Peter refuses to turn away from the mirror. He knows that if he turns, all he’ll encounter is horror and pain. When he looks into the mirror, his reflection is how he remembers it. A few years too young, and without the scarring that he can see in his periphery. Neither face is the one he’s come to know. Behind it is the Hale house, as it once had been. It’s quiet, undisturbed, as if no one were home, but at least it wasn’t the inferno at his back. Peter feels claws break the skin of his palms, and knows that if the mirror showed his true reflection, he’d see himself changing, transforming into something hideous, deranged.
He locks eyes with himself. Warm blue burning through an icy, cold-blooded red. He had craved the alpha strength so keenly, and he was too weak to stop himself. He has to be stronger now, and his pride just might keep him from cowardice. He clenches his jaw, and resolves himself to turn to witness his past.
It isn’t total silence that fills his mind. He can hear a soft hush, like the sound of sand falling from a dune. The golden eyes that stare up at him aren’t those he used to have, long ago as a child. He feels like prey caught in the sights of a predator, and his breath leaves him in relief when the grey fox blinks and looks away.
“Hello, little fox.” The fox chatters at him almost in greeting, and Peter begins to follow, as it makes its way through the ruins. The house around them crumbles, and sloughs into cascading pillars of white silt that fall from the window sills, and between the staircase railings. As it glistens and clouds up around his shins, Peter realises that it’s salt.
They walk through the small hours, the forest only having lightened slightly, stars still piercing the sky. The fox is following a loose-stone path through the dim, silent trees, leading to ancient, uneven, stone stairs. They’re softly lit by lanterns every nine steps, and Peter counts as he ascends them. Each time he counts to nine, before restarting at one. On the fourth set of nine, he stops to look ahead to where the fox is no longer waiting. The darkness missing that glint of starlight silver to lead him.
Peter flinches when someone takes his elbow, but it’s only Stiles who smiles at him. The young man’s other arm bent to hold his pipe out beside him. Wisps of smoke curl up from it as they begin to walk.
“What brings you here?” Stiles asks jokingly. Nine sets of nine, Stiles’ warmth by his side in the cold, finally they reach the summit of the steps. The narrow forest path opens out at the top of the steps into a large stone courtyard. Across the way, sits a wooden temple, dark moss covers its eaves, and to its right, a tiny stream runs into a large, stone basin.
“The fox,” Peter answers seriously, but Stiles still laughs. He walks to the basin, switching his pipe between his hands, as he washes each one. Peter walks over to stand beside him. The water in the basin is so still, so clear that it shouldn’t hold a reflection. The face that stares back at Peter is his own, even if Peter has only recently recognised it as so. Beside him, Stiles is as still as the water, and he watches Peter. When the ‘wolf turns to look at the young man, Stiles smiles, and reaches a hand out to him. Water drops hang from his fingertips, but Peter guides them to his warm cheek anyway.
“Why you?” Stiles asks.
“Who else?” Peter whispers, and it’s barely a breath. Stiles brings the pipe to his lips, breathing deep. Smoke falls from his lips as Stiles breathes out, and yet Peter wants to lean in, only to steal the breath from the young man.
Peter pulls back, eyes wide, as a tiny, smoke fox leaps out of Stiles’ exhalation. It curls and bounds through the air, whining angrily. Its tail swishes, and smoke swirls off its ghostly fur, only to dissipate quickly. The fox watches Peter, hesitantly, it’s eyes two burning, gold embers.
“Why Peter?” Stiles asks the fox, suddenly chastising, while still puffing away on his pipe. Peter tries to ignore the impatient, mischievous, little fox that’s jumping around trying to get his attention. He waves the smoke away when it gets to be too thick between them, and the fox with it.
“I don’t know which is worse, the smoking, or the fox possession,” Peter sighs, and Stiles laughs brightly, seemingly relieved, before tilting his head to examine Peter. He should be concerned, but all Peter feels is a bone-deep satisfaction at being in this place, even if the dark that surrounds them is alit with spirits. Two thousand eyes seem to stare, in the same way that when one stares into the dark sky, the stars stare back.
“The smoke is harmless,” Stiles exhales a new breath from his pipe, seemingly just to incense him. It curls up, and out of it the smoke fox bounds anew, shaking itself out. “Kanko and I need each other.”
“Kanko?” Peter hums, thoughtfully. The fox gekkers at them, seemingly annoyed by Peter’s ignoring him, or by Stiles’ declaration. Peter grins nastily, and blows a quick, puff of air. The smoky fox dissipates, a burst of embers showering down, before the smoke whirls and reforms. The fox yips, just a squeak in warning, before hopping playfully in the air before him, as if challenging Peter to catch him again. Peter chuckles at the little fox’s antics.
Through the haze between them, Peter sees Stiles watching him. The forest around them blurs into a deep, jade green, as Peter holds Stiles’ gaze. Absently, he notices Kanko fade into nothing, but Stiles is leaning close, and he’s lifted his free hand to run it through the hair at Peter’s temple. The silence that had fallen between their words before, seems to lift, and Peter swears that he hears the stars singing. Then, Stiles is kissing him. His lips brush Peter’s, and it’s so soft, so sweet, but Stiles is pulling away with a gasp.
“Peter?!” The sound of Stiles’ voice echoes in his mind, as Peter’s stunned into wakefulness, as if the force of Stiles’ own shock had woken the ‘wolf. Peter can feel fear, guilt, and shame resonating through his pack bond with Stiles, and Peter throws himself from his bed. Reality and adrenaline finally cleansing his mind of the pleasant haze from the dream. Something was wrong.