“No, daddy,” Andy protested, smoothing out the sides of her bright purple and teal dress and ducking her head away from Derek’s grasp, “that’s now how you do it!”
She slid off of Derek’s lap, wrestling the candy-shaped hair clips out of his fingers and hurrying to where Stiles was trying to coerce Olly into finishing his cheerios. “Diles, can you do my hair?” she asked, holding up the clips. Stiles reached out, unclasping the one in her hair and then brushing her short bangs aside to re-clip it.
“Did you ask your dad to help you?”
Andy made a face, leaning in and whispering loudly, “daddy makes it look ugly.”
Stiles tried not to laugh as Derek made a face and stood up. He took a sip of Olly’s juice (earning a noise of protest from Olly and subsequently getting him to steal it back and possessively start gulping it down) and then set about clipping up Andy’s hair to the best of his ability.
“His hair is too short for clips,” Derek grumbled, watching Stiles clip them right above one another. He crossed his arms, huffing as Andy reached up to use her fingers to inspect Stiles’ handiwork and nod in approval.
Looking over at Derek, Stiles shrugged. “Her hair is short because you make her cut it,” he pointed out, brushing past the older man. He headed for the living room, intent on picking up a few stray toys before Derek left for work. It made his life easier if either of the kids decided to have a fit at the absence of their father if there was less clutter for Stiles to walk through to get to the couch for comfort-cuddles.
Derek followed, watching Stiles toss some blocks and dolls into the storage bin in the corner. “Andy’s hair was never an issue before you came.”
No matter how much Stiles wanted to laugh in Derek’s face, he kept from doing so. Instead, he flipped Olly’s blanket onto his shoulder and turned to stare Derek down. Did this guy really think Andy didn’t care about her hair? Or did he never notice the times Andy used her baby blanket to pretend she had long hair like Rapunzel or any other girl her age. “Are you sure about that?”
Glancing at his watch and scowling, Derek gave Stiles a flat look. “You seem to forget which of us is their actual father.”
This time, Stiles did scoff. He passed by Derek, moving to take Olly’s blanket into his bedroom. “And what a great job you’ve done--” Stiles choked off when he was grabbed roughly by the upper arm and shoved up against the wall. Derek’s eyes flashed red, a low snarl punching out of his gut when he slammed his fist into the wall next to Stiles’ head. Stiles flinched, because he had a very distinct feeling that only Derek’s will alone had stopped that fist from going straight into his face.
“The only reason you still have this fucking job is because my kids are attached,” Derek hissed, shaking Stiles roughly by the arm, “so you’d better watch what comes out of that mouth of yours before you take it too far.”
Heart thundering against his ribs, Stiles struggled not to reek too badly of fear, sucking in a nervous breath. “Maybe it’d be a little easier if you actually tried to be a better father,” he said lowly, anger rising up inside of him. Did Derek really think he had a right to get mad? Stiles saw what his absence did to Andy and Olly; the fact that Derek cared more about what Stiles thought of him as a father, and now how he actually performed as one, made Stiles’ blood boil.
Derek’s nails dug into the wall, claws scratching up the paint and drywall with a crackling noise. “I don’t need you telling me how to raise my children.” he snapped, jerking Stiles and shoving him up against the wall so hard that Stiles’ head spun. “I’ve let you get away with enough. It stops here.”
The fact that Derek was so incensed had Stiles’ words dying on his tongue. He had to stop and think about how Derek must have felt, and that in itself made guilt and shame hit him like a truck. It wasn’t like Derek was necessarily a bad father on purpose, he just didn’t seem to know exactly how to be a good one.
“No!” Olly’s scream came from across the room and Derek and Stiles snapped their heads around to see him running over. “Daddy, no!” Olly cried again, running right into Derek’s leg and punching him in the knee with both of his tiny fists. “Don’t hurt my Stiles!”
Any other day, Stiles would have been happy to note that Olly had gotten his name right, but he was a little more distracted with how horrified Derek looked when Olly continued to hit his leg. Olly rarely lashed out when he was upset, preferring to break down into tears, and the fact that he was doing it to protect Stiles made something deep in Stiles’ gut churn with guilt.
Olly sobbed out another, “stop it, daddy!” while he kept beating his fists against Derek’s thigh. Derek quickly wrenched his hand off of Stiles’ arm, reaching down to pick Olly up and getting a punch to the chin instead.
Derek looked like he’d been punched right in the heart, wrenching away from Olly and then trying to reach out again before he hesitated. Olly looked ready to swing at him again and realization struck Stiles like a freight train. Derek wasn’t mad at Stiles for telling him how to be a parent. He was mad because he was losing his children to their babysitter.
Scooping Olly up into his arms, Stiles reached up to wipe at the distressed tears on the boy’s face. “Your daddy wasn’t hurting me,” he said earnestly, receiving a startled look from both Olly and Derek. Olly sniffed, rubbing at his face.
“Yep. He was just mad because I hurt his feelings, is all.”
Olly’s eyes went wide, looking to Derek (who was giving Stiles a suspicious stare) as if asking for clarification. Derek flitted his eyes down to Olly and then nodded slowly in agreement.
Making a noise of disdain, Olly turned to give Stiles a very displeased frown. “You’re not my friend anymoah,” he said seriously, and then turned to reach out for Derek. Stiles handed Olly over, making a dramatic sigh like Olly’s declaration had broken his heart.
Derek slowly reached out, handling Olly like porcelain as he curled the child into the crook of his arm. He looked entirely confused as Olly reached up to wrap his arms around Derek’s neck and proclaimed, “I’m sorry I hit you,” before smacking a wet kiss on Derek’s cheek. Derek rubbed at Olly’s back, quietly muttering forgiveness and then giving Olly a tiny grin.
That’s when Andy finally made her presence known, reaching up with wiggling fingers at Derek and giving a whine before she hopped in place. “Daddy,” she whimpered, pulling on his pants. Stiles lifted her up, placing her in Derek’s other arm and stepping back. It was a scene that had Stiles’ heart aching. Both children were curled into Derek’s embrace, their legs tangled together and their faces resting on each of his shoulders. Derek looked overwhelmed by them, like he didn’t know who to focus on first. Stiles had to bite back a grin at the way Derek dazedly walked towards the couch, sitting down and adjusting his kids so they could keep clinging onto him.
Just watching how they would interact was enough for Stiles to realize that Derek did care; he was just clueless. Stiles glanced at the clock on the cable box, surprised to see that Derek normally would have left already. Instead, he was still sitting with Olly and Andy on the couch, letting Andy inform him that Stiles wasn’t allowed to do her hair any more if he was going to be mean to Derek. Derek’s small, pleased grin made something burn deep inside of Stiles.
Derek stayed even after Andy’s attention span had her climbing out of his lap and running to grab one of her Rapunzel dolls from the toy bin. She brought it back over to him when he didn’t get up right away, shoving it into his hands and demanding that he practice learning how to style hair with Rapunzel as his test subject.
In the past week, the combined effort of both Stiles and Derek had filled the bin up with toy sea animals, three barbies (all of them with modest clothing, as per Derek’s demand), a giant plush astronaut, an electronic baby with the batteries removed out of the back, a sticky octopus that Olly loved to throw at the wall and make Stiles retrieve for him, a space shuttle, and three different toy variations of Rapunzel.
Olly grabbed the remote, still curled up into Derek’s side, and turned on the TV before staring blankly at the news channel and then frowning. Stiles knew that frown. It was the frown of a child who just realized that he couldn’t decide what to watch.
“Want me to put on Wall-E?” Stiles chirped from the other end of the couch, mostly clicking around StumbleUpon to keep himself entertained. Olly sighed loudly, dropping the remote and shaking his head.
Olly made a face, and then Stiles remembered how terrified he had been of the scorpion villain. That movie wasn’t really one that they watched very often. Stiles wracked his brain for the other movies that Olly liked to watch. “Planet 51?”
Olly’s face lit up and Stiles knew he’d hit the jackpot. Andy seemed equally excited, her face breaking into a grin. Technically, Little Mermaid was Andy’s movie, but Olly was always very interested in it when Stiles would put it on. It was probably all of the ocean-life that had him enraptured. That, and Olly was totally going to grow up to be a romantic.
He’d be a heartbreaker when he grew up, Stiles had no doubt.
“I’ll get it!” Andy cried, scrambling off of Derek’s lap and falling over in her haste. Her head cracked against the coffee table and Stiles leapt to his feet as she released a cry of pain. Derek was there first, hauling her up into his arms while she wailed and held her forehead. Stiles didn’t even think, reacting like he did every time they got hurt and kissing right on the already-fading red mark. Derek tensed, clutching to Andy while she whimpered and sniffed.
“Your kisses don’t work like daddy’s,” she said miserably--like she did almost any time he attempted to kiss her boo-boos. Stiles sighed, petting her short hair and trying his hardest to ignore the way he could feel Derek staring holes into him.
“That’s because your daddy loves you so much that his kisses are like magic,” Stiles said seriously, watching as her werewolf powers kicked in and the tiny swell of a bump began to go down.
Andy made a face like she wasn’t sure she believed Stiles’ claims that her father was magic. “I guess so,” she mumbled, squealing when Derek dragged her in and pressed a gentle kiss to the healed skin of her forehead. She beamed up at him, wriggling to be put down now that she was no longer in need of magic healing kisses. Derek set her down and she headed for the DVD shelf, pulling them out one by one in search of the Little Mermaid case.
Stiles turned, startled to see Derek looking at him expressionlessly. Feeling more than a little ashamed of his earlier behavior, Stiles looked away and shrugged. “Sorry about... That stuff I’ve been saying… I just… didn’t understand.” In reality, it was more that Stiles assumed what he saw Derek do with the kids around him was how he always acted. The more Derek stayed instead of worked, the more Stiles saw that there was a lot he didn’t know went on between the three Hales behind closed doors.
Derek glanced at his watch, exhaling slowly. “I forget I’m not the only one who cares about them anymore,” he murmured, arm dropping as he glanced up at Stiles. There was an awkward moment of silence, one that Stiles felt should be filled with words, but he couldn’t think of anything to say. Derek stood there for another second, and then cleared his throat. “I need to go into the office, now.”
With that, Derek backed up and turned, heading for the kitchen where he’d left his briefcase after they’d had breakfast.
This time, when Derek left for work, Olly and Andy only cried for ten minutes before they settled back down and resumed watching their movie. Even then, the entire mood for the day still felt a little off--especially when Stiles thought about the way Derek had stiffened when Stiles had kissed Andy on the head, or how Derek had acted like Stiles was practically replacing him. It might have been a werewolf thing; which meant that Stiles needed to call his main informant of all things furry and bitey.
“Sounds like a territory thing,” Scott said, voice muffled on the other line. Stiles sighed, wiping a bit of juice off of the kitchen table and dropping his voice down so that baby superhearing couldn’t pick him up over the sound of Sebastian the crab nearly being murdered by a homicidal French chef.
“It’s not like they can make me pack, Scott.”
“Well, actually, they can.” Scott countered, sounding almost smug about the fact that he actually knew something Stiles didn’t. “Derek said that they were scent marking you, right?”
Dread settled in Stiles’ gut as he dropped the washcloth in the sink. “Yeah,” he said slowly, “what’s your point?”
“Scent marking is to make you smell like pack.”
“Dude, I’m human, in case you forgot.”
Scott made a dismissive noise. “Doesn’t matter, man. Pack is pack--human or wolf.”
Stiles had absolutely no idea what to do with that information. It wasn’t like he could tell Olly or Andy that they weren’t allowed cuddles or hugs anymore, could he? Derek was their alpha and their father. If he wanted them to stop, then he had to be the bad guy. Stiles didn’t get paid enough to break the hearts of children.
He kind of didn’t want to really think too hard about the fact that Olly and Andy apparently wanted him in their family so much that they were trying to mark him as pack. Thanking Scott absently, Stiles hung up and scrubbed his palm over his face. He had absolutely no idea how to even process the information he was being given.
Stiles wanted to say this was above his pay grade, but he made $50 an hour so, really, it wasn’t.
Thinking about the gravity of the situation just made Stiles’ gut clench. He needed to get out of the house--and he needed to take the kids with him. They all needed some space, and a bit of fresh air. Maybe all this cabin fever was what was causing all the possessiveness.
Probably not, but taking them to the park for the afternoon couldn’t hurt.
In theory, going to the park shouldn’t have hurt. Stiles, however, hadn’t thought about the fact that Andy and Olly weren’t the only young werewolves in town. He also hadn’t even considered the idea that maybe girls and boys had a different scent.
At least, not until Andy was having a screaming fest with one of the older boys on the playground who kept throwing mulch at her and calling her names.
“You’re a boy! You’re a boy! Stop being a weirdo!” the kid chanted, hanging upside-down from the monkey bars, hair sticking every-which-way as he chucked bits of wood at Andy, having apparently stashed a bunch of wood chips into his pockets.
Stiles wanted to intervene, but he knew for a fact that the kid’s dad was watching his every move--like if Stiles tried to stop the mocking, he was going to get beat up for it. Stiles was half tempted to risk his life in order to stop the tears that were rising in Andy’s eyes, but he didn’t know what would happen if he wasn’t conscious to watch over the kids.
“Shut up!” Andy wailed, jumping up and down in a frustrated stomp. The boy clambered down from the monkey bars, laughing mockingly. Olly was growling in Stiles’ arms, claws digging into his shoulders and his fur puffing out around his jaw and ears.
“You’re not a girl! You’re a liar!” the boy teased, which was really the last straw for Stiles. He shifted Olly on his hip, stomping over just as Andy took two furious steps forward and punched the boy right in the nose.
In a movie, Stiles would have been cheering Andy on. In real life, however, beating the crap out of a kid for bullying you was apparently frowned upon in society. Andy tackled the screaming boy to the ground, punching him in the face again as the kid’s dad jumped to his feet.
“Andy, use your words!” Stiles cried, hurriedly setting Olly down and rushing over before things got out of hand.
“Okay!” Andy shouted as the kid’s nose started to bleed. “You smell like poopy an’ lizard breff! You’re ugly too!”
Stiles wrenched her off of the older child, ignoring her kicking and screaming protests as she roared, “I’m not a boy!” with a wolfish snarl and a flash of bright blue eyes. Stiles shushed her, petting at her hair and thanking the higher powers that she’d at least beat up a fellow werewolf, because the kid was already starting to heal as he sobbed loudly into his father’s arms.
The father, though, looked utterly livid. “You need to stop feeding that boy your sick fantasies. What would his parents say if they knew you were ruining their son?”
Anger hit Stiles in a rush and he rubbed Andy’s back when he felt her still, knowing she had heard everything the man had said. “I’m sure her father would wonder what kind of parent just watches their kid bully his daughter!”
Stiles turned on his heel before the guy could say anything else. The rest of the parents were already watching, a few of them with expressions like they wanted to get in on the argument, and Stiles really didn’t want to know who’s side they were taking. Andy didn’t need to listen to anyone but Stiles or Derek.
“I’m not a boy,” Andy whimpered into Stiles’ throat, breath hitching as she clutched to the collar of his shirt.
“I know, baby girl. That doesn’t mean you need to hit them for being stupid heads.”
“I’m sorry,” Andy said, though Stiles didn’t think she was actually sorry at all. He didn’t blame her, though. If he wasn’t expected to be a responsible adult, he’d have been cheering her on the whole way.
“Stupi’ heads with lizard breff!” Olly piped up from Stiles’ feet, having run over the second the yelling had stopped. Andy grinned into Stiles’ throat, giggling just the tiniest bit. Stiles almost sat back down on the bench when the older woman who was there with her grandchildren released a horrified noise.
“You need to stop this nonsense. Who knows how messed up that boy will be in a few years if you don’t stop,” she hissed, as if talking quietly was going to make it harder for Andy to hear what she was saying. Olly, fingers curled into Stiles’ pant leg, pointed at her with a distressed noise.
“Stop being mean to my sister!” he cried, looking ready to bite the woman’s throat out at a moment’s notice. Stiles pressed his hand against Olly’s head, bringing it against his leg to try and calm him. He looked the woman down, realizing in that exact moment that, compared to a lot of parents? Derek was a fucking amazing father, and Olly and Andy would grow up to be strong and wonderful because of his support. And until the day Derek could be there all the time? Stiles would be the one cheering them on.
“There is nothing wrong with Andy, because she will never grow up being told she’s wrong and that she can’t be anything she wants. She’s loved way too much for anyone to break her heart like that.” Stiles looked at where Andy was staring up at him with wide eyes, giving her the biggest grin he could. “She is the most perfect girl in the entire world.”
With that, Stiles took Olly’s hand and led them off of the playground and towards the car. They didn’t have to put up with the rest of the world’s ignorance. Sure, when they went to pre-school come fall, there would be issues, but Stiles was sure Derek would nip all of those problems in the bud.
In the great words of half the internet, haters were gonna hate.
Regardless of how awesome Stiles felt with their epic storm-out of the park, he made sure to text Derek the second that they got home. He didn’t go into much detail, just saying that Andy had beat up another kid at the playground for calling her a boy. Part of it was to see Derek’s reaction, and another part was so that he was at least slightly informed if he came home and the kids tried to talk his head off with stories of their afternoon.
As per Andy’s request, they set up the pillow fort in the living room for a play game of castle. Andy was in her room, changing into a more ‘princess appropriate’ dress when Derek texted back.
I’m starting to get the feeling I was being lied to by Andy’s therapist.
It was a loaded comment, for sure. There were so many things Stiles could say to that. He could regale stories of doctors telling his dad that Stiles would never be able to live on his own, and how they’d told Stiles he needed to be independent and fight his dad at the same time. It had caused a two year long fight between he and his father before they realized the doctor was the source of it, and that the fighting had also been the reason for bi-montly visits.
He could tell Derek about prejudice and ignorance and hundreds of other things, but there were so many words in his head that he knew nothing he said would really come across through a text the way it should.
In the end, as Andy re-entered with a bright purple dress covered in sparkles, Stiles only replied to Derek’s text with the words, it happens, before he tucked his phone away.
“Diles is Prince Flynn!” Andy exclaimed, displaying a half-crumpled aluminum foil tiara with a flourish and then gesturing for Stiles to put it on. Stiles grinned, taking the tiara and smoothing it out before putting it on.
“I thought Flynn was a bandit?”
“You are a prince,” Andy said firmly, staring at Stiles with such an intensity that Stiles was just the tiniest bit frightened. He nodded in agreement as Olly whined and climbed into Stiles’ lap to reach for his tiara.
“I want to be a prince!”
Andy scoffed, tugging on Olly’s ankle. “You can’t be a prince ‘cuz den you gotta kiss me!”
“Ew!” Olly screeched, just before Andy pulled too hard and sent Olly tumbling off of Stiles’ lap. He hit the ground with a thud, wailing loudly as Andy covered her mouth with a dramatic gasp. The doorbell rang as Stiles scooped Olly up into his arms, peppering kisses on his face to try and distract him from the momentary pain until he healed. Olly whined and Stiles resorted to drastic measures. With one hand holding Olly up, he used the other to pull up the astronaut t-shirt Olly was wearing, blowing a loud raspberry that made Olly’s sob turn into a squealing laugh.
“Stiles!” Olly whined, laughing when Stiles blew on his stomach again. He slapped at Stiles’ face, giggling loudly when the doorbell rang again. Relieved that the crisis was averted, Stiles shot Andy a work that told her ‘we will have words when I come back’ and he lifted Olly onto his hip.
Before answering the door, Stiles detoured to the kitchen, snagging a juice box and struggling to open it for Olly while he headed for the foyer.
Opening the door revealed a woman who looked a little older than Derek, her light brown hair curled over one shoulder and eyes locking instantly to where Olly was cradled into Stiles’ side and tearily sucking down his juice.
“Uh,” Stiles cleared his throat after another beat of silence, instinctively tightening his arm around Olly. “Can I help you?”
The woman, who had continued to stare at the boy in Stiles’ hold, flitted her eyes up to lock on Stiles’. In a heartbeat, she was grinning and cocking her hip out, one hand resting on the curve of it with a level of confidence that made Stiles wary.
“Well hey there, cutie. My name is Kate Hale,” she reached a hand out and Stiles took it, wincing at the strength of her grip when she practically wrenched his arm in a shake.
“Derek’s wife?” Kate offered. Stiles stared at her hand, the one still holding onto his own, frowning at the sight of her ring finger. It was completely void of jewelry--there wasn’t even a tan line like she had recently removed a wedding band. Even if there had been a ring, Stiles knew enough that Derek wasn’t married. Whatever was going on, it wasn’t good.
He withdrew his hand, moving to grab the door. “I’m sorry, Mr. Hale isn’t married,” he began, starting to shut the door. “You’ll have to come back later when he’s home.”
Stiles didn’t even get it completely closed before her hand shot out and slammed into the wood, forcing it back open. Kate leaned in, eyes narrowed as she hissed out, “I have visitation rights. It‘s my turn with the boys.”
In the past month and a half that Stiles had worked for Derek, that had never been a single second in which a mother was ever mentioned (outside of offhanded comments from Erica and that whole store fiasco with Olly). That, in itself, was enough to raise hundreds of alarms in Stiles’ mind. He crushed Olly to his chest, ignoring the whine of discomfort as Kate reached out to try and take him from Stiles. Olly whined, leaning away with a whisper of, "she's scary," that had Stiles' gut burning with dread upon hearing just two words that were complete proof that this woman was no one of importance to Olly or Andy.
Stiles wrenched back, instinctively slapping her hand away. “I’m sorry. You’re going to have to wait until Mr. Hale is home. Until then, you’re trespassing, because you aren‘t on the emergency contact list. I‘m sorry.” Without even pausing to breathe, Stiles rushed through his words as he pushed at the door, using his hip and weight to shove it closed when she tried to push it open again. The handle barely clicked before he was flicking the lock.
There was a rap on the door as Kate knocked again and then hit the doorbell switch. “Come on, sweetie. I haven’t got all day just to wait for my own kids. Be a good boy and open up.”
Stiles didn’t even hesitate to grab his phone, dialing Derek’s name with shaking hands and bringing it to his ear.
“This is Hale.” Stiles had never been so grateful to hear Derek’s grumpy voice as he was in that moment, with some crazy woman at the door, fiddling with the lock.
“There’s some lady here who says she’s your wife. Dude, seriously, if she’s right, you really need to work on your taste in women. She’s freaking me out.”
There was a pause, and then Derek slowly asked, “did she tell you her name?”
“Uh,” Stiles scrambled to remember what she’d said, rocking Olly just the tiniest bit to keep himself from having a complete nervous breakdown, “Kate? Kate Hale?”