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Tiny Houses

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The wandering one, the inquisitive dreamer of dreams,
The eternal asker of answers, stands in the street,
And lifts his palms for the first cold ghost of rain.

 

 

 

The first thing Stiles does when he wakes is wince. Everything hurts, and he knows he says that a lot and often, but this isn’t hyperbole. From the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, Stiles aches like nobody’s business. He thinks about pushing up to an elbow but immediately vetoes that. He decides instead to spend a few minutes kicking around inside his own head, trying to remember who or what the actual fuck did this to him and left him here, in some strange room.

He remembers going to school, but not doing anything specific. The last two weeks of high school are famously Just For Show, so Stiles had spent half his classes with his head on his desk, snoozing, and the other half filling up a piece of looseleaf with long, curvy lines, close together and following one another, covering it in ink from first a blue pen, and then when that had run out, a red one. At the end of the day, his piece of paper looked pretty freaking cool, like red and blue spaghetti and distracted adolescent apathy.

He remembers going home and eating a banana, a bag of chips, and a turkey sandwich, even though they were out of sliced cheese and he could only eat half of it.

He remembers checking his email and buying a new Bettlejuice shirt on Tee-Fury. He remembers calling Scott to tell him all about it, and to urge him to hurry up and buy one because Beetlejuice had been one of their favorite movies in fifth grade. He remembers Scott not answering, and he also remembers being disappointed for no good reason, because Scott so rarely answered these days.

Scott rarely did anything these days.

Scott wasn’t really working with a full deck anymore.

Then Stiles called his Dad to ask what to make for their weekly Stilinski-Saturday-Super-Supper (affectionately dubbed ‘S4’) the next day, but his dad had to take yet another late shift because someone on the force just had a baby or a wedding or something else Stiles couldn’t care less about, and his dad swore he’d make it up next week but Stiles doubts that too.

Despite all Stiles’ efforts of clutching at the tradition for dear life, they’re lucky to get in one Saturday dinner a month these days.

He remembers spending even more time on the internet, just dicking off, and finding these cool things called ‘Kit Homes’ where partially pre-fabricated houses and all the necessary materials could be shipped right to someone who could theoretically erect the house all by themselves—like an Ikea house, a little assembly required, but still costing less than thirty grand.

He remembers thinking something like that would be so perfect for…

Stiles barely has time to gasp in realization before large hands wrap around his neck, pressing against his windpipe. He can’t emit the pained gasp that’s lodged in his throat, but his hands shoot up to pull at the wrists pressing him into the bed.

Derek is hovering over him naked and coiled tight, eyes red like blood and lips curled back to expose long, sharp fangs. “What did you do to me!”  His roar hits Stiles’ face in a wave of hot breath and spittle.

Stiles’ lips move but he can’t talk, can only thrash his head from side to side and shove futilely at Derek’s shoulders, heart thundering in his chest. His vision goes blurry way sooner than he thinks is totally necessary, but he’s not passing out, just tearing up from the pressure in his head.

He only manages to push a weak “St…” through his teeth.

When Derek lets go of his throat, Stiles gasps air into his lungs, but not before Derek grabs his shoulders, shoving him into the mattress and holding him there, claws prickling against his already tender skin.

“You did something.” When Stiles shakes his head, quaking all over and still unable to find his voice, Derek rattles him in his grip. “Don’t lie to me!”

A tear finally spills over, tracks from the corner of Stiles’ eye to his temple, tickling his ear as he fights to get his breath back, fingers still digging into Derek’s wrists. “I didn’t,” he tries, but it comes out cracked and nearly inaudible. He inhales again, managing to croak out, “I didn’t do anything, Derek, I just came over to show you something and you were—and then we—I don’t know what happened, I fucking swear!”

Derek’s nostrils flare, but not like he’s smelling, more like he’s bracing himself or preparing to rip Stiles’ throat out. “I’m going to let you go, and when your heartbeat evens out, you’re going to answer me again. Do. You. Under. Stand.”

His fingers tighten with every growled word and Stiles gnashes his teeth at the pain.

He spits, “Yes.”

Derek doesn’t let him go so much as he uses Stiles to launch himself backward. Stiles cries out at the pain in his shoulders, but also the pain in his neck, the pain in his legs when he braces his feet against the mattress, the pain in his stomach and most of all—oh God, the worst of it—the deep, stinging ache of his ass.

“Oh, my God.” Stiles moans and manages to curl to his side, shaking and a little more fetal than he ever wants to be, especially when naked and bruised and crying (but only a little, and only on reflex).  “Oh, my God.”

After a suspended moment, Derek growls. “Your time’s running out.”

Stiles snaps, “Yeah, well sorry if waking up to being strangled makes it a little hard to regulate my heartbeat, you absolute asshole.”

When Derek comes into his line of sight, he’s dragging a pair of jeans up his legs, and geez, Stiles thinks, wouldn’t that be nice, to not be naked during this conversation.

“You gave me something,” Derek sneers. “Put something in my food or drink, I don’t know how, but you made me do this.”

“How would I have even—”

“I don’t know!” Derek lunges toward him, but then back and away, scrubbing a palm against his face, looking a little wild. “I know when I’m being controlled, I know when I’m being manipulated into” He doesn’t finish, just turns to the chair in the corner of the room, picks it up and sends it flying.

It hits the wall about three feet from where Stiles is lying, shattering into splinters that rain onto the floor.

Stiles only flinches a little, and considering that Derek both lunged away and intentionally missed him, Stiles figures he’s probably not going to die right away, that Derek is at least restraining himself a little, and forces his heart to slowly calm.

He closes his eyes and thinks happy thoughts, which is a rare commodity for him these days, but he manages with a memory of being nine years old and his mom and dad both helping him with a science project. It was about electricity and Stiles can still remember cutting up a strand of Christmas lights as his dad attached their wires to small five-volt batteries. His mom helped construct a little model house, decorative and tall like a couple of the kit homes he’d seen on the internet the night before, and slipped the wired lights through holes in the ceilings, illuminating the mini-rooms.

He didn’t realize until just then why he liked the little cottages so much, why he was stupid enough to print it out and come here, as if Derek would even care.

Gingerly swinging his legs off the bed, Stiles carefully sits up, nearly panting from just the exertion of it, palms cradling his throat. But his heartbeat is steady now, just an even strum against the tips of his fingers.

He meets Derek’s enraged stare and says in a grinding voice, “I didn’t manipulate you.” Then, at Derek’s expression, screwed up first in focus and then confusion, Stiles forces his legs to lift himself, to limp to the foot of the bed and get his jeans. It’s not pretty, bending over to snatch them up, but he swallows down a cry at the pain that shoots up his ass, cheeks clenching together.

“Then you did something else.”

“I didn’t drug you with anything!” He laughs, borderline hysterical and stepping into his shoes, because if he doesn’t laugh, he’ll cry. He doesn’t bother with his underwear or shirt. Just the bare minimum. “I didn’t do a spell, I didn’t control you, I didn’t even make a strong verbal suggestion, okay?” He turns to Derek, tucking his clothes under an arm, eyes still infuriatingly wet. “And if I had? If I had that kind of power or was the sort of psychotic soulless asshole who would even consider using it? Then forcing you into bending me over this bed to use me like a convenient hole would really be at the bottom of my list of fun ways to lose my virginity.”

The silence that follows is loaded and tense. Stiles has to shift his stance to relieve the stinging in his backside, and he’d just leave but he’s not sure if Derek will let him. More than pain or fear or shame, Stiles just feels really, epically pissed off. Stiles has never wished he could hit Derek and actually inflict damage as much as he does at that exact moment, and that.

That is saying a lot.

Derek’s face crumbles. “I couldn’t stop myself. I kept trying to just.” He drops right where he stands, folding himself to the floor, the wolf completely receded. He stares at the floor and looks lost. “I couldn’t stop.”

Stiles didn’t even try to stop. He remembers feeling it, the bone-deep need to have Derek inside of him. It had hit him like a freight train. One second he was unfolding a sheet a paper from his pocket, and the next he was climbing Derek like a tree, whining and ripping his clothes away, begging Derek to put it in, to fuck him, to go deeper and harder and faster, and he didn’t hurt then. It was all pleasure and lust-haze, Derek’s grunts against his skin, the slap of their flesh, Stiles burying his face into the sheets and raising his ass, mewling like a cat in heat.

Stiles wonders, “This is some kind of freaky werewolf sex thing, isn’t it?” There are obvious problems with this theory, mainly that Stiles isn’t a werewolf, but he doesn’t write anything off anymore. “Like you went into heat and infected me with some kind of pheromones!”

Derek raises his eyes in a slow crawl, nostrils flaring once again in anger. “Werewolves don’t go into heat, don’t be ridiculous.”

“Yeah, because you’ve never been surprised by the werewolf facts of life, at all! You knew all about the kanima and people being immune to the bite. Right, no, nothing has ever gotten past your veritable font of superior lupine knowledge.”

“My family never turned people,” he growls, “I had no experience with it, but living in a house of twelve werewolves, I think I’d know if there was ever an occurrence of pheromone-induced rape.”

The word hits him like a sledgehammer. Stiles has to squeeze his eyes shut, press his shaking fingers into them to distract himself with the sparks it causes, gathers himself up and binds the pieces into something resembling composed.

Because the thing is?

The thing is, aside from all the violence and glaring consent issues, Stiles would have done it willingly. He’s thought about it, for at least the last six months, about Derek’s muscles and his skin and the way he moves, the way he smiles at Isaac and Boyd, and before the Alphas, how he used to smile also at Erica (but never at Stiles or Scott). It’s not like he ever thought anything would happen because they’re only just this side of civil, but Stiles is an eighteen-year-old scrawny virgin who takes strolls up and down the Kinsey scale like it’s a strip mall, whereas Derek is a twenty five year old werewolf parading as an underwear model, so yeah. There for a while, it didn’t even occur to Stiles he was under any influence. Of course he’d do it.

Derek, though. 

He wouldn’t.

Derek sighs, ragged. “Fuck.”

“Can I go now?” Stiles asks, hand dropping to curl into a fist at his side. He feels dirty. Wrong. Sour at the pit of his stomach.

Derek props his forehead on his palm and growls down at the floor, “You’re hurt.”

 Stiles says, “Fuck you,” and leaves, because he doesn’t want to have a breakdown right there, in front of that bed that’s stained with his blood and his semen and saliva and tears.

Derek doesn’t stop him. Not even when he pauses beside his Jeep, curls at the waist and heaves, vomiting up yesterday’s dinner into the weeds.

*

He doesn’t bother with the showerhead, just turns on the tap and plugs the drain, strips out of his jeans and surveys the damage while the bathtub fills with water. He’s not thinking about what happened—not really. If he thinks about it, he’s going to lose his shit, so he catalogues his injuries instead, mechanical in his inspection of himself.

His throat’s already bruising, ten perfect fingerprints wrapping around to the base of his skull, but that’s honestly the least of it. There’s a bite on his shoulder blade and the skin’s not broken, but it’s a close thing. It’s a raised welt, almost black with blood pooled beneath the skin. His hips are wrecked, every color of the rainbow, and his shoulders aren’t much better.

His muscles ache like he both ran a marathon and lifted weights, all at the same time.

He scrubs the flaky, dried come from the inside of his thighs before he even gets in the tub. When he finally finds the courage to lower himself into the steaming water, Stiles decides it’s the most painful bath he can ever remember having. It even beats the battle with the Alpha pack, when he had rolled out of a moving car and had gotten gravel burn all along his left leg.

He shoves his fist into his mouth to stifle the sound he makes when his ass hits the water. It’s a little fuzzy, what happened the night before, but he knows neither of them were in the state of mind to prepare anything, least of all his asshole, for penetration.

It’s swollen and stinging and it’s a full on miracle that he isn’t bleeding out of it, because that’s what it feels like. Like the flesh has been torn and the muscle’s been split. He sits in the tub with his knees pulled up to his chin, listing to one side and adjusting to the temperature.

He tries to distract himself with the ripples in the water, but eventually the surface goes still and it’s like it’s not even there, just empty space between him and the bottom of the bathtub, a swath of hot, steaming vacancy.

He puts a hand over his eyes and cries. Not, like, loud sobbing cries. Stiles isn’t much of a crier. He’s probably cried more that morning than in all the months of the last two years combined, and things have happened. People have died—people who didn’t deserve it. People Stiles has known longer than most. He figures he’s entitled, and there’s no one he needs to be strong for anymore, so his nose screws up and tears spill onto his cheeks and then drip into the water. It’s silent, but not in his head where it’s a roar, not when he pulls in loud, greedy inhales, only to feel the air pushed through his teeth. 

He eventually drops his hand, regulates his breathing and takes a long, noisy sniffle.

The door flies open.

Stiles isn’t even thinking of his neck when he whips his head around, but his gasp is only half in surprise. He clutches at his neck as he gawks at Derek, Stiles’ mouth forming nothing but air.

“What the fuck!” he ultimately screeches, dropping a hand into his lap to cover his junk. Derek just stares and Stiles grabs a bottle of shampoo, flinging it at him. “Get out!”

Derek dodges the Head & Shoulders effortlessly. “You’re hurt,” he says again, stepping inside to shut the door.

“I’m also naked and taking a bath, and also someone who values privacy to what I assure you is a perfectly normal degree!”

Derek’s eyebrows drop low and he turns his back to Stiles, shoulders sagging with an exhale. “Give me your hand.” He makes a motion with his own, backing up until he’s within reach, fingers wiggling.

Stiles looks down at himself and lets out a huff, blindly grabbing his hand.

The pain recedes instantly. His muscles loosen and he feels a little high with it, hunching into his knees and feeling his eyelids droop. Scott does this for him constantly, all the time, just a walking, talking pain-management system throwing around his skills like it isn’t the biggest deal ever, the ability to ease someone’s pain.

He remembers how much his mother had suffered eight years ago, and Stiles is sorry for it, he is, but he’s bitter about werewolves more often than not these days.

Too bad Scott can’t take his own pain away.

“Better?” Derek turns enough for Stiles to see his profile, but doesn’t look. Stiles wishes he could bring Scott up, maybe beg Derek some more to do something. Anything.

It never works, anyway.

“Yeah.” He clears his throat and doesn’t thank him.

After a moment of nothing but breathing and the occasional drip of water, Derek says, “I reacted badly.” 

Stiles looks at him incredulously. “No, you think?”

“That’s not the first time I’ve been… tricked. Into doing that. Having sex.” The muscles in Derek’s jaw tick. “I don’t like it.” And if that doesn’t make Stiles sick, his first time having sex being compared to Kate Argent’s seduction-plot to murder Derek’s entire family, then what Derek says next does. “Look, I know that you…” Derek scratches at the back of his neck, shoulders rising with his puff of breath. “I know that you’re attracted to me. I smell it on you and I jumped to conclusions. I’m sorry.”

Stiles yanks his hand away, heat crawling up his chest all the way to the tips of his ears. “Any other part of my privacy you’d like to violate before the sun goes down? I think I still have my Lisa Frank diary from fourth grade if you want to give it an obligatory perusal.”

Derek’s abandoned hand curls into a fist. “I can’t help what I sense. It’s not like I want to smell most of the things I do.”

“So… that’s great!” Stiles smiles, a bit maniacal. “You knew I wanted to get all up on that, so naturally I’d be the one responsible for forcing you to have sex with me. Rape, I mean. Because that’s, like, the entire definition of it. So your first thought is that I’m a rapist. Thanks for that, by the way. Really helps with that whole arousal-smelling problem, because I’m pretty sure I’ll never get it up for you again.”

“Stiles.” Derek’s rubbing his forehead, and he sounds strained, tired, and a little bit broken. “I’m trying to apologize, and… And I don’t really know what to do.”

Stiles knows he’s not being entirely fair. He doesn’t want to be. He wants to hit something and actually make an impression, but he can’t, not physically. All Stiles has are words. He could use them. He could tell Derek how badly his ass is swollen, how disappointed he is that his first time will never be special, that he hurts more inside than out, that Derek is to blame, however tangentially, and that Stiles is scared all the time now. Of who’s going to leave next, who’s going to get hurt, who’s going to die, who’s going to turn him away, and he’s scared for Scott, scared of Scott. He could tell him how fucked up it is that the only time Stiles is happy anymore is after he’s been hurt, because that’s all he can be, all he can offer, and if it’s him hurting then at least someone else isn’t.

Only that doesn’t really apply here.

Stile’s grimaces at his knees, sniffling again. “Are you… are you, like, okay?”

“I’m fine,” Derek says shortly. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pill bottle and rattles it in the air. ”There are still some painkillers left over from last year, if you want them.”

Stiles frowns but doesn’t know how to approach the topic. No one ever talks about Kate anymore and Stiles isn’t supposed to know about it.  It’s just that Allison had known, so Scott had known, and then, well, now Stiles knows. He knows too many things, Stiles thinks, that he doesn’t have a right to.

Kate’s just a vague cloud over the territory these days, distant yet constant. Stiles knows she has to haunt him, that this isn’t just a sore spot for Derek but a gaping, gushing wound that no one ever tends to, because it’s overshadowed by the other one, by the murder of his family, by what the Alpha pack did to Erica—to Jackson—as if what Kate did to Derek becomes inconsequential in comparison. As if it doesn’t matter.

But it does.

It does.

“Derek…”

“Let me,” he says, voice gruff. “Let me do… something.”

He can’t make it better, no more than Stiles could, no more than whatever’s responsible could, but Derek doesn’t talk about his wounds, Stiles has always known that much. He’s not a sayer, he’s a doer. He’s an Alpha. And he might not be terribly close to his pack, but he takes care of them when he is. He defends them, guides them, disciplines them, and tends to their wounds instead. When there aren’t wounds to heal, he listens to them. And when he’s too late to do anything at all, he buries them.

It’s probably, Stiles thinks, the only way he knows how to deal.

Stiles isn’t pack, never has been anything more than an inconvenient bystander in their periphery, but he gets it.

He whispers, “Yeah, okay.”

“I’m going to turn around.”

“Alright.”

Derek turns, sets the bottle of Vicodin on the edge of the tub and kneels, eyes raking over Stiles’ back. His nostrils expand when he sees the bite mark, but he doesn’t make a sound, just presses his palm to it and drains the pain away.

“What hurts most?”

Stile gnaws at his lip, picks at a cuticle of his toenail and lies, “My back, I guess.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“Um.” Stiles lifts a hand to cradle his throat, but Derek’s is already there, heating the bruised skin with the barest touch.

There’s a sigh. “I wasn’t under any influence when I did this. I’m sorry, I should have better control.”

“I get it.” Stiles waves it off, however jerkily, because he can recognize the beginning stages of massive self-flagellation when he sees it, an activity which already occupies most of Derek’s schedule. When will he have time to do anything else? When will he have time to help Scott? “You were all Half Asleep PTSD Guy. You could have done worse.”

He can almost hear Derek’s low eyebrows. “That doesn’t make it better.” Derek reaches around him to the spigot, where a dark blue washcloth hangs from the shower knob. He dips it into the water near Stiles’ thigh and wrings it over his back.

Stiles shivers.

It’s really weird.

Weirder when he takes the bar of soap from the dish at the end of the tub and lathers it up, running the washcloth over Stiles’ back in soft, circular motions, bathing him.

Really, fundamentally, at the core weird.

“Did I hurt you badly,” Derek asks stiltedly, shifting on his knees and clearing his throat with a very manly and gruff, “Down there?”

Stiles flushes again, slapping a hand over his face. “Oh my God, please, can you just drown me? This is the most awkward moment of my life, and considering my affinity for danger boners, that’s really saying something, you know?”

“You can tell me,” Derek says, lowering the rag. “It’ll never leave this bathroom.”

“Well, obviously, but still.” Stiles whines into his hand, because it’s not every day that the object of one’s inconveniently hung affections is asking about the state of one’s abused anus. Stiles sighs, “It’s swollen. And yeah, it hurts. A lot. Stop looking at me with that face!

Derek looks away, eyes stricken, and Stiles has only seen him look like that one other time. Smaller. Sorry. Horrified. Muttering, “Sorry. Shit.”

“I truly hope I won’t be doing that for a while,” Stile grimaces, because honestly, what is wrong with his brain? “But you know, whatever? I’ll get better. I’m not bleeding. Spend the weekend in bed, chilling on my side, I’ll be good to go. It’s actually worse that I just related the issue to shitting, and I sort of want to stab myself in the eye right now, please shut me up.”

“Stiles.”

“You weren’t you,” he insists to Derek, already weary with the conversation. “You weren’t you, I wasn’t me. Can we just, like, not do this? This blamey circle of guilt thing? Let’s go back to our pseudo-violent and wit-driven repartee and just, you know, forget it happened. Ever.”

Derek makes a soft, dismissive sound, but doesn’t argue. He washes Stiles’ back, running down the knobs of his spine, and his shoulders, swiping at the ball of the joint while leaching the pain of it. He washes Stiles’ chest when he lowers his knees, because it’s not like Derek hasn’t seen it all, and it’s a little late for modesty. He washes the tops of his thighs and the curve of his knees, the long straight lines of his shins and the dip of his calves.

Derek washes Stiles’ feet.

By the end of it, Stiles isn’t carrying the same tension in his shoulders. Derek hands him the washcloth and wraps his fingers around the lip of the tub, stares at them.

“I’ll let you get the… other stuff,” he says, pushing himself to his feet.

Stiles finishes in a numb silence, but when he walks out of the bathroom, it’s to an empty hall. The window in his bedroom is open, the wind whipping his curtains like a duo of flags. The printout Stiles made for Derek is lying on his desk, face down and creased in eighths, a message scrawled onto the back.

I’ll find out what happened, it says, and take care of it myself. Stay away.

For the first time ever, Stiles doesn’t have to be told twice.

*

Stiles lives in a house. There’s nothing special about it. They moved here after his mother died, because their old house was just too hard to exist in. They’d come home from work or school and just leave to go elsewhere, to Scott’s or the park or out to eat, and Stiles would lie in bed at night and swear he heard her, walking up and down the hall.

It was a whole issue.

His dad sat him down one night when he was eleven and said, “This isn’t good for you, kiddo.”

Stiles agreed, “You either.”

So they packed up. It wasn’t easy to leave, but the necessary things in life so rarely are. It was better. The ache that settled into his chest as they packed their things into boxes was just a temporary, jagged pain, rather than feeling the throb of it every single day, every time they walked in the door. It was better than being terrified of the ghost of her.

*

“Her name is Sandy,” Scott says when he drops onto Stiles’ couch. He cracks his neck and gazes down at the printout. “She’s got nine betas and they have… well.” Scott looks at him and shrugs. “A territory’ish-type area?”

“This sounds not promising.” Stiles snatches the email, rolling his eyes. “Especially seeing as how all her betas are females? What the fuck? That’s a little sexist.”

“Well I don’t think it’s intentional. She seemed nice.”

Stiles gapes at him. “She ended the email with a paragraph on the importance of geldings. Do you know what that is?”

Scott frowns, knee jumping as he taps his heel. “No?”

Stiles pushes the email into his chest. “Google it.”

“She’s the last of the Alphas in that area,” Scott says, deflated. “I don’t… I don’t really know what else to do.”

Stiles bites his tongue, it’s really difficult to bite back his instinctual reply. There’s a solution to his problem right in front of Scott’s face, every single day. Stiles doesn’t know what to do, either. “Scott.

At the sound of his name, Scott explodes, “You promised you’d stop bringing that up!”

“I didn’t bring it up,” he argues, refusing to flinch at his yellow eyes. “But your psyche was expecting me to, which means that even you know this is getting out of hand, dude. It’s been out of hand for a long freaking time, actually.”

Scott fists the paper, effectively destroying it. “I don’t need him.”

He tries to duck his head, put it in his hands, but can’t. The neck brace he’s using to hide Derek’s bruises digs into his chin, limits his movement. He’d gotten it the previous year, the same time as the Alpha pack and the gravel burns and the pain killers. His neck still twinges from time to time, so it’s not suspicious that he’s wearing it.

If Scott found out…

It’s the same argument every month. Every week, every day, every hour that Scott goes without an alpha—an omega—he just fights it more and more. There was a time when Stiles thought this would pass, that Scott would eventually see he had no other choice. That yeah, Derek could be an asshole, he could be untrustworthy, he could even be cruel, but he was infinitely better than losing oneself to omegadom.

“You’re getting worse,” Stiles rasps out, head more hanging than anything. “You’re getting worse and there’s nothing I can do. Do you have any idea how—Do you realize how that feels? After everything we’ve done?”

Scott turns the wadded piece of paper over in his hands, expression softening. “I’m not doing this to hurt you, Stiles. I’m doing this for me. I’m trying to be smart here, this is my life.”

“It’s not a college you’re applying to,” he snaps. “You have no idea who these other alphas are. You don’t know, you haven’t seen them at their worst. You have ties here, Scott. This is just as much your territory as it is Hale’s.” He looks at Scott and carefully says, “He’s the devil you know,” because telling Scott that Derek isn’t the devil at all never goes over well.

The truth is, the longer Scott rejects Derek, and the more he distances himself from his pack, the more he sees them as the enemy. He’s grown paranoid and twitchy. It’s not all his fault. His wolf is wary and territorial, and the longer he goes un-Alpha’ed, the stronger those instincts get.

That’s why omegas are dangerous, why they slowly lose themselves. Without the sense of stability a territory and a pack would offer, Scott’s becoming less and less Scott, and more and more just a creature boiling under the surface of muscle and skin.

Stiles can see it now, when Scott lifts his chin and flexes his fists, white-knuckled. He can see it in his eyes, always jumping to the door, as if he’s about to be ambushed at any moment. It’s visible in his posture, in the stiff set of his shoulders and the rigid line of his back. Stiles can see him changing right before his eyes, can see him growing unpredictable. Trigger-happy.

Thank God they’re graduating next week.

“I won’t,” Scott insists, eyes skittering to the door, the window. “I’ll never join him, Stiles. You know what he did to me.”

Stiles scrubs a hand over his face, frustrated. There was a time when Stiles could have argued. Their junior year, he could talk logic at Scott until his lips went numb, and more often than not, Scott would eventually listen. It’s just not like that now.

Stiles wants to reiterate that Derek had actually, genuinely tried to get Scott a kill during the Alpha Invasion. He can still remember him killing the last, the way he looked at Stiles after, horrified and sorry, scared—small, the same look he gave Stiles after viciously assfucking him, if that tells you anything.

But the last alpha had killed Jackson, tried to kill Stiles and Lydia, and Scott was slow. He’s weak—so much weaker as an omega—and one by one, the alphas had to be killed before they killed someone else, and it was Derek—always Derek—who was there to stop them.

Even a year after the fact, Stiles still has twinges in his neck, can still feel the phantom sting of asphalt, he still wakes up to nightmares of hurdling out of moving cars, landing like a lump of limp meat, begging Derek not to do it, to let the alpha have him just so Scott could have time

Sometimes Stiles wonders if maybe Scott weren’t so set on getting an alpha kill, if Erica and Jackson would still be here. It’s a useless thought, he’ll never know. But it does bother him at night, remembering Boyd—one hundred and sixty pounds of solemn muscle and will—collapsing onto the forest floor in a heap, screaming for her, clawing at the ground Derek buried her in. He remembers Lydia’s emotionless face when they told her about Jackson—the way she didn’t even look surprised. Just numb.

And yet, in Scott’s mind, Derek did this to Scott.

“Right,” he grunts, readjusting his neck brace.

It’s funny, he thinks, how no one remembers things the same anymore.

*

They don’t see each other too much. Never did, really. The odd weekend when Stiles meets up with Boyd to play Call of Duty, stilted run-ins at the supermarket, at McDonald’s, idling at red lights, dips of chins and small waves, weak acknowledgments of grudging acquaintanceship that’s never vocalized.

The first time Stiles sees him, after, is at the garden. Its approximate location is some seven miles into the preserve, and was planted by himself and Lydia after the alphas came. It’s mostly wolfsbane. Monkshood. He was able to find seeds online and with Lydia’s surprising green thumb, they fostered one hundred square feet of what Stiles suspects to be some of the only wolfsbane in the entire region.

Stiles grinds to a halt when he sees him, startled enough that he drops the handle of the wagon he’s carted through the woods, sweating and out of breath. He crouches low to pluck a flowering bud, eying Derek warily through his peripheral vision. “What’s up?” Stiles says, thinking there could be quite a few reasons Derek might need wolfsbane , and none of them are good.

“Not sure.” He takes his jacket off, draping it over a low-hanging branch. It’s like he’s just arrived, the way Derek walks around the perimeter of the garden, shoving the sleeves of his henley to his elbows. “You been harvesting anything here?”

Stiles looks at the flowers, then at Derek, eyebrow raised. “What, like, taking stuff?”

He’s clearly tense. Being around wolfsbane , for werewolves, generally does that. Puts them on edge. There’s a strain of monkshood here that’s addictive—that makes werewolves hallucinate like a psychedelic substance. There’s another that’s almost completely innocuous, but there are a few that are harmful—and a couple that are downright deadly.

Stiles watches Derek’s claws extend and then contract, in a pulsating rhythm. “Yes, have you been picking anything.”

Stiles lifts the bud, shrugging. “Just this, just now. They aren’t even fully flowering yet, I was just…” Stiles shuffles, awkward, nodding at the wagon of water jugs. “Coming to water them? Lydia will probably eviscerate me if I can’t keep them alive.”

She’s on the east coast.

Indefinitely.

Stiles guesses he can’t really blame her. After Peter. After Jackson. It’s not running so much as retreating. A white flag. Resignation.

He hopes she can be happy again.

“Hm.” Derek bends into a crouch at one of the three non-wolfsbane flora they’ve planted so far. He reaches out, as if to touch the small shrubling, and Stiles startles.

“No!”

Derek jerks his hand back and Stiles chides, “You don’t come into a wolfsbane garden and start touching things, oh my god, you’re a terrible werewolf.”

Derek narrows his eyes, gesturing. “What is it.”

Stiles sort of wrings his hands together, unsure. On one hand, Derek. On the other, the garden he planted with Lydia. It’s important to him, and if Derek gets all mad and Alpha’y about it, what’s Stiles going to do? 

“Deadly nightshade?” he squeaks, and at Derek’s expression, “Or Belladonna! Way less, you know, like, menacing. When you’re saying it that way, I mean. Beautiful woman. What’s menacing about that? Heh.”

Derek’s grinding his teeth and hey, that can’t be good. “You mean to tell me,” he says, fluidly lifting from his crouch, “that you put arguably the most toxic plant in this hemisphere seven miles from the general public.”

“Um.” Stiles winces and, wringing his hands still, looks back at the plants. “I guess this is a bad time to tell you about the hemlock?”

Derek drops his head back, staring at the sky, like he’s asking some deity for the strength to even. “Do I need to begin to tell you how fucking stupid you are for planting these?”

Stiles puts his hands up, palms out. “It was Lydia’s idea, and to be honest, I don’t own this land. There’s nothing linking it back to me, and there are very few people, werewolves aside, who can get through that quarter-mile stretch of forest to here. I was as smart about it as possible.”

“The smart thing would have been to not.”

“I totally understand your reservations,” Stiles argues, “but you should know they’re used in a lot of rituals that could benefit the pack in the future. We’re not just harvesting deadly plants for shits and gigs, you know?”

Derek sets his jaw. “I should have been told. There are better ways of growing this. Safer ways.”

“Okay,” Stiles concedes. “Right, yes, I completely agree. Lydia wasn’t in the best state of mind and I was slightly distracted with the total mental deterioration of my best friend, so I admit, it could have been handled better.”

Derek looks away at the mention of Jackson and Scott, rubs idly at one of his bushy eyebrows. “Someone’s been here. Taking things.”

Stiles frowns, pivots around to look at the plants but can’t see anything noticeably out of place. “Who? What?”

“No one I know. The smell is foreign,” he answers, crouching again to inspect the nightshade. “But particularly here, and here.” He gestures at the hemlock and Stiles’ stomach sinks.

“Shit, do you think…?” But of course Derek thinks someone’s using them for badness. No one steals deadly nightshade and poisonous hemlock to summon rainbows. “Fuck. This is bad.” And his fault. Derek’s right, he’s been unforgivably negligent.

Stiles is getting an ulcer.

“There’s something else,” Derek says, standing and grabbing his jacket from the branch, clutching it in a fist. “Come with me.”

They walk for what feels like miles. It’s the end of May, so it’s hot as balls and Stiles is pouring sweat within the first twenty minutes, wishing he’d brought some of the water he left at the garden within ten more.

He wipes a hand over his top lip, catching the dampness and panting. “How far away did you say?”

Derek is completely dry. It’s disgusting. “We’ll be there soon.” He passes a vine and it snaps back, lashes Stiles right in the neck.

“Ugh!” He bats it away, catches his palm on some thorns and grinds his teeth. Stiles has always been super prone to heat stroke. His skin is sensitive—will break out into a splotchy mess if he uses the wrong kind of soap. He has three moles that his dermatologist has been keeping a close eye on since he was thirteen, and he’s lactose intolerant.

Stiles is such a delicate fucking flower compared to this asshole.

So when Derek whips around to ask impatiently, “You okay?” Stiles glares daggers. Worse than daggers. He glares, like, samurai swords.

“Peachy,” he answers, curt.

A little, annoyed puff of air escapes Derek’s nose. “We’re here.” When he parts the limb of two bushes, Stiles sees it, freezes and gapes.

“Oh,” he breathes. “Wow, that’s...”

It’s amazing, is what it is. Hundreds of thin, bare branches, weaved together like ironwork, shaped to form archways and skeletal structures. It’s painfully intricate, must have taken someone weeks—months—to construct. This wasn’t just thrown up willy-nilly. There’s care in the way branches join, held together with pale vines and bent from the ground, into the air, and then into the ground again. Arches. Four of them, in a circle, and connected above with latticework.

This was made with pride, creativity, love.

There are also approximately three dozen rotting deer corpses littering the forest floor, all laid out in a neat little row.

Stiles covers his nose, battling against a gag at the smell. “Nope, this isn’t foreboding or anything.”

“Witch,” Derek says, staring at the corpses. The flies buzzing around their bodies are loud. “Probably only one, unless they all smell the same, which… could be possible, I don’t know enough about them. I’m not ruling it out, though.”

“That’s what it was, wasn’t it?” Stiles turns to Derek, feeling his skin prickle and heat. “It was a spell. That night—what happened, with us.”

Derek lifts a shoulder. “Can’t be a coincidence.”

“But why?” Stiles inspects the structure. “Why would someone want us to… do that? What would they have to gain?” This has secretly been bothering him ever since he agreed to stay away, to not get involved in finding out what happened. “I could understand if the point was to, like, distract the Alpha. Come at you sideways when you were too… enthralled, or whatever, to notice or fight back. But nothing happened! I mean, aside from the bad sex and terrible morning after.” He regrets bringing it up instantly, even though they’ve essentially been talking about it for the last five minutes anyway. He scratches uncomfortably at the damp nape of his neck, where the bruises are only now starting to fade. “Unless there’s some random coven of witches out there who just enjoys making people’s lives as awkward as possible, which—” Stiles drops his hand, sighing, “You know, points for effectiveness.”

“I don’t know,” Derek says, and there’s a faint undercurrent of tension there. “I feel like… whatever their endgame was, it probably hasn’t happened yet.”

Stiles frowns at the ground, thinking.

“Has anything else happened to you?” Derek asks.

Stiles turns to him again, voice muffled through his fingers. “No, nothing. It’s actually… it’s been pretty quiet?” He doesn’t know about the pack, but he and Scott haven’t seen much action—aside from a fairly brief run in with another omega that winter—since the Alphas invaded.

Derek agrees, “Things have seemed settled lately. Aside from Scott, at least.”

Stiles sucks in a breath, remembering that, oh yeah. Scott is actually to Derek’s pack what the other omega was to them. A disturbance. An issue. Something to feel wary of and worried about.

Stiles clears his throat. “Well. I doubt one has anything to do with the other. Scott isn’t even in the right mind to coordinate colors, let alone archaic magical rituals involving the blood sacrifice of perfectly innocent deer.” Stiles looks closer, amending, “And a couple disemboweled goats? Jesus, dude.”

Derek shakes his head. “I wasn’t suggesting he was involved.”

“Well this doesn’t strike me as a hunter thing, either. Don’t they, like, abhor the craft?”

He’s nodding now. “No, you’re right. Witches, warlocks, practitioners… they’re usually aligned with were-kind. Attacks are rare, it’d be like…” Derek runs a hand through his hair, agitated. “It’d be like Deaton attacking us.”

Stiles deflates. “Nothing makes sense.”

“I’ll keep looking,” Derek concludes, shrugging, at a loss. “Just… keep your guard up. Let me know if anything strange happens and stop going to the garden on a set schedule. There’s no reason to make it easy.” Stiles nods but, after a beat, Derek adds, “Actually, don’t go at all. Take what you need today, and then… just leave it. Plants grow back,” he says, brushing past him. “Humans don’t.”

Stiles is pretty bummed on the walk back. He spent over three hundred dollars on the plants in that garden. Sold his PS3 and almost twenty games to raise the funds. He knows they’re not hardcore vital or anything, but it’s the idea of them. The sign that things were so settled—that the worst was over— they could put down roots, cultivate something and plan ahead instead of in the heat of battle. Something that Stiles and Lydia created, an endeavor that had been soothing, that had started them down separate roads of Getting Better. It’s what the garden represents, more than anything.

He takes a little of each plant, except the nightshade and hemlock, which Derek yanks from the ground. He uses his claws to dig deep into the soil, rips them into shreds, buries them, and covers their grave with earth and forest debris. It reminds Stiles a little too much of Derek burying other things—other people.

Stiles is never telling Lydia about this.

By the time it’s all done, Derek is actually sweating. Finally. He lifts the hem of his shirt to wipe over his face and exposes his belly, his abs and defined chest, and Stiles is helpless against staring.

Without wanting to—and he really, really doesn’t want to, things were going so normal—he remembers what it was like. That firm chest pressing into his back. The sinew of Derek’s arms in his periphery as they held him above him, Derek pushing inside of him, the fronts of his hard thighs flush against the backs of Stiles’. The way their skin clapped together. How Derek sounded, lips pressed against his neck, breath hot and wet, and the words he said.

Oh God, the words he said.

Take it… fill you up… your tight little ass… going to give it to you… you want it… tell me how much…

Stiles had. He told him exactly how much, and so much more. He begged, he sobbed, he came on Derek’s dick and it was so good he cried when it ended, angry, grief-stricken that he couldn’t have more of it, all night, every day.

He’s still staring, sort of slack-jawed, when Derek goes rigid, t-shirt still tugged up and covering his face. He lowers his hands and stretches it back over his abdomen, his mouth a hard, thin line.

Stiles jerks his gaze away, horrified. “Uh, sorry, I wasn’t—” But he was and Derek knows. No use lying about it. He exhales noisily, crouching, hoping the curl of his body hides his raging erection. He mutters under his breath, “I’m going to hell.”

Derek doesn’t respond, just gets a jug of water and pours it over his hands, flicking the soil out from beneath his nails.

“I don’t mean to make you uncomfortable,” Stiles says, yanking buds from plants faster than really necessary. “Fixating on ridiculously attractive and unattainable people is pretty much my default setting. It’s not usually so angsty for the other involved party, I’m sorry.”

There’s a long bout of silence that follows and Stiles doesn’t bother trying to make eye contact. He’s embarrassed, whatever. It’s just as uncomfortable for him, if not more so. At least Derek is going to arrive at the other end of this tunnel with a shred of dignity intact.

Not Stiles, no.

Never Stiles.

Eventually, he hears Derek sigh, and then a shuffling sound from near the wagon. “I’m… flattered.” He says this very gravely, in much the same tone someone would confess to having genital herpes. “But I’m not really—It’s not that you’re—Not that—I’m sure you’d make someone—”

Stiles lurches to his feet, screeching, “Oh my god! What? Stop, please, time out. What are you doing!”

Derek glowers at him. “I was trying to be nice.”

Stiles gawks at him, flailing inelegantly. “In what sick twisted alternate universe does Derek Hale let me down gently?”

Derek’s flexing his fists at his sides, still damp, reflecting what’s left of the evening sun. “I don’t know what else to say,” he grits out.

Stiles shakes his head frantically. “Nothing! You say nothing! The whole point of crushing on someone ridiculously attractive and completely unattainable is that it’s, like, guaranteed not to ever happen. It’s a given, you don’t… And some words of wisdom from the perpetually friend-zoned? Never reject someone by giving them the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. That’s such a line, dude. So unnecessary.”

“I never said it was me.” Derek smiles meanly.

“See!” Stiles beams, clapping him on the shoulder. “That’s the passive aggression I like to see from sour alphas.

Stiles falls asleep that night feeling better about it, about the way they parted, with no grins or platitudes. Just two guys thrown into the same heaping mound of horseshit, digging their ways out.

Just how he likes it.

*

When he wakes up the next morning, he just… knows.

He’s lying there gaping down at his stomach, shirt rucked up, and thinks he’s crazy. Obviously it’s not possible, and aside from knowing he doesn’t feel any different. Maybe he’s experiencing a psychotic break, or maybe he accidentally ingested some of that funky wolfsbane, or maybe he’s actually dreaming and this is all some Freudian reaction to being mounted like a bitch two weeks ago.

He gets out of bed and takes a piss, but it’s still there. Not his bladder, just being super full or anything. He brushes his teeth and yes, he can still feel it. He takes a shower and eats a bowl of fruity pebbles and checks the mail, and yep. There it is.

He watches Ellen and Price is Right, washes his bowl from breakfast and calls his dad, reads a few blogs and takes some ibuprofen, and no matter what Stiles does, he still feels totally, inexplicably, unbelievably pregnant.

He’s able to indulge in some good old fashioned denial for a few days. It’s not hard to deny, what with him not having a uterus and all, so he does that, and it’s nice, just believing he’s crazy instead of pregnant. It’s summer and Scott’s away meeting with one of the alphas they’d already ruled out months ago, so he really has nothing to do but sit inside the house all day and pretend he doesn’t feel it. When his dad comes home, he makes him dinner. He dicks off on the internet and eats Cheetos and doesn’t jerk off, but not because of the non-baby he’s carrying—nope, that’s not a thing that’s happening—but because he’ll think about Derek, and that’s related enough to kill any possible boners.

By Friday, however, it’s all he feels.

He gets out of bed that morning and he doesn’t feel cold and he doesn’t feel hot and he doesn’t feel hungry or thirsty or sleepy or bored.

Stiles feels pregnant.

Down to his toes, into the very core of him, he can feel it inside of his belly even though it’s not doing anything. It’s not moving, but his brain known it’s there, like an organ or a limb, and it sends messages to Stiles accordingly. Like, “Hey, you have a hand there, don’t put it on the stove,” only it’s more like, “Hey, you have a baby in there, protect your stomach from any random blunt force trauma.”

He has a full blown panic attack in the shower, sits in the bottom of the tub and extends his arms to either side, one flat against the wet tiles and the other flat against the sliding glass door, hyperventilating. He’s shaking all over and his vision goes black around the edges about two minutes into it.

He’s never been so happy to pass out before.

When he comes to, the water is only just going cold, so he wasn’t out for long. Just long enough to reset his brain, for him to gather some logic and think, Okay.

Okay, he thinks, he needs action. He needs to tell Derek, because this is what they’ve been waiting for, right? This is the effect they were looking for, the endgame. Only he can’t tell Derek. That’s a stupid and terrible idea. He needs proof, first.

Then, Derek.

He makes a list in his head as he gets dressed, shakily. Stiles loves lists. Lists are logical. Fixed. Rational. Planned.

Derek is number two on his list.

Melissa McCall is number one.

*

It’s a conversation made less awkward by Stiles’ crippling urgency. There’s no room for delicacy, so as soon as she answers the door, he comes out with it. “I had sex with a werewolf and I think I’m pregnant.”

He doesn’t say it was Derek.

Melissa blinks at him, still in her pajamas and hair sticking up all over the place. He feels instantly like shit for involving her in this. She has dark wells beneath her eyes and more lines etched into her forehead than she had even a year ago. Sometimes he thinks it’s nice, not being the only one stressed out and worrying like hell that Scott’s standing on the edge of a cliff, just toeing himself closer and closer.

It’s not nice really, though. It’s mostly just sad and infuriating.

“Stiles,” she says, and it’s exasperated, unsurprised, and maybe, underneath all the disbelief, is a little disappointment. That’s what makes him hurt worst of all. “Let me get dressed.”

When they leave the McCall house, Melissa still doesn’t believe him. That’s fine, to Stiles, and he tells her so. He doesn’t want to be believed. Disbelief grants further merit to his whole craziness theory, which is honestly a best case scenario here.

Her laughter when she parks at Beacon Hills Memorial holds an edge of hysteria. “I don’t even know how to find out, Stiles. I’d say I’m not an obstetrician, but one of those obviously wouldn’t do you any good.”

He thunk’s his head against the window and wonders, “What about an ultrasound?”

She shakes her head. “You said it’s only been four weeks? The chances of detection on a trans-vaginal ultrasound are even slim, and you… don’t have a vagina anyway.” She releases a sigh and massages at her temples, pensive. Then she yanks the keys from the ignition and nods, face determined. “Okay. Okay, I have an idea.”

She sneaks him into the OBGYN wing with a story about Stiles stupidly knocking up his girlfriend. He doesn’t even have it in him to be insulted, or worried that it might somehow get back to his dad. Melissa is pretty tight with the nursing staff, in any case, so it’s hardly any trouble at all for her to secret him away into an examination room she promises no one ever uses.

“It has a weird smell, patients hate it,” she insists before leaving him there.

The smell is easy to ignore, given the fact that he’s still shaking and freaked out and dangerously close to hyperventilating himself into unconsciousness, yet again. The walls have pictures of babies, of enormous, swollen bellies with hands resting softly upon them. There are pamphlets on a shelf, how to stay healthy, how to tell you’re in labor, how to ensure your fetus is being the very best fetus a fetus can possibly be.

By the time Melissa returns, Stiles isn’t pacing so much as he’s sprinting from one side of the room to the other.

“Pee in this,” she orders, shoving a specimen cup into his chest.

He has no idea how pregnancy tests work, but he’s pretty sure his face must convey his doubt. “I don’t think I’m going to have the kind of hormone it’s looking for.”

“I think you will, just in lower amounts.” She pushes him into the bathroom, demanding, “Just do it, you never know!”

When he gets back, warm specimen cup in hand, Melissa is tying her hair back. She slips into a pair of latex gloves and snaps at him for the cup, takes it and sets it on the counter, fiddles with a foil wrapper that, he discovers, holds a thin test strip.

She dips it in for a moment, takes it out, sets it flat, and waits.

Stiles flattens himself into the corner farthest away, gnawing on his thumbnail before he remembers he forgot to wash his hands after peeing, so he does that, just to distract himself.

When he comes out of the bathroom, Melissa turns to stare at him, pale, test strip pinched between thumb and forefinger. “Stiles, it’s…” she breathes, “It’s a really weak positive.”

He’s known for almost a week now, has felt it, so it’s no shock or anything, not to Stiles, not like it was that morning, but it still makes his stomach drop, makes his lungs constrict and his heart thunder wildly against his ribcage.

Melissa moves, dumps the pee in the toilet, flushes and removes her gloves, washes her hands, slow, methodical just like Stiles did, and then she breathes.

“We’re doing the ultrasound,” she decides, pulling the paper over the bed, but Stiles just stands there, motionless, owlish and silent.

He can’t say words.

She must sense this, because she herds him to the examination table with both hands, guiding him to lie down, pushes up his shirt and almost destroys the whole room yanking the ultrasound machine across it.

Her hands are shaking, too, when she squeezes out the weird goo onto his belly, when she fires up the machine and puts the wand to his stomach, presses it down, hard. It’s not as bad as Stiles, whose teeth are chattering at this point, but there’s a tremor in the way she moves, jerky and unsure.

Eventually her hand stills, stops seeking, as if it’s found its mark.

She’s quiet for a long while.

Stiles doesn’t care. He already knows what she’s about to say, knows it like he knew it was happening to begin with. Knows it like he knows he has organs and limbs, like he knows the sky is blue and the grass is green.

“Eight,” she says, grim. “Eight, maybe ten weeks along. Developmentally speaking.”

His voice comes out hoarse, scratchy. “It’s growing faster.”

After a pause, “Yes.”

“Twice as fast, at least.”

“Yes.”

“It’s not human.”

“I don’t...” Melissa shakes her head, sighing at the screen. “I don’t know, I can’t tell.”

“Get it out,” Stiles decides, pulse racing. He grabs her wrist and flings it away, clawing at his stomach. There’s a scream and she startles, throws a panicked glance at the door and shushes him, but Stiles vision narrows into a focused point on his stomach, fingernails frantically digging into the skin, and he hears a frenzied screech begging to cut him open, to get it out of him, but it doesn’t register that Stiles is the one doing it, the one screaming and begging and causing people to rap against the door in alarm.

The last thing he remembers before blacking out—again—is that print on the wall of the swollen belly, a woman’s soft hand resting on it, as if to hold her baby inside.

*

Scott’s lived in the same house his whole life. His mother’s fought for it like crazy, even when they were on the cusp of foreclosure and Scott was sure they’d need to move to some place smaller, some place with less rooms. The house was clearly purchased under the belief that Mr. and Mrs. McCall were going to have a huge family, but that doesn’t seem to matter to her anymore. She’s just white-knuckling the mere principle of the thing. It’s hers and Scott’s, and even if they’re dead broke and have nothing to put in it, they’ll still have that—shelter, sanctuary, home.

You can’t build a home, and you can’t buy one, either.

Stiles wakes up there two days later, still numb, in Scott’s bed. Melissa’s been trying to hunt down Dr. Deaton, to no avail. He’s moved away now, like Lydia. And Scott is still gone, too.

Stiles is packless.

Melissa won’t let him cut it out. He tried once, and Stiles doesn’t mean that scene at the hospital. When they came back, he went for the kitchen knives first thing, but Melissa knows a little Taekwondo and managed to restrain him, made him promise he’d wait for her to find a surgeon willing to take on something a little legally—and medically—sketchy.

He agreed, because she was right. He knows it’d be impulsive to slice himself open, but he can’t help it. He needs it out. It’s like finding a spider in your hair. You don’t just wait for someone to come and get it off, you react.

Stiles is reacting a lot.

And frequently.

(Melissa took all the knives out of the house, called his dad and told him Stiles was sick with the flu, that she’d take care of him since Scott was gone and keep Stiles hydrated and mother him, and if Stiles’ dad had any objections to this, then Stiles hasn’t heard them.)

So this is what Stiles does. He lies in Scott’s bed and waits for Melissa to say she’s found someone to get it out of him, to cure him of the wrongness and the bad, and he dreams.

God, he dreams.

He dreams of fire and swollen bellies and that scene in Alien, of giving birth to jackals through his urethra, the whole horrific nine yards. His head is a terrible place to be, he can’t imagine his stomach is much better, why anyone would want to put a thing inside of it.

His fingers twitch to claw at it, and he makes a fist, shoves it beneath Scott’s pillow and squeezes his eyes firmly shut. He researched a little, on that first day, but there was nothing to be found in the resources he has available to him, which is to say that Google has failed him.

Part of him doesn’t want to tell Derek at all. Telling Derek would make it real, would mean he’ll need to tell his pack, probably, and underneath all the horror and feel and wrong, there’s also an undercurrent of total mortification. But he knows better—he has to tell Derek. And he will. He’ll tell Derek just as soon as he has a plan to get this thing out of him.

He can’t even stand existing while it’s still there.

He has another three hour bout of sleep, and it’s a drawn out, vivid nightmare of him being chased through the forest, then of being electrocuted, sharp currents of pain sparking at his sides, arcing him, something biting into his wrists, the smell of singed flesh and sweet, cloying perfume.

He wakes up screaming, legs kicking out against the mattress, and Melissa holding down his wrists.

He yanks them away, panting, before rubbing the circumferences of them, soothing away the sensation of metal and stinging against the veins exposed on the soft underside of them.

Melissa says, “Sorry,” and, “Deaton,” and Stiles flies out of bed, searching for his shoes. “No, here,” she says, gentle and patient, and Stiles doesn’t think he’ll ever forget the way she’s looking at him; like she’s frightened, scared of moving the wrong way or saying the wrong thing. He wants to tell her he isn’t Scott.

She brings him a laptop.

Deaton is giving an empty smile from the screen. “Stiles.”

He falls onto the bed, arranging the laptop better, giving Deaton a view of both him and Melissa, positioned just behind his shoulder. “I need help,” Stiles says, voice scratchy.

“Melissa filled me in,” he says. He’s sitting against a wall and Stiles can’t tell anything about where he is, or what’s in the room. It’s making him nervous. “It’s a… unique case, Stiles. As I told her, this isn’t a werewolf phenomenon.”

“There were witches,” Stiles stumbles over his own words in his urgency. “We found some kind of altar out in the preserve, and there were all these dead deer and they were stealing our hemlock. And, and, and nightshade.”

Deaton’s eyebrows knit together. “Neither of those is prevalent in the kinds of rituals necessary to achieve this kind of outcome. Likely, they needed the plants for something else. They’re very coveted, difficult to find. If they stumbled across the plants, I imagine it’d be nearly impossible for a practitioner to resist. It’d be like you passing a twenty dollar bill in the street.”

Stiles nods, frantic. “Red herring, right. Okay. Witches did this, though. I’m sure of it.”

Deaton agrees, “It’d have to be a spell, a powerful one, to defy the course of nature like this. They’d have to prepare your body for carrying, create a suitable environment for gestation.”

“Can we break it?” Stiles asks. “Spells can always be broken, right? We just need to find another witch, or track this one down.”

Deaton smiles, but it looks… sad. “I’m afraid it’s not that cut and dry, Stiles. Spells like this can’t just be broken. I’d be too concerned about how it might harm you to even risk trying.” Stiles exhales in frustration, scrubbing a hand through his hair, and Deaton sighs. “This isn’t biology. This is creation. To create a life is… a tricky endeavor, you have to understand. To give life, one must take life.”

“The deer,” Stiles realizes.

Deaton nods. “The exchange has already been made, it’s a delicate balance.”

Stiles stares into the camera and thickly guesses, “You’re saying I can’t get rid of it.”

“I’m saying…” Deaton looks away from the camera briefly, face twisting into something pained. “To take this life would upset the balance. I think it would simply… grow back.”

Stiles gapes at the screen. “Grow back?!”

“You take life, you receive life. They cancel each other out.”

Melissa places her palm on the flat of Stiles’ back, rubbing soothingly as he drops his head, breathes harshly into his hands. He mutters, “Oh my god,” and he’d freak out if he had even a fraction of the energy necessary to do so. As it is, he’s just numb, his skin crawling. He wants out of it, wants to peel off the layers and step away from his body.

His stomach turns.

“How fast did you say it was gestating?” Deaton softly asks, and Melissa makes a sound—a sigh.

“Twice as fast as a human fetus, at least. I’m not—it’s been a while since I read an ultrasound.”

“Ah,” Deaton says brightly enough that Stiles lifts his head, watches him grin. “Typical werewolf gestation is five months.”

Stiles blinks at the screen.

Deaton’s smile wavers. “So we know what it is.”

“I don’t care what it is,” Stiles grinds out. “I don’t care why it was put there. I don’t even care who did it, at this point. I don’t want it. I was never given a choice. My body isn’t a fucking incubator!”

“I can’t even begin to imagine how violated you’re feeling,” he says, frowning. “And I understand the urge to get it out. I know it’s… tremendously unfair, and to ask you to carry it, even more so.”

Stiles senses a ‘but’.

It doesn’t come. “So let’s explore your options,” Deacon says instead, straightening. “If you deliver in Beacon Hills, we’ll need to hide you after the second month. You’ll be showing too far along to explain to humans. I also know a very small coven located in the mid-west. I know the high priestess personally. I’m not sure if they’ll have someone qualified to deliver, but I know dozens of covens, and I trust this particular one more than any other. They’ll be allied with packs, too.”

Stiles turns to stare out the window, watches a robin land on a branch, bouncing it with its weight. It tweets and lifts a wing, buries its beak into the feathers and ruffles them before lowering it, shaking its tail feathers out.

It leaps off and flies away.

Just like that.

“Have you told him?”

Stiles doesn’t even turn to the screen. “Not yet.”

“It’s a weak concession, but the choices from here on out, Stiles, they’re all your own. You decide how you want to move next. Who you want to tell, how you want it handled.”

Stiles snorts, bitter, seeing as how he only has one option: to have the thing. That’s not a choice. That’s a sentence. “Hooray.”

Long after Deaton’s disconnected from Skype, after Melissa’s left the room and the sun begins dropping on the horizon, Stiles stares out the window and watches the birds—envies them. Not only because they can fly away at their every whim, but because how convenient it must be, he thinks, to lay eggs instead of having them inside, attached, like a parasite you can’t run from.

He gives himself the night. He knows it’s not productive and he realizes he’s wasting time, that he isn’t helping matters at all by angsting away in Scott’s bedroom, but there it is.

Pity, party of one.

He finds half a bottle of Smirnoff in the basement freezer and stays up until three in the morning, burning his throat with it.

He pukes almost every drop of it right back up, but he’s no quitter.

He figures tomorrow he’ll be responsible and reasonable. Tomorrow, he’ll make lists and plans, do damage control, come to terms with the fact that his body’s become nothing more than an egg shell, a pile of muscles and skin and bones that this thing is going to shed in four months, and feels just as fragile.

He would have, too, if not for Scott.

*

Derek’s pack is spread all across town. Boyd lives with his parents and Isaac has his own little apartment near the police station. Derek—who even knows where Derek stays. He lives here and there. Derek doesn’t have a house, he has a method of housing himself, and that has been enough. Sometimes he stays in the rubble of his former house, sometimes he stays in warehouses, sometimes he stays with Isaac or Boyd, but he is a tree without roots. More often than not, the places Derek are meant to be occupying wind up empty, void of him.

Stiles thought… he thought maybe if Derek got his shit together a little more, rounded up his pack and started living like a civilized werewolf, started living in a house, that maybe Scott would be a little more inclined to warm up to the idea of it. It’d be just like with his mom, who puts the value of a home above a value of a house. That’s what Scott needs in an alpha—not some guy who randomly appears every other week to check up on his betas, like they’re something to be checked off a to-do list—like they’re chores.

Scott has his father for that.

Of course, Stiles never got to make this argument to Derek.

The printout of houses he made is buried at the bottom of his trashcan, a promise scrawled on the back.

Derek doesn’t have a home, doesn’t even have a house, which, turns out?

Super inconvenient.

*

Stiles runs so hard that he breaks a toe. He hears it snap, having caught on a root because he’s barefoot in the forest, but he doesn’t stop, just cries out at the pain and keeps pushing, feet pounding against the forest floor.

If he listens hard enough, he can hear the snaps of twigs beneath Scott’s feet as he gains on him.

Stiles pushes harder, faster, even when his empty stomach rolls and he curls at the waist with a dry heave. He dodges vines as best he can, but still ends up feeling a few whip against his face, thorns scraping through skin, little drops of blood beading to the surface.

He risks a glance over his shoulder—he doesn’t know why, this never works out well—and can see the blur of Scott in the distance, bent to all fours, wolfed out and utterly crazed.

Scott belts out a roar deep enough that it reverberates through Stiles’ bones. When it started, when Scott first began chasing Stiles, he talked to him, tried to reach his humanity, his anchor. But it didn’t work. Scott’s anchor was Allison, and she’s…

She’s just gone.

Stiles is short of air, his lungs aflame and chest cramping, and he couldn’t eke out a word if he tried, so he doesn’t bother now, just keeps running and prays he can make it there, and that for once Derek’s where Stiles intuits him to be.

He breaks through the trees into the clearing and can run faster. He aims for the shell of the old Hale house and screams incoherently, incapable of forming actual words, chest stinging with every exhale.

The universe must know that Stiles is due for a little freaking help, because Derek bursts from the second floor, lands on the ground and doesn’t even pause, just starts running toward Stiles, face and hands transforming, eyes aglow with red and set on the space just over Stiles’ shoulder, where he can hear Scott advancing.

When Derek passes him, Stiles collapses. He slides and rolls to his stomach, comes to a still facing them, panting, vision blurry at the edges.

The tackle rattles the ground against Stiles’ belly. 

Derek has him pinned to the ground, and even though Scott jostles him, teeth snapping, claws tearing at his hands, he’s stronger. He roars into Scott’s face, “Submit!” and Scott roars back, thrashing, eyes burning so yellow they’re almost white.

He almost manages to buck Derek off, but Derek slams him back into the dirt, demanding submission once again.

Derek means to end this, Stiles realizes, once and for all.

Stiles can see it in the red of his eyes, the set of his shoulders, the way he shoves Scott’s wrists into the dirt, snarling at him, ordering him.

Stiles is embarrassed to even think it, but even he’s feeling the instinct to obey, to bare his throat and go limp, shakes at the naked power in Derek’s voice—in his eyes. He has no idea how Scott resists, but he does. He screams back, feral, kicking his legs and clawing so wildly at Derek that he’s mostly just gouging into his own palms now.

Stiles holds his breath, willing Scott to give in with every fiber of his being. Begging him in his mind, Please, Scott, please.

He doesn’t realize he’s saying it aloud until Derek turns, glances at Stiles over his shoulder. Derek lurches to the side, grabs Scott in a hold, arms restrained at his back, and instructs him, “Look.” Scott doesn’t at first, still bucking against the hold, but Derek grabs a handful of his hair, forces his head up and back. “It’s Stiles. Scott. Scott! Look at him, look!”

He’s still rigid, tensed for a fight, but Scott does it. He meets Stiles eyes and pants at him. For a long moment, his face is still screwed up in that ugly grimace of fury. But then a flash of something twists his expression.

He looks lost.

“He’s your best friend,” Derek says, “and you’re going to kill him.”

Scott makes a sharp sound of refusal, but instantly stops fighting.

“You’re going to attack him,” Derek goes on, and even as cars begin rumbling up the drive, Stiles can’t break the gaze he has with Scott, can’t look away from the shocked wideness of Scott’s eyes as it hits him. “You’re going to make it slow. You’ll go for his throat first, right? You’ll—look!” He snarls when Scott shakes his head, tries to look away. Derek forces him to look forward. “You’ll go for his throat, rip into his flesh and claw out his viscera. You’ll leave him to die like that. You’ll taste him for weeks. Her, too.” He yanks Scott’s head to the side, where Melissa is climbing out of her sedan, pale and panicked. “You’ll kill your mother, your friends. You go crazy enough, you’ll track down Allison, too. You’ll kill her, if she’s very lucky.”

Stiles goes limp at the exact second Scott does. His cheek hits the dirt and he stares at shoes—Melissa’s, Isaac’s, Boyd’s. He realizes distantly that she must have called them, must have called Derek, but it doesn’t really register. All he can hear is the sound of Scott crying that he’s sorry, he didn’t mean to, didn’t want to.

All he can register is Derek asking, “Submit to me, Scott.”

Asking.

He turns his face enough to watch when Derek releases him. “I don’t want to control you. That’s not what pack is.” He grabs Scott’s bloodied, gashed hand, grips it with his own injured hand. His voice is perfectly even when he insists, “Your blood is my blood. You think I want you in my pack for the power, but you’re wrong. Your human is McCall, but your wolf will always be Hale.” Derek gruffly but decisively tells him, “You and me, Isaac, Boyd. We’re brothers.”

Derek stares at Scott, searching for acknowledgment, agreement, submission.

Stiles knows what’s coming before it happens, is already letting his eyelids fall closed, drunk with relief when Scott nods, baring his neck.

It’s not resignation.

It’s actual honest-to-god acceptance.

Stiles knows at that moment exactly what he needs to do.

He scrambles to his feet, Melissa catching his elbow. The pain in his toe is sharper now, undulled by adrenaline, and he hisses, hobbles himself toward her sedan. He tells her under his breath, dead serious, “You need to get me out of here, now.”

She gives him a questioning look, but he doesn’t have the time to explain. The pack is distracted with Scott, Isaac and Boyd circling him and Derek, tense and jittery, waiting for some weird werewolf-packmate acknowledgment from Scott that Stiles will never understand, and he needs to leave before they smell him. Before they smell werewolf on him—in him—like Scott had. Because he finally has a pack and it’s new, fragile like an egg shell.

Stiles won’t risk letting this thing shatter it.

Deaton said it was his choice, what to do, who to tell, and it isn’t much, but it’s enough to get him away from here until the threat of it is gone.

He takes it.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

We were all born of flesh, in a flare of pain,
We do not remember the red roots whence we rose,
But we know that we rose and walked, that after a while
We shall lie down again.

 

 

 

 

The mid-west coven has a Victorian manor. It’s decorative, intricate, a lot like the altar Stiles saw in the woods. Everything is old, antique. The rooms echo and he’s pretty sure it’s haunted, can hear footsteps when he tries to sleep at night, occasionally the distant sounds of a woman weeping.

He asked the high priestess about it once, but she just said, “You make her grieve,” and Stiles doesn’t chase for the reason why.

He has enough to feel shitty about.

There’s a solarium that faces the west, huge and walled with windows, stained glass, filled with plants he’s never seen before. They don’t have any nightshade or hemlock, just healing stuff. Herbs and aloe. When it rains, the solarium’s floor looks like it’s bleeding, crying itself toward the leaves of the hanging ferns, and somewhere in the manor the ghost woman weeps, her melancholy winding through the corridors, caressing the wainscoted walls and the arched ceilings.

It’s a dreary place, set out from the city. The pipes bang and the boiler doesn’t work. They put space heaters in Stiles’ room when the August chill arrived, when he stopped walking, covered him with blankets and smartly ignored the tears that traced down his temples and disappeared into his hair.

There are four witches, all elderly, all women. Millicent, his favorite, is the high priestess. Hazel and Lorelle are sisters, and Zanna doesn’t talk, at all, ever.

The coven meets in some pattern Stiles doesn’t recognize. Something to do with the stars, he thinks, the way they align, the astrology of them. He doesn’t have enough interest to research it, which speaks volumes. Any other time, he’d be itching with curiosity about the symbols they draw around and beneath his bed, on table tops and cabinet doors, on mirrors and windows.

When they do meet, they’ll come to him. Millicent puts a line of herbs on his forehead, places her hand on his chest, and they pray. They told him once he could chant along, and sometimes he does, enjoys the feel of their language on his tongue, but mostly he lets it lull him into a deep, undisturbed and trance-like slumber. When he asks her why they pray for him, Millicent says, “It’s pressing on your soul, here.” She points to his chest and it’s weird to say aloud, but Stiles swears he can feel it.

Hazel calls it ‘soul sickness’.

Lorelle calls it ‘an anxiety disorder’.

Zanna stares down the corridor, listens to the weeping woman, and calls it nothing.

Stiles likes the coven. He couldn’t say why, but somehow, in the very core of him, he knows they’re good, that they care about him because Deaton does, because he’s close to a pack. They keep him fed, in the body and the soul, keep him warm and safe, and even though his soul is sick, he trusts them almost instantly with it.

The pack from Chicago, he’s not so sure about.

“Do you want to walk today?” Paula asks, dropping into the armchair in the corner of the room.

Stiles doesn’t open his eyes. “No.”

“You never want to walk.” She huffs. “You really need to try. It’ll be good for the baby.”

Stiles fists his hand where it lies at his side. He doesn’t want to go walking, it’s true. He wants to lie here and be still. Completely motionless. Sometimes when he’s still like this, it’s almost like it’s not there, the weird, foreign thing crammed into his stomach, pushing against his organs, rearranging them.

Sometimes he thinks it makes time pass faster.

No, if he stands up and walks, it pulls him down, the gravity of it, the way his stomach bloats out over his sweatpants, dragging him toward the ground.

“My God, does pregnancy ever not suit you.”

“Then why don’t you take it,” he snaps, and immediately feels bad about it. She’s a short woman, a hundred and twenty pounds, soaking wet. She has red hair, a sharp tongue, and fashion sense, which is probably exactly why Stiles was so quick to agree to hand the baby over to her. Add in the fact that, after an unfortunate wolfsbane incident, Paula has been unable to conceive, not to mention the fact that he sure as hell doesn’t want the thing, and it’s basically fate. “Sorry,” he mutters. “I’m not trying to be a dick, I just really hate walking right now.”

After a moment, she sighs. “It’s fine. Three more weeks, right?”

The pack has a doctor to perform the delivery. He comes up to the manor every other weekend to hook Stiles up to machines and check the development of the fetus. Stiles asked him once, if he could cut it out early, but the guy just gave him a look, like he was completely insane.

Stiles jerks a shoulder. “I guess.” He can feel it moving every day, kicking inside of him, squirming beneath his skin and sliding against his insides.

It’s making him sick.

“I know you hate hearing about this stuff, but,” Paula gives him a wary glance and brandishes her cell phone. “The nursery’s almost done. Wanna see?”

He really doesn’t, but he still feels bad about what he said, so he gives one terse nod and gives the photo on her phone a quick onceover. “Cool,” he says unfeelingly. It’s decorated in green and brown, with a forest mural painted on the wall above what looks like an antique crib. “I wish I could give it to you now.”

Her smile is tight at the edges—she doesn’t like it when he calls the baby ‘it’—but she puts the phone away and rests a tentative hand against his belly. She does this sometimes. Sometimes she’ll rest her head on the bed by his stomach and sing to it, some lullaby that Stiles doesn’t recognize, beaming whenever she feels it move beneath her palm. Stiles tries not to care, not to be reminded of that print on the wall at the hospital.

He tries not to feel unnatural and wrong.

He mostly fails.

*

The alpha of the Chicago pack arrives one week before Stiles can deliver. He’s been miserable, homesick, talks to Deaton on Skype almost every night now, sends emails to Melissa and Scott, tries to smooth things over for his eventual return.

He’s had to lie about where he is, of course. He hasn’t told Lydia anything—she’ll never know he’s lying, she never goes home—but everyone in Beacon Hills, save Melissa and Deaton, all believe that Stiles moved to campus early. Classes at Berkley have probably already started. He doesn’t keep up with the lie as well as he should.

Scott is the worst. He thinks Stiles left because of him, because of what he almost did, and he writes whole paragraphs begging his forgiveness, telling him about how different it is having a pack, how much he’s evened out and settled, how happy he is, how much happier he would be if he could see Stiles.

He tries to explain that it wasn’t Scott, not really, that he just needed to get away, but Scott doesn’t buy it, and Stiles can’t blame him.

Even his lies are halfhearted.

So when the alpha sweeps into Stiles’ room and bluntly asks, “Do you agree to relinquish your child as a ward of the Monroe pack?” Stiles doesn’t say much more than, “Yeah, whatever.”

But this guy makes his stomach turn. Having him in Stiles’ room makes him uncomfortable, fidgety, itchy and restless. He’s incapable of remaining still while Alpha Monroe and Millicent discuss next weekend, the day he’ll deliver.

He’s trying really hard not to vomit.

One more week, he keeps telling himself. One more week and he’ll be done with this, for good. He’ll go to school, try to patch things up with his dad, who was not happy about Stiles leaving for the summer at all. Stiles will be better, in one week. Just seven fucking days until he’s free.  Stiles knows he’s pretty depressed when he doesn’t even want to make a pregnant with anticipation joke.

Alpha Monroe nods and behind him stands Paula, glowing with excitement. “We’ll give you three days for the rites. Paula will remain with the child here.”

Millicent looks to Stiles before agreeing. “We’ll accommodate her.”

When the alpha turns his gaze to Stiles, eyes tracing down his body to his belly, the thing inside of him kicks—thrashes—a sharp pain tugging at his insides, makes Stiles cry out. He has to fling himself onto his side so he doesn’t puke all over himself, ends up hanging over the edge of the bed, watching his lunch splat against the hardwood.

The alpha makes a disgusted, chuffing noise. “Paula, clean this,” he orders before sweeping back out.

“Sorry,” he says as he listens to her obey, but she just snorts.

“Come on, what kind of expectant mother would I be if I couldn’t handle a little puke, right?” She smiles at him prettily, and for a very, very brief moment, Stiles loves her.

“You’ll be a great mom,” he manages, buoyed by the blinding, watery grin she responds with. Or maybe it’s just that the alpha is finally gone, Stiles doesn’t know.

“You think?”

“Definitely,” he says, smiling softly back.

The ghost woman’s weeping grows louder.

Closer.

*

Both Paula and the pack’s doctor stay for those last few days. She sits with Stiles and tells him lore from her pack. Long, vivid stories about the first Monroe wolf, a strong Sioux shaman who turned his whole tribe. He was a huge, hulking beast, with a harem of fifteen women for mating—some were his daughters. According to Monroe legend, he was part wolf, part buffalo, and quite obviously part douchebag.

She tells him what she knows about the coven, about having seen Millicent in battle. Paula says they’ll die before killing, but they have defenses that no wolf could get through. She says their magic is old, that they are old, older than they look, and they never tell anyone just how old they are.

She eventually asks him about the Hale pack, about the bloodline of her son or daughter, and Stiles says very firmly, “No offense, but no.”

Her smile is thin. “That’s fine, I get it.”

She doesn’t, really. She doesn’t understand the fragility of a new pack, all the history there with Derek’s family, the multitudes of vulnerabilities that Stiles could never reveal to another pack. He’ll put the life of this thing in their hands, but not the lives of the pack.

He feels like this should make him guilty, remorseful, sad, but it doesn’t. He just feels impatient to have it out of him. The closer they get to the delivery, the more it moves. When he lifts his shirt, he can see it squirming, has to fist his hands into whatever material is nearest to extinguish the urge to cut it out of himself.

Five months later, he’s still trying to get the spider out of his hair.

It’s Thursday when it happens. They’re sleeping, Stiles at one end of the bed and Paula at the other. He wakes up to a blinding pain in the center of his abdomen, close to his spine, sharp enough that it makes him jump.

Stiles screams more out of fear than anything, because somehow he can feel it, knows that the thing inside of him is panicking, searching for a way out. He looks at Paula, who’s awoken startled and visibly disoriented.

He gasps, “Now.”

She says, “What?” and he shoves the blankets off him, yanks up his shirt, exposing the motion happening beneath his skin.

He grabs at his stomach, frantic. “Now, right now, we have to get it out!”

She’s gone before he can even finish, and that would seriously piss him off, but he knows she’s getting the doctor, so he waits. He tells his stomach, “Wait, wait, wait,” and then he chants Millicent’s prayer, “Naenima, saenima, faenima,” over and over, until he’s having less of a panic attack and more of a shit fit.

The thing moves then, bucks against his bones, angry, ready, and Stiles howls, thrashes against the bed so hard that he goes flying right off the side. He lands on his back with a crash, but he can’t feel anything else—just the thing pushing at his insides, bracing against his bones, flipping and turning, lost, scared, confused.

The doctor doesn’t bother lifting him back to the bed. He cuts off Stiles’ shirt, stabs a syringe—“Tranquilizer,” he says—into his thigh and spreads out a bright blue tarp over the floor. He rolls Stiles into the center of it and he’s sweating and he looks…

He looks scared.

He looks like he has no idea what he’s doing.

The last thing Stiles remembers before losing consciousness is hearing the weeping woman, looking up and seeing a shadow in the corner of his room. He knows it’s her, reaches out like he’s moving through Jello, arms heavy, eyelids falling, wanting to say he’s sorry for causing her grief.

He’s sorry.

She weeps and Stiles sleeps.

*

When Stiles was pregnant, he dreamed. It was almost always of fire, though sometimes they weren’t nightmares at all. Sometimes they were soft, downy sepia-type things. He had visions of a woman with long dark hair and almond-shaped, red alpha eyes.

He dreamed of wolves, of running beneath the cold rays of the moon, of stomping through the snow and nipping at fur. He dreamed of family—he dreamed of Derek’s family—of their alpha, their mother, of the home they once knew, the home they all burned in.

Stiles dreamed of a phoenix with feathers made of ash, a beak strong like steel, talons sharp like the scent of smoke. He dreamed of pain and longing, guilt, resurrection, and hope; about sorrow so thick that he would wake up certain he was choking on it, lodged in his throat, clawing at his windpipe.

He knows it wasn’t him who was dreaming.

Stiles was just a spectator.

When he dreams now, he dreams of his dad, of the gray hair at his temples and the pinched look on his face when Stiles said he was leaving. He dreams of the Sheriff’s voice, dull with resignation, muted with the distance between them. He dreams of falling out of moving cars, and of Erica in middle school, and of the way a lock of her hair would hang over her eyes, reflecting a halo of playground sunshine. Stiles dreams of Jackson and Lydia, of Scott being held back by Derek, stricken and lost, of Boyd screaming at the dirt to give her back.

That’s how he knows it’s gone—when his dreams are his own again—when he wakes up not to the smell of smoke and sorrow, but the sensation of shame and failure, a sharp useless ache of sympathy.

Mostly he knows it’s gone because he hurts. It’s worse than when he fell out of that car, worse than Derek strangling him, worse even than having a werewolf fetus playing kickball with his pancreas.

He can barely swallow, it hurts so badly.

Millicent is grasping his hand, praying. She stops when Stiles open his eyes, gives a soft smile. “Your soul is healing,” she says, pleased.

“Maybe it can tell my guts to get with program,” he chokes out, shaking. He’s cold. He’s going into shock. He looks down expecting to see nothing, which is exactly what he gets. No swollen belly, no baby. Just an expanse of blanket covering the excruciating, gaping hole in his body. His vision swims in and out of focus with the throb of it.

“In time,” she assures. “Zanna sees a strong future for you. She speaks of tiny houses.” The papery thin skin at the edges of her eyes crinkles with her smile.

“That’s,” Stiles pauses to breathe through the pain, “so freaking cryptic, oh my god, and since when does Zanna say anything.”

Millicent quietly laughs, before her face grows serious. “The coven feels much sorrow, I’m afraid. Your body is in great pain and I haven’t the power to ease it.”

Stiles says, “Not a big fan of opiates, huh?” but it comes out in a squeak around his gnashed teeth.

A voice form the doorway timidly interjects, “I can,” and Stiles flings out a hand for Paula’s, willing to beg her, but not needing to. Even the pain drain of a werewolf only takes the edge off, but it allows him to breathe, to open his eyes and actually see.

She’s gripping his hand in hers, the other cradling a baby against her chest. It’s wrapped in a blanket, so he can’t see anything but the hint of a pale, pink toe.

He hates his total incapability of not wondering. “What is it?” and at Paula’s tight expression, amends, “Boy, girl?”

Her face softens when she glances down into the blanket. “Girl. Very healthy cub.”

He nods, storing it away.

“Do you.” She shifts, clearly uncomfortable asking, “Do you want to hold her?”

He instantly shakes his head. “I just… it hurts. Like, really a lot, I can’t even…” He can’t muster the energy to give a shit, is what he wants to say, but Millicent is sitting right there, and he always feels weird about cursing in front of her, so he whimpers instead.

Paula’s exhale sounds relieved. “He went to get you some morphine,” she promises. “He wasn’t planning for it to happen so quick, so he wasn’t prepared. I’m sorry.”

Stiles shakes his head again. “Not your fault.”

“We’ll begin the rites at dawn,” Millicent declares. Stiles doesn’t need to open his eyes to see Paula’s irritation at this. Millicent, the coven, they wanted to pray over both the child and Stiles—some three-day ritual that’s more tradition honoring their heritage than anything.

Stiles figures a little extra positive energy never hurt anybody, so he agreed, weeks ago.

The doctor arrives with the morphine not long after, stares at Stiles with something like terror as he injects it into his veins.

“You’ve gone into shock.”

“Little bit,” Stiles grinds out.

“You had… damage,” the doctor says, looking away. “It took some time to fix, and you lost too much blood.”

Stiles feels the morphine working instantaneously, and that combined with the pain drain and aforementioned blood loss, makes him feel more loopy than not. “All the king’s wolves, and all the king's men,” he laments.

Millicent puts a hand on his chest and says, “Sleep now,” begins chanting softly as Paula drains him, as the doctor takes his pulse.

Stiles drifts.

*

He doesn’t remember the first day of rites.

Millicent says he’s better when he’s sleeping. His soul, she says, heals faster. It’s a deep, dreamless sleep that goes by in what feels like a blink. When he awakens to a crying baby and a dim sky, he doesn’t know if it’s evening or morning, but the pain is duller now, still there, still throbbing, but nowhere near the blinding pain of before.

Paula’s in the armchair, hunched over, crooning a lullaby to the crying baby who’s cradled on the tops of her thighs. Stiles can see her now, her shock of dark hair, the delicate curl of her earlobe and the puffiness of her eyes as she wails up at Paula, face an angry purple-red.  She’s wearing a pink onesie, legs bare, balled up fists shaking every time she inhales.

“She looks pissed,” Stiles notes, voice scratchy from disuse.

Paula frowns at her, rocking her knees. “She’s been fussy ever since after the rites. I wish they’d just let us take her home. I don’t think she likes it here.”

Stiles makes a noise in acknowledgment. The manor really is sort of creepy. “Is there,” he tries, but has to clear his throat. “Is there any water, or… anything, something to drink? Please?”

Paula stands, cradles the baby to her chest, and she cries. Deep, throaty wails that are half-silent in their intensity, body trembling with it. It’s making him anxious, kind of like when the alpha came into the room that one time. Like everything’s wrong.

There’s a crystal glass on the dresser, but it’s empty. Stiles watches Paula work out if she’s going to set the baby down somewhere or take her wailing and screaming all the way to the other end of the corridor.

Before she can get too stressed about it, Stiles offers without even thinking, “I can hold her,” and then, at her cagey expression, “If you. If you want, I mean. It’s fine, if not. I get the whole, werewolf being territorial thing.”

But Paula just rolls her eyes, snorting. “You held her for five months, I think we’ll all be okay for five minutes.” She places her in his outstretched arms, immediately turning and snatching the glass, swiftly leaving the room.

Stiles looks down at the baby, and she’s crying, but then she’s just… not.

She stops mid-wail, chest heaving, breathless from her tantrum. She stops squirming, stops kicking, just stares up at Stiles and blinks, rapid, almost surprised.

Stiles mirrors her expression.

He always thought people who said infants looked like this parent or that one were morons. They all looked the same to him, were all far too underdeveloped to make out any hereditary features. They were always red and puffy and blotchy and usually looked furious. Whenever a relative gave birth and wondered, “Doesn’t he have so-and-so’s eyes?” Stiles would nod along, while secretly rolling his eyes, because no, not really.

Obviously, though, he was wrong.

He can pick out everything.

Everything.

His mom’s chin, his dad’s forehead, Derek’s hair, his eyebrows, his mouth, Stiles’ upturned nose, the almond-shapedeyes of Derek’s alpha mother.

Stiles thinks, that if he and Derek had a baby together, this is what it’d look like, and he’s not prepared. He was expecting a thing—a monster—an animal—some horrific creature. Not this. Not half Stiles and half Derek, and all theirs. Of all the things Stiles was prepared for, the last thing he was expecting was his own child.

He says, “Fuck,” and she makes a sound in the back of her throat, startled, but not afraid, just surprised.

She keeps blinking at him with those eyes. With his eyes. With Derek’s eyes. And then she’s being ripped away from him.

Someone makes a sound that’s hurt, confused. He can’t tell if it’s him or her.

“Here,” Paula says, thrusting the glass of water at him. It sloshes over the rim and splashes against his arm, but Stiles barely notices.

“Um.” He watches the baby start crying again, squirming against Paula’s chest, and there’s nothing he can do. What can he do? “Thanks,” he says, taking the glass.

He watches her leave and knows that was it. She’s never going to let him hold his baby ever again. He collapses into the bed, and feels a terrible certainty that he’s fucked up, big time.

*

The second day of rites is tense. Paula refuses to leave the room, to leave the baby with the coven and Stiles. She won’t even allow Millicent to hold her for a chant. She won’t look at Stiles, either, is so rigid with the instinct to flee with her child that she isn’t even comfortable with having the door closed.

She knows, is the thing. Whatever passed between Stiles and the baby, Paula felt it, scented it, sensed it, knew it was something blood-deep and fundamental, a connection she’ll never have, a tether that’s far more difficult to sever than by simply taking her away.

The baby cries through the whole thing, wails and screams and shakes herself into absolute exhaustion, until she finally sleeps and the witches chant lower, softer, wary of disturbing her. The coven keeps trading looks, and Zanna is especially prickly after an attempt to smudge their herb mixture onto the baby’s forehead.

Paula snarled at her.

Stiles, for the most part, lets their rhythmic chanting numb him. He chants along at first, but then drifts off, can’t help thinking about it, about her, about being a father, about failing so early on in his child’s life, that he promised her to someone else without thought or feeling before she even touched the air.

And he thinks about letting it happen. He’s only nineteen. He’s human. He has no business raising a kid, no way of taking care of her. Paula has a nursery, a crib, murals and blankets, onesies, diapers, heirlooms. Paula wanted her before Stiles even knew she was a possibility. She’d have a happy home. He wasn’t lying before, about Paula making a great mother. She’ll be good to her, Stiles is certain.

She’ll be safe with the Monroe pack, too. They’re big, have a nice territory, and are well established, even if their alpha makes his stomach turn.

But then he thinks of Derek and rejects even the thought of letting another pack have her—of letting that alpha have almost complete control over Derek’s cub. He remembers Derek’s words, Your blood is my blood, and, your wolf will always be a Hale, only it won’t be just her wolf.

She is a Hale.

She’s a Stilinski.

The rites go on to sunrise, at which point Paula grabs her bag and leaves, flees to her room with the baby, her little furious cries winding through the corridors, caressing the wainscoted walls and the arched ceilings.

*

Stiles tries walking that night. It’s agonizing and takes him the better part of an hour just to drag his feet across the floor of him room, feeling the staples holding his stomach together pull against his skin. He only halfway manages to drag his feet forward if he curls himself a bit, and the pain of it makes him shake, but somehow he does it. He shuffles himself into the corridor and stands mostly upright, hand clutching at the wall.

He edges down the corridor for a long while, just trying to figure out what to do, what he can live with, what he’s even capable of while in so much pain. He gets tired quickly, is just about to maybe admit defeat and collapse in a pile of shaking limbs and ashen skin when he sees her. The shadow of the ghost woman disappears at the end of the corridor, and Stiles forces his body to follow.

When he finally rounds the corner, he sees her standing at Paula’s closed door, and she’s not a shadow anymore. She’s translucent, but vibrantly detailed.

It’s a woman with long dark hair and almond-shaped, red alpha eyes.

Stiles takes in a sharp breath, but she raises a finger to her lips, so he pushes a shaking palm against his mouth.

He owlishly nods his acquiescence.

She lifts an arm, extends one finger and points at the door. After a moment, she turns her head to stare at it. He’s not sure what she’s asking, but he limps himself closer, close enough that he can see the triskelion pendant hanging from her neck.

He listens and hears…

Nothing.

The baby isn’t crying. Paula isn’t pacing.

The ghost twists her wrist and there’s a little snick from the doorknob. She looks at Stiles and waits.

He’s only like eighty percent positive she wants him to open the door, so he does it slowly, stilted, uncertain and terrified, because he’s pretty sure Paula would kill him if it meant keeping his baby and Stiles is vulnerable enough that if he sneezed, it’d probably kill him.

Luckily, she’s sleeping, sprawled out on the bed with the baby tucked into her side. Stiles whips around to see what the ghost wants him to do next, but she’s gone. Vanished.

And it’s not like he’s so stupid that he can’t take a hint.

He leaves the door cracked and shuffles as fast as he’s capable of back to his room. He brought a suitcase with him, but he doesn’t bother with it, just shoves his hand into the side pocket and fishes around for the keys to his Jeep. He won’t be able to carry much, and he can’t exactly make four trips, so he pushes his wallet into the pocket of his pullover and just… leaves it.

His laptop, his clothes, his fucking Nintendo 3DS.

None of it means anything.

When he gets back to the room, they haven’t moved. She’s so small, so tiny. He has no idea how he’s going to get her away without waking Paula, without going blind from the pain of standing, but when your sort-of-alpha’s mother comes back from the grave to tell you to get shit done, you have to at least give it a go, right?

He stumbles to the bed and stands over them, gnawing on a lip. When he gets his hand beneath the baby, she wakes up, and he freezes, wide-eyed as she gets her bearings, looking as though she’s probably about to start wailing her head off some more.

Their gazes meet and she doesn’t.

She blinks at him, just like before, like she’s considering him, not cautious, just curious.

He’s praying in his head when he lifts her, Naenima, saenima, faenima, but Paula doesn’t stir whatsoever and he gets her all the way to his chest, holds her close as he does his weird tiptoe-hunched-over-shuffling of feet.

Zanna’s blocking the doorway.

Stiles stops, throat clicking with a swallow. He thinks at first he’s totally screwed, that the witches will never let him leave and break a verbal contract with the very pack they’re allied to. But then he sees her, the ghost woman, Derek’s mother, standing just behind her, and he thinks, Oh.

Right.

Zanna lets him pass, only stops him to put something around his neck—a satchel.

A voice whispers through his mind, To mask your scents, and he doesn’t jump in surprise, but it’s a near thing.

Of course she’s telepathic, he thinks. Why the fuck not?

He nods his thanks and shifts the baby to his shoulder, shuffles as fast as he can down the corridor into the main hall, where the ghost leads him. Through the solarium and out into the kitchen, where the back door is left unlocked, she guides Stiles through the manor.

He can feel her with him even as he finds his Jeep, nestled to the side of the property, silent and waiting among a grove of trees. He tucks the baby into himself when he gets in, but ends up tearing... something. Something in his stomach gives and he muffles a cry against his sleeve, can feel a slow trickle of blood but can do nothing about it. He eases the door closed and holds the baby too tight when he turns the ignition. Thunderous, mechanical rumbles pour from the thing, and Stiles has never minded his Jeep, but holy shit, he wishes he had a nice, quiet sedan right about now.

Fearing the sound of it has woken Paula, he peels out in reverse, swings it around and barrels down the access road too fast. The baby makes small grunting noises into his neck, but doesn’t cry, not even a little, and when he breaks out onto the main road leading west, Stiles looks in his rearview and sees her standing at the end of the drive, her long dark hair still as stone, even when the wind whips around her.

Her eyes flash red, and then she’s gone.

*

In hindsight, it was a pretty crappy plan. Or maybe, lack of plan.

Stiles has a half a tank of gas, a bag of stale Cheetos, three sticks of Dentyn gum, and thirty dollars to his name. He has a baby and no diapers, no car seat, a massive and apparently torn stomach incision and no bandages, and to round out his foot-long shit sandwich, his morphine wore off about five municipalities ago.

He drives as far as his half a tank of gas will get him, which lands him smack dab in the middle of Nebraska. The baby fell asleep somewhere near Omaha and seems content to be cradled in one of his arms, but it makes driving difficult, and he has to trade off every hour or so, because they end up going numb, and that’s not fun for his stomach at all. Even having her pressed against him is excruciating, shifting her to the other side almost makes him black out.

And Stiles has had enough of the blacking out thing, thank you very much.

He stops at a gas station somewhere in the Sand Hills and turns off the Jeep, switches arms once again, crying out, panting, and just… stares at her.

“What the fuck am I going to do?” he asks, lightheaded.

She blinks up at him, two little fists flailing before coming to a rest on her belly, mouth parted.

“Thirty dollars isn’t going to get us home.”

She startles, flailing again, that same look of awe on her face when she stares at him.

“I can’t just keep holding you while I drive, either. That’s some pretty shitty parenting, right there.”

Another flail, a kick of her feet. He can’t get over her hair—her eyebrows—her nose. How much she looks like Derek and him. How very small and helpless she is.

“What am I even going to feed you? Because I don’t have boobies, so that’s obviously out. What do babies eat? Formula, right?” The more he talks the more she flails, gazing up at him, eyes brighter and brighter, so he rambles for the hell of it. “I also suspect you’re going to start smelling kind of bad soon, and I’ve got to be honest with you here, I’m not really in the emotional place to handle all of that.”

“I’m also,” he swallows a cry when he shifts, beginning to shiver. “I’m also kind of low on blood and could pass out at any second.” He thunks his head against the back of his seat, cursing, “Shit.” Stiles sucks, he decides. His plans suck, his life choices suck, and most of all, his gaping, festering stomach wound sucks.

The pack of werewolves probably chasing him isn’t really pinging high on his like meter, either.

Unfortunately, the baby has no advice to give, so he sits there in the Jeep with her, and just… thinks. His strongest instinct is to call for help. He’s far enough away that he figures he’s bought them some time.

He left his cell phone, but fortunately, this isn’t the first time in Stile’s life that a plan has sucked. In the back of his wallet is a paper with three phone numbers. Two of those are moot—Lydia’s at school by now and Scott’s gotten at least three new phones since it was made.

He just has to get out of the Jeep and go find a pay phone. No big deal, right?

He only just manages not to fall out the Jeep, flat on his face. It must scare the baby because she lets out a whimper before promptly bawling all over him. He’s keeled over from the pain of tensing himself to prevent impact with the parking lot, so he takes a moment, crouched low to the ground, to gather himself and shush her.

The payphones are all the way around the back, of course, and the first two eat his quarters, of course, and the third one has a weird substance clinging to the earpiece, but it works.

By the time he has the number punched in, Stiles is decidedly woozy. He’s being chased by werewolves, he’s clutching a newborn, and he can’t help it.

He’s scared.

So when he finally answers, all Stiles can muster is a throat-thick, choked out, “Dad, I’m in trouble.”

*

They both sleep on the Greyhound home. He had to wait three hours for it to board, but his dad paid for the tickets online, and Stiles was able to rest at the station, conserve his energy for stupid things like human interaction and, like, standing. He hates standing, never wants to do it again. Luckily, people who ride on and work for Greyhound? Super introverted people.

No questions asked.

He knows the baby’s hungry. She cried the whole time at the station. He was able to get some diapers with his thirty dollars and collapse onto a sketchy toilet seat at the gas station to figure out how exactly all of that worked, but they both came out the other side of that adventure better, more complex people.

He also bought a can of generic powdered formula, but has no way of getting perfectly warmed water to mix it with.

Stiles is so far from winning any Father of the Year awards, it isn’t even funny.

His dad, however, wins all of the awards. Every single one. And Stiles wants to tell him so, but the thing is…

The thing is, he’s getting cold. It’s hard to breathe and his chest went numb about sixty miles back, somewhere in Nevada. He can’t keep his eyes open and his sweatpants are saturated down to the knee in blood. His pulse has grown sluggish.

He hates to be a drama queen and all, but Stiles thinks he might not make it.

The only thing that keeps him going is the knowledge that they’re so close, almost home, and he’ll have her there soon, with his dad, in Beacon Hills proper, where she belongs. Not Chicago, not with the douchey alpha and his douchebag rapey shaman heritage.

They arrive in the evening, just when the sun is sinking below the horizon, and when the driver wakes him, Stiles is legit shocked he isn’t dead. He gathers the baby up to his numb chest and drags himself off the bus with the last ounce of will he has left, vision going spotty in the corners as he eases himself down the three steps to the parking lot.

As soon as he sees him, Stiles thrusts her at him, ignores the panicked, worried, confused words his dad is hurling at him and waits—waits until she’s safe in his arms—and then he knows it’s okay.

The ground rises up to meet him like a fist to the face.

*

Jackson Whittemore died in Stiles’ Jeep. He remembers watching his eyes fade, grabbing Jackson’s shoulder and telling him not to even fucking think about it, you fucking dickhead, Jackson, think about Lydia. Stiles thinks Jackson probably was, that the flash of shock and fear and aching disappointment on his face right before it went slack was more for having to leave her than having to leave at all.

Erica Reyes died just a week before that, alone in the woods. That’s what really hits Stiles the hardest about Erica’s death, he thinks. That she was alone. That she probably looked that alpha in the eye and felt a bone-deep sense of solitude. In his mind, he likes to think she smiled. That she flipped him the bird or spat in his face. He likes to think that she knew she would die, that she was okay, fierce to the end. He likes to lie to himself, when he thinks about Erica.

His mom died slowly, over the course of a year. He remembers wishing for it and then apologizing later, never clarifying to his mother just what he was even apologizing for—for wanting it to be over for her, for the pain to stop, even if that meant death. It still haunts him, kind of like how he used to hear footsteps in the hall at night, used to think it was his mother coming to ask him why, why would he wish for that?

Stiles is kind of well-versed in death, and even more well-versed in the aftermath of it. Is it any surprise, he wonders, that he’s so ill-equipped to handle its antithesis? 

*

When he wakes up, Stiles vows to never pass out again. This is it. There has to be a quota on dramatic fainting, and if there is, Stiles surely passed it a few months back.

This time, he’s in a hospital bed, and he never thought he’d be so happy to see tubes coming out of his arms, but he is.

Stiles is ecstatic.

“Oh my god,” he mutters at nothing. “Sweet, sweet medically trained hospital staffs, I have missed you so much, baby, mmm.”

At first he just enjoys it, the way the sun is stretching across his bed, warming his knees, the way he feels fuzzy and drugged, high and free. For the first time in about six months, Stiles feels no pain.

Then, he remembers.

He jerks upright and cries out, immediately falls back down, because that wasn’t good at all. It still hurts. It’s more of a dull throb than stabbing pains, but his entire lower half feels like fire. He searches for a call button, but the door opens before he finds it.

His dad walks in, sipping at a tall cup of coffee, and freezes with it midway to his mouth when he sees Stiles. “You’re awake.” He says this like it’s a miracle, like it’s totally unexpected and defies the laws of the universe.

“Where is she?” Stiles asks, frantic and raspy. “The baby, the… is she okay? Where?”

Again, with the surprise. “Melissa’s looking after her. How are you?”

Stiles falls back into the bed, sighing in relief. “I’m…” Unimportant, he wants to say. The least of his worries. He doesn’t even care about the massive amounts of abdominal pain. So long as she’s safe and all right, what does he have to complain about? And then Stiles realizes this must be how his dad feels, all the time. The last nineteen years of his life, he’s been unimportant to himself, and not with resentment, but with… instinct. Automatic. It’s never been a question.

Stiles looks at his dad and says, “I’ve been a difficult secretive shit, but you’ve raised me to be a good person, and I’m just… I’m really grateful and I love you, and I want you to know that I don’t really get it yet, but I’m starting to think maybe the best way of taking care of you all this time was for me to take care of myself, and I didn’t, and I’m sorry.” Stiles sniffles manfully. “And I’m super high right now, but it still counts.”

His dad shuffles forward to set the cup on the mobile tray, hands going to his hips. He inhales, long and deep, and lets it out in an uneven breath. “What the hell have you been—” But then he shakes his head, deflating. “I’m just glad you finally came to me. You can always come to me, Stiles. Without judgment, without condition, but if I ever let you out of my sight again it’ll be a full blown miracle, because you’re in the ICU recovering from septic shock, Jesus Christ.”

He drags a hand over his face and Stiles can appreciate the bags under his eyes, the tightness around his mouth and the tension in his shoulders. He’s absolutely exhausted and Stiles can’t say a thing about it, because he’s too close to understanding.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” his dad says, shaking his head, pleading with his eyes. “Don’t be sorry, Stiles. Be… safe.”

“I’m trying,” he promises seriously.

His dad levels him with a look. “Werewolves?”

Stiles blanches and asks, “You know?” but realizes that, Duh. Of course Melissa told him, what else could she have done? “I mean, yeah. You know. Thank god, I wasn’t looking forward to explaining all of that.”

“You’d be surprised how much I knew before Melissa even opened her mouth,” his dad says, falling into a chair, eyes weary. “You’d be surprised what a guy could find out about his son—about his town—by just watching, listening.” He looks at Stiles and isn’t sad, isn’t angry, isn’t even annoyed. He’s just relieved. Cautious. “Werewolves were a surprise, but not by much. I thought at first… drugs. And then a cult, when all those symbols and books ended up in your room. But you’re too headstrong for that, even I knew it was a reach. I’d really like to hear it from you, regardless.”

The only thing Stiles leaves out is the sex. It was only the one time, and hey, there’s a baby, so he figures that’s pretty self-intuitive, but he doesn’t want his dad hunting down Derek for target practice, so he just… glides right over that whole event. As far as his dad is concerned, she was immaculately conceived, and hey, that’s not even the most unbelievable facet of the conversation, so there’s that.

When Stiles gets to the part about the witches, the coven, the manor and delivering the baby, it’s dark out. He’s talked himself out of energy, but refuses to succumb to the nap at the end of the tunnel.

“They cut her out,” he says, gesturing at the dizzying area of pain formerly known as his stomach. This part of the story is stilted, and Stiles can appreciate the look of confusion on his dad’s face, but it’s just too fresh to relay calmly. “And now I’m here, but another pack wants her and… she’s a werewolf, did I say that? She is, and… I have no idea what I’m doing, but I couldn’t let them take her, you know? You get that, right?”

His dad nods, but looks hesitant. “If it was a spell, she could be—she could be bad, couldn’t she?”

Stiles shakes his head, interrupting. “She’s mine. She’s a Stilinski, she’s… She’s your granddaughter, didn’t you see that nose?” Before he can answer, “And even if she wasn’t genetically mine, it doesn’t matter. Not to me. She came from me, from my body. I didn’t ask for it and I wasn’t planning on her, but she’s a part of me, and she’s not. She’s not evil. She’s just a baby.”

Stiles thinks his dad takes it well, all things considered, but it turns out he’s had four days to absorb it.

“Four?”

“It’s Thursday,” his dad explains, and Stiles winces.

He’s so tired he can hardly think straight, but he can’t sleep now. Not until he knows she’s okay. “Is she… the baby, I mean, can I…” Stiles swallows, fidgeting with the tape over his IV. “Can I see her, you think?”

His dad gives him that look again, like he’s not operating as intended. “Well… yeah, I’ll call Melissa?”

Stiles nods, relieved. “Please? I didn’t have anything to feed her on the trip home, and she was crying and she’s probably freaked out and I’ve been unconscious longer than she’s been alive, and—”

His dad puts a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. He says, “It’s fine. She’s fine, Stiles, everything’s fine,” and Stiles points out, “If it was me?” and he can discern the moment that his dad gets it, especially seeing as how he’s been clearly spending far too much time in Stiles’ hospital room, not eating or sleeping, just waiting for him to wake up so he’d know he’s all right.

They might have been talking about her for the last hour, but he doesn’t see it really click until that exact second, that Stiles is a father now, that this isn’t just another supernatural obstacle to power through to the other side, that she’s as real and permanent to Stiles as Stiles is to his own dad.

His dad’s eyes are big and bothered. “Well … this is going to take some getting used to.”

Stiles pats the hand on his shoulder. “My life motto, dad.”

He eats while he waits. Whatever they have him on with the addition of his stomach pain makes him a little queasy, but he doesn’t want his dad to think he’s being careless, irresponsible, negligent of his own well-being. So he shoves sporkful after sporkful of cold mashed potatoes into his mouth, not tasting it, just trying to get as much down as possible, as quick as possible.

“You’re hungry,” his dad says, cutting up his slice of roast. Stiles never realized how many stomach muscles went into eating before this. His dad side-eyes him, and when he says, “You’ve lost a lot of weight,” Stiles thinks, You have no idea.

“The coven had some really good food—all organic stuff—but there at the end, I was… I don’t know. Too nervous to eat, I guess.” Which is a lie. He was actually too depressed, too busy wishing he were dead, that he didn’t exist at all. Even if he’d had an appetite, eating seemed kind of counter-productive.

As soon as he hears the distant sounds of a baby wailing, Stiles pushes his tray away, poised to climb out the bed as if that’s even an option right now. He instantly collapses back into the mattress, his dad cursing at him, but all he can hear is her.

Before Melissa even comes into the room, Stiles can tell.

She sounds hoarse.

Melissa looks flustered, tired, hair knotted up at the top of her head. She’s got the baby in a car seat dangling from one hand, and a diaper bag hanging from the other. “You,” she says simply, eyes narrowed at Stiles, and it really speaks to her character that she conveys a whole rant with it.

The baby looks just like she did at the manor—red-faced and shaking, angry. When Melissa puts the car seat onto the bed, he wastes no time freeing her from it. As soon as he has her resting gingerly against his chest, she quiets, snuffling into his hospital gown, fists still shaky.

He runs his palm over her dark head of hair. “See? Told you we’d make it home.”

She kicks at him, and when he settles her high in the crook of his arm, just stares with her wet eyes, cheeks flushed. She brings her fist up to her mouth and mouths on it clumsily, blinking at him.

“You always look so surprised to see me.” He snorts. “The festering stomach wound is doing fine, thanks for asking.” Every time he talks to her, she goes still, like she’s listening. “And my Jeep is abandoned somewhere in the middle of Nebraska, but, you know, BFD, right?”

Her fist falls out of her mouth and she makes a sound. A coo.

Jesus hop scotching Christ, Stiles had no chance. “Oh my god, you like it when I talk. Man, are you lucky, because otherwise we’d have a very frustrating relationship.” He looks up, laughing, but it dies in his throat at the way Melissa and his dad are staring at him. “What?”

“She hasn’t stopped crying since you got here,” Melissa says. “I swear, she’d wake herself up just to hear the sound of her own voice again. I thought something was wrong, I had her examined for colic.”

Stiles readjusts her so he can recline back against the bed, thinking. “Well,” he figures, “She’s a werewolf, so. Maybe it’s a scent thing? When Paula had her, she was like that.” The anger in his voice is unintentional. “She wouldn’t let me hold her.” He holds one of her ankles where it’s kicking against the top of his injury, says to her, “Kind of a drama queen, huh?”

She kicks out of his grasp, strong.

“So I take it you’re…” Melissa gestures at the car seat. “Keeping her?”

Stiles looks at his dad, gnawing on his lip. “Well, I mean, yeah? Yeah, I tried the other thing and it was…” He swallows. “It wasn’t good. I don’t want to do that, I changed my mind.” There’s a stretch of silence and Stiles feel guilty, frustrated. He bursts, “I mean, how was I supposed to make an informed decision? I had no idea what was coming out of there, and I was… I was freaking miserable. I was scared, you know? I wasn’t in a place to make sound judgments.”

No one’s arguing with him, but he keeps going. “I was expecting a thing, like, something bad and terrible, and instead it was just… it’s just her. She’s just a normal, run of the mill baby—granted, a werewolf baby, but that’s no novelty, werewolves are born all the time. And then the alpha was a douche, and Paula got all territorial, and Millicent said my soul was sick, and… and there was this whole thing with a ghost that I can’t really explain, but trust me when I say it was some very compelling stuff, and I know I’ve made some very poor life choices, but…” He shakes his head at them. “I just don’t think this is one of them?”

After a moment, his dad sighs, “What about school?” and Stiles has to physically stop himself from snorting.

Because honestly, what about school? What about the massive well-established pack of werewolves that’s probably after him?

Stiles jerks a shoulder. “I’ll figure something out. I’m not the first person on this earth to have a kid too young and still want a degree. It’s not ideal, but I’m not going to cry about it. I’ll just have to make some adjustments.”

His dad argues, “A baby isn’t an adjustment, Stiles. It’s…everything. It’s the end of life as you know it.”

Stiles narrows his eyes. “Gee, thanks.”

“No, Stiles. Are you really ready to stop being a kid so soon?” He looks sad, disappointed, and it makes Stiles stomach sink.

“I haven’t been a kid in a long time, dad.” And at his father’s frown, “I know you don’t like to hear that, but it just... is what it is. I’m not going to give her away to some random pack just because I want to move to a campus and get invited to keggers I’m never going to attend anyway. I mean, if I’m being selfish or stupid here, feel free to tell me,” he urges. “I’ve had a really weird and unpleasant summer, and I’m probably still not in the good-judgment-making place, but it just feels… right.”

“For what it’s worth,” Melissa tells his dad, “and this is coming from someone who’s gotten approximately two hours of sleep in four days—I’m with him.” She looks at Stiles then, eyes tight. “Whoever cut on you was negligent way past the point of mistake. They didn’t suture you right on the inside, not with the intention of fixing anything. It was more than just sloppy, Stiles. You were bleeding internally for three days. You needed multiple transfusions and you almost went into organ failure.”

Stiles realizes, “They didn’t want me to survive,” remembering the look of terror on the doctor’s face when he came with the morphine—his expression right before the tranquilizer hit Stiles, like he was scared, unsure.

Not the face of a murderer, but the face of someone who’s been ordered to.

“I’m thinking you were a loose end,” Melissa agrees, mouth pinched in anger. “They wanted it to look like they tried, but they didn’t. And I know that’s not my grandbaby, not by blood, but she’s close enough, and she’s… she’ll be pack, won’t she? She’ll be Scott’s pack?”

“Yes.” Something inside of Stiles unwinds at this declaration. It feels right, righter than anything so far, save keeping the baby.

Melissa softly tells his dad, “I was twenty when I had Scott. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible and I don’t regret it. I still went to school, got my degree, and became a nurse. And Scott didn’t have a pack until this year. She’ll have one right from the start, and that includes me. I’ll help however I can.” Then, to Stiles, “Except extended babysitting, because I’m sorry, Stiles, I love you, but I can’t handle four full days of crying ever again.”

Stiles smiles tiredly at her. “Really sorry about that.”

“What did you name her?” his dad finally asks.

Stiles bites his lip. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’t?”

“Didn’t have time to really think about it,” he replies honestly. “I didn’t even know I’d need to until I left the manor, and by that point it was all running and blood loss, so.”

His dad runs a hand over his face, scooting to the edge of his chair to peer down the bed at her. “We’ll need to get her a birth certificate, somehow,” he says, sounding resigned. “She’ll need a name.”

“We should get her prints tonight,” Melissa says, already halfway out the door. “While they’re still small, to buy some time.”

“So what if,” Stiles says when she’s gone, “maybe, she could be, um, Lillian?”

His gaze snaps to Stiles. “Your mom’s middle name?”

“Yeah.” Stiles nods. “It’s… it’s a pretty name, I think. She has her chin.” His dad is still perched at the edge of his seat, trying to look at her, so Stiles rolls his eyes. “You can come closer, you know. She doesn’t even have teeth to bite with.”

He looks briefly uncomfortable before he stands, adjusts his belt and manfully crosses the room. “You were tiny like that,” he says, gesturing with his chin. “Didn’t have that much hair, though.”

Stiles fights down a wince, doesn’t comment on exactly who she gets that from. “You can hold her,” he says instead. “You know, without all the drama of me falling onto my face. If you want?”

“If she starts crying,” his dad warns, but already has her in his arms at that point, considering her from every which angle, head tilted. His mouth scrunches up into an exaggerated, defeated frown. “Lillian, huh?”

She puts her fist back into her mouth, wide-eyed, and Stiles watches the hard edges of his dad’s frown lift, soften.

Stiles says, “Heh,” and settles in for that nap.

Lillian has totally got this.

*

The rules of ICU are too stringent for even Melissa to get around. There are only two visitors allowed at any given time, they have to leave at nine, and no way in hell are they going to let him keep a baby in there. Fortunately, Melissa can pull strings with admissions, so he gets moved to a private room the next morning.

Lillian spends the night with his dad, since she seems to cry a lot less with him than she did with Melissa, but once Stiles is settled into his new room, he gets Melissa alone and demand she teach him all the baby things.

Her and Stiles’ dad went ahead and sprung for the essentials. Infants apparently need special bottles, not just the regular plain ones, and see, he would have never known that. She teaches him how to burp her and the best ways for her to sleep.

By the end of the day, Stiles still knows very little, but he’s confident he can keep her overnight without killing her, so there’s that.

“When are you going to tell him,” Melissa asks before she leaves.

Stiles has Lillian cradled atop his thighs, feeding her, very carefully since apparently if he holds the bottle wrong, the air could give her a belly ache, or as Melissa calls it, The Worst Thing Ever.

“Soon,” Stiles says, and doesn’t ask which he she’s even referring to. “As soon as I’m better?”

She lingers by the door, fingers curled around her purse strap. “I’ve been keeping Scott away from the house, but I’m not sure how long that’ll work and he’s going to smell her.”

Stiles nods, thinking. “If he tries to come over, just… tell him I’m here.”

“Derek deserves to know, Stiles. He deserved to know a long time ago.”

Stiles physically flinches, looks down at the baby. “I know,” he says. “I know, I do, and I will tell him. I just don’t… I want to be prepared if he freaks out, and I want to tell him face to face. I just want to do something right for once.” He looks at Melissa, pleading for her to understand.

She gives a nod and says, “Soon.”

Stiles agrees, “Totally soon.”

*

Scott never comes. Only three people know he’s even back in town, so Stiles spends his week in the hospital blissfully undisturbed, Zanna’s satchel secured around Lillian’s waist.

When she’s well fed and not in range of any weird smelling werewolves, Lillian is well-behaved, which is a good thing since Stiles is often exhausted and delirious with pain. The nurses on his floor all fuss over her, bring her toys, tell Stiles about their own kids while he’s waiting for morphine to kick in, or sometimes, stories from working in the neonatal unit downstairs.

The official story is that Stiles knocked up some girl and, through an unfortunate star-crossed-lovers type of scenario, got saddled with the baby. He has no idea what his dad and Melissa use as a cover for his botched surgery, but it must work. No one asks about it.

Lillian spends the first night tucked into his side with the bedrails raised, just in case, but during his second evening in the private room, the nurse brings him a clear bassinet from the nursery, conspiratorial grin on her mouth as she wheels it in.

Lillian doesn’t like sleeping in it at first, but Stiles removes the blankets from the inside and rubs them all over himself, around his neck and over his chest, up and down his arms. He puts them back, places Lillian inside, and she sleeps in it for five hours straight.

Maybe, he thinks, he’s not the worst person in the world to father a werewolf.

*

His dad comes between shifts, which he has suspiciously few of, and claims the chair in the corner of the room. He brings Stiles his dried out supply of wolfsbane, just in case, tells Stiles about what he missed while he was away, talks about a couple of his cases and their nosy neighbor who won’t stop bringing him casseroles.

Mostly, his dad asks questions about werewolves. He’ll go quiet for a few minutes, eyes fixed on the television, and then his eyes will tighten, mouth thinning, and he’ll ask something like, “So your birthday last year?”

Stiles is honest. “I was thrown out of a car.”

“A moving car,” his dad guesses.

Stiles gives a tight grin. “Yep.”

“And Jackson?”

Stiles looks away, remembering. It happened the same night. Three hours before he’d been thrown out of the car, Stiles had cradled Jackson’s lifeless head in his lap, had grabbed his shoulder and told him, Don’t even fucking think about it. “It was the same alpha.” Stiles clears his throat. “The last of the pack. Derek killed him, though.”

Then his dad will always say something dark and slightly frustrated, like, “Knew there had to be a connection there.”

His dad takes apart his lies, one by one, without really seeming to mean to. This more than anything sort of tears at Stiles, little by little, day by day, each time his dad sits down and that chair and goes quiet and contemplative. It’s like little razor-bladed reminders, a cluster of constant, shallow but stinging cuts.

Until one day his dad sits down and asks, “That time at the police station,” and good freaking god, Stiles doesn’t even know which time he’s talking about, and that hurts. That there are so many layers of lies and deceit that they can’t even be referenced by simple summation.

Stiles finally jams the heels of his palms into his eyes and croaks out, “Dad.”

Lillian, who’s been fussy all morning, begins full-out crying.

His dad looks startled, half out of his chair, but Stiles just waves him off, scoops her out of her bassinet.

“I lied a lot,” Stiles sighs. “You get that I was just… I wanted to keep you safe. You get that, right?”

“I do.” His dad sinks back into his chair, deflated. “You understand that’s supposed to be my job though, right? How would you feel if it was her?”

Stiles gives him a look. “I’m the only one allowed to use the baby for defensive insight.”

He gives a weak smile. “But I’m right.”

Stiles looks at her and thinks about it. Sometime in the future, Lillian keeping him in the dark to protect him, running out there and getting herself hurt, time and time again. It doesn’t really apply because, well, Lillian is a werewolf. She probably will be in the position to protect Stiles one day. He gets this over-the-top ridiculous vision of her shoving him out of danger, whining, “Dad, go home.” Which is just…

“Annoying,” he decides, scowling down at her. “So annoying. Don’t ever do that, are you stupid?”

His dad erupts in a loud, guttural laugh. “Oh, I’m going to like having her around.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, but the next day when his dad visits, he doesn’t sit in the chair and ask questions. He grabs Lillian out of the bassinet and walks her around the room, tells her stories about Stiles being basically the fussiest most frustrating baby in the history of the earth (“And he didn’t get much better with age.”), and she gazes up at him with bright eyes, completely rapt.

Stiles figures that’s why she enjoys walking so much. He’s sort of hoping to prove he’s totally improving faster than expected and can go home way sooner than the projected seven days in, so one day he gathers her up, eases himself out of the bed, and inches himself all the way around the nursing station and back.

She goes slack and falls asleep, almost instantly. He tries to do it twice a day, but it hurts badly enough that he’s barely comfortable holding Lillian while he does it. He eventually concedes that he’s definitely not ready to go home just yet and takes it a little easier.

It’s basically like a vacation, anyway.

*

Stiles gets home on the eleventh day, takes Lillian into his room and passes out for four hours. When he wakes up, his dad has dinner ready, so he makes her a bottle—which is something he’s totally a pro at now—and sits down to half feed her, and half feed himself.

It’s weird being home, having a baby in the house.

It’s weird having a baby at all, but mostly she doesn’t fit next to his All-American Rejects poster and Star Wars collectibles. Melissa gave him the little bassinet she had from when Scott was a baby, but other than that, Stiles has… really, nothing.

His dad notices this. “We’ll need to do some shopping,” he sighs over his meal, eyes half on his plate and half on Lillian in Stiles’ arms.

His dad doesn’t say that Stiles just got out of the hospital for the third time in the last three years, and he’s already paid the four thousand that was owed for Stiles’ first semester at a school he’s not even attending, and he’s paying utilities and car insurance and his own doctor’s bills, and Stiles says, “Nope! I’ll take care of it, don’t even worry.”

“Stiles…”

“Seriously,” he assures. “I can handle this. I want to handle this, okay? I’ve got the apron strings now, let me, like, at least try to take care of business before you get all parental. Give me a chance, okay?”

His dad looks pretty skeptical, but instead of arguing, he asks, “Telling the pack soon?”

“Soon,” he agrees, watching Lillian fall asleep around the nipple of a bottle. “Totally soon.”

*

It takes Stiles a whole week to find a job, and even though it’s shitty, he’s absolutely amazed he was able to find even that. It’s not like he can leave Lillian for five hours every day, and if work-from-home jobs were abundant, then everyone would have one.

He gets a position as—the irony—a debt collections call center agent. No one wants to work in collections, so while he’s amazed at finding a job, he’s not really shocked there’s a position for this particular thing. Especially considering that he’s paid on commission.

On the upside, all he has to do is talk on the phone and get verbally abused all day. Stiles is great at all those things.

“…and if you call here again, I’m going to call the fucking police, how does that sound?”

Stiles nods along, bouncing Lillian in the crook of his arm. “Uh huh. Your account’s past due by ninety days, Mr. Cooper, the minimum due is forty five dollars and six cents. Would you like to make a payment over the ph—” Click. “—phhhfuck you, too,” he says cheerfully, disconnecting the call. He leans over his desk to put it into the system.

Aggressive, Hung up.

Lillian coos at him around her fist.

“We’re going to be so poor,” he tells her, tapping the keyboard one-handed.

She kicks the air.

“We’ll have to eat ramen forever. Buy that sucky one dollar Suave shampoo and stuff. Generic diapers. I’m just saying, this is a legit crisis.”

Another ‘ooh’, louder, like she’s appreciating the urgency of the situation.

“Terrible, right? Who can’t pay a forty dollar bill? More importantly, what kind of institution puts more than forty dollars of labor into collecting a forty dollar bill? It’s not even practical.”

She blinks at him, wide-eyed, and then lets out a bubbly, muffled fart.

Stiles wrinkles his nose. “Rude. Accurate, but so rude.”

He lays her out on his bed to change her shitty diaper, right above his plaid comforter, and battles the urge to use a whole handful of baby wipes because the fucking things aren’t free, and Stiles is broke. He’s broke and nineteen and not in college and wanted by mid-western werewolves and he’s sold all of his lacrosse gear and gotten a job that pays him approximately fifty dollars a week, and he still can’t even afford a crib.

It isn’t not having money that bothers him. He feels like he and Lillian will get along just fine on very little. It’s just that he thinks of that picture—the one Paula showed him of the nursery—and he feels bad. For being impulsive and promising her to someone else, for messing things up because of it, for taking Lillian away from a seemingly perfect life when he can’t even buy her a crib.

He feels guilty.

Stiles fastens Lillian’s diaper, rests his hand on her bare, pale belly, and chants the coven’s prayer.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

There was a man who came intent to kill you,
And hid behind a door and waited for you;
There was a woman who smiled at you and lied.
There was a golden girl who loved you, begged you,
Crawled after you, and died.

 

 

 

 

He teaches his dad about wolfsbane Thanksgiving night. After they’ve eaten and Stiles has put Lillian down, he lays out the dried plants on the kitchen table and pulls up pictures on Wikipedia of what they look like, growing. Their flowers, their leaves, their stalks. He points out the best kinds (Trailing White Monkshood), the weird kinds (Larkspurleaf Monkshood), the deadliest kinds (Aconitum vulparia, formal wolfsbane), and then explains how a werewolf cures their wounds.

“Alphas,” Stiles explains, “can go into a full shift. When that happens, Southern Blue Monkshood is completely useless. It’ll knock a beta’s pecker in the dirt, but alphas? Oh man, it just really pisses them off. Found that out the hard way.”

His dad asks, confused, “Full shift?”

“Like an actual wolf.” Stiles lifts a hand to his hip, then lifts it up and inch, two inches, three inches. “Except about this tall, fangs that look—and cut—like chainsaw blades.” He pauses though, amending, “Well… I mean, all alphas have their own form. Some are way scarier than others. It’s supposed to be some kind of representation of their true inner wolf. I’ve just only ever seen the full alpha shift of the bad guys.”

“What about Derek?”

Stiles grimaces, fidgeting with a dried bud of the Southern Blue. “Derek is… complicated. He hasn’t been an alpha all that long, and he wasn’t really meant to be one—you know, I told you about his sister.”

His dad nods.

“Yeah, so Derek never got the kind of, uh, guidance, or natural extroversion or physiological skills that someone meant to inherit the position would. At least… that was Lydia’s theory.” Stiles grins at a memory of her drilling Derek about what he ‘felt’ when he attempted.

Derek had thrown her a red-eyed glare and snapped, “I feel like I should have done it when you weren’t here!”

His smile slowly withers when he remembers that they haven’t talked outside of the errant email in almost a whole year. “Anyway, she thought he’d probably catch up eventually. Who knows? Alphas aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to give away their trade secrets, so there was never much we could do.” Then, he jerks around and tells his dad, “Whatever you do, do not bring it up around him.”

“Sore spot, huh?”

Stiles barks a laugh. “He’s a bit insecure about it. Only, by ‘a bit’, I mean a whole freaking lot. Just saying, that Camaro isn’t over-compensating for anything in his pants.” His dad’s eyes narrow and Stiles makes a harried, frantic attempt at changing the subject. “Yeah! So! Southern Blue Monkshood, no bueno, but Northern Blue…”

After the awkward tension of all that has passed, his dad asks questions about origins and uses, matches up the dried, stiff plants that Stiles has to their respective species, eyes sharp and curious.

Stiles tells him he never learned exactly how to get wolfsbane into bullets. “I’ve never had practical access to guns, so why bother?”

His dad disappears into his bedroom and returns with a brand new box of rounds, returns to his seat and proceeds to methodically disassemble them. Forehead creased with concentration, he occasionally asks Stiles to hand him pliers or move the lamp a little to the right, makes asides on what he’s doing, explains what makes this method or that one more or less safe.

Stiles watches this with exactly the same amount of fascination his dad had shown during Stiles’ little lesson on wolfsbane. It’s weird and new, because his dad had never let him handle a gun before, let alone allow Stiles to learn the inner workings of ammunition.

After so long, Stiles plucks some of the dried, flaky buds, runs to his room and gets his mortar and pestle because, “Hey, you got some hollow bullets, might as well, right?” He grinds three different types together just to make it more difficult for someone to cure a wound.

When he explains this to his dad, he pauses to give Stiles a sharp malicious grin. “Atta boy.”

Stiles preens.

He has precisely one vial of finely crushed and processed rowan ash. Not enough to protect a perimeter, even with his Spark, but Stiles taps a few dashes into his mortar and seals the vial, tucking it back into his box with care. He then places his palm over the bowl, closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and searches it out. That little pinprick of power that he hasn’t been able to muster in well over a year, not even when he was in the presence of the coven.

He finds it now, instantly.

He pulls at it, tugs, until it swells into something warm and certain, calm, peaceful. Belief. Something scarily pure and good, something he was a little afraid his soul sickness had taken.

When he opens his eyes and raises his hand, the mixture has turned from an ashy gray to obsidian black.

His dad stares at it. “How…?”

“That isn’t something I can explain,” he says, and not without apology. “It just sort of is.”

His dad holds the bullets while Stiles funnels the mixture in, but adds the discarded gunpowder himself, caps them off, one by one, lines them up in rows of five until they have fifty of them, standing proud in their columns, shiny and sure.

Stiles sleeps better that night than he has in months.

He’s pretty sure his dad does, too.

*

They have a strong downpour the night before he goes to see the pack. Stiles thinks this, plus the fact that his stomach has seriously been bothering him, is a perfectly acceptable reason to push it back until tomorrow.

His dad gives him some Motrin and practically shoves him out the door. “Do it,” he commands, face stern.

Stiles secures the car seat in the back of the Jeep, which he’d managed to have towed back with an e-freaking-normous IOU to Melissa, who insists there’s no way he can go without a car, having a baby. His dad and Melissa are a pack of two, he swears to god.

The drive over is a little terrifying. The roads on the preserve are all puddling and muddy, and he has to switch over to four wheel drive half a mile in. Sitting hurts, makes the pain in his stomach flare into one of his thighs. Nerve damage, they said.

Every time they hit a bump or slide on a turn, Lillian makes a sharp, distressed sound.

“It’s all cool,” he keeps telling her, tensing through the pain. “This baby has seen way worse than a little mud.”

According to Melissa, the pack is tearing down the old Hale house, starting over from the foundation up. Stiles doesn’t want to sound smug or anything, but he knew all along that was what they needed—what Scott needed to feel more at ease. A base of operations, at the very least, plus the exercise itself. The pack working together to build something important, something just for them.

She also assured him they’d all be working doing demolition today, so when Stiles hits the three mile stretch of drive leading straight up to the house, he automatically tenses.

He knows they can hear him.

No turning back.

He stops talking to Lillian, but has no chance of slowing his heart rate, which must be jackrabbiting by the time the clearing comes into sight.

He notices the house first—or lack thereof—nothing but a bunch of empty space, about half of the first floor still remaining. He notices them second. Scott, already sprinting for the Jeep, face lit up into a wide, shocked grin, and Isaac, sledgehammer in hand, thumping it idly against the ground.

Scott reaches the Jeep and raps on the window with his knuckles. Stiles can’t help but return the grin, he’s such a fucking puppy. “Move so I can park!” he says, making a shooing motion. Scott lopes off to the side, saluting him.

When he’s all parked and Boyd has emerged from behind one of the rubble walls, Stiles takes in a long, deep breath, and steps out.

Scott is on him instantly, engulfing him in a hug. “Stiles! Hey! Wow, I couldn’t smell you! I still can’t smell you, it’s so weird!”

“It’s witchcraft!” he replies, matching Scott’s enthusiasm, because despite the nerves, he’s just honest to god happy to see Scott.

To see Scott happy.

“Whoa!” Scott says, still grinning blindly at him. “Wicked!”

“I know, right?” He adds, “I saw a ghost!” because Scott loves ghost stories and Stiles knows he’s always wondered if they were real.

“Shut up, dude! You lie!”

“I’m not, I swear!” He shoves Scott away from the back door of the Jeep, because as much as he loves having whole conversations with him that end almost entirely in exclamation points, he wants to get this out of the way.  He rambles as he goes through the long, complicated process of unfastening Lillian’s car seat from the seat belts. “It was so crazy, she was like, transparent and everything. The whole nine yards, dude. And nice! She was a totally nice ghost. At first she was just this blocky shadow thing, but then she changed and I could see through her, but there were details and stuff and oh my god, you would have freaked.”

Stiles gets the car seat out of the Jeep and uses his foot to close the door, huffing in triumph as he turns to Scott. “So this is a baby,” he declares.

Scott looks down at her puzzled, yet grinning. “Why would someone give you a baby? She’s so cute!”

“I have, like…” Stiles flails his hand. “Announcements. So I should do that. You know. Announce. But to multiple people, because one person isn’t really an announcement, it’s more of a conversation, and let me tell you, so not wanting to have any more of those for a while.”

Scott’s jaw drops. “Oh god, did you get someone pregnant?”

“No,” Stiles says feelingly. “Definitely wasn’t me on that side of things, sorry to say.”

His eyebrows pull together. “What does that mean?”

“Announcements,” Stiles repeats, clapping Scott on the shoulder.

Isaac looks blatantly curious, while Boyd doesn’t even stop what he’s doing, prying up the boards of the isolated front porch.

“What’s up?” Isaac asks, dropping his sledgehammer, but Stiles just grimaces.

“Is, uh, Derek around by any chance?”

No sooner than he says his name does Derek emerge from the ground—or what must be a basement, Stiles guesses.

Peter is behind him.

“Eugh,” Stiles startles, bumping into Scott. Lillian takes a sharp, shuddered breath and he knows she’s about to start crying about a second before her first wail begins.

All five werewolves make a face.

“What’s with the baby,” Isaac asks.

“Um.” Stiles puts the car seat on the ground so he can take her out, bends over gingerly to lift her, since it makes his stomach twinge. He bounces her a little. “That’s actually why I’m here. Uh. Derek.”

Derek’s wiping his hands, black with dirt or soot, on a grimy blue rag, eyebrow raised in impatience. “Stiles.”

Stiles takes a breath. “Yeah, so. Derek.”

If he had any hope that he was ever going to put two and two together, Stiles is sadly mistaken. “What,” Derek says, perfectly deadpan.

“Right.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “Remember that thing? The… um, endgame thing?”

“Endgame,” Derek says, blank-faced.

Stiles hedges, “With the witches.”

“There were witches?” Boyd pipes in, eyebrows hiking up his forehead. “When were there witches?”

“Back in May,” Derek answers absently, forehead creased in confusion. “Nothing ever came of it.”

Stiles clears his throat, gesturing to the baby. “Only not so much, with the nothing coming of it.”

A voice sighs from behind Derek, “Oh, dear,” and Peter steps around him, squinting his eyes at the baby.

“What,” Derek says with hard-edged annunciation, “is that supposed to mean?”

Peter scoffs, eyes still inspecting Lillian. “I’m fairly certain he’s implying that, Derek, you are the father.”

He grabs Peter by the collar of his shirt, flinging him aside. “Not possible,” he tells Stiles in a steely voice.

“I thought so, too,” he agrees, shifting his feet as the werewolves stare at him, faces slack. “Until I woke up one day pregnant with a werewolf, and what do you know?” He gestures to Lillian. “Five months later…”

Isaac’s face is screwed up. “Five months?”

“Gestation period for werewolves,” Stiles clarifies, patting her padded, diapered bottom somewhat awkwardly. He knows they can hear his heartbeat, can tell he isn’t lying. He also thinks if Derek weren’t standing there, staring at him emotionlessly, that he would probably realize that’s information Stiles would only know if he were telling the truth.

But all of the wolves are just… gawking at him, silent, save for Peter, who’s not staring at Stiles at all. He’s craning his neck around Derek’s shoulder, gaze pinging from Derek, to the baby, back to Derek again.

Stiles eventually releases a huff, shifting Lillian high on his shoulder and grabbing at the hem of his shirt. He really doesn’t want to do this, but doesn’t see much choice. There’s a collective, hissed intake of breath when he yanks his shirt over his stomach, exposing the jagged, angry-red six inch incision that disappears beneath the waist of his jeans. Lower down, hidden by his clothes, is where the original incision sits, his whole stomach bisected by an ugly, upside down ‘T’.  Of course, there’s also the deformed bellybutton, loose skin and stretch marks.

Stiles hasn’t even been able to look at it for any extended period of time.

Scott bends to stare, face doing a complicated, horrified kind of thing. “Holy shit.”

“That,” Boyd drops his hammer and points at the baby, “came out of there?”

Stiles hastily drops his shirt. “Exactly.”

Isaac makes a sound in the back of his throat, something disgusted. “But you’re a guy.”

“That is interesting,” Peter says, stepping around Derek again. “An unexpected outcome. Not that I’m judging, but do you have any idea the kind of magic it takes to make a man childbearing? There are goats. No wonder Shiera won’t return my calls.”

Peter doesn’t even flinch when Derek’s fingers close around his throat, claws piercing just below his collarbones. He slams him into one of the remaining walls, shaking dust and stone into the air, onto the ground.

Derek growls at him, “What did you do?” 

“What had to be done,” he growls, gripping Derek’s wrist, and Derek roars into his face.

Lillian loses it—shaking, crying, squirming, kicking—Stiles has to wrap the sides of his unzipped hoodie around her to stop her from flinging herself onto the ground.

Derek snarls and Peter snarls back. “Did you really think I was going to sit by and watch our bloodline vanish? Did you think I was going to let them win? The Hale territory purged of Hale wolves,” he says, derision dripping from his voice.

“I am not your pack stud!” Derek spits, disgust evident in the curl of his lip.

“If I hadn’t acted,” Peter says, “you would have never carried on our line. Look at you, you’re so addicted to misery that you probably won’t even touch yourself.”

Derek picks him up, slams him back into the wall, harder. A chunk falls off near a doorway, clambers to the ground in a puff of dust. “That’s my business, it’s my choice!”

“And you waste it!” Peter roars, eyes flashing yellow. “A true alpha would have begun looking for a mate years ago. You took the chance from me, but refuse to accept the responsibility.”

Derek picks him up again and throws him into the wall, finally shattering it as he stalks away. Lillian’s cries grow more alarmed as he nears, so Stiles hold her more tightly, heart racing.

His face is stony as he passes, only flashing Stiles a rapid, red glance when he growls, “Get that thing away from here.”

Stiles completely loses his breath. Lillian squirms against him, crying into his shoulder, little body quaking, and all Stiles can hear is the repetitive sound of Derek’s voice, bass-deep in his memory.

Your blood is my blood.

Scott goes to touch his shoulder and Stiles finches away, feels wan and weak-kneed as he hastily buckles Lillian into her car seat.

“You can’t run from this, Derek!” Peter is calling after him. “She’s a Hale!”

It doesn’t matter.

Derek is already long gone.

*

Scott tickles at her foot, smiling sadly. “So it’s the satchel that does it? Makes her not smell?”

Stiles nods, temple resting on his fist, head pounding. Scott’s sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the car seat, prodding at Lillian a little here and there, making the occasional silly face at her. It doesn’t work. Her legs have been straight, body strung tight like a piano wire as she cries and cries, ever since Derek alpha’ed out. Even getting her home didn’t seem to ease her at all. He’s tried holding her, but all she did was squirm, like she was trying to wiggle loose from his grip.

“That’s trippy.”

Stiles doesn’t know how Scott can handle it. “Won’t hold them off for long.”

Scott frowns up at him, rocking the car seat with his hand. “Dude, regardless of what a dick Derek’s being, this territory is his. We’re going to protect it.” Scott looks at Lillian and adds, “I’ll protect her. I know it’s not much, I’m no alpha or anything, but… Isaac would back me up, no questions asked, and Boyd would do it too, probably just on principle. We all know where Peter stands.”

Stiles hates knowing that he’d accept Peter’s help, if it came down to it. In reality, Stiles wants nothing more than to strangle him. Or maybe, Stiles thinks, that would be too quick, too easy. No, he wants to make Peter suffer, feels toxic with the impulse to hurt and hurt and hurt.

Stiles tires to shake it from his head. “Even if you can—if you did and they left us alone—she’s still,” Stiles rubs his temple, “she’s an omega, Scott.”

Scott winces. “He’s going to come around, Stiles. If I have to beat it into him, so help me…”

“I doubt it.” And he hates to think it, but Stiles understands. He didn’t want her at first, either. She was a violation—a constant reminder of it.

“You’re pack to me,” Scott coos down at her and Stiles dies a little inside at Scott’s easy acceptance of her. He never even questions it, already adores her. “We’ll howl at the moon together, do wolfy things like chase rabbits and brood handsomely.”

She thrusts her fists in the air, gulps in a big breath and lets it out in a screeching, body-shaking cry.

Far down the list of reasons why Derek sucks entire bags of dicks, Stiles was hoping to ask him about werewolf children. He’s never known one, doesn’t know if she can shift, if she can go to school, if he can take her for vaccinations or if that’s bad. Stiles doesn’t know if he can take his own child to the doctor. He spent her first full moon brimming with panic, staring down into her secondhand bassinet, having no idea what to expect. Nothing happened, just a long night of restlessness and crying, but what if it had?

Stiles holds his head in hands, sighing. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, Scott.”

“Hey,” he says, knee-walking to Stiles. “It’ll be okay, man. We’ll work it out, no matter what. We’re in this together, right?” Stiles glances up, trying to ignore Lillian’s cries and failing. Scott’s wearing an anxious expression, hopeful at the edges.

Stiles can’t help the relief that seeps into his grin when he says, “Totally.” Because he hasn't been alone in this for a long time, but having Scott at his side again is a different kind of security.

Scott smiles, relieved as well. “Do you have any idea how much I missed you?”

He rolls his eyes. “About half as much as I missed you.”

*

Unfortunately, even with Scott back in his rightful place as Stiles' right hand man, Lillian cries constantly after that. He can’t even get her to take a bottle sometimes she’s so belligerent with it. At first Stiles thinks this must be what Melissa went through. The sleepless nights, the praying for it to stop, the bargaining—“Just eat this and then I’ll let you cry for hours!”—the desperation, trying everything from rubbing his scent into her clothes to singing, talking, reading a book aloud, putting her against his heart, his neck, rocking her, walking with her, putting her in the Jeep and driving around the block. And nothing works.

Only it’s not exactly like she was with Melissa, because she doesn’t seem angry.

On the rare occasions she falls asleep, the smallest sound, inaudible to Stiles, will rouse her—startle her. She’s on alert day and night, and every little thing just makes the tension in her swell until she exhausts herself and can’t help but finally close her eyes.

She’s terrified.

He hasn’t worked in four days, because every time he gets a customer on the phone, she wails. She hates other voices, especially if they’re angry, and given her supernatural hearing and the fact that Stiles is calling up strangers to hassle them about their credit debt, Stiles doesn’t know what else to do.

On Friday, the agency fires him. He sits at his desk with her cradled to his chest, staring dully at the email and absently tapping his foot against the floor. He read somewhere that babies like rhythm, but Lillian gives a negative sum of fucks either way, just cries until her lips are white at the edges, cheeks red and wet with tears. At some point during the week, she stops making eye contact.

His dad can’t sleep, goes into the station half zombified and sometimes when he calls to say he’s taking another shift, Stiles worries he’s maybe just sleeping in his cruiser.

And Stiles is jealous.

He registered for online courses at Berkley, since he’s already paid the tuition. But he’s missed the first two months of the semester and two days of his lessons and Stiles has no idea what the consequences of that are. His scholarships transferred to the correspondence program, but he doesn’t think he’ll be able to keep them if he can’t prove he can attend even his first week of courses.

Their nosy neighbor comes over on Sunday and Stiles answers the door in a fog, having only gotten twenty minutes of combined sleep the night before. Ms. Wilson touts herself as some kind of baby whisperer, says she can quiet even the fussiest, colicky of infants.

Stiles can’t help a sharp, vicious grin when she flees from the house ten minutes later, declaring Lillian a hopeless case.

He watches her scurry back to her side of the fence and guesses he should be proud.

It was baby’s first growl, after all.

*

Stiles smoothes down the front of his tee, and then his hair. He doesn’t know why. Looking put together isn’t going to help him at all, and he’s pretty sure he’s got a patch of vomit on his shoulder, so it’s a fruitless endeavor from the start.

He can see Derek in the distance, alone now, heaving chunks of concrete across the twelve or so feet that separate him and an industrial-sized Beacon Hills Recycling Authority roll-off dumpster.  Stiles can’t muster up the courage to approach him at first, so he sits in the Jeep and watches him work for a good five minutes.

He knows Derek heard him ten miles back.

At least, Stiles thinks, he hasn’t run.

When he finally sacks-up and gets out of the car, he follows the deep imprint of tire tracks from the truck that must have delivered the dumpster, eyes trained on the grooves they make in the dirt.

Derek doesn’t even look at him.

“Handy,” he says, watching Derek carry a hunk of concrete that must weigh five times his body weight.

Derek grunts when he effortlessly tosses it into the dumpster, concrete against steel rumbling between them.

He watches him work for a few more moments, shifting uncomfortably as Derek continues clearing the foundation. All of the walls are gone now. The pipes and rebar that were protruding everywhere the last time Stiles was here are gone now, stacked up at the edge of the area, he notes, dusty and gray.

“We’re about to get Lillian her birth certificate,” he starts, tense. “It’s a whole process, I guess, if you aren’t just forging one. And my dad wouldn’t let us do that, so Melissa found a doctor who’s doing it. Some friend of hers from college who won’t ask questions.”

Derek doesn’t stop, doesn’t look up.

“What was your mom’s middle name?” he blurts, and yep. That does it.

Derek drops the chunk of concrete into the dumpster and turns a heated glare on Stiles, nose flared. “No,” is all he says, voice sharp and cold.

Stiles swallows against something that feels solid, lodged in his throat. “Will you at least protect us from the Monroe pack?”

Just as Scott suspected, Derek’s eyes flash red. “I’ll defend my territory.”

Stiles nods, unsurprised when Derek resumes heaving concrete with more fervor, angrily throwing them into the dumpster. “So she’s an omega,” he tells Derek, voice cracking more from tension and a week of not sleeping than anything.

“Not my problem.”

“It was when it was Scott,” Stiles argues, unable to keep the bitterness from his voice. “Your whole speech—his blood, your blood, his wolf being Hale—doesn’t even apply to your own fucking kid, do you have any idea how fucked that is?”

The next chunk Derek throws misses the dumpster and hits the ground with a dirt-spraying thunk. “It’s not my kid,” he snarls. “It’s just one more of my uncle’s disgusting schemes to control me.”

Stiles can’t help it. He hasn’t slept, he’s lost his job and possibly three scholarships, and his daughter’s in danger. He explodes at Derek, “That doesn’t make her any less yours!”

“It does to me,” he explodes right back. “I didn’t ask for it, I don’t want it.”

“And I did?” Stiles asks, face twisted in fury. “You think I asked for this?” He lifts his shirt again. “You think I wanted to be used—not for one night—for five fucking months! Do you know how it feels to have a fetus cut out of you by people who don’t even want you to survive it?”

“You didn’t ask for that, either,” Derek growls. “Peter did that to you. He used you like you were little more than disposable. You should be twice as repulsed as I am.”

“Believe me,” Stiles laughs humorlessly, “you’ve only scratched the surface of repulsion when it comes to what he put me through. You have no idea.”

“Then tell me,” Derek says, bending to lift another chunk of concrete, “how you can look at her with anything but disgust.”

“Because she didn’t ask for it, either! She’s just a baby, Derek!” He doesn’t realize his eyes are wet until Derek stops, turns to him with a cold expression. Stiles stares at him wide-eyed, weary down to his marrow. “I’m all she’s got, and I don’t even come close to being enough. I’m not asking you to be her father, because I get it, Derek. First Kate, and now your own uncle? It’s shitty—beyond shitty. I’m just—” Stiles looks away, inhaling unevenly. “I’m fucking begging you here, man. Don’t let what happened to Scott happen to her. This isn’t her fault, she deserves a chance.”

“There are other alphas,” he grinds out.

“Not for her, there isn’t.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers.”

Stiles spins on his heel, shaking his head as he stalks back to the Jeep, hands curled into stiff fists at his sides, teeth gnashed. “What the fuck ever,” he scoffs, knowing Derek can hear him, can hear the sharp inflections of anger in his tone. “Like I actually believed for one second you could be anything but a bitter, selfish asshole.”

When Stiles gets back into the Jeep, Derek’s already begun clearing concrete again, unfazed.

*

He gets home at noon, when the sun is highest in the sky. He sits in the car for a moment, listening to the distant, muffled shriek of Lillian’s cries, and deflates, sinking into his seat.

He wallows in self-pity for about ten minutes. Stiles means what he’s been saying all along: He hasn’t been a kid in a long time. That doesn’t mean he knows how to be a parent. He goes through every day feeling like he’s faking it, like he’s six and clomping around in his dad’s shoes, pretending to be responsible and smart and logical and holding it all together.

But he’s not. He failed at being a kid, and he fails just as bad as being a parent—fails worse, because when you fail as a kid, you’re only ruining your own life.

When he walks in, Scott and his dad are in the living room, looking frazzled and agitated. “Well?” Scott asks, and Stiles shakes his head.

His dad is furious about it all day. He hasn’t said one word, but he doesn’t need to. Stiles can tell by the hard set of his mouth and the way he moves, shutting the cabinet when he gets a glass with just a bit more force than necessary. Stiles never told him about Derek being her father, but he thinks his dad knows anyway, must have gotten it out of Melissa or Scott with this finely-honed interrogation face, Stiles doesn’t know.

He doesn’t ask.

By sundown, Lillian seems delirious. He puts her stomach-down atop his chest in bed and rubs her back. Her voice is little more than a rasp and she’s cried herself out, but she still gives these little shuddering, dry sobs, mashing her face into his shirt, knees pushing against his belly.

He lies there with her for hours. Long after Scott’s left and his dad’s gone to bed, limbs heavy and eyes drooping. Lillian doesn’t sleep, so neither does Stiles. They don’t eat, either, and Stiles doesn’t know how long it takes a werewolf cub to starve to death, but he stares into the dark, up at his ceiling, and feels sick with the possibility that he might find out.

He closes his eyes, rests a palm on the back of her head, and prays.

Naenima, saenima, faenima.

He drifts off like he always does, in five minutes bouts, in and out of consciousness like waves breaking on the rocks of a beach, crashing back to awareness whenever Lillian finds a big enough burst of energy to make actual noise with her throat.

It’s during one of these crashes that Stiles opens his eyes to the shape of a person, blocking out the light of his window. Stiles lurches upright, frantically struggling to remember if he left his wolfsbane in his desk drawer or beneath his mattress.

Lillian stiffens and begins screaming, her little fist clutched around a wrinkle in his shirt.

When the man steps into the light, Stiles sags, sucking in a deep, relieved lungful of air.

“You scared the shit out of me, oh my god.”

“Sorry,” Derek grunts.

Stiles pulls in another large breath, trying to calm his heart, and pats Lillian on her diapered bottom. “Randomly appearing in my dark bedroom while I’m half-prepared for an attack by a rival pack. You are the actual worst.”

Derek’s silent for a moment. “I’d know if another wolf entered my territory.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Well I wouldn’t, and we aren’t exactly on texting terms, so you’ll understand if that gives me like zero comfort, and oh my god, would you please chill?” He says the last part to Lillian, who hasn’t quieted down one bit and is now squirming bodily against his hold.

“She can sense an alpha,” Derek says, stepping forward. “She’s scared.”

“She’s always scared,” he snaps. “She’s a six week old omega in another pack’s territory.”

Derek shifts, his leather jacket squeaking when he uncrosses his arms, lips pressed into a tense line. “Give her to me.”

“Why,” Stiles asks, startled, holds her to him more tightly. He doesn’t think Derek would hurt a baby, but Stiles has a shitty track record with predicting Derek reactions and no way is he going to put her in the arms of an alpha who, twelve hours prior, talked about how repulsive her very existence was.

Derek sighs, sharp, irritated. “I’m not going to do anything, I just want to see.”

Why?”

“For the love of…” Derek huffs, “Never mind,” and moves back to the window.

Stiles leaps from the bed. “No, wait, you—okay, alright. Here, just.” He crowds up against him, passing her over, making sure her head falls into the crook of Derek’s elbow, because she’s howling. He leaves a hand on her though, wrapped around her ankle when he begs Derek, “Just be careful. Please.”

Derek narrows his eyes at Stiles before looking down at her, squirming and wailing.

He shifts all at once, claws and fangs and red, vibrant glowing eyes, and before Stiles can even think to freak out and—he doesn’t know, jab his thumb into his eyes, because what’s he really going to do?—Derek makes a weird, gritty rumbling sound in the pit of his chest and rests his clawed hand on her soft belly.

Lillian goes limp in his arms.

Her chest is still heaving, tiny ribcage shuddering with stilted post-crying gasps, but she’s silent, staring at Derek with glassy eyes that flash an intense, bright blue.

“Oh,” Stiles breathes, understanding. “Derek. Derek, oh my god, thank you, you have no idea how much—” Stiles could cry, almost does except he doesn’t have the energy for it, eyes still gritty and stinging from lack of sleep. Instead, he begs, “Just, can you stay right here, for like three minutes? Three minutes,” he promises, holding up three fingers, but Derek just rumbles again and Stiles is already dashing out of the room, flying down the stairs.

He has a bottle made in record time, hands unsteady but nimble, even in the dark, even sleep-deprived and full of excited nerves. He checks the temperature on his wrist as he’s sprinting up the stairs, back into the room. Derek’s right where he left him, but when Stiles gets to him, it’s too late.

Lillian is passed out.

“Damn it,” Stiles groans, tossing the bottle aside and falling onto his bed. “So close.”

After a moment of silence—silence!—in which Stiles runs a hand over his face and sinks into the bed, Derek grunts, “Want to wake her up?”

His head shoots up. “Are you crazy?” he whisper-shouts. “This is the longest she’s been quiet in eight days. If you wake her up, we have triple-enforced wolfsbane bullets. Just so you know.”

Derek doesn’t argue.

Stiles watches the shape of him, severe and looming and motionless. Hands that have torn through flesh, punched through walls and brick and plaster, so delicately enveloping Lillian in the curve of Derek’s arm. Stiles can’t help asking. “What made you change your mind?”

“She’s small,” is what Derek says. Stiles doesn’t know if this is an answer or just a random observation. Derek’s looking down at her, face too covered in shadow to make out. “I can’t smell her.”

Stiles sighs, dropping back. “The satchel around her waist.” He watches from the corner of his vision as Derek touches it. “It’s hiding her scent. You know, because of the Monroe pack.”

“I need to scent her, as her alpha.”

Stiles has to close his eyes for a minute, let the enormity of those words wash over him, warm him somewhere that isn’t physical. He pillows his head on his arms as he watches. “You can take it off for a while.”

Derek does, puts it carefully onto his desk and eases himself down into the chair there. He doesn’t say anything more and Stiles figures he’s doing the scenting thing, so he just… drifts, eyelids drooping. Full of cautious hope, he wonders if maybe he’ll be able to start his school work now, if Lillian’s mood lasts, whether or not they’ll let him just catch up or they’ve already written him off as AWOL.

He doesn’t realize he’s drifting to sleep until Derek’s voice startles him awake. “She has your nose.”

Stiles blinks at him, finds Derek sitting stiffly in the chair, one hand secured beneath Lillian’s bottom and the other resting at his side. “She, um.” Stiles gestures tentatively at her. “She has your hair.”

“Not mine.” But before Stiles can feel the coldness of it, Derek clarifies, “My mom’s.”

Stiles smiles sadly, relieved, and hopes he’s not making a huge mistake when he quietly confesses, “I saw her. After Lillian was born.” He hears more than sees Derek lifting his head, feels his eyes on his face. He tugs at a loose thread on his comforter. “You probably won’t believe me, and that’s… okay, but she was at the manor with us. Her spirit, or something? She helped us escape.” Then he lets out a soft laugh. “Well, and Zanna, one of the witches in the coven. She gave me the satchel.”

“Zanna,” Derek says, and for a moment, Stiles thinks he’s repeating it just for the sake of having something to say, but then he says, “The one who doesn’t talk.”

Stiles’ eyes snap up, widening. “You know Zanna?” He pushes himself up.

But Derek shakes his head. “Not really. The place they’re at, it moves. It was close to here once, I think. My mother’s pack was allied when she was just a cub.”

“You mean, the manor moves? That’s so—I had no idea.”

Derek makes a soft, acknowledging sound, voice quiet. “I don’t think they move it often.”

“So do you,” Stiles asks, swallowing, “Do you believe me? About your mom?”

Derek’s gaze shifts back to the baby, face indecipherable in the dark. “Sometimes magic can deceive you. Show you what you need to see.”

Stiles lays back down, uninterested in convincing him. He doesn’t know why, he just feels like, somehow, it’s for him and Lillian. Seeing Derek’s mom, it’s their experience, and maybe that isn’t quite fair. Maybe Derek needs to see her more than anything.

Maybe one day he’ll go there himself, see if she appears to him.

After another long stretch of silence, Derek says, “You can sleep now, if you want,” and Stiles, who’s already halfway there whether he likes it or not, pulls a pillow under his head, content and grateful, but also cautious.

“Lillian?” he asks sleepily.

Derek’s jacket makes a sound when he shifts, reclining until his back actually touches the chair. “I’ll stay with her.”

“I won’t let you regret this,” Stiles slurs out, delirious with relief and the permission he didn’t know he even needed to be sleepy. “We’ll be good, stay out of your hair. It’ll be a painless alpha experience, you beta believe it.”

Derek’s voice only barely penetrates the fog of Stiles’ brain, a rumbling, cracked sound. “Go to sleep, Stiles.”

Stiles is unconscious the next instant.

*

He awakes to a warm hand jostling his shoulder. “…noooo,” Stiles whines, bereft. “Five more minutes. Tardy slip. S’no big.”

“Stiles,” someone is whispering, and there’s something familiar in the background of the haze. Crying. How annoying. Babies are so annoying.

Stiles jerks upright, almost braining himself on Derek’s wide, creased forehead. “What happened!”

“Nothing,” Derek says, shifting Lillian in his arms. “She’s hungry and I don’t—I didn't know if I should use that bottle over there or make a new one. I don’t know where anything is.”

“Oh.” Stiles sags, relieved. He kicks out of the blanket and stumbles to the floor, watching Lillian cry in a totally normal hungry-baby fashion. His alarm says it’s only five in the morning, so Stiles works quick, hoping his dad can manage at least a half night of sleep.

He can make a bottle in the dark, stumbling around half asleep, which he’s doing right now but he also narrates the process for Derek, still fuzzy with slumber. He doesn’t know if this is information Derek will need in the future, but Stiles is brutally hoping as Derek observes from the doorway, silent and still.

“Here,” he says, half giving the bottle to Derek, and half prepared to give it to her himself.

Derek takes the bottle, though, frowning in concentration as he offers it to her, a gentle nudge of the nipple against her mouth. She latches on immediately, eyes wide and still a little glassy. They start glowing that electric blue again.

Stiles shifts his gaze from her to Derek, taken aback when he realizes that Derek’s eyes are glowing, too.

“You can go back to sleep.”

Stiles grabs one of her kicking feet, running his thumb along her skin. “She’ll need to be burped. Have her diaper changed and stuff.”

Derek’s eyes stop glowing gradually, muscles shifting beneath his jaw when it flexes. “I know how to do that.”

Stiles raises an eyebrow, skeptical.

“I was the second of five kids,” he says quietly, looks at Stiles. “I babysat a lot, it’s fine.”

What Stiles really wants to do is stay awake and watch, because he’s one hundred percent certain that nothing would be funnier than watching Derek Hale change a shitty diaper.

He presses a kiss to Lillian’s foot and goes back to bed instead.

*

The second time he wakes up, it’s to silence and sunshine. His curtains are pulled aside, probably from Derek climbing in the night before, and the sun looks high enough in the sky that Stiles groggily turns to his alarm clock.

It’s a quarter to two.

“Shit.” He rubs his eyes before looking around, but Derek isn’t there and Lillian’s bassinet is empty. He can’t help the pinprick of panic that makes him jump out of the bed, still sleep-foggy when he stumbles down the stairs.

He hears voices in the kitchen, so he follows, sees Derek’s jacket draped over the arm of the couch when he crosses through the living room. His dad’s at the kitchen table, in full uniform, Scott in a chair at his side and Derek sitting across from them.

“Damn, I should have made that bet,” Scott says, peering up at Stiles before looking at his dad. “I totally would have won.”

Stiles rubs his eyes again. “Bet?”

Scott and his dad are eating sandwiches, but the plate in front of Derek is already cleaned, a few crumbs hanging out in the middle. He’s feeding Lillian, which is weird. It’s pretty much exactly like Stiles left them.

“I said you’d probably sleep until it got dark,” his dad explains. “God knows I would have if I didn’t have to go in today.”

“Mrgh,” Stiles grumbles, still disoriented. He’s not totally convinced he didn’t wake up in some kind of alternate universe. He’d think it was possibly a dream, but nope. Too weird, even for his brain. He squints at Derek. “Everything cool?”

Derek raises his eyebrows. “Yes?”

“Um.” Stiles gingerly scratches at his stomach, the skin on the left side that’s totally numb, even though it’s always itchy. Nerve damage is really weird like that. “That was uncomfortably question mark’y.”

Derek’s eyebrows fall into a weak, halfhearted scowl. “Yes. Period.”

“Cool,” Stiles says. “Awesome. Amazeballs, all of that.” He pours a tall glass of orange juice as Scott and his dad carry on a conversation about his classes at the community college. Stiles’ thoughts fork off in two different directions; he really needs to start his coursework, Derek’s eating lunch with his dad.

That kind of stuff.

He chooses not to dwell, because let’s face it, Stiles is just happy Lillian is quiet and eating again, that the cloud of smog-thick tension that’s been hanging over their house for the last week has seemingly dissipated. His dad doesn’t even slam the cabinet when he goes to put away their dishes.

He’s in a good mood.

Stiles kind of wanders around the kitchen for a while, aimless and antsy. He hasn’t gone this long without holding Lillian since he woke up in ICU. He eventually takes the last chair, which just happens to be next to where Derek’s sitting, pushed out from the table and angled to the side with Lillian cradled in the same arm as last night. “She get sick?” Stiles guesses, since she’s only wearing a diaper.

Derek sounds a little gruff when he says, “Just spit up a bit. Couldn’t find anything.”

“Yeah, I need to do some laundry,” he says, which is a lie. Well, not a total lie. Stiles does need to laundry. Sometimes twice a day. Because Lillian has a grand total of five things to wear, and she can decimate three onesies the way Derek apparently decimates a sandwich.

 “I put a load in,” Derek replies, which, seriously. 

Alternate. Universe.

“Uhhh, thanks.” He realizes if Derek went that far, he already knows that one load is all the loads, but Stiles is quite fine ignoring the awkwardness of being financially unfit for raising a child. “Want a break?” Stiles has resisted long enough. He makes grabby hands.

Derek gingerly takes the bottle from her mouth and Lillian makes a grumpy, betrayed sound, lips smacking at the air. She’s werewolf-warm when he takes her. He doesn’t realize how terrified he is she’s going to start up again with all the crying and angst until it doesn’t happen.

“Oh my god, listen to all this lack of crying happening right now, how awesome is this? Dad, is this awesome, or is this awesome?”

His dad agrees, “Silence is golden.”

“Damn straight.” Stiles gives her the bottle again and she stops making that sour face that resembles a certain grouchy alpha a little too much. “Maybe I can start dumping you off on Scott now, huh? Actually make a doctor appointment, get some groceries?”

Scott jolts forward. “Dude, totally! Use me, I’m an excellent babysitter.”

Stiles looks at him. “When have you ever babysat ever?”

“I haven’t,” Scott says, looking no less optimistic. “But it’s a feeling. I’m going to be, like, the cool uncle.”

His dad lifts an eyebrow. “The cool uncle who can’t change a diaper.”

“I can change a diaper,” he insists, but after visibly looking for, and failing to, find any proof to back this up, bursts, “I help rear puppies and kittens all the time!”

“Not the same,” Stiles and his dad say nearly in unison.

“I clean up their poo,” he says, listing off on his fingers, “I sometimes have to bottle feed them, keep them warm, make sure they don’t get constipated or sick, cuddle and stuff. I mean, yeah, not the exact same, but I’m a great learner.”

Derek says blandly, “No, you’re not.”

Scott waves him off. “Am too. Just wait. I’m going to babysit the shit out of that kid.”

“He seems really concerned with constipation,” Stiles mutters aside to Derek. “I think this is transference.”

“If you’re suggesting he’s full of shit, I’ll be forced to agree.”

“Hey!” Scott says, pouting indignantly. “Come on, guys. Constipation is a legitimate problem for all newborns.”

“As the person who changes her diapers on a regular basis, got to tell you, man. No issues here.”

“It’s true,” Derek says, calmly taking a sip of his coffee. “Werewolves are notoriously regular.”

Scott’s gaze snaps to him. “Seriously?”

Derek stares. “No.”

“Oh.” Scott deflates. “Still, just give me a call, okay? I swear, Stiles,” he says, standing and pulling on his jacket, “I’ll never let anything bad happen to her.” He gets a little intense with the last bit, eyes wide and too serious, and somehow Stiles just… knows. He doesn’t know when and he doesn’t know how, but he’s suddenly positive that he can credit Scott with Derek’s coming around.

Stiles gives him a secret, thankful grin. “You’re the best, you know that?”

He smirks back. “Pretty much.”

His dad rises from the table, too. “I’m going to finish getting ready for work. Scott.” He gives him a nod in farewell and then Stiles and Derek are alone.

“So,” Stiles begins awkwardly, shifting Lillian a little higher in his hold. “Thanks a lot for the—everything. And for staying with her all day. You didn’t have to.”

Derek grunts a little, setting his coffee cup on the table. “It was fine.”

“You’re probably super tired.”

A shrug.

“I really appreciate it. We all really appreciate it, honestly, I was so stressed out about stressing my dad out, and I’m pretty sure he was stressed out about me being stressed out, and there was this whole vicious cycle of stress and crying and badness—”

Derek snaps, “Stiles,” eyebrows furrowed in annoyance. “You don’t have to thank me. It wasn’t a favor.”

“Right,” he says, even though he has no idea what that’s supposed to mean. “Okay then. Yes, not a favor, cool.” He sets the bottle down beside his coffee cup when Lillian starts nudging it away, hitches her onto his shoulder even though he doesn’t have a spit rag and Stiles knows burping her is only going to lead to unpleasant, slimy places.

He pats her back and listens to Derek breathe beside him, steady and even.

“Natalia.” Stiles turns to look at him, but Derek’s eyes are fixed on the coffee cup. He scratches at a chip in the handle with his thumbnail and explains, “My mom hated her middle name, but her first name was Natalia.”

It takes Stiles a moment or three to realize he’s not patting her back anymore. “That’s really pretty,” he replies, hand resuming its soft thumping.

Derek scratches at his jaw, nails rasping over stubble. “It was my Great Grandmother’s name.”

“So a family thing, then?”

“Yes.”

Stiles looks away, gnawing at his lip before he ventures, “Could I, um. For Lillian?” Derek’s nodding before he’s even finished asking. Stiles can’t stop the grin that splits his face. “Lillian Natalia,” declares, craning his neck down to meet her eyes. “What do you think?”

She looks at him and lets out a loud, wet burp.

“Oh my god,” Stiles gasps in feigned outrage. “Dude, we were totally having a moment just now. So rude!”

Derek says, “She gets that from you,” and when Stiles looks up at him, his face is grim and stony as ever, even though there’s a definite spark of amusement in his eyes.

“Improper social behavior? No way, that’s all you.”

The amusement vanishes, just like that. Derek clears his throat. “I’m sorry for before, the way I reacted. I was upset.”

And wow, Stiles is so not expecting that. “Yeah, I mean… I told you, I get it.” He looks down at her. “I tried to cut her out,” he admits. “When I found out about it, Melissa had to hide all her knives, and—I almost gave her away to another pack, so.” He lifts his free shoulder. “It wasn’t just you. At least you didn’t cause an inadvertent pack war because of it.”

Derek takes a breath, like he’s about to say something, but Stiles’ dad walks in just then, boots loud against the linoleum.

Stiles tells him, “We’re ready to move on the birth certificate,” and his dad exhales loudly. He’s been on Stiles for the last two weeks, afraid the doctor might back out if he has enough time to think about it.

“I’ll fax him at work. What are we going with?”

“Lillian Natalia Stilinski,” he decides.

Derek makes a sound in the back of his throat, sharp and curt. “Stilinski,” he repeats.

Stiles jerks his gaze to him, surprised. “Uh. Well. Stilinski-hyphen-Hale?” He already got Natalia, he wasn’t going to push his luck or anything. He’s sure as hell not dropping his dad’s name.

A discomforting tension fills the room as his dad looks back and forth between them.

“It’s up to you,” Derek says eventually, voice perfectly neutral.

“Okaaaay.” Stiles looks at his dad, shrugging. “Stilinski-hyphen-Hale.”

“You’re sure,” his dad asks.

Stiles looks at Derek, waits for the brief, sideways glance he gets before deciding, “Totally sure, yeah.”

His dad waits a beat, shifting his weight, watching them with one hand resting unnecessarily on his holster. He finally sighs, “Alright. Derek.”

“Sir.”

“Stiles will be seeing you tomorrow, then? Give him a chance to catch up on some schoolwork?”

Stiles’ puzzled gaze pings back and forth between them, landing on Derek when he answers, “Yes, sir.”

“Good.” His dad nods, pleased. “And you’re going home, I take it, to get some sleep? You should keep up your energy. Maybe get ahead on practicing that full wolf shift.”

Stiles sucks in a breath and pins his dad with a sharp, betrayed look. One that says he knows exactly what his dad’s doing with that. He hisses, “Dad! Not cool!”

His dad widens his eyes with a shrug that’s way too over-the-top innocent to be at all convincing. “What?”

Derek’s eye has begun twitching. His fists are curled when he pushes to his feet and his jaw is clenched tight enough that when he responds, “Of course,” it sounds gritted and lacks inflection. But then he adds, “I’ll get on that,” and that’s it.

Stiles openly gawks even as Lillian spits up, formula dribbling down the sleeve of his t-shirt, because no one takes a shot at Derek’s inability to achieve full shift without—at the very least—a very compelling threat of great bodily harm.

“Alternate. Freaking. Universe.”

*

He does get to start his coursework that exact evening, Lillian settled away inside her bassinet. He hasn’t been written off as AWOL, but he wasn’t wrong about having a lot of catching up to do—a lot of reading, a lot of lectures to watch—and it doesn’t help that he spends most of the night clicking through seventeen different tabs in his browser, just trying to figure out how it all works.

He misses high school keenly.

On the upside, he’s becoming an expert at one-handed typing, so he’s able to feed Lillian and peck out half of an essay on nineteenth century French literature, no problemo, and when he crawls into bed at midnight he’s actually able to stay there for almost a full four hours, which is a miracle in and of itself.

He’s even able to go back to bed after feeding and changing her.

Miracle.

The next day meets him much like the one before it, minus the sleeping past noon thing, which he’d try but doesn’t really have the time for. He immediately gets back to work on his syllabi, pathetically excited that he’s found a rhyme and reason to correspondence coursework, hungry to not only catch up but to get himself a few paces ahead.

He thinks it’ll only take a month or two of solid, steady work to get there, which is what he’s telling Lillian when he has to get up to answer a knock at the door.

He shouldn’t be surprised to see Derek on the other side—he said he’d be over—but here it is. He steps aside, letting him in and moving immediately back to his laptop, which he’s got set up on the kitchen table, surrounded with printouts and the books he bought online.

Derek follows him all the way to the bassinet, where he peers down at her. “You put it back on her,” he says, a corner of his mouth pulling down as he glowers at the satchel tied loosely at her waist.

“Uh, trying to hide us from werewolves,” Stiles reasons, dropping back into his seat. “Of course I put it back on. Does it bother you?”

Derek turns his glower to him. “Yeah, it does.”

“Why?”

“We can’t smell each other. You can at least take it off while you’re at home. If they get close enough to your house to scent her, then you’re already caught.”

“Comforting,” he deadpans, but admits, “I didn’t know it was such a big deal.”

“Cubs are vulnerable; they rely more heavily on scent and hearing than we do.”

Stiles hungrily files this bit of information away. “Far be it from me to meddle in werewolf scenting habits, go ahead.”

Derek pulls a chair closer and Stiles taps his highlighter against his book, can’t help but stare at Derek staring at her. He’s still got his leather jacket on, the sharp edges of his jaw stubble-softened and flexing, like he’s clenching and unclenching his teeth.

“When’s her birthday?” Derek asks after a while.

Stiles lights up, bounces in his seat. “Oh god, you are going to love this.” He pauses for dramatic effect, fingers wiggling. “Halloween.” Stiles hadn’t even realized it until they were gathering information for the birth certificate. It’s really the only part of the whole birth he can recount with utter glee.

Derek stares at him. “Really.”

Stiles holds his hands up. “Hey, it was originally planned for the second of November, but she wanted Halloween. What can you do?”

Derek rolls his eyes and they land back on her. “What else.”

Stiles blinks at him, confused. “What else, what?”

“What else about…” And here, Derek borderline fidgets, fingers scritching at the nape of his neck. “…about the birth. What else happened.”

“Oh.” Stiles feels his sunny demeanor sink so far that he can practically hear it thudding to the floor. “I uh, woke up on Halloween,” he begins, “and I, uh, felt her, needing to come out. And then she started panicking—I could feel that, too. I could feel what she was feeling, it was… I don’t know. Anyway, Paula—that’s who was going to… um, adopt her?—she went and got the doctor and he drugged me up, and cut her out.”

Derek glances at him, quick and blank. “You said they didn’t want you to survive.”

Stiles lifts a shoulder, jerky, once again tapping the highlighter against his book. “I was probably a loose end. Their alpha is… well, he’s not like you. He’s perfectly fine ordering his betas to do his bidding.” After a long beat of silence, Stiles can’t help but blurt, “Are you really pissed at me for the adoption thing?” It’s been weighing on him more than a little, after yesterday, after Derek obviously wanting her to have the Hale name.

Derek’s eyebrows knit together. “Do I have a right to be?”

Stiles takes the non-answer at face value. It’s not like he’s particularly yearning for more guilt or anything. “We should probably, like. Talk. About this pack, right? Possibly coming here and killing us all.”

Derek nods, frowns smoothing out into something shuttered. “I’ll take care of them, if they come.”

“When,” Stiles amends seriously. “This isn’t a ‘maybe’ kind of thing, just so we’re clear. And while it’s very proactive of you to just express vague responsibility, I’m really going to need a little more here in the way of information. Do we even have anything? Any lines of defense? Because while hanging that bag around our kid like a pine air freshener has worked out great so far, I don’t think it constitutes as a real strategy?”

“It doesn’t.”

Stiles huffs, tossing his highlighter aside. “Well I don’t really have a lot to work with. My skills in the craft pretty much max out at growing plants, drawing symbols and activating mountain ash, and most of those are going to affect her, too—not to mention your pack. I’ve got wolfsbane aplenty, and I’ve come up with some pretty decent liquid weapons and we have some bullets, but other than that? I haven’t exactly been working with an abundance of supernatural help this last month.”

Derek at least looks appropriately cowed. “You could have come to us sooner,” he says, however.

Stiles tosses a hand in the air, frustrated. “But I didn’t, so instead of dwelling on all the things I should have done—and by the way, my month-long avoidance of your angst? Really at the bottom of that list—why don’t we talk about what we can do?”

“I’ll know if they come,” Derek says, and before Stiles can start banging his head against the table, “They can’t just take another alpha’s cub. They’d be shunned, hunted. It’s a—” He pauses here, lifts a hand to scrub over his face. “It’s probably the biggest crime a pack could commit against another. They wouldn’t want that hanging over their heads.”

Stiles can’t entirely ignore the sting of that—the biggest crime—but he tries. “Even if I… like, made a vow?”

Derek’s eyebrows pull together. “What kind of vow, exactly.”

“He asked if I agreed,” Stiles remembers, “to make her a ward of his pack.”

Derek shakes his head. “The wording is important. Are you certain he said that?”

Stiles rubs at a temple, sighing. He doesn’t like this. He hates remembering and only half because he’s fucked everything up with his impulsive bad decision-making. “Do you agree to relinquish this child as a ward of the Monroe pack’,” Stiles recites. “That’s what he asked.”

“And you said yes.” Derek’s voice is perfectly even, and if the corners of his eyes are tight then Stiles chooses not to notice.

“I said, ‘yeah, whatever’. I mean, if this is a war of political semantics.” And it sounds bad—so so bad—when he repeats that. Yeah, whatever. So fucking flippant.

But Derek just exhales, some of the tension draining from his shoulders. “It might be.” He doesn’t elaborate and Stiles doesn’t ask him to, content to leave the topic and memories to dissipate.

Stiles tries to distract himself enough with his work that he can’t really notice him outside of his general periphery, but it’s not very effective. Derek’s gaze will sometimes jump to her, land there and pause, like he’s waiting for her to do or say something. Like he’s considering, feeling out her demeanor. He doesn’t touch her at first, just looks at her, watches her make sounds and squirm around in the bassinet, the line of his back more relaxed than not. When he’s not watching her, he’s just staring at the wall, gazing out the window, glancing around the kitchen or through the entryway into the living room.

It’s uncomfortable.

On the upside, when the time rolls around to feed Lillian, Derek just pushes away from the table and fixes a bottle, which is a cool, new development that Stiles isn’t in any mood to question. He takes off his jacket before scooping her out of the bassinet, holds her there at arm’s length for a beat longer than totally necessary, before tucking her into the crook of his arm.

His thumb sweeps back and forth against her leg, almost absently, as she eats.

Stiles clears his throat and says, “So look, I’m sorry about my dad yesterday. He was kind of…”

Derek doesn’t fill in the blank with a colorful word choice, even though he has every right to. “It’s fine,” is what he says, even if he’s suddenly tense enough that Lillian makes a small, uncomfortable sound. “You’re his cub. He’s just looking out for you.”

Stiles is a little suspicious about it. It niggles at him, whatever else his dad might have said when Stiles wasn’t there, which the good Sherriff himself refuses to spill. He has bullets that can actually hurt Derek a lot, and Stiles would like to say with absolute certainty he’d never use them on him, but then he remembers his smile that night they made them, sharp and vicious, and he thinks of how it must look to him, of how he’d feel if someone did to Lillian what his dad must think Derek did to him, and Stiles isn’t so sure anymore.

He definitely wouldn’t put it past his dad to use the existence of them as a threat.

“It’s my fault,” Stiles confesses, sighing. “I didn’t tell him the whole story, because it was awkward and weird and the werewolf thing was still new to him and I hadn’t even gotten to the magic thing and I was on drugs and I was worried about Lillian and the Monroe pack—”

Derek interrupts him. “I need a spit rag.”

Stiles sputters before digging one out from where he’d sat on it earlier. “I’ll clear things up,” he promises, tossing it across the table.

Derek neither encourages nor discourages this. He just hitches Lillian up to a shoulder and goes about patting a burp from her, blank-faced.

He ends up sitting there, doing pretty much nothing, for almost two hours after that. He knows the instant Lillian needs a diaper change and seems just fine doing it, and if his movements are stilted, the edges of his face sharp with the same frozen unease he wears when he’s forced into a crowded public, then Stiles doesn’t hold it against him. His constant olfactory vigilance is going to hurt Stiles’ pocket when they run out of diapers in like two days, but still.

Werewolf babysitters?

Awesome.

He seriously considers Scott’s offer.

“You should come over Saturday night,” Derek says before he leaves that evening. Stiles looks up from his laptop and blinks in surprise.

“Huh?”

Derek shrugs into his jacket, shifting uncomfortably. “No night classes. The whole pack will be there. She should be around them, get their scents.” He makes a vague, indecipherable gesture. “Bond.”

“Oh.” Stiles takes his earphones out and looks at Lillian sleeping in her bassinet, her little neatly diapered butt stuck up in the air. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen her so… placid. “Yeah, okay. Sure.”

Derek opens his mouth but then closes it again, makes a couple more aborted attempts at speech before expelling a gruff, “See you tomorrow,” and leaving.

Stiles blinks at where Derek was standing; confused.

*

The Monroe pack doesn’t make a move, and Stiles is both grateful and anxious, agitated. He lays in bed at night and almost wishes they’d get it over with. He’s not stupid, he knows they won’t just let it go, remembers that alpha and the way he stood with an air of tart arrogance and pride, remembers Paula and her nursery, the lullabies she’d sing to his swollen belly, eyes tender and adoring.

Maybe Stiles is actually that hard to track down.

He hopes.

He prays.

(He chants Millicent’s prayer like a song that’s stuck in his head—while he’s doing dishes or folding laundry or organizing his school work into neat, tabbed folders).

When Derek comes the next day, he doesn’t even say ‘hi’ before going to Lillian and unfastening the satchel from her waist. Stiles is in the middle of some pretty intense reading, so he doesn’t do much more than spare him a glance before turning back to his page and highlighting a passage.

He’d had a long, if painfully stilted conversation with his dad that morning, and the only way he’s been able to numb the memory of his dad’s reaction has been reading, and even that’s only partly effective. Stiles wasn’t lying before, about it being his fault. He’d told his dad that Lillian was the product of a spell, but he hadn’t told him the sex was, too.

Stiles is emotionally exhausted.

About thirty minutes into a silence that Stiles isn’t aware of enough to declare uncomfortable, he glances up from his textbook and finds Derek sitting in the exact same position as yesterday, only this time, he’s brought his own book.

He’s scowling down at it as if it’s asking him to solve a colorful variety of complex algebraic equations, even though his eyes keep sweeping from left to right. Derek is an aggressive absorber.

Stiles ducks his head to catch the name of it and, when he does, fights a physical battle to push down a sputtered ‘what the fuck’. He quickly turns back to his textbook instead, making an idle note in the margin, because he can reconcile the Derek he knows with a Derek who changes diapers and knows the exact right way to hold a bottle without bubbles forming in the nipple, but no way in hell is he going to acknowledge that Derek Hale is reading a book called From Birth to Reality: Caring for Your Newborn.

Probably, Stiles suspects, Derek is just looking for reasons to chew Stiles out for doing everything wrong.

That’s definitely it.

*

Stiles takes Lillian to Derek’s that weekend. He’s been renting a little duplex close to the preserve. Scott explained that Derek and Isaac live in one half, while Scott and Boyd have the other. It has two front doors, two driveways, and is perfectly symmetrical.

It’s also tiny as fuck.

Derek’s glowering at him when the door opens. “Take it off.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, shifting her car seat to his other hand and hitching her diaper bag up his shoulder. His stomach is killing him. “Let us in first, geez.” He’s also a bit frazzled from the pre-trip preparation, because he’s only taken Lillian out of the house three times, and never expecting to be gone for more than an hour.

He dumps the bag, bursting with diapers and bottles and two different blankets—the fuzzy one she likes and the cotton one that actually keeps her warm—onto the ten inches of floor space that constitutes an entry way.

One step forward and they’re in the living room.

Isaac and Boyd say hello but don’t leave the couch, casting wary yet curious glances into the car seat, while Scott just swoops in and takes it from him.

“Hey, Lil!” His smile immediately falls. “I can’t smell her again.”

Stiles huffs, “Freaking werewolves,” and has to dig through a layer of two other blankets—the fleece one she likes and the linen one that’s ugly as sin, but soft—to get to her waist and fish the satchel from around it. “Happy?” he asks, shoving it into the bottom her bag.

Scott’s grin brightens. “Yeah, I can smell her!” Then he grimaces. “Oh, dude, I can smell her.”

“Fuck, already?” Stiles groans. “I just changed her!” He casts his gaze around for a place to lay her out, but his options are limited to the two feet of floor space in front of the couch and the five feet of linoleum disguised as a kitchen.

Derek must understand, because he takes the car seat from Scott, nodding toward the back of the house. “Bedroom’s back here.”

Stiles follows for the whole twenty feet it takes to reach the foot of Derek’s full-size bed, which takes up pretty much the entire room from wall to wall. His clothes are literally stacked on one side of his bed. No room for a dresser. Stiles gives him a look, because there’s only one bedroom, and only one bed, and he doesn’t even know what the hell. Maybe Isaac and Derek sleep together, which is a terrifying enough visual that Stiles doesn’t chance asking. Instead, he sets about the long, tedious task of getting Lillian out of her car seat and blankets and clothes and diaper.

She’s like one of those Russian tea dolls.

Derek rubs at his neck. “It’s small, I know.”

Stiles scoffs. “You’re talking to a guy who was recently fired from a debt collection agency. I’m the last person to judge fiscal troubles, trust me.”

“It’s not that,” Derek says. “The pack’s young and the new place is going up soon. I figured it’d do us some good to live in each others’ pockets for a while.” And then that gesture again. “Bond.”

Stiles hums absently as he removes the old diaper, shooting Derek an apologetic look when he sits it, bundled and taped up, on top of his bed. “Wow, you’re going to be smelling that for a while. Sorry, man.”

Derek shrugs. “I have money,” he says, which confuses Stiles for long enough that he actually wonders if that’s a problem money could fix, like maybe there’s a service out there, The Werewolf Coalition for Good Bed Scents, or some kind of product Stiles hasn’t heard about yet, Werewolfebreez.

But then Derek adds, “If you need it.”

Stiles stiffens before hastily getting Lillian into a new diaper. His initial plan is to just ignore it, pretend he has terrible hearing and just didn’t quite catch that or any of the implications attached to it. “My dad put you up to this, didn’t he,” he bursts instead, unable to keep the indignation from his voice when he spins around, pinning Derek with a glare. “I mean, I know that’s why you’re suddenly all Mary Poppins, which is cool. I ain’t even mad, bro. But no way am I taking your money because he somehow guilt-tripped you into an obligation with, like, some deadbeat alpha speech, or whatever. He knows the truth now, and for the record? I’m perfectly freaking capable.”

Before Derek can confirm or deny it, or really do much more than stare at Stiles blankly, Stiles has Lillian gathered up against him, brushing past Derek and straight into the living room.

He huffs at seeing the three pairs of eyes trained diligently at the TV screen. “Who’s first?”

“Dibs!” Scott jumps off the couch and takes her, slipping the little stocking cap off her head and exposing her wild hair. “Who’s a widdle pwincess, huh?”

No,” Stiles snaps. “No baby talk.”

Scott pouts. “Why?”

“Because it’s obnoxious,” Derek says from behind Stiles.

“Because she’s developing language and it sets a shitty example,” Stiles adds.

Boyd raises an eyebrow, slipping his finger into her tiny palm, giving it a shake. “But cussing doesn’t?”

“Fuck off,” Stiles says, flustered.

Everyone mostly leaves Stiles alone after that. He wedges himself into a chair in the corner with one of his course books, pretending to highlight passages of importance when he’s really listening raptly as Derek explains the differences between cubs and human babies.

“Do they shift?” Isaac wonders, looking at Lillian like he’s afraid if he gets too close, he’ll catch something.

“Not until puberty, but the moon still affects them,” Derek answers sagely. “She’s probably moody, anxious to answer the call, just like we are.”

Stiles hears and ignores the cue for his input, stubbornly marks another passage.

“But she has all the other stuff, right? Super hearing and all that?”

Derek reiterates, “She’ll rely mostly on scent and hearing until she’s about three, then her vision will sharpen. She’s stronger than human babies, but won’t be strong enough to defend herself against a human adult until adolescence.”

Scott’s next. “She’s an alpha’s cub, right? So will she get the full shift, like you?”

Stiles knows it’s a bit petty to poke at it, but he can’t help a snort that draws every gaze briefly to him. He doesn’t look up from his textbook.

Though he can still feel Derek’s eyes boring into him when he lets out a clipped, “No. But it’s possible her beta form will be stronger than average.”

Stiles hates admitting that he actually learns more about his own daughter from the man who’s been her alpha-slash-begrudging-father for all of four full days than he does after spending seven weeks raising her. It’s not even fair.

And fine, maybe Stiles is a little bummed that he doesn’t know how she works, how she operates. He doesn’t have a job and he can’t afford a crib—a stroller—a twelve dollar onesie, for fuck’s sake, and here’s Derek, living in a tiny crappy house for nothing more than the mere novelty of bonding, with just about everything Stiles needs but hasn’t gained yet, throwing it around.

Like he’s read one parenting book and now Derek’s suddenly the perfect ideal?

Whatever.

Eventually she needs to be fed, at which point they pass her around, all taking turns. Stiles grows even more frustrated when they all flash their eyes at her, hers glowing blue in response for each of them. He doesn’t know what that’s about. He could ask, but he’s feeling too proud. He knows that’s a useless character flaw that always annoys the crap out of him when it’s being practiced by other people, but he doesn’t give a damn.

He stays for one feeding, three werewolf-detection diaper changes, and four and half episodes of How I Met Your Mother. Stiles decides he hates Boyd for choosing that particular channel because the visuals it gives him when his mind drifts are terrible.

You see, Lily, a witch made your daddies randomly horny for each other, and then made the human one childbearing; a ritual involving goats.

All in all, he ends the night feeling just this side of miserable, packing Lillian up once she’s fallen asleep and shuffling out the door, weighed down by the bulging diaper bag of generic diapers and ratty, hand-me-down blankets.

Derek follows him out and opens the back of the Jeep for him, stretches inside to thread the seatbelt through the car seat. “You’re offended,” he mutters, buckling her in.

“A little, yeah,” Stiles bites out, climbing behind the wheel.

Derek shuts the door but then opens the passenger’s side, gets in and closes it, too. He takes a breath, staring blankly ahead. “You were right about your dad. He did guilt me into helping you out in the daytime. He said you wanted to start school work but haven’t been able to, and you were doing your best but you were overwhelmed and… I don’t have anything else to do, so I figured, why not.”

Stiles grips the wheel, white-knuckled. “I didn’t ask him to do that.”

“I know.”

“It was good enough that you claimed her as a beta. That’s all I ever asked for. I’m not putting any other obligations on you, Derek.”

“You aren’t,” Derek says, “your dad’s not either. It’s an obligation I personally want to fulfill.”

Stiles pushes back into his seat, frustrated. “Since when?”

“Since now,” Derek growls. He lowers his voice when Lillian stirs, making an unhappy sound. Derek grits his teeth, looking away. “Since my last name went on her birth certificate. Since I claimed her as both my beta and daughter. What does it matter?”

“So you’re not just ‘doing the right thing’?” Stiles flails out some finger quotes. “Because no one wants a dad who sees them as an item that needs checked off a to-do list every now and then. Scott can tell you all about that. It sucks.”

Silence.

Stiles turns to look at him, finds Derek staring out his window, face turned away. He starts quietly, “I don’t have a lot of family left. You know that. Everyone knows that. I’ve got Peter,” Derek bites out his name with a scoff, “and I’ve got her. I know that probably sounds… bad or cold, or like I’m just... ” Derek pauses to run a hand over his face in frustration. “You’ve known her for two months—more if you consider your bond with her during pregnancy. I’ve only spent a handful of hours with her. If you give me a chance to… love her, I’d prove it to you.” Derek looks at Stiles with a frightening amount of frankness. “I have a lot to give and I’m willing to try, for the first time since...”

Derek doesn’t say ‘since’ what. Since his family? Since Laura? Since Erica, maybe? He’d probably say something like, ‘since I realized everyone I love gets brutally murdered and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble’, which is something Stiles can relate to scarily well, but only halfway.

Stiles is always willing to love, no matter what.

He sags and tries to keep the scent of his pity away, takes a moment to smooth down a tear in the upholstery between his thighs, pushing the edges together and flattening it down. He remembers the alpha that caused it, leapt in through his open window and tried to drag Stiles out by his claws.

It had worked, of course.

“I don’t need your money,” Stiles eventually decides. “I can take care of her, we’re getting by.”

Derek gives a terse nod, lips pinched together. “Fine.”

“But,” Stiles amends, blowing out a breath. “It’s not fair to her, if you’re offering, to make it by on so little. She could… use some things. A lot of things. However much you want to give her. Not money, though. And… and I guess if you’re really wanting to do this then, not just stuff, okay? Your time would be nice, too.”

“I can buy her things,” Derek says, turning to look at Stiles, shoulders relaxing. “And I want to come over to help with her, whenever I can. It probably won’t be every day, though, as much as your dad would like me to.”

“Oh my god, please ignore him.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “If it was up to my dad, I’d never have to worry about anything, ever again.”

Derek blows a quick, surprised laugh through his nose. “I’m possibly starting to see things from his side of the fence.”

“I know every last inch of that feeling,” Stiles gasps. “That feeling and I are on annoyingly intimate terms. We woke up married in Vegas after a drunken night of shenanigans, and now I can’t run away from it. It just pops up at random intervals to remind me of poor life choices. It’s terrible, right?”

Derek shrugs, climbing out of the Jeep. “There are worse problems to have.”

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The bells have just struck twelve : I should be sleeping.
But I cannot delay any longer to write and tell you.
The woman is dead.
She died—you know the way. Just as we planned.
Smiling, with open sunlit eyes.

 

 

 

 

“This is a ceritfiable circle of hell.” It’s three days until Christmas, which means that town is ridiculous. The crowds are big, ornery, rushed, and rude. There’s obnoxious Christmas music blaring through every store on the main drag, and Baby Hell is no exception.

But Derek insisted they go shopping, said that this could be Lillian’s Christmas takeaway, and it’s not like Stiles has any way of giving her a halfway decent Christmas on his own. He knows she won’t even remember this year, that it’s basically moot, but no one wants to be the parent of a kid who wakes up on Christmas with no presents, even if that kid is only two months old.

Derek stands out like a sore, vaguely threatening thumb amongst all the pastels and teddy bear visages. His arms are bursting full of baby clothes, face set into a scowl. Celine Dion belts out ‘O Holy Night’ and Derek bares his teeth. “I told you we’d need a cart.”

Stiles shifts the pack of diapers to another hip. “I really don’t think one of those—” He gestures with his chin at the row of crib displays. “—is going to fit into a cart, either.”

After a few minutes of something that resembles both bickering and an imminent animal attack, Stiles flags down an employee and begs for help. She gives them each a handheld barcode scanner, instructs them to scan what they need, says the store can have it delivered and billed, and only assumes they’re gay lovers the once.

Stiles loves her. “Seriously, she might be my future baby mama, stop growling,” he hisses.

“She called me ‘sweetheart’,” Derek snaps.

“It was nice!” Stiles says, passing the scanner over the barcode on a bottle set.

“It was condescending.” Derek’s holding his scanner aggressively, yet out of the way, like an actual gun. Stiles is half expecting him to tuck it enigmatically into the waist of his jeans.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Scan something. It’s fun, it’ll cheer you up.”

“No.”

Derek broods like this through most of the trip, won’t even listen Stiles’ commentary on crib-slash-changing table combos, which is very enthusiastic and thoroughly researched; Stiles is insulted. He skulks behind Stiles from aisle to aisle, scaring the other customers, probably. Their aisles do seem to empty out pretty quick.

Stiles is a little apprehensive about spending Derek’s money so casually, so he tries to find the deals, the discounts, skips over anything too indulgent on the parent portion of the father-baby relationship. But Stiles can’t help sometimes pausing at this display or that, at appraising things they honestly don’t need, but might be nice.

Like a seventy dollar bouncer-rocker that Stiles imagines would be perfect for sitting Lillian in during the daytime while he does course work.

Or the ninety dollar car seat carrier, because lugging around a car seat really makes his nerve pain flare up, but it’s not like it’s impossible.

Or the two hundred dollar cradle-swing that she’ll probably grow out of in six months, and it’s not like Stiles is going to be giving birth to any more werewolf babies, so it’d just be an incredible waste, even if it does look like an amazing way to get her to sleep.

Not to even mention the fifty dollar twinkle-light mobile, because Stiles doesn’t even care that the little moon hanging from it is the cutest thing ever, there’s just no justifying the expense.

He almost loses Derek while he’s frowning at aforementioned twinkle-light mobile, has to double back and ends up finding him glaring down a tall display of boxes.

“What?” Stiles explains, “Diaper Genies. Rich people get them so they don’t have to be inconvenienced by the smell of reality. It’s a huge waste of money, trashcans work just fine.”

As soon as he turns though, Stiles swears he hears the telltale beep of the scanner.

Stiles whips around. “Did you just…?”

Derek’s eyebrows are so low, they’re in danger of blinding him. “No.”

Stiles narrows his eyes, suspicious, but turns back.

Another beep.

He pauses but ultimately decides to ignore it.

It’s Derek’s money, and reality never smelled that great anyway.

“I knew your bed stank,” Stiles says later, when they’re unloading their loot and he comes across, not one but two, Diaper Genies. He has no idea how much they spent. He’s pretty sure he’d be horrified if he even saw the first two digits, so he doesn’t ask and Derek thankfully doesn’t offer it up.

He’s too busy assembling the crib-slash-changing-table combo to do much more than grunt.

“You didn’t even unfold the diagram thingy,” Stiles points out, walk-bouncing Lillian around his bedroom, burping her. She’s unusually vocal that afternoon, cooing and making curious, gurgling, happy sounds around her slobbery fist. “You didn’t read the directions. We’re such a cliché right now.”

Derek’s gaze rises slowly, until the full weight of his glare lands directly on Stiles. “I have a bachelors in engineering,” he says, annunciating unnecessarily.

Stiles lifts a hand, palm out, surrendering. “Whatever, you manly god, you. Too smart for simple diagrams, got it. All of us worthless plebians will just hang out over here, basking in the splendor that is your advanced engineering mastery.”

“Shut up, Stiles.”

He makes a zipping motion with his lips and has the decency to leave the room to snort a honking laugh when Derek finishes with twenty-two extra screws and bolts. He doesn’t even say I told you so when Derek breaks it all down again.

He violently unfolds the diagram, eyebrows mashed together in annoyance. “Shut up, Stiles.”

“I didn’t say anything!” Stiles pokes idly through one of the boxes in search of a pack of baby wipes to clean the slobber from his shoulder.

“You’re thinking it,” Derek grinds out. “Loudly.”

Stiles’ response gets jammed in his lungs when he opens another box and finds a photo of the twinkle-light mobile staring up at him. A quick inspection of the other four boxes reveals the bouncer, swing, and car seat carrier, all nestled among the other things, the agreed-upon things, the cheap, easy, necessary things.

Stiles heart lodges itself somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. He chokes out, “Derek,” but the only response he gets is an extended palm.

“Hand me the Allen wrench.”

Stiles carries Lillian to where Derek’s sitting in the middle of his floor, bedroom more than a little cramped but comfortable all the same, and heavily folds himself down. He tells Derek as he digs through the provided bag of tools, “You didn’t have to get all that,” and his voice isn’t the way he wants it to be, not irritated at the excess that Stiles tried deliberately to avoid. Instead, it comes out gentle and grateful, a little bit sad.

“It’s nothing.” Derek’s hand is warm and dry when Stiles puts the wrench into it. Lillian makes a soft ‘ahh’ sound, flailing her arm out toward him, and he pauses, gives it a little shake with his thumb and forefinger before digging a screw out of the bag. 

Stiles watches him work, the muscles in his forearms shifting beneath his skin, and doesn’t say thank you. Instead, he takes the diagram and softly reads aloud, “Attach Hinge Three into Part C using Screw Five…”

Derek plucks the hinge from the pile, glancing at Stiles as he’s screwing it to the rails. “You realize my soul is shriveling.”

Stiles smiles at him. “Furniture assembly has defeated better men.”

*

Christmas day is cold and wet. As per a very firm agreement between Stiles and his dad, they aren’t exchanging presents. His dad doesn’t want Stiles spending money that could be used taking care of Lillian on him, and it means more to Stiles for Lillian to get stuff, so they both just get her things. Most of it’s practical and kind of dumb, but Stiles makes a big deal out of unwrapping an economy-sized pack of Luv’s, a wolf plushie, and an activity mat he bought with his own money at Baby Hell three days before. His dad follows with a dramatic unveiling of a baby tub, booties, stocking caps and a onesie that reads, ‘Dad knows a lot, but Grandpa knows everything’.

“Lies,” Stiles scoffs.

Lillian sloppily gnaws on the wolf plushie’s ear. “Ooh.”

Scott and Isaac are spending the day with Melissa, and Boyd is with his own family, but Derek comes over around noon. Stiles’ dad watches the game while Derek parks himself in front of Lillian’s new swing, playfully grabbing at her bootie’d feet each time it sways forward.

Stiles and his dad are cooking the exact same Christmas dinner they’ve made every year since his mom died. Ham and potatoes, corn on the cob, rolls. Stuff you can pour into a pot or stick in the oven and walk away from. Stiles is always in charge of the sides and his dad is always in charge of the ham.

Stiles is straining the potatoes, absently peeking at Lillian over his shoulder more out of habit than anything, when he sees it. He almost drops the strainer into the sink, has to pause to just put the thing down so he can run over and gawk at her.

“She’s smiling!”

Derek is too, looks up at Stiles with puffed-out, dimpled cheeks. “First time?”

“Well, I mean we’ve had some false alarms. Gassy faces.” Stiles points a finger, flailing. “But that is definitely the real deal. Dad, come look at this!”

Instead of waiting around to see his reaction, Stiles runs up the stairs and gets his phone, sprinting back and activating his camera app. It takes a while to recreate it. Derek grabs at her feet just like he was doing before, but it ends up being an errant tickle to the sole of her bootie that does it.

Stiles captures four different variations. There’s the ‘oh, so this is how my face works’ smile, the ‘wolf plushie thrown violently to the floor’ smile, the ‘daddy picked it up and I did it again’ smile, and then the ‘completely random and for no reason at all’ smile, which is the brightest of all and followed by a sharp, excited sound and lots of kicking.

Stiles stares at the photos on his phone for a moment, unsure of what to do with them. A normal parent would probably upload them to Facebook or something, but they’re kind of in hiding and aside from the pack, no one he went to school with even knows what’s happened to him. There would be questions that Stiles couldn’t answer, so he just doesn’t bother. He sends one to Scott and Isaac instead, a couple to Melissa, one to Deaton and Boyd, and all four to his dad and Derek, just in case they want them. 

(And if Stiles also manages to snap a quick candid of Derek’s smile when he gets the alert on his own phone, then it’s only because the whole thing is totally meta and therefore perfectly cool. A Derek who smiles big enough to show dimples is something that absolutely must be recorded for historical posterity.) 

Dinner itself is far more awkward than is fair. Stiles came clean about Derek having been a victim, too, and that plus all of Derek’s considerable recent effort removed most of the tension between him and Stiles’ dad.

But it doesn’t make them instantly comfortable in each other’s company.

Stiles kicks his dad in the foot when he notices him staring at Derek with a suspicious frown. He releases a breath and tries, “How’s the construction coming?”

Derek glances up from his plate, lips thinning into something grave and anxious. “Boyd and I are still shopping around for good lumber. But Scott and Isaac have finished the grading and site preparation.”

His dad hums. “So you haven’t started on the foundation?”

“Not yet, sir.”

Stiles covers his face with a palm.

“You said you were hoping to have it up by spring?” his dad replies, pausing to take a sip of his drink. “Seems unlikely.”

Stiles peeks through two fingers, watches Derek’s eyebrows sink, lips pinching together. “We’ll make it.”

His dad gives a look that’s clearly skeptical, but he says, “Well, good luck.”

“No such thing.”

“You don’t think so?”

“No.” Derek spears a slice of ham. “We make our own luck.”

His dad’s eyes are actually a little—dare Stiles say, approving?—when he raises his glass. “Can’t argue with that.”

*

Two hours after the New Year, Stiles is shoving his and Lillian’s clothes into the washing machine. There was an unfortunate incident with meshing feeding time and swingy time, so he’s standing there in his boxers, debating whether or not it’ll be worth it to shower, since he’s dead tired and his nerve pain is killing him and it’s not like the cleanliness will last long, anyway. This is what Stiles has been reduced to.

Showers? Meh.

He hears the leaves outside whipping around in the wind. He doesn’t think much of it at first, but he’s close enough to a window that, the second he pushes in the knob on the washing machine, his eyes latch onto a low-lying branch and realize it’s just… still. Completely motionless. There’s no wind at all.

Stiles freezes for only one second, long enough to just barely make out the sound of a very distinct howl in the distance, muted beneath the hiss of the washing machine’s running water. More howls answer, and then, the faraway crack of branches.

He trips over himself darting up the stairs and doesn’t pause to worry if he’s doing the right thing, going for Lillian before his dad. He snatches her out of her new crib and sprints down the hall to his room, though, bursting through the door loudly enough to startle him awake.

“Get the gun,” is all Stiles has to say.

His dad lurches out of bed and instantly loads the clip. “How many?”

Stiles is shaking. “I don’t know. At least three. Dad, don’t.”

But his dad is already running down the stairs, gun aimed into the living room, and then the kitchen. Stiles doesn’t really know what to do. On one hand, he can’t leave his dad to a pack of werewolves. On the other hand, he can’t just leave Lillian in her crib. He might as well just roll out a red carpet for them. On the third, mutant hand, he can’t fight while holding Lillian.

Stiles makes a decision. It isn’t a good one, but it’s the best he’s got, so he clutches her to his chest with one hand and snatches up a couple bottles of his liquid concoctions with the other. As he’s bounding down the stairs it occurs to him to call Derek, but he doesn’t literally have that third mutant hand, and god knows he definitely doesn’t have enough time.

Needless to say, Stiles is pretty impressed when he reaches the back door and finds Derek and Scott already there, shifted and harried.

“Stay inside,” Scott says over his shoulder, claws extended at his side. “Go back.”

Stiles’ dad still has his gun lifted, though, eyes darting around the treeline in the distance. “Where are they?”

“Sheriff,” Derek warns. “Don’t shoot.”

No sooner than the words are out of his mouth does a form step out of the treeline. Alpha Monroe sweeps across the yard, flanked by two betas, and Stiles hates the way his body reacts—frantic heartbeat, sweaty palms, rapid breathing. All sure signs of fear. He knows that’s only making him look weak, is making Derek look weak, but there’s not much he can do to stop it.

Lillian erupts into loud, screeching cries.

As Monroe draws closer, more of his pack appear behind him, eight betas, Paula included. They trail behind but hang back at the fringe of the shadows, eyes all aglow.

One of the flanking betas Stiles hasn’t seen before, but the other is definitely the ‘doctor’. His gaze flits nervously between Stiles and Derek. He has the same expression he wore the night of Lillian’s delivery. Scared, fidgety, wary, sorry. At least, Stiles thinks, he’s not the only one showing his Alpha’s weakness. The difference is, Alpha Monroe’s weakness isn’t his pack’s lack of confidence in his abilities.

“You’re in my territory,” Derek says first, voice deceivingly even, deep and sharp. “You need to leave.”

Monroe’s grin is cloyingly polite. “Alpha Hale. My apologies for the intrusion. It’s just that,” Monroe peers over Derek’s shoulder then, directly at Stiles, “that boy has something that belongs to my pack.”

Derek takes a step forward, putting Scott at his back, spine straight. “Nothing here belongs to you.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.” Monroe lifts a finger and curls it, beckoning. Paula marches up to him from the rear, face void of any emotion when he wraps a hand around her neck and rests it there, eyebrows lifting. “I think you’re already aware that the cub has been relinquished as a ward of my pack. The agreement was made.”

Derek doesn’t even twitch. “Only an alpha or the mother can relinquish their cub. I haven’t and I won’t. Don’t see any mothers around.”

Monroe scoffs. “That boy is as good as her mother.”

“Horseshoes and hand grenades.” Derek stiffly lifts a shoulder. “He’s not a woman, he’s not her mother. I don’t know a pack out there that wouldn’t agree. At least not any of the ones I’ve already spoken to about it.”

Alpha Monroe goes rigid. “You aren’t allied with any packs.”

“Not formally,” Derek agrees. “But we’ve been in contact with dozens.”

Scott lists, “Pack Mason, in New York. Pack Laurel, in Mesa. Pack Johnson, in Connecticut. Pack Morrow, in Utah.” His pause is clearly deliberate. “Oh, and Pack Ward, over in Portland.”

Derek gives a measured, mean smile. “Can’t forget Sandy Ward.” Stiles recognizes the name, all the names really, but Ward especially. It isn’t until Derek adds, “She was particularly insistent that a man couldn’t qualify as a mother, wasn’t she, Scott?” that Stiles remembers sitting with Scott on his couch what seems like centuries ago, reading an email and urging him to Google the significance of ‘geldings’. “If you try to take her, you lose all your allies. But you’ll also gain plenty of enemies. Some packs might even find a lot of satisfaction in rescuing a defenseless female cub.”

Monroe’s teeth visibly grind at the mention of the well-established and all-female pack. “I did not come all this way to be intimidated by an alpha who can’t even bear young without the aid of magic.” He spits the last word mockingly. “The boy swore the cub to Paula and allowed us to waste our resources, knowing full well he had no intentions of following through. Your pack is in my debt, Hale.”

“So bill me,” Derek bites out, but Stiles’ dad jumps in, “Your pack swore to keep my son safe in exchange for the baby.” The click of the pistol’s hammer is loud in the tense silence between them. “You’re the one who had no intentions of following through.”

Paula’s face twists angrily. “We kept him safe!” But Monroe soothes her with a stroke of his palm over her nape.

“And yet, here he stands.” Monroe makes a sweeping gesture at Stiles. “Safe as houses.”

Scott lashes out, “Despite what your surgeon did to him! He was cut up so bad, he needed three transfusions. He was in ICU for a week, and they’re still talking about it like it’s a miracle he ever woke up!”

Even as the ‘doctor’, pale and shame-faced, shifts uncomfortably at his back, Monroe gives a careless shrug. “Well, it’s not an exact science.”

Scott gawks in disbelief. “Yes, it is! That’s why it’s called surgical science.”

But Paula’s gaze is moving back and forth between the doctor and Monroe, voice tight when she begs, “Please, tell me you didn’t.” Monroe squeezes her neck with enough force that her spine straightens, but she turns to Stiles with round, wet eyes. “I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t. I wasn’t a part of that.”

Stiles says, “I figured,” and Paula’s tears spill over, track down her face.

“But you promised me,” she cries. “You let me have her and then you took her away. Do you even care what it did to me, waking up in that house, alone, crazy with worry?”

Stiles’ stomach sinks. “Paula, I’m sorry. I do care, I never meant for… any of this.” He clutches Lillian more tightly and barely notices when Isaac and Boyd come bounding through the kitchen at his back, shouldering past Stiles and his dad to flank Scott and Derek. “I just couldn’t. I couldn’t do it, and you were already bonded. You wouldn’t even let me hold her, there was no way I could tell you. Your alpha’s wrong. I didn’t plan it.”

She’s sobbing now openly, even as Monroe’s nails visibly clench into her skin. “I asked you, Stiles.”

He feels like the air’s been punched out of him, a blunt thwop to his solar plexus. “I know.”

“I asked you so many times if you were sure.”

“I know.” The knowing hurts most of all, maybe more than anything about this whole situation, that Paula was never once in the wrong. That she’d tried so hard those five months to involve Stiles, to make him realize that Lillian was Lillian, and not a thing. He explains, “I was scared and alone and depressed and… I just fucked up. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Stiles says that last one to everybody. To his dad, for lying and leaving. To Scott, for making him think Stiles left because of him. To Derek, for keeping him in the dark and promising his cub to a pack with the words, ‘Yeah, whatever’. And to Lillian, because it was his first fuckup with her, and it won’t be the last.

“I would have been a good mom to her.”

Stiles says, “I know,” and she says, “I would have made her happy,” and he cries, “I know,” and that’s all he can say. He knows, he’s sorry. How useless.

He feels the sweat-sticky warmth of Lillian’s bare skin against his, thinks of her random grins and excited squeals, the way she calms when Stiles or Derek are near, the shape of her body curled into his during a nap, and he can’t regret it. He’s only had her for two months, and he already can’t imagine a life without her. 

Paula makes a noisy sniffle, rubs a palm beneath her eyes and nods. After a steeling breath, “Do you have everything you need?”

Stiles nods back, a bittersweet ache in his chest at the acceptance in her eyes. “Yeah, we’re… we’re really happy.” They will be, once this is over, he thinks. 

“Because I can… help,” she asks, hopeful. “We can keep in touch. Email and Skype?”

Stiles knows that’s a terrible idea. He says, “I’d like that,” and Derek turns his head just enough that Stiles can make out the sharp ridge of his shifted cheekbone when he snarls. “But Derek probably wouldn’t,” Stiles explains.

She sags, but nods in understanding. “Can I just… can I hold her one more time?”

Stiles croaks, “Paula,” just as Derek barks, “No.” Stiles adds, “You know I can’t, please.” And if he ever thought he’d get any satisfaction out of turned tables, then he was wrong.

She makes a sound that’s frustrated and pained. “Can you at least tell me what you named her?”

Stiles looks at Derek and waits.

“Her name is Lillian,” Derek answers icily. “And the best thing you can do for her right now is convince your alpha to let this go.”

Paula turns her stare to Monroe, who looks enraged at even the implication that Paula could sway him, but then she says something too low for Stiles to hear, something that has Isaac and Boyd on edge enough that their fists flex.

Paula runs a palm down his arm, whispering, and the edge of Monroe’s sneer softens. Stiles feels sick thinking of what she might be giving in exchange for this.

He feels sicker knowing that he doesn’t care.

Monroe seems to search her stare for a moment, before relenting with a jerk of his head at the others.

There’s a collective exhale from both sides.

Before turning away, Monroe tells Derek, “I’ll be sure to let my allies know exactly how much a Hale’s word is worth.”

“You do that,” Derek answers, unfazed.

Even when Monroe leads Paula away, forcing the betas flanking him to retreat, her eyes still seek out Lillian in Stiles’ arms, expression all at once happy and sad and wistful. Because Stiles can’t think of any other way to thank her for being a mother to Lillian when Stiles couldn’t, he lets her look, turns to expose Lillian’s cheek pressed into Stiles’ bare shoulder, eyelids drooping now that the commotion is winding down. Paula stares until she has to turn and watch where she’s walking, and then it’s just the shuffle of a defeated pack’s feet disappearing into the forest.

Stiles’ dad finally lowers his gun. “I need a drink,” he grunts. Boyd follows, fluidly lifting a hand to brush against Lillian’s back when he passes, and then Isaac, who just inches past, and finally Scott, who stops to give her a loud, smacking kiss on the chubby portion of her cheek.

Stiles mutters, “The gelding pack?” and Scott shrugs.

“They really don’t like him.”

Stiles drags him into a one-armed hug and says feelingly, “Thanks, man.”

Derek doesn’t go inside with the others. Waiting for the pack to get out of the area, Stiles suspects. He stands with him on the stoop, watching Derek watch the forest, the way he moves when Stiles does, as if there’s a line tethered to their bodies. At least ten minutes have passed when Derek finally drops his stance, the sag of his shoulders seeming nearly violent in its suddenness. He whirls around and grabs for Lillian, and Stiles feels the peel of their skin separating like an ache.  

He watches as they flash their eyes at each other, as Derek runs a palm over her dark head of hair and presses a kiss to her temple, rubbing it in with the apple of his cheek, scent-marking. This is pretty much the point that Stiles thinks to himself, Oh.

Stiles gave Derek the chance to fall in love with her. He doesn’t know why he’s so surprised that it worked.  Maybe he was expecting it to take longer, or to be more eventful, like they’d have a party or something to welcome Derek into the absolute hell of anxiety that is voluntary parenthood. It isn’t fair at all, because it took Stiles the approximate ten seconds of his first time holding her to feel the same.

The air cools Stiles’ chest and makes him viciously aware of the sharp pain that’s still stabbing against his stomach, not to mention his lack of clothes. “So,” Stiles sighs, crossing his arms weakly. “I’m going to go put on a shirt, are you… are you okay with her? For now?”

Derek’s eyes flick up to him and then, briefly, his stomach. “Yes.”

Stiles shuffles into the house.

*

His dad doesn’t let Boyd or Scott drink, even though they ask more for the camaraderie of it than any goal to get drunk. He does ask Derek if he’d like a drink, but he politely declines and goes to put Lillian down instead.

It’s his dad’s first real glance at a werewolf threat. Stiles watches him take a drink of whiskey, face drawn, and tries to think of something to say. Some way to reassure him. We’ve had way worse, he wants to say, but Stiles doesn’t think that will help the worrying at all.

Scott, Isaac, and Boyd all stand against the counter, looking awkward and jittery, heels tapping against the floor, hands crammed into pockets, eyes flitting back and forth.

It’s Isaac who breaks the silence, voice small and soft. “Ever seen Mothra?” he asks Stiles’ dad.

Boyd is right behind him. “We sort of have a tradition. Bad sixties sci-fi movies.”

Scott says, “Or, we’re trying to. Stiles started it, actually. Remember that omega from last year?” Stiles looks a him in surprise. Scott wasn’t even in Derek’s pack then, so Stiles has no idea how it’s become a tradition based on a late, weary night in Scott’s bedroom, Stiles frantically trying to find a way to distract himself from the way the omega’s eyes had been feral and wrong, desperate and crazed, like Scott’s might be some day. He was just trying to give them both something to latch onto. An ordinary yet ridiculous escape, an ice-cold plunge into normality. Robinson Crusoe on Mars. Scott shrugs at him. “There are worse ways of coping.”

Stiles sees his dad pause at that, gaze lurching down to his glass, and then at Isaac, who looks just this side of discomfited. Probably because he’s had a father who drank, and he didn’t just have a few thumbs before getting sloppy sentimental and crawling into bed, like Stiles’ dad does.

He puts the glass down, sighing. “Worth a shot.”

Stiles waits until they’re all set up in the living room, all three wolves sprawled on the couch while his dad settles in his recliner, foot rest kicked up, before he allows himself to climb the stairs to his room. He finds Derek in his desk chair, Lillian fast asleep on his chest, blanket draped over her back.

Stiles notes the idle motion Derek’s making in the chair, swiveling a slow, few inches left, and then a few inches right, over and over again. “You’re not going to leave tonight, huh?”

The chair stills. “Is that a problem?”

Stiles shakes his head, winces when his stomach twinges. “Totally not a problem. If you weren’t, I’d probably ask you to.”

The chair starts moving again. “She’s my cub.”

Stiles instinctual response is ‘like hell she is’, but there’s something in the way Derek says it, rough and lost, that makes Stiles careful to remove the bite from it. “Ours, Derek.”

“I know that. I just meant… I have to protect her.”

Stiles glares at him. “So do I.”

“No that’s not—” Derek shakes his head, eyebrows pinched together in frustration. “You don’t understand.”

Stiles fights down his annoyance at where this is going the best he can. He knows what Derek thinks—that Stiles is a human and therefore less capable and therefore less responsible for his own kid’s safety. Stiles thinks that’s shit, but instead of saying so—because he figures this is only the first in a long line of the same repeating argument—he gingerly folds himself onto the bed. “So tell me,” he presses, breathing through the ache that shoots up his torso. “You might be surprised.”

But it’s Derek who surprises him. “For the last three years, I’ve been learning how to care for a pack made entirely of physically mature betas, and I didn’t even do that right. Not when it mattered. And now…” Derek’s mouth presses into a tight, thin line. “Now that pack includes a child. My child. I can’t… just do things the way I have been. The way I’ve learned. Make them as self-sufficient as possible and be there in case they need me. It doesn’t apply. Nothing applies to this.”

Stiles contemplates this in silence. It isn’t something he’s considered before, how Lillian might affect pack dynamics, how having her would change Derek’s role as alpha. It’s just another bullet-point in a long list of reasons to hate Peter. He never gave Derek a chance to grow into the role he already had before clumsily dumping another on him. “How did your family do it?” Stiles wonders. “Your parents?”

Derek’s head drops back, resting against the chair. “Numbers. Sticking together, being a family, staying in a group.” His sigh has a sharp, black edge to it. “But that has its own weaknesses, obviously.”

Stiles winces, looking away. “Right.”

God, he hates Peter.

“We got lucky with Monroe,” Derek says, grim yet pensive. “If Scott didn’t have all those contacts, he would have killed us and no one would ever know she wasn’t theirs. We need to be more visible,” he decides, face falling. “We need to make some formal allies.”

“Is that hard?”

Derek gives a tired scoff. “Only if by ‘hard’ you mean incredibly tedious posturing.”

Stiles gapes at him. “Incredibly tedious posturing is all that’s been standing between us and some freaking help? Because we could have been faking it forever ago.”

But Derek shakes his head. “No one would have allied with us before. A bunch of bittens, an omega who hated my guts, and an unestablished alpha? We would have been laughed out of every territory.”

 “But now?”

Derek’s hand moves on Lillian’s back, palm smoothing down a wrinkle in the blanket. “Now I have a cub. I told you, nothing from before applies.”

Stiles doesn’t hide his skepticism. “It’s really that big of a deal, having a cub? Enough that everyone’s going to start accepting you with open arms?”

“Hardly,” Derek answers. “But it’s just enough to get a foot in their door.”

Stiles twists his mouth, thinking.

“Would you have any problems with that?” Derek asks after so long.

Stiles blinks in surprise. “Would I even be involved?”

“As much as we can get away with,” Derek answers. “Posturing, remember.”

Stiles thinks about it. From what he knows, formal allies can be high maintenance, depending on the packs involved. But all Stiles and Scott and Isaac and Boyd have ever known is the alternative, and any one of them will tell you it’s not all that great.

Stiles doesn’t know much, in the end. He doesn’t know how to be a kid and he doesn’t know how to be a parent. He doesn’t know, when he chants Millicent’s prayer, who he’s even praying to. The coven? Their God or Goddess? He doesn’t know where his Spark comes from, or what it’s capable of. He believes, but he has so little faith.

There’s one thing Stiles knows for sure, though. Like the sky is blue and the grass is green and if you randomly Google for porn, you’re going to get a trojan. He knows it like he knows his dad is downstairs right now, not so much worrying about what Stiles has gotten himself into with all this werewolf crap, but planning, strategizing the best way to shelter him from it.

“I trust you.” Stiles has faith that Derek will protect Lillian, at all costs. “If you think it’s what we need, I’m on board.”

Derek nods. “It’s a start.”

Stiles fidgets with a loose thread on his sheets, itchy with the need to hold her, even though he knows Derek’s in the same boat. Stiles has her most of the time and he wants to be fair. It’s just such a relief to have the threat of the Monroe pack behind him, and to have come out the other side with Lillian still here.

“Hey,” Stiles says, unsure. “We could… um, lay down? If you want. Or I mean, if you wouldn’t mind.”

Derek’s head rolls against the chair when he turns to look at him, one eyebrow raised. But then their gazes meet and the chair stills again. “Oh.”

Stiles looks away, grimacing. “It’s cool, if not. I just thought, you know.”

“Sharing,” Derek says, rising from the chair.

“Right.” Stiles watches as Derek kicks off his shoes, the blanket covering Lillian eventually falling to the floor when he crosses the room.

He scoots back onto his pillows and leaves Derek plenty of space to climb in, but once he has, Stiles plasters himself into his side, lifting a hand to graze over Lillian’s warm back. Her cheek is smushed into Derek’s chest, making her mouth and nose crinkle up cutely. He slips his finger into her palm and feels all the tension drain from him just as dizzyingly fast as it came.

Derek lifts an arm to give him room, his body a solid warm line against Stiles’ front, and remains silent when Stiles pillows his head on his shoulder, eyes falling closed.

*

There’s a better routine after that night. Without Monroe’s axe hanging over his head, Stiles feels free to do things like take Lillian out of the house and introduce her to the deputies, or the neighbors, or when he goes to get gas one day, the hot cashier at the convenience store. Especially since Derek said they need to be more visible, Stiles feels okay playing a doting father, even when it gets him looks (the ones that say, babies be having babies) or awkward questions (“Where’s the mother?”).

Derek comes over often, but not always. Sometimes he comes every day, but sometimes he can’t come for a full week, busy with the new house going up since the pack is doing most of the labor themselves and Derek is, for some reason, dead set on getting it finished by Spring. If not Derek, then someone else will come in the day time—usually Boyd, who can get Lillian to sleep faster than even Derek, but sometimes Scott. Isaac only comes once.

When Derek can come himself, Stiles will find a break in his course work and set it aside, pull up the spreadsheet listing possible allies and they’ll research them together, what makes this pack more or less accessible, what makes that pack more or less beneficial.

“If we choose a pack that’s already established allies,” Derek muses one day as he and Stiles are hunched over the bathtub, sides pressed together from shoulder to thigh, “sometimes they’ll grandfather a new pack into the group.”

Derek’s hand shields Lillian’s forehead as Stiles carefully rinses the suds from her hair. Her eyes are saucer-wide, body motionless in the little tub his dad got her for Christmas. She always tenses up in water, not necessarily scared so much as… bracing.

“Like a five-for-one.” Stiles gives him a curious glance as he stretches around him to fumble for the soap. Derek grunts when Stiles’ elbow catches him in the chest. “Sorry, man.”  

“Kind of,” Derek answers, snatching the sap from Stiles’ hand. “It’s uncommon for a pack to have more than two.”

When Stiles lifts Lillian so Derek can get her back, she pees on him.

Stiles thrusts her over the tub and cries, “I’m hit! Man down! Man down!”

Derek makes a stiff approximation of a flail before snatching the cup they were using to catch the stream of pee with it. The bathroom falls silent, save for the sound of liquid splashing against plastic.

Derek holds the cup steady, sighing, while Lillian dangles in the air, eyes big and unblinking.

“Well,” Stiles says, watching, “Bet you didn’t think you’d be spending your Saturday catching piss in a cup.”

Derek puffs out a silent laugh. “I was not expecting this level of… structured flow, from a girl.”

“She pees like a grown man,” Stiles agrees, fascinated. “Is that specific to werewolves, or am I just uninformed about general female anatomy?”

Derek gives him a look before dumping the contents of the cup into the toilet. “Uninformed.”

Stiles concedes, “Yeah.”

“Drain and refill the tub,” Derek decides, staring at the cup for a moment before just chucking it into the trash bin. “I’ll go get you a new shirt.”

Stiles scowls. “You’re just trying to get out of the cleanup!” and Derek calls back from where he’s already halfway down the hall, “Leave no man behind!”

So Stiles makes flow charts about the allies.

Scott ends up knowing the most about local packs. Stiles uses one of Lillian’s pack bonding nights at the duplex to bring it up, and Scott eagerly offers the lowdown over a plate of Pizza Rolls. He’s been around the block enough to know who’s already allied with whom, which alphas are most welcoming, who might be most sympathetic to a fledgling pack with a new cub.

Stiles whips out his laptop and makes notes, draws lines between pack names and color codes them according to demeanor. Assholes are red, nice people are blue.

Pack Ward is purple, somewhere in between the two.

Derek watches Scott relay this all and doesn’t seem upset at the reminder that Scott had once done anything in his power to find another alpha. Instead, he just pitches forward and listens. Even when Isaac wedges himself in between them on the couch and tries to involve Derek in his and Boyd’s Streetfighter match, Derek just grabs Isaac’s neck and guides him close enough to scent, nose dipping briefly into his hair.

Stiles looks away.

Boyd treats Lillian like spun glass. He’d rather hold her while sitting down than walking, and he’s the only one she lets get away with it. For Scott or Derek, Stiles or his dad, she’ll grow restless, thirst for the motion of footsteps and height. But when she’s sitting with Boyd, she’s perfectly happy with it, will grin up at him when he blows delicate raspberries into her belly or look on in fascination when he’s speaking.

Isaac does not like Lillian.

He doesn’t really do a great job at hiding it, either.

The one time he comes over in Derek’s absence, he calls Boyd halfway through and has him trade places, would rather spend the day in the cold doing plumbing than sit with her in the living room while Stiles does school work.

Stiles tries to ask if anything’s wrong, but Isaac just shrugs him off, gives a tight smile and goes to wait out on the porch for Boyd to arrive.  He doesn’t want to make a huge deal of it. Just because she’s pack doesn’t mean Isaac is obligated to give Stiles free child care in his spare time. Going to Derek about it would probably be the werewolf equivalent of tattling, so Stiles doesn’t.

But he watches. Specifically, when he takes Lillian to the duplex on the weekends or odd Wednesday nights when no one has night classes, while Boyd and Scott are fawning over her or arguing over who has to change the next diaper, Stiles watches Isaac gravitate toward Derek. It’s not obvious, the way he pushes Derek out of the circle of activity, but after a month of being under Stiles’ microscope, it’s fairly evident.

He physically leans and scoots and shuffles Derek to the farthest corner of the couch, or the back of the kitchenette, or completely into the hall. If Derek realizes this, then he doesn’t do anything to stop it, just goes when pushed, or drifts when pulled. He’ll scent-mark him sometimes, drag Isaac close and discreetly nuzzle into his hair, mouth and nose dragging against the side of his head.

Isaac’s usually okay, after.

Stiles really isn’t.

*

Some websites say to start a baby on solids at four months, while others say six, while others say seven, while others say to let the baby decide, and others even say to just let them nurse until they don’t want to anymore, even if they’re like five.

Many sites say the parent will just know.

Stiles has no idea what that’s even supposed to mean. He’s been picking up jarred baby food for weeks, but has no idea when he should try it. Maybe, he thinks, that’s a normal-woman-mother kind of thing. They get baby telepathy with the whole uterus package, like a bundle deal—like how Stiles gets unlimited text under the family plan. Sometimes Lillian will look at him with this super intense look on her face and Stiles will just know she’s taking a seriously massive dump, but he doesn’t think that’s telepathy so much as common sense. Also, every present werewolf will conveniently have something to do elsewhere. That’s a big giveaway, too.

Stiles stays up late one night fretting over the epiphany that Lillian isn’t even human. She developed almost twice as fast as a fetus, and what if she’s still that advanced? It’s a frightening moment, knowing that she’s a circumstance that not even paranoid parenting forums could anticipate.

He awakes the next morning to Derek creeping across his room. 

The house is mostly silent, just the muted mumble of the TV downstairs and the sound of distant traffic, a lawnmower running somewhere down the block, Stiles’ open-mouthed breathing.

Before Lillian, Stiles wouldn’t have stirred to this; Derek’s carefully quiet footfalls across the floor, the way he avoids leaning against the crib and making the give between the table-attachment hinges softly clink against one another when he scoops Lillian out of it.

Unmoving, Stiles blearily observes as Derek lifts her into the air, face spreading into a slow, sunny grin. He whispers something to her that’s too quiet for Stiles to hear, but the murmur of it sounds soft and happy. He then proceeds to press a series of big, playful kisses into her cheek, and when he pulls her away from his face, Lillian’s grinning around a slobbery fist, eyes still sleep-squinted against the morning sun coming in through the window.

That’s how Stiles knows Derek thinks he’s still sleeping. Because when he lays her out to change her, he nips playfully at the foot she kicks out at him, ticklish. Stiles has seen Derek playful with her, of course. He’s seen him smile at her and press kisses into her hair, has seen him scent-mark her with a rub of his cheek against her head. But this is different, a private moment that Stiles knows he wouldn’t otherwise be allowed to witness—soft and achingly tender.

After Derek has her dressed, he just stands there, running a thumb over her temple, staring at her like she’s too big to take in all at once, like he needs to start at the edges and work his way to the center in slow increments. For a long, silent moment, Derek looks at her like he’s thinking, I made you, and Stiles thinks no matter how long how they’re connected, how many dangers they face or how many wordless looks they’ll share, that Derek and him will never be as close as they are at that exact moment.

*

Stiles doesn’t follow him down until an hour later, hands locked behind his back in a stretch when he finds Derek and Lillian alone in the kitchen. She’s hanging out in her swing and Derek is reading the paper, drinking a cup of coffee, all traces of joy and awe wiped from his expression.

“Your dad let me in before he left for his shift.” His glance at Stiles is brief and blank. “He said to pay the garbage bill. His computer’s not working.”

Stiles hums and crouches in front of the swing, giving Lillian’s foot a jiggle. “She eat?”

“Every drop.”

“When you look at her,” he starts, turning to Derek, “do you know it’s time to start her on solids?”

Derek doesn’t say, “What the hell are you talking about,” but his expression does.

“They say parents will just ‘know’,” Stiles explains, rolling his eyes as he air-quotes. “I didn’t get a memo, though. I thought maybe you got the werewolf bundle deal.”

Derek squints down at newspaper spread over the table and flatly repeats, “Werewolf bundle deal.”

Stiles sighs. “Never mind, it’s—it’s just a thing. I thought, maybe. I don’t know.” He goes through the motions of pouring himself a glass of orange juice, fighting back a huff of annoyance at himself. “I didn’t know if werewolf cubs matured faster, or… whatever.”

After a moment, Derek clears his throat. “Only a little. My mom used to say...” But he trails off, the corners of his eyes going tight.

Stiles prods as gently as he knows how. “Used to say what?”

“When they’re old enough to hold their own bottle. That’s when she’d…” Derek makes a flustered gesture. “Start giving it a shot.”

Stiles drops into the opposite chair and carefully asks, “Yeah?”

“My little sisters and my cousins…” Derek pushes the newspaper aside, elbows propped on the table. “Everyone’s different, but the cubs usually took to things quicker than the humans. My aunt grew her own vegetables. I remember having to mash them up for my nephew.”

“Organic, huh?” Stiles fidgets with the edge of the newspaper. “I’ve just been buying the jarred stuff here and there, but we can try that.”

Derek sips his coffee. “Your call.”

Stiles frowns, tearing a small rip into the paper. “No, it’s not. I mean, it’s yours too. If you ever wanted to do something differently or… have any insights into, like, werewolf cub stuff. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t exactly have a lot of experience even with human babies. I’m pretty much flying by the seat of my pants. These are the sort of things we should be deciding together, right?”

A shrug. “If that’s what you want.”

“It is,” Stiles insists. “We should stop. Collaborate and listen. You know what I mean. We’re Team Werebaby!”

Derek pins him with a look. “Never call us that.”

Stiles waves dismissively. “Yeah, I’ll think of something more discreet, for the t-shirts. Have to be able to wear them in public.”

“You’re going to be the embarrassing parent.”

Stiles grins. “You bet your perfectly sculpted ass I am. And you’re going to be the weird scary dad who spooks and arouses all the PTA moms, because Team Boo Boo Wolfy Child is well-rounded.” And at Derek’s glare, “Not feeling that one either, huh? I’ll work on it and get back to you. In the meantime, feel free to come over and let yourself in whenever. There’s a key under the rock out there, but you probably already know that. You don’t have to wait for my dad to let you in, you know?”

Derek’s eyes narrow a bit, but after a moment of his intensely suspicious stare, he says, “Okay.”

It’s only a week later that Lillian begins holding her own bottle. The whole pack comes over to Stiles’ to watch her try solids for the first time—even Isaac. They all crowd into the kitchen, Scott and Boyd flanking her high chair as Isaac does his weird furtively-pushing-Derek-to-the-farthest-chair exercise.

He’s got Derek hovering one chair away from Isaac’s obvious goal, the seat at the head of the table.

Stiles grits his teeth and mashes the avocado he’s preparing with enough force to make the spoon bend. The thing about shopping for a baby who’s never eaten before is that Stiles has no idea what she’ll like. He’s just been buying random vegetables from Old Man Gary, who’s always selling stuff from his greenhouse out of the back of his truck, which is parked on the corner leading into town.

At one point, standing there in front of Gary’s truck comparing squash, Stiles realized what’s appetizing to him might be disgusting to her.

He notes this aloud to Derek, offhandedly. “But won’t it be cool,” he grunts as he bends to reach the plums from the back of chiller drawer. “Like we get to watch an actual human’s personality develop. Maybe she likes, like, broccoli or rutabaga or potatoes. Who even knows, right?” Stiles finds the bag of plums and carefully wiggles himself out of the fridge, brandishing it in triumph when he emerges.

Derek has sat down at the chair at the head of the table, just like Stiles knew he would. But he’s also staring at Stiles with this look on his face, like he’s just said something slightly unbelievable, even though he’s pretty sure he didn’t.

“What?”

Derek blinks a couple times and then jerks his eyes to the side where Isaac’s now hovering. “She’s not a human,” he sighs in this sort of put upon way.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “A living being. An autonomous organism, a self-determining individual. Whatever, you know what I mean. What first?” Stiles is talking to himself, sifting through the bowls of mashed veggies and fruit as he drops into the seat in front of the highchair. “Maybe the avocado?”

Lillian squeals unhelpfully, knocking her fist against the high chair.

“Fruit,” Boyd says, seeming to admire a seam in the molding of the entryway. “Try something sweet.”

Stiles narrows his eyes but Boyd completely avoids his stare. He knows what kind of uncle that one’s going to be. Scott makes faces at her like he’s always does, so determined to elicit reactions that he’ll keep doing it until she’s either squealing in delight or fussy with fear.

Exaggerated fish face? Fussy.

Fully shifted fang-teeth? Delighted.

Scott’s going to be the uncle who tries too hard.

And Isaac… well.

He shuffles around Derek’s chair, shoulders all drawn into himself, chest jerking with these short, distressed breaths that are more than a little unnerving. Stiles is about to suggest he maybe not wolf out in front of his fucking kid, but before he can, Derek makes an annoyed grumble and just… yanks Isaac into his lap.

Isaac releases a sound that Stiles can’t really classify but seems to land somewhere between a whimper and a cough. Derek pushes his nose into his hair, chest rumbling.

Stiles honestly doesn’t expect the sudden flash of sharp shock, given that he knows Isaac and Derek sleep in the same bed, that they’re tactile like this often enough, but Stiles also doesn’t feel like his reaction is uncalled for.

It’s one thing for Isaac to do his weird face-rubbing thing when Derek’s pulled him aside into the hall at the duplex, but it’s totally inappropriate for Derek to have a grown man sitting in his fucking lap at Stiles’ table, what the hell? He doesn’t care if they’re werewolves or not. That has to be a crossing of some line.

Isaac is apparently going tobe the weird uncle with daddy issues who has a pseudo-homoerotic relationship with her father.

Awesome.

When he turns to snatch the spoon from the table, Derek’s pinning him with a gaze over Isaac’s shoulder. He doesn’t raise an eyebrow so much as he eases it from a furrowed scrunched, curved upward in question.

Stiles gives a sharp shake of his head and forces a grin when he turns back to Lillian. “Okay, let’s do this.”

But when he finally does, she brings her fist up to her mouth, which is oozing banana purée from the corners, and her lip wobbles. The tip of her nose flushes red and she looks at Stiles with this wide, betrayed expression before emitting the most miserable little wet sob.

Her eyes scrunch closed when she cries. 

Everyone aw’s and laughs at her reaction, but Stiles’ knows she’s not crying because of the food. He hurries to wipe it from her mouth and chin, where it dribbles down to her throat and chest and crowns a print giraffe with a glob of banana.

He’s been trying to practice shielding his emotions, because Lillian has gotten better and better at scenting them out. Even a twinge of Stiles’ nerve pain is enough to make her fussy these days. But Stiles isn’t even convinced it’s possible to shield emotions in the first place, and the thing is this: he’s not angry. Stiles is trying to be, because anger would be so much easier than the truth, which is that it hurts.

Because Isaac and Derek make a weird kind of sense, and because even if they didn’t, Derek might make sense with someone else someday. Someone from an allied pack maybe, because he knows that isn’t uncommon, and that Derek is an eligible single alpha, and one day it’s just.

One day it’s going to happen, and Stiles wants to be okay with it.

Lillian raises her arms and pathetically sobs ‘neh neh neh’ at him, but Stiles doesn’t pick her up, just takes a deep breath and tries to go to a mental happy place.

When he opens his eyes again, Isaac is in his own chair and Derek has dragged his flush with Stiles’.

“Let’s try the avocado,” Derek carefully says.

*

“You could just ask, you know,” Derek says later that night, when the others have left for class and they’re putting Lillian down for the evening.

Stiles is adjusting the bumpers against the rails of her crib, says distractedly, “Ask what?”

Derek says, “You know what,” and when Stiles turns to look at him, Derek has his arms crossed over his chest, eyebrows pulled down low. “For the record, just because I can scent out your emotions doesn’t make me a mind reader.”

Stiles fidgets. “Okay?”

Derek gives a slow, careful nod, and evenly declares, “I’m not fucking Isaac.”

Stiles maybe chokes on some wayward saliva, but quickly recovers, throwing his hands up, palms out. “That is so far from being any of my beeswax, dude.”

“This morning, you were—”

“No,” Stiles interrupts, shaking his head. “That wasn’t—you’ve got it wrong.”

Derek lifts an eyebrow, challenging, “You were jealous.”

“I was surprised,” he corrects. “It’s not every day you see a grown man sitting in another grown man’s lap rubbing their faces all over each other.”

“Maybe not for you,” Derek counters. “For us, it’s not unusual. This is how we are. Isaac is still… delicate. Sometimes I need to give him more physical attention than the others. It isn’t sexual or inappropriate.”

Stiles snaps, “Maybe not to you. To me, it is. Lily’s going to grow up seeing things like that, and how are you—”

“She’s a werewolf, too,” Derek snaps back. “And she’s not going to grow up confined to human social constructs.” Derek sighs when he softly adds, “She’s going to be a werewolf, because that’s what she is. You need to accept that.”

“I do,” Stiles urges, jamming the heels of his palms into his eyes. “The ability to scent out my emotions doesn’t make you a mindreader. Fine. But knowing a lot of werewolves doesn’t make me an expert on werewolf behavior. Maybe if you just. Like. You know, explained it to me? Ever? Anything? Because you might not have grown up confined to human social constructs, but I can tell you all about a guy who has two thumbs and did.” Stiles jabs two thumbs toward his face. “Compelling story. Lots of awkwardness.”

Derek drops his arms, and then, after a moment, looks away. “Before Scott came into the pack, Isaac was…”

Stiles watches Derek struggle for words before hedging, “Alpha’s pet?”

Derek shoots him a glare. “He got a lot of my attention because I had a lot to give. When Scott came, that time was divided and he didn’t take it well.”

Stiles guesses, “So you thought you’d shack up with him to make up for it.”

Derek’s hands fist at his sides. “If you want me to explain, then let me explain.”

Stiles nods, giving an apologetic twist of his mouth.

“He became withdrawn,” Derek continues, voice tight with frustration. “So I paired us together at the duplex. For the most part, it worked. He accepted Scott and grew less dependent on my attention.”

“But then Lillian came,” Stiles says, frowning.

Derek nods. “Now that you and Lillian are here, instead of withdrawing, he’s become…” Derek shifts his weight, avoids Stiles’ stare when he confesses, “… very territorial.”

“Fuck,” Stiles groans, covering his eyes.

“It’ll pass,” he insists, “once he realizes you and Lillian aren’t a threat to his status in the pack.”

“What if it doesn’t?” Stiles frets. “Derek, he doesn’t like her. He won’t bond. Even if we’re able to set aside every inter-pack issue, potential allies aren’t going to miss it. How is anyone going to ally with a pack whose senior-most beta won’t even bond with his alpha’s cub? That seems like it’s actually a pretty big problem.”

Derek’s chest puffs out. “It won’t be. Not by the time we choose a pack. I’m giving him some time to adjust.”

Stiles groans again, scrubbing a palm over his face. “Is there anything I can do? Like, I don’t know. Talk to him, or… fuck. Buy him flowers, take him coffee, ‘like’ his Facebook page. Give me something here.”

But Derek argues, “This isn’t about him not liking you or Lillian. You think he doesn’t realize this is holding us all back? You think he didn’t want to accept Scott last summer? It’s his wolf. It’s instinct. You can’t talk someone out of instinct.”

“This? Right now? You’re seriously underestimating my talent for talking.”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You can talk logic at him all day long, and it won’t matter. The wolf might heal physical wounds, but not the emotional.” Softer, he adds, “Isaac has a lot.”

Stiles guesses, “And some of his emotional reflexes are close enough to wolf instinct that they’re being… amplified.”

Derek nods. “Exactly.”

Stiles doesn’t tell him, this is why you don’t bite emotionally fragile people, because this is a lesson Derek learned long ago. That not everyone is fit to be a wolf, some people so much so that they become something different and ugly.

A kanima.

A Peter.

Instead, Stiles says, “Thanks. For, you know. Explaining.”

Derek scratches at his jaw, mouth pinching. “I’ll try to be more discreet about it, when I can.”

“No, you don’t—” Stiles shakes his head. “Don’t do that. It’s fine, I was just… cultural differences. Totally my bad, you do your alpha thing.”

Derek sighs and his eyes look tired. Like a guy who’s helping raise a baby, taking care of a slightly dysfunctional pack, and building a house with his two bare hands, all at once. “I’ll take care of it,” is what he says.

And if Stiles wants to tell him to try a little less, to take a break and chill out sometimes, to stop carrying the weight of it all on his shoulders, then Derek never gives him the chance.

He’s gone the next instant.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

I bound her to me in all soft ways,
I bound her to me in a net of days,
Yet now she has gone in silence and said no word.
 How can we face these dazzling things, I ask you?
There is no use: we cry: and are not heard.

 

 

 

By the end of March, Derek’s feet drag with exhaustion. His eyes are heavy and his stubble is less five-o-clock shadow and more haven’t-bothered-for-two-weeks. One day he comes over and lets himself in, walks Lillian around the first floor as Stiles gets ahead on his reading, and Stiles is so engrossed and conditioned to tune them out that when he emerges in the evening to find them both passed out on the couch, Lillian stomach down on his chest, Derek slack-mouthed with both big hands resting on her back, he’s a little disoriented by it.

He calls the nearest pizza joint and stands at the window, tired and pensive. It’s been a rougher six weeks than Stiles was expecting, given so much threat has passed. Derek doesn’t it make it over as much as he had at the beginning of the year—once a week, twice if Stiles is lucky—and when he does make it, he’s dead on his feet. Stiles would say something about Derek overworking himself, about slowing down and chilling out, but Stiles isn’t much better.

He’s failing two of his required classes and just can’t seem to gain any momentum. He sits here and reads and does work and watches lectures, sometimes even calls to get clarification, but he can’t focus. It’d be easy to blame it on having to take care of a baby, but it’d be a lie. Derek doesn’t make it over often, but Boyd and Scott do. Stiles still has plenty of help, it’s just that his nerve pain has been getting steadily worse.

Most nights are kind of hard, drag on longer than usual with the persistence of ache and Lillian’s restless whimpers. She cries for most of it, even when Stiles hobbles to the crib and tries to soothe her. Especially when Stiles hobbles to the crib.

She always knows when he hurts.

The pain is usually gone by morning, but Stiles meets the days feeling drained and foggy.

The night before was the worst he’s ever had. Stiles’ pain struck with such ferocity that it had him bowled over in bed, muffling sobs into his pillow, unable to even keep up with the pretense of soothing Lillian’s wails. He was alarmed enough by the intensity of it that he briefly contemplated the possibility of calling an ambulance.

Considering all the possible complications of a shady caesarean—infections, hernias, infections, organ failure, infections—Stiles knows he still got off pretty lucky. He feels lucky, even when he’s fetal and rocking and chanting Millicent’s prayer through gnashed teeth.

Derek startles awake when Stiles lifts Lillian from his chest, blinks at him with bleary confusion but doesn’t protest when Stiles takes her upstairs, silently and carefully placing her in the crib, hoping like hell she doesn’t wake up.

Derek’s scrubbing a palm over his face when Stiles returns, victorious.

“Working hard or working too hard?” Stiles asks.

Derek grunts. “Someone’s pulling in the driveway.” And then eyes glazing over, a furtive sniff. “Pizza?”

Stiles doesn’t imagine the hopeful inflection there. “Hungry?”

Derek says, “A little,” but is practically glued to Stiles’ back when he’s paying the pizza dude, takes it upon himself to do the heavy lifting of bringing it all to the kitchen. He eats his first slice so viciously that Stiles is a little scared of making any sudden movements, like Derek might start snarling, drag it to a corner where he can curl himself over it and call it His Precious.

He’s never seen anyone eat as much as Derek Hale.

“So.” Stiles waits until Derek’s fifth slice before expecting any attention. Even then, all he gets are raised eyebrows. “I know this is probably a bad time, what with the way you look like an extra in a low budget zombie flick and you clearly need a vacay from responsibility, but I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, and I’d put it off until you look a little less scarily overburdened, but I’ve been doing that since November and—”

“Doctor’s appointment?” Derek almost puts his crust down. But then just crams it into his mouth.

“It’s at two thirty,” Stiles clarifies. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. Maybe a couple hours? Just, if you or one of the guys could stay with Lil, you know? I’d really, really appreciate it.” He’s dreaded asking, making the appointment and putting even a few more hours of obligation onto Derek’s plate, but the previous night was proof that by putting it off, he’s just making it worse.

Derek nods mildly, but says, “I can take you.”

Stiles frowns in confusion. “No it’s… the appointment’s for me, not Lillian.”

Derek wipes his hands with a napkin and says, “I know.”

“So… she can stay here.”

“Or,” Derek says, raising an eyebrow, “we can come with you.”

“Yeah.” Stiles scratches at his jaw. “Yes, that is an intriguing new option that is in no way weird or out of character at all.”

Derek pauses with his hand reaching for another slice. “Unless you don’t want me to.”

“I don’t necessarily mind,” Stiles insists, surprised. “I just wasn’t expecting you to want to?”

Derek finally grabs the slice, deadpanning, “I’m not pregnant with anticipation or anything.”

That joke finally gets made and it’s by Derek.

Damn.

*

Derek’s in the waiting room when Stiles gets out. He’s got Lillian in her car seat on the chair beside him and a Good Housekeeping fanned open in his lap that he tosses aside when their eyes meet. He tucks the blanket more tightly around her before standing, following Stiles out of the lobby and into the parking lot.

“That didn’t take long,” he comments and Stiles gives him a look.

“I was in there for two hours.”

Derek shrugs and, when Lillian drops her pacifier onto the asphalt, looks around for a moment before popping it into his mouth, sucking it clean and giving it back.

It’s a testament to Stiles’ mood that he doesn’t gleefully jump on this golden mocking opportunity.

The ride home is silent. Stiles stares out the window at the trees whipping past and keeps his hand fisted in the bag of prescriptions they’d given him. Lillian keeps making these restless, unhappy ‘Neh’ sounds, but every time Stiles cranes around to check on her, she’s just sitting there, staring forward. Stiles’ chest goes tight with guilt. He doesn’t know how werewolf families can handle it—cubs being so tuned in on one’s emotions—and maybe one day he can ask Derek, but today isn’t it.

When they get back to Stiles’, his dad is already home from his shift, standing at the counter, still in uniform and wolfing down a sandwich.

He asks, “So?” but Stiles waits until Derek’s taken Lillian upstairs to answer, more for his dad’s benefit than anything, since he knows Derek can hear.

This is something he probably would have lied about, before. “Medication first,” Stiles sighs. “If that doesn’t work, then local injections, if that doesn’t work, then surgery.”

He can see the effort it takes for his dad to keep his face blank. “Likelihood of the medication working?”

Stiles shrugs. “No telling.”

“Side effects?”

Stiles tries a grin. “Guess we’ll see!” His dad’s face finally twists and Stiles rolls his eyes. “It’s just some light pain killers and anti-inflammatories, Dad, chill. I just need to avoid repetitive movements and sitting for too long, which you know, I sit almost all day, so that’s going to fix a lot right there. And hey, no hernias! That deserves a high-five.”

His dad gives the weakest high-five ever. “I almost wish that pack would come back so I can shoot that guy in the stomach.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “Well I don’t think he wanted to do it, so you’d be shooting the wrong person.”

“So long as I get to shoot someone.”

Stiles grumbles in agreement as he heavily climbs the stairs, plucking one of the prescription bottles from the bag. He’s been a huge fan of pain killers since the alpha incident junior year, but experiencing morphine withdrawal a few months ago has kind of dulled the shine of them. Plus, he’s been off his Adderall since he left for the manor last year, and with Lillian and school, Stiles wants to keep a clear head. Aside from his foggy mornings, he’s been doing… sufficient without it. But he doesn’t know how other mind-altering substances might affect him, and he doesn’t like the idea of taking chances when things are going so smoothly already.

He ducks into the bathroom and takes the pain killer with a palm full of water, anyway.

Derek, who hasn’t taken Lillian out of her car seat yet, is sitting in Stiles’ desk chair, staring down at the wolf plushie as he turns it over idly in his hand. When Stiles walks in, he rises and gives it to Lillian, shakes it in front of her face a couple times before laying it on her chest.

She clutches at it, flashing her eyes at Derek when she drags it up to her mouth. She always does the eye-flash when he gives her something. He always flashes back. Even for a bottle, or the pacifier she hasn’t quite gotten the hang of yet. Stiles sometimes thinks it’s her of way of asking, From you, for me? She never does it to Stiles. He tells himself this is a good thing, because if it happened in public, he’d have no way of explaining.

“Thanks for the ride, man,” Stiles says, slipping the pill bottles into his desk drawer. He stops to tickle Lillian’s foot, lets her responding, slobbery grin relax the knot of tension that’s settled into his shoulders.

Gruffly, quiet like a secret, Derek asks, “Can I see it?”

Stiles blinks at him. “See what?”

Derek gestures vaguely at his torso. “Where they cut you.”

He wrinkles his nose, covering his stomach with a hand. “What, why?” But then, “No. No way.

Derek props a hand on the desk and leans against it, expressionless. “I’ve already seen it.”

“Not, like, intentionally and up close.” Stiles shrinks away. “It’s gross.”

“I can guarantee that I’ve seen worse.”

“Well yeah, but…” The protest dies in Stiles’ throat because he has no way of verbalizing why he doesn’t want Derek to see his mutilated stomach that isn’t some variation of an awkward truth. Which is to say, Stiles always knew he could never measure up to Derek in the looks department, but he was a lot closer when his abs were firm and flat and his skin was smooth and he didn’t have scars and stretch marks and a misshapen bellybutton.

“Alright,” Derek says easily. “It’s fine.”

But Stiles feels like it’s stupid to not show him. Like it’s just acknowledging he’s been holding out on some ridiculous impossibility that Derek’s going to look at him some day and think, why not?

Stiles grabs the hem of his shirt and yanks it over his head in one swift move, because he thinks that’s a coffin that needs a few more nails, and what better? He throws his hands up, as if to say here it is, and lets them drop loudly against his thighs.

Derek’s stare feels a lot less critical than Stiles is expecting, just a long, considering appraisal of the damage, the same way he’d inspect Scott and Isaac for ticks after a nighttime run through the forest. Stiles runs his fingers through his hair, back to front, flattening it down where the shirt had ruffled it, and fights the impulse to cross his arms, bring his shirt up like shield.

Derek steps forward and reaches out, pauses for only a brief second before flattening his palm to the scarred skin, fingertips fanned out toward Stiles’ side.

Even the numbest portions of his skin feel it like a lightning bolt.

“Where does it hurt?” Derek asks, frowning in concentration.

Stiles’ throat clicks with a swallow. “Um. A little—here.” He takes Derek’s wrist and clumsily guides it lower, a little to the left. He says, “It’s not—” but black tendrils are already climbing Derek’s wrist, a pulse that disappears somewhere beneath the dark hair on his forearm. Stiles was going to say, It’s not that bad right now, but all he manages is a jarred hiss.

Derek wraps an arm around his waist to steady him. “Okay?”

Stiles nods, does his best not to sag into the wall of Derek’s body and clutches at his shirt when he utterly fails. “Christ.”

“Better?”

His other palm is pressing into the small of Stiles’ back, as if Derek’s compressing his middle, taking out the empty filler and packing him into something tidy and sound. “I didn’t even know it was…”

Derek guesses, “You didn’t know it hurt so bad until it didn’t anymore?” His wrist pivots, fingertips edging at his waistband. “And you’re probably hating it, because now you know the way you’ve been feeling is wrong.”

“I can’t,” Stiles gasps, hand fisting into Derek’s shirt when his chest starts filling with panic. “I can’t have another surgery, I can’t.” He refuses to lie to his dad anymore, but he can’t be completely honest, either. The thought of needing surgery makes him physically ill, makes his stomach roil, his palms sweat and his throat lock up. He has nightmares about it, about being sliced and spread and dug around in like a candy bowl, wakes up to a pounding heart and a panicky, crying baby. He can’t tell his dad because it’ll worry him to death, and he can’t tell Scott because he wouldn’t get it, and he shouldn’t be unloading it on Derek, but he’s just… here.

Derek sighs out, “Stiles.”

“I can’t let them cut into my stomach again.”

“It’s your choice.”

“Since when?” Stiles’ laugh is cracked and hollow, and makes Derek stiffen. “I’d literally rather just hurt.”

“I can take it away sometimes,” Derek says into his hair, quiet. “Or… I could…”

“Don’t.” Stiles blows out a breath, forcing his fist to uncurl. “Because some days I think it’d be really hard to say no, and today is definitely one of them, so just. Don’t ask, okay?” He glances up to catch Derek’s eyes and he’s staring at Stiles, something somber in the curve of his mouth.

“You’d make a good beta.”

Stiles snorts, making himself step away. “No I wouldn’t, oh my god, I’d make a terrible beta. Who are you even fooling here?”

Derek nods, hands dropping heavily at his sides. “But you’d make a good wolf.”

“Not now, I wouldn’t.” Stiles slips his shirt back over his head, taking in a strong lungful of air. “You’re trying to make allies, you have a new cub, and Isaac hasn’t even bonded to her yet. The last thing your pack needs is a freshly bitten wolf with no anchor.”

“Our pack,” Derek says, and Stiles isn’t sure if he’s imagining that emphasis or not, “would get by, but you’re not wrong. Which is the main reason I’m going to ask some day—because you’re logical, but you don’t let it overrule your compassion, and you put the welfare of the pack before your own.” Derek levels him with a look just this side of piercing. “It won’t be because of your injuries and it won’t be because of Lillian. Just so we’re clear.”

Stiles stares at him, hands frozen mid-way through smoothing down his shirt. His first instinct is to throw a parade, because wow. Derek is giving a compliment that’s more than one syllable. But it feels so indulgent—private—so dead-on a negation of Stiles’ unspoken suspicions that he mostly just wants to put it in a box and tuck it away somewhere no one will ever find it.

“Okay.” Stiles swallows. “Thank you.”

Derek doesn’t ask what for—for sitting in that waiting room for two hours reading Good Housekeeping, for not making Stiles feel ugly and gross, for taking his pain away even just temporarily, or for wanting Stiles, because even if it’s not in the capacity he wants, it’s definitely in the capacity he needs.

Derek looks away, fingers rubbing into his closed eyes. He says, “Lillian’s pretty beat. Want to share again?” and Stiles feels a very different kind of ache than the one he’d just eased.

 “Yeah.”

They settle into bed the same as last time, Lillian on Derek’s chest, Stiles’ head propped up on his shoulder as he watches her mouth stretching into a toothless grin for no reason that Stiles can discern.

She squeals, “Aieee!” and Derek makes her bounce with his surprised, silent laugh.

“She’s so random,” Stiles marvels at her power to do that; turn the darkest, quietest moments into something sunny and good. “We have the most random kid ever, oh my god.”

“Not random,” Derek mutters tiredly. “It’s birds. She likes their chirps. Especially the wrens. They’re kind of… trilling.”

Stiles shifts his head, blinks at him. “What, really?”

Derek sinks further into the pillows, stomach expanding with an exhausted sigh. “Took me weeks to figure it out. Sometimes she’ll just go off—”

“Right?! From completely out of nowhere!”

Derek’s lips curl into a small smile, eyes opening to meet Stiles’. “I thought, maybe that old lady next door who likes to play oldies. She’s not big on moderation. But when I tried it, nothing happened. So I kept listening.” He taps at an ear. “Her hearing is almost better than mine. Yesterday, she was honing in on a bird that must have been four miles away.”

“Wow.”

“It was a hawk, I think. Really shrill sounding. They don’t excite her as much as the wrens, but she’ll get this look on her face—”

“Really intense concentration? Like she’s taking a dump, but she isn’t?”

Derek puffs out a laugh. “Exactly. She just… really likes birds.” 

“I used to…” Stiles stops, unsure about giving this away, but then Derek makes a soft, inquiring sound, and he suddenly wants to—wants to package up everything good and hand it over. “I used to dream of birds a lot, when I was… early on, you know. When she was still… before I left town to have her.” Derek doesn’t say anything, so Stiles continues, “I was kind of obsessed, I guess. Thought it’d be really awesome to be a bird. It was a whole thing, with the flying and laying eggs, because subjectively? I would have laid the fuck out of an egg. Totally could have left it on your doorstep. Ding Dong Ditch, that kind of thing.”

It takes a long, tense moment, but Derek eventually jerks in a bout of silent, stomach-jumping laughter. When Stiles cranes his neck up to look, Derek’s got a hand pressed over his eyes, mouth pinched together as he laughs through his nose.

“Jesus Christ.”

“I’m serious!”

Derek’s wheezing grows louder, stomach curling as it flexes.

Stiles rolls his eyes, even though he’s maybe laughing a little, too. “Stop visualizing it.”

“I’m really trying.” When Derek takes his hand away from his face to steady Lillian, his eyes are shining and bright. “It’s going to give me nightmares now, too.”

Stiles huffs, flopping back into his shoulder. “Whatever, birds are cool.”

Derek’s voice is soft with something that could be either exhaustion or fondness. “Go to sleep, Stiles.”

Even so, Stiles keeps his eyes open until Lillian’s finally fall. When he follows her into slumber, he’s almost sure he can feel the points of Derek’s knuckles pressing against his stomach, warm and magnetic like an electric hum buzzing through his center.

He dreams of climbing ivy, of chanted prayers and hollow rounds, of thunder and flight and Lillian’s bird smile. For once, he dreams of being held together instead of carved apart.

*

Even with the freedom of being able to go out now that the Monroe pack isn’t after them, Stiles doesn’t get to often. For one, all of his friends are busy; with the new house going up, with their own families, with contacting possible allies, with going to school. That leaves him practically no one to go out with, especially since all aforementioned parties are the only ones available to babysit. For two, even though Stiles enjoys showing Lillian off to people, taking her out is sort of a major production.

He watches the food in their pantry and fridge dwindle way too slowly for people who are often feeding the likes of Derek Hale and Scott McCall, salivating for the day they run out. When it happens, Stiles is stupidly excited, proclaims to his dad that there is, “No milk, the world is ending, guess I gotta run to the grocery store when Boyd gets here!”

Stiles opens the door and Boyd’s already there.

With groceries.

Stiles feels a little guilty for deflating so spectacularly, because Boyd and Scott are the hugest helps ever and it’s shitty of him to not appreciate it. So he helps him bring all the bags inside, gives his thanks with a grilled cheese and weak smile, and goes back to work watching lectures.

It’s a bummer, but Stiles tries not to let it get to him. His dad had told him this was what having a baby was like. No social life, no free time, very little fun. Stiles just wasn’t expecting house arrest, is all. The same four walls, every day. Zero sensory stimulation, just coursework and rotating between sitting down and reading standing up, walking Lillian through the house, the backyard to listen to birds if they’re feeling adventurous.

Boyd leaves at seven to go to one of his night classes.

Stiles tries not to stew in jealousy.

At this point, Stiles would love to find a job. But it’s not like he’d have the time to do that, school, and take care of the baby, even with the extra help from the pack. He suspects that Melissa is secretly Wonder Woman, because this?

It’s impossible.

But then he remembers what Derek said about making one’s own luck, and Stiles thinks, fuck that. He can’t go out and get a job, but Stiles can damn well do something.

Back in high school, Danny bought a car with the profits he’d made from a popular crowd sourcing site. Stiles Googles it and finds a couple coding projects he knows enough about to do well. He makes ten bids and only wins one, but he makes more from that one project than he did with a whole week of collections calling.

After being paid the three hundred dollars, Stiles sits with Lillian in his room, dark with the exception of the soft glow of his laptop screen, and thinks.

He thinks all the time now.

Maybe, he thinks, going back on his Adderall wouldn’t be such a terrible idea at this point.

“How long have you been sitting?” comes a voice from the doorway. Stiles doesn’t flinch at it anymore. He’s gotten used to Derek popping up randomly.  At least he uses the front door now.

Stiles shrugs and lets Derek take the baby when he’s slipped out of his jacket, wet and slick with rain. He answers, “Just a couple of hours,” but stands up anyway.

Derek wasn’t able to come that day, or the day before that, or the day before that. He sent Boyd a couple times, but Stiles knew he’d come the moment he was free.

“Her diaper’s dirty,” he says, but doesn’t change her immediately. Instead, when Stiles lifts his arms to stretch, Derek steps close, slips his free hand beneath Stiles’ shirt and, palm warm against the skin of Stiles’ stomach, works his wolfy magic.

Stiles drops his arms and exhales, uneven, because it doesn’t matter how many times Derek does this unprompted—every time they see each other, it seems—Stiles will probably never get used to the flippancy of Derek touching him beneath his clothes, just sliding in there like it’s totally normal, nothing weird.

Stiles tries, “How’s the house coming?” and it comes out breathy enough that his cheeks warm.

“Almost done,” Derek answers, hitching Lillian higher on his hip. “Had to stop for the night, because of the rain.” When Derek’s hand falls away from his stomach, Stiles shivers, watches the two of them do their freaky eye-flash thing.

“Do you think my major’s stupid?” he asks when Derek’s got her laid out on the changing table.

“Anthropology?”  Derek doesn’t stop to look at him. “I don’t really think about it at all.”

Stiles wanders around the room, knowing he shouldn’t sit. “It’s so impractical,” he points out. “It’s going to take almost eight years to get a full degree, and even then, what kind of job is that going to get me? I’ll probably have to travel, if I can even manage to find one. And by then I’ll probably be in debt from tuition loans, because there’s no way my dad can afford eight years of school, and scholarships aren’t infinite.”

Derek pauses at this, turns to growl at Stiles over his shoulder, “You’re not dropping out of school.”

“No,” Stiles agrees. “That wasn’t what I meant. It’s just… it’s an impractical major. I should be doing something I can apply sooner than eight years. Something like programming, you know? Good pay, easy for me to learn, accessible schooling. I could be doing that here, in Beacon Hills, and I could be making money, like, next year.”

Stiles doesn’t point out that he could actually be going to classes, and exactly how attractive that is, because he’s been trying. He’s truly honestly genuinely been fighting not to make an impulsive decision based off his loneliness and cabin fever.

Derek converts the changing table back to the crib and places Lillian inside, one arm resting along the rails while the other touches her. “You should be majoring in something you’re passionate about, not what’s easiest,” he eventually offers.

Stiles skeptically asks, “You’re super passionate about engineering then?” and Derek stills.

“I don’t know,” he eventually says. “My father majored in engineering, I was just… I guess it made me feel closer to him.”

Stiles cringes, feels bad. “Sorry, I didn’t mean...”

But Derek just shrugs. “I’ve never had a chance to put it to use. Not until now, with the construction. It’s… okay.” He shrugs again. “I could see myself doing it long-term.”

“That’s… good.” Stiles says, awkwardly.

“But I’m different,” Derek adds, huffing. “You’re smart and… you have potential. You’re that kid who everyone goes on and on about how bright their future is.”

Stiles doesn’t see that at all. What he does see are the looks he gets the few times he’s been able to cart Lillian around town. The looks that say he’s a screw-up, that he’s already thrown all that potential away, that he’s just another stupid, hormone-driven kid.

Mostly, Stiles sees disappointment.

But Stiles listens to Derek and frowns. “And what, you weren’t?”

“I’m the kid no one thought about at all.” He shakes his head, voice bitter when adds, “Until they did.”

Derek,” he whispers, reaching out to place his hand on that expanse of shirt between Derek’s shoulders. He pauses before he does, though, hovering, uncertain.

Stiles doesn’t have the power to take pain away.

“What would you tell her,” Derek interrupts. “If Lillian asked you, what would you say?”

Stiles watches Derek’s profile, the silver of moonlight that traces the edges of his face, the curve of his nose and the dark fan of his eyelashes. His hand falls back to his side and he looks into the crib, watches Lillian stare up at Derek with glowing blue eyes. “I guess, probably… I’d tell her to do what makes her happy.”

“There you go.”

He tells Derek, “You should too, you know.” At Derek’s questioning glance, clarifying, “Do something that makes you happy.”

Derek’s smile is small, empty. “I’m trying.”

Stiles sighs. “Try harder.”

Derek looks away. “I know it probably seems like you can’t have everything you want. But don’t give up.” His expression flattens into something determined and hard. “Don’t let this trap you, Stiles.”

Stiles frowns into the crib and almost tells Derek that it just isn’t that easy. That the tedious pursuit of something he might want pales in comparison to what he already knows he needs. Instead, he says, “I’m trying, too.”

Derek looks at him with a raised eyebrow. “Try harder.”

When he leaves not long after, Stiles peers out the front door, entranced at the sight of the rain hitting the asphalt in the distance, the way it bounces off the ground and reflects the glow of the streetlamps like glitter. He thinks of cold and steel, wonders what he’d be doing out there if things had gone differently, if he’d gone to school like he planned. Probably he’d be studying, or trying to get a hold of Scott or his dad, or hiding from a rowdy roommate.

Most likely, he’d be wishing he were here.

“You can stay if you want,” Stiles offers for the third time, sort of idly hoping.

But Derek just shrugs into his jacket, head shaking. “Have to be out at first light for the insulation delivery. We still on for Thursday?”

Stiles nods, shuffling aside. “Bright and early, post-full moon bird gazing.”

When he brushes past, Derek presses a quick, dry kiss to Stiles’ temple, ordering, “Lock up behind me,” and is already off the porch before Stiles can react.

It takes a long while before the swooping sensation filling his stomach settles into something quiet and heavy.

*

Thursday morning is unusually cold for being the first week of April. The sun’s barely risen and it’s still foggy when Derek arrives at Stiles’ door, a steaming coffee in one hand and a hot cappuccino for Stiles in the other.

Stiles’ grin is wide and pleasantly surprised. “Oooh, gimme gimme!”

“Put this on her,” Derek says when they’re rifling through a drawer for something warm. Lillian has been in a bad mood for two days, so she cries and kicks at Stiles as he pushes her feet and arms into the coverall. Derek hands him a sweater next, and then a tiny pair of thick fleece pants.

When Derek hands him a full-body pram, Stiles stops, blinks at him. “You know she’s a werewolf, right?”

“Werewolves still get cold,” Derek says. “It’s cold.”

“Well yeah, like,” Stiles glances out the window, “forty five degrees. It’s California, not Siberia.”

“Fine.” Derek glares and puts the pram back. “At least put her in a blanket and a hat.”

By the time they leave, Lillian is miserable. She didn’t sleep, antsy and anxious from the unpleasant night of a moon’s full pull, and on top of that, she’s wrapped tighter than a beef burrito. Stiles and Derek argue for five minutes about which car to take, but Derek’s phallus euphemism isn’t exactly suited for a car seat, so the Jeep ultimately wins out.

They get to the preserve at ten past seven. Derek carries her when they start down the public trail, faced out away from him, one big hand around her bundled chest, the other below her bottom.

She stares into the distance, engrossed in birdish happenings for a good half a mile, eyes wide, utterly still, until she finally begins flailing her fists, smile so big and open it makes her squint.

She squeals, “Aieeee!

Stiles smiles into his cappuccino. “You’re so easy.”

It’s been a stressful couple of days, watching her get fussier and fussier as the moon got closer, brighter, fuller. Lillian might be affected by Stiles’ emotions, but it goes both ways. Stiles can’t be happy—not even close, not even satisfied—when she’s not. He always wants to fix it. He so rarely can.

This is why, when Derek brought up the possibility of taking her out with the pack the night before, something Stiles wanted to never happen no way are you insane, they compromised with this. A morning stroll through the preserve, in the daylight.

“There are a lot of birds this morning,” Derek says, seemingly satisfied with this observation. “Most of the good ones just migrated back for the spring.”

Stiles strains his ears but can never pinpoint exactly which bird sounds make her babble into the wind. “What’s she hearing?” And so Derek diligently relays the types of birds he hears in the distance—a wren, and Lillian squeals, a dove and she goes quiet, a sparrow and she coos, a thrush and she kicks out with her feet, excited. 

When Derek starts going on about a “Curve-Billed Thrasher,” Stiles gives him a look. “Know a lot about birds all of a sudden, do you?”

Derek presses his lips together, shrugging. “I did a little research one night.”

“A little research,” Stiles says, grinning skeptically. “One night.”

Derek rolls his eyes, grumbling, “I watched some videos on the internet. You know how it is. You only intend to watch one, but before you know it, it’s six in the morning and you’re watching a raccoon steal a doormat through a doggy door.”

Stiles clutches his jacket sleeve and gushes, “I love that video! Raccoons are my jam.”

But Derek’s looking into the distance now, distracted. “Raccoons are—stop.” He presses his hand to Stiles sternum, goes still.

The hair on Stiles’ neck immediately stands on end. He curses himself for leaving the satchel behind, because his first thought is werewolf, and there’s no way Stiles could outrun one.

A low, rumbling growl starts in Derek’s chest, pretty much confirming Stiles’ fears, so he grabs his wrist, tries to tug him back so they can run for the Jeep. Lillian goes rigid, whimpering. Stiles’ tugs turn to frantic yanks by the time Peter steps onto the trail.

There are very few instances where Stiles would be relieved—happy even—to see Peter freaking Hale.

This is one of them.

It doesn’t last.

“Go away,” Derek growls. Stiles clutches his arm and swallows nervously, gaze pinging back and forth between them.

“Relax,” Peter scoffs. He clasps his hands behind his back and edges closer, softening eyes fixing on Lillian. “Didn’t think you could keep me away from her forever, did you?” He bends to her eye level when he notes, “Goodness, she really does have Talia’s eyes, doesn’t she?”

Derek’s growling grows louder. He turns to angle her away, to hide her in the warmth of Stiles’ chest. “You want to leave. Now.”

Peter locks his jaw, straightening. “What I want is to see my grand-niece. Do you have any idea what I went through to bring her into this world?”

Stiles knows somewhere in the back of his brain where logic lives that it’s probably suicidal, but he lunges at him anyway. “Are you fucking serious?!” Unfortunately or fortunately, Derek grabs him by the hood of his jacket, dragging him back. “What you went through? You didn’t go through anything! I brought her into this world! You’re nothing to her!”

Peter’s eyes flash yellow in anger and Derek yanks Stiles half behind him, face shifting with a roar.

“I dare you,” Derek snarls lowly at Peter, and Stiles doesn’t care that Derek’s probably only doing it so Stiles will be more careful, he takes Lillian when Derek hands her over. “I should have killed you the second you came back. You’re poisoned. You’re toxic.”

At this, Peter’s eyes fade. “But if you’d killed me then, she wouldn’t exist, would she?” A bitter smile curls his lips. “Face it. As much as you hate it, it was the best thing that’s ever happened to you. To Stiles. To the pack. Call me what you want—monster, poisoned, toxic—”

Stiles spits, “Rapist?”

Peter ignores him, looks at Lillian and flashes his eyes at her.

Hers flash a bright blue, even as she wails.

Peter’s face spreads into a delighted grin. “Ah, an eventual alpha, it’s no wonder. So you see,” he says to Derek, “you can hate me all you like, but at the end of the day the future of the Hale pack is secure, and you have a solid reason to extract your head from your ass. You already despised me. I’m only gaining here.”

“Get out,” Derek orders evenly, dangerously. “Get away from my territory. The next time you come here, you will die.”

Stiles stares at Derek in furious disbelief.

“Technically, I’m already gone. Got a nice little place down south where it’s warm. I just thought I’d check in; see how my project is coming along.” Peter flashes another grin, waving at Lillian. “Truly a pleasure, Miss Hale.”

Derek doesn’t move for at least five minutes, but the second Peter has left his range, Derek’s face shifts back to human. “You shouldn’t have gone for him like that,” he says, clipped.

“You heard what he said!” Stiles jerks away when Derek reaches for Lillian again. “This is such bullshit, Derek! Is there a reason that asshole is still alive right now?”

Yes.” Derek snaps at him. “I would have been distracted by protecting you and Lily. My uncle is underhanded, he’s manipulative, and if he kills me, he’s her alpha. And Scott’s, and Isaac’s, and Boyd’s, and do I need to go on?”

Stiles can’t accept it. “You didn’t even try!”

“It wasn’t worth the risk!”

He respects what Derek’s saying, in some logical portion of his brain that he’s having trouble accessing entirely, but he kicks at a bare branch that’s lying in his path, buzzing with anger. “Ugh, I hate him!

“I know,” Derek sighs, edging close enough to rest a hand on Lillian’s back, flash his eyes and calm her with his presence. “I won’t let him bother us again,” he tells Stiles, promise audible in his voice.

Stiles doesn’t trust it.

That’s the worst thing about it all. That Stiles knows without a doubt Derek would rip someone from limb to limb if it meant protecting Lillian—unless, apparently, that person is Peter. He’s Derek’s biggest weakness, a blind spot in his vision, a permanent axe over their heads that Derek will probably never sufficiently acknowledge.

Stiles is shaken up and frustrated and really just wants to go home and punch a pillow or burn some Peteresque effigies for catharsis, but Derek suggests they move east, away from Peter’s scent, and try to salvage the morning.

When they’ve almost reached where the trail forks off into foresty nothingness, Stiles can’t help but break the silence. “Is it true?” At Derek’s questioning look, Stiles hands him Lillian, because he feels guilty for having kept her from him. Whatever bad decisions Derek makes, Stiles doesn’t want to be the kind of person who’d use her to punish him. “What he said, about her being an alpha?”

Derek’s quiet for a moment, contemplative as he chooses a patch of forest floor and settles there with her in his lap. “Probably,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure, with her being so young if it was even possible. My sister didn’t—she wasn’t like that. My dad was always next in line.”

Stiles isn’t sure how he feels about that. On one hand, she’ll never be under anyone’s control. She’ll be strong and smart and an amazing leader. She’ll be powerful. On the other, she’ll be in charge of so much more, will have too much on her shoulders, so much to fight. And who even knows when it could happen. Stiles’ mother died when he was ten. What kind of ten year old is equipped to lead a pack?

Then he stops thinking about it completely, because otherwise he’ll have to think of Derek dying, and Stiles is really pissed at him for letting Peter get away with violating so many parts of them—important, private, sacred parts—but the thought of a world without Derek is painful enough that Lillian starts whimpering again, just from the sudden, sharp scent of Stiles’ hurt.

Derek shoots him an inquisitive look but doesn’t ask, just waits for her to quiet, for Stiles to drop down beside him, for the birds to start chirping again so Lillian can smile.

When she finally does a little later, Derek almost pushes his nose into Stiles’ hair. He stops an inch short, leaned over the distance between them, stiff and unsure.

“It’s fine,” Stiles assures, fidgeting with the drawstring of his jacket, “if you want to scent me. I don’t mind, it’s cool.”

Lillian squeals at distant wren-song, and Stiles hopes that this, and Derek’s nose giving a gentle nudge into his hair, is enough to cure the toxic creep of hatred that’s filled his chest.

*

Derek finishes the house on a Thursday.

He calls Stiles up and asks if he’ll come see it, and Stiles exclaims, “Fuck yeah!” so excited for him and the pack that he grabs Lillian’s hands and does a little dance that makes her eyes grow big and worried. He gathers up the stuff he’ll need for the trip and packs her into the Jeep, smiling as she babbles nonsensically at the treetops.

She fusses as they bounce down the road toward the property. Stiles idly hopes that Derek plans to do something about that road eventually, but gets distracted when he breaks into the clearing and finds…

Nothing.

Nada.

No house.

Stiles frowns at the vacant area, confused, but realizes after looking around for a moment that it’s set way farther back, away from the old house.

Stiles throws the Jeep back into drive and keeps going.

Derek’s waiting out front when he pulls up, arms crossed over his chest, a strange, shifty look on his face. He breaks into motion when Stiles parks, goes for the backdoor instantly.

“You moved it,” Stiles says, frowning up at a modest two-story house.  The north-facing wall still doesn’t have siding, but Stiles sees it all stacked and ready to go at the edge of the tree line.

Derek raises his voice from where he’s getting Lillian from the Jeep. “I didn’t move it. It was never there. I put it here.”

“Hm.” Stiles walks around it, which takes him a lot less time than he’s been expecting. There are only five windows on the front of the house, two on the side, and three in the back. There’s a front porch, but no back porch, not yet. It’s obvious they’re preparing. He’s able to meet Derek back at the front in only a couple of minutes or so.

He stuffs his hands into his pockets, eyebrows knitting together. “Why’s it so small? I thought the whole… living in each others’ pockets thing was just a temporary alpha-imposed exercise.”

Derek gives him that same shifty look as before, unlocking the door. “It’s three bedrooms.”

“Oh.” Stiles hates how much his heart sinks. “So you’re going to share with Isaac again. Not that that’s a bad thing. Just.” Stiles shrugs. “Surprising.”

Derek lets the door swing open and stands there, staring at Stiles. “This is mine,” he says, gesturing into the door. “Just mine.”

Stiles looks at the door, then at him. “What? I thought… wasn’t the pack going to live together? You know, do the whole massive-codependence-that-no-one-mentions-because-it’s-secretly-super-awkward thing?”

Derek doesn’t answer right away, just picks up the car seat and walks inside with it. He’s setting it on the bare carpet when Stiles gets in, shutting the door behind him and locking it out of habit. The house is mostly empty. There are a few drop cloths lying around and a folding chair in the corner, but not much else. Everything smells of paint, so Stiles supposes they’re not—Derek’s not—ready for furniture yet.

“This is mine,” Derek says again, bending to take Lillian out of her car seat. “We’re building three more for the others. We’re doing Isaac’s next—he has seniority. They’ll stay at the duplex until we have his done, then they’ll stay at Isaac’s until we get Boyd’s done, then Scott will stay at Boyd’s until we get his done.”

“Huh.” Stiles brightens. “I didn’t know you were doing individual houses. That’s sort of cool. Excessive as hell and a huge financial w-t-f, but definitely cool.”

Derek carefully removes Lillian’s stocking cap, eyebrows pulled down into a frown. “It’s cheaper than the bigger house we had planned, actually. Living in each others’ pockets this long has been… an experience. But we need some independence.” He then mutters, “And plus, it’s better like this. Spreading us out a little.”

Stiles looks at him, impressed. “So you’re making the newly housed wolf host the pack as incentive not to slack off just because their own is already done, right? Because that’s clever! I especially like the part where you seem to be exempt.” Stiles looks around the living room, contemplative, before hoisting himself onto a bare counter that connects to the kitchen. “So I guess it’s actually kind of big? One werewolf, three bedrooms. I assume you’re going to use one for your collection of gruesomely severed bunny heads, but what about the other one?”

Derek ducks his head, fusses with Lillian’s hair. “It can be the nursery.”

Stiles’ eyebrows shoot up. “For Lily?”

“No,” he deadpans. “My other baby.”

“Right!” Stiles nods, trying not to panic—and failing, if the sharp sound Lillian makes is any indication. “Because you’ll need it, for like, having her here. Overnight. Should the occasion arise. Probably won’t be often. Or for exceedingly long intervals of time.”

“Actually,” he says, leveling Stiles with a stare. “I was thinking you could have the other room.”

Stiles senses instantly where this is going, and sure, it’s a much better possibility than Derek stealing Lillian away to live with him in his pretty new house. It’s also a possibility that’s so far out of left field that Stiles can only sit there, gawking at Derek before deciding the best avenue to dealing with this is definitely of the avoidance variety. “Heh. I’m allergic to severed bunny heads, so. Too bad.”

“I don’t have any bunny heads, Stiles.” Derek’s nostrils flare. “I’m being serious.”

“Well… no!” Stiles flails. “Stop asking me to move in with you! It’s freaking me out, and plus, I like the house I already live in. It’s a good house, where nothing is ever awkward and werewolves leave when I ask them to.”

“Yes it is, and no they don’t.”

Stiles gawps. “They do sometimes!”

“Stiles.” Derek pins him with a serious look. “We can’t keep you safe there. If you and Lillian are here, there’s always someone within range. Eventually, you’ll have the whole pack’s protection, at all times. It’s sensible, and deep down, you know it.”

“Fear mongering!” he explodes, insulted. “Blatant scare tactics!”

“At least think about it,” Derek asks, visibly frustrated. “Take a look around. Talk it over with your dad. It’s only twenty minutes away from his place. Lillian can have her own room. You can start a garden here, whatever you want. I’m quiet. You’ll barely notice me.” And then he pulls out the big guns, something even more horrifying than fear mongering.

His face falls and he begs, “Please, Stiles.”

Stiles drops his head into his hands, because if he doesn’t, he’ll have to look at Derek’s face, all perfect and pleading and dejected. Stiles mutters, “Fuck my life,” and then, “Fine, I’ll think about it, but it’s not a yes.”

“That’s all I want.”

Stiles takes a begrudging look around, just to say he has. The kitchen is just as big as his and his dad’s, but the bathrooms—two, full—are definitely bigger. All the rooms are on the second floor, and Stiles can’t help feeling like he’s seen the layout somewhere. It’s very specific, the way the hall overlooks the living room downstairs.

The worst part is the way Derek shows him around, points out features like the granite countertops and excellent water pressure, walk-in closets and child-safe electrical outlets.

“Breakfast bar,” Derek showcases, nodding at the table and built-in bench seats. “Cut loop carpets. Multicolor effects hide dirt, looks good between vacuums.” It’s like Stiles has stepped into an episode of Holmes on Homes, and Derek is leading him from room to room, glancing over his shoulder every now and then like he’s making sure Stiles is still there, and Derek’s just.

He’s so proud.

When he points Stiles to the backyard, eyes sharp and bright as he goes on and on about the kind of grass they’re going to plant, it’s painfully obvious.

It’s even more clear when Stiles sees the nursery and realizes Derek hasn’t been ‘building a house’. That wouldn’t involve the yellow walls, the little birds gracing the decorative wallpaper-borders, boxes that are spilling over with blankets and toys.

No, Derek has been aggressively, intensely, hardcore nesting.

Derek didn’t build this house for a pack.

He built it for a family.

It’s awful, because in that very particular capacity, Stiles would be all over this. But that’s not what Derek’s asking for—not really. He’s asking in the capacity that he’ll settle for whatever weird arrangement they’re going to have to make for the sake of having Lillian in his den. How can Stiles say yes to living in a house with both Derek and Lillian like they’re some happy little family, even though they’re not?

Stiles can’t get past how much that will hurt.

And yet, how can he say no? He can see how denying Derek this—having Lillian in the den he’s built for her—is completely unfair to the both of them.

When the tour winds to a close, Stiles says, “It’s… really awesome,” and hopes it isn’t as lacking as it tastes on the back of his tongue.

He sort of wants to die.

His heart’s heavy when he packs Lillian up to leave, both irreconcilable instincts weighing on his thoughts. It isn’t until he takes another, grudging look at the front of the house before strapping her in that Stiles realizes it’s really kind of cottage-like.

It finally clicks. “Oh my god.” Stiles hefts Lillian back inside, looks at Derek and says, “Oh my god, this is one of those houses!”

Derek looks up at him, pausing with one hand stuffed in the diaper bag.

“The kit houses! The ones I came over to show you when—” Yep, not going there. “You went with my idea. You liked it! You were powerless against my ingenuity and superior Google-fu! I demand credit.”

“Credit,” Derek repeats dully. “We worked our asses off for months to get this house up, and you want credit.”

“Absolutely,” Stiles teases. “I’ll accept it in the form of a plaque and-or notarized certificate of awesomeness, recognizing Stiles Stilinski’s fundamental contributions to the housing of Pack Hale.”

Derek smiles mockingly. “I’ll get right on that. Do me a favor, hold your breath.”

Stiles is feeling somewhat lighter when he leaves, enough that he looks out over the property and tries to picture what it’ll look like with the other three houses finished. He can already tell where Isaac’s is going to be, set a couple hundred feet away, the foundation already set, and he can fill in where the others will be.

Stiles freezes with his hands on the wheel, muttering a curse.

After a moment of imagining them all lined up against the back of the property, Stiles can’t deny what it’ll look like.

A perfect row of four tiny houses.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

This is the house. On one side there is darkness,
On one side there is light.
Into the darkness you may lift your lanterns—
O, any number—it will still be night.

 

 

 

He fights it for as long as he can. He remembers Millicent relaying Zanna’s vision, and Stiles doesn’t know a lot about them or how inevitable they are, but it feels inevitable and he can annoyingly concede that Derek’s made a good point.

Lillian will be safest closer to her pack.

That doesn’t mean he likes it, that he doesn’t fight it tooth and nail.

“But why?” Scott asks one afternoon, and it’s not a whine, but only just.

Stiles’ character barrel-rolls on the screen, ducks behind a wall and peeks out just enough to blow the head off a Locust scum. “I can’t even believe you’re asking me that. I’m going to pretend you just answered yourself in your own head, and it started with ‘Living with Derek is going to be like this:’”

“He’s not so bad. He’s actually very clean. And quiet! Stiles, he is so quiet, you wouldn’t even believe. It’s like he’s not even there, really. It’s like living with a ghost, but one that does dishes and sweeps the kitchen every night.” Scott stares at Stiles, eyebrows hiked up. “Every night, man. Every night. He’s so OCD about linoleum, it’s crazy. It’s a whole thing.”

Stiles pauses the game. “Scott, man, you’re not really selling this. He’s quiet and clean, and I’m me. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. We’re incompatible roommates. There’s no chemistry. It’s a doomed housing union.”

Scott gives a hopeful smile. “Opposites attract?”

“What is with you?” Stiles throws the controller onto the couch against his back. “Why do you want me to live with Derek so bad? What did I do? Is this about the salve experiment last month? Because I apologized for that and you know you were a guinea pig for the greater good. Now when Lillian skins her knee or cuts her finger or burns herself, I’ll actually have something to help heal her faster.”

“What? No, I was totally down with that! It doesn’t even sting anymore.” He reaches up to his shoulder, hand ducking beneath his sleeve to scratch at the inch-long patch of skin that Stiles’ first salve concoction had burned straight through.  He grumbles, “If nothing else, we know it’ll make a good weapon.”

Stiles slaps his hand away. “Don’t irritate it.”

Now, Scott definitely whines. “It’s all itchy.”

Stiles sighs. “It’ll fade. Another week, tops.”

“You said that last week.”

“Because I’m bullshitting my way through this, are you even surprised?” And then, at a pang of guilt. “You volunteered. In a spirited manner. And you totally knew the risks.”

Scott lets out a laugh. “Man, I told you, it’s nothing.”

“Then why are you being so annoyingly persistent about this Derek cohabitation crap?”

 Scott runs a hand through his hair, looking suddenly uncomfortable. “I don’t want to put any pressure on you to do it.”

Stiles gives him a look. “Are you freaking kidding me.”

“This isn’t pressure!” Scott argues, gesturing at the space between them. “This is a friendly, totally pressure-free exchange about the possible advantages.”

“One that’s been happening for three days.”

“Trust me,” Scott says, huffing. “In comparison, it’s nothing.”

Now Stiles is just annoyed as hell and curious. “Ugh! Just… whatever, spit it out, let’s do this.”

“I don’t know…”

“Scott.” Stiles pins him with a glare. “We have ways of making you talk.”

“I’m trying not to pressure!”

“I won’t let it pressure me,” Stiles promises. “You know me, man. If you told me the zombie apocalypse would happen tomorrow if I didn’t move in with Derek right now, then I’d get out my zombie survival kit and wish everyone the best before locking Lillian and dad in the basement with a years’ worth of rations.”

Scott frowns. “Well yeah, but zombies are kind of cool and we’ve been planning for that since like fifth grade, so it’s not—”

“Scott!” Stiles snaps. “Focus!”

“Okay, look, I’m not supposed to tell you,” he blurts, cagey. “But we’ve been… I mean, come on, you had to know, Stiles.”

Stiles looks at him, taken aback. “Had to know…?” he hedges.

Scott rolls his eyes. “That he wouldn’t just leave her here! Like every day, all night, without any real protection. No offense.”

“He does that all the time, though,” he argues.

“No, he doesn’t. Stiles. Stiles.” Scott turns to stare at him significantly. “He really doesn’t. He couldn’t leave his own cub like that. He’s not even capable of it. Read me here, man.”

Stiles searches his face, shaking his head vaguely, before it hits him. “Seriously.”

Scott nods. “Seriously.”

Stiles gapes at him, disbelieving. “How long.”

“Like a week after she became a beta.” Scott sighs, fidgeting with the controller in his lap. “First it was just him, but we convinced him to let us help. We have a whole den. Behind the house.”

“He’s so lucky right now,” Stiles says, grinding his teeth, “that my wolfsbane garden was decimated.”

Scott insists, “It’s not like it sounds. We haven’t been spying on you or anything. He only wants us defend the perimeter. It’s just, you know, dude, it’s something he can’t really help. Being protective of his young? It’s biologically hard-wired. And if I’m being honest here, it’s not just him. It feels… weird when I’m away from her. Different than when it’s Isaac or Boyd. Like something is wrong? Or, no, not wrong necessarily, just urgent.” He sighs. “I know it probably sounds weird, but we mean well, I swear we do.”

Stiles is still reeling. “You guys have been camping outside my house, in the cold, in the rain, for five months.”

Scott gives a tense smile. “More or less?”

Stiles lurches to his feet. “Is he out there right now?”

“Whoa,” Scott says, rearing back, as if the amount of anger buzzing through Stiles’ veins is so strong he can’t help it. Which, Stiles thinks, maybe it is. “No, of course not. I’m here, right now.”

“Yeah, for the first time in two weeks.” Stiles’ laugh is bitter and clipped. “All this time I’ve been sitting here, bored out of my mind and lonely as hell, and my best friend’s been chilling out in my back yard, because everyone’s too busy sneaking around behind my back to let me in on the fact I’m being watched. Right?”

“No, it wasn’t like that!” Scott scurries to his feet, wide eyes tracking Stiles as he shoves his feet into his shoes, crams his wallet into his pocket. “You know it isn’t like that. Stiles.”

“Did any of you hear me?” Stiles wonders, throat aching with a lump. “All those nights I stayed up crying because my stomach hurt me so bad? Did you?”

“No,” Scott breathes, wide-eyed, aghast. “God, what? No, if I’d known… if any of us knew that, we would have done something.”

But then Stiles feels sick, remembering the day before his doctor’s appointment, Derek sleep-deprived and so persistent about taking his pain away, after. Because maybe the others didn’t hear, but Stiles is willing to bet his very life on the fact that on that night, Derek had.

“That’s the problem with you. Both of you, you know. You’re always so eager to take the pain away, but you never once think that maybe you could take more of it by just… being here. Call me stupid, I don’t even care, but I’d rather hurt and have an hour of your time than a painless afternoon alone. And it was one thing when everyone was just too busy having a life outside of this, because honestly? I understand that, Scott. But now I find out that you aren’t, and it’s like…”

But Stiles can’t finish, can’t find a dignified way of voicing the insecurity that everyone wants Lillian in their lives, but not him. 

Given the look on Scott’s face, Stiles thinks maybe he doesn’t have to. “Stiles, you… you are so wrong if you think I’d rather sit out there under a tarp, freezing my balls off than be in here with you. We just—we didn’t want to smother you with all our werewolf crap. And you’re giving me that look, but come on, Stiles. You were so ready to get away from this last year. You think I didn’t notice?”

Stiles looks away, wondering if Scott was as bothered by it back then as he seems to be now, if his avoidance of Stiles last year had more to do with that than his crazed descent into Omegadom.

Scott says, “I was bad off, yeah, but I wasn’t blind. You wanted a normal life so bad. Me and Derek and your dad… we just want to give you as much of that as we can.”

“Then you’re all wrong,” Stiles says, shaking his head sadly. “You all think I’m just settling here. Like I’ve lost something. Like me having Lillian is a problem that needs mitigated. And maybe you all feel that way when you look at me, but I don’t. Which is something you’d probably know if you ever thought to ask.”

Scott groans, “Stiles, wait,” but he’s already walking through the door.

“Since you’re clearly here to ‘defend the perimeter’, keep on doing that.”

*

When he pulls up, Derek’s sitting on the top step of his porch, waiting. He’s barefoot and he’s got a patch of paint smeared over his neck. He’s twirling his cell phone between his index fingers, the line of his jaw sharp and rigid.

Stiles jumps from the Jeep and doesn’t slam the door when he closes it, but only just. “Scott called,” he guesses.

“It’s not as bad as it sounds.”

“Enlighten me, how you secretly creeping outside my house for five months isn’t exactly as bad as it sounds.” And before Derek can do more than visibly grit his teeth, “If you’d told me about the pack’s impulse to be near and protect her, I would have understood. But you deliberately kept it from me, and that’s…” Stiles rubs a hand over his face, suddenly very tired. “That’s so shitty, Derek.”

“The plan wasn’t to keep it a secret from you,” Derek says, voice stilted and unsure. “It was to minimize conflict.”

Stiles barks a harsh laugh. “So what, I’m just a wrench in the works now? A problem to skirt around? That’s not fair.” He admits, “I would have been upset about it, but I would have adapted. How can I adapt to anything, how can I learn anything, make decisions about anything, if you’re keeping me in the dark?”

Derek shakes his head, brows pulled together. “No, not just to minimize conflict with you. I mean everyone. Isaac and his issues, your dad not liking me, all of it. It was easier this way. I’m not saying that makes it right, but it’s true.”

“We agreed to be a team, Derek.” Stiles isn’t sure if it’s his words or the crack in his voice that causes Derek’s gaze to drop. “We. You and me. Not you and Scott and Boyd and Isaac. This isn’t going to work if you’re hiding things from me—robbing me of the right to make decisions about my own kid. That should be priority.”

“I wasn’t doing it to rob you of anything.”

“But you did,” Stiles explains. “That’s what you do when you cut me out, whether you mean to or not.” He tells him seriously, “When it comes to her? You’re not the only alpha. You have to include me, even when it’s about protection and werewolf stuff. Especially then.”

Derek looks away, mouth twisted into something acerbic and mocking. “Yeah, like you included me when you—” But his voice clips off, chest expanding with a hard sigh.

Not that it particularly matters. Stiles’ gets the gist of it, enough that his blood runs cold. “When I what?”

Derek shakes his head, staring into the distance. “Nothing, just forget it.”

“Why should I?” Stiles wonders angrily. “You clearly haven’t. We can have it out now, or ten years down the line when Lillian’s old enough to resent me for it, right along with you. So go ahead and say it, come on.” When Derek doesn’t, Stiles does it for him, “I ran off and gave your cub away. Handed her over without a care in the world about what you’d think.”

Derek slams his eyes shut when they glow a sudden, fierce red.

Stiles goes on, “I didn’t even care enough to be choosy, really. Any werewolf would have worked, so long as it wasn’t your pack. But of course, that was before you told me to keep ‘that thing’ away from you, and that there were other alphas out there, and hey, you didn’t care if she became an omega or—”

“Stop!” Derek meets his gaze, but the instinctive anger’s drained from his eyes. It’s replaced with something hurt. “I get it, Stiles. There’s nothing I can say about it that you haven’t already beaten yourself up for. I get it.”

“Then why?” Stile throws his arms out wide, exasperated. “Is this going to be the cool new way to shut me down from now on? Sure, just drag out one of my biggest ever fuck-up’s. You can have your way and make me feel like complete shit, all at once! It’s BOGO here at the Stilinski-Hale Derail Outlet. Hey, maybe you can even throw in the fact that I seemed to really enjoy that rape last summer, because I’m getting pretty close to being able to look at myself in the mirror again—”

Stiles,” Derek barks out, standing now, expression caught somewhere between horror and shock. The silence that follows is so thick and stifling that Stiles has to avert his eyes and swallow around a dry tongue.

He knows he went too far, that he’s picking a scab that doesn’t even exist yet because the wound’s still a little too fresh—too difficult to even look at long enough to mend. “Sorry, I was just…” Stiles scrubs a hand through his hair, agitated. “I don’t see how it’s relevant, is all.”

“It’s relevant because you shut me out, too,” Derek says, voice quiet and careful. “Sometimes it’s hard to trust that you’ll let us protect you when every single moment in history proves otherwise. That’s all I… it wasn’t a guilt trip.”

“History didn’t have Lillian.” Stiles looks up at him and bares his palms, hapless. “She’s… I’d do anything to protect her, Derek. Even if it means conceding that I won’t always be her strongest defense. If you can’t trust anything else, you can always trust that.”

“Maybe Lillian isn’t the only one we want to protect.”

It warms Stiles more than he expects, enough that he watches Derek for a moment and turns it over in his head, lets it soothe away the sting of being left out and hidden from. “I appreciate that more than you know. But I still deserve to know when it’s happening.”

“It was a mistake.” Derek crosses his arms, rolling the tension from his shoulders. “This argument wouldn’t have been half as bad if I’d just told you from the start.”

“Communication generally has that advantage.” Stiles rolls his eyes. “You and me? We’re going to argue. It’s a given. We’re going to get so fucking sick of each other, it’ll be a full blown miracle if we’re both alive by the time she graduates kindergarten.” His mouth quirks at Derek’s soft snort. “My dad is going to be passive aggressive, Isaac is going to have issues. The only shortcut around conflict is going to be through it.” Stiles waits for Derek’s stiff, begrudging nod before adding, “But just so you know, I’m committed here, man. I’m all in. This is it for me.”

Derek winces at that, though, hands dropping heavily at his side. “I know. I’m sorry.”

“But I’m not.” Stiles seeks out his gaze and holds it. “I know Scott probably told you about—” He makes an expansive gesture and tries to explain, “Things were monumentally fucked up last year, and yeah, I wanted out and I had that luxury. But this isn’t then. My daughter is always going to be a werewolf. It’s always going to be my life. If you and Scott and my dad think I’m squandering my potential, or that I should be struggling to turn this into something it’s not, then…” Stiles finally realizes, “Well, then those are your issues, not mine. And in case that whole scene just now wasn’t enough to clue you in, I sort of have enough of my own to deal with. So, just… don’t put that on me, too, okay? I don’t want it.”

Derek spends a long pause running a palm over his mouth before grimly deciding, “Fair enough.”

“From now on, if you’re at my house, you’re inside of it. That goes for everyone, even Isaac. You already know you’re welcome, day or night. Lillian and I want the company.” Stiles softly asks, “Okay?”

Derek frowns and opens his mouth, but immediately closes it. He settles on a resigned, “Alright.”

“Okay.” Stiles pushes his hands into his pockets and shuffles his feet. “Are we going to hug this thing out, or what?”

Derek stuffs his cell phone into his back pocket. “Are we?”

Stiles rolls his eyes again and trudges up to the porch, peers up at him with an outstretched arm. “This won’t be appropriately symbolic if you don’t meet me halfway.”

Derek’s chest expands with something that’s part sigh, part scoff, and part laugh, but he takes the steps one at a time and pulls Stiles into an embrace that has his face pressing into Derek’s neck.  He mutters, “I told you werewolves didn’t leave when you asked them to.”

“Asshole.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Derek says, quiet and sort of sad-sounding, and at first Stiles thinks, Duh, but then it hits him, what Derek’s talking about, and all he can do is step away, shaking his head.

“Derek,” Stiles sighs, and he doesn’t want this—not now. It isn’t fair that they clear one hurdle and create two more. It isn’t.

But Derek deserves to know.

“You realize that magic doesn’t just… create attraction like that out of thin air, right?” Stiles forces himself to meet Derek’s blank gaze, to not flinch at the intensity of it. “It’s not… that’s not how magic works. It’s not inherently evil, you know. There has to be… something. A seed.” Stiles still remembers asking Millicent. It took weeks to build up the courage, more to imagine saying the words without the taste of bile bittering the back of his tongue. “And it was mine,” Stiles admits. “I mean, it wasn’t something I could help, and I get that it’s not technically my fault, but, just. In the ways that matter? My attraction was to blame.”

Derek draws in a breath and looks away, head shaking. “Not just yours, Stiles.”

Stiles watches Derek, the way he avoids his eyes and sucks his teeth and stays so perfectly still that he could almost be a statue, if not for the way his chest rises and falls. “Bullshit,” Stiles decides. “That’s such—you don’t—don’t lie to make me feel better, okay?”

Derek’s eyes jerk to him, weirdly severe. “I’m not lying.”

“Your prior, fervent rejection of me says otherwise.” Stiles raises his palms and looks around, like maybe he’s going crazy. “You said you weren’t interested.”

“I wasn’t.” Derek jerks a shoulder. “I wasn’t interested in pursuing it.”

“You weren’t…” Stiles tries to shake the fog from his head, but it’s sort of difficult, given how his worldview is tilting. “What? No. You’re bullshitting me.”

Derek pushes out a gust of breath that makes his posture sink. “The whole point of the spell was to make me mate. Think about it, Stiles. If you were the only one who had attraction to amplify, you would have been the only one affected.” After a moment of watching Stiles gape at him, “It had to be both, for the spell to work.”

“You didn’t.” Stiles stares at him in disbelief, heart sinking. “You didn’t tell me.”

Derek drops to sit on the bottom step of the porch, elbows propped on his knees, hands clasped. “It was just simple, physical attraction. I didn’t want to... encourage anything. String you along or make you think—”

“That I had a chance.”

“Honestly?” Derek gives Stiles a frank look. “Yes.”

“Wow.” Stiles sinks down to sit next to him, eyes staring unseeingly into the distance.

“You were so persistent with Lydia,” Derek elaborates. “I thought… since it wasn’t anything deeper and I never intended to do anything about it, it would be better for everyone if I kept it to myself. I didn’t know about…” He makes a gesture to where Stiles was standing before. “If I’d known you’ve been blaming yourself, I would have told you, right off. I’m sorry, that wasn’t—it’s not like the other thing. I didn’t hide it on purpose.”

Stiles wants to be mad, truthfully. It’s just one more thing that Derek’s kept from him, that’s caused unnecessary hurt and complications, something so bad that it’s infected a year of Stiles’ life with anger and guilt and disgust at himself.

It sickened Stiles’ soul.

But he knows that’s not fair. Derek’s attraction belongs to himself, isn’t something Stiles has the right to know—not like when it comes to Lillian. In a lot of ways, Stiles is more upset because he envies the privilege of being able to do that. To just keep it to oneself.

In some ways, Stiles also understands, because Derek isn’t wrong. Stiles is persistent, because that’s just the kind of person he is. The kind of person who’s always willing to love. The kind of person Derek just isn’t.

Stiles lets out a breath and says, “It’s okay.”

And it is okay.

Just like that.

“Thanks for telling me.” Stiles rubs at his chest and lets out a soft, relieved laugh. “Fuck, that’s such a huge weight lifted, you have no idea.”

Derek hedges, “Yeah?”

“Yeah, I won’t—” Stiles clears his throat. “—I won’t read anything into it that isn’t there. I won’t be… persistent. We can just pretend you never told me, alright?” And it hurts, but he means it with every fiber of his being. Because maybe it was just physical attraction for Stiles back then, too. But it isn’t like that now, isn’t just about the curve of his bare back or the way he looks sprawled on a couch, or the sinuous, efficient, almost sexual way his body moves.

Now it’s about the way he laughs—silent through his nose, or wheezed through his teeth—and his dimples when he smiles, the way his face lights up when he sees Lillian first thing in the morning, the way he feels pressed against Stiles when they’re napping with her, or the way he looks at Stiles sometimes, confident and soft. It’s about the fact that Stiles would do everything in his power to accept Isaac or anyone else as Derek’s mate, if only it meant that Derek was finally happy.

Derek’s frowning when he stands, but Stiles can’t think of a better way to reassure him than to just let it go.

So he says, “Scott’s waiting, back at the house. I should go hug it out with him, too.”

Derek watches him with a smile that’s shapeless and worn. “My shift is tomorrow.”

“Then, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

*

“You’re ducking your head.”

Stiles frowns, easing off the trigger before lifting his head. “But if I duck, then the gun will be in front of my face.”

His dad shakes his head. “No, you’re just blocking your peripheral vision. The gun’s already in front of you. It’s not a point of cover, don’t treat it like a shield.”

Stiles adjusts his stance when his dad tells him too, lifts the pistol and tries again. He hits the target each time, which is only about fifteen yards out, but it took two weeks of watching his dad and reading about how to handle and maintain a gun before he’d even let Stiles touch it, so he’s probably lucky he even gets to shoot the thing.

The little alcove in the preserve they’re using for target practice is chattery, loud, more birds returning for the summer. When the sun starts dipping too low, Stiles removes the clip from the pistol and thinks about asking Derek if he’d like to take Lillian out again during the weekend.

But then, that’s all Stiles ever thinks about. Lillian. Derek. Especially when Lillian is at Derek’s, like she is today, because sure, Stiles gets to go out and actually see different things for once, but he frustratingly spends the whole time wondering what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, and did Derek remember to take the right blanket, and her wolf plushie, and did she eat enough at her two-o-clock feeding? Because her appetite diminishes when she listens for the birds and she gets distracted with babbling about them and enters the evening hours grumpy with hunger.

But he has to give Derek something. Something other than the couch Stiles makes up for him on a near nightly basis so that Derek can be close to his cub without having to camp out in the backyard like a freaking caveman.

Things are weird.

Stiles loads the trunk and bodily braces himself for what he’s about to say. He’s been waiting for almost two weeks for the right time to bring this up with his dad, and he’s let at least five pass him by. He told himself today was the day, and the sun is setting, and his dad looks to be in a pretty good mood, so Stiles takes a stealing breath, closes the trunk with a little more force than necessary, and just lays it out there.

“Derek asked me to move in with him.”

His dad gives a gusty sigh. “I wondered when he would.” He doesn’t even have the common decency to look surprised, just rolls his eyes at Stiles and rounds the car to climb behind the wheel. “Guy’s been sleeping on our couch for a week, Stiles. He has a baby and an empty house. He sure as hell can’t move in with us, and I don’t think anyone’s expecting to separate you and Lillian without some level of bodily injury, even Derek.” After a beat, “Especially Derek.”

“That…” Stiles mouth forms nothing but air for a long moment. By the time he snaps out of it, his dad’s in the car and he has to scramble to follow. “That was so anti-climactic, oh my god.”

“So…” His dad prompts as he’s pulling out of the lot. “What did you say?”

Stiles gnaws on his lip. “I said I’d think about it.”

The car is silent for a long while—long enough for a knot of tension to settle into Stiles’ stomach, which has been bothering him a lot less ever since Derek set up shop on their couch instead of in their yard. He does it every night, slips a hand smoothly beneath Stiles’ shirt and siphons the ache that’s a constant presence. He’ll talk about something offhand, like how he thinks Isaac’s getting better or how Boyd’s birthday is coming up or how they’re buying the lumber for all the other houses because prices dropped ridiculously low when springtime hit.

He doesn’t talk about how ridiculously impractical this all is; Derek having his own house in the daytime, sharing Stiles’ at night.

The car is silent for so long that they’re almost home by the time his dad breaks it. “Well.” His dad clears his throat. “I think you should say yes.”

Stiles has to turn away to hide the flash of hurt he feels. “Oh.”

“No.” His dad holds up a hand. “No, it’s not that I want you to. But, you’ve got to understand, Stiles. When we bought the house, I wasn’t planning on more kids. You’re a grown man now, and Lillian’s going to be a little girl faster than you’re expecting, one who’s going to need her own space. If I thought you’d let me, I’d take out a loan for an expansion so she could have her own room when that time comes, but something tells me you’d find issue with that.” He looks over at Stiles before he pulls into the driveway, eyebrows raised.

Stiles nods. “No, I mean… you’re right, of course. And you deserve some quiet...” He suddenly feels terrible. Stiles’ dad was supposed to get some time off from being a parent. Stiles is supposed to be away at college. Instead, he got another kid, and now he has to deal with late night crying and spit-up all over his recliner and any of the other million things that come with living in the same space as a baby.

“Stiles,” his dad says sharply, and when he finally meets his gaze, Stiles finds him wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Aghast. “Don’t ever think you and Lillian are an inconvenience. I love having you here, both of you. This has nothing to do with that, do you understand?”

Stiles nods.

But his dad gruffly adds, “If you do say yes to Derek, then it doesn’t matter. This will always be your home. Lillian’s home. That door is always open, Stiles, and if you don’t take advantage of that, there will be hell to pay.”

Stiles promises, “I will,” and thanks god that his dad’s an unapologetic hugger, because the embrace that he pulls Stiles into is, at that moment, as necessary to him as oxygen.

Stiles croaks out, “You’re a really good dad.”

His dad croaks back, “So are you.”

“Learning from the best,” Stiles says.

*

He halfheartedly plans to tell Derek when he goes to pick her up an hour later, but when Derek meets him at the Jeep, he asks, “Something wrong?” and Stiles’ throat locks up. He just shakes his head instead, takes Lillian and runs away, the sounds of the pack’s construction on Isaac's house fading the further the Jeep retreats.

Since no one’s been around to do it for him, Stiles stops at the grocery store on the way home, Lillian ‘ba ba ba’ing at him as he sluggishly pushes the buggy down the aisles.

He asks her, “What do you think? We getting some Easy-Mac this trip?”

“Ba ba!”

“I totally agree. It’s easy and it’s mac. What’s not to love?” Stiles tosses a four-pack into the cart.

“…babaBABABA!”

Stiles gives her an impressed look. “Pretty passionate endorsement there.”

She reaches up, clutching at air, and Stiles doesn’t know what she’s grabbing for until he bends, getting eye-level with her. She grabs at his mouth, babbling, “Bababa?” and tugs at his top lip.

Stiles rolls his eyes when he realizes what she’s looking for. “I don’t have any fangs,” he says, patting his chest. “Human daddy. Not the other one who probably spent all day shifting back and forth to amuse you, even though he’ll deny it to his last breath. I can’t wait until you can talk.”

She raises both arms this time, grabbing again, though she clearly wants Stiles to pick her up, take her out of the shopping cart seat. He’s debating whether or not it’ll be worth it—if he doesn’t, she’ll probably get fussy, but pushing a cart one handed is never a good time—when he hears his name being called.

“Stiles!” He whips around, going rigid when he sees Allison Argent loping toward him from the pasta sauce section of their aisle. “Hey!” she says, beaming a dimpled smile that Stiles hasn’t seen since… probably before her mother died.

Stiles just stands there, gawking. Out of all the people he expects to see during a trip to the grocery store, Allison is literally last. She’s even beneath some people who aren’t technically alive. She left two years ago and, as far as Stiles knew, didn’t give Beacon Hills so much as backward glance.

He sputters, “Uh?” And then, “H-hi.” And then sharply, “Does Scott know you’re here?”  Because before Allison left, Scott was bad.  But when Allison was gone, Scott was worse. So much worse. Stiles knows he can’t blame her. She and Scott weren’t even really together anymore, and he was growing more and more unstable, dangerous. It was for the best, Stiles knows that.

It doesn’t mean he can ignore being left with him in that state of mind, inconsolable and crazed, begging Stiles to chain him up, shoot him, lock him away, do something so Scott couldn’t go to her.

Allison’s smile slowly withers. “No, we just got into town. The house didn’t have any food.” She pivots at the waist, gesturing to the shelves. “So we thought we’d make a quick stop.”

“We,” Stiles notes, pulse quickening. Lillian whimpers behind him and Stiles hastily hefts her out of the seat. “As in you. And your dad. Both… here.”

Allison tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and shifts uncomfortably. “Yep!” She looks at Lillian and softly asks, “Who’s this little cutie?”

When she reaches out to touch her hand, Stiles flinches away. “We actually… were just leaving, so, you know. Catch you on the flipside, and all that!” He crosses the store at a speed just this side of sprinting, leaving the cart full of food and a hurt, blinking Allison in his wake.

He’s just climbed behind the wheel after getting Lillian strapped into her car seat when a knock on the window startles him.

Stiles and Lillian both squawk.

Allison makes a ‘roll’ motion, face blank, and Stiles obeys, rolls down his window with a pang of guilt.

“Hey, look—”

“You left this,” she interrupts, holding up Lillian’s diaper bag.

“Oh.” Stiles slumps and takes the bag from her, drops it carefully into the passenger seat. “Uh, thanks. I’m sorry about the…” Stiles cringes. “…super unstealthy escape.”

She asks, “Is it true?” and Stiles has an inner freakout so severe that Lillian starts squirming in her car seat, grunting unhappily. But then Allison says, “About Scott? That he’s… he’s pack now. He’s a beta.”

Stiles lets out a breath. “Yes,” he confirms, ignoring Allison’s reaction. “He’s doing really good and he’s happy and we all kind of really want it to stay that way, okay?” He doesn’t give her a chance to respond, just rolls his window up and shoves the keys into the ignition.

*

The pack is waiting for him when Stiles pulls up, having heard him coming, of course. His heartbeat and Lillian’s distressed ‘eh eh eh’ sounds. Even Isaac’s there, waiting for them, looking agitated. They’re not shifted, but they’re all tensed, eyes scanning the treeline, noses pointed into the air.

Derek’s yanking open the back door before Stiles even has the car in park. “Tell me,” he orders, gathering Lillian from the car seat.

Stiles waits, climbs out of the car and slams his door. He takes a steeling breath. “I’m going to need everyone to not freak out, okay?”

“You are,” Boyd notes, eyes still vigilant.

Scott agrees, “If you get to freak out, we get to freak out.”

Isaac flexes his fists. “Telling someone not to freak out is generally the thing that makes them freak out.”

Derek cups the back of Lillian’s head and barks out, “Stiles.”

“Okay, so.” Stiles inhales, wincing when he rushes out, “I maybe ran into Allison at the grocery store.”

He gnaws on his lip, watching Scott’s slack face so closely that he completely misses Derek and Boyd shifting, fangs and claws and eyebrow disappearance, all in the span of a blink.

Argents,” Derek snarls, “are in our territory right now?”

Between Derek and Boyd disregarding all of Stiles’ suggestions to not freak out and Lillian’s instant descent from fussy to full-on crying, it’s a miracle that Stiles is so focused on Scott that, when he moves forward, Stiles reacts fast enough to block him.

“Scott, don’t.”

“She came back, Stiles, I have to see her!”

“Dude, you’re not—” Before Stiles can finish, Derek has Scott pinned up against the hood of the Jeep, claws fisted in the collar of his shirt.

Isaac, who is suddenly holding Lillian, dangles her at arm’s length and blinks in surprise.

No!” Derek’s eyes flash, half crazed. “I won’t let you give us to them.”

Scott begs, “Derek, Derek,” and Stiles watches the tendons in Derek’s throat flex and twitch, nostrils flaring wide, and realizes what he wants to do.

“Derek, you can’t.” Stiles grabs his arm, tugging. “Come on, man.”

“Not even to protect the pack?” Derek growls, elbowing him away. “Our cub?”

Scott thrashes back, shoving Derek’s shoulder and only halfway failing to move him. “If you think I’d ever let anyone hurt her, you’re fucked in the head!”

“Maybe I am,” Derek challenges. “Wonder who’s to blame for that?”

Stiles shoves his way between them, planting his hand on each of their chests and pushing. “Stop!”

Derek moves back as if Stiles’ strength is enough to do so. His fist comes away with a scrap of Scott’s shirt.

“You can’t make him,” Stiles jams a finger into Derek’s sternum and tells him, “That’s not the kind of alpha you want to be, and it’s definitely not the kind of alpha he came into this pack expecting. They’ll never trust you again. And neither will I—not when it comes to raising our daughter.”

Stiles very pointedly ignores Derek’s twisted expression in favor of whirling on Scott and hissing out, “This isn’t just about you anymore. Think of Boyd and Isaac. Or did you forget the part where your ex-girlfriend kind of, like, maimed each of your pack mates and plotted to kill your alpha? Do you think you could exercise an ounce of delicacy here?”

“That was before,” Scott insists, and Stiles throws his hands up in frustration.

“Yeah, before! Great point in history, back when you didn’t have a pack to consider and there wasn’t a kid thrown into this clusterfuck of annoyingly unpredictable grudges.” Stiles watches Scott deflate, sagging against the hood.

“So I’m just supposed to… do nothing?”

“That,” Stiles futilely straightens Scott shredded shirt, “is exactly what you do. Let her come to you on her own terms. Make her prove herself, instead of the other way around. If she’s even half the person I remember from that magical before place? She’ll understand.”

Scott says, “Right.” And then, face falling. “Right. No, you’re right.”

“I usually am.”

“Sorry, guys,” Scott says to the others, kind of in general, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I wasn’t thinking.”

Boyd gives a stiff shrug. Isaac, who’s still holding and watching at Lillian like he’s not sure if she’s about to ingest his soul or do something super cute, responds with a distracted nod. 

Stiles asks Derek, “Okay?”

He jerks his head to the side, neck cracking. “I don’t like it.”

“Noted,” Stiles says. “Marked down in your column as Things Derek Gets To Say I Told You So About. You should maybe address your close encounter with abuse of power, though.”

Derek looks away, mouth slanted into a rueful line. “It’s not you I don’t trust,” he says to Scott. “And I’m not just protecting the others. If something happened to Lily because of something you did, you’d never forgive yourself.”

It’s obvious that Scott wants to object—he’d never let anything bad happen to Lillian—but they all know that’s not what Derek means. That sometimes, you do it without knowing, and only the jaded kind of caution Derek personally operates under can protect you from it. Stiles is glad, in many ways, that Scott can’t see the world so bleakly.

“But I won’t,” Derek says, resigned. “I won’t force you.”

Stiles looks at him, proud, because this more than anything, more than building them houses or making allies or letting them sleep in his bed, is how he’s going to gain their ultimate, unbreakable trust. That he won’t abuse his position, even when it means protecting the thing most precious to him in the world.

*

Scott stays, even though he’s restless and tense, and Derek’s in a shitty mood, even though he calls a stop to work for the day and invites everyone inside.

Stiles declares it Tummy Time and puts Lillian on the activity mat that Derek’s left down in the living room. Boyd starts pulling out all the ingredients for spaghetti and nobody stops him. Isaac drops onto the couch and bends himself in half, grabs Lillian’s wolf plushie off the floor and starts bouncing it at her, however stiffly. She scoots herself around, chasing it, grunting in annoyance when it keeps moving out of reach. 

Derek sits at the bar connecting the living room and kitchen and sulks.

Stiles slides up to where he’s sitting and figures, given the news there are Argents in Beacon Hills, this is probably the best time to ask, “So is that offer still open? Me and Lillian, moving in, I mean.”

Derek’s head instantly jerks up. He hasn’t asked Stiles again—just the once—even though whenever Stiles comes to pick Lillian up, or whenever Derek lets himself into Stiles’ house at night, his mouth gets pinched, like he really wants to say something but is fighting off the impulse. Stiles has appreciated it, anyway.

“Of course,” Derek says.

“Good.” Stiles taps his fingertips against the counter. “Because I was thinking… yeah. Yes. We’re going to do that. If it’s cool.” He shrugs. “It’s safer.”

Derek stands and grabs his keys. “Boyd’s dad has a truck,” he says, tucking his wallet into his pocket.

Stiles watches in confusion before it clicks. “No, not right now!”

Derek pauses, hand fanning out on the counter. “When?”

Stiles  thinks. “Next week.”

“What’s wrong with tonight?”

Stiles gapes, arms thrown out in a shrug. “I don’t know, maybe the fact I haven’t packed anything? Or maybe I’d like a little more time to prepare myself than the three hours I’ve had. Or maybe it’d be nice to spend a few stupidly sentimental nights with my dad before I leave the only home I’ve ever freaking known. Take a pick.”

Derek sets his keys back on the counter and Stiles almost feels bad for dimming the rare glow of enthusiasm in his eyes, for being the cause of his drooping eyebrows and sharp frown. Because Derek’s probably getting that this isn’t a happy decision for Stiles, that it means the end of something he’s been desperately clutching onto, that even though Derek can keep him safe, it’ll never be the kind of comfort and security his dad represents. 

“You know you don’t have to,” Derek says, clearing his throat. “What I said before about protecting you and Lillian.” Derek’s jaw tics. “I can still do that if you stay with your dad.” He doesn’t say, I won’t like it, but he doesn’t need to.

Stiles shakes his head, though, sighing. “No, you were right. It’s best for everyone.” Stiles doesn’t say, Except me, but he suspects Derek hears it anyway. “Plus, my dad could use some space from all this... baby stuff and excitement. We all have the summer to adjust. It’s a good time and I need to do it, just… let me have a few days, okay? So I’m not rushing and forgetting stuff.”

Derek drops back onto the stool, palm scrubbing roughly over his face. “We could—maybe—I could find a way to finance another house.” He lifts a shoulder, eyes tight. “One just for the two of you.”

Stiles doesn’t even know what to say to that. He just gawps soundlessly at Derek, torn somewhere between awe and horror, because even though the four houses they’re building still come out cheaper than the big one they were planning, it was still expensive, not to even mention Isaac’s tuition—which Stiles knows Derek’s paying. A fifth house can’t be feasible.

Stiles chokes out, “Derek, you can’t—”

“You can have mine.”

Derek and Stiles both whip around to stare at Isaac in shock. He’s on the floor with Lillian now, observing as she scoots her way from toy to toy, rubbing her mouth on them. It took Stiles weeks to figure out that was her way of scenting her things, marking them as her territory.

Isaac peers up at them and softly explains, “It’ll be done pretty soon. I can stay at the duplex or—”

“Me and Isaac can share,” comes Boyd’s voice from the kitchen.

Isaac’s smile is small and pleased. “Yeah, I can live with Boyd.”

Stiles looks over and the same flash of realization that Stiles feels is present in Derek’s expression too. There’s no way, Stiles thinks, that Isaac has been building that house under the impression it’d be his, and hasn’t attached himself to it in some way. Marked it as his, like Lillian is marking her toys. The implications of the offer are unmistakable.

Stiles says, “Are you serious?” and when Isaac nods, launches off the counter and tackles him, rolling to the floor with him in a tight, aggressive hug.

Isaac just laughs, halfheartedly pushing him off. “You’re going to scare the baby.”

“You like us!” Stiles crows, rubbing their cheeks together in a clumsy scenting. “You’ve made sweet, sweet bond to us.”

Lillian belts out, “Bababa!”

Isaac grimaces and shoves Stiles’ face away. “Ugh, my wolf is already regretting it, you smell like pickles.”

“Pickles and pack.”

“Pickles and gun powder.”

“And pack.”

Isaac rolls his eyes and concedes, “And pack.”

Stiles scrambles to his feet, beaming at Derek because he knew, Stiles knew Derek valuing Scott’s autonomy over his own peace of mind was going to get this pack places. Trusty, bondy places. He gives Isaac a hand up and says, “Thanks so much for the offer, man!”

Isaac gives a shy shrug. “It’s not a big deal.”

“It’s the biggest deal,” Stiles argues. “But… no thanks? I mean, we’ll be okay here. Right?” He turns to Derek, lifting an eyebrow in question, and finds him looking on with bright, satisfied eyes.

“Right,” Derek says.

*

It takes Stiles five days to pack. Not necessarily because he has so much, but because in the process of going through his things, he gets distracted by nostalgia. The ticket stubs from the concert him and Scott went to in middle school, or the teddy bear his grandma gave him the birthday before she died, or a letter Lydia passed to him in AP Calculus that consists of nothing but an elegantly scrawled, Get your shoe off my $200 Gucci purse, or I will feed it to you via your mouth.

He gets to spend those nights with his dad, and they’re not overtly corny, but sometimes his dad will do something, like suggest they play a game of chess, which is something they stopped doing when Stiles hit junior high, and Stiles will know why, indulges him and is indulged in return with an impromptu blanket fort, Lillian enjoying some Tummy Time inside the innermost center of it.

Eventually, Stiles reaches the point where he’s packed all his essentials and has to call Derek, set this thing in motion so he’ll only have to unpack the once.

Derek pulls into his driveway an hour later, Mr. Boyd’s truck all gassed up and ready to go.

They take care of Stiles’ stuff first, make four trips to move his furniture and boxes and clothes, and then, Lillian’s things last. Even though they could, neither Stiles nor Derek asks the pack to help. It’s a long but quiet task, lifting and walking, lifting and walking, lifting and walking. When it’s a larger piece of furniture like Stiles’ dresser, Stiles takes one end and Derek takes the other, doesn’t try to do it all himself, even though Derek could easily handle the whole job.

When Derek lifts the mattress from her crib, he freezes, eyes honed in on the symbol marker-drawn beneath.

“It’s for protection,” Stiles says offhandedly, hefting one of his nightstands. “The coven used it.” The same symbol can be found under his dad’s bed, is even drawn beneath Stiles’ own. He can still remember the way it felt when he did it, the little zings of warmth tugging against his Spark. “Just… you know, in case.”

Derek has the same pinched, constipated expression he always wears when Stiles talks about the coven, but nods and loads the crib into the truck bed, anyway.

By the time they’ve finished moving the smallest things, lamps and hangers and curtains, the sun is slowly sinking into the horizon. They’re taking a break in front of Derek’s—their house—gulping down bottles of water and, in Stiles’ case, catching his breath.

His stomach hurts so bad that he’s not sure he can make it up Derek’s—their stairs—to get to his prescription, but he doesn’t want to call any attention to it. It’s just one more weakness in a pile of many, and Stiles has held his own all day. Sure, Derek was probably going easy for his sake, but it’s still a good feeling, not to be coddled and infantilized, to be allowed to sweat and ache and pinch his hand between the dresser and the wall, to feel his muscles flex and strain against the weight of something solid and tangible.

Stiles says, “That’s everything,” and Derek’s throat jumps with his gulp of water.

He screws the cap on the bottle and tosses it into the truck bed. “Everything but Lillian.”

Stiles rolls his eyes, stretching. “Go get her from Melissa’s, Mr. Attachment Anxiety. I’ll go get the crib set up.”

Just as Stiles turns, though, Derek grabs him by a belt loop and tugs him into the curve of his body, suffocating Stiles with the slightly musky smell of day old deodorant and heat and muscle. Arm winding around his hip, Derek’s hand slips easily beneath Stiles’ shirt.

“This okay?” rumbles against his spine.

Stiles nods jerkily, throat clicking at the feel of Derek all along his back, the tickle of his breath against Stiles’ sweaty neck, the sweeping sense of warmth when he coaxes out Stiles’ pain, palm flat over the expanse of his abdomen. “Yeah, thanks, that’s...”

“Better?”

Another nod. “It’s been bothering me.”

“I wish you’d ask for it, when it does. I don’t like… taking it upon myself.”

“Consider this a blanket permission policy,” Stiles assures, voice a pitch lower than it really should be. “But I’ll, uh, try. To do the asking thing more. Just, I don’t want to pester you.”

Derek scoffs and Stiles has to grind his teeth to stop from shivering. “Since when?”

Stiles gruffly agrees, “Good point,” and is doing great—awesome even—until Derek presses his cheek to the side of Stiles’ head and grinds it against him. He knows it’s just scent-marking, that he’s given Derek and the rest of the pack blanket permission for that, too, even though no one takes advantage of it quite as much as Derek. Plus, they’re standing in front of a house they’re about to make theirs and Stiles knows that means something to the wolf side of Derek, sharing his den, filling it up with Stiles’ things and his scent, sharing territory with pack.

He knows it doesn’t mean the same for the human side of Derek, that there will be more of it and often, little gestures and touches and watching TV together and doing the dishes and being domestic and having a baby together, and Stiles was right, all along.

This is fucking awful. 

He gently extricates himself before the stirring below his waist can become a fully realized Awkward Situation. “If you get there before six, we can feed her here.”

If Derek smells his arousal, then he does Stiles the courtesy of not mentioning it. “I’ll pick up something for dinner on the way,” he says, twirling the keys around a forefinger, in just a good as mood when he leaves as Stiles has even seen him.

*

Stiles spends his first evening there in the nursery with Lillian. Derek has already decorated to a frankly frightening degree. The first time Stiles came to see the house, the walls were a pale, sunny yellow.

Now they are lavender.

Stiles didn’t ask.

He walks her around the room to get their scents in the air, pointing things out more for his own benefit than anything, and she talks back at him, little fingers tugging at his mouth every now and again.

“And if you look to your right,” he announces, “you’ll see the monkey pajamas.”

She pulls the collar of his shirt down, babbling at him matter-of-factly.

“Also your wolf pajamas—for the full moon, because we’re literal like that—and your batman jammies too—for any occasion, of course, very versatile.”

She flashes her eyes at him, bright blue, lifting a hand to pull at his cheek.

Stiles reminds her, “I can’t say hi to your wolf. Me,” he taps his chest, “Human daddy.”

She starts patting at his cheek, letting out an impatient squawk when she flashes her eyes again. He always feels a pang when she does this—reminds him there are parts of her he can never know.

Derek appears in the doorway. “She can hear you, but she can’t smell you.”

Stiles is confused before he remembers. “Crap, I forgot.” He fishes out the satchel he’d slipped into his pocket while he was unpacking earlier, tossing it out into the hall. He’s hoping to find a way of determining the ingredients, because even though the pack hates it, it could be an invaluable weapon against future pack threats.

She grinds her face into his collarbone then, making his shirt damp with slobber and excited, muffled gibberish.

Stiles is pretty sure Lillian is way too worked up to manage sleep, but he puts her in the crib anyway, plugs her pacifier into her mouth and snorts when she latches onto it.

From out of nowhere, an owl hoots.

Stiles jumps, whipping around, and finds Derek at an iPod dock, an air of self-satisfaction surrounding his lurky stance in the corner.

Lillian spits out her pacifier in favor of cooing along with the owl sounds.

“That’s not going to get her to sleep,” Stiles insists. “Day birds, night birds—they’re all birds.”

Derek lifts a shoulder, saying, “If it doesn’t put her to sleep, it’ll at least keep her entertained for a few minutes.” He steps into the hall, motioning with his head. “There’s something I wanted to show you. For full disclosure.”

Stiles rubs Lillian’s belly before following Derek down the stairs, into the kitchen.

He guesses before Derek even has the cupboard open, “Panic room?”

He whirls around, face flashing with shock. “How’d you know?”

“It was either that or you wanted to fully disclose that you have no canned vegetables on hand. I tossed the dice.”

Derek scowls and then does something that pulls out the shelves. Stiles has to bend to see the entry—it’s only about four feet tall. “It’s not very big, but it would take a werewolf approximately eight continuous days of offense to break in.” Derek lists off the access code, opens it just to demonstrate. “If anything happens, you and Lillian can come here.” His clenches and unclenches a fist, eyes darkening. “It’s fireproof.”

Stiles knows Derek’s been stressed, paranoid, since the Argents came back to town—thinks Stiles can’t tell that he’s been continually struggling to achieve full shift, to gain that one last advantage available to him—but Stiles chews on a lip and knows the only way to offer Derek reassurance is to promise, “I will.”

*

Even though he’s using a baby monitor to hear if Lillian wakes up, it’s still weird being in a different room. He’s gotten used to her sleep sounds, little sighs and whimpers, the sound of shifting fabric when she wakes and pushes up onto two, clumsy arms, her gradually more successful attempts at rolling from her tummy to back. Without it, everything is achingly silent. The static from the monitor is a poor substitute.

He also knows from experience that as soon as he lies out on that mattress, his stomach is going to start hurting, because he spent his day lifting and bending and it’s inevitable, but Stiles keeps putting it off.

Stiles stays up in his room doing what he usually does when procrastinating:

He stresses himself out even more.

Sometimes he’ll take a stroll through Berkley’s course catalog and feed his ulcer at the price of his own tuition. Sometimes he’ll close that tab out and open the course catalog for UCBH, marveling at how much cheaper it is. He aches to be able to attend an actual campus. UCBH is only a thirty minute drive from the preserve, but Stiles doesn’t know who he could ask to keep Lillian in the day time, if Derek plans to look for work once the houses are all up, or if the rest of pack is going to change to day classes once they’re no longer needed for the labor of the project.

Eventually, he’s so tired that he can’t help it.

He wasn’t wrong.

It hurts enough that he purses his lips, breathes slow, in and out, tries to relax his muscles one by one, from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, working through them like a checklist, just like his doctor suggested.

By two in the morning, Stiles is gritting his teeth, curled up and rocking back and forth, grateful that at least this new arrangement means that Lillian isn’t close enough to sense it.

Stiles gives up somewhere around three.

Derek’s awake when he pushes the door to his room open. He doesn’t so much as raise an eyebrow in question, just lifts a corner of the blanket and scoots over, making room when Stiles climbs in. Derek silently curls around him, slips a hand over his hip and presses his palm against Stiles’ stomach. He effortlessly pulls him into the warm curve of his body. Stiles fits into it like the most perfect puzzle piece.

He's asleep within minutes.

*

Derek’s house is clean. It’s empty and cold, though, in that hotel room kind of way. He has furniture—couch, loveseat, two arm chairs, kitchen table, stools, end tables, even lamps—but not much else. No knick-knacks or paintings or rugs or just… the little things. Everything is very functional, has a purpose, and is crisp and new.

Stiles edges around it all as if he’ll break something with his knobby knees or get dirt on the new carpet or just generally trash it all up.

The thing is, he’s also dying to.

It’s almost a compulsion his first day alone in the house. He scatters his papers over the table and leaves a spit rag tossed over the back of the couch. He leaves his cereal bowl in the sink and kicks his shoes off in the middle of the hall. He gets a couple toast crumbs on the couch and lets them sink into the crevice of the upholstery. He leaves a ring of condensation on the coffee table, and when he washes his hands, he flicks little droplets of water onto the bathroom mirror.

When the pack arrives to work with Derek, no one comes over to say hi. It’s sort of a bummer, but Stiles knows they’re all anxious to finish so the pack can all be in one place, and plus, Stiles has some exams coming up. He figures it’s for the best.

Still, come noon, Stiles finds himself restless and bored, sulky that he’s stuck inside on a sunny day while everyone else is out there doing something. He feeds Lillian her lunch and half expects them to all come stomping in to grab something for themselves.

They never do.

Stiles ultimately accepts the unfairness in expecting everyone to come to him, so he makes a heaping pile of sandwiches and loads them, some drinks and Lillian all into her stroller. “This is so much better,” he’s telling her when he wheels it out the door. “So much easier than having to pack the diaper bag. If I never have to lug that freaking thing around again, it’ll be too soon, know what I mean?”

She looks up at the sky when they get off the porch and just… lights up. “Ahhh!”

There’s a tense moment where she tries to vault herself out of the stroller and onto the ground, and Stiles was not expecting this level of enthusiasm toward a trip next door, so he neglected the ‘strapping her down’ portion of the stroller-packing-process.

Once he’s got her restrained and all body parts are once again inside the confines of what he explains to her is, “A very complex baby-transportation-apparatus, and if you’re not inside of it, then it defeats the whole purpose.”

She struggles against the straps the entire—if short—distance to the wooden skeleton soon to be known as Isaac’s.

“I come bearing sandwiches!” Stiles announces, arms outstretched. “Come forth, my lupine brethren and partake of the ham and Sprite!”

Their heads pop out of crevices and around lumber, Boyd from above, nostrils flared out, eyes hard and interested.

“With mustard?” he calls down.

Stiles promises, “Fear not, the yellow condiment flourishes in abundance!”

Boyd lands smoothly and Scott and Isaac aren’t far behind. Derek Hale has never met a sandwich he didn’t like, so he shoulders past all of them and reaches Stiles first.

“Thanks,” he says, and Stiles shrugs.

“Enjoy it while it lasts. This and boiled water are the extent of my culinary expertise, so if you were expecting a homemaker out of this deal, wow, are you going to be disappointed.”

Derek raises his eyebrows. “If that was a dream of mine, you would have already shattered it when you burned that Cup ‘O Noodles.”

“That was one time!” Stiles argues. “Three years ago! And it was a new microwave, okay? Next-gen technology is notoriously over-engineered.”

Lillian grows progressively more fussy as they all eat, parked beneath a shady oak tree that Scott comments offhandedly might need cut down. Isaac protests this feelingly, while Boyd and Derek can’t seem to possibly give a crap less.

“Take her out,” Derek says, nodding at Lillian, whose whining is now accompanied by an agitated bouncing. “She wants out.”

“I didn’t bring a blanket to put her on.”

“Put her on the grass.”

Stiles makes a face. “The grass is dirty.”

“So?”

“So… she’ll get dirty.”

“So we’ll give her a bath.” At Stiles’ continued protest, Derek argues, “She’s a werewolf, Stiles. She wants to be outside, on the ground. It’s normal.”

And Stiles would argue more, but this is what he’s been wanting, isn’t it? To be told when human-baby and werewolf-cub conventions fork off into their own things. He wants to respect that.

So he lets her out, sitting her upright on the grass and making sure she can stay balanced before stepping away.

The first thing she does is scoop up a little fistful of grass and cram it into her mouth.

“Oh my god!” Stiles frantically scoops it out, wiping at what’s stuck to her slobbery chin. “No,” he tells her. “Grass goes in the dirt, not in our mouths.”

She peers up at him with her big doe eyes as she grabs another handful of grass.

“Don’t do it,” he warns.

She never once breaks his gaze as she slowly brings her fist up to her mouth. Stiles dives for her just as she’s cramming the grass inside.

“No,” he tells her, voice firm. “Yucky grass.”

But now she’s just giving him a wide, slobbery grin, which is something Stiles would seriously boggle over if not for the sounds of the four werewolves behind him, muffling laughter.

“Your amusement is encouraging her,” Stiles huffs. “Stop.”

Scott gushes, “But she’s so cute.”

“Did you see that look on her face,” Isaac says, a smile in his voice.

“Grass isn’t going to hurt her,” Derek pipes in. “I’ve never known a werewolf cub who didn’t eat a little grass or dirt. Once she realizes it tastes bad, she’ll spit it out.”

Stiles glares back at him. “She could choke.”

“She’s not going to choke.” Derek gives him an exasperated look. “Just let her do it.”

“No.”

Derek sighs in what Stiles first thinks is defeat, but then he comes at Stiles, fluidly lifting him with an arm around his waist.

Stiles squawks in indignation, clutching two handfuls of Derek’s shirt. “Put me down, you fucking—ugh, no!” Stiles watches Lillian lift another fistful of grass to her mouth and sags, reaching out as he cries, “Don’t do it, Lil!”

Derek easily ducks away from the palm Stiles is swiping at him. “Go ahead, Lillian.”

“Don’t conform to his boorish ways! Lillian, Lillian, yeah look at me, look. Rage against the machine, baby.” Stiles struggles against Derek’s hold, but it’s only halfhearted, because all of them are too busy laughing at the expression she makes at their scuffle, eyes big and concerned whenever they land on someone saying her name.

She’s still wearing that same worried face when she stuffs the grass in her mouth, almost absently. She chomps down on it once before stilling, opening her mouth and letting it tumble down her chin, back to the ground.

Derek says, “See?” and finally lets Stiles go, eyebrows rising smugly.

“Brute!” Stiles manfully composes himself, grumbling. “One temptation down. Only a billion to go.”

Derek assures him, “We’ll tackle drug abuse tomorrow,” and goes back to his sandwich.

So they leave her in the grass while Stiles and the others just talk, hanging out, laughing about Isaac’s fail date the weekend before, or Derek accidentally driving a hammer into his thumb that morning. At one point Lillian tumbles to her back and rolls onto her tummy, scooting herself around. The first time she pushes herself onto her hands and knees and manages an entire, if wobbly crawl, Stiles elbows Derek and jerks his chin at her.

The two of them watch her very first crawls in silence as the others argue over something neither Stiles nor Derek are very interested in listening to.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

'I will ask them all, I will ask them all their dreams,
I will hold my light above them and seek their faces,
I will hear them whisper, invisible in their veins. . . . '
The eternal asker of answers becomes as the darkness,
Or as a wind blown over a myriad forest,
Or as the numberless voices of long-drawn rains.

 

 

 

Stiles exits the admissions office of UCBH buzzing. Truthfully, he’d only gone with Scott intending to ask about whether or not the measly amount of credits he’d earned during the winter and spring would even transfer over, not to mention his scholarships, because Stiles has had a lot of time to think about it. And he isn’t trapped in his house anymore, and it isn’t cabin fever, and he doesn’t care what school he goes to, he just wants to go.

He comes out with applications, an admissions packet, and a strangling, sideways embrace from Scott.

“This is going to be so cool,” Scott says, mirroring Stiles’ ear-to-ear grin. “I’m transferring, you’re transferring. It’ll be just like old times. Except without all the detentions and bloodshed.”

“Dude.” Stiles cautions him, “Don’t jinx it, seriously.”

Scott nods in agreement. “Good point.”

“And this still doesn’t mean I can go. I need to find someone to watch Lillian during the day.”

Scott rolls his eyes. “We have the whole summer to work out the details, but let’s face it. You have six people more than willing to help you out here. It’s what you want, it’s going to happen. This is definitely happening.”

Stiles matches his smile and dares to hope. “If this meeting with the Littleton pack goes well, I’ll take it as a sign.”

After months of waiting and researching, the pack has finally chosen a potential ally. Stiles has been sick with anxiety over the meeting for the last three days, ever since they contacted the alpha. There were some issues getting the gift that Stiles has planned—he failed five times before he got it right—and his unease mixed with Derek’s is a bad combination for Lillian.

He just wants to get it over with.

Then Scott says, “We should go out this weekend and celebrate, no matter what,” and Stiles’ excitement spills over into a fist pump.

“Yes! Please, oh my god.” Stiles grabs Scott by the strap of his bag and stresses, “We need to do that. That’s something that must be done.”

Scott raises his eyebrows. “Saturday?”

Stiles’ face falls. “Saturday is S4-2.0. But can we do Friday?”

“S42 what?”

Stiles makes a dismissive gesture. “Dinner with my dad and Lil. It’s sort of a, you know, big deal tradition-making thing.”

“Friday then,” Scott agrees, and is mid-way through meeting Stiles’ enthusiastic bro-fist when he freezes, hand caught in the air.

Stiles’ knuckles glance off Scotts’. “Er.”

“Allison,” Scott says, staring over Stiles’ shoulder.

Stiles makes a face. “Please tell me you’re just doing that thing again where you randomly say Allison’s name whenever her face pops in your head?”

Scott anxiously rubs his palms on his thighs. “She’s in the parking lot.”

Stiles whirls around and, sure enough, Allison’s jumping out of a dark SUV. “God, it really is just like old times.” He sighs and turns to find Scott’s gaze tracking her, eyes doing that thing where they glaze over a bit, a sign that Scott is mentally plotting out an imaginary interaction. “This is stupid,” Stiles decides before yelling out, “Allison! Hey, over here! Oomph—Jesus, Scott, your elbows are like little daggers.”

Scott hisses, “I thought I was supposed to be letting her come to me.”

Stiles gestures at where Allison is headed toward them, and then at Scott, who’s trying to somehow hide himself behind Stiles. “She is coming to you. Probably if you didn’t lose cell phones like they were socks, she’d still have a number to call, but this is what we’re working with so—Hey, Allison! How’s it hanging? Going to the big UCBH, huh? Wow, small world, Scott just finished his transfer.”

She gives them a careful smile, eyes darting back and forth between Stiles and Scott, and appears to be out of breath, even though she walked the entire way at a fairly casual pace. “I’m taking summer classes,” she explains, eyes finally stilling on Scott. “Are you transferring away, or…”

Stiles turns to raise an eyebrow at him, an indication that the fate of this interaction is now formally in Scott’s hands.

Scott lets out this little, breathy laugh. “Transferring here, actually. From the, uh, community college.”

“Oh.” Allison’s grin widens. “So we’ll be seeing each other in the fall, probably.”

Scott stammers out, “Uh, well, and uh, Stiles, too.”

“Neat.” Though the smile she gives Stiles is small and reserved.

There’s a brief moment of awkward silence in which Scott obviously doesn’t know where to take this. He keeps on shooting looks at Stiles, like he’s waiting for advice or permission, and honestly? Like, what the hell does Stiles know? He’s rooming it up with a guy who got him pregnant against both their wills. They have a kid together, they eat dinner at the same table, they argue over the remote, they rock-paper-scissors to determine who does dishes, and one night out of every week, Stiles allows himself to push open Derek’s door and wait for the silent invitation of his blanket being pulled back to crawl into his bed.

So they can spoon.

On some of those nights, Stiles doesn’t hurt at all, and Derek knows. Stiles knows he does because on those nights, Derek doesn’t press his palm to Stiles’ stomach. He’ll just curl around him the same way he always does and breathe into his hair, fall asleep without trying to siphon his non-existent pain.

They don’t talk about it—the random bouts of spooning. Derek is always first to rise, so Stiles will wake up in his empty bed, feeling warm and well-rested and so happy that it aches.

It’s becoming a huge problem. 

So basically, Stiles wouldn’t know a healthy relationship if someone tattooed a diagram to Derek’s abs. And considering how often Stiles is staring at them given how much Derek walks around shirtless, that’s really saying a lot.

Stiles turns to Allison, sighing. “Okay, here’s the deal. Derek and the pack? Monumentally freaked out about you and your dad being back. Normally, I wouldn’t divulge that kind of insider information, but I’m sort of hoping to appeal to your softer side by admitting that the baby you saw me with at the store before? She’s Derek’s cub. And also mine.  Yeah, that reaction is never going to be priceless. It’s a long story. But the point is, even if I want to trust that you and your dad have well-meaning intentions by being back here, I sort of can’t take the risk.”

Allison stares at him for a suspended moment, eyebrows bunched together as she works to parse that. “You want to know why we’re here,” she ultimately guesses, looking away, and Stiles doesn’t imagine the flash of something pained and empty that shutters her expression. “We got some intel that a pack came to Beacon Hills over the holidays. An alpha and a dozen or more betas.”

“Monroe,” Stiles says, surprised.

Her gaze jumps to his. “We wanted to make sure this territory didn't fall to him. And…” Her eyes drop. “I heard about Scott becoming a beta, and I guess… I wanted to come home. Make sure everyone was okay. I wanted to know if you needed any help.”

Stiles explains, “Well… yeah, we did. Monroe was here for Lillian—the baby—uh, cub—but he left. They left us alone.”

“Oh.” Allison bobs her head grinning tightly. “That’s good. That they left. We weren’t sure.”

Scott clears his throat. “Are you sticking around, anyway?”

Allison looks at him, eyes softening. “Yeah, I’m—” She looks at the school over her shoulder. “I’m going to finish school here, at least. We could use something… familiar.”

Scott says, “Good!” and then, with noticeably less enthusiasm, “Good.”

Satisfied with this, Stiles looks at Allison and jerks his head toward Scott, eyebrows raising. “We were actually just planning a night out, for next Friday.”

Scott lurches forward when Stiles slaps him on the back, smile turning slightly goofy at the edges. “It’s a celebration. For Stiles.”

“And Scott.”

“And maybe the pack.”

Since Scott doesn’t say anything else, Stiles puts it out there. “That was an invitation, bee-tee-dubs.”

She lets out a loud, guttural laugh, smile brightening. “Sure! Just let me give you my number—” Scott’s cell phone appears instantly between them, as if by magic. “Oh! Yeah, here, I’ll just…”

They both watch as she puts in her number, and then Stiles watches as Scott calls her phone and Allison saves his, and then he stands there watching, for a good three minutes, as the two of them stare distractedly down at their phones.

When he realizes they’re actually texting each other, Stiles bursts, “Oh my god,” and drags Scott away by the strap of his bag.

*

They meet with the Littleton pack on the new moon, which is custom. The Littleton territory spans most of the Boggs Mountains State Forest, and it’s a quiet place, a lot like the preserve, but steeper and greener, trees more closely packed together.

The pack is gathered at the alpha’s home, also customary, and Stiles loses count at twenty nine. Stiles knows from his research that they’re comprised of three different families, that they’ve held this territory since 1916, that one of their old pack matriarchs used to be allied to a coven—one whose manor was transient and inhabited by four ageless witches.

He keeps stopping himself from casting nervous glances at Derek. He feels like he’s about to ask a girl on a date or something, only like, she’s the hottest girl in the school and he’s the nerdy guy with acne and a bad lisp.

The Littleton pack is to the Hale pack as Lydia Martin is to Stiles Stilinski.

The alpha is a young woman by the name of Haley and she greets Derek with a tight smile and wary eyes. “There’s no need to mask your scent here, Alpha Hale. We’re a peaceful pack.”

When Stiles realizes she thinks Derek’s doing it intentionally and of his own accord, he fumbles for their gift. “That’s actually my fault. It’s the, uh,” He rattles the box, “thing in here, doing that.”

She takes the box with cautious eyes, the large male beta at her back shifting in discomfort.

“A gift,” Stiles explains as she opens it. “To thank you for your hospitality.” And when she lifts the satchel—a new one that Stiles made with a little reverse spellcraft engineering, “It’ll mask your scents. I know werewolves don’t like them. Trust me, we’ve had a lot of words about it. But it could be a good defensive weapon, if you ever need one. Which, is hopefully never.”

Derek nudges him and Stiles snaps his mouth shut, laughing nervously.

“Sorry.”

Alpha Littleton relaxes then, grinning warmly at Stiles. “It’s lovely, and will be useful. Thank you.”

Stiles releases a relieved breath.

Derek speaks up, “This is my pack. You’ve met Scott.” Scott gives a wave. “These are Isaac and Boyd, and my cub here, Lillian.” Lillian, who’s in Derek’s arms remains quiet and still, uncertain. “And this is Stiles, her other father.”

Alpha Littleton then proceeds to introduce her pack, which takes a hell of a lot longer and includes a hell of a lot more kids. “We have food and music to entertain your betas if you’d like to begin talks?”

Derek agrees with a nod and rigidly hands Lillian over to Stiles, whispering, “Just you.” Stiles doesn’t ask what he means, because he knows Derek well enough to guess.

Lillian’s only to be held by Stiles.

“Got it,” Stiles promises, shifting her on his hip.

The food may or may not be good. None of them eat any, per Derek’s super paranoid orders. They sit at a little picnic table in the yard and stare at each other, pinging anxiety back and forth, eyes flitting around uneasily. The other pack mostly edges around them, sensing their nerves maybe. Some of them are eating, some are laughing, some are fussing over their kids and some are doing nothing.

Stiles rolls his eyes at Isaac and Boyd, who look ready to bolt at any given point. “Screw this,” he decides, standing up and wandering to the nearest table, to mingle.

It’s a mother and her two year old. She asks Stiles, “How old is your cub?” which he takes as his cue to drop into a seat and ramble for a good twenty minutes. He knows that everyone else can hear, that most of them are listening, probably trying to feel him out, but he closes that off, feels comfortable enough with the lady—Kelly—that he doesn’t hesitate to ask her about schooling.

“I have a six year old in public school,” she says, pointing at a little dark-skinned girl on the swingset. “But most of the pack home-schools. It just depends what you have time for.”

“So it’s not dangerous?”

Kelly gives him a look and laughs. “Why would it be dangerous?”

Stiles explains, “Well, like, a danger of exposure, for example.”

Kelly waves this off. “Natural wolves have exceptional self-control.” And then, looking over Stiles’ shoulder, “No offense.”

Stiles whips around to find Scott, Isaac and Boyd all crowded up at his back.

“None taken,” Scott says, grinning. “I’ve always had exceptional self-control. These two, though.”

Boyd glowers at him.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “You also have a really good friend who’s awesome at problem-solving. Anyway, so what about vaccines?” 

He talks to Kelly long enough that, gradually, some of the other parents wander over and jump in the discussion. The thing about people, even were-people, Stiles knows, is that everyone’s always willing to give advice. People love talking about themselves, and they love talking about their kids even more. Stiles just taps into that to break the ice, and it’s completely effective.

It also helps that all his questions are one-hundred-percent genuine. Stiles has no fucking idea what he’s doing with a werewolf kid. His cluelessness just so happens to prove an invaluable social commodity.

By the time the food’s all been eaten and the music has tapered off to news radio, Isaac’s cozying up to one of the beta girls, Scott’s got some old guy engaged in a frank discussion about bad breakups, and Boyd—well, Boyd mostly sticks by Stiles and Lillian, but that’s just the kind of guy he is.

Their packs are totally macking on each other.

So when Derek and Alpha Littleton emerge from the house, just before dusk, Stiles watches him like a hawk, tries to feel out how it went. He knows Derek usually needs a little warming up to—an acquired taste, if you will—but no one wants this alliance to happen more than Derek.

No one.

Unfortunately, Derek’s a master at schooling his expression into blankness, so Stiles can’t tell anything. He checks out Scott and Isaac, Boyd and Lillian, to see if perhaps his emotions are being sponged up, but he gets nothing.

The packs part with careful smiles and waves, Pack Hale pouring into Scott’s SUV, Pack Littleton filtering into the main house. They all wait for his cue before speaking, but Derek doesn’t give anything away, not even a frown or a shift of his eyebrows, until they’re at least ten miles out.

He pulls over before turning in his seat, arm slung around the back. “I hope you liked the pack, because they’re officially our ally.”

The car erupts in triumphant noise. Even Lillian, who’s sleepy from the outing, manages a spirited, “Sha sha!”

Stiles, on the other hand, just breathes, filled with relief so deep, he feels floppy down to his very marrow. “We did,” he tells Derek. “Like the pack. They were really nice, even if their music sucked entire bags of dicks.”

Boyd leans over the seat rest between them and stresses, “Entire bags.”

Derek’s mouth quirks, but he asks, “And Lillian?”

Stiles gives him a confused look. “And Lillian… was there? And only held by me?”

“As a natural alpha,” Derek explains, “she’s innately good at judging character.”

“Oh.” Stiles blinks back at her, surprised. “She didn’t cry,” he offers. “She was mostly just quiet.”

“Good.” Derek nods, seeming satisfied as he pulls back onto the road, hands relaxed on the steering wheel.

The ride home is quiet and calm, uneventful. They exchange cars when they reach the duplex, pack Lillian into Stiles’ jeep and bid the others good night. Stiles is so tired that he tosses the keys to Derek, getting a raised eyebrow in response.

They’re on the road to the house when Stiles asks, “How was it really? With the alpha?”

Derek tosses him a sideways glance. “She thinks we’re the only ones benefitting from the alliance.”

“She’s probably not wrong,” Stiles says. “But she was okay with that?”

 “Apparently.” He says the next part clipped, “You could say we had good references.”

Stiles guesses, “Deaton?” and when Derek shakes his head, straightens in his seat, face splitting into a grin. “It was them, wasn’t it?”

Derek’s hands tighten on the steering wheel before going slack. A resigned sigh. “Yes, it was them.”

Stiles crows, “I knew it!”

He knew all his prayers to Millicent were being heard.

Derek gives him an incredulous look. “You’re like a pre-teen girl seeing a boyband for the first time.”

Stiles gushes, “I’m never going to wash this chant again.”

When they get Lillian in the house, Stiles huffs and groans at the patches of dirt on her little feet and legs and face. Stiles has no idea how she even managed to get dirty—he held her most of the damn day—but there it is. She’s like a dirt magnet. He commits himself to having to bathe her later—a laborious activity that she harbors way less affection for than she had only months ago.

“You’re doing the bath tomorrow!” Stiles calls after putting her down in the crib, having no idea where Derek is, but knowing he’ll hear. He kicks off his shoes and goes through his pre-sleep routine as he laments, “I got her clean yesterday. There were tears and screaming. It was like going to war. It literally made me miss the days where a bath just meant maybe having to catch her piss in a cup. We had that down to a science. This new stuff? I don’t even know, man. Maybe we should just start hosing her down in the back yard.”

“She’s not a puppy.” Derek’s suddenly… there, in the bathroom doorway, thankfully now adorned in a pair of boxers.

Stiles insists around his toothbrush, “That wasn’t a dog reference, I swear to god. I’d feel the same if she was human. You know how I went through that phase where I was all… oh, we have to use the organic shampoo and make sure her sheets are hypoallergenic and never brush her hair against the grain or whatever. Now I’m just, like,” Stiles spits, “screw it. I’m too tired.”

Derek says, “Come to bed,” and Stiles pauses, glancing at his reflection, the severity of his gaze and his posture, the way his body leans against the doorframe in a long, lithe slant.

“Uh.” Stiles wipes his mouth. “Okay?”

He follows Derek out of the bathroom but stops at his own door, confused and uncertain, until Derek looks back, sees him standing there and says, “Coming?”

Stiles says, “Sure,” and tries not to think much of it, because for one, he promised he wouldn’t read into things. For two, it’s just cuddling, which is something Derek clearly enjoys, and hey, if he needs a willing warm body, then Stiles is so there.

He feels awkward undressing while Derek slips beneath the blankets, but he does it anyway, steps out of his jeans and even goes so far as to neatly fold them, placing the bundle by the door. When he gets into bed, bare legs sliding against the cool sheets, Derek takes position at his back, wrapping around him with his hot skin, knees fitting perfectly into the backs of Stiles’.

Stiles closes his eyes, sighing.

He’s almost asleep when, ten minutes later, Derek’s hand moves, slides down Stiles’ hip to rest heavy on the skin of his thigh. And as if that wasn’t enough to have Stiles’ eyes flying open, heart hammering away, Derek nuzzles his face into the curve of his neck, gentle like a whisper, a tickle of his stubble, a drag of his mouth, the catch of his damp lower lip when he presses a kiss to his throat.

Stiles has no idea how long he lays there, waiting for something else to happen, anything else. He keeps telling himself if Derek even so much as… anything—breathes hard, fucking sniffles—then he’s going to press back. He dissects the gesture from every which way. It was clearly sexual, but then no, not sexual, just a kiss, Derek’s relieved about getting an ally, but then it felt sexual, but then every touch from Derek feels sexual, but then… but then… But then Derek’s asleep and Stiles is staring blankly at nothing, hard and deflated.

When he wakes up the next morning, it’s to a quiet house, an empty bed and a deep, stinging regret for having hoped.

*

To Scott’s credit, he stays with Stiles at the club that night. Even though Allison’s there with them at the table, and even though Stiles is being a downer with his gloomy mood, Scott still hangs out with him, buys him drinks and tries to make him laugh.

Stiles plays along, but he’s only going through the motions. His eyes scan just about everyone that passes, because despite the weirdness with Derek the night before, that was his whole plan for going out tonight. He was going to let loose, experience things, finally move the fuck on.

Mostly, he feels like the third wheel who’s just dying to go home and cuddle his depression away with his kid.

At some point, Stiles decides he’s just… way too young to be so jaded. He’s nineteen. He’s a college student. He’s supposed to be out meeting people, having fun, being reckless. So he tries. He goes to the bar, half so that Scott can get some one-on-one time with Allison, and half hoping that someone will offer to buy him something alcoholic if maybe he stands the right way, or gives the right face, or acts super interested in someone super boring.

No one offers.

At first, he’s really confused. Because Stiles is wearing the tightest pair of jeans he owns, his hair looks great, and he’s not a bad looking guy. Even Derek Underwear-Model Hale had been attracted to him at some point.

Though, look how far that got him.

He’s pretty close to throwing in the towel and vowing a life of celibacy when a guy named Paul asks if he wants to dance. He’s freakishly tall and skinnier than can possibly be healthy, but he’s got dark, deep-set eyes and a smile that goes on forever. Needless to say, Stiles is all over that shit, nearly trips over his own feet in his hurry to follow the guy through the crowd.

Once they’ve been out on the floor for a few minutes and have found themselves on just the right side of the first-time-dancing-with-someone-awkwardness, Paul leans in close, hands on Stiles’ hips and asks, “Are you legal?”

Stiles grins. “Legal for what?”

And then Paul, licking his own smirk, says into Stiles’ ear, “The things I’m imagining doing to you.”

Stiles raises his eyebrows, even though his grin widens. “Wow, that is an impressive amount of subtlety. Not sure I can possibly intuit your intentions.”

Paul throws his head back and laughs. “No one wearing pants like those is expecting subtlety.”

Stiles concedes, “Touché,” and then after a mental pep talk, “I am. Legal. Unless there’s booze involved.”

Paul gives him a look. “What exactly are you looking for?”

“Uh, fun?” Stiles says, way too immobile to still be considered dancing. Someone bumps into him and he bumps into Paul, cursing. “I mean, casual. Quick and anonymous. Safe. Etcetera.”

Paul nods. “You want to use me for my body,” but there’s definite amusement in his eyes.

“Or your hands.” Stiles gives him a blunt look. “Or your mouth. Whatever’s on offer, really, I’m not picky.”

Paul’s eyebrows shoot up and he laughs. “Who’s being subtle now?”

Stiles smirks. “No one wearing a leather jacket like that is expecting subtlety.”

Paul leads him out back not long after, says he can show Stiles a good time if that’s what he’s looking for, says it really low and seductive-like against Stiles’ earlobe, too. But Stiles tells him to wait, says he’s got to use the bathroom real quick and weaves his way back into the club.

He feels like he’s sweating hard enough that it’s penetrated his every layer, that everyone can see the stains and the flush all over his face and neck, the way he fidgets and keeps wiping his palms on his jeans.

He finds the bathroom, locks himself in a stall, and sits there.

He only just barely manages to will away his impending anxiety attack.  It leaves him shaky and sort of lightheaded, but he doesn’t feel like he’s in danger of dying, so he knows it’s not full-blown, that he’s going to be alright, that he can splash some water on his face and get himself together, go out there and get off.

He fishes his cell phone from his pocket, rests his flushed forehead against the stall door, and calls Derek instead.

Derek answers, “Stiles,” and he takes longer than he should inspecting the inflection of it, struggling to find even a fraction of the intensity from last night. “Stiles?” Harsher, worried. “I can hear you, I know you’re there. Where are you?”

Stiles sighs into the phone, lost. “I’m still at the club, with Scott and Allison.”

“Okay.” After a pause, “Everything alright?”

Stiles shakes his head, rolling it against the cool stall door. “I’m about to hook up with this guy.” If Stiles was expecting a reaction, he doesn’t get one.

Just the silence of static.

“He seems nice. He’s pretty good-looking.” Stiles snorts emptily at the silence that follows, fingers pressing hard into his eyes. “I just… I just wanted something good, you know? Something normal, someone who would want to touch me back. And I thought, I can go out and get this, like it’s just… like it’s milk or something, I don’t know. People do that. Isaac does that. I think I can do that.”

Stiles wraps his arm around his middle, feeling sick. “And I know I said I wouldn’t be persistent, but last night, in bed… there was maybe something? And I know I’m reading into things and I’m sorry, but before I do this, I just had to… I wanted you to know that if you ask me to come home, I will. I just have to know, because… I’m so stupid, Derek.” Stiles thumps his forehead against the stall door and breathes, “I am so fucking stupidly in love with you.”

There’s more static, more silence.

Stiles is about as close as possible to melding his forehead with the metal door when Derek finally answers, voice rough and sure.

“Come home.”

Stiles instantly hangs up, has already typed out a shaky text to Scott by the time he reaches the parking lot. He spends most of the drive nervous, overanalyzing what exactly it even meant, and then he stops caring, because even a night at home with a Derek who’s going to reject him beats whatever he was about to do with Paul, and did Stiles mention the stupid part of the being in love thing?

When he pulls up to the house twenty minutes later, Stiles is still nervous, but it’s not the sweat-inducing anxiety from before. It’s more of a buzz in the pit of his chest, like he took some of the club’s bass back with him, carried it in his veins, and the closer he gets to the house the louder it gets.

The door opens before Stiles even reaches it and Derek’s standing there, watching him, and then he’s grabbing Stiles’ face and pushing their mouths together.

Stiles staggers back, but Derek’s grip around his jaw holds him steady, all lip-lock and stubble-rough chin. Stiles doesn’t realize he’s being tugged inside until a door closes and he’s pressed up against it, shoulders knocking into wood.

Stiles groans, “Oh thank god,” and grabs two big fistfuls of Derek’s shirt, yanking him close enough that their legs lock together in odd, slotted parallels.

Derek kisses like he fights—full-bodied, unrelenting and imposing—and Stiles tries his best to keep up with it, the way his tongue dives into Stiles’ mouth, how his hips push him into the door with an absentminded bodily writhe. He grabs Derek’s hair and pants into his mouth and wraps an ankle around Derek’s knee to pull him closer, and it hurts.

That’s how Stiles knows this is nothing like the spell, because it aches—in the core of his body, in the tender skin of his lower lip when Derek’s teeth tug at it, the grind of their hipbones, the sting of Derek’s stubble, the burn of his lungs as he struggles to breathe.

Derek’s face dips to his neck and, in between loud, hot, open-mouthed kisses, says, “Upstairs.” He starts dragging Stiles that-a-way, one of his palms sliding down to grab roughly at an ass cheek. Stiles follows more as an exercise in not letting their mouths separate than anything, but halfway up the stairs, realizes that Derek’s maybe taking him to bed, and then Stiles is the one pushing, hurrying.

When they pass the nursery, Stiles pulls away. “Lillian.”

Derek keeps tugging, rumbles into the skin of his neck, “Boyd and Isaac. Come here.” And Stiles laughs, because he’s already there, but he shoves himself closer anyway, accompanying Derek’s pull with push, saying, “You should have made a move,” and Derek’s saying, “I didn't want you to not be persistent,” and Stiles says, “We’re here, aren’t we?” and Derek pulls Stiles’ shirt off.

His face goes right back to his neck. “He’s all over you.”

“Clothes,” Stiles notes. “Clothes are all over you. That should definitely be a thing that isn’t anymore.”

They’re both shirtless by the time they reach Derek’s room and Stiles gets distracted with groping his chest, wrapping his hands around his waist and staring at the way his abs flex when his hands go back to Stiles’ ass, palming and kneading, big, careless clutches.

It feels like it takes forever to get their pants off, and even when they do, Stiles’ dangle from his left foot, forgotten when he trips back into the bed and Derek climbs between his legs, writhing into the space there, dragging their bare erections together as he pants into Stiles’ mouth, tongue slick and insistent between his lips.

“How much,” Derek asks when he pulls away from Stiles’ mouth with a filthy, wet smack. “What do you want?”

Stiles spreads his legs wider, grinding up into Derek’s hips. “Everything. But we can just… this is okay, this is so good,” and Derek’s head falls, forehead landing on the ball of Stiles’ shoulder.

He shudders and croaks out, “Everything?” and Stiles definitely isn’t imagining the thread of want in his voice, something desperate and caught in the back of his throat.

Stiles hazards a breathless, “Yeah, you can fuck me, you can put it inside of me,” and Derek freezes, shoves a frantic hand in between them to clutch at the base of his own dick, rearing back.

He puts a gentle hand over Stiles’ mouth and looks away, eyes tight and wild. After a moment of that weird stillness, nothing but the sounds of their hard breaths filling the room, Derek takes his hand from Stiles’ mouth and explains, “Not if you keep saying it.”

Stiles’ face lights up. “Oh my god, you have a hair-trigger, that’s so awesome.”

Derek’s still squeezing himself, taking slow, measured breaths. “I don’t have a hair-trigger,” he grinds out. “It’s been a long time, and...” He pauses here, looks at Stiles with something pained and sharp in his expression. “And I think about it more than I should.”

Stiles all but shoots himself out from under Derek and off the bed, hurries down the hall and crashes into his room, tearing apart his nightstand to find the supplies he’s never even actually had a chance to use.

The pants finally come loose from his ankle somewhere between there and back.

When he returns, Derek’s sitting on the edge of the bed with a tense, shuttered expression that vanishes the instant Stiles comes into view. He gathers him up when Stiles climbs into his lap, hands going to his ass, mouth latching onto his neck, seemingly on impulse.

Stiles instructs, “Here, here, use this,” and pushes the bottle of lube at Derek’s chest, feeling drunk and excited and like he wants to laugh at the complex face Derek makes. “Finger me open first.”

Derek groans, “Shut up, Stiles,” but he does it, makes his fingers all slippery and wet and pushes into him, keeps smashing Stiles closer and closer so he can get a deeper angle with his wrist, swallowing Stiles’ little gasps with slow, distracted kisses that start and stop, start and stop, start and stop.

Stiles slides the condom on Derek himself, feeling shaky but sure when he explains into Derek’s neck, “Just in case,” and Derek grunts when Stiles guides him inside, an airless, guttural sound that Stiles feel punched against his own chest.

“Slow,” he urges, strained, hands stilling Stiles’ sinking hips. “Slower, go slow.”

Stiles is beyond words, so he nods, makes a breathless sound at the burn of being stretched and filled, drops his forehead to Derek’s shoulder and stares at the way they meet, Stiles hard and leaking against Derek’s stomach, Derek’s thumbs pressing into the skin where Stiles’ thigh turns into his groin, Stiles’ patchwork stomach and Derek’s flawless one.

Derek asks tightly, “Hurts?” but is already moving to take the pain away.

“No!” Stiles grabs his wrist and gasps, “No, the spell took the pain and it didn’t hurt and, please, just… I like it. I want it, don’t take it,” and Derek pries his hand away from Stiles’ grip, uses it to cradle the back of his neck when he shushes him.

“I won’t, it’s okay, I won’t,” and he doesn’t, lets Stiles feel and breathe and whimper through the ache as he sinks the rest of the way down into his lap.

Stiles rests there and Derek lets him, runs his hands over his back and his thighs and his ass, through his hair when they kiss and over his stomach when Stiles pulls back to look again, to see them pressed completely together.

“Fuck,” Stiles says when Derek takes him in his hand, stroking, and he sounds about as amazed and mindblown as he feels. “This is going to be so fast.”

Derek says, “We can do it again,” and Stiles asks, “Yeah?” and Derek says, “Yeah,” and Stiles rocks into him, testing, unable to fully lift himself away. Derek’s face screws up and he grips Stiles more firmly, rocking forward into him. “Like this,” he says and Stiles nods, agreeing, and it’s not pretty like in porn—it’s really inelegant and they don’t separate enough to get to the thrusty stuff—but it’s so good that it has Derek’s thighs trembling under Stiles, and they’re both watching Stiles drip all over Derek’s stomach, so he figures it’s got to be better.

It can’t possibly get any better than this.

“We can do it again,” Stiles reiterates, just to make sure, and when Derek kisses him in reassurance, starts grinding himself faster and harder, rhythmless and hyperfocused, hand tangling into the back of Derek’s hair.

He comes with a cry that’s stupid and squawk-like, more surprised-sounding than it has any right to be. Derek grips two handfuls of his ass and shoves him closer, and closer, and closer, until he’s jerking forward with a grunt, arm coming up to pin Stiles to his chest as he wrenches through it, chest rumbling.

He follows when Derek finally falls back, chest heaving him up and down, and they lay there long enough that Derek goes soft, has to reach over Stiles to carefully guide himself and the condom out. Once he does, he just starfishes out on the bed.

Stiles eventually smothers a grin into Derek’s throat, chancing a glance up at his face. “Am I heavy?”

Derek’s chest jumps with a scoff. “No,” he answers, hand coming up to smooth his hair away from his forehead. “You’re sticky.”

“I can get up.” Stiles sighs, pushing into his hand. “Clean it off.”

“You? Clean?” Derek cracks an eye to peer down at him, says in a perfect deadpan, “Stop, you’ll get me hard again.”

Stiles flicks his nose, laughing. “Funny. You’re hilarious.” And then, after a breath, “We’d be a real comedy power couple.”

Derek opens both eyes then, looks down at Stiles while he’s petting his hair. His voice is quiet and careful when he says, “I’d make an awful mate,” and Stiles’ protest is on the tip of his frown when Derek adds, “Just for full disclosure.”

“I don’t think so.” Stiles smiles sadly. “All it really requires is that you want to be. And an effort. We’ve got everything else down, already.”

Derek says, “I want to,” and when he doesn’t follow it with one of the million ways it could possibly go wrong, Stiles pushes forward and presses their mouths together, grinning.

*

“We’re staying close,” Derek says the next full moon. “So don’t be frightened if you hear us.”

Stiles nods in acknowledgement and watches him take an already fussy Lillian from her swingy chair, doing his best to calm her restless, dissatisfied whimpers.

Derek frowns and says directly to her, “I’m sorry. It’s not safe out there for you right now.”

Stiles watches him press a kiss to her cheek and doesn’t say that he wouldn’t be comfortable with Derek taking her out in the forest for a full night, anyway.

Derek fidgets with smoothing down a cowlick in Lillian’s hair, eyes nervous and wary. “You remember the access code to the—”

“Derek.” Stiles claps his shoulder, assuring, “Lillian and I have had full moons with you farther away than you will be tonight. Chill, okay? We’ve got this.”

Derek’s jaw flexes. “There weren’t hunters in Beacon Hills then.”

Stiles rolls his eyes. “We’ve had this talk. I told you, they’re not going to bother us.”

Derek grinds out, “I’ve heard that before,” and Stiles doesn’t bother arguing with him.

Instead, he crowds him out the door. “Have fun, don’t let Scott and Boyd get into another fight, and if we need you, we’ll just… you know, scream, super loud.”

Derek gives him a look that says exactly how much this is comforting him, which would be not at all. “Stay downstairs,” he orders. “Lock the doors, don’t turn the TV up so loud you can’t hear.” Stiles nods dutifully and gives a wave, shutting the door on Derek’s anxious face.

Naturally, the sun’s only been down for three whole hours when everything goes to shit.

Stiles is laid out, Lillian tucked into the little crevice between the couch and his side. He’s stuffing a handful of chips into his mouth with his free hand when he hears an undeniable thump.

It’s so strong, it makes the Nyan Cat cross-stitch Stiles had gotten from Etsy last week fall right off the wall.

Stiles’ jerk rouses Lillian and she makes a sound, something grumpy and miserable. He gathers her up against his chest and waits, ears straining at the few noises he can actually hear, but they’re fairly limited to Lillian’s mewls and the TV’s hum.

He’s just starting to relax when it happens again.

Thump.

Stiles doesn’t even consider investigating. He takes Lillian and runs for the kitchen, sliding against the linoleum when he makes the hard turn toward where the safe room is located. This puts the window facing the backyard directly in his vision, and Stiles freezes at what he sees through it, grabbing frantically for the knob of the pantry door.

If he didn’t take that split second to glance back up into the eyes of the enormous wolf staring through the window, Stiles might have missed the exact, familiar way it’s looking at him—confident and soft.

Stiles goes still, heart still hammering, hand poised on the pantry knob. He hedges out a shaky, “Derek?”

The wolf throws his head back, chuffing, and presses closer to the window with glowing red eyes.

Lillian clutches at the air between them, whining out a longing, “Sha sha sha,” which pretty much seals it for him.

“Holy shit.” Stiles dives for the back door and wrenches it open, gawks at the massive black and silver wolf dropping back to all fours and repeats, “Holy shit, it’s you.”

Wolf-Derek instantly presses his nose to Lillian’s dangling foot, and then Stiles’ stomach, chuffing once more, snout rising and falling in what Stiles suspects is an approximation of a nod.

Stiles’ face splits into disbelieving grin. “Oh my god, you did it!” He looks at Lillian and tells her, “That’s daddy! That’s Sha Sha!”

She’s still stuck on the clutching for him and the ‘Sha sha’ing’, so Stiles crouches down low enough that she can grab a handful of the sleek, black and silver fur. She lets out a sharp and puzzled sound when Derek opens his mouth, swiping her cheek with his long, pink tongue.

Stiles hazards a pet and Derek pushes his snout into his palm, tongue coming out to lick him, too. He’s big, taller than Stiles’ hip, and bulky, but not as lumpy and imposing most of the other alpha forms Stiles has seen in the past. He’s definitely menacing, and there’s no way a real wolf has teeth like that, but he’s also, Stiles muses, sort of… sleek. Handsome. His fur is soft and thick, dark and neat.

“Don’t get mad, okay?” Stiles fishes his cell phone out of his pocket and opens his camera app. “You’re just going to have to deal with this.” Stiles goes to lift the phone and Derek backs away. But he only goes far enough so that he can turn and sit back on his haunches, chest puffed out and chin thrust up.

Stiles could die.

He takes about twenty pictures instead.

Eventually, Derek tires of preening—or so he’d have Stiles believe—and starts nudging the back of Stiles’ legs, insistent and firm.

It takes Stiles a minute of being lead before he realizes what Derek wants. “Dude!” he hisses. “It’s freaking eleven-o-clock at night!”

Another nudge.

“I don’t have any of her blankets. I don’t have any food, I don’t have anything.”

A stronger nudge. A rumble.

Stiles groans as he follows Derek into the clearing out front. It’s cloudy out, dark, so he can’t see where he’s going, has to stop to pull his phone back out and use the screen as a flashlight. Derek keeps stalking forward a few feet and stopping, noise pointed into the air, ears perking forward and back, rigidly alert. Then he’ll stalk forward a few more feet and repeat the process, scenting the air, listening for danger as he leads them.

Derek finally stops in a patch of grass facing the forest, nestled by the driveway, still in view of the house’s illuminated windows. Stiles knows he’d rather take Lillian out into the woods, so he accepts the compromise for what it clearly is, dropping down to sit with her cradled in his lap.

Lillian is having none of it. She remained perfectly silent and still when Derek was on alert, but as soon as Stiles’ ass touches the ground, she erupts into excited babbles and tries to squirm away. Stiles restrains her at first, one hand wrapped firmly around her belly, but Derek walks up to them—a towering height now that Stiles is sitting—and makes a gruff whimper, nose pressing persistently into her neck.

“Sha sha!” Lillian cries.

And well, Stiles can take a hint. He doesn’t need the look Derek gives him, all red and angry, or the growl he makes, or particularly the way his mouth spreads back to expose his chainsaw teeth.

Stiles lets her go, relenting, “Fine, geez.”

The first thing she does is start shoving shit into her mouth. Stiles presses a palm over his own and looks away, fighting the instinct to stop her, sensing that Derek will just… let him know if there’s anything he should be worried about here. Maybe, he thinks, it’s time to allow that this—being a werewolf on a full moon—being a werewolf period—is Derek’s area. Stiles can have the quiet moments of rocking her to sleep, the S4’s with her and his dad, the long, rambling conversations they have with one another, even if her side is still little more than ambitious gibberish.

Stiles watches her beam up at the sky with a wild, dirt smeared smile, because his daughter is a werewolf.

And that’s okay.

Derek tries to play with her. He ducks down, chin touching his front feet, pawing at the dirt, and then springs back, huffing in excitement. Lillian crawls after him, swiping at his fur, erupting into squeals and throaty giggles when he ducks out of range just to dart back in, nudging her with his wet nose.

At one point, Lillian stops ‘sha sha’ing’ and belts out something that sounds like, “Eeja boyj.”

Derek goes still and Stiles follows, watches as he points his nose at the tree line, ears perked forward. Derek’s muscles flex and the hair on his back fluffs out, standing on end. He rumbles a deep, gritty sound that can’t be classified as a growl, but does make Lillian clumsily scurry her way back into Stiles’ lap, whining out a, “Ba ba.”

She and Stiles both turn to the woods, eyes and postures similarly cautious.

It’s Boyd who breaks through, and Stiles wasn’t expecting to come out tonight—or really any night in the near future—so he never thought to ask just how tight their control was. And since Boyd and Derek instantly begin running at one another, Stiles goes rigid, readying himself to make a run for it.

All that happens is Derek tackles Boyd and sneers down into his face.

Boyd belts out a laugh. “Damn, man, you’re bigger than I thought you’d be!” Derek licks a long, aggressive stripe over his cheek and Boyd shoves him away. “You look like a pampered show dog, though. Look at you, you’re all… pretty.”

Derek does not preen at this.

Boyd shrugs. “Just saying.”

Isaac breaks out of the tree line next, and then Scott, who’s close enough behind that he’s throwing his arms up in the air and shouting a victorious, “Whooooa!” just as Derek tackles Isaac to the ground and repeats the same sneer-then-lick he’d given to Boyd.

They spend most of the night right there. Isaac parks himself next to Stiles, gives him a wolfed-out fang-grin and takes it upon himself to be Lillian’s official corral’er as Boyd and Scott test Derek’s improved abilities. They have races at first, Stiles cheering Derek on while Isaac roots for the betas. After that, they have a few spirited sparring matches, but when that makes Lillian anxious and fussy, a competition to see who can scale the highest tree.

Derek wins every single one.

When the forest calls, the betas run. Stiles stretches out on the grass and watches the clouds pass, Derek’s fur beneath his palm, the sleeping weight of Lillian cradled between them. He thinks of astrology and the strangeness of birds, of flying away, but always coming back when the wind demands it.

 

end