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Sweet Like Cherry Wine

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Stiles growls softly. He can’t seem to get the beak right, it’s too narrow, disproportionate with the rest of the head. He sighs, charcoal smudged fingers leaving grey marks on his cheeks as he drags a hand over his face. The crow he’s studying hops closer, squawking indignantly when it sees Stiles drawing.

 

“I’m trying,” Stiles mutters. The crow squawks again, hopping back along the branch. The setting sun casts a warm orange glow through the gaps in the treetops. His mother will probably come collect him for dinner soon; he needs to get this right before the light fades.

 

He tries again, grinning when he gets the curve just right.

 

“Stiles, where are you my little wildflower?”

 

Stiles looks down from his branch. Claudia is below him, craning her neck to look up at the neighboring trees.

 

“Up here mother,” Stiles calls. He flips his sketchbook closed, tucking it away in his leather bag. Claudia looks up at him, beaming.

 

“Careful climbing down wildling,” She says. She always calls him wildling when he’s in the forest; as if he becomes a little wild animal once he enters the tree line.

 

“I promise to be careful,” Stiles says, clambering down from branch to branch, slowly but surely. Usually he would swing down, jump the last few feet but he doesn’t want to worry his mother. He’s a clumsy child, always skinning his knees or tripping over. Claudia always takes care of him, tending to each bruise and scrap with gentle hands.

 

He hops down onto the ground. Stiles likes to be up in the trees, legs dangling from the branches but he also likes the feeling of the earth beneath his feet. Rich, dark soil that creates all the life around him. Stiles can only cultivate saplings with his magic right now but when he’s older, he hopes he’ll be able to create whole forests like his mother does.

 

Creating whole forests seems impossible to a ten year old who can only make a seed grow a few inches.

 

Claudia cups his face, rubbing her thumb at one of the smudges on Stiles cheek.

 

“Did you get any charcoal on the page?” Claudia asks, taking Stiles hand. “Or is it all on your face?”

 

They walk through the trees, the sun having sunk so low that the sky is turning a faint purple. The heat of the day has subsided it is now pleasantly warm. Stiles trails his other hand through the ferns and bracken. He likes the feeling of leaves beneath his fingertips.

 

It doesn’t take them long to reach the edge of the forest. Stiles was only in the shallows, he knows not to wander too far in. The trees get taller, the creatures get bigger, it becomes harder to find your way back. Stiles knows to stay in the shallows, where it’s safer. He can venture deeper when he’s a bit older. This knowledge doesn’t sate the curiosity, Stiles is eager to know how large the creatures get. He’s heard tales of deer whose antlers knock birds from their highest perches. Foxes you could ride like horses. Eagles that could snatch him from the ground like he was a tiny mouse.

 

He aches to draw them.

 

Stiles knows that his mother worries about him spending so much time in the forest. He would probably spend more time in the village if the other fae children weren’t so judgmental. Sometime he wonders if he looked a little more fae-like, the other children would invite him to play.

 

Stiles looks like his father. His human father. That’s why the fae children avoid him.

 

He wishes he looked like his mother, with her emerald skin and her hair that’s like soft, spring moss. Stiles skin is pale in the winter and breaks out in tiny, brown freckles in the summer. The only time Stiles goes green is when he blushes. It tinges his cheekbones and the tops of his ears.

 

But he does have her eyes. The same shape and color. Warm brown like fresh caramel. They’re his favorite feature.

 

“Did you draw anything for your father?” Claudia asks, letting go of Stiles hand so he can clamber onto the wall that surrounds their garden.

 

“Why? We don’t know if he’ll see it anyway,” Stiles grumbles, putting his arms out to balance himself.

 

Stiles has never met his father. The fae may like to play with humanity, charming them into fairy rings and occasionally stealing a child but they don’t really approve of proper relationships with them. Claudia writes John letters every month. Stiles never reads them, never writes any of his own.

 

“I’m sure he would love to see your artwork,” Claudia says, helping Stiles jump down once he’s reached the gate. Stiles shrugs. He’ll let his mother flick through his sketchbook; pick something for him to copy.

 

He lets his fingertip glide across the petals of the wild flowers. Claudia ruffles his hair affectionately before gliding into the house. That’s something Stiles wishes he could do, be effortlessly graceful. Instead he trips over his feet, walks into the corners of tables, catches his clothes on door handles, gets cuts and bruises from who knows where.

 

The sun has truly set now. The stars are blinking into existence, forming patterns in the night sky.

 

Stiles goes inside, dropping his bag on the table. Their cottage is a modest one. Three rooms upstairs, his mother’s bedroom, his own and a bathroom. The rooms are not big; Stiles bedroom is smallest. He doesn’t mind. Stiles painted the walls to look like a forest so it feels a lot bigger.

 

Downstairs is the kitchen and conservatory. Stiles favorite room is the conservatory. It’s full to the ceiling with plants, exotic plants not found in a country garden. They’re from the mortal realm, when his mother went travelling. There’s a fountain in the middle, some sort of harvest goddess, carrying a cornucopia under one arm. Stiles loves to sit on its rim, sketching the various flowers.

 

Stiles mostly draws plants and animals. His mother is the only one who poses for him.

 

Stiles sits at the table, watching Claudia chop vegetables. He opens his bag, pulling out his sketchbook. He finds a fresh page, starts a rough sketch. He could draw Claudia from memory, has done on occasion but he likes to capture the moments when she’s not posing. Especially in the garden, using her magic to make even the most stubborn of plants come to life.

 

“Drawing me again?” Claudia asks, adding the vegetables to the pot on the stove. Stiles cheeks tinge green. He’s been caught.

 

“You wanted something for father,” Stiles mumbles. Claudia smiles warmly at him. She puts the pot on simmer, walking around the table to have a look. It’s only an outline really but it’s not too bad. Claudia grins, putting an arm around him to pull him into a hug.

 

“It’s perfect wildling.”

 

Stiles grins.

 

“Now clear the table,” Claudia says, ruffling Stiles hair again.

 

//

 

“Would you like to meet your father?” Claudia asks in the middle of dinner. Stiles swallows his mouthful, looking up at his mother. She’s pushing the last of her carrots around her plate.

 

“Really?” Stiles says. He’s always though it would stupid that the elders in the village decided that Claudia could choose between living in the mortal world with John if she gave up Stiles to them or live in the fae world with Stiles but without John. It doesn’t seem like a choice at all. Claudia managed to get around it with her letters but John isn’t allowed to write back.

“Well,” Claudia continues, “When you’re an adult you’ll be allowed to go to the mortal realm. You could visit him.”

 

Claudia looks wistful. She always looks a little sad when she talks about John. The primroses in the kitchen tend to wilt too.

 

Stiles has never felt like he’s missing anything when it comes to his father. His mother is enough, has always been enough. But still, it would be nice to meet him. He can’t say he’s not curious.

 

All he has is his mother’s stories and that faded photograph of them on a beach somewhere in the mortal realm. His mother looks good; her glamour makes her hair chestnut red, big and curly. She’s wearing a black and white bathing suit, big sunglasses in the shape of cat’s eyes on her face. His father is looking at his mother like she’s Earth and he’s the moon caught in her orbit. They were really in love.

 

“I’d like to meet him,” Stiles admits. He gets up, clearing the plates away. He stands behind Claudia, putting his arms around her. Claudia smiles, kissing his cheek.

 

“Thank you wildling,” She murmurs, quickly rubbing her eyes. “I’ll leave you to clear up shall I?”

 

Stiles groans whilst Claudia chuckles.

 

//

 

“Have you got everything?” Claudia asks, straightening the collar of Stiles new shirt. He likes these typical ‘mortal’ clothes. Jeans and plaid shirts and socks and Converse. Stiles has never worn shoes before. It’s a little weird. But everything’s comfortable, more so than the fae clothes which are made from animal hides and plants.

 

“Yes Mother,” Stiles says, batting Claudia’s hands away. Sometimes he can’t believe that he’s taller than her now. Only by a few inches but still. Claudia smiles at him, tightening the strap on his leather backpack.

 

“Be safe my little wildflower,” she says, standing on her tiptoes to kiss his forehead. She has tears in her eyes when she steps back.

 

“Don’t cry,” Stiles says. She waves him away, rubbing furiously at her eyes.

 

“I’m not sad, just wondering when my little wildling got so big,” Claudia replies. Stiles laughs, pulling his mother into a tight hug. He’s going to miss her so much.

 

Going to the mortal realm once a fae is of age is a right of passage. Three months is the minimum. Some stay longer, some come back once their three months are up with vows never to return. Stiles is betting he’s going to be the former. He’s excited and nervous, both raring to go and dreading it.

 

“Have a good time,” Claudia says once they break apart. She pats his cheek fondly before gently pushing him in the direction of the portal. The fae in charge of it look particularly bored. Xe has wings made of lightening; they crackle and hiss when Xe moves them. Stiles likes xyr’s hair, it looks soft and fluffy, the color of clouds just before it rains.

 

Stiles hands over the piece of parchment with the address of where he wants to go scrawled on it. The fae scans it briefly. Xe clicks xyr long, spindly fingers. There’s a cracking sound, like bones breaking and reforming. The portal changes, swirling in on itself. It becomes the color of sunflowers.

 

Stiles takes a deep breath, gives him mother one last smile and steps through. It’s like stepping into a cold shower before being sucked down into the ground. The feeling only lasts a second but it’s horrible. Stiles winces as he stumbles out the other side, trying to shake the cold away.

 

It’s hot in the mortal realm. The sun is beating down as if it has a personal mission to burn the skin off Stiles exposed arms.

 

He’s in a garden. A very boring poorly looked after garden. It’s just dried up grass. There isn’t even a tree or vegetable patch or even a few flowers. Stiles is a little disappointed in his father.

 

He’s in his father’s garden.

 

The thought hits him like a punch to the stomach. It knocks the breath out of him and he can hardly believe it. The house itself is nice but looks like it could do with a little work. The yellow paint could do with a fresh coat; the wraparound porch needs a few new wooden panels.

 

Stiles knows that knocking on the back door would probably not endear him to his father, so he heads around to the front. He takes a deep breath, centering himself. He can do this, it’s just knocking on a door. He raps his knuckles on the wood, wincing when a few white paint flecks flutter to the floor.

 

There’s no answer. Stiles tries again. Nothing. Stiles frowns, jumping down the porch steps and looking up. All the windows are closed. Considering the heat, that would imply that no one’s home. Stiles could almost hit himself, he never stopped to consider that his father wouldn’t be home. He feels a little foolish.

 

He takes off his backpack, dropping it onto the steps before he sits down. He’ll just have to wait until John gets home. He hopes it isn’t too long. Stiles isn’t used to this kind of heat, he’s starting to sweat through his shirt. He folds the sleeves up to the elbow.

 

Stiles pulls out his sketchbook, flipping to a fresh page. He starts to sketch plans for the garden, of what he could do with the space. He hopes John will like his ideas.

 

//

 

It’s late afternoon when the car pulls up. Claudia told Stiles all about cars, he’s watched a few go by. He’s not sure whether he likes them yet, he supposes he’ll have to ride in one to decide. This car has the words Beacon Hill’s Sheriff’s Department written on the side in bold, brown letters.

 

Two mortals get out, both in light brown uniforms. One is young, handsome with bright green eyes. Stiles can feel a supernatural vibe from this one. It’s unusual, like warming one’s hands on a campfire.

 

The other mortal is Stiles father. He’s older than he was in the photo, understandably so, but he looks the same. Stiles flips his sketchbook closed, stowing it back in his bag. Now that the moment is here, he isn’t sure what to say. He had a plan, a plan that relied on his father opening the door to him, but a plan nonetheless. And now he doesn’t know what to say.

 

Stiles stands up, hoping he looks presentable. No matter how old he is, he usually gets charcoal all over his hands and face.

 

“Hi,” Stiles says, sticking out his hand, “John Stilinski right?”

 

John pauses, looking at Stiles outstretched hand with confusion. Stiles panics. His mother said that handshakes were how you met new people; what if that’s changed since she’s been here.

 

“Yes,” John says slowly, still not taking Stiles hand. The younger mortal is watching the interaction carefully. Assessing the situation. Assessing to see if Stiles is a threat. Stiles drops his hand, not sure how to proceed.

 

“Um… you knew my mother,” Stiles says, scratching the back of his head. “Claudia.”

 

Realization dawns on John’s face. He looks at Stiles with awe, an incredulous smile touching the corners of his mouth.

 

“Pierwiosnek,” John whispers. Stiles tries not to wince at his given name.

 

“I actually prefer Stiles,” Stiles says but it gets muffled into his father’s shoulder when John pulls him into a hug. Stiles’ hands grasp the back of John’s shirt, clinging tightly. His father smells like pine and some sort of combination of chalk and burnt paper.

 

“Look at you,” John says, stepping back. Stiles tries not to blush under the scrutiny. Well not scrutiny per say, John is looking him over as if he can’t believe that this is his son. Can’t believe he gets the privilege of meeting his son.

 

“I’m gonna head back to work,” the younger mortal says, “Your shift is almost over anyway Sheriff, I’ll cover for you.”

 

“Thanks Parrish,” John says. Parrish nods, smiles at Stiles and gets back in the car.

 

Once the car has turned around the corner and disappeared, John turns back to Stiles.

 

“Well,” John says, “When I got a call from my neighbor saying there was a boy loitering on my porch, I didn’t think it would be my own son.”

 

“Loitering?” Stiles questions, following John up the porch steps. He grabs his backpack while John opens the front door.

 

“Mrs. Lewicki’s words, not mine,” John says, “Though to be fair, she thinks the paper boy loiters when he’s delivering, so I should have known her judgment would be a little skewed.”

 

The inside of the house has polished wood floors throughout. In the hallway is a metal rack for hanging jackets on one wall and a big landscape mirror on the other.

 

“Do you want something to drink?” John asks. Stiles nods, dropping his bag on the stairs.

 

Stiles is used to a rustic wood and iron kitchen, big black stove and plants everywhere. This kitchen is bleached white cabinets in a L shape with no plants to speak of. Not even any on the window that overlooks the garden.

 

“Water? Soda?” John asks, opening the large silver fridge at the end of the L.

 

“Soda?” Stiles questions. John chuckles. Stiles doesn’t think his confusion is that humorous.

 

“I’m sorry, it’s just,” John, says, grabbing two green bottles, “You looked just like your mother when you said that.”

 

He offers Stiles a bottle. It’s cool to the touch, a strange, flat texture. Stiles follows John out of the kitchen and through the doorway that’s just before the stairs. This room is less stark. There are big comfortable chairs, several bookshelves and pictures on the wall. There’s a small glass table in the middle, a few books and empty glasses on it.

 

John unscrews the top of his bottle. Stiles copies him, perching on the edge of one of the chairs. He takes a sip. The liquid is cold. It is sweet, tasting of lemons and fizzes on his tongue. It tingles the back of his throat when he swallows.

 

“So,” John says, leaning back in his chair, “How is Claudia? I get her letters but she mostly talks about you.”

 

The tips of Stiles ears go emerald.

 

“She’s good, I have gifts from her in my bag,” Stiles says, motioning to the doorway. John nods.

 

A silence falls. It’s awkward, two people desperate to know one another but unsure where to start. Stiles knows that he has questions. Not just about John, but about the mortal realm in general. He knows the basics; his mother was here not too long ago. Things have changed, time here is different and Stiles is eager to learn.

 

“She,” Stiles says, looking directly at John, “misses you. A lot.”

 

John smiles fondly.

 

“I miss her too,” He admits, “I wish we could have been a proper family, you know. But it wasn’t to be.”

 

John’s smile turns melancholic. Whilst Stiles knows that straying into this territory is a little heavy for a first meeting but it’s reassuring to know that Claudia’s affections weren’t one sided. That his father wanted to be a part of their lives. Wanted to be a parent.

 

“How long do you think you’ll be staying?” John asks. Stiles takes a sip of the soda before replying.

 

“Three months is mandatory,” Stiles explains, “But I’d like to stay longer if that’s ok.”

 

“You don’t want to travel? Explore more than just Beacon Hills?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “But I’ve waited twenty-one years to meet you. I didn’t really want to wait any longer.”

 

John laughs.

 

“Well,” John says, “I can’t argue with that.”

 

//

 

John sets Stiles up in the guest bedroom. The walls are eggshell blue, white linen on the bed and a small white desk overlooking the garden. Stiles puts his clothes in the wooden wardrobe, his drawing supplies all over the desk. He’s glad that the red tulips that his mother wanted to give to John, have survived the journey.

 

John orders pizza for dinner. Stiles is excited to try it. Of course they had the components for it at home, bread, cheese, tomatoes and so on but Claudia had always said that anything she made could never compare to the real thing. Stiles tries not to be overly excited, he doesn’t want to look too weird.

 

While they wait, they talk about John’s job. He was only a Deputy when Claudia knew him, Stiles thinks she would be proud to know he’s now the Sheriff. They talk about Claudia and Stiles childhood and how the mortal realm has changed since 1995.

 

Stiles tries not be a child at the winter solstice when the food arrives. It smells amazing. It tastes even better. Hot, melted cheese with a faint meaty taste from the pepperoni. Stiles isn’t sure what pepperoni exactly is, beyond the obvious ‘meat’, but he knows that it’s delicious.

 

“Whoa, slow down kiddo,” John says, “It’s not going to disappear.”

 

Stiles blushes, chewing a little slower. They’re sat at the kitchen table. Night has fallen. Stiles is pleased to note that he can see the stars.

 

“So about the garden,” Stiles begins. John chuckles softly, taking another slice of pizza.

 

“I know,” John, says, “Claudia tried to get me to have plants in the house but I’m just not good at looking after them. I didn’t know what to do with the garden then and certainly don’t now.”

 

“I have a few ideas,” Stiles says. He frowns when the cheese slides off the end of his pizza slice before remembering that he was talking. “I mean, I did a few plans in my sketchbook, if, you know, you wanted to do anything with the garden.”

 

John grins.

 

“Sure,” He agrees. “Though if you’re anything like your mother, it’s going to be extravagant.”

 

//

 

John has to go to work the next morning. Stiles promises not to do anything to the garden whilst John is out of the house. His father had given him a skeptical look, which Stiles took to mean that Claudia had a habit of promising things like this and then doing them regardless.

 

Stiles however is going to keep his promise. He wants this to be something that he does with John, an opportunity to bond.

 

John leaves Stiles with a map of Beacon Hills that he printed off the computer and a spare key. Stiles has money and fake magical documents so that he can get by unnoticed. Or at least, not noticed by the world government and taken into a science lab to be prodded and poked by mortal scientists. He shudders at the thought.

 

Beacon Hills acts like a small town, but seems to be quite big. Stiles isn’t sure where to start. He’s tempted by the art store but he also wants to try coffee for the first time. He also wants to check the florist; hopefully he can get plants for the house if not the garden.

 

He decides on the florist. John took the red tulips to work so the house is still empty of plants. Stiles thinks a few plant to purify the air would be good. The house feels a little stagnant like John only comes home to sleep and change his clothes. He thinks a peace lily might be good. Or perhaps a gerbera daisy.

 

The florist is called What In Carnation?! Outside are silver buckets full of a variety of fresh cut flowers. Stiles runs a finger over the petals of a few sunflowers, perking them up a little. He goes inside, breathing in the familiar scent of fertilizer.

 

Stiles grins at the selection. Roses of every color are on the right of the door; coral, yellow, blue, burgundy. Daffodils and dahlias, heliotrope and hibiscus, gladiolus and geranium. The bouquets on display range from demure to outrageous. Some are sweet, the symbolism expressing true love and affection. Others express sorrow for ones loss, happiness at one’s new job or long life, generosity and bridal hope. Stiles wonders if the meanings are intentional.

 

He’s examining an lycaste orchid when he hears footsteps. He turns to see two people come out through the doorway behind the counter that’s at the back of the shop. Stiles gets a supernatural feeling from them both, a similar feeling, suggesting same type of supernatural creature. The sensation is something Stiles would describe as animalistic. Like walking in the woods at night and hearing the crack of breaking twigs.

 

“Can I help you?” the older mortal asks. The smile is charming but slightly suggestive. Eyes the color of blue hydrangeas looking at Stiles with a hungry appreciation. Stiles isn’t sure how to feel. The mortal is conventionally attractive, Stiles supposes.

 

“Well you could, if you actually worked here Uncle Peter,” the other mortal says dryly.

 

“Laura,” Peter says, mock offended, “I’m just trying to help.”

 

Laura raises an eyebrow. Peter pouts like a fox being denied a juicy rabbit. Stiles hopes that his ears and cheeks aren’t turning the same shade of green as the leaves he’s looking at. He didn’t bother with a glamour, he looks basically human, there seemed no point, but his blush is probably going to give him away. In retrospect that was incredibly stupid.

 

“How can I help you?” Laura asks pointedly, having walked around the counter to where Stiles is standing.

 

“I’m looking for plants that purify the air,” Stiles replies, “Preferably peace lilies, at least for the bathrooms. Mold spores, you know. Oh and any gerbera daisies you may have.”

 

Laura smiles, leading Stiles over to the peace lilies, which were hiding in the left back corner of the store. Stiles examines them closely, pleased to see they’re in very good condition. He tells Laura so.

 

“Thank you,” Peter says, “They’re provided by the Hale Nursery.”

 

Stiles is proud of the fact that he didn’t jump because Peter is directly behind them. Laura is giving Peter a withering look, as if she would quite like to strangle him. Peter grins sharply, handing Stiles a laminated card. White with plants around the border, the address of the nursery in curly, black writing in the middle. Stiles accepts it.

 

“Speaking of Hale Nursery,” Laura says, poking her Uncle in the chest. “That’s where you should be, you know, because that’s where you work.”

 

Peter sighs. It’s dramatic and over-the-top and complete with eye rolling.

 

“If you ever want to go to the source,” Peter says, “Feel free to stop by, I’d be happy to give you a personal tour.”

 

He winks at Stiles before leaving.

 

“Was that flirting?” Stiles asks, turning to Laura. She looks like she wants to crush the peace lily in her hands but is managing not to by heavy breathing through her nostrils.

 

“Forgive me for my uncle,” Laura says, taking the peace lily to the counter. “He can be a little intense and honestly, he will flirt with everyone.”

 

“I’ve never been flirted with before,” Stiles admits. “I’m flattered and confused.”

 

“Peter inspires that feeling often,” Laura says, ringing up the peace lily. Stiles opens his wallet, carefully pulling out the right number of bills. American money is so confusing, it’s all the same color and size and he has to guess the numbers based on old men’s faces.

 

“I don’t have any gerbera daisies I’m afraid,” Laura says, accepting Stiles money, “Which unfortunately means you will have to go to the source. Ask for my brother Derek if you want to avoid being hit on repeatedly.”

 

“Derek, right,” Stiles mutters, picking up his peace lily.

 

//

 

Stiles puts the peace lily in the bathroom. He wanted another one for the small laundry room off the kitchen but he wants to ease John into accepting plants. Plus Stiles is a little wary of the laundry room. The fae distrust mortal machinery. Stiles assumes it’s because the fae are haughty and elitist but there is also the fact that they have magic, so machinery isn’t necessarily required. Nevertheless Stiles never really came into contact with things like washing machines and dishwashers.

 

Stiles is making dinner when John gets home. He’s stirring the stew when John enters the kitchen with the peace lily and a dubious expression.

 

“Technically,” Stiles says, “That’s a plant for the house not the garden, so I kept my promise. And it’s good for the bathroom, it will keep away mold spores.”

 

John shakes his head. Stiles can see that John is thinking of Claudia in that moment, with fondness and wistfulness. They haven’t discussed Claudia in much detail but Stiles knows that John misses her. When Stiles gave John the red tulips, he could see tears threatening to spill. Stiles would love to talk about Claudia, to see the relationship from John’s perspective but he knows not to push it. They’ve only known each other for about twenty-four hours, there’s no need to jump into the deep end of the feelings lake.

 

They eat dinner on the back porch, enjoying the sunset. Light blue fading into orange. After the plates have been cleared away, Stiles shows John the different plans he’s drawn up for the garden. Stiles is excited to have a project like this. He’s not had the opportunity to design anything. Most of the fae wanted his mother to manage their plants. Stiles had the privilege of sweeping up leaves or cutting the grass.

 

“These are good,” John says. Stiles looks down, scratching the back of his head and grinning.

 

“They’re just sketches,” Stiles mumbles.

 

“I’m serious,” John says, “Have you thought of landscape gardening as a career?”

 

“Landscape gardening?”

 

“You know,” John replies, gesturing to the garden, “Designing gardens for other people. You’d be good at it.”

 

“Oh well, fae don’t really have careers,” Stiles says, closing his sketchbook. He catches John’s expression. “But I’m not there now so um, I’ll think about it.”

 

John squeezes Stiles shoulder affectionately.

 

//

 

Riding in a car is a very surreal experience. Stiles has to put a belt over his chest and lap for ‘safety’, which seems strange because it’s not like they leave the ground. Stiles rode on the back of a giant eagle when he was fourteen and he didn’t need a seatbelt then. He was in the air and was moving a lot faster than the speed his father is driving at.

 

“This is so slow,” Stiles moans, watching two old ladies shuffle past on the sidewalk.

 

“We’re stopped at a red light,” John points out. Stiles snorts. Red lights. There are no red lights in the sky.

 

Stiles will admit, there is something relaxing about driving, at least from a passenger point of view. Stiles gets to zoom through Beacon Hills, watching everything out the window. They go past ‘What In Carnation?’ Laura is outside, selecting flowers for a bouquet. Stiles waves as the car rolls past. Laura waves back with a slightly bemused expression.

 

Stiles isn’t sure he could do that in the drivers seat. There’s pedals and buttons and indicating and checking mirrors. It all seems very complicated. Not that Stiles couldn’t master it if he put his mind to it. He just doesn’t want to. He likes being a passenger.

 

The Hale Nursery is all of Stiles dreams come true. Plants for as far as the eye can see. The variety is outstanding. Stiles is practically vibrating with glee. He wants to explore every inch of the nursery, examine every tree, every flower, every leaf.

 

John pushes the metal cart, letting Stiles lead the way. Stiles tries to tone it down, keep his enthusiasm at a level that isn’t too obnoxious to the general public. Not that it matters; people seem to be watching him wherever he goes. He’s comparing two California fuchsias when he overhears the conversation between two middle aged women a few rows over.

 

“Well, he certainly looks like his father, can’t imagine who his mother was.”

 

“Did you hear what he calls himself? Stiles, what kind of a name is that?”

 

Stiles ignores them. He’s used to the fae talking about him behind his back, gossiping about his heritage. Treating him like a fascinating specimen in a jar, incapable of hearing or understanding. Though most fae didn’t care what he heard, they were all too happy to pass judgment on his human half, to tell him how shameful it was.

 

He turns to put the fuchsia into the cart and notes how white his father’s knuckles are. John is gripping the handle so hard, Stiles fears it might snap.

 

“Are you ok?” Stiles asks. John breathes out slowly through his mouth.

 

“I’m fine,” John answers, though he doesn’t look it. “Didn’t you want to see if we could get an apple tree or something?”

 

“Yes,” Stiles begins but John pushes the cart past him.

 

//

 

Stiles isn’t really the best judge of mortal beauty. Fae beauty is an entirely different concept; it’s a very personal thing. There is no expectation that you should find a certain type of fae beautiful, the fae are so diverse, it would be foolish to assume everyone liked the same type. Stiles thinks it’s a little hypocritical of them to advocate the various forms of beauty within the fae community but get angry when a fae finds a mortal attractive.

 

Nevertheless, Stiles idea of beauty is very different from a mortal’s idea. He’s used to wings or horns or webbed hands. He is not expecting Peter shirtless.

 

Peter is holding a hose, watering rhododendrons in ceramic pots. His shirt is tucked into the back pocket of his tight jeans. In the florist, Stiles didn’t really pay attention therefore had no clue how muscular Peter is. Muscles that are glistening with sweat. Stiles looks down at his feet so that his cheeks don’t glow green.

 

Logically he knew there was a chance of running into Peter, the man works here after all. Their last meeting left Stiles a little confused. He thought Peter was attractive but it was a passing glance. A footnote of that day really. Bought a peace lily, was flirted with by a pretty mortal, the end.

 

Stiles would like to quietly retreat and find another way to reach the tree section without passing Peter but his father ploughs ahead. Stiles hopes they can get past without engaging Peter in any way; Stiles isn’t quite ready to deal with the fact that he finds him attractive. The last time Stiles found someone attractive was when he was sixteen and had a crush on a mermaid. Her hair was made of seaweed, her teeth were needle sharp and she occasionally would try to drown him when they were kissing.

 

“Hale,” John, says, evidently oblivious to his son’s mini emotional crisis. Peter switches off the hose before turning to face them both.

 

“Sheriff,” Peter replies politely. He spots Stiles, who is trying to look really interested in rhododendrons. “Hello again.”

 

“Hi,” Stiles squeaks. Peter is grinning at Stiles, one part charming, one part delighted.

 

“You know each other?” John asks. This isn’t happening. Stiles just wanted to buy plants. He did not want to have to deal with the events that are currently unfolding.

 

“We met in Laura’s florist earlier this week,” Peter explains, “I offered to give him a personal tour of the nursery since he seemed so passionate about horticulture.”

 

Stiles would like to turn into a rhododendron now. Plants have such an easy life; they convert sunshine into food and look pretty. No awkward conversations between fathers and newly acquired crushes. Not that Stiles has a crush on Peter, they don’t know each other.

 

“Stiles does like plants,” John says. He reaches into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulls out Stiles plan for the garden. He shows it to Peter, proudly boasting about his son’s skills. Stiles feels all the color drain out of his face. Life as a plant is becoming more appealing by the second.

 

“This is amazing,” Peter, says, smoothing out the folded paper to get a better look at Stiles scribbled notes.

 

“It’s nothing impressive,” Stiles blurts, “Sketches really.”

 

“If these are just sketches, I’d love to see the finished article,” Peter says, “Is this a hobby or do you plan to do this professionally?”

 

“Hobby?” Stiles questions, looking at his father for an explanation.

 

“Stiles isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life yet,” John says, saving Stiles from embarrassment.

 

Peter hands the sketch back to Stiles. Stiles takes it with a steady hand, folding it and slipping it into the pocket of his chinos.

 

“Are you at college?” Peter asks. Stiles shakes his head. If he remembers correctly, college is some sort of advanced expensive schooling.

 

“Working?” Peter asks. He looks hopeful. Stiles shakes his head again. He’s not quite sure where this is leading.

 

“Are you offering him a job?” John enquires.

 

“Potentially,” Peter says evasively, “If Stiles was interested working here, we could hone his skills, maybe have him as an apprentice. It would be a waste for his talent to remain undiscovered.”

 

Stiles mouth drops open. Peter’s eyes flick down to it briefly before he looks at John. Stiles looks at his father, trying to communicate that this is not a good idea without Peter seeing. John looks contemplative.

 

“Thanks for the offer,” Stiles says, voice bordering on the hysterical. “I’ll think about it, but we really must be going. Plants to buy and all that.”

 

He herds his father down the row, leaving a confused Peter in his wake. It’s not that Stiles isn’t flattered by the offer, he is and logically once he’s left Peter behind he realizes how ridiculous he just acted. He let his fear of interacting with people he finds attractive get the better of him and now Peter probably thinks he’s an idiot. An idiot with design talent.

 

Having a job probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s just the fae have rules about this sort of thing. Don’t do anything to draw attention to yourself. Keep a low profile. Stiles usually doesn’t care about what the elder fae think of him but he saw what happened to his mother. Claudia had to choose between her son and the love of her life.

 

Stiles isn’t in love with Peter, they’ve only just met but he knows the potential for a relationship is there. Stiles figures that the elder fae would have a field day if Stiles ever pursued a relationship with a mortal, even a supernatural one. It would be the perfect excuse to cast Stiles out forever.

 

Stiles won’t take that risk.

 

//

 

“Any reason you turned down a perfectly good job today?” John asks, handing Stiles a glass of lemonade. Stiles wipes the sweat from his forehead before accepting the drink. Even in the late afternoon the Californian sun is brutal. Stiles has been in the garden since they got back form the nursery, hauling plants and fertilizer around.

 

“Fae don’t need jobs,” Stiles replies. The lemonade is sharp but sweet. It cools his parched throat.

 

“You’re gonna be here for three months at least,” John points out, “I managed to get some time off but you’ll be kicking about the house all day when I go back.”

 

“I can’t get there, I can’t drive,” Stiles argues.

 

“You can learn,” John suggests, “And get the bus while you learn.”

 

“Urgh the bus,” Stiles groans. He doesn’t like the bus. It smells weird and you have to know the route off by heart because they don’t tell you what the next stop is.

 

“Any other reasons?” John asks, “Or are you going to accept that this might be good for you?”

 

“I have books to read,” Stiles protests, “And… and culture to absorb and I can take day trips while you’re at work and the garden isn’t finished.”

 

John waits for Stiles to stop dithering.

 

“You’ll have lots of time to do all that.”

 

Stiles stabs the dirt with his trowel.

 

“You don’t have to,” John says, “You can always say no.”

 

You can always say no. Stiles can say no, if he wants. To the job. To Peter’s advances. Stiles would actually like to give this a go, try his hand at design. It’s nice to be actually wanted, for someone to see his designs and desire his work. He’s so used to being ignored by the fae, it’s a welcome relief to know he actually has some talent. Some creativity worth exploring.

 

His father is right, he’ll be kicking about the house otherwise and there’s only so much cleaning he can do.

 

He can always say no.

 

//

 

Stiles takes a deep breath. He can do this, it’s not difficult. He just needs to pick up the phone and dial. Just pick it up. It’s very simple.

 

Stiles groans, slumping over the table. John bought him a cheap cell phone so that they could keep in touch and so that Stiles could potentially communicate with people outside of his immediate family. He should be calling the nursery and seeing if he can wrangle a job. He should but he isn’t. Because calling someone on the phone is daunting, for reasons Stiles can’t actually name. His stomach is protesting, as if he ingested a hot ball of lead in the last hour and it’s become very irritating.

 

Stupid technology.

 

Stiles makes a cup of peppermint tea with honey, sipping it slowly whilst reading Pride And Prejudice. Once he reaches the end of his tea and the end of chapter fourteen, he makes the call.

 

He paces the kitchen as it rings.

 

“Hale Nursery, here for all your horticultural needs, Isaac speaking, how can I help you?”

 

“I’m looking for Peter Hale,” Stiles says.

 

“Isn’t everyone?” Isaac mutters, sounding very disgruntled.

 

“It’s Stiles, he offered me a job but I don’t any other number except this one,” Stiles explains.

 

“Hold on a second,” Isaac says. There’s a moment of silence before instrumental music starts playing. It’s not very loud and doesn’t mask the sound of Isaac yelling at someone called Erica to go and fetch Peter. There’s a strange scuffling sound and then Peter’s smooth voice comes on the line.

 

“Stiles, so pleased you called.”

 

Peter says Stiles name as if it’s something fascinating and precious.

 

“Is the job still available?” Stiles asks.

 

“Of course,” Peter replies, “Would you be willing to come in tomorrow to discuss it? Perhaps bring your portfolio so I can see your other work.”

 

Stiles assumes portfolio is a fancy word for sketchbook.

 

“Sure.”

 

“Excellent, see you around nine tomorrow,” Peter says. Stiles thinks it’s unfair how delighted Peter sounds. He’s not used to people being happy to know he’s coming. It’s very unsettling.

 

“See you tomorrow,” Stiles says before hanging up. He leaves the phone on the kitchen table and goes to dig something in the garden until the fluttery feeling in his chest stops.

 

His father finds him lying face down on the wilting grass when he gets home from work. He pats Stiles gently on the back and tells him he’s going to order Chinese food.

 

//

 

John drops Stiles off in the police cruiser. Before Stiles climbs out, John gives him a reassuring shoulder squeeze. There have been a lot of these shoulder squeezes. Stiles likes them very much, they’re full of affection and reassurance. He smiles at John, then gets out of the car, holding his hand up to his eyes to keep the sun from blinding him.

 

Peter is waiting for him at the entrance. He’s wearing a shirt today, a white V-neck, with grey jeans and work boots. Stiles thinks that someone who spends most of the day doing manual labor shouldn’t be wearing such inappropriate clothing. It’s rather obscene.

 

“Hi,” Stiles says, not quite sure what else to say.

 

“Hello Stiles,” Peter replies, beckoning him to follow. “We’ll go into the office to discuss your work.”

 

Stiles follows Peter through the main building, past the indoor plants and the tills to a door marked STAFF. Someone has pinned a paper sign underneath that says Beware Of Derek with a crude picture of man with intense angry eyebrows and luminous gold eyes. Peter chuckles when he sees it, opening the door and ushering Stiles inside.

 

There are two people in the office. One is sitting at the computer, sharp cheekbones and short curly blonde hair. He spins the chair to face them. His nametag reads Isaac. Someone has drawn little pink hearts instead of a’s. The other is perched on the desk, long blonde hair, bright red lips and filing her nails into sharp points.

 

“Erica, aren’t you supposed to be working?” Peter asks. Erica grins, white teeth emphasized by her red lips. She gives Stiles an approving once over.

 

“Well, well, well,” Erica says, “Fresh meat.”

 

Stiles holds his sketchbook close to his chest, a sudden urge to protect all his vulnerable areas.

 

“Stop intimidating him,” Peter reprimands, “Or I’ll put you on customer service for the next six months.”

 

Erica pouts. She hops off the desk, filing her nails as she wanders out of the room. The door closes softly behind her.

 

“You could put her on customer service anyway,” Isaac says, “Or Boyd. Basically anyone, I’m tired of this.”

 

“You should have thought of that before you put fertilizer in my work boots,” Peter says primly, guiding Stiles towards a door at the back marked Peter’s Office.

 

“I thought they were Derek’s,” Isaac mutters bitterly.

 

Peter closes the office door behind Stiles before moving around him to pull out the chair for him. Peter’s office isn’t huge but the window overlooking the nursery brings in a lot of natural light. The desk is polished wood. A few photographs are clustered next to the laptop. Peter surrounded by people Stiles assumes are his family, they all look related and he can see Laura in one. She’s got a surly looking boy in a headlock.

 

“Would you like anything to drink?” Peter offers, “Water, coffee?”

 

Stiles shakes his head. He puts his sketchbook on the desk, sliding it across. Peter sits in his desk chair, flipping it open. He studies each page with great interest, reading Stiles notes before moving on. Stiles twists his hands in the bottom of his t-shirt. He doesn’t mind showing people his sketchbook, though his parents are the only ones who have ever asked, but he’s a little nervous about Peter’s opinion.

 

“These are very impressive,” Peter says, handing the sketchbook back to Stiles, “And you’ve had no professional training?”

 

“No, I just like drawing,” Stiles replies, “My mother is a gardener, that’s how I became interested in plants and gardening.”

 

“Well you certainly have the talent,” Peter says, “You’d be working with and trained by Derek, our landscape gardener. He’s also my nephew and well, a little rough around the edges so to speak. But I’m sure you can handle it.”

 

Stiles nods. He’s been dealing with disapproving, judgmental fae since before he could walk. He can deal with anything.

 

//

 

Derek turns out to be the surly boy from the photograph. Except he’s no longer a boy. He’s tall and broad, dark trimmed beard and intense eyebrows. His caricature on the staff room door is surprisingly accurate. He looks through Stiles sketchbook with a furrowed brow.

 

“There’s a lot of drawings of crows in here,” Derek observes. Stiles frowns.

 

“What’s wrong with crows?” Stiles grumbles, folding his arms across his chest.

 

Peter gives Stiles a reassuring smiles before turning to look at Derek. They seem to have a silent conversation, communicating through eyebrows and strange facial expressions. It’s hard to discern who’s winning. Eventually Derek sighs, handing the sketchbook back to Stiles.

 

“Fine,” Derek concedes, “A trial run.”

 

“Excellent,” Peter says. He winks at Stiles. Stiles tries to pretend that his heart doesn’t leap into his mouth when Peter does that.

 

Peter leaves Stiles in Derek’s care, presumably back to his office. Stiles holds his sketchbook to his chest, smiling weakly at Derek.

 

“Come on,” Derek says, striding away. Stiles hurries after him, not quite sure what’s going to happen.

 

Derek has an office on the other side of the greenhouses. It’s like a greenhouse itself, a beautiful glass building full of plants with a desk in the middle. Derek collects some papers, putting them into a leather briefcase.

 

Then it’s over to the parking lot. Derek’s car is black, sleek and very fast. It sends tingles up Stiles spine when it roars onto the road.

 

“This is a test,” Derek says bluntly, “I want preliminary sketches and measurements of the garden while I talk to the client.”

 

“Sure,” Stiles says. Sounds simple enough.

 

Stiles jaw drops when the car pulls up outside the client’s house. It’s huge. Stiles has never seen anything so extravagant. Derek snorts at Stiles awe-struck expression.

 

“It’s so big,” Stiles says, “How many people live here?”

 

“Three,” Derek answers, reaching into the backseat to retrieve his briefcase.

 

Stiles frowns.

 

“If only three people live there then why is it so big?” Stiles asks, “Why do they need that much space? Surely it’s wasteful?”

 

Derek looks like he didn’t understand anything Stiles just said.

 

//

 

The Whittemore’s garden pales in comparison to the house but Stiles imagines that they probably use it for entertaining and sun tanning therefore only need it to look pretty. August is slowly turning into September and Mrs. Whittemore thinks the garden needs a whole new look by Thanksgiving, whatever that is.

 

Stiles bends down, running a hand over the soil. He closes his eyes. The soil feels dry beneath his fingers, dry and cracked as if it hasn’t heard of water, let alone seen it. His magic uncurls in his chest, extending down his veins and into the earth. He’s not quite sure how his magic works. All he needs to do is touch the soil and it’s spilling all it’s secrets; within seconds he knows the garden intimately. Knows which plants are clinging to life, how far the roots dig down into the earth, any obstacles they may encounter.

 

He opens his eyes, shaking the soil out of his hand. He writes down his findings in the notepad Derek gave him.

 

Derek comes into the garden through the back door, looking like he’d quite like to break something. His eyebrows are scary. Stiles stands up, brushing grass and soil off of his jeans. He gives the notepad to Derek. Derek flicks through Stiles notes, his eyebrows moving from plotting murder to pleasantly surprised.

 

“You did this in fifteen minutes?” Derek asks.

 

“Yes,” Stiles says.

 

“Good work,” Derek says. Derek’s mouth twitches as if he is going to smile. Stiles beams at him.

 

//

 

Erica is determined that Stiles should be her friend. Three days after Stiles become an official employee, she corners him behind the fruit trees.

 

“You,” Erica says, “Are taking your fifteen.”

 

“OK,” Stiles says weakly, letting Erica drag him around the back of the greenhouses.

 

She leads him along the white fence that marks the end of the nursery. There’s a polished metal gate about a third of the way down. Erica opens it, ushering Stiles through. Behind the nursery is a field. It’s nothing special to look at, just an empty grass field.

 

Isaac and a broad shouldered, black boy that Stiles thinks is called Boyd are sat along the fence, using it as shade from blazing sun. Well, Boyd is leaning against the fence. Isaac is sprawled on the ground, his hands resting under his head and, seems to be wearing a scarf despite the ridiculous heat. Erica flops down next to Boyd, making a gesture that means Stiles should sit down too. Stiles sits cross-legged on the other side of Isaac.

 

“Stiles is our new partner in crime,” Erica announces.

 

“Is he our fourth musketeer?” Isaac drawls, “Henceforth to be known as D’artagan.”

 

Erica flips Isaac off.

 

“Partner in crime?” Stiles questions. Erica nods solemnly.

 

“Our new co-conspirator,” Erica says, “Amigo, comrade, ally, cohort, chum.”

 

“Enough synonyms,” Boyd says. Erica bats his shoulder before turning her attention back to Stiles.

 

“You,” She says, pointing at Stiles, “are going to help us unravel the mysteries of the Hales?”

 

“Mysteries?” Stiles asks, brow furrowing in confusion.

 

“Erica thinks that the Hales are supernaturally inclined,” Isaac explains.

 

“There is no way there are all that genetically gifted,” Erica gripes, “Once they produce a hideous cousin or something, then I’ll stop thinking they’re aliens or vampires or whatever.”

 

“Is there any actual evidence they’re not human?” Stiles asks. If the Hales, who seem to have been in this town since it was first founded, aren’t passing for human then Stiles knows that he isn’t going to get away with it. He’s not quite sure what the Hales are yet or whether they can sense that he’s not entirely human but neither Peter or Derek have said anything so Stiles isn’t going to bring it up.

 

“Apart from being stupidly hot,” Erica mutters. “Nah, not really. It’s more of a side project. Our current project is trying to get Isaac to ask out his mysterious crush.”

 

Isaac groans, pulling his scarf over his face.

 

“You said you’d leave it alone,” Isaac moans.

 

“Does that sound like Erica?” Boyd asks. Erica grins like a feral animal over it’s latest kill.

 

“All you have to do is tell me who it is,” Erica says, her voice sweeter than fresh honey, “A name, a description, anything Lahey.”

 

“No,” Isaac growls, “You’ll only interfere.”

 

Erica gestures to Isaac.

 

“See what I have to work with,” She says to Stiles, sounding very put upon.

 

“Poor you,” Stiles replies, holding a hand over his heart. “It must be so terrible for you to be denied such personal information. What a hardship.”

 

Boyd chuckles.

 

“No one understands,” Erica says, “I’m just a lowly matchmaker, trying to help those less fortunate find love.”

 

“Meddle for your own entertainment more like,” Isaac mutters.

 

“Lies and slander,” Erica says primly.

 

“If by lies and slander, you mean a completely accurate character assessment then yes, you’re using that phrase correctly,” Stiles says. Isaac laughs and offers his fist. Stiles bumps it.

 

“Well then,” Erica says. She fixes her gaze on Stiles, eyes bright in a way that implies certain doom in on the horizon. “Let’s focus on you Stiles.”

 

“Let’s not,” Stiles says, “We were talking about Isaac.”

 

“Oh no,” Isaac says, “The conversation has changed, it’s all about you now.”

 

“Stiles, last name unknown since Peter won’t let me look at your employment contract,” Erica says, “You swagger into town.”

 

“I didn’t swagger,” Stiles objects but Erica places a finger on his lips to hush him.

 

“You swagger into town,” Erica continues, “Past unknown, purpose unknown. You rock up here with your horticulture knowledge and your artistic talent and set Peter Hale’s heart all aflutter. What is up with that?”

 

“Aflutter?” Boyd says, eyebrows raised. Erica shrugs.

 

“I haven’t set anyone’s heart aflutter,” Stiles protests, “Least of all Peter’s.”

 

“He keeps asking me if I’ve spoken to you recently,” Erica says, “Wants to know if you’re settling in alright. He didn’t give a flying fuck about the rest of us settling in. You fascinate him. He finds you interesting. Or wants to bang you, both possibilities are likely.”

 

“I doubt both of those statements,” Stiles says flatly. He does not want to think about Peter finding him interesting or wanting to have sex with him. No matter how appealing those thoughts are.

 

“Whatever,” Erica says, “If you don’t want to do the horizontal tango with the boss man then there must be someone in town who’s caught your eye?”

 

“I’ve been in town for less than two weeks.”

 

“It’s a small town,” Isaac says.

 

“It’s really not,” Stiles says. He really does not understand the delusion that the citizens of Beacon Hills are under. This town is a lot bigger than they seem to realize though everyone is determined to believe that it’s quaint and everyone knows their neighbor. Stiles comes from a small town in the fae realm and that was small. You could easily walk from one end to the other in ten minutes.

 

“Don’t worry,” Erica says, patting Stiles on the cheek. “We’ll find you someone to have a whirlwind summer romance with.”

 

“It’s almost September,” Isaac points out. Erica rolls her eyes, leaning over Isaac and flicking him between the eyes.

 

//

 

Working with Derek is a lot more fun than working for his mother had been. Not that Stiles didn’t love spending time with Claudia, it’s just he wasn’t allowed to do anything. Derek lets him carry plants and dig and actually contribute.

 

The citizens of Beacon Hills, for all their gossiping, seem to like Stiles as well. Stiles is still getting used to people waving at him or stopping to say hi. They ask his advice about their perennials when he’s queuing for groceries. A group of middle-aged mothers’ keep trying to get him to go out with their various offspring. He politely declines each time but is flattered that they think he’s good looking enough.

 

It’s obvious a fair few find Derek attractive but are put off by his closed off demeanor. Stiles has worked out that Derek is actually an awkward person who is not very good at small talk. Which is fine because Stiles isn’t that good at polite conversation either, so they talk about the work or plants. Derek has a degree in horticulture. At first he was surprised by Stiles intense enthusiasm but seems to have become accustomed to it.

 

Stiles is hesitant to call Derek a friend, Derek is his boss. But they like each other and he’s good to work for, so Stiles is counting that as a win.

 

//

 

Friday nights, Erica insists, are for going out and getting drunk. Which is why Stiles is sitting in a booth in a bar, sipping a glass of wine and listening to Erica berate Isaac about not revealing his crush to her.

 

“Is it someone we work with?” Erica asks.

 

“No,” Isaac says, “We work with unattainable Hales or high schoolers Erica.”

 

Erica shrugs, finishing her beer.

 

“Mason is kind of cute,” Erica reasons. “Though if it had been Liam I may have had to kill you.”

 

“Liam’s alright,” Boyd says.

 

“Liam cried when Coach Finstock had his annual roses or lavender meltdown,” Erica says. “Liam is a little bitch.”

 

Stiles sips his wine and doesn’t comment. Liam is usually on the tills and tends to look like a lost puppy most of the time. Stiles doesn’t think they’ve ever had a conversation, which is unsurprising as their paths never seem to cross.

 

“Is it someone we know?” Erica asks. Isaac groans, dramatically rolling his head back to glare at the ceiling.

 

“Just tell her,” Boyd says, getting up to get another round. “She’ll find out eventually.”

 

Stiles gets up with Boyd, knocking back the last of his wine. The bar is crowded but not overly so, so getting to the counter is fairly simple. Once they reach it they hear Erica shriek.

 

“SCOTT MCCALL?!”

 

Boyd rolls his eyes, signaling the bartender. Another round of drinks and back to the booth.

 

“Scott McCall,” Erica repeats. Isaac is glaring at her, arms folded across his chest.

 

“Yes, Scott McCall,” Isaac snaps, “What of it?”

 

“He’s so, so.” Erica pauses as if she can’t find the right word to describe exactly what Scott McCall is.

 

“Optimistic,” Boyd supplies. Erica slams a hand on the table, pointing at Isaac.

 

“Exactly, optimistic. You, Isaac Lahey, are an asshole. Scott McCall is a human ray of sunshine. Those two concepts do not mix.”

 

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, winking at Isaac, “The phrase ‘sun shines out of his ass’ comes to mind.”

 

Boyd snorts. Isaac looks like he’d rather be anywhere but under the scrutiny of Erica.

 

“Can we talk about something else?” Isaac mutters, “Like I don’t know, the fact that Peter keeps undressing Stiles with his eyes every time Stiles bends over to pick up a pot plant.”

 

“He does not,” Stiles squawks. He’s started to use a glamour on his ears and cheeks so they flush beetroot red instead of green now. Although he doesn’t think it’s really an improvement.

 

“Oooh,” Erica says gleefully, “He does. He looks like he can’t decide whether he wants to fuck you or be fucked by you. I think it’s because of your hands.”

 

“What about my hands?” Stiles asks indignantly.

 

“They’re all lithe and muscular,” Isaac says, holding one up so they can all goggle at it. “You have porn hands.”

 

“I do not have porn hands,” Stiles snaps, shaking off Isaacs’s grip.

 

“I don’t know,” Boyd says, stroking his chin, “The way Peter looks at them. The way Peter looks at you in general, that kind of animalistic lust, like he can’t decide whether he wants to have dirty, inappropriate sex with you or eat you.”

 

“You stop that,” Stiles says, pointing at Boyd. Boyd raises an eyebrow, taking a sip of beer.

 

Stiles can’t deny that he has been looking. Sometimes blatantly staring. Peter is a handsome man. He’s strong, Stiles has seen him carry bags of fertilizer to people’s cars with ease. Stiles is lightweight, Peter could carry him with ease. Peter is also confident, it shows in the way he stands, the way he talks. Stiles isn’t sure why he finds that confidence so appealing.

 

They haven’t really spoken to each other beyond the odd hello. Stiles is usually doing things for Derek or hanging out with Boyd, Isaac or Erica on his breaks. Peter is mostly in his office, occasionally out watering or helping attractive women by carrying heavy objects for them.

 

“I imagine the sex would be very…” Erica pauses, fixing her eyes on Stiles. “Athletic.”

 

The curve of her red lips as she says athletic is practically sinful.

 

“I hate you all,” Stiles says.

 

//

 

Stiles loves coffee shops. He loves coffee. That rich taste, sweet in a dark, complex way. Stiles loves the way it warms him from the inside out. But Stiles loves the atmosphere of coffee shops the most. It’s a cozy atmosphere, the noise a comforting lull. The best thing, is that Stiles can sketch the patrons and get some practice of drawing people.

 

Stiles finishes drawing the barista, using the side of the pencil to shade her dark hair. He’s pretty proud of this one, he’s managed to capture her laughing whilst she foams milk.

 

“Hello Stiles.”

 

Stiles head snaps up. Peter is standing next to his table, mug of hot coffee in one hand and a book in the other.

 

“Hi,” Stiles says. Peter’s V-neck is obscenely low today.

 

“Can I sit or would that be too forward?” Peter asks.

 

Stiles should say no. It’s rude but Stiles heart skips every time Peter says his name. Every time he sees Peter sans shirt, arousal tingles in his veins. Regardless of Stiles promise to himself that he wouldn’t get involved with anyone, Peter is his boss. There are probably ethical reasons not to let Peter sit here.

 

Stiles has always done things that are not good for him.

 

“Sure.”

 

Peter takes a seat opposite Stiles. Stiles scrambles to move his drawing supplies out of the way to give Peter some space.

 

“Go back to drawing Stiles,” Peter says, opening his book, “I didn’t mean to disturb you, just wanted the company.”

 

Stiles nods, turning to a fresh page in his sketchbook. He looks up at Peter, trying not to be obvious about it. Peter is focused on his book, American Psycho, and sipping his coffee. Peter takes his black, no milk and from the smell, no sugar. Stiles isn’t quite sure how Peter can subject himself to the bitterness of plain coffee when there are so many syrups available but to each their own.

 

Stiles selects another pencil, a slightly sharper one and begins sketching. Peter has strong, masculine features. Carefully cultivated stubble. A thick neck that leads into broad shoulders. Muscles obvious beneath the fabric of the V-neck. Capable hands. The tanned skin juxtaposes with the bright white book cover.

 

Stiles thinks that Peter’s eyes are his favorite. Despite being blue, they feel warm. Bright, mischievous and sometimes calculating. Sometimes they look at Stiles with curious confusion. An eager desire to know Stiles. Peter’s gaze can be intense, Stiles feels himself shying away from it more often than not.

 

An hour passes in comfortable silent companionship. There’s an intimacy here, one Stiles cannot name but he likes it. Likes being comfortable enough to enjoy each other’s company whilst also doing individual tasks.

 

Peter puts a folded receipt between the pages of his book before closing it. Stiles looks up from his sketch, dropping his pencil.

 

“I’m getting another cup, would you like anything?” Peter asks. Stiles is about to answer when his phone vibrates. A reminder that he’s meeting John for lunch in ten minutes.

 

“I have to go actually,” Stiles says, standing up and gathering his supplies.,

He’s about to close his sketchbook when he pauses. With careful precision, Stiles removes the sketch of Peter, making sure that it comes out clean, with no rips. He hands it to Peter, tucking his sketchbook into his bag with the other hand.

 

Peter takes the drawing, his smile soft and affectionate. Stiles swings his backpack onto his shoulder.

 

“Thank you Stiles,” Peter says. His tone is sincere.

 

Stiles ducks his head, grinning.

 

//

 

Stiles is languishing on the sofa, watching M*A*S*H and nibbling at an almond croissant. Stiles loves the variety of breakfast foods available in the mortal world. Pancakes and waffles and croissants and Danish pastries. The choices are endless.

 

John wanders in, shuffling through the mail. He makes a soft delighted noise when he reaches a thick, parchment envelope.

 

“Claudia’s monthly letter,” John explains, coming to sit beside Stiles on the sofa.

 

“They’re delivered by the mailman?” Stiles asks, wiping his hand across his mouth to remove crumbs.

 

“She’s a crafty woman, your mother,” John says. He starts reading. Stiles turns down the volume on the TV.

 

“She hopes you arrived safely,” John says. He chuckles. “She wanted to surprise me, so didn’t mention it in her last letter. She hopes I like the tulips and that you are behaving.”

 

“I am an angel,” Stiles says. John snorts.

 

“Angel might be pushing it,” John comments, flipping the letter over to read the back.

 

“I am a delight,” Stiles protests, nudging John with his elbow. John ruffles Stiles hair.

 

“You’re a good kid,” John admits, “Even though you did leave dishes in the sink last night.”

 

“I left the pot to soak,” Stiles protests, “I’ll clean it later.”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” John says, finishing the letter. He folds it up and carefully inserts it back into the envelope. The previous jovial atmosphere fades, replaced with a fond melancholy.

 

“I keep all her letters,” John says, “All your drawings too.”

 

John doesn’t get to write back. John doesn’t get to tell Claudia about his life or how he’s doing or remind her how much he still loves her. It’s incredibly unfair. Stiles bites his lip, thinking hard.

 

“You know,” Stiles says casually, “Once my three months are up, I’m allowed to contact the fae realm. So if you wanted to tell mother anything.”

 

He trails off, looking at John. John has his brow furrowed.

 

“Well, the fae elders can’t stop me talking to my own mother about how my father may or may not be doing,” Stiles continues, “I mean, it’s only a conversation.”

 

John grins at Stiles. It feels very conspiratorial.

 

//

 

September turns into October. The weather gets colder, the leaves transition from bright green to warm brown, red and orange. Halloween decorations appear in the windows of stores, giant spiders webs and pumpkins, black plastic bats and fake bubbling cauldrons.

 

Erica starts wearing a witch hat to work, a huge pointed thing decorated with silver spider’s webs. She’s determined that everyone get into the Halloween spirit and manages to force Isaac into wearing a hideous orange pumpkin hat. It sits lopsided on his curls and when anyone presses a button on the back, it lets out shrill, maniacal laughter.

 

Boyd walks around with a fake cleaver in his head, acting outrageously surprised when anyone points it out.

 

Erica threatens bodily harm if Stiles doesn’t join in, so he starts wearing fake fangs to work. They slur his speech and make a strange clicking sound when he tries to close his mouth but they stop Erica from forcing him into anything embarrassing.

 

Derek does not wear a costume and forbids Stiles from wearing the fangs when they are working together. Occasionally Erica will try to stealth bomb him and wrangle a fake arrow or cat ear headband onto him but every time Derek fends her off with relative ease. It’s obvious that Derek can hear her coming, no matter how quiet she tries to be.

 

“One of these days,” Erica says, shaking her fist at Derek like a Scooby Doo villain, “I’m gonna get you Hale.”

 

“I’m trembling in my boots,” Derek says dryly. Erica flips him off. Derek just smirks smugly.

 

Peter joins in the festivities, which helps Stiles to work out exactly what supernatural creatures the Hales are. Luminous gold eyes, sharp white fangs and deadly claws. Werewolf.

 

Erica bemoans Peter’s impressive costume as he won’t tell her how he does it. Stiles keeps quiet every time she starts her tirade, partly because it’s not his secret to tell and partly because Peter is parading around like he’s daring someone to call him out. He’s so goddamn smug about it, flaunting it in everyone’s faces. Stiles has to bite his lip to stop himself from laughing when Erica tries to needle Peter for information.

 

In the middle of October, Stiles receives a hand written invitation to the Hale Family Halloween Party. Vivid red lettering on a white background, the letters spiky and cursive. It smells a little like Peter’s cologne not that Stiles has been sniffing it.

 

“A handwritten invitation?” Isaac asks. They’re in the staff room. Isaac is still relegated to customer service, despite his many attempts to get back into Peter’s good graces. Derek is doing accounts and therefore doesn’t need Stiles today, so Stiles is keeping Isaac company and hiding from Erica. He forgot his plastic fangs today and she’s trying to force him into a hat that looks like a disfigured spider.

 

“Yes,” Stiles replies, “Why? Did you not get one?”

 

“Not exactly,” Isaac says, “I got the standard email, the one we get every year. I don’t think anyone has ever received a handwritten invitation.”

 

Stiles frowns. Isaac holds up a finger whilst he answers the phone. Stiles tunes him out, thinking about the implications of a hand written invite.

 

//

 

Stiles stares at himself in the mirror. He wonders if anyone will get his costume. It looked popular on the Internet but that is not necessarily mean that it’s recognizable. Velvet, moss green baggy trousers with a brown waistcoat. Brown boots. Feathers of various birds fixed into his hair. Dark brown eye makeup, with silver detail. Stiles wonders if it’s too subtle.

 

A car horn beeps loudly, making Stiles jump. He slips his phone into his pocket then hurries downstairs. John is waiting by the door.

 

“Have a good time,” John says. He winks at Stiles. “Puck.”

 

Stiles grins, shooting finger guns at his father before leaving. Erica, Boyd, Isaac and another boy are waiting for him in Boyd’s beat up minivan. Isaac moves over, allowing Stiles to slide in beside him. The minivan gives a weak cough before trundling off down the road.

 

“Nice costumes,” Stiles says.

 

Erica grins, her face made very pale by her long, black wig. She’s dressed as Morticia with Boyd as Gomez. The Addams Family was on last night, Stiles enjoyed it immensely. Isaac is dressed in a bed sheet made up to look like a toga, with a laurel crown spray painted gold.

 

“Stiles, this is Scott,” Isaac says, leaning back so Stiles can see the boy on the other side of him. Scott grins, extending his hand so Stiles can shake it. His jawline is slightly uneven. Scott has fake claws and seems to have glued fake fur on the back of his hands and the sides of his face.

 

“Hi Stiles,” Scott says merrily. Erica gives Stiles a pointed look, which Stiles takes to mean that this is the Scott that Isaac has a crush on.

 

The Hale House is at the end of a path that leads through the preserve. It’s been decorated for Halloween and they have gone all out. A graveyard in the front yard, ghostly fog rolling towards them. Realistic looking spider webs all over the front porch with large, black spider glittering in the headlights. Music is pounding, Stiles can feel the beat through his feet when he clambers out of the minivan.

 

The front door is wide open, people milling about on the porch and drifting in and out. Stiles spots Laura and waves. She’s dressed as Snow White and talking to someone dressed as Daphne from Scooby Doo. Laura winks at him when he passes her to go through the front door. Inside is equally spooky in a cartoony sort of way. Fake ghosts float around on the ceiling, occasionally bumping into lighting fixtures.

 

“Let’s find the alcohol,” Erica suggests so they all troop into the kitchen. Quite a spread has been laid out, all following the theme. Cupcakes that look like they’re oozing blood. Sandwiches that look like they contain various organs. There’s a fake hand floating in the middle of the punch.

 

Beer in hand, they all drift into the living room. The furniture has been pushed back to create a dance floor. Derek, who to Stiles delight is dressed like Frankenstein, bolts in neck and all, chases a hoard of child across the dance floor. The children are screaming and laughing and disappear out the front door, Derek on their heels.

 

“Where have Isaac and Scott wandered off to?” Erica asks. Stiles turns round, noticing their little group is missing a roman and a teen wolf.

 

“Probably gone to find somewhere quiet,” Boyd says, taking a swig of his beer.

 

“Do you think Isaac’s brave enough to make a move?” Stiles asks, moving aside to let a gaggle of women dressed as zombie cheerleaders get by.

 

“Well he better be,” Erica says, “Listening to him pine is becoming rather irritating.”

 

Stiles sips his beer, bobbing his head along to the music.

 

“Speaking of pining,” Erica says. Stiles follows her line of sight to where Peter is standing. He’s watching Stiles with supernaturally bright eyes. His werewolf ‘costume’ is far more elaborate tonight. Pointed ears, eyebrows somehow completely gone and his forehead a little more sloped.

 

“You should ask him to dance,” Erica continues. Stiles notes how Peter’s ears twitch slightly.

 

“He’s my boss,” Stiles hisses, turning so his back is to Peter. “It’s not appropriate.”

 

“Technically Derek is your boss,” Erica points out, “If we’re splitting hairs instead of allowing you to get all up in Peter’s business.”

 

“Don’t ever say business like that again,” Boyd says, shuddering.

 

“Point is,” Erica, says, “Stiles is stopping himself from enjoying a nice grind against a firm body.”

 

She does an inappropriate gyrating motion, waggling her eyebrows.

 

“You’re despicable,” Stiles says.

 

“And you could be despicable with Peter,” Erica says, still waggling her eyebrows.

 

“That doesn’t make sense,” Stiles says.

 

“What doesn’t make sense?” Laura says, coming up behind Stiles.

 

“Stiles won’t dance with Peter,” Erica says, “And he could be grinding up against that firm…”

 

“Can’t you see I’m busy,” Stiles blurts to cover the end of Erica’s sentence, turning to the potted tree that’s to his left, “Studying the botany!”

 

“The weeping fig?”

 

“It’s an beautiful specimen,” Stiles mumbles, staring resolutely at the leaves, “This weeping fig would never ask me to dance.”

 

Erica sighs, evidently deeply disappointed in Stiles life choices. She finishes her beer in one gulp, dropping the empty bottle on a nearby table before dragging Boyd onto the dance floor.

 

“Come on Stiles,” Laura says, patting his cheek affectionately, “If you won’t dance with my uncle, you can dance with me.”

 

Before Stiles can admit that he can’t really dance, Laura already has him in the middle of the dancers. He feels very awkward, standing stiffly whilst Laura starts shaking her hips. The only dancing Stiles has ever done is with his mother and that weird mandatory class on how to seduce people into fairy rings. It’s not really a skill he’s developed.

 

Laura doesn’t seem to mind, grabbing his hands to help him shuffle back and forth.

 

“Just go with it,” Laura shouts. Stiles grins crookedly, allowing Laura to manhandle him around the dance floor.

 

//

 

Around one am Stiles heads outside to catch his breath. He is far from drunk; fae liquor is a lot stronger than whatever the Hales are serving. Stiles had noticed that some of the bottle in the hands of the Hales had a strange floral note, which Stiles presumes is wolfsbane tincture.

 

The night air is cool on his face. Stiles finds a quiet stretch of porch to lean against. He closes his eyes to breathe in the scent of the preserve. Wood and soil and decaying leaves. It’s familiar and comforting smell.

 

“You feeling ok?”

 

Stiles eyes snap open. He turns his head to see the speaker. Peter is walking along the porch towards him.

 

“Yeah, it’s just warm inside,” Stiles says. Peter nods.

 

“May I join you?”

 

Stiles nods. Peter slides in beside him, resting his forearms on the railing. Stiles is close enough to breathe in Peter’s cologne. It’s oddly reminiscent of the forest. Stiles is hyperaware of how close they’re standing. They’re about the same height. The skin of Stiles shoulder is brushing against Peter’s grey Henley.

 

“Enjoying the party?” Peter asks.

 

“Yeah, it’s fun,” Stiles says. He stares down at his hands, not sure what to do with them. He feels awkward in his own skin. Not sure how to handle being so close to Peter. He briefly wonders what it would be like if Peter lifted his arm, putting it around Stiles waist and tucking Stiles in close to him. Wonders what it would be like to rest his head against Peter’s shoulder or nuzzle against his neck.

 

“Something on my face,” Peter teases. Stiles averts his eyes. He hadn’t realized he was staring.

 

“Your costume is impressive,” Stiles says, hoping that will ease his embarrassment. Peter chuckles.

 

“As is yours Puck.”

 

Stiles grins bashfully. The wind picks up slightly, whistling through the trees. Stiles shivers.

 

“Cold?” Peter enquires. Stiles nods, pulling his waistcoat closer over his chest. Peter puts a hand on Stiles waist. He turns Stiles towards him before letting go. Then he starts running his hands up and down Stiles bare arms. Stiles flushes at the feeling of Peter’s warm hands on his cold skin. They’re standing face-to-face, close enough that Stiles wouldn’t have to lean forward too much to press their lips together.

 

Stiles thinks that Peter would kiss passionately. Would dominate Stiles mouth, make Stiles surrender. But Stiles might be wrong. It might be soft and sweet, gentle and yielding.

 

Stiles won’t deny that he’s, for lack of a better word, infatuated with Peter. He barely knows anything about him. Werewolf, head of Hale Nursery, takes his coffee black, is an avid reader and a natural charmer is the extent of Stiles knowledge. But something about Peter draws Stiles in, like a moth is a particularly vibrant light bulb.

 

“Feeling any warmer?” Peter murmurs. He’s looking at Stiles lips.

 

“A bit,” Stiles whispers.

 

He wants to kiss Peter but is afraid of the consequences. Any sort of romantic tryst would be an excellent excuse to banish him from the fae realm or confine him to it.

 

It doesn’t stop him wanting though. Doesn’t stop him thinking about Peter late at night, whether he would haul Stiles around, rough and fierce and possessive. Those fangs are guaranteed to be sharp, Stiles wonders how they’d feel against the soft flesh of his neck. Perhaps he would be gentle, letting Stiles set the pace. Stiles would want to be face to face, he likes the thought of Peter watching him, of being able to kiss easily.

 

Stiles tilts his head. He’s leaning into Peter without realizing. Stiles eyes are fluttering shut; Peter’s hands are on his waist. The moment is elongating, liquid slow like golden syrup dripping from a spoon. He can feel Peter’s breath on his lips. They are so close. Almost there.

 

BANG!

 

Stiles jumps a foot backwards, stumbling over an uneven plank. The night sky is ablaze with vibrant orange and red sparks. People are spilling out onto the porch to watch the fireworks. The quiet of the night has been disturbed and the moment lost.

 

“I should go,” Stiles says.

 

He hurries away before Peter can reply.

 

//

 

Stiles isn’t avoiding Peter per say, he’s just not actively seeking him out and tends to dive behind plant pots whenever he sees Peter in the distance. It’s led to Stiles getting a lot of bruises in various places and odd looks from whoever happens to be around.

 

“What are you doing?” Derek asks. He’s turned around to hand a terracotta plant pot to Stiles, only to find Stiles crouching down behind the back wheel arch of Hale Nursery company pickup.

 

“Tying my shoelace,” Stiles says lamely. He stands up, trying to casually see if Peter is still talking to Boyd. Boyd is getting into the delivery van, Peter nowhere in sight. The tension in Stiles shoulders releases.

 

“Take this,” Derek says, pushing the pot into Stiles hands, “And put it in my office.”

 

“Yes Sir,” Stiles replies. He would salute if his hands weren’t full of heavy plant pot. Derek rolls his eyes, gently shoving Stiles away. Stiles goes.

 

He makes it to Derek’s office without seeing Peter. He has to push the door open with his hip, kicking it open wider so he can stride in.

 

“We should go to dinner,” A voice says to Stiles left.

 

Stiles screams, dropping the pot. Peter catches it easily. He deposits it on the floor before turning back to face Stiles. Stiles feels a faint blush rising up his cheeks.

 

“We should go to dinner,” Peter repeats.

 

“You shouldn’t jump out at people,” Stiles says, rubbing his chest. His heart is beating a mile a minute. “You almost gave me a heart attack.”

 

Peter quirks his eyebrow in an amused way.

 

“There’s a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant on Maple,” Peter continues, “perfect for a first date.”

 

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Stiles says, his left hand reaching across his chest to rub the upper part of his right arm. “I mean you’re my boss, isn’t it inappropriate?”

 

“There’s no rule about co-workers dating,” Peter answers. He steps forward into Stiles space. “I’d really like to take you to dinner Stiles.”

 

“We don’t really know each other,” Stiles says weakly.

 

“That’s part of the fun of first dates,” Peter says, “People who are attracted to each other, getting to know one another better.”

 

Stiles tongue wets his bottom lip. Peter watches him do it, a flicker of lust in his eyes. Stiles is reminded of their almost kiss, how that moment seemed to elongate.

 

The door swings open, Derek wandering in with another plant pot. He raises his eyebrows at the scene in front of him. Stiles thinks it doesn’t look that bad but when he takes a step back from Peter, he realizes how close they were standing.

 

“Think about it Stiles,” Peter says. He leaves, inclining his head slightly to Derek before the door closes softly behind him.

 

Derek doesn’t say anything, which Stiles could hug him for. He simply puts the plant pot on the floor and tells Stiles to go get the rest of them from the back of the truck.

 

//

 

The ceiling above Stiles bed is not particularly interesting. Stiles knows this because he’s been staring at it for the last several hours, thinking. He imagines that if he had a baseball he would be throwing it up into the air and catching it. But he doesn’t and honestly, he would probably hit himself in the face.

 

He’s been thinking about the pros and cons of going on a date with Peter, his thoughts becoming rather circular.

 

Pros: getting to know Peter better, kisses, potentially sex, experiencing dating in the mortal realm.

 

Cons: elder fae using it as an argument that he’s more human than fae and banish him from the fae realm, elder fae using it as an argument to harass his mother more, elder fae being dicks in general, Peter turning out to be a dick.

 

Stiles is all for fucking with the elder fae. He likes it when Murchadh screws up their face like they’re sucking lemons. But he knows not to push it. They punished his mother by forbidding contact with his father and whilst Claudia managed to find a tiny loophole, John still wasn’t allowed to write back.

 

Stiles plans to pass on letters from John to Claudia when his three months are up, another loophole but even then, he knows how dangerous it could potentially be. The elder fae are vicious, they uphold their laws to the letter and Stiles knows that they were lenient with Claudia.

 

Stiles puts a pillow over his face and groans into it.

 

//

 

Dinner is a quiet affair. Stiles pushes his peas around the plate for a while before finishing them. He gets up to clear the plates but sits back down because John is fixing Stiles with a look. It’s a look eerily similar to Claudia’s. Perhaps this is whom she learned it from. It’s a look that says sit down, we’re going to talk.

 

So Stiles sits.

 

“Something bugging you?” John asks. His voice is soft, concerned. There are no demands here. Stiles knows that if he doesn’t want to talk about it then John won’t force him. That’s not to say that John won’t subtly manipulate Stiles into spilling it anyway but he would never push.

 

“I was asked out on a date,” Stiles says, deciding to be vague.

 

“And you don’t like the person that asked?” John says. Stiles shakes his head.

 

“I do, at least, I know I’m attracted to them and maybe would like to know them better. But…”

 

Stiles trails off.

 

“But,” John prompts.

 

“But,” Stiles continues. He’s a little lost, searching for the right words. “I’m worried. About how it could progress. About how I might fall for them and…”

 

“And whether you would end up like your mother,” John says. Stiles nods.

 

“It’s only one date,” John points out.

 

“I know,” Stiles says, running a hand through his hair, “I just. The elder fae are not known for being reasonable. I just don’t want them to take it out on me or worse, on you and mother.”

 

John smiles, reaching across the table to squeeze Stiles hand. It’s a reassuring touch and seems to suck the tension out of him. He breathes out slowly.

 

“Do you think that stopped Claudia?” John asks. Stiles frowns.

 

“Yes, the elder fae are unreasonable and judgmental,” John continues, “But, that shouldn’t prevent you from doing something you want to do. And, aren’t you just letting them win by letting them control your choices even when they aren’t even here.”

 

“The backlash,” Stiles argues, “They could banish me from the fae realm or from this one.”

 

“True,” John concedes, “But it’s only one date.”

 

Stiles runs his hand through his hair again, leaning back in his chair.

 

“It’s your decision son,” John says, grabbing the plates as he stands. “I’ll support you no matter what.”

 

“Thank you,” Stiles says. John smiles at him, taking the plates to the kitchen sink.

 

Stiles still feels conflicted but at least a firm decision feels a bit more within his reach.

 

//

 

Stiles decides to say yes. One, because fuck the elder fae, they don’t own him. Two, because Peter is attractive and interested in him and every time he says Stiles name it makes his heart flutter like a butterfly in a cage. Three, because this is his opportunity to go on an actual date rather than necking with a mermaid at the edge of the lake. Four, because seriously fuck the elder fae.

 

He waits for Isaac’s break so that he doesn’t have an audience when he goes to knock on Peter’s office door. He smoothes his shirt down, runs a quick hand through his hair and takes a deep breath. He can do this. He raps his knuckles on the door, a quick succession of taps.

 

“Come in.”

 

Stiles pushes the door open. Peter is behind his desk, shuffling through a few papers. He lifts his head when Stiles enters, smiling at him. Stiles smiles shyly back.

 

“What can I do for you Stiles?” Peter asks, placing the papers into a folder and slotting it into a desk drawer.

 

“About dinner,” Stiles says. Peter perks up instantly, fixing his full attention on Stiles. “I would like to do that. With you. If you want.”

 

Stiles wishes he was a little more coherent in asking but given Peter’s grin, it doesn’t matter.

 

“How about tomorrow night?” Peter asks.

 

“Sure,” Stiles agrees.

 

“I’ll pick you up at seven.”

 

Stiles nods.

 

“I better get back to work,” Stiles says. He leaves the office with a spring in his step and a big grin on his lips.

 

//

 

Stiles would be lying if he said he wasn’t nervous. He’s changed clothes about a dozen times. Butterflies flitter about his stomach, have been all day and Stiles knows that they will only intensify once he actually sees Peter.

 

The doorbell rings. Stiles takes a breath, forcing himself to calm down and not punch the air with glee. He taps his pockets to make sure he has his house keys, wallet and phone. Stiles heads downstairs, glad that his father is working an overnight shift and not here to make smug comments in the background. He opens the door and holy shit.

 

Peter is in a leather jacket, a white V-neck that frames his chest perfectly and criminally tight jeans. He’s smiling at Stiles in a way that makes arousal coil in his gut.

 

“Shall we?” Peter says. Stiles nods, closing the door behind him. He’s not sure he’s capable of coherent speech right now.

 

Peter’s car is a two seater, very sporty looking. Peter opens the door for Stiles. He slides in, running a hand over the soft black leather seats. Peter gets in the drivers seat and they’re away. The engine purrs before it roars and Stiles grabs the edges of his seat. Peter chuckles, slowing down a little.

 

The Vietnamese restaurant has a cozy atmosphere. Lanterns and candles make the lighting soft and intimate. They’re seated in a corner table. Stiles sits with his back to the polished wooden panels of the wall.

 

“I’ve not had Vietnamese food before,” Stiles admits, consulting the menu, “You’ll have to tell me what’s good.”

 

“Well,” Peter says, flicking through the wine list, “I thought vegetable spring rolls to share to begin with and then I would recommend the beef pho, it is simply divine.”

 

They order. Stiles allows Peter to choose for him, both the food and the wine. Stiles doesn’t know much about mortal wines, he just knows he likes the taste of red more than white.

 

“If I may ask,” Peter begins. He stops when the waiter brings over the wine. A small amount is poured into Peter’s glass. He swirls it around before taking a sip. He nods, thanking the waiter before continuing with what he was saying.

 

“What changed your mind about agreeing to dinner?”

 

Stiles bites his lip, thinking of a way to phrase his thoughts without giving too much away. He wants to be truthful but he knows to be careful about it.

 

“I like you, I think you’re clever and interesting,” Stiles says, thinking he should start with a compliment first. “But, I’m cautious about dating.”

 

“About dating men?” Peter asks. Stiles waves his hand whilst shaking his head.

 

“No, gender is not an issue. I… don’t have much experience and I guess I let my anxiety get ahead of me.”

 

Peter reaches across the table, taking Stiles hand. He rubs his thumb over the skin, a gentle, sweet caress.

 

“Hopefully I can put those fears to rest,” Peter murmurs, “I find you utterly enchanting Stiles.”

 

Stiles is glad that the waiter arrives with their starters so that Peter is looking at those instead of the blush that’s steadily rising on Stiles cheeks.

 

//

 

To Stiles delight, the conversation flows easily. He’s amazed at how simple it is to talk to Peter. In a strange way, Stiles feels like he’s being understood no matter what he’s talking about. Peter listens attentively, laughing in all the right places. Stiles is equally attentive when Peter speaks, storing the information away for use later.

 

They share dessert. Almond ice cream. Peter goes first, scooping a little onto his spoon before offering it to Stiles. The taste is sweet and delicate. Peter watches Stiles lap up the last of it off the spoon with a hungry look and Stiles knows that Peter isn’t lusting after the ice cream.

 

Peter drives Stiles home. Stiles likes travelling in cars at night, enjoys the glow of the streetlights and the neon signs in vivid, flashing colors. Stiles is still getting used to it but there’s something about it that he just likes. He bought paint recently, he might see if he can recreate the scene on paper.

 

Peter pulls up outside the house. He graciously opens Stiles door for him. Stiles is about to thank him but realizes that it was a ploy for Peter to push Stiles up against the door and kiss him senseless.

 

It’s electric, the feeling of Peter’s hands cupping Stiles face. Soft lips, teeth nipping at Stiles bottom lip, coaxing him into opening his mouth. Stiles surrenders to Peter. He just grabs at Peter’s jacket to pull him closer. Peter’s hands start to wander, stroking down Stiles shoulder, his arms and around his waist.

 

They break apart, Peter leaning back with a sly smile on his face. He gently strokes Stiles lower lip with his thumb.

 

“I’d like to do this again,” Stiles says, aware of how breathy he sounds.

 

“So would I,” Peter replies. He places a chaste kiss on Stiles lips before stepping away. Stiles is pretty sure his knees are going to give out but he manages to walk forward so that he’s not leaning on the car.

 

He waves as Peter drives away. He touches his lips, feels the phantom memory of the kiss. Stiles grins, heading up the path to the front door.

 

//

 

Mid-November brings discussions of Thanksgivings and everyone’s plans. Stiles had to subtly look up Thanksgivings on the Internet, it’s not a holiday he’s familiar with. It seems to be a very strange holiday that generates a lot of mixed reactions.

 

“I can guarantee that Mom has invited the entirety of her family,” Erica moans, slumping over the staff room table. Her hair spills everywhere. Isaac pushes it away so he can put his lunch down.

 

“Is that a bad thing?” Stiles asks, stealing a corn chip when Isaac opens the bag. Isaac bats his hand away.

 

“They’re Republicans,” Erica hisses. “It’ll be hours of anti-feminist rhetoric and racism.”

 

Stiles grimaces. It sounds unpleasant. He reaches for another chip but Isaac moves the bag of chips out of Stiles arm range. Stiles pouts.

 

“Scott invited me to his Thanksgiving this year,” Isaac says smugly. Erica’s head shoots up.

 

“Shut up,” She says, “He didn’t?”

 

Isaac tips the bag of chips up to pour the remains into his mouth.

 

“I want text updates,” Erica says, pointing at Isaac threateningly, “And if you don’t have Thanksgiving sex, I will disown you.”

 

Isaac rolls his eyes, balling the bag up and tossing it over his shoulder into the trashcan.

 

“What are you doing for Thanksgiving Stiles?” Isaac says.

 

“Subtle subject change,” Erica mutters. Isaac flips her off.

 

“I don’t know,” Stiles says, “I’ve never celebrated it before.”

 

“Boyd’s family doesn’t celebrate it either,” Isaac says, “I think he appreciates the time off though.”

 

“Hmm, I guess I’ll have to talk to my father,” Stiles says, “I think he might be working.”

 

“I wish I was working,” Erica mutters darkly.

 

“So do I,” Peter says dryly from the doorway. They all turn to look.

 

“Busted,” Isaac sings. Stiles snorts while Peter raises a smug eyebrow.

 

“The customer service desk is looking a little a little empty Isaac,” Peter says. Erica snickers.

 

“Please, please let Liam or Hayden take over,” Isaac pleads. “I can’t handle the stupidity anymore. Plus they keep sneaking off to make out behind the greenhouse and they should be punished for that.”

 

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Peter says, “Now go.”

 

Isaac groans, muttering under his breath about stupid horny teenagers. Erica pats his arm consolingly, winking slyly at Stiles before they disappear through the door. Stiles rolls his eyes fondly.

 

Peter walks over, more like swaggers, leaning over the table to give Stiles a chaste kiss. Stiles responds happily, grabbing the front Peter’s shirt to stop him moving away. Peter smiles into the kiss, they bump noses affectionately.

 

“So you’re not doing anything for Thanksgiving?” Peter asks. Stiles shrugs, reluctantly letting Peter go so he can take the seat Erica vacated.

 

“I think my father might be working,” Stiles explains. Peter nods.

 

“Well, if you are free, you’re more than welcome to come spend Thanksgiving with me,” Peter says. It’s said casually, as if he’s not bothered by Stiles response but there’s a note of hope. Stiles thinks it might be nice, spending a holiday with Peter.

 

“Really?”

 

“Sure,” Peter says, “There will be a lot of family around, Talia invited our younger brother and sister and they’re bringing their children, but as long as that doesn’t bother you, you’re more than welcome.”

 

“Family isn’t a problem,” Stiles says, noting how Peter instantly relaxes, “Maybe I’ll stop by.”

 

Peter grins.

 

//

 

“Are we doing anything for Thanksgiving?” Stiles asks, chopping carrots for dinner.

 

“I think I’m scheduled to work,” John says. He pours himself a glass of whiskey. “I usually take the shift so that deputies with families can take it off. Sorry, I should have asked if you wanted to do something,”

 

“No it’s ok,” Stiles says, tipping the carrots into the roasting tin. “I don’t really celebrate it, it’s not a fae festival. But Peter invited me to go to the Hale family one, if that’s ok.”

 

“That’s fine,” John says, “As long as you bring leftovers to the station and you bring Peter over for dinner at some point, introduce your boyfriend to your father.”

 

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Stiles says, leaning down to slide the roasting tin into the oven. “Well he might be, we’ve not spoken about it.”

 

John makes a disbelieving snort.

 

//

 

Stiles makes dessert, homemade pumpkin pie. He looked at traditional Thanksgiving recipes and this seemed the least intimidating and insane. Seriously, marshmallows on sweet potatoes? That doesn’t sound tasty at all.

 

The house is buzzing with activity. Children yelling, adults shouting, laughter and the clink of glasses. Stiles knocks on the door, hoping that he’s heard. Then he remembers that there are werewolves inside and of course they’re going to hear.

 

“Somebody get that,” Someone, possibly Talia, yells, “My hands are occupied.”

 

“Mom, Kieran and Louise are painting the walls again!” Someone else yells in reply. It sounds like Laura.

 

“Alistair, Vera, get your kids under control!”

 

The door opens. Laura is behind it, holding a little girl in paint splatter dungarees by the ankle. The child is shrieking delightedly.

 

“Hey Stiles,” Laura says as if she isn’t swinging a child from her hand like it’s a dead chicken.

 

“Hello,” Stiles says. He holds the pumpkin pie up. “I made pie.”

 

“Pie!” the child screams, “Gimme!”

 

She wiggles like a fish on a hook, making grabby hands at Stiles.

 

“Be quiet you little heathen,” Laura says, moving aside so that Stiles can enter. The child giggles, squirming around.

 

“I will drop you Louise,” Laura threatens.

 

“Do it,” a tall dark haired man says, coming down the staircase. He has the same shape eyes and nose as Peter, probably his younger brother. “Might knock some manners into her.”

 

Louise’s mouth stretches into a wide smile. She’s missing a front tooth. The man grabs her from Laura, tucking Louise under his arm and marching her off to the living room.

 

“Welcome to the mad house,” Laura says, putting her arm around Stiles to pull him into a one armed hug. She kicks the door shut behind them. “That was Uncle Alistair and his youngest Louise. He’s also father to two twelve-year-old fraternal twins. Watch out for Will and Sarah, they got into voodoo recently and keep trying to cut people’s hair to use in their rituals.”

 

“Right,” Stiles says weakly.

 

Joseph Hale, Laura’s father, appears at the top of the stairs, looking confused.

 

“Laura,” He says, “Your mother wants the nice silver wear from our wedding in order to impress Peter’s boyfriend and I can’t find it. Oh, hello Stiles.”

 

Stiles raises a hand in greeting.

 

“Coming Dad,” Laura says, letting go of Stiles, “Peter’s in the kitchen, probably grappling with the turkey.”

 

“OK,” Stiles says, watching Laura jog up the stairs before heading off to the kitchen. A fifteen-year-old boy with a haircut like Daniel Radcliffe from the fourth Harry Potter movie slouches past, eyeing Stiles with teenage suspicion.

 

Peter is getting the turkey out of the oven. Talia is on the other side of the kitchen island, handing ornate wine glasses to Derek. Derek nods his head in greeting.

 

“Hello Stiles,” Talia says warmly. Stiles likes Talia, she remind him of his mother. Warm, affectionate but firm.

 

“I made pumpkin pie,” Stiles says, sliding it onto the island.

 

“Wonderful,” Talia says before she starts handing glasses to him. “Take these to table would you dear?”

 

He nods, following Derek. Derek leads him outside, where a long oblong table is set up. Two dark haired twins are sitting beneath it, whispering animatedly to each other. The girl has a chunk of hair missing from her bangs. They crawl out when they see Derek approaching, scampering off into the woods.

 

“Will and Sarah?” Stiles asks, placing the glasses down in front of plates. Derek nods, eyes narrowed. His head is slightly tilted, probably trying to hear what the twins are up to.

 

There’s a loud crack and hysterical laughter. Derek sighs.

 

//

 

Talia is at the head of the table, Joseph to her left, Peter to her right. Stiles sits between Peter and Laura, opposite Derek. He thinks this has been done deliberately so that all the new people don’t overwhelm him.

 

Next to Laura is Uncle Alistair. Then Louise and the twins. Will has a spider-man Band-Aid over the bridge of his nose. Next to Derek, is Cora, the youngest of Talia and Joseph’s children. Then Aunt Vera, the younger sister of Talia and Peter, and her wife Sophia. Then their three children. Five-year-old Kieran, whose face is been crudely painted to look like a tiger, then the surly teenager, Bobby, and nine-year-old Jordan.

 

The table is groaning with the amount of food on it. The turkey is the centerpiece with what looks like a million side dishes around it. Everything is passed around, the clink of glasses and dishes in between the chatter. Louise keeps proudly telling anyone who will listen about her loose tooth.

 

“Is this anything like you imagined?” Peter says, spooning roast potatoes onto Stiles plate.

 

“Your extended family or Thanksgiving?” Stiles teases. Peter snorts, handing the potatoes over to Derek.

 

“It’s great,” Stiles says, kissing Peter on the cheek, “Thank you for inviting me. I’m worried that the plate my father requested may not come about.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Joseph says, passing the green bean casserole to Peter, “We put a plate aside for him.”

 

“Thank you,” Stiles says.

 

There’s raucous laughter from the middle of the table. Cora slams the table and cranberry juice comes out of her nostrils.

 

“Told you I could make her do it,” Vera says, “Pay up!”

 

Alistair hands over five bucks.

 

“Can we not have betting at the table?” Talia asks. Vera pockets the money and winks at her older sister. Stiles hides his grin when he sees Alistair slip a dollar between the salt and pepper.

 

Stiles has never been at a meal like this. It’s loud and raucous, full of laughter and the warm feeling of companionship. Stiles stays quiet at first, enjoying the food and listening to the conversations before he get’s drawn into a conversation with Talia and Joseph. Cora, Alistair and Vera spend most of the meal arguing about the rules of True American and whether removing the history aspect means that it’s not actually True American. Laura chips in saying that the only reason Alistair is arguing in favour is because he’s terrible at history.

 

Between the main meal and dessert, Talia stands, holding her glass up. The table goes instantly quiet, even Louise and Kieran, who had been flinging their leftover peas at each other.

 

“Every year, after Peter has delivered a delicious meal, we go around the table to say what we’re thankful for,” Talia says. Her voice is soothing and powerful. The alpha is clearly speaking.

 

“This year,” Talia continues, “I am thankful for my wonderful family, even the more troublesome ones.”

 

She fixes her gaze on Vera and Alistair, who smile winningly back.

 

“I am thankful for our collective good health, our continued employment and that Stiles agreed to spend this holiday with us.”

 

Stiles ears burn. Peter grins, taking Stiles hand under the table. He squeeze gently.

 

After Talia, the left side of the table take it in turns to say what they’re thankful for. Even sullen teenager Bobby stands up although he mostly seems thankful for Fall Out Boy and memes on the Internet. Will and Sarah waste about five minutes going back and forth being thankful for each other.

 

“I’m thankful for Will!”

 

“I’m thankful for Sarah!”

 

“I’M THANKFUL FOR WILL!”

 

“Alright!” Alistair says, “We get it, you’re as close as the Pesto twins, let’s move on.”

 

Stiles is a little nervous when it’s his turn. He stands, aware of everyone’s eyes on him. Peter is still holding his hand. It’s grounding.

 

“So, this is my first Thanksgiving,” Stiles admits, “And I’m thankful that you allowed me to spend it with you. Thank you for being kind and welcoming me into your home. I guess I’m thankful that Peter saw potential in me, convinced Derek to take me on as an apprentice. And I’m thankful for my father and my mother.”

 

Stiles sits down. Peter pulls him into a quick, sweet kiss before standing.

 

“As usual, I’m thankful for my family, my job, my dashing good looks.”

 

The last comment earns eye rolls and Louise flinging a pea. Peter catches it in his mouth easily.

 

“And I’m thankful for Stiles agreeing to take a chance on this,” Peter continues, looking at Stiles. Stiles feels himself flushing crimson again. “I know it’s early days but I have a good feeling about this.”

 

Vera and Sophia make pleased cooing noises whilst Cora makes a gagging noise. Derek nudges her in the ribs.

 

Peter sits back down, allowing Stiles to pull him into a passionate but audience friendly kiss.

 

“I have a good feeling about this too,” Stiles murmurs, not caring that werewolf hearing will guarantee that most of the table will know what he said. Peter nuzzles his cheek, clearly not caring either.

 

//

 

Stepping back into the fae realm is like sticking a hand into a lukewarm bath and then someone dropping a toaster into the water. Stiles stumbles out the other side, grateful that he manages not to fall over his feet. He pulls his jacket closer around himself. The wind is chilling, whistling between the trees. The fae in charge of the portal zips it shut behind Stiles.

 

“You have two hours,” Xe says, “After that I’m going home and you’ll have to wait till morning.”

 

Stiles nods, heading off through town. Everything is pretty much as it was three months ago, only the season has changed. The autumn smell of cinnamon, wet earth and apple trees.

 

Living with John is great but there’s nothing like the familiar sight of home. Stiles pauses at the gate, taking it all in. Sweet smelling smoke curls out the top of the chimney. Stiles knocks on the front door. He could just go inside but he wants this to be a nice surprise, not the kind of surprise that causes his mother to drop something.

 

“Wildling!” Claudia exclaims when she opens the door. She pulls him into a tight hug. Stiles breathes in the scent of jasmine and moss. It’s comforting.

 

Claudia ushers him inside, into the kitchen. She takes the kettle off the stove, grabbing an extra cup. She pours Stiles a peppermint tea, stirring in a spoonful of honey before handing it over. Stiles hasn’t been drinking peppermint tea that much since he left, enjoying the wonder that is coffee, but the smell brings back memories of lazy Sunday afternoons.

 

“Tell me all about your adventures,” Claudia demands, sitting opposite Stiles. “I want to know everything.”

 

“I haven’t really ventured outside of Beacon Hills,” Stiles admits, “But I’m planning to take a few trips in the New Year with um… Peter, this werewolf I’ve been seeing.”

 

“Werewolf huh? Is he nice?”

 

“He’s great,” Stiles says, putting his cup down on the table. He doesn’t want to talk too much about Peter, worried he’ll start gushing. Claudia smiles.

 

“That’s wonderful,” Claudia says. She looks a little melancholy for a moment but it passes so quickly Stiles thinks he imagined it.

 

“Yeah, it’s been a great three months. I’ve got a job and I’ve made loads of friends.”

 

“Ooh, tell me, tell me.”

 

“Well, it’s called landscape gardening and its kind of what you do…”

 

//

 

Before Stiles leaves he hands over his father’s letters. Claudia gasps when she receives it, quickly hiding it behind a fern. She wipes a tear from the corner of her eye before kissing him on the cheek.

 

“Thank you wildling.”

 

Stiles is going to miss her but he’s done his mandatory three months, he can visit whenever he wants. He asked his mother whether she would want to visit the mortal realm but she doesn’t want to push the elder fae into doing something damaging.

 

“Be safe,” Claudia says, “Visit soon. Maybe next time you can tell me more about this Peter.”

 

“Mother,” Stiles sighs, “Please don’t say his name like that.”

 

Claudia laughs, squeezing his cheek.

 

“It’s a mothers right to tease,” She says. Stiles shakes his head. “I’m happy for you, my little wildflower.”

 

Claudia pulls him into one last hug. Stiles holds on tightly, trying to get her scent to soak into his clothes. It won’t be the same though.

 

He heads back to the portal, the sky fading to a pastel purple as twilight sets in. He’s pleased that he got to see his mother, even if it was only for an hour and a half. He’s walking across the town square when the hairs prickle on the back of his neck. The unsettling notion of being watched washes over him, making his stomach twist.

 

A fae steps out of a shadowy alcoves. They ooze power; it’s so strong that Stiles is suffocating on it. A power that wants to hold him down, crush him beneath their feet. The bitter scent of dried leaves tinges the air. The fae is tall and stoic like a fully-grown oak tree. Skin like weathered bark and spindly fingers. Pupil less eyes watch Stiles as he stops.

 

“Pierwiosnek,” The fae says, voice booming in the quiet of the night.

 

“Murchadh,” Stiles responds. Murchadh tilts their head to one side, considering Stiles with a severe expression. Their eyes are the color of decaying leaves.

 

“We are watching you Pierwiosnek,” Murchadh says, voice neutral.

 

“Creepy,” Stiles says, “And slightly ominous.”

 

Classic elder fae. Stiles isn’t that surprised, he was waiting for one of them to slither out from under a rock, deliver a cryptic threat and then disappear into the night. Dramatic bastards.

 

“Be careful,” Murchadh warns, as if Stiles hadn’t spoken. “It would be unwise to continue of this path. The council would prefer that you adhere to its rules, least you find yourself isolated.”

 

“That wasn’t thinly veiled,” Stiles says, “Like at all.”

 

Murchadh blinks in an reptilian manner. It’s unsettling.

 

“Think on what I have said,” Murchadh says before they descend into the earth, their gaze fixed directly on Stiles as they go. Stiles grimaces, shuddering when the eyes are finally enclosed in the ground.

 

“Well,” Stiles announces to the empty square, “That wasn’t disturbing at all.”

 

Stiles pointedly walks around the spot where Murchadh disappeared, practically jogging back to the portal.

 

The elder fae threatening him is nothing new, he’s heard variations of the same threat for years. It used to scare him as a child but he’s grown used to their bigotry and flair for dramatics. He’s not foolish enough to believe that they won’t follow through. He knows he’s taking risks, pushing the limits of their patience. But he’s tired of having to make sacrifices, tired of seeing how miserable his parents are without each other.

 

He’s going to reunite them. He just needs to figure out a plan.

 

//

 

When Peter suggests they go ice-skating, Stiles laughs so hard he almost topples into the hideous Christmas display that Erica is putting together. It’s an terrifying amalgamation of the holiday spirit with so many twinkling lights, it’s officially a fire hazard.

 

“Come on,” Stiles says, “You’ve seen me on land right? I’m hardly graceful?”

 

“I can always hold your hands,” Peter points out, “Make sure you don’t reenact any scenes from Bambi.”

 

“I’ll spend most of the date kissing the ice,” Stiles says, “I’d rather go somewhere I could kiss you.”

 

Peter smirks, tilting Stiles face towards him in order to guide Stiles into a filthy kiss.

 

“Trust me,” Peter murmurs, “I will make it worth your while.”

 

He licks the seam of Stiles mouth, making a pleased noise when Stiles lips part and he can deepen the kiss. Kissing is Stiles favorite thing to do with Peter, it alights all his nerves and leaves a pleasant tingle afterwards. Even if occasionally, Stiles brain falls out of his head and his legs threaten to give way.

 

“Fine,” Stiles concedes, “But you’re responsible for any injuries I sustain.”

 

“I promise to attend to all your needs,” Peter says silkily, nuzzling Stiles cheek. Stiles rolls his eyes but he’s grinning.

 

//

 

Stiles clings to the side of the rink, trying to keep his legs from slipping away from him. He can’t seem to find any sort of balance. He’s managed to shuffle around the edge to about the middle but now he’s stuck. Ice-skating is not his forte, the lake in the forest would never freeze over due to those who dwelled inside preferring not to be trapped.

 

Peter glides over to him, graceful as ever. Stiles thinks it’s the supernatural in him. Somehow being half human means that preternatural grace has passed over Stiles, leaving him stumbling like a newborn foal.

 

“Take my hands,” Peter says. Stiles reaches tentatively for them, having managed to get his legs to behave and stay stable. Peter’s hands are warm, Stiles can feel it through his gloves. Peter skates backwards, pulling Stiles along slowly.

 

Stiles tries to keep his eyes on Peter but he keeps looking at his own feet. He doesn’t want to fall over, he just knows he’s break his nose or bite his tongue or something equally terrible.

 

“Bend your knees slightly,” Peter instructs, “Look at me.”

 

Stiles looks up. Peter is smiling encouragingly, coaxing Stiles along with gentle words. Stiles starts to feel a little more confident, spurred on by Peter’s belief in him.

 

After an hour, they stop. Stiles is by no means a pro but he’s stopped flailing around and can skate unaided. He prefers not to. Stiles likes it when Peter takes his hand, when they skate side by side.

 

“Did you have fun?” Peter asks, bringing over their order of curly fries to share. Stiles is lounging in the metal seat, watching the skaters from their position on high above the rink. The cafeteria is buzzing with activity, a group of young ice hockey players are getting their orders in so they’ll be ready after practice.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Stiles answers, snagging a fry. He doesn’t understand why he like the curly ones so much. Maybe it’s the shape that makes them taste better than regular straight fries.

 

“I’m glad,” Peter says, “And no horrendous injuries like you imagined.”

 

“Disappointed that you won’t have the opportunity to play nurse,” Stiles teases. Peter’s lip curls into a smirk, the one Stiles has come to understand means that Peter is thinking inappropriate thoughts about Stiles.

 

“I’m sure we’ll find a way for me to show you my bedside manner,” Peter murmurs, hand sliding up Stiles thigh as he leans over to kiss Stiles cheek. The hand stops at the top of Stiles thigh, squeezes gently and then is retracted.

 

“You’re terrible,” Stiles mutters. Peter just pops a curly fry into his mouth smugly.

 

//

 

 

“Hold still,” Erica reprimands, her silver nails digging into Stiles shoulder. He tries to wiggle free but Erica has an exceptionally strong grip. She moves her hand from his shoulder to his chin, holding his face perfectly still. The mascara wand looms closer, Stiles is held captive by Erica’s nails and now powerless to stop her.

 

“There, all done,” Erica, says, pinching Stiles cheek. “Try not to blink for a few seconds so it can dry.”

 

Stiles frowns because now all he wants to do is blink. Erica is running her hand over her lipsticks, pulling a few out to compare. Stiles has no problem with makeup, he just prefers to do it himself. Erica makes putting on mascara seem like she’s going to carve his eyeballs out. It’s terrifying.

 

“I can’t believe all you own is flannel,” Erica mutters, having moved onto critiquing his wardrobe. She shifts through the shirts, shaking her head.

 

“I like flannel,” Stiles mumbles.

 

“Flannel is not club appropriate,” Erica says. She picks up an iron grey V-neck with a smirk. “Peter’s I presume?”

 

Stiles snatches it from her, chucking it on the bed. Peter left it here a few days ago; it still smells of his cologne. Erica is still rooting around in his closet. She hands him a plain white t-shirt and grey jeans, motioning for him to change.

 

“Hurry up,” Erica says, “I want to put glitter under your eyes before we leave.”

 

Stiles rolls his eyes, shutting the bathroom door with a firm snap.

 

//

 

Clubbing is loud. The music is an intense, pulsing beat that vibrates through Stiles skin into his very bones. His mouth tastes like sweet liquor; it was the color of galaxies and the sweetness burst on his tongue like confetti. Stiles skin is warm, a pleasant warmth though. He raises his hands above his head, twirling around.

 

Erica shimmies closer, planting a kiss on Stiles cheek. He takes her hand, spins her round. Stiles likes dancing. It’s a freedom for him to move. To be uninhibited. He’s used to being clumsy, no natural grace to speak of but when he’s dancing. When he’s dancing that doesn’t matter. He just needs to move his body to the beat, close his eyes, throw his hands in the air and just enjoy the sensation.

 

Erica yells something in his ear about getting another drink, disappearing into the crowd. Stiles tilts his head back, grinning when the glitter cannons boom.

 

He senses her before he sees her. It’s like a star exploding, hot and fast. Stiles eyes blink open. Dark hair, the color of thunder clouds in a winter storm. Electricity is woven into the curls; Stiles can feel it crackle and spark. She beckons him and he goes to her.

 

“You’re fae,” Stiles shouts. She nods. Then she shrugs, making a so-so gesture with her hand.

 

“I’m half-fae,” She yells, “Just like you.”

 

“What?”

 

She frowns then repeats herself. Half-fae. Logically Stiles knew he wasn’t the only half-fae in existence but still, it’s strange to meet one.

 

“Let’s go somewhere a bit quieter,” She suggests, leading Stiles away from the dance floor, “I’m Kira by the way.”

 

“Stiles.”

 

They sit across from each other in a red leather booth. It’s a little quieter here, the music still a pulsing beat but shouting is not necessary to be heard.

 

“I’ve never met another half-fae before,” Stiles confesses.

 

“Really?” Kira replies, “There are a couple in our community.”

 

Stiles mouth falls open.

 

“You’re kidding?”

 

Kira laughs, stopping when she catches Stiles expression.

 

“No, why would I be kidding?”

 

“It’s not forbidden or looked down upon,” Stiles says.

 

“No, why would it be?” Kira asks, genuinely puzzled. Stiles feels like there’s a disconnection between the words reaching his ears and his brain processing them. This is impossible.

 

“It’s allowed?” Stiles murmurs. It sounds foreign to his ears, a concept far beyond the edges of his reality. To think that there is a fae communities that don’t care about your heritage, that don’t see having a human parent as a weakness or horrendous disease. It’s a strange thought but simultaneously a liberating one.

 

“Does your community forbid it?” Kira enquires, voice apprehensive.

 

“My mother and father are forbidden from seeing each other,” Stiles says, “I was hated by my entire community all my life, the elder fae threaten me with banishment practically all the time. And you’re saying that there is a community here that doesn’t care.”

 

“They can’t banish you from the fae realm,” Kira says. She sounds angry, a vicious anger on Stiles behalf. “It can be accessed anywhere, not only is that a lie but that’s an awful thing to threaten a fae with.”

 

She pauses, biting her lip. A decision is hiding in the furrow of her brow.

 

“I can’t let you stay with racist fae, you have to meet my elders,” Kira announces, reaching over the table to take Stiles hand, “You have to join our community, your parents as well. You’d be welcomed there, allowed to interact with both realms and not punished for being yourself.”

 

“I have a werewolf boyfriend,” Stiles blurts. For some reason he fears that this will be something even these tolerant fae can’t abide. Kira laughs again, like lightening splitting the sky in two.

 

“My girlfriend is a witch,” She says, “Who you fall in love with is really not an issue.”

 

A hopeful grin unfolds on Stiles lips and the weight of twenty-one years of fear rolls off his back.

 

//

Anxiety is burrowing in Stiles chest. He takes a shuddering breath through his nose, lets it sigh out of his mouth. It doesn’t calm the broken glass feeling in his chest but it does lessen its sting. He wants to make a good impression. He wants to belong to this community, this tolerant fae community that do not hate that which they do not understand. That interact with the human realm happily and without judgment.

 

Stiles is sitting in Kira’s living room. The couch is comfortable, creamy white with a handmade quilt thrown over the back, but Stiles is too nervous to sit. He stands up, moves around the wooden coffee table to the bookcases. The wood has been painted white. Stiles traces the edge of one of the shelves with his index finger. The books are mostly about cooking, their spines cracked and some smell faintly of home cooked meals.

 

“Are you ready?”

 

Stiles jumps. He spins on his heel. Kira is waiting in the doorway. She’s not wearing a glamour this time and Stiles can see how brightly she glows. She smiles reassuringly, offers her hand. Stiles takes it, hoping his palms aren’t too sweaty.

 

Kira leads him into the garden. Unlike most of Beacon Hills, this garden is untamed. There is no order, plants grow where they please. Though it may be January and most of the foliage is dead, Stiles can sense how the garden looks in full bloom. A wild, chaotic thing. Stiles feels it is befitting of the occupants.

 

In the corner of the garden is a stone pond. Though there is no wind, the water ripples and pulsates. It takes Stiles a few seconds to realize it is a portal. He doesn’t let go of Kira’s hand as she climbs up onto the edge. She tugs his hand, encouraging him to climb up beside her.

 

“It will be ok,” Kira, says, “They’ll love you, I promise.”

 

Stiles nods, refraining from saying anything.

 

“Now,” Kira continues, “All we have to do is jump.”

 

So that’s what they do.

 

//

 

It’s a brief moment of falling but it feels like an eternity. Stiles is tumbling without a parachute, with only the warmth of Kira’s hand to remind him that he’s safe.

 

They land on the other side, somersault onto the ground, hands still holding on tight. Stiles blinks, the late afternoon sun hitting his eyes. This part of the fae realm is strange, unlike anything Stiles has ever known. They’re standing beside a white marble pond, at the end of a street of pastel houses. Palm trees sway in a breeze that smells like candyfloss.

 

“Come on,” Kira says, tugging Stiles along. Stiles follows, head turning to take it all in.

 

Fae are everywhere, all kinds and creeds, living harmoniously. Fae that Stiles never knew existed. A fae parent passes them, their child giggling upon their shoulders. The adult’s hair is like electrical wires, sparking and humming. One of their legs is bronzed metal; the low hanging sun makes it shimmer. The child has skin the color of the pavement after a rainstorm; their hair falls in sharp curls like copper wiring.

 

On the porch of a lime green beach house, a fae with wings like a raven combs the opalescent hair of a fae who looks like their skin is made of polished diamond. Xe watches Stiles with glistening koroit eyes. Xe smiles and waves. Stiles raises a timid hand.

 

Once they reach the end of the street, the road opens out into an intersection. Kira directs them towards the building on the opposite side, the one that looks similar to a 1940’s town hall.

 

Inside is cool and quiet, like walking inside an ancient cathedral. Stiles swallows noiselessly. Their steps echo in the entryway, less so in the corridor that Kira leads him down. At the end of the corridor is a carved oak door. The central carving is a tree; its roots expanding outwards towards the bottom. Kira knocks on the trunk. The sound is clear and sharp.

 

“Enter.”

 

Kira pushes the door open. The room beyond is of a medium size, containing only a round table with high-backed chairs in the center. On the side furthest from the door, sit three very ancient, very powerful fae. The power rolls over Stiles but instead of forcing him to submit, it feels calming, like being in the presence of something wise and just.

 

The fae in the middle has wings made of silver clockwork, skin the color of spilt oil and eyes that are entirely copper. They regard Stiles with a tilted head, thin fingers laced together beneath their chin.

 

The one to the left looks like a high society woman from an old movie, exquisite gold silk gown and perfectly coiffed hair. Her almond eyes are the same color as her blackberry lipstick. She grins; teeth needle sharp, and raises a hand in greeting. Her nails are rounded off, French manicure with a small crystal on each thumb.

 

The one to the right has great curling white horns like a ram, protruding from straight black hair. Her facial features are akin to a deer, soft and delicate. Skin fawn brown with dappled white spots on her cheeks. She smiles reassuringly at Stiles.

 

“Please, be seated,” The fae in the middle, says, voice like the chime of a grandfather clock. Stiles notes how their eyes do not blink as he takes a seat.

 

“You may leave us Kira.”

 

The door clicks softly as Kira takes her leave. Stiles is on his own now. He makes sure that he’s sitting up straight, tries not to be nervous.

 

“My name is Deaton, to my left is Satomi, to my right Marin.”

 

“Stiles, although my given name is Pierwiosnek,” Stiles says. He feels the need to be completely truthful here. To lie would be insulting to these elders.

 

“Stiles,” Satomi muses, rolling the name around her mouth as if it is a particularly dry martini. She seems to like the taste.

 

“Stiles,” Deaton says, drawing Stiles attention back to them, “Let us discuss your application to join our community.”

 

//

 

Stiles gently places the orchid into the open duffle bag, still marveling at how magic has made it infinite. All of his mother’s plants will fit into here, nothing will be left behind. Claudia is beside the weeping fig, fretting about whether it will survive the trip.

 

“Mother,” Stiles says, “We need to go now.”

 

“I know Wildling,” Claudia replies, walking around the weeping fig. She bites her lip, stroking a few leaves. Stiles doesn’t want to yell at his mother, knows how important these plants are to her but they need to go. They have a limited window of opportunity to sneak out, get to the portal and leave this life behind them.

 

Kira comes clattering down the stairs. She skids into the conservatory, her arms full of clothes.

 

“This is the last of everything upstairs,” She says, dumping the clothes on the ground.

 

She bends down, begins to fold the clothes neatly and stack them in small piles. Stiles opens his mouth to say that they really don’t have time for neatness but there’s a knock at the front door. Claudia turns to him, eyes wide.

 

“Go see who it is,” Stiles whispers, “I’ll get the weeping fig into the bag.”

 

Claudia nods, hurrying away. Kira stops folding, just grabs the clothes and drops them into the bag. They both ignore the low buzz of voices from the other room.

 

“Give me a hand with this,” Stiles mouths, gesturing at the tree. Kira flings an ash grey skirt into the bag, nearly tripping over her own feet in her haste. She grabs one side of the terracotta pot, Stiles grabs the other. On the whispered count of three, they lift it, staggering over to the bag. It disappears, Kira nearly falling in after it.

 

Stiles zips the bag shut, ears straining to hear what’s going on at the door. Claudia laughs in a way that would be more at home on a bad TV sitcom. The front door closes with a soft click. Claudia sighs. Kira and Stiles share a concerned look as Claudia walks back in.

 

“Just a neighbor,” Claudia reassures, “Hoping I’d have time to look at her primroses tomorrow.”

 

“The sooner we leave the better,” Stiles mutters.

 

//

 

They just need to get to the other side of town. Kira knows how to open a portal but they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Better to head for the forest, go deep within the trees and open one there. The night air is crisp and cool. Soft, grey clouds hide the moon, both a blessing and a curse. A blessing as it means they can sneak through the town unseen, no more than shadows on the brick walls. A curse, as the less gracefully inclined keep tripping over. Stiles bites his lip and digs his nails into the palm of his hand to avoid shouting when he stubs his toe on a loose cobblestone.

 

Claudia, who’s in the lead, throws her arm out, bringing them all to a stop.

 

“What?” Stiles whispers.

 

“We’re not alone,” Claudia says. Her voice is low, static like the air before a big storm. She readjusts the strap of the duffle bag before taking a defiant step forward, out of the shadows.

 

“Well,” Claudia says, loudly and pointedly, “No point in hiding anymore Elders. I know you’re there.”

 

Murchadh melts out of the darkness; their other council members close behind him. Eljin to the right, translucent azure skin shimmering under the light of the moon as it comes into view overhead. He smiles at Stiles, a sharp-toothed grin, liquid midnight eyes unblinking. Bás to the left; she appears to shift in and out of focus, face and body hidden beneath a cloak made of black smoke, a low hum of insects issuing from the folds.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Eljin hisses. His voice is like steam whistling through a copper pipe.

 

“Moonlit stroll,” Stiles responds. He doesn’t like the way Murchadh is staring at Kira, barely concealed rage twinkling in their eyes.  Eljin chuckles. It’s distrubing given that his face doesn’t move, just the sound of laughter slipping from the slit that is his mouth.

“Always were a little liar,” Eljin says, “Such a human trait.”

 

“And you guys were always bigoted and creepy,” Stiles replies, “Nice to know we’re both consistent.”

 

“You were warned Pierwiosnek,” Murchadh growls, “Your kind, always troublesome, always defiant.”

 

“Are you banning me from the realm?” Stiles asks sarcastically. Murchadh looks ready to burst from rage, they curl and uncurl their hands repeatedly, looking as if they would very much like to strangle Stiles.

“I cannot remove you from the realm entirely, as you have evidently found out” Murchadh replies through gritted teeth, glaring at Kira. “But I can forbid you from returning here.”

“Fine,” Stiles says, “We’ll be on our way then.”

“Your mother stays,” Eljin rasps. He tilts his head to one side, mouth stretching to unnatural proportions.

 

“Have you ever looked in a mirror when you do that?” Stiles asks, “Because frankly it’s super disturbing.” Eljin persists with the terrible facsmilie of a smile and repeats.

 

“Your mother stays.” 

“Why?” Claudia demands, “What exactly do you gain from this misery?”

“It’s not much of a punishment if you go along with him,” Eljin points out. Stiles fingers curls up into a fist. He’s tired of this, tired of their bigortry and hatred and their desire to make him miserable. He feels Kira’s hand grab his, she moves behind him like she’s hiding from Murchadh’s glare.

“When I give the signal,” She whispers, voice barely audible, “Run.” Stiles squeezes Kira’s hand. The air begins to taste like ozone, the hairs on the back of Stiles neck stand on end.

 

“Look,” Stiles says, stepping forward in front of his mother and Kira, “We get it, you need to make an example or whatever. But have you considered just letting us go? I mean yes, you’re old as fuck and infinitely more powerful and the underdogs usually only win in movies but have you guys ever just stopped to consider that your bigotry is unfounded. That maybe, we could all have just gotten along. I mean hypothetically, deep down; way deep, deep down, you know that giving up this charade is really the best thing. Deep down, you’re actually nice people.”

 

“No,” Murchadh replies icily.

 

“Yeah, fair enough,” Stiles says, “Worth a shot, Kira I’ve run out of things to say.”

 

“NOW!” Kira shouts.

 

Lightening strikes the ground in front of the elders. They fall back, shielding themselves from the debris. Eljin shrieks, clambering on top of a nearby wall to escape.

 

Stiles grabs his mother’s hand and they run. Kira is just behind them, more lightening crackling between her fingers. She fires off another blast. Stiles doesn’t stop to watch where it lands, only hears the explosive thud of contact and Eljin shrieking once again.

 

The forest is a few feet ahead of them, trees looming towards them almost as if beckoning them to run faster. The sheer height of the trees means the canopy is blocking out the moonlight, they are running blind in the dark. Stiles tries to keep his flailing limbs under control, doesn’t want to trip and fall. Claudia forges ahead; a simple flick of her wrist clears the path.

 

The deeper they get, the harder it will be to find them. They just need to get deep enough to open a portal and they’ll be free. Stiles lungs are burning. He can hear Kira’s panting in his ears as well as the thud of his heart.

 

Stiles falls.

 

Kira and Claudia skid to a stop.

 

Murchadh is rising out of the ground, their hand is wrapped around Stiles’ ankle and they’re dragging him towards them. Kira runs forward. She grabs hold of Stiles hand, tries to drag him back. Murchadh is strong, their spindly fingers digging into Stiles ankle, tiny splinters burrowing into the skin. Stiles kicks back with his other foot, spraying dirt into Murchadhs’ face.

 

“Leave my son alone,” Claudia snarls. Tree roots extend towards Murchadh, slithering over their body, around their neck and arms. The roots cut deep, tugging Murchadh backwards. They reach for their throat, trying desperately to stop the roots restricting their air supply. Stiles scrambles to his feet.

 

“Lets go,” Stiles says.

 

//

 

“Are we deep enough yet?” Kira asks.

 

Stiles looks around. The trees are so tall, it’s hard to tell where they end. A deer the size of a range rover passed by them a few moments ago. They had to jump to the side to avoid being crushed beneath its hooves. A sliver of sunlight peeking through the darkness tells him that it’s daytime now. They’ve been running for what feels like hours.

 

“I’d say so,” Stiles says.

 

Kira closes her eyes and begins making complicated movements with her hands. It’s almost like a dance, her hands coming together and parting in strange, abstract forms.

 

A strange silence falls around them. It’s an oppressive silence, like someone has pressed mute on the entire forest. Then, the soft swish of a clock. The low buzz of insects.

 

“Kira,” Claudia says, her hands outstretched over the Earth in a combative stance, “If you could hurry up please.”

 

Bás emerges from the dark, cloak trailing behind her. A ghostly pale hand emerges from the folds, shell pink fingernails a contrast to the smoke and insects. She clicks her fingers.

 

A portal opens.

 

“Be gone,” Bás says. She disappears back into the darkness.

 

Claudia’s mouth falls open. She gapes at where Bás disappeared, turning her head to look at Stiles.

 

“I’m not entirely sure that thing’s not going to rip us apart,” Stiles says, gesturing to the swirling lemon colored portal. “Or if we’ll end up where we want to be.”

 

The ground around them shakes violently like a hulking mass is pulling itself from the earth. Somewhere, not too far away, there is an anguished, wrathful roar. Something is crashing through the trees towards them, gathering speed.

 

Murchadh, ten feet taller and their eyes blazing with a righteous anger, claw their way through the trees. They are a vast, bulging mass, skin stretched tight over pulsing limbs.

 

“We’re out of time,” Claudia says. She grabs Stiles arm with one hand, the back of Kira’s blouse with the other and yanks them towards the portal.

 

“This could be so...” Kira begins. She never finishes as Claudia jumps, pulling all three of them into the portal.

 

A hand reaches out, Stiles feels it just miss the back of his shirt.

 

Then they’re falling.

 

Falling through the portal is like being a grain of sand slipping through the tiny gap between the separate parts of an hour glass. Murchadhs’ furious screams follow them through, rattling around the portal and making Stiles want to stuff his fingers in his ears.

 

The trip is brief. They tumble out the other side, landing on the cold ground. This forest is different to the one they just left. The trees could be seen as a normal height; the moon, fat and round, shines down upon them. Stiles sits up, running a hand through his hair to dislodge the dirt.

 

“Well,” Stiles says, “That was awful, lets never do that again.”

 

Kira nods, wiping dirt from her face.

 

Stiles gets to his feet, walking over to where his mother has landed to help her up. Claudia takes his hand, smiling softly.

 

“Er... Stiles,” Kira says nervously.

 

Stiles turns around, anxiety flooding his stomach, prepared for the next attack. He is not prepared for the entire Hale family, mostly shifted, to be staring at him. Their expressions range from full-on shock (Derek) to glee (Louise) to mild amusement (Cora).

 

“Hello,” Stiles says awkwardly. He suddenly feels very self conscious of his body, especially his ears, which are not glamoured and burning luminous green.

 

Peter steps forward, electric blue eye pinning Stiles to the spot. He very much wants to crawl under a nearby boulder.

 

“Oooh, is this Peter?” Claudia asks, “He’s very handsome.”

 

“Mother!” Stiles squawks but Claudia bustles forward, hell bent on introducing herself.Stiles watches her walk off with a bemused Peter in tow. Her bag gets handed off to Alistair and the Hale family just trail after her, listening to her chatter away.

 

“What just happened?” Stiles asks. Kira loops her arm through his, gets him to start walking after the pack and his mother.

 

“Let’s hope she didn’t pack the baby photos,” Kira says, patting Stiles arm reassuringly.

 

//

 

Stiles watches his parents reunite from the kitchen doorway, heart caught in his throat. The moment is beautiful, touching in a way he can’t quite describe. Claudia holds Johns’ face in her hands, tears pricking her eyes.

 

Stiles slips away quietly, lets them have this moment without an audience. Peter is waiting for him on the front porch steps. Stiles flops downs beside him, leaning back on his hands, legs spread haphazardly.

 

“So,” Peter says, turning his body so that he’s facing Stiles, “You’re half-fae?”

 

“Yeah,” Stiles says, “This wasn’t the way I was planning to tell you. Honestly I was kinda hoping you’d wolf out in front of me first and then I could casually mention it after you had explained.”

 

Peter smiles, dipping his head slightly.

 

“If you remember, I did that at Halloween,” Peter says.

 

“We weren’t dating then,” Stiles points out, “And you know, telling someone you technically come from a magical realm that interweaves with this one isn’t really first date conversation.”

 

Peter reaches over, pulls Stiles under his arm and tugs him in close. He kisses Stiles temple.

 

“I suppose not,” Peter agrees, “And it would have been rude to point out your otherness over dinner.”

 

“Otherness?”

 

“You don’t smell human,” Peter clarifies. Stiles bobs his head in a way that means that he understands what Peter’s saying.

 

“What do I smell like?” Stiles asks, genuinely curious.

 

“Spring,” Peter, says, thumb stroking small circles on Stiles arm, “There is a freshness to your scent like the first day of spring. A fevered sweetness too.”

 

Peter tilts Stiles head towards him, pulls Stiles into a passionate kiss. It’s claiming and yet gentle and yielding.

 

“I prefer the way you smell after we kiss, happy and sated and mildly aroused,” Peter murmurs against Stiles lips.

 

“I think I’d prefer it too,” Stiles says, leaning forward for another searing kiss.

 

//

 

“Now have you got everything?” Peter asks. Stiles rolls his eyes.

 

“For the millionth time, yes,” Stiles replies, chucking his bag into the trunk of Peter’s car, “Honestly, you’re worse than my mother.”

 

Peter laughs, pulling Stiles close for a quick kiss.

 

“I just don’t want to arrive in Prague and have you panicking because you forgot something.”

 

“Whatever,” Stiles replies, closing the trunk.

 

Claudia and John are waiting on the porch for them. It’s been six months since they joined Kira’s community and it’s been good for both of them. Everyone has been welcoming, excited to show them a fae community that isn’t blinded by prejudice. Stiles loves the mortal world, but even he can admit, sometimes it’s nice to be in the fae realm, amongst other fae who are actually pleased to see him. Peter likened it to having a pack and Stiles thinks it’s an apt description. Claudia has been allowed to rekindle her relationship with John, which Stiles is pleased about but needless to say, he’s glad that he’ll be moving in with Peter after they get back from Europe.

 

“Have a wonderful time wildling,” Claudia says. She pulls Stiles into a tight hug.

 

“Don’t forget to send us postcards,” John says, once Claudia has let Stiles go.

 

“We will,” Peter, says, “Now, we’d better go so we’ll catch our flight.”

 

Final hugs and then they’re off. Stiles watches Beacon Hills slip by, soon they’ll be on the highway.

 

“Excited?” Peter asks, flicking the indicator.

 

Stiles grins.

 

“More than you can possibly imagine.”