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Maybe the Thought Counts

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Banner for fic with four images. Stiles' mouth, steak dinner, chocolate cake, a gift, and the title of the story

“For the last time, it’s not real.”

“It’s real if we all agree it’s real. Right, Scotty?”

“I’m not sure that’s how these things work.”

“Dude, seriously?” Stiles flailed with his whole body. “You’re supposed to back me up here.”

Scott shrugged, not pausing on his quest through the kitchen for more snacks. “I thought you were asking my opinion.”

“I’m in DC for three months and you can’t read my mind anymore? I’m revoking your best friend privileges for the next,” Stiles checked the oven timer, “twenty-seven minutes.” 

He turned back to Derek, stepping aggressively into his personal space and poking him in the chest. “Listen up, grumpywolf. I’ve put hours of research and effort into this, when I was maybe supposed to be studying for exams. So when I say it’s real, you nod and agree with me. Capisce?” 

Derek’s frustrated eyebrows drew down further as he transferred his glare from the top of Stiles’ head to the finger jabbing him, but he held firm. “Just because you read about it on the internet, doesn’t make it real.”

Their debate—though referring to it as such was probably being generous—had been in progress long before Peter arrived at the loft. The scowling, immovable object that was his nephew, facing off against the unstoppable force of one Stiles Stilinski with a half-cocked, but heavily researched plan. Peter would take bets on the outcome, but sadly he was surrounded by broke college students.

“Ugh!” Stiles flung his hands in the air, nearly smacking Derek in the face, and turned on Boyd, doe-brown eyes beseeching. “Boyd, buddy, pal, my man. I need you tell Derek that Wolfenoot’s a real holiday.”

Boyd, who had been watching the argument with all the apathy of a lifeguard at the Olympics, took another bite of his moon-shaped cupcake and gave Stiles a maybe-maybe-not motion with his free hand.

Stiles sighed in despair and rolled his eyes to the ceiling, putting his long, pale throat on display.

Peter couldn’t resist joining in, amused despite himself. “Yes, please ask the teenagers who were bitten approximately fifteen minutes ago for their opinion on werewolf traditions.” He raised an eyebrow, more than ready to assume the banter. Not to rescue Derek of course—because his attempts to dissuade Stiles with as few words as possible were an Olympic sport of their own—but because seeing how long he could extend a Stilinski Rant was his newest pastime. The current record was sixty-five minutes, and he knew he could do better.

Stiles spun to gape at Peter—fast enough that his festive headband, complete with fuzzy brown wolf ears, slipped down briefly over his eyes. He glowered as he shoved it back into place. “First of all, it’s been three years, not fifteen minutes. And second, you may not have noticed, old man, but we aren’t all teenagers anymore.”

Peter let his upper lip curl as he eyed the ears. They were disgustingly cute. He wanted to nuzzle them. It was very trying. “Are we arguing against hyperbole now, Stiles? Or debating maturity?” 

He turned and made his way to the kitchen. One of the best ways to keep Stiles engaged was to bait him and walk away. There was a bottle of wine stashed behind Derek’s protein powder, safe there since none of the kids would touch it, and Derek had never learned to enjoy the taste. Peter deserved a reward for not walking straight back out of this “pack meeting” the minute he determined his presence wasn’t necessary.

“Yes. No.” Stiles flailed again emphatically as he trailed after him. “Whatever. I’m just saying, it’s not up to you to decide these things.”

“Of course not. I only have access to nearly every piece of werewolf-lore in existence, and I’ve actually been a werewolf for thirty-plus years. But please, tell me more about the mysterious holiday celebrating canines and kindness, and the wolf spirit who’s breaking into our houses to leave us all tacky, useless gifts.” He made sure to strike just the right level of sarcastic amusement in order to draw Stiles into explaining his research spiral.

Stiles huffed and stomped past him into the kitchen, sadly not taking the bait. “If I want to buy presents for my favorite wolves and feed them cake and meat, you can’t stop me.” 

Peter found himself slightly disappointed, and considered changing tactics to exploit the easy opening for a “that’s what he said” joke. He paused, letting his gaze trail from Stiles’ wolf-ears to his broad shoulders and down to the fluffy tail tied around his waist and poking out from below his flannel. The layers were such a shame. One of these days someone should peel him out of them and find out what was hiding under there.

“I’ll eat your meat anytime, Stilinski!” Erica shouted from near the TV.

Peter’s lips twitched into a smirk. No need to get vulgar when Erica could always be counted on to go there.

“Lies and slander,” Stiles grumbled, fighting down a grin as he checked one of the dishes simmering on the stove. 

The reality of the so-called pack meeting was clear long before Peter stepped foot in the loft. He had picked up on the scent of roasting meat in the parking lot, and heard the festive music and laughter after he was in the elevator and, unfortunately, committed to making an appearance.

The kids were back for Thanksgiving, their first time home since freshman year of college began in late August. Someone had decided that the whole pack in one place enough reason for a party. Trust Stiles to come up with an official “holiday” for them to celebrate. Wolfenoot of all things. Something that had definitely been invented by a bored seven-year-old. Meat, cake, and gifts. Peter scoffed internally.

Peter didn’t do presents, hadn’t in years, unless they were plastic and could fit in an envelope. He didn’t have high expectations for anything the “wolf spirit” might bring him. Still, it might be amusing to see what Stiles had in store for the others.

With his freshly poured wine left on the counter to breathe, Peter wandered closer to the stove and hovered over Stiles’ shoulder, more interested in scenting his absentee packmate than the simmering apples. Stiles went still at Peter so far inside his personal space, then relaxed again and gave the dish a brief stir. “Apple sauce.”

Peter hummed in agreement and rested his hands on Stiles’ hips, feeling him shiver. He ducked his head and touched his nose to Stiles’ temple, breathing in his warm, spicy scent. 

It was something Peter began after the Nogitsune, touching Stiles when the rest of the pack had been keeping their distance. He had been so pale and hollow then, too thin, too quiet, struggling to come to terms with what the demon had done to him. Peter wasn’t about to sit back and watch the smartest member of his pack fade away, and their man-child of an alpha didn’t seem inclined to fix anything. So Peter had started touching him. Crowding into his space and forcing him to interact. At first it was just a hand on his shoulder, then it became purposefully brushing against him while they researched, and eventually, deliberately scent-marking him when they had been apart for too long. Loudly claiming him as important. As pack.

It took time for the betas to catch on, but after a few months they were reaching out as often as Peter was, bumping shoulders, pulling him into hugs, or otherwise manhandling him until his scent went from bitter and lonely, to warm and content. 

Peter had deemed his manipulation complete, but found the contact between them only increased because Stiles started seeking it out on his own. He grabbed Peter’s arm to get his attention, burrowed cold feet under his thigh when the two of them took over the couch on movie nights, and even hugged him, long and hard, before starting his cross-country drive to college.

It had been a lengthy three months since they were in the same room, and Stiles was a little too jumpy and touch-deprived for Peter’s taste. He squeezed the slim hips in front of him, pleased with the way his fingers curled perfectly into the hollows left by taut, healthy muscle, then released Stiles with a tug to the silly wolf tail as he stepped back to retrieve his wine.

Stiles cleared his throat. “I made pot roast.”

Peter glanced back, giving him an unimpressed look for stating the obvious. “Did you.” Even a human would be unable to miss the rich, savory aroma of slow-roasted brisket that had filtered all the way down to the street.

Though the dish wasn’t complex—and Peter knew complex, his work took him to some of the best restaurants in the country—it was nostalgic, and happened to be one of his favorites. He only had a few clear memories of his early childhood, and waiting impatiently for the roast to come out of the oven, his mother shooing him away so he didn’t burn his fingers, was one of them.

Stiles had ducked back over the cooking apples and was frowning as he checked them for doneness.

Peter took a sip of his wine. His eyes caught Derek’s, scowling at him from across the room—or maybe just staring. It was always difficult to tell. He looked like he might be working his way up to an actual conversation. Peter debated whether it would be worth it to make his exit now and miss out on dinner. Maybe he could just escape outside for a few minutes. The oven timer said he had at least twenty until he had to battle the children for his share of the food. 

With that in mind he headed for the spiral staircase and the blessed quiet of the roof. With dinner, dessert, and gifts, it seemed like Stiles had a long evening planned. It was better to spread out his pack interactions.

Before he made it halfway to the stairs Derek appeared at his side and gripped his bicep, claws pricking him through his shirt. Peter sighed and turned, ready for the typical lecture about making time for the pack—if you could call something involving mostly eyebrows a lecture.

"What are you doing?"

That vague demand deserved nothing more than an eyeroll. "I thought I’d check the roof for wandering wolf spirits."

"That's not—can you stop being sarcastic for two minutes?" 

Peter’s lips twitched. "Probably not."

The sigh Derek heaved was so long-suffering that Peter briefly flashed back to his nephew’s angsty teenage years. They had sadly melded right into his angsty adult years. Derek really needed a vacation from his life.

“Listen Uncle Peter, you should be careful.”

“The roof really isn’t that dangerous, Derek.”

Derek growled, his eyes flashing, claws lengthening against Peter’s arm. His control was really concerning. Peter might take it up with the alpha, just to see Scott’s reaction. “With Stiles.”

Peter paused. This wasn’t the conversation he was expecting, and if there was anything Peter hated, it was being wrong-footed. “What is it that you think I’m doing?”

Derek’s eyebrows drew together and Peter resisted the urge to comment on them getting stuck that way. It was something his sister used to say. The upcoming holidays were making him maudlin.

“He’s been through a lot.”

“Haven’t we all?” Peter quipped, then sighed at his nephew’s glower. “He’s fine, Derek. He smells healthy. Don’t go borrowing trouble when you have more than enough on your own.” God damn it, something else his sister used to say. He pulled his arm free from Derek’s hold and glanced towards the kitchen. 

The Argent girl had joined Stiles and seemed to be helping organize the food. Stiles was talking with animated gestures, but as soon as Allison’s back was turned his eyes drifted until they found Peter. He looked good, wolf-eared headband aside. He was finally filling out his clothes again, his cheeks were rosy from the heat of the stove, his eyes bright and interested. Peter let the corner of his mouth twist up and got a confused smile in return before Stiles went back to his conversation. Peter turned to continue his path upstairs.

“Peter,” Derek growled, frustration coloring his tone. “We aren’t done.”

“Well, when you figure out what we’re talking about, let me know.” Peter took the steps two at a time. It had nothing to do with avoiding his nephew’s penetrating glare and pointless questions.

The roof was as quiet as he hoped, the wintery bite to the wind guaranteeing that Peter wouldn’t be disturbed by errant betas. Peter didn’t exactly dislike his pack. It helped that he and Derek had taken over most of the duties of alpha over the years. It was surprisingly pleasant. He never expected to be something like happy co-alphaing a group of rambunctious bitten wolves with his surly nephew, but somewhere along the way he had accepted it.

They had agreed that, though he had good intentions, McCall was a weak alpha at best. Derek took it upon himself to teach the betas how pack was meant to function—the majority still felt Peter’s relationship with the truth was a little too flexible to be trusted in that regard. Derek offered his brand of leadership advice where possible, and Peter concentrated his efforts on keeping them safe. If that meant being the terrifying father figure from time to time, while Derek got to play pack-mom, well, that might be his favorite part. He did enjoy the opportunity to be dramatic.

If asked, Peter would place Scott in the category of goofy step-dad—he had little actual authority, but he was eager to try. The betas sometimes indulged him, before turning to Derek or Peter for real advice.

It was unorthodox, but as Stiles liked to say, Beacon Hills “thrived on that shit”.

Things had been calm for the last year of so. The Nemeton was quiet, and with everyone except Derek and Scott—who stayed local at the community college—away at school, Peter was finally free to resume some of the hobbies he had enjoyed before the fire. Like critiquing food and wine. Though he probably shouldn’t call his career a hobby, it’s not as if he was doing it for the money. He had more than enough squirreled away for his hypothetical grandchildren to live comfortably—more likely for Derek and Cora’s hypothetical grandchildren, if he was being honest. 

He was still building his reputation as a writer and critic back up after his unintended sabbatical. Happily, some of his old publications had reached out with requests. Readers loved his particular mixture of plain-talk and biting wit, and no one else was able to hit just the right notes when tearing apart an overly pretentious meal or wine tasting. 

In fact, he was headed out in the morning for a multi-city trip, examining the fascinating trend of biodynamic wines. Stiles would laugh hysterically if he ever found out Peter was researching wines that used grapes grown in relation to phases of the moon. It was half pseudo-science, half hippy-commune nonsense. It changed absolutely nothing in the flavor, and Peter was only interested because he wanted to know if the resurgence was due to actual magic users getting involved in viticulture.

It was no hardship that the trip allowed him to avoid the awkwardness of Thanksgiving with his nephew.

A foot scuffed deliberately on the concrete behind him, as if he couldn’t hear Stiles’ rabbit quick heartbeat before he even made it up the stairs. Peter glanced back at where Stiles stood, cheeks flushed from the cold, twisting his wolf tail between long fingers. 

“Surveying your kingdom?”

Peter snorted. “Everything the light touches.”

Stiles’ eye-roll was practically audible. “A shame it’s dark out.”

“Such is my lot in life.” He felt a small thrill of satisfaction as Stiles stepped up next to him and leaned against the railing. It was gratifying when the few pack members he did like chose to spend time in his company. “Shouldn’t you be downstairs, feeding your wolves?”

Stiles’ breath was fogging in the air, the glare of the floodlight next to the stairs adding a halo effect to his profile. “The meat’s resting. Lydia and Ally are guarding it, so I have a few minutes to breathe.” Stiles leaned closer and nudged their shoulders together. “And I needed to collect my strays.”

Peter’s lips curled up in an involuntary smile and he slung an arm around Stiles, hauling him against his side. No, Derek didn’t need to worry. Stiles was fine. Although he could feel the boy shivering despite his long sleeves. He rubbed a hand up and down his arm briskly, trying to warm him.

Stiles pressed closer to Peter’s heat, arm sneaking around his waist, head nearly on Peter’s shoulder as he soaked in the higher temperature of the wolf. “DC is already colder than this,” he mumbled. His breath puffed hot against Peter’s neck.

“It’s barely fall and you’re already a human popsicle. How will you survive?”

“So many layers, and lots of coffee.” 

Peter huffed and pulled him closer. “You need a portable space-heater.”

Stiles stretched up and rubbed his cold nose against Peter’s jaw in an imitation of scenting. “Or a supernatural one.”

It was said jokingly, but the words made something twist in Peter’s stomach. He chuckled in response, but cut the conversation short and used his hold to steer Stiles back inside the loft.

The pot roast was good. Delightfully flavorful, though personally Peter liked to add a cup or so of a nice Belgian Ale to really break down the enzymes and allow the meat to tenderize further. Still, Stiles had done well, and the homemade applesauce was surprisingly close to something Peter’s grandmother used to make, the sugar and lemon juice replaced with maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. He assumed Derek somehow had the recipe. It was doubtful Stiles found out about it on his own.

The company hadn’t been terrible. Several of the betas had interesting stories to tell about the pitfalls of being a werewolf in a freshman dorm. The humans of the pack had a group chat guessing which of their new classmates were supernaturally inclined. They were keeping score. Lydia was winning. Stiles argued that it was impossible to tell the difference between werewolves and pre-law students. They both spent altogether too much time posturing.

Peter was in the kitchen setting his wine glass on the drying rack when he heard the betas start to make noise about the promised gifts. That was his cue to head home. He still had to pack before his flight.

He had perfected leaving the loft without drawing attention to himself, and with the pack still at the table grappling over cake it was easy to grab his coat and slip out the door. He felt a brief twinge at the thought of disappointing Stiles when he wasn’t there to accept whatever silly gift the boy had chosen, but he pushed it away. Easier if they all learned now that Peter didn’t care for presents, and they were under no obligation to include him in their celebrations.

He heard his name called as the door slid shut and winced. That boy was much too observant. He hesitated, ready to send Stiles straight back in if he tried to follow him. Thankfully Derek proved himself useful for once.

“Let him go.”

Stiles was silent, so Peter couldn’t judge his reaction, but Scott jumped in with his typical puppy-dog whining. “He’s being rude. I should—”

Derek cut off that train of thought. “Peter hates holidays. I’m surprised he stayed this long.”

“It’s fine.” Stiles’ tone was laughing, and Peter relaxed, turning towards the elevator.

The shouts of his pack as they scrambled for presents grew more muffled once he was descending to the parking lot, and Peter was grateful to leave them behind. Overall, the party hadn’t been the disaster he predicted. He might even attend willingly next time.

 


 

A week after Wolfenoot—and wasn’t it unsettling that he was still referring to it that way in his head—Peter returned home from his trip to a blue envelope sitting on his coffee table. The apartment held a days-old hint of spicy citrus. 

Stiles.

It didn’t surprise him that the sheriff’s son had broken in. The little delinquent treated doors and locks like a minor inconvenience, claiming they were really more of a deterrent than a means of security. If you actually wanted to keep someone out, you needed to try harder than a measly deadbolt. 

Peter was reluctant to open the envelope—he really didn’t like gifts—but couldn’t deny his curiosity. What exactly did Stiles think he wanted? Peter had the money for anything material he could possibly need, and a college student definitely didn’t. Revenge was a lovely possibility, but his was long completed—though he had no doubt Stiles would help him if it wasn’t, now that he had sanity on his side anyway. He smirked. Maybe it was a gift card. 

There was no note or card in the envelope, just a plain black USB drive. He was even more hesitant to plug the drive into his laptop, but he reasoned that if Stiles wanted to set a trap, he would have been more subtle.

The folders were labelled by year, and it was immediately clear that they correspond to the time he missed during the coma. They were filled with information. Stiles had put together an encyclopedia’s worth of pop-culture knowledge and trivia—all meticulously linked to both interior and exterior sources. Spreadsheets of books, movies, and tv shows, organized by what appeared to be relevance, and quality. There was even a key to Stiles’ ratings system, indicating which were his favorites, and which he thought Peter would enjoy.

And the notes. Peter laughed when he came across the notation next to the Twilight  series, published in the first year after the fire. If you read this I will never speak to you again. All you need to know is, real vampires don’t sparkle, and Bella should have gotten a restraining order. He’d heard of the novels of course, and had no problem adhering to Stiles’ warning on the subject.

He was pleased to see that Stiles included the new Doctor Who series with the TV shows, though Peter had made it a point to catch up on that one relatively quickly. The show House, MD was unfamiliar, but had several stars and an exclamation point next to it, along with footnotes attached, the first insisting that the main character was Peter’s brother-from-another-mother, and the second warning that it took place in a hospital, just in case that was “triggery”.

Peter had to set the laptop aside and try to control the surge of warmth in his stomach. Gratitude, he recognized. And pleasure. Affection.

He was already listening to the phone ring before he thought about making the call, and he was speaking before Stiles fully answered. “You broke into my apartment.”

“Locks are—”

“Just a deterrent, I know.” He could hear the smile in his own voice, and feel Stiles’ answering grin through the phone.

“Not arguing with you there, but I was going to say, locks are for people who don’t have keys.”

Peter tried to force his voice flat and unamused. “You have keys to my apartment?”

The brat, probably thinking he was safe since he was almost three thousand miles away, laughed outright. “Is that supposed to be a question?”

“Stiles.” He rolled his eyes. “Where did you get keys to my apartment?”

“I can’t really answer that.” Stiles had his laughter under control now, and was matching Peter’s serious tone perfectly.

“And why not?”

“Because ‘getting keys’ implies they were somewhere before, which they weren’t, so I never actually got them, I just have them?” 

Peter sighed, recognizing the classic Stilinski-style brick-wall when he heard it. “I suppose this way is less upsetting for the neighbors.”

Stiles hummed, pleased at winning the conversation. “If you want, I can put up wards when I’m home for the summer. I’ve gotten pretty good. My dorm is the safest place on campus these days.” The phone’s tiny speaker just barely picked up the squeak of Stiles’ desk chair as he spun it back and forth.

Peter settled back on the sofa and slung his feet up on the coffee table. “Christmas break is already booked up?”

There was a brief pause and the metal on metal sound stopped. “Oh. I told everyone after you left.” Stiles shuffled in the background, his tone turning anxious, like he was worried about Peter’s reaction. “I’m not coming home. The tickets were highway robbery—or skyway robbery I guess? Stupidly expensive either way.” The squeak started up again, fast and Peter could picture him jiggling his leg. “Seriously. I should have booked them in March when I accepted my admission, but I didn’t know they were going to go through the roof. ”

Peter tuned out the rambling for a moment. He frowned. The emotion that squeezed down in his chest at Stiles’ admission was one he barely recognized. Disappointment. Summer break was six months away. He hadn’t realized how much he looked forward to seeing his favorite pack member for the holidays.

“Anyway, it means I can pick up some extra hours at work. The dorms are closed, but my manager is going to let me stay on her couch.” 

The forced levity in Stiles’ voice was making his teeth ache. He dragged his computer back into his lap, minimized the file explorer and opened a new tab. A dozen clicks, and an auto-filled credit card number later he was done. He smirked when he heard the incoming mail chime on Stiles’ laptop, on the other side of the country.

“No one else wants to work New Years, but it’s time and a half so—” He sucked in a breath. “What?”

Peter suddenly, desperately wished he could see his face. He grinned smugly.

“Peter, what did you do?” Stiles demanded.

“I know you’ve seen plane tickets before, darling. If you tell me your spring break dates, I’ll get those too.”

Stiles stuttered for a moment, wholly unable to form a sentence. Peter didn’t think there was anything more satisfying than turning the normally loquacious boy non-verbal. 

“Peter, this—this is a direct flight. Even the one with three layovers would have bankrupted me. I can’t let you do this.”

“Layovers are terrible, and the ticket’s non-refundable. Besides, when have you ever been able to stop me? Molotov cocktails notwithstanding.”

“I could—” He stopped himself. “I—oh my god.” He laughed breathlessly. “I need to tell my boss I can’t work Christmas Eve.”

“I’ll let you go then.”

“Oh. What? No, wait. I just—”

Peter hung up on him. He was still smiling an hour later as he finished up the first episode of Leverage . Stiles was right, he was already fond of Nate.

 


 

The rapid three-pulse buzz of his phone signaled a text from someone in the pack. If it was Scott he was going to pretend his battery died. Peter finished adding a few books to his Amazon shopping cart and finalized the order before retrieving the phone from the coffee table. That was when he noticed the time. Not Scott then.

Stiles: (12/7/2019, 1:17am) I’m going to pay you back as soon as I can.

It had been five days and Stiles still wasn’t letting the cost of the tickets go. He was also, based on the timing and frequency of his texts, a terrible insomniac. Peter might almost regret buying them, if he ever wanted to bother with something as boring as regret.

He stood and stretched. God, it was late. He’d been up for nearly twenty-four hours helping Derek and Scott with a migrating Thunderbird in the Preserve. It had been a long, cold, wet day, and though everything had been resolved peacefully, he was beyond exhausted. A human would be coming down with a cold by now. As it was his eyes were burning, his limbs ached, and he should have been asleep hours ago.

He looked back over Stiles’ message, and fired off a reply as he dragged himself down the hallway to his bedroom. Based on the FBI starting salary, and the current student loan interest rate, I’ll expect a check in the mail in 25 to 30 years.

God, you’re such an asshole. Stiles’ response was almost instantaneous. Peter hoped that meant he was home and in bed at four-thirty in the morning east-coast time, and not out getting into trouble. I kind of hate you right now.

Peter chuckled as he plugged his phone in, then stripped off his clothes and slid under the covers. Lying back, he tapped out one final message before setting the phone aside and succumbing to sleep. I think what you mean is, “thank you, Peter”. Now, get some sleep, sweetheart. I’ll talk to you in the morning.

Stiles: (12/7/2019, 1:30am) OMG...

Stiles: (12/7/2019, 1:36am) Thank you, Peter.

Stiles: (12/7/2019, 1:37am) You’re still an asshole.