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Somewhere I Belong

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To say Stiles was nervous would be an extreme understatement.

The truth of it was that Stiles was scared shitless. He was standing in a beautiful elevator with scarily shiny buttons and walls, watching the number above the panel tick closer and closer to the twelfth floor. He had been shocked Lydia even had a chance to land him a job doing anything for the magazine she worked at, but when he arrived for his meeting in the HR department – where she was head of her department – he had been met by a gorgeous blonde bombshell of a woman in a pinstripe skirt and blazer and a bright red blouse that showed off her best assets. She had introduced herself simply as ‘Erica’ and asked him to follow her. Lydia nodded for him to do what she said and smiled encouragingly, so he had hopes that he wasn’t about to be eaten.

It wasn’t until they got to the twelfth floor, the top floor, that Stiles realized where Erica must’ve been leading him. The doors opened and, sure enough, Erica ran over to the abandoned desk towards the sound of a ringing phone and gracefully slid up to it, not once wobbling on her high, high heels, and picked up the phone. “Talia Hale’s office, this is Erica, how can I assist you?”

Stiles looked at the intimidating office doors to the side of her desk and realized he might be about to meet Talia Hale.

Talia Hale, the alpha of the Hale pack, the most prestigious pack in the region, was one of the most well-known alphas on the west coast. She had grown up in Beacon Hills before werewolves had any rights, and Stiles knew that she had been a leading figure in the fight for equality for werewolves in her teens after her parents had been murdered by hunters, leaving her an alpha at the age of sixteen. She was famous across the country for working to end violence between hunters and werewolves, elevate werewolves in public opinion as a civilized minority, and had received a reward for being the youngest member of the first ever delegation that went to Washington, DC to represent weres when the president signed the Supernatural Rights Act into the constitution, thereby ending discriminating laws against weres across the nation.

Stiles had grown up in Beacon Hills since birth, and he could vaguely remember how excited his mother had been every time Talia Hale was on the news when he was little. By the time he was born, werewolf hunting vigilantism had long since been outlawed, segregation in public places had been ended for years, and the Bite Request Bill had been passed (a medical code revision set so that humans in werewolf packs with serious illnesses or injuries could receive The Bite without their alpha suffering any consequences for biting a human). However, when he was little, there were still enough radical groups – and some still existed sadly – that werewolves still suffered record numbers of hate crimes.

Talia Hale had dropped out of the public eye in her twenties and settled with her mate and children and began a lifestyle publication aimed at werewolf audiences. Basing it in Beacon Hills had made it harder to get started, but Beacon Hills was Hale Territory, so moving to a big city wasn’t an option. Though she was out of the public eye and let others run Fangs & Fur magazine, she quickly became known as a trailblazer for were-focused media, and was even sometimes considered the one who birthed the werewolf-media industry that was thriving today. However, Talia Hale, and the entire Hale Pack, was dragged back into national news when an attack by an anti-werewolf extremism group of hunters claimed the lives of Talia’s husband, Richard, her sister, Gloria, and her two human children, Grace and Andrew. The attack would’ve claimed the lives of more of the pack if one of the leaders of the hunters – the Argent Family – hadn’t turned away from his family and raced to warn the Hale Pack before the attack happened. Chris Argent, the son of the leader of the terrorist group, attempted to get to the Hale Alpha and expose the plot to her and the media before it could be executed, risking his life and even losing his wife at the hands of the very group they belonged to.

However, Chris Argent was only able to save some of the Hale pack. The planned bombing at a celebration of equality was meant to kill hundreds of people in the park were the celebration was being held. Instead, the only bomb that went off was the last bomb Chris Argent’s wife was trying to disarm. The explosion had killed her, as well as four Hales, and six other humans who were in the blast radius. There had been dozens injured, including Talia’s brother and oldest son, but the werewolves who were injured mostly survived the blast. The only two weres killed were Richard and Gloria Hale, who had been trying to help Victoria Argent dismantle the bomb when it went off. After Chris Argent’s help in trying to stop the attack perpetrated by his family, he was not only pardoned for all involvement, but he was offered an honorary position in the Hale Pack.

The attack was one of the highest profile anti-were terrorist attacks in US history and the only one to kill more humans than werewolves. The loss suffered was enough to bring Talia Hale out of the shadows and back into her position to prove to bigots everywhere that not even terrorist attacks by hunters could take down the Hales. It also brought about the creation of the People’s Rights Coalition, as well as multiple other ‘people’s rights groups that were still working to get full equality for werewolves. One of the biggest victories the PRC had was integration of schools when Stiles was in high school. Until Stiles’s sophomore year, were and human children went to different schools because people thought it was unfair to have integrated sports and downright dangerous to expose humans to the ‘dangerous’ werewolves who could kill people if they lost their control. Stiles had always thought it was wrong to keep kids separated for something so silly, since his father had been in law enforcement his entire life and he knew that humans losing control could kill people just as easily. School integration had been one of the best things that happened to Stiles because his best friend, Scott, had been bitten by a rogue alpha when they were thirteen and had been made to go to the werewolf school for a whole two years before integration brought him back to school with Stiles.

Stiles was still thinking about how lonely those two years had been when Erica hanging up and calling his name caught his attention. “Alpha Hale will see you now,” she said, gesturing to the double doors he had been gazing at.

Stiles fidgeted nervously as he approached the doors. He took a moment to take a breath, adjust his glasses, and push his hair back out of his eyes before he finally opened the door and walked inside the office of Talia Hale.

“Mr. Stilinski.” Stiles looked up and stumbled over his own feet, balancing and blushing as he approached Talia Hale. She gave him a warm smile and gestured to one of the chairs across from her desk. He gave her a nervous smile and sat down, leaning forward on the edge of the chair some. “Mr. Stilinski, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Talia Hale.”

Stiles cleared his throat and nodded. “It’s nice to meet you, Alpha Hale-“

“Oh, call me Talia,” she interrupted and he nearly squeaked he was so nervous.

“O-Okay, Talia.”

She gave him a long look. “You look so much like her,” she whispered and Stiles frowned in confusion. She smiled sadly. “I wasn’t sure it was appropriate to look into it, but there aren’t many Stilinskis in Beacon Hills, so when I happened to see your name on some file when I was down in HR the other day, I asked to have you sent up to me just to be sure,” she explained, but Stiles wasn’t sure what she was getting at. Talia hummed. “Ah, you must not know,” she said softly. “I knew your mother, Claudia, quite well.”

Stiles’s heart clenched and he saw Talia’s eyes grow sad so he knew she heard his pulse skipping a beat. “I- I didn’t know that she ever met you,” he said in a tight voice, praying he wasn’t going to cry.

Talia nodded. “Oh yes. We worked together for a while,” she said, then turned to a file on her desk. “Sorry for how unorthodox all this is, but I noticed you applied for an internship in the editorial department.”

Stiles nodded. “Yes, Al- Talia,” he said. “I’m not much of a writer, but I have a degree in New Media and Communications but no experience to get an actual job. Lydia said she might could get me an interview for an internship, even though I’m out of college, so I hoped that- that maybe there was a place for me.”

Talia flipped through the resume in his file. “I see that. Your work history is… well, empty,” she said, looking up.

Stiles flushed. “It wasn’t- it was never necessary. My mom-“ He winced. “Well, money isn’t an issue. I just focused on school. But since I didn’t do an internship in college and replaced it with an extra class, I have no experience so I can’t really get a job in my field.”

Talia put her hands together, searching his face. “What field are you hoping to get into? Writing isn’t what you want?” she asked.

“No, I- I’m actually better in web content writing and design. I’d like to get into something more creative and hands on than staff writing, but you have to start at the bottom in this business, right?” he chuckled awkwardly. “Just didn’t plan on needing help even getting there.”

Talia smiled. “Well, your resume as far as school and your non-professional blogs is impressive,” she admitted. “But I’m afraid we don’t really have anywhere for an intern in the editorial department,” she said.

Stiles deflated some, but forced a smile. “Thank you for your time, T-“

“Hold on, hold on,” she interrupted, rolling her eyes. “Come on, you think I’d bring you all the way up here for that?” She laughed and shook her head. “Look. I can offer you a job instead of an unpaid internship if you can move to the art and design department and start out there as basically an assistant to the department as a whole. Our production manager – my brother, Peter – is becoming a menace because there is a serious gap between A&D and Editorial, meaning he’s getting very unpolished product to approve.”

Stiles frowned. “How will an assistant do that? Also, this is a popular magazine, shouldn’t your art department have like… fifty assistants?”

“Our business isn’t that big, Stiles.” She shrugged. “We keep things pretty Hale centric in the head positions, so we have plenty of people with certain jobs that I don’t think can step outside their set little box. I could get someone else for this, Stiles. I just saw your name and thought I’d help you out.”

Stiles nodded. “I’m definitely interested in the job, I’m just confused as to what you want me to do.”

“It’s pretty simple. I need someone to work interdepartmentally. You’ll work in the art department to help organize and keep things on track, a general overseeing assistant job. You help keep things straight for the art director and the team, almost like a secretary, but then I need you to be a liaison between art A&D and Editorial, as well as occasionally dealing with my brother in Production.” She shrugged. “It’s a very unusual position, but if you think you can handle it, I’m willing to give it to you. It shouldn’t be too intensive. You won’t be running errands. You’ll just be helping keep the art director on track, help make sure things are going according to schedule and remind people when they aren’t, and then be a human telephone game for my brother, A&D, and the editor-in-chief, Chris.”

Stiles thought about getting paid to do something that at least got his foot in the door in the magazine publication business, and he couldn’t find any reason to say no. “If you’re willing to deal with my spastic side for the first few weeks while I’m getting adjusted, I’m absolutely your guy,” he said and Talia smiled, bowing her head to him.

“Thank you, Stiles. I think you’ll fit in well here at Fangs & Fur.”

~

Stiles didn’t bring up his new job until Lydia flopped down at their usual table at Charlie’s and nearly knocked over Scott’s soda with an excited, “I heard you got took up to meet the woman in charge!”

Danny looked up, eyes wide. “Whoa, you got a meeting with Talia Hale?! I’ve never even met her!”

Scott and Kira both looked at Stiles curiously. “Dude, I didn’t know you even had an interview at Fangs & Fur,” Scott said, and Kira nodded.

“Seriously, why didn’t you say anything?” she asked, shoving Stiles.

Stiles grunted, pouting as he rubbed his shoulder. “Ow!” He looked at Scott. “Lydia thought she could get me an interview for an internship. When I got there, I showed up at HR and got grabbed by this gorgeous blonde chick and took to the top floor,” he said and Scott and Kira both stared with wide eyes. “When I got there, Talia took me into her office and offered me a job instead of an internship.”

Lydia gaped. “What?! What job? I didn’t know we were hiring-“

“I think she made up a job,” Stiles admitted. “She probably knew that nobody qualified would accept it. The way it sounds, I’m basically a intraoffice secretary slash assistant. She said something about organizing things for the art and design department head and then playing go between for two or three departments.”

Danny hummed and glanced at Lydia. “Are we having issues?” he asked. He waved a hand at Stiles. “A&D is where I work,” he explained.

Lydia snorted. “I heard from one of the models we hired recently that the Art Director has been really distracted and keeps screwing up his layouts before sending them in to Production, plus his layouts don’t match what Editorial wants to go with their articles. Doesn’t help that he refuses to hire extra photographers. He only wants to shoot things himself or let his assistant shoot them. Which is really messed up for a magazine of this caliber.” She hummed. “Yeah, I guess I can see why she wants someone as a sort of go-between.”

Stiles smiled. “Well I start Monday,” he said, fidgeting with his glasses. “It’s a job at least. About time, huh?”

“Damn straight,” Kira said, then turned back to Lydia. “So. Models! Got you a new dude?” she asked and Lydia snorted.

“Please. First off, he’s gay. Second, I’m so done with models. They’re so dumb. It makes me sad,” Lydia pressed.

Stiles snorted. “Then why are you friends with Scott?” he asked and Scott huffed, shoving him slightly.

“You suck.”

“Only if you ask nicely,” Stiles drawled, batting his eyelashes at Scott, who couldn’t hold in a juvenile giggle. Kira snickered as well, shaking her head at her friends.

Lydia just sighed. “Why am I friends with such teenagers?” she asked, and Danny shrugged.

“Cause we all went to high school together?” he suggested and Lydia rolled her eyes.

~

When Stiles showed up Monday morning ten minutes before nine, he was greeted by the same blonde from the other day. “Alright, Cutie,” she said, sliding off the reception desk where she was waiting for him in the lobby. “Ready to go?”

He frowned. “Go where?”

She smirked and reached out, patting his shoulder. “Like ‘let’s do this!’, not go somewhere, dummy,” she said, linking their elbows. “So you’re going to A&D today. On the way there, let’s get a little rundown of the situation around here.” She led him to the elevator. “First floor down here is the auditorium for announcing big things to press conferences and the doors leading to the coffee shop on the other side of the building.” Stiles nodded. “I noticed the building’s tall, but not very big-“

“Yeah, we’re not a big magazine. Originally the top half of the building was a bank but then they went out of business and Alpha Hale bought the whole building,” she explained as they waited on the elevator. They got in and came face to face with a guy with a cart. “Ah, this is Coach,” she said, gesturing to a guy with somewhat crazy looking eyes and black hair. “His real name is Finstock, but we call him Coach.”

“How’s it hanging, Blondie?” he greeted and then gestured to Erica. “Don’t listen to anything Erica says. She’s kinda crazy,” he warned.

Stiles blinked as Erica snickered. “Lies. Also, still don’t have a penis, Coach,” she said and he waved a hand.

“And there’s nothing wrong with that! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” he said, turning to Stiles. “I’ve only got one testicle, so there’s nothing wrong with not having any,” he said as if Stiles was about to say something about Erica’s lack of penis.

“Uh… yeah. Sure thing,” Stiles said, giving Erica an alarmed look when she snickered at ‘Coach’s remark. He got off on the second floor and Erica chuckled at Stiles’s shell-shocked expression.

“Oh Cutie, you’re in for some fun.” She nodded to the floor where one person got on with them for Finstock’s departure. “Two is Circulations. It’s also where the mail room is so the cargo elevator doesn’t have to have entrances on but two floors, printing and mail-slash-circulations.”

Stiles nodded. “Where’s printing? Basement?”

Erica shook her head. “You’d expect so, but no. It’s on eleven. Damndest thing,” she muttered. “Anyways, three through five are Editorial. Copy editors and fact checkers department is on three, the writing department is on four, and the heads of department are on five.” She twirled a piece of her hair, watching the numbers tick by. “You’re on six with the photo studios, the A&D head’s office, and the kiddie room.”

“Kiddie room?” Stiles asked, mind immediately going to horrible things done with children and cameras. It was the curse of his dad being in law enforcement.

She nodded. “We have a room with toys and stuff. We have shoots with children sometimes and we need somewhere to keep them entertained until we need them. Usually there’s someone present because even when we’re not shooting with kids, Talia’s grandson stays here with the kids room sitter chick while the rest of the family is working. Long story, not sharing, it’s pack business, so don’t ask,” she said simply and Stiles mimed zipping his lips.

“So I take it you’re not just an average employee?” he asked, and she chuckled, but nodded.

“You would be correct. Talia is my Alpha. A couple of us are Hale pack. She likes to help us out and keep the magazine in the family, so to speak, if she can. When I joined her pack, she hired me as her secretary and assistant,” she explained.

Stiles nodded, humming. “Okay, what’s above six?” he asked.

“Well, seven is web design and the layout department of A&D. Photography on six, everything else artistic on seven,” she clarified.

“Oh hey, that’s where my friend Danny works,” he commented. “He’s a web designer.”

She frowned. “I thought your friend was in HR?”

He shook his head. “I have one friend that’s the HR manager, then another who works in web design.” She eyed him and he shrugged. “What? Fangs & Fur is a pretty big business for a town this small. Not too crazy three young friends all work at the same company. We were the smart three in school. My two roommates don’t work here at least,” he said and she snickered.

“Not the smart friends?” she asked and he groaned.

“They’re not unintelligent, they’re just both kinda… aloof. Not bad people, just not as grade-oriented,” he said simply. “Anyways, what’s eight to twelve?” he asked eagerly.

Erica smiled at his enthusiasm. “Eight is Business Admin, which is where you went to HR last week. Nine is Advertising, ten is Production, I already told you eleven is printing, and you know twelve is Talia’s office and the board rooms and conference centers.” She stepped closer as somebody came on. “Right now we’re taking you up to eight to set up your payroll and get your ID, then I can get back to my real job,” she said and Stiles chuckled.

“Tell me how you really feel,” he joked and she just winked.

“I like you already. Even if you’re kinda geeky looking,” she amended and he rolled his eyes, shoving his glasses back up his nose without shame.

~

Erica took Stiles to six and when they came off the elevator and turned a corner, Stiles ran head first into a big, broad person, bouncing back some. “Oh crap, I’m sorry, dude,” Stiles said, then looked up, eyes widening when he spotted the man he’d run into.

Erica just tutted, shoving Stiles aside. “Watch where you’re going, Cutie,” she said, then smirked up at the tall, wide, dark skinned man in a black suit. “What’re you doing down here, handsome?” she asked, batting her eyelashes.

He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Had to come break up a fight. Hale’s models apparently hadn’t met before showing up, only to find out in the dressing room they’re from rival packs.”

Erica growled slightly when she spotted a cut on his wrist that was healing up. She dragged his hand up and pushed his sleeve up some. “Still there so I can go gut whoever did this?” she asked, gesturing to the already-healing cut.

The guy snorted. “They couldn’t handle you,” he said, only to shake his head with a small smile. “Tossed them earlier. I just came up again to make sure Isaac and Derek didn’t need help.”

Stiles paled some. “Uh… fighting… is that a thing that happens often? Am I going to get ripped to pieces if my stupid mouth runs away from me?” he asked fearfully.

Erica glanced over, clearly just remembering he was there. “Nah, you’ll be fine. Werewolves aren’t that stupid. We all know the laws,” she said. Stiles knew which laws she was talking about, too.

One of the things still being contested by the PRC and various other groups was the unfair harshness on werewolf-human violence. If a human attacked a werewolf for non-prejudicial reasons, it was a regular assault. But if a werewolf attacked a human, it carried twice the repercussions, and possibly more if the human was badly injured. The idea was that werewolves teeth and claws were considered ‘deadly weapons’, but when werewolves fought each other, it wasn’t treated that way. Stiles knew the theories and reasoning from his father being in law enforcement all of Stiles’s life, but he also knew how often a werewolf was forced to refrain from self-defense against humans for fear of going to prison.

Erica caught his attention again when she backed away from the big guy and gestured to Stiles. “Come on, let’s get this finished so I can drag my mate upstairs and hoard him in the reception area like a dragon until I don’t feel so overprotective anymore,” she said, standing on her tiptoes to peck the man’s lips before grabbing Stiles and dragging him down the hall.

Stiles glanced back, then looked at Erica. “That guy was your mate?” he asked, and she glared at him.

“Why do you sound skeptical? Is it because he’s black?” she demanded and he held up his hands.

“No way, dude, I mean my friends are a veritable rainbow of diversity, I’m so not judging on race, I just mean… well he looked big and scary and surly and you’re kinda scary in this femme fatale way,” he babbled. “Just wouldn’t have thought you for being some scary bouncer’s wife.”

She smirked, red lips twisting in a way that exemplified his ‘femme fatale’ analysis. “Boyd’s Alpha Hale’s bodyguard, so he’s meant to look big and scary. But he’s not, he’s a total marshmallow. He’s way less scary than I am,” she said, hooking her arm through Stiles’s elbow. “And he’s not just my husband, he’s my mate, so knowing he got hurt in a fight with a member outside our pack makes me want to go on a killing spree, so be glad I’m so calm or you’d really be pissing yourself,” she said with a dangerous wink.

Stiles chuckled nervously. “Mates and husbands aren’t the same?”

She made a face. “They’re about the same, but humans do marriages. Werewolves do mates. Sure, sometimes you marry someone that isn’t really your mate, but humans marry people they probably aren’t really in love with either, don’t they? Werewolves generally have the saying ‘date until you find a mate’. Means you keep looking for the person that just feels right before you marry, because werewolves don’t take divorce as lightly as humans, it fucks up the whole pack when there’s a divorce.” She frowned. “Why don’t you know this? You smell enough like a werewolf-“

“Scott’s not part of a pack, he’s a lone-beta with a pack of other supernaturals and humans we kinda built together,” Stiles said. “He doesn’t know anything werewolfy that I don’t know,” he explained.

She cringed. “I cannot imagine doing it alone,” she said, shaking her head. “I was turned, not born, but I didn’t go through a state program when I was turned, I had Alpha Hale. I feel for this Scott dude,” she said, patting his hand. “But anyways, yeah, my point is, I didn’t just marry my man because he’s sexy, I married him cause I’m gonna always be married to him.” She growled slightly. “Bitch ass little betas scraping up my mate’s arms better hope they never see me.”

Stiles snickered. “I like you, dude. Also, thanks for the random ass ‘mating habits of the northern Californian werewolves’ rundown. I really didn’t know it was any kind of significant,” he said with a shrug.

She stopped at a door and winked. “You’re welcome, Cutie,” she said, then pushed the door open. “Oh Isaac! The new assistant kid is here!” she called as she pulled Stiles into a fairly large room with a large light table where different photos and sketches were spread out. Two heads popped up from leaning over the table when Stiles and Erica walked closer.

“You know, I’m not sure how appropriate ‘kid’ is in relation to me,” Stiles muttered, fidgeting with his beanie. “I’m twenty-seven,” he said, and Erica stopped, glancing back at him.

“You’re what?!” Stiles looked over and the curly, blonde haired guy standing at the table gaped. “You look about seventeen-“

“Isaac,” the other interrupted before straightening up. He pushed his glasses up his nose and Stiles nearly stumbled when he realized who he was looking at.

Stiles didn’t even know Derek Hale was living in Beacon Hills. Derek Hale had made the rumor mill when he had left Beacon Hills to go the east coast. Hale pack members rarely strayed far, and definitely not Hale children. Scott always heard all the best gossip from some of the werewolves he knew around town, and Derek Hale leaving Beacon Hills had been a big deal. Stiles remembered being at a bar in town one night after class, meeting up with Lydia and Danny to have some drinks, and having Scott rush up and start talking a mile a minute about how the impossible had happened and one of the Hale children had moved away.

Stiles hadn’t heard any rumors about Derek Hale moving back to Beacon Hills, so he was extremely surprised to see Derek Hale right in front of him. Erica leaned against the table, narrowing her eyes. “Who was the little fucker the scratched Boyd?”

Isaac rolled his eyes. “That would be Ethan-“

“No, that was Aiden,” Derek corrected. Isaac frowned and Derek smirked. “Ethan always checks you out,” he teased and Isaac mimed gagging.

“Whatever, Twin Two and Jackson got into a fight,” Isaac said. “It was funny until it got annoying. Broke one of the bulbs in a light rig.”

Erica growled. “If they come back, tell me. I’ve got a score to settle,” she said, then turned and gave Stiles a pleasant smile. “Good luck, Stiles,” she said, pecking him on the cheek before turning to stalk out without another look back.

Stiles turned to face the two werewolves across the table from him and they both just stared. They looked back at each other and Isaac shrugged. “I don’t know what we’re supposed to do with him,” he said and Derek rolled his eyes.

“What’re we supposed to do with you?” he asked Stiles. “I didn’t ask for an assistant. It’s great that I apparently need the help of a random assistant.”

Stiles snickered, pushing his hat up a little from where it slid down his forehead. “Well, I think I’m supposed to help you organize things, make sure you have everything you need, fix your schedule issues, and be a go-between with Production and Editorial. Your mom says you basically suck. Sorry,” he said with a shrug.

Derek narrowed his eyes. “You met with the CEO on your first day?”

“No, she interviewed me the day I showed up for an internship and gave me a job instead,” Stiles replied and Derek gave him a suspicious look. “What? You’re Derek Hale, right? So what she’s the CEO, I’m pretty sure the woman who hired me was being your mom.”

“So?” Derek asked. “I don’t need her help fixing my problems,” he retorted and Stiles could tell he was obviously embarrassed.

Stiles just smiled and shrugged a shoulder. “She’s probably trying to help you out, dude. Mom’s do that.”

Derek huffed. “And if you weren’t doing a satisfactory job, your mother would freaking send you an unwanted and unnecessary assistant-slash-secretary?” he asked frankly.

Stiles flinched, looking down at his hands. He knew better than to think they hadn’t heard his heart jumping. “If my mom wanted to walk into my place of work and tie my shoes for me before I tripped over them, I wouldn’t give a damn about my pride, because it would mean I was one of the people still lucky enough to have a mother, and that she loved me enough to try and help me instead of let me fail.” Stiles’s voice had no humor in it this time. “But unlike you, I don’t have a mom anymore, I don’t have the woman that is willing to do anything it takes to help me succeed, because she died. But you know what?” he asked, leaning against the table to fix a heavy gaze on Derek Hale.

“Alpha Hale hired me because she knew my mother, she saw my name and knew who I was, and she gave me this job literally to help out the kid of a woman she knew more than fifteen years ago, so that gives me a good idea what kind of person your mother is.” He tapped on the table and stood tall. “So the way I see it, I’m going to help you out, I’m going to try to fix whatever I need to to make A&D, Editorial, and Production work better together, and I don’t really care if you want or think you need my help.” Stiles smiled coldly at the shocked look on Derek’s face. “Because a kind person who doesn’t want to have to fire her own child asked me for help, and I’m going to help.” He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Whether you like it or not.”

~

After getting a look at Hale’s (abysmal) schedule for the week, Stiles actually took a minute to just stare at Derek and Isaac – who he discovered was the other photographer and Derek’s right hand man – with a disappointed glare until Isaac turned puppy eyes on him and Derek tried to murder him with his eyebrows alone. Stiles looked at all the disorganized notes and random contracts for photo shoots, as well as random photos laid out without any sort of order and no labels attached. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, straightening his hat with a nod to himself.

“Alright. I’m taking all of this-“ Stiles gathered up the loose photos and shoved them inside the binder with the schedules. “And I’ll be back. I’m gonna go talk to the person in charge of layouts and see what we’re working with.”

Derek put a hand on his head, looking down. “Upstairs. Ask for Marcus in graphics. Not Marcus in web design, there’s two of them, so be sure he’s from graphics.”

Stiles nodded, tucking the binder under his arm. “Alright, I’ll be back. Going by what I saw, you have a shoot in two hours, but I should be back by then.”

However a trip to seven to talk to Marcus – from graphics, not web design – just sent him on a further quest to go to Editorial. He first spoke to the chief collaborative editor and was then sent on his merry way five to the editor-in-chief’s office. It took a while for him to convince the receptionist on five to send him to meet the editor-in-chief, but after some negotiations she sent him down the hall to the office of the head of the editorial department.

When he knocked a voice called for him to come in. He entered an office barely smaller than Talia Hale’s had been and a man with graying hair and silvery eyes looked up. “Hi. How can I help you?” he asked, looking Stiles over. “Have we met?” he asked and Stiles flushed.

“N-no, sir,” he said quickly as he stumbled over the rug on his way to the desk. “I’m Stiles, I’m the one that Alpha Hale hired-“

“Oh! You’re Claudia Stilinski’s son she was talking about,” he said, and Stiles stared at him in surprise when he gave Stiles a solemn smile. “Chris Argent,” he introduced, and Stiles shook his hand with a frown.

“Um… yeah.” He shook his head. “Anyways, if she mentioned me, Alpha Hale must’ve mentioned I’m supposed to help fix the gaps between A&D, Editorial, and Production-“

“So I don’t have to listen to that smug asshole bickering about the unpolished final mock-ups every damn other week?” Chris asked, looking relieved. “Thank God.” He sat up straighter, taking on a more professional air. “What do you need?”

Stiles winced and laid the binder down, opening it with enough force that a lot of the loose photographs flew out and spread themselves across the large desk. “It’s a freaking nightmare in the photography department,” Stiles said heavily. “All of these were spread out all over the place. Neither Derek or Isaac know why there are loose photos without any real layout just lying around on their drafting table. I went to the graphics department to talk to whoever does the layouts but they don’t remember a story matching these photos, then I got sent to the writers to see if they could tell me where they belong, and then they gave up and sent me to you since you transfer the finalized writing mock-ups over to Production to be paired up with the photo layouts.”

Chris leaned forward, sliding some of the photos out of the way. “Well, I would probably say these were for the shoot to go with a story about lone-betas. This is the model from the final photo-“

“Thank God for answers!” Stiles groaned, but Chris continued.

“From two issues ago.” Stiles looked up and Chris smiled. “Sorry Stiles, but these are just the leftover unchosen hardcopies from a published issue. All that searching for nothing.”

Stiles took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt, shaking his head. “And Derek and Isaac are really helpless enough they leave old discarded options lying around, huh? Greeeeaaat,” he drawled as he put his glasses back on.

Chris chuckled and nodded. “Now you see why Talia hired you,” he said, and Stiles hummed.

“Well at least I didn’t have to go to Production to finally get that answered,” he said, and Chris nodded gravely.

“You really should avoid Production at all cost. That cocky bastard will run his mouth and insult everything about you just because he can,” he said and Stiles sighed dramatically.

“Wonderful. Oh well, thank you, Mr. Argent,” he said, gathering up his photos and binder before turning to leave.

~

Within a week, Stiles had condensed all their schedule shoots for the rest of the issue they were working on. Begrudgingly, Derek and Isaac seemed to come around a little more when their sudden organization made things a lot easier. Stiles smirked knowingly when Derek spent a good five minutes just staring at the finished photo layout mockup he was examining before closing the binder and handing it to Isaac, who looked equally as stunned.

“It’s… it’s a whole week early,” Isaac muttered, flicking through the pages. “Whoa.”

Stiles smirked, leaning back in his chair and resting his feet on the table across from them. “I’m good, huh?” he asked and Derek rolled his eyes at him.

“Fine, maybe you helped-“

“No, I saved your butt,” Stiles said pointedly. “Chris has been trying to get this issue finished early so his editorial mockup was done yesterday. Now you can turn this in to Production only one day later and they can get the pre-ad layout finalized then confirm advertising and send it to Alpha Hale for final approval without anybody being crunched for time like usual.”

Derek snorted softly, crossing his arms as he leaned back, eyes on Isaac as he checked out the placements the design people had settled on. “It’s still so weird,” Derek said and Stiles frowned.

“Isaac checking the layouts?” he asked in confusion and Derek shook his head.

“You. Calling her ‘Alpha Hale’. It’s weird,” he said and Isaac nodded without looking up.

“Totally weird.”

Stiles frowned, sitting up with his feet on the floor again. “What? Why? What else would I say?”

Derek shook his head. “You’re a human. Most of the time humans don’t address titles like that.”

“What would I say besides? That would be like someone not calling my dad Sheriff Stilinski just because they’re not in law enforcement. Being human doesn’t mean she’s suddenly not an Alpha-“

Isaac shook his head. “It’s not on purpose, I don’t think, it’s just humans usually go with Mrs. Hale or Talia Hale. I mean, pack humans usually just call her Talia, not Alpha Hale, so I’m not sure I’ve ever met a human to call her Alpha Hale before,” he said, glancing over at Derek.

Derek shrugged. “Maybe when I was a kid? Before she got better known for the magazine than politics.”

Stiles huffed. “That’s just rude. ‘Mrs.Hale’.” He shook his head. “Oh if my dad heard that one.”

“Well that’s a little different,” Isaac pointed out. “The Sheriff knows better. Most humans just don’t know how you’re supposed to address an alpha. You know how it is. You’re old enough to remember segregated schools. Humans just still don’t have the same exposure and most humans don’t bother with werewolf media.”

Stiles shrugged. “I guess. I’m just glad I never lived that way. Segregation separated me from my best friend for two years because he got bit by a rogue alpha when we were in middle school. They didn’t integrate schools until tenth grade.” He made a face. “I’m almost glad my mom didn’t live to see Scott get treated like some sort of animal.”

Isaac smiled. “You went to Beach Hills High, right?” he asked, and Stiles nodded. “I think I remember you. I didn’t get turned until I dropped out,” he explained. “I remember a bunch of kids came when the integration happened.”

Stiles smiled. “My best friend came back, but also a year or so later my other roommate moved there because she wanted to go to normal school. She’s a kitsune though.”

Derek looked up in surprise. “You mean a werewolf and a kitsune live together?” he asked, and Stiles snorted.

“The whole ‘wolves and foxes don’t get along’ thing is so untrue. They totally dated in high school, even. Then they decided ‘nah, we’re just friends’ and when we all went to college, we moved in together.” He stretched. “My other two friends live together. Although Lydia didn’t know she was a banshee until after integration so it wasn’t a problem.”

“A banshee?” Isaac asked, eyeing him curiously. “You have any humans in there?”

“One,” Stiles answered. “Although he’s so stupidly nice and charming and good looking and smart I really question that. I think he’s gotta be something supernatural. Nobody scores that many tens in the lottery of life. Stupid dimples,” he said with a hint of jealousy. “He’s totally the reason I’m single. I so much as smile at someone and he suddenly comes over and starts talking to us and I magically disappear.”

Isaac pointed at Derek. “That’s why we don’t let Derek go out. His beard has magical hot girl attracting properties,” he said and Stiles snorted at the murderous glare Derek gave Isaac.

His glare disappeared, however, when he suddenly stilled and turned his head quickly, glancing at the doors, almost comically reminiscent of a dog who heard a sound. Stiles had to bite his fist to keep from making that observation out loud. Derek slid out of his chair quickly. “I’ll be back,” he said simply, and Isaac nodded, picking up the binder again to look through, obviously unconcerned by Derek simply walking out without an explanation.

Stiles narrowed his eyes at Isaac, but he figured maybe it was just something Stiles missed since he didn’t have werewolf hearing.

~

Stiles noticed that these weird points where Derek would leave the room abruptly happened a few times each week after that. He always wanted to ask what was up but he got the idea from how Isaac treated it like a normal occurrence that it wasn’t something he should ask about. It killed him to keep quiet, but he didn’t want to mess up the camaraderie they seemed to be developing. In the few weeks since Derek and Isaac begrudgingly accepted Stiles’s help was good for them, they had started to work together pretty well. They also started to be more like friends than before. For instance, Isaac had started using his werewolf stealth to sneak up on Stiles and make him scream when he startled him. Derek always shook his head like he was dealing with total children, but Stiles could tell Derek was fighting a laugh every time. Stiles especially liked when Derek would smile at him, but he had to think very hard about not thinking on that train of thought lest Derek somehow sensed the way Stiles insides squirmed when Derek smiled.

It was when one of Derek’s random ‘drop everything and leave the room’ moments interrupted the middle of a shoot and Derek walked out of the studio that Stiles just got too curious. He waited until Derek had left the room before he walked over to where Isaac was swapping out memory cards and leaned against the counter. “Hey, what’s up with Derek?” he asked. “Why does he randomly walk out sometimes?” he asked curiously.

Isaac opened his mouth, but then hesitated. “I’m not sure I should answer that,” he said softly, giving Stiles an apologetic look. “It’s nothing personal-“

Stiles shook his head. “Nah, I get it. It’s cool.” He walked back to his spot where he was working on a meeting schedule at the drafting table, though the curiosity was still there.

Later, Stiles got called up to meet Peter Hale. He wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, from what he had heard. Derek had returned so he handed off the scheduling book to Derek. “If your uncle eats me, take good care of my schedule book.”

Derek rolled his eyes and snorted. “He won’t eat you.” He hesitated, tapping his bottom lip with his pen. “Well, I don’t think so.”

“Derek!” Stiles whined, glaring at him playfully when he smirked. “You’re a horrible person.”

“And it’s fun,” Derek replied, laughing when Stiles shoved him on the way past.

~

Peter Hale was creepy.

Almost as soon as Stiles stepped into his office, he felt like he was facing down a hungry lion or something. Peter sat behind his ridiculously large desk in an insanely comfortable looking chair while wearing what had to be a suit that cost many thousands of dollars. His hair was slicked back, his goatee was perfectly groomed, and he looked honest to God like a super villain.

“Mr. Stilinski,” he drawled with a knowing little smirk on his face. His intense, bright blue eyes only punctuated the general feeling of ‘I could kill you or give you a promotion, depends which mood I’m in’. He eyed Stiles again then gestured to the binder for the finished mock up that was sent to Production to be combined with the articles and approved. “Do you care to explain this?”

Stiles hesitated, then looked at the mock up. “It’s… one step away from finished?” he tried and Peter narrowed his eyes minutely.

“Actually, for once, yes. Yes it is. And do you know why?” he asked.

Stiles shrugged. “Because… it’s supposed to be?”

Peter smiled suddenly. “Yes. Yes it is.” His smile was almost as terrifying as his slightly evil smirk. “And it hasn’t been before.” He opened the binder. “This is probably the closest to ready for print mockup I’ve ever got on my desk.”

Stiles shrugged. “We worked pretty hard on it-“

“Oh no, no you are the culprit, Stiles.” Peter leaned back in his chair, folding his fingers together over his knee. “You’re straightening them out, huh?”

Stiles smiled uneasily. “Just doing the job Alpha Hale hired me for,” he said and Peter chuckled.

“Well, I guess the real thanks has to go to her, then.” He leaned forward again, putting his feet on the floor to inspect the binder. “Maybe next she can lend you to that self-righteous asshat down in Editorial. His pathetic writers are pretty much the new first place winners of ‘worst work at the magazine’ now in my opinion.”

Stiles frowned. “Don’t they write… everything?”

Peter smiled. “Yes, but they need about forty tries to get it right. Now, Derek’s department was formerly head of my shit-list, but I think you’ve moved him up a few notches.” He sighed. “Now he’s even less of a pain in the ass than my dear sister.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Should you really talk about your boss and alpha like that?”

Peter tossed a hand. “She’s my sister, I’m allowed.” He closed the binder and smirked. “Keep up the good work and you may just last around here, Stiles.”

Stiles took that as is cue to stand and nodded. “Thanks,” he said before leaving.

~

Stiles was still trying to figure out why Peter Hale made him think about serial killers when he rounded the corner from the elevator and froze at the sight before him.

There was a toddler standing in the middle of the hall.

Stiles looked around, frowning. He didn’t know where the kids room was, since he’d never had to go get a kid for a photoshoot, but he knew it was on six with their studio and Derek’s office. However, that still didn’t explain why a little boy was standing there, head tilted as he looked at Stiles. Stiles carefully stepped closer. “Um, hi? What are you doing out here?” he asked, though he wasn’t sure if this kid was even old enough to talk. He stepped closer and then froze a few feet away, hands extended, when the little boy growled and his eyes flashed gold.

“Oh shit, you’re a cub!” Stiles said, then winced. “Um, crap, I mean.” He looked around and decided to herd the cub towards the end of the hall. He figured the kids playroom had to be around the corner where he’d never been. “Alright, let’s just go this way- NO!”

The cub squealed and ran past Stiles, surprisingly fast for how clumsy his steps were. He clearly hadn’t learned to walk too long ago, but had learned pretty damn quick how to run. Stiles watched where he ran and froze. The door to the stairwell had been propped open by a ‘wet floor’ sign after someone had mopped the landing. If the little boy ran through it, he’d fall down the stairs for sure.

Stiles hesitated only a second, because he knew the last thing anybody ever wanted to do was touch a cub that wasn’t their own. Most werewolf parents didn’t even let non-pack members see their cubs until they were two or three, they were so protective. Werewolf parents were more animal instinct driven so the rational part of their brain shut down when someone who wasn’t pack left their scent on their cub. However, the cub was running towards an open stairwell and Stiles barely even paused before running after the child and scooping him up just before he could run through the door. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, dude, you’re gonna hurt yourself! You might heal but falling down stairs will hurt.”

Werewolf cubs couldn’t shift that young, but the little boy snarled as soon as Stiles picked him up and, as Stiles held him out at arm length while he kicked and growled, his eyes turned gold and stayed that way, which was about as far as he could shift yet. Stiles knew he was screwed because, even if he put him down now, the cub had his scent on it, but the level of screwed elevated when, as Stiles kicked the stairwell door shut, the loud bang scared the cub and he let out a loud, terrified wail, bursting into tears.

“Oh shit, no, shhhh, shh, it’s okay, please God stop crying-“ Stiles paled when the little boy screamed louder and managed a word.

“DADA!” he screamed, swatting at Stiles’s arms.

Stiles’s blood ran cold when he heard a door slamming and an echoing roar from the hall. He heard an answering howl faintly from somewhere else in the building and he quickly put the little boy down, stepping back until he was flat against the wall. His heart was pounding already, but when the little boy fell down on his butt and continued to wail loudly, looking up at Stiles with wide, gold eyes, he was torn between wanting to comfort the crying baby and knowing that touching him again would only make it worse.

“ALEX?!” Stiles’s head snapped up. Even though it was growled in an tone he’d never heard, Stiles knew that voice. He froze, like a deer in the headlights, when Derek rounded the corner and he zeroed in on the cub. He stepped closer, only to slow and crouch when his eyes flicked up to Stiles.

To say Stiles was terrified was an understatement. Derek was shifted, something Stiles still never got used to since werewolves usually only did so when ready for a fight. His fangs were terrifyingly huge, his claws were out, and his whole face had shifted from the somewhat ridiculously attractive man Stiles worked with to the most vicious sight Stiles could imagine. The scariest part, though, was Derek’s eyes.

They were blue.

It was obvious that Derek had checked out and this fully grown, large, angry beta approaching Stiles was a werewolf with nothing in mind except protecting its cub. Stiles held up his hand, shaking his head. “Derek, Derek, wait, just wait. It’s me! It’s Stiles!” he tried. He gestured to the cub. “I didn’t hurt him, I would never hurt a cub, I just stopped him from running into the stairwell-“ Derek growled menacingly and Stiles winced, flinching away, head turned to the side. “Derek, Derek, I swear, he’s not hurt. He’s not. Oh God, I’m gonna die, shit, shit, shit-“

“DADA!” the little boy cried, and Derek stopped short from his stalking towards Stiles to pick up his cub. Stiles whimpered when he saw Derek scent marking his cub with a soft rumble, only to stop immediately, eyes flickering up when he smelled Stiles on him. He growled.

“Oh God, Oh God, Oh God-“

“Derek!” Stiles’s head jerked around and he saw Alpha Hale coming off the elevator. He voice was so surprisingly commanding even Stiles shivered.

Derek immediately seemed to snap out of it, frowning at his mom. “What-“ He jerked around and stared at Stiles with wide eyes. He looked at how close to him he was and he quickly backed up, face shifting back to normal. “Oh my God-“

“What the hell is going on here?!” Stiles looked up and saw Erica was stalking over, having come from behind her Alpha. “Derek, what were you doing-“

“No, no, it’s not his fault,” Stiles said quickly. He held up his hands. “It’s- I’m okay.” He turned back to Derek. “I’m so sorry, I know better than to touch somebody’s cub, but- but he was running towards the stairs and the door was propped open by that wet floor sign, I had to pick him up and stop him, I couldn’t just let him fall down the stairs-“

“Stiles, it’s okay.” Talia walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?” she asked, and he nodded, flushing when she reached out and rubbed at his cheek and he realized he was crying.

“I’m okay. I just kinda cry easy,” he said with a laugh, wiping his eyes beneath his glasses. “Just glad I only got scared to tears, not scared to peeing myself,” he joked.

Derek made a pained sound. “Stiles, I’m so sorry, I didn’t-“

“No, it’s okay.” Stiles shook his head. “I understand. He’s your cub, right? He was screaming and crying, of course you reacted that way! Hell, I’d react similarly if I heard my cub screaming and crying, and I don’t have werewolf instincts, just plain ol’ human ones.” He gave Talia a sheepish smile. “Just glad you showed up before I became werewolf chow.”

Erica cooed and came over to hug him. “Awwww, you poor baby.” She hugged him. “Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end of some of Derek’s growls, don’t worry, he’s a big puppy most of the time.”

Derek glared at her over the head of the cub still in his arms, but his eyes flickered to Stiles’s and Stiles shuddered slightly at the memory of the cold, harsh blue they had been. Derek saw his reaction and his guilty expression grew worse. “I’m sorry,” he muttered, ducking his head to his cub’s hair.

Stiles shook his head. “I’m- I’m okay now. It’s all okay.” He frowned. “Actually no it’s not. What the hell was your cub doing running around the halls?! You did not seriously let him wander around on your own, did you?”

Derek glared suddenly. “No I didn’t,” he said, then turned to his mother. “Where’s Aliana?”

Talia turned to Boyd and nodded to the hallway Stiles had tried to herd the boy towards. Boyd nodded and went that way. “We’ll take care of it. Don’t worry. If it was a result of her carelessness, she’ll be replaced.”

Stiles frowned. “Aliana?”

Derek sighed, hanging his head. “Let me give you a ride home? I can at least explain.”

Talia nodded. “Yes, Stiles shouldn’t drive himself home and you shouldn’t be here right now,” she said, and Derek nodded.

Stiles opened his mouth, but one look from Alpha Hale silenced him. “I’ll- I’ll go get my stuff.”

~

Stiles clutched his bag to his chest awkwardly as he sat in the front seat while Derek buckled his cub – Alex – into the car seat in the back. Derek climbed in the front and Stiles tapped his toe awkwardly. Derek took a moment to look over at him before starting the car.

They drove in silence for a while before Derek glanced over. “Are you really okay?”

Stiles smiled and nodded. “I’m fine. Just- it’s been a long time since I got that close to being attacked by a werewolf.”

Derek looked at him in surprise. “You’ve been attacked before?” he asked sharply and Stiles nodded.

“Yeah. When my friend Scott got turned, I was there,” he said. “My dad was out with a search party that was looking for a hiker that was missing and I thought it would be cool if we found him first so me and Scott rode our bikes to the preserve and started looking on our own. The alpha that killed the hiker found us and he chased us. He caught us cause Scott started to have an asthma attack and I stopped and was searching his pockets for his inhaler. I wasn’t but thirteen so when he swiped at me with his claws, I just went flying. I was tiny, you know?” Stiles said. “But he bit Scott. He was going to kill us both I think but the deputies heard us screaming and somebody made it in time to shoot him. I was unconscious and Scott was bleeding, but when I woke up he had healed and they were taking him to the hospital to his mother while I was going to get stitches.” He shifted and pointed at his lower side. “Three claw scars on my hip.”

Derek just stared ahead, jaw clenching. “And I almost attacked you, too-“

“Derek, I don’t blame you for that. I know how a werewolf reacts in protection of their children. It’s pretty useful-“

“Unless I attack someone who just saved him from getting hurt,” Derek said tightly.

Stiles rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” He frowned. “What are you even doing with him at work?”

Derek sighed, rubbing at his beard tiredly. “Aliana is his babysitter. She keeps all the kids we use in shoots in the playroom, but he stays there all day with her. I couldn’t- I couldn’t come to work without having him with me and I can’t very well be the head of A&D and watch a cub, too. But my mom wanted me to work for the magazine and offered this solution. It’s not ideal, but if I want to live on my own with Alex someday, I need money.”

Stiles frowned. “Wait, alone? Why don’t you like living with your pack?”

Derek shrugged. “I just want independence. That seems so foreign to the rest of the pack but it gets overwhelming. Especially with how much attention the pack gets from the magazine.”

Stiles hesitated, but opened his mouth again, unable to help it. “Where is his mother?” he asked, because almost always, when werewolves had a cub, one parent quit work and stayed home for the first few years. It was another issue that the PRC was trying to push.

Werewolf parents needed special treatment for maternity or paternity leave, yet people argued that it was unfair to give them anything other than what humans got if they wanted equality. The problem was, werewolves weren’t able to choose to just go back to work after they had a cub. Most werewolves physically couldn’t handle the stress of knowing their cub was being taken care of by someone that wasn’t its mother or father. Because of it, many werewolves without packs suffered extreme financial problems when they had children unexpectedly and without proper planning in place. Even if it came to paying the rent or caring for their cub, most werewolves couldn’t handle both parents working for at least the first two years. Stiles couldn’t imagine Derek’s mate had decided to go back to work even with a family that had more than enough money to handle it.

Derek grew tense, more tense than he already had been. “She’s dead.”

Stiles felt like even more of a dick than usual as he heard the words that came from Derek’s mouth.

~

Stiles only put up with Derek giving him big, apologetic puppy eyes for about a week before he finally slammed the file full of photos he had down in front of Derek and grabbed him by his collar, dragging him from the studio all the way down the hall to his office. Derek gave him a resigned look and went to is desk, where he sat with a heavy sigh.

“You’re quitting, aren’t you-“

“No, I’m gonna kick your ass, that’s what this is,” Stiles said flatly, sitting down across from Derek. Derek frowned and Stiles glared at him. “STOP the guilty thing. Stop acting like you ran over my cat or something, okay? I am not afraid of you, Derek. I’m not worried you’ll attack me. I’m not stupid enough to think I had anything to do with you nearly attacking me. And I’m offended you would think I’d quit just because you defended your child the way any parent would!” Stiles crossed his arms. “Now stop apologizing, stop tiptoeing around me, and just get on with work.” Stiles stood up, turning to leave, only to stop and come back and open something on Derek’s desk. “This photo shoot has Jackson Whitmore, so I need to go somewhere else while he’s here, just a side note before you get totally un-guilty and likely to let me,” he added.

Derek frowned. “Why?” he asked, pulling the schedule to him. “Jackson’s one of my uncle’s favorite models so we use him a lot. I’m shocked we haven’t had him since you’ve been here.”

Stiles cursed. “Well shit, I can’t hide every time he’s here, can I?” he asked and Derek shot him a look. “Well damn.”

“Why do you want to?” Derek asked. “He’s an asshole, but he’s an attractive asshole, so the readers like his face on certain things.”

Stiles sat down again, looking down at the hands in his lap. “We went to high school together. Let’s just say we didn’t get along.”

Derek looked Stiles over and smirked. “I can’t possibly imagine why,” he said, eyes landing on Stiles’s ever present beanie and glasses.

Stiles glared. “Oh bite me, dude,” he said as he stood up.

Derek gestured to his multiple layers. “He’s a rich boy fashion model. You clearly never grew out of being a computer nerd.”

Stiles snorted and stood up. “Oh screw you, man. I played lacrosse in high school, I was a total jock just like he was,” he argued with a small smile. “Are we good now? No more guilty puppy eyes?” he asked and Derek glared.

“I don’t have puppy eyes-“

“You totally do,” Stiles teased, smiling at him as he turned to leave. When he glanced back Derek rolled his eyes and Stiles felt accomplished. Annoyance was better than guilt any day.

~

Stiles was waiting with Isaac, helping him line up the lenses, when the door to the studio opened and he heard a painfully familiar laugh. “Well if you’re ever interested, we could have dinner, drinks, hot filthy sex-“

“I swear to God I’m going to kill you one day, and nobody will miss you,” Derek replied and Stiles looked up just in time to see Jackson roll his eyes, clearly unable to believe that someone could deny him.

Stiles snorted and looked at Isaac, who just smirked. “Well now, I see you have a hot little nerd joining us today, how sweet,” Jackson said, and Stiles turned to glare. Jackson stopped walking, eyes widening in surprise. “Holy shit, Stilinski?!”

Stiles sighed. “Hey, Jackson.”

“Holy shit,” Jackson said with a smirk. “When did you grow an ass like that. And since when do you wear… that?” he asked, gesturing to him.

Stiles snorted. “Since it’s been like eight years, dude. Speaking of you fucking up royally, when is the last time you ran into Danny?” he asked, fluttering his eyelashes mockingly.

Jackson’s eyes narrowed and he huffed. “Fucker,” he muttered, going past their table to the door that read ‘wardrobe’ so that the makeup crew and wardrobe director could get him ready for the shoot.

Isaac frowned. “You know each other?”

Stiles nodded. “High school.” He lowered his voice when Derek came over and started assembling his camera at the table with them. “Senior year he started dating his long-time best friend, Danny, who is now one of my only human friends, and when they broke up about a year later in college, Jackson left the state. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.”

Isaac hummed. “I figured he was older than you,” he said. “And you mean Danny in the web department?” he asked in surprise.

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, tall, really cute, Hawaiian? They were best friends since they were like ten years old, like me and Scott, and Danny came out in like eighth grade, we all knew he was gay all along, but Jackson denied it until senior year when they started going out. But they dated for two years and eventually Danny just couldn’t handle Jackson’s whole ‘I’m out but I don’t want people to see us holding hands or some other gay shit like that’ so he left his ass.”

Isaac snickered. “He sure doesn’t care anymore, does he, Derek?”

Derek flushed slightly. “He has tried to get me to sleep with him every single time we’ve shot with him.”

Stiles snickered and wiggled his eyebrows. “Take him up on the offer and ruin him for all other men?” he suggested and Derek glared, though his cheeks were even redder than before.

Isaac grinned and nudged Stiles. “Dude, Derek is a super-prude, it’s no use-“

“I am not a prude, Isaac, just because I say ‘no’ to every model who wants to sleep with me, it’s professionalism-“

“You are thirty-three and from what I hear you’ve slept with two people in your whole life-“

“I have a kid, that counts for something,” Derek muttered, and Stiles gave Isaac a playfully stern look.

“Don’t tease him. Derek’s just a shy person,” he said, reaching out to pat his shoulder. “It’s not being a prude, it’s being bashful. Besides, you don’t seem to have a glowing social life,” he countered and Isaac deflated some.

“Nobody is worth anything to me now,” he said melodramatically and Stiles raised an eyebrow at Derek, who rolled his eyes.

“Isaac met a guy at a coffee shop about two months ago and at least once every week he goes in at the same time as this guy and apparently the man has the most ‘perfect smile’ ever,” Derek said and Stiles laughed, looking over at Isaac.

“Oh buddy, I know that feeling. I was in love with the same girl for eight years, dude. I fell in love in third grade and didn’t fall out of love until I was nearly seventeen. I’m a master at unrequited feelings,” he comforted.

Isaac gave a dreamy sigh. “He has these big, brown eyes, and he smiled at me one morning and it was like I’d never known true happiness until I saw it on his face…” Isaac trailed off with a besotted smile and Derek and Stiles exchanged amused smirks.

“Hey Stilinski! You ever find somebody desperate enough to fuck you? I’d like to offer myself up to the task!” Stiles winced at Jackson’s voice as he reentered the studio and Derek gave Stiles an apologetic look before taking up his camera and going to direct the lighting set up and position Jackson to start their shoot.

~

Stiles tossed a pepperoni slice at Scott, who caught it in his mouth and threw his arms up in victor. Kira laughed and cheered for him. Lydia just gave them a disgusted look. “You two are never growing up, are you?” she asked sadly.

Stiles suddenly tossed a straw at Danny, who was flirting with their waiter, and flapped his hands in excitement. “YOU! You will never guess who tried to grab my ass!”

Danny raised an eyebrow. “Jesus?” he asked and Stiles gave him a flat look.

“Ha. Great laugh, you.” He shook his head. “No dude, we had a shoot with Jackson today, first time since I’ve been working there, and he fucking grabbed my ass,” he said and Danny made a face.

“Thank God he hasn’t worked out that I work there yet. I don’t doubt he’d come bother me,” he said and Lydia nodded.

“He talked to me once before I threatened to castrate him,” she said, then tilted her head. “He grabbed you on the ass?” she asked curiously.

Stiles nodded. “Apparently he tries to get Derek to sleep with him every time he’s in for a shoot. Still a massive asshole,” he said with a shake of his head. “Such a shame. That hot face and body attached to such a terrible person.”

Danny smirked. “What about your sexy boss, huh? I’ve heard he’s similar. Sexy face, sexy body, horrible personality.”

Stiles stopped eating his pizza and frowned. “What, Derek?” he asked in surprise. “Dude… Derek’s not a horrible person,” he defended.

Lydia gave him a surprised glance. “Really? I’ve heard he’s a monster. He made one girl cry once just by glaring at her.”

Stiles shook his head. “No way. I mean he’s shy, he doesn’t like to talk to strangers, but he and Isaac and I get along great. He’s funny, he’s smart, and he’s pretty nice.”

“I heard standoffish and rude,” Danny said and Stiles shook his head.

“Never. I mean, okay, maybe if people don’t understand what he’s really doing, when he’s nervous and shy he can be kinda acerbic, but he’s not like most pack werewolves,” Stiles explained. “He’s working at the magazine to save up money to move out of the Hale House-“

“Whoa, he’s leaving his pack?!” Scott asked in surprise.

Stiles shook his head. “No, just the house. He’s a very private person, so I can get it. Hell, I had to get comfortable with the fact you know when I’m jerking off at home, dude. Imagine being a single dad who lived on the east coast for a few years suddenly going back to a house full of werewolves that aren’t your son and wife. It has to be tough.”

Lydia dropped a fries, blinking. “Derek Hale is married with a cub?!”

Stiles cringed. “Yeah, I kinda didn’t mention it but a couple weeks ago…” He winced. “Derek didn’t hurt me, know that straight away,” he started and everybody got still. “I was in the hall and there was this toddler who had escaped his babysitter. Turns out it was Derek’s one year old son. I had to pick him up to stop him running and falling down stairs, and obviously, you never touch someone else’s cub, but I had no choice. Well the kid starts screaming, Daddy Wolf hears it and flips the fuck out, and the only reason I’m not Shredded Stiles now is that Derek roared when his instincts took over and Alpha Hale heard and came down to stop him.” He stole one of Lydia’s fries. “I asked about Alex’s mother. Derek said his wife is dead.”

Scott’s eyes got wide and he bit his lip. “He’s only one and his mom died? Oh my God, that poor thing!”

Stiles nodded with a little pout. “And Derek has to work if he wants money so he can move out, so Alex has to be on the same floor, just with his babysitter in another office. Derek has to take breaks to go see him at least three or four times each day.”

Kira nudged Stiles. “Be honest, how bad were you in need to new pants after he almost attacked you for scaring his cub?” she teased and Stiles groaned, flopping over against her shoulder.

“I cried and barely managed not to pee myself. It was so embarrassing!” he groaned, ignoring the teasing laughs from all his friends.

~

Stiles was laughing with Chris Argent over the newest rejected photos of Jackson that had somehow got left in with the mockups he brought up for the article Editorial was working on when there was a knock at the door. Stiles stepped back and Chris stood up as soon as Alpha Hale walked in. “Talia, did you need something?” Chris asked and Stiles still found it hard to believe there were people who felt comfortable calling her Talia to her face. It made sense, but she was such a large-than-life person to Stiles that he still sort of hero worshipped her.

She smiled and walked over, taking a seat across from them. “Chris, I wanted to come make sure Allison was coming this weekend,” she said pleasantly. She smiled a surprisingly personable smile at Stiles. “You’re coming, right, Stiles?”

Stiles frowned. “To what?” he asked in confusion.

Talia raised an eyebrow. “Derek didn’t invite you?” Stiles shook his head slowly and she rolled her eyes. “Oh that boy,” she said with a heavy sigh.

Chris smirked. “Still as stubborn as ever, huh?” he asked and Talia groaned.

“How he’s a Hale is beyond me. If he didn’t look just like me I’d think I’d been given a changeling,” she joked, then turned to Stiles. “This weekend there’s a pack gathering. A lot of the time people bring friends along. When Erica mentioned inviting you Derek showed an interest in having you there, but I guess he’s still being a failure at asking a simple question,” she said succinctly.

Stiles smiled. “Derek wanted me to come? That dumbass, he knows he has no reason to worry about looking lame in front of me,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I mean honestly, you nearly eat a person, you pretty much have no room for awkwardness anymore. If you forgive someone for trying to make you their lunch, it’s gonna take a lot to make me think less of him, dude.”

Talia laughed. “I’d like to think he knows that, Stiles, he’s just a very awkward, shy boy. He has been since he was a teenager. People think he’s angry all the time, but he just gets embarrassed when he doesn’t know how to talk to people.”

Chris tilted his head. “Well he is pretty angry, but he has good reason to be,” he said and Talia gave him a polite smile, but nodded to Stiles. Stiles saw Chris shrug and he figured it was just something Chris wasn’t meant to have told Stiles.

Stiles waved a hand. “Well he should know I don’t take it personally. I mean, we’ve all seen me. I can trip over air, I talk too much, I’m really loud for some reason and I can’t really help it, and I look about sixteen still so I get carded for R-rated movies. I’m the master of weird. Derek just needs to realize it’s harder to scare me away than one measly attempt to eat me. Besides, I thought we were past that. He’s seriously still hung up on that?” he asked Talia. “My best friend tried to kill me at least three times before he got better control of himself after he got bit, it’s seriously not even a thing.”

Talia chuckled. “I think it’s more that he doesn’t believe you when you tell him it’s alright.” She gave him a sad smile. “He’s just had it pretty rough, that’s all.” She clapped her hands. “So, will you come Saturday afternoon? I’m sure you know where the house is.”

Stiles smiled and nodded. “Yeah, sure,” he said and Talia nodded as she stood up.

“Chris, is Allison coming?”

Chris shrugged. “I’m not sure. I hope so, but she may not make it home in time. Besides, you know how well she gets along with Peter.”

She rolled her eyes – something that reminded Stiles exactly whose kid Derek was – and scoffed. “I think those two enjoy fighting,” she said and Chris chuckled to himself as she walked out.

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Your daughter?” he asked, and Chris nodded.

“That smartass drama queen in Publications enjoys nothing more than getting on everybody’s last nerve just to watch them unravel and lose their cool. He thrives on pissing people off, and my daughter has a high tolerance level so he can pester her for hours before she finally snaps and tries to run him down and stab him,” he said and Stiles blinked.

“Well that sounds pleasant,” Stiles said flatly, earning a sharp laugh.

“Oh pack gatherings are never boring,” Chris said as Stiles walked out.

~

Derek looked down when Alex scurried over with a teddy bear in his mouth, moving around on all fours. “You know, you’re really not supposed to put that there,” he chastised, pulling the teddy bear out and holding it for Alex to take in his arms.

“Dada!” Alex cried, looking disgruntled before waving the bear and then throwing it. He looked wide eyed at how far it went then squealed. “BA!” he cried, then toddled over to where he’d thrown the bear. He squatted down and picked it up, then stood up. He looked at the bear, then at Derek. Derek barely had time to duck before the bear flew past where his head had been. “YAAAY!”

Derek huffed, glaring. “Not yay,” he said, standing to go scoop Alex up. “Bad! Don’t throw things at Daddy,” he explained. He bounced Alex and kissed his cheek. “No throwing things at anybody, okay?”

Alex whined and reached for the bear on the couch. “Ba!”

Derek sighed and picked up Bob the Bear, who Alex could only manage to call ‘Ba’, and handed it to him. “I’m such a pushover huh?” he asked, flopping down on the couch with Alex held to his chest. Alex sat up, bouncing slightly on his father’s belly before curling his arms around the bear and flopping down, head resting over Derek’s heart. Derek smiled and rested his hand on Alex’s back. Alex made sleepy little grumbles, like usual. Alex was always one who ran wide open until suddenly it was nap time and he just fell out. Derek had actually had Alex stop playing and just lay down in the middle of the floor and fall asleep.

Once Cora nearly stepped on him, but she didn’t, so Derek didn’t have to kill his little sister.

Derek looked down at Alex’s sleepy face and he was once again reminded that he was the luckiest person in the world to have such a beautiful little boy. Holding Alex made Derek feel like nothing in the world could be as bad as it seemed. He had been terrified that he’d fuck up at first, but even when things got rough with work interfering with his ‘cub time’, nothing was too much when he had his sweet little boy in his arms.

“Hey DerBear!”

Derek’s eyes snapped open and he groaned. “If you call me that again-“

“I know, I know, ripping and murdering, all that fun stuff,” Laura said as she came in and leaned over the back of the couch. “So hey, I hear your little boyfriend is coming this afternoon,” she said, wiggling her eyebrows.

Derek sat up quickly, holding Alex to his chest to keep from tossing him off. “What?! What are you talking about? Who- I mean… I don’t have a boyfriend!”

Laura smirked deviously. “Oh I know. You just have a gigantic crush on that skinny little human mom hired.”

“Laura-“

“And!” She continued. “He’s coming. Mom invited him since you were too chicken shit to do it yourself. And she told him you wanted to invite him but were too worried he’d say no.”

Derek felt his ears burning but he glared. “Laura, that is such bull. Mom wouldn’t-“

“Yes she would,” Peter said as he walked through the living room, going from the hall to the kitchen without stopping. “How else do you think I ended up married? She meddles. It’s Talia’s way. That bitch,” he muttered and Laura and Derek both glared at his retreating back.

“Don’t call our mom a bitch, you asshole!” Laura called, then turned back to Derek. “But yes. She totally told him he makes you nervous. Or so Cora says. And Cora says Chris told her. And he was there when she invited him on your behalf.”

Derek groaned, flopping back on the couch. “Nooooo,” he moaned, pressing his face into Alex’s hair.

Laura patted his head. “There, there. She’s just trying to help. Your crush on him-“

“I don’t have a crush on Stiles!” he argued fiercely.

Laura made a face. “Stiles? What the hell is a Stiles? Oh my God, you like a human named Stiles? You are so hopeless, DerBear!” She smirked. “And you have a big crush on him, little brother.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek, earning a growl as she darted away, following Peter.

Derek groaned and laid back down, stroking Alex’s back to sooth him back into his nap. He really hoped his sister was lying.

~

Stiles felt very awkward parking his beat up old jeep next to a lot of nice, sleek, beautiful vehicles that only helped punctuate the fact that he was at the Hale Pack gathering. He got out of his car and started up towards the huge mansion that he’d only heard about, never seen. He really was surprised to have been invited. He and Erica sometimes had lunch together, and he and Isaac and Derek were perfectly friendly in the studio, but he was far from good friends with anybody from the pack. Yet he had been invited to join them for a pack gathering.

He was almost to the porch when a kid ran around the side of the house, being chased by a tall, thin lady with long, dark hair. She stopped when she saw Stiles, but smiled. “Hi, I don’t think I know you,” she said, watching the little girl run off into the woods again.

“Hey, I’m Stiles,” he introduced, waving. “I’m-“

She smiled brightly. “You’re Derek’s friend! Awww, I’m glad I got to meet you!” She grabbed his elbow and steered him towards the side of the house. “I’m only here for a few hours so I didn’t know if I’d meet you or not. Laura told me all about you.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? What about me?” he asked, but was distracted when they circled the house and found a backyard full of people. There were long tables full of food nearer the house, on a large patio where Boyd was manning the grill. About eight kids were running around together from what Stiles saw. He recognized the Hale sisters, even if he rarely saw them at work, sitting and talking to Erica, who was sitting on a picnic table rather than on the bench beside it. Allison immediately headed towards where Talia and Chris were standing and talking to some people Stiles didn’t know.

“Hey Daddy, sorry to interrupt,” she said as they walked up. “Just wanted to let Talia know Stiles is here,” she said, and Talia smiled at Stiles.

“Hello, Stiles.” She turned to the other two men. “Rodney, Carlton, this is the human I was telling you about.”

Rodney – whoever he was – looked really old to Stiles, but his handshake when Stiles took his hand was very firm. “Ah yes, Claudia Stilinski’s boy, right?” he asked, smiling. “I can see her all over that face.”

Stiles managed a forced smile. “You knew my mom, too?” he asked, and Carlton chuckled.

“Did we know your mom- of course we knew your mother!” he said, patting Stiles on the shoulder. “The Hale Pack will always honor Claudia Stilinski, my boy,” he said with a meaningful tone to his voice.

Chris seemed to notice Stiles was confused and uncomfortable so he put an arm around his shoulders. “How about you take Stiles here to find Derek, Allison?” he asked and she eyed them all curiously, but nodded.

“Sure thing,” she said, hooking her arm through Stiles’s.

Stiles waved to Talia. “Thank you once again for inviting me, Alpha Hale,” he said over his shoulder as Allison tugged him away.

Now he could see Derek had joined his sisters and Erica, Alex sitting on the table in front of him while Derek helped him stack up some alphabet blocks. Allison cooed. “Awww, he’s getting so big,” she said in greeting as they reached the table.

Erica smiled. “Hey there, Cutie!” she said, crossing her legs and leaning back in a dramatically sexy pose. “You come to steal me away from my man finally?”

Stiles smirked. “I’d rather have your man and you know it,” he said and she growled playfully.

“Hands off, Sweet Cheeks, that fine specimen of man is allllll Mamas,” she said, tugging Stiles until he sat on the table beside her.

Allison sat down beside the two sisters and smiled. “I didn’t know if I’d get to meet the infamous Stiles,” she said and Stiles looked at the two women looking up at him suddenly with identically evil looks.

“I don’t quite like that look,” he started.

“I’m Laura, if you didn’t know,” the older of the two said, eying him closely. “DerBear, aren’t you gonna say hi to your guest?” she cooed over at Derek, who was still silently playing with Alex on Erica’s other side.

“Hi, Stiles,” he said with a small smile, eyes flickering up to meet Stiles’s.

Stiles grinned. “Hard to call me your guest when your mom had to tell me you wanted me to come,” he teased and Derek cringed. “Nah, it’s cool, I get it, you hate me and your mom wants you to make friends, it’s all fine,” he joked.

Allison frowned. “What am I missing?” she asked, and Cora smirked.

“Derek is too much of a loser to even ask a coworker to come to a party and Mom noticed and invited him on Derek’s behalf by telling him ‘my son is a social reject, please God don’t abandon him just cause he’s a loser’-“

“Heeeey, Derek’s not a social reject,” Stiles defended playfully. “It’s just hard to ask a guy to a party when your first really personal interaction was trying to eat him-“

“For the last time, I wouldn’t have eaten you-“

“Derek, you were going to munch on my liver, let’s be real,” Stiles argued, flapping a hand. “I get it, I’m probably really tasty! I don’t know what person is supposed to taste like, but I’m probably well-seasoned from all the curly fries I have consumed in my twenty-seven years on his planet. I probably smell like a nice, tasty Happy Meal-“

“Oh my God, I hate you so much,” Derek cut him off with a flat look, though Stiles could see the way his lips twitched like he wanted to smile.

Stiles batted his eyelashes. “Lies. I’ve saved your ass at work, you love me, you and Isaac are both all ‘oh Stiles, you’re such a hunk, let us build shrines to your face’ but you’re just ashamed to admit it in front of your sisters,” he teased, winking.

Allison snickered. “Why did Derek want to eat you?” she asked, clearly thinking it was a joke.

Stiles hesitated, and winced. “I kinda had to pick up his cub one day. You can guess how well that went.”

Erica snorted. “Still the dumbest thing you ever did-“

“Well I wasn’t going to let a little kid fall down a staircase just because I didn’t want to get attacked!” Stiles defended. “It’s all cool now, I didn’t even get slightly chomped on, but no matter what I stand by my decision,” he said with a jovial sincerity. “Getting eaten is a risk I’d take again if the other option was watching a toddler fall down a staircase, dude. Way better I end up puppy chow than watch a baby get injured.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Except Alex would’ve healed right on up and if I had attacked you, you’d have probably died,” he pointed out.

Stiles shrugged. “I’d die with a clean conscience, dude.” He smiled as he watched Alex hand Derek a block. “Who could stand there and watch that little cutie fall and get hurt? Seriously? Anybody that selfish deserves to be eaten anyways.”

Stiles saw the surprised look on Cora’s face and he raised an eyebrow. She chuckled. “Dude, you’ve got serious balls, man,” she said and he snorted. “I wouldn’t even want to trigger Derek’s ‘must protect cub’ instincts and I could totally take him-“

“No you can’t,” Derek argued.

“Shut it, you, yes I can,” she said, pointing at Derek. “But yeah, I’d totally think twice about catching somebody else’s cub if I were you. That’s like… seriously not okay.”

Stiles smiled softly. “I know that, I’m not ignorant to how cubs and werewolf parents work, I just couldn’t hesitate. I mean… he’s a baby,” he said earnestly. “What kind of monster do you have to be to let a baby fall down stairs no matter how he’ll heal later?”

Allison smiled brightly. “Awww, I can see why you like him so much, Derek,” she said and Derek gave her a flat look. “What?! He was willing to let you maul him if you couldn’t help yourself just because he didn’t want your baby to get hurt! I almost want to snatch him up myself, but I doubt Jacob would like that.”

Erica wiggled her eyebrows. “Doubt Derek would want to share,” she said and Stiles raised an eyebrow at Derek for clarification, only to see Derek narrowing his eyes at the back of Erica’s head.

Cora slapped the table and then stood up. “Hey Stilinski, want a beer? I’m going to get one,” she said.

Stiles hesitated. “I’m kinda driving,” he said, and Laura smirked suddenly, sliding into the spot Cora had vacated so she could look right up at him.

“Don’t worry about it, somebody can give you a ride home later if you need, or you can crash here,” she encouraged.

Stiles raised an eyebrow and leaned closer to Allison with a mock whisper. “If they’re planning on getting me drunk and taking advantage of me, at least make sure there’s photos to prove I can still pick up chicks.”

Laura snickered and shoved his knee. “Oh shut up,” she said playfully, earning a laugh from Stiles.

“Nah, it’s cool, dude, I get it, my glasses totally turn ladies on, it’s not their fault-“

“Well that’s alarming,” she said flatly, then stood up to go with Cora towards the house.

Derek chuckled. “No, what’s alarming is that we don’t even have beer, werewolves aren’t affected by alcohol so if we drink anything, it’s for taste only. They’re totally going to drive to the store and pick up beer just to try and get you loosened up enough to tell them something embarrassing.”

Stiles gaped. “Oh my God, those devious she-devils!”

Erica laughed. “Well can you blame them?! You’re adorable and you work with Derek. You probably have dozens of funny stories.”

Stiles leaned back, raising an eyebrow. “Well we opened with the best one, the whole ‘almost eaten’ incident,” he pointed out.

Derek sighed. “Thanks for telling that one over and over and over,” he said and Stiles winked.

“You’re welcome.” He smirked evilly. “DerBear,” he cooed.

Derek growled. “I will totally eat you if you say that again.”

“DADA NO!” Derek turned back to Alex, who was holding out a block, shaking it with a grumpy frown. “Take!” He said, shaking the block again.

Derek smiled softly. “I’m sorry, Daddy just got distracted,” he mumbled, taking the block and kissing Alex’s hand. Alex squealed and giggled, rocking back away from his dad.

It was hard not to melt when Stiles realized Derek and Alex’s smiles were exactly the same. They both had the same big, multi-colored eyes, the same dark hair, and the same bright smiles when they looked at each other. “Wow, dude,” he said softly, eyes on Alex’s face. “Your son is so beautiful,” he breathed. “Look at that little smile.”

Derek glanced up at him with a pleased smile. “Thanks,” he said, looking back at where Alex was chewing on the block.

Stiles laid his head on Erica’s shoulder as he watched Alex playing. “Dude, I honestly don’t think it’s weird at all that werewolves have it so hard leaving their cubs. If I had a baby like that, I wouldn’t want to do anything but sit there and watch him all day long and I’m just human. No idea how moms and dads can stand leaving them when they’re that little.”

Allison chuckled beside him. “It sucks, but you have to deal with it,” she said.

Erica nodded to Allison, petting Stiles’s hair where it stuck out from under his hat. “Allison has a set of twins,” she explained.

Stiles smiled up at Allison. “Really? How old?”

She grinned. “Four. You saw one of them when you came up,” she said, looking around before pointing to a little boy and little girl playing on the swing set closer to the tree line. “Max and Meredith. My husband is around here somewhere. Well,” she stopped and rolled her eyes. “My not-actually-married-to-him husband as my dad likes to point out. He was never that thrilled we haven’t bothered to actually do the ‘signing a paper’ thing. But hey, eight years living together, that man is my husband,” she said with a smirk.

Stiles pouted. “I want children,” he whined and Erica made a face.

“I sure as hell don’t. Boyd knows damn well we’re not having kids,” she said and Stiles chuckled.

“I have two friends who both never want kids, one that says she’s too young to think about it still, and my best friend, like me, wants children but hasn’t worked out the whole ‘person to raise them with’ thing yet.” He grumbled. “My dad’s going to be pissed when I eventually give up and just start adopting babies by myself.”

Derek chuckled. “It’s harder than it looks, trust me,” he said, shaking his head. “Your whole life changes.”

Stiles smiled softly. “Yeah, but it’s a good change. I want that. I mean, I’ve wanted one since I was like fifteen, I just figured I’d have one by now,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Sadly, the kind of guys who date me aren’t the kind who want to get married and adopt babies. So lame.” He looked at Erica. “Hey, wanna have a baby for me?” he teased and she snorted.

“In your dreams, Sucker,” she said, flicking him on the nose playfully. Stiles started to reply but Erica and Derek both looked up, Alex turning to look as well. Erica smirked. “Foods done,” she said, pecking Stiles’s cheek before hopping off the table.

Allison smiled and looped an arm through Stiles’s, tugging him up. “Come on, better get some food before the werewolves eat it all.”

~

Stiles had eaten what he was pretty sure was more ribs than he’d ever had in his life, but every time he tried to stop eating, somebody would pile more onto his plate and encourage him to ‘keep up’. After miserably laying on the grass talking to Allison and her husband, he somehow got dragged into a game of tag with Allison’s kids.

They were humans, but when some other kids – some of the Hales’ cousins – got into the game, Stiles was surprised to see Allison’s kids keeping up. Even as the sun started going down, Stiles kept running around with Meredith on his ‘team’, helping her catch some of the other kids. “Run, run, get him!” Stiles cried as Meredith darted ahead of him to tag another boy, only to yelp when he was suddenly hit from the side by a much heavier weight than the kids. He went rolling, and landed in heap on top of whatever truck had hit him, only to lift up on his elbows to see a laughing Derek looking up.

“Sorry Stiles, but Parker is on my team,” he teased and Stiles laughed, shoving at his face.

“You suck,” he said, then groaned as he flopped onto his back beside Derek. “Oh God, I’m just human, you shouldn’t hit me so hard,” he said, arching his back, wincing when it cracked. “I think you broke me, Hale.”

Derek sat up and looked down at him, biting his lip. “Crap, I’m sorry,” he said, but Stiles waved a hand.

“It’s okay, I’m just getting old and you’re huge, man.” He wiggled his eyebrows up at Derek. “Anybody ever tell you you’re like… solid muscle? Nobody should weigh that much without being fat.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “I can’t help you’re a weakling. You’re friends with werewolves, how are you not more resilient?” he teased.

Stiles poked his tongue out. “My friends don’t use me as a brake.” He sat up and looked back to see the kids still running around. “Seems we were unnecessary.”

Derek snorted. “Children have way more energy than a werewolf any day. Human or not.” He looked back at where Talia had a sleeping Alex in her lap, craning his neck to see him better.

Stiles looked back at Derek’s family and he nudged Derek’s shoulder with his. “Do you mind if I ask something?” he asked, and Derek looked back, raising an eyebrow. “Why would you want to move out?” he asked, nodding back at them. “Having your family right here? Always having somebody in the house to talk to, or to help out… it has to be really nice. Why would you want to give that up?”

Derek looked down at his lap before turning back to Stiles. “It’s not… a bad thing. I love having my mom around and my sisters are everything to me,” he said softly. “But I don’t want to always be ‘Derek Hale’. I want to stay close, I want Alex to always have my family in his life all the time, but I want my own home and my own family. I mean Allison wasn’t born into our pack, so it’s not the same for her to not live here anymore, but it’s different with me and my sisters. Laura will be the alpha after my mom. And Peter is psychotic anyways, so even if he wasn’t her only brother, he wouldn’t be leaving because my mom keeps him on a short leash,” Derek joked. “I lived on my own for a few years, all the way on the other side of the country, and I got used to privacy and people not jumping down my throat about every little thing.” He sighed and looked up at the sky. “I want to be here. I want to be in Beacon Hills. I just… I don’t want to rely on my mother for everything. I’m thirty-three years old. I shouldn’t need my mom to provide for me anymore. I know she doesn’t care, and I know it’s normal for packs to stick together like this, but I just… want something different.”

Stiles smiled sadly. “I can understand that. I’m the opposite sort of,” he said, meeting Derek’s eyes. “Remember how I said I wanted kids?” Derek nodded. “I want kids because when I was little, I had my mom and my dad and the three of us were such a close family. My mom was a stay at home mom for the most part. She worked part time at a library, but when she was at work, I stayed with my best friend and his mom. I didn’t have cousins, I didn’t have brothers or sisters, it was just me, my mom, and my dad.” He looked away. “Then it was just me and my dad. And my dad had such a hard time after my mom was killed that it was mostly just me.” Stiles shrugged. “Scott needed me a lot then, too. His dad had left and my dad was in horrible shape, and he hadn’t been a werewolf for very long and even with the programs in place, he wasn’t doing as well so I was helping him… I ended up being more like a ‘parent’ to Scott than his friend for a while, and I did most of the stuff around the house for my dad, you know?” He shook his head. “I wanted so bad to have brothers and sisters. I mean I really wanted my mom back, obviously, but I just… I hated being alone so much.” He smiled. “When I was still in high school, I decided the one thing I wanted most was to get married and have kids. Like three or four at least. I just wanted that feeling of a whole ‘family’ again, you know? Me and my dad, and Scott and his mom, we have our own way of being a family, but I want the real deal.”

Derek looked at him for a minute and Stiles waited for him to speak. When he finally did, Derek leaned closer, voice lower. “I’ve heard your mother’s name a thousand times, but I still don’t know what made her so special to my pack.”

Stiles shook his head. “I didn’t know she ever met your mother until she hired me,” he admitted. He smiled sadly. “My mom was one of the founding members of the PRC after…” He waved a hand to the house behind him and Derek nodded sadly. “When I was little?” Stiles smiled, looking up at the sky. “God, my mom thought your mother hung the moon. She talked all the time about how Talia Hale was the most amazing person, how she was changing the world, how wonderful the way the world was changing was and how we were a part of it,” he said, then bit his lip, blinking hard as he saw a few stars twinkling on the edge of the blueness spreading across the sky. “My mom must’ve worked with your mom for a few months when my dad started keeping me home instead of going with my mom to meetings and protests. I didn’t know what was going on then, but Scott had only recently been bitten, so the attacks made people really angry at equal rights supporters for a while there.”

“I remember,” Derek said. “I was still living at home, hadn’t left for college yet, when a few rogue werewolves came into this area. I left before they caught them though.”

Stiles nodded, blinking hard. “My mom was even more of an equality advocate after Scott got bit. He was my best friend and because he got attacked he was suddenly sent to a different school and alienated by some of the people around here. She hated it more than she’d ever hated the inequality before because it was so personal.” Stiles swallowed hard at the lump filling his throat. “When I was thirteen, my mom was gunned down by werewolf hunters because they were after Scott,” he whispered and Derek’s head jerked up, looking at him. “He had broken out when he shifted one night. He had the worst time learning to control himself, cause he was so young. My mom joined the search party looking for him but hunters were looking for him too.” Stiles shook his head. “She found Scott, and he was in control again but he was being chased by hunters tracking him with hunting dogs. She swapped shirts and jackets with him and sent him running towards my house. He got there and I called my dad to tell him Scott had made it wearing mom’s clothes, but… but Mom didn’t come home,” Stiles whispered, voice cracking.

He looked up at Derek with tears in his eyes. “She’d made it back into town. I guess she thought the city smells might make them lose the trail. Instead they trapped her. According to the guy that turned on his friends later, she ran down an alley and it was a dead end. They followed her and- and even though she was human, even though she was the wife of a deputy, they shot her. They shot her in cold blood because ‘sympathizers are even worse than the animals they protect’.” Stiles snorted, wiping at his eyes. “I didn’t know my mom knew your mom, and I didn’t know your mom even knew what my mom did. But apparently my mom had more ins with your pack than me or dad knew about.”

Derek stared at him, looking horrified and unsure what to say. Stiles didn’t know what to say either. He was saved from needing to decide by a soft voice from behind him. “We were all out searching that night.” Stiles and Derek both startled. Derek clearly still hadn’t ever learned to hear his mother sneaking up on them. Talia came over and sat down across from them. “Stiles, your mother helped start the ball rolling on a lot of things. She was the first one to suggest integrated schools. She was so outspoken against hunters killing werewolves being anything other than full on murder.” Talia smiled fondly. “Your mom was a great woman. Claudia never backed down when the organization started getting death threats. She stopped telling you and your father all the facts to protect you, but she never gave it up.” Talia shook her head. “She called me the night that little boy went missing and all of us were searching. Peter, Chris, Laura, and I combed the woods all around Beacon Hills. We didn’t know anything had happened until we heard gunshots, but even then, we feared the boy had been found by hunters. Never in a million years did we think your mother would get hurt.”

Stiles shrugged. “I don’t blame you or anything. My mother died protecting my best friend when he was just a kid. I’m pretty damn sure I’d have done the same thing, you know?” He wiped at his face and laughed wetly and looked at Derek. “Wow, sorry I’m such a downer, man. From talking about kids to my dead mom.”

Derek shook his head. “I’m glad you trusted me to tell me that,” he said in a slightly gruff tone.

Talia took Stiles’s hand in hers, squeezing it. “I think your mom would be proud of the man you grew up to be,” she said and Stiles bit his lip, swallowing hard.

“Thank you.”

She gave Derek a sly smile and stood up. “Most of us are taking things inside, so don’t you two stay out here too long,” she said and Derek rolled his eyes.

Stiles watched her walk away then looked back at Derek, raising an eyebrow. “What was that about?” he asked, and Derek groaned, flopping back onto the grass.

“Nothing,” he said, rubbing his hands over his face.

Stiles looked back and saw that most everybody had gone inside. “Party’s heading in. Wanna just lay out here a while? Chill?” he asked, then checked, looking around. “Is Alex okay without you?”

Derek nodded, looking up at the sky, arms stretched over his head. Stiles’s eyes were drawn to the slip of skin shown in the gap of where his pants and shirt didn’t quite meet. Stiles could see a dark, distracting trail of hair leading form his jeans to his belly button. However, it wasn’t as distracting as the words Derek spoke without preamble.

“I killed my wife.”

Stiles jerked so hard he nearly fell over. “What?!” he squeaked.

Derek nodded, looking at the sky, not at Stiles. “I lived in New York and I met a girl that was sweet, and amusing, and I had been really lonely for so long I guess I was desperate to feel like I had someone again. We didn’t date six months before we got married. Didn’t have a big wedding, didn’t even tell my pack until it was all over with and we were married,” he said, then scoffed. “Should’ve been a sign, but I was so stupid. We were married for a few months before she got pregnant. I was ecstatic, which was so wrong because I didn’t even want kids,” he said, and Stiles frowned. “I was through the roof, I was all excited about letting my family know I would be a dad, the whole nine yards.”

Stiles hesitated. “Why does that sound… off?”

Derek growled. “Because it was.” He put his hands under the back of his head. “I first realized something was off when she had Alex. Something about him being there made me feel… different. I really panicked at first. I saw him and realized ‘oh God, I have a cub!’ and I panicked. But within hours of his birth, I was holding him and feeding him a bottle and I loved him so much,” he stressed, smiling softly. “Jesus, my little tiny cub in my hands was just… the most wonderful feeling ever.” Stiles watched his smile slip away. “And then I started questioning things. Like why the hell I got married to her that fast. Or why I was okay with my mother having never come visit us, you know?” He shook his head. “Then he was three weeks old and Jennifer convinced me I needed to go out for a little while. I hadn’t left him for a further destination than the couch to the nursery the whole time, I let her go out and get things we needed because I just couldn’t stand letting him out of my sight, fuck leaving the house.”

Stiles tilted his head. “What was wrong?” he asked curiously.

Derek looked at him with something Stiles almost thought was fear or shame in his eyes. “I went out, just to the store, and I came back to find her trying to hurt him,” he said in a hoarse tone. Stiles gasped in shock and Derek growled low in his throat, eyes flashing blue for a moment. “Turns out she was a druid, not a regular human, and she needed a werewolf cub with her blood for a fucking blood sacrifice and she decided to do something to make me fall for her. I mean, being pretty and showing me attention when I was so lonely and standoffish was how it started, but when I started to resist her she did things to me apparently. That’s how she ended up pregnant only about eight months after meeting me, manipulation.” He bit his lip. “She was going to kill him. She was- she was hurting him. He was screaming and crying because she had cut his little hand to start the ritual. He was three weeks old and she had cut him. She was going to kill him and use all his blood for some dark power thing.” Derek bared his teeth at the memory. “I killed her. She got in a good few blows, she was really strong and powerful of a druid, but even if she had given birth to him, I went full on ‘protecting my cub’ rage on her. I ripped her apart without any hesitation.”

“Oh God, Derek,” Stiles breathed.

Derek nodded. “Yep. When I calmed down and he had healed up already, I was still covered in blood and the apartment was a crime scene. I had to call my mom. She called a lawyer, contacted the local police, and got a werewolf liaison to the apartment all while she was flying across the country to get there.” Derek gestured to his eyes. “That whole ‘killed innocent person’ turning your eyes blue? Not necessarily ‘innocent’ it seems because that bitch was trying to murder my cub.”

Stiles just stared at him blankly. “Alex-“

“Is still the most perfect thing in this world to me,” Derek reassured him. “It was ruled defending an innocent child, not attacking a human, so I got let off and I came home with him. I don’t regret a second of anything, though, because Alex is my entire world. My son is the most perfect thing that has ever existed, no matter how he came about.” Derek looked up at him. “But, no matter what, I have to live with the knowledge that someday Alex will know that I killed his mother. My precious cub will learn that his mother was a druid who used magical means to make me love her just so she could have him with the sole intention of killing him. My son will know that he exists because someone wanted to murder him.” Derek rubbed his palms into his eyes. “Unlike you, his mother won’t be something he can be proud of. Hell, I’m nothing he can be proud of. I fell for that shit and then I killed her to escape it.”

Stiles looked at Derek for a long time and Derek looked right back until they decided it was time to get up and go inside.

~

When Stiles got to work Monday morning before Isaac, he leaned into Derek’s office and tapped the door casing before speaking. “I think Alex will grow up being proud of you because you not only survived that druid, but you have managed to keep a job and raise a cub on your own all this time.” Stiles shook his head. “Being a single parent is hard, I saw it in my dad and my best friend’s mom, but being the single parent of an infant werewolf cub?” He smiled. “Derek, you’re like superman. That’s amazing. I’d nominate you for ‘dad of the year’ and that category has been dominated by my dad for years, man.” Derek gave him a sheepish smile and Stiles bit his lip. “Alex is such a good cub, from what I’ve seen, and you’re doing your best on top of working a full time job, Derek. He’ll grow up looking at his dad the same way I look at mine, and trust me, my dad is always going to be my hero.” Stiles nodded to Derek. “Just like you’re going to be Alex’s hero. Twenty-six years from now, he’ll still think you’re the most amazing person in the whole world, trust me,” Stiles said softly before wordlessly turning and heading out to the drafting table to rework today’s schedule.

~

Derek tapped on Stiles’s binder, leaning on the table across from him. “Hey, I’m about to go get Alex and go have lunch with my mom in her office. Wanna come with? She invited Peter and Chris but they’re not so bad when she’s there.” He grinned. “Swear she gets the best sandwiches in town sent up,” he added enticingly.

Stiles smiled. “Sure you want to face me and Peter Hale in the same room?” he asked, and Derek nodded. Stiles shrugged. “Sounds fun. Let’s go!”

Stiles followed Derek down the hall to pick up Alex. The new babysitter, James, looked so relieved to get a break, but Stiles was too busy watching how Derek positively lit up the second he reached down and picked Alex up, swinging him up into the sky with a bright, happy smile. Alex squealed and clapped when Derek lowered him to sit on his hip, thanking James as he turned around.

Stiles held the door and poked his tongue out at Alex when they passed. “Somebody missed Daddy, huh?” he said, looking at the way Alex laid his head on Derek’s shoulder contentedly.

Derek kissed his dark, messy curls. “That’s okay, cause Daddy always misses a certain little cub,” Derek said, still looking more at Alex than where he was walking. Alex didn’t seem to like the elevator noises if the way he covered his ears and whined was anything to go by on the way up to the twelfth floor. When they got out and walked into the reception area of Talia’s office, Erica cooed. “Awwww that handsome little thing should just stay up here, Derek. I think Nana would love that, don’t you, Alex?” she asked, making faces at him.

Derek snorted. “I trust my mom with Alex, but I don’t trust myself with six floors between us,” he said as he and Stiles passed.

Erica raised an eyebrow at Stiles, who shrugged. “I got invited,” he said simply. She just smirked and winked at him.

“Sure you did, Sweet Cheeks.”

They went into one of the conference rooms opposite Talia’s office and Stiles felt a little out of place when they walked in and the others were already sitting and passing around wrapped sandwiches. Talia looked up and gave Stiles a surprised smile, looking at Derek quickly. “Well hey, Stiles. Derek, I never thought you’d get up the nerve to invite somebody to lunch,” she teased and Derek glared at her, ears turning pink.

Stiles didn’t really understand Derek’s half-mortified expression but he smiled anyways. “What, like I’d miss a chance to hang out with the cutest cub in the building?” he asked, following Derek around the table.

Derek pulled out a chair and nodded for Stiles to sit before taking the one beside it. “He’s the only cub in the building,” he pointed out and Stiles huffed.

“Oh shut up, you know what I mean, your kid is precious, okay? Just go with it,” he said playfully.

Peter smirked at his spot across from Stiles, feet up in his seat with him as he looked across his knees at Stiles. “Why Derek, I’m starting to see why you’re suddenly less of a shitty Art Director. Smart, pretty, and bossy. Winner you have yourself there,” he said, spinning his chair back and forth slightly. Stiles thought it looked very odd for a man in such a nice, clean cut suit to be sitting in a chair and wiggling around like an overgrown child, but he was pretty sure that was Peter Hale in a nutshell.

Chris, who was surprisingly sitting right beside him without killing him as Stiles would’ve suspected going by their mutual hatred, rolled his eyes. “Leave Derek alone, Peter. He finally made a friend, stop trying to scare him off.”

Talia smiled a small, amused little smile. “Besides, no business talk outside of work hours, and lunch doesn’t constitute a work hour,” she chastised.

Stiles snickered and looked at Derek, and if glares could kill, Peter would probably be on fire at the moment. “There’s a ‘no business outside of work’ rule in your family?” he asked Talia. Derek passed him a bottle of water and he thanked him. “Derek seems to fail there, since we text back and forth while working on things for the next few days at night. You should see the argument we had about filters for a shoot once. Pretty sure it spanned about four hundred text messages.”

Derek glared playfully. “Half of them consisted of ‘do not’ and ‘do too’ thanks to someone being a giant child,” he said and Stiles smirked.

“You kept replying to them so I’m not the only immature one in our office. Admit it, Derek, I make your job more fun,” he teased, batting his eyelashes.

“So I take it my gamble is paying off then?” Talia asked Stiles and Derek.

Stiles shrugged. “You’d have to tell me. We do our best, but I have to admit, I don’t actually… um… read the magazine,” he admitted sheepishly.

Talia rolled her eyes. “Of course you don’t,” she said flatly, but smiled. “It’s alright. I’m pretty sure not every employee reads the magazine. I think it is working though,” she said, glancing over at Chris and Peter. “Neither of you have complained nearly as much in the past three months since Stiles started.”

Chris nodded, wiping his hands on a napkin. “We’ve had less issues with the photos and graphics not matching the stories recently, that’s for sure. Less rejections from a certain department head,” he said, nodding his head to Peter.

Peter gave Talia a thumbs up, still spinning slightly with his knees up. “A&D stopped sucking so badly. You should think about lending Stiles out to another content department that shall go unnamed,” he said, kicking at Chris’s chair halfheartedly. “Or just hire a more competent person to approve the drivel missed by the copy editors-“

“They don’t miss things, you make things up, Peter,” Chris said with a sigh. “You imagine errors and send things back-“

“I can’t help I’m more intelligent than your copy editors, Christopher,” Peter said with a mockingly innocent smile.

Chris narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth, but then stopped, holding up a hand. “Nope, not going there.” He turned to Stiles and chuckled. “See, this is why we have a no work talk outside of work, there’s no winning an argument against a Hale and the magazine department chairs are all Hales. The house would be a war zone.”

Peter smirked at Chris, attempting to throw a pickle at him, only to miss and have it land on the table between Chris and Talia. “Our marriage would’ve never lasted the past twelve years without one of us killing the other, that’s for damn sure,” he said, and Chris gave him a warm smile, throwing a balled up napkin at him.

“Trust me, Dear, when you finally snap and go fully psychotic, I’ve already planned your demise. Don’t worry, it’ll be quick and humane,” he promised and Peter dramatically laid a hand over his heart.

“Awww, you do still love me,” he said, stretching his legs out to rest in Chris’s lap.

Stiles didn’t realize he was staring with a shocked and somewhat horrified expression until Derek nudged him and Stiles realized he’d dropped his sandwich and was just holding his hands in front of his frozen open mouth quite ridiculously. “What the hell, Stiles?” Derek asked, biting back a laugh.

Stiles spluttered. “You two are married?!” he asked incredulously.

Derek frowned. “Wait, you didn’t know that?” he asked, and Talia gave him an amused smirk.

“Really, Stiles, you’ve been working here for months now, that’s not very observant,” she commented.

Stiles shot her a look. “You should hear the crap twiddle dee and twiddle dum over here say about each other, you’d know why I was so surprised.” He shook his head in amazement as he looked between them. “Swear to God, I thought you hated each other’s guts.”

Chris smirked and Peter just winked at his husband. “Eh, love, hate, both very passionate emotions. You don’t stay married to someone for more than a decade and not hate them at least a little bit.”

Chris nodded. “You know you’re an ‘old married couple’ when you simultaneously want to smother them in their sleep with a pillow yet would defend them to the death if somebody else wanted to hurt them. Occasional fantasies about mariticide come with the territory of being married a long time.”

Stiles made a face. “Wow, getting old sounds so fun, thanks,” he said flatly and Peter huffed.

“Bitch please, I’m not old. Now Christopher, he’s old as hell,” he said, patting his husband’s shoulder. “Talia’s freaking ancient, too,” he added and Talia rolled her eyes.

Stiles smiled. “Hey, your sister looks the same age as you, dude, so either you’re older than you claim or she just looks good for her age. It makes sense, my dad’s fifty-eight and he looks really young.” He gestured to himself. “I look about seventeen, not twenty-seven.”

Peter groaned. “You’re twenty-seven? Who did you murder to look so young and where can I find an equivalent?”

Derek smirked and nudged Stiles. “Peter’s only a few years older than me. Looks really old, huh?” he teased, giving his uncle an evil look.

Stiles shot him a look. “You only look young when you’re well rested, so you have no room to talk. When Alex has bad nights you come in looking forty with all the lines around your eyes. What’s that about stones and glass houses?”

Peter nodded. “And that is why I never had or wanted kids,” he said. “I just did the smart thing and married an old guy so I’m the youngest step-grandparent at the Christmas recitals and stuff of that nature.”

Stiles smiled. “Yeah I met your daughter and grandkids, Chris,” he said brightly. “They’re pretty awesome kids. You’re a lucky guy.”

Chris smiled but laughed. “I still can’t believe I’m a granddad already. All joking aside, I feel way too young for that.”

Stiles shrugged. “Hey, if I’d had my way, and if my parents had had me a little younger, my dad could’ve totally been a grandpa in his forties, too. My parents just didn’t have kids till they were in their thirties and my plans to have four kids by thirty fell through.”

Talia raised an eyebrow. “Four by thirty? You really expected for that to happen?” she asked.

He raised an eyebrow. “You had four by thirty, right? Not that crazy, now is it?” he asked.

Talia smiled sadly and Stiles felt bad for a minute for bringing up her dead children. “I have to admit, I didn’t exactly plan to have five children, it just happened that way.”

Derek snorted, looking up from bouncing Alex on his lap. “Stiles is insane, though,” he muttered and Stiles poked is tongue out at him. “One kid is hard enough in my thirties, I cannot imagine four before this one, but Stiles claims he wanted kids when he was in high school.”

Stiles shrugged, but nodded when Talia looked at him curiously. “I was about fifteen when I decided I wanted lots of kids. Figured I’d graduate college at twenty-one, which meant four kids in nine years. Totally doable. Instead, I still haven’t even got married yet. Such a shame. I told Derek how I’ll have to just start adopting kids on my own one of these days.”

Talia gave him a knowing look, then exchanged cryptic smiles with Chris and Peter before looking over at where Derek was tending to Alex and not looking at them. “Oh, you never know. A lot can happen before you get around to adopting by yourself,” she said in an amused tone that left Stiles mostly confused.

He had a feeling, looking around at the others, that he was missing something. He just didn’t know what.

~

“Oh my GOD, Cora, if you don’t stop I’m going to murder you- Stiles, I’m sorry, but I have to hang up and go kill my sister!” Derek growled over the phone.

Stiles laughed as he listened to Derek yelling something about a garden hose to his sisters. After a while Derek came back with a sigh and a slamming door. “Rough day?” Stiles joked and Derek growled.

“You have no idea. I swear, sisters, Stiles. They are the devil,” he groused.

Stiles looked up at his ceiling for a while, turning it over in his head whether he should really ask before he opened his mouth and spoke. “What’s it like having siblings?” he asked softly.

Derek hummed. “Well, in spite of the frequent urge to maim, it’s kind of great,” he said with a soft, affectionate tone that Stiles usually only heard used when talking about Alex. “Growing up, I was never alone. I had people to play with. I had a big sister who looked out for me when Peter was being annoying, too. He really is only a few years older than me, so he used to pick on the little kids when he was a big kid and Laura was always the one to tell him to leave me alone.”

Stiles smiled. “I always wondered what that was like. I mean I had Scott, but not when I was really little.” He picked at his shirt. “Do you ever think you’ll give Alex a little brother or sister?” he asked.

Derek sighed, staying quiet for a minute. “I think I want to,” Derek said finally. “Not very soon, obviously, and if I can’t, then he’ll be alright with all his cousins. I just know how much I liked having somebody always there to play with when I was little. There’s no way to really compare how it feels to have a brother or sister. Your best friend sounds as close as you could possibly understand, so it’s like that. I can’t imagine Alex growing up without that, you know?”

Stiles hesitated. “You had more, didn’t you?” he asked softly. “You can tell me to shut up and not answer that, I’m sorry, I just… I’m curious.”

Derek made a soft noise and Stiles felt bad, but he didn’t tell Stiles no. “Yeah. Younger than me but older than Cora. I was sixteen when they died. Grace was fifteen. Andrew was thirteen. It… it sucked,” he said in a tight voice. “In a way I think it was worse than my dad dying,” he said and Stiles closed his eyes, trying to even imagine it. “Cause I mean, by the time you’re sixteen you always know that one day your dad is gonna be gone. You don’t necessarily think it’s gonna be tomorrow, but you’ve generally accepted that your dad will die a good while before you do.” Derek sighed. “But not your little brother and sister,” he said weakly. “I sure as hell never thought I’d outlive younger siblings at least. We’re all close in age, so it’s a tossup, obviously, but you sure as hell can’t possibly expect you’ll one day be thirty-three and your brother and sister never hit driving age. I wouldn’t wish I had never had them, though, because we had the most amazing time growing up, you know? I couldn’t ever wish to undo how happy I was with a brother and three sisters at one point.”

Stiles sniffled and was surprised to find tears on his face. “Fuck, I’m almost sorry I asked,” he said in a tight voice. “Like… I never really thought about that.” He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand. “I’m so sorry for bringing it up, Derek.”

Derek sighed. “It’s okay, Stiles. You told me about your mom and I know how bad that one is. I like that you trust me enough to actually ask me things like this, no matter how bad they suck.”

Stiles smiled, unable to help the squirmy feeling in his belly. “There’s just something about you, Hale. I have no idea what it is, but something just makes trusting you so easy, dude.”

Derek’s laugh sounded almost breathless in Stiles’s ear. “I know the feeling.”

~

Isaac rushed in and slammed the door to Derek’s office. “We have a serious problem!”

Stiles frowned, standing straight. “What is it?”

“We can’t do todays shoot,” Isaac said and Derek stopped.

“Isaac, we have to. We put it off until last minute. Literally we have to shoot today or the main article for the issue has no photos,” he said seriously. “There is no redo, there is no undo, there is only DO!”

“Which article?” Stiles asked quickly, grabbing Derek’s schedule.

Derek sighed. “The main article. The one about human mates. Isaac, what’s wrong?”

Isaac huffed. “The mother and her cub dropped out. Derek, there’s nothing we can do.”

Stiles paled. “Shit, the one about human mates with cubs?! We’ll never find a human with a cub that is willing to shoot today with this short of notice!”

Derek cursed and dove for his phone. “Maybe mom knows something,” he said as he called up to her office. “Maybe by some miracle there’s somebody in town she knows she can- hey! Mom, we have a big problem,” Derek started.

Stiles grabbed up his contact book and ducked under Derek’s arm. “Isaac, come with me. We’re looking for any models you know with kids.” They headed out to the main studio. “We need cubs under three years old and a human parent,” he said, handing Isaac the contact book. “I’ll go check with wardrobe and makeup to see what we can do when we get a replacement on this short notice,” he said, going to the wardrobe and makeup department at almost a run.

~

After exhausting every contact they had, after Talia came down herself to help them search, they were drawing blanks. Derek looked at the clock. “We have four hours to find, prepare, and shoot for the main article of the issue. And we don’t have a human with a cub.”

Talia shook her head. “This is a disaster. That model signed a contract. I’ll be contacting our lawyers for sure,” she said, looking around the table. “I don’t know if we can-“ She stopped, glancing over at Stiles and then looking down at the list. “Give me a second,” she said, standing and heading to the wardrobe and makeup department door.

Stiles and Isaac raised eyebrows at Derek, who shrugged. “No clue,” Derek mumbled, running his hands over his face.

Talia came back with Clarissa the head of wardrobe and makeup in tow. They stopped by the table and Clarissa looked at Stiles, tilting her head a few directions. She walked around the table to look at him from other angles, then hummed. “You know, I think we can work with it,” she said to Talia, hand on her chin, the other crossed across her body. “Skin is great, figure is great, I think we can absolutely do the job in about half an hour or less.”

Talia smiled. “Great.”

“Mom… what’re you doing?” Derek asked her curiously.

Talia came over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Derek, honey, I know it’s asking a lot, but I have a solution.” She gestured to Clarissa. “I think we’ve decided we can use Stiles as our human if you’ll let us use Alex as the cub,” she said. Derek glared. “I know, I know, but you shoot it so his face isn’t turned to the camera and he won’t be identifiable. Also, Stiles spends enough time around us all that his scent is around. If we put Stiles in one of your shirts before the shoot while he’s getting fixed up, Alex will feel comfortable enough to cooperate. All we need are some shots of Stiles holding him and playing with him and we can pass it off as a human and their cub.”

Stiles paled. “Derek, if you don’t want me to touch him, I won’t,” Stiles promised. “I’m sorry, but that is asking a lot of Derek, Talia,” he said apologetically.

She nodded. “I know, but we’re in a bind and this is a solution.”

Derek groaned. “We can try. But if he gets agitated, I’m calling it off,” he said, looking up at Stiles. “I swear it’s not that I don’t trust you, but he’s my cub-“

“No, Derek, I really do understand,” Stiles said firmly.

Derek nodded. “We can try,” he said to his mom, shrugging. “That’s all we can do.”

Clarissa clapped. “Good. Now take off that shirt and give it to Stiles, then go get your son while we’re getting ready.”

Stiles flushed some when Derek pulled off his soft looking sweater and tossed it to Stiles before walking out in nothing but a tank top undershirt to go get Alex.

~

Stiles had the worst time sitting still while someone cut his hair and styled it without him looking since his eyes were shut while they put makeup on him. “Please don’t paint me up like a whore, okay?”

Talia laughed from off to the side. “It’s just to cover the rings under your eyes and powder to keep the shine down from the camera flash.”

Hilary chuckled. “You’ve got great skin, so this isn’t too bad. Even pros usually have some blemishes here and there but you’ve got the clearest skin apart from a few moles and freckles.”

“I like the moles and freckles, personally,” Clarissa said. “Gives his face some character. They’re not big, hairy moles, just little beauty spots. He’s not a model so we need something to make him less ‘average’.”

Stiles snorted. “I’d be happy with average, honestly.”

“Well, honey, you’re an attractive boy,” Clarissa said, fluffing at his hair as she did something. “Getting you out of that ratty ass hat and those glasses does wonders.”

Stiles opened his eyes in surprise and Talia smiled from where she was leaning on the counter, careful not to get any makeup on her beige skirt and blazer. “You have the most beautiful eyes, Stiles,” she complimented, tilting her head. “Why do you hide them behind those glasses? I had no idea how big and pretty your eyes are until just now.”

Stiles flapped a hand, since it was all he could really move while they put some clear stuff on his lips. “I like them. I have contacts, and I only really need the glasses for driving since my eyesight isn’t that bad, but I feel like they make me look more intelligent.”

“The word you’re looking for is ‘like a nerd’,” Hilary said, poking at his bottom lip. “Do this,” she said, opening her mouth like an O.

Clarissa huffed. “And you have this thick, pretty hair that goes so well with your eyes and skin tone, but you shove it under that grungy hat. It’s like you are going out of your way to be less attractive.”

Hilary ran a hand across his shoulders as she stopped beside him to look at the side of his face and do something near his jaw. “The way he hides in those layers, I’m betting it’s all a ploy to keep from having to fight the girlies off with a stick,” she said, and Stiles could feel his ears burning. “Awwww and look at how he blushes,” she cooed. “Stiles, kid, you have these broad shoulders, that tiny waist, a bubble butt, cheekbones to die for, the cutest little nose, and big ol’ Bambi eyes. What the hell are you hiding it all for?” she asked, then finished and backed away from his face.

Stiles gave her a somewhat disbelieving look. “Seriously, Hilary, nobody has ever said any of those things. I really don’t think I’m that… anything,” he said awkwardly. “I’m not ugly, I know that, and I keep in shape and all, but I’m sorta just plain looking. Never had a lot of luck with the ladies or gentlemen,” he pointed out.

Talia stepped up to him and, when Clarissa backed off, she turned his chair until he faced the mirror. “That face is far from plain, Stiles,” she said, putting her hands on his shoulders.

Stiles gaped as he leaned closer, surprised that it was even him he was looking at. All they had done really was get rid of his hat, glasses, changed his hair, and his layers and put some stuff on his lips and face to make them look softer. But somehow, his hair, while barely shorter and just styled different, looked soft and touchable now. It was shorter and the front was gelled up into a soft looking little lump. The sides and back were a little shorter and neater, but still slightly messy. His shoulders looked wider than he was used to in Derek’s slightly too big sweater with nothing under it, and the wider neck than he was used to made his throat look long and lean, his collar bones peeking out. “Holy crap,” Stiles muttered in surprise.

Clarissa smirked. “Wait until we get you in some clothes that fit.”

~

Derek was just re-doing the straps on Alex’s little overalls after he had changed him into clean clothes when the door to the wardrobe room opened. “Hey, are we about ready to go? Alex is ready but he won’t be ready to sit still for very long.”

“Should be good,” Isaac said, setting the camera beside Derek. Derek picked it up and took out the old memory card to get a new one put in. “Wow, Stiles, you look good, man!” Isaac said and Derek glanced up, only to double take and drop the camera onto the table with a ‘clunk’ when he saw Stiles walking over with Talia at his side.

Without his ever present hat and glasses, Stiles looked amazing. His eyes were bigger than Derek remembered, his hair looked so soft Derek wanted to run his fingers through it, and his eyelashes looked longer than ever without black frames in the way. “Stiles…”

Stiles frowned. “What’s wrong? You change your mind, because I totally understand, okay?” He held his hands up, shoving the sleeves of Derek’s sweater up his forearms. “I won’t touch him if you don’t want me to,” he promised.

Derek swallowed hard, but shook his head. “No. No it’s… it’s fine. I uh- I have to go get- this is the wrong memory card,” he said quickly, snatching up the camera and all but running from the room. When he got out in the hall he had to stop and bang his head against the wall over how stupid he was.

“I am so not prepared for this,” he whined as he banged his head against the wall one more time for good measure.

~

Stiles was starting to wonder if he was missing a joke with the way Talia and Isaac were both smirking while they waited on Derek. Alex was eyeing Stiles curiously, clearly confused by his father’s scent on somebody that didn’t look like his dad. Stiles almost felt bad, because he had only ever seen Derek, his baby sitter James, and Talia touching Alex before. He hadn’t ever even seen Laura or Cora hold him. He just hoped it didn’t scare Alex.

Derek got back and Isaac gave him a wiggly eyebrowed smirk. Derek glared, but put the camera around his neck. “Alright, time to see how this works.” He picked Alex up and kissed him. “Let’s go to Stiles, okay?”

Stiles started to take off the sweater, but Clarissa made a noise and came over to help him keep from messing up his hair as he took it off. He pulled down the shirt he had on under it when it slid up. “Still say this thing is too small-“

“It’s really not,” Isaac said seriously. “You look hot,” he said and Stiles rolled his eyes.

He pulled down the dark blue long sleeve, fitted shirt he was wearing until it met the leather belt on the jeans they had put him in, then shoved the sleeves up and let Clarissa adjust them. “Alright, let’s do this!”

Derek stopped and gave him a playful glare. “Don’t you drop my cub, got it? I’ll have to kill you.”

Stiles smiled softly. “Derek, it means a lot to me that you’re trusting me to hold your cub,” he said earnestly and Derek gave him a nervous smile before carefully handing Alex to him.

“Careful, he squirms. One under his legs is best- no like-“

“I’ve got this, Derek,” Stiles reassured, smiling when he rested Alex on his hip, one arm under his butt and the other holding onto his hand. “See? Look at that.”

Alex looked at Stiles with a little frown that looked so much like Derek’s that Stiles laughed softly. “No missing who your daddy is, huh, dude?” he asked, holding him a little closer. He crossed his eyes and Alex finally smiled, making an amused little cooing sound as he looked at Stiles’s face. Stiles smiled back, bouncing him lightly. “Yeah, there we go. I knew it. Nobody can resist laughing at my face.” He looked up at Derek, who was watching them with a strangely blank look. His eyes were wide, his mouth hung open slightly, and he looked somewhere between shocked and disbelieving. “We good?” he asked Derek, and Derek swallowed, but nodded wordlessly.

“I- yeah. Yeah. Just… over here.” He directed Stiles to the white background with the warmer toned lights set up in the corner. There was a tan loveseat with red pillows there as well, but Derek’s first direction was to stand in front of just the background. “Alright, so how strong are you? Think you can hold him standing for a while?”

Stiles nodded. “Yeah, he’s not that big.”

“Good, hold him towards your left side, but not on your hip,” Derek directed. “Isaac, help me with the light, okay?” he called back and Isaac brought over a light board to help direct the light some. “See if you can get him to look at you because I don’t want his face in this,” Derek said, and Stiles nodded, looking down at Alex as he moved him where Derek wanted him.

Alex looked at Stiles, and Stiles smiled. “Hey Alex. Can I call you Alex? Or is that a Daddy only thing?” he asked, tilting his head some. Alex eyed him curiously, but didn’t look agitated. “I’m Stiles, if we haven’t been properly introduced. I don’t really remember.”

Alex smiled at him. “Aba ba ba,” he said and Stiles chuckled warmly.

“Totally, man. Great to meet you, too.” Stiles could hear the shutter clicking but he was more amazed at how cute Alex was. “You look just like your daddy,” he murmured softly, stroking Alex’s curls out of his face. He heard a soft gasp from Derek and looked up just in time to hear the shutter clicking in rapid succession.

Derek was engrossed in the camera but Isaac smiled. “That was a great shot, I know it,” he said and Stiles smiled, but looked back to Alex, who was looking at Stiles still.

Alex reached up and put a hand on Stiles’s face, prodding at his cheek. “Faa! Ba Ba Ba!” he said, patting Stiles’s cheek as he babbled on. “Maf,” he said, patting Stiles on the lips.

Stiles grinned and pretended to gobble up his fingers. Alex squealed and yanked his hand back, but then laughed. “Raawr I’m gonna eat some little fingers!”

“Noooo!” Alex cried, leaning back away from Stiles. Stiles cradled him to keep him from falling and pulled him up.

“Careful there, Dude, I don’t wanna drop you, your dad would have my guts on the outside in a minute,” he complained. “Work with me, here.”

They swapped angles and lighting a few times. Alex started to seem tired, if the way he laid his head on Stiles’s chest was anything to go by, fisting his hands in his shirt as he nuzzled against his neck. “Awwww, you sleepy, Baby?” Stiles asked, kissing his head. Stiles rubbed his cheek against Alex’s head absently.

“Freeze right there,” Derek said softly and Stiles opened his eyes curiously and Derek started snapping rapidly. Stiles held the shot, blinking a few times, before Derek pulled back and nodded, jaw tight. “Let’s do a few on the couch then we’ll stop. He’s getting tired,” he said in an almost strangled tone.

Stiles raised an eyebrow at Derek’s pale, unnerved look. “You okay? Is this still okay? We can stop if you’re getting uncomfortable with me having Alex-“

“No, we- we’re okay. He’s still not fussing so we’ll try the couch before he starts crying,” Derek instructed.

Stiles sat down, careful as he jostled Alex some. Alex gave him a grumpy pout and Stiles laughed. “Derek, he even has your ‘stop being stupid’ face. It’s so cute how much you look alike. God, those Hale genes are strong,” he said, glancing up at the camera so Derek could see the smirk on his face. Derek, however just snapped a picture.

“Lay back against the arm of the couch and put your legs up, cross your ankles, and let Alex lay on your middle.” Stiles did what he said and Alex laid on his belly looking up at Stiles, his hands bracing him against Stiles’s chest. “That’s great, put your hand on his back, make it look like you’re trying to get him to sleep.”

Stiles pulled Alex a little higher and rubbed a his back in slow, soothing strokes. “That feel okay? Not annoying?” he asked Alex, leaning in to bump their noses together, making Alex giggle. “You are too precious, dude,” he said softly, lifting his other hand to push those pretty curls out of his big, hazel eyes. “This was a bad idea, man, cause I’m not gonna want to hand you back over. Sadly, I think Daddy could take me, though.” Stiles smiled when Alex made a grumbling sound and laid his head on Stiles’s chest. Stiles curled his hand over the back of his head, the other still stroking his back, and he kissed his hair, closing his eyes as he left his mouth pressed to Alex’s head. “I wish I could snuggle you all the time, Alex. You’re so soft and warm. Do you and Daddy take naps like this together? I bet you do, cause I could fall asleep so easily, Baby.”

Stiles heard a soft, happy grumble from Alex and smiled when Alex shuffled, rubbing his face against Stiles’s shirt. “If you fall asleep, it’s cool. Daddy can just take you back to take a nap without waking you, I’m sure.”

“I think we’re done.” Stiles opened his eyes, and Derek was on his knees a few feet from him, camera lax in his hands. His face was still shuttered and carefully blank, but Stiles saw an almost panicked look in Derek’s eyes.

Stiles smiled sadly and sat up carefully, keeping Alex from moving. “Here, you can have him.” He smiled knowingly when Derek stood up and stepped up. “I see that look, Daddy, you’ve had your fill of somebody else touching your baby, huh?”

Derek gave him a shaky smile without speaking as he carefully pulled Alex into his arms. Alex whimpered, wiggling unhappily and Derek handed the camera off to Isaac. “Here, Alex is ready for a nap,” he said.

Stiles stood up and stretched, smiling and waving as a sleepy eyed Alex looked over Derek’s shoulder at him. “Thanks for working with me, Dude. You were great!”

He walked back over to the drafting table, but looked up when he felt Isaac and Talia still staring at him with knowing smirks. “What?” he asked with a frown.

Talia shook her head with an amused little quirk to her lips. “Nothing, Stiles,” she said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “Go ahead and go change back into your clothes,” she instructed and he frowned at her tone but did what she said.

~

Derek was sitting on the floor behind his desk with his back pressed against the drawers when his mother walked in. She came around the desk and sat in his chair, looking down at him patiently. He looked up with his arms crossed across his kneecaps. She smiled knowingly. “Are you alright?”

He thumped his head back against the desk. “What the hell was that?” he grumbled.

She tutted. “I think you know perfectly well what that was,” she said and he huffed.

“Don’t do that, that creepy ‘I know more than you do’ thing-“

“Derek, sweetheart,” she interrupted, reaching out to pet his hair. He leaned into her touch and she smiled when he looked at her. “What did it feel like?” she prompted.

Derek bit his lip, cheeks turning pink. “Like- like my insides were melting. It felt like I couldn’t breathe but didn’t want it to stop feeling that way. And I totally blanked out everything else that wasn’t- that wasn’t him and Alex,” he said in a confused tone. “I had no idea Isaac was there until he’d say something. I didn’t care.”

She nodded patiently. “And what about somebody else holding Alex?”

Derek shook his head, biting at his thumbnail. “I didn’t care. At all. Jesus, I didn’t want to take him away! Stiles- Stiles whispered to Alex that he wanted to hold him forever and I wanted to let him. I just- I felt like it was right. It was right for Stiles to be holding Alex. And Alex! Alex doesn’t even like it when you hold him that long and you’re his Nana, I really thought he’d last maybe fifteen minutes, but instead he just played with Stiles and laughed at him and cuddled up with him like- like it was normal. Like it was me holding him,” Derek said softly. He frowned in confusion. “Mom, what the hell?” he asked and she laughed at his confused face.

She caught his hand and squeezed it, pulling it into her lap. “Derek.” She sighed, reaching out to cup his face. “My sweet baby boy,” she said softly, looking into his eyes. “Honey, think about it hard. Think about what your wolf was saying when you watched Stiles and Alex both almost falling asleep together.”

Derek looked away, frowning, before looking up at her with a confused expression. “I felt like they’re mine,” he said simply, and she rolled her eyes.

“Exactly, Derek.” He blinked in confusion for a minute before she saw it finally sink in. He paled slightly, before suddenly, a bright smile spread across his face.

“Oh,” he breathed, looking up at her with a happy laugh. “Oh!” He tilted his head. “But Alex-“

“Is clearly smarter than you, Honey,” Talia teased. “He could sense that Stiles is your mate and knew he was safe with Stiles. He was curious at first, you could tell, but he realized Stiles felt right and he was totally fine.” She smirked. “Sad that my one and a half year old grandson is smarter than my thirty-three year old son,” she teased.

Derek laughed softly, but suddenly paled, eyes widening. “Oh God, what if Stiles doesn’t like me?! What if he only sees me as a friend?!” he asked suddenly. “Mom!” he whined, knocking his head against the drawer behind him. “What if he doesn’t even like me as a friend but just humors me cause I’m his boss-“

“Whoa, whoa, breathe, Derek, damn,” she said, glaring playfully. “Derek, first off, I’m his boss, and he knows it too, he whipped your ass into shape when he first showed up. Second, are you really stupid?” she asked and he gave her a flat look. “Derek, that boy told you about his mother. If that doesn’t tell you enough about how much he cares and trusts you, then you’re really not that bright.”

Derek bit his lip. “I… I told him about Jennifer too,” he admitted and Talia rolled her eyes.

“You felt comfortable talking to him about her yet you haven’t even realized how much he cares about you and Alex both?” Derek gave her an annoyed look. “Derek, you trusted him that much and you still doubt that it goes both ways? Honey, you haven’t ever talked to anybody about her besides me.”

Derek shrugged. “Stiles doesn’t judge people. He’s a good friend. But that doesn’t mean he has feelings for me.”

“Derek, nobody ever knows for sure that the person they have feelings for feels the same,” she said gently. “You just have to take a chance and see for yourself.” She smirked. “But let me ease the nerves some and say that you have a good chance with Stiles. He loves your son, so that’s the hardest obstacle out of the way. And he cares about you and trusts you as a person. It’s very likely he has feelings for you. You just have to find out.”

Derek groaned. “I suck at that though! There’s a reason I was still single when I met Jennifer, Mom! I’m a terrible boyfriend!”

“You’ve never tried to be your mate’s boyfriend though,” she encouraged and Derek smiled a warm, secret little smile.

“True,” he mumbled, then groaned, shaking off his mom’s hand as he stood up. “Good God, I’m a grown ass man hiding behind my desk and whining to my mother. I really have to get over this crap. I sound like a twelve year old asking a girl to hold hands at recess,” he grumbled.

Talia snickered. “No, you just sound like a shy young man who hasn’t ever been as confident as he should be. You have had a rough time with girls, I can’t imagine your mate being another man suddenly erases all the nerves,” she sympathized.

Derek scoffed. “Worse, I’m even more terrified because it’s Stiles.”

She stood up and leaned in to kiss his cheek. “That’s how you know it’s real, Derek. Love is always terrifying. If it wasn’t scary at first, then it wouldn’t be the real deal.”

Derek narrowed his eyes as she walked out. “Gee, thanks for the pep talk, I feel so much better now,” he droned sarcastically as he watched her leave.

~

Derek smiled when Stiles walked into the studio the next morning and he was wearing just a long sleeve shirt, no layers this time, and only his glasses, not his hat. “Took some fashion tips, huh?” he asked and Stiles shrugged.

“Apparently I’m actually not boring looking when I dress different,” he said, leaning on the table.

Derek looked at his eyes and tilted his head. “No contacts?” he asked and Stiles raised an eyebrow.

“There’s that big of a difference?”

Derek shrugged, looking away as he felt his ears growing warm. “Not a lot, just… your eyes are really pretty and the glasses distract from them some. But it’s not bad. The glasses fit you, too.” He cleared his throat. “Both is good.”

Stiles smiled softly. “Dude, you just said my eyes are ‘really pretty’. That’s the most adorable and sweet thing I’ve heard you say before.” He knocked their shoulders together when Derek’s flush spread. “Derek, seriously, thanks for the compliment but don’t stroke out on me. I’m just messing with you.” He beamed when Derek ducked his head and his cheeks were a soft pink. “Oh my God that is the most adorable thing ever,” he said, reaching out to tip Derek’s chin up, looking at his cheeks. His beard hid most of his flush but the tops of his cheeks were pink. “Does Alex blush?! Wait, is he old enough to get shy and blush? Either way, it’s the cutest thing ever and I hope he blushes just so I can see it.” He let go of Derek’s face and stepped back some. “You and your kid are like clones, Man. It’s the best.”

Derek cleared his throat. “And I look just like my mom,” he said and Stiles scoffed.

“You, your mom, your sisters, your uncle, Alex… all of you look so much alike it’s scary. I wasn’t kidding about those strong Hale genes!” he said, then gestured to the folder in front of Derek. “Sooo do we have our photos for the article?” he asked.

Derek gave him a warm look. “We have more than enough.” He opened the folded and spread some out. “We need three so I picked six. You can make the final choice, but they’re all…” Derek trailed off when Stiles gasped softly, reaching out to touch one photo.

“Is that what I…” Stiles swallowed and let out a shaky breath. “Do I really look that way?” he whispered.

Derek leaned closer, smiling. “That’s not even my favorite one, Stiles,” he said, turning the photo so he could see it better. It was a photo of Stiles kissing Alex’s head, his eyes shut. Stiles’s long eyelashes fanned out perfectly against his cheeks and the light highlighted his cheekbones perfectly. “Here, this one. This is my second favorite out of all of them,” Derek said, sliding one over to Stiles.

Stiles actually gasped and put a hand over his mouth. “Oh my God!” He smiled brightly as he looked at the photo. “Awwww Alex is so cute!” All you could see was a three-quarter-turn view of Alex’s face, so mostly just his cheek puffed out and his mouth open in a smile, but Stiles was smiling big and bright as he and Alex laughed at each other. Stiles’s big, beautiful smile was absolutely gorgeous. “God, Derek, I want you to take every online profile photo I ever need again from now on, okay?” he joked, bumping his shoulder into Derek’s. “I like this one. This should definitely be one of the three.”

Derek took it and put it in the ‘yes’ pile. “Alright. Pick two more.”

Stiles chose a photo of him and Alex looking asleep on the couch, both of their eyes shut and the snuggled down. “It’s like parent-cub nap time,” he explained, handing it over.

“One more,” Derek said, sliding the last three photos to Stiles. He looked back at the two they had picked and smiled, thinking about how great it would match the concept he’d been given. He hoped the article was worthy of such beautiful photos. However, before he could mention so to Stiles, he heard a rattling breath from Stiles that made him frown and turn to look at him. He was shocked to see Stiles staring at a photo with his lips parted and tears in his eyes. “Stiles? Stiles, what’s wrong?” he asked quickly.

Stiles bit his lip and turned big, wet eyes to him. “Derek,” he said in a tiny voice and Derek looked at the photo Stiles had been looking at. Derek’s chest tightened every time he looked at that one.

The photo was one from where Alex had snuggled into Stiles’s chest and Stiles had laid his cheek against his head, nuzzling his hair. It was the best one of the series of fast clicks Derek had done when Stiles opened his eyes to look at him. Stiles’s eyes were wide and intense. The close up made it so that you could see the flecks of gold in his warm, cinnamon colored eyes. His face was fully relaxed and his lips were slightly parted, making them look as soft and full as they could. Alex’s hand was fisted in his shirt in the corner of the photo, and Stiles’s hand was curled around his upper back so naturally that in that moment, Stiles embodied everything about a parent. The way he held Alex gently showed how careful and comfortable he was with Alex, and the tender way he was resting his cheek on his head was a perfect example of the physical affection a loving parent gave to their cub. Most of all, however, the strong, intense look in his eyes showed a fierce protectiveness that Derek hadn’t even realized Stiles had for Alex. Derek remembered telling Stiles to freeze really quickly so he could only guess that Stiles had unknowingly sensed something could be wrong and his eyes showed the same level of protectiveness that any parent would have for their cub, even if he was just a stand-in model.

Most of all, though, the photo was beautiful. Every freckle, every dot of color in his eye, every strand of hair on Alex’s head, all of it was perfectly captured in the light to be so warm and beautiful. Nobody who saw that photo would be able to perceive it as anything other than a beautiful moment between a human and his cub captured by the luckiest photographer in the world. Stiles was beautiful. The pose was beautiful. The lighting was beautiful. The angles, the shadows, the focus, everything was just stunning.

Stiles looked at Derek and his shock morphed into a smile, even as a tear slipped from his eyelashes. “Is that what I look like to you?” he asked nervously, and Derek couldn’t help but nod, his lips twisting into a tiny grin.

“Now you can see why the shoot made me so tense,” he muttered, looking back at the photo. “You’re so beautiful to me,” he admitted, eyes downcast shyly. “You’re always attractive, but smelling like me and having Alex smell like you and me both, and seeing your eyes without anything in the way, and watching you hold him like he was the most precious thing in the entire world, and how happy he was with you, and how you interacted so smoothly like- like you belonged together…” Derek trailed off and shrugged, toughing the photo as a distraction. “It was overwhelming.”

Stiles made a soft sound. “God, it felt so good, Derek,” he admitted and Derek glanced up to see Stiles looking at the photo again. “Holding Alex felt so right. It felt like- like he fit in my arms. I didn’t want to give him back. I wanted to hold him longer. And when he smiled at me that first time, all the nerves over ‘oh God what if he gets upset?!’ were gone because he was so chill about me. He seemed comfortable and we were just playing. It didn’t feel like modeling, it felt like hanging out with Alex for a little while. I thought- I thought maybe it’s just how badly I want a baby but- but I think it’s the fact he’s yours,” he admitted nervously.

Derek carefully reached out and with a leap of faith, he caught Stiles’s hand, sliding their fingers together tentatively between them. “You can feel that, too?” he asked, somewhat in awe.

Stiles looked up at him curiously. “What?” he asked, and Derek swallowed hard.

“Stiles… I didn’t realize until I saw you with my cub but you- you’re my mate, Stiles,” he admitted, positively shaking he was so scared of admitting it. “I felt drawn to you from the start but you’re just- you’re so amazing and I thought it was just a crush or something but then- then you held my cub and it felt right when I still have trouble letting Laura and Cora hold him sometimes.” Derek smiled nervously, biting his bottom lip. “I want to let you hold my cub, Stiles.”

Stiles smiled suddenly, letting out a soft laugh. “Derek,” he managed in a strangled tone, but whatever else he was going to say was silenced as Derek darted in and kissed him suddenly. Stiles made a happy sound and stepped into Derek’s space, kissing him back. Derek raised his free hand to cup Stiles’s cheek, swiping away the trail left by that one stray tear as he gently pressed into the kiss.

Stiles broke it with a sudden giggle, pulling back just far enough to press his forehead to Derek’s. “Oh God, tell me you felt that,” he said, and Derek nodded, a smile blooming across his face.

“It feels like you fit. You- your face in my palm, your lips against mine, you’re even the right height,” he said and Stiles sighed, sliding his arms around Derek’s middle. Derek almost purred as Stiles melted into his body, laying his head on Derek’s shoulder, arms around his middle. Derek curled his arms around Stiles’s body, holding him close. He kissed his ear and Stiles wiggled when it tickled, but shifted to look at the table again, face resting on Derek’s shoulder.

“That’s our winning shot,” Stiles said, reaching out to touch the corner of the photo. “That is… fuck, on the risk of sounding cocky, that’s a beautiful shot. I don’t even know what my face is doing right there-“

“You’re being a natural at cuddling a cub,” Derek interrupted, pointing to his eyes. “You can see in your eyes that when I told you to freeze, you got protective, you were instinctually ready to protect Alex if something was wrong. You knew it wasn’t so you didn’t react, but it was there, beneath the surface, just in case.” He looked at Stiles with an amazed smile. “You have the instincts in you to protect my cub, Stiles,” he said in an almost breathless excitement.

Stiles shrugged. “How can anybody not love Alex? He’s sweet and adorable and just like his daddy,” Stiles said, smiling warmly. “Pretty sure I’d have that same look in my eyes if I’d been cuddling you, and you’re more than able to protect yourself.”

Derek pulled Stiles into a hug, tucking his face into the side of Stiles’s neck. “Mmmrph. You feel right. You feel right in every way. In my life, in my arms, in my heart, in my pack… even if you’re not really pack, you may as well be, because you feel right. You’re more than I could’ve ever dreamed of.

Stiles smiled bashfully. “Awww, Derek.” Stiles pulled back and pecked his lips, smiling. “You’re not so bad yourself.” He smirked suddenly. “DerBear.”

Derek growled. “No,” he said firmly and Stiles smirked.

“Yep, I’m gonna call you DerBear-“

“Only my sisters call me that, you calling me that sounds wrong-“

“Awww but it’s adorable-“

“They’re my sisters, you’re my mate, take a wild guess why that sounds wrong,” Derek prompted, raising his eyebrows pointedly.

Stiles made a face. “Ew, yeah, never mind. I’ll stick to Derek and ‘Dude’, thanks,” he said with a smile. He and Derek stood with one arm around each other’s waists as they looked through the photos to be sure the three they picked were the three they wanted. When they put the three chosen photos on top of the file, Stiles grabbed a paperclip and clipped them together on the inside front cover of the folder and then turned around to face Derek, hands going to Derek’s sides. “Crisis averted. I need to run these up to production,” he said, and Derek nodded, but instead of letting him go, Derek leaned in and kissed him sweetly.

“Or we can say ‘fuck it’ to work and go make out in my office,” he said and Stiles laughed.

“Ha, nice try, you just don’t want to work today,” he accused, smiling when Derek pouted at him. “No,” he chastised, pecking his pouty lips. “Isaac will be in soon. Sorry, Derek, work calls.”

Derek dramatically rolled his eyes and reluctantly let Stiles slip out of his grasp. “Alright, alright, but for the record, we were never this productive before you started here.”

Stiles saluted him with the folder. “You’re lucky I saved your ass then!” he called on his way out.

~

When Stiles dropped the folder on Peter’s desk, Peter smirked. “Somebody smells like they rolled round in Derek’s laundry pile this morning,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

Stiles scoffed. “Bitch please, we kissed like three times, it’s not like we had sex already,” he said, and Peter gave him a shocked look, clearly not expecting that. Stiles winked and turned around. Before he could even get out the doors, he heard Peter yanking his phone off the hook, dialing a number, and shouting, “Christopher grab my sister and get your asses to my office right now! You won’t believe this photo shoot!”

Stiles just waved at Peter’s secretary on his way past, ready to head back to his floor. Even if he and Derek had to be coworkers for the rest of the day, not sneak off to make out in Derek’s office, he still couldn’t wait to spend so much time in Derek’s space while they both were aware of the bond between them.

~

Stiles was surprised when, as he wrote down a note for the next day’s shoot, he suddenly felt something. He felt this strange niggling in his mind, like he needed to do something. He grabbed his schedule to make sure he wasn’t forgetting something, then looked around. He saw Isaac and Derek working on fixing the camera that Isaac had dropped and put down his pen, starting over. “Hey guys, are we supposed to be doing something right now? I have the weirdest feeling I’m forgetting something,” he said, leaning against the table.

Derek looked up in surprise. “Wait, when did it start?” he asked and Stiles frowned.

“Just now, why?” he asked suspiciously.

Isaac raised an eyebrow. “Dude… Alex started crying just like, a minute ago. Maybe not even that.” He tilted his head at the door. “We can hear it, even if you cant.”

Stiles gave Derek a wide eyed look and Derek shrugged. “I guess it’s… I don’t know. You’re a human. You shouldn’t feel that. I mean, I can hear him so I know why I get tense.”

Stiles smiled suddenly. “Dude. Derek. I could sense something is wrong with your cub. How cool is that?!”

Derek smiled sweetly. “Pretty cool,” he agreed. He winced suddenly, handing Isaac the camera. “I better go calm him down. When he starts screaming at James, it’s past the point of James comforting him.”

Isaac took the camera with a smirk. “You do that, and I’ll ask Stiles here why he can suddenly sense your cub’s distress,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows at Derek. Derek just rolled his eyes at him before leaving. Isaac turned to Stiles and narrowed his eyes. “Okay, what is up with you two, Derek’s spent all day looking at you and smiling like an idiot.

Stiles beamed. “We realized that I’m his mate,” he said honestly and Isaac raised an eyebrow.

“Whoa, for real?” he asked in surprise.

“Yep!” Stiles sighed. “I had feelings for him and he had feelings for me, but we were both kinda chicken shit until I held Alex and it felt so right and he watched me holding Alex and didn’t mind.”

Isaac smiled. “Aww, and you can really sense Alex?” he asked curiously.

Stiles paused and realized he didn’t feel anything anymore. “Well now I don’t,” he said and Isaac nodded.

“He’s not crying anymore,” he said and Stiles smiled.

“Awww I love that! I like knowing that if something’s wrong I can feel it,” he said with a happy trill to his voice. “Man, I had no idea the mate thing made a difference for humans too.”

Isaac shrugged. “I don’t know many married couples so I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know any human mates. It happens, but most marriages I know of are still just regular human marriage. I mean, I know Erica and Boyd are mates, but Chris’s daughter is a human and her husband is human. Peter married Chris and he’s human, but I don’t really know if they’re mates. Don’t really like Peter that much,” he confessed. “I generally stay away from Peter unless Alpha Hale wants us to do something as a pack and I get stuck with him.”

Stiles chuckled. “I don’t mind him so much. He’s an asshole but he’s always good for a laugh. I think he’s jealous I like Chris better than him. Also, I didn’t know those two were married until a few weeks ago, dude. I thought they hated each other,” he said and Isaac laughed.

“You only see them at work, then. They were already married when I joined the pack and they were gross and sappy. Now they’re just an old married couple,” he explained. He smiled at Stiles seriously. “I bet you and Derek will be a lot alike when you’re an old married couple,” he said and Stiles couldn’t help the blinding smile that crossed his face.

“I should be so freaked out by how you just assume Derek and I are gonna get married and be an old married couple some day when we barely even kissed yet, but honestly, I can’t imagine anything else and that makes me so happy,” Stiles admitted in a soft voice.

Isaac snorted. “Mates don’t break up. That’s why most of us don’t get into serious relationships until we find somebody we feel the mate bond with. You guys just skipped the dating until you feel it for sure step because Derek’s cub kinda amped things up. It’s extremely rare for a werewolf to have a cub with someone that isn’t their mate, but I’m guessing from how you guys are, that even if it’s not your cub, being his father’s mate makes you kinda develop the instincts. That’s why this is so weird to me, and why Derek didn’t know you would be able to sense Alex.”

Stiles hummed. “It’s so fascinating. I want to know all about this stuff,” he said excitedly.

“Hopefully you can figure it out.”

“Hopefully.” Stiles smiled bashfully. “Either way, taking this job was the best thing that I ever did.”

~

Four Weeks Later

Stiles waved to Cora, who was watering the flowers beside the porch, as he headed up to the door of the Hale house. He let himself in and immediately ducked the shoe flying at his head. “Oh, crap, sorry Stiles!” Peter said on the way past. “Thought you were Cora,” he said, collecting his shoe again and going to wait for Cora.

Stiles cringed. “I don’t even wanna know,” he said, and Peter winked as he headed down the hall towards the kitchen. Stiles ducked under Chris’s arm as he stood in the doorway with his hand on the casing. “Good morning,” he said, to the kitchen at large.

“Hey Stiles.”

“Morning.”

“What’s up, Sweet Cheeks?”

Stiles’s presence was so normal by now that nobody blinked. He let Erica kiss his cheek as he passed the table and headed to the other end, where Derek was trying to feed Alex baby food. It always ended with more food on Derek than in Alex’s tummy. “Mmmm, nommy sweet potatoes, huh?” he asked Alex, kissing his curls as he walked around to sit beside Derek.

Derek snorted. “More like ‘let’s paint daddy with sweet potatoes’,” he grumbled, glaring at Alex until he put down the spoon he had just been ready to fling at Derek. “I thought so,” he said, and Stiles laughed as he grabbed a paper towel and wiped at Derek’s cheek.

“Awww, he’s just helping you with your spray tan,” he teased, then leaned in and pecked Derek’s newly cleaned cheek. “Good morning.”

Derek smiled and turned to catch his lips, kissing him sweetly, smiling when Stiles leaned in again when he started to pull back. “Morning, Stiles,” Derek said when Stiles finally let him go.

Stiles leaned against his side comfortably as he glowered at Alex, who had a handful of smashed sweet potatoes and a cracker in the other hand. “If you throw that at me, I’m gonna get you,” he threatened and Alex gave him a mischievous grin. “No,” Stiles said firmly and Alex pouted, dropping the potatoes on the tray of his highchair with a ‘plop’. He looked at them, then at the cracker in his hand, and then dipped the cracker in the potatoes and held it out to Stiles expectantly.

Stiles cringed. “Um, no thanks, dude, I ate already. Totally fully,” he said, patting his belly.

Alex offered it to Derek, who shook his head. Alex looked sad, though, so Derek groaned and reluctantly leaned in so Alex could feed him the cracker. Stiles cracked up at the disgusted look on Derek’s face as he dutifully chewed the bite of sweet potato covered cracker. “Thanks, Son, just what I wanted,” Derek managed, cringing when he swallowed.

“Awwww, you’re a sweet Daddy,” Stiles said, sliding his arm through Derek’s, curling his hand around his forearm.

Derek rolled his eyes. “The things I do to make my cub happy,” he drawled, snagging Alex’s sippy cup of juice to wash down what he’d eaten, only to snicker when Alex gave him an utterly offended look for drinking out of his cup. “Oh come on, you can share your food but God forbid I drink your juice?”

“Hey, a man’s juice is serious business,” Stiles teased and Derek rolled his eyes at him.

“I know something else that’s quite serious business you two may be interested in.” They looked up as Talia walked in, already dressed and ready for work. “Might want to keep it away from the splatter zone, but we thought you two might like to be the first to see this before they go on shelves today.”

Stiles had clean hands so he took the large document envelope she held out. He opened it and pulled out a magazine. He raised an eyebrow and turned it to see the cover, only to still and drop the magazine onto the table. “Oh my God.” Derek leaned over and his breath caught when he saw it.

They knew the latest issue with the article on human parents of cubs was ready to print, but neither of them had seen the final layout that went to print, so neither of them knew that instead of just being the main article, the final decision had been to put the photo of Stiles looking at the camera with his cheek rested on Alex’s head as the magazine cover. Stiles looked up in surprise and Chris smirked from the doorway.

“Come on, like we were going to see that and miss the opportunity to put it on the cover,” he said, walking over. “You would have to ask Cora about the numbers, but I think Distribution projected that this issue has a better chance of selling more than our normal circulation just because the cover will catch people’s eyes better than ever before.”

Stiles smiled and looked at Derek, who was still staring at the cover almost reverently. “Anybody ever tell you that you’re an amazing photographer?” he asked, kissing Derek’s cheek sweetly.

Derek managed a small smile, and met his eyes. “I had the perfect subject,” he mumbled softly before leaning in to kiss Stiles. “Seriously, I’m in love with the most beautiful person I’ve ever photographed. Forget all the models,” he whispered against Stiles’s lips.

Stiles blushed, but rolled his eyes. “Oh whatever, you’re biased,” he accused though he pecked Derek’s lips again before turning and laying his head on Derek’s shoulder as he looked back at the magazine cover with him on it. “Oh God, my Dad will never let me live this down. He’s going to freaking paper the station with the magazine cover just to make fun of me,” he groaned.

Derek smirked. “Hey, as long as he buys the magazine, it’s his business what he does with it-“

“Eurgh, why did I let you meet him? Why? You were not supposed to team up against me,” Stiles argued, then leaned forward, looking down the table. “Alex, your Daddy is mean to me, you should definitely aim higher with the potatoes next time, get them in his hair, okay?”

“Oh my God, Stiles, don’t even, he’ll do it, you know he will,” Derek said with wide eyes. “That’s not funny.”

“Totally funny,” Stiles argued. “You picked my dad as your partner in crime, my choice is Alex, he’s way better looking at least,” he teased, reaching out to hold his hand out to Alex. “We’re totally gonna ruin Daddy’s life, huh?” he said and Alex looked at his hand curiously before remembering how Stiles taught him to high five. He slapped Stiles’s hand and Stiles didn’t even mind the squishy potato on his fingers when Alex squealed.

“YAY, STI!” Alex cried happily and Stiles melted the way he always did when Alex tried to say his name.

Derek didn’t seem much better if the stupid smile on his face was anything to go by when Stiles looked to make sure Derek had heard. “See? Alex is smarter than you are, too,” Stiles said softly and Derek rolled his eyes, but reached out to stroke Alex’s hair reverently anyways.

“Yeah, well, he loves you, too, so I guess he’s pretty bright,” Derek said, leaning his head against Stiles’s temple as they both looked at Alex.

Stiles turned and kissed Derek’s jaw, closing his eyes as he leaned against him. Derek snaked an arm around his middle and they both curled together. Stiles had never felt as content and comfortable as he did with Derek and Alex. He could hear the yelling of Peter having finally nailed Cora and her retaliation, he heard Laura yelling at them both to chill out, Erica and Boyd were flipping through the magazine Talia had given them, and Chris was grumbling about how he had married a manchild, but all Stiles cared about was how warm Derek was at his side, and how happy it made him to watch Alex, who had clearly finished eating, playing with his food in front of them.

“I’m so glad I met you,” Stiles murmured against Derek’s skin and Derek grumbled happily, hugging him closer.

“Me, too.”

“YAY!” Alex cried, startling laughs out of both of them. Yep, Stiles thought, Alex’s ‘yay’ was exactly right.

Stiles finally felt like he had found himself a big family like he always wanted, and he knew that with Derek, he would never have to worry about feeling like he didn’t belong ever again.