Stiles struggles to open a bottle of mulch one-handed while also trying to hang onto his mobile phone. It's an acrobatic act worthy of a circus. The Hale Circus. Which, well, that's what it is, isn't it? A bunch of dangerous beasts and their unsuspecting ringmaster, Stiles.
The phone almost slips, and Stiles scrabbles with it. Jackson keeps on ranting at the other end.
"Whoa, man, ease up, I can't - no, if you'd only let Lydia - "
Jackson hangs up.
Stiles curses. Jackson's become even more of a bitch after becoming, uh, Lydia's bitch. Not that the word's very politically correct, given that it automatically assumes the preexistence of a binary construct that makes the female inferior to the male (Allison's brain-washing him, she's evil), but still. If Jackson keeps scent-marking Lydia in public, it's no wonder he ends up with claw-marks across his face. Good thing werewolves heal quickly.
There's a soft shuffle, and Stiles turns from the kitchen counter to see… Jar. Doing that half-crawl, half-wriggle thing toward him. Jar's moved on from the incredibly cute (but developmentally worrying, until Stiles read on an online mothers' forum that it was okay) butt-drag, so Stiles tries to encourage him to crawl. Jar's only eight months old, but he's already got Derek's tendency to creep up on Stiles silently and stare at him.
Like he's doing right now.
"Hey, babe," Stiles smiles, instantly putting Jackson's many idiocies out of his mind. It ain't that difficult, with an adorable were-cherub of his very own. "I bet you want your mulch, huh? Your yummy mulch! It's the yummiest mulch that ever mulched, uh-huh. And guess what, it's beef-mulch! Your favoritest mulch of all!"
Jar claps his hands.
"Gotcha. Now, I'm just gonna… figure out how to open this thing… a-ha! Done!" Now that he isn't juggling multiple uncooperative, inanimate objects, he can get the goddamn bottle to open. And Derek calls him uncoordinated. Pshaw.
The lid pops right off, surprisingly loud, and Jar lets out a happy squeal.
"That's what I like to hear. Eager-beaver babies makin' eager-beaver sounds! You remember that beaver? From the cartoon? With the teeeeeeeeeth?"
Jar wiggles on his bottom. Must be real comfortable, wiggling around on a padded diaper. Like livin' on a mattress. Way better than livin' on a prayer. (Great. Derek's taste for classic rock has already infiltrated Stiles's music references. Soon, Stiles will lose any ability to casually refer to contemporary pop culture. Or quote Ke$ha songs. Stiles has been cursed. Cursed with the soundtrack of epic man-pain.)
"You know who else has teeth? Your dad. Your scowly, broody, teethy dad."
"Yeah, that's - wait, what?"
Jar just blinks huge green eyes at him, totally innocent, unknowing as an angel. A bit of drool escapes his mouth.
"Just - say that again. Did you - did you actually say that? Do mine ears deceive me, or was my darling talking? Were you talking to me, baby? You were, weren't you? Because you're a smart kid. Seeing as how you've taken after me. Not after your unimaginative, strong-silent-type of a weredad."
"Dad," says Stiles, because, hey, kids copy their parents, right? "Here a dad. There a dad. Everywhere a dad-dad. Old McDonald had a dad, ee-i, ee-i-oh."
"Dah," Jar says, and Stiles's heart thumps. His legs stop supporting him. He literally has to leave the bottle on the counter and sit down on his ass. On the floor. Thankfully, that brings him nearly to eye-level with Jar, who's still looking at Stiles like he has no clue why Stiles is freaking out.
"Ohgod," says Stiles. His knees wobble, which is ridiculous, because he's sitting down. His heart won't stop hammering. "So this is what they mean when they say kids grow up too fast. You're talking. You're already talking. Next thing I know, you'll be giving your graduation speech as the valedictorian of your school - because obviously you'll be the valedictorian of your school - and I'll be trying manfully not to cry into my sleeve. Derek will be filming the whole thing because my hands will be shaking too hard to hold the camera. I can see it happening. Ohgodohgod."
Jar makes a quizzical face that, on top of his newfound superpower of word-making, is almost enough to slay Stiles with its perfection.
"And one day, you're gonna bring someone home. And Derek will either castrate them - if they're a guy - or hide up in the attic in a not-terrified-at-all manner if they're a girl. Because Derek can't deal with girls. Just look at how he fails to deal with Lydia. And you'll be like, 'Don't be such a sourwolf,' see, 'cause you'll have learned that from me, my special gift to you, and I'll be like, 'Right on, brother.' Son. Oh, crap, I have a son. I'm old by default. Victorian, almost. No wonder I can't quote Ke$ha songs. Egads! Confound it!"
There's a concerned little frown-line on Jar's forehead that looks alarmingly like Derek's.
"No. Do not. Do not with the were-Bambi eyes. You're ridiculously cute. You kill me with cute. Jesus. My heart's still racing. Your voice is beautiful. For all that is holy, please talk again. Please talk forever. Your voice is literally the light that, like a sunburst, through yonder window breaks. It's just. It's so soft, so… like it has baby-fur, too…"
"Duh-da," says Jar.
"That's right. Duh Dad. I'm your Duh Dad. D'oh Dad, even. I'm Homer Simpson. Derek is Marge. But without the girl-parts. Or the giant blue hair. Or the… wow. Wow. You're talking." Stiles thrills, head to toe, and sweeps Jar up in his arms, laughing.
Jar giggles, drool dripping down his chin. His furry feet kick in their claw-proof socks. (Basically just two extra socks, and they're not really claw-proof, since they already have tiny holes in them. But, whatever.)
The front door swings open.
"Stiles!" Derek yells, leaping into the kitchen like it's the apocalypse, teeth bared. Angry beaver, indeed. "What - " And then, he sees Stiles sprawling on the floor with Jar, both wearing equally dopey grins, and wavers, doubt flickering across his expression. "What happened?"
"What are you doing here? Weren't you going to town?"
"I came back."
"But you must've already reached, right? You left twenty minutes ago. How'd you get all the way back - "
"You mean, you bounded. Like a wolf." Stiles sits up. Jar's doing his anxious frown, so Stiles pats his back to calm him. "Why?"
"I heard your heart-rate."
Stiles goggles. "From a mile away? How is that even… Scott can't do that!"
"Scott isn't an Alpha. And you," Derek says, eyes narrowing, "are not his mate."
"Thank god. Allison should be canonized as a saint for putting up with him, seriously."
Derek's glowering. He's definitely glowering. "What made you do that?"
"Do what?" Stiles jiggles Jar on his knee; Jar coos. And tries to lick his neck.
Derek's eyes narrow even further. "He's marking you."
"Why is he marking you?"
"I don't kn-… oh. My. Gosh. Are you jealous? Are you jealous of a kid? I can't believe - "
"Your heart-rate, Stiles. What made it go up?"
"Oh, yeah!" Stiles brightens, because this is the best news ever, and he gets to give it. "He talked!"
"Jar, who else?"
"He can't talk," Derek scoffs. Scoffs, like -
"Are you questioning your own child's intelligence? Because that's bad form. Very, very bad form. For which I might have to kick your ass."
Derek raises an eyebrow.
"Metaphorically," Stiles amends. "I might have to kick your ass metaphorically. And he did talk, Cynic Who Knows the Price of Everything but the Value of Nothing."
"Quoting Oscar Wilde won't make your argument any more convincing."
"Proving that you read doesn't make your argument any more convincing, either, Conan."
"The barbarian. Not the stand-up comedian."
"Do you? Color me shocked."
They glare at each other.
"And anyway, Jar can absolutely prove you wrong. Because Jar's on my side."
"The parenting guide said you shouldn't force your kids to pick sides," Derek says, and Stiles is so secretly delighted that Derek's reading those parenting pamphlets that he almost doesn't snark back.
Almost. "I'm not forcing him. He's choosing the right side. Which I happen to be on. Go ahead, Jar. Launch into your valedictorian speech!"
"You won't understand. You weren't here to witness his miracle of miraculousness." Stiles looks expectantly at Jar. "How 'bout a repeat performance, buddy?"
But Jar… doesn't say anything. He just licks Stiles. Again.
"Even he was startled by your heart-rate. He keeps marking you to protect you from intruders."
"He's such a sweetheart!"
"I ran back from town to protect you from intruders."
"Again, competing with a baby is kind of pathetic, Derek. And it's not my fault you wrecked your Camaro during a 'training exercise' last week and had to run like freakin' Rambo through the forest."
"He still isn't saying anything."
"That's because he needs a warm-up! Okay, Jar," says Stiles, projecting SRS BZNS, and sure enough, Jar focuses on him. "I'm a man-dad. Derek's a weredad. A dad that's glad and a sad, mad dad."
"You've got all the mad, here."
"Mad dad. Dad mad. Bad mad dad."
"Da-da," says Jar, and Derek freezes.
"Yes!" Stiles smirks triumphantly up at Derek. "Hear that, Derek?"
Jar grins up at Derek, as well. "De."
"That… whoa. That's. That's 'Derek', right? He just said your name!"
Derek seems mesmerized. Wide-eyed and mesmerized and sort of concussed, like someone's brained him with a blunt object. His voice, when he speaks, is raspy. "He's… just mimicking sounds. He doesn't know what he's saying."
"Are you a wet blanket reincarnated as a sentient being? Or were you once a box of tissues left out in the rain? Did you melt away into the nothingness of eternal, soggy sorrow? Is that why you're so utterly devoid of hope? C'mon, tell me. I'm dying to know."
Derek reaches down to pet Jar's head, with the sort of awkward-but-extreme gentleness that makes Stiles's breath stutter, whenever he sees it. The way Jar now nuzzles against Derek's palm, instead of shying away from him, does things to Stiles, too.
Stiles clears his throat. "Um, so. He… he's learning how to talk."
"Yes," murmurs Derek, quietly. He still hasn't snapped out of that brained-by-a-blunt-object state, and he's gazing at Jar like - like Jar's doing something amazing, which, heh, Jar is. And Derek does think so, no matter what he says.
"You've gotta encourage the kid, you know. Positive reinforcement. It's in the pamphlets."
"I know it's in the pamphlets," Derek growls, and pauses. Eventually, after an infinity of more awkward petting, he says: "Nice job, Jar."
Jar gurgles. And slobbers all over Derek's hand.
Derek… slowly pulls his hand back. And goes to wash it at the sink.
"Right, so I was thinking." Stiles gets up, slinging Jar across his hip. "About college."
Derek turns to look at him. He's still got that weirdly mild aura, like he's been smoking the good stuff. Even his eyebrows aren't making death-threats. "You're not going to college for another year."
"I'm not going anywhere, I'm studying right here. I thought we covered that."
"It's better for you to - "
"Stop it. I'm not leaving Jar. Or you. And I'm gonna be a cop. Not like I need to study at Harvard."
"You could get into Harvard."
"Yeah, well, unlike Lydia, I don't want to. It's not my college I'm talking about, anyway."
"Whose - " Derek's eyes flick to Jar. "You can't be serious."
"I'm just sayin'. As soon as I start working, maybe we can start saving up for - "
"Hey, my mom and dad started my college fund as soon as I was born. Jar's already been born! He's fallen behind!"
"By eight months."
"I mean, can't you see he's destined to do a Ph.D in Linguistics?"
"Just look at him. Practically winning intergalactic spelling bees at the tender age of 0.667."
"You may be blowing this out of proportion," Derek drawls, leaning back against the counter. He's got that smirk-not-smirk going on. And that stupid, ruggedly handsome jawline. "Just a bit."
"Ha, ha, ha. No. I'm not. We have to be prepared. For anything. So, whaddaya say we start a college fund? And once I start earning - "
"Don't worry about it."
"But - "
"How - "
"It's. Covered," Derek enunciates, clearly, and steps right into Stiles's space. Not that Stiles has a space, anymore. "There's a trust fund."
"A." Stiles's jaw struggles not to drop to the floor. And fails. Spectacularly. "A what?"
"The Hale family set up a trust fund. A long time ago."
"Eigh… teen. Years."
Derek just tilts his head. And studies Stiles's neck, where Jar had licked it.
"That's longer than I've been alive."
"You're getting better and better at math."
"Shut up," says Stiles, incredulous that Derek didn't tell him about this. Stiles knew about the random investments, but - a trust fund? "It must've built up a hell of a lot of interest, by now."
Derek shrugs. "I haven't checked."
"Okay, that does it. I'm taking over the accounts. Because, even though we're living in the woods, we're not literally living off berries, Derek."
"Or rabbits, Jesus Christ. How could you even - "
"You don't have to worry about Jar," Derek says, and Stiles… takes a deep breath.
A knot unties itself in his chest. "Yeah," he replies, and thinks of his own parents, all those years ago, saving pennies. "Yeah, all right."
That's the signal that Derek's about to start scenting him. Derek goes non-verbal whenever he has to do that, and he will do that, even if it means putting Jar's feeding-time off by another ten minutes.
So Stiles sighs, and arranges Jar in a way that allows Derek to wrap himself around them.
Which he does.
Soon, Jar starts making this mrr-sound, a sound that takes Stiles a couple of moments to identify as a baby version of Derek's scent-marking purr.
Who's Stiles kidding? Jar's taking after Derek.
As that mini-purr mingles with Derek's and vibrates between them, though, Stiles warms right up, from the inside out, and finds that he doesn't mind.
Three months later, Stiles has evolved to "Ti," and sometimes, "Ti-Da." Derek is either "Der-Der" or "Der-Da".
Take that, Mr. Wet Blanket.
Also, the trust fund is massive. Massive enough to send Jar to Oxford or Princeton or Juilliard, with enough left over for a few thousand NASA space-camps.