Derek opens the door, frowning when he sees his older brother. “What are you doing here, Peter?”
Peter holds up two heavy bags of Chinese fast food. “Mind if I come in? I was in the area and I thought, well, why not visit my favorite little brother?”
He brushes past a puzzled Derek without waiting for an answer and makes himself comfortable in the living room, unpacking the bags with swift and precise movements. A few months ago, he said he'd never set a foot into Derek's dumpy apartment because it was the sort of place people were murdered in. Besides, he claimed it offended his sophisticated sensibilities.
And then, by chance, he'd been there when Stiles moved in and had helped them with the heavy boxes. By now he's around so often he's basically a third party. He probably even owes them rent money, come to think of it.
It's all very mysterious.
Still lost in thoughts, Derek jumps a little when Stiles emerges from the bathroom. His roommate is clad only in a towel and hums an off-key tune, a light spring in his step. It's a testimony to how often Peter is around that he doesn't even startle when he sees Derek's older brother parked on the couch. He just brightens and waves. “Hey Peter!”
“Hey,” Peter retorts with an easy smile, showing off two rows of gleaming white teeth.
Derek narrows his eyes.
“Dude, oh my God, that smells good.” Stiles eyes the Chinese food with keen interest. “Did you bring this, Peter? I'm starving.”
Peter explains that he ordered dinner for himself and two of his associate lawyers, but they'd been called away before the food arrived.
“Their loss, our gain,” Stiles says cheerfully. He flops into one of their mismatched armchairs, obviously not intending to change into clothes before digging into the fast food.
Derek feels uneasy about that for reasons he can't pinpoint. It's freaking hot in L.A., and Derek has personally elevated shirtlessness to an art form, so it's not like he has any grounds to complain. But still. There's so much skin on display, it feels sort of… indecent. He's tempted to tell Stiles to put something on, but last time he checked he wasn't a British chaperone from the nineteen-hundreds, so he stifles that impulse as well as he can.
They end up watching trashy Bravo TV, which Stiles and Peter discuss so rapidly that Derek begins to feel like a third wheel. Peter doesn't even seem to notice that his younger brother feels left out; he's in excellent spirits.
But it does seem strange that he oh-so-carefully avoids meeting Derek's eyes.
Vernon is one of the more grumpy salesmen at the The First Chapter. He's always willing to help those that are polite and actually interested in reading, but he's had enough customers who requested a big orange book that goes with my terracotta-colored couch, because their apartments don't feel quite finished without something quote unquote sophisticated. And those people he can't stand.
When he notices two customers in his section, he still approaches them with a friendly smile (because everyone is innocent until proven guilty). “Can I help you?”
The older guy of the two speaks up. “Yes, actually. I wanted to get a few books for my brother.” He scrolls through a list on his phone. “He's a grad student, so some of his textbooks are pretty specialized.”
"That shouldn't pose much of a problem," Vernon assures him. The First Chapter is one the biggest academia-geared bookstores in the city. He leads the pair over to the history section and helps them pick out the books they're looking for.
“It's really nice of you to help Derek,” the younger guys says after a while, quietly.
“Derek is not good at asking for help,” Peter says. “Doesn't mean he doesn't need it, though.”
When they have finished picking out the books (and ordered a few not directly available), Peter asks to be shown the section on law textbooks.
“What are you doing?” the younger guy asks, shocked.
There's a smile in Peter's voice. “Buying your books, Stiles. My little brother might have mentioned that you're in something of a tight spot.”
“He's such a snitch!” Stiles replies hotly. “No, dude. You really don't need to!”
“Maybe I want to.”
“Maybe I don't want you to want to.”
Vernon refrains from rolling his eyes (albeit only barely and with immense effort).
“It's my choice what I spend money on,” Peter says. “And I could be spending it on worse things than books.”
Stiles huffs, partly annoyed and partly flattered. “You're the worst.”
“Why, thank you.”
“But to make that clear, you're not buying all of my books.”
“Okay,” Peter says with a sigh, as if a great concession has just been wrangled from him.
They both smile at each other for a moment too long.
Vernon has the distinct feeling he's a little too old for this shit. His girlfriend, who works as a waitress in between modeling gigs, sees a lot more of these awkward courting routines.
And that's exactly the way he likes it.
Derek scrunches his nose when he comes home, letting his book bag slide to the floor. “Was Peter here?” he asks Stiles, who sprawls on the couch and plays a game on his cell phone, his dexterous fingers moving across the screen at lightning speed.
“Yeah,” Stiles affirms without looking up.
Derek stops short, unsure what to do with that information. “What did he want?”
“To play tennis.”
When no explanation is forthcoming, Derek stares at Stiles with his eyebrows raised in incredulity. Waiting for more of a freaking explanation, because those three words sure didn't make any sense.
Stiles looks up. “We played tennis?” he adds as if that much is obvious. “With each other?”
“You played tennis with Peter?”
“Yeah?” Stiles looks up again, confused by the particular intonation. “We do that occasionally. He's a member of this tennis club. He has to show up regularly or else his membership gets revoked, and one of his tennis buddies quit while the other one is away on business. So he offered to teach me.”
“That's… altruistic,” Derek allows.
Stiles hums in agreement. “It's not challenging for him I'm sure, but it's really fun. Mostly what happens after the matches, though.” Derek nearly chokes on his own saliva, but Stiles carries on blithely. “They make these great smoothies. And you get free massages at the club! Dude, you can't even imagine. The masseuses there work pure magic… maybe literally, someone should check that out.”
“Right...” Derek says slowly. Maybe he was just teleported into one of these comic book parallel universes that Stiles is always reading about.
“Sorry you missed him, but I'm sure you're gonna see him around soon. He said he'd drop when he has time. It's cool that you have such a close relationship with your brother.” Stiles smiles at him. “Bro, he's super nice!“
“Yeah...” Derek says. Nice. That's absolutely among the first fifty words he associates with his brother.
“Honestly, he's awesome.”
Awesome. Right. Another word inextricably intertwined with Peter 'Blood in the Water' Hale.
“We're going hiking on Saturday,” Stiles carries on, still unnervingly oblivious to Derek's inner turmoil - which he wouldn't be if he looked up from the screen, it's not like Derek's eyebrows are capable of hiding anything. “There's this cool trail in the Topanga State Park. Wanna join us?”
“Um, no. Pass. I have to study.”
“Okay,” Stiles says and makes a very unconvincing sad face, his fingers never once pausing their tap-tap-tap rhythm on the screen.
Derek narrows his eyes. He doesn't need a werewolf's nose to know something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
He has to get to the bottom of this.
Lydia knows how effectively a little infatuation can mess with someone's cognitive abilities – if she's honest with herself, she has intimate first hand experience of that subject – so seeing her best friend reduced to a fretting bundle of self-doubts is worrisome, but not exactly unexpected.
Stiles is fussing with the brand-new, expensive suit. Finally something that works for him, something that hugs his form, compliments his assets; the suit is tasteful, understated, devastatingly effective. Which of course, Stiles being Stiles, he fails to appreciate properly. “I feel like an idiot,” he sighs and studies his reflection in Lydia's floor-length mirror.
“You look nice,” Lydia says in a bored tone. God. It's aggravating when people insist on dragging their inflated high school issues around years after they graduated, and more aggravating still when they refuse to tap into their full potential because of that. She usually has no patience for these hopeless souls. She's a PhD student at Caltech, not a therapist.
“I'm cosplaying a penguin!” Stiles complains.
“You're a law student. This is work attire for you. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Stiles still fiddles nervously with his tie and the collar of his shirt, clearly no less unhappy than he was a minute ago.
With a sigh, Lydia takes pity on him. She comes to stand behind him and correct his collar. Smooths his tie until it's picture perfect. Once she's done, her arms encircle Stiles' slim waist. She lays her head on his shoulder. “You look great, sweetie. What are you so worried about anyway?”
“Peter asked me to accompany him,” Stiles says and leans back into Lydia's embrace. “I mean it's not just any event, it's the annual party of his law firm. There are going to be so many renowned attorneys there – he said I can use the occasion to introduce myself to people, to form connections, maybe even secure an internship or a job opportunity.”
“Sounds too good to be true. I don't want to make a fool of myself, Lyds! And I really don't want to reflect badly on him.”
Lydia suppresses a sigh. “Oh please, you're not his employee, nor are you his partner. He's not responsible for you. This is just an opportunity for you to breathe the same air as those big shots. Move in the same circles, maybe make friends with a few junior partners or baby lawyers. Everything is going to be fine.”
“If you say so...” Stiles says.
“Yes, I'm saying so. Just cut out the edgy humor and don't overeat on the hors d'oeuvres, and it's gonna be a walk in the park.”
“Okay, okay.” Stiles takes a deep breath, apparently centering himself. “I can do this.”
“Sure you can,” Lydia says and hopes Stiles will appreciate her nurturing pep talk persona once he's a little less love-drunk. She wouldn't do the Mother Theresa act for just anyone.
Peter picks Stiles up personally. Of course he does. He's dressed sharply himself, and while he and Lydia exchange polite enough pleasantries, she refuses to let herself be lulled by superficial charm. Her eyes glitter coldly as she tries to get a get good read on him. She'd rather know in advance if she has to disembowel a bastard who treats her friend poorly; she has a busy schedule after all. To Peter's credit, however, he's perfectly respectful towards her.
Lydia watches them leave with an air of quiet resignation. It would be clear as day to the most oblivious person what's going on here, with the way Peter's hand is on Stiles' lower back and Stiles talks animatedly and positively basks in his attention, reminding her faintly of an enthusiastic puppy.
It's almost painful to watch.
Lydia knows she could speed the process along and nudge her friend in the direction of an overdue epiphany, but she won't do that. Some things people have to figure out for themselves.
In matters of love, everyone is a fool.
So far, Derek has gathered the following evidence that something is afoot:
Stiles and Peter hang out a lot, mostly because Peter seems to engineer an endless amount of opportunities for them to be together.
They have inside jokes.
They get along swimmingly.
Peter pays for lots of stuff that Stiles may or may not need, despite Stiles' vehement protests.
This includes everything up to actual rent money.
Occasionally, Peter calls Stiles 'princess' (ugggh – Derek wishes he'd never stumbled upon that particular piece of intel, even if Stiles says it's just a dumb little nickname he doesn't mind).
They text each other a lot. Maybe they even sext each other a lot, considering the one time Stiles had tried to leave the bathroom all sneakily, clutching his cell phone in his hand and looking suspiciously guilty.
In short, Derek is in dire need of a family-sized package of brain bleach. All evidence points to things he'd rather not consider.
Erica knows right away, the second she introduces herself to them as their waitress. Since she started to work in one of the fanciest restaurants restaurants in Bel Air, she's seen a lot of these relationships. She knows the type.
The older dude is in his mid thirties, well dressed, suave, a tiny hint of gray at the temples; all in all a pretty hot specimen of werewolf. The younger dude is college-aged and has huge brown doe eyes that probably work like a charm on every gay guy with halfway decent eyesight. They're an attractive couple. In fact, Erica has to congratulate Bambi on bagging such a hot dude; he's not decrepit and haggard-looking like most sugar daddies.
Because that's what this is, obviously. The whole sugar daddy meets sugar baby deal.
Erica has kissed a lot of frogs before finding her one true love. She knows it's always the same with these wealthy guys. They're used to calling the shots in their working life, but their tastes haven't really matured – it's always: drive the Lamborghini, go to the VIP clubs, wear the Rolex, date the aspiring actress. They're not looking for a relationship as much as they're looking for an adoring bed bunny who will hang on their every word, someone to complement their oversized egos. Every relationship of that kind has a date of expiry.
It's very materialistic and capitalistic, all about market values and consumption and mutually beneficial (if not symmetrical) transactions. One partner is easily traded in for another.
But hey, no harm, no foul. As long as you know what you're in for.
In the best case scenario, a deal like that means a ton of great sex and life in luxury. In the worst case scenario… well. It means ending up with a narcissistic control freak who starts to sabotage the partner's career to punish them or keep them co-dependent. Erica has known more than one struggling girl who was blacklisted by a spiteful lover.
It's with these experiences in mind that she keeps an eye on the couple. Okay, not that that isn’t her job anyway, but this time round it's also personal curiosity that makes her pay close attention.
She soon starts to notice… irregularities.
The way the older guy looking at the younger one as if he's more appetizing than any of the food? Totally expected. Yawn.
But. There's also something soft in his look. Something that looks a lot like real affection. He listens to the younger guy as if every word the younger guy utters is a revelation. That's not that common behavior for sugar daddy types, who are used to monopolize everyone's time and attention and mostly worship at the altar of their own self-importance.
And besides, there's a subtle vibe of nervous exhilaration about the couple. As if they've just begun dating. As if they're at a stage where everything is new and exciting, but they can't yet be sure what kind of space the other person will occupy in their life.
Erica notices that the younger guy's hands are clammy, as evidenced by the sweaty imprint he leaves on his glasses.
And she notices that the heart of the older guy actually skips a beat as his date smiles at him radiantly.
By the end of the evening, there can be no doubt that they're genuinely in love. People who're in love are disgusting hormone factories, for one. Adrenaline, oxytocin, serotonin, all that shit. It's like their bodies prepare for a fight-or-flight reaction – the pounding heart, the fluttering feeling in the pit of the stomach...
“Wait, you've got something there,” Erica hears the older guy say at one point. Slightly incredulous (as far as moves go, that one is pretty pathetic), she watches him brush a bread crumb from the lips of the younger guy, who looks dumbfounded for a moment or two. His eyes widen as if he's just realizing something.
Ohh, Erica thinks. It's like that.
To get one thing straight: Derek doesn't dislike Peter.
Derek knows that everyone who hurts him will find himself on the wrong end of Peter's claws very quickly after that, and then never be heard of again.
A werewolf and a kickass lawyer? Talk of a terrifying combination.
Besides, he's grateful for all the money Peter is shoveling into his education. Peter is successful and well-off, but that doesn't mean he has to support his siblings. Not many people would be that generous. The first time Peter pays the rent – the full rent, his and Stiles' part – he's relieved because he's in the middle of an exam phase and Stiles sprained his ankle and had to quit waiting tables. “I like to support our future generation of valuable academics,” Peter had said and then added, with a sly side glance at Derek, “and our PhD students, of course.”
So it's not like Derek doesn't think Peter is a good guy deep down (deep, deep down), or that he dislikes his older brother. He has the same relationship with him he has with his other siblings, and for all of their fighting they always have each other's backs.
It's just that he doesn't trust Peter to have Stiles' best interests at heart.
Would Peter do anything for his family, for his pack? Yes.
But beyond that, he isn't known for his friendly spirit. Apparently his nickname in attorney circles is the Shark.
Derek can't let Peter's behavior slide any longer. His conscience is urging him to do something, and so he corners Peter one afternoon when they're alone. He cuts to the chase straight away. “What do you want with Stiles?” he asks brusquely.
Peter does a double take. “What the hell does it matter to you?”
“Stiles is my friend,” Derek answers with a soft growl. He crosses his arms in front of his chest and looks at his older brother menacingly.
Peter doesn't seem to be impressed. “So? We have that in common.”
Peter looks taken aback for a brief moment. “Is that so hard to imagine? We get along well. You must know that.”
“He likes you,” Derek concedes the point, even though it's costing him dearly to admit that. “But he doesn't always have the best taste in people. His survival instinct… isn't all there.”
That earns him a sharp grin. “Are you always in the habit of patronizing your good friends? Stiles can make his own decisions. He's whip-smart in case you haven't noticed.”
“His last relationship ended in disaster,” Derek says. “The girl he was with was downright abusive. Hot and cold all the time. Pushed Stiles away with a shove and then turned 180 degrees. Cheated on him. Made him feel like it was his fault. She manipulated Stiles like a puppet, and yes, Stiles is smart – but not in this. He gets too invested, too quick.”
For once, Peter seems unsure what to say. He looks thunderstruck.
Encouraged, Derek barrels on. “You want to have fun, fine, but at this point you're practically bribing him into sexual favors. Come on Peter, this is L.A. There are more than enough twinks who'd love to have have sex with you, as much as it kills me to admit that. We both know you're not in this because you want long-term commitment, right? Stiles is more than a hot piece of ass and a sexual identity crisis waiting to happen. He deserves better.”
Peter remains silent, which is highly unusual in itself. Normally, he'd be telling Derek to keep his big fat snout out of other people's business. He wouldn't look thoughtful, as he does now.
He wouldn't look chastened.
“I don't want to hurt Stiles,” Peter says finally, sounding solemn.
“Okay,” Derek says, not ungentle. “Then you know what you have to do. Break this off, whatever it is.”
Peter looks so miserable at that prospect that Derek almost starts to second-guess himself. But then his older brother nods and Derek is just flooded with relief.
He knows he did the right thing.
Scott has missed Stiles. Their endless late night Skyping sessions don't compare to the real thing.
He's spending a few days with Stiles before going back to Beacon Hills to work in Deaton's clinic during the semester break. Stiles is giving him a tour of some sights in L.A., which includes the Santa Monica pier. They've both grabbed a jumbo pot of ice cream and are slowly making their way in direction of Venice Beach, enjoying the occasional cool breeze that is carried over the waves.
They've talked a lot in the last few hours – Scott couldn't shut up about Kira, he's incapable of not waxing poetically about the love of his life – but now their fluid conversation has trickled down and stopped.
Stiles seems on the brink of saying something, but then doesn't, worrying his lower lip instead.
“Dude, is everything okay?” Scott asks.
“I think Derek's older brother is hitting on me.”
“Really?” Scott grins, already intrigued.
“Yeah, well… he’s helping us out with rent and stuff? And he wants to hang out a lot. Even with just me. Even Derek isn’t there. And he bought Derek's books for next semester, except he asked if I wanted to come along to the bookstore, and then he bought my books as well. I didn’t let him buy all of them because that felt too weird. But then he bought me dinner afterwards and a lot of dinners since then, and other things, so...”
“Is he hot?” Scott asks in a joking manner.
Stiles frowns as if he has been asked a question on thermonuclear fusion. “Uhhh… I guess? Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I dunno. Possibly.”
Scott stops in his tracks. “Wait though, is this like a creepy thing? Is he being creepy towards you?”
“No!” Stiles exclaims. “No, dude, he’s not like that – he’s actually a pretty cool guy. He’s paying for Derek to go to college and he's helping us out with the rent pretty often, and he’s so smart, he’s an actual lawyer, but he's so chill and funny, and–”
A beaming smile spreads across Scott's features. “Oh my god, you like him!”
Stiles huffs in frustration. “Yeah, of course. I just told you he's awesome.”
“Not like that. You like him! You like-like him!”
Stiles' mouth falls open.“What? No! I'm not gay!”
Scott gives him a look. “Yeah, but you're bisexual.”
“Not officially!” Stiles looks around in badly concealed paranoia. He hates that label, hates the connotations. Of course, no one else is within hearing distance. Otherwise Scott would have kept his mouth shut.
“You said he's Derek's brother?” Scott asks. “So he's a werewolf, right?”
Stiles nods mutely.
“Did you know that a werewolf's courting behavior is largely centered on proving we can provide for our mate and take care of them? Emotionally and financially.” Scott grins, enjoying the opportunity to mess with Stiles for once. “And sexually. I'm not saying he's necessarily doing this stuff on purpose, like there's a grand scheme behind it, but...maybe it's instinctual.”
Stiles doesn't say anything. He looks as if he has a lot to mull over and no idea where to start.They walk quietly for a while. Scott enjoys his ice cream and the brilliantly bright day. The beach here might be his favorite part of L.A., even though there's a still brownish-grey hue just above the horizon, a telltale sign of dense smog. But whatever, it's still a good deal better than right in the middle of the city. He watches a flock of sandpipers pick tiny crabs from the wet sand and then flee in unison as the incoming waves hit the beach. They scurry back when the waves retreat, going back and forth in the rhythm of the water.
They have nearly reached Venice Beach when Stiles stops walking all of the sudden and grabs Scott's elbow, staring at the horizon without really seeing anything.“FUCK. I do like him!”
There are such profound layers of emotion to that exclamation – dismay, dawning realization, personal revelation, hope – that Scott can't help being amused. “Then what are you waiting for? Go get your man.”
Stiles fiddles with the napkin, feeling extremely nervous. There’s a big night ahead of him. He's never been involved with a guy, shied away from it because.... of freaking idiotic hang-ups. Like, he supports other people not being straight, but he's so hesitant to act on his own impulses (how pathetic is that). He doesn't want to be that gay guy, he doesn't want people joking about his bisexuality as if he's a freak show. But he likes Peter, really, really likes him, so he's willing to see if this leads anywhere. Willing to try.
Peter is uncharacteristically subdued the entire evening, hardly paying attention to his dish (even though the restaurant offers pan-Asian fusion cuisine, one of his faves).
“This is a big night,” Stiles says, sounding nonsensically even to his own ears. He doesn't know how to segue into The Conversation more gracefully, but they need to talk, that's for damn sure, so he trudges on and tries to be brave about it.
Peter startles visibly, looking at Stiles with widened eyes. “Yeah...” he says finally. “How do you know? Did Derek tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Stiles is now spooked himself. “Peter, what’s wrong?”
Peter's shoulders slump. “Stiles, it has been really – really fun to hang out with you. I appreciate your company. A lot. I want you to know that.”
“Oh no.” Stiles lets his head sink into his hands. He can't believe this is happening. “No. You can't break up with me. Not that we're even together, but – you just can't end this. We're friends, aren't we? Dude, no. This is horrible timing.”
“Maybe we just need some space,” Peter says lamely. Then he seems to register what Stiles has said. “Wait. Why bad timing?”
Stiles snorts, laughing bitterly. He feels like such a fool. Not that that is a brand-new experience for him. “Because I was just about to tell you that I want to date you. Properly.”
Peter looks as if he's been struck by thunder. “You – what?”
Stiles laughs again, even more bitter than before. “Yeah. Because I think I've fallen in love with you. And I thought you were, sort of, I don't know, courting me. Guess I was wrong.”
“You weren't wrong,” Peter objects.
Stiles looks at him confusion. “Peter, you just gave me the I-need-space talk. That's as unambiguous as it gets.”
Peter reaches across the table to take Stiles' hands into his. “I'm not usually one for long-term relationships. My ex-lovers routinely call me a playboy, a fuckboy, or a perpetual manchild, among other and less kind terms. I'm not relationship material, Stiles, I've never even really done this. But I've also never felt what I feel for you, so...”
“I'm afraid to fuck up. To hurt you. And I'm afraid I'll get hurt pretty badly. But...” Peter takes a deep breath. “I want to be with you. Exclusively.”
Stiles' heart is a fluttering colibri in his chest. “You mean that?”
“Yes,” Peter says with conviction, a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. “I fucking do.”
“Then let's do this.” And with that, Stiles leans over the table and kisses Peter, who responds beautifully, who sort of growls into the kiss and cups the back of Stiles' head with his hand, burying his fingers in soft strands of hair.
They ignore the startled gasps all around them; they kiss like starving men discovering a feast.
Peter shifts closer to Stiles, engulfing him in an embrace. He loves nosing through the soft, sweat-damp hair high on Stiles' neck where his salty scent is concentrated. Not surprisingly, given the activities of this night, Stiles is deeply asleep. This means Peter can be as sentimental as he wants. No one can judge him. No one can report that the Shark has turned into a purring little kitten, transformed by the magic of Stiles' kisses.
Peter listens to Stiles' heartbeat and feels utterly, disconcertingly happy.