"That's a kid," Stiles said.
Derek growled. "It's a selkie."
"It's a selkie kid," Stiles pointed out, because really, they did not need to be arguing semantics right now. "Do selkies just go around leaving their kids sleeping in caves on the beach?"
Derek stood and wiped his hands off on his jeans. "No. They don't."
The way he said it made Stiles shudder. The only reason they were on the beach in the first place was because something supernatural had been attacking swimmers, and Scott had dragged the pack out here with instructions to split up and see if they could find any evidence of what it was. Stiles had gotten paired with Derek as usual, because Scott was a horrible friend who thought Stiles needed to "get over" his stupid crush and just ask Derek out already. They'd been following Derek's nose for the past twenty minutes.
Derek's nose was apparently leading them to a tiny brown two-year-old girl, curled up naked under a rocky outcropping, sound asleep and clutching her sealskin like a lifeline.
"You don't think she's the one attacking the swimmers, do you?" Stiles asked.
Derek gave him a flat look. "She's a selkie. She eats fish. She wouldn't be attacking humans."
Stiles hesitated for a minute, and then asked more seriously, "Do you think whatever's attacking the swimmers is the reason that she's hiding here all alone?"
Derek's brows twitched and his mouth pressed into a thin line. "I'm going to look around. See if I can find her mother. Stay here and watch her."
That was all the confirmation Stiles needed. He wanted to go with Derek, but he also chafed at the idea of leaving a defenseless two-year-old kid all by herself. He swallowed his other protestations and just said, "Be careful."
Derek nodded once, and climbed up over the rocks and headed on down the beach.
Stiles dropped to his butt next to the little opening, keeping one eye on his surroundings and one eye on the kid sleeping in the rocks. How long had she been there? What if whatever-it-was was still looking for her? What would happen if her mother wasn't around? Did selkies have pods, like seals? Would they have to take her home? He tried to imagine finding a foster family that would take a two-year-old who could turn into a seal, and shuddered at the nightmare that would be.
No. Surely the kid's mom was fine. Derek would find her. Stiles was sure of it.
The girl rubbed her face against the sand, and blinked open the bluest eyes Stiles had ever seen in his life. She regarded him sleepily.
Stiles smiled and wiggled his fingers in a wave. "Hi. I'm Stiles. What's your name?"
The girl's face crumpled, and she started to cry.
Oh shit. Stiles hadn't spent much time around crying kids and less time around crying selkies. "Oh, no, don't cry!" he said, as if that had ever helped in the history of adults trying to get kids to stop crying. "I'm a friend. I promise. Are you cold? Here." He shrugged off his red hoodie and held it out to her. "This'll help keep you warm."
He awkwardly tucked the hoodie around her as best he could when he was trying really hard not to seem scary and she was jammed back under the little outcropping as far as she would go.
The girl sniffled, looked at the hoodie, then looked back at Stiles. Then, she scrambled out from under the outcropping, hoodie, sealskin, and all, and plastered herself against his chest.
"Um," Stiles said, not entirely sure how this had happened. He rubbed her back. "There there. It's going to be okay. Don't worry. Derek's going to find your mom—or your pod, or your dad, you know. Whatever you have. Derek's a werewolf. That means he's a shifter like you. He doesn't have a skin, though. I mean, not one he can take off. He just has his regular skin. But he's really good at sniffing things out so he's going to totally find your parents."
As if on cue, Derek climbed back over the rocks to drop on the beach next to Stiles and raised an eyebrow.
"Don't ask," Stiles said. "Did you find anything?"
Derek's mouth twisted down, and he shook his head. "No sign of her mother or her pod." His gaze dropped to the girl now cuddled against Stiles's chest. "I think you've just adopted a baby selkie."
"Me?!" Stiles exclaimed. "Why me? How me?"
"Did you give her that hoodie?" Derek asked.
"Yes? Why? She was probably cold! Is that how I adopted her? By trying to be nice?!"
Derek sighed. "Selkies exchange skins in order to seal bonds and treaties and such. Their sealskin is important to them. By giving her yours, she probably saw it as you accepting her into your pod."
Stiles gaped down at the little girl, who stared back at him with big blue eyes. "But I don't have a pod! I have a pack! And an apartment that is definitely not baby-proof. How am I supposed to take care of her?"
Derek shrugged. "We can't put her into the system. You know that."
Stiles cursed and then slapped his hand over his mouth. "I know, but...what if she does have a pod out there, but they left because of whatever's been attacking the swimmers? I don't want to kidnap the kid and force her into a life on land that she doesn't want."
Derek frowned and dropped onto the beach beside him. "I thought of that. But...Stiles, I didn't smell anything. There's a good chance she's alone here. And if she was part of a pod, the pod's probably migrated for the winter."
Stiles rested his head against the rocks and sighed. "So they wouldn't be back for months."
"So we have to take her with us."
Derek nodded. "Yeah. We should."
Stiles looked back down at the girl, who had shoved three fingers into her mouth and was still studying him with her piercing blue eyes. His heart melted a little, even as he felt sudden fear at the idea of being responsible for a tiny human being, even if it was temporary.
"Okay," Stiles said. "I'll take her. But I'm going to need some help."
"I'll help," Derek said. "I helped raise some of my younger cousins."
He said it so casually, Stiles almost missed the flash of pain on his face. Sometimes, now that everything was calmer (for a relative value of "calm," anyway), now that Derek smiled more and didn't seem to have as much weight on his shoulders and the whole pack had a tendency to flop together on the couch for movie nights, it was easy to forget just how much he'd lost. How many of those little cousins had never grown up.
Stiles cleared his throat so that his voice wouldn't betray his thoughts. "I'd appreciate that, man. Thank you."
Derek just nodded once, and then stood and offered his hand to Stiles. "Come on. We need to tell Scott what we found."
Stiles grabbed Derek's sandy hand with his free hand, keeping the other arm around the girl, who still showed no signs of letting go of him. Derek started back down the beach toward their cars, and Stiles followed.
Great. He was going to spend the next few months co-parenting a two-year-old selkie with his crush of six years.
Yeah. This was going to be spectacular.
Scott wasn't thrilled with Stiles accidentally adopting a selkie kid, but agreed that keeping a potentially orphaned shifter with the pack was probably the safest option, especially when none of them had any further information on what, exactly, was attacking people out at the beach.
"I'll talk to Deaton," Scott said. "Maybe he'll know something."
Stiles sure as hell hoped so, but at this point he'd put more faith in Derek's knowledge of selkies than he would Deaton's.
Derek drove Stiles and the selkie girl back to their apartment building in Beacon Hills. Derek still had the loft on the top floor, but he gave great discounts to pack members who wanted their own place. So far, Stiles, Kira, and Isaac were the only ones who'd taken him up on it.
Stiles's apartment was on the fourth floor, a two-bedroom where he'd converted the second bedroom to an office, since he worked from home. He supposed it would be converted back into a bedroom for now. Not that he had a bed for it. Or, well, anything for a two-year-old who liked to swim.
Yeah, he was going to go broke at the store tomorrow.
Derek followed Stiles into his apartment. "I'll talk to Satomi tomorrow. See if she knows of any selkie pods around here or has any more information."
Stiles nodded, staring at the hoodie-clad girl sound asleep against his chest, still clinging to her pelt. "Thanks. I appreciate it."
He had no idea what else to say. He had no idea what else to do. Should he put her on the couch, or in his bed? Was it weird to let a toddler sleep in your bed? He remembered crawling in to sleep with his parents after a nightmare until he was seven and his mom started getting sick, but what about just a regular kid who wasn't having nightmares?
"Where do you keep your spare sheets?" Derek asked.
Stiles snapped his head up to look at Derek. "What?"
"You look like you're about to have a panic attack," Derek said. "Are you worried about keeping her here?"
"Yeah, man, I just...I don't know, I've never even thought about having kids, and now I've got a two-year-old who just lost her family and—"
"Stiles." Derek rested his hands on Stiles's shoulders, and that simple gesture calmed him down way more than it should've. "You've got this. You're going to be fine. Now, sheets?"
"You can't sniff them out?" Stiles joked weakly. At Derek's flat look, he nodded down the hall. "Closet, second door on the left. It's right across from the bathroom."
"Okay," Derek said, and vanished down the hall.
A moment later, he came back with sheets, a pillow, and a blanket, and went to work making up the couch. A lump lodged itself somewhere in Stiles's chest, right in his heart region, watching the way Derek moved in his living room like he belonged there. The sight made Stiles's heart do a complicated tap-dance Derek was sure to hear.
He cleared his throat and tried to think of something, anything else. "So what do we call her? While we have her, I mean. I don't think she can tell us her name."
The girl stirred in his arms, and looked up at Stiles sleepily, blinking big blue eyes.
Derek tucked the sheets back into the couch with a frown. "She may not have a human name."
"Well, then we'll just have to come up with one for you, won't we?" Stiles bounced her gently, and she smiled up at him. It went straight to his heart. "How about Penny?"
Derek straightened up from the couch and raised an eyebrow, clearly waiting for Stiles to explain his reasoning.
Stiles grinned. "It's short for pinniped!"
Derek closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "I don't know why I'm surprised."
"Or, you know, we can say it's short for Penelope." Stiles smiled down at the sleepy selkie. "What do you think? Mind if we call you Penelope? It's a pretty name, right?"
She nuzzled at his chest. "Pen-pee."
Well, he'd take that as confirmation. "Okay, Penelope, I'm Stiles." Stiles patted himself on the chest. "Can you say Stiles?"
Penelope yawned. "Tile."
"Close enough." He turned so her eyes would be trained on Derek. "And this wonderful werewolf right here with the eyebrows is Derek. Can you say Derek?"
"Deck," she repeated obediently.
Derek stared at her, an expression on his face that Stiles had literally never seen before. And that was saying something, because over the past six years Stiles had learned to decipher most of Derek's expressions. This one defied description.
Derek cleared his throat. "Anyway. Um. She'll be fine on the couch for now. And she's old enough to eat solid food, so you can feed her cereal and crackers. She may eat fish, too, since she's probably spent most of her life as a seal. I'll be just upstairs, if you need anything."
"Thanks, Derek," Stiles said, but Derek was out the door with barely an acknowledgement.
Well. That was...not entirely strange, but not quite as reminiscent of their current interactions as it was their early ones.
Stiles looked down at Penelope once more, who was sound asleep on his chest once more and heartbreakingly adorable.
He'd been overreacting earlier, clearly. He could totally handle looking after a two-year-old. How hard could it be?
Stiles was a fool. A total, total fool.
The first answer to his question came at five in the morning, when Penelope woke up crying and didn't settle down until Stiles came in and held her. She fell asleep for another two hours on his chest, and he half-dozed on the couch with her until she woke up again at seven and kneed him right in the balls.
Stiles was pretty sure she hadn't meant to.
Once she was awake, Penny wanted to explore. She went through his entire apartment, babbling to herself, and Stiles wasn't sure if it was toddler babble or some human approximation of whatever language she spoke as a seal. He spent most of the exploration making sure she didn't get into anything she shouldn't, and the more they wandered around his apartment the more he realized how utterly unprepared he was to have a tiny human—well, a tiny human-shaped creature—living with him.
He managed to get her to sit down to eat some cereal for breakfast, but it was less "eat" and more like "delicately pick out three pieces, run over to the couch and jump on it, scream when Stiles started to put away her bowl, and come back for four more pieces." Lather, rinse, repeat for an hour.
His doorbell rang at noon, and Stiles was already at his wit's end.
He yanked open the door to find Derek on the other side, holding a bag of what smelled like food in one hand and two bags of clothes and toys in the other.
"Have I ever told you you're my hero?" Stiles said. He might have sounded a little desperate; he wasn't sure.
Derek's lips twitched. "Not lately. I see you're a noble steed today."
Stiles hitched Penelope up higher on his back. "Penny-Pen, say hi to Derek."
"Deck!" Penelope yelled. Right in his ear. Ouch.
Derek shook his head. "Let me set this stuff down, and I'll take her."
Stiles shuffled to the side so Derek could come in. "You're my favorite. Don't ever tell Scott."
Derek set the food on the counter and the other bag on the table. "Your secret's safe with me."
He emptied the other bag, setting out clothes, coloring books, crayons, two dolls, and a fish plushie.
Penelope scrambled down from Stiles's back and up on to the chair, her eyes wide. She grabbed for the fish plushie. "Mine?"
Derek patted her dark head. "Yes, all yours."
"Miiiiiine!" Penelope shouted, and ran over to the couch, keeping her fish plushie wrapped tight in her arms.
"Well, that looks like it's a hit," Stiles said.
"I also found macaroni and cheese with aquatic animal shapes," Derek said seriously.
"Dude, you're going to be her favorite person before today is out." Stiles looked at all the stuff on the table. "Seriously, this is the best. She's going to love it."
Derek toed the ground. "Want some lunch?"
Stiles's stomach growled in response. "Oh my God, you have no idea how much."
Derek pulled Thai takeout out of the bag, along with a box from Stiles's favorite sushi place. "I thought she might like the fish off the nigiri."
"Good idea," Stiles said.
Stiles ate the rice and put the salmon on a small plate for Penny, and then found The Emperor's New Groove on Netflix. Penelope sat, enraptured, her fish plushie in one hand and her bite-sized salmon clutched in her other.
Once Stiles was reasonably sure she wasn't going to take off down the hall, he grabbed the chopsticks and the box of pad thai from the counter. "Oh, you got it with shrimp. My favorite."
Derek ducked his head. "Yes, I know. You tell me every time you order."
Stiles stuck out his tongue and popped a shrimp in his mouth. "So did you get a chance to talk to Satomi?"
Immediately, Derek's eyebrows drew down into a frown, and he opened his own box of takeout. "I did. Scott as well. He spoke with Deaton last night."
"And?" Stiles prompted, when Derek didn't continue.
"And, there's very little they can tell us," Derek said. "Neither of them knew of any selkie pods staying in the area. Even if there were, they'd have migrated by this time of year."
"But can't we go back and check?" Stiles asked. "If they're migratory, they'll come back here in the spring, right?"
"Possibly." Derek's mouth twisted a little. "But if they were attacked here, they might not come back at all."
Shit. Stiles felt a little winded just hearing that.
"Both Satomi and Deaton are putting the word out to their contacts," Derek said. "So hopefully we'll be able to find her pod or, failing that, another one willing to adopt her."
"And how long could that take?" Stiles asked.
"Weeks," Derek admitted. "Probably months. Deaton suggested we head back to the beach regularly to see if we find anything, but it's doubtful we'll see anything for a few months at least."
Stiles rubbed his hands over his face. "Great. I'm a foster dad. I could barely keep her alive for five hours, Derek. How am I going to do this for weeks? Months?" Stiles looked back over at Penelope, who was staring at the screen with a piece of salmon hanging out of her mouth. "I have no idea what I'm doing, dude."
"I'll help you rearrange the office, and the unit next to yours is empty," Derek said. "You can use it for storage for the time being. Or, if you want to rent it out, too, you can use it for your office. I'll give you a fifty percent discount."
Stiles wanted to weep with relief. "I don't know if you're going for a Friend of the Year or a Landlord of the Year award, but I'll find a way to give both to you."
Derek's cheeks reddened under his beard, and he dug into his box of Thai food with renewed vigor. "You're pack," he muttered. "Of course I'm going to help you out."
Stiles set down his food and walked over to Derek, arms outstretched. "Come on, big guy. Food down. This is a huggable moment."
Derek rolled his eyes, but he set down his food.
Stiles hugged him hard, wishing he could claim some reason other than Derek for his rapid heartbeat, but oh well. Derek had known him for six years; he could draw whatever conclusions he wanted.
"Okay," Stiles said. "I've got to swing by Melissa's and pick up all the stuff she and Dad put together for me this morning, and they're both coming over for dinner tonight, along with Scott, so they can all meet Penelope. Everybody else wanted to come, but I don't want to totally overwhelm Pen-Pen. They can come later this week."
"You should probably pick just one name for her," Derek said.
"Aw, but half the fun of calling her Penelope is all the nicknames!" Stiles protested.
Derek rolled his eyes and pushed him again, digging back into his takeout box. "I'll watch her while you run the baby errands."
"Thanks," Stiles said. It felt like he was saying that a lot lately. "I'll try to be back in an hour."
Derek snorted. "Yeah. Good luck with that."
Stiles stuck out his tongue and dug back into his own lunch. "Just watch me."
He was never going to tell Derek how right he was. Never.
Picking up the baby stuff from Dad and Melissa hadn't taken him that long, as he'd anticipated, but going to Target for the list Melissa had given him? Good God, what was he thinking? Stiles probably spent at least twenty minutes in the toddler aisle, standing there and staring at all the options of things he was supposed to have for a kid. And of course, they didn't have everything, so he ended up having to drive to three different stores on three different sides of town to pick up all the rest of the stuff he'd need to make his apartment livable for a toddler.
By the time he was heading back to his apartment, it was almost five, Stiles's feet hurt, and his Jeep was so full of stuff he was relying on the good graces of the Beacon Hills Sheriff's Department deputies to keep him from getting ticketed.
He pulled into the parking lot, looked at the back of his car, looked at the four stories he had to traverse to get to his apartment, and wanted to cry.
Nope. Nope, he wasn't worrying about it right now. He'd bring up what he could, and then he'd make Derek and Scott with their werewolfy strength help him with the rest. His dad and Melissa could watch Penelope and keep her out of trouble.
He staggered up to his apartment, carrying bags of clothes and blankets and diapers—just in case; he had no idea if selkies were potty-trained. It took him three tries to get the door open, and when he did, the smell of meat and garlic wafted out into the hallway.
"Oh my God." He groaned. "Did you get pizza?"
Derek poked his head out of Stiles's kitchen. His hair stuck up every which way and a line of tomato sauce was on his cheek, and he was wearing Stiles's Darth Vader apron. "No, I'm making lasagna. Penny's helping."
Stiles dropped his bags at the front door and walked into his kitchen. Sure enough, Derek had two pans of lasagna ready to go in the oven, and Penelope was sitting at the table, playing with two limp lasagna noodles.
Her eyes lit up the moment she saw Stiles, and she abandoned her noodle toys to run across the kitchen and fling herself at his legs.
Stunned, Stiles patted her curly head and kept staring at Derek. "I. You. What?"
"I'm making lasagna," Derek said again, like that wasn't a completely foreign concept to Stiles. "Melissa's bringing the garlic bread and salad."
"You're making lasagna," Stiles repeated. His brain had broken somewhere along the line, with Derek standing in his kitchen in his apron and... "You're making lasagna in my kitchen."
"It's a good meal," Derek said defensively. "And I figured it would be easier than bringing it down from my place. I'm sorry I didn't ask, but—"
"No! No, that's not—I meant thank you." Stiles wanted to smack himself. "You didn't have to do this."
Derek shrugged and bent over to put the lasagna in the oven. "You had enough to worry about. It was easy enough for me to handle dinner."
It was so heartbreakingly domestic Stiles had to bite his lips to keep from doing something utterly stupid, like dropping onto one knee and proposing marriage right then and there.
Derek straightened and frowned at him. "Are you okay?"
"Fine! Okay, totally okay," Stiles said, and was thankfully saved from any further awkwardness by his dad and Melissa knocking at the door, demanding to see Penelope.
The meal went well, and though Penny was shy at first, she quickly warmed up to Dad and Melissa. Scott took a little longer, but as he was practically made of sunshine and puppies, Penny liked him as well. Between Stiles, Scott, and Derek, they managed to get Stiles's office cleaned out and set up in the apartment next door, and the kid-sized furniture Stiles had acquired put into the second bedroom.
Dad and Melissa gladly kept an eye on Penny while they worked, although she did run over and demand piggy-back rides from Stiles and Derek from time to time.
It was after ten when they finally finished getting the bed set up and made, and since all of them were wearing out and Penny was half-asleep against Melissa on the couch, Stiles decided they should wait until tomorrow to put together the dresser.
"Here." Derek held out his hands to Melissa. "I'll go put her down."
Penny made the most token of protests, whining and rubbing her eyes, but she went without any further complaint.
Derek held her close, rubbing her back, and singing under his breath as he walked out of the room. Stiles's heart clenched, hard enough that he wondered if he should get it checked out or something. Surely this couldn't be healthy.
"I'm guessing you haven't told him anything yet," his dad said.
Stiles shushed him, eyes fixed on the closed bedroom door, and mouthed werewolf. Dad rolled his eyes.
He didn't need to take this. Stiles stood up and went to the kitchen to finish cleaning up all the dishes.
A few seconds later, Dad came in and started putting away the pots and pans. "Is this going to be a thing? You two co-parenting her?"
"It's fine, Dad," Stiles said. He really didn't want to get into this right now.
"Never said it wasn't," Dad said easily. "But think about it, son. If this is you two after one day, what's it going to be like after a few months?"
Stiles focused very hard on scrubbing the lasagna pan. "It'll be fine, Dad. I promise."
"Okay," Dad said, and thankfully dropped the subject.
They settled into something of a routine after that. Stiles kept Penny in the mornings, and Derek came over after noon or one to take her until dinnertime so Stiles could spend the afternoon getting caught up with his work. Derek worked as a consultant to the sheriff's department (even though Stiles's dad had spent most of that time trying to convince Derek to become an actual deputy), so his hours were even more flexible than Stiles's. He hadn't "officially" moved in, but he did just about everything except sleep at Stiles's apartment.
The rest of the pack swung by over the course of a few days to meet Penny, who appeared to enjoy all the attention and the steadily growing pile of sea-themed plush toys everyone brought over for her to play with. Overall, she seemed to be adjusting well to the move to Beacon Hills.
Still, Stiles and Derek took her out to the beach every weekend without fail, partly to let her swim in the ocean and partly to see if her pod had come back. Penny had fun swimming no matter how cold the water got, but she never strayed too far from Stiles or Derek when she did. And they never saw a pod return for her.
Stiles couldn't believe anyone could have abandoned a child like this, which made his imagination run wild with all the things that could have gone wrong. He tried not to think about it too much.
Derek and Kira finally figured out what had been attacking the swimmers; it was a kelpie, and with Lydia's help, they took care of it quickly and quietly. Apparently the kelpie knew nothing of any selkies in the area, either, leaving the mystery of what had happened to Penny's mother and pod still unsolved.
Still, for all that he'd never imagined himself with kids, Stiles found himself enjoying having Penny around. The way she threw herself at him in a hug never failed to brighten even his worst day, the way she fell asleep half-on the couch trying to stay awake to watch a movie, her energy and her laugh. Some nights she woke up crying and came to wiggle into his bed, but Stiles didn't mind. Those nights were the worst, but only because he stayed awake, petting her curly hair and wondering what the hell happened to her mother, why Penny was alone, if she'd seen something that hopefully she wouldn't remember as she got older.
Derek, however. If Stiles had had a crush on him before, it had amplified a thousand times now, watching the way he gave Penny a bath or helped her get dressed or make cookies. Every time Stiles came home and saw Derek in his apartment, walking around the living room with Penny half-asleep in his arms, it made his heart hurt more, just reminded Stiles of how goddamn caring Derek was.
One month in, he converted the swimming pool on the top of the building into something safe for Penny to swim in as a seal, and Stiles walked out onto the roof to see Derek as a wolf curled up next to the pool, with a seal pup tucked under his arm and snoozing quietly.
Stiles immediately left the roof and walked halfway back down the stairwell until he could get his heartbeat under control. It wasn't fair, how adorable they were together and how fucking perfect Derek was with this. Every day just made Stiles fall in love with him more.
Yeah. Apparently he'd blown right past the crush and into all-out "I will always love you" Whitney Houston mode.
But they were friends now, friends, and Stiles didn't want to mess that up. Especially when he had no idea if Derek even liked guys.
His dad was right. This had been a terrible idea, and it wasn't fine. Not when all Stiles wanted was to have a family with Derek.
He thudded his head against the wall, cursed himself for being an idiot, and walked back up to the roof to take pictures of the wolf and the seal pup to send to everybody in the pack.
Deaton called Stiles after almost nine weeks with the news.
"There's a pod coming through next week," Deaton said. "They're willing to adopt Penelope."
Stiles had expected to be relieved to hear that information. Now, after two months of it being him and Penny and Derek, it felt more like a blow to the stomach to hear. "Good," he said, and hoped he didn't sound as gutted as he felt. "That's good. That's really...good."
Derek hugged Penny closer and didn't say anything. He didn't look happy, though.
"They'll meet you at the beach at noon on Saturday," Deaton said.
"Great," Stiles said, feeling anything but.
Derek continued not to say anything for the next three days. Stiles found it utterly unnerving.
It wasn't until he was making dinner (for once) and Derek was drawing with Penny at the table when Derek softly said, "Do you really want to get rid of her?"
Stiles nearly upended the taco meat off the stove. "What? No! I love y—her. I do. But..." He scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Derek, we're not selkies. Hell, I'm not even supernatural. She needs..." Stiles trailed off and went back to poking at the taco meat. It was almost done simmering. "Don't you think she'll be better off with people who can teach her how to be, like, her?"
Derek growled a little, and Stiles bit his lip against the lump in his throat.
"I think she'd be better off with people who care about her," Derek said.
"I'm sure they will," Stiles said. "Who couldn't? She's perfect."
Derek went back to coloring and didn't say another word, and Stiles went back to grating cheese for the tacos.
He half-expected Derek to refuse to go when he took Penny to meet her new pod, but he was downstairs at ten that morning, arms crossed and leaning against the Jeep with a glare like the world had personally offended him.
Or that Stiles had.
Penny scrambled down from Stiles's arms to run over and clamber up Derek's legs until he gave in and picked her up. Stiles tried to smile at him, but Derek just turned away and put Penny in her car seat.
The drive to the beach was quiet and awkward, even with Penny in the backseat, enacting a complicated scene out between her favorite fish toy "Deck" and her seal plush from "Kee-a."
"If you didn't want her, you could have said something to me," Derek said quietly, halfway to the beach. "I'd have taken her full-time."
Stiles whipped his head around in shock, and then back to the road because he was driving. "Whoa, what? Haven't we been over this? I don't...I want what's best for her, and what's best for her is having a pod of other selkies. How would you have felt if you'd grown up in a pack of, like, humans and kitsunes, with no other werewolves to teach you how to be wolfy?"
Derek scowled at the dashboard, but didn't say anything.
"Exactly," Stiles said, feeling somewhat vindicated. "She should...she should have...this is the right thing to do," he said, as they pulled into the parking lot at the beach.
"Keep telling yourself that," Derek muttered.
Stiles slammed the Jeep into park. "God damn it, Derek, what do you want from me? We decided on this two months ago. This was supposed to be temporary. It's not about what I want."
Derek's eyebrows shot up. "It's not about what you want?"
"No, it's not. It's about what's best for Penny and...that's not me." Stiles scrubbed at his face, trying not to cry. Somehow, it hurt more to admit it aloud. He wasn't what was best for Penny. He wasn't what was best for Derek. "It's not me."
Derek grabbed his shoulder, the first time he'd touched Stiles since they'd talked to Deaton. "Stiles, that isn't true."
"That you're not what's best for her."
Stiles jerked his head up and looked at Derek, really looked at him for the first time since they'd left Beacon Hills, and Derek's face was so vulnerable and concerned and serious that Stiles wasn't sure if he wanted to cry or kiss him. Or just confess the fact that he was head over fucking heels in love with Derek, and Penny, and all he wanted was to keep their little family intact.
But before he could do anything, Derek's nostrils flared, and he slowly turned to look out the front windshield. "They're here."
Stiles followed his gaze. Sure enough, two women and one man stood on the beach, dressed only in sealskins wrapped around them. His heart seized, and Stiles had the sudden urge to put the Jeep in reverse and drive away. They could figure this out, they always figured this out, but...
He made himself get out of the car and walk around to unbuckle Penny, pulling her out of her car seat. Even though it had been almost two weeks since they'd last been to the beach, she still smelled like salt and ocean.
God, Stiles didn't want to give her up.
Penny kicked at him to let her down and started to run toward the beach, but stopped short when she saw the other selkies. She looked at them, then looked back toward Stiles and Derek. Stiles shoved off the Jeep to walk over and stand beside her.
"This is the pup?" the man asked, eyeing Penny skeptically.
Stiles nodded jerkily and rested his hand on Penny's curls. "Yeah."
The man pressed his lips together. "She is wearing a very strange pelt."
"Those are clothes," Stiles said. "Her pelt's in her backpack."
One of the women hissed. "You didn't tell us she had blue eyes."
Stiles blinked. "The hell does that have to do with anything?"
"Tile?" Penny looked up at him and grabbed his hand with her tiny one, clinging to two of his fingers as hard as she could.
"These are selkies, like you," Stiles explained. "You're going to get to go live with them and play in the ocean all day long. Won't that be fun?"
Her lower lip trembled and she mashed her face into his leg. "Nooooo. Tiiiiiiile. Deeeeck."
Okay, no. He was already waffling about this and with Penny clinging to his leg, Stiles couldn't do it. It was probably selfish as shit but he could not make his crying kid go somewhere she didn't want to. He picked her up and let Penny burrow into his neck. "Look, is there any way we can do, like, a custody arrangement or something? Make sure your pod likes her and she's happy before you take her full-time? Because no offense, but I don't know you all, and she pretty clearly doesn't want to go anywhere and I'm not going to make her."
"She has blue eyes," the woman repeated, sounding even angrier.
"Okay, seriously, the hell is up with the blue eyes thing?" Stiles demanded. "Her eyes are beautiful."
The other woman rolled her eyes. "Some more...traditional pods believe pups with blue eyes are a bad omen. That they predict death and disaster for the pod."
Stiles felt suddenly cold, and he held Penny closer. "What do they do to kids with blue eyes?"
"Cast them out, along with the mother," the first woman said, and she sounded so fucking righteous about it.
"And if the mother tried to stop them?" Derek asked, from right over his shoulder. Stiles hadn't even heard him come closer.
The second woman had the decency to look angry and a little ashamed. "She may well have been killed."
Stiles's mind was buzzing. "No. No, no, hell no. You're not taking her. Just tell us what we need to know about raising a selkie because no."
"She'd be better off with her people," the man said.
Stiles seethed. "She'd be better off with a family that isn't going to treat her like a fucking burden because she has blue eyes."
Derek rested a hand on his shoulder, and it was then Stiles realized he was leaning toward the selkies, seconds away from thrusting Penny at Derek and jumping forward to take all three of them on himself.
"As a representative of the Delgado Pack of Beacon Hills, and the son of Alpha Talia Hale of the Hale Pack of Beacon Hills, I think we can come to some sort of agreement, don't you?" Derek said calmly.
Stiles didn't look back, but Derek sounded like his fangs might have been showing.
The three selkies actually took a step back, and the first woman paled. The man cleared his throat. "Yes. Yes, we can. I think that would be best for all involved."
"Excellent," Derek said. "I'm glad we could work something out."
The "something" turned out to be the second woman—Annalise—acting as liaison between the pack and the pod whenever the pod was in the area. She would answer any questions that Stiles, Derek, or Penelope had about selkies. Scott drove all the way out to the beach to make it "official," which basically meant that he stood there with crossed arms and a very serious face and occasionally flashed his eyes red whenever one of the other selkies made a comment about Penny's eyes.
Stiles made sure to keep Penny by the ocean, watching her swim and play while Derek, Scott, and the selkies worked out all the details. He supposed he should've been over there as well, but he didn't want to let Penny out of his sight, and didn't want her to have to sit there while the grown-ups talked. Besides, if he trusted anyone else to handle this, it was Derek and Scott.
By the time they got Penny back home—really home, and God, Stiles's hands were shaking just thinking about it—Stiles wanted a hot drink and a bath and to sit in his daughter's room all night and watch her sleep.
His daughter. Shit. That was the truth. She was really his now.
Well...his and Derek's.
Derek followed them to the front door and then shifted his weight uneasily at the threshold. "I, um—"
"Get your furry ass in here," Stiles said without any heat. He was too tired for fighting. "I'm going to give her a bath and put her to bed and then we're going to have a stiff drink."
Derek nodded and shuffled inside. "Are you hungry?"
"I'm too tired for hungry," Stiles said. "But I should probably eat something."
"Okay," Derek said, and disappeared into the kitchen.
Bath time was an unusually quiet affair. Penny kept rubbing her eyes and yawning, a sign that she was so worn out she didn't even have the energy to try and keep herself awake. Stiles wiped her down with a wash cloth and then dried her off, dressing her in her favorite Finding Nemo pajamas. He'd probably go get her cupcakes tomorrow, too, and salmon nigiri. He'd get her a lot of her favorite things until he stopped feeling guilty about today.
He tucked her in bed with her pelt and her two favorite animals, and smoothed back her curls to kiss her forehead. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I was just trying to do what was best for you."
"'Kay," Penny said sleepily. "Night night Tile."
Stiles kissed her forehead again. "Good night, Pen-pen. Love you."
He said the second part so quiet he could barely hear it. He was almost out of the bedroom when he heard a soft "Love oo Tile" from Penny's bed.
Stiles wiped his eyes on his shirt before he headed back into the kitchen.
Derek was waiting for him at the kitchen table, two steaming mugs of tea sitting out, and a plate with a sandwich on it. Stiles slid into the seat with the sandwich and pulled the mug close; one sniff told him it was lemon ginger tea. He drank it every night before bed; it helped to calm him down. The sandwich was peanut butter and strawberry jelly; Stiles had always liked it better than grape.
Derek knew his favorite tea. Derek made his favorite sandwich.
Between this and Penny, it was just too much.
Stiles thudded his head on the table. "Oh my God, dude, I'm so fucking in love with you."
"Uh. You." Derek coughed. "What?"
Stiles lifted his head. "You know my favorite sandwich. You know my favorite tea. You made the swimming pool safe for a baby seal. You're over here every day just being, like, the absolute best co-parent on the fucking planet that it blows my mind and I have spent six years trying to get over this crush and you go and do all this shit that makes it explode into this massive, gigantic," he flailed, trying to find the words, "more-than-crush. I'm so fucking gone on you it's ridiculous."
Derek was frowning, his eyebrows drawn so close together they looked like they were about to merge. "You...you don't sound happy about that."
"Yeah, because I'm completely ruining our friendship by getting my feelings all over you, and I'm scared it's going to affect your relationship with Penny." Stiles scrubbed his hands through his hair. "I want you in her life. I want you in my life. I just—"
Derek's chair scraped on the tile, and the next thing Stiles knew, Derek's beard was scratching his face and his lips were touching Stiles's and holy shit they were kissing.
Before Stiles could really react or kiss Derek back or anything, Derek was pulling away, brushing a thumb down the side of Stiles's face. "Me too," he said softly. "I love you, too, and I want to be a part of Penny's life, but I want to be a part of yours, too. I just...this feels like family."
That was it. Stiles was one hundred percent done with the emotional revelations of today. He launched out of his chair, throwing his arms around Derek in a hug and pressing his face into Derek's neck. A moment later, he felt Derek's arms settle around him, holding him close.
This. This was what had been missing for the past two months.
Stiles nuzzled him. "I'll tell you what's going to happen. We're going to go to my room, we're going to get ready for bed, and then we're going to get into my big bed and aggressively cuddle the shit out of each other because as much as I want to do the sexytimes with you, I'm exhausted and also I think we should probably go out on at least one actual date before then."
Derek huffed a laugh into his hair, and pressed a kiss to the side of Stiles's head. "Okay. Sounds like a good plan."
"I will warn you, Penny will probably wake us up at the crack of dawn by dive-bombing into the bed," Stiles said. "And her knees are like ball-seeking missiles."
Derek's shoulders shook. "Okay. Got it."
"Don't laugh at me, Derek. It's a legitimate problem. I've started wearing a cup to bed."
Derek pulled back, a stunningly bright smile on his stunningly beautiful face, and Stiles just thought wow, I might get to keep this for all of a second before Derek kissed him again, so tender and sweet it made Stiles's heart ache.
"Let's go to bed," Derek said.
"Yeah." Stiles ran his hands over Derek's back. "Sounds perfect."
At five the next morning, Penny did indeed run into the bedroom and jump on the bed, as promised, her knee unerringly landing on Stiles (on the hip, this time). Stiles bit his lip against a stream of curses, Derek wrestled Penny into the space between them and rested a hand on Stiles's bare arm, taking away the pain of what would inevitably be a monster bruise later that day.
With Penny snuggled between them and Derek half-buried back in his pillow, a dopey smile on his face, Stiles finally felt like everything in his life had clicked into place.
Yeah. It was pretty much perfect.