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What It Means To Stay

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Stiles is awesome, okay? He’s the most amazingest, most awesomest thing to happen to this town since the birth of Lydia Martin.

Derek blinks dumbly at his daughter, crouched down in front of her so that they’re at eyelevel. “Who?

Rachel goes from condescending to exasperated in three seconds flat. Derek doesn’t have much experience with five-year-old’s outside of his own, but he’s pretty sure his kid is uniquely skilled at emoting with only her eyebrows. It’s ridiculously cute, but not very helpful right now.

Stiles,” Rachel says, like Derek is an absolute idiot. Derek can’t wait for her teenage years. Really.

“Yeah, Baby, I got that part. You may have mentioned him once or twice.” Or, you know, approximately five thousand times since this Stiles person started working at KinderCare a week ago. At this rate, declarations of Stiles’ awesomeness are about to eclipse belting out the chorus of “Let It Go” as Derek’s number one reason to start buying earplugs in bulk. “But I don’t think I know any Lydia’s.”

Rachel tilts her head up dramatically—the motion a precursor to what will be an epic eyeroll, he’s sure—and then grabs Derek’s face with both of her hands. Her little thumbs dig into the hollows of his cheeks, and then start to absently scrape back and forth across his stubble. When she was a baby she used to do this with her whole palm and Derek hasn’t gone a single day clean shaven since, secretly terrified of the moment when she’ll stop finding comfort in it.

“Daddy,” Rachel says with extreme seriousness. “Lydia Martin is smarter than everybody! And Stiles loves her more than Iron Man.

“More than Iron Man, huh?” Derek really hopes that KinderCare actually screens its employees, because Rachel didn’t know The Hulk from a hand towel two weeks ago. “Well then she must be pretty great,” he concedes.

Rachel nods and drops one hand, but doesn’t seem to remember the other is still stroking Derek’s cheek. “I want ice cream,” she says, apropos of nothing; then suddenly thinks better of it. “Please, I want ice cream,” she amends, and looks pretty damn proud of herself for it.

It’s a good thing Derek already knew he was screwed when it comes to his kid, because otherwise he might be a little more torn up about how quickly he gives in and navigates them towards the Baskin Robins down the road.

***

In the end, whatever Derek was expecting? The reality of Stiles is definitely not it. For starters, the guy looks like he should be in a boy band. Or maybe organizing a prank war in a fraternity. He certainly doesn’t look like someone Derek would entrust a child to, let alone the thirty some odd children that are currently running around the KinderCare playground.

Derek was promised by three different soccer moms and an over-worked Vice Principal that this was the best daycare facility in the county. But when Stiles looks up to meet Derek’s eyes from across the field and then promptly trips over absolutely nothing and falls on his ass in the sandbox, Derek starts to wonder if he’s been had.

Rachel is too busy smoothing Derek’s visitor sticker over his chest to notice. “Be nice,” she says with a condescending pat on his shoulder, her legs dangling over where she sits on Derek’s forearm so that the toes of her light-up shoes keep jabbing into his ribcage.

“If I have to be nice, so do you,” Derek warns.

Rachel scowls at him and kicks a little harder. He totally knew she was doing that on purpose, the little—

But then Rachel’s eyes finally lock onto where Stiles is now standing back up, brushing sand off his jeans, and her whole face erupts with the kind of raw enthusiasm only a prepubescent could achieve. Before Derek knows what’s happening, Rachel squirms out of his arms to fall ungracefully to the grass and run across the wide expanse of playground, launching herself at Stiles’ knees.

Derek refuses to be jealous of a One Direction reject with too much gel in his hair. Rachel is just going through a phase. So Stiles is the new Frozen. So what. Derek dealt with being called Klaus at pretend tea parties for six months, he can deal with this.

“Uh, hi. Sorry. Um— You’re Rachel’s Dad?“ Stiles stumbles over a stilted greeting once Rachel’s dragged him over to Derek, one hand scratching the back of his head nervously. And, okay, up close he’s kind of beautiful. Slender but toned. Wide, brown eyes framed by thick lashes. Long fingers attached to deft hands.

Derek has to remind himself that there currently exists a woman named Lydia that Stiles loves more than Iron Man, and that Derek also kinda resents the punk for being his daughter’s new favorite thing. Derek hasn’t been Rachel’s favorite thing since she graduated out of pullups. Not that he’s bitter or anything.

“And you’re Stiles, I take it?” Derek offers his hand, and Stiles somehow manages to look both terrified and cocky at the same time while he shakes it. His multitude of facial expressions are more than a little confusing to be on the receiving end of.

“’Stiles’ is just what the kids call me,” Stiles says while casually wrapping an arm around Rachel’s midsection and swinging her up to rest in a sitting position on his cocked hip like it were a bench, his gaze never leaving Derek’s the whole time. “A lot of the three-year-olds here just heard the name ‘Stilinski’ and started crying, so I figured I’d do everyone a favor.”

“Of course,” Derek nods agreeably, even though he feels like he’s just been dropped in a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language. “What should I call you then?”

Stiles smirks and doubles over so that Rachel falls off of his hip and into the circle of his arms, shrieking giggles the whole way. Once she’s standing on her own, Stiles nudges her towards the jungle gym with nothing more than a shoulder tap, and she promptly runs to join the kids already there, like she’s been given encoded mission orders.

“Why don’t we keep it simple and stick with Stiles?” he says to Derek. “I’m starting to like it way better than my given name anyway. Which is just atrocious, if you were wondering. Like, absolutely horrifying. If my mom weren’t already dead she’d be imprisoned for it.”

Derek has no idea how to argue with that. He wants an actual name, but the dead parent card catches him off guard.

Stiles goes suddenly shy again at Derek’s prolonged silence, ducking his head and then finding some random kid’s shoes to tie.

Derek frowns down at him for a long moment, and then takes the opportunity to get the hell out of there before he does something stupid like shove Stiles into the flag pole simply for being better with kids than Derek is.

***

The next time they meet, Rachel is already crying.

If it were a run-of-the-mill temper tantrum Derek would know how to proceed, but this is different. Fat teardrops are rolling down Rachel’s baby cheeks and the grocery store security guard is making an awkward face like he can’t decide if he’s supposed to step in or not.

But Rachel just needs some space. She just, she needs family. And comfort? Fuck, Derek has no idea what she needs, no idea what’s even triggered this. All Derek knows is that Rachel’s mother is dead, and before she was dead she murdered a lot of people, and before that she yelled a lot and who knows what else, Derek has refrained from trying to imagine what else, and now here they are in the cereal aisle of the local Gelson’s and Rachel is about to pass out from lack of oxygen unless Derek can get her to gulp in a breath before her next wail.

“Hey, Monkey, hey, I got ya,” a familiar voice is suddenly whispering into Rachel’s pigtails, long arms scooping her up and pulling her in. Derek watches, stunned and at a loss, as Stiles appears from out of nowhere to cradle Derek’s child to his chest. In Derek’s periphery he can see Stiles’ shopping cart at the end of the aisle, abandoned so abruptly it’s still vacillating back and forth on its squeaky wheels. “We all got ya, Monkey, shhh. Tell me the story again. Take a deep breath and tell me the story, okay?”

Rachel hiccups but doesn’t start wailing again. Her little hands grip Stiles’ threadbare hoodie tightly and she smashes her left cheek into the right side of his jaw.

She takes a deep, shaky breath.

“Daddy can’t know,” she whispers into Stiles’ throat and Derek freezes, staring at a selection of off-brand fruit loops. Something in his chest dies a sudden, agonizing death.

Stiles tenses as well, but his voice betrays nothing. “And what’s that, Monkey? What can’t he know?”

Rachel pivots so that her face is entirely mashed into Stiles’ collarbone before she answers, too muffled for Derek to overhear.

Stiles ducks his head down so that he can whisper back his response into her temple, and like a switch has been flicked Rachel’s whole body sags against him in what looks like relief. Like she finally feels safe again.

Derek doesn’t know if he’s about to cry or break someone’s nose. It’s a close call. But then Stiles steps towards him and deposits Rachel into Derek’s arms. She immediately clings to Derek with all of her limbs, and when her hand reaches up to cup his jaw, her pudgy thumb rubbing back and forth across his stubble, he feels the frantic parts of his insides finally settle down.

“What did you— How—“ Derek breathes, can’t find the right way to ask for the information he desperately wants: How did you fix what I couldn’t?

But Stiles slips away with a nod and a shrug, looking both sheepish and sad, with a mumbled, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have—“

Derek takes Rachel home and tries not to push her into saying anything she doesn’t want to. He lets her sleep in his bed with him that night. He makes French Toast for breakfast. He wishes he knew what he was doing.

***

They meet for the third time in the lobby of Beacon Hills’ lone movie theater on a Friday night.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, appearing from out of nowhere with a bag of popcorn clutched tightly to his chest, like he’s afraid Derek will take it from him.

Derek startles, feels like wildlife caught in headlights, and has the sudden urge to hide the candy he’s holding behind his back. Cora is available to look after Rachel for exactly one sleepover a month and Derek has long since stopped trying to turn these mini vacations into potential date nights or opportunities to catch up on work. He’s earned the right to eat two whole boxes of bite-sized Butterfingers while sitting alone in the back of the ten PM screening of the latest Christopher Nolan movie occasionally, okay?

“I don’t— Uh. What?” Derek has no idea what’s happening right now.

“I should never have interrupted you and Rachel the other day,” Stiles says with the kind of grave seriousness Derek didn’t think a twenty-something wearing a graphic tee was actually capable of. “That was totally out of line. I’m so sorry, man. She’s your kid and I overstepped. I wasn’t thinking. If you want to file a complaint or— I mean, I don’t really know how this shit works, to be honest, but, just, you know, do what you gotta do. I completely understand, and I am really, really sorry.”

Derek stares at Stiles for perhaps a beat too long, because the guy starts to fidget enough that about a third of his popcorn spills onto the floor.

“I don’t want your apology,” Derek finally manages, and Stiles looks like he’s just been slapped. Derek hurries to amend, “Not because— It’s just I feel like I should be thanking you. She’s only gone off like that a couple of times before and I never have any clue how to help. How did you even… What did you do?”

Stiles frowns, brow creased in consternation. “There’s this story she tells herself, or her dolls or whatever. It calms her down when she’s scared or sad. I just reminded her about it, made her think of it. You haven’t heard it before?”

Derek shakes his head, and shifts on his feet uneasily. “What did she say to you? That I’m not supposed to know?”

Stiles scratches the back of his neck. “Uh, she said: ‘I don’t want her to come back.’”

“I don’t understand,” Derek hates feeling this helpless when it comes to his own kid. He should know his own kid, he should be able to help her.

“I think it was the cereal,” Stiles blurts out.

Derek blinks, startled. “What?”

“The cereal in your shopping cart. She mentioned something once about cereal, and I think the kind you got— it was the kind her mom made her eat? She hated it but she had to eat it anyway.”

“…Okay?”

Stiles sighs. “Rachel thought that you getting that cereal meant that her mom was coming back. And, if you couldn’t tell, she’s more than a little afraid of the woman. Which she seems to be dealing with pretty fucking well generally, but Rachel thinks that you do want mom back in the picture, and that makes her panic. She got like that once when you were late picking her up and a car that I guess looked like her mom’s pulled up.”

“But I don’t— Why would she ever think— And even if I did want her to come back, it’s not gonna happen. Jennifer’s dead.”

“Oh,” Stiles looks genuinely surprised. “Well I don’t think Rachel completely understands that.”

It’s like the entire world has shifted. Derek feels like he can actually breathe after holding his breath for three years. He’s been so fucking stupid about things, but now here is a real chance to start putting the pieces of his small family back together.

Derek kind of wants to kiss Stiles. Okay, he really wants to kiss him. But they’re still practically strangers and there still exists somewhere in the world a Lydia Martin who is apparently smarter than everybody. So Derek swallows back everything he’s feeling right now, the gratitude and the attraction alike, and offers what he hopes is a friendly smile. “Well thank you again. Rachel adores you and I’m just happy she has someone looking out for her that seems to adore her back even half as much.”

Stiles blushes a little and ducks his head. It’s adorable and Derek has to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from doing or saying something embarrassing. “I should let you get back to your evening,” he manages, taking a step back.

Stiles rolls his eyes dramatically. “I’m playing third wheel to my two doofus best friends while they try to pretend they’re not hopelessly in love with each other. I just ditched them inside that awful Will Ferrel thing over in number 7 and was gonna try my luck with Nolan.”

“That’s what I’m seeing,” Derek says dumbly.

“Ah. Did you… maybe… want some company?”

Derek debates with himself the merits of this, and Stiles looks suddenly embarrassed and very young in the face of Derek’s silence.

“I’m not sharing my candy with you,” Derek finally warns, and Stiles grins broadly. Grins with his entire body somehow, shoulders rising and frame opening up like he can include the whole world in his delight.

Derek is so screwed.

***

Dr. Morrell gives Derek an unsettled feeling whenever she’s looking directly at him, but she’s good with Rachel, and it only takes the course of that first session for Rachel to understand that her mother really isn’t coming back.

It takes half a dozen more, however, for her to understand that Derek doesn’t want Jennifer to come back. Mommies and Daddies love each other, Rachel assures them, and Derek is miserable at the idea that his daughter doesn’t believe that he’s on her team. That he’s always been on her team.

Who Rachel never wavers in her faith in, of course, is Stiles, whose praises she continues to sing at every opportunity. Derek wouldn’t mind it so much anymore if he didn’t kinda want to talk about Stiles all the time now, too. Which is pathetic, he knows, but he had more fun at the movie theater that night with Stiles than he’s had in a very long time, and also the guy’s hands are fucking distracting, okay?

Derek can’t figure out a way to orchestrate running into the man again, though. Knows he shouldn’t, even if he could. And what with work he doesn’t have time to linger around KinderCare at dropoff or pickup.

And then, one day, Derek is late. A meeting runs long, traffic is a nightmare, and when he calls the KinderCare reception desk it just goes straight to voicemail. All Derek can think about the entire trip is what Stiles told him about Rachel’s reaction the last time he was late and a different car pulled up. They’ve made progress, they’re in a better place now, Rachel knows Jennifer is gone. But by the time Derek pulls up to the daycare facility he’s in full panic mode, braced for the worst.

What he gets instead is Rachel determinedly painting something vaguely sunflower-like on one of the tiny easels in the far corner of the otherwise empty room, while Stiles rinses paintbrushes in the sink beside her.

She’s fine. Of course she’s fine. She’s so fine she barely even acknowledges Derek’s presence; just looks up, waves, and then goes back to what she was doing.

Stiles, not having noticed Derek yet, says something that Derek doesn’t catch but that leaves Rachel in hysterics. She drops her paintbrush she’s laughing so hard, and Stiles swoops down to pick it up and wipe the tempera paint off the floor with his other hand in one smooth motion.

All Derek can do is stare. He’s sixty percent relieved and about thirty percent bitter. The other ten, taken up with looking at Stiles’ ass when he bends over, Derek decides to ignore.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Derek says, stepping fully into the room. Stiles jumps and manages to splash water all across his front. Rachel just picks up a new brush and keeps painting.

“Oh, hey, hi, uh, no problem. Rach needed more time to work on her still life technique anyway.” Stiles dries his hands off with a couple paper towels and winks at Derek conspiratorially. His t-shirt is sticking to his chest where it’s gotten wet and his nipples are god damn obscene.

Derek clears his throat and looks away, wandering over to the cubbyholes to collect Rachel’s stuff. He jerks up from shoving an Elsa lunchbox into a Hello Kitty backpack when a hand grabs his forearm.

Stiles ducks his head a bit, but stands his ground. “Sorry, I just. We encourage the kids to be responsible for their own things.”

Derek stares at him for a long moment, then sighs and puts everything back where he found it. “Rachel?” he calls.

Rachel, of course, ignores him and keeps painting.

“Yo, Monkey, time to head out,” Stiles shouts, and Rachel makes a show of rolling her eyes—hey, she’s actually rolling them now—before setting down her paintbrush and making her way over to them.

Derek really does not know how to feel about any part of this. He kind of wants to punch Stiles in the face and he kind of wants to kiss Stiles until neither of them can breathe, and he very much wants to sink into a pathetic heap on the floor over the idea that he seems to be more and more becoming background noise in his daughter’s life. He wishes he were better at this. Wishes he could navigate children, his own child in particular, with the same ease as Stiles seems to.

“Stiles is going to play with me after dinner,” Rachel declares with her head half buried inside her backpack.

Derek snaps his own head up to look at Stiles, whose eyes widen comically. “Whoa, no, that was more of, like, a hypothetical. Like, uh, eat your vegetables and I’ll— I didn’t specify a when, which in hindsight was probably misleading. I was just giving her incentive to—“

“We’re having macaroni,” Derek interrupts, and isn’t sure what exactly possesses him to. “If you were trying to get yourself a dinner invite, I should warn you that it’s just out-of-the-box mac and cheese.”

Stiles grins broadly and it lights up his whole face. “The kind with the orange powder? Always a classic.”

Rachel looks up and makes a face. “Sometimes Daddy puts broccoli in it.”

“How about hotdogs tonight?” Derek tries, and her expression does an instant transition to joyous.

“Will you cut them into moons?”

Stiles is watching Derek now like he’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever seen. Derek shuffles his feet, embarrassed under the scrutiny. “Yeah, I’ll cut them into moons.”

“They taste better that way,” Rachel informs Stiles confidently.

“Well I’ll have to try them then,” he replies, but his eyes never leave Derek. “If I give you my number, you can text me the address? I just gotta finish here and then I can meet up with you guys.”

Which is how, impossibly, Derek finds himself having Stiles over for dinner. He makes macaroni from out of the box, and he cuts the hot dogs length-wise before dicing them into Rachel’s requested half circle “moons.” He changes his shirt, then thinks better of it and changes back. At the last possible second, as Stiles waits on the doorstep after having rung the bell, he grabs the beer in the back of the pantry and sticks it in the fridge to chill.

Dinner isn’t awkward exactly, but they both speak more to Rachel than to each other. Every time Derek looks up, Stiles looks away. He has no idea what to make of it, or what to do about it.

Once they’re done, Derek clears the table while Rachel tries to weasel out of taking her bath. She only relents on the condition that Stiles be the one to tuck her into bed afterwards. Which Derek isn’t bitter about, of course not, even if his face must give away something, judging by the strange look he gets from Stiles.

Derek grabs them each a beer while Rachel bathes. He takes up position leaning against the wall just outside the cracked bathroom door, and Stiles perches on the edge of the coffee table facing him, stripping the label off his beer bottle the moment it’s in his hands.

“Thanks for the grub,” Stiles breaks the silence first. “Four stars. Would recommend.”

“That’s kind of you, considering it was geared towards a five-year-old’s palate.”

“I guess you’ll just have to make it up to me next time,” Stiles smirks, and Derek really wishes he could read into that as much as he wants to but, damn it, he knows better.

Derek takes a long pull of his beer to keep from saying anything mortifying. He can feel Stiles’ eyes on him like a physical touch. Inside the bathroom, Rachel is singing softly to herself, some made up thing about a turtle.

“You know she doesn’t like me better than you, right?” Stiles says out of nowhere, and Derek chokes a little.

“Rachel likes her Barbie Dream House more than me most days,” Derek responds coolly. “Don’t worry about it. I know you’re not a threat or whatever, and I know that it’s not a competition. She’s a kid. She likes what she likes.”

Stiles looks mildly exasperated at this. “No, man, I don’t think you get it. She really loves—

“She loves me, I know. And I love her. But you’re… good with her. I can love her until I’m blue in the face but it won’t make me magically know what I’m doing here.”

Stiles frowns and looks down at his beer for a long moment. Rachel shouts from the bathroom that she’s done, and Derek gladly takes the excuse to escape the conversation.

As soon as Rachel is in her pajamas and ready for bed, she rushes into Stiles’ waiting arms.

Stiles hugs her close for a second, then pulls back and tells her seriously, “I want you to tell your dad the story.”

Rachel opens her mouth to protest, her entire body already fidgeting over it, but Stiles gives her a stern look. “I mean it, kid. It’s important.”

Rachel seems to debate with herself for a long while, but then finally pecks Stiles on the cheek and nods her head. She scrambles over to Derek and grabs one of his hands in both of hers.

“It’s bedtime,” she says.

“Yeah, your bedtime.”

“I have to tuck you in. I know how to do it. I have a story and everything.” And how can Derek say no to that?

Stiles salutes them with his beer bottle and makes himself at home on the couch as Rachel tugs Derek towards her bedroom down the hall.

Once seated on her bed, all but one nightlight turned off, she seems hesitant to begin, already drowsy looking and tuckered out from the day, so Derek starts for her. “Once upon a time,” he whispers into her hair, pulling her close.

Rachel smiles and folds herself into Derek’s chest. “There was a rebel princess,” she continues.

“Like Leia?”

“Better!” Rachel declares. “Because she only got captured one time.”

“Only once, huh? Pretty impressive.”

“But the space pirates were mind controlled by the evil queen and they got her and put her in their jail. The queen tried to turn her backwards. She tried to make the princess forget everything and be into something really bad and dead. But guess what.

Derek holds his breath and nudges his nose against Rachel’s cheek. “What?”

“The space pirate captain was really her dada, the king, and couldn’t be mind controlled or put backwards or anything and he saved her. And he said that she could live in his castle or on his ship or wherever she wanted.”

Derek’s voice catches in his throat for a moment as Rachel yawns and burrows further into his chest. “Really? Wherever she wanted?” he asks, just to make sure she knows he’s listening.

Rachel hits his chest in exasperation, but then her fingers latch onto his shirt as she lets out another yawn. “He was her dada,” she explains sleepily, like Derek is an idiot, and then promptly passes out.

Derek doesn’t know how long he stays there, Rachel sleeping soundly in a ball against his chest, one hand still holding onto his shirt. But when he next looks up, Stiles is standing just inside the doorway, framed by the dim light from the hall, a soft look on his face that suggests emotions a lot bigger than Derek is afraid to guess at.

Stiles ducks his head and grabs the back of his neck. The light’s too low to know for sure, but Derek could swear he’s blushing. “That story changes every time I hear it. I think there used to be dinosaurs in it at one point? But the ending is always the same. The king always saves the princess.”

Derek swallows thickly. “Thank you.”

Stiles nods. “I should—” He gestures behind him toward the exit, already tripping backwards to get to it.

“No, wait.” Derek gently shifts Rachel onto the bed, and when he’s certain she hasn’t woken, he rises and makes his way to where Stiles is standing, waiting. “I feel like I keep thanking you for things, but I don’t know if you really understand what a big deal all this is. How much it means to me.”

Stiles is definitely blushing now, and can’t quite meet Derek’s eyes. “Nah, I get it. Of course it’s a big deal. She’s your kid.”

“She’s my world. And you’ve given her back to me a hundred times over just in the last few weeks.” Impulsively, Derek reaches a hand out and places it on Stiles’ shoulder, his thumb resting on Stiles’ collarbone, a hair’s breadth too close to his pulse point to be completely neutral. “I’m sorry, I’m not good at this. But I just want to make sure you know that I—“

Except that Derek doesn’t get to finish that statement because a pair of warm lips latch onto his own and his entire being immediately goes into factory reset mode. He has no idea what’s happening for all of three seconds, as Stiles’ mouth presses insistently into his and then pulls back just enough to drag to the side and kiss the corner.

Derek’s hand falls from Stiles’ shoulder to grip his hip like a lifeline, but he can’t seem to make the rest of his body catch up. Can only stand there breathing shallowly against Stiles’ cheeks as Stiles gently pulls back a couple of inches and looks at Derek with wide, shining eyes.

“I’ve wanted to do that since the moment I first saw you on the playground,” Stiles whispers.

“You mean when you tripped over nothing and fell on your ass?”

“Shut up. It was a jarring experience, realizing I wanted to jump one of the kids’ parents. It wasn’t a position I thought I’d find myself in.”

Derek’s heart stutters and he freezes. “Oh? Why’s that?” he asks, but his brain is already supplying a multitude of answers for Stiles: Because he’d probably get fired for this. Because he’s probably a good ten years younger than Derek. Because right now, somewhere, a Lydia Martin is probably waiting up for him.

“Do you really want a list? Or do you, I don’t know, maybe wanna go make out on the couch?”

Derek swallows and takes a step back, letting his hand fall away.

Stiles’ breath hitches and he looks suddenly slightly panicked. “We don’t have to! I mean, it’s not a deal breaker. I’m good with whatever you want to do. As long as we’re both—“

“I think you should go.”

Stiles’ entire face crumples, and it breaks something in Derek’s chest to witness, but he forces himself to stand firm. He focuses on the soft sounds of Rachel’s steady breathing in her bed behind him, and he stares at the family photos hanging on the hallway wall just beyond Stiles’ shoulder rather than at Stiles.

“Thank you, again, for everything. But… I think you should leave.”

Stiles’ expression goes from hurt to shuttered and blank in the space of a heartbeat, and Derek doesn’t know why. Doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do other than what he’s already done, which he’s certain was the right thing, as much as it sucks.

Stiles leaves without another word.

Derek goes to sleep beside Rachel in her bed that night, replaying her bedtime story over and over in his head. He ignores the memory of the kiss. Or tries to, at least.

He wakes up to an empty bed and his daughter bringing in a rectangular Tupperware container of Cheerios with too much milk and two wooden mixing spoons to eat it with. He decides that whatever heartache he feels is worth it.

***

Rachel’s last day at KinderCare, before the new school year starts, officially falls on a Wednesday. Derek is more than a little terrified, if only because it means he’ll actually have to go into the building to fill out the necessary paperwork after an entire week of avoiding the place, during which he begged off days of work to stay home with Rachel rather than even approach the facility for dropoff.

He suspects he’s being childish, or at least not as adult as he should be, but he can’t help it. He just wants Rachel to start Kindergarten already and for all of their daycare experiences to become a distant memory.

He’s almost home free, signature on the bottom line, receptionist assuring him of an open spot next summer should he need it, when he catches sight of Stiles down the hall and without a second thought he hightails it out of the place, not looking back.

So now he’s definitely being childish. Or just cowardly.

Derek hurries home to an empty house, Rachel with Cora tonight, and tries to feel the closure he told himself he would. But without Rachel, and without any solid plans for the evening, it’s hard to distract himself from his own thoughts. Thoughts, specifically, of long limbs and thick eyelashes and the ability to put a smile on Derek’s daughter’s face without even trying. A smile on Derek’s own face, too, if he’s honest with himself.

Maybe it’s his own fault for letting his mind wander into such dangerous territory, because when the knock at the door comes a few minutes later, Derek's guard is completely down as he opens it to find Stiles standing there.

“Hi.” Stiles gives an awkward, aborted wave, and then sticks his hands deep into his pockets.

Derek stands there, frozen, for a long time, surreptitiously glancing around as if for an escape. In his own home. “Hi.”

Stiles heaves a sigh. “Look, I know you don’t want anything to do with me—“

“That’s not—”

“But I need to make sure Rachel knows she wasn’t a means to an end or anything. Is she okay?”

Derek’s breath catches in his throat. “Yes. She’s okay.”

Stiles nods and shuffles his feet, not looking at Derek. “Good. And, uh, are you okay?”

“Yeah. Better than I’ve been in awhile really.” Stiles’ shoulders slump minutely. “...But not as good as I’d like.”

Stiles finally looks up at Derek, sharp and scrutinizing. The silence drags out between them.

“I’m sorry that I ruined this,” Stiles whispers after a time. “I didn’t mean to. I thought maybe you wanted— I mean, it doesn’t really matter now. I’m just sorry.”

Derek frowns and shakes his head. “You have nothing to be sorry about.”

“Are you kidding me? Coming onto you when you clearly didn't want that? And in front of your kid? Dude, I’ve never been sorrier about anything in my entire life. I love Rachel, and I— I mean, I think you’re kind of incredible, honestly, but that doesn’t excuse putting you guys in that position.”

Derek blinks at Stiles a few times, trying to slot all the pieces together. The words spill out of him before he can stop them. “You have a girlfriend.”

Stiles stops short. “Uh, I really don’t.”

“Lydia?”

“Ah,” Stiles gives him a small, half smile. “Good friend. High school crush. I think she’s solving some political crisis in Azerbaijan right now.”

“Ah,” Derek repeats, for a moment completely at a loss. Then: “Rachel is staying with my sister tonight.”

“…Okay?”

“If you’re free for another mediocre dinner, maybe we could… talk?”

Stiles’ eyes widen and he nods eagerly, tripping over his own feet as Derek ushers him the rest of the way inside the house. Derek closes the door after him and, before he has time to second guess himself, steps forward and closes the distance between them entirely.

Stiles gulps. “Does this mean we’re through talking?”

“Is that alright?”

“More than.”

Derek darts his head forward, eyes on Stiles’ mouth, but thinks better of it a millimeter away. Hovers. Breathes in deeply and tries to get his bearings. “Rachel can’t know you were here.”

Stiles licks his lips and sways in, their mouths brushing lightly before he’s swaying back and bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Derek, I promise you that if she ever does know I was here, it’s because I decided to never leave.”

And, well, that more than settles that. Derek surges forward, wraps his arms around Stiles, and kisses him with every bit of the frustration and desire he’s had pent up inside him since their very first encounter.

Stiles makes a strangled sound in the back of his throat, responds to Derek’s kiss just as roughly for half a second, and then pushes him gently away with both hands on his chest.

“I’ve thought about this too much to fuck it up,” he whispers between ragged, hot breaths against Derek’s stubbled cheek. His hands dip down into the front of Derek’s jeans, fingertips brushing against the dark hair there as Stiles nudges the button undone with his knuckles and then brushes down the zipper like a magic trick.

He sinks to his knees before Derek knows what’s happening, presses his face into the gap of Derek’s unbuttoned jeans and sucks at the cotton underwear over his already hardening cock. Stiles licks sloppily across the fabric at the head, and then dips down to suck around his balls, making tiny, desperate noises like he’s just as frustrated by the barrier of Derek’s underwear as Derek is.

Derek hauls him back up to standing and kisses him soundly. “Bed?”

“The fact that you made that a question is baffling to me. Yes. Bed. Now. Derek,” Stiles moans, mouthing along Derek’s jaw, and he thrusts his hips forward like he’d be happy just to rub one out against Derek’s hip if that’s all he’s allowed.

Derek stumbles his way backwards to the bedroom, tripping over the remnants of Rachel’s latest teddy bear picnic and nearly cartwheeling over a Tonka Truck if it weren’t for Stiles’ insistent hands never leaving him, his mouth hot and needy wherever it can latch on.

The moment Derek feels the edge of the mattress against the back of his legs, he pushes Stiles back a step and strips himself of his shirt, kicks off his shoes and shoves down his jeans.

Stiles gapes for a long moment, staring. Then abruptly shakes himself out of it and scrambles to catch up, shirt thrown across the room, pants attempted before shoes so that he’s left precariously hopping on one foot as he tries to fix the situation. God, Derek’s fallen for a walking disaster.

But then Stiles looks up, finally clad only in his boxer briefs, and gives a triumphant, blinding grin that makes Derek want to melt into the carpet. Holy shit is he in trouble.

Derek pulls Stiles in by his hips and crashes them sideways onto the bed, promptly resuming kissing as soon as Stiles stops flailing.

He thinks he could probably kiss Stiles for hours and not get tired of it. Open-mouthed and sloppy starts become tender and searching, become biting and urgent, and then break into briefly chaste and sweet as they catch their breaths, only to find themselves right back at the beginning. He doesn’t want it to end, except that Stiles eventually moves a hand to cup his own erection and start stroking over underwear, and obviously Derek can’t have that.

Derek bats Stiles’ hand out of the way and shoves their bodies forward until Stiles is on his back and Derek can hover over him, taking his fill of the view.

Stiles stares back at him, pupils blown, his mouth swollen and wet. “How the fuck did I get this lucky,” he whispers on an exhale, so low Derek almost doesn’t catch it.

“I think that’s my line.” Derek mutters and sinks down to mouth along Stiles’ neck, sucking a mark just below his collarbone.

Stiles huffs a rough, choked laugh. “I fell on my ass when I first saw you, remember? What the hell about me would make you the lucky one in this situation?”

Derek breathes his words into skin between kisses as he makes his way down Stiles’ body. “You’re good with my kid.” Derek teases a nipple with his teeth and Stiles keens. “You’re beautiful.” He noses along the trail of hair on Stiles’ abdomen, and then pauses to look up, holding Stiles’ gaze. “And every word out of your mouth makes me either want to smile or… or try to be a better person. And I don’t know anyone other than my daughter who can manage either of those anymore.”

Stiles looks dazed by the admission, sucking in a sharp breath. Derek can feel muscles contracting where his hand lays on Stiles’ stomach, and he decides not to waste anymore time. He settles back on his knees, tugging Stiles’ underwear off as he goes. He hunches over Stiles’ lower half and takes him in his mouth down as far as he can.

Derek hasn’t done this in years, but he definitely doesn’t remember enjoying it this much. The wild noises Stiles makes, the way he comes undone at every slide of Derek’s tongue, work just as well to keep Derek painfully hard as if Stiles were the one swallowing down around him. It seems like no time at all before Stiles is pulling at Derek’s hair, choking out a warning. There’s a slight ache in Derek’s jaw now, and he feels messy and debauched in a way he didn’t even know some part of him craved. His untouched cock is already leaking against his thigh.

He pulls off just as Stiles starts to come, and manages to catch most of it on his tongue and lips, the rest dripping down his chin. Stiles arches up, body taught, and then settles back with heaving breaths. It looks like it costs him every ounce of energy left to raise his head and look down at Derek, but as soon as he does he’s groaning and letting it drop back down. “Holy shit. Holy shit, you— There’s no way this is real life.” Somehow he manages to lift his head again, just barely enough to stare back down at Derek. “Jesus, you look— Get up here, oh my god.”

Derek pushes himself back up Stiles’ body until they’re level with each other. Stiles runs a thumb across his chin, wiping at the mess there and staring at it with a dazed sort of wonder. “You should definitely fuck me.”

But Derek’s too far gone for that right now. “Next time. I just— I have to—“ He reaches down to wrap a hand around himself. Just a few quick strokes that get tighter and hotter when Stiles’ deft hand joins him. Derek comes suddenly, and Stiles’ hips move up to meet it so that he spills across Stiles’ spent cock, and he wants to go again just at the sight.

They fall asleep for a couple hours after a halfhearted cleanup job, until hunger wakes them at around seven. Derek forgoes getting dressed again, and scours the kitchen naked for the quickest meal he can think of in a pinch: a couple of Hot Pockets and a Lunchable. Stiles’ face practically breaks in two with the grin he gives Derek when he returns with it.

Derek puts a movie on in the background as they eat and then exchange lazy handjobs. At some point they fall asleep again, warm and sated, and in the morning it seems almost too easy to wake up with Stiles nestled into his side, already awake as well, his long fingers idly dancing over Derek’s stomach.

"I don’t want to leave," he says in lieu of a good morning.

“Stiles,” Derek warns gently.

“I know what staying means, Derek. I want to stay.”

“It’s too big.” Derek swallows roughly around the hope that he refuses to let dictate this conversation. He has to be practical. For Rachel. “You’re, what, twenty-two? Twenty-three? Big declarations like that, they might seem romantic, but when you have a kid it’s different. I can’t— It’s a whole different level of commitment. I can’t expect that from you after just one night.”

“Derek,” Stiles lifts his head so that his chin rests on Derek’s chest and he can meet Derek’s gaze head on. “It hasn’t been just one night. This didn’t start for me just yesterday. I know what it means, and I want to stay.”

Maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s a Jennifer level of mistake even, the kind that will end in bodies and therapy. But, for once, Derek doesn’t feel like he’s drowning with the weight of not knowing what he’s doing, of possibly making the wrong choice. So long as he makes it for the right reasons, he thinks they might all end up okay.

“Alright,” he tells Stiles.

Stiles looks dubious. “Really? Because if you don’t want—”

“I want,” Derek interrupts. “I want all of it.” He pulls Stiles up and kisses him. “Stay.”

***

Rachel is completely unfazed by Stiles’ presence when she arrives home later that day. She kisses Derek on the cheek hello, puts her overnight bag away in her room, and then casually sits down beside Stiles on the couch with a book and a request that he “do the voices like Daddy,” as if Stiles has been a fixture in their home for years.

Cora, however, stands silent and wide-eyed in the front doorway for a moment too long, looking like she just walked in on the first sign of the apocalypse.

“Who the hell is that?” she hisses at Derek, once she’s gotten her bearings.

“That’s Stiles,” Derek shrugs.

Without missing a beat, Rachel pipes up from her seat beside the man in question, “Stiles is awesome!”

Derek nods his head at his sister, unable to wipe the smile off his face, and agrees with utmost sincerity, “Stiles is awesome.”