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Peter found him on accident. He was far away from Beacon Hills — had been for months — and hadn't even been aware that Stiles had been missing. It was rotten luck that Stiles landed in his lap at all, to be honest.

Peter had been playing poker in Vegas and happily relieving some gang members of their ill-gotten material wealth. When one of them had tossed a key into the center pile of chips, Peter had merely asked what it was for. "One of the dogs back there," the guy had told him. "He's yours if you win."

Raising a brow, Peter's response had been mild. "Will your boss appreciate you gambling away his goods?" He had watched as the guy hesitated, fingers twitching as he contemplated snatching the key back from the pile. Peter didn't have any use for a pet, but he'd shoved his chips toward the center of the table as well, accepting the bet as is. The idea of getting some sucker in trouble had appealed to him at the time.

Two minutes later, Peter walked away from the poker table with a couple grand in his pocket and a little key jangling as he swung it around the tip of his finger. The key had a number on it, and some flunky led him to a cage with a matching tag. The flunky raised his flashlight so that Peter could see the cage's contents. Inside, Stiles was pressed against the far side of the cage, naked and dirty and stinking of chronic, low-grade fear. Peter froze at the sight of him, cursing inwardly.

Forget going to the next state to get away from Beacon Hills, Peter should've gone to another country altogether.

*

The flunky used a snare to get Stiles out of the cage. Peter watched placidly as he struggled to loop the steel wire lasso over Stiles' head, and when that succeeded, Peter stepped aside as Stiles was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the open. He looked away when the flunky dug a cattle prod into Stiles' thigh, and when he looked back, Stiles was curled on the ground — trembling, yes, but quiet.

Peter felt his teeth starting to drop at the electric scent that wafted toward him.

The flunky sniffed and scrubbed his hair back with one hand. "We zip them for transport. If you want him sedated, that costs extra."

At his feet, Stiles continued to twitch, blunt nails scratching at the concrete. His eyes were open by sheer force of will, it seemed, but there was absolutely no recognition that Peter could find in them.

"I'll pay," Peter finally answered, digging out his poker winnings and handing over a couple hundreds. "Knock him out. Put him in my trunk."

The gang members were still at the poker table when Peter returned. One of them tried to muffle a snicker when he saw Peter's irritated expression.

"Back to the tables already, my friend?" said the man who had put Stiles into the winnings in the first place. Peter struggled to remember his name for a moment, and then found he didn't care in the slightest. "Do you like your new dog so much that you want another one?"

Someone to Peter's left giggled.

Peter twisted the key ring to Stiles' cage around his finger. "Just the one is good for now," he said, "but I am interested in what he's already been trained for."

Another round of laughs got covered up by coughs.

"Trained?" the man said. "He ain't trained for nothing. Too scrawny for the cage fights. Too violent to fuck. We got no use for him here, so now he's your problem." He saluted Peter with his beer and smugly tipped his chair back on its hind legs. "Good luck with the little beast, my friend."

Peter flexed his fingers, trying to shake off the urge to dig his claws into the man's throat. In his periphery, he saw the flunky from earlier appear in the doorway — sweaty and breathless from getting Stiles into the car — and he held out his hand to accept his car keys. By the time Peter tucked his car keys into his pocket, there was another poker game being dealt out. Peter strongly considered tearing everyone in the room to pieces. A bubbling rage was seated under his skin, stirred up by all the dog references and the cattle prod and the sound of Stiles' screams.

Instead, Peter was drawn out the door by Stiles' heartbeat. He left without another word. When the sun began to peek over the horizon the following morning, Peter was back in Beacon Hills.

*

The pack was already at Derek's loft when Peter pulled up to the warehouse. Peter could hear them arguing and chattering if he tried. He approached the trunk of his car warily, but Stiles' heartbeat was steady and slow. Still sedated then — a small mercy. When Peter opened the trunk, Stiles was wrapped in a blanket with his ankles and wrists hogtied by cable ties. He was quiet and still and didn't so much as stir as Peter snapped the cables with his claws. He remained limp as Peter lifted him into his arms and carried him to the freight elevator and into Derek's loft. The pack swarmed around him as soon as he was in the door, voicing their worst worries when they saw that Stiles was wrapped in a blanket. ("Is he dead? Please tell me—")

"He's only sedated," Peter said loudly, pushing through all of them. God, he hadn't missed a single one of them. He was more than happy to hand Stiles over to the Sheriff as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

It was a relief to be left alone in the doorway, free to breathe in without being crowded. Yet Peter felt oddly bereft as he watched Stiles being laid out on the sofa, all those hands touching the boy's face. The lost sensation of Stiles' weight left his arms tingling. Peter had to move to shake off the feeling. He wiped his hand against his mouth and grimaced when he got a nose full of Stiles' sweaty panic.

Scott came to him as he was wiping the sweat off on his pants. "Thank you for finding him, Peter," he murmured, looking back toward Stiles as if he was afraid that his best friend would be gone again. "Thanks for bringing him home."

Peter eyed Scott skeptically. He looked haggard — like Stiles' absence had taken a severe toll on the True Alpha. It probably wouldn't take much for Peter to just reach out and take all that power for himself. Scott turned a grateful eye on him, though. He smiled with an appreciation that made Peter uncomfortable. Peter pointedly kept his eyes on Stiles, who was just beginning to wake. The heartbeat that had haunted his senses for six hundred miles was changing fast. The souring of Stiles' scent made Peter recoil faster than the look on Scott's face.

"You're the ones doing me the favor, really," Peter told Scott with a forced lightness. "I'm not sticking around to help him recover. He was a problem dumped into my lap, so now I'm dumping him onto yours."

Immediately, Scott's expression closed off, went hard with anger.

"Save the lecture for someone who cares, Scott," Peter said coolly, nipping that argument right in the bud. "If you have my number, feel free to lose it."

*

Peter stayed in his Beacon Hills apartment because it was close and he needed to wash the stench of Stiles' fear off his body, his clothes. Everything was as he'd left it — if a bit dustier. Peter's shoulders relaxed, tension slipping away in a way it hadn't for months. Beacon Hills was home as far as his wolf was concerned, no matter how Peter might wish it otherwise. This town might have stripped him of everything — even his freedom, even his sanity once upon a time — but it was still where he belonged, in the end.

The next morning, he woke up leisurely, humming as he headed out to his car. He had plans for coffee and breakfast at the diner near the highway. It was the perfect place for him to stop before he launched toward the nearest airport to buy a ticket out of here. He reached for the door handle and abruptly jerked five feet back when he felt something grab his ankle.

He dropped down to the ground and looked under his car. When he saw that it was only Stiles, Peter sighed and flopped onto his back. His heart was pounding so hard that he could feel it through his chest. He'd definitely lost his edge. When he turned to look again, Stiles was staring at him with big, wide eyes from where he was tucked under Peter's car, spread out on his belly. Peter got to his feet and came closer to his car with nearly silent steps. He stood without speaking for a minute — two minutes — and eventually, Stiles' hand ventured out once more. His fingers tentatively rubbed over the toes of Peter's shoes. If Peter so much as shifted his weight, Stiles withdrew like he expected Peter to snap.

"Stiles," he called softly, pinching the bridge of his nose. Stiles' hand stilled. "Come out here."

Stiles' arm slithered back under the car, but the boy didn't appear.

Firming up his voice, Peter tried again. "Stiles, out." He shifted his feet back to make some space. "Now, Stiles."

It took a little bit, but after a some squirming, Stiles slid out from under Peter's car. He looked cleaner than he had been yesterday, but barely. It was as if someone had led him to a shower and left him under the running water without offering soap as well. At least he had clothes now, even if they hung off his frame like curtains. He seemed to drown in them as he stayed pressed up against the side of Peter's car, poised to scramble underneath it if the situation called for it.

Peter guessed that he should be grateful that Stiles still understood language, but it was taking everything he had to keep from hauling Stiles back to his father by the scruff. "Why aren't you home?" he demanded gruffly.

Stiles shook a little, brows wrinkling. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. The shaking worsened, and Stiles bowed his head against his folded knees and let out a plaintive noise. Peter scooted closer to him without even thinking about it and grunted when Stiles latched onto his leg immediately. On the one hand, Stiles' whining noise stopped. On the other hand, Stiles' clutching fingers were wrinkling his pants.

Disgruntled, Peter raised his hand over Stiles' head and hesitated before gently petting his fingers through his hair. It was dirty and oily. Peter rolled his eyes skyward and prayed for help. Aloud, he said: "There, there."

Fifteen minutes later, Peter saw Derek's Camaro coming up the road, and he waved his hand to get Derek's attention. Stiles barely looked up when Derek drove up. He was fully occupied with the laces on Peter's shoes.

"We've been looking for him all morning," Derek explained, apparently already texting their location to everyone in the pack. "What is he doing here?"

"He was under my car this morning. This—" Peter pointed aggressively at the boy snuggled up close to his leg, "This is progress." Peter leaned against his car, wishing he'd just run Stiles over. He could be eating breakfast right now, but no — instead, he has a teenager nuzzling against the side of his knee and sneaking his little fingers into his shoes.

Derek squinted at Stiles, frowning. "Is he... Is he scenting you?"

Glancing down, Peter saw Stiles rubbing his cheeks and forehead against his thigh. "Hey!" he snapped. Stiles froze. "Stop that!"

Stiles stared up at him and then, with a tiny, hitching breath, began that same pleading whine as before.

"Oh, no." Peter held up an authoritative finger. "No."

The whine got louder.

Peter groaned. "For god's sake, fine." He reached down and shoved Stiles' face against his leg. "Whatever. Just shut up." Stiles, quiet again, resumed nuzzling, and Peter cast a desperate look at his nephew.

Derek was watching Stiles attentively. "What happened to him while he was missing?"

"How the hell should I know?" Peter muttered. "I won him in a poker game. Some gang in Nevada had him in a cage. They used a cattle prod on him, so torture is likely. I wouldn't be surprised if he's been given drugs."

"Rape?" Derek asked quietly.

Peter shrugged. "It's hard to know for sure. From what I understand, he was more trouble than he was worth."

Derek nodded, solemn. "We're trying to get him to the hospital today. Sheriff Stilinski wants him checked out."

Another ten minutes passed before Scott showed up. That was Derek's cue to finally help, it seemed. Peter didn't understand why two werewolves were required to keep one human restrained, but that confusion was quickly answered when Scott and Derek grabbed Stiles together. At first, Stiles was pliant, but then, just as Peter was almost free, he started to struggle. He thrashed and yelled wordlessly, kicking out and yanking one arm free to reach for Peter. His fingers barely touched Peter before Scott had that arm restrained again. Stiles screeched angrily, and then — to everyone's surprise — roared.

With renewed vigor, Stiles twisted out of Scott's grip, clawed free from Derek, and scrambled toward Peter on shaky, weak legs. He crumpled at Peter's feet almost immediately, breathing fast.

Scott was the first to break the silence that followed Stiles' roar. "Holy shit," he said. "Stiles is a werewolf."

*

Peter's plans for a great escape were in ruins. So that sucked.

But they were ruined because he was the only one Stiles trusted at the moment, thanks to his underdeveloped and utterly isolated werewolf instincts having hooked into Peter as the first werewolf he'd met since being turned. It was taking time to teach Stiles that the other werewolves were safe — that the pack was safe. The hope was that as Stiles-the-werewolf gained more control, Stiles-the-human would emerge again. Eventually, Stiles was going to let Peter out of his sight.

In the meantime, Peter got to spend every day lording his necessity over everyone else. So that was awesome.

*

Aside from the moments when Peter annoyed someone enough that they stormed out of the loft, most of the days were quiet. Peter got used to lounging around with someone watching him all the time. He played solitaire with Stiles pressed up against his side. When Derek was around, they played poker. Today, Peter had opted to shine his shoes. They'd gathered quite a few scuff marks over the last few weeks. There was dirt in the seams that Peter dutifully scrubbed out. Sprawled out on the floor — sunning himself, it appeared — Stiles was watching the whole process with rapt attention. When the first shoe was set on the ground, Stiles reached out to touch it.

"Don't touch it," Peter warned lightly, not bothering to look up as he dabbed polish on the second shoe. "The polish is still wet on that one. You'll stain your fingers."

Stiles pulled his hand back with a huffed apology. Peter had to hide a smile.

"You know," Peter began conversationally, aware that Stiles was unlikely to respond with words. "Being a werewolf explains a lot of your behavior. Your violent reactions to a perceived threat, your urge to scent your pack mates, and so on. Those are all instincts we're born with. But what I don't get is your obsession with my shoes." He paused, setting aside the polish brush to look right at Stiles. "You wouldn't happen to be interested in explaining that to me, would you?"

Stiles tapped his fingers against the floor — a nervous habit, one that he'd had before being bitten but had only started to show up again in the last week. He held Peter's gaze for mere seconds before dropping them to the shoe still in Peter's hands.

"No, I guess you wouldn't," Peter said after a moment. He picked the polish brush up again. "I can't blame you for liking them. They're good quality. It seems that you have good taste even when you're out of your mind."

It took about half an hour for Peter to finish polishing the pair and he set the shoes aside to find Stiles curling the laces around his fingers. Stiles handed them over without Peter having to ask. Peter looped the laces in neat, even circles and knotted the ends in the center. He leaned over to tuck the laces into one of his shoes.

"I saw your shoes first."

Peter startled at the sound of Stiles' voice, scratchy from disuse. "Oh?"

Stiles was avoiding his eyes, cheeks pink with embarrassment. "Everyone wore sneakers. Your shoes... Different. I thought..."

When Stiles trailed off, lapsing into pensive silence, Peter prodded him gently. "What did you think?"

"Dunno," Stiles murmured, lashes dipping until his eyes were lidded heavily. "I thought... you take good care of your shoes. Might be, you'd take good care of me too."

"Is that so," Peter replied. "Your friends would probably take better care of you than I would." Stiles hummed, but didn't say anything. Maybe he'd met his daily word quota already.

Peter sighed, resting his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward to peer more closely at Stiles. As a werewolf, Stiles was certainly made of something sturdier than humans. Like the leather of Peter's shoes, Stiles would now be able to withstand more damage and walk away whole. Sure, Stiles was a little rough now, but with a little polish and a little time, he'd be shining — good as new.

Stiles was very still when Peter reached out. It was something Stiles had done plenty of times, but Peter had never returned the gesture. Peter was drenched in Stiles' scent by the end of the day, every day. Stiles, however, wore only his own.

Palms beginning to sweat with anticipation, Peter cautiously let his hand rest on the side of Stiles' throat, sliding his palm upward until he was cupping Stiles' jaw. Under his touch, Stiles shuddered, gasping. Peter nearly shuddered too when Stiles turned his head to the side, baring his throat so that Peter could spread his scent farther.

"Stiles," he breathed, voice strangely reverent. He felt enormously strong in this moment, as if he could rip through anything that might threaten him and his pack. It was an echo of the strength he'd held as an alpha, but it reverberated into his bones, lingering. Vaguely, Peter thought he could feel the others in his mind — Derek, Scott, Lydia, all of them — but Stiles was at the fore, a thread of steel that hooked deeply into Peter's brain. "I — Do you feel like—?"

Peter's throat closed around the word, but Stiles' did not.

"Pack," he whispered, soft and warm like the sun, and smiled at Peter so fondly that he couldn't help leaning in to kiss it away.