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Just A Good Time

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Stiles ignored the whistling, concentrating on the feel of the cold pole against his skin. His focus had become otherworldly, enabling him to forget that he was on stage, that he was in a world he thought he’d never be in. The pay was good even though the hours were hell. He was glad he had a shorter night, compiling his grocery list in his head as he wondered if James had fallen asleep yet.

After the song finished, Stiles walked back towards off the stage, remembering to scoop up a few of the bills scattered across the stage. He remembered how some of the bouncers kept a good chunk of the money after it was collected. He pushed down his desire to punch the guy that smacked his ass, easily slipping the fifty out of the man’s other hand while he seemed distracted enough.

It wasn’t until Stiles was in the dressing room that he really let himself breathe. He leaned against his table, staring at himself in the mirror. He still had glitter scattered over his body from the private lap dance he did at the beginning of his shift. Why people still wore glitter was beyond him, but the woman loved glitter and she loved the way Stiles moved for her. The woman was a somewhat regular—she loved to grope here or there, but let Stiles finish the dance for her without trying to grab his dick like most others usually did. She always paid in hundreds, slipping an extra bill into Stiles’ booty shorts, gently tapping his ass in a silent resemblance of congratulating him on a job well done.

Stiles sighed as he snatched one of Erica’s make-up wipes. He knew he was rubbing harder than he had to.

“Whoa, easy there,” Erica called out as she moved to sit beside Stiles, taking the wipe from him. “You’re going to scrub a hole in your skin.”

Good, Stiles thought as the familiar knot formed in his stomach.

“Tomorrow’s your day off, right?” Erica asked as she opened the rubbing alcohol bottle, squirting a little on the make-up wipe. She took Stiles’ arm and started gently rubbing the wipe over the glitter.

“Yeah,” Stiles stated. “James’ birthday is coming up, though.”

“Man, how old is that little guy?” Erica asked as she determinedly worked.

“He’ll be eight,” Stiles fondly answered.

“Well, I’m sure all the guys and girls will want to pitch in to get him something,” Erica answered.

“Erica--”

“I’m not saying we’re going to buy his birthday gift for him,” Erica corrected Stiles before he could even start. “We love the little guy. It’d be nice to get him something to show our love.”

Stiles sighed. “Maybe we could give him a small party or something. Not here,” he quickly added, not putting it passed Erica to try and host a kid’s birthday party in a strip club.

“I was going to suggest some place like the park, since James likes the outdoors so much,” Erica stated in a matter of fact voice. “But if you want your eight year old son in a den of sin, by all means feel free,” she stated in a playful tone, discarding the wipe covered in glitter.

“Thanks, Erica,” Stiles replied, leaning in to place a kiss on her cheek. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“Crash and burn, baby doll,” Erica answered with a smile as she turned to her own mirror to touch up her make-up. “Oh! And Stiles,” she called to his retreating form as she applied more eyeliner. “Boyd says that you need to start telling him when a patron grabs your ass,” she looked at Stiles in the mirror. “My man can spot an unwelcomed ass grab when it happens. He can’t kick those people out when you don’t tell him about it.”

Stiles sighed, nodding. “He’s not going to make me give back the fifty, is he?” He asked.

“Keep it,” Erica replied. “As an annoyance fee.”

Stiles snorted as he headed for the showers. His favorite part of working was the moment he stood under the hot spray of the showerhead. His entire body relaxed, muscles still aching from all the practicing and working out he does a few hours prior to showing up for work.

Tomorrow was Stiles’ day off from the club, but he was working at the diner as well and couldn’t afford to not show up again. He usually worked early on weekdays, able to bring James into the diner with him, feed him his free meal for the day, and then use a fifteen minute smoke break to not smoke and get James to the bus stop on time. But the manager bitched Stiles out for oversleeping last Monday morning, costing him almost a day’s wages. Working tomorrow meant that he didn’t have to worry about stripping afterwards, but it also meant that James would have to be watched by Mrs. Kay almost all day tomorrow.

Mrs. Kay was the retired woman who lived across the hallway from Stiles and James. She was a wonderful older woman who took a liking to James immediately, telling Stiles that she had a grandson about his age that she didn’t get to see very much since her son moved out of town—it reminded Stiles of his dad, making him feel even guiltier. She watched James whenever Stiles was working at the club—she thought he was doing professional ballroom dancing at different hotels, and Stiles didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was stripping uptown.

Beacon Heights was an unforgiving environment, unlike Beacon Hills. Stiles never walked down the street at night without a hand clutched around his mace. He had been harassed a few times, but knew he’d have it worse if he was a woman walking alone at night. The walk from uptown to downtown was one that got worse the closer you got to your destination.

Stiles was used to getting called at, most of them men offering him money for sex. He had even accepted a few times, pinched for cash while having a stone-hearted landlord meant that he didn’t have a lot of options. Deep down, he knew he could always go home—that despite the fight, his dad would always let him come home, even with James. That was why he hated himself more every time he accepted the cash and let some stranger fuck him.

Part of Stiles could get off on it, if he didn’t think about the reason they were in the motel room to begin with. It had been a while for Stiles—having a kid made it difficult to date, let alone hook up with anyone. He always used condoms, immediately heading to the local clinic the next morning to get tested.

With all the propositions he received in the past years, Stiles never was propositioned in the parking lot of the strip club. He was surprised when the guy stopped him—some young kid, no doubt in a frat if the douchey backwards cap was anything to go by.

“You’re drunk,” Stiles finally answered when the kid laughed through his slurring.

“I’m not too drunk to fuck,” Douche-cap tried to counter.

“You’re too young for me,” Stiles answered, moving to get passed the kid. He startled some when the kid roughly grabbed his elbow.

“Good enough to shake it on stage, huh? Like some cock hungry slut, only to act like a fucking prude now,” the kid harshly spit.

Stiles knew the beginning of closeted homophobic slurs when he heard them. He was about to reply when he noticed that the kid had friends. Horror stories of strippers and prostitutes being gangbanged into an inch of their life started to flash before Stiles’ eyes. He ripped his arm out of the kid’s grip, immediately heading back towards the strip club’s backstage entrance. When one of the kid’s friends made a grab for him, he pulled the mace out of his pocket and pointed it directly in kid’s face. “I will empty this whole fucking can in your eye sockets if you don’t back the fuck off,” he firmly stated, his voice unwavering. He was sick of being seen as an object.

“Fag,” one of them spat.

“Right, I’m a fag for not wanting to get raped by three rich assholes who probably have daddy issues,” Stiles spat back as he backed towards the club’s door.

“I called the cops,” a suddenly new voice added to the conversation, almost startling Stiles into spraying the mace.

Stiles turned his head to see a man in a suit smoking a cigarette. He noticed that the guy was actually standing the asked distanced from the entrance—which no one ever did.

The guy dropped his cigarette, extinguishing the flame with the sole of his shoe as he moved into the parking lot. He belonged in uptown, suit clearly expensive as well as the big shiny watch wrapped around the man’s wrist. His beard was tamely trimmed, his hair appeared soft and immaculately untangled.

“I said, I called the cops,” the guy repeated, his words making the kids jump.

Shit, Stiles thought, images of his dad coming to the scene and having to find out that his son was not only still a single dad, but also a stripper.

“Let’s go,” one of the kids said to the other two.

Douche-cap gave Stiles a fleeting look before leaving with the other two, the three of them climbing into an expensive Escalade.

Stiles released a heavy breath, turning to look at the guy. He sighed in relief when he didn’t hear the sirens coming. “You bluffed,” he stated as he placed his mace back into his pocket.

The guy arched one of his thick eyebrows at Stiles, silently asking Stiles to explain.

“It only takes the cops a few minutes to arrive on scene in uptown Beacon Heights,” Stiles answered. “And there’s a cop car across the street at the diner.”

The guy looked at the diner, catching sight of the cruiser parked far down the line. He snorted, a small smile pulling on his lip. “I figured those idiots wouldn’t be able to tell my bluff.”

“Well, thanks,” Stiles stated, gesturing in the air to where the trio of would-be-rapists were. “Should really contact our Congresswoman about working on laws that won’t let people get away with threats of rape, huh?” He tried to playfully call behind him as he started walking, noticing that the guy was staring at him.

“Wait,” the guy called after him, hurried footsteps following after Stiles. “I wanted to ask you something.”

“Not tonight,” Stiles answered, wishing that Mr. Tall-dark-and-handsome had turned out to be a good guy and not just running the competition off. “I’m not even the best you can get, buddy.”

“What?” The guy questioned in confusion as he got closer to Stiles.

“I have to get home, and I’m not looking to fuck,” Stiles almost snapped as he turned to look at the guy. Damn it, he was more attractive up close.

“Wait … what?” The guy looked very confused, which made Stiles confused.

“Maybe some other time,” Stiles offered, his mind still focusing on the fact that he had enough money for rent and food this month, but there was no way he had enough to get James that action figure he wanted for his birthday. “I don’t really feel like getting paid for someone else to use my body right now, I just got off the clock.”

“Jesus, Stiles,” the guy almost cursed under his breath.

Stiles’ entire body went rigid, taking a stumbling step away from the guy. A trembling hand snatching up the mace from his pocket, pulling it out once more. “How the hell do you know my name?” He demanded, holding the mace up in defense. “Stalking me isn’t a good idea—I own a gun.” He didn’t, he just knew that scared more than one person away whenever his dad mentioned it.

“Stiles, it’s me, Derek,” the guy quickly stated as he backed up some, not trusting Stiles to not spray the mace at him. “We went to high school together.”

Stiles narrowed his eyes at ‘Derek’ carefully taking him in. He tried to remember who, out of the vast number of people he knew stayed in or around Beacon Hills, this guy was. He looked at his eyes again, thinking that they had looked familiar before. Then it all suddenly clicked. Green and gold speckled eyes, bushy eyebrows, bunny teeth. “Derek Hale?” He immediately lowered the mace.

“Yeah,” Derek answered, a slight blush staining his cheeks. “I thought it was you when I saw you inside earlier. And then just now …”

“What … what are you doing at a strip club?” Stiles questioned.

“What are you doing stripping?” Derek countered.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at Derek. It was a fair point, and it reminded him how good Derek had been at verbally keeping up with him.

Derek sighed, his eyes drifting to look at the diner. “Do you, I don’t know, want to get coffee or something?” He nervously rubbed the back of his neck as he waited for Stiles to answer him.

Stiles turned and looked at the diner, stealing a quick glance at his watch. It was a little past 10. He had to be home by eleven, knowing that Mrs. Kay couldn’t be expected to watch James past that. “Sure.” He tried to lie to himself, saying that he agreed because Derek saved him from a horrific encounter—not because he remembered how bad of a crush he had on Derek in high school. He remembered the crush the moment he saw the small smile grace Derek’s lips.

The man still looked like the fucking sun when he shyly smiled. Great.

~*~

Stiles smiled at Barbara when she slid a strawberry milkshake towards him. He spun the glass in his hands, looking over the rim at Derek. “I shouldn’t be allowed to have caffeine after lunch,” he explained.

“He gets a little jittery,” Barbara commented as she filled Derek’s mug with coffee. She gave Stiles a small wink as she turned to head back to the counter.

“Come here often?” Derek asked as he took a sip of his coffee.

Stiles snorted as he unwrapped his straw. “I actually work here,” he proudly stated as he plopped the straw into the milkshake.

“Really?” Derek asked, sounding more impressed than judgmental.

“Yup,” Stiles answered in a sing-song voice, taking a long sip of his milkshake. He loved milkshakes, but they were normally too expensive for him to enjoy in excess. “I don’t just shake my ass for grubby men and women. I work tables so they have the pleasure of seeing my ass up close.”

Derek kept his eyes on Stiles, clearly thinking of his next words.

“It’s okay,” Stiles stated as he leaned over the table some. “You’re the first person to hold a conversation with me and not be staring at my ass.”

“Would be difficult to achieve that with you sitting on it,” Derek countered as he took another drink of coffee.

Stiles released a soft chuckle. “So, what is a man like you doing in a strip club?”

Derek partially grimaced. “My sister’s bachelorette party.”

“Laura or Cora?” Stiles asked as his fingers idly played with his discarded straw wrapper.

“Laura,” Derek specified. “She insisted I join the party, and only got me to come because she threatened to send a stripping candy gram.”

“Oh, come on, those are fun,” Stiles smiled, remembering that Laura had a sense of humor similar to his own.

“Not for me, they aren’t,” Derek stated.

Their conversation devolved into playful banter, reminiscent of the few times Stiles actually interacted with Derek. Stiles remembered Derek being on the basketball team, one of the most beloved people in Beacon Hills. He recalled the way his father often had business meetings with Congresswoman Hale, leaving Stiles home alone or dragging him along. The conversation started to lull the closer they approached the topic of current events.

“What did you … want to ask me earlier?” Stiles asked as he looked up at Derek. “Before you said who you were, you said that you wanted to ask me something.”

Derek suddenly shuffled his weight a little bit, guiltily looking down at his coffee mug. His fingernails picked at the small crack in the mug’s handle, focusing on it as if it would erase the fact that Stiles asked him a question.

“Oh,” Stiles stated, a weight dropping in his stomach, the strawberry milkshake suddenly souring. “Right, the old ‘how did you end up here’ question, right?”

“Not entirely,” Derek admitted. “Just wondering what happened.”

Stiles scoffed. “It’s still the same question—only one doesn’t imply that I did it to myself. There are two types of people, Derek,” he started as he leaned back into his seat. “There are the kind of people who see someone like me and automatically think that I like to dance like that—having people ogle me, grope me, yell derogatory things at me, threaten me. Those are the people that act like strippers are the ones that should be ashamed, but we’re not the ones that have to pay to get off on someone stripping for them. Then, there are the people who think we’re charity cases—that we have to be helped because we’re too lost for direction. I don’t know which one you are, but I don’t need either in my life right now.”

“You’re working two jobs—”

“A lot of people work two jobs, Derek,” Stiles snapped. “Do I have it rough? Yeah, I do, but so does a majority of residents in downtown Beacon Heights. I don’t need charity.”

“I’m not saying you do,” Derek answered, setting his jaw in a tight line. “I’m just saying that it’s not like you. You graduated valedictorian, Stiles. Your dad is the Sheriff of Beacon Hills.”

Stiles released an angered huff of air. “I’m so glad you were here to tell me that, Derek, because I forgot all that. Don’t you think I know all that? But my life isn’t black and white, good and bad. A lot of it is shitty, and I had to pull myself up off of my feet and give up on some dreams so I could keep living—but you know what? I’m alive.” He moved to stand up.

“Stiles—”

“This is what I call my life, Derek,” Stiles answered, grabbing his dance bag from the booth. “And it’s ugly; it’s terrifying as hell some nights. But I didn’t have a lot of options. I thank you for what you did, but I don’t need to be talked down to.” He hurried out of the diner, almost running down the sidewalk out of paranoia that Derek would chase after him. He knew he was being an ass, knowing that Derek appeared to be genuinely concerned about him. He didn’t need it, though—he didn’t need to think of his life as a series of pathetic excuses.

~*~

“Where did you slink off to?” Laura questioned over the music when she caught Derek walking back over to them.

“I was talking to an old friend,” Derek answered, plopping down in the booth next to her.

“You pointed Stiles out to him, didn’t you?” Cora asked Allison.

Allison couldn’t help guiltily smiling before turning an apologetic look on Derek. “I’m sorry. They wouldn’t stop feeding me tequila shots and it blurted out—I hope Stiles wasn’t embarrassed by it all.”

Derek lightly chuckled, surprisingly happy at Allison’s genuinely heartfelt apology for being manipulated by his sisters. He always thought she was too good for this world.

“I can’t believe Peter hired him,” Cora commented.

“He’s a great dancer,” Derek retorted.

“You’re biased,” Laura replied.

“Shut up,” Derek slightly snapped.

“Oh, touchy,” Laura partially laughed. “All of Beacon High knew you had a crush on the Sheriff’s kid.”

“I knew,” Allison chimed in.

“You two are the worst,” Derek said to Cora and Laura, rolling his eyes when they both looked offended. “You’re corrupting Allison.”

“I’ll have you know, she was corrupted since birth,” Laura stated. “Her father is the one man to actually whisk our dearly beloved outcast of an uncle up off of his feet. Her father got Peter to believe in the concept marriage.”

“And proved me right that marriage is a defective concept.”

“Jesus Christ,” Cora abruptly yelped, spilling her drink. She turned her head to look at Peter, noticing that her uncle was leaning over the back cushion of their booth.

“I’m sorry, Uncle Peter,” Laura started to apologize as she turned to look at him.

“It’s fine,” Peter replied with a small smile, leaning over to place a light kiss against Laura’s forehead. “Are you having fun?”

“Yes,” Laura answered with a slight smile.

“Good,” Peter replied. He turned to look at Derek. “I wanted to say thank you for your little heroic act in the parking lot.”

“Heroic act?” Cora questioned.

“Parking lot?” Allison asked.

“Thank you?” Laura arched her eyebrow.

Derek shook his head, knowing that they were all going to demand to know what happened. “I was doing the right thing, nothing heroic about it,” he replied to Peter.

“Sometimes doing the right thing, even when you have nothing to gain, can be terrifying,” Peter answered. “That’s why people often don’t do the right thing.” His eyes wandered over to Allison, his smile faltering only slightly before he waved his hand. “But enough about that. You four enjoy the rest of the night. If you need anything, let me know.”

Allison placed her drink down as she looked at her hands, aimlessly picking at her fingernails. She released a heavy breath after Peter finally left.

Derek placed his hand over hers, prompting Allison to look up at him.

“He hates me,” Allison stated with a weak shrug.

“He doesn’t hate you,” Derek answered.

“Sure, I’m just the walking reminder that his ex-husband remarried only a few short months after their divorce finalized,” Allison countered.

“Peter … Peter’s complicated,” Laura explained. “He doesn’t hate you, and I would wager that he doesn’t hate Chris.”

“He probably wants to still fuck him,” Cora commented.

“That’s my dad,” Allison grimaced. “I don’t need to be thinking about his sex life.”

“You didn’t walk in on them and be scarred for life as a child,” Laura replied as she downed a shooter.

Derek couldn’t help laughing. “That’s what you get for being nosey.”

“I wanted to play hide and go seek,” Laura loudly argued. “Besides, we were all talking about you and Stiles, not Peter and Chris.”

“That was a horrible segue,” Derek countered.

“I’m drunk, I don’t need good segues,” Laura replied. “Did you at least get his number?”

“No,” Derek stated.

“Why the hell not?” Cora demanded. “You pined for years after you graduated high school—moaning about how I didn’t hang out with Stiles enough because he wasn’t over our house all the time. Then, you tragically groaned about how you hadn’t seen him in such a long time.”

“Look,” Derek snapped, all playfulness draining form the conversation. “Stiles and I didn’t part on the best terms, alright?”

Laura looked at Cora and Allison before looking back at Derek. She scrunched her eyebrows as she tried to decipher what Derek was getting at. Her eyes widened. “Derek Samuel Hale, the third. You did not be an entitled, pompous asshole. Tell me you did not.”

“I wasn’t an entitled asshole,” Derek grumbled.

“But you were pompous?” Allison questioned.

“I tried talking to him about why he was dancing in a strip club,” Derek finally stated, knowing that they wouldn’t drop it.

Laura dramatically gasped as Cora judgingly shook her head.

“You two are too drunk to have this conversation with,” Derek stated.

“You don’t ask someone why they have a certain job,” Laura snapped. “You don’t like me asking why you became a doctor, or assuming that you became one because it was mom’s dream for you.”

Derek sighed, knowing that Laura was right. He knew he was crossing the line the minute he even touched the subject of Stiles’ dancing career. He felt like an ass, sitting there and having Stiles think that he was judging him.

~*~

“Dad?” James tiredly questioned as he turned over to look at the person waking him up.

“Hey, kiddo,” Stiles smiled as he spoke in a soft voice. “I have to head in to work today.”

“But I thought you worked last night,” James questioned as he yawned.

“I did,” Stiles answered, knowing he couldn’t lie to James. The kid was too smart for his own good, and Stiles was starting to realize how his dad must have felt. “But I need to go in again.”

“Okay,” James quietly agreed. “Will you help me this afternoon?”

“This afternoon?” Stiles asked. “Oh, Little League, right. Yeah, I’ll be home after lunch, does that work?”

James nodded as he started to curl around his pillow, drifting back to sleep. “Thanks, dad.”

Stiles pressed a kiss to James’ forehead, brushing his stray curls from his forehead. He briefly lingered, absorbing the details of James’ face. He moved to leave, his gaze catching sight of the bat and glove resting on the floor next to the bed. He stared at the worn leather of his old glove, noticing that a few of the laces were frayed, almost ready to break.

Stiles bit his lip as he hurried out of the apartment, knocking on Mrs. Kay’s door to let her know he’d be back after lunch. He tried running the numbers, knowing that if he took one or two extra shifts at the diner, he could cut out dance practice before heading to the club. He’d have enough money then.

“I don’t have any more shifts to give, Stiles,” Carl almost growled as he passed by Stiles, going through a handful of papers.

“Come on, Carl,” Stiles started as he followed after him. “There has to be something.”

“Not unless you want to stop dancing and start working here full time,” Carl countered.

Stiles halted, doing the quick math in his head. There was no way he could quit dancing—even working at the diner full time for a week wouldn’t get him the same amount of money he made in a couple of nights dancing. “I can’t,” he stated.

“Them’s the breaks,” Carl answered, not at all swayed by Stiles’ situation.

“Carl—”

“Getting your kid a gift isn’t my concern, Stiles,” Carl stated as he started to walk away. “You’ll just have to find more shifts dancing, then.”

Stiles leaned against the kitchen counter, dragging in a deep breath as he fought back the tears. He could do it—he had a couple of weeks until James’ birthday, and an additional week after that before the Little League tryouts started. If he slept with one or two people, he’d have more than enough to get James a new glove and bat.

It would only be two more times, Stiles told himself, as if it made the pain any easier to bear.

~*~

“Choreography?” Stiles questioned as he watched Peter mending one of the costumes.

Peter bit down on the pins in his mouth as he focused on feeding the fabric through the sewing machine’s needle. “Yup,” he spoke through the pins. “Everyone here has some form of dance experience. I figured you, having the most, would—Ouch!” He cursed as he drew his fingers back, looking at the tip of his finger. He took the pins out of his mouth, pushing them back into the cushion by the sewing machine.

“I told you to get a protection guard,” Erica called as she walked by Stiles to grab the hat from the props rack to accompany her magician’s outfit.

“I don’t need protection,” Peter huffed as he looked at the completed costume.

“This sounds like a strangely perverted conversation,” Stiles stated.

“Leave it to Peter to make a conversation perverted.”

Peter abruptly stood, handing the costume off to one of the girls running around the back of the stage. He pushed his spectacles up into his hair, sighing as he prepped himself to look back at Chris. “What the hell at you doing here?”

“First of the month,” Chris answered, crossing his arms over his chest.

“The answer is still no,” Peter firmly stated. “I’m not selling.”

“Peter,” Chris sighed, shifting his weight some. “You don’t have the money to—”

“Would you mind having this conversation in private?” Peter snapped. “I know how much you hate people knowing so much about your personal affairs.”

Chris released a heavy breath as he nodded, following Peter to his office.

“They’re going to go at it again,” Erica sighed as Boyd helped her lace up her boots.

“Again?” Stiles asked as he looked at Erica.

“They always yell at each other,” Boyd stated. “Chris wants him to sell, Peter refuses.”

“Why does Peter even listen to him?” Stiles questioned.

“I guess Chris still feels slightly responsible for Peter becoming the ‘fallen woman’ stereotype after their divorce,” Erica stated. “The Hale-Argent name breaking apart did a number on—”

“Wait, Hale?” Stiles looked at Erica. “Peter was married to a Hale?”

Erica furrowed her eyebrows as she looked to Boyd for help.

“Peter is a Hale,” Boyd finally stated. “Talia Hale’s younger brother, actually.”

“Hale,” Stiles echoed. He knew Derek’s family was conservative, but he never recalled hearing the Hales accepting same-sex marriage. “You are talking about the conservative political family that practically owns all of the city and surrounding towns, correct?”

“Yep,” Erica stated as she looked in the mirror, finishing her makeup to look like an overly attractive mime in a magician’s outfit. “Peter kept Chris’ last name to keep from all the drama that happens with divorce.”

“That, and his family sees him as the black sheep,” Isaac added to the conversation as he dropped his dance bag by one of the mirrors.

“Derek and his sisters were here the other night,” Stiles commented.

“They still talk to Peter,” Boyd explained.

“Besides, Derek is a rebel child,” Erica purred with a slight laugh when Boyd rolled his eyes. “Being bisexual in a conservative political family is always seen as horrific. But his mom is trying to change the conservative image—well, at least appeal to liberal voters.”

“I’m surprised Derek isn’t the poster child of her new campaign,” Isaac stated as he started going through Erica’s makeup. He scowled at her when she pulled her foundation out of his hands.

“I’m surprised the Argents even allow Peter to still be in the city, let alone uptown Heights,” Boyd stated.

“Why do you think they sent Chris?” Erica asked in response. “They want Chris to get Peter to sell.”

“Is Little Red’s really doing that poorly?” Stiles questioned, a knot forming in his stomach. He couldn’t lose this job—not now.

“Peter will never sell,” Isaac stated in reassurance. “He’d take out another bank loan if he had to.”

“It’s why he is shifting from only stripping to cabaret and stripping,” Erica explained.

Stiles flinched when he heard Peter’s voice rise louder.

~*~

“Peter, you’re not being reasonable,” Chris started.

“Reasonable,” Peter echoed. “Reasonable. Were you being very reasonable when you out of the blue decided you didn’t want to be married anymore?”

“I’m not doing this with you,” Chris curtly stated. “Not again.”

“I don’t think we ever finished it,” Peter snapped. “You never told me what your family said that sparked it all.”

“This is what sparked it all, Peter,” Chris answered. “Us. We can’t go more than a minute without arguing. I always wanted to talk about it, and you always wanted to fuck instead.”

“I think you should leave,” Peter replied.

“See? You don’t want to talk,” Chris pointed out without moving.

“At least I’m not trying to fuck you.” Peter glared at Chris. “Oh, I forgot, not my job to fuck you anymore. How is Victoria?”

“Peter—”

“She’s probably waiting for you,” Peter stated. Understanding dawned on him when Chris didn’t say anything else. “She’s waiting in the car, isn’t she?”

Chris looked away from Peter, unwilling to say anything.

“Jesus, Chris,” Peter exasperated.

“What do you want me to say?” Chris asked, sounding sincere in how lost he was.

“Nothing,” Peter emptily replied. “Go back to your perfect life—go back to your wife, your daughter, your fucking white picket fence. Just go back to it and leave me in the gutter where both our families think I belong.”

A rap of knuckles against the office door sliced the tension.

“Peter,” Stiles’ cautious voice cut through the thin door. “I have to go pick up James from school—I promise him I’d meet him. Can I talk to you about everything tomorrow?”

“Yeah,” Peter answered. He waited until Stiles’ footsteps retreated before turning to Chris. “Tell your father I’m not selling. The day he buys Little Red’s will be the day I die, or the day he buys it from the bank.”

~*~

Stiles tried not to think about what was happening with Little Red’s. He had to focus on James and hope that Peter wanting him to choreograph meant that he’d be paid the same amount of money, with less hours dancing.

He smiled as he watched James thoughtfully look up and down the shelves in search of a cereal. He looked down in the cart, counting the items and their price in order to estimate just how much they could get. He looked up when James came running back to him, holding out a box.

James smiled up at Stiles as he tipped the box into the cart, bypassing his father’s normal inspection. He frowned when he saw his father was picking the box up anyways. He didn’t understand this part—he didn’t understand why some things were considered better than others, and why everything just couldn’t be the same.

“Mikey says they’re really good,” James argued, as if his friend’s opinion of the chocolaty cereal made it an acceptable meal.

“I don’t know, kiddo,” Stiles stated with a frown of his own. He never said that they couldn’t afford anything, merely acting as if the food wasn’t a wise investment.

James frowned, moving to take the cereal box from Stiles’ hands. He moved to put the box back on the shelf as he looked over more of them. He grabbed a different box—it looked similar enough. “What about these ones?” He held it up as he walked over to Stiles. “They look the same, but are they better for you?”

Stiles lifted the box from James’ hands, noticing that it was the generic brand of the previous cereal box. His eyes scanned the ingredients, wanting to make sure that it was at least as healthy as the brand name. He was surprised when he found that this box appeared to be healthier than the other one—at half the price.

“I think it might be,” Stiles stated, looking down at James. He sighed, not wanting to lie to his son. “This one is less money.”

James looked at the box and then to the brand name box he just placed back. “But … isn’t it the same? Dad, it looks the same,” he stated in disbelief.

“This one is less money because the store made it instead of someone else,” Stiles explained.

“Will it taste the same?” James asked as he took a step closer to Stiles, trying to look on the box.

“I’m not sure,” Stiles replied. “But if you don’t like it, we’ll get you something else, okay?”

“I’m sure I’ll like it,” James answered, smiling up at Stiles. “Why wouldn’t everyone buy this one then?” He asked as he helped Stiles push the cart forward.

Stiles was about to answer when he looked up. His stomach dropped when he locked eyes with Derek.

Derek wore a faded pair of jeans and a fitted Henley—a look that made him appear completely different from his suited persona the other night. He looked like a normal, approachable everyday guy. He was looking right at Stiles, and there was no telling how long he had been watching the scene unfold. His eyes slowly traveled to look at James, a look of perplexity on his face.

James saw Derek look at him, offering a faint wave and a soft, “Hello,” as their carts passed one another.

Derek offered a wave in return.

Stiles looked away from Derek, focusing on James.

~*~

It was the weekend before James’ birthday when Stiles walked into Little Red’s and had Boyd stop him. Mrs. Kay had called, frantic with worry as James cried in the background. James had hurt his leg practicing baseball.

Stiles could barely function, only hearing Boyd tell him that he squared it away with Peter and that he had the night off. He ran as fast as he could, his heart pounding in his chest as he hurried home.

James was crying as he looked down at his swollen ankle, apologizing to Mrs. Kay.

“Sweetie, it’s okay,” Mrs. Kay tried to soothe his tears.

“No!” James argued. “Daddy has to work, and now they’re sending him home because of me!” He cried some more, heavy sobs.

“It’s just for the day,” Mrs. Kay tried to explain. She sighed in relief when Stiles come into the apartment.

James cried harder when he realized Stiles was home.

“Buddy, it’s okay,” Stiles quickly said as he ran over to him, looking at his dirty clothes.

“I brought him across the street so he could play—he couldn’t stop talking about practicing,” Mrs. Kay explained. “He took a nasty tumble, Stiles. He scared the daylights out of me.”

“Me too,” Stiles answered as he hugged James, looking down at his swollen ankle. He hated to admit it, but he couldn’t tell if it was sprained or twisted—even with all his experience in dance related injuries. “I think I have to take him to the hospital,” he explained to Mrs. Kay.

“Let me call a cab,” Mrs. Kay started as she moved towards the phone.

“No, I can’t,” Stiles countered as he picked James up, pressing a soft kiss into his hair.

“Stiles—”

“The hospital isn’t that far,” Stiles answered as he started to head out the door. “We’ll be okay, Mrs. Kay.” He gave her a reassuring smile as he hurried out of the apartment.

Stiles kept his pace brisk, making sure not to jostle James too much. He settled James in one of the many chairs in the ER waiting room. He gave him a faint kiss on the forehead before going up to the receptionist. He always hated this part—every receptionist gave him the same once over whenever he tried to explain that they didn’t have any insurance.

“I applied for it multiple times,” Stiles cut the woman off as she begun her lecture. “Look, my son needs to be seen by someone—his ankle is hurt.”

“I understand your urgency, sir, but you have to fill out paperwork and attempt applying for a payment plan before—”

“Can’t you just page a doctor and have him come look at my son?” Stiles demanded. “I’ll fill out the papers if you just get him looked at.”

“Sir, calm down,” the receptionist answered.

“I just want someone to tell me my son is going to be okay!” Stiles snapped.

“Is everything okay?” A male voice asked from behind Stiles.

Stiles turned around, ready to yell and argue with another person, his heart beating heavy in his chest the longer James went without someone looking at his ankle. His words died in his throat when he came face to face with none other than Derek Hale wearing a white coat with a stethoscope wrapped around his neck. His eyes caught sight of his nametag, a small sticker of a cartoon wolf next to his name.

Derek Hale, Pediatric Surgeon.

“Dr. Hale,” the receptionist greeted.

“Stiles,” Derek ignored the receptionist when he saw that it was Stiles making the commotion. He looked further into the waiting room to see James sitting in one of the chairs, tears staining his cheeks as he sniffled. “It’s okay, Anna,” he said as he looked at the receptionist. “I’ll just take a look.”

“Dr. Hale—”

“It’s not a problem,” Derek stated as he pressed a hand against Stiles’ shoulder blade, turning him away from the desk and towards James. “I’ll look and then we’ll see if he needs to fill out the paperwork.”

Stiles felt a knot tighten in his stomach. “You don’t have to give me special treatment,” he muttered under his breath. He didn’t want to be treated differently, but if it meant that James would be looked at, he’d swallow his pride some.

“I’m not,” Derek answered. “I try looking at patients first before trying to bill them an absurd amount of money,” he softly stated so both James and the receptionist couldn’t hear him.

James looked up at Derek before looking to his father. He wiped at his cheeks, drying the tears away as he looked back at Derek.

“Hey, buddy,” Derek greeted him as he kneeled in front of James. “So, why did dad bring you in?”

“I hurt my ankle,” James answered as he pointed at his swollen ankle.

“Can I take a look?” Derek asked with a small smile.

James nodded, his hands fisting into his sweatshirt’s pockets.

Derek gently took James’ calf in hand, lifting up his pant leg some to inspect it. He carefully took hold of James’ sneaker, rotating his ankle to put it on better display for him. He was conscious of the way James winced once he turned his ankle too far.

“How did you hurt your ankle?” Derek asked.

“I was practicing,” James answered. “Daddy was at work, and Mrs. Kay said it would be fine if I practiced some—I’ve been bothering her about it since yesterday. And then I stopped too soon and tumbled over myself.”

“I’m sure you weren’t bothering her,” Derek replied, his eyes still on James’ ankle.

“I was,” James countered. “I just want to practice to be good enough for the team.”

“Team?” Derek asked as he looked up at James.

“Little League,” James shyly replied. “I’m using my dad’s old glove.”

“That must be a lot of fun,” Derek stated with a smile. “I played baseball in college—it was a lot of fun.”

“You played?” James asked, seeming to forget about his ankle.

“Yeah,” Derek replied. “I wasn’t the best, but fun of the game was the focus for me.” He gave James another smile before looking down and softly touching his ankle, feeling around for a sign that it was broken. He released James’ leg, giving him a soft pat on the shoulder before standing up.

“Derek, is he going to be okay?” Stiles immediately asked.

“He’ll be fine,” Derek answered. “He just rolled his ankle.”

“Okay, okay,” Stiles quickly nodded, having dealt with a few rolled ankles himself.

Derek took a pen and prescription pad from his pocket, jotting down a series of instructions. “Keep it elevated and iced. Try to make sure he keeps his weight off of it as much as possible. It should clear up in a few days at most.”

Stiles nodded, thankful that it was Friday, which meant that James didn’t have school. He looked at the piece of paper Derek ripped off the pad and held out to him. He took the paper, eyes scanning over the surprisingly legible words. He caught the sight of a phone number scrawled at the top.

“If you need anything,” Derek offered as explanation. “As a doctor, my phone’s constantly on.”

“So, 3 in the morning, if James has a nasty sneeze, I can call you,” Stiles deadpanned.

“If you think you need help with that,” Derek answered with a small shrug. He looked away from Stiles, turning towards James. “You take care, okay, buddy?”

James nodded in response. “Thank you, Dr. Derek.”

Derek smiled at him before looking at Stiles. “See you around,” he offered, almost unsure of himself as he walked away.

“I like him,” James announced as Stiles moved to pick him up.

“Yeah,” Stiles softly agreed. “I like him, too.”

~*~

It was a difficult night.

Stiles was exhausted, climbing the steps up to the apartment. His entire body ached, the dancing getting more elaborate to guarantee more bills thrown at him. His ass hurt from the john that offered him three hundred dollars for a good fuck. He made sure to take the cash first, securing it in his dance bag before discarding his clothes. He always prepped himself, never trusting anyone else to be thorough enough—he wasn’t going to the hospital because some guy liked it a little rougher than need be. He closed his eyes and pretended it was someone else. He couldn’t help feeling guilty for imagining a certain tall, gorgeous, scrubs wearing blast from his past, which got him off faster than he had in a long time.

Everything went to hell the moment he saw his landlord standing outside his apartment. He hiked his bag up higher on his shoulder, moving towards the man.

“Stilinski,” the man growled out in greeting.

“Mr. Malcolm,” Stiles answered. “Is there a problem?”

Mr. Malcolm moved, smacking an envelope against Stiles chest, leaving it there to fall if Stiles hadn’t caught it. He kept moving towards the stairs, not bothering to give Stiles a second glance. “Rent has been raised.”

Stiles dropped his dance bag, catching the letter before it fell to the floor. “Wait, you raised it a few months ago,” he called as he tore the envelope open, hurrying after Mr. Malcolm. “This is more than a thirty percent increase!” He yelled.

“You have a problem with that?” Mr. Malcolm asked as he turned to look at Stiles.

“Yeah, actually, it is a problem,” Stiles snapped as he looked at the man. “More than half of us could barely afford the last increase, and now you’re raising it again?”

“I’m raising yours,” Mr. Malcolm replied.

“What?” Stiles demanded.

“Your apartment is a two bedroom. Those are highly sought after,” Mr. Malcolm nonchalantly stated.

“You can’t do that,” Stiles argued. “I—I’m barely making end’s meet as it is.”

“Maybe get another shift shaking your ass on stage,” Mr. Malcolm commented.

“Please, I can’t—” Stiles’ voice cut off, taking a deep breath. “Please, I can’t pay a higher rent.”

“I’m not changing my mind,” Mr. Malcolm countered.

“Please,” Stiles begged, grabbing Mr. Malcolm’s arm. “There has to be … something. Payments or a loan …” He should have kept his mouth shut, knowing that his night was going to go from bad to worse.

“Maybe something could be worked out,” Mr. Malcolm stated as he turned to look at Stiles. “Alternative means of payment are always negotiable.”

Stiles immediately released his hold on Mr. Malcolm when he caught the way his eyes traveled over his body. He knew a look of salacious lust when he saw it—he lived dealing with that look almost every day.

“Suddenly frigid when it counts, huh?” Mr. Malcolm countered Stiles’ silence.

“Only when it comes to being manipulated into it,” Stiles stated, crumpling the rent notice in his hand, ready to walk back to his apartment.

“You’re the one that enjoys getting fucked up the ass for money,” Mr. Malcolm answered.

“I’m not the first person you’ve offered to accept … alternative means of payment from, am I?” Stiles asked as he focused on the beating of his heart, focusing on keeping calm.

“Everyone always needs a helping hand,” Mr. Malcolm replied with a small shrug of his shoulders, as if he wasn’t talking about taking advantage of desperate people.

“You’re disgusting,” Stiles hissed as he turned to leave. He whipped around when Mr. Malcolm grabbed his arm. “Don’t touch me,” he smacked his hand away. “Don’t ever think you can touch me. Don’t come near me or my son, ever.”

“Rent is due at the end of the month,” Mr. Malcolm countered, knowing he still held all the cards.

“And I’ll make the payment as usual,” Stiles stated, walking back to pick up his discarded dance bag. He paused at his door, looking at Mr. Malcolm as he unlocked the door. “How about you go fuck yourself in the meantime?”

Stiles knew he slammed the door too loud, but he couldn’t contain his anger. There was no way he was going to be able to pay the new rent, but there was also no way he was going to allow Mr. Malcolm the satisfaction of trading sex for housing.

Stiles huffed loudly as he collapsed on the sofa, cursing when part of the broken back jabbed into his back. He closed his eyes, calmly breathing as he ran the number in his head. He startled when he heard a small rustling followed by a warm weight pressing against him. He opened his eyes to see James climbing onto the couch beside him, his Batman costumed, pig-shaped piggybank in his hands.

“You’re supposed to be asleep, buddy,” Stiles stated as he sat up some, watching James’ determined face as he pulled the cork out of the bottom of the piggybank.

“I’ve kept all the money grandpa sends in my birthday and Christmas cards in here,” James explained as he put the hole in the bottom of the piggybank on display—trying to show Stiles the money it contained. “I’ve taken some out to get candy and stuff, but we can use it now.” He started pulling various coins and bills from inside the glass pig.

“James, we’re not using your money,” Stiles started, grabbing James’ hands to stop him.

“But you said we can’t pay a higher rent,” James stated as he looked up at Stiles.

Stiles’ stomach dropped, realizing that through the thin walls, James must have heard his argument with Mr. Malcolm. “Do you even know what a rent is?”

“It’s when mean Mr. Malcolm comes and takes money from everyone,” James stated. “But I have money, so we can give it to him next time he comes.”

Stiles pulled James into a hug, pressing a soft kiss into his hair. “That’s sweet of you, kiddo,” he stated. “But I’ll figure something out.”

Stiles managed to get James back into bed, agreeing to hold onto his piggybank while thinking his offer over. He trudged into his bedroom, setting the piggybank onto his nightstand—a makeshift piece of furniture made from milk crates. He sat on the edge of his bed, looking at the giant crack in one of the milk crates, knowing that it was going to break sooner rather than later. He sighed, pressing his face into his hands, pretending that he could bury his head and forget about it all. Everything was falling apart faster than he could manage to stop it. He didn’t know what to do, and for the first time, going home to his dad seemed like the only option.

Stiles slowly peeled out of his jacket, toeing out of his shoes and heading towards the bathroom. He wasn’t sure how long it took—whether he had been standing in the shower for a few minutes, or half an hour—but he finally let the tears go. A sharp sob cracked through his chest as he placed a hand out against the shower wall for support. He hung his head as he hoped the sound of the water blocked out the noise he was making—he didn’t want James to know that he was crying.

Stiles dried off, trying to pretend that he wasn’t sore all around—even his heart felt sore. Everything was becoming too much to handle for him. He kept the towel wrapped around his waist, catching the sight of bruises a little high on his hips. He knew he couldn’t keep doing it—that it was going to get worse.

Stiles walked back into his bedroom, sitting on the edge of his bed as he thought about his options. He reached for the house phone, typing in his father’s home phone number. His finger lingered over the send button. He hit the end button before he could change his mind.

Stiles held the phone in his hand as he thought about his next move. He bit his lip when he saw the small prescription slip Derek had given him last weekend thumbtacked to the wall by the phone base. He couldn’t remember why he kept the scrap piece of paper, knowing how to treat James’ rolled ankle from past experiences. But a part of him forced him to hold onto it, if only for the sake of having Derek’s phone number handy.

Stiles swallowed his pride and dialed Derek’s phone number, knowing that it’d be easier to talk to someone who knew his situation than to explain it to his father.

“Hello,” a sleepy voice groggily answered the phone. “Dr. Derek Hale speaking.”

“Uh, hi,” Stiles started, wincing at how stupid he sounded. “Hey, Derek, it’s Stiles.”

“Stiles?” Derek suddenly sounded more alert. “Is everything okay?”

“Um, no.” Stiles offered a weak, watery laugh to cover up his tears. “Everything is so far from okay, Derek,” he added as he altered pressing the palm of his hand into his eyes to stop his tears.

“Are you hurt?” Derek asked in concern. “Is your son hurt?”

“No, James is fine,” Stiles stated, wiping his tears as he sniffled to keep his nose from running. “But I’m in a tough situation. I … Jesus, I know you’re a busy guy, I shouldn’t have bothered you. It’s after one in the morning and I’m bothering a surgeon.”

“You’re not bothering me,” Derek immediately answered. “Besides, I don’t have surgeries tomorrow.”

“Good,” Stiles answered. “I’m not risking anyone’s life by bothering you, then.”

“Stop saying you’re bothering me,” Derek retorted. “What’s wrong?”

“Could I meet with you?” Stiles finally asked, not wanting to explain it all over the phone. “Whenever you can,” he added, knowing that Derek probably never had time off.

That was how Stiles came to be sitting in the diner across the street from Little Red’s, staring down at a mug of coffee as he waited for Derek. It was an hour before Stiles’ shift started, leaving him time to focus on trying to persuade Derek to do the unthinkable and loan him a significant sum of money. He figured that if he was going to borrow a little, he might as well do the rash thing and borrow enough for reassurance that he wouldn’t be in this situation again.

“Hey,” Derek greeted Stiles as he slid into the booth, sitting across from him.

“Hi,” Stiles forced a weak smile onto his lips as he looked up at Derek.

Derek waved to the waitress, getting a cup of coffee to match Stiles—neither of them making an attempt to drink.

“Sorry for calling you so early,” Stiles offered. “I couldn’t think of who to call.”

“It’s okay,” Derek replied. “But I still don’t know what’s going on,” he added.

Stiles ran a hand through his hair. “I need to ask you for a favor, I guess,” he started. “I never thought I’d be here. But I … I need money. I know that it’s lousy, me taking you up on your offer to help … and then I’m asking for money. But I’ll give it all back, I swear. I just need a little bit to keep ahead of the bills.”

Derek was silent as he slowly spun his coffee mug around in his hands. “Can I ask why?”

Stiles nibbled the inside of his lip, hopeful that this meant Derek was willing to accept his request.

“Stiles,” Derek started, taking a deep breath before leaning forward against the tabletop. “I’m sorry, about before. I never meant for you to think that I was talking down to you. It’s just … it’s been a while since I seen you—more than a decade. And then to find out that you’re forcing yourself to—”

“It’s disgusting, I know,” Stiles answered in defeat, not wanting Derek to say it out loud.

“It’s disgusting that people are taking advantage of you,” Derek corrected him. “You were right in saying that you shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of dancing at a strip club. Those people paying you have more to be ashamed of than you do.”

Stiles wished he could believe it.

“And it was wrong of me to just assume you could go home,” Derek continued. “I shouldn’t have pushed you or criticized you. I didn’t mean for that to happen—that was wrong of me and I’m sorry.”

“I don’t think someone’s really said sorry to me in the past couple of years,” Stiles replied.

“Well, they should,” Derek answered.

“You’re being nicer than you have to be,” Stiles weakly argued. “You know, I almost called my dad before calling you. I knew it would have been a shitstorm if I called him—I’d never hear the end of it. But I called you because I knew you’d be less judgmental.”

“Your dad loves you, Stiles,” Derek corrected him. “He’d never push you away.”

“But he’d lecture me,” Stiles countered.

“Well, I think any parent would lecture their child for staying away from home for too long,” Derek offered.

Stiles nodded. “Do you … do you know how he’s doing?” He asked, looking up at Derek.

“My mom says he’s doing fine,” Derek offered. “She speaks with him every now and again, mostly about politics and business. But she said that he seems … fine.”

Stiles released a shaky breath. “Last time I spoke to him, I had set up a P.O. Box and told him he could contact us through that. I didn’t want him to know where I was. He sends James and I birthday and Christmas cards. Sometimes he just sends letters that roughly update us. I … I can never bring myself to actually write back. I’m too ashamed to even talk to my own dad.”

Derek carefully watched Stiles, uncertain what words would be a comfort to him.

“We got in a fight,” Stiles started to explain, looking down at his coffee. “About James—he wasn’t a planned pregnancy, and my ex and I decided to try being parents. She … it wasn’t for her after the first few years. My dad had tried to tell me that having a kid was a lot harder than just making the decision to have one. He told me not to … and then when things got bad … some harsh things were said.” He paused, unsure how to continue.

“Sounds like my uncle,” Derek offered to fill the silence. “He had a dream that didn’t fit my family’s clean-cut image. He hasn’t spoken to my grandmother since he left—we were still in high school when that happened.”

Stiles nodded.

“Were you … dancing? Isn’t that what you went for after graduation?” Derek uncertainly asked.

“Yeah. James was about two when I had to quit dancing,” Stiles explained. “I didn’t have enough time to dance and hold down a job after James’ mom left. So I gave up the less important thing.” He released a soft laugh. “It’s nearly impossible to juggle a toddler and a job, then adding dancing is just senseless. I had to move us out of the dorms and to a shitty ass downtown apartment. So I pushed myself to find a higher paying job,” he paused, collecting his thoughts, conscious of Derek’s eyes on him. “James just kept crying most of the time, and I found him one day, just crying all alone—in pain—because he was hungry.” He quickly wiped the back of his hand over his eyes, ridding himself of his tears. “And one night, while looking for a job, I stumbled on Little Red’s—the owner was nice enough to just believe me that I had nearly finished my professional training. And when I was leaving, still no money but the promise of a job, some guy asked for my … services.”

Stiles looked up at Derek for the first time, surprised not to see any judgment or revulsion like he normally saw. There was no hint that Derek wanted to try arranging a type of beneficial deal.

“So, I did it,” Stiles admitted as he looked down at his coffee. “And I hated myself for every second of it—before, during, and after. But I had enough money to feed James for more than a week.” He stared down at his hands, fingertips tapping against the glass. “My landlord—he knows. Well, I think he assumed that just because I dance at Little Red’s means that I sleep with people. Which isn’t the case with other dancers, you know? Just really me.”

Derek shuffled his weight a little bit. “Did he … did he threaten you, Stiles?”

Stiles looked up at Derek.

“If he’s blackmailing you—”

“No,” Stiles shook his head. “He raised the rent again,” he explained. “I tried to bargain with him—begged him not to raise it, asked about payments and even a loan. But he … he offered to let me to pay by alternative means.”

“Prick,” Derek cursed under his breath.

“So, that’s my life,” Stiles stated. “Really sad, isn’t it.”

“You’re surviving,” Derek offered.

“Surviving,” Stiles echoed. “That’s why I need money—I can’t take more shifts at Little Red’s, and if I tried quitting and working full time at the diner, I’d make less. Even with … even with accepting to give my services elsewhere … it’s not enough.” He ran his hands over the edge of the table. “I just want to make sure James has a roof over his head, that’s all. And I figured, since you’re a surgeon, that you might have enough money, that you wouldn’t mind loaning me some.”

“I have money,” Derek confirmed as he stared at Stiles. “But you shouldn’t be going back to that apartment,” he stated. “Not with that landlord there.”

“Derek, I have nowhere else to go,” Stiles started. “Every other place is more—there’s a reason people stay in those apartments with an asshole like that as a landlord, and it’s called cheap rent.”

“Come live with me,” Derek uttered before he could stop himself.

Chapter Text

Stiles was grateful that Derek had offered assistance in the form of a place to stay. It seemed insane, as if he was jumping onto a sinking boat by taking his chances. But Stiles remembered Derek from high school. He remembered him volunteering at the Sheriff’s Station, something that looked great on college applications and satisfied his mother.

More importantly, Stiles felt more at ease when Derek mentioned that the guest room was big enough for both Stiles and James. It made him feel better about moving in with, what Erica liked to remind him was, a stranger.

“Hold up,” Erica gruffly stated as she placed her hands on her hips, making herself look more intimidating. “You can’t move in with a stranger.”

“I was really good friends with his sister in high school,” Stiles countered.

“He could be a serial killer,” Erica replied.

“He’s a Hale,” Stiles countered once more.

“Which means he thinks he can get away with anything he does that much easier than others,” Erica stated.

“He’s Peter’s nephew,” Stiles exasperated. “I’ve known Peter, as my boss, for almost two years now.”

“Then why don’t you move in with Peter?” Isaac questioned.

“I live here,” Peter answered from his spot focusing on fixing part of the stage.

Everyone knew Peter had started living at Little Red’s, an attempt to save on money, a few months ago. He didn’t really work certain hours, constantly trying to mend costumes and fix different portions of the club himself. He was surprisingly handy when it came to construction. Stiles was positive that there wasn’t a day Peter didn’t have band aids on at least one of his fingers.

“That’s not the point, Erica,” Stiles argued. “I am running out of options. And Derek was nice enough to offer to put me up for a few weeks, couple months at the most, to allow me time to catch up on making rent money. Besides, I think Peter would tell me if Derek was some sort of psycho.”

“Family members never know their loved ones are serial killers,” Isaac commented.

“Stop countering my claims,” Stiles snapped. He took a deep breath, as he ran a hand through his hair. “Look,” he calmly started. “I appreciate the concern, I do. But I’m not rushing into this. I know Derek, and the Hales. I haven’t seen him in almost a decade, but … I’m out of options, okay?”

“Stiles,” Peter started, gesturing for him to come over and talk. He finally looked up at him when Stiles was standing next to the edge of the stage. “We’re just worried,” he stated.

“You worry?” Stiles asked, a faint smile in his voice.

“Well, sometimes,” Peter stated. “It keeps me young.”

“That’s your secret,” Stiles replied.

“In all seriousness,” Peter started as he placed his tools down. “If you need a place to stay, we could find something for you here. You and James are always welcomed.”

“I appreciate it, Peter,” Stiles answered. “But …”

“Raising a child in a strip club isn’t the best thing,” Peter finished. “I know. And just so you know, Derek isn’t a serial killer. Or a stalker. He’s just bad with his words.”

Stiles smiled. “I figured. James really likes him, just meeting him the few times he has.”

“And you?” Peter questioned.

Stiles looked up at Peter, his smile faltering. “I’m not a cliché,” he answered.

“No, I don’t think you are,” Peter replied. “I just recall a six year old boy chasing my ten year old nephew around the backyard, staring at him in awe.”

Stiles snorted, shaking his head. “I was six.”

“And yet here you are, back together,” Peter stated.

“Your nephew is being a good person and helping someone in need,” Stiles replied.

“My nephew isn’t helping out because you are just some person in need,” Peter explained. “He’s helping you because you’re you. He’s always had a soft spot for you.”

~*~

“Dr. Derek!” James happily greeted Derek at the door, smiling up at him. “Dad said you’d be coming over.”

“Hi, James,” Derek answered with a smile, looking up to see Stiles almost trip over a moving box.

“James, I told you not to answer the door when someone knocks,” Stiles sighed.

“Unless you look first,” James recited in reply. “Sorry, dad.”

“It’s okay, buddy,” Stiles replied, offering a faint smile when he looked up at Derek. “James, why don’t you go grab your coat?”

“Okay!” James called as he ran back into the apartment, heading for his room.

Stiles gently patted James’ head as he passed by. He placed his hands on his hips as he moved towards Derek. “Listen, you can still—”

“Stiles,” Derek cut him off before he could say anything. “I meant what I said last week. And this weekend. And last night,” he added. “You’re welcomed in my home.”

Stiles took a deep breath, nodding in acceptance. “I really appreciate this—we both appreciate this. James has been excited since I told him last night.”

On cue, James crashed into one of the boxes, stumbling into their view once more. He released a small laugh as he ran over next to Stiles.

“Do you really have a yard?” James curiously asked as he held onto his father’s hand. “Like, one big enough to run in?”

“Yeah,” Derek answered, somewhat proud of himself for ignoring his sisters when they told him he’d never use his yard for anything.

“Dad, this is going to be so awesome,” James excitedly stated as he looked up at Stiles.

“I know, kiddo,” Stiles answered as he knelt before James, quickly tying his shoes for him.

“Will we see Mrs. Kay for my birthday still?” James quickly asked. “I know it’s next weekend and we’ll be super busy still moving stuff, but—”

“If you want to see Mrs. Kay for your birthday, I’m sure she’ll be more than happy to see you,” Stiles stated as he stood up.

“Can I help Derek carry some of the stuff down?” James excitedly asked.

Stiles looked at Derek for an answer.

“I think you could manage to help carry some of the light stuff,” Derek offered as he looked down at James.

James’ eyebrows furrowed as his lips twisted into a pout. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“We don’t want you injuring your ankle again, do we?” Derek countered as he picked up one of the boxes.

“You don’t have to take the heavy stuff,” Stiles quickly stated as he moved to grab the box.

“I’m fine,” Derek answered as he moved the box out of Stiles’ reach. “Get your own box,” he playfully stated as he moved to head out the door.

James grabbed the crate holding his few belongings, including his baseball glove and piggy bank. He hurried after Derek, asking him questions about his baseball playing years.

Stiles grabbed the box containing their bathroom supplies, looking back at the apartment. He honestly felt miserable at the fact that he was able to pack their entire life into only a dozen boxes. The small voice that always crept into his thoughts started to speak once more, telling him that it wasn’t surprising because of how much of a failure he had become. A small fracture of Stiles felt as if he needed to back out of Derek’s offer, knowing that it was charity, despite how Derek dressed it up. He knew that a respectable person would swallow their pride and go home to his father.

“Stiles?” Mrs. Kay’s voice was followed by a series of small knocks.

“In here, Mrs. Kay,” Stiles answered as he turned to head towards the door.

Mrs. Kay greeted Stiles with a fond smile, a lovely glass pan covered in plastic wrapping held tightly in her hands. “I’m glad I was able to finish these before you left.”

“Oh, Mrs. Kay, you didn’t have to,” Stiles started as he set the box down, moving over to her.

“Oh, pish-tosh,” Mrs. Kay answered with a small shake of her head. “I’m celebrating that you’re getting out of here. Malcolm is going to get a surprise when he gets my letter.”

Stiles released a soft laugh as he took the pan from her, moving to set it down on the box filled with James’ clothes. “You didn’t have to do that either,” he commented. He had no idea Mrs. Kay was going to be so passionate about righting the wrongs that Mr. Malcolm had been taking advantage of.

“When you get to my age, you only do things that you want to do,” Mrs. Kay explained as she moved to hug Stiles. “You take care of yourself, sweetheart, you hear me?”

Stiles hugged Mrs. Kay back, closing his eyes as he faintly nodded against her shoulder. He didn’t trust himself not to cry if he admitted that he was scared of the uncertainty he was facing.

“Now, if you need anything,” Mrs. Kay started as she pulled back from Stiles. “And I mean anything, my door is always open for you. It’s a cramped one person apartment, but we’ll make due if need be.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Kay, but I’m confident this is going to work out,” Stiles stated as he offered her a reassuring smile.

“Mrs. Kay!” James exciting announced as he bounced up next to her, wrapping his arms around her waist as he ran into both her and Stiles.

“Hello, James,” Mrs. Kay happily greeted him as she released Stiles to turn and embrace James.

“Did you know Derek has a car?” James excitedly told her. “He uses it to drive to work because it means he can sleep later than taking the bus. And he leaves the hospital later too!”

“Oh, wow,” Mrs. Kay uttered, not fully understanding what James was talking about.

“Oh, Mrs. Kay, this is Derek,” Stiles started, introducing Derek as he stood in the doorway.

Mrs. Kay looked up, partially inspecting Derek as she offered a free hand to shake. “Nice to meet you,” she politely offered.

“You as well, ma’am,” Derek answered, shaking her hand.

“Ma’am,” Mrs. Kay partially snorted. “He’s polite,” she commented as she turned to look at Stiles. “At least you found a polite one.”

Stiles released a slightly nervous laugh, unsure just how much Mrs. Kay was going to push into knowing about Derek and the arrangement he set up with Stiles.

“James told me you have a yard,” Mrs. Kay stated as she looked at Derek.

“Yes, I do,” Derek answered, appearing relaxed as he gently leaned against the doorframe.

“Where do you live?” Mrs. Kay asked.

“Just outside of uptown Beacon Heights,” Derek stated. “Wolvsesmeadow.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Kay started, releasing a faint breath. “That’s a lovely neighborhood. Especially for raising children.”

Stiles released a loud, uncomfortable laugh to break the conversation. “Mrs. Kay, are you free next weekend? We’re celebrating James’ birthday.”

“Yeah!” James excitedly stated as he looked up at Mrs. Kay. “We’re going to have a party in the park.”

“I would be delighted to be there,” Mrs. Kay stated with a smile.

“Great, I’ll be sure to call and give you the details,” Stiles stated.

“You keep in touch, darlings,” Mrs. Kay uttered as she started to move towards the door.

“We definitely will,” Stiles affirmed as he moved to pick up the pan of chocolate chip cookie dough brownies before James got his hand on the pan.

“Dad,” James complained as he failed to reach the pan before Stiles. “Mrs. Kay made those for me!”

“And you can have them after dinner,” Stiles stated. He smiled as he held the pan out of James’ reach, dancing away from his son’s attempts to get the dessert. He moved towards the back of the apartment where most of the boxes were. “If you want one, you can have one once we finish getting all the boxes in Derek’s car. How about that?”

James released an exasperated sigh. “Fine,” he uttered as he let his head hang back, his arms limp by his sides.

“I know, I’m the worst,” Stiles playfully answered as he ruffled James’ curls.

“Dad,” James complained as he tried to fix his hair.

Stiles smiled, looking up to see if Mrs. Kay had left. He panicked when he saw her standing in the hallway talking to Derek. He knew there were a number of things that she could possibly be telling Derek, and all of them were mortifyingly embarrassing.

Mrs. Kay smiled as she finished talking to Derek, offering a faint wave to Stiles and James before reentering her apartment.

“Please tell me she didn’t pester you,” Stiles quickly stated when Derek came back in to grab another heavy box. He pretended not to be marveling at Derek’s arms that his tank top wonderfully showed off.

“No,” Derek simply answered as he waited for James to grab another box.

James hurried over to Derek, a brownie hanging from his mouth as he picked up the small lamp.

Derek smiled as he watched James hurry out the door ahead of him. “She just told me to be a good boyfriend.”

“Oh, for the love of God,” Stiles groaned as he grimaced. “I’m so sorry.”

Derek shrugged in response as he started to head into the hallway at James’ brownie-muffled call for him to hurry up. “I take it as a compliment. I haven’t done better.”

Stiles felt his face heat up as Derek disappeared into the hallway. He rubbed his hands over his face as he repetitively muttered, “Do not fall for Derek Hale; Do not fall for Derek Hale … again.”

~*~

“I can’t believe you own a house in Beacon Heights,” Stiles uttered as he watched the transition from downtown Heights to uptown flicker by the car windows.

“It’s not really in the Heights,” Derek argued.

“It’s in the nice secluded part?” Stiles countered, a soft smile pulling at his lips.

“I guess it’s in the suburbs,” Derek replied, keeping his hands on the steering wheel.

“Dad, look,” James excitedly stated as he pointed out the window. “It’s your diner!” He waved, thinking that maybe Barbara could see him.

“Yeah, it is,” Stiles answered, thankful James wasn’t looking across the street to see Little Red’s.

A small silence fell between them as Stiles turned to look at Derek. He watched as Derek focused on the traffic, keeping his eyes on the lights and other cars. He turned in his seat to look at James, noticing the boy was busy humming along with the music and watching the passing people—enjoying his first time in a car.

“Thank you,” Stiles finally stated as he looked at Derek.

“For what?” Derek asked as he snuck a look at Stiles.

“For everything,” Stiles answered. “For welcoming us into your home. For helping us with moving the boxes.” He carefully studied Derek’s face before adding, “For buying James a booster seat.”

Derek cleared his throat, keeping his eyes on the road. His ears burned a solid pink. “I was hoping you wouldn’t have noticed that.”

“Child safety is important,” Stiles answered with a smile. “I guess I’m just saying, thank you for caring.”

Derek nodded, not trusting his voice.

“It’s been so long since I’ve been in a car, that I didn’t even think about if James would need a booster seat or not,” Stiles confessed as he turned to look out the window.

“Being a pediatric doctor, it makes me overly up-to-date, and overly cautious,” Derek replied, a faint blush still evident through his beard.

Stiles wanted to laugh in Erica’s face for her thoughts that Derek Hale was a serial killer. Serial killers didn’t blush, and they didn’t buy booster seats for another person’s child.

~*~

James was bouncing in his booster seat when Derek pulled into the driveway to his house. He was lunging forward, forcing the seatbelt to lock into place. “Dad! Look at the yard!”

“I see it, buddy,” Stiles answered, his eyes fixed on the house.

Derek Hale was a liar. He didn’t have a modest home suitable for a bachelor doctor. Just from counting the windows alone, he had a home that could comfortably house a family of five—maybe even more, in Stiles’ opinion.

“You modest asshole,” Stiles uttered under his breath.

“I heard that,” Derek answered with a small smile.

“You said you had a guest room,” Stiles argued. “It looks like you have multiple ones.”

“To be fair, the master bedroom and master bathroom takes up a good third of the upstairs,” Derek replied as he parked the car.

“That’s not helping your argument,” Stiles countered as he unbuckled his seat belt.

Stiles didn’t know how Derek had managed to carry more than half of the boxes, when just carrying one into the house left him feeling winded. He wasn’t surprised to see James overly energetic as he ran into the house.

James halted himself, remembering that he should take his shoes off. He hurried back to the door, sitting down on the rug as he pulled his sneakers off. He jumped up to his feet, running towards the stairs.

“Can I find our room?” James excitedly asked, already halfway up the stairs.

“It’s to the right,” Derek called after him.

Stiles allowed his smile to slip when he finally turned to look at Derek. “Listen, if this doesn’t really work out—”

“Stiles,” Derek partially grumbled as he set the box on the bench by the steps. “I swear, if you don’t stop pestering yourself with guilt—”

“Derek, it’s insane that you invited me and my son to live with you, you realize that, right?” Stiles argued.

“Just as insane as you accepting,” Derek countered. “Look,” he sighed, crossing his arms over his chest. “You can leave any time you want, I’m not going to tell you that you have to stay here. But it’s four walls and a roof over yours and James’ head. And it’s there until you don’t need it anymore.”

Stiles wanted to jump into Derek’s arms and never let go. He wanted to say that he was so tired, and that this was an unbelievable break. He wanted to admit that it was better than a dream come true when he needed it most. But he didn’t get to.

Instead, James’ scream echoed through the house.

Stiles startled at the sound of his son yelling. He darted up the stairs, followed by Derek.

“James!” Stiles yelled as he reached the top of the steps, uncertain which way he had gone.

“Dad!” James yelled from in the room in front of them.

Stiles noticed it was the bathroom as he ran in. He skidded to a stop when he saw James pointing to the tub.

“Dad! It’s a tub! I can take a bath finally!” James stated in excitement.

“James Buchanan Stilinski!” Stiles snapped, his heart still hammering in his chest. “I thought you were hurt!”

“But dad, it looks like the tub from Nightmare Before Christmas!” James argued.

Derek didn’t bother to hide his laughter as he leaned against the doorframe, winded.

“This isn’t funny, Derek,” Stiles stated as he looked at him.

“It’s a little funny,” Derek softly countered.

“James, go to our new room, right now,” Stiles stated as he pointed towards the hallway.

“But I don’t know where to go,” James explained.

“I’ll show you,” Derek offered, a smile still covering his face.

James walked by Stiles, taking Derek’s hand as he escorted him out of the bathroom and towards the guest room.

Stiles sighed, leaning against the counter as he watched them go. There really wasn’t a way to describe how terrified he had been when he heard James yell. Part of him, though, felt a small wave of relief when Derek hurried up the stairs after him. It was nice to know that there was someone else around that was concerned for James.

~*~

The first night was uneventful—other than James kicking Stiles’ legs several times as they shared the Queen sized bed of the guest room. James was excited when Derek offered to do up one of the other spare rooms, informing both Stiles and James that they could take their time decorating it if they wanted. It felt more than just a roof over their head, it felt like a real home—something Stiles hadn’t felt in a long time.

Stiles decided to let James sleep an extra hour now that the bus stop was closer. He was thankful that he actually could let James sleep more, noticing that the long days were starting to take a toll on the kid’s energy level. He padded through the hallway to the bathroom, lazily brushing his teeth as he examined himself in the mirror. He looked exhausted, dark bags under his eyes, his muscles looking as if they were starting to disappear from the lack of exercise. Sure, he could dance on stage and even do a few routines on the poles, but nothing like what Erica and the others managed. He stretched, pressing up onto his tiptoes as he allowed his muscles to pull through the entire body yawn. The feel of his weight pressing up onto his toes reminded him of the countless hours he used to dedicate to en pointe training—thoughts of teachers telling him it was uncommon, but then marveling at his form and technique anyways.

“Going places,” Stiles bitterly murmured as he recalled what most of the teachers had been telling him, up until the point Stiles started dedicating time to James.

‘A kid is more responsibility than just deciding to have one.’

Stiles roughly tossed his toothbrush back into the holder, trying to block memories of his argument with his dad out. He moved towards the stairs, deciding to loot through Derek’s pantry in hopes of finding food suitable to the tastes of a seven year old. He wasn’t surprised to discover that Derek had left at an ungodly hour when he made his way into the kitchen to discover a hastily scrawled note with a key on the kitchen counter.

Stiles,

I’ll be at the hospital until 5. I should be home roughly around 6. Please make yourself at home. Here’s your key—I’m having another made for James, in case of an emergency. There is coffee in the pot, and help yourself and James to the pantry and fridge.

Stiles fondly smiled as he idly turned the note against the counter. He was totally falling harder for Derek over a stupid note, and he needed to get it out of his mind. He preoccupied himself with looking for making a breakfast for James.

Stiles was halfway through frying up some scrambled eggs and toast when James tiredly came down the stairs.

“Dad,” James called, his small fist scrubbing at his eyes. “I’m going to be late,” he sadly concluded as he moved towards the counter.

“You have a different bus stop, kiddo,” Stiles explained as he pushed the eggs around with the spatula. “It’s one that all the kids in Wolvesmeadow use.”

James pursed his lips to the side, processing this new information. “You mean, we won’t be going to the diner anymore?”

“We can still go and see Barbara every now and then, but we don’t need to be going down there anymore,” Stiles explained.

“What about your job?” James asked, moving out of Stiles’ way as he emptied the frying pans contents onto a plate.

“I’m focusing on something else,” Stiles offered.

“Are you dancing again?” James asked. “Did Uncle Peter get you another job?”

Stiles deposited the frying pan back onto the cooled stovetop before quickly snatching up the toast once it popped. “Yeah, I’m choreographing.”

“Can I see it when it’s done?” James asked as he followed Stiles to the table.

“I don’t think so,” Stiles answered, not wanting to upset James with an outright no.

“But you’ll at least be dancing again, right?” James questioned as he took a seat at the table.

“Yes, now hurry up and eat so you can get dressed and we’ll be on time,” Stiles answered.

“Wait, how do they know I’m coming to the bus stop?” James questioned, a chunk of toast in his mouth as he watched Stiles pour him some orange juice.

“Derek helped me with that,” Stiles replied. “The school knows, and they told the bus drivers. Now be quiet and eat.”

Stiles left James to eat, running upstairs to pull out an outfit for him to wear. As for himself, he just pulled on his hoodie, opting to remain in sweatpants. It felt like a lazy day, one to be spent not rushing around as the worry about rent started to disappear. Things started to look up, Derek being a literally godsend. He was grateful that the walk to Little Red’s was now shorter than to his old apartment—a better neighborhood to be walking through too.

It all felt safer, for both his and James’ sakes.

After James dressed, he hastily yanked his sneakers on, jumping up and down as he stumbled to get his hoodie from Stiles.

“You’ve got worse balance than me,” Stiles fondly stated through a smile.

“Not all of us can be dancers,” James retorted as he failed to zipper his hoodie. “Do you think Uncle Peter is going to get me another cool hoodie this year?”

“I don’t know,” Stiles answered, already knowing that Peter had gotten him the new Captain America hoodie James had told him all about. He tried not to laugh when Peter admitted that he didn’t know what James was talking about when he told him about the upcoming movie.

“Is Derek going to come to my party?” James suddenly asked as he exited the door.

Stiles frowned, realizing that he hadn’t thought about asking Derek. “I’m sure if you wanted him there, he’d be honored to be there.”

“I’m going to ask him tonight, then,” James replied as he walked beside Stiles. As soon as they reached the end of the driveway, he grabbed Stiles’ hand, completely used to holding his dad’s hand as they walked down the street.

Stiles made sure to be on the outside, his eyes carefully tracking the cars that passed them. He suddenly felt like he was back in high school the minute they reached the bus stop.

There were several moms—as well as two dads—that were waiting with their band of kids. All the moms looked like they didn’t just roll out of bed, most of them multitasking as they typed away on their smart phones and conversed with each other. Some were in designer clothes, expensive jewelry adorning as many places as possible.

Stiles crossed the road with James, immediately noticing the way everyone seemed to stare at them in slow evaluation. He moved to stand next to the woman who was actually engaging with, who Stiles assumed, was her daughter. He ignored the looks of the other parents, smiling down at James. “We made it,” he offered.

“It’s not as long a hike as before,” James replied, surveying their surroundings.

“That’s true,” Stiles answered with a small chuckle. “Are you excited for your birthday?” He asked, wanting to keep James distracted from the others.

“Yup,” James answered with a smile. “Are you excited for your birthday?”

“I’m a parent, we rarely get excited over such things,” Stiles countered, pretending that he couldn’t be bothered to think about being another year older.

“I got you a great present,” James stated.

“Oh?” Stiles questioned as he looked down at James.

“Yup,” James nodded. “It’s awesome. You’re going to love it.”

“And, pray tell, when did you get this awesome present?” Stiles asked as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“Derek’s taking care of it,” James countered.

Stiles’ heart stuttered a bit at the mention of Derek. “James, what did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” James quickly stated. “I just told Derek your birthday was next month. And he said he was happy he didn’t miss it.”

The school bus was headed towards them, saving James from Stiles grilling him for answers.

“I’ll let this slide … for now,” Stiles stated as they stood back with the rest of the kids.

“You’ll be here to get me, right?” James asked as he waited for the other kids to get on the bus.

“Yup,” Stiles answered as he watched James filing closer to the bus door. “I have to go see Uncle Peter today, but I’ll be here.”

“Tell Auntie Erica I said I want a chocolate cake this year!” James called as he got on the bus.

“Okay,” Stiles called, knowing James heard him when he leaned into the window and waved at him. He waved at the departing bus, part of him wishing that he could just keep James home indefinitely.

“Stiles?” A female voice questioned.

Stiles startled a little, uncertain which of the moms had noticed him. He realized it was the woman who was actually spending time with her daughter. “Um, hi,” he offered as he started to turn around.

“Hey, sorry for startling you. I was just surprised, I didn’t know you moved,” the woman stated.

Stiles was looking at her before recognition hit him. “Allison? Allison Argent?”

Allison laughed, a small nod affirming Stiles’ realization.

“Oh, wow, I’m so sorry for not recognizing you right off the bat,” Stiles apologized. “And we both have kids,” he added. He hated how he hadn’t been keeping up with past friends, not knowing who married who, or what happened to certain fellow graduates. He was glad no one was able to keep tabs on him.

“Oh, no, she’s actually a cousin,” Allison explained. “Parents are workaholics, and since all my grad classes are online this semester, I have time to kill.”

“That’s really nice of you,” Stiles offered.

“Yeah, Derek actually helped walk me through a lot of the nightmares that are neighbors here,” Allison explained with a small laugh.

“Right,” Stiles stated, his pulse escalating. “I totally forgot that you hung around the Hales almost as much as I did.”

“Yeah,” Allison answered, releasing a heavy sigh. “He’s been a really good friend through the years, despite our families being near mortal enemies at times. I’m just grateful he doesn’t automatically hate me like … well, you know.”

Stiles wasn’t privy to all the information of Peter’s life, but he heard enough of it through the thin walls of his office at Little Red’s. Especially whenever he got into one of his monthly yelling matches when Chris Argent stopped by.

Allison was born only seven months into Chris’ new marriage to Victoria, and it didn’t take a mathematical genius to realize that Chris was seeing Victoria as his divorce proceedings came to a close. It left many—Peter included—to assume that Chris actually started his affair with Victoria prior to the divorce papers being served. And Allison just happened to be the walking, talking, reminder of all that.

“Peter doesn’t hate,” Stiles started. “He broods. Derek used to be pretty good at it.”

“Yeah, totally,” Allison agreed, moving to start walking down the street with Stiles. “Are you in the neighborhood visiting?” She curiously asked.

“No, actually,” Stiles answered, knowing he was going to have to tell the truth. “I’m having tough times,” he confessed. “And I’m staying with someone who has agreed to put me and my son up for a few weeks, until we have some wiggle room.”

“That’s great,” Allison started. “Not the tough times bit!” She hurriedly fixed her meaning. “The friend bit.”

“Yeah,” Stiles agreed. “Derek’s great.”

Allison almost paused her steps, realizing Stiles’ meaning. “You’re living with Derek?”

Stiles nodded.

“That’s great,” Allison stated with genuine happiness at the news. “That’s really great.”

“We met a few weeks back,” Stiles stated. “Reconnected while he was out celebrating Laura’s wedding.”

Allison nodded, making a soft noise of agreement.

“That wasn’t suspicious, at all,” Stiles laughed.

“The wedding is next month and all of Beacon Hills is buzzing about it,” Allison explained. “And … and I was at Laura’s bachelorette party.”

Stiles’ footing slipped and he stumbled a bit. Allison reached out and grabbed him, steadying him some.

“You were at Little Red’s?” Stiles questioned, not looking at Allison. Their walking had come to a stop, but Stiles could see Derek’s driveway just a few yards away.

“Cora was the one that saw you dancing,” Allison explained, her voice small and apologetic. “And she pointed you out because she wasn’t sure—she knew we knew each other, from spending time together when the Hales all had those parties. I was the one that told Derek and … well, here we are.”

“Pointed out the joke, huh?” Stiles weakly uttered.

“No!” Allison quickly said. “God, no. Don’t talk about yourself like that, Stiles.”

“James doesn’t know what kind of dancing Little Red’s is,” Stiles started, turning to look at Allison. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t say anything to anyone—especially the other parents.”

“Stiles, what you do is your business,” Allison started. “I don’t like gossip, and I despise rumors.” She sighed, unsure what to say. “I don’t think there is anything deplorable in stripping. I actually think it takes a lot of courage to go up on a stage and dance, knowing people are looking at you—objectifying you. And it takes a lot of muscle to move on a pole.”

Stiles couldn’t help the soft laugh that escaped his throat.

“And besides, those moms would be hypocrites if they said something about your dancing being sexual. A majority of them are so fed up with their vanilla sex lives, that they’ve been slinking after Derek for years,” Allison stated.

“I thought you hated gossip?” Stiles asked.

“It’s not gossip. It’s fact,” Allison countered. “And if they find out Derek even talks to you, let alone invited you into his home, they will be nasty.”

“Just what I need,” Stiles sighed.

Seeing Allison again was nice, putting Stiles completely at ease once he realized she knew about Little Red’s and didn’t treat it like a dirty secret. Their conversation dwindled pleasantly, resulting in them exchanging numbers. Stiles was grateful that there was someone he could connect with in Wolvesmeadow. He was confident that James would at least bond with Allison’s cousin, giving him a new friend.

James wasn’t a loner, but he tended to enjoy being around adults more than being around other kids his age. He had been invited to a few parties here or there, but he never seemed to be overly excited to go.

Stiles remembered how much he hated it when his parents forced him to hang out with certain kids around the neighborhood. He vowed to never force James into situations like that, which explained his initial hesitance in pushing James towards sports. But James loved baseball, even more so when he discovered that Stiles used to play. And Stiles desperately wanted to get the old baseball glove fixed, not wanting James to be the only kid without a glove at tryouts.

Stiles idly walked around the house, stretching his limbs out as he thought about his meeting with Peter today. He could easily create a few basic moves for different dancers to create a continual loop with. He needed to focus on the way the different dances would be received. He sighed, knowing that no matter what he came up with, he wouldn’t be happy with it. It wouldn’t be perfect, and it wouldn’t be approved by anyone in the professional ballet industry, that was a given.

Stiles changed into comfortable work out clothes as he settled in the living room. He moved the coffee table to the side with ease, knowing that Derek wouldn’t mind if he pushed it out of place to ensure that it wasn’t harmed in the process of his choreographing. He took his time stretching, closing his eyes as he gave in to the feel of his muscles loosening under the light pressure. He steadied his breathing, glad that he had more room to practice, especially without James to see.

Stiles tested out his pointe shoes, trying to see if the soles still formed to the arch of his foot as they once did. He smiled to himself at the familiarity, despite the small throbbing in his toes as they became reacquainted with the strain, even with the cushioning. It took him a good hour of practice before he even dared to let his mind linger on thinking about en pointe.

Stiles put his foot in formation, taking a deep breath as he moved to lean his weight onto the flat box of the pointe shoe. His frame struggled over the sudden familiarity of pain shooting up through his leg. He flattened his feet, feeling relieved to not have an audience in seeing how quickly his feet grew tired, relieved Peter would want something more showy and worthy of a cabaret than a professional ballet studio.

~*~

“I ran into Allison, today,” Stiles stated as he rinsed the last plate.

“Oh,” Derek uttered, pausing his movements to place the container of leftovers into the fridge. “Shit, I forgot to tell you that she helps out with Kate’s daughter.”

Stiles slowly placed the plate in the dishwasher, wiping his hands off on the cup towel as he looked up at Derek. “Kate … as in, Kate Argent, psycho-bitch?”

Derek released a soft snort as he closed the fridge door. “Her ex-husband lives a few blocks down. He has full custody of their daughter.”

“Oh, thank God for that little girl’s sanity,” Stiles uttered.

“Yeah,” Derek answered.

“That’s not a conflict of interest for you?” Stiles questioned.

“Mike brings Emily to see Kate at her high, upscale apartment in Uptown,” Derek replied. “So, my restraining order holds.”

“I didn’t know you had one,” Stiles started, leaning against the sink as he watched Derek close the dishwasher, hitting a few buttons. “To be honest, I’m glad you do.”

“When a crazy wannabe ex tries to burn you and your entire family alive, and then gets a slap on the wrist for it, you tend to go all out,” Derek replied, looking up at Stiles.

“Cora told you she didn’t like her,” Stiles offered.

“And I told Kate I didn’t like her,” Derek answered.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles suddenly stated, feeling slightly guilty that his jealousy was coloring him biased. “I just remember hating her prancing around your parents’ house, and I didn’t even think about how you must feel to talk about her.”

“Don’t apologize,” Derek answered. “There aren’t a lot of people that know about what happened and it’s … it’s kind of nice to reflect and know I’m not crazy.”

“You mean Kate flipping her shit wasn’t you being crazy?” Stiles sarcastically questioned. “It was kind of scary.”

Stiles still argued that Kate knew what she was doing and used ‘melt down’ as a cover screen for her general psychotic ways. He remembered being at the Hales’ house when Kate had her episode, trying to cause an electrical fire. He also remembered being told to keep quiet about the entire incident—that no one was to know. It never sat right with Stiles, feeling as if he was lying to the world by keeping silent.

“People do crazy things,” Derek answered.

“I’m sorry you were the target of some of it,” Stiles replied as he moved to grab his glass of water. “But I feel like I have to warn you, James invited Emily and Allison to his birthday party.”

“That might not be a good idea,” Derek softly answered, not wanting James to hear him. He furrowed his eyebrows, unsure how to broach the subject. “Allison and Peter … they don’t hate each other, but it is awkward for them.”

“I already talked to Peter about it,” Stiles reassuringly stated. “He told me it wasn’t his place to ruin James’ party. He said Allison and Emily are more than welcomed.”

Derek nodded. “You think of everything,” he stated, impressed by Stiles’ forethought.

“I’m a father, I have to,” Stiles answered.

“Dad! Derek! It’s starting!” James shouted from the living room.

“There is a pause button on the remote for a reason, buddy!” Stiles yelled back.

“But Captain America waits for no one!” James countered.

“He waits for Bucky,” Stiles answered, sharing a soft smile with Derek. “We better get in there before he recaps the entire thing for us.”

Derek moved to grab the popcorn bowl, pausing when he heard Stiles’ stomach growl. He turned to look at Stiles, noticing that he wasn’t even fazed by it.

“Are you … still hungry?” Derek asked arching his eyebrow. He called thinking that Stiles’ portion of the meal was smaller than average, but didn’t question it at first.

“What?” Stiles asked, quizzically arching his eyebrow in response to Derek’s.

“Your stomach just growled,” Derek replied. “Loudly.”

“Oh,” Stiles looked down at his tummy, smacking a playful hand on it. “I didn’t even hear it. I think I’m just anticipating the popcorn.”

Derek softly nodded, not entirely accepting it.

~*~

Stiles was impressed by Erica’s balloon arrangement, surprised that no one reported her for excessive decorating in the park.

“Look, dad! It’s Captain America,” James excitedly pointed to one of the balloons.

“Auntie Erica’s outdone herself today,” Stiles answered as he marveled at the decorations. He looked at Derek, slowing his walking some as he moved to softly speak to him. “It’s not too late for you to run, you know.”

“That would be difficult since I’m carrying the birthday boy,” Derek answered.

Stiles released a small chuckle as he looked at James. “Seriously, though, they are going to swarm you when they see that I’m letting you carry James.”

“Oh, letting me,” Derek countered. “I’m pretty sure James demanded that I be the one to carry him over.”

“To be fair, I’ve grown weak in my old age and can only carry light things,” Stiles answered, putting the two bags of presents in his hands on display.

“Dad, you’re younger than Derek,” James commented as he leaned over in Derek’s arms, trying to be a part of the conversation.

“Derek’s like Steve, he’s an old timer but he doesn’t age,” Stiles explained.

“No he’s not,” James stated, pretending that he wasn’t side-eyeing Derek now.

“I was not alive during World War II,” Derek deadpanned.

Their conversation, however, stopped when a sudden parade of voices shouted, “Happy Birthday!”

James smiled at everyone, overjoyed that they were all collected to spend his birthday with him.

“Nephew,” Peter uttered in bewilderment when he saw that Derek was the one carrying James over to them.

“Uncle,” Derek answered.

“Dad!” James excitedly called. “Derek calls Peter ‘Uncle’, too!”

“That’s because Peter is, unfortunately, his real uncle,” Erica answered as she moved to arrange the presents on the table.

Derek set James down, allowing him to run off and greet everyone.

“You’re settling into the image of father rather well,” Peter softly commented as Derek sat beside him.

“You’re settling into the image of pariah rather well,” Derek countered as he took the soda from Peter’s outstretched hand.

“I’m surprised you were able to make it without a parade of your mother’s photographers chasing you,” Peter replied.

“We’ve been through this,” Derek lowly answered, keeping his eyes on the others as they went about showering their attention on James. “Mom doesn’t do that anymore.”

“Did you get that in writing?” Peter skeptically asked. “Did you also happen to read the fine print?”

Derek looked at his uncle, knowing that despite his desires to prove Peter wrong, there was truth to his skepticism.

“I’m going to say this and get it out of the way,” Peter started as he leaned forwards in his seat. “I care about both of them,” he gestured his head towards Stiles and James. “I actually care about all in attendance to this party, believe it or not. And I will be damned if your mother uses anyone here for her campaign … again.”

Derek allowed his gaze to linger on Stiles and James before looking at Peter. “I’d never let her do that to them. Or to me, again.”

“You weren’t exactly a participating person last time,” Peter answered.

“She used me and my coming out as bisexual to patch up all the drama about you and Chris,” Derek corrected him. “And it wasn’t just mom’s idea.”

“Yes, grandma often has a helping hand with that,” Peter bitterly commented.

“Can we not talk about the past today and just celebrate an eight-year-old’s birthday?” Derek tiredly sighed.

“Of course,” Peter agreed. “I just wanted you to keep that in mind.”

Derek nodded, knowing that Peter’s worries were matching his own. He feared getting a phone call from his mother to inform him that she needed the favor—that an opportunity like this didn’t happen often. But he wasn’t going to be fooled again. He wasn’t going to let anyone use Stiles’ and James’ misfortune for their gain.

Stiles was happy to see that James was getting along with Emily, and that Peter was more than pleasant. He was worried when he noticed that Allison was sitting off to the side, quickly being relieved when he realized Derek turned his attention towards her. He was horrified to see Mrs. Kay and Peter getting along famously.

Everything was going splendidly as they sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to James, bouncing in his seat. James was polite in his thanks to the others as he carefully opened the cards and read them aloud the best he could.

James released a loud gasp when he opened Derek’s card.

“Dad! Look! Civil War tickets!” James excitedly stated as he held up the card and tickets for Stiles to see. “Derek got us each one!” He explained as he showed that there were three.

“I’ve never seen a child this excited about learning American history,” Peter commented.

“You’re so old,” Derek uttered with a shake of his head.

“It’s a superhero movie, Uncle Peter,” James explained as he moved out of his seat to hug Derek.

“I told you that you’d find something no problem,” Stiles stated with a small smile on his lips.

“Movies seemed like a safe option,” Derek replied, hugging James back.

Stiles tried to keep James from tearing through the gifts too fast, knowing what it felt like to open present after present. He was shoving the wrapping paper into the trash bag when he saw what James was opening.

A brand new baseball glove.

“Oh my gosh! This is the best!” James excitedly yelled as he shredded through the remaining tissue paper.

“Erica—” Stiles started.

“We all pitched in,” Erica quickly explained. “We wanted to get him something he’d really enjoy using.”

Derek looked from Erica to Stiles, noticing that Stiles wasn’t relaxing in the slightest.

“Dad, look!” James excitedly stated as he lifted up the glove.

“Looks great, kiddo,” Stiles answered, forcing himself to smile as best he could.

Derek could tell it was forced, hoping that James wouldn’t realize it. He tried to keep James distracted when Stiles pulled Erica to the side. It was obvious that Stiles was pissed, but couldn’t do anything about it. Erica tried to calm Stiles down, not knowing why he was upset about it.

It wasn’t until the car ride back, James sound asleep in the back with the new baseball glove in his lap, that Derek said something.

“She wasn’t being mean,” Derek offered.

“Derek, I don’t want to talk about it,” Stiles gruffly stated, staring out the window as he tried to focus on something other than his bad mood.

“Okay,” Derek answered. “But if this is about James using your old glove, he more than likely still wants to.”

“Derek,” Stiles nearly snapped. “Stop. Please.”

Derek turned the radio on to a soft volume, a signal to let Stiles know that he was going to drop it.

~*~

“Did you have a good birthday?” Stiles asked as he brought the blanket up over James.

“I did,” James happily stated. “The best yet.”

“Oh, really?” Stiles softly questioned as he arched an eyebrow.

“I’m really happy Emily could make it,” James explained.

“She’s pretty cool,” Stiles commented, smiling at the fact that James made a new friend.

“Yeah, Allison is too,” James added as he wiggled down into the bed. “She makes an awesome Hawkeye.”

“I see,” Stiles nodded.

“Do you think Derek will let me decorate my new room?” James asked as he looked up at Stiles. “Emily got me this really cool Civil War poster, and I want to hang it up.”

“I think Derek would let you do that,” Stiles answered as he turned his head to survey the room.

Derek offered to clear out the small study that was beside Stiles’ room, telling him that it would make a nice room for James. James was the first to jump on that, Stiles’ legs were the second—another night of James kicking Stiles would have resulted in some negatively affected dance routines. James was more than excited that he got to move in and spend his birthday night in his own room.

“Well,” Stiles sighed as he looked down at James. “Goodnight, kiddo. I love you.”

“Love you, too, dad,” James replied as he sat up, hugging Stiles as his dad kissed the top of his head. “Thank you for today.”

Stiles kept quiet, not trusting himself to not cry. He held James tighter, burying his face in the crook of James’ neck. He released James, happy that he was overjoyed with having his own room again, even when feeling a sense of loss. It was stupid, and Stiles swore he would never be one of those parents—the ones that couldn’t let go of their kid as they grew up.

“Dad,” James called to him right before Stiles closed the door.

“Yeah, kiddo?” Stiles answered, turning to look at him.

“Um,” James started, almost shying away from saying anything. “I liked Derek being there.”

Stiles softly smiled.

“I like having Derek around all the time, actually,” James admitted.

“I do, too,” Stiles confessed. “Now, get some sleep.”

Stiles paced in the guest room, turning the old glove over in his hands. His fingertips idly picked at the new laces and patches across the no longer cracked leather. He wanted to give it to James as a surprise when they got home, excited to see his face when he realized that he managed to get it fixed. He turned and threw the glove at the door without looking. He nearly startled when he noticed that Derek was standing there, his hand lifted to knock on the open door.

“I didn’t realize you were there,” Stiles admitted as he watched Derek bend down to pick up the glove.

“I was going to head to bed,” Derek softly explained as he turned the glove over in his hands. “I wanted to check on you—to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine,” Stiles quickly stated.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Derek commented as he leaned against the doorframe.

“I’ll have you know, I used to get away with lying to my dad all the time, and he’s the Sheriff,” Stiles countered.

“Just because your dad let you get away with stuff, doesn’t mean he didn’t know you were lying,” Derek replied.

Stiles released a heavy breath, turning to pace a little more. “I already know I’m going to have to apologize to Erica for yelling at her, I’d prefer to not apologize unnecessarily to you.”

“You don’t have to apologize to me for being pissed about something,” Derek answered. “You had a gift lined up for your kid and someone else almost duplicated it. It’s understandable.”

“You say almost duplicate,” Stiles dejectedly uttered. “They were able to get him a better glove that I did, I think that’s grounds for out doing my gift.”

“They bought him a glove from a store,” Derek started, looking down at the glove in his hands. “You repaired your old glove—a glove that has character, and was the first thing James learned how to play ball with. James would take this glove over a hundred new gloves.”

“But he shouldn’t have to,” Stiles weakly argued. “I should be able to give my kid what he deserves. I should be able to afford giving my kid a stupid fucking baseball glove without—” He bit his lip, turning to look away from Derek. “I’m a failure of a parent.”

“No, you’re not,” Derek immediately argued.

“Yes, I am!” Stiles snapped, turning to look at Derek as tears burned his eyes. And in that moment, he hated himself more than he thought possible, forcing his eyes to stare at the ground, unable to meet Derek’s eyes when he admitted it. “I let two men fuck me in some seedy motel because I needed the money for some bills—because I needed it if I wanted James to not be the only kid at tryouts without a glove of his own. Because I convinced myself, I needed to do it. They were able to get him that glove by just pinching money here and there, and I’m the asshole that gets mad at them for getting him a present he loves.”

Derek wanted Stiles to look at him, to give him a sign that he was paying attention to him—to know that he wasn’t judging him for it. “A lot of terrible people took advantage of you and your situation, Stiles.”

“And then you come along and don’t expect anything in return,” Stiles countered, finally looking at Derek. “What kind of person does that?”

“A good one, I hope,” Derek replied, the knot in his chest loosening as Stiles released a watery laugh.

“All of this feels like … a faery tale,” Stiles admitted.

“Cinderella?” Derek offered.

“I think one would argue that it’s more like Pretty Woman,” Stiles replied.

“I’m not trying to rescue you, Stiles,” Derek gently countered. “I’m just trying to give you a lending hand. You’re handling everything by yourself, without a faery godmother. Or Richard Gere.”

Stiles snorted, wiping a stray tear away with the back of his hand. “I don’t care about me, I just care about James,” he confessed. “Every parent wants to give their kid the world. I just happen to be a shitty one who can’t even keep a roof over his kid’s head.”

A small silence settled between them, and Stiles started to think that Derek really did agree with him.

“You starve yourself,” Derek suddenly stated. He wasn’t surprised when Stiles stared at him in shock. “You don’t have the muscle definition of a dancer anymore because you don’t intake the proper amount of nutrients a full grown adult should. And you’re even skinnier than you were in high school.” He paused, letting his words sink in. “I noticed when you walked from the bathroom to your room in a towel the other day. I’m sorry if it sounds creepy, but I am a doctor, and I’ve seen my fair share of patients suffering from eating disorders.”

“I don’t have an eating disorder,” Stiles quickly countered.

“You’re right, you don’t,” Derek answered. “You ate less so that James wouldn’t go hungry. You’ve grown used to it over the years so you don’t even notice you’re still not eating a correct portion. You don’t even realize you’re hungry when your stomach growls.”

Stiles looked away from Derek.

“I’m not calling you a bad parent because you went hungry a few times,” Derek stated. “I’m not calling you a failure because your old landlord was a disgusting pig and wanted to exploit you. I’m trying to make you realize that you’ve put yourself through the ringer more times than most people have to their entire life. And you did it for your love of James. And no baseball glove—new or old—is going to change the way you’re that kid’s entire world. If you want to do something for James, start taking care of yourself.”

Stiles let the silence grow between them as he focused on something other than the guilt.

“I’m sorry,” Derek started, sighing as he pushed off the doorframe. “I didn’t want you to feel like I’m criticizing you, because I’m not. I come from a life of ease, my name gets me through the door every time. I can’t pretend to know what you’ve been through, but I can tell you what I see right in front of my eyes—you’re a great dad, and James loves you, unconditionally.”

Stiles turned to look down at the glove in Derek’s outstretched hand.

“Give him the glove.”

Stiles weakly nodded as he pulled the glove out of Derek’s hand.

~*~

Stiles had to hold back from crying when James excitedly tried the glove on the next morning, overjoyed at seeing it in a restored state.

“This is awesome,” James stated to himself as he slipped his hand into the glove. “I was upset when I thought I lost it! I didn’t know you took it.” He leapt up, hugging Stiles tightly before running over to Derek to show him. “Do you have time to play some catch, still?” He hurriedly asked, turning to look at the clock.

“I don’t know, think you could keep up?” Derek questioned as he headed for the door.

“Definitely!” James excitedly called, running after Derek to head outside. He quickly ran back in to hug Stiles. “Thank you. This is the best.” He smiled up at his father before running off.

Stiles’ heart felt a little lighter. He smiled to himself as he moved to the window watching James and Derek tossing the baseball back and forth. He wasn’t sure what was happening, but somehow, it started to feel like they were becoming a family. Dread started to well up in Stiles’ stomach as he thought about when it came time to move out. He thought about how James would feel in being told that they were leaving—just when he’d be getting used to having Derek around.

It all felt like a fantasy—a dream that Stiles had every now and again. He liked to imagine that they did have a stable life, and that he didn’t have to worry about finding a decent place to live once Little Red’s started doing better. Better business meant better wages for Stiles. It meant focusing on not just living day to day, and actually providing for James.

But the more Stiles had that dream, the more it started to turn into reality now that Derek was present. He needed to keep his priorities straight, and remember that he wasn’t dating Derek—Derek wasn’t looking to be anyone’s happily ever after, or to act as any kid’s father.

Stiles had to remember that. He forced himself to look away from the picture perfect suburban family moment that was playing out in the front yard. He needed a reality check, and nothing made that easier than when Stiles was desperately trying to dance en pointe.

~*~

Derek didn’t make it easy for Stiles to try and forget that they weren’t a couple—a family.

As Stiles’ birthday drew closer, the more ominous everything became to Stiles. He was convinced that something major was going to happen and cause another delay in his choreographing for Peter. He became so focused on choreography that he forgot about his exaggerated campaign to keep himself from falling harder for Derek.

Everything came crashing down when James came crashing into the house, yelling at Stiles, with Derek in tow.

“Dad!”

Stiles came out of the living room, still in his dance clothes, covered in sweat. “You yelled?”

“You need to go get dressed!” James whined as he pushed Stiles towards the stairs. “We only have an hour!”

“An hour for what?” Stiles questioned, moving a little as James continued to push him. He looked up at Derek for a helpful hint.

“You heard him, we just have an hour,” Derek countered, not helping Stiles in the slightest.

“You two are conspiring about something,” Stiles stated in slight shock. “I’ve been mutinied upon.”

“Dad, it’s only mutiny if Derek and I leave you stranded on a desert island, with no ship and a pistol with a single shot,” James argued, giving Stiles one final shove towards the stairs.

“All right, Jack Sparrow,” Stiles huffed as he started to climb the stairs.

“Captain! Captain Jack Sparrow,” James dramatically sighed in his best Jack Sparrow voice, walking towards the kitchen.

“Derek,” Stiles tried to whisper, thankful he gained Derek’s attention before he left the foyer. “What is happening?”

“A mutiny,” Derek deadpanned as he left Stiles standing on the steps by himself.

“Bloody pirates,” Stiles grumbled as he moved to go shower.

It wasn’t until he went into his bedroom that he saw the decorative box sitting on his bed. It was a huge box, some fancy logo on the top. He stared at the box, overly paranoid about what could possibly be in it. He clutched the towel to his hips, hazardously reaching his other hand out to flip open the top.

Under the tissue paper, Stiles caught sight of an elegant tux. He snatched up the small card with Derek’s handwriting on it.

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.

Chapter Text

Stiles was trying not to laugh as James pulled him out of the car and onto the sidewalk. He kept his eyes closed as instructed, waiting for the signal that he could open his eyes.

“No peeking,” James stated, holding Stiles’ hand tightly as he waited for Derek to get out of the car.

“I’m not,” Stiles replied, effortlessly ruffling James’ hair with his other hand.

“Dad,” James complained as he drew out the vowel. He quickly used his other hand to try and alter any damage Stiles might have done to his hair.

“Sorry,” Stiles lied, a faint smile pulling at his lips.

“Open your eyes!” James excitedly instructed.

Stiles opened his eyes, blinking a few times as his sight adjusted. He drew in a sharp breath when he saw where they were, his eyes falling on the theatre’s entrance. “The ballet,” he barely uttered.

“You love ballet,” James partially argued, growing increasingly nervous when Stiles didn’t really react. He looked up at Derek, hoping that he understood what was happening better than him.

Stiles tore his eyes away from staring at the sign, looking down at James. He smiled. “I do. I just— how did you know?”

“Derek knew!” James proudly stated with a smile as he looked at Stiles.

“I love it,” Stiles answered, moving to hug James. “Thank you.”

It wasn’t until they were inside that Derek held Stiles back. The balcony seats were private, exclusive compared to the others. Stiles had never been in a box section before, knowing how overpriced the theatre often sold them for.

“You didn’t have to,” Stiles stated, looking at Derek as James busied himself with looking over the balcony’s railing.

“I know,” Derek answered. “But I rarely go to the theatre, and my mom would appreciate me experiencing some culture.” He kept a lingering eye on James, making sure he didn’t climb over the railing. “I’m sorry if it makes you uncomfortable to be here.”

Stiles softly smiled. “I … I really love it, I do.”

“It’s just a lot to be experiencing again,” Derek offered.

“A little,” Stiles truthfully answered. “But it’s nice.”

“God, I hope you’re not lying for my sake,” Derek confessed with a small, nervous laugh.

“I’m not,” Stiles answered, giving Derek a small and private smile. He reached a hand out, taking hold of Derek’s. “Honestly, thank you.”

“Dad, look!” James excited pointed at the orchestra. “People with instruments.”

Stiles turned his attention towards James. “Yeah, buddy.” He moved to take his seat beside James, smiling when Derek took the seat next to him. He flipped through the playbill, keeping himself busy as he tried to stop from sneaking side-glances at Derek.

That’s when he saw the familiar name in the chorus line, among a sea of other dancers’ names.

“Are you okay?” Derek softly asked, seeing how rigid Stiles suddenly became.

“Fine,” Stiles weakly answered. “Just thought I recognized a name.”

“Someone you went to school with?” James curiously asked when Stiles didn’t say anything.

“Yeah,” Stiles forced a smile onto his face, grateful that James accepted it, even if Derek didn’t.

“I’m sure none of them are as good as you, dad,” James countered, moving to lean into Stiles’ seat and examine the playbill.

“Thanks, kiddo,” Stiles sighed, hugging James against his side as he pressed a kiss into his hair.

The lights dimmed twice, giving a notification that it was about to start.

James was thrumming with energy as he lifted himself up to see over the box’s balcony, brimming with energy as the curtains opened.

~*~

It had been during intermission that Stiles saw her. He was thankful Derek was the one that brought James to the bathroom, hurrying him as James tried to pretend that he hadn’t been holding it for the past ten minutes—he argued that he didn’t want to miss anything.

Stiles was lingering by the entrance to their box seats, wringing the playbill in his hands. He had seen her on stage several times, noticing that her technique perfected itself over time, but she still tried to be flashier than her role allowed.

“Stiles.”

Stiles froze. He knew he would have to look at her—face her—especially if he wanted to get her to leave before seeing James.

“Oh my God, it is you,” she stated as she came closer. “Wow.”

Stiles finally turned to look at her. “Olivia.” He forced a smile onto his face as he took in her dance costume. He wanted to scoff when he saw that she had on her pointe shoes—she never did take them off, even when off stage.

“How have you been?” Olivia asked, not bothering to try and make light of their history together. She never did pretend to forget things.

“Good, good,” Stiles answered, nodding his head. “Meet and greet?” He inquired towards the box that she just came from a few down.

“Oh, yeah. Some important patrons,” Olivia offered, not bothering to divulge just who she had spoken to.

“Okay,” Stiles answered, releasing a sigh as he turned to look down the hallway, hoping Derek would take James to get a snack or something. He didn’t want James seeing this.

“What brings you here?” Olivia asked.

“My birthday,” Stiles deadpanned.

“Really?” Olivia inquired, pursing her lips some as if she was trying to remember. “I thought that was a few weeks ago.”

“No, that’s my son’s birthday,” Stiles lowly stated.

Olivia’s lips firmly pressed into a straight line. “Right,” she answered. “Sorry, it’s been really chaotic lately. Been planning a lot of stuff.”

“Life has a way of running away from us,” Stiles replied, wanting their conversation to end. “So many things to remember—responsibilities to prioritize.”

“With my wedding coming up, it kind of is running away from me,” Olivia curtly announced.

Stiles wanted to laugh at her. He didn’t care, and he was angry at her for thinking that he cared. He stopped caring the moment she abandoned James.

“I heard you’re still dancing, though,” Olivia offered.

Stiles tensed, his shoulders setting in a rigid line.

Little Red’s,” Olivia stated, as if Stiles needed a reminder that he worked there.

“Your fiancé tell you that?” Stiles could go for the jugular too.

“Dad!” James’ voice excitedly called, his footsteps quick and loud as he ran towards Stiles. “I got you a present,” he excited stated, holding up the commemorative keychain in his hand to show Stiles. He paused, looking up at Olivia. “Oh, sorry. Hi,” he offered in greeting with a small wave of his hand as he moved to partially hide behind Stiles.

“Hi,” Olivia offered with a forced smile.

“Are you a ballerina?” James asked, looking her up and down before seeing her pointe shoes.

“I am,” Olivia proudly answered.

“I used to go to school with Olivia,” Stiles explained to James, fighting against his urge to hide James behind his back.

“Stiles was quite good,” Olivia offered, her eyes wandering over to Derek.

“My dad’s the best,” James stated, smiling as he held Stiles’ hand. “He’s a really good dancer. He choreographs for Uncle Peter.”

Olivia’s eyes widened some. “Wow,” she looked from James to Stiles. “That’s … something.”

“I didn’t introduce myself,” Derek started, moving forward to offer his hand to Olivia. “Derek. Hale.”

Olivia’s features twisted for a moment and Stiles couldn’t help the smugness he felt.

Hale,” Olivia echoed as she shook his hand.

“And you are?” Derek coolly asked, completely calm and at ease—something Stiles was certain he must have learned from watching his mother never fold under pressure.

“Olivia,” she quietly offered. “Well, I better get back,” she quickly stated, pulling her hand back from Derek. “Intermission’s almost over.”

“Nice meeting you,” Derek stated, purposefully sounding unconvincing.

James waved to Olivia. “Good luck,” he called after her. “Break a leg.”

Stiles held back his snort as James joyfully hopped back towards their seats.

“You okay?” Derek asked.

“I think so,” Stiles answered, looking at Derek.

“Sorry if I crossed the line,” Derek apologized.

“You keep throwing that Hale name around, and we’re going to have the paparazzi chasing us,” Stiles playfully answered. His features fell some. “How did you know that would work?”

“She’s up here in the boxes,” Derek replied. “The only reason a dancer comes up here is to try and score patrons.” He partially shrugged. “I sometimes listen to Peter when he talks about things like this.”

“I won’t tell him, it would just go to his head,” Stiles replied.

Derek released a soft laugh of agreement.

~*~

“I feel bad,” Stiles admitted as he walked beside Derek, the playbill still in his hand as he watched James sleeping against Derek’s shoulder.

James was completely passed out, his face tucked into Derek’s shoulder as his arms hung loosely around Derek’s neck. He had started drowsing after the first hour, his head jerking up every time he fell asleep. He had moved to sit with Derek after the intermission, claiming to see better that way. He fell asleep within a few minutes, his head resting against Derek’s chest.

“Don’t feel bad,” Derek answered as he shifted his grip, easily holding James against his chest as they descended the stairs. “It was a gift for you, anyways. You wouldn’t have been able to lean so close to the balcony’s edge if he was sitting in your lap.”

Stiles released a soft laugh. “I’ve never actually been this close to a professional production before.”

“Does that mean James did a good job picking out your birthday gift?” Derek asked as he looked at Stiles.

“A fantastic job,” Stiles confirmed. “But I have a feeling his piggybank didn’t cover the costs,” he added as they moved to stand in line for their coats.

“He asked for a loan,” Derek answered.

“Derek, you shouldn’t have—”

“It’s a gift,” Derek quickly stated. “Please, for once in your life, accept a gift without feeling some sort of obligated guilt in return.”

Stiles sighed, a faint blush dusting his cheeks as he hesitantly nodded. “It means an awful lot to me,” he finally confessed. “I haven’t seen a production … well, since before James was born.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Derek replied.

Stiles smiled, turning to hand their ticket to the attendee by the coatroom. He offered a small thanks, slipping his own coat on before taking both Derek’s and James’. He moved to look at Derek, a little startled to see how still he had suddenly become.

“Are you okay?” Stiles asked as he moved next to Derek, ignoring the still bustling crowd around them.

“We should get going,” Derek stated, his eyes stuck on a particular person.

“Okay,” Stiles agreed, knowing that to ask would just create an unwanted scene for them both. “I think James will be okay without his coat on. You?”

“I’m fine,” Derek stated, finally tearing his eyes away to look at Stiles. “The town car should be waiting.”

Stiles nodded, moving to exit the theater first. He passed through the revolving doors, smiling to himself as he overheard the small chatter of reviewing coming from the different groups. He made sure Derek was following him as he moved towards the street, waiting for their car to move up the line. He climbed in first, turning to help Derek settle a sleeping James into his booster seat. He was bewildered when Derek didn’t get in the car.

“Derek—”

“I’ll be a second,” Derek uttered, moving to talk with whomever he had been staring at.

Stiles turned to look out the car window of the door Derek had shut behind him. He was almost leaning over a sleeping James, seeing a middle aged man he didn’t recognize standing next to Derek. He then caught sight of a woman in a beautiful evening dress before realizing who it was.

Laura Hale.

And Derek wasn’t happy to see his sister, if the sudden arguing gestures said anything about it.

Laura shook her head in response to whatever Derek said. She reached a hand out to touch his arm, a hopeful pacifying gesture. One that Derek completely rejected by batting her hand away from him. She called Derek’s name when he turned his back on her, marching back over to the car.

Stiles was silent when Derek finally got in the car, noting how tense he looked as the car brought them home. He held James against his chest when they got home, almost selfishly as he pretended that James could protect him from the inevitable talk he knew he was about to have with Derek. He focused on getting James to bed, undressing him into his undershirt and underwear, deciding that he could forgo pajamas tonight—that and he didn’t want to risk waking him.

Stiles silently descended the steps, slowly undoing his bow tie and a few of his shirt’s buttons. He ran a lazy hand through his hair as his stomach flipped, trying to guess what Derek and Laura argued about. He had a feeling it was about him. He forced a smile onto his lips as he announced himself with a knock on Derek’s office door.

“Hey,” Stiles greeted, leaning into the office space as he found Derek leaning against his desk.

Derek was focusing on the cigarette he turned between his fingers when Stiles greeted him, his eyes briefly flickering over to him. He had eased out of his jacket, his bowtie lost somewhere in the house likely to be uncovered by Stiles while cleaning—he could many of Derek’s ties in random areas of the house, on numerous occasions. He looked tired, his body being weighed down by some unspoken force. He offered an arched eyebrow in question to Stiles’ presence when Stiles didn’t offer to start the conversation.

Stiles’ eyes, however, immediately honed in on the unlit cigarette in Derek’s hand. “You’re a doctor and you smoke,” he partially grumbled as he scrunched his nose at Derek. “Did you not pay attention in medical school? Those things kill.”

Derek snorted, nodding in agreement with Stiles. “I quit,” he answered.

“How many times?” Stiles asked in return.

“More than I can count,” he huffed, slipping the cigarette back into the pack. He deposited them onto his desk, his fingers itching for something to hold as a distraction.

“It’s a nasty habit to fall into,” Stiles commented, counting how many cigarettes were missing from the pack.

“A learned habit,” Derek softly answered.

Stiles frowned, looking at Derek.

“Something my mom does from time to time,” Derek explained, looking at Stiles. “Whenever she was stressed, she’d sneak off for a quick nicotine fix. I saw how different she was afterwards. Made me think, maybe that’s what I need when I panic or stress out.”

“Tried it out once you were eighteen,” Stiles finished.

“Oh, hell no,” Derek countered. “I stole one from her while on a press junket when I was thirteen.”

Stiles’ mouth fell into a silent ‘o’ as he stared at Derek in disbelief. “Derek Hale being a bad boy at thirteen?”

“Oh, I got read the riot act,” Derek replied. “But I didn’t get punished for it. I think … I think that’s what made me want it more, honestly. My mom didn’t bother talking to me about it—telling me that it was a problem; that she had a problem.”

“I think you’re the first kid in the world who wanted to be punished for something,” Stiles offered.

Derek faintly smiled, nodding. “I think it stemmed more from me just wanting her to look—to pay attention to me because she wanted to, not because she had to.” He drew in a steady breath, shaking his head. “Sorry. You probably don’t want to hear this.”

“If you’re willing to talk, I’m willing to listen,” Stiles answered. He carefully watched Derek, wondering just how much he was holding back. “I just wanted to thank you for tonight,” he offered, pushing his hands into his pockets to keep from fidgeting. “I had a really great time.”

“Even with Olivia showing up?” Derek asked, looking up at Stiles.

“I mean, you couldn’t have known my ex was going to be in the chorus line,” Stiles answered.

Derek’s eyebrows furrowed. “James’ mom?” He asked.

“Yup,” Stiles replied. “It went better than it could have, that’s for sure.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek started.

“Don’t,” Stiles immediately answered, taking a step closer to Derek. “Please don’t do that. It wasn’t your fault, and it sure as hell wasn’t something anyone could foresee happening.”

“But now she knows you have some connection to me,” Derek answered. “She could add to the rumor mill.”

“And bring the terror of paparazzi down on us,” Stiles partially sighed. “It’s fine. It was very satisfying to see her face when you said your last name.”

Derek allowed a small smile to pull at the corners of his mouth.

“Are you fine, though?” Stiles finally asked.

Derek looked up at Stiles. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Nice evasion,” Stiles snorted. “Oh, geez, I don’t know, maybe because you got into a fight with your sister right before we left the theatre,” he raised his eyebrows, daring Derek to tell him he was wrong—that he didn’t know what he saw.

“That,” Derek nodded. “I act like that with both my sisters.”

“Derek, come on,” Stiles seriously pushed. “If it has something to do with me or James—”

“Stiles—”

“If it does, please tell me,” Stiles firmly finished. “I deserve to know if we are causing you added distress.”

“You’re not,” Derek answered, standing up from his slouched leaning position against the desk. “Don’t ever think something like that. This has to do with my family and them prying into my life.”

Stiles sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Okay,” he replied, looking down at the ground.

“Laura—” Derek bit his lip, not knowing how to address what happened without making Stiles feel responsible. “Look, I instigated the fight with Laura, accusing her of following me.”

Stiles looked up, brow scrunched in confusion. “You honestly think your sister would stalk you?”

“I think my sister would check in on me to please our mother,” Derek answered. “My sister knew I was going to the ballet tonight because I asked her about the Hale box.”

It took a moment for Stiles to realize what he meant. “Your family has a reserved box at the ballet?”

“I asked because I wanted to make sure that other people weren’t using it, because I didn’t want to deal with them—I didn’t want you or James having to deal with that,” Derek specified. “My family is … they’re more closed minded than most.”

Stiles nodded. “Peter doesn’t talk about them, but it’s kind of evident whenever he gets in the fights with Chris.”

Derek released a faint snort. “Peter’s kind in his interactions with Chris compared to what happens when he’s locked in a room with my grandmother.” His fingertips drummed against the edge of the desk, itching to grab a cigarette. “They accepted my bisexuality because it means that there is a possibility of me marrying a woman still. Peter’s … ‘affliction’ for the same sex can’t be righted.”

Stiles’ eyes widened. “Is that an actual quote?”

“It’s a lot kinder,” Derek replied. “The reason you don’t remember Peter hanging around the house when we were younger is because he wasn’t allowed to. My mother and Peter agreed to meeting other places to celebrate holidays and family birthdays, because my grandmother is a Grade A bitch.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I got in a fight with Laura because I accused her of checking in on me for our mother. And because of the look she had when she saw me holding James.”

“She thinks we’re dating,” Stiles concluded.

“Tell her that we’re living together, and I’m positive she’d go mute for a few hours,” Derek replied.

“I never thought Laura was like that,” Stiles answered.

“It’s not that she wouldn’t approve,” Derek explained, not wanting Stiles to have the wrong idea. “It’s that she wouldn’t know what to do—tell my mother or lie when she asks about it.”

“This sounds like I’m complicating your life, Derek,” Stiles started.

Derek moved, grabbing hold of Stiles’ hands, easily pulling him closer to him. “Don’t,” he instructed, not wanting whatever it was they shared between them to change. “I like having you and James here. Besides, it’s my life and my house—I’m a grown adult, but for some reason that doesn’t stop my family from meddling.” He sighed, looking down at their hands to see that his thumbs were subconsciously rubbing small circles into the joints of Stiles’ hands. “Just … please don’t think you’re the problem, because you’re not. You’re so far from it.”

Stiles looked down at their hands, enjoying the contact. He turned his hands in Derek’s, running his thumbs along the spans of Derek’s hands. “I’m still sorry that it’s causing you unnecessary pain.”

“My family is unnecessary pain,” Derek corrected him.

Stiles faintly smiled. He cleared his throat, aware of the way his stomach twisted with desire to stay this way for longer. “Well, on that note, I’m going to get to bed,” he slipped his hands from Derek, moving to lean passed him. He snatched the pack of cigarette off of Derek’s desk. “And I’m going to take these and throw them in the trash tomorrow while you’re at work,” he explained as he backed out of the room.

“You know I’m an adult and can just buy a pack while I’m out, right?” Derek questioned, a smile working its way across his lips.

“This makes it harder, though,” Stiles answered as he paused at the door. “Good night, Derek.”

“Good night, Stiles,” Derek answered, watching Stiles disappear around the corner.

~*~

It was a good night. It was a good week. It was all good, until a few days before James’ try-outs.

Stiles was getting ready to drop James off at Mrs. Kay’s. He was mentally doing a check-list when he walked into the living room, catching James trying to stand en pointe.

“James!” Stiles screamed, startling James from trying to stand on his tiptoes.

James faltered as he moved away from the windowsill he was using for support. He looked scared as he moved away from Stiles, wringing his hands as he looked down at the ground. He knew he was doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

“I told you to never do that!” Stiles yelled.

Derek came downstairs, the yelling startling him from his nap. He checked the clock, seeing that he only had a little time before he would essentially be out the door anyways.

“I just wanted to copy you—”

“I don’t care!” Stiles yelled, not wanting to hear it. “You never do that, you know better!”

“But—”

“You were being stupid!”

“Stiles,” Derek started, crossing the line he never did before. But he could see the tears collecting in James’ eyes. “I’m sure it was a mistake.”

“I’ll handle this, Derek,” Stiles snapped, not wanting to deal with someone telling him what he already knew—he was losing his temper too quickly; too easily.

“Don’t yell at Derek,” James loudly countered, suddenly finding his voice.

“Don’t talk back to me, James,” Stiles replied.

“Why shouldn’t I? I’m too stupid to know better,” James bitterly argued, his hands tightening into fists.

“James,” Stiles started in reprimand.

“Why don’t you just leave?” James snapped as he moved to head upstairs. “You’re never around anyways!”

Stiles grabbed James’ arm to stop him. “Don’t walk away from me when I’m talking to you, young man.”

“Let go of me!” James yelled, trying to rip himself out of Stiles’ hold.

“James!” Stiles yelled as he tried to keep them both from falling.

James did the first thing that came to mind, stamping his foot down on Stiles’. He slammed his heel down into Stiles’ foot, causing his father to let go of him and rear back in pain. He fell forward, landing on his hands and knees from the force of trying to get out of Stiles’ grip.

“God damn it, James!” Stiles yelled in pain as he held his foot.

James got up, running for the stairs.

Derek instinctively backed out of the way when James ran by him, knowing he shouldn’t have even intervened to begin with.

“Just leave! Nobody wants you here!” He shakily cried as he got into his room. “And I don’t want you coming to my try-outs!”

“Fine!” Stiles shouted back before he could stop himself. He hated feeling like a child, but it hurt despite knowing that James was just yelling whatever he could.

“Fine!” James yelled back.

“I’m canceling your play date with Emily and Allison,” Stiles threatened, knowing that he was making more of a scene than he had to.

There was a small pause before it was yelled, Stiles’ entire world almost shattering when James breathed life into the words.

“I hate you!” James screamed as he slammed the door to his room.

A silence echoed through the house.

Stiles wordlessly moved to grab his dance bag, violently tossing the strap over his shoulder.

“Stiles,” Derek started, moving to go after him.

“I have to get to work, Derek,” Stiles answered as he moved for the door.

“Don’t,” Derek firmly stated, a little relieved that it had forced Stiles to stop walking away. “Don’t leave it at that.”

“Why not?” Stiles countered. He released a small huff. “Nobody should want me here anyways,” he uttered before going out the door.

“Stiles,” Derek called, moving to go out the door after Stiles.

Stiles ignored Derek’s calls, heading for the bus stop.

~*~

Stiles was getting off his shift, heading over to the bar to tell Peter that he wouldn’t be able to work the following weekend, knowing it was James’ tryouts. Even with James telling him he wasn’t invited, he wasn’t going to miss them. He tried to act casual, as if half the patrons didn’t recognize him. He gave a curt response to the ones asking him if he’d give them a private showing. He leaned against the end of the bar, waiting for Peter to finish filling a drink order.

Stiles was tired. He had danced one of the new dances, which was well received by most, considering it ended the same as always—with Stiles in his g-string. But Stiles could see the blood seeping through the satin of his pointe shoes. He precariously wrapped his feet up in the dressing room, slipping his socks on to keep the bandage from moving.

“Stiles, right?” A female voice questioned, forcing Stiles to go rigid. People didn’t know his name at the club, they all just called him Red.

“Laura,” Stiles stated when he noticed it was none other than Derek’s sister.

“Hey,” Laura graciously smiled. “How are you?”

“Um, fine,” Stiles answered, not sure why Laura was at Little Red’s, much less why she was talking to him, especially after what happened on his birthday.

“Laura,” Peter snapped from behind the bar. “I told you to leave it alone.”

Laura pinned Peter with a glare. “I’m trying to handle it myself.”

“No, you’re meddling,” Peter answered as he leaned against the counter, putting and arm between her and Stiles. “Stop harassing my dancers or I’ll have to put a ban on you.”

“I wanted to ask Stiles if he was coming to the wedding,” Laura countered. “I need to know for place settings.”

Stiles’ eyebrows climbed, a little confused at what was happening. “Wedding?”

“I’m sure that’s what Stiles wants, a front row seat to our family’s mockery,” Peter dryly snorted.

“Derek hasn’t RSVP’ed,” Laura explained to Stiles, ignoring Peter. “And I don’t think he’s going to because our less savory family is going to be there.” She fished out a small white envelope from her bag, holding it out to Stiles. “I didn’t mean to start anything with Derek on your birthday, I promise. I just wanted to invite you to the wedding. I figured Derek was more likely to attend if you did.”

Stiles cautiously accepted the invitation from Laura, sneaking a look at Peter.

“Derek and I aren’t together,” Stiles finally stated, looking up at Laura. “So, there’s no reason why I would be his plus one.”

Laura hesitated before nodding. “Well, I’d still be honored if you attended.”

“Laura, this is nice and all, but I don’t think it’d be right for me to attend,” Stiles politely started to decline.

“I’m not saying you have to attend as Derek’s plus one or anything,” Laura tried to convince him.

Stiles sighed, looking down at the invitation. “I’ll talk to Derek about it, okay?”

~*~

Stiles’ feet were throbbing, and he was honestly surprised that he wasn’t limping by the time he got in the door. He toed out of his sneakers, sighing as he scrunched his toes some. He moved to head upstairs, halting when Derek came into view from the living room.

Derek was wearing a baggy sleep shirt and pair of sweatpants. He looked comfortable, ready to go to bed, despite the small pair of spectacles hanging on the bridge of his nose. “Hey,” he greeted, moving into the foyer.

“Hey,” Stiles faintly greeted back. “Is … is James asleep?”

Derek nodded. “He was asleep when I grabbed him from Mrs. Kay.”

Stiles mimicked Derek’s nod. “Thanks for that, by the way. I wasn’t really thinking.”

“Yeah,” Derek concurred, not giving Stiles a break.

Stiles subconsciously scrunched his feet again. “I think I’m going to soak my feet and then head to bed.”

“What’s wrong with your feet?” Derek asked, looking down at Stiles’ feet.

“A lot of choreographing,” Stiles answered.

“Want me to take a look?”

“I’ll be fine.”

“That wasn’t a ‘no’.”

“I’ll be fine, Derek.”

“Stiles,” Derek sighed. “Shut up and let me look at your feet.”

Stiles caved, moving into the living room. He smiled when he saw that there were two wine glasses on the coffee table, one containing some wine already. “Your plan all along?” He asked as he sunk down into the couch.

“Kind of,” Derek answered as he poured some wine for Stiles.

“Going to reprimand me for being a bad parent?” Stiles asked as he watched Derek.

Derek paused his movements, arm outstretched as he offered the wine glass to Stiles. “No, but do you think I should?”

Stiles sighed, taking the glass of wine. “You know, I used to blame my dad for some stuff while growing up, but now I realize that just because you’re a parent doesn’t mean you’ll stop screwing up.”

Derek moved to sit beside Stiles, placing the first-aid kit he grabbed onto the coffee table. “It’s human to screw up.”

“To err is human,” Stiles snorted.

“Something like that,” Derek replied as he took hold of Stiles’ ankle, forcing him to lift his leg and place it on his thigh.

Derek’s touch was soft, expert in how he maneuvered Stiles’ foot. He delicately took the bandages from Stiles’ foot, his brow crinkling in slight disapproval at how poorly it was wrapped. His movements paused when he finally saw Stiles’ bare foot.

“Revolting, huh?” Stiles uttered as he watched Derek's eyes scan the scars and callouses covering his foot.

“I’m not revolted,” Derek corrected him. He looked up at Stiles when he heard him scoff. “It just makes me … sad, I guess. Thinking about everything you put your body through to obtain dancing perfection.”

Stiles faintly nodded. “It’s insane, but ballet does that. The more dangerous and harmful the dance is, the more praise the dancer gets for performing it.”

“It hurts to think of little kids with dreams of dancing, being excited to put themselves through all this,” Derek replied.

“That’s why I yelled at James,” Stiles admitted as he lifted the wine glass to his lips. He took a good gulp before placing the glass back down. “I don’t want him doing anything remotely like this.”

“Even if it’s his passion?” Derek questioned.

“I’m not even sure it’s my passion anymore,” Stiles explained. “I think that’s why I’m scared of letting him do something like this—to put his body through hell only to realize that he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”

Derek faintly nodded as he continued to pull away the rest of the wrappings, avoiding a blood blister. “There’s a little girl in the hospital,” he started, a faint smile pulling at his lips as he recalled his conversation with her earlier. “She loves dancing. She told me that she wanted to be the Nutcracker when she grows up.”

“You mean Clara?” Stiles asked as he looked at Derek.

“No,” Derek fondly smiled as he looked at Stiles. “She was very specific. She wants to be the Nutcracker.”

Stiles smiled at that. “I support her dream.”

“She’ll need a few surgeries first,” Derek explained. “But she’s a fighter.”

“I’m sure you’ll get her back up on her feet, dancing in no time,” Stiles offered.

“That’s the goal.”

“Being a prima is even more demanding than the danseur,” Stiles explained, watching Derek carefully. “Being a prima, being the Nutcracker would take a lot of hard work.”

“Like you’ve done,” Derek commented, his touch gentle as he cleaned the blister that had ruptured around Stiles’ toe.

Stiles snorted as he relaxed into the couch, reaching for his wine glass. He thoughtfully sipped at it, not wanting to rebut Derek’s compliment. He didn’t want to think about everything he done and gave up. It meant nothing now.

“You know James loves you, right?” Derek asked as he finished up.

“And I love him back,” Stiles replied.

“He just wants to be like you,” Derek fondly stated.

“I don’t want him to be like me,” Stiles weakly explained.

“What’s wrong with being like you?” Derek asked.

“I want him to have everything I can’t give him,” Stiles explained, his eyes focused on the ceiling. “I want him to do what he dreams of doing.”

“As long as it’s not dance,” Derek countered.

“Stop using logic on me,” Stiles answered, looking at Derek. “Would you want your kid to go through the same hardships you have?”

Derek sighed. “You have a point,” he dejectedly agreed. “But you also seem to be missing the point that James has to live his own life, and sooner rather than later, he’ll be old enough to make those decisions without you there to stop him. So if he wants to dance, he’ll dance.”

“He doesn’t understand how harmful dancing like this can be,” Stiles countered.

“Then explain it to him,” Derek answered. “He’s a smart kid, and I’m sure he’d get it if you explained it to him.”

Stiles remained silent, watching Derek. “Your sister stopped by the club,” he finally stated.

Derek looked up at Stiles, his hands freezing.

“She wants to know when you’re RSVP’ing to the wedding,” Stiles explained. He leaned off the edge of the couch, ruffling through his bag before producing the invitation from Laura. “She thinks you’ll go if I go with you.”

“Fucking Christ,” Derek cursed, nearly collapsing back into the couch. “I swear, she can’t give me a moment’s rest.”

“If it makes you feel better, Peter pretty much told her to fuck off,” Stiles offered.

“I’m sorry, Stiles,” Derek started. “She had no right to come up to you—especially when you’re at work.”

“I mean, she didn’t come up on stage, Derek,” Stiles stated, a faint smile pulling at his lips when Derek laughed.

“I wouldn’t put it by her to try that,” Derek answered.

“Are you going to RSVP?” Stiles asked, not letting Derek off the hook.

“I’m not sure,” Derek seriously stated. “I haven’t seen half of those people since before I came out. And then there is the fact that my grandmother will surely be there—”

“Grade A bitch?” Stiles asked.

“Unfortunately,” Derek groaned.

“You can’t not go to your sister’s wedding,” Stiles rationalized. “Can’t you go to the ceremony and just bail half way through the party?”

“I don’t know,” Derek hesitantly considered.

“At least talk to your sister,” Stiles offered. “Talk to her and see if you can come to an agreement of some sort.”

“An agreement?” Derek looked at Stiles.

“Yeah,” Stiles started. “You attend her wedding, she stops being a helicopter mom with you.”

“That would be the day,” Derek scoffed.

“Give it a try,” Stiles urged.

~*~

Stiles thanked Derek for looking at his feet before heading upstairs. He peeked his head in James room, seeing that he was asleep, curled up around one of his books he had gotten for his birthday. He moved closer to the bed, slowly slipping the book out of James’ hands, taking the discarded flashlight he had been using and setting them on the bedside table. He sat next to James, carefully running his hand through his hair. He fondly smiled, noting how long his curls had gotten, recalling how James argued against a hair cut—that he wanted to have hair like Bucky. He leaned forward, pressing a kiss to James’ temple before heading to the door.

“Dad?”

Stiles stopped by the door, looking back at the bed to see James stirring from amongst his sheets.

“Just wanted to see if you were okay, kiddo,” Stiles explained when James started rubbing at his eyes, sitting up to look at him.

“I’m sorry,” James suddenly stated, looking down at his hands in his lap.

Stiles’ eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He was thankful for the small nightlight faintly illuminating the room, being able to see James’ outline.

James took a deep breath, his shoulders hunching up before he finally spoke. “I’m sorry about trying to stand on my toes. I just wanted to do what you do. I didn’t think you’d be mad at me.”

“I’m not mad at you,” Stiles immediately stated, moving back into the room. He sat on the edge of James’ bed. “I’m never mad at you, kiddo. I was just—” He paused, gathering his words carefully. “I was scared.”

James looked up at Stiles.

“I was scared you were going to hurt yourself,” Stiles explained. “Dancing en pointe—on your toes—is dangerous. Without the proper training, you can severely injure yourself. And even then … I still have aches and pains from my time in school. And I don’t want you having to go through that. I don’t want you to be …” like me. He bit his lip instead.

“Derek said that you didn’t mean it,” James offered, looking back down at his hands.

Stiles looked up at James. “Derek’s right, I didn’t. It doesn’t mean it was okay for me to say any of that. You’re not stupid, James. You’re really smart, and I just want you to have the best future. I wasn’t mad at you, buddy, I was mad at myself. For not being able to get you the stuff you want; for not being around more; for … for everything.” He frowned when James didn’t look at him. “I didn’t cancel your play date with Emily. That was unfair of me to say.”

“I still want you to come to my try-outs,” James weakly stated. “And I want you around.” He sniffled some, tears falling onto his hands. “And I don’t hate you.”

Stiles moved forward, pulling James into a hug. He ran his fingers through James’ hair, pressing a soft kiss on top of his head. “I don’t hate you, either. I love you,” he tearfully stated.

“I love you, too,” James cried against Stiles’ shoulder.

Stiles stayed in James’ bed, cuddling around him like a cocoon as they both fell asleep. His thoughts drifted to his own dad, thinking about the last time they talked, how final it felt. He wondered if they could fix it—if simply talking it out could really undo the rift forced between them.

~*~

Stiles clapped and cheered when James went up to bat, not caring when some of the other parents gave him looks. His son was up to bat, and nothing was going to stop him from cheering him on.

“I think you’re louder than a stadium,” Derek commented from beside Stiles as he clapped. He couldn’t help vaguely laughing at himself when he realized that he waved to James the same time Stiles did.

“You can’t tell me you’re not excited,” Stiles questioned, turning to playfully flick at the brim of the baseball hat Derek was wearing.

“It’s hot,” Derek argued, shifting his hat back into place.

“You mean bright?” Stiles snorted. “You wore it because you miss baseball.”

“I don’t miss Coach Finstock,” Derek replied, wincing when Coach yelled something at the pitcher.

“You mean the man who can simultaneously empower you while destroying your dreams altogether?” Stiles jokingly questioned.

James swung and missed the first pitch.

Stiles clapped anyways.

“By the way, I think you’re being categorized right now,” Stiles stated as he looked at a few of the women from Wolvesmeadow eyeing Derek.

“Let me guess, they keep double taking every time we talk,” Derek offered, still watching as Coach talked to James, giving him a few quick pointers.

“Hushed whispers behind the hand,” Stiles answered, actually turning his head to look at the women.

“Don’t look right at them,” Derek partially laughed.

“Why not?” Stiles smiled, looking at Derek. “You think their heads would implode from jealousy?”

“I think they might actually try to murder you,” Derek answered.

Stiles turned his attention back to the field.

James hit the ball, sending it towards left field. He ran, dropping the bat like Derek told him to remember to do. He slid onto first base, smiling when he waved to his dad.

Stiles joyfully clapped, jumping up out of his spot on the bleachers. He sat down next to Derek, catching sight of the women talking once more, hurriedly and with intent.

“Stiles,” Derek started.

“Hm?”

“You’re on my hand.”

“What?”

“You’re sitting on my hand.”

Stiles looked at Derek, seeing that he sat down closer to Derek than he thought he had. He looked down between them, seeing that Derek’s hand was indeed directly under his butt. He quickly stood, allowing Derek to get his hand back, trying to stop his blush from spreading.

“Sorry,” Stiles answered as he sat back down, this time avoiding Derek’s hand. “You’d think I sat in your lap with how they reacted.”

“I don’t think they’ve ever seen two men this close before,” Derek offered.

Stiles looked back at the field. “That, or they’re jealous.”

“Of?” Derek questioned, playing dumb.

“Oh, Dr. Derek Hale, fishing for compliments,” Stiles stated with a sarcastically scandalized tone. “You know for a fact that more than half of the women, and men, in Wolvesmeadow want a chance to climb all that,” he gestured to Derek with an open hand wave.

“Thanks, I guess,” Derek answered with a soft blush crossing his cheeks.

“Want me to sit in your lap and make them all freak out?” Stiles playfully jested. He laughed when Derek nearly shoved him out of his seat.

The time passed quickly, Coach beginning to give his end of the try-outs speech. Stiles was ready to celebrate—loudly—when he heard Coach say ‘Stilinski’ under the list of first line. He paused his movements when he saw how James didn’t react at all, completely still as he remained focused on Coach.

“Hey, buddy! You did it!” Stiles excitedly stated as he approached James, his arms stretched out in welcome for the hugs he expected to receive. He however didn’t receive any hugs.

“Yeah,” James softly answered, gently hitting his glove against his thigh. “It was alright.”

Stiles looked at Derek, not sure if he was relieved or worried when Derek offered him an uncertain furrow of his eyebrows.

“What’s wrong, kiddo?” Stiles asked as he knelt in front of James, trying to get his son’s attention without forcing him to look up.

James gave a slight shrug as a response.

“Derek asked me if we wanted to go out, to celebrate you making the team,” Stiles started, hoping James would seem animated with the knowledge that they’d be going somewhere with Derek. “Do you want to do that?”

“I guess,” James mumbled, twisting his glove in his hands as he stared at the ground.

Derek lingered by Stiles, not wanting to interfere with Stiles’ parenting.

“James, I can’t know how to fix the problem if you don’t tell me what it is,” Stiles finally stated, slumping against his shoes some as he resigned to settling in the dirt. He knew James disliked crowds, especially of kids his age. He knew that lingering on the baseball field was probably adding to his anxiety.

“It’s the other kids,” James started, knowing his dad wouldn’t let it go.

“Okay,” Stiles answered, waiting for James to fill the silence.

“I don’t like them,” James huffed.

“James, you haven’t even given them a chance,” Stiles countered, turning his head to look at Derek. “Look at Derek. You had to give him a chance, and now you’re really good friends.”

“The best of friends, right?” Derek offered as he looked at James.

James weakly nodded, still staring at the dirt by Stiles’ knees.

“So, how about we give the other kids a chance, and see where that goes?” Stiles offered. He waited for James to offer a weak shrug—the best he was going to get out of him—before moving to stand up.

“But Derek doesn’t say mean things like them,” James suddenly stated.

Stiles froze, looking at James. He snuck a brief look at Derek before moving back to focus on James. “Is someone … is someone bullying you, James?”

“They say stuff, and then laugh,” James uttered. “I know it’s bad because they won’t say it in front of Coach Finstock.”

Stiles’ features soured.

James huffed, finally looking up at his father. His nose was red, as if he had been crying earlier. He had a streak of dirt under his eye, as if he used the back of his hand to rub a tear from his cheek.

“If you don’t know what it means,” Stiles started, hesitating. He wasn’t going to tell James that he was imagining things—he wasn’t going to invalidate James’ fears without knowing the whole situation.

“What’s a faggot?” James suddenly demanded to know.

Stiles reared back, taken off guard. “What?” He snapped, wanting to know who spit such a disgusting word in front of James.

James’ eyebrows turned up, his bottom lip barely quivering as he stared up at Stiles. He was convinced Stiles’ anger was directed at him—for uttering the word; for not understanding it.

“Your dad’s not mad at you, James,” Derek stated as he moved next to Stiles.

“Of course not,” Stiles quickly affirmed, moving to kneel once more in front of James. “I just want to know who said that, so I can fix it.”

“Bobby Banner said that I couldn’t play pitcher because you and Derek are faggots,” James stumbled through the words as tears collected in his eyes. “He shoved me down and the other kids laughed. Coach Finstock told them to knock it off when he came back over to find them all laughing.”

Stiles moved to stand, turning to scour the group of remaining kids and parents.

Derek followed Stiles’ movements, grasping Stiles’ arm. “Stiles—”

“Some kid just told my son he couldn’t play baseball because his father is a faggot, Derek,” Stiles seethed, not wanting to listen to rationality.

“I know you’re pissed—I’m pissed,” Derek answered before Stiles could argue. He kept his voice calm and under control, not wanting to upset James further. “But you have a child’s baseball bat in your hand while murderously glaring at a group of children and their parents.”

Stiles looked down at his hands, noticing that he still had James’ bat and his glove in his hand. “You’re a doctor, you’ll make sure none of them die,” he uttered.

Derek released a faint snort. “As much as I would like to beat sense into a majority of these parents, that won’t help James. I know the Banners—in fact, my mother knows the Banners pretty well. The whole family loves to kiss ass.”

“You’re going to rub your name in their face?” Stiles asked as he looked at Derek.

“I figured we’d talk to Bobby Banner’s parents, and get to the bottom of this,” Derek corrected. “And if they are assholes on top of it, then you can beat them with your bat.”

A small twinkle of admiration lingered in Stiles’ eyes as he watched Derek.

“But for right now,” Derek started, releasing his hold on Stiles’ arm. “How about we get dinner?” He turned to look at James, watching the kid sniffle some to keep his tears at bay.

James nodded in agreement.

“Come on, buddy,” Stiles started, moving to wrap an arm around James’ shoulders, herding him towards the parking lot.

Derek lingered in the field, spotting the Banners still standing there. He made a decision, hoping Stiles didn’t see it as crossing the line. He calmly strolled over to the Banners, noticing how tense Betty and Robert Sr. were when they saw him.

“Betty, Robert,” Derek greeted them, offering a faint smile when he saw Bobby hiding behind his mother. “Congratulations on making the team, Bobby.”

“Hale,” Banner Sr. grunted as he placed his arm around his wife’s waist. “Didn’t think you had a kid.”

“Biologically, no,” Derek answered. “But James and his father are staying with me for a while. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I care about James deeply. And that includes when he’s upset about something.”

“Listen,” Robert Sr. started, moving to be between Derek and his wife.

Derek arched his eyebrows at that, finding it comical in seeing people become so defensive when they knew they had been in the wrong.

“I don’t know what that Stilinski kid said, but Bobby would never do anything to warrant this.”

“I don’t want to fight with you, Robert,” Derek replied. “I just wanted to talk.” He paused, waiting to see if the Banners were going to simmer down some. When neither parent made a move to say anything, he continued. “James’ father is equally upset about this situation. I wanted to ask if we could possibly get together and discuss this.”

“There’s nothing to discuss,” Betty curtly stated. “Just because his son is lying—”

“You don’t even know what James said has happened,” Derek cut her off, growing increasingly annoyed with their attitudes.

“Our son wouldn’t say anything that wasn’t true,” Robert countered.

“I don’t want to have this conversation in front of your son,” Derek stated, seeing that Bobby was almost completely hidden from sight by Betty now.

“Then don’t,” Robert stated. “Like you said, James isn’t your kid.”

“But he’s mine,” Stiles’ voice snapped as he came to stand beside Derek.

“Stiles,” Derek stated in surprise, looking at him to see if James was near. He turned to find him sitting with Coach Finstock by the dugout. He was relieved when he saw James laugh at something Coach said.

“But even if James wasn’t our kid, it’s called being a decent human being and not using derogatory names around children,” Stiles angrily continued. “It’s about not raising a generation of intolerance and hate.”

“Whatever your kid said was a lie,” Betty countered.

“Sure, because the kid without the nuclear family obviously has to be the liar,” Stiles scoffed.

“Listen,” Robert started, a look of shame welling when he noticed that a few people were looking.

“No, you listen, Robert,” Derek calmly cut him off. “I don’t care what you do in the sanctity of your own home. All I ask is that you respect what Stiles and I do in ours. Calling someone a faggot, especially in front of your own kid, is something entirely up to you. But the moment your kid starts harassing another kid by calling their parent that disgusting slur, that’s when I stop being so tolerant.”

“I don’t know where you come off assuming that I—”

“Well I’m glad to hear that it wasn’t you,” Derek firmly stated. “You should see where your son heard that word from then, and tell him that it isn’t acceptable.”

“I better not hear my son being harassed like this again,” Stiles added. He turned to look at Derek, wondering if he was ready to go.

“Have a nice day,” Derek stated in parting to the Banners, turning to head over to the dugout.

Stiles followed beside Derek, leaving them behind on the field. He snuck a brief look at Derek before looking back at James.

James was laughing with Coach Finstock, smiling as he looked up at Stiles and Derek.

“Thanks, Coach,” Stiles offered as they came to stand by the dugout.

“Children are terrors, Stilinski,” Coach answered with a shake of his head. “But entitled parents are worse.”

Stiles nodded, still not understanding Coach or his quips of moral support.

James hopped down from his spot on the dugout’s bench, running over to Derek. He jumped at Derek, pleased when Derek caught him and picked him up. “Dad,” he addressed Stiles from his spot on Derek’s hip.

“Yeah?” Stiles asked, unable to stop the smile pulling at his lips as he took in the image before him.

“Can we go to the diner?” James asked. “I want to tell Barbara the good news.”

Stiles looked at Derek, arching his eyebrow in question.

“I think the diner would be great,” Derek replied, looking at James.

~*~

“Thank you,” Stiles softly stated, his eyes fixed on watching James browse through the jukebox selections.

“For?” Derek asked, looking up from his coffee mug.

“You know what for,” Stiles smiled as he tossed a napkin at Derek.

Derek smiled as he caught the napkin. “They deserved a lot worse than someone confronting them.”

“But you didn’t have to,” Stiles answered.

“I wanted to,” Derek corrected him.

Stiles looked up at Derek, his fingers itching to reach out for him. He felt stupid. Everything over the past month felt like a dream—Derek included. He wanted nothing more than to have the courage to tell Derek how he felt.

“James really loves you,” Stiles stated instead. “It means a lot to have you around.”

“It means a lot to me to have you guys around, too,” Derek echoed. “To be honest, I never really cared what everyone else in Wolvesmeadow, Beacon included, thought about me. I didn’t care about the things they whispered to each other. But … I guess seeing James really upset by that kind of put it in perspective.”

“How so?” Stiles asked.

“That it’s not right,” Derek answered.

Stiles smiled. “James has put a lot of stuff in perspective for me, actually.”

Derek turned in the booth, catching sight of James flipping between two pages, trying to pick a song out. “I wanted to ask you something,” he started as he turned back to face Stiles.

Stiles allowed his eyebrows to arch, his eyes becoming impossibly wide. He had been sipping on his milkshake, his lips pursed over the straw in a, frankly, rather sinful manner. His fingers were wrapped around the base of the milkshake’s glass. He withdrew his lips from the straw, allowing them to drag over the plastic material before releasing a slight pop sound.

Derek looked away, averting his eyes from the obscene display Stiles was unknowingly putting on. He took a deep breath, clearing his throat as he looked back at Stiles. He wish he hadn’t, catching the way Stiles’ tongue dashed over his lips, licking them clean.

“Sorry,” Stiles stated with a small laugh, completely unaware of what he had done to Derek’s brain. “I haven’t had one of these in a while.”

“It’s okay,” Derek barely answered.

“So, you wanted to ask me something?” Stiles questioned, sitting back in his seat as he hid his hands beneath the table, trying to hide just how much he was fidgeting.

“I wanted to ask you if you were busy two weekends from now,” Derek started. “And if you weren’t, if you wouldn’t mind going to Laura’s wedding. With me.”

Stiles owlishly blinked at Derek. He was certain he heard him correctly. “To Laura’s wedding?”

“I guess I’d just feel better if you were there,” Derek explained. “But I understand if you don’t want to. I would more than understand, actually.”

“No,” Stiles argued, willing down his blush when Derek hopefully looked at him. “No, I’d like to go. How many chances do you get to meet Beacon’s rich and powerful, right?” He lightly laughed.

Because Stiles wasn’t saying yes because it meant he’d have a night out with Derek. He definitely wasn’t saying yes because it felt like a date. He definitely wasn’t.

He was definitely in denial.

Chapter Text

Stiles felt weightless, as if he was floating. He reached out, trying to ground himself. His hands found Derek’s biceps, holding on as tightly as he could. He pressed into Derek, releasing a faint noise of surprise when he felt Derek’s tongue brush against his own. He didn’t care what was going on around them, just the fact that Derek was holding him was enough. A small tear slip from his closed eyes, wanting there to be more to this than just a fleeting moment—a rash decision Derek would regret the next morning.

The Jeep’s handle was digging into Stiles’ lower back as they both fell against the vehicle. That was what prompted Derek to pull back, away from Stiles’ swollen lips.

Stiles forced himself not to chase after Derek, a thousand thoughts running through his mind as he carefully watched Derek. He knew it was foolish, that there was no way it could have gone passed tonight—passed just a kiss. But it still felt right.

“You should get home before curfew,” was all Derek could manage, his hands still firmly gripping Stiles’ hips.

“Yeah,” Stiles barely croaked, allowing his hands to slip down Derek’s arms before resting on his wrists. He wished he had the strength to push Derek’s hands away—but it felt so right.

“I’m sor—”

“Please, don’t be,” Stiles softly begged, looking down while releasing a small, heartbroken laugh. “I’m not sorry. Just two people trying to hang on before the storm hits, right?”

Derek’s thumbs pressed small circles just above Stiles’ hips. He rested his forehead against Stiles’, taking in a slight breath. “I shouldn’t have gotten you involved.”

“I involved myself by coming out to Cora,” Stiles offered. “You just happened to be coming out at the same time.” He gently bit his lip, thankful that Derek was still pressing against him, not retreating. “How bad is it?”

“Derek,” Talia’s voice called, startling Stiles.

Derek remained still, as if he knew his mother was going to interrupt them. He slowly pulled away from Stiles, fixing his eyes on him. “I was saying goodbye to Stiles.”

Stiles opened his mouth to say something, before slipping it shut when his nerve crumbled away. He faintly nodded, reality sinking in the minute Derek was no longer touching him. He pulled open his Jeep’s door, slipping inside. His eyes lingered on Derek before forcing himself to put the key in the ignition, knowing it would be the last time he was welcomed in the Hale house. That was the last thought he had before pulling out of the driveway, thinking about how different the following week would be, all leading up to graduation day.

Derek’s eyes lingered on Stiles’ Jeep, knowing that it was likely the last he’d see of him for a while. He reckoned it would be the last he saw of anyone besides family, likely to be treated like a secret in need of hiding. He was conscious of his mother lingering on the porch. He closed his eyes, taking in a deep breath, a motivation to face his family. He didn’t look at his mother as he moved passed her and into the foyer.

“Derek, we need to talk,” Talia pushed as she followed after him.

“I don’t feel like talking,” Derek answered.

“Your aunt overheard Cora talking to Stiles about you,” Talia offered, her features pensive as she slowed her attempt to follow Derek up the stairs.

Derek paused his movements, his grip on the railing tightening. “What does that mean?”

“You’re a sophomore in college,” Talia explained. “I’m not angry that you’re acting out.”

“Acting out,” Derek lowly echoed as he turned to look at his mother. “That’s what you think I’m doing?”

“What have you done with Stiles?” Talia asked, ignoring Derek’s question.

“What exactly are you accusing me of, mother?” Derek lowly growled, his buzz from the alcohol Laura snuck him was starting to wane.

“Besides publicly sticking your tongue down the poor boy’s throat, what else have you done?” Talia elaborated, her voice stern with authority.

“Our driveway isn’t public—it’s private property. Besides, I’ve had a thing for Stiles for a while,” Derek dismissively offered. “Kissing him was just the cherry on top of my fuck you.” He turned to head back up the stairs.

“Derek Samuel Hale,” Talia snapped. “Don’t speak that way to me when we’re talking.”

“We’re not talking,” Derek snapped back, finally standing at the top of the stairs before turning to look down at her. “We don’t talk, mother. I try to get your attention, but if you can’t pencil me into your agenda, then I better get used to disappointment, right? But now I fit in, don’t I? I make the perfect little poster child you’ve been looking for.”

“Derek, I have tried,” Talia countered. “There is only one of me, and I am trying.”

“The public sure as hell gets to see you more than I do,” Derek replied.

“What do you want from me, Derek,” Talia finally asked. She was at a complete loss, not knowing how to handle the situation. She wanted to tell Derek there was nothing to worry about, but there were actions that had to be taken in order to get ahead of the gossip. There was tabloid control—she had to contact the right people to get them to silence anyone from speaking ill of Derek. She had a hundred things she needed to do, but couldn’t seem to find exactly what Derek wanted from her.

Derek’s eyebrows furrowed, avoiding eye contact with Talia. He looked so much like his father, perfecting the wounded look of someone who couldn’t find the words to convey their hurt.

"I don’t know what you want from me," Talia lightly sighed.

“I want you to be my mother!” Derek suddenly shouted, tears burning his eyes. “For once in my life, I want you to pretend that my needs come before the needs of the public.”

“Derek, I’ve always thought of you three first—”

“You don’t even care that I’m drunk!” Derek yelled. “I’m 20, mom, and I’m standing here, clearly intoxicated, and you don’t care!” He ran a hand through his hair, anger boiling over. “But having a child that drinks while being underage, that fits with your political party well enough, right?”

“Derek, stop it,” Talia firmly demanded.

“As long as your only son doesn’t prefer fucking another guy,” Derek pushed. “Or heaven forbid, that he gets fucked by another guy.”

“You know that I don’t care about your sexuality—”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” Derek angrily seethed. “You’re going to tell everyone, ‘Well, Derek may prefer cock every now and again, but there is always a chance he’ll marry a woman.’ I guess a fifty percent chance is better than the zero percent chance Peter gave you, huh?” He looked up at the ceiling, angry tears falling as he thought about what was going to happen tomorrow.

“Derek,” Talia softly called. “We can fix this.”

Derek closed his eyes, shaking his head. “No.”

“No one else knows,” Talia offered, not knowing how to handle the situation. “This could be a serious advantage. We could schedule a press conference and—”

“You’re just like them,” Derek uttered, not realizing how truthful Peter had been about what happened when he married Chris. He grew angry when he looked at his mother, seeing nothing but confusion there—no compassion or understanding to be found. “You’re the most powerful woman I know, and you are going to stand there, and instead of helping me, you’re going to use me as a shield for your precious image!”

Talia remained silent.

“And you can’t even deny it,” Derek softly commented. He shook his head. “I’d like to have a mother, for once.” He walked away from her, climbing the rest of the stairs. He saw Cora’s door closing the rest of the way, knowing she was listening to the whole thing. He didn’t care if she heard—part of him blamed her for it all.

Cora didn’t have to be so loud in her reaction to Stiles being bisexual. She didn’t have to out Derek in that moment. She didn’t have to do a lot of things—but Derek knew why she did it. Fear made people do a lot of deplorable things. To be fair, Cora didn’t know their aunt could hear her—she didn’t know that she outed Derek to anyone but Stiles. She had tried to make Stiles feel better.

Derek couldn’t wait to move out completely, waiting for the day that he would feel completely free from it all.

~*~

Present Day …

Peter focused on fixing the costume in his hands, allowing his eyes to flicker over to James, keeping an eye on him. He smiled when he saw how precise James was being about what colors he was using.

“Is that one the Captain?” Peter asked as he looked back at lining the costume up with the sewing machine’s needle.

“Yup,” James hummed as he continued to color. “He’s friends with Bucky.”

“Right,” Peter answered. “The guy with one arm.”

“He has two arms, Uncle Peter,” James sighed. “One’s robotic.”

“Right, how foolish of me to forget,” Peter deadpanned. He was focusing on the costume so much that he didn’t hear the initial knock on the door.

“I’ll get it,” James announced as he quickly raced to the door, thinking it might be his dad. His smile faltered when he realized it was a person he didn’t recognize. “Um … hello.”

“Hello,” the man greeted back, seeming a little baffled at seeing James in Peter’s office.

Peter recognized Chris’ voice, immediately standing and dropping the costume back onto his chair. He walked over to the door, gently touching James’ shoulder as he took control of the door. “Busy,” he curtly stated, moving his spectacles up into his hair as he pinned Chris with a faint glare.

James looked up at Peter before looking at Chris.

“I … I didn’t know you had a—”

“He’s not mine,” Peter cut Chris off. “I’m babysitting.”

“I didn’t come to argue, Peter,” Chris offered. “I just wanted to warn you.”

“Warn me, lovely,” Peter mocked, rolling his eyes as he ushered James back into the office.

James pretended to go back to his coloring, staring up from his paper as he watched Peter and Chris speak in hushed tones.

“They probably won’t attend,” Chris explained. “But I figured it would be good for you to know.”

“How kind of you to remember we small folk,” Peter stated.

“Peter, I’m serious,” Chris offered.

“Chris,” Peter sighed, running a hand across his own chin, fingertips grazing over his short stubble. “Why keep coming here?” He earnestly questioned. “There’s nothing left to fix between us.”

Chris released a small huff of air. “Past regrets, I guess.”

Peter hesitated, reaching his hand out to press over Chris’ chest, his palm resting over his heart. “Don’t,” he uttered. His thumb delicately trailed over the button of Chris’ shirt, pausing to remember the distant familiarity he used to take for granted. He pulled his hand back, cutting off whatever moment they were about to get lost in. “Goodnight, Chris.”

“Goodnight, Peter,” Chris echoed, pulling back from the door.

Peter softly closed the door after him, his hand lingering on the doorknob as he turned back to the sewing machine. He caught James staring at him, smiling when he looked back down at his drawing.

A silence drew out between them, the hum of the sewing machine filling the gap.

“Do you love him?” James finally asked, his colored pencil still filling in the star and stripes of Captain America’s outfit.

“And what makes you think that?” Peter asked in reply.

“Because he looks at you the way my dad looks at Derek,” James answered. He continued coloring, not seeing the way Peter was staring at him now. “It would be sad if you didn’t love him back. But it’s okay, because that happens.”

“You think your dad loves Derek?” Peter questioned.

James paused his coloring before he looked up at Peter. “I don’t know. But you know how Westley looks at Buttercup when he says ‘As you wish’?”

Peter nodded.

“That’s how Derek looks at my dad,” James explained. “Like he just wants to give him the world. And then there are times when Derek is doing something—usually helping me, with homework or baseball. And my dad just stares at him like he’s really special. Like he wants to kiss him.”

Peter smiled, amazed at how observant James was for his age. “Well, I’ve been saying that for a while now, but no one listens to me.”

“They’re being silly adults,” James answered, scrunching his nose at the thought.

“It happens,” Peter offered.

“Are you and him being silly adults?” James asked. “Because you should talk until you figure out if you forgive him. Then see where you can go from there.”

“Does your father let you watch Doctor Phil?” Peter incredulously asked, bewildered by James’ relationship advice.

“Doctor Phil? Like, Philoctetes?” James asked, looking up at Peter.

“No, not really,” Peter mumbled.

“You could help dad and Derek, though,” James started, moving to stand up. “Derek asked dad to go to a wedding.”

Peter’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Really.”

“But dad is worried he’ll look bad,” James explained. “You could be like his faery godmother!” He excitedly exclaimed. “Well … faery godfather,” he corrected himself. “You could give him a nice outfit, one that makes him feel unafraid in facing other people. Like how Cinderella’s gown made her feel safe from her stepmother and stepsisters.”

“I don’t really have outfits like that here,” Peter explained, thinking it over. A soft smile pulled at his lips when he recalled one particular outfit lurking at the back of his closet—one that he wore as a younger man. “I think I might have one in mind,” he fondly stated as he looked at James.

~*~

“Stiles!” Peter called out from his office. “Need to see you!”

Stiles called a break. He snatched his water bottle up, reasonably downing his water as quickly as he could, making his way towards Peter’s office. He smiled when James hugged him, fondly ruffling his hair. He looked up at Peter, arching an eyebrow at him when he merely gestured towards the desk.

“An employee appreciation gift,” Peter offered in explanation as he continued with the sewing machine.

Stiles looked at the vinyl suit bag draped across the desk. He set his water bottle on the desk as he approached, his fingers moving to pull on the zipper of the vinyl bag. He looked through the opening, catching sight of a dark navy blue sleeve. He pulled part of the material through the zipper opening, instantly knowing it was expensive when he felt the material.

“Belle of the ball,” James smiled when Stiles finished unveiling the suit.

“Peter,” Stiles started, turning to look at him. “Where did you—”

“That thing is older than your son,” Peter stated in explanation. He gestured towards the bag the suit had been stored in. “In all honesty, I’m surprised it didn’t burst into dust when you opened it.”

“Peter, this is,” Stiles started as he looked back at the suit.

It was a gorgeous suit. When Stiles lifted the sleeve to inspect the material, he noticed how the light vibrantly caught the navy blue. The vest was a soft goldenrod yellow, adding a spark of flashiness—a signature of Peter’s.

“I can’t wear this,” Stiles immediately stated as he turned to look at Peter.

“You can,” Peter corrected him. “If you already have something else to wear, feel free to wear that then. Otherwise, that suit is begging to be taken for a night out on the town, so do me a favor and help it out.”

“It’s clearly significant to you,” Stiles countered, trying to get his point across without going into too much detail, still conscious of James’ presence beside him.

“It had its run,” Peter answered, pushing his spectacles into his hair as he observed Stiles with a simple, authoritative look. “I want you to use it.”

Stiles looked down at the suit. He thought about just wearing the tux Derek had given him for his birthday. He knew that would be seen as too out of place, desperately hoping he could squeeze into one of Isaac’s and hope that it happened to fit him without tripping over the trouser length.

“I promise, there are no stains on it,” Peter stated as Stiles stared at the suit. He snorted when Stiles gave him a pointed look. “It’s been dry cleaned since then.”

“Peter,” Stiles grimaced.

“But promise me,” Peter started. “If you get any stains on it, you’ll send it out for dry cleaning. I would like not to be traumatized.”

“Peter!” Stiles’ voice cracked a little, a blush burning his cheeks. He gestured towards James.

“I mean, dad, you are kind of clumsy,” James commented. “What if you bump into the refreshments table?”

Peter failed at suppressing his laughter.

“Oh my God,” Stiles groaned.

~*~

Stiles was relieved he got Peter to drop everything. He didn’t want to explain to James just what Peter was talking about—and he didn’t want to admit that someone else knew about just how attached to Derek he had become.

“Derek!” James exclaimed as he broke away from Stiles to run to Derek.

“Hey, buddy,” Derek greeted with a smile, picking James up when he jumped into his arms. “Was Peter a weirdo today?” He playfully asked.

“Peter’s always a weirdo,” James laughed.

“Thanks for picking us up,” Stiles offered as he moved to walk beside Derek. “I feel bad enough letting James be here, even on off hours, but walking home—”

“It’s no problem,” Derek offered, turning to head towards the car. His eyes fell on the vinyl suit bag in Stiles’ arms. “New costume?”

“Kind of,” Stiles half answered, moving towards the car.

“His outfit for the wedding,” James whispered.

“Outfit?” Derek questioned, arching an eyebrow at James.

“Well, it’s not a gown like Cinderella, and it’s more important than a regular suit,” James explained. “Uncle Peter was like a faery godmother.”

“Really?” Derek asked, setting James down by the car, opening the door for him.

“Yup,” James happily stated as he climbed into his booster seat.

Derek closed the door, turning to look at Stiles when he realized he was lingering behind the vehicle. “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t think that … you really think me going with you to the wedding is a good idea?” Stiles asked as he looked up at Derek, his arms tightening around the suit.

James was right, the suit fit him perfectly, Peter having been a slenderer in his youth. The suit made Stiles feel like he could be someone else—that it was nice enough for him to hide behind if someone said something to him. Or, worse case scenario, someone recognized him from his career at Little Red’s. That was a conversation he did not want to have with someone—especially conservatives like the Hales.

Derek took a step closer to Stiles. “If you don’t feel comfortable going, Stiles, I would never—”

“I know, and that’s not it,” Stiles answered. “There’s just … a lot of history, I guess.”

Derek hesitated, not knowing if he’d be crossing the line. He reached a hand out, gently touching Stiles’ arm to gain his attention. “I’m going to support Laura, that’s all. I was going to leave the reception early anyways. I can handle that by myself if you feel off about this.”

Stiles looked up at Derek. He let a faint smile cover his lips, lightly shaking his head. “No, I said I’d go. Besides, I think Peter is looking forward to seeing me wearing his old suit.”

“Anyone other than Peter, and I’d be extremely creeped out by that,” Derek commented.

Stiles released a small laugh. “It will be fun,” he stated in reassurance.

“Yes, the mockery that is my family,” Derek sighed. He turned to go to the driver’s side, pausing when he saw someone in the distance, across the parking lot. He furrowed his eyebrows when he saw that the guy was putting away camera gear.

“That’s Matt Daehler,” Stiles commented when he saw Derek staring at him. “Peter hired him for doing some new advertisement shots,” he explained.

Derek nodded, his gaze still stuck on Daehler as he watched him pack up his gear.

“You okay?” Stiles asked, arching his eyebrow at Derek.

“Yeah,” Derek stated, finally looking at Stiles. “Yeah, sorry. I’m just a little tired from work.”

“Okay,” Stiles answered, not sounding entirely convinced. “Still fit to drive, right?”

Derek faintly smiled. “Very.”

~*~

Stiles gently ran the comb through James’ hair, taking his time as he untangled the various knots throughout James’ curls. He kept the towel in his lap, used to James’ hair absorbing water like a sponge before dripping all over the place once he combed through it. He was settled behind James, both of them sitting on James’ bed. He peered over James’ shoulder, looking at the photo album he was flipping through.

The album’s pages were stained yellow from the decades they spent containing photos of Stiles, protecting them from fading. The photos were mainly in chronological order, the early ones having the rare photos of Stiles’ mom.

A small frown pulled at Stiles’ lips when he saw a photo of himself with his dad. He leaned to the side, trying to see James’ reaction to seeing the photos.

“Am I ever going to meet grandpa?” James asked as he lingered on the page, looking down at the photo of a young Stiles posing with the Sheriff, fishing poles in hand.

Stiles let his hands fall from James’ hair, setting the comb down on the nightstand beside the bed. “Would you like that?” He asked, running his hand through James’ hair one last time in order to move a few stray strands from his face.

“I think I would,” James answered, turning to look at Stiles. “Don’t you miss him?”

“I do,” Stiles truthfully answered.

“Because I’d miss you,” James stated.

“I’ll see what I can do about it, okay?” Stiles offered, lifting the towel to dry James’ hair, purposefully wrapping the towel around his head in a playful manner, covering his face from view.

James laughed as he tried to get away from the towel.

Stiles tucked James in for the night, checking the time before he decided to head downstairs. He remembered Peter told him that he’d forward the photos to his email once Matt shared the results. He desperately didn’t want to view the photos on a public computer, knowing that he’d probably get flagged for viewing inappropriate content. He had an alternative in mind.

“Hey,” Stiles greeted Derek when he noticed that he was still in the living room.

Derek looked up from his laptop screen, looking at Stiles over his glasses. “Hey,” his gaze flickered over to the clock above the fireplace. “That late already,” he sighed, pushing his glasses up into his hair.

Stiles fondly smiled, able to see the family resemblance between Derek and Peter. “Stressed?”

“What gave that away,” Derek deadpanned.

“Peter pushes his spectacles into his hair whenever he starts acting serious about things,” Stiles commented as he moved to sit beside Derek.

Derek nodded. “I remember that,” he noted, setting his laptop on the coffee table.

“You know, you have an office to do work in,” Stiles offered, looking at the laptop.

“I’m just working on a few reports—preparing for an important surgery coming up,” Derek explained.

“Nervous?” Stiles asked.

Derek snorted. “No. It’s a basic procedure—I’ve done it dozens of times, actually. I just get weighed down thinking about … they’re just kids,” he looked up at Stiles. “I’m trying to fix these problems so these kids can grow up with an idea of relative normalcy. What kind of world is that?”

Stiles smiled at Derek. “It’s a world that is for the better with Dr. Derek Hale in it.”

Derek rubbed a hand over his face. “Right, I must be exhausted if you’re complimenting me.”

“I compliment you all the time,” Stiles countered. “But I do need a favor.”

“And there it is,” Derek commented with false expectancy.

“I need to use your laptop to access an email,” Stiles explained.

“An email?” Derek questioned. “And pray tell, what is this email?”

“An email from Peter,” Stiles specified. “One with the shots that Matt Daehler took over the past few days. Peter wants my opinion on them.”

“Of course he does,” Derek answered. “If these photos are what I think they are, you are not using my work laptop to access them,” he concluded as he stood, heading for his office.

“They’re tame,” Stiles argued as he followed after Derek.

“I don’t need to be labeled a pervert of a pediatric surgeon,” Derek stated as he entered his office.

“That would be a damning title,” Stiles added.

Derek opened the slender, middle drawer of his desk, producing a sleek electronic tablet.

“Yes, this is so much less sketchy,” Stiles smirked as he accepted the tablet from Derek’s outstretched hand.

“Yes, it’s my porn tablet, Stiles,” Derek snarked. “How did you know?”

Stiles released a soft chuckle, playfully kicking his foot out to the side to tap Derek’s leg as he headed back to the living room.

Stiles was quiet as he waited for the tablet to warm up. He settled onto the couch, folding his legs underneath himself as he looked down at the tablet. He was aware of Derek coming to sit close to him, willing himself not to look up. He decided to focus on the email, easily accessing the photos Peter shared through a link. He followed the instructions given, trying to pick out the shots that would give the best aesthetic—obviously the more tame ones would be for the front windows, while the racier ones would be reserved for indoors.

Stiles pursed his lips when he came to one photo, noticing that Matt had taken segmented shots of some dancers—primarily of Erica. His stomach soured when he noticed that the shot meant to be of his own feet on point were in fact focused on his legs, mostly his upper thigh and the curve of his ass, thanks to his g-string.

“You look annoyed,” Derek stated, pulling Stiles away from focusing on the photos.

“A little,” Stiles honestly answered. “This guy really took the fact that we’re strippers to heart.”

“Distasteful shots?” Derek asked, still looking at his computer screen.

“Just,” Stiles sighed. “I get it, even if we’re a cabaret, we still have to appeal to the old clientele and new. But when you tell me you’re taking a shot of my dance shoes but then take a picture of the side of my ass— well, that pretty much explains my annoyance.”

“Models don’t get a say in what part is photographed,” Derek offered. “Long hours, uncomfortable clothing, and a person yelling at you to pose—at the end of the day, you’re just happy if your ad does well so you get paid.”

Stiles allowed the tablet to rest in his lap as he turned to look at Derek. “And you know this how?”

Derek couldn’t help the faint smile pulling at his lips. “Peter.”

“That’s a lie,” Stiles countered. “We both know Peter would have his former photo shoots framed in his office if he was a model.”

“Peter did model,” Derek argued. “But I know those things because med school isn’t cheap and I didn’t feel like asking my mother for an allowance.”

“Dr. Derek Hale, pediatric surgeon, was a model,” Stiles slyly smiled. “I need photos.”

“No, you don’t,” Derek answered, looking at Stiles. “It was a horrible segment in my life that I like to forget.”

“Did they make you wax your chest?” Stiles asked, sounding slightly horrified at the idea that Derek would have a smooth chest instead of the glorious hair he has seen poking out from beneath his shirts every now and again.

“They make you wax a lot,” Derek vaguely answered.

Stiles made a wounded noise. “No, not the chest hair,” he playfully lamented.

Derek lightly chuckled. “It grew back, Stiles.”

Stiles couldn’t help thinking about what exactly Derek was talking about for hair. He had to refrain himself from asking if he could see the proof of the hair growing back. He turned his attention back to the photos. “Well, since you’re an expert on photos—what sells and what doesn’t—would you be so kind as to take a look?”

Derek hesitated before looking at Stiles. “Are there any of Peter? Because I’d really like to not have to talk about that in therapy.”

Stiles laughed. “No, Peter already okayed his own photos—of his chest. They’re to go behind the bar.”

“Of course,” Derek sighed, closing his laptop before moving to settle closer to him. He looked at Stiles when he kept the tablet out of his view. “I can’t look if you hide the tablet from me.”

“You’re okay with looking?” Stiles asked, wanting to make sure Derek wouldn’t mind.

“It’s my porn tablet, might as well,” Derek offered, smiling when Stiles knocked his shoulder against his.

Stiles offered Derek the tablet, nibbling the inside of his lip as he watched Derek going through the photos. He noted that Derek was pausing at the ones of him.

“These are really great,” Derek finally commented as he lingered on the one of Stiles’ pointe shoes.

The photo centered on Stiles’ pointe shoes, his bare legs visible as the rest of his nearly bare body was blurred out of focus. Stiles was happy that Matt actually managed to take a photo that wasn’t objectifying him beyond the way his pointe shoes were illuminated against his skin.

“You, um … you look really good in these,” Derek added, not looking up at Stiles.

“Thanks,” Stiles softly answered, leaning in closer to inspect the photographs as Derek went through them.

“You’re making it hard to concentrate,” Derek stated, barely turning his head to look at Stiles.

Stiles looked up at Derek, a soft smile pulling at his lips. He noticed the softest tinge of a blush covering Derek’s features. “Am I making you blush?” He asked, bemused.

“You’re making me feel like a peeping tom or something,” Derek justified.

Stiles lightly laughed. “I asked you to look, Derek.”

“Still doesn’t change the fact that I’m looking at promotional shots of you in revealing positions,” Derek commented in defense.

Stiles found himself impulsively answering, “I don’t mind.”

Derek looked up at Stiles, completely forgetting about the tablet as he stared at him. His gaze flickered between Stiles’ eyes and his lips, his impulsive desire itching at him to push forward and kiss him. It was a painful reminder of how often he thought about kissing Stiles again—remembering how it felt to push into Stiles and hold him close before his mother ruined it all. He could remember the tingling sensation on his lips whenever he let himself linger on remembering how the kiss felt.

“I feel like you actually see more than just a stripper,” Stiles softly added, uncertain how to handle Derek looking at him instead of the photographs. He settled his body more into the couch, closer to Derek. They were closer than they had to be for a simple conversation like this—the tension between them hanging in the air, painfully obvious.

“You’re more than your dancing, Stiles,” Derek countered.

Stiles scoffed, looking away from Derek when he felt the tears stinging his eyes. “I’m a cliché.” He closed his eyes, a slight tremble falling through his body when he felt Derek’s fingertips caress his jaw, eagerly leaning into Derek’s open palm.

“Clichés only exist because they are based in realism,” Derek argued.

“You’re ridiculous,” Stiles fondly stated, opening his eyes as he reached a hand up to cover Derek’s.

“Have you met my family? I take that as a compliment,” Derek replied with a small smile.

“Derek, I … I don’t want to mess this up,” Stiles weakly whispered, afraid that everything would come crumbling down if he gave in to what he truly wanted.

“I know,” Derek replied, both of them subconsciously leaning closer. “I don’t want to mess this up either,” he added, his thumb softly tracing along his cheekbone in a comforting manner.

Stiles took a leap of faith, leaning forward to press a kiss to Derek’s lips. He was overjoyed when Derek kissed him back.

Not long passed before the abrupt sound of Derek’s phone vibrating against the coffee table’s glass shattered the moment. It was the harsh reminder of who Derek was—a renowned surgeon who happened to show immeasurable generosity to Stiles and his son.

Stiles pulled back from their kiss, his lips craving to press back in for more. “Shouldn’t you answer that?” He weakly asked, giving Derek a chance to change his mind. He didn’t want him to stop, he wanted nothing more than for Derek to kiss him again.

“It’s not important,” Derek replied, still lingering close.

“What if it’s the hospital?”

“I’m not on call,” Derek explained. “And even if I was … I’m not entirely convinced I’d pick it up.”

Stiles allowed his hand to slide down from its place on Derek’s shoulder, moving to press against Derek’s chest. He could feel Derek’s heartbeat beneath his palm—how strong and elevated it was. He knew that Derek was just as scared as he was. His fingers ran along the collar of Derek’s shirt, a spark igniting under his skin when he felt the softest brush of Derek’s chest hair.

“Dad?”

Just as quick as the moment rose, it shattered with the sound of James’ timid voice. It made it easier to put strength behind his motion to push Derek away, his arm easily moving to put space between them as he moved to stand—and Derek let him.

Derek understood Stiles’ reaction, not pressing the matter with his own selfish want, remaining stationary as Stiles left him behind on the couch. He turned his head to observe James rubbing his hands at his tear stained eyes.

Stiles moved to console James, hugging James back when he wrapped his arms around his waist. He didn’t dare to sneak a look at Derek until he heard his phone vibrate once more.

Derek accepted the call this time, a visage of professionalism before his shoulders slumped some. “Yes, I can speak with her parents about the surgery,” he answered, already moving for his office with the intent to give James and Stiles privacy. “It’s not a problem. No … no, I’m not busy.”

Stiles pretended his heart didn’t ache at that response.

“I dreamt I couldn’t find you, again,” James explained, his reoccurring dream was losing Stiles in the woods before inevitably getting lost.

“I’m here, buddy,” Stiles reassuringly stated as he held James tighter. “I’m not going anywhere,” he softly added. He couldn’t stop his eyes from wandering over to the doorway Derek disappeared through, his mind already racing with thoughts of ‘what-if’s.

Chapter Text

“It’s your last chance to make a run for it,” Derek stated when he laid eyes on his mother.

Talia was standing at the entrance, up high on the steps, greeting the guests one by one as they filed into the church. She was the image of professionalism, elegant in her dress, posture straight and welcoming.

“I think you mean it’s your last chance to make a run for it,” Stiles countered, turning his gaze on Derek. “You think you can handle this?”

Derek released a faint huff of air, unsure if he could honestly answer the question. “No. But my sister’s happiness is worth at least trying.”

Stiles smiled at Derek. “The self-sacrificing surgeon. You are a beautiful stereotype.”

“Coming from the stripper with a heart of gold,” Derek answered.

Stiles partially laughed. “Am I also dad of the year in this scenario?”

“You know you are,” Derek replied, fixing his suit coat one last time.

“Derek, you’re going to ruin your jacket if you keep trying to fix it,” Stiles muttered, reaching a hand up to fix the collar Derek managed to bend into disarray.

“Doesn’t really feel like it fits,” Derek lied.

“Liar,” Stiles called him out. “You had it tailored.” He swiped his hand against the jacket, allowing his hands to linger as he pretended to pull away a stray string.

Derek’s eyes lingered on Stiles.

Stiles partially frowned, turning his brows up. “What?”

“You look good,” Derek thoughtfully stated, turning away from staring at Stiles.

Stiles looked down at himself, hoping his blush was light as it heated his cheeks. He pulled at the cuffs, knowing that it was a hair too short for his limbs, but fit him despite it. He vetoed Derek when he said about getting him a tailored suit. He ran a hand over his stomach, evening out the wrinkles of the gold vest. He was glad he opted out of the gold tie, knowing that it would make him stand out more. The navy blue of the suit was a gorgeous contrast to the pale gold, his crisp white shirt softening the color tones in general.

“I feel like I look like I’m cosplaying Beauty & the Beast,” Stiles commented, looking up at Derek.

“Does that make me Belle or the Beast?” Derek questioned.

“I’ll leave that up to you,” Stiles answered. “Although, you are the hairer one.”

Derek playfully narrowed his eyes at Stiles.

“It’s true!” Stiles answered, laughing some.

Derek smiled, welcoming Stiles’ laugh. It was the first real laugh Stiles had given since the night they kissed. Stiles seemed self-conscious, as if he was trying to avoid all contact with Derek—including eye contact. But something about Stiles was different today—he was lighter, happier. Derek hoped it was true, and that he wasn’t doing it for his sake.

Derek’s stomach dropped when he looked over Stiles’ shoulder, seeing his mother looking at them both. He remembered why he stayed away for so long, how judged he felt, like a pariah.

“Sorry,” Stiles apologized when he realized why Derek paled, briefly looking at Talia. “I have an obnoxious laugh. Olivia hated it—when we were in public, she used to beg me not to make a sound, saying that it drew in too much attention.”

“I like your laugh,” Derek said plainly, as if he thought Olivia was the stupidest person he ever had the displeasure of meeting.

“You and James may be the only ones,” Stiles answered, moving to stand beside Derek. “You ready to have the laughter sucked out of us?”

“Is my family a pack of dementors suddenly?” Derek asked, his eyes still focused on Stiles, refusing to look at his mother.

“The way you just had all your emotions stolen away, I’d say yes.” Stiles honestly answered.

Derek sighed. “Let’s get this over with,” he solemnly concluded.

Stiles ignored the bubbling in his chest, how he wanted to hold Derek’s hand and tell him it’d be okay. But he knew that would only make matters worse. He gave Derek a faint nod, turning towards the church steps.

~*~

It wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Stiles saw the way Talia’s features tightened when he stumbled in calling her ‘Madam Mayor’, remembering last second that he was less than likely allowed to call her Mrs. Hale, let alone Talia. He was glad that Derek didn’t pause to speak with his mother, greeting her before ushering Stiles into the church. He was grateful when Derek offered him the seat on the end—sparing Stiles having to sit next to anyone.

Things didn’t grow eventful until the reception.

Stiles smiled as he watched the Hales gather. He fondly looked on as Laura hugged Derek tightly. He nodded to her when he noticed she was looking at him, knowing that it was a silent thank you for accompanying Derek.

“Friend of the Hales?” A male voice questioned, pulling Stiles’ attention away from Derek and the other Hales.

The man wore an elegant suit, simple yet refined in appearance. He had groomed beard that made him look more rugged instead of aging him like most men. Stiles guessed the man was about Peter’s age.

“I think,” Stiles partially quipped, looking down at his champagne glass.

“You’ll need more than that if you are,” the man answered, gesturing towards the champagne glass.

“A testament of experience,” Stiles questioned, looking up at the man. He smiled when the man looked at him in slight confusion. “Stiles Stilinski,” he offered his hand to him. “And you’re Chris Argent.”

Chris looked impressed by Stiles’ forwardness. He shook his hand, offering a friendly smile. “I didn’t think people remembered me.”

“Like I said, friend of the family,” Stiles shrugged.

“You work for Peter,” Chris stated in remembrance.

Stiles straightened his shoulders. “I meant that I’m friends with Peter,” he simply put, turning to look at Chris. “And your daughter.”

“And Derek,” Chris added.

Stiles allowed his gaze to flicker over to Derek. He watched as Derek smiled in the photos for Laura’s sake. It was obviously a force smile—if someone saw Derek’s real smile, they would know the glaring difference. “Are you trying to imply something?”

“More like warn,” Chris partially shrugged.

“Like you warn Peter every month or so,” Stiles turned a glare on Chris. “What do you want, Mr. Argent? To ruin another Hale’s life?”

“Not as much as some of his family does,” Chris commented.

“You’re not some guardian angel that Peter or I need to warn us about the casualties of falling out with a family such as the Hales,” Stiles firmly stated. He glared at Chris, ready to tell him to fuck off and go back to his perfect heteronormative life and leave them alone.

“Anyone I know?” A male voice interrupted, his tone more serious than normal.

“Peter,” Chris stated, taking a step back from Stiles.

“I know him,” Peter smiled as he came to stand beside Stiles. “Stiles, you look lovely,” he commented, placing a fond kiss to Stiles’ temple. “Let it go,” he softly whispered, taking Stiles’ hand in his. “Honor me with a dance?”

Stiles knew it was an escape route, one he gladly took.

“Christopher,” Peter stated in parting as he lead Stiles towards the dance floor where a number of people were already swaying with intoxication.

Stiles stared at the pocket square in Peter’s jacket, focusing on the material as he tried to think of what to tell Derek—what excuse could get them both out of it.

“I meant it,” Peter stated, pulling Stiles’ thoughts back to the dance floor. “You do look lovely.”

Stiles faintly smiled. “Thanks.”

“Derek thinks so, too,” Peter commented, his eyes briefly looking over at his nephew and nieces, a fond smile pulling at his lips.

Stiles studied Peter’s features, noting the melancholy happiness he found there. A frown growing as he realized Peter was ostracized yet again. “You should be taking pictures with them.”

Peter turned to look at Stiles. “It is what it is.”

“Doesn’t mean it’s right,” Stiles countered.

Peter smirked, shaking his head. “Sometimes it is better to be complacent than to fight.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Peter Hale I know,” Stiles uttered.

“I have the love of my nieces and nephew, and that’s all I care about,” Peter explained. “It’s not about the family you’re born into. It’s about the family that loves and accepts you.” He playfully twirled Stiles, smiling when it resulted in a laugh from the younger man.

Derek turned to look over at the dance floor, seeing Peter and Stiles dancing. He fondly watched as Stiles laughed at whatever Peter said.

“You can go dance if you want,” Laura playfully commented as her husband, Dale, posed for photos with his groomsmen. “I only need you for the last shot, with Cora and Peter.”

Derek looked at Laura. “You know I don’t dance.”

“But Stiles loves dancing,” Laura commented with a smile. “And that means you’ll dance if he wants to.”

Derek gently knocked his shoulder against Laura’s.

“All I’m saying is that I wouldn’t be opposed to you having fun,” Laura stated.

“Yeah,” Derek partially sighed. “You wouldn’t oppose to me making a fool of myself and—”

Laura looked at Derek, not knowing why he cut himself off. “Der? What’s wrong?” She hurriedly asked, gently touching his arm in concern when she noticed him pale considerably.

“What the fuck is she doing here?” Derek lowly demanded.

Laura looked at where Derek was staring, catching sight of their grandmother. She then saw who was with her. “Oh my God,” she barely whispered. “Derek, I didn’t know—I swear, she didn’t say she was bringing anyone. I’d never—” She turned to see if she could find their mother.

Talia caught sight of her mother before Laura could even say anything. She hurried over to her, grabbing hold of her arm as she whispered hurried words to her.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Cora growled under her breath.

“I can’t believe she’d—”

“Laura,” Cora curtly started to cut her sister off. “She’s a manipulative bitch who has no life and has to ruin everyone else’s because she’s not happy. How could you not believe it?”

“I just didn’t think she’d do this,” Laura softly stated. “Not to us.”

“She’s dead on the inside, she has to feel alive somehow,” Cora scoffed.

Peter heard the commotion happened, turning to look at his family. He partially grimaced, fully expecting something to happen in relation to him, but not to Derek.

“What’s wrong?” Stiles thoughtfully asked as he turned to look. He was immensely confused by the scene before him.

Laura was holding Derek’s arm, her eyebrows furrowed in worry as she intently watched Talia speaking to an older woman. Cora had her arms crossed over her chest, glowering at the whole thing. Derek was pale, concerningly so. He was staring in near mortification that this older woman was at the party.

Stiles realized it wasn’t the older woman, but the young woman standing there. The young woman had long curly hair, a dark shade of brown that fell by her shoulder blades. She was wearing a tight dress, one that left little to the imagination. She was wearing ostentatious jewelry that drew anyone’s attention immediately to her cleavage. But Stiles wouldn’t deny that she was beautiful.

“What’s happening?” Stiles asked again when Peter didn’t answer his first question.

“That’s Jennifer,” Peter growled, releasing his hold on Stiles. “Derek’s bitch of an ex.” He left Stiles behind on the dance floor, marching over to Talia and his mother with purpose. He appeared calm enough despite the anger brewing in his chest.

Laura acted quickly, releasing her hold on Derek to cut off Peter. She touched Peter’s arm to stop him from getting closer to her grandmother. She gave him a reassuring smile as she made her way over to solve the situation.

Stiles wandered over to Derek and Cora, offering a faint nod in greeting to Cora as he settled by Derek. He gently touched Derek’s arm, gaining his attention. “Are you okay?” He quietly asked, concern in his voice.

“This was why I didn’t want to come,” Derek answered, still watching the spectacle that was happening before him.

“Could leave,” Stiles suggesting, not knowing how Derek felt about staying, especially now that Jennifer was present.

“Could tell them to fuck off,” Cora curtly stated.

“Leave it alone,” Derek answered, ready to turn around and leave.

“Like always?” Cora demanded, turning to look at Derek. “Just let them get away with it?”

“Like you should do for once in your life,” Derek snapped, spinning around to face Cora. “Leave it alone before you throw someone else under the bus to save yourself the pain of this family rejecting you.”

A twist pulled at Cora’s face, evidence that Derek had hit a nerve—one that he knew was there.

“Fuck you,” Cora lowly stated. “I’m sorry the golden boy suddenly wasn’t the golden child anymore.”

“You had no fucking right telling anyone about me,” Derek growled back, crowding into Cora’s space. He didn’t care if they made a scene of it—this was years in the making, an entire storm ready to blow everything away.

“It was Stiles,” Cora seethed, gesturing towards Stiles. “I’m sorry if I wanted to make my friend feel better about being bisexual.”

“The same friend you had no problem throwing away because it might look bad for the Hales to be associated with the Sheriff’s son now that he was something besides straight,” Derek snapped.

“I didn’t,” Cora angrily countered.

“Both of you calm down,” Stiles firmly stated, moving to get in between them. He placed a hand on Derek’s chest, holding him at bay as he turned to Cora. “Clearly you’re both pissed at your family and taking it out on each other. Stop it.”

“You have no idea what’s going on here,” Cora perpetually stated.

Stiles scoffed. “You think I don’t get angry over the shit that’s happened with my dad? That I don’t get annoyed when people look in on my life and tell me that I’m wrong? That I’m a shit parent and a failure of a son? Don’t try and act like your anger and repression is unique to the Hale family name.”

Cora’s features softened some.

“Stop acting like you’re both the enemy and face reality,” Stiles sighed, allowing his hand to slip away from Derek. He turned to look at Derek. “You need to stop running from this.”

Derek’s features soured.

“It’s still eating you up inside,” Stiles softly stated. “I see it every day—James sees it.” He saw the way Derek’s stance softened, how much the fight drain out of him at the mention of James. “You need to tell them that this isn’t okay—that it’s hurting you.”

“And if they won’t listen, like they never do?” Derek faintly commanded an answer.

“Then you walk away for good,” Stiles stated. “I’ll help you walk away from it. Because all this?” He gestured around them, including all the Hales present. “This is toxic.”

Derek turned his head to look at his family, knowing that Stiles was right. He had been hoping, for a long time, that there was a shred of normalcy he could salvage. He hadn’t realized that things changed when his father passed—how different they all became when his mother started working more; when Peter and Chris divorced; when Derek was outed.

It all changed them, for the worse. And now they were reduced to the mediocre cliché of a bickering family on what was meant to be a happy occasion.

Derek calmly buttoned his jacket, pulling on his lapels to straighten them. He gave Stiles an affirming nod, knowing that it would suffice. He wordlessly left both Stiles and Cora behind, walking over to where a majority of his family was bickering.

“Jennifer,” Derek stated, her name feeling like acid on his tongue.

“Derek,” Jennifer practically purred when she noticed that he was finally acknowledging her.

“May we talk in private?” Derek asked, ignoring the way his mother looked ready to protest as his grandmother smiled.

“Der—” Laura started, moving to physically haul him away from Jennifer.

“I’d love to,” Jennifer quickly said with a smile, taking hold of Derek’s arm as she waited for him to lead her away.

Stiles watched it unfold, an uneasiness brewing in his stomach.

“I hope you know what you just did,” Cora heavily sighed.

“He’ll be okay,” Stiles answered, hoping he could convince himself of that as well.

~*~

Derek assumed the kitchen would be best for any confrontation he had to settle with Jennifer. He hoped that she wouldn’t try to throw anything projectile at him—his mind suddenly concentrating on the knives on the counter.

“What did you want to talk about?” Jennifer playfully questioned.

“Why did you come here?” Derek asked, turning to look at her. He made sure to keep the island between them as a buffer.

“I missed you,” Jennifer partially pouted.

“You missed the attention,” Derek corrected her. He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets.

“I miss us,” Jennifer emphasized. “I missed what we had going for us.”

Derek remained silent, watching her every movement.

“We were good together, Der,” Jennifer sighed, moving to come around the island. “And now that your school is out of the way, we could work.”

“It wasn’t my studies that broke us up, Jennifer,” Derek answered.

“You’re right, you never paid enough attention,” Jennifer viciously countered, her playful visage slowly fading.

“I don’t want to do this,” Derek faintly uttered, moving to leave Jennifer behind.

Jennifer grabbed his hand to stop him. “Derek, don’t throw away what could be a second chance.”

“I don’t want a second chance at this,” Derek quickly stated, knowing his hands were starting to tremble over the memories of just how terrible it was—of how long it took him to accept that it wasn’t his fault.

Jennifer looked shocked. “Are you saying there is someone else?” She sounded insulted.

“Maybe there is,” Derek quickly stated, keeping his thoughts on Stiles.

“It’s the twink in Peter’s old wedding suit, isn’t it?” Jennifer demanded, sounding as if she was baffled by the very idea.

“That’s none of your business,” Derek snapped, yanking his hand from Jennifer’s grasp.

“So what, then? You’re a faggot now?” Jennifer furiously uttered.

Derek released a stressed laugh, it sounding close enough to fall into a sob. “I’d rather be considered a faggot than be in a relationship with you ever again.”

“You’re throwing away everything for him?” Jennifer hissed in disbelief.

“Stiles is a lot better than either of us,” Derek answered. “He’s more than I deserve, which means I’m not throwing anything away.”

“He’s a stripper and single parent,” Jennifer countered. “How much better can he be?”

Derek stiffened. “What?”

“Derek, we have a clean slate to start things on,” Jennifer pushed. “We could get married and have our own kids if that’s what you want. Just don’t—”

“How the fuck do you know he’s a father?” Derek snapped, moving forward.

“What?” Jennifer asked, slightly taken off guard by Derek’s suddenly flip.

“How do you know he has a kid?” Derek demanded.

“The little fucking brat in the photo,” Jennifer answered with equal passion. “The one pawing at you for attention.”

“What photo?”

~*~

Stiles quietly sat beside Cora as he waited for her to speak first.

“So,” Cora started, looking down at her glass. “How’ve you been?”

Stiles snorted. “Subtle.”

“I’m not good at admitting ignorance, you know that,” Cora replied. “I … I’m never going to be able to make up for what happened, I know that. But I didn’t … I didn’t mean for what happened to happen.” She released a sad laugh. “I didn’t mean for a lot of shit to happen that did happen.”

Stiles frowned, looking down at his drink. “That seems to be the common theme in everyone’s life.”

“What about you?” Cora asked, turning to look at him.

“I didn’t mean to fuck up my life at all,” Stiles answered, turning his head to the side to look at Cora. “But it happened. A lot of pride—a lot of foolishness.”

“What about happiness?” Cora asked.

Stiles faintly nodded. “My son. He’s the best thing I’ve ever managed to do with my life. And he just makes it so easy for me to smile, you know?”

Cora partially frowned—bringing up the past hurt more than she cared to think about. “Your dad?”

Stiles raised his glass to his lips, not caring how strong it was. “We kind of split paths,” he finally admitted once he placed the glass back on the bar top. “We got into a fight—about James, actually.”

Cora carefully watched Stiles.

“I told James’ mom she could do what she thought was best—it was just as much my doing as hers, but it’s her body, you know?” Stiles stated, looking at Cora. “Despite not being ready, I wanted to have the baby. She … she agreed. But my dad was right—having a kid and making a kid are two completely different stories.” He looked down at his empty glass, remembering the day Olivia had broke down. He remembered how terrified he was when she practically dropped a crying James onto their small bed, screaming as she walked away from him—shouting how she couldn’t do it anymore, that she hated babies, that she wished Stiles hadn’t forced her into have James.

“James’ mom had enough one day,” Stiles simply stated, his voice tired as he replayed the scenes over and over in his head, marking every single thing Olivia had blamed him for. “She terminated her rights as a parent, and I dropped out of the ballet academy to pursue jobs that had a higher pay.” He wasn’t surprised to find Cora staring at him. “How about you?” He lamely mimicked inquiring about Cora. “Any happiness in the Hale family?”

Cora partially snorted. “Laura’s finally married, but she married a pro bono lawyer who just wants to change the world for the better instead of rule it. Derek isn’t married, doesn’t let our mother use him as publicity anymore—oh, and he’s bisexual, so he fell from being the golden goose there.”

Stiles wanted to grimace, every aspect of the relationships between the Hales lead from bigotry to pride. He never before thought of his life being less complicated than Derek’s.

“And I’m the last hope,” Cora huffed, as if she heard those words one too many times. “Being a closeted lesbian isn’t really working out for me though.”

Stiles’ eyes widened a bit in surprise. “Do they know?” He gently asked.

Cora scoffed. “I don’t think I’d be here solo if they did.”

Stiles frowned. “You think they’d force you to do that?”

Cora turned to look at Stiles, arching her eyebrow at him. “My grandmother brought Derek’s ex girlfriend here to try and force him back with her, because she found out that you were coming with Derek.”

Stiles turned his head to look at where the eldest Hale woman was speaking with Laura. He had only met her once before, when he was friends with Cora in high school, immediately conscious of the way he felt judged on his appearance alone.

Scarlett Hale was as stereotypically old fashioned as older people can be. She would inarguably fit in with old Civil War reenactments that still considered the war to be that of Northern aggression. She was as entitled as she was arrogant, and a terrifying force to reckon with when views differed from hers.

Scarlett looked younger than she was, gifted with the Hale genes that resonated youth and beauty. There was an irritably similar comparison between Talia and Scarlett—how similar they looked in dress and hairstyle. The silver in Scarlett’s hair was elegant and worn as badges—a testament to how long she had been championing for a world in her image. She was beautiful, and terrifying, as all Hales were.

And in the end, Scarlett saw Stiles as an obstacle.

“I guess that was a stupid question,” Stiles replied as he turned back to Cora. “I’m surprised she hasn’t given me the Hallmark movie moment when the family tells me I’m not good enough for their son and boots me from the party.”

Cora faintly smiled at Stiles. “Is this you admitting that you and Derek are dating?”

Stiles cleared his throat, trying to keep from nervously laughing. “Derek and I aren’t together,” he softly stated.

“Yet you sure as hell can read him like an open book,” Cora replied.

“He’s been helping me out,” Stiles explained, distractingly pulling at the cufflink of his sleeve. “We’ve gotten close in the past few months.”

“Back in high school, before graduation,” Cora started in confession. “I told you about Derek being bisexual because he liked you. He totally had a crush on you but never admitted it to anyone.”

Stiles looked at Cora, almost not believing it.

“Oh, come on,” Cora smiled. “Derek couldn’t stop staring at you whenever you were over.”

Stiles shifted uncomfortably. “So, you’re saying you were trying to pimp out your brother to make me feel better?”

“A little,” Cora shamefully admitted. “It stemmed from my selfishness. I wanted everyone looking somewhere other than me. And I knew that if something happened between you and Derek … well, I didn’t realize everything would get like this,” she gestured towards the accumulated party of Hales.

“Not being able to make people see they’re hurting you sucks,” Stiles commented, looking back at his drink.

“Not listening to one another is a competition in this family,” Dale sighed as he moved to take Cora’s drink.

Cora willingly gave up her hold on the alcohol, figuring that Dale might need it more. “Scarlett dug in the spurs?”

“She dug and struck oil,” Dale grumbled, taking a drink. He side eyed Stiles before bringing the glass down from his lips. He swallowed the alcohol before offering his other hand to Stiles. “I didn’t get to say ‘hi’ earlier—you know, before you were carted off like the family secret.”

Stiles partially laughed, shaking Dale’s hand. “It’s nice to meet you. And congratulations.”

“Ah, yes,” Dale absently nodded. “Laura is very much worth all this.”

“Awe, I love you, too,” Cora spoke in a high tone, scrunching her nose up at Dale.

“You’re a menace,” Dale friendly replied, gently pushing her to the side.

“Stiles and I were just rekindling our friendship,” Cora stated. “Apparently I’m too much of a delight to go without for too many years.”

Dale snorted. “I’m sure you lured poor Stiles here with offerings of alcohol, kidnapping him right from under Derek’s nose.”

“Speaking of Derek,” Stiles started, ready to slide off of his spot at the bar, worrying about Derek’s whereabouts. “Have you seen him?”

“He asked to speak with Talia,” Dale explained, gesturing behind him. “He summoned a partial war council, I think.”

Cora turned to look at where Dale gestured, seeing that none of her family was lingering where they were before. “Who?”

“Talia and Laura for one,” Dale explained as he moved to paw at the bowl of pretzels on the bar top. “Peter followed after for solidarity’s sake, I think.”

“Where’s my grandmother?” Cora demanded.

Dale turned to look at where Scarlett had been, only to realize she vanished. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, that woman can’t let anyone have privacy, can she?” He sighed, knowing that the night was just starting to escalate in the potential drama that could unfold.

~*~

“Did you know?” Derek demanded, turning towards Laura once the door shut behind them.

“No!” Laura quickly stated. “Derek, I swear, I didn’t know Jennifer was going to be here—I didn’t invite her, much less give our grandmother a plus one.”

“I’m not talking about Jennifer,” Derek seethed.

“Then try telling us what this is about,” Peter replied, crossing his arms over his chest as he evaluated Derek. He could tell his nephew as upset, verging on the point of aggression.

“I already know you’re part of this,” Derek answered as he looked at Peter. “Hiring Daehler to do the photos for your club really made it easy to turn a profit giving the photos—and anything extra—right back to your sister.”

The muscle in Peter’s jaw ticked as he turned his head to look at Talia. “You didn’t.”

Talia appeared calm, easing herself into calmly leaning against her office desk. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Peter seethed as he moved to stand. “It wasn’t enough to send Chris in to remind me that my club—the only possession I have left, I might add—is going to be ripped from under me. No, you had to rub salt in everyone’s wounds by having me watched, only to illegally obtain my club’s photos.”

“They aren’t your club’s photos,” Talia finally countered. “All those photographs were taken by Daehler. And until Daehler signs a release statement, they are his to do with as he sees fit.”

“You manipulative bitch,” Peter calmly countered, barely suppressing his anger.

“But I have a feeling the photos Derek is talking about have nothing to do with your club,” Talia explained to Peter, looking at Derek. “I’d like to know who told you.”

“Jennifer saw them,” Derek snapped. “She decided to throw it in my face.”

“If they aren’t of connection to the club, then what are they?” Peter asked, wanting to know what was happening.

“They contain images of an employee of yours,” Talia answered Peter.

“Stiles,” Derek elaborated.

“I asked for proof that my son was alright,” Talia explained. “Daehler delivered photos of you leaving Peter’s club with a stripper—how was I supposed to interpret that?”

“I can guess how you interpreted it,” Peter replied. “Derek knows a stripper that works for me, of course it equates to Derek paying for sex.”

“That boy has a history,” Talia replied.

“Stiles,” Derek snapped. “His name is Stiles. I know you’ve done enough research to remember that.”

“Stiles,” Talia stated, accepting Derek’s prompting. “Stiles has a history of performing salacious acts with strangers, then he suddenly catches the break of a life time when the Mayor’s son starts providing for him.”

“You’re saying I’m a scam for him,” Derek stated in bewilderment. “You know nothing about him, or me for that matter.”

“I know that from those photos, it’s more than obvious you’re taken with him and his son,” Talia firmly countered.

“Are you even listening to yourself?” Derek demanded. “You have photos, someone else was paid to take for you, of a child.”

“You leave them out of whatever it is you’re trying to play at,” Peter started as he took a step forward. “Stiles is an unbelievably great person—better than any of us—and he’s a wonderful father. If you even think about hurting him or James—”

“You’ll what?” Talia challenged, knowing when to call Peter’s bluffs.

Peter didn’t crumple under Talia’s counter this time, though. “I’ll sell my club to the Argents at well above their initial price, and use the money to have Ms. Martin tear your public image apart, starting with why Madam Mayor would possess illegal photos of a child.”

Talia’s features remained closed off. “This isn’t what I wanted.”

“Clearly,” Peter scoffed.

“Why?” Derek asked his mother. “Why do any of this?”

“I wanted us to be a family again, Derek,” Talia sighed. “You’ve ignored every single one of my attempts to contact you. You left me no choice but to refer to other means.”

“Is there a point to your theatrics?” Derek roughly questioned.

“There always is,” Peter softly stated, a hint of bitterness in his voice as he turned to look out of the study’s window, observing the party.

“I wanted to have us all talk,” Talia answered, looking as poised as she normally did when dealing with a rival politician. “I figured you would slip away and never be seen again before I get another chance.”

“And whose fault is it that I’ve stayed away?” Derek countered.

“Derek, you once told me that you wanted me to be your mother and talk with you,” Talia tiredly started. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“A couple decades too late,” Derek critically commented, turning to walk out the door and never see his family again.

“We have to talk about the Stilinski boy and his son,” Talia stated in an attempt to keep Derek from leaving.

Derek’s steps halted, his shoulders tensing as he lingered on her words—a veiled threat. “Leave them the hell alone,” he lowly stated, turning back to his mother. “For once in your life, try to not destroy something you can’t control.”

Talia’s features were calm, as if she wasn’t trying to keep from flinching at Derek’s perception of her. “You invited that boy into your home without thinking about it.”

“And how the fuck would you know that?” Derek snapped.

“There are more things at risk here, Derek,” Talia tried to reason.

“The world already knows you are the politician with an openly bisexual son, what else could you possibly want from me?” Derek demanded.

“You’re in a relationship with a sex worker,” Talia abruptly stated.

Peter’s features twisted as he moved to stand, unable to sit there and listen to it anymore. “Like you would know what a sex worker was,” he stated moving to stand beside Derek, gently touching his arm. “Let’s leave before the more colorful players show up.”

Derek’s features ticked in annoyance, wanting to argue with his mother, but knew better than to try.

“Hitting your head against a brick wall won’t stop the brick wall from being a brick wall,” Peter offered as a solution.

Laura fondly snorted at Peter’s observation.

Derek recanted his desire to stay and argue, knowing Peter had a point. He turned to leave with his uncle, not at all surprised to find Scarlett blocking the doorway.

“Speak of the devil,” Peter started under his breath. “And she will appear.”

“Always so charming,” Scarlett dryly replied as she waited for Peter to move aside.

“We were just leaving,” Derek stated, completely unwilling to give his grandmother a moment of his time.

“We’re not done talking yet,” Scarlett answered, refusing to budge from her stop in the doorway.

“I think talking is very far from your concerns tonight, mother,” Peter answered.

“I see you just couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Scarlett countered as she turned her gaze on Peter. “Had to send one of your whores to escort Derek here.”

“Don’t talk about him like that,” Derek lowly stated, anger boiling up.

“There are plenty people willing to talk like that about him,” Scarlett countered, pinning Derek with a look. “You didn’t think what could be said about this family—”

“I don’t care what could be said about this family,” Derek stated. “Get it into your head that I walked away from all of you—your selfishness, your distain for others, your lack of compassion. I can’t stand you, and nothing would make me happier than to leave you all behind.”

“Derek,” Laura softly started, taking a step towards him.

“I’m sorry, Laura,” Derek answered as he turned to look at his sister. “I came here because you wanted me to. But I can’t do this anymore.”

“I was going to let you go,” Laura replied with a sad smile. She nodded when Derek looked at her with hopeful bewilderment. “Take Stiles and get out of here.”

Derek moved to hug Laura, holding her tightly as he pressed a faint kiss into the side of her temple.

Laura allowed her gaze to flicker over to her mother. She could see the way she hid her envy—her pain. She closed her eyes, holding Derek close. “I should have said something a long time ago,” she weakly confessed. “Sorry it took so long.”

Peter turned to look away from Derek and Laura, his gaze falling on his mother. He saw how unaffected she appeared to be by the solidarity Laura was offering.

Derek turned to leave at Laura’s prompting, suddenly stopping in his tracks when he realized that Scarlett has moved into the room to block him from the door. “Move,” he calmly stated, not wanting to shove passed her, but prepared to if need be.

“You think you’re going to just run away from it all and have a happily ever after with that dancer?” Scarlett demanded to know.

“I’m a stripper, actually,” Stiles’ voice interrupted them. He didn’t shrink away when everyone in the room turned to look at him. He walked into the room, offering a faint smile to Peter. “That’s the reality of it—I’m not going to lie to you, or romanticize it.”

It was now Stiles that blocked the doorway.

“Stiles,” Derek started, taking a step forward. “You don’t have to—”

“I know,” Stiles nodded, looking at Derek. “But I’m not going to let you get into a war with your family over me.” His expression was sad, not at all the hopeful expression he had cultivated throughout the night. He turned to look at Scarlett. “We only met once before—when I was in high school.”

“I know who you are,” Scarlett coldly replied. “You’re Sheriff Stilinski’s son.”

Stiles took a deep breath, releasing the air as slowly as he could, trying to keep his nerve up. “I am. I was also Cora’s best friend in high school. And then I came out as openly bisexual, and that was the end of that friendship.” His gaze briefly flickered over to Talia, noting her solemn expression. “I had an unplanned pregnancy with my girlfriend after high school, which resulted in the single parent lifestyle I was previously living. I hit hard times, and instead of going home like I should have, I took the generosity of an old friend as a godsend—little did I know that it was going to inconvenience his entire life.”

“Stiles,” Derek quickly called his name, an unspoken plea for him to stop.

“You’re not happy unless you’re ripping another person’s life apart, are you?” Stiles demanded of Scarlett. “First your son’s marriage. Then pushing your daughter into a career where you couldn’t succeed. And now with your grandson, you have to tear it all apart.”

“How dare you,” Scarlett countered.

“No, how dare you,” Stiles furiously replied. “If you ever think it is okay to have photos taken of my son again, there won’t be a person left in Beacon Hills that doesn’t know every dirty secret you ever tried to bury.”

Scarlett glowered at Stiles, looking as if she was ready to strike him. “It’s not wise to threaten people.”

Stiles heard the looming threat in her voice. “I’m not afraid of you,” he firmly stated. “I have been through more shit that you could even dream of putting me through. Stay away from me, and my son.”

“Eavesdropping,” Scarlett seethed. “I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“More like Jennifer couldn’t wait to tell me,” Stiles countered.

“Jennifer talked to you?” Derek started, moving forward to Stiles, lightly touching his arm in concern.

“I’m fine,” Stiles answered, looking at Derek. “Cora and Dale are actually escorting her out.”

Derek relaxed some, relieved by that statement. “I’m sorry,” he stated, regretting ever forcing Stiles to come here with him.

“It’s not your fault,” Stiles answered with a soft smile. He turned to look at the other Hales, releasing a heavy huff of breath.

Derek allowed his hand to move down Stiles’ arm, his fingers moving to entwine with Stiles’.

“Let’s go home,” Stiles stated, pulling Derek away from the room and towards the freedom of the hallway.

“So you are together?” Talia asked, her voice smaller than it had been earlier.

Stiles paused his steps, hesitating as he turned around to look at Derek. He looked at him for a sign—for an answer to that overarching question.

Derek looked back at his mother. “It’s none of your business,” he answered. “If we choose to tell you, then you’ll know.”

Stiles squeezed Derek’s fingers, a reassurance that it’d all be okay as they walked away.

~*~

Stiles carefully watched Derek, not knowing what to expect now. He crossed his arms over his chest, eyes tracking Derek’s facial features. He watched as Derek drank some of the water he had gotten him, wanting to reach a hand out to comfort him, halting when he realized that it would likely end in a heated discussion. He blamed himself for interrupting Derek’s conversation with his family. But he had to say his peace—he had to confront the people trying to involve his son.

“You want to leave?” Stiles quietly asked.

“I’m not even drunk,” Derek answered in slight annoyance, as if he hadn’t reached his desired outcome of the wedding.

“We could go home and get drunk,” Stiles offered with a slight smile. “Or, we could go get James, and pig out on popcorn and candy as we marathon the Marvel films.”

Derek couldn’t help his faint smile. “That sounds better,” he honestly answered, looking at Stiles.

Stiles smiled at Derek. “Laura told you we could leave,” he explained. “So, whatever you want.” He finally reached his hand out to touch Derek’s arm.

Derek looked down at Stiles’ hand, gently covering it with his own. “You.”

Stiles’ eyebrows furrowed, his heart pounding faster. He was convinced he heard Derek wrong.

Derek looked up at Stiles, his features open and vulnerable. “I just want you.”

Stiles’ lips parted, wanting to say something. He told himself that he couldn’t ruin what they had; that both of their emotions were running high. But every time they looked at each other throughout the day—every time their skin brushed, it was an electric spark he knew Derek felt as well. He felt selfish in wanting to push it further, not knowing if Derek just wanted the comfort for the night, or if he was asking for more—so much more.

“Derek, I don’t think …” Stiles’ voice died in his throat. He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as he ran his hands over his face and through his hair. “You make it impossible for me to be moral and ethical,” he grumbled as he looked at Derek. “I’m taking advantage of you and you’re making it so easy. You’re just handing me everything I could ever possibly want. Why would you trust me with that?”

Derek surprised Stiles when he actually smiled in response. It was a fond, endearing smile that spoke volumes of how adorable Derek found Stiles to be—almost embarrassingly so.

“I didn’t kiss you back there because I thought you’d feel self conscious,” Derek replied, as he moved to stand next to Stiles. Their bodies gravitated towards one another, the impossible attraction bringing them together once again. “I thought it’d be too much of a statement to make without asking you first.”

“You were being chivalrous,” Stiles partially mocked, his cheeks heating with a blush, aware of Derek’s eyes watching him.

“Barely,” Derek barely answered, his eyes tracking Stiles’ features.

Stiles allowed a faint but hopeful smile to pull at his lips, looking up at Derek. “I’m afraid of what happens after,” he forced himself to admit. He was afraid of getting attached again; he was afraid of feeling like he had a family again; he was afraid of loving again.

But the most terrifying part was James. Stiles couldn’t—wouldn’t—let James get hurt.

“I’m afraid,” Stiles echoed once more.

“Me, too,” Derek honestly answered. He reached a hand out, taking Stiles’ in his. “I meant what I said the last time we kissed—I don’t expect anything from you.”

Stiles impulsively moved forward, pressing his lips against Derek’s in an attempt to push passed their awkward bumbling. He reached a hand up, cupping Derek’s cheek in his open palm.

It was when Stiles heard a glass breaking that he remembered that they were in attendance to a wedding with guests primarily leaning towards the right.

Stiles nearly lurched back from Derek, pulling their lips apart. He looked at Derek apologetically, too afraid to look around and see who was essentially clutching their pearls in distress at seeing two grown men kiss.

Derek blinked a couple of times, glad to realize that the moment was real. His eyes flickered from Stiles to catch sight of his distant family members, family friends, and nearly every other guest besides the children, trying to pretend that they weren’t gawking.

“Derek, I’m so sorry,” Stiles quickly stated, ready to run away in shame. He felt guilty, ashamed that he may have just forced himself on Derek in a very public setting.

Derek didn’t give Stiles a chance to back away. Instead, he reached out, cupping Stiles’ face in his hands as he kissed him back.

Stiles’ mumbles fell against Derek’s lips as Stiles lean into him, his body falling against Derek’s. He grabbed at Derek, his fingertips straining at the material of Derek’s jacket.

It was soft, gentler than their first and last kiss, almost hesitant over the lingering fear of rejection. But like anything between them, they were pulled together. Small kisses followed, ones that proved neither one wanted to pull away, despite knowing people were definitely watching now.

“Let’s go home,” Stiles softly stated, his voice warm and happy as he spoke the words.

Derek released a faint hum of approval, “Yeah.” He sounded pleasantly bewildered, as if he had been hoping beyond hope to hear those words uttered on day. “Home.”

And for the first time, Derek felt free.

Chapter Text

Stiles turned into the pillow beneath his head, huffing as he settled into the mattress more. He was warmer than normally, accrediting it to the furnace of heat radiating from the body next to him. He slowly opened his eyes, a faint smile pulling at his lips when he saw Derek’s sleeping form next to him.

Derek was sleeping on his back, his head leaning towards Stiles. His breathing was calm, showing just how completely lost to the world he was as he slept. His arm rested across his stomach, his fingertips barely caressing against Stiles’ side.

Stiles carefully climbed out of bed, not caring about his nudity as he slipped out from under the sheets. He risked waking Derek, leaning over to press a gentle kiss to his lips. He wanted to laugh when Derek partially responded in his sleep, softly mumbling Stiles’ name as he rearranged his body to accommodate losing Stiles’ warmth.

Stiles snuck into the bathroom as silently as possibly, wanting to let Derek sleep a little while longer. He started the shower, trying to plan out the day in his head. He stretched some as he waited for the water to heat up, his eyes wandering to look at his reflection in the mirror.

Stiles’ body appeared healthier than it had been the last few months he and James lived on their own. He was eating regularly, keeping a healthy regime that mixed well with his dancing. The dark circles around his eyes had disappeared, color returning to his cheeks. He reached a hand up to inspect a few of the moles on his cheek, knowing he should have gotten them check years ago, unable to recall the last time he even had a doctor appointment for himself. The second his finger caressing over the mole, images of last night sparked, a smile pulling across his lips as he recalled the way Derek nearly kissed every beauty mark he could find.

Stiles’ eyes tracked the hickeys blossoming across his neck and throat, the few on his chest. His fingertips traced the inner curve of his hips, still feeling the faint memory of Derek’s fingertips holding onto him as they found a rhythm together.

Stiles slipped into the shower, closing his eyes as he stepped under the spray of the showerhead. He softly hummed to himself, enjoying the warm welcome of the water. He looped the memory of Derek’s lips on his skin—the heat of Derek’s hands caressing him. He smiled to himself, refusing to think of any complications that would come. He was fine being selfish with last night, wanting to keep it in his memory forever.

~*~

Derek woke to the smell of food wafting through the house. He turned onto his back, shuffling his body some as he tried to stop the sheets from twisting and snagging around his limbs. He looked up at the ceiling, allowing his arms to go lax, one dropping against the pillow by his head, the other draping low across his bare stomach. His breathing was calm as his thoughts lingered on last night.

Derek never dreamed that he’d be faced with seeing Jennifer again. He never wanted to see her, much less be cornered into facing her at Laura’s wedding. He knew things would twist and sour, his family perfecting the way they seemed to always come together just to fall apart.

Derek’s thoughts drifted to Stiles. How perfect and calm Stiles had been when confronting his grandmother. How perfect it felt to finally kiss Stiles—to be himself for the first time in years.

A light smile graced Derek’s lips, his stomach flipping as he recalled the look Stiles gave him when they were in the car.

Stiles’ voice was soft when he called Mrs. Kay, apologizing for planning to pick James up early. He had paused, his eyes moving to look at Derek. “If you wouldn’t mind … That would be great.” He allowed the phone to slip from his ear, ending the call. He waited until Derek had stopped at an intersection before touching Derek’s knee, his fingertips gentle in the way they boldly caressed just the inside of Derek’s thigh.

Derek looked at Stiles, his breath catching in his throat, eyes searching for meaning.

“James wants to stay the night at Mrs. Kay’s,” Stiles explained, eyes not leaving Derek’s.

Derek didn’t hesitate, leaning over the shifter to press a kiss to Stiles’ lips. He opened his mouth to Stiles, excited that Stiles was responding with as much passion as him.

This was real—they were moving passed the unspoken attraction they had both decided to suffer in silence.

“I’m really glad that was what you were getting at,” Derek commented against Stiles’ lips, smiling when Stiles laughed in return.

“I’m starting to realize I just need to tell you what I want,” Stiles added, pressing a lingering kiss to Derek’s lips.

A horn loudly blared, nearly shattering the moment.

Derek looked up to see the red light had changed to green while they were kissing. He waved a hand up to the car behind them when the driver beeped once more, signaling that he had heard them and was moving.

Derek finally forced himself to get up, moving towards the bathroom to take a shower. He couldn’t help thinking about last night, how right it felt to have Stiles in his arms—to kiss him as they fell onto the bed together. He couldn’t forgot how incredible it felt to be vulnerable with Stiles, that he felt like his whole world was finally falling together like it was supposed to.

~*~

Stiles washed what was left of the fruit, knowing he was overreacting and using food prep as a way to forget that he hadn’t talked to Derek yet. He grabbed for his coffee, observing the slight pile of food he had already made before he could stop himself. He was thankful that he talked himself out of making pancakes, knowing that without James present they would go to waste. He abruptly turned when he heard a pair of bare feet padding down the stairs and coming towards the kitchen.

Derek’s hair was damp, having brushed it dry with a towel and hoping for the best. He wore a pair of baggy sweatpants, his alma mater’s logo plastered on the thigh. His tank top was form fitting, giving Stiles’ brain too many reminders of how Derek’s body felt beneath his hands. Despite his attire, he looked soft, completely opposite of what his athletic build would normally project.

Stiles smiled at him, fiddling with his coffee mug as he tried to stop his nerves. His stomach tumbled when Derek softly smiled back at him, his stride not faltering at all as he walked up to Stiles.

Derek reached his hands out, cupping Stiles’ face as he leaned in to press a kiss to his lips. He had been uncertain whether it would have been welcomed—praying that he didn’t misread what happened last night. He was relieved when Stiles kissed him back.

Stiles held his mug in one hand as he reached his other arm to wrap around Derek’s waist, fingers burying in Derek’s shirt as he held onto him. He moved his coffee out from between them, not wanting to spill the hot liquid on either of them. He turned his head to the side, gently biting down on Derek’s lip when he pushed him back into the counter.

“Sorry,” Derek muttered, burying his face in the crook of Stiles’ shoulder. He breathed in the smell of Stiles, gently nipping at the hickey he had sucked into Stiles’ skin last night.

Stiles partially moaned, his body almost complete putty in Derek’s hands. “No complaints here, big guy.”

Derek shyly smiled, pressing into Stiles more than before. “I’m glad.”

Stiles hummed in agreement. “Yeah, I can complain your ear off if I’m in a mood.”

Derek couldn’t help the faint snort he released. “I meant that we were both on the same page.”

Stiles smiled, pressing a kiss to Derek’s cheek. “Yeah, same pages are always good.” He pulled back, still artfully balancing his coffee to avoid burning Derek. “We should sit down before we make a mess in the kitchen.”

Before complying, Derek placed a fleeting kiss to Stiles’ lips, glad that he allowed him the luxury of lingering in the moment a little while longer.

Stiles’ hand lingered on Derek as he pulled away from him, wishing he could hold onto him for a bit longer. His eyes followed Derek, walking behind him as they moved towards the table.

Stiles folded his legs under himself as he became situated in the chair at the table. He cradled his coffee mug in his hand as his eyes tracked Derek. He smiled at Derek as he watched him move to sit adjacent to him.

“I’m not the best at this,” Stiles started, his stomach tumbling with nerves. “What happens now?” He asked as his eyes focused on Derek’s poised hand on the table, hoping that the steadiness he showed would somehow transfer to him.

Derek furrowed his eyebrows, confused by the question. “Life?” He answered with uncertainty to what Stiles wanted to hear from him.

Stiles snorted, looking up at Derek. “Gee, thanks, Derek. I didn’t know.”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” Derek answered, reclining in his chair some as he watched Stiles. “What do you want to happen?” He asked, wanting to know what Stiles really wanted out of all of this.

“I want this to work,” Stiles earnestly admitted. “But I’m afraid of complicating things.”

It was Derek’s turn to snort. “Life is complicated, Stiles,” he replied. “I think my family proved that last night.”

“I don’t want us to be like that, Derek,” Stiles stated, looking at Derek. “I want this to work—I want … I want a lot of things that I’m not sure you want.”

Derek sighed, sitting forward as he moved to take hold of Stiles’ hand. “Is all of this unorthodox? Very,” he truthfully stated. “But I’m committed to it.” He took a moment, steeling his nerves as he pressed onward. “You and James make me happy—happier than I’ve been in a long time. Whether or not you choose to include me in that part of your life is your decision, though.”

Stiles frowned some. “How could you think I’d … uninvolve you?”

Derek arched his eyebrow in question.

“Derek, you take care of James almost as much as I do,” Stiles sighed. He ran his free hand through his hair, stressing on holding onto Derek longer. “That’s why this is so confusing—it’s like we’re doing everything backwards.” He shook his head. “I didn’t lie when I said I wasn’t the best at this.”

“We’re not the best at life, but at least we’re functioning,” Derek commented.

Stiles laughed. “Barely,” he answered.

“No matter what happens,” Derek started, leaning forward to pull Stiles’ attention to him. “You and James are always welcomed here. And I’m always going to love having you around. Both of you.” He cleared his throat when he realized how fast everything was tumbling out—how close he was to saying he loved Stiles.

“We’re ridiculous,” Stiles fondly stated with a smile.

“At least we can be ridiculous together,” Derek answered.

~*~

Mrs. Kay wasn’t fooled by Stiles’ attempts to hide his hickeys. She released a faint noise of interest as she opened the door for Stiles to come in.

“Not a word,” Stiles softly stated as he moved passed her.

“How about several?” Mrs. Kay answered with a soft smile.

Stiles gave her an exasperated look as he moved into the apartment.

“Dad!” James excitedly yelled, bouncing up off of the floor as he ran over to Stiles. “Guess what?”

“What?” Stiles over exaggerated his excitement, hoping that James would ramble on about whatever it was instead of questioning why Stiles had bruises on his neck.

“My tooth is loose! See?” James exclaimed, opening his mouth to show Stiles. He wiggled his tooth with his tongue, not even wincing when the tooth leaned farther than it probably should.

“Oh boy,” Stiles uttered, bending down to look. He nearly whipped around when he heard Mrs. Kay’s voice coming from the hallway, knowing that Derek had more than likely followed him upstairs—they had an argument about Stiles going back into the building with the landlord still lurking the premises.

“Is Derek here?” James asked, looking at the door.

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles nodded in confirmation.

“Oh! I’ll show him my tooth!” James started to head for the door.

“Get your stuff first,” Stiles instructed, turning James and sending him off to Mrs. Kay’s guest room where James’ backpack was more than likely unpacked in disarray.

“But Dad—” James started to pout.

“Your tooth will be there still when you finish packing,” Stiles countered.

James released a disgruntled groan, one that sounded too deep for a child to make.

“I’m the worst,” Stiles jokingly added, moving towards the door.

“That’s all I ask,” Mrs. Kay stated, turning to look at the door when Stiles popped his head out.

Derek turned to look at Stiles.

“Mrs. Kay,” Stiles started, giving her a determined look.

“I told you, words,” Mrs. Kay stated in her self defense.

Derek smiled at that.

Stiles was anxious as he watched James hoping down the stairs, walking beside Derek as they made their way to the car. He spared Derek a look, almost scuffing his foot on the steps. “What did she say?”

Derek faintly smiled. “She just asked me to take care of you,” he answered. “To note that you are a package deal,” he added, gesturing towards James.

“She likes to be protective,” Stiles replied.

“And I appreciate it,” Derek stated, turning to look at Stiles.

Stiles reached his hand out to hold Derek’s as he smiled back at him. It felt right—almost too perfect, but more than right.

“Can we go to the diner?” James anxiously questioned as he waited for Derek and his dad.

“If that’s what you want,” Derek replied, continuing to walk down the steps with Stiles’ hand in his.

“Spoil the kid rotten,” Stiles playfully huffed.

“I intend to,” Derek answered. “Both of you.”

~*~

James held onto his milkshake, his eyebrows furrowing as he digested what his father just said. He looked down at his milkshake before looking back up at Stiles. His gaze wandered over to Derek, eyeing him carefully. His eyes slid back over to looking at Stiles.

Stiles didn’t know what to say, never before having James stare at him like this. He was thankful for Derek holding his hand underneath the table.

“Can I have a quarter?” James simply asked.

It was Stiles’ turned to stare back at James. “What?”

“I want to play the jukebox,” James replied, moving to slide out of his seat.

“Kiddo, we’re not done talking about—”

“I just want to play a song,” James countered, looking a bit uncomfortable. “I just want to think about it.”

Stiles reluctantly nodded, padding his pockets before realizing that he didn’t have his wallet on him. He saw Derek’s hand slide a dollar bill across the table and towards James.

“I only have a few bills on me,” Derek offered.

James nodded, taking the dollar. “Thanks, Derek,” he softly stated, leaving the booth behind to go to the jukebox.

“He’s never acted like this,” Stiles worriedly admitted, leaning back in the cushioned bench he shared with Derek, his eyes glued to James.

“It’s a big deal,” Derek offered, folding his arms against the table in front of them.

Stiles nibbled his bottom lip as he watched James flip through the jukebox titles. “What if he doesn’t like it?”

Derek silently turned to look at Stiles.

“What if he hates us for this?”

“Stiles—”

“Derek, I know you said it was my call,” Stiles started, turning to look at Derek. “But what if James just doesn’t want this? He’s never had to think about this—about the possibility of me being with someone. I know he likes having you in his life, but he thought this was just a temporary thing. But if we’re together, it’s … it’s so much more.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“Stiles, you’re overthinking this,” Derek softly stated, an attempt to calm him down some.

Stiles looked back at James, watching him idly tap his foot as he looked through the songs. “What if I’m not?” He weakly questioned as he turned back to Derek. “James is my whole life, Derek.”

“I know that,” Derek stated in a comforting voice. “James knows that.”

~*~

Derek finished typing up the last email of the night, his thoughts drifting to Stiles and James. He had an increasingly hard time focusing on anything but Stiles and James. Their conversation in the diner wasn’t the worst it could have been.

James appeared to be confused at first, before drawing in on himself in silence.

For the first time that day, Derek didn’t dare to reach for Stiles’ hand. He kept himself distanced from him, giving him enough room to engage with James. He knew it was a lot to ask of an eight year old—to suddenly understand that there was going to be another person in their life, someone who would be getting attention that was once solely for them.

It still hurt. It was a dull ache, one that Derek never felt before. It was a reminder that he wanted something more—he wanted James and Stiles to be part of his life, more than they already were. And to think that, for a second, James wouldn’t want that, hurt.

A faint knock sounded at his office door before it started to open up a little.

Derek looked up at the sound, surprised when he at first didn’t see anyone. He was more surprised when James poked his head through the door to look at him.

“Hey,” Derek lightly greeted him, slowly closing his laptop as he sat up some.

“Hi,” James greeted back, slipping into the office before closing the door behind him. He was dressed in his pajamas, slowly taking his time to walk over to Derek. He looked around the office, looking at the different frames on the walls. He looked at Derek when he reached the desk, leaning against the side. “I wanted to wait until dad was asleep before talking to you.”

Derek faintly nodded.

“He’d get all weird about it,” James continued, frowning slightly. “He gets like that at times. Sometimes he just overthinks things, I think. Worries a lot.”

“Parents do that,” Derek offered. “They worry about things.”

“Do you worry about things?” James asked as he picked at the corner of the desk.

“Yes,” Derek admitted, carefully observing James, noting how similar he was to his father when it came to trying to distract themselves from current topics. “I worry about things and people all the time, actually.”

James looked up at Derek, as if he was evaluating him. “Do you worry about dad and me?”

“Of course,” Derek answered.

James nodded, as if he was more than satisfied with Derek’s response.

“Was there something you wanted to talk about?” Derek asked, uncertain what James was thinking.

James shrugged. “I guess,” he shyly admitted. “Dad doesn’t like to talk about … about himself and stuff he does.”

Derek furrowed his eyebrows, patiently waiting for James to continue.

“He doesn’t talk about grandpa that often,” James started. “He’ll let me see photos of him, and even give me my birthday and Christmas cards. I sent him a letter without telling dad one time,” he admitted as he looked at Derek. “Just to tell him how we are. That I … I guess I miss him even though I never met him. Does that make sense?”

Derek nodded. “You can miss people without even actively remembering them. Which means you can miss people because you are sad about missed opportunities.”

James pursed his lips slightly. “Would you miss us? If we left.”

“Yes,” Derek honestly answered. “Sometimes, when I’m at work, I miss you both.”

James was quiet for a moment, thinking about what to say. “So,” he paused, nibbling on the inside of his lip. “If you and dad were together … what does that make you?”

Derek shuffled his weight, leaning forward in his chair a bit. “What do you mean?”

James sighed. “Dad is my dad, right?” He waited until Derek nodded, signaling that he was following his logic. “And I know I have a mom, somewhere, but I never really had a mom. But I already have a dad, so you can’t be my dad.”

Derek released a breath, trying to focus on how to answer instead of the fluttering in his heart. “You’re confused about all this, because you think I can’t be …”

“I know some people have two dads,” James started to answer. “And some people have two moms. But my whole life, I’ve had one dad. So, what does it mean if you suddenly are dating my dad?” He released a huff of annoyance, partially throwing his hands up in the air in frustration.

“I’m going to be what I am now,” Derek offered. “I’m always going to be the same person, James. It doesn’t matter what label you put on me.”

“If you’re dating my dad, you’re his boyfriend,” James pressed, looking increasingly upset the more he spoke, tears welling in his eyes. “But what does that make you to me?”

Realization hit Derek in a wave. He suddenly understood why James had been so thrown—the sudden uncertainty that clouded over him. He stood from his chair, moving to kneel in front of James. He held a hand out to take James’ hand, prompting James to look up at him. He reached his free hand out to brush away the few stray tears he saw fall down James’ cheek.

“Like I said, I’m still going to be me,” Derek started, his tone gentle and caring, the tone he perfected while working in the pediatric wing. “But some things will be different between me and your dad. We’ll be closer, do more things together. But that doesn’t mean that your dad is going to forget you. It doesn’t mean I’m going to forget you.”

“Do you love him?” James questioned, his eyebrows scrunched.

“Yes, but not fully in the way you’re thinking,” Derek honestly answered. “I care about him a great deal. And I really like him … I think, one day, I could be hopeless in love with him. If that makes sense.”

James faintly smiled.

“I think we could be a family, too,” Derek offered. “And you can call me whatever you want—you could call me the Winter Soldier if you wanted.”

James laughed, brushing away his sniffles with the sleeve of his pajama shirt. “You’re much more a Captain America than a Winter Soldier.”

Derek walked with James back upstairs, smiling as he watched James climb into his bed and under the blankets. He pulled the blankets up to James’ shoulders, tucking the blankets tightly under him as his father used to do on cold nights. He couldn’t help his faint laugh that echoed James’ own small one.

“I want to tell dad tomorrow,” James stated as he relaxed into his bed.

“I’m sure he’d appreciate that,” Derek answered.

“I’m glad we’re going to be a family,” James added, a small but hopeful smile pulling across his lips.

“Yeah,” Derek softly uttered, a small hope brewing in his chest. “Me too.”

“Good night, Derek,” James stated as he curled onto his side, promptly closing his eyes.

“Good night, buddy,” Derek replied as he gently ruffled James’ curls. He flicked the light off before shutting the door behind him. He was surprised when he turned to see Stiles leaning against the wall opposite him.

Stiles had his arms crossed over his chest, carefully watching Derek.

Derek let his hand fall from the doorknob, his eyes carefully watching Stiles right back. He waited for Stiles to say something—to argue against what had just transpired.

“You mean that?” Stiles lightly questioned.

“James wanted to talk to me about it,” Derek replied, unsure if he was going to upset Stiles.

“Wanted to talk to you,” Stiles echoed. “Derek, what you said …”

“I meant it,” Derek answered, taking a step closer to Stiles. “I wasn’t just trying to make James feel better or anything. It’s … it’s how I feel.”

Stiles allowed his smile to take over, taking the necessary steps to reach his arms out to Derek. He placed a kiss to his lips, his hands trembling as he reached up to cup Derek’s face. He released a faint huff of joyful laughter when Derek pulled him closer to hold onto him tightly. “God, you’re perfect,” he uttered against Derek’s lips.

Derek smirked, shuffling his grip on Stiles. He suppressed his laugh when Stiles released a yelp of surprise in response to being picked up. He slung his arm underneath Stiles’ legs, easily lifting him in his arms to carry him down the hallway and towards the bedroom. “Just wait until the romance kicks in,” he uttered.

Stiles pressed a kiss to Derek’s cheek. “I think I’m already pretty taken so far.”

~*~

“Dad!” James exclaimed as he ran down the hall, bursting into the room that his father had been calling home.

James’ eyebrows furrowed when he realized that Stiles wasn’t anywhere to be found. He partially frowned, clutching onto the tooth in his hand. He figured that Derek was bound to know where Stiles was. He hopped down the hallway, heading for Derek’s room.

“Dad! Derek! My tooth came out!” James excitedly stated as his hand gripped the doorknob to Derek’s bedroom. He started to open the door, startling when he heard his dad yell.

“James! Don’t open the door!” Stiles shouted, followed by a loud noise—the sound of a body falling off the bed and onto the floor.

“Why didn’t you lock the door?” Stiles harshly groaned as he quickly pulled on his pajama pants.

“I don’t have a lock on my bedroom door,” Derek simply replied, following Stiles’ lead in clothing himself.

“Oh,” Stiles paused before shaking his head.

“I’ll go get one from the hardware store after work,” Derek stated in solution.

“That would be … ideal,” Stiles partially laughed.

“Yeah, ideal,” Derek thoughtfully echoed as his eyes tracked Stiles.

“Derek. James,” Stiles pressed.

“Right,” Derek replied, turning to look around the room to make sure it was presentable. “Looks good.”

Stiles nodded quickly, moving towards the door to open it. He smiled down at James. “Sorry, buddy,” he apologized as he moved out of the way.

James narrowed his eyes at Stiles. “What were you two doing?” He asked, wanting to know if they were hiding something.

“We were just getting dressed,” Stiles partially lied.

James looked at Derek before looking back at Stiles. “Okay,” he agreed, holding up his hand to show Stiles instead of continuing his line of questioning. “I wanted to show you my tooth!” He excited stated, putting the tooth in the palm of his hand onto display.

“Oh, wow,” Stiles answered as he moved to stand next to James, leaning closer to him in order to inspect the tooth. “That’s great, buddy. Better get ready for the tooth fairy.”

“Will she know I’m here?” James questioned as he turned to look at Derek. “You haven’t lost any teeth lately, have you, Derek?”

Derek faintly smiled. “No, I haven’t.”

“She’s a mythical being, James,” Stiles answered. “She’ll definitely find you, buddy.”

“Okay,” James stated, offering his tooth out for Stiles to take.

“Hey, that’s on you to keep tags on that,” Stiles answered, dancing away from James.

“Fine,” James huffed, trudging back over to the door heading into the hallway. “I’ll put it under my pillow now, so I’ll remember.”

“But it in a bag or something so you don’t lose it,” Stiles called after him, sighing some.

Derek laughed a little, attempting to busy himself with pretending to tidy bed.

“So,” Stiles started as he turned to look at Derek, his hands resting on his hips as he stood to attention, his body open and vulnerable to Derek.

“That doesn’t sound ominous,” Derek stated in a slightly amused tone.

“It’s not ominous … per se,” Stiles specified, digging his toe into the carpet. “You don’t mind all this, do you?”

“Not this again,” Derek sighed as he dropped the blanket, turning to look at Stiles. “Stiles, I told you that I love having you and James here.”

“I know, I know,” Stiles answered. “I mean … did you mean what you said about getting a door lock?”

Derek stared at Stiles for a long moment, uncertain how that could mean so much to someone. A small smile pulled at his lips as he walked towards Stiles. He reached his hand out, fingertips grazing Stiles’ arm. “I’ll add locks to all the doors if that makes you feel good.”

Stiles smiled at Derek, reaching his own arms out to take hold of him. “You sweet talker, you.”

Derek pressed a kiss to Stiles’ lips, allowing a small laugh to bubble up from his chest. He held Stiles close, unable to keep his hands off of him.

Stiles peppered Derek’s face in kisses, gently nipping at his lips as he continued to ride their high from earlier that morning.

“Dad,” James called out from the hallway, the sound of impatience in his tone. “I’m hungry!”

“We’re coming,” Stiles sighed into a fleeting kiss before pulling away from Derek completely. “Still excited for all this?”

“I have a feeling you’ll both keep it interesting,” Derek replied as he watched Stiles walk away.

~*~

Stiles smiled at Peter as he offered him the suit back, vinyl bag and all.

Peter arched an eyebrow at Stiles as he accepted the bag. “It worked its magic, did it?” He playfully asked as he turned to head towards the closet. He hooked the hanger back onto the rack, slipping the bag further into the back of the closet.

“You’re not going to get it dry cleaned?” Stiles asked, surprised that Peter didn’t offer to inspect it.

“Oh, I have faith that you had it cleaned,” Peter commented, his eyes lingering on the bag before it was hidden from sight completely. He rested against the doorframe, almost wishing to stay in the moment—to stay closer to the hope that something so simple could still be such an important catalyst.

“Thank you, Peter,” Stiles stated with a smile. “It really made me feel invincible.”

Peter closed the closet door, putting a stop to any of the fond memories that tried to suggest fairy tale endings were for everyone. “You were invincible,” he answered as he turned to face Stiles. “You faced the dreaded dragon and lived to tell the tale.”

“Talia wasn’t that bad,” Stiles replied.

“My sister is a domesticated lion compared to our mother,” Peter countered.

Stiles offered a faint nod. “I couldn’t stop myself from interacting with them—not when I realized James was involved.”

“You were in every right to react the way you did,” Peter validated. “Sometimes it’s a wonder I haven’t completely lost it when I have them for a family.”

“What makes you think you haven’t lost it?” Stiles answered.

“Funny,” Peter deadpanned as he turned to look at Stiles. He ushered him away and towards the door, not at all interested in having that conversation with Stiles. “You’re on in a bit.”

Stiles saluted Peter, bowing partially as he headed for the door. “Oh,” he quipped as he leaned back against the door, drumming his fingers against the doorframe. “Derek used to model?”

Peter paused his movements, looking at Stiles. “I’m not sure how my nephew would want me to answer that,” he started, taking a moment. “But then again, taking a look at the Hale men, do you honestly think we would make it through our adolescent years without being approached to model?”

Stiles released a partially annoyed sigh. “You can’t answer anything easily, can you?”

“Take a good look at Derek’s cheekbones, and tell me you think he didn’t model,” Peter answered in a dismissive tone.

Stiles snorted, making his way out of the office and towards the dressing room.

Erica leaned back in her chair when she saw Stiles walk into the room, her grin widening across her lips. She spun in her chair, turning to face him. “Well, well, hello there, kitten.”

Stiles rolled his eyes at Erica, gently pushing her chair to force her to spin backwards. He moved to sit in front of his vanity, inspecting his face for any signs that make up would be needed.

“So, how is Derek?” Erica asked as she turned back to her mirror to apply her lipstick.

“He’s good,” Stiles replied, his eyes tracking across the mirror to look at Erica.

“Just good, huh?” Erica asked, popping her lips before turning to look at Stiles. “That’s not what I heard.”

Stiles smiled to himself. “We’re together, okay?”

Erica grinned, throwing one of her makeup wipes at Stiles. “I can’t believe you weren’t going to tell me.”

Stiles caught the makeup wipe, depositing it down on his vanity. “Not dishing out detailing and not telling you are two different things. And I know you. You want details.”

“Can you blame me?” Erica questioned. A more serious look fell over her features as she leaned back into her chair. “How’s James taking all this?”

“Good,” Stiles answered, allowing his eyes to flicker over to her as he paused his motions to draw on his eyeliner. “Better than I thought. The little stinker snuck behind my back and with Derek about it all.”

“He’s his father’s son,” Erica commented. “He asked Peter if you and Derek were in love the other day.”

Stiles released a soft laugh. “I’m not surprised.”

“Well,” Erica started as she stood, waltzing over to Stiles. She pressed a fond kiss into Stiles’ hair. “I’m happy for you, sweetheart.”

“Thanks,” Stiles answered, keeping his eyes on the mirror as he watched Erica leave. “Me too,” he commented to the air around him, unable to stop the smile pulled across his lips.

~*~

Derek continued to type on his laptop, looking up briefly when he heard the door open upon revealing Stiles. He continued to type out his notes before ultimately pausing when he felt the bed dip under Stiles’ hands. He looked above the edge of his computer screen to see Stiles slinking up the bed.

Stiles pressed his hands against the duvet cover as he perched himself above Derek’s legs. He ran a hand over the back of Derek’s laptop, gently pressing it closed. He smiled when Derek allowed him to without resistance.

“You’re being playful,” Derek commented, watching Stiles as he moved his laptop to the side.

Stiles hummed in agreement as he settled over Derek’s thighs, his hands moving to trace along the hem of Derek’s shirt.

“And is there a reason for all this?” Derek asked, arching an eyebrow at Stiles as he observed him through his glasses.

Stiles smirked, placing a kiss to Derek’s lips, parting from him long enough to pull his glasses from his face. He turned to place Derek’s folded glasses onto the laptop, placing them aside for the night. “You can find a lot on the internet,” he commented as he pulled at Derek’s shirt. “Like the resume of a certain doctor. And the fact that said doctor gives to charitable foundations.”

Derek narrowed his eyes at Stiles, trying to decipher what he was getting at. “Are you saying that since I donate to charities, you’re horny?”

“You donate to children foundations, and a modeling agency,” Stiles announced, releasing a faint laugh when Derek groaned.

“Stiles,” Derek huffed, letting his head fall back against the headboard.

“I didn’t look, I promise,” Stiles answered. “I think it’s sweet that you set up a scholarship, Der, that’s all.”

Derek carefully eyed Stiles.

“I swear,” Stiles promised, looking down at his hands as he played with the hem of Derek’s shirt more. “Even though I wanted to, and Peter teased me about it, I didn’t look because you didn’t want me to.”

Derek sighed, reaching for his laptop once more.

Stiles was a little surprised when Derek put the laptop between them, leaning back some to allow room for the device. He was uncertain of Derek’s motives, pulling back from uncertainty. He started to move some, crawling backwards as he shifted his body from straddling Derek’s legs.

“Where are you going?” Derek asked when he realized Stiles was about to get off the bed.

Stiles turned to look at Derek. He opened his mouth to speak, uncertain how to answer. “I thought …” He gestured towards the bedroom door.

Derek stared at Stiles, his eyes owlish in nature. He spun around his laptop, putting on display what he had been looking up. “I was going to show you,” he uttered.

Stiles looked at the laptop’s screen, eyes settling on the image detailed there.

It was clearly a younger Derek, the one Stiles remembered from high school. He was wearing a leather jacket, chest bare beneath it. His pants were tight and low bearing on his hips. His chest and face were bare of hair, and there was enough product to style his hair that he looked nothing like how adorably comfortable he looked now.

“Holy shit, Derek,” Stiles uttered, moving closer to him. He settled on his legs, reaching out for the laptop. He curiously clicked through the various images, his face neutral as he observed the many images of Derek in more than one provocative position—objectified. He cautiously looked up over the computer screen to observe Derek. He didn’t like the uncertain look on Derek’s face. He closed the laptop, reaching over to deposit it on the nightstand beside Derek’s half of the bed. He moved his body to perch above Derek’s, sitting down comfortably in Derek’s lap.

“So,” Derek uttered, uncertain what Stiles thought.

Stiles pursed his lips to the side, his hands moving to rest on Derek’s chest. “I have to say, I prefer the hair.” He pulled at the top of Derek’s tank top, purposefully peering down to look at his chest hair. “Yup, I prefer it.” He looked at Derek, a faint smile pulling at his lips as he touched his beard. “And I prefer this, a lot more. It’s softer than one would think.”

“That’s not really an answer,” Derek replied, unable to stop himself from subconsciously resting his hands on Stiles’ hips.

“Derek,” Stiles sighed. “I’m a stripper. There is no sugar coating that.”

Derek’s features softened some.

“And if me being a stripper doesn’t bother you, do you honestly think it bothers me that you used to model?” Stiles questioned, earnestly looking at Derek.

Derek ran his hands over Stiles’ hips. “You know I don’t care about you dancing. And I … I just didn’t like how those photos look.”

Stiles leaned forward, pressing a kiss to Derek’s lips. “You don’t like how the photos make it look like you like the objectification. I understand that—I understand that a lot, actually,” he lightly laughed.

“I know,” Derek replied, pressing in for another kiss.

Stiles smiled as he ground his hips forward, moving more into Derek’s lap. “I like it when you’re the one looking at me.” He pressed kisses along Derek’s jaw, moving his way down to the curve of Derek’s neck. “And touching me,” he murmured against Derek’s skin, taking hold of Derek’s hands in encouragement to move across his body. He released a faint laugh when Derek easily flipped them, allowing Derek to maneuver them how he wanted.

~*~

Stiles had never been so grateful that Derek was a handyman in addition to being a doctor. He was grateful that the bedroom door now had a lock on it, fully aware that without one, James could have walked in at any moment.

But when he was with Derek, Stiles tended to forget what the responsibilities of a parent were. He liked to lose himself in nothing else but him and Derek. He liked that he forgot things that had to do with the outside world. But sometimes, in the strangest of moments, random thoughts would pop up in his mind, and tonight was no different.

“Oh my God,” Stiles moaned, foolishly trying to get the right angle. He nearly yelped when Derek adjusted his hips, pulling his legs up over his shoulders. “Derek, keep going. Please, please.” His head fell back onto the bed, staring up at the ceiling. His orgasm was climbing, his spine tingling until the point that he thought he might be going numb.

“Stiles,” Derek moaned, moving forward to press a kiss to Stiles’ lips.

“Derek, please,” Stiles mumbled against Derek’s lips. He gasped when Derek quickened his thrusts. “Oh my God!” He exclaimed, his thoughts suddenly focusing on something he had totally forgotten.

“The tooth fairy!”

Derek’s movements halted immediately. He was panting heavily, staring down at Stiles. “What?” He questioned in bewilderment.

“The tooth fairy!” Stiles argued. “James’ tooth. I didn’t grab it and put the money under his pillow.”

“James is asleep,” Derek countered with a tired expression.

“I’ll forget!” Stiles partially whimpered when Derek moved to sit back some. He sat up, hands reaching for Derek’s face, kissing at Derek’s perpetual pout. “I’m sorry, it will only take me a minute.”

“Clearly I’m not good enough to keep you from thinking about the tooth fairy,” Derek grumbled against Stiles’ lips.

“No,” Stiles partially whined. “I just need to do this before I forget,” he pressed another kiss to Derek’s lips. “I’ll be right back, I promise. I promise,” he added with a fleeting kiss, scrambling out of the bed to pull on his pajama bottoms. He slightly tripped as he finally got his feet through the pant legs.

Stiles snuck into James’ room, artfully slipping the bag with his tooth out from where it rested, partially under James’ pillow. He slipped the five dollars he had saved, knowing it would be a big surprised for James to discover in the morning. He frowned, thinking about the times he could only spare a dollar here or there for him, but James never appeared upset by the outcome. He was glad that he had enough money stored up to splurge on James. He clutched the bag in his hand, quickly making his get away, determined to not have James catch him.

Stiles hurried back through the hallway and into the bedroom, pausing in the doorway when he saw Derek sitting against the headboard.

Derek was always gorgeous, but Stiles blamed his interrupted orgasm for making him want to leap onto the bed and ravish him. Derek’s hair was in complete disarray, a result of Stiles running his hands through it earlier during their foreplay. He was naked, besides the small section of blanket he had pulled over to cover his lap, making him look as modest as a renaissance sculpture. He was beyond tempting, even with the book in his hands that currently held his attention from Stiles.

“You don’t have to punish me,” Stiles pouted as he plopped down on the bed. “It was punishment enough leaving the bed. You honestly think I wanted to go do the duties of the tooth fairy instead of having a limb tingling orgasm?”

Derek partially grunted in response, still reading his book.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at Derek, crawling the rest of the way across the bed, tossing away the bag containing James’ tooth to be forgotten in the small waste bin by Derek’s nightstand. He focused on Derek, grasping hold of the book and pulling it right out of his hands. He unceremoniously dropped the book onto the nightstand, smirking at Derek’s look of disinterest. “I know you’re playing the cold shoulder.”

“And,” Derek commented, arching his eyebrows.

Stiles dramatically huffed. “Fine. I’ll just go to bed,” he rolled onto the side of Derek’s bed that he had commandeered for himself. “You can go back to reading your book. I’ll just have dreams of the sex we could have been having. You know, the kind where you manhandle me, just like I like.”

Stiles lightly yelped in surprise when he felt his pajama pants being slid completely off his body, barely releasing an amused laugh when Derek pulled him closer to situate them to resume earlier activities. He released a surprised breath when Derek hooked his arm under his leg, pulling him into yet another impossibly stretched position. “You’re lucky I’m flexible,” he uttered, his voice hitching into a moan when Derek slid into him with ease. “I’m so lucky I’m flexible,” he corrected himself, reaching a hand back to bury in Derek’s hair, tightening his hold with every thorough thrust of Derek’s hips.

~*~

Stiles mumbled in response to the feeling of Derek’s lips caressing his shoulder. “Too early,” he softly grumbled, faintly smiling at the feel of Derek’s laughter softly rumbling against his back.

“I have to go to work,” Derek commented, pressing a kiss into Stiles’ hair.

“Okay,” Stiles sighed, turning his head to sightlessly search out Derek’s lips with his own. He pressed into Derek when their lips brushed. “Have a good day at work,” he uttered.

“I’ll be home for dinner,” Derek answered as he pulled himself from the bed. For the first time, he found himself not wanting to go to work, the idea of staying in bed all day having the greatest appeal.

“We’ll be here,” Stiles sleepily answered, hugging his pillow once more, snuggling into the warmth of the bed.

~*~

Everything was perfect.

That is, until the inevitable speed bump reared its ugly head.

Weeks had turned into months, the awkward technicalities of their relationship seemed to fall away, blending together to make the perfect picture of a normal family. Derek helped Stiles to distress, just as Stiles helped ground Derek when his family started meddling again.

Stiles was afraid that Derek would want to push against him dancing at Little Red’s, but eased when Derek only ever supported him in working. He never asked Derek to watch James, knowing that Derek’s hours were more precious than anything. But he wouldn’t lie when he was overjoyed when Derek offered, much to James’ enthusiasm.

Tonight was one of those nights. And Stiles desperately didn’t want to interrupt the moment Derek and James were sharing.

“I don’t understand how my teacher thought I could do this,” James commented, turning his head to look up at Derek who was reaching over him to reach for the top of the birdhouse.

“You aren’t supposed to have this done until the end of the summer anyways,” Derek replied, painting the wood glue onto the side of the birdhouse before situating the roof. “Hand,” he instructed, seamlessly handing over the control to James. He faintly smiled as he watched James concentrate on holding the birdhouse correctly.

“Can we place it outside after I get a grade?” James asked, looking up at Derek again.

“If you want,” Derek replied. “There’s a pretty good tree by the garage,” he added, thinking about where the birds nested the most.

“You think dad will want to decorate it with us?” James asked, completely unaware that his father was standing in the far doorway, within hearing distance.

“I’m sure he’d love to,” Derek replied. “Speaking of which,” he pushed his sleeve back to look at his watch. “Your dad will be home soon, and you should be in bed.”

“Can I move my hand?” James hesitantly asked, warily lifting his hand slightly.

“Should,” Derek replied, taking hold of James’ hand to lift it from the birdhouse.

“Yes!” James exclaimed in excitement when the birdhouse managed to remain together without any assistance. He turned to give Derek a high-five.

“Let’s get you to bed, buddy,” Derek commented as he watched James excitedly hop down from the chair.

“I can’t wait to show dad,” James stated. “He said that he made a birdhouse with grandma before,” he explained, halting by the steps as he turned to look at Derek. “You think I would have gotten along with her?” He absently asked, waiting for Derek to catch up to him.

“I’m not sure,” Derek honestly answered. “But I’m sure she’d have loved you.”

“Dad says that people always told him that he’s a lot like her,” James explained.

“Well, I’d say you two would have been thick as thieves,” Derek commented as he followed James up the steps. He paused, catching sight of Stiles’ shadow walking further into the living room and towards the kitchen.

“That’s a weird saying,” James commented, not noticing Derek’s hesitation to follow him.

Derek didn’t mention his sighting of Stiles to James, following the eight year old upstairs to make sure he finished getting ready for bed. He tucked James in, hoping that he would stay in bed for once and not come snooping if he heard voices.

Stiles was in the kitchen, retrieving a glass of water when Derek came back downstairs. He kept his back towards Derek, focusing his attention on the glass.

“You okay?” Derek asked as he came closer to Stiles, walking across the kitchen.

“Just tired,” Stiles answered, turning away from Derek. “I didn’t think you’d still be awake,” he added.

“James and I lost track of time,” Derek offered, leaning against the counter. He leaned to catch sight of Stiles’ face, frowning some when Stiles turned to counter his attempt. “Is something wrong?” He asked, realizing that Stiles was acting stranger than usual.

“Just tired,” Stiles answered, placing his untouched glass of water onto the counter. “I’m going to go take a shower,” he uttered, turning his back to Derek as he moved to head upstairs.

Derek followed after him, easily taking the stairs two at a time when he realized Stiles was quickening his pace. “I don’t want to feel like I’m stalking you,” he started once they were both in their bedroom. “But you’re acting too weird for me to leave you alone.”

“I’m fine, Derek, really,” Stiles stated, moving to shut the bathroom door behind him.

“Stiles,” Derek reached out for Stiles’ hand, gently coaxing him to not shut the door between them. “Look, I don’t know if you’re upset because of what you heard James saying, or if you just don’t want me … bonding with James as much.”

“It’s not that,” Stiles stated, turning partially to face Derek.

“Then what is it?” Derek gently asked in concern.

Stiles finally forced himself to face Derek. He could see the way Derek’s mind registered what he was seeing.

“What the hell happened?” Derek partially demanded, reaching both hands up to cup Stiles’ face, turning his head at the appropriate angle to inspect the bruising around his eye.

“It was nothing,” Stiles lightly answered, allowing Derek to push them back into the bathroom where the light was brighter. He knew Derek was going to react in such a way, determined to inspect and heal every minor scrap and bruise he found.

“The bruising around your eye says otherwise,” Derek countered, looking Stiles in the eye. “Who hit you?”

Stiles’ eyebrows furrowed some as he reached an unsteady hand up to take hold of Derek’s. “You promised you wouldn’t get like this,” he weakly stated in response.

Derek ignored Stiles’ placating gesture as he continued to cup his face, inspecting the bruising around his eye once more. He paused, the weight of Stiles’ words suddenly hitting him. “Get like this?” He questioned, wanting to know what Stiles meant.

“That you wouldn’t be … upset,” Stiles attempted, knowing that it wasn’t the right wording.

“Stiles,” Derek firmly addressed him. “Promising that I wouldn’t be jealous of you dancing, and being pissed off that someone hit you are not the same fucking thing.”

Stiles pulled away from Derek, not wanting to talk about it. “I don’t want to have this conversation.” He started to walk away from Derek, feeling like a coward with every step.

“What conversation?” Derek demanded. “The one where I’m pissed that someone hit you and you won’t tell me why. Or the one where you tell me that you don’t like me being concerned for you?”

“You know why,” Stiles snapped as he turned to look at Derek.

Derek’s scowl deepened, annoyed that he couldn’t decipher what Stiles had meant.

“You know why some guy would hit me, you just don’t want to admit it,” Stiles added.

“Stiles,” Derek started, realizing what Stiles meant. “Don’t make this into me being seen as the bad guy for caring about you.”

“It’s part of the risk of doing what I do,” Stiles uttered, visibly shrugging.

“You being physically beaten is not okay,” Derek pressed.

“That’s a tad hypocritical to be okay with me shaking my ass for people to jerk off to, but to be upset when I get an asshole’s little token of affection,” Stiles pressed back.

“That’s not the same thing,” Derek sighed.

“So, you’d be fine if I went out and let people fuck me for money, as long as I didn’t get roughed up?” Stiles scoffed as a cruel, self-deprecating laugh snuck up through his throat.

“If it’s what you wanted,” Derek answered.

Stiles silently stared at Derek.

“If you want to still have a clientele base like that, it’s your decision, Stiles,” Derek continued. “I never once looked down on you for that, so don’t try to make this about something it’s not.”

“How can you not be ashamed of that?” Stiles pressed. “How can you not look at me and be disgusted?”

“I told you,” Derek countered, his voice firm and unwavering. “I never looked down on you—if someone should be ashamed, it’s the people that took advantage of your situation and twisted your arm into selling sex for money that should be.” He ran a hand through his hair, taking a spinning step as he paced some. “If you want to do that—if you wanted to be a porn star even—I don’t care, as long as you want to do it. But you coming home with a black eye? That I won’t tolerate. Because there’s a reason you hid the second you came home and knew James was still awake. You were scared of him seeing you like this. You were scared of me seeing you like this.”

Stiles looked away from Derek, wrapping his arms around himself.

“I’ll support you in what you want to do—but don’t treat me like an idiot,” Derek replied. “If you want to sleep with other people …” He bit his tongue, hating how jealous he felt thinking about Stiles even entertaining the idea of being intimate with other people. “I care enough about you to try and make something work.”

“It was an old … client,” Stiles roughly stated, surprising himself with how easy it felt to tell Derek. “He wasn’t happy that I hadn’t been around as much. He wanted more than just a lap dance. When I told him no, he didn’t like it.”

Derek took an aborted step towards Stiles, wanting to pull him into a hug, to hold him in his embrace and not let go. He held back when he saw how skittish Stiles was in reaction to his movement.

“I felt so … smug, being able to tell him no,” Stiles explained. “I was happy that I could tell him no, because I didn’t need his stupid money. He told me I wasn’t even worth it—that I just laid there, like a doll most times. That I wasn’t worth whatever the other guy was paying.” He shook his head, hurriedly wiping his tears away with his open palm. “And I just … it made me think … am I doing a better job now because I’m getting more out of my deal with you.”

Derek felt gutted by Stiles’ words. “You think … Stiles, do you feel like you have to sleep with me because you’re living here?”

“No,” Stiles hurriedly answered, turning to look at Derek. “That guy, he got inside my head. He tried to ruin everything because I told him no,” he explained. “I just don’t see why you’d want me, Derek,” he tiredly admitted.

Derek reached an arm out, coaxing Stiles into his arms with ease. He held him close, tucking Stiles’ head beneath his chin, relieved when Stiles pushed into his embrace. “I’ve been falling in love with you for years,” he admitted to the quiet air, his heart pounding in his throat. “I was too afraid to admit it before. But don’t ever think, for one second, that I would feel ashamed to have you in my life.”

Stiles clenched his eyes shut as he pressed into Derek’s hold, hiding his face in the curve of Derek’s throat, just under his chin.

“God, I know I love you,” Stiles uttered against Derek’s skin, digging his nails into Derek’s shirt as he held onto him.

Derek softly laughed, his hand gently caressing Stiles’ back. “So much for us not being cliché.”

Stiles released a watery laugh in response. “I’m okay with clichéd. As long as it’s real.”

Derek pulled back, looking down at Stiles. “It’s real,” he confirmed, his hand gently caressing Stiles’ cheek. “And if I ever get ahold of the asshole that did this—”

“You’ll kill him?” Stiles finished.

“I have a few surgical torments in mind for him,” Derek corrected.

Stiles smiled, pressing a kiss to Derek’s lips.

~*~

“So, that was climactic,” Stiles softly stated as he pulled his knees up to his chest, letting Derek wash his back. “A little Pretty Woman.”

Derek snorted, placing a gentle kiss to Stiles’ shoulder. “I distinctly remember Julia Roberts being the one that massages and washes Richard Gere.”

Stiles smirked, turning his head to look at Derek. “Who said you aren’t Julia Roberts in this situation?”

“Your legs are longer than mine,” Derek commented, pressing a kiss to Stiles’ lips.

“In all honesty,” Stiles stated as he turned in the tub to face Derek. “This isn’t going to be something weird where we could say it because the moment called for it, but now we are going to ignore each other, or be too scared to say it again … is it?”

Derek reached a hand out to touch Stiles’ chin, forcing him to look up from the soapy water. “I love you.”

Stiles released a shaky breath, a small laugh sneaking out at the end of it. “As cheesy as it is … I love you, too,” he uttered. He returned Derek’s smile, practically lunging for him.

They both laughed when the water splashed over the top of the tub, neither of them caring as they rearranged their bodies. They couldn’t be bothered to get out of the tub until the water turned obviously cold.

~*~

Stiles smiled to himself as he replayed the events of the past week in his head. He was glad Derek convinced him not to lie to James about what had happened to his eye. He was a upset that James was upset, but it turned out for the best—James curling up on the couch with Stiles and refusing to budge until he fell asleep for the night.

James later told Stiles that the bad man should be punished for hurting Stiles. He told Stiles he wished Captain America could take care of it, commenting that if Derek was there, he would have done something. He smiled with pride when Stiles explained that Erica, Boyd, Isaac, and Peter had all dealt with the man.

Things were good—great even. Stiles was perfecting a new routine for work now that the club had garnered more attention with its positive rebooting campaign. He was excited for the opening night, nervous to see the reactions but elated that Derek had agreed to come.

Derek’s workload had increased lately, forcing him to spend more days at the hospital and less time with James. The birdhouse, unfortunately, suffered as a result to that.

James had refused to touch the birdhouse until both Derek and Stiles were free to decorate it with him. He seemed to take Derek’s absence well enough, distracted by his play dates with Emily.

Stiles was grateful for Allison and Emily, knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy having more play dates—not when the Hales were still ringing from Derek’s “display” at Laura’s wedding.

It seemed that Kate was one of the people disturbed by Derek and Stiles being so public. Emily’s father, luckily, enjoyed how happy Emily had become since befriending James, ignoring his ex-wife’s incessant prattle about public image.

Stiles thought it was all rather ridiculous—it was the twenty-first century, not the eighteenth. He was glad Allison didn’t care for her family’s antics.

“I’m telling you,” Allison sighed. “Another bizarre family meeting, and I’m changing my name and pretending I’m an orphan.”

“I’m sorry,” Stiles winced, knowing that everything could be linked back to him telling Scarlett Hale where to stick it.

“Are you kidding me?” Allison started to sit up from her slouched position. “Seeing you and Derek make out in front of the stuffiest crowd of backwards conservatives was the highlight of my year.”

Stiles couldn’t help but laugh at that.

“You should have seen the way Derek’s aunt looked like she was going to faint,” Allison added. “Even my dad was proud of it.”

“Really?” Stiles asked in disbelief.

“Yeah,” Allison replied. “My dad’s … complicated. I think part of him roots for you guys,” she offered, looking down at her hands. “To succeed where he failed, you know?”

Stiles reached a hand out, holding onto Allison’s. “Your dad doesn’t regret you.”

Allison smiled as she looked at Stiles’ hand. “I know. I just think he regrets how it all happened.”

Stiles wasn’t sure what to say, opting for offering the reassurance of just holding her hand.

Allison gently squeezed his hand, a silent thank you.

Stiles startled when his phone started to go off, partially intrigued by the sudden occurrence, knowing that Derek was scheduled to work nearly all day.

“It’s the hospital,” Stiles quietly commented as he looked at the caller id.

“It could be Derek,” Allison offered. “He could be calling about plans for dinner.”

Stiles knew it was likely Derek, but part of him just knew that Derek would have called him from his cellphone. “Hello?” He answered as he turned to watch James and Emily play on the slide.

“Good afternoon,” a woman greeted Stiles, her voice prim and professional as she addressed him. “Is this Mr. Stilinski?”

Stiles hesitated, not having recognized the number on the collar id. “It depends who is asking,” he offered, knowing that it gave away more than he wanted to without having a grasp of the situation.

“My name is Margaret,” the woman started in explanation. “I work with Dr. Hale at the hospital.”

Stiles immediately sat up, alert of his surroundings and what was happening. “Is Derek okay?”

“There was an incident today, involving Dr. Hale,” Margaret explained. “In a situation like this, we contact the family of the staff member affected. Derek, however, has specified for only his Emergency Contacts to be contacted.”

Stiles was silent for a moment as he pieced the information together. “I’m Derek’s Emergency Contact at the hospital?”

“You and his uncle,” Margaret clarified. “However, Peter appears to be unavailable at the moment. I was calling in hopes that one of you could come down to the hospital in order to bring Derek home.”

“Of course,” Stiles replied, moving to stand. “I’ll be there within the hour.”

“Thank you,” Margaret replied. “I’ll inform Derek that you’re on your way.”

Stiles felt numb as he hung up the phone, his brain racing with possibilities of what could have happened. He pulled Allison to the side, trying to put his thoughts in order. “I need to go to the hospital to pick up Derek,” he offered, unsure how else to describe it.

“Oh,” Allison’s eyebrows scrunched together in uncertainty. “Is everything okay?”

“I’m not sure,” Stiles offered. “Things were fine this morning, but something happened. The woman said Derek was okay, just that … he needed someone to drive him home.”

Allison nodded. “I can watch James for you.”

“I can call Mrs. Kay and see if she’s available to watch,” Stiles offered.

“It’s not a problem—Emily would like to have more time with James,” Allison offered.

“You’re sure?” Stiles asked, itching to head to the hospital.

“Stiles,” Allison firmly stated his name, reaching a hand out to touch his shoulder. “It’s okay. Just go take care of Derek.”

“Thanks, Ally,” Stiles uttered, hugging her briefly as he moved over to James to speak with him.

James frowned at Stiles’ explanation. “Why can’t I come with you to get Derek?”

Stiles sighed. “I’m sure Derek would love nothing more than for you to come with me,” he offered. “But I need to make sure Derek’s okay.”

“Is he hurt?” James worriedly questioned.

“He’s physically fine,” Stiles replied.

James furrowed his eyebrows at Stiles, wanting to understand what he meant. “He’s sad, then?”

“Something like that,” Stiles replied. “But as soon as I get him home, I’ll come get you.”

James reluctantly nodded, hugging his father tightly. “Okay.”

~*~

Stiles had rushed to the hospital, impatient with just how often the bus did stop on its way to his destination. He hopped up the moment the hospital was in sight, knowing he could run the block faster than the bus could chug along. He skid to a halt in front of the nurse’s station, not at all surprised when they gave him a glaring side eye.

“I’m looking for the pediatric wing,” Stiles started, trying to quickly catch his breath. “I’m here to pick up Dr. Derek Hale.”

The nurse carefully observed him before giving him directions towards where Derek’s office was located.

Stiles wasn’t surprised when he was stopped by more than one person. He was a grown man looking distressed in a hospital. It gave him a small comfort to think that the hospital was conscious enough to keep tabs on visitors.

“Mr. Stilinski,” a female voice called his name as she approached him.

Stiles paused, observing the woman.

The woman was tall and curvy, ebony hair pulled back into a neat bun. She was elegant in stature, prim looking in her lab coat.

“And you would know that how?”

The woman offered a small smile to Stiles, offering her hand to him. “I’m Dr. Margaret Peterson—we spoke on the phone.”

“Doesn’t explain how you know who I am,” Stiles replied with scrutiny, still shaking the woman’s hand.

“Derek has a picture of you and James as his screen saver in his office,” Margaret offered.

“Oh,” Stiles uttered, his heart swelling some at that information.

“If you’ll follow me,” Margaret started, gesturing her head down the hallway. “Derek is in one of the private waiting rooms.”

Stiles hesitated before following after Margaret, realizing that she wasn’t going to wait for him to catch up.

“Dr. Hale needs to be brought home and looked after,” Margaret offered as she walked ahead of Stiles.

“And how am I to do that if I don’t know what happened,” Stiles countered, bristling some at how secretive the entire thing was.

“Derek is at liberty to tell you a few details of the incident,” Margaret offered, stopping outside a closed door.

Stiles looked at the door, catching the engraved “Private Waiting Room” plaque on the wall beside it.

“Nobody will tell me what happened, so I can’t really help Derek, who tends to not like to talk about pressing things, if you haven’t noticed,” Stiles partially snapped, knowing that Derek was on the other side of the door and suffering from whatever occurred earlier.

“Mr. Stilinski, we are not at liberty to divulge that information at this time,” Margaret offered.

“I’m going to call bullshit on that,” Stiles angrily replied. “Just tell me the basics, without any personal information, so I know what I’m about to walk into.”

“Something unexpected happened with Dr. Hale’s scheduled surgery today,” Margaret finally answered. “He’s been informed that he needs to go home and is on leave until further notice.”

Stiles gawked at the woman. “So, you just put Derek in a room by himself and told him to wait until he could be … retrieved?”

“His license could be jeopardized otherwise,” Margaret offered. “This needs to be contained before it spirals out of control.”

Stiles shook his head, bitterly commenting, “No such thing as a bleeding heart in a hospital anymore, huh?” He turned his attention towards the small private waiting room Derek had been hidden away in, wishing to tell everyone in the hospital that they were terrible human beings.

Margaret took Stiles’ silence as a cue for her to leave. She paused, releasing a heavy breath. “I can tell you this, because I feel as if Derek won’t tell you himself,” she finally offered. “He’s never lost a patient before, and it is rare for surgeon’s to go their entire careers without losing one. And, surgically speaking, he did nothing wrong. Sometimes surgeries go wrong, and there’s nothing we can do to fix it.”

Stiles faintly nodded, knowing that Derek wouldn’t accept that answer. He pushed open the door, sliding inside the dimly lit room.

Derek was sitting on the floor by the far wall. He was still in his scrubs, a medical mask still tied around his neck. His elbows were propped against his knees, his head buried in his hands. He was eerily still, not even reacting to the sound of the door opening.

“Der,” Stiles quietly addressed him, afraid of startling him.

Derek barely moved, only allowing one of his hands to drop away from his face. “They said they were going to call Peter.” His voice sounded rough—raw.

Stiles took a few steps closer to him, lingering awkwardly in the middle of the small room. “They tried him, but he didn’t pick up—he’s in meetings all day, I think. They said they called me—”

“You’re the other person on my emergency contact list,” Derek finished. “I didn’t want them calling you.”

Stiles bristled a bit, feeling as if Derek was shutting him out. “I’m sorry,” he offered, unsure what Derek wanted.

“You had James,” Derek explained. “I didn’t want him being dragged down here.”

“He’s with Allison,” Stiles answered. He took the rest of the steps necessary to get near him, realizing that Derek was only bothered by the idea of inconveniencing him.

“I’m on leave,” Derek offered, finally allowed his other hand to fall from his face. He dropped his head back against the wall, his arm propped against his knee as he looked at Stiles.

Stiles stilled, seeing how wrecked Derek looked. It was the first time he saw Derek in such a state—eyes bloodshot, tears still collected in his eyes, a complete look of exhaustion over him. “Der, what happened?”

“I told you about the surgery today,” Derek answered, his gaze completely zoning out from Stiles, as if he was remembering the morning’s events.

“Clara’s,” Stiles answered, letting Derek know he was following his line of dialogue. They had both taken to calling her Clara—after Derek told Stiles about her wanting to dance in The Nutcracker.

“She’s dead,” Derek flatly stated.

Stiles felt a ball of dread drop in his stomach, understanding a small fraction of how responsible Derek must have felt. He knew how close Derek was with each of his patients, listening to the way Derek would fondly recount a story or quirky behavior.

But Clara—she was different. She had so much courage and strength. She was always smiling when Derek spoke with her. And Stiles knew that she reminded Derek of James.

“She died on the table,” Derek added.

Stiles silently crouched next to Derek, reaching an unsteady hand out to hold Derek’s trembling one. He held onto Derek tighter when he felt his hand jerk at the touch. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“They put their little girl’s life in my hands, and I killed her,” Derek hollowly stated.

“Derek—”

“A basic procedure,” Derek pressed, refusing to look at Stiles. “A basic fucking procedure. One that I’ve performed dozens of times. And she still died.”

“Derek, this wasn’t your fault,” Stiles pushed.

Derek shook his head, tears collecting once more. “If Dr. Peterson had been the one—”

“She told me,” Stiles interrupted him. “She told me, Derek, that you did everything right.”

“You’re not a surgeon, Stiles,” Derek countered. “I could have— I could have reacted faster— I should have realized her oxygen levels were dropping.”

“Derek,” Stiles sternly stated, grabbing his attention. “I don’t care how many times you need to hear it,” he calmly uttered. “But this wasn’t your fault.”

Derek shook his head.

“It wasn’t,” Stiles repeated.

Derek broke down, his legs limply falling down as he slumped against the wall completely. He allowed Stiles to pull him close, to hold his head against his chest and run his fingers through his hair in a comforting manner. He held onto Stiles like he was a lifesaver in a grueling storm. He couldn’t fight the burning in his chest as he cried, finally letting it hit him again, in another wave of realization that Clara—Isabelle—was gone, and he couldn’t change it.

Chapter Text

“Her levels are spiking,” one of the nurses suddenly commented.

Derek looked up at the heart monitor just as it started to beep incessantly.

“She’s having trouble breathing,” another nurse added.

“She’s going into cardiac arrest,” Derek announced, abandoning his spot next to Isabelle’s leg. He moved up to her chest, checking her vitals as he looked at the monitor, desperate for a way to continue. He took the defibrillator paddles from the nurse, placing them into position on Isabelle’s chest.

It was all a haze, mechanical movements that were by the book. Too long passed without the soft drum of a heartbeat. It didn’t matter how many times Derek charged the defibrillator—Isabelle’s heart wouldn’t take the electrical charge.

“Doctor Hale,” one of the nurses pressed, trying to gain Derek’s attention.

Derek abandoned the defibrillator, continuing with administering manual CPR, his eyes focused on the monitor as he prayed to see the beeping lines again. “Come on, Isabelle,” he softly uttered under his breath. “Come on.” He kept his motions steady, determined to hear the sharp beeping of her heart coming back online.

“Doctor Hale,” a familiar voice addressed him, trying to gain his attention.

“I’m not done,” Derek furiously uttered as he continued.

“Derek,” a firm hand settled on Derek’s arm, halting his movements. “You have to call it.”

“No,” Derek nearly snapped as he turned to look at the owner of the hand. He froze when he realized it was Dr. Peterson—the residential trauma surgeon. One of the nurses must have paged her.

“She’s gone,” Dr. Peterson announced.

“If I can just—”

“You can’t,” Dr. Peterson firmly stated. “I’m calling it, Derek.”

~*~

Derek jerked awake, his body trembling with the reminder of what happened. He sat up, pushing the sheets away, already feeling the wave of sweat threatening to break. He turned to look at Stiles, seeing that he was still sound asleep on the other side of the bed. He climbed out of the bed, mindlessly heading into the bathroom. He leaned against the counter, closing his eyes as he took in a deep breath, the distant sound of the clock ticking being replaced by the echo of a heart monitor.

Derek felt his arms trembling, the images of the operating room still fresh in his mind. He didn’t realize what he had done until he saw the cracked shards of the mirror littered in the bathroom sink. He looked down at his hand, seeing the deep cuts in his bloodied knuckles, the reflective slivers of the busted mirror dusted over the cuts.

“Der,” Stiles softly called, standing in the doorway of the bathroom. He took a step towards Derek, reaching a hand out to touch his shoulder.

“I didn’t …” Derek stopped himself, knowing he couldn’t explain why he punched the mirror, besides the need to make the pain replace the memories.

Stiles allowed the silence to pass between them as he cleaned Derek’s hand. He was gentle in his handling of Derek’s bloodied knuckles, concentrating his gaze on the cuts. He looked up at Derek as he held the gauze against Derek’s knuckles. “You could have asked me to cover them,” he commented, hoping that Derek would allow him to make a light joke of it.

“Seemed faster this way,” Derek faintly replied, trying to meet Stiles’ jest half way. It still felt forced.

“Can we talk about this?” Stiles asked as he felt Derek drawing away from him the moment the gauze was securely tapped.

“I’m tired,” Derek plainly offered, turning his back to Stiles.

“I know,” Stiles uttered. “You’re exhausted, Der, I get that. But we have to talk about this,” he gestured towards the bathroom sink where the shattered pieces of the mirror remained.

“I just need sleep,” Derek pressed as he refused to look at Stiles.

“You once told me not to shut you out,” Stiles started, releasing a heavy breath when Derek finally turned to look at him. “Please don’t shut me out.”

Derek released a heavy sigh, running a hand through his hair.

Stiles walked over to Derek, reaching a hand out to hold Derek’s. “I love you, Derek, okay? Just don’t … don’t shut me out.” He reached a hand up to cup Derek’s cheek in his open palm.

Derek gently moved forward, pushing into Stiles’ embrace with ease. He pressed his face into the crook of Stiles’ neck, wanting to disappear.

Stiles wrapped his arms around Derek, closing his eyes as he softly ran his hands along Derek’s back. “We’re going to be okay,” he gently stated, wanting to keep Derek safe, even from his own negative thoughts.

~*~

James was confused when Stiles explained to him that Derek would be staying in bed more than usual.

“But why?” James weakly asked as he stared down at his cereal.

Stiles released a soft sigh as he moved to sit at the table with James. “You remember what Derek does, right?”

“He makes kids better,” James answered, looking up at Stiles.

“Yeah,” Stiles nodded. “He would find out what was making kids sick, and he’d fix that problem. But some times things go wrong.”

James’ eyebrows furrowed, not understanding what Stiles meant.

“Some times … Derek can’t fix the problem, and the kids don’t get better,” Stiles elaborated. “And there are always risks, when Derek goes to fix the problem. It’s never happened before, but a few weeks ago, something happened.”

James frowned. “Is Derek okay?”

“He’s sad,” Stiles answered. “You remember when your teacher had everyone making cards for Mother’s Day, and you got upset?”

James nodded, remembering how angry and embarrassed he felt when the other kids just stared at him, some of them even asking why he wasn’t making a card of his mother—why he didn’t want to make his mother happy. “I cried.”

“And it’s okay to cry when you’re upset like that,” Stiles stated, reaching a hand out to hold James’. “But Derek’s sad for another reason.” He took a deep breath. “Derek was fixing a little girl’s leg, and something went wrong that Derek couldn’t stop.”

James tightened his hold on Stiles’ hand. “Is the girl okay?”

“She passed away,” Stiles answered, knowing he couldn’t lie to James, not if this was going to be something that eventually got better between them all. He didn’t want to lie to his son.

James looked down at his cereal. He slowly slipped out of his chair, moving over to hug Stiles.

Stiles easily pulled him up into his lap, hugging him tightly. “Derek needs some time to get through his sadness, okay?”

James nodded his head, silently holding onto his father.

“We’ll get through this, buddy, I promise,” Stiles uttered. “We just have to be patient.”

~*~

Stiles recognized when Derek started to shut himself away. He tried to stop him, to keep their connection open. He knew that James had caught on to the way Derek was closing up. He tried to keep James from setting himself up for disappointment, but there was only so much Stiles could do. And he knew that James had a deep admiration for Derek and everything Derek did for them both.

It was inevitable that it all came crashing together.

“Derek said he’d come,” James stated as he walked with Stiles towards the field.

Stiles felt Peter’s gaze turn to him.

“I didn’t know that,” Peter simply stated.

“He said he’d come,” James firmly stated again, releasing his hold on Stiles’ hand.

Peter waited until James went to join his teammates before turning to Stiles. “Did you tell him?”

“Tell who what?” Stiles sighed as he looked at Peter.

“Explain to James that Derek isn’t going to be here,” Peter answered.

“Derek’s sleeping,” Stiles countered. “He’s always sleeping, Peter. It shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to James when he doesn’t show up.”

Peter carefully observed Stiles. “I’m going to say what I have to say, and that will be the end of it,” he started, not caring if Stiles tried to stop him. “You allowed Derek to be a part of James’ life when you moved in with him—now you’re dating. That boy reveres Derek, because he’s somebody else to look up to and admire.”

“You don’t think I know that?” Stiles almost snapped at Peter as he turned to look at him. “I know that James looks up to Derek. And I know that this is going to crush him. But I told Derek to not make promises he couldn’t keep. I can’t change that.” He turned to look back at where James was gathering with the team.

“You’re pissed at him, I get that,” Peter replied, keeping an eye on Stiles. “But using James for that doesn’t make this better.”

“I’m not using my kid for anything,” Stiles harshly stated as he looked at Peter. “I know Derek is hurting, but he can’t do this to me or to James, not anymore. This isn’t the first promise he’s broken, Peter.”

“He’s hurting,” Peter answered.

“You’re right, he is hurting,” Stiles concurred. “He’s hurting us.” He released an aggravated sigh, running his hands through his hair. “I can’t do this,” he uttered. “Things were good—perfect, even. And now I can’t even talk to Derek without us fighting.”

They fought about stupid things. Things that neither of them really cared about. Derek always apologized. Stiles always accepted. It was tearing them apart from one another. And Stiles noticed the toll it was taking on James.

James frowned when he realized that it was only Stiles in the bleachers, no sign of Derek. He let his head hang low as he listened to what Coach had to say, trying not to focus on the fact that Derek had lied. Again.

James wasn’t even excited when they won the game, his eyes looking to Stiles before looking back down at the ground.

Stiles focused on his driving before peering into the mirror to see James frowning down at his glove. A similar frown pulled at Stiles’ own lips as he looked back at the road. “I’m sorry, kiddo.”

James sighed, shrugging his shoulders. “You weren’t the one that lied.”

Stiles wasn’t surprised when James raced up the stairs to his room, immediately closing the door behind him. He sighed, exhausted from everything. He pulled his jacket off with ease, kicking his shoes off to rest by the door. He padded his way through the house, knowing that he was avoiding going upstairs to check on Derek.

Stiles caught sight of the packet Dr. Peterson had given him on his visit with her. He wondered if Derek would even try to give the therapy a try. He knew that the hospital had called and spoken with Derek a few days ago, keeping him up to date on the settlement and possible trial that might take place. And he knew it was the grief that drove Isabelle’s parents to try and pursue a trial.

Stiles looked up when he hear footsteps coming into the kitchen, surprised to see that it was Derek. He faintly smiled at him, trying to get some reaction out of him—as long as it was different than the melancholy guilt and anger Derek had been carrying around.

“I thought it was earlier than it is,” Derek started, his footsteps slow as he made his way passed Stiles and into the kitchen.

“I didn’t think you’d be awake, anyways,” Stiles faintly offered.

Derek’s movements paused at Stiles’ words. “What does that mean?”

“James’ game was today,” Stiles stated, half expecting Derek to not even react.

Derek looked at Stiles in slight confusion. “No it’s not,” he uttered.

“We just got back from it, Derek,” Stiles countered.

Derek turned to look for the calendar hanging by the microwave. “It’s this weekend.”

“It is the weekend, Derek,” Stiles faintly replied, his features scrunching up with concern. “You don’t know what day it is, do you?”

“Don’t be stupid, of course I do,” Derek harshly answered, turning to leave the room.

“Right, I’m stupid because I know when my son’s baseball game is,” Stiles answered. “Because I know that today is Saturday.”

Derek remained silent as he left Stiles behind in the kitchen, moving to seclude himself in the bedroom once more.

Stiles released an aggravated sigh, smacking his hand against the countertop, forcing himself to follow after Derek. He waited until he closed the bedroom door before he addressed Derek. “You can’t run away from this.”

“Stiles, leave me alone,” Derek lowly growled as he moved to sit on the bed, unsure what he wanted to do—if he even wanted to be in this room.

“I can’t, Derek,” Stiles countered. “Because unfortunately for you, I care about you—James cares about you. And it’s starting to weigh on him.”

“I’m sorry my emotional status is weighing on your son,” Derek almost snapped, his anger sparking for no known reason. He wasn’t mad at Stiles or James in particular—he was just mad at the world, and they were the ones closest in his. He was pissed at the world and the hospital committee for declaring Isabelle’s death a statistical blip in their otherwise well-oiled, corporate machine.

“You’re acting weird—different even,” Stiles pushed. “You were supposed to go to the hospital and be evaluated before anything with the case moved on.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Derek loudly replied. “I don’t want to think about her anymore!”

“Derek—”

“I can’t even look at James without seeing what I did,” Derek snapped as he looked at Stiles. He moved to stand, wanting to get away from Stiles.

“You need to talk to someone, then,” Stiles urged. “Please, Derek, you can’t keep doing this—you’re forgetting dates, you’re staying hidden away. You’ve been having nightmares almost every night, but refuse to tell me what.”

“They trusted me with their little girl, and I killed her, Stiles,” Derek nearly snapped. “What about that don’t you get? How is it hard to realize that I’d be fucked up from that.”

“Maybe if you talked to me—”

“You can’t understand this.”

“Why? Because I’ve never held someone’s life in my hands? I’m a parent, Derek, I face that every day.”

“It’s not the fucking same!” Derek shouted as he turned to look at Stiles. His movements stilled when he saw that the bedroom door was cracked open, James standing between the small opened area as he watched the fight unfold.

Stiles turned to look at the door, his expression softening when he realized Derek’s argument only silenced once he had seen James.

James immediately turned and ran to his room, knowing he shouldn’t have investigated the loud noises of a fight unfolding between his father and Derek. But he was scared they were going to say something they would regret. He was afraid they were going to hurt each other with cruel words. He didn’t understand why Derek had yelled at Stiles—his father just wanted to help Derek, it didn’t make any sense.

James remembered the only other time he heard someone fighting with his dad.

It had been late, and Stiles had his body propped against the door to their tiny apartment. Stiles flinched every time a loud bang slammed against the door, an angry voice shouting cruel words and obscenities at Stiles. He didn’t know James was awake until he came out of his room with his baseball bat.

James curled up in bed with Stiles that night, his baseball bat resting along the side of the mattress.

It was before they met Derek—before everything felt safe, for them both.

Stiles left Derek behind in the bedroom, giving him a hurt look that he hoped would speak volumes more than he could dare try at the moment. He made himself a promise—he made James a promise—that they would never find themselves in a situation like this again. He fought with Olivia almost every day since they had James. He had left, with Olivia’s ties to James severed completely, vowing to never subject either of them to such an environment again.

Derek and Stiles were now fighting more than just speaking to one another. And that terrified Stiles.

James was sitting on his bed when his father came in. He looked up from his baseball glove in his hand. He offered a sad smile to Stiles before looking down once more.

Stiles moved to sit on the edge of the bed with James.

“He needs help,” James softly uttered. “I … I miss how we were,” he faintly added.

“Me too,” Stiles confessed, moving to hug James. “Hey, how about you go stay with Mrs. Kay for a few days?”

James was silent as he pressed into Stiles’ side. “No,” he started, his voice small and almost unsure.

“She’d love to see you, buddy,” Stiles offered.

“No, not without you,” James clarified.

Stiles hesitated before pulling James in closer. “Okay, kiddo. Not without me.”

~*~

It was a punch to the gut, waking up and discovering that Stiles and James were gone. Derek hadn’t realized how ingrained they had become in his life—how ingrained he was in theirs. At first he thought that they were just out running an errand. It wasn’t until the night passed, without sign of them, that Derek realized what happened.

Derek didn’t blame Stiles. He found Stiles to be stronger than most—taking his child from a dangerous situation, even with fear that he might not find a roof to place over their heads. But he knew better—he knew Stiles better than that; Stiles would have found a roof to put over James’ head, no matter what.

Derek discovered the birdhouse resting his office’s desk, a letter tucked underneath it. He noticed that it was completely decorated, making it look like a miniature cottage from a fairy tale. It saddened him to realize that he neglected time enough to miss out on crafting the birdhouse with James and Stiles, as he had promised.

Derek,

I needed to leave. We needed to leave. I promised myself that I’d never put James in a situation like this again.

I’m not mad at you. I’m not saying that what happened was your fault. But until we can work it out for the best, I can’t have James suffering through that. He doesn’t understand why we were yelling—he doesn’t need to face that.

I’m not cutting ties with you. I don’t want to break us—I want us to be where we were, before this. Right now, it feels impossible to handle.

You have my cell number, and know I’m still working at Red’s.

When you’re ready, to deal with all of this, I’m waiting.

Yours,

Stiles

~*~

"It’s not a permanent thing," Stiles stated once more.

“I heard you the first time,” Peter replied, handing a set of sheets to Stiles as he turned back to pull out a blanket from storage.

“I didn’t want to inconvenience Mrs. Kay this evening,” Stiles explained as he moved to hook the corner of the sheets around the sofa’s mattress.

“I doubt she’d see it as an inconvenience,” Peter answered.

Stiles sighed, knowing that Peter had a point. “I fully intend on Derek coming to his senses and to come groveling,” he offered.

Peter snorted in amusement. “That sounds accurate.” He turned his head to look at James when he heard him coming out of the bathroom.

James changed into his pajamas, exhausted even before they had left the house, a duffle bag packed up and ready to go. He was a little surprised when Peter had picked them up at the end of the road, only offering Peter a faint smile that didn’t completely reach his eyes. He paused when he saw that Stiles was making the bed that pulled out of the sofa. His eyebrows furrowed, knowing that it was Peter’s bed.

“Ready for bed, buddy?” Stiles asked as he turned to look at James.

“Uncle Peter,” James softly spoke as he rubbed at his tired eyes. “Where are you going to sleep?”

Peter placed a fond hand on James’ head, ruffling his curls some. “Tonight is a paperwork night,” he explained.

“You should sleep some,” Stiles offered in return, turning to look at the bed. He could sleep in between James and Peter, even knowing that it would be a tight fit.

“I have paperwork to finish,” Peter answered, not offering any more detail. “Besides, I’d like not to be shoved off the bed in the middle of the night.”

James moved to crawl into the bed, burrowing his way underneath the blanket and sheet. He cuddled up against the pillow, closing his eyes as he immediately started to drift. “Goodnight,” he called to Peter.

“Goodnight,” Peter answered, moving to close the door behind him.

Stiles turned the light off, making sure the bathroom light was enough to illuminate his way through the office. He slipped into the bed beside James, turning to look at his son. He faintly smiled when he realized that James was already asleep.

Sleep felt far away, like an abstract concept Stiles wasn’t sure he was going to ever get the hang of. So he wasn’t startled when he woke after what felt like only a few minutes.

It was the middle of the night, a terrifying time to discover that James was gone. He kept his panic down, turning his attention towards the open office door. He rose from the bed, quickly making his way over to the door. He wasn’t entirely surprised to find James sitting on the steps right outside the office door.

James was sitting on the steps, his knees drawn up to his chest as his eyes followed the movement of the dancer on the stage. He watched as the dancer moved without music, practicing and creating a dance up from nothing but memory and feeling. He remembered watching Stiles act in such a manner when he was working hard on a new dance.

Stiles took a seat beside James, looking at where James’ attention was. A sad smile pulled at his lips when he noticed that it was Peter dancing.

Peter rarely danced. It was something he used to take pride and joy in, something that had nothing to do with his name or his family. Dancing was his own form of expression, as well as a way to cope with his frustrations. He could dance out a complicated series of steps, and it helped to clear his mind of all the worries that refused to leave him. He never danced with an audience, enjoying the isolation from watchful eyes.

Peter hated dancing when he was younger—Talia was always better at it than he was. He saw her as a sparkling example of proper and perfect when it came to the precisely executed steps. But he knew his passion was greater than hers when it came to dancing.

It wasn’t until Talia stopped being his partner, outgrowing their once common interest, that Peter found how expressive he could be. He loved dance. He loved it so much that Scarlet blamed that love for changing Peter—she blamed a lot of things after Peter came out.

But it hadn’t mattered at the time. Peter had dancing. He had his sister, his nieces and nephew. But most importantly, he had Chris.

All until it broke, and then he had nothing—not even dancing.

“Uncle Peter’s really good,” James softly commented.

“He is,” Stiles answered.

“Why doesn’t he dance anymore?” James asked.

“Some people just stop,” Stiles replied. “Sometimes, even if you love something, it can still make you sad.”

James frowned. “Like people.”

Stiles looked at James. He knew James was talking about Derek. “I miss him, too,” he offered.

“But is he going to miss us?” James asked, looking at Stiles.

“I know he does,” Stiles replied, conscience of the text messages on his phone, the need in Derek’s words, despite how critical he was of himself. “I’m going to talk with him about it.”

James nodded, leaning against Stiles’ side as he continued to watch Peter dance.

~*~

“Don’t make me kick my own family out,” Peter stated as continued to clean the glass in his hand, observing Derek from his place behind the bar.

Derek looked at Peter, knowing that his uncle knew more than the others likely did. “He said I could come see him.”

Peter didn’t look surprised by that. “If you were kind, you would have told him not to invite you here.”

Derek moved closer to the bar. “You know I don’t look down on this place.”

“I know that, and you know that. Stiles, on the other hand, looks down on himself for dancing here,” Peter replied.

“He doesn’t look down on Isaac or Erica,” Derek countered.

“Stiles is filled with self-loathing,” Peter answered, moving out of the way for another bartender to grab a bottle. “But things are what they are. At least you asked to talk to him when James isn’t around.”

Before Derek could answer, he caught sight of Stiles in his peripheral.

Stiles slipped out of the door that lead backstage to the dancers’ dressing rooms. He had quickly borrowed Erica’s silk robe—it may had barely covered him, but it covered more than the lingerie he had on did. He didn’t have time to change clothes, not if he wanted to speak with Derek. He offered a faint smile to Boyd as he slipped by him.

“I thought I bought that for my wife,” Boyd faintly mused.

“Your wife is a saint who lets me borrow things,” Stiles answered, his nervousness fading some when he heard Boyd’s snort of amusement. He almost faltered when he saw Derek, offering a faint smile as he moved to stand beside him. “Hi,” he greeted Derek.

“Hi,” Derek answered. He itched to hug Stiles, to have the intimacy he lost back once more.

Stiles turned his head to look around, trying to spot a place quiet enough to talk.

“The office is unoccupied,” Peter’s voice offered.

Stiles looked at Peter, noticing that he didn’t bother looking up from the bar as he finished making a round of cocktails. He looked at Derek, noticing the lack of hesitation at accepting the offer. He took Derek’s hand in his own, taking it upon himself to escort Derek towards Peter’s office behind the stage. He ignored the looks of the other patrons, staring after them as if they knew what was going to happen—as if they knew Stiles was about to let Derek do whatever he wanted to him, for the right price.

Stiles was glad that Derek’s presence was a sure weight against him. He didn’t want to feel the sting of rejection because of Derek pulling away again. He faintly smiled at Derek as he closed the door behind them, both of them secured away in Peter’s office. He idly played with the sash of Erica’s robe, curious if he should have taken the time to dress himself properly, despite the fact that he was to be on stage soon.

“We could have met elsewhere, if you would be more comfortable with that,” Derek offered, catching sight of Stiles’ hesitation.

“It’s not that,” Stiles replied, turning to look at him. “I just feel vulnerable, I guess. More accurately, you make me feel vulnerable.”

Derek’s eyebrows furrowed, replying, “I understand what you mean, strangely enough.”

“Derek,” Stiles sighed, turning to lean his back against the office door. “I want to know that we can make this work.”

Derek nodded in understanding, wishing he earned the right to reassure Stiles that he was working towards that.

“I just don’t know how to go about it,” Stiles explained. “Nothing we do is conventional, and there is no conventional way to deal with all this.” He ran a hand through his hair.

“We could just steamroll over it all,” Derek deadpanned. He couldn’t help the small smile that pulled at the corner of his lips when Stiles heartily laughed.

“That is more our pace,” Stiles answered.

Derek carefully watched Stiles, running an unsure hand through his own hair, a mimicking gesture of the one Stiles did moments ago. “I’m seeing a therapist,” he uttered, wanting to get it out in the open. He nodded when Stiles looked up at him in surprise. “I haven’t talked about … her, but I’m trying to work my way up to it.” He looked down at his feet, sarcastically adding, “There’s a lot more baggage than just that, believe it or not.”

“But you went to someone,” Stiles countered. “You’re trying to get better.”

“I’ve been getting better,” Derek corrected Stiles, looking at him. “I want to be part of yours and James’ lives again. I miss being part of that.”

Stiles faintly smiled—a sad one that he knew showed just how miserable he had been feeling lately. “I miss that, too,” he admitted.

“I’m not telling you that you have to forgive me because I’m making progress,” Derek started. “I’m not saying you have to forgive me at all—I was pretty awful.”

“You weren’t that awful,” Stiles softly uttered.

“I miss you,” Derek abruptly admitted. “I miss waking up and seeing you next to me. I miss having meals with you and James.”

Stiles took a step towards Derek, reaching out for his hand. “I miss you, too.”

Derek stared down at their hands, wishing that this wasn’t so formal—that they were still where they were before.

“James has another game coming up—a final little farewell scrimmage,” Stiles started. “Why don’t you come to that? James might pretend that he doesn’t want you there, but he’ll be really happy that you showed up.”

Derek drew in a steady breath, nodding his head in agreement.

~*~

James frowned as he looked up at Derek. He wasn’t sure how to react. “Why are you here?” He finally asked.

Derek briefly looked at Stiles before looking at James. “Your dad invited me.”

James looked at Stiles, a silent gesture that asked if what Derek said was true.

Stiles nodded.

James looked back at Derek, his lips pursed in a quizzical manner. “You remembered, huh?”

“Yeah, I remembered this time,” Derek answered, knowing he had a lot to make up for.

James looked down at his shoes, contemplating what to say next. “If dad said it was okay, then I guess it’s okay.”

“Thank you,” Derek replied to both Stilinskis.

Stiles waited until James ran over to the team and they were both sitting on the bleachers before he turned to look at Derek. “That went better than it could have.”

“He’s pretty intimidating,” Derek replied.

“Because he cares about you,” Stiles answered. “He could have just ignored you—and trust me when I say that’s worse.” He turned to look at the field as the teams spread out.

“Thank you,” Derek uttered.

Stiles looked at Derek, catching the way Derek was watching him. “For what?” He shyly asked.

“For giving me a second chance,” Derek softly stated.

Stiles gently placed his hand over Derek’s, quickly leaning in close to press a kiss to Derek’s cheek. “It’s the least you deserve, Derek.”

“It’s better—”

“Don’t,” Stiles firmly countered. “You know the doctor said not to do that.”

Derek sighed, knowing he couldn’t argue with Stiles on that—not when Stiles knew everything that was happening. He didn’t tell Stiles everything he had talked about with his therapist, but Stiles knew the extent of it. He couldn’t stop himself from telling Stiles, finding himself looking forward to the next phone conversation they’d have, where he could tell Stiles his progress.

“Let’s just … pretend we’re both going to enjoy a game where nobody on the team understands the rules but are too adorable to correct,” Stiles faintly smiled when Derek released a small huff of laughter.

Derek allowed Stiles to keep holding his hand throughout the game, finding it to be a comforting weight. He didn’t care if people looked and talked, feeling comforted for the first time weeks.

~*~

James continued to be cautious, constantly showing his desire to get closer to Derek, wanting to go back to the way things were. He scuffed his feet against the dirt, waiting for his father and Derek to finish talking with Coach. He looked over at the other kids, seeing them talking excitedly with their parents. He saw Bobby holding onto his mother’s hand. He scowled at Bobby when he stuck his tongue out at him.

“Ready to go, kiddo?” Stiles asked as he folded the paper Coach had handed him with the upcoming schedule for next season’s sports.

James turned to look at Stiles, his gaze looking at Derek. He caught the way Derek held back from both Stiles and him. He looked at Stiles. “Can we go to the diner?” He asked, adjusting his baseball cap.

Stiles smiled at James. “Sure, we can manage that, I think.”

James nodded, walking over to Derek. He easily slipped his hand into Derek’s, pulling the older man after him. He stopped and looked at Stiles, catching the surprised look on both adults’ faces. He held his hand out to his father, waiting for him to move from his spot.

Stiles smiled, his eyes looking up at Derek as he moved to take James’ hand. He blinked away his tears when he saw just how vulnerable and open Derek’s features were as he stared down at James.

Stiles waited until James was flipping through the jukebox before he addressed what happened. He was aware of just how quiet Derek was throughout their meal, mostly keeping his thoughts to himself. He reached across the table, his hand moving to cover Derek’s. He offered a smile when Derek looked up at him.

“I told you it’d be okay,” Stiles offered.

Derek looked down at their hands. His frown deepened. “It feels too easy.”

“You’re too hard on yourself,” Stiles softly reprimanded. “He’s not leaping at moving back into the house. But he wants you around—trust me, I know.”

“Does he know what happened?” Derek asked.

Stiles looked at Derek. “I explained it to him as best I can,” he offered. “He knows you’re upset about what happened—that someone passed away. But that’s the extent of what he knows.”

James was suddenly by the booth, reaching his hand for his drink. He took a sip of it, looking at Derek before turning to his father. “Are you not fighting anymore?” He calmly asked.

Stiles absently blinked at James. “What?”

“I know that you and Derek weren’t getting along, dad,” James sighed. “You don’t have to hide that from me. And I know you sleep in bed together.”

Stiles closed his eyes in minor embarrassment, wishing he couldn’t hear the clatter of a few eating utensils being dropped in response.

“But Mrs. Kay’s couch is small, and I miss my bed,” James argued. “And …” he sighed, turning to look at Derek. “And I do miss you.”

Derek was more surprised than anything else by James’ maturity. “I miss you, too,” he freely admitted.

James nodded. “But you have to promise not to make dad cry again,” he firmly demanded. His eyebrows were deeply furrowed, conveying just how serious he was.

Derek looked at Stiles, carefully watching him before turning his attention back to James. “I never meant to hurt your dad—or you. And I’ve been working hard to keep from ever making a mistake like this again.” He hesitated, his gaze flickering over to Stiles, knowing that was he was about to admit was going to change everything. “I love you both, very much. You’re what’s most important to me.”

James smiled, climbing into the seat of the booth with Derek, hugging him tightly.

Stiles drew in a shaky breath, tears prickling his eyes as he watched James and Derek.

Derek hugged James back, looking over his shoulder to see Stiles watching them.

Stiles smiled at Derek, unafraid of the joy bubbling up in his chest. He effortlessly mouthed, “I love you, too,” releasing a soft laugh when Derek smiled back at him.

~*~

“Derek, that’s not a full meal,” Stiles commented as he watched Derek hesitate in saying he was finished.

“Just because I’m a doctor doesn’t mean I know how to grocery shop,” Derek countered as he turned to look at the fresh produce.

“Dad always checks the ingredients,” James tiredly sighed. “It’s no fun.”

“Hey,” Stiles partially snapped as he quickly put a bundle of bananas in the cart. “I don’t check it on everything.”

“You checked the last four boxes,” Derek corrected him.

“Can we get Oreos?” James suddenly asked, turning to look at Stiles. “We never get them, and the last time Derek got them, you ate them all,” he accused Stiles as he pouted.

“Wow, way to guilt your father,” Stiles stated, turning his head to see the aisle that had cookies. “Come on,” he overly sighed in exasperation as he turned the cart towards the aisle.

James excitedly jumped before moving passed Stiles and towards the aisle.

“You caved,” Derek stated as he followed Stiles.

“Shut up,” Stiles fondly answered as he followed James. He kept his eye on James as he picked out which Oreos he wanted. He was watching Derek for a sign that he was doing better. Every time they passed a child, Derek’s entire aura was off, as if his was stuck in an endless guilt session. He suddenly noticed that Derek was staring down the aisle as if he saw a ghost. “Are you doing okay?”

“We should go,” Derek suddenly stated. “Or I should.”

“Derek, what’s wrong?” Stiles asked in concern, moving to grab Derek’s arm when he didn’t answer him. “You look like you’re going to pass out.”

“Isabelle’s parents,” Derek finally forced himself to say.

Stiles looked up to see a middle-aged couple at the other end of the aisle. He noticed that they were arguing in hushed tones—it seemed that, whatever it was about, nothing good would come from it. “James, hurry up, buddy,” he called, tightening his hold on Derek, trying to ground him.

James grabbed a package of Oreos, quickly heading back over to the cart. “Ready,” he smiled as he moved towards the check-out lanes, completely unaware of what was happening.

“You can go get in the car if you want,” Stiles informed Derek, pulling James in close to stop him from touching any of the candy bars.

“Maybe I should,” Derek softly replied.

“I’ll go with Derek,” James stated with a smile as he looked up at Stiles.

“Leaving me with the hard work, huh?” Stiles countered.

“Come on,” James partially whined.

“It’s up to Derek, kiddo,” Stiles stated as he looked up at Derek.

Derek offered a small smile before looking down at James. “You should stay with your dad, but I could use the company—I don’t think I remember where I parked the car.”

“See, dad? Derek needs my help,” James stated as he widened his eyes, a small pout pulling at his lips.

“Ugh, not the puppy dog eyes! Okay, fine, go ahead,” Stiles answered as he ushered him towards Derek.

James took Derek’s hand, leading him out of the grocery store and towards the parking lot. He was humming a soft melody to himself as he scanned the different cars in search of theirs. “When we get home, can we watch the new Sailor Moon episode?”

“Did it come out this week?” Derek asked, as he checked the lot several times before crossing towards the parked cars, hand tightly holding onto James’.

“Yup,” James hummed. “Dad said I could watch them when I’m done with my summer reading, but I just finished it yesterday so I didn’t get to watch this episode.”

“I think it’s reasonable if we can get your dad to budge,” Derek replied.

“He’ll say yes to you,” James answered. “I can’t see above the other cars,” he stated, turning his head to look behind them, hoping to spot the car by chance. He paused when he saw the man from the cookie aisle watching them from near the grocery store entrance. “Derek,” he faintly said as he turned back around to look up at him. “That man from inside—he’s walking over here.”

Derek turned his head to see Isabelle’s father, Harry Davenport, moving towards them. He moved to pick up James, glad the boy didn’t protest about his ability to walk.

James knew something was wrong. Stiles would always pick him up if some stranger was following them or tried to talk to them. It was usually a man trying to speak to Stiles about possibly meeting, sometimes they would mention enjoying their previous time spent together. He remembered the last time: when the man crowded into Stiles’ space despite his protests, James actually kicked the man as hard as he could in his shin.

“Derek,” James worriedly started, turning to see that they were right by the car.

“Just get in the car, James,” Derek started as he set James back on the ground, fishing the car keys out of his pocket. “Mr. Davenport, you were informed that we were not to have contact until the investigation was complete,” he started, hitting the unlock button for the car. He turned to block the man from James’ sight, blindly reaching behind him to pull the door open when James didn’t make a move to get in the car.

“You expect us to be happy with an investigation?” The man’s voice was rough, slightly wavering as he drew closer to them.

“It’s protocol after a situation like this,” Derek tried to remain calm. He was about to open the car door when he felt James press into his side, his small hands gripping unrelenting handfuls of Derek’s jacket.

James didn’t want to get in the car without Derek. He pressed into Derek’s side, refusing to leave him outside with the strange man, despite how scared he felt.

“A situation?” Mr. Davenport snapped, his voice heavy. “Our little girl is dead, and you’re calling it a situation.”

Once again, Derek felt useless, not knowing how to handle anything. He moved his hand back to reassure James that he was safe, wishing that the boy would cover his ears. “Mr. Davenport—”

“We just want to know what you did. You said it was a basic operation.”

“It was, Mr. Davenport,” Derek desperately confessed. “If you just wait for the investigation to finish, all of this will be explained to you, in great detail.”

“I want to hear you admit it—to admit that you did wrong. That you killed our daughter.”

“Harry!” Mrs. Davenport voice broke through Derek’s distancing hearing.

“Lucy, he has to know,” Mr. Davenport argued, not taking his eyes off of Derek.

“Harry, he has his son with him,” Mrs. Davenport nearly hissed as she tried to pull her husband away from them. “I told you this isn’t the place.”

“Is there a problem?” Stiles’ voice firmly demanded, the sound of the cart rolling to a stop next to them.

But Mr. Davenport ignored Stiles, his grief forcing him to continually point his anger at Derek. “Why can’t you say anything?”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Derek started, his grip on James the only thing grounding him in the moment.

“Our loss?” Mr. Davenport incredulously snapped. “We didn’t lose her, you killed her. How would you feel if it was your son?”

“How dare you!” Stiles snapped, leaving the cart to shove himself between Derek and James, and the Davenports. “How dare you make assumptions about someone after such a travesty happened. You know nothing about Dr. Hale or what he’s been through the past few days. I understand that your grief as parents is devastating, but publicly attacking him like this is disgraceful. And the child you frightened to tears, by the way, is my son. And even if he was Derek’s son, that would make what you’ve done here even worse.”

“Stiles, stop,” Derek started, reaching a hand out to grab Stiles’ hand.

Stiles turned to look at Derek, ready to argue.

“Get James in the car,” Derek finally uttered, knowing that it was the only way to steer Stiles away from the argument.

“Dad,” James cried, turning his head to look at Stiles, still refusing to loosen his grip on Derek. His cheeks were tear stained, fresh tears burning his eyes.

Stiles moved behind Derek to open the car door, ushering James to get inside. “Come on, buddy, we’re going home.”

James reluctantly released his hold on Derek to hurry getting up into the car.

Stiles had never been so grateful that James could buckle himself in the booster seat. He closed the door behind James, making a small barrier to shield him from anything else that was going to be said. He moved to stand beside Derek, taking his hand in an attempt to get him moving towards the car.

Derek hesitated, not wanting to leave the Davenports on such a harsh note. He recalled the evenings he spent talking with them and Isabelle before the surgery. He remembered laughing and sharing heartfelt conversations. He suddenly understood why surgeons often distanced themselves from their patients—preparation for moments like these.

“I’m sorry,” Derek uttered once more, not knowing what to say—how to apologize for not saving their child. “A second doesn’t go by that I don’t think about her. What happened … what happened to Isabelle—”

Stiles caught Derek when Mr. Davenport’s punch caught him off guard. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” He yelled, ready to fight back if need be.

“Don’t speak her name,” Mr. Davenport seethed through his tears as Mrs. Davenport held him back.

“Beacon Hills Sheriff Department, nobody move,” a familiar, authoritative voice ordered as a pair of firm footsteps halted by them.

Chapter Text

Stiles picked at his fingernail as he nervously watched Derek standing by the Beacon Hills Sheriff Department vehicle. He bit the inside of his lip as he remained leaning against Derek’s car with James by his side.

“Dad,” James calmly called his name, looking up at him.

“Huh?” Stiles looked down at James.

“You’re going to hurt yourself,” James offered, gesturing towards Stiles’ hand.

Stiles looked down at his hand, seeing that he ripped off a part of his nail, almost too much of it. He was glad that he didn’t make himself bleed.

“Derek didn’t do anything wrong,” James offered. “That mean man hit him for no reason.”

Stiles frowned, looping his arm around James’ shoulders as he pulled him flush against his side. “He still has to give a statement, explaining his side of the story.”

James sighed, leaning into Stiles.

About half an hour passed before Derek was finally allowed to go, but it had been long enough for James to fall asleep in Stiles’ arms.

Derek looked exhausted, an air of worry covering his features when he saw Stiles staring passed him. “I told him not to say anything,” he offered when he was close enough to Stiles.

“That’s okay,” Stiles replied, shuffling James’ weight in his arms some.

Derek easily took James from Stiles’ arms, making sure to be careful enough not to wake him.

“Just give me a minute?” Stiles softly asked, his hand lingering on James’ back in a comforting manner as he watched Derek settle James against his shoulder.

“Take your time,” Derek replied, wrapping his arm around James.

Stiles faintly smiled, quickly leaning in to press a kiss to Derek’s lips. It was a silent thank you for everything. He calmly walked over to the Sheriff Department’s vehicle, taking a deep breath as he calmed his nerves. He paused by the driver’s door, waiting for his presence to be acknowledged.

“I have to say, it’s been a while,” the familiar voice commented as a pair of foot steps drew closer.

“I try not to get in trouble anymore,” Stiles offered as he looked up.

Parrish smiled, hesitating as he opened his arms in what would have normally been a welcomed gesture. He wasn’t sure if Stiles still felt the same way about the Sheriff’s Department as a whole.

Stiles faintly returned Parrish’s smile, moving to hug the older man.

“How are you?” Parrish asked.

“Okay,” Stiles reluctantly answered before pulling back.

“I didn’t realize you were dating a Hale,” Parrish replied.

“Derek’s not as ostentatious as his family members,” Stiles answered.

Parrish smiled at that. “As long as you’re happy, that’s what counts, right?”

Stiles nodded, his gaze turning downcast. “You’re not going to tell him, are you?”

Parrish released a built up sigh, shuffling his weight some. “You know I have to write a report for this,” he offered. “From what I gathered, the Davenports weren’t supposed to have any type of contact with Derek before the trial happened. But not only did Mr. Davenport start an argument with Derek, he hit him. Even though Derek doesn’t want to press charges, I have to write the report for legality. And if I lie—”

“I know,” Stiles quickly stated. “I just,” he sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I guess I’m just asking that you don’t radio him right now. I think we’ve had enough drama for one day.”

A sadness overtook Parrish’s features. “He has your name flagged,” he explained.

Stiles’ eyebrows furrowed, and angry expression pulling at his features.

“Not in a bad way, Stiles,” Parrish quickly corrected Stiles’ thoughts. “He just wants to make sure you’re okay and that nothing bad has happened. It’s been longer than usual that he’s gone without hearing from you.”

Stiles sighed, not knowing how to explain what happened.

“He just wants to make sure you and James are okay,” Parrish explained.

Stiles looked at Parrish in slight confusion. “How do you know my son’s name?”

“Besides the fact that Derek had to tell me his name?” Parrish started as he crossed his arms over his chest. “Your dad talks about you both.”

Guilt tightened in Stiles’ chest. “It’s been … tough,” he offered.

“It’s been tough on him, too,” Parrish replied. “You know your father loves you. Right?”

Stiles drew in a deep sigh, turning to look at Derek depositing James into the back seat of the car. “Yeah, I know,” he uttered.

~*~

Stiles was nervous, realizing that this was the first time his dancing might actually be booed at Little Red’s. He didn’t know if people were going to react kindly to the interpretive freeform he had prepared, even knowing that in the end, he was going to be as naked as always.

Stiles was sitting in front of his vanity mirror, looking at the makeup he had applied. He playfully brushed the foundation brush against his nose, pursing his lips as he blew out a sigh against the soft bristles. He was bored—more importantly, he was tired of worrying about work like it actually mattered how he was portrayed. He dropped the brush, knowing that he was bound to come to this conclusion sooner or later.

Stiles looked in the mirror, catching sight of Boyd entering into the dressing rooms. He faintly smiled when he saw that Boyd was holding a bouquet of flowers.

“You’re sweet,” Stiles stated, turning his attention down to his vanity’s tabletop. “Erica’s going to shriek.”

“Yeah,” Boyd replied. “She’s going to be pissed that I didn’t get her flowers,” he stated as he placed the flowers on Stiles’ vanity.

Stiles looked down at the flowers, looking up in the mirror to look at Boyd.

Boyd put his hands in the air. “They’re not from me,” he stated. “Derek would be jealous if I got you flowers.”

Stiles looked down at the flowers again—they were his favorite, Karl Rosenfield peonies. More importantly, they were his mom’s favorite. He picked the card up, flipping it open to see Derek’s artful penmanship scrawled across the small paper.

Stiles,

You’re going to be wonderful tonight—your hard work will be admired. I thought you might like a floral accompaniment for tonight. James was kind enough to help me pick them out.

You’re going to be great. I’ll see you after the show.

Yours,

Derek

Stiles smiled down at the card, his thumb brushing against Derek’s name.

“He wanted to come back and give them to you,” Boyd explained. “But Peter said he wasn’t allowed to. Something about him distracting you.”

Stiles laughed a little, picturing other patrons gawking at Derek like he was crazy for bringing flowers into a strip club. “Thank you, Boyd.”

Boyd offered a small shrug, smiling to himself.

~*~

Stiles felt a lightness in his heart once he walked off the stage. He couldn’t help but feel relieved that he had managed to execute a near perfect dance, paying no mind to the crowd as he let himself dance.

Stiles was headed to the bar to see Peter, hoping that he knew where Derek would be. He caught sight of a redhead sitting at the end of the bar.

She looked out of place in Little Red’s. She was beautiful, an air of confidence around her as she ignored who was likely not the first person to try and hit on her. Her strawberry blonde hair was thrown over one shoulder as she absently stirred her drink with her other hand. Her stiletto heels were hooked on the bars of her stool as she turned her attention towards Peter, as if she was waiting for him to come over and speak with her.

“Apple of my eye,” Peter charmingly greeted the redhead as he finally walked over to her part of the bar.

The woman snorted at the greeting. “Serpent of the garden,” she coolly answered.

Peter smirked as he over the bar, pressing a welcoming kiss to the woman’s cheek as she turned her head expectantly. “Thank you for coming, Lydia.”

Lydia shrugged her shoulders, a smile pulling at her lips as she stopped stirring her drink. “You’re my favorite client,” she replied.

“Because of the uphill battle I present?” Peter asked.

“Because you’re not afraid to make a splash,” Lydia corrected, bending down to pull a folder out of her purse. She slid the closed folder across the bartop and into Peter’s hands. “As always, it took a little digging,” she stated, taking a sip of her drink as she allowed Peter to open the folder and inspect its contents.

Peter stared down at the file. “You’re … you’re joking,” he barely uttered.

“Nope,” Lydia stated, smirking at Peter when he looked up at her. She ate her olive with poignant emphasis that she had the metaphorical fangs to deliver such a tableturner.

“I don’t have to sell,” Peter stated as he looked down at the folder once more.

“I have to warn you,” Lydia started, placing her hand on Peter’s. “It does come with a hefty price.”

Peter sighed, looking up at Lydia. “And who do I have to make a deal with now?”

“No one,” Lydia replied. “You just need to know that Chris was the one that filed the request and got it pushed through before his father and your mother found out.”

Peter’s nose scrunched up, a look of uneasiness covering his features. “That’s unfortunate.”

“I think it was his part in apologizing,” Lydia offered. “But don’t think for one second you have to forgive him.”

“Once a cheater always a cheater?” Peter questioned Lydia’s advice.

Lydia shrugged. “That’s up for debate,” she commented. “You should probably talk to Allison about all this.”

“And why would I do that?” Peter asked as he looked up at Lydia, arching his eyebrow.

“Because she’s an Argent that doesn’t hate you,” Lydia replied.

“Yeah, I’m not jumping in line to try and win favor with Argents,” Peter answered as he closed the folder.

“She’s a dear friend, Peter,” Lydia replied, leaning on the bar in order to be heard over the loud music. “And there might be some things you should take into consideration before shoving it all away.”

Peter furrowed his eyebrows at her, narrowing his eyes as he tried to decipher her meaning. “You’re a great lawyer, but a crappy motivational coach.”

“Lydia Martin,” Stiles abruptly stated once he realized exactly who the redhead was.

Lydia turned her head to look at Stiles. She carefully observed him before realization flipped her features like a switch. “Stiles Stilinski,” she stated with a smile, turning on her stool to face him.

Stiles accepted her gesture of open arms, moving in to hug her.

“Allison had mentioned that you knew Peter,” Lydia commented as she leaned back from their hug.

“Peter failed to mention that his terrifying lawyer was the one and only Lydia Martin,” Stiles replied.

“He does that,” Lydia replied, looking at Peter. “He likes to pretend he doesn’t really have a lawyer, only to watch people shake with terror when they realize it’s me.”

Peter shrugged, knowing that he couldn’t argue against that. He turned to look at Stiles. “You, by the way, were fantastic,” he stated as he poured Stiles a drink.

Stiles smiled, accepting the drink. “To revamping Little Red’s image,” he toasted.

Peter raised a glass, clinking it against Stiles’ glass.

Lydia offered up her martini glass, gently tapping it against theirs. “And to the historically protected Little Red’s.”

Stiles still drank to the toast, despite arching his eyebrow in question to Peter.

Peter offered a faint shrug. “Don’t worry about it, I’ll explain it all in due time.”

Stiles arched his eyebrow at Peter in question.

“It will be hitting the paper tomorrow, anyways,” Lydia stated as she

“Besides, I believe you have someone waiting for you,” Peter replied, gesturing towards the other end of the bar.

Stiles turned his head to look down the bar, smiling when he saw Derek. He placed his glass down on the bartop, turning to excuse himself.

Lydia smiled as she shooed him away. “He’s been waiting for you.”

Stiles released a soft laugh, offering a faint wave to them both before turning to meet Derek. He immediately hugged Derek the moment he was close enough, wrapping his arms around Derek’s neck.

“You were amazing,” Derek spoke into Stiles’ ear, making sure he could hear him over the loud music of the club. He held Stiles close, aware of the looks they were getting from the others around them. He didn’t care—as long as he had Stiles, he cared about very little.

“Thank you for the flowers,” Stiles answered, pulling back from Derek to look at him. “They’re beautiful,” he smiled, pressing a kiss to Derek’s lips.

“I had help,” Derek answered. “James wanted to see your ‘recital’.”

Stiles couldn’t help the laugh that snuck up. “Did he call it that?”

“Yeah,” Derek answered. “I had to convince him that Allison and Emily needed to hang out with him before I could slip out the house.”

Stiles laughed louder, shaking his head. “Now you know what it’s like to be a parent.”

“I’m getting a hang of it,” Derek answered.

Stiles couldn’t help but kiss Derek again.

~*~

“Dad!” James yelled when Stiles walked through the door. He ran from the living room, practically barreling into Stiles as he hugged him. “Did you like the flowers?” He excitedly asked, looking up at Stiles.

“I did,” Stiles answered as he wrapped an arm around James, displaying the bouquet in his other hand. “That was very thoughtful of you.”

“It was Derek’s idea,” James replied. “I picked them out, though. So that counts, right?”

Stiles laughed. “Yeah, it does, buddy.”

“Oh! Allison and Emily are here,” James told Stiles, quickly releasing him to run back to the living room. He halted, running back to Derek, grabbing his hand to pull the older man with him. “You have to help us with a puzzle, Derek.”

“Oh?” Derek lightly questioned, allowing James to pull on him as he looked back at Stiles, arching an eyebrows in question.

Stiles unhelpfully shrugged.

Allison smiled as she passed Derek and James, walking towards Stiles. She ended up following Stiles into the kitchen. “So, I’m guessing everything went well?”

Stiles looked at Allison as he worked on unwrapping the bouquet. “Yeah, great even. I didn’t expect such a positive response.”

Allison nodded as she moved to sit at the island. “I heard Lydia was going to be there tonight.”

Stiles paused his movements, looking at Allison. “I didn’t know you knew Lydia all that well.”

Allison shrugged. “An old friend. But my dad told me, actually.”

Stiles turned away from the bouquet, looking at Allison. “Okay,” he uttered, crossing his arms over his chest. “Sounds like you want to talk about it?”

Allison spun the magazine around on the island’s tabletop, his fingertips playing with the pages. “I’ve got Emily for the week because of the drama,” she answered. “Political drama can never be too much at once, can it?”

“Is your family okay?” Stiles asked. He shook his head. “What I really mean, are you okay with your family?”

Allison looked at Stiles. “They kind of can’t let things go, you know?”

Stiles nodded. “I understand that all too well.”

Allison looked back down at the magazine. “My parents are officially divorced, believe it or not. It’s nothing shocking, given that they stopped living together years ago.”

Stiles’ features saddened. “I’m sorry, Allison.”

Allison shrugged. “I don’t miss the fights. But Lydia … she’s a great lawyer, given how young she is still. She represented my dad—which I think by now you know she also represents Peter.”

Stiles nodded.

“Anyways,” Allison sighed. “It’s just a lot happening.”

Stiles frowned. “Are you okay, Allison?”

Allison looked up at Stiles. She offered a small smile. “I’m … okay. And I think that’s what matters most.”

Stiles nodded.

“I’ve just gone through life thinking I was …” Allison paused, playing with her bracelets some as she thought of the correct words. “That I was some filthy reminder of what my parents did.”

Stiles pushed off of the counter, moving over to sit with Allison. “Nobody has ever thought that, Allison,” he offered.

“Did Derek tell you that Peter and my dad were married before he married my mom?” Allison asked, refusing to look at Stiles.

“I knew Peter and Chris were married at one point,” Stiles replied.

Allison nodded. “Like I’ve said before, I grew up thinking I was the constant reminder of my father being a cheater when I found out in high school.” She shook her head when Stiles touched her hand. “He still loves him. And I … I don’t blame him, you know? I just wish this wasn’t so complicated.”

Stiles released a soft sigh. “I don’t think love ever goes away,” he offered. “In some way Chris loved Peter, just like he loved your mom.”

Allison nodded. “It’s just hard to know that he keeps going back to Peter, after everything he’s put Peter through.”

Stiles put his arm around Allison, hugging her tightly. “Just think, we might end up being all connected to the Hale family more than we ever thought possible.”

Allison released a soft laugh.

~*~

“Chris and Victoria are divorced,” Stiles softly stated to the dark space of their bedroom.

“Allison told me,” Derek sleepily spoke into his pillow.

Stiles turned to look at Derek. “Do you really think Chris still even likes Peter?”

“Nobody likes Peter,” Derek answered, his body unmoving as he clung to his interrupted sleep. “They either love him or hate him, there is no middle ground.”

“Allison’s scared that her dad sees her as a mistake,” Stiles stated.

“In all fairness, Chris knew Victoria before he even started dating Peter,” Derek uttered. “Peter also cheated on Chris once,” he added. “They argued about being on a break of some sort. It just added to my grandmother’s reasoning that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry.”

Stiles sighed. “I never knew your family was this dramatic.”

Derek turned his head to look at Stiles, peering one eye open as he cocked an eyebrow. “You’re a stripper, and I asked you and your son to move in with me to help you. How are we not part of that drama?”

Stiles snorted in amusement. “You have a point.”

Derek faintly smiled as he pulled Stiles closer to him, his face moving to rest against Stiles’ shoulder opposed to his pillow. He closed his eyes, more than content to stay like this for hours—days, even.

Stiles placed a hand on Derek’s arm, his fingertips gently caressing Derek’s skin. “Promise me we’ll never be like that,” he softly whispered.

Derek lifted his head, looking at Stiles.

Stiles looked at Derek, knowing he had tears in his eyes. “I don’t ever want to get to the point where you’d stop loving me that one of us would …”

“I’d never cheat on you, Stiles,” Derek firmly stated, putting to rest all of Stiles’ doubts. “Besides me being a sacrificing idiot at times, and you being stubborn, I don’t think we’re ever going to hit a wall we can’t work a way around.” He shuffled his weight to lean against the bed, reaching a hand out to run his fingers through Stiles’ hair.

Stiles pressed a kiss to Derek’s lips.

~*~

Stiles was surprised when he walked into work to discover Peter hanging a framed letter behind the bar. He arched his eyebrow at Peter as he slipped onto the stool at the end of the bar, dropping his bag onto the ground as he leaned his head in his hand. “Did you finally lose it?” He questioned.

Peter half turned towards Stiles, his hands on his hips as he faintly smiled at Stiles. He turned back to look at the framed letter. “Little Red’s is officially a landmark,” he announced with admiration in his voice.

Stiles looked at the letter in slight confusion.

“With Lydia’s help, it’s official,” Peter explained. “Apparently, the original building was a speakeasy back in the day. I’ll admit—the whole reason I fell in love with the place was the history behind it.” He thought about the first time he brought Chris to the abandoned building, breathing life into his vision and dreams for the place. He remembered pulling Chris after him, both of them laughing as he painted a picture of the future. He shook his head, trying to forget such things. “But I never thought the town would go for a cabaret being protected for historical reasons.”

Stiles smiled. “You deserve it.”

Peter looked over his shoulder at Stiles. “Interesting. I was thinking the same,” he faintly smiled.

Stiles reached over the bar, standing on the stool’s stepping bar in order to touch his hand to Peter’s shoulder. “Congratulations, Peter,” he softly stated before stepping down from the stool and slipping away from the bar.

"Oh, Stiles," Peter started, turning to look at him. "Someone really loved your work the other night," he offered. "Someone that has a refined taste for the arts."

Stiles arched his eyebrow at Peter.

"A friend of mine owed me, so I asked him to come to the show. I left his card on your mirror," Peter answered. "Just don't forget about us when you're dancing across Swan Lake."

~*~

Stiles was focused on cutting up the vegetables, trying to keep his mind off of the events of the past week. He had started the letter to his dad so many times, each resulting in him throwing the half written letter away. He didn’t know what to say, and he sure as hell didn’t know how to address the years they’ve missed. The card that Peter had put on his mirror was also burning a hole in his dance bag, adding another stress to worry about dealing with.

Stiles slowed his movements when he heard music starting to play. A small smile pulled at his lips when the music started to grow louder. He noticed that it was probably coming from his iPod, the one Peter gave him when he started choreographing.

The song was one of the fun ones Stiles had added to his playlist to allow the dancers to dance freeform when warming up. He laughed when he realized it was Take On Me, a song he used to playfully dance around the apartment with James as a baby.

James danced his way into the kitchen, his beat completely off as he tried to make expressive moves that would make Stiles laugh.

“What are you doing, buddy?” Stiles asked as he placed the knife down on the counter, a small smile pulling at his lips.

“I’m dancing,” James replied with a smile. “You know what uncle Peter says,” he started, doing a small turn on the ball of his foot. “Sometimes, when you need to smile, you just dance away your frowns.”

Stiles released a small laugh, so thankful that he was blessed with such an amazing child.

“Come on, dad,” James laughed, grabbing for Stiles’ hand, pulling his father away from the counter to where there was enough room for both of them to dance in the kitchen.

Stiles couldn’t help but laugh as he danced with James, feeling a lightness for the first time in days. He spun around with James, both of them ignoring any attempts at finesse as they just had fun. He smiled when he saw Derek standing in the doorway watching them, catching the fond smile gracing Derek’s lips. He was fond of the idea that Derek had been standing there a long time, just watching them with admiration in his eyes.

“Come on, Derek,” James laughed as he kept dancing. His movements were erratic, to say the least. He spun around, almost losing his balance if not for Stiles.

The doorbell rang, the melodic tune ringing throughout the house.

Derek smiled as he replied, “Saved by the bell—literally.” He laughed when both Stiles and James groaned at him. He smiled to himself as he walked to the door, not bothering to turn the music down. He opened the door, surprised to find an older man standing with his back to the door, as if he was surveying the area around him. He recognized the logo of the Beacon Hills Sheriff Department on the back of the man’s jacket.

“Can I help you?” Derek politely asked, gaining the man’s attention for the first time.

The man turned around to look at Derek, taking a moment before removing his aviators.

“Sheriff,” Derek quickly greeted him, recognizing the man from years ago.

“Evening, Derek,” the Sheriff answered as he deposited the folded aviators into his jacket pocket.

Derek took a small step forward, keeping the door close to him.

The Sheriff noticed Derek’s reluctance to open the door wider. He chose not to comment on it. “We were filing the reports for the month, and needed to go over a few details about the incident,” he offered.

Derek nodded.

“Parrish wrote down that you didn’t want to press charges,” the Sheriff started. “Is that true?”

Derek nodded again.

“If you feel guilty or obligated in some way—”

“I don’t,” Derek firmly stated. “I … I know what it’s like to grieve, Sheriff.” He remembered how he still felt miserable whenever the anniversary of his father’s death rolled around—even after more than a decade of trying to heal himself. “Mr. Davenport was angry with me, and I understand that part of grief—believe me.”

The Sheriff nodded. “I take it that was the only transgression that has happened between the two of you?”

“Both Davenports aren’t to have any form of contact with me, and vice versa,” Derek explained. “They both know that, but … their emotions were running high, seeing me with fam—” He stopped himself before he uttered ‘family.’ He knew the Sheriff had Parrish’s report, and that it had both Stiles’ and James’ names detailed as witnesses to the incident. He wasn’t sure how to react to just how simple it had been for him to refer to Stiles and James as his family.

The Sheriff carefully eyed Derek, catching how Derek cut himself off. “Alright,” he stated. “I just wanted to make sure it was correct before filing the report.”

Derek faintly nodded. “I understand that.”

The Sheriff closed the notepad, easily slipping it back into the pocket of his shirt. He took a deep breath, adjusting his stance some as he made the decision to address the obvious awkwardness lingering in the air. “We both know there is another reason I came here today.”

Derek kept himself calm as he leaned against the door.

“I just want to know that my son and grandson are okay,” the Sheriff explained.

Derek remained silent, as he continued to look the Sheriff in the eyes. “I don’t think it’s in my place to tell you about them, sir.”

The Sheriff hesitated before nodding. “I’m not asking you to tell me where they are, just that … that they’re well. And safe.” A frown pulled at his features as he rubbed a hand at the back of his neck. “If you see Stiles again, tell him— tell him I love him.”

“Sure,” Derek weakly answered, forcing his eyes downcast for the first time. “I’m sure Stiles will appreciate that.”

“He might not,” the Sheriff stated in slight fondness at the thought of Stiles scoffing and rolling his eyes in response. “In any case,” he started, shifting into a professional stance once more. “I’ll make sure to sign off on the report before sending a copy to the hospital and lawyers.”

Derek nodded. “Thank you, Sheriff.”

The Sheriff offered a faint smile. “Have a good night, Derek.”

“You too, sir.” Derek took a step back into the house as he started to watch the Sheriff walking back down the walkway and towards his cruiser. He saw how the Sheriff looked around him, even catching the small smile on the older man’s face—as if he approved of the location. He nearly startled when he felt the door being pulled back from his tight hold by none other than Stiles.

Stiles was still hidden behind the door as he peered out to see his father. He had stopped dancing with James the moment he thought he heard his dad’s voice. He had held himself back from view as he listened to his father speak with Derek. Maybe it was a sign that a letter wasn’t meant to be.

“Dad!” Stiles’ voice was shaky as he called out to the Sheriff, taking a step onto the porch.

The Sheriff turned at the sound of Stiles’ voice.

Chapter Text

Talia ripped the paper off the notepad, crumbling up the scribbles she couldn’t make work. She tossed the balled up paper towards the trashcan, unable to care when it missed and landed on the floor. She tapped her pen against the paper, trying to think of what to say. She had started the letter more times than she could count, knowing she should have typed a draft first. She sighed as she fell back into her chair, her hand idly playing with the cap of her fountain pen. She turned her gaze towards the frames that lined her office walls.

Decorative frames housed Talia’s diplomas and certificates, the elegant scripture building the public persona Talia projected to the public. There were many pictures, but few of the fond and familiar ones. There was more than one photo taken at the various fundraisers throughout her political career, all with significant individuals who helped progress her political run.

There were only a handful of photos depicting the Hale family.

On the long decorative table by the entrance to her office there was a series of photographs that displayed the Hale family—but they weren’t family photographs.

There was Cora’s graduating senior photo, one that had been taken professionally on campus. Talia remembered how Cora protested, wishing to just make the boring scheduled photo like everyone else in her class. As always, Talia prevailed in getting her way. She remembered how none of the photos caught Cora’s smile just right, the smile forced and void of the playfulness Cora used to show.

Laura’s engagement photos were paired with her wedding photos in a bi-folded frame. In the engagement photo, Dale was sitting on the fence of a horse paddock with his arms wrapped around Laura’s shoulders, pressing a fond kiss to her temple. Laura’s smile was bright and loving, an expression of pure joy. In their wedding photo, Laura’s smile looked somewhat strained, affected by the events that unfolded that day.

Talia’s favorite photo was Derek’s.

It wasn’t an updated photo of Derek. It was difficult for her to get a photo of him, regardless of her attempts. Derek avoided cameras like they were a plague, particularly when it meant that Talia was going to be the one in possession of the photos. It was strange to know that Derek resented his photo being taken—as if it was a punishment—when he landed his first contract modeling while working through his graduate program.

The photo was a candid shot of Derek. It was taken towards the end of high school, when he started to fall out of his awkward phase and act as if he was too cool for his family. He was sitting on a rock in the Preserve, close to the campfire pit Peter had installed a near decade previously. His father’s arm was wrapped around Derek’s shoulders, pulling him to the side. Their fondness of the moment was caught in their matching smiles.

It was only a few weeks before the accident—the car accident that landed Derek in the hospital and Samuel in the ICU. Talia had barely been in the room with Samuel for less than an hour when he passed. Peter held her as she sobbed, hysterical with grief and the fear that she was going to lose her son now, too.

In the end, it was easier to push it away and hide it like Scarlett had taught her.

You’re a woman—you can handle pain better than men.

You show weakness in this moment, it will be what you’re remembered for.

Use your grief—your pain—to your advantage. Use it.

That was the beginning of the end. That was the moment Scarlett won.

Talia wondered how someone could argue against how telling it was to see her children miserable in the photos. She failed them.

~*~

Of all the things Peter expected to hear that night, it was not “Talia Hale is here to see you?” coming as a question from Isaac.

Peter stared at him, slowly leaning his way through the doorway to spot none other than his sister sitting prim and proper at the bar. He scrubbed at his eyes, convinced his insomnia was getting the better of him. But despite how much he tried to rub away the image of Talia sitting there, he couldn’t seem to make her vanish. “Huh,” was all Peter offered as an answer, decidedly making his way over to the bar.

“I’ll say, I never expected this,” Peter started as he moved behind the bar, coming to a resting spot across from Talia.

Talia turned in her stool, slipping her jacket off her shoulders as she observed the club surrounding her. “Can I get a drink?” She asked, looking back at Peter.

Peter carefully eyed Talia, as if there was a hidden catch to her question. “I suppose,” he answered, moving to grab a clean glass. “Is it still straight vodka, or have you started mixing it with anything?”

Talia eyed the bottle of vodka in Peter’s hand. “A Vesper would be nice,” she answered.

Peter smirked at the memory of Talia helping him study for his bartending license, both of them getting drunker than they should have as they taste-tested more than half of the drinks he now knew how to mix by heart. He easily started to mix the drink, his gaze looking over at Talia. “I know this isn’t a social visit, Talia,” he offered as he started to pour the drink into the martini glass. He peeled a spiral of orange, dropping it into the glass for garnish. He pushed the martini towards Talia, leaning against the bar as he looked up at his sister. “So, what’s eating you?”

Talia touched her fingertips to the glass’s stemmed foundation, pulling it towards herself. Her fingers twisted around the stem, lifting the glass to her lips as she took a large sip. She allowed a fond expression to pull at her lips, unsurprised that Peter’s bartending skills only improved with time and countless practice. “You think it’s not a social visit, yet you believe I came to complain,” she softly commented.

“You always come to me to complain,” Peter stated, his gaze still on Talia.

Talia briefly looked at Peter, looking away as she swallowed down the growing lump in her throat. “I do, don’t I?”

Peter remained silent as he watched his sister.

“I guess I wanted to hear the truth,” Talia finally confessed. “You’ve never been afraid to be truthful with me—even if it hurts.” She guiltily looked at Peter. “Everyone else it too scared to say it … Sam’s not here to say it.”

Peter’s features softened some as he looked down at the drink between them. “I’m tired, Talia,” he softly uttered, his voice almost lost under the music. “I’m just … tired. So what is this?”

Talia couldn’t look at Peter—it hurt too much. She reached an unsure hand out, her fingers trembling as she touched Peter’s arm. “Tell me— tell me the truth. Tell me that I’m a terrible person—that I’m the one that tore this family apart,” she nearly begged, daring to look up at Peter.

Peter’s expression offered nothing, his gaze closed off and calculating. It was the same expression he had often given Scarlett whenever they were forced to speak. “No,” Peter uttered.

Talia closed her eyes, mostly nodding to herself as she started to slip off the barstool.

“I won’t tell you that—because that’s what you want to hear,” Peter explained, holding onto Talia’s arm with a sure grip, knowing she could get out of it if she wanted. “You’re a terrible mother.” He plainly stated, catching the flinch in Talia’s expression. “You’re a worse sister.”

Talia’s fingers curled into a fist, her fingernails biting into her palm.

“You let our mother crucify me because it took her attentions away from you,” Peter continued. “You used your own son as a puppet in your political circus.”

Talia tried to pull away, only to have Peter pull her back. She asked for this, but she didn’t know it was going to hurt like it did.

“I don’t know why you did it—if you thought in some twisted way it would protect Derek from Scarlett, but good intentions don’t excuse actions, Talia,” Peter stated. “So what happened? You realized that you shoved your children away, so you thought you’d come down here and have me help you with your sobfest?”

“I don’t know,” Talia roughly uttered, wanting to pry her arm out of Peter’s grip.

“Who does?” Peter asked. “If you want to hear you’re a terrible person, go to one of your political opponents. I’m not going to tell you that.”

“That’s not how you feel?” Talia countered. “That I’m the reason for your misery?”

“I’m the reason for my own misery,” Peter nearly snapped. “You don’t get to add that to the pity you want people to show you. I was stubborn and thought my family would come around. I let my husband argue with me, to the point he cheated on me before divorcing.”

“He didn’t—” Talia cut herself off as she looked at Peter. “Who told you Chris cheated on you?”

Peter glared at Talia. “I’m not doing this, Talia. My life isn’t on display for you to play with.” He released his hold on Talia, taking a step back.

“Peter,” Talia started. “Who told you that?”

Peter’s features barely softened as he stared at his sister. He shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t you dare say it—after years of this.”

“I thought you knew,” Talia stated earnestly. “We never talked about it—”

“Talia—”

“Chris adopted Allison,” Talia firmly stated. She moved to follow Peter, cutting him off the moment he stepped out from behind the bar. She grabbed his arm, pulling him close, despite his weakened effort to get away from her. “I didn’t know— I thought he told you, that he didn’t just let you think …” She shook her head. “This is a mess. Like everything else.”

Peter turned to look at Talia. “Did Scarlett know?” He thought about the day he packaged everything up—the day the divorce papers finalized and he overheard about Chris’ intent to marry. He remembered how smug Scarlett had been about the whole thing—how she joyfully smiled at watching her son fail at the one thing she hated him for. He remembered her throwing it in his face—that Chris was going to have a normal family. He couldn’t even bring himself to counter such a claim—he couldn’t let her know that he and Chris spoke, so many times, about adopting.

Talia swallowed the lump in her throat. She knew Scarlett had known about Allison—that the Hale matriarch helped Victoria and Chris with the adoption papers to keep things quiet.

“Talia,” Peter’s voice softly begged, on the verge of breaking.

Talia closed her eyes and nodded.

“That hateful bitch,” Peter weakly uttered.

~*~

Chris touched his hand to his jaw, gently massaging the spot where Peter’s fist landed the punch. He turned to look at Peter, watching the way Peter nursed his hand. “I suppose that was called for.”

“It’s the least that is called for,” Peter angrily huffed at him. “You asshole.”

“That, too,” Chris accepted.

“You were never going to tell me, were you?” Peter demanded to know.

“I was letting things lay as they were,” Chris countered. “I wasn’t going to go crawling back to you, begging for forgiveness when I really don’t deserve it.”

“Oh, stop with the pity speech,” Peter scoffed. “I already had to deal with my sister’s, I don’t need to deal with another one.”

Chris pointedly crossed his arms over his chest. “Peter, what are you doing here?”

“Doing the one thing you seemed to be incapable of actually doing,” Peter snapped. He pushed his hand against the door, shoving it open and out of his way completely. He reached out, his hands moving to hold Chris’ face in his hands, steadily guiding their lips together in a hurried kiss.

Chris momentarily stiffened beneath Peter’s hands, his arms falling away from his chest. His hands hesitantly moved to touch Peter’s arms, a touch so gingerly that he almost didn’t know if he was losing his balance or not—if he could really use Peter to steady his swirling thoughts and swaying body.

“Peter,” Chris uttered his name in a near plea, a pale reminder that they weren’t what they used to be.

“Shut up, Christopher,” Peter uttered, pressing his forehead against Chris’ as he closed his eyes. “For once, shut up and let the both of us be happy.”

Chris allowed his hands to gently travel down from Peter’s arms, moving to rest on the top of Peter’s hips. He had forgotten how familiar Peter’s body was—how intimately they still knew each other despite it all. “I don’t deserve this.”

“Well I do,” Peter defiantly uttered as he pulled back to look at Chris’ face. His thumb brushed over the spot on Chris’ jaw that was likely to bruise a shade paler than his fist would. “I thought you would have realized by now that nobody gets to tell me who I love.”

Chris’ brow creased, a sign that he was about to argue against Peter’s confession. “Peter—”

“You’re still home to me,” Peter stated, forcing Chris to keep silent. He looked at Chris, instantly knowing Chris remembered their vows too. “And if you’re ready to come home, then so am I.”

Chris pulled Peter into a tight embrace, wrapping his arms around him. He pressed his face into the crook of Peter’s neck, closing his eyes as he just held on to the one thing that mattered—Peter.

~*~

Derek tried to focus on his work, going through the folders that had been left there since his absence. He took his time, knowing that the paperwork was going to take a chunk of his workday no matter how fast he read through it.

Derek wanted Stiles and James to feel unhindered with meeting up with the Sheriff. He was hoping that they’d spend some time together, overjoyed when Stiles informed him that he planned on meeting his dad at the diner the next day. He promised that he’d be distracted with paperwork, forcing himself to come into the hospital for the first time since the incident.

He reclined in his chair, taking in a deep breath as he tried to calm himself. He turned his head to look at his computer screen, a smile pulling at his lips as he looked at his computer’s desktop.

Derek’s computer’s background was a photo of Stiles and James, a photo Peter managed to take during James’ birthday. Derek felt a small sense of joy whenever he looked at the photograph, knowing that he had a family waiting for him at home. He couldn’t help the soft smile that always pulled at his lips when a patient’s parents would comment on the photo, telling him that he had a lovely family.

A soft knock on the door caught Derek’s attention. “Come in,” he called out as he looked down at the paperwork.

“Are you busy?”

Derek’s head jerked up to look at his mother standing in the doorway of his office. “What are you doing here?” He faintly asked.

Talia frowned as she shuffled the straps of her purse into the crook of her arm. “If you want me to leave, I’ll leave.”

Derek leaned back in his chair. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

Talia nodded. “I wanted to sit down and talk.”

Derek sighed, leaning forward against his desk as he placed the papers into their folder. “If you’ve come to chastise me about … anything, I don’t want to hear it.”

“I wanted to apologize,” Talia stated, frowning as she took a small step forward. “For everything.”

Derek looked down at his paperwork, rubbing a hand over his furrowed brow. “You’ve done this before, mom,” he faintly countered.

“I know,” Talia replied. “But this time, I’m saying my peace, and then leaving. I’m not going to push and pry anymore.”

Derek looked up at Talia.

“I wanted to let you know that Stiles is a wonderful person,” Talia started, looking down at her hands as she twisted her rings around her fingers. “And that you make a lovely couple. His son adores you, as most children do,” she commented, her soft smile evident in her tone. “No matter what apology I make will ever make up for what’s happened between us. I allowed my own selfish ambitions to cloud what mattered—and I wasn’t the mother you deserved.” Tears welled in her eyes as she shook her head. “Your father would be ashamed of me,” she faintly confessed.

Derek’s features twisted at the mention of his father.

“I am sorry, Derek,” Talia stated, knowing that it couldn’t fix anything. She drew in a heavy breath, turning to take her leave.

“I never thought you were a terrible mother,” Derek finally stated before Talia could open the door.

Talia turned to look at Derek, her body still angled towards the door.

“I thought you were punishing me,” Derek confessed as he looked at his mother. “For living when dad didn’t.”

Talia’s features grew wide with surprise at such an utterance. She hadn’t thought for the slightest moment how it must have looked from the other side of her grief. All she felt was the pain of realizing that she lost Samuel, and the dreaded hate she had for her own happiness in having Derek survive. It warped everything, twisting her bereavement into something worse—indifference. She thought it was easier to push everything away.

“I just thought biphobia was easier to accept than you hating me for being alive,” Derek weakly explained.

Talia placed a shaking hand over her mouth, the feel of bile rising as her stomach churned and soured. Peter had been wrong about her. She was far worse than a terrible mother—she was a monster. A sharp sob cracked through her chest as her shoulders shook. “I didn’t—” The words were too hard to speak as she cried instead.

“Mom,” Derek softly spoke as he stood, moving around his desk to get to her as he watched her sway.

Talia cried harder when Derek held onto her, turning to look at him. She shook her head. “How could I let you think that—”

“You didn’t know,” Derek rationalized.

“I should have known,” Talia argued through tears. “I’m your mother, I’m supposed to know these things— I’m supposed to protect you, even from myself.”

“I don’t blame you,” Derek stated with certainty.

~*~

Stiles watched James spinning on the stool at the counter, a small smile on his lips as James excitedly accepted the milkshake from Barbara.

“He looks so much like you did at that age,” John uttered.

Stiles looked at his dad, seeing the way John’s attention was focused on James. “I think it’s hard for me to see some times,” he answered. “How something that perfect could really be from me.”

“I understand the feeling,” John replied as he settled into his seat, looking to Stiles.

Stiles looked down at his mug of coffee, unsure what to say. He had run through this moment in his mind countless times. He never knew how to start. He was glad his dad agreed to meet in a neutral place. “I don’t know what to say,” he finally admitted.

“Neither do I,” John agreed. “Maybe an apology is the first step.”

Stiles looked up at his dad, almost taken aback by the suggestion. He was prepared to argue when his dad raised a hand.

“I meant from me,” John clarified.

Stiles closed his mouth, shaking his head. “No, dad, if anything it was both of us.”

“Communication is a two way street, Stiles,” John started.

“And I never really answered back,” Stiles argued as he spun the coffee mug in his hands.

“James did,” John replied.

Stiles looked up at John, a look of confusion on his face.

“James sent me a letter a while back,” John explained. “Told me you were both okay—mostly. He said that you were sad, and pretended not to be.”

Stiles blinked his tears away, turning to look out the window as he placed his chin in his hand. “I know he knew some stuff, but … I never thought he’d reach out to tell someone.”

“He loves you and cares about you,” John offered as he leaned back into the booth’s cushion.

“He’s the only thing that made my life bearable,” Stiles softly confessed. “For so long, he was all I had.” He small smile pulled at his lips as he turned to look at James. “And he could make the whole world seem brighter just because he thinks I’m his everything.”

John mirrored a similar smile as he watched Stiles watching James.

“He’s so smart, dad,” Stiles commented. “He’s smarter than the rest of his class—he’s smarter than me.”

“Every parent feels that their child is smarter than them,” John countered.

Stiles shook his head, tears prickling his eyes once more.

“Dad,” James excitedly exclaimed as he hopped off the stool and ran over to their booth. “Barbara said that they still have some pumpkin ice cream! Can I get some?”

Stiles smiled at James, catching the way James’ smile faltered some at seeing the barest presence of tears. “Well, if Barbara offered, I guess it has to be okay,” he quickly stated.

“Only because she’s your Batgirl,” James replied with a laugh as he ran back to the counter to tell Barbara the good news.

John looked after James, smiling when he saw the waitress playfully nodding to James’ instructions on how to serve the ice cream. “They really seem taken with him here.”

“He’s their regular,” Stiles replied. “I worked here for a while,” he offered in explanation when his dad looked back at him. “The hours were hell, but it was the only place I could manage to juggle with another job.”

John shook his head. “I drive by here so often,” he commented. “To think that I could have been driving by, just missing you both.”

A lump grew in Stiles’ throat as he steeled his nerves. His leg started to bounce as a panic rose in his stomach. “James knows that I used to dance—at the academy. He’s even seen me practice ballet,” he started, running a hand through his hair. “He and Mrs. Kay—the woman that used to babysit him … they both thought I taught ballroom dancing.” He looked at his dad, unsure what he expected to see. He hated how open and patient his father’s expression was, knowing that he was about to drop a bombshell on him.

Stiles looked down at his hands, anxiously picking at his fingernails as he ignored his long forgotten coffee. “If you look behind you, out the window, you’re going to see a club.” He gestured his head towards the window.

John turned in his seat, looking to see the building across the street. He saw the neon sign that was currently shut off, but recognized the logo and name. He turned his attention back to Stiles. His brow pinched with uncertainty about where Stiles was going with the conversation.

“Peter Hale owns it,” Stiles stated, knowing his dad knew.

“Some of the deputies frequent there,” John offered. “I hear it’s not a cesspool like some of the places.”

Stiles shook his head. “It’s a higher caliber, but it’s still a strip club.”

John leaned his forearms against the table.

“I was running out of money and time,” Stiles pressed on. “The hours and pay here weren’t enough for me to live on my own, let alone with a toddler. I must have walked passed that neon sign for weeks before the hunger pangs were enough of a reminder that I needed the money more than I needed my pride.” He shook his head, releasing a hollow laugh. “Peter gave me a job, and it helped—for a time.”

“Stiles,” John started, his voice calm but gentle as he reached a hand out to cover Stiles’ own.

“I should have come home,” Stiles weakly uttered, unable to look at his dad. “I knew you’d let me—I was scared of admitting that I was wrong, or that you’d still be mad.”

“Stiles, I don’t care what happened,” John pushed. “I care that I was the one that let this happen. I was the one that put you in this situation.”

“Dad,” Stiles started in protest, his voice cracking some. “Conversation is a two way street, you just said that. I could have come home.”

“I shouldn’t have put my son and grandson in the situation to ask for permission to come home,” John firmly stated.

Stiles reached out a hand to hold onto his dad’s trembling one. It somehow made every little concern plaguing Stiles’ mind suddenly seem insignificant. He had his family back.

~*~

“Are you excited for tonight?” James asked, hopping behind Stiles as he followed his dad through the kitchen.

“It’s an audition, James, not a show,” Stiles explained again.

“But still,” James countered. “It’s ballet.”

Stiles looked at James as he left the cabinet door hanging open. “I know that.”

“You’ve been practicing your ballet for so long,” James elaborated. “You’re going to be too good.”

“Being too good isn’t a problem,” Stiles replied, ruffling James’ curls some. “Being old is.”

“You’re not old,” Derek sounded from the house’s entrance.

“No one asked you,” Stiles answered.

“I’m older than you,” Derek replied as he walked over to the kitchen’s doorway. “If you’re old, that makes me old. So, you’re not old.”

Stiles snorted, turning back to the cabinet.

“And if dad’s old, that makes grandpa really old,” James supplied.

“Stop making everyone so old, Stiles,” Derek teased.

“Okay, stop ganging up on me,” Stiles countered as he turned to look at both Derek and James.

“You’re going to be great, dad,” James confidently stated, ducking in close to wrap his arms around Stiles’ waist.

Stiles wrapped his arms around James. “Thanks, buddy.” He looked up at Derek as James pulled back. “Are you both going to be okay for the night?”

“We’re going to watch Lego Batman,” James nonchalantly stated, as if he was a cool kid for staying up late enough for a movie night.

“Jealous,” Stiles countered. “How can you contain your joy?” He asked as he looked at Derek.

“I have to brush up for Halloween,” Derek commented with a shrug of his shoulders. “Apparently I make a good Batman.”

James nodded. “He makes a great Bruce Wayne, too.”

“It’s the curse he must bare,” Stiles sighed with a small chuckle, unable to hide his laughter. “No wonder he’s always busy.”

“Well, we’ll both be here when you get back,” James started as he spun around. “So we’ll want all the details.”

Stiles nodded in agreement.

Though, Stiles wasn’t shocked to find them snoozing on the couch, the television still streaming Netflix in the background. He smiled to himself as he walked over to the coffee table, picking up the remote. He turned off the television, looking over at the couch to see James curled up against Derek’s side.

James had practically curled his whole body around Derek’s arm, his head nuzzled into Derek’s shoulder as he slept tucked beneath Derek’s arm.

Stiles reached a hand out, touching Derek’s other arm in hopes of stirring him awake.

Derek woke some, opening his eyes to see who tried to wake him. He offered a faint smile, remaining still when he realized that the pins and needles he felt in his arm were from the weight of a sleeping James.

“Hey,” Stiles softly spoke, leaning in to press a kiss to Derek’s lips.

“Hi,” Derek tiredly mumbled.

“Long night, huh?” Stiles stated with a smile. He moved to the side, easily scooping James up into his arms.

James mumbled something about the Bat family as his limbs dangled through the air.

“Is he always boneless?” Derek softly questioned as he moved to stand, stretching his own limbs as the feeling started rushing back to his arm.

“When he’s out like a light, yeah,” Stiles answered as he started to carry James up the stairs.

Stiles managed to get James tucked away in bed, having changed James into his pajamas with little struggle. He pressed a kiss to James’ forehead, whispering his goodnight before slipping out of the room. He practically collapsed onto Derek when he got into the bedroom, wrapping his arms around Derek’s shoulders as he straddled him.

“Hi,” Derek softly stated in somewhat surprise.

“You’re too perfect,” Stiles mumbled against Derek’s shoulder.

Derek snorted. “Remember that when we have a fight,” he offered, his hands settling on Stiles’ hips.

“I mean it,” Stiles pressed, pulling back to look at Derek. “I just landed the role of a lifetime, and I didn’t have to worry for a second about James. I know I never have to worry again, and it’s all because of you.”

“You got the role?” Derek uttered in surprise.

Stiles didn’t realize he had let the news slip. “Yeah,” he nodded, his smile slowly growing. “Yeah, I got the role.”

Derek smiled at that. “James told you that you’d be fine.”

“Going in there,” Stiles started, closing his eyes as he took a deep breath. “I had been terrified. There were so many people. But if this goes well … I could be a teacher in a dance studio. I could be helping people reach their dreams—but doing it healthily.”

Derek nodded, his hands traveling up Stiles’ back in a comforting manner.

“You’re stupidly perfect,” Stiles huffed, slumping into Derek.

Derek smiled at Stiles’ exasperated breath.

“Am I allowed to have a happily ever after?” Stiles questioned.

Derek paused for a moment, as if to consider the question. “After all the trauma we’ve been through? I think a Hallmark moment is overdue.”

~*~

Christmas came sooner than anyone expected.

James had been telling anyone that would listen about how he was going to spend Christmas with his grandfather this year. He was vibrating with joy all throughout the last day of school before Christmas break. He excitedly listed off all the things they could do over the course of the vacation, highlighting what he was most excited about as he packed up his bag.

Stiles tried to hide his laughter as Derek sent James back into his room to unpack half of the things he packed, having to explain that it was only three days.

“It’s times like these you can really tell he’s your son,” Derek commented as he carried their bags down the steps.

“Haha,” Stiles dryly laughed at Derek, smacking Derek’s ass as he walked by him. “Just be useful and pack the car,” he ordered.

“Yes, dear,” Derek answered as he walked out the door.

Stiles smiled to himself as he sat down on the step to watch after Derek. He felt blessed to have his life falling together instead of falling apart like it was last year.

James ran down and jumped onto Stiles’ back, laughing when his father let out a huff of air. “Did you get Derek’s birthday present?” He hurriedly asked as he wrapped his arms around Stiles’ neck.

“Of course,” Stiles answered as he stood up, giving James a piggyback ride. He thought about the picture frame James had decorated before his dad put the finishing coat on it to guarantee that it didn’t fade. The frame had a picture of Stiles, James, and Derek in it—one that Stiles had managed to take on Thanksgiving before James passed out into a turkey coma. “Grandpa has it.”

“Grandpa has what?” Derek asked as he walked back into the house, moving to take the bag James had brought down.

“Nothing!” Stiles and James both announced at the same time as Stiles hurried out the door and towards the car.

“Hey!” Derek called after them. He smiled when he heard their simultaneous laughter. He took his opportunity to cut back to his office, knowing that Stiles would be getting James into the car. He looked back at the door to the house to make sure that Stiles wasn’t coming back in. He moved to his desk, unlocking the bottom drawer in order to fish out the small leather box he had hidden there. He opened the box, smiling at the slender golden ring embedded inside the box’s velvet lining.

“You coming?” Stiles called into the house after Derek.

“Just grabbing something,” Derek called back, quickly pocketing the leather box. He knew that this Christmas—his birthday—was going to be better than the rest.

Part of Derek was scared to think about asking Stiles. He thought about it being too soon, that maybe Stiles wasn’t ready to think about staying. But he couldn’t think of something else he wanted more than to have Stiles and James here always. He wondered if Stiles would even entertain the idea of marriage.

Derek could wait years if it meant that he could one day call himself Stiles and James’ family. Regardless, he knew that this was more than just a good time for both of them—what they had was real, and that meant everything.