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Derek Hale burns down the rest of the Hale House on his sixteenth birthday. It's a strange crime. Arson tends to fall into three categories - revenge, like the time Mrs. Harrison set Mr. Harrison's BMW on fire after she found out he couldn't keep it in his pants; insurance fraud, when people think a well-time fire will save them from ruin; and pranks or other small fires that spiral out of control. And the Hale House really isn't any of these.

"Why did you do it?" John asks. It's a straightforward question. Maybe too straightforward, but Derek doesn't look nervous, or scared. Satisfied, maybe, but not smug. No false bravado.

"It just seemed right," Derek says after a moment, and there's a part of John that can maybe understand that. Derek's whole family died in that house, and it must be like something out of a nightmare to have the bones of it still standing, to see it on the road every day.

Derek's face is pale, unmoving as a stone. This is an orphan, very nearly on his own - John has his doubts about Peter Hale's caretaking abilities; no offense to the man, but being burnt half to death could take the stuffing out of anyone. Derek didn't do any damage, or cause any harm in the long run of things. The house was condemned and scheduled to be torn down. They'd wasted some county money on the firefighters, though theoretically they'd also saved some by not having to pay the wrecking crew. It could have caused a forest fire, granted, and that's never to be underestimated around here - but in the grand scheme of reasons to be sent to a juvenile detention facility, this is low on the totem pole. This wasn't the sort of intent John typically worried about in sixteen year olds. If the kid sitting here was Stiles --

"Okay," he says to Derek, "here's what we're going to do."

| |

It's unorthodox, he knows. The judge looks at him like he's a little crazy, but the court-appointed social worker, Bea, backs him up. All the latest research says that community-based solutions are the way to go. It only makes sense, if you think about it. People used to rely on other people. They used to feel connected, be proud of where they came from. And Derek - John doesn't think he's a bad kid - just a weird one. A lonely one. He's been cut off, disconnected from other kids his age. No family to help him along the way. He needs someone. John can at least do that. Plus, the juvie court is backed up, the system is overcrowded, and John is fairly certain Derek won't be doing anything like this again.

John doesn't ask for a lot of favors, so he gets this one.

| |

John explains the terms of the arrangement: weekly meetings at John's house, community service, and definitely no getting in any more trouble.

If Derek were Stiles, he'd already have blurted out "that's it?" instead of just looking surprised and then returning to his usual scowl.

"It's a bit more long-term," John says. "There's a certain kind of progress the judge and I want to see. Don't expect it to be over any time soon." He pauses. "You did burn down a house."

Derek meets his gaze head on.

Looks like John's going to have to get used to that.

| |

"We're very... grateful," Peter Hale tells him. "For... everything you've done. For our family."

God help him, but if there was something about Peter that weirded him out before, he's downright creepy now. He can't help the way he looks, John chides himself. Get the hell over it.

"It's no problem," he says instead. "He seems like a good kid. Just -"

"Lost?" Peter says, and smiles. Or maybe tries to. "Yes, lost is... a good word for it.

| |

John has Derek set to come over to his house every Wednesday, when Derek doesn't have lacrosse practice. It wouldn't do any good to get Derek in trouble with Coach Finstock - the man is crazy - and as fas as John knows, lacrosse is the one hobby Derek has. John's plan is to talk with him about his community services - what he wants to do, or could do. Hopefully they can come up with an idea that would mean something to him, rather than having him clean up trash off the side of the highway. Not to mention Derek would probably end up with some real creeps there, and wasn't the whole point trying to keep him on the straight and narrow?

By the time he gets home Stiles is already there. Thirteen is old enough to leave alone for an hour until John comes home, by his reckoning. Certainly too much of a hassle to try and find someone else to watch him. Scott stays over sometimes too, when his mom works nights, so John doesn't get particularly worried about someone trying to come in and kidnap his kid. Stiles has a pretty good track record with locking the door, and a really good track record with annoying people away from him. John has cracked under Stiles's interrogation a time or two.

Derek pulls into their driveway five minutes early, in a midnight blue Chevy Camaro John wouldn't mind having. Not exactly what a sixteen year old boy should have, in his opinion.

John raises an eyebrow. "Nice car."

Derek scowls. "It was my sister's."

Off to a great start already.

John coughs. "Well, come on in. Hope you brought your homework, its still about an hour until dinner. You like pork chops?"

"Doesn't matter."

Stiles is sitting at the table doing his homework. Well, there's homework spread all over the table, which is definitely not the same thing, but John can only do so much while trying to make dinner. As it is, god knows what's happening to the potatoes.

"Derek, this is my son Stiles. Stiles, this is Derek." John gave an extra heavy head-nod towards Stiles. They'd had a talk about Derek last night, and why he was going to be at their house, though John had been slightly surprised to learn exactly how much Stiles already knew about Derek Hale. Apparently preteen girls could get information like nobody's business; there was untapped potential there.

"Hey," Derek says, and Stiles grins.

"Hi!" he chirps. "Derek Hale. Are you a Derek? Or just D? Or should I call you Hale, like Jackson calls me Stilinkski? Well, he calls me Stilinski when he's not calling me buttface or assmunch - sorry, Dad - or trying to shove me in a locker. Which, hello, I am way too tall to be shoved in a locker. I'm taller than him, no matter what ridiculous thing he does to his hair..." and Stiles is off and going.

Oh boy, he thinks, watching Derek's eyebrows climb higher and higher, as Stiles' voice gets louder and louder. Oh boy, he really did not think this one through.

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Derek and Stiles do their homework on the table for an hour - well, Derek writes something down in a notebook, and Stiles talks about how Scott fell off the bleachers during gym today and cut open his arm and there was blood everywhere and they took him to the hospital because he probably has tetanus, dad, what's tetanus, is that the same as lockjaw, or is it that other thing that gets in your spinal fluid and paralyzes you? And his mom was on duty and when she saw him she called up the school and started yelling at Coach Whitman, which was awesome, because you know how loud she yells.

John nods. "Loud."

"It was amazing! But then Scott got all embarrassed, which, whatever - you used to come to school and tell us about stranger danger, I think he can deal."

"Mm. Your life is so difficult. Now set the table."

Stiles huffs and throws his books into a pile at the end of the table before rooting around in the cupboards for dishes. John watches Derek out of the corner of his eye. The way he looks at Stiles - incredulous - like Stiles is some new, potentially dangerous kind of creature. Not that John can entirely blame him.

At dinner, John tries to bring Derek into the conversation, which is nearly impossible when a) he answers only in grunts or one-word answers, and b) Stiles can barely be reined in on a good day. Today is not a good day.

"I need you to go to your room after dinner," he tells Stiles. "Derek and I need to talk."

"But dad! I wanted to play Grand Theft Auto! It's better with two players, and you know Scott has the coordination of a newborn giraffe!" Stiles says, and John shoots him a look. He's not a huge fan of Stiles playing that, much less the juvenile offender visiting his house. No offense to Derek. He's just not exactly supposed to be encouraging criminal tendencies.

Stiles grimaces. "Or Pacman, okay, jeez."

"I like Pacman."

It takes a moment before the realization that Derek actually spoke sinks in.

"It speaks!" Stiles crows, and Derek looks up from his plate to glare at him.

"Pacman's good," John breaks in cautiously. They still have to talk, but he's not going to ignore the first sentence Derek has said all night. "Stiles, finish your peas."

"Ugh," Stiles says, and chases the same six peas furiously around his plate for the next fifteen minutes.

When John looks in after dinner, Stiles and Derek are shoulder to shoulder on the couch, Stiles' leg jiggling up and down as he yanks the controller through the air - like that's going to make the game work better, John has never understood that - and Derek looking intently at the screen.

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Inexplicably, somehow, far beyond John's wildest imaginings - he wouldn't exactly say dreams - the boys turn out to be friends. John isn't sure how it happens. Derek goes from looking like he wants to punch Stiles in the side of the head every time he opens his mouth to helping him with his homework to playing Pacman and Mario Kart, throwing a lacrosse ball around in the backyard. Derek starts coming over when he doesn't have to, and when he's not at dinner Stiles still talks about him - Derek this, Derek that, did you know Derek...? John doesn't get alarmed, exactly. If he really thought Derek was dangerous, he wouldn't have invited him into his home to be around his kid. But if there's something weird or potentially dangerous going on, well, he'd like to know. So he asks Bea about it one time. Just to be sure.

"So?" he asks, and Bea tilts her head a little. "Should I be worried? I just - I don't think Derek even has any other friends." Or Stiles, for that matter, besides Scott, and Stiles's mammoth and entirely one-sided crush on the Martin girl. "He's sort of -"

"Taken Stiles' under his wing?"

That's sort of an alarming way to put it. The kid is technically an arsonist. "Kind of."

"Mentoring is good for these kids. Not just being mentored, the way you're doing with him, but mentoring other kids."

"Like Stiles."

"Like Stiles," she agrees. "And Derek's probably having trouble relating to other kids his age right now. He's simultaneously too old - having lived through that fire - and also probably a little immature. A lot of kids who go through something that traumatic get slowed down developmentally. They have a lot going on. They don't care about normal sixteen year old things. As immature as Stiles might seem to you - "

"He is," John says wryly. He's got a great kid, but John wasn't born with blinders.

"- he still might be a little easier for Derek to relate to right now. Or at least deal with."

"So I shouldn't be worried."

Bea shrugs. "Their ages aren't that far apart. What are they doing?"

"Playing lacrosse. Pacman. Eating me out of house and home."

"So being teenaged boys."

"When you put it like that, sure."

"At least you pay attention to your kid," Bea says, an exaggerated tilt of her eyebrows. "That's more than I can say for a lot of people."

John is unfortunately aware. "All right. Thanks, Bea."

"No problem," she says, already turned back around towards her computer. "Did you see Jan is trying to get out of the monthly ECOP meeting again? Jesus, that woman."

| |

John eventually puts Derek on a rotating schedule for his community service. They tacitly keep him away from anything involving small children, or the elderly - well, most people, to be frank, because Derek's social skills are more than a little (deliberately?) lacking - but when John checks in, everyone assures him Derek shows up, does what's he's asked. A good worker. No back talk. Freakishly strong, one of the forestry guys chuckles. When they were cleaning up the forest line, he outpaced a lot of the other workers picking up brush.

"Man, to be sixteen again, huh?" he says, and John shakes his head. Can barely imagine having that much energy to burn. He looks at Stiles in wonderment, sometimes; thinks about what's still ahead.

Tonight is one of the nights Derek comes over. Stiles wants to be on the lacrosse team when he goes to high school next year, bless his uncoordinated limbs, so the boys have taken to playing pickup games out in the woods before dinner. They come back dirty, out of breath – Stiles actually run down for at least an hour or two, Derek’s smile an unexpectedly bright flash of teeth – and John gets used to the mess they leave in the bathroom when they’re done washing up, making dinner for two boys instead of one. He gets used to having Derek around the house three times a week, four, sometimes the whole weekend.

| |

Summer break, and Stiles's fourteenth birthday passes. Derek gets him a dictionary, which makes John pause, but Stiles starts giggling uncontrollably and refuses to explain, so after surreptitiously checking to make sure it's actually a dictionary John lets it slide. Let them have their fun. Also, it's a dictionary. If Stiles uses it even once, he's going to count it as a victory.

Once school starts it won't be long until Derek's seventeenth birthday. One year since he burnt down the Hale House. He's put in a few hundred hours of community service when he's not at the Stilinskis, and he's - different. John's not a social worker, by any stretch of the imagination, but he is different. John wishes he'd known Derek a little before, to better compare, but Derek just doesn't seem to be an outwardly happy sort of person. Not big on talking, or even showing how he feels. Serious. It makes the brief smiles all the brighter, John can admit, but it makes you wonder what's going on in that head of his.

They celebrate Derek's birthday the day before, so he can be home with his Uncle tomorrow. Stiles gets him a book - if this keeps up, John really is going to be suspicious - but it's by the same guy who wrote Fight Club, so its presumably violent enough to be of interest to teenage boys.

Stiles spends the next day out of sorts, weird and jittery; enough so that John has to make sure he took his Adderall, which puts Stiles in an even worse mood. He pokes at his dinner and spends his time staring out the window. Whatever birthday Derek is having at home probably isn't that great, John knows, but Peter is his family. Besides, knowing Derek, he'll turn up at the house by tomorrow - which is good, because John has news.

Derek is officially off parole. No more community service, unless he wants to keep it up.

"It would look good on your college applications," John says, and Derek looks up at him dumbly. More shocked than John's ever seen him.

"I'm - it's over?"

"Well, I know you need to have a final session with one of the social workers, but yeah. You're remorseful, you won't do it again, your debt to society has been repaid, yadda yadda yah. Try not to repeat the yadda yadda part." Stiles's mouth has fallen open, which isn't so uncommon, but the look on his face is particularly gobsmacked, which kind of is. "One of you needs to set the table. The burgers'll be done in a few minutes," he says, and claps Derek on the back.

"You - don't want me to leave?" Derek stutters, and Stiles look up at him with hopeful eyes.

Oh boy. Boys. John sighs. He should listen more to Bea - they really are emotionally immature.

"Teaching Stiles to play lacrosse wasn't a part of the agreement. I figured if you got through that, I was never getting rid of you."

"Dad!" Stiles shouts, embarrassed, and Derek cracks his first smile of the night.

"So are we all okay?" John asks. "Any lingering issues? Because the burgers are still going, and I know how Derek feels about anything that isn't pink on the inside."

"Disgusting," Derek says satisfactorily, and touches the tip of his nose. "Not setting the table."

"Seriously? How come it never counts when I do it?" Stiles asks, weary, and Derek follows him into the kitchen to help anyway. After a minute, he comes back out onto the porch to yell, Derek again at his heels. "Dad! You know you're not supposed to have fries!"

"It's a celebration!" John looks at Derek and winks. "Derek likes the curly ones."

Derek shrugs, even as Stiles elbows him in the side. "The curly ones do taste better."

"Why do I even bother trying," Stiles mutters, half-serious, and for a second it's so like his mother that John is taken aback. Stiles isn't much like either of them, truth be told - too loud, too ridiculous, too happy, even; John and Valerie were much more even-keeled. But the way Stiles takes care of people is all Valerie.

"We have sugar-free ketchup," John says after a moment. "Now go set the table, before I switch these out with veggie burgers."

Stiles makes a horrified face and drags Derek back into the kitchen.

Dinner, when it finally hits the table, goes well. Stiles makes one more crack about saturated fats before eating the lion's share of the fries by himself. Derek grins into his food, when he thinks nobody else is looking, and Stiles and John share conspiratorial looks - and, well, there's a lot of smiling going on that night, all told.

| |

John thinks about it later that night, over a tumbler of Scotch. The way Derek wormed his way into their lives. Almost like having another a son, if John's being honest. Not what he signed on for, but somehow where he ended up, all the same. Different from Scott, who John would still tentatively call Stiles's best friend. It's hard to make a a direct comparison between the two when you hardly ever see them together - as far as John can tell, Scott and Derek hate each other, circle around Stiles like two cats with their backs raised. Not that Stiles appears to have noticed. He blithely invites them both over for Mario Kart tournaments, oblivious to the on-screen violence going on between the two of them.

Ah, Stiles, John thinks. Warmly. Happily. He loves the kid more than he can usually put into words. Probably the best thing that ever happened to him. Derek is good for Stiles, and not the same way Scott is. Scott is a good friend, no doubt about that, but Stiles is clearly the brains of that outfit. Derek gives Stiles some spine, gets him to walk a little taller. Derek handles Stiles, grounds him, where so often Scott is swept along for the Adderall-riddled ride. And yet Derek needs them more, maybe, than Scott does. Scott is like Stiles that way - alone a lot, one parent gone, but at least there's one left. John would not get in the way of Melissa McCall when she's on the warpath. Derek has only Peter Hale, a pile of ashes, a car that used to belong to his sister. Derek seems tougher than Scott, but maybe he isn't. Maybe that's why.

Then again, does the why really matter? John drags himself to his feet and puts the Scotch away, significantly diminished. He passes Stiles's closed bedroom door on the way to his room and ignores the hushed whispers. Guess he'll find out tomorrow whether Derek is more of a pancake or waffle guy.

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They have a few months of peace after that. There are small things, of course: Stiles makes the junior varsity lacrosse team by the skin of his teeth and spends most of his time on the bench, while Derek ascends to Captain of the varsity team and leads them to a six-game winning streak, which seems to be a sticking point for about a week before Stiles's natural good humor reasserts itself. Then Stiles nearly fails biology lab because his teacher doesn't seem to understand that Stiles + dead things = copious amounts of vomit, and John has to have a long, serious talk with Derek about thinking about college, which is fatherly enough to raise weird feelings, and something that might be emotion on Derek's face. Definitely nothing that could be termed a crisis, however, until John gets a call from the school saying that Stiles was involved in a fight.

When John gets there, Stiles is seated in the vice-principal's office, holding a cold pack to his face.

John might see red for a moment. He can't be sure. He does know that in what seems like just half a moment, he's sitting next to Stiles and taking a good look at the bruise on his face. Poking gingerly at the edges while Stiles winces.

"Who did this?" he asks, and it's like his voice is coming from very far away.

"Jackson," Stiles mumbles, and - yeah, definitely seeing red. This is not the first time Jackson has been at the root of one of Stiles's problems.

John presses the cold pack onto Stiles's face. "And where's Jackson?"

"The hospital," the vice-principal informs him smoothly. "The nurse thought stitches were a prudent measure."

Stitches. Great. Uglier and uglier. "You mean the Whittemores have lawyers on speed-dial," John shoots back. "And what about my kid?"

"It's just a bruise, dad," Stiles breaks in, slightly muffled by the cold pack. "I mean, Derek wiped the floor with Jackson!"

John stops, and turns back to Stiles, dropping down to his knees beside the chair. "Derek?" No one even mentioned Derek. "Tell me exactly what happened."

"Ooh," Stiles protests weakly. "Sheriff voice."

"Stiles."

"Jackson was - he was being an ass again, okay, it wasn't - it was nothing I couldn't handle, or whatever -"

"Your face is bruised, Stiles." He's trying to tamp down on his anger, here, because he's certainly not mad at Stiles, but all the runaround is testing his patience.

"Okay, yeah, I might have gotten pushed into a locker a little harder than usual."

"Than usual?" John stresses, and raises an eyebrow at Mr. McCoy, who is currently doing his best to avoid direct eye contact. "What's the usual, Stiles?"

"Daaaaaad."

"Genim Stilinski," he says, and Stiles winces.

"Jesus, okay. I dunno. Calling me names. Shoving me into lockers. He tried to trip me down a flight of stairs, once, but I think the only thing that saved me from sudden death was falling onto Scott, so he didn't do it again."

Stuff like this is what's going to finally give John a heart attack one of these days, forget the curly fries. Kids like Derek - the loud ones, the ones in pain - they're the ones who get punished. And little sadist dictators like Jackson Whittemore spend years growing more and more cruel, and learning that as long as they're careful no one is going to stop them.

"Mr. McCoy," John says flatly. "I think we'll be having some words before I take my son home."

In his peripheral vision, John sees Mr. McCoy wince. "No one's doubting your son's side of the story, Mr. Stilinkski, though this is the first any of the faculty have heard of it. We don't tolerate bullies, and we certainly don't tolerate violence Not even in defense of others, I'm afraid, which is why both Mr. Hale and Mr. Whittemore have been suspended for two days."

"And I have your reassurance this won't be happening again?"

"I think Mr. Whittemore has seen the error of his ways," Mr. McCoy says, and John detects a slight spark of amusement that has him appeased for now. "Why don't you take Mr. Stilinski home for the rest of the day."

"He's certainly not staying here," John says. "Come on, Stiles."

"But Derek-!"

"Mr. Hale is in the principal's office with his Uncle. It might be a while."

Damn it. Well, to be expected, really. "You can talk to him later, Stiles."

Stiles slumps a little. "Okay."

John picks up Stiles's backpack with one hand and guides his son towards the truck with the other. He resists the urge to buckle him in. Probably a step too far. "Want to swing by McDonald's before we head home?" he asks. He waits for Stiles to start ranting about saturated fats again, but Stiles just lets his head rest against the pickup window.

"Could go for a milkshake," he says. "Dad, we're - Derek's not in trouble, is he?"

"Not anymore than he should be. Not if I have anything to say about it," John says firmly, and he thinks Stiles brightens a little. "Although I want you to tell me what happened. Everything," he stresses, before Stiles can interrupt. "This is your dad talking, okay. I can't help you or Derek if I don't know what's going on." He can't maintain eye contact when he's driving, but he thinks his tone of voice makes his feelings on the matter pretty clear.

"It was like I said! Jackson - he does something almost every day, but most of it is - whatever, calling me a name, or if he thinks he's being clever when he says something. And it's - it's not just me, you know, it's whoever's in his way. Scott sometimes, too. Which is why it's fine, like... he's just a dick, and that is the high school experience when you are not the upper echelons of the rat race known as popular culture. But today when he shoved me into the locker." Stiles pauses. "I guess he miscalculated, or I tripped or something, because my face hit the latch instead of the front of the locker. It -" Stiles voice drops. "It really hurt. But I also kind of didn't feel it? Like I was really far away. And then all of a sudden Derek had Jackson, like, slammed into the locker next to me, with his hand around Jackson's neck, and..." Stiles's voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. "Jackson's face just, like, broke, okay, I thought he was going to cry."

"Stiles," John says, exasperated.

"What? I can't enjoy? Dad, there is a bruise on my face that I got in the lamest way possible, you've got your serious face on, not to mention Jackson is pretty much the biggest asshole ever. I've gotta get my kicks somewhere."

"So why the stitches?"

"Oh. Derek's nails cut up the back of Jackson's neck. I hope he gets tetanus," Stiles says, entirely self-satisfied, and John has to tamp down on his smile.

"That's not how you get tetanus."

"Don't care. Meningitis. Something really disgusting."

"Pretty sure that would only get Derek in more trouble," John reminds him, and Stiles grimaces.

"Okay, I will allow Jackson to live. This time."

"Magnanimous of you."

"I'm a giver."

John rolls his eyes. "Well, I'm going to get fries with your milkshake, and you're not going to give me any grief about it, all right? It's been a stressful day."

"Don't have to tell me twice," Stiles says, pokes gingerly at his cheekbone. "Think I could manage a cheeseburger?"

"We could always put it through the food processor first."

"Ew, Dad! Gross!"

There's his kid.

| |

After dinner - which doesn't require a food processor, but does necessitate leaving off all the "really tough lettuce, dad, so crunchy" - Stiles goes up to his room and shuts the door. Powwowing with Derek, John thinks, and shakes his head. Stiles has no notion of the concept of subtlety, bless his little heart.

An hour later Stiles pokes his head over the stair bannister. "Is it okay if Derek comes over tomorrow?" he asks.

John tries to resist rolling his eyes. "You know it is."

"Okay. He's just - I mean, he's not saying anything, but I think he's nervous."

"He's going to get a Lecture," John warns. "Capital-L."

"As long as its not accompanied by the shotgun."

"I'm saving that lecture for your first serious girlfriend," John continues casually. "Or boyfriend." And Stiles trips on the stairs.

Aha. John's still got it.

"Be a little more careful with what you leave up in the tabs on the computer," he says, and imagines he can hear Stiles's heart stop. Not that he didn't have a great big shock the first time. Way to ease your father into it, Stiles.

"Uhm," Stiles says, and he only sounds mildly panicked. "Do we have to -"

"No," John says. "Unless - that's not why Jackson was harassing you, was it?"

"Dad! No! God, no, no one has any idea - or, I don't know, I thought they didn't, you've made me completely doubt my stealth-"

"You have no stealth."

"Okay, yeah, but - we don't actually have to talk about this, do we?"

"Not unless you want to."

"No," Stiles practically shrieks. "Definitely no. Thanks, nope, good talk, I'll - see you tomorrow," and he finishes scrambling the rest of the way up the stairs and slams his door closed.

"I love you," John yells.

After a moment Stiles's door creaks back open. "I love you too! Now let me die of embarrassment in peace."

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Derek comes over the next day with all the enthusiasm of man on death row facing his executioner. It's good, John supposes, that he can tell the different between Derek's scared-stony face and his bored-stony face. To the untrained eye, Derek mostly just looks angry.

"Stiles," John says. "Don't you have dinner on the stove?"

Stiles's looks back and forth between them for a minute. His mouth falls open, like he's going to say something, and then he actually wrings his hands before throwing them into the air and ducking back into the house.

"Sit down, Derek," he says, motioning to one of the other chairs on the porch. Derek does, obediently, which is weird enough. Derek is more likely to raise one of his freakishly well-done eyebrows and bare his teeth. Civilized, the kid is not. Which is kind of the problem here.

"Don't get me wrong," John starts. "I know why you did it. And when I was seventeen, I can't tell you that I would have acted any better. But you need to stay out of trouble, Derek. You can't do stuff like that. Especially now. You're nearly eighteen. No takebacks, no calling it a childish mistake. A judge could really throw the book at you. Jackson needed stitches." Derek keeps staring off the edge of the porch, into the distance, and after a moment John takes another pull of his beer. "On the other hand, I know Jackson Whittemore. Couldn't have happened to a nicer kid."

Derek's head whips around to look at him.

"And thank you for taking care of Stiles. I know - "

"You don't have to thank me," Derek interrupts. "It wasn't so - it wasn't for you."

"I know," John says softly. "I'm saying thank you anyway."

"I - " Derek nods. "You're welcome."

"But next time, tell a teacher. Come to me, if you have to. I'm more than capable of raising hell and having people listen. One of the few perks of being the Sheriff, besides all the late nights and paperwork."

"Okay. That's... it?"

"Mini-lecture. Try not to do anything else stupid, or you'll get the extra-long one."

"Okay," Derek says again, and John is satisfied.

"So. Stiles is making soup. There are veggies involved, and rice bread. Try to grin and bear it. The nutty bars are still in the closet." God knows Stiles never cleans.

The look on Derek's face shifts subtly to calculating. "Think we have time to sneak one now?"

| |

After the Jackson incident, Derek spends the next few months immersed in college applications. He's bright enough, did well on his SATs, and he's got a plan, which is more than John can say for a lot of kids.

"Fire Protection Administration?" he says, surprised, and then thinks that maybe he isn't, really. The state expects more and more of full-time firefighters these days, and Derek is smart enough to realize that. At least in California, he'll never be out of work. He's already got friends in the forestry division.

Derek cracks a rare smile. "Good thing juvenile records are sealed."

Even John can't help smiling at that. "If you're sure..."

"It's the only thing I want to do," Derek interrupts, and John thinks it must make a compelling story, juvenile record aside. Kid who lost his whole family to a fire grows up to be a firefighter. He's got the chops for it, certainly. He doesn't think he's ever seen Derek flinch at anything. Not since the day they met.

| |

Derek graduates in May, bright and sunny. Peter isn't there, but Stiles and John are, and at this point John would like to think that matters a hell of a lot more.

When Derek breaks away from the the small crowd of congratulators after the ceremony - Derek ended up having friends after all, John thinks, and why wouldn't he? Good-looking kid, lacrosse captain - and hugs them both, John really does feel like he has a second son.

"So," he says, after clearing his throat a few times. "What are we thinking for dinner? Burgers?"

Stiles just groans, and rests his head against Derek's shoulder. "Dad, seriously?"

"I like burgers," Derek says, and shrugs.

"You like anything that died screaming. Aren't we supposed to be celebrating?"

John rolls his eyes. "I'll let you have a beer."

"Sold!"

This time Derek rolls his eyes, and throws an arm around Stiles's shoulders, steering him towards the parking lot. "See you at home."

"Have Stiles's pick up a vegetable, if he wants one," John says, and gets about ten steps away before he realizes Derek called their house 'home'. Has he done that before? John turns around, watches the two boys push their way through the crowd. Stiles's arm around Derek's waist, Derek's head turned to speak directly in Stiles's ear.

Well, he thinks. He'll see them there either way.

Here's hoping Stiles doesn't pick cauliflower again.

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Derek gets an apartment a few towns over, near the community college he ends up going to. He's gets a student job at the library - probably scaring the students into silence, and god help them if they return a book late - and he comes back to Beacon Hills nearly every weekend. He has a key to the front door and a place in the driveway. John knows Derek prefers pancakes to waffles but carbohydrates in general to almost anything, and no sweet tooth to speak of. He's a night person and a morning person, and makes up for it by being surly during the day. He still hates Scott, still can't manage small talk to save his life, and still can't beat Stiles at Mario Kart. The universe is comfortable, settled at an acceptably even keel, so when Derek and Stiles come to John a week after Stiles's sixteenth birthday and tell him to sit down, his brain goes to all of the worst places.

At first they only look at each other, and John can literally feel his blood pressure rising.

"Just tell me," he says. "You're giving me anxiety and I had bacon this morning."

When Stiles doesn't protest the bacon he begins to think they're really in trouble.

"Dad," Stiles says, hands fidgeting in his pockets. "There's, uh, something we need to tell you."

He keeps going, but it takes a minute to really sink in. For John to understand.

Holy shit.

The thing is, John's not a stupid guy. If he were, he wouldn't be able to do his job as well as he does, and he is a damn good Sheriff. So how in the world did he miss this? No girlfriends, he thinks, though he still thought Stiles had that ill-advised crush on the Martin girl. And no boyfriends either, which John knew because he'd watched Danny like a hawk every time he came over to work on Chemistry homework, so-called. And John had just assumed Derek kept that sort of thing to himself, the way he kept almost everything else until he was ready - but he was wrong.

Boy, was he wrong.

Jesus. How did he not notice?

Then, of course, he realizes that he hasn't said anything. That Stiles is still babbling, moving the toe of his sneaker back and forth across the floor, his hands jammed so far down into his pockets his elbows have gone tight with the pressure.

And Derek - Derek is wearing the same pale, stony face John first saw in his station all those years ago. Unapologetic, because he knows what he's doing even as he realizes other people might not. And – John is sure – scared of losing the only thing he has. Scared to the very core.

“Well,” he says, and stands, shutting Stiles up faster than John has ever seen. “I suppose I should have seen this coming.”

It takes a moment to sink in. When it does, Stiles practically launches himself at John, before pulling back at the last second. "Wait. Dad. Does this mean-? I - is inevitability a good reaction or bad reaction? Am I grounded until I die? Are you sending me to a convent? Does Derek have to run from the shotgun?"

Hilarious image of Stiles in a wimple aside, John doesn't really have an urge to get his shotgun. "It's a - surprised reaction. But not bad." He puts one hand on Stiles's shoulder. "I'm glad you told me."

Stiles starts to look cautiously optimistic again. "No one's getting sent to a convent?"

"Not unless you have that particular urge yourself, kid."

John's ribs end up getting crushed under the force of Stiles's hug, but he can live with it.

"Hey," he says, right to Derek's tired, bewildered face. "Join in, already. Stilinski bonding moment," and holds out the arm that isn't already around Stiles's back.

Derek takes only one step forward, cautiously, until Stiles reaches out and tugs on his shirt. Pulling Derek in right next to him. John looks at the way they fit together, Derek's arm around Stiles's waist, Stiles's head tucked just under Derek's chin. He feels the shudder that goes all through Derek, like a weight that's finally been lifted. How long has Derek been carrying this around, John wonders. How long has he worried?

"Everything's going to be fine," he says, once the hugging stops. No one's making any eye contact but there's definitely sniffling coming from somewhere. "With some new ground rules. Like no more sleepovers.”

“Dad!”

"And I am seriously rethinking getting you that Jeep."

"Dad!"


He tries not to stare at Derek's hand in Stiles's while they make dinner. He thinks he does okay.


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