Stiles meets Lydia because Jackson tricks him into going to the cemetery.
It’s not funny, really, and Stiles stands there with his hunched up ghostly shoulders, and his ghostly hands gripping his ghostly elbows, and the way he breathes out, but doesn’t really breathe out, the breath in his ghostly lungs having long been expired, and Jackson accidentally sneaks up behind him and places a warm, a really, really warm, palm on the back of his ghostly neck, and Stiles closes his eyes and forgets where he is, and Jackson says, “Hey,” and even his voice is inviting, and then he says, “This is Lydia,” and Stiles turns around.
She’s beautiful in a fragile sort of way, even though she’s looking right through Stiles and his ghostly torso with a look of contempt on her face, and she turns her body to Jackson without taking her eyes off of Stiles, and says, “This is him?” in a voice that very clearly conveys her disappointment.
Stiles flickers once and then smiles at her, sheepishly. “Hi,” he says, and gives her a stupid little wave.
Jackson brings Stiles to the cemetery to teach him more about werewolves, but Stiles isn’t sure what a cemetery has over the comforts of his house, especially since Derek has been coming home later and later the past few weeks, his clothes smelling like alcohol, his knuckles bruised. Stiles hadn’t asked him what was going on, or why, but only because Stiles had opened his mouth once and Derek had kissed it shut, his nails biting into Stiles’ skin like claws.
Stiles doesn’t tell any of this to Jackson, doesn’t talk much about Derek at all, and maybe he has to reason with himself that it’s not because of the most honorable intentions.
In the cemetery, Lydia runs just as hot as Jackson, so Stiles hovers somewhere close to both of them, soaking up the heat. The two of them are wearing all black, their faces pale in the shadows, and Stiles thinks that maybe they think that this is some sort of stupid Scooby Doo adventure, where nothing in the dark is ever really as scary as it should be, but Stiles doesn’t say anything when Jackson turns to him and smiles with half of his mouth, his eyes piercing.
“I wanted to show you something,” Jackson says, and he’s facing Stiles, but he reaches out for Lydia’s hand. She takes it, her nails curling around his palm, and then Jackson reaches out the other one, and Stiles slips his ghostly hand into Jackson’s, and there’s a current that runs through both of them, something charged, something warm.
Jackson leads them to a dark, mossy grave hidden in a patch of weeds, and Stiles stops once he realizes whose it is, his feet fading where they don’t quite touch the grass.
“I’d thought you’d want to see it while we were here,” Jackson says, and he has the gall to look sorry or maybe just deflated when he sees the way Stiles reacts, his hand still holding Stiles’ hand, warm, strong, and Lydia moves closer and closer to the grave, trying to peer at the name and date there, and Stiles wants to tell her to stop, but his ghostly mouth isn’t quite working, and Lydia’s feet don’t make a sound on the wet grass until she steps on something broken like glass, and then it echoes and echoes in the dark.
Don’t, Stiles doesn’t say when Lydia reaches to pull the weeds up from around the grave.
Stop, he doesn’t say when she brushes away some of the moss.
“Stilinski,” she reads, and then turns to Stiles. “Is that a relative of yours?”
“No,” Stiles says, and then flickers once, his face feeling cold and cold and colder still, perfectly solid, perfectly smooth. “That’s me,” he whispers, and then he disappears.
Stiles didn’t attend his own funeral. The days before he realized what he was were a blur, an endless amount of screaming and crying, his ghostly voice painful from where it ripped itself out of his throat over and over and over again, his ghostly hands flickering between ice cold to hot like burning, hot like his memories of the fire, the thick, black smoke, the flames that licked his feet.
The aunts that drove to the house in their big, black cars on the day he and his father were buried were ancient and gray and positively sullen, their sweeping black dresses and spider web of black veils, and Stiles had only stopped talking to them on the third day, when his tears had stopped coming, when the inside of him had finally grown cold, finally grown still. He heard talk of his poor, dead mother, and of his poor, dead father, and of the promise he used to be when he was still alive, and he flickered from room to cold room, where the aunts had folded tan cloths over the mirrors, where the priest who threw dirt onto his empty coffin shook hands and offered condolences, where his cousins stood tall in their suits and drank black coffee like they were men.
Scott had come, too.
Stiles didn’t see him, at first, until he had flickered into his old bedroom, charred and black where the fire had caught him sleeping, and watched Scott walking out onto the newly positioned boards, his hands outstretched, like maybe he was reaching for something, something important, something alive. Stiles had watched him for a moment, Scott’s eyes filling with unshed tears as he walked farther out onto the new wood, walked farther and farther, and Stiles had wanted to say something, anything, to make him stop moving, to make him listen, to make him see, but his mouth just wouldn’t work.
“Stiles,” Scott had said then, his hands reaching out. “Stiles,” and then again, “Stiles,” and again.
Stiles had closed his eyes, and when he had opened them, he found himself in the attic.
From upstairs, Stiles listens to Derek stomp inside the door and shake the rain from his clothes, peeling off his jacket and slipping off his boots. He imagines the way Derek’s muscles ripple when he moves, imagines that he smells like beer or maybe something stronger, imagines that he stands there for a moment, holding his nose up to the air, searching for Stiles’ scent. There’s been something here that Stiles doesn’t recognize, something here that Stiles doesn’t understand, and maybe that’s because he’s not that in tune to people, or maybe that’s because he’s not that in tune to werewolves.
Derek calls out Stiles’ name, but Stiles doesn’t move from the bedroom, where he lays underneath the covers, sulking, like a little boy. There’s something here that Stiles can’t figure out, and he listens to Derek climb the stairs, listens to his footsteps, listens to him stop in the doorway. “Stiles?” Derek calls, and Stiles doesn’t move, his eyes closed, his body still.
“Stiles,” Derek says again, and he places a warm hand on the back of Stiles’ neck, his fingers in Stiles’ hair. “What’s wrong?” he says, and Stiles realizes then that he’s been crying, his ghostly cheeks wet and shining where they’re turning pink from Derek’s touch.
“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, and he doesn’t know why.
Derek looks at him curiously, his palm outstretched on Stiles’ skin, and he opens his mouth to say something, anything, but Stiles closes it for him, maybe the only way he knows how, and Derek moves against him, moves against the force of him, and he does smell like alcohol, and Stiles can taste the trace of it on Derek’s tongue, and Derek feels heavy against him, feels solid, and there’s nothing more that Stiles needs right now.
Derek slips off his shirt, pulling it over his head, and Stiles leans back on the bed, watching him, and Derek doesn’t say anything, and maybe he doesn’t want to ruin this, whatever this is that’s going through both of them right now, and he unzips his pants and he wraps himself flush against Stiles, pulling at Stiles’ clothes, working them off rough enough to rip the fabric, and normal Stiles would make a comment about that, something almost witty, but normal Stiles doesn’t seem to be in control right now, so he just kisses Derek again, and again, and again, his mouth burning.
Derek runs his teeth over Stiles’ pale, freckled shoulder, and Stiles shivers, turning over slowly underneath him, feeling warm and exposed. There’s the pull of the moon, and Stiles can feel it thrumming through Derek’s body, the pull of something bigger than both of them, the pull of something altogether unnatural, or maybe supernatural, and Derek thrusts against Stiles and Stiles bites his lip so he doesn’t cry out, and he feels Derek thread his fingers through his own fingers, and he feels Derek press his mouth to the back of his neck.
Derek makes a sound like he’s trying to comfort Stiles, his body still thrumming, still being pulled by something hovering over both of them, and Stiles pulls Derek’s hand to his mouth and, later, he’ll count the indentations that he’s left with his teeth, the white notches in Derek’s skin, later when they’re both sore and stiff and warm together, Stiles with his lips on the column of Derek’s throat, and Derek with his arm circling Stiles’ waist.
Later, Derek will ask him what he was crying about, and Stiles will pretend like he wasn’t, make some stupid joke about how Derek must be going blind in his old age, and Derek will let him, and Stiles will grow quiet, and they’ll lay in bed and watch the moon slip through a curtain of clouds, almost full.
Stiles meets Jackson at the high school lacrosse field during practice, where Jackson looks more comfortable than anywhere else Stiles has ever seen him. Jackson is wearing pads and gloves and a jersey, and he carries his stick over to Stiles where Stiles sits on the bleachers, still and solid and careful not to sit too close to anybody, careful not to touch. Jackson looks sheepish, sitting down next to him, and his heat wafts over Stiles like a wave.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and Stiles doesn’t say anything for a moment, just one small moment, before he shrugs. “I’m sorry,” Jackson says again, and someone sitting a few feet over looks at him and Stiles thinks Jackson must not hide the fact that he’s a werewolf very well, if he can’t even master talking to ghosts in a way that doesn’t make him look crazy.
Stiles rolls his eyes and watches the players dart back and forth across the field, passing the ball between them. “It’s fine, really,” he says, in the most unconvincing way possible. Jackson breathes out, and he takes off his gloves and places a warm hand on Stiles’ arm. Stiles lets himself bask in the heat for a moment before he pulls away, the touch of Derek still lingering on his skin from the night before.
“Really,” Stiles says again. “You didn’t know, it’s okay.”
“You’re lying,” Jackson says, because Stiles is. “But let me make it up to you. Lydia and I are going to our Alpha’s house tonight for the full moon. Come with us.”
Stiles turns back to Jackson, and the look on his face must be something between being appalled and awfully curious. “That seems like a really intensely private thing that I really shouldn’t be seeing,” he says. “Derek never lets me watch him change.”
Jackson bares his teeth a little at the mention of Derek, something so quick that Stiles almost doesn’t notice, but then he smiles, wide and bright. “Then you don’t know what you’re missing. Come with us, you’ll have fun, I promise. It’s not as scary as you think.”
“I don’t know,” Stiles says, and he holds his hands in his lap, careful not to reach out.
Jackson presses close enough that Stiles can see the faintest beginnings of a scratch on the back of his neck, something that must have happened a long time ago. “C’mon,” he says, and he smiles again, his nose just barely touching Stiles’ cheek.
And Stiles can’t help himself, really, so he says, “Okay.”
He lies to Derek about wanting out of the house that night.
And maybe Derek looks at him like he’s hurt for a moment, or maybe it’s just Stiles’ imagination.
Derek smiles and says, “Okay,” and then he turns away and takes off his clothes and folds them in a neat little pile next to the dog cage.
There are things that Stiles remembers.
There are things he can’t forget.
Lydia looks at him like he might burst into flames when he appears at the end of his driveway, looking back over his shoulder at the house and Derek somewhere inside of it, naked and alone. She looks him over once and then says, “You gonna do that disappearing thing again?”
“Lydia,” Jackson says, but his voice wavers when she turns her eyes on him. Stiles doesn’t know why Jackson needs an Alpha when he has Lydia, her piercing gaze and strong, rigid grip.
“It’s cool,” Stiles says, still outside of the car, where he holds his jacket in his hands, sheepishly, and for some stupid reason like it might rain or something, even though he’s pretty sure ghost anatomy doesn’t work in a way where weather might affect him.
“Well, c’mon,” Lydia says, her tone biting, and she gestures to the back seat. Stiles opens the door like a normal human, even though he doesn’t have to, and he slips into the seat and leans back against the faux leather, and he watches Lydia turn around and give him a hostile look. “Jackson didn’t really clear this with me before we drove here, so I just want to lay down some ground rules.”
“Rules,” Stiles says, and nods, once, his ghostly hands fiddling with his jacket, unsure of where they should be placed. “I’m usually not a big fan of rules, but it’s not every day that you meet up with a pack of werewolves during the full moon, so rules would probably be nice.” His mouth is doing that thing again where it forgets to connect to his brain first.
Lydia’s stare threatens him into silence. “First, there is no reason for you to talk. At all. Ever.”
Stiles opens his mouth, but Jackson shoots him a look in the rearview mirror, so he closes it again.
Lydia gives him a pointed look and Stiles rolls his eyes. “Second, this is our pack, so there will be no mention of your boyfriend, okay? They didn’t like us moving out here, so they’re really not going to like us talking about how Jackson was fraternizing with a fucking rival.”
“I was not fraternizing,” Jackson says at the same time Stiles says, “He’s not that bad, you know.”
“Both of you shut up,” Lydia says. “I can feel my brain cells dying every time you both open your mouths.” She sighs and turns back around in her seat. “This was a really, really bad idea, you know. I’m not really sure why Jackson likes you, Stiles, but he does, and every time he’s around you, he decides to do some really fucking stupid things.”
Jackson doesn’t say anything, but his eyes flick up to the rearview, bright and blue in the dark of the car, and he holds Stiles’ gaze for a moment, one two three, before he looks back at the road. Stiles isn’t sure how to react to this, he’s not even sure what Lydia and Jackson call their relationship, or if they even have one, but he’s sure that there’s more to this than just jealousy.
“I don’t want you getting hurt,” Lydia says, softly, finally, and if that’s for Stiles or Jackson, Stiles doesn’t know.
They drive up a ridiculously long driveway somewhere in the hills, climbing up and up and up, and winding themselves around a tennis court and a swimming pool and a fleet of European cars parked close together and shining under the overhead lights. Stiles has never seen anything like this except for the few glimpses he’s had of trash television, and he presses his nose to the glass of the window and he feels all at once like a child.
“Your pack lives here?” Stiles asks, and feels stupid when it comes out of his mouth.
“Yeah,” Jackson says, when he turns off the engine and sits for a moment, letting Lydia climb out of the passenger seat and open the door, slamming it shut behind her. “I hope she didn’t scare you,” he says. “She can be a bit,” and here he falters, unsure of what to say.
“No,” Stiles says, still staring out the window. “It’s okay, I get it. I mean, if anybody got that close to Derek, I might feel the same way.”
Jackson turns around and looks at Stiles, watching him watch the lights come on in the house, one by one. “Do you think we’re close?” He asks, and his face is sweet and earnest and maybe just a little too open, and Stiles looks at him and doesn’t want to say anything that might lead to somewhere he might not want to be.
“I guess,” he says, and maybe it’s a cop-out. “I like you,” and Jackson swallows once, smiling with half of his mouth.
“I like you, too,” Jackson says. And then he jerks forward, but it’s not of his own volition. Stiles reaches his hand out, but he’s careful not to touch.
“Jackson?” He says, and it’s soft, and it might be scared.
“I’m alright,” Jackson says. He smiles again, but this time it’s sharp and dishonest. “The moon,” he says, by way of explanation, and, “We should get inside.”
“Yeah,” Stiles breathes, and climbs out of the car, waiting for Jackson to shuffle around the front, his hand over his middle, clutching at the fabric there.
Jackson leads him through the front door and Stiles passes three separate animal hides hanging on the walls, five separate animal heads aligning the walls. He grimaces and stretches his hand out to Jackson’s back, but feels funny. Jackson doesn’t turn around when he leads him to what must be the kitchen, where a few men are standing around talking. They stop, abruptly, when Stiles enters the room, and Stiles stops by the door automatically, and watches Jackson abandon him for a finger of whiskey by the bar, which he swallows in one motion, hovering close to Lydia and her glass of wine.
“You must be Stiles,” a man calls out somewhere by the stairs, and Stiles turns. And he must be the Alpha, Stiles thinks, because all the other people in the room turn to him, their heads straight up, their bodies at attention. The man is wearing what looks like a really expensive suit, his smile frozen on his face, his eyes staring straight through Stiles. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
Stiles opens his mouth, but he’s not quite sure what to say, so he closes it again, and he watches the man walk down the stairs, stiffly, and he feels this weird sense of déjà vu, like maybe he’s seen him somewhere before, and he tries to remember whatever it is that’s just out of reach, but he can’t. The man walks across the kitchen floor and stands by him, and he’s almost handsome, maybe, in an older man sort of way, and Stiles looks up and watches him watch Stiles, and he can’t help it, but he flickers back to the attic for a moment, for just one small moment.
“None of that, now,” the man says, and he laughs, and Stiles feels something cold rush through him.
“Sorry,” Stiles stutters out, and the man grips his hand, and shakes his head, his mouth a cruel smile.
“No apologies,” he bites out, and Stiles nods his head, his lips a thin, pale line. “I’m glad Jackson brought you here. We always need some prey for our midnight run.”
And Stiles stills, and if he had a heart that worked, he imagines it would be racing. “What?” He asks, but the man laughs, again.
“I’m just kidding, of course,” he says. “You’re our guest. You should expect to be treated like one.”
Stiles looks over at Jackson, but Jackson is avoiding his gaze, watching the remnants of his whiskey swim around and around the bottom of his glass. He looks back at the man and swallows once, afraid. The man’s grip on him tightens, and if Stiles was human, he would think that might hurt.
“I have a feeling you’re not sure what’s going on,” he says, and he looks over the room, and all at once the tension seems to vanish, and everyone goes back to their own conversations. “I’d like to help you figure it all out, if you’d like.”
Stiles moves his mouth, but the only thing that comes out is a whispered yes.
“My name is Peter Hale,” the man says, his smile widening and widening, climbing slow and ruthless across his face. “It’s a pleasure.”