Derek let his fingers trail up Stiles’ naked back. His mate was still asleep, the Stilinski house silent this early in the morning. He thoroughly enjoyed this time, when it was quiet and still, when he could focus all his senses on his mate and relish the life he had, the pack they had finally become. Scattered throughout Beacon Hills, his other pack members were safe in their homes, watched over by parents – biological and adopted. Melissa had Scott and Isaac, George and Iolana Mahealani had Danny, their other children, and Boyd. Erica, Lydia, Jackson, and Allison were in their respective homes. And he was here with Stiles and John.
Here was never someplace Derek would ever thought he would be. Here with his mate, with his de facto father-in-law, who had not only welcomed him in, but also a werewolf to boot. Stranger things had happened, but never anything that ended so well. At least for Derek.
Of course, the world was not perfect.
Zombies lurked outside the walls of Beacon Hills, civilization as they had known it was gone, as well as life as they had all known it had changed.
But to him, someone who knew the value of family and pack above material things and an easy life, this world was paradise.
“You’re thinkin’ heavy thoughts again,” Stiles murmured, stretching and slinking in a way that made Derek’s mouth dry with want.
Derek closed his eyes to better feel the way Stiles’ smooth skin rasped against his own, the way that Stiles licked and nuzzled that spot behind his ear. He cupped his hand over Stiles’ hip, pulling his mate closer.
The sounds Stiles made, the way he moved his body against Derek’s, the way he held Derek like he never wanted to let go, the smile he gave him every morning as if always glad to have him there. He couldn’t imagine his life without any of it.
And the way Stiles offered his lips, that mouth. Derek never refused him, drawn to his mate, grateful to have every chance with him.
“You two better not be doing what I think you’re doing in there!”
Derek had to clamp down on the bark of laughter rumbling up.
Stiles’ face was pure outrage as he popped up off the bed. “Dad!”
“I don’t want to hear it! I already smelled it last night because you didn’t air out the house enough!”
Derek rolled onto his back and laughed his ass off.
While Stiles was far, far, far from hysterical, his mate did cling to him for a long moment. Derek didn’t mind because he was busy holding onto Stiles just as much, inhaling his scent, leaving his own.
“You be careful,” Stiles murmured into his ear. “All of you.”
Derek nodded, taking the opportunity to pull back and run the tip of his nose along Stiles’ cheek. “We will. You take care.”
Stiles nodded, then pointed at the four backpacks he had made Jackson and Boyd haul to the gate. “Enough fresh food for the entire day, enough water for two. And a few protein bars. Just in case.” He gave Derek a look that said they’d better be back before they would need the protein bars. Then he rolled his eyes. “Well, enough food for werewolves for an entire day; enough food to feed an army regiment otherwise.”
“We’re not that bad,” Scott snarked as he bent to pick up one of the packs, his other arm wrapped around his fiancée.
“I’ve seen you eat, son,” the sheriff said, mouth tilting in a grin. “You are.”
Allison giggled into Scott’s shoulder while Isaac and Erica were smart enough to hide their smiles and keep their mouths shut while they picked up their packs.
Derek grabbed the last one, turning back to his mate.
Stiles captured his mouth in one last sweet kiss before finally letting him go. “Go. The faster you leave the faster you come back.”
“Aye, aye, captain!” Isaac threw Stiles a cheeky grin and a mock salute before he boosted himself onto the fenced in tunnel and opened a hatch.
Scott and Erica followed him up then through the hatch. Derek raked Jackson and Boyd one last look, silently commanding them to watch over the rest of the pack while he was gone. They both nodded, Boyd with more respect than Jackson, as usual. Jackson might be almost twenty now, the same age as the others, but some things he was never going to grow out of and his douchebag act was going to be one of them. At least that was Stiles’ theory.
“Good luck, son.”
Derek took John’s hand, not even bothering to leave John with advice. He merely shared a loaded look with his father-in-law. John’s look said, “be careful, come back, don’t you dare die on him, and of course I’ll watch over the pack.” Derek’s look simply replied, “yes, sir, thank you, sir.”
He joined the other three, waiting patiently as the guards opened the gate. They streaked out before any of the zombies could catch them.
They ran through the forest, along the interstate highway, keeping their eyes and ears open for zombies, scavengers, or hunters. Scott and Erica were ground running while Isaac was jumping from tree to tree, taking up the rear guard.
“How much farther to the power plant?” Erica asked.
“I think another two miles?” Scott guessed.
Derek was half a mile ahead but he could clearly hear them. The city council had been worried about a power shortage for six months now. Even with the severe rationing that had been going on since before the zombie apocalypse had become nationally known, the industrial-sized generators the city had invested in were starting to break down.
“Derek.” Mayor Peter Burke had seemed tired. “We need you and your pack to scout the closest power plants to Beacon Hills. We need you to find out if any of them still work.”
Derek frowned down at the map the mayor had laid out on the table. There were several red dots, marking the power plants’ locations. “No one in my pack knows anything about power plants.”
The mayor had nodded and passed him two sheets worth of printed instructions. “The engineers wrote out a checklist for you.” His lips quirked. “I read them to make sure even I could figure it out.”
Derek had smiled a little at the mayor’s self-deprecation.
“We also need you to survey the land, take pictures if you can.”
A fully charged camera, large and professional was placed by his elbow. Derek nudged it away, wondering which of his pack would know how to use it.
“We need to know if we can build a walled corridor from Beacon Hills to the functioning plant. If we can, the engineers are pretty sure they can use it to keep the power going.” The mayor pointed to the largest red dots. “These are the hydro power plants and will keep us going indefinitely, so concentrate on them.”
Derek slowed to a stop when sound, the rattle of a human voice praying, reached his ears. He knew when the others heard it too as they slowed their approach, using more stealth than speed. He followed the sound, knowing his pack was behind him, to an old pick-up truck. Inside, a man, a priest by his black and white collar, lay dying. Not from a zombie attack, but from bullets and knives.
The priest stared at him, unafraid, lips still moving in the Lord’s Prayer.
Scott, ever the optimist, stared back at him. “Is there anything we can do to help him?”
Derek did not offer false hope, shaking his head. The wounds were so severe not even the bite would help. “Only ease his passing faster.”
Erica shook her head and walked away. Isaac followed her.
Scott bit his lip and joined them.
Derek squatted by the man’s side. “It will take you hours to die. Do you want me to stop it?”
The man’s dark eyes slid close but he shook his head. “I would not ask that of you, my son.”
Derek nodded, preparing to stand.
“There are others,” the priest said, stopping Derek cold. “Children. With Sister Mary Edward. In the junkyard, down the road.”
He leaned back down to the priest. There had been no lie in those words and so he nodded. “We’ll get them some place safe.”
The priest slowly nodded. “Then I will die in peace, thank you.” He seemed to forget Derek’s presence as he began to pray again.
With nothing else to say, Derek stood and ran in the direction of the junkyard. His pack followed, without question. He could hear the fast, light heartbeats before he even reached the gates.
Scott jumped and balanced on top of the fence, Isaac only a beat behind.
“God,” Scott murmured. “They’re so many of them.”
“Ten, fifteen?” Isaac guessed from beside him.
“How are we going to get them back to Beacon Hills?” Erica asked over her shoulder. She had stationed herself at his back, watching to make sure whomever had attack the priest hadn’t discovered the junkyard.
“If there are no trucks big enough, one of us can go home and get something.” Derek launched himself over the gate, three nearly inaudible thumps followed him. “Erica, stay and watch the gate.”
“You got it, boss.”
Sister Mary Edward believed in miracles, but never thought one would happen to her.
They had been praying all morning for Father Robert to return, hopefully with much needed food and water. Silas had stood guard all morning, putting himself between her and the children and anything that might come through the gates. When they had found the junkyard and Silas, she had thought their prayers had been answered: a safe haven for the children. But, one by one, the brave men and women who had helped them survive this long had gone out for provisions and had not come back. Until the only adults left were Father Robert, Silas, and she. None of them young, and only Silas had any experience with surviving something like this. The old Vietnam War vet was a gruff, hard man but he had a generous heart, sharing what little he had with them until it was all gone.
“Sister, get back there with the kids.”
She stared as he stood and hefted his rifle, aiming it. She knew better than to ask and scurried back to where the children huddled together. The more sensitive ones picked up her tension and curled closer.
“Stop right there!”
Sister Mary Edward couldn’t see what was happening, but Silas’ words were loud and menacing. She could do nothing but pray.
“We found a priest along the round, not far from here. He said you guys need help?” The voice was young but not as young as her charges.
“Where is he?” Silas demanded.
She could hear the hesitation in his voice. “There was nothing we could do for him.”
The grief shook her for a moment before she forcibly refocused on the present. Robert had been a dear friend and her support through this ordeal, but he wouldn’t want her mourning over him when she had a responsibility to the children.
“And how do I know you ain’t the one that killed him?”
The answer surprised her.
“He didn’t have anything to kill over.” This voice was older, harder and made Silas cock his gun.
“How many more are you? Come out! All of you, come out!”
“It’s just us,” the young voice insisted. “Erica’s watching the gate, but that’s it.”
“I don’t believe – fuck!”
She stood and saw three young men surrounding Silas. One of them had his rifle. She made the sign of the cross and prayed. She faltered when the oldest one, the one who wore black and scowled fiercely, stared straight into her eyes.
“Come out,” he commanded. Then cocked his head, rolled his eyes and added, “Please.”
It was only because he added that please did she come out.
“Bring the children too.”
She hesitated then, how did he know? Unless Father Robert told them? She turned back to the children and beckoned. “Come, children, come with me.”
She could only hope she was doing the right thing. Holding onto as many hands as she could, Sister Mary Edward carefully left their hiding spot. She stared at the young men. They looked nothing like anyone she had seen since the zombies had destroyed the world. They were clean, healthy-looking, no weapons in sight. They didn’t have the fear and vigilance so many had in their eyes. They did not have hopelessness etched into their faces.
One of them stepped forward, twenty years old perhaps, dark hair and an uneven jaw. He offered her a smile and held out his hand. “Hi, sister, I’m Scott McCall.”
“Sister Mary Edward Robards,” she introduced herself as she shook his hand.
“That’s Derek,” he said, pointing to the dark scowling one. “And that’s Isaac.” The curly haired young man who had taken Silas’ gun offered her a small smile even as he offered the rifle back, unloaded, of course. “Erica’s at the front gate so you’ll meet her in a bit.”
It was a bit impossible to believe, but Scott acted as if they were being introduced at a church social as he waved to the kids and looked at Silas expectantly, clearing waiting for Silas to introduce himself.
“And that is Silas Warner,” she finally said when it looked like Silas was going to stay silent.
“Hi, Mr. Warner,” Scott greeted, still calm and so utterly normal as he clapped his hands together. “So, we’re going to need to get you guys out of here.” He turned to address Silas. “Anything working that’s big enough for all of you?”
“And where would we go?” Silas sneered.
“Beacon Hills.” Scott was completely unperturbed by Silas’ harsh question, instead turning in a circle, scanning the junkyard. “It’s about ten miles from here. It’s safe there.”
“Ain’t nowhere safe, boy,” Silas refuted, crossing his arms in defiance.
“It is there,” Scott replied easily. He opened his mouth to say more, but Derek interrupted him.
She turned her attention onto the man, who seemed to be older than the other two, but had let Scott do all the talking. Derek was removing a backpack, zipping it open. He said nothing as he moved towards her and the children. She and Silas instantly moved between him and the children. He merely raised an eyebrow and moved around Silas. Sister Mary Edward could only stare at the top of his head when he genuflected beside her, his hands going into the backpack. She gasped when she saw the abundance of food packed inside.
One by one, Derek handed out food to the children. Sandwiches cut in half, apples and protein bars, followed by bottles of water.
“Scott, Isaac, Erica, I need your packs.”
She was rendered speechless when the other two young men scrambled to get their packs off too and more food appeared. A blonde young woman joined them, handing out food to the children.
“Here, sister.” A bright red apple appeared before her, being shyly offered by Isaac.
“Thank you,” she stuttered out, but she didn’t bite into the fruit. Instead, she stared as the children devoured the first food they had in days, stared at how generous these people were, to give them the food. The food itself was amazing, fresh and healthy, what the children needed. The children’s eyes were shiny and grateful as they crowded close to the young men and woman. The newcomers were carefully watching the children, making sure they didn’t eat the food too fast. Everyone had something, including Silas who was chewing hard on a protein bar. She stared down at the bottle of water being offered. She turned that stare onto Derek. She didn’t know she was crying until he squirmed uncomfortably and offered her a napkin to wipe her eyes.
Between him and Silas, they got a small bus running.
Derek watched as Scott and Isaac helped the kids onto the bus; Erica was back at the gates keeping guard. He heard a hitching of a heartbeat and a sharp inhalation and the smell of fear filled his nose. He turned to the source. “Sister?”
“We’re missing two of the children.” She wasn’t looking at him, her eyes searching. “Caleb and Ryan. They’re both five.”
“Stay here,” he ordered, focusing his hearing for two fast heartbeats. He heard them and then something else. Something else that was snarling, that smelled like death, that had him running as fast as he could.
Screams echoed as he grabbed the infected dog, wrenching it from the boys, breaking its neck with little effort. He dropped the dead animal, barely glancing at it as one of the boys attacked him, beating small fists against his thigh.
“. . . my dog! I hate you!”
He stared incomprehensibly at the blond boy for one long moment. Other than tears and snot, the boy was fine. The other boy lay still on the ground, on his back, arms and legs outflung. He ignored the first boy as he continued pounding on him, kneeling down and turned the dark haired boy over. A quick exam showed a tiny goose egg on the boy’s head, explaining why the boy was unconscious. Derek had no idea if he should try to wake the boy or not, so he left him be. It was the long scratch that ran diagonally down his back that worried him. Derek could smell the infection in the wound.
“Dear God. Ryan, stop that!”
The nun had followed him and was pulling the blond kid off of him.
“He killed my dog!” the kid screamed.
“The dog was infected,” Derek spat out. “And so is your friend.”
The nun’s eyes went wide and wet as she stared at the boy’s wounds. The blond kid merely crossed his arms and pouted.
“How?” the nun breathed.
“He was protecting that one.” Derek jerked his chin towards the sulky one as he lifted the little boy in his arms.
Sister Mary Edward jerked towards him. “You’re not going to--”
She cut herself off, but he knew what she was going to ask. Derek shook his head. “We might be able to do something for him in Beacon Hills.
She inhaled sharply. “You’ve found a cure?”
Derek hesitated. “Not exactly. We’ll explain later,” he said quickly, hoping to forestall her questions. He did not want to be the one to explain werewolves and how the bite could overwhelm the virus to her. Stiles and his father would be the better candidates. And he had no idea how the town council and Argent would feel about turning a five year old child.
The bus was less than five miles away the junkyard when the boy woke up.
Derek had sequestered himself and the boy in the very back of the bus, keeping himself between the kid and everyone else. No one knew exactly how fast the virus worked, had no idea how long they would have before the boy turned into a zombie, so he couldn’t take any chances. He glanced back down when the boy’s heartbeat picked up from unconscious to conscious. Gentle squirm as the boy woke and turned in his arms, cuddled in a little before he opened his eyes and looked up at Derek. The boy immediately jerked back in surprise, standing up on the seat and staring at him.
Derek stared back. Caleb, the nun had said was his name. Dark black hair and brown eyes that reminded him of his mate. Not because the boy had Stiles’ whiskey golden brown color, they were almost as dark as his hair. No. Caleb’s eyes held the same strength that was in his mate’s, held the same sense of curiosity as they stared right back him. But it was Caleb’s smile, a sweet curve that held delight and mischief, that reminded him of a little brother long gone. He held out his arms, surprised when Caleb stepped into the circle of his arms without hesitation.
He sat in wonder as Caleb draped himself trustingly onto his shoulder, thin little arms wrapped around his neck, his small face pressed into his neck. Derek should have pulled him from that vulnerable area, but instead, scent-marked the boy, cuddling him closer.
Derek took one moment to worry about what Stiles would say, but he knew his mate, knew his mate’s soft heart and nurturing soul.
Stiles stared at the bus, willing everyone to have come back safe, didn’t breathe again until he saw Derek coming off. But he continued staring because a little boy was in Derek’s arms, his mate was curled around the little boy in a careful, protective hold. There was something in Derek’s eyes when they meet his across the distance that separated them. Stiles swallowed hard as an amorphous feeling of change pressed in on him.
Derek aimed straight for him, ignoring even Stiles’ father, forcing his dad to follow Derek towards him.
“Derek?” He stepped close and slid his hand up Derek’s strong back, the other he gently placed on the little boy’s arm. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”
“Caleb, my mate Stiles.”
“Hi,” Stiles greeted him quietly, but as opened and friendly as he knew how. He studied Caleb, saw a tiny little boy, undernourished with the look of a child who had grown up not knowing what life could have been like without the zombies. Thin cheeks when they should have been chubby with baby fat, hair a dull black instead of the shininess that came with youth, skin yellowed from the lack of essential vitamins. There was no carefree innocence in his eyes, no vibrancy in color, but there was strength.
The little boy offered him a shy smile, little hands still curled in Derek’s shirt. “Hi.”
“He’s been scratched.” Derek had his head turned towards Stiles and Caleb, but his words were meant for the sheriff.
Stiles’ dad nodded and turned.
Stiles knew his dad was going to get everyone necessary to make decisions. He didn’t worry himself about that, instead, he reassuringly smiled at Caleb. “Hungry, Caleb?”
The kid’s stomach growled right on cue and made him smile.
Caleb’s shy smile widened, ducking his head as he nodded.
Stiles knew Derek wouldn’t let him hold Caleb, so he just tugged his mate along. “Well, then, let’s go get you something to eat.”
It was depressing as hell to see Caleb eating inside the jail cell, but he knew it had to be done. Caleb didn’t seem to care about his location as he focused entirely on his food. His mate had sat down with Caleb in his lap as Stiles brought in the tray filled with chicken noodle soup, apple slices, milk, and a sugar cookie. Caleb had stared at the tray with broken want.
“Is it?” He licked his lips, eyes still focused on the food. “Is it all for me?”
Stiles had never hated the Umbrella Corporation more than at that very moment. He swallowed the lump in his throat. “Every bit of it.”
The smile Caleb gave him stole his breath. The little boy carefully, slowly started eating. It looked like he wanted to gobble everything down but was forcing himself to eat slowly, to savor every bite. As if to store the memory of food for the inevitable time when there was nothing but the taste of starvation. Caleb closed his eyes as if to better taste the food, he was so vigilant in making sure that he spilled nothing, that every last crumb and drop was eaten instead of carelessly wasted. His eyes kept darting to the cookie in wonder and want but he didn’t touch it, concentrating on finishing his soup and fruit first. He sat curled around the tray, as if deathly afraid that someone might take it away from him.
“Do you like it?” Stiles asked, trying to distract himself from how hungry Caleb had to be.
“Yes, thank you.” He was so polite, even though it was obvious he’d rather be eating.
Stiles smiled sadly at him and kept quiet to let Caleb eat. He looked up at his mate who was watching them both.
There was a want in Derek’s eyes.
His mate was twenty-eight now and other than his dad, the pack had not expanded in the last three years. Thanks to the wolves’ senses no one was getting infected and less and less people had found their way to Beacon Hills for sanctuary. When the zombie infection had first started spreading, people came to Beacon Hills in droves. Before the zombie apocalypse, talk of the town that had built walls around itself had raised eyebrows and made people curious. But when the zombies hit California, people had remembered the walls and the protection they offered and came to Beacon Hills. A lot of people had been infected in those refugee groups; sometimes whole groups had to be put down. But now less and less people were coming in. Stiles sometimes wondered if they were the only people left in the world.
Tearing his thoughts away from that tangent, Stiles continued to watch Derek as he watched Caleb, pretty sure he knew where this was going. Surprised himself when he realized he was more than okay with this. He had never thought it would happen to him, not after the zombie apocalypse, not after becoming Derek’s mate. But this felt right. He pushed himself up next to Derek. His mate turned to him, a questioning tilt to his eyebrows. Stiles smiled sweetly at him and pressed a chaste but loving kiss to his lips. “Yes,” he whispered.
Derek had no idea what he had done in his fucked up life to deserve a mate like Stiles, but he thanked the gods every day for him. Stiles had known, without asking, what Derek had wanted; had known what the pack need, just like an amazing alpha’s mate would have. Stiles had stared into his eyes and gave him things he had always desperately wanted, needed: love, family, pack. He pressed his nose into Stiles’ cheek, nuzzling his mate, taking in his scent. Soon Stiles’ scent would not just smell of him and Derek, but also of their cub.
For one brief and insane moment, Mary Edward thought Beacon Hills was Heaven.
People were friendly and helpful as they gathered up the children. The children were fed and cleaned and taken care of in way that she and the adults that had been with them hadn’t been able to in so very long. She could only stand by and watched as the children were given all that they could eat, wrapped in warm blankets, and were even given toys that the children had clutched to their chests in surprised comfort. There were doctors and nurses seeing to the children’s health. She herself had been whisked away by a Carmelite nun who pressed a slightly too large, but clean, habit onto her, murmuring prayers of praise to God for her and the children’s survival.
It was a whirlwind of change and old comforts that were new again.
It finally stopped when a statuesque African American woman stepped towards her.
“Sister Mary Edward?”
“Yes?” She had to tilt her head back to look into her eyes.
“My name is Jessica Pearson. I am the presiding judge for Beacon Hills.”
“Oh.” Mary Edward had no idea what to do with that. “Hello.”
“We’ve had several volunteers to look after the children, so is this a good time to talk?”
Mary Edward nodded, taking the arm Judge Pearson held out to her. It had been some time since the last time anyone had offered their arm to help an old woman. She was led into the sheriff’s station which was filled with several people. Mr. Hale was there, Caleb on his lap, reading together. Caleb was cleaned and feed if the empty tray beside him was any indication, a stuffed German Shepherd dog toy clutched in his arms as he stared at the picture book. He and Mr. Hale were inside a locked jail cell.
Before she could ask, Judge Pearson escorted her to the others in the station.
“Sister Mary Edward, may I introduce Harvey Spector, district attorney for Beacon Hills.”
She shook the hand of a man that, despite wearing dirt-crusted jeans and a work shirt, looked polished and put together.
“Sister,” he murmured, offering her a bare smile before stepping away.
“Sheriff John Stilinski. Mayor Peter Burke. Dr. Greg House. Mr. Chris Argent. And Dr. Alan Deaton.”
One by one, she shook each of the men’s hands, impressed by how competent they all seemed and the power and confidence they all seemed to radiate.
“Sister,” Judge Pearson said, taking her attention from the men. “Please have a seat.”
Mary Edward sat down and readied herself for whatever they were planning to tell her.
“Sister, you know that Caleb is infected, correct?” Judge Pearson said as she sat down next to her, looking her straight in the eye.
She nodded and turned towards Dr. House and Dr. Deaton. “Mr. Hale mentioned that you might be able to do something for Caleb?”
To her surprise, Dr. House shook his head. “Sorry, sister, but science hasn’t figured out how to stop the infection yet.”
“Then how?” She stared at them in confusion.
The sheriff crouched down in front of her. “Sister Mary Edward, this might be hard to accept, but supernatural beings exist in the world.”
“Supernatural?” She stared at him.
“In this case, sister,” the sheriff continued. “Werewolves.”
“Werewolves?” she echoed, still not understanding.
He nodded and slowly his features started to change.
She gasped, pulling away, staring at him as his eyes glowed gold, fangs flashed, and his brow-ridge became more prominent. He raised his hand to show her his nails transforming into claws. She gapped at him, completely unable to even process what he was showing her.
Mary Edward refused to faint, after everything, she absolutely refused to faint. She made herself look at him, made herself study him and understand what she was telling him. Finally, she forced herself to ask, “What does you being a werewolf have to do with Caleb?”
To his credit, the sheriff smiled, then morphed back to his human face. “I was infected by the virus three years ago.”
Now Mary Edward stared for a whole other reason. “Infected?” she whispered dumbly.
He nodded, lifting one normal human hand to trace smooth sections of his own cheek. “Here. An infected animal scratched me.”
She nodded at him to go on.
“I was going to turn,” he explained slowly, pointing towards the cell. “In there. Chris had agreed to put me down.”
She glanced at Mr. Argent who stood there, cold and silent and fully armed.
“There was nothing that could be done. I was going to die.” Sheriff Stilinski said the words matter-of-factly, as if time had erased the fear that had to have infused his very being at the possibility of death via that abomination of a virus.
“My son came up with a possible solution: the virus might be overwhelmed by the werewolf bite.”
She said nothing, not exactly sure how the sheriff’s son played into all of this.
“It made sense,” Dr. House spoke for the first time since his sincere apology. “Werewolves are immune the virus. If whatever turns you into a werewolf could beat the hell out of the zombie virus, then you might have a chance at not turning into a slobbering, flesh-eating nightmare.”
Mary Edward now stared at the doctor as understanding flooded her. Derek Hale, Scott McCall, the other two young people. They had come to the junkyard, traveling by foot, no fear in their eyes of zombies or anything else. The way Derek Hale had killed that infected dog, fearlessly jumping between it and the children. As werewolves, they couldn’t become infected. All four of them, and the sheriff too, they were all werewolves. She turned back to the sheriff. “You want to bite Caleb. To turn him into a werewolf.”
The sheriff nodded. “I wouldn’t be the one to bite him, but yes, sister, we want to turn him.”
“To save his life.”
She turned at the new voice to see a young man with brown hair, golden brown eyes. He bore a resemblance to the sheriff.
“My son, sister, Stiles Stilinski.”
The young man held out his hand but she was hesitant to take it.
The smile he offered her was stilted and she knew why but she couldn’t help herself. The smile turned stiffer as he offered, “I’m still human.”
She felt shame and confusion, snatching at his hand even as he started to withdraw it. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Stilinski.”
He merely nodded at her before turning on his heel and heading towards the cell with Mr. Hale and Caleb.
She watched him as he fearlessly opened the cell and walked in. He sat down beside Mr. Hale, sliding so that he was between the older man and the wall behind them, curling around Mr. Hale’s shoulder and arm. Her eyes widened in surprise when they kissed, but it was the way that Mr. Stilinski greeted Caleb, smiling and welcoming, face filled with something like love that made her look away.
“Sister?” Judge Pearson called her attention back to the people around her.
“What?” She gathered her thoughts. She knew why they were asking her; she was his legal guardian. A part of her was grateful they respected the law enough to consult her first, another part of her wished they had just done it without asking her, without putting her through this. “What will happen to Caleb if I say yes?”
“Derek and Stiles wish to adopt him,” Mr. Spector spoke for the first time. “If you say yes, you’ll be giving up all legal rights to Caleb. All legal rights,” he emphasized.
She couldn’t decide if he was trying to advise her against it or not, but she nodded her understanding. A sharp gasp from the cell made them all turn.
Mr. Hale had transformed his face just like the sheriff had; Caleb was staring up at him in awe.
She didn’t realize she had moved until she felt her hands wrap around the bars.
“Wow,” Caleb breathed, small hands slowly reaching for Mr. Hale’s face.
Her heart pounded but Caleb seemed completely unafraid of the creature holding him.
“You’re a werewolf!” Caleb announced with glee. “Wow!”
Mr. Stilinski laughed, nudging Mr. Hale’s shoulder. “Sourwolf, more like.”
Mr. Hale’s growl made her jump but only made Mr. Stilinski roll his eyes.
“You wanna make me like you?” Caleb’s eyes were wide with wonder, hands still exploring Mr. Hale’s changed face.
“We want to save you from the infection,” Mr. Stilinski explained. “And we want to adopt you.”
Caleb’s head whipped around, Mr. Hale’s creature features completely forgotten as he stared in hope and wonder at Mr. Stilinski. “You wanna be my parents?” His voice was small, yearning, desperately wanting.
Both young men nodded.
Mr. Hale smoothed a hand through Caleb’s hair, face changing back to human. “You’ll be our cub.”
“Would you like that, Caleb?” Mr. Stilinski cupped Caleb’s cheek, his hand swallowing up the entire side of the boy’s face.
Caleb nuzzled into his hand and nodded fiercely. “Yes, please, please, I always wanted.”
Mary Edward had to blink back tears as Caleb sobbed and threw himself at the two men. They curled around him, Mr. Stilinski murmuring soft platitudes.
She didn’t turn as she said, “Yes.”
Derek had never known any alpha that had tried to turn anyone so young and small, nor anyone so delicate and emaciated. Caleb said he was five, but he looked more like a three year old, body so much smaller, so much more delicate than the kids he and Stiles watched over from time to time in Beacon Hills, before and after the apocalypse.
He watched from the doorway of what used to be his old room. The smallest room in the Stilinski house, it used to be the guest room. When his species had been revealed to the powers that be of Beacon Hills, Stiles had demanded he move in with them, to protect him from anyone who might have had an issue with a werewolf or wanted to kidnap him and experiment on him. No one had. Maybe because the sheriff trusted him, maybe because they had zombies and survival to worry about instead, but he was never bothered, even after they went public with the truth. He had lived in that room, but only for a few months until he and Stiles mated. Then he moved into Stiles’ room, leaving the guest room empty once more.
It was his room now. The extra-long twin that had fit him dwarfed Caleb’s tiny body. A small nightlight glowed in the darkness by his bed, illuminating his sweetly young face. He was relaxed in sleep, so much innocence and happiness at being adopted, at being wanted. At being part of Derek’s pack.
The room was mostly complete. The pack had done what they could once they heard he was going to bite Caleb, and that he and Stiles would be adopting him, once they knew that the bite had taken, that Caleb would survive. They had bought in kid-friendly furniture like a small desk, dresser, and night table. They also brought in a few toys, but most of the toys in Caleb’s room were Stiles’, raided from the attic by the sheriff himself. Stiles had seen the toys brought down by his father and mistily grinned. The two Stilinski men bonded with Caleb over the toys, telling stories about each one. The pack had helped with everything they could; many of them had been ridiculously excited about the newest edition to their pack. Allison and Lydia had squealed when they heard, immediately making plans to ransack the warehouse where they kept children’s items. Boyd, being the only one of them who had younger siblings, had gone with them, happy to do the heavy lifting and offer his expertise. And, surprisingly, Isaac had been one of the first to make friends with Caleb, making the little boy laugh and giggle.
Unfortunately, Caleb had nothing in way of clothing except the clothes on his back. He was currently asleep in an old t-shirt of Stiles and the clothes he had been wearing were being washed and dried for tomorrow. Somehow someone had neglected to inventory the children’s clothing and, with the influx of young children, there hadn’t been enough clothes to go around. There were already plans to head out to the big outlet shopping center fifteen miles outside of Beacon Hills. Derek intended to go, to make sure that his cub would have what he needed.
Stiles pressed behind him, wrapping his arms around his waist, chin hooked over his shoulder. “I can’t believe we have a kid,” he whispered, wonder, awe, and a little bit of bemusement in his voice.
Derek didn’t bother asking if Stiles was all right with it. His enthusiasm when sharing his old toys with Caleb, the way he cuddled the boy every chance he got, the way they both watched each other with delight when the other talked. Stiles adored Caleb as much as Caleb adored Stiles. As much as he cherished them both. And even though he had known Caleb was for them, he echoed Stiles’ incredulity that they were now parents.
“I thought Scott and Allison would have children first,” he murmured back, leaning his head against Stiles’.
“Man, so did I. Or maybe Lydia and Jackson.”
“Boyd’s still talking Erica into it.” Those two betas had given him more headaches than Scott and Allison ever had. Scott and Allison had been Romeo and Juliet, feuding families and all, but they loved each other and wanted the same things. Boyd and Erica, on the other hand, loved each other but wanted different things. At least, Boyd wanted children but Erica wasn’t so sure about having them.
“I think she’s worried that her former condition would get passed onto her kids.” Stiles turned to give him a considering look. “Unless you can guarantee her that it won’t get passed down because they’re both wolves?”
Derek sadly shook his head. “I don’t know. Not for certain. I know that most diseases don’t pass down, but I’m not sure about neurological ones like hers.”
Stiles heaved a gusty sigh. “Yeah, Deaton said the same thing.”
They fell silent, watching their son sleep.
Stiles suddenly chuckled. “He’s so cute.”
Derek could only make an agreeing noise.
“And as soon as we get him fattened up to his right weight group, he’ll be even cuter! I can tell those cheeks are going to get plump and adorable.”
“I’ll go hunting after the scavenging run tomorrow.” He mentally reviewed the best area for deer. It might be easier to hunt near the outlet mall, to give the population around Beacon Hills a chance to grow once more. Either way, he would make sure that Caleb had more to eat. A werewolf cub needed more nutrients than a human child, and with Caleb being malnourished as he was, he would need even more.
“I’ll see what’s good in the garden,” Stiles offered. “I wonder what he’ll like?”
“I don’t think he cares as long as it’s food.” Derek forced his voice not to deepen into a growl as he thought about their cub going hungry for so long before he had found him.
“You’re probably right.” Stiles paused then said, “When you’re out, see if you can find a treat for him.”
“Candy?” he asked, trying to remember which store at the outlet mall that might have something like that.
Stiles shrugged. “Whatever you think’s good.”
He nodded before turning to press a kiss to his mate’s lips. “Go to bed. You’re tired.”
Stiles gave him an eyebrow. “Are you coming?”
Derek shook his head. “I’m going to run on the treadmill, recharge the generator.”
Stiles nodded, stifling a yawn. “Thank God for Lydia and Danny and their brains.”
“It was your idea,” he pointed out as he guided his mate towards their bedroom by his hips.
“Yeah, but I didn’t know how to hook the treadmill up to the generator to transform you and Dad running into electricity. They did.”
“Yeah, but it was still your idea.” Derek refused to let his mate get away with downplaying his role in getting them electricity. The homes of the pack all had electricity thanks to Stiles’ idea and Lydia and Danny’s know-how. Very few people knew that they had electricity because they didn’t want to cause jealous or ill-feelings amongst the community, but they needed electricity to keep the freezers running. Because the pack needed more food than what was rationed to them, they hunted for meat outside of the walls of Beacon Hills and stored what they didn’t eat in the freezers.
They knew from experience that the winters, even in temperate California, could be harsh on the animal population and food scarce during the cold months. The scientists in Beacon Hills had theorized that with pollution no longer being created by millions of factories and cars, global warming was slowly being reversed and that the climate was going to get colder. With cold came low animal populations and so they had to store meat to have enough for the coming winter. So other than the freezer and now Caleb’s nightlight, electrical use in the pack’s homes was limited.
Stiles gave him a look that heavily implied his insanity, but since his mate gave him that look at least once a week, Derek ignored it in favor of kissing Stiles goodnight and pushing him towards the bed. He tugged off his shoes and jeans and slipped on some jogging pants but padded barefoot down to the treadmill. He was more comfortable shoeless when running, even when it was running on a machine. An hour later, after checking on Caleb (even though he had kept an ear on their cub the entire time), Derek showered and slipped into bed with his mate.
Stiles had never been so excited to start a day before. Even the first day of school couldn’t compare!
Yesterday, Derek had bitten Caleb, turned him into a werewolf, and then they adopted him. He and Derek were parents!
“Stiles, stop bouncing,” his dad said, his voice was dry as the desert, but he couldn’t fool Stiles. He was just as excited as Stiles was to start the day with the newest member of their family.
Stiles stuck his tongue out at his dad and went back to thinking about everything they were going to do today. Even though his goal was to ease Caleb into life as part of the pack, there were a lot of things they’d need to do to get Caleb situated in Beacon Hills too. While Derek would be out with a part of their pack to get Caleb more clothes, then hunt for dinner tonight, Stiles was going to show Caleb around Beacon Hills and get him enrolled in school.
While school was now year around, thanks to alternating days spent working on the farms or with livestock, sticking Caleb into a class wouldn’t benefit him at all. From now until August when all of Beacon Hills’ kids would start the next grade level, Caleb and the remaining orphans would be in preparatory classes. These classes were designed to assess each child’s level of learning and then catch them up to speed with their age group. It was a lot of one-on-one teaching and there were enough people who could help with that when they couldn’t help with the manual labor needed to survive nowadays. This particular way of contributing to Beacon Hills was popular among the older generation who didn’t have the muscle or the stamina for the harsher workloads, as well as with people who had physical disabilities. Lack of strength, stamina, or physical disabilities didn’t stop any of them from having sharp minds that could help the next generation learn.
Once Derek was back, the pack had plans to gather here for dinner. It would be the first time Caleb would meet the entire pack. And it would only be pack tonight. The wolves, Allison, Lydia, Danny, and Melissa McCall were the only ones invited. No one had wanted to overwhelm Caleb, so the extended families agreed to wait until the weekend, to give Caleb time to settle with his new family, his new pack, before meeting all of the others.
“He’s awake,” Derek announced.
“I’ll get him!” Stiles immediately volunteered, running out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He could hear his dad and Derek’s chuckles but he didn’t care. He was a dad now too!
At the top of the stairs, reminding himself that he was going to be a cool dad, he didn’t want to rush into Caleb’s room and scare him, so he made himself walk softly. After years of running with wolves, of fighting off other supernatural beings, he had finally learned how to move quietly and quickly. But Caleb’s werewolf abilities were clearly working because the little boy was staring at the open doorway, waiting for him. Stiles’ heart melted when he saw Caleb’s face. It was a mix of scared but hopeful, excited but wary. Like he thought everything that had happen was a dream and he was scared to wake up and find reality sorely lacking.
Stiles smiled softly at him as he sat down on the bed. “Morning.”
“Hi.” Caleb offered him a shy smile from behind the stuffed German shepherd dog Scott had found for him. The little boy who had talked as much as he did yesterday was gone, replaced by this nervous and adorable little thing Stiles just wanted to cuddle the hell out of.
Before Stiles could say anything, Caleb asked, “What do I call you?”
Stiles blinked, confused. “Uh, what do you mean?”
Caleb carefully shrugged, tiny fingers fiddling with the stuffed toy’s ear. “Some of the big kids, they said they had daddies. Or mommies. Before they went away. But boys are daddies, right?” He peeped out from under his lashes. “You and Derek are both boys.”
“How about we go downstairs and ask?” Stiles grinned helplessly, holding out his arms, smiling into Caleb’s hair when the boy flew into his arms, little arms around his neck, squishing the stuffed animal into Stiles’ neck. He didn’t mind at all, holding on tight to the little boy in his arms. “You know, there’s more than one name for daddies.”
“There are?” Caleb’s little face was only inches away from his, dark eyes tracing something on Stiles’ face.
“It’s okay, go ahead,” Stiles urged him when he realized what Caleb was looking at. He grinned when a tiny finger came up to touch the moles on his cheeks, gently connecting them in a connect-the-dots game that reminded him of his mom and dad, when they did the same thing when he was younger. “Yup. Lots of names for dads. There’s pop, pops, father, da, dad, pa, papa.” Stiles made a funny face just to hear Caleb giggle. “There’s more but I can’t remember them right now.”
Caleb looked considering. “That’s a lot.” He tilted his head in a move that made Stiles grin; he had to have picked it up from Derek in the last day because it was Derek through and through. “Which do you like?”
Stiles’ grin widened, reaching up to tickle Caleb’s tummy. “I’m good with whatever you’d like to call me. And wow, I sound like I’m from a porno.”
“What’s a porno?”
Stiles stared at his son, mouth open and moving.
Laughter drifted out of the kitchen.
“Yeah, son, what’s a porno?”
More laughter from his damn mate. Caleb was still looking at him, clearly expecting an answer. Stiles didn’t have to force the evil smile when it came to him, he had to force himself to tone it down really. “I’m not sure, Caleb, it’s something Derek told me about.”
The outraged growl made him smirk.
Coming into the kitchen, both his father and his mate were at the table, one empty chair for him and the other a Tripp Trapp chair for Caleb. The Tripp Trapp chair was a special chair designed to be used starting when a baby was six months and could be used through adulthood, simply by adjusting the seat level and the footrest. Shaped in an “L,” but instead of at a ninety degree angle, the “L” formed a seventy degree angle. Oh, yeah, totally just used some geometry there; Stiles had never thought it would come in handy in real life! Stiles grinned at it because it was another of those childhood things that his mom and dad had saved. Oh, it could have been used all this time, but he was pretty sure his parents had hoped for more kids. Pulling his thoughts away from why they couldn’t have more kids, he smiled down at Caleb, tickling him one more time to hear that sweet, high laugh.
Helping Caleb into the chair, he grinned over his shoulder at the other two men. “So, Derek, Caleb wants to know what he should call us.”
Derek didn’t answer; instead he leaned over to Caleb. Stiles watched in absolute delight when Derek showed Caleb how to do an Eskimo kiss, their noses rubbing together before Derek nuzzled Caleb’s cheek then presented his own for their son to nuzzle back. “Good morning, Caleb,” Derek rumbled down at their son.
“Good morning,” Caleb breathed out, eyes wide as they took in Derek’s face. One small hand reached up to touch Derek’s cheek. Derek looped one long arm around Caleb’s body, completely engulfing him as he pulled Caleb into a hug. Their little boy slumped into his hug, but his hands held on tight. “You smell good,” he whispered into Derek’s shoulder.
“You too,” Derek answered as he pulled back a little to look Caleb in the eye. “Like family, like pack.”
Caleb watched him with wide eyes that were carefully considering. He inhaled again, taking in Derek’s scent again. “Family, pack,” he echoed.
Derek nodded, holding out one hand to Stiles that he immediately took. Derek towed him towards them, nearly onto his lap. “Stiles is family and pack too. Can you smell me on him?”
Stiles eagerly leaned down so that Caleb can sniff at him, smiling when Caleb nodded excitedly.
“Yes, and I can smell him on you too!” Caleb declared to Derek, obviously surprised.
“Because he’s my mate,” Derek answered the unspoken question.
Stiles stood up and moved, watching as Derek taught Caleb how to smell family and pack, this time using Stiles’ dad for an example.
“This is your grandfather, Caleb,” Derek introduced them, his dad taking the chair on Caleb’s other side.
“Who?” Caleb asked, seemingly confused as he stared at Stiles’ dad, forehead and face in this adorable little scrunch.
Derek was shocked for one moment as he realized that, as an orphan, Caleb would have no real knowledge of families. Stiles bit down on his lip, swallowing the lump in his throat.
Thank God for Dad as he came to the rescue.
“Caleb, you know how Stiles and Derek adopted you? How they’re your parents now?”
Caleb eagerly nodded as he fully turned towards his grandfather. He glanced over his shoulder at Derek and Stiles, smiling shyly. “My daddies.”
His dad was grinning, but his eyes were misty, especially when they landed on him. “That’s right, your daddies. Well, I’m Stiles’ daddy, so that makes me part of your family too. I’m your grandpa.”
Caleb stared at him for a long, long time. Whatever conclusion he came too made him bounce in the chair, just a little. “I get a Grrrrrpa too?”
The low growl caught them all by surprise. Caleb immediately slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and afraid.
Derek gently caught him before Caleb could flail out of the chair. “Let me see, Caleb.”
Their little boy heaved a breath through his nose, but slowly lowered his hand. Stiles wanted to coo at the little fangs in Caleb’s mouth. They were adorable, barely any larger than his already small teeth, completely unlike Derek’s scary sabretooth tiger ones.
Derek was smiling reassuringly down at Caleb. “It’s all right, cub, those are just your fangs. Like mine.” He opened his mouth and slowly lowered his fangs so that Caleb could see.
“But why?” Caleb stopped short of finishing the sentence, becoming stupidly adorable as he crossed his eyes to look down his nose, a little hand coming up to pat his throat then mouth. “Why do I sound funny?”
Derek was smiling, this gorgeous little smile that took Stiles’ breath away. Just when he didn’t think he could love the guy any more, Derek had to go and get them a kid and be an awesome, awesome dad. Stiles was surprised he hadn’t been turned into a pile of sappy goo by now. Or jumped Derek’s bones. No, that would have to wait because they couldn’t do that in front of their son. It might scar him for life and that was not cool.
“You were excited,” Derek answered, still smiling. “It’s okay; I’ll teach you how to control it.”
Caleb nodded, but only looked moderately assured.
“In the meantime,” his dad announced cheerfully, picking up Caleb from his chair to toss him a little in the air, making Caleb giggle. “I love it when you call me ‘Grrrrpa,’ so I think that’s what you should call me.”
“Grrrrpa?” Caleb said it as if to try it out.
His dad grinned at him, bringing Caleb in for a hug. “Yeah, kiddo, just like that.”
Caleb beamed back at his grandfather, enthusiastically hugging back.
Stiles leaned against Derek’s shoulder, feeling the weight of his mate’s heavy arm as it looped around his waist, and just reveled in his family.
Derek was on guard duty, perched on top of one of the sixteen wheelers they used for these scavenging trips, as the rest of the teams cleaned out the Walmart warehouse of everything. Instead of just focusing on food and essential items, the team took everything from toys to electronics. With plans being developed to take over a nearby power plant, they would have electricity for not only the bare essentials, but also for all those little luxuries like electric appliances and game consoles. There was even talk about cleaning out the nearby car dealerships for electric cars.
Derek hadn’t cared about any of those things. Instead, he had made sure that the pack gathered things that Caleb would need now and in the future. Clothes to grow into, books to read, toys to play with. He personally grabbed candy and mixes for cookies and cakes. Sister Mary Edward had not known Caleb’s date of birth but Stiles had talked about using the day the adoption papers went through instead. Caleb had enthusiastically agreed once he realized what a birthday meant.
After the last of the trucks were loaded, mattresses and furniture taking the longest to move, the trucks started to rumble home. Derek stayed on top of the cab, Boyd by his side, both of them strapped to the truck via bungee cords and carabiners. They were scouting for trouble but also for game.
“There!” Boyd had detached himself and was already leaping off the truck to one of the trees on the side of the road.
Derek quickly followed but let his beta take the kill. It took both of them to haul the enormous buck back onto the still moving truck that had only marginally slowed down to let them back on. They quickly stowed the buck into the large, portal cooler with the air-tight seal that had been strapped to the top of the truck. Then they used the jugs of water that had been stored in the cooler to wash away any blood on the truck and themselves. No use in attracting zombies if they didn’t have to. “Good job,” he praised quietly above the grinding and rumbling of the sixteen-wheeler.
Boyd’s grin flashed white against his dark skin. “This should feed us for a while, huh?”
Derek nodded. “Stiles already has his recipes planned out; ones he thinks Caleb will like.”
“Venison burgers,” Boyd murmured reverently, eyes already glazing over in remembrance.
Derek completely understood. Stiles’ cooking had been okay before the zombies, when he and his father had lived off of frozen meals and take out, but after all that went away, Stiles had cracked opened his mother’s cookbooks and started teaching himself. His experiments were famous for either being ridiculously good or just plain bad. Thankfully, the latter was few and far in between. It was also thanks to Stiles that their pack had finally learned to eat food freshly killed instead of brought from the store. He still growled a little in remembrance at their ingratitude when he brought home that first deer.
But now, they could hunt their own food, with claws, fangs, bow and arrow. He looked forward to teaching Caleb, he looked forward to their first full moon together as a pack with a new cub.
“Thinking about Caleb?” Boyd asked, even though it wasn’t really a question, a tiny smile lifting the corners of his mouth.
Derek nodded, picturing Stiles and Caleb this morning as Stiles cuddled their son. “He’s going to call me daddy and Stiles is papa.”
Boyd chuckled, bouncing a little when the truck rolled over debris. “Jackson, Isaac, and Scott had a bet on who would be called what.”
Boyd shrugged and shook his head. “They wouldn’t tell anyone; they’re afraid one of you would play favorites and fix the outcome.”
Derek had to roll his eyes at his betas. All of them.
“I’m going to ask Erica to marry me.”
Derek jerked around in surprise and stared at Boyd. The other man’s eyes were focused off in the distance, but even his dark skin could not hide the blush on his cheeks. The grin spread itself across his mouth easily. “Congratulations,” he said, clapping Boyd on the shoulder.
Boyd ducked his head, but his smile was enormous.
They both feel silent again, feeling no need to speak any further. Derek, especially, since he wanted this time to let his mind wander, to think about all of the changes his pack had gone through in the last few months. Scott and Allison were engaged, set to be married in two months. Jackson and Lydia had been married for nearly six months and had already talked about children. Boyd was going to ask Erica to marry him; Derek was sure she would say yes. He and Stiles were formally adopting a child, had brought the first cub into the pack. While neither Isaac nor Danny had mates, it was only a matter of time. With the sheriff, Melissa, and Chris, his pack was steadily growing, becoming something closer to what his family had been before the fire.
Derek couldn’t help but feel his family would have been proud of him. Happy for him.
Caleb’s eyes had not returned to their regular size since he had woken that morning as he stared at everything Beacon Hills was and had.
It must have been the first intact piece of civilization the little boy had seen, with people who neither looked starved or scared. Stiles had stayed true to his plan to show Caleb around, not only his new home, but also Beacon Hills. Well, the important parts anyway. He had showed him each of the pack’s homes, letting their little boy sniff and inhale the scents of the pack while everyone was away at work. Then he showed him the elementary school where he would be going in a few months, taking the opportunity to enroll Caleb into those preparatory classes while they were there. He also showed Caleb the sheriff’s department during lunch, Caleb carefully carrying the sacked lunch they’d brought from the high school cafeteria to give to his grandfather.
His dad had grinned when he saw them. “Did you guys bring me lunch?”
Caleb shyly nodded, clinging to his grandfather’s legs as the rest of the department watched with interest.
“And what did you bring me?” he asked, leaning down to scoop Caleb into his arms. Stiles had to bite his lip when he saw how his father looked at both him and Caleb with so much love and pride. It made him squirm with embarrassment and happiness that he could make his dad so happy.
“A sandwich,” Caleb whispered into his ear, eyes peeking out at the other officers, some of whom smiled and waved. He bashfully waved back before ducking back to the safety of the sheriff’s neck.
“Well, that sounds delicious. What else?”
Stiles had to smile as his dad shooed his deputies back to work, still grinning stupidly and carrying on with Caleb. He shook his head and followed them into his dad’s office, sinking down into a chair and settling in to watch Caleb point out what they’d pack for him.
“Thank you for bringing me lunch, Caleb, how did you know I’d need it?” His dad carefully held Caleb in his lap as he unwrapped his lunch, but it was clear he was more interested in Caleb than in the food, absently eating the salad that came with the sandwich without a single complaint about his completely meatless lunch.
Caleb grinned widely, pointing at him. “Papa said you were too busy to eat today because you weren’t at lunch, so we should bring the mountain to Mohammed.” He gave them both a slightly baffled look. “Grrrrpa, is your first name Mohammed?”
Stiles covered his mouth to muffle his shout of laughter.
His father rolled his eyes, smile exasperated. “I would say grandkids are a parent’s revenge but you’re enjoying this way too much.”
Stiles shamelessly cackled.
The pack was being unusually subdued, happy and welcoming, but still subdued for them as they entered the Stilinski backyard in pairs or small groups.
Derek knew it was most likely because Stiles had firmly admonished them from scaring Caleb with their sometimes boisterous antics. He helped by carrying Caleb to each member of their pack, introducing them or reintroducing them as necessary, via name and scent. Just as he had with Stiles and John this morning, Derek showed Caleb how to scent their packmates. His cub watched each one with wide eyes but greeted them all with a smile and a ready nose.
He ducked his head when he saw his mate smiling mistily at them.
By the time dinner was served and everyone seated at the two long picnic tables that were butted up end to end, groaning with food and drinks, Caleb was happily chatting with anyone who was near.
“You turned into a lizard?” Caleb asked from his seat on Derek’s lap, at Jackson who was two seats away.
Jackson gravely nodded, absently thanking Lydia for the venison burger she placed on his plate. “I didn’t know until a lot later, after I hurt a bunch of people. Your dads and Uncle Scott were trying to stop me from hurting anyone else.”
“Wow,” Caleb breathed.
“Here, sweetheart, it’s time to eat.”
Caleb turned the sweetest smile on Stiles. “Thank you, papa.”
He could see his mate melt, returning the smile. “You’re very welcome. I hope you like it.”
“I will!” Caleb quickly confirmed before digging in. The sounds their little boy made left no one in doubt of his enjoyment.
Looking down at his son happily demolishing the venison burger and then at the rest of his pack, all eating and laughing and talking, he relaxed back into the chair, feeling something tiny that still didn’t believe he could have all of this vanishing. Derek reached out, lacing his fingers with Stiles, sharing a satisfied, happy smile.
Mary Edward felt nothing but shame when she saw the homemade calendar and realized that it had been nearly a month since she last checked on Caleb. She told herself that it was all right, that the other children had needed her more, that the ones that hadn’t been adopted needed her more. But while she could lie to herself, she could not lie to God. He knew that her reasons were only partly true. She had agreed to let Mr. Hale bite Caleb, to save his life, but she had wanted to ignore the religious ramifications of what she had done, and so she had ignored the innocent child in all this.
Werewolves! The zombies could be explained away as scientific advancement gone wrong, but even the head of the hospital here had no explanation for the existence of werewolves. It had been so easy to view what Mr. Hale had done as a life-saving, but experimental, procedure. So easy to say yes to saving sweet little Caleb’s life. But now. After a month of blessed normalcy, of a church that hadn’t been ransacked or sisters that hadn’t discarded vows of nonviolence to survive and protect their charges. After this past month of near normalcy, the questions she had regarding mythical creatures plagued her. Her conscious plagued her as well: did she do the right thing? Did she save Caleb’s life only to condemn his eternal soul?
She pushed aside those concerns yet again as she headed to the sheriff’s home. She fortified herself with prayer before knocking on their door. Mr. Hale was the one to answer her knock. “Good afternoon, Mr. Hale.”
“Sister.” Even though his greeting was short, he stepped aside in invitation.
She quickly took in the home. Mary Edward had no idea what she was expecting but the sheriff’s home was utterly normal. Pictures of family and friends, comfortable furniture that seemed well used but in excellent condition. Nothing out of the ordinary. Tearing her eyes away from the home she wasn’t expecting, wasn’t even sure what she was expecting from a werewolf’s home anyway, she turned back to Mr. Hale. “I was hoping to visit with Caleb.”
Mr. Hale nodded and led her towards the back of the house.
Mary Edward heard him before she saw him.
“Papa, will I turn into a puppy?”
Low chuckles distracted her from the answer. One was from Mr. Hale behind her, but in the cool shadows of the back porch, off to her left, the sheriff was in a rocking chair, a pitcher of cold lemonade beside him. She wondered where they found the lemons and ice to make it.
“Good afternoon, sister.” John Stilinski stood and offered her the other chair.
“Good afternoon, sheriff, and thank you.” She tried to quell her covetous look at his lemonade, but was obviously unsuccessful when he chuckled again and offered her a glass. She sipped at it, savoring the sweet tartness of real lemons. Mary Edward couldn’t remember the last time she had such a treat.
“What brings you by, sister?” he asked pleasantly.
“I was hoping to check on Caleb.” Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Mr. Hale moving out of the shadows with large glasses of water in his hands. She could hear the ice clinking in the glass and again wondered where they got the electricity to make and store ice.
Mr. Hale was heading over to the far side of the yard where Caleb and his other father were kneeling on the ground. She didn’t have the best view of them but their body language told her they were working on their garden. All she could see was Caleb’s little denim-clad bottom waving in the air and a big hat that covered his head from the sun. And she got her answer regarding where the lemons came from: the lemon tree above Caleb and his father had hordes of the yellow fruit.
“Stiles has a green thumb.” The sheriff had followed her line of sight. “Just like his mother.”
Mary Edward absently nodded, fixated on watching Caleb with his new parents. Mr. Hale had handed out the glasses, holding it steady until Caleb had a firm grip before letting it go. Then he picked up Caleb and all, gracefully seating himself Indian-style, placing Caleb on his crossed legs. Caleb was utterly at ease, leaning trustingly against Mr. Hale’s chest. His face was now cherub-round, flush with health and happiness as he talked with his parents. His body had the same look of health, muscle and flesh at the right plumpness for his age. He was smiling, eyes bright as he talked to his fathers. He was a far cry from the child she knew only a few weeks ago.
“He seems happy,” she murmured as much to herself as to the sheriff. She couldn’t remember the last time Caleb was as animated as he was with his parents right now. His hands didn’t gesture like Stiles Stilinski’s, but his face changed from expression to expression. His eyes were gleaming and his lips smiling. He had been a baby when they had found him, just after the zombies had spread to California, and he had known nothing but moving from place to place, food scarce and comfort nowhere to be found, zombies and criminals taking his caretakers one by one. But now, he looked like a child from before the apocalypse, he looked like a child should: carefree and innocent.
“He is,” he agreed easily. “He’s looking forward to his first full moon.”
And there it was: a direct reference to their otherworldliness.
“What.” She gathered her courage, fingers absently going to the small gold cross at her throat. “What happens on the full moon?”
“The pack heads out to the woods, we eat dinner together, spend time as a pack, we run together.” He flashed a grin. “Well, the wolves, anyway. Should be interesting to see how the dynamics change with a cub in the pack.”
“Yes, interesting.” Mary Edward nodded and answered absently. It didn’t sound so bad, it sounded like a family going on a picnic together. Except, she didn’t know what “spend time as a pack” entailed, did she?
“Sister Mary Edward?”
She jerked at the sound of her name, stared up at Stiles Stilinski. “Yes, young man?” She tried to hide how startled she had been but she was sure she failed miserably.
“Would you like to join us?” His smile was encouraging and welcoming but it was also filled with cunning. “To see him for yourself?”
She hesitated but she nodded in the end.
And so she found herself several days later, out in the woods, surprised at how homey their campsite was. A large tarp was strung between trees; blankets, sleeping bags, and chairs were strewn about under it. Close by, a huge spit was roasting the most delicious-smelling venison. The smells reminded her of her family’s reunions where mornings were spent hunting and the afternoons spent cooking and talking and laughing. The amount of food laid out in front of her now was staggering but later, as more and more people arrived, the amount made more sense.
The Stilinskis were manning the spit; Derek and Caleb nowhere in sight.
“Sister Mary Edward! Welcome to the Hale Pack Monthly Picnic!” Mr. Stilinski was actually bouncing towards her, smile on his face and hands extended. Sheriff Stilinski waved and nodded but stayed at the spit.
She took them, smiling hesitantly back. “Thank you for the invitation, Mr. Stilinski.”
“Stiles, please,” he invited her as he lead her over to the chairs and offered refreshments. After choosing more of that delicious lemonade, she sat back and watched Stiles and his father interact. They were laughing as they talked, Stiles’ hands busy getting her drink.
Oddly, Sheriff Stilinski’s head snapped up and stared behind her.
Mary Edward turned to look but saw nothing. She turned back to ask, finding Stiles coming towards her with a glass.
After he presented her with the glass, he too stared off over her shoulder. “Looks like you’ll be meeting Chris and Allison Argent next.”
Almost as soon as he said their names, Mr. Argent and a young woman came through the trees. She remembered Mr. Argent from the police station, his face in hard, forbidding lines. But, now, looking down at the young woman who had to be his daughter, his face was gentle, lips curved in a smile at whatever Allison was saying. On their heels came the rest of the pack.
Mary Edward was surprised to learn that the humans outnumbered the werewolves, that extended family members were always invited to full moon nights. She met Mrs. McCall, Erica’s mother Veronica Reyes, Mr. and Mrs. Whittmore, Ms. Lowes – Lydia’s mother, the entire Mahealani clan, and Vernon Boyd’s pre-teen sisters. The pre-teen girls immediately beelined towards the Mahealani fraternal twins, Robbie and Rebecca. She found herself immediately tucked into the fold of human adults, answering questions about how she was settling in.
She didn’t meet the other werewolves until Stiles threw his head back and howled. It was a human howl, but it echoed through the night. Soon he was joined by the Boyd’s sisters and the Mahealani children, their howls higher pitched and broken by laughter. Mary Edward nearly jumped out of her skin when she realized the werewolves were emerging from the woods, melting out of the shadows like some kind of forest demons.
But their faces were smiling, laughing, happy in the fading light of day. They slipped onto the blankets and chairs, hands going to food, chattering with each other and their families.
She watched, preconceived notions of what a werewolf pack was and how they behaved shattered by the utterly normal picnic dinner that happened around her. They spoke of their day, catching up on each other’s lives even though it was obvious they spent huge amounts of time together.
“Lydia,” Ms. Lowes turned towards her daughter. “How’s the project for connecting to the power plant going?”
That caught everyone’s attention.
Lydia nodded, swallowing the bite she had just taken, then gestured towards Isaac. “We’re getting there. Everyone’s decided that we should build a corridor to the Middle Fork hydro power plant station.”
“Isn’t that farther than either of the Dutch or Drum Flats stations?” Mrs. Whittmore asked, leaning around her husband.
Isaac nodded. “But its output is larger; it will be able to sustain us for longer.”
“If we’re going to take the risk of building a corridor, of putting the construction crews at risk, we might as well go big,” Sheriff Stilinski pointed out from the middle of the table.
People nodded as they continued to eat.
“We’re already making plans on the best way to build the corridor and they’re going to start classes for people who want to do maintenance shifts at the plant.” Lydia helped herself to another serving of carrots as she spoke. “They want teams of four people, with at least one security person as part of the team.”
Sheriff Stilinski nodded. “I’ll put a volunteer sheet up once the mayor puts out the call. How long will the shifts be?”
“One week for each team, so four teams would be ideal,” the young woman answered. Mary Edward had been surprised at first that this barely twenty year old was on the team of engineers planning the connection to the hydro power plant, but not after Mrs. McCall had told her about the girl’s genius level test scores.
“Will they have an emergency contact system?” Mrs. McCall asked to the table at large.
Danny Mahealani nodded. “We’re rigging up a system based on Morris code in the sheriff’s office and the hospital, since they’re the only places manned 24/7.”
“Oh good,” the nurse sighed.
Everyone fell silent, focusing on their food. Taking advantage of the silence, she turned her attention to Caleb, sitting in Mr. Stilinski’s lap. The boy seemed happy, just like when she visited the Stilinski home several days before. He was chatting with his fathers, eating between sentences. His fathers watched him with amused affection, every once in a while correcting his speech or his table manners. Caleb never complained about being corrected, cheerily accepting the lessons and moving on. Every so often a member of the pack would smile down at the three of them.
“Oh, Sister Mary Edward?”
She blinked in surprised, while everyone had been welcoming, this was the first time she was being directly addressed during dinner. “Yes, Mr. Whittmore?”
“Eric, please,” he requested with an urbane smile. She was told he was once a high powered attorney and with that smile she could see it.
“Yes, Eric?” she politely inquired, giving him her no nonsense look.
He took it in stride, still smiling. “I’ve heard all of the children have been adopted?”
Mary Edward was pleased to nod, but then her lips turned down. “Yes, all but one.”
“Oh?” Mrs. Reyes asked, leaning around her daughter and Boyd. “Which one?”
“Ryan,” she sighed.
“Ryan?” Mr. Stilinski asked, looking at his husband then at Caleb. “The one with the dog?”
The one who endangered Caleb was what he was really saying. Mary Edward thinned her lips and nodded.
“What will happen to Ryan if no one steps forward to take him?” Mrs. McCall asked, worrying her lip.
“He would most likely become a ward of the state,” Mr. Whittmore answered her, frowning up at the sky. “He would the first since Beacon Hills never had an orphanage.”
“The closest one was in Lake Falls,” his wife murmured.
“Or would he stay a ward of the Church?” Sheriff Stilinski wondered, turning his gaze upon her.
Mary Edward nodded. “We would petition to keep him, but I don’t think it will be necessary.”
“Oh?” Mr. Stilinski asked as he helped Caleb reach another serving of meat. It would be Caleb’s third helping, if her count was correct, but she knew nothing about werewolf nutrition and, really, what was one more serving when they had been verging on hungry for so long.
“Silas has been thinking about adopting the boy himself.”
“Silas?” Mr. Mahealani said in surprise, eyebrows rising nearly to his dark hair. “He’s . . .” he trailed off, clearly not wanting to offend anyone.
Mary Edward hid her smile against her glass of lemonade. “Yes, he is. But I think the old codger will be good for Ryan, teach him some boundaries and discipline.”
Several people nodded in agreement but then the table became silent again as they all concentrated on their food. Conversations rose and fell as the food was steadily demolished. Once dinner was over, and the sun was nearly set, Mary Edward watched warily as the entire table rose. The young people cleaned and separated the trash to be recycled, while the parents packed away any leftovers that Melissa McCall had assured Mary Edward wouldn’t last through the night or the morning after the pack ran.
Mary Edward didn’t need to ask for confirmation regarding werewolf or human status. The werewolves were glancing up at the sky, moving restlessly. Little Caleb looked ready to vibrate out of his skin, plucking at his clothes, hopping from foot to foot, head swiveling to catch the slightest movement. Derek Hale swooped in to grab his adopted son, throwing him into the air, Caleb’s squealing laughter as he was caught and thrown airborne once more. Stiles watched them with an indulgent smile, pressing kisses to both their cheeks.
She had to blink and advert her eyes when, at some unseen signal, the wolves began to disrobe. Jeans and shorts were left on, but shirts, shoes, and socks were removed and stored. Even the girls were down to their sports bras. Mary Edward had never seen so much skin on display for a very long time, not since before the zombies when regular trips to the neighborhood pool was possible for her young charges. But no one seemed to care, taking all the partial nakedness in stride. Of course, it wasn’t completely innocent. She saw how those with partners ogled their lovers, how the younger teenagers giggled and peeked at their crushes, how the older women gave the sheriff appreciative glances. But even with all that, there was a naturalness that spoke of such displays being common place.
Mr. Hale suddenly threw back his head and howled.
Mary Edward jerked at the roar, nothing like a human howl, nothing even like a wolf’s howl. It echoed fierce and loud in the night, a challenge for all who would invade his territory, a call for his pack to join him in the moonlight. Little Caleb threw his head back and mimicked his father, a younger, less experience roar, but nevertheless echoed through the night as it was joined one by one by the other wolves. The wolves burst into long loping strides across the clearing and towards the woods, Caleb in the middle of their pack, Mr. Hale keeping stride, the pack surrounding them both.
In a blink of the eye, they were gone.
The evening passed quietly for the humans; eventually sleep claiming them. Mary Edward woke at dawn, confusion at why she was outside ruling for mere moments before remembrance kicked in. She jerked up, only to stare dumbly at the . . . puppy pile. She was on the outskirts of the bedding and the tarp that covered it, so she could take her time to fully appreciate the sight that beheld her.
Bodies entwined, some like lovers, others like siblings, others like children curled up with their parents. An enormous pile of bodies, rising and falling with their breathing, a mass of skin and muscle and hair. So intertwined it was sometimes difficult to see where one ended and another began.
Caleb was in the middle, in between his parents, his grandfather not far away. He was cuddled and warm and slept the sleep of the innocent, of a child who had not been borne into a world devastated by creatures, disease, famine, and fear.
Mary Edward stared at him, then at the other children. Young pre-teens, children only a few years older than Caleb, at their smooth, untroubled faces. Stared at how the werewolves had placed these young in the center of the pile, safe and warm, protected even from the cool dawn air. She felt something slip away inside her. It was the fear. Fear of these creatures who were human, nevermind the forms they could take. Fear of Caleb’s soul, for a child so loved would never lose his soul, nevermind the condition of his body.
Mary Edward lifted her face towards the morning light and smiled.
Stiles’ heart finally slowed when he saw Derek at the top of the elementary school’s steps. His lover was calm, waiting for him with only a confused frown. Whatever reason Caleb’s teacher wanted to see them was obviously benign, otherwise, Derek would have ripped through the school with his alpha glare and glower, not waiting patiently for Stiles to tether his horse. But, Stiles, still worried, didn’t bother with pleasantries. “What’s going on? Can you hear anything?”
Derek shook his head, frown growing. “Just that Ms. White wanted to see us about Caleb.” Derek, bless him, pulled Stiles into his arms for a brief second. “I would know if something had happened to our cub. He’s fine.”
He nodded against his lover’s chest, taking that moment in Derek’s arms to calm down. When Stiles finally pulled away, they walked hand in hand towards the principal’s office. Caleb was sitting in front of Ms. White’s large, wooden desk, head bowed, fingers laced together in his lap, shoulders slumped, his whole body radiating sadness and shame.
Stiles could barely stand it, rushing towards their son, but was jerked short by the hold Derek had on his hand. Before he could open his mouth in outrage, Derek pointed towards Ms. White, raising both of his formidable eyebrows. Stiles turned to see the yellow slip of paper in her hand and immediately wilted. Yellow slips of paper were disciplinary notes, not medical. Whatever had happened to land Caleb in the principal’s office clearly earned him a demerit.
“Mr. Hale, Mr. Stilinski, thank you for coming.” Ms. White waved them towards the other chairs beside Caleb’s.
Stiles slowly sat down next to Caleb, leaving the pleasantries – for once, and short as they would be – to Derek. He couldn’t keep his eyes off Caleb, couldn’t keep them off the dejected body language, the fact that their little boy hadn’t looked at them once. What could Caleb have done that would result in such a reaction. Throwing his memories about, Stiles couldn’t remember any time he couldn’t even look at his parents. Not even after the time he and Scott nearly broke their necks trying to build their own treehouse.
He barely listened as Ms. White told them about Caleb’s tantrum in class. How nothing was broken nor anyone hurt, but Caleb was to be punished with an in-school suspension for the next day. She left them then, leaving them to figure out why Caleb, their sweet little boy, decided to throw a tantrum. His teacher, Karen, hadn’t had a clue as to why Caleb had suddenly broken down in class.
“Caleb,” Derek intoned, voice low and serious, but thankfully not threatening at all. “Caleb, why did you do this?”
Caleb shrugged, still not looking up, continuing to hold so still it was bizarre.
Stiles picked him up, unable to keep from cuddling him, even if it sent mixed signals about his punishment. His relief was immense when Caleb grabbed onto him, held on as he buried his face in Stiles’ chest. Thank God he hadn’t turned away, wasn’t an unnatural statue any longer. Tear soaked through his shirt, Stiles wrapped his arms even more tightly around his son. He looked helplessly at Derek, seeing the heavy frown on but not knowing any more than his lover.
“It’s okay, Caleb, you can tell us what happen.”
Caleb kept his face buried in his chest even as he shook his head.
“Please, Caleb, can you tell us?” Stiles cajoled softly, holding onto him securing, ducking down to whisper into the shell of Caleb’s ear. “We might be angry, but we promise not to be too angry. We love you.”
He remembered how important it was to his mom and his dad when he was young to tell him that while they might be angry at something he’d done, that they would always love him. Stiles wanted Caleb to know that same kind of security.
Unfortunately, it only seemed to make Caleb cry harder, sobs now, instead of just tears. Stiles instinctively curled around Caleb’s little body, crooning and rocking, sharing a helpless look with Derek over their crying son.
Derek eavesdropped from the kitchen while John was talking to Caleb, trying to get him to tell “Grrrpa” why he had thrown the temper tantrum in class today. His father-in-law wasn’t having any more success than he or Stiles had. The principal had pulled Stiles and him aside to quietly inform them that it was normal for a child to stress out over being away from their parents for the first time, even a child who had only been with them for three months. She had praised them for being such wonderful parents that Caleb was that attached to them. Even though her words of commendation had made him feel pretty damn good, watching Caleb bury his face in Stiles’ chest or neck, smelling the salt of his tears, and hearing the hitching of his breath dashed the feeling into pieces.
“Do you think we should talk to Sister Mary Edward?” Stiles asked so quietly from where he was buried in Derek’s shoulder that Derek was sure he was the only one who could hear his mate. “Maybe we’re doing something wrong? Maybe he misses her and the other kids?”
“He saw her just a few days ago, the other kids are in school with him,” Derek refuted, but was ready to go get the nun and those other kids if that’s what it took.
“Ms. White didn’t seem too worried.” Stiles heaved a weary sigh. “But if it keeps happening.” He paused, fidgeting in that way that Derek knew he was going to say something he wasn’t going to like. “Lydia says if it keeps happening, we might want to think about taking him to Dr. Huang.”
It took Derek a moment to place the name; Dr. George Huang was the only child psychiatrist in Beacon Hills. He didn’t know the man himself, but Stiles had seen him after his mother’s death and Erica had been his patient all through her childhood, her parents worried about her mental statement in conjunction with her physical one. He could feel Stiles bracing himself against what he thought would be a tirade from Derek, but Derek didn’t even think twice about nodding. “If it will help Caleb, then we’ll make an appointment if this happens again.”
Stiles immediately relaxed into his arms.
Derek hoped that Caleb wouldn’t need Dr. Huang, but he was willing to do anything to keep his family happy and whole.
Stiles bit his lip and tried to calm his heart. He and Derek were waiting in Dr. Huang’s waiting room; Caleb was still inside the children’s “play room” with the doctor, the one filled with toys to help relax his young patients. He didn’t bother asking Derek to listen in on them because Dr. Huang – after asking about werewolf hearing range and abilities – was using a white noise generator. Derek, as an alpha, could hear past the machine, but it was a strain on him and Stiles loathed putting any more pressure on his lover.
His patience was rewarded mere moments later when Dr. Huang emerged from the play room.
“Derek, Stiles, please follow me,” he asked in that very soft and gentle voice. When Stiles had first come to Dr. Huang as a patient, he didn’t believe the man could always speak in that soft and gentle tone, that he had to modulating his voice to be that soft-spoken. He had tried everything he could think of to get Dr. Huang to drop the act, especially since said attempts kept his mind off his mother’s death. Dr. Huang had gotten angry, had gotten exasperated, and had even gotten loud, but his voice was always softer and gentler than anyone Stiles had heard before or since.
He led them to his office, filled with pictures his patients had drawn for him, bright spots of color in an otherwise plain room. Dr. Huang waved them towards the chairs in front of his desk. “Gentlemen, your son is a very bright little boy.”
“Thanks,” Stiles said faintly, groping blindly for Derek’s hand, fearing that this gentle lead-in was the beginning of the psychiatrist’s admonishment that they were terrible parents who had no idea what the hell they were doing.
Dr. Huang, used to seeing Stiles blow things a little out of proportion, smiled gently and said, “Stiles, relax, you and Derek are doing a fine job with him.”
Stiles deflated, burying his face into the muscle of Derek’s bicep. It was one thing to hear it from his own dad, it was one thing to hear it from Ms. White, but Dr. Huang knew how messed up he could be. Once he’d stop fighting the psychiatrist, Stiles had spilled everything, every bit of anger and crazy that he felt up until he started high school. If anyone knew if he had messed up his kid, Dr. Huang would be it. But those words, delivered in that soft voice with that reassuring smile . . . Stiles breathed in relief.
Above him, Derek asked, “Then why the temper tantrums? He’s been having at least one a day for two weeks.”
Stiles pulled himself together, sitting up and facing Dr. Huang, ready to do whatever the doctor wanted him to do to help Caleb.
“He’s afraid,” Dr. Huang answered simply.
“Of me?” Derek’s face started to fall into those lines that spoke of anguish, deserved or not.
Stiles immediately slugged his arm with his free hand. “Don’t be stupid! He adores you!”
Before Derek could refute him, Dr. Huang cleared his throat and assured them. “He’s not afraid of you, either of you,” he said rather pointedly to Derek. “He’s afraid of losing you.”
“Losing us?” Stiles gaped at the doctor.
“He’s not going to lose us,” Derek growled.
Dr. Huang nodded, but then tilted his head. “Caleb watched, for the first five years of his life, as his caretakers were taken from him one-by-one. Has he told you about Claire?”
Stiles immediately nodded. “He said she was his favorite because she sang him to sleep.”
“She was also one of the more recent deaths, right before Derek found him and the other children, in fact.” Dr. Huang leaned forward, face earnest. “Caleb knows a lot of loss for one so young, but now, with you, it’s been months since you’ve adopted him and he’s afraid that if he does anything wrong you’ll send him away. That little boy loves you both so much, he’s deathly afraid he’ll lose you, that you’ll decide you don’t want him anymore and give him back to the church.”
“But that’s just stupid!” Stiles wanted to take that back as soon as he said it. “I’m not saying he’s stupid or that I think his feelings are invalid--”
“Stiles.” Derek’s free hand closed over their joined hands, embracing Stiles’ hand with both of his. The soothing sweep of thumb over the back of his hand stilled Stiles’ rambling.
Stiles took a deep breath and held it, counting out slowly as he released it, just like Dr. Huang had taught him so long ago.
Dr. Huang was smiling benevolently at him when Stiles finally looked up. “He’s pushing you away before you can push him away. He believes that will hurt less.” He smiled at them again. “You both know you love him and, deep down, he knows it too, but his fear his driving his actions right now.”
“What do we do?” Derek was leaning forward intently, as if ready to jump up and do whatever Dr. Huang recommended immediately.
“I would recommend you continue to do as you’re doing now. Assure him of your love, keep your patience with him.” The doctor leaned forward as well, reassurance written in his face and body language. “You’re doing fine with him, just keep at it. We can have sessions once a week to help him vent his fears to a non-pack member but I believe he’ll grow out of it once he feels more secure.”
“So, nobody can take me away?”
Stiles bit his lip, forcing himself to stay still and quiet behind the doorway to the living room. Derek was a long line of heat against this back, just as silent. Inside the room Caleb was sitting on Judge Pearson’s lap, carefully holding onto his adoption papers. He probably knew they were there, hard to hide from their child’s ears even if he had only been a werewolf for a little over two months.
“That’s right, Caleb.” Judge Pearson was gentle as she wrapped one arm around Caleb to steady him while her other hand tapped the top sheet. She had dropped by to give them the papers personally, a favor to the sheriff and to Stiles. “See this? This is my signature. It means that your parents officially adopted you and no one could ever take you away from. If they tried, I could tell every single deputy to arrest that person and send them away.”
Caleb bit his plump little lip, eyes intently studying the papers. “What if,” he trailed off. He sighed tiredly, sadly, his next words a bare whisper. “What if my parents want to give me back?”
“Well, they can’t,” she answered simply.
Caleb twisted around, staring up at her in disbelief. “They can’t?”
“No.” She moved her finger down the sheet. “They signed these papers too. Just like me, they had to think long and hard about whether or not they wanted to sign these papers. Because once they sign these papers, whatever promises they made, they have to keep. It’s not something anyone would do unless they were very sure, very very very sure, that they wanted to keep these promises.”
“Oh.” Caleb twisted back to the adoption papers, staring at them, petted them as if comforting himself physically with the feel of them. “So, they really want to keep me?”
“Yes,” she reassured him.
“Okay.” Caleb was quiet for a long time before twisting back towards the judge. “Papa says that we’re going to have a party to celebrate my adoption. Wanna come?”
Judge Pearson grinned down at him. “I would love to come, thank you.”
Derek almost regretted agreeing to this party. Almost. But seeing the happy grin on Caleb’s face was worth it as he ran around with all of his friends. The “birthday” party was a success if the copious amounts of sugar and laughing was anything to go by. The entire pack and their families, along with the families of Caleb’s friends filled the clearing where they usually based their monthly pack nights. The clearing was filled with an obnoxious amount of noise: talking adults, shrieking children, and laughter from everyone.
“I think everything’s going to be okay,” Stiles was saying to his father, one arm flailing about, the other wrapped around Derek’s waist.
Derek leaned into his mate’s embrace, eyes still keeping a careful watch over their cub.
“Hmm?” He tilted his head back to Stiles and John, reluctantly pulling his attention away from Caleb.
“Caleb’s behavior? Do you think it’s getting better?” Stiles asked, but now it was his turn to anxiously watch their child.
“I think it might be too soon to tell,” Derek demurred but still slowly nodded. “But he seems more settled?”
“I agree,” John said. “We’ll just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Stiles sighed, half resigned, half hopeful. “Yeah.”
Derek lifted his head, slitting open his eyes when he heard the floorboards outside their bedroom creak. When he heard the familiar little heartbeat, he smiled, waiting for Caleb to peek around the doorjamb. He wasn’t disappointed; Caleb’s eyes and the top of his head were all that he could see as their son peered into their room. Derek curled around his still sleeping mate, propping his chin on Stiles’ shoulder. “Good morning, cub.”
“Morning, Daddy,” Caleb whispered, high and sweet. He bit his lip, just like Stiles did, utterly charming Derek with the mannerisms he had picked up from them both. It had been a month since the Judge Pearson brought them the adoption papers, and Caleb had only thrown one tantrum, a small one at that. More of a tired meltdown than a true tantrum.
Derek patted the bed. “Want to come up?”
Caleb eagerly nodded, padding quickly from the door to his side of the bed, arms already upraised, one hand dangling his stuffed wolf. Derek picked him up and cuddled him to his chest before turning them both so that Caleb was snuggly warm between Derek’s chest and Stiles’ back. Stiles’ heartbeat changed from drowsing to something akin to being awake as he turned and shifted and generally flailed around until Caleb was mostly lying on his chest while Stiles was now tucked back under Derek, leaving Caleb the filling in their sandwich. Their cub didn’t seem to mind at all as he wrapped his free arm around Stiles’ neck and cuddled in, bright eyes blinking sleepily at Derek.
Derek smiled down at them both, wrapping himself around them, grinning a little stupidly at his amazing life.