Fall is the perfect season to die.
The days are cool, and the chill of the nights is easily warded off with knitted blankets and hot chocolate, and the season comes with an inbuilt sense of melancholia in every twisting leaf that spirals gently to the ground. Fall is a time of contemplation. In the evenings, when Peter Hale takes long walks through the Preserve, he’s almost at peace with his mother’s slow but inevitable decline. During his days however, spent under flickering lights in ugly rooms that smell of bleach and six hundred competing brands of perfume, body spray and aftershave, Peter is less serene.
The teachers’ lounge at Beacon Hills High School is a sanctuary, even with its mismatched couches, linoleum floors, and terrible coffee. It’s a little oasis of peace in Peter’s daily teaching schedule, despite the fact that some of the teachers are just as loud and ridiculous as the teenagers swarming in the halls outside.
Exhibit 1: Bobby Finstock.
“Hale!” Finstock exclaims, slapping him on the shoulder in a gesture of warm camaraderie. He sprawls on the couch next to Peter. “Have you heard the latest?”
“Hmm?” Peter really should know better than to engage with Finstock.
“Jackson Whittemore and his girlfriend broke up,” Finstock says. “Again. So, you know, a word to the wise. A certain someone’s snooty little princess behaviour is about to be dialed all the way up to eleven.”
Peter’s brow wrinkles. “I really don’t think that’s an appropriate—”
“Oh,” Finstock says. “I was talking about Whittemore.”
Which is a fair call, Peter supposes.
Peter’s been teaching English at Beacon Hills High for seven weeks now, and while he’s used to the teachers gossiping about the students under the guise of classroom management, Finstock takes real glee in it. In the classroom he pretends not to know their names mostly—apparently something about keeping them on their toes—but Peter wouldn’t be surprised to find out he knows more about the drama in his students’ lives than their own best friends. Peter once mentioned something about it, and Finstock had only fixed him with a manic stare and said, “Well, what do you expect? My TV’s busted so is the only soap opera I get to watch.”
The other teachers aren’t as abrasive, or as plain weird. Peter particularly enjoys his discussions with Marin Morrell, the guidance counsellor, and Jennifer Blake, a fellow English teacher who was initially intimidated by Peter’s qualifications but warmed to him the moment she saw him tucking a Grandmaster Pop Vinyl figure into one of the cubbies on his desk.
Jennifer waves at him now on her way to class, a stack of folders balanced precariously on one hip.
Peter checks his watch, and finds that his next class is starting in five minutes. He rises from the couch, grabs his lesson plan from his desk, and escapes Finstock’s strange company gratefully.
“Hey, Hale!” Finstock calls to him.
“Snooty princess behaviour,” Finstock says, and taps the side of his nose.
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Peter says, and hurries to class before the buzzer sounds and the halls are filled with waves of loud, jostling teenagers.
Peter doesn’t have a full teaching load, thank god. He and another substitute on a short-term contract are filling in for someone’s maternity leave and splitting the load between them. Peter teaches two classes of Senior English, and one class of Senior AP English. It’s three lessons a day, with the occasional study hall or detention thrown in. If anything, teaching only half a full load reminds him that he made the right choice in not becoming a high school teacher. He prefers his college students back at Stanford, but when he took the year off to come back to Beacon Hills it was either high school teaching or picking up some shifts at McDonalds. And Peter doesn’t kid himself that he has the patience or the stamina to work anywhere in the service industry.
So high school teaching seemed the much better fit. His regular classes sometimes test his patience—it’s frustrating how wilfully ignorant and proud of it that some of his students are—but his AP class is his favorite. They’re either gifted kids or incredibly hard workers, and Peter finds that both types of students are rewarding in their own way.
Peter makes it to the classroom before the buzzer sounds, and is at his desk reading through his lesson plan as his students start to file in.
Lydia Martin, Whittemore’s girlfriend, is among them. Peter glances at her, but she seems as cool, calm and collected as always. Finstock was right. The diva behaviour will be coming from Whittemore, probably. He’s in one of Peter’s regular classes.
It’s been seven weeks, and Peter no longer needs to look at his seating plan to put names to faces anymore. He knows Lydia, and Danny, and every student from Mackenzie A. all the way through to Mackenzie W.
Peter looks up again as Stiles Stilinski bursts through the door in an explosion of plaid and khaki, and flails into his seat in the second row. Stiles always gives the impression that he’s running late, but he’s made every one of Peter’s classes by the skin of his teeth.
Right on cue, the buzzer sounds.
“Settle down,” Peter says, and gives them a moment to fall silent. “On Friday we talked some more about Faulkner and the Southern Renaissance, and the use of stream of consciousness in developing character and tone. I hope that everyone got through the assigned reading.”
Stiles shifts awkwardly in his seat, drawing Peter’s attention, and then ducks his head and stares fixedly at the cover of As I Lay Dying that sits on his desk.
Peter decides to spare him. “Ms. Alvarez? Thoughts? Comments? Crushing rebuttals?”
Rosa Alvarez beams, and launches into an animated discussion of the three assigned chapters.
Peter listens, directing the discussion as required, but generally happy to let his students take the lead. He leans against his desk, his arms folded, throwing out the occasional question to spark further discussion, taking a mental note of who is contributing and who isn’t.
Stiles is uncharacteristically quiet, gaze darting to Peter occasionally, then away again quickly when he’s spotted. Stiles is one of Peter’s best students. He’s naturally curious, unashamedly opinionated, and ridiculously animated most days. Not today though. He’s hunching his shoulders like he’s hoping to vanish into the space between them, and when the buzzer sounds for the end of class he leaps out of his seat, shoving his books into his backpack.
“Mr. Stilinski,” Peter says. “A word.”
Stiles freezes guiltily as the rest of the class files out. Only when the room is empty does he approach Peter’s desk, twitchy and anxious.
Peter straightens up. “Did you do the reading, Stiles?”
“Um,” Stiles says, and then doesn’t add anything.
“I’ll take that as a no.” Peter holds his gaze.
Stiles flushes. “I meant to.”
“I, um, I have a 504 plan,” Stiles says. “For my ADHD.”
“I’m aware of that,” Peter says. “A 504 plan covers this classroom, Stiles, not your failure to read the three assigned chapters over the weekend.”
Stiles flushes, ducking his head and reaching up to rub the back of his neck. “Um, yeah. Sorry. It won’t happen again, Dr. Hale.”
“This isn’t like you, Stiles,” Peter tells him, and it’s true. Stiles isn’t the student who doesn’t do the work. He’s the student who turns in a ten thousand word essay when the word count was three thousand, that veers wildly off topic at times and goes off on twelve different tangents at once, and somehow manages to pull it all together in the end. Stiles has the focus of a hummingbird on speed, but he always does the work.
Stiles looks up him, his dark eyes wide. “Sorry, Dr. Hale.”
“Is everything okay at home?” Peter asks him.
Stiles barks out a surprised laugh. “Um, yeah.”
It’s an odd answer, but Peter can’t articulate why. He searches Stiles’s gaze for a moment, but he can’t see any lie.
“Okay,” he says at last. “Don’t let it happen again.”
Stiles sags with relief.
“Okay,” Peter repeats. “Go on, before you’re late for your next class.”
“You’re not giving me detention?” Stiles asks, eyes widening.
“Oh, I really don’t think it’s worth the paperwork,” Peter says. “Agreed?”
Stiles grins, his face lighting up. “Totally! Thanks, Dr. Hale!”
And then he bolts, his plaid shirt flapping out at the sides, his Converse squeaking on the linoleum floor, and his backpack bouncing against his shoulder.
Peter turns to the board, to wipe it down before his next lesson.
At lunch, Peter realises he’s left his small cooler at home, and resigns himself to going to the cafeteria in the hope they have something at least passably fit for human consumption.
It’s there, picking out a salad that looks at least three days old, that he sees Stiles, sitting alone at a table in the corner, ignoring his tater tots and reading As I Lay Dying.
The week passes smoothly enough. Peter sets a pop quiz for Friday, and plans to grade them over the weekend. After classes are out, Peter declines the invitation he gets from some of the other teachers to join them at their regular Friday night watering hole. They’re aware of his circumstances, and understanding.
“If you change your mind…” Jennifer tells him with a sympathetic smile as she collects her handbag and her jacket.
“Thanks,” Peter says. “But I think I’ll just head home.”
He takes a few moments to pack his stack of pop quizzes into his messenger bag, and checks his phone for any texts from Talia. There are none. No news is good news these days.
Stiles’s messy writing catches his attention. His answers to the pop quiz questions have expanded over onto the back page of his paper.
Addie’s stream of consciousness continues after she dies, but some people’s go even before they die. It might be a commentary on faith, or at least on the expectation that we continue to exist as a cohesive consciousness after death. But what if Addie’s consciousness had died before her body did? What would that mean?
Another one of Stiles’s tangents, Peter thinks, and feels a stab of gratitude that at least Mom still has her mind. Her body is failing her, but she’s still present. He likes to think there will be a part of her that moves on, uncorrupted, and looks over them once she’s gone. Not that he and Talia will be dragging her coffin all the way to Mississippi. Their particular form of family dysfunction has always been much more civilised.
He shoves Stiles’s paper into his messenger bag with a wry smile.
“Hale!” Finstock exclaims, and Peter jumps, wondering if the man has just somehow apparated here out of nowhere. “Are you coming for drinks?”
“No,” Peter says. “Family stuff.”
“Gotcha!” Finstock says. “Shame, because we’re probably going to spend half the night talking about which student is in lurrrve with you!” He laughs like a hyena.
“The confessional wall, Hale,” Finstock says. “You’re on it. Hey, at least they don’t think you’re an alien!”
Peter is totally out of his depth now. “I’m sorry. The what?”
Following Finstock’s directions, Peter walks around the exterior of the library. The confessional wall is apparently a Beacon Hills High institution. It certainly wasn’t one when Peter was a student here, and that wasn’t that many years ago. Although Peter, for the sake of his ego, prefers not to do the math.
The confessional wall is exactly what Finstock said it was: a wall where the kids write their confessions. Peter is mostly confused. Don’t they have the internet for this?
He studies the wall. It’s a strange mix of teenage angst, affirmations, and silliness.
I’m afraid of failing.
I’m not cool enough for my old friends.
I bought some shoes off a drug dealer. Don’t know what he laced them with but I’ve been tripping all day.
You are stronger than you think.
I saw Finstock getting beamed up to the mothership.
I don’t want to go to college.
I think I might be gay.
My mom says I’m too fat to be a cheerleader.
I love all you guys.
And then Peter sees it, the words written in sharpie at the edge of the wall, new and bright: I have a crush on Dr. Hale.
Peter grips his messenger bag instinctively, but he doesn’t need to open it and take out his stack of quizzes to check. He knows that handwriting. He was reading it only minutes ago.
Peter’s throat is dry, and his heart is beating fast as he reads the words again, and realises he knows exactly who wrote them.
The weekend passes with slow, cool days. Peter spends his time grading and planning lessons for the upcoming week, and walking in the Preserve. When Mom feels up to it he helps her move out into a big wicker chair onto the front porch, and they sit together there for a while, sipping hot chocolate and talking. Peter tries not to notice how little of her hot chocolate she drinks, and how thin she’s gotten, and how her skin is so pale it almost appears translucent.
The house is quiet.
Talia has taken the opportunity to go into town and catch up with friends. Peter doesn’t begrudge her that. She spends all her time when he’s at school looking after Mom. James, Talia’s husband, is away with work a lot, and the kids are all at college now. Until Peter came back, Talia had been doing it all on her own.
Peter is also very aware of how precious these hours with Mom are, and of how few of them they have left.
Mom was diagnosed with cancer four years ago, and she’s declined a third round of chemo. It’s as slow and as inevitable as the changing of the seasons.
“Who was that boy you were crazy about in high school?” Mom asks after a while.
Peter pulls his gaze back from the rabbit cautiously sniffing its way across the front lawn. “Oh god. You would remember that. Chris.”
“That’s right,” Mom says in a teasing tone. “Chris Argent.”
“He was in high school,” Peter says. “I was in middle school. It was a disaster.”
“He thought you were cute.”
“He thought I was weird and annoying,” Peter corrects. “And so did his girlfriend, Victoria.”
Mom laughs. “Oh, my poor baby. Your first broken heart.”
More like poor Chris, Peter thinks, who did nothing to deserve being practically stalked by a dramatic twelve-year-old Peter.
“At least he let me down easily,” he says, setting his empty mug down on the table. “Are you getting cold? Do you need to go inside?”
“I’m fine,” Mom says, and then relents. “Well, I’m enjoying sitting here, but I could use another blanket.”
“I’ll go get one.” Peter walks inside. Some days it’s strange to see the changes Talia has made to the house he grew up in. The colour of the walls is new, and there are different pictures hanging in the hallway. Other days it’s like the years have all been stripped away, and he’s a kid again, and this house is the centre of his very small world.
He fetches a blanket and returns to the porch to tuck it gently around Mom’s thin shoulders, and sits down again.
Out on the lawn, the rabbit lopes back into the cover of the trees.
“This is nice,” Mom says after a while. “I’m glad you’re here. I know you’ve put your life on hold to come back.”
“Mom,” Peter begins, and swallows around the sudden lump in his throat. “Of course I came back.”
Mom smiles at him, and she looks so small and fragile, and nothing at all like the woman who raised him. It hurts, and he thinks of Addie Bundren watching Cash build her coffin outside her bedroom window.
He forces a smile. “Do you want me to go and dig up the Scrabble? We can play a game before Talia gets back, and you can see if you can still kick my ass.”
Mom laughs. “That sounds like a plan.”
In the teachers’ lounge on Monday morning, Peter takes a bit of gentle ribbing about the mysterious student who has a crush on him, but he laughs it off. He has Senior AP English the last period before lunch, and hands back the results of the pop quiz and they spend the class going over the questions. He’s usually a fan of letting the students lead the conversation, but only if it stays on track, and apparently Lydia Martin hosted a party over the weekend and several of the students attempt to turn the lesson into a debriefing session for that. Peter steers them back on track, aware of the envious gazes of the students who aren’t popular enough to have been invited.
He thinks of the confessional wall, and of how much of it was dedicated to feeling left out, or somehow inadequate. He remembers how much it sucks being a teenager.
Stiles’s gaze is one of the hungriest, and Peter wonders for the first time if he has any close friends, or if he’s one of the kids somehow pushed out into the cold.
“As much as I’d love to continue this scintillating conversation about who stuck their tongue down whose throat over the weekend,” he drawls, “I am in fact being paid to teach you literature. Save it for health class, please.”
He warms when Stiles starts to laugh, and turns it into an unconvincing cough.
“Lydia, your thoughts on Dewey Dell, please.”
Lydia sits up straight and flickers her hair over her shoulder. “She dreams of killing Darl because he knows her secret, and because her pregnancy represents sadness and death, not joy and life.”
It leads into a discussion about Addie, and how she views her children, and how Jewel’s name places him as someone of value to Addie, and how that’s because he is a product of her affair with the Minister Whitfield, and that Addie believes that Jewel will be her salvation from the water and the fire.
“Her salvation from the water and the fire,” Peter says. “And what does that mean?”
He gets a few thoughtful faces, and a few helpless ones.
“It’s ironic inversion,” Stiles says suddenly. “Jewel does save Addie from the water and the fire, but it’s farcical how it unfolds, because it’s not spiritual. He’s dragging her coffin out of the creek, then out of the burning barn. The whole journey to take Addie’s body to Mississippi is ironic because it’s set up like it’s a quest, when in fact it’s just a bunch of assholes lugging a coffin around. It’s pointless and miserable, and everyone ends up in a worse position than they already were.”
Peter feels a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. “Now that’s exactly the answer I was looking for. Thank you, Stiles. Maybe next time you can try it without the language, though.”
He can see Stiles mentally backtrack over his answer. “Oh. Assholes. Sorry.”
“I mean, it fits,” Peter says, his smile growing.
Stiles ducks his head, a flush rising.
“And what do we think of Darl?” Peter asks. “Is he really crazy? Danny, your thoughts?”
Peter spends the rest of the lesson trying not to notice the way that Stiles’s gaze tracks him around the room.
Peter tells himself it’s simple curiosity. Now that Stiles has brought himself to Peter’s attention thanks to the confessional wall, Peter is, well, attentive. He finds a contradiction: a young man who is loud and brash, confident when it comes to his opinions, but awkward when it comes to social interactions. He doesn’t sit with anyone at lunch. He doesn’t appear to have any close friends at all. It’s not as though he seems to be intentionally isolating himself—Peter winces in sympathy more than once when he witnesses Stiles fumble through yet another attempted overture to one of his classmates—but he’s an odd combination of abrasive and awkward, and neither endears him to his peers.
“Stiles Stilinski? Marin asks thoughtfully when Peter approaches her about him one afternoon in the teachers’ lounge. “Smart kid. That’s off-putting to many of the other students to begin with, but he’s also loud, and he doesn’t always pick up on social cues. That’s not unusual with kids with ADHD.”
“He doesn’t seem to have any friends,” Peter says.
“No,” Marin agrees. “Not since Scott McCall moved away last year. They’d been friends since elementary school, and Stiles isn’t the sort of kid who adapts well to big changes like that. He puts up a front, but, well, you’ve seen through it too.”
“He’s a good kid,” Marin says. “He just needs to be…” Her brow creases in thought. “Noticed. And most teenagers have tunnel vision, and can’t see past their own problems. Their social groups can be quite rigid by senior year, and it doesn’t help that Stiles that comes across as quite, well, exasperating.” She gives a slight smile. “If this was elementary school, I’d say that he doesn’t play well with others.”
He doesn’t compromise, Peter likes to think she means. He doesn’t try to fit himself into the confined spaces of other people’s expectations. Peter was the same in high school. He still is, probably. He wishes he could tell Stiles that at some point soon in his life—college, probably—it won’t even matter what other people think. But Peter remembers being a teenager well enough to know that’s absolutely no consolation now.
“And how are you doing, Peter?” Marin asks him softly. “With your mom.”
“It’s…” Peter shakes his head slightly. “It’s fine, I guess. Well, not fine, but it’s a waiting game.”
Just a waiting game, while the clock winds slowly down.
Marin squeezes him arm gently, and doesn’t say anything.
What is there to say, after all?
On Wednesday afternoon Peter stays late at school for a staff meeting. Then, after making it to the parking lot, he realises he’s left his USB with next week’s lesson plans on it in the teachers’ lounge, and he was going to work on them tonight.
The school is mostly deserted, although Peter passes a few boys with wet hair and gym bags making their way to the exit. Stragglers from lacrosse practice, he supposes. He collects the USB from the teachers’ lounge, and heads down the corridor and rounds the corner outside the boys’ locker room when he hears the squeak of soles on the floor, music playing, and someone singing aloud.
Peter stops dead in his tracks.
Stiles is in the corridor, making his way toward the exit, presumably, but he’s pin-balling dramatically off the walls as he goes. As Peter watches Stiles reaches the trophy case, splays his fingers against the glass, and serenades his reflection. His hair is damp, and sticking up at odd angles.
“And I wanna be free,” Stiles sings to the glass. “Don’t you wanna be free?”
It’s David Bowie’s Hallo Spaceboy—the synth-pop Pet Shop Boys remix Peter remembers from his teenage years.
“Do you like girls or boys?” Stiles sings. “It’s confusing these days.”
He’s wearing a red hoodie and a thin pair of sweatpants, with his gym bag slung across his body. It’s unzipped, and a towel hangs from it, bouncing every time he shimmies his hips.
“But moondust will cover you,” he sings. “Cover you. So bye-bye love.”
He pushes off the trophy case and moves down the corridor to a bank of lockers, banging his fists on them in time to the beat. Peter has seen Stiles flail before, but he’s never seen him move so fluidly, freely, and so beautifully.
“Yeah, bye-bye love. Hallo spaceboy. This chaos is killing me.”
Stiles is lithe and strong and unashamed as his body twists sinuously, and Peter feels the same sudden burn of lust he would if he saw him dancing on the floor of a club.
Stiles hits the lockers again. “This chaos is killing me.”
And then he spins and sees Peter watching him.
Stiles squeaks out a surprised sound and freezes, the song still blasting. A blotchy flush rises rapidly on his throat, and overtakes his face. He’s clearly mortified.
Don’t, Peter wants to tell him. You’re beautiful.
“Oh my god,” Stiles says, his voice cracking, and then turns and runs toward the exit, fumbling in his pocket at the same time.
Do you like girls or boys? It’s con—
The music cuts out, leaving only the sound of Stiles’s soles squeaking against the floor as he vanishes around the corner, and Peter’s unspoken apology hanging in the sudden silence.
Peter’s hand shakes as he stands in front of the confessional wall and digs a sharpie out of his messenger bag.
There’s a space next to Stiles’s confession: I have a crush on Dr. Hale.
Peter uncaps the sharpie, and leans down to add his own words underneath Stiles’s, his heart thumping as he does. He’s not sure if his words are an apology, a confession, or an entreaty:
If I fall moondust will cover me.
Moondust will cover me.
On Thursday morning, Stiles keeps his head down in class. He stares fixedly at his notes, his busy, twitching fingers dog-earing the pages of As I Lay Dying. Peter resists the urge to place his hand on top of Stiles’s to spare him his nerves—and spare the book its trauma—but there’s no way that’s a smart idea. Not for Stiles’s nerves, or for Peter’s career. So Peter soothes Stiles’s anxiety the only way he can—by directing his questions to other students, and pretending not to notice that Stiles isn’t contributing.
This boy today, this awkward, anxious boy, is light years away from the one Peter saw dancing in the halls yesterday. He feels a strange sense of loss at that, not just for himself, but for everyone in this room—in this school, in this town—for not getting to see how joyful and free Stiles can be. And for Stiles as well, who hides a part of himself away when other people are around.
The class ends without incident, and Peter watches as his students file out.
Stiles is at the door when he turns suddenly, and their gazes meet.
Stiles has beautiful eyes.
How has Peter not noticed that before?
Stiles opens his mouth as if he’s going to say something, and Peter leans forward slightly.
It’s enough of a movement to cause Stiles’s words, whatever they were, to get swallowed down again. He twitches. A flush rises on his face, and he clutches the straps of his backpack tightly as he turns and leaves.
Peter takes a few breaths, tamps down his rising disappointment, and moves over to the whiteboard to clean it in preparation for the next lesson.
At lunch, Peter checks his email and discovers that he’s been assigned detention for the afternoon, since whoever was supposed to be supervising has gone home sick. He rolls his eyes, and sends Talia a text saying he’ll be late home. Then he downloads a new book on his Kindle, because he’d rather not sit there for an hour just staring into space. As far as Peter is concerned, detention is a waste of time for him and the kids, but what is high school except a continual lesson in endless and pointless submission to authority just for the sake of it?
The halls empty quickly once school is done for the day, and a strange silence falls over the place. It becomes almost a liminal space, everything just a little bit off. There are pockets of activity still occurring—sports teams, and extra curricular clubs, and the library is open until five—but mostly the school feels quiet and empty and strange.
Peter walks down the hallway, passing the janitor with a humming floor polisher, and checks the number of the door on the classroom that’s being used for detention. It’s one of the science labs, and when Peter pushes the door open his nose twitches at the faint smell of chemicals hanging in the air.
There are four students in the room. Two unhappy freshmen, a girl that Peter thinks is a junior… and Stiles.
Peter blinks at him for a moment, and Stiles’s mouth quirks and he ducks his head.
“Stiles,” he says at last. “What’s one of my top students doing in detention?”
Stiles looks at him, and wrinkles his nose. “Um, I called Mr. Harris a dick.”
Peter has met Adrian Harris. It’s a fair assessment.
“Well, make sure you do it more quietly next time,” he advises.
Stiles’s eyes widen in surprise, and he huffs out a laugh.
The junior girl grins, straightening up in her chair.
The freshman boys exchange glances like confused puppies, like they know they missed a joke but have no idea what it was.
“We’re all here for the hour,” Peter says. “I’ve got a book to read. I don’t care what you do, as long as you do it quietly.”
He takes a seat at the front of the classroom and proceeds to try to lose himself in his novel for an hour, although he finds he keeps looking over at Stiles. He’s more relaxed now than he was in English. He’s working on his homework, one pen in his hand and one in his mouth. He’s leaning back in his chair, his posture loose and easy. He looks comfortable, and Peter feels the release of a tension he didn’t even know he was holding inside him. If Peter’s presence made Stiles uncomfortable this morning, it doesn’t now.
Peter reads the same page too many times in between glances, and the clock winds slowly down.
When the timer on Peter’s phone goes off, the freshman boys and the junior girl are out the door like rockets. Stiles takes a little longer gathering his books and papers together.
“So, um,” he says, not meeting Peter’s gaze, “about yesterday…”
Peter forces a smile. “You were dancing in the halls, Stiles. It’s hardly a felony.”
Stiles lifts his head. “I saw the wall.”
Peter’s heart skips a beat.
“I mean, I guess you know my writing,” Stiles says. “I know yours too. I went past the wall at lunch, and you’re the only person who could have written that.”
Peter’s stomach flips. “I wanted you to know you didn’t have to be embarrassed,” he says, though he’s not sure that’s the reason he wrote the words at all. “I wanted you to know you looked…”
Stiles takes a step toward him, his eyes wide, his books forgotten.
“…beautiful,” Peter says on a breath.
And then Stiles is stepping right into his space, and tilting his head up and—
His eyes are gorgeous. Whiskey colored and framed by dark lashes.
His mouth is plush, his bottom lip indented a little from where he’s been biting it.
His pale skin is lovely, his moles somehow enhancing the flawlessness instead of detracting from it.
—and they’re kissing, Stiles tilting his head up to press his mouth against Peter’s. And it’s wrong, so wrong, and Peter should be the one to stop it, but he wants it too much. Stiles loops his arms around Peter’s neck, and Peter’s hands find his narrow hips and settle there, and their kiss deepens, and Stiles tastes so sweet, and it’s everything that Peter wants and needs from this beautiful, vibrant boy.
Peter hears the hum of the floor polisher from somewhere close outside, and pulls away.
“Stiles,” he says roughly. “Jesus.”
A part of him expects Stiles to break and run like he did yesterday—god only knows one of them should—but Stiles just stands there, his expression guarded and hopeful at once, and Peter can’t do it. He can’t break his heart with a rejection. Not when he selfishly wants this so much too.
He wants this more than anything he’s ever wanted before, and it’s wrong.
It’s so wrong.
“You’re seventeen,” he says, and the words sound harsh. They should.
“Eighteen in six weeks,” Stiles says quietly, lifting his chin.
“And I’m your teacher.”
It’s wrong, but he wants it.
“You want me though,” Stiles says, certainty in his tone.
Peter can’t lie to him, even if the truth will damn him. His breath shudders out of him with the admission: “Yes.”
Stiles’s smile is almost enough to make Peter think it will be worth the fall.
A single kiss is earth shattering, Peter thinks, but the earth somehow remains undisturbed and his days fall into the same pattern as those that have come before.
A single kiss is a crucible, Peter thinks, and yet he is unscathed.
A single kiss is a conspiracy, Peter knows, and this is proven to be true.
They whisper about the need for silence, for secrecy, for all of the ways discovery will be ruinous.
The contact in Peter’s phone says Spaceboy.
Spaceboy: I’ve been thinking about you.
Spaceboy: When I jerk off, I mean.
Spaceboy: But also at other times.
Spaceboy: Sorry. I’m new at all this. I don’t know if I should be going for romantic or dirty.
Peter: You’re doing just fine, sweetheart.
Spaceboy: Just imagining you calling me that broke my brain a bit.
Peter: I’ll keep that in mind, sweetheart.
There’s a cabin on Hale land, a few miles from the house by the edge of a small lake. There’s no road from the house. The only entry is via the road through the southern side of the Preserve. Peter wrote most of his thesis in the cabin, and then his doctorate, staring out the window at the sunlight glistening on the water, and the trees rippling in the breeze. The cabin was built as a single room in the 1920s, and the bathroom was added on sometime around the time Peter was born. It’s picturesque, with it’s fireplace and the exposed log rafters in the ceiling. Talia keeps making noise about listing it on Airbnb, but it’s extra work she doesn’t have time for at the moment while looking after Mom.
When Peter says he’s planning on staying in the cabin for the weekend, Talia doesn’t mind. She and Mom have a spa day on Saturday anyway.
Peter isn’t sure what lie Stiles tells his parents to cover his absence.
All through Friday Peter expects his conscience to attack him, but perhaps he’s not the man he thought he was, because all he feels is the thrill of anticipation when he thinks of Stiles, or glimpses him in the halls between classes.
There are a million ways this can go wrong, but Peter feels like a desperate gambler in front of a blackjack table, fixated wholly on the win.
After school ends, Peter goes to the supermarket and buys supplies for the weekend. Food, mostly, but also condoms and lube. It’s not a conversation they’ve had yet, but it’s best to be prepared. At what point though is preparation counted as premeditation? He swipes his credit card at the register and wonders if the receipt that spits out of the machine will one day condemn him.
But here he is, in this moment, and he’s powerless to stop himself.
He also wonders how much of that is a weak attempt at some kind of justification.
It would only take a single text message to cancel their plans, and yet Peter doesn’t.
He stops in at home long enough to pack a bag for the weekend, and then heads out to the cabin.
Golden dusk has already softened into darkness by the time Stiles arrives. Peter hears his old Jeep rattling up the dirt road, and goes outside to meet him. It's a bright night. The moon is large and hangs low above the trees, bathing the woods in silver light.
Stiles climbs out, long-limbed and fidgety, a smile breaking open his anxious expression when he sees Peter waiting on the little porch.
“I, um, thought you might have had second thoughts,” he says, a backpack slung over his shoulder as he approaches.
“I probably should have.” Peter reaches out and takes his hand as he steps up onto the porch. “That would have been the sensible thing.”
“Yeah,” Stiles whispers. His throat bobs as he swallows. “I want this though. I want you, Peter.”
Nobody has ever said that to Peter before and sounded as raw and honest.
He stares at Stiles, framed in moonlight, and thinks a single word that says everything: Yes.
Such a tiny word, but at this moment it encompasses an entire universe. They’re covered in moondust now, Peter and Stiles.
He leans in and brushes his lips against Stiles’s—a fleeting kiss, barely there, as brief as a sigh—and then he draws Stiles inside the cabin.
Stiles’s eyes are wide as he looks around the cabin.
“So,” he says, tossing his backpack onto the bed and trying for a tone so obviously casual yet missing by a mile, “what do you want to do?”
“I thought I’d make dinner,” Peter tells him, stepping past him to the kitchenette in the corner, careful not to crowd him. “Do you have any allergies I need to know about?”
“No.” Stiles swipes his bottom lip with his tongue. “What are you making?”
“Nothing too fancy,” Peter says. “How do you feel about pasta carbonara?”
“I like it,” Stiles says. “Do you need any help?”
“No,” Peter says. “Grab a soda while I chop the bacon and mushrooms, and tell me something about yourself.”
Stiles takes a soda from the refrigerator. “Okay. What do you want to know?”
“Hmm.” Peter considers that while he pulls ingredients out. “How about what you really think about As I Lay Dying?”
Stiles laughs, leaning against the counter. “Well, I don’t hate it. But why is all literature miserable? Like, why can’t we ever read something with a happy ending?”
“Oh, but then how would you know that life is nothing but misery and pain?” Peter teases.
Stiles’s smile fades. “I mean, don’t we figure that out on our own? Serious question.”
Peter holds his gaze. “Yes, I think we do. And I think that’s why so many of those books we’ve decided are cultural touchstones are full of themes of love and death. There aren’t any bigger things in life, are there?”
“I guess not.” Stiles rubs his thumb up the side of his soda can, collecting the condensation. “I’m sorry about your mom.”
“Hmm.” Peter slices a mushroom. “You heard about that?”
“Yeah,” Stiles says. “Small town. And when an actual professor of literature decides to suddenly start teaching high school? Of course there’s a reason for it.” He chews his bottom lip for a moment. “My mom died when I was eight. It sucks at any age though, I guess.”
Peter feels a stab of grief. “Yes, I think it does.”
“My mom had a type of dementia,” Stiles tells him softly. “It was rough.”
Peter thinks of Stiles’s pop quiz: Addie’s stream of consciousness continues after she dies, but some people’s go even before they die. It might be a commentary on faith, or at least on the expectation that we continue to exist as a cohesive consciousness after death. But what if Addie’s consciousness had died before her body did? What would that mean?
Not just a tangent, then, but a wound.
“I’m very sorry,” he says.
“Was a long time ago.” Stiles gives him a shaky smile and shrugs.
Still a wound though, Peter thinks.
Stiles clears his throat. “Sorry. Jesus, I’m really bringing the mood down.”
“Don’t apologise,” Peter tells him. “I want to know who you are, Stiles. I want to know all of you.”
Stiles ducks his head, flushing. “You’d be about the only one.”
“Their loss,” Peter says. “I mean that, sweetheart.”
Stiles looks up, a smile playing around his lips and his flush more pronounced. “I knew I’d like hearing you say that.”
“I like saying it to you,” Peter says. He sets the knife down on the cutting board, and crosses the small space between them. He crooks his index finger and places it under Stiles’s chin. Tilts his head to the right angle. “Sweetheart.”
And he swallows Stiles’s smile in a kiss.
If Peter had given much thought to this—he didn’t, too consumed with want and too aware that if he had stopped to consider his intentions he wouldn’t have been able to act—he might have been concerned that there would be awkwardness between him and Stiles. There isn’t though. Stiles is smart, and talkative and, more importantly, he’s relaxed now. This doesn’t feel like a sordid assignation. This feels like a date. The conversation flows easily, and they laugh as they eat, and the rest of the world—all that sorrow and stress and drudgery—ceases to exist.
It amazes him that one boy has that power over him. That Stiles can change the entire universe just by being here with Peter, and by being himself.
“Wow,” Stiles says once the dishes are done, back to fidgeting again, “you don’t even have a TV here, huh?”
“No,” Peter says. “But I brought my laptop if we want to watch something.”
He leaves it up to Stiles. He always will, he tells himself. He won’t push. He won’t be that person.
“Yeah?” Stiles asks, brightening. “Maybe we could watch something?”
They sit together on the couch, and Peter lets Stiles choose the movie.
“Superheroes, huh?” he asks with a smile.
Stiles elbows him. “There’s nothing wrong with stories where the heroes win,” he says. “Also, superheroes are cool as fuck and I there is literally nothing you can say that can change my mind.”
“I wouldn’t even dream of trying it, I swear.” Peter feels a rush of affection for Stiles, and for his enthusiasm, and for his newfound boldness.
“You’d better not.” Stiles flashes him a grin, and settles back against him as the movie starts to play.
Peter’s barely become invested in the movie when Stiles leans forward, snaps the lid of the laptop closed, and swings into Peter’s lap, straddling him.
“Fuck, I’m such an idiot.” His breath is warm against Peter’s face, his eye wide and bright. “I didn’t come here to watch a movie.”
He kisses Peter, dragging the fingers of one hand through his hair. He keeps the other hand on Peter’s shoulder, kneading the muscle there. He’s a warm weight in Peter’s lap, knees digging into the couch on either side of Peter’s thighs, and small pleasurable sounds escape him as they kiss.
Peter puts his hands on Stiles’s hips, and encourages him to press closer. Then he slides a hand around to Stiles’s back, plucking his shirt up. His palm brushes against Stiles’s skin, his spine, and Stiles’s hips jerk forward. Peter finds the waistband of his jeans, of his underwear, and dips his hand underneath them, following a swathe of warm skin, the dimple at the base of his spine, and then all the way down to the curve of Stiles’s ass. His fingertip dips into the crease of Stiles’s ass, and Stiles pants heavily against his jawline for a moment.
“Bed,” Stiles rasps. “I want you to fuck me, Peter, please.”
Peter is delighted that his shyness doesn’t extend to this.
He pushes Stiles away, onto his feet, and Stiles reaches down and helps him up.
They cross to the bed, and Peter wastes no time in tugging Stiles’s shirt off him, revealing a pale mole-dotted torso, leanly muscled and sleek.
“Fuck,” he murmurs in appreciation, dipping his head to lick a path alone Stiles’s collarbone. Stiles’s head falls back, his breath shuddering out of him.
Peter pops the button on Stiles’s jeans, sliding them down his hips. He catches the elastic of Stiles’s underwear in his thumbs and drags it down too, his mouth watering when he sees Stiles’s dick. It’s as lean as the rest of him, cut, and engorged. The head is shiny with precum, and his balls are already drawn up. He’s on a hair trigger, and Peter can’t wait to see him blow.
“I want to finger you until you come,” he says.
“I am so onboard with that.” Stiles flops back onto the bed, an avid spectator while Peter strips off.
Peter’s not as young as Stiles, but he’s still in good shape. Better than good, actually, and vain enough to admit it. He’s spent a lot of hours at a lot of gyms just to cultivate the sort of hungry stare that Stiles is giving him now.
He walks bare-ass naked over to the kitchenette, where the lube and condoms are sitting in a grocery bag on top of the microwave. When he turns back around to look at Stiles, Stiles is watching him open-mouthed, his fingers curled loosely around his dick.
“Not yet, sweetheart,” Peter says with a smirk, and sees the full body shudder that Stiles gives at the word.
He walks back to the bed, leaning down to hold Stiles’s ankles. He pushes his feet back so that his knees are bent, and then slides his hands up his calves and then down his inner thighs, opening him. Stiles is breathing heavily, starting at Peter through hooded eyes.
Peter kneels in the space he made between Stiles’s legs. “Have you done this before, Stiles?”
“Not with anyone,” Stiles says, his voice rasping. “I’ve got a vibrator though.”
“Mmm.” Peter leans in and presses a kiss to his knee. “Did you bring it?”
“No.” Stiles shifts, the muscles his abdomen tightening, his dick leaving a glistening smear along them. He’s breathy, eager. “I want the real thing.”
Peter opens the lube, and squirts a generous dollop onto his fingertips. He smirks again, and presses his index finger against Stiles’s hole. Stiles’s body jerks, and he almost jack-knifes off the bed.
All that from just a touch.
“Oh, sweetheart,” Peter says, breathless, and presses the tip of his finger inside him.
He opens Stiles up slowly and gently, and Stiles undulates on the bed, spread out in front of Peter like some willing sacrifice, pelvis tilted toward him, arching into every touch. A litany of sounds drop from Stiles’s mouth every time that Peter pushes into him: uh uh uh, and he bites his lip. A flush maps the planes of his body, his throat, his face. He keeps a shaking hand curled around his dick. The other hand grips the pillow behind his head.
Peter’s fingertip brushes up against that bundle of nerves deep inside him, teasing, too soft.
“You’re so beautiful,” Peter tells him, and leans down to take Stiles’s dick into his mouth.
Stiles cries out when he comes, the sound as raw and exultant as the call of a bird.
Stiles is shaky and loose limbed when it’s over, but determined. He drags Peter down onto the bed with him, into a knot of sweaty, slippery limbs, and sucks up marks on his neck while his clumsy hand curls into a sheath for Peter to fuck into. Stiles hooks one leg around Peter’s hip, barely giving him enough room to thrust, but it’s still perfect somehow. Peter takes longer to come than Stiles did, and Stiles squirms underneath him, this heated, beautiful boy.
And when it’s over, when Peter paints them both with his cum, Stiles kisses him and laughs, the sound filled with drowsy happiness, and then starfishes out on the bed when Peter gets up to fetch a washcloth.
“No,” he says when Peter returns and begins to wipe him down. “Tickles!”
“You’ll thank me when you’re clean,” Peter admonishes him gently, rubbing the cloth over the rough hairs at the base of Stiles’s dick.
“This bed is amazing,” Stiles says, blinking up at him. “No room for you, sorry. You’ll have to sleep on the couch.”
“Rude,” Peter says, and leans down to steal a soft kiss. “Now you will have to get up and get under the comforter, sweetheart, or you’ll wake up freezing in the middle of the night.”
Stiles screws his face up, and gives a theatrical sigh. “If I must.”
“Brat,” Peter says, and slaps him gently on the hip with the washcloth.
Stiles laughs again, but clambers off the bed long enough to pull the comforter down and climb back in.
Peter leaves him long enough to toss the washcloth in the bathroom sink, turn off the lights, and then comes back to join him.
For all Stiles’s protestations, the bed is large enough to share comfortably.
They exchange sleepy kisses for a while.
Stiles drifts off to sleep, the moonlight shining through the window illuminating his face in soft light.
Peter stays awake for a long time, waiting for regret and self-recrimination to catch him, but the feeling never comes.
For the first time in a long time, Peter is happy.
Stiles is a revelation. He’s greedy, and unashamedly sexual. He sucks dick like it’s a religious experience, and Peter is only too happy to return the favor. Peter fucks him for the first time on Sunday morning, and Stiles comes so hard he hits himself in the chin.
Stiles is a brat. He cheats at Monopoly, and also eats the last of the stuffed olives when Peter’s in the shower.
Stiles is an idiot. He tells terrible jokes, and Peter laughs so hard he forgets how to breathe.
Stiles is a welcome challenge. He’s better read than most of Peter’s students, and he’s not afraid to share his opinions on everything from gothic fiction, to literature as an instrument of propaganda, to the entire extended Marvel universe. And he somehow manages to tie them all in together seamlessly.
Peter can’t remember the last time he took this much sheer pleasure in another person’s company.
On Sunday afternoon Stiles gives him one last lingering kiss, climbs into his Jeep, and drives away.
Peter watches from the front porch of the cabin, red and yellow leaves spiralling down as the breeze whispers through the trees, and finds that the only thing he regrets about this weekend is that it couldn’t last forever.
On Monday, Peter somehow manages to remember to treat Stiles like any other student, despite the fact that Stiles is sucking on the end of his pen and all Peter can think about is the way he moaned when he sucked Peter’s dick over the weekend.
Stiles isn’t even being a brat about it, he knows. He’s not trying to tease. It’s just reflexive, a form of stimming to help him focus in class.
They’re on the final chapter of As I Lay Dying now.
“This whole time,” Danny says, “you think it’s about taking Addie back to bury her, but it turns out it’s to replace her. That’s what she is in the end. Replaceable.”
“Of course she is,” Lydia says. “She’s nothing more to Anse and his sons than someone who cooks and cleans for them. She’s not a person, even when she’s alive.”
“Hmm.” Peter nods. “Do you think Faulkner wrote a feminist novel?”
Lydia gives him a sharp look. “I think Faulkner was a man.”
Peter smiles at that.
“She’s dying,” Stiles says suddenly. He takes his pen out of his mouth. “Addie’s dying, then she’s a corpse, then she’s a narrative voice that none of them can even hear, and then she’s not even that anymore. She’s less than nothing. She doesn’t even leave a negative space, because it’s already been filled.”
Peter thinks of Stiles’s mother, and wonders what sort of negative spaces she left in her son’s life. He wonders at the shape and depth of the spaces his own mother will leave carved out of his soul when she passes.
It is as inevitable and close as the slow progression of fall into winter.
He holds Stiles’s gaze for a moment, and Stiles flashes him a tentative smile.
Warmth blooms in Peter’s chest.
Stiles is right, he thinks. Literature should be less miserable, because despite everything life is often beautiful.
Peter hasn’t given much thought to Wednesday’s parent teacher night. He doesn’t really have any problematic kids in any of his classes—certainly not his AP class—but it occurs to him as he’s setting up the classroom and staring down at his list of parents, parcelled out in ten-minute intervals, that tonight he’s going to meet Stiles’s father.
Going to meet him, and look him in the eye, and shake his hand.
He’s kept busy enough with his other parents that he doesn’t have too much time to dwell on it. Most of his parents are nice enough. Peter only deals with a few of the ‘If my kid is failing it must be your fault’ variety. He gets more pleasure than he should in reminding those parents that he’s no nervous first-year teacher, but a professor of literature at Stanford with well over a decade’s teaching experience.
“Oh,” one father blusters, “well maybe your subject is too advanced for Bethany then!”
“Yes, it may be that,” Peter says mildly. “Although it is the standard state curriculum.”
The guy doesn’t even realise Peter has just more or less called his daughter dumb. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Peter supposes, although that’s not totally fair. Bethany isn’t dumb. She’s just lazy and spoiled and has her parents wrapped around her little finger.
Peter’s finished with Bethany’s parents and is taking the opportunity to grab a sip of coffee from his thermos when he looks up to see a man standing in the doorway.
A man in a sheriff’s uniform.
What… what happened? Who saw them together at the cabin? Is Stiles okay?
Peter’s going to be led out of the school in fucking handcuffs and—
“Dr. Hale?” the sheriff asks, stepping into the room. He crosses to Peter’s desk and holds out his hand. “I’m John Stilinski, Stiles’s dad.”
Peter stares at his hand for a moment too long before he suddenly remembers himself and stands up to shake it.
The sheriff must mistake his hesitance. He exhales slowly and takes his seat. “Lay it on me,” he says. “I’ve just spent the evening hearing about how he doesn’t listen, how he talks back, how he’s—” Air quotes. “—too smart, the usual stuff. Oh, and how he wrote an essay on the history of male circumcision. For Economics."
Peter laughs, because of course Stiles did.
The sheriff’s pinched expression eases a little.
“Stiles is a delight to teach, actually,” Peter says, his heart rediscovering its regular rhythm. “He’s one of my top students. I certainly don’t have any behavioural issues to report, and his marks are among the best in my class.”
The sheriff looks surprised and grateful at the same time. And then embarrassed. “Sorry,” he says. “I kind of expect the worst, coming to these things.”
“Stiles isn’t easy to categorise,” Peter says. Stiles is special, he wants to say. Stiles is incredible. But he’s Stiles’s teacher, and the man sitting in front of him isn’t just a father—he’s an officer of the law. “Stiles doesn’t fit neatly into a little box, and high school is all about fitting neatly into boxes.”
The sheriff looks a little rueful. “Yeah. That’s something he’s struggled with the whole way through school. His ADHD doesn’t help. And I’m not there as often as I should be, with my work schedule.”
Peter wonders what sort of shifts the sheriff works, and if that was how Stiles was able to sneak away over the weekend.
“Kids like Stiles are treading water at high school,” he says. “But once he gets to college, once he finds that thing he’s passionate about, whatever it is, he’ll be amazing.”
The sheriff’s mouth quirks. “Well, he’s pretty amazing now. I’m just not used to his teachers seeing it.”
The sheriff has the same sense of wry self-awareness that Stiles does, Peter thinks, tempered by age and by experience. He wouldn’t be surprised if this is where Stiles gets his snark as well, and his biting sarcasm, though he doesn’t expect to see much of it during a parent teacher interview.
It eases something inside of him though, knowing how lonely Stiles is at school, to see that at least his father knows how special he is, and appreciates him, quirks and all. A lot of kids don’t get that. Peter is glad Stiles has his dad on his side, even while he sits here, a smile plastered on his face, knowing that he’s undermining their relationship with secrecy and lies.
They chat for a little about Stiles’s grades, and Peter shows him a copy of Stiles’s last pop quiz.
“Thanks,” the sheriff says at last. “You’ve put my mind at ease tonight. I appreciate it.”
Peter smiles again, and feels like a viper in the sheriff’s nest.
“I mean, I just came from talking with his Chemistry teacher, and…”
Peter grimaces at that. “Well, Adrian Harris is a dick.”
Sheriff Stilinski snorts. “Yeah, that’s just what Stiles says.”
Peter: You didn’t mention your father’s job.
Spaceboy: Oh SHIT!
They meet in the parking lot at the bottom of one of the Preserve’s less popular walking tracks. There are no other cars there. It’s already dark.
“I’m so sorry,” Stiles says, climbing into the passenger seat of Peter’s car. “I mean, it’s Beacon Hills. Everyone knows my dad is the sheriff.” He wrinkles his nose. “Except out of town college professors, I guess.”
“It was certainly a surprise,” Peter tells him.
“I’m really sorry.” Stiles reaches over and takes his hand. His fingers are cold, and Peter realises he’s driven all the way out here in that old Jeep of his, which probably doesn’t even have heat. “Thanks for the glowing report, by the way.”
“You earned that.” Peter turns the ignition and the heater blasts out a burst of warm air. “I know we haven’t really talked about this, but you’re not going to get an easy pass in my class.”
“Don’t need one,” Stiles tells him with a mischievous smile.
“You really don’t,” Peter agrees.
“I’ve missed you this week,” Stiles says. “I wish you had a place of your own. Then whenever my dad was on shift, I could just knock on your door and you could let me in, and cook for me, and fuck me into the mattress all night long.”
Peter laughs. “Such a romantic!”
“Hey, you’ve created a monster here!” Stiles tugs his hand free long enough to flick Peter’s ear indignantly. “I expect regular fucking now, thank you very much!” He squirms in his seat, and Peter glances down to see that yes, Stiles’s dick is tenting his khakis.
“Oh, well if it’s my fault,” he teases, “I suppose I’d better do something about it.”
Stiles’s eyes go dark with want as Peter reaches over and unzips him. There’s a moment of awkward shuffling while Stiles gets his khakis and underwear pulled down to his thighs and then settles back into his seat.
Peter twists his body, ignoring the twinge in his back in order to get his mouth on Stiles’s dick. Stiles grips his hair roughly, and tilts his hips up.
The air in the car grows humid, and Peter feels a trickle of sweat slide down his hairline. He doesn’t stop though. Stiles tastes good and Peter loves to have him like this—squirming and eager and helpless all at once.
“Peter!” Stiles gasps. “Oh fuck, Peter!”
And then he’s coming, and Peter swallows down as much as he can before he straightens up again.
“Oh, fuck,” Stiles says through a groan, his head thrown back against the headrest. “You’re fucking amazing.”
Peter helps him tug his pants up again, though he leaves them unzipped for now. Then he leans in and presses his mouth against Stiles’s collarbone, because he loves that part of him. Loves the way that Stiles melts when he kisses him there.
“Can you get away from home this weekend?” he asks, resisting the urge to suck up a mark on Stiles’s pale skin.
“Mmm.” Stiles pushes him away so that he can lick a stripe up his jaw, and then kiss him. “Wait, what was the question?”
Peter laughs softly, cupping his hand around the back of Stiles’s neck and pressing their foreheads together for a brief moment. “Can you get away from his this weekend?”
Stiles looks hesitant. “Saturday night, maybe? But not Sunday, sorry.”
“Sweetheart,” Peter says, “I’ll take whatever you can give me.”
The next day in class Stiles is fidgety. He chews a pen. He jiggles his leg. He taps his fingers over the surface of his desk. And, when Peter leans on his desk at the front of the class, listening to the discussion, Stiles tilts his head sideways a little. Hooks his finger into the collar of his shirt, and tugs it down.
There are words written above his collarbone, in that soft space just below the base of his neck.
His eyes are bright with mischief, the dirty little tease.
Peter moves behind his desk and takes his seat before he gets an erection in front of the whole damn class.
Saturday night feels like a century away.
The next few weeks pass slowly, and yet somehow also in the blink of an eye. Peter and Stiles try to spend as much time together as they can, but it really only amounts to a night or two at the cabin whenever they can. Once, when Stiles has a study period before lunch, he suggests they grab a by-the-hour hotel room on the edge of town.
Peter declines, and Stiles doesn’t text him the rest of the day.
The following morning though, there’s an apology on Peter’s phone.
Spaceboy: I’m sorry. That was stupid.
He’s hungry, Peter thinks, for both sex and affection. So is Peter, probably, but one of them has to keep their head.
It’s a tiny bump in the road, already smoothed over by the next time they meet at the cabin.
The days are colder now, and the air has a sharp bite to it. Winter is just over the horizon.
Peter, in the process of digging out his old quilt from the back of his closet, dislodges a stack of old notebooks. Mom finds him sitting on the floor of his bedroom hours later, the notebooks spread around him and the quilt draped around his shoulders.
“What are you doing?” she asks, coming inside to sit on the bed. She folds her thin hands together in her lap.
Peter looks up, blinking in the late afternoon light. “I found a bunch of my old stories.”
He’d written avidly when he was a child, and then when he was a teenager. He’d burned with the need to dream up entire worlds, to leave his mark, to create something tangible out of nothing. There was a sort of powerful magic in that, and Peter was under its spell for years.
And then, of course, he grew up. His insecurities crept in. Other commitments did. He no longer had the time to write stories when he was writing essays, and then a thesis, and then a dissertation, and he probably wasn’t as good at it as he’d thought anyway. His ideas weren’t as original as he’d thought they were when he was a kid, and his skill wasn’t as singular. Peter was very, very good at reading other people’s stories, but not as clever at creating his own as he’d hoped.
“Oh,” Mom says. “You always did dream up such lovely stories.”
Peter laughs. “No, they’re terrible. Really. You can feel the teenage angst just dripping off the pages. But some of the ideas are okay.”
“You always said you were going to write a novel one day,” Mom says with a smile.
“Everyone says that,” Peter tells her. “Besides, what a total cliché. A middle-aged literature professor struggling to write the great American novel.”
He doesn’t add: While attempting to hold onto the last vestiges of his youth by having an affair with a beautiful boy. It would really sell the whole cliché though, he’s sure.
“You’re not middle-aged quite yet, darling,” Mom says fondly.
“Well, clichés aside, if you want to write a novel, you ought to give it a try.”
Peter wrinkles his nose.
“Oh, but you could write something so beautiful,” Mom says, and she sounds a little wistful.
“Maybe.” Peter traces his fingers over the worn cover of a notebook. He lets out a slow breath. “But I think I’d really like to write something… something happy. There aren’t enough happy books in the world.”
Mom’s smile is both curious and warm.
Peter teaches, and works on his novel in his spare lessons, and sometimes walks by the back of the library just so he can read the confessional wall.
I have a crush on Dr. Hale.
And underneath, in Peter’s writing:
If I fall moondust will cover me.
Moondust will cover me.
The days creep on, cooler and crisper, and a strand of pure happiness runs through the landscape of Peter’s melancholy, as bright and vibrant as Stiles himself.
His relationship with Stiles is stolen moments here and there, but Peter cultivates the light he harvests from them, hoards it in his chest, and finds that it is enough to illuminate his bleakest moments.
There are a few of those. In October, Mom gets a persistent cough which turns into a chest infection, and she spends four days in the hospital. When she is released, she seems weaker than ever for a day or two, but then she rallies again, and takes to spending her time on the front porch, wrapped in blankets and sipping her hot chocolate as she gazes out into the Preserve.
“How is your happy book going?” she asks Peter more than once.
“It’s terrible,” he tells her. “Everything I write is terrible.”
But he keeps at it, all the same.
In late October, Halloween decorations appear all over the school, and Peter is forced to dodge pumpkins between the teachers’ lounge and his classes. As the day itself approaches—or the night, rather—it gets more and more difficult to keep his students focussed. They’re at that age where Trick or Treating is out, but dressing up as slutty nurses or zombie quarterbacks, drinking too much and risking an entire alphabet of STIs is very much in. Peter would completely despair for them as a generation, except he can remember doing exactly the same dumb things himself.
Stiles isn’t invited to any parties, and Peter can’t help but feel a flare of anger as he sees Stiles trying to pretend he can’t hear the kids around him talking about costumes or dates or whose big brother can score them beer.
“Can we can back on track, please?” he asks the class. “In this classroom we discuss literature, not your social lives, and especially not your planned illegal activities.”
Stiles’s mouth quirks and he ducks his head.
Halloween falls on a Friday. Peter finds an ugly pumpkin-shaped candle in the grocery store, and takes it out to the cabin.
“Oh, very nice,” Stiles says the moment he walks in. “And here I thought you were some sort of Halloween Grinch.” He wrinkles his nose. “Is there a term for a Halloween Grinch?”
“Yes,” Peter tells him. “An adult.”
Stiles laughs, and lets Peter drag him in by the belt loops of his khakis and kiss him.
Peter hums, and steals a second kiss before he releases him. “Is your father working tonight?”
“A double,” Stiles says. “He always does for Halloween. He’s gonna be chasing middle-schoolers armed with eggs and toilet paper for most of the night. Halloween is crazy!”
“No trick or treating for you when you were younger, then?” Peter asks.
Stiles wrinkles his nose and shrugs. “Mom used to take me. After that, me and my friend Scott would go with his mom, if she wasn’t working. Then, when we got too old for that, we’d just buy a bunch of junk food and have horror movie marathons instead.”
“Hmm.” Peter raises his eyebrows.
“Is that what we’re doing?” Stiles asks, his eyes shining. “Are we having a horror movie marathon, Peter?”
“God, no.” Peter rolls his eyes, and then laughs at Stiles’s squawk of outrage. “I’ve got something a little different planned, sweetheart.”
He takes Stiles by the hand and draws him through the back door of the cabin.
There’s a small clearing outside before the Preserve encroaches on them, a gentle slope of grass that leads down into the trees. At the base of the slope, Peter has set up a picnic rug and a stack of pillows and cushions he found in storage in the basement at home. And, strung up in the whispering boughs above them, fairy lights that bob and weave like fireflies.
“Oh, my god!” Stiles hurries down the slope, laughing in delight when he discovers the picnic basket. “Holy shit. You’re romancing me!”
Peter follows him down at a more sedate pace, and Stiles drags him in for a bruising kiss.
“Peter! This is romantic as fuck!”
“Not when you say it like that, it’s not.”
Stiles laughs again, and tugs Peter down onto the rug. Peter goes down onto his knees first, and then eases into a seated position. Stiles sprawls haphazardly, limbs everywhere.
“This is…” His laughter fades into a gentle smile as he draws his knees up. “This is so beautiful.”
“I’m so glad you like it, sweetheart.”
“Like it?” Stiles blinks, and presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. He laughs again, and sounds embarrassed this time. He lowers his hands, and shows Peter a shaky smile. “Peter, this is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.”
“That’s only fair,” Peter tells him softly, “because you’re the nicest thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Stiles reaches for him, kisses him, and then presses their foreheads together, his fingers tangled in Peter’s hair.
“Peter,” he whispers, “I don’t ever want this to end.”
“Me neither, sweetheart,” Peter murmurs back, an ache in his chest. “Me neither.”
The scattered lights fall over them like moondust.
Peter leans back against his desk while he watches his students take their exam. There’s a twinge in his ass from last night that serves as a very pleasant reminder of Stiles’s first time topping, and Peter can’t stop clenching his ass to try to eke out the feeling as long as he can.
He checks his watch, and then looks around the classroom again to make sure there’s no cheating. He doesn’t really expect it from his AP class, of course. Stiles is working away, one pen in his hand, another one in his mouth, and one tucked behind his ear. He’s fixated on the questions, and powering through the pages at a rate of knots. Peter has no concerns for him. Frankly, Stiles could tank this entire exam and still be looking at a solid B. And Stiles doesn’t tank exams.
The door to the classroom rattles, and then the door opens and Finstock appears, beckoning at Peter.
Peter casts one more look at the class, and crosses the floor. “I’ve got an exam going on here.”
“I know,” Finstock says. “I’m taking over.”
Peter is taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“Your phone’s off,” Finstock says, his voice uncharacteristically low. “Your sister’s been trying to call you, and couldn’t get through. She called the office instead. Peter, you have to go.”
It takes a moment to hear what Finstock’s telling him.
“Oh. I see.” He turns back inside the classroom, Finstock following, and goes to his desk. Shoves a few things in his messenger bag. Zips it shut.
There’s a roaring sound in his skull, like he’s trapped underwater and the surf is crashing above him.
His hands shake as he lifts his bag to put it over his shoulder.
“They have…” He swallows, and starts again. “They have twenty more minutes.”
“Got it,” Finstock says softly, reaching up and squeezing his shoulder. “I’ve got it, Peter. Go.”
Peter nods, his eyes stinging, and swallows again. There’s a lump in his throat he can’t dislodge.
He walks toward the door, and glances at Stiles on his way.
Stiles is staring up at him. “Peter?” he mouths silently.
Peter wants nothing more than to wrench him out from behind his desk and hold him.
Hold him and be held while everything else falls apart around him.
He tears his gaze away and keeps walking.
A part of him wants Stiles to leap up and follow him, because he needs him, but that’s not fair. That’s not fair, and, worse than that, it’s stupid. If Peter can’t keep remember that right now, then at least one of them can. One of them has to.
Peter pulls the door of the classroom shut behind him, and tries to make it to the parking lot before he bursts into tears.
It’s hours until Peter can get a moment.
Even knowing it was coming, and even being as prepared as they could, it’s somehow still this storm that hits them, muted and chaotic all at once. There are forms to fill out, and arrangements to be put into place, and people to be told. Peter calls the funeral home and makes an appointment for someone to come out and see them tomorrow, and Talia calls the kids. They’re all away at different colleges, so the funeral will be on Thursday to give them a chance to get back.
“Well, I don’t know, Laura!” he hears Talia exclaim as she paces back and forth on the porch. “She seemed fine this morning! Well, not fine, but not… not this.”
Strange, how after all this waiting, it can still seem so sudden.
“I don’t know,” Talia says again.
Peter takes her phone off her. “Laura?”
Laura’s voice is blubbery with tears. “Uncle Peter? Was she getting worse? We could have come back for another visit if Mom had—”
“Stop,” Peter tells her. “Just stop, Lulu. This isn’t on your mother, okay? It was sudden. We had no idea it was this close.”
He spends a few more minutes talking her through her tears before he gives the phone back to Talia.
Talia’s eyes are red-rimmed, and she looks exhausted.
Everything about this is exhausting, and there’s still so much more to do.
Mom’s reading glasses are on the table on the porch, and Peter can’t bring himself to fold them up and put them back in their case. He goes inside instead, to the kitchen, and splashes water on his face.
James, Talia’s husband, cooks dinner for them.
Outside, in the dying sunlight of the late afternoon, gold and brown leaves float to the ground and Peter can’t bear to look at them.
Spaceboy: I’m so sorry, Peter. I wish I was smarter and I knew exactly what to say to you to make this easier for you. It hurts to know how much you’re hurting.
Peter makes it through the funeral, somehow. Probably because he knows that if he breaks down, he’ll take Cora with him. She holds his hand all the way through the short service, her fingers shaking against his. They keep each other from faltering, Peter supposes.
He feels numb, most of all.
He says all the right things to Mom’s friends and acquaintances, and smiles once or twice when an anecdote calls for it, but he doesn’t feel entirely present. Nothing feels quite real.
Some of Mom’s clothes are still in the laundry hamper, for fuck’s sake. How can she possibly be dead when her baggy blue pullover is still in the laundry hamper?
Derek flies out again on Friday morning, because he has to work on the weekend.
Laura and Cora fly out on Saturday, and the past few days feel like a strange fever dream. Were the kids even back? Did the funeral really happen? And Mom’s reading glasses are still on the table on the front porch. Maybe Talia and James haven’t noticed them, or maybe, like Peter, they don’t want to be the ones who put them away for the last time.
He hasn’t responded to Stiles’s texts over the last few days, even though they’ve gotten increasingly worried.
Spaceboy: Are you doing okay?
Spaceboy: Is there anything I can do to help?
Spaceboy: I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you and your family.
Spaceboy: I know you probably need your space right now, but please let me know you’re okay.
Spaceboy: Please just tell me you’re getting these messages.
Spaceboy: I’m worried about you.
Spaceboy: Peter, please answer me.
Read all at once they’re more dramatic than they seem. Read all at once they might seem needy, or even selfish—demanding of Peter’s attention at a time like this. But the texts have come spaced out over the five days since Mom’s death, and Peter knows Stiles. He knows that Stiles isn’t being needy and clingy, he’s concerned.
Stiles cares for Peter.
He cares too much, probably, Peter thinks, because there’s nothing keeping Peter in Beacon Hills now, is there? He could give his notice and see school through until the Thanksgiving break, or he could remember that he doesn’t give a fuck about his brief career as a high school teacher and quit right now. He could take a couple of days to help Talia clean out whatever of Mom’s stuff needs to go to Goodwill, and be back in his own apartment in Menlo Park by the end of next week.
A part of him wants that. He wants to go home, back to his regularly scheduled life. But he knows that even if he does, it’s not going to erase the fact that Mom is gone. It’s not going to erase the fact that Stiles is here, and that Stiles cares for him, and he cares for Stiles.
Peter knew, he supposed, that this stay in Beacon Hills would break his heart. He just didn’t expect it would find more than one way to do it.
On Saturday afternoon he helps himself to an unopened bottle of vodka from the back of the kitchen cabinet, and tells Talia and James that he’s going to spend the night at the cabin.
They have each other, and Peter… Peter just kind of wants to get drunk and angry with the universe for a while. He wants to cry and shout and punch a wall or two, and maybe work out some of this whatever that’s crawled under his skin and won’t let go of him.
He walks to the cabin, leaves crunching underfoot.
The golden woods surround him, but Peter takes no comfort in them today. Fall is a the perfect season to die, he thought once, long weeks ago, and now he hates it.
He gets to the cabin, cracks open the vodka, and drinks.
“Peter?” a voice says. “Peter? Get up, come on. Get up. You need a shower.”
Spaceboy, he thinks. Stiles.
“Whadya…” he slurs. “Here?”
“You haven’t been answering me, you asshole,” Stiles tells him, hauling him up off the floor of the cabin so fast that everything spins. “I figured I’d swing by here and see if you were okay. Which you’re clearly fucking not.”
“M’okay,” he manages, his guts roiling. He squints at the half a bottle of vodka on the coffee table. Okay, so some of it spilled, and maybe more than once, but that’s a lot of straight alcohol. “Gon’ throw up.”
He makes it to the bathroom somehow, Stiles supporting him, and goes down on his knees in front of the toilet.
Stays there for a while as his stomach empties itself over and over again, and Stiles rubs circles in his back.
“I miss her,” he says, and this time it’s a flood of tears he can’t hold back. “I wasn’t ready!”
He curls up into Stiles’s side on the bathroom floor and howls.
“Stay,” Peter says an hour or so later, fresh from the shower, a little more sober, wrung out and weary.
Stiles hesitates. “Yeah. Yeah, just let me text my dad and tell him I’m staying at a friend’s place or something.”
“He’s not working tonight?”
Stiles nods. “Yeah, and he’s already sent me like three texts asking where I am.”
“You should go then,” Peter says, but his voice is hollow. He doesn’t want Stiles to leave, and every cell in his body is screaming at him to stay. He knows he’s sure as shit not subtle about it either.
“It’s fine,” Stiles says at last, tugging his phone out of his pocket. “If he grounds me, he grounds me, right?”
There might be a hundred different protestations on the tip of Peter’s tongue, but he forgets every single one of them when Stiles takes him by the hand and leads him to the bed.
Peter climbs under the covers in his underwear.
Stiles fetches a large glass of water from the kitchen and sets it on the bedside table. “You should drink that before you go to sleep.”
“You’re the expert on ill-advised binge drinking, are you?” Peter murmurs. “You’re seventeen. Of course you are.”
“Not me,” Stiles says, not quite meeting Peter’s eyes. “My dad took it bad when my mom died. He looked a lot like you did, actually, although when I was eight I couldn’t get him off the floor.”
Peter jolts. “Stiles. Jesus. I’m so sorry.”
“You didn’t know,” Stiles says softly. “Just…” He chews his bottom lip for a moment. “Just don’t let it become a habit, you know? Because it’s a hard one to break.”
Peter nods, guilt stirring as much as nausea in his gut, and drinks his water.
“I’m sorry about your mom, Peter,” Stiles says at last, his voice soft. He shrugs his flannel shirt off, and throws it over the end of the bed. His undershirt is blue, the fabric worn and soft-looking. He crouches down to unlace his shoes, and then straightens up again to toe them off. His jeans go next, leaving him in his boxers. Plaid, of course.
Stiles reaches out and takes the empty glass from Peter, their fingers brushing. Then he pads barefoot over to the sink and sets the glass down.
He turns the lights out as he comes back to bed.
Peter closes his eyes briefly as Stiles settles beside him.
Stiles rolls toward him, setting his hand on Peter’s chest. “You’re going to have a hangover in the morning.”
“I think I have one now,” Peter murmurs.
“Do you want some more water?”
“No. I just want to sleep, with you here beside me.”
Stiles exhales, his breathe warm against Peter’s throat. “Yeah, that sounds like a plan.”
“Thank you,” Peter whispers into the darkness. “For picking me up off the floor.”
“That’s okay,” Stiles whispers back.
He shifts, and Peter feels the soft brush of his lips against his cheek.
He dozes off, his chest aching and his eyes still stinging.
A flash of light.
The crunch of tires against gravel.
“Shit!” Stiles’s knees thump against the floor as he falls out of bed.
Headlights, Peter thinks dumbly. Headlights arcing through the front windows of the cabin.
The realisation of what that means hits him a second later.
He flings the comforter off him and clambers to his feet.
“Shit!” Stiles exclaims again, diving for his jeans. “Oh, shit!”
Too late, Peter thinks, his heart freezing.
There’s another arc of light. This time the beam is from a flashlight pressed to the front window. There’s a looming shape of a man in the darkness behind it.
Peter is standing in the middle of the floor in just his underwear.
And Stiles is standing in front of him, in his boxers and his t-shirt, his jeans hanging from one hand.
Rap rap rap.
“Open this door,” a stern voice calls. “Now.”
Stiles is as frozen as Peter.
“Stiles! I can see you in there! Open the fucking door!”
There’s no comfort Peter can give him, is there? No reassurance.
Stiles crosses the floor and fumbles at the doorknob with a shaking hand. He turns the lock and tugs the door open.
“Dad,” he says, his voice tremulous. “Dad, listen, please—”
But the sheriff is pushing straight past him, straight toward Peter.
And Peter doesn’t even have time to flinch when he sees the man’s fist coming a fraction of a second before it connects with his jaw and Peter’s vision flares white with pain as his legs give out underneath him.
He hits the floor.
The sheriff isn’t in uniform, which is probably the only thing that saves Peter from getting shot right now. Or at least being cuffed and thrown in the back of a cruiser. Still, for a man wearing jeans and a faded pullover, he’s intimidating as hell. And no, he doesn’t need to be the sheriff to be that guy. He just needs to be exactly what he is: a father.
A father whose teenage son’s English teacher is sprawled on the floor in front him, wearing nothing but his underwear, with blood pissing out of his busted lip.
“Dad!” Stiles yells, grabbing his father by the wrist. “Dad, stop! We didn’t do anything! His mom just died!”
“You didn’t do anything,” Sheriff Stilinski repeats, his gaze cutting to Stiles. “Tonight, or ever?”
Stiles lifts his chin, defiant and terrified at the same time. “Tonight.”
Peter’s heart clenches.
“Jesus Christ!” The sheriff’s face is drawn. He stares down at Peter again. “You piece of shit.”
“Dad!” Stiles tugs on his father’s wrist again. “Stop it!”
“This is where you’ve been, huh?” the sheriff asks him. “All those times you’ve said you were at a friend’s place?”
“How did you find me?” Stiles asks, his voice hitching.
“That app thing,” the sheriff says, biting off the words. “That one that tracks your phone if you say it’s lost. You left your computer logged in, so I used it.”
“Fuck,” Stiles says on a breath. “Jesus fuck!”
“How long’s it been going on?” the sheriff demands.
“It doesn’t matter,” Stiles shoots back. “I wanted it! You know me, Dad! You know what I’m like when I want something!”
The sheriff jabs a finger in Peter’s direction. “Not like this. Jesus. Not something like this.”
He pulls away from Stiles, and rubs his hands down his face. Paces back and forth as though he can barely contain his rage.
Peter holds Stiles’s gaze for a moment, and then awkwardly climbs to his feet. He sits down heavily on the end of the bed and pulls the comforter over his lower body. Fuck knows where his jeans are. The bathroom still, probably. God, he’s going to have to do his perp walk in a purple comforter.
His jaw is hurting like hell, his lip is split, and his head is still ringing. He’s smart enough to know not to move a muscle though. Not while the sheriff is still bristling with rage. And Peter doesn’t blame him, not for one second. He knows exactly who the bad guy is here, and it’s not the sheriff. Not by a long shot. It’s the man who looked at Stiles and wanted with every fibre of his being.
The man who wanted so much that he reached out and took, and had no right to do it.
Stiles draws in a deep, shuddering breath. “Dad, please. Nothing happened that I didn’t want to happen.”
The sheriff rounds on him. “What happened, Stiles, is that this man is a teacher who slept with his underage student!”
“What are you going to do about it?” Stiles asks quietly. “Are you going to arrest him? Make me testify against him? Because I won’t.”
“Yeah, well you won’t have to,” the sheriff says. “Not with what I saw here tonight.”
Stiles’s gaze darts to Peter and back to the sheriff again. “Okay,” he says at last. “Just so long as you know, if you do that, if you arrest Peter, you won’t see me again.”
The sheriff shakes his head. “Stiles—”
“I mean it, Dad,” Stiles says, and swallows. “I’ll turn eighteen, and then I’ll go, and I won’t come back.”
The sheriff stares at Stiles, his expression stricken.
Peter’s chest aches, and he thinks of the man who sat across from him on parent teacher night, expecting to hear another teacher tell him how unruly his kid was, how awkward and difficult and different he was. He thinks of the man who looked so grateful when Peter told him Stiles was a delight to teach. He thinks of the way the man’s mouth quirked when he said, “Well, he’s pretty amazing now. I’m just not used to his teachers seeing it.”
And then he thinks of Stiles. Of that little boy, full of fierce, protective love, who tried to get his drunken dad up off the floor.
Peter can’t ruin their relationship. He can’t be the thing that comes between them, when nothing else could. He can’t. He clears his throat. “Stiles…”
“You shut up,” the sheriff says, pointing a finger at him but not breaking Stiles’s gaze. His voice is rough, ragged at the edges. “Just shut the fuck up.”
“I mean it, Dad,” Stiles says. “I mean it. I’ll go, and you won’t see me again.”
The sheriff’s lower lip trembles. “Stiles.”
“You know me,” Stiles repeats. “You know me, Dad.”
The sheriff stares at him.
“He’s leaving anyway,” Stiles says. “Just let him go, Dad, please.”
The sheriff cuts his gaze to Peter. His hands clench as his side, like he wants nothing more than to drive his fist into Peter’s aching jaw again. “I want you gone,” he says. “I don’t want you to ever step foot in another high school again. And I want you the hell out of my town. If you’re still here in three days, I’m arresting you. Understood?”
Peter can’t even look at Stiles.
“Understood,” he rasps.
“Get dressed, Stiles,” Dad says. “We’re leaving.”
Peter looks away as Stiles tugs his clothes on, his movements jerky, his hands shaking and fumbling. When he looks up again, there are tears slipping down Stiles’s cheeks, and Peter wants to hold him.
To hold him and comfort him like Stiles did for him last night.
To never let him go.
The sheriff puts a hand on Stiles’s shoulder and leads him to the door.
Stiles turns his head and stares at Peter as he goes, and Peter sits and watches, silent, his heart breaking again.
Spaceboy: I’m so sorry, Peter. I didn’t want to end it like that. Who am I kidding? I didn’t want it to end. So Dad’s gonna start checking my phone and stuff, so I’m going to have to delete everything.
Spaceboy: I’m sorry.
Spaceboy: I’m really going to miss you. I love you.
Peter: I love you too, sweetheart. [Not delivered.]
Peter drags himself back to the house in the middle of the night, unable to bear staying in the cabin. He lets himself in with his key, and cleans up his face in the downstairs bathroom. His bottom lip is swollen and busted. He’s not aware until he straightens up to look in the mirror that there’s someone standing behind him.
“Jesus!” he exclaims.
Talia peers at him sleepily, tugging her dressing gown tighter around herself. “What the hell happened to your face?”
“I drank a bottle of vodka,” Peter tells her. “And then I fell down.”
She sighs, and moves into the bathroom. She rips a bundle of toilet paper off the roll and wet it in the sink. Dabs at his face. “God. Why would you do that?”
“Well, I didn’t mean to,” he says.
It’s gotten so easy to lie lately. He’s here thrumming with nerves, waiting for an authoritative knock on the door that will announce the sheriff has changed his mind, and Talia doesn’t suspect a damn thing.
Peter was always a good liar, he supposes, but all the lies he’s ever told pale into insignificance when it comes to those he’s told about Stiles.
“You look like you’ve had a rough night,” she says at last.
Like she couldn’t even imagine.
“Go on up to bed,” she says.
He nods, swallowing.
Her expression softens. “It’s been a rough few days on everyone, but we’ll get through it.”
“Yeah,” he murmurs. “Of course we will.”
When he treads upstairs to his bedroom, he can’t sleep.
Peter: I love you. I love you. I love you, sweetheart, and I should have told you a thousand times. [Not delivered.]
In the morning, Talia is quietly baffled by Peter’s sudden urge to leave Beacon Hills.
“You’re not even going to see the semester out?” she asks him. “What about your students?”
“I’ve put my life on hold long enough,” Peter says with a forced smile. Mom would have seen through him in a heartbeat, but Talia and he have never been that close. “The school can find another substitute.”
Talia’s brow creases. “Well, if you’re sure.”
“And honestly, you and James have put up with me for long enough,” Peter says. “We can go through Mom’s things now, if you’re up for it.”
“It’s only her clothes, really,” Talia says, blinking away fresh tears. “Everything else she was pretty clear about. There’s, ah, there’s her books. She said you should get first pick of those. Other than that it’s mostly knickknacks. Oh, and Dad’s wedding ring. She wanted you to have that. It’s with her jewellery, I think.”
By Sunday afternoon Peter is packed and ready to leave.
He thinks of the school, and the halls that smell of bleach and a thousand different brands of whatever awful body sprays teenagers douse themselves in. He thinks of that confessional wall behind the library, and of the words Stiles wrote on it.
I have a crush on Dr. Hale.
He thinks of the words he wrote underneath, that day he saw Stiles dancing in the hallway.
If I fall moondust will cover me.
Moondust will cover me.
Eighteen words in total, that led him to this moment.
He thinks of his students, Danny and Lydia and Maria, and how smart they are, and how he’ll miss them. He thinks of Marin and Jennifer and even Finstock, and wonders what they’ll think of him for leaving so suddenly. As long as it’s not the truth, he supposes. It’s not the way he wanted things to end with Stiles, but Peter’s smart enough to know that a quick exit like this is more than he deserves.
He loads his suitcases into his car, farewells Talia and James, and drives away from the house.
Leaves fall like slow confetti as he follows the winding road out of the Preserve.
Peter drives through town one last time.
Beacon Hills is a small town, unremarkable perhaps except for one very singular boy.
One very singular boy who was like a light in the darkness. Who was so very alive, brimming with it, when everything else died slowly.
One very singular boy whose relationship with his father Peter might have destroyed.
Peter thinks of him most of all, and regret settles heavily in his chest.
Peter overnights in a nondescript highway motel, and reaches Menlo Park on mid-afternoon on Monday. He manages to beat the worst of the traffic, which isn’t saying a lot, and when he pulls into his parking space at his apartment building he sits in his car for a long while before he can get out.
He’s home, and it’s over.
It’s over, and he’s already missing the spaces that Stiles’s absence has left in him. Already missing that bright smile, those wide, expressive eyes, that frenetic energy that hummed around him like electricity, and the way he kissed as though he was pouring his soul into every moment.
He won’t ever have someone like that again, Peter thinks.
He shouldn’t have had him in the first place, but lightning like Stiles only strikes once.
He climbs the steps to his apartment, unlocks the door, and breathes in the stale air.
He’s home, and his surroundings are both familiar and strange, as though he’s stepped into a mirror universe where things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.
He unpacks his suitcases, sets his father’s wedding ring on top of his beside dresser, sets his mother’s reading glasses down beside them, and then goes into his living room and sits and waits to fall into sync with the universe again.
The afternoon draws out slowly into dusk.
Peter finds himself at somewhat of a loose end, since he’s still on a sabbatical from his position at Stanford. The money from Mom’s estate means he doesn’t have to worry about paying the rent, and so he finds himself spending more and more time working on his novel. He loves it and hates it in equal measure; there are days when he thinks he’s stumbled on the secret code to unlocking his inner literary genius, and days he can’t string a sentence together.
It passes the time, at least, and Stiles’s loss feeds Peter’s muse. If his muse manifests in descriptions of a long-limbed boy with eyes the color of dark honey and skin as pale as moondust, then what of it? It puts words on the page, and Peter is the first to admit that they’re some of his better words.
The novel is still unfinished, and pretty terrible, when it’s time for Peter to return to Stanford. He’s been anxious about it for weeks, but doesn’t pinpoint the reason until he spends that first day staring at lecture halls full of wide-eyed freshman, hoping to see a familiar face. It’s not until he feels the weight of his loss, wrapped in disappointment, that he realises what he’d been hoping for: a reunion. But of course Stiles isn’t at Stanford. Why would he be? There are thousands of colleges in the country, and Stiles’s GPA would have opened the doors at any of them.
Still, Peter is disappointed. He wasn’t even aware he’d been holding any hope at all inside him until it was dashed again.
It was a quiet loss though, and Peter bears it. If the past few months have taught him anything at all, it’s that the world doesn’t stop turning because of heartbreak. Not Peter’s, not Stiles’s, and not the strangers that Peter passes everyday in the streets. There isn’t a single one of them, Peter supposes, who couldn’t use some more happiness in their lives.
He teaches, and he works on his novel.
On Wednesday of his first week back, Peter has his first office hours. He hasn’t given out any work yet, but there are usually a few panicky freshmen who’ve worked up the courage to come and see him, or possibly a sophomore who wants some advice on the direction they ought to be taking, or some post-grads dropping by to catch up. So Peter’s not entirely surprised to see someone lingering outside his office when he rounds the corner.
And then the lanky young man turns, and smiles hesitantly, and Peter’s breath catches in his throat.
Here he is, awkward, beautiful, hopeful and nervous, a flush rising on his pale skin the longer Peter just stands and stares, and it’s so unexpected that Peter can hardly suck in a breath.
“Stiles,” he chokes out at last, closing the space between them on shaky steps. “You… you’re here.”
Stiles swallows. “Is that okay?”
“But you…” Peter lifts an unsteady hand to touch his face—and then thinks better of it. They’re in the hallway. “Are you at school here?”
“No.” Stiles bites his lower lip. “I’m at Berkley.”
Not a student here. Not one of Peter’s students, and not a Stanford undergraduate. Peter is enough of an egotist to wonder if he factored into Stiles’s choice of colleges, or, more precisely, if Stanford’s policy regarding relationships between staff and undergraduates did.
Then again, his ego might be getting ahead of itself. This might not be a reunion. This might be closure.
“Um, I’m doing a BA,” Stiles says. “I’m going to major in Cognitive Science.”
“Of course you are,” Peter tells him. “Because you’re brilliant.”
Stiles’s flush deepens.
“Do you…” Peter unlocks his office door. “Do you want to come in?”
“Yes,” Stiles says, and Peter knows that this is no farewell after all. Stiles’s eyes shine with tears, and he smiles. “Oh god, yes.”
“I missed you,” Stiles tells him between kisses. “God, Peter, I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too, sweetheart,” Peter tells him. “I love you.”
“Love you,” Stiles echoes back. “Love you so much.”
And just like that the universe clicks back into place.
Stiles fits easily into the spaces in Peter’s life. Peter loves nothing more than to wake up and find Stiles still sprawled in his bed, his clothes strewn across the floor, his books and papers scattered throughout the living room, his god awful energy drinks taking up room in Peter’s refrigerator, and his battered old Jeep parked downstairs in the space next to Peter’s.
There are obstacles, of course. Peter’s hardly likely to be invited to Christmas at the Stilinski household any time soon, but that’s fine. It might take a lifetime to convince John Stilinski that Peter truly loves his son, but Peter’s not going anywhere.
When Peter’s family found out because Cora visited, Stiles blithely lied and said that yes, he’d met Peter first as his teacher back in Beacon Hills, then they’d run into one another here. Crazy small world, right?
Peter worries sometimes about the age gap. Not because Stiles isn’t perfect for him, but because what if he’s depriving Stiles of life experience by confining him in a relationship from the time he’s eighteen? Stiles tells him he’s an idiot.
Peter’s not sure that hearing those words from anyone else would make him so stupidly happy. His concerns remain, he supposes, but he trusts Stiles to know his own mind. He speaks it often enough.
“Hey,” Stiles says one evening as he’s sitting on the floor watching TV. “Did you know Sarah from 3B thinks you’re my sugar daddy?”
“Well,” Peter says from the couch, “I did buy that kung pao chicken you’re eating.”
“I love this chicken,” Stiles says. “I would marry this chicken. But it’s hardly caviar, is it? Be a better sugar daddy.”
“Shut up and eat your chicken,” Peter tells him. “Then I can take you into our bedroom and show you who’s daddy.”
Stiles throws his head back and laughs. Then he composes himself, more or less, and bites his bottom lip. Makes his eyes big and his voice all breathy. “Oh, oh daddy.”
The smartass comeback Peter had at the ready dies on the tip of his tongue.
Stiles snorts and picks up his takeout container. “Okay, so we’re filing that away for future reference, and also exploration. But, just so you know, the tables will turn, Peter. The tables will turn!”
“How so?” Peter asks.
“Because right now I’m a poverty stricken undergraduate,” Stiles says. “But in ten years I’ll be working at the cutting edge of AI development and raking in the big money, and you’ll still be teaching Coleridge to freshman.”
“Point,” Peter says, and doesn’t doubt it for a moment. Stiles’s ambition is thoroughly backed up by his intelligence. “Will you buy me caviar then, Stiles?”
“Oh course I will, baby,” Stiles says with a wink. “But only if you call me daddy when I do.”
Peter swoops down and kisses him. “I think that can be arranged, sweetheart.”
Peter comes home late one Friday to find Stiles lying asleep on the living room couch. He’s wearing a pair of boxer briefs and nothing else. The curtains are open, and the moonlight falls over him, painting his pale skin silver. Pages litter the floor around him, and Peter recognises them as latest draft of his novel, printed out and already scrawled over everywhere in red pen.
He sets his messenger bag down and takes his shoes off. He wonders if Stiles has eaten already, and goes to the kitchen to check the refrigerator. There are no new takeout containers, and the steaks Peter left to marinate this morning haven’t been touched. Peter figures that Stiles did his usual ‘I’m just closing my eyes for a moment’ hours ago, and has slept right through dinner time.
Peter pulls the steaks out and sets them on the counter. He’ll cook them soon.
He pads into the living room again, and…
Stands and looks at Stiles, covered in moondust, and knows he’s the luckiest man alive.
He moves forward quietly, and leans over the couch. He presses his lips to Stiles’s forehead.
Stiles murmurs something sleepily, but doesn’t wake.
Peter kisses him again, and goes into the kitchen to start dinner.
It’s the steaks sizzling in the pan that wakes Stiles, he figures, or the smell of them cooking. He leans back when Stiles embraces him from behind.
“Did you have a good nap, sweetheart?”
“Mmm.” Stiles puts his chin on Peter’s shoulder. “Smells good.”
“And thus the slumbering beast awakes.”
He feels the curve of Stiles’s smile against his neck. “I read your novel.”
Peter reaches for the pepper. “You really shouldn’t. It’s complete dreck.”
“I love it.”
It’s a fable, Peter supposes. A modern fable about a star who falls to earth, and takes the shape of a boy. It’s about how he trails moondust wherever he goes, and brings magic into the lives of the people he touches.
It’s about a spaceboy.
“It has a happy ending,” Stiles says.
Peter turns in his embrace, and cups his face with his hand. “Someone very clever once told me that more books should have happy endings.”
“Smart guy,” Stiles says with a smile.
“Smart,” Peter agrees. “As well as loving, brave, vibrant, and beautiful.”
“Huh.” Stiles’s smile turns cheeky. “I wonder what he saw in you.”
“Now that, I suppose,” Peter says, slapping Stiles on the ass gently, “will forever remain a mystery.”
Stiles threads his fingers in Peter’s hair. Holds his gaze. “It’s not mystery at all, Peter. I love you.”
Happy endings are all well and good in novels, Peter knows, but in real life sometimes happiness isn’t an end at all. Instead happiness is a new beginning, over and over again.
He leans in to kiss Stiles. “I love you too, spaceboy.”
And moondust covers them.