John looked down at eighteen-month old Tessie sleeping in his lap. Her face was red and tear-streaked, and she looked exhausted.
There had been a panicked early morning call. John had been planning on visiting later in the day, but Stiles got him out of bed -- woke him from a dead sleep. John had gotten to bed well after midnight, splitting a shift with one of the deputies to cover for the overnight desk clerk who had called in sick.
"Dad! Can you, please, come over and help?" begged Stiles. "Tessie's been up all night and she wants her PopPop and... well... Help?"
Yawning, John had laughed and agreed. A growling Tessie had been shoved in his arms as soon as he had walked in the door.
Tessie had sobbed, "PopPop! PopPop!" as she nuzzled into his shoulder and wound her arms tightly around his neck.
"It's the full moon tomorrow and she's teething and she just won't sleep," Stiles told him with a heavy sigh. "Sit with her and I'll bring her sippy cup and I can make you some coffee in a minute."
John sat in the rocker and talked to Tessie, who babbled back at him. She could say a few words, but she babbled just like Stiles used to at that age. He gathered her close and murmured, "Close your eyes, little one. Sleep for PopPop."
Peter wandered into the family room with two-year-old Freddie. Fatherhood had softened the sharp edges Peter had always worn in self defense. Right now, he was barefoot, hair mussed and had a stain on his wrinkled shirt. This was not the man Stiles had married, but it was the man Stiles loved.
It had turned out that young 'wolves, especially babies, were rarely available to anyone outside the pack. Generally, if a baby 'wolf didn't have parents for some reason, someone would step up to take the baby into their family and the entire pack would become involved in raising the child.
But not all the time.
Somehow, word had gotten out that the Hale pack was looking to expand and more than one pregnant young woman had shown up at their doorstep, offering their unborn child to Peter and Stiles.
Most of the time, Stiles would manage to convince the scared young woman to at least go back to her pack, if not always to the father of her child. But he had come back from a short visit with the pack Clara had come from with a grim look and solemnly accepted her offer. Four months later, Theresa had been born. Six weeks later, Clara left quietly, determined to find a new pack for herself. Peter had helped her with a new identity, a job in another part of the country, and promises of updates about Tessie.
Freddie had been the proverbial "child left in a basket" -- left overnight on their doorstep. The note left with the sleeping child had made clear that Peter and Stiles were to consider the baby their own. While Freddie was a 'wolf, they assumed one parent was a magic user since there had been no scent nor other track to help them search for the parents.
"It looks like she's made you her anchor," Peter said from the couch.
John looked down at the now sleeping child in surprise. "Why wouldn't she bond with one of you?"
Peter shrugged. "That's one thing no one could ever explain. Mostly, children do connect with a parent, or maybe an older sibling, as an anchor. That generally doesn't change until they can make a conscious choice about it. But it's not unusual for children to unconsciously make other choices. Aunts, uncles and grandparents are common, so it's mostly inside the family," he explained.
"What do I have to do?" John asked, worried about what he'd need to do to help Tessie.
"Not really a lot at this age, or even for the next year or so," Peter explained. "Mostly to be here during the full moon. She wouldn't settle for either of us over the last couple of days, but she immediately settled once you got here. It would be best if you can stay with us for at least a couple of nights. She doesn't have to sleep with you, just being in the house is often enough. Although she'll be clingy on the night of the full moon."
John smirked. "This is just Stiles' way to get me move in with you!" The house certainly was big enough, with seven bedrooms and multiple bathrooms. Stiles and Peter had built a Pack House, one they could use well into the future.
Peter gave a small grin. "If it makes him happy, then I'm all for it," he laughed. Then his face grew sad. "I was Laura's first anchor when she was an infant. When Talia quit working full time, Laura turned more to her mother, but I was around a lot and Laura had initially focused on me."
"Well, then, I'll do what you need," John replied. He placed a soft kiss on the top of Tessie's head.
Stiles brought in coffee for both John and Peter, along with sippy cups for both Tessie and Freddie. He set a coffee cup on the end table next to John, put down Tessie's cup so John could reach it, and then sat on the couch next to Peter. He handed Freddie the other cup, and the child immediately started drinking from it.
"I think your dad is her anchor," Peter said gently, nodding toward Tessie.
John watched as a flicker of dismay washed across Stiles' face. Stiles still wore his heart on his face around his family.
"It's not anything you've done," Peter softly reassured him, leaning against his husband. "Sometimes, it's just what happens."
"Will it always..." Stiles asked, hesitant.
"Won't know until she grows older," Peter replied. "Once a child is old enough to deliberately choose, they'll often choose a parent. But when they're this small, it's hard to predict who they'll choose."
"Well, she made a good choice," Stiles said, smiling weakly. Then brightened as he turned to John. "You'll have to move in, then!"
"Yes, I can stay," John agreed. "I'll need to get a few things," he said, thinking through a list of clothes and things he'd need for at least a few days. Good thing he could arrange a few days off from the Sheriff's Office, now that the major holidays were over.
Stiles bounced in place. He leaned in to kiss Peter. "Even better, then!" he laughed. "I'll get your room ready!"
"But..." John couldn't say only a few days! when he saw how happy it had made Stiles.
"Welcome to the family!" Peter grinned.