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“Cancer? Cancer?” Peter’s eyes flash red and he flashes his fangs. “No! Don’t you dare tell me that Gerard fucking Argent gets to die in bed!”

John has never quite seen Peter like this. He’s seen him wild before, seen him mad with rage, seen him pace and growl like an animal ready to lash out, but that anger has never been directed at John before. John’s always been able to talk him down. Now, seeing the sting of betrayal behind the contemptuous curl of Peter’s lip, the power barely contained in the way he moves, and the sharp menace in his narrow, red glare, John’s not so sure he can.

“Peter.” He reaches out to touch Peter’s shoulder.

Peter blocks him. Grabs his wrist. Grips so tightly that his claws pierce John’s skin, and blood wells.

“You promised me, John,” Peter snarls. “You promised me justice!”

John resists the urge to try and pull his arm free. It would only tear the flesh. Instead he holds Peter’s gaze, searching for something human in those eyes and not sure that he’s going to find it.

“Peter, enough.”

The wolf grips his wrist tighter, fangs gleaming, and snarls.

 

***

 

John Stilinski had a plan, once.

It was written in a curl of dark hair, and eyes the color of amber. It was written in an upturned nose and a wide, smiling mouth. It was written in the sound of her laughter. John saw his future with Claudia from the moment he set eyes on her.

He got a little over a decade.

He got Stiles too.

Stiles is a hell of a kid. When he’s growing up he has the knack of always being smartest kid in the room, often at the same time he’s also being the dumbest. He’s a good kid. Sometimes it feels like John spends years saying that like it’s a wishful prayer more than a statement of fact: He’s a good kid. Stiles is a good kid. He mutters it under his breath a lot on the way to parent teacher nights, like it’s a mantra that can ward off the inevitable swarm of weary teachers who’ve never taught a kid like his before. What? Like John has the answers? Hell if he can ever tell what’s going on in Stiles’s brain.

Stiles is Claudia’s son all over. It breaks John’s heart that she never gets to see him grow up. Never gets to see him graduate high school, then the academy. Never gets to see him standing next to John on his first day of work, both of them wearing their uniforms proudly.

He’s a good kid.

The best.

But he’s always been a little bit different.

Always getting himself mixed up in the weirdest things.

That call John got from the school when Stiles was on his third grade field trip to the orange juice bottling plant? No, Stiles didn’t vomit from drinking too much free orange juice. He got bitten by an alpaca. How the fuck was there even an alpaca at the orange juice bottling plant?

John learns early on to roll with the punches.

It’s turns out twenty years of raising Stiles—which is like herding cats and pushing water uphill at the same time—is good practice for when it turns out that werewolves are real.

Werewolves and hunters were never in the plan.

And neither was Peter Hale.

 

***

 

The Hale house fire lights up the Preserve for miles around. A steady glow, sitting right above the trees. It’s eerie, and almost beautiful, except John knows exactly what it means. He’s one of the first responders on the scene. He beats the fire department, even. They’re coming all the way from town, of course. John happened to be patrolling in the area when the call came in.

Hours later, sitting in the station with a mug of coffee clenched between his blistered, bandaged hands, John doesn’t know if the fact he was so close was good luck or bad luck for the guy he pulled from the fire.

Probably just means that John prolonged his agonizing death for a few more days.

With burns like that, he won’t survive.

It would have been better if he’d died with the rest of them.

 

***

 

John’s not sure what compels him to visit Peter Hale in the hospital. It might just be morbid curiosity. It might also be some sort of strange, crawling need inside him to apologize. To say he’s sorry that the rest of his family died. To say he’s sorry he didn’t get there sooner. To say… Hell, John doesn’t know. Mostly he’s sorry that Peter Hale is still alive, he thinks. He’s in an induced coma because of his extensive burns, and he’s only breathing because a machine is making him. If Peter Hale was capable of knowing what’s happened, he’d surely wish he was dead.

In his place, John would.

There were two survivors. One was Laura Hale. Eighteen years old, and she’d gone into town to meet friends. The decision saved her life. She might be grateful for it, one day. But Peter, even if he wakes, will spend the rest of his life in pain.

John’s sorry for that.

He doesn’t say any of this when he visits Peter for the first time. He can hardly bring himself to look at the man. The skin that’s visible between all the bandages is blistered and weeping. John hates to think about the horror the dressings are hiding.

John sits down in the chair beside Peter’s bed, and closes his eyes.

The press and wheeze of the breathing machine. The drip-drip-drip of the fluid from the bag on the IV stand. The beep of the heart monitor.

He sat beside Claudia’s bed in her last days too.

Beep beep beep.

Still has nightmares about that sound.

He wasn’t there for her at the end. He was working. Her life was ending, but he still had bills to pay, still had a kid to get to school, still had groceries to buy and laundry to get done, and nothing stopped because her life was ending. Nothing stopped, and that seems crazy even now. How could the world just keep on turning like that? How it is still turning now?

“Hey,” he says to Peter Hale, keeping his gaze fixed on the wall. “I’m John. John Stilinski.”

That’s how it starts.

 

***

 

“Let go, Peter,” John says, keeping his voice steady.

Peter snarls again, his grip tightening. More blood wells out from underneath his claws.

“Peter,” John says. “You’re hurting me.”

Maybe that’s what gets through to him at last: John’s voice, his admission. He must be able to smell the blood, smell John’s fear, but it takes the words to break through to the man.

Peter releases him suddenly, and rears back. He growls again, the sound less threatening than before. Softer somehow, like it’s almost a question. Then he turns abruptly and stalks out of the kitchen.

John’s arm throbs. Blood curls in thin tendrils around his wrist. He crosses to the sink and twists on the tap. Holds his arm under the cold water and closes his eyes for a long moment. Then he turns the tap off and dabs his arm dry with a clean dish towel. The puncture marks aren’t too deep. The bleeding has already stopped. They’ll bruise like hell though.

Jesus.

What the hell is his life?

 

***

 

“Hey, sports fan,” John says, taking his seat beside Peter’s bed and opening the paper. There’s no response from Peter, of course, but John likes to imagine that he’s inwardly rolling his eyes, the way Stiles does whenever John calls him the same thing. “Good game on the weekend. Giants against the Padres.”

He reads the stats to Peter.

This has become a regular thing over the years. Something that John fits in around work and home. He knows he’s under no real obligation to be here, but it’s become a habit. And maybe he enjoys it a little too. At work he’s the sheriff now—not that there was any competition for the position when old Sheriff Wills retired—and at home he’s Dad, but here he’s John. Here he gets to talk about the things he otherwise can’t. Like running his election campaign and worrying he had no idea what the hell he was doing. Like getting sworn in as sheriff and looking around for something, not sure what he was missing until it hit him like a punch to the gut: Claudia wasn’t there. Like Stiles’s slipping grades and smartass attitude, and how John’s secretly afraid it’s not just some teenage phase. What if it’s the pattern of their relationship from now on? John’s made mistakes with Stiles. They don’t talk about it, but he knows Stiles remembers how things were after Claudia died. His kid would have every right to hold that against him forever. What if he does?

John tells Peter Hale things that he’s never told anyone.

He tells Peter about other things as well, the little things. About the seasons changing. About how the Fishers’ clothing store on Main is closing, and it’s been open since 1934, but what can a family owned store like that do against the big multinationals? Where the hell is Stiles going to get his damn flannel shirts now? (A redundant question. As soon as Stiles gets wind of the closure he buys up enough flannel shirts to see him through the next decade.) He tells Peter about the new park getting built over on Maple, and the plans for the subdivision on the east side of town. He tells Peter about all the things that are happening in town while Peter is…

While Peter is wherever the hell he is.

 

***

 

John goes upstairs. Peter’s door is open, but he’s not in his room. John moves on to his own bedroom.

The first time he found Peter in here, it had taken him a little while to get over his surprise. It’s hard to remember sometimes that Peter isn’t human. That, despite appearances, it wasn’t a man curled up under his blankets that day, it was a wolf. He’d seen Derek exhibit the same behaviour with Stiles, so it hadn’t been a total shock. Just—

Just he hadn’t really understood all that stuff Deaton said about his being Peter’s anchor until that day. Until he’d really seen if for himself. At first he’d thought he was a friend to Peter, a voice of reason when things got a little crazy. But it was so much more than that, he knows now. John’s someone Peter needs on a primal level, to bring him home again when the wolf takes over. He’s the alpha. His wolf is strong and wild. His shifts are somehow deeper than Derek’s. And both the wolf and the man trust John to get close enough to guide them back, to restore the balance.

It’s a hell of a thing.

Peter’s fangs and claws have vanished, but his gaze is still alpha red. He’s lying on his side on John’s bed, arms clasped around one of John’s pillows.

John sits down beside him and swings his legs up onto the bed. He still gets a twinge in his left thigh from where he got shot by Kate Argent that hellish night in the station. It’s been fifteen months and a hell of a lot of physical therapy. Psychological therapy too. John lost six good deputies that night, and he still wakes up in a cold sweat sometimes when he sees Kate Argent holding a gun to Stiles’s head.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Peter,” he says. Peter turns his head slightly. He’s listening. “I wanted Gerard to go to trial too. I know they were building a hell of a case against him. But he’s got three months to live at the most, and he’s going to die behind bars. Will it make a difference, in the end, that we don’t get our day in court?”

Peter doesn’t answer.

“That’s not what you mean when we talked about justice anyway, is it?” John reaches out and puts a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Stiles killed Matt. Derek tore Kate’s throat out. Where’s your kill, huh?”

Peter flinches a little, and John wonders if he’s thinking of Laura.

“It’s out of your hands now though,” John tells him. “You know that. That sick old bastard is going to die alone in a prison hospital, and you’re going to live. That’s your revenge, Peter. Living.”

Peter growls.

“Maybe it is trite,” John says. “Maybe it is bullshit. But sometimes bullshit is all we get. You’ve got two choices Peter, and that’s more than some people get. You can go feral, rip the world apart until some hunter takes you down, or you can find a way to put Gerard Argent behind you and be the goddamn alpha you’re supposed to be.”

Peter mumbles something, the words swallowed by John’s pillow.

“What?”

Peter draws a shaky breath. “I’m slipping, John. Help me.”

John digs his fingers into Peter’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere, and neither are you. That’s a promise.”

 

***

 

Sometimes John wonders what Claudia would make of all of this. It was never in the plan, but Claudia wasn’t one for plans anyway. She woke him up at four in the morning once, because if they started driving now they could be at the beach by dawn. John still remembers it. A picnic breakfast, a shared thermos of coffee, and a wide-eyed Stiles toddling after the seagulls in just his diaper.

He thinks she would be proud of him.

 

***

 

Peter is tense when John moves around to his side of the bed and tugs the pillow out of his grasp. He draws Peter to his feet. Peter’s red gaze catches on the puncture wounds in John’s arm, and he turns his head away.

“Look at me,” John tells him. His heart is beating fast, and he knows Peter can hear it. Can the wolf tell the difference between nervousness and fear? Between weakness and resolve? When Peter lifts his chin, John curls the fingers of one hand around the back of his neck. His thumb skirts very close to Peter’s jugular. Dangerous territory, perhaps, but John needs to assert his authority here. He keeps his other hand on Peter’s shoulder, fingers digging in to the tense muscle there until he feels Peter relax a fraction. “Good. That’s it.”

Wolves are tactile creatures.

Humans aren’t so different.

John slips his hand from Peter’s shoulder and tugs at the top button of his shirt. He’s pleased to realize the shirt is actually one of his. Looks a hell of a lot better on Peter, of course. Peter meets his gaze—cautious, curious—and John tugs the button open.

Peter’s hands hang at his sides. His fingers twitch.

John needs both hands for the next button. He half expects Peter to step away once John isn’t holding the back of his neck anymore, but Peter doesn’t move. He doesn’t drop his gaze again either. Just watches John’s face carefully, his head at a slight angle.

They’ve never done anything like this before.

Maybe it’s time.

The closeness is already here, the trust is. Hell, the love is. This isn’t such a big step, really, except John hasn’t touched anyone else since Claudia passed. He’s been on a few dates, but never anything he pursued any further than dinner. He won the lottery once, didn’t he? It’s stupid to think lightning like that could strike twice.

And then Peter came along, and he’s standing here in front of John, and John loves him. Maybe at first it was protective, familial. The sort of love he has for Stiles, and now for Derek too. But if he’s honest with himself, maybe it was always something a little different than that. Something with an edge. A spark.

John slides the shirt off Peter’s shoulders and Peter shifts his arms back to let the fabric fall to the ground. John’s gaze is drawn to his neck, to his shoulders, to the muscles bunching, the tendons cording. He presses his thumb against the pulse point in Peter’s throat. Peter doesn’t tilt his head in submission like a beta, but he doesn’t growl either.

His wolf sees them as equals.

Hell if John knows how. He’s got at least fifteen years on Peter, and a lot of those years have been spent drinking beer and eating more red meat than Stiles would like. Even when John was twenty and in the army he didn’t have muscle mass like Peter does. And now, when fifty is closer than forty, he’s more than a little soft around some of his edges. Physically he’s no match for Peter at all, but then, who is? Besides, John’s not gonna get hung up on his love handles or his graying hair. How can he, when he’s got a red-eyed alpha looking at him like he’s the only guy in the world up for the challenge of reining him in?

Hell of an ego boost, actually.

John slides a hand down Peter’s chest, hair tickling his fingertips. The hair is coarser on Peter’s abdomen, darker too. John rubs his thumb over it, and Peter’s breath hitches.

John moves his hand lower, and pops the button on the fly of Peter’s jeans.

He wants to see all of the alpha.

 

***

 

The first time John saw Peter Hale, the man was choking to death. Eyes rolling in skull, his burned skin sloughing off him like the peel of overripe fruit as John tried to drag him from the flames. The sensation was sickening. John’s hands tightening on the guy’s wrists, tugging, and the guy’s mouth opening in a soundless scream as his skin tore wetly free. And John had nothing with him but his water bottle. He’d tipped that over the guy’s face, for what little good it had done.

He was sure he’d be dead by the time the paramedics arrived.

The next time John saw Peter he was swathed in bandages.

The time after that, puckered and shiny with scar tissue.

Peter has no scars now. His wolf has healed him, or at least the outside of him. Some wounds run deeper than that though. John runs his hand over unblemished skin, and imagines he can draw out pain like a wolf. He can almost see it, moving in inky black lines through Peter’s veins, poison. Peter’s eyes fall half closed as John touches him, the red flare of his eyes dimming for a moment.

John curls his fingers though the belt loops of Peter’s jeans, and tugs them slowly down. He almost grins when he sees that Peter is going commando, because isn’t that just typical of the wild, arrogant alpha? Almost grins, because his amusement is drowned a little by his uncertainty. John’s never done this before. Won’t say he’s never thought of it, but he’s never seriously imagined he’d end up in a situation like this. It’s a little dizzying to think he can make it to this age and not have known this was something he could do, something he could want. It makes him wonder if there are other things about himself he thought he knew, that maybe he doesn’t know at all.

He doesn’t hesitate though. He won’t, for Peter. That’s how you deal with wild animals, right? You show no fear.

John turns his hand. Brushes his knuckles against Peter’s dick, and lifts his gaze again to meet Peter’s.

Peter blinks slowly.

“You gonna let me touch you, Peter? Let me bring you back?”

Peter’s head jerks in a nod.

John cards his hand through Peter’s hair. Feels the way Peter leans into the touch. Peter turns his head to press his nose against the pulse in John’s wrist. His nostrils flare.

“Lie down on the bed for me,” John says, his voice low.

Peter rolls his shoulders, and his muscles bunch and roll under his skin. He may be a wolf, but in this moment he reminds John of a lion: his movements are fluid, and he radiates power. The sort of power that has John’s lizard brain caught in a loop: predator predator predator. But John knows he’s also more than that.

Peter stretches out on his stomach on the bed, resting his chin on his folded arms.

He’s… John isn’t yet comfortable thinking it, but he’s beautiful. John’s not sure why the word catches in his mind. Not sure if applying the word threatens Peter’s masculinity or his own. It shouldn’t, of course, because the word fits him perfectly. He makes John think of the pictures in Claudia’s art books. Peter is muscle and sinew and skin put together in the exact configuration a Renaissance sculptor would have used, an idealized human form where art meets function.

His dick’s a lot bigger than anything you’d find in the Vatican museum though.

John settles beside him on the bed, the denim of his jeans rubbing against Peter’s naked thigh. He puts a hand on the nape of Peter’s neck, and then runs it very slowly down his spine, counting every knot of his spine. Peter’s trembles slightly under his touch, and draws a shaking breath.

“I’ve got you,” John tells him.

Peter arches up into his touch.

There’s something mesmerizing about this. Something trancelike. John touches, and the heat of Peter’s skin makes his palms tingle. Makes his dick harden in his jeans. Peter’s breathing starts to come a little faster. He shifts his hips, rolls them, his body seeking friction against John’s comforter.

John slides a hand down over the curve of his ass. Grips his cheek firmly for a moment.

Peter’s moan is like music.

“You like that, alpha?” John asks.

There’s a part of him that wonders what the hell he’s actually doing here. But just because he can’t articulate it doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel right. John’s not a wolf. He’s not ruled by instinct like they are, but he’s been a cop for over twenty years, and every cop knows better than to ignore a gut feeling. And whatever this is, it feels right.

He rubs his hand down Peter’s spine again, feeling damp sweat under his palm. He leans down over Peter, presses his face to the back of his neck, and inhales deeply.

“Come on,” he whispers. “You going to come all over my bed, Peter? You want that? You want to leave your scent with mine? You want to mark your territory?”

Peter is shaking now, his hips rocking almost frantically. “Yes. Please, John.”

John slides a hand down between Peter’s legs. Grabs his balls and squeezes. “Do it, Peter. Do it for me.”

Peter growls, hips bucking, and even John can smell the sudden sharp scent of cum on the air.

“Good,” he says, voice rough. “That’s good.”

He smooths his hand down Peter’s spine again, feeling Peter shiver slightly under his touch. Then he stands, and kicks his jeans off. Tugs his shirt over his head, and helps Peter under the comforter. He climbs in beside him in his boxers.

“Look at me,” he says.

Peter curls toward him, lifting his chin as he does.

His gaze is blue again. Brilliant blue, his pupils blown.

John encourages him to rest his head on his chest, and puts an arm around him. “You back with me now, Peter?”

“Yes,” Peter whispers, his breath warm against John’s chest.

John holds him close.

 

***

 

It’s late when John wakes up. The bedroom is dark. The light outside is faint: a fingernail moon hangs in the sky over Beacon Hills. Peter’s fingers are curled gently around John’s wrist. John recognizes the faint tingling sensation, even though it’s too dark to see the black tendrils slipping up through Peter’s veins. Peter’s taking his pain.

“It’s fine,” John murmurs.

Peter’s thumb slips gently over one of the puncture marks. “It’s not. I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t be sorry.” John tugs his arm free and cups Peter’s face with his hand. “You had every right to be angry.”

“Not with you.”

“With the whole goddamn world, actually.” John traces his thumb across Peter’s cheekbone. “But I got you back, right? And I always will.”

“You always will,” Peter echoes, the corners of his mouth lifting in a smile.

It’s not Peter’s usual smile, which is full of sharpness, of clever angles and pointed barbs. This one is almost soft. That’s definitely new. John could get used to it.

There’s a lot he could get used to with Peter.

He leans forward and brushes their lips together. It’s not a kiss, not exactly. It feels kind of like a promise though.

Downstairs, the front door squeaks open.

“Dad?” Stiles yells out. “Peter?”

John pauses for a moment, and then hears Derek say something too quiet for him to catch.

The front door slams shut.

A few moments later, Stiles’s Jeep starts up and roars off down the street.

John can’t help it. He leans forward and rests his forehead against Peter’s, and starts to laugh.