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Bottlecaps, Buttons, Marbles, Dice

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With Claudia, it was always the bottlecaps, and the marbles came later.

At first, John didn’t notice it. On their first real date—proceeded by a few brief, passing conversations and a tentative meeting for coffee—he’d thought that he kept somehow dropping the little metal caps, or knocking them off the table, but didn’t really bother looking because there’s no way in hell he’s picking up anything off the floor of a bar on a Friday night, with the exception of his own wallet or maybe a hundred dollar bill. He didn’t much think about it, either, because Claudia then proceeded to hand him his entire ass in three consecutive games of pool. He’d gotten his revenge when they moved on to darts, though. Four for four.

It kept happening, though.

He preferred bottles to cans—they tasted different, he didn’t care what everyone else said—and inevitably, the caps would go missing. It was one of those weird little things that drove him a little bonkers when it happened, until one day he noticed Claudia slipping the cap up her sleeve in a tidy little motion when she thought he wasn’t looking. Okay, then. Mystery solved, gold star for the deputy. When he got his second beer, instead of setting the cap on the table, he’d leant over and set it down in front of her. Claudia had stared at him for a long moment before giving him that small, tentative smile of hers, like she could either laugh or cry in the next second, and tucking it in her pocket.

He got his first kiss from her that night.

Their peculiar little ritual went on the entire time they dated. It got the point where, once they were living together, anytime he drank anything with a bottlecap—beer, soda, anything—he’d flip it to her like a quarter if she was home, or set the cap on the windowsill above the sink if she wasn’t.

When he finally worked up the nerve to ask her to marry him, she’d cried. Which hadn’t exactly been the reaction he hoped for, since they certainly weren’t tears of the happy variety.

Of course, that’s when she explained to him exactly what she was.

Dragons.

Are a thing.

Okay, then.

The first thing he’d thought to say after she had finally finished—she’d turned the gas on high and held her hand over the burner to prove it—was, “Well, that explains your thing with the bottlecaps.”

She’d laughed at that, laughed until she actually did cry a little.

And then she’d said yes.

Being married to a dragon had its…weird moments.

Claudia refused to live in a house without a basement and an attic, and they’d had an entire debate about windows and natural light that he honestly still can’t make heads or tails of. The entirety of December and most of January, she’d sleep in the basement, and in the attic during July and August. He was expressly forbidden from removing anything from said attic or basement without letting her know first, which had been a problem for a while because she’d developed a habit of taking his ties. Which he needed. For his job.

And then there was the hoarding thing. Dragons were collectors by nature, one of those things hardwired into them. John would like to laugh, but then he stops and thinks about the stupid shit humans do, and stays quiet. Back in the day, when there was more room in the world, dragons could get away with being the size of large buildings and hoarding enough wealth to support the economy of a small country, but they’d learnt to adapt with time, even if the urges remained.

For Claudia it was the bottlecaps. Always was. She’d started as a kid (pip, she’d always correct him. Baby dragons are pips until they breathe their first fire. It always makes him think of fruit.) because they were small and shiny and reminded her of coins. And she didn’t get in trouble for swiping bottlecaps like she’d gotten in trouble for stealing a neighbour’s coin collection one time. She had filled entire jars of them, and even made a necklace from a handful of the ones John had given her, but every now and again, she’d get the impulse for something else, something new.

He hadn’t really gotten it until the reports hit the station, a string of break-ins across town that went in the “Weird Shit” cabinet (it was a very full cabinet in the Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department) because whilst each house had clearly been broken into, the only thing taken was the cutlery. And nothing else. And the robber had left a ten-dollar bill wherever they’d been. And relocked the doors and windows when they left.

Claudia tied them all together with yards and yards of twine and strung them across the rafters in the attic. When he asked her why she left the cash there (weren’t dragons supposed to collect money?) she’d plucked a length of twine to make the silverware jingle. “Pieces of paper. Useless.”

And when he’d asked her not to steal anything, he didn’t want to arrest his own wife, she’d looked at him with utter bemusement. “But I gave them money.”

Explaining to her that that’s not how it works had taken several hours and a fifth of Scotch. To this day, he can’t say she truly understood the idea of breaking and entering (“I didn’t break anything!”) or theft (“But I gave them money, John!”) or even trespassing (“I wasn’t going to stay.”).

After that oh-so-enlightening discussion, he’d tried to anticipate the itch. That’s what she always called it. An itch that couldn’t be scratched on the surface, that wouldn’t go away, that got worse if she tried ignoring it. It only came on about once a year and when she felt it, she’d tell him, and he’d use some of his vacation days, and they’d drive around until she found whatever peculiar something she needed to scratch the itch. Thankfully, Claudia had a penchant for small things, little things that she could take with her whenever she had to leave the house, could hold in her hands. The largest thing she’d ever collected was blankets, but even that hadn’t been so bad because she’d draped them all over the walls of the basement until it felt like being in a very large, colourful tent.

The year Mieczysław was born was probably the worst. The itch got worse the longer she ignored it, until she said she felt as though she could scratch herself down to the bone and still not reach it, but she couldn’t stand to leave the house when she was pregnant. John heard a great deal about human reproduction that year, how impractical, how absurd and counterproductive and idiotic the whole process was, as well as an entire profanity-ridden spiel primarily aimed at the question of how the fuck simian mammals managed to become the dominant species on the planet when they were so fucking stupid. He recorded the entire thing and has it saved under a false bottom in his desk drawer.

Still, it’d hurt, seeing Claudia in so much pain, torn between warring instinct. She couldn’t stand to leave the house, her nest, her safe place, with their baby. (That had been a less pleasant part of her ranting, refusing to step out into a world of hunters, dragonslayers, murderers.) But the itch got worse, until there were times she would literally start scratching at herself as if that would somehow help. He has a cigar box full of scales she’d scratched off herself, some of them edged with dried blood where she’d yanked them out of her skin.

John hadn’t known what do. Claudia couldn’t even predict her own desires when the itch came on, how the hell was he supposed to? He’d been sitting with her in the basement, rubbing her back as she hugged a jar of John’s bottlecaps to her when the thought hit him. He’d turned almost every closet in their house inside-out to find it, quietly despairing that he’d thrown it away or lost them somewhere along the way, when he’d found it—one of those big pickle jars, full of his old marble collection.

God only knew why he’d kept it all these years, except for maybe the memory of knocking Bobby Culpepper on his ass in fifth grade for trying to steal them. Bobby Culpepper had been two years older than him and had a reputation for punching pocket money out of the boys and taking scissors to girls’ pigtails. John had given him a good kick in the slats once he was on the ground, too.

Claudia had gone completely quiet for ten minutes when he handed her the jar, cried for twenty more, then finally relaxed for the first time in almost a month, curling up in the blanket fort she’d constructed (“Nest, John, it’s a nest.” It was a blanket fort.) and pouring the marbles out, letting them trickle through her fingers, rolling them between her palms.

From then on, it was always bottlecaps and marbles. Everything else was subject to change, except those two things. The first morning after they’d brought Mieczysław home, John had heard on the scanner he kept in the guest room/his office that there’d been a break-in at the strip mall’s crafts store, and there was a shiny new jar full of shiny new marbles on a shelf in the basement next to her bottlecap jars.

“You’re off-duty,” she’d pointed out when he mentioned it, snuggled down so far into her blanket fort that he could only see part of her face; from the faint squeaking he could hear elsewhere in the blankets, she had Mieczysław with her.

“Yes, I am,” he’d agreed.

And that had been that.

Now, he’d known going in that if he and Claudia ever had children, they would be like her. She’d explained it to him that while some other…conditions could be hereditary and it was a coin toss whether or not it’d be passed on to their children, dragons weren’t so hit-or-miss. The mother was the deciding factor.

But even knowing it, John had to say that while being married to a dragon had its weird moments, raising a dragon was kind of a perpetual state of ‘what the fuck?’

Examples:

Mieczysław started teething within a month. Sharp-edged, pointy little fangs fully capable of breaking skin with only a little pressure. John has the scars to prove it, since Mieczysław’s favourite thing to gum on was his knuckles. He also spent years telling visitors about a nonexistent dog if anyone asked about the gnaw marks on the legs of chairs and tables.

Claudia had shown him her claws before. It was strange and fascinating, watching her nails turn black, like watching a blood blister form at speed, then grow dense and long and curved until they resembled the talons of a bird of prey. Mieczysław’s, despite being much smaller, were no less sharp and were more or less perpetually extended. The drapes did not survive. Neither did a few pairs of John’s jeans, especially not once Mieczysław started walking and grabbing pant legs to support himself. He has scars from those, too.

Most small children, when given snacks, were given things like…animal crackers. Cheerios. Orange slices. Banana pieces. Mieczysław’s favourite snack was raw chicken liver. John had gotten used to seeing Claudia eat almost-raw meat over the years, and he was acquiring a taste for tartare, but that was…something else.

But that was nothing compared to the rabbit incident. When their next-door neighbours (a very nice elderly couple) went on vacation for a week, Mieczysław, four years old by then, climbed the fence into their backyard and ate their granddaughter’s rabbits. John is pretty sure he lost a good ten years off his life when he had to hop a fence at two in the morning and pull a bloody toddler out of a broken rabbit hutch, covered in tufts of fur and sawdust. Claudia had only sniffed and admitted she’d wanted to kill the little bastards from day one.

Mieczysław didn’t start feeling the itch until he was seven, a perfectly normal age for it. His first treasure was important. It’d be the one thing he collected all his life. They’d certainly know when he found it, too, because he’d collect as many of whatever he chose as he could find without going far from the house (Claudia had opened every bottle in her house and gone through her neighbours’ garbage in search of bottlecaps at the age of eight). It wasn’t hard to figure out when it happened because John woke up to find every single one of his shirts missing their buttons. Same with Claudia’s dresses, their pants, and every coat in the closets. Her sewing box had been upended in the hallway. Mieczysław had been under his bed, humming Scooby-Dooby-Doo and sorting buttons first by size, then by colour.

It’d been sheer luck that it had happened on his day off, otherwise he would’ve had a hell of a time explaining why his uniforms were all buttonless. John had to go to a craft store and buy an entire box of assorted buttons before Mieczysław would relinquish the ones he’d stolen from their wardrobes. Claudia spent hours sewing them all back on, but she let him keep the ones from her sewing box, and from a few of John’s older shirts and her dresses. He needed at least something from his family in his treasures.

From then on, anytime either of them bought anything with buttons on it, Mieczysław got at least one, usually the little ones that held the collar down, or the spare ones on the bottom hem. John gave him a tackle box to put them in.

An entirely new set of issues arose when Mieczysław finally started school. Middle school, that is. Claudia had homeschooled him through the elementary years, a necessity, what with the claws and the biting and the raw meat. Aside from the fact that it made Claudia so restless she actually started breathing smoke, John was let in on the fascinating fact that apparently, Beacon Hills was home to a family of werewolves.

Werewolves.

Also a thing.

Great.

John knew the Hales in passing, a howdy-neighbour, catch-the-game-on-Sunday? kind of way. Quinn owned the only mechanic shop in town with his brother Eliot, didn’t price-gouge, and played a mean game of pool. Talia, he didn’t see often as she worked from home, but her brother Peter was a pain in the ass. Him, John saw plenty of, unfortunately. Their oldest, Laura, worked part-time at the craft store and was the most familiar to him, and that was how John knew there were several younger Hales, school-age, but he’d never seen any of them at the elementary (at least one squad car was parked outside the schools during drop-off and pick-up. This town was too goddamn weird for anything less) so he could only assume little werewolves had the same problems little dragons did. Well, maybe not all the same problems, but enough of them to warrant homeschooling.

Which meant Mieczysław was going to be attending his first year of school with not one, but three werewolves—the twins, Derek and Cora, and their cousin, Malia.

Claudia was not pleased and spent an entire week muttering about the głupie wilkołaki.

Dragons and werewolves didn’t not get along, but nobody would call them bosom buddies, either. Dragons were territorial, but only concerning other dragons. Other things could live inside the property line since they didn’t really count. Werewolves were territorial, full stop, and this had been Hale territory for a long time, which meant sharing was not really an option. Which was precisely why Claudia had never brought her presence to the Hales’ attention, and why she’d also never told John about the Hales. Ignorance was bliss and all that. Until it wasn’t.

Needless to say, John had expected a phone call from the school the entire day.

When he picked up Mieczysław from school, however, he was greeted with the sight of his son waving at him enthusiastically as he towed another boy along by the wrist, gleefully shouting, “Dad, I made a friend!”

John knew Melissa McCall. She’d sewn him up once when he got nicked by a ricocheting bullet, and he’d sat by the phone with Claudia and listened to Melissa’s tears a year ago after Rafael McCall’s…abrupt departure from their marriage. He’d never really met her son before though, beyond basic introductions. Still, the kid was like an asthmatic human puppy: impossible not to like.

Especially when he got all wide-eyed at the sight of the cruiser and exclaimed, “Stiles, dude, you didn’t tell me your dad was Sheriff Stilinski.”

“Well, duh. How many people do you think are named Stilinski in Beacon Hills?”

Oh, this was going to be great.

Eventually, after much excited yammering and talking over each other, Mieczysław had let Scott go so he could get on the bus, and climbed into the passenger seat of the cruiser. “Stiles, huh?” John had prompted on their ride home. It’s not the first time he’s heard the name. Aside from it being his own father’s nickname, Claudia often called Mieczysław by it—it was a common pet name amongst dragons. It meant ‘baby’ or ‘little one.’

“No one can say my real name, Dad. Scott almost had an asthma attack trying to say it.”

Well, that’s a little much. “Just be careful.”

“I know. I will.”

“Okay. Now, pockets.”

“Da-ad.”

“Pockets.”

Mieczysław had grumbled before he turned out his pockets, holding out a handful of pilfered buttons, cap erasers, and those little rubber figures that go on keychains.

John could only sigh.

Still, all things considered, it goes well. He and Claudia get used to addressing Mieczysław as simply Stiles. Stiles starts collecting friends, happily dragging various children over to show them, like he’s displaying his treasures. He gets used to going to school and having to interact with other children (and not stealing their things…for the most part). He starts gathering his own treasures. Like Claudia, he only collects small things and does it usually once a year, usually during the summer when he’s out of school. Probably because when he’s in school, he satisfies the itch by pickpocketing his classmates.

Sixth grade—smooth, polished stones. John still can’t say what makes one rock different from another, but he’s learnt not to question it. When they’d hike through the Preserve to the lake, Stiles can spend hours sifting and filling his pockets.

Seventh grade—fishing lures. Which is hilarious to John because Stiles doesn’t actually like to fish with a rod and reel, just snatches at the fish with clawed hands instead. If he caught them, he’d eat them raw too. Yeah. That was an experience. Ranked right up there with the rabbits.

Eighth grade—shoelaces. This one got interesting really quick, because Stiles always preferred to collect items from people closest to him first. John sacrificed a pair of his old yard shoes; Claudia, a worn pair of joggers. But now, this also includes his friends, and it’s funny to see how the other kids started transitioning to sandals, flipflops, and slip-on shoes. John had almost laughed himself sick when a gangly, 13-year-old Scott showed up at their house wearing what were obviously a pair of Melissa’s hospital shoes.

In all honesty, by the time Stiles was starting his freshman year of high school, John had forgotten about the Hales and their apparent inherent lycanthropy and the many layers of disaster that could occur.

And then it all goes to shit.

Because it’s Beacon fucking Hills.

There’s a long road that winds all the way around the edges of the Preserve in a big loop with smaller walking trails branching off into the Preserve itself, meant for hikers and rangers. It also makes for a very romantic drive (for the nature-lovers) and even if the trails weren’t meant for vehicles, one could drive a little way up one and park for a bit of privacy. In the sheriff’s department, it’s called the lovers’ walk.

Usually, John leaves the task of trolling the walk to the rookies and the deputies who got a kick out of raining on horny teenagers’ parades. But every now and again, he gets a kick out of it too. Especially now that Stiles is in high school and he and his friends are all horny teenagers. Nothing kills the mood like having a friend’s dad shine a flashlight in the backseat and give The Speech about public indecency and California’s statute on underage sex. Sadistic of him? Maybe a little. Amusing as hell? Absolutely.

Which is how he ends up driving along the walk at a slow crawl with low beams on, peering down the trails as he passes them, searching for the telltale gleam of chrome, steel, and glass amidst the shadowed undergrowth. Ah. Bingo. John doesn’t want to give the game away by turning on the spot, but he still stops a moment, squinting out the window. He knows that car—Laura Hale’s Camaro. Grinning inwardly, he sets the brake, gets his flashlight, and steps out of the car, wondering which Hale he’s caught tonight. It’s bound to be Laura or Peter. Either one is going to be amusing. His money’s on Peter, though. Overgrown punk liked abducting his niece’s ride and certainly wouldn’t be above using it for a bit of grab-ass.

He waits until he’s within a few feet of the car to switch the light on, shining the beam at the windows, which are definitely looking a bit foggy. There’s a sound of hasty movement inside the car, like limbs being rearranged and clothes being readjusted. “Alright, come on. You know the drill. Step out, both of you. This side of the car,” he says, forcibly keeping his tone level and professional.

There’s a beat of absolute stillness, and then the passenger door opens.

It’s not Peter. It’s not Laura, either.

It’s Derek, keeping his gaze fixed down somewhere in the vicinity of John’s shins, one side of his t-shirt still riding up, flannel unbuttoned and inside out, only one sleeve still rolled up.

And climbing out after him—oh, Jesus.

Stiles is almost vibrating with nervous energy, twisting the hem of his shirt so hard the seams are practically crying for mercy. There’s a red mark on the side of his neck. The way he heals, it’ll be gone in half an hour, but it’s very obviously an attempt at a hickey.

John doesn’t even know what to say. What the fuck is he supposed to say? He can’t figure out how to make The Speech apply to his own kid. A part of him wants to say abso-fucking-lutely not, but at the same time, Stiles is too goddamn stubborn and contrary for that. Finally, he recovers his wits and aims the flashlight at Derek. “You, go home, right now.”

“Dad—”

John directs the beam to Stiles. “You. Cruiser. Now.”

Stiles opens his mouth, but John angles the flashlight higher, shining the light in Stiles’s face. “Now.”

Casting a look at Derek, Stiles reaches out to touch the other boy’s wrist lightly—some of the tension eases out of Derek’s shoulders—and then turns and stomps loudly up the trail to the cruiser, making sure to slam the door for emphasis.

John turns back towards Derek and doesn’t miss the way the kid’s eyes cut away from him, staring down and to the side. If he hadn’t known the kid was a werewolf, he’d have taken the gesture for embarrassment or shame. As it is, he would have missed it if he hadn’t been looking: Derek didn’t turn his head quite fast enough to hide the metallic green-orange gleam in his pupils. The flashlight is probably fucking his night vision to hell and back. Sighing, he flicks the light off and slips it through the loop on his belt; Derek blinks a few times and looks at John’s face for the first time, a mix of puzzled and wary. “Go home,” he repeats, a little gentler than before. “Do not pass Go, do not collect 200 dollars, understand? Go directly home. And I won’t have to mention this to your parents.”

“Yes, sir,” Derek murmurs. Then, softer, “Thank you.”

Damn it, John is supposed to be stern and disappointed right now. He’s not supposed to like the kid he’d just busted giving his own kid a goddamn hickey. So he doesn’t say anything to that, just turns and starts walking back towards his cruiser as Derek gets into the Camaro.

Stiles is bouncing one leg and biting his nails down to the quick when John gets in the cruiser, having to reverse a few feet to give the Camaro room to reverse out of the trail. Indecency and gropery aside, the kid’s a dumbass for taking a sports car like that out on the walk. Miracle he didn’t get it stuck. But then again, if it did, he was probably strong enough to just put it neutral and push it back out onto the road himself. With lycanthropy, who needs a tow truck?

Once the Camaro’s taillights are out of sight, John exhales slowly, slouching back in his seat. “Hell, kiddo,” he mumbles, shaking his head, then gives a little huff of a laugh. “Your mother’s going to be pissed.”

Stiles, if possible, goes paler. “Oh, fuck.”

John doesn’t even scold him for that one.

 

To say Claudia is pissed is like calling Chernobyl a minor work accident.

John volunteers for a double shift. Stiles sleeps over at Scott’s house.

And after a shouting match that began in English, descended into Polish, and ended in Drakine, Claudia and Stiles reach an agreement on the matter of Derek Hale.

Meaning Stiles is going to keep seeing him. Full stop.

John never would have thought he’d see the day when someone could out-stubborn his wife, but then again, he should’ve known that if anyone could, it’d be their own kid.

Maybe he’s a little proud of that. Just a little. Maybe.

However, Claudia makes one thing very, very clear. Under no circumstances is Stiles to tell Derek, or any Hale, what he is. She’s careful in how she says it. Even if she still doesn’t grasp the idea of laws, she respects John’s vow to uphold them and does her best to follow them for his sake. But even implied in double-talk, John can hear the warning in her words.

Beacon Hills has more than its fair share of missing persons. One or two more would hardly be anything special.

Except she’d make sure those persons stayed missing.

 

Still, veiled threats of murder aside, John ends up liking Derek Hale.

He invites the kid to dinner a week after the lovers’ walk incident (currently ranking below the rabbit incident and above the remote helicopter incident) since he and Stiles have apparently been seeing each other for nearly three months. They’re overdue for an official meeting. Hell, that’s probably why John ended up being the one to catch the two of them—they’d tempted fate by putting off the inevitable for too long.

Derek had shown up ten minutes early in an interesting formal-casual mix (leather jacket and jeans with dress shoes and shirt with a tie) and with the air of a man about to get a root canal instead of sit down for dinner. John almost felt bad for the kid, even though a little part of him was also a little pleased, knowing he was capable of intimidating a werewolf.

Claudia spent most of the meal eyeing Derek with the focused intent of a kitten waiting for a bug to make the first move, though she did warm a few degrees when he complimented dinner—her bigos recipe could move strong men to tears—and a few more afterwards, when he admired her collection of differently patterned teacups with the little matching saucers. Considering he didn’t know she was a dragon, he definitely picked the best way to get on her good side.

For the most part, he and Derek discussed sports, namely Derek’s plan to join the lacrosse team next year while simultaneously wishing he could’ve played basketball like his uncle Peter—and seriously, how did they end up with lacrosse and not a basketball team? Apparently, his cousin Malia is going to try for the team, too, even if it isn’t a coed sport. John’s met the school coach, though. She’s got a good chance of making the cut.

Derek’s not a bad kid. He’s funny (in a sarcastic little shit kind of way that’s definitely compatible with Stiles’s brand of smartass), he’s polite and respectful (not surprising, since Talia Hale does not strike John as a woman who puts up with bullshit), and he’s an honest kind of friendly (once he eases down a little, wound like a top the way he is).

And, most importantly in John’s book, Stiles is quite clearly taken with him. He spends almost the whole dinner watching Derek through his lashes, smiling a little when the sports talk starts. John knows it’s because of Derek, because Stiles isn’t a fan of sports, doesn’t really get them; neither does Claudia. When John stands up to get himself another drink, he can see Stiles has one leg stretched out under the table, his ankle resting against Derek’s calf.

Well. Alright then.

 

Derek slowly starts coming around more often in the coming months after that first dinner. Though her edict of secrecy stands, Claudia genuinely starts liking him when Derek fixes that rattling noise in the Jeep, having learnt a few things from his father.

They finally meet both of Derek’s parents at the Fourth of July fireworks show at the lake. The Hale property is backed right into the Preserve, so they’re present more to prevent any accidental drunken trespassing than to actually see the show, since fireworks are probably not a werewolf’s best entertainment. The younger ones actually have earmuffs on.

John prays that Claudia and Talia never become friends. Ever. The world is not ready. Quinn just seems amused by the whole thing, particularly Talia’s attitude towards Claudia. Probably because it was amusing to him, thinking that his werewolf wife is so put off by a ‘human’ woman, and for once, John actually wishes he could tell someone else about Claudia because he has the feeling if Quinn knew the whole truth, he’d find it hilarious. He ought to buy Quinn a drink more often.

The matriarchal Cold War is interrupted by a disturbance down on the docks when Jackson Whittemore tosses a lit string of firecrackers into the middle of the Horde—the (semi-)affectionate nickname given to the friend group Stiles collected, consisting of Scott, Isaac Lahey, Erica Reyes, Vernon Boyd, Danny Mahealani, and recently expanded to include Malia, Cora, and Derek Hale. The smoke had Scott wheezing and grabbing for his inhaler, Isaac flinching away with arms over his head, and the werewolves covering their ears. John comes thisclose to slapping the little bastard in cuffs on a charge of aggravated dickishness, off-duty or not, but the situation resolves itself.

Namely, in the form of Laura and Peter picking Jackson up and pitching him off the side of the dock into the lake.

He likes Peter Hale a little more after that.

Just a little.

 

But of course, right when things seem to be going well, that’s when they start going off the rails.

Beacon Hills. Great place to raise a family.

Summer is winding towards its end, school is only a few weeks away, and Claudia has Stiles more or less locked in his bedroom.

Okay, not locked in, but…strongly discouraged from leaving. Not because he’s grounded but because he’s apparently of age for his wings to finish developing. She told John it was a kind of growth spurt as the soft, flexible bones in his wings hardened and fused in order to become flight-ready. It’d last about a week, and it’d hurt like hell, but he’d be fine. But he wouldn’t be fit for company until then, not with his scales coming in and a temperature of 102. Not to mention his room has taken on a striking resemblance to Claudia’s blanket fort. The story they’ve been giving to his friends is that he’s come down with a bad summer flu.

John is finishing up paperwork for the new transfer—rookie by name of Jordan Parrish—in his office away from the office when he hears the rose trellis creak outside. Sighing, he pushes back from the desk, walks over to the window, and slides it up, leaning out. “The doorbell works, you know.”

Derek actually falls off the trellis. And werewolves do not land on their feet like cats do, no siree. He blinks up at John from the flat of his back, leaves and petals clinging to his jacket (and really, why is he wearing a jacket, it’s been in the nineties all week). “Uh. Hi, Mr. Sheriff—I mean, Mr. Stilinski. Sheriff. Sheriff Stilinski.”

John can’t help but smile. “At ease, kiddo. Come on in. What can I do for you?”

“I, uhm, I was coming to see Stiles. Is he in his room?” Derek asks as he climbs in through the window into the guest room—not really what John meant, but okay—and slides it shut again.

He reaches over and brushes some grass out of the kid’s hair. “Sorry to tell you, Derek, but Stiles isn’t feeling well. Claudia’s got him quarantined.” It’s not exactly the truth, but it isn’t a lie, either. He’s good at those. Necessity of the job. And a great way to get around the lycanthropic lie detector test.

“Oh. Right.” Derek shifts his weight, then reaches in the pocket of his jacket. After a bit of fumbling, he pulls out a red drawstring bag which rattles as it moves. “Can you tell him I stopped over, and give him this from me?” he asks, holding it out.

John holds out a hand for it. Whatever is in the bag, it’s not terribly heavy, and it feels like many small objects, hard and pointy. Legos? “Sure, I can—”

“Derek.”

Oh, shit. John comes within a hairsbreadth of grabbing Derek by the collar and giving him a guiding heave-ho back out the window before he can see Stiles. Who, the last time John had checked on him, had scales running down both arms and a set of claws that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Wild Kingdom.

Miracle of miracles, though, Stiles has burritoed himself in a quilt, so not much of him is visible save for his bedhead and socked feet. Even so, his eyes are too bright, more gold than brown. “What’d you bring me?” he asks, shuffling down the steps one at a time as John and Derek come down the hallway.

“Stiles, you need to go back to bed,” John says before Derek can answer, stepping around him and going to stand at the bottom of the staircase. Logically, he knows that Stiles is strong enough to get past him if he really wanted to, but it isn’t always about logic. Although, when he leans his shoulder on the wall and puts a hand on the banister, effectively barring the way, the look Stiles gives him isn’t exactly full of filial affection. “You’re still sick. Your mother told you that you needed to stay in bed,” he points out firmly. Hell, even from here, he thinks he can feel the fever-heat coming off Stiles.

Stiles turns his gaze back to Derek. “What’d you bring me?” he repeats, though he doesn’t come any further down the stairs.

“Is that all you want me for, Stilinski?” Derek asks with a small grin, having followed John from the guest room; he has one arm behind his back, holding the bag out of sight. “I’m hurt, really. I never had you pinned for the materialistic type.”

Stiles rolls his eyes hard enough it’s a miracle they don’t fall out. “Yeah, just call me Madonna, now fork it over, Hale.” His gaze flicks back to John. “I’ve got to get back to quarantine, and you should go before you get the plague.”

Derek grins wider. “I’ll take my vitamins. Here.” He tosses the bag up at Stiles, who manages to sort of awkwardly catch it in a fold of blanketed limbs. “Now listen to the Sheriff and go back to bed. You look awful.”

“Bite me, Snoopy.” A fold of the quilt moves, and John has a feeling that a specific finger is being held up beneath it. The way Derek snickers, he knows it too.

“Might catch something if I do. Call you later.”

“That’ll be fine. And son, really. Next time, front door. Doorbell.”

Derek nods, the tips of his ears bright pink as he leaves. Through the front door.

Once the door clicks shut, he turns to look at Stiles, only to find his kid already vanished back upstairs. After a moment’s debate about whether he’s actually got a viable suspicion here or just a parent’s overprotective paranoia, he sighs and goes upstairs. Stiles’s bedroom door is closed, but not locked, which means it’s safe to open, just so long as he doesn’t go in. So that’s what he does, easing the door open.

Stiles has rearranged himself in the quilt, enough to get himself seated cross-legged on the bed, and he’s untied the drawstring on the bag and poured the contents out on the blanket in front of him. Not Legos—dice. Not just the average six-sided black-and-white dice, though. These are all sorts of colours and patterns, and most of them have more sides. Stiles scoops a handful of them up, letting them click and rattle softly through his fingers, occasionally picking up one to admire it closer.

“You were feeling the itch, weren’t you?” John asks softly, leaning his shoulder on the doorframe. He’d been expecting it soon, since the start of school is only a few weeks away and Stiles hasn’t gathered his annual treasure yet (last year was keys; he made a set of windchimes).

“Yes. Mom says there’s a higher chance of it coming on when we’re stressed because our treasure calms us. More stress increases the likelihood of the instinct being triggered, our bodies’ way of trying to help us chill,” Stiles recites absently. He rolls a handful of the dice between his palms, eyes closed.

And now, when Stiles would be stressed (growing pain aside, starting a new school year always gives him jitters), Derek Hale had shown up with the exact kind of thing Stiles has been gathering for treasure since he was seven. John inhales deep, lets it out slow. “He knows, doesn’t he?”

Stiles is quiet a moment, fiddling with the dice, but then he gives a fraction of a nod, the smallest tilt of his chin.

“Oh, hell, kid.”

“I didn’t tell him,” Stiles says quickly. “I didn’t. He just sort of…guessed.”

Guessed. Right. Because being a dragon is everyone’s first assumption. But then again…werewolves. So why the hell not?

John taps his knuckles against the doorframe, watching Stiles’s head tilt before he steps further into the room, carefully picking his way around the haphazard scattering of possessions until he can ease down to sit on the end of the bed. Stiles is stubbornly not looking at him, head down as he pushes the dice around with one sharp claw, nudging them into separate piles. Sorting them by sides. Twenty, twelve, ten, eight, six, and four. Once he finishes that, he’ll sort them by colour. “Are you sure he knows? Or are you just hoping he does because you want him to?” John asks.

“He knows. He just…he won’t say it.” Stiles runs a claw under the braided thread and button bracelet he’s started wearing the past few months, carefully turning it on his wrist. “I think he’s waiting for me to tell him.”

Drawn by the movement, John eyes the bracelet. He can tell by the look of it, the crookedness of the knots and the uneven spacing between the buttons, that Stiles had made it himself. And he could make a few educated guesses of his own as to who those buttons belong to. He thinks of Claudia’s necklace, made only from bottlecaps he’d given her on their dates, and has to close his eyes and count backwards from thirty by threes.

“You know you’ll have to talk to your mom about that,” John says once he gets down to zero. On the one hand, he can definitely get the need for secrecy. Mankind isn’t exactly warm and cuddly when it comes to anything different than them, including other humans. On the other, he thinks if any anyone can keep the dragon thing a secret, it would be a family of werewolves. Secrecy is kind of a tradition for the Hales.

“I know.”

“And have you discussed the topic of lycanthropy?”

Stiles tilts his head. “Uh, sort of?”

“Sort of? What’s sort of?”

“Sort of, meaning either Derek knows that I know he’s a werewolf, or he is the absolute worst at hiding it. Seriously. The worst.”

John smiles a little at that because honestly, if Stiles thinks he’s bad at it, then it must be true. “I’ll make you a deal, kiddo,” he says, reaching one arm around to rub his knuckles in slow circles on Stiles’s back between his shoulder blades where he knows it hurts. “You talk to Derek about the werewolf thing. I’m talking both of you, use your words and actually say it, not just winking and nodding and inferring it. And I’ll talk to your mom about our end of the deal.” She’d be more amenable if he talks to her first anyways, and he is absolutely not above using some of the ol’ Stilinski charm to get her in a more agreeable mood.

Stiles blinks those big golden-brown eyes he’d gotten from Claudia. “You will?”

“I will.”

Carefully scooping the dice back into the drawstring bag, Stiles sets his new treasure aside so he can fully turn to face John and wrap both arms around him. John rubs a hand over his back, uncaring of the fever-hot face pressing into his neck, the scales scraping against his arms, the sharp nails pricking his shoulders where Stiles’s hands are curled in his shirt. He’d gotten used to all that a long time ago.

Stiles stays there for a long minute before lowering his arms and sitting back. “Thank you, Dad,” he says in a thicker voice than before.

John clasps a hand over the nape of Stiles’s neck, squeezing gently. “I love you, kiddo.”

“I love you, too.”

“Get some sleep. I’ll wake you up when it’s time for dinner.”

In hindsight, John should’ve known better than to make a deal like that. Because if there’s one thing Mieczysław Genim Stilinski does not do, it’s back down from a challenge.

Two days after Claudia declares him safe to leave again, Stiles visits John at the station, pulling Derek along with him. The kid looks nervous to see him in a way he hasn’t been since their first dinner, and John really doesn’t need to guess the reason. Which is no doubt why Stiles, in true fashion, pulls Derek into the office, shuts the door, and declares, “Dad, will you please tell him you don’t care that he’s a werewolf so he can stop tweaking out on me?”

Derek pales.

John sighs.

This is going to go well.

But John did make a deal with Stiles, and the kid had held up his end of it, so now it’s John’s turn to step up. Still, he can already tell convincing Claudia will take…a bit longer than two days.

She isn’t happy to begin with. Now that the Hales know they’re in on their little furry problem, the pack will be paying much closer attention to their family. It had sounded paranoid at first, but in the weeks following the lycanthropy announcement, as he likes to think of it, John had noticed Peter Hale driving past their house sometimes, which honestly, human or not, he is a cop. Did they think he wouldn’t notice? For werewolves, they’re not horribly subtle.

And Stiles also told him that Cora and Malia Hale cornered him at school—in the girl’s locker room, Dad!—and threatened to rip off his limbs and beat him with them if he ever talked. And of course, Stiles being Stiles, had to be a smartass about it, kindly informing them that his record for not-speaking is four minutes, so if they wanted anything more than that, they were going to have to do better than threats of physical harm, since he does plenty of physical damage to himself on a daily basis, have they even met him? They’d manhandled him into a locker and jammed it shut, and since he didn’t want to break the door off, he’d been stuck there until the girls’ gym class started. Lydia Martin had to let him out. The girls had not been pleased to see him; once he’d told them who was responsible for putting him there, however, they had been a little more understanding.

John will give Derek some credit, though. Just before dinner, Derek shows up with a Zorro mask of bruises around his eyes, a split lip, and healing gouges all down his arms, asking to sleep in the guest room. There had apparently been quite a rumble at the Hale house after school.

“Your mother didn’t break it up?” John asks once they’re all seated at the dinner table, sliding a plate over to the kid.

“No.” Derek winces between bites, licking the swollen corner of his mouth. “But it’s different, for us. We get in fights like this a lot. Just…not usually more than one in a night. I’ll be fine. We heal slower from injuries caused by other shifters, that’s all.”

Claudia touches Derek’s chin with one fingernail—nail, not claw, thankfully—and tilts his face towards her. “And who, exactly, did you fight?” she asks.

“Cora. Then Malia.” Derek licks the corner of his mouth again. “And Laura.”

“Why Laura?”

“She’s going to be the Alpha one day. But she isn’t yet. She doesn’t get to tell me what to do.” He sets down his fork and sits back in his chair a little, wincing as the movement pulls at the healing scabs on his arms. “I can go if you want. It’s just for tonight. It’ll all be fine by tomorrow, we don’t hold onto stuff like this long, but for now…”

“You can stay,” Claudia says before John can say it, surprising all of them.

So he does. Derek and Stiles end up watching a film on the little TV set in the guest room, laying on the futon together. Despite the fact that they’re both hormonal teenagers, John trusts them not to try anything. Correction—he trusts Derek not to try anything, at least not under the same roof as Claudia. Derek is far more frightened of her than Stiles is.

Meanwhile, John reclines in the blanket nest in the basement (which he refers to as Fort Claudia, but only ever in his head) with Claudia reclining against his side. She’s holding his jar of marbles in her lap, taking out a handful and dropping them back in one at a time, rolling them between her fingertips. “So,” she says. “Derek Hale.”

“Mm.” John rests his chin atop her hair, breathing in the smell of her shampoo and the warm, smoky scent that always clings to her.

“Mieczysław is…very fond of him.”

“He is.”

“And Derek is fond of him.”

“I’d say so. Kid looked like he got put in a blender.” John kisses her hair. “Did I tell you? He even gave Mieczysław dice.”

Claudia tilts her head back to look up at him, a strange expression on her face. “What?”

“When he was home with his…growth spurt.” It has a name, but he cannot pronounce Drakine words like they do. His throat’s not made for it. “Derek came by, had a bag of dice for Mieczysław. When I asked him, he said he’d been feeling the itch.”

Claudia closes her eyes and lets out a long breath, reaching up to pinch the bridge of her nose.

“What?”

She doesn’t drop her hand or open her eyes. “It seems we’ll be telling young Mr. Hale the truth after all,” she grumbles.

“Uh…well, okay. That’s…good, I guess. Why the sudden agreement?” John asks, wondering what he’s missed here. He knows he’s missed something. Probably some esoteric draconic thing, which is par for the course. He doesn’t mind; he just needs the SparkNotes.

Claudia lowers her hand and tilts her head back to smile at him, though the humour in the expression is sharp. “Oh, you’ll see.”

That is vague and not at all encouraging.

When they go back upstairs, John checks on the boys, an ingrained habit from the sleepover days when Scott and Stiles could not be trusted to stay out of trouble if left alone too long.

No trouble this time, though. They’re both asleep, both dressed. Stiles is big spoon, wedged between Derek and the back of the futon, which is a little funny, but at the same time, probably necessary. He moves around in his sleep too much to be on the outside—he’d be eating floor in no time. But then he notices that Stiles has his face tucked down against the back of Derek’s neck, nose buried in his hair.

Claudia does that to him some nights. A lot of nights. She says it helps her sleep, smelling her mate.

Ah, crap.

 

In the morning, the worst of Derek’s injuries are healed, only fading pink scratches left on his arms where the deeper gouges had been and a bit of redness around his eyes in place of bruises. Since it’s a Saturday, the boys don’t have to run off to school, and John’s shift doesn’t start until ten, so they have the ever-so-delightful revelation conversation at the table over breakfast. John knows it’s going to be severe because he’s actually allowed to have bacon with his pancakes.

Impending disaster topic aside, it’s a little funny to see the look on Derek’s face when he witnesses Stiles eat pancakes for what is obviously the first time. Because Stiles likes to shred his pancakes into little pieces, crumble his (burnt black) bacon into it, add either banana pieces or a handful of blueberries, whichever they happened to have, and then smother the entire thing in so much syrup it makes John’s teeth hurt just looking.

Yep. That’s his kid.

But his kid is right—Derek must have guessed, because he takes the news pretty damn well, all things considered. He even smiles a little when Stiles proves it by extending his claws (“Look, we match!”) and scratching them lightly against Derek’s arm with playful taps. He explains to Claudia that he’d known that Stiles was something and had known that since seventh grade, when they ended up assigned seats next to each other because Stiles smelled…different. However, he hadn’t guessed what exactly Stiles was until after they’d started seeing each other. Apparently, it had been ‘his thing with the buttons’ that had given away the game.

Claudia actually smiles at that. John does, too.

Speaking of the thing with the buttons, as it turns out, John is also right. He really hates being right sometimes.

Dragons only collect two treasures all their life. Their first treasure, and the treasure gifted to them by their mates. Interesting fact, John had technically married Claudia twice—the human way, when they’d said vows and exchanged rings, and the dragon way, when he’d given her a pickle jar of marbles. (It’s at this point that Stiles starts bouncing a leg at such a speed it’s a surprise he doesn’t lose a slipper.) A mate is different from just a lover; it’s the closest equivalent their kind has to being married, though it’s more than that, more instinctive, more involved, more permanent. A bit too permanent for John’s liking, especially for a pair of sixteen-year-old high schoolers.

Derek, however, is still quietly, steadily calm when he informs them that werewolves are the same way, at least in part. They don’t do the whole treasure thing, obviously, but natural wolves mate for life. So do they. (When he talks, he reaches under the table to lay a hand on Stiles’s bouncing knee, and the leg goes still.) He’d realised Stiles was his mate when his family kept complaining about how he smelled after being around Stiles; to them, dragons smell like sulphur, the way a freshly-burnt match does. Derek had always thought Stiles smelled good.

John doesn’t get it, not exactly, but he’s used to that feeling. He can read between the lines well enough, though. He may not like it, and they might be damn young for it, but end of the day, he wants his kid to be happy. And if instinct leads to couples like him and Claudia, like Talia and Quinn Hale…well. He can get used to this, too.

And that’s that.

Well, mostly.

Derek holds onto his calmness when he informs Claudia that this means he’ll have to tell his mother about them, what they are. The rest of his family, he could avoid, but Talia Hale is not just his mother, she’s also his Alpha. Lying to her is not an option.

Claudia suggests that perhaps they could have a little family gathering at the Preserve, just like the 4th of July, and she and Talia can have that conversation in person.

John thinks this is somewhere in the Book of Revelations, one of the seals of the apocalypse, but he can’t remember which one.

Stiles just asks whether or not Derek has ever had gołąbki before, and if this means they can make szarlotka.

 

(John’s right about this too—when they tell the Hales, Quinn laughs so hard Talia pushes him into the lake.)