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This Started As Only Make Believe

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Derek checks his watch, again. The instructor is droning on about differentiated assessment, which Derek knows is important (well, Principal Argent thinks it’s important; Derek thinks it’s just theory that looks good on paper), but he can’t pay attention because it’s 4:45 and the daycare closes in fifteen minutes. It will take a minimum of twenty minutes to get across town, and that’s with breaking speed laws and not getting caught in five o’clock traffic.

He would call the daycare, but he’d left his cell phone sitting on the kitchen counter this morning. Rose had been dragging her feet, refusing to put on clothes, and it took him five minutes of chasing a naked daughter before he growled and flashed his eyes. That brought on the tears, and after Derek had coaxed her into her choice of clothes (a pink princess dress from Halloween, plaid tights, galoshes with polka dots, and a tiara) and calmed her down, she barely had time to shove the toast into her mouth before they were running out of the door.

Derek had missed breakfast completely, but thankfully had a power bar stashed in his classroom that tided him over until lunch. That and the apple Erica had given him when he’d dropped by the counseling department during his planning period, looking like death with his head buried into a cup of coffee.

At 5:06, the instructor finally dismisses the class. Derek would have cut out earlier, but every minute must be accounted for, and he didn’t want to have to make up the time he has to complete for the Teachers Alternative Placement Program before the end of the year.

One of the women in the TAPP program who teaches at a county middle school tries to hang around to chat, but Derek gives her a tight smile before rushing out the room. It’s not just the time; the cloud of arousal around her was so thick that Derek could barely breathe.

The last thing Derek has time for is romance and a relationship.

As he rushes across town, Derek panics that the daycare would just leave Rose on the curb alone. No, they couldn’t do that, it was illegal, right? Even if Derek was going to be, oh god, over half an hour late. It was already 5:20 and he was barely half-way there.

Isaac had told Derek about the daycare during pre-planning when Derek suddenly needed somewhere for Rose to go after her half-day kindergarten was over. When Derek had missed a mandatory curriculum meeting, Isaac had found him in his classroom on the computer, frantically searching through daycare listings.

“Try Ally’s Little Ones,” Isaac had suggested. “My friend owns it. I’ll make sure she’s accepted with such short notice.” Derek had pulled Isaac into a bear hug that made him squirm in embarrassment, but Isaac was Pack, and Derek could tell he was quite pleased with himself.

Now Derek was going to screw everything up and get Rose kicked out of daycare, and it only took six months.

Derek pulls into the parking lot at 5:33. Rose is sitting on a bench out front with her backpack on, talking happily to a daycare worker he’s never met. But that wasn’t difficult; Derek had only met Allison Argent, mainly because she was Mr. Argent’s daughter and had agreed to come interview Derek at school because he couldn’t fit it into his schedule otherwise. Allison’s usually the one standing outside with the children when Derek picks up Rose.

“Daddy!” Rose shouts as she leaps off the bench and races towards him.

“Hey there, ladybug!” She’s uneasy on her feet because of the rain boots, and Derek watches her nervously until she’s in his arms and he’s picking her up. He nuzzles into her face, breathing in her scent and calming his nerves as he peppers kisses across her face. She giggles in delight, and he can feel the happiness radiating from her.

The other man stands, and Derek shifts Rose in his arms as he walks towards him. “I am so sorry,” he looks at the man apologetically as Rose nuzzles into his neck. “I’m Derek Hale, Rose’s dad. Crap, I owe you like overtime money or something. I don’t have any cash. Can I write you a check?”

“Do people still do that?” the man laughs. Derek feels himself flush, hears Laura’s voice in the back of his head. Oh good god, Derek. Get with the times. Pay your bills online, use online banking like the rest of the world! No one balances a checkbook anymore.

“My class ran late, and I couldn’t leave, and then it took me forever to get here.” Derek shifts Rose in his arms, who looks like she’s well on her way to passing out. “Thanks for staying with her.”

“We had fun,” the man says. “She told me all about how you turn into a wolf.”

Derek feels his entire stomach drop into his toes, and can’t stop the look of abject horror that crosses his face. He’s confused, though, because the man doesn’t seem scared, angry, or confused. But still. “I can explain – “

“What? That you pretend to be a wolf with your kid and let her ride on your back? Please,” the man rolls his eyes with a laugh. Derek feels himself relax. “I’ve heard much stranger things come out of kids’ mouths. Though, why you pretend to be a werewolf is beyond me.” Bless this man for assuming Rose was making things up like every other kid.

Derek smiles awkwardly. “Family joke.”

“Nice outfit, by the way,” the man points to Rose. “I know I always wear my princess dress with plaid tights and rain boots. It’s the only way the ladies of the court won’t snicker behind their hands.” Derek just stares, wondering if the man is for real. He does work at a daycare; maybe that explains it. Sometimes on weekends, Derek finds himself using slang he’s picked up from his students.

Derek looks down at the lump of curls in his arms. Rose has passed out with her hands curled into the front of Derek’s button up. “Thanks again…?”

“Stiles.” The man smiles, and Derek feels so much gratitude towards him for not leaving his daughter. But he also feels guilty. Stiles has a life, a girlfriend, better things to get home to instead of babysitting Derek’s daughter because Derek still hasn’t learned how to juggle everything.

“Stiles. I owe you. Let me know how much and I’ll – “

“Write me a check?” Stiles jokes with a wide smile. The corner of Derek’s mouth upturns slightly.

“Something like that.”

Derek walks over to the Camaro, cradling the back of Rose’s head as he bends down and puts her into her car seat.

“You were late, Daddy,” Rose says, rubbing her eyes as Derek straps her in.

“I know, ladybug. I just couldn’t get away.” He kisses her forehead before shutting the door and walking around the car. He notices Stiles is still on the sidewalk in front of the daycare, so Derek waves as he drops into the driver’s side. He tells Rose, “I’m sorry you had to wait.”

“It’s okay,” Rose yawns, kicking her feet and hitting the back of the passenger seat. “Mr. Stiles is great. He played guessing games with me and then I told him all about how you were a wolf!” Derek rubs his eyes as he listens to Rose ramble. He’s got to have yet another talk with her. But not right now.

Now, Derek is exhausted, starving, and there’s easily three more hours before he can even sit down.

*

Rose helps him make dinner. And by helping, she pours green beans into a pot and salad into a bowl. The counter ends up covered in vegetables. They eat in front of the television watching Wheel of Fortune while Rose tells Derek what she learned in school.

“Daddy, today Haley told us about her family, and she is from Texas! That is on the other side of the United States!” Rose looks at him proudly as she pops a forkful of green beans into her mouth.

“Texas isn’t on the other side the country,” Derek corrects gently. “It’s halfway across.”

“She said her daddy used to own a, a,” Rose pauses, her face scrunching in concentration. “A place with horses and big cows.”

“A ranch?” Derek supplies.

Rose grins and nods. “Yes! That’s it! Her daddy and granddad owned a ranch. She knows how to milk a cow, Dad! A real cow!”

“That is very cool,” Derek says before he takes a bite of chicken. He’s listening, but also watching the beginning of Jeopardy!. He’s used to Rose’s tendency to ramble, and has gotten listening in one ear down to an art.

“Then we had story time.”

“What did you read?”

Rose doesn’t answer immediately, and Derek glances up from his carrots. She’s looking down at her plate and biting her lip between her teeth.

“What? Rose, what is it?”

“We read fairytales.”

“Okay…” Derek says, feeling the dread settling in his stomach. He puts his fork down and sets his plate on the coffee table in front of him.

Rose looks up, eyes brimming with tears. “Miss Johnson read us ‘The Three Little Piggies.’ Daddy, the wolf, he, he…” Tears slide down her cheeks, and Derek moves her plate and pulls her into his lap. “The wolf was mean, and he tore up the houses and then they set him on fire and he ran away and they defeated him.

“Then we watched two cartoons about the three piggies, and in one the wolf ended up in a big pot that was boiling and he ran away because his butt got burned and then we watched another where the wolf kept getting hurt!” Rose buries her face into Derek’s shirt. “I just kept thinking about you and Aunt Laura and Aunt Cora and the rest of the Pack.”

Derek wraps his arms around Rose’s small frame. “Oh ladybug, it’s okay. Nothing is going to happen to us.”

“The teacher asked me why I was crying, and I told her that they were mean to the wolfs and wolfies are good, and she told me wolfs were bad and the pigs defeated the scary wolf, and I told her wolfies are not scary and the piggies were mean and she told me I was wrong.”

Derek’s eyes flash blue as he feels his claws pushing at his fingertips. He remembers the first time he heard the Little Red Riding Hood tales and the first time he saw werewolves in movies. He’d cried for a week, and it was all his mom could do to get him out of his bedroom. It doesn’t make it any easier now that it’s his own daughter in his arms crying about popular depictions of wolves. He misses his mom in that moment, just like he does every time he wishes he could pick up the phone and ask her how in the hell to raise his daughter.

“You aren’t wrong, ladybug,” Derek says as he wipes Rose’s cheeks with his t-shirt. “Remember, not many people know about wolves, and they are scared about things they don’t know.”

“But Daddy, we’re not scary!” Rose says as she squirms around on Derek’s lap. She rolls off him and grabs green beans with her fingers.

“Fork, Rosie,” Derek says. She picks up the fork with her other hand as she shoves food into her mouth with her fingers.

Derek sighs and realizes this is as good a time as any to discuss what happened earlier. “Sit back down. I want to talk to you about something.” He pats the cushion beside him.

Rose plops onto the couch. “Am I in trouble?”

“No,” Derek starts, “but we need to talk about something really important, okay?” She nods. “Mr. Stiles told me today that you told him about how I’m a wolf.”

“I did! Mr. Stiles is the best. He said – “

“Rose, I’m sure Mr. Stiles is a very nice man. But what’s our family’s most important rule?”

Rose drops her eyes and picks at her nightgown. She mumbles barely audible, “We don’t tell people that we’re wolfs.”

“Exactly. And that includes Mr. Stiles.”

She quickly jumps to her knees and holds on to the back of the couch as she waves her arm around. “But Mr. Stiles is different. He wasn’t even surprised when I told him, and – “

“Rose,” Derek says. “You realize that he thinks we pretend to be wolves, right? Even if you really like Mr. Stiles, you can’t tell him. Okay?” He lowers his head so he’s at eye level with Rose and looks at her seriously. “Okay?”

“Okay,” she says. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Derek leans forward and gives her a big, smacking kiss.

After dinner, Derek practices counting with Rose until bedtime. He reads her a story, then tucks her in. When she’s asleep, Derek calls Laura.

“I’m going to go to that school and complain,” Derek growls into the phone as he loads the dishwasher. “How dare that woman tell my daughter that she is wrong for siding with the wolf instead of those fucking annoying pigs?” He slams the plate into the rack with so much force it breaks, and he curses under his breath.

“What are you going to say? That as a werewolf, you don’t appreciate her prejudice?” Derek growls despite Laura’s teasing tone. “You are so sensitive about the wolf fairytales. They’re just ridiculous stories.”

“That bitch made my baby girl cry!” Derek exclaims. “No one makes her cry.”

“You can’t protect her from everything.”

“I can protect her from pointless scarring stories! And what kind of story is that to read to a kindergartener, anyway?”

Laura laughs. “Well, if she doesn’t lock herself into her bedroom for a week, then she’s doing better than you.”

“Fuck you.”

“Come on, Derek. It’s fine. Don’t go wolf out on Rose’s teacher, don’t make a big deal out of it. If you make a big deal out of it, she will think it’s a bigger deal than it is.” Derek leans back against the counter as he listens to Laura. He rubs a hand across his face. “Rose is fine.”

“I’m going to fuck this up,” Derek says. “I have no clue what I’m doing.”

“You’re doing fine, I promise. I’ve been through it four times already. I’d tell you if you were scarring your child beyond repair. And don’t even compare yourself to Jennifer.”

“She might know how to handle this better,” Derek whispers.

“No, she wouldn’t. Don’t ever think that Rose would be better off without you. She made her choice – you didn’t keep Rose away from her. She chose to divorce you, she chose to stay in Florida. I wish you’d stop beating yourself up about it.”

“I know,” Derek says. He cradles the phone between his ear and shoulder as he puts a detergent pod in the dishwasher. “Thanks.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Laura says.

“You always listen when I freak out,” Derek says. “I appreciate it.”

“That’s what I’m here for. I’m glad someone is reaping the benefits of my experience with four kids.” Derek smiles to himself. “Now, get off this phone and get some sleep.”

“I’ve got papers to grade.”

“Nope. Sleep! Big sister’s orders.”

After Derek hangs up with Laura, he spends the next hour grading papers, then jacks off quickly before finally crawling into bed just before midnight.

There’s a good six hours before he has to be up again.

*

Derek jerks awake when he feels the bed beside him move. He knows the instant he’s awake that it’s Rose.

“Rose, what is it?” Derek asks, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. Rose is already lifting the blankets and slipping beneath them.

“I had a nightmare,” Rose answers sleepily. “You were being boiled by piggies.”

Derek sighs and lies back down. Rose snuggles against his side, and Derek rubs his cheek against her hair. “I’m safe, you’re safe. Go to sleep.”

Rose is asleep within minutes, but Derek can’t calm down. Even asleep, she smells like fear and distress, and Derek’s instincts kick into overdrive with the overwhelming sense to protect and neutralize threat. As Derek finally drifts off, he decides that he doesn’t care what Laura says. He needs to have a talk with that teacher.

*

Derek texts Erica first thing the next morning and asks her to cover his first period for him until he gets to work. When he gets to the elementary school, Rose starts hitting the back of the passenger seat with her feet.

“Daddy, are you coming to school with me today?” she asks excitedly. “Are you my show and tell? Will you help me write my letters today?”

“No, ladybug. I want to speak with Miss Johnson for a minute.”

“Oh, okay!” Rose says as Derek unstraps her. She doesn’t ask why, doesn’t even bring up the pigs. Maybe he’s overreacting, but Rose not only cried but also had nightmares. Even if he can’t change what happened, he is going to let that teacher know exactly how he feels. His fatherly and wolf instincts have overcome any rational judgment.

Derek holds Rose’s hand as they cross the parking lot and walk through the halls. The smell is strong and pungent, like sour milk, sickly sweet cleaner, and stale lunch food. God, how he hates children and elementary schools. It’s why he chose to teach high school in the first place. Teenagers reek in a completely different way, and at least there is no crying. Most days.

Derek finds Miss Johnson inside the classroom, talking with a few of the students. Rose tries to tug Derek over to the wall with a, “Daddy! Daddy! Come look at my picture! It made it to the gallery!” But Derek just rubs his hand over her hair as he walks towards the teacher.

“Miss Johnson?” Derek says as he approaches. Rose has run off to her desk and pulling her pencil case from her backpack.

“Mr. Hale,” Miss Johnson responds with a smile. “What a pleasant surprise! How can I help you this morning? Everything okay with Rose?”

“No,” Derek says. “That’s what I’d like to discuss.”

Miss Johnson speaks to the parapro for a moment before leading Derek outside into the hall. Students are going to their respective classrooms, but the kindergarten room is at the end of the hall, so they are mostly alone. “How can I help you, Mr. Hale?”

Derek takes a deep breath, and remembers that this woman isn’t the enemy. She’s a teacher, just like him. Still doesn’t soften him much. “I’d like to discuss what happened yesterday with the three little pigs story.”

“Ah, yes,” Miss Johnson nods, clasping her hands in front of herself. “Rose overreacted a teensy bit.”

“Overreacted?” Derek balks. “You told her she was wrong for siding with the wolf.”

“Well, Mr. Hale,” Miss Johnson says, “the point of the story was to teach the children about responsibility and the value of hard work through the third pig’s construction of the brick house.”

“That’s not what my daughter got from it.”

“Yes, she seemed excessively upset that the wolf was defeated, and when we watched the cartoon, she cried.” Miss Johnson gave him a sympathetic smile. “I know it’s hard being a single dad, maybe Rose is upset about something else – “

Derek has to bite his tongue not to growl and flash his eyes at her. “Nothing is wrong with my daughter,” Derek says. “I think there’s something wrong with your teaching methods if you can’t accommodate different interpretations of stories. Or, more appropriately, understand that some kids, like my daughter, have attachments to wolves and not three asinine pigs. I appreciate your efforts in teaching the children responsibility, but I do not appreciate you telling my child she is wrong for expressing an opinion that differs from your own.”

Miss Johnson just stands there, staring at him. Derek can tell that she is angry, embarrassed, and upset, but he doesn’t care. He tends to act on instinct instead of thinking rationally when it comes to Rose.

“Thank you for your time and all you do, Miss Johnson,” Derek says with a clipped nod of his head. “I have to get to work now.” With that, Derek leaves her outside the classroom as he goes to find Rose.

“Daddy! Come see my picture!” Rose grabs his hand and drags him over to the gallery, which is nothing more than pictures drawn by the kids mounted on construction paper and hung on the back wall. Rose points to a picture taped above her head, near Derek’s eyelevel. “That’s my picture!”

“It’s beautiful,” Derek says. It’s two stick figures, one obviously Derek and the other Rose. They are holding hands by a swing set. Derek bends down and pulls her into a tight hug. “I love you so much, Rose.”

“I love you, too, Dad.” She gives him a sloppy kiss and then Derek lets her go. Derek watches as she goes to her desk, dark curls bouncing behind her. She takes out crayons and starts drawing , and she giggles when two boys step near. He watches with a fond smile for a few moments before sighing and turning to cross the room.

“Have a nice day, Miss Johnson,” Derek says with a smile as he leaves the classroom.

He doesn’t realize until he’s in his car that he’s shaking, and he just grips the steering wheel and lets his claws and teeth free. It helps ease some of the tension in his body. He can’t believe the audacity of that woman, trying to make Rose’s actions a result of their situation.

It’s not perfect, and Derek wishes Rose had her mom around despite his feelings towards the woman. And maybe he could spend more time with Rose, but he’s doing the best he can trying to juggle all his responsibilities.

But Derek knows that his best isn’t always enough.

*

All day, Derek feels out of sorts. It’s silly, really. Rose is fine, and it wasn’t the first time he’d overreacted on someone where she was concerned. He’s not foolish to think it’ll be the last either. But he keeps thinking about what the teacher had said. Maybe Rose is upset about something else.

She seems like a happy child. They’ve been back in Beacon Hills for two years now, and of course Rose had been inconsolable after Jennifer left. It was hard enough for Derek, a fully grown werewolf, to get over the divorce. He lost someone he loved, his spouse, the mother of his child, and part of his Pack. For a three year old werecub, severing that attachment was devastating.

But thanks to Pack, to moving back to Beacon Hills and being around Cora, Laura’s family, and the rest of the Betas, Rose got through the first few months and adjusted to life without a mother and just Derek. But maybe, Derek thinks, she’s not as well adjusted as he’d thought.

During his lunch break, after Erica has brought him a cup of coffee and piece of pound cake, he gets a text from Laura.

You went and talked to Rose’s teacher, didn’t you?

How did you know?

Because I know everything.
Actually, I just know you. Please say you weren’t too rude.

I don’t think so.

She’s okay, you know. So are you. You both are doing okay. You’re doing a great job.

Thanks.

Love you.

Love you.

By the end of the day, Derek feels an itching under his skin he can’t seem to control. He feels it all through lacrosse practice, and he’s so wound up he ends up yelling at three of the players for no reason and making them do suicide runs. When they glance over at Isaac, he tells them to take one lap around instead, and turns to Derek.

“You gotta calm down, Derek,” Isaac says, clamping a hand on his shoulder. “The team is noticing, and I can barely think you’re oozing so much anxiety.”

“Sorry,” Derek says, running a hand over his face. “Rose is having some issues.”

A frown creases Isaac’s face, and he nods sympathetically. “Anything I can do? Think some Pack bonding might help?”

“Maybe. Might do her good to spend some time with you.” Derek glances at his watch. “Do you mind if I cut out? I want to pick her up from daycare early, maybe take her to the park.”

“No problem. You’re not doing a fucking thing here anyway except stressing the team out.” Isaac grins as Derek jogs towards the gym. “Hey!” Derek slows and turns around. “Danny and I are having a cook out this weekend. You should come, bring Rose. Boyd and Erica will be there with their kids, and some of my other friends, too.”

“Maybe,” Derek says. He turns back around and heads for the gym, not even bothering to change from his t-shirt and track pants. He just grabs his things and heads for the car.

Derek arrives at the daycare at 4:30. As soon as he’s out of the car, he catches scent of Rose. He inhales and follows it around the side of the building. Kids are running around the playground, screaming and laughing. Rose is in the open, grassy area beside the playground chasing Stiles.

“Don’t eat me, Miss Wolf!” Stiles yells in fake fear as Rose runs after him, growling and holding her hands up like she has claws.

“Wolfs don’t eat people, Stiles!” she laughs. Stiles stops and Rose runs into the back of his legs, and Stiles purposefully tumbles to the ground. Rose hasn’t developed any wolf strength yet, so she wouldn’t be able to knock him down. He rolls over onto his back, exposing his belly and neck.

Something hot flares through Derek, and he immediately zeroes in on the bit of flesh exposed from his bunched shirt, the blood pumping through the vein in Stiles’ neck.

“You’ve caught me! You’ve caught the helpless squirrel!”

Rose giggles as she stands over Stiles. “Stiles, you’re not a squirrel.”

“Why can’t I be a squirrel?” he asks, propping himself on his elbow and tickling her stomach lightly. She bends over and squeals in delight. “I let you be the wolf. I want to be the squirrel!”

The posture coupled with Stiles’ interactions with his daughter has Derek feeling an overwhelming desire to stalk towards him and pounce on his prey. Derek wants to claim him.

He shakes his head. Where the fuck did that come from? Derek hasn’t felt that overcome by desire and instinct in ages. And now…this is not the time. Nor the person. He understands how inappropriate it is to be having these feelings about his daughter’s daycare teacher.

As he strides forward, Derek takes a deep breath – which honestly is a mistake since the air is filled with the mingled scent of Rose and Stiles. And as he draws closer, all he can smell is sweat and skin and Stiles.

Derek notices the tilt of Rose’s head when she catches his smell. She spins around and runs towards him at top-speed. “Daddy!” she yells, launching herself into his waiting arms. Derek scoops her up and squeezes her to him tightly. When he inhales, he feels a calm settle over him he hasn’t felt all day. The uncomfortable prickling pushing beneath his skin recedes, and the tension in his body uncoils. He just holds her for a few moments, face buried into her dark, messy hair.

“You okay, Daddy?” she whispers, her hand coming up to pet his beard. He pulls back, and she’s looking at him in question. “You smell funny,” she whispers in his ear.

“Hard day at work,” Derek replies. He kisses her head just as Stiles approaches.

“Hey Mr. Hale,” Stiles says.

“Derek, please,” Derek laughs as Rose starts squirming in his grip. He puts her down and she runs over to a group of kids by the monkey bars. “Only my students call me Mr. Hale.”

“You’re a teacher?” Stiles asks, sweeping his eyes over Derek’s clothes. “Lax dress code.”

Derek glances down at himself, forgot that he was wearing the sweatpants and a t-shirt from lacrosse practice. “I’m also a coach,” he explains.

“Of course you are,” Stiles says with a smirk. He stares at Derek for a beat too long, and they both look away awkwardly. Thankfully, Rose returns then with her Octonauts backpack on.

“Daddy, did Stiles tell you what he did for me?” Rose asks excitedly.

“Mr. Stiles,” Derek corrects.

“No, Stiles is okay,” Stiles says. “Most of the kids call me that. Mr. Stiles just sounds weird.” Derek frowns slightly, but nods.

“Daddy!!” Rose whines, tugging on the hem of his t-shirt. “You didn’t answer my question! Did you hear me? I was talking to you!”

“I heard you, Rose,” Derek says with a frustrated sigh.

“What did I say, Daddy?”

Derek rolls his eyes. “You asked if I knew what Stiles did for you. The answer is no.”

“He read me a story about the Wolf and the piggies!” Derek glances at Stiles with dread, but Stiles is smiling widely. “It was the real story of the wolf and three piggies! The wolf was the good guy, Dad! He just had a bad cold, and I told Stiles wolfies didn’t get sick, but I like the story anyway because the wolf wasn’t mean, he just had a cold and sneezed and accidentally knocked the houses down!”

“Did he?” Derek crosses his arms and smiles down at her.

“And he ate the first two piggies, but Da-ad, they were already DEAD!” she explains, her hazel eyes wide. “So, he didn’t really do nothing bad. And no piggy tried to boil him!” She smiles. “I like that story.”

“Sounds like a good story,” Derek nods, turning to Stiles and studying him closely. “A really good story.”

Stiles shrugs and looks honest-to-god embarrassed. Rose gives Stiles a quick hug before running across the playground towards the parking lot. Stiles walks alongside Derek as he follows.

“Thank you for reading her that,” Derek says. “Rose had…a hard time with her teacher’s version of that story yesterday. It wasn’t a good night.” He turns and looks at Stiles. “How did you know?”

“Rose told me about how she cried in class, and then upset you when she told you about the story, and then how she had nightmares.” Stiles shrugs again. “I get it. The kid is obsessed with wolves. I had quite a few obsessions myself, and it sucks when a teacher tells you you’re wrong. I wanted Rose to know that she’s not the only one who sides with the wolf.”

They round the edge of the building and stop beside the parking lot. Derek takes the fob from his pocket and unlocks the car. Rose lifts her little arms and struggles, but finally opens the door and starts to climb inside.

“Thank you,” Derek says again as he looks back at Stiles. “I can’t even begin to tell you how much that means to me, and to Rose.”

“She got teary when she told me about it, and I can’t handle cute little girls crying.” Stiles grins. “I’m helpless against them. Had to make her laugh again.”

“Thanks again, Stiles.” Derek wishes he could say more, something to help Stiles understand what he did for his daughter, but there’s no way. So, Derek smiles and waves as he walks towards the Camaro.

Rose has already put herself into the car seat and is waiting for Derek to strap her in. As Derek backs out of the parking place, he glances back at Stiles, who’s walking alongside the building back towards the playground.

He purposefully ignores the flare of desire. He’s already got more than enough to juggle without adding in an ill-advised crush.

*

For the next two days, it’s nothing but Stiles in the Hale household. Rose can’t stop talking about him.

“Daddy, did you know Stiles’ dad is the sheriff? Stiles loves Batman and comics and brought dolls to daycare! Did you know Stiles -“

“That’s nice,” Derek says as he rinses the dinner dishes. Rose is at the small dinette table, doing her homework. When Derek is finished loading the dishwasher, he walks over and places a hand on the chair behind Rose so he can check her homework over her shoulder. “Where’d you learn that?” Derek points to an O and T with curly-cues.

“Stiles!”

“I should have known,” Derek sighs.

It’s not that Derek is jealous of Stiles, or irritated that Rose is bonding with him – it’s actually the opposite, which is what makes this so difficult. Derek has thought about Stiles ever since that afternoon at the daycare. And he’s tried to get him off his mind, but it’s nearly impossible with Rose constantly rambling about him.

*

On Saturday, the team has lacrosse practice at the park. Derek can’t find a sitter, so he brings Rose with him.

“Now, stay here in sight so I can watch you,” Derek says. He’s squatting beside her, smoothing her hair that’s gotten messy from the wind. “Are you warm enough?”

Rose laughs. “Daddy, you know wolfs don’t get that cold.” She holds up her hands. “Plus, look at my mittens! Santa brought them!”

“I remember,” Derek smiles. He kisses her forehead and leaves her alone with her dolls. She’s brought an elaborate Barbie playset she’d stuffed into a garbage bag, but practice will last for at least three hours and Derek can’t afford for her to get bored.

Derek keeps half his senses trained on Rose at all times. She’s perfectly fine sitting on the sidelines near the bleachers, pretending that Barbie and Ken are the rulers of an enchanted kingdom.

After about two hours, Derek gets involved in trying to help a few of the players work on their passes, and when he turns back to where Rose is supposed to be, she’s not there.

He immediately panics.

“Isaac!” he yells. “Where’s Rose?”

Isaac turns away from the goalie he’d been coaching, and then shrugs. “She was there last time I checked.”

Derek’s brain goes straight to worst case scenario: Rose has been abducted. A rival Pack has taken her. Hunters have kidnapped her to kill her. By the time he’s searching the parking lot, he’s a nervous wreck.

Then he hears her scream.

“Rose!” he yells, frantic and two seconds away from full-on wolfing out in the middle of a public park. He follows the sound of her screams and her scent…straight to the playground. Where she’s being pushed in a swing by Stiles. “What in the hell is going on?” Derek growls as he storms to the swing set. His claws are digging into his palms, and he feels his fangs pushing against his gums. It’s a miracle his eyes aren’t burning bright blue.

“Um…” Stiles is frozen to the spot, terrified.

“Daddy said a no-no word!” Rose yells as she soars through the air. “You need a time out!”

“Why did you take my daughter away without my express permission?” Derek yells. People are turning to look, and Stiles’ face is blood red.

“I, um, saw her and, crap, I wasn’t like looking for her or anything, that would be creepy, but I noticed she was sitting alone, man, that doesn’t sound good either.” Stiles pauses and runs a hand through his hair as he takes a deep breath. “Rose told me you said she could go to the swings. Obviously, that was not the case.”

Derek turns to Rose, reaches out and abruptly stops the swing. The chains twists back and forth a few times. He glares down at her, and tears form in her eyes. “Oh no, missy, tears won’t work. Why did you lie to Stiles?”

“Daddy! I didn’t lie! You said I had to stay where you could see me, and you can kinda see from the field, and I know that you can see me when I’m not that far away, and the swings aren’t that far away, and you know Stiles, so it’s not like I left with a stranger.”

Derek rubs his temples, a headache gathering behind his eyes. “I don’t care that you went with Stiles. What I do care about is that you didn’t ask me. I thought you’d been kidnapped.”

Rose jumps up from the swing and runs to Derek. She throws her arms around his thighs. “I’m sorry, Daddy! I just was bored and you were with your people and Stiles is the best swing pusher ever!”

Derek does not get jealous. Except, he totally gets jealous that his daughter doesn’t think he’s the best swing pusher, and that really isn’t what he should be focusing on.

“I’m sure I have nothing on your dad,” Stiles says, like he can fucking read Derek’s mind. But then, Derek thinks, it’s probably written all over his face. Fuck his life.

“Daddy doesn’t push me high because he thinks I’m gonna fall out,” Rose explains. “I tell him that I heal quickly so it doesn’t matter.”

“Rose,” Derek says in warning. She pays him no attention. Apparently, there is no getting her attention when Stiles is around.

“Come on, Rose,” Derek says, holding out his hand. “I need to get back to practice and you don’t need to be bothering Mr. Stiles on his day off.”

“But Da-ad!” Rose whines. “I want to play with Stiles!”

“Rose,” Derek growls, his temper quickly growing.

“It’s okay,” Stiles interrupts, “if she wants to stay. I don’t mind. But I totally get it if you want her to never see me again.” Derek looks at Stiles then, and he looks nervous, and Derek can smell the anxiety and embarrassment wafting off him in waves. There’s a light flush to his cheeks. Derek deliberately does not look at them.

“Please, Daddy.” Rose looks up at him with her best puppy eyes.

“Fine,” Derek grunts.

“Yippee!” Rose exclaims, running for the swing. “You can go back to practice now!” Stiles gives him a small smile before Derek turns and stalks back off towards practice.

Isaac jogs over to him when he returns. “Where’s Rose?”

“With Stiles.”

“Who?”

“The daycare teacher,” Derek explains. “Just get on with the damn practice.” Isaac gives him a look, but knows better than to try and talk to him when he gets like this.

Stiles leads Rose back to the practice field near the end of the practice. She’s clinging on to his hand and talking his ear off. He seems to talk almost as much as she does, which is really saying something. He has to pull his eyes away from the two of them.

He tries to not watch them, but fails. He’s got one eye trained on them and the other on the players. Stiles helps Rose put away her Barbies by holding the garbage bag open for her. Derek can’t help but smile, but then quickly focuses back on the team. He hears Stiles leading Rose in a cheer from the bleachers, and her laughter fills the field.

After practice is over, Derek jogs over to the two of them. Stiles is leading her through some clapping game. “Daddy, Stiles taught me a cheer!” she says, slapping Stiles’ hands excitedly.

“I heard,” Derek smiles.

“It’s not much more than ‘go, go, go team!’ But she seemed to like it,” Stiles says with a shrug. He turns to look up at Derek, and Derek allows him a moment to get sucked into his eyes.

“Rose, go put your toys in the trunk,” he says after a moment, finally looking at her. She huffs and rolls her eyes, but plods down the bleachers towards the garbage bag. He turns to Stiles. “Thanks for helping out today. I really do owe you something.”

“I’m thinking of taking you up on the check just to see someone write a check.” Stiles smirks, and that should really not do things to his insides.

“Thanks for wasting your afternoon with my daughter,” Derek says. “I’m sure you have friends or a girlfriend that you could be hanging out with.”

“Eh, my friends are doing wedding planning stuff, and sadly there is no boyfriend at the moment,” Stiles replies easily. “Besides, hanging out with her isn’t a waste of time. She actually saved me from an hour of attempting to run and failing spectacularly, so really, I should be thanking her.”

“Crap,” Derek mutters when he notices Rose has managed to rip the garbage bag. There are Barbies, clothes, and furniture littering the parking lot. Something is rolling away down the slope. He goes over to help collect her things, and is surprised to find Stiles right behind him.

At Derek’s questioning brow, Stiles says, “I can never turn down a damsel in distress.”

When the toys are stuffed into smaller plastic grocery bags Derek had stuffed in his trunk, Derek and Stiles stand awkwardly by the car while Rose climbs into the back. “So,” Stiles says. “Have a good afternoon.”

“Yeah, you too,” Derek says. “And thanks again for the help.”

Derek gets in the car and his attention turns to Rose’s idle chatter.

*

Rose crawls into bed with Derek around two-thirty. “Rose? What’s wrong?”

She doesn’t respond. Instead, she presses against Derek’s side and starts nuzzling his shoulder and growling softly. He lifts a hand and rubs his fingers against the back of her neck. “Rose?” he tries again.

“’M sad,” she mumbles.

“Why are you sad?” Derek shifts into his Beta form as he wraps his arms around her. He growls softly as he scents her, trying to calm her and make her feel secure and protected. She growls back and nips at his arm with her tiny fangs.

“I miss Mommy.”

The words cut thick through Derek. It happens less often than it used to, but Rose still has trouble with the loss of her mother. Derek tamps down his emotions; it won’t help Rose to feel his fury at Jennifer right now.

“I know, ladybug,” Derek murmurs against her hair. “I miss my mom, too.”

“But you’re all growed up,” Rose says.

“Doesn’t matter.” Derek kisses her forehead and rubs her cheek with the hair on his cheeks. He can feel Rose’s sense of family and Pack growing, and it’s helping lessen some of her sadness.

“Am I a bad wolfie, like in the piggie story?” Rose asks. “Is that why Mommy left?”

Derek’s face shifts back to normal, and his eyes are damp as he tries to find his voice to answer. He’s not emotionally prepared for this, and sure as hell can’t do this alone. “There’s not a bad bone in your body,” Derek says. “You’re a good wolfie, a sweet wolfie. The sweetest wolfie ever.”

“Then why did Mommy leave?”

Derek sighs and rubs his eyes wearily. They’ve had this conversation numerous times, and it never gets any easier. “Sometimes, Mommies and Daddies live apart because they don’t get along anymore. That’s what happened to me and your mom. Even though we wanted to live in different places doesn’t mean that we love you any less. What happened with your mom had nothing to do with you. She loves you very very much.”

“She does?” Rose sniffs, and Derek feels her tears against his arm.

“She does. More than anything.”

“Will I get to see her soon?”

“I don’t know,” Derek answers. “She lives far far away.”

“At the beach.”

“Yes, at the beach, in Florida.”

“Can we go visit her at the beach some day?”

“Of course.” Derek kisses the top of her head as she yawns. “I think someone is being visited by the sandman. He’s sprinkling sleepy dust in your eyes.”

“’M not sleepy,” she mumbles, already half-asleep. Derek lies there afterwards, listening to her sleep and wondering how anything in this world could more important than his daughter. He doesn’t feel ashamed that his eyes are wet, and it takes him a long time to calm his mind and emotions enough to sleep.

*

Sunday morning, Derek makes chocolate chip pancakes, and he and Rose build a blanket fort and eat underneath it. He listens to her stories about why they’re living in a blanket fort as he eats, and then they lay back and stare at the blankets as Rose tells him about a group of wolves who move into the fort to escape the winter snow.

“But we have fur,” Derek points out. “We don’t get cold in the snow.”

“These wolves do,” Rose says. “They are summer wolves. They like the beach.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, they love the beach like Uncle Isaac and Uncle Danny, even though Uncle Danny doesn’t have wolf fur. So he would need the fort in the winter because he’s not a wolf.” Derek doesn’t miss the mention of wolves living at the beach, but he doesn’t dwell on it. He knows Rose has to work through her feelings some way.

“Do you want to go see Uncle Isaac and Uncle Danny today?” Derek asks.

Rose leaps to her feet, which makes her head and shoulders become tangled in the blankets. Derek laughs as he tries to extract her from them. He tugs them down so only her head is sticking out, and her hair is standing up from the static.

“I’m guessing that’s a yes?” Derek laughs.

Rose talks about the summer wolves the entire ride to Isaac and Danny’s house, and as soon as she’s out of the car, she runs into the house without knocking. Derek swears he taught her manners. By the time Derek gets onto the back deck, Rose is already in Danny’s arms, telling him all about the beach-dwelling summer wolves. “And you have to build a warm fort with lots of blankets in the winter because you don’t have fur!” Rose tells him.

“I think that’s a great way to keep warm in the winter,” Danny tells her. “You know me, I hate being cold.”

“I know,” she giggles. She tugs at the rim of his wool hat. “You wear big fuzzy hats and coats when it’s cold. You’re wearing one today!”

“Like a sane person,” he says, eyeing Isaac. It’s a warmer January day with no snow, but there’s still a cold bite to the air. Danny’s wearing a hat, heavy coat, and gloves. Isaac’s only wearing a cardigan and one of his ubiquitous scarves.

“Daddy made me dress warm,” Rose says, then sticks out her tongue.

“Yes, because it’s cold even if you don’t want to acknowledge it,” Derek replies. Rose had fought him and whined, but Derek had put her in fleece-lined tights, a warm dress, fur-lined boots, her coat, and her mittens. She had refused to wear the hat, so Derek has it in his bag inside the house, just in case. Derek’s wearing a navy sweater Cora had given him for Christmas and his leather jacket.

“Your dad is a smart man,” Danny tells Rose. “It’s cold today. Not the best day for a barbeque.” Isaac rolls his eyes and tends to the grill.

Rose kisses the tip of Danny’s nose. “Your nose is red,” she laughs. “Like Rudolph.”

“I’ll keep you warm,” Isaac says as he leans in to kiss Danny. Danny turns his head and pecks Isaac on the lips.

“Wolfs are good at keeping warm,” Rose tells Danny. “Daddy keeps me really warm when I get cold. And not just with my fluffy clothes!”

“Come on, Rose,” Derek says, moving to take Rose from Danny’s arms. “Let’s stop bothering Danny.”

“She’s not bothering me,” Danny says, smiling easily. “It’s been too long since I’ve seen my little buddy.” Rose giggles and shyly presses her face into Danny’s shoulder. Derek shakes his head fondly. “Want to go play some cards? I think Vern and Ashley are here.”

“Yeah!!” Danny loosens his grip, and Rose drops onto her feet gracefully and disappears into the house.

“You don’t have to babysit her,” Derek says.

“Who says I’m babysitting?” Danny says.

As he follows Rose into the house, Derek turns to the grill to check out what Isaac is cooking. “You know he loves playing games with those kids,” Isaac says. “Erica has just started dropping off Vern and Ashley whenever they get to be too much for her and Boyd. Danny’ll stay at the dining room table with them until I force them to go to bed or Erica and Boyd show back up. He’s ridiculous.”

“Given any more thought to having your own kids?” Derek asks. He bends down and grabs a beer from the nearby cooler.

“Some,” Isaac replies. “I think a surrogate is our only option. We’re looking into it, but there’s a lot to consider.”

Derek places a hand on Isaac’s shoulder and squeezes. “You’ll figure it out. You two will make awesome fathers.”

“You’d know,” Isaac says with a smile.

Derek rolls his eyes. “Don’t feel too awesome lately,” he admits. He sighs and then takes a long draw from the bottle. “She woke up crying about Jennifer last night.”

“Ouch.” Isaac turns over a steak, then adds some sauce to a rack of ribs. “I bet you loved that.”

“She’s still Rose’s mother,” Derek says, “despite my loathing of her.”

Isaac sets down the tongs and turns to Derek. “You know Rose is better off with you, right?” he asks seriously.

Derek runs a hand over his face. “Yeah, I guess.”

“I know,” Isaac says. “Jennifer was okay, but she wasn’t cut out to be a mother. If you two were still together, you’d just make each other, and in the process Rose, miserable.”

“I know.”

The back door opens then, and a large group of people, followed by Laura, filters onto the deck. Derek’s face breaks into a smile, and he immediately bypasses them all to pull Laura into a hug. “I didn’t know you were coming!”

“Decided to make the drive down.” Against his ear, Laura says, “I felt like you could use a little Pack time.”

Laura’s four kids come up and hug Derek and Isaac, and Derek catches up with his nieces and nephews for a few minutes. Boyd and Erica walk onto the deck from the backyard and join them, and they stand around making small talk for awhile.

When the kids run off into the backyard leaving only the adults, Laura turns to Derek. “How’s Rose?”

Derek shrugs. “Fine.”

“What’s wrong with Rose?” Erica asks.

“She had an issue with the three little pigs story,” Laura tells her. “And Derek confronted her teacher.”

“Oh yeah, I covered for him that day,” Erica says. “I thought something else had happened.”

“Something else did,” Isaac states from the grill.

Four expectant faces stare at Derek. He glares at Isaac’s back. “It’s nothing.”

“Isaac obviously disagrees,” Laura’s husband Dalton says.

“She was upset about Jennifer last night,” Derek reluctantly tells them. “It was nothing, really.”

Laura, however, does not look like she thinks it’s nothing. Her eyes flash red briefly, the set of her mouth hard. “I wish the last poison of that bitch would just get out of my Pack,” she says.

“Laura,” Dalton says, a low warning. Laura crosses her arms and frowns, but doesn’t say anything else. Derek reaches out and runs a hand over Laura’s hair, and Laura squeezes Derek’s neck affectionately.

“It’s good for her to be with her Pack today,” Laura says. “I’ll spend some time with her.”

“You’ll have to tear her away from Danny and my kids,” Erica says with a smile. “They’re already glued to those cards.”

“I don’t understand,” Boyd says. “It’s just cards.”

“It’s never just cards with Danny,” Isaac says.

“He’s turning my children into card sharks,” Erica says. “If they get kicked out of casinos or become part of gamblers anonymous, I’m blaming Danny.”

Derek ends up in the backyard, sitting alone in the swing. He loves these Pack gatherings, loves the feeling of Pack and family that surrounds him, but sometimes he feels lonely. Laura has Dalton, Erica has Boyd, and Isaac has Danny. They’re all happily married, and Derek had thought at one time that he’d be the same way at this point. Happy with Jennifer, raising Rose, maybe another kid or two. But that wasn’t quite the way his life turned out. He’s happy with Rose, happy with his job, but sometimes he feels the full force of his divorce. This is one of those times.

Derek doesn’t notice Laura until she’s already seated beside him on the swing. “You shouldn’t sneak up on people,” Derek says.

“You should be more vigilant,” Laura teases. “Hone your senses more.” She reaches out and curls her fingers around his neck, and he instinctively leans into the touch. “You’re a million miles away. Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing,” he says. “Just tired. Couple of rough nights with Rose this week, plus teaching and class and lacrosse practice.”

“That’s not everything,” Laura says gently.

Derek sighs. “Does it ever get easier? Raising them?”

Laura smiles. “Not really. I think it gets harder. Different things to worry about.”

“Great,” Derek says.

“Rose is fine,” Laura says. “You know that, right? And you’re doing great.”

“I know.”

Laura squeezes his neck. “You’re not alone, Derek. Jennifer may not be here anymore, but you’re not alone.”

Derek is playing bocce ball with Dalton and his kids when a familiar scent hits his nose. He misses his play because he’s distracted, and then he hears Rose’s screeching voice. ”Stiles!!!”

Derek spins around, and sure enough, standing on the back deck, wearing a stupid hat with a pom on the top, and with Rose’s arms wrapped around his legs, is Stiles. He’s with Principal Argent’s daughter and another man he’s seen around the daycare. Derek excuses himself from the game and jogs to the porch.

“Rose!” Derek says as he ascends the few steps. “Personal space! I don’t think Stiles wants you hanging off of him!”

“But no one else minds,” Rose says matter-of-factly.

“Yes, but everyone else is family.” Derek emphasizes the word since he can’t say Pack. She lets go of Stiles’ legs, but her facial expression betrays her. She’s not happy about it.

“It’s okay,” Stiles says, and Derek wonders why he’s always saying Rose’s over-enthusiastic behavior is okay. For some reason, it pisses him off. Just the fact that Stiles is here pisses him off.

Derek frowns. “It’s not okay.” Stiles flinches slightly and looks taken aback, and Derek turns his gaze to Rose. Mostly because he can’t stand to look at the expression on Stiles’ face. “Manners, Rose.”

Rose crosses her arms over her chest and pouts. Then, she glances at Stiles, then at her dad, and stomps back into the house. Derek glowers after her, then turns to Stiles.

Stiles puts his hands up. “Look, I’m sorry, I didn’t – “

“What are you even doing here?” Derek snaps. He really wants to ask, why do you keep showing up and why does my daughter like you so much and why do you smell so fucking good? He doesn’t know why Stiles is at a Pack function anyway.

For the first time, Stiles looks angry. “I was invited. My best friend is friends with Isaac. But I’ll make sure to steer clear of you and Rose. Sorry for overstepping.” Stiles turns around and walks away to stand beside Argent’s daughter.

Derek stomps down the back steps and strides across the yard. He sits in the swing and fumes. This time when Laura comes to sit beside him, he notices her first. “You look like you’re ready to attack that poor defenseless tool shed. What did it do to you?”

“Go away.”

“What crawled up your ass and died?”

“Fuck off.”

Laura rolls her eyes. She doesn’t say anything more because Cora arrives at that moment, with her girlfriend Lydia, Jackson, and a few people Derek doesn’t know. He glares hard at them. Laura notices and looks between Derek and the back deck. “Are you pissed non-Pack people are here?”

“No,” Derek growls. “Isaac said he was inviting friends.”

Laura sighs as Cora walks across the yard and joins them. “Derek, I could smell your brooding from the car. What’s gotten your briefs in a twist?”

“Fuck off.”

Cora flicks him off. Laura says, “Ignore him. He told me the same thing.”

“I can send Jackson over here. You two can brood together. Two peas in a pod, really.”

“I heard that,” Jackson says, not loud enough for the non-wolves to hear, but loud enough for them to hear on the swing. Cora turns around and waves. Jackson flips her off.

“Talk about two peas in a pod,” Derek drawls.

“Scoot over,” Cora demands, trying to squeeze in on the other side of Derek. He refuses to budge, so she just sits on his lap. He pushes her onto the ground, but she catches herself. She plops right back down on his lap, and he leaves her this time. “What’s wrong? Do I have to beat it out of you?”

“It’s Stiles.”

“What?” Cora asks. She looks at Laura for help, but Laura just shrugs. “I don’t understand.”

“Stiles is Rose’s daycare teacher,” Derek explains. “He’s here.”

“And that bothers you because…?” Cora asks.

“He’s always around. He was at the park yesterday when we had lacrosse practice, he’s here today. He read Rose a story about how the wolf isn’t the bad guy in the three little piggies and he lets her chase him around while pretending to be a squirrel.” Derek grunts.

Cora raises her eyebrow. “I fail to see the problem here.”

“You like him,” Laura says slowly.

“Do not,” Derek says.

“You totally do!” Cora says gleefully. “Oh my god, you haven’t been interested in anyone since the divorce. Where is he?” She looks around, and Derek pinches her hard. “Ouch!”

“Don’t!” he snaps. “And I don’t like him. He’s infuriating. He’s so nice to Rose and puts up with her rambunctious werecub awkwardness and doesn’t question when she tells him her dad is a wolf or she’s a wolf or anything.”

“I need to talk with her about talking about those things,” Laura says. “It’s always difficult at that age for them to keep a secret.”

“I told her, but she just keeps talking to him. And he goes with it, like it’s normal or some shit.”

“Ooh, he’s gotten under your skin good,” Cora says with a grin. She wraps her arms around Derek’s neck and nuzzles his cheek. “It’s okay, you know. To move on.”

“It’s not like that,” Derek says adamantly. It’s not; he knows it’s not. It can’t be. There are too many things he has to deal with. He doesn’t have time for anything like this.

Cora shrugs. “If you say so.” She pecks Derek on the forehead and jumps from his lap and heads back across the yard.

Laura is still watching him thoughtfully. Derek squirms. “You can let yourself have something,” she finally says.

“That’s not it, Laura,” he says. He doesn’t know if his heart gives him away, because he doesn’t know if he believes it himself or not.

“Okay.” She nods and leaves him to his thoughts.

Derek smells Stiles before he sees him. He doesn’t turn, doesn’t look at him when he approaches the swing from the right. “Care if I sit?”

Derek shrugs, keeps his eyes forward. Stiles tentatively sits beside him, pressed against the arm of the swing and as far away from Derek as he can get. Derek doesn’t look over until he feels something tap against the arm of his jacket. He glances down and sees Stiles holding a bottle of beer. Derek takes it and gives him a grateful nod.

“I’m sorry for whatever I did to piss you off,” Stiles finally says. “I had never even met Isaac until today. Lydia is Allison’s best friend, and Allison is engaged to my best friend, and Lydia knows Isaac through her girlfriend – “

“My sister,” Derek supplies. “Cora.”

Stiles looks surprised and glances towards where Cora is laughing with Lydia, Jackson, and Danny. “That girl? The one who was in your lap?” Derek lifts an eyebrow, and Stiles blushes. “I mean, I thought she might have been, um, nevermind.” He pauses and takes a breath. “I’ve never met her,” Stiles tells him. “I know Lydia from high school, and she is sometimes at Scott and Allison’s when we’re doing wedding stuff. I think Scott and Allison tripled with Lydia, your sister, Isaac, and Danny a few times. Scott asked me if I wanted to come to this thing, and hell, it beats stuffing my face with junk food and playing video games.” Derek snorts, and Stiles gives him a small smile.

“I wouldn’t mind a day where I could do that,” Derek says wistfully.

“I definitely didn’t know you and Rose would be here,” Stiles continues. “I’m sure it looks weird that I’ve shown up both places you’ve been this weekend, but I – “

“I know,” Derek cuts in. “It’s okay.”

“I can move Rose to Allison’s class if you think she’s too attached,” Stiles tells him. “It happens sometimes, kids getting attached, especially when they’re missing – “ Stiles stops when Derek looks at him sharply. Stiles looks scared for a moment, but he hesitantly keeps going. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you. I just know Rose’s mom isn’t around. She doesn’t talk about her either. I can have Rose moved on Monday.”

Derek sighs and rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “No, I don’t want that.”

“Are you sure?”

Derek nods. “It’s been a rough few nights,” he says. Then, he just starts talking, confiding in Stiles for some unknown reason. As he talks, Stiles nods, his face growing more and more thoughtful.

When Derek’s finished, Stiles says, “I think you’re doing a great job with her. She’s a wonderful girl.”

“Thank you,” Derek says, voice rough.

“I’m sorry again for overstepping any bounds,” Stiles says. He stands, looking down and smiling at Derek before turning to go.

“You don’t have to leave,” Derek calls out. Stiles turns around and looks at him curiously. “You can keep sitting here, if you want.”

Stiles nods, sits back down beside Derek. It’s awkwardly quiet for a few moments, and then Stiles starts laughing. Derek looks over at him like he’s crazy. “Sorry,” he says, trying to contain himself. “I don’t do well in awkward situations, and this, well, this is awkward.”

Derek chuckles. “Sorry. I’m not good at the people thing.”

“Me either,” Stiles shrugs. “I’m Stiles Stilinski,” he says, holding out his hand. Derek looks at him he’s lost his mind again, and Stiles looks down at his hand pointedly while moving it closer to Derek.

Derek takes it. “Derek Hale.”

“Nice to meet you. Since I already know what you do for a living, and you probably don’t want to talk about school, let’s talk about something more fun. Tell me about any day that you sat around pigging out and playing video games, because no offense, you just don’t strike me as the type.”

Derek raises his eyebrows and looks offended. “What? Are you saying I don’t look like someone who could waste away in front of the television?”

“Just the fact that you referred to it as wasting away betrays you,” Stiles says.

Derek smiles. “I used to play a lot of video games. Before Rose, when I had time.”

“Favorite game?” Stiles asks.

Derek scratches the side of his face thoughtfully. “Um, Zelda II, Final Fantasy XII, and Mario Kart.”

“Old school,” Stiles nods. “I like it. Doesn’t really surprise me, either.”

“What are you trying to say?”

Stiles grins. “What’s the last system you bought?”

Derek suddenly feels himself flushing. “Um, PS2.”

Stiles laughs, hard. He throws his head back, his laughter ringing through the backyard. Derek feels embarrassed, but he laughs too, and it feels good. “Oh my god,” Stiles finally says, wiping his eyes. “Ancient.”

“Been raising a kid,” Derek shrugs.

“Have you even played one of the new systems?” Stiles asks.

Derek shakes his head. Then he says, “Wait, that’s not true. I’ve played Wii.”

“Not really a new system, but let me guess,” Stiles says, obviously making fun of him. “Bowling.”

Derek frowns. “And Mario Kart, and I played some of the old NES games on the Virtual Console. Snob.”

Stiles laughs again. “I’m just teasing. I love the old games. I still have an NES, Atari, and Sega.”

Derek glances at the back of the house. “I bet Rose would like the games. I should pull them out and play with her.”

“I wish my dad had played video games with me,” Stiles says. “I just had Scott.”

“Want another beer?” Derek asks. Stiles nods and Derek goes over to one of the coolers sitting on the ground by the deck steps. When he returns to the swing, Stiles has pulled his leg up onto the swing, bent at an angle, and turned his body towards Derek’s place. Derek doesn’t dwell on it; he just enjoys an adult conversation with someone who isn’t Pack.

“So, the important question,” Stiles asks after taking a swig from his bottle. “Movies or TV?”

“TV,” Derek says.

Stiles grins. “Are you a serious TV watcher or a boring, pedestrian casual watcher?”

“My Netflix account and I are well acquainted,” Derek tells him. “Not much to do after Rose goes to sleep except that and grade papers.”

“Well, prepare yourself,” Stiles says excitedly, “because TV is like, my favorite thing.”

Derek smiles. “Hit me.”

Turns out, Derek and Stiles have watched a lot of the same shows. While they don’t agree on every show (“What do you mean you hate Supernatural, Bitten, and True Blood?” “I hate all shows about the supernatural. They’re ridiculous.” “You’re ridiculous.”), they have a lot of shows in common. Stiles, however, makes fun of Derek’s love of serial primetime crime dramas, and Derek rolls his eyes at Stiles’ interest in reality TV.

Awhile later, Derek smells cotton candy and peaches on the air. He turns his head as Stiles talks. He can’t see Rose, but he can smell her and hear her heartbeat. She’s hiding behind one of the trees along the edge of the woods behind them. Derek holds up a finger to Stiles, then says, “It’s not nice to eavesdrop.”

Rose’s head pops out from behind a tree, her curls bouncing softly. Slowly, she shuffles towards them, her eyes on the ground. She comes to stand in front of them, still not looking at either of them.

“What do you need, Rose?” Derek asks.

“I, I was wondering,” she starts, playing with the bottom of her dress. She’s lifting it up and down, and Derek reaches out and stops her before she pulls the thing completely over her head. “Can I talk to Stiles? Or are you still mad at him?”

Derek sighs. “I’m not mad at Stiles,” he says. “And yes, you can talk to him.”

Her head snaps up, and she grins. “Really?” Derek nods, and Rose immediately climbs onto the swing beside Stiles, holding herself up on her knees and using his shoulders for support. She ends up in Stiles’ lap, and Derek holds his tongue when he feels the urge to tell her to get down.

Rose rambles to Stiles, and Derek tries not to feel disappointed. He’d actually been having a nice time talking to Stiles. Stiles is funny, intelligent, and knowledgeable about television and movies. But now Rose is dominating all his attention, so Derek stands up and leaves them to it. It’s probably better anyway. He needs to clear his head a bit.

He’s coming out of the bathroom when he sees Laura waiting for him just down the hall. He frowns at her, but she’s smiling. “You looked like you had a nice time,” she says.

“Don’t read more into it than it was,” Derek says. “We just talked about TV.”

“I know,” she says, eyes glittering mischievously.

Derek groans. “Of course you listened in.”

“Only a bit, to check up on you.” Laura hooks her arm through his as they walk through the house. “I’m happy for you.”

“Laura,” he says, exasperated.

“I know, but I’m just glad you talked to someone. It’s good for you, even if it’s just a conversation.” She smiles, and Derek thinks she looks just like their mother. Sometimes, he feels Laura treats him like one of her kids as much as her brother. He guesses it’s a side effect of their parents dying when they were so young and Laura being the Alpha.

When everyone gathers to eat, Rose drags Stiles to the table and demands he sit beside her. “Rose,” Derek says, “he came here with his own friends. Let him sit with them. You can sit with me, or with Vern and Ashley.”

“But I want to sit with Stiles!” she argues.

“I can sit here,” Stiles says, pulling out the seat on the other side of Rose. “Maybe we can finish our discussion of high concept television shows.”

Derek smiles despite himself.

*

Derek only sees Stiles briefly over the next couple of weeks, from the front seat of the car when he picks Rose up from daycare. The lacrosse season officially begins, and Derek spends Friday nights coaching games. He has a project due for his TAPP class, and he gets partnered with the woman who has been hitting on him, and unfortunately has to spend more time than he wants with her. He’s trying to keep up with his grading since it’s the beginning of the semester, but soon enough, he falls behind and has stacks of papers lying around his living room.

By the beginning of February, Derek is ready for a vacation.

This afternoon, he has a faculty meeting, then a parent-teacher conference that lasts way longer than it should. He texts everyone in the Pack to see if anyone can pick Rose up, but Erica and Isaac are tied up at school like him, Laura and Dalton live too far away, Cora still hasn’t responded, and Boyd and Danny are still at work. He keeps glancing at the clock through the whole meeting, watching the minutes approach and then tick past 5 o’clock.

By the time Derek exits the meeting, his head is pounding and he just wants to go to sleep. But he drives the short distance between the school and daycare, pulling into the parking lot at 5:49. He sighs and feels like a complete asshole.

He doesn’t smell or hear Rose outside, so he lets himself into the building. He follows the sound of her voice, singing along to a song playing on the radio. He recognizes it from one of the Kidz Bop CDs and cringes. He does not envy Stiles’ job. This is why he teaches high school. He generally listens to classic rock and oldies around Rose instead of kids’ songs. He just…can’t with those things.

Derek follows her scent and voice towards a room in the left part of the building. He steps into the doorway and takes in the scene. Stiles is seated at the small table with Rose, bent over some project they’re working on. She’s cutting something out of construction paper while Stiles holds up various color pencils for her. He takes a moment to appreciate the breadth of Stiles’ shoulders beneath the layers of clothing, the line of his profile.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Derek says as he steps into the room.

Rose squeaks, then throws her chest over the table. “Daddy! DON’T LOOK!”

At Derek’s confused expression, Stiles says, “It’s a surprise.” He grins and motions for Derek to turn around. Derek rolls his eyes but turns his back towards them.

“Can I keep it here?” Rose whispers to Stiles.

“Of course,” Stiles whispers back. “It’ll be our secret for now.”

“Thanks.” Derek glances over his shoulder and sees Rose gathering art supplies and placing them into different plastic containers. Stiles catches him looking and points his finger at him, admonishing him. Derek turns around with a chuckle.

“I am sorry I’m late,” Derek says again.

“What was it this time?” Stiles asks. His tone is light and there’s no judgment or irritation, but Derek feels like an ass anyway.

“Meetings,” Derek says as Stiles enters his periphery. He stops in front of Derek and holds out his palm expectantly. Derek looks at him in confusion.

“Phone.”

Derek obeys and watches as Stiles’ face melts into a smile when he sees Derek’s lock screen. It’s a picture of him and Rose from Christmas making goofy faces. Stiles flicks his eyes up to Derek’s face and holds his gaze for a moment. “I like that photo. You look relaxed.”

“Thanks.” Derek’s glad Stiles has turned back to the phone because he knows he’s blushing. He looks for Rose, and finds her struggling to put her coat on over her backpack. Derek crosses the room and places a hand on her arm. “Might work better if you take the backpack off first.”

“Oh,” she says. “Are you sure?”

“Pretty positive,” Derek nods. She lets Derek remove her coat and then her bag. He holds the coat up so she can stick her arms into the sleeves. When Rose is situated, Stiles is waiting near the door, still holding Derek’s phone.

Stiles hands it back as he turns off the light in the classroom. Then, he falls into step beside Derek as they walk towards the exit. “I put my number in there,” Stiles says. “Next time, text me if you’re gonna be late.”

Derek runs his hands over his face. “Stiles, I am so sorry. Will you please let me pay you or something?”

“I think you’re paying for it enough. You couldn’t look guiltier.” Stiles laughs and shakes his head.

Outside, Rose runs to the car, and Derek unlocks it with the fob as he follows behind. But he feels a hand land on his bicep, and he turns around. Stiles looks like he’s debating something. “What?” Derek asks. He glances towards the car. “Is it Rose?”

“No!” Stiles exclaims. “Well, kinda.” He scratches the side of his face. “When you didn’t show up, she…she kinda started panicking.” Derek feels like someone kicked him in the chest. He can’t breathe for a moment. “She thought you weren’t coming to pick up her. She said you’ve been gone a lot and busy, and asked me if you were okay. I told her you got held up at school, but she still looked like she was about to cry, so I convinced her to make you something.”

Derek scrubs his hands through his hair. He looks helplessly at the car. He didn’t realize that Rose was having abandonment issues again; he knows it’s something she struggles with, a residual effect of being a werewolf and living away from her mom. Derek literally has no idea what he’s doing, or how to juggle everything.

“Hey,” Stiles says. He lightly places a hand on Derek’s shoulder, and it feels like fire under his palm, seeping into Derek’s skin. “Are you okay?”

“No,” Derek says, defeated. Stiles squeezes his shoulder, and something in Derek latches onto that feeling. He revels in the feeling of someone comforting him, offering him even the tiniest bit of support and strength. But it makes Derek want to punch Stiles in the face. He just…can’t. His life is a mess without adding any complications.

“It’s fine,” Derek says, unable to shake Stiles’ hand off, and Stiles doesn’t remove it. Derek unconsciously leans into the touch, and Stiles takes a step closer. “I’ll be fine. Don’t really have a choice.”

“I didn’t mean to add any stress,” Stiles says. “I just thought you should know.”

Derek looks at Stiles then, gets lost in his eyes for a moment. Damn it, damn it, damn it. “Thanks,” he says, nodding and taking a step towards the car. Stiles lets his hand fall, and he gives Derek a small, sincere smile.

Derek’s distracted the entire ride home, half-listening and humming in response to Rose’s rambling. He still feels Stiles’ hand on his shoulder like a brand.

*

Derek isn’t surprised when Rose crawls into his bed instead of her own that night. He frowns and goes to sit on the edge of the bed. She’s snuggled in the middle and currently trying to wrap herself into the blankets like a little burrito. Her stuffed horse falls off the bed, so he picks it up and places it beside her.

“You should sleep in your own bed,” he says. He runs his hand over her head, and her eyes glow blue at the touch. Derek lets his eyes bleed a matching blue.

“I want to sleep with you,” Rose replies. “I miss you.”

“I miss you, too, but you’re a big girl now. You need to start sleeping in your own bed.”

Rose’s eyes fill with tears, and Derek wants to just take off through the woods, rip apart some small woodland creatures with his teeth, and maybe jump off a cliff. “Don’t cry,” he says, scooting around so he can pull her into his arms. He settles himself back against the headboard, and she unravels herself from her blanket burrito and crawls on top of him. Rose presses her face against Derek’s neck and whines, a high throaty sound. Derek holds her, growling quietly, trying to sooth her. He shifts and rubs his maw against her cheek and scratches down her back lightly with his claws.

“I love you, Daddy,” she says. Her voice is heavy with sleep, and Derek can tell from the speed of heartbeat that she is almost asleep.

“I love you, too, Rose,” he whispers against her hair. “More than anything else in this world.”

Derek holds her for a long time as he stares at the far wall. His thoughts are a jumbled mess, and he doesn’t even know where to begin extracting threads of single ideas. The only thing he knows is that he feels guilt and failure and despair.

After Rose has been asleep for almost an hour, Derek grabs his cell phone off the nightstand and holds it at an awkward angle to snap a picture. He captures her head against his chest, her mouth hanging open and her curls spread around her like a blanket. Her arms are still around his neck, but have fallen slack in sleep, and her legs are extended at uncomfortable-looking angle.

Derek opens his contacts and pulls up Stiles’ name. Before he overthinks it, he attaches the picture and adds the words aftermath of today’s afterschool excitement before hitting send. He drops his hand to the bed, still clutching the phone, and stares at the ceiling.

He ignores the little tug in his chest when the phone vibrates a few minutes later. It’s a reply from Stiles, and Derek bites down the smile tugging at his mouth.

That is the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Derek’s still smiling when another text pops up beneath the first one.

Make sure to get some sleep. You look like you need it.

Derek laughs, then replies, Are you saying I look tired?

Perhaps. Or maybe I think you just need a break.
Go to sleep, Derek.
Good night.

Derek finds himself staring at the phone for a lot longer than he should before he finally types out a reply.

Good night, Stiles.

*

“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” Rose comes running into the house, Isaac trailing behind her. He’d picked Rose up from daycare when Derek had to stay after his TAPP class for the project. “Guess what?”

“What?” Derek asks.

She hands Derek a piece of rectangular white construction paper with red and pink hearts glued on. In an adult’s neat script, the paper reads:

You are invited to the Valentine’s Day Party of Stiles’ afterschool daycare class.

Suggestions of what parents should bring follows. The party is scheduled for Valentine’s Day at 3:30.

“It’s a Valentine’s Day party!” Rose says excitedly. “And it’s not like the one at school, because Stiles has decorated the whole room! Dad, the whole room!” She looks so exited, yet so serious, like Stiles decorating the room is the greatest feat ever accomplished. “And we get to bring something. We have to go buy Valentines at the store, Dad, we have to, pleasepleasepleaseplease?

Isaac laughs from his seat on the sofa, and Derek glares at him. “Fine. We’ll get something for the party.”

“Yippee!” Rose takes off running towards her room, and Isaac joins Derek in the kitchen when he decides to stay for dinner. Danny arrives half an hour later, and they have a nice dinner, then watch a movie together afterwards. Rose falls asleep on Danny, and wakes up when he goes to leave, and won’t go to bed until Danny and Isaac tuck her in.

Derek helps them, kisses Rose goodnight, then sees Isaac and Danny to the door. Afterwards, he stretches out on his bed and turns on Netflix. He finds himself idly rubbing his cock through his pajama pants, and he pulls it out and starts jerking it quickly, keeping one ear on Rose sleeping down the hall.

When he comes, he has images of Stiles behind his eyelids, and he tries to clear them as he wipes away the mess on his stomach.

*

Do you have a list of kids’ names in the class?

Why?

Rose is filling out Valentine’s. She doesn’t remember everyone’s name.

Yeah. Send me your e-mail, I’ll send you a list.

Derek gives Stiles his e-mail, and a few minutes later, a list of first names arrives in his inbox. Derek places the laptop so Rose can copy the names in her messy, childish script.

“Are you coming to the party tomorrow?” Rose asks as she draws a butterfly on the envelope of one of the cards. Derek’s pulling pre-cut sugar cookies that have red heart patterns in the middle out of the oven. Unforunately, it’s only one of two things Rose made him promise to make for the party.

“I told you, I’m going to try,” Derek says.

“That’s not a yes.”

“It’s not a no.”

“But you have to come,” Rose says, her eyes wide as she looks at him. “We have you a surprise.”

“We?” Derek asks.

Rose nods. “Me and Stiles.”

“Oh,” Derek says. He does not read anything into that. He knows Stiles has been helping Rose make him something after school, so it’s obviously that. But his ears are burning as he pulls up the cake ball recipe on his phone.

“I’m not sure about this,” Derek says as he looks at the ingredients in front of him.

“Dad, it’s not that hard,” Rose says. “They’re just little balls! I have the antennae and feet and eyes right here!”

Derek frowns as he carefully follows the directions. He’s no cook. Laura taught him enough to feed Rose every night so she wouldn’t subsist on takeout or end up malnourished. He can make chocolate chip cookies if they come in that roll you just cut off and stick in the oven (kinda like the sugar cookies). But making cake balls from scratch? This he’s unsure about.

He mixes together the shredded coconut and food coloring, and Rose squeals delightedly. “It looks like blood,” she laughs, and Derek holds his stained gloved hands towards her face, and she jerks away. “No Daddy! Stop!”

“Okay, one step down,” he says, then grabs the fully cooled cake he baked earlier. He gets Rose to help him break it into crumbles, then he mixes in the frosting, and they take turns rolling the batter into balls. After that, they cover the balls in a generous amount of red coconut.

When half of the batch is made, Rose starts sticking pipe cleaners into the cake balls. She curls each one at the tip to make it into antennae. “That’s really cute,” Derek says.

Rose places two candy eyes on the little ball, then holds it in her hand. “It’s a Valentine’s Day fuzzy!”

“You did a good job,” Derek says. “Are you gonna give it feet?”

“Oh!” Rose adds two small pipe cleaners to the base to make feet, then sets it on a heart tray she picked out at the Dollar Tree.

After Derek finishes rolling out all the cake balls, he helps Rose place the antennae, feet, and eyes. When they’re done, he stands back and admires their work. “We did a pretty good job, ladybug,” he says.

“See, you can bake, Daddy,” Rose says. “You can do anything!” She throws her arms around Derek’s waist, and Derek smiles as he hugs her.

He takes pictures of the little fuzzies and sends them to the Pack, then he helps Rose get ready for bed.

*

Derek forgets the baked goods. He’s on his way to the daycare after having Erica cover the last half hour of his final class. “Shit shit shit,” Derek growls, claws and fangs sprouting as he feels rage course through him. He makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and speeds towards his home.

How could he forget the cookies and cake balls? The party was the only thing Rose talked about this morning. But they’d almost been late because she was running around the house looking for her pink tiara.

He calls Stiles as he runs into the house. “Hey Derek,” Stiles answers.

“I forgot the cookies and cake balls,” Derek tells him frantically. “I had to go home, so I’ll be late even though I left work early just so I wouldn’t be late.

“Hey! Calm down,” Stiles says. “No need for stress. There’s enough to keep Rose occupied until you get here. I’ll just hide the clock.”

Derek feels a smile break out across his face, and he feels lighter than he has since he looked in the back seat and saw the baked goods missing. “Thank you,” he tells Stiles as he places the treats in the front seat. “I owe you.”

Stiles says, “Still waiting on my check,” then hangs up. Derek laughs as he cranks the car.

Derek is only fifteen minutes late to the party. The whole room looks like Cupid vomited in it. Every surface is covered in red or pink, and there are construction paper hearts hanging from the ceiling. One long table in the back is covered in all kinds of treats, so Derek heads back there and places the two trays among the other food.

“Daddy!” Rose leaps up from a group of kids she was sitting with and runs to him. “You’re here!”

Derek kisses her hair and hugs her close. “Told you I’d be here.”

“Isn’t it neat?” Rose asks as she looks around. “Stiles is the bestest decorator.”

“Tell that to Allison and Scott,” Stiles says as he approaches. “They don’t seem to like my ideas for their wedding.”

“You can do my wedding, Stiles,” Rose says.

“And who will you be marrying?” Stiles asks her with a smile.

“Prince Eric.”

Stiles nods. “Good choice. Think Ariel will mind?”

“Nope. Prince Eric and I will be rulers of all the wolves!”

“Not the mermaids?” Stiles aks.

Rose laughs. “There’s no such thing as mermaids, Stiles.”

Stiles hits his forehead. “Oh, silly me.”

“Go back and play with your friends,” Derek tells Rose, pointing to where she’d been sitting. “I’ll be right here.” She kisses his cheek and runs across the floor.

“See?” Stiles says, “No reason for stress.”

Derek slumps into one of the small chairs. His knees come halfway up to his chest. He tugs on his tie until it loosens and he pulls it over his head. He clutches it in his hand. “I just can’t get anything right.”

Stiles pulls the chair beside him closer and sits down. He places a hand on Derek’s knee and says, “You’re too hard on yourself. You’re only human, and you’re only one person. No one is perfect, so stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Derek doesn’t answer; he stares at the hand on his knee. Stiles seems to notice and he pulls it away quickly. He coughs to cover up the awkwardness. “Rose is having a good time, so that’s what matters.”

Stiles gets up then, and Derek stays seated, the warmth from Stiles’ touch still clinging to his skin.

He makes small talk with the other parents, and he eats a few goodies from the table. As he stands there eating a cupcake, he thinks about what Stiles said. Maybe he should stop being so hard on himself, stop feeling sorry for himself. He can hear Laura and Cora, teasing him for brooding and pouting. Now even Stiles sees it.

Soon, Rose comes back over to him and grabs his hand. “Daddy! I got so many Valentine’s!” she tells him excitedly. She holds up a brown paper sack with a picture drawn on the front with crayons and her name written in large block letters at the top. “I didn’t get a lot at school, but I don’t care because I got lots from the kids here!” She opens the bag and shows Derek all the envelopes inside.

“That’s awesome,” he says.

“Look, even Stiles gave me one!” She pulls out a small box of candy. It has a picture of a penguin wearing sunglasses on it, and it says, “For a cool girl.”

“That’s really nice.” Derek smiles.

“Ooh! I have something for you!” She grabs Derek’s hand and leads him over to a cluster of the hearts hanging from the ceiling. She points to them. “Look!” Now that Derek’s paying attention, he sees that each heart has something written on them. He grabs the first one and reads.

I love Erica and Boyd because they are fun, I like going to their house, and Boyd carries me on his shoulders when we have family bonfires.

Derek smiles, then reads another. I love Aunt Laura because she takes care of me and Daddy, her house feels like home, and she always smells like cinnamon.

The list keeps going. Cora, Isaac and Danny, Vern and Ashley, Dalton and the kids – the whole Pack. The last one makes Derek pause.

I love Mommy because she is beautiful, has the prettiest voice, bakes me cookies, and loves the beach.

Derek’s hand is shaking when he lets go. He looks down at Rose, and she’s smiling brightly up at him. He pushes down his emotions and returns her smile.

“And this one is for you!” Rose hands Derek a piece of construction paper. He turns it over, and in the middle is the picture of Derek and Rose from Christmas that is Derek’s lock screen. He looks at her in surprise, and she points to Stiles, who’s standing a few feet away.

“How?” Derek asks.

“Isaac,” Stiles tells him.

Derek turns his attention back to the paper. Rose cut out pieces of paper to make a frame and pasted them around the edge, and in the space around the picture, she wrote out reasons she loves Derek.

I love Daddy because he makes the best pancakes. He is the best snuggler. He fixes my boo-boos. He makes the nightmares go away. His beard is scratchy. He has pointy teeth. He reads stories and has the best voices. He is the best swing pusher.

When Derek finishes reading all of them, his eyes are damp. He glances down at Rose, and she’s beaming. He squats down and scoops her into his arms and buries his face into her hair. “I love you,” he whispers. “Thank you. This is the best present ever.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.” She kisses his cheek and gives him another big smile. She squirms out of Derek’s arms so he can give Stiles a hug. “Thanks for helping me.” Then, she joins her classmates again.

“This was your idea?” Derek asks.

Stiles shrugs. “She needed a project. I thought you could use it.”

Derek glances at it again and smiles. “Thank you.”

Derek eats sweets with Rose and a few of her friends before they get ready to go. Derek makes Rose carry the platters and all the hearts she’s going to give to the Pack this weekend. They’re saying goodbye to Stiles when he tells Derek to wait, then returns a few moments later with something behind his back. Derek can feel the nerves and something else slightly sweet coming off Stiles, and he furrows his brows as he waits.

“Here,” Stiles says, shoving the bundle in his hands at Derek.

It’s a stack of five NES games, held together by a red ribbon. Glued onto the ribbon are six conversation hearts.

Hey You. Be Happy. Smile. You Rock. Awesome. Cool.

When Derek glances up at Stiles, his face is burning bright red and he’s shuffling from one foot to the other. “They’re five of my favorite games. I just grabbed them from my closet and tied a ribbon around them. Thought you could, ah, take some time to play, give yourself some you time for Valentine’s Day. Isaac and Danny said they’d watch Rose for a few hours. I asked.” Somehow, Stiles’ face is an even deeper shade of red. Rose is looking between them curiously, and Derek doesn’t know what to say.

“But I didn’t get you anything,” he finally replies. Then he feels like kicking himself because could he be any stupider?

Stiles smiles. “I don’t know, I ate about five of those fuzzies, not gonna lie.”

Derek laughs, and holds the games close to his chest. “Thanks. That was really thoughtful.”

Stiles shoves his hands into his pockets and shrugs. “No big deal.” He looks at Rose. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Rose.” Then, he looks at Derek, and Derek knows he’s in so much trouble. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Derek.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day,” he says, then follows Rose out of the building, staring down at the bundle of games.

*

After they get home, Derek hangs Rose’s picture on the wall in the living room, right above the television so he can look at it every day. He stares at it for a long time after he hangs it. Maybe he’s not doing such a bad job after all. His eyes trail down the list of reasons Rose loves him, and it’s a mixture of important things and trivial ones (like that his beard is scratchy). But as Derek reads them again, it becomes obvious how many things he does that affect Rose on a daily basis.

He can hear Rose in her room, singing aloud, and Derek can smell her happiness all the way into the living room. Upstairs, he finds Rose taping all her Valentine’s to the wall beside her bed. He leans against the doorway and crosses his arms over his chest as he watches her. He loves that she’s this happy, especially since she’s been having such a difficult time lately. School hasn’t been easy for her. Her classmates don’t interact with her much, and according to the last parent-teacher conference he had with her teacher, she plays by herself a lot. When he’d asked her about it, she told him the other kids were mean, and she liked the Pack better.

“Look Daddy,” she says when she’s done, “I got all my Valentine’s right here!”

“I see that.”

She sets the heart-shaped candy box Stiles gave her on her nightstand. “There are three pieces of chocolate in there, Dad,” Rose holds up three fingers. “Three. If I eat one a day, that’s three whole days of chocolate!”

“You can eat one piece after dinner every night,” Derek tells her.

She grins at him, then grabs the box. She holds it up. “Stiles thinks I’m cool!”

“You are cool.”

She rolls her eyes. “I know you think that. You’re my dad.”

“So my opinion doesn’t count?” Derek asks her.

“Stiles is cooler than you, and he thinks I’m cool.”

“He’s cooler than me?” Derek gives her an exaggerated pout.

“You’re cool, Dad, but he’s cooler.” Derek rolls his eyes. “What did Stiles gives you?”

Derek blushes and glances at the floor. “Old video games.”

Her face scrunches. “Did you like them?”

“Yes. A lot.”

“I think I’d rather have chocolate.” Then, Rose’s eyes are on him, and she’s watching him closely, her face slightly confused yet thoughtful. “You smell different around Stiles.”

Derek freezes, and tries to tamp down the flare of panic. “What do you mean?”

“Whenever he’s around, you smell different. And you’re happy. You smelled a lot like it when he gave you the present. Do you like him, Daddy?”

Derek breathes in, then breathes out. His daughter is only five; she doesn’t quite understand the implications of what she’s saying. “I do like him.”

Rose grins. “Good. I like him, too. And I think he likes you, too.”

Derek doesn’t tell her that’s what he’s afraid of. Instead, he says, “Change out of your school clothes and go wash up. I’m going to go start dinner. We definitely need something to even out all the sugar you had.” Rose sets the box of chocolates on the side table and takes another look at her Valentine’s as she skips from the room.

*

Saturday afternoon, Isaac shows up at the door. As soon as Derek opens it, Isaac says, “Stiles said we’re supposed to babysit tonight so you can play video games.” He smirks as he steps into the house, and Derek glowers at him.

“You don’t have to.”

“No, he made me promise, because said he knew you would tell me not to,” Isaac responds. “Is there something about Stiles you’re not telling me?”

Derek only has time to scowl before Rose runs into the living room and leaps halfway across the room, landing straight in Isaac’s waiting arms. Rose’s glowing blue eyes are met by Isaac’s gold, and she starts growling as she rubs her face into his neck.

“Guess what?” Isaac says, his eyes still gold when he pulls away.

“Did you buy me a present?” she asks, arms looped around his neck.

“Better,” he says. “You’re spending the evening with me and Uncle Danny.”

Rose glances at Derek. “Really?!”

Derek reluctantly nods. “Yep.”

She tightens her arms around Isaac’s neck. “This is the bestest news ever!”

“If you’re really good, maybe we can convince Uncle Danny to go get pizza.” Rose starts bouncing in Isaac’s arms, excitedly kicking her feet against his butt.

“Rose, don’t kick Uncle Isaac.” Derek holds out his hand. “Come on, let’s get you changed so you can go.”

After Rose has left with Isaac, Derek finds his old NES system in the back of a closet. He hooks it up, but has trouble getting it to load the game. He blows on it, repeatedly presses the game up and down, and takes the game out just to do it all over again. At one point, he wolfs out and almost throws the NES out the window. He takes a break, pulls out his cell phone, and brings up Stiles’ number.

I almost threw my NES out the window.

That bad, huh?
Did you blow it?
Wait, that came out wrong.
Or maybe me making that into an innuendo was wrong.
Shit, I didn’t mean to offend you.

It’s fine. I’m a big boy.

I’m not touching that one.
Shit, I did it again.

I think you can’t help it.

Sadly, you may be right.

Derek laughs as he tosses his phone aside. After ten more minutes, he gets the game to load. He’s never played this game, so he opens his laptop beside him and brings up a walkthrough.

As he plays, he realizes he is severely out of practice. But it’s been what, seven, maybe ten years since he played a video game on his own? It’s not his fault he sucks.

He’s been playing an hour when the phone vibrates on the couch beside him. He pauses the game and can’t help the grin that appears when he sees it’s Stiles.

How’s the video game night going?

Derek glances at the screen. He still on level one, and he’s died like a billion times.

That’s really sad. It’s literally back and forth, hit the A button.

Snob.
Maybe you should come help me.

Derek tosses his phone down before he can second guess himself. They’re friends, and this is what friends do. Hang out. Play video games. Stuff like that.

He tries to ignore his pounding heart when the phone vibrates again.

Yeah, okay. Text me your address.

Derek texts Stiles his address and focuses on the game. He refuses to freak out that he invited Stiles to his home, or obsess about what it might mean that he invited him over without a thought. He considers changing clothes, but decides there’s nothing wrong with his Beacon Hills lacrosse sweatpants or old, faded t-shirt.

When Stiles arrives, Derek opens the door and Stiles is standing on the other side with a six-pack of beer and a bag of chips. “I thought I’d bring something.” He grins as he holds up his hands. He’s wearing baggy khakis, a t-shirt with a classic Zelda design, and a hoodie. “Night’s not complete until you completely pig out.”

“You should have brought more than one bag of chips,” Derek says as he stands aside to let Stiles inside. As Stiles walks into the living room, Derek cringes. There are toys strewn around the floor, piles of papers stacked along the edge, and at least three baskets of laundry full of clothes that need to be folded. Empty water bottles and glasses sit on the end tables. “Sorry for the mess.”

“Please,” Stiles says with a dismissive shake of his head. “This is hardly anything. I’d be worried if you didn’t have a slight mess.”

Derek shows Stiles into the kitchen, and he pokes through the pantry as Derek puts the beer into the fridge. “Wow, you have like no junk food.” Stiles turns around, and he’s totally judging Derek. “I’m guessing this is how you stay looking like you do.”

“I don’t keep much junk food around because of Rose,” Derek says. “I try to set a good example. However.” Derek smirks as he reaches up and opens one of the top cabinets. “This is where I keep my hidden stash.”

Stiles’ face lights up. “Oh my god, you have a hidden stash. That is so hilarious.” He moves beside Derek and pushes him aside with his hip as he reaches into the cabinet. He grabs a bag of Oreos. “I’m so destroying these tonight.”

“Stealing my stash,” Derek says, trying to grab them from Stiles. Stiles moves them just out of reach, and Derek frowns. Stiles pulls the top back, grabs an Oreo, and shoves the whole thing in his mouth. “So mature.”

Stiles grins, his mouth full of black cookie bits as he holds the container out for Derek. Derek takes one and heads towards the living room. He drops onto the couch, and Stiles sits on the other end. Stiles glances at the television and bursts out laughing. “You really haven’t made it past level one?”

“Shut up.” Derek unpauses the game and starts playing again.

When he dies for the third time, Stiles says, “Just no. Here.” He holds his hand out expectantly. Derek looks at it, then at Stiles’ face. Stiles just waits, so Derek rolls his eyes and gives him the controller. “Watch and learn.”

Stiles unpauses the game, and Derek watches as he easily navigates the level. He barely gets hit, his life meter never dipping below half. When he’s finished, he tosses the controller at Derek. Derek just stares at him in surprise.

“I’m not sure whether to be impressed or really sad,” Derek finally says.

“Oh screw you,” Stiles laughs. Derek laughs and starts playing level two. It goes worse than level one. “Why don’t we play something you are decent at,” Stiles says. “Do you have, I don’t know, Wheel of Fortune?”

“Ass,” Derek says, and Stiles smirks.

They end up playing Super Mario Bros. 3, and Derek forgot how much he used to enjoy this game. Stiles is, of course, better than he is, but it doesn’t take him long to get into the groove.

They play for over an hour without breaking, randomly talking about video games and whatever else pops into Stiles’ head. Stiles suggests ordering pizza, so they get delivery and keep playing. By the time the pizzas arrive, they’ve made it through half the levels, without using the whistle (“No warp, Derek, really? Where’s the fun in that?”). Stiles grabs beers from the fridge while Derek pulls two plates from the cabinet. They eat the pizza on the couch, leaning back against the couch arms and facing one another.

“Thanks for inviting me over,” Stiles says after he’s downed half a pie. “Though, I feel bad for invading your Derek night.”

Derek lifts the lid on the second pizza box and puts a piece on his plate. “This is a great me night. It’s a nice break not having to be Dad for a few hours.”

Stiles smiles. “I bet.” He looks at Derek thoughtfully as he chews on the crust. “Can I ask you a personal question?” Derek shrugs. “What happened with Rose’s mom?”

“Jennifer,” Derek supplies. “It’s not an interesting story. We fell in love, were insanely crazy about one another. We got married, and, um, she didn’t like my family very much. My sister Laura and she literally hate one another. So, I moved to Florida with her, and it was great for awhile. But then, sex stopped being able to cover up our problems. Jennifer got pregnant, and instead of things getting better, they got worse. We tried to make it work, but around the time Rose was three, we decided to get a divorce. I packed up the car and Rose and drove back to California.” Derek shrugs. “She still lives in Florida. The last time she saw Rose was last summer.”

“She didn’t try to keep Rose?” Stiles asks.

Derek shakes his head. “She, ah, didn’t fight me when I said I was taking custody of Rose.” Derek leaves out the reason why. He doesn’t tell Stiles that there was no way in hell that Derek, as a werewolf, was leaving his werecub with someone else. But that hadn’t mattered; Jennifer hadn’t wanted Rose from the moment she learned she was a werewolf.

“How could you not want Rose?” Stiles asks.

“That’s what I can’t figure out.” Derek scrubs a hand through his hair. “Rose misses her mom. It’s been worse lately. I try my best, but she’s missing half of her parents. Despite my extreme dislike for Jennifer, it’s not fair to Rose.”

“You seem to have a lot of help.”

“I do,” Derek agrees. “Moving back to Beacon Hills is the best decision I ever made.” Derek takes a huge bite of his pizza, and watches Stiles as he eats. After he swallows, he says, “What about you? I don’t know anything about you, and here I am, telling you my life story. Have you ever been married? Did you always want to work at a daycare?”

Stiles smiles. “Never been married. Had a serious boyfriend through grad school, but that didn’t work out. I originally wanted to be an elementary school teacher. But after I graduated from grad school, Allison asked me if I wanted to help her open the daycare. I’m originally from Beacon Hills and my dad still lives here, so I moved back here and opened up the daycare with her. That’s about it.” He shrugs and pulls a piece of pepperoni off his piece of pizza and pops it in his mouth. “It’s been a pretty boring life.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Derek says. “I sometimes wish my life had been boring.” He pushes around a few pieces of crust on his plate and hesitates. “My parents died when I was sixteen. Car accident. It was a bad time overall for me. I kinda went crazy. My older sister was eighteen, so she took care of me and Cora. Instead of helping Laura raise Cora like I should have, I stopped going to school, got involved with an older woman, and made Laura’s life a living hell.”

Stiles stares at him, wide-eyed. “I wouldn’t have thought that about you. You seem so…reserved? That’s not the right word. Straight-laced?”

Derek shoots him a rueful smile. “Having a kid and getting divorced will do that to you.” He sets his plate aside and stretches out. He scratches his stomach. “I was a quiet before my parents died. Kept to myself, read a lot, played basketball and lacrosse for Beacon Hills.”

Stiles leans forward and slaps Derek’s leg. “No way! I played lacrosse for Beacon Hills, too!” Derek smiles. Stiles’s face sobers as he settles back onto the arm of the couch. “My mom died when I was nine. A type of dementia. It was hard.” He holds Derek’s gaze for a moment before saying, “So I kinda know what it’s like, for you and Rose. Losing a parent, I get it. I know it’s not the same, but…” He shrugs awkwardly.

“She thinks the world of you, you know,” Derek says. “I don’t think I’ve seen her become so attached to someone. She grew up with Isaac, Danny, Boyd, and Erica, so they’re family to her. I’ve never seen her take to someone outside of the family before.” He smiles, and Stiles looks down, his face flushed.

“She’s a special kid.”

“She told me you’re cooler than me,” Derek tells him, chuckling.

Stiles laughs and drags his hands over his face. “Oh my god. I am totally cooler than you. You can’t even make it through a Mario world without dying.”

“Cruel,” Derek says.

“I think you need more practice,” Stiles says, grabbing his controller. “We still have half the levels left.”

Derek glances at the clock. Isaac and Danny won’t be bringing Rose back for a few hours, so he grabs his controller. “I’m going to show you. You’re gonna be blown away.”

“Blow me away then,” Stiles says, then groans in embarrassment as he crashes his face into the arm of the couch.

Derek laughs as he shakes his head. “Just can’t help yourself, can you?”

“You’re going to start to rethink your friendship with me,” Stiles says.

“I already am,” Derek teases. Stiles kicks him, and Derek lets Mario drop into a hole. Stiles laughs as he starts the level.

Derek doesn’t miss that Stiles doesn’t move his leg from where it’s pressing against Derek’s, and Derek can’t say he minds.

*

The end of February rushes by in a flurry of essays and tests to grade, lacrosse games, finishing up his TAPP project, and helping Rose with a few school projects of her own. He only sees Erica at school, Isaac at lacrosse practice, hasn’t seen Laura since the barbeque, and only waves to Stiles from the car when he happens to catch his attention when he picks Rose up from daycare. He spends half his time with the lacrosse team, who have been on a killer winning streak. More nights than he’d like to admit, he falls asleep on the couch before he realizes it.

One night, he wakes up to a finger poking his cheek. When he blinks his eyes open, he sees Rose standing above him. “You fell asleep before bedtime.”

Derek yawns and sits up, rubbing his eyes. “Sorry, Rose. Daddy’s tired.”

“I know. You smell tired.”

Another night, Derek wakes up around midnight, still on the couch. Rose has squeezed herself between Derek and the couch, one arm and leg thrown across his body. Her head is on his shoulder and she’s sound asleep. He just closes his eyes and goes back to sleep.

At least a few times a week, Rose crawls into Derek’s bed in the middle of the night, or goes straight to Derek’s room instead of her own. He knows he needs to break her from this habit, but he’s too tired right now. He’s just trying to make it through each day.

In the beginning of March, Derek is making dinner while Rose sits at the kitchen table working on her homework when his phone rings. Cold dread fills his body when he sees the name on the ID. Jennifer.

“I’ll be right back, okay?” he tells Rose as he turns off the eyes on the stove. She barely looks up from her paper as he exits the room. He walks onto the front porch, trying to put enough space between him and Rose so she won’t be able to hear.

“Hello?”

“Hi Derek,” Jennifer’s voice rings out over the line. It curls down his spine and through his limbs like a snake. He used to be in love with her voice, with how melodic and musical it was. One word from her could render him weak. The sound of it now produces a mixed reaction: part of him feels that same weakness and need, while the other part is repulsed.

“Hi,” he replies civilly.

“How’s Rose?”

He glances at the door, hones his senses to listen to her calm heartbeat. He can hear her singing softly as she completes her math drills. “She’s doing great,” he says. It’s not a complete lie; he’s sure as hell not going to tell Jennifer that Rose has been struggling, not when she is the reason.

“Good,” Jennifer says. “I’ve been thinking about her a lot.” Derek doesn’t respond. He bites his tongue to keep from telling her to go to hell. “That’s one of the reasons I called. I’m in Beacon Hills.”

“What? Now?” Derek asks.

“I’m staying at a hotel. I was hoping we could talk.” Derek runs a hand over his face and groans. He is too tired for this bullshit. “I can come by the house.”

“No,” Derek says. “I’ll come by your hotel. I don’t want Rose to smell you around if you’re not going to stick around.”

“I’m going to see my daughter before I leave town,” Jennifer snaps.

“I should hope so,” Derek snaps back. “But I don’t want her smelling you before she sees you. It’ll confuse her.” Derek hears her mutter werewolves on the other end of the line, and he shifts without meaning to. He’s glad she’s not here to see it. He breathes in slowly through his nose, then exhales as his features morph back human.

“Fine.” Jennifer tells him which hotel she’s staying at and tells him she’ll be there the rest of the night. Derek curses when he gets off the phone. Dinner’s only half done, Rose needs to take a bath, and she hasn’t finished her homework. But he needs to get this over with.

He calls Boyd and then Isaac, but neither of them can come over and watch Rose. Just as Derek starts to freak, he decides to call Stiles.

“Hey Derek,” Stiles answers, obviously pleased Derek called.

“I need a favor,” Derek barks out. He knows he sounds like an asshole, but he’s too preoccupied to be nice.

“Yeah, sure, anything.”

“Jennifer’s in town, and I need someone to watch Rose while I go see what she wants. I don’t want Rose to know she’s here.” He sighs and rubs his eyes. “Dinner’s almost done. You can eat here, I’ll grab something while I’m out. She goes to bed in a few hours, so it won’t be that difficult.”

“Yeah, no problem,” Stiles says. “I’ll be over soon.”

Derek goes back into the kitchen to finish dinner. Rose doesn’t realize anything is wrong, and Derek’s thankful for that. He leaves dinner on the stove and rushes to his bedroom to change clothes. He pulls on jeans, a Henley, and his leather jacket. He tries to look like he’s not exhausted, but not sure he does. He wants to look sexy, strong, and put together when he sees his ex; when he looks in the mirror, he just sees a guy who’s barely holding it together.

Right before Stiles gets there, Derek finds his checkbook in a drawer and writes out a check. There’s no way he’s letting Stiles do this for free.

When Stiles arrives, Derek yanks open the door and blurts, “Do I look like I have my life together?”

Stiles’ face contorts in concern. “Are you okay?”

“No.” He runs a hand through his hair. “She’s going to sniff out any weakness, I know it. She’s going to know I’ve barely got it together.”

“Derek, calm down.” Stiles enters the house and closes the door. He studies Derek carefully. “You’ve got this.”

Derek runs a hand over his face, then squares his shoulders. “How do I look?” The moment Stiles sets his calculating gaze on him, Derek regrets the question. Is he really that transparent, not to mention that pathetic? “Nevermind.” He walks to the kitchen, where Rose is finishing up her homework. “Rose?”

She looks up, confused. “Are you going – STILES!” Rose jumps up from her chair and runs over to Stiles. She hugs him around the waist. “Did you come to eat dinner with us?”

“Actually,” Derek says, squatting down in front of Rose. She turns to him curiously, and he tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Stiles is gonna stay with you tonight. I’ve got to go take care of some stuff.”

Rose leans forward and sniffs Derek. Derek’s eyes flick up to Stiles, who looks puzzled as he watches the exchange. “Are you okay, Daddy? You smell funny.”

Derek pulls her into a hug, and too quiet for Stiles to hear, says against her ear, “Remember that Stiles can’t know we’re wolves.” He kisses her hair, then says louder, “I’m fine. And it’s probably cologne you smell.”

“When will you be back?”

“Probably after you’re asleep. But Stiles is gonna stay with you until I get back.”

Rose turns and gives Stiles a blinding smile. “We’re gonna have lots of fun!”

Derek pokes her tummy lightly. “You’re gonna eat, take a bath, and go to bed. You can watch one program with Stiles after dinner, okay?” Rose pouts, and Derek says, “Fine, two.”

“Softie,” Stiles teases, and Derek looks up at him.

He pushes himself up and points to the stove. “Dinner’s ready. Leave the dishes, I’ll clean them tomorrow.” Derek reaches into his pocket and pulls out the check. He presses it into Stiles’ hand.

“What is this?” When Stiles gets a look at it, he laughs. “You finally wrote me that check,” he laughs, then sputters when he sees the amount. “Derek, this is way too much.” He looks up. “I can’t take this.”

“Stiles, just…take it. Please,” Derek pleads. Stiles stares at him for a few beats before nodding and slipping it into his pocket.

As Derek drives across town towards Jennifer’s hotel, he tells himself to be strong and not to worry. It’s just Jennifer.

That doesn’t do anything to calm his nerves.

*

Derek doesn’t know how he gets into this situation every single time he sees Jennifer. It’s like he’s powerless where she’s concerned.

“That was fun.” Jennifer’s lips twist into a smirk as she props her head on her fist. Derek can’t help it when his eyes fall onto her bare breasts. “We always were great when we fucked.”

Derek scowls as he rolls away and sits on the edge of the bed. He runs his hands through his hair. He feels like shit. He doesn’t know why his brain gets overshadowed by his cock every time they’re together. It always feels so good in the moment, but afterwards he always feels horrible. For some reason, he feels extra horrible this time.

“Oh god, are you going to brood?” Jennifer asks as she gets out of bed. Derek glares at her over his shoulder. She’s standing there, naked and completely unabashed. He can’t help but run his eyes over her body, and she grins. He hates that he still finds her so damn sexy, and hates it even more that she knows it. “Down boy. I don’t really have time for another round.”

Derek narrows his eyes. “Fuck you.” He grabs his underwear from the floor and stands up.

She’s behind him a moment later, her hands sliding over his body. “You wouldn’t be so uptight if you didn’t limit yourself to hate sex with me a couple times a year.” Her hand drags across his abs, and he takes her wrist and removes it. Just her touch makes him cringe. “Don’t act like you didn’t want it just as much as I did, Derek,” she spats. “You can pretend you’re so high and mighty, but you were the one fucking me.”

“Why are you here?” Derek growls as he spins around to face her. She’s thankfully put on underwear and a shirt, so Derek can think a bit more clearly.

“I had to come see my parents,” Jennifer explains as Derek pulls on his jeans. “And I thought I’d spend some time with Rose. I have her Christmas present, and her birthday is coming up.”

“It’s not for another month,” Derek says before pulling his shirt over his head.

Her mouth is a thin line, her eyes cutting. “I’m aware of that. I did give birth to her.”

“You should act like it sometimes,” Derek barks.

“You’re the one who took Rose away from me, so you don’t get to be mad because I’m not around,” Jennifer says.

“You didn’t want her!” Derek explodes. “The moment you found out she was a werewolf, you didn’t want anything to do with her!”

“No, I just didn’t want to raise her in a Pack lead by your perfect sister,” Jennifer replies.

Derek’s eyes burn blue. “A werecub needs her Pack, and her mother.”

“I never wanted to be in a Pack,” Jennifer says like the word is disgusting.

“You knew I was a werewolf when we got married!” Derek exclaims. “I left my Pack for you.”

“And wanted to return the moment Rose was a wolf,” Jennifer says. “As soon as she became one of you, she was no longer mine.”

“That’s bullshit.” Derek feels his fangs pushing against his gums, a pressure in his fingers. He’s trying to control himself, but it’s so fucking difficult with Jennifer talking about his Pack and her own daughter that way.

“Look, Derek,” Jennifer says, hands on her hips. “I’d love to rehash the same, old recycled fight we’ve been having for the last three or four years, but I’m pretty tired.” She gives him a saccharine smile. “You can always stay if you want.”

“I’d rather cut off my dick.”

“I may not have your freaky werewolf senses, but even I know that’s a lie.”

Derek yanks his jacket off the back of the chair and stalks to the door. “You can see Rose whenever you want. Just let me know, and I’ll arrange it.”

Jennifer comes up behind him and places a hand on his arm. He shrugs her off. “Don’t be like that, Derek. You enjoyed yourself as much as I did; your cock was always more honest about its feelings than you were.” Derek grinds his teeth together and grips the door handle so tightly it starts to crack. She leans forward and kisses his cheek, and he growls at her, finally wolfing out. She laughs cruelly. “You haven’t changed at all. I just hope that you’re teaching our daughter to control that beast more than you seem to be able to.”

Derek yanks the door open and storms out, slamming the door behind him. He sprints down the walkway until he turns a corner, then presses his forehead against the wall. He chants Alpha, Beta, Omega over and over to himself, trying to get his wolf under control.

It takes almost five minutes to calm down. He’s shaking when he finally shifts back, and he doesn’t move for another few minutes.

He can’t believe he was so stupid. They’ve been divorced for two years, but Jennifer can still twist her way inside him, confuse him and make his cock feel good for long enough to fuck him and leave him bleeding on the floor afterwards. One day, he thinks, he’ll learn how to stop letting her have that kind of control over him.

When he’s finally driving towards home, he calls Laura.

“Hey, Derek,” she greets.

“Jennifer’s back in town,” he says tonelessly. “I need to see you. Tonight.”

“Derek, it’s after nine,” Laura states.

“Please.” Derek’s voice breaks on the word, and he hates how pathetic and vulnerable he feels, hates that he’s showing it even more.

“I’ll be there in a few hours.”

Derek sits in his car outside the house when he gets home. He stares at the trees surrounding the house, listens to the sounds of the animals in the woods. He senses squirrels all around, two bunnies to his right, a fox padding somewhere behind the bunnies, and a deer skirting the edge of his range. Inside, he picks out Rose’s heartbeat. She’s asleep, her breathing even and calm. He hones in on Stiles’ heartbeat, faster than most people’s, his own unique pattern.

Derek drops his head to the steering wheel. “What have I done?” he whispers to himself.

He hears the front door open and lifts his head. Stiles steps onto the porch, closing the door quietly behind him, then crosses the yard. He opens the passenger door and slides into the front seat. He doesn’t say anything, just watches Derek and waits.

Stiles’ scent is so strong in the closed confines of the car, and his wolf is growling yesyesyes while his brain is screaming nonono. Derek can’t handle this right now. He feels like he’s going to rip open straight down the middle.

“I fucked Jennifer,” he blurts. Stiles’ scent immediately changes, and Derek tries to block it out, tries to ignore the bitterness of disappointment and sadness.

“Oh,” Stiles finally says. “Should I say congratulations?”

“You should tell me I’m a fucking idiot,” Derek says. He drops his head to the steering wheel again and closes his eyes.

“I thought you hated her,” Stiles says quietly.

“I do,” Derek tells him. “It’s like the moment I’m in the room with her, she casts some spell on me. I’m helpless where she’s concerned. Every fucking time we’re together, we have sex.”

Stiles doesn’t say anything, and that bothers Derek the most. Stiles is never quiet, but he doesn’t know what he expects Stiles to say.

Finally, Derek lifts his head. The longer they sit in the car, the stronger Stiles’ smell becomes, and Derek can’t bring himself to look at Stiles. “Thanks for watching Rose.”

“Always glad to help a friend with a booty call,” he replies sarcastically. Derek doesn’t miss the tinge of hurt in his voice.

“It wasn’t like that,” Derek says, a pleading in his voice. He just needs Stiles know and understand.

Stiles sighs and drums his fingers on his knee. “Yeah, I know.” He opens the door and leaves the car, leaves Derek.

Derek can’t move. He inhales Stiles’ bitter scent, replays what happened with Jennifer, and tries to figure out what in the hell is wrong with him.

He’s in the middle of the woods, staring up at the crescent moon, when he hears footsteps behind him. He relaxes for the first time at the first whiff of Laura, and when she places a hand on his shoulder, all the tension seeps out of his body.

“Rose is sleeping soundly,” she says. “That’s good.”

“I know,” Derek responds. “I can hear her.”

“What are you doing out here?” she asks.

“I fucked her,” Derek says.

“I know,” Laura replies. “I can smell it on you.”

“I’m such a weak idiot,” he says miserably.

“You always sleep with Jennifer when you see her,” Laura says. “You’ll work through it eventually and stop.”

“It’s been two years.”

Laura squeezes his shoulder. “You love hard, Derek, you always have. Even her.”

“It would be easier if I didn’t.”

“You loved her, and she gave you Rose,” Laura says. “No one can blame you for still having feelings for her.”

“When did you become so diplomatic about Jennifer?” Derek asks, finally turning to look at Laura.

Laura’s eyes are a bright spot of red in the dark forest. “Since my brother smells and feels like misery.”

“It’s different this time,” Derek explains as he looks back at the moon.

“How?”

“I told Stiles I had sex with her,” Derek continues. Laura makes a small noise of surprise. “I…I think part of me did it on purpose.”

“Did you call him?”

“He was already here. He’s the only one I could find to watch Rose.” Derek hangs his head. “Laura, I think I pushed him away on purpose.”

“Oh, Derek.” Laura gathers Derek in her arms, and Derek wraps his arms around her tightly. “There are other ways to deal with it if you weren’t ready for where things were going.” Derek presses his nose into her neck and inhales. She smells like Alpha and Pack and home and safety. He feels his head clear a bit, and he’s just confused.

“I don’t know what I want,” he admits. “I just know it’s not her.”

Laura runs her hand through Derek’s hair. “That’s a start.”

He pulls away, and Laura cups his cheek gently. “She wants to spend time with Rose.”

“That’s a good thing,” Laura says.

“I hope.” Derek huffs. “What do I do about Stiles?”

“You have to figure that out for yourself,” Laura says. “But Derek, listen to me.” She waits until he’s looking at her before continuing. “You and Stiles aren’t together. You’re not even dating. You’re getting to know him, and you both have shown a mutual interest in each other. You’re both adults. If he’s as wonderful as you think, he’ll understand how complicated things are with Jennifer. Does that mean he won’t maybe be hurt, confused, or disappointed? Of course not. But Derek, it’s not the end of the world.”

“I’m shit at this,” Derek says. He rubs his hands across his face. “I should have learned that much from one divorce.”

“You deserve to fall in love again,” Laura says. “And you deserve to be happy, however you choose. That may be with Stiles, it may not. But just because things didn’t work out with Jennifer doesn’t mean you’re destined to be alone, or only be Rose’s father. You’re still a man.” She gives Derek a sly smile. “That seems to be one of the only good things Jennifer brings out in you.”

Derek rolls his eyes.

Laura starts walking back towards the house, so Derek reluctantly follows. “Are you going to be okay?” she asks.

“Yeah,” he says. “I don’t really have a choice.”

Inside the house, Derek checks that the guest bedroom is ready and then changes out of his clothes. When he checks on Laura in the guest room a few minutes later, she’s already in bed, talking to Dalton on the phone. Derek stretches out on the bed beside her as she winds up her conversation.

“He’s not mad, is he?” Derek asks after she hangs up.

“You’re my brother,” Laura says, “of course not.”

“Thanks,” Derek says. He slings an arm around her waist and lays his head on her stomach. She scratches her nails along his arm, up over his shoulder, and down again. He closes his eyes and lets the sense of Pack and security surround him.

He doesn’t realize he’s dozed off until he feels the bed move and then hears the click of the light. He lifts up, but Laura tugs him back down. “Go back to sleep,” she says quietly.

“But – “

“No buts,” she says. “Sleep.” He snuggles closer to her and falls back asleep.

*

When Derek wakes up, he immediately feels Rose’s presence in the bed. Sometime during the night, she had squeezed herself between Derek and Laura’s bodies, and was now sleeping half on top of Derek. She has one leg and one arm draped over him, with her head on his chest. Derek doesn’t move, just focuses on the sound of her breathing.

Lying here with his Alpha and his daughter - his family - he feels settled and content in a way he hasn’t in a long time. The only thing that is missing is Cora. He wonders if it’d be weird to call her and ask her to drive up from LA just so he can surround himself with all of his family. But for now, he’ll bask in the Pack that surrounds him.

Derek is lonely. He knows this; it’s not like it’s a fact he denies. But there isn’t much he can do about it, not with his workload and responsibilities. He knows that’s why he ends up falling into bed with Jennifer every single time he sees her. She smells familiar and comfortable, like sex and passion, like Rose. When he’s with Jennifer, for a few blissful moments, Derek forgets about everything surrounding him, forgets his loneliness, and just enjoys being with someone else. Too bad when he’s done, he always feels terrible.

This time was so much worse. Usually, he just feels vaguely dirty and shitty and kicks himself for falling for Jennifer yet again. But this time…Derek felt like he had made a huge mistake the instant he came. He didn’t want to be on top of her, not anymore, not even long enough to get off and get away. He’s afraid to examine the reasons why too closely, because the last thing he needs right now is any more complication in his life.

This would be so much easier if he could just have quick hook ups, then return to his normal life. He tried that a few times, got the Pack to watch Rose while he went out to clubs. He fucked in bathrooms and hotel rooms, but the problem was that when he went home, he still went home alone. Getting off made him happy for a short while, but it didn’t erase the loneliness. It only made it worse.

He dozes until Rose starts to stir. He stretches as she nuzzles into his armpit, growling. He grabs her by the waist and pulls her higher up and drags his cheek across her head as she rubs her face into his neck. He feels the nip of tiny fangs as a louder, deeper growl joins Rose’s. Derek smiles as Laura wraps her arms around Rose, holding her tightly as she starts scenting Rose’s hair. Derek can see Rose’s hands scratching lightly down Laura’s arms, her fingers turned to claws.

“Morning,” Derek says, yawning.

Rose flips over and burrows deeper into Laura’s embrace. When Derek drops his head to the side, Laura’s watching him with red eyes. He grins, his eyes glowing blue. Rose is still growling contently, and when he sits up, he can see the hair sprouted on her cheeks from where she shifted. He runs a clawed hand over her hair.

“Want to go for a morning run?” Laura asks, and Rose flies into a sitting position so quickly she knocks Laura in the chin.

“Can we?” Rose exclaims, still wolfed out.

“Easy, Rose,” Derek says, wrapping his arms around her from behind. He kisses her cheek. “You’re gonna take out Aunt Laura’s eye.”

“I have four kids,” Laura says. “I think I can handle it.”

“Can we go for a run, Daddy?” Rose asks, her eyes so bright in the dark room.

“Sure.”

Rose jumps off the bed and heads towards the back door. She runs outside in her gown and without shoes, and Derek doesn’t bother to make her put any on. He and Laura go out barefoot, too. Laura strips off her clothes and shifts into her full wolf form, and Derek takes off running in his pajama pants, the cool air stinging his bare chest.

Derek easily catches up with Rose, who has already made it deeper into the woods. He lifts her up and drops kisses all over her face between nipping at her affectionately. She howls in delight, her face upturned and open. He loves this, when he and his daughter can let go and be their true selves, let the wolf take over, even if for a few minutes.

Rose’s head snaps to the side, and she leaps from Derek’s arms, taking off into the woods again. Laura nips at his calves as she runs up behind him, and he looks down as she bumps her forehead against his legs. Laura passes him and runs through the underbrush, chasing after Rose. Derek laughs, then throws his head back and howls.

In the distance, he hears a reply. Isaac, then another – Boyd. He howls again, laughing jubilantly as he follows.

When he finds Rose, Laura’s sitting on her haunches, watching as Rose takes another bite out of a small squirrel. She grins up at Derek, her mouth bloody, and offers him a leg. Derek takes it and praises Rose’s efforts with growls, nips, and nuzzles.

They spend the next half hour running through the woods, and Derek pushes everything from his mind as he inhales the cold morning air, feels the wind through his hair, and follows his daughter’s melodic laugh through the trees.

*

Despite Derek’s wonderful morning, Erica finds him brooding in his classroom alone during lunch. She saunters in, types out something on her phone, then perches on the edge of his desk and crosses her legs. He glares at her and takes a bite from his sandwich.

“Spill,” she says. “I know Laura was in town this morning. Boyd texted to say she came by to see him before she left town. Which, rude,” Erica drums her nails on the desk. “Not like I wouldn’t like to see her. Why did Boyd get to see her and not me?” She pouts, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“What’s up?” Isaac says as he enters the classroom. Derek groans and leans back in his chair, tipping his head back as he stares up at the ceiling. He covers his eyes with his arm. “Oh no. Derek’s brooding.”

“Go. Away.” Derek tries to keep the growl from his voice, but he doesn’t do a very good job. Instead of leaving, Isaac drags a student desk over so he can sit beside Erica. Derek flings his arm away and looks at them. “I’m not brooding. I have work to do.”

Erica makes a show of sniffing the air. Derek ignores her as he grades another paper. “So, Isaac, let’s make a list of things that could throw Derek into this kind of brooding state,” Erica says. Derek grinds his teeth but keeps marking papers. “I don’t think it’s Rose.”

“Could be Stiles,” Isaac suggests, and Derek snaps the pen he’s holding. He feels Erica’s smirk without even looking up. “Well, that’s at least part of it. They did have their video game date the other night.”

“It wasn’t a date,” Derek grinds out. He’s trying not to snap this new pen, but his hand is shaking and he really just wants to punch Isaac in his face.

“Kinda looked like a date to me,” Isaac says. “He arranged a babysitter for Rose – which was me and Danny, by the way,” he says to Erica. “When we dropped Rose off, Stiles was leaving.”

Derek doesn’t rise to the bait. Instead, he stares at the paper.

“Well, Laura drove down last night, so something major had to have happened,” Erica continues talking. Derek hears her tap her finger on her chin as she thinks. Isaac gets up and invades Derek’s space, sniffing around him. Derek shoves him back into the chalkboard, and Erica bursts out laughing.

“Jennifer’s in town,” Isaac declares. “How did I miss it? Her scent is all over him.” Isaac points a finger at Derek. “You fucked her again.”

“Derek,” Erica groans, rolling her head around. “Really? Like she hasn’t already fucked you enough, you have to go and willingly give it to her?”

“It’s none of your business,” Derek snaps.

Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner!” Erica proclaims. “How did I not smell the stink of raging bitch wafting off of you?” Derek glares at her, and her face softens. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I don’t want to talk about it.”

She frowns and studies him carefully. “How’s Rose?”

Derek shuffles some papers around on his desk. “She doesn’t know yet.”

“She’ll be gone soon,” Isaac says. “She always is.”

“It’s not – “ Derek grunts as he shoves papers across his desk. “I just…don’t want to deal with any of this.”

“She’s Rose’s mom,” Erica says gently. “You know how much it’ll mean to Rose.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“We’re with you until she’s gone,” Erica says. “We’ve got your back, Derek.” He stares at his desk, but nods. Erica reaches out, covers his hand, and squeezes.

“What about Stiles?” Isaac asks.

“What about him?” Derek growls.

Isaac doesn’t say anything else. Instead, Erica tells them about Vern’s new classroom girlfriend, and Derek knows she’s just trying to take his mind of everything, but he’s thankful anyway.

*

Derek’s heart pounds in his chest as he drives to the daycare. He’s nervous about seeing Stiles; he doesn’t know what to do or say if he sees him.

But Derek doesn’t see Stiles. Allison is standing outside the building with the kids when he drives up, and she waves to him as Rose runs to the car. Derek doesn’t miss the flare of disappointment that Stiles isn’t standing there.

Derek pushes Stiles from his mind as he starts to drive out of town. Rose doesn’t notice the direction they’re heading; she’s telling Derek all about school, and about how Stiles let her play with her ponies under the table and pretend they were seahorses. At least Stiles isn’t taking whatever happened between him and Derek out on Rose.

When Derek pulls into the hotel parking lot, Rose looks around in confusion. “This isn’t home, Daddy.”

Derek waits until he parks the car to speak. He unbuckles his seatbelt and twists around in the seat to look at Rose. He takes a moment to appreciate the small cub he made with Jennifer. If nothing else, she gave him this beautiful girl sitting in the backseat. Derek can’t think of what his life would be without her. Rose is his whole world.

“Daddy, are you okay?” Rose’s eyebrows bunch in concern, and Derek smiles.

“I’m fine. I have a surprise, but you have to stay calm, okay?” Rose nods, her face excited at the mention of a surprise. “Guess who you’re about to get to see?” Rose shrugs, holding her hands up. “Mommy!”

Rose screeches so loud Derek’s ears ring. He covers them, and raises his voice to get her under control. She’s struggling against her car seat, trying to get the buckle unclasped but being unsuccessful. “Mommy’s here! Mommy’s here!” Rose is chanting over and over. Derek notices when he gets out of the car and leans into the backseat to unhook her that she has wolfed out.

“Hey,” Derek says softly. He reaches out and cups her face, and she turns to nip at his hand. “You have to be on your best behavior. And remember, you can’t wolf out in public. You have to be very careful.”

Rose vibrates in her excitement. Derek coaches her through the new few minutes, trying to help her calm herself enough to shift back. He murmurs to her quietly, trying to broadcast calm feelings as he helps her breathe and focus on him.

“I’m gonna get to see Mommy!” Rose says as Derek helps her out of the car. “I’m gonna get to see Mommy!” He takes her hand as he shuts and locks the door. “Daddy, do I look pretty?”

He turns to Rose, and she’s beaming up at him. Derek squats down and runs his hand through his hair to flatten it in a few places. “You’re beautiful, why?”

“I want to look pretty when I see Mommy,” she says. Derek leans forward and kisses her cheek, then stands and leads her to Jennifer’s room.

Derek’s heart is pounding in his chest as he waits for Jennifer to open the door. Rose is bouncing up and down, unable to contain her excitement. He’s not nervous about Jennifer seeing Rose, he’s nervous about Rose being disappointed. He knows Rose needs this, and he just hopes it’s everything Rose wants it to be.

When Jennifer opens the door, she barely gets a chance to smile at Rose before Rose rushes at her in a fit of werewolf speed. She wraps her arms around Jennifer, and starts rubbing her cheek against Jennifer’s thighs. “Well, hello to you too, honey.”

Derek steps past them into the room, and Jennifer maneuvers Rose towards the bed. Jennifer sits on the edge of it, and Rose wraps her arms around Jennifer’s neck, clinging to her tightly. Derek can hear her growling against Jennifer’s neck, and he notices that she’s wolfed out again. He doesn’t say anything, just watches them anxiously.

Jennifer holds Rose close, closing her eyes as she turns her face into Rose’s hair. Their hair is almost the exact same shade, and Derek forgets how much she favors Jennifer until he sees them together. He smiles despite himself as he watches them embrace one another.

“I’ve missed you, Rose,” Jennifer says, pulling away so she can get a good look at Rose. Rose has calmed down enough to shift back to human, but her eyes are still shining. Jennifer runs her hands over Rose’s hair and then cups her cheeks. “My beautiful girl.” She taps beside Rose’s eyes. “Let me see your real eyes.”

“These are my real eyes,” Rose says.

“Your other eyes,” Jennifer says. “You gotta remember to control that, honey.”

“I know, Mommy.” Rose mutters Alpha, Beta, Omega as she tries to get herself under control. Derek murmurs it along with her under his breath, loud enough for only Rose to hear. Her eyes soon fade back to their usual green.

“See, that’s better,” Jennifer says with a smile. “There’s my beautiful girl.”

Derek has to repeat the mantra to himself so he doesn’t rip Jennifer’s face off.

“I can’t believe you’re here!” Rose exclaims, hugging Jennifer again. “I’ve missed you so much, Mommy. I have lots to tell you!”

“I can’t wait to hear everything, baby,” Jennifer replies.

Derek stands up. “I’m going to go so you two can spend some time together.” He runs his hand over Rose’s head and squeezes the back of her neck. “Be good for Mommy, okay? She’ll bring you home later tonight.” Rose barely hears him she’s so focused on her mother. Derek glances at Jennifer. “If she needs anything, make sure you call me.”

Jennifer rolls her eyes. “I think I can manage for a couple of hours.” She smirks, and Derek scowls before he leaves the hotel room.

Leaving Rose is the hardest thing he’s done in a long time. He trusts Jennifer with her, but his wolf doesn’t like leaving his baby wolf alone, without any of her Pack. His wolf still thinks of Jennifer as someone who deserted him, deserted their cub, and almost tore their daughter apart. His cock may be stupid, but his wolf doesn’t forget.

He focuses on his rational side instead of his animal side, and somehow makes it home in one piece.

*

Jennifer drops Rose back off just after nine. Rose is bubbling over with happiness. She spends the next half hour talking incessantly about everything she and her mom did. Even when Derek makes her take a bath, she doesn’t slow down. She tells Derek every detail about the dinner they had (she had chicken fingers while Jennifer had a salad), and how Jennifer told her all about swimming in the ocean. Derek leaves the bathroom door open and listens to her as he finds her an outfit for school the next day.

She’s still talking when Derek goes into the bathroom to check to make sure she’s gotten all the shampoo out of her hair before she gets out of the tub. “Dad, she went on a boat and saw a dolphin! A real dolphin!” Rose says as Derek uses the detachable showerhead to rinse out the massive amounts of soap Rose has left in her hair. She splashes the water excitedly, and some of the overspray gets on his clothes. “She said they saw turtles on the beach, and you can go, um,” Rose’s face scrunches in frustration as she tries to remember the word. Derek squeezes her hair, which is now soap free. “I don’t remember what Mommy said, but she said she swam with bright fishies!”

“Like you?” Derek teases as she splashes in the water some more. “Come on, time to get out, little mermaid.”

“I’m a wolfie, not a mermaid,” Rose giggles as Derek leaves her to get out of the tub. He lays out her clean clothes on her bed, then walks into the kitchen to pack their lunches for the next day. Rose is rambling about mermaids, so he half listens as she sings a song she makes up about a dark-haired mermaid who swims with dolphins and turtles.

Derek sits on the couch and combs Rose’s hair after she puts on her pajamas. “Doesn’t Mommy look beautiful?” Rose asks. “She said the sun made her darker, and she said if I went to Florida, I would get darker from the sun, too!”

Derek nods, gently pulling the comb through her hair. “When I lived in Florida with your mom, I got a pretty good tan. Aunt Cora was really jealous.”

Rose laughs. “Aunt Cora is silly.”

Derek smiles. “Yes, she is.”

“Mommy said she can teach me how to swim!” Rose continues. “I told her I don’t never go swimming, but we go camping and running in the woods a lot. Mommy said she doesn’t like that because she doesn’t like the woods and stuff.”

“Nope. She never did like that stuff,” Derek agrees. He takes the towel and dries some of the water from Rose’s hair. Then, he drops a kiss on her head.

“She’s not a wolfie person, like Uncle Danny, is she?” Rose asks as she gets up from the couch. She yawns, and Derek watches her expression carefully. He inhales, trying to gauge her mood. She doesn’t seem upset; he thinks it’s an innocuous question, more an observation than anything.

“No, I don’t think so,” Derek says. She crawls into her bed, and Derek hopes she’s not too grumpy tomorrow. It’s way past her bedtime.

“If she was more of a wolfie person, would she live with us instead of with the dolphins?” Rose asks.

Derek situates the blankets around her and places her stuffed horse beside her. She immediately grabs it and wraps it in her arms. “I don’t know, Rose,” he answers truthfully. He drags the backs of his fingers across her forehead. “Your mom loves you very much. That’s all the matters. You know that, right?”

Rose nods. “I know Mommy loves me.”

Derek smiles. “Good.” He kisses her forehead and drags his nose and cheek across her clean skin. She leans into the touch. “I love you, Rose.”

“I love you, too, Daddy.”

“Time for the sandman to visit you.”

“Sleepy dust,” Rose says, letting her eyes droop shut.

“Sleepy dust for my sleepy cub,” he says. He sits there with her until she falls asleep. He feels better that she’s home, back in his den, where she belongs. He’s thrilled she had a good time with Jennifer, but he’s glad she’s home.

When Derek finally hits the pillow, he immediately passes out.

*

Derek is at lacrosse practice afterschool the next day when his phone rings. He checks the ID, and almost panics when he sees Stiles’ name flashing across his screen.

“What’s wrong with Rose?” he answers.

“She’s fine,” Stiles says. “I just need – “

Stiles is interrupted by someone in the background. Derek hones his senses, and he hears Ridiculous! I’m her mother, for Christ’s sake! I’ll call my lawyer! No one is going to tell me I can’t pick up my daughter!

Stiles sighs. “Rose’s mother is here to pick her up from daycare. I’ve explained to her that I cannot release Rose to anyone who is not listed in her file. She won’t leave, so I’m calling you.”

Derek pinches the bridge of his nose. “It’s fine, Stiles,” he says. “She can take Rose with her.”

“Are you sure?” Stiles asks, and Derek’s heart seizes at the question. His wolf growls contently, and he thinks, protecting the cub. He shakes that thought away.

“Does Rose seem glad to see her?”

Stiles pauses, then says, “Yes. She’s introducing her to all her friends.”

“Then yes. Let Jennifer take her.”

“Okay.”

“Hey, Stiles?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks.”

“I’m just doing my job.” The line goes dead, and Derek feels like someone kicked him in the chest.

He shoves his phone back into his pocket and focuses on practice.

*

Rose runs straight into Derek’s legs and bounces off when Jennifer brings her home. Derek reaches out to grab her should so she doesn’t fall. She squeezes him around the legs tightly.

“Did you have a nice afternoon with Mom?” he asks.

“We went to the park!” Rose tells him.

“Sounds like a lot of fun.” Derek points towards the bathroom. “Go wash up. Dinner’s soon.”

When Rose is down the hall, Derek turns to Jennifer. She’s standing her with her arms crossed over her chest, a sour look on her face. Before Derek can even say anything, she asks, “Who’s Stiles?”

“What?” Derek asks, confused.

“Who is this Stiles person?” Jennifer asks. “Why does Rose spend so much time with him? She talked about him all afternoon.” Derek stifles a laugh, and Jennifer narrows her eyes. “So, you think it’s funny? I should have his fucking job. She is my daughter, Derek Hale, and if I want to – “

“Stop right there,” Derek interrupts, holding up his hand. “First, Stiles was just doing his job. Second, I’m not trying to keep you from Rose, and you know I’d never do that to you. You haven’t seen Rose since she started this daycare.”

“I saw the entire Pack,” she spats out the word like it’s poison, “is on there.”

“Because they pick Rose up for me sometimes,” Derek explains patiently. He’s trying not to rise to Jennifer’s bait; he knows exactly what she’s doing. She’s pissed because she had to go through Derek to pick up Rose, and now she’s taking it out on him. This feels all too familiar to Derek, and he remembers with startling clarity why they got divorced in the first place.

“I don’t like that Stiles person,” Jennifer says. “I don’t want Rose in his class anymore.”

“That’s not your decision,” Derek points out.

Jennifer’s nostrils flare, and he can feel her fury like a wall of heat. “Excuse me?”

“You heard me,” Derek says, glancing back towards the hall. He hears Rose in the bathroom, playing in the sink water with her dolls. He frowns; he doesn’t want her to witness this. “We can discuss this later.”

“We’re discussing it now!” Jennifer exclaims. “I don’t trust him. He’s…creepy.”

“Stiles is not creepy,” Derek says, and he’s starting to lose his temper. This is ridiculous. “You’re just mad because he followed protocol. Be pissed at me, not him.”

She studies him for a short moment, and then her mouth lifts into a smirk. “You want to fuck him.”

“Jennifer,” Derek says, voice low and full of warning.

“Rose talked about him for an hour straight. She said some pretty interesting things,” Jennifer laughs, cruel and mirthless. “Like how she stayed with Uncle Danny and Uncle Isaac because Stiles said you needed alone time. How Stiles gave you video games for Valentine’s Day. How Stiles doesn’t know she’s a wolf but pretends with her anyway. She talked about how much her daddy really likes Stiles.” She’s smiling now, and Derek hates her. He flexes his hands, and her eyes flick down, not missing a thing. She gives him a patronizing smile. “Aww, Derek, really? The daycare teacher? How cliché. Does he know you can’t help yourself when it comes to me? Or that you are a hopeless mess who’s only good for one thing and one thing only?”

“Get out of my house,” Derek grits out.

“Daddy?” Rose asks, and Derek turns his head towards her. Her eyes are glowing blue, and she’s looking between them. “You’re mad.”

Derek closes his eyes and breathes in and out. He is not this person. He is better than this. He is not this person. “Mommy? Are you mad at Daddy?”

“We’re fine,” Derek says. “We’re just having a discussion.” Rose frowns as she looks between them, and Derek can sense her confusion and worry on top of Jennifer’s fury. He feels emotionally exhausted, stripped and pulled apart. He squares his shoulders, and tells Rose sternly yet gently, “Why don’t you go watch TV in my bedroom? We’ve got a few adult things we need to finish discussing.”

Rose doesn’t move, still looking between them. “Are you sure you’re okay, Daddy?”

Derek smiles and nods. “I’m fine.” Rose turns and runs down the hall. Derek listens as she closes the door, and he doesn’t turn back to Jennifer until he hears the television turn on.

Jennifer’s face is more livid than before. “You’re ridiculous,” Jennifer says. “I will not have my daughter in substandard care.”

“Are you still on this?” Derek asks, tiredly.

“Or used as some ploy for you to hook up.”

“How dare you?” Derek snaps. “I would never – “

Jennifer snorts. “What you do or don’t do with your cock doesn’t concern me anymore. What does concern me is Rose. Maybe I should take her back to Florida with me.”

Derek’s fangs and claws sprout and his eyes burn bright blue on instinct. She flinches, but then grins. Dammit, he thinks. His reaction showed his weakness, and showed her that she has him right where she wants him.

Jennifer strides across the room, closing the space between them. Derek tries to will himself to shift back, but he can’t, not right now. “Never forget, Derek, that I can take her back whenever I want,” she states. “And you would never see her again.”

“Good night, Jennifer,” Derek says, his words slurred through his fangs. She looks at him in revulsion before she walks to the door.

“I’m picking Rose up tomorrow afternoon and taking her to my parents for the night,” she says.

“I haven’t forgotten.”

Out on the porch, Jennifer turns back to Derek and says quietly, “Watch yourself, Derek. Don’t ever forget that she’s my daughter, and I can snatch everything away from you in an instant. I will destroy you if I have to.”

Derek stands on the porch until Jennifer drives down the driveway and out of sight. Then, he sinks to the top step and buries clawed hands in his hair. He’s trembling all over, and his eyes are wet. He doesn’t even know what to do. Jennifer’s threats may be hollow – he knows she doesn’t want custody of Rose – but they still ring true and harsh in his ears. He doesn’t doubt that she would use Rose to hurt him, just out of spite. She has done it before, and he knows she hasn’t changed. If anything, she hates him more now than when they were divorcing.

“She’s safe,” Derek repeats to himself. “She’s not going anywhere. No one is taking her from you.” A deep part of him says she’d be better off with Jennifer instead of you. He’s just made a mess of everything and can never get anything right.

But he wipes a hand across his face and pulls it together. He doesn’t get to give into self-doubt or self-pity. He’s got a five year old inside, probably confused and scared. Despite his loathing for Jennifer, that’s Rose’s mother, and he has to make sure Rose knows everything is okay. She doesn’t deserve to get caught in the crossfire.

He pushes himself off the step and sets his own issues aside. Being a dad always comes first. He knows it always will.

Derek finds Rose rolled up in a blanket burrito in the center of his bed. She’s watching something on Nick, Jr., and she doesn’t look at him when he enters the room. He toes off his shoes and crawls onto the bed, dropping onto his stomach so they’re at eyelevel.

“Did I make Mommy mad?” Rose asks.

“Oh, ladybug,” Derek says, and he feels his eyes start to dampen again. He takes a breath and leans forward to drag his nose along her cheek. “No. Nothing that happens between me and your mom is because of you.” He places his hand on top of the blankets where her arm is, and she looks at him. Her eyes are large and sad, and he wants to protect from everything and feels so weak that he can’t. “We’ve talked about this before, Rose. Your mom and I don’t always get along. That happens with people sometimes. It’s why we don’t live together anymore. But it has nothing to do with you. We both love you very much, and you make us very happy.”

Rose gives him a small smile. “She doesn’t like Stiles,” she says. “She got mad at him. I tried to tell her why Stiles is the best, but she still doesn’t like him.”

“She was upset because Stiles was doing his job,” Derek explains. “It’s his job to take care of you when you’re with him.”

“Because you trust him.”

Derek nods. “Yes, I do. He had to check with me to make sure it was okay for her to pick you up, because he had never met her before.”

“I told Stiles it was Mommy,” Rose says. “Did he not believe me?”

“Of course he believed you. But Stiles has to make sure it’s okay with me. It helps keep you safe.” Derek taps her on the nose and she giggles. “Because keeping you safe is the most important thing in this whole world.”

“You always keep me safe,” Rose states. “You’re the best daddy.”

Derek tears up again, and Rose sniffs the air. Her eyebrows furrow in concern, and she shimmies out of her blanket burrito to curl up against Derek. “Don’t be sad, Daddy. I love you.”

Derek wraps his arms around Rose and inhales her scent, anchoring and calming himself. Just the mention of anyone taking her away from him…he can’t even entertain the thought. He’d die without Rose.

“How about we do something fun tonight?” Derek asks. She nods her head excitedly. “I’ll make grilled cheese and soup, and we’ll get in our pjs and curl in bed and watch a movie. How does that sound?”

“That sounds like the best!”

Rose helps Derek gather the ingredients, and then helps him around the kitchen as he makes their quick dinner. He balances the soup bowls on the plates as he carries them to his bedroom. He changes into his pajamas as Rose changes in her bedroom, and she returns carrying her stuffed horse while Derek puts the DVD into the player.

“What are we gonna watch?” Rose asks as she climbs onto the bed.

“My favorite Disney movie when I was a kid,” Derek says. “The main character is a fox!”

Her eyes go wide, and Derek tries to get her to settle down so he can give her the plate. “Is there a princess?”

“Well, there’s a beautiful fox lady who falls in love with the main character,” Derek tells Rose, “and the main character, Robin Hood, is quite cute.”

Rose laughs. “He’s a fox.”

Derek pokes her playfully. “And you’re a wolf.”

“Can I marry a fox, Daddy?”

“You can marry whoever you want,” Derek says, dropping a kiss on the top of her head.

*

The best thing about Jennifer picking Rose up the next afternoon is that she doesn’t speak to Derek. Derek nods to her, and she gives him a tight smile. Derek double checks Rose’s suitcase to make sure it has everything she needs in it before handing it over to Jennifer.

He pulls Rose into a hug, covering her in his scent. He hears Jennifer mutter, “We’re just going across town, for fuck’s sake, control yourself.” Derek ignores her, and kisses Rose on the cheek.

“If you need anything,” Derek says, “anything at all, call me, okay?”

“Okay, Daddy.”

Derek reaches into his pocket and pulls something from it. “I have something for you,” he says, and places a round medallion into her hand.

“The wolfie disk!” Rose exclaims, and Jennifer huffs behind him.

“If you need it, you have it,” Derek says. She kisses his cheek and then takes Jennifer’s hand. Derek waves from the porch as Jennifer drives away.

Derek tries to get caught up on work, tries to read a book, even tries to jerk off. Nothing makes him feel better. There’s a restless energy beneath his skin, and he feels it pushing and stretching against his nerves. So, he changes into his sweats and running shoes and takes off into the woods.

He runs. He runs until he can’t think, pushing his limits to clear out any thoughts. He knows Rose is just in the southern part of the county, with Jennifer’s parents, and that she’s safe there. But Rose isn’t with her Pack, or somewhere they can get to her within moments. And yesterday’s confrontation with Jennifer still has him on edge.

He runs through the woods until he breaks the trees on the edge of town. Then he starts running along the sidewalks, letting his feet take him wherever. The sun has started going down, casting deep golden shadows across the roads, and the night is turning cold. But he likes the sting, tries to focus on the pain instead of the gaping hole in his heart.

The sky is inky darkness when he hears a car horn behind him. He ignores it and keeps running. “Hey,” a voice calls out a few moments later, and Derek glances over. Stiles is driving alongside him in an ancient blue Jeep. He’s rolled down the passenger side window and is watching Derek in amusement. “Want a ride back to your car? It’s below freezing out there.”

“I’m fine,” Derek says, his breath making small puffs of air in front of his face.

“Come on. I know Rose is with her mom tonight. I’ll buy you a beer and help distract you for a little while.”

“No, thanks.”

“Derek,” Stiles says. “Get in the car.”

Derek slows down and grunts in annoyance, but obeys. He opens the door and climbs into the Jeep. Inside, he rubs his hands together and holds them in front of the vents. Stiles reaches over and touches Derek’s cheek. “You’re half frozen. How long have you been out there?”

Derek shrugs. “Since before the sun went down. I don’t know. I just left the house and started running.”

“You ran all the way from your house?” Stiles exclaims. “I can barely make it down the street.” Derek chuckles lightly.

Stiles drives them to a small Mexican restaurant in Beacon City. The car ride is pleasant, despite the slightly awkward air at first. But Stiles is great at talking through any awkwardness, so soon they are discussing their weeks. Derek notices that Stiles doesn’t bring up Jennifer, and Derek is okay with that. He talks about some of Rose’s adventures at daycare, and Derek appreciates the tidbits he provides.

They sit in a booth, and Stiles orders them beer, a plate of loaded nachos, and steak fajitas to share. “Trust me, dude,” he tells Derek when he raises an eyebrow.

“So,” Stiles says after he’s popped a huge nacho piled with toppings into his mouth and swallowed. “Any particular reason you are training for a marathon in freezing cold weather?” Derek glares at the nachos. “I’ve got a pretty good guess. I only saw a glimpse of your ex, and that was enough to make me want to leave town.”

“She hates you,” Derek laughs bitterly. “Wanted to remove Rose from your class.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Stiles responds with a smile. “She’s…interesting.”

Derek grabs a nacho and doesn’t say anything.

“I can see why you had sex with her,” Stiles says. Derek looks at him, cringing slightly. “She’s smoking hot.”

“It’s complicated,” Derek states. He loads another nacho and adds, “Actually, no, it’s not. I’m stupid, and my dick is stupid.” Stiles bursts out laughing. Derek looks at him, smiling despite himself, as Stiles laughs so hard there are tears in the corners of his eyes.

“I’m sorry,” Stiles says, wiping his eyes. “I just…hearing you say that was the funniest thing I’ve heard in awhile.”

Derek smiles ruefully. “I always forget how horrible she is. But she’s Rose’s mom, so…” He sighs. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Of course,” Stiles says. “First, we can discuss the awesomeness that is Mexican food, and then I’ll tell you about the book I’m reading, and you can tell me about whatever show you’re currently watching.”

“Sounds good.”

Being with Stiles lightens everything in Derek’s chest. The anxiety and emptiness he feels by not having Rose here lessens, and he finds himself laughing and enjoying himself. He tries not to feel guilty, and instead lets himself have this. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy dinner with an attractive man.

Because Stiles is attractive. Ridiculously attractive. Derek noticed it the first time they met, but tonight, it’s like Stiles has been hit with the hot stick. Derek stares at way the shirt pulls across his broad shoulders, can’t help but be mesmerized by the way Stiles is constantly moving his long, delicate fingers. Derek watches Stiles’ lips, the soft curve of them as he talks, and his eyes trace the moles dotting his skin. Derek thinks he could drown in Stiles’ eyes, can barely look into them without feeling flush and his heart racing.

He can smell Stiles’ interest and the low level of arousal wafting from him. It’s not like Derek hadn’t sensed that Stiles was interested before, but it’s more focused tonight – or maybe Derek is more focused on Stiles. As they talk, and the longer Derek stares at him, a flush starts to creep up Stiles’ cheeks. Derek wants to kiss his skin and chase that blush with his tongue.

“Why don’t you ever date?” Stiles asks. He watches Derek as he lifts the beer bottle to take a sip, and Derek can only stare at his mouth.

“Why do you think?” Derek asks. “Don’t have time.”

“Rose seems to love your family and friends enough to stay with them every once and awhile so you can date.”

“It’s not just that,” Derek elaborates. “I have to put Rose first, always. She’s everything, and I’m all she has. Jennifer threatens to take her away from me, she threatened to take her back to Florida last night – “

“Oh, Derek,” Stiles says, “She is a piece of work. That’s not cool at all.”

Derek waves his hand dismissively. “I think Jennifer needs to feel like she has that power. She doesn’t want Rose – she’s too selfish to give up her life. But I have to think about that, and make sure I don’t do anything that would give her leverage. I already fuck up enough.”

“I hardly think dating is a cause to take away someone’s daughter,” Stiles points out.

“It’s not just that. Whoever I get involved with, Rose gets involved with. It’s not just my life anymore, or my heart, it’s hers,” Derek says. He scratches his nail across the marred wood. “I don’t want her getting attached to someone only to have them leave again. She’s got enough issues with that as it is.”

“Makes sense,” Stiles says, nodding.

Derek looks up and asks, “What about you? You’re attractive, no kids.”

Stiles flushes. “Haven’t really met anyone,” he says. “I’m not good at the whole dating thing. The way I am, with the rambling and the weirdness and the,” he pauses and waves his hands around wildly, “it turns a lot of people off.”

“Doesn’t turn me off,” Derek says, voice low and flirty. He kinda wants to kick himself, but the flare of desire that broadcasts from Stiles makes Derek think he doesn’t mind too much.

“I’ve noticed,” Stiles says, laughing awkwardly. “Still trying to figure out what’s up with that.”

“Maybe I like spastic weird rambling.” Derek smiles, and Stiles looks down, flushing.

They’re waiting on the fajitas when Stiles gets out of the booth. “Come with me,” he says, and Derek follows, amused. Stiles leads them over to a jukebox in the back of the restaurant. “This is the best thing about this place, aside from the nachos,” Stiles says. “I mean, who has jukeboxes anymore?”

“I haven’t seen one of these in ages,” Derek says as Stiles flips through the song selection. He’s crowding into Stiles’ space, and he can’t take his eyes off Stiles’ profile. This close, Stiles’ scent is intoxicating, and Derek has to physically stop himself from pressing his face against Stiles’ neck.

“You get one song, and I get one song,” Stiles says. “No more, no less.” Stiles chooses some 80s pop song, since the music hasn’t been updated since the early 2000s. Derek goes with a classic rock tune, and Stiles shakes his head and says, “Of course.”

Stiles turns to grin at Derek, and Derek leans forward and kisses him. It’s a soft press of lips, hesitant and chaste. Stiles’ mouth is sweet beneath his own, and Derek presses closer, trying to deepen the kiss. His scent surrounds Derek, like arousal and something deep like musk, but sweet, like apples. Derek wants to lick into Stiles’ mouth, taste him on his tongue, but a hand pushes against his chest and Stiles pulls away.

Stiles’ face is so close, the lights from overhead shining in his irises, his dark eyelashes fan around his wide, confused eyes. Derek feels the bitter sting of rejection, and he feels crushed. Crushed and oh so stupid.

“I’m sorry,” Derek stammers, “I thought you wanted – “

“I do,” Stiles interrupts him. He places his palm against Derek’s skin and cups his cheek. “But if this ever develops into anything, I want you to kiss me because you want to, not because you feel sad your daughter isn’t here, you’re mad at your ex-wife, and you’re confused because you just slept with her.”

“I’m sorry,” Derek says again. “I didn’t mean – “

“I know, Derek,” Stiles says, and he smiles, a sad yet understanding smile. “Figure things out. I’ll be here when you do,” he says. “I’m not going anywhere.” He leans forward and brushes his lips lightly against Derek’s, and Derek sucks in a breath. The kiss was barely a kiss, but it leaves his lips tingling, and him yearning for more. “A promise, for later.”

With that, Stiles turns to walk back to the table. Derek can breathe again when he’s not sharing the same space, and he tries to get a handle on himself. He feels stupid, but there’s hope there. Stiles wants him - Stiles wants him. But he’s right, Derek’s fucked up in the head right now, and he’s got to get it together. He owes it to both of them.

He runs a hand through his hair and follows Stiles back to the table.

*

They’re sharing a huge brownie covered in mounds of ice cream (“This is more calories than I consume in a week.” “Shut up, Derek, and enjoy it.”), leaning towards the middle of the table, talking and smiling at each other. Apparently, just because Stiles wants to wait doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to flirt, because since they sat down after the jukebox incident, he’s been flirting non-stop. Not that Derek minds. He just didn’t know fajitas could be used to flirt, but somehow, Stiles managed it.

Stiles has his feet pressed against Derek’s, nudging them lightly and sliding the toe of his shoe up along Derek’s calf. They’re playing footsie.

Footsie.

Derek feels giddy like a teenager as he watches Stiles eat ice cream. The way he eats is obscene. Some of the ice cream drips down his chin, and Derek reaches across the space and wipes it off with his thumb.

Derek doesn’t remember the last time he did this. Certainly not since the divorce, and he’s pretty sure he and Jennifer never just flirted. They met at school; she was studying to be an English teacher and he was majoring in medieval history, and after a few awkward conversations, they went on a date and ended up in bed before it was over. With Kate, it was all about sex, and before her there had only been adolescent crushes and school-only girlfriends. He doesn’t have a lot of experience with this kind of thing, and this feels like a fresh start.

They’re locked in an intense staring contest when Derek’s phone rings. Derek reluctantly breaks eye contact, and it’s the last thing he wants to do. But it may be about Rose or the Pack, so he can’t ignore it.

His heart nearly stops in his chest when he sees Jennifer’s name. There’s only one reason she’d call him. “What’s wrong?” he barks into the phone. Stiles’ face twists in concern, and he’s signaling the waiter as Derek stands up from the booth.

“She won’t stop crying,” Jennifer says. She sounds worried but frustrated, and now that Derek knows what to listen for, he can hear Rose’s sobbing in the background. “She’s wolfed out and won’t change back. She’s with my mom, and that’s helped some, but I don’t know what to do, Derek. She just keeps asking for you.” His fangs drop and claws sprout as he exits the restaurant, and he starts repeating Alpha, Beta, Omega over and over.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” Derek says. “Call me if something changes.”

He cracks the screen on his phone when he ends the call because he punches it so hard. The door opens a moment later, and Stiles jogs up to him. “What’s wrong with Rose?”

“I have to go pick her up from her grandparents’,” Derek says. “Shit. I don’t even have my fucking car here!”

“Hey,” Stiles curls his fingers around Derek’s bicep, and Derek realizes that he’s trembling. He tries to calm himself, but his baby. “I’ll drive you. I don’t think you need to be behind the wheel of a car right now anyway. Come on.”

“Stiles, I can’t – “

“Derek, we’re wasting time.” Stiles gives him a pointed look, and his expression is hard, impassable. Derek nods and follows Stiles to his Jeep.

They don’t speak on the way to Jennifer’s parents, except for Derek giving Stiles directions. Derek stares out the window and repeats the mantra to himself, because he knows he’s on the verge of wolfing out at any moment. He reminds himself that Rose isn’t hurt, that she’s only a few miles away and with family. She’s just upset, and that is nothing to freak out about.

Derek jumps out of the Jeep before Stiles puts it in park, and Stiles remains in the car as Derek sprints across the yard. Jennifer opens the door after Derek knocks, and Derek can hear Rose’s crying and smell her distress. He doesn’t say anything, just steps past Jennifer and towards his daughter.

“Rose,” Derek says, dropping onto the couch beside Jennifer’s mother. He places his hand on Rose’s back.

She lifts her face, and when she lays eyes on him, she bursts into fresh tears. “Daddy!” she wails and crawls over to him. She’s still wolfed out, and Derek shifts so he can try and soothe her. He scents her, rubs his hands over her back, arms, and legs, and murmurs softly to her.

It takes a few minutes, but Rose finally calms down until she’s hiccupping and snuffling against Derek’s neck. There are tears and snot and drool on his skin and shirt, but he barely notices it. He shifts back to human and glances at Jennifer’s mother. “Thanks,” he says.

“Poor little thing,” she says, shaking her head. “We were having such a nice time, too. I don’t know what happened.”

“And this thing did nothing,” Jennifer says, shoving the Triskelion at Derek.

“I’m sorry about this,” Derek says. He looks over at Jennifer and her father. “Do you mind if I take her home?”

Jennifer shakes her head. “I’ll come see her tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

Derek nods. “I think she’d probably like that.” He bends down and asks, “Hey, Rose? Would you like Mommy to come by tomorrow?”

Rose nods. “She said we could bake cookies.”

“Yes, baby, we can bake cookies tomorrow,” Jennifer says. “We’ll do whatever you want.”

“Do you want to say goodnight to Mommy?” Derek asks her. Rose sits up, wiping her eyes. She’s finally morphed back to human, and she nods. Derek loosens his grip so she can go to Jennifer.

Jennifer’s sitting in the recliner, and she opens her arms as Rose goes to her. Rose curls against her mom and starts rubbing her face against the front of her shirt. “Sorry, Mommy.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jennifer says. “Here, look at me.” Rose lifts her head, and Jennifer takes a tissue from the box on the end table and gently wipes Rose’s nose and face. “That’s better.” She kisses Rose, and Rose returns to Derek. He picks her up, and she wraps her arms around his neck and hides her face against his chest.

Jennifer walks him to the door, and when she looks into the driveway, she asks, “Who drove?”

“Stiles,” Derek answers stiffly.

“Of course he did.”

“Not a word, Jennifer,” Derek growls, flashing his eyes at her. He’s had all he can take tonight, and the last thing they need to do is argue with Rose right here. Jennifer rolls her eyes before stepping into the house and shutting the door.

“Stiles is here?” Rose asks, lifting her head and twisting around to look as they approach the Jeep.

“He is,” Derek says. He opens the back door of the Jeep and crawls inside.

“Hey, Rose,” Stiles greets. He’s turned so he’s looking in the backseat, flashing Rose a huge smile.

“Hey, Stiles.” Rose sounds pitiful, her voice wavering, but she gives him a tiny smile. “Why are you with Daddy?”

“We had dinner together, and I drove him here.”

“Oh.” Derek doesn’t have Rose’s car seat, so she lets him maneuver her onto the seat beside him. “I’m glad you’re here, Stiles.”

“Me too, Rose.” Stiles reaches into the backseat and squeezes her leg.

Rose curls against Derek’s side on the ride home. No one talks, and Rose just keeps her face hidden against Derek’s chest, sobbing quietly from time to time. Derek lets his hands turn to claws and runs his fingers along her back comfortingly.

When they get to Derek’s house, Stiles turns off the Jeep but doesn’t get out. Derek gathers Rose in his arms, and she’s mostly asleep with her head on his shoulder. When he’s out of the Jeep, he turns and looks at Stiles through the back door. “I can’t thank you enough.”

“Not a problem,” he says. “Let me know how she is, okay?”

Derek nods and goes to close the door, but Rose lifts her head and whispers, “I want Stiles to help tuck me in.”

“Rose, I think he needs to go home.”

“Please, Daddy?” she pleads, her eyes filling with tears. Derek sighs, unable to resist.

He opens the door all the way again and says, “Um, I hate to ask, but Rose wants you to help tuck her in.” Stiles glances at Rose thoughtfully as he nods and unbuckles his seatbelt.

Stiles follows Derek inside the house and down the hall to Rose’s bedroom. But when Derek tries to lay her down on her bed, she refuses to let go. “Rose, ladybug, you have to let go.”

“No,” she says stubbornly.

“Rose,” Derek says.

“I don’t want to sleep by myself.” She clings on to his neck more tightly. Derek sighs again and straightens back up. He leaves her room and walks down the hall to his room instead.

This time, when Derek tries to put Rose down, she loosens her arms from around him and sinks to the bed. Derek inhales a relieved breath. Stiles hovers by the door, fidgeting nervously, as Derek removes Rose’s shoes and her jacket. He helps her under the covers, and sits on the edge of the bed.

He glances at Stiles. “Can you go make Rose a glass of water?” Stiles nods and leaves them alone. Derek turns to Rose and asks, “What’s wrong, Rose?” He brushes her hair out of her face and studies her closely.

“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Rose says, her eyes filling with tears. “Like when Mommy goes back to the beach.”

“Rose,” Derek says sadly, “I will never leave you. Why would you even think a thing like that?”

She toys with the edge of the blanket. “Mommy left, and you’ve been gone a lot and I’ve been going to Uncle Isaac and Uncle Boyd’s houses lots. I thought you were leaving, too.” Derek senses Stiles right outside the door, and he knows he’s listening in. Derek tries to keep it together.

“Look at me,” he tells Rose. He grabs her hand and puts it on his heart. “I want you to listen to me very closely, okay? I am not going to leave you. Do you understand? Even when I work a lot, or you go stay over with the family, I am always going to be here for you.” His eyes flash blue, and she nods.

“I’m sorry,” Rose says. “Is Mommy mad?”

“Your mom is worried sick,” Derek tells her. “She loves you very much.”

“Here’s your water, Rose,” Stiles says when he comes inside the room. Derek helps her sit up as she takes a few small sips. Then, he places it on the nightstand.

“Are you being visited by the sandman?” Derek asks. “I think I see some sleepy dust.”

“Will you sleep with me, Daddy?” Rose asks, yawning. “And can Stiles sleep with me, too?”

Derek freezes, and he smells a burst of emotion from Stiles. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Rose.”

“But, I don’t want Stiles to leave either,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I love Stiles, and I don’t want him to go.”

“I don’t mind, Derek,” Stiles says quietly behind him. “Until she’s asleep.”

Damn him, Derek thinks. Why does he always have to be so…Stiles?

“Okay, Rose,” Derek says, and she gives him a sleepy smile.

She looks over at Stiles and pats the bed beside her. “You can sleep beside me, Stiles.”

“Just don’t be mad if I kick you in my sleep,” Stiles teases her. He toes off his shoes before he stretches out on the bed alongside Rose. Derek tries to ignore the scent of Stiles in his space, in his bed, mixed with his own scent. It’s enough to make his mouth water because it smells so right.

Derek unlaces his boots and sets them aside before laying back and turning to face Rose. Unfortunately, that means also facing Stiles. He avoids looking at Stiles’ face by looking at Rose. “Go to sleep, ladybug. I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Good night, Daddy,” she says. She turns to Stiles. “Good night, Stiles.” She leans closer to Stiles and pecks him on the check. She situates herself, which means she ends up curled against Derek’s side with her feet pressed against Stiles.

It takes her longer to fall asleep than Derek expects. He can’t help but focus on Stiles’ breathing, on his heartbeat. He’s lying a few feet away from Derek, so close he can feel the heat from his body. Derek can’t help himself anymore; he lifts his eyes. He’s met by Stiles’ gaze, thoughtfully looking at him.

Neither one of them say anything or move. They just look at each other. Derek can’t quite figure out the expression on Stiles’ face, and his scent is mixed and clouded. But Derek can’t turn away; he just stares into Stiles’ eyes as he stares right back into Derek’s.

Tonight has made one thing clear: Rose is way too attached to Stiles. If something doesn’t happen between them, or something happens between them and it ends badly, he’s not sure what she’ll do. This is what he wanted to avoid, Rose forming a bond with someone who could break her heart. He just wants to protect her from getting hurt, and as evidenced by tonight, she still has plenty of abandonment issues.

Derek’s head is pounding. And a deep yearning has settled into his bones, to the point where he wants to reach out and touch Stiles so bad it hurts. So, he closes his eyes and tries to block it all out.

*

Derek wakes with a start. He hears an engine outside, and he looks across the bed to find it empty. Rose is sleeping soundly beside him. He listens as the Jeep’s motor whines, the parts creaking as Stiles drives down the driveway. He rolls onto his back and glances at the clock. He sees that it’s after midnight. That means Stiles must have fallen asleep, too.

Derek feels warm all over, his chest expanding as he holds on to the feeling of Stiles being there with him, helping him, supporting him during this episode with Rose. But there’s also a cold dread settling over that, the terror of growing close to someone, Rose growing close to someone new. He’d be lying if he thought he was only worried about Rose getting hurt. He’s terrified of putting his heart out there again, of his heart getting broken. The damage Jennifer left behind has barely healed; he’s not sure he could handle it if he fell in love again just to have it fall apart.

He tries to fall asleep, but he lies there for almost an hour, his mind spinning. He finally turns on the television and watches syndicated sitcoms until he falls into a fitful sleep.

*

Jennifer picks Rose up the next day so they can bake cookies at her parents’ house. Derek tries not to be apprehensive as he watches Rose get into the car with her. She seemed okay all morning, so he hopes that this will be a good day for her. He knows how much she loves baking cookies with her mom.

He takes a shower as soon as he’s back inside. He lets the hot water pound on his neck and shoulders in an attempt to lessen the tension. He stands under the spray for a long time, until his body feels warm and loose.

Though he knows he probably shouldn’t, he reaches between his legs and grabs his cock. Despite what happened with Rose, his body is still buzzing from his dinner with Stiles, the feel of his lips, the smell he left behind in Derek’s bed.

He gives his cock a few tugs, moaning quietly at the feeling. He starts off slowly, just letting his fist slide lazily along his shaft. His cock starts to harden, and he concentrates on the feeling. He rarely gets the opportunity to enjoy jerking off, is either too tired or has to find time to jerk off quickly in the morning before he wakes Rose up for school or pull one off in the shower. But he’s alone now, and he can take his time. He leans his arm against the shower wall, rests his forehead against it, and closes his eyes.

Derek thinks of Stiles. He thinks of the feeling of his lips, the way they tasted, the way they might feel if he could really kiss him, open-mouthed and dirty. Derek remembers the way Stiles’ arousal and attraction smelled, the way his own body responded to the mix of sweetness and musk, and the way Stiles’ scent smelled as it permeated his space. The thought of that scent has Derek moaning aloud and squeezing his cock tighter.

He wants to push Stiles against a surface – a wall, a bed, the floor, he’s not picky – and cover him completely. He wants to wrap his arms around Stiles until he’s completely surrounded by his scent and his warmth, wants to press their bodies so close until it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins.

It’s been a long time since Derek has felt this way about a man – well, really about anyone else. He was with Jennifer for eight years, and Stiles is the first person since her that he’s felt this way about. Ten years. It’s been ten years since Derek felt this way about anyone other than her.

Something about that realization sends a surge of emotion through Derek, which settles directly to his cock. ”Stiles,” Derek moans aloud when the need to touch him, feel him, be inside him gets too much to bear. What is it about this guy that has caught Derek so fully? Derek doesn’t know, but he wants to spend a very long time discovering every line and hidden space of Stiles.

Derek’s brain shifts his fantasy, and Derek’s eyes flash open and he chokes off a whine. His fangs are a painful pressure against his gums and he knows his eyes are bright blue as he pictures it. Derek bent over his bed, Stiles pressed behind him, fucking him fast and hard. Derek has never let anyone fuck him, though he’s fucked multiple guys. Even his college boyfriend never did that to him, but now…his wolf wants to roll over and submit to Stiles. Derek is one part scared and a thousand parts turned on.

He reaches behind himself with his free hand and slips his finger between his cheeks. Tentatively, he rubs his finger over his hole, and his hips thrust forward, his cock jerking in his hand. He slowly circles the ring of muscle, getting used to the feeling. He can’t remember the last time he’d fingered himself. He experimentally tries to breach the opening, but his finger isn’t slick enough. His brain is zeroed in on this idea, his cock throbbing and a need to be filled coursing through him, so he gets out of the shower, hurries down the hall, and finds the bottle of lube he keeps in his underwear drawer.

Back in the shower, he pours a generous amount on his finger and spreads it over his hole. His cock hangs heavy and thick between his legs, but he ignores it for now. Instead, he carefully pushes his finger inside. The stretch burns, but it’s not too bad. He slowly slides it in and out a few times, and his cock softens a little as he gets used to the sensation again. Oh, how he’d forgotten how much he loved this feeling. He doesn’t know why he’s never let any of his partners do this to him – but all that is moot now. He shoves all thought out of his head and focuses on the glide of his finger in and out of his ass and thinks about Stiles doing this to him.

When it starts to feel really good, Derek grabs his cock again. His forehead is pressed against the tile, his mouth hanging open as he breathes heavily. He forgot what it felt like to jerk off while being filled, and it’s not long before he finds his prostate and starts moaning. He holds his hand still, pressing against that spot, as he slides his hand faster along his shaft. His orgasm builds slowly, but then hits him suddenly, and his whole body goes rigid as he shoots come onto the shower wall.

He sags against the shower wall when he’s finished, panting and heart pounding in his ears. He thinks of Stiles, of curling up with him and lazy kisses, of falling asleep with Stiles’ hands in Derek’s hair, of feeling safe and loved.

*

After his shower, Derek puts on comfortable sweats and stretches out on the couch to call Laura. He just needs to talk to someone because his head feels like a confused mess.

“Hello Derek,” Laura greets brightly. “How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Derek says, smiling at the sound of her voice. “Rose is with Jennifer today.”

“And you decided to call me with your me time? I feel special.”

Derek rubs a hand across his face. “Rose had an episode last night,” he states, and proceeds to explain what happened. He tells her everything, including the part where Stiles fell asleep with them. After he finishes, Laura tells him to hold on, then the line goes silent. He waits, confused, until Laura returns.

“Hey Laura,” Cora’s voice comes across the line.

“Cora?” Derek asks.

“Derek?”

“Laura!” Laura exclaims. “Now everyone knows everyone’s name.”

“I don’t understand,” Cora says.

“Derek needs us,” Laura says. “Both of us.”

“What’s wrong? Is Rose okay?”

“She’s fine,” Derek says, then repeats the story for Cora.

“Told you you were into Stiles,” Cora says, a smile in her voice.

“Not the point,” Derek sighs.

“I think it is,” Cora argues. “Yes, Rose freaked out, but the kid is going through a lot.”

“Which is not your fault,” Laura adds.

“She’s a werecub. The Jennifer stuff confuses her not just on an emotional level, but an instinctual level,” Cora says. “But Derek, this is huge! Stiles! And you!”

“We’re not together yet,” Derek says, and he reluctantly tells his sisters about the dinner and the kiss.

“Derek, you are so precious,” Cora says.

“Fuck off.”

“I’m being serious!”

“I think what Stiles did was a very smart thing,” Laura says. “He’s right. This isn’t the time or the situation. But I think it’s clear he cares about you very much.”

“Rose is already attached,” Derek says. He throws an arm over his face. “He shouldn’t have stayed last night. If this doesn’t work out, she’ll be crushed.”

“I don’t think it’s Rose you’re worried about,” Laura says gently.

“Not everyone is Jennifer,” Cora says. “And not everyone will hurt you like she did.”

“I don’t want to go through that again,” Derek says. “He doesn’t even know about werewolves.”

“When the time is right, you’ll tell him,” Laura says. “And he seems to be the type that will be accepting.”

“And if he isn’t,” Cora says, “I’ll rip off his face.”

“Cora,” Laura warns.

“You can’t say anything about my threats. I seem to recall Derek breaking the arm of one of my boyfriends and you fighting a girl and kicking her out of the territory because of how she treated me.”

“I’d do it again,” Derek says. “I should have broken all his bones. I hated that guy.”

“No one messes with our baby sister,” Laura states.

“And I feel the same way about our brother,” Cora says.

“Can we not threaten Stiles with bodily harm yet? Please?” Derek asks.

“Derek,” Cora starts more seriously. “It’s okay to let yourself fall for someone again. You deserve to find someone who is amazing to share their life with you, support you, be there for you. You don’t have to be alone. You deserve to be happy.”

Derek smiles. Maybe they’re right. Maybe Stiles will be different.

*

The rest of Jennifer’s visit is rather uneventful. She doesn’t say much to Derek, and he doesn’t say much to her. She looks nervous each time she takes Rose, but Rose doesn’t have another freak out. She seems content and acts like nothing happened.

Jennifer takes Rose to the zoo, to the park, and ice skating. Rose visits her grandparents a few more times, and she seems happy and excited to be with her mom.

Derek doesn’t talk to Stiles. He’s taking Stiles’ advice and trying to get his head together, and as long as Jennifer is here, he knows he’s more emotionally strung out than usual. He waves to Stiles at daycare when he picks up Rose, and he texts Stiles once. He wants him to know he hasn’t gone anywhere. He keeps thinking about that kiss. A promise for later. He’s going to make sure he holds up his end of the promise.

Jennifer stays for two weeks. On the last night when Jennifer drops Rose off, Rose asks her to stay there for a moment. Then, she runs to her bedroom. Derek doesn’t know what she’s doing, so he and Jennifer sit awkwardly in the living room together, not speaking.

Rose comes flying into the living room a few minutes later, holding something behind her back. When she goes up to Jennifer, Derek sees what she’s holding. The red heart.

“I made this for you, Mommy,” Rose says, then hands Jennifer the heart. Jennifer’s face melts the moment she sees it. Derek can smell a lot of emotions broadcasting from her, but most of all, she smells touched and like love.

“Oh Rose,” Jennifer says before pulling her into a huge hug. “Thank you,” she says quietly. “I love it. And I love you.”

“I love you, too.” Rose kisses Jennifer, and Jennifer hugs her close.

“I’m gonna miss you,” Jennifer says as she walks to the door, the heart still clutched in her hand.

“I’m gonna miss you, too, Mommy” Rose says. “When will I see you again?”

“Soon.”

“Promise?”

“Promise.” Derek tries to hide his emotion, because he knows soon doesn’t actually mean the same thing to both of them.

Derek comes up behind Rose and places a hand on her shoulder as Jennifer steps onto the porch. Rose is already smelling sad and distressed, and Derek knows it’s gonna be a long night.

“I was thinking of bringing Rose to Florida this summer,” Derek says. “I thought she could stay with you for awhile.”

“That sounds like a good idea,” Jennifer says.

“You can teach me to swim with the fishies!” Rose exclaims.

“That’s right,” Jennifer says, reaching out to run her fingers through her hair. She bends down to hug and kiss Rose again. Then, she walks to her car. Derek and Rose stand on the porch until they can’t hear Jennifer’s car anymore.

Rose turns to Derek with huge tears in her eyes. Derek squats down, opens his arms, and lets Rose cling to him as she cries.

*

The week after Jennifer leaves is rough. Rose cries a lot, and Stiles texts him a few times saying he’s worried about her. Derek tells Stiles that she’ll be okay, it’ll just take awhile for her to readjust.

Life calms down after that. Derek and Rose settle into a routine. The lacrosse season is heading towards championships, so Derek spends a lot of time with the team, prepping them for regionals. He goes to his TAPP class, grades papers, goes to work, and spends time with Rose. He doesn’t see Stiles, and he feels it almost every day. But he’s trying to get his life in order. He wants to do this right. He has to.

The regional lacrosse finals game is in late March. Danny’s bringing Rose to the game, along with Boyd, Erica, and their kids. Derek is a nervous wreck. The team is good this year, really good, and he thinks they can make it to state.

The game is a tough one. The team Beacon Hills plays against is really good. But Beacon Hills holds their own, and by half-time, they are only down by one. While Isaac coaches the team, Derek takes a moment to scan the crowd for Rose. He finds her in the stands, a few rows back, happily sitting between Danny...and Stiles.

Derek just stares at Stiles. He can’t believe he’s here. Something warm blossoms in his chest so strongly that Isaac, in the middle of going over a play with the team, turns to look at him. When his eyes follow Derek’s gaze, he rolls his eyes.

Stiles is sitting beside his father, and beside the sheriff are Scott, Allison, and Chris Argent. Derek glances back at Stiles, who is listening to Rose talk. She’s moving her arms around animatedly, and Derek smiles. A few moments later, she turns towards the field, sees that he’s looking her way, and starts waving excitedly. Derek waves back, then looks over at Stiles. Stiles smiles at him and gives him a small wave. Derek’s heart flips in his chest.

“Get your head in the game,” Isaac whispers as he slaps the back of his hand against Derek’s chest. “Stop making sex eyes at Stiles.”

“They’re not sex eyes,” Derek says.

“Totally are,” Isaac says, then tilts his head to the side. “Boyd and Erica say they’re totally sex eyes.”

Derek glances their direction and snaps, “Stop eavesdropping.” Boyd smiles while Erica laughs loudly.

Derek concentrates on the game and blocks everything else out. It comes down to the last few seconds, and Beacon Hills make a last minute play that pulls them ahead by one goal. When the buzzer goes off, Isaac yells and wraps Derek in a tight hug. Derek’s grinning ear to ear as he watches his team celebrate. They’re whooping and hollering, high-fiving and embracing, and they push the kid who made the final goal onto their shoulders and carry him around the field. The audience behind them cheers enthusiastically, and the whole field is on their feet.

After Derek shakes hands with the other team’s coaches, he turns to see Rose standing on the sidelines holding Stiles’ hand. Derek smiles and walks over.

“You won, Daddy!” Rose yells when Derek approaches. She pulls free from Stiles’ hand and runs to jump into Derek’s arms. He’s too happy to scold her for it. “I’m so happy!”

“I’m happy, too, ladybug,” Derek says, giving her a kiss on her cheek. “Did you like watching the game?”

She nods. “Uncle Danny tried to teach me about crosse, and Da-ad, did you know Stiles played crosse in high school? He was on the team like you!”

“Except I mostly warmed the bench,” Stiles says. Derek finally looks over at him, and he can’t help the huge grin that spread across his face. He’s just so happy Stiles is here. “It would have been great to play a game.”

“You were MVP of a game your sophomore year,” someone says, and Derek looks over to see the sheriff standing to the other side of Stiles. He hadn’t even noticed him standing there.

Stiles rolls his eyes. “The one game I played.”

“Don’t listen to him,” the sheriff says with a smile. “He played more than he pretends.” He holds out a hand. “Sheriff Stilinski.”

Derek sets Rose onto the ground and shakes the man’s hand. “Derek.”

“It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I’m glad I got to finally meet you and the famous Rose.”

“Daddy,” Rose says, tugging on Derek’s shirt. “Stiles’ dad is the sheriff. Of the whole county! He puts bad guys in jail!”

“That’s really cool,” Derek says.

“He said I could ride in his car if it was okay with you, and, and he said he’d run the siren and put on the lights. Dad, he said he’d put on the lights for me!

“Well, aren’t you a lucky little girl?” Derek says. He turns back to the sheriff and Stiles. Stiles looks embarrassed, but the sheriff is looking at Rose like she’s the greatest thing in the world.

“Stiles loved that stuff when he was a little boy,” he says. “He used to get in trouble for talking to the dispatcher on the radio. Couldn’t get him to shut up.” Derek can smell Stiles’ embarrassment now, and he smiles. He likes seeing Stiles like this, getting a glimpse of his life.

“Hey Derek,” Isaac says, “Meet you in the locker room?”

“Yeah, be there in a minute.” He turns to Rose and says, “Hey, I gotta go, but I’ll be done soon. Uncle Danny is gonna take you to his house, okay? Maybe if you ask nicely, Stiles will help you find Uncle Danny.”

“I’ll do it,” the sheriff says.

“Can I go with him?” Rose asks. “Please?”

Derek nods. “You sure can.”

“Yippee!” Rose runs over to the sheriff and hugs him around the legs. The sheriff smiles down at her as he squeezes her shoulder, then takes her hand and leads her into the crowd.

Stiles runs a hand through his hair awkwardly. “Sorry about Dad. He doesn’t have grandkids, and I think this is his way of telling me he wants them.” He chuckles. “I should have just changed seats so my dad could talk to Rose through the entire game. Pretty sure he may start fighting me for time with her at the daycare.”

Derek grins and just looks at Stiles. Stiles blushes under the attention. “I’m glad you’re here,” Derek finally says.

“Me, too.”

Derek takes a step closer, and says, “What I mean is, I’m really glad you were here to share this with me.”

Stiles smiles, and Derek’s breath catches with how beautiful he is. “Me, too.”

Derek points his thumb over his shoulder. “I have to get to the locker room.”

“I have to go wrestle my dad from your daughter,” Stiles says. They stand there another moment, staring into each other’s eyes, and then Stiles steps forward and kisses Derek. Derek gasps in surprise. He tilts his head and curls his fingers around Stiles’ neck as he deepens the kiss.

“Get it, Coach!” someone yells behind him, and Derek breaks the kiss to glance over his shoulder. He feels himself blush as two of his players walk by, giving him thumbs up.

Stiles laughs in his ear, and Derek turns back towards him. Stiles’ cheeks are flushed, his eyes bright. Derek leans forward and kisses him lightly, then forces himself to take a step back. “I have to go.” He walks backward a few steps. “Thank you for coming.”

“Anytime.” Stiles grins, and Derek jogs to the locker room, grinning.

*

Rose’s birthday is the last week of March. When Derek asks, she tells him she doesn’t want a party. “I don’t have any friends in my class,” she says. “I don’t have anyone to invite.”

So, Derek plans to just have the Pack get together at his house. But the night before her birthday, when Rose is out having girl’s night birthday shopping with Erica and Ashley, Stiles shows up at his door. “What are you doing here?” Derek asks, then notices the bags and box he’s holding. “What’s all that?”

“Rose told me she was spending the evening with Erica,” Stiles says, “and I have a surprise for her, so.” Derek steps aside so Stiles can enter the house, and he takes the box as Stiles passes. Inside are plates and streamers and a whole bunch of other stuff Derek doesn’t recognize. “I’m throwing her a party.”

“She doesn’t want a party,” Derek states.

“Every little kid wants a party,” Stiles says. “Rose doesn’t want a party because she’s afraid no one will come. But she has friends at daycare, so I’m throwing her a party there tomorrow.” Derek just stares at Stiles, open-mouthed. “What?” he asks, embarrassed.

“Nothing, you’re just…amazing.”

Stiles’ scent grows, and Derek wants to bury his face in his hair, but controls himself. Stiles smiles and ducks his head, and walks into the dining room to set the bags down. He starts pulling things from the bags, and lifts out a package of small plastic wolves. “And of course, I knew the perfect theme.”

Derek laughs. “It’s perfect.”

Derek watches in wonder as Stiles unpacks all the boxes and bags. Derek doesn’t know how he knew to buy all this stuff. Derek doesn’t even know what half of this stuff is. He picks up a package that’s a tissue paper pom that hangs from the ceiling, then another that’s a banner made out of burlap that reads “Happy Birthday.”

Derek sits down heavily into a chair and just stares at everything, overwhelmed. He could never have done this for his daughter. Something like this never even crossed his mind. “Derek?” Stiles asks.

“I’m a terrible father,” he says. “I never would have…I don’t know about this kind of stuff. I can’t give her this.”

“Well, that’s why you have me,” Stiles says, and Derek meets his eyes. His expression is light, but there’s something heavy and serious underneath. Derek swallows and nods. “Now, stop being your usual brooding self and help me put your daughter’s party together.”

Stiles shows Derek what to do as they put the decorations together. Derek makes little pastel boxes full of candy on which Stiles writes Wolfie Snacks. There’s another banner Stiles works on that says, A Howlin’ Good Birthday, and Derek is in charge of making construction paper wolf masks for the kids.

“I’m terrible at this,” Derek says as he glues a nose onto the paper. It’s crooked and looks nothing like a wolf.

“Dude, they’re 5 and 6,” Stiles says. “They’re not looking for exact recreations. Now, keep gluing.” Derek chuckles and does as Stiles says.

After making the masks, Derek helps put together goodie bags for each kid. Stiles writes on the outside of each one, Fang you for coming to my party. Derek has to admit, the whole theme is pretty cute.

Stiles bought wolf plates, cups, napkins, and table clothes. All the decorations are in grey, white, black, and red. He even has a few balloons and a disposable helium tank he got at Party City. “Tell me how much this cost,” Derek says. “I’ll pay for it.”

“Will you write me a check?” Stiles asks as he mixes the batter for cupcakes. “Because I can frame it alongside the other you gave me.”

“You cashed that check,” Derek says.

“Deposited it with my app. I’m keeping the check to frame. Forever.”

“You’re an ass,” Derek says, and Stiles just laughs.

“You can pay for half,” Stiles says, “but not all. I want to do this for Rose. She deserves it.”

Derek blows up balloons while Stiles puts the cupcakes in the oven. Afterwards, he goes over his list carefully, making notes and crossing things off. “How many parties have you done? Are you like a birthday party planner on the side?”

“This is my first,” Stiles says. “I blame Lydia and Allison and all this wedding planning. Plus, dude, Pintrest.”

Stiles makes Derek help him ice the cupcakes after they’ve cooled. Derek’s don’t look as smooth or clean as Stiles’, but Stiles looks at him like he’s stupid when he complains. “They won’t even look at what we put on top before they shove them in their faces.”

“Then why are we spending all this time decorating them?” Derek asks. He watches Stiles use black icing to draw a small wolf on the top of white icing.

“For Rose,” he says, eyes never leaving his creation. He finishes one, nods, and then moves on to the next. “Why did you decide to name her Rose?”

“Roses were my mother’s favorite flowers,” Derek replies with a smile. “She used to grow them. She had so many rose bushes when I was growing up. She spent so much time with those things. She had such a green thumb. Jennifer didn’t have any strong feeling about what to name her, and I didn’t want to name her after my mother, because that was just too much for me. I couldn’t spend every day calling her by my mother’s name; it’d hurt too bad. So, I decided to name her Rose instead. I think my mother would have really liked that.” He pauses and smiles to himself. “Her little rose.” Derek looks up and sees Stiles studying him.

“That’s beautiful,” Stiles says. “That makes her name even more beautiful.”

“Thanks.”

After the cupcakes, they make moon cookies with cream and chocolate chip cookies, and then Derek glues different shaped moons on toothpicks and sticks them into some of the cupcakes.

“What do you think?” Stiles asks after they finish. Derek’s staring at what they’ve accomplished, and he’s amazed.

“I think we make a pretty good team,” he says.

Stiles looks over at him and smiles. Then, he takes a step closer and kisses Derek. Derek grabs Stiles’ arms and pulls him close, opening his mouth so he can kiss Stiles deeper. The moment Stiles’ tongue touches his for the first time, Derek feels his knees go weak. Stiles’ mouth is hot, and he tastes better than Derek could have imagined. Stiles fists one hand into Derek’s shirt, the other coming up to thread into his hair.

They stay like that for a long time, grasping each other and exploring each other’s mouths. Derek knows he’s easily becoming addicted to Stiles’ scent and taste, and his cock is trapped uncomfortably against the front of his jeans.

“Wanna,” Stiles starts when they come up for air, “move this somewhere more comfortable?”

“Definitely,” Derek says. He grabs Stiles’ hand and leads him to the couch in the living room.

When they sit down, Stiles’ eyes drop to Derek’s crotch, and Derek smells a swell of desire and arousal coming from him. “I have always appreciated your tight jeans,” Stiles says, “and today is no exception.”

Derek grabs Stiles’ head and pulls him into another kiss. Stiles scoots closer, twisting his body so they can press even closer. Stiles tugs Derek’s lip between his teeth, and Derek moans as he bites on it softly. Then Derek kisses his way across Stiles’ cheek, and he bites Stiles’ ear as Stiles drags his hands across Derek’s chest.

“Your chest is ridiculous,” Stiles rambles. “Your arms are ridiculous. All of you is ridiculous.” Derek traces the shell of Stiles’ ear with his tongue, and he feels Stiles shiver against him. “Fuck, Derek, your mouth.”

“You don’t even know what my mouth can do yet,” Derek purrs against his ear, and Stiles shivers again.

“Fuck, that shouldn’t be hot, but it is.”

Derek kisses behind Stiles’ ear, then along his neck before settling in to suck a mark into his skin. Stiles moans and arches his body into Derek. The taste of Stiles’ skin is intoxicating, and Derek has trouble holding back. His wolf is pushing at his edges, threatening to break free, and it takes every ounce of control Derek has not to give in.

When Stiles’ palm presses against Derek’s erection, he moans loudly against his neck. “God yes,” Stiles murmurs, “sound so sexy.” He rubs the heel of his hand against the bulge in Derek’s jeans, and Derek can only breathe against Stiles’ skin.

“This is gonna end embarrassingly, and pretty quickly,” Derek says.

“I’m half tempted to see if I can get you to cream your jeans,” Stiles says with a chuckle. “But I’d much rather touch you.”

“Fuck, Stiles,” Derek moans.

“That’s the idea.” Derek raises his head and scowls half-heartedly at Stiles, and Stiles laughs then kisses him.

They fumble with each other’s flies, until Derek finally gives up and rolls onto his back to unzip his pants. Stiles laughs in surprise, but takes the free moment to undo his khakis. He lifts his hips and pushes them and his boxers to his thighs, and when Derek looks over and sees Stiles’ cock, his mouth goes dry. It’s hard, long and thinner than his own, the head red and plump. Derek licks his lips, and Stiles groans. Derek flicks his eyes up and feels slightly embarrassed.

“Don’t do that to me,” Stiles says. “You can’t stare at my dick and lick your lips, because you just can’t.”

Derek chuckles, and lifts off the couch to push his jeans and briefs down. Stiles is on him before he even settles back on the couch. He kisses Derek, firm and close-mouthed, before wrapping his fist around Derek’s cock. Derek bucks into his hand and almost comes on the spot.

“Steady there, big boy,” Stiles says, and Derek rolls his eyes. Stiles slides his fist along his shaft slowly, just teasing Derek. Derek breathes heavily through his mouth, his eyes glued to Stiles’ fist around his cock.

Derek hasn’t felt this sexy in ages. The look on Stiles’ face shoots straight to Derek’s core, and it twists inside him, making him feel simultaneously content and overwhelmed. Stiles’ face is intense, his eyes full of heat and desire, but most of all, he’s looking at Derek like he’s something that matters, like he should be treasured.

Derek cups Stiles’ cheek and catches his mouth in a kiss. The kiss is slower; he can’t quite express the way Stiles is making him feel, but he tries through his lips anyway. He tries to let his kiss say everything he can’t say through words, things he isn’t even sure he understands himself.

Derek pulls away long enough to lick his palm and then he wraps his fingers around Stiles’ cock. He watches the way Stiles’ eyes flutter shut, the curve of Stiles’ mouth as it hangs open. After a few moments, Stiles follows Derek’s example and licks his palm.

They kiss as they jerk each other off. Derek lets down his guard, and he doesn’t feel like a father in that moment, or a coach or teacher or anything else. He just feels like Derek, like a man. It’s been a long time since anyone’s made him feel quite like this. Jennifer stopped making him feel like this a long time ago, like he was strong and desired and sexy, but with each kiss, each touch, Stiles makes him feel incredible.

“Let go, Derek,” Stiles whispers against his mouth. “Let go and come.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, his voice breathy and deep. Stiles squeezes his fist and twists along the head of Derek’s cock on the upstroke, and Derek kisses Stiles again and comes. He pushes his hips into Stiles’ hand as Stiles strokes him through his orgasm. He’s still kissing Stiles when he finishes and slumps down, his fingers still circled around Stiles’ erection.

“So hot,” Stiles says into his mouth.

Derek concentrates on Stiles now, listening to the little sounds he makes as he grows close, tracks the speed of his heartbeat and the way his scent changes. When Stiles comes, Derek’s eyes glow blue, and he keeps them trained on Stiles’ cock and the come covering his hand. The smell is incredible, and Derek wants to lean down and lick Stiles’ taste from his wrist and Stiles’ cock, but stops himself. He jacks Stiles a few more times and closes his eyes, trying to get himself under control.

When they’re finished, Derek grabs two tissues from the box on the end table and hands one to Stiles. After they wipe themselves clean, Derek pulls up his pants and tucks himself inside, but doesn’t bother buttoning them yet. Stiles does the same.

Derek stretches out on the couch and pulls Stiles on top of him, and he wraps his arms around Stiles as they continue kissing. Rose isn’t going to be home for a little while yet, so he’s in no hurry just yet to let Stiles go.

*

Erica agrees to cover his last class again so he can leave half an hour early for Rose’s party. But only after he agreed to give her details about what happened with Stiles. “You smell like come,” she said bluntly when they’d been in the kitchen while Ashley and Rose were in Rose’s room. “And not just your own. Tell me everything.”

Derek tries to reign in his good mood all day, but even his students notice his change in demeanor. It’s not just that he had sex with someone who wasn’t Jennifer, but it's Stiles in general. He’s amazing, and Derek can’t believe he’s even interested in him.

Derek texts Stiles on his way to the daycare, and Stiles tells him he got Scott to take Rose and the rest of her class outside to play while he starts setting up the party. When Derek gets there, Stiles is halfway done, so Derek immediately starts covering tables with tablecloths.

Ten minutes later, the room is decorated. Tablecloths cover every table, with centerpieces with wolves, moons, and trees in the middle of each, balloons tied to each table, and a banner hanging at the back of the room that says “Happy Wolfday, Rose!” All the wolf-themed food is set out, and Derek’s poor attempts at wolf masks are laid at each child’s seat.

Stiles runs outside to tell Scott to bring the kids back in, and then returns to stand beside Derek. As they wait, Derek grabs Stiles’ hand and squeezes it. “Thank you.”

Stiles gives him a bright smile. “Anytime.”

The class is excited the moment they step inside, and like planned, Rose is one of the last ones in. She looks around, surprised, and Derek, Stiles, and Scott yell, “Happy birthday, Rose!”

Rose shrieks when she sees Derek. She runs across the room, and he bends down as she crashes in his arms. “Happy birthday, ladybug.”

“Daddy, did you do this for me?” She looks around, her eyes wide and excited. “I get my own wolfie party!”

“It was Stiles’ idea,” Derek says.

Rose pulls away from Derek and goes to Stiles’ waiting arms. “Happy birthday, wolf girl.”

“Stiles, you got me my own party! You are the bestest!” She kisses him on the cheek, then goes to look at all the different things laid out. Derek follows her.

Kids are wearing Derek’s wolf masks, and Stiles is giving them the Wolfie treats boxes, and bags with plastic wolves and wolf coloring books inside.

“Daddy, look!” Rose exclaims. She’s pointing to the cupcakes. “And there are balloons! And look!” She points to the banner and the goodie bags. “Did Stiles do all this? For me?”

Derek nods. “Yep. I helped, but it was his idea.”

Rose runs around the room with her friends, wearing her wolf mask. She makes Derek wear one, and laughs when he puts it on. “You look silly,” she says, then leans close to whisper, “I like your real wolfie face better.”

“I like yours better, too,” he whispers back.

Derek records everyone singing “Happy Birthday” to her, and he tears up when she blows out the candles. He can’t believe his baby is six years old already. She’s surrounded by little girls and boys who like her, and she’s laughing and playing with them, and Derek is just overcome. Stiles presses close to him, wraps his fingers around his wrist, and squeezes.

Rose hands out the goodie bags herself as the kids get picked up from daycare. Before each one leaves, she says, “Fang you for coming to my party,” with a straight face. Derek can’t help but chuckle each time she says it.

He helps Stiles clean up while Rose plays with the last remaining kids in the corner of the room. “Thank you,” Derek says as he pulls a tablecloth from one of the tables.

“Stop saying that,” Stiles says. “You don’t have to keep thanking me.”

“Yes, I do.” Derek huffs out, frustrated. “You don’t understand what this means to Rose.”

Stiles sets down the stack of plates and stands in front of Derek with his arms crossed. “Yes, I do. I know the kids in her class don’t like her. I know that she’s shy despite being loud and outgoing. I know I had to push her to make friends with the kids here. I know that she misses her mother and is scared you’re going to leave, too.” He looks at Derek seriously. “I know.”

No one has ever understood Rose like that, not even her mother. The thought of Stiles understanding and loving his daughter like that…it makes Derek want to kiss Stiles so bad. Instead, he nods and goes back to cleaning up.

Derek and Rose are the last two people left in Stiles’ room. Rose is hugging the big stuffed wolf Stiles bought her to her chest and grinning from ear to ear.

“Well, Miss Wolfie,” Stiles says, “did you enjoy your party?”

“It was the bestest party ever!” Rose exclaims. “Wasn’t it, Daddy?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Will you come eat dinner with me since it’s my birthday?” Rose asks Stiles.

Stiles glances at Derek, and Derek nods. “It would be my honor.”

Stiles follows Derek to his house. The entire ride home, Rose babbles about her party. Her scent is bright and sweet, like cotton candy, and the whole car smells like her happiness.

They eat homemade pizza for dinner, and Stiles teases Derek about secret talents. “Pizza chef? What other secret talents are you hiding?”

“Just wait until you find out,” Derek says, kissing Stiles on the cheek.

After he goes to check on the pizzas, Derek stands in the doorway to the living room and watches Stiles and Rose interact on the couch. They’re watching a movie Rose picked out, and Rose is curled against Stiles’ side with Stiles’ arm around her. Derek thinks they look good together, and their scents mingle pleasantly, in a way that makes his wolf happy. He’s settling into the idea of being with Stiles, starting to accept that this isn’t a passing crush. This is serious.

While Stiles helps him cut the pizzas, Derek asks, “Is this a thing now?” Stiles looks at him in confusion. “Us? Are we together, dating?”

Stiles takes a moment to think as he places two slices of pizza on a plate. “Yes, I believe so. Or, at least I think we’re ready for it to start becoming something.”

Derek glances behind him, towards the living room. “I think we should tell Rose. I want her to know.”

“Are you sure?” Stiles asks.

Derek nods, then grabs Stiles’ hand. “I’m sure.”

They wait until after the movie is over to talk to Rose. Derek turns off the television and turns towards her. She looks at him, her eyes narrowing. “Am I in trouble?”

“Of course not!” Derek says, while Stiles snickers. He pats her leg. “I want to talk to you about something important.”

“Okay.”

Derek glances at Stiles, and Stiles nods and gives him a reassuring smile. Derek isn’t sure how to explain this to a six year old. She doesn’t quite understand what dating means. She only understands that princesses and princes get together in Disney movies. “So, something really exciting has happened. Well, Stiles and I really like each other a lot. And that means we are going to start spending a lot of time together.”

Rose looks between Derek and Stiles a few times, her face scrunched like it gets when she’s thinking hard about something. Finally, she looks at Derek. “So, that means that you like Stiles? Like Ariel likes Prince Eric?”

Stiles stifles a laugh, and Derek nods. “Something like that.”

“Like you and Mommy used to like each other?”

“Um…” Derek looks at Stiles, and Stiles shrugs, also at a loss about what to say. “Your mom and I fell in love and got married. One day, if things keep going like they are, maybe Stiles and I will be like that. Right now, we just really like being around each other and want to get to know one another.”

“Oh.” Her face is still scrunched in confusion, and Derek realizes he’s doing a shit job at this. As usual.

“Hey,” Stiles jumps in. Rose turns to him, and he takes her hands. “I really really like your dad and want to spend a lot of time with him. He makes me happy, and I make him happy. That means I’ll be spending a lot of time at your house, and you and your dad will be spending time with me at my house.”

“You mean you want to spend time with me, too?” she asks, eyes wide.

Stiles gives her a genuine smile. “Of course. You and your dad are a package deal. Besides, I love you very much, Rose.”

“Really?”

Stiles nods. “Really.”

Rose lunges at Stiles, throwing her arms around his neck and nuzzling her face into his neck. Derek thinks she’s growling softly, and he murmurs for her to stop under his breath. Stiles doesn’t seem to notice. He looks happy as he hugs her.

“This is the bestest birthday present in the world!” she exclaims. “I didn’t just get a party from Stiles. I got Stiles for my birthday!”

Stiles laughs. “I guess you did.”

“Daddy,” Rose turns and walks on her knees to Derek. “Thank you. That’s the bestest present ever.” Derek doesn’t know what to say, so he just hugs Rose, thankful she’s happy.

Stiles helps put Rose to bed. “Will you put me to bed every night, Stiles?” she asks as Stiles straightens the covers around her and places the stuffed wolf by her.

“Not every night, but I’ll put you to bed when I can.”

She smiles, then turns to Derek. “Daddy, did you check under my bed?”

Derek nods. “And in your closet. Nothing in there. Everything’s clear.”

“Good.”

They both kiss her, then Derek drags his cheek against hers and growls softly as Stiles leaves the room. He lets his eyes glow blue, and she makes hers turn blue in response. “Happy birthday, little cub.”

“I love you, Daddy.” He kisses her again, and she nips at his cheek with her fangs.

Stiles is waiting for Derek outside his bedroom when Derek pulls Rose’s door to. Stiles waggles his eyebrows and walks backwards into Derek’s bedroom. Derek grins as he follows, kicking the door shut when he’s inside.

“What in the world do you have in mind?” Derek asks.

“Oh, I have plenty in mind,” Stiles says. “Would it be wrong if I said watching you do your dad thing really turns me on?”

“Do all the single dads turn you on?” Derek asks as he pulls off his shirt.

Stiles’ eyes are glued to his chest. He licks his lips and shakes his head. “Nope. Never. Just you.”

“Good,” Derek says, crowding into Stiles’ space. “Don’t want to worry about competition.”

“Oh, there’s definitely no competition.” Stiles’ legs hit the bed, so Derek lifts him up and drops him back against the mattress. “Oh god, that was hot. How strong are you?”

“I do work out,” Derek quips, and Stiles groans.

“You’re as bad as I am. We’re both lame.”

Derek kisses him. Stiles’ hands slide all over Derek’s chest, and Derek revels in the feeling of Stiles’ touch over his skin. Stiles spends quite a long time rubbing Derek’s nipples, and he didn’t even realize they were sensitive until tonight.

Derek lets Stiles roll him over onto his back, and he kisses his way down Derek’s chest. Derek slides his fingers into Stiles’ hair, and he scratches at Stiles’ scalp as Stiles sucks and bites at his nipples. Stiles licks along the waist of Derek’s jeans as he rubs Derek’s hardening cock through his jeans.

“You’re so gorgeous,” Stiles says as he starts to unbutton Derek’s jeans.

“So are you,” Derek says, moving his hand from Stiles’ hair to cup his chin. “So beautiful.” Stiles shakes his head, but Derek can smell how pleased he is.

Derek lifts his hips from the bed as Stiles pulls his pants and briefs down his thighs. Stiles straddles Derek’s legs and just stares at his cock for a few moments, until Derek gently pushes Stiles’ head towards it. Stiles seems to snap out of whatever daze he was in and lowers himself onto his elbows.

He glances up at Derek as he licks a long stripe from the base of Derek’s cock to the tip. Derek’s hands fist into the comforter and he moans quietly. Stiles smiles smugly, then slides his lips over the head. “Oh fuck, Stiles,” Derek breathes. He settles his hand at the back of Stiles’ head as Stiles slowly slides his mouth along his cock. Derek forces himself not to thrust into Stiles’ mouth, though he wants to push into that wet heat so badly. When Stiles slides up again, he pulls off with a pop and grins.

“I like it when you say stuff like that,” he says, then playfully licks around the tip of Derek’s cock. Derek’s eyes roll back in his head. “God, you taste good.”

“Stiles,” Derek says, because how is he real? He pushes Stiles’ head again, and Stiles rolls his eyes but takes Derek’s cock back into his mouth.

Derek can’t decide whether he wants to close his eyes or watch Stiles. What Stiles does with his mouth is filthy. His mouth is obscene, and Derek wants to memorize the stretch of his lips around his cock.

Derek is lying back on the bed, focusing on Stiles’ mouth and hand on his cock, when he hears two tiny feet hit the floor. “Shit,” he exclaims as he sits up suddenly. Stiles pulls off his cock and props himself on his elbows as Derek hears the door down the hall open. “Shit, get up. It’s Rose.”

“Shit,” Stiles says as he pushes off the bed and rushes towards Derek’s bathroom. Derek barely has time to yank up his pants and adjust himself before Rose is opening the door and sticking her head inside. He’s so glad she’s too young to know what the smell of sex is.

“Daddy?” Rose rubs her eyes and walks into the room. “I can’t sleep.”

“You were asleep, ladybug,” Derek says as she starts to climb onto the bed.

“No, I wasn’t,” she says, yawning. Derek can tell she’s half-asleep as she slips underneath the covers.

Stiles comes out the bathroom then, and Rose looks at him sleepily. “Stiles, are you gonna sleep with us, too?”

Stiles shakes his head. “I think it’s time for me to go home.” He walks to the door. “Good night, Rose.”

Rose closes her eyes and says, “Night, Stiles.”

“Hey, I’m gonna go walk Stiles to the door, okay?” Derek says. Rose mumbles something, but she’s almost asleep again.

Derek and Stiles walk silently to the door, and when they step outside on the porch, Derek pulls the door closed behind them. The night is chilly, but Derek can tell spring is already here.

“I’m so sorry about that,” he tells Stiles. “I guess it’s better you find out now than later.” Derek points over his shoulder. “That’s a typical night for me, which means it’s going to be a typical night for us. I can’t guarantee there’s going to be a lot of sex.”

“Derek, I’m not with you for sex,” Stiles says, “though that is a major bonus. And to be honest, I have the worst case of blue balls right now I’ve ever had.”

“I’m so sorry,” Derek says with a miserable laugh.

“Don’t,” Stiles shakes his head. He takes Derek’s cheeks between his hands. Derek can smell the mouthwash on his breath and the soap on his hands. “I’m not stupid. I knew what getting involved with a man who had a kid would entail. I’m here for you, whatever part of you I can get.” Stiles kisses him gently, and Derek places his hands on Stiles’ lower back, holding him close.

“Thank you,” Derek whispers. He rests his forehead against Stiles’. “She sleeps with me most nights,” he explains, pulling away to look at Stiles. “She’s done it ever since the divorce. I’ve been trying to break her of the habit, but it’s difficult. If you ever sleep over, the likelihood she’ll end up in the bed is extremely high.”

“I meant what I said earlier,” Stiles says. “You and her are a package deal, and I want you both.”

Derek kisses him again, and then lets him go. He waits on the porch until Stiles is in his Jeep, and he waves as Stiles turns around in the yard and drives away.

*

Weeks go by. Stiles and Derek spend as much time together as they can, but it’s difficult with Derek’s schedule and Rose. The lacrosse championships are getting closer, and his big final project for his TAPP class is due soon.

Derek ends up having to stay after class one night, so he texts Stiles, and Stiles offers to take Rose to his house.

I owe you. Whatever you want ;)

I think we should make naughty checks.

Are you ever going to let that go?

Probably not. It was the first thing you ever said to me :)

That’s embarrassing.

You’re embarrassing.

Derek goes to the library to access some of their resources. He’s halfway through his paper, going between his laptop and the three books open on the table when his phone vibrates. When he looks at it, he sees Stiles’ name, and he immediately smiles.

But his smile falls as soon as he sees the message.

Come now 911

Derek nearly has a panic attack right there at the table. He grabs his laptop and charger, leaves the books, and rushes out of the library. He tries to call Stiles on his way to the house, but it keeps going to voicemail. He doesn’t know what’s going on, but the fact that Stiles isn’t answering his phone terrifies him.

Stiles lives on a quiet street in an older part of town. When he parks in the driveway, all the houses are quiet. All the lights are out in Stiles’ house, and dread pools in Derek’s stomach as he runs to the door in a fit of werewolf speed.

The door is unlocked, so he goes inside. “Rose? Stiles?” he yells. He smells Rose’s fear, and Stiles’, and smells tears and…blood. “Rose!”

“In here,” Stiles calls out. His voice is scratchy and rough, and it takes every ounce of control Derek possesses to not wolf out.

Derek follows their smell and the sounds of Rose’s tears and Stiles’ pounding heartbeat. He ends up in Stiles’ bedroom, and when he opens the door, the scene that greets him causes him to drop to his knees.

Stiles is sitting on the floor with his back propped against the side of his bed, and Rose is wolfed out and curled in his lap. Stiles has his arms wrapped around her, but he’s covered in blood from tiny scratches. He’s got his face pressed into Rose’s hair, and she’s crying and growling.

Derek can’t breathe for a moment; he just stares. He feels like the ground has been pulled from beneath his feet and he’s falling, falling.

“Rose?” Derek finally says, voice barely audible. “Stiles?”

“She just started crying,” Stiles says, voice hollow and distant. His heartbeat is the fastest Derek has ever heard it, and he can tell that Stiles is terrified. “And then she…she…” He shakes his head. “I grabbed her and held her, and she fought me, with…fangs and claws, but I didn’t let her go. I just held her. I kept telling her, ‘Daddy’s coming. Daddy’s coming.’ I just held her. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Rose,” Derek says, walking closer on his knees. She lifts her head, and she’s fully wolfed out.

“Daddy?”

Derek opens his arms and says, “Come here, ladybug.” Rose struggles to get up, but Stiles won’t let her go. Derek thinks he’s in shock. “Stiles.” But Stiles just keeps staring at the floor, his face turned to towards Rose.

“I didn’t know what else to do.”

“Stiles,” Rose says. That seems to snap Stiles out of his trance, and he drops his arms from around her. Rose runs to Derek and presses her face into Derek’s neck, growling and crying and snuffling against his skin. “Daddy, I thought you left me.”

Derek doesn’t respond; he can’t respond. He doesn’t know what to do anymore. He can’t make Rose understand that he’s not going to leave her, and now Stiles is bleeding and in shock on the floor. And Derek, Derek’s alone and doesn’t know what to do.

“I’m right here,” he finally says. “I’ll always be here.”

“Stiles was here,” Rose says. “He kept me safe.”

Derek pulls away from Rose and moves closer to Stiles. Stiles is still staring at the floor, and Derek can see the full extent of the damage. He’s got a few small scratches on his face, tiny bite marks on his neck, and a bunch of scratches on his arms. His clothes are ripped in places. Derek reaches out to touch Stiles, but when his fingers brush Stiles’ arm, Stiles flinches away. Derek pulls his hand back like he’s been burned. Stiles finally looks at Derek, and his face is a mixture of horror and shock.

“Stiles, please, I can –“

“What are you?” he asks. “What is she?” He glances down at his arms.

“Stiles – “

“I can’t deal with this right now,” Stiles says. “Can you just please go?”

In that moment, Derek’s heart shatters into a million pieces. He stands up like he’s in a fog, picks up Rose, and walks out the door.

“Is Stiles mad at me?” Rose asks against Derek’s shoulder.

“No, ladybug,” Derek says. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Derek doesn’t remember driving home. He carries Rose inside and puts her down in his bed. He doesn’t want to sleep without her tonight. She’s crying again, and Derek just can’t handle anything else tonight. “What is it, Rose?” he asks, exhausted.

“I hurt Stiles, Daddy,” she cries, tears streaming down her face. “It was an accident. I was so scared, and I didn’t think you were coming back because you’ve never been gone that late without coming to pick me up and Stiles made me a yummy dinner, but you weren’t there to eat it with us and we never not eat dinner with each other, and Stiles was looking for a game in his closet, and I just got so confused and scared and upset and I wolfed out, Daddy.” She’s crying hard now, and Derek wraps her in his arms. She curls her fists into his shirt, presses her face against it, and cries. “I couldn’t control it, Daddy, and I howled, and you didn’t answer. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I love Stiles and he smelled scared and that made me even more scared, and I tried so hard, but I didn’t have the wolfie disk, and I couldn’t stop being a wolfie.”

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt him, Rose,” Derek says. “I know you didn’t.” That’s all he can say, because if he says anything else, he’s going to fall apart, and he has to stay strong for his daughter. He doesn’t have the luxury to fall apart.

Rose cries herself to sleep in Derek’s arms. Derek carefully lays her down and walks out of the house and sits on the front steps. He lifts his face to the sky, towards the moon. It’s another three days before it’s full. How could he be so fucking stupid? Derek should have known better than to leave Rose with Stiles, alone, so close to the full moon. He’d of course known the full moon was coming, but he wasn’t going to be that late, Rose adores Stiles, and she’s been so happy lately. But he still should have known.

He picks up his phone and texts Cora.

Why am I the only one who can’t find a partner who accepts me for me?

Because that’s what all this boils down to. Stiles discovered the most personal, important thing about Derek, and just like Jennifer, he rejected him because of it. And worse, he rejected his daughter. Jennifer didn’t want Rose because she was a werewolf, and now Stiles doesn’t want them either.

Derek can’t help it. He can’t hold it together anymore. He drops his head into his hands and cries. Derek never wanted to feel this kind of pain again. He never wanted to have his heart break after he put it together post-Jennifer. Yet here he is, alone and heartbroken yet again.

His phone vibrates beside him, but he ignores it. He doesn’t want to talk to Cora. He doesn’t want to talk to anyone. He knows he has to call Laura, because now Stiles knows about werewolves. But he can’t deal with that, not tonight.

Derek stays out there a long time. He decides around midnight that he’s calling into work the next day. He can’t face his students. He’s not sure he can face anything ever again. He wonders what’s wrong with him. Why did Isaac and Cora find human partners who accepted who they were and loved them anyway? Why did Laura and Boyd fall in love with other werewolves? Why was everyone happy except for him? Derek doesn’t understand why he’s cursed.

When Derek looks at his phone, he sees he has three messages from Cora.

What happened?
Derek, please call me.
Just let me know you’re okay so I can stop freaking the fuck out.

Derek texts her back and lets her know he’s fine. But he’s not fine, and he’s not going to be fine for a long time.

Around two a.m., Derek hears wheels rolling over gravel in the driveway. He jumps to his feet, and he realizes as the vehicle draws closer that he knows exactly what that is. It’s Stiles’ Jeep.

He stands frozen on the spot as he watches the headlights through the trees, then shine in his direction as the Jeep turns and rolls past the line of woods towards the house. The Jeep rolls to a stop, and Stiles shuts the lights off. He gets out, and he looks about as great as Derek feels. Derek’s eyes immediately fall to the scratches on his cheek and the visible small bites on his neck.

“What are you doing here?” Derek barks, his voice hard and angry.

Stiles sighs and runs a hand through his hair. “What the fuck do you think?”

Derek glares in his direction. “You made it very clear you didn’t want to see me anymore.”

“For fuck’s sake, Derek, I needed to think!” Stiles comes closer, and he smells sour, like sadness and fear and confusion, and Derek can tell that he’s trembling.

“You told me to get out. That you couldn’t handle the fact that you knew what we were.”

“That is not what I said,” Stiles snaps. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“I know what I heard.”

“I told you I couldn’t handle talking to you right that second. Yes, I told you go, but Derek, I was in shock. I think I’m still in shock. Your daughter, she just…turned into a fucking wolf. Or a human-wolf hybrid, and she had blue eyes and was growling and scratching and biting, and all I could think of was, ‘Oh my god, she’s going to hurt herself, or get out, and someone is going to hurt her.’ I was fucking terrified because she was scratching me all to hell and I didn’t know what the fuck was going on – and I’m still not exactly sure – but I was scared to death something was going to happen to her.”

“You were,” Derek starts, his voice breaking, “scared for her?”

“Yes,” Stiles says. “I was scared of her too, if I said I wasn’t, I’d be lying. But dammit, Derek, I love her and I’d die if anything happened to her. But you don’t know what it was like, being alone and just having her scratch and bite and fight me and…” Stiles shakes his head. “I might have reacted better, but I barely remember what happened when you showed up.”

“Rose is a werewolf,” Derek says. “I’m a werewolf.”

“I know,” Stiles says. He extends his hands, moving them around as he talks. “Your, uh, sister called me. Cora. Well, actually, Lydia called me first and had some choice words to say, and then Cora got on the line and threatened to rip my face off for hurting you. Then when I told her what happened, she threatened to rip your face off for being a dumbass, and said we were perfect for one another. Then she explained some things to me.”

“Fucking Cora,” Derek growls.

“Dude, she’s terrifying,” Stiles says. “And her and Lydia together? I’m never coming to family functions. I’ll be scared for my life.”

“Huh?” Derek asks stupidly.

“I’m still freaked out, but dude, werewolves.” He grins. It’s shaky and tentative, but it’s there all the same. “How badass is that?”

Derek drops onto the stoop, completely drained. Stiles is there, in front of him. Stiles isn’t going anywhere. Stiles knows about werewolves.

Derek closes his eyes and drops his head into his hands. He starts when he feels a hand on his arm. He looks up and finds Stiles sitting on the step beside him, crowding into his space. Derek knows he’s out of it because he didn’t notice he’d sat beside him.

“I left my Pack for her,” Derek says. He’s not quite sure what he’s saying, but the words are bubbling out of him, and he’s too raw and vulnerable to stop them. “My parents died, and Laura was my Alpha and took care of us, but I left them for Jennifer because she hated werewolves. When she found out Rose was a werewolf, she didn’t want her anymore.”

“Oh,” Stiles says, and the look on his face tells Derek that things are slotting into place. “And you thought…”

“My own wife couldn’t accept that I was a werewolf, couldn’t accept that her own fucking daughter was a werewolf. And I thought it had happened again. I can’t handle that again, especially not to Rose.”

“Derek, I was scared and freaked out, but I never once wanted you and Rose out of my life.” Stiles takes Derek’s face between his hands and forces him to look at him. “I don’t care what you are. It doesn’t change the man that I fell in love with.” There’s no lie in Stiles’ heartbeat and –

Wait. What?

“What did you say?” Derek asks.

Stiles smiles. “I love you, Derek. Human, wolf, mermaid – I don’t care. It doesn’t change anything about you, or about Rose.”

Derek grips Stiles and presses a bruising kiss against his mouth. He clings to him and breathes heavily against his mouth. “You love me,” he repeats.

“Yes.”

“I love you, too,” Derek replies. “So much.”

Stiles kisses him again, and Derek wraps his arms around him. They stay like that for a long, just holding on to each other and kissing. Derek feels emotionally wiped, can barely keep his head up so he’s tired.

“Come on,” Stiles says. “Let’s go to bed.”

Derek leads them inside, and goes to the guest bedroom instead of his. He checks on Rose, who is still sound asleep, then walks down the hall. Stiles is turning down the blankets, and Derek can’t believe he’s here. He rushes up behind him, wraps his arms around Stiles, and presses his face into his neck.

“Oh! Hello,” Stiles laughs as Derek nuzzles into his neck. “So, I’m guessing this is a wolf thing?” Derek hums against his skin. “I guess there are a lot of things I’m going to get to discover about you now.” Derek kisses his neck.

In bed, they lie facing each other in the dark, their hands clasped between them. “Have you always been a werewolf?” Stiles asks. Derek nods. “I guess all those stories Rose told me about you being a wolf…”

“Probably true,” Derek says, laughing. “She wanted to tell you the moment she met you. Obviously, she figured out you were a good fit before I did.” Stiles smiles.

“Are your eyes blue like hers?” Stiles asks. Derek lets his eyes slowly glow blue, and the light from them casts a faint shadow on Stiles’ face. Stiles reaches out and touches Derek’s face. “They’re beautiful.”

Derek blinks and they’re back to normal.

“Can I see your fangs? Claws? Your face? Do you like chase down bears and eat them?”

Derek chuckles. “Tomorrow, I’ll tell you anything you want to know.” He lifts their hands and extends his claws. Stiles stares at them in awe and drags his fingers along the edges.

“So cool.”

Derek smiles, but then his face grows serious. “I’m sorry Rose hurt you. I should never have left her alone with you so close to the full moon. I just thought she’d be okay with you, because she loves you so much. But she’s still struggling with the attachment issues. A werecub losing her mother like she did, it causes a lot of problems. It’s worse for wolves to be away from their family than humans. That’s why Rose is like she is.”

Stiles runs his fingers along his arm. “I know she wasn’t trying to hurt me,” he says. “And if she had wanted to hurt me, I think she could have. But she didn’t.”

Derek reaches out and drags his fingers along the scratches on Stiles’ cheek, the bites on his neck, then his arms. “I really am sorry. She cried herself to sleep she was so upset.”

“Well, tomorrow we’ll just have to make sure she doesn’t worry about it anymore.” He smiles.

They move around until Derek has his head resting on Stiles’ chest, Stiles’ arms around him, as he listens to Stiles’ heartbeat. He closes his eyes and falls asleep, feeling secure, safe, and loved.

*

Derek wakes up to two heartbeats in the room. He blinks awake and sees Stiles sprawled on the bed, and Rose lying half on top of him, one of her feet and hands touching Derek. Derek studies them closely, and he thinks that maybe, just maybe, Stiles is the one. Maybe he’s getting ahead of himself, but he’s never felt this way about someone. And this is someone he can see himself raising Rose with, maybe even another kid or two.

Rose stirs awake, and she kicks Stiles in the side as she moves to curl against Derek. “Daddy,” Rose whispers loudly. “Stiles came back.”

“He did,” Derek nods, smiling over at Stiles when he opens his eyes.

“I don’t think he’s mad at me.”

“I could never be mad at you, Rose,” Stiles says, extending his hand and placing it on her back.

She flips around and sits up facing him. “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she says sadly. “I would never hurt you. I’m, I’m not very good at controlling my wolfie sometimes.” She frowns and looks down at her hands.

“Hey,” Stiles says, tapping her under the chin. “Everyone has accidents. You’re a great wolfie.” She smiles and pounces on him, scenting and nuzzling him. Stiles looks at her confused, and Derek laughs out loud.

“Welcome to life with werewolves,” Derek says, covering Stiles’ body with his own and joining Rose in scenting and nuzzling Stiles. Stiles laughs as they brush over some of his tickle spots, and Derek runs his hands along all of Stiles’ body and rubs his face against his cheek. Rose is dragging her nose against Stiles’ other cheek, but when she starts licking him, Derek pushes himself onto all fours and hooks an arm around her torso to lift her up. “Let’s not lick Stiles.” He shakes his head.

“But that’s what the Pack does,” Rose says like it’s the most normal thing ever.

“This is his first day being scented by wolfies,” Derek says, tapping her nose. “Baby steps.”

“Oh, okay.” Rose turns back to Stiles, who’s watching them in fascination. She leans down and pecks him on the cheek. “You smell like us now.” She jumps off the bed and runs to the door. “Daddy, can you make pancakes?”

“Go get the stuff out,” Derek says, and Rose takes off down the hall. He turns to Stiles and takes him in. His face is still sleepy, his hair mussed, and his clothes wrinkled. And, like Rose said, he smells like them. Everything about him is perfect. “Good morning.”

“Morning.” He smiles as he reaches out pulls Derek in for a kiss. Derek thinks he could wake up to this for the rest of his life. “What’s this I hear about pancakes?”

“Don’t expect this treatment every morning,” Derek says. “But,” he says with a grin as he gets out of bed. “I got a substitute for today. So after I drop Rose off at school…” Derek raises his eyebrows as he heads for the door.

“I’m so calling in sick today,” Stiles says as he gets out of bed to follow Derek into the kitchen.

Rose has gotten all the ingredients out of the cabinet, but she spilled a huge pile of flour on the floor. Derek gives Stiles a frustrated look and goes to sweep it up. Stiles starts helping Rose make the pancakes, and Derek smiles.

*

Epilogue

“Florida is neat!” Rose exclaims as she looks out the window.

“Rose, we haven’t even left the airport,” Derek says as he drives the rental car away from the airport.

“But it’s still neat!”

“You haven’t even seen all the awesome stuff yet,” Stiles says, twisting around in the seat to show Rose the stack of brochures he grabbed at the rental car place. “We can go snorkeling, and look at manatees, and play on the beach! And look,” he shoves one of the brochures at Derek, and Derek bats it out of his vision. “There’s an awesome water theme park!”

“I wanna go!” Rose exclaims, kicking the back of Derek’s seat.

Derek scowls over at Stiles. “You’re dealing with her when she’s too hyper and won’t go to sleep.”

“Pfft, you’re no fun.”

“Yeah, Daddy, you’re no fun!” Rose giggles. Stiles sticks his tongue out at Derek, and Derek rolls his eyes.

“You two are ridiculous.”

“Well, we have to decide what we’re going to do,” Stiles says as he flips through more brochures.

“When do I get to see Mommy?” Rose asks.

“I’m dropping you off the day after tomorrow,” Derek says, glancing at Rose in the rearview mirror. “But we’re going to be staying at a hotel a few minutes away. We’ll be right here if you need us.”

“That’s right, wolfie,” Stiles says, twisting around again. “We won’t be far away from you at all.”

“So if anything happens,” Derek adds, “you’ll know we’re just down the street.”

“But you’re gonna have so much fun with your mom!”

“She’s gonna teach me how to swim with the fishies!” Rose exclaims. “And we’re gonna bake cookies!”

“Think you could take down a shark?” Stiles asks Derek. “Like, wolf versus shark! A shark week special, or a Syfy movie.”

“I’m not taking down a shark.”

“Please? For me?”

“No.”

“Will you catch a fish with your teeth?”

Derek huffs out through his nose. “Fine.”

“Really?” Stiles gapes, then claps his hands. “This trip is gonna be awesome.”

Derek grins as Rose and Stiles plan what they are going to do. Two weeks in Florida, one where Rose stays with her mother, and then another week of just Derek, Rose, and Stiles. Derek knows that Stiles is trying to fit everything into that second week with Rose, because he told Derek that they are only leaving the hotel room for beach sex or lube while Rose is with her mom.

He glances over at where Stiles is animatedly talking about going to Disneyworld with Rose. Things are good, he thinks. And when Stiles smiles at him and takes his hand, he thinks, Yeah, things are really good.

-fin