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We Wear the Mask

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We Wear the Mask

 

 With torn and bleeding hearts we smile...

 

 

“You ready to go?” The question is half laugh, half exasperation--coming from the lithe image of perfection that leans against the white moulding of the doorjamb. Long dark blonde hair, blue eyes sparkling in the dying sunlight that comes through the open window of the bedroom, a wide white smile that’s just this side of predatory, and a laugh that can rid the world of all ails; Kate is truly remarkable. “Derek, seriously, come on,” she demands of him when he remains sitting in his reading chair--just staring at her.

 

“Do I have to go?” Derek’s never been one to enjoy attention, and loathes interviews.

 

Kate sighs, crossing her arms over her torso--a torso wrapped in revealing black lace--clearly done she says, “You promised,” in a tone that is all ice.  

 

“Kate-,” she cuts him off before he can continue.

 

“Victoria will lose a significant amount of credibility, not to mention money, if we don’t show.” He bites his tongue on the fact that Victoria would sell her dead mother’s privacy to make a profit--it’s an old argument, one he doesn’t want to have right this moment, so he falls silent. The way Kate’s standing--as if poised to attack--he knows he’s not missing this interview with Matt Daehler.

 

“Am I fine in what I’m wearing,” he asks, bowing to her demands as he always does. She gives him a quick once over, and frowns. “What?” Derek sounds defensive in his own ears.

 

“You should shave,” she replies with a thoughtful tilt of her head.

 

“I’m not shaving, Kate,” he tells her, a low growl coming through his tone, and she releases another of her long-suffering sighs.

 

“Fine, we’d probably be late if you did--just come on then.”

 

 

Derek’s smile feels stiff when he sits between Kate and her older brother, Chris. Victoria is closest to Matt, wearing her brightest and sharpest smile. It’s an unsettling expression. They briefed them in the back,  while the makeup team got them ready for the cameras, on what Matt would and would not ask them. Thankfully, he’s not supposed to ask Derek anything more beyond he and Kate’s impending nuptials. Mostly, he’ll be asking about the seventh season of All About Argent. Something Derek’s only appeared on a couple of times--despite Victoria’s neverending badgering; she’s been trying to get him signed as a regular since he and Kate started dating three years ago.

 

When the questions begin Derek zones out. He’s got the attention span of a toddler in these situations. Derek’s staring out at Matt’s audience, wondering how they can be so fascinated by people for being nothing more than trustfund babies. True, the origins of the Argent fortune were shady--an empire created off of the money a now dead great-great-grandfather and now dead great-grandfather made off of liquor during the prohibition era, and illegal arms trade. Argent is still a huge name in arms dealings, or so Derek hears, but it’s supposedly on the up and up. They also still sell booze. Victoria marketed a chain of restaurant-bars called Argent’s Speakeasy that appear vintage with modern spirits and technologies to get food on tables faster. But the popularity of the business is due to the show’s ratings. Derek hasn’t met a person yet who doesn’t know who the Argents are. Victoria, Kate, and Allison are household names. All hailed for their lavish lifestyles, fashion expertise, famous friends, and dramatic flare. They lead the lives the rest of the “simple people” of the world dream about living. Derek’s never been poor, perse, he comes from a line of Alphas in business and some in politics; Alphas with money and power, but he wasn’t--personally--obscenely wealthy at an extremely young age; his mother made him work for every dime he got. She came from money, but didn’t inherit her father’s empire until Derek was sixteen. Even then Derek was not just given stacks of cash. Yes, he drove a tricked out ‘67 Camaro in high school, but his paycheck from Starbucks was paying for the damn thing--he even got a second part time job to cover the insurance. He knows the value of work. Knows what it’s like to have to clean toilets, mop up vomit, and go to work even when he’s sick or doesn’t want to--Derek and Kate, while they have similar net worths, now, there is a world of difference between how they believe they should spend it. She wants lavish trips to Paris at a moment’s notice while Derek’s good with a cheap six pack, a small fishing boat, a book and his fishing gear. He’s good with backyard barbecues, family, friends, and a Giants game. Simple are his wants and desires.

 

Matt catches him off guard when he intones, “Derek?”

 

Glancing up, Derek notices people watching him expectantly. He also detects the sharp scents of anger--most clearly from Kate, and he frowns.

 

“What’s going on?” When he catches Allison’s eye she appears judgmental, which is a look Derek has rarely seen on her kind face.

 

Matt has a vicious kind of smile--the kind gossips wear--while he gestures with a careless arm at the large screen behind the couch Derek’s sitting on.

 

When he turns Derek’s face goes slack, eyes widening at a collection of images he sees there. They’re all snapshots of a Twitter account. Taken recently seeing as how the date says today’s date next to a username. The username being @L_Stilinski9 with the picture of a pubescent boy yelling down into the camera of, presumably, his phone.

 

Derek recognizes the name Stilinski, and he breathes out when he sees an old photo of himself yelling into a camera with a toddler doing the same, from where the child is posed, pressing himself against the steering wheel of Derek’s high school Camaro. Both of them have their fangs dropped, and their eyes are flashing. Derek’s red and the little boy’s yellow.

 

Another photo of Derek with the same toddler appears; they’re playing catch with one of those soft mitts with velcro in the palm and a fuzzy blue ball. Derek swallows as the image hits him somewhere deep--in a wound long forgotten.

 

Then, lastly, a photo of young Derek holding a newborn baby. Smiling down at the bundle--its eyes screwed shut with a wet film over the little lids. Beneath that photo the words “add 2 the long list of things mom didnt tell me.@DerekHale24 r u my dad?”

 

“Liam,” he says, and seconds after his whisper a flood of noise surrounds him. Questions, demands for answers, shocked fans, but Derek cannot hear them through the sound of white noise filling his ears.

 

 

He’s not sure how he winds up back at the apartment he rents with Kate, in Manhattan, but Derek finds himself in his bedroom, pacing and flexing out his fingers. His claws extending and retracting with the motion. It doesn’t help calm the sudden burst of anger he has--at what? Everything and everyone. Nothing and noone.

 

When Kate finds him he’s throwing a glass at the wall. Throws the damn thing hard enough that it blows through the sheetrock and splinters one of the studs behind the plaster.

 

She’s silent in the doorway, her scent foul with rage, disappointment, and jealousy. Derek sags when he turns to face her. He loves Kate, truly, and he hates that this discovery hurts her. He’s disappointed in himself because this hurts them.

 

“Who is that boy?” She asks when the room grows still, and Derek’s heartbeat has calmed to almost normal.

 

Derek drops down against their bed, rumpling the expensive cotton comforter Kate spent a small mint on a month ago. He runs his fingers against the printed pattern. A pattern Derek thinks is ugly, but is trying to learn to love.

 

“Tell me,” Kate demands, her voice a near scream and Derek instinctively knows the moment her claws come out.

 

After a swallow he says, “His name’s Liam.”

 

“Yeah, I got that when you whispered his name, on camera, for the entire world to see,” she seethes, stomping her foot hard enough he’s afraid she’ll put the spiky heel through the wood floors.

 

“You’re being dramatic,” he argues, and that riles her up more.

 

“Dramatic? You’re the one who’s made me a laughingstock. My image is what I sell. My life, my fashion, my opinion--everything I have is under a microscope and this could possibly ruin me.” He’s the one who has a teenager tweeting at him, asking if Derek’s his dad, and all Kate can think about is Kate.

 

“Like your sex tape,” he snaps back, and her eyes go emerald with rage. “It made you famous, Kate--if you can bounce back from that, you can bounce back from anything.” The snarl in his voice is vicious and unkind, but he can’t find it in him to feel sorry for hurting her.

 

“Really? No matter how I spin this one of us looks bad--you have a SON, Derek. A child I knew nothing about.”

 

“I don’t have a son,” Derek whispers, something breaking in his voice as the words tumble out, and she’s suddenly a violent storm gone silent.

 

“What,” her voice is quiet like the room.

 

“I said; I don’t have a son,” his tone is weary, and Derek runs his fingers across his closed eyes.

 

She lets out a horrible wail. Derek’s half afraid she’ll shatter the windows. Kate’s scream doesn’t break the panes of glass, but her claws ruin the wall as she slides down it, “Get out,” she sobs, “Get out until you can say that without your heart stuttering with your lies.” Derek doesn’t argue. He has a duffel packed in the closet; the one he’s kept since their last fight, and is gone in a matter of minutes.

 

Liam

 

The calls start the day after he tweets at Derek Hale, asking if the dude’s his dad. Well, the calls from reporters and stuff start then--the calls and texts from his friends had started right after the tweet went live. He wants the truth--Liam didn’t tweet those photos for a media circus, but that’s what they got. A line of paparazzi and reporters, and all kinds of vultures are parked on the street. Gramps is doing what he can, but it isn’t much. They’re on public property and Liam is technically the one who invited the attention.

 

By week three Mom is an absolute wreck. Liam’s holding up alright, the whole school acts like his shit don’t stink now, and everyone wants to be friends with him. Not that he was invisible before; being a star player for any of this nowhere town’s sports teams is an invitation to popularity. Liam’s been on the radar for years, this is just a new level of attention.

 

“So did your mom tell you she knew Derek Hale?”

 

“Where’d you find the pictures?”

 

“Are you going to go live with him and your soon to be step-mom now?”

 

“I thought all the people who grew up with Derek in this shitbox town were all gone by now. Is he going to come visit you more?”

 

Millions of questions, all basically asking the same things. The only one Liam knows the answer to is where he found the photos. In the attic-slash-Mom’s paint studio, tucked inside a trunk that holds his gran’s wedding dress, her journals, and letters she wrote to his mom’s two older brothers, and his mom. Topics they don’t touch because every time they do, Mom has a freak out and it got to the point where Gramps finally told Liam to quit asking. So he’s had to live his life without knowing anything about his gran or his dad. Ond day, Liam got tired of continuously hitting those walls of secrets and decided fuck it; opening that forbidden trunk, finding all those albums of his dad, it was freeing in a way. However, he’s not so sure it was such a good idea to touch Pandora’s box.

 

“How’s your mom?” Mason’s the only one besides Brent, Mr. Mahealani, and Mr. Yukimura to ask.

 

“She’s alive,” he says, frowning as he rummages through his locker for his history textbook.

 

“Has she showered at least?” Mason doesn’t make the question sound rude, and Liam knows it’s not meant to be; he asks because last Liam told him Mom hadn’t gotten out of bed for a week. Which is a fact that still makes him shudder with guilt when he thinks about how Mom just laid in bed, sobbing, with the blankets pulled up over her head all while the phone continuously rang.

 

“Yeah, I think so. She didn’t smell or anything,” he shrugs, slamming his locker closed before spinning the combination around. “I just wish she wasn’t so sad.” Liam chews his lip while he thinks about the way she was sitting at the kitchen table, crying over a cup of coffee this morning. Progress, at least.

 

“Maybe you were poking wounds you shouldn’t have been messing with,” Mason says with that wise tone he’s fond of using and Liam murmurs his agreement. He never intended to make Mom cry.

 

 

Uncle Jackson’s Porsche is in the driveway, along with Uncle Jordan’s county cruiser; Liam has a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when he climbs off the bus at the end of the day. Gramps’s sheriff’s cruiser is always in the driveway when Liam gets home and so is Mom’s rickety old Jeep. However, Uncle Jordan rarely drops by since he works evening shift. He joins them for dinner on his days off, usually, but Uncle Jackson never visits Beacon Hills. Never. The only time Liam sees him is when Uncle Jordan takes his quarterly weekends to visit NYC and a few of his old academy buddies. Then it’s usually Uncle Jackson taking Liam to expensive lunches or playing Xbox with him while Uncle Jordan bar hops with his friends. They have a strange brotherly dynamic, he supposes. During all of their trips to Uncle Jackson’s Liam is pretty certain Uncle Jordan and Uncle Jackson have spent a max of ten minutes in the other’s presence.  

 

The voices are loud when he opens the front door. Uncle Jackson’s is, unsurprisingly, the loudest, “How the hell did he even find those pictures? I thought you said you burned them.”

 

Mom is the first one Liam sees; she’s standing tall, proud and defensive, while she bares her teeth at Uncle Jackson. “You really think I’d burn my son’s memories?” She shoves at Uncle Jackson’s chest. She doesn’t look as strong as she is, and Uncle Jackson stumbles a bit with the force of her push.

 

“Stiles,” Uncle Jackson rages, his eyes glowing blue with his ire as he catches her slim wrists, “You knew you couldn’t keep them. You decided. You were the one who-”

 

Uncle Jordan cuts off whatever else Uncle Jackson was going to say, raising his voice enough to be heard over the commotion, “Liam, welcome home.”

 

Suddenly, all of their eyes are on him, and he fidgets, uncomfortable in the silence that follows his entry. Mom’s the first one to move, as usual, and she drops her long arms to her side with a huff. She glares over at Uncle Jackson--her brown eyes glowing blue for a second before she says, “We’re done, Jackie--you can go home whenever you like.”

 

“I drove for nearly six and a half hours, thanks to traffic, I’m not going home,” Uncle Jackson frowns, but Gramps places a staying hand on his broad shoulder when he looks ready to start another fight.

 

“Let it alone,” Gramps says, and with that it’s done. Uncle Jackson deflates, leaning his tall form against one of the tiled kitchen counters--crossing his arms and scowling like a teenaged brat, not like a thirty-two-year-old.

 

Liam doesn’t comment on his uncle’s attitude, he doesn’t say much of anything--too afraid they’re going to scold him for being an idiot and posting pictures to Twitter without asking his mom first. Only they don’t; Gramps just smiles that half-amused, half-weary smile he’s always wearing, Uncle Jackson graces Liam with his own half smile, and Uncle Jordan comes over to give him a crushing hug.

 

“It’s been a couple weeks, you’ve gotten bigger,” he comments when he lets Liam go, and Liam stumbles a bit when he tries to steady himself.

 

“Coach has us lifting weights, so I hope I’m bulking up.” It’s awkward to talk as if nothing’s changed, but Liam rolls with it as best as he can.   

 

“You’re a Stilinski, kid, of course you’re bulking up,” Uncle Jackson declares, and Uncle Jordan rolls his eyes--a common occurrence when he’s in Uncle Jackson’s presence.

 

“Does pizza sound good for dinner,” Gramps asks, and Liam nods. It seems like a normal day, feels like one, until he remembers there’s a line of annoying reporters still camping in the streets. They flashed at least a hundred photos of him as he walked from the bus stop home.  

 

Mom doesn’t come down for dinner, and Liam doesn’t miss the frown Gramps wears when he looks towards the stairwell. Uncle Jordan and Uncle Jackson both notice but neither of them says anything. They all try to act like everything’s normal when they notice Liam is paying attention. Suddenly, he wonders if his search for the truth is worth the strife. Right now he feels like a giant fuck up.

 

 

Jackson

 

Jordan closes the rickety screen door gently behind him, and Jackson goes back to drinking his beer--watching the dark house next door from where he sits swinging on the porch swing. “He’s not coming outside, Jackson. Derek’s a couple hundred miles away--possibly thousands if he’s in L.A. shooting that show,” Jordan’s tone is mild and amused; it grates on Jackson’s nerves.

 

“I’m not looking for him,” he snips in return, mouth twitching with the itch of his fangs, “I know he’s not there--if he was I’d knock his fucking teeth in.” He would, too, if he was given the chance. Doesn’t matter that at one time he and Derek were best friends; Jackson would rip him to fucking shreds for this mess and the fact that Stiles stinks of sorrow. No one is allowed to make Stiles feel miserable.

 

When Jordan chuckles Jackson snaps his head to the right to glare at him. The look doesn’t stop Jordan; if anything he starts laughing harder, and Jackson hates that his older brother still has the ability to make him feel like a silly pup. When his mirth subsides Jordan says, “It’d be more productive to think of a way to pull Stiles out of this funk.”

 

“We all know how,” Jackson growls--his eyes flashing in Jordan’s direction, “Just no one wants to talk about it.”

 

“It’s the Stilinski way,” Jordan agrees, “Ignoring a problem until it goes away.”

 

After he downs the rest of his beer, Jackson snorts, “Funny how that never quite works out.” Standing from the swing, Jackson shoulders past Jordan--who stands taller than him by a few inches still--and makes his way into the house.

 

Dad’s in his recliner, kicked back, watching evening sports reports on ESPN. “Can you really afford to take time off,” Dad asks, watching as the sportscaster talks about a brutal injury sustained during a baseball game. It’s not Derek, unfortunately.

 

“I’ve already negotiated for Ethan and Aiden; it was a long back and forth with the Broncos for Ethan and the Patriots for Aiden, but they’re worth every penny we fought for.” He kicks his shoes off before flopping down on the old tweed sofa, “I’ve got a four day break before I need to catch a flight to Indiana to check out a potential lead.”  

 

“I noticed your Porsche was a different one than the last time you managed to make it home,” Dad has that tone--the one that tells him how little he appreciates Jackson’s distance from the family. A distance that started at about seventeen, and hasn’t quit since.

 

“I was home a few Christmases ago,” he replies, his tone contrite as a margin of guilt fills him.

 

“Normal families spend most holidays together,” is the response Jackson gets and he sighs.

 

“What do you want me to say, Dad?” He throws up his hands, “Do you want me to say I’m sorry? Because I’m not. I like my life. I like my job. I like my apartment, my car, and the people I meet.”

 

Dad’s quiet for a long while, his mouth a thin line of disappointment and anger, as he watches the T.V.. Derek appears onscreen. An older video interview of him when his team won the World Series, and he’s grinning ear to ear. Jackson doesn’t really pay attention to what they’re saying. Probably just giving a little update on Derek’s private affairs since the world seems to be so intrigued by this new development in his superstar life. “Derek still visits his family,” Dad says--knowing it will rile Jackson up, but even so he takes the bait and snarls.

 

“Oh yeah--because there’s a piece of his life he hasn’t visited once in twelve years!” Jackson wants to claw out the bastard’s eyes for all the questions Liam had through the years; questions left unanswered. One of the most painful memories Jackson has is when Liam asked him if he could be Liam’s dad. He nearly went to Yankee Stadium to tear Derek’s heart out of his chest, for the heartbreak he saw in his nephew’s eyes when Jackson told him he couldn’t be Liam’s dad.  

 

“At least he likes his family,” Dad explodes, pulling Jackson from one of the many reminders of why he hates Derek. “What about you, Jackie, do you like us? Are you ashamed of us? What did we do to run you off?”

 

Jackson scrubs his hand over his face, too tired to fight about this. “I do like you--it’s just...complicated.”

 

Dad lets out a soft, “Hah,” as he lowers the footrest of his recliner and stands from the chair. “Complicated,” he echoes on his way out of the room, and Jackson feels fifteen again when he slumps against the back of the couch.

 

Laura

 

The call comes at six in the morning, and she knows who it is before she opens her eyes to check the caller I.D., “What,” she growls into the receiver, “I was sleeping, and your epic angst party could’ve waited until a decent hour.”

 

“Thanks for the love and support,” Derek’s voice sounds raw, as if he’s been screaming for hours--and knowing that harpy she-devil he’s planning to marry, Laura wouldn’t doubt he’s been having all out yelling matches in recent days.

 

“I am loving and supportive, just not at the butt-ass crack of dawn,” she yawns around the last word, stretching in her bed while being extremely grateful that Erica’s already left for her morning run. She’s even worse when someone wakes her up with a phone call.

 

“I thought you got up at five,” Derek inquires, and  she snorts at his obvious attempt to avoid what he’s called her for.

 

“I only wake up at five when absolutely necessary--on a Saturday it’s not necessary to wake up that early.” Then, before he can continue with this tedious talk, she speaks with a bright, cheery tone, “Now, tell me why you woke me up; I’m assuming this has to do with Liam.”

 

“I could’ve called you for something else,” Derek tries--sounding petulant.

 

Laura’s having none of it, “Cut the shit, Derek.”

 

“Kate kicked me out,” he says after a patience trying silence. Laura sighs in response. According to Boyd Kate kicked him out the night she found out about Liam. Derek’s been couch drifting, because he’s too fucking cheap to stay in a hotel.  

 

“I was expecting as much,” she’s honest with Derek, brutally so most times they interact, but it doesn’t mean she enjoys the way he lets out a pained and deprecating laugh. “You want me to call her the biggest bitch to ever bitch? Because I totally will.” His laugh has a bit more humor in it this time, and Laura manages her own weak smile.

 

“I know you don’t like her,” Derek says with a huff.

 

“Understatement of the century, brother dear,” Laura replies, as she swings her legs over the side of her large bed.

 

“But I do love her, Laura.” She shuts up when she hears that--honestly, Laura thinks he’s full of shit. That he’s not quite sure what he feels, and that Kate’s just really, really good at using her vagina, but that’s not her place. She’s not allowed to invalidate his feelings--because like it or lump it they aren’t hers and she can’t, with one hundred percent accuracy, tell Derek what he is or isn’t feeling. It’s the sucky spot between the rock and the hard place that Laura hates with a passion. She sees Derek, knows him well--has for the past thirty-two years of his life--and she knows when he’s in love. He’s not in love with Kate; he just hasn’t figured that out yet. Maybe she’s a shitty sister, but she’s hoping that this Liam situation will force him to reexamine his life.

 

“Alright,” is all she says in response; the conversation going quiet and stagnant after that.

 

“Do you mind if I crash with you and Erica for a few, until everything blows over?” She can’t help the startled laugh that she releases due to his naivety. Laura pops a dark roast Gevalia K-cup into her Keurig, watching the stream of brown water that fills her cup. Thankfully. She needs coffee if they’re going to have this conversation.

 

“Derek this isn’t going to blow over; the world is obsessed with Kate Argent and her band of merry fashionistas--they are going to hound you until you finally tell them the truth.” That’s what Laura finally settles with once she’s had her first couple of sips of her too hot coffee.

 

“What is the truth?” Derek explodes from the other end of the line, and Laura stands up straighter, exhaling her frustration.

 

“The truth is that you and Stiles...you got in too deep, okay, and it happens, Derek. But even if you tell them they aren’t going to believe you--it’s always going to be the story that you got a girl knocked up when you were young and then left her when the kid was two--left her for baseball, and never looked back.”

 

“That’s not how it happened,” he whispers, hurt and full of denial.

 

“I know, kiddo, but the truth and what the world takes as truth will never be the same thing,” Laura really hates being the oldest at times like this. When she has to be the one to make Derek, Cora, Alisha, and Stella see sense. She hates being the oldest more when she has to throw up her hands in admitted defeat and say, “You need to go see Mom--if anyone will know what to do it will be her.”

 

“Fuck,” Derek mutters and Laura silently agrees with that sentiment. Mom’s even harder to deal with than Laura. She doesn’t mince a single word, and her pity is nonexistent. Still, if anyone will know how to deal with this shit-storm it will be their Alpha mother.

 

Kate

 

“The reporters are still outside,” Allison asks with a disapproving frown when she looks out of the kitchen window, “It’s been over a week; you’d think there would be a better story by now.”

 

Kate gives her a tired look, pushing her fingers through her limp hair, “I’m sure they’ll be out there until we give a statement.” She feels disgusting; it’s been a couple of days since she put her face on, and she hasn’t done more than throw her hair up into a messy bun when she has to leave the house. Even then she never gets out of the car. It’s just so she can escape the same four walls, Victoria’s constant hounding, and Chris’s commiserating stares.

 

Allison appears to be thinking something over, but Kate’s not really interested in the moue of Allison’s mouth. She’s too busy feeling betrayed--along with spiteful and enraged. She misses what Allison says, only catching the “...this season,” at the end.

 

“I’m sorry I was so pissed off my ears weren’t working,” Kate drawls, and sits up--ignoring the hundredth text from Victoria this afternoon. As she reads it--You need to talk to Derek. I meeting with producers to talk about the season this afternoon--Kate rolls her eyes.  

 

“I said are you planning on giving a statement or are you keeping it under wraps for ratings this season?” Allison doesn’t look too thrilled by the idea of having this clusterfuck be one of the season’s selling points. Of all the Argent’s she is the one who is the least interested in the fame. Her fame in the beginning was due to the show, but mostly--now--her popularity is due to the fact she is the new face of Chanel.

 

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore,” Kate admits, glaring as another text from Victoria comes, “I mean...your mother wants me to use this for ratings, but I feel more embarrassed about this than anything else. And I’m not sure I want to deal with this, and Derek, and his son on the show.”

 

Allison wears a sympathetic expression, and Kate’s grateful she has Allison on her side, “I understand, and Mom is bound to be pissed, but that’s her problem. You can’t go exploiting Derek and his kid--I doubt Derek would ever agree to that, and even if he did we’d still need his ex’s approval.”

 

Kate snarls at the idea of the faceless woman, “There’s the other problem; I don’t even know anything about her. I don’t know who she is, what she does...nothing.” After she takes a long drink of her sparkling water she adds, “How can I hate someone I’ve never met so intensely?”

 

“Because you’re in love,” Allison poses it as a question.

 

“Hmmm, maybe,” Kate replies with a dismissive tone. On the counter she spots a picture of herself and Derek, at the beach a few months before; they look stiff and miserable. It makes treacherous thoughts whisper that he hated the entire trip because there was some other woman he’d rather be with.  She’s hates the idea that she could come second to anyone, for any man.

 

“It can’t be that hard to find her,” Allison adds after a while, drawing Kate from her rage, “I’m sure your new bodyguard knows someone. He worked with a P.I. for a while, right?”

 

“Yeah, actually, he did,” Kate says with a thoughtful expression, “Maybe I’ll give him a call.”

 

Stiles

 

Dad is at the table with the morning paper when she walks in--an unsure expression on her face. When he glances up he gives her the frown--the one that has her spilling the beans before she can even try to resist.

 

“So I just got off of the phone with Lydia; there’s a woman who’s thinking of showing my work in her home. She also, apparently, owns a gallery and if the home showing goes well that could be a thing in my future.”

 

There’s a hint of surprise on Dad’s face, but not a surprise that’s meant to be insulting to her. Stiles knows his insulting faces well. “What’s got you worried, kiddo,” Dad asks, but she can tell he already knows the answer. You aren’t a cop forever without picking up a few things about facial cues.

 

“What if it’s a gimmick, you know? I mean I’m not saying I’m not good--I’m just saying what if it’s not my art but my nouveau celebrity that she’s after? What if this is about Derek or his lady friend?” She bites her bottom lip, and scrubs her hands over her buzzed down hair--trying to pull at the long strands that are no longer there.

 

“I still can’t believe you cut all your hair off,” her dad comments offhandedly. Shaking his head in a way that only a dad can--judgmental, amused, worried, and loving at once.

 

Stiles rolls her eyes, “I did it so the vultures outside wouldn’t recognize me. I figured if I had less hair, wore baggier clothes, and just projected myself as a dude they’d think old Stiles Stilinski had died from embarrassment.” At his unimpressed look she adds, “Dad, plus, I’m super hot with my hair like this--do you see the delicate curve of my jawline this well when I’ve got long hair? No, so clearly I was depriving the world of my sexy. Plus the Furiosa is all the rage nowadays.”

 

Again with the unimpressed face. “Anyways, back to the gallery owner--is she a real woman, with a real gallery?”

 

“Google seems to think she’s legit, and I’ve actually heard of her before from Lydia--apparently they’ve done business in the past.” She waves a hand casually about, “I sort of zoned out when Lydia began droning on about stuff.”

 

“Is she local?” Dad knows a little about the intricacies of the world Stiles has been running in since she was little. Mom always had Jordan, Jackson, and Stiles at various plays, readings, musicals, art galleries, street performances, and so on to expose them to culture. Dad has always said the people in those circles are pretentious, and for the most part Stiles agrees. She’s not there for the people who think they know what they like, or think they can understand the inner workings of her mind, her level of intelligence, etc. just by looking at the things she creates on a canvas, in sculptures, in photographs, and so on. Stiles is in love with the world of like-minded creators who are just as lost, just as lonely, just as lovelorn. She likes to surround herself with the people who are humble, but who still know they are good at their craft. Those seeking to hone their skills, and to leave their mark upon the world--their own piece of immortality.

 

“Her gallery is in Manhattan, and so is her apartment where I’ll do the showing.” He frowns when she admits that.

 

“I know, I mean, I haven’t had a show in a while, and have mostly been doing home shows in Syracuse or Rochester--it’s been a cool minute since I’ve been in any sort of gallery--let alone one with a prestigious reputation--so why is this woman out of Manhattan suddenly coming to me and showing interest?” Then she stumbles a bit, her hand smacking into the fridge, “And I know it’s not a gallery, not yet, but, Dad, if I don’t suck it could be. And. Oh. My. God. I can’t do this!”

 

“I think you’re talented Stiles. Gifted even,” Dad whispers, and he has that proud gleam in his eyes. The one that says as far as he’s concerned she’s the reason the sun shines. Stiles knows that smile well; she sees it in photographs of herself when she is with her son.

 

Her smile now is self-deprecating, “You have to say that you’re my dad. Jackson’s the best sports agent to ever negotiate contracts, and Jordan’s the best cop to ever cop.”

 

“Second best,” he tells her with a look, pointing to his own badge that lies on the table next to his morning mug of coffee.

 

Stiles rolls her eyes, again, then after a minute worrying her lip with her teeth says, “So what do you think?”

 

Dad sighs, settling against the back of his chair, crossing his arms as he weighs his words, “I think life isn’t lived if you don’t take a chance once in awhile.”

 

She throws her arms around him, crushing him with a hug as she smiles, “Guess I’m going to Manhattan.”

 

“Guess you are.” Then as an afterthought he adds, “Liam’s going to want to go with you.”

 

“I’ll have to think about that.”

 

Liam

 

Mason is leaning against Mom’s powder blue Jeep Wrangler Sport—the one she’s been driving since before she was legally able to drive—and gives Liam a significant look. They’ve been best friends since Kindergarten. Liam knows that gaze—knows there are multiple shades of brown in Mason’s irises—and he doesn’t have to hear Mason say “Be careful” to know that’s what he’s conveying.

 

Liam pulls him into a fierce hug. The one everyone he knows calls a “Stilinski Signature Special” or “The Triple S”. “I’ll text you the minute we get to the hotel,” Liam promises and he feels Mason nod against his shoulder.

 

“You’d better, and you’d better take pictures of hot guys for me,” with bored tone he adds, “All the guys in this shrivelled up town suck.”  

 

Liam makes a face—one exasperated and fond, “I wouldn’t know what a hot guy is, man.”

 

Mason snorts, punching him gently in the arm, “As if you wouldn’t. You’re related to a few and happen to be ridiculously good looking yourself—hot people flock together. So anyone who wants to kick it with you, basically. Instagram the photos.” Mason’s watching as Mom comes out carrying a bright pink plastic suitcase that came from the fifties.“Your mom looks wicked hot with her buzzed head; she’s got the perfect shaped face and head to rock that style,” Mason comments and if he wasn’t totally into guys Liam would think he was looking at his mom with ill intentions. However, by this point in their friendship, Liam is used to Mason and the way he talks about the people around them. It’s when he’s quiet that Liam knows he’s actually interested in someone.

 

“Dude, she’s my mom and she’s not hot,” Liam responds, offhanded, as he checks a text from Lacy--some girl on the cheer squad who is suddenly interested in him.

 

“She’s totally hot,” Mason disagrees before he calls out to her, “Looking mighty fine today, Ms. S. Very Furiosa.”

 

Mom throws her head back and laughs as she loads her stuff into the back of the Jeep. “I always knew I liked you for a reason, Mason.”

 

Liam puts his face into his hands. “God, this is a nightmare already.”

 

“You don’t have to go with her, you know? If you’re afraid of seeing your mom get hit on by art geeks then I’d be willing to trade spots with you.” Mason nudges him with an elbow and gives Liam a cheeky wink when he glances Mason’s way.

 

“Hah. Hah.” Liam mock laughs, “I don’t think so.”

 

“It’s New York City, baby, I had to try.” Liam pushes him in the face, causing Mom to smile at them in a manner that is nostalgic.

 

“Go home, I’ll tweet and Instagram all the stuff we do, promise.” Liam makes shooing motions, and Mason rolls his eyes.

 

“You better, or we aren’t best friends,” with that Mason leaves them, heading up the street to his mom’s place. Liam watches him go with a smile. He feels worry crawl into his stomach, and Liam can’t say why, but when he climbs into the Jeep it intensifies.

 

Mom doesn't say anything. She's messing with her iPhone, looking for a song, muttering under her breath, before she puts the car into reverse. The drive through town is done in near silence. Skrillrex playing quietly beneath the loud rumble of the road and engine--any other day this would be the sort of ride that calms Liam. Not today, though, not when now he knows about Derek. Not when he knows that his mom is going to bring him to Manhattan and he will wind up in the same city as his possible dad.

 

“What’s he like,” Liam asks when they hit the two lane state highway out of Beacon Hills, about twenty minutes after they leave.

 

From the corner of his eye he sees her startle. If he hadn’t been watching for it, Liam would have missed the way she tenses, and the way she pulls her bottom lip with her teeth. Even though she knows who he means, Mom tries to play stupid, “What is who like?”

 

Liam should know when to leave well enough alone, but he doesn’t--he’s still really pissed that he believed her when she said his dad was never around and she had no clue where he was. She heavily implied that his dad was a loser. He is still pissed that he’s always believed her; when, in fact, his dad is quite possibly a really awesome person. “You know who,” he snaps, in response, and Mom thumps her head against the headrest.

 

“Do you have to do this right now?” She sounds tired, and a bit disappointed.

 

“When,” Liam explodes, “When are we going to do this? If not now, Mom? I mean...shit.” He throws himself back against the seat, and growls, “It’s always not now with you. I just want to know what he’s like.”  

 

Mom puts a hand over her mouth, her eyes glassy as she whispers, “I don’t know what to tell you, Liam.”

 

“Is Derek Hale my father?”

 

She doesn’t reply, and Liam knows no matter how much he screams she won’t tell him what he wants to know. So they make the rest of the trip in silence; Mom keeps her eyes on the road and Liam watches the scenery that passes them by.  

 

Derek

 

The water is freezing over his head and he bolts awake. His neck hurting from the uncomfortable position he’s slept in on Laura and Erica’s couch. Erica is the one standing over him with a small glass tilted upside down above him.

 

“Oops,” she says, not in the least bit apologetic and Derek snarls up at her.

 

“Jesus fucking Christ,” he groans while he wipes the cold water away from his face. “Thanks for the wake-up call.”

 

“Just trying to be a good sister-in-law.” Erica’s smile is feral with wide white teeth.

 

“More like a bitch-in-law,” Derek murmurs; Erica’s severe look tells him she’s heard what he said. Laura arriving home silences any further interactions between Derek and Erica; shooting them both a significant glance but remaining silent while she removes her leather coat and drops her keys in a glass bowl that sits on a sleek table in the entry way.

 

“Baby bro, you’re still here, I see.” The way Laura says it makes it seem as if she isn’t pleased that he’s there--and she’s not; she’s said as much the past few weeks. Every morning she tells him what she says now, “You need to go to Mom.”

 

He growls--the rumble of an Alpha coming out in the sound, “I’m not going to Mom.”

 

Laura gives him her own angry growl, and hers is better than Derek’s, bleeding into her voice when she speaks. “Either you go willingly or I’ll drag you by your scruff,” then she’s on him--in an instant--with her claws digging into the back of his neck. He’s never ready for the sharp, almost burning slice of it when claws tear into him. “You. Are. Going. To. Mom,” Laura tells him with a slow, deliberate voice.

 

Derek’s nostrils flare with the desire to fight her, but he grits his teeth together as he gives her a slight nod. “Fine.”

 

Laura looks entirely too smug for Derek’s liking, but he doesn’t say anything. Just stands, rolling his neck as he feels the skin knit itself back together. Derek shoulders past her--she snaps her teeth at him as he goes--heading in the direction of her guest bath.

 

When the door is almost closed Erica looks in his direction and casually calls out, “Kate called for you this morning. I told her I’d give you the message.” Laura doesn’t look pleased by that news, and Derek slams the door.

 

Jordan

 

“You think Stiles will be all right, Dad?” Pale blue eyes glance up from the morning paper as Dad sets his mug of coffee aside. The mug Stiles made for him in middle school, and Dad doesn’t seem to notice that he unconsciously runs his finger around the rim of the cup while he considers his answer.

 

“Yeah,” he comments at last--Alpha eyes staring in the direction of the living room and Jordan doesn’t have to look to know that Dad’s eyes have found the still image of Stiles in their most recent family portrait. One they took when they were all still relatively happy.

 

She’s eighteen there--hair a long fall of dark brown waves that are careless, and her smile is the brightest Jordan’s ever remembered it being. Dad’s sitting next to her, holding a nearly two-year-old Liam, with Jordan and Jackson standing behind them. Out of them all Stiles looks the happiest, and Jordan doubts she’s aware--even now--that she is the glue that holds them together.

 

“Do you think she’s actually going to have a show?”

 

Dad sighs, and smooths his work rough hands over his worried brow, “Yeah, but I hope when she’s recognized for her talents she doesn’t lose sight of what she has.”

 

Jordan frowns at his dad, and when Dad glances back at him he wears that falsely cheery smile that all of them hate. The one that is full of the lie that everything is fine, “I was just thinking outloud; Stiles isn’t the type...” Dad never finishes the thought, but Jordan knows where that train leads. They’ve long since come to the point where they don’t discuss certain periods of their lives--mostly for Stiles’s benefit. She tends to lose her mind when certain names are mentioned.

 

Dad does too, but in a different way. His eyes go glassy, and the wrinkles around his eyes become more prominent as if he is visibly pained. Sometimes, when Jackie’s home--and feeling particularly vicious--he whispers her name within Dad’s hearing range. It’s always a visceral blow to Dad--he gasps, as if he’s been shot, and appears so betrayed those times that even Jackson manages to look guilty for causing such a reaction.

 

“You’re right,” Jordan says, long after the conversation between them has gone stagnant. “She isn’t the type.” Dad hums in a thoughtful way, and goes back to his paper. When he reaches for his coffee he frowns down at the mug, commenting how the liquid has run cold. So with a smile Jordan reaches across the small space between them, touching two fingers to the side of the mug while his eyes glow orange. When steam rises from Dad’s coffee he pulls back and there’s something almost painful in the way Dad watches him.

 

“Your mother used to keep my coffee hot,” Dad whispers after a swallow. It’s been nearly seventeen years since dad has mentioned her. He tends to do like Stiles does, buries Mom deep and pretends she’s a problem that doesn’t exist--a wound that doesn’t need closing. He’s wrong. They’re all wrong. Dad, Jordan, Stiles, and even Jackson--who spends time with her regularly, but still doesn’t dare to talk about her life. She’s the open secret Jackson is keeping, and Stiles hates him for it. Jordan doesn’t hate Jackson for being with Mom, Dad doesn’t either,   but Stiles vibrates with rage at their brother because of Mom. It’s put strain on them. All of them. Jackson doesn’t feel comfortable coming home, and once again they are torn asunder. Mom ripping through them despite the fact she hasn’t been around in years. Her touch should be dull by now, but it is still searing; as a fresh razor’s edge.

 

“Hellhounds always have hot coffee, Dad,” Jordan tries for humor, after the silence has long since become thick and charged. “I’m just doing what I can.”

 

Dad releases a slow chuckle, “Hellhounds, huh,” he blows on his coffee before taking a sip. “Funny. I always thought you’d be the one prone to rebellion. The kid who would be hard to reach, but it’s Jackson. The only wolf pup I have, and he’s the least like me.”

 

Jordan doesn’t comment, he just watches as Dad pushes his reading glasses back up his nose and stares blankly at the print. His eyes haven’t moved in long minutes, and Jordan knows he’s lost somewhere in his mind, thinking about the past.

 

Lydia

 

Stiles, as usual, is a mess when Lydia sees her.  Of course, she’s shaved her head down to damn near nothing, and, of course, she’s in some thin cotton dress with no bra on--Stiles is a wreck Lydia can never mentally prepare for. Lydia’s known Stiles since her second year at Columbia, when she was in The Hamptons for one of her mother’s pretentious as hell summer parties, and Stiles was doing a show for Lydia’s mother’s bored, trophy-wife friends. She was even more awkward and stumbling back then, but her art was evocative. Raw with sexuality and rife with strife. There was something about the sculptures Stiles had; something about the fluidity of the women, their aggressive eroticism, and their vulnerability. It touched something in Lydia, called to her spirit, and she was suddenly aware of what her art history professor waxed poetic about while Lydia sat bored in the back of the lecture hall. Stiles created something that called out to her and Lydia had been lured in, a hapless sailor intoxicated with the siren’s call. There was feeling in Stiles’s work. Repression, anger, and other nuances Lydia found the longer she knew Stiles. Of all the artists Lydia manages Stiles is the least financially successful, but she is the best. Though you wouldn’t know it just from the looks of her.

 

With a wide smile Stiles flings up her arm, her long fingers wiggling as she waves and shouts for Lydia--as if Lydia hadn’t spotted them already. How could she not?  

 

“I see you, you fucking twit,” Lydia grouses once Stiles is in hearing range, and in usual Stiles fashion she throws her head back to release a throaty laugh. Then with a wrinkle of her nose Lydia adds, “God, you do realize we’re going to dinner tonight, right?”

 

“We are?” Stiles’s large eyes are owlish in her head when she stares down at Lydia.

 

“You’re stupid brother called me, since he found out from your father you’d be in town, and asked if I could make some reservations.”

 

Stiles frowns in response, “Ugh, Jackson.”

 

“He’s an absolute nightmare,” Lydia agrees easily. Then she notices Liam, Stiles’s boy, and smiles in a gentle manner as she turns her focus to him, “My goodness, you’ve grown.” Liam, like his mother, isn’t comfortable with compliments and shuffles his feet awkwardly while a dark blush spreads over his face. “Are you a baseball fan,” she tries at him; Liam’s head shoots up and he wears a wide-eyed stare.

 

“Who’s playing?”

 

Lydia arches a brow at his tone, it’s hopeful, “Yankee’s versus the Mets.”

 

It’s Stiles who lets out a loud whoop of excitement, “I fucking love the Mets.”

 

Suddenly, Lydia is not looking forward to this outing.

 

 

Stiles and Liam both groan at the reservation Lydia has for The River Cafe, in Manhattan. Liam because he didn’t actually want to wear his suit for anything, and Stiles because she hates “pretentious as fuck food”. Then brandishing a finger at Lydia she hisses, “And I hate bras; I’ll actually have to look nice at this fucking restaurant won’t I?”

 

“That’d be appreciated, yes,” Lydia drawls while she watches Stiles move around the room Jackson procured for them at The Four Seasons. Liam wanders into the other room, when Stiles starts yanking off her dress as if she hasn’t got an audience. “Did you at least bring a nice gown?”

 

“A gown? Really? It’s a baseball game, can’t I wear a t-shirt and jeans?”

 

“I was hoping to sell you to a few other possible clients while there, Stiles.” Lydia tries, “The reason you aren’t successful is because we aren’t putting you out there the way you should be--you need to network, social media-,” Stiles cuts her off while she yanks on a bra.

 

“I know, Lydia. I’ve heard you. A thousand times over, okay, I need an Instagram, I need a Tumblr, I need a fucking Facebook and a Tweeter,” her voice is all grumble, and Lydia has to refrain from shouting at her like she’s a child.  

 

“Twitter,” Lydia corrects and Stiles narrows her eyes at her in response.

 

“Whatever--my point is, I’ve heard you say all this shit a million times. I don’t want to market myself. I want people to find my talent, not my face.” Stiles is an idealistic brat at times, and Lydia wants to throttle her.

 

Lydia rolls her eyes, “How terribly childish of you. You do realize being a well known artist is like five percent talent and ninety-five percent bullshit, right?”

 

“Look,” Stiles sighs, “I’m not looking to be famous. Okay? There is just literally not a lot else that I’m good at--and I’ve got a kid who needs a car soon-ish, I need a car, and he’s going to need college funding. I just need to make enough to get by. I want to survive. Not necessarily be wealthy.” It’s the same old spiel Stiles has been spouting since Lydia was about twenty-one and Stiles was nineteen. She hasn’t changed much since then.  

 

With another sigh of exasperation, Lydia tries another old tactic, “Well, if you were wealthy you wouldn’t have to worry about any of that. You’d have the money to survive and then some.” When Stiles looks ready to protest again Lydia holds up a staying hand, “Think about it, okay. And I know you’ll hate me for saying this--but we’re friends, and I say this because I love you...it would actually be very smart for you to start with social media now, while the scandal is still fresh and people still have your name on their tongues.” Stiles looks ready to spit fire, so Lydia hastily adds, “I know you don’t want anything to do with this mess, but, seriously, it might be a blessing in disguise. Who cares how they started talking so long as they keep talking and the focus shifts to your talent rather than your possible romantic connection to Derek Hale.”

 

“There’s nothing possible about it. There was a connection, a long fucking time ago,” Stiles cuts her a look, and Lydia doesn’t dare make a response about that mess. She’s sussed out snippets through Stiles’s family, and she has a vague idea about what happened but it’s not her business.

 

Instead she settles for, “Put on that deep purple dress, I think the color will look fantastic with your skintone.”

 

Derek

 

“How’re you feeling, Derek?” Theo asks him as they wait for the woman on the mound to sing the National Anthem. This is the last place Derek wants to be, but personal crisis or not Derek doesn’t get a day off unless he’s violently ill or injured. He had considered running himself through with a wolfsbane laced blade on the drive over to the stadium, but decided against it when he thought of what Laura or Mom would do when they found out.

 

“Like I’m going to vomit, to be perfectly honest.” Derek hasn’t felt this nervous since he played his first MLB game.

 

Theo cuts him a sideways glance, “I saw Kate and a few of her friends.”

 

“Yeah, we’re...uh, trying to work through this mess,” Derek admits after a long moment. Theo doesn’t get to ask anything else when the woman starts up and Derek takes his cap off, holding it over his chest; only half listening. Mostly, his mind is awhirl with the anxiety of Kate being present. She’s probably sitting on her phone. Instagramming herself from every possible angle while Derek tries his best to keep his head in the game. He can’t afford to have personal issues fucking up his season.

 

 

Kate

 

Allison gives her a disapproving glance when she catches sight of Kate’s iPhone, “That’s not healthy you know?”

 

Kate looks up sharply from the glass of her phone, “What?”

 

“You know what, Kate, it’s not a good idea to stalk that kid.” Allison adjusts her Yankees cap while she speaks, and cheers when the announcers mention Derek being up to bat. Kate doesn’t move, she’s punching stuff into her phone.

 

“I’m not stalking him,” Kate objects, and Allison appears unimpressed as she leans back in her seat.

 

“Sure you aren’t,” Allison doesn’t snort, but it’s a near thing.  

 

“You’re such a bitch,” Kate mutters, but Allison is having none of it.

 

“Yeah, I’m the bitch who speaks the truth. You obsessing over Liam Stilinski isn’t smart. You’re just making yourself sick over someone who is literally hundreds of miles away from here.” Allison opens her box of crackerjacks, and pulls out the prize, tossing it at Kate. Not that she really notices, she’s too busy scrolling through Liam’s photos.

 

It’s been a few weeks of radio silence, over a month actually, but suddenly there is an influx of grams. The most recent one sends a chill down her spin--it’s Yankee Stadium, and it was taken a few minutes ago. She starts looking around, but there is no way she will see them in this packed stadium.

 

She refreshes and suddenly there is a new gram. The woman in the photo is beautiful. Even with her too short hair and Mets cap, she’s striking and Kate feels her stomach drop. Swallowing as she reads the hashtags #MyMomIsDaBaddest #YankeesVsMets #StilesStilinskiDontWantYourYanks #WelcomeToInstagramMom @StilesIsWild. She has her middle finger up at his camera, and the woman looks to be kissing in Liam’s direction. Kate hates herself even as she clicks on the username. It takes her straight to a person named Stiles, and what she sees irritates her more. Stiles has a total of five pictures, but all of them are like a knife to Kate’s hide.

 

In the one set as her profile Stiles is kissing Liam’s cheek. He’s got his eyes screwed shut and is grinning like a mad little being. In another it is the cityscape of the panoramic-city view at The Four Seasons. Derek took Kate there last year on a date, and she remembered being unimpressed. They got into a fight. Derek had said she was a spoiled brat, complained nothing was good enough for her, and she told him she’d been looking forward to something more exotic. Apparently, Stiles was impressed by the room--her tags are snarky, but appreciative. #MyBrotherGotMeADoucheyRoom #DontTellHimIThinkItsNice #ButReallyIdHaveBeenCoolAtAMotel8

 

There is one of her standing at the window with her arms thrown wide in a form hugging dress. The caption reading “Lydia made me wear a dress. Something about “women wear dresses” and I called her a sexist pig. Love you Lyds.

 

Then there is one of the bathtub with the caption, “If I didn’t have my kid with me I’d take a ride in this thing with my clit-tickler.” Kate’s mouth drops open at that bold statement, and she scrolls past--to Stiles’s first post--with a shake of her head.

 

As far as first Instagram photos go it’s sweet. A side photo of Liam, in a nice dinner jacket, seated at a table in The River Cafe, smiling at someone off camera while Stiles apparently snaps the picture. The caption is the longest. “This boy, this young man, is my son. He is my world. My everything. I would move mountains for this smile. When I had nothing I had my Liam, and until my last breath he will certainly have me. #ForeverMyBaby #TheGreatestGiftYourFatherGaveMe”

 

Kate doesn’t want to cry, but she does--not a blubbering cry Allison will notice, but enough of a cry that a couple of tears slip down her cheeks unnoticed. She hurts because Liam looks so happy. She thinks if he’s Derek’s he needs to be sad without Derek in his life. She wants him to not have a good life, and that makes her feel horrible. She hates Stiles more, in that moment, hates her because it’s her fault that Kate is full of these feelings.

 

Jackson

 

“What the fuck was that call,” Stiles yells as she launches herself out of her seat. Jackson rolls his eyes while he checks his phone. Stiles has always been more passionate about baseball than Jackson is--he likes baseball long enough to negotiate contracts, but really, as a whole, the sport bores him to tears. Give him football, lacrosse, rugby, hockey, boxing, MMA,--contact sports that offer a real danger of losing teeth. “Did you see that,” she whips around in the seat and punches him in the arm. Like she has since they were kids, and it’s nice to have the familiar comfort of their old bond back. “Do something, Jackie, you’re famous and shit--tell that ump he needs to get the fuck out. Clearly, my man was safe.” She starts yelling down at the umpire, irate, and Liam tugs on her thin Mets shirt.

 

Pulling her back into her seat he says, “Mom, shut up and eat your hotdog--the call’s been made.”

 

“Traitorous Yankees fan,” she accuses just before she takes a vicious bite out of her hotdog. “Jackson, where did I go wrong with him?”

 

He bites his tongue on his immediate thought--well you picked the wrong asshole to breed with--and instead shrugs, “It’s probably because you dropped him on his head so many times as a baby.”

 

She punches him again, and goes back to watching the game, mumbling, “This is why Jordan is my favorite.” It’s meant to be a joke, he’s sure, but the statement still twists in Jackson like a knife. He knows Jordan is her favorite. It’s been this way ever since Mom--before he and Stiles had been the closest, but not anymore. Now she and Jordan are thick as thieves despite their six year age gap. “Dude, seriously, I need more nachos,” Stiles complains, and Jackson pushes out of his seat. She blinks up at him owlishly, “You don’t gotta buy me more food; you’ve already spent a lot on us--what with the pretentious as fuck room, the fancy five star dinner, and now the game.” Stiles goes to dig in her wristlet, but he holds up a hand stopping her.

 

“I’ve got it, Stilts, put the money away.” He doesn’t tell her how he’s trying to buy her affection back, because he misses their friendship. He misses his relationship with Dad and Jordan, too, but he misses Stiles most. There’s a year and a half difference between them, and he’s never had a better friend than her.

 

“Fine, since you’re twisting my arm about it--I mean you can throw in a beer, too, if you don’t mind.” Her grin is mischievous, and he pretends to be bothered by her antics.

 

“After the game there is someone I want you to meet; so don’t get too drunk,” he urges, and Stiles grumbles.

 

Liam

 

Mom's never laughed quite so bright in front of him before and Liam doesn't know how to handle the way she grins up at Isaac Lahey. Liam can't see Isaac's face. He's got his tall back to Liam; his number--14--and last name get the full weight of Liam's glare instead. Uncle Jackson sees the look, but doesn’t comment; he just give Liam a subtle shake of his head and a stern glance. Liam ignores his uncle as he stomps closer to where Mom and Isaac are wrapped in their private world.

 

Mom has her slender fingers on Isaac’s impressive bicep while he grins down at her with a smile so perfect and bright Liam frowns again. Isaac’s too good looking to be a professional ball player. Mom says as much, and Isaac laughs--the sort of laugh that wrinkles the skin at the corner of his blue eyes--eyes that sparkle with delight.

 

“So, Isaac,” Mom says after a bit of back and forth flirting, “This is my son,” here she waves Liam closer--and he glowers up at Isaac. An expression that makes Isaac’s smile dim a little, and Mom, noticing, says, “Ignore him--he’s a Yankees fan, and is annoyed that we aren’t having this conversation with one of them.”

 

Isaac’s mega-watt smile is back again when he says, “Tsk, apparently your parenting skills are lacking.”

 

Mom doesn’t take offense as she tosses her arm around Liam’s shoulders, “If it weren’t for that he’d be fucking perfect.”

 

“Well, I happen to be friends with a few of the Yankees players--if you’d want to meet any of them?” Isaac offers at Liam, and before he can really say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ Isaac turns to a gaggle of players standing with a few sport reporters, “Yo, Hale!” And Liam feels Mom go rigid against his side. Uncle Jackson looks a slight bit murderous, but remains silent when Derek Hale jogs over to them.

 

Derek is even better looking in person. Mason would probably be drooling, with his jaw on the floor, but Liam is staring at the similarities he sees between Derek and himself. Derek’s  hazel eyes fall on them--since Isaac is gesturing to them with another of his bright smiles--and they go wide when his eyes fall on Mom.

 

“Derek, this is Stiles and Liam Whittemore; Jackson Whittemore’s sister and nephew.”

 

“Whittemore,” Derek repeats while his thick eyebrows dip down with an impressive frown.

 

“Actually, Isaac,” Uncle Jackson cuts in, “Our last name is Stilinski--I just use Whittemore, my middle name, for professional purposes.” Then at Derek he smiles, but it’s a cutting expression as he reaches out his hand, “It’s good to see you again, Hale.”

 

“You’ve met,” Isaac asks Jackson with a fond curl of his lip, as if nothing in this situation is amiss, “Did Derek reject you as his sports agent? He’s pretty fond of Boyd, I hear and flat out refuses to work with others.”

 

“Actually,” Derek says, and his voice is so soft it’s shocking to Liam, “Jackson wouldn’t take me.” Derek chuckles gently, “But that’s been a long, long time ago now.” His eyes are on Mom again, drawn to her it seems--his irises are red, the eyes of an Alpha--and when he swallows Mom releases a barely there whimper. Uncle Jackson seems hyper aware of the tension, and Liam is aware of it as well, but Isaac stands oblivious. Still smiling and talking about baseball and Derek’s career. Then he mentions Derek’s fiancee and the staring stops abruptly. “Oh, Kate? She’s with her niece, in the stands...I’m sure.” Then Derek seems to realize he’s been called over for a reason, and picks up a ball from off the grass of the field. He happens to have a pen on him--like he’s used to doing this all the time--and writes his name on the surface, holding it out to Liam. It’s a small eternity before Liam takes it, and he notes the relief around Derek’s eyes once Liam holds the ball. “It was good to meet you,” Derek says, and his voice is tight--he casts another glance Mom’s way before he makes his way back to his locker rooms.

 

Liam looks down at the ball and notices a phone number beneath Derek’s signature.

 

Stiles

 

“Yeah, I’d love to,” she’s less enthusiastic with Isaac, but he doesn’t notice. He’s really sweet, like Jackson promised he’d be, and she feels horrible for standing right beneath his nose and going weak when Derek’s eyes fell over her. It was like being fifteen again; transporting her back to the days when she and Derek lived in each other’s pockets. When the slightest touch took away a pain they shared.

 

“How long are you in town?” Isaac asks, still oblivious to her inner turmoil.

 

“A few days more,” she says with a smile. Isaac really is great; he is funny, plays for the Mets, which is Stiles’s favorite team, he’s tall, his smile is fantastic, he’s stupidly attractive, and, as a bonus, he’s ridiculously into her it seems.

 

“Would you like to get dinner with me?” His feet are huge, she notices, as he shuffles them nervously, “I know a great hole in the wall Italian joint in Newark.”

 

“Great Italian food in Jersey, huh? Imagine that,” she quips and his grin grows.

 

“I know, it’s almost unheard of,” he replies, and she chuckles in response. “So, Monday night?”

 

“So long as you have me home before three the next day. I have a long drive that night.”

 

“I promise, I’ll have you home at a decent time,” he sounds solemn, but there is a playful light to his eyes that Stiles enjoys.

 

“Okay,” she agrees with a gentle smile, then she casts a glance behind her to where Liam and Jackson are waiting. “I’d better go.”

 

“Can I kiss you before you do?” He looks a little unsure after the words are out of his mouth, but her playful grin makes him sag in relief. He lets out a startled laugh when she rushes him, her arms going around his trim waist while his large hands cup her cheeks. Gently stroking at her as he tilts her head back to give himself better access to Stiles. She curls her toes in her Chucks as his tongue strokes against hers. When they finally part he rest his head against Stiles’s, his curls soft and still damp from sweat against her forehead. With a joking tone he nudges her short hair and whispers, “You will ride eternal, shiny and chrome.”

 

Stiles cackles, “I knew I liked you when I saw your uniform, now you’re just being ridiculous with your awesome.”

 

Isaac smiles, and the familiar squirm of guilt makes her belly roll.

 

Lydia

 

“So we need to talk about the collection you’re planning for this show; she won’t be ready for you until around Christmas. But she’s looking forward to featuring your work.” Stiles seems, to Lydia, as if she’s distracted--and Lydia frowns, clicking her pen closed before she sets it down. “You realize this is a huge opportunity for you, yes?”

 

Stiles sighs, “I get it, okay? I just don’t know what I’ve got that I’d want to display. The safer stuff is boring, and the collection of sexually charged statues I’ve shown multiple times...I don’t think I have enough time to come up with something from now to then.” She’s gesturing, wildly, with her hands--a movement she’s always done when nervous.

 

“Well you have quite a few collections, and a bunch of miscellaneous pieces we could mash together to make a collection. How would you feel about that?”

 

She puts her fingers to her lips, thinking, and Lydia watches her--waiting to see if Stiles will give her a sort of solution. Of all the artists Lydia manages, Stiles is the only one she doesn’t push. They’re good friends, and Lydia wants to succeed for Stiles while making her happy. Problem is it isn’t always easy. There is a lot of Stiles’s work that she keeps hidden in a climate controlled storage in downtown Beacon Hills. Under dusty canvas tarps, lying forgotten in stacks and boxes--Lydia’s only seen bits of Stiles’s hidden collection. It is the one collection that Stiles refuses to share, and it’s huge, according to the hints Jackson’s dropped.

 

“You know...” Lydia begins, trying to choose her words carefully--because Stiles is quick to anger at times. “We could show the Study in-,” Stiles cuts her off abruptly.

 

“Lydia--it’s not going to happen.”

 

Signing in response Lydia lets the conversation die, and notices that Stiles’s brother is oddly silent. Usually, when Lydia is forced into his presence, he is a raging douchebag who won’t shut up about his career. He’s one of those who seems to think he can impress Lydia with his money. She grew up with money--it’s literally not that impressive to her, and she let’s him know at every opportunity, but right now she’s watching him curiously as he makes a note of something with his stylus pen, in his phone.

 

Talia

 

Talia quirks a brow when she watches Derek opening the passenger side of his Escalade for Kate. Beside her Deucalion releases a soft snort--a sound full of judgement, and Talia cuts a glare in his direction.

 

“I didn’t say anything, love,” he whispers, smooth as silk, and Talia narrows red eyes at him. His flash crimson in return.

 

“Your thoughts are loud,” she hisses, then plasters her polite business smile onto her face when Derek and Kate glance up at the porch; spotting them sitting there. It is similar to something out of a Southern Living magazine--she and Deucalion are dressed in soft, similarly colored sweaters, with the same colored dark wash jeans. Both of them holding steaming mugs of coffee as they sit on the large white porch swing. All up the steps to the porch are carved pumpkins, some full of fall flowers, some glowing with the flickering L.E.D lights Erica insisted on putting in them when she and Laura visited recently. Kate comments on the pumpkins on their way up the porch, and Talia would love nothing more than to smash one over her head. However, she refrains.  

 

“Mom, Dad,” Derek greets, kissing Talia’s cheek when he approaches. “Season’s just ended so we figured it was about time to take an extended vacation.” Talia doesn’t say anything, she just assess her son; takes note of the way he stands stiff at Kate’s side.

 

Deucalion greets Kate with a warm hug, and Talia--after all these years--still twitches when she feels he lingers a touch too long. “I’m glad you came to see us,” Deucalion says with a polite tone, but Talia can see the annoyance hiding in the lines around his eyes. Then gesturing to the front door he says, “Come on in then.”

 

Kate follows, gliding as she always does, behind him without waiting to see if Derek or Talia will follow. Derek lingers on the porch, and Talia stays behind as well. Beyond the door she can hear Deucalion telling Kate about the extensive remodel he’s just completed in the kitchen, and when she thinks Kate sounds distracted Talia turns to Derek, “What’s on your mind, pup?”

 

Derek sags, leaning against the porch railing, looking down at his feet as he crosses his arms, reminding her of when he was still a boy. “I saw Liam,” he admits after a long silence. Talia hides her surprise well.

 

“How did that go?” She stands closer to him now, leaning against the railing herself.

 

Talia watches as Derek chews on his thumb nail, and she resists the urge to reach out and pull his hand away from his mouth. She gives him the space to gather his thoughts, and when he does he whispers, “Weird. I...damn, I mean, how do I talk to a kid I haven’t seen in over twelve years?” Talia doesn’t have a chance to respond; Derek just continues, “Isaac waved me over to meet them...he didn’t have any idea and I didn’t want to make a scene so I acted like I didn’t know them.” With a sad sort of smile he adds, “Isaac said Liam’s a Yankees fan.”

 

She wears a bemused grin--a small hardly perceptible one--when she says, “I bet that just eats Stiles up inside. She always was a diehard Mets fan.”

 

“Still is,” Derek comments with a shrug, but Talia can see the irritation in the tense set of his shoulders, “She was decked out in Mets gear, and had been laughing at Isaac and flirting with him for a while before Isaac called me over.”

 

“So you saw them first?” She shouldn’t be surprised. Derek’s always been drawn to Stiles. It’s been over a decade, but Talia can still recall the way Derek watched her when he thought no one was looking. For years she saw that brewing, long before Derek even understood the first stir of lust.  

 

“Yeah,” he says with a hushed tone, “I could hear her laugh over the roar of the crowd...it was,” Derek never finishes. Talia waits, but the words never come.

 

“Did you get to speak with Liam, any at all?” She decides to change the direction of the conversation, before he can clam up and go back to his usual silence and solitude.

 

“Sort of--I autographed him a ball and jotted my number down on it,” Derek’s frown makes his face seem severe, but Talia knows he’s anxious.

 

“When was this?” Talia takes a drink of her still warm coffee, watching as brittle gold and red leaves blow across her yard. The days are growing colder, the first snow will come soon, she can feel it in her bones.

 

“At the end of September,” Derek admits, watching the scuttle of leaves along with her.  

 

Talia frowns while she runs a comforting touch over Derek’s hard bicep, “I know a month seems like a long time, love, but he’s young and confused. He might need time to gather his feelings.” Like his father. Hopefully, Liam is less stubborn than both of his parents, otherwise it might take him twelve years to pick up the phone and call.

 

Derek shakes his head, eyes glazing when he speaks, “I’m not worried about that.”

 

“What is it then?” Talia ventures when Derek seems unwilling to speak.

 

“Just...what if Stiles tells him I never loved him? What if she’s got it into his head that I’m the enemy?”

 

“Why would that bother you, Derek?” She asks even though she knows why, Talia just wants to hear him speak the words aloud. Even more she believes Derek needs to hear them. He’s always so busy running from his own emotions that sometimes, she believes, he needs to acknowledge his feelings; needs them validated.

 

“I wasn’t the bad guy back then, was I?” He sounds vulnerable; his voice small and cracking.

 

It’s a loaded question. Talia has feelings on the situation as a whole, and in her opinion they were both too young, too angry, too inexperienced in running a family--a pack. There were things that they both did wrong. “I don’t think either of you were the bad guy, Derek,” Talia ventures at last.

 

His eyes snap up, and she frowns when she realizes he’s pinned her with his Alpha eyes. “Do you know what she did to me?” Derek hisses, clearly livid.

 

“Yes,” Talia replies, mildly, crossing her arms as her eyes bleed to red. She’ll be damned if he’s going to Alpha eyes at her and not give them to him in return.

 

His laugh is mocking, hurt and angry, “I’ve never expected you to understand,” Derek shoots a vicious glance at the window, through which they can see Deucalion talking to Kate. Pointing out photographs on the mantle that Kate’s probably never bothered to look at before. “You made it abundantly clear during my childhood that you didn’t love Dad--so there’s no way what he did would hurt you.”

 

Talia lets it slide as he stomps away from her presence, and she releases a hurt sigh. When the door slams behind Derek she whispers, “Of course it hurt me. Silly pup.”

 

John

 

“So this is what you’re showing?” He eyes the array of paintings with a skeptical frown. They aren’t bad. He’s never seen Stiles make anything that is unappealing, but they are bland. Invoking no feeling and leave a lot to be desired.

 

Stiles lets out a groan, “I thought I’d do a focus of women...it just turned out very...I don’t even know.” She turns her round eyes up to him, “What do you think?”

 

“I think they’re nice...”

 

“But,” she prompts with a huff, “Go ahead, Dad, I heard the but loud and clear.”

 

“But I think they’re the sort of paintings that are lost among kitschy decor and family photographs. They’re the sort of paintings you add in with wall art to be visibly appealing.” He’s no expert, but John’s been to enough galleries, has heard Claudia wax on and on enough to know that these aren’t what she’d call conversation pieces. “You want your work to create feeling, to bring about a sense of emotion. These are just pretty.”

 

She slumps into her bean bag chair, “Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of.”

 

“You have a lot of mixed media in that one collection,” John says after a long silence. In response she glares up at him.

 

“No.”

 

“It was just a suggestion, Stiles, you don’t have to look at me so hatefully,” he snorts. She’s chewing on her thumbnail and he watches the nervous way she twitches--takes note of how her hair has grown out enough to be considered a short pixie. She looks young as she is now, vulnerable, and John hates himself a little when he says, “If you don’t share the hidden parts of your work--the pieces that are hard for even you to see--then how do you expect to inspire the reputation you deserve in the world you want to be a part of.” He could shoot himself for poking at old wounds. It isn’t his hurt, he shouldn’t try to mend what’s broken, but she is his precious girl and more than anything he wants her to smile the way she used to. Won’t happen if she cannot move on.

 

Stiles swallows. Her warm, whiskey eyes over bright with emotion as she thinks on his words. He loathes hurting her, but sometimes he has to be the one to say the things that are painful, to push those around him in the right direction. “I’m afraid to let people in like that. They’ll tear into me, they’ll analyse my life, my memories, my everything...that’s mine; it’s sacred to me.”

 

“That’s fair, Stiles.” Is all he says before he turns out of her room. Leaving her in silence on his way to get more coffee.

 

Laura

 

“Dee, you’re phone keeps going off--some unknown number,” Laura kicks Derek--where he’s sleeping, once again, on her couch. He glowers at her, over his shoulder, but starts sitting up. Causing her couch to make that horrible screech that is skin moving over leather; though Laura doesn’t say anything. Mostly, she watches him with curious hazel eyes when he picks up his cell and answers the call with a gruff, ‘Hale’.

 

Very rarely has Laura seen Derek startle. In fact, she can name all the times on three of her fingers: 1. When Stiles told him she was up the spout with his kid. 2. When said kid managed to take Derek by surprise on national television. 3. Now. Laura doesn’t have to use her finely tuned hearing to decipher who it is; Derek breathes out, “Liam,” and then stammers, “No, no. You’re fine. I was just napping on my sister’s couch.”

 

Laura doesn’t show Derek any indication that she’s surprised by this turn of events. She remains blank-faced, waiting until Derek is safely out on her balcony--the glass door closing softly behind him--before she picks up her phone and dials Cora.

 

It’s got to be three in the morning in London since it’s seven in the evening here, but Laura doesn’t care. Sibling emergencies trump everything--even common courtesy and sleep.

 

“I’m going to rip your face off,” Cora growls as soon as she answers, “Do you have any idea the kind of night I’ve had, I’ve been studying like fuckin-,” Laura cuts her off with a falsely cheery tone.

 

“Don’t care, Cora. Liam contacting Derek trumps your shit.”

 

There is a loud rustle of movement from the other end of the phone and Cora sounds more awake when she hisses, “What? When?”

 

“Dee’s on the phone with him now,” Laura pulls out her cigarettes, figuring Erica can bitch her out later about the smell. She needs one. “I’m thinking it might be kind of intense judging by the level of constipation on his face.”

 

“Fuck,” Cora mutters, and Laura agrees on an exhale. They are quiet a while; Laura smoking and watching Derek while Cora breathes slowly in and out. “So we’ll be Skyping soon, huh?”

 

“When’s your break?” Laura inquires as she takes a long, last drag.

 

“Christmas, I was actually considering staying so I could work on my fucking thesis.”

 

“You’re writing your thesis on fucking,” Laura quips with a teasing tone and she can hear Cora’s glare.

 

“I’m sure of all the Hales you or Creeper Peter would’ve had enough partners to even attempt a thesis on fucking, Laura.”

 

“I’ve totally got him beat, you know,” she brags, and laughs when Cora scoffs. “Anyways, yeah--I’ll buy Dee a bottle of Patrón and we can make Skype plans soon.”

 

“Has he left Kate left?” Cora sounds hopeful, and Laura remembers that there is one person who hates Kate more than her, and that person is Cora.

 

“No,” Laura groans, “Unfortunately, so don’t talk about her being a giant plastic bitch.”

 

Cora laughs, “Noted--alright, Laura I’m getting off of here because I’ve had two hours of sleep and need a little more to be a properly functioning adult.”

 

“Sleep’s for the weak,” Laura jokes before she tells Cora she loves her--tacking loser on the end of the sentiment to keep it real--and hangs up.

 

Derek takes another twenty minutes before he walks back into the apartment, and Laura pretends to be immersed in some romantic flick she and Erica rented a couple nights ago, but wound up fucking through.

 

“Alright there, little brother?” He seems to realize she’s there, talking to him, and blinks out of his stupor.

 

“Yeah...um,” Derek shifts, fiddling with his phone in his hands. “That was Liam.”

 

“Was it,” Laura tries to appear bored but Derek’s huff says he’s not buying it.

 

“Yeah, it was. He wanted to know if it would be okay to text me from time to time.”

 

“What did you tell him, Dee?” She tries to sound as neutral as possible.  

 

Derek has a far off expression on his face, “I told him I’m here whenever he wants to call or text.”

 

She doesn’t ask how Kate feel will about it, because Derek looks too spooked as it is, and she doesn’t want him retreating further into his shell. There’s a good chance Derek won’t tell Kate. Looking at their history, Laura knows there are a lot of things Derek doesn’t tell Kate.

 

Liam

 

“Hey, kiddo, you ready to go?” Liam startles when Mom’s voice shocks him out of his mindless staring at his phone. He fumbles and drops it to the floor with a wince. A line forms between Mom’s eyebrows as they dip down with her frown; squatting she scoops up the black rectangle, checking it for damage before holding it out for Liam to take.

 

There is a sense of guilt that floods through him when he reaches for the weight of his phone--the scratched surface warmed by his mother’s loving hand. Liam’s never been one to lie to his mom. He’s never felt right leaving her out of details in his life. She was the second person he told the first time one of his girlfriend’s touched his dick. And in typical Mom fashion she made a face before she said, “I feel I’ve got to tell you that is a lot more information than I wanted, but I’m glad you told me?” That afternoon she dropped a box of condoms on his bed and very seriously said, “You better use those. If you make me a grandmother before I’m forty I will scream; also, don’t catch anything you can’t wash off--we’re definitely going to have another talk.” It had been mildly embarrassing, as it often is when he tells her private things, but he never regretted telling her. Now, though, Liam doesn’t know how to talk to her and he feels like the shittiest son to ever live.

 

“Thanks,” his words come out like gravel; he swallows around the lump of emotion stuck in his throat.

 

Her eyes are knowing while they watch him, but Mom doesn’t say anything. Her enigmatic stare grows distant and with a loud clap of her hands she says, “Come on, then, Gramps is waiting to take us to breakfast before this shindig.”

 

Liam follows her out the door with a distracted glance at his phone.

 

 

Through breakfast and Gramps’s short speech on his love of fall--the one he gives every year before starting the Beacon County’s fall festival--Liam sits with a frown, looking to the line of trees surrounding the field known as Red Oak Flats. Usually referred to as “the Flats” by locals--it’s what Liam texts to Derek when Derek asks where he is.

 

In a way, it’s a test--Liam’s still half convinced this is some elaborate prank his mind is playing on him. Derek Hale. Derek--Sourwolf--Hale, first baseman for the Yankees; who apparently used to live in Beacon Hills, and apparently fathered him--it seems like some sort of crazy plot from an intense television drama.

 

But it’s not, Liam realizes when he sees Derek standing besides a parked Escalade--this is his life, and it’s crazy. Also a little scary because telenovelas are predictable; real life isn’t.

 

Mom is busy laughing at Ms. Fagan--the ninety year old widow who still gets around like she’s fifty--her face bright at Ms. Fagan recounts her latest escapades with the younger gentlemen in her social circle. “Good for you, Dottie,” Mom says, and then points to one of the pies, “Is this your entry? I definitely need a bite of that.”

 

“That’s what he said, darlin’,” Ms. Fagan replies with her thick southern accent--and she winks, her almost violet eyes twinkling as she does so. Liam is sufficiently disturbed; it’s bad enough thinking about the fact that his mom has had sex--at least once in her life to get pregnant with him--and she’s young. Ms. Fagan is at the age where sex should be illegal; for health reasons.

 

“Mom,” he says, “Can I go catch a movie with my friends?”

 

“Mason’s out of town with his grandmother, and Brett is grounded; who are you going with?” She doesn’t sound too concerned. She’s never been super worried about him going out with people. Mom trusts him, and that twists him in the guts. Even when she asks if it’s Hayden she doesn’t seem too put off by the idea--even though she knows what they get up to when alone.

 

“Nah, some guys from the team--we’re a little too old for this scene.”

 

Mom rolls her eyes, “Yeah, and when you’re about mid-twenties you’ll suddenly be lame enough again to like this sort of shit.” She pushes on his forehead, lightly, as she always has done when she finds him insufferably amusing. “Go on then. Have fun. Not so much that we get a call you’ve been picked up by a black and white.” With a gentle smile she adds, “Take my love with you, and stay safe.”  It’s something she’s always said to him; for as long as he can remember and he promises he will.

 

Liam swallows, and his smile feels weak, but she doesn’t seem to notice as she waves him on--going back to Ms. Fagan as soon as he’s a few steps away.

 

 

Derek

 

The first few minutes are awkward--Liam kicking rocks with the scuffed rubber of his Chucks and shoving his large hands into the pockets of his red BHHS hoodie. Derek smiles at the sight; remembering the days when he and Stiles had their own hoodies from their own respective teams. Derek’s for baseball and Stiles for lacrosse--which has long been the sport of sports at BHHS since before Derek can remember. Liam’s hoodie says Beacon Hills High School in bigger lettering and beneath it in a banner it reads Varsity Lacrosse.

 

“Lacrosse, huh?” Derek says--breaking the ice with a smile and a teasing, judgmental sort of tone that he has a moment of regret over.

 

Until Liam’s young face breaks into a large smile while he releases a nervous laugh. “Yeah, I went to tryouts to impress a girl, to be honest.”

 

It’s Derek’s turn to laugh, and he looks down at the ground where his feet are crossed at the ankle--his own Chucks in need of a good washing--he remembers what it’s like to do things to impress girls. “I’ve done some random things for girls, in my day.” He used to walk on his hands and do backflips for Stiles’s attention.

 

“I hadn’t played Lacrosse before--mostly it was basketball and baseball, and the one season of football,” Liam admits with a chuckle; a far-off look in his eyes as if he’s remembering something particularly funny.

 

“You’re Varsity,” Derek comments, nodding at the front of Liam’s hoodie, “I’d say you’re doing alright, considering.”

 

Liam puffs up his chest, shoulders going back a little as he holds his head higher--a pleased little grin hiding in the corners of his mouth when he replies, “First line.”

 

“Bet Stiles is proud,” Derek says--nonchalant and off-handed until he realizes what’s come out of his mouth, then he pauses. His body freezing up, and he can see Liam go stiff as well.

 

“Yeah,” Liam finally says, when the silence between them grows long and awkward. “Mom helped me train. She’s not the greatest with coordination but she’s not the most challenged player I’ve played with.”

 

Derek is itching to ask how she is--wants to know what’s changed for her, who she is, what she believes now--but he refrains. He doesn’t have the right, he knows, his sisters have made that clear on several occasions. Instead he settles for, “You hungry?”

 

“Starved,” Liam replies.

 

“Get in; I know a good, discrete burger joint not too far from here.”

 

Jordan

 

“You know we’re going to have to tell her eventually.”

 

Jordan casts a glance across the booth; a frown marring his usually cheery demeanor. “I know,” he grunts. It’s something she’s been bringing up endlessly with him--every time they meet, in secret, he feels like a criminal, and it makes his skin crawl to know that this would hurt his little sister if Stiles knew. “It’s just-,” he stops abruptly. Eyes going wide when they fall on the entrance to Harry Small’s dive of a joint, off the highway in Beacon Valley. Derek Hale stands in the door, as handsome as he’s ever been and looks too neat, too expensively dressed, to belong in this greasy hole. Once upon a time the sight of Derek wasn’t unusual in this place, and it makes Jordan feel a wave of nostalgia. Those were simpler days. The large problems seemed tiny in comparison to now. Especially, when Jordan spots Liam shuffling in behind Derek.

 

“Oh shit,” he whispers, and green eyes narrow at him before his date turns her head to glance behind the booth they are in.

 

Liam spots them then and with a scared expression tries to hide behind Derek--as if he hasn’t already been caught. Jordan jerks his head, a clear indicator that Liam should come over and when he does Derek finally notices Jordan. He also goes wide-eyed, the expression takes years off of him--to Jordan Derek looks eighteen again; he shakes his head with a fond smile.

 

When Liam gets to the booth, hands shoved awkwardly into his hoodie he says, “Um, hey Uncle Jordan, and nice to mee-,” he stops, eyes going wider when they land on Jordan’s date, “Lydia?”

 

Her smile is tight in response, “Liam, I see you’re out doing things behind your mother’s back.” She runs a judgemental sort of look over Derek, causing Liam to frown.

“Looks like you are, too--Mom’s crazy weird about her friends dating her brothers. That’s like part of bro-code.” Jordan tries not to shift too much beneath Liam’s questioning glance.

 

Lydia’s smile is sharp when she says, “I’m not a bro.” Then she sweeps another assessing gaze over Liam, her eyes darting to Derek briefly before going back to Liam’s nervous face.

 

Jordan tries to be cordial, “Lydia this is Derek-,” but she cuts him off.

 

“I know perfectly well who you are,” she narrows her eyes at Derek, standing from the booth--her expensive stiletto heels clicking against the linoleum--Lydia doesn’t have to flash her teeth or eyes to be intimidating. “If you hurt him, or her, I will undo you from existence,” she warns quietly. Derek’s thick eyebrows dip down as he nods once; a solemn promise. Lydia’s smile is bright, too cheery to actually be genuine, “I’m glad we’ve sorted that out, then--Jordan,” she throws him a glance over her slim shoulder, “Come on, these two look like they want to talk.”

 

Stiles

 

Isaac is kind of ridiculous with kids. They love him. A gaggle of small beings crowd around him in the bounce house and giggle when he pretends they’ve killed him. “Ah, you got me,” He shouts with a laugh, and Stiles watches on with fond eyes.

 

That’s how Dad finds her; her side pressed to a tree and her grin growing by the second. “He drove all the way from New York City for this podunk festival?” Her eyes slide over to Dad, who looks unconvinced, as he adds, “I’m thinking maybe he came all this way for a certain young woman who is standing off in the shadows like a creeper.”

 

Stiles chuffs a laugh, looking down at her worn out red Converse and shoves her hands into her old BHHS hoodie. “You think I’m a creeper, Sheriff?”

 

It’s her dad’s turn to chuff, “You know what I mean. Get over there, talk to him--fuck he’s a player for the Mets, Stiles, there’s no way that’s not enough to intrigue you.” She doesn’t reply, just keeps her hand on the rough bark of the tree at her side, and feels a painful swell in her chest. Dad seems to understand because he releases a frustrated sigh. “He’s not Derek,” he whispers while she swallows around the self-loathing growing in her throat. Because when she looks at Isaac she wants to find Derek there, looking at her with soft eyes and loving smiles. It’s stupid, Stiles knows, but still she dreams.

 

“Why can’t I let this go?” Her words are full of frustration.

 

Dad looks like he wants to say something, but he’s holding back, and Stiles hates him for it. “Daddy, please, tell me...why? I should be all over that,” she nods in Isaac’s direction, “He’s funny, gets my nerd references, is anti-misogyny, pro-feminism, and shuts down gender biases like a boss. He loves kids, does legit charity work, and apparently thinks my vagina’s so golden he drops everything to come spend time with me here, in the middle of nowhere. But...” she trails off, eyes wet with pent up emotion.

 

“But?” Dad prods with a gentle tone and calming touch to her shoulder.

 

“But I don’t feel it. I know he feels something intense, but for me it’s just a fling, fun, and I don’t want to hurt him.” That’s the truth; she sees her old self in Isaac--naive and in love with the notion of love. Stiles doesn’t want to hurt him. She doesn’t want to be the one to crush that spark in him.

 

“The longer you let it drag on the more it will hurt him, you know?” Dad’s always the logical one.

 

She sighs, kicking at clumps of dirt on the ground. “I know, and that’s the worst.”

 

Laura

 

The heavy bottle of Patrón thumps against the coffee table when Laura sets it before Derek and he shoots her a questioning glance when she flops onto the floor beside him. “Consider it a gift from me and Cora.” As if summoned by the mention of her name Laura’s laptop starts ringing with the Skype call. “Speak of the devil and she shall appear,” Laura cackles as she answers. Cora glares, but that’s not an unusual look for her to wear.

 

“We scheduled this, fucker, so don’t act like I’m some evil entity you can summon at random,” Cora’s very pissy when she doesn’t get enough sleep.

 

“Scheduled,” Derek questions with another frown thrown in Laura’s direction. Ah, yeah, oops she forgot to tell him; only Derek’s watching her as if not telling him was intentional. It was, if Laura’s being honest.

 

His scowl she ignores in favor of opening the tequila and pouring her first shot. “Drink up, Dee, there’s plenty.”

 

With a glower Derek snatches up the salt and a lime wedge before he downs his shot with less ease than he had in his early twenties. Laura cackles, “You’re outta practice, baby bro, let big sis show you how it’s done.” Laura does a double and doesn’t make a face, then she beams at Cora who is watching her with obvious judgement. Of the oldest three Hale children, Cora is the most responsible--meaning she’s the one with a stick up her ass. Laura’s great at adulting; she’s also great at partying. Cora is good at doing what needs to be done and having zero fun in the process.

 

Derek not one to be outdone snatches up another shot and downs it quickly, blinking rapidly afterwards. Cora shakes her head at him, too.

 

“So did you meet Liam,” Cora asks, clearly done with waiting for them to finish before the interrogation begins.

 

Thinning his lips Derek sits in a thoughtful silence, gathering his thoughts before he says, “Yeah, I did.”

 

“And?” Cora prompts when it seems like nothing further is forthcoming.

 

“And...” Derek sighs, running a hand over his cheek, “And he was great.”

 

Cora’s mouth goes tight, and her tone is sharp when she says, “Derek it’s fucking late here, could you give me some more? I’m getting impatient.” Laura laughs as she sucks on her lime wedge. Biting into it with a saucy smile when Derek shoots her an unhappy look. Derek hates having to talk to Cora almost as much as he hates having to talk to Mom; Cora is essentially Mom, only younger with more black in her wardrobe.  

 

“He was everything I often imagined he’d grow into, and then at the same time nothing like I could’ve predicted. He’s first line for the varsity lacrosse team, has a couple best friends named Mason and Brett, plays guitar off and on, likes motocross, has a crush on a girl named Hayden and has since they were in the third grade, and has these facial expressions that are so very...”

 

“Stiles,” Laura asks, and Derek shakes his head.

 

“Hale,” Derek says with a faint tone. “Liam looks so much like us.”

 

“That surprises you,” Cora snorts and Laura silently agrees with her brash little sister’s condescension. Derek’s the only one who’s been holding onto that “truth” Stiles told him all those years ago. Laura’s never believed it; none of them have, but Derek’s a stubborn wolf at the best of times. Stiles--that whole part of his life--brings out the worst in him.

 

Derek immediately goes on the defensive, “Do you know what she told me? Do you remember how she swore she knew he wasn’t mine?”

 

His fangs are visible and his voice has gone strange, but a hand on his nape from Laura has him calming down, especially when she flashes her red eyes at him. “Down, pup.” Then she shoots Cora a glare, “Don’t rile him up; Erica will be pissed if he breaks the furniture.” After one particular call from Kate he broke Erica’s favorite coffee table; they’ve been at odds since. Didn’t matter to Erica that Derek paid to replace the item; it mattered that he allowed himself to lose control like that in their den. Laura’s more forgiving of Derek. Sometimes it causes strife between her and Erica, but Laura will never tell that to her brother. He hates himself enough as it is.

 

“Someone has to call him out,” Cora continues, unfazed by Laura’s words. “Someone has to say that he clearly wanted a fucking out. He could’ve smelled Liam, he could’ve demanded DNA, but he took her word, walked out that fucking door and never looked back.” Cora’s angry about Derek’s decision still--she’d been close with Stiles for a time. Hell, Laura and Mom and Dad are still angry about the situation to a degree as well, but no one has said anything because it’s Derek’s life and what good would it have been if they’d have chased him out of their lives, too. They love Stiles, love Liam, but Derek is their pack and until he and Stiles mate--which they never did--Stiles and Liam are Stilinskis.

 

Derek has his face in his hands, and Laura snuggles closer to him, offering him what comfort she can when he releases a sob. Cora doesn’t look the least bit apologetic when she adds, “There’s no way this doesn’t end in someone being hurt. If the both of you hadn’t been prideful and stupid it might have turned out okay.”

 

“What was I supposed to do when she told me she’d fucked McCall?” Derek explodes. His eyes are crimson, and Laura finds it telling that he can get this wound up over the notion of someone touching Stiles. Derek is friends with the guy who fucked Kate in her sextape, and they enjoy barbeques with him on the regular. Yet, Derek’s still hung up on the idea that McCall might’ve known Stiles in the biblical sense.

 

“You were supposed to stay in your kid’s life or you were supposed to figure it out with her. Like an adult!” Cora bites, and Laura goes back to chewing on her lime wedge. Derek’s not in danger of ruining the sofa so she backs off for now, and allows Cora to have her go at him.

 

“I wasn’t exactly an adult,” Derek hisses; Cora’s smile is unkind in return.

 

“Then you had no business fucking her full of that kid in the first place, because he’s the one who has lost out, Derek,” The distance and the lag does nothing to mute the disappointment in Cora’s gaze. Beside Laura Derek begins to reek of humiliation, and she can feel his self-loathing triple. Scents and feelings that cause her wolf to whine with the need to set things right.

 

It’s a long time after the call with Cora ends, when Derek’s passed out on the guest bed, and Erica’s just got home from her shift at the hospital, that Laura picks up her phone. Hoping, against hope, that the number hasn’t changed.

 

After two rings she gets a growl for an answer, “This had better be good, Hale.”

 

“Believe me, Jackass, it is,” she responds with a mild tone. She waits a beat, listening to make sure Derek’s heart is steady in the other room. “I’m about to make your dreams come true.”

 

Liam

 

Mason gets to join him on this trip, Christmas break means that they can be gone up to almost three weeks and Mason’s mom has been really cool about letting him possibly miss Christmas at home. It isn’t every day a kid from a nowhere town gets invited to Manhattan to see his friend’s mom’s show. Truthfully, Mom’s had a lot of showings and is successful enough to pay bills, food, and Liam’s extras. She’s not rolling in enough money to buy him a car and every time he messes up on the field she tells him this is something he needs to take seriously because universities are expensive. They just don’t have that kind of money, but they live a comfortable life. In part because they live in the big old house Gramps has had forever and has recently paid off, and also because Mom has always taken odd jobs for extra money. She does a lot of painting parties for kids, and teaches at the community center a couple times a month for the older people. Whenever she can sell her painting skills, she does. There’s a lot of S.S. initials on shop windows in town during holidays, with Mom’s number painted next to them beneath cartoony renditions of Santa, reindeer, snowmen, and Christmas trees.

 

“Do you think your mom will be crazy rich now?” Mason asks, pulling Liam away from his wandering thoughts. He pulls at the too tight collar of his dress shirt, and frowns.

 

“I’m not sure how it works,” Liam answers Mason honestly, as he smooths out invisible wrinkles in his shirt. “I don’t think she knows all that well either, but Lydia is amazing at this stuff so she will make sure Mom’s not taken advantage of or something.”

 

“Yeah,” Mason whispers, “Lydia looks fucking terrifying.”

 

“She is,” Liam agrees. “Something about the men in my family being extremely attracted to fierce as fuck women.”

 

Mason laughs, “Your dad apparently is, too,” he nods his head in the direction of the sprawling apartment’s entrance. “I mean he went from your mom to Kate Argent--only I hear Kate is a little more psychotic than Momma Stilinski.” When Liam looks in the direction of the door, all the color drains from his face, he sees Derek and on his arm is a grinning Kate Argent.

 

“Oh shit,” Liam whispers.

 

Kate

 

Derek tenses as soon as he spots the Stilinski boy standing in front of a painting, next to a black boy who looks to be around the same age, with wide fearful blue eyes. She grins in a friendly manner as she marches Derek towards them. “Hello,” Kate says, but the kid looks up at her with an unimpressed expression. As if she’s the enemy, and she supposes any replacement for Stiles would be viewed as the enemy to this child.

 

“He’s shy,” the friend says, smooth as silk as he extends his hand, cutting off Kate before she can speak, “I’m Mason, bestfriend, partner in crime, and for all intents and purposes the brother from another mother.” As he voices the last bit his eyes flash with a quick glimmer of yellow, and his smile is sharp. Another wolf, then. “And you are?” Mason says it as if he doesn’t know her, and Kate’s not stupid enough to believe this isn’t meant as an insult.

 

The kid has a lot of sass, and Kate isn’t impressed when she replies, “Kate Argent.”

 

“Ah,” he turns back to the Stilinski boy, “Liam, man, let’s go find your Uncle Jackson.”

 

“Right,” Liam nods, eyes still on Kate with worry as they start moving away.

 

“Well that was interesting,” Kate drawls while her nails bite into the skin of Derek’s palm, “Someone should teach those boys some manners.” Then as offhandedly as she can manage she says, “Oh, look, Isaac’s here.” Of course he is, she invited him. Derek and Isaac haven’t spoken since that night at Yankees Stadium; where, rumor has it, Isaac unknowingly re-introduced Derek to his ex. Kate hadn’t been down there when that was happening, but enough people knew about the scandal to recognize Liam Stilinski when they saw him. Isaac has never been one to pay attention to gossip or current events; all Kate can remember of Isaac is what Derek told her when they had first started dating. He likes old movies, DnD, and baseball; there’s not much to Isaac, that’s why I like him. Derek hasn’t said he liked him in awhile, and Isaac hasn’t tried to call. She wonders, cruelly, if this is another relationship Liam’s tweet will ruin.

 

Derek’s eyes are on Isaac in an instant, glowing red while a low rumble reverberates through his chest. Kate swallows, because now she has her answers.  “Well, I suppose I’ve got my conclusion for this social experiment.” Her words snap Derek out of his dominance display. A display Isaac didn’t try to challenge.  

 

“Kate-,” she cuts Derek off.

 

“Please, Derek, this has been going on for months.” And it has, since the discovery he’s been with Laura or in his own head. His eyes constantly on his phone, and Kate’s no saint, she’s looked through it on more than one occasion. Texts to a number he doesn’t have saved, conversations with a son he doesn’t want to share with her, and it hurts. “Why do you think I concocted this elaborate scheme to get Stiles’s work into my Aunt Linda’s home? I wanted to see you both, I wanted to know if this really was some easily forgotten blip, or a ghost from the past that haunts you deeply.” She shoves him, her own eyes shifting between human and not.

 

“And what did you find out?” He’s deadly calm, eyes like stone as they watch her and his jaw ticks with how tightly he has it clenched.

 

“What do you think,” she hisses, “That you’re still in love with this little bitch and that you probably always have been. Why can’t you look at me? Why does it have to be some nameless, talentless hack named Stiles Stilinski.” She’s intentionally cruel; Kate wants to hurt him the way she’s hurting, but Derek remains motionless. Watching her with eyes that have lost what little love he held for her, and she knows she’s finally lost him. Not that he was ever really hers.  

 

“Derek,” the voice is quiet, but loud due to the sudden stillness of the room. And Kate shoots her glance over to the woman in question. Stiles looks better than her Instagram photos, and Kate hates her for how absolutely stunning she is in little make-up, with wide glowing blue eyes, thick frowning eyebrows, and careless short hair. Stiles’s heart rate is erratic, Kate snarls at her under her breath--hating her even though she knows this is all on Derek. Derek’s the one who lied to Kate. He’s the one who was supposed to tell her about Stiles, but there’s a part of her that despises this woman, regardless of the truth. When Stiles sees Kate’s face she huffs out a broken laugh, and turns, heading towards the kitchen as she whispers, “Of fucking course, I knew it was too good to be true.”

 

Derek moves to go after her, as does Isaac--it seems when he spins around on his long feet--but a warning snarl and glare at them both from Liam stops them in their tracks. He’s the one who chases his mom.

 

Stiles

 

She’s in some corner of this fucking posh apartment, at the back, watching as people mill about looking at the sexually charged sculptures and paintings she’s made for this show--openly discussing what they like and don’t like about her works. That’s hard enough on a normal day for Stiles, but knowing this was all some fucking scheme by Kate Argent to force her and Derek into a room together makes it all a horrible joke. She’s never going to be a well known artist. She’s always going to be Stiles--loser teenage mother, smart but lacking attention long enough to get a “real degree”, talented but not talented enough, still living with her dad--Stilinski. She covers her eyes, trying hard to keep the tears from forming.

 

“Mom,” she looks up at Liam’s gentle tone, giving him her best watery smile. His face is painted with worry--eyes wide and bright as they fade from gold to human blue.

 

“Hey, kiddo.” He sits gingerly beside her, hidden in this cramped corner with her, and Stiles feels at peace with his presence.

 

“You know you’re a fucking awesome artist, right?” Liam’s voice is gentle, but loud in the small alcove around them, and Stiles chuckles. He’s still as wonderful as he was at four when he’d proudly declare My mommy can do anything.  

 

She leans her head on his shoulder, “Thanks. I needed that.” Then she hears someone talking about their dislike of one of her sculpture pieces and she grimaces, “I wish I weren’t doing this now.”

 

“Why?” Liam’s sweet, but sometimes she wants to knock him in the head for being clueless.

 

“I wanted to get here with skill not spite,” Stiles admits with a groan, and again covers her eyes with her long fingers. Willing the tears away when they start building behind Stiles’s closed eyelids.  

 

“Fuck Kate Argent, Mom,” Liam growls, no doubt the scent of her grief upsetting him. He’s a lot like his dad in that regard; Derek never could stand to smell grief or misery. It made him go into Alpha mode, made him want to fix whatever was wrong and make things right. Stiles doesn’t think this is ever going to be right again.

 

“No thanks; I bet her vagina tastes as rotten as her personality,” Stiles quips and it’s enough to make Liam falter with a startled laugh. “But, seriously, I just want to leave. I don’t want to go kissing ass and talking about my works with people. I just want to go home. No one here will appreciate these pieces of me--this is a joke.” Stiles is not proud of the broken tilt to her voice; she never wants to be weak before her son, and lately all he ever sees from his mother is a quivering emotional mess. It’s off-putting.

 

“I appreciate them,” Liam says with a soft smile, and smoothes a hand over her shoulder, “Why not walk around with me and tell me about these pieces? Fuck everyone else, it can be just you and me.”

 

Stiles gapes at him; wondering when he grew into a reliable young man. It must have happened while she wasn’t looking, and that fills her with a sense of self-loathing. He must pick up on that, for he takes her hand and shakes his head in the negative, “Don’t start internalizing whatever it is. If you want to leave then let’s leave. Fuck this awful art party,” Liam smiles, and she manages a grin.

 

Letting out a pleased sound she whispers, “I knew you secretly loved Rufus Wainwright.”

 

“You tell Mason and I might have to disown you,” Liam warns as he helps her to her feet. They don’t bother with people while they make their way toward the exit. Stiles knows Lydia can deal with the shit storm that follows; as of right now Stiles doesn’t care. She just wants to be far away from this godawful place.  

 

Liam

 

Liam smiles when Mom’s eyes glitter as she arches her head back with a bright laugh. She presses her fingertips against the plastic covering the photograph of a portrait. The bottle of white wine Uncle Jackson pulled from his rack is half-gone beside her, and Liam assumes that’s why she is so free with showing him this album. “I’m sorry, kiddo,” she chuckles again, drawing his attention back to where her fingers are stroking the image, “It’s not like I intended for you to ever see me in the buff.” He’s seen her naked too many times; Mom’s not exactly modest and it drives Gramps up the wall.

 

“How old are you here,” Liam asks as he looks upon the portrait, made from pieces of an actual black and white photo of Mom--blown up to fit into the half portrait of herself she’s created with various mediums. The painting side is in vivid colors, with her hair a wild disarray compared to the sleek photo side of herself where her hair is perfectly straightened and she’s in a very neat button up with slacks. At the painted side she is nude, her body as wild as her hair--looking to Liam as if it is in constant motion.

 

“Eighteen,” she smiles, “I was pretty, wasn’t I?” She wiggles one of her eyebrows at him, a delighted gleam in her eyes when she goes back to staring down at herself while wrapping her lithe arms around her torso.

 

“You’re still pretty, Mom,” Liam huffs. Then he frowns at the portrait in curiosity, “Why did you paint it this way? You know, with this stiff half and then this crazy half?” He’s got her talking, he might as well get some answers. Mason volunteered to go get take-out with Uncle Jackson, and Liam’s assuming they are giving him and Mom space to talk. That or Mason is trying to flirt with Liam’s uncle again, and he nearly frowns at the thought.  

 

Mom’s grin is enigmatic, human brown eyes going soft and fond as she studies herself in the portrait, reaching out to touch the photo some more. “At that point in my life I was trying to project a calm, composed image of myself--for you, for your dad, for everyone around me. I wanted people to stop looking at me as if I were too young, too erratic, too whatever they thought. Yet, inside, I was still untamed, wanting freedom, but was trapped beneath this uncomfortable facade.”

 

“Did I trap you?” Liam’s always worried about that, to be honest, but when she turns soft eyes upon him Mom appears heartbroken by the question.

 

“No, my little wolf, you are what set me free.” She caresses his cheek with her warm hand, as she had when he was growing up and it is just as comforting now as it was when he was a tiny child. Liam leans into her palm, closing his eyes and savoring the feel.

 

She curls her fingers around his palm a moment later--her touch gentle as she moves his hand in a silent command for him to turn the page. There is a section of her collection that is nothing but portraits of Liam and his mother. It reminds him of how Mom always has a camera on hand. She takes pictures of everything, and Liam has always been one of her favorite subjects. Here he gets to sit before the center of a timeline--one that depicts his life. Liam’s mouth going slack, open, as he looks over various memories he’s long forgotten, but that Mom has been keeping close as precious and life-altering.

 

All of Mom’s work in this collection is half photo half various mediums, and Liam is drawn closer to the picture of a particular canvas. From the canvas fingers rise around the still black and white photograph of Liam as a newborn. Creating the illusion of hands locking the baby in; keeping it safe, almost. “Those are your father’s hands,” Mom whispers, near his ear, and he jumps from the suddenness of the sound. “I made this when you were still little and he always insisted on being the one to hold you.” She traces the outline of the fingers, a nostalgic sheen in her eyes as she swallows another sip from the bottle. Uncle Jackson hadn’t pressed her to use a glass.

 

“Did he love me?” It’s another of Liam’s many hidden fears; that the nameless man he never knew in childhood didn’t care, hated him, didn’t want him. Texting Derek and hanging with him, on occasion, still hasn’t eased that worry.  

 

“Of course he did. How could anyone not love you?” Even though it’s such a Mom thing to say Liam is filled with a swell of emotion.

 

Laura

 

Erica’s lower back is exposed in the black gown she’s selected for the evening, and normally Laura would be all over that--however, in this moment, she’s too busy staring up at the portrait of a Derek-look-a-like Stiles has created in multicolored inks and small, elegantly scrawled words. It’s quite stunning, actually, with her feelings painted into his skin, and Laura is blown away.

 

When she chuckles Erica asks her what’s so amusing, to which Laura tenderly replies, “This. I never thought Stiles could be talented as an artist. I always figured she’d be a weird kid who drew on walls the rest of her life.” Erica releases a tinkling laugh that draws Laura’s hazel gaze away from the minute, illegible lines that make up the crinkles around not-Derek’s smiling eyes. “You’re stunning,” Laura whispers while she touches one of the curls that’s fallen loose from Erica’s updo.

 

“Is that all I am to you, Laura, a pretty thing,” Erica’s grin is wide and white appearing rather dangerous between her crimson painted lips.

 

“You are everything to me,” Laura confides in a quiet voice as Erica moves closer within the circle of Laura’s arms, her own arms going around Laura’s waist while she leans her cheek against Laura’s shoulder.

 

“I think Stiles is in love with your brother,” Erica comments, in an almost bored fashion as they stroll through the limited pieces of the Derek-look-a-like--obviously created from memories of the time Derek filled Stiles’s life. Yet different enough to not risk being sued. Stopping before a sculpture of a melting heart, with a very angry looking younger not-Derek tearing out of it, Erica continues, “She still looks at him the way you look at me; did you see her when she saw him with Kate?”

 

Laura frowns as she says ‘no’; her eyes following the defined curve of muscle that makes up sculpture Derek’s arms.

 

Erica touches the shiny resin surface of the heart, her smile sad when she says, “I think this sculpture is an accurate interpretation of what I saw on her face.”

 

John

 

Jackson drives Stiles, Liam, and Mason home, causing John to frown when his second child strolls in behind them. “I thought it’d be another year or more before we saw you around these parts again.”

 

Stiles shoots him a look while Liam stumbles, dead on his feet, up the stairs to his room with Mason trailing behind. It’s a late hour, later than they should’ve been driving, but John knows his kids and knows they prefer to travel in the dead of night; like miscreants. “Leave it, Dad, Jackie was a lifesaver back there.” Stiles yanks at the strands of her hair, “I hate Lydia for making me wear a dress, and it’s one that has to be dry-cleaned. Who the hell dry-cleans their clothes?” Stiles is babbling; John and Jackson both know her babble is to hide her feelings. John watches her with a worried, downward draw to his mouth.

 

“If you take care of them right they last,” Jackson says with a snort, “So I give it a week before you ruin this. Poor Lydia, she showed me the price tag.” He makes a low whistle.  

 

Sticking her tongue out, Stiles moves to march up the stairs after the boys. “I’m going to bed, no one wake me before noon unless they have a death wish.” She kicks her flats off near the first step, grumbling all the while about how sore her feet are as she makes her way up to her room.

 

John remains silent as he watches her go, and when her door closes Jackson speaks. “She’s pretty rattled about Hale showing up.” He has his phone out, sending emails or texts to someone while he adds that it hadn’t been a particularly pretty scene. John can’t imagine any scene between Derek and Stiles being pretty, but meeting at a public event where Stiles is already vulnerable seems like an even bigger recipe for disaster.

 

Sighing John moves in the direction of the kitchen, jerking his head for Jackson to follow. Pulling a couple of cold beers from the icebox he says, “Tell me about it.”

 

“Apparently, Kate Argent got her the showing.” Jackson frowns at the screen of his phone, but locks the device and puts it away when he accepts the beer from John; popping the top off with a well practiced flick of his claw.

 

Snorting John opens his beer with a vicious twist of the cap, and says, “Stiles saw that one coming, but took the chance regardless. How did Derek react?”

 

“He didn’t,” Jackson shrugs as he pops the cap off of his own beer. “Kate just kind of stormed off, from what I saw.” After a long pull he adds, “I wasn’t really in that part of the apartment when that was going down...I was taking a phone call on the balcony. Neither Liam nor Mason wanted to give me full details, and we know how much Stiles likes me so she’s not going to say anything.”

 

“You think that’s the end of this mess, Jackson?”  All John wants is for things to go back to how they were before Liam’s discovery, and the world’s sudden interest in a story that was none of their business. John watches the way his son stares out the darkened window, a thoughtful expression on his handsome face while giving a noncommittal hum that doesn’t in any way assuage John’s worries.

 

He should know this is only the beginning, but John wants more than anything for this to be the end of this mess.

 

Talia

 

Deucalion is on the phone when Talia climbs into the back of the SUV with him. She gives an affirmative sound when the driver asks if they’re going home before she goes back to listening to the conversation happening at her left.

 

“I promise, Cora, I’ll talk to your mother about it when we get home.” She doesn’t bother listening to what Cora says, too busy watching the cars that go past them on the icy roads, but Talia does look over when he next speaks--shock thick in his voice, “What do you mean Derek’s been talking to Liam?” Deucalion sighs, and listens a beat before he ends the call with a, “I’ll see what I can do.”

 

After he hangs up they don’t speak of the matter, Deuc just gives a short shake of his head indicating that he doesn’t want anyone to hear their conversation--not even their trusted driver, and Talia knows she’s not going to enjoy what he has to say.

 

Alisha and Stella are out when they get in--there’s a note from Stella stuck on the front of the fridge saying that she will be at Jenny’s house and Alisha is just gone. Presumably with her boyfriend Hank; hopefully doing nothing too awful. At the moment her worry is Derek. Derek who has always been the one she worries for the most. He’s the only son, in house full of vivacious women and an--at times--emotionally absent father. So he’s always been the one she’s trying to make sure is alright.  

 

“What’s Cora need,” she finally says, tired of the silence that fills the space between them.

 

“She’s planning on coming home for break instead of staying in London.” Talia balks at the notion.

 

“She can’t do that I’ve rented her apartment for the year. She has another semester to finish out there before I’ll fly her home.” Deuc pulls a bottle of red from the wine fridge, and grabs a couple of glasses while she continues raving about how Cora needs to stay put. Talia quiets down when he pushes the glass across their countertop toward her.

 

Deucalion waits until she’s taken her first sip to say, “Derek’s a mess, Talia, and you know how close the kids are.” It makes Talia seethe with anger that he has the audacity to act as if he knows their children better than she does.

 

“Is that right--they’re close are they,” she sneers and Deuc sighs, putting his face into his hand.

 

“Don’t start that, Talia, I know you’re aware that our kids have a tight bond.” He drinks half of his glass in one swallow, and she knows she’s touched a nerve, but doesn’t care.

 

“I know it better than you,” she hisses--irises gone the color of blood as her claws extend, “While you were out putting your dick in every willing, barely legal slut; I was here with my kids--raising them, loving them, getting to know them. I was never absent a day in their lives, Deucalion, so don’t you dare throw my children into my face.”

 

“Our children,” he rages back, his own eyes red behind his lenses. “That’s the problem, Talia, they were always yours--never ours. You were always present in their lives, but never mine.” He finishes the rest of his glass and pours himself another.  

 

She throws her hands up, angry tears in her eyes when she screams, “Everything I ever did was to make you happy.”

 

“Everything you ever did was to build your fortune and make sure your kids looked perfect to the world,” he shouts back. “I was left here, alone, while you emasculated me by talking down my job, talking down my ability to parent, and talking down the way I fucked you. Maybe if you hadn’t been such a rich, perfect bitch it might have worked between us. I might not have looked for women with lower standards.”

 

“Girls,” she hisses, twisting the knife in his pride as she adds, “They weren’t women--women know the worth of a man.”

 

His laugh is a hollow sound, “Is that right?” Talia wishes she felt the thrill of her victory when he walks away, up to the guest room where he slams the door, but she doesn’t--all this fight manages to create in her is an empty longing. A void she’s not sure she will ever be able to fill, and she hopes--not for the first time--that her children never know this type of dispair. Especially Derek. She finds herself begging an unnamed deity each night, as she lies in her barren bed, for him to find the happiness he’s been trying to force from Kate.

 

She pours herself another glass, her mouth tipped down at the corners, before she snatches up the glass and drains it in one go.

 

Derek

 

“What’s this?” He inspects the object she’s thrown at him with a frown.

 

Laura glances over at him from behind her desk, in her posh office off of Ninth Avenue, “A key, Derek, clearly.”

 

Irritated he huffs, as he drops the cold metal onto her large planner that rests on her well organized desk, “I could guess that--I meant what’s it to?”

 

With a sharp smile Laura says, “You should’ve specified.” It’s not exactly an answer, and she doesn’t seem prepared to give him one when she goes back to typing.

 

He gives her precisely seventeen seconds before he demands,“Are you going to tell me?”

 

Laura looks up from her computer screen, and there is an unreadable emotion swirling in her eyes while she visibly wars between two options. Settling on one she punches a button on her desk. Soon after her secretary’s voice fills the room from the speaker. Derek winces at the nasally tone, but Laura seems used to the sound.  

 

“Cancel my lunch with Peter, Dustin, I’m going to take the afternoon off--if he asks why tell him to fuck off for me,” she cuts off communication before her poor assistant can respond. Derek pities him; it’s hard enough being related to Laura, he can only imagine how horrifying it must be to work under her.  

 

Derek can’t stop his snort over Laura’s message for Peter; he’s sure Peter will be thrilled. When she grabs her coat Derek says, “Is it wise to treat our dear uncle so poorly?” He always adopts a polished manner of speaking when talking about Peter; his idiot uncle thinks Derek does it out of respect while everyone else knows he means the tone as an insult.

 

Laura huffs out a humored sound, “He wants me to get him out of an investment property gone wrong; he can fucking wait.” She grabs her keys and the mysterious key from the top of her desk, “If he doesn’t like that I take my afternoons off to help out my favorite brother, then he can find himself another sucker to save his stupid ass.”

 

This is why Derek loves Laura; she’d burn every bridge she knew for him if it meant giving Derek happiness. And he’d do the same. “Now com’on, I’ve been dying to take you around in my Bentley since I got it last year.”

 

With a curl of his mouth Derek grumbles, “It better be clean. I don’t need the smell of you and Erica’s sexlife lingering in my jacket for months.”

 

Laura’s laugh is a bright, loud sound that bounces through the large hall when they make their way to the elevator.

 

Stiles

 

“Fuck, you scared me,” Stiles shouts when Jackson comes in, and he arches a judgmental eyebrow at her while he takes a slow loop around her studio. Okay. Dad’s attic, but studios are expensive to rent. Jackson looks too polished amongst the chaos and she feels suddenly self conscious. Here she is, the only unsuccessful Stilinski and here he is, the most successful of the lot.

 

“What are you working on?” He pauses at the small, round window that faces the empty house next door. The house Stiles tries not to notice, but sometimes it’s hard and the memories steal her. She’ll sit at that window, for hours, dreaming about a time that once was--a time that will never be again.

 

“I’m playing with film and photography of my sexual exploits through the years.” It’s a testament to how laid-back Jackson actually is that he doesn’t so much as flinch at the revelation. Maybe they’ve been siblings for too long. She’s clearly corrupted him, even though she’s younger.

 

“You’d better have permission,” Jackson says with a bored tone, running his fingers over one of her canvases edges. “You could get sued otherwise.”   

 

“I do, Jackass,” she snarks in return, “Most of them you can’t tell who they are, and I plan on doing some major editing to make the films appear more dreamlike and surreal.” Here she wiggles her fingers, trying to jazz her words up, but he doesn’t appear all that impressed.

 

“So you aren’t making porn,” he quips--the only sign he’s joking: the barely there smile hiding at the crinkles around his eye and in the corner of his mouth.

 

Huffing, and rising to the bait, Stiles says, “Of course not. I’m making art.”

 

“Mom often told Dad the difference between art and pornography was the person viewing it.” Stiles remembers, of course, it was the running joke when Mom discovered Jackson’s stash of nudey mags. During the time when shit was still good. Her silence causes Jackson to face her, “You’re going to have to deal with those feelings one day, Stilts.”

 

She glowers at him, “I do deal with them--I deal with them in art.” She flings her arm out gesturing to the paintings around them. Trying to get him to see that she’s dealing real fucking well.  

 

“Self reflective pieces that still manage to run from your one real trauma.” Stiles hates when Jackson speaks in a way that makes it seem as if he’s adulting better than she is at this point in their lives.  

 

“It’s not a trauma,” she hisses and Jackson gives her a dry look in response. Flushing Stiles retorts, “I’m just angry. Okay? I’m allowed to be angry.”

 

“You are--we all are, but you’re the only one who hasn’t accepted what happened and moved on.” Again, he’s making her sound like she’s the brat in the situation. She hates him for his words.

 

“How am I supposed to accept it,” she explodes. “How am I supposed to look at her--the woman I look just fucking like--and accept her back with open arms after she hurt my father like that.”

 

“He’s my father too, Stiles,” Jackson whispers with meaning, and she loses it at him.  

 

“You sure about that, Jackie, did she confirm that you’re actually Dad’s?” It’s a low blow--an extremely low blow if Stiles is being honest. When Mom got caught--with the flavor of the time, a wannabe rockstar Stiles has long since forgotten--Dad had been angry. Rightfully so, and Stiles can still remember the way he screamed at Mom in the livingroom; all of them--her, Jackson, Jordan--huddled together, listening at the top of the stairs, as Dad demanded to know if there had been other times.

 

Stiles will never forget the sound of Dad’s broken sob as he demanded honesty. And just as surely she will never forget the way Mom’s voice cracked when she said, “In ‘81, before we knew about Jackson...my creative writing teacher.”

 

“Whittemore...you gave my son his name, you told me it was the name of some obscure poet,” Dad hissed, and Stiles can still remember the way Jackson slumped against her. The way he cried on her shoulder that night while Mom packed a bag--with Jordan trying to reason with her to stay--long after Dad had stormed off to the bar--to drink his hurt away.

 

She sees a reflection of that night’s pain in Jackson’s eyes now, and she wants to take back what she said--moves to do so, but Jackson’s voice stops her. “He’s my father, too,” Jackson whispers again, and this time she doesn’t say anything. She knows that’s why Jackson stays away. It’s why he does everything he can to push Dad away. He can’t bear to have Dad look at him with suspicion--wondering if Dad is looking for signs that he’s proof of another man’s virility. She can’t know what that’s like. Neither can Jordan. They don’t have that doubt. Jackson touches the corner of one of her latest pictures, “Don’t forgive her if you want, Stiles, but carrying around the fear of turning into her isn’t doing you--or your son--any favors.”

 

Liam

 

“Hayden wants me to babysit with her tonight,” he confesses to Mason, after the bus drops them off a few blocks down from Liam’s. He wishes the damn thing would leave them at the front door since the snow’s still bad this time of year, and he’s still wet from his shower after practice. The only consolation is that the reporters are no longer lining the streets, snapping pictures and harassing him.

 

Mason only just manages to stifle a laugh, “Is that right?”

 

“Shut up,” Liam grumbles, and that makes Mason lose it. His laughter is bright in the mostly empty streets. Mr. Malone looks up from his porch--old gray eyes narrowing at them as if they are hoodlums rather than the same two students he sees walking home every day.

 

“Dude, you have to admit, that’s a funny image. You babysitting--have you ever interacted with a kid?” Mason looks too delighted for Liam’s liking, and he shoves him into a snowbank, but that causes Mason to cackle more.

 

“Yes,” Liam glares while Mason dusts snow off of his pants, “My mom’s friend Scott has some kids.”

 

“Have you ever held them,” Mason asks--and Liam’s sure he already knows the answer. From the way Liam flushes due to embarrassment it’s an easy answer to guess.

 

“Yeah, but Maiko cried until her mom took her back, and I haven’t really tried since. Kids are fucking scary.” Liam has a panic attack just thinking about taking care of kids, and he hopes Hayden doesn’t expect him to be helpful. He’s almost certain she invited him over to make-out.

 

“Just remember that before you have sex with Hayden. Babies suck and are scary--so don’t forget the rubber.” Mason is always so helpful. Not.

 

Liam snorts, kicking at a clump of dirty snow on the sidewalk, “Believe me, man, Mom’s been drilling that into my brain since diapers.”

 

“Well she lived it. I can’t imagine she’d be too cool with being a grandma at thirty,” Mason’s face and voice make it apparent he wouldn’t be too cool with being a pseudo-uncle at fifteen either.  

 

“Thirty-one, man, she’d have a birthday by the time Hayden had a kid if she were to get pregnant,” Liam replies, casually, just to get a rise out of Mason.  

 

It totally works. Mason makes an uncomfortable face, “Getting technical in this scary hypothetical is freaking me out--so quit.” Liam grins in response. “Can we talk about how Brett was totally checking me out today?”

 

Rolling his eyes Liam huffs, “You could always ask him out, you know?” His two best friends are idiots. If they want to date they just should, if they don’t want to that’s fine they could play each other’s wingman and leave Liam out of their tireless search. Liam always feels like a dick when he wears his awkwardly apologetic smile and says, Sorry, man, I’m not into dudes--at the club he and Mason and Brett shouldn’t be inside of, in the first place.

 

Snorting, Mason replies, “I don’t think so. Momma taught me to never chase a man...” Mason trails off, frowning as he looks in the direction of Liam’s house--which is just a few or more away now. “Dude, did your Uncle Jackson buy another ridiculously expensive car?”

 

“No, still driving the Porsche,” Liam responds with a furrow of his thick eyebrows. “The same one he crammed us into the back of when he brought us back from Mom’s show.”

 

“Huh,” Mason thins his lips, “Then who’s driving the pearly Bentley parked in front of your house?”

 

When Liam looks in the direction Mason is staring he sees that there is, indeed, a Bentley with a pretty pearl white exterior. “Ugh, that better not be that Isaac guy.”

 

“The hot one who wanted to do your mom dirty?” Liam glares, and Mason starts dancing, saying, “He wants to give your mom an ice cream paint job,” adding, in a sing-song tone, “Cream on the inside, clean on the outside.”

 

Liam wrinkles his nose and shoves Mason, “Shut up.”

 

“No way, man, your mom was lucky with that guy. I mean he was hot-t-t.” Sometimes Liam wishes he had a sock to shove into Mason’s mouth.  

 

“She certainly seemed to think so,” Liam grumbles, hurrying closer to the house--intent on finding out who’s there.  

 

“What’s that mean,” Mason asks as he hurries to match Liam’s faster pace.

 

He shrugs, “Since the show disaster he’s been calling and coming around. Mom says she told him she’s probably never going to love him, but he’s cool with that--like some kind of dork from a chick flick.” He huffs out angrily, “So I thought it wasn’t going to be anything, right?” Mason nods and Liam grits his teeth, “Yeah, well, I came home early one day because I thought Mom would be with Gramps and Jordan at the station, and I wanted to ditch Harris’s class--yeah...I found her fucking him, in her studio when I went up there to grab a DVD I’d rented.”

 

“Did she see you?” Mason sounds half in shock, half in awe.

 

“Yeah, so I got mentally scarred and grounded when that happened,” Liam is still pissed off about it--he should’ve been given a free pass for accidentally seeing his mom spread eagle.  

 

“Did he have a Bentley that day?” Mason asks, jogging a bit to keep pace with Liam.

 

“Isaac? Nah, he had a driver. So who the hell knows what he drives.” Liam’s been staying up when Mom says she’s going out, lately, to make sure she’s not sneaking off with some car he doesn’t know. Mostly, she’s been with Scott and Kira; which is her usual. And Lydia’s been making more appearances, but Liam has to wonder if that’s her and Uncle Jordan’s way of easing Mom into the idea of their secret relationship. Which is a joke now that Liam knows, because it’s totally obvious they’re together. They slip up all the damn time, and Mom never seems to notice.  

 

“Guess we’ll find out.” Mason looks far too excited by the idea, and runs ahead.  

 

Derek

 

“Are you fucking serious right now, Laura,” Derek hisses when he notices where Laura’s parked the car. He’d have noticed sooner had he not fallen asleep when they drove through Harlem, on their way out of the city. Derek has never been good in cars--usually he is out as soon as the journey begins, unless he’s driving. Now he wishes he wasn’t so damn relaxed. He could have avoided this had he been vigilant. He doesn’t want to be in Beacon Hills; not now while his life is still a mess.

 

“Com’on,” she smiles, like the predator she is, “I have something to show you.”

 

He follows her out of the car, despite his misgivings, and nearly snarls at Laura when he hears Liam’s voice call his name. “Derek?” Laura is immediately drawn to the sound. Her red eyes on him in a flash, assessing and Derek steps into her line of sight. Feeling strangely protective. “Derek, hey, dude, what are you doing here?” Liam asks, and Derek notices there is a slight panicked tilt to his voice.

 

“He lives here,” Laura cuts in--smooth as silk, and Derek nearly jumps her. She must notice for her grin blooms and she says, “Well he used to. Before his great-grandfather died, leaving a sizable fortune to Derek’s mother. Then he left this world behind--and left something of himself behind with it.” She holds his gaze; a challenge for him to refute her words, but he doesn’t and she looks pleased as she cocks her head toward the faded front porch. “I got you both an early Christmas present.” Her eyes flitting between Derek and Liam before she dangles the damn key in front of them.

 

“Doesn’t she mean late,” Liam’s friend Mason whispers loudly, as Laura starts her way up to the house, and Liam looks perplexed while Derek sighs.

 

“You’ll come to find that Laura always means exactly what she says.”

 

Jordan

 

He frowns at the familiar backs he sees going into the house next door to Dad’s, and pulls out his cell when the ornate, faded red door closes behind them.

 

Jackson answers on the first ring. “Are you still in town,” Jordan wastes no time getting to the point.

 

“Yes,” Jackson answers with his infuriatingly slow drawl.

 

“I’m assuming you have something to do with Laura Hale’s car being parked next door. And I bet you have something to do with Derek Hale, our nephew, and Mason following Laura into that damned house.” Jackson doesn’t reply and Jordan growls, “Don’t fuck with me, Jackie. Do you know what Dad’s going to do if he finds out? Hell, forget Dad, do you know what Stiles will do when she finds out?” He doesn’t want to think about the situation. Stiles was starting to smile again, and now Jackson is trying to fuck that all up by bringing the past right to their door. Damn near literally.

 

He can accurately picture Jackson’s casual shrug when he says, “I really don’t care. It needed to be done.” Jordan’s not surprised when Jackson ends the call without any sort of farewell. Slamming his head against the headrest in his cruiser, Jordan breathes out a frustrated sigh.

 

Cora

 

“What do you mean Laura’s not in her office?” She’s really not in the mood to listen to Laura’s idiot assistant trip over his own brain as he tries to come up with an excuse. “Look, you won’t be in trouble. I just need to know where my sister is--because she has my brother. Now, if you don’t tell me I will not be held accountable for the torture I inflict upon you.”

 

“She’s taken him to some house in Beacon-,” Cora cuts him off with a thin voice.

 

“Beacon Hills.” She hangs up without warning and goes to where her parent’s driver is waiting for her at JFK International. Cora marches up to him and says, “Change of plans; you’re driving me to Beacon Hills--it’s a small town that sits on the edge of Lake Ontario.”

 

“Of course, Miss.” He takes her bags and asks him to follow her to his car. Seething she pulls out her cellphone, hitting Erica’s name on the screen with more force than necessary.

 

Erica sounds frazzled when she answers, “This had better be good, Cora, I’ve got an E.R. full of possible flu patients.”

 

“Laura’s in Beacon Hills with Derek,” she hears Erica stumble over someone, and hears her call out an apology. It takes a few minutes, with Erica’s labored breathing in her ear before Erica finally speaks.

 

“Okay, sorry, I’m in a supply closet now so tell me what the hell is going on.” She sounds concerned as well as unamused.

 

Cora’s not exactly sure but she’s assuming, “It’s Liam, I bet. Laura’s been owner of the old house since Mom moved us after Granddad’s death.”

 

“I know; she always fights me about it when I’ve talked about selling it so we no longer have to pay taxes on that damned place.” Erica sighs, “She never told me it was the house you grew up in.” Cora’s not surprised, none of them really talks about their old life. It’s like some great horror they all like to keep buried; in truth, it’s just life. Most people experience something similar and some get it worse; so why they all act like their past is a travesty Cora will never know.

 

“There’s probably a lot Laura doesn’t tell you,” Cora admits with a frustrated sound. “It’s what she does; she’s like Mom in that regard. She takes charge and does things without a word to anyone else because it’s efficient that way.” Erica remains silent on the other line and Cora can’t keep herself from adding, “It’s why Derek needs people to clean up his messes, it’s why he’s always going to Laura if he can’t stand the idea of facing Mom; because he’s not been able to fail without them taking charge and making it better.

 

“What else is bothering you, Cora,” Erica asks like she can sense the simmering rage beneath Cora’s skin.

 

“He doesn’t deserve his kid or Stiles. Not when he walked out, not when he should’ve stuck it out no matter how hard it was,” Cora hates herself a little bit when she starts sobbing. She promised herself she wouldn’t cry, but now she can’t stop, “I’m sorry.” It’s just been building for so long inside of her.

 

Erica shushes her, “Don’t be sorry, Cora. You’re allowed to be angry at Derek.”

 

“I’m just so mad he chose his dream over his kid.” After a swallow she adds, “I know Mom talks Dad down a lot, for the shit he pulled and I’m not saying he was right, but you know...he got Mom pregnant when they were young and despite the fact he didn’t get to chase his dream he’s stuck it out. He’s still sticking it out.”

 

“I think your dad loves your mother,” Erica’s tone is kind and considerate; causing Cora to laugh.

 

“He does, but he’ll never love Mom the way Derek loves Stiles, and that’s the real tragedy--Derek gave up something most of the world would kill for.” She closes her eyes as she starts spilling her anger out at Erica. Cora tells her about how close she and Stiles were, about how she thought that maybe one of her siblings would come out of the Mom vs. Dad situation okay--about how she had hoped that person would be Derek. Laura came out of it alright, but she guards herself. Cora lashes out at everyone, and refuses to let people in--the most serious relationship she’s ever had has lasted a total of two weeks. Alisha and Stella were new to the world when that crap went down, and as a result they live the lives of children with divorced parents. Mom and Dad try to outdo one another in the way they pay affection to Alisha and Stella, and as a result they are absolute brats. Derek was the only one who seemed well adjusted, back then, and Cora will always attribute that fact to Stiles. Stiles pulled Derek from the proverbial fire.

 

“It’ll be okay, Cora,” Erica whispers, her voice soothing, and Cora doesn’t know when she falls asleep.

 

She’s in Mom’s driveway when the driver stops, waking her, and is angry--near screaming--until Mom opens the back passenger door. Mom’s eyes are kind, conveying her apology over the driver’s deception, and then Cora is in her space demanding to know ‘why’.

 

“There are some things Derek is going to have to actually do on his own,” Mom whispers against Cora’s temple.  

 

“He’ll fuck it all up again,” Cora tries to reason, and Mom runs gentle hands through Cora’s hair, trying to calm her.

 

“That’s still his choice to make, pup,” Mom’s voice is full of kindness, as it was when Cora was small and sick--when Mom would come in tired from work but still read her a fairytale. Instinctively, Cora melts against her--soaking up all of the affection Mom is freely giving.

 

Stiles

 

Something feels different, but she can’t pinpoint what is bothering her as she cleans the living room downstairs. Gathering up Dad’s old patchwork quilt and lugging it to the washer in the basement doesn’t give her any answers either. Frustrating Stiles all the more. She chews at her bitten down nails in agitation, gathering up randomly strewn articles of clothing, shoes, sports equipment as she makes her rounds through the house again. Ever curious about what she’s missing.

 

Lydia calls while she’s drinking her breakfast--coffee with cream and sugar--and she picks up the call while wearing a frown. “Hello?”

 

“Stiles,” Lydia says, her voice far too chipper for this hour of the morning, “What are you doing today?”

 

“Lounging about until this evening. I’m getting paid to teach a group of kids to paint a princess for a birthday party, joy.” She’s usually pretty excited to do the painting party jobs, because that means a guaranteed hundred for the day and it’s easy. Working with kids is a breeze. They treat her like she’s a rock star and she can pretend she’s the coolest thing ever--good for her ego and her wallet. Today, however, she’s just feeling antsy and off and she’s not looking forward to the job. She’d send Liam in her place if it wasn’t for Scott’s oldest daughter. That asshole’s been texting her all week about how excited Maiko is to she her Aunt Stiles. Scott and his damn emotional blackmail.

 

“Are you free to do lunch this afternoon?”

 

Stiles frowns, glancing around the house again, “Yeah, sure. Damnit, did they move stuff around the house a slight bit just to fuck with me again?”

 

“Pardon?” Lydia says with a worried tone and Stiles shrugs.

 

“Nothing, I’m just going out of my damn mind apparently.” Stiles takes large drink of her coffee, trying to shake the feeling of wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

“That’s the usual for you, Stiles,” Lydia’s reply is dry, and Stiles can’t be bothered to care at the moment. Usually she laughs at Lydia’s sarcasm, but today she can’t muster up a smile. “I’ll see you at noon, okay? Battista’s sound fine?”

 

“Yeah, but Jordan has to come, Papi loves Jordan and gets mad if I don’t bring him in for lunch.”

 

Stiles is so distracted she misses the relief in Lydia’s voice when she says she’s fine with that.

 

Jordan

 

“Your sister was acting weird when I called her,” Lydia says when she slips into the seat at Jordan’s left. “Do you think she knows?”

 

“That we’ve been sleeping together for a year?” Jordan huffs against the rim of his water glass, “Doubtful. We’d have an earful by now if she had.”

 

Lydia’s mouth draws down into a frown as she reaches for her own glass. “Do you really think she’ll be angry?” They’ve had this discussion a few times. Lydia thinks he’s a wimp while Jordan reasons that he loves his sister, and refuses to hurt her until he knows this is serious. With Lydia, he thinks the relationship is serious. He enjoys her conversation. Misses her and not just her body when they’ve gone weeks without seeing one another. And when Lydia smiles it rids Jordan of all worries. He wants it all with her, but he also wants it all with his sister’s blessing.

 

“Honestly, I don’t know. Right now I think she’ll be more upset by the fact Derek’s in the house next door.” Which is another problem entirely, and fills Jordan with a longing for a whiskey straight up. If he wasn’t on patrol after this, he might be tempted.

 

“She didn’t mention that,” Lydia says with a surprised voice, “How long has Derek been there?”

 

Jordan groans, “A day. I think. All I know is I saw Laura’s new car parked outside-” Lydia cuts him off with an assessing glare, and Jordan wonders what he said.

 

“How do you know what Laura Hale’s new car looks like?” Jordan silently curses his slip of the tongue.

 

“So, I maybe...kinda...watch a lot of trash T.V.” It’s not a lie, Jordan’s T.V. is usually on either MTV or E!.  

 

Lydia blinks slowly, a predatory smile stretching across her mouth when she says, “Oh. My. God. You watch All About Argent.

 

“Shut up,” he grouses. It wasn’t like he planned on it becoming an addiction, but when Derek started dating Kate Jordan knew he had to find out what she was like. Crazy, manipulative, spoiled, and so very entertaining-- the show makes his family seem normal, and it’s Jordan’s guilty pleasure. One he’s never admitted to until now, and he thinks Lydia must really be something special.

 

She laughs, unaware of his revelation, “I bet you have one of Kate’s posters up in your locker at the station, don’t you?”

 

He doesn’t dignify that with a response, and thankfully that’s when Stiles arrives.

 

Jackson

 

“Don’t you have work you should be doing, Jackson,” Stiles grumbles as she falls into the seat across from Jordan, and Jackson rolls his eyes when he slides elegantly into the seat across from Lydia.

 

“I’ve been working. I do a lot of my work via phone, Skype, email, and text. With the snow as bad as it’s been I’m stuck in New York for a while and my potential clients understand.” She complains that he has an excuse for everything while he picks up his menu. He’s trying to find a way to distract her from gearing up for a long winded rant, “Is the zuppa di porcini as good as I remember?”

 

“Better,” Papi’s old voice wheezes from beside their table. His heavily wrinkled, tan hands clapping on Jordan’s and Stiles’s shoulders while he smiles at each person at the table. Lingering on Jackson when he gets to him, “I see you come home, again, Jackie. Your ol’man was tellin’ me you’s not been around so much lately, huh? What’s up with that?”

 

“Been busy with work, and haven’t had the time to make the trip out here,” Jackson omits certain truths, being truthful enough to deceive an old, well trained ear, and Papi throws his aged hands up into the air.

 

“Nonsense, you make time for you familia.” Jordan, being the more decent of the two of them easily cuts off Papi’s usual spiel about pack, and how he built this restaurant from the ground up--during a time when no one wanted business with a humble Italian trying to live the American Dream. It’s a long story, a good story, but through the years the tale has grown tedious. The lamenting on how Papi’d have failed had his siblings and parents not come to his aid. They didn’t let him quit, and now he’s living the American Dream. Family has been a running theme in Beacon Hills for as long as Jackson can remember; one of the main reasons Jackson’s been avoiding this old town for a long while. Family means something to him. He’s not a heartless ass, but the talk of ties of blood always make him feel dirty. Stiles was right the other day when she poked at old wounds, and despite his faux-confidence when he said John was his father, too; Jackson still feels wrong in his own pack. He still has doubt.

 

When Papi has said his fill, and Jordan’s politely agreed to everything he’s said, he wanders off to another table, and Jackson breathes a sigh of relief. Stiles shoots him an amused look as she snatches a hot slice of bread out of their basket. “So, why did you guys want to eat here?” Stiles asks around a mouthful.

 

Jackson notices the subtle way Lydia shifts, and he can practically taste the worry on Jordan, but Stiles remains oblivious while she looks over the wine list in front of her. He narrows his eyes at Jordan just before his brother opens his mouth, “Lydia and I wanted to let you know that we’re dating.”

 

Stiles is suddenly still, and Jackson watches as she sits up with a bright smile, “That’s awesome.” Then she goes back to her menu, “So what are you thinking about eating?”

 

Jackson’s not buying the happy act, and from the looks of it neither are Lydia or Jordan.

 

Derek

 

Stiles stumbles out of her Jeep, slamming the driver side door, slipping in the snow as she releases a loud scream. Derek frowns over at the scene, steaming cup of coffee in his hand, and the paper he’s suddenly forgotten coming outside for is sitting at his feet. She just so happens to glance his way, then, her large brown eyes full of tears. Her laughter is a loud, sharp sound in the mostly empty street that sits still and silent. “Of course,” Stiles’s voice cracks. “Of course you’ve come to haunt me when I’m at my lowest.”

 

Derek stands unmoving, voice abandoning him, and Stiles visibly swallows; stomping up the driveway, ignoring him on her way into her father’s house. The front door slams behind her, rattling the welcome sign that hangs on the front.  

 

It’s not an hour before Liam is wandering up the road, alone today, and he waves with a wide smile when he sees Derek standing on the porch. “Hey,” he shouts, running up Derek’s frozen lawn. “Did you get a chance to talk to Mom, yet?” Derek winces, noticing then how cold he is from standing outside for so long. Seeing Stiles that angry, tears in her large eyes, reminded him of the last time they truly spoke and Derek had been shocked into paralysis.

 

“No,” he replies now, voice gruff, and jerks his head, “You coming in?”

 

“Yeah,” Liam’s smile is bright and for a moment Derek can forget that everything else is falling to shit.  “You won’t believe what Coach said today,” and then Liam is off on a tangent about how Finstock had regaled them with another of his wild stories about how he lost his testicle to the cold.

 

Derek chuckles; he remembers Coach’s insane drivel.

 

Liam gets a call about five-thirty, and he answers it while he’s laughing over some show he’s found on Comedy Central. Derek’s in the kitchen, chopping mushrooms for dinner, when he hears Liam sigh out, “Yeah, I’ll see if Gramps is home to give me a ride.”

 

“Hey, Derek,” he calls after he ends his other conversation, “I gotta go, Mom’s apparently having a meltdown, and I gotta do her paint party for her.” Derek has a sneaking suspicion he knows why Stiles is having a mental episode. He’s not willing to tell Liam that he’s the reason Stiles is spooked. Derek’s not ready to have a fall out with his kid; he knows, in his heart, that it will happen, eventually, but he doesn’t want it today. Not when he’s still new to having Liam as a constant presence in his life.

 

“You need a ride,” Derek offers, while washing his hands. The meat is still in the fridge and all of his chopped ingredients he has on a plate that he sticks in the fridge, after he’s done drying his hands.

 

Liam glances out the kitchen window, after he wanders in from the livingroom, releasing a quiet ‘fuck’ when he sees that his Grandfather’s cruiser isn’t in the driveway. “Yeah, actually, that might be nice.” With a grateful smile he says ‘thanks’, gathering up his backpack while Derek grabs his keys off the counter.

 

They travel in a companionable silence, Liam pointing Derek in the right direction ever so often--until, at last, they come to a home Derek hasn’t seen in some time. The familiar crawl of hurt and the sharp zing of anger travels through him; stirring within Derek feelings he’s spent the last decade burying over.

 

Before Derek can say anything--demand some answers--Liam is on the phone, “Uncle Scott, I’m outside. I’ve got a ride for Mom. Tell her I’ll drive the Jeep home--I know, but it’s not that far...I can have Uncle Jordan or Gramps come pick me up if you’re that worried about me getting pulled over.” After a laugh, Liam adds, “Besides I don’t think any of the deputies would actually write me up.” There’s a long pause, and Derek avoids listening. Then with a tentative tone Liam says,“Yeah...he’s the one who drove me.”

 

Derek didn’t want to see him, but a moment later Scott McCall is standing on Melissa McCall’s wrap around porch--eyes glowing--with his phone still up to his ear. Derek can hear him clearly through the phone this time when he commands, “Liam, go inside. I need to talk to Derek.”

 

With a worried frown thrown Derek’s way Liam does as Scott’s told him, climbing from Derek’s car, before he hurries into the house. Less than a minute later Scott’s in the seat Liam vacated and is looking at Derek with a tense frown. Derek’s sure his expression isn’t much better.

 

“Mind explaining to me why my best friend is going out of her damn mind at my daughter’s birthday party,” Scott is the way Derek remembers him from high school, and at the same time he’s extremely different. He’s no longer a slim, easily overlooked teenager. Now he’s broad, with a dark beard, and a deep voice--similar enough to Derek in some ways that it makes Derek feel insecure.

 

“You have a kid?” Derek asks, a tone of disbelief tinting his words. He always thought Scott would die a pathetic virgin.

 

“Yeah, a couple, in fact, and I stuck around to raise them,” Scott bites back and Derek snarls at the insult. His clawed hand winding in Scott’s thermal shirt before his brain can catch up to what’s happening.

 

Scott’s right hook catches Derek in the cheek, and he gets a few punches in before Stiles and some other woman start screaming for them to stop. “Goddammit,” Stiles cries, yanking at Derek’s bicep once she’s wrenched open the driver’s side door. “There’s a house full of brats in there who don’t need to see a brawl.” Derek stops when the other woman gets her arms around Scott’s shoulders and pulls him back. Both of them are breathing heavily, staring each other down with intense looks of hatred. Scott breaks first and Derek almost shoots off his mouth about that, but a clawed hand at the back of his neck stops him. Stiles still knows him, it seems.

 

“Kira, I’m so sorry about this,” Stiles’s tone is heavy with apology, and she sighs when she adds, “Don’t worry about paying me for the night. I am a wreck today, and I’ve brought my past problems right to your door on Maiko’s birthday.” Derek even manages to feel guilty about this; it’s not like he was looking to ruin some innocent kid’s night.

 

With a kind, serene smile, Kira waves Stiles off as she replies, “Stiles, we love you so don’t worry about it. You get him,” here she nods in Derek’s direction, “Home. I’ll get this guy inside, and I’ll pay Liam for his time.” When Stiles tries to protest she raises her voice to silence over the words Stiles might’ve spoken, “Look, the little girls in that room are in love with your son. The least I can do is pay him for having to pretend to be comfortable and oblivious while they all bat their eyes and giggle.”

 

Derek feels Stiles sag, “Okay, fine, I’ll call you later. I might see if Dad and Jackson can pick up my car along with my kid. If not I’ll walk over in the morning for it, if that’s okay?”

 

“Not a problem.” When Kira and Scott get back inside Stiles shoves Derek.

 

“Move over, asshole, I’m driving.” He doesn’t protest as he moves into the front passenger’s seat.  

 

Kate

 

“You know, if you’re that broken up about it you should just go see him.”

 

That was Allison’s suggestion this morning, and Kate’s just now getting into Beacon Hills around seven-thirty. After some intense back and forth over why this is and isn’t a good idea. Beacon Hills is a charming place, she notices, picturesque, a small American town blanketed in snow. Derek’s childhood home is equally quaint. The front yard covered in a sparkling sprawl of snow, twinkling in soft yellow light that is cast over it, from an ornate black lamppost in the yard. She remembers him talking about this town, briefly, when she took him to the large French villa where she’d been born. His eyes had been distance, she remembers, when he told her it was a nowhere place, small and unrefined. Derek often told her things were unimportant when it came to his past, and now she can clearly see why. He hadn’t wanted to share this part of himself with Kate.

 

He only wanted to share it with her.

 

She’s there now, as Kate was dreading on the ride upstate, and she doesn’t want to see the way Derek grips Stiles’s face in his hands. The sight makes Kate’s stomach roil. She hates the desperation she can feel radiating off of him as he leans in closer--capturing Stiles’s mouth with a near brutal passion. For a long moment, Kate half believes Stiles will turn and flee, but then she is in Derek’s space and is just as fervent as she clings to him in return. Devouring him as only a woman starving for love can.

 

Kate’s seen enough, and says as much to her driver. She’s half bitter when they don’t notice her drive away. There is a part of her that wanted Derek to sense her, and even in this last moment she’s failed.  

 

“Goodbye,” she whispers at them, touching the cold surface of the window, “I wish you well.”  

 

John

 

When the kitchen door bangs open, at five o’clock in the morning, John frowns and sets his paper aside. “You mind explaining what’s going on,” he says with a calm fury, and Stiles nearly jumps out of her skin--shouting in surprise. Her hand splayed over the door, and one over her heart.

 

“Dad, shit, I thought you were working this morning,” she’s stilted. Her clothes, he notices, are rumpled and torn in places, and there is a bright red love bite blooming at the base of the long column of her pale throat. John damn near sighs, but he manages to keep it in; he doesn’t need Stiles to shut him out now.

 

“I took the day off,” he says with a smooth drawl, instead. “I thought I’d need the time to greet the new neighbor...but it looks to me as if you did plenty of that.”

 

Stiles groans, sagging against the counter as she runs a hand through her hair. Hair that is in a disarray, no doubt thanks to whatever she and Derek got up to last night. “It’s not what you think, Dad.”

 

“You didn’t spend the night fucking Derek Hale, Stiles?”

 

She blanches at his crude words, and John nearly laughs. Where does she think all his kids got their sense of humor from; John’s all dry sarcasm. “Dad, God, I didn’t...okay I did, but it’s not going to happen again; I swear.”

 

“You need to figure this out before Liam gets hurt, Stiles,” John sighs, running his calloused fingertips over his tired eyes. Time to cut the shit, because she also got his stubbornness and his uncanny ability to ignore problems. “You can’t do the back and forth thing with Derek. It’s different than the other guys.”

 

“How is it different?” she demands, in that petulant manner that riles John to no end, and he snaps.

 

“Because he’s Liam’s father,” He shouts, and she shrinks away from his ire, as she has always done when she’s gone too far for his patience. After another sigh he says, “What do you want to do?”

 

“I want to send him packing.” Typical of Stiles, wanting to tell everyone what to do, and trying to shut out feelings she doesn’t want to deal with.

 

“It’s his house you can’t kick him out, Stiles,” John’s surprised he manages to sound reasonable, considering the fact she’s so frustrating at the moment.  

 

She huffs, “Fine.” Then with a vulnerable look she says, “What do you think I ought to do?”

 

“What you should’ve done in the first place--get to know him, slowly. Relationships of any kind take time, and you’ve never been patient.” Rather obvious to John, but Stiles and Derek have never been too good with what’s obvious and in front of them.

 

Talia

 

“Why do I have to set the table?” Stella is being her usual difficult self when Talia wanders into the room, “Can’t Cora do something? All she does is sit on her ass and read.”

 

“I’m working on my thesis, you horrible little shi-,” Deuc cuts her off, thankfully, before a full blown armageddon can begin. Talia doesn’t feel like having to pay to clean blood out of the carpets. Or to replace them. Again.  

 

“Stella, Cora, stop fighting. You don’t want Liam’s first impression of you to be horrible, do you?” Deuc questions the girls, and they both manage a contrite look.

 

Talia tenses, because it’s the most anyone’s mentioned Liam since Derek called to tell them Liam wanted to meet them--the entire pack. It’s been a long, long time since the Hale pack has had a function together. Before Dad died it was a function every week, bi-weekly at the least, and now they all can barely stand the sight or company of one another. Mom always said money changes people, and their extended pack is living proof. Talia got the money and the rest of them got bitter; it’s been a tired, unending war since her dad passed.

 

The doorbell ringing drags her back from her morose thoughts, and when Cora stands up to grab it open Talia takes a moment to collect herself. She’s always thought the idea of seeing someone and experiencing a “punch to the gut” was ridiculous, cliche, but when Talia sees Liam standing beside Derek with a nervous, twitchy smile she feels the wind leave her lungs. While the tight knot that forms in her stomach is visceral, like a punch, and sends her reeling.

 

He is a dead ringer for Derek, in a great many ways--the coloring of his skin, hair, and eyes might be Stilinski, as well as the upturned tip of his nose, but everything else is Hale. The sharpening line of his still soft jaw, the cut of his cheeks, the broad line of his shoulders, small ears and too large teeth--the sight of him nearly brings Talia to tears. Makes her long for that time when things were still right in the world; during a period when her children didn’t regard her with ill concealed contempt.  

 

A sharp glance from Laura shows that her nostalgia, tinged with her regret and grief, is palpable so Talia tries to smash the feelings into submission. She cannot afford these tells; it’s been years since Derek wanted to be present in their lives. If it weren’t for her constant commands he might not ever show his face around their home; she doesn’t want her emotions to force him away. He’s come to them willingly, quite a bit in these past few months, Talia needs to count this as a blessing rather than treat this situation like a curse.

 

Her smile feels strained, but Derek and Liam don’t seem to notice nor do they seem to mind. Currently, they are too busy being pulled in the direction of the large formal sitting room where Peter is holding their extended pack captive with his tall-tales of business prowess. If he was half as good at making money as he was at pretending he was good at making money, Talia and Laura wouldn’t always be lending a hand to keep him afloat.

 

She moves to follow, but Deuc’s hand on the small of her back stops her, and when their children and guests seem occupied with their new arrivals he whispers, “Calm your heart, love.”

 

In a moment of spitefulness, Talia hisses, “Don’t tell me what to do.”

 

“I just meant it wouldn’t do to hurt Derek’s feelings by seeming unwelcoming.” She hates that he’s voicing her inner mantra; as if he knows her despite the chasm that deceit and decay made between them.

 

“I’m perfectly welcoming,” she tries, but Deuc’s arched eyebrow says he doesn’t believe her.

 

“Alright,” he says with a slow nod, “Then try to put the Alpha eyes away, at least.” When he brushes past her she feels as if she’s lost against him.

 

Laura

 

“Dad looks thrilled to have the blond kid he always wanted,” Laura snorts against the rim of the snobby as hell wine glass; from the set Mom insisted on using for the special occasion. Derek looks at where Dad is building snow balls with Liam and Peter’s ten-year-old daughter, Malia, and Laura doesn’t miss the smile that spreads across his face. Derek seems thrilled, too.

 

“You think?” What she thinks is that Derek sounds entirely too chipper for a guy standing out on Mom and Dad’s cold-as-fuck balcony, in the fast approaching evening. Laura’s tits lost feeling a few minutes ago and her toes were gone the minute they stepped out here. She stays because she knows Derek needs someone to smile and say that this is the right step to take in his life, and--honestly--she wants to be the one to say those words. Laura’s been waiting too damn long to voice that opinion.

 

“You know I always mean what I say,” Laura snorts, pulling her coat tighter around her as she watches Liam easily pelt Stella in the head. Her indignant squawk makes Laura chuckle with delighted glee. Stella’s a fucking brat, and it’ll do her good to no longer be the baby--even if Liam is only around nine months younger than her.

 

“How hard do you think this is going to be?” Derek asks some time later.

 

“You know your contract with the Yankees is solid, Derek, I wouldn’t sweat it,” Laura replies, knowing that’s not what he’s asking. She’s not ready to go there just yet, however, Stiles is a topic that might ruin the evening, and Laura’s enjoying today. It’s been too long since Mom Alpha-ed the pack right, and it feels like it had when Gramps and Granny ran them. Hell, Mom and Dad even looked a tad bit couple-y; Laura hadn’t realized she missed them that way until she saw Dad wrap an arm around Mom’s shoulder.

 

“I meant, being a dad,” and, oh, she hadn’t seen that coming. “I had planned on doing a few guest appearances for Kate, but that’s out the window now. I’ve still got my endorsement commitments, and I’d planned on training along with Ennis, but I want to spend all my time with Liam. Is that weird,” Derek looks genuinely worried, and Laura laughs.

 

“I don’t think wanting to know your kid is weird, Derek.” After a snort she adds, “In fact, I think you were weird before for having nothing to do with him.”

 

“I was...an asshole,” he admits quietly, and Laura settles a hand over his shoulder.

 

“Derek, you were nineteen, and while that doesn’t excuse you--I know you were hurt, and ready for your dream. At least you’re here now. It might not be ideal, but why worry over who was right and who was wrong?” She pulls his forehead to hers, “Right now, brother, all that matters is that you spend as much time learning about your son as you can.”

 

Derek smiles, “Thanks, Laura, I’m glad to have you on my side.”

 

“Right or wrong, brother, I am always on your side--it’s what pack does.” She means that, with ever fiber of her being. Derek could kill someone and she would defend him no less. Erica thinks she’s a little too extreme, but Laura doesn’t care. These are her people.

 

Derek

 

Liam is half asleep, but continues to ramble on about how fun it was to meet Derek’s pack, and Derek smiles as he listens to Liam ask why Peter’s so strange. He hasn’t got an answer; none of the Hales know why Peter’s so odd, to be honest. He’s always been eccentric with a flare for the ridiculous. Derek enjoys the way Liam speculates; his theories ranging from the milk man’s baby to he’s clearly an invader from outer space. Liam starts describing the lives of the aliens, how they function day to day, with their matriarchal society, but starts tapering off when they’re still an hour and a half out from their turnoff for Beacon Hills. Derek throws a blanket from the back of his Camaro over Liam’s lap, and grins into the silence as a peace washes over him. This is what he had been missing when he was gone--the mundane things he never thought he’d really wanted when a chance at glory had been in his grasp.

 

Now, as he tightens his hands around his leather wrapped steering wheel, he remembers how much he missed driving this car. It’s been at least two years since he’s driven her--Hale Fire Stiles had once called her--and this car is a car that deserves to be driven. Derek built Hale Fire from the ground up, working every odd job he could from twelve on to help his dad rebuild her in the old family garage. When he was finally sixteen he got a job to pay for the parts he’d tallied up on a bill his parents made when they’d spotted him cash to finish the damn thing. He’d always been proud of this car, still is as he runs his hand over the recently oiled dash, but once he’d started running around with Kate Derek was shamed into hiding his pride and joy. For their first date he picked Kate up in it and Derek can still recall the way she’d swept her eyes over the glossy black paint with obvious distain. Her voice full of the Rodeo Drive snobbery that was her roots when she said, “Um, what the hell is this? I can’t be seen in this car.” So began the long list of things he would never share with Kate.

 

He was shamed into hiding a lot of himself, actually. He remembers Laura asking, once, why he allowed Kate to crush so much of him. She subdued him in ways that not many others had before, and at the time he told Laura he loved Kate. They had a huge argument about it, and Derek had stormed out of Laura’s apartment because his ruthless sister had said he only put up with Kate because she was good in bed. He wanted to chalk it up to Laura’s dislike of Kate, wanted to wave it off as petty female on female jealousy, but Laura wasn’t that kind of woman. Laura, Derek hates to admit, was right. He hadn’t intended on seeing Kate after that first date. She was patronizing and referred to everything as “quaint” or “cute”, making Derek feel like an unimpressive, fumbling teenager rather than a full grown man with a career and record breaking stats in his game. He was going to dump her, but then she got him back to her place and gave him the second best blow-job of his life. At the time, Derek was starting to get lonely--he missed coming home to someone, and she was willing.

 

So he sacrificed the things he enjoyed just to have companionship. Now it seems a stupid concept, and his past reasoning appears flawed.

 

When he pulls into the driveway in Beacon Hills, the one that always brought the feel of home over him as a child, Derek lets out a near content sigh. His smile grow wide, crinkling the corners of his eyes with the force of it, when a dark figure stands from the peeling porch swing. Stiles is wrapped in one of her grandmother’s old blankets. Short hair curling in spots, sticking up in others. There is a flush on her cheeks from the cold that Derek can make out, thanks to the brightness of his headlights, along with the tired, dark-purplish tint beneath her large eyes; Derek thinks she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, in that moment.

 

When she moves towards them, Stiles wraps the fraying quilt tighter around herself with one hand and grips a steaming mug with the other. She is slow on her descent from the porch, and stops beside the driver’s side door with a guarded half smile.

 

Derek climbs from the warmth of his car, nearly swears at the bite of the wind, but is too distracted by the swell of her bottom lip which is red and damp from Stiles chewing on it. “Hey,” she says and her whisper is almost loud in the stillness of the neighborhood. Derek’s not surprised; he didn’t leave his folk’s place until close to ten. North Haven is about a six or so hour drive from Beacon Hills, and a quick glance at his watch tells him it’s 4:15 in the morning.

 

“Hey,” he says back, finally feeling the exhaustion in his body. “I’m sorry we didn’t get out of there until around ten.”

 

Her smile is fragile, eyes over bright, when she replies. “I bet they were excited to see him after all this time.”

 

“Yeah,” Derek yawns around the word. Covering his mouth quickly with his hand, and apologizes, but Stiles shrugs it off. Her mouth twisting with an amused smile at him; the sight makes Derek glow.

 

“I made a pot of coffee,” Stiles points back to Derek’s house and with a nervous shuffle she adds, “I hope that was okay.”

 

“Yeah,” he hurries to assure her, his voice louder than intended and he winces, “I mean, yeah, it’s fine.” She makes him feel like he’s seventeen again--awkward and fumbling. It causes him to flush, but she just settles a hand against his shoulder while she flashes him an amused look.

 

“You’re going to have to get him out of there; he’s impossible to wake up when he falls asleep. And he’s five-eight and like a hundred and fifty pounds, so there’s no way in hell I can lift him.” She pats him on his broad shoulder and says, “What did you used to bench press?”

 

“I can bench four hundred, Stiles, but I don’t like to do it a lot.” He tells her to show off, to impress her, but she’s busy flapping a hand at him as if it’s not a big deal. That’s one of the reasons Derek fell for her; Stiles was, and still is, impossible to move.

 

“Lucky for you your son isn’t four hundred pounds,” she replies with a wicked tilt to her mouth, “Now hurry up, Derek Sourwolf Hale, get the boy in the house.” His steps falter over the your son comment, but he doesn’t call attention to it--instead he decides to take offense to his ridiculous nickname.

 

“Do you know why they call me that, seriously, I’ve yet to figure it out,” Derek pulls a face as he goes to pull Liam out of the car.

 

“Derek, have you seen your face? Don’t get me wrong, it’s kind of beautiful, but when you aren’t smiling you have the most intense resting bitch face.” Then with a chuckle, as she holds the door open for him to get Liam inside, Stiles adds, “I’m seriously convinced Jackson is the one who started your nickname.”

 

Rolling his eyes Derek sets Liam down on the sectional he found off of Craigslist, “I wouldn’t put it past Jackson, to be honest.” When he looks up from where he’s settled Liam, he finds Stiles standing close, with her blanket that she lays over Liam with a soft smile. Derek swallows, and when she looks up he asks, “You want to have some coffee?”

 

When they first started sleeping together that was the code they used. Derek had almost forgotten, until it slips out and realization dawns on him as Stiles shoots him an unimpressed look.

 

“Already had some,” she replies, tone a bit frosty, and then looks towards the door, “You know, Derek, that was a one time thing. It was...it was fucking stupid.” Stiles knows him, and even when he tries to hide it she sees his devastation. With a swallow Stiles whispers, “That’s not...fuck, I’m not good at this...” she trails off, crossing her arms over her chest in a defensive way. “Look, I can’t do this with you. I can’t fuck you and fall in love with you and us be a family.”

 

“Stiles,” he tries but she cuts him off with a sharp glance. Causing him to stop taking steps closer to her, swallowing down his fear as she visibly pushes him out.

“No, shut up, I’ve got to say this, okay?” When Derek nods his acquiescence, Stiles continues, “I can’t do this, not until I know that you’re going to be Liam’s dad.”

 

“I am Liam’s dad,” Derek growls, angry she’s implying Derek’s just here for shits and giggles.

 

“No, fuck,” she half shouts, then when Liam rolls over she breathes deeply--grounding herself before she starts again. “Look, I need to know that you will be his dad no matter who we are to one another. If I wind up fucking some other dude and shooting out his spawn I have to know that you aren’t going to take the fuck off just because you can’t have me.” Her eyes are pleading and her tone cracks when she says, “I want you to want to be his dad even if you can’t have me. He has to be your focus. Liam has to be the one you are here for, and if he’s not then you need to get the fuck out while you can.”

 

“I am here for Liam, Stiles,” Derek tells her with a weary tone. He is; hell when he was talking to Laura earlier in the evening Stiles hadn’t really crossed his mind. All he was focused on was being a dad to Liam, and he’s still focused on that goal. He’s been thinking long-term, putting money into a savings for Liam, and has been looking at different starter cars for when he turns sixteen. Derek’s here to be a dad. He’s all in. “I mean, I won’t say I don’t love you, too. But...” Derek has to stop when his eyes sting, composing himself because he refuses to cry. He won’t. Swallowing, he runs his calloused palm over his short beard, before he says,“But I can be here for just Liam. Because he’s my son and I do love him.”

 

“Now you say it, huh,” she hisses, “Why didn’t you call, Derek, why didn’t you try to come for him if you loved him?” When he moves to answer, she holds up a hand while tears start streaming down her face, “Nevermind, I don’t give a shit--doesn’t change anything.” She’s right; it doesn’t. He still left, and never bothered to call.

 

Derek doesn’t try to stop her when she leaves; even though he is dying to grab her and pull her to him, and beg her to stay. It’s ironic; at one time Stiles was standing where he’s standing now, with the same kid at her side while Derek slammed angrily out the door.

 

“Shit,” Derek breathes out as he makes his way up the stairs to his bed.

 

Jordan

 

When Stiles slams into the house, Jordan is there preparing for his and Dad’s morning shift change and she snarls at him.

 

“You going to shut me out like you did Jackson, Stiles?” Jordan is exhausted, between Lydia crying most of the last few nights because Stiles won’t talk to her, Jackson telling him he should’ve thought telling their sister through before dumping this on her, and now Stiles. Who is standing before him looking like some kind of wild animal that is being caged against its will. With another sigh he says, “Why are you so angry?”

 

“The last time one of my brother’s dated one of my friends they ripped his heart out and I lost two things that day--my best friend, at the time, and my brother’s smile.” When she starts crying Jordan goes to her, and pulls her into his arms despite the fact she is beating her hands against his chest, tearing into him with long claws. Jordan lets her, holding her tighter even. Until she exhausts her anger, and is left with only her racking sobs.   

 

“You know, Stiles, you can’t protect those you love from everything,” Jordan whispers against her wild hair. He feels his skin knit itself back together as he strokes her back, reminiscent of the way Dad did when they were kids. “I know you love Lydia as much as you love me. I also know that you have a habit of letting the past cloud your present.” When she tries to protest he shushes her with calming sounds, “Lydia and I are at a time in our lives, in our maturity, where we understand that if this doesn’t work out we won’t ask you to choose sides.”

 

“I’d choose you,” Stiles says after a long pause. Her thumb is in her mouth, and she’s gnawing away at the raw, bitten skin.

 

“I know that, and I’d never make you because I know how important Lydia is to you.” He means that. Even if Lydia isn’t his forever, he knows that she will forever be a part of Stiles’s life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

When Stiles pulls out of their hug, after at least ten minutes of silence, she smiles, “Thanks, Jordan.”

 

“You can thank me by talking to me and my girlfriend again,” is his dry response, and Stiles laughs. A sound that more of a snort, thanks to her snot clogged nose, and Jordan makes a disgusted face.

 

“I’m not good at apologies, so...um...guess you’ll have to settle for an “un-fuck you,” I suppose.” It’s Jordan’s turn to laugh, and when Dad comes down the stairs he flicks his gaze between them while he wears a perplexed smile of his own.

 

Jordan thinks it’s a sign that things are going to start looking up for the Stilinski Family.

 

Jackson

 

“Whittemore,” Jackson says in lieu of greeting when his cell goes off.

 

“It’s Boyd.” With a glower thrown at his Porsche's touch-screen Jackson swears beneath his breath, but before he can disconnect the call, Boyd says, “I know I’m one of the last people you want to speak to, but I figured I’d need you in my corner when I talk to your sister.”

 

“About,” Jackson demands with a growl, “You better not have called me to ask me to help you with something pertaining to my sister’s private life.” Jackson and Boyd have never been friends, they’re often competing against one another for sports contracts. At best they are mild acquaintances.

 

“Her private life isn’t so private now, Jackson, and you know it.”

 

He does know it. While she isn’t exactly the story of the day any longer, Stiles is still a popular topic in the trashy tabloids that Kate Argent and her ridiculous family frequent the covers of--as is Liam. Jackson’s glad they don’t buy into that sort of crap; it’d be horrible for Stiles’s already flimsy self-esteem if she saw the shit written therein. “I’m listening,” Jackson says with a tired sigh; he’s ready to put this beast to bed. “What’s Derek thinking of doing?”

 

“Interview with Matt Daehler to make an official statement about Liam and his relationship with your sister.” Boyd’s always dry professionalism, and this is the first time Jackson’s appreciated his to-the-point manner of speech.

 

It’s not something Stiles is going to be happy about, but Jackson’s seen the reporters lingering about--he’s been in Beacon Hills longer than he should be to run off nosy paparazzi when Dad and Jordan can’t. Now that Kate’s made an official statement regarding her split with Derek, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and her personal blog; Derek needs to clear the air. His popularity has been shaky since he began his involvement with Kate, but a hidden love child isn’t doing his popularity any favors either. In the end none of this is going to be easy; Kate’s fanbase is going to continue to demonize Stiles, and there will probably be some backlash for Liam. However, Stiles has to know that this will happen no matter what; so long as Liam is involved with Derek. “What is Daehler suggesting, because I’m not stupid enough to believe he won’t try to pull some punches for ratings.”

 

Boyd sighs, sounding exhausted for once, “He’s wanting both of them there, but Derek said under no circumstances is that going to happen. He says they aren’t back together,” Boyd pauses so Jackson can comment. He doesn’t. Dad shot him a text after Stiles came back from Derek’s with hickies all over her, but as far as Jackson’s concerned that is private information that Boyd is not privy to. “The papers are going to paint her as the other woman, you know, and there’s going to be some backlash from the media,” Boyd finally continues.  

 

“The media is stupid.” Jackson’s never minded using the media to his advantage, for his clients, but when it comes to his family he wants no part of that shit. Sucking his teeth he considers his options, then he has an epiphany, “Is there any way you can get ahold of Kate’s people?”

 

Boyd’s voice is incredulous, “Why?”

 

“I don’t mind making deals with the devil when it means my sister might not suffer so much backlash.”

 

Liam

 

Mom’s voice is shrill when Liam, Mason, and Brett step through the front door, “You’re fucking insane. No, no fucking way!”

 

Uncle Jackson is standing in the living room wearing oversized gray sweats and a thin white T-shirt that stretches over his muscles. It’s as casual as Uncle Jackson gets, and it has Mason stinking up the room with the scent of arousal. Liam shoots him a disgruntled glance, but Mason doesn’t act the slightest bit apologetic--as usual when it come to his long-standing crush. He doesn’t get the chance to tell Mason to knock it off. Mom’s screeching again, drawing Liam’s attention.

 

“I’m not going to go on national television and playing nice with Kate fucking Argent, Jackson. I’d rather eat shit.” Her fangs are descending, and Liam feels the uneasy shuffling of his friends. None of them are comfortable with Mom’s distress; Liam because she’s his mother, Mason and Brett because Mom might as well be a second mother to them both.

 

Uncle Jackson notices them, and with a grimace he says, “We’ll discuss this more, at a later time, after you’ve cooled down.” Then at Liam and his friends he says, “Hello boys, how was practice?”

 

“Hell,” Brett mutters, rolling his shoulders to ease away his previous tension while dropping his duffel by the front door like he owns the place--same as Mason who drops his backpack and kicks off his boots. “Coach seems to think suicides are supposed to end with our actual suicides.”

 

Liam manages a half smile at that, but it falters when Mom stomps angrily up the stairs. He hears her head up to her attic-studio, and winces when she slams the door. “What’s up with Mom?” He turns to Uncle Jackson, but he gets a shrug and a don’t worry about it in return.

 

“I thought you usually stopped by Derek’s after school,” Uncle Jackson says on his way to the kitchen where he pours a cup of his fancy French pressed coffee. Mom bitches about it constantly, but Gramps says she’s been sneaking a few cups of it each time Uncle Jackson’s home to make some.

 

“Derek’s out of town this week; he’s doing a couple endorsement things in L.A. and then he’s got to meet with his agent for something. I dunno exactly what, but he’ll be home in a few days.” Liam drops his own bag and crouches down to grab his chem book, “But when he gets back in town we’re going out of town for a game with Devenford Prep. So I won’t be here when he gets back.” He’s leafing through it, looking for his folded up homework so he doesn’t notice the way Uncle Jackson goes still. Nor does he notice his curious frown.

 

Uncle Jackson’s voice draws Liam’s attention away from his book, “Devenford Prep...their lacrosse team is ruthless. And damn good.”

 

Liam’s grin is sardonic, and a tad cocky when he replies, “Guess you’ve never seen us play.”

 

“Guess I haven’t,” Uncle Jackson agrees with a hurt expression, but Liam doesn’t hang around to see what more he might say. He marches up the stairs with Mason and Brett behind him.

 

Once they are in his room Liam throws himself on his unmade bed and kicks his shoes off to the side. “I want to sleep for days,” he grumbles. “Coach is going to kill us before we even get to Devenford to play.”

 

Brett shoves his legs over and sits on the bed beside him, “Dude, get up, we don’t have time for your bitching. There’s a pop quiz in Harris’s class Friday, and I’d like to not get benched because of that asshole.”

 

Mason rolls his eyes as he flops into Liam’s desk chair, glancing out Liam’s window at Derek’s dark house. “So your dad’s off doing an endorsement thing, huh? Who’s it for?” Liam never minds the inquisitiveness of Mason or Brett; it’s when the nosy brats at school ask that he gets pissed off.

 

“Car commercial, and he’s always doing something for Nike he said,” Liam flips open his chem book, grabbing his mechanical pencil once he pulls out his paper.   

 

“I read somewhere he’s worth around three hundred mil,” Brett says, almost bored, as he clicks open his pen, focus on the notebook sitting haphazardly in his lap.

 

“Derek?” Liam sits up with a laugh, “No way, dude, he buys second-hand couches.”

 

“Forbes usually gets it right, man,” Brett shrugs, turning his attention to Liam. “You should tell him to buy your mom a new car. I heard her Jeep choking out when she tore up the street the other day.” Liam considers the suggestion. Mom’s Jeep’s been on it’s last leg since Liam was born and it’s been a downhill battle since, but she refuses to replace it while it runs. She’s like that with a lot of things that are hers, actually--she has clothes that are from her teenage years. Her excuse is always, “Plaid is timeless, and it fits, fuck off.” Liam got to the point where he quit trying. He’s kind of been keeping his head down while trying to keep his GPA at a 3.8 and despite his bitching he’s trying to earn an athletic scholarship for lacrosse. Because college is fucking expensive, and Mom’s been drilling school into his head since he can remember. He wonders if she’s so hard on him because she dropped out, and has been living hand to mouth since. He’s not gone without, no, not at all, but Mom is always lamenting how they would be a lot worse off if it weren’t for Gramps, Uncle Jordan, and Uncle Jackson. She’s always telling Liam if she wasn’t a failure she might’ve been able to make a better life for them.

 

No matter how often he tells her she also doesn’t listen when Liam tells her she isn’t a loser.

 

“So what did you get for this problem in our last study guide, because, according to the book, I got it wrong,” Brett frowns, shoving the crumpled paper under Liam’s nose--effectively distracting Liam away from his thoughts.

 

“Do you even pay attention in class,” Liam grumbles, pulling out a notebook--preparing to drill some sense into Brett’s brain while Mason works on whatever it is he’s doing. Probably still thinking about Uncle Jackson’s ass, and that’s a shudder inducing thought that Liam is going to put out of his mind.

 

“I usually am trying to get into trouble so I can get sent to the councilor’s office,” Brett confesses, and that does not surprise Liam in the slightest. Where Mason has an unrepentant hard-on for Uncle Jackson, Brett has one for Mom’s old classmate Danny. She’s always a bit frosty to him when she happens to see Danny, but has never told Liam why.  

 

“Dude, you’re too young to be Danny’s type, now pay the fuck attention,” Liam grumbles, “Because I am only telling you this once.”

 

Mason, helpful as ever, snorts and says, “I think you gave him that same line last week, dude.”

 

“Shut up,” Liam snips while Brett wears his most charming smile.

 

Stiles

 

She’s braless, in a paint stained wife beater and trashed jeans, when Dad comes up after his shift. He’s got a giant chai latte for her from favorite shop, Rise and Grind, and Stiles groans when she takes her first sip.

 

“I needed this,” Stiles confides, sinking down onto her bean bag chair.

 

Dad’s eyes land on the pile of trash mags she’s been buying, in secret, for months. In a rare show of emotion his eyes go red. “What is this,” he asks as he lifts one off the table. The headline in that particular Wolf Monthly isn’t the kindest. “The Ugly Mistress Revealed,” Dad’s voice is tight with fury as he reads it aloud. “Why in the hell do you have this, Stiles?”

 

“Did you honestly think you guys could keep all of the crap from me?” Laughing, she lifts the warm black cup towards her mouth, sloshing some of the contents over the back of her hand while she adds, “Com’on, Dad, I’m kind of a glutton for punishment. I’m also ridiculously curious. I wanted to know what I was up against.”

 

“You know this isn’t true, right,” his tone is thick with feeling, and Stiles doesn’t look him in the eye. “Stiles,” he hisses and she meets his eye then, swallowing when she sees the hurt that brightens his gaze. “You are not ugly. There has never been a part of you that is ugly; do you hear me?”

 

“I hear you, Dad,” she mutters, then takes a sip of her drink to avoid having to speak.

 

“All Kate Argent is, Stiles, is a woman who sells perfection. She’s fake, and you can never compare yourself to that.” He crouches beside her chair, pressing a kiss to her hair. “You are a better girl than that.”

 

Groaning, Stiles complains, “Don’t say that, Dad, please. I don’t want you demonizing her for all her perfection because I’m hurt. I don’t get all the makeup and all the working out for a rock hard ass, either, but it’s not my place to put a woman down to make myself feel better. She’s allowed to do her, and I’m allowed to do me.” Releasing a frustrated sigh, she adds, “She’s also allowed to be hurt, because she is also a person. A real, living person--no matter how fake the world might think she is.”

 

His smile is faint but proud when he whispers, eyes shining with love, “See, there isn’t a part of you that’s ugly.”

 

“That’s not true, Dad, up until a few days ago I hated her just for existing. That’s pretty hideous if you ask me.” Stiles still hates her, to a degree, something in her soul--in her wolf--rises up and lashes out against the idea that another woman touched what belongs to her. It’s archaic, objectifying, and wrong--but knowing all that doesn’t lessen the feeling.

 

“So, what are you doing with the magazines?” Dad’s question pulls her from teetering over the brink of self-hatred, and she’s grateful he’s there--grounding her like an anchor.

 

With an enigmatic smile, Stiles whispers, “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

 

Derek

 

It’s been two weeks, and Derek is tired of L.A. by the time he gets home. He opens the door to his dark house, at a ridiculous hour of morning, and doesn’t bother to kick off more than his shoes and jacket before he falls onto the sectional. The scents of his home are a comfort he hadn’t realized he missed until this moment. Derek’s out a second later.

 

Only to be shocked awake by the shrill ring of his phone a few hours after he drifts off; his voice is rough and slow when he says, “ ‘lo, ‘s Der’k.”

 

“Are you sleeping, at this hour?”

 

“I got in like three hours ago, Jackass,” Derek grumbles, shifting so his face is no longer smashed against the couch cushions. “Which I am sure you knew because I saw your douchey car next door when I pulled in.”

 

“Look over at my house often, do you?” Jackson sounds so damn smug. He’s always been a smug shit, in truth, but once upon a time it didn’t irritate Derek. Back when they were friends Derek managed to find it amusing.

 

“What do you need, man, I’m not eighteen anymore; this three hours of sleep shit is awful.” Derek feels like he’s been hungover for days, and also went head to head with a Mack truck.

 

“I was wondering if you’d want to go to a lacrosse game with me,” Jackson is casual with the question, and Derek frowns, immediately suspicious.

 

“Look, man, you know I have no problem with queer people, but I am not going to go on a date with you--that’s just not for me,” Derek stumbles, not quite awake enough to make his point coherent in a non-asshole manner.

 

“Okay. One: I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last dude alive and I was starved for it. Two: you’ve fucked my sister, that’s almost incest.” Then before Derek can try to form a reply, Jackson adds, “Liam is playing Devenford Prep tomorrow; the buses are taking them to the city to stay the night since it’s far away from here. Then they will play tomorrow, and I figured we could drive down in the morning.”

 

“Is Stiles going?” Derek’s still not spoken to her much since their last talk. He’s not sure he wants to talk to her anytime soon; his luck he’ll manage to put his foot in his mouth. Derek’s never been fantastic at handling Stiles.

 

“No, she’s doing something with Lydia. Somebody’s interested in showing a collection she’s got, or something.” Jackson sounds dismissive about the information, and demands, “So, you going to come with?”

 

He almost considers saying ‘no’ because he hasn’t had his interview with Daehler yet, and he doesn’t want to cause more unnecessary uproar, but then he thinks of how Stiles called him out on not being here for Liam. Good dads watch their sons play sports; Derek’s dad never missed a game--and so he agrees. “Yeah, but I’m not riding in your douchey car.”

 

“And you expect me to be caught in yours?”

 

“I’m going back to bed, come bother me tomorrow morning when we need to leave,” Derek says, too loudly, before he hangs up his phone.

 

Talia

 

Derek calls her Friday morning when she’s on the line with Stella, telling her to get her ass home before she is grounded for life. When she finally calls him back she isn’t in the best of moods.

 

“Um, Mom, if you’re in a bad mood...nevermind, forget it,” he tries to get off the line and Talia sighs.

 

“What did you want, Derek?” It’s rare he asks her for things.

 

“I was hoping you guys would want to join us at Liam’s game against Devenford Prep tonight.” Then he adds, “If you can’t; I get it, I know you’re busy.” Those words hurt her more than he’ll ever know, and she tells him nothing would please her more than to go to Liam’s game. Which is mostly true; the only thing that could please her more would be Derek being truly happy to be in her presence.

 

After she gets off the line with him Talia goes to the wine fridge to pour herself a glass of red, and Deucalion walks in as she is taking her first sip.

 

“Everything all right?” His eyes sweep over the glass in her hand before darting up to meet her eye.

 

“Do you think I was an absent mother, in ways that mattered, once the kids were older?” He doesn’t answer; Deuc stands there silent, as if he’s carefully weighing his words and suddenly Talia has her answer. “Why do you stay with me,” it comes out as a demanding sound.

 

The smile Deuc wears is full of regret and pain, “I thought it would’ve been obvious by now, Tali, but I suppose there are some things even you don’t get.”

 

Laura

 

Jackson is the one she sees first, he’s hard to miss--always has been--what with the Abercrombie face and all. She tugs Erica along to find a place in the bleachers near where Jackson and Derek are seated. “Damn,” she comments when she drops next to Derek, “This is a pretty nice indoor pitch.”

 

“Seeing as how Derek’s Camaro is the trashiest car in the parking lot; it’s a safe bet to assume that the tuition here is pretty high,” Erica says while she waves at Mom, Dad, Stella, and Alisha. Derek still hasn’t said anything. Mostly, he’s sitting between Laura and Jackson looking like a caged rat. Scrambling for any way to escape, but Laura’s hand on his shoulder grounds him and she feels the tension lift a slight bit.

 

With a smile she whispers, “Calm down, Dee, you’re acting like this is your first lacrosse game as his dad.”

 

He cuts a sharp glare her way, before hissing, “I’m trying not to draw attention to myself.”

 

Laura’s laugh is a burst of sound, echoing around the room, and Liam looks up at the noise--spotting them in the stands. He appears shocked and Laura frowns, “He knew we were coming, didn’t he?”

 

“Uh,” Derek shoots a look Jackson’s way, “Did you tell him?”

 

Jackson’s smile is cruel, “I didn’t realize that was my job.”

 

Liam waves, tentative and still confused, but he’s got a smile and Laura elbows Derek, “Chill out, he’s probably just as nervous as you are right now. Doesn’t do any good to cause him more unnecessary panic.”

 

“You’re right,” Derek replies, and is just starting to relax when Dad pulls out the air-horn. Causing Derek to groan when he blares it and shouts, “Let’s go Hale!”

 

Derek

 

Derek loves his dad, he really does--despite him stepping out on Mom and generally fucking up the rosy idealistic view Derek had of his life when they all found out--his dad is actually a great dad. He loves them. He was there for everything. Mom was the breadwinner and dad was the one who raised them to be who they are today. But when Dad pulls out the airhorn and draws attention to them Derek seriously considers strangling him. It doesn’t help when Dad yells out the wrong name. There isn’t a Hale on the pitch, but there is a Hale in the stands, seated with this motley crew.

 

“Mom,” a little girl whispers, in awe, “That’s Derek Hale!” Then suddenly everyone is turning to see that, yes, indeed, it is the Derek Hale sitting in on a lacrosse match at Devenford Prep. “Can I have your number,” the little girl asks. Derek doesn’t miss Jackson’s smirk.

 

“Um, I can sign my name on something for you instead,” he tries, and the girl frowns--considering--before she responds.

 

“I really wanted to call you,” she can’t be more than five, and Derek feels like a dick. Boyd might eviscerate him if he gives out his personal number.

 

“How about I get a picture of you with Derek,” Laura asks the child and her small face lights up like it’s Christmas all over again.

 

So he winds up with a five year old in his lap--“My name is Riley”--while her mother and father and every other person snaps a picture of Derek holding her. It is one of the more awkward moments of Derek’s life.

 

He’s grateful when the match starts. Coach Finstock is still as wild as ever, he’s giving his team a speech that’s loud enough to be heard across the pitch, “You guys get out there and kick some ass--yeah, yeah, don’t blow your whistle at me, Ref--now, get out there and give me something to brag about at my next poker game!” Derek doesn’t miss the way Mom quirks an eyebrow in disapproval. “Cyclones on three,” Finstock commands and the yell of, “Cyclones” is loud as hell before they disperse into their playing positions.

 

 

Liam

 

Taking center field, Liam clears his mind--focusing only on this match--but as he’s getting in the zone the guy opposite of him whispers, “So your mom is the slut who is after Hale’s money, huh?” It’s meant to rile him, Liam knows, and it does.

 

With a snarling curl to his lip, Liam hisses, “I’m going to beat your ass so hard.”

 

Stiles

 

Lydia shoots an inquiring glance Stiles’s way when they walk into the building where Liam’s match is taking place, but Stiles is too busy fuming to give her an explanation. Liam is being pulled from the game by Finstock who is having a small shouting match with the ref over his foul for “unnecessary roughness”.

 

“It’s lacrosse for Christ’s sake,” Finstock yells, “Do you want him to gently check that kid? Hell no, this is a rough sport, if that kid can’t handle it then he needs to get off the field!”

 

Stiles knows Liam, and she knows that he was being too rough. The way he smacked into that kid was just brutal. He’s lucky the kid didn’t get seriously hurt. It’s obvious Liam’s pissed about something when he sits on the bench, ripping off his gloves before yanking off his helmet.

 

“Stilinski,” Coach shouts, and Stiles startles until she realizes Coach is talking to Liam. “Put your gear back on, you’re going back on the field.”

 

Stiles watches Liam cast a glance over his shoulder, and she follows his gaze. Finding Derek and his family in the stands with Jackson of all people. When Derek nods at Liam she gets pissed and starts marching towards the stands.

 

Derek’s never been known for taking “bad calls” in good stride. He’s prone to lashing out at refs and his coaches, so if this is his idea of parenting Stiles is going to rip him a new one. When she gets to the place where Jackson is sitting she coolly tells him to move over, but Jackson won’t budge. He can tell she’s gearing up for a shouting match, “Sit down, Stiles, this isn’t the place,” he commands and for once she doesn’t argue. She doesn’t need to be in the tabloids as a shrieking harpy of a mother--all that will do is hurt Liam--so she flops onto a bit of bench beside Jackson.

 

Lydia sits beside her, pulling out her phone with it’s large, built-in camera to start snapping photos for Dad and Jordan. “So how does this game work, exactly,” she whispers at Stiles. Stiles would be amused by the way Jackson gives Lydia the most judgemental look he can muster if it wasn’t for the fact Stiles is wearing the same face. “Well, excuse me,” Lydia huffs at them, “I wasn’t a sports girl. I was a ballerina.”

 

“Color me surprised,” Jackson deadpans causing Stiles to laugh.

 

Whatever anger Liam had when Stiles first arrived seems to have died down, or has morphed into determination because everytime he gets the ball he flies down the field as if there’s a pack of hell hounds on his trail.

 

Derek’s dad blasts a stupid air horn every time Liam gets a shot, and his littlest sisters hold up a large poster that has a large sparkly 9 done in gold glitter with the words “WE LOVE LIAM” underneath it. Derek’s mom cheers along with some blonde woman Stiles doesn’t know, while Laura whoops like she always had at Derek’s games. Jackson shouts along with her, just as loud and proud. Lydia jumps up in delight when Liam scores, snapping pictures, and Stiles joins her for some of them. Derek is the quietest one of them all, and Stiles doesn’t have time to wonder about it when Liam scores the final shot. Taking the Cyclones to victory.

 

Liam

 

He pauses in front of 17, a smirk on his face when he shakes his hand--leaning in to whisper, “Next time, maybe you shouldn’t piss me off by talking shit about my mom.”

 

Brett jumps on his back as soon as he’s done shaking hands with the other team’s captain. “Dude, you kicked serious ass. I think Finstock’s head is going to explode, he’s so damn happy.” Then with a glance at the crowd Brett adds, “Was your mom supposed to come today?”

 

“Not that I know of, she said she’d come if she had time, why?”

 

“She’s sitting with your dad, uncle, and your crazy fan club,” Brett adds with a wink.

 

“Shut up,” Liam flushes, pleased and embarrassed.

 

“Your family is full of hotties, if I weren’t into dudes I might try to date your aunts.” He ducks out of the way before Liam can smack him with his crosse.

 

Derek

 

“Hale,” Finstock says when they are all gathering outside to congratulate Liam, before going to their respective cars and heading home. It’s crazy for Derek to see Finstock so unchanged. He’s still got a head full of black hair and hardly a wrinkle in sight. And those crazy eyes that look as if they are bugging out of his head.

 

“Coach Finstock,” he replies, shaking the hand that is offered to him.

 

With a wide white smile, Finstock shakes his head, “I should’ve known Liam was yours. Kid’s talented. He was in little league, and was a damn good ballplayer. I tried to convince his mom to put him in travel ball, but that never happened.” Derek nods, unsure of where this is going or why Finstock is telling him all this. “He played for BHJH for the two years he was there. I have some of the tapes if you’re interested in seeing them.”

 

He’s stunned for a minute, because Derek’s never thought Coach Finstock could possess anything remotely close to a heart. Yet, here he is offering Derek some insight to his kid’s past. Nodding, Derek swallows, “Yeah, thanks, Coach. I’d like that.”

 

“Well, you know where my office is, Hale. Come by anytime.” Derek watches him wander off, back to his team to congratulate them again, and tell them they are still doing suicides at practice next week.

 

“Coach, seriously,” a few of them groan, and Derek has a laugh at that before he moves to where Liam is standing surrounded by Derek’s family and Stiles.

 

At his side is another player, a good friend it seems when Stiles converses easily with the kid. “So how’s your sister?” Stiles is asking him and the kid is telling her she’s down with a stomach bug so he’s wondering if he can crash with Liam until it goes away so he doesn’t get sick. “Anytime,” Stiles replies, patting him on the back, “Just have your mom call me, Brett and I’ll see if she needs any help during the days with Madison.” Ah. So this is Brett. Really, Derek should’ve guessed, Liam only talks about being really close with two different kids.

 

“I will,” Brett smiles, hugging her before he tells Liam he will catch him on the bus. Then he takes off towards the old bus that is rumbling ominously from the far side of the lot.

 

Laura has Liam wrapped in a hug, lamenting on how awesome he was on the field. At her side Erica rolls her eyes, smiling wide when Liam thanks them for coming. Then, seeming to remember his manners, he introduces Stiles to Derek’s family. Most of whom Stiles already knows.

 

Laura’s the one who throws caution to the wind and hugs Stiles tight, before stepping back and saying, “You haven’t met my better half, have you?” When Stiles shakes her head ‘no’, Laura steps back and pulls Erica forward, “Stiles, this is Erica and she’s kind of awesome.”

 

“Only kind of,” Stiles and Erica joke in unison, causing them to both smile.

 

“Wonderful sight, isn’t it,” Jackson whispers, suddenly, at Derek’s side. Managing to startle him; much to Jackson’s amusement.

 

“What is,” Derek asks.

 

“Seeing them interacting well with your pack.” Derek watches them again, and a soft smile curves up at the corners of his mouth.  

 

“Yeah, it is.”

 

Laura

 

Mom and Dad say their goodbyes, along with Alisha and Stella, heading off to their Escalade while Laura and Erica hang behind.

 

“Are you guys driving back to Beacon Hills tonight,” Laura asks and Stiles looks at Lydia with a questioning glance.

 

“I told Jordan I’d be up there Sunday, so he knows we’re staying in the city tonight,” then with a considering look she asks, “Are you planning on staying with me or Jackson?”

 

Stiles wrinkles her nose, “Have you seen Jackson’s swank apartment? I break stuff just looking at it.”

 

Lydia rolls her eyes, “Are you saying mine isn’t nice?”

 

“No,” Stiles half shouts, “I’m saying yours is Stiles proofed.”

 

Jackson rolls his eyes, “Where are you crashing, Derek? Or do you want to make the trip back?”

 

“Fuck that,” Laura says, “Let’s go out and grab a drink. It’s nine o’clock, you guys deserve to unwind, and we haven’t hung out in forever.” She makes finger guns at Stiles because she knows that’s always been Stiles’s favorite of Laura’s hand motions.

 

Stiles and Derek look hesitant while Lydia and Jackson appear unfazed by the suggestion.

 

“I don’t have anything nice to wear, so if it’s not ridiculously upscale I am down,” Stiles finally relents.

 

“Stiles,” Laura laughs, “I don’t do upscale very often, and even then it’s usually forced.” Erica agrees at her side.

 

“Lydia, you coming?” Laura extends the offer to Stiles’s lovely friend as well.   

 

Lydia shakes her head, “I’ve still got some things to do in the morning, but you’re welcome to be dropped at my place when you’re done--if Jackson’s place is too much for you.”

 

He flips her off, scratching his forehead with his middle finger, and Stiles smiles, “Thanks, I’ll still plan on riding back with you Sunday. Unless Jackson is heading back to Beacon Hills tomorrow.”

 

“All right, you be good, babe, and call me tomorrow if I don’t see you tonight.” With that Lydia heads off, towards a silver Mercedes convertible.  

 

Stiles

 

She’s not sure how they all wind up back at Laura’s place with a bottle of tequila and limes, but she doesn’t question it when Stiles does a double at Laura’s insisting.

 

“Woooo, I knew Stiles could keep up,” Laura laughs loudly, slapping the coffee table they’re all seated around, “She’s been keeping up since she was about fifteen.”

 

“Shh,” Stiles tells her, licking her lips to chase some lime juice that got away from her, “Don’t tell my kid, he’ll think it’s okay to do what I did, and I am not ready for a grandkid.”

 

Jackson snorts at her side, downing his own shot with a slight grimace before sucking on his lime wedge. “Liam isn’t wild like you, Stiles, so you don’t have to worry about all that.”

 

She’s about to argue when Erica flips on the T.V., all of Stiles’s words go out of her when she sees Kate Argent smiling prettily at the camera. She’s sitting with Daehler on the same set where Liam’s tweet sent their lives into a whirl of crazy. “Shit,” Erica says, “I usually record Matt Daehler’s show, I didn’t realize.” She’s trying to get it off as fast as possible, but Stiles tells her to let it play.

 

“So you’re here to clear some of the air; since you’ve kept relatively silent about the events that took place in August of this past year, is that correct?” Matt asks with that creepily polite smile he’s known for.

 

“I am,” Kate agrees, tossing her hair over her shoulder in a careless way that is all calculated.

 

“Did you know about Derek’s past?” Matt inquires, looking down at a card in his hand--as if he needs reminding that Derek and Kate’s drama hasn’t been covering the tabloids for months. Stiles sure as hell hasn’t forgotten.

 

“I did not.” Kate appears thoughtful, and Stiles flinches when she detects a glimmer of hurt in her eyes, “There were a lot of things Derek kept from me.”

 

“Like a secret relationship with the mother of his child,” Matt is digging for media gold, it seems. Jackson, at Stiles’s side, releases a low growl.

 

“No,” Kate’s answer surprises the entire room, “Derek wasn’t with her. Hadn’t been for a while when we met, but I don’t think he ever left her or his son behind. He left them physically, but mentally they were always there--a wall of emotional baggage between us.”

 

“Did you love Derek Hale?” Stiles wants her to say ‘no’, because some part of her wants to kill whatever she can of Kate in their lives, but she knows that’s not how it works. She can’t undo what they were to one another.  

 

“I did, in a way, but I didn’t love him as much as she does.” Kate’s laugh is deprecating, “I was being intentionally cruel when I set up that home showing for her, but in the end I think it hurt me the most.” Her candor surprises Stiles. She’s genuine, and somewhere Stiles knows her dad is dropping his jaw to the floor because he seems to believe Kate Argent is the fakest woman on the planet. Stiles isn’t much better, to be honest. “The way they looked at one another; it was like I didn’t exist. No one did.” Stiles wishes she could deny that; she wants to rage at Laura’s flat-screen and shout that it’s not true. She doesn’t look at Derek as if he’s the answer to the universe. Shouting would be about as useful as beating a dead horse--Stiles will fool no one in this room, herself included. And she clearly couldn’t convince the woman Derek was supposed to marry. Downing another shot, Stiles tries to calm her nerves and does her damn best to avoid throwing something across the room. She gets the feeling Erica wouldn’t enjoy that too well.

 

“Do you hate Derek or his ex?” Stiles wants Kate to hate her, it would make hating Kate all the easier.

 

“No,” Kate whispers, “I’m angry, sure, but I can’t hate people for how they feel, and I certainly don’t blame anyone for what’s happening. What I got out of the entire thing is that there was a boy searching for answers and when he kept hitting dead ends he took drastic measures. So everything came tumbling down, a lot of worlds got ripped apart, but I’ve been told sometimes you have to break things down to build them up better.” When reality television stars start talking sense, Stiles assumes she’s had one too many shots. She looks in Derek’s direction to make a sassy remark--confess she didn’t think Kate had two brain-cells to rub together--but Stiles finds him clenching his jaw. Hard enough she’s afraid he’ll snap a tooth.

 

“Turn it off,” Stiles hears Derek whisper--voice thick with emotion, and when Erica fumbles with the remote Derek stands, stalking towards the balcony door. He doesn’t bother with a jacket or shoes, just goes out into the freezing weather to brood alone. Stiles doesn’t take his reaction as a good sign, and feels a crawl of unease fill her when she smells the regret that follows him out the door.

 

Liam

 

Brett sits beside him with his phone out, and hands one of the headphones to Liam. When Liam gives him a questioning look Brett shrugs, “Mason tweeted this link at me; told me to show you.”

 

It’s a segment from Matt Daehler’s talk show, and Liam feels an unpleasant squirm in his stomach when Kate Argent smiles at the cameras. He zones out while she talks--hardly taking in much after she says, “I’ve sussed out bits of the story. Derek left for his career, and he tried to bury his past.” Liam frowns at the almost bored way Kate says this; clinical--as if it’s not devastating shit that’s been following Liam since before he can remember.

 

“Would you like to ask him about it?” Daehler asks Kate.

 

“No,” she replies, “It’s not my story to truly know.”

 

But it is Liam’s story to know, and he wants answers. The answers he’s spent avoiding for the past few months--the ones he’s waylaid in favor of basking in the delight of finally having a dad. A dad he’s been trying to impress and get to know, and somewhere along the way he’s forgotten that this guy left him and left Mom and never looked back.

 

Suddenly the glow of his victory is tainted by the things he’s been avoiding. He remembers that hurt when he first found the album. The rage of that moment surges through him now. Reminding him of all the years he had to see Mom’s devastated face when he’d ask why he didn’t have a dad on Father’s Day, at Christmas, for plays--for anything, really. Seeing all of her thin, wan smiles when people would ask about his dad. It still hurts to remember them, and makes him absolutely pissed when he sees Kate’s smiling face. Because she’ll bounce back from this, she’s the type of person who always comes out on top. She’s never known the pain Mom’s known, and he’s mad at himself for causing her more unnecessary anguish. He’s such a shitty son.

 

“Damn it,” he mutters, and Brett shoots him a questioning glance.

 

Derek

 

Liam comes over Sunday afternoon, reeking of anger and Derek knows what’s coming before it happens. He’s not as oblivious as his highly opinionated sister suggests--when Cora bothers talking to him, anymore.

 

“How are you,” he asks, knowing damn well how Liam is--he can taste it on the air.

 

“Did you really not care about me when you left?”

 

With a sigh, Derek runs a hand over his face. Closing his eyes, shutting out the stark hatred he sees in Liam’s bright blue eyes, Derek takes a moment to mull over his words. When he is collected he opens his eyes again, holding Liam’s gaze as he speaks, “I have never not cared about you, Liam.” It’s the truth, but there was a time, when the thought of looking at Liam ate Derek up inside. “I cared too much for my own liking.”

 

“What the fuck does that even mean,” Liam screams, his hands in his hair as he yells his frustrations, “You left, and if I hadn’t found you would you have come back?” Derek watches Liam swallow, sees the anguish welling in his eyes--tears readying themselves for the long fall when Derek finally breaks his heart.

 

It’s a point Derek thought on when he saw Kate’s segment with Daehler. A point he discussed with Dad while he spent the night in Laura’s spare room--after Stiles left with Jackson. Shortly after his sudden departure to Laura’s balcony. He couldn’t look at Stiles; didn’t want her to see his shame then, even though he was sure she’d sensed his feelings. “I don’t know,” he admits. He doesn’t think so; and that’s what hurts him. The fact that, now, having taken the time to learn about Liam, he could have spent the rest of his life never really knowing his son. What an awful thought.

 

Liam’s crying, now. But he cries the way Derek cries; angry with a few tears that escape--tears he tries to wipe away before Derek can see. Swallowing down the betrayal, Liam growls, “I’m such an idiot.”

 

That makes Derek angry, “You are not an idiot; don’t you ever say that.”

 

“I am though,” Liam yells in return, “I’m an idiot for believing in you.”

 

Derek deflates; he once said those same words to his father--he knows the exact level of treachery his father reached before he could force such anger out of his throat. He can easily recall the loathing that surged through him, knowing his father could hurt his mother in such a way. Liam’s gaze tears into Derek now with a similar degree of fury, over the fact that Derek--damnable Derek--could hurt Stiles in such a fashion. “Liam...” He tries, but Liam jerks away from Derek’s raised hand; sneers at the offending appendage.  

 

“No, man, forget it.” Liam starts for the door, and Derek calls out for him. When his son turns he looks pissed, and his rage is all Stiles, “You should go. Go back to the city, and just forget I exist again.”

 

“Liam,” he tries, again, but Liam’s already stormed out of the door, and Derek’s left feeling like a jackass.

 

Stiles

 

She looks up when Liam slams back into the house. It hasn’t been long, less than thirty minutes since he left, and Stiles frowns as she follows him up the stairs. He’s crying when he flops on the unmade bed in his room. Taking a seat beside him she wears a worried expression; hand hovering with a moment of indecision. Since the start of this whole fiasco Liam has looked at her as if she is less than the woman he loved before; as if Stiles is some demonic entity in disguise. There was never a rift, really, but there has been a guardedness to Liam’s smile, his eyes, and Stiles feels inadequate. Even now she feels the distant, and is unsure if she is allowed to breach that gap. She’s a fuck-up, in a great many ways, but before this mess Stiles was sure-footed as a mother. Now, she feels as if she’s always making poor guesses--Stiles thinks she’s failing, and she never--not in a million lifetimes--wanted to fail Liam. Failing him would cement her failure in everything.

 

“What’s the matter,” her hands are in his hair, finally, after a long, silent war with her mind, and he sniffs as he rolls closer to her. Burrowing into the comfort of her jeans and paint covered thigh.

 

“I want him to leave,” Liam swallows, and she can feel the hot fall of tears when they dampen her pants. “I’m sorry I made this whole big mess, Mom.”

 

“Baby,” she whispers, patting his hair some more, “You didn’t make this mess. We made it; Derek and I did the first time we fell in bed together.” His misery is so consuming he can’t even muster up a don’t be gross, Mom. She releases a sigh, furious with herself for having caused him this misery, “You were worth it, though, you were worth all of this.”

 

He wraps his arms around her waist, face burying into her side as he mumbles, “I’m sorry I’ve caused you a lot of pain.” His shoulders tremble and she shakes her head when he rubs his face against her, smearing snot in her clothes. “I wish I’d never found that stupid photo album; I wished I’d have asked you instead of tweeting at him.”

 

“I wouldn’t have told you,” Stiles admits, voice thick, “I would’ve fought you on knowing him, and you wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet his pack.” Her laugh is brittle, as tears fall from her own eyes, and into his dark blond hair, “And they love you, baby,  they’ve always loved you. I just...I made sure when your dad left that all of them would follow.”

 

His blue eyes are questioning when they look up at her, and she whispers, feeling vulnerable, “I couldn’t...I’m not strong enough to be near the love of my life, Liam. I couldn’t stand to see him and not have him be with me.” With a self-deprecating laugh she adds, “Hell, it ate me up to see him in that home with Kate. When they walked in I felt like someone was clawing my heart out.” Brushing her thumb across the swell of his cheek she thinks of how her selfishness denied him his father--Derek loved Liam, loves him still, and there would have been opportunities, little league games with a dad cheering in the stands, catch in the yard during the off-season, and large Hale Christmases--where shining trees as tall as their vaulted ceilings would drip with silver and candles, and there would always be too many presents. Liam would’ve been able to have everything he wanted, and Stiles denied him that life. “God,” she whispers, the sound hitching with a slight sob, “I’m...I should have never done that.”

 

“Would you be with him now if he asked?” Liam sounds...she doesn’t want to think he sounds hopeful, but it’s a near thing. The question draws her from her near mental breaking point, and she takes a long time to decide on her reply.

 

“That’s complicated.” Then with another sweep through his hair with her hands, she adds, “Besides, I can’t be with any man my baby doesn’t like.” When her smile finally slips from her lips, Stiles adds, “Don’t hate your dad, Liam, take it from someone who’s spent the last seventeen years hating her mother. It’s not worth it.”

 

He doesn’t ask if she misses Mom; he’s probably learned his lesson from all the times he’d foolishly asked in early childhood. She is almost disappointed he doesn’t; Stiles is finally to a point where she’s ready to discuss Mom; she’s ready to mend that bridge, and she’s possibly ready to move on.

 

Jackson

 

He looks at his locked phone screen when Stiles’s call comes, and he answers with a frown, “I’m about to go into a meeting, can this wait?”

 

“I will do the interview with Derek, but first I need something from you.” She sounds breathless when she rushes to speak over him, and Jackson knows it’s important if she’s being pushy. Stiles hasn’t been pushy with him in years.

 

Jackson nods his head in his client’s direction, “Go ahead, I’ll follow in five, promise.” Then to Stiles he says, “I’m listening.”

 

“I need you to rent me a space.” At least she isn’t asking for him to help her bury a body.

 

Derek

 

Boyd stops at a building full of lofts that Derek’s never seen before. He shoots him a questioning glance, and Boyd hands him a key.

 

“Number 24,” with a wry smile he adds, “I’ll be back in a little while.”

 

“What about the Nike ad?” Boyd made it seem damn important when he called this morning, and this doesn’t look like where Derek needs to be. He’s supposed to shoot it at the stadium, not in some shady hovel in Alphabet City.

 

“Postponed,” Boyd replies with his usual easy air. He makes a shooing motion with his large hand, “See you later, and you’d better be in a lot better headspace when I pick you up tomorrow.”

 

Derek climbs out, watching with a strange fascination as Boyd’s car pulls away.

 

Hoping to everything that this isn’t going to be the first time Boyd leads him astray, Derek goes into the lobby, glancing around at the graffiti on his way to the lift. Feeling trepidation fill him as he rides up to the floor with loft number 24.

 

The door is unlocked, causing him to frown while he pockets the key as he walks inside the cold room. The lighting is sparse, ambient in a way that’s clearly intentional when Derek takes in his surroundings. There’s a large display of canvases, filled with intimate images that are a mix of magazine scraps and photographs. Images he doesn’t quite understand, but they still call to something within him--dragging forth a sense of longing and despairing regrets. Further into the space there are flat screens, on the walls, playing  an assortment of films splices. Derek’s lips thin at them, walking slowly through the displays, and his eyes narrow when he recognizes bits of white, mole dotted skin.

 

“You like it,” Stiles’s voice is loud in the relative silence, but it doesn’t shock Derek.

 

“What is this?” His own tone soft, yet hoarse with emotion when he touches the warm flat screen in front of him. Recognizing his own thick veins crawling up muscled forearms in one of Stiles’s films. His hands have a desperate energy to them, the way they flex--his fingers digging into the yielding flesh of white thighs.

 

Her smile is soft as she lifts a hand to the tall canvas at her right, adjacent to where Derek is still standing at the films. The giant image at her side is a portrait of Stiles, Derek realizes when he bothers to study the likeness, and it is made up of a series of clippings from magazines. Magazine articles, it seems, the articles about them and Kate and Liam. In it she is screaming, tearing at her short hair, with words of hate making up her tongue. Ugly. Jealous. Whore. Gold-digger.  

 

“This is my secret collection,” Stiles confesses, whisper vulnerable, as Derek continues to stare at the piece beside her.

 

Derek’s eyes roam over the other pieces, eventually, and land on a screen flashing with footage that Derek hasn’t seen in years. Video of them making love when they were still in the good years of their lives. The movie is silent, a splice of moments where they share passionate kisses, cuts of the parts where Derek’s hands grip her hair, and Stiles’s cries for more. He swallows, throat suddenly dry, when he sees the flash of his fangs against the long line of Stiles’s throat.  

 

“I call it A Study in Stiles.” She laughs when he shoots a judgemental look her way. “You’re the first to see it, and you’re one of the stars.” He doesn’t respond, Derek’s too busy looking between all the screens, now, seeing pieces of him and Stiles. Films of when they appeared happy. Or, dare he believe, in love?

 

“You want a private tour?” Stiles breaks him of those private thoughts. Secret long hidden desires, and Derek wipes surreptitiously at eyes that feel damp. Her back is to him, long legs encased in black tights and her slim torso swallowed in an oversized sweater--Derek wants to unwrap her from her coverings, wishes more than anything that this olive branch is also the gift of permission. The things he would do if she’d let him, the love he would offer, the devotion. “Come on,” Stiles says, casting a smile at him over her bony shoulder.

 

Derek follows her without a word.

 

Stiles

 

“You remember this,” she whispers and Derek twitches at her side, “I still remember.” Stiles can smell a great many things on Derek--regret, hope--but most of all she tastes his desire. Or perhaps she’s tasting her own. She wonders if this is foolish. Not long ago she told Derek they couldn’t be...this, whatever it is, and now here she is trying to entice the beast of passion that lies dormant, but eager, between them.

 

The images are a grainy set of polaroids, nothing obscene, but they are wrapped up in one another. Smiling, kissing, laughing. It was the first night she went to bed with Derek. In the front of his Camaro, at the edge of the preserve that sits north, on the way out of Beacon Hills.

 

“I’ll always remember, Stiles,” his reply is gruff. Derek’s not fooling her; Stiles sees the sheen of emotion in his eyes, and he’s strung tight like a bow.

 

She laughs, a nervous, unsure sound, “Maybe that’s the problem, we always remember and never talk it out.”

 

“We always remember and fuck it out,” Derek snorts in reply. Then, after a swallow he husks, “I’m sorry, you know. I should’ve come back.”

 

“Yeah, you should’ve,” Stiles agrees--she’s to blame, too, sure, but she won’t shoulder the responsibility alone. Derek should’ve come back to her, to Liam. He should’ve called her on her bullshit and not believed her obvious lie. As if she’d ever fucked anyone but Derek at that point in her life. “But shoulda, woulda, coulda, Derek. We haven’t got the time for that regret, not now,” Stiles waves it off--drudging up the should’ve won’t change anything now. Jordan is right, so is Jackson, Stiles has to start learning that her present should not be consumed by her past.   

 

“What do we have time for then, Stiles?” His eyes are large, over-bright, and she gazes into them--studying every tiny fleck of color, trying to commit them to her heart once again. A lifetime ago his irises were so familiar, and she could paint every tone from memory.

 

“Starting over,” she whispers, gently taking hold of his wrist. Her other hand lifts, slowly--to give him time to draw away, but Derek doesn’t--and Stiles presses her palm to his bearded cheek. “If you want to?”

 

His kiss is answer enough. Rough and full of the passions she’s craved since he left. The ones she sampled in hasty need in his hallway, about a month or so ago. Derek presses her into the rough brick of the wall, and she lets him. Tilting her head back when he leans in, to bite at her pale skin, “Stiles,” he husks, a question in the sound, and millennia could not make her forget what he’s asking.  

 

“Do it, Derek, do it,” she whines, and releases a needy gasp when his fangs sink into the junction between her neck and shoulder.

 

It is the thrill of coming home when Derek undresses her. There is a remembered joy and an all-consuming contentment that races through Stiles as his fingertips relearn the soft sloping edges of her body. “Mi corazon,” Derek’s breath is hot at her nipple, his teeth sharp, catching, as they graze her flesh. Goosebumps rise over her skin, and when his callouses draw over them Stiles shivers.

 

“Derek,” she pleads, her eyes fluttering, “Derek...don’t be an ass, fuck me already.”

 

He ignores her, nosing down her stomach, whispering, “I want to imprint your taste on my tongue.” His words are laced with a growl, and Stiles whimpers as she spreads her legs for him. Derek’s eyes glow, the darkest shade of crimson, his fangs visible as his mouth falls the slightest bit open. “You haunted me,” he confesses, and she’s not sure if he means her in her entirety or the soft folds he watches when she parts her thighs. He’s staring, intense and hungry.

 

“Come, wolf,” she whimpers, “Come, claim me for your own.”

 

Derek

 

“This is probably a horrible mistake,” Derek confesses as he watches Boyd text on his phone. Dark eyes glance up from where Boyd’s fingers dance across the glass. The makeup person has just left them, and Derek’s twitching beneath the heavy glow of the mirror’s lights--fidgeting with the mic pinned to his shirt even though he was warned not to.

 

“Just stick to the topics we discussed,” Boyd says, casual as ever despite the fact Derek’s life and career are on the line here. Perhaps not that dramatic, but he’s wound up over the fact that this could cause more harm to him and his family. He wants people to stay the hell away from Stiles and Liam. Derek could give a shit about himself, but he doesn’t want anyone coming for the people he loves.

 

“It’s Daehler,” Derek grumbles, not overly fond of that particular snake, “He’s a slimy bastard, and will try to catch me off guard while we’re live.”

 

“Don’t let him,” Boyd looks him in the eye, finally pocketing his phone as he says, “You’re in control. You’re an Alpha, aren’t you?”

 

“Yes?” At the glance Boyd shoots him; he clears his throat, and with a firmer tone says, “Yes. I am.”

 

“Then don’t let some piss poor excuse for a Beta control the conversation.” Derek snorts at that and Boyd comes over, clapping him on the shoulder, “Hey, man, it’s going to be fine.”

 

“I fucking hope so,” Derek huffs while he straightens the cuffs of his shirt. His eyes dart to the door when it opens and one of the backstage crew comes in, to retrieve him.

 

Liam

 

“Honestly, man, right now I’m trying to move forward.” Derek’s on the television, talking to Matt Daehler about the situation with Liam and Mom and Kate and him. It causes Liam to frown, beside him Brett is silent and Mason is whispering about the delicious way Derek’s strong forearms flexed with thick veins.

 

Liam doesn’t bother to tell him to shut up, not when Derek starts talking about Liam. After Matt inquires about Derek’s elusive son. “He’s amazing. I can’t even put it into words. Smart, funny, a great athlete...” Derek tapers off, his hands hovering there as he looks off into space, as if he’s lost in thought.

 

Matt smiles, that eerily creepy smile that Mom hates--and rants about when Gramps manages to catch this show--as he says, “A great athlete like his dad?”

 

Derek’s eyes are even more colorful when on television, they look large and bright with a wet sheen as he shakes his head. A bemused smile on his face, Derek’s tone is soft, full of love, “Not like his dad; Liam has his mother to thank for all of his greatness.”

 

Matt smells blood, he’s drawn to it like a shark--at least that’s how Uncle Jackson’s always describes him--and he sinks in; trying to draw out a weakness he perceives in Derek. A weakness named Stiles Stilinski. “Are you in love with your ex?”

 

Red eyes meet Matt’s gaze, and there is a hard set to Derek’s jaw when he says, “I never stopped loving her.” Then before Matt can say anything more, Derek points at Matt, Alpha dominance in the set of his shoulders, as he hisses, “I was a fool, you know. I’m sure you and every other human with working internet has sussed that out. I was torn between two lives, and I took the easy way out.” He sucks his teeth, swallowing hard for a moment, before continuing, “She gave me an easy out, and I grabbed onto it with desperation. I wanted fame and the game; I chose them over my kid and the love of my life.” Liam doesn’t expect that sort of honesty from Derek, or any other adult in his life. Most people in his life seem to wander around in a perpetual state of denial, and as a result live in half truths. Derek is seemingly done with the masks.

 

“That out brought you here, in your career,” Matt argues with a low tone, placating and cautious.

 

“Yeah,” Derek frowns, “It brought me here.”

 

“Here isn’t so bad, Derek.” Liam feels as surprised as Derek looks when Mom sits beside him on the set. Her smile is slight, but her eyes sparkle with a familiar mischief that Derek obviously recognizes. “I think here isn’t a bad place to be.” With a glance around the set she makes a face full of disdain, and adds, “Well, right here is kind of awful.” Then she turns back around, to look at Derek and gives him her brightest smile.

 

Derek kisses Mom without any sort of warning. Not some chaste, appropriate for television kiss; it’s carnal, full of desire and promise and every word he cannot say. Liam has to look away from the image--he doesn’t care if they do it for show, for the world, a kiss like that is private.

 

“Damn,” Brett whistles, and Mason agrees--fanning himself dramatically.

 

“I’m sorry I hurt Kate,” Derek finally says, and Liam glances back at the screen. “I really am. I knew early on it wasn’t what I’d wanted, but pride and loneliness kept me with her. I was too proud to call Stiles, but I was so lonely without her.” He grabs Mom’s hand, lacing their fingers, “I love you.”

 

“I know,” Mom smirks causing Derek to laugh.

 

Beside Liam Mason snorts, “Leave it to Momma S to throw in a Star Wars reference.”

 

Talia

 

“He kisses her like he’ll die if he doesn’t,” she comments, off-handedly as they watch Daehler’s show. Deuc snorts beside her, crossing his arms as they watch their son simultaneously say he’s never really loved Kate before he publicly confesses his love to Stiles. It’s a bit of a low blow for Kate, and despite Talia’s dislike of Kate Argent she can admit it’s rather harsh. Her son is rarely vindictive, but she has to wonder if this was Kate’s punishment for setting Stiles’s show up. Derek’s never confessed his feelings, to Talia, over that particular incident, but she knows Derek better than he’d like to believe.

 

“Of course he does, darling,” Deuc says, finally responding to her comment after long moments of silence, pulling Talia’s attention away from a commercial for Nationwide, “Derek loves Stiles, and always has.” Deucalion speaks as if he understands, and the way he stares at her has Talia’s stomach fluttering the way it once did, long ago, when they were still in love.

 

Liam

 

Liam’s still angry. He hasn’t talked to Derek, not really, in a few months. He sort of grunts out responses when Derek inquires about details of his life. When they’re forced into each other’s company--April means Derek’s back to traveling with his team around the country, or he’s in NYC playing home games, so Liam isn’t forced into Derek’s company often. Mom’s been trying to get him to talk to Derek, during the times he’s around, but she gives up when Liam goes to his room and shuts the door. She never yells at him about it, and Liam suspects it’s because she gets what it’s like to hate one of your parents for doing the other one wrong. He’s never met his grandmother because of Mom’s anger towards the woman, afterall. So she leaves him alone to brood it over, and the hours pass--having turned from days, to months--yet Liam still isn’t closer to the idea of forgiveness.

 

Gramps comes into his room one evening, a few nights before Liam’s birthday and says, “Want to talk about what’s got you playing merry hell every time your dad’s brought up?” Liam glares, but Gramps has been a cop for a long, long time and it’s going to take a lot more than a boy green in youth to intimidate him. “That the best you got, kiddo?” Liam can’t stop the laugh that escapes him, and Gramps grins--like he knows he’s won, somehow.

 

Gramps takes a seat across from him, at the desk, and he watches Liam until he cracks. “I’m still mad,” he admits, irritated again with Derek.  

 

“Understandable,” Gramps intones, sitting back, watching Liam without judgement. “That’s a lot to ask you to forgive.”

 

“I thought it’d be great, you know? I thought I’d meet my dad and he’d be badass and we’d be this awesome family.” Liam throws up his hands, mostly frustrated with himself. “Was that stupid of me?”

 

“No, pup, it wasn’t,” Gramps swallows, “You know, I think every kid wants a happy family. Their mom, their dad, and them. Even your mother has that wish, somewhere buried in her hatred.” He rubs his hands together, dry callouses catching against each other as he does so, “But she doesn’t realize, like you, that it takes two to make a relationship work.”

 

“What’s that mean,” Liam wonders, frowning as he sits up in his bed.

 

“It means that your mom is also at fault here. I love her, you love her, and we forgive her, but it’s harder for you with Derek because you don’t know him as well.” Gramps reaches for his wallet, pulling out an old, battered photograph. It’s Grandma and Gramps, when they were young and happy, Liam holds it gently--running his finger lightly over the worn surface. This’ll be the third time he’s seen a photograph of his grandma, but he recognizes her easily. She looks just like Mom. “Stiles was always mine. I spent a lot of time with her, she was Claudia’s, too, but we were best buds--your mom and me, still are. She wanted to always be with me, so when her mom ran around on me she was on my side automatically.” Liam watches him, a frown of concentration on his face when Gramps continues. “I shut Claudia out, kiddo, I made her feel unloved, unwanted, and when you don’t pay attention to your wife the way she deserves someone else will.”

 

“Doesn’t make what she did right,” Liam says with a soft tone and Gramps smiles, eyes bright in a way Liam rarely sees.

 

“No, it doesn’t, but I can see why she did what she did.” He scrubs his hands over his cheeks, tries to covertly sniff, before he goes on. “I moved her out here for my career, my wants--I mean look around this town, pup, there ain’t much here. She was a shoe made for the city, and I was a man made for the simple life. I thought I’d bring her out here, set her up in a big ol’ house, have a few kids, and we’d grow old together on this front porch.” His laugh lacks mirth, “As you can see, that didn’t happen. But I’ll tell you this, kiddo, I should’ve been good to her like I was at the beginning. I should’ve been a partner, an equal, not just an entitled provider.” He takes a moment, looking around at the posters on Liam’s walls, “You know, I think her art was her escape. Galleries, paintings, all of it, that’s how she escaped me, and when those quit working she sought men who were similar to the me she fell in love with.”

 

“Did she tell you that?”  

 

“She didn’t have to; it was obvious when I met them, or saw them, rather.” He snorts, “Don’t look at me like that, kiddo, I’ve made peace with my past. You need to make peace with yours. You cannot change what Derek and your mother were then. You can ask her the truth, accept what you hear, and move on.” Liam frowns at the suggestion and Gramps shrugs, “It sucks, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you it’s easy. But if you want to make up for lost time with your parents, you’re going to have to do this, now. You can’t hold onto anger for things you cannot change; it’s not good for the soul.”

 

“Did you read that in a card,” Liam quips, but his voice is brittle.

 

“Yeah, I probably did,” Gramps winks.

 

Stiles

 

“Derek,” she sighs, frustrated with him when she sees the shiny new, black Silverado sitting in his driveway. The one with a bright red ribbon on top of it, flapping obnoxiously in the wind.

 

“What?” He looks genuinely confused, and Stiles wants to punch him for being fucking adorable when she’s trying to be serious.

 

“Liam is not going to like this, he’s going to think you’re trying to buy his love.” Which is a serious possibility, and Stiles doesn’t want a truck, of all things, to widen the gap between them.

 

“I’m not trying to buy his love,” Derek argues with an annoyed frown, “I’m trying to give him a little taste of freedom.” He gestures at the pick-up, “Remember being sixteen and wanting to drive away from it all? Now he’s able to do that.”

 

“He can drive my Jeep, I already told him,” she complains, “I do most of my work from home, and when I teach the paint classes I do them at night.”

 

“Your Jeep is going to get someone killed,” he argues, and it’s Stiles’s turn to frown.

 

“My Jeep is perfectly fine,” she snaps back, but she knows, honestly, that it is a losing argument.

 

“Stiles, most of it is held together with Gorilla tape,” he rolls his eyes as he starts heading back into his house.

 

“Shut up, I’m not as handy with cars as you are,” she grumbles while she follows. Tripping over her own feet on the way. It’s a testament to how well Derek knows her that he doesn’t bother to turn and see if she’s killed herself--he probably remembers when she yells “Oh shit” that’s the time to call the ambulance.

 

They’re just inside the hall when Derek pins her to the wall, his hold gentle as he leans in, to kiss her. She melts beneath the touch. Eyes fluttering when he slips his hands into her hair, and she moans as feather light fingers tickle against her delicate jaw. When they pull apart Derek’s lips are swollen and damp, she imagines hers aren’t much better. Stiles is breathless when she whispers, “So, how long have you been waiting to do that?”

 

“Since you stomped over here in a tift about the truck,” his flirtatious smiles should be goddamned illegal.

 

“My anger turns you on?” She teases, but there’s a hitching tilt to her tone.

 

“Your everything turns me on,” he is solemn when he speaks; she is both moved and amused.

 

“What are you going to do about it, then, Mr. Hale?” He nibbles at her lip, a dark, lusty look roaming her face and body.

 

Less than five minutes later, Stiles finds herself lying on the kitchen island’s top, her belly exposed as Derek slides his warm hands beneath her white T-shirt. He swallows as he looks at her, and Stiles grins, feeling unusually sexy when Derek just stares. Worshiping her with his gaze, as if she is extraordinary.

 

“Does my body please you?”

 

His eyes flashing red is answer enough.

 

Derek

 

He’s annoyed with the Mets sweats she’s got on, and growls when he removes them from her long legs. “You and your damn Mets,” Derek grumbles. “I could get you a whole bunch of Yankees gear, you know, to support me.”

 

“Nah,” she teases, arching her back in a way that makes her lean stomach concave and then press out, “I’d probably burn that crap.” Then she spreads her legs wider, exposing the prettiest shade of pink Derek’s ever seen. Stiles’s words come out as a promising husk, “I can support you like this.”

 

He shakes his head, fond and amused, before he leans in, to nibble at her inner thigh. All words leave her then, and he smirks when Stiles whimpers as he begins to lick at her sensitive skin.

 

It’s not long before she’s begging for him to fuck her, and Derek loves these moments best. The ones where she’s keening and trying to force him up from tasting her so that he can get in her. “Com’on,” she hisses, “Get in me.” Her shirt is rucked up to her armpits, her tits are out, bouncing, their pale tone tinted with blotches of red from her first orgasm. The flush causes him to feel primal and powerful.

 

“Demanding,” he chuckles, dragging his stubble over the curves of her soft body. They kiss, desperation in the action, until Derek pulls back so that he can press into her. “Stiles,” he whispers, the sound almost a growl.

 

“Derek,” she gasps as he eases into her body.

 

Liam

 

“Man, I want to go home.”

 

“Shut up,” Mason says with a roll of his eyes. “You have a family that loves you; suck it up, baby, and appreciate what you got.”

 

Brett smirks, snatching up a roll from the table in the Hale’s formal dining room. “Dude, you’ve got to quit brooding. This is a pretty nice thing your family is doing for you.”

 

“I’m so tired of you guys moming me,” Liam says but his words lack heat. They don’t believe him, his friends know he loves them too much to be annoyed by their pestering.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Mason slings an arm around Liam’s shoulder, “Now come on, let’s get back into the den where they’re playing Cards Against Humanity.”

 

“I can’t believe Stiles isn’t winning,” Brett chimes in as he follows, “She’s the most offensive person I know.” Mom smacks him in the arm when they get to the den, and he drops down beside her. Brett laughs in response.

 

“I’m not offensive,” she declares, “I’m perfect in every fucking way possible.”

 

“Shut up, Mary Poppins,” Laura calls from where she’s kneeling at the coffee table. Her smile sharp, “My card beat yours, again.” Liam’s honestly not surprised Laura’s winning. Laura seems like the kind of person who has a sense of humor that will likely get her a VIP ticket to Hell.

 

 

About Three Years Later

Liam

 

“Do you have everything?”

 

He looks over to find Mom, lingering in the doorway of his childhood room--the one that had been Uncle Jackson’s once upon a time. Her eyes are wide, the brown of them almost amber in the light that spills in from outside, and they seem over-bright--a sheen of emotion covering them, causing Liam to smile. “Yeah, I think so, and it’s not like I’m leaving forever.”

 

Mom sags then, as if he’s assuaged a fear she refused to recognize in herself, and she appears less apprehensive, less rigid. “I know, I know,” Mom huffs, but there is a warble to her tone. She’s still not ready for this, and Liam doubts she ever will be. Mom’s not great with change. Hell, she’s lived in the same house for the past thirty-four years.

 

“What about you? Do you have everything?” Liam counters, and she glances up, a frown on her face.

 

“I’ve still got a couple things I haven’t grabbed.” There’s an irritated curl to her mouth and Liam lets out a soft laugh.

 

“Mom, you can’t dick around about this stuff.” She stomps her foot, petulance radiating off of her, and Liam shakes his head while Mom winds her fingers in her long hair.

 

“I’m not dicking around,” Mom argues, “It’s just a big deal, okay.”

 

“You practically live next door anyways,” Liam reasons--always feeling like the adult when these conversations occur, “Besides what are you going to do when the ba-,” Mom cuts him off with a shout.

 

“Don’t, don’t say it,” she warns, eyes narrowing to slits and a hysterical note to her tone.

 

“When the baby comes,” Liam half shouts over her la-la-la-la chanting. “You’re such a brat,” he huffs when she quits.

 

“I’m going to ignore the situation until it goes away,” Mom nods, matter-of-fact, and Liam rolls his eyes so hard they feel as if they will dislocate from their sockets.  

 

“How do you plan on ignoring it when the damn kid is crowning?”

 

“I’ll figure out a way,” she hisses and Liam shakes his head with a laugh while he folds another hoodie, shoving it in his almost full duffle.

 

Mason breaks up their conversation when he crashes into the door frame, “You almost ready? Brett’s got his crap thrown in the bed of the truck with mine; all we’re waiting on is you, dude.”

 

Liam nods towards the pile of luggage he’s got stacked by his old desk, “It’s all right there, man, you could be useful and start loading shit.”

 

“And strain myself? Honey, please. You’re the one with the bulging muscles.” Mason flutters his lashes at Liam and he looks at the ceiling, searching for patience instead of offering an immediate response.

 

“Well, the longer you don’t help the longer it’ll take to leave.” Liam swears he’s the mom of their group.

 

Brett appears, then, his eyebrows drawn together in a frown when he notices the pile of Liam’s luggage. He throws a look at Mason and says, “Why the hell haven’t you been dragging these down to me? I’ve just been dicking around on my phone, we could’ve been almost done.” Liam has to bite down a laugh when Mason sputters out an excuse. “Quit your bitching and start helping me,” Brett growls, with little heat, and cements for Liam the fact that if Liam is the mom of their group then Brett is the dad.

 

“I guess you’re really leaving, huh, kiddo?” Mom says when they are gone, the sound of them fading when the front door bangs closed behind them.

 

“We knew this day would come someday,” Liam tries to joke, but it’s hard when Mom is on the verge of tears.

 

“I just didn’t want it to be today; I’m not ready.” She wipes at her eyes when a few tears finally drop off her long lashes and slip down her cheeks. Her hand goes to the swell of her stomach, the slight, hard curve that Liam is still adjusting to.

 

“You’re about to be plenty occupied, Mom, and you aren’t going to have time to worry about me.” It’s something he wonders about on occasion. Wonders if this kid will have more of his parents’ love than he got. Liam recognizes the jealousy in the thoughts, usually, and smashes them into submission, but there are still times he cannot help but linger on those lines of buried insecurities.

 

Her eyes flash, and her anger is evident when she hisses, “No child will ever replace you, and don’t you dare suggest otherwise.”

 

He holds up his hands in supplication, “I didn’t mean it like that.” He did, and they both know it.

 

“I will always have loved you longest. I cannot say I will love you more. I will never love you more, nor will I love this one more, but you will be the one who’s had my love the longest.” He charges at her, hugs her, and she holds him tight. Accepting his worry with a shushing lull of sounds that soothe the worries he tried to make light of. “You are allowed to be upset by the baby, Liam. You’re allowed to be jealous that this kid gets Derek through their life. You are not allowed to treat her differently because she isn’t responsible for those things; they are out of her control.”

 

“Her?” One word makes the child more real to him.

 

“Shit,” Mom mutters, “You better not tell Derek. It’s supposed to be a surprise at dinner. Which we’re dragging you and your motley crew to.”

 

“I doubt Brett or Mason will mind. We don’t report to class until mid-August so I don’t get what the damn hurry is.” Liam knows they’re trying to help Liam adjust to life without his neurotic, yet wonderful pack, before school starts. They don’t say it in so many words, but his friends are the closest things he’s ever had to brothers and he appreciates their concern.

 

“Freedom. You boys are ready for it. Plus, you get to live in Derek’s sweet Manhattan pad.” She winks at him, and pats him on the cheek. Yet, Liam can see that she knows why they’re leaving; she knows that this is just as hard for him as it is for her.

 

“You sure you guys don’t want it?” Liam does worry that Mom is quick to sacrifice city life for him. She’s been doing more photography gigs, sports gigs mostly, and a lot of that happens in the heart of life, but she’s hell bent on staying in this nowhere town.

 

“Liam, I’m not giving up Beacon Hills. I don’t want that kind of life. I don’t need money, or fun more than I need family. Besides,” she adds, “Until this kid is school age I’ll be coming to the city a lot to see you. I’ll be able to live full weeks there with you...well not with you, I won’t cramp your style, I’ll probably just rack up some serious bills on your dad’s credit card by staying in swank hotels and then I can take us all out to eat and-,” he cuts her off.

 

“I love you, Mom.”

 

The smile she gives him is cheeky, “I know, kiddo.”

 

Derek

 

He claps a hand over Liam’s shoulder and smiles bright when his son turns to hug him. “Hey,” Liam says, “When did you get here?”

 

“Just now, Mom and Dad, Laura and the rest of them are at the steakhouse getting us a table.” Derek checks his Apple Watch when it dings, and sees a message from Laura. “Apparently, they’ve already got us a place in the back so let’s load up and go.”

 

“I want the biggest steak on the menu, with one of every side, and a huge beer,” Stiles demands as Derek leads her and the kids out to his new Suburban.

 

“No beer, Stiles,” he reminds her with a roll of his eyes, not that she can see because she’s following behind him.

 

“You’re such a kill joy, you and this parasite you put in me.” Her bitching is endearing, mostly, but Derek’s been hearing about his spawn a lot, lately, and it’s reminding him of when Stiles was pregnant with Liam. The years haven’t made her easier to deal with; she’s still a pain in the ass when pregnant.

 

“I distinctly recall you saying you were on the pill,” Derek snarks at her as he climbs into the driver’s seat, after her’s helped her into her seat--going as far as to smack him and tell him she’s not fucking helpless.  

 

“Apparently, your man-juice is ridiculously potent. Clearly, you’re evil,” she sticks her tongue out his way as she buckles her belt over her swollen belly. Derek wants to reach out and touch her stomach, but refrains when she wriggles around and complains about how the baby keeps kicking her. He’s been away from home for a week, and has spent most of his day locked in his office at the house in Beacon Hills, on the phone with Boyd discussing various offers. Being a free-agent is a great time for money and negotiations, but Derek’s not the kind of guy who leaves his career to his manager. He’s hands on, does a lot of reading and weighing before he settles on even the tiniest of decisions. His anal retentiveness, and Stiles’s sticking to Liam like a newborn duckling, has kept them apart most of the day even though Derek could feel her presence. He misses her. In every way, and he knows that if he wants any kind of affection from her later then he’s going to have to tread lightly and not piss her off. It’s not just the pregnancy, he knows, she likes to blame the baby; however, they both know this is more about Liam, and also quite a bit about her decision to finally move in with Derek.

 

Instead of reaching for her like he wants, Derek snorts and sasses back at her, “I’m willing to bet it’s because you aren’t that great at taking a pill at the same time every day.”

 

“I’d totally believe that,” Brett chimes in from behind them, and Stiles turns around in her seat to glare at him.

 

“I will so spank you, Brett, you’re not my favorite, now.” All three boys have a good laugh at that.  

 

Laura waves when they walk into the front of the steakhouse. As if Derek can’t see them; their group is the rowdiest of the bunch, and the largest. It’s all of his pack and Stiles’s, plus them now. He’s going to drop three hundred, at least, on the tip alone, he’s sure.

 

“Our star has arrived,” Laura whoops, and Derek narrows his eyes at her when she adds, “Derek Hale, get your beautiful ass over here.”

 

“I’m going to rip her throat out,” Derek whispers when Stiles presses close to his side, her fingers winding their way between his--providing warm comfort. He’s missed her more than he realized.

 

“With your teeth?” Stiles quips and he snaps his teeth at her playfully, to her delight. It causes Derek to smile--smile like he means it--and when he sits down at the table he finds that Laura’s obnoxiousness doesn’t even ruin his happy mood.

 

“So you boys ready for your drive in the morning?” John inquires of the kids when they all take their seats, after the waitress has taken their drink orders. Stiles grumbles about wanting a Blue Moon, and Jackson snorts--whispers if she behaves he might just buy her her own chocolate cake. Derek has to bite down a laugh when she appears torn between clawing her brother’s eyes out and hugging him.

 

“Yeah,” Liam nods, half distracted as he reads down the menu. “If Mom lets me into the truck, come daylight.”

 

“Feed her enough tonight she won’t be able to wake up in the morning,” Jackson quips from the other end of the table. Derek snorts when Stiles squawks out an indignant sound.

 

“I will hurt you,” Stiles warns, “I will, and it will be bloody. Might also end in your demise.” Jackson doesn’t appear concerned.

 

“Is that a promise,” Jordan laughs, and Jackson snaps his teeth in his older brother’s direction.

 

He’s growing lax, his thigh is warm from Stiles’s hand--her fingers drawing lazy patterns against his jeans--and Derek’s eyes slip to half-lidded with his contentment. Around him conversation flows. John and Dad are talking about taking a fishing trip soon while Mom considers Lydia’s invitation to co-host Stiles’s babyshower. Liam, Jackson, Jordan, and the boys are wrapped up in a debate about something sports related. He’s in a good place, at peace, when Stiles says to him, “We’re having a girl.” Her words, so soft the others would have to concentrate to hear, brush against his ear and Derek’s eyes grow suddenly wide.

 

“What,” he breathes, and she places a soft kiss against his short beard.

 

“A girl, Hale, sorry you aren’t getting that second boy you were hoping for,” he knows she’s kidding, but he still glowers.

 

“I didn’t want a second boy,” and that seems to get the attention of their packs.

 

“You’re having a boy,” Laura asks, suddenly, half leaning over the table to get to them and grab at their hands. Derek glares at her, his arm instinctively wrapping around Stiles in a protective display.

 

“No, we’re having a girl,” he growls back. Causing Laura’s smile to appear, wide and almost predatory.

 

“You can’t escape us girls, Dee, it’s written in the stars.” She spreads her arms wide in a dramatic display, “Women are meant to infiltrate your life and bring you chaos.”

 

“It is known,” Stiles quips beside him, and Erica has a good laugh over that. Derek’s still too in awe over his daughter to be overly bothered.

 

Stiles

 

Living with Derek is different but somehow familiar. Re-learning his habits is hard, and with her worry over the baby--her name still a source of argument--and over Liam Stiles isn’t in the best frame of mind for the kind of tact it takes to get to learn someone. Her back aches, her tits leak, and when Derek’s away playing for the Yankees she’s left alone in this empty hell. Sure, Dad’s next door, but that feels like defeat. She kicks on the A/C and lies around naked most afternoons, the windows of her second-floor studio thrown wide to let the light in.

 

Derek finds her like that one evening; lounging nude on her favorite rug, staring at the dust gathering on the blades of the ceiling fan. His duffle makes a dull thump of a sound as it falls to the floor, but Stiles doesn’t glance his way. He invades her line of sight soon enough, wrinkles appearing at the corners of his eyes when he smiles--wide and bright and wonderful. Something eases in her. Stiles reaches for him. No words needed as he crouches to join her on the plush carpet. “I love you,” she whispers, meaning that and more, but she doesn’t possess the vocabulary to express the depth of what she feels. Instead, she uses her lips, her teeth, her tongue, and Derek meets her with equal need. His love for her just as tangible.  

 

After the sky goes dark they still lay there, both nude and warm against one another. Derek’s hands trace the lines of her body while Stiles hums in contentment.

 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Derek ventures, and Stiles rolls to face him.

 

“About what,” she tries, but he gives her a look that says he’s not going to let the matter drop. With a huff she sits up, breasts aching and she winces from the knowledge that soon they will hurt even more. “I’m happy here,” she admits. It’s a truth she realized as she wandered through the empty house in Derek’s absence. “I shouldn’t be happy, should I? I mean, I keep feeling that this isn’t fair to Liam. We waited until he was gone to actually live together, and now we’re having another kid.”

 

Derek remains silent, visibly weighing his words as Stiles stares down at him. Watching the subtle nuances of his face. “If you want us to be with Liam, we can move to the city.”

 

“I don’t want to leave my dad, Derek.” She’s the last one here, now, Jordan’s moved to the city to be with Lydia. Stiles has it on good authority that they’re talking wedding dates and that Jordan’s been shopping around for her a ring. Then they will have kids, more obligations, and it will be her who has to remain here to keep her dad company.

 

He lets the conversation drop, but Stiles can see the cogs spinning in his head. She knows he’s going to concoct some plan to move them away from here. Derek doesn’t see her as often as he’d like when he’s playing with the Yankees, and she misses him terribly--they’re lucky if they get a day together during the baseball season. When Liam was still here she had something to occupy her time, but even that only helped dull her loneliness.

 

Liam

 

Mom and Derek are visiting, along with Gramps. Liam’s not started at Dartmouth for the fall semester yet and they decided to stay at The Plaza, in a two bedroom suite Mom’s still bitching about.

 

“Do you know how much that cost, Derek?” She hisses.

 

“I didn’t bother to ask,” Derek replies with a devil-may-care tone, and that riles Mom more.

 

Gramps whispers, “You’re mother spent two hours in the tub, her complaining is for show.” Then with a wink he adds, “And I’m not stupid enough to complain about my experience. That’s the best sleep I’ve gotten in a long while.” Liam enjoys the entire spectacle; he misses this banter. It used to be the constant soundtrack of his life. Driving him mad most days, but now he wishes he had some of Mom’s rants recorded, to play on his iPhone.

 

They’re going to lunch, some hole in the wall place in Queens Derek suggested after Mom adamantly refused to eat at the resturant in their hotel. “I need a greasy basket of fries and a hotdog covered in a guaranteed heart attack.”

 

At Liam’s left, Gramps bemoans the loss of a good steak, “But I suppose I can eat a chili dog if I have to.” Liam grins, and holds the door while Mom waddles into the shop.

 

When they get their orders, and sit down to eat Mom’s eyes go wide. Derek and Liam sense her panic at the same time as Gramps does, all of their eyes glowing with worry. Derek is the one who asks her what’s wrong.

 

“Stiles?”

 

Mom is pale, freaking Liam out, when she says, “My water just broke.”

 

They wind up at Newyork Presbyterian, and when they get there Derek is on the phone, as is Gramps. Derek with Mom’s doctor in Beacon Hills, and Gramps with Uncle Jordan and Uncle Jackson.

 

“We’re not sure, her water just broke when we were out to eat...yeah, I remember. Liam was born about thirty minutes after that, yeah, so if you guys want to meet the baby when she’s brand new you probably ought to start heading this way.” Gramps sounds entirely too calm. Liam is kind of freaking out.

 

He shoots off a text to the group he has with Mason and Brett on his phone: Moms water broke. At Newyork Presbyterian in Queens. Im freakin the fuck out.

 

Mason: OMW! I’ve got a gift for your new sister, and what do you need big bro???

 

Brett: My shift doesn’t end until ten. :( I’ll probably have to go up tomorrow. Give Momma Stilinksi a hug from me.

 

Liam: Bring me a shot.

 

Liam: Kidding dude I dont know. Maybe some coffee. Derek and Gramps could use it.

 

Mason: Leave it to me!!

 

Derek’s on the phone when Liam looks up from his cell, and he watches as Derek slides a hand over his short beard, “Laura, can you call Mom and Dad for me?” There’s a nurse next to Derek trying to get him to join her in the room and he asks for just a second, “I’ve gotta go back, they’re getting her into position, apparently she’s close. Just let them know, okay?” He pauses a second, “Yeah, I love you, too. Tell Erica to drive, you sound freaked out. She’s a nurse, have her talk you down from your panic attack.” He laughs, and Liam can only imagine what Laura’s said.

 

A moment later Liam watches, feeling helpless, as his dad walks down the hallway--following the nurse.

 

Derek comes back out into the waiting room within an hour, his face grim, just as Laura and Erica arrive. “What’s going on,” Laura demands, and Derek loses it. She has him in her arms in a moment, and whispers, “Dee, you’re scaring Liam. What’s going on?”

 

“There...there’s been a complication,” Derek sniffs, eyes over bright and red-rimmed, and Gramps demands to know if something’s wrong with the baby. Derek shakes his head ‘no’. “The baby is fine...she came out perfect. Stiles got some amniotic fluid in her blood, and they’re moving her to ICU to treat and monitor her.”

 

Laura shoots a questioning glance in Erica’s direction and when Liam turns to look at Erica as well he finds that she looks upset by the news. The world goes hazy around him, and Liam hardly takes in the torrents of sound. There’s been a complication. There’s been a complication. There’s been a complication. Continuously it echoes in Liam’s mind.

 

He’s not sure when he wandered into the chapel, but Liam’s in the small space, sitting in one of the hard little pews with his hands in his hair.

 

Mom was lifeless looking when he saw her, too pale as he stood in her door, afraid to touch her, afraid to jostle the ivs or the oxygen mask over her face. He could hear Erica talking to the doctor, something about transfusions and Mom’s heart. Liam didn’t really listen. He just kept thinking that this wasn’t how today was supposed to go.

 

He says as much now, “This isn’t how Mom’s supposed to die.” A few tears slide down his cheeks, and he sucks in a sob that rings through this empty space. “Please don’t let her go.” He remembers how absolutely devastated Gramps looked as he stared helplessly at Mom. Liam has never seen Gramps helpless. He’s always been the rock, and now he’s as frail as the rest of them. Derek hadn’t seemed much better, he stayed crouched beside Mom, his hand never leaving hers--eyes fixated to her face, searching for small nuances or clues for how to make it right.

 

“Please don’t let my mom die,” Liam pleads, his eyes stinging as he falls to his knees, “She’s my mom, I don’t know what I’d do without her, I don’t know what my sister will do without her. She’s the glue that holds this family together--we need her here.”

 

Jackson

 

He finds Liam in the hallway, Brett and Mason plastered to both of his sides--whispering calming words to him as they huddle closer. His nephew’s eyes keep flashing between glowing wolf eyes and their natural human blue; Jackson can tell he’s barely holding onto his sanity--his anchor to humanity.

 

Jordan and Lydia are talking with Dad, Laura, Erica, and Derek’s parents. Derek is nowhere to be seen, but Jackson is willing to bet his life that Derek is with Stiles. He bypasses them all, nodding to them as he goes, and only bothers to ask Dad to point him in the direction of Stiles’s room. Dad does so with a sad expression that breaks Jackson’s heart.

 

Derek’s on his knees, pleading with Stiles when Jackson comes into the room. “I’ll give you anything you want, I’ll quit ball, I’ll make Liam go to school closer to us, anything Stiles. Just, please, don’t die.”

 

Jackson puts a hand on Derek’s shoulder, in a faint echo of the familial love and friendship they once shared, and he says, “Stiles is a Stilinski, she’s tough as hell and she will get through this.”

 

He’s not sure if he’s saying it more for Derek or for himself.

 

Jordan

 

Making Lydia go home is about as easy as convincing a shark to go vegan, but she needs to get a shower and some sleep. It’s been a long twelve hours, and it’s only growing longer. “What if she...what if she,” Lydia repeats, unable to bring herself to say what they all know could happen, “I won’t forgive myself if I’m not here.”

 

“I know how you feel, but you aren’t helping her by making yourself sick.” Lydia looks ready to argue, or physically fight him, but deflates when Erica and Laura offer to give her a ride. They’re leaving for now, to shower and sleep, as well as they can with the constant worry, before they make the drive back--to wait and hope together.

 

He wishes he could make Liam go, but Jordan knows Liam won’t leave. Neither will Dad, Jordan, or Jackson. Stilinskis stay together, they hurt together, they survive together. Even when they can’t stand one another they know that family is all they’ve got.

 

Talia and Deucalion sit with Liam when his friends have to leave--going unwillingly, but Liam insists because they have jobs and responsibilities. He mentions that Stiles would whoop their asses if they got fired because she was a little sick; all that gets is a couple of weak smiles in return.

 

Liam presses himself into Talia’s side, half burying himself in her hair and she looks momentarily surprised. Jordan is not, in this room she is the only woman, and is a mother and right now Liam needs that the most.

 

“I just want my mom to be okay,” he whispers and Jordan watches as Talia shoots Deucalion a worried glance, a questioning glance.

 

Then it is Deucalion brushing a hand through Liam’s hair, as a soothing whisper falls from his lips, “They are doing everything they can, and your mother is tough as nails. She’s going to survive this.” Deucalion’s eyes are bright when he adds, “She has to.” He never says why she has to survive, Jordan can read the worry in Deucalion’s tense shoulders. Derek’s parents can see what this will do to their son, emotionally, and like any parents they do not want such devastation to befall their child.

 

John

 

“Come as soon as you get this,” is what he’d said at the end of his message a few hours prior, but John’s not so sure the message will be received.

 

He’s at the coffee station, pouring himself a twelfth cup of this strong sludge they’re trying to pass off as coffee, when the elevator dings and his shoulders tense. The years have not changed her scent, nor have they diminished her startling beauty, he finds, when he turns to face her. John would be lying if he said he didn’t know down to the exact hour the moment his wife left. He’d felt it, through some force, and he thrummed with the ache of her loss. That’s what love does to a wolf; it ruins them.

 

“Claudia,” he whispers, “You got my message.”

 

She nods, her hair is a wet mess and it’s only now that he notices a heavy rain has blanketed the outside of the hospital. “Where is she,” Claudia’s voice is higher than he remembers, tinged with desperation and John shakes himself from his staring when he hears the sound.

 

When they enter Stiles’s room Jackson and Jordan glance up. Derek’s still holding onto Stiles’s hand, still softly begging her to wake up. John doesn’t pay attention, the words fill him with sorrow and will begin to steal what little hope he holds if he takes in their underlying meaning.

 

“Stiles,” Claudia starts, voice full of tears as she approaches Stiles’s bed, “Darling, I’m so sorry.” Then her fingers curl over Stiles’s free hand while Claudia’s other hand brushes against Stiles’s hair. “I should’ve called you, I should’ve said this to you sooner, but I was so scared to look at you--to see you hate me, and right now I’d give anything to have you scream at me.” John feels his eyes grow hot, damp, and he turns away. “I need you to wake up, baby...your children need you to wake up.” Claudia sobs, her hold on Stiles’s hand tighter but not bruising, “I should’ve been your mom even when it was hard. Jackson’s told me so much about you. How wonderful you are with Liam, how absolutely perfect he’s become because of you. And I feel like I failed you. I should’ve taught you how to be a better mom, or maybe if I’d have stuck around you could’ve showed me how to be better at the job.” Her laugh is a choked sound, and a few tears fall despite John trying to keep his cheeks dry. “You grew up so pretty; I see so much of your father in you,” Claudia whispers, leaning in to drop a kiss to Stiles’s clammy forehead.

 

When Claudia moves to pull back from Stiles does so with a scream, and that’s when the machines start going off, causing everyone in the room to panic when a team of nurses and doctors flood into the small space.

 

“Mrs. Hale,” one of the doctor’s wrongly addresses Stiles, who is pulling at the tube in her throat, “I’m going to need you to sit still while we remove your breathing tube, your throat is going to be rather sore but you’ll be fine in a few days.”

 

It’s a few minutes before they get Stiles situated, and she’s still rather weak looking, too pale and disheveled, but alive. Thankfully, alive.  

 

Talia

 

Stiles is sitting up in the room when she follows Liam and Deucalion in. There’s a slight smile on Stiles’s chapped lips and her voice sounds raw when she says, “Where’s my babies? One I have to hold to bond with and the other I need to hold to reassure that he’s not getting rid of me that damn easy.”

 

Liam is beside her in an instant, kneeling near her bed so she can stroke his cheek, “Hey, baby,” she whispers, “I’m right here. Momma’s not going anywhere.”

 

“Good,” Liam replies, voice thick, “You aren’t allowed to die.”

 

“Now where’s your sister,” Stiles demands, “I think it’s about time she and I were introduced.” Her wink is for show, Talia sees the way Stiles’s smile trembles.

 

Laura

 

Liam is holding the baby when they return, while Derek sits near Stiles’s bed, arguing about names. It seems surreal to her that only a few hours ago this scene was horrifyingly different.

 

“I think you should name her Zula,” Liam says and both Stiles and Derek shoot him a look. When he notices he blushes and says, “I think she just looks like a Zula.”

 

“Zula Angelou Stilinski,” Stiles tries out, and with a laugh says, “Sure, sounds weird enough.”

 

“Angelou,” Laura questions at the same time Derek says, “Stilinski?” Both of them wear matching frowns, and if Laura was paying proper attention she’d tell him to quit copying her. Like the bossy older sister she is.

 

“Liam’s a Stilinski, Zula will be a Stilinski,” Stiles says matter-of-factly at Derek, then she turns to Laura, “And Angelou is part of a long standing tradition, all Stilinski kids bear middle names that are the last names of poets who inspired us during our pregnancies...well my mom started the tradition. That’s why Jordan’s a Parrish, Jackson’s a Whittemore, and I’m a...not telling.” She looks betrayed when Derek whispers Plath, “Anyways...,” Stiles says with an exaggerated tone, “I was being a typical hormonal woman and consumed a lot of Maya Angelou while pregnant with this kid.”

 

“You’re such a weirdo,” Laura and Derek chorus in unison, then share a look and laugh.

 

“Fuck you both,” Stiles comments without heat. Then she flops against the bed, and says, “When the fuck are they going to let me out of here?”

 

John

 

Claudia is down the hall. Saying goodbye to the boys. They take turns hugging her, and she clings harder to Jordan since he’s been gone from her life longer. John hangs back, waving to her when she raises her slim hand to signal her departure. Claudia’s eyes are full of anguish, warm brown, and it hurts him to see her that way, still. Stiles wasn’t happy to see Claudia when she finally took stock of her surroundings, but she also wasn’t hateful. She told her mom she needed some time, and allowed Claudia to hug her briefly before she left. None of them expected sudden professions of forgiveness or undying love, and so now John watches Claudia go--out of his life again.

 

He realizes as he watches her go that maybe it’s time to finally close that chapter of his life.

 

“Hey, old man,” Stiles smiles when he wanders into the hospital room. Laura and Erica are on their way out. Talia and Deucalion left a few hours ago, Derek’s still on the phone with Cora. Stella and Alisha stopped by to meet the baby earlier--both had brittle smiles and red rimmed eyes, but the expressions slipped away when Derek hugged them. Now, it’s winding down to just them. Stiles, Derek, Liam, Zula, and John. She’s not giving him up for anything, he knows, and nearly losing her makes him reevaluate his own priorities.

 

“Hey, kiddo,” he says with a gentle smile, “Can I talk to you a minute?” Derek picks up on the silent cue, and jerks his head at Liam who hadn’t quite got it.

 

“Do you want me to take the...” Liam trails off, unsure of the baby’s name.

 

“Zula,” Stiles whispers, and John doesn’t miss the honored, happy expression that flits across Liam’s face. “And you can take her with you. Let her bond with her big brother,” Stiles whispers, and then makes a shooing motion. When they are out the door, Stiles looks at him with concern, “What’s up, Daddy-o?”

 

“I’m putting the house up for sale.” John regrets not having a camera when her jaw drops.  

 

“Why?”

 

“Seeing you almost die, that put some things into perspective for me.” She is about to interrupt, so John holds up a staying hand. “It’s a house, Stiles, away from what’s important to your family--as well as mine. My sons are in this city, your son, your mate’s work.” Then he adds, “And that’s the life I bought with your mother, an unrealized dream--I don’t want you to decay within those walls, too.”

 

Her eyes are wet with emotion when John steps closer to her bed, allowing her to wrap her spindly arms around his waist. “I’m not too proud to ask Derek to house me along with you guys. My life is with you, with your brothers, and my grandchildren.”

 

“So we’re really moving?” She sounds hopeful, and John counts that as a blessing.

 

Derek

 

“Be careful,” he chides, catching the frame Stiles holds haphazardly while Zula sleeps against her chest, wrapped in one of those overly-vibrant wraps Stiles always insists on wearing the baby in.

 

“Please,” Stiles rolls her eyes, “I know how to do things while holding a baby.”

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Derek huffs, “I just don’t want you hurting yourself.”

 

She glares daggers at him, “I’m not made of fucking glass, Derek.”

 

“No one said you are,” he tries, but she’s not buying it and he releases another sigh. Checking around them to see if Liam, John, or Jordan are in earshot, before he presses closer. “I just...I see you in my dreams, sometimes. Still and white as death and it makes me fucking crazy.”

 

Her brown eyes take on that pained softness she’s always been good at wearing--empathy is Stiles’s best feature. She doesn’t possess the cunning to use an expression for emotional manipulation; Stiles is too giving for all that, but even so he feels broken when she looks at him with those eyes. “It’s okay, I’m not going to die, Derek--not any time soon.”

 

“You can’t,” he husks, lips catching against the skin of her temple. “If you were to die the world would blur, color would fade from my surroundings, and...shit. I would die, too, a part of me would leave with you.”

 

She pulls him to her, her hands winding through his hair as she drags his mouth to hers. Licking into him, devouring him in a way that’s claiming. Derek remains mindful of Zula, who rustles in her wrap, while Stiles feeds him her emotions through her kiss. He can taste a myriad of feelings on her tongue. The most tangible of them all being her love.

 

Stiles

 

Dad is out with Liam and Jackson, watching the Mets game Isaac invited them all to as a gesture of goodwill. Stiles was surprised when Derek didn’t so much as blink--Laura’s said they were close friends before he put his dick into Stiles, and they seem to be getting back to that place. Isaac’s dating a model, some glamorous blonde with a megawatt smile, Derek says it’s serious and Stiles is truly glad. Derek’s never been super close with people outside of his pack and hers, she wants him to have friends he can rely on and she knows for a fact Isaac is a reliable sort of guy.

 

“Why did you fuck him?” Derek asks her between slow, tantalizing kisses. Zula is with Laura, Erica, Talia, Deucalion, and Cora--who is visiting to celebrate their housewarming. Stiles was nervous to let her go, but Laura promised to bring her home as soon as the sun rises. You guys need sleep. Sleep isn’t happening. Not until Derek devours her, and exhausts himself in her skin.

 

“Fuck who,” she sits up on her elbows, on their faux fur rug that Lydia insisted on for their formal living space. Stiles let her have her way, complaining about the stupid thing when Jordan brought it inside, but now she’s enjoying the soft feel of it against her bare back and bottom.

 

“Isaac,” Derek says, and she’s surprised he’s managing to keep the growl out of his voice despite the fact she can feel the prick of his claws against her hip and watches as his eyes bleed into red. Stiles is loathe to admit that his possessiveness sends a thrill through her--she’s always had a thing for the possessiveness of wolves.

 

“To see if I could forget you,” she’s honest, and tilts her head back when he moves to press a claiming bite to her throat. His fangs never pierce the skin, but they hover there, points sharp against the soft flesh. “He’s nearly as famous, almost as talented, about as attractive, equally kind, and super funny...yet, the almost’s, nearly’s, and about’s undid me.” She traces the strong line of Derek’s throat, her fingers following the path of his hard, broad shoulders, and then back up into his hair. “When he fucked me it felt wrong. Good, but not great. Deep but not the soul-branding intensity I feel with you.”

 

“Did he make you come?”

 

“No, I came, but I came to the thought of you.” She pulls him into her, digging her heels into the hard muscles of his ass to guide him into her needy, wet cunt. “Fuck,” Stiles hisses, rocking up against him. “I came to the memory of your claws in my hips, your fangs in my neck, the burn of your beard against my tits, the slide of your tongue over my clit.” Derek growls into her; the sound a rumble through her where he’s buried within her. “What about when you fucked her, Derek?” She squeezes around him, while she pants filthy sounds against his ear. “Did you fuck her and feel my cunt? Did you eat her and taste me?” There’s a bit of possession in Stiles, too.

 

“When she dyed her hair dark brown I only fucked her from behind,” he confides.

 

“Why,” she doesn’t have to ask. Stiles already knows.

 

“I could almost convince myself she was you--I’d wind my hands in her hair, and I’d stay so quiet while I fucked her,” he slowly rotates his hips, canting slowing in and out of Stiles--creating a delicious friction between them. “But in my mind I was whispering wants against your asshole, tasting every little bend and fold of your body,” he drives particularly deep, “I’d imagine digging my teeth into you. I’d get my claws in your meat. I’d fuck you til you were swollen and over-sensitive, but still begging for more.”

 

“What did I beg for,” she pants, trying to pull him closer still, melding their skin--shivering at the slide of skin against skin as sweat pools between them.

 

“My everything.”

 

“I want everything, Derek,” she shares sloppy, uncoordinated kisses with him, “I want your good days, your bad days, I want your past, your present, and future. I want the smell of you in my skin.”

 

“I’ll fuck you full of my smell,” Derek promises. He never disappoints. Fucking her through her first orgasm, before he pulls out--dropping his head between her thighs to make her twitch with a shiver from over stimulation.

 

“Derek,” she whines, and he flips her to her stomach, commanding that she get on all fours. His hair winds into her long hair with one hand, with the other guides his cock into her swollen cunt.

 

“Fuck, you’re so goddamn wet for me,” he growls, and she clamps around him--her body telling him how much she wants this. When he starts with fast, deep, hard thrusts Stiles lets out a keening whine. He responds by gripping her hair and hip tighter as he uses them for leveraging into her with deeper, harder thrusts. “I want you to say my name when you come,” he commands with a tone that’s not quite human, when she’s close and Stiles promises to do so.

 

Her eyes are wet from the force of her orgasm and her voice is raw, fucked out, when she cries his name. Derek follows her a couple of thrusts later, his teeth in the skin of her shoulder as he fills her with hot come.

 

“I love you,” he pants, kissing the healing cuts from his teeth.

 

“Of course you do.”

 

Liam

 

“Hold her steady, Mom,” Liam directs, while he gets into position with his selfie stick. Mom’s got ahold of Zula, between him and Derek--both of whom have their fangs dropped and wolf eyes on--and she’s rolling her eyes at them right as the picture snaps.

 

“Is it a good one?” Derek asks while Mom complains about how they are both absolute children.

 

“I think so,” Liam shows him, and Derek’s grin is so wide it crinkles the skin at the corner of his eyes.

 

“Definitely Twitter worthy,” Derek confirms while Mom pulls her tit out to feed Zula--Liam looks hastily away.

 

Liam retweets his tweet that started it all, before he posts the newest picture of their family. “I wish I could say I regret that first tweet to you,” he says to Derek, and then captions his newest tweet with something similar, “But, I am thankful everyday that this is where that one tweet led us.”

 

“I am, too, Liam,” Derek pulls him into a hug, “I can’t make up those years I missed, but I want to spend the rest of my life loving you, and your mom, and your sister to try and give you all what you deserve.”

 

“Thanks, Dad,” Liam watches the way Derek’s eyes go wide, and has to glance away for a moment when he sees the heartbreaking way Derek smiles.

 

“Thank you, Liam,” Dad says in response, voice warbling a slight bit before Mom ruins the mood by calling out to them.

 

“Come’on Golden Girls, we’ve got to meet our ragtag pack for our weekly lunch.”

 

“I’m telling Grandma Talia you called her ragtag,” Liam threatens and Mom’s smile is positively evil when she replies.

 

“She loves me; Talia thinks I’m an absolute treasure and in the event of a divorce she’d keep me.” She looks too smug and proud over that assumption.

 

Dad snorts, “Yeah, you’d have to be married for that to be a plausible scenario.”

 

“Derek Hale, are you askin’?” Mom bats her long, dark lashes, adopting a horrible southern belle’s accent.

 

“Depends, are you saying yes?” Dad counters.

 

“I’m not the marrying type, Mister Hale, but if I were to marry, it’d be you.” She laces their fingers together, and Liam smiles when he watches the way their eyes meet--there’s a joy he never wants to see leave his mother or his father.

 

“I love you,” Dad says.

 

“I know,” Mom replies, winking just before Dad pulls her in for a kiss. Liam snaps a shot of it for his Instagram.

 

The caption beneath it reading:

 

Where care shall be quiet,

And love shall run riot,

And I shall find wealth in my friends;

Then truce to the story,

Of riches and glory;

There's the place where the rainbow ends.

 

Art for We Wear the Mask 

flamewarrior's art

heavenorspace's art