Lights hung along the roof of the building and around the windows gave a cheerful glow to a building that for many wasn't always the happiest place on earth, but that day Derek Hale and his husband Stiles Stilinski-Hale were going to do everything they could to change that. The March Children's Home sometimes housed up to thirty kids at a time, but at that moment there were only ten, aged six months to fourteen years old. The staff at the home did their best to place all of the children, especially around the holidays, but the number of foster families available couldn't keep up with the number of children needing homes.
It was after hearing how many kids were at the home for Christmas that Stiles had announced what he wanted to do for Christmas Eve, leading Derek to that moment. He tugged on the hem of the green elf costume his husband had talked him into donning, complete with tights. Stiles chuckled as he adjusted the fat pillow under his own red and white coat and pulled his fake beard down just enough to press a kiss to Derek's cheek. "Ready for this?"
"Still don't see why I couldn't be Santa," he grumbled, pouting his lower lip out and blinking his eyes in a desperate attempt to mimic Stiles' best friend Scott's puppy dog eyes but instead of giving in as he did to Scott, Stiles just laughed and shoved Derek playfully.
"Let's get going. They're probably waiting for us," Stiles said, reaching for one of the two sacks of wrapped gifts they'd collected to pass out to the kids in the home. He grunted and stuck his tongue out when Derek used his werewolf strength to pick up the other, larger, sack without breaking a sweat, swinging it over his shoulder and strutting towards the stairs leading up to the building.
Stiles let out a wolf whistle at the way Derek swung his hips with a little extra swagger and Derek looked over his shoulder with a wink and purse of his lips, grinning when his husband broke into giggles just as the door to the home opened and they were greeted by a short woman with short lilac-coloured hair. "You're here!" she said, grinning and reaching out to awkwardly hug Derek before turning her attention to Stiles who dropped his bag and grabbed her up into a hug, spinning her around in a circle before setting her back down and pressing a kiss to her cheek.
"Janey! Second love of my life! Merry Christmas!" he said, batting his eyelashes at her and laughing when she rolled her eyes.
"Always the charmer, Santa ," she said with emphasis and that was when Derek noticed the small boy standing just inside the door, peeking around the frame at them.
"Well, hello there, little man," Derek said, squatting down and trying his best to soften his voice into something kid-friendly and welcoming. "Are you excited about Santa Claus?" The boy shrugged and his thumb found its way into his mouth and Derek gave Stiles' a wide-eyed look.
"Adrian," Janey whispered to Stiles and he grinned pointing at Derek's bag and he dug inside to find one of the boxes with the boy's name on it, handing it to Stiles who knelt in front of Adrian and held it out to him.
"Would you like a gift from Santa?" Stiles asked and the boy nodded but didn't move from where he was, just kept blinking, lips working at his thumb. Stiles' lips twisted in thought before they morphed into a large smile. "Do you want to take me to the other kids? I have presents for everyone!" Adrian's thumb dropped from his mouth and he held his other hand out to Stiles with a smile and a nod, tugging him inside when their hands wrapped together.
Watching him go, Derek noticed that Stiles had left his bag behind so he swung one over each shoulder and stepped up next to Janey to follow her inside. "What’s Adrian's story?" he asked as they made their way inside, children's laughter and squeals reaching them from the common room at the back of the house.
"His mother died during childbirth and his father was only a teenager," Janey explained, lips turned down in a frown. "He did the best that he could for a couple of years, but eventually it got to be too much. It was one of the hardest removals my friend Dee has ever done because even though Hunter, his father, knew it was best for Adrian to be raised by someone else, his love for his son made it heartbreaking to let him go."
"He seems well-behaved," Derek said. "How long has he been here?"
"On and off for two years," she explained. "He doesn't speak so he's considered a challenge, especially since he was due to start school this year. There was one family interested in him, but they weren’t willing to do an open adoption so that Hunter could keep informed of his life so he came back to us."
They'd reached the common room to find Stiles seated in a large armchair, Adrian standing by one arm with an elf hat sitting crookedly on his blond curls. Two slightly older children, probably six or seven, sat in Stiles' lap trying to talk over each other for his attention. A teenage girl stood not far away with a small baby on her hip, watching them and smiling as she waved the baby's hand at Stiles, cooing and smiling as she did. Five more children aged around ten and up were on the far side of the room, eyeing Stiles with suspicion while they played video games.
One girl with dark hair and eyes caught his attention. She was in the middle of the couch, her legs pulled up and game controller clutched in her hands as she chewed her lip, hyper-focused on the game. Derek wasn’t sure right away why she’d caught his attention but then he took a few more steps into the room and her nostrils flare and her head whipped around to stare at Derek, jaw gaping slightly.
The scent of wolf was heavy over the others and he could smell as well as see the nerves flowing through the girl as she pushed herself off the couch and hurried from the room muttering something nonsensical under her breath. Janey frowned after her and started to turn away but Derek stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm. "Who is she?" His voice was low but if the girl was just outside the room, which her heartbeat told him she was, she would hear the conversation anyway.
"Dana. She's our oldest resident currently and a runner."
"As in cross country?" Derek asked.
"As in, we place her into a home, she runs a week or two later and shows back up here three days later looking like she's been to war and acting as if nothing had happened." She sighed and Derek saw the genuine care and concern for the girl in her eyes. "We repeat the cycle a week or two later. Been going on for two or three years now."
Derek would bet dollars to donuts that those three days she went missing were around the full moon and he only wondered how a girl so young was able to control herself enough to get away from people and keep herself safe during full moons. "What happened to her family?"
"No one knows. The police found her living in a cave in the woods when she was around eleven years old. When they ask about her family, she says she doesn't remember having one or how long she was in the cave, but she knew how to read and write so the doctors say it couldn't have been that long."
"Any behaviour problems aside from the running?" Derek asked.
"She's got a bit of a temper, but she's a really sweet girl. Very affectionate," she explained. "I like having her around, but I wish she could find a home she wouldn't run away from."
Derek opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by Stiles calling his name. "Elf Derek! Can you come help me pass out gifts?"
"On my way, Santa," Derek responded, smiling at Janey as she left the room, probably in search of Dana. "Elf Adrian are you going to help me out?" he asked as he approached the boy who was running a hand over the bags, the thumb of his other hand already back in his mouth. Adrian nodded and looked up at the lone little girl sitting in Stiles' lap now and then poked around in the bags, pulling out a gift and handing it to Derek. Checking the tag, he looked at the little girl and then back to Adrian. "Is that Penny?" Another nod. "You can read?" A shrug and Derek narrowed his eyes but kept smiling as the corners of the boy’s lips quirked around his thumb in a smirk that reminded him a lot of Stiles.
Turning his attention back to Stiles, he handed the gift to Stiles to give to Penny and then glanced back at Adrian. "You're in charge of presents," he told him and the boy's smile grew blinding, his green eyes sparkling as he looked at the line of kids waiting to see Stiles and started digging through the bags and making piles. Derek was impressed by the boy's strategic planning, especially for his age. "How old are you?"
He kept digging in the bag with one hand and held the other out, all five fingers extended. "Five. That's amazing," Derek told him as he took the next present. He kept up the more or less one-sided conversation with Adrian as they kept passing the gifts to Stiles who kept giving them fond smiles between children on his lap.
Derek smelled Dana as soon as she came back into the room, the nerves still there but becoming layered with curiosity and the sweet peppermint of what might be hope. Adrian looked past Derek with a grin and a wave. "Hey, pup," a quiet voice said from behind him and Derek stood slowly, turning to face Dana. "Hi."
"Hello, Dana," Derek said, flashing his eyes briefly at her, pleased when she tilted her head slightly to the right, exposing her neck. She might not be in a pack, but her instincts were good.
"Alpha," she whispered.
"Derek is fine," he told her and extended his hand to shake, surprised when she took it with both of hers. Engulfing her tiny hands in both of his he squeezed gently. Adrian stepped up next to them holding out a present that Derek knew didn't come from their sacks, based on the coloured newsprint wrapping paper.
"Is this for me?" she asked and Adrian nodded, pushing it towards her again. She released Derek's hand to take the gift and then pulled Adrian into a hug, burying her face in his neck.
"Why don't you both go and open that, I'll keep doing gifts." Adrian frowned for a second, thumb starting to go back to his mouth, but Dana laid her hand over his to stop him with a smile. "Unless you both want to take over for me and I can go sit with Miss Janey."
"That's great," Dana said, setting her gift on a table near where they were standing and let an again smiling Adrian to pull her towards the gift bags and they worked together, Derek's heart beating faster as he watched them interact.
He went to join Stiles who had an empty lap, for the time being, all of the younger kids done talking to him and the older ones debating if it was cool to sit on Santa's lap. "Having fun?" he asked Derek, reaching out and squeezing his hand and Derek nodded. "Wanna sit in Santa's lap?"
"Yes, but not here," he responded, both of them smirking when Dana snorted and said, "Ewwww."
"We need to talk later," Stiles said. "Don't we?"
Glancing around quickly, Derek leaned over to press a kiss to Stiles' cheek whispering quietly. "We do, but none of it matters until our fostering is approved."
"Oh, did I forget to tell you?" Stiles asked, lips twisted into a smirk when Derek pulled back to glare at him. "We got approval a few weeks ago."
"Let me guess, the same time you came up with this idea?" Derek asked and Stiles shrugged as the last few kids approached Stiles.
"Ho ho ho!" Stiles greeted. "Want to sit on Santa's lap?"
"No, that's creepy," a pre-teen boy said to him and Derek bit back a laugh.
"Will we still get presents if we don't?" the girl next to him asked, twisting her fingers in the bottom of her shirt and looking up at Stiles through her eyelashes, her scent acrid and twisted with terror.
Derek squeezed Stiles' shoulder and gave him a meaningful look when he glanced up in surprise, but they'd been together long enough that he picked up on what Derek wasn't saying. He turned his smile back on the girl and looked over at Dana who was giving him a few wrapped packages. "You don't have to ever do anything you don't want to do," Stiles told the kids. "And you'll still get presents because you deserve them for being good girls and boys."
Derek blinked back tears as the girl choked out a sob-filled thank you, taking her presents and hurrying away, the boy following after his own expressions of gratitude. They watched the two of them sit together on the couch, opening the gifts and laughing as they compared what they'd gotten. A tug on his sleeve got Derek's attention and he looked down to find Adrian holding the two empty sacks with a frown. "All done?" The boy nodded. "Then I guess it's time for Santa and me to be going."
Adrian frowned and turned to bury his face in Dana's stomach as she held him to her, rubbing a hand over his back. "Do you have to?" she asked, eyes bright and nearly flashing beta gold; Derek could see the struggle for control.
"We can come back," Stiles said, standing to join the conversation. "Maybe once we change into something a bit more comfortable."
"And I ditch these ears," Derek said, poking at his wolf ears that the kids had accepted as elf ears despite his earlier arguments to Stiles that it would never work.
Stiles squatted down so he was on the same level as Adrian. "Hey, can I ask you a question?" Adrian peeked out at him, nodding against Dana. "Do you believe in Santa Claus?" Narrowed eyes and pursed lips met Stiles' as Dana giggled. "Am I him?" Stiles asked. The smile was back and Adrian shook his head. "Is Elf Derek a real elf?" Another shake of his head and Adrian got on his tiptoes to raise his hand in the air and Stiles laughed loudly. "Yes, he's too tall. So, if we come back in regular clothes, you'll know it's me?"
He turned away from Dana to look at them both, eyes bright and eager as he put his hands together in pleading gesture and nodded his head. "You'll really come back?" Dana asked, suspicion in her tone but the teeth digging into her lip gave away her desire for a positive answer.
Derek reached for her hands again and looked her in the eyes. "Yes. We will come back," he promised.
"Good, then you can go," she said and Adrian nodded, throwing his arms first around Stiles before moving on to Derek.
Janey approached them. "I think they like you," she said. "All the kids do." They glanced around the room, smiling softly at the laughter and playfulness that filled the space. It felt like Christmas in there. "Thank you for this. I don't know what it would've been like around here without you."
"Well, we still have the pizza delivery and I think we'd like to talk to you," Stiles told her. "After we talk."
"Would this have something to do with what we discussed when you first called?" Janey asked, her smile growing.
"Yes," Derek said even though he wasn't sure what they had discussed, he had a good idea and felt confident in his answer. "We'll be back with pizza and normal clothes."
They said their goodbyes to the kids, getting hugs and high fives as they went. Escaping through the door and into their car, they headed back to their house which was only about five miles from the home on a large piece of property in the middle of the preserve. It was quiet at first and Derek waited for Stiles to break the silence once he'd finished ordering pizzas for them to pick up on their way back to the home.
He surprised himself when he was the one who spoke up first. "Dana needs a pack."
"She's a wolf?" Stiles asked, eyes wide. "How did I miss that?"
"You were a bit busy and have a terrible sense of smell," Derek teased.
"Then she'll come home with us," Stiles said, voice determined. "She's the one."
Derek bit his lip as he pulled up in front of the house, turning off the car, but keeping his hands on the steering wheel. "Does it have to be only one?"
Stiles' breath hitched, his heartbeat speeding up and if he didn't know his husband so well he would think he was terrified but the scent filling the car was eagerness. "Adrian?" he asked.
Derek nodded. "He's so smart. He reminds me of you and Dana calls him pup so I think he's already her pack."
"Then we can't split them up," Stiles agreed. They looked out the windshield at the house. Derek's eyes were drawn to the windows on the top floor, the two on the left side were spare bedrooms right now but could be changed to children's rooms with only a little effort. He put a hand over his chest, feeling his rapidly beating heart.
"We're going to be fathers," Derek said.
"Only if they want to come with us," Stiles reminded him and his scent soured before he waved his hands in the air as if dispelling it even though he couldn't detect it like Derek could. "That's a later problem. Let's get changed and head back."
It seemed like both hours and mere seconds before they were standing in front of the home again, jeans on and arms loaded down with pizza. Instead of Janey, Dana opened the door, Adrian right behind her making grabby hands at the boxes. Derek held them out of reach, laughing as the boy danced around trying to grab them out of his hands and eventually gave up, grabbing Derek's henley and pulling himself up to ride on his back, arms around his waist.
Derek swallowed against the lump in his throat and flashed fang at the teasing look on Dana's face which just made her laugh outright and race down the hall. He gave chase, not at all hindered by the pizza boxes or the boy on this back who was letting out little huffs of silent laughter against the back of his neck. Stiles followed at a slower pace and Janey greeted them, the other kids letting out cheers as the smell of pizza filled the room.
Once the kids were settled with the food, Janey asked Dana to keep an eye on things and led Derek and Stiles to her office, sitting behind her desk. Derek let Stiles take a seat before he perched on the arm of the chair. "I looked over your paperwork this afternoon," she told them. "You've been approved for up to three children based on your income and residence size. Normally, I would suggest starting with one so you can adjust to the foster-"
"We want Adrian and Dana," Stiles interrupted. "How soon can we have them?"
Derek covered his face with his hand, torn between fond laughter and embarrassment. "Eager, much?" he teased
"Like you aren't," Stiles said, poking him in the leg.
Janey was laughing so hard, tears spilled from her eyes. She wiped them away once she got herself together. "Well, I think that if you were willing, the kids could come to stay with you as early as tonight, at least for a trial basis. With Dana's problems, I don't want you to get your hopes up that she will be a permanent fixture. She'll probably be back here within the month."
"I have a feeling, Dana's days of running are over." Derek's smile was smug and Stiles slapped him in the leg. "I think having Adrian there will help."
"Agreed," Janey said, reaching for the official paperwork and both of the children's files. "And you do understand that Hunter wants to be kept apprised of Adrian's life."
"We do," Stiles said; it was something they had discussed in the car and both of them agreed the boy's father should be as involved in his life as he could. "We were hoping you would give us his number. Since the kids are, hopefully, coming home with us tonight, we'd like to invite him for Christmas dinner tomorrow."
"Stop being perfect, both of you," Janey said, tears in her eyes again as she slid the requested information over to them.
It took close to an hour to finish the paperwork and when they returned to the common room, only Dana and Adrian remained. They sat on the couch, Adrian half-asleep against Dana's chest while Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played on the television. Dana stretched her neck to look at them over the back of the couch.
"Thought you might leave without saying goodbye," she said. "Adrian refused to go to bed without seeing you off."
Exchanging a look, Stiles and Derek sat on either side of the kids. Reaching for the remote, Stiles muted the television and Adrian waved a hand in protest but stopped when Derek reached out to take his hand in his. "Can we talk to you both?" he asked and Dana stiffened next to him, causing Adrian to sit up and rub at his eyes, glaring at them.
Derek looked to Stiles to start talking but his ever-helpful husband just gestured to Derek, giving him the floor. He wanted to whisper an inappropriate word under his breath but knew that Dana would hear him, so he swallowed it down. "Do you both like it here?" he asked instead.
"It's not bad," Dana said, looking at Adrian who shrugged. "Janey's really nice. So are the other people who work here. It's home but not."
"How would you feel about coming home with us?" He glared when Stiles scoffed, if he wanted to do flowery words and long speeches he should've taken the reins, Derek didn't want to beat around the bush; he wanted these kids home where he and his wolf agreed they belonged.
Adrian scrambled off of Dana and threw himself at Derek, nodding into his neck and Dana started to cry. "What's wrong?" Stiles asked. "You don't have to come if you don't want to." His eyes were panicked as he looked at Derek who was holding Adrian close and whispering to the boy.
"I want to," Dana assured him and then looked to Derek, eyes wide in question and he nodded. "I won't have to leave for the full moon," she whispered. "I'll be safe and you'll be safe from me." She looked at them. "Are you sure you want us both?"
"Absolutely," Stiles told her and she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly.
They sat in a cuddle pile, everyone touching everyone else until Janey came back into the room. "I hate to break it up, but it's almost lights out."
Adrian whimpered and tightened his grip on Derek's neck, shaking his head back and forth, tears wetting Derek's skin. He held the boy close and stood. "Dana, can you get yours and Adrian's stuff together?" Stiles asked. "I don't think our little spider monkey is letting go anytime soon."
"We're going with you now?" she asked. "Like right now, now?"
"Well, as soon as you get your stuff together," Stiles corrected, smiling when Derek shoved his shoulder, the both of them ignoring the tears in Dana's eyes as she ran a hand down Adrian's back.
"C'mon, pup. Let's get our stuff and then go home," she said and Adrian slid down to the ground reaching for her hand and letting him lead them out of the room.
"So, when we get home, who's staying with the kids and who's going shopping? We need gifts," Derek said. "These kids are not waking up to an empty Christmas tree."
"Well...." Stiles said. "There might be a stack of presents still in the attic and there will be plenty for both of them." He gave a grin to Derek who shook his head fondly.
"Of course there are."
They spoke quietly with Janey until the kids returned, two trash bags in Dana's hand while Adrian held the other one, smiling up at her, a stuffed fox wearing a red and white scarf around its neck, clutched in his arm. "Hey, ready to go?" Derek asked, reaching to pick up Adrian and pressing a kiss to the fox's nose when he pressed it to Derek's mouth.
"Go home now," Adrian whispered and there was no stopping the tears that flowed at those three little words.