“I don’t like him,” Stiles says.
“I don’t even know why you think your opinion matters here, kiddo,” John replies as he tips a jar of salsa into a serving dish because, yeah, that’s about as classy as things get around chez Stilinski. “This is my weekly poker game, and I can invite whoever I damn well please.”
He’s not proud of it, but he growls.
“By the sound of that, I’m not the one who’s been spending too much time hanging out with werewolves,” John says. “And you and Derek…?”
“Are me and Derek what?” Stiles asks, and then mentally backpedals. “No, don’t answer that. Me and Derek have never been and are never going to be a thing, okay?”
Stiles and Derek are bros. There was some awkwardness there when Stiles was pubescent and drowning in hormones, but he’s over it now. He’s not sure that Derek ever will be, because at the same time Stiles was at the mercy of his raging hormones he was also at the mercy of his raging nascent spark, and he might have maybe magicked all of Derek’s clothes off him this one time. To be fair to Stiles, it was a total accident, but Derek’s never really forgiven him. To be fair to Derek, it was in Whole Foods.
Not all of Stiles’s memories of his spark in those formative years make him laugh. Magic is... magic can be terrifying. As someone who lives with it in his bones, Stiles would rather not dwell on that. It’s much easier to think of Derek’s pale naked ass and chortle.
But no, Stiles and Derek are bros. Stiles likes Derek. He does not like his asshole of an uncle, Peter, with his expensive suits, his smirk, and his habit of looking at Stiles like he’s some sort of interesting and slightly gross scientific specimen: Gentlemen, the dung beetle.
And it doesn’t help that Peter Hale is Beacon Hills’ foremost attorney. Defense attorney. How John can even bear to have him in the house is a total mystery to Stiles. Peter’s life’s work is literally to screw John. In a professional way, not a fun one, because ew. Point is, Peter is the enemy.
His dad should not be inviting the enemy to poker games.
John lifts an unimpressed eyebrow at the expression on Stiles’s face. “Son, while you’re living under my roof—”
“Stop right there,” Stiles says, dragging a corn chip through the salsa. “I’m twenty-five years old, and the only reason I’m living under your roof is because you broke into my motel room and stole all my things.”
John snorts. “After I fought the cockroaches for them! That place was a fleapit, Stiles!”
“I had an aesthetic going on!”
He did, too. He was a weary jaded detective, all hard-bitten cynicism and jagged edges, living in the gutter and staring bleakly into the void while he listened to slow jazz on his phone. It was very emotive. Very noir. He’d been considering taking up smoking.
“An aesthetic? You had a fungal infection!”
Okay, so that’s technically true. But when Stiles had applied for the newly created detective’s position in the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department after a few years in Sacramento, he was adamant that he would be coming back as an independent adult. Apparently though, that was not negotiable once his dad actually saw where he was living. So here he is, back living in his dad’s house like he’s a kid all over again, and although it’s nice not to have to worry about dying of cholera or whatever else was lurking in that motel, it hasn’t been without friction.
Like tonight, for example.
“How about this, then?” John asks, rubbing a hand over his forehead. “I don’t pull the ‘while you’re living under my roof ‘card and—”
John fixes him with a challenging stare. “And you don’t tell me which friends I can invite over for poker night?”
Dammit. Stiles knows when he’s been stymied.
In a final act of petty revenge, he grabs the chips and salsa and flees upstairs.
He eats them in his childhood bedroom with the lights off, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling that he put there when he was eight and listening to Dad and his friends—including Peter Hale—laughing and talking downstairs.
It’s no good.
Even Miles Davis and his Blue Moods album are never going to get Stiles’s fledgling noir aesthetic back now, are they?
The Yoda plushie on Stiles’s bookshelf gives him a look of wry agreement.
Stiles is the first detective in the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department to be Supernatural Certified. That means he knows his weird shit, basically, and has done the courses to prove it. It means that whenever a case can’t be explained away by the usual measures, it lands on his desk. Which means, in a town with a nemeton close by, that Stiles gets a hell of a lot of overtime. It’s routine stuff mostly, and not at all as dangerous as his dad worries. Most supernaturals are just regular people, after all, with a little extra going on, and Stiles can hold his own with a spark as strong as his. The long hours he works are great for the student debt he came out of school with, but not so great for his social life. As in, apart from catching up with Derek a few times a week for coffee, Stiles doesn’t have a social life.
Derek’s eyebrows judge him on a Tuesday morning as Stiles pours what might be an entire cup of sugar into his coffee.
“Look,” Stiles says, “I’m not saying I hate Peter, but why does he have to be such a smug asshole?”
“Weird,” Derek says and sips his tea. “He says the same thing about you.”
Stiles jolts. Peter talks about him? But also, wait. “He says I’m a smug asshole?”
Derek considers for a moment. “No, he says you’re a little asshole.”
“I’m not even smug?” Stiles gasps. “Does he think I’m not smart enough to be smug? I can be smug, Derek!”
“I am aware.”
Stiles glares at his coffee.
Peter Hale is the first werewolf he ever met. Well, not the first, since he’s known all the Hales forever, but he’s the first one he ever saw shift. Before that, werewolves existed for Stiles conceptually, but only like, say, Iceland did. It was a thing, and Stiles knew about it, but he’d never actually figured it was something he’d have to deal with on a daily basis. All that snow and herring, ugh.
Anyway, when Stiles was twelve and his spark manifested for the first time and some bad shit happened—there may have been explosions involved—suddenly a rampaging, slavering beast was charging right at him, tackling him to the ground while he screamed and the world erupted into flames around him.
And then, just when Stiles thought he was going to die, the rampaging, slavering beast turned into a naked man—which Stiles would like to point out was disturbing on a whole new level—and yelled, “Are you trying to burn down the whole fucking forest?”
And that was how Stiles found out that Peter—and all of the Hales—were werewolves.
He wasn’t brought into the circle of trust so much as he accidentally incinerated his way into it, because while people nowadays know that the supernatural is real, most supernatural beings prefer to keep their status to themselves.
Stiles has a bunch of files on his desk relating to what he suspects is hunter activity that show exactly why that’s still the case.
He tips more sugar into his coffee. “Anyway, how’s the rest of the pack?”
Derek’s resting bitch face softens into a smile. “Good. Cora and her girlfriend are thinking of moving back to the States. And Laura is expecting again.”
“Again?” Stiles blinks. “That woman is a baby machine!”
“And if you call her that,” Derek begins.
“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says. “My throat, her teeth, I know. What is this now though? Baby three?”
“And four,” Derek says. “Twins.”
“Jesus.” Stiles says. “We definitely need to take Patrick out drinking. Like in commiseration or something.”
“You mean in congratulation.”
“With twins on the way? I know what I mean.”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “You know, some functioning adults actually treat children as a good thing.”
Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Derek says. “Maybe when you’re a functioning adult, you’ll understand.”
Derek quirks a brow. “How’s Yoda?”
Stiles glares at him, and drinks his sugary sludge.
Stiles is halfway through lunch, brushing fallen lettuce from his burger off his open case files, when Tara leans into the bullpen. “Stiles? Hale’s here to see you.”
“Good,” Stiles says, leaping up and barging toward the door to the foyer. “He owes me an apology for this mor—”
It’s not Derek.
Of course it’s not. It’s Peter Hale, looking smug and sharp in a suit that probably cost more than what Stiles still owes in student debt. It’s pinstriped for fuck’s sake. Who wears pinstripes in Beacon Hills? Stiles is barely wearing a shirt with buttons. If it wasn’t for stupid regulations he’d be wearing a t-shirt. And his Converse.
“Detective Stilinski,” Peter Hale says smoothly, looking him up and down.
Stiles picks a piece of lettuce off his tie. “Mr. Hale.”
“I’d like to discuss a client with you.”
Stiles sighs, and holds the door open to let him through. He sets his burger down on his desk. “Which client?”
“Clare Stepanova,” Peter says.
Stiles rolls his eyes, grabs the file, and uses it to wave Peter Hale through to the nearest free interview room. He takes his burger too, because fuck it, he’s hungry.
Stiles takes a seat on one side of the table.
Peter takes one on the other side, and checks his reflection in the two-way glass. Does something to his already-immaculate hair, because he’s as vain as he is arrogant.
Stiles rolls his eyes and flips open the file on Clare Stepanova.
Clare Stepanova. Twenty-one years old—though Stiles doubts that—absolutely gorgeous, and a mouth on her like a Prussian sailor. Stiles wasn’t her arresting officer, but he definitely remembers being shocked by her language when Tara hauled her out the back to the cells. And it takes a lot of language to shock Stiles. Still, at least her curses weren’t literal. Stiles knows they could have been.
“Now how did Clare Stepanova afford an attorney like you?” he asks, leaning back in his chair.
“She has wealthy parents,” Peter says.
Stiles snorts. “No, she doesn’t.”
“Well, she has wealthy people who call themselves her parents, and were able to pay my retainer,” Peter says.
Stiles eats the rest of his burger and folds his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”
“I want you, as a Supernatural Certified detective, to go over her file.”
Stiles nods down at it. “Already did.”
“Then you’re aware that this isn’t a regular case.”
“Bullshit,” Stiles says. “She’s not a regular collar, but this is sure as shit a regular case. This isn’t a newly-bitten beta wolfing out on a full moon and breaking indecent exposure laws, or some wendigo kid slipping up and eating the neighbor’s cat. Clare Stepanova has no biological imperative to walk out of Sephora with $600 worth of cosmetics shoved down her jeans. Her being a rusalka has no bearing on this case.”
“Ah,” Peter says, his eyes lighting up for a moment.
“You didn’t know?”
“I got the vague impression of water,” Peter says. “Your spark has come a long way, it seems, now that you have it under control. Finally.”
One of Stiles’s most useful and valuable skills is his spark-given ability to know exactly what supernaturals he’s dealing with at a glance.
Kevin from the grocery store: fae.
Mrs. Iravani from the library: peri.
Clare Stepanova: rusalka.
Peter Hale: asshole.
“I would have expected,” Peter continues, “someone with a spark to have a little more empathy to the supernatural.”
Peter Hale: asshole.
Peter Hale: Grade A asshole.
“I have plenty of empathy,” Stiles says. “But until you can prove to me that rusalki need three different types of top-of-the-line lipstick and a bunch of other overpriced glittery shit to live, then I’m afraid I’m going to reserve that empathy for people who actually need it.”
Peter smiles slightly.
“I think we’re done here,” Stiles says. “I have reports to get back to, and you have to go and break it to your client that she’s shit out of luck.” He closes the file and rises from his chair. “Have fun with that, I guess.”
Peter doesn’t even have the decency to look slightly miffed at his wasted trip.
Stiles spends the rest of the afternoon writing a recommendation to the DA’s office for dropping charges in a case against a wiccan who was going sky-clad under the full moon last month. Mrs. McIntyre isn’t technically a supernatural—she has as much magic in her as you’d expect from your average elementary school teacher—so she doesn’t necessarily fall under Stiles’s purview, but she’s sixty-eight years old, never had as much as a parking ticket, and Stiles has incredibly fond memories of her back from when she was his third grade teacher.
It’s late when he gets out of work.
John has already left and gone home, but he sends Stiles a text asking him to pick up some milk, so Stiles swings by the gas station on the way home. He parks away from the pumps, wanders in to get the milk and whatever Skittles happen to catch his eye—four different packets do—and then heads outside again.
And steps immediately into a puddle.
Stiles groans and looks down. He doesn’t remember that puddle being there when he walked inside, and it’s not raining so where—
The water glistens in the light like an oil slick, and Stiles can’t tear his gaze away.
For a second he watches the colours, mesmerised, and then the truth of it hits him.
He can’t tear his gaze away.
He doesn’t want to, but also he literally fucking can’t.
His chest squeezes as fear grips him. He hears footsteps behind him, but he can’t tear his gaze away.
Feels soft, cool fingertips brush his cheek, but he can’t tear his gaze away.
He drops the milk and Skittles.
Feels the tickle of her hair against his face as she leans in, and he can’t tear his gaze away.
His phone. He needs…
He can’t make his hands move.
She smells like fresh water, like nature, like a cold, clear stream he wants to drown himself in.
“Hello again, Detective Stilinski,” she says.
Stiles stares at the colors in the puddle, and he can’t tear his gaze away.
And then her hands are covering his eyes, and everything goes black.
It’s dark when Stiles blinks away again.
He squints into the gloom, but he doesn’t know where he is. He’s cold and wet.
He’s been stripped down to his underwear, and he’s lying in about an inch or two of water. There are rough bricks underneath him, and…
Is he in a cellar?
He might be in a cellar. There’s a crack of light some distance away that might be a door? If it is, it’s some distance away and also higher than Stiles is, so he guesses there are stairs. It’s too dark to make them out though. There doesn’t appear to be any other light source.
Stiles shifts slightly, and the water tickles him.
It’s cold. Not shiver-to-death cold, but cold enough that hypothermia might become an issue. Does the light from under the door mean it’s daylight up there? When the temperature drops at night, the cold is definitely going to be a problem. If he lives that long.
If it’s daylight up there, has he already been here an entire night?
Dad must be looking for him then. Dad, and every cop from the station.
Stiles’s hand goes instinctively for his phone in his pocket, and only brushes against naked skin.
Underwear only, right.
He closes his eyes, not that it makes much difference, and reaches for his spark. It’s always there are the core of him, both hidden behind and intrinsically bound to his heartbeat. It’s—Stiles knows it sounds lame as fuck, but he’s always thought of it as his soul. Something uniquely him, but also something that’s not bound to his physical form. His spark encompasses so much more than bone and muscle and meat and, Stiles likes to think, it will last longer than those things too.
He finds it shining warmly behind his breastbone and he focuses on it.
If he can summon it, he can use it to—
And then the cold water is lapping at his skin, higher and higher, and Stiles opens his mouth to suck in a breath but he gets a mouthful of water instead. It rushes down his throat, suddenly a torrent.
Stiles flings himself upright, coughing and hacking, wiping at his mouth with his shaking hands.
The water recedes again, sliding down his skin like an icy caress. It leaves a shiver in its wake that Stiles feels through to his bones.
He doesn’t reach for his spark again.
“Hello again, Detective Stilinski,” Clare Stepanova says for the third time, or maybe the fourth, as Stiles chokes and coughs and tries to clear his lungs.
The water rises when she speaks, like tides pulled to the moon. And she’s beautiful, so beautiful, but she won’t let the water take him. He’s cold and he’s weak and he wants to sleep, wants to stop fighting the heaviness in his lungs, but she won’t let him go. She draws the water out of him with a flick of her wrist, her gold hair gleaming like moonlight in the gloom, and then she smiles and commands the water to drown him again.
The weight in his lungs is like lead. His head throbs. His chest aches. His heartbeat turns sluggish.
And then she pulls him back.
“Hello again, Detective Stilinski.”
Five times now, maybe six.
He’s lying on the floor, staring into the gloom. The water laps at his ears but he hasn’t got the strength to move. He’s going to die here. Every breath is harder than the last. Every one sounds like the wheeze of squeaky bellows. He’s going to drown in two inches of freezing water. He’s cold, he thinks, but he can no longer feel it. And his spark, that part of him he always thought of as indestructible, flickers on and off like a faulty lightbulb.
The water creeps up him again, icy fingers climbing his clammy skin, and a hot tear leaks out of the corner of Stiles’s eye and slides down his temple.
He’s going to die here.
And when the door crashes open and Stiles is blinded by the sudden blazing light, he thinks, for a moment, that’s what’s happened. And then there’s a dark shape moving down the stairs, and footsteps splashing toward him, and the roar of a werewolf fills the cellar room, and Stiles passes out.
“No,” John says firmly as Stiles blinks awake. He covers Stiles hand in his, and draws it away from the scratchy thing in his nose. “That’s your oxygen, kiddo. You need to leave that alone.”
Stiles squints at him.
His dad looks tired; about as tired and wrung out as Stiles feels right now. He’s sitting in a chair beside Stiles’s hospital bed, and he’s wearing a uniform that looks at least three days old, judging by the creases and what look like coffee stains down the shirt. His stubble’s about three days old too, and grayer than it should be.
Stiles pulls in a wheezing breath.
“You had pulmonary edema,” Dad says. “They’ve drained the water from your lungs, but you also have pneumonia, so that’s what’s causing you some issues now. You’re gonna be in here for a few more days before they’ll let me take you home.”
It’s a lot to take in, especially since Stiles can’t even remember for sure how he got here. His brow creases. “Clare?”
The name comes out like a croak.
John’s expression hardens into one of grim satisfaction. “Dead.”
Stiles tries to summon up a bit of feeling for that, but he’s mostly numb. Also, he’s mostly astonished that she was prepared to kill a cop over a shoplifting charge, but that’s the way of it with some supernaturals, isn’t it? Especially the old ones. Centuries of feeling superior to mundane and mortal humans tends to result in more than a few egotists who don’t see why they should be bound by human laws. Like vampires, for example. Total assholes who think they’re better than everyone else just because they saw Beethoven live in concert or whatever. Vampires are the fucking worst. Well, at least they were the worst, but for the record Stiles is going to shift rusalki up to the top of the list now.
He thinks back to the cellar. “Werewolf?”
John squeezes his hand and nods. “Peter.”
Stiles feels a jolt of surprise at that. For some reason he’d thought Derek, mostly because Derek is his best friend and has always had his back. Or maybe angry Talia, because she loves him like a mother. But Peter? Clare’s defense attorney Peter? Clare’s defense attorney Peter who thinks Stiles is a little asshole? Yeah, that’s definitely out of left field.
“The pack was tracking you the whole time,” John says. “Turns out that rusalki can hide scents. Who knew, huh?”
Well, Stiles knew. He’s done the course. But now isn’t really the time to bring it up.
“Anyway,” John continues, “Peter figured it might have been Clare, so he set up a meeting to talk about her case, and followed her after that. He was supposed to wait for backup, but, well…” He grimaces. “Apparently you didn’t have that much time left.”
Stiles sucks in another wheezing breath. “Wait… won’t he get in trouble? With the Bar Association or something?”
“Oh, son,” John says, and his mouth quirks. “If you think Peter Hale gives a flying fuck about the Bar Association, you really don’t know him at all. Besides, attorney client privilege doesn’t cover crimes in progress.”
He nods, and a rush of dizziness leaves him with black spots in his vision.
“Careful,” John says, with mild rebuke in his tone like Stiles has just tried to run a marathon, not nod. “You need to take it easy, kiddo.”
“Yeah,” Stiles rasps, and feels a sudden prick of tears in his eyes. He doesn’t even know why. He’s just… it’s all been too much, he guesses. Clare Stepanova tried to kill him, and he didn’t even fight back. He’s never had that happen before. And he knows it was because he was in her thrall, and he knows it wasn’t his fault, but he still hates that he made it so easy for her. Stiles has always been a fighter, oftentimes against all advice to the contrary, and it’s terrifying how Clare just shut down that part of him. Like it was nothing. Like he was nothing.
Stiles was supposed to be stronger than that, smarter than that. He feels as helpless now as he did when the water was rushing into his lungs.
John squeezes his hand again, and Stiles summons up a weak smile for him.
And then Derek turns up with a massive blue teddy bear wearing an It’s a boy! ribbon from the hospital gift shop.
“You can put it with your Yoda,” he says, glowering at Stiles like Stiles’s near-death experience has personally offended him.
“I love it,” Stiles says, his voice still rasping, and opens his arms for a hug.
Both his dad and Derek get in there, and Stiles closes his eyes and feels warm again for the first time in days. And he wonders where Peter is right now.
It’s four days before Stiles is allowed to go home. He curls up in a blanket on his dad’s couch, and doesn’t move for hours. He stares unblinkingly at the television until John makes him move into the kitchen for dinner. Then, after they’ve eaten, John herds Stiles upstairs and toward the bathroom.
“You stink, kiddo,” John says.
“Way to pull your punches, Dad.”
“Get cleaned up and get in bed,” John tells him. “I’ll bring you your meds.”
Stiles shuts the bathroom door and strips off. Steps into the shower and…
He can’t turn the tap. The thought of water on skin is…
And he knows he should. He knows his dad is right. He stinks. And he knows the steam from a hot shower will be good for his pneumonia. But he just can’t bring himself to do it.
He steps back out of the shower and crouches down in front of the bathroom sink instead. Ferrets around in the cabinet until he finds a bunch of wipes, and cleans himself with those instead.
He’ll shower tomorrow.
Three days later, and Stiles is out of wipes. His skin is greasy, and his hair is an oily mess. He’s also got a gross scraggly excuse for a beard, but he can’t bring himself to shave. Not even when the blast of water in the kitchen sink, or the trickle of it through the coffee machine is enough to make him freeze up. He’s pretty sure they can smell him all the way downtown, because there’s only so much that deodorant can do. Spoiler alert: not much.
“Poker night tonight,” John says. “Want to join us?”
Stiles pokes his spoon at his cereal. “I’m good.”
John’s face is creased with worry. “Stiles,” he says, “what’s going on, kid? You’re…”
Decaying, Stiles thinks. Moldering. Something.
“Not yourself,” John finishes. “Do you need to talk to someone? A professional?”
“I’m tired,” Stiles says. “Once I get over the pneumonia, I’ll bounce back.”
John holds his gaze for a long moment, and then nods.
Stiles knows better than to think his dad is letting this go though. The Stilinskis are a stubborn bunch.
He waves his dad off to work, and dozes on the couch for most of the day. He’s jolted awake sometime in the afternoon when the door opens and footsteps tread down the hallway.
“Good lord,” Peter Hale says, looking at where Stiles is nesting like a rat on the couch, surrounded by blankets and junk food wrappers. “You smell like you’ve been dead for a month.”
Stiles grunts and shows him his middle finger. “Thanks for rescuing me.”
“Please,” Peter says. “Your father and Derek would have been on my case for eternity if I hadn’t ripped that bitch’s throat out.” He grins and shows his teeth.
“Well, thanks anyway.” Stiles feels a sudden thrill at the thought of Peter wolfing out over him, and pretends he doesn’t. “How did you get in here anyway? Do you have a key?”
Peter raises his eyebrows. “As though I’d need a key.”
Stiles rolls his eyes. Peter is such an asshole.
Peter strides over to him, and wrenches his blankets off. “Come on. You’re a mess, and your father’s worried about you. So is the pack.”
Stiles allows himself to be bullied all the way upstairs and into the bathroom. He baulks when he sees the shower.
“Peter, I…” He can’t finish the sentence. He can’t admit his fear, even when he knows it’s etched into his skin, and written into every expression. Even when he knows he literally reeks of it.
“Shirt off,” Peter says. “And then sit on the edge of the bath for me.”
Peter’s no-nonsense tone is easy to obey, and it gives Stiles something to rail against. He’s grateful for both those things as he pulls his shirt off and grumbles about overbearing asshole werewolves getting all up in his business, and this is bullshit, Peter, bullshit.
The blast of water in the sink makes his blood run cold and freezes the words in his throat.
Peter squeezes out the washcloth under the tap, and then grabs the bar of soap from the shower stall. When he turns back to face Stiles, his expression is grim.
“I thought you were a corpse,” he says. “When I found you in that cellar. I could barely hear your heartbeat.”
Stiles hunches over and looks away.
Peter crouches down in front of him. He takes Stiles wrist in his hand, and draws his arm out straight. Stiles shivers when Peter drags the warm washcloth from his shoulder to his wrist. “You scared me, Stiles.”
There’s no hint of rebuke in his tone. There’s only something softer than that; an admission, not an accusation.
“Scared me too,” Stiles murmurs.
Peter scrubs the soap along the washcloth, and then drags the cloth down Stiles’s arm again, leaving foamy bubbles in its wake. “So scared you can’t even face the thought of a shower?” He pinches the skin on the back of Stiles’s hand, and the mark doesn’t vanish. “So scared you’re letting yourself go dehydrated?”
Stiles nods, his eyes stinging with shame and helplessness.
“She’s dead,” Peter says, his blue eyes shining. “She’s dead, and she can’t hurt you now.”
“I know,” Stiles rasps. “I know that, but…”
“But you don’t feel it,” Peter says, and hums slightly. “You know what you need, Stiles?”
“Well, possibly.” Peter smiles slightly. “But in the meantime would you settle for an amoral and slightly sociopathic werewolf by your side who’d tear out the hearts of your enemies if they even looked at you sideways?”
Stiles should be embarrassed at how long it takes him to get that. “But you hate me.”
“Nonsense,” Peter says, and swipes the washcloth over Stiles’s collarbone. “You are the thorn in my side and the pebble in my shoe, Stiles, but I’ve never hated you.”
“Do you think I break into the houses of people I hate and give them sponge baths?”
Stiles blinks. “No. That would be weird. I mean, this is weird enough, but that would be super weird.”
Peter’s laugh is low and full of warmth. He rises to rinse the washcloth out, and then he’s back, lifting Stiles’s other arm up and washing it gently. Stiles feels almost dizzy at the touch. He feels weak and helpless, but a part of him melts into this too. The part of him that wants to be cared for, wants to be allowed to need this without judgement.
Stiles is pretty sure he’ll judge himself harshly enough for this at a later date, but that’s a problem for future Stiles.
He closes his eyes and lets it happen. Drifts for a while on the feeling of being looked after.
“Okay, sweetheart,” Peter says softly. “Take the rest off.”
It should be humiliating, probably, but Stiles is floating from Peter’s touches, so he lifts his hips and lets Peter pull his sweatpants down and off. The hospital sponge baths were perfunctory and clinical; this is not. This feels almost like an act of quiet worship, and Stiles might be drunk on it.
“Good boy,” Peter murmurs, and Stiles melts a little more.
He’s zoned out enough that he can almost pretend the careful swipe of the warm washcloth over his dick and balls doesn’t happen. Almost. But by the time he jolts and his eyes flash open, Peter has already moved on to his thighs. He finishes up at Stiles’s feet, and Stiles toes curl at the slight tickle.
Peter smiles up at him, and then stands. “Now how about your hair, sweetheart? You look like a weasel dipped in oil.”
Stiles snorts. There’s the asshole he knows and… knows. There’s the asshole he knows, period, full stop, and nothing further to add.
Peter’s expression turns serious. “It needs a wash, Stiles. Do you think you could handle some water through it, if I’m here?”
Stiles’s heartbeat quickens, and he’s afraid that it he so much as blinks he’ll be back in that cellar, water rushing into his throat and drowning his screams.
“I have an idea,” Peter says, and then disappears from the bathroom. He’s back a moment later, wheeling Stiles’s computer chair with him. “Let’s do this salon style.”
He flings a clean pair of sweatpants at Stiles, and Stiles climbs into them. Then he sits on the chair, and Peter wheels it back toward the sink. It’s not quite the right height, but Peter pillows a rolled-up towel under the back of his neck, and folds a dry washcloth over his forehead.
“I’ll do my best to keep the water off your face, hmm?”
Stiles nods. He wants to close his eyes, but he doesn’t dare.
It’s… it’s not as bad as he was afraid it would be. The tickle of water on his scalp makes his skin crawl, and makes him want to leap out of the chair, but Peter works quickly and calmly, and his fingers massage Stiles’s scalp deftly.
“What do you know about this Braeden person?” he asks.
“Which Braeden person?”
“The incredibly attractive and intimidating woman that Derek has fallen head over heels for,” Peter says. “I like her, but on the other hand I feel like I shouldn’t approve.”
“Because she’s very possibly a mercenary?” Stiles asks curiously.
“No, I think that’s hilarious,” Peter says. “You should see Talia’s face! I just feel like I shouldn’t approve because, well, I like to make Derek squirm.”
“You’re such an asshole,” Stiles says.
Peter catches a trickle of water before it escapes the washcloth on Stiles’s forehead. “He’s my nephew. It’s my job.”
“It’s really not.”
Peter shrugs. “Well, we’ll agree to disagree. Now, want me to attack that abomination you call a beard? No water, sweetheart. Just shaving cream and a washcloth.”
Stiles nods warily. “Just… just keep talking, okay?”
Peter smirks. “I’m a lawyer, Stiles. That was never going to be an issue.”
When it’s done, all of Stiles’s doubts and insecurities come rushing back in. He’s clean and he’s shaved, but at what cost? Peter Hale saw him naked, and not just naked, but a whole other level of nakedness than Stiles is comfortable with. Peter didn’t just see his skin; he saw his vulnerability. Somehow Stiles knows that’s the thing that’s going to be hardest to reconcile.
He sits on his bed and stares out the window, and wonders if tomorrow he’ll be able to actually brave a shower, or if he’s going to be scared of water for the rest of his life. Which would be fine, if it was swimming in the stuff. But showering? Doing the laundry? Hydrating? These aren’t optional activities.
Stiles sighs, and grabs his laptop off his desk, and queues up an episode of Star Trek. Why aren’t sonic showers a thing yet? They need to be a thing.
The knock on his door doesn’t really surprise him.
“Come in, Peter.”
Peter opens the door. He’s holding a glass of orange juice.
“Shouldn’t you be downstairs playing poker with my dad and all his friends?”
Peter ignores the question and sits next to Stiles. He sets the orange juice down on his bedside table. “I think you and I got off on the wrong foot, Stiles.”
“What, when you broke into my house without a key?” Stiles grouses.
“No,” Peter says. “When you were a twelve-year-old with a newly manifested spark, and I scared the hell out of you.”
Stiles feels the faint echo of that fear as he thinks back to that day. And what a hell of a day it was. “To be fair, I was exploding the forest at the time.”
Peter nods. “True. But still, I feel that being lunged at by a werewolf was probably quite traumatizing.”
“It was actually more traumatizing when I saw your dick,” Stiles says. “Werewolves, that was totally out of left field. But naked men jumping on me? Dad had warned me about how dangerous those were.”
Peter’s eyebrows do something complicated. It’s a Hale trait. “You thought I was a child molester?”
“Not for long! But, in my defense, you were a naked man who jumped on me. I was twelve, Peter. There wasn’t a lot of nuanced thought involved!”
“Well,” Peter says at last, “When it comes to nakedness, I suppose that we’re even now after today, sweetheart, aren’t we?”
There’s a strange weight in the air as Stiles avoids Peter’s gaze, and he thinks it’s all in the way he just said the word ‘sweetheart’. Usually Peter uses the word like it’s a sharp weapon, but now—and ever since he walked into the house this afternoon, if Stiles is honest—there’s no barb in the word at all. It sounds almost…
“Peter,” he asks cautiously, lifting his gaze again, “do you like me?”
“Yes,” Peter says.
“I mean, not because I’m pack adjacent, and Derek’s best friend, and Talia refers to me as the son she always wanted, but like-like, like—”
“Jesus Christ, Stiles,” Peter says, and rolls his eyes. “Yes.”
This is the part where they should fall into a kiss, right? Stiles reaches for Peter, only to find a splayed hand on his chest.
“Nu-uh-uh,” Peter says. “Not until you drink your juice, sweetheart.”
Well, Stiles guesses, there’s some incentive.
He drinks his juice.
Stiles narrows his eyes at the bottle of water on his desk. He’s been back at work for three days now, and he’s mostly a lot better, but still not a total fan of this whole hydration business. It’s a shitty thing to develop a trigger over, but he’s working on it. He’s downloaded an app on his phone that reminds him when to drink, so he’s no longer got an excuse to avoid it. Also, his therapist prescribed him a shitload of Ativan, so that’s pretty sweet.
“Stiles?” Tara calls from the door. “Hale’s here to see you.”
Stiles leaps up from his desk, anticipation bubbling through him. Peter promised to bring him lunch, and he’s been counting down the minutes. Not because he gives a fuck about the new fusion place on Third that Peter’s been raving about, but because, well, Peter. Peter has been visiting Stiles every day, both at work and at home, checking that he’s functioning. They’ve got into a weird pattern now where when Stiles showers, Peter sits in the bathroom and talks to him. It should feel humiliating, but it doesn’t. And Peter isn’t even a jerk about it. He’s still a jerk about everything else, but, well, that’s Peter. It turns out that there’s just a lot more to him than that asshole exterior. As embarrassing as it is to admit it, Stiles might actually be in love.
Ugh. He has taste in his ass.
But so does Peter, probably, so it all works out.
And frankly, Stiles can’t wait for the day when showering with Peter means something a whole lot more sexy than their current arrangement.
He wrenches the door open. “Hey, Peter, I—motherfucker.”
Derek blinks at him.
“It’s always the wrong Hale,” Stiles says. “Every damn time.” He plasters on a smile. “Hey, Der-bear. It is great to see you!”
“Clearly,” Derek deadpans. “Anyway, Mom wanted me to remind you that it’s pack dinner this Friday, and she expects to see you there. And she said she’s making extra cookies so you can take a bunch home, and not try to smuggle them out in your pockets like last time.”
“She can’t prove that ever happened.”
“Stiles, your jeans smelled like chocolate for days. You should do your laundry more often.”
“You’re not actually supposed to wash your jeans after every wear.”
Derek raises his eyebrows. “You are if they have chocolate in the pockets.”
“Point,” Stiles admits.
“See you Friday,” Derek says, and claps him on the shoulder before leaving.
Stiles heads back inside to the bullpen—and discovers Peter sitting at his desk, his fancy Italian ankle boots resting on Stiles’s open files. He’s eating something from a takeout container. It smells fucking orgasmic.
“How the hell did you get in here?” he demands. “Did you break into a police station?”
Peter smirks. “I brought you lunch, sweetheart. Let’s not quibble over the details of why, and how, and whether or not it’s really an indictable offence.”
“Someone let you in the back door, didn’t they?”
“Your father,” Peter admits. “I met him in the parking lot.”
Stiles leans his ass on his desk. “You’re such a dick,” he said fondly.
Peter shrugs, and nudges Stiles’s water bottle closer to him. “Takes one to know one.”
“Touché.” Stiles takes a sip of his water, trying not to grimace, and Peter rubs his knee gently in silent encouragement. Then Stiles steals his takeout and starts shoveling it into his mouth. “When I finish this, want to go make out in the file room?”
“Sweetheart,” Peter says with a broad grin, “I can’t think of a better way to spend my day.”
And how weird is Stiles’s life now? Because it turns out that neither can he. He wouldn’t say he’s grateful to Clare Stepanova—fuck that evil bitch—but Stiles knows that if he hadn’t been attacked, he and Peter would still be bitching about each other to their families, and snarking at each other when they met, and both of them dancing around the fact that maybe, just maybe, there was a spark of something between them that wasn’t sheer contempt. And, since they’re both such assholes, they would have died of old age before admitting it.
So there’s an upside, Stiles guesses. A crazy weird upside to being drowned repeatedly by a rusalka, and it turns out it’s the bastard of a werewolf pointedly nudging Stiles’s water bottle toward him again.
When Stiles had come back to Beacon Hills, he’d tried to like the idea of being alone. Romanticized it even, in that gross fleapit of a motel where he pretended to be a hard-bitten cynical film noir detective. But it turns out Stiles isn’t that kind of guy at all.
The corners of his mouth turn up as Peter nudges the water bottle against his thigh. Stiles picks it up and sips from it, and Peter makes a smug, satisfied noise.
It turns out it’s nice to be cared for after all.