"But I want to go with Daddy." Talia stomped for emphasis, her miniature cowboy boot, studded with rhinestones, still more than loud enough for the stubborn thump to carry across the store. Her eyes already had a hint of red in them, and her voice was pitching towards that Alpha-tone that wouldn't settle into actual power until she was - hopefully - much older. It didn't stop her from trying it out when she wasn't getting her way, though.
"Just like Laura," Derek had said when they'd first realized their beautiful, fragile baby girl had been born an Alpha. It’d taken a few months for her to progress past giggling delight at his transformation, her chubby hands patting at his cheeks and tugging at his thickly sprouting sideburns. They weren’t sure, at first, how much wolf had made it through, until she’d eventually flashed her eyes in response to his and given Derek an affectionate, claiming bite on the chin. His lips had done that odd twitch - half smile, half sorrow - that Stiles had grown too familiar with once Derek had finally started opening up about his family.
Stiles had thought, initially, that Cora had somehow passed down the Alpha powers during her surrogacy, but Derek shook his head. It wasn't that simple. There wasn't, as far as he knew, a real science to it, which bugged Stiles to no end. He’d already begun cataloging as much information as he could gather, tired of a knowledge base that relied on undeniably biased hunters’ records. He wasn’t willing to raise his daughter in a world where the only books that talked about people like her were, at their root, manuals on the most effective killing methods.
The werewolf hierarchy, as he called it, Derek rolling his eyes but obliging with as much of his family history as he could remember, was a particularly intriguing area of study.
You could take powers, as demonstrated too many times by Peter's ill-fated attempts to ascend above his birth role, or Deucalion’s discovery that murdering your own pack could fuel your greed. You could transfer them, as Derek had shown, pulling the darach's poison from Cora’s veins and feeding her his power until her eyes opened, burning red. Sometimes, far more often than Deaton's cryptic semi-fanaticism had implied, you could rise to Alpha, or fall back to Beta or Omega. That conversation had stung, and drawing out Derek’s knowledge of those natural fluctuations had taken more sensitivity and tact than Stiles ordinarily bothered with. The sad truth was that if Peter had, at any time, actually been worthy of the power he’d so desperately wanted, he wouldn’t have had to rip it out of his niece’s throat with his claws.
When Derek had gone through his transitions, Stiles had still only known his edges, the bristly bits that he let the world see. Even so, the weight lifting off Derek’s shoulders had almost been palpable. He’d never particularly wanted to be the Alpha, but, more than that, it’d felt wrong - heavy and tainted, seething with too much blood and guilt. He’d worried, he’d confessed to Stiles a year or so into their relationship, that he’d cursed Cora by passing it on to her. Then, when she’d settled into her new role with an ease that he’d never experienced, he’d struggled with reluctant envy. What was it about him that’d made it all go so wrong?
Stiles had stroked his hair until he’d fallen asleep, then threw himself into research until he had an answer that would satisfy them both. The Alpha spark had been twisted - by Laura’s death, then Peter’s, not to mention its misuse in Peter’s hands - but purified, in the end, by Derek’s sacrifice. “You saved her,” he’d assured him, making Derek meet his eyes and accept the truth staring them in the face. He'd given her back her life, but he'd done more than that; he’d restored the Hale legacy. Through Cora, first, and now through Talia.
Because sometimes - like with Laura, or their little spitfire’s namesake - you were born with the potential to lead. It added a new level of difficulty that none of the parenting books had covered: how to maintain parental authority when the typical toddler battle of wills combined with a werewolf's tenacity. That was the book he should be compiling. Maybe he could rope Lydia into helping, if she and Cora ever decided to have wolflings of their own, instead of settling for spoiling his rotten. A How To Raise Supernatural Babies pamphlet would come in handy right about now.
And right now, what Talia wanted was for Derek to be picking out trick-or-treating costumes with her, which made Stiles pout more than he would've admitted. He'd specifically begged off work for this excursion, and for Halloween night itself, which tended to be one of the busiest times of year for the station. His dad had understood, though, and Parrish had agreed to pick up his shift. It'd always been his favorite holiday.
Derek, like the giant stereotypical Christmas baby that he was, loved everything about the winter season. Stiles didn't mind the lights and trees and presents, but mischief night? How was there a comparison?
"We wouldn't have this without my love of Halloween," he'd insisted, gesturing at Derek and their bed and their house and the still-shiny rings on their fingers. "How else can you explain me being best friends with a werewolf, and falling in love with one?" Derek had wrinkled his nose but kissed him anyway, which meant that he had no way of arguing with Stiles's impeccable logic.
Derek could string popcorn with Talia, and make cider, and prick his fingers with a million sap-sticky pine needles while hunting for the perfect tree. All Stiles wanted was to teach his daughter how to carve pumpkins, and the most effective locations for bats and spiders and motion-activated creatures that usually made Stiles jump out of his skin, having forgotten where he'd put them. She was, he grudgingly admitted, probably still too young for the movie marathons, but the rest was fair game.
His little fury was a creature of the night - with fangs and claws and glowing eyes, and all the things he'd tried to talk his parents into buying for him over the years. (He'd lost those privileges, his dad had informed him sternly, after the time he'd managed to make it to elementary school with a fake arrow through his head and half the contents of the blood makeup kit caked over his face and shirt. Two girls had burst into tears; Jackson Whittemore had peed his pants; and the new kid, Scott McCall, had looked at him solemnly and told him, with the unruffled wisdom of a nurse’s child, that he’d slashed his wrists the wrong way.)
But Talia, who had cheerfully cobbled together Incredible Hulk and Princess Batman costumes for the past couple of years, now wanted to be Little Red Riding Hood. And she had no intention of letting Stiles pick out a matching costume so he could shadow her from house to house.
"I want Wolfdaddy," she clarified, her face crumpling.
Stiles's heart twisted - at the tears springing to her eyes, and the way she knew, even in the height of a child's existential despair, to lower her voice when talking about that aspect of their lives. “You want Daddy now?” he asked, trying to identify the cause of the incoming storm before it turned into a nonverbal tempest.
She’d inherited Stiles’s temper, Derek’s habit of pulling in on himself and shutting down communication to shield his emotions, and both of their stubbornness. It was, he felt sure, destined to be an unstoppable, incandescent combination when Talia was older. She was still, in his entirely objective opinion, the world’s best child - clever, funny, creative, the light of their lives in so many ways - but she could also be a proper hellion in her worst moments. He’d assumed having a kid would, somehow, turn him into a wise, mind-reading expert in all categories of life, but all it’d done was make him buy a bottle of the most expensive whiskey he could find, and apologize to his dad for the trouble he’d caused over the past thirty years.
“No,” she said, scrubbing at her eyes with clenched fists, then pointing at a display above her head, closer to Stiles’s eyeline. “I want Daddy to be the wolf.”
The display was exactly the kind of thing Derek would hate. In a place of honor with the ubiquitous Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster, there was a slightly grotesque illustration of a wolf-like creature howling at a moon, red-splattered foam dripping from its toothy jaws. Stiles grimaced but plucked the Wolfman package from the shelf. He could only imagine the look Derek would give him if he brought that furry monstrosity home and asked him to wear it. He’d do it, of course, if that’s what Talia had her heart set on. He was the worst of all of them, even Stiles’s dad, at not giving in to their tangle-curled girl’s pleading eyes. But asking him to play the fairy tale villain, as a bastardized version of himself? Stiles wasn’t sure he could bring himself to do that.
“How about if I wear it, babygirl?” he asked, crouching down and holding it up to his face. He waggled his eyebrows at her invitingly, then growled and made a claw with his free hand to demonstrate his commitment to the character.
“No,” she said again, shoving the package away and jabbing an imperious finger several inches to the left of the Classic Monsters shelf, her tone indicating that Stiles was being unreasonably dense.
He discarded the Wolfman set, feeling relieved, and looked more carefully this time. “Oh,” he said, pulling down a set that was offensively marked as Old Maid, and swallowing a laugh. “This one?”
Talia’s bunny teeth were on display now - the one feature Stiles had secretly hoped she’d inherit, and Derek had not-so-secretly despaired over. He’d agreed, before long, that her teeth were adorable and perfect, but he steadily refused to admit the same about his own. Stiles was still working on it, and felt that he’d made significant progress in finding ways to make Derek too happy to remember to close his lips over his beautiful smile.
“Red Riding Hood’s visiting Grandmother Wolf,” she explained, content now that her clueless father had finally picked up the proper thread of the story. “I can’t go trick-or-treating without Daddy.”
“Okay, we’ll ask him,” he said, sliding the kit next to the other items in their cart. “But what about me, babycakes? Don’t you want me to come along, too?”
She frowned in thought and gave him an appraising look. “You can be the neighbor who chops wood for Grandma Wolf,” she offered after a moment. “Since you take care of Daddy.”
Not for the first time, Stiles pushed down his regret over not following his little girl around with a camera for every minute of her life. Cora had literally growled at him when he’d tried to slip a camera into the hospital room, but he’d distracted the doctor and nurses from noticing anything unusual by promptly turning green, then white, and being caught by Derek before he slumped to the floor. It wasn’t that he had a weak stomach, he’d protested when he was able to speak without retching; it was just that childbirth was the most horrible, frightening thing he’d ever seen in his life, and when you’d grown up in Beacon Hills, that was saying a hell of a lot. Lydia had sighed and pushed them both out of the room, promising to bring their healthy baby to them once everyone had calmed down and let her wife deliver their bundle of joy in peace.
“Don’t say it,” he’d grumbled at Derek, who’d fled willingly, having never wanted to see his sister in that state to begin with. The first photos in the Talia Albums were, instead, of a carefully swaddled baby girl in Cora’s arms, then Derek’s, before Stiles handed off the camera to his dad and wrapped himself around his new family.
“They don’t have a costume for you,” Talia said, still frowning, standing on her tiptoes to scope out the upper shelves. “You can make one,” she decided, then lifted her arms so he could put her in the cart, wheel them to the checkstand, and presumably drive them home and get started on that work right away.
“Alright,” he told her, obligingly picking her up and squeezing her into a tight hug, smacking kisses onto her face until she squealed with laughter and kicked him in the ribs.
Derek had opted to work late. Stiles had given him a penetrating look when he'd told him he wouldn't be able to make their shopping trip, indicating he suspected Derek of fabricating excuses to avoid the holiday crowds and the aisles thick with monster makeup and shrieking children (and, worse, teenagers, and parents bitterly scrambling through disorganized shelves for the last cheaply packaged costume sets). Stiles was right, as usual, but only in part. Derek didn't hate Halloween. He liked handing out candy, and had fond, if bittersweet, memories of popping out of the bushes by their front porch and frightening their classmates, who would've been terrified in a less cheerful way if he and Laura had flashed their fangs on an ordinary day.
He didn't love it the way Stiles did, though. Handing off the costume- and candy-selection was an easy enough choice, and he’d told the truth about needing to close up the library for Mrs. Henderson. She’d been growing increasingly frazzled over the last week, her stress streaking all the way into her grey hair, which had started popping free of its complex network of hair ties and clips in frizzy bursts. Derek had learned, early on, that he didn’t need werewolf senses to track her anxiety levels. On Monday, her usually immaculate skirt-and-sweater combo was mismatched and rumpled, as though she’d plucked the first items she saw out of a laundry pile. By Thursday, she had streaks of flour in her hair and had told him the same story about her grandson three times, in a loop, as though she wasn’t even listening to herself.
Mrs. Henderson helmed the baked goods component of her church’s harvest festival; Derek was pretty certain that she did at least 80% of the baking herself, judging from the heaping plates of cookies she’d periodically asked him to ferry to the police station since they’d started sharing circulation desk duties. The time he’d carried in a bowl of homemade donuts, Stiles had laughed until Derek was a little worried he’d forgotten how to breathe. He’d then eaten three of them in a rush, distributed the rest across the other deputies’ desks, and shoved the bowl into a drawer before his dad could emerge from his office and find the evidence. Derek had kissed the powdered sugar off his nose and retreated to the library to let Mrs. Henderson know her gifts had been properly appreciated.
This year, she’d been baking pies, judging from the heavy scents of pumpkin and assorted spices clinging to her skin, and the candied pecans that had fallen out of her bag when she’d rummaged through it for her keys on Wednesday morning. She’d also been actively trying to talk Derek into bringing Stiles and Talia to the harvest festival.
He’d floated the idea past Stiles before Mrs. Henderson had a chance to corner him and witness the full-body eyeroll for herself.
“Talia loves trick-or-treating,” he explained again, leaving out the part where he was convinced it was Stiles who would shed actual tears if he didn’t get to tromp around their neighborhood in an over-the-top costume and peer inside all the houses in a six-block radius.
Mrs. Henderson sighed, disappointed but too worn out to crack his resolve. “There’s candy at the festival,” she reminded him in a last-ditch effort. She absently patted at her pockets to make sure she wasn’t leaving without something important, not noticing her phone sitting on the desk until he handed it to her. She thanked him and added, “All kinds of games, and other children to play with. Did you tell Stiles about the costume contests?”
He nodded, coughing to cover his smile, and held the door for her. He waved as she buckled herself into her battered station wagon and pulled carefully into the quiet street. Stiles had a weirdly antagonistic relationship with most older women, which amused Derek to no end. Mrs. Henderson was prepared to adore him, but she left most of their interactions looking confused and off-balance, as though she’d been swept through the path of a tornado and deposited neatly on her own doorstep, teetering in place but more or less intact.
“I don’t mean to,” Stiles had complained more than once, glaring at Derek in the parking lot as he snorted with laughter at the terrified expression on their elderly pharmacist’s face.
“You don’t have to counter a simple question with an interrogation,” he’d responded, linking their hands together and stroking at Stiles’s tense fingers until the harsh lines of his shoulders loosened.
The other deputies pulled Stiles into cases when they had a particularly recalcitrant suspect camped out in the interrogation room. As intensely clever as he was, he hadn’t quite caught on to their reasons yet, but he played his part. More than one hardbitten suspect had cried, Parrish had marveled during the last barbeque at the Sheriff’s house. It wasn’t even anything he did or said, exactly - but when Stiles focused on a problem, he wouldn’t rest until he’d untangled every last frayed thread. It’d heavily tipped the balance of their solved case files, and it proved to be an effective, if unintentional, intimidation technique.
Still smiling, openly now that Mrs. Henderson was safely on her way, Derek flipped his phone over to check for new messages. Stiles had been unusually quiet, but that wasn’t entirely unexpected. He’d been vibrating with excitement the last time they’d spoken, not even trying to hold back his enthusiasm over finalizing their holiday plans. Their porch was already housing seven or eight oversized pumpkins, and Stiles had been keeping Derek awake with the steady glow of his iPad as he scrolled through intricate carving designs that wouldn’t look anything like the photos once he and Talia were done mangling the pumpkins.
He didn’t love Halloween, but he loved Stiles more than he could ever manage to express. If this was what made him happy, he’d gladly pick up another half-dozen pumpkins and a shrieking skeleton on the way home.
Not that he was planning to do that, after he’d managed to escape from errand-duties for the day. But, you know, if Stiles asked.
Dusk settled over the library, and Derek flicked on a few extra lights for the scattered readers who’d taken over the cushioned chairs in the back corners. Circulation had spiked when Derek transitioned from restocking shelves and mending books to manning the front desk, but it’d mostly returned to normal levels after a few months: crowded for events like author readings and story hours, with the regulars filtering in and out the rest of the time.
Stiles had done obscene things with his mouth and eyebrows when he’d heard the news - obscene to Derek, anyway. Mrs. Henderson had paused in her recitation of the numbers to give him a worried look and ask if he needed a cup of water, which made him shift abruptly to his equally attractive offended face. It was one of Derek’s favorites, and he couldn’t help prodding every now and then, to make sure he hadn’t lost his touch and could still get a rise out of Stiles. He suspected that was at least half of Stiles’s reason for teasing him, in turn.
Derek wasn’t oblivious; he’d learned, over the years, how to tune out the stench of incidental arousal, but it was difficult to avoid in its entirety. He was aware that the men and women who trailed into the library three times a week to lean over the desk and ask him to pull down books from the higher shelves probably weren’t building up a reading list. He didn’t mind it, too much. It was something that’d been a part of his life basically since he’d hit puberty. But when he’d said that to Stiles, a couple of months into his new role, Stiles’s mouth had gone tight. He’d shown up in uniform the next afternoon, lounging threateningly by the new arrivals shelf and glaring at anyone who paid more attention to Derek than to the randomly selected books he’d have to reshelf a couple days later.
He’d actually made Alice Grantham squeak and drop her stack, but at least he’d looked sheepish about it and bent down to help pick them up, providing a whole new distraction that pulled attention away from Derek. He’d preened about his success for longer than was strictly warranted, but somehow failed to notice the rash of citizens who subsequently piled into the station to pay their parking fines.
Beacon Hills wasn’t a big town. Supernatural disasters aside, there weren’t a lot of major events to obsess over, and the librarian-deputy combo had drawn an inordinate amount of attention when they’d moved back, a decade older, and more settled into their skin. Their wedding had been well-attended - more so than the actual guest list had accounted for, and Derek was glad he hadn’t shelled out for an open bar. Talia’s birth had very nearly made it onto the local theater’s marquee, but Stiles had caught that one in time. They'd settled for swimming in an abundance of adorably frilly outfits that their pampered little girl outgrew before she had a chance to wear most of them.
Maybe that was the source of her obsession with elaborate costumes. Stiles was the easiest to blame, of course, the most likely culprit, who both invited and embraced the accusations. But she’d been playing various levels of dress-up since birth, and now that the donations were finally running thin, she’d begun branching out into other areas.
He checked the clock again - ten minutes until closing. Enough time to start shutting down the computers and shooing people towards the doors so he could lock up on schedule. The two of them were a lethal combination, and he was eager to see what they'd come up with this year.
Their house was a vibrant mass of light and sound when he pulled up in the driveway, and he shook his head fondly. He’d initially sighed over the electrical bill, but it wasn’t like he didn’t have the money to spare. And once he’d realized why Stiles turned on every light in every room as soon as he got home, he shut his mouth about it.
It wasn't a fear of the dark. Not in so many words, at least. Stiles hadn't struggled with it much in Chicago, and the nightmares had faded by the time they'd made a tour of Europe and decided to settle in Boston while Lydia finished out her PhD and Derek picked up his Master's.
Beacon Hills hadn't been their first choice. When Stiles had tracked Derek down, they'd agreed leaving that wasteland behind had given both of them a fresh outlook on life. Derek had certainly never planned to go back, not once the only reason he would've had for it had come to him instead. But it'd made sense, in the end, especially as they’d started to seriously consider adding kids to the equation.
Beacon Hills had Stiles's dad, and Scott, who'd stayed to watch over the slumbering nemeton. Derek didn't mind rejoining Stiles's family, since Cora was willing to hop on a plane at a moment's notice to visit him. And it wasn't as though she and Lydia had any intention of putting down roots in one place: as soon as Talia had been born, they'd trotted off to another corner of the globe so Lydia could study with the latest set of brilliant mathematicians.
Maybe they'd visit for Christmas this year, he thought, beeping the SUV's locks so Talia could give Stiles a heads up that he'd arrived. He didn't like being startled, even by Derek. Beacon Hills was different this time around - cleaner, safer, a place Derek was glad to call home again - but there were still dark memories lurking in corners. It made Stiles jumpy, sometimes, even if he hid it under layers of bravado.
Sure enough, when he opened the front door, Talia was waiting on the other side, ready to fling herself onto his shins and scramble up his legs.
"It puts a new definition on climbing you like a tree," Stiles said dryly. Derek wrapped an arm around Talia as she dug her sharp little toes into his hip, and used the other to draw Stiles to him.
He smiled into the kiss, and Stiles nipped at his lip, accompanying it with a muttered, "We missed you."
Derek hummed into his mouth in response, only drawing away with great reluctance when Talia's rib-battering heels kicked up a tempo that was too hard to ignore. He turned to her and nuzzled into her hair, closing his eyes and focusing on her warm, grounding weight. He'd never thought he could have this - never even tried to imagine it, in more than vague daydreaming at the horizons of his life.
Talia tightened her skinny arms around his neck, hugging him with all the strength she'd had to be taught to hold back with anyone other than him, Aunt Cora, and Uncle Scott.
"We bought you a costume," she announced, bursting with enthusiasm and untold stories.
“Talia,” Stiles warned. There was an exasperated thread in his voice that indicated they’d had this conversation many times over the course of the evening. “We talked about this - Daddy and I are going to discuss it before we make a final decision, okay?”
“Ugh,” she said, in a tone drawn directly from Stiles’s repertoire, but smacked a kiss on Derek’s ear and wiggled so he’d know to let her drop to the floor. She scurried back around the corner to the dining room, where the radio was warbling about heartbreak.
“Costume?” Stiles wrinkled his nose instead of answering, and Derek sighed. “How bad is it?”
“It’s not bad. I’m just not sure if you’ll like the idea. She has her heart set on it, but I told her we have the final votes. She’ll be fine if you don’t want to.”
“You’re not selling this very well,” he said. “Maybe you should’ve let Talia finish her pitch.”
“There’s no point. If we’d done that, you would’ve said yes immediately. C’mon, let’s talk about it in the kitchen; I don’t want the soup to burn.”
Derek sniffed the air, less subtly than he’d meant to, and Stiles’s lips curved in amusement.
“Yes, it’s pumpkin. Talia wanted to try it.”
“Mmm,” Derek said, following him into the kitchen. “I’m sure she did.” He’d used the same excuse for the pumpkin bread mix, the pumpkin ice cream, and the pumpkin ravioli, but when he’d sheepishly brought home three varieties of pumpkin beer, he hadn’t said anything at all. Derek fished two out of the fridge while Stiles was busy stirring the soup, and used his claws to pop the tops off.
Stiles gratefully took his and drained half of it in one long gulp. “I’m making grilled cheese, too,” he said, setting the bottle down on the counter. “You want one or two?”
“One’s fine. You want me to do it?”
“Nah, I’ve got it under control.” He sang absently along with the music while slapping cheese between thick slabs of sourdough bread, hissing when he touched the edge of the hot skillet.
Derek casually trailed his fingers along Stiles’s bare elbow, just below the rolled up cuffs of his flannel sleeves, which still hadn’t entirely escaped from the inevitable splatter that resulted from any combination of Stiles plus stove. He tugged out the faint lines of pain, inconspicuously checking to be sure there wasn’t a deeper issue that might require the first aid kit. Stiles shot a half-hearted glare over his shoulder, but they’d stopped arguing about Derek’s human-ailments paranoia years ago. They’d both been relieved when Talia shifted for the first time: being a wolf in a human-dominated world came with its own sets of problems, but it crossed out a host of other worries.
Derek leaned against the counter and sipped at his beer, letting the comforting scents and sounds of home wash over him. He got caught up in watching the ripple of muscles in Stiles's forearms and nearly missed him starting the conversation back up.
"She picked out a little red riding hood costume," he said, scooping up a dripping spoonful of thick orange soup and holding it out for Derek to taste.
He opened his mouth, used to their routine. Stiles dipped the spoon back into the simmering pot once he’d made enough approving noises to satisfy him. "For me, or for herself?"
Stiles paused while licking the spoon clean and thought about it. He shook himself, and Derek could almost see the whirring gears in his head as he filed that one away for later contemplation.
"Herself. I think they've been reading fairy tales in school. She found a pretty adorable little red cape, so at least we won't have to try to sew it this year."
"So what'm I going as?" he asked, then frowned as the realization clicked in.
“Actually, no,” Stiles said, pointing at him with the spoon, resulting in a splash of orange strands across Derek’s clean shirt. “Sorry. But yeah, that’s what I thought at first, too. Turns out she’s been adapting the fairy tales to make more sense with what she knows of the world. I’m thinking of writing some of them down, and getting her to illustrate them so we can turn them into actual bedtime stories.”
For their next one, Derek thought, and couldn’t help smiling at the thought. They were considering adoption this time; as an Alpha traveling the world, Cora had been forming a far-reaching network with other packs, and she’d promised to put out feelers about werewolf babies who might be in need of a home. They hadn’t had any solid bites yet, but they were willing to wait for the right one; Talia was still young, after all. “So what’s her version? Is she little wolf riding hood?”
“I think so, actually! And you’re the lucky man who gets to play her grandmother.” Stiles grinned at him. “Now there’s the face I was expecting. It gets better, though - she’s absolutely set on you being in your wolf form. We’ve got a ridiculous set of horn-rimmed glasses, a fluffy robe, and what kinda looks like a shower cap. I’ve had to stop her three times from cutting ear holes in it, because I told her we might need to return it. Whaddya think - are you okay with the idea?”
“I don’t know,” he said, furrowing his brow as he considered it. “We always go to the same houses - won’t people wonder where we suddenly found a wolf, when it disappears right after Halloween?”
He shrugged and plucked a slightly scorched sandwich out of the skillet, shaking his burnt fingers and flipping the next one in. “If that’s your only worry, I’ve got that covered. I’ll say we rented it or something.”
“You don’t rent wolves,” he started, and Stiles interrupted him with a dismissive hand wave.
“Borrowed him from an out of town friend, then. Really, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. I was worried you’d think it was beneath your dignity or something, babe.”
He traced a finger along the beads of condensation on the outside of his bottle. “No, I don’t mind. Not if it’s what she wants. You’re coming too, right? She’d obviously be safe with me, but we can’t exactly explain that we’re not sending her around the neighborhood by herself.”
“With some convincing, yes, I will also be a part of this fairy tale,” Stiles said. He had his face turned away, his attention fixed on assembling their plates and bowls. “Do you mind checking to see if she’s made a complete mess of the table? This is just about ready.”
“Sure,” he said, but stopped by the stove to brush a kiss against his suddenly tense jawline. The strained lines around Stiles’s eyes softened, and he leaned into it before using his nose to nudge Derek away from him and towards the dining room. Derek kissed the endearing slope of his nose, for good measure, and laughed when Stiles retaliated by slapping his ass.
Talia had, true to form, spread the day’s Halloween purchases across the table in a mass of cheap fabric and gaudy accessories. As far as he could tell, she’d refrained from taking her safety scissors to any of them, but hadn’t otherwise seemed to absorb the concept of keeping the items in a returnable form. She perked up when he entered the room and impatiently gestured for him to come see the drawing she’d been diligently working on.
“This is you, Daddy,” she explained, pointing to a big-eared black blotch on the paper, adorned with red glasses and a purple hat and coat. “And this is me.” The stick figure next to the wolf was grinning widely, wrapped in a red cloak.
“That’s beautiful, sweetheart,” he said. “Is that what I’m going to be wearing?”
She dropped her crayons in excitement and stood on her chair so she could reach across the table to grab for the pieces of his costume. “Yes! You’ve gotta try it on.”
“Let’s wait ‘til after dinner, honey. Help me clear the table so we can eat.” He gathered up as much as he could and carried it over to the couch, dumping it onto the cushions to worry about later. Talia followed, dropping a pair of shiny red shoes onto the pile and carefully setting her drawing and crayons on the coffee table. She then dashed into the kitchen to get under Stiles’s feet and assist with plate-carrying duties; it was her favorite chore, because she could sneak bits of food while showing off her strength.
Derek ruffled her dark hair as she walked by him a moment later, her tongue caught between her teeth, concentrating on balancing a towering pile of sandwiches.
“Go wash your hands!” Stiles called after her, following with a precarious stack of soup bowls.
She sighed huffily but set the plate down and trailed to the bathroom to splash her hands under the faucet, most likely not bothering with the soap.
“What’s she saying?” Stiles asked. Derek rescued the bowls from him and distributed them around the table.
“That wolves don’t get germs.” He tilted his head to listen more carefully. “And that she wants new towels for Christmas? That’s different.”
Stiles turned the radio down and flopped into his chair, nudging his knee against Derek’s as he settled in next to him. “They had a whole menagerie of kids’ towels at the store. Alligators, lions, all kinds of adorable stuff. I told her that ours were in perfectly good condition, so we should probably make sure she doesn’t start accidentally snagging her claws in them.”
“We can tell your dad. He’d love to buy out that whole section for her; he was running low on ideas for her birthday this year.”
“If she doesn’t change her mind by then. Who knows what she’ll be into a couple months from now.”
“True,” he said, handing Stiles a stack of napkins. “I think I forgot to tell you that I caught her cutting her ponies’ hair into mohawks last week. She thought it made them cooler, but then she cried when I explained toys’ hair doesn’t grow back.”
“Oh god,” he groaned. “That means her hair’s probably next. We should start thinking of some short hairstyles that’ll look cute on her.” Derek opened his mouth, and Stiles knocked their shoulders together, looking amused. “Yes, I know everything will look cute on her. I just mean we’ve gotta be prepared for the worst.”
The water turned off, and Talia skipped back into the room, shoving a triangle-cut section of grilled cheese into her mouth before she was fully into her chair, and talking through the mouthful.
Derek noticed after a while that Stiles had gone squinty eyed and silent, which either meant he was working through a difficult problem, or that something he didn't want to talk about was bothering him. He watched him through dinner, one ear on his husband, and the other focused on Talia's prattle, as she explained, in great detail, everything she'd done since Derek had braided her hair, wiped toast crumbs off her face as she tried to wiggle free, and dropped her off at school in the morning.
He didn’t bring it up until after he’d washed the dishes, went through an only mildly uncomfortable test run of the Grandmother Wolf outfit, and tucked a reluctantly yawning Talia into bed. Stiles had participated in all of the activities, but without being quite at his usual level of interest. He waited until they’d changed into their pajamas - coordinating Nightmare Before Christmas patterns, of course, which was more embarrassing than the actual Halloween costume - and were brushing their teeth side by side in the master bathroom.
Stiles passed him the toothpaste, and Derek squeezed a blob onto his toothbrush.
“Did everything go okay today?” he asked, watching Stiles’s eyes in the mirror. “You’ve been quiet.”
Stiles snorted and violently scrubbed at his teeth for a bit. He spat into the sink and said, “Sorry, it’s just that sixteen year old me would’ve placed good money on never hearing you say something like that.”
“We were strangers then,” Derek said, as though that explained it all. He understood what Stiles meant, though; that odd disconnect of their tumultuous past hit him sometimes, and he had to pinch himself with clawed fingers to be sure he wasn’t dreaming his way through some imaginary landscape that was too good to be true.
“Stranger danger,” Stiles mused. He rinsed his toothbrush and set it in the Batman cup on the counter, then held out his hand and did the same with Derek’s after watching him brush his human teeth, then shift to do the same with his fangs. “Is she awake?”
He checked for her steady heartbeat and soft, even breaths and shook his head.
Stiles flipped off the lightswitch and tugged him towards their bed, rearranging them until their legs were sufficiently tangled together. He brushed a thumb over Derek’s eyebrows, sighed a minty fresh gust into his face, and slid his hand under the back of Derek’s shirt. He waited, patiently, for Stiles to work his way into talking about what was bugging him.
“It’s stupid,” he finally said. “I don’t even want to tell you, because I don’t want you to think I’m begrudging you anything, but I-” He trailed off.
“It bothers you that you’re not her trick-or-treating buddy,” he said, picking up on what Stiles wasn’t fully voicing.
“It shouldn’t.” He stroked over the tattoo on Derek’s back, a habitual soothing gesture. “It’s going to be so fucking adorable, and it makes sense that you’d be the wolf. Obviously. I mean, I physically can’t do that.”
“But Halloween’s your holiday.”
“Yeah.” He swallowed thickly and blinked back a hint of wetness gathering around his eyes. “It’s not just that, though. It’s that - I don’t know, I guess I thought it was the one area where she’d lean on me more. Where she’d still need me, because all of this has always been our thing. I don’t - I don’t know what else I’m supposed to offer.”
Derek scowled at him. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
It startled a laugh out of him, which was what he’d been aiming for. “I know, right? But I can’t help it. You’ve got this whole bond that I can’t ever touch, and I love it, I do. I’m so glad she’s got you as a wolfy role model.” He pushed his face against Derek’s shoulder, his voice muffled by the fabric. “I don’t know what my role is.”
“You’re her dad,” he said, rubbing his fingers along Stiles’s hairline, in the pattern he knew never failed to make him relax into a boneless mass. “She needs you, every day. We both need you. Everything would fall apart if you weren’t with us.”
Stiles grunted in response, and he rolled his eyes in frustration, knowing that Stiles would probably still be able to sense it, even with his face buried.
“Listen. I may be able to teach her how to control her shift, but who figured out that weird fear she’d developed of birds?”
“I did,” he muttered.
“And remember last month, when I had to call you when you were on shift, because she’d been crying inconsolably for over an hour?”
“And I had to ask you how you make mac and cheese, because I was apparently doing everything wrong. She threw the bowl on the floor and collapsed next to it like I was killing her.”
“You make it the fancy way,” he said, his mouth wet on Derek’s shoulder, but curving back into a smile. “You’re supposed to use the box. And an extra cheese packet.”
“That’s my point,” he said, nuzzling into Stiles’s unruly hair. “She needs you. She needs both of us. You’re not an extra limb of our family - we wouldn’t be a family without you.”
“You’re my fucking favorite person in the world, you know that?” Stiles said, pulling back just enough to shove his mouth against Derek’s.
“Mmm,” Derek replied, sucking on his tongue for a long, toe-curling stretch of time, then biting gently at his jaw. “I dunno. Maybe you oughta show me.” He laughed as Stiles predictably picked up the challenge, flipping them and looking down at Derek with a smoldering promise in his eyes.
They’d resume the conversation another time, he was sure; those kinds of worries, unfounded as they may be, didn’t dissipate overnight. But for now, at least, the anxiety was seeping out of Stiles’s scent, overpowered by a familiar combination that made Derek’s cock twitch in those damn patchwork pajama bottoms. And he’d do his damndest to make sure that creeping self-doubt stayed firmly at bay, as Stiles did for him, in turn. It was a partnership, after all, and their “worst” far outshone anyone else’s “better.”
Stiles groaned into Derek’s skin and began peeling him out of the rapidly overheating tangle of clothes and sheets.
“Did we remember to lock the door?”
“Fuck,” he breathed, struggling out of his shirt. “I don’t remember. And I’m not getting out of this fucking bed right now. Just - try to be quiet.”
“Make me,” he said, revelling at the extra sharp, cinnamony tang that sent through Stiles’s scent.
“Smile!” Stiles ordered, clicking the camera app on his phone a few more times. He frowned at the display and tried again. “Both of you. That means you, too, Derek.”
Talia stretched her cheeks out, grinning madly, and Derek bared his sharp fangs, his ears flattening under the crinkly purple cap. Stiles glared at him. Derek snorted an impatient breath through his nose, the glasses sliding a little on his snout, but he pricked his ears back to an alert position.
“Can we goooo?” Talia asked, dancing a little in place and shaking her empty basket as though imagining it weighted down with candy at the end of the night.
“Just one more - okay, now we’re good.” He stuck the phone in the chest pocket of his lumberjack-worthy red flannel shirt and slapped at his jeans. “Keys,” he said, “camera, what else do I need.”
Derek let out a short growl, and Talia translated. “Your axe, Papa.”
“Oh, right.” He retrieved the cardboard and foil contraption from the coat rack, where he’d deposited it earlier and promptly forgotten about it. He rested it against his shoulder. “How do I look?”
Derek growled approvingly, and Talia beamed at him. “Perfect. Now can we go?”
“Patience is a virtue, my little red wolfling. But yes, we’re ready. Now remember - Daddy’s an actual wolf today, okay?”
“Don’t call him Daddy in public,” she parroted, rolling her eyes when she thought he wasn’t looking.
“And don’t lose me.” He was pretty sure the thick boots he’d bought to go with the outfit were going to leave him with a nasty set of blisters, but he’d double-layered his socks as a preventative measure, so he wouldn’t be limping a few blocks in.
“I know, Papa.” She pushed at the locks and dragged the heavy door open, stepping back to let Derek go through first.
He rose awkwardly to his feet, his shoulders twitching under the bright purple robe that they’d restitched to fit around his body. He’d complained, when Talia was out of earshot, that it itched and the velcro pulled at his fur, but he was doing his best to keep his wolfy eyebrows from dipping into the glower Stiles had already captured on camera.
Stiles flicked on the porch light and locked up, meeting his odd little family at the end of the driveway. Even in his wolf form, Derek towered over their daughter, and he felt a sudden jolt of concern over agreeing to go along with this theme. He hadn’t told Derek that he’d planned to tell anyone who asked that he was a dog - lying about friends who ran a wolf preserve was all well and good, but not particularly reassuring to someone who saw an oversized wolf strolling around without a leash or muzzle in sight. Derek would be offended, of course, but soothing his hurt feelings would be more enjoyable than dealing with any backlash from animal services showing up to ruin Halloween.
He rubbed at the tips of Derek’s soft ears, and they set off down the street, Talia skipping along the sidewalk and swinging her basket. The fingers of her other hand were tangled in the thick fur at the scruff of Derek’s neck. He swept into the smooth lope that also wouldn’t fool anyone into thinking he was a domesticated animal, easily keeping pace with both of them. He was gorgeous, Stiles mused, even with that ridiculous swath of felt covering up most of his sleek body.
He didn’t shift that often; Stiles didn’t ask, but he’d gathered it was another area where nostalgia mingled with grief. It wasn’t something he was able to share with anyone still living. Neither Cora nor Scott had progressed past the usual shift: it was rare enough, Cora had said, that three members of their family had managed it, and the Hales were basically werewolf royalty (Stiles’s words, not theirs). Peter, roaring with power and determination, had come close, but his hulking form had twisted to match his revenge-soaked heart. Derek had admitted, in one of those late-night conversations that they didn’t revisit in the light of day, that he’d been holding back in his earlier attempts, fearing that he’d have a similar result. Instead, he looked almost exactly like his mother, which came with its own heartache.
Stiles had asked Cora once if it bothered her that she couldn’t turn into an actual wolf, and she’d shaken her head and looked a little like she’d wanted to punch him for asking. It meant more to Derek. She’d never actually seen Laura’s fullwolf shift; Laura had only channeled it a year before her death, while Cora was still sheltering with distant relatives in South America. She did tell him that emotions ran closer to the surface in that form. The way it’d been described to her, it was a bit like getting drunk - the freedom from inhibitions, without the blurring of your senses. Maybe that was part of it, too. Derek had softened a lot over the years, but he only truly unbent around Stiles, Talia, and his sister. The rest of the time, even with people like Mrs. Henderson, who was desperately in love with Derek in that harmless, non-romantic way of most of the town’s older population, Derek kept a tight guard around himself. He flinched, still, when anyone got too close. It was a nearly imperceptible thing, but Stiles noticed, of course.
He hovered on the sidewalk as Talia hurried up to the first house, tugging Derek with her. Derek sat as she rang the doorbell, delicately crossing his front paws and trying to look less intimidating, but Stiles saw the woman who opened the door jump, clutch at her chest, then laugh shakily and deposit a couple extra mini chocolate bars into Talia’s basket.
Talia bounced back down the driveway to Stiles, looking immensely pleased with herself and her haul. Derek’s ears had flattened again.
“I told her his name was Bunny,” she explained, and Stiles bit his lip, hard. They hadn’t thought to come up with an alternate name in advance, and Derek’s stormy expression showed exactly how he felt about that. “Then she wasn’t afraid of him anymore. Look, she gave me five kit kats.” She generously held one out to him to reward him for waiting, and he unwrapped the chocolate, slipping half to Derek, who used a little too much teeth to pluck it from his fingers, but swiped an immediate apologetic tongue over his hand.
“I love you, too, babe,” he said, and Talia frowned at him.
“Not in public, Papa,” she reminded him.
“Right,” he said. “I love you, babywolf, and you, too, Bunny.”
Derek gave a low rumble and fitted his huge jaws gently around Stiles’s calf, just long enough to remind him to not be an ass. His point made, he trotted, fringed tail waving behind him, after his daughter, who was already knocking insistently on the next door.
As the night wore on, Stiles’s feet were uncomfortably warm inside his extra wool socks, but not as painful as he’d expected; Talia’s overflowing basket had been dumped several times into the bag he’d brought along for that purpose; and Derek was looking a little ragged around the edges. It was like a switch had been flipped after the first block. As night descended over the city, families had flocked to the streets in rapidly growing numbers, and they’d been caught in a crowd for the rest of their tour. It hadn’t taken long for the first sticky-fingered child to ask if Derek - sorry, Bunny - was friendly, and he’d had to tread a delicate balance between assuring their parents that the giant black wolf wasn’t dangerous and asking them to stop petting his husband.
“You doing okay?” he asked him halfway through the evening, and Derek shoved his big head against his hip and sighed gustily. Stiles straightened his Grandmother Wolf cap and scratched behind his ears. “Should I start telling them you bite?”
“I bite,” Talia informed them both, wrapping a protective arm around Derek’s neck. From that point on, the crowds stayed at a safer distance, more cowed by her fierce, not quite red-tinted glare than by her wolf’s sharp teeth.
The end-of-night spoils were excessively abundant, and Stiles gave up on attempting to sort them after filling two mixing bowls to the brim. He dropped the bag with its remaining loot on a dining room chair and chased a giggle-shrieking Talia into the bathroom before she could try to go to bed with a liberally chocolate-smeared face. Once she was scrubbed clean and wearing her footie pajamas, tucked in and snoring, completely worn out by the evening’s excitement, he went in search of Derek.
He found him curled up on the couch in a tired-looking ball of fur. He’d managed to paw off the glasses and cap, but Stiles scratched under his chin and pushed him to roll over onto his back so he could free him from his velcro prison. He tossed the fabric into the corner and watched Derek stretching in relief, rubbing his shoulders into the couch and wiggling his legs in the air. Stiles rubbed at the fur on his chest, and Derek rumbled in pleasure, wrapping a big paw around his arm to guide him to scratch along the itchy line where the velcro had pulled at his fur.
Stiles felt a fond smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. This was, by far, the longest stretch of time he’d spent with Derek in his wolf form, and he wanted to make the most of it. The only drawback was that Derek couldn’t talk, but everything else about him was the same, down to the way his eyebrows telegraphed his feelings.
“You’re beautiful like this,” he told him, and Derek rolled his eyes expressively, with that too-familiar shadow of embarrassment that always threatened to drop over him whenever Stiles tried to shower him with compliments. “No, I mean it. I wish you felt comfortable doing this more often. It’s you, you know? Just like your regular shift.” He wrapped a hand around Derek’s muzzle, and he snapped playfully at it, catching it in his teeth with a satisfied look on his face. “Yeah, yeah, you’re the big bad wolf, I get it.”
Derek growled in response, thumping his tail against the couch, and Stiles’s brain went with it, as both of them should’ve expected. He’d been the one, after all, who’d finally convinced Derek to stop holding back the shift when they had sex. “It’s you,” he’d said then, too, cupping an affectionate hand around Derek’s shifted, eyebrowless face, firmly pushing the truth past the raw, vulnerable look in his eyes. “And I love everything about you. Everything, Derek.”
“No exceptions,” he said again now, and Derek released his hand, searching his face with a piercingly intelligent gaze. He growled again, testing him, and Stiles grinned. “Speaking of big bad wolves,” he said, checking for Derek’s slight nod. He rose to his feet and took a couple steps back, keeping his eyes on Derek, whose muscles had coiled in preparation for a pounce. He reached behind him, grabbed the flimsy axe, and raised it, winking at him and lunging forward.
Derek had his feet under him and was over the back of the couch in a split second, his nails clicking in a rapid beat as he streaked around the corner, his tail waving in invitation. Stiles shot after him, only to jump back with a half-muffled shout when a huge black shape leaped at him from a shadowy patch near the doorway and knocked him sprawling. Derek braced his front paws on his chest and nosed at his face.
“I’m fine, you giant beast,” he said, and Derek’s mouth lolled open in a grin. He swiped his tongue across Stiles’s chin and leaped away again, Stiles following as quickly and silently as he could.
There were a few casualties in the ensuing battle, including Stiles’s cherished oogie boogie pumpkin and a garland of paper bats, which Derek got tangled in and had to be carefully extricated from. When they knocked over a lamp, shattering the bulb, they both froze in place, panting from the exertion and staring up at the stairs. Stiles looked to Derek, who shook his shaggy head after a moment, then snapped his jaws at him again and sprang towards the back of the house.
They ran, inevitably, up the stairs and into the bedroom, Stiles tackling Derek onto the bed. They wrestled for a bit, Derek’s teeth pinching but never breaking the skin, and Stiles finally pinned him.
“Got your heart,” he gloated, tapping the axe - worse for wear by now, the foil blade bent and dangling - on Derek’s chest. He was sweating under his heavy clothes, breathless but triumphant.
Derek’s body rippled under him, his bones shifting and the fur sinking back under his smooth, warm flesh. Stiles didn’t move away, fascinated by finally getting to feel the transformation under his hands. After a final creaking and a soft shimmer that sparked over his skin, he found himself straddling his fully human, entirely naked husband.
“Always,” Derek said, leaning up to kiss him.
He realized after a moment that he was still holding the axe, which had crumpled into an unrecognizable form between their bodies. He laughed, pushing his forehead against Derek’s and shoving the cardboard remnants off the edge of the bed. “I vote,” he said, in between kisses and a failed attempt to kick off his heavy shoes without moving out of Derek’s terribly inviting arms, “that we make this a new Halloween tradition.”
Derek made what sounded like a noise of agreement against his throat, as Stiles was attempting to free his arms from his thick overshirt.
“I mean,” he said, finally succeeding and collapsing back on top of Derek, who grunted from the impact, as though it would’ve made any dent in his ridiculously sculpted body, “You get why I love this holiday, right? It’s gotta be your favorite now, hands down.”
“Nah,” Derek said, smiling at him, open and unguarded, his well-mussed hair falling down over his forehead and his beautiful teeth in full view. “But you are.”