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Our Hearts Are Tigers

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This is what Stiles figures out after a week of harboring Isaac: he’s kind of a dick, for a ten-year-old.

Which is fine. Stiles can be an asshole himself sometimes, he knows this.

So when Isaac claws the crap out of his living room couch with a smug, defiant tilt to his chin, Stiles just shakes his head and says, “You realize I live with a dragon, right?” Marigold isn’t much of a dragon, in terms of size, but Stiles is on his third garden shed this year alone, is what he’s saying; they all breathe fire, no matter how small they are.

Isaac says, “You live with a cat,” but he doesn’t sound so sure. His voice wavers at the end, and he darts his gaze to where Marigold is watching them from on top of the fridge.

“Do I?” Stiles will say this for Marigold: she’s occasionally a cat when she wants to be. Dragons are tricky like that.

Isaac frowns and crosses stick-thin arms across his chest. He still has a worrying bruise high on his cheekbone – wolves are supposed to heal quick, especially the young ones, and Stiles doesn’t like to think too hard on what all Isaac’s lingering injuries imply. He’s thought about it before—he has, which is why he’s harboring a runaway instead of bringing him to the attention of Alpha Hale, but the thought of anyone’s parent heaping that sort of abuse—he gets a lump in his throat and a watery welling in his eyes that Isaac’s clenched jaw and tensioned-filled shoulders tell Stiles wouldn’t be welcome.

Isaac’s also ridiculously grown-up, for a ten-year-old.

“You’re lying,” Isaac says.

Stiles smiles. “Am I?”

Isaac narrows his eyes. “Yes,” he says after a long moment, and Stiles doesn’t miss the barely perceptible flinch Isaac gives when Stiles takes a step forward, hand out to squeeze Isaac’s shoulder.

Stiles very carefully touches Isaac’s arm, ignoring the way Isaac fidgets and slips away after barely a second of contact. It’s unnatural, even Stiles knows this; wolves are tactile in ways that border on obscene.

“Okay,” Stiles says. “We’ll see,” and makes his way into the kitchen to cook dinner.

*

Stiles and Alpha Derek Hale have a long-standing working relationship that involves a lot of disgruntlement and helpless pining – mostly on the Stiles’ side, although Derek does heap a fairly large amount of disgruntlement on Stiles along with all the burning hatred.

Derek hates witches. This is a fundamental truth, since a witch burned most of Derek’s family alive. He views Stiles as a necessary evil of sorts, though, given that he regularly visits him for the sake of Stiles’ magical wisdom. And his wards. It’s mostly his wards, probably. And that shit with the ogres. And there was that time with the fairies, but neither one of them like to talk about that.

“Stiles,” Derek says, pushing inside his cottage before Stiles can do much more than flap a hand.

“Derek, welcome,” Stiles says. “Come on in, have some tea. I may or may not have laced it with wolfsbane, but I’m willing to risk it if you are.”

Derek gives him a withering glare. “I need a locator spell.”

Stiles automatically starts pulling ingredients out of his cupboard, nods to Derek to lift down the pot hanging over the stove – he’s done it often enough that he doesn’t even give Stiles the flat eyebrows of doom in response. “What for?”

“Lahey pack is missing a kid.”

Stiles hands freeze for a split-second over a jar of dried forget-me-nots before he breathes out and reaches for more larkspurs. He concentrates on keeping his heartbeat nice and even; he’s had years to hone his lying skills on Scott.

“And you care why?” Derek doesn’t have a pack, not really. He’s saved from omega status by the presence of Scott, even if they both refuse to acknowledge each other as blood.

Derek knocks Stiles hands aside, sliding the large pot in front of him. “His scent stops just inside Beacon Hills.”

Ah, right. Stiles clears his throat. He certainly isn’t going to tell Derek why the scent stops just inside of Beacon Hills. Stiles’ cottage is just inside Beacon Hills. He doesn’t know why Derek hasn’t put two and two together yet, he’s not dumb, but Stiles isn’t going to give him any reason to now. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Derek’s tone is just short of mocking.

“Do you have anything of his?” Stiles says.

Derek tugs a small scrap of fabric out of his pocket – a slash of red, a piece of the shirt Isaac had been wearing when he’d shown up on Stiles’ porch, drenched and shivering. Stiles had found him curled up in a ball, fangs out and snapping even as Stiles bullied him as gently as he could into a warm blanket in front of the fire. There’d been a lot of blood, even with the rain.

Stiles blinks and shakes himself out of his thoughts, plucking the fabric out of Derek’s fingers and flashing him a smile he doesn’t feel.

Derek’s mouth is flat. “What—”

“Working!” Stiles cuts him off, turning back to his pot. He smoothes the piece of t-shirt out onto the worn wood with the flat of his palm.

“You’re lying.”

“What, I’m not working?” He gestures to his table, the ingredients neatly laid out. “As you can see—”

Derek grabs his chin and Stiles squawks as he’s jerked around to face Derek again. “You’re lying.”

Stiles stares into Derek’s eyes, the flash of red drying up his throat. Derek is inherently a good guy, Stiles believes that, even if Life doesn’t seem to realize that and cut him some slack. “If I asked you to trust me,” Stiles says slowly, “would you?”

Derek doesn’t answer. Not like Stiles expected him too, but it would’ve been nice.

“Right. I don’t think I can help you today,” Stiles says. He tries for flippant, but he really needs some head movement to pull that off, and Derek isn’t letting go.

“Stiles,” Derek says with a menacing growl. “If you know where he is—”

“I’d have a good reason for not telling you. If I knew, that is.” Stiles can feel the prick of Derek’s lengthening claws along his jaw.

Derek’s gaze slips from his face, takes in the small kitchen, the open doorway to the den. He exhales loudly and drops his hand, curling it into a fist. “This isn’t over.”

“Of course not,” Stiles says, gathering his composure, straightening his back so they’re nearly the same height.

With an unreadable look, Derek allows him to push at his arm, herding him toward the door.

“Nice to see you, have a good day,” Stiles says when he’s out on the porch, and then he slams the door shut in his face, sagging back against the wood. “Crap.”

Isaac slinks out of the shadows of the den and Stiles holds a finger up to his lips – the wooden planks creak as Derek makes his way down them with deliberate steps, and Stiles heart feels a little lighter. Derek isn’t going to mention this to Lahey, he’s fairly certain.

He says, “Everything’s going to be okay,” and he almost believes it.

*

Isaac is too thin and eats almost constantly and barely sleeps.

When he does sleep, Stiles can hear the whimpers from down the hall. He sneaks into the spare room and crawls up onto the bed and pets Isaac’s head until he relaxes down into the crook of Stiles’ neck, and neither of them talk about it come morning.

*

When Stiles’ dad shows up, Stiles doesn’t even bother hiding Isaac.

Isaac sits at the kitchen table and scowls at Stiles’ dad and kicks at the table leg.

Stiles’ dad ignores him except to ruffle his golden curls as he walks by.

Stiles’ dad is the best.

Later, he pulls Stiles aside on the porch and says, “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“So you’re not going to bring me in for kidnapping?”

Stiles’ dad gives him a look. A fond and disdainful look, it’s one Stiles knows well. “There’s something not-right in that kid’s heart,” he says, and then he smacks the back of Stiles’ head and says, “Don’t get arrested for kidnapping. I’m trusting you on this.”

“At least someone does,” Stiles mutters to himself.

Stiles’ dad just says, “Fix this,” and Stiles knows he’s not going to be able to hide Isaac away forever.

*

Isaac’s in the middle of a hissy fit when Marigold first changes in front him, gold scales rippling out of her orange fur.

He’s screaming at nothing, wolfed out and tearing at his fur and Stiles has his arms wrapped around him, even as Isaac squirms and rages and doesn’t come close to cutting Stiles’, not once – he’s so careful about it that Stiles squeezes him even more, tucks him tightly into his chest and keeps his breath even on the back of his neck, holds on until Isaac’s tired-out and sobbing, breathing wet and heavy on the stone floor.

Marigold spreads her wings and glides down to cock an eye in Isaac’s face, curious.

The sobs, pants of breath, become a roll of low laughter, reluctantly delighted, surprised - he sniffles and lifts a hand, curls his fingers into his palm when Marigold steams them pink in a puff of smoke.

“You weren’t lying,” Isaac says, voice hoarse.

“No,” Stiles says, and relaxes his hold as Isaac slumps into him. The stones are cold under his ass, but he doesn’t move.

Marigold climbs into Isaac’s lap, pokes her sharp muzzle into his chin.

“She’s more demanding as a dragon, I should warn you,” Stiles says, and scritches behind Marigold’s ear – she’s mostly a cat when she wants to appear aloof. Stiles suspects she’s been silently judging Isaac from afar, carefully weighing his worthiness until she decided to love him unconditionally. This is what she’d done to Stiles, hidden from him for five days after he’d first found her, all skin and bones, rooting through his trash.

“She’s wonderful,” Isaac says, awestruck, and Marigold preens under the attention, blinks sly green eyes at him and chirrups, resettling her soft, leathery wings along her sides.

“Now you’ll never get rid of her.”

“Why would you want to?” Isaac says, sitting up, wrapping his arms around her small, plump body.

Marigold coughs out a hairball and takes the veneer off two of Stiles’ lower cabinets. “Well, that. For one.”

Isaac just laughs, looser than before, and pulls her closer.

*

By the second week, Isaac has gone from being sullen ninety percent of the time to maybe eighty. Eighty-five, at the max, and Stiles gives himself a pat on the back for it, even though he knows it’s mostly Marigold’s doing.

Marigold loves Isaac. She follows him everywhere around the house, and Isaac doesn’t even care when she gets over-excited and singes the curls off his hair.

But then Isaac attacks him with a stealth hug in the kitchen, wraps his arms tight around Stiles’ middle, and Stiles places light hands on his back while Isaac’s watery, “Thanks,” gets muffled by his chest.

*

Stiles hikes through the woods to the Hale house and knocks on the door. He yells, “I know you’re in there,” when no one answers, even though he doesn’t know. It’s worth a shot.

After five minutes of knocking he sits down on the front stoop to wait.

Five minutes after that, Derek sits down next to him.

Stiles stares out into the nearly-bare trees, rubs his hands together to ward off a chill, and listens to Derek’s steady, even breath.

“I think it’s his dad,” Stiles says finally. He glances sideways to see Derek frowning at him, a crease in his brow.

“Who?”

“His dad. Isaac’s dad.” Stiles chews on his lower lip. “He won’t say, exactly, but he’s terrified of him, I know it. I’m not giving him back.”

Derek doesn’t say anything, just nods.

“I mean it,” Stiles says. He’s kept Isaac’s scent from the whole town for weeks; he can do it for longer, with or without Derek’s help.

“I know,” Derek says. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Stiles nods, feels the tight, anxious band around his heart loosen – there’s not much, Stiles realizes, that he won’t do for Isaac, but it’s nice to have some back up.

Derek nudges his knee against his and Stiles completely fails at stopping his heart from skipping a beat; it’s pathetic, but Derek doesn’t give any sign that he’s noticed.

“How are you masking his scent?” Derek says.

Stiles does jazz hands. “Magic.”

Derek’s mouth turns sour. “I’m serious.”

Stiles shrugs. “It only works within my wards.”

“You have wards around all of Beacon Hills?” Derek says, face falling blank.

“Hey! This is as much my territory as it is yours.” Stiles provides the defense while Derek’s on the attack. This is how they work; Stiles thought Derek would’ve figured that out by now.

“No, I just—” Derek lifts a shoulder, like he’s shamed, and it’s the weirdest movement Stiles has ever seen him make – Derek is all tight, stiff lines and disapproving brows, Derek never uses any forgiving body language, not in all the years Stiles has known him.

It makes him nervous.

Stiles fidgets with the ends of his scarf. “I should, uh—”

“Stiles.” Derek’s hand closes over his, warm and calloused. “We’ll figure something out.”

Stiles bobs his head, swallows hard. “Right. Right, I know.”

*

Scott and Isaac get along famously.

Stiles silently stews in the back garden, weeding, watching Scott and Isaac rough-house in the yard, hearing Isaac’s ringing laughter with a slow simmer of jealousy. It’s stupid, because Scott is so easy with everyone except Derek it borders on ridiculous, and Isaac doesn’t have to be careful with another wolf, and of course they love each other instantly. Of course.

Stiles accidentally yanks on a nettle, cursing under his breath at the little pricks of blood on the pads of his fingers. He swipes them on his pants.

“Stiles,” Isaac says from above him, mouth turned down in worry.

“It’s fine, just tender,” Stiles says, but Isaac reaches out and touches the side of his neck and the slight throbbing of his fingers all but disappears and how weird is that? Stiles stares at him, wide-eyed, as a big, sunny smile breaks out over Isaac’s face.

He says, “I did it, Scott!” and Scott comes up behind him, squeezes his shoulders.

“Good job, buddy,” Scott says.

Stiles says, “That’s pretty neat, kid,” and Isaac smiles, impossibly, even wider.

*

“Did you hear about Allison? You’re going to be an uncle!”

Derek pauses on the top step of Stiles’ porch. “You realize Scott and I aren’t actually brothers, right?”

“Brothers, brother-wolves, practically the same thing,” Stiles says, waving a dismissive hand. Just because they don’t get along now doesn’t mean that once upon a time they weren’t family in all the ways that counted. Scott’s a bitten Hale, even if he was unrelated as a human.

Derek scowls, but doesn’t bother arguing with him about it. Derek hardly ever has enough words to argue about anything.

The thing with Derek is that he never wanted to be Alpha, never wanted a pack after the fire – never wanted to live, really, and Stiles has so many problems with that. He’s never had any solutions before, but now he has Isaac and he has the lure of baby wolf McCall; Scott can be a dumbass, but he’s got to realize the benefits of having a full, real pack, the stability of it.

And then Derek ruins all of Stiles good mood by saying, “You need to give me Isaac. I’m taking him back.”

Stiles heart climbs up to pound in his throat; his entire body breaks out in an instant cold sweat. “What—no! Are you crazy?”

Derek clenches his jaw. “If Lahey crosses into Beacon Hills he’ll take him, anyway.”

“What are you talking about?” Stiles says, high and panicked.

“His pack, Stiles. Isaac is the Alpha’s son. His pack will try to tear us apart if they know we took him. Think.”

“I am thinking! I’m thinking you’re insane if you—I’m not letting anyone take Isaac, not you or his dad or—his pack—”

“Stiles,” Derek says, growling. He takes a menacing step forward, claws bared, and Stiles knows Derek would never really hurt him, but he can’t control the spike of fear, either - the fear that Derek is going to take Isaac from him, give him back to his bastard of a father—and then Isaac is flying out of nowhere, all teeth and claws.

Isaac screams, “No!” and barrels into Derek from the side.

There is nothing more horrifying, Stiles thinks, than watching Derek deftly manhandle Isaac, clasping wrists, hooking an arm around his waist – he doesn’t hurt Isaac, not physically, but as he hauls him down the porch steps, face unreadable, lips thin, ears deaf to Isaac’s sobs, he’s pretty sure he’s broken him in more dangerous ways; there’s a defeated, terrible slump to Isaac as he turns his face into Derek’s neck.

Derek whispers something Stiles can’t hear, watches as Isaac shakes his head back and forth, slow, listens, heartbroken, to the deep warning rumble in Derek’s chest.

Stiles spends a long, stunned minute staring at the empty space where they used to be, at the sway of leaves and brush at the edge of the forest—and then he takes off after them.

*

Wolves are faster than Stiles in every way except one: he clasps the tattered piece of Isaac’s red shirt in his left hand and wishes, sometimes Stiles’ magic is as simple as that.

“Derek, wait!” Stiles shouts when he spots them weaving between the trees ahead of him. “You can’t do this.”

Derek sighs, expansive and noticeable along his back, and sets Isaac down. He clasps Isaac’s shoulder, turning to look at Stiles, and Isaac’s face is tear-streaked but calm.

Stiles clenches his hands into fists. “Derek.”

“Stiles,” Derek says wearily. “Do you trust me?”

Stiles says, “Yes,” without hesitation, watches the flash of surprise that Derek doesn’t bother hiding. He says, “Yes,” again, “of course I do.”

Derek stares at him, like that should be enough. And it is; that’s the problem. It totally is. Derek doesn’t really trust Stiles with anything other than a little light spellwork, but Stiles is going to trust Derek with Isaac’s entire life – that’s a given.

“What are you going to do?” Stiles says, resigned.

Derek’s eyes flash red. “Whatever I have to.”

*

What Derek has to do is, apparently, is to rip Isaac’s father’s throat out. There’s a lot of blood and screaming.

And it’s not really that easy, of course, but the Lahey pack turns out to be mostly a ragtag group of malcontents, no one makes a serious effort to stop Derek from challenging the Alpha – most of them look like they want to help, it gives Stiles some small measure of satisfaction.

Mostly, though, Stiles is kind of horrified; Isaac is clinging to him, crying, and Stiles doesn’t think Derek thought this entirely through. Isaac is ten. He probably loved his dad, despite everything.

“Couldn’t you have done this without Isaac here?” Stiles says in a furious hiss, because Isaac is nearly inconsolable, face buried in Stiles’ neck, and Derek still has blood all over his hands.

Derek’s face falls momentarily before he schools his eyebrows back into a flat line. “No.”

“Whatever,” Stiles says, wrapping both arms around Isaac’s back and tugging him closer, “I’m taking Isaac home.”

*

Isaac doesn’t talk about it. Stiles knows they should, or Isaac should; something should be said, to promote healing or whatever. But Isaac just cries his little heart out, curled up next to Stiles on the couch – he cries until he’s dried out, and then Stiles makes him drink some water and he cries some more.

Stiles just says, “It’s okay,” when he knows it isn’t, but it will be. Eventually. Of that, he’s sure. Derek is a well-meaning jerk, Stiles knows he had his reasons.

“He tried to make him apologize,” Isaac finally says, voice thick.

“What?”

Isaac tightens his hold on Stiles’ waist. “Before. Derek wanted him to be sorry, but he wasn’t.”

Stiles tightens his hold right back. “I know.” And that’s the heartbreaking thing, right?

“It had to be done,” Isaac says. The words are a little unsure, and Stiles hates that it’s something Derek probably told him, but he doesn’t disagree.

*

Marigold wraps herself around Isaac’s head while he sleeps. She’s a cat - mostly, Stiles suspects, because her wings are sharp and pokey at the ends - and she curls her tail under Isaac’s chin.

Stiles watches from the doorway, leans a shoulder into the jamb. He feels something small and content settle in his chest, heartbeat a heavy, even thud. Peaceful; he feels peaceful, somehow, even with the dried tears still streaking Isaac’s face.

He hopes Lahey rots in Hell.

*

Derek has never wanted a pack, this is true. Scott is weirdly not-pack, because of several ill-advised screaming matches they’d had years ago – Scott can be a stubborn asshole, sometimes, for all that he’s the most affable guy Stiles knows, and Derek is the king of inflexibility, they’d clashed teeth and claws over everything – and all of Derek’s old pack had been family. A family killed by a witch, burned alive – and Stiles has a dragon, it’s little wonder why Derek can’t stand him.

You don’t just get over something like that.

But now Derek has Isaac and the four Boyds and all seven of the Reyes and Josh and Marlin and Miss Caroline, and Derek has to suck it up and take it. Not all of Lahey’s pack had stuck around, but Derek’s basically inherited them; it’s all very traditional, Stiles doesn’t entirely get it, but the sour look on Derek’s face whenever he has to deal with the youngest Boyd is hilarious.

Boyd thinks the full moon rises out of Derek’s ass; he’s six and ridiculously stern-faced. He’ll grow into his feet and hands, one day he’ll be bigger than them all, but for now he’s roughly the size of a Labrador puppy with the biggest dark brown eyes Stiles has ever seen on an apex predator. Derek has absolutely no clue what to do with him.

Stiles clutches at his heart, watching Boyd climb up onto Derek’s lap, big serious eyes surveying the rest of the Welcome to the Hale Pack party like a mini-alpha.

Stiles has no idea what he’s doing there, he’s not pack, but he’s glad he came if only to see that.

Scott is trying to frown disapprovingly, arms crossed, but Allison is laughing at something Mrs. Reyes is saying, hand laying lightly on her belly; there are at least five kids – they seem to be multiplying - tearing all over Derek’s house, screaming, and little Erica Reyes is having a slap fight with Isaac over the last of the crumb cake. It’s impossible to keep a straight face in this house, right now, is what Stiles is saying.

Even Derek’s usual scowl looks a little forced.

Stiles risks giving him a little nudge on the shoulder. He says, “Come on, this is fun. You’re allowed to smile.”

Derek scowls even harder, but it totally doesn’t reach his eyes.

*

Marigold hates Miss Caroline.

Miss Caroline looks like she’s at least three hundred and twelve, her folds have folds and she’s skinny as a birch tree, but she’s sharp-eyed and sharp-mouthed and she makes Stiles brew her tea three times before she deigns to drink it.

Marigold hisses at her from her spot on top of the fridge and Miss Caroline just gives her a flat-eyed stare; a thick line of fur down Marigold’s back sticks straight up – a box of crackers goes up in flames.

“It’s not done, you know,” she says, transferring her stare from Marigold to Stiles.

“Um,” Stiles dumps the charred box into the sink, “what?”

“Isaac. He should be with family.”

Stiles is well aware, from the thirty minute lecture Stiles had endured at Derek’s, that Miss Caroline considers herself Isaac’s family – his mom’s mother’s cousin’s widow, something so obscure it doesn’t even count, as far as Stiles is concerned. He nods absently and adds more crackers to his shopping list, underneath ground beef and salsa for their next taco night.

“At the very least, he should be with pack. I’m sure Derek would take him in.” She’s implying heavily that Stiles is the scum on the bottom of Derek’s shoe.

Stiles wishes he could just kick her out, but Isaac seems to like her. For all that he likes anyone besides Marigold and Erica, these days.

Miss Caroline is sweet with Isaac, too, and that’s another point in her favor, but, look, no one is taking Isaac away from Stiles, not if he can help it. His dad calls him his grandson now, there’s no take backs when that starts happening.

“I appreciate your concern,” Stiles says. He sits down across from her and looks her in the eyes – they flash blue and her mouth tightens, but Stiles doesn’t back down. “But Isaac’s my family. He’s not going anywhere.”

Miss Caroline stares at him, stoic. And then she raps her knuckles on the table and slowly gets to her feet. “All right, then,” she says. “That’s settled.”

And apparently it is.

*

Stiles doesn’t think Isaac does it on purpose, at least not at first.

He breaks a cup in the kitchen, babbles a, “Sorry, sorry, I didn’t mean to,” and Stiles just gently herds him out of the way, sweeps the broken porcelain up, says it’s okay and that he didn’t like that mug anyway.

He spills the giant tin of birdseed all over the porch.

He leaves Stiles’ gardening hoe out in the rain.

Stiles is awesome and understanding and more patient than he has ever been in his entire life.

Isaac feeds Marigold the ham Stiles had thawed out for dinner – and Marigold eats nearly all of it, she’s got poor impulse control, and then she throws up all over Stiles’ bedspread. It’s so gross, but Stiles handles it with motherfucking aplomb.

He’s totally cool with it, with everything.

The paint all over the rug – that feels deliberate, more like when Isaac ruined the couch.

Stiles says, “Dude,” in as disappointed a voice as he can make. Isaac looks equal parts daring and terrified, Stiles doesn’t know whether to walk on eggshells here or send him to his room without dinner.

Stiles is fairly good with kids, he likes to think. This is mostly because Stiles was the worst. Literally the worst, his dad deserves sainthood or a medal or a Number One Dad ribbon or something - Stiles had his normal teenage shenanigans turned up to eleven, what with all the pubescent magic manifestation added in.

He’s kind of out of his depth with Isaac, though. Isaac is pushing all his buttons and he doesn’t know how to react.

After the paint, it’s little things.

The water faucet left on in the bathroom sink, the back door propped open on a rainy day, mud tracks up the stairs, a jar of dried vetch spilled across the counter.

And Stiles manfully ignores every single one of them until he just can’t anymore.

*

Stiles has a green thumb born out of necessity and fostered by blind persistence. Everything he spells with, he grows himself, either in the back garden or the greenhouse he built with his dad, and he’s pretty good at it. He finds the actual act of gardening rewarding and exhausting by turns, both good for his restless soul.

At first, Stiles is too shocked to see Isaac standing there in the middle of the greenhouse, dirt-streaked and sweaty. His throat is tight and all Stiles can think is: Mom’s orchids, and: Jesus Christ that vein of wolfsbane was expensive, and: What kind of animal eats that much fennel? Pots of marjoram and myrtle are cracked and overturned—it looks like a tornado tore through, and for once Stiles doesn’t have enough words—his mother’s orchids.

Isaac’s chest heaves and Stiles narrows his eyes at him, says, “You—” and curls his hands into fists. “How—Isaac, what the hell were you thinking?”

Isaac opens and closes his mouth.

Stiles throws his arms out, tries to encompass everything that Isaac has thoughtlessly destroyed—years of work, of money, of-of love, yes, Stiles had created a lot of this out of love. Stiles rubs a hand over his face, eyes burning. “What am I going to do with you?” he says, voice muffled by his palm, because he clearly has absolutely no clue what to do with him. Stiles sighs and says, “I think you should go hang out in your room for a while until I can figure this mess out, okay?”

Isaac makes a sound like a wounded kitten.

It breaks Stiles’ heart, but Jesus Christ, what the ever-loving crap is going on here?

*

He can salvage some of it. He’s going to have to scrap most of the more delicate plants, but it’ll be fine. He’ll start over from seed, so it won’t be as expensive, and he can replace most of the herbs from Allison’s garden.

The orchids are trashed, but he’s not going to give up on them yet.

It’ll take forever to fix it all, though, and after an hour of sorting through pieces of broken pots he goes back to the house to find Isaac.

Marigold is sitting on the porch railing, watching him. She blinks at him and flicks her tail, like she’s expecting attention, and Stiles obligingly stops to scratch behind her ears. Her motor turns over and it’s entirely possible, Stiles admits idly, rubbing under her chin, that she’s been much more personable since Isaac moved in.

Marigold follows him up the stairs, but Isaac isn’t in his room.

After five minutes of searching, Stiles realizes that Isaac isn’t in the house at all.

Which is just fantastic, this day is the best day ever.

Fuck.

*

If Stiles had been thinking straight, he would’ve done a locator spell and dragged Isaac back from whatever place in the forest he’d holed himself up in, but he’s basically not thinking at all, or maybe he’s thinking too much, this is what panic does to him, so by the time it starts getting dark and the clouds open up he’s farther into the preserve than he’s ever been before – he thinks he might be lost.

Which is so stupid, fuck everything. He kicks at a rock and drops down under an enormous tree. Marigold, proving she’s just as much of an idiot for Isaac as Stiles, burrows into his side, chirruping worriedly, and Stiles thinks about all the ways a ten-year-old werewolf could die in the forest all alone.

Admittedly, there aren’t many, especially now that Lahey isn’t looking for him.

There are much more ways Stiles could die – he tugs his hoodie up, even though it’s just as sopping as the rest of him. He’s just going to sit for a minute. Maybe the rain will stop, and then he can figure out which direction he has to go to trudge home.

“What are you doing?”

Stiles startles at the gruff voice and stares blearily up at Derek.

“Uh.”

Derek frowns at him, reaches down to grab one of Stiles’ arms and pulls him to his feet. “Stiles,” he says, and there are so many meanings couched in that one tiny name, there are so many unsaid words floating after it: you idiot, how are you still alive, are you okay, I was worried.

Stiles might be imagining those last two, but whatever.

Derek says, “I have Isaac,” and Stiles could kiss him, he is that happy.

“Oh, thank god,” Stiles says, and collapses forward onto Derek’s warm chest. He isn’t any drier than Stiles is, but at least his nose no longer feels like it’s going to fall off.

“He said you kicked him out,” Derek says.

“He’s a menace,” Stiles says, he might be slurring, but Derek’s giving off heat like a furnace, and then Derek’s words sink in and he jerks back. “Wait, what? I’m not going to—” He flails backwards and Derek has to catch him by the wrist before he takes a header into a tree.

Derek shifts impatiently on his feet. “I don’t know, Stiles, he seems pretty convinced.”

Derek seems pretty convinced, and what the hell, how could Derek even think that?

Stiles twists his hand out of Derek’s grip and takes a deep, bracing breath. He says, “I would never, for anything, even destroying my greenhouse, make Isaac leave his home.”

Derek stares at him, eyes dark. Finally, he nods his head and says, “Okay.”

*

Isaac is sitting stiff-backed in the middle of Derek’s couch. His mouth is a flat line but Stiles can see all the fear in his big eyes. It makes Stiles’ heart hurt; he drops in an ungainly heap next to him and just wraps him up in his arms.

“I thought you were gone,” Stiles says against the top of his head and slowly, slowly Isaac starts to unwind and lean into him.

He clutches a hand to the back of Stiles wet hoodie. “Sorry,” he says, voice muffled.

“I know,” Stiles says. “Just—” He pulls back so he can see Isaac’s face, swipes his hands along Isaac’s damp cheeks. “You—I want you to know, Isaac, that nothing you could ever do would make me hurt you, or kick you out, okay?”

Isaac hesitates, then nods.

Stiles says, “I mean it. I’m not going to be great at this. We’re going to fight and I’m going to yell, that’s gonna happen, because, for real, I’m going to suck at this.” He’s going to try hard not to, but Stiles is under no illusions here that he’s going to automatically be a great dad. “That doesn’t—nothing you ever do—I just. I want you to understand that.”

Isaac nods again. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

Isaac shrugs. “Yeah.”

Stiles isn’t buying it, not with the way Isaac’s shoulders are tensing up, but he figures he can take the time to show him.

*

Stiles starts a campaign. A campaign to make Isaac feel loved.

He recruits Scott and Allison for this because Scott and Allison are basically made of sunshine and rainbows.

He recruits little Erica Reyes; she’s got the face of an angel and the devious little brain of a—well, soul-sucking vamp comes to mind, but Isaac seems to like her. Plus, she’s nine and is viciously protective of her My Little Ponies, and anyone who is that into Pinky Pie has gotta have a heart big enough to help Isaac heal.

And then there’s his dad, who will probably spoil Isaac like crazy.

Derek is also integral to this plan, because Derek is Isaac’s Alpha and Isaac hasn’t had a whole lot of support on that front before. It’s with this in mind that he knocks confidently on Derek’s front door.

When Derek opens it he says, “I need you to hug Isaac.”

Derek’s eyebrows say he’s not impressed.

“Like, so many hugs,” Stiles says, waving his hands around, like he can pantomime all the various hugs Derek should be giving Isaac. “Bro-hugs, bear hugs, cuddle hugs, this is your mission, and I will make you very sorry if you choose not to accept it.”

“What,” Derek says flatly.

Hugging, Derek,” Stiles says. “I know you can do it, I saw you with Boyd last week.” Granted, Boyd had solemnly asked Derek if he could have a hug and Derek had looked a little like he was dying inside and Stiles had maybe almost pissed himself laughing, but still. Stiles is thoroughly convinced Isaac needs as much petting and hugging and pleasantness as possible.

Derek slams the door in Stiles’ face.

Stiles raises a fist and says, “There will be hugs!”

*

Scott and Allison spend an entire day baking cookies with Isaac and Isaac comes home from the McCall-Argent household covered in flour and smiles, a tin of chocolate chip cookies pressed to his chest.

Stiles’ dad teaches Isaac how to grill the perfect steak and they sip root beers in the dying sun, Isaac imitating Stiles’ dad’s slouch on the porch steps.

Erica punches Isaac in the stomach and then asks him to play superheroes in the backyard. It’s not exactly what Stiles had been going for, but Isaac seems okay with it, and that’s the important thing

Derek gives him a hug.

It’s possibly the strangest thing Stiles has ever seen in his life, but there it is.

“Huh,” he says.

Derek looks uncomfortable but determined, and Isaac looks stunned for approximately five seconds before becoming quietly ecstatic; his whole face lights up, it’s awesome.

Stiles shoots Derek two enthusiastic thumbs up and Derek rolls his eyes.

*

It’s heartbreakingly sad, Stiles thinks, that Isaac takes Derek’s spontaneous hugging as permission to hug everyone and everything all the time. It’s adorable, and no one minds getting hugs from Isaac, least of all Stiles, but it’s still sad.

Like hugging is all Isaac ever wanted to do but wasn’t allowed to before.

And now that Isaac is hugging everyone, everyone is hugging Isaac back – and not just Isaac, actually, it’s the entire pack, it’s like a love-in or something, Derek has this constant crease between his eyebrows, but he’s not fooling Stiles.

Derek loves it.

There is no way he can’t, not with everyone so outrageously happy.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Derek says to Stiles, hands cupping his mug.

“Of course you do,” Stiles says. He has a big pot of homemade Satisfaction brewing on the stove for Allison’s morning sickness; the whole kitchen smells like cinnamon.

Derek has been spending a lot of time at Stiles’ house. Stiles isn’t going to mention it, because he’s afraid he’ll stop – he likes having coffee together in the mornings, after Isaac leaves for school. They don’t even really talk, Derek just sits there and looks alternately blank-eyed and befuddled.

Stiles sinks down on his elbows, leans across the counter toward him. “You have a pack that’s happy to have you as an Alpha, Derek. It’s a good thing! Smile!” Stiles demonstrates, and Derek gives him a look like he thinks he’s crazy. It’s not a new look.

Marigold hops up onto the table in front of Derek, furry tail swishing in his face. Derek leans away from her, but it doesn’t stop her from rubbing her face all over his hands.

Marigold, the cat version, has always been hilariously attracted to Derek. She’s smart enough not to set anything on fire in front of him – she’s too smart, Stiles sometimes thinks, but dragons are known to be more intelligent than your average feline, anyway.

Derek holds her in the highest aversion, usually, in all her forms, but he just sighs, moves the fingers of his left hand in some approximation of petting. She bares her throat for him – it doesn’t mean the same for cats as it does for wolves, though; she mainly just wants him to get her prime itchy spot.

Stiles stares at them, a little thrown.

Marigold purrs.

*

Isaac brings home an orchid.

Derek lurks in the background and Isaac holds up the small pot, the flower purple with a creamy white center – Stiles feels his heart lurch in his chest. He’d only been able to save three out of the ten he’d been caring for every since his mom passed, and this one looks just like his mom’s favorite.

“It’s perfect,” Stiles says, and Isaac beams at him.

Derek shifts on his feet, and Stiles glances over at him and realizes that Derek is holding two more.

“Um.” Derek clears his throat.

“For me?” Stiles says. He makes grabby hands until Derek steps up next to Isaac – he looks painfully awkward, and Stiles thinks it’s hilarious. And, like, nice. So nice; he honestly had no idea Derek was capable of this level of niceness. “Sweet.”

The tops of Derek’s cheeks flush.

Stiles is so fascinated by that that he almost misses Isaac throwing himself onto Stiles in a hug – it’s not possible to totally miss it, given that Isaac is both a werewolf and an octopus. Stiles staggers a little and saves the orchid from Isaac’s claws and smoothes the back of Isaac’s head with his free hand as he nuzzles into Stiles’ chest.

“Thanks,” Isaac says, and Stiles is about to correct him – Stiles should be the one saying thanks, this time – when Derek says, gruffly, “Thanks,” too.

*

Stiles has a theory. A theory that maybe Derek doesn’t hate him. Derek has been coming to Stiles for help with all sorts of things for years – maybe Stiles has mistook his flat eyebrows and pinched expressions for hatred, when really Derek is just emotionally constipated. It’s possible. Derek’s been sort of out of it, socially, for going on a decade, and Stiles is used to Scott-levels of friendly devotions. They’re both kind of skewed in drastically different directions.

So, okay – Stiles thinks they might be friends. Or some approximation of friends that only Derek knows the definition of.

Honestly, it’s a long shot, but the coffee mornings and the orchids and the gratitude; it’s weirding Stiles out, there has to be a good reason for it.

“Remember when you wanted me to cut off your arm?” Stiles says, hands dangling between his knees. They’ve just waved Isaac off to his bus and the day is already too warm for shoes. He wiggles his toes in the damp grass.

Derek nods, slow. He sits down next to Stiles on the porch steps and sets down his coffee mug carefully in between his feet. “You would have done it, too.” He sounds half bewildered, half impressed.

“Of course I would have!” He would have passed out in a pool of his own vomit afterward, but he would’ve done it to save Derek’s life. “But see, I know why I would have done it, but do you?”

Derek’s lips flatten.

“No, really,” Stiles says. “Do you even know why you showed up here?” He’d dragged himself to Stiles’ house, poisoned by wolfsbane, pale and sweaty and desperate. “Do you know why you’re letting Isaac stay here with me? Why you asked for my help with the ogres last year, and the faeries the year before that?”

Derek goes blank-faced, but he doesn’t move to get up.

Stiles reaches over and squeezes Derek’s knee. “Because I trust you. And you trust me.”

Derek grimaces. “I—”

“You can’t deny it, dude.”

“I’m not going to—Stiles.” Derek rubs a hand over his eyes. He sighs. “Isaac is living here because he wants to, and because you want him to,” he says finally.

“And?” Stiles makes encouraging hand motions at him.

“And.” Derek clenches his fists on his thighs, stares down at his feet. The line of his shoulders is tense, like this is so hard for him to admit, Jesus, like being friends with Stiles is so horrible. And then he rolls his eyes heavenward, mutters something under his breath, makes a grab for Stiles’ neck and—

Stiles almost jerks out of his hold, but he doesn’t get very far before Derek is kissing him.

That—that totally came out of left field, wow.

“Oh my god,” Stiles says; only he doesn’t really say it, because his mouth is a little too preoccupied with Derek’s tongue. Stiles’ heart pounds and his fingertips feel itchy and he can’t believe this is happening. He flails his hands up to twist into Derek’s shirt, tilts his head, feels the burn of Derek’s palm on his nape; he thinks he had a dream like this, once – several times - only it wasn’t nearly so fantastic.

Derek pulls back, rests his forehead against Stiles. “That,” he says.

“Oh my god, what?”

“And that,” Derek says, like Stiles is an idiot, and Stiles says, embarrassingly breathless, “You want to date me!”

Derek pulls back further and gives him an unimpressed look.

“No, seriously, you—”

Derek kisses him again.

*

The day Marigold matures, Isaac starts screaming and Stiles stumbles out of his room in the middle of the night to find a tiger in his hallway.

“Holy god,” Stiles says, clutching his chest.

Isaac screams some more, but Stiles figures it’s more an excited scream than one of fear and horror. He’s even more convinced of that when Isaac throws himself at the tiger and all the tiger does is lick his face.

Stiles figures out the tiger is Marigold only after she sprouts wings and destroys almost all the walls as she heads down the steps into the living room.

“New rule,” Stiles says, shouting down at the dragon that’s now roughly the size of a large pony, “no transforming in the house. This is a cat only area.” He waves his arms around to emphasize this fact. There’s plaster all over the floor, he’s going to have to hire someone to fix his ceiling, there is a real possibility that Marigold will accidentally burn down his house and then where will he and Derek be?

Isaac just grins up at him and says, “Do you think I can ride her?”