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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.

Chapter Text

Peter runs. Driving would only take a quarter of an hour if he edged 15 miles above the speed limit, but cutting through the preserve on foot took ten minutes for a wolf. Peter was going to run it in seven.

It’s late, the night is still and quiet, but the air that gets pulled past him shivers and roars in his ears, a tempest to match the one in Peter’s mind. The heavy permanence of fear that drenches their bond in waves drowns out Stiles’ other emotions, making it too difficult for Peter to assess what was wrong. Rather than silently begging Stiles to answer his phone, for a third time, Peter had thrown open his apartment door, and leapt, barefoot toward the dark tree-line.

It’s almost the full-moon, but the satellite’s light only barely chances through the low-slung clouds. Peter shifts to see clearer, run faster. Shifting strengthens the bond, and it’s suddenly awash with a stony desperation. It was the kind of hell-raising stubbornness Peter had only ever witnessed in Stiles. The kind of hopeless, kamikaze determination that could only mean Stiles was fighting for something.

There’s a pounding baseline that seems to thrum up from the earth every time the soles of his feet collide with the dirt. It’s an unforgiving rhythm to set his pace to, an unrelenting tempo, to which his heart beats in time. There’s a counter rhythm, it’s quiet at first, but Peter hears it growing louder – closer – and it’s faster. The scents come second.

Smoke and cedar – Stiles. Followed, pursued by another, inhuman, scent. Not like rust, but like old steel, like rain-wetted stone. Like a sharpened blade.

“Stiles!” Peter calls out urgently, when the scent of fear becomes so strong that he knows they must be closing in on each other. For just a second his own voice is so loud it drowns out all other sound in his ears, and when it’s gone, so is Stiles. The scent, the sound, just simply gone. A shaky breath crawls its way out of Peter’s lungs when he thinks of what might have happened. He can’t smell blood, but he can’t hear a heartbeat, nor the footfalls that had been moving toward him. “Where are you?” His words are softened with concern, and so that he can strain all of his senses in search.

“I thought you were angry.” Peter spins startled and relieved, as Stiles emerges from the trees behind him. Shame and nervousness flutters across the bond. Stiles’ amber eyes shine unnaturally in the moonlit dark.

“You were frightened, I thought something had… what’s wrong?” Peter doesn’t waste a second striding over to the young man, brushing his hands along the other’s shoulders and down his arms, making sure he was unharmed. He subtly uses the action to pull the other closer, trying to wrap himself around Stiles, as if something were to burst from the bushes with its fangs bared. Fear spikes through the bond, but it’s quickly settled by that same stony determination Peter had felt earlier. “Stiles?”

“I thought it was an illusion.” Stiles moves his hands up to Peter’s chest, bunching Peter’s shirt in his hands, as if to never let go. “I know you don’t feel that way about me… If I had known, I never would have, but Kanko was just being, well, Kanko, and…” Between the unfinished sentences, and rambling that Peter hadn’t heard from Stiles in a while, it took a moment for him to remember where he’d heard that name. The foggy memory surfaces lazily, as if being dredged up from the depths of a bog.

“The dreams.” Peter breathes, his eyes widening in astonishment.

“I’m sorry that I kissed you!” Stiles whines at the same time, before his eyes snap up to look at Peter, unblinkingly in panic. There’s silence as Peter tries to process everything. “Oh god.” Stiles breaks it with his own too late, epiphany. “You… hadn’t realised.”

Stiles tries to pull away, to gently put distance between them, but Peter only holds him in place.

“That, it wasn’t a dream?” Peter asks, and Stiles shakes his head, a little nervously, but he quickly calms when Peter shows no signs of anger.

“It was a dream, it just wasn’t solely your dream.” Stiles admits, and Peter nods in understanding. He knows that nogitsune are skilled at illusion and manipulating cognitive states. He supposes that it’s possible that dream sharing isn’t beyond their abilities. It dawns on him that he should be concerned that the young man standing in front of him is undoubtably possessed, but there’s something else he wants to address first.

“Stiles,” Peter begins, and Stiles stands there with his head hung, and his hands hanging by his sides. Peter gently pulls him just that little bit closer. “How did you know it was me?” Stiles fidgets at the question, and Peter can see a deep blush dusting his cheekbones.

“Kanko has been testing me, to teach me the difference between illusions and reality. It felt… different from the other times.” Stiles practically squirms, and Peter grins.

“Oh, and do you kiss every illusion of me to know the difference?” Peter chuckles when Stiles looks up, and winces.

“This is just like you,” Stiles huffs. “I was so worried you’d get angry, and not want to see me after you knew how I felt, and I ran to you to apologise…” the warm pink is still threateningly adorable, but Peter’s urge to joke softens a little at those words. “but of course, your narcissistic ass is going to be impossible to get rid of now, and of course you’re just going to use this to tease…”

Peter kisses him quiet. Not that he doesn’t love Stiles’ voice. It’s a little longer than the dream, with a little more intention, but still just as soft. Stiles gasps in surprise, before his hands find Peter’s shoulders, and he pulls him closer. Peter runs his hands reassuringly through Stiles’ hair, and lets the young man set the pace of the kiss. After a moment, Peter pulls back slightly. Stiles’ lips are parted, just so, and he looks amazed. Peter speaks quietly.

“Stiles, kissing you is the second-best dream I’ve ever had.” He continues to stroke the soft strands at the base of Stiles’ neck, which Stiles leans into a little.

“What was the first?” Stiles asks breathily. Peter’s grin is salacious, as he looks over Stiles, and only just notices that they’re both wearing sleepwear, both too frantic to have gotten changed before running into the woods. “Let me buy you dinner before we get to that.” Peter didn’t think it was possible for that blush to get any deeper. He also won’t ever admit that his most fond dream was a lot more domestic than he’d led Stiles to believe.

Chapter Text

They don’t dream again that night. At least, Peter doesn’t. After having walked Stiles back to his apartment, Stiles had offered half-explanations, but by the way he kept glancing at Peter, he’d been a little distracted. Peter had only indulged that distraction twice, and he can’t say it wasn’t worth it. From what Stiles had told him, Kanko wasn’t a nogitsune, but a different kind of ancient, fox spirit. A kudagitsune. That it inhabits an object, and only possesses Stiles temporarily. It’s how Stiles had passed the priest’s coin test. Stiles didn’t need a silver coin to protect him, a nogitsune can’t possess what’s already possessed. While the nogitsune take their permission once, Kanko needs it to be given endlessly.

Peter has met the fox. It has spirited him away from misery more than once, and Peter believes Stiles, when he says that the fox isn’t harmful. Kanko can’t survive without Stiles, and Peter doesn’t know if Stiles could survive without Kanko.

Peter doesn’t have very many memories of the nogitsune incident, so little involved as he was. What he does remember so achingly clearly, is the first pack meeting after it was resolved. Peter knows that though loyal, Stiles doesn’t trust anyone who doesn’t trust him in turn. The truth was that the pack hadn’t been able to lend trust to Stiles, even when Stiles needed so desperately to trust them. While Peter had brought his own exclusion upon himself, he knew what it was like to not be completely in control of his actions. Madness and rage had stripped him of his reason, but Stiles hadn’t had even the slither of control that Peter had had. Peter had convinced Stiles that he needed to tell the pack about Kanko. The priest, Tsuru, aside, if the pack were to find out that he’d been hiding the fox, it would strip away the little trust they lent him now. They wouldn’t be able to trust that Stiles was himself, and Peter doesn’t want to see that again. Stiles had to choose to go to them first. The young man had nervously agreed, and Peter had offered him a gentle and reassuring smile.

“I’ll protect you,” Peter had whispered, only to preserve the calm that had followed their conversation. He lifts his hand to Stiles’ cheek, and looks deep into his eyes.

“I know,” Stiles had spoken sweetly against Peter’s lips.

Peter had walked back to his own apartment enjoying the small hours. For the first time in a few days, the forest had actually felt clear. Just as the sky was open, and free of the clouds that had cluttered it. The only haze was a low, dawn mist, that settled through the woods, following the courses of rivers, and it was too low to hinder the stars. The mist itself was cool, a signature of the rain, left behind after it had cleansed the land. The rain had lifted so many scents from the earth, it had revived it. Peter had slipped between his sheets, his eyes closing, and he had not dreamt.

 

The next morning, Peter felt well rested, despite not having slept the full night. He showers, and decides upon wearing his softest sweater. A slate blue, stonewashed cashmere. He was determined to settle the debate on comfortable fabrics once and for all. Though, he doesn’t mind having to argue his point longer, if it means Stiles will have to spend more time pressed to his side to verify. Regardless, Peter made sure to arrive early to the loft, to secure his newly stolen place on the settee. Wanting Stiles to be secure beside him when the young man tells the rest of the pack about Kanko. Only, he isn’t early enough. He checks his watch, but it’s still forty minutes before anyone else is supposed to arrive. Yet, from their scents, Peter can tell that everyone, aside from Stiles and himself, are already here. As the heartbeats inside uptick upon anticipating a new arrival, Peter’s stops.

Peter walks calmly, but swiftly back to his car, pulling open the door, and dropping into the driver seat. Only when he’s tearing out of the lot, does he feel he can take a breath. He calls Stiles.

“Peter.” Peter wants desperately to be able to soak in that sleepy sound of contentment, but he’s going to be at Stiles’ apartment in twelve minutes.

“Sweetheart, get dressed, I’m coming to pick you up, and I’m going to be there soon.” Peter emphasizes the last word, before trying for soft, again. “The pack meeting is a farce, it’s an intervention. Either they want you to quit smoking, or they know about Kanko”. Stiles swears softly in response. He doesn’t sound panicked, still a little sleepy, but that’s the kind of effect Kanko has had on the young man. Peter almost laughs with relief at how unworried Stiles sounds. “Well, it could be for something I’ve done, but all I’ve done recently is kiss you,” Peter smirks, dropping the last of the sentence into a whisper, as if it’s a terrible secret.

“If they knew about us, there would definitely be an intervention.” Stiles interrupts, sounding humoured.

“So, want to spend the day with me instead?” Peter grins when Stiles huffs softly.

“Are you asking me on a date, Peter Hale?”

“I can think of worse ways to spend the day,” Peter laughs. “I’ll be there soon.” He re-emphasises.

Stiles is already striding over toward the car, as Peter pulls up. As he gets in, his expression is a little stonier than he’d sounded on the phone.

“Everything okay?” Peter asks, pulling away from the curb, and heading east. Stiles hums neutrally.

“I’ve already got messages. Scott sent one five minutes ago, telling me not to forget the pack meeting today, and one from Lydia.”

“What does Lydia say?”

“Lydia says that I should have told her sooner, and that I should forget the meeting.” Stiles sighs. “I should call her, she already knows about you, which means that this is about Kanko.”

“She already knows about me?” Peter glances curiously over to Stiles. Stiles is re-reading the messages, and there’s a faint, rose, tint to his skin. Peter grins, as he fixes his eyes back on the road. Stiles laughs softly, having noticed his pride. Stiles doesn’t ask Peter where they are going. It occurs to Peter that Stiles trusts him, and that Stiles has trusted him for some time now. Stiles lowers his window, with just a look to Peter for permission. Peter lowers his own window, and Stiles lights his pipe. Peter settles a little further, as the scent of cedar fills the air, awash with the wind that sweeps through the car, cool, crisp, and clear.

Chapter Text

Peter knows that Stiles has realised where they’re going three blocks before they arrive. He holds the door open for Stiles, a bell jingling lightly, and the young man smiles at him as he passes. The café has abandoned its cosy, warm atmosphere, and is embracing the fair weather. The long windows at the front of the café have been pinned open, and a soft breeze fills the room. The scent of coffee spilling onto the street to attract customers. The loveseat Stiles had curled into the last time they had been here, had been pulled over to one of the open windows, and Peter gently pushes Stiles toward it, before going to give their orders to the barista.

They’re the only ones in the café, having missed the morning rush, and the barista offers to bring them their drinks, rather than have Peter wait for them like usual. Peter wanders back over to Stiles who is staring anxiously at his phone. He lowers himself into the place next to him, letting their sides brush together, but still allowing Stiles space. There’s a moment where neither speaks, and the only sounds are that of the espresso machine, and the soft, acoustic guitar that seems to fill the space.

“Want me to call them?” Peter offers, knowing that accusations and questions will spill from the pack the moment the call connects. He doesn’t want Stiles to have to deal with the distrust and betrayal that the other members will not be able to stifle. Saying that, he hardly believes that their concerns will be assuaged with just a phone call alone, especially if it is his own voice that answers their demands. Stiles seems to know that too, as he shakes his head.

“I’ve sent the details to Lydia. She’s the only one that’s done research. Maybe she can convince them.” Lydia is seemingly the only one to have questioned the truth, not simply taken up arms against him. Peter already knows that, while Stiles will always be close with Scott, Lydia is the only other that can truly be considered on Stiles’ level – aside from himself, of course. Finally putting his phone away, Stiles leans into Peter’s side. His arms around the other’s waist, and he rests his head on Peter’s shoulder. “This is the softest sweater I’ve ever felt." Peter grins victoriously.

“I’ll let you wear it some time.” Peter whispers into Stiles’ hair, and the other huffs.

“You just want me to smell like you.” Stiles rubs his cheek on the fabric. “It’s also too big for me, but I’m going to steal it from you anyway.” Peter laughs, and Stiles chuckles. It’s a quiet moment between them that Peter won’t soon forget. He’s comfortable, and there’s a soft breeze pulling through the Stiles’ hair, making it tickle his cheek. It’s as if they’ve fallen into a photograph, everything so still, and content around them. Peter becomes as still as their surroundings – it’s unnatural.

“Stiles, get down,” Peter growls, before leaping from the other’s hold, and over the back of the loveseat. The atmosphere seems to unfold around them, as the stillness fades away. The smell of ink fills the room, as Tsuru lets the spell fall. Peter can see the barista slumped over in an armchair, but her heart is beating, and her breathing is peaceful. She seems to be asleep. He has no doubt, that if he were to check, that the exists are magically sealed.

“Stiles,” Tsuru speaks, and his gaze doesn’t once lift to Peter. “Your friends have told me of your strength, that you have fought the nogitsune once before. You must fight it again, now.” Peter does not allow his own gaze to leave the threat, but he does hear the tell-tale sound of a wooden, puzzle box being solved.

“Priest,” Stiles seems to welcome, as the clicking of the puzzle continues. “There is no need for violence.” At these words, Peter does look down at Stiles, and he almost stops breathing, when the young man’s eyes flash back at him a burning gold.

“I disagree,” Tsuru speaks slowly, deliberately. His deep voice sounds smooth, like oil, like the colour black must sound. “You thrive on violence, demon, but if you release your victim, I will give you a painless death.”

“Whoa, who said anything about victim?” Stiles laughs, and Peter winces at the sound of a match being lit behind his back, but trusts Stiles, and stays facing the priest. Stiles stands from the settee, walking around to stand by Peter’s side. Pipe in hand, he draws on it, and Peter doesn’t doubt, drawing on Kano’s strength. Peter aches to stand in front of him, to protect the young man, but knows that it would only seem to undermine Stiles’ power. “I am speaking to you now as Stiles, I have full autonomy. I am no threat to anyone who isn’t a threat to us.”

Peter notices the slip in Stiles’ phrasing, though perhaps it is intentional, Stiles could mean himself, and Peter included, but somehow it seems to encompass too much in just those two letters. Tsuru laughs, truly the darkest kind of chuckle. So much is said with just that sound, distrust, doubt, and a divine confidence that warns off any who should so utter against his judgment.

“Of all the tricks I have endured, I have never witnessed one so weak, have some dignity.” Peter growls, as Stiles sighs in exasperation. Peter wants to believe that they can talk their way out of this. Of the whole pack, there's no two better skilled to talk, but if it comes to fighting, he's not sure how they'll fair against an experienced priest. Peter has witnessed Kanko's power, but he's not sure how far they can get by on smoke and mirrors alone. As Tsuru has said, he has probably endured all kinds of tricks and illusions. Convincing the priest not to fight seems to be their best chance.

“It’s the truth,” Peter makes his voice low to match the threat of the priest’s. “You are speaking to Stiles, not the fox.” Tsuru’s entertained grin falls into something woeful, pitying.

“Do not be fooled, ‘wolf. It is only the fox that speaks now.” The graveness of his mission seemingly remembered, Tsuru moves. He raises his arm, and Peter widens his stance not sure what to expect. In his hand is a fountain pen, a sleek black and gold instrument that reeks of enchantment. Tsuru writes in the air, and from its nib, black ink flows. It’s not in English, but it’s a word that written in almost any language, Peter would recognise – fire. Tsuru all but seems to command the kanji toward them, but as it does, holes appear in the character, embers burning away the strokes, and only flames are left in its place. Peter gasps, as heat licks at his skin, the fire having surrounded them, trapping them in. Peter feels numb, but as his breathing stutters, he feels Stiles take his hand, despite Peter’s claws having surfaced.

“This,” Stiles bellows, and smoke pours from his lips, spilling to the floor and washing over the flames, suffocating them. “…is my favourite café. Let’s settle this without property damage, hmm?” Tsuru only frowns at their joined hands, before casting another spell, the ink slick and shining ready to become a command. His hand pauses over the word, Peter doesn’t understand this one, but while the fox is his adversary, Tsuru doesn’t seem to wish any harm upon Peter. It is why he is so surprised when Tsuru directs this one toward him. Peter doesn’t have time to more out of the way, but it isn’t his body that drops to the floor, limp. Peter looks down, and his heart sinks to the floor to lie beside Stiles’ unmoving body. The inked character, a mark upon his forehead. Everything is as quiet as it had been just minutes before. The memory of Stiles stroking his hand over Peter’s shoulder, as they sat peacefully, only intensifies his anguish. Then it is gone, it is no longer quiet, and Peter roars.

Chapter Text

“Stand back, Beta, he is not who he says he is.”

“He was telling the truth,” Peter growls, only slightly comforted by the sound of Stiles’ shallow breaths.

Tsuru hums, penning a character, slow and intended. It looks heavy, built to contain a finality that will never have the chance to ink itself upon Stiles’ mind – Peter won’t let it. Without the alpha power, Peter cannot reach him. He has no ability to search Stiles’ mind, to pull him out from underneath the spell. Here isn’t where he needs to be, here he is helpless, useless. He needs to find Stiles. He won’t have long.

“You know, Stiles was my enemy once.” Peter reveals, voice low, as he starts toward the priest. “I was an alpha, he was human.” Peter pauses only to give the illusion of break. His voice is quiet, as if not to wake Stiles, as if not to admit what he was going to say next. Despite what the others may have informed him, Tsuru obviously believes that Peter might be reasoned with.

“He is your enemy again. The fox will devour him, and whatever it has promised you, it has lied. Stand aside, let me finish this.” Peter looks over the unconscious, young man. He feels like this might be a goodbye, even if he’ll be seeing Stiles soon. He smiles sadly, longing, he won’t show weakness in front of Stiles.

“I lost back then,” Peter continues his story, his determination settling in his chest like lead. It weighs his heart down, it feels hopeless. “I probably would have lost all the same, but if I had listened, I would have known why”. Peter lunges toward Tsuru, the façade of stillness and calm, stripped away by snarling fangs, and glistening claws. Peter is just slow enough. The character Tsuru had been preparing hits Peter. The spell pulls tight against his chest.

His limbs go heavy. He feels the moment that his knees sink into the rich, wet earth, but not much else after that. Something pulling him into another realm. Peter only watches Tsuru for a second, the man looks pitying. Walking toward him, distracted from Stiles, at least for the moment. The last thing he feels is the light misting of a new rain, finally having been able to breach the thick, forest canopy above him. There’s no resistance, there’s no struggle. Peter let’s his eyelids fall closed.

When he awakes, it is not a true awakening. His eyes open, but he is already walking, something pulling him. The moment he thinks it, smoke surrounds him, and forms. Kanko is pulling at the hem of his sweater. Peter waves the spirit off, before breaking into a sprint, Kanko abandons the illusion of running, drifting just ahead to lead the way. He runs further into the forest, further into the deep greens, and stalking quiet. They pass countless guardian foxes, they hold divinity in their stone postures, but as Peter passes them now, he can see that they are fracturing. Peter staggers, a pain shooting through his mind. His breathing has been ragged since waking in the dream, and Peter is sure that it’s not much better in the waking world. He is dying, and he would know, this isn’t his first time. Peter pulls himself up, and resumes his punishing pace. Only for the breath to by punched out of him once again.

There’s a bank that steepens between a grouping of small conifers, and the soil is covered in thick groupings of moss. There’s a small seep that is born from the bank and trickles into a tiny stream. Lying still at the peak of the bank, is Stiles.

Peter is at his side instantly, and Kanko moves to his other. Tsuru’s mark is still upon his forehead, but Peter can see that here, the mist from the stream has made the ink run. Gathering some water in his palm, Peter uses his other hand to wash it off. As he does, Stiles’ skin seems to warm, and only then does Peter realise how cold he had been.

“Stiles,” Peter pleads, sitting down next to the young man, leaning over his chest to warm him further. “I need you to wake up for me, sweetheart”. Stiles’ eyes flicker open.

“Peter!” Stiles sits up, throwing his arms around Peter’s shoulders, and Peter buries his face in the young man’s shoulder, breathing in his scent, and forcing away the mist in his eyes. “Peter why are we here, is Tsuru..?” Peter only shakes his head.

“We still have a little time, I’m counting on time moving faster in here than out there.” Stiles nods.

“Just like Hollywood dreamland rules.” Peter smiles.

“We’re still in the café, you have to wake up.” Stiles pulls away from him, as that insistent agony permeates Peter’s head once again. Peter groans, his eyes losing focus. “Please, Stiles. I won’t be here much longer. You have to wake up.”

“What do you mean?” The pain subsides, and he looks up into Stiles’ amber eyes, tears threaten to spill from them. “No.” Stiles whispers, but Peter only brings his hand up to stroke the backs of his fingers across Stiles’ face, before turning his palm to cup his cheek. Stiles gasps, softly, and the tears spill. Peter smiles sadly, leaning to press a chaste kiss to Stiles’ lips. He goes to pull away, but Stiles pulls him close, kissing him again, deeply. It takes all of Peter’s will to end it, but he stays close, their foreheads pressed together. 

“I don’t want to wake up if you’re not there.” Stiles whispers, and Peter winces, knowing that this might very well be the last time he sees Stiles – sees anything.

“Sweetheart,” Peter says, taking the young man’s face in both his hands, and kissing his forehead. “You said it yourself, my narcissistic ass is impossible to get rid of.” Stiles laughs wetly, but it’s worth it just to see his smile. This is okay, Peter thinks, if this is the last thing he sees. The pain in his head is growing more persistent, but Peter ignores it to focus on Stiles. “You’ll just have to come visit me in your dreams”. Stiles closes his eyes, making more tears spill down Peter’s fingers.

“Peter,” Stiles whispers, voice growing impossibly quiet, as all sound seems to fade. Peter’s closed his eyes now, and while nothing hurts anymore, he also can’t feel his hands against Stiles’ cheeks any longer. “I love you."

Chapter Text

Stiles had been tired. He had been tired of the nightmares, tired of being awake, tired of feeling helpless. Stiles had been tired, but now it was time for him to wake.

In later months, Tsuru would return to Japan, to the land he hadn’t seen in a decade. Upon reuniting with the other members of his shrine, far in the Takeo mountains of Tokyo, he would tell them this story. Even later, he would use the very pen he had on that day, to record the events in scripture that would be read for centuries to come. His account is as follows:

"I had thought the fight won, with only one innocent casualty. The demon-fox was under an enchantment, and I was preparing to seal it away, only for the possessed to open his eyes. I had not known any nogitsune to be able to change the appearance of the possessed, as this one did. The young man’s visage changed to that of a white fox. His eyes blazed with a gold, brighter than any summoned by high-priests of the most divine sects. Smoke encompassed the young man’s form, and it twisted and wrapped around him in heavenly ribbons. The gold and the smoke must have blinded me, as still, I foolishly challenged this creature. Its illusions had the substance of reality, and its power was so intricately ordered that it only appeared as chaos, impossible to predict. My enchantments and my talismans were swept away like embers in a wind, as violent as if it were created from a wild fire. It wasn’t until it spoke that I realised my own apostasy. I knew only of gods a thousand strong, but this one claimed a thousand and one. As the burning gazes of a thousand of this fox’s disciples fell upon me, I fell to my knees – and I prayed."

 

Peter felt the first drops of a warm rain fall upon his cheeks. The droplets smelt of salt, and they came irregularly. When he opened his eyes, he was met with a sight he’d never thought he’d see again. Stiles smiling down at him. Peter tries to sit up, groaning as his stiff muscles finally relax with the movement. Suddenly, he has his arms full of Stiles, as the other hugs him desperately.

“Welcome back, Zombiewolf.” Stiles mutters between kissing every inch that he can reach of Peter’s face. Peter laughs, overjoyed, but also a little nervously. The implications of the nickname reminding him of the peril they had been in.

“Did you?” Peter gasps realising that he’s laid out underneath a full moon, cedar smoke rising in lazy ribbons at intervals in a circle around him. Stiles nods, Peter can feel the movement, as Stiles rubs his cheek along Peter’s neck.

“Don’t you ever leave me again.” Stiles pulls back to level him with an unimpressed glare, but Peter can see the concern behind it, and smell the happiness surrounding the young man.

“How could I leave,” Peter looks into Stiles eyes, they’re still a warm honey, but now they hold a gilded sheen. Stiles does his best to distract Peter with affection, running his hands up and down Peter’s body, as if to check he was truly safe. Or perhaps the young man was still enamoured with his sweater. Which, Peter now realises is immaculate, and definitely has been washed since he wore it at the café. How long had it been? “…when you got to say it, and I didn’t?”

“What?”

“I love you too, Sweetheart”. Stiles stills, looking up, with a blush in his cheeks. “I love you”. Fresh tears spill to join the blush. Stiles doesn’t reply, only laughs a little wildly into the kiss he presses against Peter’s mouth. Peter cups his face, using his thumbs to smooth away the tears, as he deepens the kiss. When Stiles pulls away again, Peter realises that it isn’t only Stiles’ tears on his skin.

 

"It was only by a divine mercy that I, Tsuru Shuji of the Takeo Nichiren sect, live to write this warning: revere the lineage, Stilinski, they are formidable kitsune-tsukai. They employ a creature that is surely, an awful and benevolent herald of the goddess, Inari. Anyone who dares cross them, are not long for this earth. Take heed of the white fox, and his most loyal devotee - the wolf."

 

Peter taps a finger impatiently against the settee, unable to fully control his envy. His nephew glowers at him from across the room, making Peter roll his eyes, and still his hand.

“Who’s a cutie? You are! You’re a little, cute, tiny, cutie,” Kira coos at Kanko, who yips at her, as he gratefully takes the small piece of fried-tofu she offers him. Scott and Isaac also watch in amusement, the latter only thinly veiled.

“A little, cute, millennia-old, supposed messenger to literal gods,” Derek mutters lowly, refusing to succumb to the curiosity Peter can smell on him. Peter’s attention is drawn back to his previous source of scrutiny, but is met with Lydia’s steely expression. Bright red lips pulled into a reluctant pout.

“You’re right,” she says, still stroking along Stiles’ shoulder. Peter narrows his eyes at her slender, manicured fingers, and her hand retreats from the blue, cashmere sleeve. “This is somewhat superior to a mulberry-silk damask.” That’s apparently all she has to say, as she turns on her toe, and floats over to where Derek has now joined in fussing over Kanko. Peter feels only a small sense of victory. It’s all forgotten the moment Stiles flops down into the seat next to him, and pulls Peter’s hand, urging him to cover the scent that Lydia had left on the fabric.

“A little possessive, are we?” Stiles teases, but he’s grinning. Peter huffs, knowing that he’s been caught out, but not ashamed to admit it.

“Not as much as Kanko,” he deflects anyway, leaning in to place a kiss on Stiles’ cheek.

“I don’t know, look at that little traitor over there.” Stiles says, narrowing his eyes, as the group all chuckle when Kanko gekkers, and sets fire to one of Derek’s eyebrows. “Kira can have him in her dreams tonight, maybe she can take him for a walk. All that worship tofu, he’s going to get lazy.”

“A little possessive, are we?” Peter laughs, as Stiles punches him in the shoulder. Peter retaliates by pulling a protesting Stiles, halfway into his lap. Wrapping his arms around the other’s belly, and pressing his lips to the crook of his neck. Stiles gives up, and leans back into the embrace. He tilts his head to the side, and brings an arm up to play with Peter’s hair.

“Love you,” he whispers into Peter’s ear, and it’s small, as if Stiles still can’t quite believe that he’s allowed to say it.

“Love you too,” Peter hums, into Stiles’ shoulder.

Outside the late afternoon sun is alighting the overcast sky, the clouds obscuring the sunset, but illuminating the air with brilliant light. A sun-shower encompasses the loft, as if to seal in the sound of laughter, and happiness. The droplets that fall from the sky look as if to be made of liquid gold.

Stiles had sought something to fill the void, and with Kanko and Peter, he’s finally found it.