Stiles rubs at his forehead, squinting blearily at his laptop as he tries to ignore the furyworryfearguilt emanating from the figure pacing the length of the loft.
“Stiles!” Derek barks for the umpteenth time, features darkening even further as he rounds on Stiles again. “Haven’t you found her yet?”
Stiles’ jaw clenches as Derek’s emotions crash into him with all the force of a tsunami, tripling the pain of his headache. At this point, he can only manage a shake of his head, not looking up from where he’s been working to track down Cora’s phone through GPS, but the device is either switched off, broken, or out of range. The damn hunters knew what they were doing when they covered their tracks so that werewolves wouldn't be able to follow them, but hopefully, they’ll have forgotten the phone.
“Derek,” Scott cuts in tersely, god bless his soul. “Would you calm down? It’s not Stiles’ fault that Cora’s phone can’t be tracked right now. Stop yelling at him.”
Derek just glowers even harder, but thankfully, the werewolf turns away and resumes his pacing.
Fifteen minutes later, Cora’s location blips into existence, and within seconds, most of the Pack are out the door, Scott lingering long enough to throw him a concerned look that Stiles returns with an I’m-okay grimace before making a shooing motion at his best friend.
Fortunately, neither Lydia nor Allison nor Kira – all encased in a bubble of impatient anxiety and muted pain from their earlier run-in with the hunters – want to make conversation, and Peter – outwardly disinterested in absolutely everything, inwardly a tangled mass of irritationlonelinessresentmentmutedgriefreluctantconcern – doesn't look to be stirring from his sprawled position on his couch anytime soon, so without a word, Stiles gets up and slips out of the room, moving as far away from the other occupants of the loft as physically possible.
Closing the door of the bathroom before sliding down against the wall beside the toilet, Stiles lets the silence wash over him. He can still feel Peter – Hales are so damn emotional – but the emotions aren’t as loud anymore, and at least he can shut out the girls now.
He stays in the bathroom until the rest of the Pack comes home with Cora (shakenpissedoffrelieved) in tow.
“Please save my sister!” The witch sobs fretfully.
Bullshit, Stiles scoffs. The spite and hatred practically radiating off of her makes him want to smash trees.
“You're not gonna fall for this sob story, are you?” Stiles interjects when the rest of the Pack mutter amongst themselves, looking like they're already making plans to charge off into the woods to where the faeries have apparently trapped the witch’s supposed sister.
“Stiles!” Allison hisses, looking scandalized as she glances at the tearful witch.
Stiles gets blasted with a burst of annoyance edged with bewilderment, though outwardly, the witch doesn't stop crying and looking pathetic.
“She’s not lying,” Isaac pipes up.
“She’s a witch,” Stiles retorts. “She could be using some voodoo to make you believe she’s not lying.”
Emotions on the other hand are a different matter entirely.
“Please, I'm telling the truth!” The witch implores earnestly. In contrast, it’s underscored by a hint of nervousness and increasing annoyance but she’s still positive that she can win them over. “You have to believe me! I didn't know who else to go to for help, and I’ve heard about the Pack in Beacon Hills-”
“You fail at acting,” Stiles cuts her off, utterly unimpressed. Her annoyance is fast becoming anger.
“Stiles, don’t be mean,” Kira admonishes, uncertain but leaning towards sympathy for the witch. “She sounds pretty upset.”
“She’s not,” Stiles says frankly, and then rolls his eyes when the witch’s sobs rise in volume. He glances over at Scott, who’s been watching him with furrowed eyebrows.
“You think she’s acting?” Scott asks, a deeper meaning in his words.
Stiles nods once, firmly.
“Probably a trap?”
A spike of how-the-hell-did-they-guess panic comes from the witch. Stiles nods again. “Most likely, dude.” Definitely.
Scott sighs like he’s lamenting the sheer amount of treachery in this world but his expression hardens as he turns back to the witch. “Okay, you haven’t done anything to us or this town yet so we’ll just let you go. Leave Beacon Hills and don’t come back, and we’ll forget this ever happened.”
The witch splutters. “What?! But-!”
“Scott, are you sure?” Derek drifts forward, less trusting than most of the teens but softened by the mention of a sister. “She seems like she’s telling the truth.”
Scott glances briefly at Stiles again. Stiles scratches his nose with his right hand.
Scott turns back to the witch, weight shifting to his getting-ready-to-wolf-out stance.
The two of them worked out their own little code ages ago, both for fun and as a means of communication whenever Stiles needed to tell Scott if someone was lying or hiding the fact that they're pissed off or whatever else came up. Of course, after the supernatural freight train hit Beacon Hills, they've made up a few more, including everything from ‘someone needs saving’ to ‘murderous rage’ to ‘run like hell because something that wants to kill us is coming’.
Stiles checks the others. Most of them seem ignorant but Derek’s noticed the way Scott’s arms are hanging freely at his side now, and his body is balanced in a way that means he’s ready to spring forward. The Beta unconsciously mirrors him, tensing up as well.
And Peter’s definitely seen it too. The werewolf falls back a little, self-preservation always so deeply ingrained, but Stiles senses intrigue from him too, and-
Blue eyes meet his.
-it isn’t directed at the witch.
Stiles looks away, thinking calm thoughts, hoping that his own heartbeat and scent don't give away his apprehension. Peter has always been the most perceptive out of everyone Stiles has ever interacted with.
“Leave,” Scott is telling the witch. “If you try to cause trouble in Beacon Hills, you’ll have to deal with us, and no matter how much magic you have, it won’t be enough against this Pack.”
Stiles glances back at the witch. The hatred is potent. The anger is reaching vengeance-fuelled Peter levels of rage.
Stiles swallows hard, pinching the bridge of his nose in a vain attempt to alleviate the ache building up behind his eyes. And then he shoulders his way forward to poke the proverbial sleeping bear.
“Do you even have a sister?” Stiles asks, stooping down to the witch’s eye-level. Her eyes widen with stunned outrage. “I mean, like, did you ever have one? Or did she just kick the bucket or something?”
“Stiles!” Kira gasps in a hushed voice. Stiles is pretty sure Scott is keeping her back.
The witch twitches. Her tears – while still leaking out of her eyes – don’t seem quite as real anymore. From somewhere behind him, Lydia hums with shrewd suspicion.
Stiles just sifts through the witch’s blaring emotions. “Besides, using your sister and setting a trap for innocent people isn’t very nice, you know.”
Hatred. So much hatred. And derision. Contempt. She doesn't think they're innocent.
“And it wouldn't work anyway. What’s a witch gonna do against two trained hunters,” Steady. “A banshee,” Steady. “A kitsune,” Steady. “A kickass human if I do say so myself,” Steady, with a twinge of irritation. “And a bunch of overgrown furballs?”
The hatred skyrockets. The witch’s face spasms, and this time, everyone notices.
Stiles rises and backs away to stand beside Scott, holding his breath against the surge of malice.
“I’d say she has something against werewolves,” Stiles announces rather needlessly, clapping Scott on the shoulder.
And just like that, with a shriek akin to nails against a chalkboard, the witch flings herself forward, wolfsbane materializing in her hands, but Allison is already stepping forward, an arrow notched in her bow, and a second later, the witch is pinned against the ground by one arm, screeching with pain and wrath, and spitting insults in-between ranting about how a werewolf tore her sister to pieces and she was going to avenge her by killing every single were’ in the world.
Stiles sighs, standing back as Scott tries to talk her down and convince her that not all werewolves are feral. It isn’t going to work. The woman’s too far gone in her grief.
Later, Isaac asks, “How did you know she was faking?”
Stiles shrugs, snacking on curly fries. “Her acting was shit.”
It isn’t even a lie. To Stiles, everyone’s acting is shit.
He pretends not to notice Peter’s doubt and curious scrutiny.
The Pack has some downtime between monsters and school. They collectively decide to go to the movies, and they choose a horror film by vote of majority.
Stiles despises horror films.
Oh, not when he’s at home and watching alone or with Scott. But when he’s in a movie theatre, sitting in the dark and surrounded by people, he’d rather go for comedy.
After everything they've been through, blood and gore and things that go bump in the night on a projector screen does practically nothing for the Pack. They really just came to poke fun at how fake everything is. Horror may as well be comedy for them. The same can’t be said for everyone else in the theatre.
“Bathroom,” Stiles mumbles when a zombie leaps out at a woman and begins tearing chunks out of her, consequently frightening half the room, disgusting most of the other half, turning on some sicko in the back, and all of it making Stiles’ heart pound and his stomach roil with the visceral fear and revulsion that rebounds onto him.
“Really?” Liam whispers as Stiles shuffles by. “This scares you?”
“Shut up, runt,” Stiles grumbles distractedly. He seriously thinks the girl three rows up should consider leaving before she wets herself; her terror is making bile rise in his throat.
He heads for the bathroom, only to change his mind when he realizes that four theatre rooms in a row are playing horror movies, and he’s literally trapped in a cesspool of fear. So he flees outside.
It’s better with the fresh air and open space even though the streets are still bustling with activity. Still, he has to duck into a back alley and talk himself down from a panic attack.
He shouldn't have come.
“Did it scare you that much?”
Stiles’ head jerks up, blinking in surprise at the figure standing over him. “Peter.”
He really hates panic attacks. It’s the one thing that makes him lose track of his surroundings.
Peter cocks his head, and then extends a hand to help him up. Stiles wavers for only a moment before reaching out to let the older man pull him to his feet. It’s concern and curiosity that he feels from Peter. Hales in general are loud with their emotions, they project, broadcast, especially Derek, but unlike Derek who is loud all the time, Peter – for whatever reason – sometimes goes quiet and calm when only Stiles is in the vicinity, and it steadies Stiles like a rock in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean.
“Thanks,” He says now. “Look, I don’t really like watching...” He trails off and waves vaguely at the building. “I think I'm gonna text Scott and tell him I’ll rejoin you guys later for dinner.”
Peter shrugs and smiles disarmingly at him. Stiles narrows his eyes, immediately suspicious.
“It isn’t my kind of scene either,” The Beta tells him. “I’ll join you.”
“Oh hell no.”
Twenty minutes later, Stiles is aiming his best long-suffering bitchface at Peter even as he stands still and lets the werewolf hold various outfits up against Stiles for perusal and criticism in turn. They spend the next two hours shopping and snarking at each other, and with Peter exuding enough amused happiness beside him to ward off everything else, it’s the most fun Stiles has had in a very long time.
“We can’t pick up a scent to follow, except, you know, sex, and that’s everywhere,” Scott explains with a wrinkled nose as he leads Stiles into a forest clearing. “So I was hoping that maybe you could do something. The others are off searching anyway but I figured you’d probably have better luck than us at finding a trail.”
“Yeah, probably.” Stiles comes to a stop in the middle of the clearing, drawing in a deep breath. Scott stays at the tree line, knowing better than to stand too close when Stiles is actively pinpointing the emotions of a single person.
He finds it, of course, invisible footprints of the incubus’ greed and lust and cruel delight after literally stealing the hearts of the women that it sleeps with. He closes his eyes and mentally follows the path to...
“It’s set its sights on Allison,” He tells Scott, and his best friend takes off like a rocket, hurtling away in the general direction of his ex-girlfriend and howling an urgent warning to the rest of the Pack.
Stiles watches him go, and then he turns and even manages to make his way out of the woods before doubling over and throwing up.
It isn’t only the incubus’ lust that he felt; this monster likes to wait for the women it seduces to come out of their magic-induced stupor and realize they've been raped before ripping out their hearts.
Stiles retches until he has nothing left to heave up, and he’s mortified to find his cheeks tearstained. It isn’t even his fear and pain and self-disgust and shame.
He can’t stop crying for a long while though, no matter how many times he scrubs at his face.
Stiles doesn't hear Peter coming – being werewolf and all – but he does feel the man’s now-familiar mesh of curiosity, fascination, and an underlying tinge of arousal that always surfaces when he’s around Stiles.
Stiles isn’t stupid, and he’s an empath, he knows Peter’s attracted to him, and on more than one level too. Stiles can’t say he isn’t equally drawn to the older man, especially since he can sense perfectly well that Peter’s interest in him is genuine with no ulterior motives (well, no particularly evil ulterior motives anyway), but right now, he really can’t handle anything that borders too closely to sex in any way.
It’s too late to run so Stiles just wipes away the last of his tears, and turns his back on the approaching werewolf.
“Hey, creeperwolf, stalking me again?” He’s grateful to whatever higher entity is watching right now that his voice comes out mostly even.
He can feel Peter assessing the situation. To Stiles’ relief, the traces of arousal have already long disappeared, replaced by puzzled alarm and calculating speculation.
“I think I'm coming down with something,” Stiles continues, pretending to busy himself with straightening his clothes. “I should get home and sleep it off. Shouldn't you be hunting the incubus with the others?”
“Actually, I passed Scott on the way here,” Peter reveals with smug nonchalance. “He told me you had been searching this area, and that I should be a gentleman and come walk you home to make sure nothing eats you along the way.”
Stiles can’t help slanting a highly skeptical look over his shoulder at the werewolf. “Is that what he said? Word for word?”
“I like to think just about anything Scott says can be... open for interpretation,” Peter smirks, sauntering forward. “The interpretation I drew from his orders is simply one of many.”
Stiles can’t help rolling his eyes, simultaneously hiding a smile because that’s the sort of thing he’d say under the right circumstances. “Has anyone ever told you that you're full of shit?”
“Talia, constantly,” Peter divulges with blasé carelessness, and Stiles has to focus on riding out the swell of wistful sorrow mixed with an old sort of bitter envy that comes and goes within a few heartbeats. “My sister never had my sense of humour, unfortunately.”
He stops half a foot away from Stiles, and too late, Stiles remembers why he turned his back in the first place. He makes to skirt away from Peter, but the werewolf seizes his arm before he can take a single step.
“Did something happen?” The previous mirth is gone. Peter’s gaze is hawk-like in their intensity as they scan Stiles’ face. “Stiles?”
Peter’s emotions are a soothing thrum against Stiles’ own tumultuous ones, and for one overwhelming moment, he wants nothing more than to melt into the werewolf and let him chase away everything else, every negative feeling out there that Stiles can feel by simply walking down the street. Peter makes him feel safe – as laughable as that is – when he’s focused on Stiles, safe from emotions, as if emotions are things that can be kept at bay with fangs and claws and blue-fire eyes.
But that’s weird and stupid, and Peter may be attracted to him, but Stiles can’t ask this of him when the man doesn't even know the most important bit about what Stiles is, and Stiles has been hiding for a very long time. He doesn't really know how to stop.
So he takes a breath and nails on his most reassuring face instead. Peter doesn't look like he believes it for a nanosecond, but when Stiles tugs at his arm, the werewolf only tightens his grip for a few seconds before letting him go.
Peter does walk him home though, all the way into his bedroom, and he even cooks pasta for him in true Italian style while Stiles is in the shower.
And once Stiles has burrowed under his blankets, he doesn't even complain when Peter makes himself comfortable at the foot of Stiles’ bed and settles down to watch him sleep like the total creeper he is.
Everything goes to shit on an average Thursday afternoon.
“Three werewolves? Why the excess?”
“One’s a True Alpha, and the other two are Betas who used to be Alphas, one of whom gave up their status to heal another werewolf while the other came back from the dead. The guys back home will be ecstatic.”
Hunters. And not just any hunters, but hunters of the mad scientist variety who make a living out of capturing supernatural ‘specimens’ to study. Stiles is one hundred thousand percent done with hunters who don’t follow the goddamn Code.
“Right then, that leaves only the kitsune and the banshee to catch.”
“You'll never get away with this!” Scott snarls from behind the line of mountain ash cutting the basement that they've been tossed into in half. They've also been chained up.
The female hunter gives him a look of pure scorn as the male hunter slips out of the basement to – presumably – go after Lydia and Kira with the other hunters upstairs.
“That’s what they all say,” The woman scoffs, taking a seat in the only chair left for whoever’s on guard duty. A nasty smirk twists her red-painted lips. “But we got them all in the end.”
“You only catch supernatural creatures,” Derek interjects, voice low and hard with simmering anger. “So let Stiles go. He’s human. Unless you experiment on humans too.”
For a split second, the hunter actually looks taken aback, and then she bursts out laughing, cold and mocking, and Stiles knows she knows. The I-know-something-you-don’t-know arrogance pouring from her is a dead giveaway.
He glances at Scott. His best friend’s face is stricken, having already guessed the same thing.
“Oh, oh, that’s rich!” The woman gasps, slapping a leather-clad thigh. “For a moment, I thought you were pulling my leg, but we’ve done our research so you can’t trick us into believing- But you think- You really think- Oh puppy,” Derek growls. “That boy’s about as human as the three of you.”
A what-the-fuck silence ensues. Stiles stares determinedly ahead, avoiding Peter and Derek’s questioning frowns, which is easier said than done. He’s sitting beside Peter with the stone wall behind them, Derek on his uncle’s other side, and Scott beside Derek.
“Unbelievable,” The woman remarks, recovering her composure. “You have no idea how rare a gem you have in your Pack.” She looks at Stiles. “You must be very good at hiding, boy, and...” Her eyes are sharp as they take in Scott. “Your Alpha is your best friend, isn’t he? So he must know. Does he put you to good use?”
“Stiles isn’t a weapon,” Scott grits out.
“I’ll take that as a no,” The hunter returns her attention to Stiles, looking vastly entertained. “So, shall I enlighten them, or would you like to do the honours?”
Stiles remains silent.
The woman smiles. It isn’t a pleasant look on her.
“Your pet ‘human’ there,” She announces with relish. “Is an empath.”
She was probably hoping for a more climatic reaction, Stiles muses. But Derek only stares blankly back at her while Peter drills holes into the side of Stiles’ head.
Oh come now, don’t tell me you've never heard of empaths,” The woman pouts. “Granted, they're rare, but the two of you are from an old family. Surely you've at least heard of them.”
If either of them has, it would be Peter, but he doesn't say a word.
“To tell you the truth,” The hunter continues, directing a covetous look at Stiles that leaves an oily taste in his mouth. “We lucked out with you. We came to Beacon Hills for the were’s, and even the kitsune and the banshee, but we had no idea we would find an empath as well. Eighteen years old and still alive; considering who you interact with on a regular basis, you must have an exceedingly high tolerance for emotional pain to have lasted this long.”
Derek stiffens at this, Peter shifts beside Stiles, so minutely that it wouldn't have been noticed if they aren’t shoulder to shoulder, and even Scott jerks a little in his spot.
“Does the Alpha not know?” The hunter taunts. “Or simply not realize? Why do you think empaths are so rare? Imagine – all the pain and fear and anger and jealousy that people feel at one point or another, an empath can feel it all, every minute of every day from all direction and all at once; is it any surprise that most of them don’t even survive past puberty before their mind just snaps? And those that do survive are either hermits or loony bin inmates. But you, not only are you functioning without brain damage, we’ve done our research on you, you graduated a quarter of a percent behind the top student at your school – who's the banshee to boot; you have gathered quite the pack, haven't you?” The woman’s lips stretch into a bloody grin. “We’re going to have fun seeing what makes you tick.”
Snarls erupt from both Scott and Derek, and Stiles flinches away from the unexpected maelstrom of protective fury coming from both of them, and he’s grateful for that, glad that Derek’s not mad at him for keeping what he is a secret, but at such close quarters...
The hunter laughs. Her malevolence grates against Stiles’ ears. “You should calm down, mutts. You're hurting your little empath.”
Scott and Derek both abruptly fall silent. Stiles can still feel the heat of their anger, now edged with worry. People can’t switch off emotions.
But it’s okay. Peter’s anger is ice cold in comparison, but it’s tempered and honed, and it feels like a cool hand against a fever. It helps.
“Stiles?” Scott prompts tentatively.
Stiles doesn't move his gaze from where it’s still focused straight ahead at the hunter.
“I do want to know a few things,” The woman leans forward. “Who trained you? You would've been driven insane years ago if you didn't know how to shield.”
Stiles doesn't answer. His shoulders tense though when he feels the rush of annoyance two seconds before the woman raises her gun and points it straight at Scott.
“Here’s how it’s going to go, boy. You answer my questions, I don’t shoot your dogs. We want all of you alive but that doesn't necessarily mean all in one piece.”
Stiles’ jaw clenches. He almost jumps when he feels Peter’s hand press against his back, chains jangling softly from the movement.
“Who trained you?” The hunter repeats.
“You don’t have to tell her anything, Stiles,” Scott calls out resolutely.
Irritation is joined by sadistic glee. Stiles opens his mouth half a second before the woman pulls the trigger.
“My mother,” He forces out hoarsely. “My mother trained me.”
The woman lowers her gun. “She was an empath too? We know she already croaked.”
Stiles jolts forward, almost breaking his wrists when his shackles yank him to a sudden halt. Peter’s hand tugs on his shirt and pulls him back into a sitting position.
The hunter’s lips curve upward. “I’ll assume she was. Your father is perfectly ordinary so you must have gotten it from her. So? How did she die? When and where? I’ve never seen an empath expire before. Was there a burst of energy? And how did she go about it? She obviously reached adulthood so she had to have been moderately powerful. Did too many emotions get the better of her and killed her? Or did she kill herself because she couldn't handle it?”
Stiles is white with rage. The woman cocks her gun. “Answer.”
Stiles doesn't say anything. A second later, they all duck as a bullet ricochets off the wall between Peter and Derek, narrowly missing the former’s ear.
“I said, answer,” The woman snaps, sick pleasure hidden under impatience. “Next time, I won’t miss.”
Stiles swallows hard. His chest hurts with how constricted it feels. “...She died when I was ten. Over eight years ago.”
He doesn't want to talk about this. The hunter motions for him to go on.
Stiles presses his lips together. “...I don’t know what else you want me to say. She died. At home. Depression. End of story.”
“I very much doubt that,” The woman snorts disdainfully. “An empath who learned to live to adulthood wouldn't just keel over and die from her own depression. Something caused it. What was it?”
“What does it matter anyway?” Scott interrupts, bristling with angeranxietyworryfrustration.
“Because I want to know!” Something manic sparks in her eyes. She springs to her feet.
Mad scientist, Stiles remembers.
“And you’ll tell me,” She says with all the certainty of someone currently pointing a gun at her hostages. She gestures at Stiles with it before settling on Peter. “Hurry up.”
Stiles sways to the side, unconsciously shifting in front of Peter, only for a hand to clamp around the back of his neck and jerk him back into place.
For the first time since they were captured, Stiles glances to the side to meet a narrowed cobalt glare that warns him against doing anything foolish.
(Peter feels like apprehension and the beginnings of a dread that Stiles doesn't understand and a mountain of controlled wrath, all of it welded together to smother a fuzzy ball of surprise and pleasure and appreciation for Stiles’ instinctive reaction.)
“NOW!” When this woman loses it, she loses it fast.
Still, Stiles hesitates, because-
He glances to his left again, meets Derek’s dark gaze. His brow is knitted, he’s confused, and Stiles knows it’s because of the way he’s looking at the werewolf. Like he’s asking for permission because he doesn't want to-
He looks at Peter. The dread has grown, along with that unforgiving anger that Stiles recognizes and knows to mean that the man is thinking of Kate.
Peter has more or less already guessed (of course he has), and he stares back at Stiles with a myriad of disbeliefincomprehensiongriefragesorrow-
The gun goes off with a loud bang, and then Peter is howling, the sound strangled as quickly as he can manage even as his body curls over his left leg where the bullet hit.
Derek’s teeth are bared even though the chains keep him from transforming, and Scott is pulling at his chains and trying to get a better look at the injury.
“Alright! Alright! Jesus Christ, I’ll talk!” Stiles shouts, catching Peter by one shoulder, dizzy with the blast of pain coming from the werewolf. He doesn't falter though. His own hand wriggles into Peter’s clenched one, tangling their fingers together, and before Peter can even look up, Stiles sucks in a bracing intake of a breath, taps into Peter’s pain, and fully accepts it as his own.
Miraculously enough, Stiles has never been shot before, so the agony is staggering for several long seconds, especially since he’s not used to doing this. He can’t heal physical wounds, but – like werewolves – he can take the pain into himself.
Peter’s head jerks up, blue eyes vivid with realization as they find Stiles’ contorted face, and the man immediately tries to detach their hands. Stiles obstinately hangs on. He’s experienced worse pain, and he’s getting used to the burning sensation transferred to his own leg already.
“Well?” The hunter taps her gun pointedly against her thigh. Her eyes glitter malevolently. “Start talking, boy, or I start shooting again. How much pain can you take away before you faint?” A sneer curls her lips. “Of course, we’ll be finding that out anyway once we get you back to our facilities.”
Stiles’ heart stutters with a terror that he doesn't show on his face. All the wolves hear it of course, and Peter’s hand squeezes his.
He busies himself with poaching Peter’s handkerchief from the werewolf’s back pocket to staunch the bleeding, and despite the situation, Derek releases a snort.
Oh good, one last bit of humour for old sourwolf before Stiles ruins it.
“...The Hale House fire,” Stiles states at last in a hollow monotone, and both Derek and Peter go statue still. “The emotional backlash from the people who died in the Hale House fire broke my mother’s mind. I hear she died before the end of that day.”
Dead silence reigns. Stiles doesn't look at anyone.
“Now that wasn't so hard, was it?” The woman coos.
Stiles’ hand stops mopping up the blood.
“It doesn't surprise me that she died from that. All those people – children and adults – all of them screaming and burning, and your mother felt it all, all at once, every last emotion they felt before they died-”
The guilt slams into Stiles like a typhoon, and all of a sudden, he’s drowning under the crushing weight of pain and self-loathing and denial and remorse and guiltguiltguilt-
“-rek, control yourself!” Someone roars from above him, and then hands are hauling him up and manoeuvring him around, and it’s a long, long while before Stiles manages to claw his way out of endless darkness, only to find himself whimpering and shivering, breath hitching with every inhale, and it takes another indefinite amount of time before he’s aware enough to realize that he’s leaning heavily against Peter. The werewolf has Stiles’ head pressed firmly to his chest while fingers card themselves through Stiles’ sweat-damp hair.
Heartbeat, Stiles comprehends dimly, eyes still closed, and he grabs on to that steady thump-thump like a lifeline. It’s slightly elevated, but it’s also constant. Stiles doesn't know how Peter’s doing it. He can pick up the tension vibrating under the man’s skin, but again, it’s restrained in a way that doesn't hurt Stiles even when it brushes up against him.
Stiles takes a shuddering breath.
“Six minutes, twenty-two seconds. I expected longer. Perhaps we can try an isolated emotion next time.”
Stiles can sense murder from every corner of the basement directed at that simpering voice.
The urge to do violence rears its head in the man Stiles is slumped against. It doesn't hurt.
“You're... Peter Hale, I believe? Is the boy closest to you in the Pack? Or are you a father figure? Lover?”
“Well, it doesn't really matter. You must be pretty important for the empath to use you as his anchor. We’ll have to make use of that if he ever gets too out of hand.”
What? Anchor? Isn't that a werewolf thing?
Peter’s hand momentarily stills before resuming its movements through Stiles’ hair.
“Oh yes, empaths need anchors. They need someone to ground them, to calm them down whenever the world gets too much for them. Of course, ironically enough, most choose not to have one. They go for the option of living alone instead, or living until they go mad. Most empaths abhor company. It’s too much for them so they never take the time to get close to anyone. That’s why this boy is such a priceless discovery. And now we have his anchor too.”
No way. Werewolf is bad enough to these fanatical hunters. Werewolf plus unknowing empathy-anchor is even worse.
It feels like fighting a war just to peel open his eyelids but Stiles manages, unsteadily pushing himself upright as well. Or tries to. Peter lets him up, but the iron grip that the werewolf has around his waist keeps him plastered against Peter’s side. Stiles can’t quite pinpoint exactly what the man is feeling though, not with the throbbing beacon of guilt in-
Stiles glances to the far corner of the basement. Scott has dragged Derek away as far as the chains allow, and the former currently looks ready to knock the latter out the moment Stiles shows any signs of a relapse.
Derek – hunched over – won’t meet Stiles’ gaze.
He looks at Peter next. There’s something fierce in the werewolf’s expression that Stiles can’t name.
“I have more questions for you.”
Stiles sighs, feeling drained. He hates how his hands – stained here and there with Peter’s blood – are trembling. “Of course you do.”
The hunter gives him a thin smile. She takes a seat again, crossing her legs and propping her chin in one hand. “I want to know how you survived. Your mother would've been stronger than you, so how did a ten-year-old survive when a full-fledged empath didn't? How did you escape unscathed exactly?”
Stiles stares for a long, blank moment before his mouth twitches. And then, all at once, a ragged chuckle escapes his throat before he dissolves into hysterical laughter, wheezing for breath even as he presses back the sting in his eyes through sheer force of will.
“I didn’t,” He finally rasps out when he catches his breath. “I didn't ‘escape unscathed’. My mother took the brunt of the backlash but I still felt every single one of those deaths like they were my own. It was like dying eight times. Burning to death eight times. On the same day, within hours of each other. Nobody ‘escapes unscathed’ from that. Is that exact enough for you, you lunatic bitch?”
An involuntary whine crawls out of Derek’s mouth, and Stiles just snaps, head whipping around, reeling from a building migraine, patience gone. “And you! Would you tone down the guilt? I feel ready to commit suicide over here!”
Scott’s fist swings out. Derek collapses like a sack of potatoes. Scott makes a face. His eyes ask an unspoken question. Stiles nods back mutely before letting his head loll back against Peter’s shoulder. The werewolf’s arm (and it must be uncomfortable for his other arm, being chained together and all) tightens around his waist.
“It put him in a coma,” Scott’s voice is loud after the short lull, grim and curt and saying the things Stiles doesn't have the words for. It draws the woman’s attention away from Stiles, at least temporarily. “The backlash. It put him in a coma for two years. His gaze darts briefly over to Peter before moving back to the hunter again. “Nobody knows because he caught up with his classes through self-study and summer school, but for two years, he was stuck in the long-term care ward in Beacon Hills Hospital. It was kept quiet. Most people probably believed the story about how he went to his grandparents’ to recover from-”
He stops abruptly and says no more. His face is set in furious lines, all of it directed at the hunter. It’s the angriest Stiles has ever seen him, and he feels a rush of affection for his brother in all but blood.
At his side, Peter goes rigid the second ‘coma’ is mentioned, but when Stiles cautiously makes to pull away, the werewolf still won’t let him.
“And were you awake during the coma?” The woman has the gall to ask. Scott wrenches at his chains. A rumbling growl resonates in Peter’s chest like a distant thunderstorm. “Trapped in your head or asleep? Reliving the trauma over and over again or-”
Stiles’ ears buzz, like they're filled with white noise. The woman is dredging up all sorts of memories he doesn't want to deal with. Worse, she’s dredging up all the emotions that come with them, and he can’t-
“You realize,” Stiles cuts her off, and he doesn't recognize his own voice. It’s eerily serene, and his entire body feels numb. He doesn't take his eyes off the hunter. “That when I get outta here, I'm gonna kill you. And I'm gonna make you suffer before I kill you.” He smiles, more an empty stretch of his lips than an actual expression. “Trust me when I say that nobody knows suffering like an empath.”
The hunter sneers. “We’ll soon extinguish that defiance of yours, boy. You don’t seem to understand – you're not getting out ever again.”
Five hours later, she is proven wrong when the rest of the Pack busts in to rescue them.
The female hunter screams and screams and screams, and Stiles feels high on the energy flowing between them.
“Stiles!” Scott’s voice sounds like it’s coming from a long distance away. “Stiles, you have to stop! Her heart is gonna give out!”
Stiles smiles vaguely in his direction. He continues watching the woman cringing on the ground. “You know that saying ‘putting the fear of god into someone’? Well, this isn’t quite the fear of god but ‘our Pack’s combined fear over the course of three years’ worth of supernatural disasters’ comes pretty close.”
“Stiles, come on, dude, this isn’t us, this isn’t you.” Scott swears, and then, “Peter, stop him.”
“Why?” Peter sounds honestly confused. “He has the right. Don’t lie, Scott. You want to kill her too.”
“I don’t- Okay, yeah I do, she had no right digging up memories like that, and spewing all that mental crap at Stiles, but that doesn't make it okay. You have to stop him!”
Scuffling sounds. Stiles loses track of their argument for a while. He listens to the hunter scream and cry and beg, and then scream some more when she becomes incapable of the latter two.
“You're supposed to be his anchor,” Scott’s voice is quiet but accusing. Stiles hears him like he’s standing at the other end of a long tunnel. “And if you accept that, then you better take responsibility. Letting him go crazy like this is not taking responsibility. He’s not thinking straight right now; you need to stop him.”
Stiles doesn't really understand the words. They're just words. Words mean nothing. It’s the emotions that count.
(The hunter is still screaming. Stiles wonders if she’ll actually die of unadulterated fear. He’s willing to wait and see.)
Peter steps in front of him (he’s covered in blood but he's not limping anymore, no pain, that’s important, why is that important), blocking his view. He doesn't so much as twitch when the werewolf’s hands come up to cradle his face.
“Stiles,” Peter says again, crowding closer until their foreheads touch, until all Stiles can see is endless blue. “I need you to stop.” The corners of Peter’s eyes crinkle. Stiles senses something almost apologetic. “It’s time to stop. I'm all for killing her, but torture isn’t really your cup of tea, don’t you agree?”
Stiles does nothing for an ageless minute. Peter steps away, still close enough for Stiles to feel his body heat. The man lets him think, lets him consider, doesn't push.
Stiles takes a breath. And then he breaks the connection.
The screams fade to broken sobs.
An hour later, Stiles has been bundled into bed with Peter wrapped around him like an octopus or maybe a koala, his back to the werewolf’s chest, and a mound of blankets piled on top of both of them.
“Relax,” Peter murmurs, warm breath grazing Stiles’ ear. “You're as tense as a coiled spring.”
“Can you blame me?” Stiles retorts, but it’s half-hearted at best.
Peter hums noncommittally. “You're safe now. No more crazy hunter-scientist facilities to worry about.”
“That’s not-” Stiles squirms a little. “Peter, this-”
“-has been a long time coming,” Peter finishes with all the confidence of someone who has never been wrong in his entire life. It makes Stiles want to punch him in the face.
He settles for elbowing Peter in the diaphragm instead. The werewolf doesn't even have the decency to wince. Instead, “And you're finally legal too.”
“You're actually concerned about that?”
“Well I figured I should if I wanted to make a good... fourth impression on your father.”
Stiles snorts. “Only three bad ones? I'm impressed.”
“I aim to please.”
“More like you aim to be a manipulative dick. I wondered why you've been moderately more helpful lately whenever my dad was around to see it.”
Peter makes a noise of unabashed acknowledgement at the back of his throat. “And hasn't it paid off? After all, I’m your anchor.”
Stiles grimaces. “I didn't even know empaths had anchors. It doesn't count if I didn't know. And weren’t you listening to the psycho’s crash course on my kind? Empaths don’t do anchors, even when we’re supposed to, and then we go batshit insane.” He pauses. “Stop being a smug bastard.”
The smugness increases.
Stiles elbows him again. “Stop it.” Amusement. Intrigue. “You realize I'm only half-trained, right? Not even. Everything I've learned was mostly through instinct so I probably won’t be able to answer most of the questions you have.”
Peter laughs softly against his neck. “This side of you will take some getting used to.” Stiles stiffens. Peter presses a reassuring hand against his chest. “Not like that, although this explains why Scott doesn't mistrust me nearly as much as he should without you.” When Stiles stays rigid, Peter reminds him, “You know werewolves can differentiate emotions as well, don’t you? Not as well as you can obviously, but we can still do it. And evidently, we can take pain too. So, we’re not so different.” Immense satisfaction. “Then again, I’ve always said you would make a beautiful wolf, Stiles. You make an equally beautiful empath.”
Stiles scoffs, relaxing even as he fights down a blush. “Shut up. That isn’t- You realize that besides getting a trillion extra doses of emotions every day, I can’t really do much else, right? The healing thing isn’t even really healing. Heck, I'm pretty sure I am human, just- with something more.”
“That’s pretty much the definition of werewolves, Stiles. A crude one, but technically true when it comes down to it. And it will be interesting for me to find out everything you can do if even you don’t know.”
“I’m not your toy.”
“No, you're just mine.”
Stiles would go and bang his head against a wall if he isn’t so comfortable. “You are ridiculously possessive.”
Stiles kicks his heel against Peter’s shin. His cheeks redden without his consent. “Yeah, yeah, I get it. Now pipe down.”
Peter grins against the back of his neck. He feels teeth nip at his skin for a moment.
Honestly. What a creeperwolf.
They fall silent for a while. It’s peaceful. Stiles’ eyelids droop.
“Nine times,” Peter says from out of the blue.
Stiles blinks at the sudden flurry of rememberedpainuncertaintyconcern-
Stiles sighs wearily, good mood evaporating. “Yeah, that was... not fun.” He dithers for a moment before twisting around. Peter loosens his grip only long enough to let him. It leaves mere inches between their faces.
“I didn't mean to lose it like I did,” Stiles admits, absently fiddling with the neckline of Peter’s shirt. “But she brought up a lot of things I don’t like thinking about, a lot of things I haven’t exactly worked through, and that’s- Shunting all that trauma to the back of my mind and ignoring it whenever I can is apparently not a smart idea for an empath, who knew?
“I'm used to it though,” Stiles huffs a laugh that lacks genuine humour. “You get used to burning after a while. You know that better than I do. ’Sides, after experiencing that, not much else compares, so, I don’t know, it’s sort of an upside I guess. Kinda. I got excellent self-control out of it, kept me from going nuts for years after the fire and the coma and- yeah. So the whole anchor thing is definitely recent. Of course, Derek’s man-pain can give it a run for its money any day of the week. That idiot’s guilt might actually kill me one of these days.”
He grunts when Peter’s arms tighten around him. “Easy on the goods, dude. I was joking.”
His heart stumbles over the lie. Peter’s eyes narrow. “I believe there are quite a few important matters I’ll have to discuss with my dear nephew in the foreseeable future.”
“You realize I’ve been fine in his company for the most part in the almost three years I’ve known him, right?”
“Not all the time. Those constant headaches of yours make a lot more sense now. I want them to stop.”
Stiles rolls his eyes and gives up with a mental fuck it do whatever you want, ducking down a little to rest his forehead against Peter’s collarbone instead. For a while, he simply breathes in Peter’s aftershave and that cool, earthy scent that always seems to cling to the Beta. It reminds Stiles of the woods in the middle of a winter night.
“You feel good,” He mumbles drowsily. “Not like the others; their emotions jump all over the place, all the time, and I can’t block them out at all when they feel too much. Cuz we’re all- we’re all broken in some way, so we all feel too much sometimes. But you're quiet. When you're focused on me, you're quiet even when you're loud.”
Peter makes a thoughtful noise above his head. “That... would probably be because you're my anchor.”
It’s the last things Stiles hears before he falls asleep, too far gone into dreamland to freak out. He doesn't notice the rare soft smile that graces Peter’s face before the werewolf curls further around him and dozes off as well.
It’s not all roses and sunshine after that.
The Pack knows now, and most of them tiptoe around him like they're afraid that getting into an argument over who gets the last cookie will put him back in Eichen House. It takes a few weeks of Stiles assuring them that it doesn't, and that their persistent anxiety over the issue is even worse.
And Derek is an issue all on his own. The man avoids him for a month, literally leaving a room when Stiles enters it, and it isn’t until Scott and Peter help corner him long enough for Stiles to trap him with mountain ash that they start getting shit done – aka alleviating the mountain of guilt that Derek carries around like it’s his birthright.
It’s a work in progress.
In other news, once summer comes to an end, Stiles heads off to Stanford, and Peter packs up and follows him with barely a courtesy heads-up for Scott. Peter buys an apartment for two close to campus, and while they sleep together in the same bed more often than not, they don’t jump straight to the sex either. It’s disconcertingly platonic considering it’s Stiles-and-Peter, but Stiles doesn't mind nearly as much as he thought he might, because after the hunter dug up what Stiles would've preferred to have stayed buried, he starts waking up screaming from nightmares filled with fire again, and Peter – who has his own fair share of night-time emotional turmoil that bleeds into Stiles’ dreams – has to coax him out of them almost every night at first, and Stiles is basically a mental mess of unresolved trauma.
But Peter is there, and for some reason, Stiles can talk to him about things that he couldn't even talk to his father or Scott about, and Peter understands because he’s been through them himself.
And on occasion, even being in public gets to be too much, but when that happens, Peter just stows Stiles into his car for the weekend, and they go on a road trip to the middle of nowhere where civilization doesn't touch, and it helps.
They help each other, Stiles likes to think, because Peter also smiles a little more these days instead of just smirking away at everyone else’s expense, the loneliness inside him recedes a little more each day, and his overall emotions are a little less damaged.
They're broken, but their jagged edges fit. Some days, it still surprises Stiles.
“So you're dating now? Like, properly dating? Not just the not-quite-dating-while-telling-everyone-all-about-your-nonexistent-wild-sex dating?”
“Seems like it, dude.”
“...Okay. I don’t want to know the details, alright?”
“Peter wouldn't mind!”
“That’s because he’s evil! And so are you! God, you deserve each other.”
“Yes we do.”
“You look pleased.”
“Yes I do.”
“...You really like him?”
“...Yeah. He’s- I'm happy around him. Even when he’s being an ass, which is like- seventy percent of the time, and sassy too, which is like two hundred percent of the time but that’s cool ’cause I am too, it’s- I wouldn't give any of it up. And he keeps me grounded, and apparently vice-versa.”
“Then that’s all I need to know.”
“And his gorgeous dick is worthy of a-”
“That’s all I need to know!”
“Trying to scar Scott again?”
Stiles turns after waving Scott goodbye, beaming when Peter hands him a mug of hot chocolate because it’s twenty below outside. “It’s payback for Scott-and-Allison.”
Peter smirks around his own drink as they drift back into the sitting room, the crackling fire – warded a hundred times over – casting a flickering yellow-orange light over everything. “I wholly approve.”
“Of course you do.” Peter spent an entire week last winter break keeping a line of commentary going – in great detail – on the fantastic sex he and Stiles were (not) having (yet, though Peter made good on his word when they finally did get around to it) whenever Scott or Derek were within hearing distance. It was as funny as it was embarrassing for Stiles, especially with the way both werewolves bolted like their tails were on fire every time they laid eyes on the shameless Beta.
Peter takes a seat on the couch and picks up his book again, arm automatically lifting to let Stiles settle against his side with a contented sigh. Outside, snow continues to fall, ghostly silent, blanketing the world in white.
Stiles tips his head back and closes his eyes. Like this, the foreign-familiar glow of warmth that he can always sense from Peter nowadays washes over him and gives him the feeling of coming home after a long day. He’s felt it for a while, didn't recognize it at the beginning, and he wanted to be sure before he said anything, but now...
Stiles smiles. “Love you too.”
Startlement. A moment of disbelief. Wild happiness.
“That’s cheating,” Peter accuses but there’s nothing except subtle wonder in his voice.
Stiles’ smile just widens. “You love me.”
Deft hands pluck his chocolate away, and Stiles opens his eyes in time to see Peter set both mug and book on the coffee table before strong arms gather him into Peter’s lap, and blunt human teeth latch on to the pale arch of flesh where his shoulder meets his neck.
Stiles huffs around a moan as Peter mouths a hickey into his skin. “You animal, I'm gonna look like I've been mauled. Again!”
Peter pulls away, soothing the spot with his tongue even as his satisfaction levels rise. “Good. Then everyone will know you're mine.”
Stiles rolls his eyes but goes limp against Peter’s muscled frame. “Everyone who matters knows that already, you creep. Just like everyone knows that you are mine.”
In the blink of an eye, he’s dumped onto his back with an oomph, and Peter is hovering on top of him, blue eyes gleaming from the firelight.
Stiles grins up at him. “What’s the matter, Peter? Don’t like being tied down?”
Peter’s answering grin flashes more than a bit of fang.
“On the contrary,” He purrs, one hand snagging Stiles’ right wrist in an echo of the offer Peter made in an empty parking lot all those years ago. He brings it to his mouth, Stiles’ heartbeat fluttering hummingbird-quick under his lips.
“I can’t turn anyone anymore,” He murmurs, regarding Stiles intently. “But I've grown rather fond of a certain empath, and it would be a shame to see him lose anything to the transformation anyway. Still,” He nuzzles the inside of Stiles’ wrist. “A mating Bite, I can give, and the next full moon is in less than a week. What do you say, Stiles?” Fangs scrape gently at his skin, making Stiles shiver even as he stares up at Peter with wide, wide eyes. “Yes or no?”
Stiles doesn't say anything for a long minute. Peter never looks away, outwardly patient as time with confidence to spare, but Stiles can sense the increasing trepidation roiling underneath.
“Mates are forever,” Stiles eventually reminds him somewhat dazedly.
Peter arches an eyebrow. “I'm well aware.”
Stiles licks his lips. Peter’s eyes don’t even flit down to follow the movement like they usually would. The man just continues holding his gaze, waiting for a reply.
Stiles can’t help quirking a crooked smile. “Yeah.”
He’s pretty sure Peter stops breathing for a moment. And then, “Yes?”
Stiles reaches up, hooks a hand around Peter’s shoulders, and yanks him down until they're chest to chest without an inch of space between them. “Yes, you idiot, of course, yes! Now are you gonna seal it with a kiss or what?”
And just like that, Peter’s eyes light up in a way that has nothing to do with firelight or Beta forms. He grins again, and if it’s a little goofy with relief, Stiles doesn't bring it up.
“Mating is serious business,” Peter says slyly, hips pressing down against Stiles’ with blatant suggestion. “I might have to seal it with more than just a kiss.”
Stiles laughs outright, only for another mouth to descend on his and swallow down the sound like it's oxygen.
As Stiles twines his arms around Peter, and a tongue plunders his mouth with greedy fervour, he thinks maybe even broken people can have happy endings too.