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Pipe Dreams

Chapter Text

Stiles had been tired; tired of the nightmares, tired of being awake, tired of feeling helpless. Even after everything the nogitsune did, everything it had been, its absence was agony. Stiles was left with a hollowness that could never have existed aside the chaos it craved. Its presence had made him feel weak, but its absence made him feel powerless. To think that he might never feel that strength again, made him crave it in much the same desperate way the nogitsune had. The last time he had slept soundly was long before he had let the creature in. Months. The nogitsune had stolen the sanctuary of his thoughts, had squeezed into his already brimming consciousness, and now there was an emptiness. All that was left were the spaces of lost things he could never restore. Their trust. Allison.

It’s no wonder Stiles sought something to fill the void.

Peter is surprised that Stiles doesn’t indulge in something stronger, yet proud that it isn’t the putrid stench of drugs that now clung to the young man’s clothes. Even if it would have offered the dreamlessness the boy deserves. Still, the smell of smoke always unsettles Peter. It was a long while before he could control his shift around the smell, let alone an open flame. He still avoided it if possible, but this was different. It was a scent like burning cedar, the kind of purifying smoke that was breathed at a temple, or tasted on an old whiskey. It also had become an undeniable part of Stiles’ own unique scent, and Peter was reluctant to say that he enjoyed it.

Peter watches intently, as Stiles pushes open one of the large loft windows. He leans against the wall beside it, as he dusts off the windowpane, just like the dozens of times he’d done so before. He looks relaxed in a way that shouldn’t be possible without narcotics. Too cold for t-shirts, Stiles is wearing a loose sweater, of which he rolls up the sleeves, before hopping up to half sit in the open window. One of his long legs bent at the knee, and pulled up to his chest to help him keep balance, the other dangling into the loft. The sky behind him is a gentle grey with the promise of a forgiving afternoon storm that would chill the breeze, and make all the birds take to roost early. What Peter wouldn’t give for it to just be quiet. If it were just them, Stiles perched on the window, and the soft sound of rain.

“Kira says that her mum has called a priest. He’s coming to cleanse Beacon Hills,” Scott announces, awakening Peter from his daydream, there’s little but mummers of acknowledgment from the rest of the ‘wolves. “He wants permission from the pack to enter the land.”

Stiles rolls his shoulders, and reaches into his pocket, retrieving the bamboo pipe and wooden puzzle that he uses as a snuffbox. The pipe is old, slender, with a brass tip, both delicate and steely in a way that Stiles had never been before a few months ago. He fiddles with the complicated puzzle box, deftly sliding panels across and back, before the compartment opens. At least the nogitsune hadn’t diminished the boy’s sharp mind. Perhaps, it had even sharpened it.

In the months that had passed, Peter had witnessed Stiles attempt to prove himself to the pack in astounding and remarkable ways. His ideas and solutions never failed, but his efforts to regain their trust always did. Peter being the exception. Finally, the young man seemed to lose interest in the pack’s opinion of him. He still offered his mind, ever loyal. It was around the same time that he started smoking. Pinching something organic, Stiles rolls it between his fingers, before packing it into the pipe.

“If she thinks it’ll help.” Derek shrugs. “He has permission.” Despite the conversation, both alphas are warily watching the young man in the window. Scott looks torn between watching for a threat, and making sure his friend isn’t about to fall out. His nephew just wrinkles his nose, his only concern that Stiles is going to fill his whole apartment with the smell of smoke. Peter has heard him complain about it several times, but the alpha has never had the guts, nor the heart, to tell Stiles to stop. It’s obvious that the pastime relaxes the young man, and no one for fear, or pity, wants to take that away. Well, almost no one.

“What could it possibly help?” Isaac growls, standing up so fast that the armchair screeches. It’s been close to a year, but the wound hasn’t even begun to close, and Peter is just waiting for the catharsis. Isaac stalks past Stiles lounging in the window, his glare is vicious, but the young man seems unfazed. Peter tenses at the hostility, the day that boy tries to start something, he’s going to have to be faster than Peter. Isaac slams the door as he leaves.

From within another compartment Stiles produces a match. There’s a long hiss when he strikes it along the window pane, it burns bright for a second, and Stiles rests the pipe between his lips, as he lights it. The whole room watches him, and no one stops him. He draws on it three times to encourage the cinders, before sinking further back against the windowpane and exhaling. Smoke swirls out on his breath, a light grey, curling up in the air in front of him.

“We need all the help we can get,” Lydia whispers, knowing that everyone can hear her in the silence, but the admission is too heavy for her to lift her voice, even as strong as it is.

Stiles chuckles quietly on his next breath out, causing the smoke to hang in the air in whorling plateaus. Peter watches as a sliver of grey skips across them, and swears that for a second, golden eyes burn back at him from the haze. Stiles catches him staring, and Peter knows that he doesn’t imagine the young man’s smirk behind the pipe.

Chapter Text

The storm that Peter had thought of as soft that afternoon two days prior had hung low in the sky, cracking open in the early evening. It rained throughout the night, unusual for the time of year, and continued to muddy the ground, breaking only briefly to swollen, cold, kinds of day, that begged for warmth. Even now, the rain fell in sheets, diluting the colours, dimming the world. Peter hated how it washed away scents, and the rainfall’s lulling shush drowned out sounds, but he loved the way it narrowed existence.

He could forget himself in these watery moments, wandering down a quiet street of Beacon Hills. Those he passed on the pavement either ran to escape the rain, or walked carefully, umbrellas tilted forward, faces hidden. Peter didn’t mind the rain so much, but then it was more merciful to him than it was to his woollen sweaters. Dare he admit it, but the rain made Peter feel safe, despite the way it drenched his senses – a flame could not burn so easily in such weather.

Peter was nearing his favourite café, warm lights aglow in the large, picture windows at the front of the store. He fancied that even in the soaked street he could smell their delicious, roasted, coffee blend and the sweet, almond biscotti that they serve with their drinks. As he neared the café, a man walked along the pavement toward him. Peter moved to the side so that he could pass, and lifted his own umbrella a little to allow the man’s large, black one to go beneath.

The man looked serious in a way that the dreary day alone, even with its welling maelstrom, could never have made any singular person seem. Dressed head to toe in black, he might have come from a funeral, but his clothes, while formal, were clearly business attire. He wore a waistcoat, beneath a jacket, beneath a heavy overcoat. Even his undershirt and tie were black, though the latter had a glimmer of thin gold embroidery. He carried a briefcase, and his polished black shoes were speckled with dirt. Despite being someone who seemed to lack anything resembling a sunny disposition, he was tan.

The man nodded his thanks seemingly thoughtless, as he passed Peter, though made the effort to hold eye contact as he did so. Ink. Salt too, but mostly ink. The man smelled so strongly of it, the acrid, expensive kind that came with fountain pens, or high-end rollerballs. Peter wondered if the man had not been drenched in it, and that might be why his clothes were so black. The ‘wolf spared a glance, as the man walked back up the street the way Peter had come, and even after he turned away, listened to the tiny splashes of the man’s footsteps for as long as he could hear them. Finally, Peter glided the last few steps to the café, opening the door, and turning to shake out his umbrella, before leaning it against the wall by the door.

Inside the café was as warm as it had looked from the street. The ambience was cosy, and the lighting bright. Peter sought out the source of the warmth to a large, glass, table top fire-pit, and promptly made his way over to an armchair and coffee table on the other side of the room. He warily glanced at the flames, not willing to let his gaze linger, but not wanting to let the threat slip from his sight. That is when he spots a familiar face smirking back at him. Stiles is sat at the table beside the fire, and had clearly caught Peter looking in his direction. Peter smirks back, quickly disguising his discomfort, before looking away, interrupting any chance the young man had to invite him to sit.

He orders a ristretto, and pulls out his phone to read his latest emails, when not shortly after someone sets a tea cup and saucer down on the coffee table, and sits opposite him. Someone who smells of cedar smoke, clay, and at the moment, contentment.

“This seat isn’t taken,” Stiles says, as if it were a fact, a flirtation, and a defence all at once. Peter looks him over, from the way he toes off his shoes leaving them by the table leg, tucks his socked feet up beside his body, and comfortably curls into the corner of the opposite sofa. 

“It is now,” Peter grumbles, though it's more the rumbling sound of a satisfied wolf. Stiles grins at Peter's acceptance of his company. They’re both quiet for a moment, though they continue to watch each other, Stiles leans forward to gather his teacup into both hands, and sip at it.

“Lovely weather we’re having.” Peter laughs, which clearly had been Stiles’ intention, both too well acquainted not to know that Stiles has no talent for small talk, and too well acquainted to need it.

Peter’s coffee arrives, during a peaceful, warm silence that had enveloped them, and Stiles seems to lean forward into its aroma, inhaling greedily. “I miss coffee,” Stiles sighs mournfully, and Peter raises an eyebrow, as he sips at the hot, dark liquid. Its flavour rich and earthy, and not one Peter thought Stiles would surrender so easily. Caffeine being the only recreational drug that Peter knew the young man indulged in, liberally.  

“Have you unacquired the taste?” Peter asks, and Stiles sighs mournfully.

“No, trying to tame my dependency.” Stiles takes a sip of his tea, closing his eyes, and savouring the taste, taking a deep breath. “I sleep better without it.”

Peter had noticed Stiles’ reckless efforts to avoid sleep after the nogitsune. He could relate, he too had nightmares. At least when Peter awoke he knew that the darkness and pain was his reality, but that it had happened long ago, and that he wasn’t still there. While Stiles had been looking much more rested this last month, this was the first admission Peter had heard that meant he no longer fought off sleep. The ‘wolf felt relieved that Stiles was healing, would help any way that he could. Peter hides his smile behind his palm as he leans his face on his hand, and turns to look out the café window. Rivulets run down the glass, and thunder rumbles overhead, Peter takes in the damp on Stiles’ shoulders and in his hair from the corner of his vision.

“You didn’t bring an umbrella,” Peter says, as if it were a fact, a flirtation, and an offer. Stiles smiles.

Chapter Text

The smoke is choking him, thick and toxic. Peter claws at his throat and chest, and writhes in the ashes. The fire long since dead, just like most of his pack, but he is still stuck here in this grey, dark, cold place. He can only stare, as the blackened walls of his home crumble around him, ashes floating down to settle over his skin, and he can’t brush them away. The wolfsbane and mountain ash are bitter, and they burn in a way the fire never could have. Sometimes the heat comes in waves, as if pulled by the tides of his anger, but it washes over him quickly, leaving just the cold – there is no warmth here. He lets his head fall to the side, lets his eyes fall closed. Wishes that he could just sink into the dark nothingness, just to feel less. The scent changes. It’s subtle, ever much so, but he can smell – cedar.

Peter opens his eyes when he hears a steady heartbeat approach. For a moment, all he sees is grey. The grey of ash, of lifeless stone. Then, the grey shifts, it becomes something softer than smoke, and golden eyes blink back at him. An ashen fox stands before him, its coat thick, and it shakes off the falling powder. Peter can feel the warmth from its breath on his face. He feels a heaviness in his limbs, as the cold starts to dissipate, he sits up. The fox’s tail swishes behind it, as if pleased by his efforts. It’s ears twitch, and it sniffs Peter before running off toward the tree line. Peter stands, and it stops, looking back over its shoulder, waiting.

“Lead on, little fox.” His voice is hoarse, but finally, as he walks toward the woods, Peter can breathe again.

Peter is slower than the fox, limbs still warming as they walk deeper into the forest. The fox chatters, as it walks lively on ahead, as if making sure Peter can hear and still follow. The trees around them begin to change. While they had been walking through Hale land that Peter knew well, the smaller, familiar trees began to thin.

The air becomes thicker, warmer, the way it is after is has rained in summer. Sure enough, Peter can see droplets clinging to leaves, as if a sun shower had just passed overhead. Soon after, he can smell the rich, wetted, earth. The trees continue to open, and sunlight falls in colossal spears all around them, coaxing golden greens from the foliage, until Peter notices that they are wandering in a forest of ancient cedars. Sentinels so tall that it seemed the sky was stitched between their highest branches, and so wide that three strangers could rest against their bark, and not know any other person were there.

Peter walks on, now able to see the fox clearly, bounding through the small ferns and undergrowth. The forest that surrounds them seems to be dripping in light, but every so often between the trees, Peter catches a glimpse of shadow. The kind of deep, lush lowlight that makes him feel like he shouldn’t be here. Places that resonate with an eerie sense of the deific. The kind of solitude within which dwells beasts – or gods. Amongst these shadows of dark emerald, there are foxes carved of stone, standing silently, they are sleeping. The lichen growing around their paws, a testament to how long it’s been. Their steely stares vacant, and yet somehow – seeing. Peter remembers a story he once heard, of a company a thousand strong.

The grey fox twists around one of the large trunks, kicking loose some moss from its exposed roots. A glimpse of gold, as it looks at Peter, but it doesn’t reappear on the other side. As Peter rounds the trunk, the fox is gone. Leaning against the tree, smoking his pipe, and looking distant, is another.

“Peter?” Stiles sounds surprised, inhaling too quickly, and for the first time in months, Peter watches as the young man trips over his own feet. “What are you doing here?” He coughs out, as if Peter has caught him somewhere that neither of them should be.

“I followed the fox,” Peter explains, because it isn’t a lie.

“Is that a euphemism?” Stiles looks over Peter with confusion, before looking down at his pipe. The young man places it between his lips, closes his eyes and drags deeply, before slowly exhaling. Stiles steps closer to Peter, reaching out with his free hand and poking his cheek. “Why you?”

“Who else?” Peter counters, and knows that, even skewed by Stiles’ finger, his smirk translates his smugness. Stiles chuckles, whilst using the backs of his fingers to softly stroke down Peter’s cheek. Stiles lets them linger at his jaw, and Peter is lost looking deep into those warm, amber eyes.

“You’re the first illusion I’ve been able to touch.” Stiles continues to let his fingers brush over Peter’s skin, even as Peter frowns with uncertainty. “He’s getting stronger.” Peter takes Stiles’ hand, as he goes to pull it away. He brings it back to his face, letting his lips rest against the fingers, and inhaling the young man’s scent. Here, Stiles smells the way he used to, before the smoke, and clay, and cedar. Perhaps, because those things were all around them now.

“Surely you know the real thing when you see it.” Peter grins playfully, but something in Stiles’ words disturbs him. He continues, quieter. “Stiles, who is getting stronger?” Stiles smiles with such open amusement that Peter’s heart aches, but he seems perplexed too.

“I wish it were really you.” The young man confesses, chuckling, and Peter feels frustrated at not having been believed. He intertwines his fingers with those of the hand he’s holding, before using his other to gently glance the skin at the side of Stiles’ neck, and running his fingers through the hair by his ear.

“Why can’t it be me?” He asks, quiet, in the stillness of the ancient forest that surrounds them. The smoke lifts off of the dying embers in the pipe, and hangs thinly, lazily, in the air.

“Peter,” Stiles whispers, impossibly soft. “This isn’t real, it's a test.”

Chapter Text

Even as puzzling as the dream had been, Peter had felt the most wholesome contentment at having been with Stiles. He’d tried to fall back into that slumbering summer, but sleep wouldn’t take him, and waking had left Peter petulant and petty. While he’d argue with anyone who accused him of the former, he loved to indulge the latter.

Peter had already been at his nephew’s loft when Scott had called the emergency pack meeting. He will never admit to having felt alone in his apartment, nor will he acknowledge that he drove across town just to pick up lunch from Derek’s favourite restaurant. They’d eaten in silence, and Derek had only muttered a ‘thanks’, but Peter could smell his appreciation. Still, he couldn’t shake the longing left over from waking.

When it came time for the others to begin to arrive, Peter had gone to take his usual place on the metal stairs, or leaning against one of the concrete columns, when he’d spotted the vacant settee. Its rich leather would feel all the softer knowing that it was taken from someone who didn’t deserve it, and alas, Scott and Isaac were still a few minutes from arriving.

“Peter don’t.” His nephew sighs, but Peter only smirks before dropping onto the settee, effectively taking up not one, but two seats, as no one would care to sit next to him. Knowing this, he lounges back into the furniture, laying his arm across its back. Derek rolls his eyes, but doesn’t try convincing him to move.

Thunder forlornly beckons the rain, which refuses to come. The sound echoes around the minimalist loft, and Peter finally begins to settle in contemplation. He knows that a part of it is the assurance that Stiles will be there soon, could already feel the warmth returning as the other drew nearer. Sure enough, Peter could hear the smokers-cough engine of Stiles’ jeep pulling up outside, reminding Peter that he does eventually need to convince Stiles to quit his pastime.

He knows something is wrong the moment Stiles enters the loft. Instead of the swagger that Peter has come to recognise these last couple months, the young man shuffles into the room. He folds and rubs at his arms as if cold, or as if he doesn’t know what to do with them. He walks with a jilted, staccato rhythm, and his heartbeat keeps time. Stiles doesn’t smell nervous, but then he hardly smells of anything. Peter’s wolf whines when all that he can smell is laundry detergent, and soap. It’s not an unpleasant smell, but it’s not Stiles. Peter’s just about to stand and drag the boy from the room to make sure he’s okay, when instead of going to the window to smoke, Stiles slumps down into the space next to him.

“’m tired,” he mutters, leaning against the cushions, hanging his head back so that it rests against Peter’s arm, and closing his eyes. Peter can feel the effort in those words, as if it was exhausting just to admit. They sit in silence, and Peter endeavours to be still, but the temptation is too much. He crooks his arm, his fingers drifting with indecision, before he lets them settle into Stiles’ hair, and stroke through the strands softly. Stiles’ eyes flutter open, he tilts his head to look back up at Peter.

“Rest then. Just until the others arrive.” Peter speaks quietly, and wishes he could tell if it’s surprise, or shock that makes the young man’s heart stutter. There’s a heavy difference between the two, but Peter doesn’t stop running his fingers through Stiles’ hair. Instead, he leans close to whisper low in his ear. “Where’s your scent, Stiles?”

Peter knows that Stiles would have expected him to notice. Stiles huffs a laugh, smiling, while closing his eyes again, and letting Peter continue to scent him. Both know that the pack will only feel uneasy if they notice something off about Stiles. More so, Peter is almost drunk on how much Stiles smells of him with just these few touches. Stiles relaxes, but the tension that drains from his muscles seems to have been the only thing keeping him from shaking apart. They’re only tiny, but the tremors that run through the young man’s limbs are forceful, it makes the ‘wolf frown with concern. Peter knows withdrawal when he sees it.

One by one the rest of the pack begins to arrive. Isaac glares at them when he realises that his usual seat is taken, and goes instead to lean against one of the cold, hard, columns. The satisfaction it brings Peter to see his discomfort is almost enough to better his mood entirely, but Stiles continues to shiver by his side. As more of the pack begins to arrive, Peter let’s his hand drop onto the back of the settee, but Stiles stays pressed lightly to his side. Stiles begins a futile debate with Lydia about the most comfortable fabric blends, and Peter ideally weighs in to let them know that they are both wrong.

The sky crumbles apart outside, the breaking light accompanied by the grumble and clap of the thunder losing its patience. Still, stubbornly, it doesn’t rain, which means Peter smells the strong, stagnant scent of salt and ink long before he hears careful footsteps approaching the loft’s door. Scott is the first into the loft, followed by Kira, and as the last visitor steps through the threshold, a shiver runs through Peter and seemingly into Stiles.

Now that he has time to look, Peter can see that the thin, gold threads on the man’s jet-black tie are embroidered cranes. The birds twist in different ways, their gilded wings beat powerfully against the dark silk. It seems like a strange detail to notice, but Peter can’t seem to keep his sight from the man’s throat, ready to sink his teeth into it the moment he steps wrong.

“Everyone,” The young kitsune says to gather the attention of the room, despite it having fallen silent at their entering. She smiles nervously beside the stoic man. “This is Mr. Tsuru Shuji.” The man nods his head in a shallow, but slow greeting. “He’s here to do the purification ceremony.” The priest, Tsuru, studies them all with an unblinking stare. When he speaks, his voice seems to echo the thunder. Outside, the rain rushes to surrender to its sound.

“There is a fox possessing someone here,” he announces. For a moment, his eyes fall heavily upon Peter and Stiles, before keenly flickering away. “It must be destroyed.”

Chapter Text

“Not again.” The whisper is so quiet, so despondent, and disbelieving that Peter almost sympathises with the young alpha who utters it. It’s Isaac that shifts over toward the door, effectively blocking the only exit. Peter watches as the others grow wary and tense, slipping into a savage kind of stillness. He looks back at Stiles who, to his surprise, is looking up at him curiously. Peter hasn’t created any distance between them, something he can tell both confuses and delights Stiles. He looks deep into those warm, grateful eyes, and knows that it isn’t an ancient, or spiteful being that blinks back.

“Those previously afflicted are more likely to be possessed a second time,” Tsuru explains, nonchalant. His voice is smooth, deep, and so sure. Either he doesn’t expect the fox to attack yet, or is confident that it wouldn’t matter if it did. “Who was the victim of the nogitsune?” Tsuru notices the narrowed attention of the pack, and his moss green eyes zone in on Stiles, before the young man can even speak.

“That would be me.” Stiles shifts, sitting on the edge of the settee, before moving to stand. It looks as if he’s simply struggling with the effort it takes. A movement that would be telegraphed as lazy indifference to anyone else, but Peter can tell that the young man is trying his best not to make any unexpected movements. “What do I need to do?”

“Stand still for the moment.” The priest approaches Stiles, and Peter shifts a little toward them, bristling at the disappearing distance. “This is going to be uncomfortable, but it’s preferable to being whipped with a branch of camellias.” Stiles chuckles, and the priest himself seems a little less stern for just a moment.

Tsuru moves to place his briefcase upon the coffee table, and opens it carefully. He pulls out a new pair of white, latex gloves from an open box of fifty. The priest removes his jacket, before rolling up the ink black sleeves of his dress shirt. He makes quick work of putting on the gloves, and suddenly looked the part of a trusted, family doctor.

Peter peers into the briefcase. There are a number of blank, loose papers, a fountain pen, a cloth-bound notebook. All items one might expect to see within a briefcase. There is also a number of items one wouldn’t. A jar of salt, a mirror, a string of jade stones, and a short, slender blade. Peter tenses upon seeing the last item. Tsuru turns to Stiles with a black, velvet bag. He reaches in, retrieving a small, shining coin. It’s an oval shape, with a square hole at its centre, and two cranes that dance around the edges. He holds it up for Stiles to see.

“Foxes are silver-tongued, and as it happens, silver is their weakness. Say aah.” Stiles opens his mouth, and the priest places the coin on his tongue. “Don’t swallow.”

“Howh does’is whork?” Stiles speaks around the coin in his mouth, and the priest’s lips thin.

“If you are possessed by a fox, then it will be so unsettled by the weight of the coin holding down it’s tongue that it’ll be compelled to speak." A telling silence follows, and even as it sighs, the rain fails to wash it away.

“Oh,” Stiles shifts from foot to foot. “Oohps.” It’s not so much the defence offered that surprises Peter, but who offers it.

“Yeah, but when does Stiles ever stop talking?” Isaac growls from the doorway, and the members in the pack all seem to shrug and nod in agreement. The priest looks around interestedly, before turning back to Stiles. “Well, don’t speak until I say.” Stiles nods in acknowledgement. “I’ll need to repeat the process with everyone here.”

One by one the members of the pack are cleared of suspicion, as Stiles remains silent. When it comes to Peter’s turn, he raises an unimpressed eyebrow. Impressively, Tsuru matches it. Peter just plucks the coin from the man’s fingers, and puts it on his tongue himself. Peter has never felt uncomfortable in silence, but the metal is cool and heavy. His own silver tongue turned to lead, he can’t help wanting to speak. Finally, after even Peter has removed his coin, Tsuru returns to Stiles and allows him to also.

“Gross,” Stiles says, pulling the spit-slick coin from his lips. It shines more, glistening wet as it is. He swallows, holding the coin out, Tsuru grimaces, and looks down to hide it, pretending to straighten his tie.

“You can keep it. It’ll protect you from another possession.” Stiles wipes the coin off on his jeans.

“So, no one is possessed?” Scott asks, clearly relieved, but Tsuru shakes his head.

“There is a fox,” he insists. “Everyone here has encountered it. Is there anyone else that you have all met within the last day?” Murmurs arise amongst the group.

“Yeah, there must be a few.” Scott confirms, and Peter realises something strange. He hasn’t seen anyone outside of the pack in twenty-four hours. He looks over to where his nephew is lounging in an armchair, luckily, he hadn’t confided his loneliness at lunch.

“I must leave,” Tsuru says packing up his briefcase. He walks over to the door, and Isaac moves aside. “I will continue with the purification ritual, which will help to balance the energies here. When I return, please each have a list of names of who you have met.” The man gives a short bow, before holding the door open for Kira, who goes to show him out.

“Seems like a nice, human guy.” Stiles hums to no one, as the pack falls into ideal chatter and conspiracies alike. Stiles looks at Peter and smirks. “Catch.”

He tosses something at him, and Peter swipes it from the air in a steel, closed fist. He opens his palm to see that it’s Stiles’ coin. When he looks back up, Stiles is wandering over to perch by the window. He takes out his pipe, already packed, and retrieves a single match from his shirt pocket. When he breathes out his first ashy breath, shaking and falling back against the wall in relief, Peter looks deep into the young man’s sundrenched eyes. The rain seems to fall silent, as if pulled to earth by its own silver-laced weight. This time, he can’t be sure that it’s only Stiles who stares back.

Chapter Text

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.