an elementary school . . .”

“An old folks’ home?” Peter looks up, interested. “Is it a nice one? A lot of those places are very expensive, and we know our adversary has money to burn.”

Stiles Googles the name of the facility. “Looks nice, yeah. Twenty-four hour nursing care available, three meals a day in the dining room, all utilities included, biweekly housekeeping . . . you know, if a hunter got too old to keep killing people, and had plenty of money, I can see them deciding that they would hire out.”

“Maybe I’ll make a few calls . . .”

Stiles looks over at him, amused. “My dad is the sheriff, remember? Why don’t we let him make a few calls, before you jump headfirst into heist mode.” He texts his father the name of the facility in question and asks if there’s any way they can get a list of residents.

His phone rings a moment later, and his father sounds uncharacteristically cautious as he says, “What made you focus on this facility?”

“Oh, I dunno, it just seemed to fit,” Stiles says. “We know our guy has lots of money, and it’s in our search radius. What’s up?”

“I have to go,” Noah says. “Are you at Peter’s?”

“Yeah. Why? What’s happening?” Stiles can’t help but feel anxious.

“I have a theory and if I’m right, I may be able to take care of this, but I want you to stay at Peter’s. I’ll call you later.”

Noah hangs up, leaving Stiles blinking at his phone. He looks over at Peter, who’s frowning faintly. “What the hell did my dad just figure out that we’re still in the dark about?”

Peter shrugs. “Apparently your father is already acquainted with a geriatric psychopath.”

The words he uses make it click into place for Stiles. He jabs at his phone’s buttons, and when Scott picks up, he demands, “Where’s Gerard Argent?”

“What?” Scott sounds confused. “Uh, some retirement home – Allison and I went to see him there that one time – ”

“Which one?” Stiles asks. “Do you remember?”

“It was on the north side of town. Villa something.”

“Shit, okay, how could we have not seen how obvious this is,” Stiles groans. “Of fucking course Gerard Argent wouldn’t just sit quietly in a nursing home and be like ‘oh, I guess the werewolves have defeated me’, no, he’s going to recruit a bunch of assassins to kill people. What a fucking dick! Look, Scott, my dad said he was going to ‘take care of’ things and I’m pretty sure he thinks Gerard is gonna be a lot more of a pushover than he actually is – ”

“I’ll call Derek and meet you there,” Scott says immediately.

“Cool.” Stiles hangs up and pulls on his shoes. Peter is frowning slightly, and Stiles says, “Tell me you’re not going to give me some speech about how we should stay here where it’s safe. That’s my dad, asshole.”

“No,” Peter says patiently. “Although I think you’re selling your father short. I’m pretty sure he intends to call in a SWAT team before he decides to take Gerard on. But if you’d like to go, we can go. In fact, you should text Scott and tell him to bring Kira. We’ll need a fresh face.”

“Will do,” Stiles says, pulling up his text messages. A moment later they’re in the Jeep. Stiles is driving and Peter is on his phone. Stiles doesn’t know who he’s calling, but by the time they’ve reached the retirement community, they know which wing and which room Gerard Argent lives in. They’ve also made a stop at the grocery store to pick up a bouquet of flowers. Derek is waiting for them, and Scott pulls up a few moments later. He and Kira tumble out.

“What’s the plan?” Derek asks.

“First order of business is guarding the exits,” Peter says. “Gerard is in the main building here, which will help. Derek, take the back. Stiles, take the front. Kira, you’re going to find out if Gerard is in his room.”

“Uh, how?” Kira says, although she looks game.

Stiles grabs the bouquet out of the passenger’s seat of Peter’s car. “With these. Go knock on his door, if and when he answers just look confused and say you must have the wrong room.”

“Got it!” Kira, as usual, looks excited to be taking part in subterfuge.

“I’ll be right down the hall from you,” Scott says, without waiting for anyone to tell him where he’s supposed to be.

Peter doesn’t look annoyed, so Stiles figures that he planned for that. “Where are you going to be?” he asks Peter.

“At the side exit. It’s the closest to Gerard’s room and therefore his most likely exit.”

Everyone agrees on this plan, and Scott and Kira enter the front. Stiles gets back into the passenger seat of the car because he figures he’ll look less suspicious that way. But it turns out not to matter. Kira texts the group a few minutes later saying, ‘Nobody is answering his door. What should I do?’

‘Come back outside,’ Peter replies, and they congregate back at the front of the building. “We can try again later, I suppose, but . . .”

“But you feel like he’s already beat feet?” Stiles finishes for him, and Peter nods. “How could he have known we were onto him?”

“The answer to that will probably depend on your father, so let’s wait for him,” Peter says, and Stiles groans but agrees.

They end up waiting about half an hour. Derek lingers at the edge of the group in his usual surly silence. Peter’s not very talkative either, mostly because Stiles has struck up a conversation with Scott and Kira about a reality TV show they’ve been bingeing. Peter disdains reality TV and has resisted Stiles’ efforts to get him into the various Iron Chef shows.

There are several squad cars that show up (Stiles pointed out to Peter that Beacon Hills doesn’t even have a SWAT unit), and Noah sees the waiting group and groans. “He’s not here,” Stiles calls out to his father.

“I don’t want to know why you know that,” Noah replies, and continues with his work. It takes time for them to sweep the facility and decide that Gerard truly isn’t there. Finally, he comes over to the group and says, “Okay. Spill.”

“We were careful,” Stiles says, and tells him about their ruse with Kira.

“I suppose I should be grateful for that level of subtlety from you,” Noah says with a sigh.

“Peter’s a good influence on me,” Stiles says cheerfully.

“Now that is a truly horrifying thought,” Noah says, as Scott chokes on his water. He shakes his head and says, “There’s no point in sticking around here. Let’s grab a bite to eat and then regroup.”

Since Stiles insists they can’t get pizza if his father is going to be eating, they get Chinese take-out instead and head back to Derek’s loft as the place with the most room. It’s a little awkward, because Scott keeps shooting Peter wary looks that Peter ignores, and Stiles is desperate to start laying out facts about Laura for Derek, but mostly they eat in silence.

“Okay,” Noah says, when they’ve finished eating. “So the good news is, we know who’s behind this now. All we have to do is find him.”

“And his accomplice,” Peter says, and everyone blinks at him. “He’s not doing this alone. He’s elderly, infirm, suffering from chronic pain. He almost certainly has at least one person helping him, maybe more than one. He didn’t go out to those shops and send those e-mails by himself. Plus he knew we were coming today. How?”

“Okay, but who the hell would help him?” Stiles asks.

“It’s probably one of the staff,” Peter says. “If I could find someone willing to help me while I was in the long-term care ward, I’m sure Gerard could manage to do the same.”

“It could also be another resident,” Noah says thoughtfully. “That place had different kinds of units, parts of it were more like a retirement home than a nursing home. He’d find it more easy to socialize with other residents. They take meals together, have activities together.”

“Either is possible,” Peter says, nodding.

“That’s going to be a hell of a lot of possibilities,” Derek says with a scowl. “There has to be hundreds of people living at that place.”

Stiles nods and chews on his lower lip. “Is there anything we can use to cross reference?”

“If we can pull Gerard’s financials, then we can see if he made any withdrawals,” Peter says. “So if he paid somebody to help him, it’ll be in there. But I think that’s less likely than someone helping of their own volition. I would look for anyone who has lost a family member or close friend to supernatural violence.”

Noah looks up from where he’s been jotting down notes and grimaces. “Not a bad idea. God knows there’s been enough of that around here.”

“Are you going to want help going through it all?” Stiles says, looking at his father hopefully.

Noah gives him a look and says, “Do you have a badge yet?”

Stiles pouts, but Peter clears his throat and says, “Actually, you might want to think about letting us help, rather than having your staff sort through it. Because the other cross reference we could use is someone with ties to the police force.”

“You wanna back that up?” Noah says, sounding a little disgruntled.

“Gerard knew we were coming today. How? There were only a handful of people who knew that we had caught on to the fact that he was behind this, and most of them were on the police force. Also, when the assassin with the red wolfsbane was caught, we tried to request payment on his behalf, but Gerard didn’t respond. He knew either that I was not dead, or that the assassin was in police custody and in no position to request anything. I can’t figure out how he might have known the former, but he easily could have learned the latter if someone on the force was tipping him off.”

Noah grunts. “Guess I can’t get too high and mighty about the possibility after one of my deputies set Parrish on fire. Okay. We’ll keep it in this room, and we can sort through the suspects together.”

“In the meantime, what about finding Gerard himself?” Derek asks. “That’s the important part.”

“Find the accomplice, and you’ll find Gerard,” Peter says. “He’s not going to be living on the streets.”

Derek huffs a little and says, grudgingly, “I guess.”

Noah shakes his head at them and says, “I’ve got work to do, so I’m going to take off. I’ll probably be late, so Stiles, stay at Peter’s tonight.”

“Okay,” Stiles says, and gives his father a hug before he departs.

Scott is frowning faintly after Noah, and says, “So your dad, like, knows about you and Peter? He’s okay with it?”

“Yes and yes,” Stiles says, and Scott looks a little baffled. Stiles can sense that a Discussion is approaching, and stands up. “C’mon, Peter, let’s go marathon Twin Peaks.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

Given everything that’s going on, Stiles has to admit he’s pretty nervous when his father insists he sits down before they have a talk. He knots his hands in his lap and tries to quell his anxiety. His father had been at the office for almost twenty-four hours straight before coming home and saying he was going to get some sleep, but first they had to talk. He opens with, “So, we’ve found Gerard’s accomplice.”

Stiles blinks. “That was quick.”

Noah grimaces a little and says, “Peter was on point, I’ll give him that. I filtered the list of residents and employees by police ties and then searched for family members who had been the victim of a crime, and that narrowed it down to only three possibilities. One of them was a resident who was too sick to have been out and about, another was an employee who worked in the kitchen and wouldn’t have interacted with Gerard directly. The third was a resident named Maisie Lewis. Her son Tony is an officer with the Beacon Hills city police. She also had another son, Glenn, who was a deputy up until last year, when he was killed.” Noah laces and unlaces his fingers. “Glenn was killed by the bomb that the nogitsune planted at the sheriff’s station.”

“Oh.” Stiles swallows down the immediate wave of shame and guilt that threatens to consume him. “I . . . oh.”

“Ms. Lewis was already acquainted with Gerard in passing, so I imagine it was not too difficult for him to explain to her what had ‘really’ happened to her son, and secure her assistance with his plan.” Noah rakes a hand through his hair. “Now, Gerard knew damned well that you and the nogitsune weren’t the same, but Maisie didn’t, and she actually altered Gerard’s list to give you one of the highest bounties. He had originally only put you down for five million.”

“Well, that’s . . . super,” Stiles says. “Here I was flattering myself thinking that maybe Gerard actually had some respect for me and had given me that high bounty because he thought I was just that awesome.”

Noah gives a little snort, but he doesn’t look like he really thinks it’s funny. “I don’t think Gerard has much respect for anybody, to be honest.”

“I’m surprised Peter’s wasn’t higher,” Stiles says, thinking this over. “I mean, Peter is the one who killed Kate. You’d think he’d be enemy number one.”

“I think that was actually deliberate,” Noah says. “I had noticed that the bounties seemed a little oddly weighted and I asked Maisie about it. She said that Gerard priced some of them deliberately low because he didn’t want the bounty hunters to think they were dangerous and avoid them. That’s probably why Peter’s bounty was lower than Derek’s. But he knew he couldn’t get away with that for Scott because everyone knew about the ‘true alpha’ business.”

Stiles nods. “Yeah, okay. That makes sense, I guess.”

Noah reaches out and squeezes his shoulder. “You okay?”

“I guess so. I don’t know.” Stiles hunches his shoulders a little, folding his arms over his stomach. “I know that I didn’t kill Deputy Lewis. And that, that feeling that I should have fought harder, should have found a way to stop the nogitsune from doing it, I know that that’s irrational. It just . . . it’s still so hard to not feel it.”

“I know.” Noah draws him into an embrace, and Stiles rests his face against his father’s shoulder for a few moments. “I know that I can’t imagine what that’s like. Just know that any time you want to talk, I’m here. Okay?”

“Yeah. Okay.” Stiles wipes his eyes and pulls away. “So, uh, you talked to her? Ms. Lewis? She admitted it and stuff?” he asks, and his father nods. “What’s going to happen to her? I don’t want her to get arrested or anything.”

Noah sighs. “She’s an accessory to murder, Stiles. You aren’t the only person that Gerard targeted. The two people who were killed by the bounty hunters were both totally innocent, as far as we can tell.”

“I know, but . . .”

“Ms. Lewis being upset about her son being killed is perfectly natural,” Noah says, “but being killed in the line of duty is something that police officers accept as a possibility. If Glenn had been killed by a black man, and Ms. Lewis helped someone start a mission to kill all black men, would you think she shouldn’t be held accountable for that?”

Stiles winces. “No.”

“No. The only difference is that Gerard clearly manipulated her and fed her false information about supernatural creatures. And believe me, Stiles, I am going to take that into account. I haven’t decided what to do yet, to be honest. I’m not sure bringing charges against her is even a possibility. I can’t explain to a jury that Gerard started a bounty list for monsters, and I’m not sure how else I could explain the list’s existence. There’s a lot to think about, but we’ll figure it out.”

Stiles nods and wipes his eyes again. “Okay. So, uh, if we know who the accomplice is, can we find Gerard?”

Noah grimaces a little. “I haven’t had any luck with that so far. I guess Maisie’s son Tony was keeping an ear out, and when I called in the backup to go down to the retirement home, he tipped Gerard off. Maisie was still home, but Tony didn’t show up to work today. We checked his place and it’s empty, so we’re monitoring his credit cards to see if he turns up. Plus we’ve got a tap on his mom’s phone.”

“Okay.” Stiles sighs. “Keep me posted?”

“Will do. And no going out alone until this is over.”

“What if I want to go to Peter’s?”

“Have him come pick you up.”

“Ugh, Dad – ”

“I mean it, Stiles. Gerard knows we’re onto him. He’s going to be even more reckless and dangerous now. Until he’s caught, I don’t want you out by yourself, even if it’s just to drive to Peter’s. He can come over here or he can come pick you up. End of story.”

Stiles sighs. “Okay.”

So after his father has gone to get some sleep, Stiles dutifully texts Peter to say, ‘Wanna come hang out? Or pick me up? My father has decreed I’m not to go out alone.’

‘Okay,’ Peter replies a minute later. ‘Have you eaten?’

‘No, but don’t go to the grocery. It’s not really safe for you out there, either. We can order.’

‘All right. I’ll be there in about twenty minutes. Don’t leave the door unlocked – I’ll ring the bell when I get there.’

‘Okay,’ Stiles replies, and flops down on the sofa to wait. He plays on his phone for a little while and surfs through Netflix to see if there’s anything new out that he and Peter might like. He’s been meaning to try Santa Clarita Diet, which he’s heard is good. He glances up when the doorbell rings and jogs over to answer it.

The man at the door is not Peter. He’s taller, well muscled and wearing a T-shirt and jeans. Stiles starts to swing the door shut, but it’s too late. The man grabs him by the wrist, and jams a stun gun into Stiles’ side. There’s a shock of pain and then blackness.

 

~ ~ ~ ~