Stiles opened the door to have a bare-chested Peter practically fall on him. “Whoa! Personal space,” he yelped as he shoved Peter away. Peter tumbled to the ground, grunting as he landed on his elbows. That’s when Stiles noticed his back. Long, angry welts stood out against his pale skin. “Oh shit. What happened?”
“Most recently?” Peter asked dryly. “A barely legal human with a fraction of my strength or common sense pushed me to the floor.”
“Shit. Sorry.” Stiles knelt down next to Peter and got a hand under his arm. “Come on.” Stiles urged him to get onto his feet. “How can I help?”
“I need to rinse the poison off and apply an ointment, but given that it is on my back, I am limited in my ability to treat myself.”
“Rinse and ointment. I can handle that. That’s doable. What happened? Do we have another big bad on the horizon?” Stiles helped Peter up the stairs as he wondered if he should change his flight. He had a week before he was supposed to head back to Virginia for university. If there was a new evil in town, they needed to get with the banishing because Stiles didn’t want to develop a reputation for flakiness.
It was one thing for his high school teachers to rightly assume he didn’t pay attention in class, but Stiles had his sights set on the FBI. He had an interesting reputation already. On the one hand, he had waded in, saving a potential suspect who turned out to be the victim of a series of violent crimes—one Derek Hale. On the other hand, he had waded into an armed situation and had gotten shot in the foot when he was supposed to be staying at the van to observe. He needed to balance that out with years of boring, reliable college records. And if they had another rogue Druid or alpha pack on the hunt, it was going to be hard for him to be boring and reliable in Virginia.
“It turns out that someone who didn’t like Derek or the mighty true alpha decided to take it out on my back,” Peter said, his gritted teeth a testament to his pain. Considering that his skin appeared to be disintegrating in stripes, pain was reasonable. So very reasonable.
“Let’s get you in the shower.” Stiles walked sideways as he supported Peter’s weight through the bathroom door.
“My shoes,” Peter said. “They are alligator and I refuse to have them ruined.”
Stiles snorted. “Of course you do. Geez. They’re shoes. I’m more worried about your back.”
“My back will heal, I assure you. Thousand dollar alligator shoes do not.” Peter braced himself on the vanity and tried to bend over, but he only managed a sickening whine.
“I got it. I got it.” Stiles knelt down for the precious shoes. “They’re alligator. Shouldn’t they be fine getting wet?”
“Not since the skin was removed from the actual alligator.” Peter lifted each foot so Stiles could get the shoes off.
Stiles hesitated before he offered, “Do you want to take off your pants?” As much as he didn’t want to see naked Peter bits, the man was injured, and Stiles didn’t know how far the injuries went.
“I think I would rather avoid the poison running onto that skin. Having my back skinned is quite different than having other parts similarly damaged.”
Peter could sound so proper when discussing having his penis potentially skinned with poisonous chemicals. It was a talent—one that Stiles never wanted to develop since being burned alive twice probably had something to do with his lack of flappability. “So, is this something that could strip my skin?” Stiles asked as Peter stepped into the bathtub.
“No, it’s specific to various species of weres. I am sorry we did not have a store of it after dear Kate became a werejaguar. I would have enjoyed watching her skin disintegrate.”
“I would worry about your sadism showing, but since Kate locked you in a burning building, I would probably call that karma.”
“At least I survived,” Peter said softly.
He generally didn’t talk about his family, so Stiles wasn’t sure what to say about that. Normally he filled this sort of awkward silence with words. Wrong words, true, but words. But somehow that felt disrespectful of Talia Hale and all the others who died in the fire Kate had set. So he focused on getting the shower head set on the most gentle setting before diverting the water. It didn’t help much. Long strips of Peter’s back still came free, sliding off like silly slime. Stiles gagged, but he kept a hand under Peter’s arm.
“I should call Deaton. What sort of ointment would help?”
Peter even managed to make a snort sound elegant. He might be a murdering, sadistic bastard, but he did it with a certain panache. “What makes you believe Deaton is in town right now? He is absent as much as he is present these days.”
“True, but we need help with this. Should I call Derek?” Stiles bit his lip. He hated how Derek and Scott acted around Peter. True, Peter was a bastard who had killed innocent people, but the pack had killed him back, and ever since he had returned from the dead, he had been fifty percent less evil. And while Stiles was perfectly happy distrusting Peter or making fun of him or even giving Peter the sucky jobs like playing bait, he wasn’t okay with doing all that and then slamming the door in Peter’s face when he came over to Derek place. And he didn’t understand how Scott could forgive Deucalion who had killed far more people with far less reason and then condemn Peter. It all felt so hypocritical, and Stiles had never done well with hypocrites. So generally, he avoided being in the same space with Peter and the other two. Once again, Peter answered with an elegant snort. He was talented that way. When Stiles snorted, he sounded like a dork and had once—in an infamous incident that he refused to mention ever again—had blown snot all over his shirt.
“I have ointment in my car,” Peter said. “As I said, I simply couldn’t effectively treat my back.”
“Okay, will you be okay if I run out and grab it?” Stiles asked.
Peter waved him away, his other hand braced on the tiles. Stiles took off, but he wasn’t more than a half dozen feet before he raced back to the bathroom and stuck his head in. “Where exactly in your car did you leave it?”
Peter gave Stiles such a withering look that it was clear that he questioned Stiles’ intelligence. That was totally unfair. Stiles was brilliant, he just had a little trouble focusing on details. And he was getting better. In the past, he wouldn’t have realized he didn’t know where to look until he was down at the car.
“On the passenger side seat,” Peter said. “And Stiles?”
“Please don’t tell the others I am here or that I am injured.”
It was the ‘please’ that got to Stiles. Peter didn’t use that word. Ever. It made Stiles feel guilty for having a stray thought about calling Scott. “Of course not,” Stiles said with a bright smile before he darted downstairs. He didn’t actually blame Peter for not wanting the others around. Derek hunched his shoulders every time Peter spoke, and the rest of the pack would flinch, so Stiles could image what sort of scents Derek was putting out. Or maybe the pack was getting something through the pack bonds. Malia has said she could feel the aggravation and anger when Derek was in the same room with Peter.
No wonder, really. Stiles got it. If Peter had killed Stiles’ sister, Stiles would have trouble forgiving him. Lucky for Peter, Stiles didn’t have a sister, and since he’d helped kill Peter, Stiles didn’t feel the same anger as Derek. And Scott had been way worse since Derek had returned. Honestly, Stiles wasn’t sure why Derek had even bothered coming back if he was just going to make everything more awkward.
Ever since Derek had gotten back, Scott was always “Shut up, Peter” about this and “Go away, Peter” about that. The man ended up sitting on the steps behind the rest of the pack, unable to even voice an opinion without someone telling him to shut up. Stiles could not imagine the torture of being forced to remain silent while everyone else had opinions.
Peter sat with his chin resting on his fist as he watched as though amused at the pack’s flailing through the problem of the week. Sometimes Stiles got the impression that Peter knew a lot more than he was saying, but Scott did not want to hear that. Stiles opened the passenger side door of Peter's fancy car and found a leather satchel with a bunch of vials and tins and a bottle of bourbon. Since he wasn't sure which of the various medicines Peter needed, he just grabbed the entire satchel and headed for the house as fast as he could. Even werewolf healing was no match against getting skinned alive, so Stiles needed to get him the medicine as fast as possible.
Stiles had expected to find Peter still in the bathroom, but Peter had made his way into Stiles’ bedroom and sat on the bed with his shoulders hunched and his head hanging. The bloody tatters of his back were on full display now and the wound wept a yellowish fluid that made Stiles want to barf all over the floor. However, since Peter was already contributing to the unpleasant bodily fluids in the room, Stiles decided to forgo that pleasure.
“Which of these do you need?” Stiles opened the satchel right in front of Peter. Peter took a second before he raised his head enough to look in the satchel.
“Put some towels down behind me to soak up the mess and pour the bourbon over my back.”
Stiles stared at the bloody, weeping mess. “I don't think that's a great idea.”
“It is a perfectly horrendous idea,” Peter agreed in a near-amused voice. “However, the alcohol is necessary to neutralize the poison.”
Maybe it made Stiles an asshole, but he looked at his Star Wars bedspread and his sheets. “This might be better in the bathroom.” He reached for Peter’s arm.
“If I were in any way capable of supporting my own weight, I would agree. However, moving is not an option right now, and if you attempt to move me, I fear I may lose control.”
Stiles froze. An out-of-control Peter was very high on Stiles his list of creatures to avoid. They'd already gone through an entire year of what an out-of-control feral Peter could do, and that had included murder. A little booze smell in his bed was not nearly as horrifying as a feral Peter. Stiles went and grabbed a couple of garbage bags to protect his mattress and a bunch of towels to put on top. By the time he got back, Peter was a picture of misery. He had his elbows braced on his knees and his head hung low. “We should tell Scott there's someone doing this in his territory,” Stiles whispered. Maybe Peter was the murderous, creepy uncle in their dysfunctional family, but he was family.
Peter huffed. “I imagine Scott already knows that people hate him, and this is someone who is clearly unwilling to take action against either Scott or the more significant members of his pack. I rather think the danger is only to my designer shirts.”
“Seriously, you are creeping me out. Can you please care more about your skin than your shirts?” Stiles inched closer, forcing himself to look at the damage.
“As I already explained, my back will heal. My shirt will not.”
Sometimes Stiles wondered if Peter had ever truly recovered from his bout of insanity. Wolfsbane in the brain did not lead to logical decision, and maybe Peter wasn’t a murdering avenging angel anymore, but this didn’t seem logical. “This is going to hurt,” he warned.
“Far more than you can imagine, since a human would pass out from pain long before my werewolf constitution will allow me to. If I do manage to pass out, please refrain from moving me. I would feel devastated if Scott chose to hunt me down because I accidentally turned his friend.” Peter lifted his head enough to give Stiles a creepy smile.
“I can't say I’d be happy about getting turned, either.” Stiles wondered whether Peter was as selfish if he sounded or if this was his weird way of teasing.
Peter considered him like Stiles was a piece of art. “I've always told you you'd make a beautiful wolf.”
“You're not really doing a good job of convincing me to help.”
“And yet, you will help,” Peter said with confidence. “That is why I've always liked you and wanted you in the pack. You have loyalty that far outstrips your common sense, and that is an admirable trait in a wolf. One I personally do not possess, but I can still admire it.”
“Now you're just trying to butter me up so I’ll torture you by pouring alcohol and open wounds.”
Peter gave a strangled laugh but fell silent. Wincing, Stiles poured the alcohol over the weeping wounds. The liquid turned pink with Peter's blood and Peter hissed as his fingers grew long claws, but he controlled himself. “Is that enough?” Stiles asked once he had touched every bit of bleeding back.
“Is it still weeping yellow?”
“Most of it isn’t.”
“Any place where you see weeping, poor alcohol until the weeping stops.”
“This is seriously gross,” Stiles muttered, but he tipped the alcohol bottle up again. Peter reached out and grabbed Stiles’ leg. Stiles heart pounded in his chest, and he would've run away, only Peter's tight grip held him in place. After a heart-stopping second, he realized that Peter was just holding onto him like a teddy bear. It was almost endearing if one could ignore the vicious claws that were dangerously close to both his femoral artery and other pieces of equipment that he was very fond of. “I'm almost done here.”
“Thank the gods.”
“Are you going to tell me what attacked you?” Stiles set the bourbon to one side and picked the satchel up—and the whole time, Peter held onto his leg firmly.
“As I said, a creature that has a rather distinct dislike for the one-true-failure.”
“Don't call him that,” Stiles snapped. Maybe Scott was an asshole around Peter, but he was Stiles’ best friend. Even before the werewolf stuff, it had been the two of them against the world. Stiles, the spastic ADHD loser and Scott the asthmatic dork. Even Scott’s powers as a true alpha couldn’t change their bonds of friendship.
“What? Am I forbidden from pointing out the truth?” Peter huffed. “I created Scott to be a beta for me, to help me regain my sanity when parts of my brain were still infused with wolfsbane and I struggled to even recognize reality from the nightmares that it haunted me for six years. After your possession by the Nogistune, I imagine you understand something of the madness that follows when you are no longer able to discern reality from the nightmares that shred your psyche.”
Stiles swallowed. This is not a topic he wanted to discuss, but he did understand. The others thought Stiles could somehow walk it off, but what the Nogistune had done with his mind and his body would haunt him for the rest of his life. Stiles suspected that he had accepted the offer to go to university in Virginia largely because he needed to get away from California. He needed to get away from anything that reminded him of that darkness and madness and fear. The fact that the program in Virginia was known to feed straight into the FBI was a simple bonus.
Even though Stiles had not said anything, Peter nodded slowly. “I knew you would understand. And since Scott was created to help rein in my madness and help me find myself and the stability of pack bonds, you can hardly blame me for describing him as a failure.”
“He's a true alpha. He created his own spark.”
“Humans are inherently magical. Most humans do contain a spark, perhaps not one strong enough to ignite or balance the wolf to create an alpha, but the potential is there in most humans. It is only the belief and the knowledge which is lacking. You yourself have a spark that was at one point brighter than Scott's.”
“At one point?”
Peter didn't say anything, but Stiles knew. The Nogitsune had destroyed so much of him. It had smothered him, and in a way, Stiles still felt smothered, as if a blanket had been thrown over his true nature.
“What do I do now?” Stiles would rather focus on the more pleasant subject of Peter’s skinned back. Hell, Stiles would rather have a skinned back himself than reopen that wound.
“The blue bottle, pour some in a bowl with the powder from the black tin. Those will accelerate the healing and protect the muscle until the skin recovers.” Peter’s voice was, once again, businesslike. Stiles had no idea how he maintained his calm with this much damage.
Stiles had a clean bowl sitting on his desk from where he'd been trying to practice scrying, not that it worked. He tried to pull away, but Peter held his leg so Stiles had to stretch to pull the bowl closer so he could mix the two.
“Not so much liquid,” Peter corrected him. “Make it closer to a paste or gel that you can smooth on.”
A shiver went down Stiles a spine. He was going to have to touch those wounds. However, he wasn't willing to leave Peter shivering in pain, and calling another member of the pack didn't seem like a good solution, not when their help would come with conditions, assuming they would help at all.
So, gritting his teeth, he scooped up some of the purplish gel and carefully smoothed it over the worst of the stripes. Peter hissed in pain, but he didn't move. He did, however, tighten his hold on Stiles’ leg until pinpricks ran along his nerves.
“Sorry,” Peter muttered before he loosened his hold and leaned farther down to make it easier for Stiles to treat the wounds.
“There are white fibers in the skin.”
“No doubt the remains of my shirt,” Peter said with a mirthless chuckle. “If you can easily remove them, please do. It will make it easier for me to heal.”
“These aren’t healing well. Did an alpha do this?” Stiles bent all the way over Peter to get the wounds low on his back.
“But they aren’t healing.” As far as Stiles knew, werewolf healing worked against all other injuries.
“A werewolf’s ability to heal is dependent upon the strength of his bond to his alpha and pack.” Peter sounded bitter. Stiles took a deep breath and tried to rein in his temper as he realized Scott’s unwillingness to maintain strong pack bonds was hurting Peter. “After all,” Peter said, “healing is magical, and it is insanely difficult for a wolf to maintain a spark of magic. A wolf is magic, but it does not wield magic as most humans can. The wolf smothers it, so typically the alpha with the stronger alpha spark is the one who maintains the magical aspects of the pack.”
“Could Scott help with this?”
“Could he? Undoubtable. Will he? We both know the answer to that.”
Sadly, Stiles did. Some days he didn’t understand Scott. He wasn’t the same boy who had teamed up with him to survive Jackson’s bullying and dream about becoming a first-string player on the lacrosse team. Sometimes Stiles suspected he wasn’t even a good person.
Stiles flinched away from that thought. Scott had an ethical core that allowed him to become an alpha without killing another for his spark. And if he had problems with Peter—well, it wasn’t like Stiles didn’t have his own problems with the asshole. Peter might have been insane during his murderous vengeance phase, but it wasn’t like Stiles was a fluffy bunny either.
Stiles rested his hand on Peter’s shoulder and considered the slick mess of wounds and medicine that covered his back. No matter how vicious Peter could be with his words, he deserved pack support for something like this. Stiles felt a warmth grow in his chest. In the space of a heartbeat, a pain shot through him and then settled into a glow that felt like he’d sat in a hot tub too long. It verged on painful while feeling absolutely fucking perfect.
“What the hell was that?” Stiles looked down into Peter’s startled face. Startled. But not confused. Peter had done something he hadn’t expected Stiles to notice, only Peter’s subtlety button was clearly broken because that had been as subtle as a freight train full of TNT.
Stiles jerked back, freeing his leg from Peter’s hold. “What the fuck did you do?” he demanded. A half second later, his common sense reminded him that he was alone in a room with Peter, whose hold on sanity and morality was questionable in the best of circumstances.
Peter sighed, and ran his hands through his hair. “I had hoped you would not notice that.”
“Notice what?” Stiles demanded.
Peter looked up at him. “Notice that I was creating a pack bond.”
“What you mean you created a pack bond? We have a pack.” The moment the words were out of his mouth, Stiles wasn't so sure of them. The heat he could feel the behind his ribs was unfamiliar. Nothing he had with Isaac or Scott approached this strangely intimate feeling that some part of Peter had slipped into his soul.
Peter sighed. “In my defense, I truly believed you were one of the humans that did not feel the pack bonds. Not all humans can. My own wife was never able to feel them.” Peter’s gaze skittered away, although Stiles wasn't sure how much of that was legitimate pain from having lost his wife and how much was manipulation because he feared he had managed to truly piss off Stiles. Worse, Peter knew Stiles could go running to Scott, and that would end with growling and slamming into walls and threats and badness all around.
Stiles rubbed his chest. “If you needed a stronger pack bond with me, why didn't you just say so? I mean, yeah, you were a psychopathic killer, but you've mostly gotten over that. It's not like we would allow you to suffer this injury on your own. But if you're looking for a strong spark to help you heal faster, I'm telling you right now that my spark has never been good for anything except the tiniest bit of manipulation of mountain ash.” Stiles held up a finger and thumb an inch apart and then shrank the distance. “Tiny, tiny, tiny spark.” At one point, Stiles had had dreams of being magically powerful, but it turned out those were nothing more than dreams. Kinda like his dreams of ever sleeping through the night without a nightmare. He'd given up on both as a fairytale.
“I did not need stronger pack bonds, I needed a pack bond,” Peter said.
Stiles frowned. “What you talking about? You have Scott and Derek.” Peter looked away and Stiles collapsed onto his desk chair. “They don't have bonds with you at all?” Stiles voice failed him. Wolves needed a pack. They needed pack bonds. Those without pack bonds became omegas who could lose their human minds to the madness of a lone wolf.
Peter shrugged. “Malia maintained one for a time, but our dear true-failure informed her that her divided loyalties made him uncomfortable. Since she is a werecoyote, she does not have a very sophisticated sense of loyalty. And honestly, I have not done much to earn her loyalty. I might be her father, but I have certainly done nothing to make her life easier.”
Stiles rubbed his face. He understood exactly how mercenary Melia could be. Hell, they had had a rather unhealthy sexual relationship where Melia had shown up to demand sexual satisfaction or instruction or cuddling or whatever else she felt like she had a right to. Stiles had gotten used to having his limbs arranged like a giant doll, and he was fairly certain that that was not a healthy relationship. But his teenage dick had certainly enjoyed easy sex. However, he had trouble believing Melia would leave her father without any pack bonds.
“I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around this. Are you saying you don't have any pack bonds?”
Peter shrugged. “I suspect Scott is blissfully unaware of what is going on in his own pack, and Derek is encouraging him to exclude me. After all, if I go feral, Derek has the perfect excuse to put me down.”
Stiles overactive brain started flipping through all the permutations and possibilities. The entire pack had broken their bonds with Peter, which meant he was omega. Sooner or later, he was going to be unable to control his wolf and he would go right back to being the feral asshole looking to kill anyone who posed a danger to him. Last time Peter was focused on killing those who had set fire to his family, but this time Stiles was fairly sure that Scott's pack would be at the top of any vengeance agenda that Peter developed. It would give Derek a chance to kill him, but Derek wasn’t that sort of manipulative asshole.
“That doesn't make any sense. Derek wouldn’t.” If Derek were that upset, he would gut Peter or set him on fire or tear his throat out. He wouldn’t play games.
“It actually does. Were I not the victim of Derek's machinations, I would congratulate him on his ability to think through a problem rather than rushing straight at it with his fangs and claws out.” Peter’s expression had an odd sort of pride. “If he can drive me into a feral state, he will have the entire pack, fighting beside him and we both know that my odds of surviving that encounter are woefully low.”
Stiles’ brain was going into overdrive. “Why haven't you gone to another pack?”
“Oh, to be so young and naïve.”
“Stop being an asshole and just answer the damn question,” Stiles snapped.
Peter pursed his lips. “Do you know my role within Talia’s pack?”
“You were you were her left hand. You were in charge of the security and strategy and information gathering.”
“And doing all of the distasteful work that Talia herself was unwilling to do,” Peter added. “Yes, I was her left hand. That is a role so archaic that I believe only one other pack in the United States still has one. A left-hand is the executioner of the pack. It is someone who is either born without a conscience or trained to not have one so that they can do all of the distasteful business of the pack without anyone else having to taint their souls. A left-hand is the boogie man of the werewolf world, and I was known as a particularly effective one. What pack do believe would take me in? Even before being in a coma for six years and suffering my temporary insanity, my reputation was such that no other alpha would want me near their pups.”
“I assure you, I have very few options. I chose the best one. I stand by my choice.”
Stiles his brain kept spinning around the same point. “Why me?”
“Why not you? The Nogitsune might have dulled your spark somewhat, but I know you have a spark, and it can recover in time. That would give my wolf access to magic, and I have never been subtle about the fact that I wanted you in my pack. That night that I offered to turn you, if I had had time to properly train you, I would have turned you no matter what you said. Sadly, I was too caught up in my need to take out my family’s killer to put more important issues first on my agenda. Now the establishment and maintenance of a pack bonds is of the upmost importance.”
The blood froze in Stiles’ veins. “You're not turning me. You don’t even have an alpha spark to turn me.”
Peter rolled his eyes. He fucking rolled his eyes, as if Stiles’ terror was in any way unreasonable. He couldn’t talk about turning Stiles without inducing some panic.
“Of course I'm not,” Peter said. “As I told you, the wolf tends to smother the spark. Even if I could turn you, I wouldn’t. If I turned you we would then be two betas completely unprepared to deal with the madness that chases an untethered wolf. That would hardly suit my purposes.”
“Your purposes?” Stiles pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes. “What purposes might those be?”
“Avoiding madness would be at the top of my list,” Stiles said dryly. “I assumed you would not feel the pack bond. You could wander back to Virginia and enroll in your classes, never the wiser.”
“Did you plan on stalking me in Virginia to maintain the pack bond?” Stiles demanded.
“I would hardly do anything so crass. No, I went to college and law school without attending to my pack bonds any more than once or twice a year. As long as you did not actively reject me, and we had time to reconnect once or twice a year, I could maintain the pack bonds over any geographical length. I assumed you would come home at Christmas and in summer to visit your father or my one-true-failure, and I could have renewed the pack bonds at that time.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes. Renew pack bonds. Establish pack bonds. The Argent bestiary had talked about driving wolves insane by keeping them in separate cells and not allowing them to touch. Stiles had a bad feeling about this. “Exactly how would you need to renew a pack bond?”
Peter lifted an eyebrow. “I certainly was not planning on doing anything sexual with my daughter’s ex-boyfriend. You might call me Creeper Wolf, but I do have limits to the moral depravity I'm willing to sink into. Any physical connection maintains the bond. I assure you, most pack renewing behaviors are non-sexual such as play and touch. Anyone attempting to get sexual with a wolf child would be quickly eviscerated.”
“Oh my God!” Stiles shot out of his seat. “Physical connection. I had to touch you to tend the wounds.” Stiles’ brain made one of those incredible leaps that seemed completely illogical, and yet he knew it was true. He knew it without an ounce of doubt. “You damaged your own back so that I would have to treat you. You wanted a chance to be physically close to me so you can establish a pack bond. You fucking lied to me.”
“I did tell you that someone who disliked Scott had injured my back and that he was unlikely to injure anyone else.” Peter huffed as though offended that he could do anything as crass as lying when he could simply obfuscate and manipulate the situation.
Stiles leaned back and stared at the ceiling as he tried to figure out in what universe this was remotely reasonable. “You are psychotic,” Stiles said.
“I was psychotic, past tense. I am now simply Machiavellian. I have certain needs that I require to maintain my life and lifestyle. I am simply seeking those levers of power that would allow me to live as I wish.”
Stiles set up and poked a finger in Peter's direction. “Psychotic. And self-destructive. Look at your back. I thought Derek was supposed to be the masochistic one in the family.”
“I assure you, he is. My back does not hurt nearly as much as the place where my pack bonds have been allowed to wither away and die.” Peter rubbed his own sternum, and Stiles frowned. He couldn't imagine what it would feel like to have this all-consuming warmth in his chest vanish, but it wouldn't have been good.
The second Stiles started thinking about himself, his brain started racing in a dozen different directions, none of them particularly good for his mental health. “Why can I feel your pack bond when I don't feel any of the others?”
Peter shrugged. “Perhaps they are not as tightly bound to you as I tried to make myself. I was well aware of the fact that you would be leaving and I would have to maintain the bond long distance over significant period of time.”
Stiles shook his head and rested his palm over his chest. “There is nothing there except you.” Stiles never really expected Derek or Isaac to establish pack bonds with him, but Scott’s touch should be there in his soul bright enough to make Peter's little more than a whisper. They had been best friends for most of their lives, and yet when Stiles thought of Scott, there was only an emptiness that Peter's pack bond seemed to mock. “He doesn't consider me pack,” Stiles whispered. Saying the words out loud made them true in some way that was like a jagged glass against Stiles nerves. Scott didn't want him.
Stiles shot to his feet.
“Where are you going?” Peter demanded as he caught Stiles his arm.
“I have no pack bonds with Scott at all.” That was explanation enough. Stiles tried to bolt out of his room, but Peter held him firmly.
“Stop and think about what you're doing. You are quite the clever one when you give yourself time to think and to research, but when you go flying into a situation with your brain darting in a thousand directions at once, you often do yourself more harm than you do any enemy.”
Stiles reared back. “Scott is not my enemy.”
Peter's features softened. “Is he your friend?”
“Of course he is.” Stiles hated the doubt that invaded his thoughts. He collapsed back into his chair, feeling as though he had just been in some way divorced from reality. Terrified he was trapped in a nightmare, Stiles started counting his fingers. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. It was almost worse to realize this was reality. “He doesn't consider me pack.” Stiles whispered the words.
Peter crouched next to the chair and rested a hand on Stiles' thigh. “The ghostwriters erased you from reality for a time, so that would have nullified any bond between you and certainly other issues would've made a pack bond almost impossible.”
“Other issues.” Stiles snorted. “The Nogitsune.”
Peter nodded. “If you had healthy bonds when the Nogistune took over, Scott would have felt it. It’s likely the creature tricked you into severing the pack bond without realizing what you were doing. Likely Scott only neglected to reestablish it.”
“But why?” Stiles abso-fucking-lutely should not be asking Peter that question. Peter used words as weapons more effectively than he could use claws. Giving him an opening into Stiles’ insecurities was stupid. Insanely stupid.
Instead of fucking with Stiles, Peter leaned back. “I have no idea. But you rushing into a situation with your brain in full mania is not likely to yield any favorable results.”
“And I would be likely to tell Scott about you and what you’ve done.”
Peter shrugged before he sat on the edge of Stiles’ bed again. “Technically he has not banished either of us from his pack, so the establishment of bonds between us is not an issue he can take offense at.”
Stiles gave Peter an incredulous look.
“Yes, I do understand that’s a technicality I would not be able to hide behind long. You are far more important to Scott than I am and he would likely accuse me of some nefarious purpose.”
“Do you have a nefarious purpose?” Stiles asked.
“At present?” Peter appeared to think about that for a time. “I am more interested in securing the protection of a bond. Once I am sure I am not about to be driven feral, then I might start worrying about finding the resources, either financial or supernatural, to ensure I have a safe territory.”
“Your big goal is being safe?” That was actually a little pathetic.
Peter raised an eyebrow. “I watched my entire family burn to death around me. Don’t you think I would do anything to avoid reliving that? If anything, you should revel in this bond because I assure you that with you being my only tether to sanity, I will do anything to protect you.”
“Yeah, that’s not so reassuring. That actually sounds like you might be on the verge of chaining me in your basement.”
“If I kept you around constantly, you would drive me insane, which would defeat the purpose,” Peter said. That hurt more than Stiles wanted to admit. Peter tossed a towel onto the floor. “I suspect you feel the same about me. While I would like to tend our pack bond, I think monthly dinners would serve both our purposes better than kidnapping.”
“Creeper wolf,” Stiles said softly.
“Survivor wolf,” Peter corrected him. Stiles frowned. “If you want to know why Scott has not maintained a pack bond with you, I suggest you go ask.” Peter started packing his stuff away in his satchel. “It’s possible that the fool doesn’t know how to establish a bond with a human who does not reach out for that connection naturally. Perhaps Derek can give him lessons.” Peter paused before closing his satchel. “Perhaps not. Talia preferred to train family members for the tasks she required of them. Derek was never intended to be alpha, so it is possible those two are both charmingly clueless.” Peter headed out the door.
“Peter,” Stiles called. Peter hesitated at the door, his back still horrifically mutilated. Now that Stiles had taken a second to calm down, it made sense that he had been the one to cut the pack bond. Maybe Scott hadn’t turned his back on their friendship. However, he had turned his back on a beta in his territory. “I don’t plan to tell Scott about this.” Stiles rubbed his chest.
“Then I won’t need to make myself scarce.” With a nod, Peter left. Stiles was left alone with too many dark thoughts and fears. Maybe the lack of pack bonds was Scott’s lack of alpha training, but maybe he didn’t want Stiles in his pack. Stiles knew how many truly horrific choices he’d made. Hell, they both had criminal records because of the whole ‘kidnap Jackson’ plan. That hadn’t gone well. Now that they were adults, that had luckily vanished into the depths of the juvenile records land, but still… Stiles had absolutely done things to hurt Scott, even without the whole getting possessed by a Nogitsune and trying to kill all their friends.
Part of Stiles wanted to run back to Virginia without talking to Scott. That way he wouldn’t find out anything he didn’t want to know. He could pretend they were still besties and everything was perfect and awesome and rainbows and cute little puppies. Stiles played with the idea of doing it. He was leaving in two days, so it would be easy to avoid a conversation. He was coward enough to consider it.
He rubbed his chest where Peter’s pack bond was a living warmth under his ribs. Maybe he’d sleep on it and decide what to do tomorrow. Peter was right about one thing—when Stiles rushed into situations, he tended to do really stupid shit.
Then again, he’d never skinned his own back, so he was one up on Peter.
Stiles stood outside Derek's loft and stared up at the windows. He really had no idea why Scott had started spending all of his free time at Derek's loft. Maybe it was an alpha thing with Scott trying to prove that he had the right to push into Derek's territory, or maybe it was just a teenage thing and Scott was feeling the strain of not being able to go away to college. Melissa certainly couldn't pay steep university bills and Scott had not earned scholarships.
But there were good community colleges around, and Scott still had lots of options. Stiles could understand that he might be chafing so many of his pack headed off to university, though. Maybe that's why Scott didn't have a pack bond with Stiles. Maybe he resented Stiles. Hell, even before accepting a scholarship in Virginia, Stiles had run off to do an FBI internship leaving the pack to deal with the monster of the week. Stiles had very mixed feelings about the fact that the pack had been so successful without him, and he felt like a complete jackass for wanting the pack to struggle just a little bit without him there to help. Then again, Stiles was a jackass. He embraced of the fact that he was a deeply flawed individual who clung too tightly to the people in his life.
Shoving all those thoughts aside, Stiles headed for the stair. He would rather have this confrontation in private, but it seemed like the best he could do was an audience of one. Peter said that Derek chased everyone else out of the loft in the morning so that he and Scott could have alpha lessons. Even through texts, Stiles could hear the derisive scorn in Peter's words at the idea of Derek teaching Scott.
Stiles knocked and waited nervously, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. After a second, Derek slid the door open and stood there with one of his inscrutable looks. Of course all Derek's looks were inscrutable.
Stiles smiled. “Hey dude, what's cooking?”
“Stiles?” Scott called out. Stiles leaned to the side to look around Derek and saw Scott standing with his shirt off, a sheen of sweat covering his chest.
“Did you two chase the pack out so that you can spar or are you two having some other kind of sweaty fun?” Stiles wiggled his eyebrows.
Derek's eyes got big, and Scott wrinkled his nose and gave a disgusted “Ew!”
“Hey! There is no ewwing allowed.” Stiles poked the air in Scott’s direction. “Many men enjoy sweaty fun time with other men, and objectively, Derek is attractive. He's a douche-nozzle with absolutely no ability to emote, but he's attractive.”
That brought Derek's eyebrows down into an almost frown. Stiles was proud of himself for getting Derek to show an emotion.
“I’m going to get some water.” Derek turned and walked off towards the kitchen.
Scott grabbed a towel to mop up his sweat. “I don't mean “ew” like homophobic ew. I just mean ‘Ew, Derek is older’.”
Stiles closed the door behind him. “And? Have you heard Lydia wax poetic about older men?”
“He's teaching me to fight. It would be like sleeping with Coach.”
“No, no it wouldn't. First of all, Derek is nicer, and that even counts the fact that he's killed people. Second, Derek is older. Not old. His bones don't creak when he stands up like Coach’s do.” Stiles was pretty sure he was offended on Derek’s behalf. Now that he had slept on it, Stiles was almost certain Derek wasn’t manipulating the situation to drive Peter feral in a scheme to kill him; Stiles thought it was more likely he was just repressing and fucking up. He did that when emotions were involved.
Scott lifted his hand and caught the water bottle that came sailing within an inch of Stiles his head. Stiles whirled around. “Hey! I'm standing here.”
Derek just lifted his eyebrows before taking a drink of his water. When Stiles turned back, Scott was smirking. Jerk.
“So what's up?” Scott asked before drinking his own water and then tossing his sweaty towel to one side.
“I was hoping we could talk about something semi-serious.”
“Semi serious. Sounds serious.” Scott’s smirk transformed into a grin.
“Semi,” Stiles said. He had trouble believing that Scott had excluded him from pack when they still had this verbal shorthand—this ability to interact as naturally as breathing.
Scott dropped down on the couch. “Okay, shoot. What's up?”
“I was doing some stuff with my spark back in Virginia,” Stiles started. He practiced lying to werewolves so he could only hope that those skills plus his natural nervousness at broaching the subject would cover for that lie.
“Your spark?” Scott sounded dubious.
“Yes, my spark. You know, that thing that makes it possible for me to do magic.”
Scott frowned. “Deaton said that wasn't anything special.”
Stiles rolled his eyes. Of course Deaton would say that. As far as Deaton was concerned Scott was the only thing special in the universe. “Lots of people have a spark. It's more common for someone to have a spark than not, but if I have a spark, I can develop it the same as anyone else can develop their magic.”
“Are you sure that safe?”
Stiles crossed his arms. “I'm pretty sure nothing in my life since sophomore year has been safe, but I don't think this is any more unsafe than anything else I've done.”
“Okay, that leaves way too much room for danger.” Scott face twisted into a grimace. “You could develop your magic into something that triggered a volcano, and it wouldn’t be as dangerous as stuff we've already gone through. So can we maybe try and keep the danger to something that your dad or my mom would approve of.”
“I'm pretty sure that would require me to be locked in a tower with a dragon guarding the bottom,” Stiles said dryly. He was well aware of the fact that his father had to bite down on his overprotective tendencies every time Stiles came home. “But that's not what I wanted to talk about.”
“Okay.” Scott drew the word out so that it required several syllables.
Taking a deep breath, Stiles just blurted it out. “I don't have a pack bond with you.”
Scott's eyebrows went up. “Of course not, you're a human.”
“What do you mean, of course not? There's no ‘of course not’ in there. We've been friends longer than anyone else, so if someone deserves a pack bond, it would be me.” Hurt gnawed at Stiles’ ribs.
“I have pack bonds with my wolves, Stiles. You're not a wolf. That's not something human beings do.”
“Oh really?” Stiles shifted to pin Derek with a glare. He was rewarded when Derek tensed a fraction as if waiting for some verbal attack. Smart man. “So, does that mean the humans you had in your pack were outside of pack bonds? That you never bonded to your human children or human siblings or human aunts and uncles?” Stiles voice rose, daring Derek to say that. Derek's expression turned stony, and he refused to answer. Stiles pointed at Derek before turning back to Scott. “See, do you see his face? He had pack bonds to humans.”
Scott looked at Derek. “Did you?”
Derek gave a single jerk of his head.
Scott grabbed his shirt off the arm of the couch and pulled it on before leaning back. “I didn't think humans could have pack bonds with wolves.”
“Isn't that something you should've talk to Deaton about?” Stiles asked. He hated that Deaton seemed to let the information trickle out like it was gold out of his personal hoard.
“It isn't something that I knew I didn't know,” Scott said defensively, and Stiles actually followed that thought, although his feelings were still hurt. Scott sighed. “I thought humans didn't have pack bonds with wolves. I thought that was a wolf thing or a shifter thing, at least.”
Derek uncrossed his arms and stepped into the room far enough to rest his hands on the back of a chair. “Before you were an alpha, I told you that you were acting more like an alpha than a beta, and that's why I wouldn't force you into my pack.”
“Yeah? And?” Scott asked.
“It's because you formed a pack bond with Stiles.”
Scott looked absolutely flummoxed. “I did?”
Stiles threw his hands into the air. “Of course you did. Who was it that was out there trying to help you control the shift? Who was it that just about tanked his own AP Biology grade because I was spending all night researching werewolves for you? Who was it that got into every bit of trouble with you that you called every time you needed backup?” Although that last part was questionable. Scott had actually turned Allison more than Stiles, but mentioning Allison was not something he wanted to do right now.
“So we had a pack bond?” Scott had bewildered puppy dog eyes going.
Stiles rubbed his face. “I thought we still did, but apparently we don't have one anymore. I came to ask why you would cut me out of the pack.”
“Cut you out?” Scott was genuinely bewildered. He wasn’t faking that. “I didn't cut you out.” Scott reached for Stiles’ arm, but Stiles shifted away.
“We don't have a bond anymore.”
“Not because of something I intentionally did,” Scott protested. “You’re my pack, we’re brothers. We always will be.”
“Then how did the pack bond die?” Stiles asked. Scott looked over to Derek, but Derek simply shrugged, which meant Stiles had to fall back on Peter's theory. “Do you think when Nogitsune took over, that it severed the bond so you wouldn't be able to tell I was possessed?”
Again, Scott looked to Derek who wore his normal constipated expression. Stiles would offer to send him to therapy, but he and the therapist would just stare at each other awkwardly for an hour. That seemed like a waste of money.
“It's possible,” Derek finally admitted. “If Scott didn't recognize the feeling of a pack bond, and it faded slowly from being starved away instead of being severed, he might not have noticed.”
Stiles crossed his arms over his chest. “You're the one who recognized that Scott had formed a pack bond with me, so shouldn't you have recognized it when the pack bond mysteriously vanished?”
Derek was back to being stony faced. Stiles rolled his eyes.
Scott cleared his throat loudly, no doubt eager to avoid a fight. “Hey, as far as I am concerned we are still pack, and more importantly, we’re brothers. I don't care about any mystical pack bond crap,” Scott said firmly. “Deal?”
Stiles nodded slowly. “So, do you think we could reestablish a pack bond before I go to Virginia?” Stiles hated how needy his voice sounded. Scott's face had a sudden and horrific blankness to it, and Stiles’ guts tangled into a knot.
“You're going away to college, Stiles. You should chase your dreams of being a big, bad FBI agent, not tie yourself to Beacon Hills.”
Stiles frowned. That was illogical, even for Scott. “A pack bond wouldn't keep me from going to college.”
Scott stiffened. “Really? Because from where I stand, pack bonds have to be maintained and supported. Derek gave me a whole lecture about how I had to touch people more often, and if you're in Virginia I can't exactly touch you.”
Stiles felt his aggravation rise up like a monster in his chest. Here was Scott, once more, deciding unilaterally what they were going without having all the evidence. It wasn't like he listened to all the options before he made a choice. He just wandered into it like he was still a sixteen-year-old kid who didn't know what else to do.
That's exactly what he was always doing to Peter. He would dismiss all of Peter's knowledge, all of his years of experience, because Scott was so certain that he knew exactly what was right. Damn anyone who said different. Stiles crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you think the Hales didn't go to college? I'm pretty sure Peter is a lawyer, and there is no law school in Beacon Hills; therefore, Peter went away to school and still managed to maintain his pack bonds.”
“Yeah? And look how he turned out,” Scott said with a triumphant gleam in his eye, as if he had just won the argument. “Maybe if his pack bonds hadn’t been so strained, he wouldn't have turned into a raging psychopath!”
“Maybe if his alpha hadn’t abandoned him so he spent six years suffering wolfsbane poisoning and locked in a nightmare, he wouldn’t have gone so psychopathic,” Stiles countered. Even though he had been aiming that barb at Scott, he could see Derek flinch. Dammit. That was why Stiles preferred to yell at people in private—fewer innocent bystanders to get taken out by a stray bit of brutal honesty.
Scott’s voice turned placating. “It's not like I'm telling you you're not pack. I just don't think it's healthy to establish a pack bond that we can’t properly maintain.”
“Why are you suddenly so concerned about maintaining pack bonds?” Stiles snapped back, his limited supply of patience totally used up. “It's not like you don't make Peter sit on the stairs and ignore him when you do your whole tactile puppy-pile touching thing.”
“When did we start talking about Peter? This is about you and whether you’re pack, which, as I've said multiple times, you are.”
“What we’re talking about is pack bonds,” Stiles shouted. “You insist that you will not have one with me because you can't touch me often enough to maintain it, but you don't even maintain the pack bond with the wolves you have here. So your whole argument about needing to maintain a pack bond is, therefore, invalid.”
“Are you upset that I'm not maintaining a pack bond with Peter or that I refuse to form one with you just so that you can run off to Virginia and then we can ignore the pack bond?”
“I never said I was going to ignore the pack bond.” Stiles said. Before he could explain his plan to come back on school breaks, Scott shouted over him.
“You're certainly not going to stay around here, and I don't want you to stay here in Beacon Hills. You have options. Someone has to stay here and take care of the creatures that are drawn to this place, but that someone doesn't have to be you. Beacon Hills has already stolen too much from you, and it doesn't have a right to steal anymore.”
Stiles leaned back against the couch, his head spinning as he tried to sort the thoughts that were like a maelstrom in his head. Never before had he so regretted weaning himself off Adderall because he needed it. Badly. He couldn't sort out the anger from the jealousy from the frustration from the friendship from the love from the protective instincts.
Stiles couldn't even tell whether Scott was trying to be kind, or trying to push him away. Stiles took a deep breath and tried to find a moment of calm in the storm. Derek stared at them like they were exhibits in a zoo, and Stiles refused to provide entertainment by saying all the cruel words he wanted to. He wanted to hurt Scott as badly as he hurt right now. But he wouldn’t. Not with Derek here. As calmly as he could, he asked, “Do you want a pack bond with me or not?”
Scott's gaze skittered away, and his nails lengthened, although they didn't turn into full claws.
Stiles stood, the storm in his head suddenly still.
Scott leaned forward. “I want you to have a happy life without getting dragged back here. I want you to visit at Christmas so we can order pizza and play video games.” Scott sounded almost angry about that, which was more emotional drama than Stiles could handle right now. Scott loved him, and he loved Scott, but they weren't pack. Stiles headed toward the door.
“Stiles,” Scott called out.
Stiles held up a hand without turning back around. “I just need some time to adjust and get my head wrapped around this. We’ll be fine, Scott. We’ll still be friends.” And they would be. But Stiles would never feel the warmth of Scott under his ribs the way he did Peter. He would never feel Scott the way the betas did, and the jealousy was eating him alive. Stiles walked out of the loft and headed downstairs on autopilot. He'd slipped behind the wheel of the Jeep and started it, not even surprised when Derek appeared magically at the side of the Jeep. Either it was magic or Stiles was not tracking reality. Could be either.
“He doesn't want you to feel trapped,” Derek said, which was about the most obvious statement ever.
“Do you honestly think I don't know that? Don't you think I've known Scott long enough to understand what screwed up thing he has going on in his head?”
“But you don't understand what it is for a wolf to feel trapped… It's like something is eating you from the inside. It's the worst feeling he can imagine, and he wants to save you from feeling that.”
Stiles snorted. “But as both of you keep pointing out, I'm not a wolf.”
For a moment, Derek simply stood there staring at Stiles and making him feel about five years old and stupid as hell. Stiles hated how Derek could do that to him. “I didn't say his fear was rational. But for the Hales, this land was always home. This is where we wanted to be, and we defended the land because it was part of us. Scott struggles and he still feels guilty that he didn't save you from the Ghost Riders, that he couldn't save you from the Nogitsune. He wants to save you from this feeling of being trapped.”
“He's not actually trapped. He could leave,” Stiles pointed out. If Scott felt trapped, there was one obvious answer, and everyone was ignoring it.
Derek shook his head. “He won't leave the people of Beacon Hills to deal with the supernatural without an alpha.”
Stiles rested his forearms on the steering wheel. “He's not the only alpha in the world. And you said it yourself, for the Hales, this land is home. You could go get yourself an alpha spark and give him the option of staying or not.”
Derek frowned. “I’m not going to kill someone for their spark. I'm not Peter.”
“Funny, I don't see Peter out there killing anyone for their alpha spark, so I would not say that that is a particularly Peter-like action. But you can't tell me that there aren’t other alphas out there like Kali or Ennis who deserved to die.”
“I'm a beta. I couldn't take out an alpha like that.” Derek took a step backward.
“Not with that attitude, you couldn't,” Stiles agreed. “But if you are really so concerned about Scott being trapped, figure out a way to open the trap for him because I can't. Apparently I can't even be his pack without inspiring massive quantities of guilt. So maybe it's time for you to step up and fix this.” Stiles started his jeep and threw it into reverse.
Part of Stiles knew that he was being irrational. He was demanding that Derek fix things that were not his to fix. However, he didn't care that he was dumping all the blame on Derek's shoulders. Derek had a masochistic streak a mile wide, so as far as Stiles was concerned, he was doing a public service by giving Derek a little more of the pain and guilt he loved carrying around. And if that made Stiles a not-nice person, well Stiles would just have to live with that. Especially since he wasn't particularly nice. Hell, lots of people would call him an asshole, and Stiles couldn’t exactly argue the point. He sort of was.
Peter opened his door to find Stiles standing on the other side. He smelled of misery, but then he so often did. At one point, Peter had thought to turn Stiles as soon as he had found an alpha spark again, but Stiles had been through so much that Peter was not entirely convinced Stiles would retain his sanity as a wolf. Peter had pulled himself back from the brink of madness, or rather from the depths of madness, and he did not intend to do that to a beta. Still. It was a shame.
“What can I do for...” Peter didn't get any farther before Stiles was shoving past him, invading Peter's apartment. Peter hesitated for a second before closing the door. He wasn't sure how this would play out, but Stiles hadn't shown up with Derek and that idiot alpha in tow, so Peter was willing to make some allowances for Stiles rather eccentric nature. “Please do come in. Welcome to my humble abode.”
Stiles looked around. “Nothing you do is humble, including decorating. This place looks like a magazine cover.”
“Why thank you. Now, to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?”
Stiles stopped in the middle of the room and turned to look at Peter. He had wrapped his arms around his upper body as though desperately trying to give himself a hug. “How is your back?”
Peter raised his eyebrows. That was not where he had expected them to start. However, he could play along as well as anyone. “Quite well, thank you. I had no interest in disabling myself, so I chose the poison carefully. As soon as it was cleared from my system, the back healed quite quickly.”
“Did you even need the medicine?” Stiles asked.
Peter weighed his words carefully. He did not want to have lies between them because Stiles was his only pack, but Peter was also not comfortable admitting how weak he'd grown. Without the medicine, it likely would have required a significant amount of time to heal. But even Stiles’ weakened spark was enough magic to provide a substantial boost to Peter's abilities.
“The medicine was not necessary, but it certainly did make my life far more comfortable.”
Stiles snorted rather inelegantly. “Do you know what would've made you even more comfortable? Not skinning your own back. That was a completely irrational decision.”
Peter walked to his abandoned wineglass and picked it up before settling in to his favorite chair. Perhaps Stiles believed Peter’s actions were illogical, but Stiles was not in Peter's position. He had no idea the lengths Peter would go to to maintain his sanity. To this day, Peter regretted having killed his niece for her alpha spark. He remembered Laura as a child running up to him, always so certain of her welcome and so certain that she was right. She had all Talia’s confidence without the manipulation that had marked Talia’s reign as the Hale Alpha. Peter still doubted that it was he who lured Laura back. He had not retained enough sanity for that sort of machination, but he could not escape the fact that he had killed her. But given that she had abandoned him and left him to turn omega, his regret was severely limited.
“What are you doing here Stiles?”
Stiles wrinkled his nose. “Scott said that maintaining bonds requires a constant level of touch.”
“Why Stiles,” Peter said with a smile, “are you asking to touch me regularly?” Hopefully a little embarrassment could drive Stiles away. Stiles might be the least objectionable of McCall’s motley crew, but Peter still preferred his own company to that of others.
Stiles narrowed his eyes and the scent of aggression drifted off him. This is why Peter liked Stiles. He didn't hide behind morality or pretend to be a good person.
“Don't be an ass,” Stiles snapped.
“I'm simply requesting to clarify your position.” Peter sipped his wine and feigned disinterest. “After all, I am very open to many experiences under the mother moon.”
Stiles narrowed his eyes more. “Will it be enough for us to have dinners twice a year or is that you pulling some Derek level of masochism in saying that you can suffer through until I come home on vacation?”
Peter blinked, not expecting that question. “Why Stiles, it almost sounds like you're concerned about me.”
“I'm concerned that you don't go feral and start attacking people while I'm gone.”
That was far more logical of a concern. Peter sipped his wine while he constructed an answer. “I can maintain the bond. There is a strong connection between us, far stronger than I had anticipated. I believe that will make it much easier for me to retain the sanity which you are so concerned about me losing.”
“And if the bond starts to thin?”
“Are you asking if I will call for help? I assure you, I am not some masochist who will gladly suffer so that you don't miss a test.” Peter found the sort of self-sacrifice these children indulged ridiculous. “If I am in any way uncomfortable with the state of our bond, I shall inform you immediately, that is assuming you do not already feel it.”
Stiles rubbed his sternum and Peter felt an echo of that focused attention. Stiles was surprisingly skilled at manipulating the bond. If anything, Peter felt the bond more solidly now than he had with anyone since his parents’ deaths. But aside from Stiles’ willingness to selfishly embrace his own needs, his attachments to others was one of his most attractive qualities. Peter could not imagine that Stiles would ever leave him alone and suffering for six years. Perhaps Stiles would kill him in an attempt to show mercy, but Stiles would not leave him to suffer. At this point, Peter saw that is an admirable trait in a pack member.
Stiles settled on Peter's white couch. His shabby college chic fashion sense did not match with the furnishings, and for a moment, Peter imagined himself with a camera in hand framing a shot of the poor student perched on the edge of the ten thousand dollar couch. It was a study in contrasts that he found aesthetically pleasing. He would find it less pleasing if it turned out that Stiles had something dirty on his jeans, but Peter had certainly dealt with worse. Derek had gotten blood on his couch.
“Why do you stay in Beacon Hills?” Stiles asked. This was quickly becoming the oddest conversation Peter had suffered in absolutely weeks.
Peter was unsure how much he should say, especially given Stiles’ unfortunate habit of leaping to correct conclusions. That tendency was almost as annoying as his habit of leaping to incorrect conclusions. “I told you that other wolves are unwilling to have the rather infamous left-hand of the Hale pack in their territory. I imagine they would be even less willing to entertain the possibility if I were an omega. Without a pack to publicly claim me, they would assume I was alone.” Peter would be ripped to shreds the first time any pack found him alone, and they would rip his body apart. This was his life now. Well, Peter was nothing if not a survivor. He had survived the fire, and he would survive Derek’s ineffectual attempts to drive him feral.
“What if you weren't an omega?”
Peter sighed. He did not feel like emotional bloodletting. He had chosen Stiles, in part, because he was leaving and Peter would not have to discuss these issues. “I promise you, no other pack would take me in.”
Stiles shook his head. “No, that's not what I mean. What if a pack member from the Hale-McCall pack is going to go to school in Virginia and the alpha sent someone along since this hypothetical pack member had a difficult history with supernatural creatures?” Stiles manically pointed at himself as if Peter was unable to follow his unsubtle logic.
Peter leaned back, honestly shocked to the core of his being. “Are you asking me to move to Virginia with you?”
“Only until after college or until Derek and Scott get their heads out of their asses.”
Peter huffed. “I doubt they will be able to separate their heads from their posteriors before both of us are old and in our graves,” Peter said, “or in my case, in my grave again.”
“That's just it,” Stiles said as he curled his hand into a fist. Peter was not tracking this conversation well, but Stiles kept talking. “They have their heads up their asses. I don't think Derek is plotting against you. I think he's clueless. He’s trying to protect Scott and me and everyone he sees as suffering, but then his attempt to protect everyone is absolutely stupid. He’s backing Scott’s decision to not establish a pack bond with me because he wants me to be free to leave, which is completely ignoring the fact that I have a right to make choices in my own life. And I got to thinking. That’s Derek. He tries to do the right thing, but he’s got these blinders on. He thinks his way is the right way to save everyone. I don’t think he’s trying to hurt you at all. I think he just wants to keep a distance between you and everyone he feels guilty about not protecting in the past. It’s cluelessness, not meanness.” Stiles gave Peter a hopeful look, as if his argument made anything better. He was such a child. A naive child with no understanding of werewolf needs.
“I would rather have him plotting then to consider that he is this malicious out of stupidity.”
“Give Derek a break,” Stiles snapped. “He lost his entire pack, and he is very aware of the fact that he contributed to that mess, and then you took his sister and alpha. I'm surprised he's not sitting in a corner, sucking his thumb, and if he did take that up as a hobby, I would fight for his right to do it. As a member of the potential thumb suckers myself, I am here to say that PTSD is a real thing. And it's because of that real thing that I think he's just traumatized and avoiding you. He’s not a mastermind; he’s your screwed up nephew who doesn’t know how to handle this. Give him a monster to fight with claws and fangs, and he’s good. Ask him to have an emotion, and not so much.”
That was frighteningly logical. Werewolves did not suffer the sort of post-fight trauma a human might. The adrenal system was different. However, losing a pack did create trauma. Peter knew that, although it had not occurred to him that Derek might still be lost in the bond-depression. “And your solution for this is to take me with you to Virginia?”
“See, I thought all about this.” Stiles burst out from his seat and started pacing around the couch. “You need to have a strong pack bond to remain sane, but I am insanely bad at letting go. And Scott thinks I can play video games with him at Christmas without wanting to be part of anything supernatural, but that would require letting go, and we have already established that I am absolutely horrible at that. If there is supernatural somewhere near me. I'm going to see it. Hell, when I did my internship at the FBI, I ran into a shoot out because I saw Derek was in the middle of it.”
“Yes,” Peter said dryly. “I have heard that story.” Frankly, that story didn't reflect well on either of them, but if the FBI was still willing to talk to Stiles, the damage wasn't permanent.
“Exactly! And you would be there to tell me exactly how stupid I'm being. In fact, you excel at pointing out stupidity.”
Peter did have to agree with that. It was one of his favorite things to do.
“And this will get you away from Derek, so he has some time to work on things because if you stay here, you know, Derek is going to take off again. And I think he needs to be here and Scott needs him here.”
That was the real motive. Stiles was, once again, trying to defend the one-true-failure and his position. It was so wearisome in its predictability. “So you think I should be exiled from my home?”
Peter was so sick of always coming in second to that overgrown puppy boy. When he’d been a child, Talia had indulged him in every way. Even Peter could see the similarity between Derek and his grandfather. It was unsurprising that all Talia could see was her sainted late father. Derek had been the golden child, never pushed to take on any role in the pack. Laura had been groomed to be the next alpha and Charles had been sent off to train with Deaton. William had been quizzed every week on the history of the Hale pack in preparation for becoming the historian, and Peter had been relegated to an archaic role that made him the proverbial monster under the bed. But Derek had been allowed to run around the preserve and stick his nose into everyone else's business, whereupon he would promptly run back to Talia and tattle. If it was a choice between giving Derek what he wanted or risking madness, Peter would risk madness.
Stiles stopped behind the couch, his hands braced on the back. “This place isn't good for you either,” Stiles said. “Maybe we only have dinner once a week or maybe you come over and I torture you with movies.” A thoughtful expression crossed his face. “I am weirdly okay with torturing you. And if you get it in your mind to strip the skin from your own back again, I know how to mix the medicine. But this would give Derek time to heal and I might've told Derek that he needed to get his ass in gear and find himself an alpha spark.”
Peter sat up and thunked his wine glass down on the table next to him. “Why in the world would you say that? He was an abysmal failure as an alpha.”
Stiles threw his hands up. “I know that! But if he and Scott were both alphas, then Scott and him could take turns guarding Beacon Hills. Scott couldn’t be trapped, especially since Derek wants to be here. He considers this his home.” Stiles paused before asking quietly, “Do you? Do you consider this your home?” Stiles pinned Peter with one of those all knowing gazes. This was the place where Peter had established the most escape routes and bolt holes. This was the place he was familiar with. If he had to fight, he knew where to find advantage on the territory. This was the hell he had survived ever since he’d woken up with the smell of smoke in his nostrils.
Stiles threw his hands up again. He was nearly manic. “Exactly. You don't want to be here. I don't want to be here. I don't even think Scott wants to be here, but your idiot nephew’s masochistic streak means he does want to be here. So I told him he needs to get an alpha spark.”
Peter was fairly certain Stiles’ logic had failed him. “Do you believe he would to listen to you?” Derek was many things, but he was not suicidal. For a beta to go after an alpha required a level of self destructiveness that not even Derek possessed.
Stiles shrugged, “Maybe. But if he’s an alpha, and you’re here, badness will multiply. You two have family issues that go beyond a need for therapy.” Stiles rubbed his sternum again. “I don't want that for you. I might be your only pack, you're my only pack bond.”
Peter pursed his lips as he realized what Stiles actually wanted. Some humans couldn't feel the bonds, but those that did had an emptiness when they lost them. Peter wondered how many of Stiles’ nightmares were inspired by a hollowness that he had attributed to the void and was only now realizing was the lack of pack bonds. Stiles was selfishly conspiring to force Peter out of his comfortable nest out of a fear of losing his own pack bond.
Peter leaned back and considered this manipulative pup who he had chosen as his pack. Peter approved. “Talk to Scott. Have Deaton contact the pack that lives in the area and explain that due to your streak of bad luck with the supernatural, he would prefer to send a bodyguard. I leave it to you how to convince McCall that choosing me as the bodyguard is in any way logical.”
Stiles picked at the hem of his shirt. “Do you still have money? Like enough money to get a decent apartment?”
Peter had quite a bit of money, not that he intended to share that fact. He might admire Stiles’ ability to manipulate, but he did not want to leave himself vulnerable. “Perhaps.” No matter what Stiles read into that one word, he could not grasp the depths of Peter's financial resources. Secrets did not vanish in six years, and people were always willing to pay to either keep their secrets or uncover the secrets of others.
Stiles nodded as though he had expected that answer. “I don't have a lot of financial aid, so if you are willing to rent a two bedroom, I would just tell Scott that I need your financial help.”
“And what do you plan on telling dear Derek? I assure you that he is going to see an nefarious motive in this.”
Stiles give sly smile. “I intend to tell him that I'm blackmailing you to get you out of town so that he can go and get that damn alpha spark without having you breathing down his neck. After all, if he's trying to get an alpha spark and you’re near enough to catch wind of his plots, you would just steal the alpha spark for yourself.
Peter picked up his wine glass and traced to the rim with his finger. Derek would never fall for that ruse from him, but Stiles and Derek did have an odd relationship. For all of their mutual combativeness, each always defended the other. Derek just might believe that motive.
Peter had never thought he would be able to escape Beacon Hills, but he thought he saw a glimmer of light from the door that might be opening. He would have to prove to the Virginia pack that he was no longer interested in playing anyone's left hand, and they would no doubt keep a close eye on Peter for an extended length of time. But Stiles had at least four years of university to attend, so Peter would be able to establish himself as a normal werewolf who is able to not only establish pack bonds, but to keep a pack bond with a human.
Not every werewolf could.
Humans were so fragile that they required a certain finesse, and many people did not attribute that trait to Peter, which was foolish because Peter knew the power of finesse. If Stiles got to know the pack and they saw how annoying he was, Peter's own reputation for patience would be exponentially improved. This might turn out to be beneficial in ways that Peter had not anticipated.
Peter lifted his glass. “If you can get Deacon to navigate pack politics, I believe I need to start searching for a suitable house.” Yes, Peter could work with this. He could definitely work with this.
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