Stiles is sixteen and Peter is twenty. They meet on the rocks near Beacon Hills. Stiles is on two legs, bare as a newborn babe, and Peter can smell exactly what he is the minute the wind shifts.
Stiles has met humans before, and he does not fear them, in general; he is as singular swimmer, whatever his form, and it has always been easy to hide his pelt in the cliffs, in the underground coves that favor the dark. Few humans come down to the cliffs at all, and every time they do fewer come back.
"Hello," he says, and the man above raises his hand in greeting.
"Hello," he says too, and his teeth are straight and white. Uniform. Fascinating. Stiles will learn, later, to never trust Peter's smiles. He will never really know whether Peter smiles as a man or a wolf.
Stiles is sixteen and Peter is thirty-two. They have a house on the top of the cliffs - small and simple, out of place next to the mansions that dot the coastline. The waters are darker than near Beacon Hills, and rougher, the trees shorter and hardier. The creature comforts are few, but when Peter lives for the forest and Stiles for the sea, what sort of creature would they be comforting anyway? It suits Stiles, the smallness of it. The coziness. When Peter built the house for them Stiles painted it - rooms the green of kelp forests, the champagne color of sandy beaches. The bedroom so blue it is almost black, and dark as the inside of a womb. The floors are wood, stone countertops and sinks, as little metal as they can get away with. Peter spends the first few weeks there in and out of his skin, until their scent settles throughout the house. Permeates. Surrounds them like a haze.
Stiles is used to the idea of owning things, now, of putting his stamp all over them. There is a ring on Peter's finger. Peter's teethmarks on the back of Stiles's neck. They share a last name, a pack, a bed. Stiles has Peter's heart, and Peter keeps Stiles's skin in a safe in their closet.
Stiles is sixteen and Peter is forty-seven. Peter's cells are decaying, accumulating waste, becoming infinitesimally less efficient. His heartbeat slows and slows, even as each swell of his heart pumps more and more blood. Every ache in the morning a little more sharp. Being a werewolf accelerates healing but it doesn't prevent aging. Doesn't slow the march of time all humans seem beholden to. Peter is an uncle now, many times over. Could even be a grandfather if life had been different.
These aren't things that Stiles hates, precisely. There are parts Stiles loves, things he savors - the thinning of Peter's hair, the graying of it. The wrinkles that form in the corners of his eyes and his mouth. The creak of his bones like he's settling into himself, becoming more instead of less: cliff into crags, crags into a beach of sand.
Peter's smiles come especially easily in those first moments, slipping around the introductions, his offer to help Stiles up the cliff. The shape of Stiles's body is not new, technically, but he has spent years away from it and he is out of practice with two legs. He flexes his feet against the rocks, toes curling around the edges like he's going to fall down, or float up into the sky. Peter holds onto his arm, then, slips his arm around Stiles's waist. His hands are smooth and Stiles's are baby-fine. New. He feels the catch of Peter's fingernails against his wrist and shivers.
Stiles isn't surprised when Peter kisses him. All it takes is seven tears shed into the sea, and selkies are called - for their companionship, their love. Peter doesn't seem the type to cry, but that doesn't mean he isn't drawn to Stiles. It might even be companionship he seeks, rather than the fleeting. But he kisses like a conqueror, like a predator, and Stiles has seen enough of both to know: know that he should run, or play dead perhaps, injured or scared. Anything that might aid Stiles in getting away – back to the sea, back to his skin. Peter wants, and so deeply and greatly there might be nothing to ever fill it.
Stiles presses his mouth to Peter's anyway. Tries to give everything he can, everything Peter accepts as his due, and Stiles shivers from the sensation, the air moving over his skin and raising the hairs into little bumps.
"I'll keep you warm," Peter promises, and it's a promise he keeps with his skin, his lips, the inside of his mouth, scorching hot against Stiles. The splatter of come that works its way between them, and sticks to Stiles's stomach before drying and flaking away. Peter's eyes keep his promise, the grey-blue of them, the strange way they flash and light Stiles up as the sky reddens and darkens; bring a blush to his cheek.
Later, there will be times Stiles can't bear to look at the sky, the giant expanse of it. He knows the sea and the sky catch the same light, or so he's read, but to him they seem nothing alike. Even when there are clouds, even when there are storms, the torrents of rain, the great clouds of it, the sky still seems like an empty thing, and it sits wrong with him. Stiles is too used to fins and scales, the nekton and the benthos - the flow of nitrogen and iron in the water, the blooms of phytoplankton, the sprays of salt, the pressure of billion of tons of water bearing down on him. He feels untethered, like he could float up into the sky – rise and keep on going, until there is no way back for him. He's gone from the water to the land - why not into the sky? Why not ascend to the stars, to the vast emptiness of space? Surely it would not suit him any worse.
He wonders, sometimes, if he doesn't love Peter simply because he knows what it feels like to be in the wrong skin.
In a few years Laura becomes Alpha. The transition itself isn't easy. There are those who feel the Alpha should be Derek, though Derek himself is not among them. There are those who favor Scott for his humanity, or Boyd for his solid competence, and more than a few who support Lydia - though if Lydia wanted to be Alpha, Stiles is pretty sure she could accomplish it. There is some uneasiness about Peter being passed over; he is one of the older Hales, but not too old; he has money, and friends in the Sheriff's department, and when he is a wolf he is uncanny - almost too fast, a killer instinct. More of an animal than any other in the pack, and that is something the more traditional can understand.
Then again, Peter has made himself an outsider. He doesn't reside with the pack. His mate isn't human, isn't wolf. Doesn't age. Those who enter the pack later distrust Stiles, and Peter for choosing him. Those who Stiles has watched grow think nothing of it. Are used to Stiles smelling like the sea even in the middle of the forest, of seeming like prey as much as pack. Laura loves him unconditionally. Derek will glare anyone who looks at Stiles sideways into submission, and even Gemma makes her approval clear - bakes Stiles his favorite lemon pie every full moon.
He was so lonely, they say, you're so good for him, he always seems so happy.
You're a saint for staying, is what they don't say. I don't know how you've made it this long.
Stiles has been with many humans but hardly ever with men, and very rarely with one so young. Children are full of the whimsy that calls to magic, but true desperation so often comes only later, and oh, Peter is desperate. Hungry, somehow. Starved. Yet Peter fucks Stiles with a fervor that betrays his age. A ferocity, a brutality that favors youth. Stiles feels as though he’s being torn apart, as though he’s shedding his skin all over again – becoming, or unbecoming, maybe, like Peter is trying to find the animal inside of Stiles and set him free. But Stiles hides a part of himself at a distance, not within. There is nothing inside of him to find.
Stiles doesn't yet know that Peter is any different from a human - doesn't know there are other animal spirits, doesn't know a skin-walker from a garwaf. He has yet to face the deviousness of a kumiho or the sly nature of a naga. He has never seen an aswang feed upon carrion, and to be frank, the once it happens was enough.
He is only beginning to know the hunger of a werewolf.
They still make a pilgrimage of Beacon Hills every full moon. Peter disappears into the forest and Stiles sits with Gemma, and Lilah, and Jason - the human members of the pack, and the ones too young to turn. They accept him most readily, though he is an interloper: an animal, but not necessarily the right kind. He loves Peter's pack, the skin and fur of them, their warmth, their collective nature. The way they all pile together, that a slight against one is a slight against all, that they are happy or unhappy together. Stiles can lose himself in them. Drift.
He wakes to Peter nosing his cheek, the smell of waffles cooking downstairs.
"Breakfast?" Peter asks, and Stiles lets his eyes slide shut again.
"Maybe lunch," he says instead, and lets Peter's fingers card through his hair.
Sometimes Stiles has to remind himself that Peter will die. That their time is limited. That there will be days without Peter. There are times the thought seems impossible, that their life together will go on forever - other times it seems inevitable, and immediate. One day Peter will die; Peter is dying now, while Stiles ages slowly, if at all. People already mistake him for Peter's son and it will only get worse.
Not that Stiles cares about what other people think. Stiles doesn't fit in here. Never will. Not entirely. Too puppyish, too free with his affections. Too ready in the water. Legends linger in places like this - the places they are born - and Stiles doesn't care enough to disguise himself any more than he already has. Hasn't he given enough? What people think of him, think of the both of them, makes no difference - Stiles isn't people. Neither of them are. He is transformed enough for Peter, and that is the only gauge of humanity Stiles needs.
Coming takes Stiles by surprise - the force at which the air in his lungs rushes out, the convulsions of his body even as Peter pins him down. They twine around one another, the extraneous lengths of their limbs tangling together, and Peter rubs his nose gently over the back of Stiles’s neck. Memorizing him, perhaps, the way a mother seal learns their cub’s cries.
"I know what you are," Peter murmurs, and Stiles stills instantly. Is flooded with the reminder that this is Peter's domain, that he is the one who belongs here, the top of the food chain, and just because Stiles looks like Peter doesn't mean they are the same.
"Don't be afraid," Peter continues, and turns Stiles over to stare at his face. Frame him loosely with his arms. Contained, but easier to escape, and Stiles lets his gaze drift to the artery in Peter’s neck. "I just want to know how long I have you,” and Stiles – Stiles doesn’t know what to say. He thinks about lying, obviously. In many ways lying might be the best course of action. But he considers the truth, and the truth beyond that, the truth that isn’t so simple. That there is a way he can stay. A freedom he might forfeit.
“A few hours,” he says, and thinks about how the already growing ache will become unbearable, that he will be forced to find his pelt and return to the sea, regardless of who or what tries to stop him. “A few hours, and then seven years until I can return to land. Unless.”
And he isn’t sure why he does it, exactly. He's known Peter for only a matter of hours - nothing to his kind, nothing at all, and yet he wouldn't be the first to give up his skin. Not the last either, he’s sure. If he's making a mistake, it's one that selkies have made over and over again.
Peter curls up behind him. "Where is it?" he asks and Stiles feels something inside of him settle. Sink like a stone.
One of the first human things Stiles learns is how to read, and he fills his free time with books whenever he can. He reads about wolves, the forests and the sea and the heavens. He learns that the moon pulls at the tides, about spring tides on the full moons and new moons. It's everything he already knows but put into words, even equations, made specific and understandable and right, and whatever he doesn’t understand the first time around Lydia always explains.
"Did you know wolves and seals both restrict blood flow to the surface of their skin to preserve heat?" he says, feet thrown up over the edge of the couch like the teenage he decidedly is not, and Peter smiles.
Stiles is sixteen and Peter is forty-seven. Stiles still looks sixteen on his good days but more like twenty on the worse ones - lowered eyes and pinched features - missing the sea like a limb, or a lover, and he has to remind himself his lover is right here. Standing beside him on two legs.
"Twenty-seven years," Peter murmurs, because he knows exactly what Stiles is thinking. It isn't hard to guess. Twenty-seven years together, twenty-seven years since Stiles found him on the rocks. Nearly equal in age, then, at least in the years that showed on their faces. Stiles barely thinks of age as something to be counted, instead of something you float along with.
It's not that Stiles never thinks about leaving. He thinks about leaving all the time. When it rains. In the spring, wet but without the tang of salt; in the hottest swells of summer, when the heat permeates the very air and Stiles feels as though he has been stranded in the shoals; in the cold of autumn, without the crisp snap of ice, the cooling eddies; even winter, the wettest and sharpest and most welcome of seasons, feels like a lash against Stiles's skin. He's thought about leaving so many times over the years, about going back to his brothers and sisters, to his place among the waves and the cliffs. They'll be waiting for him. They'll recognize him in his skin. He even knows the combination to the safe. Peter always said he could leave whenever he needed to. Always said he would see Stiles again in seven years.
But in the end it's never as hard a decision as it might seem. The sea will be there forever, and Peter will not. Does he have seven years left in him? What would they be like without Stiles by his side?
So Stiles pushes back his shoulders. Steels his spine and walks back into the house and to Peter's waiting arms.