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It Also Happens To Alphas

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“I used to wonder how loud friendship howls could be.”

It was 8 AM on a Sunday morning and thus decidedly too early when the sound of the television yanked Derek out of his sleep.

Even though he’d been a light sleeper for years it took the 32-year old Alpha a moment to wake up fully, his brows furrowed in confusion as little chipper voices continued singing about fun, hearts, kindness, and magic.

Yawning, Derek turned to check the empty space on the mattress next to him, ruefully staring at the little crumbs of chocolate cookie on the pillow for a moment.

Strictly speaking, Derek knew that late-night cookie extravaganzas might not make it into Your Guide To Awesome Parenting anytime soon.

He also knew that, at eight and a half years old, Caleb was starting to get too old to sleep in his room.

The sad truth of the matter was, however, that after so many years of living in a closet-sized apartment in one of the shadiest areas of New York City, Derek felt better knowing that his little boy was right beside him.

Their new house was on the small side, so it was almost impossible for Caleb to not be close to him at all times, but Derek was more than willing to give them both an adjustment period.

Both of them had a lot to adjust to, following their move all the way across the country.

Beacon Hills was a far cry from the busy streets of New York, where a police siren was never far away and people didn’t look at you when you passed them on the street. It was a small town in Northern California, where most residents had known each other for decades and the local Sheriff was the town’s biggest celebrity.

When he’d left his own small hometown for college, Derek couldn’t have possibly imagined a future in which he’d willingly move back to a small town, his heart set on a brilliant future in the big city from the moment he’d been old enough to understand the difference.

Of course, young naïve and innocent Derek of the past was long gone, replaced by a weary and tired Derek who was forever balancing on the edge of turning into a very bitter old man long before his time.  

At 32, Derek wasn’t old, of course, but some days he felt like he’d lived through the heartache of a century and had the battle wounds to prove it.

In the living room, the little voices kept singing and Derek sighed, rubbing his eyes and remembering to count his blessings.

Their new house was small and a little old, but it was well insulated and would be warm in the winter, there were no rat infestations and Derek could go to sleep at night without having to worry about burglars paying them a visit, so he was already quite in love with the new place.

Luckily, Caleb adored the new house and Derek was more than able and also quite willing to overlook cracks in the wallpaper and the creaking floorboards because – despite its cosmetic imperfections – it was theirs.

It was theirs, it was safe, and, most importantly, it was an entire continent away from her.

Rationally, Derek knew she wasn’t going to follow them this time and that they finally had a shot at leading a normal life.

Rationally.

However, the cookie crumbles on the pillow were a deceptively innocent reminder of the struggles that lay behind and the tough road still ahead of them.

Derek rubbed his fists against his eyes tiredly, as if the motion could shoo away the images in his head.

There’d been less and less rough nights like the last one ever since they had moved to Beacon Hills to start their new life three weeks ago and Derek was grateful for small favors but he was also tired.

He was bone-tired of seeing his son walk with hunched shoulders, as if he was constantly expecting someone – her– to jump at him from behind the bushes to drag him away.

He was exhausted of finding himself looking over his shoulder wherever they went, gripping Caleb’s hand just a bit tighter whenever he did.

Mostly, Derek was devastated over having to wake up to the sounds of his child whimpering in his sleep again, and again, and again, tossing and turning in the throes of a nightmare that no child should have had to live through.  

As the sounds from the living room continued, Derek kept staring at the crumbs, remembering the night in every painful detail.

Caleb had woken up crying and shaking and it had taken a long time for him to calm down, his eyes gut-wrenchingly big and scared as Derek had reassured him again and again that they were safe and she wasn’t going to come and hurt them again.

Once Caleb had finally stopped shivering, Derek had gotten up with the intention to walk into the kitchen, barely registering that it was almost 2:30 in the morning.

Caleb had let out a broken little cry and clung to him when he’d tried to leave the bed, so Derek had picked him up and carried him on his hip, allowing his son to hide his face against his neck and block out the world while Derek had warmed up some milk to help him go back to sleep.

The cookies hadn’t been part of the plan, at first, but then Derek had felt the wetness of his son’s tears against his skin once more and it had broken his heart and resolve.

Caleb was definitely getting too big to be carried around like that, as the twinges radiating from Derek’s hips and lower back could whole-heartedly attest to.

However, Derek would have sooner thrown out his back than leave his son alone after a night terror for even one second.

Once Caleb had finally fallen asleep, Derek had closed his tired eyes, allowing the quiet of the night to calm him while marveling at the difference between the noisy streets of New York City and their new hometown.

Beacon Hills was different in pretty much every aspect, but Derek did not miss the big city one tiny bit, its joys and wonders forever tainted by the heartache and suffering he’d endured there.

Beacon Hills was his fresh start, a new beginning for both Derek and his little Alpha son.

Even though the lingering ache of everything they had gone through remained a constant pressure on Derek’s heart, the Alpha knew they could make themselves a real home here, feeling the rightness of the place all the way down to his bones.

It would take some time, but Derek was certain of it.  

For now, however, Derek still couldn’t allow himself to relax, even though he was angry at himself for every time he held his breath when he saw long blonde locks.

Shaking his head to keep his dark thoughts at bay, Derek rolled on his side and stared into the direction of the living room.

He frowned against the sunlight streaming through the windows and listened to the lyrics of the cheery little voices as they finished singing about being best friends.

There was another sound, then, and for a moment Derek just stared blankly, not able to fully comprehend what he was hearing.

It was a sound he’d all but forgotten, a sound he hadn’t heard in such a long time that his chest suddenly felt much too small for the way his heart was pounding against his ribcage.

The sound came again and again, like a soothing balm spreading over everything that had been raw and aching inside Derek for so long.

Caleb was laughing.

It was a carefree, innocent, happy sound, a sound that Derek wanted to bottle up and hear for the rest of his life.

When the tears started rolling down his cheeks, Derek was certain it was the most beautiful sound he’d ever heard.

 

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In the three weeks leading up to Caleb’s first day of second grade, Derek received a very thorough introduction to My Little Wolf.

He learned all about the characters, their magic powers, and the wondrous adventures they had in Cubsville.

Derek did his best to remember everything but he still got the many characters confused quite often, causing Caleb to giggle wildly whenever he got an answer wrong.

Derek wasn’t ashamed to admit he was in no hurry to memorize everything, soaking up his child’s happy giggles whenever he could and letting himself get talked into watching an episode more than once.  

Two weeks before school was supposed to start, Derek sneakily bought a My Little Wolf lunch box and when Caleb threw his arms around his neck with a huge smile on his face, Derek’s heart once more seized up in his chest with both gratitude and also sorrow for the many years in which he’d barely been able to afford a candy bar, let alone a real present.  

Derek couldn’t turn back the time and wipe Caleb’s memories, no matter how much he wanted to.

However, he was determined for things to be much better now and buying a little lunch box with cartoon characters on it was as good a start as any.

Caleb was obviously ready for thing to get better now, too, even though his most pressing worries were of a different nature than Derek’s.

“Hey Papa?” Caleb asked one evening, peering up at Derek from his little blanket nest.

Derek rested the book he’d been reading to him on the nightstand, looking at him curiously.

“Yeah, little bear?” he asked and his little Alpha son cocked his head, looking worried.

“Do you think I’ll make friends at school easily?”

Caleb’s voice was filled with hope as he stared up at Derek and Derek swallowed heavily, making sure to keep his fingers steady as he ruffled his son’s jet-black hair.

“I know you will,” he replied firmly and Caleb grinned in relief, holding up his arms and kissing Derek’s cheek when he bent down to accept the hug.

“Love you, Papa,” Caleb mumbled, already half-asleep.

After his son had nodded off, Derek stared down at his clenched fists, willing himself not to go down that road again.

She’d taken too much from both of them already and Derek wasn’t going to ruin his son’s special day by getting hung up on the reason why his child was so worried about making friends in the first place.

Instead, he was going to focus on the hopefulness in his son’s voice, sharing the feeling with all of his heart.

Caleb let out a little snore, smacking his lips in his sleep as he turned on his side.

Derek watched him sleep for a while longer, telling himself he was just making sure that Caleb wasn’t going to have a nightmare.

His little boy had been sleeping better for a week now, and Derek was more than ready to follow his example.

Five hours later, when he woke up with tear tracks on his face and the scars on his chest throbbing with the now familiar phantom ache, Derek wondered if he was ever going to sleep through the night again.

 

====================

 

To Derek’s surprise, his son made his first friend on their next-door neighbors lawn, ten days before the start of school.

Caleb’s new friend was a five-year-old Omega, who’d introduced herself to him as “Peggy, like the secret agent from television, but Daddy says I’m still too small to watch that!”

She was a vibrant little girl with a big smile, ginger hair, adorable little moles speckled over her cheeks, and the vocabulary of a child at least twice her age – or at least Derek thought so, given that she sometimes spoke so rapidly he could barely catch every other word.

Peggy also owned eight My Little Wolf beanie babies, and it took her, her big doe-brown eyes, and her cute little upturned nose approximately twenty seconds to wrap Caleb completely around her little finger.

Despite the almost four year age difference, Caleb looked at her like she was the best friend he had never known he needed, and Derek couldn’t help but smile as he sat down on their neighbor’s front porch to watch them play, accepting the can of beer Scott McCall held out with a smile that mirrored Derek’s own.

“Seriously, Derek – your kid is a godsend! I mean, I’ve tried to play wolves with her whenever she comes to visit, really, I have, but apparently I keep getting the accents wrong and she’s very particular about the details. She gets that from her daddy, I think, even though he refuses to accept any responsibility!”

“I thought only the cherry-cub had an accent?” Derek asked after taking a sip and Scott laughed, eyes sparkling with amusement.

“See? I’m a lost cause! Thankfully I’m her favorite and only god-alpha, so she pretty much loves me unconditionally, but I’m sure glad someone else is taking care of playing wolves with her for once! I tried to get my wife to do it last time and she accused me of being a sexist, which of course lead to me having to explain the concept of sexism to a very nosy five year old with exceptional hearing. Little Miss Peggy Merida’s daddy was not happy with me when he picked her up that evening and promptly got interrogated if he was a sexist, too. He almost revoked my best friend status over that one.”

“Peggy … Merida?” Derek asked and the Alpha nodded, looking proud.

“Yep! She’s named after two kick-ass fictional Omega heroines because her daddy wanted her to grow up to be a fierce, confident little Omega. She was going to be Peggy Hermione at first, but then she was born with a head full of red hair, so Merida it was.”

Derek, who had spent most of the past decade worrying himself sick rather than paying attention to popular culture, shrugged agreeably and Scott clinked their bottles together with a grin of his own.

“It’s nice to see her play with another kid, actually,” Scott continued after a moment, looking thoughtful.

“She’s such a loving little girl, but she’s also extremely smart and sometimes a little intimidating. Having the intellect of a ten year old at the developmental stage of a five-year old doesn’t really endear her to the other kids, which makes it hard for her to make friends.”

Scott took another swig of his beer, grinning at Derek ruefully.

“Her Omega daddy used to write obnoxious research papers just so he could annoy our teachers and her Alpha mother is currently revolutionizing the field of math out on the East Coast, so the poor child never had a chance to turn out anything other than brilliant. It’ll serve her well, someday, but right now it mostly makes her lonely. Did I mention your kid is a god-send?”

“You did. My son would probably play Barbie with her if she asked, so it doesn’t look like he’s intimidated at all,” Derek said, not without pride in his voice.

Scott let out a soft laugh, shaking his head in amusement.

“No worries there, my wife gave her a Barbie for her last birthday and received a lecture about harmful and unattainable body standards as a thank-you. Her daddy usually intervenes when Peggy becomes too obnoxious and tries to use words she doesn’t quite understand yet, but I’m pretty sure he was seriously tempted to give her a medal, instead.”

“I would have,” Derek mused, draining his beer and setting the bottle down on the porch.

“I spent years having to play Barbie with my big sister. I hated it. She always got the good ones and I had to play the ones with the messy hair and the chewed on legs. Then my younger sister got old enough to play and I …”

“Gave her the good ones,” Scott finished for him and Derek smiled, his expression turning somber.

“Yeah. I did,” he said quietly, keeping his face carefully blank even as he didn’t quite manage to keep the old hurt out of his voice.

Scott was tactful enough not to ask, his expression switching from somber to cheerful when Peggy launched herself at him, red hair flying every-which way as she giggled.

“Uncle Scott, Uncle Scott, Caleb says we can play wolves again tomorrow! Can I come back tomorrow, please, please, please, please, please, please, please …”

“Oh my goodness, child, it’s not like one please wouldn’t have won me over like the biggest sucker there ever was!” Scott huffed, smacking a big kiss on her forehead before he tickled her chin.

“Of course you can come over to play again tomorrow … but you have to ask your daddy first, ok?”

“Ok!” Peggy agreed, like there wasn’t even a shadow of doubt in her mind that her daddy was going to deny her.

She whirled towards Caleb, tugged at his shirt, and beamed up at him.

“Did you hear that? We can finish building the Aquamarine Empire tomorrow! You can help me!” she announced, holding up her arms expectantly as if she’d known him her entire life.

Caleb hesitated only a split second before scooping her up, his grin mirroring hers when he turned to Derek.

“He’s my big brother now!” Peggy informed Scott and Derek, snuggling against Caleb contentedly and patting his cheek.

“Is that so, Peggy-Pie?” Scott asked, winking at Derek.

Derek raised an amused eyebrow at his kid, warmth spreading inside him when Caleb smiled sheepishly.

“Yes, Uncle Scott!” Peggy declared, sounding a bit impatient at having to explain herself.

“He doesn’t have a little sister and I don’t have a big brother! So I’m going to be his sister and he’s going to be my brother!”

“Don’t you think you should properly introduce yourself to Caleb’s Papa, Peggy-Pie? If you’re going to be Caleb’s little sister?” Scott teased and Peggy gasped, as if she’d just remembered something very important.

A second later Derek had a tiny Omega sitting on his lap, her delicate fingers tugging at his beard with surprising strength to get his attention.

“Hi Caleb-Papa! I’m Peggy Merida! I’m five years, two months, and many days old! I live with my Omega daddy and when my daddy has to work at night I stay at Grampy and Nana-Melly’s house! My daddy is a cop and he arrests bad guys! He’s the bravest daddy in the whole world! He’s also really funny and gives the best snuggles! I have an Alpha mommy, too, but she lives in a big city really far away because she needs to teach stupid people about math! She’s my daddy’s best girl friend, but she’s not his Alpha-Mate like in the boring alphano … alphanor … uh … oh wait, alphanormative movies! I’m an Oopsie-Baby, because one time my mommy and my daddy went camping and my daddy forgot to take his pink pills and then he got really, really hot and …”

“I think you’ve covered the basics, Peggy-Pie, no need to get into specifics!” Scott yelped, effectively saving Derek’s kid from accidentally being given the talk by a precocious five year old.

Derek gaped at her in stunned silence and Peggy shrugged, seemingly not fazed by being interrupted.

“Daddy says never to be ashamed of being an Oopsie-Baby, even if I was a really big Oopsie!” she lectured wisely and Derek did not like the altogether too curious look on his son’s face, resigning himself to getting that particular talk over with sooner, rather than later.

When he looked back down at Peggy, the little Omega was sniffing, looking up at him skeptically.

“Caleb says he only lives with you, like I do with my daddy. Are you Caleb’s Omega daddy?” she asked curiously.

Derek shook his head, flashing his eyes Alpha red for her for the briefest of moments.

Peggy’s mouth dropped open, her curious expression heightened to an intensity Derek would have normally associated with a researcher, rather than a chubby-cheeked five-year old Omega.

“But … how can he live with you if you didn’t have him in your belly? Wait … did you have him in your belly?” she asked, poking the muscular body-part in question.

When Derek shook his head again she let out a confused sound, looking at Scott for confirmation that Derek was telling the truth.

“But children always live with their Omega daddy or mommy!” she protested and Scott cleared his throat, tapping against her shoulder to get her attention. 

“That’s not true, Peggy, Alpha daddies can be single daddies, too,” he said, clearly noticing Derek’s growing tension and the unhappy expression on Caleb’s face.

Peggy shook her head, still looking confused.

“But Uncle Scott! Babies have to live with their Omega daddy! First they grow them in their bellies and then they have to feed them! Babies eat a lot, so it’s really important for them to live with their Omega daddy!”

“Babies can drink out of bottles, too,” Scott explained patiently, looking more worried by the second when Caleb shuffled his feet with an unhappy little frown.

“Are you sure?” Peggy asked, sounding like she’d never heard anything more preposterous in her life.

Scott nodded quickly, looking relieved at having averted the crisis.

“Definitely! I only drank out of bottles because your Nana-Melly had to go to back to work right after I was born and she couldn’t stay home with me. There’s nothing wrong with that!” he explained.

Peggy frowned, looking deep in thought for a second before her expression smoothed out, obviously convinced.

“Okay,” she said easily, hopping off of Derek’s lap and marching back towards Caleb, her eyes once more sparkling with curiosity.

All of a sudden, Derek could see the train approaching with frightful clarity, but he was still too stunned to throw himself in front of his kid.

“Do you have an Omega daddy, too?” Peggy asked and Derek held his breath, his whole body tensing along with his son’s when Caleb hunched his shoulders like he was trying to disappear.

“No. I have an Omega mother,” he said, so quietly that Derek could barely hear him.

Derek’s heart thudded painfully in his chest when his son’s wide-eyed, hurt gaze shifted from Peggy to him, as if he was asking to be rescued from the situation.

“Oh … do you go see your Omega mommy a lot?” Peggy asked and Caleb tensed even further, shaking his head and looking like he wanted to cry when Peggy let out a shocked little sound.

“Really? Don’t you want to get Omega snuggles? They’re the best!”

“I …” Caleb trailed off, radiating upset and helplessness.

Derek couldn’t stand it a second longer, too used to fight his son’s battles to be able to let him navigate the innocent questions of a well-meaning five-year-old on his own.

“I’m afraid we have to go home now!” Derek said before Caleb could answer, resisting his urge to scoop up his kid and run as he settled for gripping Caleb’s hand tightly instead, his heart breaking when Caleb clutched him like a life-line.

“Why …” Peggy began, but Derek was already marching Caleb back to the house, nodding at Scott and trying his hardest to smile at Peggy at the same time.

He didn’t need to hear the little Omega’s hurt “Why did they go?” to know he hadn’t succeed.

Derek held Caleb’s hand all the way to the front door and he had to force himself to let go as soon as the door closed behind them.

Caleb seemed to echo the sentiment, not leaving Derek’s side for the rest of the evening and not even making an attempt to go into his own room after dinner.

He crawled under the covers of Derek’s king-size bed, looking so heartbreakingly tiny and lost that Derek wanted to smash something.

Instead, he wrapped his arms around his kid and nuzzled his forehead, making shushing sounds when Caleb began to whimper.

Caleb clung to him, his fingers clenching Derek’s sleeping shirt tightly.

“I don’t want to go see her, Papa. Ever,” he said after a long silence, the words muffled against Derek’s shirt.

Derek had to squeeze his eyes shut, feeling them burn Alpha red at the thought of Kate once more getting her hands on their son.

No, not their son.

After all, Caleb had never truly been theirs… except for when she’d used him as a means to hurt Derek.

Caleb fell asleep eventually, his fingers still clutching Derek’s shirt.

Derek kept holding him, staring into the darkness as past memories once more caught up with him.

He closed his eyes, a half-hearted attempt at willing the dark thoughts away.

It was no use, though, his gut twisting and his chest clenching as image after image appeared before his eyes.

They said that time healed all wounds, but Derek was reasonably sure that anyone who said it had just snorted a bunch of hard drugs through a Hallmark card.

He was certain that an eternity could have passed and he’d still feel the razor sharp pain deep inside his soul when he thought about the Omega who’d nearly destroyed him.

Except she hadn’t just tried to destroy him – she’d also harmed his precious little son.

 

Chapter Text

13 Years Earlier

When Derek met Kate Argent on his first day of classes he was eighteen years old and brimming with excitement about starting his college life.

He’d moved from his small hometown to a small city two hours away from New York City and he loved it, even though it wasn’t quite yet the big city life he’d been dreaming of since middle school.

However, having grown up in a town where people thought the McDonald’s parking lot was an awesome hangout spot and dates included a trip to Walmart, Derek was almost overwhelmed by the many little bars and entertainment options his new city had to offer.

He hadn’t expected to find love on his first day of college, but Kate Argent took his breath away the moment he first laid eyes on her.

She was his TA in his Omega Rights History class, an elective that Derek technically didn’t need in terms of credit but that he’d signed up for simply out of interest.

Kate was seven years older than him, beautiful, fiercely intelligent, and armed with a dry sense of humor that drew Derek in like a moth to a flame.

She was the object of desire to many and she knew it, too, her winks seductive, her lips forever parted in breathless anticipation, and her clothes revealing as much as she could get away with in class.

Every Alpha and quite a few Omegas in the class wanted to sleep with her and Derek didn’t actually think he stood a chance, admiring her from afar right until the day she kept him after class to discuss an assignment, locked the door, sank down to her knees and made his own knees go weak with her tongue.

He lost his virginity to her two weeks later and everything was beyond his wildest dreams, amazing, and also a little too much, the intensity of Kate’s gaze on him so heavy he felt nearly overwhelmed with affection.

Derek was a little ashamed for the tears that gathered in his eyes after, briefly terrified that he’d appear less of an Alpha in her eyes.

She was amazing, however, kissed away his tears and reminded him that Alphas were allowed to cry, that she was so glad to have found a partner who wasn’t ashamed of being human.

For the first couple of months of their relationship, Derek was hardly able to believe his luck, lying awake next to her for hours after sex and grinning like a lunatic, burying his face into her soft hair, and wondering what he’d done to deserve such a wonderful Omega.  

She was the ideal Omega, the one Derek hadn’t even dared to dream of.

Kate was the perfect combination of thoughtful conversations during a moonlit stroll, sweet snuggles on the couch, total debauchery in the bedroom, and being able to make him laugh so hard until his belly hurt with it.

Kate made him feel like he was the most special Alpha who’d ever lived and he felt beyond loved and desired, her attention devoted and all-consuming, a romance for the ages.

For eight months, two weeks, and three days, Derek starred in his very own romantic movie, where things were picture perfect and the heavens were full of violins.

Eight months, two weeks, and four days into the first actual relationship Derek had ever had, the young Alpha was excited to finally introduce his Omega to his family.

Kate made the four-hour drive to upstate New York during the third week of summer break and Derek sat on the porch of his family home eagerly waiting for her for hours, thrumming with excitement after not seeing her for almost a month.

The meeting between Kate and his family went off without a hitch.

Kate looked beautiful and her smile was charming, Derek’s Omega father Sebastian complimented her on her accomplishments at college, his Alpha mother Talia showed genuine interest in her career plans, and his big Alpha sister Laura and his little Omega sister Cora had shared some of Derek’s most embarrassing childhood stories, the three young women laughing together and making Derek feel warm and happy.

It had gone exceptionally well.

Or at least Derek had thought so.

That first night, however, when they curled up in Derek’s childhood bed, Kate seemed subdued, sad and quiet.

She told him not to worry, that she was just tired and worn out by the long drive.

Derek tried not to worry, but the next night was the same, her eyes glimmering with wetness when she kissed him goodnight and making his belly clench with anxiety.

On the third and last night of her visit, Kate started crying in the middle of sex, silent tears running down her face and making everything in Derek go cold.

He urged her to tell him what was wrong, his mind hazy with the smell of his Omega in the air and bonding hormones pumping through his body.

After gentle coaxing and quite a few more tears, Kate finally admitted how afraid she was of losing Derek.

How she could feel that his family didn’t consider her the right partner for him.

That she knew it was only a matter of time before Derek left her.

That she didn’t want to come between him and his family.

Derek was stunned, to say the least, not able to pinpoint a single moment over the past three days that could have led Kate to believe such horrible things.

His family had been friendly, warm, and welcoming.

Hadn’t they?

His siblings had included her in the day’s activities, his parents had asked her kind and thoughtful questions and they’d shared many laughs and smiles over dinner … hadn’t they?

Except …

Except …

Hadn’t his sisters been unusually reserved this weekend?

Hadn’t his Laura and Cora frowned when Kate had confessed that she was a horrible cook?

Hadn’t his mother raised her eyebrow at Kate when she’d talked about the latest town gossip, a nasty divorce between a young Omega and a much older Alpha?

In hindsight, Derek could see how Kate could have mistaken these moments as disapproval and it made him a little upset that his family hadn’t tried harder.

The next morning, Kate’s eyes shimmered with tears when they parted, and as soon as she was gone, Derek rounded on his family, his protective Alpha instincts triggered by his Omega’s distress.

Soon, his upset turned to actual anger when his family denied the accusations and it took only one snide comment from Laura about “sensitive Omegas” for Derek to start yelling at his family in a way he’d never done before.

Laura didn’t speak to him for almost two days and Derek didn’t mind one bit, stewing in his room and over-analyzing the past couple of days until he was truly convinced that his family had made his Omega feel unwelcome.

The rest of the summer passed mostly uneventfully, but Derek couldn’t help but notice that his family kept avoiding the topic of his girlfriend, making him believe that they disapproved even more.

It pained him greatly, especially since he couldn’t remember one instance where his parents had been this critical of an Omega that Laura had brought home.

When he finally went back to college, Kate didn’t bring up her visit and Derek didn’t force the issue either, focusing instead on trying to make it up to her.

For Thanksgiving during Derek’s Sophomore Year, Kate took him to meet her own family and Derek was welcomed with open arms.

He quickly built a rapport with Kate’s Alpha father Gerard and spent some quality time with her much older Alpha brother Chris and his Omega wife Victoria, as well as Kate’s Omega niece Allison, who was only a year younger than Derek.

During the visit, Derek went to bed every night feeling happy and content, but it also made him sad to compare these feelings to Kate’s quiet tears in his childhood bedroom.

They spent Christmas of that year apart but Kate drove upstate for the annual Hale New Year’s Bash, at the express invitation of Talia.

This time, things were awkward from the beginning.

On the one hand, Derek’s family tiptoed around Kate as if she was an egg ready to crack, leading to pregnant silences bordering on the uncomfortable.

On the other hand, Derek himself contributed to the growing tension, because he became more and more stressed with each day, feeling like he could literally see the rift between his Omega and his family.

In hindsight, Derek realized that the argument had been inevitable.

Kate had spun her web of lies and manipulations the moment she’d set foot into his home and Derek had fallen for it without a moment of hesitation, too blinded by his love and his desire for his family to love Kate, too.

Things escalated during the New Year’s Party, after everyone had had a drink or two and tongues had become a bit looser.

One comment led to another, Derek and his sisters started arguing, and by the time the clock struck twelve, Derek and Kate were standing alone in the parking lot of a supermarket, having left the Hale home thirty minutes prior.

These days, Derek didn’t even remember what the fight had been about.

Not that it really mattered.

The only thing that mattered was that it had been the night he’d started losing his family.

The morning after, Derek picked up his stuff from his parent’s house, enduring his siblings’ stony silences, his father’s hurt expression, and the frown of disapproval on his mother’s face that didn’t quite mask how hurt she was.

He went back to college and he soon patched things up with his mother over the phone, but his relationship with his sisters was trickier to mend.  

A long planned weekend trip to the lake with Laura during spring break turned into a weekend from hell when they got into yet another huge fight over Kate.

As a result, Derek left early, driving back to campus with fury burning inside his belly and trying to forget Laura’s accusations.

“You follow her like a puppy! You barely even call me anymore, it’s like she’s all you can think about! She’s manipulating you! This isn’t normal! She’s not a good person, Derek!”

In the years to come, Derek would desperately wish he’d listened to Laura back then.

He hadn’t though.

Instead, he’d given back as good as he’d gotten and irreparably damaged his relationship with his beloved big sister, hitting all her weak spots and telling her things he’d wanted to take back the second they’d left his mouth.

For days after, Derek contemplated calling her, but Kate gently discouraged him, explaining to him over and over that he hadn’t been at fault and that it was Laura’ turn to make amends, for once.

Laura never called, however, and soon Derek’s guilt gave way to bitter disappointment.

A couple of months later, when the time came to pack up his stuff at the dorms and move back home for the summer, Kate suggested that he move into her spacious apartment near campus instead.

When he called his mother about it, Talia asked him if he was absolutely sure and he snapped at her, accusing her of trying to discourage him because she thought Kate was too old for him. 

His mother’s voice was calm when she informed him that she was going to hang up on him now and that he was free to call her once he remembered to be respectful.

When the phone started beeping, Derek felt hurt, humiliated, and oh so angry on Kate’s behalf and it took him almost two weeks until he called his mama again, apologizing through gritted teeth even though he still felt he’d been in the right.

They went back to weekly phone calls after, but there was a distance between them now, almost like an invisible wall.

A couple of years down the road, Derek would realize that his growing estrangement from his family had all been part of Kate’s plan: distancing him from the people who loved him most so that he would no longer feel like he could confide in them.

Her gamble would soon pay off, because if Derek hadn’t felt so misunderstood by his entire family, he might have been more open with them about the disturbing changes in his relationship.

He wasn’t, though.

Instead, he withdrew from them more and more as things slowly but surely turned sour.

 

===============

 

It started almost unnoticeably, with Kate demanding a little more of his time each week until they spent almost every evening together.

He stopped going to the photography club, he no longer hung on with friends during Thursday Karaoke, and he stopped going to the gym so he could start jogging with Kate.

She was quickly becoming the center of his world completely, now that they were actually living together.

When his friends started giving him snide remarks about being a stranger, Derek tentatively made plans with them, only to cancel them at the last minute because Kate coaxed him into spending all evening snuggling in bed. 

In hindsight, Derek knew that there was a name for what she’d been doing, a name to describe the manipulation tactics she had used to get him to stay home with her.

Love bombing still sounded wrong to Derek’s ears, the combination of something so good with something so lethal a tough concept to fully understand.

However, he also couldn’t think of a better way to describe how she’d destroyed his entire social life with the overwhelming pressure of her love and neediness.

Or whatever she experienced as love, because Derek would eventually realize that she had probably never been capable of truly loving someone else.

At the time, however, he made excuses for it, telling himself over and over that she was just a little jealous of his friends.

That it was harmless.

That he should feel flattered she loved him so much she wanted to spend all of her time with him.

By the time Thanksgiving of his Junior Year came along, Derek was barely on speaking terms with most of the people he’d hung out with during his Freshman and Sophomore Years, his entire social life existing only of Kate.

They had originally planned to spend Thanksgiving with the Argents again, but Kate called Derek at work one week before to let him know that her family had spontaneously decided to go on a cruise, leaving them with the options of staying with the Hales or hosting their very own first Thanksgiving as a couple.

Derek didn’t want to ruin Kate’s Thanksgiving by taking her to a place where she wasn’t wanted, so they decided to host their own celebration instead.

The evening was a smashing success and Derek got so caught up in being a good host and charming boyfriend that it didn’t occur to him until after sex later that night that the people who’d shown up had all been Kate’s friends and no one had been there for him.

It left a weird feeling in his belly, but he shook it off, figuring that he’d just invite his friends for his birthday party the next year.

Two weeks before Christmas, Kate went into heat and Derek dropped everything to be by her side, just as he’d always done in the now two and half years they’d been together.

This time, however, things went a bit differently.

Derek would never forget the horrible moment that had happened that day, the moment that had been the watershed in their relationship, and the moment when he should have walked out and never looked back.

Could have, would have, should have.

It was easy to judge his past self now, but it had taken him years to realize that Kate had been patiently working up to that moment.

She had taken her sweet time, making him feel safe, loved, and happy before making her move.

She had waited until he was addicted to her, waited until he was hers so wholly and completely that his need for her would have overpowered any reason.

The slap took Derek by complete surprise.

They were arguing about Derek’s family after Derek had gotten a call from his mother and left Kate on her for twenty minutes.

When he’d come back from the living room, Kate had been furiously riding a knotting toy and lashed out at him, accusing him of being a horrible Alpha who came from a horrible family.

Feverish with heat and lacking a filter, Kate had shared some more thoughts about the Hales and despite everything that had happened between his family and Kate, Derek had felt genuinely hurt on behalf of them.

When she insulted his mother, however, Derek finally raised his voice at her, having been backed into a corner both literally and metaphorically.

She slapped him, then, so hard and unexpected that Derek’s head snapped back with the force of it and bumped against the wall.  

For a long, terrible moment, no one said anything, the silence in the apartment suffocating.

Then, Kate broke down crying, sobbing so uncontrollably she almost collapsed onto the floor.

She repeated how sorry she was over and over.

That she didn’t know what had just happened.

That her heat was burning her up and that she didn’t feel like herself at all.

Derek’s cheek stung and his head throbbed painfully, but the gut wrenching hurt inside him was overpowered by his Alpha instincts, triggered by an Omega in so much distress.

Instead of leaving he knelt down and held her.

He comforted her.

He whispered to her that it was okay.

He held her tighter when she sobbed even harder.

When he woke up the next morning, Derek very deliberately didn’t think about the events of the night before.

Instead, he called his mother and told her he wasn’t coming home until the day before Christmas Eve, feeling like he and Kate really needed to take some time as a couple after the end of classes.

He spent the next two days helping Kate through her heat, desperately trying to get in some studying time whenever he could because he had three finals on the last day of classes.

Not surprisingly, Derek did poorly on his finals that year, his mind constantly occupied with the events of Kate’s heat. 

He knew he’d flunked at least one exam the moment he walked out of the classroom, trying his hardest not to feel like a failure despite the burning in his eyes.

When he checked his phone he discovered that Kate had been texting him all day, wishing him luck and apologizing over and over for what she’d done to him during her heat.

Her texts soothed a little of the ache in Derek’s heart, the realization that she was truly sorry for what she’d done easing a lot of his stress and sorrow.

It hadn’t really been her fault anyways.

She had been at the height of her heat and Derek had just abandoned her, not taking into consideration how it must have felt for his Omega.

Granted, he had only been gone from the bedroom for twenty minutes, but to Kate it must have felt like an eternity.

Derek was an Alpha and he could never hope to understand the vulnerability an Omega experienced during heat.

He’d known better and he’d still left her to her own devices, so it hadn’t actually been Kate’s fault at all.

She hadn’t known what she’d been doing.

It had all been Derek’s fault.

It was this conviction that led him to buy her flowers on his way home, wanting to show her that he was sorry, too.

That he still loved her more than anything in the world.

Kate was ecstatic with joy and rewarded him with sweet kisses and gentle caresses, telling Derek how much she loved him over and over.

Derek fell asleep with his Omega cradled to his chest that night, beyond relieved that the hard look he’d seen in her eyes during her heat was finally gone.

On the last night they spent together before Christmas, the sex was incredibly tender, focused all on Derek’s wants and needs.

She even went down on him for half an hour, which was something she rarely did because she claimed she had a sensitive gag reflex. 

Derek felt deeply satisfied after, when she wrapped her arms around him and held him tight.

It had been ten days since she’d raised her hand to him and she’d been gentle and affectionate with him since, proving to him that she was truly sorry for what she’d done in her heat-confusion.

He told himself they were ok and he ignored all of his instincts to the contrary.

Still, when he arrived at his family’s home the next day and his mother wrapped her arms around him, he suddenly felt his eyes burn with shame for the briefest of moments.

His Alpha mother’s tight hug had made him feel small and helpless without warning and for a moment he wanted to tell her so badly he almost choked with it.

Then Laura stuck her head into the kitchen, her eyebrows raised when she asked where he’d left the Wicked Witch of the West.

Derek clamped his lips shut, not wanting to give his big sister more ammunition against the woman he loved.

It was a quiet Christmas, filled with long silences and awkward glances, and Derek was grateful when he was able to escape the situation two days before New Years, blowing off his family’s annual party in favor of taking Kate to Mexico.

Kate wrapped her arms around him and kissed him gently and sweetly when he arrived back home, holding on to him so tightly as if she never wanted to let him go.

He breathed in her familiar smell, buried his nose against her hair, and once again told himself they were okay.

They were not okay – and a part of Derek had known it even then.

 

============

 

In the spring semester of Derek’s Junior Year, things took a turn for the worse.

A snide-comment about Kate’s lack of orgasms during a bar evening with her Omega friends that left his eyes burning and his head hung in shame.

His credit card disappearing the day before the release of a computer game he’d been looking forward to for months.

Nasty scratches on his chest, face, and arms after a particularly rough sexual encounter, during which she’d ridden him in jerky movements and he’d repeatedly pleaded with her to go slower.

Staying awake until the wee hours of the morning while he waited for her to come home, frantic with worry after coming back from class only to find a note that she’d gone out drinking without him, to a club where Derek knew for a fact that unaccompanied Omegas weren’t safe.

Silent treatment whenever he’d got a bad grade, a rather common occurrence during the spring semester of Derek’s Junior Year.

A disgusted look as she refused to go down on him, complaining about his personal hygiene and suggesting that maybe he should get circumcised after all.

Being refused sex entirely as punishment for something as simple as forgetting to bring down the trash.

Almost biting through his lips as he pounded into her, desperate to see at least a flicker of pleasure on her bored face, her expression telling him he wasn’t good enough.

Being laughed at when he had trouble popping a knot.

The incidences kept piling up but Derek rationalized them all away, telling himself that it was normal for the romance to wear off a bit after being together for so long.

Besides, Kate still brought him cocoa and caressed his hair when they watched television together.

She still kissed him sweetly at night and told him she loved him.

She also spent hours trying to help him improve his grades, once she got over her anger of yet another failed pop quiz.

Their relationship was no longer quite as perfect as it had been at the beginning, sure, but Derek knew Kate loved him, despite all of his faults.

After all, their problems were his entire fault; of that, Derek was a hundred percent sure.

It was also the reason that kept him from telling anyone about it, too afraid that others would tell him straight to his face that he was a failure of an Alpha.

At night, Derek sometimes stared at his Omega sleeping peacefully next to him and worried that he would never be good enough for her.

He worried that she was still paying for almost everything from rent to groceries and movie tickets, the combination of her TA salary and her father’s generous allowance far more than the little Derek made as a student worker at the library.

He also worried over the problems in their once exciting and satisfying sex life, his belly churning as he tried to remember when Kate had last achieved orgasm by his hand or mouth instead of her own fingers or – on one particularly horrible evening – a knotting toy, which she’d pulled out with an exasperated sneer when Derek had gotten so stressed his knot hadn’t formed at all.

He wasn’t just worried, actually.

He was ashamed – deeply ashamed that he kept fucking up and couldn’t provide for his Omega and maker her happy, even though he knew that Omegas craved a happy home and a steady provider more than anything.

Derek was an emancipated Alpha, but he had grown up in a traditional home and his earliest childhood memories were of his Omega father smiling contentedly whenever Talia kissed his temple, radiating happiness and flashing his golden eyes, the perfect picture of domesticity.

Derek wanted to make Kate feel like this, more than he’d ever wanted anything in his life.

He wanted her to be proud of him, wanted her to trust that he’d provide for their family one day, wanted her to always be satisfied in every aspect of their lives.

Instead, Derek was failing her all across the board.

He tried to study more, but the more stressed he got, the more he fucked up on quizzes.

He tried to get more hours in the library, but Kate started complaining she barely got to see him anymore. 

He spent hours on the Internet, trying to find techniques that would make her climax as she did during heat, but Kate rarely ever came with him outside of heat these days, making him fear that she’d one day leave him to find her pleasure elsewhere.

Derek knew that a lot of Alphas wouldn’t have bothered.

He knew that there were many Alphas out there who were only interested in their own pleasure and would have laughed at him.

Derek wasn’t that type of Alpha, however, and he never would be, making his heartache even worse every time he failed to make Kate come.

Meanwhile, at school, Derek’s continued struggle had done a number on his GPA and he was starting to worry whether he’d even be accepted into a Master’s program at all, making him more than anxious for their financial future together.

Kate had grown up in a very wealthy family and Derek knew that his chances of offering Kate a comparable standard of living were slim at best if he didn’t go for the graduate degree – not to mention his chances of finding a decently paying job if he turned up with a mediocre GPA and an undergraduate degree in English studies.

Not to mention the fact that Derek really needed to get control over his spending, aware that Kate’s worries about him blowing his money on something as nonsensical as a video game were not unreasonable.

However, Derek increasingly felt like he was a trapped in a vicious cycle.

The sadder and defeated he got, the more he spent on nonsense to make himself feel better, and the more he spent, the more upset he got at himself.

He wasn’t investing into his future, he wasn’t saving up money so they could start a family one day, and Derek really couldn’t blame Kate for getting angry with him so often, not when he was failing to offer her the financial security that was his job as a good provider.

In addition, Kate was gearing up to finally graduate with her Master’s degree and she was stressing over her thesis, causing her to lash out at Derek more and more as the date of her defense neared.

When she graduated, Derek breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that things were going to get better for both of them.

He wanted to take her on a nice vacation to celebrate her graduation, but Kate had accepted an internship in an advertising firm in Chicago, leaving Derek behind in their apartment for the better part of the summer.

Derek knew that he could have gone upstate to spend some much needed quality time with his family, but he’d promised Kate to take care of the hamster they’d gotten only two months ago and he couldn’t take it home, due to his father’s severe allergies.

Bored, lonely, and with only his worries for company, Derek spent most of his lonely summer on the couch with snacks and Netflix, binge-watching one show after the other to distract himself from thinking too much.

When he was finally able to go see Kate for a weekend, Derek’s joy at being reunited with his Omega quickly took a hit when she gave him a displeased once-over, her sharp gaze lingering on his softened sides and the little padding over his belly that he’d acquired in the two months he’d barely left his couch.

She made her displeasure perfectly clear later that evening, too, when they went out to dinner and she first commented on every buff Alpha they walked past and then side-eyed Derek over his choices in the restaurant, giving him meaningful looks until he abandoned half of his food and went back to her rental apartment hungry.

Kate refused sex that night on account of being too tired, but Derek knew better.

He had seen the real reason in her contemptuous little glances at his body and the too sharp pinches into his side as she’d walked past him while he’d brushed his teeth in the bathroom.

When she fell asleep, Derek snuck out of bed and went back into the bathroom, staring at his body and pinching and prodding the excess skin until his belly was covered in nail marks and he was trying very hard not to cry.

On their second and last night together, Kate got down on her hands and knees and demanded that he take her doggy-style, a position that Derek knew she wasn’t a big fan of, preferring to be on top when she wasn’t in heat.

He told himself it was because she was feeling a little adventurous … and not because the position meant she wouldn’t have to look at his body.

The next day, Derek went home feeling like crap and feeling like he’d found yet another way to fail his Omega, so the first thing he did when he came back to the apartment was throw out all his junk food and replace it with vegetables.

He picked up his exercise routine again and spent the rest of his summer in the gym, regularly overexerting himself just so he’d come home and pass out instantly, not even giving him the chance to feel lonely and turn back to bad habits.

When Kate returned from Chicago six weeks later, Derek had not only returned to his former physique but actually upped the ante, bulging with muscles everywhere and attracting unwanted attention wherever he went.

Kate pounced on him the moment she stepped in the door and they didn’t emerge from the bedroom for an entire weekend, most of which Kate spent licking or grinding on his abs.

She came hard every time and Derek felt utterly exhilarated, his entire body loose and giddy with relief that he’d finally done good.

Kate proudly showed him off during a bar hangout with her friends a week later and the evening went rather well, until Derek got hit on at the bar for the third time.

Out of nowhere, Kate emerged at his side and dug her nails into his shoulder, pressing down so tightly right at the juncture between shoulder and neck that she drew a little blood.

She abruptly decided to go home, dragged Derek out of the bar, and they fought the entire way back to the apartment, both of them a little drunk and both of them feeling hurt.

Derek tried to defend himself but Kate didn’t listen, accusing him of enjoying the attention and actively encouraging the slutty Omegas who’d been all over him at the bar.

Kate had always had a jealous streak, but Derek had never seen her flip as she did that night, not even on that horrible evening when she’d slapped him almost a year ago.

He should have seen it coming, probably, but Derek was still completely unprepared when she balled her fist and aimed it at his face, the punch so hard his ears started ringing.

This time, Kate didn’t break down crying, still to enraged in her drunken state.

Instead, she raised her fist once more, barely missing Derek’s ear when he ducked out of her way.

It made her even madder and she started pummeling her fists against his chest and abdomen, following him through the apartment as he tried to get away from her.

They ended up on the bed, with Derek curled up into a ball to protect his vulnerable parts and Kate still pummeling her fists on his back, right until she started crying her eyes out and collapsed on top of him.

He scrambled away from her then, sitting on the edge of the bed with his knees drawn up, as far away from her as he could get.

His left eye was swelling shut, his back ached where he was pressed against the bedframe, and he felt so incredibly hurt and shocked he wasn’t even been able to speak.

She sobbed even harder, apologizing over and over and begging him to forgive her, begging him not to leave her.

Telling him that he was the best thing to have ever happened to her.

That even the mere thought that she could lose him made her go completely crazy.

She was so distraught she started clawing at her arms as if to punish herself for her actions, leaving deep scratches.

In hindsight, Derek knew he should have left her then and there.

Hell, that he should have left her the first time she’d raised her hand to him.

Instead, he lunged forward to stop her from hurting herself.

He let her cling to him and sob against his chest, right where a bruise was forming from one of her many punches.

Derek was completely overwhelmed with conflicting emotions. 

First and foremost, he was incredibly shocked and devastated that the very person who he normally turned to for comfort and love was now the one who’d hurt him so badly that he needed both.

He also felt guilty for pushing Kate over the edge like this, blaming himself for not having let down the Omegas at the bar quicker.

Kate had been right to accuse him of liking the attention.

After he’d failed her by letting himself go it had felt amazing to be a desirable Alpha again, the appreciation of others a testament to how good he’d been for his Omega.

Seeing her hurt herself because he had fucked up only exacerbated his guilt, making him feel worse than he’d ever felt before.

Beyond all, however, Derek felt incredibly terrified.

Terrified that he’d just ruined his relationship.

Terrified of losing her.

Terrified of her hurting him like this again.

He swallowed down that last fear until his stomach ached with it, ignoring the voice in his head that kept whispering it hadn’t been the first time.

The voice that was reminding him that she’d promised she’d never do it again last time, too.

The voice that was shaking with fear as it whispered to him that it had been so much worse this time.

That it might be even uglier the next time.

Derek ignored all of these voices though, reminding himself that Kate loved him and that things simply had to get better.

They didn’t, though.

Instead, things got inevitably worse.

 

================

 

Even though she’d gotten an internship quickly, Kate found herself job-hunting for months, despite her two degrees and excellent letters of recommendations.

She got angrier and more frustrated each week, snapping at Derek for almost everything he did and blaming him for holding her back.

Derek knew that New York City offered better job opportunities, but he couldn’t just pack up and leave during his Senior Year of college, not to mention the four hour daily commute such a move would have meant for him.

Kate scoffed at the idea of moving to the big city on her own and having Derek follow her once he was done with his classes, however, declaring that she wasn’t going to leave him here on his own, period.

Derek appreciated it, at first, but the angrier she got at him, the more he secretly started hoping she’d give up on finding a job in their small college town and try her luck in the big city instead. 

When Kate’s next heat hit in early October, Derek missed an entire week of classes, the first part of that week because he helped Kate through her heat, the second part because he needed to recover from what could only be described as a three-day assault.

Some Omegas were docile and pliable during their heat, needy and desperate for their Alpha’s touch.

Kate had always been more on the aggressive side, her sexual appetite near insatiable and her hands on Derek’s body rough and demanding.

This time, however, Derek actually snuck out of the apartment during the third night, all but certain she’d broken one of his ribs after slamming her knee straight into his chest.

The kind Omega nurse in the ER stared at his scratches and bruises with wide eyes but she didn’t say a word while he was waiting to be seen.

The Alpha doctor who informed him that his rib was bruised but not broken gave him a hard look at his explanation that he’d run into the dresser; his nose twitching in a way that let Derek know he could smell Kate’s heat pheromones all over him.

He let Derek go without another question, that hard look in his eyes weighing heavily on Derek all the way out the door and into the hallway.

On the one hand, Derek was relieved he hadn’t been forced to lie again.

On the other hand, the part of him that was feeling small and tired was desperately crying for help in a way he couldn’t bring himself to say out loud.

He hoped that someone would stop him and save him, all the way until he got into his car in the parking lot and defeated tears started rolling down his cheeks.

When he opened the door to their apartment half an hour later, Kate pounced on him, furious for leaving her alone and telling him that he was a horrible Alpha for abandoning her in such a cruel way.

He didn’t disagree with her as she herded him back to the bedroom, pinching him everywhere she could reach in punishment.

He cried while he knotted her, both because he was in so much pain from his bruised rib and because he didn’t want to do this anymore.

When she saw his tears, Kate started mocking him, hissing at him that he was a failure and pathetic, that she couldn’t believe she’d landed herself such a pussy of an Alpha.

To Derek’s great relief, her heat broke broken after this last knotting and for the first time in their relationship, Derek decided to spend the night on the couch, wanting to be as far away from her as he possibly could.  

The next morning, Derek could barely move without bursting into tears of pain and when Kate saw the state he was in she cried, claiming she couldn’t remember anything that had happened during her heat.

Derek didn’t believe her one bit but he was in too much pain to argue.

Instead, he crawled back into their bed and turned his head to face the wall, ignoring her for the better part of the day.

In response, Kate dedicated herself to nursing him back to health, touching him so reverently like he was the most special thing in the universe.

Her lips were soft as silk when she kissed each scratch and bruise and her fingers were gentle and felt like heaven when she massaged his scalp and feet.

Eventually Derek turned to accept her apology kisses, allowing her to cradle him in her arms and whisper sweet declarations of love into his ear.

When she fell asleep with her hand splayed over his heart, Derek stared at the ceiling, asking himself if he it was possible that he might be going a little mad.  

His entire body hurt from the ordeal she’d put him through during her heat, his bruises were turning into different dolors all over his body, and his heart felt like breaking because he knew that this wasn’t how things were supposed to go.

Heshould have been the one cooking and caring for his Omega as she recovered on the day after her heat.

Sheshould be cradled in his arms right now, not the other way around.

He should have never left her, should have realized that leaving an Omega mid-heat was a cruel thing to do.

He should have been a bit more careful, having shared enough heats with her to know that she got a bit rough at the height of them.

Of course she shouldn’t have hurt him.

He should have been a better Alpha to her, should have satisfied her to the point where she would have never lashed out at him for not getting what she needed.

She shouldn’t have hurt him.

Derek knew she shouldn’t have hurt him.

And yet he couldn’t silence the bitter voice that kept telling him it had been his fault.

That she’d been in heat and not in control of her actions.

That everything she’d done had been out of instinct – and if her instincts had told her she needed to punish her Alpha?

Well.

Derek’s stomach twisted so badly at the thought that he almost wanted to throw up, wondering if he really did deserve every bruise and every scratch.

It had been his fault.

Everything was his fault.

 

================

 

After the disaster of her heat, things were good between them until Christmas. 

Kate stopped snapping at him so much and was actually making an effort to be sweet and Derek allowed himself to let his guard down a little, now that he wasn’t coming home to a pissed off Omega on a daily basis anymore.

During sex, Kate was a lot more careful with him than usual and devoted herself to caressing and cherishing his body, even going down on him every now and then when he hesitantly asked her to.

Granted, she was still frustrated about her continued unemployment and wasn’t in the mood for sex often, but Derek soaked up her affections whenever he could get them, telling himself they were finally back on the right rack.

When his mother called to invite them both for Christmas, Derek felt so good about all the changes he was seeing in Kate that he agreed, though he felt a bit nervous about bringing it up to Kate.

Kate immediately said yes, however, telling him that her family was planning to go on another cruise and that she was looking forward to reconnecting with the Hales.

She looked so sincere and hopeful that Derek wanted to believe her with everything he had, feeling grateful that his Omega was willing to mend bridges even though the rift hadn’t been her fault in the first place.

November and December of that year were a happy time for Derek, his hopeful expectations for the future getting even brighter when Kate was offered a job in New York City in mid-November.

Kate was happier than she’d been in a long time and her happiness only increased when she found a nice apartment in a good neighborhood near her workplace quickly, courtesy of her father’s connections.

With Derek’s GPA slowly recovering from the hit it had taken last semester and Kate’s financial stability secured, the Omega seemed to be excited to plan a future with Derek for the first time in a very long time.

Derek felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders when she snuggled up to him every night and shared her wishes and hopes with him.

It was as if the new job and the new apartment had been the healing balm they’d both needed in their relationship and Derek fell asleep at night feeling safe and content, dreaming of their future together.

Most nights, Derek was also feeling deeply satisfied because their whispered conversations and warm embrace had turned to soft kisses and gentle lovemaking, their sex life getting back to where it had been in the beginning of the relationship.

Better, even, because Derek couldn’t remember her ever being so responsive, so eager for his touch and so appreciative of everything he did.

Usually, Kate liked to ride him quickly and roughly, but now she took her time, rolling her hips and making Derek’s toes curl in pleasure.

Sometimes, Kate grabbed his hands and placed them against her flat and toned abdomen, holding eye contact with him and smiling softly in a way that spoke of a promise Derek hadn’t allowed himself to think about in a while.

The gesture wasn’t lost on his Alpha instincts either and he knotted her every time, his orgasms sometimes leaving him with tears running down his cheeks because of their intensity.  

At barely 22 and without a degree or well-paying job, Derek wasn’t consciously contemplating starting a family with Kate, of course.

At the same time, however, he didn’t really feel like 22 either, not after being in a serious and committed adult relationship for three and a half years.

He didn’t want to have children yet, but he still occasionally found himself imagining that his hands were cupping a round swell instead of a flat plane, his chest feeling warm and happy when he imagined two little arms clinging to his neck so he could keep them safe and warm and a little voice telling him he was loved.

Derek had gotten so used to Kate’s coldness that he hadn’t even realized how much he’d been yearning for warmth and affection and now that the Omega was once again showing him how much she loved him on a daily basis, Derek couldn’t help but want more for both of them.

It was an illusion of domesticity, a frayed blanket covering up all the bad between them and ready to rip at the slightest tug.

However, Derek didn’t allow himself to question the sudden change in his Omega.

Instead, he picked up extra shifts at his student job and stopped by the jewelry store, calculating how long it would take until he could buy a ring.

Then, the Christmas disaster happened – and Derek never ended up buying a ring.

 

===================

 

It was a small comment, uttered at the dinner table on Christmas Eve.

Just a small, normal comment, a casual mention that he was thinking about moving to New York and commuting for his final semester, now that Kate had found such a nice apartment.

The visit had been a little awkward but mostly harmonious until then and Derek hadn’t seen the fight coming at all, completely blind-sided by the hard look on his mother’s face, the upset in his father’s eyes, and the slap echoing through a suddenly silent room when Laura slammed her hands on the table.

“Commuting? Are you out of your mind? Do you actually want to drop out of school? She put you up to this, didn’t she?”

Laura’s voice was harsh and bitter, her eyes glaring red when she whirled towards Kate.

“You talked him into this, didn’t you? You just can’t have him living his life freely, you need to control every single fucking little thing!”

“I beg your pardon?”

Kate’s voice was venomous and cold, making Derek’s chest hurt and his Christmas cheer evaporating instantly.

Before he could intervene his mother spoke up, her voice serious and full of disapproval.

“I’m sure you realize that it would be better for Derek to stay and focus on his final semester. He’s just gotten his grades up again and I don’t think that having to commute two hours back and forth each day would be beneficial to his academic future.”

“She doesn’t give a fuck! She’s been making bitchy comments about how she’s been footing the bill for the past three days, Mama! She likes putting him down all the time! She fucking loves feeling superior to him!”

“How dare you, Laura! Derek, I didn’t say anything, I swear!”

Kate grasped Derek’s hand and looked at him imploringly and Derek looked back and forth between his Omega and his furious big sister, wanting to trust both of them and feeling incredibly hurt that one of them was clearly lying to him.

“Laura!” Derek’s mother said loudly, putting a hand on her shoulder to keep her calm and turning back towards Kate.

“Kate. I must ask you to talk him out of this. My son always looks tired and he has lost a lot of weight in the past year. He is obviouslyalready running on fumes as is, so I really don’t think it would be good for him to take on such a burden during such an important semester.”

“With all due respect, Talia, I think Derek can make his own decisions!” Kate replied sharply, crossing her arms over her chest defiantly.

“She didn’t force me into anything!” Derek finally spoke up, glaring at his mother and sister and squeezing Kate’s hand tightly.

“She actually wanted to wait with the big move until I finished school, but when she found this job she couldn’t say no and I decided to support my girlfriend and go with her! How can you even suggest she is forcing me to do anything? This is my choice!”

“Ha!” Derek’s 17-year old sister Cora snorted, her expression angry and her eyes shimmering Omega gold.

“Mama is right, Derek! You’re always tired and you never really smile anymore! You haven’t made choices that were good for you in forever and I’m pretty sure it’s her fucking fault!” 

“Cora,” Derek’s father said warningly, but Cora shook her head, looking to Laura for approval.

What? We’ve all been thinking it ever since he introduced her to us, why are we still pretending we believe she’s good for him? She isn’t! Do you hear me Derek, she isn’t good for you and you shouldn’t be moving to New York City with her! You should leave her and get your fucking sanity back, that’s what you should do!”

“What the fuck, Cora, I …”

“You never call us anymore! And when you’re here, you’re always on the phone with her, as if she can’t leave you in peace for one fucking minute! That’s not cute, Derek, that is pathological!”

“She’s right, Derek! I have been telling you this for fucking years!”

Laura was gesticulating wildly, her gaze flitting back and forth between Derek and Kate with open contempt.

“She’s crazy, Derek, she’s fucking crazy, and if you’re not careful she will …”

“Stop!” Derek snapped, slamming his own fist on the table and making his wine glass topple over, not even sparing a glance at the mess he’d made in his fury.

“How dare you speak to my girlfriend like that? You have no right!”

“I have every right, Derek!” Laura barked, shaking off her mother’s shoulder as she got up from the table.

“She is bad for you, Derek! Bad, bad, bad! If you are too blinded to see it, then it’s my damn job to step in!”

“Oh really?”

Kate’s grip on Derek’s hand was getting painful, her voice rising in fury.

“Is that what you think of me? Well, I shouldn’t be surprised now, should I? You’ve never accepted me!”

Kate’s eyes ware burning Omega gold, her entire body trembling with anger.

“Hell, you never even gave me a chance! You think I’m too old for him and you’ve always made me feel like I wasn’t enough! Well guess what, if you’re making him choose between you and me then I’ll just leave! I’m not going to have him go through that pain just because you guys never liked me to begin with!”

Kate stood up so abruptly that her chair screeched on the wooden floor, her eyes filled with tears and her hands clenched into fists.

“Kate!” Derek exclaimed in shock, but his Omega shook her head, backing away from him when he tried to touch her.

“Don’t! Just … don’t! I can’t do this anymore!” she gasped, turning and leaving the dining room with loud sobs.

Derek followed her immediately, his gut growing cold when he found her in his bedroom, haphazardly throwing her clothes into her suitcase.

“Kate … my love … please … they didn’t mean it, they …”

“Like hell they didn’t! They hate me, Derek! Fuck, I can’t do this anymore! I’m sorry, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I …”

She was scratching up her arms again, her sharp nails leaving angry red welts, and Derek lunged forward to stop her, holding her hands tightly and pressing them against his chest.

“I love you! Please! I’m so sorry! I won’t let them do this, I will make them apologize, I promise, I …”

“I can’t stay here anymore, Derek! I’m sorry sweetie, but I have to go! I can’t stay here a second longer!”

Kate collapsed against his chest, sobbing so heartbreakingly it made Derek see literally red.

“I’ll come with you! You are it for me and if they can’t accept that, then I’m not going to stay here, either!” he promised her, his voice breaking with emotion.

“Derek!” Kate gasped, looking up at him with big, wounded eyes.

“I can’t let you do this, they’re your family, they are …”

You are my family! You are my future, damn it, you’re my everything! I can’t let them do this to you!” Derek interrupted her, his Alpha urges making his blood rush in his ears at the sight of his Omega in so much distress.

He needed to protect her, even if that meant protecting her from his family.

When they walked back down the stairs ten minutes later, Derek was carrying both of their suitcases, directing Kate to wait in the car as he turned around for a final confrontation with his family.

“Derek, little bear, we’re sorry that it got so ugly, but we really worry about you! We only want what’s best for you, please listen to us!”

His mother was pleading with him, which wassomething that Derek had never heard her do before.

It made his resolve falter for a split second, but when he looked at his sisters’ faces his fury returned, their disgust for Kate not even hidden anymore.

“You don’t even see it, do you?”

Laura’s voice was cold as ice, her arms crossed tightly over her chest as if she was fighting the urge to grab Derek and force him to stay.

“You don’t realize how much you’ve changed since you started dating this bitch and none of these changes have been for the better! I want my fucking brother back, Derek! What the hell is she doing to you that you can’t see how bad she is?”

“We love you Derek, you know that!” Cora agreed, stepping forward hesitantly to hug Derek, defiance and guilt all over her face.

Derek shoved her away though, not hard enough to actually hurt her but to make sure she realized he didn’t want to be touched right now.

“What the hell Derek! Do you think this is normal behavior for you?” his mother snapped, placing a protective hand on her only Omega child’s shoulder when Cora let out an anguished sound.

“She’s right, son!” Derek’s father spoke up, grasping Derek’s upper arm and holding it in a tight grip.

“We’re not doing this to hurt you. We are worried about what this woman is doing to you.”

“And what is she doing, exactly?” Derek barked, shoving his father’s hand away and whirling around to glare at him.

“What is it that she is doing? Supporting me? Loving me? Working as hard as she can so we can have a future together? Heinous villainy, all of it!” he roared, his voice getting louder with every word.

“Don’t raise your voice with me, young man! We just want what’s best for you!” his father barked, his eyes flashing gold in warning.

“Oh please!” Derek laughed cruelly, looking back and forth between his parents furiously.

“You don’t like her because she’s not afraid to go out there and make something of herself! You want to see me with a homely Omega who’ll give me a couple of babies and lean on me to be a provider! Have you ever stopped to think that’s not what I fucking want? Hell, growing up in this home would be enough reason to never want that for anyone!”

He looked back at his father, shaking with anger when he saw the hard expression in his eyes.

“You are just too bitter to see it! You got to sit at home and hide behind your Omega status your entire life! You never achieved anything, except popping out a couple of kids and relying on Mama to make enough money! I’m dating a woman who wants to have a career first and you’re envious and angry about the choices that you made! You’re a bitter old man, that’s why you’re lashing out at her!”

His father’s expression tightened, but Derek wasn’t done, rounding on his mother next.

“And you! You didn’t give her a chance from the moment she set foot into this home! Instead, you made her feel like she was too old for me, like she wasn’t the ideal broodmare you envisioned as a partner for me! You talk about Alpha-Omega equality all the time but when you’re actually faced with a career Omega you can’t deal! You’re pathetic and a hypocrite!”

Finally, Derek turned towards his sisters, allowing his hurt to drip into his words when he addressed them both.

“I never talked badly about the people you dated! Never! Hell, I didn’t like any of them, but I would have never tried to destroy your relationship! You were supposed to be in my corner, but you never gave her a chance either!”

“Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that she was a bitch!” Laura snapped, her eyes flashing red and her face tense.

“Fuck you!” Derek snarled, turning around to go.

“Son. Don’t do this,” his mother said firmly, her voice filled with every ounce of her Alpha authority.

“You are making me choose between her and you! What the hell am I supposed to do?”

Talia took a step back, her hands coming up in a placating gesture.

“Derek. We aren’t the ones who are making you choose.”

The breath punched out of Derek with a gasp, his shoulders dropping in defeat.

“Yes. You are. My fucking family is making me choose between the woman I love and the people who are trying to destroy my relationship! Well, guess what, I’m choosing her! She’s everything to me and if you can’t be happy for me, then I don’t want any of you in my life!”

He paused, his hands clenched into fists at his side.

“Hell, I don’t need you in my life, Kate and her family appreciate me more than you ever have and you ever will! Why would I need you when I can have them!”

The words tasted like ash in Derek’s mouth instantly, making his stomach clench with nausea as he turned around and slammed the front door shut behind him, walking towards Kate’s car and barely able to see through his tears.

The taste stayed in his mouth as Kate drove them to a motel on the edge of town, making his stomach twist and roll until they were finally checked in and he could stumble into the bathroom to throw up.

Kate dropped to her knees behind him and wrapped her arms around his stomach, as if she could somehow soothe the terrible ache within.

In the years to come, Derek would sometimes feel bile rising up his throat when he thought about the final words he’d said to his family.

On particularly bad nights, he would shoot out of bed and barely make it to the bathroom, the slamming of their front door echoing in his head as he gagged and dry-heaved.

His family had only ever wanted to protect him.

A small part of Derek had known it even then and he would soon see the big picture with painful clarity.

They hadn’t known about the abuse, hadn’t seen his bruises or his silent tears.

They’d seen something, however, and it had frightened them enough to lash out in the worst way possible, their fears for his safety overriding common sense and unknowingly playing right into Kate’s hands.

On the worst Christmas Eve of Derek’s life, Derek felt like his grief was literally tearing him in half and Kate was there to pick up the pieces she had helped break, keeping him sane and anchoring him through the storm she herself had been planning for years.

Had he known that it would be the last time he’d speak to his family for a very long time, Derek’s choices that night would have been very different indeed.

 

================

 

In the days immediately after the big fall-out with his family, Kate held him every night, soothing him with gentle caresses and whispering over and over how much she loved him and how no one was going to tear them apart ever again.

Derek didn’t realize the full extent of the damage quite yet, but Kate clearly did and she jumped right in, filling the gap in his heart and whispering lies about what had happened until Derek no longer knew up from down.

On the night of New Year’s Eve, Derek was seriously tempted to get drunker than he’d ever gotten drunk before, wanting nothing more than to forget everything and everyone.

Part of it had to do with his anger and sorrow every time he thought about his family, but a lot of his desire to forget also stemmed from his conflicted feelings towards Kate, now that the initial Alpha urge to protect his Omega had worn off.

At night, her arms both anchored him and suffocated him, offering comfort and feeling like a trap all at once.

He wanted to be with her, but he also wondered if he’d made the right choice, and whenever he allowed himself to think along such lines his ribs started hurting, a phantom ache of the injury she’d inflicted on him during her heat.

Kate loved him; he didn’t doubt it for one second.

She had hurt him in the past, however, and when she wrapped her arms around him and held him tightly, Derek sometimes couldn’t help but loathe that he needed her embrace so badly, even though he feared the pain her hands could cause almost as much.

Fear.

It made Derek once again feel like a failure of an Alpha to even acknowledge it, but there was no denying that he was deeply afraid.

Afraid because his relationship was anything but stable, because being with Kate meant that he could go from a state of utmost elation and happiness into a despairing darkness within seconds.

Afraid because his Omega both loved him and hurt him and Derek didn’t even want to consider that, one day, the hurting might far outweigh the loving.

Afraid because he’d slammed the door in his family’s face and chosen a woman who’d sent him to the ER, a decision that must have seemed utterly insane to an outsider and that caused Derek so much inner turmoil that his stomach ached with it almost constantly.

Afraid because he no longer trusted himself at all, wondering when exactly he’d lost complete control over everything.

Kate seemed to have similar trust issues, because she poured out all the alcohol in the apartment on New Year’s Eve and took Derek to bed, riding him, blowing him, and kissing him until the clock struck midnight.

It wasn’t the escape he’d been looking for, but Derek still managed to let his mind drift away, focus only on his body and pretend everything in his life was normal.

In the first week of January, Kate found plenty of tasks to keep Derek occupied, sending him out for errands to prepare for the big move and packing up the apartment.

In between packing boxes, disassembling furniture, running to different stores, and falling asleep in Kate’s arms every night, Derek was too busy to think about his family much, even though his heartache was a near constant companion now.

The day before the move, Kate ran out of moving boxes and panicked a little, her hair wild when she sent Derek to the store to get some more and snapped at him for the first time ever since they’d walked out on Derek’s family.

Derek drove to the store and tried his hardest to be okay, succeeding right until he wasn’t.

He’d just grabbed stack of boxes when he suddenly felt light headed, his breath coming in short, painful gasps from one second to the next.

He dropped the boxes and sat down on the floor, breathing harshly and letting out a whimper when his stomach started hurting again.

The more labored his breathing became, the worse his stomach pain got and angry tears started rolling down Derek’s face when he realized he was making an utter spectacle of himself.

He was pretty sure he was having a panic attack and his pain was one hundred percent psychosomatic, making him feel incredibly foolish.

Derek wasn’t an idiot.

He’d never be as academically successful as his mother or Cora, but he’d always believed he had a good head on his shoulders and a better grasp of the world around him than most of his peers.

And yet, there he sat on the cold floor in a department store, his arms wrapped around his knees and rocking back and forth like a frightened child, feeling like he wanted to throw up every time he looked at the moving boxes and remembered that he was going to move to New York City with Kate.

The sane solution to his conundrum would have been to leave; Derek didn’t need a fancy university degree to figure that one out.

He knew that if the thought of creating a life with someone was making you physically ill, you’d best take it as a sign to run as far away as possible.

But still …  still … the thought of being alone, of losing his companion of almost four years after he’d already lost his family … that thought was more terrifying than anything else.

Besides … the big fight with Derek’s family notwithstanding, things had been getting better between him and Kate.

Hadn’t they?

In the two months since she’d found a job, Derek had re-discovered the Omega he’d fallen in love with during that first semester and he hadn’t quite realized how much he’d missed her until he’d gotten to hold and kiss her again.

Now, with the promise of an amazing career and a beautiful apartment in a city where it was almost impossible to find affordable places, things could only get even better and Derek wanted it achingly.

It took him a little while, but eventually Derek’s breathing returned to normal and he picked himself up, bought the boxes, and drove home.

He helped Kate pack the rest of their belongings, followed by a passionate round of lovemaking on a mattress in the middle of their now empty living room, their last night in the old apartment.

The next day, the big move went off without a hitch and Derek spent the following weeks rushing through his life on an impossibly tight schedule.

He got up early in the mornings to commute to his classes, hastily drove home as soon as he was done, ran shopping errands to finish furnishing their new place, and hurried to get dinner started so that Kate would have something to eat after a long, strenuous day at her new workplace.

It was intense and draining, but Derek did it gladly, wanting to provide as much for Kate as he could as long as his Omega was truly footing the bill on her own, now that he’d had to quit his student job at the university library.

It was February by the time he allowed himself to realize that he hadn’t spoken to his family in two months and that they hadn’t called him either.

Derek’s relationship with his sisters had been strained for a while now, but he’d never gone this long without talking to his mother and the realization made him unbearably sad.

He could have picked up the phone.

Derek probably should have picked up the phone, given the hurtful words he’d said to his family and the air of finality with which he’d slammed the door shut behind him.

He was too preoccupied, though.

Preoccupied, because he was running himself ragged with a schedule that he was quickly realizing was going to be impossible to maintain.

Preoccupied because Kate’s good mood soured day by day, the more she got swamped with work.

Even though she’d been full of praises for her new job and her boss and her colleagues the first couple of weeks, the closer they got to Derek’s spring break, the more Kate began complaining, coming home in a bad mood and ranting about anything and everything from her co-workers to her tasks.

She didn’t hit him again but she got mean, her voice acidic and her comments hitting just where she knew Derek’s weak spots were, as if she could only make herself feel better by making those around her – him – feel worse.

The night before Derek’s midterms, Derek tried studying while cooking, only to burn dinner and ruin a really expensive pot in the process.

When Kate came home to the smell of smoke in the apartment they got into a bad fight, a fight that lasted all the way into the night and basically destroyed Derek’s plans for some last minute studying.

The next day, Derek failed all of his midterms and when he stepped out of the last exam he didn’t feel like spring break at all but like a truck had rolled over him and then backed up for good measure

Kate was waiting for him when he got home, the picture of 1950s Omega domesticity, with an apron tied around her waist and a lovely dinner waiting and ready to reward him after his day of exams.

Angry and disappointed with himself, Derek didn’t feel like being rewarded one tiny bit and he said as much, his bad mood triggering Kate and leading to another nasty fight.

Later, Derek wouldn’t remember what had made him say it.

He wouldn’t remember whether it had been the horrible weight of failure pressing down on his shoulders or the agony of missing his family crushing his chest.

Then again, it didn’t matter what had made him say it, whether it had been his exhaustion, his heartache, or his anger.

The only thing that mattered was that he had in fact, said it, and it had set a chain of events in motion that had changed his life in the most irrevocable way.

“I can’t do this anymore!”

They’d been yelling at each other for going on three hours at that point, but these five words plunged the room into deadly silence, both of them staring at each other with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

“I can’t do this anymore!” Derek repeated, his voice cracking and his lips wobbling as he gestured around the room helplessly.

Then he started sobbing, burying his face in his hands and shaking like a leaf.

Kate immediately threw herself on him, wrapped her arms around him and started sobbing, too, begging him to stay, to forgive her, that she’d try to be better.

This is Stockholm syndrome, Derek thought bitterly when he caught himself drawing comfort from her embrace, leaning into her touch even while sobbing that he wanted to leave. 

He fell asleep due to exhaustion at some point, but when he woke up the next morning, Derek felt … free.

He also felt sick to his stomach and utterly drained, but he felt free, as if an immense weight had been lifted off his shoulders, now that he’d finally said out loud what he’d been thinking on and off for the better part of a year.

Kate was quiet and subdued when he padded into the kitchen, her hands wrapped around a hot tea mug and gripping tightly when Derek sat down across from her without a good morning kiss, a first in their relationship.

“I think we need a break,” Derek told her, trying to be as soft and gentle as possible because he didn’t want to hurt her.

“I’m not saying I want to leave you forever. I love you. But we need a break. At least until you’re situated in your job and I’m done with college. This … this is not … we aren’t good together like this!”

My parents were right, Derek didn’t say, having to fight against all of his instincts to stop himself from calling his mama and asking her to come rescue him.

Kate didn’t reply, staring at him with wobbling lips and tears running down her cheeks.

Derek almost faltered, his Alpha instincts roaring at him to backtrack, to stop, to stay with his Omega and love and protect her always.

He didn’t though, holding her gaze until she finally let out a sigh.

“Alright,” she agreed after a long silence, reaching out and grasping his hands with shaking fingers.

“Just until you’re done with college. Just until we’re both in a good space again.”

“I’ll stay in a motel. It’ll just be for six weeks. I can concentrate on finishing my degree and making up for the exams I failed and you can focus on your work. It’ll be good for us. It’s just six weeks.”

“Six weeks,” Kate repeated, gripping his hand tightly and smiling through her tears.

“I’ll leave tomorrow afternoon,” Derek said softly, fighting back tears of his own when Kate let out a loud sob.

It was a Saturday morning, just enough time for Derek to pack everything that he needed.

Kate left the apartment while he packed and Derek was grateful, not sure he could have actually gone through with it if she’d kept hovering in the bedroom doorway and stared at him through her tears.

She stayed away for a long time, however, and Derek was almost ready to call the police when he finally heard her unlock the door a little past midnight.

He deliberated going to see her at first, but when he heard her puttering around in the kitchen he decided to stay on the couch and pulled up the covers, keeping his eyes closed so she wouldn’t try to convince him to stay again.

A couple of minutes later, the door to the living room opened and Derek knew immediately that something was wrong.

“Kate?”

Hurts, Derek!”

Derek scrambled to sit up, gasping when he realized that the Omega was naked, her golden eyes glowing brightly and her hair damp with sweat.  

Kate? What’s wrong?”

Kate shivered as she knelt down next to the couch, her skin radiating heat.  

“I … don’t … know!” she got out, doubling over and curling into a ball, one of her hands pressed against her abdomen and the other furiously working between her legs.

“Are you … shit, are you in heat?”

There was no way she could be, Derek knew that for a fact, her next heat already carefully marked in his calendar.

“Please, Derek … please!”

“But … how is this possible, you aren’t due for another heat until tenweeks from now, why …”

She pressed her damp, heat-slick-coated hand against his mouth to shut him up and Derek froze for a second, the smell of her suddenly everywhere and his eyes burning red on instinct.

When he opened his mouth to try and speak she plunged her fingers deep inside and Derek felt his cock beginning to stir, his Alpha biology triggered even though a panicked voice in the back of his mind kept asking how this was even possible.

“Kate! I don’t think we should …”

“I need you, Derek! It hurts so bad, only you can make it better!”

She was crying, her whole body shaking when she tried to climb on top of him.

Derek didn’t help her but he didn’t stop her either, torn between his Alpha instincts to help his Omega through her heat and his mind yelling at him that they were currently broken up and he shouldn’t be here at all.

Please!” Kate whimpered, rocking back and forth against his groin, her expression wild and her hands grabbing everywhere she could reach.

“I don’t …”

“Please! Please, please, please!”

“Kate, please, no, I’m going to get help, I don’t ... I don’t want to do this! Kate please, no. Not now. PleaseNot now!”

Kate wasn’t listening to him, however, grinding against him, and pressing her hand over his mouth once more to stop his protestations.

It would have been easy to throw her off.

He should have thrown her off.

In the end, he didn’t.

He kept pleading with her to stop though.

At one point, he just stopped saying it out loud.

 

=================

 

The next morning, Derek didn’t go to stay at a motel.

Instead, he stayed to help Kate through her heat, the worst he’d ever seen her endure.

The waves rolled over her with barely a couple of minutes rest in between, her cries full of agony whenever Derek wasn’t knotted deep inside of her.

Derek could barely stand seeing her like this, fighting through his own exhaustion to keep her pain at a manageable level and worrying that she was actually going to die on him.

“We should call a doctor, this isn’t normal,” he pleaded with her on the end of the second day, only to have his concern rewarded with a harsh slap to his face that split his lip wide open, her eyes wild when she threatened to cut off his knot if he so much as dared to let a stranger into her heat den.

Derek didn’t suggest it again, his lip burning with pain and his chest feeling constricted, like he was hovering on the edge of another panic attack.

She final passed out for two hours on the third day and Derek used the much-needed reprieve to escape to the bathroom for a shower, his eyes widening when he took in the state of his body.

There were deep scratches all over his back, belly, and chest, as well as finger shaped bruises littering his skin and his lip swollen almost grotesquely.

In the three days since she’d climbed on top of him on the couch she’d hit him, punched him, choked him, scratched him, and kicked him, as if she’d wanted to hurt every single inch of his body.

As if she’d wanted to punish him for trying to leave.

Derek didn’t want to think about that though.

Instead, he spent almost an hour in the shower but he still felt dirty when he emerged, the thought of her getting her hands on him once more almost making him physically ill.

There was a truth hidden deep inside Derek, now.

The truth about what had happened to him.

The truth about was still happening to him.

It was an ugly truth, spreading through him like a poison and burning him from the inside out.

He slammed that truth down with everything he had, though, built wall after wall around it until it was but a buzzing noise in the farthest corner of his mind, screaming at the top of its lungs but hidden so far away that he was able to pretend he couldn’t hear.

When Kate’s heat finally broke, Derek didn’t leave and he didn’t’ go back to school, either.

He justified it to himself by reasoning that he’d failed all of his midterms and the semester was a lost cause; that he’d be far better off dropping his classes and trying again next year.

He also justified it to himself by reasoning that he needed to get a job to be able to gain at least a semblance of financial independence, now that he could no longer rely on his family to help him out.

He didn’t allow himself to think about the sick feeling in his chest every time he went outside, the bone-deep and hollow tiredness he didn’t seem to be able to shake.

He definitely didn’t think about the judgment he could see in the faces of everyone around him – as if they knew something he wanted nothing more than to forget.

Most of all, he absolutely didn’t think about the sealed birth control shot in the bathroom cabinet that he’d discovered the morning after Kate’s head had broken.

The shot that Kate had obviously never gotten a chance to take when her heat had overtaken her ten weeks ahead of schedule and without any warning.

No.

Derek didn’t think about that at all, even though he knew deep down that he couldn’t leave until he knew.

For six weeks, Derek managed to cling to the thought that nothing had happened.

That everything would be fine and that he’d eventually find the power within to just … leave.

Then, Kate called him into the bathroom and shoved a stick into his hands – and Derek had never felt more trapped in his life.

Chapter Text

Derek had always wanted to be a father.

When he’d been really little, he’d often encouraged his best Omega friend Paige to play pretend family.

He wouldn’t have been able to explain why, but he’d always felt warm and happy every time she’d agreed to stuff a pillow under her shirt and let him snuggle her and bring her cookies and hot cocoa, just as he’d seen his mother do with his father when he’d been pregnant with Cora.

He’d imagined how it would be many times as he’d grown up, his fantasies turning from innocent fairy tales to something a little more sensual once he’d gotten old enough to understand the mechanics of it all.

When he’d been newly in love with Kate, Derek had often imagined her belly swelling with their baby and he’d just known that she would be the most radiant and beautiful Omega the world had ever seen, glowing with life and happiness.

He’d imagined feeling their child move through her skin, kissing her belly, and resting his cheek against her swollen abdomen, her soft fingers carding through his hair and giving the affection right back.

Derek had often fantasized about making love to her and worshipping every added inch of her growing body, reassuring her in word, touch, and through the passion in his eyes that she’d never been more desirable, that he’d want her for as long she’d have him.

He’d imagined going on craving runs in the middle of the night and he’d imagined rubbing her feet, trying to give back as much as he could and knowing he’d never be able to repay her for the wonderful gift she was about to give him.

He’d thought about what it would be like to hold her hand during the birth, imagining himself wiping sweat from her forehead, rubbing her back, and encouraging her, being her strength and support as she brought their child into the world.

He’d imagined holding their baby for the first time, a beautiful perfect little Omega girl who looked just like her mother.

In his mind, he’d seen himself holding a tiny hand as they walked through the park, happy laughter peeling out of his little treasure when he’d swing her up in the air, her blonde pig-tails flying and her hazel eyes sparkling with happiness.

Always smiling, always happy, because she was safe and content, growing up in a home filled with love, just like Derek had.

He’d imagined snuggling his little one to reassure her that she’d always be his princess, even after the new baby got there, and he’d imagined taking her to see her little Alpha brother for the first time, just as beautiful as his big sister but taking more after Derek in his looks.

There had been a big age difference between Kate and her brother and Kate had pretty much grown up an only child, so Derek hadn’t thought she’d go for more than two kids.

However, when she’d held him close at night and whispered that he was the best thing to have ever happened to her, Derek had allowed himself to wonder if he’d be able to talk her into just one more: three perfect children to recreate the family structure Derek had so enjoyed growing up in.

He’d indulged the fantasy, even, imagining how she’d agree after only a little bit of coaxing, her eyes warm and fond when she’d look at their two perfect children.

He’d imagined making love to her with the intention to make a baby, he’d imagined her telling him she was pregnant with tears in her eyes, and he’d imagined how her face would morph from shock to joy when the doctor told them they had actually managed to conceive twins.

Alphas ran in Derek’s family, but he’d figured they might just beat the odds and have two more Omega children: a boy who looked like a male version of his mother and a girl with Derek’s eyes, hair, and cheekbones.

Derek hadn’t allowed himself to indulge in these fantasies in a long time, but he remembered them well enough to feel absolutely gutted about how different reality had turned out to be.

Two weeks after the doctor had confirmed her pregnancy, Kate began suffering from horrible morning sickness and she lashed out at Derek every opportunity she got, making him forever torn between his instincts to take care of her and his desire to run as far away from her hurtful words as he possibly could.

When the morning sickness finally stopped, the hormones became her justification for treating him like dirt.

She started harassing Derek with text messages at his new workplace at a diner, complaining about her back hurting, her skin itching, her feet swelling, and calling him in tears and with accusations if he didn’t immediately reply.

Nothing he said and did to ease her burden was ever good enough, and some nights Derek had to leave the apartment in tears, her words booming in his head.

“You did this to me!” Kate screeched when she noticed the first stretch mark on her previously unblemished skin, slapping Derek’s hand away when he tried to touch her belly.

You did this to me, Derek didn’t say, because saying it out loud would have meant acknowledging the most painful perversion of his cherished fantasies.

His child hadn’t been conceived in love.

In fact, his child had been conceived in …

Derek couldn’t bring himself to even think the word.

He couldn’t risk it, knowing that the only reason he was still standing was because he didn’t allow himself to think about it.

Some nights, Derek stared at the phone with burning eyes, wanting to call his mother so desperately he thought he could literally feel his heart breaking in two.

He wasn’t able to bring himself to do it, though.

On Christmas Eve, his parents had seen right through the illusion of happiness that he and Kate had projected.

They’d seen it for a long time and Derek had ignored all of their warnings.

Telling them now wouldn’t have only meant admitting that they’d been right all along and he’d been a blind idiot.

No.

Telling them now would have also meant admitting what had happened to him.

What had been happening to him for a long time now, if he was truly honest with himself.

Derek couldn’t do it.

He couldn’t, because stuff like this simply didn’t happen to Alphas.

It just didn’t.

Alphas were the warriors and guardians, strong, courageous, successful, and proud, an Alpha just like Talia Hale, in short.

Alphas didn’t mooch off their Omegas, forcing them to work to pay the bills even in the later stages of pregnancy.

Alphas didn’t get hit by Omegas – if anything, they were the ones who did the abusing, because they were so much more physically powerful.

Alphas most certainly weren’t ra… Alphas never had sex they didn’t want because that simply wasn’t how it worked.

It was, in fact, basically impossible to happen to Alphas and Derek was so deeply ashamed he couldn’t stomach the thought of running home to cry on his mother’s shoulder, having to admit how much he’d failed.

Having to admit how much he’d fucked up everything, actually, dropping out of university a semester short of his degree, with a baby on the way, a below minimum wage job, and completely dependent on his Omega at the age of 22.

So he didn’t pick up the phone, knowing deep down that the point of no return had come and gone.

A couple more weeks went by, Kate’s belly started growing in earnest, and Derek tried to focus on the child within, the reality that he was actually going to be a father all the more tangible to him, now that he could see their baby rounding out Kate’s belly even through her clothes.

At night, he watched Kate’s stomach gently move up and down while she slept, holding on to the happy anticipation that he’d get to feel the baby kick soon.

He told her, too, on one of the rare nights that she was in an affectionate mood and allowed him to cuddle her on the couch.

It probably shouldn’t have been a surprise to Derek when, a month later, she casually mentioned in passing that the baby had been kicking up a storm for days now, feigning surprise when he wasn’t quite able to hide his hurt over having been denied that moment of sharing his joy with her.

He tried to be affectionate with her belly after, but Kate slapped his hands away more often than not, snapping at him that she was fat and ugly and she didn’t want him to touch.

Derek stopped trying, then, emotionally exhausted from constantly being afraid of how she’d react.

When Kate finally cut down her work hours, Derek picked up more hours at his waitressing job, ostensibly to help out with the bills but primarily because it allowed him to stay away from home longer and longer, his anxiety growing every time he turned the key in the door lock without knowing whether he was stepping into a safe space or a hormonal warzone.

Six weeks before her due date, Kate returned from the doctor and informed Derek that she had been ordered to go on maternity leave immediately, so Derek started working double shifts to make up for the lack in income, all while running himself ragged to try and provide for her in any way he could.

Kate’s father was very wealthy and they could have asked him for money, of course, but Derek didn’t want that, his head starting to hurt whenever he imagined having to ask his quasi father-in-law to chip in because he wasn’t able to be the provider of his little growing family.

Four weeks before the due date, Derek attended the birthday party of one of his work colleagues, something he’d agreed to a long time ago and that he hadn’t wanted to cancel.

Kate encouraged him to go, rubbing her hands up and down her bulging stomach and smiling when he asked her to accompany him, arguing that she wasn’t going to be able to dance anyway and that he deserved a night of fun.

Derek went to the party and tried to enjoy himself.

He had a drink, laughed at jokes, and he even allowed himself to get pulled into a dance with one of his favorite co-workers, a spunky lesbian Omega with spikey hair and a dorky smile.

He hadn’t realized how much he smelled of another Omega until he came home and Kate went absolutely ballistic.

She’d been resting on the couch when he’d walked in, but the moment he set foot into the living room she was already all up in his face, yelling at him that he was cheating on her and that he’d clearly gotten tired of her because she was so fat now.

Derek tried to defend himself but Kate didn’t listen and when her hand connected with his face her nails had caught the skin, leaving a deep scratch running from his ear all the way down to his chin.

He yelped in pain and Kate swung her arm again, this time aiming at his temple.

Derek grabbed her wrist just in time and squeezed.

Not too tightly.

Just enough to tell her to stop.

Just enough to make her understand she couldn’t do this stuff to him anymore.

Wide-eyed, Kate wrenched her arm out of Derek’s grip and stumbled backwards, panting heavily.

A moment later, she hunched over and wrapped her arms around her belly, letting out a pained cry and all but crumpling to the floor.

In the years to come, Derek would grow convinced that she’d been faking, but in the panic of the moment he couldn’t think about anything but the baby and so he rushed to her side immediately, apologizing over and over as he picked her up and carried her out to her car, panic roaring inside his chest as he drove her to the hospital.

Kate didn’t allow him to go into the examination room with her and when she finally returned Derek felt like he’d aged ten years in that waiting room, tugging at his hair and trying to brace himself for the news that he’d caused his Omega to go into labor, that she’d lost the baby because of him.

She hadn’t lost the baby, obviously, but she sure treated him like the whole thing had been his fault, giving him the cold shoulder and ignoring him for almost a week after.

Three weeks later, in the early morning hours of November 22nd, Kate went into labor for real and Derek drove her to the hospital, where he spent the next eight hours trying not to cry in that very same waiting room.

They hadn’t really talked about her plans for the birth before but Derek had just assumed that she’d want him in the room, not prepared for her to turn to him and tell him to stay outside as they’d wheeled her away.

The nurses had given him horribly judgmental looks and treated him coldly every time he asked for an update and Derek knew exactly what they were thinking.

After all, if an Omega didn’t trust her Alpha to be with her during her most vulnerable time, there had to be a pretty serious reason behind it.

They couldn’t have been farther from the truth, of course, but the pain of being denied the experience of seeing his child being born far outweighed any hurt Derek could have felt at being treated in such a manner.

It felt like an eternity had passed by the time they finally came to get him, leading him past Kate’s door and straight into the nursery.

The Omega nurse on duty took one look at his puffy red eyes and undoubtedly pale and worn face and schooled her expression from neutral into warm and concerned, gently grabbing his elbow and guiding him to the basinet.

“Congratulations, Mr. Hale. This is your son,” she said, lifting a tiny bundle out of the basinet and placing him into his arms, making sure he was supporting the baby’s little head.

For a brief, horrible moment, Derek felt nothing but despair.

He’d tried so hard to lay no blame on the child for the past eight and a half months, to never see it as the as the key to the lock that would shackle him to Kate for the rest of his life.

He’d tried his hardest but he hadn’t always succeeded and for that first very brief moment, all these feelings were rushing to the surface, making his ears buzz and his heart beat faster in his panic.

Then, the baby opened his eyes and Derek … Derek fell in love.

The baby opened his eyes and Derek felt as if the vice that had been caging his ribcage in had suddenly burst open, allowing his lungs to expand for the first time since that horrible night that had altered his life forever.

The baby’s eyes shimmered Alpha red and Derek flashed his own eyes right back, every cell of his body ringing with his instincts when the baby grabbed his finger.

Mine.

Son.

Protect.

It was the last thought in particular that echoed in his mind over and over; a vow that Derek knew he would never break for as long as he lived.

“I love you,” he whispered, pressing a soft kiss against the baby’s little fist, still tightly wrapped around Derek’s finger.

“I’m going to keep you safe.”

It was the most important promise Derek had ever made.

It was also going to be the hardest and most painful to keep.

 

==================

 

Derek was convinced Kate had only allowed him to choose the name because she’d already gained control of every other aspect of their lives.

However, instead of second-guessing her decisions he focused on the unexpected gift she’d given him and took his time, holding his baby boy close to his chest and mouthing name after name, until he’d finally found the one that felt and sounded right.

Kate surprised him even more when she allowed Derek to give Caleb his last name, which he hadn’t been expecting at all, given that they weren’t legally mated yet.

They took Caleb home from the hospital after three days and Derek spent the first night just staring at him in his crib, his heart filled with wonder and love.

Caleb looked like a carbon copy of his Alpha father, his little head covered in black hair, his long dark lashes fluttering against chubby little cheeks, and his little legs twitching every now and then, surprised at the wide, big world around him even in his sleep.

Caleb was the most beautiful baby Derek had ever seen and he spent hours upon hours holding him close to his chest, kissing his little head, nuzzling against his soft baby hairs, and inhaling his soothing baby smell.

He was exhausted but happy every time he got up during the night to change him or feed him, a task he was able to mostly do by himself because Kate had struggled with nursing and stopped ten days after leaving the hospital.

Derek appreciated those bonding moments, even though they’d come at the high price of Kate’s frustration about not being able to breastfeed.

She’d been angry and lashed out at Derek, accusing him of not helping out enough at home and causing her to be under so much stress that her body couldn’t nourish their son.

With his wailing, hungry baby in his arms, Derek had felt like crying, too, silently apologizing to him over and over and figuring that yes, this was probably his fault, too, just like he’d already fucked up everything else in his life.

When Caleb was four weeks old, Derek went back to work full time and he missed his son achingly every minute he spent away from him, hurrying to get home from work every day and telling himself the anxiety in his gut was because he hadn’t seen his baby all day … not because he was afraid of leaving Caleb alone with Kate.

It was a horrible thought, a positively immoral thought, a thought so forbidden that Derek felt like the worst person on the planet every time he had to stop himself from imagining his Omega doing …

No.

No, no, no.

Derek decided he wasn’t going to even waste a second entertaining the thought that the mother of his precious little baby could hurt him just as she’d hurt his Alpha father.

No.

Kate loved their baby.

She did.

And in the four weeks during which Kate was home alone and took care of their baby during the day, Derek absolutely didn’t check his little boy all over the minute he got home and volunteered to change Caleb’s diaper.

He didn’t.

He also didn’t breathe a deep sigh of relief when Kate went back to work and suggested that he quit his job, arguing that someone had to stay with the baby during the day and they couldn’t well afford daycare, now that they’d had to spend so much money on hospital bills.

No.

He didn’t.

 

=================

 

For about two months, things calmed down as much as they could with a newborn baby thrown into the mix.

During the day, Caleb was mostly fine, sleeping in his pram when Derek took him outside to run errands and snuffling contentedly in Derek’s arms after he’d fed him a bottle of milk, his chubby little tummy warm and happy and his little yawns the cutest thing Derek had ever seen.

Derek spent hours cuddling his son in the rocking chair in the corner of his and Kate’s bedroom during those months, his little body a solid weight in Derek’s arms and his calming presence drowning out even the buzzing noises of New York City.

He experienced Caleb’s first smile in that rocking chair, the weight of his son’s big and trusting eyes resting heavily on Derek’s shoulders even as his heart soared with joy.

He took pictures with his phone, his finger hesitating over the button for a long time when he deliberated sending them to his family and finally telling them about their first grandchild.

Eventually, he dropped the phone and hid his face in the crook of his arm, not wanting his son to hear his sobs.

During the nights, Caleb was a lot fussier, and it took Derek a while to realize that his son got upset every time Kate came home in a bad mood, as if he could somehow sense the tension in the air.

When Caleb was four months old, Kate came home in an exceptionally nasty mood, her features tight with anger and her voice so sharp it could have cut glass.

Derek was so on edge he almost burned dinner, not paying attention because he’d kept one ear to the living room at all times, listening to Kate playing with their son and holding his breath every time her voice got a bit louder.

That night, Derek spent almost two hours walking back and forth with a very fussy baby, trying hard to think happy thoughts so his son wouldn’t pick up on his own tension as well.

When the baby finally fell asleep in his crib next to their bed, Derek brushed his teeth as quietly as possible, dumped his shirt in the hamper, changed into his sleeping pants, and collapsed onto the covers like a sack of potatoes.

He closed his eyes, ready to pass out and desperately hoping that Kate wouldn’t pick a fight with him.

“It’s been two and a half months.”

Derek took a deep breath and opened his eyes, propping himself up on his elbows so he could look at his Omega.

“Two and a half months?”

“The doctors told us we could start having sex again six weeks after I had the baby. That was two and a half months ago. Why haven’t you tried to touch me?”

Derek opened his mouth and closed it again, not sure what he was supposed to say to the woman kneeling next to him on the bed and staring at him with an ugly expression of hurt and outrage.

He took another deep breath, feeling twice as tired as he’d had before Kate had opened her mouth.

“It’s been seven months, actually. You haven’t let met touch you since you were seven months pregnant. You literally scratched my damn hand bloody the last time I tried to initiate something, so I just figured …”

“You figured what? That you’d decide to stop trying? That you didn’t want me anymore? That I got too fat and disgusting for you? That you couldn’t deal with all these fucking stretch marks? That I’m still too fat for you, even though I’ve been busting my ass at the company gym to be sexy for you again? That I wasn’t doing my hardest to get back to where I was before the pregnancy? Is that what you figured? Derek?”

“Can you … that’s not what I was going to say and you know it, damn it, why are you trying to …”

“Fuck you!” Kate snarled, swinging one leg over Derek’s waist and dropping her weight on his groin, tugging off her shirt with jerky movements.

“So you’re grossed out by this, hmm? Can’t get it up for your Omega anymore? I gave you a fucking child and this is how you repay me?”

“Kate, please, calm down, you’re going to wake Caleb, you’re …”

Kate dug her nails into the sensitive skin just below his pecs and Derek hissed, slapping her hands away.

“Don’t, you’ll wake Caleb and then …”

“That’s all you think about these days, isn’t it? Caleb! Caleb, Caleb, Caleb, all you care about is Caleb, you don’t give a fuck about my needs or how I’m feeling! You’re a pathetic Alpha, I don’t know why I ever bothered with you, you’re just a sad, little loser who couldn’t even graduate from a mediocre college! God, what the hell was I thinking when I let you get me pregnant?”

For a brief moment, Derek wasn’t able to breathe, his ears ringing and his vision going black.

“When you let me?” Derek got out through gritted teeth when he’d finally gotten his breath back, staring at her with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“When you let me? When you fucking let m…”

She slapped him hard across the mouth, his teeth clacking together painfully.  

“Do not use that tone with me, Derek!” she hissed, pressing her hand on his mouth when he tried to speak again.

“Don’t!” she warned him, pushing down onto his nose and mouth harder and cutting off his air supply completely.

With his vision going black from lack of oxygen, Derek reacted on instinct and threw her off, making her tumble over the side of the bed and hit the floor with a loud thunk.

For a moment, the room was silent, save for the quiet little whimpers Caleb let out in his sleep.

Then, she pulled herself up and crawled back onto the bed, her eyes glinting Omega gold and her lips drawn in a cruel smirk.

“You shouldn’t have done that, Derek. Oh no, you shouldn’t have done that.”

“I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry, I should have never …”

“Did you know that abusive Alphas who aren’t mated to their Omegas don’t have a chance in hell of keeping their kids?”

Kate’s voice was cold but the expression in her eyes was heated, as if she’d finally found the right weapon to finish off Derek for good.

“What do you think a judge would do if he heard that you just threw the mother of your child on the floor? That you raised your hand to your Omega while your baby was sleeping right next to you? Do you really think you’d ever see Caleb again?”

“Kate, I’m so fucking sorry, please don’t …”

“Please don’t what? Call the cops? Tell my father? Are you trying to make me lie for you, Derek?”

Please, I never … I wanted … I couldn’t …”

“Shut up!”

Derek clamped his mouth shut, his belly cold with terror and his eyes switching rapidly back and forth between his Omega and his baby, more than aware that everything Kate had just said was true.

“I’m sorry. I’m … please, Kate, I’ll do anything!” he whispered, the words tasting like bile in his mouth and his eyes burning with tears when Kate grinned.

“Damn right you will … Sweetie.”

When she hooked her fingers under the elastic band of his shorts and tugged them off, Derek lifted his hips without a word of protest.

When she cupped his flaccid member and curled her lips in disgust, Derek quickly reached between his legs and stroked himself roughly, willing his body to get hard and fighting frightened tears all the way through.

When she finally sunk down onto his erection and started moving, Derek dug his fingers into the mattress and looked at the ceiling, his gut wrenching with nausea at the memory of Kate’s vicious expression.

When she pressed her nails against his chest and scratched, Derek let out a gasp of pain, pressing his fist against his mouth when she reminded him to be silent.

When she scratched the sensitive skin on his inner thighs, Derek was no longer able to stop the tears but his fist remained firmly pressed against his mouth, so he wouldn’t make a sound and wake his baby boy.

She rode him hard and fast, scratching him over and over and Derek thought there was no way he was going to be able to knot her, right until his body’s biological urges kicked in and betrayed him.

Locked inside of her, Derek couldn’t escape her harsh words, threats, and insults, punctuated with sharp pinches of his nipples.

Eventually, she got off of him, leveling him with a truly disgusted glare and pinching his frenulum him with her sharp nails, making him whimper in pain and embarrassment.

“Don’t ever raise your hand to me again. Next time, I willcall the police and you’ll never see Caleb again!”

Derek hadn’t really trusted and believed Kate for a long time now.

On this one though … yes, on this one, Derek trusted her one hundred percent.

 

==============

 

The first time it had happened, Kate had been in heat, making her act out of instinct rather than malicious intent.

The first time it had happened, Derek couldn’t have possibly left her, not when his Alphahood had been severely compromised at the sight of a heat-feverish Omega in pain.

The second time it had happened, Kate had been in full control of her mental faculties and she’d known exactly what she’d been doing.

The second time it had happened, Derek could have easily left her, could have thrown her off and walked out on her then and there, taking his baby and running as far away from her as he possibly could.

He hadn’t though, and as he went through the motions in the days that followed, Derek could only think about one thing.

I was raped, Derek thought when he bought groceries, absentmindedly tickling Caleb’s chin and forcing himself to smile when the baby cooed.

My Omega raped me, Derek thought when he took Caleb on a jog in his running stroller, smiling at the Omegas who passed by him and complimented him on his beautiful baby.

I was raped while my son slept next to me, Derek thought when he prepared Caleb’s milk, his hands shaking so hard he had to step back from the stove at one point to breathe.

Your mother raped me, Derek thought when he fed his son, gently rocking him back and forth and wondering how he was supposed to raise his son into strong, confident Alpha, when he himself was an utterly defective model.

It was my fault, Derek thought when he undressed Kate after a long hard day at work, cupping her breasts in his hands and kissing down her belly, almost back to what it had been before the pregnancy.

If he’d only paid more attention to her, if he’d lived up to the expectations he’d had for himself, maybe Kate wouldn’t have felt like she needed to take what she was owed by force.

Is it even rape if I came? Derek thought when he knotted her, looking at the bed frame and avoiding the triumphant expression on her face.

I could have stopped her at anytime, Derek thought when he took a shower after, scrubbing his legs and groin until his skin was burning.

This doesn’t happen to Alphas, Derek thought when he stopped by his old work place to show off Caleb, accepting compliments with a smile and assuring everyone that everything was fine.

I wasn’t raped, Derek thought when he lay awake at night, his heart pounding at even the thought of her hand between his legs.

I wasn’t raped.

I wasn’t!

 

===============

 

The second time Derek got close to leaving Kate was on a day when Caleb was eleven months old and crying constantly, feverish and in pain because he was working hard on four teeth at the same time.

Seeing his baby in so much discomfort made Derek’s heart hurt and he was more on edge than usual, barely paying any attention to Kate because he was so focused on their son.

“Can you make him stop crying for one second, god! I had a fucking hard day at work, I don’t need this right now!”

Kate threw her hands up into the air in exasperation and Derek’s grip tightened on his upset baby, who was draped over his chest and screaming so loudly his head was beet red and radiating heat against Derek’s neck.

“He’s in pain, Kate! It’s not like he’s doing this on purpose, he’s had a really fucking hard day, too!”  

He bounced on his feet and rubbed the baby’s back in soothing circles, feeling like crying himself when Caleb only wailed louder.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Kate snapped, her hands gesturing in a wide circle as she spun around the kitchen.

“Did you at least make dinner? I’m starving!”

“I tried!” Derek snapped back, glancing ruefully at the half-cooked and long gone cold rice he’d been planning to fix into a nice risotto before Caleb had woken up from his basically five-second nap to start crying again.

“Jesus!” Kate groaned, making a grab for the bottle of wine Derek had planned to use for the risotto and marching out of the kitchen.

Caleb’s wailing got even louder, his entire body a tight ball of misery, and Derek quickly focused back on his little boy, desperate to help him but not quite sure how.

“Shhhh, shhhhh,” Derek tried to soothe his son, walking up and down with him and talking to him as calmly and quietly as he could.

Caleb was far from calming down, however, whimpering and pressing his fist against his mouth.

“I know little bear, I know,” Derek told him, keeping his left hand tightly on the baby’s back so he could wash his right hand for a little gum massage.

When he sat down in the rocking chair in their bedroom, Caleb stared up at him with big, tear-filled hazel eyes, looking like he was wondering why his papa wasn’t helping him in his time of need.

Derek kissed his feverish forehead and then got to work, massaging his son’s gums and breathing out a sigh of relief when the tension in the baby’s belly began to lessen and he relaxed into Derek’s arms, clearly tuckered out from all the crying.

He was still whimpering a little but he’d calmed down, his eyes slowly drooping shut and little yawns escaping his tiny mouth.

“There you go,” Derek whispered, gently rocking back and forth and hoping that Caleb would fall asleep soon, so he could actually go and maybe finish dinner before Kate finished the entire bottle by herself.

“Fucking finally!”

“Shhh! He’s almost asleep!”

Derek didn’t look up when Kate came closer, her steps a little off and the smell of alcohol wafting off of her.

“Don’t you fucking shush me!”

Kate was clearly drunk, but she still managed a good aim.  

Derek let out a startled scream when something solid connected with the side of his head, making him see stars for a terrifying moment before he was able to shake himself out of it.

His grip on Caleb tightened and he staggered out of the chair, trying to get space between himself and Kate, who was holding the wine bottle in her hand and looking like she wasn’t quite sure what had just happened.

“Are you fucking insane?” Derek exclaimed, his eyes flaring red as he felt a trickle of blood run down his temple.

Caleb was crying again but Derek couldn’t deal with that right now, staring at Kate with so much anger and contempt inside him that he could barely get out the words.

“You could have fucking broken the glass and it would have gotten on the baby, what the hell were you thinking, hitting me with a glass bottle out of fucking nowhere?”

“You provoked me!” Kate screeched, smashing the glass bottle on the ground and finally succeeding in breaking it.

“You do not fucking shush me, Derek Hale, I am paying for this place and I’m the one who decides what goes on in here!”

“You could have HURT OUR BABY!” Derek roared back, taking a step back when Kate tried to approach.

“Don’t touch him! Don’t come fucking near him! I’m done, you hear me! I’ve had enough! This is it, you went too far!”

When Kate took another step towards them Derek had to hold on to Caleb tightly with both hands so he wouldn’t do something very stupid, his fear for his child and determination to protect his little one overriding any other instinct.

He took multiple deep breaths, trying to calm down enough to speak without yelling, and when he finally got himself back under control, Kate was watching him silently, her eyes glinting Omega gold and her mouth set in a firm line.

“Go! Go sleep on the couch tonight! We’re going to talk about this tomorrow,” Derek told her through his teeth, holding her gaze until she let out an ugly snort, her features contorting in disgust.

“Fuck you!” she slurred, almost falling over the rocking chair when she turned to stumble back into the living room.

The moment she was out, Derek closed the door and locked it, feeling like a prisoner in his own home but knowing it was necessary to protect his helpless child from his mother.

“I’m sorry, little bear! I’m so fucking sorry!”

Caleb’s wails had one again tapered down to tired little hiccups and sobs, his little body shaking against Derek’s chest when the Alpha crawled onto the bed and snuggled him close.

“I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry,” Derek repeated over and over, wincing when the wound on his head started stinging.

When Caleb had finally fallen asleep, Derek inspected the damage in the master bathroom, gritting his teeth as he cleaned away the dried blood and decided the wound didn’t need stitching.

The apartment was quiet now, but Derek didn’t unlock the door, figuring that he didn’t need Kate to stop him from doing what he had to do.

By the time Caleb woke up the next morning, Derek had caught barely two hours of sleep, having spent almost the entire night packing and organizing.

He hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Kate he was done.

The blood smears on his son’s pajamas were an undeniable testament to how urgently he needed to leave the woman who’d now destroyed almost everything he’d ever held dear.

She wasn’t going to destroy his son, however, the most precious thing in Derek’s life and the only person in the world the Alpha would have died for without a second’s thought.

She wasn’t going to destroy Caleb, Derek was going to make sure that wouldn’t happen, but he needed to leave in order to keep his baby safe.

She wouldn’t even miss him, Derek thought as he washed the baby, changed him, and dressed him in a new jumper, wondering if she’d spent more than an hour paying attention to their son ever since she’d gone back to work.

Nevertheless, he held the baby tightly as he walked into the kitchen, ready for her to jump at him and try to hit him again as he prepared Caleb’s bottle.

His little boy was sleepy, still worn out from his crying marathon, and his head was tucked securely into the crook of Derek’s neck, his little lashes fluttering against Derek’s skin as he was fighting to stay awake.

Derek pressed his nose against Caleb’s head, inhaling his sweet baby powder smell and trying to steel himself for the hard conversation he was going to have to have.

Caleb was his strength and his reason and Derek needed to keep him close, the Alpha still prowling right under the surface and ready to lash out at Kate in a way that he knew he would forever regret.

When Kate finally stepped into the kitchen her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was wild, as if she’d spent all night tugging at it.

“I’m so sorry,” she said softly before Derek had the chance to speak, her voice more subdued than Derek had ever heard her.

“What I did was terrible. I’m sorry.”

“You could have hurt him,” Derek replied coldly, shifting Caleb in his arms so he could feed him.

“That bottle could have exploded easily and glass shards could have gotten into his eyes. You could have blinded our son and for what? What was worth putting our baby in that kind of danger?”

“Nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Kate replied, glancing up at him through her blonde curls with big, mournful eyes, looking like a renaissance painting of remorse come to life.

“You’re right. Nothing would be worth him getting hurt. That’s why I have to go.”

“Where do you want to go? Do you want to move in with your parents? They haven’t spoken to you in almost two years, do you really think they’d just welcome you back like that?”

Kate snapped her mouth shut, as if she hadn’t meant to say that out loud, and Derek swallowed down the now familiar hurt, briefly closing his eyes to compose himself.

“No. I was thinking about going to a motel while I’m looking for a new apartment. We can work out the child support details later. I’m done, Kate. I’ve forgiven you more than I should have, but this is unforgivable. We’re done.”

Derek stared at her calmly, his eyes hard and his lack of tears clearly unnerving Kate, who was fidgeting back and forth on her chair and restlessly playing with her fingers.

“What if I did therapy?” she finally asked, her shoulders dropping and her head bent forward, her fingers clasped so tightly Derek could see her knuckles whiten.

“I know I’ve been short tempered, lately. Work has been very stressful and I keep feeling like I have to prove myself to everyone there. They stopped giving me challenging assignments when I got back after having Caleb. Did you know that? They didn’t appreciate that I got pregnant only three months into working there and I’m pretty sure they now think I’m just going to keep popping out the babies like some fucking Omega stereotype. It’s unfair! I’ve been fighting this for so long and it’s gotten to the point where I’m even having trouble sleeping.”

Derek frowned.

It wasn’t an excuse for what she’d done.

No.

It definitely wasn’t an excuse for what she’d done, but when he thought back over the past couple of months, a lot of things started making sense.

Had he really not noticed how genuinely upset she was after getting off of work?

Or had he been too focused on their baby to care about his Omega?

No.

He wasn’t going to go down that road again.

It wasn’t his fault.

He hadn’t been neglectful.

He wasn’t a mind reader; there was no way he could have known.

“What? You never said anything, why would you keep something like that to yourself?”

“I didn’t want to worry you,” Kate said shakily, finally looking at him again with tears rolling down her face.

“You would have only felt guilty that you got me pregnant and I didn’t want to burden you with this.”

Derek flinched almost unnoticeably, no longer even trying to protest Kate’s story that they’d gotten pregnant by accident.

He’d learned his lesson the hard way and she’d reminded him of it many times since.

“What do you want to do?” Derek asked her and Kate sighed, wrapping her arms around herself.

“I’ve already looked into therapists. There’s one in Brooklyn that’s included in my health plan and who seems pretty good based on his reviews. I’m sorry I scared you like this, Derek. I should have opened up about this a long time ago. And I’m so terribly sorry I didn’t realize you were holding Caleb. I was so drunk I just didn’t see him. I would have never hurt our baby on purpose. I know you probably don’t believe me right now, but I beg you, please don’t ever think I’d hurt Caleb! I love him so much! My precious little boy!”

More tears were running down Kate’s cheeks and Derek felt his resolve weaken, her tears a kryptonite that he’d not yet found a resistance to.

“Please stay. Please give me a chance. I don’t want Caleb to have to sleep in some shady motel while you look for a new apartment, not when he’s got his crib and all of his toys here at home. I’m going to sleep on the couch for a couple of night, alright? You call the shots Derek, I trust you to do what’s best for our boy. I love you both so much! You’re my world! I’d do anything to keep you!”

Caleb let out a questioning coo and Derek kissed his forehead, noticing with relief that the baby no longer had a fever.

He stared down into his son’s big, trusting eyes, suddenly no longer quite as sure what the right thing to do was.

Kate was right – babies needed stability and Caleb had a comfortable home here, a home that was warm, filled with toys, and sufficiently baby-proofed, now that he was crawling around everywhere and beginning to pull himself up.

If he watched him a little closer when Kate was home … if he paid a little more attention to his Omega’s needs and didn’t let things get as bad as they had last night … if Kate kept her promise to go to therapy and work through her anxieties and anger issues … maybe … just maybe he could keep their little family unit together.

“If you ever hurt him again I’m gone, do you understand me? This is the last strike. This is your last chance.”

“Thank you,” Kate breathed, hesitating for a moment before she got up and stepped towards Derek, careful not to touch Caleb when she wrapped her arms around Derek’s waist and hid her shoulder against his chest.

“I want us to be a happy family. That’s not too much to ask, is it?” she whispered barely audibly and Derek let out a heavy sigh.

He, too, wanted a happy family, a home filled with love for Caleb to grow up in and parents who loved each other and cherished their little boy.

He wanted Caleb to have his Omega mother in his life and he wanted him to be able to look up to her, because – deep down – Derek knew that he didn’t have all that much to offer, having neither savings nor a degree that would ever get him a well-paying job.

All he had to offer was unconditional love, but love wasn’t going to pay the bills or put food on the table and Derek needed Kate, as much as it pained him to acknowledge it.

Not intimately.

No.

Derek hadn’t truly wanted sex with her ever since the heat that had gotten her pregnant, but he did need her financially, needed the security she was offering him and their little boy and he needed the apartment that was going to be his baby’s home.

He didn’t really have a choice but give her a last chance.

He hadn’t had a choice in a very long time.

“You’ll go to therapy as often as necessary. You’ll have to prove to me that you want to change,” he told Kate, kissing her head and wondering if he’d just made a terrible mistake.

As usually, he had.

However, he wouldn’t realize that until four months from now.

 

====================

 

For four months, things went well.

For four months, Derek never let down his guard but he did notice a gradual improvement in Kate’s attitude, proving to him that she was serious about her therapy and desire to be a better partner and mother.

For Derek, that meant that Kate started acknowledging him for all the work he did around the home and with Caleb, something she’d started to take for granted before.

She showed genuine interest in how his day with Caleb had gone, brought home treats she knew he liked from the bakery near her work, and she didn’t complain if she had to take care of some of the errands Derek hadn’t gotten around to during the day, because essentially having a baby for a life-partner made for a pretty unpredictable schedule.

In bed, she was affectionate with him and encouraging him to ask for things, praising him for being such a good Alpha and rewarding him if he’d had a particularly stressful day with Caleb.

For a while – a long while, a much too long while – Derek hadn’t thought he’d ever really want to have sex again, but with Kate being so gentle and not pushing for anything, Derek found himself desiring her again, the old flame still somehow alive, even after everything she’d put him through.

She’d gone through her last heat two weeks before the big fight, which meant that Derek could take it slow, without having to worry that her next heat was coming up and they maybe wouldn’t be in a good place yet.

For Caleb, meanwhile, Kate’s attempts at bettering herself meant that his mother spent more time with him and was more patient with him and Derek could tell that his baby was soaking up those Omega bonding hormones like he’d been starving for them.

Now that there wasn’t so much tension in their home, Caleb’s development really kicked off and soon he was not only pulling himself up but also taking his first wobbly steps, happily babbling words that made little sense and looking mightily proud of himself whenever Kate or Derek swept him up and showered him with kisses and snuggles.

When they went to visit Kate’s family, the Omega couldn’t stop talking about how well Caleb was doing and how devoted Derek was to their little family, which Derek appreciated a lot, even though he couldn’t quite ignore the little pitying glances his quasi-brother-in-law Chris occasionally sent his way.

Caleb still looked like a carbon copy of Derek and Kate seemed quite pleased with how handsome their little boy was, proudly showing him off during family strolls in central park or at the playground, where she basked in the other Omega parents’ compliments.

Derek always accompanied her, usually the only Alpha in sight, but he didn’t mind the curious frowns one bit.

It wasn’t that he didn’t trust her to be alone with Caleb – she’d shown that she was willing to work on her issues and Caleb had started seeking out her arms more and more, which Derek knew he wouldn’t have done if he’d been afraid of his mother.

He still gravitated towards Derek, still sought out his papa when he was feeling sick or when he was tired, but he was finally developing a bond with Kate that Derek wanted him to have dearly, firmly of the opinion that babies could never have enough people of who loved them.

Still … it couldn’t hurt to be a little cautious, could it?

Yes, Derek thought he was being very reasonable.

For four months, Derek allowed himself to once again hope for the best, having yet again adjusted his own personal definition of what ‘best’ entailed for his little family.

Then, Derek’s attention slipped for a second.

It was all Kate needed.

 

==================

 

On the day of the third and final time Derek told Kate he wanted to leave her, Derek woke up feeling refreshed and relaxed, his limbs loose and his heart content after a night of gentle lovemaking.

When he went to wake Caleb his son was already awake, adorably rubbing his eyes and holding up his chubby arms for his morning snuggle.

“Good morning, little bear,” Derek grinned, bending over the crib and nuzzling his nose against Caleb’s forehead.

The toddler giggled, patting his bearded cheeks and happily cooing “Papa.”

“Are you ready for a bath, you little stinky bear?” Derek chuckled, twitching his nose exaggeratedly to make Caleb laugh and Caleb clapped his hands together in delight, repeating “Inky!” all the way into the bathroom.

Bath time was one of Derek’s favorite past time activities and Caleb loved the bubbles, foam, and water just as much, his eyes wide and full of wonder every time he discovered that splashing his little hands made the foam fly through the air.

When his son was dressed and ready for the day, Derek put him on his hip and brushed his teeth quickly, making faces in the mirror and laughing when Caleb unsuccessfully tried to imitate spitting into the sink.

Kate was already gone for work but she’d left Derek a fresh pot of coffee and a plate of waffles in the kitchen, complete with a syrupy heart drawn on top.

“Look what Mommy made us!” Derek told Caleb, making sure he got a good picture of the toddler beaming over his stack of waffles to send to Kate.

It was the end of March and finally warming up, so Derek decided to take Caleb to the park, watching him run around on the grass like a drunken little duck and cheering him on every time Caleb turned back to grin at him proudly.

When they arrived back home, Caleb took a much deserved little nap and Derek decided to follow suit, so father and son spent an hour and a half resting on the couch, the toddler’s little hands holding on to Derek’s shirt tightly and Derek’s hand safely placed on Caleb’s back.

Derek had just gotten started with dinner and was humming a little tune when Kate finally came home from work.

The moment he kissed her, the Alpha could tell that something was wrong.

“Did you have a bad day at work?” he asked, going from relaxed to on edge in a few seconds, and Kate sighed deeply, plopping down into a chair with a grunt.

“Don’t ask! I just want to spend a nice evening with my family and I don’t want to have to think about these idiots.”

“Okay,” Derek said quickly, but when he turned back to the stove he was no longer humming, wanting to keep his attention on Caleb and Kate as much as possible.

“Hey munchkin,” he heard Kate say and Caleb cooed happily in reply, nothing in his voice indicating that he’d picked up on his mother’s sour mood.

Still, Derek hurried to finish dinner, very deliberately deciding against the glass of wine he’d decided for them to have with the meal, just to make sure Kate wouldn’t fall back into old habits.

If Kate noticed she didn’t say anything about it, her expression still a bit tense but her voice cheerful as she talked to their son, asking him about his day and trying to coax more words out of him.

When the meal was over, Derek told her to go relax in the living room, finally daring to lower his guard, now that dinner had gone off without a hitch.

Derek was drying the dishes when he heard the smash and he didn’t think, his gut growing cold with panic as he dropped the dish towel and raced towards the living room, already well aware what he was going to find.

He’d been telling Kate for weeks to move the porcelain figurine she’d inherited from her grandmother, now that Caleb was walking and stumbling all over the place and could easily reach it.

Kate hadn’t listened to him, however, arguing that the figurine had stood on her grandmother’s living room table for decades and she was going to continue the tradition.

Derek had given up eventually, figuring he’d just have to watch Caleb closely when he was in the living room.

Kate obviously hadn’t, which was why Derek was in no way surprised to find the figurine smashed to pieces on the floor, right in front of his very startled baby boy.

Caleb’s lips were already wobbling, more out of fear than understanding what he’d done, but all Derek saw were the porcelain shards on the floor, right next to his son’s vulnerable feet.

He lurched forward, intending to keep him from stepping on the shards.

However, Kate was faster.

“Bad boy!” she screamed at Caleb, roughly grabbing the toddler by his arms and yanking him away from the debris.

“Don’t!” Derek yelled, but he was too late.

The slap echoed through the living room and Caleb fell backwards, his vulnerable head hitting the carpeted floor with a muffled thump.

Derek had cradled him in his arms and moved to the other end of the room before Caleb could even start screaming.

When he did, though, it was the most excruciating sound Derek had ever heard, filled with hurt, fear, and betrayal.

There were big tears rolling down his reddened cheek, Kate’s handprint visible from space, and Derek … Derek was done.  

Kate was staring at him from across the room, her hands going up defensively.

“Derek …” she began but Derek shook his head.

“Don’t bother,” he said coldly, turning around and marching to their bedroom, his howling baby clinging to him and still crying so hard that he could barely catch a breath.

Packing one handedly wasn’t easy but Derek was moving on autopilot, haphazardly throwing some of his and Caleb’s clothes into his gym bag, followed by his son’s favorite blanket, his snuggle giraffe, and a couple of binkies.

“Derek, listen to me!” Kate tried, appearing at his side and tugging at his arm, but Derek shoved her away from him, his eyes glowing red as he shielded Caleb from her view.

He could feel a bump on the back of Caleb’s head and for the first time in his life a sensation of pure hatred coursed through him, making him physically nauseous with its intensity.

“I’m done,” he told her coldly, staying calm only because he needed to focus on his hurt baby.

“I didn’t meant to, I’m sorry Derek, I …”

“Save it!” Derek snapped, once again wrenching his arm out of her grasp and hurrying to finish his packing.

Kate let out a whimper but Derek only snorted, no longer believing her show of remorse.

Frustrated, Kate kicked against the dresser but Derek ignored that, too, making sure he was keeping enough distance between them as he went to zip up the gym bag.

She went into the bathroom, then, and Derek could her hear rummaging frantically in the cabinets, followed by the rip of plastic and a little hiss of pain.

He didn’t care to investigate and grabbed his gym bag with one hand, still trying to soothe his hurt baby as he hurried into the kitchen to pack some of his food and a couple of bottles.

He was sure he’d probably forgotten something important but his need to get out of the apartment was growing unbearable, the urge to get his son as far away from the danger as possible making him literally see red.

He’d just put on his shoes and shoved his wallet into his jacket when Kate emerged from the bedroom, her gait wobbly and her eyes glowing Omega gold, a light sheen of sweat on her forehead and giving her a feverish glow.

“Derek! Please! You can’t leave me! Not now! Derek please I need you, I need you, I …”

“What the fuck!”

Stunned, Derek almost dropped the gym bag, his nose instantly assaulted with the heady smell of heat pheromones.

“Derek, please, I think I’m in heat, I …”

“How the hell, you aren’t due for at least six more weeks, what the fuck, what did you do what …”

Derek’s voice trailed off, his eyes widening in horror as he stared at Kate’s side, where her shirt had ridden up to reveal a little red spot.

Derek had spent enough times at the pediatrician’s office in the past one and a half year to spot a needle wound when he saw it and his stomach went cold.

He’d never really allowed himself to suspect it.

He’d thought about it once, maybe, only to push the possibility aggressively from his mind because even at her worst he’d never expected Kate to be able to do something so utterly reckless and foolish.

It was dangerous, it could have irreparable physical consequences, and he’d never allowed himself to believe she would have knowingly risked her health just to …

Just to …

Derek stared at his baby-boy, who was looking up at him with hurt and betrayal in teary hazel eyes.

He stared at the puncture wound on Kate’s stomach, his breath coming out in harsh gasps as memories he’d tried very hard to suppress rushed to the surface.

Finally, he stared at Kate’s face, feverish and contorted with what could only be the pain of a very unnatural heat.

“Did you just … did you just fucking trigger your damn heat?”

“Derek, please, help me, I need you, I FUCKING NEED YOU, DON’T YOU DARE LEAVE ME!”

“You’re sick,” Derek whispered, his fingers shaking when he grabbed his keys and pushed the gym bag towards the door with his foot.

“You’re sick. You’re insane. Why would you do such a thing!”

“Please Derek, please! I did it for us, don’t you see? You were going to leave me last time, too, but then you stayed and we had Caleb and that was good, wasn’t it? It was so, so good! Let’s do it again, please Derek, let’s do it one more time, we can do this, I swear, it’ll be so good, I’ll make it so good for you, stay with me, please, I need you, I …”

“You … what are you saying? Kate, what the hell are you SAYING?”

He hadn’t really needed the confirmation, not after seeing the needle puncture mark.

Knowing what she had done made him feel like she’d just yanked the ground away from under him, however, his entire body shivering as the full extent of her manipulation finally became clear to him.

The bump on his baby’s head was pulsating under Derek’s hand, his son’s little body shaking with the force of his terrified sobs, and Derek looked at Kate with wide eyes.

“You just hurt our baby. You just HURT OUR BABY! How can you even think for one second that I’d give you another child for you to hurt! You’re insane! You are fucking insane! I have to go!”

He’d almost fumbled the key into the lock when she threw herself on him and slammed his head against the door, making pain explode in his temple and his vision go grey for a heart stopping moment.

“Don’t you dare!” she screeched, roughly shoving her hands down into his sweatpants and squeezing him painfully, working his flaccid cock with jerky movements and biting at his neck, paying no attention to the screeching baby in Derek’s arms.

“Don’t you dare leave me!” she hissed, using his dizziness to sink her teeth into his neck just where people placed their mating bites and the pain was so blinding that Derek snapped out of his stupor, shoving her away as far as he could.

“Don’t touch me!” Derek roared, turning back towards the door and cursing when the key slipped in his grasp once again.

Kate threw her head back and laughed and Derek was so preoccupied with getting the door open that he didn’t even see her do it, only whirled around when he heard the sound of splintering glass.

He found her staring back at him with a maniacal glint in her eye, the broken bottle neck clenched in her fist and blood pouring down her face from the self-inflicted wound on her temple.

“I’ll tell them you did it! I’ll tell them you triggered my heat, too, that you forced yourself on me! They’ll believe me, you’ll see! I’ll make sure you never see Caleb again, do you hear me? If you walk out on me right now I swear I’ll take him away forever. Do you hear me Derek? Don’t you dare leave, don’t you dare, don’t you FUCKING …

Derek ran.

He couldn’t stay in the apartment a second longer, his baby tucked into the crook of his arm and wailing and the gym back slung over his shoulder as he sprinted down the emergency staircase, not wanting to wait for the elevator and risk Kate coming at their son with the broken glass bottle in her hand.

He burst out of the front doors and turned right on the street, running for his and his son’s life, his blood pounding inside his ears and his breath ragged.

He ran until his sides ached, ran until he was getting spotty eyed, but he couldn’t stop, he had to get to the police station before Kate could call them and tell them lies.

The wound on his head was bleeding again but Derek barely noticed as he stumbled into the nearest precinct, dropping the gym bag and bending over with Caleb tightly clutched to his chest, not sure if he was going to throw up.

“Sir? Sir, what happened?”

Derek looked up and Alpha red met Omega golden eyes, the police officer standing before him wearing an expression of alarm and mistrust, her eyes flitting back and forth between Derek’s bloodied forehead and the handprint that was still visible on his sobbing baby’s face.

Derek knew he was about to take risk.

He knew there was a chance they wouldn’t believe him and he knew that he might lose Caleb as a result.

Unfortunately, he had run all out of options and he should have protected his son a long time ago.

He had to take a risk, even if it meant Caleb being taken away from him and placed into the custody of child protective services.

It was going to kill Derek but he was going to endure it – as long as it meant that Caleb was also save from her.

“Help me! Please! Help me!

 

=================

 

While Kate was busy throwing herself against the padded walls of a heat cell and howling for Derek in her heat-manic state, Derek sat in an ER, trembling all over as he answered questions.

He couldn’t hold back his whine when an Omega doctor tried to take Caleb from him, but the Alpha nurse who’d been stitching up the wound on his temple grabbed his shoulder and held on tightly, promising him that the doctor wouldn’t harm Caleb and that he was just making sure the baby hadn’t suffered a concussion.

Derek felt like he couldn’t breathe until Caleb was back in his arms, and then there were more questions, bile rising up his throat right along with the poisonous answers he’d buried deep inside for too long.

“I didn’t even know she had those shots!”

“I would have never forced her to take something like that!”

“I didn’t hit her!”

“She injured herself!”

“She hit my son!”

“I told her to move that damn figurine so many times but she didn’t and then she hurt my son!”

“She can’t have him!”

“Please don’t take him away from me!”

“He’s not safe with her!”

“Please.”

They asked him questions about the wound on his forehead, too, but Derek wasn’t too concerned about that, far more invested to make them understand that she’d hurt his tiny son and that she should never get her hands on him ever again.

On the very first night after he’d left Kate, Derek didn’t close his eyes for even a second, guarding his baby’s sleep in the hospital room where he’d been placed for a 24 hour surveillance and always keeping the door in the corner of his vision, half-expecting Kate’s family or Kate to march in there and take Caleb from him by force.

The next morning, Derek tried checking into a motel, only to find that someone had cancelled both his debit and his credit card, the latter of which was tied to Kate’s account.

Thankfully, he had enough cash left for a night and as soon as he’d dropped off the gym bag he strapped Caleb to his chest and hurried to the bank, trying to at least sort out the debit card situation, since that one was linked to his own account.

The lady at the counter shrugged her shoulders when she informed Derek that the card had been reported stolen last night and he would have to wait until the new card was mailed to his address.

“I don’t live there anymore!” he tried to explain, but since he couldn’t give her an alternative address there was nothing to be done.

Shaking with anger, Derek withdrew enough cash to make it through the next week, his heart pounding painfully in his chest when he noticed how low his balance was after the bank teller had handed him the money.

Faced with the shambles of a destroyed life, Derek didn’t know where to even begin, whether he needed to find a place to sleep first or find a new job to pay for said place.

He knew one thing, however.

If he wanted to have even the slightest chance of keeping Caleb, he couldn’t allow himself to lose focus ever again.

When his son had finally fallen asleep in the unfamiliar motel room that night, Derek looked into the mirror for the first time since he’d left Kate, his skin yellow and pallid under the fluorescent lights.

His eyes were rimmed red from lack of sleep, his cheekbones were a lot more prominent than usual, and when Derek inspected the band aid over his temple he was startled to see a couple of grey hairs, which he’d never noticed before.

He let out a grim laugh, wincing when a sting of pain surged through his neck.

When he looked at the bite-mark right at the junction between shoulder and neck, his knees almost gave out.

He’d forgotten all about it, too focused on his son and answering the police’s questions and trying to get access to his money to worry much about Kate’s attempt to mark him as her mate.

Now he couldn’t stop staring at it, though, the skin raised in ugly welts and announcing his shame to the world.

When two people shared a mating bite, the partners’ respective pheromones would speed up the healing process, leaving behind not a scar but a mark, usually shaped like a diamond.

Derek hadn’t bitten Kate back, so her bite would likely leave an ugly scar, branding him as a failure for life.  

He wanted to hate her for it.

He wanted to hate her for hurting their baby, for destroying his life and for marking him as a pariah forever.

When he thought about the bump on Caleb’s head, his belly tightened with so much fury that Derek almost managed to hate her, his hands clenching into fists and his breath getting ragged as he tried to get himself back under control

Still.

Still.

There was a sick, pathetic, possibly demented part of him that still loved her.

That missed her, even though his heart sped up with terror every time he imagined her showing up at the motel and finishing what she had started.

He hated her.

He loved her.

He’d risked his baby’s safety because he loved her, because he hadn’t been able to leave when he should have.

How was he supposed to explain that to Caleb?

How could he ever make his baby understand that he’d let him get hurt because he’d been too afraid and desperate to do the right thing?

How was he supposed to explain to anyone that he stillloved and missed the woman who had manipulated, abused, and raped him for almost six years now?

How was he supposed to explain any of it when he didn’t even understand it himself?

Most importantly – how was he supposed to protect his son and raise him to be good man when Derek was a weak, pathetic loser who hadn’t even been able to protect himself?

Derek didn’t realize he was crying until he found himself sitting on the floor with his arms wrapped around his knees, rocking back and forth as he whimpered like a small child.

You can’t do this!

You can’t do anything!

You’re weak!

It’s all your fault!

He looked at Caleb, curled into a tight ball on the bed and looking small and defenseless.

No.

No, no, no!

He wasn’t going to let Kate into his head again.

He couldn’t risk it anymore.

Caleb was his reason for living, the most precious gift he’d ever gotten.

Derek was going to fight for him - even if he had no idea how.  

Chapter Text

The court granted Derek and Caleb a restraining order for six months.

Thanks to her father’s lawyer, Kate was indicted but not convicted for child endangerment and domestic assault and a trial date to revisit the custody issue was set for the end of the year.

As a condition, Kate was required to go through anger counseling and Derek almost choked on acid bile when he thought about how ‘anger’ really wasn’t the root cause of the problem.

In the months that followed, Derek spent one sleepless night after the other in a shitty, run-down apartment in Brooklyn, a tiny place that was always cold and covered in mold.

When he wasn’t worrying about Caleb catching a cold or getting sick because he was still putting everything in his mouth, Derek couldn’t stop looking at the calendar, his anxiety getting worse the closer it got to the court date.

To support his child, Derek took a job at a diner that paid below minimum wage but allowed him to take Caleb with him and Derek often pulled double shifts, running back and forth between taking and delivering orders and checking on his toddler in the break-room, where he’d been allowed to set up a little playpen.

Derek barely made enough to pay his rent and put food on the table and health care was little more than a fantasy.

However, he knew he couldn’t have afforded daycare, so he was glad to have the job, even if he often ended up working double and triple what he was actually getting paid.

His boss was taking advantage of his destitute situation, both of them aware that single Alpha fathers without a degree were not the hottest item on the job market.

Derek never complained, however, achingly aware that his little boy depended on him to take yet another hit.

At night, Derek collapsed into the twin-sized bed with Caleb at his side, the apartment too small to fit a crib and a bed at the same time.

His hands were always cracked and rough from the cheap dish washing detergent and his back and his feet often throbbed after he’d spent twelve hours standing without a chance to catch his breath.

Derek was miserable, completely at rock bottom, but he didn’t care as long as his child was thriving.

And thrive Caleb did, going through growth spurt after growth spurt and talking up a storm, his vocabulary still limited but his enunciation getting better by the day.

He was a quiet child around strangers, shy and cautious, but when he was alone with Derek, his little boy lit up like a Christmas tree, always asking for snuggles and laughing happily whenever Derek smiled at him.

In truth, Derek didn’t really have anything to smile about, but he pulled himself together for his son, desperate to make him forget what his mother had done to him.

Working at the diner came with the advantage of Caleb being spoiled by the other waiting staff and he often got little treats, so Derek never had to worry about his child going hungry.

One of his Omega colleagues had also given him her son’s hand-me down clothes for Caleb twice, so Derek wouldn’t bankrupt himself over having to get new toddler clothes.

It wasn’t the world but even the smallest bit of support meant everything to Derek, as he was more than painfully aware of the rumors that were circulating around him.

After all, he was a barely 24-year old Alpha single father who’d dropped out of school and was involved in case of domestic violence.

Derek made very sure to keep that last detail to himself, knowing deep down that people would automatically assume that he had been the abuser.

Domestic violence.

Two solitary words that seemed almost too small to describe the extent of the hell he’d been through in his relationship with Kate.

His Omega had dragged him to hell and left him there to burn.

She’d humiliated him, mocked him, and taunted him, taunted him until his self-confidence had been so low he’d actually believed every single hurtful thing she’d said about him.

She had hurt him inside and outside, assaulted him with her words and her fists.

His Omega had raped him.

His Omega had raped him and Derek hadn’t left, so she’d done it again and again, until Derek had almost become so detached from his own body that he’d merely viewed it as his best chance to keep his Omega from unleashing her destructive energy elsewhere.

Derek still couldn’t say it out loud, but he was slowly getting to a space where he could acknowledge one thing to himself with painful clarity.

It also happened to Alphas.

Derek knew that now and he’d learned in the most devastating way possible, the scars on his chest, stomach, back, and thighs constant reminders of the extent of what Kate had done to him.

According to their society, however, it didn’t happen to Alphas, so Derek stayed silent, even when his chest and stomach ached with the toxic secret he’d buried deep inside.

He didn’t think he could handle being called a liar or – worse – being laughed at.

And he couldn’t risk falling apart when his son needed him more than ever.

 

===========

 

The night before the court date, Derek didn’t sleep at all, his stomach rolling with nausea every time he thought about having to face Kate again.

His favorite colleague had agreed to watch Caleb and Derek was grateful he wouldn’t have to take him with him, a part of him convinced that Kate was going to snatch him right out of his hands if he let her get too close.

When he saw Kate again, the most overpowering emotion inside Derek was gut-wrenching sadness.

She still looked like she had when he’d first fallen in love with her, her mannerisms were still the same, and her smile was just as charming, no longer targeted towards him but at the other people in the room.

Seeing her on the other side of a court room, the two of them separated by her undeniably expensive Alpha lawyer and an Omega lawyer of dubious reputation named Jennifer whom Derek had hired off of Craigslist, Derek grieved for what he’d lost, what he’d never really had, and the life he was going to lead from here on out.

As he had suspected, Kate wanted to get joint custody and when Derek walked out of the court room two hours later, the Alpha couldn’t stop remembering the look of betrayal in his son’s eyes after his mother had hit him.

When he held Caleb close that night, Derek wanted nothing more than to take him and run as far away as he could, wondering how he was going to make it through Kate’s first supervised visit without screaming at her to go away again.

As it turned out, Derek didn’t need to scream, because Caleb had that part covered all on his own.

The moment Derek brought him to the agreed upon location, Caleb clung to him and whimpered, his sobs getting almost hysterical when he saw Kate approach.

On the next visit, the supervisor asked Derek to stay outside and Derek spent an hour of hell waiting to get his little boy back, all but convinced Kate was going to take him and escape through a window.

This time, Caleb did a lot better, and Derek actually felt guilty when the supervisor explained to him that his son had obviously picked up on his stress during the first visit.

For more than half a year, Derek dreaded these supervised visits, picking at his nails until they were bloody as he waited for his son to be returned to him unharmed and trying to avoid having to talk to Kate as best as he could.

Two months before Caleb’s third birthday, Kate regained joint custody and an agreement was reached to trade Caleb back and forth on a weekly basis.

Kate had done everything she could to convince the judge she was a devoted Omega parent, up to and including playing the role of the bereaved mother so convincingly that Derek had chastised himself for feeling dumb because he hadn’t seen through her act sooner.

She’d also given up her fancy apartment downtown and had moved to Brooklyn, close enough to Derek that both of them could take Caleb to the Pre-K school that had just recently accepted him.

Caleb cried heartbreakingly when Kate came to pick him up for the first time and Derek had to physically hold on to the edge of the door to stop himself from bolting after the car, feeling like his heart was being ripped out of his chest.

He spent the next week in a state of numbness, certain he would never see his child again and finally allowing himself to breathe when the doorbell rang at 8 PM sharp the following Sunday, just as Kate had agreed upon.

When Caleb jumped into his arms, Derek instantly began checking him over, not even bothering to greet Kate, who was looking around his small apartment with thinly veiled disgust.

“I think I saw rat poop in the hallway. Do you really think this is a good place for you to raise our son? Caleb, honey, don’t you want to tell Papa about your nice new room at Mommy’s place?”

“It’s got so many toys, Papa, even the Ninja Turtles!” Caleb told Derek excitedly, tugging at his beard to get him to pay attention.

“Did you have a good time, little bear?” Derek asked and Caleb nodded excitedly, smacking a kiss on his cheek.

“Yes Papa! I got to stay up really late and I got to eat lots of candy and Mommy made me hot cocoa with marshmallows!”

“That’s great, little bear,” Derek said with a smile, glaring at Kate when his son wasn’t looking.

“Don’t feed him too much candy,” Derek told her, an ugly laugh bubbling up inside of him that he could barely contain.

Don’t hurt him again, was what he really wanted to say, but Kate seemed to catch on regardless, her grin sharp as she flicked her long hair over her shoulders.

“I’m his mother, Derek. I know what’s good for him.”

She looked around again, curling her lip contemptuously.

“Don’t you worry about what I’m feeding him. You just worry about paying your heating bill … and maybe having that spot in the corner checked out. Looks rather moldy to me. We wouldn’t want Caleb to get sick, would we?”

“I will,” Derek said through gritted teeth, his body tensing when Kate stepped forward and placed her hands on his shoulders.

“Oh don’t be like that, Derek,” she chirped, leaning in and pressing her lips against his cheek, uncomfortably close to his mouth.

Derek didn’t say anything, feeling his son’s curious gaze weighing heavily upon him.

He kept himself together until Caleb had fallen asleep two yours later and it wasn’t until he was really sure his son was sleeping that he bolted to the bathroom to throw up.

 

==================

 

For the next two and a half years, Derek and Kate traded Caleb back and forth and if Derek hadn’t thought it was possible for things to get worse before, he was now proven wrong on a daily basis.

Since the agreement meant that he didn’t have Caleb for half of the month, Derek was free to pick up a second job that paid a little better than the diner and he was running on fumes more often than not.

He finally managed to find a slightly bigger apartment in a building without a rat infestation and he was able to put food on their table without having to worry about it as much, even though he had not a dime left at the end of the month.

Kate, meanwhile was taking care of all of Caleb’s clothes and school supplies, because their son was now in kindergarten and already learning how to read and write.

She tried to pressure Derek to move back to Manhattan multiple times, but there was no way Derek was going to be able to afford even a shoe box downtown and so he resisted, knowing full well that Kate was trying to get him to hand Caleb over to her completely.

It wasn’t going to happen, however, no matter how much chocolate or toys or fun adventures she organized for him.

For more than a year, Kate used her father’s money to spoil Caleb extensively.

She bought him toys and she took him out of school for trips to Disneyworld and Universal Studios – not always with Derek’s consent or knowledge and sometimes by forging his signature on the school forms.

Kate let Caleb do whatever he wanted, whether it was staying up until the wee hours of the morning or eating his body weight in candy.

In Derek’s opinion, she wasn’t a parent to Caleb at all.

Instead, she tried to play up the role of the fun auntie, running away from any form of actual responsibility whenever their son failed to perform the role of the picture-perfect cherubic baby-boy she wanted to show off to the outside world.

When Caleb got cranky because he hadn’t gotten enough sleep the night before, Kate got impatient and drove him back to Derek’s place, sometimes long before the end of her week and without any care about Derek’s work-schedule.

Whenever Caleb got sick after eating much more candy than his tiny tummy could handle, Kate hysterically called Derek to come and get him, refusing to drive him because she didn’t want to get vomit into her car.

On these occasions, Derek, who had been forced to sell his car a long time ago, would find himself riding the subway with a seriously miserable child, rocking him, and rubbing his upset tummy.

When Caleb would inevitably throw up in the train car – usually all over Derek – the Alpha also tried really hard not to see the glares or listen to whispered judgments about his parenting, including the occasional snotty comment about how sick children belonged in bed and not out in public.

Kate was there for the fun parts of raising a little Alpha boy.

She paid attention to him and showered him with gifts whenever he flashed his adorably dimpled, chubby-cheeked smile, or stared at his mother with admiration.

It made Derek sick to his stomach to see it, but in the beginning, Caleb truly was enamored with his Omega parent.

Derek could barely keep his smile in place when Caleb told him how pretty mommy was and how soft her hair was and how she was prettier than all the princesses he had seen at Disney world.

When it came to the rough parts, however, Kate was nowhere to be found.

She wasn’t the one who stayed up with Caleb when he whimpered and cried with an ear infection.

She wasn’t the one who changed the sheets again and again when he had the stomach flu, and she wasn’t the one who tried to wash diarrhea out of pajama pants or the carpet.

She wasn’t the one who worried about his temperature when he had a fever and she wasn’t the one who didn’t get a wink of sleep when Caleb felt so miserable that he refused to sleep in his bed and wouldn’t stop clinging to Derek, coughing so miserable his little chest was sore and Derek’s chest ached with him in sympathy.

She took him shopping for clothes but Derek took him to doctor’s appointments.

She bought him whatever he wanted and Derek had to deal with temper tantrums in the middle of the store when he couldn’t afford a bar of chocolate.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise to Derek that she was going to play the good cop to his bad cop, but he hadn’t quite anticipated the extent to which she would go to make him look bad in the eyes of their son.

For well over a year, all Caleb knew was that his Omega mother was fun, never chastised him, gave him gifts, and took him to exciting places, while his Alpha father tried to teach him manners, could barely afford more than the food on their table, and hadn’t even so much as thought about a vacation in almost three years.

As a result, Caleb started acting up with Derek, forever torn between the two very different worlds between which he was constantly being passed back and forth and overwhelmed with the ever-growing tension between his parents.

Soon, Derek started having the same nightmare over and over, dreaming that his little boy walked up to him and told him that he was going to go live with Mommy, that everything was better with Mommy, and that Papa was a failure, just like Mommy had always said he was.

The Alpha was grateful that Caleb didn’t remember how his mother had hurt him before, of course.

After all, he wanted nothing more than for his little boy to feel he was loved and protected, even if that meant Derek had to lie and smile and die a little inside every time he had to agree that Mommy was a princess.

He couldn’t help but feel increasingly bitter, however.

Kate was buying Caleb’s affection with gifts and fun trips, but Derek actually put in the parenting work, always ready to step in when the going got tough and Kate had just bolted out the door.

A year and a half into the custody agreement, the novelty seemed to have worn off for Kate, and Caleb was now almost spending two-thirds of the month with Derek, his time with Kate cut short for whatever excuse and reason the Omega could come up with.

It was seriously messing with Derek’s livelihood, because he’d already lost one job after cancelling a shift at the last minute too many times.

He was looking to lose another when he had to call in sick for the fourth time that month because Kate had just dropped off a sniveling and whiny child at his door.

When you come in on Friday, I think it is time that we discuss your employment status.

The ominous words of the text message kept going through Derek’s tired mind as he sat in bed and tried to soothe his now four year old son, who was whimpering softly because he was tired but couldn’t sleep with his nose all clogged up.

This time, Kate had dropped him off after a day and a half and when Caleb clutched Derek’s shirt and held on for dear life, Derek wondered if his son realized that he’d once again been abandoned.

Growing up, Derek had been an absolute momma’s boy, but he distinctly remembered always running to his Omega father when he was feeling sick, drawn in by their difference in pheromones even though he had been too young to understand.

As a single Alpha parent, Derek was a rarity and he knew it.

It wasn’t just because society deemed Omegas the more natural child nurturers, but there were biological factors to consider as well.

Alpha pheromones made you feel safe and protected, but Omega pheromones made you feel loved and soothed, a small biological difference that had contributed to gender roles all the way back to the stone age.

Nature versus nurture was a hot button political issue, discussed heatedly on both sides of the aisle, but even though Derek had grown up with the knowledge that Alphas and Omegas were to be treated as equal, he’d also known that certain biological differences couldn’t be discussed away.

How one acted upon those differences was a different matter altogether, of course.

Derek didn’t possess the nurturing pheromones of an Omega that could soothe a child to sleep within minutes.

He also hadn’t carried Caleb inside his body and there was a closeness that his son had shared with Kate that Derek would never understand.

Derek knew his child, however.

When Caleb had been an infant, Derek hadn’t needed Omega instincts to know whether his baby was crying because he was hungry, tired, or achy.

He’d known because he’d devoted himself to learning all there was to know about his child’s personality.

When Caleb had a tummy ache, Derek couldn’t soothe him with what some considered the magical healing powers of an Omega’s touch, but he could rub his child’s tummy just the way he needed because he’d done it a thousand times.

Had he possessed Omega pheromones, Caleb might have fallen asleep a little easier.

Might have.

However, Derek would never know, because the woman who could have used the skills nature had bestowed upon her to help their miserable child had once again dumped him on his Alpha father’s doorstep and run for the hills.

Caleb let out another miserable whimper and clutched at his belly, which felt tense under Derek’s gentle ministrations and was now gurgling ominously.

For a brief moment, Derek allowed his anger to bleed his eyes red, because there was no doubt in his mind that his child did, in fact, feel abandoned.

Kate kept offering Caleb a pinky finger of what he could have but wrenched it away whenever he tried to grab the full hand, and Derek was certain that whenever his son got sick at Kate’s place, his misery when she dumped him back at Derek’s was made all the worse for having been wrenched away from his mother’s healing touch yet again.

Derek tried to make up for it as best he could, putting in all his love, his attention, and his time to make Caleb feel better.

Just like his own parents had done with him.

Derek blinked, suddenly fighting tears when the ugly words he’d said to his family came back to him, his father’s deeply hurt face tormenting him most of all.

He hadn’t meant it.

He’d been shocked at himself the moment the words had left his mouth.

He couldn’t take them back though, too afraid and too ashamed to even try and mend the bridge he had broken, no matter how much his heart cried for his mama and papa.

In that moment, sitting in his small, run-down apartment, cradling his ill child, and wondering whether he would ever be good enough for his son, Derek missed his parents more than he had allowed himself in a very long time.

Lonely, miserable, and defeated, Derek couldn’t stop himself from imagining the look of shock on his parents’ face if they could see him now – if they could see what had become of him and how little remained of the boy they’d sent to university.

When Caleb threw up all over him and started crying, Derek couldn’t help but cry with him.

 

=================

 

On Caleb’s fifth birthday, Kate was a no-show because she’d been invited to spend a week in Hawaii with her new Alpha lover, a handsome woman named Kali who owned a clothing company and didn’t have patience for small children.

Caleb was devastated and nothing Derek did could get him to stop crying, his little face splotchy red and his expression filled with hurt and betrayal.

“I want Mommy!” he screamed over and over, big tears rolling down his cheeks.

Derek tried to soothe him, but Caleb pummeled his little fists against his Alpha father’s chest and pushed him away when Derek tried to pick him up.

“This is your fault!” Caleb screamed, hiccupping through his words and shaking like a leaf.

“You don’t want Mommy to spend time with me, you made her go away! I hate you! I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

Derek tried to remain calm but felt utterly helpless when his son threw himself on the ground and started kicking his legs against the floor, the worst tantrum he’d seen him throw since he’d been two years old.

The moment Caleb finally fell asleep that night, Derek picked up the phone and called Kate, his voice filled with fury when he barked, “What were you thinking?” in greeting.

“This is not a good time, Derek,” Kate chirped back, the sound of guitar music in the background and a quiet voice murmuring to her that Derek recognized as Kali.

“You didn’t even call him! It’s his birthday and you didn’t even take the time to fucking call him!”

“Oh is he asleep already? Gee, I’m sorry Derek, I forgot all about the time difference between New York City and Hawaii. Put him on the phone now, will you? Mommy is going to give him a big kiss!”

“He’s sleeping now!” Derek growled, his fist clenching around the phone as he tried to keep his voice low.

“Well, wake him up then!” Kate laughed, as if Derek was being silly.

“He cried all day! He cried all damn day! He wouldn’t even look at his presents or eat his cake! He just fucking cried! Do you even know how much you hurt him today? Why the hell didn’t you tell me you were in Hawaii earlier? If I’d found out earlier than via a damn text this morning, I could have at least prepared him you wouldn’t come to see him!”

“Oh poor dear. He’ll be fine, though, don’t worry. He’s a child, he doesn’t hold grudges.”

“You hurt him! He was looking forward to seeing you today and you didn’t even bother to call!”

“But Derek,” Kate laughed, the mocking evident in her voice.

“Would you really have blown off an all expenses paid vacation to a luxury hotel in Hawaii just so you could sit in a ratty-ass apartment and eat birthday cake from the dollar store? You didn’t even throw him a party! When I asked him if he’d invited all his little friends for his birthday, our child just looked sad and told me that Papa couldn’t afford a party this year. I couldn’t bear to see him sit there and look at a sad excuse for a cake, so sue me, I decided to go and do something else instead!”

You could have thrown him a party! You knew I lost my second job when I had to stay home with him for a damn week because you dumped him on me when he had the flu! If you were so concerned about him having a party, you could have put in the time and effort!”

“But Derek, dearest,” Kate said, her voice going sugary sweet and deadly.

“Didn’t you tell me just last month that you wanted me to stop spoiling him? Weren’t you the one who was afraid our kid would eventually realize that I can offer him everything and you have absolutely nothing? I’m sorry, but I thought you wanted me to lower my standards so we could do some equal parenting. You really need to make up your mind. Sweetie.”

“I want him to be happy, damn it! I don’t want him to get hurt!” Derek exclaimed loudly, slapping a hand over his mouth and holding his breath when Caleb let out a grunt in his sleep.

“Well, so do I! I know you don’t want to hear this, Derek, but maybe it is time for him to come live with me full time. You know. Just until you get back on your feet. Maybe you can finish your education, finally? I know our son would appreciate it if he could take his father to career day in school and wouldn’t have to present him as a minimum wage college drop-out waiter.”

“Full time? Full time? You spent barely four days with him this past month! Ever since you started dating that woman you’ve blown off almost all visits and you keep promising that you’ll make them up to him but you never do!”

“Are you jealous, Derek?”

Kate’s voice was velvety smooth and Derek shuddered, feeling like she was standing right next to him.

“Go to hell!” he got out, his voice breaking despite his resolve

Kate laughed at him, the sound cutting through Derek like knives.

“Goodbye, Sweetie. Give our son a kiss from me.”

When she’d hung up, Derek stared at the phone, shaking with rage and frustration.

He looked at his son, curled up into a small little ball on the bed, and he hated Kate with every fiber of his being.

However, he almost hated himself more, for yet again failing to protect Caleb from getting hurt.

 

===============

 

Kate continued dating Kali for more than a year and during that time Caleb barely saw his mother at all, despite the custody agreement that said she was supposed to take care of him for two weeks a month.

After Derek had left her multiple angry voice mails she finally started paying a little more child support each month so he could take care of the stuff she’d paid for before, but it was still barely enough.

On top of that, one of Derek’s employers had a stroke and his cafe was closed down, leaving him with only a part-time job as a dishwasher that neither came with insurance, nor enough money to pay the rent, let alone anything else.

Derek lost a lot of sleep before he finally found a new job as a cashier and for a while he made things work, dropping Caleb off at school every morning before rushing to work, clocking in for an eight hour shift, and then rushing back to pick up Caleb and take him home.

Four days during the week, Derek had about two hours with his son to make sure he did his homework and got an early dinner before he had to hurry to his second job, meaning that he left Caleb by himself a lot.

Knowing that his little boy was alone in a small apartment in a run-down neighborhood gave Derek a perpetual stomachache, but he also couldn’t afford a regular baby-sitter and he didn’t really trust his neighbors.

When he’d brought up the issue with Kate, the Omega had sweetly reminded him that Caleb could always come live in the fancy Manhattan apartment she’d moved into with Kali, who could have easily afforded a nanny.

Derek didn’t want his child being raised by a nanny, however, and he certainly didn’t want either Kate or Kali spending too much time with his little boy.

Kali was cold and indifferent towards Caleb and raised her voice if he so much as took a wrong step, while Kate had lost almost all interest in him, throwing toys at him or stuffing him with chocolate so he was busy while she devoted all her attention to Kali.

It had been a while since Caleb had told Derek that his mommy was a princess and it broke Derek’s heart to see the dawning realization in Caleb’s eyes, the reluctance when Kate did show up to pick him up and how subdued he was when he returned.

He would never know that he’d been conceived as a means to force Derek to stay – Derek would go to his grave pretending that his child had been wanted and cherished from the very beginning.

However, he was slowly beginning to understand that he was merely a pawn in a very fucked up game, even if he wouldn’t have been able to put it into words.

Kate had a new obsession now, and Caleb was but an inconvenient distraction from her goal to become Mrs. Kali Sharma.

On the one hand, Derek was almost relieved his ex had lost interest in their son, figuring that the less she saw him, the less she could hurt him.

On the other hand, however, he could see his child struggle against the realization that his mother didn’t really love him, and it made his heart ache to watch Caleb sit on the couch with a lost expression on his face every time Kate dropped him off, barely reacting to Derek’s attempts to engage him in conversation.   

Caleb’s sixth birthday fell on Thanksgiving and Kate decided to host an elaborate Thanksgiving feast in Kali’s luxurious Manhattan loft, inviting Caleb and, to his great surprise, Derek as well.

Derek could have thought of a hundred better ways to spend the day, but it was his son’s birthday and he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Kali didn’t have any family living in New York, so she had invited two of her business partners, a large Alpha with a grim expression named Ennis and a charmingly suave Alpha named Deucalion, who smiled at Derek with all of his teeth showing and reminded him of a shark ready to devour its prey.

Kate had donned a tight teal dress for the occasion that made her hazel eyes pop, her blonde hair flowing down her shoulders in waves and her lips painted seductively red.

She looked gorgeous and lethal, a femme fatale of a 1940s noir movie come to life, and Derek had to clasp his hands together to stop them from shaking, long forgotten memories crawling to the surface that he didn’t care to recall.

He exchanged a curt but polite greeting with Kate’s Alpha brother Christopher and dutifully congratulated Kate’s niece Allison on her recent wedding and pregnancy, her stomach already rounded into a prominent swell beneath her cashmere sweater and her Alpha husband Isaac’s hand resting protectively over the bump.

There was tension between Allison and Kate, Derek noticed quickly, the younger Omega always keeping her distance and staying close to her husband, who often averted his gaze when Derek looked at him directly and curled his lips in Kate’s direction whenever Derek caught him watching the hostess.

Gerard, meanwhile, was ignoring Derek completely and Derek knew he’d never forgiven him for going to the police.

Gerard had hired the best lawyers to get Kate off the hook without an actual conviction and he’d paid a lot of hush money to make the ugly incident go away, but Derek was certain that he believed Derek had been at fault, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Caleb was shy around his grandfather, mostly unfamiliar with the old Alpha, and it made Derek sad and angry in equal measures that the one grandparent his child had would rather that he didn’t exist.

Gerard had bought a cigar and patted Derek on the back when he’d learned that his first grandson was a strapping Alpha, but after all the drama between him and Kate and Derek’s steep fall down the social ladder, Gerard had lost interest, as if Caleb was tainted by association because he was Derek’s son. 

Kali, meanwhile, was looking at Derek with barely hidden contempt and Derek could only imagine the lies that Kate had told her, genuinely wondering why they had invited him in the first place.

During dinner, Derek stuck to Allison and Isaac, trying to get the newly mated couple involved in conversation.

Even though Allison was charming towards her little cousin she was cautious around Derek, as if she’d also heard some stories and wasn’t quite sure whom to believe.

Kate, meanwhile, was obviously trying to win an award for most cringe worthy display of public affection, touching Kali constantly and praising her Alpha’s business success to her colleagues, barely sparing a glance at the little boy waiting for his mother’s attention at the other end of the table.

When Kate brought out the pies at the end of dinner, Derek was startled to realize she hadn’t organized a birthday cake for Caleb, but he knew he couldn’t make a scene, not with Caleb sitting next to him like a little ball of disappointment.

He waited until the adults had moved to the sofas, the Alphas drinking whisky and talking politics and Isaac and Allison sitting a little aside to read a book to Caleb, who was yawning and about to succumb to the second piece of pie that Derek hadn’t managed to talk him out of.

Derek waited until Kate excused herself to go to the bathroom and followed her, not at all in the mood to have yet another confrontation with her but no longer able to keep it in.

“Derek. A problem?” Kate asked when she exited the bathroom and found him leaning against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.

“Why didn’t he have a birthday cake? Why didn’t we sing him happy birthday? You’d barely even know he’s turning six today, that’s how little attention he got!”

“He liked his presents, didn’t he?” Kate replied defensively and Derek sighed, the old argument already tasting bitter on his tongue.

“Of course he did. What he would have like more, however, would have been his mother actually sitting down to play with him and his new toys! You can’t just keep throwing nicely wrapped gifts at him, pat him on the back, and then ignore him completely! He’s a little boy, Kate, all he wants is to spend time with his mommy!”

“Well, I’m sorry, but Kali is hoping to sign a new contract with Deucalion next year and I had to focus on charming him so my Alpha can get ahead. Caleb is fine, Derek! And besides, youwere supposed to take care of the birthday cake.”

“No I wasn’t!” Derek argued but Kate shook her head and clucked her tongue, a pitying smile on her face.

“Yes you were, Sweetie. I guess you just forgot.”

“I would never forget something like that!” Derek argued, tensing when Kate took a step toward him.

“Oh but you would, Sweetie. It seems to me like you’ve forgotten a lot of things.”

Derek didn’t realize how close he was to the open bathroom door until he almost stumbled over the threshold, barely catching himself on the sink counter.

Kate followed him immediately, closing the door behind her and locking it.

“That’s better, isn’t it? We wouldn’t want my family or my Alpha’s business partners overhearing that you forgot our son’s birthday cake and are now trying to blame it on me.”

“Open the door, Kate,” Derek said through clenched teeth but Kate shook her head, her eyes glinting Omega gold.

“No Derek. It’s about time we have ourselves another little conversation. Our son has been very quiet and sad lately, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s struggling because his father still hasn’t got his life together and makes him live in a dirty shit-hole!”

“My apartment is fine! If anything, Caleb is sad because you saw him all of once this past month! Once, Kate, even though the custody agreement that you pushed for says you get to keep him two weeks each month! He feels like you’re abandoning him! Why are you doing this? Are you trying to hurt him? Are you trying to hurt me? Because I’m the one who has to pick up the pieces! I’m the one who constantly has to reassure him that you love him! That’s not my damn job, Kate! It’s yours!”

Derek bit his lip when his voice got a little too loud, taking multiple deep breaths to calm down again.

“You don’t care about him at all, do you? The only reason you pushed for the joint custody agreement was so you could make sure we would never be free of you! You never really wanted to spend time with him and you’ve never rocked him to sleep when he was sick, not even when he was a baby! If you don’t want to be his mother, for god’s sake, then say it! Just say it, please, and we can go to court tomorrow! I’ll raise him on my own, damn it, I pretty much have been raising him on my own! Not having you in his life at all is better for our son than constantly being rejected by you!”

“How dare you.”

Kate’s voice was low and lethal and when she closed the space between them, Derek could count all the colors in her irises, their noses almost touching.

“How dare you accuse me of not loving this child! This child that I carried and gave birth to! I love my son and at least am trying to give him a future! Did you read the newspapers lately? My father’s company is almost bankrupt, I can no longer depend on his money! Not to mention that I lost my fucking job when you decided to drag me to court for child endangerment and I never quite recovered from that! People talk, Derek! In a small industry, people always talk, and your little legal temper tantrum made me a pariah all across New York City, even though I never got a fucking conviction! Kali is the only way I can make sure our son will be provided for! He sure as hell can’t depend on you to send him through college now, can he? So yeah, maybe I don’t have a lot of time for him right now, but as soon as Kali and I are mated that’s all going to change!”

Derek let out a snort, his shoulders shaking with bitter laughter.

Mated? Are you fucking serious? If you even attempt to treat that woman the same way you treated me, she’s going to throw you out on the street without looking back once! You’re a fucking mess, Kate! And she’s going to see through it sooner or later! Mated! Ha! A woman like that will never mate you!”

“Maybe I don’t have to treat her like I treated you? Maybe she is enough of an Alpha to satisfy me! Maybe she can … handle me.”

Kate smirked, her lips so close to Derek’s now that he could smell the wine on her breath.

“Are you seriously comparing yourself to an Alpha like Kali? Kali has multiple degrees! Kali has two companies that make a ton of money! Kali is a better provider than you willever be! She’s better at providing for me in all the ways!”

“Don’t touch me!” Derek whispered, but instead of pushing her away his hands felt like lead against his sides, his blood pounding in his ears when Kate’s long fingers started trailing down his stomach and slipped under his shirt.

“We could have been so good together, Derek. We could have raised a family, we could have been so very happy. I still remember that first night we spent together. How in love we were. How you looked at me. How you felt inside of me. We had so much potential, but you just had to go and throw it all away.”

Her fingers dipped lower, getting dangerously close to his waistband, and still Derek couldn’t move, even though his brain was screaming at him to push her off.

“What was I supposed to do, Derek? I paid all the bills for years, waiting for you to get your act together, but instead you slacked off at college and then dropped out completely, even when you learned we had a baby on the way. I was so patient with you, I kept waiting for you to go back to college. You never did, though, you were just too damn lazy, sitting at home and taking care of our kid like some homely Omega. Jesus, Derek, in the end the only Alpha thing about you was your knot, but you couldn’t even provide that anymore, could you?”

A flick of her fingers and Derek’s jeans button was open, the sound of the zipper getting pulled down screeching in Derek’s ears and his breath coming out in short gasps, his eyes wide with a silent plea.

“Kate, don’t do this. Not anymore!”

“Shhhh, Sweetie, Caleb’s in the next room,” Kate whispered, her fingers on Derek’s flaccid member cold and making him hiss.

“We could have been so, so good, Derek,” Kate said softly, her teeth nipping at Derek’s earlobe.

Why aren’t you moving! Why the hell aren’t you moving! Run away! For fuck’s sake, run away!

“I miss you, Derek!” Kate breathed, her hand on Derek picking up speed as she began to jerk him, her other hand pinching his nipples through his shirt, just the way she knew he liked.

“I miss touching you. I miss feeling you inside of me. God, Derek, we could have been so happy! We could have talked about our issues and we could have fixed them, but you just had to go and ruin it!”

She was mouthing at his neck now, right over the scar she’d left all those years ago.

“Are you happy, Derek? Are you really happy, living in that shit hole and working three jobs at a time just so you can barely pay rent and have our son terrified to ask you for anything because he knows you’ll disappoint? You had it all with me, Derek. Why did you throw it away? Why did you throw us away?”

Her mouth moved down, the heat of her breath making Derek’s flesh break out in goose bumps.

“God, Derek,” Kate whispered, just before her mouth engulfed him, and even though Derek still couldn’t move he was suddenly shaking all over, his breath coming short and his vision getting spotty eyed.

Kate pulled off with a wet pop, jerking him some more when he remained flaccid.

“I always did prefer an Alpha cock. They taste just that extra bit sweeter than an Alpha pussy. Won’t you give me a taste, Derek? I’ll make it so good for you. I’ll make you regret you ever left me!”

Please!”

Derek’s voice was barely there, but when she closed her lips around him again his hands finally moved to push against Kate’s head.

Kate unceremoniously slapped them away, making them thud against the cabinets painfully.

“Careful, Derek. You wouldn’t want to mess up my hair so that everyone would know what we did in here. My Kali is very jealous, you know. You wouldn’t want her to call you out in front of our son, would you?”

“I don’t want this! I don’t want this!”

“But who would believe you, Sweetie? No one will. You know that just as well as I do. My Kali certainly wouldn’t. Our son definitely wouldn’t! What do you think he’d say, Derek? If he knew how you forced Mommy to get down on her knees and suck your pathetic broken Alpha cock?”

“Stop! Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!”

She kissed him; surging back up so quickly Derek didn’t see it coming until her lips were pressed against his.

No! Not this! Never again!

Derek’s gut was rolling with nausea, his knees feeling weak as a newborn giraffe, but feeling her lips on his in such a perverted charade of intimacy finally broke his paralysis and he pushed her away, panting heavily and trying to swallow down the bile in his throat, his nice Thanksgiving meal dangerously close to coming back up.

“Oh Derek. Weak, pathetic Derek. You’ll never change. I should file for full custody, after all! I can’t have a loser Alpha raise my precious son now, can I?”

“Don’t touch me again! Don’t you ever fucking touch me again!”

Derek was trembling, his voice choked with the strain of keeping his food down.

“You better not tell anyone about this, Derek. It’ll be my word against yours and I don’t think judges would take too kindly to an Alpha who tried to rapethe mother of his child!”

Derek gasped, turned around, and bent over the sink, his stomach now cramping so severely he was afraid he wouldn’t even make it to the toilet.

Kate stepped beside him and calmly adjusted her hair, taking the time to reapply her lipstick and looking at him in the mirror.

“No one will believe you. But they will believe me when I tell them it was your fault. Your son will grow up knowing that you’re an abuser. I will make sure of it. So don’t. say. a. fucking. word!”

She flashed Derek a deceptively sweet smile and turned around, not looking back as she unlocked the door and left him alone.

The moment the door had closed behind her, Derek was on his knees in front of the toilet, the hard tiles digging into his knees as he gagged and heaved, his hands pressed against his stomach and tears rolling down his cheeks.

Eventually, he straightened up and looked down, only to see her lipstick on his still exposed flaccid member.

Then he was bent over the toilet again, dry-heaving and praying he wouldn’t actually pass out.

He didn’t know how much time had passed when he finally managed to go back into the living room, finding himself under the scrutiny of five amused Alphas, a grinning Omega, and the mildly concerned gazes of his son’s cousin and her husband.

“You never could hold your liquor, could you, Derek?” Kate asked cheerfully and Derek forced himself to smile.

“Guess not,” he muttered, his eyes searching Caleb and finding him passed out between Isaac and Allison, his thumb stuck in his mouth and looking smaller than his age.

Derek needed to get out of there.

He needed to get his son and get the hell out of there, so when Kali politely offered to pay for a taxi to Brooklyn, Derek didn’t turn her down.

He still felt a little weak but Caleb’s solid weight in his arms was also grounding him as he rode down the elevator with the bag of Caleb’s birthday presents slung over his shoulder.

Caleb didn’t wake during the drive and the taxi driver didn’t comment on the fact that Derek cried for the entire hour it took to get to his apartment.

 

=============

 

Following the Thanksgiving incident, Derek avoided Kate as best as he could.

When she came to pick up Caleb he didn’t say more than was necessary and when she blew off plans he didn’t argue with her, the sound of her voice alone making him nauseous.  

He was also having nightmares again, nightmares that were so real and visceral that he woke up whimpering and with tears in his eyes.

Thankfully, Caleb slept like a log and usually didn’t notice, but once or twice Derek woke to his terrified son shaking him awake, his eyes wide as he asked Derek frantic questions that he Alpha couldn’t answer.

The nightmares got worse the week before Christmas, when Derek narrowly avoided a very unexpected encounter with two people he hadn’t seen in over six years.

He’d taken the subway to drop Caleb off at Kate and Kali’s for once, since the Omega had been busily decorating for Christmas all day and had called him on short notice to tell him that if he wanted Caleb to spend the weekend with her he had to drop him off himself.

Caleb had no idea what had happened to his father during Thanksgiving, obviously, but Derek felt like his son knew something had happened, because he’d gripped Derek’s hand tightly the entire time he’d been in Kali’s apartment and hugged him a lot longer than usual, as if he knew Derek needed comfort to even be able to breathe in the place.

Kate had insisted he stay for a cup of cocoa and some cookies and Derek hadn’t been quick enough to come up with an excuse so he’d accepted, not wanting his son to pick up on how terrified he was to even be in the same room with the Omega.

The cocoa and cookies had both tasted like ash in Derek’s mouth as he’d watched her whirl around the apartment with her hair up and an apron that said “Kiss the cook”, a caricature of a 1950s housewife Omega come to life to rob Derek of his last bit of sanity.

“This Christmas will be so very special,” she’d said more than once, nibbling on a cookie and smoothing her hands down her apron over and over, occasionally resting them low on her belly with a serene smile.

She wasn’t pregnant, Derek could smell she wasn’t, but he’d known her long enough to know what she was like in the week leading up to her heat, figuring she was due for another right around Christmas.

He highly doubted Kali wanted children, given that she still looked at Caleb like he was a particularly bothersome fruit fly, but he had no doubt that Kate was resourceful enough to trap another Alpha with a child.

He could have warned Kali, of course, but the way she’d treated his son had nixed all of Derek’s sympathy for her, so he figured the Alpha could lay in the bed she’d made, just as he had when he’d fallen for Kate’s scheme.

At least this time money won’t be an issue, Derek had thought darkly as he’d pressed a kiss to Caleb’s hair, his no longer quite as little boy sitting on his lap and seemingly making an attempt to burrow into Derek’s ribcage so he wouldn’t leave him there.

When he finally managed to escape the apartment, Derek was already missing his son fiercely, not able to stop thinking about how miserable Caleb had looked when he’d kissed him goodbye.

As he started walking towards the subway station, Derek felt like he saw happy families everywhere, tormenting him even further.

Tall, strapping Alphas who were carrying a little one on their shoulders and securing them with one hand, while their free hand was resting on an Omega’s back.

Glowing Omega fathers and mothers to be who were bundled up in expensive looking coats but still couldn’t hide their proudly bulging bellies, usually accompanied by their proudly strutting Alpha husband or wife.

A beaming new Omega father pushing a twin stroller, two little heads peaking out and looking interestedly at the glowing lights in the shop displays.

A newly mated couple hopelessly in love with each other, not able to take their eyes or hands off one another as they walked along the sidewalk, stopping for sweet kisses every couple of steps.

A proud Alpha grandmother out on a nice walk with her Omega grandson, the child’s gloved hand clutched around a lollipop and still looking delighted at the clearly unexpected treat.

A caring Omega grandfather to be accompanying his very pregnant Omega son on a shopping trip, excitedly pointing at little onesies in the display of a particularly expensive boutique.

Wherever he looked, everyone seemed to be having somebody to hold on to, somebody who looked at them with adoration and love.  

Looks could be deceiving, of course.

Derek knew that better than most.

Even though it felt like an eternity now, it hadn’t actually been that long ago that Derek had been strolling through a festively decorated downtown Manhattan, pushing his son in his stroller, smiling at his beautiful Omega – and trying not to wince with every step he took because Kate had tried out her new strap-on on him the night before and hadn’t bothered with any lube.

He’d bled and she’d laughed at him when he’d cried.

These days, it seemed utterly insane to Derek that he’d been able to go from sobbing on a toilet and looking at blood-stained toilet paper to projecting jolly Christmas cheer all within the span of 24 hours.

Then again, he was still performing the same magic trick today, wasn’t he? 

Hadn’t he just had cocoa with marshmallows with the woman who had once again assaulted him barely over a month ago, all so that his little boy could get at least a little bit of Christmas cheer?

He was doing it all for Caleb now, but he was pretty sure he hadn’t, back then, too trapped in Kate’s web of lies, manipulation, and control to make any rational decisions.

Caleb.

While the happy people passing him on the street were spending time with the light of their lives, Derek’s precious light was currently trapped in the Alpha’s own personal hell and there was nothing he could do about it, not if he wanted to risk annoying Kate to the point that she tried to take custody from him completely.

She could, Derek had no doubt about it.

He was an Alpha single parent and she was the Omega and had more money in her wallet at any given time than Derek made in a year, so he knew full well that if she’d really set her mind to it, it would have been easy for her to find a lawyer who could take Caleb away from Derek for good.

It was why he stayed silent as much as he could, why he only spoke up when staying silent meant harming his little boy.

He was still terrified of her, possibly more so these days than back when he’d been completely at her mercy.

The scars on his back itched and Derek pulled his thin coat around himself tighter, letting out a shuddering breath as he picked up his pace.

He was almost at the station entrance when a sign in front of a bakery caught his eye, advertising for original German Christmas stollen.

Growing up, the confection had been a special treat at the Hale family Christmas, a tradition carried on ever since his Omega great-great-grandfather Heinrich had come over on a boat and married Augustine Hale.

Derek suddenly realized that Caleb had never had a piece of stollen, even though it was just as much part of his family lineage as it was of Derek’s.

Derek pulled out his wallet and calculated the bills, deciding that he had just enough for a little piece that he could share with his little boy at Christmas Eve.

His mind made up, Derek headed towards the bakery, only to stop short when he got a good look inside.

The little store wasn’t just a bakery but also a café, and inside a couple of families had sought refuge from the cold, talking, drinking coffee or cocoa, and nibbling on treats.

However, one family in particular made Derek’s breath catch in his throat and his heart seize painfully in his chest, feeling like he’d just been punched in the gut.

Inside the bakery, Laura was animatedly gesturing, her hair a little shorter but otherwise looking just as Derek remembered her.

Beside her, Cora was rolling her eyes playfully and Derek couldn’t keep in the pained little whine when he realized how much his Omega sister had grown since he’d last seen her.

On the day of the big fight, Cora had been seventeen, her features still very much that of a girl.

The woman Derek couldn’t stop staring at now was a young adult, almost as old as Derek had been when he’d become a father but without a care in the world, looking healthy and vibrant and happy as she laughed at her big sister’s antics.

On Laura’s other side, a dark-haired and dark-skinned Omega approximately Derek’s age was dubiously eyeing a piece of stollen on the plate in front of him, clearly not yet convinced of its deliciousness.

Laura beamed at him, her eyes sparkling with joy when the Omega raised his eyebrows in the universal gesture of the unimpressed.

She took her fork and stole a piece, chewing it with exaggerated glee on her face.

The Omega shook his head fondly but he opened his mouth when Laura fed him the next piece, his eyes closing contentedly.

As if in slow motion, Derek watched as Laura placed down the fork and then gently caressed the Omega’s belly, gracefully rounded and approximately seven months gone with what appeared to be his parents’ second grandchild.

Well.

Their first grandchild, really, because Derek had turned his back on them and denied them the knowledge of Caleb, even after Kate had no longer been in the picture.

His beloved big sister looked happier than he’d ever seen her.

His beloved big sister, whom he’d hurt so very badly and who had been so devastatingly right about everything.

Cora was laughing and taking pictures of the happy couple, playfully rolling her eyes but looking excited about becoming an aunt and Derek wasn’t surprised when he noticed she was wearing a Yale sweater, succeeding in life just like he’d always known she would.

For a moment, Derek wanted nothing more than to bolt in there, to throw himself at his sisters’ feet and beg for forgiveness, cry until they convinced him it was okay and that he was allowed to come back.

Cry until they saved him from the hell that his life had turned out to be.

He stopped himself though, knowing that his heart would not be able to take their rejection.

He’d said horrible things to them, had chosen a monster over the people who’d loved him the most, and he didn’t deserve to have them back in his life.

Most of all, they didn’t deserve the darkness and misery that followed him wherever he went.

They looked so happy, so much better off without him – Derek wasn’t about to taint their happiness with his mess and failures.

Sleep evaded him completely that night, but Derek was too emotionally exhausted to care.

 

==============

 

In the early morning hours of Christmas Day, Derek was woken up by loud pounding against his door.

“Derek! Open up, Derek! Please! I need you!”

For a moment, Derek just stared at the ceiling, wondering if he had finally gone completely insane.

Then, he pulled out his cellphone and called Kali.

Kali answered on the third ring, wide-awake and clearly pissed as hell.

“WHAT?” she barked, her anger almost tangible through the phone.

“Your girlfriend is scratching at my door, begging to be let in and clearly in heat. You need to come get her, this is no longer my rodeo!”

“Fuck that crazy ass bitch!” Kali snarled, her voice filled with betrayal and contempt.

“Do you know what she did? Do you fucking know what she tried to do to me?”

“Did she hit you?” Derek asked calmly, still wondering if this was what going mad felt like when Caleb began to stir next to him and Kate’s screeches in the hallway got louder.

“Fuck no! I’d never let an Omega bitch raise their hand to me, what kind of Alpha are you to even ask me something so ridiculous? No! She tried to fucking trap me! The bitch tried to fucking trap me!”

“Yeah?” Derek asked, getting out of bed and looking for his pants, not wanting to face Kate only in his underwear and a t-shirt.

“She didn’t take her damn birth control shot! Thank god I noticed before I knotted her, but hell, if I hadn’t thought to check she would have just hopped on my knot and trapped me with a fucking brat!”

“I’m shocked,” Derek said flatly, placing the phone down to pull a sweater over his head.

“That bitch tried to claim she forgot but when I tried to get her to take it she refused! She fucking refused, started talking gibberish about how amazing it would be, how much I would love her pregnant body, how she’d give me many strong Alpha children! Like hell, she didn’t fucking forget! That wasn’t fucking heat talk, either! She planned it! The nasty bitch planned it! So I threw her out and if she tries to come back I’ll call the cops! She’s your problem now, I’m done with her!”

“Wait, don’t …”

The call had already disconnected and Derek let out a harsh sound of frustration, pressing his fists against his temples when Caleb sleepily asked, “Why’s mommy yelling?”

“Go back to sleep little bear,” Derek said quickly, wincing when the first neighbor started knocking against the wall.

“Kate! Do you hear me? You need to stop yelling, Kate, you’re scaring our son!”

“Derek? Is that you? Thank god, please, you need to open the door, I need you so much baby, I’m hurting really bad! Kali threw me out, she fucking threw me out during my heat and it hurts so bad! Please! Please, Derek, please help me!”

Derek squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing his panic down and trying to block out Caleb’s terrified whimpers.

“Kate! Listen to me! I’m going to call the heat emergency services. They’ll come get you. They’ll take you to a shelter and they’ll take care of you there. I can’t let you come in here. You know I can’t. So I need you to stay calm, okay?”

“No! Please! Please Derek, don’t leave me out here! I took my birth control shot this time, I promise! It’s not going to be like the last time, it’ll be so good, it’ll …”

“I spoke to Kali!” Derek yelled through the door, his voice shaking with barely controlled fury.

“I know exactly what you tried to do! You shouldn’t have come here, Kate! You are not wanted here! I’m calling the shelter right now, I’ll never let you touch me again!”

“Papa? Papa? What is happening? Papa please, I’m scared!”

Derek couldn’t answer Caleb for the moment, his fingers trembling as he searched for the heat emergency services number.

Caleb let out a scream and Derek dropped his phone when there was a sudden loud crash and then the door flew open, Kate staggering through and almost face-planting on the floor.

Omegas in heat were stronger than usual and Derek’s door had been holding on for dear life for a long time, so it clearly hadn’t taken the Omega much effort to break in.

“Stop! Stay right there! I’m calling the cops!” Derek yelled, hastily stumbling back to block the bed from Kate’s view, where Caleb was now pressed against the wall and crying in horror.

“I need you Derek! I’ve always needed you! I was a fool for letting you go, but I’ll be so good for you this time, I promise.”

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Derek roared, his eyes flashing red in warning.

“You’ll never touch me again! You’re sick! You’re fucking sick! Why won’t you leave us alone, please, for the love of god, why can’t you just LEAVE US ALONE?”

Kate panted heavily, paying no attention to Caleb’s cries and staring at Derek with all the hatred in the world, all pretense of affection gone.

“I’ll kill you! If you don’t knot me then I’ll fucking kill you, you worthless piece of Alpha shit!”

“Mommy please, no!” Caleb sobbed and Derek threw a quick glance at his terrified son, who was clutching his giraffe plushie with tears rolling down his face.

“Mommy has a fever, little bear. She’s not going to kill me. It’s the fever talking. Stay where you are, the police is going to come soon!”

“Yes buddy, Mommy has a fever! Mommy need’s papa’s wee-wee so she can feel better! Come on Papa! Give Mommy her medicine! Her bit fat, throbbing, med…”

“Shut up! Shut up, shut, shut up!”

Derek raised his hands, not intending to strike her but desperate for her to stop talking like this in front of Caleb.

Kate pounced, a wild screech flinging from her lips as she slapped Derek as hard as she could.

Derek roared and grabbed both of her arms, but she used her legs instead, kneeing him in the groin so hard he saw stars for a moment and allowing her to wrench her hands free again.

Her fists rained down on his back and head for a split second before Derek had himself under control again and he pushed her away, caring not about himself but wanting to keep her as far away from Caleb as possible.

MOMMY! STOP HURTING PAPA!

Caleb had gotten out of bed and was trying to get Kate’s attention, grabbing on to her shirt and desperately attempting to tug her off of Derek.

“CALEB, NO!”

It was too late, Derek’s arms shooting out and missing Kate’s by inches when she swung around and hit Caleb’s temple with her clenched fist.

The force of her punch flung him across the tiny room and right into the dresser, his head connecting with the corner with a sickening thud.

Caleb went down without a sound and when Derek rushed to his side his child was lying perfectly still, his skin deathly pale against the bright colors of his new Christmas pajamas and a puddle of blood forming under his head.

“Caleb! CALEB! Please, little bear, son, please, please, please, please, wake up for Papa, please, please, PLEASE!

Kate was still screeching in the background but Derek didn’t hear her, the only sound in his head the sickening thud of his son’s head colliding with the dresser and the ringing in his ears, gone numb with his panic.

He didn’t want to lift Caleb’s head, wasn’t sure if she’d broken his vulnerable neck in two, and as he pressed his shaking fingers against the unconscious boy’s pulse-point Derek let out a sob when he realized that his son was alive.

He made a grab for his phone and dialed 911, never taking his eyes off of Caleb’s slowly moving chest.

“What is your emergency?”

She hit my son! She tried to rape me and when I wouldn’t let her she almost killed my son! She hit him and now his head is bleeding and he isn’t waking up and you need to come arrest her, she hurt my son, she hurt my son, she hurt my son she …”

“Sir, I need you to calm down. Can you give us your address please?”

“He’s lying!” Kate screeched, trying to wrestle the phone out of Derek’s hands just as he barked out his address and Derek roared at her, the operators alarmed “Sir? Sir? Sir?” drifting out of the cell phone.

“HELP ME!” Derek screamed, hoping against hope that any of his neighbors would rush to his aid and restrain the heat-feverish Omega who was trying to get to his son, his precious little boy lying in a puddle of his own blood and still wearing the new Christmas pajamas he’d been so excited to put on the night before.

“I didn’t mean it, Derek! I swear, I didn’t meant it, let me touch him, Mommy’s going to make everything better!”

Derek reacted on instinct, making sure he wasn’t touching Caleb’s injured head as he curled his entire body over his child, shielding him from Kate.

Kate screeched in fury and started pummeling him with her fists again, hitting everywhere she could reach.

Derek barely noticed it, his eyes glued to Caleb’s deathly pale face until the first responders finally pulled Kate off of him. 

As he rode in the ambulance next to his unconscious son, however, Derek felt like she was still trying to beat him to death.

 

 

Derek didn’t sleep the entire time Caleb was in the hospital, having needed ten stitches and suffering from a concussion.

The first night he barely kept himself from snarling at everyone who tried to get near Caleb, whether they were doctors or nurses, Alphas or Omegas.

His entire body was soaring with protective Alpha hormones, the shock over thinking he’d lost his son sitting deep and making him tremble every time he looked at Caleb’s pale little face against the white linens of the hospital bed.

The next day, Derek called Jennifer, the lawyer who’d assisted him during his first custody hearing.

“I want full custody. I don’t care what you have to do. She’s never getting near him again. I need you to promise you’ll keep her from getting near him again!”

“I understand, Derek,” Jennifer said calmly, her eyes glowing darkly when she threw a quick glance at Derek’s sleeping son.

“I really do understand, Derek, I do. It’s just … it took a really long time until you were able to pay me last time. I don’t want to assume, but … your financial situation hasn’t changed, has it?”

“I’ll do anything! I swear! I’ll do anything, as long as you’ll help me make sure she’s never going to see him again.”

“Anything?”

Jennifer’s voice was low and warm, but her eyes were glinting heatedly, a smirk curling her lips in a way that reminded Derek of Kate.

He inhaled deeply, steeling himself and knowing he once again didn’t have a choice.

“Yes. Anything.”

 

===================

 

Sex with Jennifer wasn’t exactly pleasant, but it wasn’t entire unpleasant either.

Derek had no problem getting hard, at least, and he managed to knot her almost every time, finding it was easiest when just didn’t think too much.

He still worked three jobs to make sure he could pay her at least a little bit of money, but for more than six months, Derek’s fourth job was conducted between Jennifer’s thighs, usually at a motel and sometimes in his apartment, when Caleb was gone at school.

The judge had once again granted Derek a restraining order, but Kate was still running around freely, so Derek made sure that his son was always accompanied by an adult who knew that Kate wasn’t to come near him.

She’d respected the restraining order last time, but this time Derek wasn’t taking any chances.

The downside of his hyper vigilance was that soon the entire elementary school knew that Caleb’s mommy had not only put him in the hospital, but had also beaten up his big and scary-looking scruffy Alpha father.  

It took Derek almost two months to figure out that his son barely ever spoke anymore because he was being bullied mercilessly in school.

When Derek tried to bring up the issue with the principal, the elderly Alpha just gave him a contemptuous look, a look that seemed to be asking him just how much of a wimp he was for being beaten up by a small Omega like Kate.

Kate, meanwhile, had hired the best attorney in Manhattan and Jennifer soon started summoning Derek on an almost daily basis, arguing that this was going to be a really hard case to win.

In Derek’s opinion, it shouldn’t have been a hard case at all.

The police had caught her red-handed and Caleb had the hospital record to prove it, but Kate’s lawyer was going to argue that Omegas in heat couldn’t be held accountable for their actions and that Kate had been in shock after being thrown out by another Alpha just an hour before.

The trial took place in May and Derek, knowing that he was fighting for his child’s life, decided to lay bare all of his dark secrets, not looking at Kate as he told the grim Alpha judge about everything she’d done to him and Caleb in the past six and a half years.

His voice didn’t break as he explained how the physical abuse had slowly gotten worse, he didn’t falter when he described the rapes, and his voice only trembled when he recounted the moments after Kate had flung Caleb against the dresser, when he’d thought his little boy was dead.

In the end, the judge awarded Derek full custody and convicted Kate of one account of child endangerment, but he dismissed the sexual assault.

It wasn’t a surprise but it still hurt Derek deeply, once again reminding him that this simply didn’t happen to Alphas.

As Jennifer had predicted, Kate went into revision, and Derek spent another couple of months working three jobs, losing sleep, taking care of Caleb, and letting Jennifer use his body as her personal fuck toy multiple times a week.

Derek usually came, but there was no joy in it, his body fulfilling its biological function even as he tried to block out what was happening.

Jennifer was nice to him and respected the few rules he had – no kissing, no licking his stomach – but Derek figured that would quickly change if he ever dared to say no to something she asked of him.

Meanwhile, Caleb’s little soul was fracturing right before Derek’s eyes and the Alpha had no idea how to help him.

He was still getting bullied at school, he’d started wetting the bed again, and he woke up with nightmares almost every night, terrified to his core that his mother would get her hands on him again.

Derek regularly talked to his teachers, he changed the sheets without a comment, and he tried to stay calm when he held his sobbing son in his arms, even though he wanted to sob right alongside him.

By the time Caleb’s seventh birthday came around, Derek just desperately wanted him to have one good day, so he saved up some money to treat his son to the movies, candy, and dinner at a really nice burger place.

To his great relief, Caleb enjoyed his day and he particularly loved the movie they’d gone to see, a coming-of-age story about a tough little Omega girl named Moana who followed her heart’s calling to head out to the sea.

“I want to sail away, too” Caleb mumbled later that night, snuggled against Derek’s side and already half asleep.

“Can I come too, little bear?” Derek asked, gently brushing a strand of hair out of his face.

“Of course. You always make sure the monsters don’t eat me,” Caleb muttered, letting out a yawn before his eyes fell shut and he was asleep for good.

Derek didn’t dare move for a long time, his fingers resting against the scar on the back of Caleb’s head.

The monsters had almost eaten his baby-boy twice now, but this time, Derek was going to fight them with everything he had.

 

===============

 

In late spring, Kate lost the case for a second time and Derek’s relief almost turned into a heart attack the next day when the teachers at school called him to let him know that Kate had tried to pick up Caleb.

Fed up, the new Omega judge assigned to the case put Kate in jail for six months for violating the restraining order and attempting to kidnap Caleb, her voice hard and filled with contempt when she delivered the sentencing.

Derek knew he would never get justice for everything she’d done to him, but the new judge actually seemed to believe him.

It gave him a bit of peace to know someone in the justice system was finally on his side, however, and with Kate in jail, Derek felt like he could breathe at last, a solid chunk of the weight that had been pressing down on him finally lifted.

Caleb was out of school for the summer and Derek quit one of his three jobs to be able to spend more time with him, still struggling to make ends meet but wanting to make sure his little boy had the best possible summer he could have.

They’d moved to another apartment in Brooklyn because Derek didn’t want his child to constantly be reminded of what had happened in the old place and Derek had thrown out the dresser, Caleb’s blood still seeped into the old wood.

The apartment was even smaller than the last but it wasn’t as cold as the others had been, so Derek tried his best to make a home for the two of them, putting up pictures that Caleb had drawn and saving money to be able to afford new furniture in the next year.

During the day, Derek was at work and Caleb was either at home or waiting for him in the break room, but during the weekend it was always the two of them, their bond tighter than ever now that he was Caleb’s sole family member.

Kate’s father had died half a year ago and cut Caleb out of his will, no doubt a petty action taken because of the ongoing legal drama.

Derek would have appreciated the money for Caleb’s sake but he also appreciated that he didn’t have to feel beholden to a man who’d treated him like dirt and his son like a major inconvenience.

Kate’s brother had visited Caleb in the hospital once and Allison had called him twice to demand an update about him, but Caleb’s cousin had given birth to her little Omega boy the week after Christmas and had pretty much dropped Caleb and Derek from her radar afterwards.

It made Derek a little sad but he also didn’t fault her for it – after all, Derek hadn’t been the best at keeping in contact with her to begin with after his messy breakup with Kate and he could understand that she was focused on building her own happy little family unit, without having her thoughts tainted by all the ugliness that had happened with Kate.

Caleb’s uncle still called every two months or so, but their conversations were short and to the point and Chris never asked to speak to Caleb himself, seemingly content to know his fallen sister’s child was healthy.

He sent Derek a check every now and then to help out with some of Caleb’s clothes and school supplies and cashing it gave Derek a blinding headache every time, not really needing the reminder that he was an Alpha who couldn’t properly provide for his own child.

He took the money, of course, caring much more about Caleb’s needs than his wounded pride, but it stung him a little deeper each time and the phone conversations with Chris were getting shorter, as if the other Alpha also didn’t know how to deal with the situation.

When Caleb went back to school, Derek looked for a third job again and quickly found a small diner looking for a waiter.

The diner’s owner was a quirky widowed Alpha in his late sixties and he ran the restaurant with his Omega son, a single father in his early forties.

Derek soon felt a bond with the Omega and they shared single parenting woes during their breaks, often over coffees and left-over donuts that were about to go stale.

Derek’s story was much messier than the other Omega’s, but he omitted those details whenever the Omega sighed about his horrible ex, an Alpha in her fifties who’d left him for a younger model and was now living in Queens with him, dutifully sending child support checks every week.

As far as Derek was concerned, the other Omega had had it easy, but he didn’t share those thoughts, aware that it would have been mean and unnecessary.

Derek had been working at the diner for two months when the owner’s son kissed him, a small peck followed by a hopeful smile.

Derek knew that the other man was expecting him to return the kiss and deepen it, to sweep him up in his arms and ravish him with the passion of a young Alpha in his prime, just like in the movies.

The older man’s smile dimmed the longer Derek hesitated, a questioning expression in his eyes and his shoulders drawing up in uncertainty.

Derek’s gaze raked over the other man’s body, from his strong calves to the small beginnings of a middle-aged man’s belly, from a flat chest and wide shoulders to a strong neck and short hair.

He looked nothing like Kate and he would feel completely different under Derek’s hands, no trace of soft, female curves to trigger Derek’s horrible memories.

I can do this, Derek decided, figuring that he needed to start reclaiming that aspect of his life, too, given that his love life in the past couple of years had exclusively consisted of sex he hadn’t actually wanted to have.

So he kissed back and it was nice and soft, not at all demanding and even a bit cautious, since both of them had children and couldn’t just throw themselves into an adventure.

After their first kiss, a couple more followed that were equally nice.

Derek went on three early morning brunch dates while their respective children were in school, and he even shelled out the money for a babysitter for one night, so that he could take the Omega up on his invitation to sleep over.

The other guy’s kids were staying at their Alpha mother’s and Derek knew that he was expected to put out that night, so he had showered twice and given himself multiple pep talks on the way to the Omega’s place.

After a nice dinner and some cuddling on the couch, Derek followed the other man into the bedroom, trying to remember how he’d initiated things with Kate, back when things between them had felt good and natural.

Then again, it had usually been Kate who’d started something, her hands always a bit rough and demanding and her eyes forever glowing with impatience.

The Omega who was now sitting in front of Derek was clearly expecting him to take charge and Derek hesitantly pulled off his shirt, hoping that the other man wouldn’t comment on his many scars.

He could feel wide eyes on him but Derek just kept going, stepping out of his pants and trying to appear eager.

The other man expectantly held up his arms and Derek pulled his shirt over his head, opened his belt buckle and pulled down his pants, until they were both lying on the bed in only their boxer briefs.

“Aren’t you going to touch me?” the other man asked and Derek took a deep breath, pressing his lips against the Omega’s temple and reaching down between them to cup his erection.

The gesture was meant to be gentle but mostly Derek didn’t want him to be able to look at his face, at the way his eyes were fixed on the wall and wide, undeniably as panicked as he felt inside.

Derek had never been with a male Omega but since their outer parts were the same he soon found a rhythm that seemed to be working for his date, who moaned softly and caressed Derek’s shoulders with gentle fingers.

It was nice.

It was easy.

It was really rather lovely, and if Derek’s stupid stomach could have stopped rolling and his heart could have kindly stopped speed racing, it would have been even lovelier.

“Stop, stop. I want to come with you inside of me,” the Omega gasped after a while and Derek immediately pulled back his hand, smiling even though his ears were now buzzing.

Stop. Please stop. Please, please, please, please stop!

Kate had never stopped.

No matter how much he had begged.

And begged he had, sometimes with tears rolling down his cheeks, sometimes through choked sobs, sometimes biting the insides of his cheeks bloody because Caleb had slept next to the bed and Derek hadn’t wanted to scare him.

Not that it had done any good, in the end.

“Derek? Are you still with me?”

“Sorry,” Derek said quickly, shaking his head and sitting up.

He’d placed a condom on the night stand in preparation, but when he tried to open the wrapper his fingers were shaking and he dropped it on the bed twice, making the Omega chuckle.

“Are you nervous, Alpha? Don’t be. I promise to be gentle.”

Kate had never been gentle with him, always demanding, always rough, always looking for new ways to hurt him.

A hesitant hand touched his member and he flinched back, causing the Omega to let out a soothing sound.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. Here, let me just …”

His mouth was on Derek’s half-hard cock and Derek looked down at the bald spot on the Omega’s head, concentrating on it with everything he had.

It was so very different from Kate’s blonde hair and it helped Derek get out of his head, reminding himself over and over that Kate was in prison and could no longer hurt him.

When the Omega pulled back Derek was hard and he let out a sigh of relief, searching for his date’s eyes and smiling when the Omega flashed him a grin.

“I got you,” he said, rolling the condom over Derek’s shaft with practiced fingers.

“How do you want me, Alpha?” he asked and for a moment Derek blanked, not used to being the one to call the shots at all.

“On … on all fours? Please?”

Kate had hated to be taken on all fours and Derek figured that the position wouldn’t remind him of her.

“How traditional of you, Alpha,” the other Omega teased, but he got on his hands and knees immediately, looking at Derek over his shoulder and winking.

“Come on. Take me, Alpha.”

Derek crawled closer and grabbed his erection, positioning it at the Omega’s entrance and taking a deep breath.

He’s not Kate.

You can do this.

It’s going to be fine.

His heart was still pounding against his ribcage but Derek pretended it was just excitement, biting his lips when his cock slipped inside the tight heat of the Omega’s channel.

“Uuuuuhmmmm, yes,” the Omega groaned, pushing back against him and taking him in a little bit deeper.

Something deep inside Derek’s belly sparked and he got a bit bolder, placing his hands on the Omega’s hips and going for a short, gentle thrust, then another, until he was slowly but steadily moving inside the older man.

“Hmmmm, yeah, yeah baby, so good, so good for me, such a good Alpha, so good, so perfect for me, so sweet, that’s it sweetie, keep going.”

Sweetie.

Sweetie.

Sweetie.

Derek didn’t remember what happened after, but when breathing no longer felt like an alien task he was curled up in a corner, shaking and feeling nauseous.

His arms hurt and he realized that he’d scratched himself at some point, a little bit of dried blood still on his fingernails.

“What the hell?”

When Derek looked up, the Omega was staring at him from the bed, the sheets bunched around his body protectively and hiding it from Derek’s view.

“Did I hurt you? Please, I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to, I …”

“What?”

The other Omega looked at him like he was insane, and Derek couldn’t even fault him for it.

“No. You didn’t hurt me. You just completely psyched out on me, got off of me like I had an infectious disease and hid in the corner breathing like a freight train and scratching yourself up like a maniac! Did you escape from the psych ward or something?”

“I’m sorry! I’m so very sorry! I thought I was going to be able to do this, I thought … I’m so sorry!”

“Did you ever really want this?”

The Omega crossed his arms over his chest, looking hurt and a bit scared, and like he really wanted Derek to leave.

“I thought I did, I thought …”

“You thought ? Jesus, dude, I’m not that desperate you know. You could have said no if my body grosses you out too much, you didn’t have to have a damn panic attack over it!”

Derek looked at him helplessly, his stomach churning and his breath coming in short gasps.

But that’s not why!

I’m so sorry.

I think I have PTSD.

This isn’t your fault.

I was raped.

I’m broken.

I’m so very sorry.

The Omega kept staring at him and Derek realized that he hadn’t actually said any of that out loud, despair squeezing his lungs tight when he realized that the situation was beyond saving.

“I’ll just. I’ll just go.”

“Yeah. That would be best.”

“I’m really sorry. Again. I’m just … I’m sorry.”

“Okay.”

It clearly wasn’t okay, as Derek realized the next day when he got a text from his boss telling him he was no longer employed at the restaurant.

All in all, getting fired wasn’t that big of a surprise to Derek.

What did surprise him was that he almost couldn’t get himself to care.  

 

============

 

Kate was released from prison the week before Caleb’s eighth birthday and Derek spent the week in a constant state of panic, expecting her to turn up and try to harm his son yet again and trying very hard to hide his anxiety from Caleb.

Since he was still known as the kid whose Omega mother was in prison, Caleb’s status as a social pariah at school made a birthday party rather moot, leaving Derek with the task of figuring out how to make his little boy’s day special without friends.

Caleb had recently expressed an interest in drawing, so Derek decided to take him to MOMA, followed by a treat of his choice.

Caleb clung to Derek’s hand as they walked from room to room, his eyes growing wider and wider as he looked at the many different paintings and sculptures.

To Derek’s surprise, his son was particularly fascinated by surrealist paintings such as Dali’s Persistence of Memory, which he stared at for a good twenty minutes.

At one point, Derek sat down on one of the sofa loungers and Caleb crawled onto his lap, his thumb stuck in his mouth as he looked at the melting clocks with great interest.

Derek didn’t bother to pull his thumb out of his mouth, having long given up on that and figuring that after everything his little boy had gone through, crooked teeth were a small price to pay for a coping mechanism that didn’t involve something more damaging.

“What does persistence mean, Papa?” Caleb asked, squinting at the painting’s name.

“If something is persistent that means that something goes on for a long time,” Derek explained and Caleb frowned, staring at the painting once more.

“But the clocks are melting, Papa. Doesn’t that mean they’re going to go away?”

“I think so,” Derek said, not even bothering to pretend he knew even a smidgeon about art.

“Maybe that means that the bad memories are melting away. Do you think that’s possible, Papa? That the bad memories are just going to melt away until they’re gone and never come back?”

“I hope so, little bear,” Derek said softly kissing his son’s head and rocking him back and forth automatically, needing the comfort almost more than his child.

“I hope so too, Papa.”

Caleb kept looking at the painting and Derek used the opportunity to wipe his eyes, smiling at his child when Caleb finally decided they were ready for the next room.

Caleb didn’t care much for Warhol (“It’s soup cans, Papa! I can take a picture of soup, that’s not fancy!”) but he did like Picasso, staring at Les Demoiselles d'Avignon a little bit too interestedly for Derek’s fatherly liking.

By the time they were done with the museum, Caleb was dragging his feet a little, but the promise of a scoop of raw cookie dough put a new spring under his step.

After a long day and with a belly full of cookie dough and cocoa, Caleb fell asleep on the subway and Derek carried him all the way back to the apartment, noticing with a rueful smile that he was either getting a little old or his son was slowly getting too big to be carried around.

It made Derek’s heart ache but in a good way, because despite everything his son was growing and thriving, maybe a little sadder and a little quieter than the other kids, but smart and healthy and the nicest and gentlest kid Derek had ever met.

Caleb grumbled in his sleep when Derek changed him into his pajamas and he mumbled something that Derek couldn’t make out when he snuggled under the covers.

He smiled, happy that the day had gone well, and since he wasn’t all that tired yet he decided to make himself a cup of tea, switching on the gas absentmindedly.

He was not prepared for the stove to go up in flames.

 

=================

 

Omega Arsonist Sentenced to Life in Prison After Trying to Kill Former Lover and Child.

Derek couldn’t stop staring at the headline, a small article in the very back of the newspaper that wasn’t bound to attract too much attention, decidedly overshadowed by the political news of the day.

For a brief moment, he allowed himself to imagine the second of shock and disgust on a casual reader’s face, a shake of a head and a shrug of a shoulder when they discovered that Derek and Caleb had escaped the fire unharmed because Derek had reacted quickly enough.

They wouldn’t know that his son was still screaming himself multiple times a week, even though Chris had graciously offered to pay for a therapist, and they wouldn’t know that Derek had quit his part-time job as a bartender because he could no longer stomach being around people who smoked.

They couldn’t know that Kate’s attempt to burn them both alive had been the end of more than a decade of trauma for Derek and Derek himself sometimes couldn’t believe that it really was the end – that she wasn’t going to be able to come after them anymore.

“I want a new start.”

Chris was looking at him calmly, his icy-blue eyes cool and neutral as ever.

“I want to leave New York. This place holds too many bad memories for both of us. I want to move us as far away as I can. California, maybe. I don’t care, as long as it’ll give my child a chance to actually start healing.”

Chris nodded, already pulling out his checkbook.

“Chris,” Derek sighed, but the older Alpha shook his head sharply, his tone annoyed.

“Derek. I know the court ordered her to pay damages but she literally has nothing left. Our father didn’t leave her much and when she wasn’t actively trying to ruin your life by dragging you to court over custody for a child she didn’t give a shit about, she blew it all on partying and buying nonsense. You’re never going to get anything from her, so it’s either accepting my check or you can pick up five more jobs, work yourself to your actual death, and leave Caleb all alone in the world.”

“It’s not your mess,” Derek said, the fight going out of him when Chris rubbed his eyes, a flicker of sadness on his resigned face.

“I know that, Derek. I also know that I could have stepped in sooner if I’d just paid a little more attention. I should have paid more attention, but when you and Kate broke up and you went to the police my wife had barely been buried three weeks. I couldn’t deal with other problems for a long time and when I finally managed to clear my head, Caleb was already getting bounced around on a custody carousel and Kate was pretending that you guys were working stuff out.”

“She raped me in the bathroom on Thanksgiving two years ago. Did you know that? Your daughter was reading Caleb a book and you were drinking whiskey while your sister decided she still hadn’t gotten enough of hurting me.”

Chris flinched and Derek experienced a brief surge of bitter triumph, followed by the long familiar sensations of hurt and resignation.

The older Alpha was silent for a very long time, his gaze on Derek not at all pitying but assessing, almost admiring in a way that Derek didn’t quite know how to deal with.

When he spoke again, his voice was carefully measured, not a trace of the anger that Derek could see in his eyes detectable.

“I can’t undo anything she did to you, Derek. But if I can write you a check that’ll help you move your son away from all of this then I’ll do it. Just say a number.”

Derek didn’t have to think too long about it.

He knew exactly how much he needed.

After all, he’d already put an offer on a house.

Chapter Text

When Derek blinked his eyes open after a long night filled with painful memories and very little sleep, it was to the sound of someone puttering around in the kitchen.

For a moment, Derek just lay still, allowing himself to slowly become aware of his surroundings.

He wasn’t in New York City anymore and the bone-deep exhaustion in his body was a phantom ache, one that usually accompanied his nightmares.

There were dried tear tracks on his face and Derek winced, hoping he hadn’t been too loud and disturbed his child’s sleep.

He got up and walked into the bathroom, deciding that a quick hot shower was going to relieve the ache in his bones.

The water felt amazing on his tense shoulders and Derek took a moment to appreciate the water pressure in his new home, a far cry from the rusty showers he’d had to make do with in New York City.

Small things.

Derek was going to appreciate the small things, hopeful that, one day, a multitude of small things would overpower the big bad that was still lurking in the back of his mind.

When he entered the kitchen fifteen minutes later, Caleb was just putting the finishing touches on their breakfast, consisting of coffee, cocoa, and pancakes covered in very generous amounts of syrup.

It was their comfort breakfast.

Derek’s heart squeezed painfully and he tried to smile encouragingly when he felt his son’s searching gaze on him.  

“Did you sleep well, Papa?”

It was a question, technically, but the expression on Caleb’s face told Derek that his little boy knew the answer already.

“I have slept better,” Derek said after a moment of deliberation.

He didn’t want to make his child worry, but he also didn’t want to lie to him.

There had been too much deceit in their lives already and Caleb in particular had been lied to enough for a lifetime.

Caleb tried to smile and Derek sat down and opened his arms, allowing his son to climb on his lap.

“Thank you for making breakfast, little bear,” he told him, pressing a kiss to his hair.

“You’re welcome, Papa,” Caleb replied, his words a little muffled because his thumb was once again stuck in his mouth.

“Hey,” Derek said gently, tapping Caleb’s chin to make him look at him.

“Today is going to be a good day, okay?”

“Yes, Papa,” Caleb replied after a little pause and Derek smiled at him, a genuine smile that finally made his son relax.

The night clearly hadn’t been good for either of them, filled with too many tears and too vivid nightmares.

Sadly, the nightmare wasn’t quite over yet.

Sure, they’d left a lot of it behind in New York City, but the pain was etched deeply into their hearts and minds, accompanying them wherever they went.

The past was an aching wound deep inside Derek’s chest, as if a bomb had smashed into his heart and left behind a smoking crater.

It was an appropriate image, Derek thought, given that bombs were weapons of war and Derek had been trapped in a warzone for almost a decade.

However, as he sat in the kitchen of his very own home, with the sun shining into the room, the smell of pancakes in the air, and his little boy at his side, Derek imagined a balm being spread over the ache.

It would have to be reapplied constantly, of course, since his wound was large and deep and would take a long time to heal.

No.

Not heal, exactly.

Derek had given up on that thought a long time ago.

He doubted that the wound ever heal completely, but he was hopeful that it would eventually scar over – leaving behind a permanent reminder of the years of abuse he’d suffered.

In truth, Derek was still adjusting to the idea of carrying this reminder forever.

Some nights, Derek still writhed on his bed for hours with a horrible stomachache, reasonably sure that his agony was caused by his desperate attempts to keep in roars of fury over what she’d done to him and his little boy.

Back in New York, in the early days of the ill-fated custody arrangement, there’d even been nights when Derek had pummeled his own fists against his temple, a helpless, manic attempt to stop thinking.

Things were slowly starting to feel different now, though.

Now, there was Caleb’s giggle when he watched My Little Wolf.

Now, there was a bedtime routine that involved tucking Caleb into his very own bed, watching him fall asleep in the quiet night of small-town California.

Now, there were nights spent on their little back porch, his little boy snuggled against his side as they watched the stars and drank sodas.

Moments like these were finally starting to make it possible for Derek to acknowledge that maybe his scars weren’t something to agonize over.

Scars were a testament to your life’s story, a permanent reminder of the pain you’d suffered but also a permanent reminder of the pain you’d survived.

The abuse, the rapes, the fear, the agony, all of that was a part of Derek’s story now and no one was going to be able to take these memories away from him.

However, the fact that he’d survived was also part of his story – after all, it was better to walk around scarred than to no longer be walking at all.

It was going to take a while until his wounds would scar over, of course.

Derek didn’t need the vivid reminders of his nightmares to acknowledge that he was going to need more than a while, probably.

In the end, however, he knew deep down that he was going to appreciate his scars one day.

The scars didn’t just represent his own survival – they also represented Caleb’s.

As he watched his little boy devour his pancakes with gusto, Derek knew that Caleb’s happiness was always going to be his biggest triumph.

 

=============

 

Derek was pleasantly surprised when Caleb dragged him out the door soon after lunch, eager to go and finish building the Aquamarine Empire with Peggy.

The little Omega was already waiting on Scott’s front porch, her expression genuinely excited when she saw Caleb approach.

The moment he got within reach she enthusiastically launched herself off of the porch and right into Caleb’s arms, almost toppling both of them over.

“Hi!” she beamed and Caleb grinned back, setting her down carefully.

He looked a little steamrolled but excited as Peggy tugged him towards the box with the figurines, which Scott had put under a tree large enough to offer shade on this hot summer day.

Scott waited until the children were out of earshot before he sat down next to Derek with a sigh, handing him a soda and smiling ruefully.

“I’m sorry about yesterday. I should have stepped in when I realized how uncomfortable the two of you looked. She clearly hit a nerve and I wish I had seen it sooner. I hope he’s okay?”

Derek nodded, gesturing to the laughing children.

“Thank you. He’s okay now. Yesterday was just … it was just one of those days, you know?”

Derek swallowed heavily, hoping that his explanation would be enough.

Scott seemed nice and caring, but Derek had fallen for a nice façade before – he couldn’t risk revealing more than he already inadvertently had.

To his relief, Scott solved the problem by clapping him on the shoulder and clinking their glasses, clearly not expecting a more involved answer.

“Good. Her daddy was very upset when he heard about the incident. He almost marched right over to your door to apologize, but I figured you guys needed some space.”

“It wasn’t her fault at all, I hope she didn’t get in trouble,” Derek said quickly, glancing towards the playing children with a worried frown.

Scott shook his head, his lips stretching into a big smile.

“Oh goodness no, don’t worry. If anything, he was angry with himself for not teaching her that Alphas can be single parents, too.”

The younger Alpha shrugged, shooting Derek a rueful grin.

“Well – she is five, right?” Derek asked, raising one eyebrow when Scott let out a soft laugh.

“So her birth-certificate seems to indicate, yes. However, her daddy and mommy have chosen a parenting approach where they don’t just teach her things like not sticking peas up her nose but also how to challenge the alphanormativity. It makes you forget how old she really is, sometimes.”

Scott chuckled, shaking his head with a grin.

“Heck, I didn’t even know alphanormativity was a legitimate thing until I had to ask a three year old to explain it to me. Not my proudest moment, by the way.”

Derek smiled back, watching as Scott’s expression turned a little somber.

“She’s growing up in a somewhat unconventional family dynamic and her parents are definitely aware that people talk. It was really important to everyone to make her understand that she is very much loved and no different from anyone else, no matter what some people might have to say about her origin story. It never occurred to them that shemight end up making another kid feel bad because of their unconventional family dynamic.”

“Not on purpose though,” Derek offered quickly, nodding towards the happily laughing children who had clearly forgotten yesterday’s events.

Scott sighed.

“Of course not. Still, Peggy should have been the lastperson to ever make Caleb feel uncomfortable about his family. Stiles feels really horrible about it.”

“… Stiles?” Derek asked in confusion.

Scott snorted, his tense shoulders relaxing visibly.  

“His real name is a travesty. Trust me, we’ve been best friends since he convinced me to eat sand cakes on the first day of kindergarten and I still can’t pronounce it properly.”

“What’s a travesty, Uncle Scott?”

Peggy and Caleb had walked over to them, the little Omega’s hand securely tucked into Caleb’s bigger one and her eyes sparkling with curiosity.

Scott froze, his eyes going wide.

“Oh shit! Uh …”

Uncle Scott!”

It shouldn’t have been possible after a restless sleep filled with nightmares, but Derek couldn’t stop himself from laughing out loud, the sight of Peggy’s outraged little face too hilariously cute to resist.

He slapped a hand over his mouth when Peggy directed the same outraged expression towards him, her frown making it clear she did not appreciate being laughed at.

“I’m sorry, Peggy-Pie,” Scott said, holding up his arms and flashing Peggy a rueful smile.

The little Omega cocked her head, clearly torn between righteous indignation and the temptation of snuggles.

A moment later, she slung her arms around Scott’s neck and climbed onto his lap, her mind clearly made up.

“You have to put a dollar in the swear-jar, Uncle Scott,” she said seriously, patting his cheek for good measure.

“Absolutely,” Scott agreed, his expression half contrite and half amused.

“Or you could give us a Popsicle,” Peggy added after a moment of deliberation, her eyes sparkling mischievously when Scott threw his head back and let out a belly laugh.

Out of the corner of his eye, Derek noticed Caleb perking up at the mention of Popsicles and when the children shared impish little grins, he wondered if they’d just been hustled.

Scott’s wide grin made it clear that the Alpha had come to the same conclusion.

“I could, huh? Well, I guess the two of you can have a Popsicle. You might have to fight Auntie Kira for them, though. Last I checked she had eaten almost all of them already.”

Peggy nodded, looking like she was on a mission when she hopped off of Scott’s lap and grabbed Caleb’s hand.

“Come on! The baby in Auntie Kira’s belly really, really loves popsicles and if we don’t hurry we won’t get any!”

“Awesome! Can we get one for my papa, too?” Caleb asked, looking at Derek and Scott for confirmation.

“I’m good, little bear, thank you,” Derek smiled and Scott nodded, looking amused as he waggled his eyebrows at Peggy.

“Make sure to get the ones we bought at the store. You know what happened last time.”

Peggy shuddered, as if she was reliving a horrible memory.

“Last time I picked one that Auntie Kira made herself and it was really, really gross! Daddy says that’s because the baby makes her want to eat stuff that doesn’t go well together. I don’t think that’s true though. Babies are really cute, but that Popsicle wasn’t cute! That Popsicle was evil!”

She turned to Caleb with comically wide eyes and Caleb giggled, making Derek’s chest feel warm and light as he watched them hurry into the house.

Scott waited until the kids were out of earshot before he turned towards Derek with a grin.

“It truly was evil, I think she mixed garlic with strawberry and mustard. I love my wife dearly but I, too, thought the kid was the antichrist for a second there.”

His smile widened, turning utterly besotted.

“So far, my wife has only craved things she can make herself, but if I’m honest, I’m actually looking forward to her shaking me awake at night so I can go on a craving’s run. My mom says it makes me sound like a knot-head, but I just really want to provide for her, you know?”

Scott shrugged, taking a sip of his soda.

“Besides, back when Stiles was pregnant, Lydia once managed to talk the owner of his favorite deli into delivering an order of curly fries to his house in the middle of the night. If she could provide for him at 3 AM over the phone from the other side of the country, I feel I really need to step up my game here.”

“Lydia?” Derek asked, starting to feel a little overwhelmed with all the new information and names that were being thrown at him.

Scott smacked a hand against his forehead, looking sheepish.

“Oh, sorry, watching the kids playing like old friends makes me forget you guys literally just moved here! Lydia is Peggy’s Alpha mother.”

“The one currently teaching math to stupid people and challenging the boring alphanormativity?” Derek asked, trying not to grin.

Scott winced.

“Yeah … I might have to talk to Stiles about how Peggy-Pie explains her mom’s job. A definite yes on the challenge part, though. Half the town is still pressed about it, actually, because in their minds, Lydia went and abandoned the Omega she got pregnant and then had the audacityto actually make this whole co-parenting thing work.”

The younger Alpha huffed, looking a little miffed.

“Stiles says it’s because the people feel they were robbed off the drama literally everyone was expecting when the news were spread all around town. An unrequited childhood crush, an accidental heat, an unmated Omega in trouble, an Alpha all the way across the country, a pregnant rookie Omega deputy surrounded by buff Alpha police officers ready to avenge his honor … if that’s not the beginning of a scandalous telenovela, I don’t know what is.”

“Uh …” Derek replied, suddenly not sure if he was, indeed, listening to a re-cap of Scott’s favorite daytime soap.

Scott laughed at his expression, patting him on the shoulder.

“Yeah, I know. They really aremaking it work though, just like I always knew they would! Apart from the semi-scandalous circumstances of Peggy’s conception, Stiles and Lydia have been committed to prioritizing her from the moment they decided to keep her.”

“Are you talking about Mommy and Daddy?”

Scott’s breath came out in a whoosh when Peggy flung herself all over his back, one arm wrapped around Scott’s neck and a Popsicle clutched in her free hand.

“Were you, Uncle Scott? Were you?”

“Oof! What did your daddy tell you about attacking innocent godfathers?”

“That they secretly love it, even if they grumble a lot,” Peggy replied quickly and smacked a sticky kiss on Scott’s cheek.

Judging by Scott’s wide smile, Derek figured the little girl had the right idea.

“Why were you talking about Mommy and Daddy?” Peggy asked again, looking curiously back and forth between Derek and Scott.

“I was telling Caleb’s father about when you were born,” Scott explained and Peggy let out an intrigued sound.

A second later, Derek once again had a tiny Omega sitting on his lap, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement.

“Do you want to hear the story of when I was born, Caleb-Papa?” she asked, beaming up at him as if she’d been waiting for this opportunity all day.

“It’s her favorite story,” Scott offered with an apologetic grin, looking like he was ready to rescue Derek if necessary.

Derek let out a soft laugh and smiled down at the little girl, nodding for her to continue.

Peggy’s grin was almost blinding and Derek figured he’d just made a friend for life.

“Awesome! You see, when Daddy and Mommy were little, Daddy thought Mommy was the prettiest girl in the whole world! He even wanted to marry her! But Mommy always played with my Uncle Jackson and never wanted to play with Daddy!”

Next to Derek, Scott shook his head in amusement but Peggy didn’t notice, her full attention divided between Derek and Caleb, who’d sat down on Derek’s other side and was happily munching on a green Popsicle.

“But guess what! Mommy didn’t want to marry anybody, and when Daddy got a bit older he realized that he didn’t want to marry Mommy either! So they became really good friends instead! Almost like Daddy and Uncle Scott, except when he went on play-dates with Mommy, Daddy always got nice clothes and shoes, and when he went on play-dates with Uncle Scott, they played video games and talked a lot about farts!”

“Not true!” Scott yelped and Derek had to bite the insides of his cheeks so he wouldn’t laugh.  

Peggy ignored her uncle, her cheeks glowing proudly as she continued.

“When my Daddy grew up, he became the first Omega deputy in Beacon Hills, because he’s really smart and really brave and bad peopleare afraid of him because he can put them in time-out!”

She paused, her little nose crinkling adorably as she took a slurp of her Popsicle.

“My daddy puts me in time-out, too, but that’s okay because I always get kisses and snuggles after. The bad people don’t get kisses and snuggles after!”

A little motion caught Derek’s attention out of the corner of his eye and when he looked at Caleb, his son’s thumb was firmly stuck in his mouth again, his gaze cast down towards the wooden floorboards.

Caleb’s mother was in time-out, as well, and Derek thought quickly, desperately wanting to avoid a repeat of yesterday’s events.

He wrapped his arm securely around Caleb’s shoulders and pressed a kiss on the top of his head, both to ground him and to give him some comfort.

Then he focused on the little girl on his lap, hoping his smile looked genuine enough.

“Weren’t you going to tell us how you were born?” he gently reminded her and Peggy nodded immediately, her expression as excited as ever.

“Right! My daddy had to do a really, really important thing at work and he was so worried about doing a good job that he forgot his pink pills! He didn’t even notice he had forgotten them, that’s how worried he was!”

“Pink pills?”

Caleb’s voice was a little muffled around the thumb in his mouth, but Derek was relieved to note that his son was making eye-contact again, even if he was still very firmly wedged against Derek’s side.

Peggy nodded importantly.

“Yes! My daddy has to take his pink pills because he’s an Omega! If grown-up Omegas don’t take their pink pills, they sometimes get really, really hot and then they need lots of hugs and kisses to feel better! But my daddy didn’t have someone he wanted to get lots of hugs and kisses from, so he had to take his pink pills instead!”

Caleb let out an intrigued sound.

“Oh? So your daddy forgot to take his pink pills and then you were born?”

Peggy shook her head.

“No, no! My daddy finished up his really important thing at work and he did so well that Mommy came to visit him and take him out camping as a treat! But then my daddy got really hot and achy because he’d forgotten his pink pills and then Daddy and Mommy made me on accident! You see, when an Omega and an Alpha love each other very much or just like hugs and kisses, the Alpha gives the Omega …”

“Peggy Merida Stilinski-Martin!” Scott tried to interject, but Peggy was not to be interrupted again, after she’d already been thwarted from giving Derek and Caleb the talk the afternoon before.

“It’s perfectly normal and no one needs to be an orangutan about it! My daddy and mommy say so!” she lectured, looking a little offended when Scott couldn’t quite suppress a snort.  

Puritan, baby-girl,” he corrected, his voice a little choked with suppressed laughter.

Peggy shrugged, clearly of the mind that the two were one and the same.

On behalf of innocent orangutans everywhere, Derek hoped she’d soon see the error of her ways.

“Anyway, when an Omega and an Alpha love each other very much they like to hug for a long time and it’s really nice! But when Omegas forget their pink pills then they get really hot and achy and when they get achy the Alpha has to give them a special medicine from their private parts! That’s how you make a baby! That’s how my daddy and mommy made me!”

“Oh really?”

A new voice rang out, sounding amused and also a little bit resigned.

Peggy’s head whipped around so quickly her pigtails smacked right against Derek’s chin.

“Daddy!” she yelled, tugging at Derek’s shirt and bouncing up and down on his lap in excitement.

“Caleb, Caleb-Papa, look! That’s my daddy!”

Derek looked up.

Then, he blinked in surprise.

Peggy’s daddy – Stiles – did not look like Derek had imagined him.

For one, he was surprisingly tall, even for a male Omega, with impressive broad shoulders and strong legs that were clearly toned from running after criminals.

Or, perhaps, from chasing after a rather rambunctious five-year-old.

The Omega was still wearing his deputy uniform and his brown spikey hair was artfully arranged into chaos, which Derek somehow doubted was allowed in the deputy dress code.  

Stiles’ skin was as pale as Peggy’s and he also had little moles spattered over his face, giving him something of a boyish air that was only partially mitigated by the soft crinkles around his eyes.

His eyes were the same doe-brown as his daughter’s and his nose was just as cute as hers, despite being adult-sized.

He was – unexpectedly attractive.

He also clearly loved his daughter, as evidenced by his broad smile when Peggy jumped off of Derek’s lap and launched herself straight into her father’s arms.

Stiles caught her midway, letting out a gust of breath when Peggy’s momentum caused him to take a step back.

“Oof! Scott, how much sugar did you give her this time?”

“It was just a Popsicle!” Scott defended himself, muttering “and a cookie and pop tart” when the Omega raised a disbelieving eyebrow.

“It was a unicorn pop tart, Daddy!” Peggy tattled on her godfather excitedly, both arms wrapped so tightly around Stiles’ neck that Derek was surprised the Omega wasn’t choking.

“Limited edition,” Scott offered weakly and Stiles snorted, shaking his head and rolling his eyes good-naturedly.

“You remember those words when you’re trying to run after her until well after midnight because she’s so hyped up she’s faster than the Flash. I might just leave her here for a sleep-over, so you can practice for all those sleepless nights in you guys’ very near future.”

“No Daddy, you promised I get to sleep in your bed tonight, remember? You promised, and Stilinskis never break a promise!”

“Indeed, they do not.”

Stiles sighed dramatically, plopping down onto the porch right between Derek and Scott and stealing Scott’s soda with a cheeky grin.

Derek was startled, to say the least, but before he could move Peggy was back in his lap, making herself comfortable and smearing the last of her Popsicle all over Derek’s shirt on accident.

“Daddy, I was just telling Caleb-Papa how you and Mommy went camping and then you got really hot and Mommy had to give you a special Alpha medicine and that’s how she put me in your tummy!” 

Stiles exhaled the sigh of the long-suffering, turning to Derek with an apologetic expression.

“I’d introduce myself properly, but it seems like my angel child has already revealed all my secrets, so I’ll just stick to the basics. Hi. I’m Stiles.”

He held out his hand, his lips quirking into a dry smile.

“Derek. This is my boy, Caleb,” Derek replied, taking the offered hand and nodding towards his son.

Caleb had once again snuck closer to Derek when Peggy’s father had appeared, his little hand tightly wrapped around Derek’s bicep.

It was the deputy uniform, the Alpha thought worriedly, figuring that Stiles’ outfit was bringing back some bad memories for Caleb.

Stiles’ eyes moved from Derek to Caleb, briefly assessing both of them in a way that felt almost clinical to Derek.

For a moment, his gaze hardened and Derek knew without a doubt that he’d picked up on the tension that Derek could feel radiating from his son’s body.

He was ready to diffuse the situation, to leave again if it was really necessary, but Stiles beat him to it.

The deputy’s face broke out into a wide, genuine smile and when he spoke his voice was warm and calm.  

“Hey Caleb, I’m Stiles, Peggy’s daddy. My daughter literally couldn’t stop talking about how awesome you are you last night, so I’m glad I finally get to meet you, young man.”

Caleb’s cheeks glowed in embarrassment but his shy smile was genuine when he took Stiles’ hand and shook it once.

“He’s not at a young man, Daddy, he’s my brother!” Peggy protested, giving her father a thoroughly unimpressed expression.

Stiles held up his hands, smiling good-naturedly.

“Ah yes, of course, how could I forget.”

Peggy nodded graciously, the transgression clearly forgiven.

“Daddy, can I show Caleb and Caleb-Papa the picture of when I was in your tummy?” she asked excitedly, looking not at all deterred by her father’s answering groan.

“Please, Daddy, please!”

Stiles groaned again but he handed over his phone regardless, shooting Derek another apologetic grin.

“Sorry, my child is utterly fascinated with her origin story,” he explained, though his eyes softened when he watched his little girl thump through the phone expertly.

A moment later she was waving it right in front of Derek’s face, looking utterly proud of herself.

“Look! It looks like a watermelon but it’s actually me! Doesn’t my daddy look pretty?”

“Very pretty,” Caleb agreed obediently, the last of his tension visibly leaving his body when the tiny Omega on Derek’s lap beamed at him and leaned over so she could smack a kiss on his cheek.

Figuring that the crisis was averted, Derek looked at the picture as well and Stiles briefly bumped their shoulders together to get his attention, his eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Four months ago I got the flu and had snot running out of my nose for two weeks, darker circles under my eyes than Voldemort, and I don’t think I showered for at least seven days. She thought I was very pretty then, too. Just to give you some perspective on how much her eternal love for me clouds her judgment,” the Omega said drily, his lips cracking into a wide smile when Derek let out a startled laugh.

He looked down at the picture and paid attention this time, feeling the expectant eyes of the little Omega girl on him.

Five years of single parenting clearly hadn’t aged Stiles a day.

The Omega looked just as young in the picture as he did now, even though the buzz cut he was sporting gave him a little bit more of a boyish appearance than the way his hair was styled at the moment.

He was standing on a porch in what appeared to be a late spring afternoon, dressed in only a pair of shorts and a tank top that was no longer quite covering a stomach that, to Derek’s eye, looked almost over-due.

One hand was pressed against the small of his back and the other was placed low on his belly, his face turned down to look at his stomach with an expression that Derek couldn’t describe as anything other than unbearably tender, despite the tension lines in the Omega’s face that spoke of physical discomfort.

“Lydia took that picture literally five seconds after I realized I was finally in labor eight days after my due date.”

He pointed at the picture, shaking his head with a grimace.

“As you can see, I’m drenched in sweat and my feet are more swollen than ever because I had spent that entire day power walking all over Beacon Hills to coax this fashionably late kid out of me. It was quite the spectacle. People got so invested in my progress that they cheered on the streets as I was driven to the hospital. It was essentially a town parade, basically the stuff of legends.”

“Like you would have been able to tell. The legend also says you were curled up on the backseat, trying to break Scott’s hand and cursing Alphas everywhere.”

Scott immediately jumped up to offer his seat to the pregnant Omega who’d just entered the porch but his wife shook her head, grinning as she carefully lowered herself onto the Alpha’s lap instead.

Stiles raised both eyebrows and gave her tiny belly a gentle pat.

“You just wait until your privates are being torn apart and then you, too, will realize that the fun of baby-making, all the overprotective Alpha-pampering, and all those cute little bonding moments when the baby is kicking are really just a set-up to lure you into a trap of unimaginable torture.”

“I can’t wait,” Kira beamed and her Alpha husband immediately put both hands over her small bump and rubbed affectionately, his smile utterly besotted.

“Ugh! They have no idea!” Stiles told Derek conspiratorially, though the affectionate gaze he directed at his little girl immediately belied his words.

“The point is that this is the most unflattering picture that has ever been taken of me, which is why my child’s near devilish joy in showing it to every single person she meets is starting to make me question my parenting skills,” the Omega continued, drawing Derek’s attention back to the picture.

“No Daddy, you’re pretty! Mommy says so, too, and Mommy is the smartest Alpha in the world!”

“Well, if Mommy says so then it’s probably true,” Stiles agreed easily, his eyes sparkling with amusement.

Derek couldn’t help but notice that there was neither tension in his face nor bitterness in his tone, as if he really was on very good terms with mother of his child.

It seemed almost unfathomable to Derek, given what he’d already heard about the situation.

However, the beaming child on his lap was clearly happy, well loved, and cared for, living proof that some people apparently managed to get their shit together when it came to co-parenting.

It made Derek both happy and sad when he looked at the two children side by side, both growing up with single parents but having had such dramatically different life experiences.

The bitter taste of failure was once again heavy on Derek’s tongue and not even a long gulp of Dr Pepper could wash it away.

“Anyway, enough about me. So Derek, you guys just moved to Beacon Hills, right?”

When Derek looked back at the Omega the young deputy’s eyes on him were curious but also a bit guarded, as if he’d read some of Derek’s dark thoughts on his face.

Derek couldn’t really blame him for his caution, given that his little girl was still happily perched on Derek’s lap and seemed to have settled in for the long haul.

“Yeah. We moved here from New York City last month. It was … it was time for a fresh start, you know?”

“And you chose Beacon Hills out of all places? I’m not trying to knock my hometown, but compared to New York City this place is basically Boring Central.”

That’s entirely the point, Derek thought, smiling ever so slightly.

“Well, after the busy city life of New York, a small town seemed like the way to go,” he replied, ruffling Caleb’s hair.

“Fair,” Stiles conceded, his guarded expression softening a little when he looked at Caleb.

“How are you liking the town so far, Caleb?”

Caleb smiled shyly, briefly glancing at Derek for confirmation.

“I like it. It’s very quiet here. And I got my own room and Papa just bought me My Little Wolf bedding.”

At the mention of her favorite TV-show, Peggy perked up excitedly, her ginger pigtails once again flopping against Derek’s chin.

“Oh! Can I go see Daddy? Can I? Please, please, please, please, please, please …”

“You can if it’s okay with Caleb and his Papa,” Stiles said and Peggy immediately whirled around to look at the two Hales, her expression beseeching and utterly adorable.

“Can I please come see your My Little Wolf bedding and afterwards my daddy and I are staying for spaghetti with hotdogs?”

She frowned, considering.

“And a salad, please! My daddy needs to watch his cholera!”

“Peggy Merida Stilinski-Martin!” Stiles chastised, but Caleb was already nudging against Derek’s shoulder, his eyes big and hopeful.

“Can they, Papa? Please?”

“Sure,” Derek said immediately, not even hesitating for a second.

Suddenly, two strong tiny arms were wrapped around his neck and a little voice was squealing happily into his ear, followed by a kiss on his cheek.

“Thank you, Caleb-Papa!” Peggy beamed, before hopping off his lap and grabbing Caleb’s hand.

“Don’t break anything,” Stiles called after his daughter when she took off across the lawn, a happily laughing Caleb in tow.

Derek was feeling a little gob smacked and when he turned to Stiles, the other parent seemed to share the sentiment.

“Dude, she really likes you and your boy! She’s pretty affectionate as a rule, but kisses on the cheek are reserved for very special people only! I’ll probably have to give her another talk about respecting people’s privacy tonight, but please know that she means it as the highest form of praise.”

Stiles smiled, holding up his hands.

“I don’t have cholera, by the way. Her grandfather has high cholesterol, however, and she’s seen me nag at him about his nutrition so many times that she’s now convinced that’s what you do with daddies, even if they are perfectly healthy and in their prime.”

“I didn’t think you did,” Derek laughed, looking over to the house and watching Caleb and Peggy disappear through the wide-open front door.

“Don’t worry about it, by the way. You’re more than welcome to stay for spaghetti and hot dogs and I’m sure I can whip up a salad, too. My son has had a hard time making friends, so I’m glad he’s found someone who wants to hang out with him, even though he is a bit older than her.”

“Preach,” Stiles groaned.

He drained the last of Scott’s soda and placed the can next to the Alpha, who was currently talking to Kira’s belly and seemed to have lost track of the conversation a while ago.

“My daughter is almost scarily smart for her age, so it’s tough for her to make friends, too. What grade is your kid in, if I may ask?”

“Second. He’s going to be nine in November, but there was a lot of stuff going on in New York at the time, so he got held back a year,” Derek answered, tugging at his beard uncomfortably and bracing himself for Stiles’ question.

“Oh thank god!” the Omega surprised him, smiling brightly and not giving any indication that he was going to question Derek further.

“That’s good, that means they’ll only be a year apart. Call me crazy, but Lydia and I decided she should just go ahead and start first grade this year. She’s already reading on a third grade level and it seems like she inherited her mother’s unholy love of math, so we were worried she was going to be bored in kindergarten. She could have probably tried second grade, too, but we didn’t want the age gap between her and the other kids to be too big.”

He shrugged, though he couldn’t quite hide the worry in his eyes.

“I hope we made the right choice and I really hope she isn’t going to get bullied by the other kids. She seems like she’s older but she is very much still a little girl. Sometimes, the other kids don’t seem to understand that when she starts using big words that we probably shouldn’t have taught her to begin with.”

Stiles sighed, dragging a hand through his hair and messing it up even more in the process.

“But hey, if Caleb is just one grade above her, maybe he can look out for her at school a little?”

“He will,” Derek said with conviction, remembering the hopeful look in his son’s eyes when the little Omega had declared him her brother.

Stiles grinned, clapping Derek’s shoulder.

“Awesome. Well, shall we head over before the little ones make a mess of your home?”

Derek nodded, turning to thank Scott for his hospitality, only to find the other Alpha lip-locked with his pregnant Omega.

Stiles shook his head fondly, getting up and hopping off the porch with a little grunt.

“They’ll notice we left eventually. In about an hour or so.”

Derek looked at the happy couple once more and he felt stunned to realize that, for once, the only emotion he felt at such an openly affectionate display was fond amusement rather than bitterness.

As he followed Stiles towards his home, Derek didn’t speculate what might have brought on the change.

 

===============

“I don’t want to alarm you, but my child might officially move in with you tomorrow. Don’t worry too much though. She’s also officially moved into Scott and Kira’s house, as well as my dad’s and Melissa’s. I also think she’s almost convinced Jackson and Danny to paint their guest room bright pink, so she can do a princess sleepover in the appropriate ambiance. She usually doesn’t stay for dinner, but unless you put your foot down now, she’s going to be hanging out at this place a lot.”

“We wouldn’t mind,” Derek said warmly, clinking his beer bottle against Stiles’ and looking at the two children on the sofa, who’d crashed out during the second episode of My Little Wolf and were now deeply asleep.

Stiles grinned, taking a sip of his beer.

“She’s a little octopus, that one – when she loves someone she latches on and never lets go, but she’s got so many arms that the love gets shared equally.”

He took another sip of his beer, cocking his head with an amused smile.

“I think about that when I get called to the Pre-K principal’s office and receive a lecture about my parenting just because the other parents can’t deal with the fact that a three year old knows that a wee-wee is actually called penis.”

“I hear they are a bunch of orangutans,” Derek offered and Stiles threw his head back and laughed, quickly covering his mouth so he wouldn’t wake the children.

“I have no idea where she even got that word, but Lydia likes to watch the documentary channel and snuggling on the couch with cocoa and marshmallows is one of their favorite bonding moments when she comes to visit.”

Derek nodded, taking a sip of his beer so he wouldn’t ask a question.

He was curious how it all worked – how Stiles and this Lydia had apparently managed to form such a solid parenting relationship despite coming into their roles in what could only be described as an unfortunate accident.

However, he knew that if he started asking questions, Stiles would ask questions in return and Derek was still too worn out from his vivid dreams from the night before to revisit his past yet again.

Stiles seemed to read the question in his eyes, however, and a moment later he was showing Derek a picture on his phone that had obviously been taken straight after Peggy’s birth.

The photo showed a tired but clearly happy Stiles, an incredibly tiny and wrinkled little one, and a proudly beaming gorgeous Alpha woman, whose hair was the same shade as Peggy’s.

“You can ask, you know? Scott told me all about how my darling introduced herself to you yesterday. I might as well give you the full story, before you get the wrong impression about the company your little boy is keeping.”

“You don’t have to,” Derek said immediately, but Stiles shook his head, pointing at the photo with one long, delicate finger.

“Oh no, I insist. Sometimes, the way she makes it sound is as if I tricked Lydia into sharing my heat with me on purpose and I don’t want anybody to think that about me.”

Stiles’ expression was both serious and knowing and Derek’s gaze dropped to his beer, not wanting the other man to know that the thought had, of course, crossed his mind as well.

Stiles cleared his throat, clearly not fooled.

“Lydia and I have been close friends ever since our Junior Year in High School. She was the one who encouraged me to go to the police academy, despite the fact that there’s still a stigma about Omegas being unfit for police duty. Apart from my dad, she’s been my biggest cheerleader and I love her like a sister. If I’d known what was going to happen on that camping trip, I never would have gone.”

Stiles took a big gulp of his beer and Derek waited patiently, a little in awe and also feeling a bit touched that the Omega was sharing something so personal with him.

“Six years ago, I was working on a really rough case – an incredibly rough case, one that included a child and a monster masquerading as a parent. I was running myself ragged trying to prove that truly horrible stuff was happening in that home, but I was still pretty new on the force and some of the older Alpha deputies kept accusing me of letting my Omega nurturing instincts cloud my judgment. That really messed with my head and body.”

Stiles grimaced, patting his flat belly absentmindedly.

“We told Peggy I forgot my pink pills because she’s already seen me take them many times and we figured it was a more child-appropriate explanation than what really happened. Between you and me, I might have taken some of them a little bit late and that probably didn’t help, but in hindsight, what really messed up my cycle was the stress of that damn case.”

He shook his head, as if to chase away the bad memories.

“We were finally able to arrest the guy just before Labor Day, but by that time I was running on almost no sleep, way too much coffee, and I think I would have gone days without eating if Scott and Dad hadn’t checked up on me regularly. When Lydia got back into town for the holiday weekend she took one look at me and demanded we go camping so I could recharge my batteries.”

He smiled wistfully, his hand once again resting on his toned abdomen.

“All through college, Lydia and I used to go camping in the wood for a couple of days every summer, just to get away for a bit and talk. When she saw me looking like a – how did she put it? Ah yes, when she saw me looking like a mad scarecrow, Lydia decided to revive the tradition. By then, I had already gotten started on a new blister of suppressants and I had no idea they were going to fail on me, but in between my poor physical state and the close proximity of an Alpha in a tiny tent, I didn’t even make it through the first night in the woods.”

Stiles took another gulp of his beer, turning to look at his sleeping daughter before focusing back on Derek.

“We were deep in the woods, there was no cell phone reception, and my heat basically went from zero to hundred with no warning. I told Lydia to lock me up in the tent and go to get help, but there was no way she would have left me alone in that state. That only left us with the option of her standing guard outside while I tried to ride out what was shaping up to be a pretty painful heat on my own, or helping me through it. Faced with the choice between excruciating pain and spending my heat with an Alpha I trusted, I advocated for the second option. Lydia agreed and that’s how that little lady over there came to be.”

Stiles turned to look at his little girl once more, his voice dropping so low that Derek could barely hear him.

“I didn’t want to get pregnant, obviously, so the moment we got back to town, Lydia drove me to the pharmacy so I could get some Plan-B. It just … didn’t work the way it should have.”

He shrugged, taking another sip of his beer.

“We knew the risk remained, but we didn’t really think it would happen. Still, I took a pregnancy test just as a precaution as soon as it made sense. You can image our shock when it turned out I was pregnant after all.”

Stiles smiled softly, looking at his little girl once more.

“In hindsight, we got incredibly lucky, of course. Not that it felt that way back then. We seriously considered an abortion for a while, even. Lydia would have supported me one hundred percent and when I decided I wanted to keep the baby after all she supported me one hundred percent, too. Turns out, I made the right choice.”

Derek nodded, swallowing heavily.

“Yeah. I get that.”

He didn’t.

Not really.

From his conception to his birth, nothing about the way Caleb had come into Derek’s life had ever been Derek’s choice.

Derek had chosen to protect his son, however, and that, to him, was undeniably the best choice that he’d ever made.

Stiles cleared his throat, looking a little uncomfortable all of a sudden.  

“Now that I’ve shared my story with you, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you something personal as well.”

His voice was still warm but there was an edge to it now, his gaze on Derek steady and serious.

Derek tensed, painfully aware of what was about to come.

“Scott told me all about what happened yesterday. When he tried to describe the look on Caleb’s face when Peggy brought up his Omega mother, the only word he could come up with was haunted. I don’t want to pry into your business, Derek, but here’s the thing.”

Stiles took a deep breath, his gaze briefly flitting back to the sleeping children before once again settling on Derek.

“My daughter adores your son and I’m pretty sure she’s kind of in love with you, too, so I’m more than willing to let her come hang out here if that’s something that you guys are cool with. However, I need to know that whatever your son is so terrified of, will not be an issue that could endanger my little girl. I’m not going to force you to tell me what happened, but I do need to know if I have to worry about letting my child play with yours.”

“She’s in prison!”

Derek bit his lip, chastising himself for snapping and sounding harsher than he’d intended.

He cast a quick look at the children to make sure that Caleb was still asleep and then lowered his voice, not looking at Stiles.

“My … my ex. Caleb’s mother. She did some really bad things and she’s going to be in prison for a long time. You can look it up to make sure I’m telling you the truth, her name is Kate Argent and …”

“Derek, I’m not trying to invade your privacy, I just …” Stiles tried to interject but Derek shook his head jerkily, his eyes flashing red in a sudden burst of anguish.

No! My son hasn’t had a real friend in a really long time because of her. If you digging into my past is what it takes so that she won’t get to ruin his first real chance at making a new friend ever since … then that’s what you have to do. Her name is Katherine Geraldine Argent, she gave me the biggest blessing of my life and she also tried to ruin every single …”

“Derek, stop.”

The Omega’s voice was calm but authoritative, gone from fellow single parent to police officer in a split second.

Derek yielded instantly, too conditioned not to respond to an order.

Stiles sighed, looking apologetic and a bit distraught as he rubbed a hand over his eyes. 

“Alright, how about this. I’m going to have one of my colleagues check that she’s in prison and let them tell me. Nothing else. At this point, I don’t need to know what she’s in prison for.”

Derek gaped at him and Stiles nodded determinedly, his voice sincere when he spoke again.

“I’m not trying to get to know you guys as Deputy Stilinski, Derek. I’m trying to get to know you as Stiles, and that means that I have no right to pry into your past unless you decide that you want to tell me.”

Derek kept staring at him, not sure he’d heard him right.

“But … don’t you want to …”

“I hate that I had to ask, Derek. We had a very nice evening and I didn’t want it to end on such an awkward note but … well … I’m a cop, Derek. I’m trained to see things that other people don’t.”

Stiles pressed the tips of his fingers together, visibly collecting his thoughts.

“When I look at the two of you, I don’t need an arrest record to know that whatever you both have gone through must have been horrible. I’m not trying to open old wounds, I promise. I just need to make sure my daughter isn’t going to get dragged into it.”

“You’re a good father,” Derek said after a long pause, not sure how to respond otherwise because he understood where Stiles was coming from.

Yes.

He understood all too well.

Stiles chuckled softly, some of the tension dissipating as he threw another fond look at his sleeping little girl.

“I try.”

He rubbed his hands together and pushed his chair back, flashing Derek a kind smile.

“Thank you for everything, Derek. My little girl had a very nice time tonight and so did I. Again, I’m sorry I had to make things awkward.’

“It’s okay,” Derek said, surprised to find that he actually meant it.

Stiles nodded, looking relieved.

“Good. Good. Well, I think we should be heading home; it’s been an eventful day. If you and Caleb want, we could all hang out on Saturday, by the way. Peggy and I like to go to the park when the weather is good,” the Omega said, pulling a pen out of his shirt pocket and quickly writing down his number on a piece of paper.

“We’ll be there,” Derek promised, watching the tension leak out of Stiles’ broad shoulders when he accepted the paper.

Derek could feel his own tension fade away as he watched Stiles carefully untangle the children and lift Peggy into his arms.

Peggy let out an adorable little snore as her father draped over his chest, allowing her to burrow her head into the crook of his neck.

“I guess you’re going to have your own bed to yourself after all,” Derek whispered, opening the front door for them as quietly as possible.  

Stiles stepped out onto the small front porch and turned towards him, a soft smile on his lips as he shook his head.

“Nah. Stilinskis never break their promises.”

 

===============

 

The week after the beginning of school, Derek found a job at City Hall as a filing clerk.

The job gave him and his son health care benefits, regular eight-hour days, and allowed him to be home during the weekends and when Caleb came home from school.

However, his new job was only one of the reasons why Derek could feel his chest getting ever lighter with each passing week.

To his eternal relief, Caleb was adjusting well to his new school and came home with funny stories about his teacher or his classmates almost every day, his cheeks glowing with excitement and his laugh never failing to make Derek’s heart warm and happy.

Peggy certainly had a big part to play in how well his son was getting along at school, given that she always made sure to play with him during recess and sit with him during lunch.

During the first week, both Stiles and Derek had worried that the other kids might make fun of the almost nine-year old who played with a five-year old, so Stiles had bent the rules a little and driven both Caleb and Peggy to school in his police car and in full deputy uniform.

The Omega had intended it to be a scare tactic, but based on Caleb’s stories Derek had soon come to the conclusion that the other kids were mostly in awe of Caleb being friends with an actual police officer, making little Peggy cool in association.

It was a stark difference to how the kids at Caleb’s old school had treated him after their run-ins with New York City’s police force and sometimes Derek wanted to pinch himself, to make sure he wasn’t actually dreaming.

Then again, they’d been more than overdue for a little bit of luck coming their way, and Derek was hopeful he was eventually going to be able to convince himself to stop holding his breath, still feeling like he was doomed to a life of perpetual disaster anticipation.  

For the moment, he was absolutely determined to enjoy this reprieve, however, soaking in Caleb’s happiness and laughter and reminding himself over and over that they had more than earned this new normal.

With a steadily increasing frequency, this new normal also included Stiles and Peggy, the latter of whom came over to play with Caleb after school at least three times a week and the former of whom ended up staying longer and longer when he came to pick up his daughter in the evening.

Soon, Derek found himself looking forward to his conversations with Stiles, wondering how he’d managed to go this long without a friend.

For the most part, Stiles led these conversations, sometimes lamenting about the trials of raising a five year old going on thirty, something regaling Derek with stories from his work-day, and sometimes rambling on and on over whatever interesting fact he’d read on Wikipedia that day.

They stayed clear of Derek and Caleb’s past and Derek was beyond grateful, enjoying the easy camaraderie they’d established in such a short time.

Stiles seemed to agree wholeheartedly.

“This is really nice. Have I told you that before?” Stiles asked one evening, leaning back in his chair contentedly.

It was an unusually warm early October night and after the kids had fallen asleep on the couch once again, Derek had suggested relocating to the back porch.

He’d recently purchased two porch rocking chairs and Stiles was now comfortably curled up in one of them, his long legs tucked under his body in a contorted way that made Derek’s own knees ache in sympathy.

“I know. I still can’t believe I got such a good bargain on these chairs,” Derek said, frowning when Stiles shook his head.

“No, that’s not what I meant. It’s just really nice to finally have another single parent friend, you know?”

“Oh.”

Derek nodded, instantly understanding what Stiles was getting at.

In the almost three months since they’d made the Stilinskis’ acquaintance, Derek had gotten to know both Stiles’ circle of friends and learned more about his relationship with the individual members of the impressive support system that had rallied around him when he’d gotten pregnant with Peggy.

Stiles was on exceptionally good terms with Peggy’s mother Lydia, who was just as devoted to her child’s happiness as Stiles was.

As one of the youngest math professors in the history of her university, Lydia had a busy schedule that made it difficult for her to visit during the semester, but she made sure to video-call Peggy at least every other day and she always picked up the phone when Stiles called, regardless of whether she was teaching, in a board meeting, or on a date.

She was Peggy’s mother from a distance but her presence was felt clearly and Derek was genuinely happy for the little girl, even if he still occasionally wondered how Stiles and Lydia were making their unusual best friends-turned-parents dynamic work without witchcraft being involved.  

Stiles’ father was also head over heel for his granddaughter and Derek couldn’t recall a visit during which the little Omega had not entertained him with her beloved Grampy’s latest heroic feat.

The Omega’s circle of close friends notably included Scott and Kira, a feisty Omega named Erica, her Alpha mate Boyd, as well as a gay Omega couple named Jackson and Danny, who seemed to be in perpetual competition with Scott over the role of Peggy’s favorite uncle.

They all adored Peggy and spoiled her every chance they got, but none of them had kids yet, making it difficult for them to truly empathize with Stiles, even if all of them took a genuine interest in Peggy’s wellbeing.

Of course the Omega had his father to ask for advice, since the retired Sheriff had raised him on his own during his teen years after Stiles’ mother had succumbed to a rare brain cancer.

However, Derek could understand why Stiles had yearned for someone to commiserate with who was closer to his own age and currently facing the challenges brought on by single parenthood.

“It’s just … you get it. You truly get it in a way that the others can’t, no matter how hard they try,” Stiles continued, slowly rocking the chair back and forth as he gazed up into the starless sky.

“I’m not complaining, believe, me, I know how fortunate I am to have the support system that I got. Still, there are days when I’m just … not doing so great. You know the ones – the days when your child has acted like a butt all day and you’re just ready to pass out and be held for once at the end of the day. Or if your child does something incredibly cute and you turn to share the moment with someone, except there’s no one there and it fucking hurts.”

He paused for a moment, his long fingers fiddling with the hem of his jeans.  

“Some days, it’s all a little too much and I just want to vent, but I don’t really know where to turn. I can’t tell Lydia, because she’d just feel guilty about it, and I definitely can’t tell my father, whose blood pressure is already worrisome enough as it is.”

Derek nodded and Stiles sighed, turning his head to look in the direction of Scott’s house.

“As far as my friends are concerned, they just wouldn’t understand. Or worse, they’d take it personally. They’ve all gone above and beyond to support me from the moment I decided to go through with the pregnancy. Scott went to all my doctor’s appointments with me when Lydia couldn’t make it and I haven’t been in want of a babysitter from the moment she was born.”

Stiles smiled, though there wasn’t much humor in it.

“I am not alone in this. There is no reason why I should feel lonely sometimes. I still do though. I actually feel lonely a lot and it has nothing to do with my non-existent love life whatsoever. Sure, it would be nice to be held again in that way, but that’s not what this is about. I’m lonely because some days it feels as if the responsibility for this little human is literally crushing me.”

Stiles shrugged, looking away once more.

“Sure, there are many people in her life who love her and they’ll listen to me worry about the choices I’m making for her, but at the end of the day, I’m the one who has to decide. Lydia gets input on the bigger things, of course, but day-to-day stuff? Actually raising her? Most of that is all on me and it would just be nice to be able to turn to someone at night and get reassurance that giving in and taking her to the ice-cream parlor won’t set her on a path to dictatorship one day. Does that make sense?”

Stiles looked at him imploringly and Derek nodded quickly, because he knew exactly what Stiles was talking about.

The Omega smiled, his posture relaxing instantly.

“See? That’s what I mean. You get it. You’re living it. And it’s just nice to finally be able to share this stuff with someone who actually understands.”

“I … yeah. I also think it’s really nice to have someone to talk to.”

Derek smiled, feeling almost shy under Stiles’ warm gaze.

Truthfully, he hadn’t shared all that much with Stiles yet, never quite sure how much he could reveal without triggering another uncomfortable discussion about his and Caleb’s past.

However, knowing that someone was there to listen was a comfort all on its own and it was moments like this when Derek wondered whether his son or himself had gotten luckier the day the Stilinskis had stumbled into their lives.  

“I don’t regret having her. She’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I just wish it was easier,” Stiles said a while later, after they’d once more untangled the children and were standing in the hallway to say goodbye, each of them cradling a peacefully sleeping child against their shoulder.

Derek understood that, too.

Derek didn’t regret having Caleb at all.

He just regretted everything else.

=================

 

In the week leading up to Halloween, the kids spent almost every free minute together, both of them busily planning their costume.

Peggy had decided that they were going to go as Anna and Elsa from Frozen and Caleb had agreed immediately, much to Derek’s surprise.

“It’s her favorite movie,” Caleb patiently explained to Derek when the Alpha gently asked if he truly didn’t mind dressing up as a girl.

His son’s expression made it clear that he would have dressed up as a pink penguin if Peggy had asked him to and Derek didn’t ask again, still feeling a little worried that the kids might get teased but mostly just proud of his child.

When he heard of the plan, Stiles shook his head fondly and suggested that his daughter was probably trying to cement the kids’ newfound siblinghood, since Anna and Elsa were currently her favorite movie siblings and Peggy had set her heart on Caleb being her big brother.

The little Omega kept insisting he was, introducing him as her new brother constantly and causing confusion everywhere she went.

Caleb didn’t seem to mind though, his cheeks glowing with happiness and his hand wrapped tightly around Peggy’s smaller one when they crossed a street, got some ice cream, or took a walk in the park.

They were excitedly whispering to each other when Derek took them to the costume store at the mall three days before Halloween, since Peggy and Caleb had decided just that morning that they needed wigs after all.

They had taken the bus to the mall because Stiles had promised to join them for ice cream afterwards and drive them all to Derek’s place, where the kids wanted to put the finishing touches on their costumes.

It was going to be a fun filled afternoon and Derek was looking forward to it, always happy to spend quality time with his favorite little human in the universe and the two people who were quickly becoming some of his favorite people as well.

Once they were inside the store, the kids quickly headed to the wigs section and Derek trailed after them, taking his time to check out the merchandise.

He’d promised Caleb to join him, Peggy, and Stiles for trick-or-treating and he figured he should purchase at least a funny hat for the occasion.

Derek had just picked up a cowboy hat when a throat was cleared behind him.

A moment later, a hand was resting on Derek’s bicep.

“That would look really good on you.”

It was a woman’s voice, the smell of Omega and strong flowery perfume suddenly heavy in Derek’s nose.

He froze, almost dropping the hat when he saw blonde locks out of the corner of his eye.

The woman continued speaking, but Derek could no longer hear a word she was saying.

All he could focus on was her blonde hair and the well-manicured fingers wrapped around his arm, the shade of her nail polish the exact same one that he saw in his nightmares.

From one moment to the next, his blood was pounding in his ears and his chest felt like someone had dropped a boulder on it.

The woman’s grip on his arm tightened and Derek’s stomach clenched violently, his throat tight and dry even though he desperately wanted to speak.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO!

It wasn’t Kate.

The voice wasn’t right, the smell wasn’t right, yet Derek’s body clearly didn’t care, responding as if his worst nightmare was actually coming true.

Don’t touch me. Leave me alone. Stay away!

He wanted to speak up, to shove her away, but he hadn’t been prepared for the intrusion, his throat locking up right alongside the rest of his body.

This isn’t happening. This is not happening!

“Derek, I was looking all over for you!”

From one moment to the next the nails that had been digging into Derek’s arm were gone and Derek almost wanted to cry out with relief, if his throat hadn’t still been so tight he could barely breathe.

Stiles’ voice was tight as he stepped between Derek and the woman, almost as if he was trying to shield the bigger man.

He wasn’t touching Derek, however, and Derek was glad, reasonably sure he would have vibrated right out of his skin if he had.

Stiles said something else to the woman but Derek couldn’t hear the words, suddenly feeling so nauseous that all he could focus on was trying not to throw up.

“…Derek? Derek?”

Stiles must have been calling his name for quite a while, because when Derek finally managed to look at the Omega the woman was nowhere to be seen and Stiles was staring at him with a worried frown.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine! I’m fine! Let’s go pay, alright?”

He marched away to the cash register before Stiles could reply, his lips stretching into a smile that was probably a bit manic when he noticed the kids waiting for them.

“Papa?” Caleb asked, his eyes widening in alarm when he got a good look at Derek.

“That wig is going to look amazing, little bear!” Derek exclaimed cheerfully, making a grab for both wigs and pulling out his wallet, almost dropping his credit card when he fumbled it out of the slot.

He didn’t pay attention to the total, sloppily signing his name and accepting the bag without even looking at the cashier.

When he turned around with his purchase, Stiles was holding onto Peggy’s hand and grasping Caleb’s shoulder with his free hand, chatting to them about Frozen in what was clearly an attempt to distract them.

“Ice cream?” Derek asked, his voice sounding a bit shrill even to his own ears.

Stiles shook his head with determination, his voice calm and authoritative even though his eyes were now blazing Omega gold with worry.

“Let’s go home, you guys. It’s getting kind of late and you still need to finish those costumes, don’t you? I’m sure there’s ice-cream in the fridge.”

Neither Peggy nor Caleb protested, both of them staring at Derek with wide eyes.

It made Derek’s heart clench despite the panic still bubbling in his gut and he tried to relax with everything he had, all too painfully aware that the kids clearly knew something wasn’t right.

Unfortunately, Derek’s entire body hurt with tension, making the idea of relaxation rather laughable.

He was eternally grateful to Stiles when the Omega kept chatting about Frozen all the way to the car, doing his best to distract the kids from the fact that Derek was barely keeping it together, his feet moving on autopilot as he followed them into the parking lot.

Caleb clearly wasn’t fooled, however, his expression scrunched up with misery as he climbed into the car.

It was only a fifteen-minute drive back to Derek’s place, but to the Alpha it felt like an eternity.

He wanted to get away from Caleb’s sad eyes, desperately needing his little boy to believe his papa was getting better, even though that clearly wasn’t the case.

He also wanted to get away from Stiles’ worried frown, an expression that looked dangerously close to pity and made Derek’s stomach ache even further.

When they got to the house, Derek didn’t look at the children or Stiles he exited the car, walked up to the front door, and turned the key inside the lock.

He calmly walked into the kitchen and put down the bag with the wigs.

Then he walked to the freezer and pulled out three ice-cream cones, one for Peggy, one for Caleb, and one for Stiles.

“You guys can already get started, I’ll be right back,” he said, making sure he was taking slow, even steps as he walked out of the kitchen.

The moment he’d closed the kitchen door behind him, Derek bolted, making it to the bathroom just in time.

He dry-heaved long after his stomach must have been empty, until the back of his throat was burning as he coughed up stomach acid.

Finally, he leaned back, letting out a soft whimper as he pressed both hands against his still hurting stomach.

When he exited the bathroom, Stiles was leaning against the wall in the hallway.

“Do you need to lie down?”

It wasn’t a question so much as a suggestion and Derek nodded, figuring there was no use in pretending anymore.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Stiles said quietly, his voice still firm but also a little sad.

“I’ll take care of the kiddos. You just go and rest for a bit, alright?”

Derek nodded, not meeting Stiles’ gaze.

“Thank you.”

“Not for that, Derek. Never for that.”

Stiles’ voice was still sad and if his throat hadn’t hurt so much Derek might have felt sorely tempted to scream, to yell out his hurt and heartache and sheer frustration at his own inability to get his shit together.

Getting his shit together and moving on had been the only reason he’d moved his child all the way across the country, and even though Derek felt they’d made some progress in the past couple of months, it also hurt him deep to his core to be reminded of how brittle that progress was.

How quickly his newfound peace of mind could be destroyed by just a simple touch.

Derek was still very much broken.

It wasn’t something he wanted to think about too much, but that didn’t make it any less true.

Some days, he felt confident that he would be able to glue the pieces back on his own.

These days, he mostly felt that way after hearing his child’s happy laughter, feeling two tiny Omega arms slung around his neck with affection, and seeing an impish grin on a face that had become very dear to him in the past couple of weeks.

Days like today made all his hopes feel like bricks in his stomach, however, weighing him down and causing him unspeakable pain as they brought home the reality of his failure.

He didn’t bother stripping out of his clothes after he’d shut the bedroom door behind him, dropping onto the bed and curling up into a tight little ball.

It hadn’t been Kate; the rational part of him knew that full well.

And yet, she’d been there in the store with them, because Derek was still carrying her wherever he went.

Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes as he pressed his fists against his hurting belly, feeling it pulsate with tension and agony.

That’s where she lives, Derek thought, clenching his fists against his shirt.

For years, Kate had taken up residence in Derek’s head, reminding him of his failures over and over.

Moving to Beacon Hills had done wonders in that regard, because watching Caleb thrive and smile and laugh was Derek’s biggest triumph, finally drowning out the sounds of Kate’s insults and accusations.

However, the Kate that had made her poisonous home deep inside Derek’s soul was just as tenacious as her real-life version … and just as incapable of finally leaving him alone.

Instead of hearing her hurtful words, Derek’s stomach now hurt almost every time he encountered a blonde, longhaired Omega, sometimes cramping for hours afterwards.

It made sense.

He’d trusted her, rolled on his back and metaphorically showed her his vulnerable belly, and Kate had burrowed right in, trying to destroy him inside and out.

She was a poison inside him and Derek wanted to reach in and claw her out, his fists digging deeper and deeper into his throbbing belly.

He needed help.

Professional help.

He’d known he did for a while, long before today’s episode had once again driven home the realization that he wasn’t going to be able to heal on his own.

He just … didn’t know where to begin.

 

============

 

It was dark outside when Derek opened his eyes, the moon shining into the window and bathing the room in a soft glow.

Caleb was curled into his side and snoring softly, his fist clenching Derek’s shirt tightly.

Derek stared at that fist, feeling heavy and solid against his chest.

Good heavy though.

The kind of heavy that anchored you to reality, kept you from floating away to the point of no return.

“I love you,” Derek whispered, barely audible even to his own ears, his throat scratchy and achy after his extended bout of vomiting.

He grimaced and gently untangled Caleb’s fingers, deciding that he needed some water.

Caleb let out an unhappy little sound but he didn’t wake up and Derek kissed his head to reassure him he wasn’t going anywhere, making sure to pull up the covers and tuck his little boy in.

He tiptoed into the kitchen and opened the fridge, pulling out a water bottle and almost draining it in one go.

His stomach gave an unhappy little lurch and Derek held his breath, gently massaging his belly to get it to cooperate.

When it looked like the water was going to stay down, Derek took a careful little sip and headed towards the living room, figuring that he was probably done sleeping for the night.

He let out a shocked hiss and almost dropped the water bottle when he turned towards the couch and found Stiles staring at him, the Omega’s eyes shimmering with just a hint of gold in the dark room.

Stiles immediately held up one hand, looking instantly apologetic.

“Sorry, sorry!” he whispered, his voice low because Peggy was sprawled all over his chest and sleeping soundly, her red curls a tangled mess and one thumb stuck in her mouth.

“What are you guys still doing here?” Derek whispered back, looking at his watch in disbelief.

“I needed to make sure you were okay. I’m sorry I scared you but I just … I had to make sure you were okay.”

Stiles’ voice was still apologetic but also determined, his eyes on Derek as worried as they’d been earlier.

“You were out like a light and Caleb insisted on sleeping in your bed. He told me he needed to be there in case the bad dreams came again. I wasn’t going to leave you guys alone after that.”

Derek swallowed heavily, his throat suddenly feeling tight for an altogether different reason.

“I’m … I’m better.”

It was the truth, mostly, and to his great surprise Stiles once again didn’t pry, his eyes glowing in the darkness as he nodded.

“Alright. Good. Do you want us to head out?”

“At 3 in the morning? Don’t be silly. You can take Caleb’s bedroom though. His bed is big enough to fit you and you’d be way more comfortable.”

Stiles shook his head instantly, carefully cupping Peggy’s head with one hand when the little girl mumbled in her sleep.

“We’re good. If I move her now, chances are she’s going to wake up and I’ll have a cranky kid on my hands all day tomorrow. We’re fine here, don’t worry.”

Stiles smiled at him and closed his eyes, letting out a soft grunt when he got more comfortable on the couch.

In that moment, Derek knew without a shadow of a doubt that the Omega hadn’t gotten a second of sleep the entire night … and it made him to want to cry and also hug Stiles tightly and never let him go.

“Good night,” he whispered, all but fleeing the room and his sudden conflicting emotions.

Stiles had stayed awake to make sure that Derek and Caleb were okay.

Stiles had stayed in case the bad dreams came.  

Stiles was an incredible friend.

Possibly … possibly more than a friend.

It made Derek’s heart pound as he lay in his bed, looking towards the door as if he could see through the walls and watch Stiles and his daughter sleep in the living room.

Stiles was attractive, sure, but he was also kind.

He was kind, honest, smart, and occasionally delightfully snarky, making Derek laugh out loud even on a stressful day.

Most importantly, he was entirely devoted to his little girl’s happiness in a way that let Derek know deep down that he was a good person.

The possibility of having that kind of affection directed towards Derek and Caleb was breathtaking in all the ways.

Mostly in good ways, sure but also terrifying.

Terrifying, because Derek was broken and subjecting Stiles to his demons seemed like cruel and unusual punishment.

It couldn’t be.

It wouldn’t be fair.

Derek wasn’t going to entertain the thought for a second longer.

Besides, he had already gotten so damn lucky.

He wasn’t going to get greedy.  

A happy and thriving child, a home, and a steady job were everything that Derek could possibly wish for.

He didn’t need anything or anyone else.

He couldn’t allow himself to need anyone else.

 

=================

 

The first time Caleb got sick in California was two weeks before his birthday and Derek was not prepared for it.

He’d gotten so used to this new happy and vibrant Caleb that seeing him sick, pale, and tired hit him much harder than it would have under normal circumstances.

He was preparing dinner when his child got off the school bus, looking a little off and mumbling that his tummy was hurting.

Derek never ended up finishing dinner, because Caleb threw up the first time about half an hour later and Derek immediately went into autopilot mode.

Caleb started running a fever soon after and he also threw up three more times, once in his bed, once all over Derek, and once onto the bathroom carpet.

He spent the night in Derek’s bed, tossing and turning, whimpering and running a little fever, and Derek watched over him anxiously, the old feeling of helplessness and loneliness creeping back in despite his knowledge that there was actually someone he could call now.

Caleb still wasn’t keeping anything down the next morning and Derek called in sick to work, prepared to hear a stern rebuke and almost dropping the phone when his boss not only asked him to keep him updated about his little son but also encouraged him to take as much time off as was necessary.

By the time it was four in the afternoon, Derek had changed the sheets once again, Caleb was utterly miserable, last night’s dinner was still in the pots, the kitchen was an absolute mess.

Derek was absolutely exhausted, having gotten little more than a couple of minutes of rest here and there.

When the doorbell rang, Derek debated not answering it for a second, but whoever was outside was insistent, ringing up a storm and giving Derek more than a sneaking suspicion of who had decided to check on her best friend.

“Why wasn’t Caleb at school?” was the first thing Derek heard when he opened the door, coming face to face with a very worried five-year-old.

“Caleb is sick, he didn’t … wait, don’t …” he began, his voice going high in alarm when the little Omega just weaseled between his legs and made a mad dash for Caleb’s bedroom, only to let out a disgruntled sound and trample over to Derek’s room.

“He has the stomach flu, she’s going to get sick!” Derek told Stiles anxiously, not waiting for the Omega’s reply as he turned to hurry after the little girl and rescue her from the contamination zone.

When he stepped into his bedroom, Peggy was already wrapped around Caleb like an octopus, patting his cheek and interrogating him about his chances for survival.

Caleb’s eyes were a bit glassy but he was definitely trying to muster up a smile, his voice a little croaky as he reassured Peggy that he was going to live.

“Peggy, he’s going to get you sick,” Derek explained, taking a step forward to untangle the children and spare Stiles from the nasty stomach bug Caleb had contracted at school.

“He won’t, he’s my brother,” Peggy reminded Derek, smacking a kiss on Caleb’s cheek and patting his hair.

“Aaaaaand that’s that,” Stiles sighed from behind Derek, shaking his head in amusement.

“Let her, the kid’s got the immune system of a horse and if she does actually end up getting sick as well, maybe that’s a lesson she needs to learn.”

Derek stared at Stiles uncomprehendingly and the Omega nodded toward the kitchen, indicating for Derek to follow him.

“Seriously, don’t worry about it. Half her class is sick with the stomach flu, apparently, and when I picked her up an hour ago her teacher told me that the kid who sits next to her projectile vomited all over the place after lunch. She’s already been contaminated, I’m afraid.”

The Omega took a good look at Derek, then at the state of the kitchen, clucking his tongue disapprovingly.

“Jesus, you look like hell, Derek. Come on, sit down, I’ll make you some coffee.”

“Tea, please. If I have one more cup of coffee today I’m going to rocket to the moon,” Derek said, flashing the Omega a grateful smile and plopping into a chair.

His exhaustion came back the moment he sat down and he gave in to the urge to rest his head on his arms, only to lift it again and blink sluggishly when he heard the sounds of clanging.

“Stiles,” he began, but Stiles shushed him, brandishing a dirty spoon at him for good measure.

“Relax, Derek. I’m going to make you and Caleb a nice cup of chamomile tea and I’m going to take care of this mess, you look like you could fall asleep while standing.”

Stiles raised an eyebrow, as if to dare Derek to object, and the Alpha smiled gratefully, allowing his head to drop back onto his arms.

“Actually, you should go take a shower while I’m here to man the fort. No offense.”

Stiles’ voice was fond and amused and he crinkled his nose in exaggerated fashion, drawing a surprised bark of laughter out of the tired Alpha.

“Yes Sir,” he mock-saluted, pushing himself up and listening to Stiles humming in the kitchen all the way to the bathroom.

The warm water felt amazing on Derek’s tired body and he actually did feel a bit more alert when he stepped out of the shower and started toweling himself dry.

When he went back into the kitchen, Stiles was finishing up the dishes and Derek’s eyes widened almost comically.

“Are you a wizard?” he asked, gesturing at the clean kitchen that the Omega couldn’t have possibly tidied up in the no more than fifteen minutes that he’d been gone.

Stiles turned to look at him and let out an appreciative sound, taking in Derek’s clean sweatpants and his soft red Henley.

“Well, you were gone for almost an hour, so I had plenty of time.”

“I … huh?”

Stiles’ eyes crinkled, his smile both amused and a little concerned.

“You literally did fall asleep while standing in the shower, did you?”

“I … uh … maybe?”

Derek blinked, ducking his head and feeling a bit sheepish.

Stiles laughed quietly and then pushed a mug of tea into his hands.

“It’s okay. That used to happen to me all the time when Peggy was a baby and of the opinion that sleeping more than an hour at a time was a travesty. Of course I always took her into the bathroom with me so she could hang out in her maxi cosi and I could make sure she was okay, so she’d always scream me awake eventually.”

“I remember those days,” Derek agreed, sitting down at the table and taking a sip of his tea.

Stiles opened his mouth to reply, only to be interrupted by his daughter.

“Daddy! Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy …”

“Coming my love,” Stiles yelled back, shaking his head with a sigh.

“You’d think disaster was about to strike, but she also cries for me like that when she can’t tie her shoelace. I like to think she got those dramatics from her mother – it certainly wasn’t me, I can tell you that much.”

“Daaaaaddy!”

“I’ll be right back,” Stiles promised, lightly patting Derek’s shoulder on his way out of the kitchen and leaving the Alpha alone with his tea and his thoughts.

Derek could hear some quiet mumbling, but when the Omega hadn’t returned after a couple of minutes he got up to investigate.

When he walked into his bedroom, Stiles was perched on the edge of the bed and Peggy was clinging to Caleb, who was still pale but looking a little more upbeat than he had before the Stilinskis had come to visit.

Peggy was gesticulating wildly with one arm and when she saw Derek she sat up quickly, pushing out her lips and widening her eyes.

“Caleb-Papa, can my daddy help me snuggle Caleb so that he can get better? My grampy says that Omega snuggles are the best if your tummy hurts, but I’m just a little Omega and my daddy is a big one, so he can give much better Omega snuggles! Can he? Please, please, please, please, please, please …”

“Sorry Derek, I wasn’t going to get into your bed without your perm …”

“I don’t mind, Papa.”

Caleb was looking at Derek with a hopeful expression and Derek smiled, unable to help it.

“Are you sure, little bear?” he asked and Caleb nodded quickly, followed by a little whimper and a rather ominous grumbling in his tummy.

“Stiles, you don’t have to if you don’t …”

“Oh goodness, this is probably the most pathetically adorably sight I have ever seen, how could I resist!” Stiles waved away his concerns, rolling up his sleeves in exaggerated fashion.

A moment later, Stiles had climbed into Derek’s bed on Caleb’s other side and had one arm wrapped around the sick little Alpha, his free hand rubbing soothing circles into Caleb’s upset tummy.

He murmured something to the children that made them both smile and Derek could literally feel Caleb’s relaxation in his own body when his little boy melted into the belly-rub, some of the pained tension going out of his face.

For a moment, Derek allowed himself to drink in the sight of his son being sandwiched by the two Stilinski Omegas.

Stiles was talking quietly to Caleb and rubbing his tummy and Caleb was tucked firmly against his side, allowing him to rest his head on the Omega’s chest.

Peggy was snuggling him from the other side, stroking her little fingers up and down his arm and occasionally tucking a sweaty strand of hair out of his face, her expression mirroring the affection on Stiles’ face, even though she still seemed a bit skeptical as to Caleb’s chances for recovery.

Caleb, meanwhile, was glowing and Derek didn’t think it was a fever, his eyes half-closed in relaxation and a little smile on his face that hadn’t been there just a minute ago.

It was all Derek had ever wanted for Caleb, but now that he was looking at it, he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter.

Derek knew that his snuggles had made Caleb feel better, too.

He knew.

He wasn’t going to be an idiot about it.

He also knew that there was nothing that could truly compare to nurturing Omega pheromones when you were feeling bad and as he looked at the heart-warming display, Derek suddenly realized what he was feeling.

He wasn’t bitter.

He felt useless.

Derek turned around to go, not wanting his son to see the undoubtedly sad expression on his face.

“Papa?”

Caleb was looking at him with a hopeful smile, patting the bed next to Peggy.

“Come on, Papa,” Stiles encouraged him, his voice almost unbearably soft.

Derek deliberately didn’t look at the smiling Omega as he got into bed next to Peggy, his face flooding with warmth that he wasn’t quite sure how to interpret.

After a bit of awkward maneuvering, Derek found himself half sitting, half lying next to Caleb, with one arm thrown over Stiles’ shoulder so Caleb was sandwiched between them and his free arm wrapped around Peggy, who had more or less scrambled onto his lap and was now securely tucked in between Derek’s chest and Caleb’s side.

“Tell us a story, Daddy?” Peggy asked with a little yawn and Stiles didn’t have to be asked twice.

His voice was calm and soothing as he told the children about heroic knights sent out to hunt a supposedly evil dragon, only to discover that the dragon had only been roaring because he’d had a bad stomachache.

Derek listened only with one ear, his attention divided between Caleb’s face and Stiles’ warmth, feeling so good and somehow right in Derek’s arm.

Peggy fell asleep first and Caleb started snoring soon after, but Stiles still finished the story, his warm voice almost lulling Derek to sleep as well.

When Stiles stopped speaking, Derek blinked, letting out a yawn and looking at the Omega over the two sleeping children.

Stiles smiled and, after a moment of visible hesitation, he slowly reached over and tucked a stray lock of hair out of Derek’s eyes.

“Rest, Papa. I got this.”

Peggy smacked her lips in her sleep, turning and burrowing into Derek’s chest.

“Want me to take her?”

Stiles looked at his daughter with fond amusement and Derek shook his head, lowering himself onto the mattress so the little girl could sleep more comfortably.

Caleb was tucked against his side, sleeping peacefully, and Derek closed his eyes as well, feeling the exhaustion hit him all at once.

He was out like a light almost instantly, barely hearing Stiles’ soft voice.

“Rest, Derek. You deserve it.”

 

=================

 

“I’d say that was a successful birthday party, wasn’t it?”

Stiles gestured at the chaos of Derek’s living room, which was littered with wrapping paper and the occasional smudge of birthday cake cream frosting, courtesy of a very excited little Omega on a sugar rush.

For the first time in Caleb’s life, he’d had seven kids from his class come over for his birthday, a party he’d been excited about for weeks in advance.

Derek had initially found himself at a loss, unsure what children liked to do during parties these days.

However, Stiles had quickly volunteered his expertise and chaperoning skills, roping in Scott and Kira for good measure.

The last tiny guest had gone home half an hour ago and Scott and Kira had excused themselves five minutes later, the now eight months pregnant Omega smiling apologetically at Derek and pointing at her swollen feet.

That left only Stiles for cleanup duty and he’d immediately waved away Derek’s assurances that he could go home, that he’d done more than enough.

Caleb and Peggy were in his room, playing with Caleb’s new toys, and Derek basked in the soft giggles he could hear ringing through the house, wondering when he’d last smiled so much that his cheeks actually hurt a little.

He bent down to pick up the last of the wrapping paper and when he looked at Stiles, the Omega was biting his lip, obviously trying not to grin.

“You have …” he gestured to Derek’s face and Derek frowned, not sure what he was getting at.

“You’ve got frosting in your beard,” Stiles elaborated with a chuckle, indicating the spot on his own smooth chin.

“Your daughter,” Derek teased him, touching his beard to look for it.

“No, a little bit closer to the left, that’s … may I?”

Stiles stepped forward and held up his hands questioningly and Derek nodded, trying not to inhale the Omega’s warm vanilla-cinnamon smell too overtly.

Stiles touched Derek’s beard gingerly, cleaning out the frosting with his long fingers.

This close, Derek could see how long his eyelashes were and his scent was even sweeter, making Derek want to lean in and take a big lungful.

“Your beard is getting a little grey,” Stiles remarked softly, tracing his finger along Derek’s jawline almost absentmindedly.

Derek closed his eyes for a moment, soaking in Stiles’ touch.

He wasn’t aware he was shaking until the Omega took a step back.

Derek’s eyes flew open and he stared at Stiles, who looked back at him with the most serious expression he’d ever seen on the Omega’s expressive face.

“Derek … I.”

Stiles’ voice trailed off, uncharacteristically hesitant.

A question in his eyes that he clearly didn’t quite dare ask.

Derek took a deep breath.

He was still scared of the possibility.

A part of him convinced that it couldn’t be.

Except.

Except … the warmth in Stiles’ eyes said that it was possible.

The gentleness of his touch said that it was more than possible.

And Derek wanted it to be possible.

He took another deep breath, closing his eyes briefly to gather his courage.

Then, he lifted his hand and traced the Omega’s cheek and jawline with one finger, mirroring his gentle caress.

“Stiles … I … I’m complicated.”

Stiles smiled, tilting his head and leaning into Derek’s feather-light touch.

“I accidentally had a child with my best friend. I’m not entirely without baggage either,” he said matter-of-factly.

Derek tried to smile but failed miserably, his mouth twitching as he searched for the right words.

“It’s not … my ex, she … she ra … she did things to me. Bad things. Things that make it difficult for me to … to … to …”

He broke off, frustrated that his voice was shaking and hating that he had to bring up Kate in this of all possible moments.

“Derek. I understand.”

Derek shook his head.

“No. No, I don’t think you do. I’m broken, Stiles. I have been for a long time and it might take even longer until I can … I’m scared I … I don’t want to disappoint you. The last time I tried, it didn’t … and the time before that was … and …”

“Derek. Listen to me.”

Stiles’ voice was calm and steady and he slowly turned his head so he could nuzzle against Derek’s hand, his nose lightly grazing the inside of Derek’s wrist and making the Alpha break out in goose bumps.

“Derek. I can wait. However long it takes, I can wait. You don’t have to tell me and we don’t have to do anything right now. I can wait. I promise.”

“But … don’t you want to …”

“I want someone I can be myself around. Someone I can feel safe with. Someone who accepts me for everything that I am,” Stiles said softly, holding Derek’s gaze with flashing goldend eyes.

“For everything, Derek. And a large part of that everything is my daughter. Do you realize how hard it has been to get her to go home with me, lately? She wants to stay here all the time. She feels safe here. Loved. That’s all I ever wanted. That’s more than I could have ever asked for.”

Stiles smiled, once more nuzzling against Derek’s shaking hand.

“I trust you, Derek. And that’s why I’m going to wait for as long as it takes. I want you to trust me, too. I want you to feel safe with me, too.”

Derek swallowed heavily, his eyes starting to burn.

“I … I have to explain, I have to …”

“You don’t have to do anything, Derek. Not until you’re ready. That’s the entire point I’m trying to make.”

“But … don’t you want to know what …”

“All I need to know right now is that I like you. A lot. Also, my daughter adores you and loves your son like a brother. How could I risk the both of us losing you guys if I rushed you into something you weren’t ready for? I can wait, Derek. I promise.”

Derek inhaled sharply, his knees starting to feel a little wobbly under the sincerity and affection of Stiles’ gaze.

“Can I hug you?”

Derek’s stomach was fluttering with what could have been either nerves or nausea, but he needed to ask, needed to feel the solid weight of the Omega in his arms to steady him.

It was an almost forgotten need, one that was both terrifying and exhilarating.

Even though a part of Derek remained that wanted Stiles to say no, the part of him that achingly hoped for a yes was – for once – much stronger.  

“Of course.”

Stiles’ smile was blinding as he opened his arms, holding them up and waiting for Derek to step into them, inviting him in but making it clear that Derek was in control.

Derek let out a shuddering breath and then his arms were wrapped around the Omega, his nose buried into the crook of his neck.

Stiles held him tightly, his chest moving slowly and regularly even though Derek could feel the Omega’s pounding heartbeat against his.

Stiles didn’t turn his head to demand a kiss; his hands never straying into areas where Derek both feared and ached for touch the most.

It was comforting.

It was the promise of something Derek had stopped believing could ever be in the cards for him.

It was safe.

In the past five months, Derek had tried his best to make a new home for Caleb.

Now, in Stiles’ embrace, Derek wondered if he himself had finally come home, too.