“Absolutely not. I refuse.” Peter juts his chin out at Principal Finstock, arms folded across his chest. His body language screams defiance.
Finstock ignores it. “Absolutely yes. You’ve managed to weasel out of having a student in your classroom for four years Hale, and I’m done. We have to take a certain number of student placements, and yours is the only suitable classroom for this kid. And before you ask, yes, he meets all the requirements of your stupid list.”
Peter frowns. “Really?”
“Really. High distinctions all the way through his course, every single classroom placement prior to this says they’d have him back in a second, never failed to hand in an assignment on time.”
Damn. Peter had thrown that last one in there knowing that every student, at one stage or another, turns something in at least a day late. Except this kid, apparently. He reluctantly reaches a hand out and looks at the file Finstock had dropped in front of him. “ Mieczyslaw Stilinski. Age 27. Old to be just finishing his degree,” he comments, hoping he can use that as a reason to turn down the placement.
“He prefers to be called Stiles. And yeah, kid took a couple of gap years before he started college – his father got shot, needed a carer.”
Peter’s eyebrows raise. “Shot? I hope that doesn’t mean he’s from some European mob family, because I won’t have that kind of influence in my classroom.” He’s clutching at straws, he knows, but he’s desperate.
Finstock makes a noise somewhere between a huff and a sigh. “His father, the sheriff, was shot on duty. And yes, Peter recognizes the name now, remembers the sheriff. “Now stop arguing, and get used to the idea. For the next six weeks, this kid’s gonna be your shadow. For some reason, he’s excited to be working with the famous Mr. Hale. Lost his shit when I called and told him. Called you the rock god of kindergarten teachers, whatever the hell that means. I think he may have cried a little.”
Peter slumps into his chair in resignation. If he’s honest, he knew this day was coming. “Fine, I’ll take him. But he follows my rules, does as he’s told, and doesn’t disrupt the rhythm of my classroom, or he’s out. I refuse to have a repeat of the Greenberg incident.”
Finstock rolls his eyes, “Let it go, Peter. Greenberg made a mistake, that’s all.”
“He managed to set the children’s artwork on fire.”
“It was one drawing, Peter. He was just trying to singe the edges to make it look like a treasure map.”
Peter scowls. “Naked flames are never appropriate in a kindergarten class. I had traumatized minors for weeks.” He remembers it vividly, the amount of time he’d spent with each of his cubs, calming them and talking soothingly, letting them cuddle up to his side as he reassured them that they were safe, keeping his own terror at the fire carefully locked away.
Finstock’s expression softens – he also knows the time and care Peter put into making sure all his little ones were okay. “Look, the Stilinski kid’s no Greenberg. I have friends who’ve taught him. They say he has what it takes to be really great at this. Who knows? You might end up liking him.”
Peter snorts. “Unlikely. I haven’t liked an adult in years. They’re all terrible.”
“Including me?” Finstock asks, hiding a grin.
“Definitely including you. You’re an absolute nightmare, Bobby. I’m frankly amazed I’ve managed not to punch you in the face while I’m sitting here.”
“I’m lucky you’re so tolerant,” Finstock agrees. “So, starting Monday, you’ll have Bilinski in your class.”
“Stilinski,” Peter corrects absently, already planning exactly how he’ll torment the boy. He might have to take the placement, but that doesn’t mean he has to make it pleasant.
As if he can read Peter’s thoughts, Finstock says, “And Peter? Play nice. If I hear you’re trying to get this kid to leave, I’ll take you out of there and send you to teach gym for a month.” It’s an empty threat and they both know it – Peter’s too damn good at what he does.
Peter sighs. “I’ll try him, for a day. But he’s out if he doesn’t fit in with the class.”
“Deal.” Finstock waves vaguely at the door. “ Now go. Go and see to your… chickens? Pups? Piglets? What then hell do you call them again?”
“Cubs,” Peter replies fondly. “They’re my cubs.”
When Stiles got the call from Principal Finstock telling him he’d be working with Peter Hale, he’s not ashamed to say he cried real tears. Because Peter Freaking Hale. From what Stiles has heard, the guy almost never allows students in his classroom, and Stiles feels a little like he’s won the lottery, to be honest.
From what he knows, Peter Hale is intensely private outside of his classroom, and he’s known to be exceedingly blunt with the parents. But every child who leaves his kindergarten class is absolutely captivated with him, and more to the point, they’re miles ahead of the other kids their age, socially, emotionally, and educationally. Stiles doesn’t know what exactly Peter’s teaching methods are, but he’s looking forwards to finding out.
“The important thing with Hale,” Finstock had told him earnestly,” Is to show no fear. He can sense weakness,” and wow, that isn’t concerning at all. But Stiles thinks he’s ready for it – he hopes he’s ready, anyway. Come Monday morning, it’s his time to shine. He’s determined to impress the hell out of this guy, because Stiles is genuinely good at what he does. He relates to the kids well, plans his activities and lessons weeks in advance, and is an expert at just rolling with it when something happens that might otherwise throw his day for a loop. He likes to think he has a certain flair in the classroom. Every single one of his placements so far has resulted in the principal calling him to the office on his last day and asking if he’d be interested in a permanent position once he’s qualified, if one were to come up.
So yeah, Stiles has several tentative job offers for when he graduates, and now he has a placement with Peter Hale. Maybe, he muses, they’ll get on. Maybe they’ll even become friends, and Peter will teach him all his secrets.
He can’t wait to meet the man behind the legend. He figures anyone who shares his passion for teaching must be awesome.
Peter Hale, Stiles decides exactly thirty seconds after meeting him, is an absolute dick. Stiles arrived at the school at 8am, wanting to make a good impression by getting there early, and Finstock had nodded approvingly. When Finstock had taken him into the staffroom though, Peter had barely lifted his head from the table where he was busy filling in some sort of chart to glance at him, before snapping, “So nice of you to join us, Mr. Stilinski. Do try to be more timely in the future, won’t you?”
“What?” Stiles is caught off guard. “Dude, I’m early. Classes start at nine - Principal Finstock said be here at half eight.”
“Principal Finstock,“ Peter says drily, “Has been out of the classroom far too long. In my class, our day starts at 7.30. Please try and remember that. And don’t call me dude.” And he goes back to whatever the hell it is he’s doing that involves red and green squares.
“Hale! Pull your head out your ass and behave,” Finstock barks.
Peter rolls his eyes so hard Stiles is worried he’ll strain something. “Fine.” He turns to Stiles with a saccharine sweet smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “Welcome, Mr. Stilinski. I hope you have an absolutely thrilling time during your placement here, and I hope we can cater to your every whim satisfactorily.” Peter turns to Finstock. “Happy now, Bobby? I’ve played nice.”
Finstock shakes his head. “You’re such an asshole, Hale.”
“Mmhmm. You keep saying that, yet here I am, still working for you,” Peter observes, eyes still on his paperwork.
“Only because you’re the damn kid whisperer. I swear, I don’t know why those tiny terrors like you.”
“Too young to know better,” Stiles blurts out before he can help himself and shit, he didn’t mean to say that out loud.
Peter swings around in his chair and turns his full attention on Stiles, eyes narrowed. ” What is that you’re wearing, exactly?” he demands.
Stiles glances down at himself. He’s wearing bright yellow converse, black skinny jeans, and a t shirt that matches his shoes. “What? It’s fun!” he protests.
“You look like a demented wasp. Please dress appropriately in future. We are the adults, and we need to look like them,” Peter tells him.
Stiles is starting to have doubts as to whether this guy should even be allowed within ten feet of children. Seriously, he probably makes them all cry and then threatens them if they tell anyone. “Sorry. I just figured, you know, being children, they’d like the bright colors.”
“They’re children, not honeybees. We don’t need to attract them with garish accessories.” Stiles takes in what Peter’s wearing. White shirt with meticulously rolled up sleeves, grey pants, grey shoes, with a darker grey sweater-vest draped over the top. He looks like an unfairly attractive accountant, or possibly an undertaker on his day off.
“Sorry,” he mutters. “It’s never been a problem anywhere else I’ve worked.”
“My classroom,” Hale states coldly, ”Is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever worked. Please bear that in mind before you go trying to have thoughts and ideas when you obviously know nothing about how I run things.”
Stiles flinches at that, but he bites back a retort. He’s here to learn, and pissing Peter off won’t help any. Finstock though, has no such qualms. “Peter,” he says warningly. He locks gazes with Peter, and to Stiles’s surprise it’s Peter who looks away first. Finstock turns to Stiles, then. “I promise, kid, he’s good at what he does. Don’t let him push you around, okay Bilinski?”
“Stilinski,” correct Stiles, at the same time as Peter. For a second, there, Stiles almost thinks he sees a flash of something in the man’s eyes, interest maybe, but whatever it was disappears when Stiles continues, “Actually, the kids normally call me Mr. S.”
Peter shakes his head immediately. “Oh, definitely not. There’s no reason they can’t learn your correct name. It will be good for them.”
“Nah, man. It’s a mouthful for them. Mr. S is fine.”
Peter turns keen eyes on him then, and Stiles feels a little like a bug under a magnifying glass with the intensity of Peter’s gaze. ”So what you’re saying, Miezcyslaw, is that we should continue to teach the next generation that if someone’s name is difficult or unusual, it’s okay to bastardize it rather than make any effort at all? How very middle-aged white man of you.”
“Says the actual middle-aged white man,” Stiles snorts, and tries to ignore the warm feeling he gets from Peter pronouncing his name flawlessly, because that might mean admitting the man has a point. At this stage Stiles doesn’t think he can afford to give any ground, otherwise he’ll spend the next six weeks bowing and scraping, he can tell.
Peter raises an expressive eyebrow at him. “I’ll have you know I’m nowhere near middle aged, thank you. And if you want to work in my classroom, you’ll answer to Mr. Stilinski.”
Stiles does want to work in Peter’s classroom, if only to see exactly what goes on in there. He can’t imagine why this man has the reputation he does – Stiles is getting a definite Miss Trunchbull vibe off him, he won’t lie. Finstock catches his eye, and murmurs, “Pick your battles, kid.”
Stiles shrugs. “Mr. Stilinski it is, I guess.”
“Excellent.” Peter nods and stands. “Since you think it’s too ‘early’ for you to be here, I’ll get Bobby to bring you along just before class starts. Today, you’ll just observe, get an idea of how things work, and I’ll introduce you to the children. Tomorrow, assuming I let you come back, I’ll let you interact.” And with that he sweeps out of the room, leaving Stiles staring at his back openmouthed.
“This is going to be a nightmare, isn’t it?” he says.
Finstock pinches the bridge of his nose and watches Peter walk away. “Peter’s an asshole, but he’s the best at what he does. Watch and learn, kid, and if you can get him onside, you’ll be fine. And a word to the wise? Don’t ask about his personal life.”
Stiles is about to ask, when one of the other teachers chips in, “Hale doesn’t have a private life. We think he sleeps in the supply closet at night.”
The other staff all snicker at that, except for Finstock, who barks, “Knock it off. You don’t know a damn thing, Harris. Let the man have his privacy.”
Stiles quirks an eyebrow at that. Huh.
“Come on Stiles, I’ll show you around the place and we’ll join Peter for class,” Finstock offers, clapping a heavy hand on Stiles’s shoulder and leading him out the door.
Peter strides towards his classroom without looking back, and fights back the urge to take Bobby Finstock out the back and beat him senseless. He must have known, yet he didn’t say a word, didn’t warn Peter at all. When Peter glanced up and saw warm hazel eyes and an upturned nose, a lithe frame and a wide grin, it was like a punch in the gut.
He wasn’t prepared, wasn’t ready to be reminded of what he’d lost. It had taken everything in him not to reach out in those first seconds, the similarity was so strong, and he’d understood just a second too late that it wasn’t his Michael after all, but rather an imposter who dared share some of his features. Peter had retreated, snapping and snarling to hide the hurt that only Finstock knows about.
He’d expected the Stilinski boy (man, his brain corrects unhelpfully, definitely a man) to retreat under fire, like most people do when Peter turns on them. But instead Stiles had snapped back, and that, too, was so like his lost love that Peter had felt his grief clawing at him, as fresh and raw as when it first happened. He’d resorted to insulting the boy’s clothing, for god’s sake, in an effort to find his footing again.
He knew he’d taken it too far when Bobby warned him off, but he refuses to feel bad about it - Stilinski looks atrocious in his eye-searingly yellow shirt. Peter has no doubt his cubs will love it, tasteless little heathens that they are. At the thought of his class, something eases in Peter’s chest. It’s Monday, so they’ll all have something to tell him. It was Gracie’s birthday on Saturday, and Peter has her present wrapped in the bottom drawer of his desk, all ready for her. It’s a children’s book - it’s always a book, for Peter’s cubs.
Some of the other teachers mumble under their breath about Peter giving gifts, setting the bar too high. Peter ignores them. He’ll do what’s best for his class, and the rest of them can go to hell. It’s not like Peter spends any time with them anyway. He’s strictly here for the children. He’s aware of his reputation as a hermit, a sharp tongued, unapproachable asshole – in fact, he cultivates it. Peter believes firmly that private lives are just that – private.
He only coped after his loss because he wasn’t overwhelmed with sympathetic busybodies offering their thoughts and prayers, like any of that could bring Michael back. He’d taken two months, retreated to his cabin in the woods to cry and scream and threaten the deities, and then, once it had truly sunk in that it wasn’t going to make a lick of difference, he’d created an uncaring façade as a defense, determined that nobody would ever know what he’d been through. When he faced the world again, he kept it at arm’s length.
In the five years since he lost Michael, Peter’s kept himself even more apart from his workmates, the only exception being Finstock. The man’s more than a match for Peter’s sharp tongue, and he’s such a wild card that Peter can never tell what will come out of his mouth next. When Bobby took over as principal, he completely blindsided Peter, almost bullying him into becoming, if not friends, something more than colleagues, at least.
It’s Finstock who always quietly insists he takes the day off on the anniversary of Michael’s death, after the first year when he caught Peter sitting in the supply closet holding a picture of the two of them and on the verge of a breakdown, unable to pretend it was just another day no matter how he tried.
Bobby had marched Peter to his office and coaxed and cajoled Peter to tell him not only about the tragedy, but about their lives together beforehand, about Michael, about the house and the life they built together, about all the things that Peter had adored about him. Gods, it had hurt so much to talk about it, but Peter will always grateful to Bobby for that, for helping Peter remember the good that came before the bad. It’s why he’s let Finstock insist on this placement, why he lets the man have a win, just occasionally.
But only very occasionally.
When Peter gets to his classroom, he moves around the room confidently, setting up for the day’s activities, feeling himself relax in the comforting environment. Peter’s built himself a domain here, populated by tiny munchkins who trust in his every word, and he loves it. His parents had been dismissive, sneering when he told them he didn’t want to study architecture but wanted to teach instead, but Michael? Michael had encouraged him.
He’d badgered Peter into changing his courses, and for all Peter had rolled his eyes when Michael persisted, he’s never regretted it. “Do it, because it’s what you want to do. And be good at it, because it’ll piss your family off,” Michael had advised sagely, knowing Peter’s relationship with his parents was strained at best.
Peter had laughed, his head resting on Michael’s chest as they lay curled around each together in the early morning light. “I will. I’ll be the best damned kindergarten teacher this town’s ever seen,” he’d promised.
He’s kept his promise, even if Michael isn’t here to see it.
He places Gracie’s parcel on her desk, sets out the worksheets for the day, and rearranges the furniture so there’s room for the student, Stiles, to sit on in the corner and observe. Peter has no intention of letting him loose on his first day – he can watch, see how things are done. If Peter’s feeling generous, he might let him clean up after art class.
Peter glances at the clock – 8.40. The first of his cubs will be arriving soon. He can’t help the little smile the thought of it brings. He knows at least half of the parents are terrified of him, and he does nothing to discourage it. They deserve it, for mollycoddling their children and robbing them of the chance to become independent souls.
As he takes his position outside the door, he sees Stiles and Finstock approaching. Right on time. “Feel free to watch the meet and greet, Stiles, but save any questions you have for after the parents are gone,” he tells him. Stiles nods quickly, and positions himself next to Peter. He smells good, Peter notes absently. At least he won’t have to give this one the ‘toothbrushes are your friend, Greenberg’ talk.
The first gaggle of children approach, three of them talking and giggling, and they race to get to the classroom door waving madly. The parents dawdle behind, and when Peter sees that Mrs. Anderson is carrying her son’s backpack again, he suppresses a sigh. “There’s always one,” he murmurs to Stiles, “Watch and learn.”
“Mrs. Anderson!” Peter’s voice rings out clearly down the corridor, and the woman in question freezes like a deer in the headlights. “Is your son unwell today?”
The woman blinks. “Uh – no?”
“And are you coming to my kindergarten class today, Mrs. Anderson?” The woman shakes her head mutely, garnering pitying looks from her companions. “Then why, pray tell, are you the one with the bag? Give it to your child immediately. You know my students are expected to be responsible for their own possessions.”
“I was just carrying it – “
“Oh, just carrying it. Are you a pack mule, by chance?”
The woman shakes her head quickly. Peter snaps his fingers. “William, go and get that off your mother, will you? And then into class with you.”
The child runs to obey, and Stiles is quietly horrified, but the five-year-old doesn’t seem to be upset at having to carry his bag. Instead he whispers loudly, “I told ya Mom, I can do it myself!” and almost snatches the bag from her. Peter looks on, satisfied, as the small boy hoists the bag onto his shoulders and beams at Peter. “Look! I can get the straps on ‘n everything now, Mr. Hale!”
Peter crouches down to the boy’s level, and Stiles couldn’t tell you what happens to Peter, exactly, but it’s like a switch has been flicked. His whole body relaxes, and all traces of impatience leave him. He ruffles the boy’s hair, features soft. “You can, indeed. Well done, cub. I told you we’d get there with a little practice.” He holds a hand up, and Will gives him a high five before marching proudly in the classroom door. Stiles glances up the corridor and notes a few other parents hastily shoving bags at their children.
Peter stays crouched down, and every single child, he greets with a soft smile, a high five, sometimes a ruffle of their hair, sometimes an admiring comment over their new hair bows. Stiles watches, stunned, as at least half of the children throw their arms around him in a clumsy hug. When the first girl does it, Stiles honestly expects Peter to scowl or scold, but he just leans into the hug and wraps one arm around the child’s back to steady her. That’s when Stiles notes she has a cast on her wrist. “Welcome back, Lily. Are you feeling better now?” he asks softly.
Lily nods. “I missed you, Mr. Hale. I didn’t like being sick” she whispers.
“I know, dear heart,” Peter tells her quietly. “I’m glad you’re back, though.” He smooths down her hair, and lifts her chin with one finger, giving her a warm smile. “Go on in, Lily flower, you know where your desk is.”
Lily beams at the nickname, and bounces into the classroom. Stiles stands there staring, as child after child arrives, and Peter greets them all, paying the parents no mind whatsoever. One mother tries to engage him, asking how his weekend was. “Perfectly adequate, thank you.” Peter’s tone is crisp and professional, discouraging any further interaction, and Stiles can’t help but be impressed at the way he blatantly ignores her in favor of her child. One thing he struggles with is talking to parents – or rather, not talking to them. Stiles always finds it nigh on impossible to extricate himself from a discussion with the moms. Maybe cool non-engagement is the way to go, he muses.
There are only a dozen children in the class, so it’s not long before the last straggler comes meandering up the corridor, flanked by a harried looking man who Stiles assumes is his father. Stiles waits for Peter to bark at the child to hurry up, they’re running late, but he does no such thing. He just waits patiently, standing and leaning against the wall, presumably to give his legs a break. He’s been squatting down for nearly ten minutes talking to the kids as they arrive, and Stiles can only imagine the burn in his thighs and glutes. He shakes himself mentally, because he doesn’t want to be thinking about Peter’s glutes at all, but Stiles isn’t blind, ok? He can’t help but notice that under his boring dress pants Peter is sporting a nice, solid set of thighs and a particularly fine ass, especially when he’s squatting down like that. Professionalism. It’s a thing, Stiles, he reminds himself silently, and fixes his gaze on the somewhat sombre child.
The small boy eventually makes his way to the door, and Peter crouches down, arms wide. The boy throws himself into a hug. “Hey, Charlie,” Peter says. “Doing all right today?”
Charlie screws up his face like he’s thinking. ”Better,” he finally decides, and Stiles can’t decipher the expression that flits over Peter’s face at that. The kid reluctantly extracts himself from Peter’s grasp and heads into the classroom, and Peter stands up, giving the man a silent nod. The man nods back, and somehow, it’s the realest interaction Stiles has seen Peter have with an adult. He wonders about it, but is drawn from his reverie by Peter pointedly clearing his throat.
“Come on, Mr. Stilinski. Into the lion’s den, as it were.” He extends a hand towards the door in invitation, and Stiles steps through.
Peter steps into the classroom, and twelve heads all swivel in his direction, every face grinning. Even the last, quiet child has managed a weak smile.
“Good morning cubs. First things first. Hands up high!” Peter raises his hands over his head and stretches his body out. Stiles watches on as every child stretches up on their tippy toes, reaching for the sky. They hold the stretch for a few seconds, before Peter calls “Right down low!” They all bend and touch their toes, giggling. It’s – it’s not something Stiles ever expected to see from someone like Peter, but the kids are obviously familiar with the routine.
Peter leads the class through a series of stretches, until finally he gets them to shake out their whole bodies, ending with their fingertips. Stiles watches on, only slightly distracted by the sight of Peter’s muscular forearms and stupidly fit body as he stretches and twists. When the class finally falls still, all taking deep cleansing breaths, Stiles can see that they’re relaxed. “All right, have we got the wiggles out?” Peter asks.
“Yes, Mr. Hale,” the children chorus, and Peter nods, satisfied.
“Excellent. I don’t expect any squirming, then.” Peter walks to the chalkboard and writes Mr. Stilinski in clear, even handwriting before turning to face his class. “As you can see, we have a visitor. And I’ll tell you all about him, after the most important thing.”
There’s something more important than a total stranger in the classroom? Stiles knows when he was five, he wouldn’t have been able to help himself from staring at any visitor to his classroom, but the children just keep their eyes fixed on Peter. Stiles is impressed despite himself.
Peter nods to the small girl with her arm in a cast. “We need to welcome back Lily. Class?” At a nod from Peter, every child goes over to their cubby and comes back bearing a piece of folded card, and they all line up and hand them to Lily, with a smile or a hug, and the occasional, “I missed you!”
Lily’s smile grows wider by the second, and by the time Peter adds his own card to the pile, Stiles thinks her face might actually split. Peter ruffles her hair, gently. “No more tree climbing okay?” he says teasingly, and Lily nods.
And suddenly, Stiles gets it. This is Mr. Hale, rock god of kindergarten. Stiles has been in the class less than ten minutes, but he already knows that these kids would do anything for their teacher, and he for them, and Stiles desperately, fiercely wants that one day.
Peter looks over, catching his eye, and his expression is almost challenging. This is how I run things, deal with it, his expression seems to say. Stiles gives him a small smile. Peter smiles back, and his expression softens a little.
Peter stands and walks back to the board and indicates Stiles should join him. The children’s gazes all follow him as he walks to the front. “This is Mr. Stilinski. He’s with us for the next few weeks, because he’s studying to be a teacher. Shall we practice before we say good morning?” Peter sounds Stiles’s name out carefully, breaking it down into sounds, handing each child a piece of paper with it written phonetically to practice with. Stiles tries his best to suppress a grin at the sight of the kids silently mouthing out the syllables to themselves, expressions of determination writ large on their features. It’s fucking adorable, okay?
Peter moves among them, crouching down and whispering in their ear if they’re struggling, and one by one the kids raise their hands. When all twelve hands are in the air, Peter claps his hands. “Ready? One, two, three.”
“GOOD MORNING MR. STILINSKI!’ the class bellows, looking supremely pleased with themselves, and Stiles’ face splits into a grin.
He can’t help himself. “That was awesome!” he exclaims. “Good job!” Too late, he remembers that he was supposed to stay quiet and observe. He braces himself for a scathing comment from Peter.
But the other man just looks slightly smug when he says, “Did you know cubs, Mr. Stilinski was worried his name might be too hard for you to manage? I’m so proud of you all for showing him what you can do.”
Twelve adoring faces turn to Peter, and Stiles can practically feel them bursting with pride at the praise. He surprises himself when he finds himself saying, “I’m sorry, Mr. Hale. I guess was wrong about how awesome your class are.” Because damn, it felt good, hearing his name like that. Peter’s smile widens and becomes slightly smugger, and Stiles might be imagining it, but he thinks he sees a hint of approval in the man’s eyes. He’ll take it.
The rest of the morning is spent on basic math skills, show and tell, and story time. Stiles observes quietly from where Peter’s directed him to sit, and he can’t help but sink into Peter’s soothing voice as he reads the class Green Eggs and Ham. What? Peter has a nice voice, okay? Even if he’s still an asshole.
After story time, Peter lines the kids up for recess. He indicates for Stiles to join him, which Stiles is surprised at. “You haven’t been a total disaster so far, so I suppose you can join us outside,” Peter tells him in an undertone. Stiles resists the urge to clasp his hands and squeal, “You like me! You really like me!” sarcastically, instead just nodding.
Stiles is once again impressed by the way the children take direction, their attention not wavering from Peter for a second as he leads them outside to play. Once they’re out there, Stiles finds himself grabbed by the hand and led away by a couple of boys who want him to play in the sandpit with them. He shrugs and goes with it. They’ve nearly finished their sand sculpture when Peter blows his whistle, and the kids all scramble back into line. Stiles is the last one back, and Peter arches a brow at him, looking pointedly at where Stiles is holding a sneaker in one hand. “Sand in my shoes,” he explains, and the kids giggle.
Peter just shakes his head. Then he turns to the class. “I want you all to think of one question you want to ask Mr. Stilinski after quiet time. That way we can get to know him better.”
Stiles opens his mouth to speak, but Peter’s cool gaze has him closing it again. Stiles guesses it’s not a terrible idea. He hopes not, anyway.
Peter settles his cubs in for quiet time, and thinks about his student teacher. He’s not awful. He appears able to take basic direction, apart from that one outburst over the cubs getting his name right, and Peter can forgive that as enthusiasm. He didn’t hesitate to get into the sandpit, and Peter will give him points for that as well, even if he did manage to trail more sand inside than the children. But so far, Peter is forced to admit that it’s going well.
Question time though, will be where Peter really sees what Stiles is made of. You can’t teach kindergarten without being able to think on your feet. If the boy gets flustered or falters at this first hurdle, he might as well leave now. Peter’s quite looking forwards to it.
After quiet time, Stiles sits cross legged on the mat with the kidlets surrounding him, and braces himself for the questions. Peter’s wearing a tiny smirk, almost as if this is some sort of test and he expects Stiles to fail.
The class are told they all get one question, and Mr. Stilinski is allowed to say if he thinks it’s too personal. Stiles didn’t expect that, and he breathes a little easier.
The first question is easy - Why is he called Stiles?
Stiles explains that his heritage is Polish. He adds that his first name is very long and complicated and that he goes by Stiles. “That’s not even a real name,” Josh opines, which earns him a raised eyebrow in warning from Peter, and a reminder about manners.
Does he have any pets? - No, but he’d like a dog one day.
“I like your shoes.” (‘Not a question, Lily. Try again.’) Where did he get his shoes? (‘Better.’)
Does he have any brothers and sisters? One brother, who he explains isn’t really his brother, but Stiles liked him so much he claimed him as one. The kids nod understandingly.
Does he have a girlfriend? Stiles shakes his head.
Does he have a boyfriend? That gives him a moment’s pause.
“I have two dads,” the little girl who asked volunteers with a shrug.
“No girlfriend or boyfriend,” Stiles states definitively.
Why not? Is the next question.
Stiles explains that he’s been studying extra hard, and he hasn’t met anyone special yet.
“You’re pretty.” (“ Still not a question Lily, and it was one question each, remember?” “But you just said, that’s not a question, Mr. Hale.” Stiles likes this kid.)
By the time they’ve asked where he lives, who he lives with, what his favorite color is, and if he had a superpower what would it be, Stiles feels like he’s been grilled by the detectives at his dads’ work, but he thinks he did okay.
Peter claps his hands suddenly, declaring question time over, and looking expectantly at his brood. They all chorus “Thank you Mr. Stilinski,” and Stiles tips them a wink.
Afterwards, when he’s seated back in what he’s starting to think of as his naughty corner, Peter wanders over casually. “Thank you for not reacting badly when Ellen asked about a boyfriend,” he says so quietly Stiles barely catches it. Stiles tilts his head back and catches Peter looking at him. He thinks, if he squints, there might be the barest traces of a smile there.
Stiles isn’t sure what prompts him to say it, except that he figures he may as well get it out there. “Nah, it’s cool. I’d kill for a nice guy to date, honestly. I keep it to myself though, because people can get funny when you’re working with their kids.” He ducks his head, nervous. Coming out to new people’s always a crapshoot.
Peter arches a brow and for a moment Stiles thinks that Peter is going to scold him for oversharing. But then Peter says, “Personally, I’ve never found my sexuality to have any effect on my professional standing. Learn to do your job properly, and it shouldn’t affect yours either.”
Stiles opens his mouth to ask if Peter’s saying what he thinks he’s saying, but closes it again. The fact Peter shared at all is frankly amazing, and he doesn’t want to push his luck.
“By the way, you handled the questions,” Peter pauses, “Not terribly.” And there it is, a definite beginnings of a smile.
Stiles starts to feel like maybe, this might not be the nightmare he first thought.
Peter’s still an asshole, though.
At the end of the day, Peter dismisses Stiles with the children. “Did you want me to stay, give me a rundown on the class? Stiles asks. “Maybe get a coffee?”
“I think not. I have work to do.” Peter can see Stiles deflate at the reply, and he doesn’t know exactly why he does it, but he adds, ”You can get to know the children organically, starting tomorrow – when you get your own class, nobody’s going to hand you a cheat sheet.”
Stiles perks up. “So, I’m allowed back? Finstock – I mean Principal Finstock,” he corrects quickly, “Said that today was a trial period.”
“You can come back, but that would require you to actually leave in the first place,” Peter says acidly.
Stiles opens his mouth, but whatever he’s about to say, he must think better of it. Good, thinks Peter. Stiles has already had him acting out of character, sharing personal information, for god’s sake. It’s not like him at all. Maybe it’s the resemblance to Michael that’s making Peter’s normally iron self-control weak. He makes a mental note not to be swayed by those big brown eyes.
Stiles ends up gathering his bag and leaving with a curt nod. After the boy’s gone, Peter works quietly, preferring the stillness of his classroom to the childish antics of the staff room. He isn’t surprised though, when Finstock walks in. “You know, even my cubs have enough manners to knock,” Peter comments without looking up.
Finstock glances around. “Where’s the kid?”
“I sent him home with the rest of them.”
Finstock sits on the edge of Peter’s desk, making sure to block his light, and stays there till Peter looks up with a huff. What do you want, Bobby?”
“I want you to tell me what you think of your student, and if you’ve found an excuse to try and get rid of him.” Bobby folds his arms and waits.
“He’s barely adequate, I suppose,“ Peter mutters, much as it pains him to admit it. ”Now, can I get back to work?”
Finstock snorts. “Barely adequate? Coming from you, that’s a five-star review. Peter Hale, do you actually think he has talent?”
“I never said that. At best, he’s not a total disaster.”
Peter pushes at Finstock’s leg, trying to shift him, but the other man stays put, grinning wildly. “Peter Hale saying a student teacher’s not a total disaster? I should hire him on the basis of that alone.”
Peter shoves harder. “Dick,” he snaps.
“Sourpuss,” Finstock bites back.
They stare at each other for a second, before Bobby grudgingly moves off the desk. “So he’s coming back?”
“He’s coming back,” Peter confirms, and wonders why he’s not horrified by that.
It’s most unsettling.
When Stiles gets home, he calls his dad. “Hey, kiddo. How was it?”
Stiles groans, “This guy’s such a dick. I’ll probably strangle him by the end of six weeks. Told me my clothes were tasteless, made me sit in the corner and watch for most of the day, doesn’t wanna talk to me outside of class. Absolute asshole.”
Stiles doesn’t expect his dad to laugh as hard as he does, and he says so. “Sorry, son. It’s just that you were such a nightmare for your teachers, I can’t help but think that this is karma.”
“Uncalled for! I was a delight!” Stiles protests.
“Uh huh. I still have the report cards that say otherwise,” John informs him drily. “So, seeing as he’s such a dick, how does he get on with the kids?”
“Oh my god, dad. That’s the weird thing. The kids adore him. Put him in front of a class and he turns into this kind of…I dunno, mythical figure. He’s literally the best at what he does. He’s like Mary Poppins.” He pauses before adding “A very manly Mary Poppins, with a really great ass.”
John lets out a choking laugh. “Jesus, Stiles. That’s a visual I didn’t need.” He catches his breath, before saying, “Kids are normally good judges of character, son. If they like him, he’s probably all right. You’re just miffed he’s not gushing over you like that woman at the last school you were at.”
Stiles thinks about it – his dad’s probably right, he knows. Small children have fairly accurate instincts – if they like Peter, there must be something good about the guy, even if it’s hidden by his horrible attitude. He sighs. “I guess. But I really don’t think he likes me. I don’t think he likes anybody over three feet tall.”
“Stiles, you’re good at this. You wouldn’t be in this guy’s class if you weren’t. Do what you know, learn what you can, don’t strangle anybody, okay?”
They chat for a little longer, Stiles fishing for news on his father’s health, John refusing to tell him anything, and by the time he hangs up, he feels a little better. He can do this.
He’s not going to be intimidated by Peter goddam Hale. He’s going to treat this just like any other placement, and bring his own style to the classroom. He is good at what he does, even though his methods might be different to Peter’s. Besides, apart from dragging on his shirt, Peter didn’t actually tell him he’d done anything wrong yesterday. He goes to bed determined to make this placement work, and not strangle Peter.
He promised his dad, after all.
Stiles turns up in a sensible collared polo the next day, but he keeps the converse. These ones have a bright blue TARDIS on each side. Peter glances down but doesn’t comment, so Stiles takes it as a win. He gets a shy hello and a wave from the kidlets as they arrive, but they save their high fives for Peter, which. Fair.
He definitely doesn’t sneak glances at Peter’s fine ass as he crouches down to greet the kids. Or watch the way his muscular throat looks stretched out when he takes the kidlets through their exercises. No sirreee, absolutely not.
Not much, anyway.
Stiles helps set up for painting, wrestling the class into their art smocks. Peter, he notes, doesn’t put an apron on at all. “Some of us have control of our limbs, Stiles. I think I’ll be fine,” he replies when Stiles offers to fetch him one. Stiles resists the urge to roll his eyes, and instead just waits for the inevitable to happen. But somehow, despite getting up close and personal with the artists, Peter remains spotless. Stiles decides it’s witchcraft, after managing to paint his own forearm yellow somehow. “How does he stay so clean, do you think?” Stiles whispers to Lily.
She turns serious eyes on him. “Mr. Hale says art doesn’t requires flailing,” she recites, and when Stiles looks at her, he sees that sure enough, she’s almost completely clean. He takes comfort in the fact that the rest of the kids are about a 50/50 split between pristine and splattered, and Peter doesn’t seem to mind the messiness, instead focusing on the paintings themselves and offering hints and encouragement. It’s just that he remains unsettlingly tidy for the whole exercise, and smirks knowingly when Stiles ends up at the sink scrubbing paint off with the children.
Soon enough it’s recess and today, Peter lets Stiles to attempt to corral the class to go outside. They’re not nearly as quick to assemble as they were the day before, but they get there eventually, and Peter gives Stiles an approving nod. Stiles thinks that nod shouldn’t be enough to make him feel as good as it does, yet here he is, resisting the urge to fist pump at the tiniest scrap of validation.
Afterwards, they get ready for quiet time. They share the task of dragging out the sleep mats and setting them up. Peter casts a critical eye over Stiles’s side of the room, and with a tsking sound he straightens the mats until they’re lined up perfectly. Stiles breathes deeply, and reminds himself that some people are just pickier than he is over these things, and that at least today he’s being allowed to participate.
Once the room is settled, Stiles watches on as Peter takes advantage of the relative peace in the room to prepare the afternoon’s activities, and he’s vaguely flattered when Peter even lets him pull a chair up to the desk, moving aside slightly to make room for him. But ten minutes in, Stiles sees one of the boys stand, and creep forwards to place a hand on the edge of Peter’s desk.
Peter looks up and raises his eyebrows. Charlie lets out a sniffle, and steps a little closer. Peter immediately abandons his work and sits down on the floor, back against the wall, one arm raised, leaving a perfect five-year-old sized space. Charlie dives into it and buries his face against Peter’s side. There’s the sound of muffled sobbing, and then a whispered “I want my mo-oom baaack.”
Stiles sees Peter quickly cast a glance over the class, ensuring the rest of the kids are settled, before shhhing quietly and rocking in tiny motions, not saying anything, just letting the boy cry. One look at Charlie’s face tells Stiles all he needs to know – this isn’t the face of a kid whose Mom has left them. This is the face of a kid whose Mom has died. He should recognize the shattered look – he saw it in the mirror for long enough.
Stiles can’t help himself. He slides down the wall so he’s on the other side of Charlie, and throws an arm over his shoulders, ignoring the daggers Peter’s glaring at him. “Hey, buddy,” he says quietly. “Tell me about your Mom?”
Charlie turns wide, wet eyes on him. “She – she got sick. She died,” he says quietly, before bursting into fresh tears.
Peter’s glare intensifies, and Stiles continues to ignore it. Because this part, he remembers. He remembers desperately missing his Mom, but people being too afraid to mention her case it upset him. It had felt to Stiles like suddenly, she just stopped existing, and all he’d wanted was someone to acknowledge her. Peter can glare all he likes, but this is something Stiles knows, okay?
He snags a tissue and holds it out to Charlie. “I bet nobody ever mentions her, huh?” Charlie shakes his head vigorously, blowing his nose and handing Stiles the sticky remains of the tissue. Stiles drops it on the floor and grabs the whole box, handing it over. “You know, I lost my Mom when I was just a little older than you. It really sucks, huh?” Charlie nods miserably. ”Would it make you feel better if we talked about your mom? We could remember her together.”
A tiny nod, and suddenly Charlie moves over a little, and his face is buried in Stiles’s side, although he keeps a hand firmly on Peter’s leg. “Can I?”
“Sure thing,” Stiles tells him, and he can’t help but squeeze the kid tight. ”Tell me your very favorite things.”
And so it is that Stiles learns that Charlie’s mom made the best brownies, and sang a lot, and always read him a story, and made quilts. He barely notices when Peter slips away and leads the rest of the class outside for an unscheduled break, leaving them alone. Charlie cries a little more as he talks, and Stiles? Well, he might get a little hoarse when he tells Charlie that his own Mom was a terrible baker, but a great dancer. And that it takes time, but it does get better. “Promise?” Charlie whispers.
“Promise. I’ve been there,” Stiles tells him confidently, while he silently curses a world where they even have to have this conversation.
At the back of his mind he’s aware that he’s probably blown his placement, but really, he couldn’t care less right now. He’s vaguely aware of Peter coming back into the room, and he braces himself for the onslaught. But instead Peter settles the children with some worksheets before coming over. He nods at Charlie, who’s somehow managed to curl up even closer. “Charlie?” he says softly. “Should I call your father?”
Stiles fully expects Charlie to say yes, but the kid sits up, sighs and shakes his head no. “He’s at work. He doesn’t have time to come home for me.” And oh god. It hurts. Stiles is dragged back through time nearly twenty years, hearing himself tell a teacher the same thing. Only in Stiles’s case, they’d taken the word of an eight-year-old that he’d be okay, and fuck that.
He opens his mouth to protest, but Peter beats him to it. “Your dad already told me he’s happy to come and get you. So tell me, do you need him, Charlie?”
The way he’s phrased the question is genius, Stiles notes. Not will you be okay, Stiles? Not he’s on a callout, are you sure you can’t hang in there, Stiles? Instead, the simplest question, the one that gets to the heart of it.
Do you need him, Charlie?
Stiles thinks that anyone who knows enough to ask that question must have suffered losses of their own.
Charlie still hesitates. He looks up at Stiles and leans in close. “Did you need your dad to come get you, when you were little?”
“Lots of times,” Stiles reassures him. (Just because it never happened, doesn’t mean he didn’t need it, so it’s not technically a lie.)
“OK, then. C’n I go home?”
Stiles sees Peter looking at him consideringly. “Mr. Stilinski, would you like to take Charlie to the office and call his father please? You can wait with him there.”
Stiles thinks that there’s nothing he’d like better. He notes that the rest of the class are still busy coloring their worksheets, their eyes flicking over occasionally to see what’s happening. He nods, saying, “Certainly, Mr. Hale.” He stands, takes Charlie by the hand and leads him out of the classroom.
When he gets to the office, the secretary looks surprised, but when Stiles explains the situation, she nods and calls Charlie’s father. Finstock pokes his head out of his office. “Everything alright, kid?”
“Yep. Charlie needs to go home.”
“And Peter trusted you to bring him? Stiles, you know that’s a big deal, right?”
Stiles didn’t know, but he files it away as something to think about later. Right now, he’s more concerned with his small, leaky-eyed charge. Finstock disappears and a moment later reappears, throwing a package at Stiles. “Cookies. Good for anything,” he nods, and then he’s gone again, leaving Stiles clutching a packet of Oreos. Stiles shrugs, and splits them with Charlie, the pair of them leaning against each other as they debate the merits of eating them whole or twisting them apart.
When Charlie’s father arrives, Stiles is relieved to see that the man doesn’t seem put out at having to collect his son, instead enveloping him in a hug. “You okay, Charlie - boy?” he asks, running a hand down his son’s face.
Charlie nods. “Mr. Stilinksi’s mom died when he was little. He says it gets better,” he reports, looking at Stiles with something like hope. The father stands, looking Stiles up and down.
Stiles extends his hand. “Stiles Stilinksi. I’m on placement in Charlie’s class.” The man only hesitates a second before shaking his hand. “Yeah, I saw you this morning, Jim Adams. Sorry if Charlie was a bother – “
“He really wasn’t.” Stiles doesn’t let the man finish. He hesitates only a moment, before taking a deep breath and continuing. “Just – I don’t wanna butt into your business, but I’ve been where Charlie is, when I was a kid. My dad was a cop. So a lot of the time, nobody called him, because y’know, they thought he had an important job. And I just want to say,” he gestures at Charlie, “ This. This is your most important job. Don’t let him think otherwise. It can really screw with a kid’s head, needing their dad but thinking they come second to a bunch of strangers.”
Jim stares at him for a moment, and his whole face crumples. “ I’d never – Jesus, how could anyone think like that?” he pulls Charlie into a rough hug. “Anytime, kid. Anytime you need me, you call. We’re family, you hear me?”
Charlie nods against his dad’s legs, and Stiles feels a wistful satisfaction that at least this guy will try and get it right. Jim nods at Stiles. “Thanks. For taking care of him. How long are you here for?”
“Six weeks.“ Stiles hopes it isn’t a lie, after the stunt he just pulled.
“Maybe we could talk again?” Jim looks like he wants to carry Stiles home and demand that he tell him how to cope.
“We can definitely talk again. And Charlie can come see me any time,” Stiles affirms. Jim nods, and leads his boy out of the office.
There’s silence for a moment, and then the sound of a nose being blown loudly. “Stilinski!” Finstock calls from his office, voice choked. “Warn a man if you’re gonna say shit like that and make him cry, okay? Now bring me some damn tissues!”
Stiles laughs, and if it’s a little wet, that's okay, too.
When Stiles gets back to class, Peter’s just getting ready to send the students to play after lunch. Stiles guesses Peter’s going to roast him without the children watching, so he figures he might as well get in first. “I’m sorry for jumping in with Charlie. I realize it probably wasn’t appropriate, but it felt right. But I understand if you’re pissed at me and want me to go.”
Peter folds his arms across his chest. “Tell me, Stiles, are you a simpleton? Why would I be upset at you showing compassion to a grieving child? I thought you handled the whole thing quite acceptably, actually.”
Stiles takes a second to process what Peter’s said. It didn’t sound like he’s getting thrown out, but then again, the word simpleton was definitely in there. “Okay, I’m not sure if that was an insult or a compliment just then, but I’m gonna go ahead and take it that I haven’t blown my placement?”
“You haven’t blown anything, Stiles,” Peter reassures him, and oh, Stiles really didn’t need the mental picture that gave him.
He stamps down firmly on those thoughts, and says, “That’s a relief. For the record though, even if it had screwed my placement up, I’d totally do it again. I just wanted to help that poor kid. How long has it been?”
“Just over two months. He’s been back for a month, and today’s the first time he’s let me call his father – normally he insists we don’t call. You did a good thing, Stiles. I feel you might even become a passable teacher.”
Stiles gives in to the urge - he gasps and pull an exaggerated face. “Passable? Little old me, passable? Why, it’s my dream come true!” He adds jazz hands, just in case Peter missed the sarcasm.
The corners of Peter’s mouth twitch up in what might be a smile, or the beginnings of a snarl, Stiles couldn’t tell you which. “Mind you, if you don’t learn to paint without coating everything in a five foot radius in garish colors, we may have issues. You really are terribly messy.”
Okay then. Peter’s smiling.
Stiles smiles back. “I’ll do my best – I’m here to learn, right?”
“Exactly right,” Peter replies, and then he’s definitely smiling, one of the genuinely happy expressions he normally saves for the kids, and Stiles suddenly understands exactly why all Peter’s five year olds are under his spell.
Peter will admit, his first instinct when Stiles slid into place on the other side of Charlie was to wrap his arms protectively around his cub and hiss Leave him alone! You don’t know what you’re doing! But something in Stiles’s expression had stopped him – or at least, cautioned him to wait, see what the boy would do. The last thing he’d expected had been for Stiles to ask Charlie to tell him about his mom. Peter had been almost ready to throw Stiles out for that, but Charlie hadn’t been upset by it – it was almost as if he’d been waiting for permission to talk about her.
Peter had sat, spellbound, as he listened to his young charge speak openly about the woman he’d lost. It had tugged at something in Peter, reminded him of how it had felt so heartbreakingly good when Finstock had dragged the memories of Michael and their life together out of him, and he’d taken a moment to be chastened that he hadn’t thought that Charlie might need the same thing.
Stiles though, had known instinctively. More than that though, he’d shared about his own mother, and made it clear that it was normal for Charlie to need his father right now, fine for him to call. Something like sadness had passed over Stile’s face when he’d told Charlie he’d needed his father lot of times, and Peter wonders whether Stiles’s father ever actually came for him. He hopes he did, but he wonders.
Whiles Stiles had been out of the room, Peter had reassured the rest of his cubs that yes, Charlie was fine, he just needed some time. They all know what happened, and it makes Peter’s chest burst with pride to see how much they care for each other. When Stiles had returned, the idiot child had actually thought he might lose his placement over what happened, and while part of Peter had been tempted to string him along cruelly, the kid had looked so vulnerable when he apologized to Peter that he’d found himself unable to do it.
Instead, he’d called him a simpleton and told him he might become a passable teacher. The little shit had the hide to pull faces and make jazz hands at him, and Peter should have been mad, but there it was again that flash of something familiar, a spark, and instead of being annoyed, Peter had found himself smiling, and teasing Stiles about his inability to paint.
After Stiles leaves at the end of the day, Peter’s hardly surprised when Bobby rolls into his classroom. “Kid did good today, huh?”
“I’ll admit, he surprised me,” Peter allows. “He has more depths than I’d originally thought.”
Finstock nods. “He gave the kid’s dad a lecture on how Charlie’s his most important job now.”
Peter’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “Oh, did he now?” At Finstock’s nod, Peter sighs. “I have to confess, it crossed my mind for a moment that his mother hadn’t died at all, and he was just trying to get Charlie to relate. But then he started talking about her, and I realized my mistake. But I was a hair’s breadth from calling him on it, Bobby.”
“Wow. That would have been a whole new level of asshole, even for you.”
“I know.” Peter scrubs a hand down his face, quietly grateful that he’d listened to his instincts and kept his mouth shut. ”Can you imagine his reaction?”
Finstock’s silent for a minute before he asks, ”Did you get the feeling that his own dad didn’t come for him, when he was that kid?”
“I got that impression, yes. I wonder if they even told his father he was struggling, back in the good old days, or if they just expected him to tough it out?” Peter feels a pang of sympathy for Stiles at the thought.
“The good old days were bullshit and we both know it,” Finstock answers sharply. They both sit there for a moment contemplating the truth of that before Finstock abruptly changes the subject. “So, think you can put up with him for six weeks?”
Peter hums. “You know, I think I can. He’s inherently disrespectful, in spite of still being slightly terrified of me. It’s incredibly entertaining to watch him struggle to control himself. Did you know he made jazz hands at me today?”
Finstock smiles, wide and bright. “Perfect. You need someone to challenge you. You’re getting far too comfortable.”
“I like comfortable,” Peter grouses. “But you’re right, I suppose. And if he doesn’t do as he’s told, I can always terrorize him a little.”
Finstock leans across and ruffles Peter’s perfectly groomed hair, the closest the two of them come to physical affection. “You’re a horrible person, Hale.”
“And you’re a masochist, making me have a student at all. But he’s not the worst, I suppose. The cubs seem to like him.”
Bobby nods. “Yeah, I noticed. And that’s what counts, right? The kids?”
“Always,” Peter says, and he can’t help smiling at the thought of them.
The next few weeks pass steadily, as Stiles slowly starts to find his feet in Peter’s classroom. He slips and calls it Peter’s kingdom once, immediately wincing as he waits for Peter’s reaction, but all he gets is, ”If this is my kingdom, then what does that make you, Mr. Stilinksi? The court jester?” Which is positively mild by Peter’s standards.
It doesn’t stop Stiles from quietly muttering, ”Isn’t the jester’s place to keep the king from being a dick?”
Peter snorts at that, and murmurs, “Touché.”
Sometime halfway through the second week, Peter makes a concession. Stiles is pretty sure it’s just because Gracie has a loose tooth, but when Peter catches the frustration on her face as she attempts to say Stiles’s name, he suddenly says, “Excuse me Mr. Stilinski, but I was wondering. Would you mind if sometimes, we shortened your name to Mr. S?”
Stiles beams widely. “I think that would be perfect, Mr. H.”
The giggles from the kidlets almost make it worth the murderous look Peter casts his way. He’s still not brave enough to say it again, though.
They go on excursions. Lots and lots of excursions. They have a class trip at least once a week, far more than Stiles feels is normal. Three weeks in, when the children are lining up for an outing to the aquarium, Stiles mentions it.
Peter’s ticking off the names against the permission slips, but Stiles already knows they’ll all be there. The one time a parent did forget, they’d been subjected to Peter’s hard stare as he repeated incredulously, ”You’re telling me, Mrs. Anderson, that it was too difficult for you to remember to make a mark on a slip of paper and place it in your child’s bag? How on earth do you hold a job, woman?” before, with much huffing and eyerolling, he’d produced a spare slip for his unfortunate victim to sign. The other parents had been quick to have their paperwork ready, and had been rewarded by a small smile and a nod from Peter, which Stiles is fast learning is the equivalent of a Papal blessing.
Peter’s almost smiled at Stile twice already this morning, which is why Stiles feels safe to broach the subject. “Peter?” he asks quietly. Peter holds up a finger, and Stiles obediently waits until Peter’s finished checking his list and storing the permission slips in a laminated folder.
Finally, Peter turns to him. “Yes, Stiles?”
“We seem to go on a lot of day trips, that’s all. I was wondering why. I mean, every other classroom I’ve been in, they’re lucky to go once a term.”
Peter actually does smile then, his expression proud. “I told you, my class isn’t like other classes.” He indicates the two lines of children, paired off and holding hands, standing exactly where Peter’s told them to, backpacks hanging off their shoulders. “The reason we go out so much, Stiles, is because we can. My cubs know the rules when we’re out, and they follow them. That means I don’t have to worry about accidents or missing children, which means an outing is far less harrowing than it would be with a room full of undisciplined rabble. And since you’re proving yourself fairly useful, I’m making the most of the opportunity to get out without having to resort to Parent helpers.” Peter actually shudders as he makes the air quotes. ”Parent helper - an oxymoron if ever I heard one.”
Stiles smirks in agreement, before he catches up with what Peter said. “Wait, did you just admit I’m useful?”
Peter’s eyes twinkle with amusement. “I believe I said fairly useful, but yes.” His smile widens so that the corners of his eyes crinkle in a way that’s unfairly endearing on someone who’s so completely off limits, and Stiles has to look away, just for a second.
“That’s high praise from you,” Stiles says quietly, once he’s dragged his thoughts out of the gutter. He looks at the two lines of children, standing there quietly, bar the normal squirms and giggles that you always get with a group of five-year olds. They’re all looking at Peter with adoration, but more than that, they’re looking at him the same way. Stiles knows it’s mostly because Peter’s endorsed his authority, but he can’t help but hope he’s winning them over on his own merits. Case in point, they love the Finding Nemo converse he’s wearing in honor of today’s trip. Even Peter had snorted when he saw them.
“Credit where credit’s due, Stiles.” He claps his hands and the class all stands up straight – well, straightish. “Now you all know how important it is to follow the rules today, cubs?”
“Yes Mr. Hale.”
“You want us to stay safe,” they recite.
“We all want to have a good time,” they chorus back.
“Perfect!” Peter walks down the line, bending down and popping a lime green squid hat on each of their heads, much to their delight. They ooh and aah over the hats, completely unaware that it’s one of Peter’s methods of spotting them easily in a crowd. Sneaky bastard, thinks Stiles, not without a hint of admiration.
“Four dollars each on the internet,” Peter murmurs out of the side of his mouth as he walks past Stiles. “Worth every cent.”
The outing’s a huge success, and Stiles can’t help but feel a flush of pride when he compares the way their class is walking nicely, holding their partner’s hand while he and Peter walk with them, as opposed to the older class that’s also there. It’s Mrs. K’s grade one class, and Stiles has heard Peter mutter before about her lack of control. The children are racing off in every direction, one of them is currently attempting to sit in the touch pool, while what he assumes is a parent helper is standing there waving her hands helplessly. The elderly teacher looks like she’s about to burst into tears. Peter gives her a very judgmental look as he walks past, and Stiles hears her defeated whisper of, “Oh god, it's Mr Hale.”
Stiles feels for the woman, and taps Peter on the shoulder. “Give me a minute?”
Peter raises a brow, but calls out, “Wait, class.” The kids all stop in their tracks, and Peter tells them. “We’re waiting for Mr. S, although I don’t know what he could possibly have to do right now.”
Stiles ignores Peter’s acerbic tone, and jogs over to the other teacher. “Hey, need a hand?” he asks easily. “Field trips are a bear, am I right? Which ones are yours?”
She huffs out a sigh that might be relief or despair, Stiles can’t tell. “It’s Joshua. He’s taken off and split the group.”
“What is it about kids called Joshua?” Stiles wonders aloud. He expertly wrangles a six year old out of the touch pool, heedless of how his shirt gets wet, and on the way back he snags two more boys and nudges them towards their teacher. The parent helper catches on and starts calling out for the infamous Joshua. The other children from the class get the hint and slowly, slowly, the whole thing coalesces into a group.
The teacher gives Stiles a grateful smile, and attempts to get her class in order. Stiles looks up to see Peter heading their way with his cubs in tow, looking decidedly unimpressed. “Mr. S? Everything in order here?”
Stiles looks at the woman. She nods rapidly, and Stiles knows it’s because she doesn’t want Peter judging her any harder than he already is. He gets it - Peter has that effect. Peter doesn’t seem convinced by the nod. After giving her a cool look, he turns to her class, who are milling awkwardly, and claps his hands. It rings out like a gunshot in the glass echo chamber of the aquarium, and the kids all startle at the noise. Now that he has their attention, Peter points to two spots.
“Two lines, right now,” he commands, and the older children take one look at his expression and scramble to obey. They all know Mr. Hale, and Stiles guesses the fact that he has a class of perfectly behaved kids with him is giving Peter all the street cred he needs right now.
When they’re in line, Peter folds his arms over his chest. “Excellent. Now, I don’t know if how you’ve acted today passes as acceptable behavior in your class, but I can tell you now, it’s not going to fly with me.”
One of the boys starts to say “You’re not even our-“ but Peter shuts him up with a glare.
“You are in a public space. I am a member of the public, which entitles me to have my say.“ The boy closes his mouth with a snap. Peter continues, “I would expect children of your age to at least show some basic consideration for the other people here. Shame on you – my five-year olds are better behaved.” Stiles can see all Peter’s cubs puff out their tiny chests at that, thrilled to be used as an example.
The older children, on the other hand, look slightly shamefaced, shuffling their feet. “My class and I will be carrying on with our outing now. If I come across any of you little degenerates acting up and interrupting our good time, I won’t hesitate to step in again, are we clear?” Peter’s voice is pure ice. One of the boys whimpers.
“Excellent.” Peter nods, satisfied. He nods at the teacher. “Now are you capable of controlling these infants, Mrs. K? Or does my student teacher have to continue to do your job?”
Stiles wants to shake Peter right now – he was so close to being a reasonable human being. So close.
The teacher swallows, nods at them, and starts to bark out orders. “The next person who leaves the group, I’m talking to you, Josh, will be in serious trouble, am I clear?” Stiles notes the way she stands a little straighter, seems more in control. She mouths a silent thank you at Stiles as he walks away, and he shoots her a thumbs up.
Peter doesn’t notice, too busy leading his cubs away, then crouching down in front of them, beckoning them close. They lean in, a tiny cult wearing lime green octopus hats giving all their attention to their leader. Peter says quietly, “I’m very proud of you all today for the way you’re behaving. And since we don’t have any allergies, who thinks we deserve ice cream to make up for that disturbance?”
Twelve hands shoot in the air – thirteen, if you count Stiles’s.
The start of Stiles’s fourth week, he’s summoned to see Principal Finstock. He sits down, slightly nervous. Being called to the principal’s office is something that will always make him twitchy, no matter his age.
Finstock observes him for a moment, before saying, “Relax, Stilinski. You’re not in trouble. I just wanted to let you know it’s Peter’s birthday on Thursday.”
“Oh, really? He never said anything.”
“And he won’t, because he’s too damn special to age like the rest of us. But I thought maybe the kids could do something. Sing him a song, make him a card, shit like that.”
Stiles frowns. “Won’t he get pissed if I do something? We’re kinda getting along, I don’t wanna ruin it.”
Finstock shakes his head. “Not if it comes from the kids. Peter loves those little bastards.”
Stiles hums. “I’ll think about it.”
Finstock shrugs. “Do something. Don’t do something. I don’t care. I’m just giving you the heads up.” He points to the door, then. “Go, get to class.”
Stiles does, and he thinks about Bobby’s suggestion. Part of him thinks Peter will hate it. But another, bigger part of him knows that kids would love it. And that’s what decides him, really.
On Wednesday he slips into Finstock’s office and tells him his plan. “ I just need him out of the room for an hour.”
“No problem. I’ll put hm on playground duty – he’s due anyway, but he normally weasels out of his turn, and everyone’s too scared to call him on it. I’ll tell him you can watch the class.”
Stiles grins – perfect.
So it is on that on Thursday, Finstock pulls Peter aside, and tells him about the change in plans. Peter huffs and gripes, but Finstock claps him on the back and tells him to suck it up, buttercup.
It gives Stiles enough time to help the kidlets construct cards for Peter, and for Stiles to set up a pyramid of cupcakes and write Happy Birthday Mr. Hale on the board in large, colorful letters. He gives every child a party hat and a noisemaker, and they wait patiently for Peter’s return.
When Peter walks in the door, he’s assaulted by the sound of a dozen noisemakers and a dozen children screaming “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MR. HALE!” at the top of their lungs.
Peter stands frozen in place, his mouth open, taking in the sight before him. “How?’
Stiles shrugs. “A little birdie told me.”
Peter’s throat works, and he blinks once or twice. “This – this is..” He looks around at the beaming faces, and finishes,” …unexpected.”
Stiles leads Peter onto the mat, makes him sit down in the middle of the class, just like Peter normally does with the birthday boys and girls. Stiles perches a birthday hat on Peter, and then watches as the class sings Happy Birthday to him loudly and tunelessly. Then of course there’s cake, and then the kids all want to hug Peter and give him their cards, and by the end of it Peter looks quite overwhelmed, but he’s smiling widely as he exclaims over the artwork.
Stiles had helped – he’d obediently written it down when the kidlets told him what their favorite thing about Mr. Hale was. The cards included things like does good stretches and takes us fun places, but there were a surprising number that said Mr. Hale is kind to me, and the one from Charlie simply said Mr. Hale listens and he cares.
Peter’s smile is soft when he reads that last one out. “Thank you, cubs. I don’t think I’ve ever had a better birthday,” he tells them, and Stiles can’t be sure, but he thinks he sees Peter’s eyes shining a little.
“It was Mr. S’s idea,” Lily volunteers. Stiles tries not to squirm under the look Peter gives him.
“Thank you, Mr. S. Now tell me, did this little bird’s name start with Fin and end in Stock, by any chance?” Stiles makes a show of looking up and whistling innocently. The class giggles, and Peter rolls his eyes. “All I can say is thank goodness you decided to teach, because you’d have made a terrible spy.”
Later, when the cubs have left for the day, Stiles hands over a small parcel of his own. Peter quirks a brow at him as he pulls at the wrapping paper. Stiles hadn’t known what to get, and he knows it’s probably lame, but the coffee mug had reminded him of Peter, okay?
On the front it says in bold font World’s Okayest Teacher
Peter reads it, and snorts. Peter turns the mug over and over in his hands, and Stiles hopes he hasn’t crossed a line. But then Peter looks up at Stiles, and his smile is genuine when he says, “Thank you. And thank you for helping the cubs today. I know they enjoyed it.”
Stiles nods. “I wasn’t sure if I should, but then I thought about how they’d love it, and I figured if it made the kidlets happy, you’d be all for it.”
“Exactly,” Peter confirms.
When Stiles leaves for the day, Peter’s still sitting at his desk, rereading the cards from his class, one finger tapping absently on the mug.
Peter contemplates his gift for a long time. He rereads the caption, and smiles to himself. It’s typical Stiles, and probably payback for all the times Peter’s called him barely adequate, or something similar.
The cake and the cards though? That wasn’t Stiles trying to prove anything, that was just him being thoughtful, and Peter’s not sure what to do with that. It’s been a long time since anyone showed any consideration to Peter outside of Finstock.
The last time he celebrated his birthday, Michael booked them a hotel room and they went away for the weekend. They spent the time together relaxing in the hot tub, sharing lazy kisses and drinking red wine. Three months later Michael was dead. Peter sometimes thinks that if he’d known it was going to be their last weekend away together, he’d have made more of it, but in his heart, he knows that’s a lie. Because it had been perfect, just as it was.
He hasn’t been able to bring himself to celebrate since.
Today though, wasn’t awful. He has to admit he’s impressed that Stiles was able to get him out of the room and get the cubs onside enough to keep a secret. Peter’s surprised by how much he appreciates the effort Stiles made for him. He picks up the mug and makes his way to Finstock’s office. He walks in without knocking and points. “You told.”
“You know I don’t do birthdays. I haven’t celebrated since – well. Since Michael.”
“And it’s time you did. It’s your birthday. Your kids made you some cards, and you ate a cupcake. Did it kill you?”
Actually, I enjoyed it,” Peter admits quietly. “Stiles bought me a gift.”
He holds out the mug almost as an accusation. Finstock reads it and cackles. “Nice.” He reaches into his desk drawer and pulls out his own gift, a bottle of twenty-year-old scotch. “Happy birthday. You can drink it out of the mug from your new friend.”
“I don’t have friends,” Peter protests half- heartedly.
“You do now. You’re just too damn stubborn to accept it.”
Peter snorts and flips Finstock the bird. He can’t find it in himself to be annoyed, even on principle, because it was nice, having someone acknowledge him for a change. He makes a mental note to do something nice for Stiles in return.
Just as a one-time thing, of course. It wouldn’t do for people to think he’s getting soft.
The next morning when Stiles walks into the staff room, Peter holds out a full mug. “Coffee?”
Stiles stops short. “Pardon me?” (He’d said “What?” to Peter exactly once, and been given a strongly worded lecture about proper grammar. The lesson’s stuck.)
“Coff - ee.” Peter enunciates carefully. “You drink it, Stiles. It helps with cognitive function. It seems you need some. Here.” And he thrusts the cup at Stiles once again.
Stiles takes it with a stammered, “Thank you,” while his brain tries to catch up. Peter’s doing a nice thing. He’s doing a nice thing for Stiles, and he’s not even being a dick about it. Well, not much of one, anyway. He notes that Peter’s using the mug that Stiles bought him.
Stiles sips quietly, letting the caffeine work its magic. He makes a mournful noise when he reaches the bottom of the cup, and goes to get a refill from the coffee pot. “Want more?” he asks Peter, holding a hand out for his empty cup.
“Please. And Stiles?” Peter’s eyes crinkle at the edges as he grins and tells him, “Don’t drop that mug. It was given to me by a tolerable work colleague, and I rather like it.”
Stiles grins, and gets their refills. He knows a thank you when he hears one.
Peter has to admit, Finstock was right. Stiles is good at what he does. Five weeks into his placement, and he could run the class himself, if he had to. Peter likes to think that it’s mostly because he’s done the hard work and given Stiles an exceedingly well-behaved class to start with, but he’s not blind to the fact that Stiles does work hard. He makes notes when he thinks Peter isn’t watching, spends time talking to the cubs and asking them what they like so much about Mr. Hale’s class, and puts his all into whatever he’s doing.
Peter watches him move around the room, and he finds himself admiring Stiles’s lean build and broad shoulders. Purely from an aesthetic viewpoint, of course. He wonders briefly what Stiles looked like when he was younger, and finds he can almost picture it. He imagines that he was one of those tall, skinny kids built from elbows and awkwardness. He probably had one of those hideous buzzcuts that were briefly popular.
Stiles throws back his head and laughs as the tower he’s been building with Charlie falls over, and at the sight Peter feels a strange twist of something stir in his belly. It takes a moment to recognize what it is.
Peter blinks as the realization washes over him that he likes Stiles. The boy’s smart, and capable, and gives as good as he gets when Peter tries to belittle him, and Peter’s missed having someone to challenge him that way.
But it’s more than that. He’s not blind - he’s aware of the physical similarities Stiles has to Michael. He finds he doesn’t mind, if he’s honest. He has a type, and Stiles is it. Peter watches as Stiles crawls on his hands and knees across the carpet, his shirt sliding up and showing a strip of pale skin across his belly, and a picture springs unbidden into his mind of Stiles on his hands and knees for a very different reason. Peter has to look away, closing his eyes and breathing deeply as a jolt of lust runs through him.
He focusses his attention on the worksheets in front of him, and resolutely keeps his eyes downcast for the next hour while he processes the fact that he’s definitely, undeniably attracted to someone, for the first time since he lost Michael.
It’s a frightening thought. Peter had somehow assumed he’d had his one great love, and would spend the rest of his days settling for the odd anonymous hook-up, because surely nobody could measure up. But then Stiles had barged into his classroom with his ridiculous shoes and unquenchable enthusiasm, someone who’s almost as passionate about his job as Peter is, and piqued Peter’s interest.
And Peter doesn’t quite know what to do with that.
Peter spends that night tossing and turning and trying to settle, his thoughts scattering and settling like a flock of birds. He wavers between wanting to say something to Stiles, or just waiting out the time till Stiles leaves, changing his mind half a dozen times. He’s irritated beyond belief at his own indecision – uncertainty is something foreign to him, as is the desire to impress someone.
It doesn’t help that now he’s started thinking of Stiles as attractive, he can’t stop. His mind unhelpfully flashes images of Stiles’s long fingers and muscled forearms at him when he’s least expecting it, catching him off guard, and it normally follows up with unwelcome thoughts about exactly how skinny those skinny jeans Stiles wears are – they leave very little to the imagination.
He spends the weekend in a foul temper, cleaning out his closets with vigor in an effort to distract himself. It works, to a degree. By the time he’s bleached the bathroom from top to bottom, he’s managed to settle the nervous energy that’s thrumming through him.
He’s being dramatic, he finally decides. Just because he’s vaguely attracted to someone doesn’t mean anything has to come of it. It’s taken him by surprise, that’s all. It doesn’t mean anything, except that now he knows it’s possible. He’ll say nothing, and at the end of next week it won’t be an issue any more. Stiles will be gone, and there will be no chance of Peter embarrassing himself.
Except when he gets to school on Monday morning, Stiles isn’t there. 7 am ticks by, then 7.10, then 7.30, and by 7.45 Peter has a horrible suspicion growing in his gut. Somehow Stiles knows, and has chosen to stay away. Peter knows it’s not logical, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. He’s just tipping Stiles’s cold coffee down the drain when Finstock bursts in. “Hale! Don’t you answer your phone?”
“Not when I’m working, why?” Peter turns from the sink and folds his arms defensively across his chest, suddenly sure the Finstock’s going to tell him that Stiles has filed some sort of complaint.
Instead, Bobby says “Your little study buddy’s out for a few days – had to go home.”
Peter will deny to his dying day the relief that floods through him right then. “Is everything all right?”
Finstock pours himself a coffee as he replies, ”You remember I told you his old man got shot?” Peter nods. “Well, turns out he still has mobility problems. Slipped and fell on the porch steps last night, can’t look after himself. Stiles went home to help him out for a couple of days.”
“Can he still graduate if he doesn’t finish is placement?” Peter asks, suddenly concerned for Stiles’s future.
Finstock snorts. “I tell you his father’s injured, and your first concern is his graduation? Typical. But yeah, he’ll graduate even if he doesn’t make it back, because you, my friend, are going to write the most glowing damned assessment ever.”
But – we haven’t covered all of the necessary – “
“The most glowing assessment ever,” Bobby reiterates, holding Peter’s gaze.
“Of course I will. Mr. Stilinski has completed all his requirements in an exemplary manner,” Peter stutters out.
Bobby grins. “Now you’re getting it, kid.”
“Kid?” Peter pulls out his most judgemental expression.
Bobby waves his hands dismissively. “Figure of speech. Anyway, he’ll probably be home by the end of the week, from what he says. Old man’s bruised his ribs, it’s nothing serious. But Stiles…”
“Needs to make sure he’s okay,” Peter finishes for him. Finstock nods.
There’s a part of Peter thinks that maybe this is a good thing. He’ll be able to get his thoughts in order, get himself under control, and stop this ridiculous pining. Finstock’s watching him keenly, so Peter puts on his best bored expression and drawls, “Well, at least I won’t have to look at those terrible shoes for the rest of the week.”
Bobby just claps him on the shoulder and steals the rest of his coffee.
When Stiles gets the call about his dad from Scott’s mom, he’s in the car and on his way over immediately, despite Melissa’s reassurances that “He’s fine, Stiles. Just bruising mainly , but I thought you’d want to know.”
He barrels in the front door of the house to find his dad laying on the couch watching baseball. At first glace he looks fine, but Stiles notes the tension around his dad’s eyes, the signs that he’s in pain but doesn’t want to admit it. His first instinct is to grab his dad for a hug, but it’s probably a bad idea.
“Hey, kiddo! What are you doing here?”
“Melissa called me. Said you had a fall?” Stiles puts his hands on his hips and gives his father his best Disappointed Teacher Look, which is actually pretty impressive. “Apparently she didn’t trust you to call me yourself. And surprise, surprise, she was right.”
John looks sheepish at that. “They’re not broken, I’m just bruised all to hell. And I didn’t want to bother you, son. I know you’re on placement.”
Stiles shakes his head. “Jesus, Dad. Work will never be more important than you are, okay? We take care of each other, that’s how this works.” John sits up straight, groaning as he does. Stiles is at his side in a moment, supporting him. “Careful, Pops. I’m here to help.”
“I don’t need help,” his father grumbles, but the way he’s wincing as he moves tells a different story.
“Liar. Just let me look after you, okay?”
“Okay,” John sighs. “If it’ll make you feel better.”
Stiles settles him on the couch again, bringing him an extra cushion to support his neck and giving him his painkillers and a glass of water, because if there’s one thing Stiles knows, it’s that his dad won’t have taken the drugs.
Stiles heads into the kitchen to see what he can cook for his dad to eat, but Melissa’s beaten him to it. There’s chicken soup on the stove, and half a dozen ready to reheat meals in the fridge. Stiles smiles to himself. Melissa and his dad may not have a romantic relationship, but they’ll be friends till the day they die, probably, forever bonded over the trials of being the single parent to boys.
He wanders back out. “So, I figure I’ll stay a couple of days, keep an eye on you. Principal Finstock already said it’s fine.”
John frowns. “Are you sure it won’t affect your marks?”
Stiles shakes his head, and grins. “Nope. He told me I’ve passed my placement with flying colors already, just for not leaving Peter’s classroom crying on the first day.”
John tries to laugh, but it degenerates into him holding his side and groaning. Stiles rolls his eyes, and says, “Tell me again how you don’t need anyone to help you?”
His dad looks at him with an odd expression on his face, and it takes Stiles a moment to recognize it as pride. “Listen to you, all grown up. You even sound like a damn teacher.” John’s voice is warm, and so is his smile. “You did good, kiddo.”
“Well,” Stiles corrects absently, and John smiles wider.
Stiles stays with his dad for three days, making sure he’s following doctor’s orders and resting. He makes sure he takes his painkillers, and uses the ice pack as recommended, and helps him up and down the stairs. His dad’s leg has never been quite right after the shooting, still prone to moments where the muscle seizes up, but Stiles is glad to see that it’s a lot better than last time he was here.
He admits to himself that it’s been too long since he visited – his father lives literally a fifteen-minute drive away. But with his study load and then his placement, Stiles literally hasn’t had the time. His dad refuses to let him feel guilty about it. “Kiddo, you’re already three years late graduating because of me. Damned if I’m going to let you fail now just to you can come for Sunday dinners.” Stiles pulls his dad into a very gentle hug at that.
John asks him about his placement. “Is the teacher still a dick?”
Stiles thinks about it. “He’s actually all right when you get to know him.”
“You’ve changed your tune. What happened to wanting to strangle him?” John asks, amused.
“Yeah, well. He turned out to be really good with the kids, like crazy good, and there was a boy whose mom had died and I kinda dove in there headfirst, you know? I wanted to help. And Peter? I thought he’d chew me out, but he was pretty good about it. And I mean, he’s scary as hell to the parents, but the kids? They freaking worship him. It’s all “Mr. Hale’s the best, and I want Mr. Hale –“
“Hale? Peter Hale?” his dad interrupts.
“Um, yeah? Why?”
John smiles unexpectedly. “Well I’ll be damned. I’m glad he’s doing okay, after what happened. It was rough for him, for a while.”
“What? Why? Why was it rough? What happened to him?” Stiles’s curiosity is piqued now.
John, though, shakes his head. “Not my place to tell you, if he hasn’t. And not your place to pry, either,” he says firmly, poking Stiles in the chest. “Peter’s always been a private person. You respect that.”
Stiles looks hurt. “Geez, you think I’d do that, go digging in his past?” His father continues to gaze at him, unblinking, and Stiles sags into his chair. “Okay, fine, fifteen-year-old me totally would have done that. But not now, not to Peter. Not when we’re kinda friends.”
His father raises his eyebrows. “Look at you, adulting like a pro.” Stiles pokes his tongue out. “Aaaand there’s the son I know and love,” John comments dryly. Stiles ignores him while he goes to find his dad’s pain pills.
When he come back, he asks his dad the question that’s been rolling around in his head for a few days. “Would it be weird if I said that even though Peter’s an asshole, I kinda like that about him?”
John shakes his head, grinning. “I don’t see why. I mean, you’re probably just as bad as he is.”
“Oh god, no. Not even in the same league. Peter’s got it down to an art form. You should see what he does to the parents who forget their permission slips…” Stiles rambles on about what Peter does and says, and how he runs his classroom, and when he winds down, his dad has a pleased smile on his face, like he knows something Stiles doesn’t. “What?” Stiles demands.
“Oh, nothing. I’m just wondering if your interest in him is purely professional, that’s all.”
“Dad! Of course it is! I mean, he’s hot like burning, sure, and he’s funny, and it’s great watching people scurry away from him and knowing he’s not that terrifying, really, but I don’t like, like him ...” Stiles trails off. “Shit.”
“You’re welcome,” his dad says, grinning widely, and the fact he’s injured is the only reason Stiles doesn’t whack him with a pillow for being so smug about it. Stiles has always been a little slow to realize when he’s fallen for someone, and apparently he’s just as clueless now as he was at fifteen.
But now he looks at it, he’s undeniably fond of Peter. Spending time with him has become the high point of Stiles’s day. He misses him, and he’s only been gone a couple of days. The thought of his placement ending, and Peter being gone from his life makes his guts twist. He’s so screwed. He looks at his dad helplessly. “What am I going to do?”
“Well, if I were you, I’d wait till you’re not in his classroom any more, then I’d call him up, and ask him out.”
Stiles groans, and buries his face in his hands. “It’s not that simple. He’ll say no.”
John shrugs. “Then you go on. And at least you know. Or, he says yes. And you bring him over and I finally get to give someone a shovel talk.”
Stiles’s head whips up. “Oh, no. If I ever find someone to date, no shovel talk. Promise me.”
“Come on son,’ John wheedles. “I’ve been waiting years to stare blankly at someone while I polish my gun and threaten them. Do it for your old dad. Ask him out. “
Stiles looks at his father’s pleading expression and can’t help snickering. “You’re ridiculous, you know that?”
“Yep. Your mom always said it was one of my best qualities.” John reaches over and pats his son on the shoulder. “Stop overthinking everything. Ask the man out, Stiles.”
“Maybe,” Stiles concedes.
Peter pretends to himself that he doesn’t miss Stiles’s presence at all in his classroom. He almost manages to convince himself it’s true, too. Almost.
Except for every morning when he makes his coffee, in the mug Stiles gave him.
Except for every lunch time when he has nobody to stand and snipe about the teachers on playground duty with.
Except for when Charlie has a minor meltdown one afternoon and all Peter can think while he comforts him is, we need Stiles.
Except for the warm feeling he gets when Finstock breezes into his room on Wednesday afternoon and says, “Stilinski’s back tomorrow, so you can stop sulking.”
“I’m not sulking.”
“You tell yourself that, buddy. You’ve been awful all week. Well,” Finstock amends, “More awful than normal.”
Peter bristles at the implication that he hasn’t managed to keep his emotions buttoned down tight. “I’ve been perfectly well behaved. It’s been an enormous inconvenience, that’s all.”
“Sure thing, sourpuss.” Bobby ruffles Peter’s hair. “It’s okay to miss the kid, you know that, right?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Peter grouses. “Tomorrow, you say?”
“Yep. Turns out his father wasn’t badly hurt, kid was just mother henning him.”
Peter can believe it. Stiles strikes him as someone who’d be fiercely loyal to those he loves. It’s one of the things Peter likes about him.
And there it is. The issue he’s been ignoring – the fact that he likes Stiles, actually considers him a friend, and might even want more, for the first time in a long time. But there’s no guarantee Stiles would even be interested. Peter has things working against him, much as it pains him to admit it. There’s the age difference of ten years, for a start. That and his near non-existent social skills.
God, if he asks the boy out, he’ll have to practice being nice. Oh, and there’s the tiny fact that Stiles doesn’t know about Michael, and how exactly do you casually bring up the fact that you lost your childhood sweetheart in a tragic accident and have been living for your work ever since? And anyway, Peter wonders, since when was he even seriously contemplating this?
He looks at the lesson plan in front of him, and has no desire, suddenly, to deal with any of it. Instead, he packs his bag, calls a cab, gets dropped off at a nearby bar, and spends the afternoon getting pleasantly tipsy, and not thinking about Stiles as all.
Stiles drives home from his dad’s place after Melissa shoos him out the door, amid promises that yes, Stiles, she’ll call if they need anything. He looks at the way she has a hand casually placed on the back of his dad’s neck, and wonders if maybe, those two don’t have something going on after all. He doesn’t ask – there are some things he doesn’t want to think about, honestly.
On impulse, Stiles decides to stop in for a beer at a bar he knows. He needs to be around people for a while before going home to his depressingly empty apartment, otherwise he knows he’ll just end up driving himself crazy thinking about his dad, and his new discovered attraction to Peter, and he’s not quite ready to deal with that yet. He wonders what happened in Peter’s past, exactly. He’ll admit to having stared at the google search page more than once in the past few days, thinking how easy it would be just to enter Peter’s name, but something stops him. If his dad won’t tell him, Stiles knows it’s big. And he doesn’t want to compromise his friendship (or anything else) by poking his nose where it’s not wanted.
He parks his jeep, and heads into the bar, ordering a beer before looking around for a seat. His eyes light on a familiar thick neck and stubbled jaw, and before he even thinks about it, Stiles is heading over to the corner booth where Peter’s sitting. “Hey, Peter. Fancy seeing you here!” He mentally kicks himself because really? Fancy seeing you here? What’s next, Do you come here often?
Peter smiles upon seeing him, and indicates Stiles should sit down. “Stiles!” he says, and Stiles detects a note of genuine affection there. Peter’s features are more relaxed that normal, so Stiles knows he’s a couple of drinks in at least. He takes the offered seat, leaning his elbows on the table. “How’s your father?” Peter asks, and Stiles finds himself strangely touched that the man would bother to ask.
“He’s good. He was just bruised all to hell. I may have, um. Panicked a bit. Sorry to leave you with no warning. But when you only have one parent, you tend to look after them,” Stiles says quietly. Peter nods, seeming to understand what Stiles isn’t saying. I don’t want to be left alone.
“Perfectly all right. Loved ones are important. I remember your father, actually. Always seemed like a good man.”
Stiles looks up, curious. “Yeah, my dad said he knew you.” He wants to ask how exactly, press for more information, but he holds himself back.
“Your father was barely back at work after being shot. I remember he had a cane. He took the call.” Peter pauses, almost as if he’s waiting for a reaction, but Stiles doesn’t say anything, just waits. “I’m assuming the sheriff filled you in on my tragic past?”
“Actually, no.” Stiles hesitates, thinking maybe he should leave this alone, but Peter seems to be in the mood to share, and maybe, thinks Stiles, this is as good a time and place as any. “He said you’d tell me if you wanted me to know.”
Peter smiles and takes another sip of his drink, emptying the glass. Scotch, Stiles notes dimly. “As I say, a good man.” He observes Stiles for a moment before declaring, “I’m three drinks in. I need to be at four to talk about this. Buy me another one, and I’ll tell you the story.”
Stiles doesn’t hesitate to order a refill. Peter drinks it silently, and nods for another. When it arrives, Peter puts the glass down and fishes out his wallet, opening it and pulling out a photo. He slides the picture across the table to Stiles, who picks it up and looks at it carefully. A much younger Peter has his arm slung around the neck of another man, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Stiles. In the picture both of them have their heads thrown back laughing at something. Stiles slides the picture back across the table wordlessly and waits, his beer untouched in front of him. Peter’s quiet for a moment before he says, “It’s been five years and ten months since I saw Michael, and I miss him every day.”
“He left?” Even as he asks, Stiles knows that no, that’s not right. Something must have happened, for his dad to be involved.
Peter draws a deep breath. “In a manner of speaking. Michal died in a house fire.”
Stiles draws in a sharp gasp, and the “holy fuck,” slips out without him even realizing.
Peter nods. “He shouldn’t even have been home, but he had stomach flu, was too sick to work, even though he refused to admit it, stubborn ass that he was. I remember saying to him, ‘I swear to god, if you even think about going into work today, I’ll tie you to the bed, and not in the way you like.’ “ Impossibly, a smile flits across Peter’s face at the memory. “He told me he wasn’t one of my schoolchildren, that he could do what he liked, then promptly threw up all over the hardwood.”
Stiles feels the lump rising in his throat, and swallows desperately. He tries to imagine it, losing someone to such a random thing, without any warning. It hurts to even try. “Jesus, Peter. I’m so sorry.”
Peter lets out a shuddering sigh. “The last thing he said to me was not to kiss him, I’d only get sick as well. So like a fool I listened, blew him a kiss instead, and went to work. Four hours later I got the call.” Peter’s eyes have a wet sheen to them, but he blinks and carries on regardless. “I blamed myself for a long time, thought that maybe if I’d let him go to work he’d still be here. But in the end, I had to accept that it wasn’t anything to do with me. It was a case of faulty wiring, and Michael being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Just one of those unfortunate things.”
Stiles looks at the photo again. The edges are soft and scuffed from handling. “How long were you together?” he asks quietly, because the Peter in the photo has to be ten years younger, at least.
Peter traces his finger over the face in the picture. “We were high school sweethearts. As you young people would say, Michael was my Big Gay Awakening.” Stiles can’t help but snort at that. He looks over at Peter to see if he’s offended the other man, because laughing seems inappropriate, but he finds Peter grinning. “We got his sister to pretend to date me so we could spend time together. Back in the day, being attracted to the same sex was considered highly taboo.”
Peter drains his glass and holds it up to the barman, waggling it in the universal signal for a refill. When the new glass arrives, he downs half of it in one gulp. “We were together twelve years and change, if you count the six months we spent with our hands down each other’s pants under the bleachers, pretending it was just a casual thing.”
“It was never a casual thing, was it?” Stiles prompts.
Peter sighs. “Absolutely not. I adored hm from the first time he accused me of having my head shoved so far up my ass I could see my own tonsils.” At Stiles shocked look, Peter laughs softly. “Michael had a way with words, and he never did put up with my bullshit. He was the love of my life, and I was lucky to have him.” Stiles doesn’t know what to say to that, so he lets silence fall between them as he sips at his beer. Peter finally tucks the photo safely away, and says, “So that’s my great tragedy. What about you, Stiles? Got any deep secrets to share?”
Stiles knows Peter’s steering the conversation away from his loss, and he lets him. “Deep dark secrets? Let’s see. My mom died, so there’s that, but you already know about that. What about the time my dad found out I was bi when I went to the winter formal with Lydia and came home with Danny? Does that count?”
Peter arches a brow. “That,” he declares, “Sounds like a story I need to hear.”
So Stiles tells him about Lydia taking him to the formal to annoy her on again/off again boyfriend, about getting there and running into Danny in the bathrooms and finding himself flirting outrageously, a fact he blamed later on the spiked punch. About Danny, instead of laughing at him, steering him into an empty classroom and kissing him stupid. “So yeah, Danny dropped me home at one am, very drunk and declaring my love. My dad was less than impressed.”
“Because you were with a man? That seems very narrow minded of him,” Peter frowns.
“Nah, turns out he’d suspected that probably before I did. It was the underage drinking that he was pissed at. That, and the fact I puked all over his shoes. Danny was sober, so Dad let him off the hook. I, on the other hand, was grounded for a month. So I guess that was my Big Gay Awakening, as the kids say,” Stiles concludes with a wry smile.
“You’re lucky to have had an understanding parent,“ Peter says quietly and Stiles knows there’s a story there, but now doesn’t feel like the time to pry.
Instead he shrugs. “It’s been me and him against the world for so long, you know? We’re all each other has.”
Peter nods, offering Stiles a soft smile of understanding. They sit together quietly for a moment, and Stiles waits for Peter to say something cutting, spoil the moment, but he doesn't. Finally Peter drains his glass. “I should go,” he says abruptly, pulling out his phone, and fiddling with it.
“You’re not driving?” Stiles asks, before catching himself. “Sorry, Sheriff’s kid. Habit.”
Peter just rolls his eyes, and turns his phone around so Stiles can see the blue dot on his screen that’s his Uber driver steadily approaching. “ I’ll see you tomorrow, Stiles. 7 am, don’t be late.”
“No sir, Mr. Hale, sir.” Stiles mock-salutes Peter as he walks outside to find his ride.
Stiles sits there for a while longer after Peter leaves, digesting the information Peter divulged. He’s not quite sure why Peter shared, whether it was because he’d been drinking or for other reasons, but the one thing that Stiles knows for certain by the time he leaves is that there’s no way he can ask Peter out. The man said it himself – Michael was the love of his life. Stiles won’t trample on that.
The next morning, Stiles turns up at promptly seven am, And Peter greets him with a full coffee mug and a “Welcome back, Mr. Stilinksi, the cubs have missed you,” and neither of them mentions the night before.
Peter thinks about it, though. He thinks about how he’d been driven, somehow, to talk about Michael with Stiles, share the things he loved, and not have the wounds of his loss feel raw and open afterwards. He’s reminded of the time he broke his arm as a child. They’d taken him to the hospital as he howled in pain, and the nurse had given him a shot before they’d pulled at the ends of the break to set the bone in place, Peter’s stomach lurching at the odd sensation. And then they’d plastered him up and told him to come back in six weeks.
For six weeks Peter had cradled that arm carefully, even after the pain started to fade, because it was broken. And when the day had come for them to remove the cast, he’d been sick with worry, because he was convinced it would still hurt. Peter had jerked away when the doctor tried to examine it, and he didn’t quite believe it when they cut the plaster off and declared his arm as good as new. It had taken days for him to start using the arm again, for his brain to get the message that the injury wasn’t there anymore.
This is like that. Somewhere along the way, without Peter noticing, the wound that was Michael’s passing has healed. It’s left scars, of course it has. But when he looks at Stiles and feels a rush of desire after so long, it’s almost like waking again after being in a deep sleep for the past six years. The very fact that he’s even considering a relationship with someone else tells him that he’s moving on.
He suspects Michael would approve.
The cubs have missed Stiles a lot, it turns out. He spends most of the first day back being given hugs and reassuring the kids that he’s fine. In the end he sits them all down on the mat and explains to them that his dad had just needed a hand for a few days, but Stiles is back now, until his placement ends at least. The kids nod, reassured, and Charlie pipes up, “You gotta put family first.”
“Exactly,” Stiles agrees with a nod.
That afternoon, Peter gives Stiles carte blanche to run the class on Friday. “It’s the final part of your assessment.”
“So I’m completely in charge?”
“Completely. I’ll just observe.”
“Pretty sure you’re going to pass me, right?” Stiles teases.
“Of course. You have all the attributes of an okay teacher,” Peter replies without missing a beat. Stiles just grins, and goes back to planning his lesson.
On Friday morning, when Stiles turns up, he’s wearing lime green chucks and a matching tee that says in bold letters Todays mission : keep the tiny humans alive. Peter groans. “Tell me, Stiles, have you ever been tested for color blindness?”
Stiles waves him off. “You wish you looked this good.”
True to his word, Peter lets Stiles take control. Stiles has grown into the role, and his confidence shows. Peter has to hold back a laugh when some of the parents, seeing Stiles at the door instead of Peter, carry their child’s bag, right until Stiles calls out, “Mrs. Jones, is it? Tell me, are you a pack mule?” at which point there’s a hell of a lot of hurried shuffling of said bags to their rightful owners. Peter couldn’t be prouder.
Stiles runs the class like clockwork.
Peter watches on, impressed, as the children hang on Stiles every word and take part in the craft activity Stiles has prepared. He catches Stiles eye in the middle of a rousing singalong about the sounds zoo animals make, and gives him a tiny nod. Stiles beams, and goes back to making monkey noises.
That boy really is an idiot, Peter thinks fondly.
He has no idea why he likes him, honestly, but he does. He suspects he might even be ready to do something about it.
Peter drives out to the cemetery on Saturday afternoon. He doesn’t take flowers. He doesn’t take anything. But he tends to Michael’s grave, removing the moss that’s attempting to grow on the headstone, pulling out the few straggling weeds, humming quietly to himself as he does. Once he’s done, he sits cross legged in front of the grave, much like his cubs do. He places a hand on the cold marble. “Hey, love,” he murmurs softly. He knows Michael can’t hear him, knows this makes no sense, but he feels like he needs to do it anyway.
“It been nearly six years, and I still miss you. But I thought you should know. There’s a boy, a student teacher.” He shakes his head. “No. Not a boy, a man. I think I like him, Michael.” The cold marble slab gives no indication of having heard.
Peter carries on. “I think I want to take him out. He’s completely infuriating, just like you were.” A soft smile plays across Peter’s lips, even as a stray tear tracks down his face. “You’d like him.”
And Peter’s not superstitious, doesn’t believe in ghosts or the supernatural at all, but he’ll swear to his dying day that he feels a touch on the back of his neck that makes him shiver, and senses, rather than hears, Michael whisper, “Well? What are you waiting for, sweetheart?”
On the last day of his placement, Finstock calls Stiles to the office. “Tell me, Stilinski. You set on teaching kindergarten?”
Stiles doesn’t answer right away. “Why?” he asks cautiously.
“I’m gonna have an opening in the fall. Grade ones. You interested?”
Stiles gapes. “Holy shit,” he breathes out, as excitement floods through him. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. Job’s yours if you want it.”
Stiles has to close his eyes for a minute to gather himself. Grade one will be a challenge, but he thinks he can do it. He imagines, it, having a class of his own. But as well, he imagines getting to see Peter every day. “You’re offering me a job. You’re actually offering a me a job. This isn’t an expression of interest,” he says, checking, because surely, it’s too good to be true.
“Definite offer. Mrs. K’s finally retiring, handed in her notice this morning.” Finstock’s grinning madly.
“I accept. Yes Definitely. Holy shit.” Stiles can feel the grin stretching across his face. “Can I tell? Or is it a secret?”
“You can tell. Gonna call your dad?”
“Well yeah, but I wanted to tell Peter, too.”
Finstock smiles even wider. “Kid, he was the one who suggested this. Demanded it, really. Says he wants to know his cubs are going to be in good hands.”
When Stiles goes back to class, he walks into a room decorated with a banner that says Goodbye Mr. S, twelve children and one very smug adult blowing noisemakers, and cake. He doesn’t cry, thank you very much. It’s just really dusty.
And afterwards, when the kidlets have all given him one last hug and left for the day, Peter goes to his desk and pulls out a thick, official looking booklet and slides it across the desk to Stiles. “Official behavior guidelines for staff,” he explains. “I’m assuming you said yes?”
“Oh my god, of course I said yes. But why do I need this?” He picks up the booklet, and notes a bright yellow post-it sticking out of one of the pages. He flips open to read “Consensual relationships of a romantic or sexual nature between staff are permitted, bearing in mind that staff members must adhere to the workplace guidelines of appropriate behavior when working with minors.” It’s been highlighted in bright green. He squints at the page, and looks up at Peter, confused. “Um, good to know, I guess?”
Peter sighs, and walks over to Stiles, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Stiles, I thought you’d like to read that so that when I ask if you’d ever consider going on a date with me, you don’t have to have a crisis of conscience.”
Stiles blinks, feeling almost punch drunk. “What?”
Peter rolls his eyes. “Get your grammar under control, honestly. I’ll ask again. Stiles, might you consider going out to dinner with me? Or am I reading this wrong?” Stiles sees uncertainty flicker across Peter’s face, just for a second.
“But - I mean – really?” He’s struggling to keep up.
Peter steps in closer, and they’re almost nose to nose. Stiles is painfully aware of Peter’s cologne, and he really wants to run a hand over his stubble. “Really, Stiles. I’m attracted to you, in spite of your atrocious dress sense. Go out with me?”
Stiles leans in and presses their lips together, just for a second. When they part, Peter’s smiling even before Stiles breathes out, “Yes please, Mr. Hale.”