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April

The third MRI in a row comes back clean.

"It's a miracle," Dr. Perez says, studying the scans again. "Or maybe we made a mistake the first time around." His brow wrinkles. "Anyway, we're going to step you down to monthly check-ups for now. You said the sleep disturbances have diminished, too?"

Dad nods. "Yes," Stiles lies.

"I could still give you the bite," Scott says after practice while he's chucking his gear in the back of Stiles's Jeep. He's captain of the team; Stiles is back on the bench.

Stiles climbs into the driver's seat. "It might not take. Now that I'm—you know."

His brain's back to normal, mostly, but he can't cross a mountain ash line anymore, let alone set one. There's nothing useful he can do except Google shit, fumble a switchblade, and trawl through the half-translated copy of the Argent bestiary that Allison left behind. Stiles was more helpful possessed, hallucinating, and out of his mind than he is now.

In the car, Scott bumps his shoulder against Stiles's. There's nothing really to say.

 

 

May

The day after the school year ends, Stiles makes the turn onto his street and sees Derek Hale standing in the lawn of a house that's been vacant for a year. He looks smaller, slimmer; he's gesturing broadly at the driver of a moving truck.

Since when does Derek have stuff?

Stiles goes over with Scott and his mom the next afternoon to do the welcome-back-to-Beacon-Hills-are-you-gonna-join-Scott's-pack thing. Melissa makes a casserole—something good, from scratch, not Hamburger Helper and broccoli, the Stilinski special. Derek's soccer mom car is in the driveway, so they just ring the door bell and wait.

"Hi," Derek says when he answers the door, stepping back to let them in. He's holding a baby.

"Wow," Scott says. "Hey."

Stiles stares at the room full of boxes behind Derek instead of the elephant in his arms; he almost misses the moment when Melissa stumbles at the threshold and Scott and Derek simultaneously lunge to help her. Derek's arms are full of baby, of course—he catches the edge of the casserole dish with his elbow while Scott braces his mom's shoulder and the dish's bottom. "Here," Derek says, glancing between them quickly. "Let me—"

Stiles holds out his arms, some kind of panic reflex, and Derek puts the baby there. Where the hell did Derek get a baby? Is it his? Did he steal it from the grocery store? "Support her head," says Melissa; Stiles adjusts his hold on it, careful, so he can cup the back of her skull. He's never held a baby before.

Derek takes the casserole dish from Melissa while Scott peers over Stiles's shoulder. "Is the baby, uh—"

"Her name is Matilda," Derek says. "Mattie."

Mattie's awake, blinking up at Stiles, her hands curling into fists, every movement mesmerizing. She's so tiny, wow, in little green footie pajamas with mitts on her hands. Her skin is warm brown; she has dark hair, just a dusting, a loose curl on her forehead. She watches him for a minute before she turns her head, pressing her face against his chest and rubbing her nose against Stiles's t-shirt.

"She wants to nurse," Derek says, like he has something to apologize for.

"They do that," Melissa says gently.

Stiles shifts Mattie carefully so her head is in the crook of his elbow. "Hey, dude," he says, giving her a finger to grab.

It turns out Mattie is Cora's. Stiles thinks she might be Boyd's, too, but he doesn't ask. Mattie's too young to shift, but Scott says she's a werewolf like her mom.

"This is pretty weird," Scott says as they walk back toward Stiles's house; his mom's on her way into work. "Like—"

Stiles nods. He's not thinking about Mattie, but how Derek put her in Stiles's arms, easy, without hesitation. Trusting. Of course, Derek was gone all this time; he doesn't know.

 

 

June

Derek declines Scott's offer to join the pack; his car is always in the driveway, so he's either not working or working at home. Stiles doesn't think, at first, that he'll run into him or Mattie much at all. Growing up, Stiles knew everyone on this block, first because Dad was marching him up to their front doors to apologize for abusing their landscaping, then later because people showed up to bring food, help with chores, visit Mom when she was lucid. Mom's been dead a decade now, and half those neighbors are gone, replaced by families Stiles doesn't know. Stiles still mows Mrs. Piasecki's yard twice a month; that's it for neighborliness.

He does see Derek, though: taking out the trash, bring in the empty cans, checking the mail. Stiles nods, waves, doesn't stop to say hi. He's not sure what Derek would want with him, anyway—his world seems to have narrowed, circled in around Mattie.

Derek jogs with Mattie; he has a jogging stroller. If Stiles looks out the window as he's getting ready for summer school in the morning, he usually catches a glimpse of them just before he has to shove his feet into unlaced sneakers and book it to the car. They're always gone by the time he gets to the driveway.

Sometimes, Derek looks up at the window like he knows Stiles is watching.

 

 

July

Scott and Stiles are both in summer school—Stiles flunked two classes last semester, Scott could stand to repeat sophomore English anyway. Lydia and Kira are taking classes at Beacon Community, so they have a study group on Friday nights. Sort of pack night, sort of not.

The nemeton is quiet and Peter and the nogitsune are gone, so there's no apparent threat on the horizon, nothing to do but catalogue their losses and brace for the unknown. Allison and her dad left, Isaac and the twins died, Derek has holed up behind his picket fence, and Scott's pack is all that Beacon Hills has: a werewolf, a kitsune, a banshee. Stiles used to be their anchor; now he's dead weight.

"Here," Lydia says as she passes around margaritas, because apparently Linear Algebra is most comprehensible while buzzed. Kira's is light on the alcohol; Scott's is heavy on the salt. "First order of business: any hallucinations, strange smells, mysterious lights in the sky this week?"

Stiles cracks open his US History book. "Very funny."

"Do we know if UFOs are real?" Kira says, glancing at Scott with doe eyes.

Over their heads, Lydia rolls her eyes at Stiles, opens her mouth in a mock scream; Stiles mimes a noose.

 

 

August

The doorbell rings while Stiles is cramming, trying to finish his summer reading assignments before school starts tomorrow.

"Can you watch her?" Derek says quietly. He has dark circles under his eyes and a diaper bag slung over one shoulder; Mattie is strapped to his chest with what looks like a bolt of cloth, body lax in sleep. "Just for—I have to—can you just keep her for an hour?"

"I don't know anything about babies," Stiles says; he failed the assignment with the egg on the first day, and that was back in freshman year, before he had anything supernatural to blame. Mattie starts to wail immediately, of course, so Stiles is pulling Melissa up on speed dial one-handed before Derek's out of the driveway.

"Try rocking her a little," Melissa suggests. "Maybe she's hungry."

There's a bottle in the cooler section of the bag, pre-filled; Melissa walks him through the basics, even though it's pretty simple. Stiles gets Mattie's head tucked in the crook of his elbow and her mouth parts eagerly around the plastic nipple. By the time Derek returns for her, she's fed and burped and fast asleep, her face mashed up against Stiles's shoulder.

"Thanks," Derek says.

Stiles says, "Uh, yeah. Any time."

 

 

September

"Jesus Christ, I didn't actually mean any time," Stiles says the next time Derek shows up and shoves Mattie into Stiles's arms.

Derek puts the diaper bag down on the locker room bench. "I'll pick her up from you in two hours."

"I—this is the boy's locker room," Stiles shouts after Derek. He hasn't even showered, but Mattie doesn't seem to mind. She balls up his sweaty t-shirt in her fist and shoves it into her mouth.

A minute later, Danny rounds the corner of the lockers, toweling his hair, and stops abruptly. "Do I want to know?"

"Probably not," Stiles says.

Stiles hangs out in the locker room for another five minutes so Danny can play peek-a-boo with Mattie. Then he ventures out to the parking lot in his running shorts with Mattie still gnawing on his shirt. He's not sure what he's going to do—hang around the high school after hours? haha, no—until Derek comes back, but then he sees the car seat in the back of the Jeep, already safely buckled in.

Because Derek can't call Stiles and ask him to babysit, but he can break into Stiles's car and leave his kid's stuff there. Right.

 

 

October

The next time Stiles sees Mattie, it's because Dad has invited Derek over for dinner.

"Why is this happening?" Stiles complains, staring at the ceiling. He was already on the floor when this started, sitting down to fumble with the laces of his hi-tops, so it didn't take much to tip over and flop onto his back, becoming one with the carpet in protest. "Why are you doing this to me?"

Dad's face abruptly comes into view. "Cut it out, Stiles."

"Can't you just let Scott handle it?" Stiles says.

"Derek's our neighbor," Dad says. He clears his throat. "He doesn't have any other family, and I remember how it was, being a single—"

Stiles feels like shit. He rolls onto his belly, presses his face against the worn carpet. "Right."

They make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner, although Stiles uses ground turkey because that'll balance out the jarred tomato sauce with all the salt or something. Dad chops the onions, blends them with the meat and spices, and then Stiles rolls them into fat spheres in his palm and transfers them to the baking sheet. For a sides, there's salad-from-a-bag with lowfat ranch dressing and bread with Smart Balance. It's respectable, balanced meal, no matter what Dad claims.

Derek brings apple-walnut cobbler with a whipped sour cream topping that cuts perfectly against the cobbler's sweetness: it's super weird. He and Dad spend most of dinner discussing Mattie's developmental milestones. "She's getting better control of her legs, and she—" Derek looks over to where Mattie's happily wrestling with a stuffed giraffe on a blanket on the floor, feet waving in the air.

Stiles clears his throat, opens his mouth to—

"She do the thing where she looks like she's playing airplane?" Dad says.

Derek nods, flashes a smile. "Constantly."

When Stiles gets tired of being ignored, he gets down on the floor with Mattie, who rolls onto her back and sticks her foot in her mouth in greeting. She's the only one who hasn't had any dinner, but she doesn't seem too bothered. Stiles tickles her sides gently; she shrieks and kicks him in the face.

The next time, he gets a text from Dad. Go to Derek's after school. You're babysitting.

So Dad and Derek have formed some secret parent cabal behind Stiles's back. Great. Stiles sighs and slouches down in his chair, taps his pencil against his desk irritably. He spent a year and a half fighting evil, being evil, and then fighting evil again, and now he's just—a glorified babysitter. This is how it ends: not with a bang, but a whimper.

"What's up?" Kira says from the seat behind him, prodding him upright. "Everything okay?"

Stiles shakes his head. "It's fine. I—"

"Stilinski!" Coach shouts. "This isn't social hour!"

It's not like Stiles and Derek were ever really friends. They saved each other's lives a bunch, they researched together, they shared some intense gazes that post-bisexual-revelation may have made their way into Stiles's spank bank. Every contact they had was purposeful. That, at least, hasn't changed.

Much like Stiles having to learn important shit on the fly from the internet, like diaper changes. "I don't understand why he leaves you with me, kiddo," he says to Mattie, who squirms while he lifts her feet so he can shove a clean cloth diaper under her. "I'm not exactly trained for this."

All of Mattie's stuff is soft, neutral colors, organic and reusable or biodegradable or whatever. The bottles in the fridge are tempered glass with certified BPA-free nipples; there are a couple made up already, which is nice. Mattie can hold up her bottle by herself now. She drains the whole thing in a few minutes, spits some of it back up on Stiles's hoodie, and then passes out immediately.

"Just like me and Jack Daniels," Stiles says admiringly, shifting Mattie so her spit-up doesn't get in her hair.

Stiles doesn't know where her crib is, and he doesn't really want to leave her alone anyway, so he just does an impressive one-armed wriggle out of his hoodie and moves the nap party to the couch. He can hold onto her and surf Reddit on his phone at the same time, that's cool.

"You smell like baby," Scott says the next day. He frowns, thoughtful. "It's nice."

 

 

November

The fifth or sixth time Stiles comes over after school to babysit is the first time he sees Mattie really upset. She's raking her nails over Derek's naked chest—Stiles averts his eyes because this is so not the time—and bawling her heart out. "Aww, pupperoni," he says before he really thinks about it, and takes her from Derek when she tries to twist out of his arms. Weirdly enough, she calms down when Stiles is holding her, presses her wet little face against his I Support Single Moms t-shirt.

"She won't—she's upset when I put her down," Derek says. "But I have to, I can't—" Abruptly, he crosses his arms, covering his chest. "I have to go to Deaton's."

There are dark shadows under Derek's eyes. "When was the last time you slept?" Stiles says. "Maybe you should take a disco nap first, dude."

"I can't." Derek nods at the window, where the sky is still afternoon bright. "We feel it."

Oh. Full moon, duh.

"You guys have done this alone before, right?" Stiles says as Mattie plucks at his shirt, rubbing the fabric between forefinger and thumb. "I mean, you seem to have all this down."

Derek laughs. Pauses. "You're—you're serious."

"Um, yeah." Stiles shifts Mattie's weight onto one arm, gestures at the sling collection on the coat rack, the random primary-colored baby crap on the living room floor, the little wooden high chair painted with bunnies. "Your entire life is, like, baby shit, and she's—she's a really happy baby. Obviously."

"We're omegas," Derek says.

Stiles shrugs. "So?"

"I can't—" Derek clears his throat. "Cora's fixing that. I couldn't—"

Against Stiles's chest, Mattie shifts, sighs. Her eyes are closed, her long lashes fanning out over her plump brown cheeks. Stiles can't imagine the kind of courage that Cora needed to leave her, or the kind that brought Derek back into the town where his family ended to start it again. "You're not wrong not to want to hurt anybody anymore," Stiles says, stroking Mattie's arm. "You don't have to be—that."

"It's hard," Derek says. His shoulders slump.

Stiles says, "Um, do you want some—I mean, it's not a school night. I could stay."

Mattie has a crib, but she usually sleeps with Derek in his bed, a massive California king. Derek strips down to his shirt and boxers before he gets under the covers, so Stiles follows suit after he lays Mattie down. Sharing a bed doesn't seem so strange with her resting between them, a bridge more than a barrier. Derek curls in around her, and Stiles dozes off a little after that, lulled to sleep by their slow breathing and the warmth of the late afternoon sun on his cheeks.

When he wakes up, Derek is feeding Mattie.

"Um," Stiles says, because he's pretty sure he read an article about male lactation on Wikipedia at 5AM one time, but this is pretty weird.

Derek bristles; at his breast, Mattie stirs. "She had to eat," he says, stroking Mattie's hair. "What else was I supposed to do?"

A lot of other options come to mind. Stiles tries not to stare and fails. He's not sure how he missed this, except that Derek's manboobs don't look much different from his normal ridiculously bulked-up chest, aside from the baby attached. "Can I just, I mean, how—is this a werewolf thing?"

"It just started happening, when Cora was—before she left," Derek says defensively. After a moment, he adds, "It's something I can do."

Stiles was there when the twins dropped Boyd onto Derek's claws; he broke Cora's ribs with chest compressions, forced air into her lungs. He found Laura's body. Mattie doesn't look like them, or anybody but herself, really: round, short, roly-poly. "Yeah," Stiles says. "Okay."

The moon is high in the sky now, streaming through the blinds in thin, bright slices. When Derek touches her striped cheek, Mattie yawns and releases his nipple, leaving a thin dribble of milk behind. She needs this, too, not just claws and fangs, supernatural protection.

Stiles doesn't resist when Derek tugs him closer, until Mattie is sandwiched between them, sated and safe.

The first uninterrupted time Stiles has with Scott in weeks is on the bus to a cross-country meet, the last one of the year. "Hey, remember when that creepy motel tried to murder you?" Stiles says, letting his head loll onto Scott's shoulder.

Scott leans into him, bracing his head against Stiles's. "Good times, yeah."

Scott's not dead, but Boyd and Isaac and Ethan are, and Allison's gone. Stiles's throat goes tight. Here they are, two bros against the world again, like nothing's happened, like nothing—

"Hey," Scott says. "I get it."

"Yeah," Stiles says. He stares at the cracked vinyl back of the seat in front of him. "I know you do."

At lunch on Monday, he peers over Lydia's shoulder, sees she's drawing a tree. "What?" she says when she catches him looking. "It's just a tree."

"But when is a tree just a tree?" he says lightly, and then, "Ow!" when she shoves him off the bench.

 

 

December

Stiles locks the door behind him and shoves the key into his back pocket before he picks Mattie up out of her playpen. He blows a raspberry onto her belly; she squeals. "Hey, you. What are we doing today?"

Derek says, "Hello to you, too," stepping out of the kitchen. He's wolfed out, wearing some kind of compression undershirt and stained sweatpants. Stiles has seen weirder shit.

"Trying to teach her how to howl?" he says while Mattie makes a furious grab for his chin. "Or—" She shoves her fingers into his mouth. They taste like Cheerios and milk.

"Her teeth are coming in," Derek says. "I've been trying to start her on solids."

Stiles carefully disengages Mattie's fingers from his mouth, to her dismay. "And the sideburns—why?"

Derek makes some unreadable, browless expression. "I'm like this at home, mostly. I don't want her to be afraid when—"

"Right," Stiles says.

While Derek changes into something less offensive to his dignity than sweatpants, Stiles offers Mattie more Cheerios—they're probably fancy organic oat puffs, whatever—from the pile on her high chair's tray. She accepts a few, then throws a handful into Stiles's face. "Sa," Mattie says insistently while he tries to pick the cereal out of the folds of his shirt without putting down.

"Cheerios," Stiles corrects her. "Can you say Cheerios?"

Mattie snorts, and then—oh, Derek wasn't kidding about the teeth, that's definitely some fang she's got going on there. "Sa."

"That's her name for you," Derek says, emerging from the hallway. "Cereal doesn't have a name yet."

"Da!" Mattie says. She stretches out an arm to Derek, teetering precariously in Stiles's grasp. "Da!"

Derek winces.

Winter break creeps up on Stiles, surprises him. Lydia applied early action to MIT and got her acceptance letter last week; Stiles is still finishing up his college applications.

"Why aren't you done with them yet?" Lydia says when they meet up at the snooty vegan place downtown to celebrate her admission.

Stiles keeps his eyes on the menu. "Barbecue seitan? What do you think about that?"

"It's wheat gluten covered in sauce," Lydia says. "Stop avoiding the question."

"They… still need work?" Stiles says cautiously.

When their waiter appears at the table, he lets Lydia order for both of them, some kind of raw squash pizza and two salads. She hands over their menus with a bright, false smile that immediately fades as she turns back to Stiles. "We have to get out of this town," she says. "It eats people alive."

Stiles watched the nogitsune devour his mom, day by day, inch by inch. She tossed and turned even in her drugged sleep, restless and feverish. "It's not that simple."

Lydia sighs. "It could be," she says. "If you would just—"

"Don't," Stiles says.

 

 

January

Stiles applies to Davis, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, all the closest UCs, takes the easy way out. He doesn't bother with any campus visits. None of it seems real, anyway—it's still hard to believe he'll ever see the end of the school year, let alone the Welcome to Beacon Hills sign reflected in his rearview mirror. He was born here; he's died here twice already. Life's not supposed to be like a video game, where you can go back to a save point, get another chance to do things right.

And yet.

After he heads into town to catch the last USPS pickup for the day, Stiles drives around aimlessly for a while, circles the high school and the mall before he takes a winding route home. When he finally turns onto his street, Derek's hatchback is parked in its usual spot in Derek's driveway. There's no reason Stiles has to go over there today, but he downshifts, coasts into the vacant spot on the street in front of Derek's house.

"You could have let yourself in," Derek says when he answers the door. "What's going on? Is there something—"

Stiles shakes his head. "No, I just—I thought I could play with Mattie for a while, or something, maybe, I just—"

"She's down for a nap," Derek says, but he steps aside to let Stiles come in.

The house is familiar now, and Stiles doesn't even feel that weird about sprawling on the couch, sending one of Mattie's stuffed animals tumbling to the floor. A wooden block digs into his hip. "Maybe I should take a nap, too," he mumbles.

"Take off your shoes first." The end of the couch dips; Stiles starts to draw his knees to his chest when his movement is arrested, a warm hand gripping his ankle.

"Dude, you don't have to do it for me," he says, squirming onto his back. "I'm an adult. I can legally buy cigarettes and porn."

"You don't smoke," Derek says.

Stiles sighs. "Yeah, and I don't even pay for porn. This birthday was totally wasted on me."

Derek smiles down at him. "Any crimes you commit go on your permanent record."

"Funny, that's what my dad said," Stiles says, going tingly and warm all the way down to his toes.

That night, Stiles is all twitchy, restless, can't sleep. It happens sometimes, and he just gets more worked up by the fear that he won't be able to sleep at all, that everything's starting again. He reads through the most popular articles on Buzzfeed, microwaves some milk, drinks it out of an NPR mug in bed. After that, he slides under the covers and shuts his eyes, willing sleep to come.

Nothing happens, and nothing happens. When Stiles looks at the clock again, it's 2AM. At least it's still break and he doesn't have to be up for school in the morning. He's too exhausted to bother getting up for porn, but he slips his hand beneath the waistband of his boxers anyway. Maybe jerking off will help.

When he's tired like this, only kept awake by the itch beneath his skin, Stiles is slow to warm up. He runs his fingers down his dick, plays with his balls, teasing himself slowly to arousal. It's not until he finally takes himself fully in hand, giving his dick a long stroke with his spit-slick palm, that he thinks about Derek, and then he can't stop: Derek's taut abs, the curve of his ass beneath those fucking basketball shorts, and even his chest, swollen with milk. It makes Stiles feel dirty, cheeks flushed, and he comes so hard when he thinks about Derek's hand fisted around his own that jizz splashes all the way up his chest.

He cleans up with yesterday's t-shirt and falls into a dreamless sleep.

"You look well-rested," Dad says at breakfast.

"Eat your omelette," Stiles says, jabbing his fork at Dad's plate. "It's good for you."

 

 

February

"Yeah, whatever, it's fine," Stiles says the next time Derek shows up unannounced with Mattie, even though they're in the school parking lot, Derek's Toyota is about to cause a traffic jam, and Danielle is giving him a serious side-eye from three cars over. "I got her."

He buckles her car seat in the back, gives her back her stuffed giraffe before she starts screaming, and drives up the street to Taco Bell for chalupas. Not that Mattie has moved beyond cereal and jarred baby food in the foods-other-than-breastmilk department, but Stiles is hungry and his stomach is not going to feed itself. They're barely settled in on the floor back at Chez Derek, Baby Einstein on the TV, when Mattie growls and pulls herself up on the couch, eyes gleaming gold. "Aaaah," she says, extending a claw, holy crap. "Aaaaaaaah."

"Hey, hey, it's okay." Stiles dodges her waving hand to pick her up. What's she going to do, scratch him up a little? "Mattie, come on, shhh. It's okay."

Mattie shakes her head and starts to cry. When Stiles pulls her close, she sinks her little teeth into his neck. They're not very sharp, but it hurts, and Stiles has to fight down the urge to shout. "Ah, ah, ah," she cries, then mouths at the wound she's made. "Ah—ah."

When Derek gets home a few minutes later, his eyes are blue. "Mattie," he says. "Stiles—what—" And then he's on the couch with them, holding both of them in his arms, sucking the pain from Stiles's neck so swiftly that its absence feels like a punch.

"What happened?" Stiles says muzzily. "She just went—I don't think I did anything, I mean, I—"

Derek presses his forehead to Mattie's, looking her in the eye until she calms. "It's Cora," he says eventually. "She's our alpha now. She did it."

Stiles covers the bite mark on his neck with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle band-aids and ignores Lydia's raised eyebrow when she drops into the seat next to him in English the next day. Cora's coming home now, she'll be back soon, she'll—this is good, that Mattie will have her mom, that she and Cora and Derek can be a family, a new pack of Hales in Beacon Hills. Scott can go away to college if he wants, maybe even to a school down south with Kira, who's applied to UCLA and Pepperdine.

He skips last period and drives out to the preserve, parks his car at the closest point on the service road that winds through the back. It's been a year since he was out here, since Peter pulled the nogitsune from his body and left Stiles half-dead on the stump. The nemeton hasn't changed; it's still dry, dusty. Dormant now.

When Derek came back, didn't want to join Stiles's pack, that was supposed to be the end of it, right? Stiles wasn't supposed to get invested. He was just the guy down the street, and then he was the babysitter, and now he's—who knows. It's not like he and Cora were ever close. Maybe she won't want him around her kid.

The nemeton's wood is rough beneath his fingertips when he leans over the roots to touch the base. Stiles digs his fingers in; he wants it to cut, to splinter, to hurt.

When Stiles was ten, Dad took him to the shooting range and showed him how to handle a pistol. Most of his training consisted of how to tell whether the safety was on or off, not pointing at anything he didn't want to shoot, and how to correctly unload a gun. The basics. "I've got a gun in the safe under the bed," Dad told him afterward. "I'm not giving you the combination. Any weapon you have can be used against you, son—you don't ever go for bullets when you can run."

Stiles still keeps mountain ash in the box under his bed. Sometimes he sprinkles some into a circle on the desk, tries to believe, waits for the dark ring, like tinder, to catch. Nothing happens. When he pours it over it fingers, it doesn't burn, but it's still stupid to keep it around. The only thing mountain ash can do for him now is trap him. He's useless.

A liability.

Derek waves at Stiles on the street, jogging, checking the mail, taking out the trash. Stiles nods and doesn't go over. Doesn't call.

Mattie's got her mom, Derek's got his alpha. They don't need him.

 

 

March

"Oh," Stiles says when he opens the front door. "Hey, guys."

Derek holds up Mattie's hands as she toddles forward toward Stiles, grinning the whole while. "Haven't seen you in a while," he says. "I just thought—maybe you'd like some time with her."

"Wow, yeah." Stiles reaches down to take Mattie's hands from Derek. Her chubby hands grasp his; she teeters on her feet. She'll be walking on her own soon enough. "It's great to see her—I mean, both of you."

They hover on the threshold, indecisive, until Mattie launches herself at Stiles's knees and he has to step back to let them in.

In the kitchen, Mattie is easily distracted with the myriad tupperware containers that live in the cabinet next to the sink. She alternates between whacking them with a spatula and sticking the spatula in her mouth while Stiles makes them pb&j sandwiches. "So, Cora's back," he says, not exactly a question.

Derek nods. "She's getting settled in."

"Well," Stiles slops a tablespoon of jelly on top of the peanut butter, swirls them with his knife. "It was nice of you to come over. I missed you guys."

"You did?" Derek sounds weirdly eager. When Stiles turns around, he's close, he's just—really close. He lifts his hand, drops it again. "I don't know what I did," he says after a moment. "I want to fix it."
He does touch Stiles then, puts his hand on Stiles's waist, thumb pressing into the sweet spot of his hip.

Stiles's mouth goes dry; his dick stirs. It would be so easy to just lean in, to take what he wants. He takes a deep breath and glances at Mattie, who's playing contentedly, oblivious. "It doesn't matter," Stiles says; he can't meet Derek's eyes. "This—it's not going to work."

Derek backs off, just like that, his face all blank and slack; Stiles feels light-headed, like he's gonna pass out. He has to brace himself against the counter.

"We'll go home," Derek says. "I'm sorry, I—"

Stiles swallows. "It's okay, it's—I'll wrap up your sandwiches."

Mattie cries when Derek picks up her, tells her they have to go, which makes Stiles feel like the biggest asshole in the world. "I'm sorry," he says, shoving the sandwiches into Derek's back, grabbing her hand, "I'm sorry, pupperoni."

At the door, Derek turns around, holding Mattie tight to him as she starts hiccuping, warbling, working herself. "She really misses you."

Stiles thinks about the admissions letters that are going to flood his mailbox next month and says, "I miss her, too."

Dr. Perez pulls up the results from Stiles's latest MRI on the monitor. "Well, young man," he says. "You're a medical mystery. With your family history, I'd like to monitor to this, but you've been in remission for a year. I think we can move check-ins to every six months unless you start to experience symptoms again."

"Okay," Stiles says. "Yeah, that'd be—that would be great."

Afterwards, he takes the long path down to the lobby, the one that goes past the nurses' station. Melissa isn't there and the waiting room chairs are empty, but Dad's in the parking lot, patrol idling in a spot near the front doors. "Hey, kiddo," he says, leaning out the window. "Want to take a drive?"

Stiles gets in the car, buckles the seatbelt. He taps his fingers on his knees as they pull out of the space, out of the lot. "Everything's fine. You knew that."

"It's good to hear it from you." Dad adjusts the rearview mirror. "Want to call anybody? Celebrate?"

Stiles stares at the window at the gas station, the autobody shop rolling by. "I'm good."

If they'd known earlier, about Mom—maybe she would have survived, too. She wouldn't have gone out sobbing, crying, hallucinating, and then finally subdued in sleep. The nogitsune lurked in her breast like a cancer; it never tried to use her like a tool to kill, to hurt, to maim.

He sees Cora and Mattie in the supermarket the next day; Cora's browsing the chips, and Mattie's in a backpack, eyes on the aisle around her. "Sa!" she says when she sees him. "Sa!"

"What's up, kiddo?" Cora says, reaching back to grab one of Mattie's flailing arms.

Stiles gets out of the way before Cora notices him.

 

 

April

Scott pulls Stiles off the field at lacrosse practice—he's captain, he can do that—and says, "What's wrong with you?"

"I don't know," Stiles says. He doesn't really feel like anything these days, numb while he watches Scott and Kira and Lydia celebrate, impatient for the end of the year and the future that's throwing down its road before them. Stiles sent in his acceptance to Davis last week. He hasn't visited the campus, but it's as far as he can imagine going from home. If it weren't for Lydia's constant nudges, he might not have done more than signed up for classes at Beacon Community. Path of least resistance.

Scott punches him on the shoulder, not too hard. "Mandatory bro time after practice, dude."

They get curly fries to go from the burger shack down the street, eat them in the Jeep. Everything smells like sweat and grease; it's heaven. Stiles gets ketchup on his pants, on the steering wheel. "I'm sorry," he says around a mouthful. "I'm a jerk."

"You were doing better for a while," Scott says. "When you were hanging out with Derek and his kid all the time."

Stiles swallows. "She's not his kid, she's—Cora's. Boyd's." The words sit heavy, bitter in his mouth, and as he says them, he knows they're a lie. He thinks about the way Derek held her constantly those first few months, always tight to his body, the way he cradled Mattie with her head to his breast that night in bed, her sleepy lips working at his nipple. Derek would give her anything, did.

Scott shifts in his seat, turns toward Stiles, fries forgotten. "She doesn't have to max out at two parents. You think you don't matter to her, either?"

"Mattie's a kid," Stiles says. "She won't remember, she'll get over it."

"Maybe," Scott says. "You won't."

Cora drops off the invitation to Mattie's first birthday party in person. "You should come," she says seriously as she presses the envelope into Stiles's hand. "Boyd's parents are coming, so's his grandma. It's a little after the actual day, but I wanted everybody there."

"I didn't think you'd want me to—" Stiles flaps his hands helplessly when the words don't come. He didn't think they'd have this discussion at all, ever—thought he might not even talk to Cora before he left town. Now they're standing in his doorway, Cora on the welcome mat, smaller than he remembered. "To—"

Cora's face softens. "Is that all?"

"You're her mom," Stiles says.

"You were there," Cora says. "I wasn't."

The invitation is letterpress, on thick, lush paper. You are invited to the celebration of Matilda Veronica Hale on the occasion of her first birthday, at the home of Cora and Derek Hale on May 3rd. Please RSVP to— Stiles runs his fingers over the indented type. It's like a wedding invitation. He wonders what it means to them, to have Mattie, to have their pack together again, if it feels like that dreamlike full moon in Derek's bed.

 

 

May

Mattie walks to meet him at the door, trips, hops right back up again. "Sa!" she says, wrapping her arms around his legs. She comes up past his knees now.

"Stiles," he says, ducking down to take her into his arms and bury his nose in her hair, clipped back from her face with blue barrettes. "Can you say that now?"

When Stiles pulls back to look her in the face, Mattie just grins at him; there's frosting on the corner of her mouth. Stiles doesn't know how he ever stayed away from her. It was stupid, it's the stupidest thing he's ever done. "Sa," she says stubbornly. "Here!"

Stiles grins back. "Yeah, I am."

Mattie refuses to be picked up, so he just takes her hand and wades into the party. Boyd's dad gives him a nod, gives his granddaughter a gentle smile; Erica's mom is here, too, fuck. Stiles is getting choked up already, but he has to get it together. This is Mattie's birthday, it's not a wake. This is her life.

"Hey, you made it," Cora says, shoving a plate of cake in his hand. "Mattie was freaking out over the cake, so we did that already."

"I don't have a present," Stiles says. "Sorry. It's—I ordered it from Amazon—"

Cora rolls her eyes. "Whatever. Eat your cake."

Mattie lets go of Stiles's hand and toddles off towards a dollhouse in the corner that's only half-unwrapped. A couple of kids join her; cousins, maybe, or friends. Stiles—he's going to find out later, he's not going to fuck this up the second go-round. He's going to do things right.

It takes him a while to find Derek, who's lurking in the kitchen, seated at the plain wooden table. "Not much for big gatherings, huh?"

Derek raises his eyebrows. The cake in front of him is untouched. "Didn't think I'd see you here."

"Well, you thought wrong, buddy," Stiles says, sliding into the seat next to him.

Derek puts his hand on Stiles's arm, grips him too tight; it's fucked up, but it makes Stiles flush, go all hot and squirmy. "You can't do this again," Derek says. "You're either here for us—for her—or you're not."

"Wasn't sure I belonged here," Stiles says.

"Well," Derek says, releasing him. "Now you know."

Stiles coasts up and down the street on his long-neglected skateboard three times the next afternoon before Cora's car pulls out of the driveway.

"You have no subtlety at all," Derek says when Stiles unlocks the front door. "Cora—"

"I wasn't trying to be subtle." Stiles is careful, moves slowly, tries to telegraph his movements, like Derek is a wild animal he's going to scare off instead of a predator. Derek is standing by the window—watching out for Stiles, probably—and Stiles gives him plenty of time to back off, to run. "I was a jerk. I'm sorry."

"You were," Derek says after a moment. "We needed you. I trusted—"

"Yeah, I know," Stiles says. "I have some kind of trust boner situation going on."

Derek crosses his arms, like he's self-conscious or something. He's wearing a t-shirt; Stiles has no idea if he's still all—milky, or whatever.

"Hey," he says, trying to sound reassuring. "I'm pretty sure you get this line all the time, but I don't actually want you for your body."

"I don't have much else to offer," Derek snaps.

Stiles sighs. He's close enough now that he could touch Derek, but he doesn't. "I'm not sexing you up if this is going to be some weird thank-you fuck."

The pained expression on Derek's face is kind of beautiful. "Can you stop talking?" he says, stepping forward, close enough that Stiles can feel the heat of his body. "Just for a—"

"Nope," Stiles says. "You love it."

Derek puts a hand on his waist, pulls him in.

Stiles nudges Mattie's toys out of the way as he pushes Derek toward the couch, clearing a path. He shoves Derek down onto the couch and climbs into his lap, grinds down on Derek's dick while he kisses him. Derek's mouth is all hot and hard against Stiles's, his stubble scraping against Stiles's smooth face, and Stiles wants to do this forever. He wants Derek's hands on his hips, holding him down, he wants him just like this, and it does matter, it does.

He grabs Derek's shoulders, presses them against the back of the couch as he presses their bodies together, ducking his head so he can kiss Derek, biting and perfect. Derek pushes a hand between them and Stiles has a brief, ecstatic moment where Derek grips his dick, totally committing to creaming his jeans right here and now, when Derek says, "Maybe we shouldn't do this in here."

There's not really a good time for Stiles to say it, so he just kind of blurts it out while he's shucking off his jeans in Derek's bedroom. "Just so you know, I've never actually done this before."

Derek freezes, dick half out of his briefs.

"I'm a consenting adult," Stiles says. "You left me with your baby for hours, I think we can do it."

"Please don't talk about Mattie right now," Derek says, but he gets back to pushing his boxers off his hips.

They make out on the bed for a while, just—making out, naked. It's nice, less urgent than before. Derek runs his fingers down Stiles's side, caressing his flank while they explore each others' mouths, and Stiles cups Derek's head in his palm, strokes the back of his neck. Eventually, he dares to move his hand lower, finding the sensitive spot behind Derek's ear, the dip of his collarbone, and then—

"Whoa," Stiles says, Derek's nipple still pinched between his fingers. "So, uh. That's a thing."

Derek blushes. "Sorry, I didn't—"

Stiles brings his hand up to his mouth, curious, he can't help it. Derek's milk tastes sweeter than he expected, warm and silky. "Does it feel good?"

"Kind of," Derek says, and his neck and ears go red, flush spreading down his chest. His dick is still hard, a hot line against Stiles's thigh. "It's…"

"Can I?" Stiles says.

Derek looks at him for a moment like he thinks Stiles is joking. "If you want."

This is—this should probably not be hot, but it totally, totally is. Stiles scoots down the bed so he can fix his mouth on Derek's nipple and suck, and his fingers wrap neatly around Derek's dick. It doesn't take long to make Derek come, and Stiles rubs off against Derek's leg, his mouth full and sweet. He can't even talk after; he just crawls back up the bed and into Derek's arms, kisses Derek's mouth, and falls asleep right there in the middle of the afternoon, exactly where he wants to be.

 

 

August

Cora and Scott have the treaties spread out between them on the table in Scott's kitchen: the ones that still stand with the packs to the north and south, and older ones, still, typed neatly on yellowed paper. Deaton's had them the whole time, it turned out, squirreled away in a filing cabinet in his office and sorted neatly into manila folders. "These are more, like—acrimonious." Stiles gestures to one stack. "The other ones—"

"Got it," Cora says, giving him a brief smile. "Thanks."

"Do I have to sign in blood?" Lydia says disapprovingly when they gather at Stiles's house to go over the agreement that Scott and Cora have worked out. Stiles emailed everyone copies of the last draft earlier this week: there's provisions for how Cora will safeguard the town in Scott's absence, what aid they'll provide, and how they'll divide their territory on Scott's return from collegiate leave. "I don't want to ruin my skin for this."

Kira's already bent over the table, signing her name with a flourish in black ink; she nicks her thumb with the ceremonial blade and finishes with a bloody print. Derek goes next, then Lydia, then Mattie—who tries to make a break for it when Cora carefully pricks her finger—then Stiles. Scott and Cora finish at the same time. They shake hands after, wounds already healed, blood smearing over their palms.

Someone orders pizza; Stiles lies down on the floor while Mattie and her giraffe pile the contents of her toy box onto him. Her new favorite game is Avalanche. "You gonna let me up eventually?" Stiles says to her as she plunks a Buzz Lightyear action figure on his face. "Gonna let me go?"

Derek gets down on the floor with them and adds an oversized LEGO brick to the pile on Stiles's lap. "No," he says, voice low, teasing. "We're not going to be done with you for a long, long time."