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Bone Dragons

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The first time Stiles learned about necromancy, he was 6.  He was sprawled on the floor at his mom’s feet, trying to tape a mini flashlight to his stegosaurus’ back plates.    His mother watched him like she always did, just enough attention to make him feel like his game was important, too, like every decision he made mattered.  It was a Wednesday, maybe, or Saturday—she was home and dad wasn’t, and she had her notebook in her lap, planning out adventures for the D&D game she had going with Heather’s mother.  They had played together for years; the rest of the group changed around them, but they’d been the core of it since college.  Because he loved her, John had done it twice, but it wasn’t his scene—he got more out of hearing her talk about it later, hearing her laugh in the middle of a story.

Because he was 6, and very determined he was big, Stiles’ mom let him finish struggling with the light and the duct tape before she lay down on the couch, hanging partly over the side to put her face on his level.  If Stiles closed his eyes, even years later, he could still see her smile.  They smiled in the same way; his father had told him, and he’d believed—he could see it for himself looking back at old pictures, but his memory somehow seemed to hold it best, in a way that film couldn’t.  His memory held the atmosphere, how it felt to have her direct that joy at him, for no other reason than because he was hers. 

That afternoon, he might have reminded her of herself.  He liked to think they had been more the same than he knew.  He liked to think she would have understood, about Peter. 

The memory was still so strong, even with the haze of distance.  He had been so happy to see her putting her own work down, and joining him.  Finished, he had held out his work to show her, his fingers sticky from the tape. 

“Is he going into the dark by himself?” she said, nodding towards the dinosaur in his hand.  The duct tape was haphazard, wrapped around his middle.  The flashlight was crooked. 

Stiles nodded with a gravity he could feel even in the memory; he could remember how it felt to take a game that seriously.  “He has to go under the couch.  There might be monsters.”

His mom’s eyes widened, gaze flickering down below her before she whispered, conspiratorial.  “Under this couch?  You think so?”  At his nod, she didn’t look surprised.  “You know, I thought I heard something last night when your dad was watching TV.  Orville should be careful.” 

It didn’t matter how strangely he named his toys; she never forgot a name.  Not ever, not until she started forgetting his. 

“There’s no one to go with him, but he’s brave,”  Stiles said.  His fingers trailed over the edges of the tape, repeated the motion so many times he could feel it start to curl.  “He can do it.  He has to tell his friends what’s out there.”

“What about Scar?”  She nodded toward the lion lying on his side on the carpet, under the shadow of the nearby coffee table. 

Impatient, Stiles fiddled with the flashlight, turning it on and off to feel the click of the button.  “He’s dead, mom, remember?  They fought like an hour ago; Orville killed him for trying to take over the world.” 

It was, in reality, probably 15 minutes before.  When he was a kid, time had never felt real.  Sometimes it still didn’t. 

“That doesn’t mean he can’t go with him—not if Orville knows magic.”

“But if he brings him back, they’ll just fight again.  They aren’t friends.”

“I’m not talking about bringing Scar back from the dead.”  She tapped her notebook, her eyes warm and bright.  She had always loved sharing with him, telling him a new story he’d never heard before.  “A necromancer doesn’t bring back the dead.  They bring back something else—what that something else is depends on what kind of story you’re telling, and what you believe.  Sometimes, they bring back a monster—but I like it better when they bring back a friend.”

When he took Orville under the couch to search for the monster, his mom got on the floor with him, a version of Scar who wasn’t Scar held in her hand.

For all the games he played from there on out, Scar was never old Scar again.  He had fallen, and risen as something else, and Stiles would carry forever the concept that in a world with magic, life could be created without birth, transmuted from elements that had started to crumble.  What was born may be better or it may be worse, but it would always be different. 

There was no resurrection; a skeleton animated wasn’t like a phoenix from the ashes, but it was alive.  Life mattered, even when the form had changed. 

-----

When he was a little older—7, maybe—his mother would let him sit on her lap at the computer desk even though he was getting big to be held easily like that, even though he wouldn’t sit still, and they’d play Heroes of Might and Magic together. 

There were warlocks and sorcerers, but when it was his turn to pick, Stiles was always a necromancer, expanding outward from a city with a castle made of bones, perpetual lightning in the sky overhead. 

He had shambling skeletons, shuffling zombies, and his pride and joy—bone dragons, their wings able to spread wide and carry them despite the laws of physics.  They were held up not by membrane and muscle, but magic and belief.  There was, for Stiles, more glory and wonder in that than a unicorn—a unicorn was at the end of the day still an animal; a unicorn could have existed without magic.  He had, in fact, argued that very point using narwhals and rhinos to his second grade teacher, though she hadn’t been overly impressed.  She had, instead, sent home a note explaining to his parents yet again that when she assigned a project, she expected the rules of the assignment to be followed, rather than glanced at.

His dad had argued that technically, Stiles had described an animal and its ideal habitat.  Technically.

A bone dragon, in contrast, would have had no ideal habitat without magic, without someone with power and cleverness to bring them to life.  They were wholly a creature of magic, infused with it and dependent on it, full of wonder.  Each game he played he would raise an army of them, and for a while there was a picture on the fridge he and his mom had drawn together of Stiles in a red cloak, the friends he’d conjured and given life to circling around him.

If he’d had worse parents, they might have worried that he was going bad; might have muttered darkly to each other and the school counselor that he was too interested in dark imagery.  Of course, if he’d had parents with those sorts of concerns, he wouldn’t have been introduced to fantasy at a young age. 

If they worried about his fascination once, they never showed it.  Stiles wasn’t interested in raising an army of the dead to take over the world.  He just wanted improbable, impossible friends, loyal and strong.  He would give them life where there had been no hope for it, and they would keep him and his family safe.  They would let him and Scott ride on their shoulders; they would breathe fire or water or bubbles if he wanted them to; their power would be as much or as little as he gave them, but he would give them freedom, too, like Aladdin had done for Genie.   They would have everything he could give them, down to the power of free will, and would stay with him only because they wanted to. 

What could be better than being chosen?

Two years later, his mom started to forget how to use the computer. How to tie her shoes, how to put peanut butter on a sandwich.  Eventually, she forgot she had a son at all.

Stiles put Heroes of Might and Magic away not long after she died.  It was years before he could bear to touch it again.  The disc sat in its original box in his closet, closed up, gathering dust. 

-----

Even with a host of memories in his head it hurt to touch, Stiles couldn’t leave fantasy behind, not entirely, not when she had loved it so much, and taught him to love it, too.  He didn’t play straight up D&D, but he did join a roleplay website when he was 13, exploring the internet and falling into corners and down rabbit holes.  His first character was a knight, just to try it out, but he never felt like the armor or the heavy weapons suited him.

His second was a necromancer.  He rode a skeletal horse he named Wisteria, and travelled with a reanimated skeleton at his side.  When he had lived he had been an orc guard never listed by name.  He was hostile—worse, he was non-descript.  In the life granted to his bones after death, the individual he became was Stiles constant companion.  Their bond was unbreakable, and though Rigel had initially been tied to him by the spell used to raise him, that wore off quickly.  The other message board participants said he stayed because Stiles charisma check kept him there—and that was true in a way, but Stiles maintained that he wanted to stay, too.  The more Rigel grew and developed his own personality, separate from Stiles character, the more that seemed accurate. 

Sure, Sties was writing for both of them, but he could be objective enough to make them different; he could have separated the two of them if it made sense.  Instead, they robbed from mages who preyed on people who could barely afford their services, and took down guards who abused their positions.  They were a force in the world for fairness and balance and little chaos, and it was fun for a couple years at night in between assignments or times when Scott was too busy. 

When his life became a fantasy, there wasn’t much time for it anymore.  It was just as well.  He was tired of people complaining he wasn’t playing a necromancer right, anyway. 

-----

The first time after Scott got bit that Stiles had enough room to breathe to spare time for wondering about the practical applications of necromancy, he and Lydia were in the preserve picking wild daisies.  Deaton had asked for as many taken from Hale land as they could gather—given that they both were still scrambling to understand much of what they’d been thrust into, they were gathering like their life might depend on it next month, just in case it did. 

It was the petals between his fingers, maybe, or his mind catching on how Peter had been at the meetings they’d had lately, his tongue still wicked sharp though his support seemed solidly behind Derek, his focus on protecting the pack, and rebuilding the Hale house.

If Stiles didn’t know for absolute fact that he’d tried to kill them in the school just a few months ago, he’d have had a hard time believing they were the same person—and it was that thought, really, that gave him pause. 

The grass was thigh high, blades of it inches from his face where he’d bent to pull a stalk of daisies up from the root.  “Lydia?”

She hummed, her back still to him, snipping the heads of flowers neatly into a change purse. 

“When you helped bring Peter back, did you feel any kind of—like a connection to him?  Something tying him to you?”

“You think I’m controlling Peter?”

“No, I’m just saying—“

“Because if I was controlling Peter, he wouldn’t have been such an asshole last week, and he wouldn’t be fighting with Jackson every chance he gets—“

Stiles yanked the plant and stood up, dirt spraying around to ping off the tops of his shoes and down into the brush.  “I’m not saying you’re controlling him!  It’s just that that type of magic, when you bring someone back…there’s not always an element of control, but there’s usually a bond.  Sometimes they even need that; a tether to humanity to help keep them here, or keep them from changing into something else.”

Lydia’s back straightened; he could feel her tension in the air.  When she spoke again it was lower, softer, and still carrying.  “Is he going to try to kill us all again if I don’t…bond with him?” 

“No!  No, I mean—I don’t think so, but you’re the one that did the spell.  I mean if this were—if this magic worked anything like I would think it would, there’d be something there between the two of you.  You’d feel the connection, but you don’t,”  Stiles said, the truth of it settling in easier now that he’d said it out loud.  If there was a connection between Peter and Lydia, Peter wouldn’t be the only one to feel it.  She was clever; she was helping Jackson, and feeling out the very edges of her own mysteries. 

She would have known, on some level, without Stiles ever saying a thing. 

“Is it a bad thing that I don’t?”

Honestly, he didn’t know, but the knowledge didn’t sit like a weight in his chest.  If anything, he felt lighter, but he wasn’t ready to examine that. 

Stiles knocked his daises against his thigh, scattering a few more clods of dirt from the roots.  “No, no I don’t think it is.  I think he’s fine.  I think he’s better than he has been in a long time, but I’ll keep an eye on him.” 

It was exactly what he intended to do, and it could have ended badly.  So much they did could have ended badly, but when Stiles’ heart skipped in telling her his plans, he wasn’t dwelling on any possible future disaster. 

His mind, instead, had bounced back to last December, to the parking garage and Peter’s hand on his wrist and his steady deliberation. 

Do you know what I heard just then?  Your heart beating slightly faster over the words, "I don't want."

------

Stiles didn’t set out to spend time with Peter to become his anchor; that was never the plan—at least, if it was, it wasn’t a conscious thought he allowed himself to have.  He hadn’t been able to help but wonder, though, if Lydia had missed a chance to set a bond with him that would last, couldn’t help but wonder on the heels of those thoughts why the hell he was so curious. 

It wasn’t just that Scott feared and hated him; it wasn’t just that Derek respected him.  Derek had said something to Stiles one morning near the beginning of the summer that had stuck with him, turned over and over in his mind like a key to a door he couldn’t place.

What happened before—something wasn’t right, with him.  He’s always been difficult, but he wasn’t insane.  I think he’s better now.  He acts more like I remember.

What was a coma, but a form of near death?  In healing him from such extensive wounds, it wasn’t impossible that he couldn’t come back together quite right—it wasn’t impossible that his nurse who’d known more than she should have hadn’t done something to ease him along in the wrong direction. 

In a sense, Peter had died at that house, come back to life in a hospital, and died again in his own front yard.  This new life that he had was different, given to him by Derek, and Lydia—born, essentially, of the efforts of two of his pack members, however unwittingly.  They had made this Peter; he was theirs. 

If the principles of no one coming back exactly the same could be applied to real magic in the way they were to type of magic Stiles had studied all his life, then they had in their hands a new man who needed an anchor.  With Derek still looking to Peter for advice and spending most of his time with the wolves he’d brought into his family through the bite, and Lydia absorbed both in anchoring Jackson and applying her fervor for learning to Argent’s bestiary, neither one of them seemed to have time to devote to cementing any kind of extra bond with Peter. 

If Stiles hadn’t been so goddamn lonely that summer, it might have all ended differently.  His theory was, after all, only a theory; Peter might not have needed to anchor himself on anything or anyone but the pack.  They might have all been fine, or he might have flown off the rails and gone crazy again and tried to kill Derek. 

There was no way to know, in this world, what might have been—only that once he started spending time with Peter Hale with the vague thought in mind that they had to look after this new Peter they’d created, he stopped caring about any world where he’d made different choices. 

Scott was with Allison; Lydia was with Jackson.  Derek had stepped up, and was teaching his pack how to be wolves. 

Half noticed by all of them, Stiles spent his summer resurrecting the rest of Peter. 

------

Though there might have been smaller warning signs lost in hours of time spent and killed together in the early days of summer, the first time the situation with Peter went a little strange that Stiles could remember, it was well into June.  They were working with Deaton, stripping honeysuckle for the drop of nectar.  He needed enough of it to fill a vial, and the air on the table was filled with the scent of flowers, the conversation flowing easy between the six of them at the table.

It was strange to think that this time last year he’d barely known Erica and Boyd; he’d hated Jackson.  Lydia hadn’t spoken to him.  And Peter…

This time last year, Peter was catatonic and burned, and now, he was sitting in the sunlight, sipping beer he’d bought for them without caring that they were too young to drink it, bantering back and forth with Erica about her new shoes. 

“—all I’m saying is they’re impractical, even for a werewolf.  Just because you can run in them doesn’t mean you should.  It’s fine for special occasions, but during training?  Derek has a point; you need to dress appropriately.”

“It wasn’t training.  I was going to see my cousin in San Francisco but he’s so fucking paranoid—“ 

“Ah, that’s different,” Peter interrupted, his fingers giving a deft twist to the flower between them.  It split at the base, a bead of nectar welling.  “If you’ll be out of his sight, he’s going to worry.  He’s still getting the hang of this, and you are still a pup—don’t look at me like that, you are and you know it.  He wants you safe, and I’d rather you weren’t out there being a liability.  You can’t be the face of the pack to San Francisco if you aren’t ready to defend yourself, not with the current version of our pack so new.”

Peter’s focus had slipped too far onto his words, veering off from the work of his hands—the drop from the latest flower brushed his knuckle.  Lydia’s eyes caught it, too; Stiles could see her watching—and maybe that had something to do with what happened. 

It was the knowledge that she was watching Peter, too, or the beers they’d had; it was something, because before Stiles could stop himself, he’d reached out and caught Peter’s wrist, and licked the nectar off his knuckles. 

Everyone fell silent; Stiles could feel Peter’s eyes on him like a physical press.  His eyebrows were almost as high as Derek’s could be, and Stiles could feel his cheeks heating up.  It was the beer; it had to be. 

“You touched it; it couldn’t go in the vial—it’s stupid to waste it.”

“Usually, it’s polite to ask before you lick someone,”  Peter said.  He was still watching Stiles, still studying. 

Stiles’ neck was on fire.  He smoothed his thumb across the petals of the flower he had, distracting himself with the silk-like crush of it.  “Yeah, well, usually it’s polite to ask before you bite someone, too.”

“Usually, I do.  You—“

You would know; he had to be on the verge of saying it, but Stiles didn’t let him.  Instead, he spoke louder.  “You’re at 2 out of 3 for not asking so I’m not sure usually is a word you should be using, there, buddy.”

Enough of them laughed that the moment broke, but Stiles didn’t kid himself that it was forgotten—he couldn’t, not when he could feel Peter and Lydia still watching him, the flicker of her gaze light and curious.

Peter's glances were less tentative, but they fell across him like the brush of fingers up his spine, careful and sure.

------

On the 4th of July Stiles and Peter took shots of tequila on an old rusted glider propped up on paving stones, poured out of a bottle with a skeleton on the label into a single shot they passed back and forth.  There were no limes, but they had salt packets left over in the fast food bags that had held the pack’s dinner.  Peter rolled his eyes when Stiles brought it up, but he laughed when Stiles went through with it, sucking the webbing between his thumb and his palm first before dumping the salt on it.

Out of the corner of his eye, Stiles was almost sure Peter’s eyes went dark while he watched, almost sure he caught a flash of blue, but firelight and shadows could play tricks with light, and he was drunk.  It was nothing; it had to be nothing.  They were bonding, sure, and he got the idea that over the last few weeks Peter had come to genuinely enjoy his snark and maybe even his company in general.  But there was bonding and there was bonding, and he was sure he didn’t have a chance at the latter—though he couldn’t say he hadn’t thought about it, just a little. 

Even if no one else had noticed, Stiles hadn’t failed to see the way Peter had looked at Chris Argent back in the warehouse while the eyes of the pack were on Jackson, or the way Chris had looked back when Peter was too busy helping Derek to see.  The thought had crossed his mind at the beginning of the summer that even more than Lydia or Derek, if Stiles could have dared to ask him, it should have been Chris anchoring Peter.  The bond might have been stronger, or more stable—but Stiles had had that thought, and pushed it aside.  Argent was busy taking care of his daughter and forming an identity for himself not wholly defined by his family’s complicated legacy.  Stiles wasn’t busy.  He had a summer with plenty of time for a wayward werewolf.

If his own loneliness had something to do with it, too…well.  To notice that, Scott would have to surface from his own situation with Allison and summer school and work long enough to get a good grip on Stiles’ situation for himself.  That wasn’t likely to happen any time soon, and no one else seemed likely to notice.  No one but Peter.    

Still, whatever it had been between Peter and Chris, Stiles had seen something, and he couldn’t dismiss it.  Everyone else might be too blind to catch it, or too wrapped up in their own concerns, but Stiles was neither.  Even if Peter was looking at him a little now, Stiles wasn’t the one he had his eye on, not really.  There was history, there, between him and Argent—enough of it to make Argent go so pale at seeing Peter whole and unburned and seemingly sane that he would have looked more substantial as a ghost. 

Enough that Stiles dared to ask Peter at the edge of the 4th of July bonfire they were invited outcasts at, the heat barely reaching them to lick here and there at their bare arms with the breeze.  He doubted Peter minded the distance. 

“So you and Allison’s dad—“  Stiles said, stopping himself before Peter could interrupt when he saw his flagging attention snap back to Stiles. 

The flare of blue that flashed snapshot quick in his eyes was no trick of the light, too full and bright.  “I’d ask who told you, but I doubt Gerard would own up to that particular failing, even if he ever figured it out—and I’m not sure he did.   Besides, assuming you couldn’t figure it out on your own would be an insult.  You’re clever; you pay attention.”

“I mean, it wasn’t hard.”  Sober, Stiles might have been a little less blunt.  “You were there helping Derek, and you saw him with Allison, and you looked—I mean you couldn’t have been that shocked he was there, right?  It didn’t fit.  And he looked at you like he’d seen a ghost, but it was more than that; it wasn’t just shock it was—he looked at you like it wasn’t terrifying that you were back from the dead.  No offense.”

“None taken,” Peter said.  He took the tequila, and drank from the bottle, a draught so long Stiles pawed at his hand.

“Would you save some for the person who can actually feel it?”

“I haven’t tried with honest conviction to get drunk since I came back.  It’s worth a shot.”  Whether he’d intended the pun or not Stiles groaned, though his throat closed when he saw Peter lick at his own hand.  He didn’t bother with the salt, just lapped then sucked straight at his skin unadorned—slow, like he knew Stiles was watching, or like he wanted him to.  With Peter, he’d started to learn there was rarely one motive, his actions riddled with undercurrents.    “Can’t say I’m feeling anything yet.”

“Well I am, so gimme.”  Stiles took the bottle back, and poured another shot for himself.  The stream of alcohol for a moment spilled onto his fingers, his own incoordination corrected quick by Peter’s hand on the end of the bottle, readjusting the angle. 

After the shot, he was on the verge of asking again when Allison’s laughter carried from across the fire, and Peter answered unprompted, so quiet Stiles could hardly hear him even though they were pressed side by side. 

“You can’t say anything to Allison; he wouldn’t want her to know.”

“That he’s gay or that he fucked a werewolf?  If he thinks she’d be pissed—“

“Stiles.”  Peter’s hand caught his wrist, the barest prick of nails breaking the skin. 

Stiles should have yanked against the pressure, maybe, but he was a lot drunk, and a little accustomed to Peter.  He didn’t fear him like he once had—though there was a voice at the back of his mind that niggled at him with the reminder that really, honestly, he hadn’t feared him that much before, either.  Not every time he should have. 

“Trust me, he doesn’t want her to know, and I’m not going to be the reason she finds out; do you understand?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I understand,” Stiles said.  How his heartbeat was he wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t lying.  If his heart was pounding—and the way Peter hesitated in letting him go, it might have been—it wasn’t racing from deception. 

Long after Peter had released him and they had fallen quiet, Stiles picked up the thread of conversation again like it hadn’t burned them, his hands busied with picking at the label on the near empty tequila.  “He broke up with you because of the werewolf thing, didn’t he?”

Peter’s huff was humorless, but the slight curve to his mouth was beautiful.  Stiles wanted to kiss it, too drunk to censor his desires.  He was, at least, still just clear headed enough to keep from acting on all of them—though he could feel himself shift closer, leaning more into the heat of Peter’s shoulder than the distant heat of the fire. 

“He knew I was a werewolf when we started seeing each other.  I was everything forbidden—not just a younger boy he found attractive but a genuine monster, and that’s entirely thrilling for a good Catholic boy who isn’t actually quite so good.  He knew what he was getting into, and he loved it.  He broke up with me because I asked him for something he wasn’t ready to do.”

“Did you offer him the bite?”

“Don’t be silly; you know I couldn’t give it.”  Peter took the bottle, and downed the last of the tequila.  His voice was just as even as it had been when they started drinking hours before.  “I asked him to let me teach him what he could do.  I asked him to embrace that, and stay with us when his family left Beacon Hills.”

“What he could do?”

Peter hummed, his shoulders rounding as he leaned forward.  “What do you think?  What is that you can do, that none of your friends can?  You have an affinity for it; Deaton told me—but I sensed it on you long before that.  I dabble, but I don’t have the same natural talent you or Christopher have.  The same…spark.”

 The way Peter’s eyes cast over him, it was like he was seeing something beyond the edges of his skin—an aura, if such a thing were real, or maybe something else.  Maybe he was marked, somehow, in a way that the supernatural world could see, but his human eyes couldn’t.  At this point in Stiles’ life, damn near anything would have seemed possible. 

“He broke up with you because he didn’t want to learn how to do magic?” Stiles said, bleeding incredulity.  It was hard to remember, in the moment, that Chris wasn’t just from another generation that had grown up without Harry Potter; he had grown up with Gerard.  How he responded to werewolves was probably a decent example of how he’d have responded to being told his son was a wizard. 

Druid, spark.  Whatever it was they would have called him—Stiles’ mind was too full to pick one word. 

“It’s a little more complicated than that, but essentially, yes.  He didn’t want to be the person he was when he was with me, and I couldn’t make him change his mind.”

“Shit, I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” Peter said. 

The fire swam a little in Stiles vision, leaving him seasick and dizzy when he stood up from the glider.  “Do you think he is?  I mean, have you talked to him about it—“

“I think it’s time for you to go home.” 

Peter was standing, too, his arms around Stiles’ back, holding him up.  Everything was swimming, but Stiles couldn’t remember falling—just the press of Peter’s hands against his back, and the lurching sensation of sudden stability after a dip. 

His memory faded out, there, popping back when he stood near the edge of the treeline with Derek, his fingers fisted in Derek’s shirt as he leaned close.  “I’m just—it’s fine, zombie wolf’s taking me home.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea—“  Derek had started, his eyes concerned, but Stiles waved him off, and shook his head until his vision swam.

“It’s fine; it’s fine.  It’s not like what happened with you, before.  He’s not like that.”

“Just because he isn’t Kate doesn’t mean he’s not dangerous; you’re spending an awful lot of time with him and I’m not sure—“

His memory blurred, again, like a TV station fuzzing out.  When the signal came back, he was leaning with Peter up against the side of the Jeep, and Derek and Isaac were watching, and Stiles lifted Peter’s hand that held Roscoe’s keys and licked him there, along the webbing of his thumb. 

He could taste his skin, a hint of smoke, the tang of metal where he’d brushed the key, too.  When he looked up at Peter, he was watching him with a look Stiles would have called shaken, if he hadn’t known he was too drunk to judge. 

“You don’t taste very salty.  You should have put the salt on your hand; it makes the tequila better.” 

“Like I said, it’s time to take you home.”  Peter’s hand closed over the back of his neck and Stiles yelped, though Peter didn’t shove him.  He only guided, his touch sure and careful, keeping his balance as Stiles clambered into the passenger seat.   

The last memory of that night he had was Peter sliding up the window, and Stiles reaching for him like it was an out of body choice, like he couldn’t stop it. 

“Don’t go.  I want to sleep.”

“If you have nightmares about me, I’m not sure having me here will do anything for them,” Peter said, though he waited all the same.  The blurry shape of him was black against the window frame. 

“They aren’t about you.  Don’t go.  Please—“

The window closed, and Peter came back to the bed.  His hand touched Stiles hair; the skin at his temple tingled, and he wondered then, and later, if Peter had done something.  He wasn’t afraid—it was only curiosity he had as his eyes were closing. 

“Go to sleep, Stiles,” Peter whispered, half lost under the whirr of the fan Stiles didn’t remember leaving on.  The bed dipped with Peter’s weight; Stiles could feel the blankets tug toward where he sat on top of them, the casual strokes of Peter’s hand petting through his hair. 

He fell asleep, and dreamed he was held within a bottle with a skull on the label, like a ship built in a glass prison, intricate and perfect and unused. 

-----

It wasn’t weird that Peter spent half the nights during the week in his room if they weren’t having sex—they weren’t even fooling around.  It couldn’t be weird if it was just the everyday weirdness of their friendship; it was, after all, one of the more normal aspects of Stiles’ incredibly bizarre life. 

That was, at least, the explanation Stiles had prepared, if anyone had asked—though no one did.  No one seemed to notice at all, past the attempt at worried alpha wolf Derek had made on the 4th of July.  Scott had warned him more than once that he wasn’t sure he should be spending so much time with Peter (Scott’s emphasis, not his), but he never had a single argument to make that wasn’t about the disaster filled expanse between the two times he burned alive, so Stiles ruled all his data irrelevant.

He wasn’t dealing with Uncle Peter, or Alpha Peter.  This was Peter 3.0, an undecided trial still in beta testing—and if he referred to that form of Peter in his mind sometimes as his Peter, could anyone really blame him?  He was, after all, putting more hours than anyone else into shaping his role in the pack, keeping him company.  Making sure he didn’t show any signs of dramatically losing his mind.

So far, Peter had done nothing worth getting riled up over—a few questionable choices, sure, but he seemed to have devoted himself to the pack, and to Stiles.  It would have been a hell of a lot harder to keep his eyes on Peter so much if Peter wasn’t willing to be watched—not only to spend afternoons with him, but to climb in through his window while he was on the computer or already in bed, slithering his way into the room and talking half the time like they already had been just a moment before, like their entire existence since they’d met had been one long conversation.

Perched near the end of his bed, Peter looked so pale in the moonlight that it could have been unnerving, held up alongside the fact that he should have been dead—but Stiles had felt his hands so many times, now, and they never felt anything but warm.

With his back against the wall and his head bowed, he almost could have been asleep, but Stiles knew better.  He didn’t come here to sleep; he came here so Stiles could.

They weren’t always comfortable hours, but they were a good time for uncomfortable questions—as if the cocoon of this room at these hours could swallow them, and keep them insulated from the light of day and the pack’s prying eyes.

“We should play truth or dare,”  Stiles said, his eyes on the ceiling.  He had looked at Peter’s face enough to have begun to learn it, to be sure that he was looking at Stiles, now, with mild incredulity.

“This isn’t a sleepover.”

“It kinda is.”

“No, it isn’t,” Peter said, exasperated and soft.  His hand came to rest on Stiles ankle above the blanket, and even though he’d been itching to move the moment before, the urge left him, his body going limp.  “Besides, dares involve movement.  You need to sleep.”

“We could play truth.”

“A game at which I can cheat, and you will lose.”

“I can’t sleep right now; would you just play?  If you don’t, I’ll get up and get on the computer and go back to researching tarpon scales—“

“Alright, fine.  We can play truth, however pointless an exercise it might be.”  Sighing, Peter tilted his head toward Stiles, and the window.  The stretch of his thick neck shouldn’t have looked so tempting to a human.  “You first, I’m assuming.”

“Of course me first; it’s my game,”  Stiles said, twisting under his sheets to lay just right for the best view, and the most comfort.  His foot pressed against Peter’s thigh, blankets between them.  “Did you mean to kill Laura?”

It wasn’t an easy question, and it was sure not to have an easy answer, but they’d all been wanting to know for ages, now.  No one had been brave enough to ask—not even Derek, to his knowledge.

The flare of blue to Peter’s eyes wasn’t an answer, but it told Stiles all he needed even before he opened his mouth.  The blue stayed once he did, electric and bright in the dark, shimmering in the slivers of moonlight.

“At the time that I did it?  Yes.  Would I have gone through with it if I wasn’t out of my head?  No.  Do I regret it?  Yes, and no.  It’s a complicated question; that gives you three answers.”

“I’m not sure that even counts as an answer; this isn’t choose your own adventure.”

“I did tell you I would cheat.”

Stiles squinted into the dark, thinking back to the woods, and Laura’s body, and everything that had come after.  There were too many results to distill it down to positives and negatives; it was all too jumbled.  “You regret doing it, but not the part where you bit Scott and brought the Argents back to town?”

“I think it’s my turn to ask a question—but I’ll be generous,” Peter said.  His eyes, when Stiles looked, still had gleaming edges.  “I regret killing Laura.  I loved her.”  He said it blunt, almost flat.  Somehow, it seemed all the more true for that, a simple statement of fact.   “I’m not sorry that Kate is dead, or the others responsible.  I would have tried to find another way if I’d been thinking clearly, but if Laura dying is the price that had to come for our family to be avenged—“ Peter shook his head, and didn’t finish.

Stiles didn’t want to say he understood.  Peter would have heard the truth in it, and it wasn’t one Stiles was ready to face.

Instead, he nodded, and nudged Peter with his foot.  “Ask me.  Anything.”

“Since we’re on the topic of unpleasant deaths—who buried me under the floor?”

“Derek—“  Stiles sat up on his elbows, watching.  It wasn’t the question he had expected, and what he’d given was, undoubtedly, not the full answer Peter was looking for.  “—but Mr. Argent brought the wolfsbane to grow in the house.  Derek didn’t have any left from burying Laura and he said something about giving you a proper funeral, even though you’d turned into a psychopath.”

Peter’s huff was soft.  His hands flexed.  Stiles could see the tip of his claws sharpen at the ends of his fingers, then retract. “Chris would have wolfsbane on hand to help with that, he’s always been good at growing his own—though I assume he didn’t actually attend the burial.”

“I don’t know.  If I had to guess, I’d say no.”

“So would I—but I would also guess he came back when Derek was gone.  Christopher is typically more communicative when he doesn’t have an audience.”

For a moment, Stiles let himself imagine it—Chris standing over repaired floorboards, talking to a corpse, deadly flowers he’d brought as a gift for someone he wasn’t supposed to mourn stirring in the breeze that passed through the holes in the house his sister had burned.  It was a hell of a mess.

It ached in the way tangential tragedies can, with a sharper stab of something that felt like jealousy, though he wasn’t sure he could have defined it—what was the right word for the specific feeling of knowing he couldn’t measure up to the star crossed lovers level of intensity that Peter had had with Chris?  What was the term for falling short measured against someone who gave up?

He had never set out to want what he now wanted, only to tie Peter to something human.

“Did he know—I mean about the wolfsbane being used to bring you back?  Do you think he helped with that on purpose?”

“It’s possible—he would have heard me talk about the theory behind it in the past.  I doubt he expected me to go through with it, but I can imagine him...hoping for it.”  Peter said ‘hope’ in a way that didn’t fit, like it was poisonous.

Under the circumstances, poisonous was probably exactly how any hope related to Peter Hale felt to a man who’d dedicated his life to hunting werewolves.

“Have you—“  Stiles started, but Peter cut him off with quiet tsking, his head shaking.

“You just asked a question, Stiles; it’s my turn again.  You really are very bad at this game.”

“Oh, come on; that’s not fair!  That was just a follow up question, you know; just commentary.  Conversation.”

“Only one of us can cheat, otherwise it’s anarchy—and I started cheating first,”  Peter said.  His smirk made Stiles heart skip, and widened when it did.  There was no doubt he’d been paying attention.  “Are you supposed to be keeping an eye on me?  Is that what’s going on?”

“Two eyes, as often as I can spare them.”

“Did you just answer me with a Lord of the Rings quote?”

“Did you just get a Lord of the Rings quote?”  They laughed together, and it felt as good as Peter’s warmth under his hand when Stiles sat up, and reached out to catch his arm.  “Seriously, though, no, it’s—I mean yes, I wanted to make sure you weren’t going to go insane again and kill us all from the inside, but that hasn’t been the main reason for a long time, now.  I like spending time with you—and given that I’ve done that for over half a summer now that shouldn’t come as a shock.  If I hated you, I’m pretty sure I’d smell different.”

“You would.  But I wanted to hear how you see what’s happening.”  Peter’s eyes had stopped glowing some time ago, but now that Stiles had sat up and moved closer, the darker blue of his human eyes was just as entrancing.

Stiles swallowed, the click of it loud in the quiet.  His gaze dipped down to where his hand still rested on Peter’s arm, curled easy like it belonged there.  Peter had made no move to shake him off; so maybe it did. 

“And...how do you see what’s happening?”

“Is that your question?”

It could have been, maybe it even should have been.  Stiles hovered on the precipice of it—he could almost feel his head nodding, how it would set him tipping forward if he did.  Falling and falling, dropping like Alice down into the depths of something Other.  He wasn’t afraid of Peter, and whatever his father would have said, he didn’t feel too young to be doing whatever this was, but there was a strange unreality in the feeling that if he did step off this cliff, Peter would almost certainly catch him, but he wasn’t likely to set him back on his feet.

In the moment, when it came right down to the choice, he wasn’t sure he was ready to be caught. 

Stiles shook his head, and took his hand away.  The top layer of his comforter felt soft and worn when he twisted it in his fingers, the thin fade of the fabric familiar.  He cleared his throat, and changed direction. 

“Have you talked to Chris since you came back?”

“No, “ Peter said, without skipping a beat.  It didn’t even sound awkward, and Stiles was grateful all over again for Peter’s easy acceptance.  He could be an ass, but he didn’t poke when Stiles was vulnerable.  Not here, in this room.  Not even with Stiles prodding at him, feeling out the grey edges of his history.   “If Chris has anything to say to me now that I’m conscious, he can find me and say it to my face.  I don’t give credit for statements made while I supposedly couldn’t hear them.”

Stiles straightened, drawn forward by the heaviness in his answer—heaviness it was clear Peter had tried to lighten.  The biting edge to the words was there, but the smile struggling at the edges of his mouth looked brittle.

The sickness of realization felt slick in Stiles’ stomach, like a roiling wave.  He wished he hadn’t asked.  “He came to the hospital.  Shit, he came to talk to you and you could hear everything but you couldn’t— was it when they came to town this time? Or—did he come right after the fire?  Did he—“

Peter held his hand up, his eyes closed.  “I think that’s enough truth for tonight—but I have one more question for you, and you’re going to answer it because I’ve averaged more than one answer per question and you owe me.  Don’t you agree?”

“I mean, not really, but we already established you’re a cheater.”                    

“We did indeed,” Peter said.  For the first time since they’d started this conversation, he studied Stiles with near uncomfortable intensity.  “What are your nightmares about?”

Stiles heart skipped.  “Not about you.” 

“So you’ve said—but that didn’t sound like honesty.”

“I’ve said it, and it’s still true.  They’re not about you—they’re not even about you before your current non-zombie state, so don’t get a big head, okay?  It’s not always about you.”

“That’s fair, but I didn’t ask you a yes or no question.  If your nightmares aren’t about me—“  Peter shifted in the dark, his thigh pressing so close it touched Stiles knee.  Stiles didn’t mind.  “—what are they about?  I know that you and Derek were trapped—“

“It’s not like that; I’m not—it’s not like it was for Matt.  I don’t dream about drowning; I don’t even dream about the kanima killing us both.  I don’t have any more dreams about finding Lydia bloody on a field- though I did for a while, so thanks for that, by the way.”  He was sharp with Peter far less often than he used to be, but he let that barb settle in until Peter accepted it with a dip of his head.

When he said nothing, not an apology or defense or even a crack about Lydia’s survival or his own, Stiles let it be, and moved on.  It was, after all, old news, and old dreams.  He’d told the truth—he hadn’t dreamed about blood on her dress and Peter’s teeth in the moonlight for months and months.  If he dreamed about Peter’s teeth, now, it wasn’t a dream Lydia was in. 

When he dreamed now, it was mostly of a disaster that had never happened, but almost had, a negative across his subconscious that he couldn’t shake. 

“So...I know you and Derek were busy with other things; everyone was,”  Stiles said.  The night of the game was still so clear in his mind, the air as crisp as the shock of hands on his shoulders, yanking him off balance.  “But while you guys were dealing with Jackson and his venom chrysalis and all that shit—“

 “You were supposedly ambushed by the other team—though in the spirit of truth I have to say, I never bought that story for a minute.  For a sheriff, your father’s far too gullible.” 

“He trusts me.”  Stiles bit the retort out, though he wasn’t sure how much of the ferocity was aimed at Peter, and how much at himself.  He had cultivated his dad’s trust; he’d made his own deceptions possible.  There was no one else to blame for that but himself.  “And he wasn’t the only one; Scott bought it.”

“Yes, and he’s a shining example of deductive reasoning,”  Peter said.   Despite himself, despite the conversation, it almost made Stiles smile.  “McCall has finer qualities; we both know extrapolation from the facts isn’t one of them, but I won’t make you say it.  He didn’t figure it out; I’m not even sure Derek did, but I knew it didn’t hold up.  What I don’t know is where you went.”

“Yeah, no one does—except Chris, maybe.  I don’t know.”  He had tried hard not to think about that, not to wonder, but the doubt had crept in uninvited.  He was pack, now, if you asked Scott; Derek would so far openly admit only to a truce but the truth was ever evolving.  Even Derek wasn’t likely to keep denying a claim on him if he stuck around, and it wouldn’t help that process along if Stiles started poking at the past.  Depending on the day, he hadn’t mentioned what happened in the basement to Chris because he didn’t want trouble, or he didn’t want to talk about it, or he didn’t want to find out that he already knew. 

“Gerard’s boys had picked up Boyd and Erica in the woods already, and I didn’t—I mean, we didn’t think to look out for them.  I didn’t think to look out for them, but they grabbed me, and it’s weird because…I don’t know.  I would have thought someone would notice, you know?   I mean, it’s that whole thing where it never happens to you, it happens to someone else, and you’d notice it if you were there, but no one did.  No one saw them take me; no one saw me disappear, I was just…gone, and then I’m in the basement and Gerard is telling me what it’s going to do to his bartering position with Scott when Scott finds me beat up somewhere,”  Stiles paused to breathe, drawing in deep.  The silence was overpowering.  Across from him, Peter had gone so stiff and still Stiles didn’t dare to look at him.  Whatever he’d see, it wouldn’t help him finish.  “I didn’t think Scott would give up; I knew he wouldn’t, but I knew, too, that Gerard was probably—I mean, he wasn’t the kind of guy to half ass a threat.  And I just kept thinking—he’s gonna kill me.  He is, and Scott has to find me.  That has to happen to him, as much as it sucks, because if this asshole kills me, and Scott finds me, it’ll fuck him up but he’ll survive it, but my dad—“

Stiles’ breath hitched, startled out of explaining by the force of how much it hurt to think about it, every time.  He’d had the dream so many times, now, but the force of it didn’t lessen, the raw terror of knowing that if his dad found his body, there would be nothing else for him.  Surviving Claudia had almost killed him.  He wouldn’t survive losing his son; he wouldn’t.  Stiles had tried, desperately, to convince himself that it was arrogance on his part to think he was that important, that he was wrong, that his dad could make it without him.  He tried, and sometimes he’d almost get there, and almost be back to sleep, and then his dad would come from work at 5 AM and inch into Stiles room to kiss his forehead before he even showered, before he got breakfast or took off his badge, when Stiles should have been asleep and seeing him the instant he came in shouldn’t have mattered. 

He was almost 17, and his dad still touched him like he was his baby, like he’d never touched anything so precious, still murmured I missed you, kid into his hair like he had when Stiles was little, fighting to stay up until he got home. 

Stiles scrubbed the back of his hand so hard across his eyes that they hurt, his gasps too shaky and sharp for Peter to be seeing.  Somehow, at some point between the start of summer and where they were at nearly the end, Peter had gotten so far under his skin that the fact that he was seeing Stiles come apart wasn’t half as shocking as it should have been. 

It wasn’t shocking, either, that Peter’s hands were there to tug him forward, strong and firm, unyielding when Stiles almost resisted.  It wasn’t worth fighting comfort; not when he wanted it, and Peter was patient.  He waited to tighten his grip until Stiles had given in, curling into him to hide his face against the soft cotton of Peter’s shirt, his cheek resting against the firm press of his chest. 

His comfort was wordless, a soft murmur that might have been a growl; it didn’t matter.  His hands were steady, and Stiles could hear the beat of his heart, even and unhurried. 

When Stiles was no longer shaking and his own heartbeat was almost as calm, Peter spoke like he hadn’t stopped, his fingers kneading lazily at the back of Stiles neck. 

“I can promise you this—Chris didn’t know.  He may turn a blind eye to half of what his father does and go behind his back about the rest, but he wouldn’t have allowed that to happen to you under his roof, not with his knowledge.  That’s not the kind of man he is.  I’ve called him a coward before, but he isn’t, really.  He has his limits.”

Stiles nodded, tired past the point of wanting to talk about it.  He had expected exactly that, even if he’d feared it wasn’t true.  Still, it was nice to hear it, nicer still to let his eyes close with Peter’s hands still on him, his breath stirring Stiles hair. 

“I wish I’d known.  I would have ripped his throat out,”  Peter said, whispered into the dark like a promise of safety.  Smooth as silk. 

It shouldn’t have felt so much like a lullaby; Stiles shouldn’t have felt safe closing his eyes, but of that night, it was the last moment he remembered.   

Chapter Text

The first time Stiles raised the dead, it was a crane fly.

He stood with Peter in the preserve in the thick of the woods, ferns around their calves.  The patient—Stiles had insisted on calling him that, even though he was long past conventional treatment—lay on a grey shelf of bracket fungus jutting from a stump that came up to Stiles hip.  One wing was broken in half and he was missing a leg, but they’d peeled him off the front of Roscoe’s grill.  He wasn’t likely to be in peak condition, but he was, ultimately, just a test.  Either Stiles would have an affinity for the type of magic he’d been fascinated by all his life, or he wouldn’t. 

The anticipation hammered in his throat, out of tempo with the calls of the frogs and bugs in the surrounding woods, heralding the sunset.  When he had asked if necromancy was a type of magic he could learn, asked Peter if he would teach him, he’d half expected Peter to say no.  He’d expected him to make some cutting quip about how Stiles could never replace Chris, how he shouldn’t try—or at the very least to tell him that there was magic, but it wasn’t as varied as the kind Stiles had grown up wanting. 

He hadn’t expected him to say yes, to look pleased.  He hadn’t expected that Peter would, that very evening, bring him into the woods.

Peter’s hands wrapped around both of his, cradling them the way the Stiles cradled the acorn held between his palms.  Peter’s palms against the backs of his hands were warm, and dry, and distracting. 

“Now, concentrate—“ Peter said.  “There is enough life in this acorn to germinate into a tree that could live over a hundred years.  All that potential is held right here.”  His thumb tapped on the back of Stiles’ hand, gentle and quick.  “You aren’t creating anything; you’re transferring.  You’re only a conduit.  Think of a spliced wire—“

“Or the filament in a lightbulb?”

“Precisely.”  Peter’s eyes looked pleased; the look alone fed a current of a different kind into Stiles chest.  His hands squeezed over Stiles’.  “Just like we practiced; feel the life in the acorn, first.  When you’re ready, use your mind to bridge the gap.  Believe that you can take that energy you’re holding, and give it to him.”

Stiles nodded, and breathed in deep.  The woods out this far smelled like sweet decay, like wet and rotting wood and damp earth.  With his eyes closed, he could imagine the acorn as a pulsing, green light—potential contained, like an infinity stone, like a ring of power.  He could feel the press of it against his palms like a magnetic field—or it was all in his head, and he believed he could feel it.  He wasn’t sure of the truth, and wasn’t sure it mattered. 

There was force, too, in Peter’s hands, radiating down into his.  It warmed him to his toes, and he couldn’t help but ask in a low mutter, “Are you helping me, or are you my feather?”

“Yes, and yes—but if you’re asking if I’m doing it for you, the answer is no.  I’m helping you focus; the transfer is going to come through you.  Now, concentrate.” 

Stiles could feel the lines of Peter’s palm against his knuckles, pressing soft.  Life lines he’d outlived, creases that had burned away, and been rewritten.  The was a green light held in their hands, and with Peter to hold him steady, Stiles could move it with his mind from his palm to the little body on the mushroom, scraggled and limp.  It felt like carrying an overfull cup of water—the insides lapping at the brim, his every movement calculated and careful so as not to drop his precious cargo. 

He felt the change in Peter, first—a  squeeze of his hands, the sound of a sharp intake of breath.  He heard the flutter and buzz of wings as his eyes opened, the little creature he’d raised shaking himself and taking stilted flight. 

He was broken, incomplete and listing, but he was flying; there could be no doubt.  His wings shouldn’t have worked, but they were, and Stiles felt like his grin took up his entire face. 

“Holy shit.   Holy shit, I did it!  I really—Peter; holy shit!”  He cackled and let go, the acorn falling to the ground when he did.  It was shriveled and black, but he barely spared it a glance before he grabbed at Peter, half draped around his shoulders, half shaking him.  “Did you see that shit?”

“I did.  You have talent—which would surprise me only if I hadn’t already known.”

“Oh, come on; don’t ruin it.  Can’t you be excited for five seconds?  He’s flying—“

“And he’s going to be eaten by a bat in less than five hours; I’m absolutely sure—but I’m very proud of you.”  Peter’s hand squeezed at the nape of his neck, and for just half a second, so quick Stiles might have imagined it, he nuzzled his cheek against the grown out, unkempt edges of Stiles’ hair.  “Come on; we’re losing daylight, and I want you to try again while it’s fresh.” 

They practiced, and practiced, and Stiles neck tingled until long after he was home and laying on his bedroom floor, dirty and exhausted and still hearing Peter in the back of his mind. 

I’m very proud of you

Stiles wasn’t sure what was worse—the fact that it had made him feel even better than it did when his dad said it, or the fact that it made him want to touch his cock.  Rather than decide, he laid on the floor and ignored his half-mast hard on for a half hour, his face pressed into the carpet. 

------

By mutual agreement, they didn’t tell Scott, or Derek.  They didn’t tell anyone, but they worked every week, and there was a joy Stiles couldn’t quite put into words to see the world dying around him with the coming of fall while he was in the midst of learning to bring life. 

At the beginning of September, he saved Boyd’s life with resurrected wolfsbane, and no one but Peter knew.  At the end of September, he tested a theory, and ended up with a pet. 

Peter had progressed to bringing him dead vertebrates, under the condition set by Stiles that he was not allowed to make them dead, or there would be consequences.  What those would have been Stiles never had occasion to decide; Peter listened, and brought only what his nose could find. 

The salamander hadn’t been dead long, and he wasn’t overly damaged—he was largely intact, in fact, with only one leg twisted at the wrong angle, two ribs exposed, one foot missing.  Almost whole, and a perfect candidate for Stiles to try what he’d wanted to ever since he’d gotten an envelope of mountain ash seeds from Deaton. 

Because it felt right, he held three seeds in the palm of his left hand, and cupped his right over the salamander.  Even with his eyes closed, he could feel Peter’s gaze roving over him, tracing up and down his arms, along the tension in his shoulders. 

“You do realize that if this works like you think it will, I won’t be able touch him.  Scott won’t be able to touch him, or half the pack—don’t you think they’ll be a little concerned why that is?  Scott, at least, will want to know why you haven’t brought him to Deaton—“

“Will you shut up and get over here and be my feather?” 

“You’re going to have to get over that eventually,” Peter said, but he came anyway.  The squeeze of his hands on Stiles shoulders felt like a grounding line, cast from Peter’s bones into Stiles’, following down and into earth not so far from where Peter’s family had buried their own dead for generations. 

In his mind, the light that Stiles pulled from the seeds was black, undulating like smoke on the water.  When the salamander squirmed against his fingers, Stiles snatched him up with delight and turned to Peter, his new minion thrust out toward his chest. 

“Go on, try; can you touch him?”

“To try, I would have to want to,” Peter said, dry and put upon.  When he tried anyway, the answer provided was incomplete—he was reluctant and slow, and before he could reach close enough to try and touch the salamander’s freshly damp skin, the little thing turned his tiny head lightning quick and buried his teeth in Peter’s thumb.  “Son of a bitch—“

He would have jerked his hand back at the shock of it, if Stiles hadn’t already caught his wrist. 

“Don’t pull on him; he’s little.  Wait for him to let go.”

“I’m not coming to you for advice if I ever get attacked by one of your creations, just so you know.  I doubt wait for him to let go is going to work on all of them.”

“Will you stop whining?  He’s a baby, and he didn’t know!  He’s literally infused with mountain ash; you probably smell like a demon.  He’s just being a good boy,” Stiles stroked along his little cheeks, pleased when he did let go, and turn toward Stiles’ touch.  Unlike he had with Peter, he didn’t try to sink in, only to burrow.  “You’re a good boy, aren’t you, Percy?” 

“You’ve already named it?”

“Percy Bysshe Shelley Stilinski, after the husband of Mary Shelley—“

“Creator of Frankenstein, yes; unlike your friends, I have already finished high school.  You don’t have to assume I’m uncultured,”  Peter said.  There was annoyance in his tone that didn’t reach his eyes—even if it had, Stiles would have known he didn’t mean it.  He had learned to hear Peter’s affection, even when it wasn’t overt, even when he couldn’t have explained how he knew it was there. 

Peter’s thumb was still bleeding, from pinpricks that shouldn’t have even broken the skin.  The wound bled like it couldn’t stop, tiny drops welling and welling, and Stiles took his wrist and popped Peter’s thumb into his mouth like it was the most natural reaction in the world. 

He sucked, the flat of his tongue pressing against the pad of Peter’s thumb, and for the first instant before his mind caught up, it wasn’t anything he shouldn’t have done.  It was easy, swallowing against the taste of blood and mountain ash and dirt and Peter—

Easy, until he heard the sound half strangled in Peter’s throat that might have been a growl or something else, his eyes flashing when Stiles looked up, and let go.  It had been seconds, but Stiles was breathing heavy, and he couldn’t look down.  If he did, Peter might, and there was every chance he’d notice the swell in Stiles’ jeans.  Either way, he’d smell it; there was no hiding from this, not unless Peter let him. 

In the hope that he might, Stiles mouth kicked into overdrive.  “I just thought—it wouldn’t stop bleeding, and you know those old snakebite kits?  The suction thing you use to suck the venom out?  They say to never use your mouth for that because infection, but you can’t get an infection, so there’s no harm in me sucking out the mountain ash and it would be stupid to just stand there and let you bleed when I could—“  He gestured with the hand still holding Percy, between his mouth and Peter’s hand. 

Percy’s mouth opened in a silent hiss, his front leg without a foot held up and out like a parody of a pointing dog. 

Slowly, Peter rubbed his thumb off on his jeans, sighing with too much force.  “I’m not touching your little project again.  I think it’s safe to call him a success—and I don’t recommend we try this with anything larger until you have more finesse.” 

Stiles nodded, relieved when Peter moved to head into the woods without him.  Before he did, he stopped to catch Stiles’ shoulder, and there was no denying that the scrape of stubble against the back of his neck was scenting.  Deliberate, a little lingering—it was like Derek did with all of them at pack meetings, now, and yet not at all like what Derek did.  Derek didn’t linger; Derek didn’t breathe against his skin like he was trying to drink the air. 

“Put that thing in a tank; it’s small but I don’t want any surprises coming into your window.  I’ll see you tonight.” 

When Stiles trusted his knees to be steady, he made the walk back to the car alone, Percy cradled against his still stuttering heart. 

------

Over dinner near the end of October, the pack met to decide how to address the sphinx who had come to town.  It was an in-between time, a point full of transition and promise.  The pack was coming together more and more by the month, and Derek had started in earnest, finally, on the restoration of the Hale house.

It wouldn’t be ready for months, yet, but it already had begun to feel again like a home again—even for those who’d never been there when it was whole.  Stiles put a lot of it down to his new training, but he would swear he could feel something within the house stirring to life if he pressed his palm to the bannister on the upstairs landing.  New life from the ashes of the old, spirit rising and expanding to fill out the shell of what had been with all that could be.

Necromancy, again.  If you had the eye for it, it was everywhere.

For the time being they filled and overflowed Melissa’s kitchen while she was on shift, eating tacos and fajitas and chips at a table where chairs stuck out at every angle and some of them had to sit on repositioned furniture or the floor.

The pack was all in attendance—Chris included.  Derek hadn’t said the words, but at their last meeting he’d made a point of shaking hands with him when he left, of holding onto his hand when he could have let it go.  It wasn’t scenting, but it was a precursor.  An overture.  He belonged with them, now, whether Derek would have invited him to belong or not.  If not for the slight careful, polite distance between Allison and Scott at the table when they usually would have been all over each other, it almost could have been any other pack meeting they’d had in the last 6 months. 

If the way Allison kept looking at her dad was any indication, having him join in like he belonged was worth peeling herself off Scott for a few hours. 

For almost everyone it was an easy transition.  For Peter, it had to have been something of a test of endurance.  There was no question—Stiles could feel Peter’s tension along his side in every space they weren’t touching, but it was stronger where their shoulders touched in the cramped space, stronger in the sharper breath he took each time Chris spoke. 

Chris was his first love, and Peter wasn’t over him any more than Scott had been over Allison; it was plain as day, and it shouldn’t have hurt.  Peter wasn’t his mate; he wasn’t even his boyfriend—Peter wasn’t his anything, really, not a title they’d discussed that Stiles could claim.  Nothing outright had been said.  He was his packmate and his friend, his company when he needed support and recently his teacher, but Stiles didn’t hold any tangible claim over him—he could barely argue an intangible one.  For all that he’d subtly been trying to anchor Peter to him and the magic he was still coming to grips with possessing, he couldn’t have made a completely convincing argument that any of it was working. 

He had no right to be jealous, but as a friend, he had the right to be angry.  With nothing else concrete to hold, Stiles could feel himself latching onto that anger harder than he wanted to, hard enough to keep him from grabbing at something else that wasn’t his to hold.

With the anger held tight and pulsing against his fingers, Stiles could tell himself that what he felt wasn’t jealousy; it was protection, because Peter was doing too well in his new life to have to deal with bullshit from his old.  He could tell himself that, and almost believe it. 

He could, also, keep close, and engaged, and lean further into Peter’s shoulder than even their close quarters really required.  If Chris was watching when Stiles curled his hand over Peter’s arm and Peter let it stay—well.  That wasn’t Stiles problem, was it? If he didn’t like someone else touching Peter, he could have done something about it a long time ago. 

Chris probably wasn’t the only one at the table to notice, but none of them could fail to pay attention to what happened when Peter was down to two chips left on his plate.  He’d been about to pick it up to offer them to any takers; Stiles could see it coming.  Before he could, Stiles was whip quick, reaching out without thinking to snag them up and dart his tongue over the sides. 

For the first moment, he didn’t notice anyone else—just Peter looking at him with steady heat.  Stiles could feel it radiating against his skin; he could feel his pulse beating in the tips of his ears.  His mouth was dry, but he waved the chips with their damp edges in the space between them. 

“You were going to share, and if I want food around here I have to be quick; can’t keep up with those wolfy metabolisms, you know?  So I just—“ Pointlessly, Stiles gestured toward his own mouth. 

“Licked them?”  Peter said, eyebrows arched high as if this were a totally illogical progression. 

He probably wasn’t wrong. 

“He does that; he used to do it with donuts when were kids.  Especially the powdered sugar.  It drove me and his dad nuts,” Scott said.  It was a little strained, and there was no denying when he glanced over that there was shock in Scott’s eyes, but he was covering for him.  He might not be too quick on the uptake, but at the end of the day, the two of them were pretty bomb proof backup for each other.  They always had been, but it choked Stiles throat a little to realize that even in this, even if whatever this was between him and Peter stayed in limbo or became something else, that wasn’t going to change. 

Everyone laughed and the tension shattered, eased by Scott’s continued rambling about little Stiles and trips to the sheriff’s station on in-service days when his mom had to work.  The external pressure was gone, mostly, but Peter’s arm settled around Stiles’ shoulders while he listened, and that was a pressure of a different kind. 

Further down the table next to his daughter, Chris Argent watched him, unblinking.  For the first time since they’d clashed at the hospital after the dance, Stiles had the thought cross his mind that this must be what it felt like to be his prey.    

Getting home that night, he wasn’t exactly surprised to find Chris on the driveway waiting for him, leaning up against the house with casual ease, like he hadn’t had to haul ass to be sure he beat Stiles back. 

“You know, since we were just at the same dinner,” Stiles started, half out of the Jeep.  “—if you’d wanted to talk, you could have just said.”

“I wanted to talk here, in private.  Your friends don’t need to overhear it.”

“You mean Allison doesn’t need to overhear it.” His own boldness shocked him, and he was glad Chris didn’t know it was difficult, couldn’t hear the skip in his heart when those ice blue eyes pinned him. 

 

“Whatever is going on between you and Peter, it needs to stop now.”

“Wow.  Just coming right out with it, huh?” 

“I’m serious, Stiles.  I’ll tell your father.”

“You want to play that game?  I’ll tell Allison—though honestly, I think it’s pretty shit that you think your own daughter couldn’t handle the fact that you’re gay—“

“He’s too old for you, and he’s dangerous—“  Chris barreled on like he hadn’t heard, like the threat didn’t register.  If his volume hadn’t gone up, Stiles might have thought it hadn’t. 

“Is that what you’re going with?  Really?  I hate to break it to you, but not an hour ago we were both literally surrounded by werewolves, and I was safer there than I am in my own front yard.”

“No, don’t play dumb with me.  You’re not stupid; you’re a smart kid.  You know damn well he’s dangerous.”  Chris was steady enough that if he hadn’t known better, and if he hadn’t been watching carefully for the last several months, Stiles could have almost believed it was the only reason he’d come.  Altruism; Chris as a hunter and a parent, looking out for a kid stupid enough to fall in love with a werewolf with blue eyes, a man old enough to be his father. 

He could have bought it, if things were different, but he knew better. 

“So do you—but that didn’t stop you when you were too old for him, did it?”  Chris didn’t flinch to hear him say it, but it was a close thing—a reaction hidden in movement, in coming closer.  “Just don’t deny it, okay?  I know; he’s told me all about it.”

“He’s told you his side of it,” Chris said, shaking his head.  His hands flexed like he needed something to do with them, like he felt unarmed.  “That doesn’t mean you know all about it.”

“Are you gonna tell me your side of it?”

“No.”

“So I’m supposed to just trust you that what’s between me and him—the details of which you know nothing about, by the way—is dangerous based on some past event that you won’t even tell me about—“

“What happened between me and Peter has nothing to do with why he’s dangerous!”

“Then how the hell is your version any different?  Did you leave him or not?”  Stiles voice cut clear, ringing louder than he’d meant to.  It was good his dad wasn’t home, good they had largely oblivious neighbors. 

 

The night had fallen heavy long before dinner had ended; the streetlights were out and there was only the light over the garage door, drawing moths.  If there was anyone to overhear them, it would be Peter, on the fringes of the treeline behind the house, waiting for the right moment to slip in through the window.  The thought gave Stiles a jolt in his stomach, too wild to define.

Chris’ jaw worked in what looked like rage, but there was something in his eyes that took Stiles back to the hospital in a different way than he had at dinner.  It was a set to his eyes and his mouth and the way he held his hands that had been there when Stiles asked him if no one ever broke the code.  It looked like guilt.  

“Yes.  I left him; I broke up with him.  That’s on me; it wasn’t anything he did,” Chris said, heavy, like he’d said the words before and they hadn’t grown lighter. 

In a better mood, at another time, Stiles might have had sympathy. 

“Then he told me the truth— and I don’t think for a second that doesn’t have everything to do with why you’re telling me to back off.  If you want him to take you back I’m in the way, so why not try and scare me off by saying he’s dangerous?  I mean, who cares if it’s still true, right?  Your family doesn’t have a problem giving werewolves a bad name—“

“That’s not fair—“

“Isn’t it?  Look, you said don’t play dumb, so why not trust your own advice and assume I’m not enough of an idiot to have forgotten literally everything that happened last fall!  Of course he’s fucking dangerous, but so is Scott!  So are you!  My life has exploded with dangerous, and I haven’t forgotten that he started it, so don’t think I have.”  In the space of Chris appraising him, sinking Stiles honesty in, Stiles took a breath to calm himself that didn’t work.  His heart pounded, but he forced himself to lower the volume, forced himself to step closer.  “I know he’s dangerous.  But I can be, too.  I’m not helpless—and I’m not worried about him.  He’s different—and I think he was different when you knew him, too, than he was with the whole Dr. Jekyll act we got when he woke up, so I don’t think that’s an impossible concept for you to wrap your head around.”

“It isn’t.  If he was—“ Chris’ throat caught on something, and he shook his head, sharp.  “If he had been out of control like he was last fall, I would have hunted him down years ago, but Stiles, you need to understand something—that wasn’t someone else, that was still Peter.  He usually keeps himself under control, and he usually follows his own rules, but he is dangerously clever.  He’s strong; he’s talented—he doesn’t have to rely on his physical strength; he can do more magic than Deaton when he wants to but he doesn’t throw that around.  He’s brilliant; he could have been the alpha if he’d wanted to take Talia out but he never did.  She made the mistake of not appreciating that loyalty, but his loyalty is dangerous, too; it’s fanatical.  Why do you think he killed everyone that he did last fall?  He doesn’t just attach himself to anyone; pack is sacred.  He doesn’t let go—and he’ll do anything for that.  Don’t think he won’t.”

There was a moment where Stiles brain didn’t catch up, half a second where it was on his tongue to point out that everything Chris had just said was in favor of Peter being not a danger to pack but to anyone outside it, but then he tripped over the truth, the nasty jolt of it dropping out the bottom of his stomach. 

Whatever Stiles was to Peter, he wasn’t the first.  Not his first student, and certainly not his first love—if Peter felt anything for him at all, it wasn’t new.  It wasn’t anything, surely, like what Stiles carried on the inside of his ribs, the tingle in the tips of his fingers when Peter praised him, the way he felt damn near lifted off the ground when Peter looked for him at a pack meeting before Stiles had even come close enough to speak, searching him out like he knew his scent by heart. 

He had thought as a kid he loved Lydia, because she was beautiful and smart and he hated how the truth of her went unseen.  He didn’t know any better; he didn’t know falling love was much more than that.  It was better, and worse.  

Worst of all, maybe, he could look at the man across from him, and see why Peter had fallen in love.  He was beautiful, and forbidden.  He had all the strength of a hunter and none of his father’s cruelty—even now there was sympathy in his eyes, seeing Stiles catch on.  

Stiles nodded slow, his huff humorless and soft.  “Right.  He doesn’t let go; he wants who he wants, and it’s not like that was me, not at first.  You think he’s using me to make you jealous?  I mean if he is, you’d have to give him props because it’s obviously working—“

“Stiles—“

“No, it is; it is.  Whatever else this is about, don’t try to tell me that seeing him next to me doesn’t burn you up.  I’m not saying you don’t feel bad for me, too, but you don’t need to—because sure, maybe you’re right.  Maybe this started as a way to get you back—but I don’t think the ending’s going to be that simple, and you know why?”  It was hard, so hard not to let the sympathy in Chris’ eyes make him shake.  It was so hard not to doubt enough to fold.  “Because I know something you don’t, and I can give him something you can’t.”

“This isn’t a competition,” Chris said.  “I’m not fighting over Peter with you; this is exactly why you’re too young.  You don’t understand—“

“Oh, I understand perfectly.  Maybe not all of it, but enough to know that if he hasn’t gotten what he wants from you by now he probably never will—and I think he’s smart enough to come around to that.  So maybe I wouldn’t be his first choice; that’s fine.”  His voice dipped, and he hated it.  He shoved the shame of it down hard before it could distract him, his eyes casting over the ground.  He didn’t have many options, but that, too, was fine.  He could work with what he had. 

He skimmed over wilting weeds and a crushed snail, a few tattered leaves, and a fallen branch—that one he reached for, lifting it with a firm grip.  He held on so hard the bark bit into his palm, and it calmed him.  This would be more than he’d done without Peter’s hands to steady him.  It would be more than he should, with no life force but his own to draw from.  It settled his breath to know that he was going to it anyway, that he could.  Faith was, after all, the cornerstone of all magic, and it was thrumming in him, then.  He couldn’t be Peter’s first love, but he could be brave enough to take the place he offered, strong enough to defend his own pack.  He could earn his place; he didn’t need it handed to him by virtue of years at Scott’s side. 

He was human, and young, and scrawny; he had nothing physically on Chris Argent, just like he’d have nothing on any challenger that came to Beacon Hills, bringing trouble—but he was a necromancer.  That wasn’t a fantasy any longer.  Without Chris to push against, Stiles might not have realized it quite so soon, or so fully. 

His fingers flexed around the branch, felt the brittle bark begin to break away, crumbling to the ground.  Jagged edges cut into his skin, but he didn’t let it go. 

“I don’t have to be his first choice; that’s fine that I’m not,” Stiles said once more, calmer that time.  Chris’ attention on his hands didn’t look like fear, only curiosity.   “I just had to make a choice you didn’t.”

In the end, even in the moment when he was about to show it off, he knew, deep down, that it had never been about choosing the magic, but about choosing Peter.  He wanted someone who could hold their own beside him, sure, but Chris could have done that in his own way, if he’d wanted to.  Whatever they’d fought about years ago, the magic had only been the window dressing.  Peter had said it himself, on the 4th of July— He didn’t want to be the person he was when he was with me, and I couldn’t make him change his mind.

Stiles loved who he was when he was with Peter.  When he was with Peter, he felt powerful; he felt important.  He felt noticed.  If he went missing now like had had at the game last spring, there would have been someone to look for him, someone who might even make him a priority.  With Peter climbing in his window more nights than he spent at the Hale house, he felt like a priority. 

It was, really, all about choices. 

The sensation of reaching down for life to give and pulling it out from inside himself was strange, alien and new.  It didn’t feel like taking from the soft, pulsing light of an acorn; it felt like scooping fire up with his fingers, feeling it twist and lick and contort, though it didn’t fight his efforts.  It was as easy as Peter had told him it would be, when he talked about one day trying this, once Stiles had practiced more, once he had crafted talismans to boost his own magic enough that whatever he took would be replenished.  Nothing was replenished the more he pulled on the fire, but that didn’t keep it from funneling greedily into his hands, like his very life force was as high on the magic as he was—and maybe that was true.  He had wanted for so long to be able to do exactly this—how could every inch of him not crave it?  How could it be anything less than completely satisfying to take this fallen alder branch, to feel what it had been and would never be again, and make it over into something new?

His eyes were closed; he had to see.  To build its form, he had to hold the tree this branch could become in his mind, to gather roots and leaves, to get sap flowing and pushing into those leaves until they unfurled to the night air like tiny tongues.

When the sounds of growing and shifting and stretching stopped, Stiles opened his eyes.  The leaves rustled, still, with the tremor in his hand, but he held an alder tree by the trunk that was larger than a typical bonsai, smaller and yet more grown in appearance than a sapling with decent growth would have been.  The bark on the sides of the branch that had become a tree was still dead, peeling like a sunburn.  Like a bone dragon, it could have not existed without him.  The strain made him feel like wheezing; the exhilaration made him want to run. 

Across the branches, Chris looked at him with something that might have been awe, and might have been envy.  It might have been heavy with concern, too, but Stiles couldn’t read the weight on his shoulders.  He didn’t know him well enough for that, and besides, his vision was blurring at the edges. 

“You shouldn’t have done that,”  Chris said.  Rather than encourage him, somehow the vague horror in his tone irked Stiles even more. 

He shoved the tree forward until Chris took it, his grip awkward between the branches.

“At least I could do it.   It’s amazing what you can learn to do if you’re willing, but you weren’t.  So in the end, it’s not going to matter that he’s not over you—“ The truth of it still hurt, like sandpaper dragged over his tongue.  “It isn’t, because I can give him what he was looking for.  I want to be part of the world that made him what he is; I want to be with him.  Eventually, that’ll be enough.”

Chris answered him; he could hear it, but the words didn’t string together right.  It was taking everything he could to keep on his feet, so Stiles blocked him out, and kept walking. 

------

After the ash tree, Stiles didn’t remember stumbling up the stairs.  He didn’t remember collapsing onto the floor, or crawling to the window to unlock it.  He did remember the odd, tilt-a-whirl sensation of his room dipping and spinning, remembered letting his shoulders list to the side so he could throw up onto a stack of papers that he planned to shove into the garbage can as soon as he could stand.

His next clear vision past his argument with Chris was Peter crouching over him, a faint gleam to his eyes.  For a moment, he could have sworn he saw a dash of red, and then Peter’s fingers were on his temple, and he was muttering for Stiles to close his eyes.   The room was less nauseating when he listened, so it wasn’t hard to follow.

The red was a trick of the light; a reflection of an LED, a hallucination—whatever it was, it didn’t matter.  It hadn’t made Peter’s fingers any less gentle; it didn’t change how the slip of his magic feeding into Stiles felt like drinking from a spring.

“You absolute fucking idiot,” Peter said, and Stiles had to laugh.  He couldn’t help it; it bubbled up and out, hurting his chest like he’d coughed for days, though he couldn’t remember coughing once.  He couldn’t help but laugh at him, when he sounded so vicious, and felt so worried.

“God, you’re a shitty liar.”  Stiles could hear his own words slurring, feel the thickness of his tongue.  Peter’s fingers trailed down his jaw, spreading wide to fit along his throat, his touch smooth and sure.

“I am not; I’m an excellent liar.”

“Not to me you’re not.  You’re not pissed, you’re worried.”

“I’m both.  You could have killed yourself.”  Peter’s hand pressed a little more firmly, though the pressure was strange.  It should have made it harder to breathe, by all rights, but Stiles breathed easier, his lungs expanding wide and slow.  “That’s it; deep breaths, and keep your eyes closed.  How many times have I told you, if you’re going to draw off yourself, you have to have equipment?  You aren’t a battery; this isn’t a game.  You can’t just drain yourself down like this and expect to bounce right back.”

“I can bounce back if you help me bounce.”  Stiles reached out blind, his fingers brushing Peter’s coat, seeking until he could get a grip.  “You’re my battery.”  He could breathe, and the nausea wasn’t choking him, but he still felt light headed—like there wasn’t enough air in his lungs, yet, or not enough in the room. 

“And I am happy to be your battery or you feather or your watch dog, but that doesn’t give you a license to be reckless.  You can’t count on me; if I hadn’t been here—“

“But you are here.”

“For which you are very lucky.  You didn’t even call me; if Christopher hadn’t I would have had no idea it was an emergency—no, keep your eyes closed.”

Stiles had almost fluttered them open, but they were heavy, and he let them close again, and be covered by Peter’s hand.  “He called you?  He has your number?  I thought you said—“

“I called him a few weeks ago to have a discussion about a situation of mutual interest; it wasn’t a personal call, and neither was this.  He thought I needed to know you’d grown a goddamn tree and nearly knocked yourself out showing off, and he wasn’t wrong.”  Peter’s fingers flexed over his throat, gentle and coaxing.  Stiles swallowed, and felt stronger.  “You could have killed yourself.”  Said more quietly, somehow, the force cut even deeper.  “You didn’t even stop at restoration; you made it more than what you’d started with.  If you go past the base elements, the power draw doubles.  You know that; we’ve talked about that.  What the hell were you thinking?”

He hadn’t been, not really.  Primarily, he’d been feeling, but that wasn’t the best answer to give. 

“I was thinking that I had to make an impression.  I had to make him take me seriously; I’m not just…some irrelevant kid he can step right over and pick back up where he left off like none of this ever happened—I mean that’s what he wants, isn’t it?  He came to my house; I don’t think that’s all because he thinks you’re preying on my innocence—not that you are, or that I have any to prey on—I mean, I do, but—“

Peter’s palm bumped under his chin, nudging his mouth closed.  Stiles bit the tip of his tongue, and didn’t care.  The heat and pressure of Peter’s palm over his mouth was far too distracting.  When his eyes snapped open, the room didn’t spin—there was just his room and Peter, light spilling in from the window, reflecting in Peter’s eyes. 

“We aren’t talking about this tonight.  You’re going to sleep, and I’m going to make sure by the time you wake up, you’re back to your normally incorrigible self.  Then, we’re going to talk.”

“About Chris?”

“About Chris, and you and I, and anything else you have the burning need to get off your chest.  Based on your sudden desire to challenge Chris to a duel in the driveway, I’d say this is a conversation we should have had months ago.”

Peter lifted him like it he was weightless.  It should have been frightening; it should have at least been sexy.   Stiles was so goddamn tired that he just folded in on Peter like a kitten, arms wrapped tight around his shoulders, face pressed into his neck.  There, at the hollow of his throat, Peter smelled like sweat and woods, like something indefinable that Stiles only knew because it reminded him of the Hale house. 

“I didn’t challenge him to a duel—but if I had, he would have lost, because I made a fucking dead branch grow and he just stood there gaping at me like I had three heads—is it like—was his magic different?  Could he do different—“

“Hush.”  Peter lay him down on his bed, and didn’t sit on the edge.  This time, he paused only to take off his coat and his shoes, his socks.  Stiles had a glimpse of his bare feet against the carpet, and the fleeting that that made this more domestic, somehow, more real.  

Peter wrapped around him from behind, molded so close they seemed a perfect fit.  The world was strange, like that.  They weren’t; it was an illusion, but Stiles would take it, like an oasis held out, beckoning him forward. 

In the moment before he fell asleep, he thought he felt Peter’s tongue along the ridge of his spine at the nape of his neck, like the stroke of a mother cat, or a werewolf to their mate.  Despite the headache that lingered, it tipped him over into good dreams. 

------

In the morning light, they sat on Stiles bed, a tray of waffles and bacon in-between them.  Across town, Stiles father was working late.  He would be home in a few hours, sympathetic to see that his straight A student had stayed home sick, less suspicious now that the events of last year had died down. 

He would know nothing of Stiles’ mistake, or Peter’s visit, nothing of the golden in-between hours where they had woken up in the same bed, and made breakfast in near silence.  Peter had touched him far more often than he needed to, and repeatedly—on the nape of his neck, at his wrists.  It was deliberate; it was calculated. 

It made Stiles want to cry, and it made his heart race.  It made him miss the time when the very existence of werewolves was the most complicated thing in his life. 

Peter sipped his coffee, nudging Stiles’ own closer to him across the tray. 

“Go on.  Take a drink, then ask me what you want to ask.  Get it over with before you make yourself sick.”

For expediency, Stiles skipped the sip of coffee.  “Are you using me to make Chris jealous?  Was this just an elaborate plan to make him realize what he was missing?”

“No.  No offense, Stiles, but he already knew what he was missing—he’s had more of it than you have.  No offense,”  Peter said, softer the second time, almost smiling. 

Stiles didn’t dwell on how much Chris had had—that thought was one his mind would come back to later, unprompted.  “He is jealous, though.”

“So it would seem.”  Peter sipped, and Stiles took a drink of his own. 

It was hot and sweet—he thought he could taste honey.  Peter had made it, insisting he knew how, that he’d learned over the summer.  He’d been paying attention.  It should have felt creepier than it did, but he knew Peter watched him, sometimes, just like he watched Peter.  He’d felt him watching, like a shadow over his shoulder.   

“He would also make the argument that you’re too young for me to be pursuing—though he falls laughably short of that particular high horse, given that he fucked a 16 year old boy who swore he was in love.” 

Stiles could imagine it, the crystal clarity of it.  Peter was everything forbidden, to Chris, but Chris had been everything forbidden to Peter, too.  A hunter, still young and almost a boy himself, but older than Peter was.  Catching him would have carried the thrill of catching something wild, like touching a unicorn. 

Stiles bit his lip so hard he tasted blood, his teeth grinding down even further once he had. 

“Was it true?  Were you in love with him?”

Peter reached across, and took his hand, sliding it up and under his own shirt.  Stiles made a noise he would have been embarrassed to repeat, but then the shock of it was over, and Peter was holding his hand calmly in place, pressed hard over his heart. 

“Are you paying attention?”

“You absolutely have 100% of my attention; I’m not sure how you think—“

“Stiles,” he said, in fond exasperation that reminded him of his father, in the best way.  The familiarity wasn’t off putting. 

“Fine, yes, you have my attention, but I’m not sure what you expect me to feel.  I don’t have the experience, and I won’t catch the wolfy nuances.  I can feel it beating, but that’s about it—“

“Don’t just feel it beating; don’t use your palm.  Reach past that.” 

“Oh, excuse me, wait a minute while I reach past my fucking skin, “ Stiles grumbled, though he let it go when Peter growled.  The sound shouldn’t have been relaxing, but his muscles loosened, and he forced his mind to loosen with them.  That was how it felt sometimes, reaching out with his magic—like letting his soul seep outward into the air, creeping like a mist. 

Peter wasn’t wrong—he rarely was, about magic.  If he tried, he could feel the beat of Peter’s heart, as clearly as if he held it in his hand.  The light from Peter in his mind was red, and deep.  Almost black, rich like water in the dark, a cave of unfathomable depth.  When he had it, when he could reliably feel the current of it, Stiles nodded. 

“Okay, no cheating—but I don’t have to ask that one, not really.  You were in love with him—“  Stiles breathed in, steadying himself, and filtering out the bitterness.  “—and you still are.”

“Yes.”  In his hand, Peter’s heart was slow and even, the current unruffled. 

“You know, not that I doubt that particular answer, but there are plenty of people out there who could pass a polygraph test.  It’s not even that hard; all you have to do is believe what you’re saying, even for a minute- it’s like doing magic, and we both know you’re incredibly good at doing magic.  I mean when you come right down to it, magic is basically just lying so hard you warp reality.  I said you’re a shitty liar but that’s only because I know you, now; I can read between the lines.  You’re an excellent liar, so what exactly am I supposed to be getting out of this test that you could literally be cheating on the entire time and I’d never even know?”

“And here I was just bragging to Derek about your intelligence, only to have you stall out so dramatically within 24 hours.  First, you try to kill yourself—“

“That’s an exaggeration; I didn’t-“

“—then, you start spouting nonsense.  Did you even listen to yourself?  You said last night I was a shitty liar, and you’re right: I’m not, but you can tell.  You don’t even need this—“ Peter pressed the back of Stiles’ hand, and kept the pressure.  “You could read me well enough without, but I don’t want you to doubt your answers.  Call it a feather, if it makes you feel better.”

 

Stiles would have had a difficult time saying if it felt better, but it felt true.  If Peter lied to him, now, he wouldn’t want to know, but he would.  Whatever the result, he’d have to accept it, to fold it into whatever they had become, and see what they had left once he was done. 

Peter’s thumb stroked over the outline of Stiles’ hand, slow and careful.  The pressure didn’t let up.  “Ask your other questions; go on.”

For a moment, Stiles was tempted to ask again if he had been a tool to taunt Chris, but he’d already asked, and already been answered.  It wasn’t an answer he doubted, not really. 

“What is this, to you?  Have I been a project?”

Before he even answered, just as his mouth opened, Stiles could feel the flutter in his heart, and a second’s hesitation—the awareness of it was written on his face; it had to have been, for Peter to shake his head so quickly. 

“Stop,”  Peter said, quick and firm.  “Not like that.  Wasn’t I a project for you?”

“Yeah, maybe in the very beginning, but you weren’t just a project and—“

“—and not anymore?”  Peter’s eyes were gentle, as soft as the curve of his mouth.  He could be so sharp, but he was making an effort.  He wanted to make the effort.  “It doesn’t matter what our intentions were when we started.  It doesn’t offend me that you were curious about me any more than it should offend you that I was curious about you.  Less, really—I knew more than you did.  I knew where this might go, long before you started licking my hands at every available opportunity.” 

The burn in Stiles cheeks wasn’t as fierce as it would have been a few weeks ago, but without Peter to hold him, he’d surely have jerked his hand back.  The muscles in his forearm twitched even so, but Peter’s hold was strong.  There was no escaping the conversation this time, no convenient exit. 

“That wasn’t—it just happened, and Scott has a point that it’s kind of a thing, but I think it was also mostly because you’re a zombie.  I mean, you’re fully alive; you’re the most articulate zombie I’ve ever seen, but you’re something brought back and I had all these ideas about how that kind of magic works.  On some level I thought…if I could just—“

Bind you to me sounded more restrictive than he meant, but it danced on his tongue.  Stiles swallowed, and shook his head. 

“It was an excuse, and it was stupid, but I thought you might need an anchor.  I think I convinced myself it would help.” 

“I thought several times that if you were a wolf, I’d know exactly what you were up to, but I was right—humans don’t make much sense, and you make less sense than most.” 

It felt good to be teased by him, familiar and warm.  The light in Peter’s eyes lessened the knot in his chest, along with the sick, taut stretch in his throat.  In his hand, the subtle current of Peter’s heart beating carried on unchanged. 

“You do realize that being an anchor doesn’t require a physical component?  Licking me isn’t going to change what you already are.”

“I get it okay; I—“  But he hadn’t, not the first time.  Not until his brain caught up, and tracked back.  His fingers flexed against Peter’s chest.  Licking me isn’t going to change what you already are.  “What I already am?  Am I your anchor?”

“Yes,”  Peter said, though it sounded like more.  Expansive, broad like the slow breath he took.  “And I knew you had the potential when I offered you the bite.  Call it instinct.  Wolves have a strong affinity for sensing compatibility—I barely knew you, and already I knew I liked you.  You were different—I told you that.”

He had, and even then, it had felt heavier than it should have. 

I like you, Stiles.

Even then, it had made his heart trip. 

“You liked me then,”  Stiles said.  He wet his lips, his throat suddenly dry.  He wanted coffee, and didn’t want to let go of Peter to get it.  His skin felt like it was crawling, but he knew that one way or another, in a minute he’d have scratched the itch.  “You love me now.  You still love Chris, but you—you have feelings for me, too.”

He didn’t have the same conviction he spoke with, really, but it didn’t matter.  What was magic, after all, but lying so hard you broke reality, and made your own?

Peter’s heart was steady and slow, a well of impossible depth that carried on shifting through and around the grasp of Stiles’ magic like it was greedy to be touched, like having Stiles reaching into him and holding on was to be desired rather than endured. 

“You’re exactly right, I did—I do.”  For a moment, Stiles was sure he wasn’t going to say it, and sure it didn’t matter.  “I love you, Stiles.”

It didn’t matter, technically.  Stiles hadn’t doubted—but there was a gravity to hearing it sound out loud that nothing else could capture.  Peter loved him, enough to say it, enough to put it out into the world, and make it true. 

“I’m not afflicted with nobility,”  Peter said, his fingers gone tight around Stiles wrist—to hold him in place or keep him from lunging forward and knocking over the breakfast they hadn’t eaten, Stiles wasn’t sure which.  “I won’t tell you you’re too young for this; you’re 17.  If you’re old enough to risk your life looking after this town, you’re old enough to make a decision about whether this is something you want.  If it isn’t, I’ll keep teaching you, but I can’t promise I won’t try to persuade you—“

Taking a chance, Stiles did what he’d wanted to since the 4th of July, or before it, and kissed the curve of Peter’s mouth.  It was messy, uncoordinated.  He lunged forward too hard; his teeth were a little too rough.  He lost his balance, but it didn’t matter—Peter’s tongue softened the kiss, and Peter’s hand was there to steady him.  Before Stiles let his hand slip from under his shirt, the last hint of Peter’s heart he had was the swirl of new tempo, quick and strong.