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If someone asked Stiles to write a parenting book – which no one in their right mind would ever do – Stiles would say the best and most important rule is to love your kid. Love the shit out of them. Love them when they mess up, love them when they make you proud, love them when they ask you four hundred and ninety-three questions in a row. Just love the hell out of them, and make sure they know it.

The second most important rule would be don’t turn your back on a curious three year old with supernatural speed.

Stiles is currently failing at the second rule. Badly.

“Dad!” Stiles yells as he skirts around the front desk, as he weaves through deputies attempting to talk to him. He’s known most of them since he was a little kid, nearly all the rest since he was a teenager, and under normal circumstances he’d love to stop for a second, but he doesn’t have the time because Stiles is very possibly the worst father in the history of the world, and he needs his dad.

He shoves open the door to his dad’s office just as Deputy French calls out, tells him he can’t go in.

Yeah…no. He’s going in there.

“Dad!”

John slaps a file down on his desk and growls, “Stiles, dammit, you can’t just barge-”

“It’s Eli.”

“Eli?” John jerks up out of his chair, head swiveling around as if Eli’s in the room, as if he can lay eyes on him. He’s not in the room. That’s the problem. “What’s wrong?”

Stiles gestures with his hand vaguely in the direction of the preserve and says, “We were out gathering ingredients for Tuesday and I turned my back and…” He lets out a frustrated, achy sigh, scrubs a rough hand over his hair. “Dad, I swear, I only turned my back for a half a second and he was just gone. I did everything I could think of, but…I can’t find him.”

“Did you-”

“Yes! Of course! That was the first thing I tried. But it didn’t work. It went…wonky.”

“Wonky?”

“Dad!”

“Why didn’t you call?”

He yanks his phone out of his pocket, waves it with a jerky hand in his dad’s direction. “Because my stupid phone is dead.”

John shifts, levels some very judgy eyes on Stiles. “You plugged it into the outlet behind the counter again, didn’t you?”

“Obviously I don’t need to answer that.”

“Stiles, how many times have I told you to fi-”

“Fix the outlet. I know. Top of my list tomorrow! But my kid is missing in the preserve and it’s starting to get dark! Can we table the conversation about how I’m the worst dad in the world until we find him?”

John crosses his arms, frowns.

“I’ll help.”

Stiles had been so laser focused on getting to his dad, he hadn’t even noticed anyone else in the office. Any other day that would be an absolute shame, because his dad’s newest officer, Deputy Derek Hale, is standing there in a leather jacket and jeans he probably poured himself into looking deliciously fuckable, but Stiles gets a pass today.

His kid is missing. Priorities.

“Derek, I can’t ask you to do that. You just worked a double.”

“You’re not asking,” he says firmly, and steps forward. “I’m offering.”

“Derek, he’s in the preserve. Are you sure you’re-”

“Stiles is right. It’s starting to get dark and he’s a little boy. The sooner we find him, the better.”

His dad hesitates then nods and holds out his hand. “Stiles, give me your keys.”

“What? Why?”

“How fast did you drive getting here?”

He stares at Stiles pointedly and Stiles says, “I got here in one piece, didn’t I?”

“I’m not going to have you getting into an accident because you’re worried about your kid. Keys.

Dad.”

“Hey…you’re worried about your kid? Well I’m worried about mine. How about I only worry about one family member at a time, huh? Keys.

Stiles hands them over and John holds them out to his deputy. “You’re driving him there. I’ll follow in my cruiser.”

Derek gives Stiles a quick glance before nodding and taking the keys.

“And I don’t need to explain that you’re driving my kid to help us find my grandkid, do I?”

He straightens. “No sir.”

John nods. “Let’s go.”

They’re getting in their cars when Deputy Parrish comes running up, stops Stiles with a hand to the elbow. “Stiles…they told me inside that Eli is missing?”

“Yeah. We’re on our way to the preserve right now.”

“I’m coming too.”

He jogs over to his car, pulls the door open.

John holds out a hand. “Jordan, your shift just started.”

Parrish stops, his hand on the top of his cruiser door. “Boss…I’ll take it out of my lunch, alright? It’s Eli. The more people we have, the quicker we find him.”

“Dad! Just let him help!”

Stiles jerks opens the passenger side door to his Jeep and gets in, yanking the door closed after him, scrubbing at his face with his hands. He knows his dad has to follow procedure, he gets that there are rules, but Stiles doesn’t give a shit. They’re wasting time.

The driver’s side door opens and Derek gets in, closes it behind him gently, starts Roscoe up and backs out of the space. They drive in silence for a few minutes before Stiles opens his eyes, looks out the window.

The setting sun is lighting up the trees along the road to the preserve, and the bright red, gold, and orange leaves make it look like the trees are on fire. Any other time Stiles would appreciate it, appreciate the way it makes his veins sing, the way it makes his magic feel more alive. The way it makes him feel grounded here, as if every step plants roots further and further into the ground beneath his feet. In the fall everything around him is starting to die off, but Stiles and his magic are more alive than ever.

He’ll have to appreciate the beauty later.

Stiles bounces his leg up and down, crosses his arms over his chest.

“We’re going to find him.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says softly, and stares hard out the window, trying to ignore the ache in his stomach, the anxious pounding of his heart.

“We will. I promise.”

Stiles looks over at Derek, his mouth set in a firm line, his eyes hyper-focused on the road in front of them.

“Yeah? You can promise that? And before you answer I want you to remember we’re talking about my three year old son.”

Derek frowns, accelerates. “Yes. No one knows the preserve like I do.”

Right. Because that’s where Derek was born, that’s where he grew up, that’s where his whole family lived until most of them were killed in that terrible house fire fifteen years ago and he and his sister moved away. No one in Beacon Hills thought they’d ever see them again.

And then two months ago Derek transferred to the Beacon Hills sheriff’s department.

That must be why his dad hesitated, why he told Derek he didn’t have to help. Stiles wonders if Derek can see the ghosts that wander through the preserve sometimes, like Stiles can, or if he just feels them. If they weigh down his heart, if they try to make him stay.

“I’m surprised no one else offered to help.”

Stiles sighs. “Yeah. I’m not.”

Derek turns angry eyes to him. “He’s a little boy.”

“Yeah, well…he’s got one hell of a stink eye for a three year old.”

The town loves his dad, mostly. At the very least they respect him. Stiles they like, or maybe tolerate. But Eli? Eli has been putting out stay away from me vibes to just about everyone he’s ever met since birth. It doesn’t surprise Stiles at all that no one else volunteered to help, unfortunately.

“Thank you.”

Derek gives him a quick, hesitant glance. “It’s what anyone should do.”

They turn off the paved road onto a dirt road, and Stiles directs Derek to the exact clearing where he’d last seen Eli. They hurry out of the cars and John gives them each a direction to go, Stiles clutching Eli’s little red hoodie and the shoes and socks he’d kicked off and left behind before he disappeared.

“Whoever finds him, call. We’ll meet back here at the clearing.”

Stiles waves his useless, dead phone in the air.

“Right,” John says, and hands his phone over to Stiles. “Call Jordan if one of you find him and he’ll let me know over the radio. Fan out.”

Parrish leans toward Derek. “Hey Hale…you should know that if you find Eli he might not let you touch him. He’s…particular.”

Stiles nods and frowns. “He’s right. He probably won’t. But he’ll come with you if you say the word pumpkin to him.”

“Pumpkin?”

“It’s our secret word.”

Stiles heads off in his appointed direction, calling Eli’s name, searching through the brush and under logs, feeling sicker and sicker by the minute as the sun starts to disappear behind the trees and the sky gets darker and darker. He’s absolutely failing at this parenting thing today. His barefoot, jacketless three year old son is lost in the forest and soon it’s going to be too dark to see without the help of the flashlight app on his dad’s phone. And even though most days he can make a growth potion blindfolded, today he couldn’t even manage to cast a simple locator spell to find his own kid.

If Stiles isn’t the worst, he absolutely feels like it.

The phone lights up with Derek’s name and Stiles almost drops the phone in his haste to answer it. Stiles can’t slide his finger across that stupid screen quickly enough.

“Derek? Tell me you have him!”

“I have him. We’re heading back to the clearing.”

Stiles takes in a deep, raggedy breath, closes his eyes and tips his head back. “Is he okay? Tell me he’s okay. Is he hurt? Is he cold? Is he scared?”

Derek’s voice is calm, reassuring. “He’s okay, Stiles. He’s okay.”

He lets out a little yell. “Thank you! Thank you! Jesus, thank you.

“We’ll see you soon.”

Stiles hangs up and calls Parrish, who radios his dad, and Stiles runs toward the clearing, nearly tripping a couple times and falling flat on his face. He gets there just before his dad and Parrish, who come jogging into the clearing from opposite directions almost at the same time. Stiles bounces in place, taps his fingers against his thigh, stares at the path Derek walked down, and ignores the urge to meet Derek and Eli halfway.

“I’m so glad we found him, Stiles.”

Stiles spares Parrish a glance and a grateful smile. “Thanks for your help, Jordan.”

He smiles, takes a step closer, gives a shrug. “I didn’t do anything.”

“The help was still appreciated, deputy,” John says as he steps forward. “But you can go ahead and head back. We’ve got it from here.”

Parrish ducks his head then gives a hesitant nod and turns toward his cruiser, looking over at his shoulder at them before he gets in his car. They wave in thanks as he reverses down the dirt road.

“Please put him out of his misery.”

Stiles furrows his brow, stares ahead at the still empty dirt path. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing.” John sighs. “You know, Stiles…you’re not a bad father.”

Stiles hands his dad back his phone. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Kid, I once forgot you for a half an hour in Raley’s when you were Eli’s age.”

“You forgot me somewhere?”

“Oh yeah. Didn’t occur to me until I was putting the milk away that you weren’t there, and I broke just about every traffic law in the books getting back to you. Parents make mistakes. And you were fine, thank god. You were regaling a checkout lady with all your three year old exploits, telling her about your imaginary best friend. Eli’s going to be fine. We’re going to have to work on his tendency to wander, but you didn’t damage him.”

Stiles bounces up and down and kicks at the fallen leaves beneath his feet. Where are Derek and Eli?

“You have a curious kid who’s interested in the world around him. Congratulations, you have a you. And guess what? It only gets harder from here.”

Stiles will gladly take teenage hormones any day over this, over today. Starting today, he’s putting a leash on his kid.

Derek emerges in the clearing, Eli in his arms, kicking his legs and waving his arms as he tells Derek something. Derek smiles and nods, and Stiles can’t even begin to parse his perpetually picky little dude letting Derek, someone he’s never met before, carry him. Stiles just wants to hold him, to check him over, to see for himself that his parenting fail didn’t result in any permanent damage. He runs across the clearing and kisses and loves on his kid as he slips his little arms inside the sleeves of the red hoodie and gives him a once over, checking for any injuries.

“Eli, buddy, you can’t wander away from daddy like that.”

Eli shifts in Derek’s arms and points behind them. “But there was-”

“Something interesting, I know.” He slips the socks on Eli’s feet and Eli begins to kick. Stiles grasps his foot gently and catches his eye. “Hey, no. No kicking.”

Eli huffs a very irritated sigh. Stiles knows how he feels.

Once Eli’s shoes are on, Stiles takes him from Derek and cradles him tight in his arms. Eli snuggles into him, pushes his face into Stiles’ neck. His kid gives the best cuddles, bar none. He’s a world champion snuggler.

His dad reaches over and rubs a hand down Eli’s back, and Stiles catches his eye. He gives Stiles’ shoulder a squeeze.

“I love you, buddy. Okay? So much. But you have to tell me if there’s something you want to explore. You can’t just run off. It scares me when I don’t know where you are.”

Eli pulls back, looks down and pulls at Stiles’ shirt collar, his little mouth twisting into a frown. “I’m sorry.”

“I know.”

Stiles sweeps a hand over the little buzzed head and gives him a kiss. Eli gives him a smile, and Stiles smiles back.

“Your little boy, your son…” Derek says hesitantly, and Stiles looks up. Derek’s eyes are wide and cautious, and his hands reach out and then drop, clench at his sides. “He’s a werewolf?”

Stiles glances over at his dad and turns a little, so that Eli is between them. “How did you know that?”

Derek glances between them before he settles his eyes on Stiles. His eyes flash red, and then he ducks his head, stares at the ground.

Eli giggles and claps his hands and Stiles opens his mouth to speak but nothing comes out.

His dad doesn’t have the same problem.

“Everyone. Dinner. My house.”

+

Eli tears off his socks and shoes the moment he hits the front entryway and runs off in search of his grandpa but Stiles stands in the open door and waits for Derek, who’s much slower to make it inside.

“He’s not going to kill you, you know.” Stiles closes the door behind them. “He loves you.”

“He doesn’t-”

“No, he does. He thinks you’re amazing. He’s very pro Derek. He’s been talking you up at family dinners since you came to town two months ago. He puts your police reports up on the fridge next to Eli’s crayon drawings. That’s some prime real estate.”

Derek blushes, ducks his head.

“We’re just…really careful when it comes to Eli.”

“Of course you are,” he says, all earnestness and big eyes, and Stiles wants to kiss him. Hard. “You’re a good dad.”

“Yeeeeeeeeah…I’m not sure about that. But that’s nice of you to say.”

“You really think you’re not a good father?”

Derek says that like Stiles is gutting him, and Stiles frowns. He’s seen good parents. He’s known a few too. Like the guy in the other room. But Stiles? Stiles can’t even remember not to plug his phone to charge in an outlet that doesn’t work. He can’t get his kid to follow a simple instruction like you do not walk away without telling daddy. Stiles is pretty sure that’s Parenting 101.

“Stiles…you didn’t do anything wrong today. You didn’t lose him. He ran off.”

“Right.” He’s never going to forget the incredible, absolute panic he felt when he turned around and couldn’t see Eli, couldn’t hear him. “My kid ran away from me. Thanks for that reminder.”

Stiles goes to walk around him and Derek stops him with a hand on his arm.

“He isn’t like other kids. He’s a baby werewolf. He’s trying to figure out his world.” He’s leaning in to Stiles, practically begging Stiles to believe him, and Stiles almost smiles. “He’s figuring out who he is. And he knows he’s safe to explore because he has you. He loves you. He adores you. He’s just…three. So he didn’t know running off would scare you.”

Stiles pulls off his hoodie, tosses it over the back of his dad’s sofa. Derek’s eyes immediately go to Stiles’ arms, to the tattoos tracing his skin. Derek stares at them, at the lines and shapes and figures, stares as if he can’t look away. Stiles is used to it. It’s a pretty common reaction.

“When I was in high school my best friend Scott? He got bit by an alpha. And I was the one who helped him through it.” He crosses his arms. “I got him through his first full moon and every full moon after that until he felt like…he had a handle on it. Until he felt like the human and the wolf could…work together, or whatever. It’s not the same with Eli.”

“He was born a wolf, not made.”

“Right.” Stiles nods, throws up a hand. “And as previously discussed, he’s three. I’m not going to chain him to a radiator on the full moon. Not that he needs it. He has better control than Scott ever has.”

“You chained your best friend to a radiator?”

“Trust me, it was necessary.”

“I’ll just have to take your word on that.”

“I know who my son is. But I don’t know how to help him. How good of a father can I possibly be if I don’t know how to help him?”

Derek doesn’t say anything, but Stiles doesn’t blame him for that. He doesn’t know what to say either.

“Guys? Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s us dad,” Stiles calls out.

“I’ve got a couple beers with your names on them.”

They find John in the kitchen, Eli climbing him like a tree as John tries to flip a couple of burgers in a cast iron skillet. He points the spatula at Stiles. “Not a word.”

Stiles holds up his hands in supplication. He’ll give his dad a pass today.

“Let me take over. You have enough to handle with a tiny werewolf using you as a jungle gym.”

John hands over the spatula and swings Eli upside down, grinning as he giggles.

“Can I help?”

Stiles points a nervous Derek toward a baking sheet and the fries in the freezer. He covers the sheet in aluminum foil, spreads out the fries, and nearly drops it when he goes to put it in the oven.

“You can calm down, son,” John says, wry smile on his face. “I’m not going to shoot you.”

“I’m a werewolf.”

“I’d gathered as much, yes.”

“You don’t care?”

John lets out a little sigh. “Well, it answers a few questions. Brings up some others too, I guess. But my kid is a witch, my grandson is a werewolf…you being a werewolf doesn’t change the fact that you’re a good man and my best deputy.”  

Eli scrambles down off his grandpa’s lap, runs over to Derek, hugs him tight around the leg and looks up at him with a big grin. “Alpha.”

Derek turns panicked eyes to them. “Are you sure you don’t want to shoot me?” 

Stiles walks over and scoops up his kid. Eli is thrilled to be at eye level with Derek, and he immediately reaches out a hand toward him. “Alpha.”

Derek backs away, bumps into a chair at the kitchen table, keeps backing up. Eli lets out a disgruntled, needy little whine and stretches out his hand even further and Derek’s face falls, even as he keeps backing away.

“Derek,” Stiles says softly, carefully, as he rubs his distressed son’s back. “Do you not want to be his alpha?”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says. He looks just as distressed as Eli. “I didn’t mean to…to…” He backs up even further and whispers, “I’m sorry.”

John says, “We should’ve asked, I guess, instead of just assuming. But he chose you and you looked so comfortable together, so…” He cuts off with a sigh. “We just thought you felt the same.”

Derek looks flabbergasted. “You want me to be his alpha? You don’t care that he’s basically-”

“Imprinted on you like a baby duck?”

Derek looks a little irritated at that comparison but whatever, it fits.

“Son, he let you hold him. He doesn’t let anyone do that except for us.”

“But there are so many other alphas out there with more experience, better credentials, bigger packs…they could protect him so much better than I could.”

Stiles walks over, sets his kid in Derek’s arms. Eli instantly settles, and Derek looks down at him.

“My kid feels safe with you. And we trust his instincts.”

Derek looks at Stiles with something like wonder, then he looks back down at the little boy in his arms who’s looking up at him like he hung the moon. Stiles directs them with a hand on Derek’s shoulder to a chair at the table and they sit down, eyes still fixed on one another. Derek rumbles in his chest and Eli does his own version of a rumble back that really sounds more like a purr, and it’s so fucking cute Stiles has to turn away. Besides, the burgers need to be flipped.

“Alpha.”

“Beta,” Derek rumbles back, and bumps his forehead gently against Eli’s.

“Welcome to the family,” John says, and leans back in his chair. “Our weird, weird little family.”

+

“Here.” Stiles hands Derek another beer and pulls the blanket off the back of the sofa, draping it over Eli and his dad who have fallen asleep together in his dad’s chair, Eli’s cheek pressed to John’s chest, his little mouth hanging open.

“What’s Eli short for?”

He tucks the blanket in around them. “Elijah John.”

“You named him after your dad.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says, and steps back over to the sofa.

Derek pauses then says, “I’d like to spend time with him at least once a week, if that’s okay with you.”

“Are you asking to set up play dates with my kid?” Derek frowns and Stiles laughs. “I’m kidding. Yeah, of course. We can do more than once a week, even.”

“Are you sure?”

“Derek, you’re his alpha. I’m not going to keep him from you. This is going to be good for him. For all of us, most likely. But heads up…you’re probably, and by probably I mean absolutely, in for a little hero worship. He’s a big fan of yours already, I can tell.”

“He really doesn’t let anyone else pick him up?”

Stiles shrugs and sits back against the arm of the couch. “There’s a few other people he likes, but he’s always been particular. It drives my friends Scott and Lydia crazy.”

“He doesn’t like them?”

“He isn’t the slightest bit interested in them, no matter what they do.”

“Huh.” Derek takes a sip of his beer.

“Huh what? What does huh mean?”

Derek’s eyes slide over to Eli then back to Stiles. “It’s just a theory.”

“And?”

“He doesn’t consider them pack.”

“But they’re my friends.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re his friends. It might be his territorial instincts coming out.”

Stiles hooks his fingers in the air. “So…he created a pack because he didn’t have one, and they’re not in it?”

“Something like that.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

Derek takes a long pull of his beer and Stiles follows, and when John lets out a loud sharp snore, they both laugh softly into the mouths of their bottles.

He nods at Derek’s beer. “That’s not going to do anything for you, is it?”

Derek looks down at the non-wolfsbane infused bottle of beer and shakes his head.

He says, “I could do a little…” He whistles and wiggles his fingers toward the bottle.

Derek grasps his wrist gently. “Is that the reason your tattoos move? Because you’re…”

“Magic?” Derek nods, his thumb tracing a smooth circle on the inside of Stiles’ wrist. “I’m surprised you can see that. Most people can’t.”

It’s glacial the way they shift and move, almost hypnotic. Designed for the average person, for humans, to see them and not see them at the same time. To convince them what they’re seeing is a mirage. That Stiles’ tattoos are just as ordinary as everyone else’s, when in fact he’s never once put a needle to his skin.

“I’m not human.”

“No…you’re not.”

Derek leans in, and then Stiles leans in. Derek’s hand on his wrist is warm and soft and Stiles leans in even more, his eyelashes fluttering closed. He can feel Derek’s beer-sour breath on his lips and he licks his own, feels his breath catch a little and moves to close the distance when he gets a lapful of sleepy three year old as Eli slips under their arms with a grumble, climbs up onto the couch and into his dad’s lap, and tucks a snuffling nose into Stiles’ neck after nearly kicking Stiles in the groin. Derek backs up and his hand falls away.

Ah, the life of a cockblocked parent.

“I guess that’s my cue,” he says and gives Stiles a half smile as he stands, picks up his jacket. “I’ll uh…”

Stiles stands and tucks a arm under Eli’s bottom. “Call me?”

“Yeah.”

Derek stands there a moment in the shadow of the open doorway and looks at them. Stiles licks his lips and looks right back, and even with the weight of his kid in his arms, he finds he wants more, so much more, feels it like a growing knot in his belly. Finally Derek ducks his head and heads out the front door, closing it gently behind him.

Stiles looks down at Eli. “You ready to go home?”

Eli grumbles, shoves his face further into Stiles neck.

“Yeah.” He gives him a gentle double pat on the bottom. “Me too.”

+

Aside from a few regulars, Stiles’ shop is quiet the next morning so Stiles takes the opportunity to coax his cranky kid into taking a nap in the back office, then restocks his shelves with his newest batches of potions and lotions, herb blends and cleansers and sweeps a few dead leaves out of the entryway. He opens the front door to sweep them out and rolls his eyes when a gentle fall breeze tries to blow them back in, flicking his wrist to send them spiraling back outside to land at the base of the Japanese maple tree dropping its sunset colored leaves just to the right of Stiles’ front door.

Business starts to pick up mid-morning, and he helps a college junior with her stress – put three drops in your morning coffee…also, seriously, cut back on the coffee – sells the entire acne line to a self-conscious Beacon Hills High freshman and takes a consultation from a melancholy woman who’s having trouble conceiving, who wrings her hands in her lap and can’t bring herself to meet Stiles’ eyes. She’s tried everything else, and Stiles is her last hope. He gives her a cream for her stomach and tells her to come back tomorrow, that he’ll make something special for her, and she leaves with a clench of Stiles’ hand and tears forming at the corners of her eyes, a bless you on her lips.

Stiles has gotten that a lot in the three years he’s been in business.

He never thought this was what he’d be doing with his life. He always thought he’d follow his dad into law enforcement, actually. But plans change sometimes. Eli happened. And Stiles may not have known much about parenting at the start – hell, he’s not sure he knows much about it now, what with his inability to keep track of his own kid – but he was pretty sure he knew a couple things with absolute certainty, one being this: you don’t take your werewolf baby to a normal day care center. You don’t have to be a genius parent to figure that out. So Stiles got over it, made a plan, and started renovating the building that would become Foxglove with his newborn strapped into a Moby wrap across his chest.

It’s a beautiful place downtown on Main with a front wall full of black framed windows, a vintage front door with chipped white paint, and skinny plank hardwood floors that creak a little when you step on just the right spot. It shares a brick sidewall on one side with the local hardware store, the oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi, and always seems to smell just a little bit like peppermint.

When business quiets he heads into the back office to check on Eli and to start his research, and he gets wrapped up in finding just the right mix for his latest client, Sarah: some agaric, obviously. Geranium, hawthorn, adder’s tongue. He’s done healing, fertility potions before, but they’re tricky, touchy things, and every client is a little different which makes every mix just a little bit different.

Sometime later he hears the tinkle of the bell sound through the cracked office door, and Stiles finishes what he’s doing and marks his place. He spares a glance at Eli, asleep under his constellation blanket on the office couch, before heading out to greet the customer who happens not to be a customer but Derek, crouched down behind the counter with a tool bag, looking unfairly gorgeous in a forest green Henley and another pair of those perfect jeans.

Stiles takes a few precious seconds to ogle Derek’s ass before he says, “Hey. Whatcha doooooin’?”

“Hey.” Derek looks up at Stiles and smiles and, oh god. Unfair. Un. Fair. “Fixing your broken outlet.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I’m the alpha,” he says, all earnestness. “It’s my job to keep my pack safe.”

Okay, yep…that’s it. That settles it. Stiles is going to date Derek. He’s going to date Derek so hard.

“Do you like movies?”

Derek looks a little confused but says, “Yes?”

“Are you free Friday night?”

“Yes.”

“Great. I’m taking you out. Dinner, movie…the works.”

Derek pulls the new outlet out of its little cardboard box and says, hesitantly, “You want to date me?”

God yes.”

“Really?”

Stiles holds a hand out toward his wall and says, “Derek, you’re fixing my outlet. You found my kid in the woods yesterday. My dad loves you, my kid loves you. You’re basically a stupidly gorgeous superhero. I’m really hoping there’s a closeted dork under all of that.” Stiles makes a hand-wavy gesture at Derek’s general person. “Because then, oh god…total package.”

Derek blushes and smiles, ducks his head, then looks up at Stiles from under his lashes.

Oh god…Derek is allowed to smile at him like that forever.

“Okay.”

“Yeah? Awesome. Also, bear in mind…our chances of getting cockblocked by a three year old? Practically nonexistent. He’ll be with grandpa allllllllllllll night.”

Derek’s smile sharpens. “I’ll keep that in mind.” He sets the outlet down on the counter gently and walks forward slowly, almost lazily, until Stiles is pressed up against the counter. He leans in, his hands braced on either side of Stiles, his eyes dropping down to Stiles’ mouth, and then leans in a little further, his mouth to Stiles’ ear, and says, “Stiles?”

Stiles sucks in a sharp breath. “Yeah?”

“Where do I shut off the power?”

Stiles tips his head back with a groan and an eye roll and says, “It’s in the stock room. Jackass.”

Derek grins all the way to the back room and is still grinning to himself when he walks back onto the now darkened sales floor.

He sets himself up on the ground, cross-legged in front of the bad outlet, and starts unscrewing the outlet plate.

“So…Eli and I were going to head out for lunch in about an hour, if you want to join us. And let me tell you, there is nothing as scintillating as watching a toddler devour nuggets and fries.”

Derek pauses his work and frowns. “I have a shift starting soon.”

He looks genuinely disappointed, and Stiles puts another mental checkmark in the pro Derek column.

Seriously. This guy.

Stiles feels a small body bump into his leg and he looks down to Eli rubbing his face against Stiles’ thigh, blanket trailing behind him in one fist. Stiles sweeps a hand over his head. “Sleep okay?”

He grumbles.

“That good, huh?”

He gives a jerky nod then finally seems to notice Derek is in the room, because in the next moment he’s rushing over and attaching himself to Derek’s back, like some invasive species of barnacle.

“Hey, buddy.” Derek grins at him and Eli grins back. “Do you want to help me fix your dad’s outlet?”

Eli gives him an enthusiastic nod and climbs into Derek’s lap with his blanket, pulling on Derek’s gloves that are way too big and listening with rapt attention while Derek explains every little step, his gloved hands pressed firmly in his lap where Derek told him they had to stay. It’s a little dark in that corner so Stiles helps them out, flicks his fingers and fills the air above them with twinkling stars and tiny planets, slightly brighter stars forming themselves into constellations. It’s Eli’s favorite trick and Stiles is rewarded when they both look up for a minute, Eli leaning back against Derek, and watch the stars and smile. Finally they give Stiles a smile and Eli sits patiently and watches Derek’s hands as he unscrews the outlet, as he removes the wires from the side. And when they’re finally done, and Derek helps Eli screw the outlet plate back on, Derek praises him for listening, for following instructions, for being a big help.

Stiles would do him right now if there weren’t a toddler in the room, and if the front of his store weren’t made almost entirely out of windows. No one is ever this patient with his kid.

“Do you want to help me replace the rest of the outlets?”

Eli nods eagerly and Stiles says, “You know, that’s really not necessary.”

Eli frowns and says, “Daddy,” and Stiles has never felt so judged in his entire life.

“We’re just trying to keep our pack member safe, right?”

“Right,” Eli says, with a firm nod, and gives Derek a little fist bump when Derek holds his fist out. Stiles shakes his head while they move on to the next outlet. He taught him that.

In cahoots, that’s what they are.

The bell over the door jingles and Stiles looks up and smiles when Scott and Lydia come walking in, a big box in Scott’s arms.

Scott is frowning, and looking around, and he says, “Stiles, man…is everything okay? Why are the lights out?”

“Eli’s just doing some light electrical work.” Stiles gives them both a hug then says, “Hey bud…can you say hi to Scott and Lydia?”

Scott grins at Eli. “Hi buddy!” He crouches down next to Eli and Derek. “Aunt Lydia and I brought you a present!”

He sets the big box down next to them, topped with a big red bow. It’s a huge remote controlled truck with what looks like the most complicated controls known to mankind. It was nice of them to bring it for him, but cars aren’t really Eli’s thing. He’s an outer space kid, a superhero kid. Maybe they can donate it during the Sheriff’s department toy drive in about a month. Some kid is going to love it, just not his kid.   

Eli turns his head slowly to look at Scott, gives a heavy sigh, and says, “Hi,” in the most monotone voice possible before disregarding both Scott and the present and immediately turning his attention back to the outlet. Stiles is absolutely sure he sees Derek hide his smile against his shoulder.

“Bud…can you say thank you for the gift?”

He gives another heavy sigh. “Thank you.”

“I don’t get it,” Scott says, and frowns again as he stands. “He’ll sit in the electrician’s lap, but I barely even get a hi?”

“You’re not the only one, honey.” Lydia rubs his back in sympathy but lifts her eyebrows at Stiles and nods toward Derek’s back, smiling as she mouths the word nice. It bothers her too, Stiles knows, that Eli has never taken to her. She’s just a lot better at hiding it, pretending that it doesn’t matter to her that he turns away from her when everyone else she’s ever met has turned toward her.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “He’s not the electrician, he’s one of dad’s deputies. His name is Derek. He’s just helping me fix a few things.” Stiles looks down at Derek and Eli, so comfortable together, then looks back at Scott and makes a decision. “And he’s Eli’s alpha.”

Scott looks like Stiles pulled out a cattle prod and shocked him. Lydia has her head tilted, staring at Derek’s back.

Scott says, “His alpha? When did this happen?”

“Pretty recently.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Scotty…”

Scott looks hurt. “I didn’t even know you were looking for an alpha for him. You could’ve asked me.”

“Scott, you guys live an hour and a half away. You’re not exactly accessible. Also, he-”

“Hates me?”

“Would never accept you as his alpha. He doesn’t hate you.” Scott gives him a look. “And more importantly, you don’t want to be his alpha. I never want you to be something you’re not.”

And that’s the thing, really. How could Scott ever be a good alpha to Eli? He’s not proud of being a werewolf, not the way Eli and Derek are. He treats it like an inconvenience, something he lives with and knows he can’t fix. But there’s nothing about Eli that needs to be fixed, and Stiles doesn’t want anyone treating him that way, even unintentionally.

Lydia sweeps by, sets an armload of Stiles’ bestselling lotion on the counter. “Okay…I need a box or a large bag. Also, I’m going to need you to get any back stock you have. Don’t give me that look, Stiles. I know you have back stock.”

Stiles lifts an eyebrow. “You really want to buy my entire stock of lotion?”

She holds up one of the bottles, stares him down. “Do you know what I hear from every woman who’s tried your lotion? That it’s like magic.”

“Which is funny,” Stiles says. “Because it’s literally magic.”

“I know.” She sets the bottle down on the counter. “Do you know how much it kills me that I can’t replicate your formula? Because I’ve tried. I’ve tried.”

Scott nods. “She’s definitely tried.”

But I don’t have your witchy fingers. So yes…I am buying your entire stock. And when I’m in town the next time, I’ll buy your entire stock then too. I’m a very popular gift giver, Stiles.”

“You could try studying magic.”

She eyes him. “No. I couldn’t. Not if I actually plan on winning the Fields Medal. And I definitely plan on winning the Fields Medal. Besides, we both know that even if my magical skills equaled yours, I’d never be able to replicate your formula.”

He gives her a little shrug and a smile and juts a thumb over his shoulder. She’s not wrong. “So I’ll just go get the back stock then?”

“Please.”

Lydia also stocks up on Stiles’ special blend of focusing tea, and Stiles helps them load it all in their trunk, gives them hugs, and waves them on to lunch with their moms, the reason they’re in town in the first place. It’s not to see Stiles. Stiles is a way station on the way to their final destination. Years ago, the idea of that might have depressed him. Now it’s just…the way it is.

He used to think he and Scott would be best friends forever. He used to think he’d be in love with Lydia forever.

It turns out neither of those things were true.

Foxglove is still dark when he walks back in, but he doesn’t see Derek or Eli, not until he leans over the counter and sees the two of them on the floor, Derek putting away his tools, Eli picking up the little cardboard boxes that held the outlets one by one and throwing them carefully into the trash can under the register.

“All done?” Derek nods and looks up at him. “My hero. I think you deserve a reward.”

Derek rises slowly and they both spare a quick glance at an oblivious and totally occupied Eli before Derek steps forward and says, “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

Stiles leans in and Derek returns the gesture, bracing his arms against the counter.

“Derek? There’s something-”

The bell over the door rings.

Stiles is going to murder that bell.

He must have said that out loud because Derek chuckles and drops his head as he steps back.

“Stiles!”

Stiles turns his head and smiles at the woman bustling across his shop. If Lydia didn’t buy his entire lotion stock out every few months, the elderly, purple-haired Lois Rosenbaum would be his best, most loyal client, hands down.

“Is everything okay?”

 She waves him off. “Of course, dear. Thanks to you, I couldn’t be better.” The lights in the shop flicker back to life. She looks around. “Well…let there be light.” She smiles at him. “Handsome as ever. Oh!” She grasps his wrist gently, pulls his arm up. “You have a new tattoo! A sparrow, how lovely.”

It wasn’t exactly lovely getting it, but she doesn’t need to know that.

Stiles pulls a small box out from under the counter with six of Lois’ special formula cream. “I made you a new batch.”

She puts a hand on his cheek. “Sweet boy. You always know when I need more.”

There’s no magic to that – he puts her on his calendar every month so he knows when to make another batch.

“Is Eli here? I have something for him.”

Eli pokes his head out from around the counter, looks up at her, and smiles.

“Hello, sweetheart!”

“Hi.”

Eli might not be a fan of most of the town but Mrs. Rosenbaum? Mrs. Rosenbaum, he loves. Because of her purple hair, he’s convinced she’s some sort of retired superhero.

She reaches into her large purse and pulls out a board book. Eli takes it and holds it in both hands. “It’s all about the stars! And it even has little glow in the dark stars in the back that you can put on your ceiling so you can sleep under the stars at night!”

Eli immediately swivels his head to look at Stiles with wide, excited eyes. “Daddy!”

“Yes, we can put the stars on your ceiling.”

Eli bounces and gives Mrs. Rosenbaum a quick hug around the legs before running off to his little table behind the register and cracking open his book.

“Eli, what do you say?”

“Thank you!”

“And this is for you.”

She presses several bills into Stiles’ open hand. Stiles already knows without counting that it’s too much. It’s way too much. “This is-”

“It’s not.” She presses the bills more firmly into his hand as she clasps his hand tight in hers. “I went to the doctor about a week ago, and I told him about you. I told him about your cream, about what you’ve been doing for me, and he refused to listen. He scoffed, he told me it was probably a placebo. I told him I didn’t give a flying f-” She glances over at Eli. “- patoot whether it’s horse’s piss, or dung beetle vomit, or actual snake oil, nothing he’s done has ever been able to match what you’ve done for me.” She gives his hand a pulse of a squeeze. “For the first time in thirty-five years, I’m pain free.”

The bell over the door sounds and a group of three young women come in, stopping by the candles.

Lois Rosenbaum releases his hand and picks up the small box. “So don’t you ever tell me it’s too much. Don’t you dare. I’ll see you on Tuesday. Dusk, right? Carla and Jane are so excited.”

Stiles just nods. He’s not going to win this one. He never has any hope of winning anything against Lois Rosenbaum. It’s probably best to just admit that now and move on. “Dusk.”

“Wonderful.” She looks around his shoulder. “Bye Eli!”

“Bye!”

The bell over the door rings again and this time a wide set man in his thirties walks in and holds the door for Lois Rosenbaum as she’s walking out. Stiles gets distracted by questions from the young women, by helping a few other customers who walk in the store, and before he knows it he’s looking up and Derek is at the front door, gesturing to his watch, his tool bag in his hand. Stiles gives him a little wave and a disappointed half-smile in thanks, and Derek nods before ducking his head and walking out the door.

+

“Whoa…hold up, buddy. Slow down.”

Eli does but bounces impatiently as he waits for Stiles to open the door to the Sheriff’s station.

“Remember…we walk up to Derek’s desk, okay?”

He waits for Eli to nod then pulls the door open and rolls his eyes as he kid stretches the boundaries of Stiles’ command by power walking around the front desk and up to Derek’s.

Definitely his kid.

“These are for you!”

“For me?”

Derek crouches down to meet Eli, a hand on his back, and Stiles wants to lick him. He wants to lick him all over.

“For finding me!”

“And for fixing the outlets.”

Derek looks up at him and smiles. God…it’s like watching a flower open up. “You made me cookies?”

“I helped!” Eli says, a little indignant.

“Thanks, buddy,” Derek says, and gives him a little pat on the chest.

“They’re white chocolate macadamia.”

“Daddy’s speshuty.”

“Specialty. Yeah.”

“Did I hear white chocolate macadamia?”

John reaches for a cookie off the plate in Stiles’ hands and Stiles moves it out of his reach. John gives him a very unimpressed look.

“Hey…I’m just thinking of you, pops.”

“Great,” he says sarcastically. “Keep thinking of me while I eat one of your cookies.”

“Daddy! Daddy, ask him!”

“Ask me what?” Derek asks and stands, Eli on his hip.

“Dad, can we use your office?”

“Absolutely,” he says, and snags a few cookies off the plate with a grin, leading the way to his office.

Stiles passes by a group of deputies, stops when he comes upon Jordan Parrish and hands him the plate of cookies. “Thanks for your help yesterday.”

“Of course,” he says. He sets the plate down. “Anytime, Stiles. You know that.”

“Right. Thanks again,” he says, and juts an awkward thumb over his shoulder toward his dad’s office. “I gotta…yeah.”

He turns and walks away and finds an intense Derek, staring at him from inside his dad’s office, eyes darting between Stiles and Parrish. Stiles shuts the door behind him.

“Jesus, Stiles…just put the poor guy out of his misery already, would you?” John says.

“Who?” Stiles asks, confused. “Parrish? Dad, Parrish isn’t into me.”

“He is, son,” John says on a heavy sigh.

Stiles laughs. “No. He’s not. He just started dating Toby.”

“The guy who owns the hardware store?”

“Yeah. He’s crazy about him.”

“Then why is he looking at you like you cured cancer?”

“Because he thinks I kinda did?”

Stiles…what did you do?

“Why do you assume I did something?”

“I don’t know, past experience?”

Stiles crosses his arms. “He came into the shop one day and asked for a love potion.”

“A love potion.”

“Yeah. I’ll tell you what I told him: no. Love potions are incredibly volatile and not to be messed with. And besides, it’s not like he needed one. Toby was already into him. But he kept insisting, so I gave him a cup of tea, and told him it was my special courage blend, since that was all he needed anyway, and he walked right next door and asked Toby out. Now he keeps trying to thank me because he thinks I’m responsible for his happy relationship when he’s the one who did all the work.”

Stiles.

“I’m going to tell him, okay! I just…haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

“Well get around to it.”

Stiles gives his father a salute as Eli grumbles from Derek’s arms and gives the most impatient jiggle of his little life. “Daddy…daddy ask him!”

Stiles turns to Derek. “Right, so…I do a ritual every year out at the cemetery where I honor the land and the deceased and ask them for their continued protection. I put a sort of protective veil over the town. I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen.”

“And I get to help!”

Stiles nods. “Eli is finally old enough to be a part of it, and we wanted to know if you wanted to be a part of it too.”

“It isn’t painful or anything for us,” John says from his perch on the edge of his desk. “But the more people we have, the less draining it is for Stiles.”

“And you’re tied to the land, so that’s even better.”

Derek is staring at Stiles intently. “Yeah…yes. Of course. Of course I’ll be there. Thank you for asking me.”

“Great.” Eli lets out a loud cheer and Stiles steps forward, takes him from Derek. “It’s Tuesday, at dusk. Dad can give you all the details. We’ll uh…let you get back to work.”

Stiles opens the door and Derek says, “Thanks for the cookies.”

And see that? Right there? Derek should not look at him like that when his dad and his kid are in the room. All sweet and soft and intensely fuckable.

“You’re welcome. Don’t let my dad steal too many of them, alright? He’s a thieving thief who thieves.”

John gives his best approximation of an innocent man. No one believes him.

+

Eli is bounding out of the car and across the cemetery as soon as Stiles has him unbuckled from his car seat, and he only takes his eye off him when he sees he’s with his grandpa. John lifts him up and throws him high, and Stiles smiles when he giggles. He’s just taking the first box out of the back of his Jeep when he feels a hand on his shoulder and stops, turns, pulls the owner of the hand into a giant hug.

“Hey, Jacks.”

“Hey, loser.” He pulls back with a grin.

“Thanks for coming.”

“Someone has to make sure you don’t pass out again.”

Stiles rolls his eyes and shoves a box into Jackson’s hands. “One time. That was one time.”

Stiles was seventeen, it was his first year doing the ritual, and he didn’t know what the hell he was doing. Stiles is impressed he only passed out, actually.

“Have you passed out since?” Jackson lifts an eyebrow, blinks at him. Stiles just stares at him. “Then I’ve been doing my fucking job.”

The walk the boxes over to the gathering place and Stiles starts pulling the pumpkins out, setting a candle inside each one.

“So…do you want to tell me about the guy you’re into, or are you going to make me ask?”

He straightens up. “How do you know about Derek?”

“It’s an hour and half drive from the airport, Stiles, and your dad loves to talk about his two favorite subjects: you and Eli. There isn’t a prouder dad and grandpa on the western seaboard. Also, fuck you very much, loser. I had to hear about Derek Hale from your dad?”

Stiles plunks a pumpkin into Jackson’s hands and lights the candle inside. “Fuck you right back, it just happened like three days ago.” He gestures to the pumpkins, to the stacks of leafy crowns, to the beeswax candles lighting the path to the circle, all handmade, homemade, and grown in Stiles’ garden. The ritual is just more effective that way. The sweat of his hands, the earth beneath his feet…all of that. “I was going to tell you. I’ve just been a little busy.”

“You mean the Eli running off thing?”

Stiles takes the lit pumpkin out of Jackson’s hands and sets it on the ground next to the others. “Yep. Father of the year.”

He rolls his eyes. “Stiles, I once had to stop you from falling down a well when we were in high school because you were absolutely sure there was a water spirit living at the bottom and you had to investigate it.”

“Hey…I was totally right about that.”

“Yeah…that’s my point. You’re the guy who sticks your hand in the wet paint on the wall even when there’s a big fucking sign that says wet paint because you never take anyone’s word for anything. You always have to find out the reason for yourself. Eli is the same way. So is your dad. You’re not a bad father. You’re a Stilinski. So is Eli. Learn to hook your finger in his belt loop before he can go running off. It’s what I learned to do with you.” Stiles puts the final pumpkin in Jackson’s hands, lights the candle. “By the way, your boyfriend is trying to kill me with his eyes.”

Jackson smirks. He’s enjoying this too much.

“Derek is not my boyfriend.”

He’s not. It’s only been a couple of days for one thing, and he hasn’t even gotten his hands on Derek’s ass yet. And boyfriend somehow feels like the wrong word, like it’s not enough. So no, Derek is not his boyfriend. But they’re…something. Clearly they’re something. Stiles just doesn’t know exactly what yet.

Jackson lifts an eyebrow. “Does he know that?” He looks up then says, “I guess we’ll find out in about twenty seconds. He’s coming over.”

Derek stalks over, gets all up in Stiles’ space, and tries to glare Jackson into submission.

It’s absolutely adorable.

“I’m Derek.”

Jackson smirks. “I know.”

Derek huffs through his nose, like he’s trying to exercise patience he doesn’t have. Which is a total lie, actually, because Stiles has seen him with Eli. He has evidence. “And you are?”

Jackson hands him the pumpkin. “Leaving to find my godson.”

Derek presses his lips together, stares after Jackson as he walks across the cemetery. “Who was that?”

“That’s Jackson. My asshole of a best friend.”

“He’s Eli’s godfather?”

Across the cemetery Eli shouts Uncle Jackson! and runs on his little legs to meet him, squealing in delight when he jumps on him and Jackson falls onto the ground on his back, playing at defeat. He stands on top of Jackson’s stomach and flexes his muscles, throwing his head back as he crows about his victory.

“Yep.” Derek is watching them, corners of his mouth turning down, and Stiles says with a grin, “Don’t worry…you’ll be number one again soon. Jackson only comes into town once a year for a day or so, for this. He’ll be back on a plane to London in no time.”

Derek frowns at Stiles. “I’m not number one.”

“Sure you are, big guy. I’ve never seen a little kid fall in love with someone so fast.”

“No, Stiles…I’m not.” His frown deepens. “You are. He loves you more than anyone. It’s not even close.”

Look, the thing Stiles has figured out about being a parent is that even if he’s always Eli’s favorite person, sometimes he’s just not Eli’s Favorite Person. He enforces bedtimes and fills Eli’s plates with veggies and shuts the TV off after one episode of Paw Patrol. Grandpa lets him stuff himself with nuggets and stay up until he falls asleep in the middle of the living room rug. Uncle Jackson lets Eli use him as a personal jungle gym and sends him presents every month from halfway across the world. It’s a little hard to compete with kid catnip like that. But it doesn’t mean Eli doesn’t love him. Of course he does. He told Stiles he loved him in the car thirty minutes ago.

“You are. That’s why he’s always frowning at people.”

“Come again?”

“Your son’s a werewolf, Stiles. He can smell when someone’s scent changes. And there’s a fair number of people in town who are…wary of you.”

Oh.

That..makes sense, actually.

Derek looks genuinely upset about that. “They’re idiots,” he says forcefully, intently.

Stiles shrugs. “Yeah. Maybe. They’re only human. Most of them, anyway.”

Maybe?”

“My guess is they’re remembering something I did in high school.” Stiles crosses his arms, takes a deep breath. Now is as good of a time as any, he supposes. “Right, so…there’s something I need to tell you, something I should’ve already said, and it’s probably going to change everything because stuff like this has a way of changing everything, so if you don’t want to be Eli’s alpha anymore, if you don’t want anything to do with any of us anymore…we understand. It would suck, it would absolutely suck, but we’d understand.”

Derek takes a step forward and reaches out a hand and Stiles takes a step back. Derek’s face falls and Stiles feels like an asshole.

Stiles takes a deep breath. “I’m the one who killed your Uncle Peter.” Derek’s hand drops. “He was trying to kill Jackson,” Stiles says, and squares his shoulders. “So I killed him first. I was sixteen.”

Stiles doesn’t regret it, not even a little. But that doesn’t mean Derek won’t hate him for it too. The two things are not mutually exclusive. And judging by the way Derek’s chin drops to his chest, by the way he won’t look Stiles in the eye any longer, he absolutely does. 

Stiles looks away, watches Jackson chase Eli with mock growls, Eli giggling as he runs circles around his grandpa’s squad car, John looking on, and Stiles feels the regret start to rise. It would’ve been nice to keep Derek around. It would’ve been nice for him to be a part of all of this for good.

“I already know.” Stiles’ head whips back. Derek is looking at him with soft eyes, using a soft voice, his hands in his pockets. “Your dad called my sister Laura, he called the both of us, right after it happened. He told us everything Peter had done, all the people he’d killed, and he told us that you were the one who stopped him. That you saved another boy’s life.”
“You already know,” Stiles says, more to himself than anything.

Derek smiles a little. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily.”

Thank god,” Stiles says as he exhales with his whole body.

“Is Peter the one who turned Scott?”

Stiles nods. “He bit Lydia and Jackson too.”

“Wait…Peter turned Jackson and then tried to kill him?”

“Yep. Those last couple years of high school were…rough.”

Stiles has the scars to prove it. And the tattoos.

Derek’s eyes shift to look across the way, at Jackson. “Is that why Jackson only comes back once a year? Because of Peter?”

“That’s, you know, a massive part of it, but Jackson has a…complicated relationship with this town. He’s tied to the land, and that makes the ritual stronger and more effective, but a lot of bad things have happened to him here, so he only comes back to town for me. And to see Eli, and my dad.” Stiles looks away, catches Jackson’s eye. Jackson holds his gaze for a minute then gives him a tiny nod and looks away. “Actually, there’s something else you should know.”

“You’re not married, are you?”

Stiles barks out a laugh and Derek grants him a big, absolutely-pleased-with-himself smile.

“Yeah, nope. No chance of that. You have met my kid, right? About yay high?” Stiles holds his hand a few feet off the ground, at roughly Eli’s height. “Keeps everyone at arm’s length?”

“Except me,” Derek says, his smile growing.

“Yeah…except you,” Stiles says, his voice softening.

It’s a hell of a thing really, how quickly Eli recognized Derek as being worthy, how easily he accepted him as one of his own. But then, he’s always had good instincts.

 “So...this other thing? There’s a bit of backstory you have to understand,” Stiles says, and scratches the back of his head. “When Jackson got bit, he didn’t turn into a werewolf. He turned into something else. This lizard…thing called a kanima.”

“I’ve only heard of those. I’ve never…seen one.”

“It wasn’t pretty. He was being controlled, being used like a weapon without his consent.” Stiles shifts his gaze over toward Jackson again where Eli is swinging off one of his arms. “It took me a while, but I figured out how to turn Jackson into a werewolf, and release him from control. That’s when Peter decided he didn’t have any use for Jackson anymore.”

“Peter was controlling him,” he says softly.

“Yep.”

“And tried to kill him.”

“Double yep.”

“God,” Derek breathes out and drops his head.

“We used to hate each other, actually. He used to shove me into lockers. But somewhere along the line he figured out that even if we hated each other, I was still going to show up for him. So he started showing up for me too. We’ve taken turns saving each other over the years. I went first.”

Oh man, there are those soft eyes again.

“That day was the first time I ever used magic. I was so desperate to save Jackson’s life it just…came out.” He pats his chest over his heart. “That’s the day I got my first tattoo. Right here.”

Derek stares at his hand, at his chest, then looks up at Stiles intently. “I understand. He’s important to you. He’s family.”

Stiles lets out a long breath and almost laughs. He couldn’t have planned a better segue if he tried. “That’s the thing…Jackson is family. More specifically…your family.” Stiles pauses. “He’s a Hale.”

Derek looks absolutely stunned. “What?”

“He’s your cousin,” Stiles says, and slides his hands into his pockets. “That’s why the ritual works so much better if he’s here.”

Derek’s eyes slide over to Jackson. “But that means-”

“Yeah,” Stiles says on a sigh. “If you’re keeping count, Peter brought Jackson into the world, turned him into a kanima, used him to hurt people, and tried to kill him. So…father of the millennium, obviously.”

Stiles would kill him again if he could. He’s imagined a thousand different, creatively painful ways to end him. But it would never be enough. He thinks this, bringing Derek and Jackson together, might be as close to enough as he can get for all of them.  

“Look, he’s been through a lot. And he doesn’t trust very many people. I have a feeling you know what that’s like.”

“Stiles-”

He holds up a hand. “I’m not asking you to tell me. It’s none of my business unless you want it to be. But you should talk to him. He wants to know you, and I think the two of you would be good for each other.”

Derek is watching Jackson with hunger in his eyes, and Stiles gets it. He gets it.

“Plus he comes with the Stilinski Seal of Approval, so you know he’s good people.”

Derek turns that hunger on him, takes a step closer and says, “Stiles…

“I know, big guy.”

Derek’s eyes track to Stiles’ chest and he whispers intently, “I want to see your tattoo. I want to see all your tattoos. And I want to know the stories behind each one. I want to know everything.”

He’s looking at Stiles as if he wants to rip his clothes off, throw him on the ground and have his filthy way with him, trace every single inch of Stiles’ body with his fingers and then follow that with his tongue and Stiles would absolutely be on board with that, except his three year old is yanking on the bottom of his shirt and his dad is like, ten feet away.

“Daddy, it’s time!”

“Yep.” Stiles grabs him on the sides and lifts him up, plops him on top of the hood of the Jeep. “But you and I need to have a talk first.” Eli does a complicated frowny dance with his eyebrows and Stiles has to bite back his smile. “Buddy…I appreciate that you want to protect me, but you have to stop growling at the townsfolk.”

Eli screws up his little face into the biggest frown imaginable, crosses his arms. “But they’re mean to you.”

“Hey…I don’t care what they think. I have you, right?” Eli nods his head earnestly. “And I have Grandpa, and Uncle Jackson-”

“And me,” Derek says, and steps up to Stiles’ right.

“Our little family, that’s all I care about. Okay? So no more growling and frowning.”

Eli finally nods, although he doesn’t seem happy about it.

“You did good, little beta. I’ll take it from here,” Derek says with a smile, sweeping his hand over the top of Eli’s head. Eli practically preens at the praise, leaning into Derek’s hand.

“Think you can get everyone lined up for me?” Eli nods and Stiles picks him up, sets him on the ground, and watches as he runs over to Jackson and John. “You just scent marked him, didn’t you?”

Derek steps closer, so that his chest is pressed against Stiles’ shoulder. “He just wanted some acknowledgement that what he did was right. That listening to his instincts and trying to protect you was a good thing. Learning to listen to your instincts is an important lesson for a young werewolf.”

He’s right, Stiles knows he’s right. It feels strange not to be the foremost authority on his own kid for once. A little off-putting, actually.

“Hey…I have a favor to ask.”

“Anything,” Derek says, and Stiles laughs even as he feels pinned down, caged in by the intensity shining out of Derek’s eyes.

“You really mean that, don’t you?”

Stiles has a feeling that if he asked Derek to pull the moon a little closer, he’d figure out a way to do it. He wonders what pulling the moon closer would do to Derek’s shift, to Eli’s. He wonders if his magic would be even more alive than it is.

“I was wondering if you would drive me and Eli back to my dad’s when the ritual is over. I was going to ask Jackson-”

“I’ll do it.” Stiles smiles to himself. “Is there any reason you can’t drive?”

“Well, doing the ritual takes a lot of magic out of me, and it can make me a little…loopy? So it’s just better if I don’t.”

“It takes that much out of you?”

Stiles waves him off. “Don’t worry, my magic will be mostly restored by tomorrow night. After the barbeque at my dad’s later, I’ll sleep for like twelve hours and spend the whole day tomorrow at his place napping and relaxing.”

“Stiles,” Jackson calls out. “It’s time.”

Stiles nods and walks over, arranges everyone in a line, Eli standing proudly at the front, Jackson just behind him. He hands each one of the thirteen people a lit pumpkin with a rune carved into the front and places a leafy, acorn-studded crown on each of their heads before placing his own crown on his head. Eli leads them carefully around the circle, watching his feet the whole way, stopping Jackson, Derek, his grandpa, and Doctor Keller at the four corners, at north, south, east, and west, leading everyone else to fill in the spaces between them. They stand in a circle, silent, as their runes flicker at Stiles, and Stiles closes his eyes, feels his magic rise as Eli comes over to stand at his left. He can hear the whispers through the trees, the light laughter that comes forward on the breeze, the touch of fingers on his shoulder. A soft, sad sigh.

He’d instructed them all to think hard about what they love most about Beacon Hills, to think about why they choose to stay, about why they came back. Stiles thinks about his dad who will never leave, about his mom who is buried not far from where he’s standing. He thinks about Jackson, who has more of a reason to hate this land and this town than anyone, but still comes back every year for Stiles. He thinks about Derek and everyone he lost, and how much he wants to give, how desperate he is to love. Stiles has never felt so aggressively cared for in his life. And he thinks about Eli, always Eli. At the way his little face points up to the stars, at the natural, totally honest way he loves someone with his whole being, but the way he saves that for a precious, lucky few. At the way he’s always pulling his socks and shoes off at every opportunity, yearning to feel the ground beneath his feet. And Stiles opens his mouth and the Irish Gaelic flows out as if it’s his first language, entreating the spirits and the fey and the Earth Mother for their guidance and protection, asking them to watch over all of them and their land for another year, to thank them for all they’ve given.

And when Stiles opens his eyes and watches the light from the pumpkins lifting up and over them, rising up into the sky and forming a soft orange canopy as the sun slips below the horizon, bathing them in light, he knows it’s worked.

Eli tugs at his pants and Stiles bends and picks him up, balances him on his hip. Eli wraps his arms around him, presses his leafy crowned head against Stiles’ and says, “Daddy,” with a hushed kind of awe as he stares up at the sky and Stiles is a King. He’s so tired he’s sure he’s going to fall asleep in the car on the way to his dad’s, hell he could probably drop right here, but let someone try to pull his kid out of his arms.

Stiles earned this moment.

+

Stiles loves the hours after almost as much as the ritual, when he gets to sit with his kid cuddled up under a blanket in his lap and listen to everyone laugh and talk around the fire pit in his dad’s backyard while his dad holds court around the barbeque and cooks up burgers or steak or chicken, totally in his element. They’re all bundled up against the crisp fall air, the heat from the fire pit warming their faces, and Stiles looks across the circle and watches Jackson and Derek, turned into each other, leaning forward in their chairs, talking low. The sky has clouded over and there are no stars but the moon is bright and full through a gap in the clouds and Stiles tilts his head back, slouches down in the chair, wraps his arms around Eli and watches the sky. He can still see the faintest hint of orange as his magic works to spread to a thin, protective layer over Beacon Hills, but he’s the only one who can see it now. Stiles feels drained, drained and happy.

He also has to pee.

It takes more than a little distraction from John, but Stiles finally manages to shoo Eli off his lap to help his grandpa at the grill and heads inside. When he makes it back outside, he doesn’t make it far. Derek shows up with a soft smile and backs him slowly into the corner by the door, and Stiles leans against the wall and smiles at him as Derek closes the door with a push from his fingertips.

Derek leans in and kisses him, one of those soft, sweet ones followed by a few more identical kisses in quick succession, then kisses him on the nose. “You’re amazing.”

Stiles just smiles. The ritual is one hell of a showstopper.

Derek leans in against Stiles, pressing him into the wall, a thigh between Stiles’ legs, his hand braced on the wall above Stiles’ head. “You brought my family to me. I never thought I’d find another Hale. You gave me a little pack of my own…a little one to teach.” Derek drops his forehead to rest against Stiles’ temple, nudges at his cheek with his nose. “You’ve been protecting my family, my land, for years. The people in this town…none of them have any idea what you do for them. You’re…I’ve never met anyone more alive.” Derek rubs his cheek against Stiles’. “And I can’t believe we have to wait until Friday.”

Stiles huffs a loose, sleepy laugh. “I wouldn’t be any good tonight, anyway. Not if you want me to participate.”

Derek backs up, puts his warm hands on Stiles’ cheeks and says, one hundred kinds of serious, “I remember you, from before. I don’t know if you remember me.”

Stiles looks up, tries to search his brain for a young Derek, but his mind feels sluggish and slow. He’s pretty sure he would have liked him, though. He can’t imagine not liking Derek. He can’t imagine anyone not liking Derek.

Derek gives him a reassuring smile. “The night of the fire I was sitting on a bench at the sheriff’s station and you shared your gummy bears with me.”

“Did I offer you the red ones first?”

Derek’s smile grows. “You did.”

“I must have known you were good people, even then. Everyone knows the red ones are the best ones.”

“Boys,” John says from behind Derek, with a smile and more than a little fondness. “Dinner time.”

When Stiles collapses in his chair Eli immediately clamors up onto his lap and pulls Stiles’ arm around him and Stiles is handed a plate with pre-cut steak and veggies. He would laugh if he weren’t so touched by his dad’s foresight. Everyone eats, and talks, and Jackson holds Stiles’ plate without comment so Stiles can eat one-handed while Derek cuts Eli’s hot dog into kid sized pieces and John watches over everyone with a sheriff-shaped kind of benevolence.

Eventually his plate is taken away and Stiles leans back in his chair, brings Eli with him, and flicks his fingers, lighting the dark sky in front of them with Eli’s constellations.

“Stiles,” Derek says, his hand on Stiles’ arm. “You’ve used so much magic today. Is this…”

“Necessary? Oh yeah…” He grins. “Always.”

He flicks his fingers again and little shooting stars start to fall, start to race each other across the sky. Eli reaches out a hand to touch them, his fingers going right through trails of light that explode into bursts of fireworks, yellow and red and blue and green and purple and orange and white. When Stiles flicks his fingers again there are fireflies flitting around them, then multicolored butterflies that try to land on Eli’s nose, on his hair, on his fingers. Then they’re little green and pink fairies, flitting and twirling and dancing through the air as Eli giggles and tries to catch them only to watch them morph into bright white snowflakes that fall softly down around them, disappearing before they have a chance to stick. Finally they shrink back into stars again, into the constellations, blinking gently, rhythmically, until they fade completely from view.

+

Stiles wakes up with a squeeze to the hand, and his eyelids flutter open to find Derek crouched in front of him, a frowning, squirmy Eli on his hip.

“C’mon…let’s get you to bed.”

Stiles lets himself be pulled up out of the chair and he meets the eyes of a smiling Lois Rosenbaum and her two friends across the circle, he smiles at Erica Reyes and Isaac Lahey still in their leafy crowns, he nods at Doctor Keller. And he thanks everyone else who showed up for him, who helped, through a yawn he can’t suppress. The gathering will go on without him for another couple of hours, but he’s cool with that. He couldn’t stay awake if he tried.

As soon as Stiles makes it upstairs into his old bedroom, he strips out of his clothes, pulls on a pair of pajama pants and practically falls into bed. Across the room Derek is helping Eli change into his pjs with a softly requested, “Arms up.” Stiles closes his eyes, but opens them again a minute later when Eli jumps onto the bed and snuggles down into his side. Stiles rubs a hand over his head, smiles at him as Derek pulls the covers up over them and sits down on the side of the bed next to Stiles.

“Thanks for your help today, buddy. You did a great job.”

Eli yawns and nods, rubs his cheek against Stiles’ bare chest, then pushes his face into Stiles’ neck. Stiles turns his head to look at Derek.

“Thanks.”

Derek nods, braces his left hand on the mattress next to Eli, leans in and kisses Stiles. Stiles smiles into the slow, languid kisses and kisses back as much as he’s able. But he’s struggling to keep up, and when Derek pulls back Stiles can barely get his eyes open.

“This was your first tattoo?” Derek asks as he traces a fingertip over the three connected spirals over Stiles’ heart. “That’s what you got for saving Jackson?”

“Yep. Dunno why it’s that though…never been able to figure it out.”

Derek laughs softly, lays the palm of his hand down onto Stiles’ chest so his hand is covering the tattoo. “You don’t know?”

Stiles finally lets his eyes fall shut. They’re just too heavy to keep up. “ ‘S not cool to tease.”

“It’s the triskele, the Hale family symbol.” Derek leans in and kisses him one more time, barely more than a peck. “You were marked by my family as a Hale protector when you saved Jackson’s life.”

“Ohhhhh…kay. Cool. ‘Zat mean I get to meet Laura now too?”

“You want to meet my sister?”

Yeah. ‘Course I do.”

A pause, then a hesitant, “Stiles…where’s Eli’s mother?”

“Gone. Not his mother. Never his mother.”

Eli is so warm at his side. Like a snuggly space heater. Stiles tightens his arm around him.

“Is…is she…could she come back?”

“Not unless she finds a way to come back from hell.”

A pause, then another little kiss. “Goodnight, Stiles.”

Did he say goodnight? He thinks he says goodnight. He’s not sure.

+

Daddy.”

Stiles is awake with that first whispered word into his ear but he plays at being asleep for as long as he can, fighting his smile. There are more whispers in his ear followed by tiny touches on the back of his hand, on his bare arm, and when Eli gives a frustrated little sigh Stiles finally gives in and explodes awake, snarfling at Eli’s neck like he’s a toddler monster, trying to eat him. Eli giggles and pushes him away with a screamed, laughing, “DADDY!” and Stiles sets him on his feet, pats him on the bottom and follows him out of the room, yawning and grabbing the first t-shirt he sees, a black one with white lettering that says Free Broomstick Rides, a Christmas gift from Jackson two years ago.

He pulls it on as he enters the kitchen, rubbing at the back of his head. John and Jackson are at the table with mugs of coffee in front of them and Derek is standing behind the stove, flipping French toast. Stiles bumps into his side, snags a piece of bacon, takes a bite, and gives him a sleepy grin. “Hi. You’re making breakfast at my dad’s house.”

Derek kisses him, flips another piece of French toast and Eli wraps his arms around Stiles’ leg and hangs on. Stiles strokes a hand down Eli’s head, rests the hand on his back. “I am.”

“He insisted,” John says.

“Just like Derek insisted on sleeping here last night,” Jackson says over the lip of his mug.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Stiles says. “My dad was here, and so were Jackson and Eli.”

Derek ducks his head, soaks another slice of thick cut sourdough bread in his pie plate full of egg mixture.

Jackson snorts, rolls his eyes. “Right. He didn’t have to stay.”

“How long was I asleep?”

Derek looks at his watch. “Just over thirteen hours.”

Awesome.” He punctuates that with a yawn.I am going right back to sleep after breakfast.”

“I set you up on the couch in the living room. I thought you might want to be closer to everyone during the day, even if you’re sleeping.”

God…of course he did. Stiles wants to kiss the shit out of him.

Instead he hobbles over to the table with a toddler strapped to his leg and makes T-Rex noises as he drops down into his chair. Eli finally detaches from Stiles’ leg so he can crawl into Stiles’ lap, making Baby T-Rex noises in return as he attacks Stiles with cuteness and tiny claws.

Derek brings over plates filled with French toast, with bacon, with chunks of fruit, and sets them in the middle of the table after pulling the last pieces of French toast off the griddle.

He pulls out the chair with Eli’s booster on it. “Eli, come sit so your dad can eat.”

“NO!”

Eli squeezes Stiles tight and Stiles winces when Eli’s claws prick his back through his shirt. He rubs a hand down his back in large circles to soothe him, holds him tight.

“Yeah,” Jackson says, and spears a few pieces of melon. “Good luck with that.”

“Eli…”

“NO!”

“Pass the bacon?” John asks and Jackson reaches out and passes the plate. “Son, Eli’s not going to move no matter what you do. He’s going to stick to Stiles like glue for the rest of the day.”

“Yep,” Stiles says brightly as he coaxes Eli into turning and sitting down and starts cutting Eli’s food into smaller pieces. “And let me tell you, as evidenced by last night, it’s especially fun when I have to pee.”

Derek frowns as he sits, staring at Eli like he can’t puzzle something out. “But he shouldn’t be doing that, not now that I’m here.”

“Okay,” Stiles laughs. “We get it. You’re a big, bad, powerful alpha.”

Derek looks constipated. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Eli isn’t just a werewolf. Not everything he does comes down to being a werewolf,” Jackson says and lifts an eyebrow. “Or did you forget who his dad is? Eli is a tiny, furry version of Stiles.”

“I live for the day Eli starts watching Stiles’ diet,” John says, and pops another piece of bacon in his mouth.

“Eli’s his own person. He’s not a mini anyone.” Stiles finishes cutting the fruit into smaller chunks and hands Eli his fork before starting in on his own food. “But yeah…he’s a worrier. He does this every time my magic is low. Or if I’m sick, or hurt. Clings to me like a baby koala and won’t let go until I’m better.”

“When you’re hurt?”Derek leans in and asks, intently, “Do people-”

“The ritual isn’t foolproof.” Stiles eyes him and takes a quick glance down at Eli, who’s happily engaged in eating his breakfast and isn’t paying them the slightest bit of attention. “Every once in a while someone comes into town looking for a fight.”

“They never win though,” Jackson says, with an intense, unyielding pride. “Even if they get a claw or two in before Stiles is done with them.”

“This, Derek,” John says, is fork in the air. “Is some excellent French toast. Is that nutmeg?”

“And cinnamon. And a little allspice.”

“Delicious.” He pops another piece in his mouth.

Derek looks like he wants to say more but wisely tables it, leaning in to start on his breakfast with the rest of them.

“Hey Jacks…is your flight tonight or tomorrow?” Stiles asks in between bites and coaxing Eli into eating another bite or two of melon.

“Neither…I cancelled my flight.”

Stiles stops chewing.

“I thought I might stick around for a while this time.” He looks across the table at Derek. “Get to know my family.” He eyes Stiles, like Stiles is about to throw a homecoming party or a parade for him or something. “Don’t.”

He holds up a hand. “Spare room is all yours, if you want it. That’s all I was going to say.”

“Right.”

“What?” Stiles says through a grin. “Am I not allowed to be excited that my best friend is back in town?”

“Jesus, Stiles. It’ll probably be for like a week, tops. I do have a life in London.”

He stands, helps John clear the table of the empty plates, and Stiles watches Derek give Jackson’s back a small, hesitant smile and he smiles to himself as he spears the last piece of melon on his plate.

Jackson will stay this time. Stiles is absolutely sure of that. He’s sure the way he knows the moon tides and all the uses of belladonna and the quickest way to get Eli to sleep with the least amount of fuss.

Jackson is finally coming home, where he belongs.

It seems to be a Hale family thing lately.

+

Stiles is adjusting his red skinny tie in the mirror when the doorbell rings. He finishes rolling up the sleeves of his black button down and gives himself one last look, one last onceover, before he spins and practically dances to the front door.

Have mercy.

Derek laughs softly, ducks his head, cheeks pinking up.

“I said that out loud, didn’t I?”

Derek gives him a clear, slow once over and Stiles does a cheeky little spin, lifts up the bottom of his shirt and wiggles his ass, waggles his eyebrows at Derek over his shoulder. Derek just smiles, big and open, like Stiles is the only thing he wants to look at.

“Whatcha got there?”

Derek holds up a big glass jar, full to the top with red gummy bears. “For you.”

“Did you buy out the entire candy store?” When Derek doesn’t respond, Stiles grins and says, “You did, didn’t you?”

“To replace the gummy bears you gave me, plus interest.”

“That’s a lot of interest.”

“I’ve been gone a long time. And it’s no less than what you’re owed,” he says, one hundred percent sincere, and Stiles groans and tips his head back before grabbing Derek by the front of his shirt, kissing him soundly, and pulling him into the house.

“You’re ridiculous. That’s it. I’m keeping you.”

Derek laughs and goes, bright and loud and happy, and Stiles decides right then and there that Derek’s laugh is one of the best, most beautiful sounds he’s ever going to hear.

+

The night Eli was born the moon was full, the leaves were just starting to fall off the trees, and Stiles felt his magic dancing in his veins, calling out to the little boy in his arms. He’d held him in the quiet, dark maternity ward, watching as he took his first bottle, his dad a solid presence next to him, and he knew. All of his plans, the life he’d been imagining for himself for years, all of it was wrong.

“He changes everything,” he’d said, his voice barely more than a whisper. He remembers how much that had taken him by surprise.

“The important ones usually do,” his dad had whispered back, one finger reaching out to trail down Eli’s soft baby cheek. “The important ones are always worth it.”