Actions

Work Header

Red Wall

Work Text:

It all starts because Peter takes a shortcut home.

The alley behind the seedy bar Peter is too classy to enter, as dark and decrepit and horror movie inspired as it might be, saves him a good eight minutes when he walks home from picking up take-out. Besides, he's hardly afraid of the dark, or whatever lurks in it.

The smell almost makes it not worth it, though. The overwhelming stench of vomit, beer, and general infestations clogs his nose almost the second he turns the corner into the narrow walkway, so he picks up his pace and resists the urge to pinch his nostrils shut to save them from the odor.

Down the alley, Peter hears a glass bottle shatter, followed almost instantaneously by drunken laughter. Peter rolls his eyes, because not his problem. If he wanted the drama of investigating every little thing that skittered in the dark, he'd go back to Beacon Hills and stand next to Derek for a few minutes. Derek was always a magnet for disaster.

The laughter gets closer as he walks briskly along. The source of it is revealed a second later: a slumped man, eclipsed in the darkness, leaning against a dumpster and chuckling at the shards of glass and spilled alcohol under his feet.

"Hey," the man calls out to him. "Help a brother out?"

Peter rolls his eyes, but stops anyway to take in the misery presented to him on a silver platter. This is, after all, what he lives for—seeing others live in the squander he himself is marginally, exponentially better than. He can take a moment out of his busy schedule to judge this poor man's lifestyle and give him a spot of advice.

"What you need more than money," Peter sighs, "is a long, long shower."

The man chuckles humorlessly, slipping lower down the wall as his grip on the dumpster softens. A sliver of his face catches the light, revealing more than his mop of hair and dark facial hair on his chin, and Peter is momentarily struck by a moment of familiarity.

It can't be.

Peter kneels down, reaching forward to tip the chin of the man into the light. His hand is swatted away a moment later, grumbled complaints following the touch.

"You have to pay to touch, mister," the man says sharply.

He shifts his head away from Peter's hand, displeased at their proximity. Peter tries to focus on the dim moonlight illuminating his features, feeling an unpleasant rock settle in his stomach as he recognizes the face, the eyes, the small nose. Even the voice is familiar, if not lower and rougher around the edges.

"You're kidding me," he murmurs, truly astonished. "Stiles?"

He looks up into the sky, just to make sure there isn't a face in the dark clouds laughing. There isn't. He heaves a deep sigh and turns back to Stiles, whose eyebrows have furrowed at the sound of his name.

"Have I seen you before?" he slurs.

Peter sighs again. "You're a bit far from Beacon Hills."

"Shuddup," is his reply, garbled and annoyed. He tries to pick himself up, pushing and grabbing ineffectually at the brick wall to get to his feet. "I don't live there anymore."

"Of course you don't," Peter gets up, and promptly, a hand winds its way around his coat, as if to yank him back down or use as leverage for standing up. "You're drunk."

"Yeah," Stiles says. "Help me get the fuck up."

Peter does. It takes longer than it should, Stiles hardly able to stand on his feet without buckling back to the floor. He grabs him by the forearms, keeping him steady, and tries to find a single sober thought in his eyes, unsuccessfully.

"Where do you live?" Peter asks. He can do his part for the community and take the drunken youth off the streets by shoving this one in a cab, but Stiles doesn't seem to get the memo that Peter is trying his hardest to be a good person.

"Who are you?" he asks instead, eyes narrowed. "Regular?"

A regular, god. Peter should've noticed it right away. His eyes travel down his body, past his drunkenly laughing mouth to the obscenely tight leather pants hugging his hips.

"Look what we have here," he murmurs. He can hardly believe it. For a second, he wonders if he was destined to come across this hot mess just to make him feel truly amazing about his own life, just to give him fuel for laughter whenever he's bored. "A common street whore?"

"Hey," Stiles says sharply, but his eyes are unfocused. "That's not nice. I said I like freelance streetwalker better."

When Stiles has said this, and to whom, Peter doesn't have the interest or the time to hear. A part of him very much wants to tape his mouth shut, but then again, then he wouldn't hear all of these juicy details of how Stiles' life has completely derailed these last few years. That, Peter wants to revel in.

And besides, he's practically been thrown in his lap. Years later, miles away from where they all started. If Peter was superstitious, he'd find it odd, and maybe a little foreboding, like they might be seeing a lot of each other in the future. Peter might not mind, considering Stiles is currently being a truly great influence on his own happiness regarding his life and choices.

"Sure," Peter brushes him off, dragging him down the alley. "Let's bring you home."

"No," Stiles says right away, pounding his fist on Peter's chest. "Need money. Who are you?"

"It wounds me that you don't remember," Peter sighs. "I did try very hard to kill you, after all."

Stiles groans. "God, not you again."

"Yes, me again."

He wonders who Stiles is thinking of, because certainly, the list is probably quite long by now. All sorts of creatures from the deep, only a few of them dead, should be filling his head, and Peter truly hopes he himself is in the top five.

"Just spot me some bills," Stiles tries again, hardly able to keep his head up. It rolls from Peter's shoulder to his own, his neck not coordinated enough under the weight of alcohol to keep his skull straight.

"I thought you trade favors for money."

Stiles moans. "I'm tired," he mumbles. "Don't wanna."

Peter sighs, dragging him further down the alley where the slightest spot of streetlights are visible. If he makes an educated guess, he presumes that Stiles lives in one of these derelict buildings that half-heartedly try to pass as livable apartments, with peeling paint and crumbling bricks and a racket of drunkards heard from the window every night.

He exhales slowly, trying to keep the overwhelming scent of liquor, and the lingering scent of cigarette smoke masked underneath it, out of his nose. “All right,” he says, one arm wound tight around Stiles’ waist to keep him upright. He feels very thin underneath him. “You’ll come with me.”

“No,” Stiles protests. “No.

By now, Peter is considering the tape on the mouth option. He pulls him out of the alley, past the other lumps of sleeping bodies littered on the ground under newspapers, and contemplates just how selfless he’s become. Practically cherubic, but with a nicer face, what with the offering up his home. Tomorrow, when he’s sober again and nursing a headache, Peter’s sure he’ll get to hear the entire pitiful tale.

He doesn’t bother arguing with him as Stiles whines and whimpers by his chest, hiccupping then and there, clearly not on board with being hauled off to an unknown house. Honestly. With his profession, it should be old hat for Stiles right now, foreign sheets and unexpected beds. And Peter’s not even intending to rummage about in his pants for a feel.

His house comes into view once they curve into the nicer parts of town. The streetlights illuminate the way alongside the headlights of the occasional car that comes peeling down the streets, shining spotlights on Stiles’ tired face. He looks much older than he ought to be, and whether that’s the stress in his eyes or the thick facial hair on his jaw, Peter isn’t quite sure yet.

They make it inside, and by now, Stiles has stopped complaining, accepting the invitation. Maybe the warmth of Peter’s house draws him in, a stark difference to the chilly outdoors, or maybe the sight of actual furniture and carpet under his feet. At least the guest room will finally get some use.

“Move along,” Peter instructs him as he all but staggers up the stairs. Even with Peter dragging him, his legs get caught up on the incline. “Channel what little of you is still sober.”

Stiles mumbles something, something grumbled and displeased. It’s probably along the lines of where have you taken me and I charge by the hour. Peter pushes the guest room door open and pulls him inside, no longer listening.

“Take your pants off,” Peter instructs. Leather that tight isn’t good for circulation, and certainly not sleep. He’s hardly sure he himself will be able to pry his fingers past the waistband to pull them down. Perhaps ripping them apart and destroying them for good will do the world a favor.

“No,” Stiles protests. He tries to push Peter’s hands away, resulting in him nearly tumbling to the floor before Peter grabs him sharply by the wrist again. “I said I don’t wanna.”

“I’m not here to molest you,” Peter snaps. “Really. Now take them off.”

Stiles unbuttons them, probably more for his own comfort than because of Peter’s demands. He pushes them down to his thighs, revealing creamy legs that are more slender than Peter thinks they should be, and manages to kick them off. The seams, tight on his body, leave indents on the sides of his legs.

“Much better,” Peter murmurs.

“Don’t touch me,” Stiles warns him. “Don’t.”

He's unconscious before Peter even throws him onto the bed, shirt riding halfway up his chest and head lolled onto the pillow. He's pitiful. Very pitiful.

--

Satin. Soft, silky satin, almost like a king's robe, wraps him up. And sunlight, surprisingly bright, shining over his eyes and over his whole body, cocoons him in tingling warmth.

Wait. That's not right.

Stiles' eyes snap open.

He's in a bed, and an unfamiliar one at that. He's had his fair share of drunken nights upon which he awoke with money on the table and his companion out of sight, either too ashamed to see the prostitute that they spent their night with or too busy to grant him with a good morning, but all the signs are missing. The broken snippets of memories, the sore body, the wad of cash with a lewd note in his vicinity.

His head is aching. All the alcohol he had last night feels like it's turned his body into a swamp, thick like molasses and unable to fully process anything but the sunlight burning his eyelids at the present moment. He slides his palm over his eyes and tries to remember.

Vodka. Gin. Tequila. Stumbling out of the pub with the barman yelling after him about outstanding tabs and thievery, and Stiles booking it to the nearest alley.

His head hurts, too much to try to pull memories out of the cobwebbed corners of his mind. He pinches the bridge of his nose and tries to ward the hangover off with a long exhale, but the throb continues. The mystery of his surroundings continue.

He was in the alley, right. He ended up in there with a bottle of beer he managed to pilfer from a table of truckers who weren't paying attention to their refilled drinks, and he dropped it. It had made him laugh, the way the bottle had shattered, and the sound of his own laughter made him laugh even harder. Then somebody came along, and they had talked to him, badgered him, knelt beside him.

He remembers shiny shoes that were demanding on the crunch of pavement. There was facial hair, he remembers that too. A hand on his chin. A chuckle at his clumsiness. An arm looped around his waist keeping him upright while the world swayed. A familiar voice.

Christ's sake. It snaps into place, and just like that, Stiles is completely awake.

How did it come to this, Stiles thinks, and starts questioning all of his decisions.

--

Peter wakes up in the morning feeling accomplished, hospitable, and surely soon-to-be-rewarded for his good deed.

Who will be doing the rewarding, Peter isn't sure. But in the push and pull of the world, Peter knows perfectly well that after being a model citizen who never slashes tires with his claws for fun and never murders the cashiers who dilly dally when ringing him up, he has some good luck coming his way. Saving Stiles from the pathetic wreckage of his life and his residence next to a dumpster can only contribute to this fountain of luck, and that puts an extra bounce of smugness in Peter's step as he gets up that day.

He really ought to start receiving awards for his selflessness, Peter thinks as he pokes his head in the spare room to see in what state of hung-over squalor Stiles is wallowing in. Despite its rumpled sheets, it's completely deserted.

It’s impressive, but then again, Peter presumes he must be used to debilitating hangovers what with the seedy hobbies he’s taken up. He shuts the door after making sure Stiles isn’t dead under the sheets, and goes downstairs. There, in his kitchen looking supremely out of place, is Stiles. He's sitting stiffly at the table, hands curled around a coffee mug he must've stolen from the cupboards.

"I see you've found the kitchen," Peter says, pouring himself a cup from the coffee pitcher. It's a bit sharper than Peter usually likes it, but then again, Stiles probably isn't as well versed in the art of managing expensive coffee machines like Peter is.

Stiles says nothing, taking another quiet gulp from his mug. Peter has many questions, most of them making fun at Stiles' expense, but his curiosity demands to be yielded to. Sitting there with his rumpled hair and red-rimmed eyes, gray circles clouding them with what looks like ten years of unnecessary old age, Stiles is a mess.

"You're a far way from home. Where are all your goody goody friends?" He drawls. "Surely Scott would never let you do this to yourself."

Stiles says perfectly silent.

Peter sighs. He feels like he's talking to an eleven year old, petulant and unyielding. "I'm taking you back to your father."

"No," Stiles says sharply, expression chiseled into something hard. "Don't."

"Why not?" Peter stirs his coffee, watching Stiles' fingers twitch around his mug like he wants more but doesn't want to ask for it.

"He doesn't—" Stiles' hand rubs at his neck. "I don't want him to see me like this."

"Oh," Peter smirks, bringing the cup up to his lips to let the fumes tickle his nose. "Darling daddy doesn't know his son is selling himself like a whore?"

"Shut up," Stiles says right away. His hands have turned white where they're gripping his mug. He looks so small, so vulnerable, so malnourished, like he hasn't had a proper meal in months. Peter blinks, easily remembering the same boy just years ago, but full of snark and shamelessness and big ideas.

"You're ashamed?" Peter murmurs. "How can you possibly do this if you're ashamed?"

"I'm not a blushing virgin," Stiles says, a biting edge of defense to his words. He's all sharp edges nowadays, no longer the soft hoodies and clean hands. Peter can't decide if he likes this Stiles better than the old one.

"Obviously not," Peter snorts into his coffee, causing ripples. "I can only imagine how many different ways you've been deflowered."

Stiles stands up from the table in one jerky push, the dishes clattering as the table sways after Stiles' knees bump the underside. He looks wild, untamed like a common street thug, and promptly sweeps a hand through his mop of dirty hair.

"I'm leaving," he says. His eyes sweep around the kitchen like he's staring at all the food he could be eating in regret, right before a hardness slides over his eyes that replaces any flickers of hunger. Peter's impressed. He's schooled himself into quite the stone soldier.

"No, you're not," he says, quite bored with Stiles' attempt to pretend shelter and food aren't his thing. "Sit down."

"I'm not going to be in your debt," Stiles says. "And I'm certainly not going to sit through all your shit."

Peter smiles. "It wouldn't be me if I didn't give you at least a little shit."

"You never should've—should've brought me here," Stiles looks around at Peter's home, a disgust wrinkling his nose. He's looking at Peter's belongings like now he officially knows there's something better than sleeping on the streets out there, which is nothing if not an unfortunate wake up call. "Into your house. Fuck. Do you really think I want to be here?"

"You prefer the five-star treatment of alleyway living, then?"

"Where's my stuff," Stiles grinds out, ignoring him. "Give me my things."

"You mean your expired driver’s license and your two condoms?" Peter swills his cup left and right. "Have to say... good to know that even prostitutes are staying safe."

Stiles balls his hands into fists and steps closer, almost as if he has half a mind to grab Peter by the shirt, snarl in his face, and demand his things or else before he thinks the better of it. He grits his teeth.

"I'm leaving," he says again, and this time he says it firmly, like not even Peter hoarding his pathetic possessions will stop him.

"I'm offering you a place to stay and actual food," Peter furrows his eyebrows. "You still don't trust me?"

Stiles' face of stone crumbles with a derisive snort of laughter. "So you're suddenly a Good Samaritan now, huh?" He looks extremely doubtful. Obviously, Peter is indignant.

"People change," he sweeps his hand down Stiles' body as if to prove this. "Look what happened to the pristine sheriff's son."

"Fuck you," Stiles emphasizes this with a flick of his middle finger before he turns sharply around to the door. God, Peter has to walk on fucking eggshells. He grabs him by the arm, jerking him back.

"Do I have to tie you down?"

"That'll cost you," Stiles wrenches his arm free. “I don’t do charity.”

Peter wonders when and why he decided to grow this much pride as an outer shell to hunker down in. It’s doing him more trouble than it is good, especially with Peter offering him a deal that’s practically too good to be true. Perhaps that’s why Stiles is so hard around the edges, a residual distrust of Peter’s intentions coloring all his opinions of him and his offers.

“You might as well stay,” Peter says. He wonders why he’s pushing this so much. “Whatever you assume I’m going to do to you here isn’t any worse than what’s going to happen to you there.”

Stiles’ eyes flash, the anger refueled. “Are you threatening me?”

Peter opens his mouth to soothe him, apparently having to treat him like a skittering animal hunted by spears, but Stiles’ middle fingers flip first. Even his fingers are skinny. He’s back in his leather pants, and in the daylight, Peter can see exactly how underweight he’s become, how dark his eyes are, how unruly his hair is.

“At least use the shower,” he says, pointing upstairs.

Stiles shakes his head. “With you and out there? I’ll take my chances with out there.”

He kicks the chair leg as if to make a statement, to rebelliously prove his own independence, and then he’s stalking out the front door and slamming it behind him. Winter is coming, Peter thinks, so he’ll be back.

--

Fate, Peter thinks while gathering up the laundry of his guest room sheets, if it exists, must be having a good laugh over him right about now.

Seeing Stiles. Seeing Stiles miles away from Beacon Hills whoring himself out in Peter's vicinity. It smells too strongly of something to be a mere coincidence, even if he isn't one to dabble in the art of "meant to be" prattle.

As always when he needs it least, Derek's voice pops into his head that maybe some things happen for a reason, the reason being specifically to urge him to be a better person. Personally, Peter thinks that being presented with a scantily clad boy with a low rate for sexual favors would lead him further down the road of sins than away from it, but the fact that said boy is Stiles does complicate matters a bit.

He sweeps Stiles' sheets, only occupied the one night, into the washer, whiffs of cheap alcohol tickling his nose as he dumps the linens into the gathering suds and water.

Then again, there is a good chance he'll never see Stiles again. He migrates a lot; Stiles probably does the same. Sometimes there are coincidences, and sometimes they are ugly and messy and disguised in such a fashion that one thinks they are signs of fate. Stiles, wrapped in leather and selling his body on the street, is surely not one of those signs.

The washing machine churns.

--

"How much?"

Stiles looks the man over—late thirties, a salt and pepper stubble, and the crisp blazer of a businessman hanging over his frame, slightly heavier than it probably was ten years ago. There's a glint of gold on his left hand’s ring finger which makes Stiles' mouth twist.

"A hundred if you want a blowjob," he flicks his cigarette, burned down to a stub, onto the ground. "Three hundred if you want to fuck me."

"Three hundred?" The man sounds enraged. "It was two last week."

Last week. Stiles looks him up and down again, and remembers nothing of him. He wonders if he was drunk, or possibly even drugged, and hides his disgust.

"Price went up."

"Why?!"

"Inflation," Stiles drawls, grinding the rolling cigarette into the pavement under his shoes. "And you can consider it an extra payment for my discretion." He flicks his eyes deliberately down to the man's left hand. "Your wife doesn't know you spend your nights looking for street walkers, does she?"

The man's face turns an unattractive shade of blotchy red, his eyes narrowed. He's really not handsome, easily seen in the way his fingers are stubby and his nose shines with grease under the streetlight, but Stiles would be a fool to turn down the cash.

"I have two hundred," he haggles, the fingers on his briefcase flexing as he looks down both sides of the alley, as if expecting his wife and children to materialize out of the dark and shriek at him for his shameful behavior.

"Too bad," Stiles says. He cocks his head down the alley to where the sound of inebriated giggling is faint. "There's an ATM down the block."

"Two hundred and fifty," he grumbles.

Stiles looks at his Armani briefcase and professional haircut and feels his anger rise to the surface. He already wants another cigarette. "I'm not negotiating," he says. "Three hundred. Take it or leave it."

For a second, Stiles thinks he'll leave it. A part of him, the part that still has integrity and dignity and doesn't want to earn his money by groping rich businessmen wants him to, and another part, the part that likes being able to afford new shoes and dinner, wants him to take the offer without another word.

"Fine," the man mumbles. He's probably disgusted with himself, and pissed off with Stiles, and somewhere in between both of those emotions, aroused enough to still want a quick fuck.

"Fine," Stiles spits out too, pushing himself off the alley wall. "Provide a bed."

The man pauses, then starts walking briskly down the lane to where Stiles knows the nearest hotel is. He checks routinely over his shoulder to make sure Stiles is following but never lessens the distance between them, as if constantly in a rigid state of discomfort at the idea of being seen walking side by side with a whore. Whatever. Stiles doesn't want to be seen next to him either.

He checks into the hotel while Stiles examines the lobby. It's much cheaper than what the guy can afford, Stiles knows that much from his brand suit and his taste in expensive sexual hobbies, and it makes Stiles hate him and the evening to come that much more.

He thinks about Peter, an odd twist to his chest as he does so, and his lovely house and sudden hospitality, and for a brief moment, wishes he had taken him up on his offer and stayed.

--

Despite what it looks like, Peter vehemently denies deliberately walking home through the seedier parts of town. It was an accident, he says, a distraction holding his attention when he was meant to take a left down to the cleaner streets.

This time, the dumpster is occupied by somebody else, a leggy blonde five inches taller than she should be with her platform heels. She hollers at Peter as he walks primly by.

"I can show you a good time!" she promises.

Peter looks at her. "Not my type."

"Whatever your type is, baby, I can be it," she licks her lips, and Peter gives her kudos for confidence. He pauses, turning toward her.

"Do you know the scrawny kid who's here on the weekends? Desperately in need of a haircut and a wardrobe redo?"

She frowns at him, her coy attitude dropped when she hears the subject pivot to Stiles. "I don't have the right parts for you," she says, dejected. She slumps against the wall. "I've seen him a few times. He comes here sometimes from the bar.”

“The bar,” Peter looks over his shoulder at the pub, a truly dismal establishment he never entered for fear of instantly contracting a life threatening disease just by touching a table. He can imagine Stiles in it, lurking in the corners, just enough of a sly look in his eyes to attract interested customers. He curls his lip. “Of course he does.”

“Is he a friend?” the woman asks. With all her dark eyeliner and long legs, she probably charms all sorts of passerby into spending a pricy evening with her. Peter doesn’t bite.

“He’s a nuisance,” he says honestly. Anybody who occupies this much space in his brain for no good reason is just that.

“Should I tell him you said hi if I see him? Leave him a message?”

For one crazy second, he thinks about leaving his address. Stiles probably doesn’t remember his house number, not after being so trashed he could hardly see straight when he was lugged to Peter’s place, and an address could be an open invitation that warms his pocket. The thought is pushed aside a moment later, because how badly does Peter want him there in his house, moody and brooding and temperamental? Why even?

“No,” Peter shakes his head, and walks briskly away before he changes his mind.

--

The rain comes down hard on Monday evening.

Stiles can hardly be sure it's actually Monday, though. He's gotten skilled at guessing the weekday based on the flow of traffic and the rowdiness of the bar he typically stations himself outside of, but today, the crowds are thinner than usual because of the weather. The clouds hang over the sky all day like a dark, low hanging sheet, reminding Stiles of his misery and how much he wishes he still had a roof over his head, and now they're driving that point home by raining on his head.

It's pitiful how much he's thought lately of Peter's house, of the soft silken sheets he had one quiet night on and the modernly adorned kitchen, the chance he had to stay. He's not good at accepting charity, just like his father, especially when charity is coming from an untrustworthy psychopath he's never crossed paths with cleanly before.

He's soaked in minutes when the rain turns from a gentle drizzle to a strong downpour. It feels like the sky is laughing at him, or maybe punishing him for his pride and his inability to accept help when he needs it. Stiles is pretty sure he is the definition of needing help nowadays, especially as a cigarette-addled, homeless alcoholic with a penchant for sucking dicks for pocket money. Here in the rain, abandoned on a cold bench with nothing but soggy cigarettes in his pockets, the sadness of his life hits him as hard as a clap of thunder.

"You're pathetic," a voice says, sounding very unimpressed, and Stiles whips around, blinking the rainwater out of his eyes.

"Of course it's you," Stiles groans. There's Peter, watching Stiles like he's looking at a puppy in a storm. Speak of the devil and all that. His eyes flick up to the dark umbrella shielding Peter from the downpour and tries not to feel the snap of jealousy in his stomach.

"Street life doesn't suit you," Peter says breezily, gaze raking down his unshaven face and sopping clothes. "You've looked better."

Stiles says nothing, partly because he's agreeing. He knows he looks like an extra on the set of Les Miserables, filthy and grimy and in rags. He grits his teeth to keep them from chattering.

"Would you mind?" Stiles says, hoping just a little that the rain is loud enough to swallow his voice. Of course Peter hears. Werewolf hearing and all. Stiles had almost forgotten.

"You want my umbrella?" Peter tilts it a bit. Stiles' jaw jerks down just enough to be seen as a nod. "No. Then I would be wet."

He looks at Stiles like he's rightfully insane. He probably is, if he's begging Peter Hale to share his umbrella.

"What happened to your pretty face?" Peter asks him. Stiles' hand comes up subconsciously to touch the swollen skin around his mouth, his jaw sore and his split lip bleeding. He thought the rain had washed it all away by now.

"None of your business," Stiles answers. He hears Peter tut, dry and sleek and poised under his umbrella, and Stiles feels the brunt of life hit him over the head while the rain relentlessly pounds on him.

"You really should screen your clients a bit more carefully," Peter says. "Or you'll end up black and blue all over."

Stiles scowls. He doesn't want to have this conversation. He doesn't want to see Peter. If he could leave this town, set up camp somewhere new where not a single face knew of his name, his reputation, his dirty mouth, he would, but his feet couldn't walk far enough and his pockets are too empty to finance it.

"If you already knew, why'd you fucking ask?" Stiles grumbles, more to his knees than out loud. Again, Peter hears him, softly chuckling.

"Maybe I just enjoy listening to you narrate your sad life," Peter says, like it's funny. If Stiles wasn't so cold, wasn't so wet, wasn't so numb all over, he'd punch him in the nose.

But Peter doesn't give him a chance, because then he turns around, perfectly content to leave Stiles in the rain while his five hundred dollar shoes clack on the wet pavement. Once a bastard, always a bastard.

"Well?" Peter's voice pipes up suddenly. Stiles looks up to where Peter's looking over his shoulder at him impatiently, a sheet of heavy rain blurring his features. "Are you coming?"

--

He comes, hating himself while he does so. He wonders if this is a despicable thing of him to do, to accept help from a man like Peter, or if it's smart of him to do so when he has no other option. His mind battles between the two opposites the entire way to Peter's house, Stiles slinking along a good two feet behind Peter the entire time his clean shoes sound on the pavement. It reminds him of how clients used to walk behind him, unwilling to be seen next to him, a feeling Stiles suddenly understands. He doesn't share his umbrella.

Peter doesn't object when, shivering, chattering, and soaked to the bone, Stiles goes upstairs to Peter's bathroom and locks the door. If nothing else, the visit is worth the shower, worth the hot, steaming water soothing his aching muscles.

And the shower is hot, nothing like the cheap motels he's usually taken to for a long night of work. It runs hot enough to nearly burn him, reddening his skin under the spray, and he doesn't bother turning it down the entire time he stands, still, until the water. Maybe, he thinks, it'll make him cleaner, better, somehow less ashamed.

He cleans himself carefully, using all of Peter's neatly stacked bottles of gels, scrubbing the suds into his skin, and watches them swirl down his thigh in white curls, down to his ankles, down to the drain under his feet. When he turns the shower head off and steps out from behind the curtain, the bathroom feels unnaturally quiet and cold.

He feels disgusting. He's disgusted with himself, with the angry marks on his skin and the possessive imprints of impatient hands. Used, discarded, recycled, that's what he is. He touches a purpled spot on his shoulder, sore even to the touch, and Stiles feels like retching.

He wishes his father were here. He would hold Stiles close, broad hand wrapped protectively around his head and broader chest a comforting, familiar warmth for him to burrow into. What he has now is a man twice his age who has taken him in for god knows what reason. Stiles feels lost.

The bathroom mirror is fogging up, shielding Stiles from his own reflection. The last thing he sees is his distorted, gaunt shape in the film of steam, malnourished and sickly. If he slides his hands down his flanks he feels bones, prominent, underfed ribs used to no breakfast, no lunch, sometimes no dinner when sitting on a curb.

It's awful, Stiles thinks, sitting in Peter Hale's house and feeling like the more repulsive human being. It doesn't help that Peter's living in opulence—muted opulence, but opulence nonetheless—with heated towel racks and expensive colognes lined up on the sink. Stiles feels the strong urge to smash every one of them, kept at bay by an equally strong desire to spray them on himself. To feel as if, even under a delusion, that he can afford to walk around with Gucci's priciest scent radiating off his collarbones.

He sinks onto the toilet bowl, hair dripping water onto his knees. There's only two reasons Stiles can fathom as to why Peter would offer up his home—he's looking to repent for his sins and become a better human being, he actually has already become a better human being, or he wants what everybody else always wants from Stiles.

He feels ill again, the bubbling in his stomach and churning in his gut unsettling when there's no food to regurgitate. He can't tell if he's making a mistake, or if he's putting his trust in the wrong person, or if he's beyond help. If he didn't already know that it won't help, he'd let himself cry, just a few tears and muffled sobs into his fists to feel sorry for himself.

He knows that Peter is down the hall, probably waiting for him. He wonders what he expects from Stiles, and if he wants him to repay him for his generosity. If he should go ahead and give in just like he did with all the others, or if he should leave with the last remains of his dignity. He wants to stay, even if it is Peter's house, because he wants to remember the feeling of having a home, having a roof, having a kitchen with laughter and eggs for breakfast.

He takes a deep breath, and wraps a towel around himself, already warm from the rack. It should warm him up, but it gives him a chill.

--

The shower runs for a long time, probably long past the hot water has turned tepid. He was probably cold, or distracted by proper hygiene, or possibly crying. Peter won't go in and check only to have Stiles throw shampoo bottles at his head. The boy's all claws nowadays.

He leaves the door to his guest room open so Stiles can take the hint that he's allowed to stay in the bed, not that he'll do so without a fight. For such a smart boy, Stiles sure has let his pride run over his intelligence.

He waits for the sound of reluctant feet walking slowly down the hall, the signal that Stiles has resigned himself to the charity Peter's offering and agreed to have a good night's sleep in a real bed, but it doesn't come. Instead, Peter hears the bathroom door creak open, and the footsteps stop short.

He looks up, and there's Stiles, wrapped up in a towel and wavering on the spot. Framed in the doorway, his silhouette looks incredibly small, like that of a young boy's, his frame skinny and reserved and terribly underfed.

"Thanks for the shower," Stiles says, sounding horribly uncomfortable. It occurs to Peter that he doesn't know how to communicate with people without touching, licking, sucking a part of them anymore. "I should probably go."

"Well, that's ridiculous," Peter turns the page, his eyes half-heatedly reading the words. "Why would you get clean and dry to sit in the rain again?"

Stiles shifts in the doorway, looking more uncertain than ever. More vulnerable than ever. Then he steps closer, a firm stride into Peter's room and into the soft light of his bedside lamp.

"I know why you're doing this," Stiles says, voice hard. "You want sex."

Peter frowns. "Pardon?"

"And it's the only thing I have to offer you, honestly," Stiles admits, seesawing from foot to foot. "But I don't want to and I'm not going to. So if that's why you're doing this for me, you might as well kick me out now."

"Would you calm the fuck down?" Properly deterred, Peter slams his book shut. "It's rude to accuse people of things they haven't done."

He gives Stiles a judgmental glower, the kind that will put him in his place and encourage him to stop provoking his benefactor with squabbles. Stiles is not convinced.

"You always want something," he says suspiciously, dejectedly, like he's already resigned himself as a one-trick-horse, a boy with only one skill, one way to please. "You don't help people for free."

Peter tips his head back, listening to his skull thump the headboard as he stares firmly at the ceiling and counts to ten.

"I don't want to sleep with you," he says, shooting Stiles a wide grin. "Happy?"

Naturally, he doesn't look happy. Of course, he's a low-class prostitute possibly riddled with diseases living on the street without a dime to his name, so Peter supposes he understands him not wanting to turn the frown upside down.

"Then what do you want?" Stiles persists. He looks annoyed now, like Peter's keeping things from him.

"Nothing, for fuck's sake," he slams the closed book onto the mattress next to him, the quiet thump of it hitting the sheets unsatisfying. "Do you want to live in the wet, rainy, cold world? Do you want to suck sweaty balls for a living?"

Even from a distance, he can see Stiles curl in on himself in the darkness, retreating from the weak spot Peter's pushed.

"Fine," Stiles says. He pauses. "I don't believe you, you know."

Peter reaches for his book again. "That's not my problem."

"I know you want something."

"Again, not my problem," he thumbs his way to his bookmark, drawing himself back into the words. "You can sleep where you did last time in the guest room. Sheets are fresh."

Something in Stiles' demeanor seems to perk up despite itself at the idea of a clean bed, a real mattress, washed pillowcases. If he still wants to argue, he seems to have enough common sense to reschedule it for tomorrow.

"Just the one night," Stiles mumbles, turning around with a soft tap of his fingers against the doorway, and then he's disappearing into the darkness into the hallway.

--

Stiles won't lie, he needs the long night's rest in a real bed.

It feels like heavenly clouds when he first lays down, the mattress soft under the dip of his body without a single squeak of old age to accompany him settling on it. A part of him isn't surprised—who would Peter even invite into his guest bedroom anyway?—and another part wants to think of Peter as little as possible and just enjoy the bizarre twist of fate dropped in his lap.

He pulls the soft sheets up to his chest, the warmth luring him into a night of untroubled rest. The small apartment with the roach problem he had managed for himself evicted him nearly a week ago by now, whisking away all the things that he could look forward to every night like a roof over his head or a couch to snooze on. Getting it all back plus then some is almost too lucky. Too good to be true.

He can't shake off the feeling that he's been used for leverage, a pawn placed to the side for the precisely right moment. That's the Peter he remembers, always plotting, always using people's downfalls to his advantage. Stiles knows by now that people don't change. Sometimes they try on new beliefs and new attitudes for size, but breaking out of one's own personality never works, and everybody ends up just as corrupted, just as strange, just as fucked up as before.

He locks the door behind him before he gets settled in, something to give him peace of mind even though he knows perfectly well that if Peter wants to kill him, he could easily snap the door in half. He has advantages on Stiles, in strength, money, resources, everything imaginable, and it makes Stiles wonder what he himself has to offer. What Peter could possibly want from him after bumping into him years later in a city far away from Beacon Hills.

He wonders for a moment if across the hall, Peter's listening to his frantic heartbeat, deciphering his thoughts. Stiles isn't used to the uncomfortable, prickling feeling that comes with being around werewolves anymore. For years, it was just humans, and no more monsters. Humans are easy. Humans only want sex, money, and power. Monsters factor in revenge and sadistic urges to kill.

He rolls over in his bed, tense despite the heaviness to his bones and the softness of the sheets. Now is when he'd expect himself to yank his own hair and sob into the night trying to figure out how it all came to this, but Stiles knows by now that weeping fixes nothing. Whining fixes nothing. What ifs only make things worse.

He'll see what happens tomorrow. He'll wait until then.

--

Stiles doesn't come down for breakfast the next day. It gives Peter visions of Stiles prying open the bedroom window to escape from the shelter Peter's selflessly offering because he's afraid of being murdered in his sleep, visions that amuse him well past ten a.m., at which point the breakfast laid out on the table officially meanders into brunch classifications.

"Do you want breakfast?" Peter asks from his door as brunch starts morphing into lunch, except Stiles doesn't look up from where his head is in his hands. He waits a solid ten seconds for an answer before he considers repeating himself when suddenly, Stiles gets to his feet, his every movement jittery.

"I can't do this," Stiles mutters, more to the ground than anything else.

"Breakfast?" Peter asks. "It won't eat you. Usually the other way around, actually."

"Not breakfast," Stiles says. He looks like he's close to a panic attack, his arms trembling. "I can't stay here. I can't let you do this for me."

"We already had this conversation."

"I can't owe you," Stiles mumbles. "I don't want to."

Peter crosses his arms. "Where would you even go? Are you always this self-sacrificing?"

“I only said one night,” Stiles reminds him. “I can’t be in your debt. You, of all people. God.”

His pride will strangle him, Peter thinks. Perhaps a good slap to the face will bring him back to earth, stop the furious trembling of his arms, but Stiles is so jittery Peter is hesitant to even approach. He keeps his distance.

“You’re staying,” Peter decides for him softly. The voice in his head asks why, why, why? and Peter has no answer for it. Maybe he’s bored. Maybe he’s out of his mind bored. He needs a change. “I have the room. I have the money. I might not have the patience, but I have everything else.”

Stiles isn’t listening. He’s wringing his hands through his hair, as if trying to decide between the lesser of two evils—Peter, or the streets. Peter looks at him, his bird’s nest of hair and wild beard and animal-like jumpiness, and feels like letting him go would be doing the world more harm than good. He can do his part. He might even reap rewards.

“I can’t,” Stiles mumbles.

Peter snaps. He sighs, uncrossing his arms. “Why the fuck not?” he growls. “Leave when you get bored. Leave when you can stand up on your own feet. Leaving now when you need help—”

“I don’t need help.”

“You need a lot more, actually,” Peter says. “You need an actual meal, and new clothes, and an attitude adjustment.”

That earns him a glare, which is still better than the panicked mumbling he was watching a moment earlier. “I don’t need you.”

“Are you really this stupid?” Peter asks. He should let him go, really. “Are you worried it’s too good to be true? Worried I’ll mangle you when you’re not looking?”

Apparently, he’s hit the nail on the head, as Stiles stays perfectly quiet. Finally, his shoulders sag. “Fine,” he says, and doesn’t sound happy about it. “I’ll stay.”

Why? the voice in his head persists. What good is he?

Peter doesn’t like people asking him questions he doesn’t know the answer to, least of all himself. So he does the healthy, mature thing, and ignores them.

--

It only takes Peter a few hours to see that everything about Stiles is different.

It was already clear the last time, but now, with no reason to fight and no reason to complain, it's become obvious when Stiles still does both. He's a sharp object in every sense of the word, from his quick wit to his dangerous edges. It's almost sad, Peter thinks, exactly how much he could probably make of himself, and yet here he is.

Here, specifically, being Peter's backyard. He finds him there when the house is empty of his footsteps and erratic heartbeat—sometimes sluggish, sometimes nervous—lounging on his patio furniture with his feet up on the table and a cigarette in between his fingers. The complete definition of class, Peter thinks dryly, and slips outside as well.

"Hiding, are we?"

"Escaping, more like it," Stiles drawls. "From you, by the way."

Peter raises an eyebrow. He's extremely pleasant company after all, what with the rescuing Stiles off the streets put into consideration. He steps closer, crossing his arms. "You do realize it's my house," Peter says. "If you really wanted to hide, you'd have to crawl under the floorboards. And even then, I could hear your heartbeat." Stiles says nothing, blowing out another puff of smoke. "I don't remember you being so scared of the big bad wolf."

"Not scared," Stiles clarifies. "Annoyed, maybe." He looks at the cigarette in his hands. "Aren't you going to say something about my smoking?"

"I could always make a joke about oral fixations if you want me to."

Stiles stubs out his cigarette with a grimace. "You're disgusting," he mutters, flicking the butt onto the pavement.

"You asked," Peter drawls, watching the cigarette skitter down the concrete, leaving flakes of lit ashes on its way. "Were you looking to have me lecture you on lung cancer?"

"No," Stiles grumbles. "I expected a snide comment."

"I don't care what you're addicted to," Peter says. "I don't care what sordid habits—other than the obvious—you've picked up. Just don't let me catch my sheets smelling like cigarette smoke."

Stiles visibly tenses, fingers flicking together like they're already aching for another cigarette to hold onto. "The obvious?" He repeats.

"The general whoring about," Peter explains. "Not that I'm judging."

"Not judging?" Stiles spits out. "What is this then? Concern? Mockery?"

"All I'm doing is stating the obvious."

"Who the hell needs that?" Stiles says. He's all hard edges, and Peter would be impressed if he wasn't so damn annoyed—partly with himself for bringing this monstrosity into his house, mostly just at Stiles' inability to use basic conversation manners. "No one wants someone to badger them about their fucking nervous ticks."

Nervous ticks. Peter counts all the ones he can see on Stiles with one sweep over his body—the anxious fingers shaking around his cigarette, the abused over-bitten bottom lip, the constantly moving thigh, the tapping foot. What he needs, Peter thinks, is medication.

"I'm not out here to badger you about your cigarettes," Peter says, already incredibly irritated. "I'm here because you need a responsible adult in your life."

Stiles' eyes narrow as he surveys the area. "I need a responsible adult?" He repeats. "Where is this responsible adult?"

Make that extremely irritated. "You're a mess," Peter says, no longer interested in the faux smiles and polite sugarcoating. "You need guidance.

"From you?" Stiles stubs out the cigarette against the wall. "I don't think so."

If he'd only take his head out of his ass for two seconds, Peter wishes. "Get up," he says.

"No."

"Get up," he repeats himself, thinking of adding a subtle threat to help move things along.

He goes to grab Stiles instead when he doesn't bother exerting a single ounce of energy on Peter's behalf to fulfill his requests, leaning across the table to seize his wrist. Stiles responds quickly, jerking his hand away before Peter has the chance to touch him.

"Don't touch me," he hisses, shooting to his feet. The chair he vacates shakes as he does so.

"You're a bit old to still believe in cooties," Peter says. "Do you think I'm diseased?"

"I think a lot of things about you," Stiles replies. "What do you want?"

Peter doesn't answer, sure it will only cause more of a storm inside Stiles' chest. Instead he turns around, waiting for Stiles to follow, which he ultimately does, transfixed by his curiosity if not by Peter's words. He goes all the way up the hall to the bathroom, where he rummages around in the medicine cabinet for the prize he's looking for. An electric, sleek, never before used razor.

"What's this?" Stiles asks, wary.

"A bathroom," Peter sweeps his hands demonstratively through the room. Then he points to the razor laid on the edge of the sink. "This is a razor."

"Wow, what new words to add to my vocabulary."

"So you can finally join modern civilization," he says as he watches Stiles pick up the razor. "And leave the jungle."

Stiles' fingers reach for his overgrown stubble, scrubbing over the coarse hair. "I think it's manly."

Peter snorts. "You would," he reaches for the razor, his hand brushing Stiles'. "Allow me."

Stiles' hand flinches away, his body recoiling like he's been slapped across the face. He's so fucked up, Peter thinks but makes the smart choice not to say out loud, because it was nothing but a touch of fingertips. It poses a question for him if Stiles is disgusted at skin contact, or frightened of Peter specifically. Oddly enough, Peter isn't relishing in the idea of the latter being the case.

"You're a mess," he ends up saying, repeating himself from before so it sinks in and ignoring Stiles' glare. "If this is you being in love with me—"

"What?" Stiles interjects, apparently scandalized out of his rigidity. "I'm not fucking in love with you."

"Well, I'd honestly prefer that to whatever this is," Peter motions to Stiles' reserved body language. "That I can live with. This deer in the headlights fear you've discovered, well, I thought you'd already grown out of that."

"I'm not scared of you either, asshole," Stiles says. "I just. I don't like." He takes a breath, apparently both annoyed and uncomfortable by the conversation topic. "I'm not all that into touching people right now."

"I noticed," Peter picks up the bottle of aftershave and slaps it into Stiles' hand, watching how he consciously stays perfectly still as Peter's fingers brush his again, as if proving his strength. "I'm not going to molest you."

"It's not you," Stiles mutters, then barks out a laugh. "For once, actually, it's not you."

"It's the recovering prostitute thing," Peter says, rolling his eyes. This is his life now apparently, living with ex-escorts of the cheapest caliber and putting up with the accompanying snark.

"Don't roll your fucking eyes."

"I didn't roll my eyes," Peter denies, and then does it again.

"I'm gonna hit you."

"I'd love to see you try," Peter tries to focus back on the subject at hand, shaving. "Perhaps later. Now would you concentrate on removing that monstrosity?"

The razor clicks on, smoothly silent. Stiles takes a moment to look at it with a mixture of apprehension and distrust, and then brings it up to his chin.

--

Stiles touches his jaw for hours after he shaves, unfamiliar with the smoothness of hairless skin.

It had been strange after he finished, how he looked at himself in the mirror and saw a younger, cleaner boy than what he knew. It looked nothing like him, the kid in the mirror, his clear chin complete offset by the overgrown hair on his head. It had been a long time since he last had the opportunity to shave, and the lack of coarse dark hair crowding his mouth feels almost cold, unnatural.

He thinks about how silly he is, getting introspective over a bit of facial hair, but nowadays, Stiles feels like even the small things hold heavy weight. Almost like all of this happening—seeing Peter of all people, so far away from home at that, and ending up a guest in his house—is a cosmic sign to start looking out for the things he would've dismissed as coincidences and trivialities a few weeks ago. Maybe the small things do matter. Maybe it's all right to look in the mirror and wonder who the hell he is.

He stays in his room while he considers all these things, though, hardly interested in Peter watching the gears turn behind his eyes. Besides, he's actually become comfortable in his room by now, safe among the soft sheets and shelves of books, even if he was hell bent against the idea of fitting into any part of Peter's life. The house is nice, fresh, almost loving in a way the streets never could be.

The razor does relax his worries in a strange way, however. What sort of murderer would go out of their way to helpfully groom their victims before attacking? If Peter had wanted Stiles' limbs, his organs, his entire body to sell for scraps, he's waiting an awfully long time. Maybe, Stiles thinks hesitantly, he has not walked into a mousetrap.

He breathes in, calmer than before, and smells Peter's aftershave on his cheeks. It's oddly soothing.

--

Stiles spends a lot of time keeping to himself, which Peter is perfectly fine with. His presence is sometimes hardly noticeable when he's not fighting with Peter, only leaving behind ghostly traces of himself in the forms of empty cigarette cartons in the trash and an almost empty shampoo bottle in the shower.

Peter learns quickly that he likes two places the best: the backyard, where even nature stays silent on some overcast afternoons, and his room, which he's presumably turned into his own private lair to make himself feel protected. Finding him, then, on the rare occasions when he wants to see his face, is not hard.

It's that afternoon when he finds Stiles perched on the end of his bed, sheets hardly rumpled, not the same casual lounging Peter would have expected of him. His rigid spine and reluctance to settle on the bed speak his discomfort for him—something Peter contributes more to the situation than the accommodations.

He has a book on the bed he's reading as well, perfectly quiet as he flips pages, and it's not until Peter sees the spine of it that he sees the first flicker of the Stiles he remembers in him. It's one of Peter's family heirlooms, an old grimoire of monsters passed down generations, spindly illustrations and nearly archaic language describing beast upon beast that's ever met a Hale at one time or another. It reminds him of Stiles back in the days when he would pore over research, devour every bit of knowledge he could for the sake of Scott's well-being, clumsily finding his way through what was myth and what was the ugly truth in a world of werewolves being one of the nicer abominations.

Unaware of Peter leaning in his doorway, Stiles reads on, perfectly focused. The memories must be rushing back for him as well, making Peter wonder if he misses the adventure—Derek would call it causing trouble—as much as Peter does. Not that he's ever completely out of the woods. Stiles, perfectly human despite everything, can walk away from the monstrous world without having to look over his shoulder. Peter, on the other hand, is forever bound to it, even if the excitement of the chain reactions caused in Beacon Hills years ago has fizzled out.

"Miss the adventure, do you?"

Stiles looks up sharply, entire body jolting. The uneasy alertness that comes from living on unsavory streets is obvious in his body language.

"No," Stiles mumbles, shutting the old book. "Maybe. I don't miss the constant threat of death."

Peter thinks about pointing out that what he does now, throw himself thoughtlessly into the beds of strangers, is just as dangerous, if not less obvious. Fighting monsters with swords—that's comic book dangerous. Wondering if your latest client is a sociopath who has drugs at hand and is a little too careless with his breath play—that's dangerous in a way comic books and Sunday cartoons will never touch.

"You should go to a doctor," Peter suggests. He thinks he doesn't say it unkindly, but Stiles goes stiff anyway.

"What? No!"

"I know a good one," Peter reassures him. "You could have diseases, for all you know—"

"Did you fucking hear me?" Stiles cuts in. How he can go from calmly reading to winding himself up in a frenzy is beyond Peter, his mercurial attitude probably another side effect of the streets. "No."

"You need new clothes too," Peter says, unfazed. He watches Stiles look down at his attire—one of Peter's old shirts and even older sweatpants, and seems to unconsciously curl in on himself.

"No," Stiles says again. "I'm totally fine."

Peter watches him push the book back under the bed. He wonders briefly if his interest in it has absolutely nothing to do with the supernatural, but rather reminds of a time when he had unshakable friends. People who would do anything for him. Those kind of promises are dangerous.

"Are you scared to leave the house?" Peter murmurs. He feels he's hit the nail on the head when he sees Stiles' shoulders set. "Afraid of running into an old flame? You realize I'd be there too, right?"

He thinks about flashing his claws at Stiles, proof that there's no reason for him to fear temperamental clients when he has a werewolf with no morals at his side, but thinks Stiles is too likely to run scared at the sight. Many times, Peter thinks he's turned into something of a deer caught too often in the threatening glare of headlights.

"It's embarrassing," Stiles mutters. "And I don't need you paying for my medical bills or my clothes like—like you're my dad."

"I'll put it on your tab," Peter says, even if he's mentally thinking that he will never ever want to be seen collecting money from Stiles Stilinski. There's something so very backwards about that. "You should at least know if you're clean."

"Of what, STDs?"

"I believe they're called STIs nowadays," Peter says. "But yes, you ought to know." He furrows his eyebrows. "How can you parade yourself around when you don't know what you're spreading?"

"I use protection, thanks very much."

Peter wonders if he's supposed to commend him for this, or if that would be another thing that would set Stiles' hot and cold temper off. Both are probably true, he thinks.

"Gold star for you," he says, and a second later, the expected flare of anger lights up in Stiles' eyes. "It'll just be an afternoon. Do I need to take you out for ice cream afterwards for you to agree?"

"You're such an idiot," Stiles huffs out under his breath. "I'll go. But not for you."

"Why am I not surprised," Peter murmurs. "I'll make you an appointment."

--

The doctor's room is white and sterile, the doctor is professional as promised, and Stiles is terrified.

The last time he was at the doctor, he was with his father, who would always stand a few feet away with a pinched look to nose that he always would in medical environments, as if reliving bad memories. It used to make Stiles want to leave hospitals quickly, especially when paired with his own miserable recollections of the medicinal smells and chattering over the intercom, an instinct his body has not grown out of. His feet fidget restlessly by the crinkly cot he's sitting on, aching to jump away and leave.

In the waiting room, Stiles saw a man seemingly holding half his brain in place with a napkin, a boy who had curled up his pants to reveal a large, slobbering animal bite on his ankle, and a woman with an eye infection so terrible it seemed her eyeball had swelled to the size of a beach ball, and still—he feels like the dirtiest thing in the entire office. The most worthy to be judged.

And he will be judged, he knows that much. Regardless of what Peter has whispered to the doctor before coming in, he recognizes what the look he gets after trying to estimate the number of sexual partners he's had in the last year alone means. The eyes, they give it away. The mouth will curve into the next question unblinkingly but the eyes, they will linger to say dirty street whore.

The door opens, the doctor returning, this time with Peter in tow.

"All right then, Mr. Stilinski," the doctor says. He has a stoic face, never faltering even when Stiles rattled off a list of partners he's had, an approximation of how much alcohol he drinks in a week, like all his judgment is primly hidden behind a doctor's mask. "We have everything we need."

Stiles is glad the poking and prodding by needles and cotton swabs is over. The only thing that could improve this appointment would be if he was wearing clothing instead of a paper toga.

"We'll have your results soon," the doctor says, eyes on his chart. Stiles wonders what's written on it, and then firmly remembers that he doesn't care. "We'll call you when we find out the news."

"Can I get dressed now?" Stiles asks. Peter steps forward, handing him his—actually, Peter's—sweater, surprisingly helpful.

"Sure," the doctor says long after he's tugged it over his head. He looks over his shoulder where Peter is, and then edges closer to Stiles. "Stiles," he says quietly, having already given up on attempting his first name properly. "If you need anyone to talk to, about—"

"I'm fine," Stiles interrupts before he can hear more. "I don't need anything."

The doctor looks at him, for the first time, with a crack in his impassive demeanor. A hint of concern tickles his eyes. He probably thinks he knows Stiles' entire story—confused kid gets caught up in a street life, blinks and suddenly he's riddled with three incurable diseases—and knows he needs help and therapy and birth control in his pocket at all times.

"If you do," the doctor persists, "you can come in anytime."

"Sure," Stiles says, without real conviction.

"Well," he smiles, stepping back once more. "Just remember to practice safe sex. And if you could, not sleep with anybody until we have your results. Just to not spread anything you may or may not have."

Stiles couldn't feel more judged if he wore a big red sign taped onto his forehead spelling out low class prostitute. He shifts on the crinkled paper beneath him while the doctor rifles through the rest of his papers.

"Hmm," he hums as his eyes drag down his clipboard where Stiles sees several messy scrawls left by the nurse that interrogated him earlier. He leans forward, wishing he could read the scribbles. "A bit young to be smoking, aren't we?"

Never mind, apparently Stiles could still feel more judged. He feels the strong urge to share a piece of his mind, let the doctor and his presumptuous clipboard know that he doesn't care how many disappointed glances he's sent.

"Is that relevant?"

Stiles' head snaps up, surprised to hear Peter speak up, and in his defense no less.

"Of course," the doctor says primly. "Over time, cigarettes could easily damage the—"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Stiles has heard it all before from Scott's mother, back in the day when he was just eight years old listening to her lecture Scott on smoking while she prepared dinner in her scrubs. He rubs a hand over his face, ready to leave. "Could I get some Adderall?"

"You have ADHD?"

"Like a motherfu—" he catches Peter's shake of the head behind the doctor's back and decides to shut up. "Sorry."

Dirty mouth Peter is mouthing behind him, making Stiles furrow his eyebrows. He does it again, grinning this time.

The doctor stays oblivious, granting Stiles another one of his smooth, albeit sterile, smiles as he makes more notes on his clipboard. How much is there even to be scribbled about him? He's pretty cut and dry as far as the issues go, he thinks. He looks down at his lap and wonders who the hell he's kidding a second later.

"I'm sure we can arrange for that," the doctor says. "Anything else?"

I want to leave. "I think that's it."

"Great," the doctor says, finally capping the pen that's been busy writing his opinions on Stiles down in the margins of his charts. Probably caught all sorts of things on the streets, so check his blood for everything but chicken pox it probably reads. He shifts on the seat, still incredibly conscious of his bare legs gone cold under the papery gown.

"Is that all?" Peter asks.

"That would be all," the doctor says, then extends a firm hand for Stiles to shake. "Nice to meet you. We'll want to see you again soon for check-ups, and we'll let you know of your blood results."

Stiles shakes his hand and oddly enough, prays that his results get lost on the way.

--

"Well, that was invasive and unpleasant," Stiles mutters as the door swings shut behind them. "What happened with the bill?"

"Hm?"

"I saw you talking to the receptionist," Stiles says. "I know she was asking about my insurance."

"You don't have any."

"I know," Stiles pauses, coming to a stop before they reach the car. "Did you threaten her? Did you blackmail her out of my bill?"

"Honestly," Peter fixes him with a glare. "What sort of person do you take me for?"

"A horrible one."

Peter unlocks the car, opening the door. "Relax. I just paid it myself." Stiles freezes, a shot of fury flashing over his face.

"I can't fucking believe you," Stiles stomps to the passenger side and slams the door hard enough to shake the entire car as he gets in. "I fucking knew it. I knew it."

"Excuse me?"

"I knew it was all just a way to get into my pants. Paying for all my shit, like some sort of blackmail so I have to sleep with you. You're fucking disgusting."

Peter blinks, and looks out the dashboard window just to make sure hell hasn't been unleashed and lightning isn't spiraling down from the sky. "Do you think in the future, I could see a schedule of your mood swings?"

Stiles' hand connects with Peter's chest, aiming for his solar plexus. It feels like someone's thrown a football at his chest, a quick and fast pain. He turns to Stiles, slightly more irritated than he was a second ago.

"Fuck you," Stiles spits out, and his hands are still poised like he's gearing up for another hit.

"Is this cathartic for you?" Peter asks, frowning. "Being so unhinged? How many times do I have to tell you I'm not trying to buy sex from you?" He bristles, straightening up. "I don't have to pay for sex, Stiles."

"Cause you're so amazing, right."

"Do you ever get tired of picking so many useless fights?" Peter is slightly impressed, he'll admit. He's like a grenade, small and destructive and easily triggered. "If you'd prefer, I'll drown you in bills and debt." He smiles, all teeth, and watches Stiles glower. "How does that sound?"

"You're so annoying," Stiles huffs out."

"I'm a peach compared to you, sweetheart."

"Don't call me that."

"Stiles," Peter turns the car on and lets it idle, turning to him. "I took you in. I decided to bring your high-maintenance ass into my life. I knew you'd have expenses."

Even coming from his own lips, Peter is still surprised by the statement, if not confused. What on earth has Stiles even brought to his life other than fussing and shouting and a perpetual bad mood? Why is Peter not pushing him out the door and locking it as it hits him on the ass? It sounds exactly like something he'd do.

Stiles looks at his lap. "You make me sound like a pet you took off the streets," he grumbles.

"You practically are. I'm amazed you're house-trained."

Stiles glares, probably on autopilot. It makes Peter realize that this might be the only way he knows how to treat Peter, how to communicate with him, especially when there's a side of him who's thankful and another side that learned back in his high school days to distrust Peter.

"You provoke me on purpose, don't you?" Stiles says, breathing through his nostrils.

"Not at all," the engine purrs, reminding them of the car, and Peter slips it out of park and into drive. "Are you going to apologize?"

"For what?"

"For hitting me. For being a naughty boy."

"Fine," Stiles groans. "I'm sorry if and only if you never call me that again." He side eyes Peter. "And you deserved it, and I know you know it. You have the past to make up for if nothing else."

"Oh, Stiles," Peter sighs, drawing out his name as he pulls the car out of the parking lot. "Don't stew in the past. We ought to start fresh."

"Start fresh? Why, have you changed?"

"You have," Peter points out. "As for me, you might have to find out for yourself."

"Ha," Stiles huffs out another bark of laughter, like the idea of gauging how much time has changed Peter will be a slow, grueling task. "Maybe I will."

--

The doctor's office was a small step Stiles begrudgingly agreed to take. The clothes shopping, mall hopping, and luxury trips are for much, much later.

The last thing Stiles wants is to be spoiled by Peter—probably strategically—so he can end up in his debt, penniless and owing favors. Besides, Peter isn't his fucking father. He's not there to drive him to stores and shove him in changing booths with seven different jeans tapping his foot outside the curtain. He's someone with motives Stiles hasn't figured out yet.

The alternative, however, is not much better: wearing Peter’s clothes.

Stiles' own were quickly unwearable after being soaked in the rain and then sitting, wrinkly and forlorn, in the laundry hamper with an unsavory smell attached to them that came with life on the streets. Stiles waited patiently for Peter to make a joke that Stiles spends half his time naked nowadays anyway, but it never came. Instead, he got worn tees and sweatpants laid out on his bed for him.

It’s the most he’s seen of Peter’s belongings besides the obvious, like the opulent furniture and what shampoo he uses. The books on the shelves, those are another eye into his life, but as for the little things, the things so little Stiles doesn’t know why he wants to know about them, he has no clue.

It starts out innocently—peruse the kitchen cupboards while he enjoys his second helping of coffee. There he finds out that Peter is an Organic Foods Guy, who goes that extra mile of buying ridiculously expensive hummus. He's also a Cheese Assortment Guy, and even a Noodle Press Guy. It feels to Stiles like he's looking into his brain—a small portion of it, but a brain is a brain—the entire time he's rifling through his fridge.

He moves to the bathroom when his coffee mug runs dry under the pretense of taking a piss. It gives him the opportunity to look even closer than he did the night he first showered here, all the colognes and aftershaves and even blow-dryers sitting under the sink. He can picture Peter in the bathroom in the mornings, styling his hair near obsessively, spritzing cologne onto his neck. It’s an image that almost makes Stiles laugh.

He goes to the bedroom next. The bed is completely made up, not a wrinkle in sight, meaning he’s one of those people Stiles has never understood who thinks there’s some merit to arranging sheets one will mess up against one night later. He’s also a Big Closet guy, with an entire rack dedicated to shiny shoes, and a large shelf for nothing but leather jackets. It looks like a collection from a GQ catalogue, like Stiles could blink and there could easily be a male model lounging, half-naked, against the hangers, ready for close-ups and surrounded by brand names.

His bedside table is also maintained. Stiles opens the drawer knowing perfectly well he’s prying into the universal Sex Cabinet, and finds exactly what he expected: lube, condoms, even a few rubbery sex toys rolling around the back. Stiles has seen worse—hell, Stiles has dealt with worse—but the sight still makes something inside of him wiggle. He shuts the cabinet, focusing instead on the book sitting half-read above it by the bedside lamp. The title reads Mediterranean Recipes, like Peter’s teaching himself how to cook. Like he has hobbies.

"Looking for something?"

Stiles whips around, dropping the book in his hand. Peter's standing in the doorway, watching Stiles with a knit to his brow like he's been there God knows how long.

"I was just curious," Stiles murmurs, pushing the book back into place.

"That kills the cat, you know," Peter says. Thankfully, he doesn't sound angry like Stiles would've imagined after catching him rummaging through his belongings, more so amused if not slightly irked. "Didn't know you were a snooper."

"I'm not," Stiles says instantly. Then he remembers that he is—actually, had quite the talent for it back in the day—and feels his jaw twitch. When he looks up, Peter's doubtful expression meets him. "Anymore."

"Ah."

"I was only looking for clothes," Stiles cut in defensively. "The ones I'm wearing can only be turned inside out so many times."

Peter raises an eyebrow. "Could've just asked," he murmurs, right before he turns to his dresser and rummages through his neatly piled clothing. He pulls out a dark sweater with a deep vee, so deep Stiles is sure it would leave his navel cold.

"Got any higher necklines? Something that won't cause my chest hair to grow frostbite?"

"This isn't Bloomingdales, kitten," Peter spits, unamused, but finds a new sweater regardless. He tosses a navy one at him this time, the vee considerably smaller.

"Don't call me that," Stiles grumbles. The sweater is soft in his hands, like he might just be holding five hundred dollars’ worth of Egyptian cashmere that could give his ratty socks a run for their money.

"We could stop by your place and get your things, if you'd like," Peter offers, now rifling through his collection of pants. "Assuming you miss your flannels and conversation starter t-shirts."

Stiles' grip on the sweater in his hands goes cold. "I don't have a place anymore," he admits, keeping his eyes fixated on the tiny threads. "I couldn't pay rent."

"You were evicted?" Peter asks. "What happened to all your things?"

"Lost them," Stiles murmurs. All of it, from the clothing to the irreplaceables to the last pictures he had of his mother.

Peter heaves a deep sigh. "Did it never occur to you to ask for new things?" Peter asks. "See, there's this magical place called a mall fairly close to the house—"

"Oh, shut up," Stiles grumbles. "I told you I don't want to go out."

"I'll hold your hand if you're so damn scared," Peter says. "And you can cover your eyes—"

"Fine!" he cuts in again, not interested in hearing Peter finish any of his sardonic remarks. "I'll go. Only if you really do shut up."

He used to be in malls all time. Him and Scott, cruising the Gap bargain bin for raglans. Those were the days. Surely, going with Peter will be no different.

He slips out the door past him, wondering just how rusty he is considering he usually never, ever got caught snooping. It makes him want to refine his craft again for a split second, learn his old ways, but then the thought gets stomped away.

--

Even though he's the one who suggested the mall in the first place, Peter is not entirely sure he made the right decision accompanying Stiles.

His style is, to put it simply, unevolved, and he shows little to no interest in heeding Peter's advice in terms of how to dress like a real adult, not a kid headed for a ball pit, which really ruins Peter's fun for the day. Blazers, button downs, and softly woven sweaters have all been turned down in favor of red pants and hoodies. Nobody ever impressed the world with a hoodie.

"Stiles," he tries, plucking a plaid patterned shirt from Stiles' arm. "Why are you dressing like you own a farm?"

Stiles snatches it back. "Sorry that I don't dress like a sixty year old businessman," he says, and of course, he's not actually sorry. "You should be happy. I came to the stupid store."

Peter doesn't think he's minding too much right now. It's a slow day, lunch hour on a weekday, and the shopping crowds are thin, apparently appeasing some of Stiles' worries about running into familiar faces and allowing him to instead pitch himself back into the world of band tees. On the top of the pile of shirts slung over Stiles' arm under the defended plaid abomination peeks out a Beatles shirt.

"America has to stop milking the Beatles," he sighs. "Let's move on."

"I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that," Stiles says.

He picks up a My Chemical Romance tee, signaling the end of Peter's patience. He yanks it from his clutches, curling it into his fist, and cocks his head to the south end of the store where the changing booths await.

"Enough," he says, feeling like a broken man. "Go try your things on."

Stiles doesn't protest, probably because of the heavy pile of clothing weighing down his arm. Nothing, absolutely nothing, hanging on his elbow right now would Peter actively advise Stiles into putting on his body. He leads the way through the racks, watching Stiles disappear into one of the unoccupied stalls.

Across from him, pushing the curtain aside to reveal himself, a boy in fitted jeans and a leather jacket observes himself in the large mirror, and Peter wishes he could trade children. Instead, he turns back to where he sees Stiles' socked feet slipping out of his sneakers under the curtain. He waits for Stiles to do the same reveal, appear in front of him in juvenile t-shirts and the dopey grin Peter remembers used to be permanently etched on his face. He doesn't come.

"What's taking so long?" Peter gives up and raps sharply on the door, feeling a sick sense of satisfaction when he hears the thumps and thuds of a boy tripping over his clothes in surprise.

"I'm trying stuff on!" Stiles hollers back.

"You're not showing me?"

"No!"

Peter is hardly impressed with that answer. He's the one footing the bill for all of Stiles' wardrobe from now on, so he'd like to at least see the disasters that are the overload of identical sneakers and borderline ludicrous graphic tees before he hands over his credit card.

He yanks the curtain open.

"What the fuck?" Stiles yells, loudly enough that the woman waiting for her son to emerge from the adjourning stall shoots Peter a heated glare like he's the one responsible for Stiles' bad language.

"I'm not his father," Peter tells the woman, and then turns back to Stiles as the curtain in his grip gets tugged on. "Stiles, there are children about. Stop corrupting them."

Stiles doesn't seem to be listening. He's too busy trying to tug the curtain shut again, one hand splayed over his chest to hide his bare torso. It's just a chest, Peter thinks, and it's nothing to hide, but Stiles is acting like a naked sixteen-year-old girl caught in the locker room by a peeping tom.

"Occupied," Stiles hisses, trying again to close the curtain, but Peter's grip is stronger. "Peter."

"You ought to size up with the jeans, they're a bit snug," Peter murmurs, examining the hug of Stiles' pants over his thighs.

"Do you have any scruples? Any?" Stiles yanks a shirt over his head with the nervousness of a rabbit caught by predators.

He cowers in on himself as he pulls the tee down his chest, but not before Peter catches a glimpse of black in between his shoulder blades. It surprises him, intrigues, and before Peter can inquire about it, he gives into his desire to hook his finger over the back of Stiles' shirt and expose the mark.

Stiles twists around indignantly. "Hey!"

"Relax," Peter murmurs, having seen what he wanted. He regards Stiles with a small smile even as he glowers at him, shrinking back from his interested hands. "Nice tattoo. Is that the only one?"

"How is that your business?" Stiles snaps, the easily angered beast inside him awakened again.

"What does the twenty-four mean?"

"Again, your business?"

Peter doesn't let up, even when the judgmental woman eavesdropping next to them is getting more and more irked by their argument as if they're personally ruining her shopping experience if the annoyed huffs leaving her mouth are any indication. He frowns. "You're my business," he says, because if he pays his bills and puts out cereal for him in the morning, he's pretty sure that involves effort, which means business. "What does it mean?"

Stiles sighs loudly. "Drop it."

"If you got it tattooed on yourself you can't expect to keep it a secret."

"I didn't mean it to be a fucking conversation piece," Stiles growls. "I didn't mean for you to see it at all."

"Twenty-four is a pretty small number," Peter muses. He should let it go, after all, it's not like Stiles is interested in pursuing the conversation, but he does, and he has the advantage of not caring about manners or friendliness. "How many people you've slept with? I suppose that number would need updating, then."

"All right!" Stiles interrupts him, his voice shrill. "If I tell you, will you shut up?" Peter cocks an eyebrow, which Stiles is smart enough to take as the closest thing he'll get to an agreement. "It was my lacrosse jersey number."

Oh. Not as intriguing or sexually deviant as what Peter expected then.

"You're not very good at lacrosse," is what he ends up saying, because he's not sure he knows anyone who'd like to constantly be reminded of the sport they poorly participated in during high school as more of a distraction from the destructive monsters that plagued him than anything else.

"Thanks," Stiles says dryly. "It just. It reminds me of better times."

"Better times?" Peter nearly hoots with the humor. "What exactly was better about it?"

As far as he recalls, Stiles was in a constant state of turmoil. It went from panic attacks to losing friends to losing himself on more than one occasion, yet he misses it so much he's tattooed a reminder of his adolescence on his back. It makes Peter wonder for a moment if he's romanticizing the past as so many do, finding nostalgia where there should be none, clinging onto the shreds of happiness in an otherwise dank period of time.

Then he says, "I had everyone," in a small voice, and it all makes sense.

It makes Peter think. Is anyone even still alive back at Beacon Hills? Is the town long evacuated by now, a lost cause for humans and monsters alike? Is lacking friends, family, intimacy really that bad?

"And now?" Peter's so confused. "Why did you leave then?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Stiles mumbles, and then he's shoving a handful of jeans, shirts, and jangling hangers in Peter's grip before he's pushing past him out of the changing room. The woman next to them looks horrified by now, probably under the delusion that Stiles is freshly home from war, and Peter is not interested in correcting her.

Out of pity, and pity alone, he buys Stiles his horrible shirts.

--

The first time he gets paid for sex, Stiles never sees it coming.

The man has been flirting with him all evening, subtle flicks of his eyes down Stiles' body, murmuring nothings close enough to his ear that Stiles can feel the slide of his lips against his skin, and then the inevitable request to come home with him. Stiles wants the distraction; he wants something to rumble up the numbness, so he agrees.

The sex is okay, if not a bit off-center and the movements not a bit jerky. They’re two people who don’t know a thing about each other's bodies, who don’t know where their most sensitive spots are, but sex is sex, and it’s satisfying to pull sticky sheets over his hips and count the notches in an unfamiliar ceiling.

The satisfaction goes away when after rustling about in the pocket of his discarded jeans, his companion eases a hundred dollar bill into Stiles' hand and mumbles a sleepy thanks, you were great onto his cheek in lieu of a goodbye.

Stiles stumbles out of his apartment like ice has been dumped down his shirt, over his head, into his mouth. The hundred dollars are crumpled in his fist, the sore marks on his neck feel like itching mosquito bites, and Stiles spends the next ten minutes sobbing next to a dumpster behind a sleazy motel.

After that, it becomes easier.

--

Framed by the lamplight and sheepishly approaching, Stiles leaves his room after dinner for the very first time two nights later.

Peter's reclined on the couch, bare feet propped up on the cushions and a black and white romance film from the thirties on TV when it happens. It's either a small miracle or an absolute nightmare depending on the mood Stiles is in, but Peter is betting on something other than the usual I'm putting wolfsbane in your grave so you can't even live peacefully in the afterlife demeanor considering that he's even left his room to socialize at all.

"A black and white movie?" Is how Stiles introduces himself, sounding skeptical. "You're so fucking old."

"Good evening," Peter says loudly over him. "If you can keep your trap shut, feel free to join me."

Stiles wavers on the spot, considering it. His eyes travel from the TV to the empty armchair to the stairs leading back up the hall, and finally, he makes his decision and settles himself cautiously into the free chair, curling his legs up to his chest.

"This is so lame,” he groans. “Why can’t we watch something a bit more modern?”

“Stiles,” Peter stage whispers over the action. “Trap.

He drags a finger over his neck ominously. Stiles narrows his eyes. “I’m a talker. I talk through movies.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Peter says. He pushes the plate of garlic bread he just took from the oven into Stiles’ lap to fill his trap in whichever way works if plain old silence won’t get the job done. Stiles takes the bait.

The movie continues for another hour, and then morphs seamlessly into another black and white classic. When it begins, Stiles doesn’t ask him to change the channel, and even though he’s wrapped up in the throw he pulls down from the headrest, not once does he fall asleep.

Peter wonders what his life would be like if every evening was like this—so smooth, so easy to handle, and finds himself thinking that he’d very much enjoy it. Even with Stiles. Possibly less without him. That part’s not yet been determined.

--

The cabin fever sets in sooner than Stiles would've predicted.

After all, out on the streets all he wanted was a roof. Here under Peter's perpetually critical gaze, he feels the strong urge to explore. Paint the town red. Prove he is actually a real grown up who can do adult things, like leave the house and manage taxes.

"Thought I could do some grocery shopping."

He says it casually over the rim of his cup, hoping Peter will breeze unalarmed right through it. The coffee machine gurgles in front of Peter, his frozen back shielding it from view from where he's standing behind him in the kitchen.

"Why would you do that?" His back shifts again after a moment's pause as he reaches for a clean mug.

"Because humans need food to survive."

Peter turns around at that, frowning. "If you want to leave, just say so."

"I don't," Stiles says. He almost surprises himself by how much he means it. "I just want to get food. Something other than all the organic hoo-ha you have stockpiled in here."

Peter's mouth twists. Behind him, the coffee machine is spitting, hissing its announcement of its finished product. Peter deftly snakes a hand around to wrap his fingers around the cup.

"I can do that too, you know," he points out. "You've just never shared your food preferences with me."

"Peter," Stiles feels the conversation derailing. "I just want to go out for a bit. Breathe fresh air. Shake off the cabin fever."

Peter regards him sternly for thirty long seconds while steam rises from his cup over his nose, apparently attempting to detect falsehoods from Stiles' speech, figure out if this is his master plan to run away and join the circus or rekindle his life as an alley rat.

"You can't chain me down," Stiles reminds him.

Peter hums around his mug. "I could," he murmurs. "But I'm a merciful man."

Stiles huffs out a heavy sigh. He shrugs, mind made up. "I'm going," he declares firmly. "Want anything?"

Peter stares at him, probably considering how fast he could wrap Stiles up in rope before he starts putting up a fight, or maybe even wondering if Stiles can survive by himself in the real world. He can, thank you very much, and was doing an okay job for quite a few years.

Finally, he speaks up. "Some coffee," he says. "Something with a bite to it." Then he reaches into his back pocket, pulling out a few bills to hand to Stiles. He snatches them back the minute Stiles reaches for them, pausing. "Just so you know, this isn't cash for you to run off and join the circus."

Stiles yanks it from him, tucking the bills into his pocket. "What a shame."

He leaves before Peter can change his mind.

--

"Do I know you from somewhere?"

Stiles jerks up from where he's contemplating over two cereals, and there, in a crisp pinstriped suit and grease-slicked hair, is one of his old clients.

The sight of him nearly has Stiles dropping the box. Damn him for choosing today to go out. Damn this guy for approaching Stiles. Damn Peter for being right about him going out alone without any backup. Almost right away, a life he finally feels detached from, a life he was knee-deep in just a few weeks ago, rushes back over him like an angry tide.

"I don't think so," Stiles manages to rasp out on a dry mouth.

"Your face is so familiar," the man insists. His eyes rove further down Stiles' body as if to recall if any other part of him is familiar, and Stiles instantly stuffs his fists into his pockets. "Are you sure?"

"Positive," Stiles gives him a tight smile and tries to find the nearest exit out of the conversation, grabbing his cart with white fists and attempting to steer it out of the aisle.

"Wait, I'm sure I remember—" the man reaches out to touch Stiles, curling his fingers around his wrist. Stiles wrenches it away instantly, regretting the snap decision the moment he sees the light of recognition flare up in the man's eyes. "Oh."

Stiles wonders what to do next, if running away would calm his jackrabbit heartbeat or if challenging the man to say the words out loud would also do the trick.

He doesn't want to wait and see. He grabs his cart, the wheels screeching, and jerks it around, pushing it out of the aisle. He could've stayed, he could've leaned in closer and said very clearly that whatever the man's thinking, he's not up for it anymore. Not for hundreds, not for millions. The old Stiles, the younger one, he would've practically made a scene, yelling threats about barbed condoms and itchy lube while Scott would've dragged him away by the chest.

The store feels like a blur in a quick heartbeat. The strong urge to duck his head and hide his face pulls at Stiles insistently, as if anyone, anywhere, is someone he knows for all the wrong reasons. There's a woman over by the yogurts who's looking his way like she's seen him work corners, and an off-duty officer down the aisle giving him a similar skeptical once over, and a man Stiles nearly rams over with his cart who could very easily be someone he once got naked for. It's a little disorienting, and for a moment, Stiles wants nothing but to shut his eyes until his entire life has been erased for him and he can make new decisions that don't make him feel nauseous in the middle of a supermarket.

But he doesn't shut his eyes, because as much as he wants to ignore the world, the world will still be when he opens them tapping its foot impatiently. The whining doesn't help, the wishing it was different doesn't either, and after all, Stiles is a fucking adult. He pushes his cart into the nearest checkout line, thinking he should know all this by now.

"You all right, love?"

Stiles' head snaps up. He doesn't want anybody to call him love, certainly doesn't want to dredge up the memories of the various pet names he was called in bed, but his cashier is old and wrinkly and is doing her best ringing up Stiles' items at a truly glacial pace, so he lets it pass.

"Fine, just fine," he grits out, and she doesn't push it, focusing instead on ringing up Stiles' items, beep after beep. He looks over his shoulder, as if expecting his client to be standing there with judgmental eyes, ready to make a scene that lets the whole store know that there's a prostitute inside it. There's nobody there except for a soccer mom cajoling her five kids into line, but it doesn't make Stiles feel any better.

The walk home, bags cutting into his hands and feet fast on the sidewalk, doesn’t calm him down either. It makes him wish he had taken Peter’s car even if the walk is short just to feel the safety of walls around him, locked doors and sturdy windows. He feels completely translucent, like everybody he passes knows his secrets.

"I'm back," Stiles hollers when he slips through the door. He's oddly grateful when it falls shut behind him, protecting him from the world on the other side. It's almost laughable, how something like Peter Hale's residence could be so comforting, so safe to him.

"Only took you half of forever," is Peter's impatient reply from the kitchen.

He goes to lug the bags in, but first schools his expression into something calm, completely unperturbed, if only to prove to Peter that he isn't too small, too human to do something as simple as get groceries. He doesn't want to answer his questions of how did it go, but rather that than listen to smug I told you sos.

"I took my time," Stiles tells him. "What've you been doing while I harvested food for the family?"

Peter doesn't laugh, doesn't even snort at Stiles' bad humor. When Stiles looks at him, he's frowning.

"What's wrong?"

Stiles pushes the bags onto the counter. "Why do you think something's wrong?"

"Do you really think I can't smell the panic around you?"

Stiles feels himself deflate. "The joys of living with werewolves," he mutters dryly, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I almost forgot."

Peter gets to his feet, pushing aside the chair. "What happened?"

Stiles shakes his head. He focuses on the groceries, pulling an Oreo box out of the bag. "Nothing," he says. "I just ran into somebody."

"Who?"

"Some guy—he knew who I was."

Instantly, something deadly flashes over Peter's eyes. It makes Stiles step back, almost reflexively by now. "You should've let me come."

"He didn't do anything," Stiles says, the counter digging into his back. Peter watches him carefully, but decides to say nothing about his jerk reaction. "He just kept bugging me about who I was. He figured it out, but I was already high-tailing it out of there by then."

He scrubs a hand over his forehead, feeling the intense heat of Peter's eyes on him. "Did he try and solicit you?" Peter asks him, voice low. "What happened?"

"Would you calm the fuck down?" Stiles says, whipping around. "Stop overreacting. He didn't."

Peter, of course, doesn't calm the fuck down. If anything, Stiles sees him getting riled up with the way his eyes flash for a frightening nanosecond.

"I could always kill him," Peter offers, like it's as everyday as drinking tea, which is properly horrifying.

"For god's sake, no," Stiles says sharply. "Why do you even—" He cuts himself off, busying his hands by stuffing a carton of cereal into a cupboard. "Is that something you've been doing?"

"What, killing people?"

"Yeah," Stiles says. "Just so I can be prepared for the police coming for you."

"I guarantee you, if I am to commit murders, I will not be caught," Peter says. He tuts. "I didn't last time."

"Right. I forgot how well that worked out for you," Stiles mumbles to the cereals right before he pushes aside Peter's pretentious overpriced crackers to make room for the snacks that actually matter. "So should I prepare myself for Derek showing up to slash your throat?"

"Surely Derek's grown up by now."

"Derek has grown up?" Stiles decides not to continue that particular branch of conversation. "Whatever. Not getting into that."

"Good, because we were talking about you."

A hand finds its way to the small of Stiles' back and he flinches as if being touched by a flaming poker, every part of his body jittery as if from too much caffeine. It's embarrassing a moment after it happens, and he looks over his shoulder to see Peter carefully retreating his hands with a crease in his brow.

"Sorry," Stiles says, trying his best to shake it off.

"It's fine," Peter murmurs, but he sounds as if he's in the middle of psycho-analyzing Stiles and all of his idiosyncrasies, from the way his hands are shaking and his body is huddling into itself. "You forgot the coffee."

"What?"

"I asked you to buy me coffee," Peter points out.

"Shit, I forgot," Stiles sighs. "I got so distracted after—" He cuts himself off. "Never mind."

A part of him wants to share the details, knowing all the while that Peter will get irritatingly annoyed as if Stiles is his responsibility. The other part is focused purely on his pride, the thing that seems to get him trouble the most these days, and keeping it intact in front of Peter. How these two sides of his brain coexist without fighting for dominance is baffling to Stiles.

"At least describe him for me," Peter says. "Whatever you remember."

"I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Maybe because I don't want to be an accomplice to murder," Stiles says, roughly shoving food into cupboards. He's probably messing up the organization system of Peter's pantry, meticulous and almost alphabetical, but at least it keeps his hands busy. "Drop it."

Peter drops it. That, or he's waiting for Stiles to no longer be passive-aggressively shoving yogurt into the fridge before he tries to squeeze information out of him again. A hand touches him again, just between his shoulder blades, and this time Stiles knows it's coming.

"Next time," Peter says, voice pitched low, "I'm going with you."

The hand on his back is warm. Stiles agrees.

--

The second time around has a bit more purpose behind it.

Shaky, inexperienced purpose, but purpose nonetheless. It’s late, much too late for anything but debauchery to be on the streets, and Stiles stays where he is by the corner of the bar, watching the drunken customers come and go, uproariously laughing all the while. He’s a little short on cash and would benefit from a small bonus, so he lingers and sees what happens.

What happens only took seven more minutes to come into effect. A couple passes by, then a group of college friends. Then a man, by himself, who stops to observe Stiles—bathed by light only when the bar door opens to illuminate him. He steps closer to him, and Stiles' heart beats faster.

"I haven't seen you around here before," the guy says in a voice dripping with suggestion.

"Haven't been here too long," Stiles answers. "Just a few months."

"Cool," the guy says, the one word making it perfectly clear that he isn’t interested in small talk. "Do you want a cig?"

Stiles has never smoked before, and his instinct is to decline, but then again, he never got paid for sex before last week either, so there’s a first time for everything.

"Sure," he says, and a moment later, a cigarette is being slipped between his fingers, already lit. He brings it to his lips, the man watching the way he fits it between his mouth with nearly hungry eyes.

"So, uh," he says, temporarily entranced. "What if you come home with me tonight?"

Stiles tests the waters. The cigarette feels like something was burning his mouth. "We'd have a good time."

"I bet," a grin splits over his face. "How much?"

It’s what Stiles was angling for, but it still feels like a slap to the jaw that someone has taken the bait. That he can pass for a street hooker. He resists the urge to cough out a lung as the cigarette smoke wells up inside his airway.

Stiles throws a number out there. "Two hundred."

The man's grin grows. It makes Stiles wonder if he’s sold himself too cheaply, or if perhaps the guy has experience with late night expensive favors and is pleased with the deal he’s stumbled over. He wonders if he’s doing the smart thing right now, or the exact opposite.

"Sounds good," he says. His palm cups Stiles' inner thigh, then his crotch, a second later. Stiles nearly jolts out of the way. Touches had never been so quick, so meaningless to him before, so devoid of thought. Another hand winds its way to his waist, holding him in place. Nothing about the hands on him feel protective, or soft, or anything other than demandingly sexual.

"Let's do this," Stiles says, breathing in his last gulp of air before he plunges under for good.

--

The call comes in on a Thursday.

Stiles listens to it ring from where he's reading in his room, laid out over the sheets, and hears the muffled murmurs of Peter answering it after a few seconds. Then there's a knock on his door, Peter asking how decent he is, and Stiles yanking the door open.

"It's for you," Peter says, holding the phone to him.

For a moment, a hot flash of shocked nerves flit through Stiles. Who knows he's here? Who's tracked him down, and what do they have to say? Is it Scott, or Isaac, or Lydia, or anybody else who he ached to have conversations with whenever he sat on the curb on a cold day, and are they here to yell at him, scold him for leaving?

"Who is it?" Stiles whispers, just in case the phone picks up his voice.

"The doctor," Peter says. He pushes the phone further in Stiles' direction. "And he doesn't have all day."

A whole new feeling crashes through Stiles, no less nervous. They probably have his results, and surely they wouldn't call unless they found something horrible and mangling. Good news, that can be sent in the mail on a chart. Bad news, that's what the phone is for, that's what a nurse's low, mollifying voice is for to gently tell him he's dying in a few months. Stiles swallows, and tries to prepare himself for the worst.

"Shit," he says, and takes the phone. Peter looks at him curiously, like he'll probably be listening in on the conversation from the hallway. A part of Stiles wants him to, just so he won't have to relay the bad news himself and hear them said out loud.

"If you die," Peter promises him, almost conversationally, "I'll get you a nice tombstone. Marble, if you so wish."

Stiles shuts the door on him, feeling his heart start to skyrocket. Suddenly every choice he's ever made up to this point seems silly, stupid, totally reckless, and he wants to take it all back, especially all those nights in sleazy motels. What was the three hundred dollars earned one night worth anyway? What was the point? Stiles feels slightly ill, feels it bubble up in his chest, and presses the phone against his ear.

"Stiles here," he says.

"Good afternoon, Stiles," says the familiar, cordial voice of the doctor from a week ago. "Just wanted to give you an update."

"Figured you did."

"We've got good news for you today," the doctor says. "Your tests came back. You're STI free."

The hand clenched with talon-like tension on the phone relaxes. Apparently, Stiles thinks, there are still miracles in this world.

"Thank god," he says to the ceiling. He feels impossibly relieved that he never had to add pregnancy to that list of worries he had mentally racked up and continuously pushed aside. "That's definitely good news."

"I'm glad you think so," he says. There's a pause, and then Stiles hears a careful inhale come through the phone. "Listen, Stiles. The man you brought you in, Mr. Hale. Has he been—are you safe with him? Do you feel safe?"

Stiles opens his mouth; he closes it. The overwhelming urge to laugh bubbles up his throat, because how often in his life—specifically his nightmarish teenagerhood—was Peter the reason he felt extremely unsafe, if not hunted and plotted against? For once, for one tiny moment, Peter is not responsible for the trauma he's been through. He holds the laughter at bay.

"I'm fine, Doc," Stiles assures him. "I feel perfectly safe."

"Good," the doctor says. "If you ever don't, you know where to call."

Briefly, Stiles wonders if Peter's around the corner to stealthily listen in. His lips quirk up at that possibility being the case. "He's the one who convinced me to go to the doctor in the first place, so. He's been surprisingly helpful."

"That's great to hear," he clears his throat, clearly shifting into yet another uncomfortable topic. "Do you need any... contraceptives? Protection?"

Stiles coughs violently at that, grabbing his overgrown hair for support. He wonders if he'll ever grow out of his instinct to blush over things as innocuous as condoms, especially after earning his income sucking dicks for cash, and figures some things are perpetually embarrassing, especially when discussing them with adults.

"No thanks," Stiles says quickly. "I'm, uh. Trying to turn over a new leaf."

A moment's pause. Then, "That's great," the doctor says. "Good luck."

Luck. As if that's what he needs. What he needs is stability in every sense of the word, and it's horrifying that Peter is the one to provide most of it. Some days it still feels like a very bizarre, very vivid dream when he wakes up in Peter's house without any of his limbs being removed and sold for cash in the middle of the night.

"Thanks," Stiles says instead of voicing his thoughts—I think I'll be okay as long as I stick with the guy who used to be a recurring role in my nightmares, provided he isn't buttering me up to feast on later. "Bye."

The doctor hangs up, and that's when it settles in: he's out of the woods. He's clean of diseases and so, so much luckier than he deserves to be, especially when he seems to keep tempting fate over and over again ever since high school. He probably has a sign over his head, extra squeaky and reading the Outstanding Boy who can survive anything! Try your hand at his life! Watch him narrowly escape mortal peril and bring popcorn! to advertise him as the freakshow he is. Maybe Peter's right and he should just join the circus already.

Amazingly enough, Peter is not leaning against the door when Stiles opens it, scanning the hallway for his eavesdropping form. He expected him to be lurking, listening in, ignoring Stiles' boundaries as usual, but a strong smell of cooking vegetables alerts him to Peter's location instead.

He nearly freezes before he skips his way down the hall, shoulders freer than they've felt in weeks, because the startling revelation that he actually wants to find Peter and share the good news is a little shocking. Just a few weeks ago Stiles' main priority was trying to sequester himself in Peter's guest room as much as possible to ignore Peter's probing eyes and constant questions, and now he's actively searching him out to share his happiness. It must be Stockholm Syndrome, Stiles thinks dazedly, or maybe the urge to socialize with the nearest person, even if said person is a giant dickwad.

Okay, so he wants to talk to Peter, show off his good mood and watch him cook dinner. It's not all too strange to feel unexplainably connected to one's benefactor after Peter's supplied Stiles with a shelter, clothing, food, a bed of his own. It's hard to hate someone who continuously hands over credit cards on your behalf, Stiles defends.

"You're like a vulture," Peter mutters the second he appears in the kitchen. "Coming only when you can smell food."

"The doctor called," Stiles pushes out in a rush. He wants to see if this'll make Peter smile, and not one of those crooked, acidic grins he's used to. "My lab results are back."

Peter doesn't stop stirring the pot he's hunkered over, which would be insulting if not for the deep crease Stiles can see in between his eyes. The smell of soup, starchy and rich, fills the air.

"Bad or good news?" Peter asks.

"I'm clean," Stiles declares. For the first time in a long time, he feels like smiling. A real smile, not just one warped by sarcasm or the one he paints on as a mask of bliss for the clients he entertained. That he's feeling it in Peter's presence is slightly alarming, almost as alarming as wanting to share his good news with him.

"You're extremely lucky," Peter tells him. "You know that, yes?"

"I told you I use protection," Stiles says, even as he mentally agrees. The bad luck reigned for much too long, but this, this is the first streak of good luck he's seen in forever. "And it's not like I could have a bun in the oven. The only people worried over buns are you, and that's because you do all the baking."

Peter's mouth twitches. He leans his hip against the oven, letting the soup boil while he surveys Stiles.

"What?" Stiles asks when the staring ceases to relent.

"You're in a good mood," he observes. "I didn't know you remembered how to crack a joke."

Me neither, Stiles thinks, but he responds with a flick of his middle finger in Peter's direction instead.

"I resent that," he says. "I'm hilarious."

"I remember," Peter says. His eyes wander off for a moment, as if remembering all those nights they were forced to work together and Stiles tried his hardest to diffuse the tension by cracking jokes. Stiles remembers then too, probably just as well. "You were so annoying."

"Hey."

"I'm just glad puns weren't your specialty," Peter says. "I would've strangled you."

"You're a freak," Stiles replies, more out of habit than anything else. "You would've regretted it."

Peter looks at him carefully, as if coming to a decision. Then he says, "Yes. Yes, I would have."

--

It's two days later when Peter makes the snap decision he needs a change. So he paints his living room walls.

Truthfully, he thinks he's probably bored. Life without scheming is not as fun as evenings full of diabolical plotting, especially when it's Peter's best talent not being put to use here. But scheming just to scheme in a town where the biggest crime spree consists of college kids never learning not to speed down the highway feels sad, and also a little pointless. So he paints a wall.

Deep red speaks to him. It's hard not to be stimulated when he'll be staring at a demanding scarlet all day long, so he goes for the safe, sane route and buys a can of paint instead of slashing the throat of the mailman. Derek would be proud.

He's halfway done with one wall when Stiles smells the fumes and emerges from his room, watching Peter with eyes that have no trust.

"What's this?" Stiles asks. He's in sweatpants and a night shirt he's let ride up his hips, perfect attire for grabbing a brush and making himself useful.

"A change of pace," Peter tells him, dipping the sponge of his paint roller back into the can. "A white wall can be so... tiring."

Stiles still doesn't seem to understand the impromptu redecoration, not that he expects him to.

"Why don't you hire someone to paint it for you?"

"I would, but," he shrugs. "I might just kill them. My self-restraint is very poor." He turns to look at Stiles' face and finds it blanched with white horror. "I'm kidding."

"Wow," the horror morphs almost instantly into an expression of exasperation. "Fuck you."

"What? You don't want to be privy to my darkest, deepest thoughts?"

He gives a theatrical shudder that Peter doesn't appreciate. "Never."

"Works for me," he rolls upward, watching how the wet paint smooths over the previous shade and tilting his head at the color, trying to decide if he actually does like it. "I don't hire people because I want things done right."

"They're professionals."

"That's reassuring," Peter sighs, looking to Stiles. "Is this color boring you?"

"You're boring me," Stiles answers right away, like a reflex. Peter is slightly surprised Stiles didn't also include Peter's mother into the burning comment. "It's okay."

Peter looks at it, wondering for how many years he'd be able to tolerate a dark red wall. "Maybe I'll just do the one wall, as a contrast," he considers aloud. "What say you?"

Stiles offers no reply. When he finally speaks up, there's an irritated edge to his voice that Peter is no longer surprised or concerned by now that it works its way into all of their conversations, without warning at that. Peter should be surprised, though, especially considering that there's hardly anything offensive about paint.

"Why are you asking me?" Stiles asks, sounding irked. Perhaps red is his very least favorite color. Perhaps Peter was supposed to telepathically know this. "I won't be here for long."

"Where exactly will you be going?"

"I don't know," Stiles' annoyance seems to grow when he realizes he doesn't have an answer. "But this isn't my permanent residence. Not forever, so my opinion on what the walls look like don't matter."

Peter shoots his uncomfortable stance a look. "Fine. Except I just explicitly asked for your opinion," he points out. "Do you like red or not?"

"Why?" Stiles persists.

"Because apparently," Peter smacks his lips, "my body constantly requires verbal sparring and annoying banter just to keep up and running. Answer the question."

Stiles seems to refuse. Like a petulant child who doesn't want to go to the dentist, he crosses his arms, keeping a distance to the paint as if a wide enough berth keeps him out of the conversation. His restraint snaps a moment later.

"It's way too red," Stiles blurts out. "It looks like a bloody massacre on your wall. Then again, you probably like it that way."

It should bother Peter, really. He's hardly being friendly. But the truth is, he's not bothered—he's actually quite relieved that Stiles apparently is not completely unreasonable and still listens to the occasional question without the accompanying fit.

"So just the one wall, then?" Peter murmurs, taking a step back. It is awfully red, like someone's spilled tomato sauce, but he was assured the color would darken into a pleasant burgundy. "Don't just stand there."

"You expect me to help?"

Peter tosses him a roller, one which Stiles nearly fails to sidestep. It grazes his arm and tumbles to the ground before he can catch it.

"Then again, maybe not. Your reflexes are dismal."

That gets him going. Stiles picks up the roller, a newfound compliance to his step, as if all Peter needs to do is taunt him into proving himself as a functional human being with skills to get him to follow his instructions.

Well. There’s a bit of him Peter hasn’t seen since his high school days, the interest in picking up a challenge to prove himself. It feels refreshingly familiar, like something he used to roll his eyes at. Now, Stiles’ enthusiasm to prove Peter wrong about his inferiority seems long overdue, like something he was waiting for.

“No streaks, no smudges, no painting the ceiling,” Peter tells him. “And don’t make a mess.”

Stiles, however, doesn’t seem to be listening. His first order of business is dipping his paint brush into the can and flicking it in Peter’s direction.

A glob of red lands on his shirt, a few more splatters marking his pants. Bright red. Sticky, oozing red. Peter refrains from smearing it off, instead fixing Stiles with a glare of lethal proportions only to find him cackling to himself.

“That’s all you got?” he asks. He turns back to the wall like the responsible adult he is, and Stiles does it once more. The paint lands on his back with a smack.

“It’s a good look on you,” Stiles says. “It gives you that I just murdered someone in a very bloody way look. Which I think people should be warned about beforehand.”

Peter turns around, and drags his paint roller down Stiles’ cheek. It leaves a crimson line from under his eye to his jaw, jagged and wet. His mouth drops open, as if not expecting Peter to do so. Stiles has a lot to learn.

“Don’t provoke me, Stiles,” Peter warns, his roller at the ready. Stiles wields his paintbrush, more determined than before, and runs it through Peter’s hair.

The madness descends shockingly quickly after that. Peter grabs his wrist; he rolls the paint up his chest. Stiles grips him by the shoulder; he paints his stubble. Every movement is fast, calculating, just causing enough damage before the other jerks away, the brushes leaving artsy lines in their wakes. The paint crusts on their skin quickly, but neither relents, painting whatever spot remains clean.

Peter waits for Stiles to retreat, to back away whenever Peter touches his skin to hold him place. Stiles doesn’t. He doesn’t even seem to notice, too caught up in the game, in the chase, in the fun. He looks like he’s constantly a moment away from bursting into uncontrollable laughter, the kind that will shake his whole frame, a disposition entirely different from the angry boy he was just a few moments ago.

“Okay, I give,” Stiles is panting. His wrists are locking in Peter’s grip, and his entire torso is smeared with red. “I look like I rolled around in a tomato patch.”

There’s a spot of paint over his mouth, dribbling down to his mouth, that Peter doesn’t even remember inflicting upon him. He reaches up with his thumb to wipe it away, and Stiles freezes.

“Actually,” he says. The paint doesn’t wipe off cleanly, instead smearing left into a warrior’s mark. “You look like my murderous accomplice. So much blood.”

Stiles, still frozen under his hands, blinks once. Then twice. He seems to have finally noticed it, that they’re touching. “I’ll stick with tomato farmer,” he breathes out. He isn’t flinching away. It feels like progress Peter didn’t know he wanted to make.

The painting of the wall isn’t done until seven p.m., interrupted only by a greasy dinner. The showering and laundering takes a lot longer.

--

It is very easy to remember everything.

Stiles wishes he wouldn't. He wishes everything would fade already like most of his good memories have, like the memories of elderlies who sit on porches trying to recall the details of their youth, knowing nothing but the occasional blurry snippet of time there, and the other fuzzy moment here. But the memories he has, they seem engraved into his brain like someone's chiseled them in, and he doesn’t want them.

When he sits alone, perched on the soft silk of his bed—that is actually Peter's bed—it is especially hard to escape the past. There's nothing to distract him but books, and books don't pull him in the way they used to without his Adderall prescription picked up yet. At least on the streets, there was always a distraction—noise, catcalls, weather, the world whirring on around him.

It's a bit terrifying, actually, because sitting there thinking about how revolted he is with himself and what his own hands have touched makes him want to go downstairs and have honest to goodness conversations with Peter just to focus his mind elsewhere. His hands have just touched so much, and his body has been touched by many. That much is clear if he can run into clients just by making a stop at the grocery store. The idea of touching someone again, with purpose and with a smile, seems terrible. Unrealistic.

He considers if Peter would make fun of him, make an off-handed joke about how he’s used goods and how Peter can put him up for half-price during yard sale season. He has to admit that Peter’s been patient with him, if not even uncommonly helpful. The house, the food, the financial support, it feels like somebody cares about him, even if they don’t say the words. Stiles doesn’t want to hear the words, not when it would officially confirm for him that Peter’s body has been invaded by alien forces and he is no longer himself.

He likes it here. The warm beds, the stocked kitchen. It makes him never want to screw up and lose it all.

He looks down at the cigarette he’s discreetly smoking out his window, too lazy to go all the way to the backyard, and thinks he’ll start there. One habit at a time.

--

The first thing Peter hears when he closes the front door behind him is the clanking of pots.

He comes to two conclusions, both unfavorable: Stiles is cooking, or Stiles is drunk. He shuts his eyes, counts to ten, and rounds the corner.

"Shit," Stiles says the second he sees Peter, and there he is, in all his glory, on the kitchen floor, lying next to six different pots and pans that have spilled from the pantry door. "I tripped."

Peter sighs, trying to remember that murder will get him landed in prison if he's not careful.

"You found my liquor," Peter says, not bothering to ask for confirmation. He has a ridiculously expensive wine rack in the basement and equally expensive hard alcohol in the cabinet over the fridge, which means... Stiles has been snooping. Again. "Do you have nothing better to do than search through things that are not yours?"

"I really don't," Stiles says, shaking his head. "That is the best thing I can do."

That's not even close to true, it makes Peter's temples throb. He remembers the Stiles from years ago, nearly brainless and reckless and unthinkingly brave, and remembers how much Peter thought of him when he wasn't annoying the hell out of him, the way his fear for Peter dissolved fast, so fast Peter hardly had time to blink before he was staring into the eyes of someone who could match his wit effortlessly. Honestly, not much has changed except time, and with it, baggage. Stiles can be whatever the fuck he wants, Peter knows this. Stiles apparently doesn't.

"This is pathetic," Peter says. "Especially from you."

Stiles tries to get up again, kneecaps crashing into the pots as he fails. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Figure it out," Peter grumbles. He steps forward, extending a hand, and Stiles slaps it away with surprising force.

"Asshole," he hisses. "Always riddles. I'm not good enough for a real conversation?"

"Stop finding offense in everything I say, dammit."

"It was just a few bottles," Stiles barrels on, eyes glassy, as if there's a translucent sheet separating him from the sober world. "I can hold my alcohol."

"My bottles," Peter reminds him. "Mine. Why the hell are you even drinking?”

A crease forms between Stiles’ eyebrows. “It makes me feel better,” he flexes his fingers, as if there’s an invisible cigarette between them. “And I needed a distraction.”

“From what?” Peter watches his fingers carefully, how they’re aching to hold onto a filter he can bring to his lips.

“I quit,” Stiles says, finally wiggling his fingers back into their usual position. “Correction: trying to. A little bit of booze just eases the way.”

“Jumping from one addiction to the next,” Peter sighs, crossing his arms. “How healthy.”

Stiles sits up suddenly, eyes fierce. “Stop judging me so much. Not everybody is perfect. Some of us have a conscience.”

“You think I’m perfect?” Peter raises an eyebrow. “I’m not judging.” Well, perhaps a little bit. “I’m surprised you can’t see your own potential.”

Stiles doesn’t seem to be listening. His eyes are fixed on the shiny reflection on one of the many pots next to him, the handle gleaming. His fingers trace it, riding around the rim of the pot, ignoring Peter completely. Peter doesn’t have the time to waste his conversations on veritable brick walls. As a matter of fact, the brick wall wouldn’t test his patience so much.

He goes to pick Stiles up, hoisting him over his shoulder to drag him to bed. It feels familiar, just like a few weeks ago when he first saw him collapsed by a dumpster.

"Don't fucking touch me," Stiles snaps, and Peter feels his patience wear thinner still.

"Would you like me to drop you on your head?" He spits out, wondering if scratching claws over Stiles' side will get the point across that being a little shit isn't exactly charming.

"Fuck off," Stiles garbles. His breath fans over Peter's face, a combination of gin—Peter's finest, damn him—and cigarette smoke. "I didn't want this. You're the one—the one who took me in."

Peter wishes he didn't have a point. Draped in his arms with legs apparently made of melting ice cream, Peter wonders what possessed him to bring Stiles home and even push for him to stay. Guilt for ruining his life? Curiosity? Or possibly, the most likely, a deep-seated desire to bring something back into his life that reminded him of his prime, of Beacon Hills.

"Shut up. Just for a few goddamn seconds," Peter grits out, and then Stiles' hand fists his shirt and his feet stumble to a stop. "What is it?"

Stiles says nothing. His eyes are rolling left and right, as if unsure of where is up and what is down, and then his cheeks are tinged with something decidedly green and the urge to drop him onto the floor grows stronger still.

"No you don't," Peter growls, hauling him over his shoulders once more and dragging him forcibly toward the bathroom. The increased speed seems to push the nausea higher up Stiles' throat, and he moans pitifully on his arm.

"Stop," he says. "I'm gonna—"

"I know what you'll do," Peter pushes the bathroom door open, watching it bang open and make room for the two of them to squeeze through.

Stiles slouches next to the toilet a second later, crumpling to the floor like a puppet without strings and hunching over the rim. He throws up a second later, just in time to hit the bowl and not ruin Peter's carpets and his evening, and keeps his head bowed into the toilet.

It reminds Peter of how much of a child Stiles is, perhaps always will be compared to Peter. He smuggles booze out from under the cupboards and then retches it all up, he picks useless fights and slams the door to his room, he makes bad decisions and needs to be rescued. Peter has no fucking clue why he's voluntarily put himself around for the rescuing.

He watches him vomit into the toilet again, the sound pitiful as he coughs up Peter's expensive rum. Should he be petting his hair back or massaging his backside right about now? Peter has no fucking clue. He does the only thing he feels comfortable doing and sits down next to him with a sigh, leaning against the sink.

"What would your father think?" Peter says. It's a low blow, something he sees a moment later when a sadness fits itself over Stiles' face, but low blows happen to be Peter's specialty. Stiles lays his forehead on the porcelain rim.

"He's dead," he says softly into the toilet bowl, his words muffled and miserable.

"What?"

"He's dead," Stiles says again, his voice thicker with emotion this time. "I never would've left if—" he trails off, his mouth brittle. Something about him looks deeply broken, like someone's stepped on his bones and ground his soul down to a powder. Peter has never known how to fix people. He wouldn't know where to start now.

He says nothing. Of course he has questions, and he definitely has sarcastic comments at the ready, but he decides to hold them back. They come to him naturally, like instincts on his tongue, but he doesn't want to see Stiles' reaction, the way his mouth would twist in disgust and he'd shoot Peter eyes that would be nothing if not disappointed.

"What, no comment?" Stiles spits, picking his head up from the toilet slowly, as if his neck has gotten incredibly heavy. "No making fun? Are you trying to be nice or have you just lost your touch?" When Peter says nothing, unwilling to be provoked by a drunken boy hung over his toilet, Stiles sighs heavily, the fight leaving him as quickly as it came. "It wasn't natural. He was too good a cop to ever be taken down by something that wasn't—wasn't five times as strong as he was."

There's something very heavy in his voice, like rocks are weighing down his words. Peter understands a moment later. "You blame yourself."

"Brilliant deduction," Stiles says. "Yeah, I do. Because it's my fucking fault."

"You told him everything you knew."

"What good is that?" Stiles snaps. The conversation alongside the sick in his mouth seems to be sobering him up. "I should've protected him. I was too busy running around the whole town trying to play hero. I was a sick joke."

He spits into the toilet, trying to clear his mouth of the taste. Peter wonders what he's supposed to do—what someone like Scott would do—and how Stiles would react. He shifts where he's seated by him, leaning by the counter, and gets to his feet to fill a cup full of water from the faucet. He hands it to Stiles, not sure words, comforting or not, is what he needs right now.

"Thanks," Stiles murmurs, rinsing his mouth out.

"Did you murder him?"

"What?"

"Did you hire someone to murder him?"

"No, you fucktard."

"Then how could it possibly be your fault?" Peter says. "Stop stewing in it."

"I'm not stewing," Stiles says petulantly, voice hard. The effect would hit home more accurately if his hair wasn't wild enough to pick up stray TV channels and his head wasn't hanging near a toilet.

"Do you really think he would've wanted you to whore yourself out?" Stiles winces, and Peter barrels on. "Do you think he would've wanted his precious boy to live on the streets? Do you think he's smiling in his grave right now?"

"Stop it," Stiles snaps. He looks like he wants to sock Peter in the jaw, and he might if he had the coordination, but there's still a drunken fuzz over his eyes inhibiting his reflexes. "Shut up already."

"And surely," Peter continues, ignoring him. "He would've loved coming home to you throwing up in the bathroom because you've stolen all his liquor. He would be so damn proud of the man you've become."

This time, Stiles really does hit him. It's sloppy and fast, a clumsy fist to the side of Peter's face that feels like a child's punch. The pain only flashes for a dull second before it's gone, Peter flexing his jaw and feeling the heat sear away into healed skin.

"He wouldn't be proud of me living with a murderer werewolf either," Stiles says, heat in his voice. "But you kept pushing for that to happen."

"I never said I was the epitome of morals," Peter reminds him. "The sheriff's son, on the other hand."

He catches Stiles' fist as it comes up this time, seizing him by the wrist before the knuckles can slam into his cheek. Stiles' eyes are nearly flashing with his anger by now, anger that is so easily provoked Peter is almost amazed, like if he so much as utters his father's name Stiles will try to claw out his eyeballs.

"I said to shut up, goddammit," Stiles growls, wrenching his wrist free. "I know he wouldn't like who I've become already. I don't fucking either."

"Then do something about it already," Peter says. "The drinking and complaining won't get you anywhere."

There's a moment where Stiles does nothing but glare, a madness suspended in his eyes that lands directly on Peter and doesn't waver. Peter can picture his inner struggle perfectly, the way he's lamenting the fact that Peter of all people might have a point. The more it sinks in, the more he slumps, the smaller he looks, the more defeated he seems. It makes Peter realize that in his shirt, a deep vee cutting down to his chest, he's too small for his clothing. He wonders, only in the back of his mind, why Stiles is still in his clothing when Peter’s bought him his own.

"I just hate it so much," Stiles murmurs. "All of it. What I've done. Who I am."

He looks ready to start crying. Peter freezes. He already doesn't know how to handle a temperamental drunk, to say nothing of how to handle a weeping drunk—but it's Stiles. He's sort of knee deep already. He sighs, and gets ready to say something he hopes will be comforting, but Stiles beats him to the punch.

"I know, I know, you have no clue what to say, right?" Stiles says. "It's okay. I think it's better this way."

"That I don't say anything?"

Stiles shrugs. "I don't know, maybe. Anybody else, they would've... tried to make me feel better, tell me things aren't so bad. I don't need to hear that if I know they're lying."

"Aren't you a pile of optimism," Peter observes dryly.

Around the glass he's emptying with another gulp, Stiles almost laughs. "Don't I know it," he holds the glass out for Peter to take. "More."

"Are you missing the magic word perchance?"

Stiles waves the glass impatiently. "Don't," he warns. "Don't start with me."

Peter gives in, sensing a time and place for his teasing that isn't now. It's a thought he never would've listened to, probably never even had in the first place, a few years ago. Back then it would've been great fun to watch Stiles trip over his own shoelaces, throw up on the floor, and then pass out on the toilet. Now all Peter wants is just to get him into bed, and he has no idea why.

"Okay," Peter refills it for him from the faucet, pushing it back into his outstretched hand.

Even Stiles seems surprised. "What's this? Peter Hale being nice to me?" He squints uncertainly at Peter, as if checking him for demonic possession. "Can I tell anyone about this?"

"Not a soul," Peter murmurs. "You need sleep."

"I must be hallucinating," Stiles says into the toilet, the words echoing. "What's this now? Are you caring about me?"

"I would rather eat my way across my front lawn than say yes to such a question," Peter refuses. Stiles is too busy downing the refilled water to frown and glare. "Maybe the thought of you slung over the toilet tomorrow morning while I try and shower disturbs me."

"Maybe you need a bigger house."

"I thought you didn't want my house to accommodate you."

"Peter," Stiles pushes the glass clumsily back into his hands, almost dropping it. He sounds uncharacteristically urgent. "I just really hate the color red."

"...all right."

"Of course I want to live in a house that's mine too," Stiles stares into Peter's eyes like he's slow for needing this explained to him, and it briefly causes Peter to wonder if he'll be angry about this tomorrow, about all the truths Peter coaxed him to spill under the influence of too much alcohol. You manipulated me, he would snarl while throwing plates, but Peter really would like to listen to all this. "Of course I want my opinion to matter. Of course I want to have a place that actually feels like home, not an old sock with furniture in it."

"Then why—"

Stiles groans loudly, head thumping against the wall when he hears the start of Peter's further questions. "You don't listen hard enough," he moans, apparently annoyed to be explaining so much. "What's the point of getting comfortable here? I won't stay."

"Why not?"

"Because it won't work," Stiles' voice has become small, like someone's turned down the volume. "I know it won't. It's you."

"I'm a joy to be around," Peter says.

Stiles either doesn't hear him, or doesn't bother listening. "If I get comfy here, and I like it here, and I like you, what happens when you kick me out? What happens when I get angry and leave?"

"Then you leave."

"You don't get it," Stiles says quietly. Out of the corner of his shut eyes, Peter sees a dot of moisture, something watery aching to roll down his cheek. He whispers the next bit, so softly Peter has to focus his hearing to catch it. "Then I'll miss it. I'm tired of missing things."

Then I'll miss it. Peter's home, Peter's house, the room and life he's built for himself here. Maybe even Peter himself. Peter doesn't remember ever being missed before, and the sensation is hot and twisting in his chest, hardly understandable.

It's horrible thinking. Not letting himself become attached because of the off chance that he might go and feel the pain of loss, that he might not bounce back or have someone like Peter around to catch him again. Peter nearly does the same, except he doesn't let himself become attached because he doesn't see the point behind it, doesn't see the value of connections without advantages. He wonders if there are any advantages to liking Stiles, and when he finds none, he wonders why the hell he likes him as much as he does anyway.

"You're a very... introspective drunk," Peter observes. "I would've thought you'd be a bit more light-hearted. Jokes about penises, the like."

"Do you want a penis joke?" Stiles asks. It lightens the mood a fraction, and Peter shakes his head.

"A tempting offer, but no," he gets to his feet, Stiles watching him as he does so. His eyes are sad, forlorn, as if he's afraid of being left alone in this tiny bathroom, so Peter reaches for him, extending his palm. "Come on."

"Where are we going?" Stiles takes his hand nonetheless.

"Your bed," Peter says, slinging his arm over his shoulder. "If you throw up on my carpets, I'll evict you."

Stiles holds up two fingers, like he's trying to promise Peter that he won't, or even that he will, just to be the little shit Peter's used to him being. Whatever the intention is, he doesn't voice it, probably focused on keeping him stomach in place as the world moves again while Peter lugs him down the hall. He's light, very slender in his grip where he's holding him by the waist, and Peter wonders just how much food he has to coax down Stiles' throat like a fussy grandmother before he's back to well-fed.

He opens the door to Stiles' room with his free hand, nudging it open to slip them both instead. A part of him wants to knock Stiles' head on the doorway, just once, but he lets the urge slide for now.

Stiles' hand crawls up Peter's shirt to fist the fabric in his hands. He opens his mouth, as if to say something, and Peter instantly sees visions of green cheeks and chunks of regurgitated lunch on his shoes. He shushes Stiles.

"Don't talk," he says, splaying two fingers over Stiles' open mouth. "You'll throw up."

Stiles pulls Peter's fingers away, frowning like a stubborn child. "I won't," he mumbles. His breath, thick with alcohol, fans over Peter's face. "I just want to say something."

"It can wait," Peter tells him. He pushes him on the bed, Stiles wobbling on the mattress as he lets him go. Every time he sees him lately Stiles seems smaller, more vulnerable, more in need of protection. Stiles whines, clearly unappeased by his dismissals.

"Don't go yet," he pleads. "Thank you."

Peter frowns. "Thank you?" he repeats.

"For not being terrible," Stiles explains. Well, all right. "For not being what I thought you would be."

It hits Peter a little harder than he expects. He should be proud—after all, if what people expect out of him is being terrible, that's certainly an accomplishment. He can use this power to keep kids off his lawn and terrify businessmen.

But that's not what Stiles is saying. Stiles is saying that he's better than that, that he's not terrible, that he's—dare he think it—good. A good man. Even the thought leaves a stink in his brain. What is he supposed to do as a good man? Give to charity? Save lives? Would only ever being there for Stiles be enough to classify him as such?

"You're talking nonsense," Peter murmurs. "I'm not a good man."

Stiles opens his eyes, looking directly at him. "I know that," a small smile tickles his face. "But you're good to me."

Hmm. Good to just one person. Hopefully, that won't completely turn around his fearsome reputation. Hopefully it won't inspire the neighbors to come to him asking for cups of flour when they're empty. If it's just Stiles, only ever Stiles, Peter thinks he could handle it.

"Don't I know it," Peter says. He wrangles the sheets over Stiles where they're trapped under his legs, pulling them up to his chest. "Now stop talking."

"Fine," Stiles agrees.

He passes out then, almost without any pretense, eyes fluttering closed and breathing soft. It makes Peter wonder what else he wanted to say.

--

When Stiles wakes up, he feels the overwhelming sensation that he’s just missed out on an important night of his life.

The alcohol grants him mercy for once, and doesn’t fog over the details. He remembers most of it. He remembers telling Peter that he cares, that he’ll miss him if he lets himself, all of it from the acoustics of the bathroom. His mouth feels like something died in it, but oddly enough, that doesn’t feel like his priority.

He peels himself off the bed. Wearing clothes, as imperative as it may seem, feels like it will hurt his skin. He goes instead for a fuzzy bathrobe hanging in the back of the closet, another piece of clothing that smells intrinsically of Peter. The smell calms him, has ever since he monopolized his aftershave.

He ought to go explain himself. Tell Peter he’s not as attached as he may have made it seem last night. That he’s not nearly as mentally unstable. That he’s actually well on the road to recovery.

All right, so he’ll probably be lying. The truth, however, feels much more terrifying, much more revealing. Much more dangerous to discuss.

So maybe he is a mess, and Peter’s right. Maybe he feels like some days, he’ll fall apart at the seams out of sheer hatred for what he’s done. Maybe Peter’s right, and it’s something he needs to work on.

The thing he never shared, however, is how much Peter’s already helped him on the path to recuperation. It’s embarrassing, even more embarrassing than garbling out that he will miss Peter when their alliance eventually crumbles. Peter’s a mess too, in his own specially demented ways, but still, he’s helped Stiles. Supported him. Made him see a light at the end of the a very long, very grimy alleyway that used to be his resting spot every night.

Maybe there’s no shame in needing someone, Stiles thinks. Maybe it’s perfectly okay to want someone to stay, to be needed as well.

He feels like he’s lost his sense of time. The window in his room is showing him nothing but black sky, dark blue at best, like he’s been sleeping his hangover off for at least twenty-four hours. Maybe more. Maybe he’s been here for days, his heart ticking along sluggishly with the clock while he unconsciously avoided the world. He probably needs food, and a shower, and an entire bottle of ibuprofen just to ward off his headache.

Instead, he puts his arms into the fluffy bathrobe, opulent in the way it hugs him, and heads downstairs. It’s quiet there too, Peter reading a book on the sofa. Stiles wonders if he’s checked up on him at all in the last few hours.

“I live,” he announces from the top of the stairs, heading down them. “Bet you thought you lost me forever.”

“You snore in your sleep very loudly,” Peter tells him idly, flipping a page. “If you had left the living, I would’ve heard.”

Stiles sits down next to him, sinking into the cushions. He feels like he’s slept for days, and strangely enough, feels like he could sleep infinitely longer.

“Do you have a second?” Stiles asks, tapping Peter’s book on the spine.

Peter puts it down, bookmarking it with his thumb. “Are you here to apologize?”

“For what exactly?” Stiles distinctly remembers not throwing up on the carpet.

“For stealing my expensive alcohol,” Peter berates. “I was not pleased.”

“Right,” Stiles shakes it off. “Sure. Sorry. I have something else I wanted to tell you, though.”

Peter takes it as his cue to put his book away, pushing it to the end table. Stiles feels himself heat up under his full attention, suddenly very aware of his words.

“Is this your disclaimer letting me know nothing you said last night holds a grain of truth?” he asks suspiciously.

“Nah,” Stiles is almost humiliated with exactly how true everything was. “I just wanted to clear the air. You know how I told you I was scared of losing everything?”

“Mmm.”

“I decided to just go for it,” Stiles says in one big breath. “The missing… it. The threat of missing it at all.”

“Are you going to be more specific?” Peter asks. “What are you referring to?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles says to his lap. “The nice furniture.”

He strokes the couch. It feels very soft underneath his hands, nothing like the scratchy upholstery over a motel sofa. He’s not lying, he’d miss this this. But not as much as some other things.

“The furniture is very nice,” Peter agrees.

Stiles feels more words well up in his throat. The now-or-never seems to mount in the moment, urging Stiles to be braver than he knows how to be anymore, even remembers being. Back in the old days, his bravest days, the scariest thing he had to face was monsters, death, damnation, etc. This seems scarier.

“I never planned it this way, you know,” Stiles says. He’s a little worried that once he starts, the words won’t stop. He takes his chances, very aware of his tongue as he does so. “I wanted to hate you and just be done with it.”

“That’ll kill you,” Peter says, nodding with what he probably thinks is wisdom. “Hate will eat you up.”

“Who the hell are you? Mr. Rogers?” Stiles knows he’s being messed with. A part of him appreciates the comic relief. “Look who’s talking. You hate everything.”

“Not everything.”

The look he gives Stiles seems to be meaningful, and it makes Stiles wonder why he’s waited so long for a look like this when his actions have spoken just as loud, if not louder. He’s taken him in, given him shelter, given him life, for Christ’s sake. Stiles doesn’t need any more encouragement.

"Can I try something?" Stiles murmurs. Peter's expression tilts with suspicion.

"Will I still have all my limbs afterwards?"

Stiles nods, moving in a small, barely perceptible inch. "Can I?"

Peter looks at him like the Stiles he knew from the past would never ask for permission, and certainly not from somebody like him. Stiles wants to laugh, because that old self tumbled headfirst into trouble and was constantly under the ax of danger, but he still misses him desperately.

"All right," Peter murmurs.

Stiles leans in closer, his movements jerky, tentative. Peter follows his every move with alert eyes, watching him scoot close enough to smell the subtler scents of his aftershave.

"Roommates," Stiles says, swallowing on a dry mouth. "Do you think they ever. Well."

He leans in, heart thumping loudly enough to convince him that there's a jackhammer in his chest, and presses his lips against Peter's jaw for a single, closed-mouthed kiss. The stubble brushes his face as he does so, Peter freezing underneath him like Stiles might have just put himself in danger of a punch to the face.

He pulls back, torn between sticking his head into the cushions and reading Peter's expression for a sign of emotion—annoyance, surprise, confusion. He takes a breath and goes for the latter.

"Definitely not," Peter murmurs, shaking his head. Stiles would take it as a rejection if it wasn't for the way Peter tilts in slightly, just enough to be touched again.

"I'm. I'm new to the whole roommate thing, so. So let me try again."

Stiles' mouth is so fucking dry. He tries to swallow, tries to remember how to breathe, but instead focuses on summoning the courage sixteen-year-old Stiles had in abundance and kissing Peter on the neck, right where it curves upward into his chin.

He feels Peter swallow under his lips, completely unmoving. Stiles wonders if he would appreciate the encouragement of a hand on his back right now, or if his body would betray him and jerk away back into a corner of cowardly solitude. He wants to do this. He can do this.

"Hm," Peter says, very quietly. "Try... a bit higher."

Stiles pulls away from his throat, nodding. He can do this. The Stiles from a few weeks ago had dicks down his throat on a nightly basis, but this, this feels different, like it might matter. He tilts his head upwards.

"Like this?" Stiles asks.

Peter nods. Stiles thinks he's slipped out of potential punch range by now, heart louder and faster by the second. He can do this, he can do this. So he leans in and does it.

He doesn't get punched. He doesn't even get pushed away. It's almost shocking to Stiles, how he kisses Peter Hale and the world doesn't tilt off its axis and the cosmos don't explode. Three seconds worth of warm, chaste kiss and then it's over, Peter's mouth slipping away from his.

"How's that?" Stiles asks. He watches Peter's face, something nearly imperceptibly different than before. It takes Stiles a moment to identify what he's looking at before he realizes: Peter's impressed.

He clears his throat, and then, "You need practice."

Stiles pauses, and then snorts. It breaks the ice, and suddenly everything doesn't feel nearly as heavy as it did a second ago. A smile tugs at his mouth, because here he is, on Peter's couch, having just kissed him, and having survived.

"Is that an invitation?"

Peter matches his grin, his slightly more wicked than Stiles’. It's oddly arousing, which Stiles takes to mean that he desperately needs psychological help.

But he can't worry about that now, not when he has an agenda. As long as this braveness streak of his is running strong, he won't be standing in its way. He feels powerful, better than he has in months, maybe years. He just took a plunge and is still in one piece. He better see how long he can keep this up.

He puts a hand on Peter's chin, drawing him in close and dragging him into another kiss. It's bolder than the last, the type Stiles finds himself sinking into like soup on a cold day. It's a feeling Peter must be affected with as well, what with the way he wraps his arms around Stiles' waist and the two of them suddenly seem to combine bodies, like two halves of a sleeping bag being zipped up together.

And it feels good—amazing, really—which in of itself is already baffling. Stiles was convinced that actually reveling in another's touch after what he'd done, what he'd let himself become, would be impossible, but then Peter—Peter Hale, of all people—had to push their lips together and ruin everything for that train of thought.

A hand comes up to his face, surprisingly soft fingertips skirting over his jaw, past his collarbones, tickling his neck before a hand is wrapping itself into Stiles' overgrown hair. Inanely, he thinks about how he needs a haircut, and probably a shave, and probably ADD medication because he can't focus on what really matters—Peter kissing him. Peter kissing him despite Stiles thinking he'd never want to be kissed again. It feels a bit surreal, really.

Their lips tilt together, and it feels like coming home, which is the craziest thought Stiles has had yet. It's making him heady, possibly insane, and then a hand slides onto his thigh with the barest of implications and Stiles jerks away, pulling away from their heated kiss.

"Sorry," Stiles breathes out. His lips feel strange now, more swollen than before. Kissed. "Just a bit—a bit fast."

He feels himself roll his eyes a second after the words come out of his mouth. He's well into his twenties, goddammit, and has just been whisked off the streets after being a prostitute, it's about time he retired the blushing virgin thought process.

Nimble fingers turn his face back to Peter's with a gentle pull to his chin. It's almost surprising that Peter knows how to be like this, knows how to be gentle and careful and soft around the edges, especially when he's usually like knives coated in sugar.

"Stop apologizing," Peter demands. "Do you really think I can't control myself?"

There's a part of Stiles that almost wants Peter to be swept off his feet by him, so sexually inclined toward him that animalistic hungers would spring from his chest upon the first touch of tongue and tongue, and another part, deeply conflicting with the first, that is endlessly relieved that Peter isn't laughing at him right now, demanding instant gratification. He seems to constantly be made of two opposing halves nowadays, or maybe, that’s just what it feels like to be a person.

"It's not that," Stiles says. "I guess I just feel silly acting like I'm sixteen all over again when I've—" he tries to think of delicate wording and comes up flat. "Well, I've been around the block a few times. A lot."

"I'm not your client," Peter reminds him. "You realize there's a difference."

"I just need time," Stiles says. "Then it's bow chicka bow wow up in here."

Something that sounds like a huff of laughter escapes Peter's mouth, prompting Stiles to do the same. For a moment, he's baffled, almost as if he's just heard his high school self make an off-handed joke instead of the angry, jaded man he's become. Maybe it means there's hope for him yet.

"You're an idiot," Peter murmurs, almost fondly. "I have time."

"And maybe alcohol. I could use alcohol too."

Peter frowns. "Haven't we learned from last time?" He shakes his head. "I've hidden all the alcohol from you."

"What am I, twelve?"

"Sure seems like it when you're drunk."

"Don't talk about that," Stiles groans, scrubbing a hand over his forehead. "I still feel like I have a hangover."

Peter looks at him curiously. The space between them, which had seemed marginally bigger a few seconds ago, seems to have been whittled down by unspoken intimacy. “By the way,” he says. “I heard some interesting news that you’re no longer intending on smoking.”

Stiles sighs. The words instantly make him want a cigarette. “It’s an exercise in self-control,” he says. “Sort of like what you’ll be doing when you’ll try not to rip my pants off my body.”

Peter snorts. It feels incredibly good to joke about sex, to find it important, and to do the two together. “Of course,” he murmurs. “Will the quitting make you moody? Should I lock you up now or later?”

Stiles purses his lips. “I will need constant deliveries of hot coffee, sandwiches, and someone to watch the Avengers movies with me whenever I feel like it. Whenever.”

Peter cocks an eyebrow. He seems to be weighing his options—agree, or kick Stiles out forever. Stiles gives him a winning grin to tip the scales. He sighs. “Who do I speak to about negotiating about the terms?”

“My people will call your people,” Stiles says.

“Good enough.”

--

"So what do you say?" Peter says, wielding the scissors with flourishes that concern Stiles for the safety of his eyeballs. "Should we cut it all off?"

"No," Stiles vetoes firmly. "I'd look fucking ridiculous if I was bald."

"Hmmm," Peter makes a slow circle around Stiles' chair, examining what he has to work with. A hand winds its way into Stiles' hair, fluffing the overgrown strands left and right. "It would still be better than the uncultivated mane you have now."

"No baldness," Stiles says again. "Can I trust you with those scissors or what?"

"What do you think?" Peter says with a wicked smirk Stiles doesn't trust on anybody who's his self-appointed barber.

"I think I should be running for the hills," Stiles says. "Get that grin off your face." It only grows wider. "Are you going to murder me with those scissors?"

"No," Peter says, and before Stiles can protest, he's spraying his head with spritzes of water until his hair is damp and his forehead is dripping. Stiles sputters, wiping it dry with his sleeve.

"Be gentle," Stiles says, grabbing the wrist holding looming scissors over his head. He carefully lets it go a moment later. "Don't make me regret this."

"Shh."

The scissors start chopping. It sounds very final, especially when damp chunks of hair start raining down on Stiles' side, tickling him as they fall to the floor and land on his lap. He doesn't even realize how much hair he apparently has until it keeps falling, and falling, and falling like the pitter patter of rain, Peter circling him as he snips pieces away.

"You might be a pound lighter after I'm done," Peter murmurs, amused, as another chunk falls to the floor.

"God," Stiles looks at the fallen hair gathering around the chair's feet. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?

"Do I hear doubt?"

"Hell yes."

Peter clicks on the razor, which does little to ease Stiles' worries that he'll come out of this chair looking like he's just stumbled out of an inmates' barbershop. It runs up the back of his neck, gently shearing away the excess hair, Stiles shutting his eyes through it all.

"Relax," Peter chides him. The razor sounds like a running chainsaw this close to Stiles' ear.

"It'll grow back," he chants to himself under his breath. "It'll grow back, it'll grow back."

Stiles shuts up the moment the razor turns off before Peter can comment on his mumbling. He tilts his head, as if trying to see if the weight of his hair truly has changed, and reaches up with a hesitant hand to fluff the hair by his forehead.

"Stop," Peter reprimands, grabbing his wrist. "Let me finish."

He kneels between Stiles' legs, softly blowing the shorn hair away from his forehead. It tickles and also manages to make him want to blush, cheeks hot as Peter's eyes scoot closer.

"Personal space, mister," Stiles breathes out. "This isn't very professional."

"Who said I was professional?"

Stiles cracks an eye open. Peter's closer now, practically nose-to-nose with him, and it makes his fingers tingle with the urge to hold onto him, grab him by the lapels and jerk him onto his lap. It hits him them—no matter how much he thought he'd never enjoy sex again, let alone want to, he does want to have sex. He will enjoy sex.

"What are you thinking about right now?" Peter murmurs, close enough for their noses to brush.

"I'm thinking," Stiles leans forward a small inch, just enough that the tips of their noses push together, "that I want to pull you on my lap and kiss you."

He looks up at Peter's unblinking eyes, watching him closely, like every movement deserves the sort of close examination one needs to then write sonnets. "Hmmm," Peter hums, arching his face up so their noses align. "Me too."

A thrill runs through Stiles that might be arousal, or might just be the pure excitement of being wanted, and wanting in return. He wonders if the Stiles he is now, just a shadow of the Stiles he used to be, still has the courage to make such a move when there isn't money to earn and a show to put on.

In a moment of blind reflexes—or maybe stupidity—Stiles reaches forward to slide his fingers into Peter's hair and pull him closer, close enough to feel the warmth of his breath exhaled onto his lips.

Fuck it, he thinks, and yanks him into a kiss.

The gap between them closes very quickly. Peter's response is a hungry moan, uninhibited and landing straight in Stiles' midsection. This, he knows. Kissing, he's good at. Their lips work together almost effortlessly, Peter's teeth tugging at Stiles' lower lip and igniting a sharp stab of pain and pleasure in Stiles' chest all at once.

He wants to contribute as much as Peter, nip and suck and lick into his mouth with real intent, like this is something he's planned all along, but somehow he ends up getting lost in the moment and the feeling of Peter's lips, surprisingly soft lips, pushed up against his and all of his moves fly out the window. He threads his fingers into Peter's hair, mussing it out of its refined state, and aligns their lips so every moment is a slick slide of mouth against mouth.

And he can see, all too easily, how quickly this could progress. A loss of a shirt, tugged off pants, and suddenly they'd be grinding up against the kitchen cupboards, Stiles trying to catch his breath. It makes him nervous like a fourteen year old might be about sex, and Stiles pulls back from their kiss as slowly as possible, keeping the tension out of his muscles.

"Don't leave a job half finished," Stiles says, Peter's lips still torturously close to his.

"Are you referring to your hair?" Peter murmurs, tipping his chin up. It makes their mouths brush, and Stiles knows what Peter wants. He gives him one more kiss, this one quicker than the last, and pulls Peter's left hand, still clutching scissors, up into view.

"Yes," Stiles says. He waves the wrist in his grip. "Go on."

"Tease," Peter whispers, their lips brushing as he speaks, and then he's pulling back like an actual gentleman acknowledging Stiles' wishes and takes a breath to refocus himself.

When his haircut is finished and the nevermore strands are swept away, Stiles looks in the mirror and sees somebody he used to know, somebody he thought long lost. He looks younger, fresher, softer, and feels overwhelmingly more like himself.

--

It only takes Peter a few seconds to figure out who Stiles is talking to on the phone.

He’s eavesdropping, so be it, right outside Stiles’ door, when he overhears a relieved voice coming through the receiver. Scott. Stiles is laughing, a frayed, sad laughter, like a phone call just isn’t enough.

His voice is thick. "It's good to hear your voice too."

He listens, tunes his hearing into the other half of Stiles' phone, and hears something along the line of are you doing okay? closely followed up by where are you?

"I'm fine," Stiles says. "I'm safe."

I'm glad, Scott says in response.

"Sorry I've been so... quiet," Stiles mumbles. The sheets are rustling, like he's playing obsessively with the hem of his linen. "Sorry I left without saying anything."

And of course Scott says it's okay and goes straight back to the questions. Ones that demand attention, like where are you? and are you coming back?

Coming back. Of course. Peter isn't surprised he asks, and he'd be even less surprised if Stiles accepted. After all, Beacon Hills is his home, or at least was for a solid two decades. Peter isn't shutting Stiles off in a dungeon so he'll stick around, and he certainly won't beg him to stay, even if he maybe does want him to. He does.

That's a little fucked up, Peter thinks. He's a high-maintenance kid who annoys him on an hourly basis and came straight from the muckiest of streets—and a part of Peter still wants him here, clogging his cupboards with sugary cereals and watching bad television with him. Is this what caring feels like?

"I don't know," Stiles answers. "I'm, well. I was having a rough time, but I'm okay now. I got some help."

A rough time? Scott murmurs through the phone. If you need anything, I'm here for you. Always.

A part of Peter wants to throw up listening to this—to Scott's sickening loyalty and their ride-or-die friendship that can apparently withstand even years of silence—but then he hears a soft sound, something like a smothered cry muffled in a fist, and he realizes that Stiles is trying his best to not let on that he's crying.

"I know you are. And me too, even if I can't do much for you," Stiles promises. He takes a breath, trying to keep the tears at bay, but Peter can smell the misery coming off him in waves. "But I'm better now. I was—I was on the streets for a while, but things picked up."

Scott instantly asks on the streets? with a panicked increase in volume, but Stiles interrupts.

"Not anymore. I'm okay. It doesn't matter," he tries to laugh, something that sounds broken around the edges with his tears. "Tell me about you. Are you doing okay?"

Scott's hesitant to lead the conversation away from Stiles, that much is obvious. Peter feels something rusty sink into his insides. He thinks that Scott might be the only person still alive right now who cares about Stiles' welfare as much as he himself stupidly does, whenever the hell that happened.

Scott starts talking about his own life. How he's working at the hospital alongside his mother. How he's still going to school during nights, and how he busies himself most of his days. How he misses Stiles, and still has that picture of the two of them graduating on his bedside table, and wishes he would come home.

"That's great, Scottie," Stiles tells him when he's finished, and now he's hardly able to contain the broken lilt to his words. "I'm glad you're doing so well."

Please come visit and I'd be doing better with you comes next. Peter wavers around the corner, wondering when it'd be appropriate to burst in and pull Stiles against his chest lest he lets the tears fall. It's a ridiculous urge, something a brother or a father or a spouse might feel, and Peter pushes it down, letting Stiles finish his conversation.

"I gotta go," Stiles is saying, apparently not willing to let Scott overhear him crying. Peter peers around the corner to see him pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers while his eyes squeeze shut, as if he's staving back hot tears. "I miss you."

Peter listens for Scott's reply, a heartfelt I miss you too and please come home sounding through the phone. It hits Peter harder than he thought it would, hearing someone refer to Stiles' home as a place other than here, other than the sanctuary he's built for him here in his house.

"I love you," Stiles says fiercely into the phone. "You're my best fucking friend."

The phone call ends with a soft beep before Scott can say more, beg for him to call back later, and then Peter's ears overhear the sound of the phone hitting the bedspread with a soft thump.

He lets Stiles breathe before he even thinks about charging in, listening to the slow, steady patterns of his careful inhales and exhales. Twenty seconds later, the sounds are interrupted by a choked sob, something broken that seems to echo in Peter's chest. It makes him wonder if Stiles wants to go home, back to Beacon Hills, back to the friends he loves and would even die slow deaths for.

Peter makes the snap decision to round the corner when he hears the next muffled cry escape Stiles' mouth. He sees him there, small in the center of the bed where he's stifling his tears in the pillow he's wrapped his arms around, and follows the instinct that tell him to protect, to care, to comfort his pack, no matter how dysfunctional or disjointed that pack may be.

He has Stiles in his arms before he can back away and pretend to have heard nothing, pulling him to his chest and cupping his head against his shoulder. Stiles doesn't resist, doesn't even flinch away from the sudden touch that would've had him reeling backwards weeks ago with skittering, rabbit-like terror. Now he's curling into Peter's chest like flowers arching into the sun, craving the warmth.

"You were listening, weren't you?" Stiles mutters against Peter's chest. He doesn't even sound angry.

"A bit," Peter says.

"It's fine," Stiles' hand fists Peter's shirt, his wet cheek pillowed on Peter's shoulder as he tries to find his breath. "I don't even care."

Peter hears the ragged blip in his words instantly, his heartbeat thumping against Peter's side. He runs his hand down Stiles' head, smoothing hair as he goes. He doesn't know how to be—soft, sweet, understanding, unyielding, firm. "You do care," he says. "You care too much, probably."

"Not about you eavesdropping," Stiles says, his words swallowed by Peter's shirt. "About other things—maybe. Yeah."

Peter lets him cry. He hiccups against his chest and his entire body shakes with the force of his sobs, but Peter lets him. He doesn't know, doesn't think he ever knew, what it feels like to miss someone. He knows what it feels like to lose a pack member, or nearly his entire family, but the reactions he had were much more primal than something as vulnerable and human as missing someone. He doubts he even knows the right things to say in this situation other than the useless classics like it's okay and there, there. For all he knows, it won't be okay. Stiles could spend the rest of his life missing the world he lived in when he was fifteen and the people he knew, even the person he was, or maybe Stiles will give in and go back home and it'll be Peter's turn to learn what it feels like to miss someone.

He quiets after a while, a heavy weight pillowed against Peter's chest. His shirt has become damp, wet with Stiles' tears, but considering that he's had much worse splattered over his chest, namely his own blood, he's not bothered. He listens to Stiles' breathing, observing the pattern for the softness of sleep, and finds it to be slow and gentle, almost close to slumber.

"Stiles," he says quietly, then again. "Stiles."

Stiles murmurs something against his throat, mainly unintelligible. Peter shakes him, untangling himself from where Stiles has flattened himself against Peter's form like seaweed wrapped around him.

"You're flattening me," he says.

Stiles sniffs against him. "Deal with it."

Always a child, Peter thinks. Then again, he might as well be, what with how most of his childhood was robbed from him and instead pushed full of action and death and danger. He shifts, getting to his feet despite Stiles' displeased grumbles.

"Come here," he murmurs, grabbing Stiles by the wrist. Stiles wipes his dried tear tracks away with his sleeve and looks at the hand holding him, tugging him to his feet, with eyes that are sleepy and soft and red at the edges.

"Where are we going?" Stiles asks him, voice dry. Peter slides his fingers lower, slipping his hand into Stiles', and pulls him out into the hall.

"My room," Peter says. "So you can stay with me tonight."

"Stay with you?" Stiles repeats. "In your bed?"

"I'll keep my hands to myself," Peter promises him, doing his best not to roll his eyes and provoke the dragon inside. Still, he thinks that like this, eyes swollen and body small, Stiles doesn't have the energy to bring the spiked, sharp side of him out that snaps at Peter and doesn't like jokes.

Stiles follows unquestioningly after that, his hand warm in Peter's where he's clutching his palm in return until they reach Peter's room, drawn in darkness and shielded by the curtains. He brings Stiles close to the bed, reaching for hem of his sweater.

"Nothing up my sleeves," he murmurs as he pulls it off, Stiles dutifully raising his arms as he does so. He doesn't even flinch as Peter tugs it off his head and unzips his pants next, keeping his movements deft so his fingers don't linger. Even so, Stiles is completely calm as he steps out of his pants.

"Always knew you wanted me out of my clothes," Stiles mumbles, and when Peter looks at him, he's smiling furtively at the floor, amused. Peter lets the eye roll out this time, pushing Stiles onto the bed a moment later.

It's a touch that weeks ago, would've alarmed Stiles into flinching away or even shoving Peter flat in the chest, but now he seems pliant, soft under his hands. Peter circles around the bed to his side, throwing off his shirt and his pants before he slips under the sheets. Stiles follows, burrowing onto his side with a heavy sigh. He's facing Peter, which Peter takes as a sign of trust. Stupid trust, perhaps.

"This is weird, isn't it?" Stiles says into the darkness. His hand is between their bodies, palm up, as if waiting for Peter to grab it.

"Not really," Peter says in return. "It's just a different bed."

"Not that," Stiles' hand twitches, two of his fingers pressed against Peter's thigh in the process. "All of it. Me in your house. You taking me in."

"I don't get it either," Peter says. "God knows I didn't need more teenage drama in my life."

"I'm not a teenager anymore," Stiles reminds him, almost wistfully. Peter is too busy thanking his luck that Stiles didn't take offense at his comment. Then again, he’s been calmer lately. More reserved. "Why did you do it?"

"Take you in?" Peter turns his head to see Stiles nodding. "I have a death wish."

"Be fucking serious," Stiles hits him in the arm. "You could've left me out there."

Yes, he could've. It would have been very easy, as walking away always is. But it was strange, just as Stiles said, for Peter to see him, years later and miles away and desperately in over his head. He was never a large believer in coincidences, raised instead to understand that the universe typically had a way with things, a way that was usually ironic if not amusing most of the time.

"I was curious," Peter admits. "And wanted to know more."

"About what?"

"About how much you had fucked up your life," Peter answers honestly. It's be a little late—about four decades late—to start hiding away what he's really thinking.

"You're so romantic."

"Do you want me to lie?"

Stiles seems to think about it, and then shakes his head. "No," he says. "Fine, go on."

"I just wanted you to entertain me, make me feel better about myself," Peter says. Schadenfreude style, apparently, which used to be one of his favorite hobbies. Laugh at people who tripped, chuckle over somebody's failures, shake his head at those who wept over loss. "And then you reminded me of the things I didn't realize I missed."

"Beacon Hills," Stiles identifies.

He's hit the nail on the head, so Peter nods. "Sure, it was trying. All the trouble," he rolls his eyes, feeling momentarily insane for sometimes wishing he would still be back, watching high schoolers deal with monsters from the sidelines. "But it can make you feel alive."

Much better than an empty house and complete peace can. Much better than a quiet town and nice passerby ever could. He looks at Stiles and thinks, for a moment, that somehow, magically, crazily, this one boy has made him feel alive just as much as an entire town full of ragtag werewolves ever did.

"I know what you mean," Stiles says. "I miss it like crazy. I was still somebody."

"You're still somebody," Peter says honestly, more honestly than he should have, more nicely than he intended to.

And then Stiles does something Peter would've thought him too cowardly to do, and takes that extra jump necessary to push their palms together and grab his hand. Peter looks down between their bodies under the sheets where their twined fingers lay, and something about the sight makes him invigorated, almost like a rush of power would.

"Don't say anything," Stiles says, curling slightly closer to him. "Nothing at all."

Well. That saves him the trouble of pretending to be disturbed by Stiles' clinginess. He stays silent as requested, listening to Stiles' breathing turn even with slumber where he's angled toward Peter, like Peter is that warm campfire everybody wants to sleep next to. This feeling, this feeling of being missed, being desired, being appreciated, it's almost overwhelming.

He falls asleep with Stiles' hand in his, loose around his fingers, and doesn't mind.

--

Stiles wakes up in cocooned in warmth—too much warmth, blanketed in heat from every side—and his eyelids swollen shut.

He remembers then, the way he had called Scott and cried about it for hours. Thinking about it makes him feel insane, to miss someone he could visit in under an hour on a rickety train, but sometimes the idea of returning to Beacon Hills and pretending nothing's changed makes his gut churn. Seeing everything as it used to be—the police station, without his father's desk but with his picture hung up on the wall. Scott's house, down the street from his mother's and full of the memories of high school that actually lasted, like lacrosse jerseys and pictures of him and Stiles, still sporting a buzz cut, from sophomore year. Sometimes he feels like if he returns, he'll be sucked straight back into it all, the drama, the death, the constant disaster and threat of danger hanging over his head, inescapable once more. Leaving Beacon Hills had felt like escaping a lobster trap, nearly impossible and unbelievably freeing, and climbing voluntarily back in feels silly.

A few weeks ago, though, he probably would've considered it. If the alternative to seeing Scott was spending the next few weeks prowling seedy alleys looking for clients, he'd much rather be with Scott, even surrounded with the oppressive reminders with his past. But it's not a few weeks ago, it's now, and he's not on the streets, he's under soft sheets with Peter pressed up against his backside. To leave this, to leave this bizarre home he's burrowed himself into, feels just as silly.

He peels his eyes upon, the underside of his eyelid sticky with his residual tears. It's embarrassing, incredibly so, to practically have cried himself to sleep like the same kid who spent nights awake weeping over his dying mother, especially in front of Peter, but Peter had not made fun like he would've expected. Either he was worried to encounter yet another one of Stiles' tantrums what with his mercurial moods nowadays had he asked him to control himself, or he actually hadn't minded.

"You're alive," Peter says from the other side of the bed. Stiles rubs the sleep from his eyes and turns to him, propped up on an elbow.

"Your sheets are like an oven," Stiles complains, twisting under the linens. "I feel like I've been baked."

"My plan all along, of course," Peter says. "I've taken up cannibalism since you last saw me, you see."

"Did you?" Stiles scrubs a hand over his face. "Why am I not surprised."

A comfortable silence falls between them whiles Stiles comes to the slow realization that he just spent the night with Peter. In his bed. Under the same sheets. And hasn't been sacrificed in his sleep.

"So," Peter murmurs. "Are you all cried out?"

"Shut up," Stiles says, without real heat. He twists around onto his backside, tilting his eyes up to look at Peter in the soft morning light. Here, still unshaven and wrapped up with Stiles, nothing seems scary. Nothing even seems worth crying about.

For once, Stiles doesn't think; he acts. He follows his instincts, lets them pull Peter down by the back of his neck, lets them press their mouths together, warm and lazy from sleep.

It's a nice kiss, the type of kiss that would play at the end of a movie montage, Stiles thinks. It makes him feel loose-limbed and completely awakened at the same time, his body arching into Peter's to share their bodies' warmth and press them closer. Stiles parts his lips, a silent go ahead to Peter to deepen the kiss, and Peter responds with a swipe of his tongue over Stiles' mouth and a hand sliding down his chest. One of Stiles' legs slips between Peter's, nudging apart his thighs and prompting Peter to pull back suddenly.

"What happened to needing time?" Peter asks him, his eyebrows furrowed and hands hovering over Stiles' hip.

"I had enough," Stiles says. Sleep feels like a faraway thing, as does getting out of bed and having breakfast and doing anything that doesn't involve their bodies meeting, everywhere.

Peter raises an eyebrow like he doesn't believe him in the least, so Stiles pulls him down and silences his doubt with another sound kiss that swallows away his complaints.

And a part of him still can't wrap his head around what's happening. Him, in bed, with Peter Hale of all people, feeling oddly safe like lying under Peter keeps him secure, taken care of. It's been a long time since someone's taken care of him.

He kisses him with heat, with purpose, with the message he's thinking but would never say out loud for fear of combusting into flame from sheer humiliation alone, and Peter seems to understand with the way his palm curls around Stiles' hip, right where the waistband of his boxers have slipped. It's familiar in the way that Stiles has been touched too many times to count, been lying submissively under a demanding body, but foreign in the way that he isn't mentally counting the minutes until he's done and can go home two hundred filthy dollars richer.

"Turn around," Peter murmurs against Stiles' mouth, dragging their lips together. Stiles stiffens, palms flying up to keep Peter's chest at a distance. Peter picks up on his discomfort right away, and it makes Stiles wonder if he's listening to his heartbeat or if he's attuned to his emotions. "Not that."

"Then what?" Stiles asks, still immeasurably tense.

"Let me focus on you," Peter promises, touching his jaw with soft fingers to smooth away his rigidity. "Just you this time."

It sounds good. It sounds like something he hasn't experienced in a long time, maybe even since high school, and the idea prompts a flutter of arousal to slide down his torso. Being touched, being focused on without waiting for reciprocation, being pleasured for the sake of watching the tension slide from Stiles' muscles, it's nearly foreign territory to him by now.

"Since when are you this selfless?" Stiles asks. "I don't exactly remember that about you."

"This is hardly selfless," Peter shakes his head, "if I get to watch you come."

Stiles feels his face heat up as he throws it back onto the pillow to laugh. He looks at Peter, smile crooked, and decides to take a leap of faith. He turns around.

First thing he feels is Peter's hands skirting up the backs of his thighs, sliding up, then back down to the underside of his knees while his warm breath lands on his ass as he pulls down his boxers. Stiles jumps, suddenly feeling ten times more sensitive than before, and Peter's low chuckle lands on his ass as he gently spreads his legs.

"Just relax," he murmurs, and then his tongue lands on Stiles' hole.

"Oh."

Stiles pushes his face into the pillow, trying his best to breathe while his toes curl. Peter knows what he's doing, his tongue curling over his rim and flattening over his puckered entrance. This, this is something Stiles' clients never would done, just demanded for themselves, and here's Peter doing it for him, fingertips curved into the small of his back to keep him in place while his tongue laps over his hole. It's dizzying, disorienting, completely exhilarating, and Stiles can do little but try and sink into it.

He's started making noises, words like right there and god yes suddenly leaving his mouth without his permission. He tries to breathe, tries to remember how to, and then Peter's tongue is flattening against him before he delivers a hard bite to Stiles' ass and the world turns upside down for a bit.

In that moment, everything makes sense, and everything he ever believed in before doesn't. Why would he ever want to give up sex when it can be like this? When it can be invigorating and thrilling and heart-pounding, nothing like the sleazy deals he used to be the brunt of when he needed quick cash and a place to sleep.

And how ridiculous is this? Stiles would laugh if he wasn't otherwise occupied. He feels safe and happy with Peter Hale. This is probably irony, or cosmic humor, or something equally puzzling that Stiles will never be able to riddle out properly. He grabs onto the pillowcase and focuses on Peter's mouth, sucking marks onto his ass, and his tongue, licking over his hole, and decides to leave the big questions to the philosophers.

"God," Stiles groans out. The amazing part is that he isn't even faking it, not pushing out the exaggerated moans he's so used to. "Fuck, Peter."

And Peter must get a special high out of hearing Stiles moan his name, because then Stiles feels the vibration of Peter's growl against the back of his thigh right before his mouth goes back to eating Stiles out. This, right here and now, is the memory Stiles wants to keep crystal clear years and years later when he's too old to get it up.

"Gorgeous like this," Peter murmurs, right on his overheated skin, and it pushes Stiles over the edge.

He comes with a blinding force, the extent of something that is a real orgasm, not something pushed out and barely felt when he's bent over a table for an extra three hundred dollars. It reminds Stiles that those exist, that the world he's been living in isn't actually so bad, and when he looks over his shoulder, Peter's grinning, sinking his teeth into the base of Stiles' spine to bite at the soft flesh over the curve of his ass.

"Was that so bad?" Peter murmurs, his lips sliding up Stiles' spine in open-mouthed kisses, stopping to nip here and there along his vertebrae. Stiles is still shaking, probably in the process of slowly returning to earth, and barely manages a shake of his head.

"It wasn't bad," Stiles says, feeling a lazy smile spread over his face as he opens his eyes and twists over onto his side, reaching out for Peter and ending up with a hand on his chest, smattered with hair.

"See?" Peter says, leaning in to bite his jaw. "Perhaps you should start trusting me."

"Never," Stiles breathes out, tugging Peter on top of him. Here he is, naked and bare and enjoying a morning of sexual escapades like anybody else would, and it's working. A part of him, no matter how small it is, can still be normal. "Hey." He slides his hand to Peter's arm, squeezing. "Do you want. Do you want me to—?"

Peter opens his mouth, and Stiles makes up his mind before he can say a word. He pushes Peter onto his back, climbing onto his hips to straddle him with a newfound determination in his mind. It's a bit thrilling, being naked with somebody and wanting to be naked with somebody, completely devoted to the idea of making them come, watching them writhe, listening to them moan.

"Don't say anything," Stiles says, putting his hand over Peter's mouth. "Not a word."

Peter pulls his hand away, and then carefully nods, willing to indulge in him. Maybe he thinks that Stiles is hanging by a thread, just one wrong move away from a panic attack and a Stiles-shaped-hole in the wall, completely unaware of how one hundred percent ready Stiles is for this.

He leans in to kiss him again, something shorter and softer than before, moving to his neck a moment later. Peter's hand curls around his backside, an unspoken encouragement to continue, and Stiles does so, trailing down his chest and stopping at his stomach to such a dark mark into his side. He pulls back and watches it disappear into healed skin.

"I believe—"

"Not a word," Stiles cuts in, shaking his head. Peter's mouth closes again, amused, and Stiles busies himself pulling off his boxers, revealing his tented erection.

It should be daunting, almost. It's the first dick Stiles has willingly touched in months, and yet, the weight that he thought would be there isn't. He wraps his fingers around the base before he can think about it too much, Peter's shaky breath that courses through his whole body encouraging him to continue. He pulls upward, then strokes downward, then decides to throw himself headfirst into hell and slide his mouth around the tip.

Peter doesn't expect it, that much is obvious with how his hips jerk upwards, eager to feel the sudden heat of Stiles' mouth. His cock floods Stiles' senses, from its taste to how it feels warm in his hand, and Stiles surprises himself with how he wants more, wants to see Peter react.

He looks upward as he drags his tongue up the underside of Peter's erection, catching Peter's eye and giving him the okay to push into mouth. He can take it, especially after having learned a few tricks after his time on the streets, but he doesn't want to think about that now, not when he's focused on the way Peter's chest is heaving under the effect of Stiles' touch. Peter gets the hint, rolling his hips into Stiles' mouth. It makes Peter bite his lip as if affected by Stiles' mouth, his tongue, his every movement, and it sends another warm thrill through Stiles' chest at the idea.

Peter pushes his hips forward again, Stiles watching his teeth as he does so. He's a blowjob expert by now—technique, teeth watch, an active tongue—and he wants to show it off without feeling the usual swell of shame, so he shoves aside all thoughts that don't involve Peter in his mouth and heavy on his tongue.

He flattens his tongue underneath him, the drag of his cock in and out of his mouth familiar and foreign all at once. It hasn’t been like this in a while, not since before the streets. Stiles is enjoying himself too, wrapping his hand around the base of Peter’s dick and stroking in time with the movements of his mouth.

And even though Peter’s bitter on his tongue, and heavy in his mouth, and forceful with his hips, Stiles wants more. He sucks harder, upping his game, and Peter’s entire body arches upward with the feel of it.

“Stiles,” he says, voice deliciously raspy. “That’s it.”

Stiles repeats himself, his tongue flicking over the tip, his cheeks hollowing over his length. It should be scary, but nothing is anymore. Peter’s thighs start trembling, the slightest of jerks, and Stiles sees the warning for what it is. He keeps his mouth in place, ready for Peter to come, and then he does.

Peter looks down at him as he swallows like he’s amazed—maybe even thankful—that he doesn’t have to treat Stiles like a glass doll, and it makes a moment of pride slide into Stiles’ expression as he pulls away. For months, the idea of touching anyone felt like overkill, like he’d had his fill forever. He has no idea if it’ll ever completely go away, the urge to flinch away when a hand gets near, but for now, being comfortable touching those select few people is enough for him.

"Stiles likes it rough," Peter's murmuring, rubbing his thumb over Stiles' lower lip. "Who would've known?"

"I can take whatever you've got, big guy," Stiles says, sitting up to crawl on top of Peter.

Peter cocks his head. "That sounds like a challenge."

"I'm not surprised you see it that way,” he says. “It could be.”

He looks over his shoulder at the house, at the hallway through the door. He could go downstairs, get on with his day, but he wants to stay here, even if just to lie on the mattress and feel the warmth of the sun on his face. He wants other things too, like slow, long explorations and discoveries with each other’s bodies. He’s pretty sure Peter won’t mind.

“We can stay in bed, can’t we?” Stiles asks.

Peter’s hand slides down Stiles’ back, naked, deliriously naked. Their knees touch. “As long as you’d like.”

--

He never officially moves out of the guest room.

His things, all three of them, alongside Peter's sweats and the half-finished books opened facedown on the floor, don't get brought over. Maybe it's a bit too official for Stiles to be lugging his things into Peter's room, like if they were any more like a romantic comedy he'd be asking for his own drawer. Peter doesn't mind.

Still, the shift is noticeable. Peter goes to bed one night and Stiles is already there, stretched out on the right side in Peter's pajama pants, a flush to his bare chest. Peter doesn't comment, doesn't badger him into leaving or teasing him into explaining the sudden change. He thinks he gets it.

--

"I think you should leave."

Stiles' head snaps upward. "What?" his face twists and he drops his fork. "You want me out?"

"No," Peter shakes his head. "I think you should go to Beacon Hills. See your friends. Breathe some fresh air."

He feels truly put off his meal now. "What, tired of playing hero?"

"Not exactly," Peter murmurs. "If I was actually the big damn hero you thought I was... I'd have brought you here selflessly. I didn't."

"Why did you?"

"I told you," Peter looks Stiles up and down, something in his eyes like he's reliving fond memories. "Seeing you reminded me of what I used to be. Of different things were. You represented everything I used to have."

"And what," Stiles tries to process this. "That’s gone now?"

"No," Peter says, not sugarcoating a thing. "The difference is, I don’t need to be reminded of those things anymore."

"I'm not flattered."

"I didn't expect you to be," Peter sighs. "Do you want to know why I wanted you to stay?"

Stiles' shoulders slump and rise in a half-hearted shrug. "Same reason?"

Peter's jaw ticks. He plants his hands on the tabletop, leaning toward Stiles. "Because I wanted you here," he says. "I started caring about you."

Stiles wonders if this is the most honest Peter's ever been about human feelings, things he probably views as weaknesses, to himself and out loud. It's a little overwhelming, being on the receiving end of Peter's candor.

"I didn't know you were capable of that."

Peter chuckles, short and unamused. "Me neither," he says. "I should've kicked you out the second I noticed. But I'm not one to deny myself the things I want."

"And now, you're," Stiles swallows. "You're kicking me out because you've decided I'm not worth it?"

"No. I'm telling you to go home and see your friends. Make amends. Don't end up stuck here missing your old life."

Stiles shakes his head, staring down at his half-eaten plate and Peter's hands, flat and firm on the table across from him. "This is my home," Stiles corrects him. "I'm not going to keep getting stuck in my past."

"This is your home?" Peter murmurs, something quietly astonished in his words.

"Yeah," Stiles drums his knuckles on his knees. "Don't make me tell you why, you bastard."

Peter's lips twitch into a small, self-indulgent smile. "I'd like to know."

"Well, I'm not telling you," Stiles says defiantly. "You'll just have to deal with it." He stares hard into Peter's eyes, daring him to challenge his decision. "I don't know why you think I'm so desperate to leave."

"Maybe because you spent days trying to," Peter reminds him.

Stiles is quiet. A moment passes, and then a soft sigh leaves his mouth. "Peter," he says. "I want to stay here. With you."

"Maybe so," Peter murmurs. "Then you should go visit. It'll be good for you."

"What, and then come back?"

"If you want to."

Stiles doesn’t want to leave, and Peter should get that much. Peter doesn’t want to go back either, not when all the good things are here, right in reach.

But Peter looks sure, almost positive that this is what Stiles needs to fully recover, to become his old self. Stiles is somewhat scared of his old self. How he’ll behave. If he’ll fit in Stiles’ new, older body. If everything will go back to the way it used to be, for good and for bad.

“Temporarily?” Stiles asks. Peter nods.

“Just a few weeks, if you’d like.”

He thinks about cracking a joke about Peter being sick of him already, but he knows it isn’t the case. He might just be looking at the most selfless version of Peter he’s seen yet, completely different than the Peter that took him in just to stay connected to his own past.

He could see Scott, and go back to the old diners. Maybe even visit the school, say hi to Finstock. Apologize to the people who needed to hear it. But only for a few weeks.

“I’ll think about it.”

--

"I'll go," Stiles says. Peter turns his head, eyes falling on where Stiles, resigned and small, is resting his head on Peter's lap in the light of the orange dusk on their bed.

"Mmm?"

"I'll go back to Beacon Hills."

He sounds as if every word is a sigh, like saying the sentence aloud feels heavy in his mouth. Peter reaches forward to tangle his hand into Stiles' hair, short and soft where it's tickling his bare stomach. The light in his bedroom is perfect for this, Peter thinks, for framing Stiles' face in a warm glow and igniting every curve of his cheekbones, every bump of his skin.

"Good," Peter says. "It'll be good for you."

Stiles smiles, a self-deprecating tug of his lips. "Since when do you care about what's good for me?"

"I resent that," Peter says, yanking on Stiles' hair. It makes him chuckle.

All right, so he'll go. It's what Peter himself suggested. If all his complaints are even partly sound, he'll come back. Peter has never believed in people before—not that he's ever had to—but he'll give it a try just this once.

"I want a cigarette," Stiles mumbles, sounding sad and tired and defeated all at once.

"Have one."

"Really?"

Peter shrugs his shoulders, and Stiles takes it as a green light to roll over, stretch over Peter's body, and reach for the nightstand where a carton of his cigarettes has taken up resident. He pulls one free alongside a lighter, flicking it until a flame tickles the cigarette's tip golden yellow.

"Aren't you worried about smoke on your sheets?"

Peter says nothing, letting Stiles blow out curling tendrils of smoke into the air. Truthfully, he doesn't mind at all, not when a part of him wants Stiles to leave his mark as many places he can, just to remind Peter that these bizarre circumstances happened at all. A part of him wonders if he even Stiles to leave at all, not when it'd be the selfish, Classic Peter Hale thing to do to keep him.

"I think it'll be good for me," Stiles murmurs around the cigarette between his lips. "So go ahead."

"Excuse me?"

Stiles gives him an unimpressed glance. "Go ahead and gloat," he says. "I agree with you. It'll—it might be good to see everybody again." He takes a long pause, silently watching the smoke drift into the setting sunlight shining a ray through the window. "See my dad's grave."

"I won't gloat about you leaving," Peter says. "It's not like I'm happy about it. I would chain you up and keep you in the basement if I wasn't such a good man."

Stiles' answering laugh is loud. "Good man?" He shakes his head, tipping the teetering cigarette ash into Peter's tepid cup of tea still sitting on the nightstand. "All right, tell it to St. Peter."

"I've been good to you, haven't I?"

Stiles seems to consider it. "I suppose," he murmurs, grinning under Peter's resulting glower. He fastens his lips around the cigarette again, sighing out the smoke as he exhales. "You could come with me."

"What good would that do?" Peter says. "I have no business in Beacon Hills."

"What about Derek?"

"What about Derek?" Peter repeats. "Let him be. There's a difference between closure and unnecessary conversation."

"Okay, then what about us?"

It's odd to hear them lumped together as one unit, as if there is an us. Peter thinks he ought to stop pretending there isn't, and reaches forward to curl his fingers into Stiles' uncombed hair. "Hmm?"

"How are we supposed to keep in touch?" Stiles asks. "Maybe I want to hear your annoying voice now and again."

"I could get you a phone," Peter offers. "Let you join the technology of the future."

"No," Stiles says immediately. "No buying shit for me."

"It's not a down payment to get into your pants," Peter says. He looks at the wrinkled sheets splayed over his naked hips and Stiles' bare chest and feels his eyebrow quirk. "Obviously."

Stiles slaps him on the chest, half-heartedly at best. The silence settles after that, comfortable and laced with something almost melancholic. He runs his fingers up Stiles' arms, completely lax under his touch. It's oddly satisfying to see him not flinch away.

"We don't have to rush," Stiles says. "Right?"

"Of course not," Peter murmurs, keeping up the stroking as Stiles arches into the touch like a pleased cat. "We have time."

"Good."

Stiles sits up then, leaning across Peter's chest until he can press their lips together. He smells like a used ashtray, and when Peter's tongue flicks out over his bottom lip he notices that he tastes like it as well, but he decides to let the comment rest.

--

It only takes two weeks for it all to be arranged.

Peter contributes one of his weathered duffel bags to the cause. He buys Stiles a train ticket, round-trip so he understands the implications. He doesn't complain when Stiles stuffs half of Peter's own closet into the bag to take along with him. And then it's time to go.

Stiles, like Peter, is doing his best to ignore it its inevitably. Peter knows it's a good idea for him to go, to see his friends and start over, but that doesn't mean he wants the rugrat out of his house. So, like Stiles, Peter spends most of his time pretending the days are like any other.

The TV is doing little to distract him, however. He flips through the channels, flying from the weathermen to the news to the dramatic ghost stories, and suddenly there's a blockade in his way in the form of Stiles' torso standing in front of the television.

"Excuse me," Peter says loudly, glaring. He tries to change channels, but Stiles' body block the signals.

"Turn it off," Stiles tells him.

"I can't if you're blocking the TV," Peter says, and Stiles obediently scoots two inches to the right. The TV flicks off. "I thought you were reading upstairs."

"I have something for you," Stiles says, seesawing on his feet. "A parting gift, if you will."

"I only accept extensive vacations and gold jewelry," Peter says absent-mindedly. When Stiles doesn't cuff him around the neck, he looks up from the TV, focusing his attention on him. "What is it?"

Stiles holds his hands out sheepishly, as if revealing a magic trick. He looks very unsure, almost fifteen years old all over again minus the hardened features and leaner body.

"Me," he says with a crooked smile.

"Well," Peter says, trying not to jump the gun in terms of assumptions. "You didn't wrap it."

"I thought the big red bow on my penis was a bit too corny," Stiles says, gravely serious, then chuckles softly at his own humor. Peter takes in his twitching fingers and nervous smile and sees it as what it is—the anxious humor of a boy incredibly frightened about what comes next. "Would you say something already?"

It's a hard request, because Peter is feeling slightly speechless. "Is this the part where I'm supposed to stop you?"

"What? No," a small, slightly pink blush crawls up Stiles' cheeks. "More like the opposite."

"You want me to encourage this?"

"I want you to stop beating around the bush and just sleep with me already, dammit," Stiles grumbles. "Jesus. The old you would already have me naked and debauched on the couch."

Peter raises an eyebrow. "The old me never would've taken you in," he stops, pausing to consider. "Well. Maybe to season and bake in the middle of the night."

"That's what I always thought!" Stiles says, momentarily distracted, and quickly shakes off that train of thought. "C'mon." He extends his arms, as if offering himself up for auction. "I want to."

"Will you blame me for stealing your virtue in the morning?"

"Stop it," Stiles says, and then he's pulling his shirt over his head and stepping out of his unzipped pants. It happens fast, very fast, and all of a sudden he's standing naked in front of Peter in a pool of his own clothes, hands twitching by his sides, and Peter suddenly remembers what self-control feels like in his bones.

"You want me," he says slowly, eyes roving slowly down Stiles' chest. A part of him wants to memorize every inch of his body, from the expanse of his shoulders to the curve of his dick up to his stomach. "To fuck you."

"Actually, I'd like to ride you," Stiles corrects. He says it without a single blink, and Peter is desperately glad he's not holding something breakable in his hands right now. "What do you think?"

"Well," Peter says, but Stiles isn't waiting.

He climbs into his lap, naked in all his glory, and wraps his arms around Peter's neck. He looks assured, but under the confidence, Peter smells something like nerves, like affection, like trust and a rapid heartbeat.

"Don't ask me why," Stiles says, laughing. "But I trust you."

"What a death wish you must have," Peter tells him, but a part of him is glad. If Stiles trusts him, maybe this means that there's hope for him after all. Maybe he hasn't lost his touch, and maybe he shouldn't coop himself up in a house too big for just him. He likes the feeling of being trusted, especially right now and how it's manifesting itself as Stiles sitting on his lap and rubbing against his growing dick. If after all these years, he still has a gorgeous boy naked on his thighs, he must've done something incredibly right.

"That's already been established," Stiles whispers. He leans in until their noses are brushing and his eyes are too close to focus on. "Peter."

His hands find Stiles' waist. "Yes?"

"Don't talk anymore."

Stiles leans in to kiss him, his tongue sliding over Peter's bottom lip, urging him to comply to his request. Peter does, and kisses him back.

--

It's on a Tuesday at four p.m. with a cloudy sky when Stiles' train back to Beacon Hills leaves.

Stiles carries with him nothing but a duffel of his belongings, a box of cookies stolen from Peter's pantry, and a hoodie slung over his shoulder should he want a makeshift pillow during the ride. The walk to the car is short, just like the ride to the station is short, just like Stiles slipping Peter past the ticket booth is short.

"So this is it," Stiles announces, his eyes firm on where the train will appear. "Your promise is still good, right?"

Peter knows he's talking about that day in the bathroom, Stiles drunk over the toilet, telling him how sick he is of always missing, never having. He nods. "Come back whenever you want."

"You better be there when I do."

The tracks churn and grind under their feet, alerting Peter of the incoming trains. It reminds him that he doesn't have much time left, and suddenly telling Stiles to leave seems foolish and stupidly sacrificial. He thinks about grabbing Stiles and holding him back, obeying the impulse to bring him back home with him and keep him there, but Stiles gets there first and seizes Peter's wrists.

"Listen," he says urgently. "You know that I, well." He laughs straight at the ceiling, and it makes Peter see a gathering of wetness in his eyes. "This is so stupid."

Peter, strangely enough, is sure that it isn't. Stiles' grip on his wrist tightens. "What is?"

"This! Me! God," Stiles surges forward and kisses him, off-center and wonderfully.

"You don't have to say anything," Peter says when he pulls back. "Don't say anything."

He doesn't think he could handle hearing whatever Stiles has to say as his parting words, lest he finds himself repeating the sentiments. He pats Stiles on the cheek, smooth without stubble, to silence him.

"You already know?" Stiles asks.

"I do," Peter tells him.

"You too?"

"Obviously."

Stiles laughs again, giddier this time. The train rolls up a moment later, loudly announcing itself with clacks on the tracks and a heavy gust of air ruffling Peter's shirt. The din of waiting passengers picking up their belongings and shuffling into the opening doors sounds around them, reminding Peter of how his last few minutes have turned into last few seconds with Stiles. He's actually sad, feeling it dig into his chest like dull saws, and he's not particularly pleased with the sensation.

"Hey," Stiles says quietly, just for him to hear in the bustle of noise. "Thank you."

For what? Peter thinks. Putting a roof over your head? Any decent person would've done so. Then again, Peter is hardly a decent person, so perhaps the gratitude is justified. He nods, not sure he knows how to handle being thanked and appreciated, and kisses the side of Stiles' temple.

"Get on the train," Peter says. The crowd has thinned now, most of them packed onto the train, and Peter knows if he waits any longer Stiles will miss it and Peter won't mind too much.

Stiles nods, though, pulling away and picking up his duffle. It's still sadly small, but it's more than he had at the start, so Peter takes it as an improvement nonetheless. He heads for the doors, waving a two-fingered salute over his shoulder as he does so.

Then the train seems to swallow him up, his duffle pushed among the rest being the last thing Peter sees, and with a mighty chug, the train lurches forward and away.

Peter watches him go and hopes dearly he will never have to feel this way about a goodbye ever again.

--

When Stiles gets off the train, he finds Scott's house with the address written on his palm and knocks twice on the door before it opens. Everything after that is a blur.

He remembers a lot of hugging, a lot of grateful words in his ear and strong hands on his back, being reeled into the kitchen and force-fed lunch. He remembers Scott's grin, very bright, very forgiving, making him feel one hundred percent whole again.

"Where have you been?" Scott asks him when his grins have relaxed enough to let him speak once more.

"Do you really want to know?" Stiles asks. "It's a long story."

"Absolutely."

Stiles' mouth quirks up at the corner, and then he launches into the entire tale without stopping.

--

Two weeks later is the first time Peter hears from Stiles again.

It comes in his mailbox, in the form of a letter, and it's so prehistoric and endearing that Peter actually has to fight the smile that tries to make itself present on his face. The message is short enough that it could've been sent over a text message if only Stiles hadn't been so petulant about Peter buying him modern day technology, and that might be even more endearing than the letter itself.

Thanks for making me go, and for everything else. Love you.

Peter stares at it for a while. Seeing the last bit in print knocks the wind out of him like a punch to the head more than he'd like to admit, and he looks at the two words like he's waiting for them to change, morph into something more innocuous, but they never do.

Behind him is the red wall. It’s dark, but not as dark as promised, and it seems weak, almost boring compared to the letter in his hand.

He makes up his mind then.

--

Stiles goes out for groceries a week later. It's familiar, and at the same time, it isn't. The old supermarket he and his dad used to go to has changed, their entire layout redesigned and their shelves of bread moved to where the fresh vegetables used to be. Still, it's comfortable, even without Scott or his father at his side, and that feels unbelievably freeing.

He has a list in his hand full of Scott's scribbles, starting with eggs and ending with booze because in his absence, Scott has apparently become a real life adult who cooks his own meals and can legally acquire alcohol. Time has passed, but at the same time, Stiles feels like they've picked up right where they've left off.

The couch he sleeps on in Scott's living room is not as comfortable as Peter's bed, and it doesn't smell of his aftershave either. His fridge isn't stocked with organic milk, and his furniture isn't as classic, but Stiles likes it all the same. It drives home exactly what Peter wanted him to do all along—go home, get well, make things right. He left with the image of what was practically a ghost town in his head, Beacon Hills completely antagonized in his mind, and came back to something brighter, better than he remembered. It's good for him.

He skims down Scott's list, idly pushing the cart along as he goes. Pears is the third thing on the list, and fuck what Scott needs pears for, but Stiles won't judge his best friend's choice in fruits. He heads for the fruit, examining the bumpy pears, and reaches for a pear at the same time as another hand arches for it.

"Sorry," Stiles says, retracting his hand.

"No problem," says the other guy with a frighteningly familiar voice, a very familiar voice, and Stiles freezes.

It can't be.

Except that somehow, it can be—and it is. He looks to his left, and there, casually picking out pears as if it is his mission in life, is Peter. In Beacon Hills.

"Holy shit," Stiles says, dropping his pear. It thumps against the others.

"I'm surprised too, trust me," Peter says nonchalantly. "I didn't think they'd let me back into the town either."

Stiles looks at the pears in his hands. "Did you come for the fruit?"

"Of course," Peter murmurs, nodding. He tosses a pear up into the air, catching it as it twists back down. "Other things, too, though."

He throws Stiles a look that makes him embarrassingly weak in the knees. This shouldn't work so easily. As a matter of fact, it never should've worked at all. It was supposed to be Stiles fighting with Peter every moment of the day and storming out in a huff, not feeling light-headed when he sees him in a supermarket.

"What other things, huh?"

"Oh, I have a boytoy in the city," Peter says. "Thought I would pop by and see him."

"You're a bastard," Stiles says, then laughs. He looks at the floor, trying to wrap his head around this entire situation. Scott is going to flip his lid when he comes home with him. "Phone calls are tired, right?"

Peter smiles. "You wouldn't let me buy you a phone."

Of course he didn't. Stiles turns to face him, taking in his smug smile and smoothed hair and snug jacket, all of it better than he remembered. "Did you get my letter?"

"You mean the ten words scribbled on a page? Of course."

The banter could go on easily for hours, Stiles knows this, but right now, time seems to be of the essence, so he spends it wisely, starting with yanking Peter closer and into his grip. He comes willingly into his arms, pears forgotten, and winds his arms around Stile' waist to hold him close while Stiles pushes his face into his shoulder. His stubble prickles against his temple, and his chuckle rumbles deep over Stiles' skin, but it feels good, and lovely, and Stiles is no longer thinking about looking for eggs and the sixteen other things on Scott's list.

"Are you staying?" Stiles asks when he pulls back. He feels like one of those couples at the airport who the elderlies coo at. "With me and Scott."

"I'm more of a five-star hotel type of man," Peter hums. "Before I get a place, anyway."

"Here?" Stiles asks. "You're getting a place here?"

"Perhaps," Peter nods. "The fruit, after all. It's simply to die for." He throws Stiles another look. “Among other things.”

"Right, right." Fruit, fruit, are they even talking about fruit? Stiles is pretty sure they aren't. "Do you want help looking?"

"A wonderful idea."

He knows Peter isn’t only here for him, and that’s what makes it feel so right. Peter’s missed it much more than he’s let on, much more than the posh house cities away could ever reveal. Peter’s element isn’t in a tiny town without any excitement. That’s what he lives on—that, and arguing with Derek, butting heads with Scott. Terrorizing small children. Running wild in the woods now and again. He could paint an entire mansion red and never be stimulated enough, not like he is here. Not like Stiles is here.

Maybe Stiles could be his red wall. Maybe Stiles is better than the red walls, better than painting a house, better than moving towns just for the hell of it. Maybe Stiles has kept his attention, and that’s why he’s here now, not all the way back home waiting for Stiles to come back. Maybe that’s why he really took Stiles in, because Stiles is different and explosive and keeps him on his toes.

“How about I take you out for lunch?” Peter suggests. “Your opinion on my new place… I’d appreciate it.”

He throws him a wink so subtle Stiles almost doesn’t catch it. He grins. “I’ll be there a lot,” he says. “So that sounds like a good idea.”