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Stiles's Story Time

Chapter Text

"What can I do for you?" the guy asks, voice quick and professional as he glances briefly at Derek while he slips his cell phone back into his pocket and then continues shoving books in his satchel.

The guy looks like he has something on his mind and somewhere to be, but Scott had been so happy about the story, so excited to see a wolf portrayed as a good guy. He doesn't want to disappoint him.

"I wanted to talk to you about your story. The little red riding hood variation."

"Oh please tell me you're not going to be one of those parents," he says, groaning as he shoves his bag closed and pulls his hoodie on - a red hoodie, aptly enough.

Derek furrows his brows in question.

"The ones who sanctimoniously tell me I'm ruining their children's lives by providing a more well-rounded perspective? Sorry. But I have some pretty strong opinions on this particular subject. Did you know that wolves don't attack humans? Like ever, unless the humans are invading their territory or getting between them and pack members, or harassing them? And yet we've managed to extinct a dozen different subspecies in this continent alone."

His eyes are flashing, bright amber behind his glasses and he gestures with as much passion as his words are spoken. The guy stands firm as he lifts his chin and stares Derek down, not giving him a chance to interrupt as he continues, saying, "Well what if kids grew up feeling sympathy for wolves instead of fearing them? Maybe we wouldn't have so much trouble keeping them alive. But no, I'm sure you want your kid to grow up being a selfish worshiper of consumerism and human superiority. Well there are plenty of children's books out there that support just that, so I'm sure you can find something to read them that will satisfy your narrow perspective. And feel free to not come back, because I'm not going to change my stories."

Derek blinks at the guy, fighting the urge to smirk.

"Actually, I wanted to say thanks."

Then he feels Scott tugging on the backs of his jeans, sees the guy's face go slack in surprise, then flush in embarrassment. But Derek ignores him to kneel down to face his kid, eyebrows lifted in question. "Yes Scott?"

"I thought he was going to be nice," Scott whispers, and out of the corner of his eye Derek sees the guy freeze. But he doesn't look at him, he just keeps a steady look at Scott and smiles slightly as he listens to every word.

Scott sets his little jaw. "I liked his story and you said we could tell him but he's being mean to you. We should go."

Derek raises an eyebrow. Scott, for all that he is only waist high, is fiercely protective of Derek. Probably a side-effect of losing Laura and Melissa so recently. He puts a soothing hand on Scott's shoulders, wishing he could draw out some of the tension, some of the boy's burdens.

"Didn't you see his sweatshirt? I bet he was still pretending to be that mean little red riding hood," he says with an easy smile.

Scott's eyes go wide as he unfurls his clenched fists, then he sneaks another glance at the guy.

Derek can't resist looking at him too when he immediately strips off his sweat-shirt again with a rough motion that has half his clothes pulling up to reveal a taut span of abdomen before he tosses it over to his things and crouches down to look at the boy at his level too.

"That's right Scott, I was being very rude. It was bad of me. But I'm not really mean, I promise."

Scott eyes him suspiciously for a long moment, then, predictably, his face breaks into a wide grin. "Wolves are the best!"

The man's eyes go bright behind his glasses as he returns the smile. "They totally are!"

"They're loyal and strong and fast and they work together with other wolves when they hunt and they take care of their young," Scott says, emphasizing the points with his little fingers.

"You know a lot about wolves," the guy says and Scott nods emphatically.

"Yeah we love wolves," Scott says with a grin for Derek. "That's why we liked your story."

"I'm really glad to hear that. I'll have to see if I can find another wolf story to tell next week," he says, then pauses, glancing sheepishly at Derek. "Assuming you'll be back next week."

Derek stands up, swinging Scott up along with him to settle on his hip since he knows the boy will probably request it anyway now that his protective instincts have been primed. As the other man stands as well, Derek glances at his boy with raised eyebrows. Scott looks at them both with wide eyes, then nods his head so firmly it sends his hair cascading over his face.

Derek turns his gaze on the other man. "Well there you have it. We'll see you next week."

"Good, that's. Good. Sorry about earlier," he says as he gathers his things again. "I… sorry."

Derek shrugs. He can't fault the guy for being passionate about something - especially not when it is something he wholeheartedly agrees with. In fact, it's damnably attractive. He watches as he slings the strap of his bag over his shoulder, then hesitates, sweatshirt in hand. He doesn't put on the sweatshirt, though it's a bit chilly out for the layered tees alone. It has the corner of Derek's mouth turning up and the guy's cheek's reddening.

"I'm Stiles, by the way. Stiles Stilinski," he says, extending his hand.

"Derek Hale," he replies as he takes it.

"Great. So uh. Scott," he says, then pauses fractionally before adding, "Derek. See you next week."

Derek nods, and then pretends not to watch him walk away with the express purpose of seeing how he fills out his jeans. It's not like he's seriously looking at anyone these days anyway. Scott's the focus of his life right now, and he's more than a handful - a point which he immediately demonstrates as though he'd been listening to Derek's thoughts.

"See you later, Alligator!" Scott shouts after him, despite the library setting. Yep. No time for the troubles of romance. He has a six-year-old to handle.

Except things never exactly go to plan, and he knows he's in for some of that trouble when Stiles turns around with a grin and a wink and calls back just as loudly, "In a while, Crocodile!"

Chapter Text

He's almost forgotten about it (Yep. Sure. Keep telling yourself that buddy) by the time the next week rolls around. Scott clearly hasn't, given the way he shows up promptly downstairs for breakfast, dressed in his favorite wolf tee-shirt with his jacket and shoes already on.

"Did you know that wolves only run on their tippy toes?" Scott says as he waits for Derek to set his bowl of cereal in front of him.

"Really?" he asks, though he did know that. Like he knew pretty much every fact that had shown up so far.

Derek is beginning to regret buying him that fact-a-day calendar from the wolf-reserve at Yellowstone. Every morning it's another fact that he knows, and another piece of paper that needs to be tacked on the cork-board in Scott's room.

Okay yeah he really doesn't mind. But still.

"Yeah their ankles are like really high up," Scott says before shoving a spoonful of Peanut-Butter-Panda-Puffs in his mouth.

He's glad there are some good things going on in Scott's life finally, even if they're small.

They get there extra early at Scott's eager insistence, and Scott talks excitedly about the upcoming school play while he follows Derek around through the drama section while Derek browses through the new arrivals. Being home-schooled did mean that Scott missed out on some of the group activities but the school was very good about community interaction and including alternative students in invitations to after-school activities. Scott had just gone to the first of these the previous day and was bursting with new descriptions.

"What are they going to do a play of?" he asks as he tucks another book under his arm, realizing that Scott hasn't actually gotten around to that part yet.

Scott thinks for a moment, face screwing up in contemplation. Then his face brightens. "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," Scott says triumphantly.

Derek raises an eyebrow. "That's an impressive name."

"Yeah! I almost couldn't remember it. They were going to…,"

Derek continues to listen with half an ear as he skims book synopses, adding to his stack a book about an undercover cop and his mission to infiltrate the inner circle of a crime-family's crown prince. Certainly no fairy-tale, since 'gritty' is one of the words used in the descriptors plastered over the cover, but it might be an interesting read.

But eventually it's time for the story hour and Scott drags him by the hand across the library to the children's section, picking a nice red bean-bag chair to drag over to the inner circle where the other children are gathering around Stiles. The chair's not for Scott, as it turns out. It's for Derek to sit on so that Scott can satisfy both his need to be closer to the story this time as well as keep ahold of Derek. Once satisfied that Derek was comfortably (if rather embarrassingly) situated, he snuggles down against Derek's shin. And that's exactly the way Derek wants it. The other parents are all sitting further back on short little children's chairs, but Derek would do a hand-stand if it made Scott happy.

Stiles is, of course, sitting on a low stool so everyone can see him. He doesn't even have to tell them to be quiet, because their excited murmurs fluctuate and dampen on their own at the sight of him pulling out his black-bound sketch-pad with a flourish and wiggling his fingers over the rectangle as he settles it on his knees. He pulls on the hard black cover for a moment, frowning theatrically when it doesn't open.

"That's funny," he says. "It won't open!"

The kids burst into delighted laughter and Scott looks up at Derek wide-eyed. They'd missed the beginning of the session last time. Derek thinks it might have been the best part, watching Stiles and all his animation and entertaining antics. In their old town he would have quietly started reading his books by now. Not here though, apparently.

"You have to say the magic word!" one girl braves, giggling.

"Magic word? Oh!" Stiles says, smacking a palm to his forehead, nudging his already messy hair in a new direction. "I forgot. How silly of me. Okay, here we go," he says, then wiggles his fingers over the book again.

"Abracabobble!" he says and the kids chortle at him.

He makes a face, playfully rubbing a curious hand over his mouth as he mutters, "That wasn't right, was it?"

The kids giggle again and there are a handful of "Noooo!" responses.

"Ali-ALIABABA!" he cries and they giggle louder. Scott is watching with a ridiculously excited look on his face.

"A-bu-bu?" Stiles tries, and Derek laughs faintly at the Aladdin references. Stiles flashes a grin at him, since he's right there, close enough to catch his amusement and Derek tries to stifle the flicker of attraction that answers it. But the gaze is broken almost as quickly as it had begun.

"Come on guys, help me out?" Stiles says leaning towards the kids.

The kids laugh, some of them falling over they're giggling so hard. "Open Sesame!" they cry.

He looks at them skeptically. "Are you sure? I thought it might be Abra-cadabra!"

That's what Derek would have guessed. Tricky little fucker.

There's another chorus of "Nooooo!"

He shrugs good-naturedly and claps his hands together, rubbing them in the air over the book. "Okay, here goes! Open Sesame!" he intones, and this time the book opens when he tugs on the cover to the squeals of excited children.

True to his word, the first page he reveals on the sketchbook is decorated with a drawing of a wolf and three little pigs.
He flashes a grin their way and Scott tugs on Derek's pants-leg and points in excitement.

Stiles clears his throat and turns from the cover page and begins his story. "Once upon a time, there was a wolf. He was a young wolf and had just grown up enough to leave his parents' pack and go live in the forest. He hadn't made any friends yet so he was all by himself. He was a little lonely, but his forest was nice, and he was sure he would meet some new friends soon."

The children are all gazing at Stiles with rapt attention. Just as he had last week, he speaks clearly and with engaging rises and falls to his speech, complete with an expressive face.

"One day, he was out hunting when he was surprised to hear many loud noises. He was afraid at first, but decided to be brave and go see what was happening."

Derek can feel Scott's hand tighten on his foot.

"He was very surprised to find three pigs at the spot where he had made his den out of a nice bale of straw. To his dismay, they were cutting down his favorite trees and trampling all over his clearing!"

The children gasp in collective horror.

Stiles turns the page to show a wolf leaping forward into the clearing. "'Stop!' he cried. 'What are you doing?'"

Stiles turns his voice dismissive and gruff as he says the pig's lines. "'Can't you see? I am building a house!' the first pig says."

"'But I live here!' the wolf says, pointing to his den. 'That pile of straw is my home.'"

"'Not anymore,' the pig replies as he stomps on the nest. 'It's gone. I own this land now.'"

Some of the children are too young to really follow and are still gazing at Stiles with wide-eyed admiration. Others are scowling on the wolf's behalf. Scott doesn't turn to look at him but he can see the little muscles in his jaw working the way they did when he was mad. He runs a soothing hand over his back. He's still kind-of amazed every time that Scott is so small and his hand is so big that it covers the whole of his kid's shoulder.

"So the wolf gave up and ran away because they had crushed his house and cut down his trees. He decided that next time he would build a stronger den. He gathered the biggest branches he can find and made himself a new den that was big and clearly marked. It's not as warm as his old den but it's sturdy. But one week later, the wolf was awakened from his den by a big crash. He jumped up and left his bed, just as a big tree fell down on it!"

He punctuates it with a slap of his hands and the kids jump and gasp.

"The three pigs were back! And they were not happy to see him. 'Get out of my way you ugly dog!' the second pigs says, 'I bought this land. You have to leave'. The second pig was even meaner and he had a big axe for chopping down trees, so the wolf ran away again, looking for a new place to make his home."

"That night there was a full moon. He cried out, howling at it because he was afraid of the pigs and lonely. He missed his family, but they weren't nearby."

Scott looks positively heart-broken, and leans his head against Derek's knee with a huff of breath, looking up at him with sad brown eyes. Derek strokes a hand through his messy hair and smiles softly at him.

"But to his surprise, his howls were answered. He was not alone!"

Scott squirms upright at that, as expected.

"He followed the howls to a small creek where there was a large set of rocks beside the water to provide shelter from the weather. There he met another wolf, the one who had howled. She had other wolves with her. She was their leader, their Alpha wolf."

Scott smacks his hand against Derek's foot in his excitement.

"She asked the wolf what was wrong. He told her about the pigs and how they had destroyed both his homes. But the Alpha wolf was kind. She told him that she was sad to hear that but that he was welcome to come stay with her pack at the rocks by the creek. The wolf was happy because he finally met new friends."

"The next week the third pig came to the creek. The wolf was afraid of the mean pig, but he didn't run away this time. He had friends now. He stood on the tallest rock and howled for them to come home. The pig saw the wolf and yelled at him 'I own this creek. Get off my land.' The wolf replied and said, 'this land doesn't belong to you.' The pig was mad. But the Alpha wolf and the others returned."

Scott practically bounces with glee.

Stiles smirks as he continues. "The pig was not so brave anymore now that the wolf was not alone. 'You came to the wrong neighborhood', the Alpha wolf says" Stiles says, and Derek hears the implied motherfucker in the pause. It has him stifling a laugh and Stiles flashing him a grin.

"'This is our land, and you can't take it from us with your bullying,' the alpha wolf said, her voice strong and true. The pig realized he could not win and so he turned and ran away, never to return."

The children, Scott included, cheer. Stiles turns the book to the last page with the pack of wolves playing in the river and on the rocks. "The wolf stayed with his new friends and they all lived at the creek happily forever after."

There are cries of victory and happy sighs from the gathered children - and probably even a few of the parents; Stiles was an engaging storyteller. Then Stiles sets the sketchpad aside on the nearby table and pulls out a few more books from his bag.

"Okay guys, what should we read next?" he asks, and is immediately swarmed with enthusiastic requests. It seems he does do some of the classics as well after all. They settle in eventually with the tale of goldilocks (not that Stiles would really even have to alter that one to meet his ideals), but Derek finds himself listening nevertheless.

After the hour is up, and a hearty chorus of disappointed groans greet that announcement, Scott clambers to his feet and moves up so he can put his face up against Derek's ear.

"Dad," Scott whispers. "Do you think Stiles has read Wolf Heart? Do you think he would like it?"

Derek makes a face as he considers. That was high praise indeed. Scott was generally cautious when it came to sharing his very favorite book. On the other hand he was a good judge of character, for a six-year-old anyway. But Derek agreed with his assessment. "I don't know. Maybe you should ask him. I bet he would like it if you told him about it."

Scott grins. "I bet I can find it by myself," he says. "I remember where it goes."

Derek doesn't bother to suggest to him that Stiles probably doesn't need to see the book to answer the question of whether or not he's actually read it, not with the excitement on Scott's face at the thought of his little mission.

"Then you'd better go find it," Derek says seriously, and Scott smacks his little palms on Derek's arm in excitement before he goes skipping away into the young-adult books section.

The other children are making their way out of the story-telling area with their parents, waving cheerful goodbyes to Stiles. Derek has nothing to do but wait, and after a minute, Stiles turns slightly curious eyes on him for the briefest moment. So he stands (as gracefully as is possible from a bean-bag chair) and walks over to lean his library books against the table, looking down at the sketch-pad which is still sitting open to the last page of the story, the wolf-pack standing triumphantly together on their rock.

"So, are the pigs a metaphor for consumerism?" he asks, raising an eyebrow at the other man.

"More like imperialism, actually," Stiles says with a grin as he tucks the other story books back in his bag. He doesn't seem in a rush this time, so Derek takes the opportunity to pick the sketch-book up off the table.

"You draw these?" Derek asks, turning slowly through the pages of the story, getting a closer look rather than the glimpses he'd had during the initial telling. There are little splashes of water-colors that add the pop of life and contrast to the black ink lines of the illustrations.

"Uh. Yeah," he says, going still and blushing at the sight of Derek going through his book. "Just. For the tales I alter. Since the kids seem to like the pictures a lot."

They're impulsive and imperfect and just like the storyteller, bold and organic and interesting to look at.

"They're really good," he says, continuing to look through them. "You could publish these."

"Um," Stiles says like he doesn't know what to say to that as he gnaws on his lower lip. Derek wonders if he's said something wrong, but Stiles just clears his throat and smiles. "Ah, thanks."

"Stiles!" Scott says, running over with the aforementioned book in his arms, capturing Stiles's attention with his goofy grin and excitement. "Look at this. Have you read this book? It's my favorite book."

As Stiles leans forward to take the proffered item, Derek tunes out Scott's excited description of the book (one he's heard about forty-seven times already) and continues flipping through the pages into other stories he hasn't heard yet or are only partially completed, then beyond into drawings that don't seem to be related to any of the children's tales. Sketches of people at cafés or parks, or, more commonly, studies of people in the library.

Then, abruptly, the sketches also turn intimate. Derek finds his eyebrows lifting as well as a corner of his mouth as he continues. Studies of the nude human form, and even more than that. Some of the drawings are quite pornographic. Mostly men, though some women make an appearance. They're beautiful and achingly passionate.

Sensual. Arousing.

"Holy mother of god," he hears Stiles blurt as the book is unceremoniously snatched from his grip and flipped shut.

His thick-rimmed glasses are making his eyes seem even bigger than they probably are as he stares wide-eyed at Derek, then stiffly turns and shoves the sketchpad in his bag when Derek just smirks at him.

He turns back, hands splaying and then clenching in the air in agitation. "Just so you know? I uh, I usually take the drawings for the stories out of this book and put them in a separate binder. I just didn't have time since I drew these like, yesterday."

Derek just regards him with a look of amusement. And surprise at the thought that Stiles had probably worked on this story just because he'd promised it to Scott. That was rather generous of him and spoke well of his character - not that Derek had really needed more indicators than the fact that he was passionate about his job as a librarian and children's story-teller.

"You have more drawings?" Scott asks from behind him, looking at his bag in glee and inching towards it.

"Like father like son," Stiles mutters under his breath as he not-so-surreptitiously grabs his bag away from the precocious child. "Yeah I have lots of drawings," Stiles says. "I can bring you some to look at next week if you want," he says, then mumbles, "Assuming I still have a job here."

Scott looks up at him in concern and confusion, never one to miss a word, especially not ones that were never intended for him in the first place.

"Why wouldn't you have a job here?" Scott asks, frowning ferociously like there's a mean little pig about to ruin Stiles's day.

Stiles flounders, mouth working over words that don't seem to get formulated.

Derek answers for him. "Stiles is embarrassed because I saw some of his drawings that he didn't want me to see. He thinks I might get him in trouble for having them in the library," Derek explains.

Scott looks at him with a confused scowl. "That's silly. Why didn't he want you to see them? What were they?" Scott demands.

"Sex stuff," Derek says casually. Because it's really just that simple.

Stiles makes a strangled noise and just looks at him in abject horror.

Scott wrinkles his nose and rolls his eyes. "Oh. That's okay. I don't really want to see those ones then. Oh hey, hey, did you know that wolves mate for life?" Scott asks of Stiles, grin coming back into full force as he leaps back to his favored topic as only a child can.

"Yeah," Stiles says faintly, voice cracking over the word.

"Cool," Scott says. "Okay. I'd better go put this back," he says sadly at the book in his hands, then pauses, looking up at Derek with his most puppy-doggiest eyes. Derek rolls his eyes and fishes into his pocket for his wallet, getting out his library card and handing it to him. "Yes you may check it out. Again."

When Scott bounds away, Derek shakes his head and leans down to tie the shoelace that had come undone during the story along with Scott's fidgeting, and then grabs his kid's discarded coat. He straightens and turns back to the table, looking for the books he'd set there. They've been appropriated nervously by the librarian, who is currently reading the back of the book No Way Out that Derek had last picked out, fingers drumming against the spine.

Derek clears his throat and the guy jerks, eyes flashing over to his face as he blurts, "Sorry," and hands the books back to him.

Derek shrugs. "Turn-about's fair play."

That gets a faint laugh out of the other man who straightens the strap of his messenger bag. "So. You're not upset?" Stiles asks, fingers worrying at the edge of his lower lip as he looks over at Derek.

"Do I seem upset?"

Stiles tilts his head. "Well. No. Despite the eyebrows, no."

Derek draws said eyebrows down and Stiles stifles a nervous laugh, but Derek can't hold the expression more than a moment before his face cracks into a grin, which slowly gets answered by the other man.

Then he lets his eyebrows go up as he purses his lips for a moment before he says, "Besides. You do beautiful work."

Stiles's face falls slack as his hands go still on his bag's strap. His eyes are wide as he swallows, then he flushes, nudging his glasses back into place as he murmurs, "Thanks."

Yep. He was in serious trouble.

"See you next week," Derek says.

"Okay," Stiles says faintly behind him as he walks away to hunt down Scott.

Chapter Text

Petya i volk

Derek finds himself glaring at the red light as though willing it to change will make it so, and he shakes his head, laughing under his breath in self-deprecation. A quick glance in the rearview shows him Scott, tucked quietly into his seat, a pensive look on his little face as he stares out the window and gnaws on his lip, heels drumming slowly but steadily against the seat base.

They are running late. There'd been a small disaster involving the goldfish and a pair of roller skates. It had been a whirlwind morning trying to simultaneously rescue the fish and keeping Scott from cutting himself trying to pick up the broken glass. Any other kid might have listened when Derek had said to leave it, but not Scott. The psychologists had warned Derek that Scott might be prone to getting fixated on trying to undo his mistakes. He understood it. But it didn't make him worry any less about his son.

Of course, worrying about his kid is kind-of what he does. Trying to prevent Scott from feeling unnecessary stress or unhappiness is more or less his purpose in life now. Nothing else can come first, it's the choice he'd made when he'd taken Scott into his life. A choice he'd made long before that, to be honest. So when he'd realized that morning that he was almost as anxious as Scott to get to the library and see Stiles, he'd almost suggested they call the library trip off entirely. After all, they were still just settling in to this town. It really wouldn't be a good idea to get too attached to the librarian. At least, it wouldn't do Scott any good if Derek were to get too attached to his son's favorite librarian. Better to nip those potential feelings in the bud.

He'd almost called it off, but Scott had been so worried that they get to the library for story time, because Stiles had said he was going to show him his drawings. And despite his personal misgivings, Derek wasn't going to let him down. Though he was not particularly happy about the way the leftover fish-bowl water was going to smell when they finally got back and he could finish cleaning. Despite all of that, and despite Scott's desperate and heartbreaking attempts to tell Derek not to worry and that he would fix everything, they'd made it to the car only ten minutes overdue.

The light finally turns green and Derek carefully does not speed the remaining distance to the library. Scott runs ahead of him and he lengthens his stride to keep up. They get to Story Time only a little too late - though perhaps in more ways than one, he realizes, given the flicker of excited anticipation that settles in his own chest when they arrive at the children's area. They get there just as Stiles is finishing his first story.

Scott grabs his hand and drags him over to the red bean-bag chair he'd occupied last time which has been placed out and left empty near the circle of children, just as Stiles is opening his second book. Derek offers him an apologetic grimace as they arrive and Stiles seemingly loses his train of thought, lips parted at the sight of them before he flicks his gaze back down to the children around him, grinning at them and opening the book with a flourish. The book is old this time, leather-bound and when he opens it, he can see that the pages are all bordered with beautifully hand-painted Russian flowers and paisleys in bright primary colors.

"This story is called Petya i volk. It is the story of a little Russian boy and a wolf."

Scott sighs happily and grins as he leans against Derek's shins. Stiles begins his story, and they settle in to the enthralling tones of his voice.

"Petya lives in a small house with his grandpa. They live far away from the town, deep in the woods. He helps with the housekeeping while his grandpa makes his wood crafts. The winter is harsh and cold, but along with their goose and their cat they are a happy little family."

It's clear that the book is an original work of art, not a mass-produced volume. The art is not Stiles's, but it is hand-drawn in the pages of the book. Where Stiles's drawings had been bold and impulsive, these are delicate and graceful and have a sense of warmth to them.

"Petya is a curious boy, who wanted to explore the woods around his grandfather's house along with his friends the goose and the cat. But his grandfather worries about his safety. He does not want him to go outside the gates. 'What if a wolf were out there? What would you do then?' he says. 'A wolf would eat you whole!'. Petya does not think the wolves would bother him, but his grandpa locks the gate and puts the key in his pocket."

Stiles pouts at the pronouncement, sticking his lower lip out in an exaggerated expression that has some of the kids cooing in sympathy while others giggle.

"So Petya goes back to doing his chores and stays inside the gate. Sometimes, though, the forest calls to him, and he looks longingly through the slats in the fence, watching all the animals that frolic and chase in the snow."

He turns the page from a drawing of a sad boy with golden eyes to the next image which is full of people and animal furs in the small house.

"One day there is a knock on the gate. There are some travelers who have come to beg his grandpa's hospitality.
They are big and gruff men and women. Hunters."

Derek is suddenly glad that Scott still insists on him sitting up front with the children, given the way his body goes rigid at the word. His own gut clenches at the sound. It is, unsurprisingly, his least favorite word.

"They have big guns and skins of animals that they have killed in their travels. They bring deer and boar meat in exchange for the warm fire and a place to sleep. Petya is afraid of the biggest hunter because he wears a frown on his face. He has a scar on his forehead and a cloak made out of a wolf's skin."

As Stiles makes a big frown and gestures with claw marks over his brow and the other kids titter nervously, Scott's fists clench in anger.

"'You see Petya?' his grandpa says, 'This big strong hunter was barely able to defeat the wolf. You would be killed if a wolf found you. You must never go outside the gate'. But Petya disagrees. 'I'm not scared of the wolves,' Petya says. 'They don't like to hurt humans. They hide in their dens and tend to their families. They hunt smaller game than me!'"

Scott nods emphatically.

"But the hunters laugh at him and tell him he is a fool. They even take his bed and make him sleep on a rug near the fire. He decides he does not like hunters very much. He is glad when they leave."

He can see Scott glaring at the drawings, little arms folded and hair down over his face. Then abruptly he turns and stands, drawing Stiles's eye for a surprised moment. But Scott is more intent on Derek. He walks up beside him and looks at him with wide sad eyes. He wraps his arms around Derek's biceps and rests his head on his shoulder. It takes him a moment, but he realizes that Scott is comforting him, not the other way around. He tousles his hair and smiles reassuringly.

"Petya is a good grandson though, so he dutifully does his chores and takes care of their pets and livestock. He tends the barn and cleans the yard. One day while he is cleaning the yard, he sees a raven who has hurt its wing. It cannot fly well enough to get out of the tall gates around the house. Petya doesn't want to disobey his grandpa, but he knows the raven has a nest nearby and he worries that she might have some eggs she needs to care for. So he sneaks into the cabin while his grandpa is asleep and steals the key to the gate."

"He takes the raven outside the gate and the goose comes along. The cat comes too and they march through the woods. It is a beautiful sunny day and Petya sings to them as they walk. Petya takes the raven back to the tree where her nest is. The goose quacks excitedly. There is a frozen pond nearby. The goose runs over to it, jumping onto the surface. 'No silly goose' Petya says as he laughs, 'We can't go swimming, the pond is frozen'."

The children giggle at the next picture which shows the goose and Petya both going ass over teakettle on the pond.

"But the goose is sliding around on the ice. It looks like fun, so Petya climbs down the bank and slips along the ice with him. The goose scampers away, and Petya chases him, slipping and sliding on the ice. It is great fun! But then, suddenly, Petya hears a big crack," he says, adding a slap to the word.

"The ice is breaking! Spring is coming and the ice has gotten thin. Petya tries to run back to the bank, but the ice breaks. He falls through the ice into the freezing cold water."

The children gasp collectively.

"He cannot get out. It is too slippery. He cries for help, but they have strayed too far from the house and his grandpa cannot hear him. The goose and cat and raven all cry out with worry but they are too small to help and their cries are too faint. Just when he was about to give up hope, Petya realizes that there is a wolf looking down at them from the banks, drawn by his friends' cries."

"She hops down from the rocks and walks carefully across the ice. She stares at Petya with golden eyes, and for a moment he is afraid, thinking that she will hunt him. The goose squawks bravely at the wolf, flapping its wings. But she does not run away."

"The wolf is cautious when she approaches. But instead of harming them or running away, the wolf looks like she wants to help. 'Stay back!' Petya cries, 'the ice is weak and you might fall!' The wolf is wise and listens, stopping several feet away. She whimpers because when she looks around she does not see any way she can help. 'It's okay,' Petya says, 'Thank you for trying'."

Some of the kids sigh sadly, but Stiles's face shifts from disappointment to excitement as he says, "But suddenly the wolf realizes she does know one thing she can do! Do any of you know?"

Before he can even think to stop him, Scott squirms delightedly and throws back his head with a throaty, warbling howl, unable to resist the temptation of the familiar activity. Chagrinned, Derek looks to Stiles to mouth an apology, but to everyone's surprise, Stiles tips back his head and howls too. It's not badly done, and the way it's elongating his throat has Derek's eyes riveted. He has to actively resist joining in when the other children, at Scott's example, throw in their own voices with yips and calls of glee. The smile that spreads over Stiles's face is one of pure joy as he leans forward in his excitement.

"She howls and howls until Petya hears something else. Then she stops and cocks her head as they listen. It is his grandfather calling for him! 'Petya where are you?' his grandpa cries. 'I'm here, I'm here!' he shouts.

"Soon his old grandpa comes rushing over to the pond. But his grandpa is afraid when he sees the wolf. He shouts and points his rifle at her."

Scott gasps aloud and buries his face against Derek's arm. Derek is a little concerned as well, though based on the prior two week's stories he doubts that Stiles would tell a version of the story in which the wolf is shot so summarily.

"'Dedushka no!" Petya cries, 'she helped me. Let her go!' His Grandpa looks scared, but he wants to help Petya more. The wolf does not attack. She retreats to her rock instead. 'How can I get you out? I have no rope or branch.' his grandpa says. The cat meows mournfully and the raven caws. But Petya has an idea. 'The rifle,' he cries, 'let me hold the end!'"

"'But if I take out the bullets, we will have no defense against the wolf!' Grandpa says. Petya is insistent. 'She will not hurt us, I know it! A wolf will not hunt big animals without her pack'."

"Though he is still afraid, grandpa must admit that it is true, so he takes the bullet out of his gun and then crawls forward on the ice. Carefully he stretches out the long metal rifle till Petya can grab the end. It works! He is able to get a grip on the rod and pull himself out of the water. The wolf walks alongside him and his Grandpa all the way home, where he gets dry and warm by the fire. He waves to the wolf outside the window, and satisfied that he is safe, she disappears into the forest."

"From that day on, Petya always tells the story of the wolf to visitors and warns them not to be afraid of all wolves. He and his grandpa continue to live happily in their cabin together. Sometimes when the moon is full he howls into the night. And sometimes," Stiles says, leaning down to the kids as he turns the page to the final image. It's a full moon with a silhouette of a wolf with her head thrown back, howling at the moon. "Sometimes, he gets an answer."

The kids coo and cheer excitedly and then one girl bursts out a howl, though the other parents are already crowding closer to shush their children and say their goodbyes to Stiles. As before, Derek waits where he is, trying not to feel ridiculous reclining in a bean-bag chair while a long chain of kids offer hugs and high-fives to Stiles (along with one excited batman tee-shirt comparison between the librarian and a little girl).

Scott is still patting his arm, though now it's more out of excitement than comfort. When palms turn into little fists, he starts to sense Scott getting impatient so Derek pushes himself to his feet, leading Scott over to the nearby shelves with the week's featured selections for children's books. Scott thankfully takes to the distraction with his usual fervor, plucking up anything that catches his eye and shoving it into Derek's waiting hands in between trips to the end of the shelf to peer at Stiles's dwindling group of fans.

If Derek watches him over the top of the bookshelf, well, he doesn't want Scott to miss out.

When the crowd finally clears away, Stiles frowns, hands landing on trim hips as he glances at the red bean-bag and then around the now-empty children's space. Derek briefly debates waving at him, but Scott's already heading back for another peek around the corner, so Derek just follows him this time, patting an encouraging hand on Scott's head when he hesitates at the end of the shelf. Stiles catches sight of them as they step back into the open and flashes them a grin, putting away his books and waving Scott over as he draws out a black binder.

Stiles has kept his promise - though Derek is less surprised than he had been before. Stiles clearly cares about the kids that are part of his job. He even seems a little shyly excited as he brings out a big binder for Scott to look through. "I put this one together for you," he says as he opens it and hands it down to Scott. It's all studies of animals this time.

Derek might or might not smirk at that until Stiles blushes. His earlier wariness nags at the back of his mind, warning him to be careful, but… it's a little too late for him to not notice Stiles, and he might not have time or inclination for romance or a relationship, but that shouldn't preclude him from having a little fun casually flirting. Well. He thinks Stiles is on board with the flirting. He hopes he is. Because otherwise that would be rather awkward. The 'sex stuff' Derek had seen had been mostly men but… well sometimes you never know with people.

"Dad this is so cool," Scott says, studying each drawing avidly.

"I want to see," Derek says, poking around Scott and tickling him and generally making him squeal and clutch the book to his chest and squirm saying, "No this one's for meeeee!"

Scott, mischievous thing that he is, scrambles away, taking the binder with him as he crawls under the table.

"Piggy pig," Derek calls after him, crossing his arms and growling playfully, which elicits a ridiculous giggle. But Scott stays firmly ensconced under the furniture - presumably so he can look at the drawings at his leisure and not be hurried along by pesky adults. Which leaves said adults standing there waiting for him.

Stiles glances at him after a moment, then smirks at his crossed arms and residual scowl.

"Don't tell me, you want your own binder?" he says, playing along.

Derek tilts his head and raises his eyebrows. "Maybe I do," he says, leaning closer and looking up at Stiles through his lashes. "If I ask nicely will I get one?"

"Oh my god it's genetic," Stiles says, staring at him with wide eyes and an incredulous half-smile.

Derek's eyebrows lift in surprise and query as he tilts his head back from its flirtatious angle, uncrossing his arms.

"The puppy-dog eyes. I mean, Scott has the advantage because he's a kid but sheesh!" he says with a laugh.

That has him grinning. Personally he thought that Melissa had had even better genes for puppy-dog eyes than he did, but Scott was certainly a mix of the two of them, so maybe it was cumulative in the kid. And the kid definitely had the puppy-dog power - not that he used it often. And neither did Derek but…

Well if you've got it…

Derek smirks and leans closer again, "Does that mean you'll bring me one?" he asks and then pauses before he adds in a low voice, "One that Scott won't want to look at?"

Stiles scowls at him at first, but then falters at the look on Derek's face.

Yeah. He hadn't actually been entirely kidding.

Stiles's lips part distractingly as his eyes widen and his cheeks go pink. "Oh… um… if you-,"

"DAD!" Scott blurts, scrambling out from under the table awkwardly and frantically, book shoved forward to show Derek the latest drawing, not that he can actually see it with Scott clambering alongside it in his haste.

"Look, look at this!"

Derek hears a note of emotion in Scott's voice that has him crouching down quickly in concern. He sees Stiles tense up at it too.

"What is it Scott?"

"It's mom and momma," he says, pointing at the book as he lays it out on the floor for them all to see. "It's them!" he says, voice going thick with tears.

The drawing is beautiful, two large wolves curled against each other, napping in the sun. One dark and unbroken in coloring, the other a speckled mixture of white and grey. Of course he knows it isn't actually Laura and Melissa, but the resemblance is uncanny. Enough that his own chest tightens with pain. He runs a hand through Scott's hair and then opens his arms when the boy hurls himself head-first into Derek's chest, trying and failing to hold back his desperate sobs.

Stiles is looking at him with helpless dismay, arms crossed across his stomach, fingers digging in. Derek offers him a consoling smile as he rocks Scott in his arms. He looks like he wants to ask, but he bites it back and just silently picks up his sketchpad, folding the binder closed and slipping it away in his bag.

It's turning into a full-scale meltdown. Not loud, it's never loud when Scott really breaks down, but there are hard little sobs muffled against his shoulder. He'd just been thinking about how they were getting overdue for an upset, given the way Scott had been so frantic that morning trying to help. He rocks Scott, shushing comforting sounds against his hair. Stiles waits awkwardly, fingers fiddling with the cuff on his plaid overshirt. But after a bit Scott calms down, and Derek scoops him up off the ground to cradle him on his shoulder.

"Let's go home, buddy."

Scott nods his head against Derek's shoulder as he scoops up their discarded coats.

"God, I'm sorry," Stiles says, eyes wide behind his glasses.

Derek shakes his head, "No, don't be. How could you have known?"

"Still," he murmurs, looking at Scott with worry, fingers plucking at the edge of the strap across his chest like it was a guitar string.

"He'll be okay," he says softly. He glances down at the books he'd gathered, sitting on the table and he sighs, trying to re-position the bundled coats and the weight that was Scott. "Could you do me a favor?"

"Sure," Stiles says, hands pausing on the strap of his messenger bag.

"Put those in the circulation pile for me?" he says, tipping his head towards the books.

Stiles nods, lifting the stack. "Yeah, of course. Or I could, you know, keep them in the reserve section, if you want. Then you can just come find me next time you're in to pick them up," Stiles says with a too-casual shrug.

Derek pauses, then smiles faintly and says, "Thanks. I'd really appreciate that."

"Hey, it's my job," Stiles says dismissively with a little smile.

Except that it's kindof not.

It's thoughtful. And while it's a friendly gesture, the way Stiles's cheeks are faintly flushing says it's not just friendly. He knows he should nip this in the bud. He knows it's going to be problematic for all of them if he lets it go any further. He knows it… But somehow he still ends up turning a smile back at Stiles that is just a little to genuine, and lasts a little too long before he says, "See you next week," and walks away.

Chapter Text

Scott spends almost the entire rest of the day hunkered down in a nest made in the middle of his dad's bed out of Derek's sheets and some of his dirty laundry. His moms' things had stopped smelling like them a while ago, really. Though that didn't stop him from adding them to the pile. It was almost wallowing, what he was doing.

It seemed comforting to him, and Derek himself almost crawled in there with him once or twice. The psychologists, if Derek had gone back, would have probably said it wasn't going to be the most effective coping strategy. But then again, they wouldn't be able to understand their special circumstances, reasons why it was more normal behavior than they'd think. So Derek lets him do it. There are worse ways of coping. Much worse. And it's only been about a year.

But the subsequent quiet is almost too much for him to bear. It had taken him months to get used to trying to work with a little kid rampaging around the house. Now he'd gotten so used to it his paternal senses went on red alert when there was silence during the day.

Throughout the afternoon he basically makes it through one paragraph at a time. Then he sits and listens a moment, uncertain why he's distracted into listening until he remembers. Then he glares at his computer as if that will keep him from getting up. After about five minutes of glaring he inevitably fails and has to go peek in on Scott, just to make sure. He only writes about six pages. The next morning he deletes the entirety of it as the detritus it is.

Scott on the other hand feels much better in the morning. He comes downstairs in a hop (each step gets two bounces). Clearly well on his way to being his usual chipper self, complete with a new factoid of the day.
"Hey Dad, did you know that wolves have 42 teeth?"

Derek calls it a win.

At least until a few days later. As is their routine, he goes to read him a bedtime story, offering praise for a successful solo mission of pajama-donning and tooth-brushing. It's all normal at first, until he realizes Scott is staring out the window unhappily, despite Harold and the Purple Crayon being his favorite story.

"Scott? What's wrong?" Derek asks gently, closing the little book and setting it aside.

Scott squirms in his pajamas, sticking out his lip and turning full-on puppy-dog-eyes on him like he does when he doesn't want to answer. He just raises his eyebrows in response and lets his voice go a little firm. "What is it pup?"

Scott pouts then looks up at him and asks, "Do you thinks Stiles will still let me come to story time?"

Derek is taken aback. "What do you mean? Why wouldn't Stiles want you to come to story time?" he asks, tilting his head.

Scott sighs mightily, smacking his palms to the top of his head and dragging his fingers down through his hair. "Stiles is mad at me," he says.

Derek frowns. Had he missed something? Last thing he remembered was Stiles looking worried and apologizing needlessly. And, come to think of it, Scott hadn't mentioned Stiles or his stories at all in the past few days, which was odd since he had often spoken of them in previous weeks. "Why do you think that?"

"Because I cried at his picture," he says with a frown. "I didn't say thank you!"

"Is that all?" Derek asks, smoothing his hand over the corner of the bed covers that Scott's fidgeting had rumpled.

Scott tips his chin a moment, tapping his fingers against it as he thinks, then he crosses his arms and nods.

Derek runs a hand over Scott's hair, settling it on his little shoulder with a squeeze. "He's not mad at your for that, Scott."

Scott's arms slip from their crossed position as he turns luminous eyes up on Derek. "Really?"

"Really," he says firmly. Because he believes it. "It's okay for you to be upset when something reminds you of your moms. I'm sure he'd understand, if we told him about them."

"Are you sure?" Scott asks suspiciously, laying back on his pillow and crossing his arms.

Derek nods and ruffles his hair. "Sure I'm sure."

"Okay," Scott says in a small voice, then looks over at the book before turning puppy-dog eyes on Derek for the third time that night. Derek shakes his head and sighs, but he picks back up the book again and starts from the beginning.

"One evening after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight. But there wasn’t any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight. Fortunately, he had brought his purple crayon. So he drew a moon…"

His assurances are enough to have Scott settling in and falling asleep halfway through Harold's adventure. They're also the source of Scott's newest mission, he finds out the next morning.

"Dad! Can we go to the library?" he says as he rushes down the steps.

Derek eyes him from the kitchen where he's scrambling eggs. He waits for him to finish rushing down the steps and around the corner through the open-concept dining area and into the kitchen. He's already dressed for success, wearing his favorite purple shirt and shoes.

"Maybe."

Scott inches closer, though he stays well enough back in the cooking buffer-zone Derek had long ago established for the sake of both of their sanities.

"Please?"

Derek sets down two plates on the counter and scoops the egg mixture over onto them. "Get your milk," he says, and Scott sighs mightily before hurrying away and doing what he's told while Derek carries the plates into the dining room. He sets them down and goes back to get his protein shake that's still sitting in the blender while Scott carefully pours his milk into his cup.

"Why do you want to go?" he asks as they carry their drinks out to the dining room.

"I want to apologize to Stiles," Scott says as he sets his cup on the table, then climbs into his chair.

Derek sighs, because he's about 97% certain that an apology is completely unnecessary. But he also can't really imagine denying his son the opportunity to do what he thinks is the right thing. Even if it does mean cutting into his work. He chews over a bite of eggs as he considers. There's also the fact that he feels a little pulse of anticipation at the thought of seeing Stiles again. He can't decide whether that's a pro or a con. But Scott is looking at him with an intent and determined stare. And if he takes his personal feelings out of the consideration, the decision is clear.

"Okay. We can go after breakfast."

Scott's smile curls up into his cheeks and eyes and Derek can't help but return it. Scott digs into his food like the hungry little pup that he is. He makes it about halfway through before he drops his fork and swipes his napkin over his face.

"Dad! I almost forgot to tell you! Did you know that wolf pups are born with blue eyes?"

 

Scott squirms most of the ride over, drawing Derek's eyes to the rearview mirror on multiple occasions. It's a Tuesday morning instead of waiting for their usual Friday afternoon. The parking lot is almost entirely empty, though he knows the library hours are currently open. He parks away from any of the other cars as is his habit, then holds the door for Scott as he climbs out without waiting for Derek to tilt the seat forward.

He purses his lips as he blocks out the squeak of sneakers on the leather. Some things you just had to accept as a parent. Scott climbing all over things was one of them.

"Are you sure Stiles won't be mad once we explain it?" Scott asks nervously as he waits for Derek to shut and lock the car door.

"I'm pretty sure he's not mad now Scott," Derek says, ruffling his hair as he falls into step beside him. Scott reaches up and smacks at his hand in playful annoyance.

"He might not be here, Scott," he warns as they walk towards the big brass-framed front doors.

"I know that, silly," Scott says. "Stiles doesn't live at the library," he adds, then giggles at his dad's absurdity. Derek just rolls his eyes and helps Scott pull open the big door whose handle he can barely reach but still insists on trying to open.

But Stiles is right there at the main desk when they come in. It's relatively quiet in the library given that most kids are off at school and most adults are off at work. Stiles is busy sorting through a big stack of books and doesn't notice them approach. Which isn't all that surprising, considering that both he and Scott are light on their feet. Stiles just sorts away, tapping a rhythm out with his foot and head as he works - at least until Derek lifts Scott up so he can see and Scott, being Scott, promptly blurts, "Stiles!"

Which sends the librarian jolting right into the tall stack of books he'd been working next to, and subsequently has him spinning to catch it and thus knocking his elbow into another stack. After a moment or two of desperate flailing (and Scott's delighted giggles) he manages to quite impressively stabilize all three stacks of books on the counter.

"Wow. Um. Hi Scott! You surprised me," he says, laughing breathlessly. He's wearing more 'librarian' clothes today as opposed to his Friday-afternoon casual wear of graphic tees and jeans. Today it's trim khakis and neat sweater that fits the curve of his surprisingly broad shoulders with a distracting tightness.

"Gotcha!" Scott says with a giggle, though it had hardly been his intention.

"You sure did!" Stiles says with a grin and a dramatic hand to his heart and a hefty sigh. Then he smiles at them both in greeting. "Scotty my man," he says, offering him a high five, which Scott takes eagerly. "Good to see you."

"You too!" Scott chirrups.

Stiles's eyes slip over to Derek and his face softens into a different sort of smile as he says, "Hey."

Derek feels his face go a little funny as he tries to ignore the little flip-flop his stomach does at the soft word. Despite knowing he'd been looking forward to seeing Stiles again, that strong of a reaction was unexpected, actually. He forces his lips closed and nods his greeting in return. Fortunately Stiles doesn't seem to notice his hesitation and continues sorting his books, multi-tasking with ease as he glances between them. His eyes narrow momentarily on Scott. "Hey, shouldn't you be in school?"

"I am in school silly," Scott says with an eye-roll.

Stiles casts a theatrically suspicious look at him, which has Scott snickering.

He leans forward conspiratorially, hands stilling on the books as he whispers, "Is there a secret underground school for superheroes built in the basement of the library?"

Scott casts a delighted glance up at Derek who raises his eyebrows at him. Scott turns back to Stiles and says, "Maaaayyybeee."

Stiles laughs. "Well then I guess you'd better hurry Scott, I'm sure they need all the super-heroes in training they can get! Thanks for stopping to say hi to me though."

Scott looks up at Derek anxiously. Derek gives him a little squeeze as he says, "Actually we came here to see you."

The look of surprise on Stiles's face is quickly replaced by a pleased smile and a curious glance up at Derek and then down to Scott when he nods emphatically, brown hair falling everywhere. He really should get him a haircut, but the boy likes his shaggy locks.

"Oh," Stiles says, setting down the books he'd been holding.

"Do you have the time?" Derek asks, since he knows Scott will neglect to since he doesn't have a firm grasp of the way most people's lives are structured - which is fair since he has no examples to observe.

"Sure," Stiles says, glancing around at the mostly-empty library. "Just let me…" Leaning over the counter he peers across the room towards the circulation desk. He waves an arm until the woman there glances his way, then, having captured her attention, he lifts a little placard from behind his desk. She nods and gives him a little wave of acknowledgment. Derek sets Scott back down as Stiles settles the sign down on the lip of the desk, visible to patrons. It says "Desk Closed, Please go to the Reservations Desk for Assistance."

Then he ducks through the pass-through, coming around the counter to join them. Scott glances up at Derek nervously, so Derek ruffles his hair, earning another playful smack and groan and starts walking towards the children's section of the library. Familiar territory is a powerful thing. Especially for the likes of them.

Stiles is casting curious glances at the both of them, and Derek makes sure his face isn't sliding into his default public scowl. Scott turns abruptly and reaches up to wave his hands down, motioning Derek closer. He scoops Scott up as they walk and his boy plops his hands around Derek's ear and whispers, "I don't think he's mad."

Derek turns his head and lifts an eyebrow at him. "I told you he wouldn't be."

Stiles is watching the exchange with raised eyebrows and a bemused twist to his mouth.

Scott grins at them both before squirming to be let down. When Derek does set him down he runs ahead to the table in the play area where they'd had the meltdown a few days prior. He bounds in a skipping circle around the perimeter of the table, tapping his hands on the surface while he waits for the adults to make their glacial way over. Then he runs back to Derek when they finally arrive and draw to a halt.

"Scott has something he wanted to talk to you about," Derek says, smiling encouragingly down at his son.

"Oh, what's up?" Stiles says, looking at them with raised eyebrows and hands tucked into his pockets.

Scott tugs on the hem of his shirt in an anxious gesture, but then sets his feet and braves, "I'm sorry I got upset last time."

"Oh," Stiles says, surprised, then crouches down and smiles broadly at him, "That's totally okay dude. We all get upset sometimes."

"I really liked the drawings," Scott says, eyes wide and honest.

"I'm glad. Thank you for saying so," Stiles replies, voice gentle with a pleased smile.

And the thing about Stiles is that he genuinely appreciates Scott, really listens to him like a person in his own right, not condescending to him as most adults do. He really values Scott's appreciation, doesn't diminish it because he's a kid and would appreciate it even if Stiles's drawings weren't as good as they were.

"Do you think…," Scott says, then glances at him shyly, "Could I see it again?"

"Absolutely," Stiles says, standing up. "I actually still have it in my bag if you want to look at it right now. What do you think?"

Scott looks up at Derek for confirmation and he says, "It's up to you kiddo."

Scott looks back at Stiles. "Yes please," he says, patting his hands on his chest below an excited grin.

"Sure thing. If you two will just hang out here a second I'll go get it and be right back," Stiles says, turning and walking back the way they'd come.

Derek decides he likes the khakis.

The guy likes his kid, is genuinely kind, tells creative stories that favor wolves, and his ass looks great even in his work pants. Derek scrubs a hand over his face as he goes to sit on one of the odd squat cylindrical benches near the table. Sure, it was a confluence of rare qualities, and not easily overlooked, but it shouldn't be enough to… It would be fine except for the way his eyes had changed when he'd looked at Derek. Like… an awareness. Scott wanders over to the bookshelf and picks up a children's book, flipping through it and then holding it up for Derek's approval. He nods and Scott brings it over to set on the table. But Derek is already looking up when Stiles comes back around the corner, carrying the same binder as on Friday. He waggles it in the air as he nears, smiling as he sets it out on the low table.

"Thank you Stiles," Scott says very seriously and opens the book again. He carefully but quickly turns to the particular drawing in question. He sighs heavily when he sees it, then turns his sweet brown eyes up at Derek, who moves closer as he suspects is desired. Satisfied, Scott turns back to the book.

"See? It's Mom, " he says, pointing at the darker wolf, "and Momma," he says, shifting to the lighter wolf.

"You're right, it does look like them," Derek says softly.

Scott's little fingers tap and trace the edges of the paper as he gazes at the drawing. "I miss them," Scott says looking up at Derek. The look in his eyes breaks his heart.

"Me too kiddo," he says quietly. In his peripheral vision he sees Stiles's eyebrows go up as a look of comprehension slides over his features, then sympathy.

"Thank you for showing me," Scott says seriously. "They look just like them."

Stiles is just as serious when he leans closer to look at the drawing too, then responds, "You're very welcome. Were they your pets?"

Scott rolls his eyes. "No silly, my Moms."

Understandably, Stiles looks wholeheartedly perplexed.

And then Scott looks predictably horrified when he looks at Derek. "Oops," he whispers.
Derek bites back a sigh and manages a tight smile. At least he could thank the moon there was such a thing as homeschooling and he only had to deal with the occasional slips of tongue.

"Dad, you explain it. I'm not good at explaining it," he says, which is a damage-control phrase that they've practiced.

When Derek gives him a nod, he nods back firmly and takes the book under the table with him again, problem sorted from his perspective.

Stiles is looking at him inquisitively with bright amused eyes as he plays absently with the neckline of the tee under his vee-neck sweater. Derek forces his eyes back to Stiles's face as he says, "Wolves are very important to our family. Scott's mom Laura ran a wolf rescue center. Part of their wolf family included two bitches, who look a lot like the wolves in your drawing. They were very close to them. Scott named them after her and Melissa."

It was about 60% lies but it was something he'd come up with that blended well enough with the things Scott sometimes blurted. "They passed away last year."

"The wolves?" Stiles asks quietly.

"His parents."

Stiles opens his mouth, then closes it, lips pushing out as he frowns. He looks even more confused. "I thought he said you…"

Derek laughs, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment. "Yes, I am. It's confusing. One of his moms was my sister. I provided her wife the DNA so Scott could be related to both his Moms."

"Oh," Stiles says, looking chagrinned. "I've been misplacing an apostrophe. He had two moms, but now you're his dad. Only you were technically always his dad too. That's really awesome." But then his smile fades. He clears his throat and tilts his head down as he says, "I'm sorry about your family."

Derek offers him a tight smile. "Yeah, me too."

Stiles nods absently as he fiddles with the sleeve of his sweater, running a finger under the lip where it's pushed up to his elbow. Silence reigns for a moment, save for the occasional sound of a page turning from under the table, then Stiles abruptly says, "I lost my mom when I was nine."

Derek pauses, looking at him, hands slipping down from where they'd been angled across his chest to hang loosely in his lap.

Stiles doesn't look at him. He looks down at his shoe where he's scuffing the toe against the carpet slowly. "If… you ever think it would help. If Scott needs someone to talk to who knows…," he trails off and shrugs, rubbing a knuckle against the side of his nose as he shifts his stance and clears his throat. "What I mean is I'd be happy to talk with him about it, if you ever want that option."

"Thank you, that…," Derek falters. It's very generous. And probably a good idea. He nods his head. "I'll tell him."

Stiles flashes a glance at him, but it's too brief for him to see his facial expression. He doesn't really try. He looks down at his hands instead. They hang there a little while, each probably lost in his own memories of missing women.

Stiles turns eventually and runs his fingers along the bookshelf next to him in an idle manner. Then he stops, tilting his head as he picks out a book from a shelf and moves it down two, slotting it in where it presumably belongs. "So he really wanted to come just to apologize to me?" Stiles asks after a moment, glancing back over his shoulder at him as he puts another book back in its proper location before looking back at Derek.

Derek shrugs. "He was pretty worried you would be mad and wouldn't want him to come back on Friday," he explains. "I told him you weren't mad, and that you would probably understand why he'd been upset if you knew. But he wanted to be sure."

Stiles frowns in surprise, tilting his head back as he says a bemused, "Huh."

"He thinks you're pretty great you know. Talks about you a lot," Derek adds with a raised eyebrow.

"Huh," Stiles says again, a pleased smile passing over his features, which fades a fraction, leaving him with slightly parted lips when he glances at Derek more directly again. Then he blinks and the grin returns as he turns away to continue re-ordering the shelves. "Well I think he's pretty great too."

After a little while more of sorting books, Stiles glances back at Derek. "So is it just you two now?"

Derek stands and drifts over to the bookshelf next to Stiles, glancing at the books and their labels. "We've got my parents and some of my siblings still," Derek says, selecting an out-of-place book carefully and looking for its home. "You?" he asks.

"Just me and my Dad. He's the Sheriff 'round these parts," he drawls with a quirky smile and a wink. "Oh, and my cousin Isaac, but he lives far away now," he says, and frowns over that.

Derek nods absently as he slots another book into place. It's a beautiful library, with high windows and skylights and tall polished wooden bookcases, some of which are beautifully detailed. All of the spare walls are covered with art from local artists. The carpets are a bit old, but that's the way it goes. He can smell the wonderful and familiar scents of old paper and bindings, and the wood of the shelves along with the unique dust that seemed to happen only in libraries. He can also smell the faint masculine scent of Stiles standing next to him. The complete lack of mention of significant others on both their parts is a taut silence between them. No rings on either of their hands. And yeah, he'd checked - which annoys him.

Stiles checks his watch. He frowns at it, and then glances back at Derek. "Sorry but, uh… I should probably get back," he says, thumbing over his shoulder towards the front desk.

"Oh. Of course," Derek says, putting the book he'd been holding back down and turning back to the table. He leans over the lip of the table-cave and peers into the shadows till he spots Scott's eyes.

"Scott," Derek says, "Come on, Stiles needs to go."

"But-," he starts to say, then sighs. "Okay."

"I can bring them again on Friday if you want," Stiles says as he walks over.

"Really?" Scott asks as he crawls back out from under the table. He grabs the book and hands it up to Stiles.

"Sure, no problem. I mean, you'll be there, right?" he asks, poking a finger against Scott's forehead.

The boy follows the finger with his eyes, giggling as he goes cross-eyed. "Right!"

Stiles grins, then ruffles Scott's hair. Scott doesn't bat his hands away, Derek notices with a smirk. "Thank you Stiles," Scott says.

"You are very welcome," he says as he tucks the book under his arm and turns so they can start walking back towards the front of the library.

"I really appreciate this," Derek says quietly to Stiles as Scott skips on ahead.

"Hey, no problem. Anyway, it's nice to have someone like my drawings so much."

But before Derek can question him on that point, he smacks his hand gently against Derek's arm.

"Oh, hey, here, let me get those books I held for you," Stiles says as they near the reserve desk. He pops in behind the counter. The woman who is working at the computer there lifts her hand without even looking up from her work, and Stiles exchanges a high-five in passing with her that results in mutual grins.

He snags some books off the shelf and Derek fishes out his library card, handing it to him when he steps up to the scanner. His hands deftly spin the books and swing them through the red light in quick succession. They're distractingly strong and long-fingered hands, the veins spiraling through his forearms.

He makes quick work of it all, and presents the stack to Derek with a grin.

"Thanks," he says. Stiles's hand brushes against his own as he takes the books.

"Bye Stiles!" Scott calls up from below the counter, and Stiles leans over the top of it to look down at him and grin.

"Bye Scott."

Scott waves, then turns to Derek. "Dad," Scott whines impatiently, lifting his hands up to him. Derek leans down, as usual holding the stack out for Scott to hold, though he has to put his chin down on top of the stack to balance it.

"You got them?" he asks.

Scott chirps a "Yep!" then he turns and starts marching for the door, boy on a mission.

Derek casts a glance back at Stiles who is leaning on the counter watching Scott go with a fond smile on his face. He hesitates only a moment before adding "See you Friday then," drawing Stiles's bright gaze back to him.

The smile turns lopsided as Stiles straightens a little and looks at him for a moment before he replies, "See you Friday."

Derek feels a slow answering smile growing on his face as he leans forward and brush his hand over Stiles's, plucking the library card back from his fingers. "Thanks," he says again, and Stiles blushes as he steps back.
The blond woman is now looking at them with a raised eyebrow and a feline smile, so Derek gives her a nod as he turns to go (unsurprised at the wink he gets in return).

He tucks his hands in his pockets and tries to ignore the tingling sensation of the two pairs of eyes that follow him all the way out. When he gets caught up with Scott, the kid is bracing himself determinedly against the heavy door, pushing firmly with his back. Derek carefully puts a hand on the surface and adds pressure on the door, helping him get it open. Scott never gets mad at him for helping. But he gets very upset if Derek tries to do things for him instead of letting him try. And since Derek is a firm believer in learning by doing, he's certainly not going to get in Scott's way. Especially not given the sunny expression Scott's face bears when they push their way through the second set of double-doors as well and file out into the bright morning light. Every triumph lights up his face. It's a little spot of warmth that goes straight to his heart every time.

They march their way past neatly trimmed topiaries and flowers, down along the sidewalk that runs in front of the parking lot over to where the car is. Just as they're stepping up to the car, the library doors swing open behind them.

"Derek, Scott, wait up!" he hears Stiles's voice calling after him, and he stops, turning in surprise. Scott turns too, though a little more slowly given his load. Stiles jogs along the sidewalk, a paper in his hands.

"Here, um," he says, extending it to Derek. "If you want…"

It only takes him a moment to realize what it is. Derek takes it carefully, finally getting to see the wolf drawing full on and up close. It really does look like them. He frowns fiercely against the tightening in his throat.

"But only if you'd like it," he says, lifting placating hands. "I won't be hurt if you say no, in fact I would totally understand but I thought… maybe," Stiles says, glancing at Scott, who is looking up at the paper in confusion since he can't see what's on it from down below.

"Thank you. I…," Derek closes his mouth over the words that threaten to get emotional and nods slowly. "Thanks."

Stiles nods, shoving his hands in his pockets and smiling at him. "Sure, I'll see you guys Friday?" he repeats as he backs away.

"Yeah," Derek replies, and so Stiles nods and waves to Scott as he turns away and heads back towards the library.

"What is it? What did he give you?" Scott demands, bumping the corners of the books into Derek's thigh.

He crouches down to take the stack of books from Scott and then shows him the drawing. Scott gasps when he sees it, flashing Derek his wide brown eyes before turning and lurching away. "Stiles!" he shouts, and the librarian spins at the sound of his name.

Scott runs towards him and so he crouches down to meet him with a grin. But Scott just plows straight into him, throwing his arms around Stiles's neck and knocking his glasses askew as he overbalances. Stiles throws out a hand to keep them from falling, the other coming up to wrap protectively over Scott's back.

"Thanks!" Scott says, and smacks a big kiss on Stiles's cheek before letting him go and running back to Derek.

The smile left behind on Stiles's face is soft and fond and touched as he dusts himself off and waves before turning around and heading back into the library.

"Stiles is the best!" Scott says emphatically as he skids to a stop next to Derek, peering at the page again.

Yeah. Derek is starting to get that.

Chapter Text

It's actually quite perfect timing, having the drawing to take home with them. That night Scott falls ill. It's not that often that Scott gets sick, but when he does, it's bad. Especially since they can't exactly take him to the local pediatrician. Being able to put the art where he can see it is a comfort to Scott throughout the hardest hours. It's weeks like these that make Derek fiercely glad of his ability to set his own hours and work from home. The days go by in a blur of snuffles and tears and fevers so that by the end of it Derek hardly knows what day it is.

Scott doesn't either. By the time Friday rolls around, he thinks it's still Thursday, having forgotten to do his wolf calendar for the day. It puts Derek in an awkward position, since he eventually realizes the error. But if he brings it up he knows Scott will work himself up over wanting to go to the library to see Stiles and his Story Time. Scott is practically begging Derek to go get him more books to read as it is. But Scott isn't well enough to be going out, so Derek doesn't tell him, deciding the pain of the disappointment will be easier than the fight over not going. He doesn't want to leave, but with Scott's energy levels starting to perk up, despite being weak still, Derek needs to get his brain some distracting stimulation or else he'll get back out of bed again. The last time he'd done that, he'd nearly fainted down the stairs, so Derek was definitely not interested in letting him get up prematurely.

No, he really doesn't want to leave, but they're out of books and running low on fresh groceries - and could probably both use at least a small break from each other's company as well. So he calls their neighbor Boyd and asks him to step in to keep an eye on Scott while he runs some errands. Library first, so the ice cream he's planning on surprising Scott with won't melt in the afternoon sun.

He doesn't even put it together that it's still around story time until he's halfway across the library and a batch of children run past him towards the door. He even gets the odd wave from a parent or two who seem to have recognized him. None of them actually seem to want to stop and talk or anything, for which he is eternally grateful since he's too tired to do more for strangers than nod.

He pauses, realizing suddenly that if he goes over to the children's books section, he'll probably run into Stiles. Which. Actually, yeah. He wants to do that. Mostly. Besides. It wouldn't be entirely self-serving. He could report back to Scott how Stiles was doing.

So he continues, walking over into the section and heading for the open reading area where he thinks Stiles will still probably be saying final goodbyes or packing up. But he's not there. He'd missed him by just a little bit. He tries to ignore the intensity of the disappointment that twists in his chest. It's more than it ought to be, really. Anyway, he doesn't doubt that he'll see him next Friday. So he turns and angles towards the young-adult section. Scott is always pushing to get more 'big-kid' books, even though Derek knows most of them are a bit beyond his reading level. It still makes him proud as anything that his son soaks up words like he does moonlight.

So he browses for ones he doesn't remember Scott having read, and swings through the children's section for a few easier reads as well. Howl's moving castle is always a favorite, so he adds it alongside a battered old copy of Sam the Cat Detective. And if he lingers a little while extra in the children's section… well. That's neither here nor there.

Eventually he has an armload's worth (along with one or two for himself) and makes his way through the checkout desk, an unfamiliar older woman is manning the station this time around. Fortunately she doesn't seem interested in engaging him in conversation either. He's got a number of groceries to gather and not much time to do it before Boyd needs to leave for his date. He'll just have to catch Stiles next week.

When he heads out the front door he makes his way towards his car, gazing up at the bright blue of the sky. The warmer days around here are taking some getting used to. Just as he steps up to the Camaro, he realizes he can hear a familiar voice. Stiles's voice. Raised and upset. He strides past the car, listening intently for his location. He glances around the corner of the buildings, under the large trees. At first he doesn't see him anywhere, but after a moment he realizes that Stiles is on his phone, sitting in his car - a battered old jeep at the end of the row. He stops abruptly. Clearly Stiles is not in danger and having a private conversation. He starts to back away but it's too late, Stiles is already turning his face towards him.

Something Derek can't really read passes over his features as he catches sight of Derek's. Then a smile that looks simultaneously genuine and forced, and a waggle of fingers that ends in an index-finger point, presumably an indication for Derek to wait.

"-no you're not thinking this through. You can't just-," he purses his lips in frustration as he pushes the door to the jeep back open slowly.

"Fine. You never listen to me anyway," he says with a mixture of frustration and disappointment as he steps down. "Yeah. Good luck. Love you too. Talk to you later."

The words have Derek hesitating. He hadn't mentioned a significant other, but then again he hadn't explicitly said he had no-one either. Not that it's really any of his business. He's only met the guy a few times, despite the fact that it feels like more.

"Derek, hey," Stiles says, stepping closer as he shoves his phone in his pocket. His voice still carries the residual tiredness of an emotional conversation, but he sounds genuinely pleased to see Derek. His face curves into a slow smile too.

"Hey."

"Missed you guys in there today. Where's Scott?" he asks, glancing behind him to see if he might be in the car already.

"He's been sick, he's still laid up in bed right now."

Stiles's lips draw sideways in sympathy. "Dang. I'm sorry to hear that."

Derek nods in agreement. "So, what did we miss?"

Stiles's face splits over an amused smile. "Spot and Fluffy - the adventures of. It's funny because they're a cat and dog, respectively, not the other way around," he says with a grin that has Derek smiling faintly in response. "And 'It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House' was the other one."

"You illustrated it?" Derek asks, disappointed to have missed it as well.

Stiles shrugs dismissively, "Yeah. Nothing special."

He wonders what it is that's made him so dismissive of his work, but that's clearly a question for another day. "I'm sorry we missed it," he says sincerely.

"Yeah, me too," Stiles says smiling a little.

They've reached the point in the conversation where either of them could say something about how it was nice to see him and how he'd catch him next week etc… but for some reason he's just not ready to do that. Nor is Stiles, given the way he smiles easily at Derek for a little bit in the silence. Though much more of that and things will get awkward, so while Derek tries to come up with a topic of conversation, Stiles tilts his head a little to skim his eyes idly over the stack of books Derek's carrying. He shoves his hands in his back pockets as he does, hip cocking a little as he leans to read them over.

"Scott's run us out of books again," Derek explains, "so I'm on an emergency supply run."

Stiles laughs at that like he's said something particularly witty. Or just like someone who laughs at things openly. It lights up his eyes and has his dimples crinkling with his smile.

"An important mission," Stiles says with a grin.

"Essential even," Derek says and shares his amusement with a wry smile. He pauses for a moment, noticing that Stiles hasn't quite stepped back from where he'd leaned forward to read the books. So this time Derek lets himself shift slightly forward as he asks "So, how are you doing?"

It's not exactly brilliant - he's never been a stunning conversationalist. But he says it like a real question rather than a platitude or greeting ritual, forging forward in the conversation rather than making a retreat like he normally would by this point with most people.

Stiles makes a face and shrugs. "Oh, you know, mostly good. I was a little upset because my cousin called and he's… well. I wasn't too happy to hear about a decision he'd made. You know, family stuff," he says with a vague gesture.

Derek nods, not wanting to push, though he's curious. Family stuff is complicated - though a different kind of complicated, he suspects, from his own. He tries to think of a segue but then Stiles sighs heavily in frustration.

"Yeah, no, a little upset is kind-of a huge understatement, actually," he says, frowning sharply. Derek lifts his eyebrows, offering an ear if Stiles wants it.

"My cousin, Isaac? He's… it's his dad. His… my uncle," he says, and the word is venomous. "He beats the shit out of Isaac, physically and mentally growing up. Now, even though Isaac moved out and stuff, even though he broke away and got his own life," Stiles says, fingers furling and unfurling in agitation, "His father is trying to control him again. Apparently the bastard has cancer now. But he doesn't even have the grace to just die. He's making Isaac come live with him to take care of him. Like he owes him anything? But he can't say no. I just… it's… it just makes me fucking sick," he says, wrapping his hands over the back of his neck and squeezing as he lets out a slightly ragged sigh.

Derek frowns in sympathy. He doesn't have anything to say to that. No condolences to offer that would be anything more than platitudes.

"Sorry. It just drives me nuts," Stiles says, dropping his hands and rolling his shoulders a little like he's shaking it off.

"Rightfully so I think," Derek responds quietly.

Stiles looks up at him with an unreadable expression, perhaps taking in whatever comfort might be offered by Derek's face. The corner of his mouth quirks into a sad smile.

"So, other than that, I'm good. What's new with you?" Stiles says, putting a full smile back on his face which settles in to honestly easy-going after just a moment.

Derek takes a deep breath and sighs. "Still getting used to the new territory," he says glancing in the general direction of the town.

"So you just moved here then?"

"Two months ago, yeah. It was time for a change," Derek says with a shrug. And yeah, that was a hell of an understatement, but that wasn't exactly a good topic for conversation.

"What made you move here?" Stiles asks.

"Family used to live here a long time ago. We needed somewhere quiet and nice to live while Scott gets the hang of things again. It'll be a nice place for him to grow up I think, away from…," he trails off with a shrug. That's another very long story.

Stiles nods, "Well I think you made a good choice. I love it here. Honestly. I grew up here, and then I came back after Uni. It's a good place. Have you found all the cool places around town yet? I mean, besides the coolest place of all," he says, tipping his head towards the library with a self-deprecating laugh.

Derek doesn't say it, but libraries actually are his favorite places. Quiet. Solitary but simultaneously communal. Full of adventure and intellect and creativity. "Been so busy just getting the house and all that we haven't had much time to get out. And with Scott being sick all week… well, he's getting better now, but he's still in bed."

Stiles's face draws down in commiseration. "Sounds like you've had a rough go this week."

Derek sighs in agreement. "Yeah. And he's going to be even more upset when he realizes it's actually Friday already instead of Thursday and that he's missed your story time."

Stiles's eyebrows pop up in surprise over a pleased little smile. "Really?" he asks, nudging at his glasses.

"It's the highlight of his week."

Stiles blinks at him, and then tilts his head. "Oh wow," he murmurs, gnawing on his lip. His eyebrows go up as if in realization. "Well, uh. I could read the story to him after I get done here," he offers.

Derek just looks at him in surprise, lost for words. He hopes he hadn't sounded like he was fishing for more of Stiles's generosity. But it does sound like something Scott would love.
And Derek too, for that matter.

"I mean, I could come over to your place and read to Scott. If you… Sorry, was that weird?" Stiles says, wincing and lifting up his hands as Derek tries to shrug it off, but he continues before Derek can respond, saying, "I don't mean to be weird or like try to find out where you live. Although I could just ask my dad the sheriff. If I were a creepy stalker. Which I'm not. I totally am not. That's supposed to be… What I mean is, I like Scott is all. And I don't want him to miss the wolf story I put together since I know how much he.... You wouldn't even have to hang out-," his face contorts in dismay. Derek's not sure his own face isn't doing something similar. Stiles gapes at him then blurts, "Okay that definitely came out weird. I really don't mean…," he flounders, fingers clenching tight.

"No it's…," Derek begins, but falters, scratching a hand through his stubble which has started to edge into 'unkempt' territory.

"Yeah no it's officially weird now, despite my perfectly benign intentions," Stiles counters, laughing at himself and shaking his head, plastering his hands over his face and then giving it a good scrub before dropping them. "God. Sorry. Please. Forget I said anything."

Derek huffs a faint laugh. He considers that option; forgetting it. Then he decides to ignore it entirely (and his better judgment apparently). It's probably far too impulsive. Though the fact that he's been awake for almost three days running might have something to do with it. Or the way Stiles's cheeks are flushing.

"I don't know…," Derek says, leaning a little closer and lowering his voice. "Would you still think it was weird if it was part of a date?"

Stiles freezes. Actually, honest-to-god freezes.

Till that moment Derek hadn't even been sure such a thing was possible for a man so continuously animated as Stiles. He lifts an eyebrow, amused. "You know, your typical single-father sort of date. Dinner in and a bedtime story, followed by a glass of wine for the grown-ups? I'll provide the dinner, you provide the story…" he shrugs, tilting his head as he says, "We can work together on that last part..."

Stiles's lips part in surprise and his eyes cast over Derek's face, cataloguing his facial expression. He swallows, and Derek can't help but drop his eyes to watch the motions of his mouth and throat as he does. "Um. No. That wouldn't be weird, actually," he admits. "That would actually be pretty legit."

"Hm," Derek agrees, tipping his head back a little.

Stiles eyes him askance, then purses his lips and tips his chin up in challenge, "Why, was that an invitation?"

Derek just smiles slowly, sending his eyebrows up into smirk territory. Yeah. As much as he likes Stiles's blushes and soft smiles… there was that, the other side of his character that had struck Derek from the get-go when the librarian had laid him out a blistering, albeit misplaced, set-down. "How's seven sound?"

Stiles licks his lips absently, then glances down at his watch like it'll tell him something. He clears his throat and says, "Seven sounds good."

"Good," Derek says, and reaches into his jacket for his wallet. He slips out a business card and replaces the wallet, exchanging it for a pen. He puts the card on the corner of one of the books he's holding, back facing up and writes their address and his phone number on it before handing it to Stiles.

Stiles takes it, then glances at the number before tapping the card against his hand with a nod. "Okay," he says.

"Okay," Derek replies before he can change his mind, backing up a step, then turning away and striding towards his car. He doesn't look back as he slips into the car, leaning the stack of books on the passenger seat. He doesn't look as he reverses out of the space. But when he pulls away he glances back in his rearview. Stiles is still standing there, card in hand.

 

 

"Stiles, come in," Derek says as he opens the door. He only spares himself a moment to take in the crisp black button-up and nicely fitted jeans. "Sorry, right in the middle of…," he doesn't even finish his sentence, already moving back towards the kitchen. He'd taken longer than he'd planned getting ready. First Scott had to be calmed down over missing the Story Time, and then he'd had to get him calmed down all over again when he'd explained that Stiles was coming over for dinner and convince him to take a nap so he'd have some energy for the evening. After that he'd taken a nap of his own which had been intended to last about half a hour but somehow, due nature's demands perhaps, he'd ended up sleeping right through another hour. That hadn't left him as much time to prep as he'd hoped. He'd not even had a chance to change into a nicer shirt, let alone finish cooking.

He'd gone for simple; spaghetti and meatballs. And, of course, when he'd been at the store he'd realized that he didn't even know if Stiles was a vegetarian or whatever. So he'd gathered a variety of things, not the least of which was an impressive array of vegetables. Because he was unaware of any dietary need that didn't at least include fresh vegetables.

He rescues the sautéing vegetables and pulls the meatballs out of the oven before he can rinse his hands and return to the dining room where he'd abandoned his guest.

His date.

"I can see my comment about consumerism was misplaced," Stiles says, peering around the sparse living room, sketchbook tilting absently in his hands.

They really hadn't had time to settle in, and there were few things that didn't remind… well. Derek dries his hands on his chef's apron as he nears, watching as Stiles's eyes flick over the crisp white fabric. Well, mostly white. It's got a bit of tomato staining it already.

"I feel under-dressed," Stiles says in mock outrage, spreading his arms to look down at his shirt. He looks good - damn good. The jeans are tight and the shirt is well fit, the sleeves rolled up to showcase his forearms, open at the neck to highlight his throat, casual enough to make it low stakes. "I didn't think to wear a waist-coat."

"I can loan you one," Derek says with an amused twist of his lips. "Though then you might have to play sous chef."

"I might take you up on that some time." Stiles smiles at him fondly in reply, and his heart does that funny stumbling thing in his chest. Then Stiles looks at his hands as though remembering he's holding things and swings one of them towards Derek, extending a bottle of wine.

"I'm not like, a wine person or anything. So I have no idea if this is any good, but Erica likes it so…," he trails off with a shrug as Derek takes it.

"That's all that really matters, isn't it? That someone likes it," he says, turning the bottle over in his hand to read the label. A light spicy shiraz, supposedly, according to their own blurb. "Thanks, this should go well with dinner."

Speaking of which… he turns back to where the action is happening, motioning Stiles along with a tip of his head. He feels Stiles follow him as he makes his way to the drawer where the corkscrew is.

"You like spaghetti and meatballs?" Derek asks, setting the bottle on the counter and cutting away the wrapping on the mouth.

The sound that Stiles makes is in response is almost pornographic. "Love spaghetti and meatballs," he says with a grin. "Like, you have no idea how much I -," he jerks to a stop as he passes through the archway and takes in the happenings in the kitchen. "Oh my god, you're making them from scratch? Please marry me," he blurts.

Derek lifts an eyebrow at him but doesn't comment, smirking as he screws into the cork. Stiles has already moved on anyway. By the time Derek gets the bottle open, Stiles already has the lid off the sauce and the wooden spoon dipping into it, a look of glee on his face. He blows on it to cool it down, then tastes it.

"Mmhghg," he groans, tipping his head back and letting his eyes flutter closed. "Oh my god this is amazing," he murmurs, spine curving back as he savors it. Derek has to swallow against the answering salivation that comes into his mouth as he sets the wine aside to breathe and then measures out the portion of pasta he wants from a jar on the counter.

"So, where's Scott?" Stiles asks, putting the spoon back on its rest only after hesitating with it over the pot again and waffling before grunting at himself and firmly putting on the lid again.

"Still napping. I'll get him as soon as I finish putting the bread in," he says as he steps up beside Stiles, lifting another lid and dumping the pasta into the tall pot of boiling water.

"I could go get him," Stiles offers.

Derek casts him a sardonic look over his shoulder. "If you want. Though be prepared, he's even more enthusiastic when he's just waking up. You might get tackled and/or smothered with kisses."

Stiles claps his hands together with a brief rub, "Oh now I'm definitely going up there."

Derek's mouth turns up in a wry smile as Stiles turns to go and Derek opens the oven to put the bread in.

"I mean, who doesn't like getting tackled and smothered with kisses?" Stiles calls over his shoulder as he heads for the stairs.

Who indeed? Of course that just has Derek wondering what it would be like if he were the one tackling and kissing him. Not that that would…

Except. He had asked the guy over for a date. That definitely implied the possibility of things of the kissing variety, eventually. Not for the first time he frowns over the fact that his decision hadn't been the most thought-out. Honestly it had been mostly lack of sleep and… It wasn't like him to make impulsive decisions where Scott was concerned, and he wasn't foolish enough to think that Scott wouldn't be influenced deeply by his romantic decisions.

There's a loud thump overhead as he closes the oven. He smirks at the sound of Scott's delighted squeals and Stiles's echoing laughter as he starts dishing up the various meal items. After just a few minutes he has the table mostly set and everything else ready besides the pasta.

By the time he's lifting that out, there's the sound of footsteps on the stairs again. He leans back to check and sees Stiles carrying Scott down, the boy's arms wrapped firmly around his neck. "What have you been feeding this boy? He tackles like a lineman."

Derek purses his lips and raises an eyebrow at his son, who looks back at him with sheepish wide eyes. Even sick, his augmented strength is something to contend with.

Dinner is great. Casual - except for the distracting noises Stiles makes every so often as he eats. And the way he slurps up his spaghetti noodles. Though part of that is entertainment for Scott, he's sure, given the way it happens more frequently each time Scott giggles. Stiles tells Scott about his dad, the Sheriff. He talks about Beacon Hills, talks about the ice-skating rink and his favorite coffee shop that has the most amazing zucchini bread. His every word is punctuated by motion. His hands, his head, his face are all so expressive, it's mesmerizing to watch.

Stiles asks Scott about school. Scott tells him that he's homeschooled, then launches into an excited description of his favorite magic school-bus computer game. Stiles glances at Derek and says he's jealous because that sounds like fun.

Eventually dinner is finished and Stiles retrieves his sketchbook, herding a sated Scott back up the stairs as Derek puts the leftovers away. When he gets upstairs, Scott's already tucked into his bed, Stiles is sitting on the low stool they keep there, book balanced on his knee. Derek walks over and sits on the foot of Scott's bed where he can lean against the wall and still see the book. And soak up a little moonlight that's peeking through the shades.

Stiles grins at them both as he turns the first page. "It's So Nice to Have a Wolf Around the House," he says to begin.

Scott bounces in excitement, little fingers reaching over to Derek till his dad acquiesces to the unspoken request and takes his hand for a little while.

"Once upon a time there was an old man, who lived alone with his pets. There was his old dog Pepe, his very, very old cat Ginger, and Lightning his tropical fish."

He points to each of the characters in turn, though they are all napping in the first image. Scott laughs when Stiles frowns at them and mumbles to himself about how they won't wake up so he can properly introduce them.

"They were all so very old. They hardly did anything other than take naps and sit around the house. One day the old man called his pets together. 'The trouble is, my friends, we're so old. What we need is a charming companion, someone to take care of us and pep us up' he says."

Scott nods eagerly.

"He could see that they all agreed, but he wanted to make sure before he hired someone. 'All in favor, snore!' he said, and all the pets snored. So he put an ad in the newspaper, requesting an energetic companion to help them around the house."

"The very next day there was a knock on the door. The old man was very surprised because the fellow was very large and had a long snout and pointy ears. 'I'm Cuthbert Q. Devine! I'm not a wolf, though everyone thinks I am,' he said when the old man looks at him in suspicion. 'I'm a German shepherd you see. Won't you give me a chance?'"

Scott's eyes are wide with excitement. He knows in his little heart of hearts, all Scott wants is a puppy. He'd finally given up begging Derek for a dog. With their special circumstances, and being without the stability of a large family, there was no way keeping a dog would work, no matter how much it pains them both.

"The old man agreed to give him a try. Cuthbert was on the job for just three hours and they all wondered how they ever did without him. 'He cooks and cleans and pays the bills! He does so much, I don't know how he does it all,' the old man said. But it was true, because Cuthbert had a heart of gold. He played a song to make the dog dance, took the fish for a walk, and played puppets for the cat," Stiles says, displaying a drawing for each activity. "After a few days of fun and excitement, they didn't feel so old anymore!"

"Cuthbert explored the house from top to bottom, cleaning away years of dust. But he discovered something very surprising; a ship's wheel onboard! At first he thought it was just a decoration, but when he turned it, the house began to move! To his surprise, it turned out the house was actually a house-boat."

Scott giggles. Stiles leans close and asks in an aside, "What do you think, is your dad hiding a ship's wheel somewhere around here?"

Scott looks at Derek with a look of suspicious consideration. Derek pulls a smug face and raises his eyebrows as Scott gazes at him. Then he rolls his eyes and sighs, "No. Not at this house I don't think," Scott says to Stiles.

Stiles tsks his tongue and shakes his head sadly, looking at Derek with comically forlorn eyes.

Then abruptly they narrow and he turns his gaze on Scott. "This house? So you mean there might be in another house you lived in?"

Scott giggles. "Our old house had lots of secrets!"

When Stiles casts a interested glance at Derek, he smiles slowly and lifts an eyebrow - because while there certainly weren't any ship's wheels at the Hale estate, Scott wasn't wrong at all about there being plenty of secrets.

Stiles makes a skeptical face at him, but turns back to the story. "Well, as it turned out, this house had a secret. The old man had forgotten that they lived on a boat because they had been parked at the dock for so long. So Cuthbert took them on cruises around the city, showing them all the sights and visiting the other people in the great city."

"But, even good things sometimes come to an end. One afternoon, the old man read in the newspaper that a Cuthbert Q. Devine was wanted for a series of petty crimes. Even worse, the newspaper said everyone should be very careful because Cuthbert was a wolf and therefore dangerous!"

"The old man was very upset, and yelled at Cuthbert. Cuthbert tried to explain. He said he never meant to be bad, but because he was a wolf, everyone believed he was bad. So the only people that would be his friends were other wolves. Some of them had done mean things to the people who were mean to them like play pranks and drive around on their motorcycles. But he had left the gang behind and was trying to start a new life. The old man was still mad at him. 'You lied to me. You are a horrible, terrible WOLF!' Cuthbert was so upset that he fell into a dead faint."

Scott scowls in protective fury.

"Worried for their friend, despite being upset, the old man called for a doctor. The doctor came and examined Cuthbert. After his assessment, he said Cuthbert had had an attack of nerves and needed to be rested. The old man and his pets felt terrible, now that they'd had time to think it over. They realized that Cuthbert had never been anything but kind. Now the old man and his pets had work to do! They needed to cook dinner and clean and take care of Cuthbert. They worked very hard, forgetting to feel old now that they had an important task."

"Then one day Cuthbert felt better. But he did not get out of bed. When the fish asked why he didn't get up, he curled under his covers and said 'I'm so ashamed!'"

By this point Scott is pouting in sympathy, fingers curling around Derek's thumb. He reaches over to squeeze his foot. The little boy had so much empathy, much more than most children. It was part of why they'd needed a fresh start.

"So the old man told him there was only one thing to do; turn himself in to the police and take responsibility for his actions. So Cuthbert thought it over, then gathered his courage and went to the police. They arrested him and set him a trial date. When that date came, Cuthbert told his story and asked for mercy from the judge. And to his surprise, the old man and his pets each came and told the judge all about how much Cuthbert had helped them. The judge, moved by their testimonies, decided that Cuthbert could pay for his misdeeds by doing community service."

"As it turns out, that is exactly what Cuthbert wants to do with his life, now that he's discovered how much he enjoyed helping the old man and his pets. He continues to serve his community by taking care of them, and together they sail away into the sunset."

Usually they would go through two stories but Scott, despite himself, is already looking tired when the book finishes. A little reminder from Stiles that resting up will ensure that he'll be better able to make it to next week's Story Time is enough to have him laying back and snuggling up without a fuss.

Well, without much fuss anyway. He does reach his arms up to Stiles for a hug and a kiss, both of which are readily granted. Then as Stiles picks up the book, Derek gives Scott his own customary snuggles, then turns out the bedside lamp and follows Stiles out of the room.

"So, prejudice then?" Derek says as he shuts Scott's door quietly.

Stiles laughs, "Mm. An argument can be made for a general 'books by their covers'… though the non-metaphorical point stands too. You know, wolves being categorized as evil instead of just wild. But that's straight up the story as it is. I didn't even modify that one."

"Just bring it to life," Derek says as they come to the top of the stairs.

"Mm. Something like that," Stiles says, glancing back at him with a soft smile.

Derek nods as the walk down the stairs. "So, how about that glass of wine?"

Stiles tips his head back on a hum of pleasure as he skips down the stairs even faster at the reminder. "Oh, yes please."

He had left their glasses and the bottle out on the table after dinner. Stiles just retrieves his glass, since his other arm is occupied by the sketchbook. Derek gets the bottle as Stiles carries his book over the coffee table and settles into the trim modern couch. There's no TV. Just a couple of bookcases. No other reason to sit there than for comfort and socialization. Stiles is sitting smack dab in the middle of the couch, too, leaving Derek no seat choice other than one close to Stiles - not that he minds. He does not mind one bit, in fact.

It is a date after all, even if he hardly remembers what that's like. He's actually glad that Stiles has found a simple way to shift the tone towards intimate now that they're alone. When he sits his thigh is tight against Stiles's.

When Stiles lifts his glass towards him, Derek pours for him, brushing his thumb over Stiles's as he steadies the glass unnecessarily. He lets his hand linger a moment before dropping it to settle on his thigh. Both their thighs, actually. Stiles shifts his hips just a bit as he leans back, pushing his thigh even more tightly against Derek's, against the faint weight of his fingers. Stiles eyes him with a saucy little smirk as he licks his lips, then sips at his wine. Watching his mouth open and curve over the lip of the glass as he tips his head back is terribly distracting. Enough that Derek has to pause before pouring his own. The tension between them is almost a palpable thing, catching on every motion, every faint touch. Derek takes a breath and breaks his gaze, forcing himself to focus on the wine in his hand as he pours his own glass. Falling into habit now that he's not just washing down the meal he swirls the wine a few times in the glass. Then he takes a sniff and savors it a moment before he takes a sip.

"Don't tell me, you are a wine person," Stiles says with a groan.

Derek shakes his head with a laugh. "No, not really. Anyway, your Erica was right, this wine is good."

Stiles plays at an over-obvious sigh of relief before he sips again. "So, speaking of wine, did you guys move back here from somewhere in California?"

"Oregon," Derek replies.

Stiles's eyebrows go up in interest and he nods thoughtfully. "I guess that's good wine country too. You go wine tasting there?"

"A few times." Back when things had been good, when things had been easy. His parents, some of his siblings… Laura and Melissa had enjoyed such things. And the Hale house had deep cellars, so there was plenty of room to store wine.

"Sometimes I go down to Temecula valley. It's quieter than Napa or Paso, and beautiful - a nice escape," he says, smiling at his glass as he spins it slowly in his hands. "I mean, it's not like my life is difficult at all. It's just… sometimes I like to just pick up and spend some time away from it all."

Derek nods slowly. For a guy without a homeschooled kid it would be a nice place to go, to just disappear to at the drop of a hat. But that's not him, so he doesn't take the opening to suggest such an outing. Stiles licks his lips as he glances at Derek, possibly speculating at the turn of Derek's thoughts and he sits back, sipping more of his wine as he continues speaking.

"I mean it isn't like I know anything about wine still, but it's fun. This one time we were at one of the wineries, and it turned out that they had decided to add a distillery to their operation, and the lady was all 'we have the first batches ready for sale, want to try them?' which was a terrible idea because we'd already done three stops at different wineries, but because we'd already done three stops we were like 'sure' and…,"

Derek sits back and listens to Stiles tell stories about his friends, about some of the adventures he'd gotten up to at university. Stiles doesn't seem to mind his general reticence, and he adds a story or two to the mix to do his part, to show just how very engaged he is. Eventually the bottle is empty and the glasses set aside. He could open another but that isn't exactly the sort of evening either of them is after, really. Besides, he doesn't want to interrupt the way Stiles's fingers are playing over his forearm in slow, absent patterns, then sharp taps and touches as he illustrates his words.

Stiles is a tactile person, and Derek is someone who appreciates the value of touch, even if he doesn't allow it often. It's comforting, letting someone into his space. It's been a long time since he's trusted anyone to get even half as close as Stiles is already. Then again, he's never met anyone quite like Stiles. They talk for hours. He's not sure which of them falls asleep first.

When Derek wakes it's to find Stiles slumped against him, curled into his shoulder and cheek pressed against his throat. His breathing is steady and slow with a faint hitch of a snore. His arm is asleep, he realizes, pinned back under Stiles's torso. Probably what woke him.

"Stiles," he says quietly. He doesn't get a response, but he hears a shift in his breathing.

"Stiles," he repeats, giving his arm a soft squeeze.

"Mmm?" Stiles says, blinking as he sits up abruptly.

Derek lifts a hand to nudge Stiles's glasses back into alignment where they've gone slightly askew.

"Oh," Stiles says softly, as sleep fades from him. He glances at Derek, embarrassed. "Shit, sorry about that. I guess it's been a long day."

Stiles climbs to his feet, a little ungainly with the haze of sleep still on him. Derek pretends not to look at his ass when his hands automatically check his pockets as he straightens his clothes and then checks his watch.

"Oh wow," he mutters.

"Time is it?" Derek asks, yawning into his palm. He doesn't get up for the moment, just leans his head back against his fist as he props an elbow on the arm of the couch.

"Three am," Stiles says, laughing faintly.

"Mm," Derek replies.

"Guess I better get going," Stiles says, glancing over at him with a soft smile.

"You sure?" Derek asks, voice low and rough with sleep as he sits forward and stands.

Stiles is staring at him, lips parting in surprise. He swallows, then shakes his head. "Uh. Yeah, I should get home."

And then Derek's brain catches up to the implication he'd unintentionally made and he scrubs a hand over his eyes. "Sorry, I just mean it's late and I wanted to make sure you're okay to drive. You want some coffee?"

"Oh. Um. No, thanks. We didn't drink that much and it's been a few hours." Stiles shakes his head again. "Besides, it's not too far. Plus I'd never sleep if I had coffee. Well, get back to sleep," he says with a laugh, glancing sheepishly at the couch. "But thanks. I appreciate it."

He turns back to the coffee table and picks up his sketchbook. He taps his fingers on it, glancing around briefly, then swivels on one heel to make for the front door. Derek follows him over, then outside, walking along behind him towards the jeep parked on the curb. Stiles jingles the keys in his hands absently as they go, the sound loud in the empty residential street, devoid of life save for the sprinklers running down the way and overwatering the neighbor's yard. When they reach the street, Stiles unlocks the passenger side and tosses his sketchpad in the seat. He shuts the door and turns to face Derek where he's drifted to a halt just a few feet away. The silence is loud between them. His face when he looks at Derek is layered with a number of expressions which Derek can't even begin to parse.

"Thanks. For tonight. I had a good time," he says, hand still sitting on the closed door of his jeep though he leans closer. Then Stiles's gaze slips to Derek's mouth.

Derek doesn't respond to the sincere but formulaic words. He just gazes back, studying the planes of Stiles's face in the light of the street-lamp and waxing moon. It's a fascinating face. Stiles's eyelids go a little heavy as his breath comes in a shaky rush. He knows he shouldn't, but… Derek draws in the scent of him as he drifts forward, right into Stiles's personal space. Stiles's hand comes up to lay out against his waist, warm through the thin fabric as his fingers curl tight. It inches them closer till their lips are just centimeters apart, their breaths passing hot over each other's skin. He angles his head, just a little, just enough to keep their noses from bumping, then tips his chin up to press his lips against Stiles's.

Just one kiss, just one press of barely-parted lips, warm and smooth and tingling.

He pulls back, meeting Stiles's wide eyes through the layer of his glasses, the lens catching the street-light beams and bouncing them around his amber eyes. He can't keep himself from glancing down at those parted lips, the corner of his mouth turning up.

Stiles swallows, then straightens up from the jeep the rest of the way, fingers tightening again on Derek's hip. He leans closer into Derek's personal space, pushes up to brush his lips over Derek's, just a touch before pulling back a millimeter. He stays like that a second, then he makes a sound of frustration and steps back abruptly, letting go of Derek's shirt and turning to walk towards the front of the jeep with purposeful strides.

He slows, though, fingers tapping along the hood of the car, glancing back at Derek as he licks his lips reflexively. "See you Friday, yeah?"

Derek nods but then clears his throat and scratches his fingers through his stubble. "Or… You've got my number."

Stiles's fingers curl at that and rap abruptly on the hood as he ducks his head and bites his lip. "Yeah." He starts moving again, then pauses to glance back at Derek and say softly, "Good night."

"Yeah," Derek says back.

Chapter Text

how do you feel about milkshakes?
do you text?
I'm assuming you text.
because who doesn't text?
Also, scratch that - more important question: how does Scott feel about milkshakes?

Derek can't help but grin. we both have fond feelings about milkshakes he types and sends.

Excellent
Next question: how do you feel about getting milkshakes with me?
probably should have started with that
because now if you say no…

Derek laughs. I am not saying no

that's not a yes
but it's definite progress
Tuesday maybe? If he's feeling better and you're not busy
my treat Stiles adds.

Derek double-checks the calendar. It's nothing set in stone. Well in that case… ;) he texts back.

Right? Who would turn down a free milkshake?
besides snobs
or people on diets
or the lactose intolerant
okay lots of people
which you are clearly not

I'll let you know how Scott's feeling in a couple days

 

In a couple of days, Scott is feeling excellent. By Tuesday he's so excited he's practically vibrating on the drive over. Finally getting out of the house is enough to make him happy, but the fact that they're going for milkshakes with Stiles has him beside himself.

Derek, on the other hand, is actually a little nervous. It had seemed so easy when Stiles had been over at their house, slipping into their evening routine like he'd always been there. Like he was a piece they hadn't known they were missing. But this was the real world, where things were a lot more complicated than a nice dinner and a bedtime story with a kiss goodnight.

But when he helps Scott open the door to the diner and spots Stiles waiting for them at the counter, all his worries suddenly seem ridiculous. Scott's running over to receive hugs, and for all that the date had ended in liplocking, Stiles's face shows no sign of it when he greets them. In fact, when he says hi to Derek, his face doesn't even soften into that private smile he's offered Derek on multiple occasions. There's only casual friendliness there.

It has Derek blanching a little. And a little grateful.

"Have you been here yet?" Stiles asks them as he leads them over to a booth in the middle of the mostly-empty diner. It's got big windows that look out on nothing more interesting than the parking lot, and faded décor that's a half-hearted mixture of vintage objects, only a handful of which are actually from the same decade.

"No. Haven't had the chance yet." He waits while Scott pushes himself awkwardly up onto the seat of the booth, but he doesn't help. Derek also forgoes the booster seat for Scott, even though he really can't reach the table. He knows it would only bring out his son's stubborn streak, like the door-opening and the book-carrying.

"You're in for a treat then," Stiles says as he takes a seat in the squeaky cherry-red booth, rubbing his hands together in glee as the server meanders over across the black and white tiled linoleum. "They seriously have the best milkshakes here."

"What can I get you folks?" the server asks, pulling a notepad out of her black apron pocket and chewing her bubblegum idly.

"Actually, we're just here for milkshakes today," Stiles says, smiling broadly up at her. "I mean, who couldn't use a Tuesday-afternoon milkshake adventure now and again?"

After a moment her blasé demeanor softens. "Well I'll give you a minute to check out the options," she says and wanders off when he nods to go continue stocking napkins in the holders.

"They have so many different things on offer it's ridiculous," Stiles says, grinning at Scott and flipping over the little card sitting by the salt shakers and pushing it across the table to them.

"The grasshopper is a fan favorite for sure," he says, pointing to the photo of the bright green ice cream swirled with almost neon green and dark chocolate syrups. "Or the berry explosion is good too. And they'll make you a shake with a slice of any of the pies they've got out. And then there's the regular syrup flavors, of course," he says, rolling his eyes as he puts a hand to curve around his mouth and whispers "boring!" to Scott, who nods emphatically in agreement, grinning. "But, you could get them in any combination you want, like... strawberry peppermint coconut. It's delicious."

Derek lifts a skeptical eyebrow at him, then exchanges a suspicious glance with his son, who giggles.

"Okay well I've never tried it or anything. But I'm sure it's delicious," Stiles says with a studiously serious nod of his head.

Derek laughs and shakes his head. "I think I'm going to stick with the pie flavor. At least then I know the flavors go together," he says.

Scott frowns over the options intently as Derek slings an arm over the back of the booth to lean over towards the pies in the display case. He makes his decision promptly and turns back to the table.

"So. How are you?" Derek asks he asks after a moment when it becomes clear that Scott needs more time to puzzle out the all-important choice of milkshake. He's never been particularly good at starting conversations, but it's easy enough with Stiles.

Stiles shrugs affably. "Good! Keeping busy. Same old stuff. You?"

"We're doing good. Looks like Scott's finally beaten his bug, so we're getting caught up on all the stuff we missed out on last week."

The server returns then, gazing at them with raised eyebrows.

"Ready, pup?" Derek asks.

Scott nods.

"So what can I get you sweetheart?" the woman asks, looking down at Scott.

"A berry explosion shake please," he says politely, making Derek smile at his good manners. Though he also blamed that on Laura and Melissa more than anything he'd managed.

"A grasshopper shake for me please," Stiles says.

"Rhubarb pie shake, thanks," Derek says. Stiles's face wrinkles in theatrical disgust as he mouths seriously? Derek just lifts an eyebrow in response, unshakable in his affection for the flavor.

The server taps her acrylic nails against her pad and repeats, "So one rhubarb pie, one grasshopper, and one kid's berry-,"

"Not kid's please!" Scott interrupts, leaning his chin on the table and turning his puppy-dog eyes up on the server, sticking his hands up to mime a bigger size cup.

She cracks her gum and eyes him skeptically.

"You want a whole one?" Stiles asks. "I mean it's cool with me, but that's an awful lot of milkshake for a guy your size."

Scott glances at Derek, who shrugs. He knows just how much of an appetite Scott can work up, and the poor kid has been sick enough he's got some calories to replace.

Scott frowns over it for a moment, then nods firmly. "Yeah. A whole one."

The server makes a face, but she shrugs and crosses out the "kid's" on her notepad.

"So how's your dad?"

Stiles grins. "Same as ever. Fighting crime with integrity and bitching about the veggie burgers I put in his freezer, even though he secretly loves them.

"What does your mom do?" Scott asks.

Stiles sighs faintly. "She was an artist. But she passed away a long time ago."

"Oh yeah. Dad told me," Scott says, looking at Derek with a tiny frown. Then he wiggles up on his seat and reaches over across the table, even though it's too big for him to do easily, and pats his hand on Stiles's. "I'm sorry. It's really hard to miss your mom."

Stiles blinks at Scott, seemingly stunned that a child so close to his own loss would offer an adult such comfort. Then he drags a wrinkled smile onto his face and turns his hand over to squeeze Scott's smaller one. "Yeah, it really is."

Stiles sniffs as he sits back, grinning at them. "So, what about you? How's your uh… extended family?"

"Fine I'm sure. Haven't heard otherwise from them," Derek says with a shrug.

"And how's your secret underground superhero school going?" he asks Scott, eliciting more giggles.

"It’s a secret!" Scott replies, then claps his hands over his mouth to stifle the next burst of giggles that comes at his witticism.

Stiles laughs with him, but shakes his head. "No but really, how's the homeschooling going? What did you learn this week?"

Scott leans his head against Derek's arm. "I learned lots of stuff. Like there are four quarts in a gallon. Aaand…," he thinks for a moment, "Oh yeah! Red, blue, and yellow are primary colors."

"Isn't that so cool? And then you can mix them to get the secondary colors," Stiles says, to which Scott nods emphatically.

"Dad's gonna get me some paints so I can learn more about it," Scott says with a grin.

"Once I resign myself to the inevitable mess anyway," Derek replies, plopping a hand on Scott's head to give him a little shake.

"So I was wondering, how do you manage that when it's just the two of you?" Stiles asks, glancing between them. "Is there a homeschool group you're part of?"

"No. Just us. I work from home. I'm a writer," Derek admits. He hadn't exactly been avoiding mentioning it. Not exactly.

Stiles's eyes sharpen on him. "What sort?"

Derek tips his head a little and says, "Fiction. I write mostly in the fantasy genre, though I have a few novels published that are definitely space operas."

This time it's Derek's turn to be on the receiving end of Stiles's suspicious eyebrows. "I read extensively in both of those genres and have filed even more…," he says, waggling fingers at himself as he adds, "librarian here. Why haven't I seen your name?"

Derek smiles faintly and shrugs. "Pseudonym."

Stiles's eyebrow shoot up in interest as he opens his mouth to probe further. But his inquest is interrupted by the arrival of the server with their milkshakes.

It's enough to distract, but Derek can tell by the light in Stiles's eyes when he gazes at Derek while gnawing on his straw that he's not going to let this particular little mystery go until he's figured it out. Derek, therefore, decides he isn't going to make it any easier for him - an intention he signals with a smug twitch of eyebrow, much to Stiles's annoyance.

Stiles, with a facetiously haughty set of arched eyebrows and a flick of the chin turns the subject onto new things. Derek watches in silence (and not a little awe) as the man somehow manages to talk almost continuously, and yet still outpace both him and Scott in the milkshake-slurping race.

Stiles tells them that the rest of the diner food is pretty pedestrian diner fare, but that they make these buckwheat buttermilk pancakes for breakfast that are to die for. And they do a decent eggs benedict. For a diner. Which was important to know because the Rook-River Café was excellent for most foods, but their eggs benedict was an atrocity and should be avoided at all costs. He explains all of this with pointed gestures with the long milkshake spoon which he repeatedly dips in the glass, forgets about for about seven seconds, then grabs between pulls on the straw to lick clean and gesture with again. Derek is fairly certain that he's going to end up with a blob of green ice-cream on his face at some point during the afternoon. It's just a matter of time.

When Stiles asks how they like their shakes, and then shoves his milkshake in Scott's direction, the little boy's eyes widen hugely. Stiles doesn't understand the significance of it for them. Scott does, but Derek would guess that he's not really able to understand that Stiles doesn't; that humans do that all the time. Scott grabs the glass with excitement and slurps down some of the bright green shake before he nudges it back and Stiles retrieves it.

"Wow, that is awesome," Scott says, flicking his tongue over his lips to capture any spare drops.

"Yeah?" Stiles asks, grinning as he slides it towards Derek.

Derek takes a slow breath at the unexpected gesture - though really he shouldn't be surprised. He squashes the prickle of interest his instincts imbue as he takes the cup, putting his lips over the bright red straw to take the briefest of sips before passing it back again with a nod.

"You're right, it is good," he says.

Scott nods in enthusiastic agreement. Then he glances up at Derek, fingers tapping on his own glass, question written all over his face. Derek nods and a grin splits his son's face. He wriggles in his seat and then shoves his glass over towards Stiles. But in his excitement, he pushes too hard. The glass goes skidding over, and before Stiles can do more than flail an arm a few inches or Derek can reach for it, it hits the lip of the table and goes careening into him.

Scott lets out a whine of dismay as Stiles yelps as the cold liquid splashes over him. Stiles leaps upright, half-scrambling out of the booth as he fumbles the glass back onto the table. Pink cream is everywhere, pooling on the table and on Stiles.

"Oh my god that is cold," he blurts, flailing before he abruptly seems to realize the mess he's making. Their server comes hurrying over with a wet rag as Stiles tries to use his hands to keep from dripping everywhere. Derek yanks out a wad of napkins to try and stem the tide of pink oozing towards them.

"I'm gonna…," Stiles says, then glances over his shoulder to look for the 'restrooms' sign.

"Right," Derek says.

Stiles nods, already walking awkwardly over to the hallway as Scott huddles in the corner of the booth, whimpering. Derek helps the server curtail the worst of the spill, then pets a firm hand over the back of Scott's neck.

"It's fine pup," he says quietly and firmly.

"Dad I ruined it!" Scott says, voice thick with worry and stifled tears.

Derek shakes his head. "Everyone has accidents sometimes."

Scott shakes his head. "Stiles is going to hate me."

Derek sighs. The problem with raising a pup in the real world was that you had to teach them to expect rejection and fear from humans. It was just an unfortunate truth. But it wasn't always easy to live with.

"I promise you, he won't hate you for this little thing."

"You stay here and guard my milkshake," Derek orders, knowing that such a task will keep Scott focused. "I'm going to check on Stiles."

He's got a spare shirt in the car, so he strides out to the Camaro and grabs the plain grey tee before heading back inside.
He repeats his thanks to the server still cleaning up the mess as he passes by and ruffles Scott's hair to try and lighten the concerned scowl on his son's face as the boy helps her with the spill. It doesn't really help. But Scott is determinedly helping, intent on his task.

Stiles is wiping down his crotch with a bundle of wet paper towels when Derek pushes open the door. It's bad, his entire front is basically pink with strawberry milkshake. His shirt is a lost cause, already off and sitting in the sink, and his jeans are unbuttoned at the waist, revealing slightly damp but not saturated boxers.

Derek can't help the chuckle that burbles up in his chest.

Stiles glances at him in the mirror, an answering half-grin on his face.

"Sorry," he says, trying to scrub the laughter off his face.

"Hey, might as well laugh, right?" Stiles says, tossing the wadded paper in the bin.

"Thought maybe you could use this," Derek says, setting the tee on the counter beside him as he wets down a fresh couple of towels, wiping them over his skin to capture remaining smears of pink.

"Thanks, I appreciate it. My shirt was soaked," Stiles says, smiling at him in the reflection. He tries to ignore the pulse of anticipation in his chest at the thought of Stiles wearing his clothing, of smelling like him.

Derek glances at the cell-phone sitting on the counter, picking it up to inspect it for damage. He would insist on replacing it if it were damaged. "Phone okay?"

"Yeah. Got it out of my pocket before it could get wet," Stiles says.

Derek nods slowly, leans his hip against the counter as he looks the phone over, then sets it back down. He should just go, now that he's established that Stiles is okay and not upset and has delivered the shirt. But Derek can hardly avoid noticing the toned curves of muscle in Stiles's shoulders that go with the neatly toned abs he has seen before. Nor does Stiles miss the gaze. The hand swiping wet paper-towels over his belly slows, then tosses the scrap into the sink. He turns, looking at Derek directly instead of through the mirror. His eyes have all the heat, all the interest that Derek hadn't seen in them all afternoon. Perhaps it's the privacy, or being thrown off-kilter by the milkshake and subsequent half-nakedness. Either way, the tension between them is like a rope being pulled suddenly taut and then slowly reeling them in.

He finds himself drifting closer, just a little. Enough that he can reach out and smooth his thumb along Stiles's brow, swiping up a droplet of milkshake that was still sitting there. "Missed a spot," he murmurs, licking the droplet off his thumb. It's ridiculous. It probably sounds horribly like a b-movie script, but Stiles's breath catches anyway as Derek's hand drops, leaving them far too close together.

And then Stiles just surges forward, closing the distance so that their lips are pressing hot against each other, slipping wide and exchanging the sweet residue of their deserts, the tart flavor of another person's body-chemistry. It's hard and fast and has Derek's head swimming as he loses himself in it. His hands are tight on Stiles's sides, fingers slipping just under the waistband of his boxers to tease at the skin of his hips. Stiles's hands splay over his waist, curling into the fabric of his shirt as he pulls Derek to him.

When Stiles breaks the kiss they're both gasping. He shivers against the cool air on his bare skin and Derek pulls him tighter, slipping warm palms up his back as he gives into temptation and presses his nose into the crook of Stiles's throat.

"You know, I tried so hard to play it cool," Stiles murmurs against his skin like a confession, arms twining around his shoulders and neck, threading through his hair as they roam.

He'd noticed. "Why?" Derek finds himself asking, though he already knows at least some of the reasons, he's sure.

Stiles doesn't respond at first. He's too busy chasing after Derek's lips for a few more quick kisses. But eventually he mutters, "Because for one, I've really only just met you."

"Mhmm," Derek says, feathering light kisses along Stiles's jaw. He's had a lifetime of trusting his instincts when it came to judgments of people. He has no doubt that Stiles is worth knowing. But it's true, there is a great deal of information - important information that Stiles doesn't know about him.

"Also, because I always fall hard, way too hard," Stiles continues, hands slipping down to settle on Derek's waist.

It might be a sticking point for the other man, but for some reason Derek finds that pleasing. "Mm," Derek murmurs in agreement, lips brushing under the edge of his ear. Wolves aren't commonly known for flighty attachments either. Derek is no exception. But he understands that it could be problematic, especially if an attachment formed prematurely. He flicks his tongue at the sensitive skin just behind his ear where his neck meets his skull, drawing a breathless little moan out of him as his fingers tighten in spasmodic little pulses before his head tips back down, turning to find Derek's jaw to press his own kisses there. But after a moment he tips his head up, taking a deep breath.

"And because of Scott."

Derek stops nuzzling Stiles's neck and rests his forehead against his shoulder, sighing against his skin. And that's the big one. The one that would always have him stopping no matter how much he wanted the other man.

Stiles brushes a hand over the nape of Derek's neck as he continues. "Because I know what it's like to see your dad date. How hard it can be to get attached if someone doesn't end up sticking around. Or how much it sucks to watch him be lonely for your sake.

"But mostly because I have no idea where this is going."

Derek lifts his head at that, pursing his lips as he smooths his thumb against the point of Stiles's shoulder. "Yeah."

"But I want… I mean, I'd like it… like really like it if it went… somewhere," he says, cheeks flushed as he bites his lip in embarrassment.

"Yeah," Derek agrees again. "Me too."

"So maybe… take things slow? Keep it kinda… casual to start?" Stiles offers with a shrug.

Derek takes a breath and sighs it back out again on a faint laugh. "Slow…," he murmurs, shaking his head over a wry smile. "Gotta admit I don't exactly know how to do that. I've never really done slow or casual."

"Yeah me neither," Stiles says with a snort.

Derek nods slowly and steps back. "But yeah. We can try that."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

Stiles gives him that small, soft smile. The one that's just for him. And this time it's Derek's turn to make a small sound of frustration as he resists the urge to kiss that smile, brushing his thumb over Stiles's jawline before turning away. "Okay. See you out there," he says, then makes himself walk out of the bathroom.

Casual.

And for good reasons, as frustrating as it may be. Scott is still looking very chagrinned when Derek returns.

"He's fine, Scott. Just getting cleaned up. He's not even a little upset."

"Okay," Scott says quietly, still looking dejected.

Derek sighs and sits back down, curling a broad palm around his son's shoulders. Despite Scott's stubborn attempts to take on everything he came across, his shoulders were too small yet to bear the world upon them.

"Here, have mine," Derek says, sliding his half-finished shake over to his son.

Scott looks at him with luminous eyes and a tremulous smile, then he pulls himself up to reach the straw. He takes a sip and then makes a face, flicking his tongue out in disgust. "Ewwww. Daaaaad."

Stiles grins as he approaches the table again, wrung-out shirt in hand. "Right? I can't believe your dad actually likes that stuff."

Derek glares back at him, though the look is without any heat. "Rhubarb pie is delicious," he says firmly.

Scott snickers and shakes his head, making an even bigger 'icky' face.

Stiles grins. "Oh come on dude, everyone knows that sugar-packed fake mint or berry flavored syrup is way better than some strange earthy root-vegetable stem thingy. Am I right little man?" he demands of Scott, who giggles.

"Peasants," Derek mutters primly, sotto voce. Stiles bursts into laughter and shakes his spoon at Derek, and as always, the word sends Scott into peals of laughter, even though the little boy really doesn't understand why it's funny. Or at least, he thinks it's funny for some different reason than most people. Probably something only a six-year-old would understand.

"Well guys, I really hate to cut things short, but I think I'd better get home and get a shower or something. I'm about ninety percent certain that I've got boysenberry syrup in my hair somewhere."

He sticks a twenty under the edge of his glass and rises. Derek stands and swings Scott out of the booth

"Thanks for the milkshake Stiles!" Scott says as he grabs Stiles's hand on the way to the door. "Sorry I spilled it on you."

"Hey dude, no problem. It was an adventure," Stiles says with an easy laugh.

Derek knows he's already way beyond trouble when Stiles waits for Scott to push the door open a few inches before he lends a hand and opens it the rest of the way.

"So listen," Stiles begins, glancing between them. "I was thinking maybe we could all get together again soon. Uh, maybe you could come over to my house for dinner or something. Maybe Saturday?"

Derek shakes his head. "We can't, sorry." He frowns when Stiles's cheeks flush and his face falls before it gets schooled into a polite smile to hide his disappointment.

"It's the full moon, silly," Scott says, rolling his eyes.

Derek fights the temptation of his own eyeroll. He should probably stop rolling his eyes so much since Scott looks ridiculous doing it. Then again, Laura and Melissa had both been champion eye-rollers. He'd blame their influence over his any day.

"Why does that matter?" Stiles asks, looking confused and a little suspicious.

"We have special secret magic stuff we have to do," Scott explains. A six-year-old's attempt at subtlety. Derek sighs. Yeah. He was going to have to work on that too.

"Oh," Stiles says, rocking back on his heels and glancing between them. "Are you guys, like, wiccan?" he asks, looking genuinely interested.

It's a cover that actually works well enough in contemporary America, most places anyway. "Something like that," Derek says, tightening his grip on his son's shoulder before Scott can answer any more questions.

Stiles's lips curve down into something that is distinctly pout-like at the half-answer, though he seems to recognize the dissuasion for what it is and doesn't push. His face slips back to neutral as he scratches at the edge of his jaw.

"Okay. Well."

"Another time then?" Derek says, lest he think they're brushing him off. Scott nods eagerly.

Stiles's face relaxes. "Yeah, definitely," he says with a tentative smile. It grows more confident the longer they gaze at each other until Scott wanders over to poke at a dandelion sticking up between the cracks in the sidewalk a few feet away, apparently bored with the lack of conversation. Stiles ducks his head, cheeks flushing pink.

"Sometime next week maybe," Derek says.

Stiles nods affably, glancing up at him. Then a wicked smile starts to curve over Stiles's mouth.

"What?" Derek asks, lifting an eyebrow.

"I read a lot of different things you know, and I just remembered something. Wiccans go skyclad in the full moon, don't they?" he asks with a playfully lecherous waggling of his eyebrows, leaning a little nearer to Derek, eyes crinkling.

Flirting, thankfully, was firmly in the domain of casual.

"You know, I do believe that happens to be true," he murmurs in response, angling his head closer, smirk growing. It was more or less true for him too, though for rather different reasons.

"How about that," Stiles says, tilting his head to skim his gaze along the lines of Derek's body.

Derek tips his head back, gazing down at Stiles through his lashes, posture instinctually inviting. What was it they had talked about? Something about not jumping each other's bones. He doesn't really want to bother remembering that. But Stiles seems to be having the same grudging recollection, and he turns, tipping his face skyward and heaving a taut breath through his nose.

Scott wanders back and his nose twitches as he starts sniffing the air curiously. His head tilts as he puzzles over the new scent - which is not a conversation Derek particularly wants to have right that moment, so he scoops Scott up with a big swinging motion that has him immediately distracted. He lifts him high, then drops him fast to the ground, stopping just before he'd make contact. Derek sets him back down on his feet. "It's time to go. Say 'bye, Scott," Derek instructs as he straightens.

"Bye Scott!" he parrots with a mischievous grin.

Stiles laughs and pokes him in the forehead, saying, "Bye Stiles."

Scott giggles and runs away towards the Camaro.

"I'll see you guys Friday, yeah?" Stiles asks, smiling softly at him.

Derek pretends to mull it over. "I don't know… will there be any stories about wolves?"

Stiles sticks his chin out defiantly, eyes crinkling. "Like I would let you down." But then he bites his lip like it's a Freudian slip, eyes wide before he turns away, saying "See you," and waving over his shoulder as he heads off into the parking lot.

But really, Derek thinks, he doubts it would be Stiles who would be the one letting anyone down.

 

They arrive with plenty of time to spare this week, settling in to the story area long before most of the other children and parents gather. Scott plays with Derek's hand as he talks about the book on airplanes he'd been reading that morning. He's full of energy today. Energy that Derek feels too, like a deep vibration in the air. It's the full moon coming Saturday, close enough to start having its effects on them. Scott knows to stay close today, and his instincts push him to pack anyway.

Eventually Stiles arrives, waving at everyone and exchanging a flurry of high-fives with some of the regulars and the more quick-witted of the newcomers. He turns his grin on Derek and Scott for a moment, waving at them specifically before he sits down on the stool and begins.

"Hi guys," he says, grinning out at them.

They reply back in a chorus of greetings.

"So, what are we doing over here anyway?" he whispers to the kids, leaning his elbows on his knees and plopping his chin in his palms, blinking at them. "I know we're supposed to do something but I can't seem to remember what it is."

They giggle. A few extraverts stick up their hands.

"Wait! I think I remember. Terell's going to do his dance routine for us, right?" he says, looking pleased with himself as he grins at one of the boys.

Terell shakes his head and giggles. "Noooo," he says, waving his hands.

"No? Oh," Stiles says, pouting. He scratches his head and turns his gaze on one of the other children. "Oh! I know. Jian is going to sing a song for us."

The little girl in question pulls her book over her head with a squeal. "No Stiles," she says.

He frowns, tapping his fingers against his lips. "Well then what are we here for?"

"Stiles!" a handful of kids reply, Scott among them.

"Me?" Stiles says, looking theatrically surprised. "But what am I supposed to do?"

"Tell a story!" the children reply.

Stiles looks at them skeptically as they giggle. "Are you sure?"

"It's Stiles's Story Time," Jian points out firmly. The kids nod emphatically and some make affirmative comments.

"Well. I guess I could tell a story. Let me see if I have any books in my bag," he says, grinning and leaning down to dig around through his bag. He grumbles playfully as he searches, then latches onto something.

"Ooh! This one's a good one," Stiles says, drawing out the book for the day. "This was my favorite story growing up, so I really think you're going to like it. It's a long one, so we'll just do one today."

The cover reads: The White Wolf. The title is drawn on the black cover in silver-inked calligraphy. The opening drawing is a beautiful landscape of glittering snow-capped ice-mountains and a shimmering ivory and silver castle nestled among the peaks.

It's a little more precise and elegant that Stiles's usual style, but Derek feels certain that this is Stiles's art. Stiles turns the page to a new image. He sends a brilliant smile back at the children when they ooh over the drawing. "Once upon a time there was a king and queen who had three daughters." This image depicts the royal family, with coppery hair, wearing rich jewel-toned clothes and golden jewelry and crowns that are highlighted with metallic gold paint making the image shimmer. They are set against castle walls made of dark stone.

"One day their father set out for a tour in a distant part of his kingdom. Before he left, his youngest daughter made him promise to bring her back a wreath of her favorite wild flowers that grow in the forest. He traveled for many days, keeping an eye out for the flowers. He did not see any on his way to his destination. There he met with the duke and the local people. All was well in the kingdom."

"When the king was ready to return to his palace, he decided he would like to take home presents to each of his three daughters; he bought a beautiful necklace for the eldest princess and a dress embroidered in silver thread for the second princess. But though he searched for hours, in none of the flower shops nor in the market could he find the wreath of wild flowers that his youngest daughter had set her heart on!"

Stiles draws his face down in disappointment as he shakes his head at this sad turn. The children let out a murmur of sympathy.

"So he had to set out on his homeward way without it. Now his journey led him through a thick forest. While he was still about four miles distant from his palace, he noticed a large white wolf sitting on the roadside, and, behold! On the head of the wolf, there was a wreath of wild flowers."

"Yes!" one of the children blurts, and Stiles grins and lifts a hand towards him, offering his palm which is promptly smacked in a high-five. He turns the page to reveal a big wolf with a flower wreath settled between its ears.

"So the king called to the wolf to ask him whether he would part with the wreath he wore on his head. The wolf said: 'My lord and king, I will let you have the wreath, but I must have something in return.'"

TANSTAAFL, Derek thinks with a wry smirk.

"'What do you want?' answered the king. 'I will gladly give you rich treasure in exchange for it.' but the wolf shook his head. 'I do not want rich treasure,' replied the wolf. 'Only promise to give me the first creature that you meet on your way to your castle. In three days I shall come and fetch it.' And the king thought to himself: 'I am still a good long way from home, I am sure to meet a wild animal or a bird on the road, it will be quite safe to promise.' So he consented, and carried the wreath away with him. The wreath was no ordinary wreath, because even though time passed as they traveled, the flowers remained as bright and as fresh as the day they had been picked. The king was happy with this, knowing it would please his daughter greatly. But the closer he got to home, the more he began to worry. All along the road he met no living creature till he turned into the palace gates, where his youngest daughter was waiting to welcome him home."

Some of the children gasp in understanding and dismay. Scott's face however is still bearing a sunny smile. To him the wolf was no monster.

"That evening the king was very sad, remembering his promise; and when he told the queen what had happened, she too shed bitter tears. Though his youngest daughter was pleased to receive the enchanted wreath, she noticed their sorrow. The princess asked them why they both wept. Then her father told her that in three days the white wolf would come and claim her as his betrothed and carry her away, and they would likely never see her again."

Derek's attention is drawn when one of the men sitting with the other parents stands and moves forward towards the children. He crouches down behind a little girl with dark wavy hair and murmurs in her ear before rising and striding away out of the children's section, cell-phone coming up to his ear. She waves after him as Stiles continues.

"On the third day, as promised, the wolf strode into the palace yard and up the great stairs, to the room where the king and queen were seated. 'I have come to claim your promise,' he said. 'Give me your youngest daughter.'"

"The king and the queen wept, but they had given their word and there was no escape. So they sent for their youngest daughter. The princess got ready to leave her home; but first she went to her room to fetch her wreath of wild flowers, which she took with her."

"When the princess came up to the white wolf he said to her: 'You must mount on my back, and I will take you to my castle.' But the princess was brave. 'I shall honor my father's promise,' she replied, head held high with pride and honor. And with these words he swung her on to his back and bore her away."

"When they reached the place where he had met the king and given him the wreath of wild flowers, he stopped, and told her to dismount that they might rest a little.

"'I wonder,' said the wolf, 'what your father would do if this forest belonged to him?' And the princess answered: 'My father would cut down the trees and turn it into a beautiful park and gardens, and he and his courtiers would come and wander among the glades in the summer time.'"

"'And what would you do if this forest belonged to you?' asked the wolf. 'Oh,' she said, gazing up at the canopy, wreath of flowers clasped to her bosoms, 'I would leave it just the way it is and walk among the trees and flowers in the light of the moon, just as we are now.'"

"The white wolf was pleased with her answers. But aloud he said: 'Mount once more on my back, and I will bear you to my castle.' And when she was seated on his back he set out through the woods, and he ran, and ran, and ran, climbing through the hills until the forest faded and they were climbing a mountain. It was all a blur, such was his power, till at last he stopped in front of a stately courtyard, with massive gates."

The children ooh over the full-page spread painting of the castle and Stiles smiles softly down at them, waiting as they lean forward to get their fill of the image. The artwork in this book is just stunning. Ethereal and every scene made in painstaking detail, which makes sense, given that Stiles had mentioned it was his favorite growing up. Derek finds himself hoping that Stiles will read it again someday, but just to Scott and himself. He wonders what he could do, what wildflower wreath he might weave to make that happen. He also reminds himself of the all-important words slow and casual. Except the approaching full moon makes those words sit much less easily than they otherwise might.

"'This is a beautiful castle,' said the princess as the gates swung back and she stepped inside. 'If only I were not so far away from my family!' But the wolf was not unkind and answered: 'When your sisters marry, and at the end of each year we will pay a visit to your father and mother.' And at these words the white furry skin slipped from his back, and the princess saw that he was not a wolf at all, but a handsome young man, tall and strong."

Stiles turns the page to reveal said handsome prince as Scott's hand smacks Derek's shin hard in excitement. "Dad!" he says aloud. "Did you hear that?"
Derek puts a finger to his lips to shush him and he ruffles Scott's hair, returning the grin that is huge on his son's face. Stiles is looking at them fondly when he turns his gaze back on him as Stiles turns the page on to more lines of beautiful calligraphy.

"He gave her his hand, and led her up the castle stairs, showing her to a beautiful set of chambers where she would live as his betrothed. For several months they spent time together. He showed her his lands and took her on moonlight walks through the great forest. One day, at the end of half a year, he came into her room and said: 'My dear one, you must get ready for a wedding. Your eldest sister is going to be married, and I will take you to your father’s palace. When the wedding is over, I shall come and fetch you home. I will howl outside the gate, and when you hear me, pay no heed to what your father or mother say, leave your dancing and feasting, and come to me at once; for if I have to leave without you, you will never find your way back alone through the forests,' he said 'but I will not force you to stay with me because of your father's promise'. And she knew that despite his warning words, he cared for her deeply."

Derek's eyebrows go up. It is an unexpected turn, having a sort of werewolf as a prince who isn't evil or cursed. It seems Stiles is bent on challenging stereotypes in his stories all around.

"When the princess was ready to start, she found that he had put on his white fur skin, and was changed back into the wolf; and he swung her on to his back and set out with her to her father’s palace where he left her, while he himself returned home alone. But, in the evening as promised he went back to fetch her, and, standing outside the palace gate, he gave a long, loud howl. In the midst of her dancing the princess heard the sound, and at once she went to him, for she had grown to love him and her new home as much as he loved her. So he swung her on his back and bore her away home to his castle."

"With this choice to remain at his side as evidence of her love, they began to make final preparations to be wed. Everything was beautiful and decorated with the wildflowers of the forest. The only problem was that the white wolf's palace was so far away and so very difficult to travel to that the people of the palace were the only ones who could be in attendance. But the princess wrote her family with the news. Though she missed them, she was not sad, for she was happy in her new home. The wedding was lovely, and in place of a tiara she wore the wreath of wildflowers. The prince and princess were filled with joy, and all was well in the palace."

The image of the ceremony is again a beautiful full-page spread. Stiles smiles fondly at the image and at the cooing children.

"Again, at the end of half a year, the prince came to her as the white wolf and said: 'Dear heart, you must prepare for the wedding of your second sister. I will take you to your father’s palace to-day, and now that we are wed we will remain there together till tomorrow morning.'"

"So they went together to the wedding. In the evening, when the two were alone together, he dropped his fur skin, and, ceasing to be a wolf, became a prince again so that they could dance together at the wedding ball. But while they were dancing, the princess’s mother slipped away and went into their room. When she saw the white skin lying on the floor, she remembered the legends about such things and so she took it. She ran straight to the ballroom and brandished the fur. 'I will free you, precious daughter! This will break his spell,' she cried and threw the pelt into the fire. The princess cried out, but it was too late. The moment the flames touched the skin there was a fearful clap of thunder heard, and the prince disappeared in a magic whirlwind, leaving the princess behind."

The children gasp in collective horror, completely immersed in the story. Derek finds he himself is not free of dismay at this turn, though of course such tales never go smoothly.

"Despite her family's pleas to stay, she gathered her wreath of wildflowers and some provisions and set out immediately to try to find her way back to the castle. Though she loved her family, the princess also loved the white wolf and was heart-broken without him. Even though the white wolf had warned her long ago that she would be lost, she was determined. But as she wandered through the woods and forests, she could find no path or track to guide her."

"For twenty-eight days she roamed in the forest, sleeping under the trees, and living upon wild berries and roots, and at last she reached a little house. She opened the door and went in, and found the wind seated in the room all by itself, and she spoke to the wind and said: 'Wind, have you seen the white wolf?' And the wind answered: 'All day and all night I have been blowing round the world, and I have only just come home; but I have not seen him.' But the wind reminded her that it could not be everywhere at once, so it gave her a long silk sash, with which, it told her, she would be able to walk up into the clouds to better see the land.'"

Her journey to the sky is depicted on the next page that Stiles turns to, sash and hair blowing behind her, curling in the wind.

"She put on the sash and began to make her way into the sky, but as she walked through the air, a gust of wind knocked her wreath of wildflowers from her head. Though she chased after it, it fell into the forest and she could not find it. She wept bitterly for the loss, but gathered her strength for she would not despair. She continued up, walking through the air till she reached a cloud, and she said: 'Tell me, cloud, have you seen the white wolf?' And the cloud answered: 'I have been floating over the forest all day, and I have not seen him. But I am only a cloud and I cannot go far before I rain. Perhaps the moon might know.' So the cloud gave her a cloak, so that she would be shielded from the power of any element."

When Stiles turns the mage, the image of the moon shimmers with silver, reflecting against her hair, shading the amber tones lighter.

"The princess wore the cloak and the sash up into space, protected now from the void. She walked for many days till she came to the moon, and she said: 'Dear moon, have you not seen the white wolf?' But the moon answered, 'I have several times seen him roaming the woods, looking haggard and worn. But I have not seen him recently. All night long I have been sailing through the heavens, and I have only just come home; but I did not see him tonight. Perhaps the sun will know what has come of him.' So the moon gave her gave her a pair of boots, and told her that if she put them on she would be able to walk five hundred leagues at a stride and on any surface, thus combined with her cloak and sash she would be able to reach the sun."

"So she went to the sun, and said: 'Dear sun, have you seen the white wolf?' And the sun answered, 'Yes, I have seen him searching through your father's kingdom, but he has given up hope and locked himself away, believing you were lost to him, and would never return. His kingdom will fall into ruin if he does not return soon. But I have seen you searching too, and I will help you. When you leave me you must go due west, following in my trail. You must continue without straying till you reach a glass mountain. At the summit you will find the palace of the white wolf. Your sash will allow you to climb the steepest mountains, and your boots will grip even the slick glass slopes of the mountain, and your cloak will protect you from the snow. With them you will be able to climb it quite easily. And now my gift to you; here is a spinning-wheel, with which you will be able to spin snow into fur.' The princess was very grateful, but she was curious. 'And what am I to do with this beautiful spinning wheel, dear sun?'"

"'You will know when the time comes. Get ready, it is almost time for us to go,' the sun replied. So the sun and the princess set out, traveling across the sky. She descended into the forest and followed the light all day until she reached the glass mountain. She climbed and climbed, and then finally at the summit she found the white wolf’s palace, as the sun had said."

A cheer ripples through the children at the success.

"She was clad in the magic cloak, sash and boots, and her hair had gone white in the light of the moon, her skin bronzed in the sun's wake. The people of the palace did not recognize her, so changed was she from her long journey. And she did not reveal herself to them, uncertain of her welcome. But they offered her hospitality, and were fascinated by her arrival for no one had climbed that side of the mountain except the prince as long as anyone could remember."

"But even this marvel was not enough to convince the white wolf to leave his chambers. The people told her that he was a fair and dedicated ruler, but a great tragedy had befallen him. They told her how he had appeared suddenly in a magic whirlwind without either their beloved princess or his wolf-form. Then he had made the difficult trek down the mountain and searched through the forest and neighboring lands for his wife. He had searched for many weeks, but one day he had found her wreath of wildflowers and had lost all hope. He had returned home and had refused to come out even once since."

"This was sad news, but the princess had come such a long way and would not give up that easily. Each night she slept on the mat outside his door. Each day she took out her spinning-wheel, and began to spin snow into fur. And each day as she spun the fur, she began to tell the whole of her story to the people who would gather outside the prince’s door with her. She told how she had been the youngest of three sisters, and that her father had betrothed her to a white wolf. She told of his kindness and honor and how she had grown to love him. And she told how she had gone first to the wedding of one sister, and then with her husband to the wedding of the other sister, and how her mother had done a terrible thing, throwing the white fur skin into the fire."

"The people understood then that it was she, their princess, and rejoiced at her return, eager to hear how she had achieved this great feat. So then she told of her wanderings through the forest; and of how she had sought the white wolf; and how the wind and cloud and moon and sun had befriended her, and had helped her to reach his palace. And now she was here, hoping to convince the prince that she had not forsaken him and be reunited once more."

"Though he did not open the door, each day the prince had sat on the other side, listening to her tale. But so deep was his sorrow he did not believe it, for he had the wreath in his possession, and he knew she would never have abandoned it. It could not be her, he told his servants, it was some cruel trick."

"The princess had guessed that it would take more than just the story of her trials to restore the prince’s faith in her. While she had been telling her tale, she had also been spinning magic fur, blessed by the wind and the clouds and the moon and the sun. This, she knew, should be a suitable replacement for his lost fur, capable of restoring his magic and allowing him to be the white wolf he was. But when her tale was done, she had not one but two snow-white pelts. As the moon rose over the kingdom she stepped into its light and drew one of the pelts over her head to make a wish. She wished that she could restore her husband’s magic and so that he would know of her devotion, she wishes that she might be made a wolf too, just like him."

Scott lets out a happy sigh, which Derek feels echoed in his chest. He tries not to think about it too deeply.

"When she opened her eyes, she found that she too had transformed into a beautiful white wolf. She had done it! But the door was still closed to her, so she puzzled over what to do. Suddenly, in a moment of inspiration, she remembered a piece of her own story. She tipped her head back and let out a most lonely howl at the sky, calling her husband to return to her, as she had once returned to him."

Derek squeezes Scott's shoulder, hopefully preempting the urge to join in with the princess. This close to the full moon it's anyone's guess whether he'll manage to keep it reined in. But Scott just bounces in excitement, clapping his hands over his mouth.

"When the prince heard her howl, he knew that it truly was his wife, who had sought him, and had found him, even after such great dangers and difficulties. He threw open his door, wreath clutched to his chest. He knelt before her, scarcely able to believe his eyes as he took in her wolf form and the second pelt at her feet. 'My husband, I have missed you,' she said. The prince laid a hand on her fur. 'My wife I had thought you lost to me. But I was wrong. You sought me everywhere and ventured to even the heavens to return to me.' And she replied: 'Yes my dear heart, I have journeyed far but no journey is too far, for I love you with all my heart.' He wept tears of joy and placed the wreath on her head where it belonged, and said 'And I love you.' Then the prince took the second pelt and drew it over his shoulders. And in the light of the moon, blessed by the wind and clouds and the sun, and his wife's love, so he became the white wolf once more."

"And together they lived…," Stiles says, turning the final page to the two wolves sitting on a parapet in the light of a setting sun, then leans over the book towards the children, cupping a hand up to his ear with raised brows.

"Happily ever after!" the children cry in chorus.

Derek realizes he's grinning like an idiot over the happy conclusion when Stiles glances at him and winks. He laughs and shakes his head, looking down at Scott, who's grinning too.
"I liked that story a lot," he says, leaning his head against Derek's thigh.

Derek lifts an eyebrow at him, reaching out to steal Scott's nose between his fingers. "Got your nose."

"Daaaad," Scott groans, clapping his hands to his face and rolling back onto the ground in a heap of limbs. He crawls away back to the blob of children clustered around Stiles still, peering at the drawings. Scott he waits at the back for the other children to say their goodbyes instead of rushing to talk to Stiles. After a moment he loses interest and goes off to the bookshelves as the other parents usher their children away. After a minute or so he returns, book in hand, and sits back where he had been in the middle of the carpeted area to wait.

The children are excitable today, wanting to see some of the detailed drawings again. But when almost everyone clears, there's still that one little girl sitting where she'd always been, looking around with wide eyes. Her fingers fist in the fabric of her purple skirt over her striped leggings as she tips her chin up against the wobbling lower lip that threatens. Derek climbs to his feet and drifts over to the bookshelf that marks the opening into the children's section, glancing speculatively down the hall. The man hasn't come back yet and there's no sign of him. When he looks back, Scott is scooting closer to her and taps her on the shoulder, drawing her attention.

"Hi," he says. "I'm Scott."

She looks at him with luminous brown eyes and then her fingers un-fist and her face splits into a beautiful smile. "I'm Allison."

"Did you know that wolves can live up to thirteen years?"

Derek resists the urge to roll his eyes. Of course Scott would try to make friends with wolf-facts. But impossibly, Allison's smile widens as she nods. Then she tilts her chin in thought, pushing her yellow headband back a little before her eyes light up. "Did you know that ravens and wolves work together in the wild?"

Scott's eyes go wide as he nods excitedly. "I like wolves."

Derek decides not to interfere. Finally finished with the last of the other children, Stiles comes over to him, settling his bag over his shoulders and looking at the kids.

"We've got a little-dogie?" he murmurs, tipping his chin at the little girl.

"Seems like," Derek says, crossing his arms over his chest. "But Scott's keeping her company for now."

"I'm heartbroken. My affections have been thrown over for a pretty face!" Stiles says putting a facetiously dramatic hand over his heart.

"I think he likes her for her mind," Derek says, leaning closer to drawl the words next to his ear.

Stiles turns a speculative glance on him, putting his mouth distractingly close by. "Oh? Uh-oh," Stiles says, turning again and smiling broadly with affection at the kids. "Brains and beauty. I can't compete."

Derek huffs a faint laugh, eyebrows climbing. "I don't know… seems to me like you've more than got the goods if those are the criteria."

Stiles flashes a grin at him and winks, though Derek doesn't miss the way his cheeks get a little more flushed.

"But apparently she knows that wolves can live up to thirteen years, and that ravens and wolves work together in the wild," Derek adds, arching an eyebrow significantly.

Stiles tips his head back, making a low sound in his throat that's somewhere between a laugh and a groan. Derek has to look away from the long column of taut skin.

"Nope, I'm done for. Just you wait and see; it's gonna be love at first factoid and I'll be left out in the cold."

Derek shakes his head, hiding a smile as he scrubs a hand over his mouth. "Then I guess it's a good thing you'll have me for company," Derek says with faux nonchalance.

"Oh?" Stiles asks, lifting his chin and eyebrows and accompanying them with a wide smirk.

"I'm trained in wilderness survival. I'm sure I can think of a way to keep you warm," he explains, leaning closer, flirting shamelessly.

A half-stifled laugh that floats from Stiles in response. "I'll bet," Stiles replies, voice low, eying him with a heavy sweep of eyelash and flushed cheeks.

He wants badly to take the man by the hips like he had days earlier and pull him close, to press his lips against the pliant bow of his mouth, to draw in his scent along his throat and lick the spot behind his ear that will have him sighing that breathy little moan he knows he can elicit. He wants to bite, to mark-

Stiles sighs, heavy like he feels it too. His hand wanders up to rub along the side of his neck because he doesn't know better, and Derek turn his gaze away, clearing his throat.

They are taking things slow. And slow, whatever it means, definitely does not mean ravishing Stiles's neck in the public library.

"So I was wondering. In all these fairy tales," Derek begins in an attempt to get his thoughts back on a more neutral track. "What is it with the spinning wheels?"

Stiles barks out a surprised laugh. "Sorry," he manages before he dissolves into breathless snickering. "It's just that, oh god if you are seriously asking me that question I literally have a twenty-five page section on that in my dissertation. It's ridiculous."

Derek blinks at him, then incredulously shakes his head before grinning at him. "Seriously. I'd love to read it."

"Oh my god who are you?" Stiles demands.

Derek lifts an eyebrow. "Says the guys who has twenty-five pages of his dissertation dedicated to spinning wheels."

Stiles makes a supercilious face and scowls at him playfully. But it's not long before it breaks again into a bemused smirk at Derek's smug grin. He gazes back at the children, then he taps the back of his hand against Derek's arm. "Listen, I'm going to go check with the desk and see if we know anything about this guy. You'll keep an eye on them, yeah?"

Derek nods in easy certainty and Stiles slips away towards the front. He turns his gaze back to the kids who are still sitting there talking rapid-fire about the story. He watches as the little girl tugs on her hair, then shyly points to the book tucked under Scott's arm. Wolf Heart, again. He was supposed to have returned it and moved on to another book, but somehow they hadn't gotten around to that part yet. He'd have to buy Scott his own copy. Maybe a nice hard-copy. Or perhaps first edition, something he'd appreciate when he was older.

He turns when he hears the rapid tread of feet. It's the girl's caretaker, hurrying towards them, looking concerned. His face clears immediately when he sees Allison, sitting with Scott hunched over the book. He heaves a sigh as he slows up beside Derek, breathing a little hard from his rush. After a moment he tips his head up at the ceiling, then rolls his shoulders back, loosening the residual tension of a panicked parent. He glances at Derek, then back at the kids.

"That your boy?" the man asks, spreading an easy smile over his face. It seems more polite than genuine, just as the question feels more probing than casual. But it's understandable. After all, Derek would want to know if a stranger had a good reason for watching Scott.

Derek nods.

"Thanks for keeping an eye out, mister…," the man says, extending a handshake to him.

He's not particularly interested in making friends, but he knows enough to know that if Scott wants to make friends with other kids, Derek needs to be amenable to making nice with their parents. And Scott certainly seems excited to make this particular friend. He plasters his own polite smile across his face. "Derek Hale," he says as he takes the extended hand.

But the handshake is abruptly stiff and mechanical, the man's posture tightening as he withdraws his hand. He clears his throat and glances away a moment before answering carefully with his own name.

"Chris. Chris Argent."

Ah. That explains it. Derek feels his own posture shift, though instead of straightening like the human, his hips angle slightly and shoulders curve forward. It's subtle, but the man notices it nonetheless. However, his face gives nothing away, staying studiously neutral, hands still tucked firmly in his pockets.

Not a surrender. But definitely not an aggressive stance.

"Allison and I are on our own these days. After her mother passed, there were some… disagreements in the family about how she ought to be raised," he explains in what for normal people would be an apparent non sequitur. Unexpected personal information being used strategically and swiftly. Again, not a surrender, but an expression of consideration nonetheless.

"Sounds familiar."

Chris's eyebrows lift in agreement as he shifts to gaze back at the children, leaning back on his heels.

"Well," Chris says as his daughter turns to look at him finally with bright eyes and starts to rush over with a book in hand. "Like I said. Thanks."

Derek nods as the guy scoops his giggling girl up in his arms and listens to her excited, jumbled litany of events.

"Ready to go munchkin?" he asks, and she squirms in his arms and looks back at Scott, who is watching her with wide puppy-dog eyes. She waves fervently till Scott does the same, and then swings back to her dad with a firm nod, dark curls bouncing.

Chris offers him a nod, then turns and carries his daughter away without another look back, though the girl waves at Scott till she's out of sight.

Only when she has disappeared around the corner does Scott start the expected "Dad! Dad! Did you see her? Her name is Allison! She's really neat. She even knows things about wolves!"

"I bet," he says, taking a slow breath. He really doesn't know how he's going to deal with the fact that his werewolf son just became enamored of a hunter's daughter.

He laughs mirthlessly, shaking his head.

Buy a spinning wheel, perhaps.

Chapter Text

Whereas most of his life he had greeted the full moon with anticipation, embracing the wildness, the freedom and the power, lately the full moon was a severe trial.

Scott was too young. He was too young to handle the turn. Most Weres didn't start to change until they began puberty. But there were special circumstances that would interfere with the natural progression. Things like losing your entire pack in a massacre and being left to fend for yourself in the woods, as Scott had been. Oh it hadn't been long till he'd been pulled tight into the protective arms of the collective Hale family, but it had been enough.

It still turns Derek's stomach to think about it, a five-year-old, left to wander the burning ruins of his home alone amid the bodies of his mothers and their friends. And it still wasn't over. Each month Scott had to deal with the change, just a child. It was also why they were away from the pack now. The full moons had been chaos, and overwhelming for Scott with all the others around, with everyone thinking they were right, thinking they knew what to do. All of them trying to fix things instead of accepting their grief. Things that were un-fixable. And all the while Derek's instincts flaring at the scent of his son, temper hot in his grief.

Even when they'd moved away, the moon… it never went well for Scott because he was too young to fully transform. Each time it was only a partial change, one that wavered and faltered, then surged again. It was wearing to endure, leaving Scott limp and exhausted by the end of the night, and often in tears. After all, it wasn't a painless process, transformation. Derek suspected that Scott still lacked the endorphin surge most Weres experienced during the change to counteract the inherent pain. He could do nothing but stand by and watch. No, the full moon no longer called for celebration.

So the day of the full moon was always spent in preparation, in distraction. It most definitely included ice cream, or whatever treat Scott wanted. They stayed in, lest Scott get triggered preemptively but Derek didn't work, and Scott didn't get any academic lessons unless he wanted them. They always did whatever made Scott the happiest, often roughhousing in the back yard or doing the messiest possible job baking a cake. Anything he wanted, even if it was reading Wolf Heart for the forty-millionth time.

Today is already off to a bit of a rocky start. Normally a good game of chase in the back yard would have Scott giggling his head off and halfway to ruining his clothes by lunch-time. But today he seems to be getting distracted far too easily. Derek eventually gives up on the structured game of hide and seek when he finds Scott just sitting behind one of the trees, hardly even trying.

"Hey pup," he says, squatting down beside him and curling a hand around his shoulder. "Not having fun playing hide and seek?"

Scott kindof blinks at him, a surprised smile flickering over his features. Then he tilts his chin down as he shrugs. "Oh. I forgot."

Derek's eyebrows go up as Scott tries for another wavering smile. He sighs and sits in the dirt next to his boy, curling an arm around his shoulders.

"You seem sad. Can I fix it?"

"It's because of me that we can't hang out with Stiles, isn't it?" Scott asks.

Derek squeezes him closer. "It's not anyone's fault, Scott. It's just who we are."

Scott scowls at him. "I don't want to be a werewolf anymore."

He doesn't know what to say to that. It's something every were' has to come to terms with in their own way.

"We'll get to see him soon I'm sure," Derek says eventually. "And you know we'll see him Friday for story time." It makes him wonder whether now's the time to start testing the waters about his personal relationship to Stiles. Not that he really has a clue how to start explaining that to his six-year-old werewolf son.

"Do you think Stiles likes werewolves?" Scott asks, grabbing a handful of grass blades between his fingers and tugging slowly on them till they snap, leaving green confetti in his hands which he tosses over his and Derek's knees.

"I don't know. He probably doesn't believe they exist. Most humans don't. And the ones that do usually think we're bad monsters, remember?"

Scott heaves a gusty sigh. "Oh yeah."

They sit there a while longer, playing with the loose grass. Then abruptly, Scott's face brightens. "We could tell him! And then he would know we weren't bad monsters because he likes us."

Derek stifles a wince. "No, pup. We can't tell him. It might not go the way you hope. Lots of humans have a hard time understanding werewolves. He might be afraid or upset even though he likes us. He might get angry and stop being our friend. Or worse. We might have to move away if he doesn't take it well."

"Oh," Scott says, face falling again.

"I know it's hard. But that's why we only tell humans if it's an emergency, if it's important because it might save someone's life."

Scott's brow furrows as he thinks the words over again. "But aunt Stacy's human. She's uncle Liam's mate, but she's a human." His eyes go wide as he looks up at Derek with a worried expression on his face. "Was there an emergency?"

"No, no emergency," Derek says, rubbing his thumb in small soothing circles against Scott's shoulder. "The only other time we tell someone about us is… well, like with uncle Liam. He met Stacy and they fell in love, and when he felt it was… when he thought they were becoming close enough to maybe become mates… that's when he told her."

Scott's face goes serious and contemplative again for a long moment before it suddenly grows a little sly as his expression brightens.

Derek narrows his eyes on Scott as his son grins and pushes to his feet, saying "Okay. Tag - you're it!" he shouts with a giggle, smacking Derek's knee before he bolts in the opposite direction.

Eventually Scott tires of the games. Derek makes them a protein-heavy lunch of cheeseburgers. Then it's time for the traditional afternoon nap. It's especially important today, on the night of the full moon, since he'll be up most of the night. He seems to deal better with the suffering if he's got energy for it.

Normally Derek would spend the time working, keeping up with whatever emails he hadn't dealt with or jotting down some ideas for his books. Or, as often as not, just taking a nap himself, since it wasn't like he would get any sleep in the night either. If he could sleep. Naps don't come so easily on days of the full moon, though of course being a single dad makes him more nap-prone now than he'd ever been in the past.

Today he feels far too itchy to sleep, no doubt in part because of the conversation he'd had with Scott under the tree. There's a lot on his mind of late, like wondering what the hell an Argent was doing in Beacon Hills. That had left him itching to take Scott and run, no matter how many new leaves this Chris might claim to have turned. Where one hunter appeared, more were likely to follow, and the thought of Kate ever getting near Scott again…

He doesn't even try to work. He just sits in his office, staring out the window at nothing after putting Scott down for his rest. He's doing his best, but even knowing that isn't enough to keep him from dreading the night to come. Or worrying about whether this thing with Stiles even has a chance of going anywhere. Because no matter how much he might want it, it's a lot of pressure to put on a kid that young to bite his tongue every time a werewolf-related thought pops into his head. And if he pursues a more personal relationship with Stiles, if they see him more outside of the confines of the library, it just makes it that much more likely that Scott will make an irreversible mistake around him. And Derek can't stand the thought of Scott feeling like he's to blame for losing another important adult in his life.

But he's not about to figure everything out right now. His ruminating gets interrupted by the buzzing of his cell phone on the desk next to him. And despite his concerns, he's more than a little pleased to see Stiles's number on the screen.

"Hey," he says in greeting.

"Hey! I caught you. I wasn't sure I would. I had, like, a voicemail speech all planned out and everything," he says with a self deprecating laugh.

Derek grins. "Well, I could always hang up and let you leave a message…"

Stiles laughs again as Derek continues, "But yeah, normally you wouldn't. Scott is having his nap right now. Then tonight we'll be busy again."

"Oooh, right. Gotta save up your energy for all the dancing naked in the moonlight," Stiles teases.

Derek huffs a laugh. Stiles is closer to the truth than he knows, at least if things were to happen as they normally would. Chasing the other members of the pack in the moonlight was one of the best parts of being a werewolf. And clothing was generally not involved. "Something like that. So, what are you up to?"

"Oh, you know, just enjoying the weekend."

But Derek can hear the tension underlying the casual words. "Yeah?" he replies after a moment, leaving the conversational route open.

"No, not really," Stiles sighs in response. "Talked to Isaac today."

"How's he?" Derek asks.

Stiles grunts in frustration. "Not so good. He's decided today that he's officially moving back in with his dad. Despite, I might add, my rather exceptional arguments to the contrary."

Derek makes a faint hum of sympathy. "Sorry to hear that."

"Yeah, me too. Sometimes it almost seems like he doesn't even remember what it was like to be terrified over every action. Over whether his dad had had a bad day and was going to take it out on someone smaller and defenseless. Or having to hide the bruises. Which just, like, blows my mind, because I sure as hell can't forget, and I only got a few years of it. He got a lifetime."

Derek has to literally bite his tongue to stifle the protective growl his instincts inspire. As it is, he's probably going to leave a dent in his desk where he's gripping the edge.

"And okay, sure, it's not like his dad is going to be strong enough to hurt him physically any more, but honestly, I don't know which was worse; the physical abuse or the verbal. So I just don't understand how he is… ignoring all of that. How can it possibly be the right thing to do? Why? Why is he going back?" his voice goes taut with frustrated emotion and under it a weariness.

Derek makes another soft hum of comfort, since he has no words to answer Stiles.

"It just seems so strange to me. And, you know, I'm sitting here wondering whether I should be doing something more. If I should be, like, intervening or something. You know? But on the other hand, who am I to try and bully him into doing what I think is right?" he says with a heavy sigh.

"Well, if you were asking me," Derek begins, responding despite the rhetorical nature of the question, leaving the sentence open in a half question.

"Sure," Stiles says. And it sounds genuine. Like he wants to know Derek's opinion.

"It might not be what you want to hear," Derek says.

Stiles just grunts at him in dismissal of the warning.

"Obviously I don't know him, or anything about what happened besides what you've told me. But… what if it's something he needs to do? It wouldn't be right for you, but maybe it's the right thing for him." Derek says. "I know my family doesn't really understand why I chose to move Scott and I away from them. Some of them are still pretty angry, which is hard. But in the end I just… had to believe in my decision and my best intentions."

"Yeah," Stiles says with an acknowledging sigh. "Yeah. And it's not like I know what it's like when it's your own dad doing that to you. I was damned lucky that my Dad was able to pull his life back together eventually and bring me home. Give me something good to replace all the bad. Isaac never had that, not really." Stiles heaves another sigh as he sits in silence a long moment, lost to thought. His voice has more forced cheer when he continues. "At least this way Isaac might be able to get into the attic and get some of my aunt's stuff. I found some of my grandma's books there once, but I never got a chance to really look at them. My Uncle caught me." He clears his throat. "He did not like that I was up there poking through his dead wife's things. Nevermind that she was my aunt too. Didn't matter that I did it with total respect, searching for our family's history. For some piece of my mom who I'd just lost that year."

There's pain there and anger. Derek wishes there wasn't the distance of the phone between them now, wishes that he could offer some sort of comfort to him beyond sympathetic noises and trite words. "I'm sorry," he says, for lack of anything better to offer.

"Yeah, me too. Uh. Thanks," Stiles says softly. "Thanks for listening. I guess I needed to get that off my chest."

"Of course," Derek says, and he means it when he adds softly, "Any time."

"Thanks," Stiles says with a faint sigh, a 'moving-on' sigh. Derek hears him shift on the other end of the line and then Stiles says, "You know what? I'd much rather talk about your books."

"Oh?" Derek asks, intrigued by the idea that Stiles might have figured out his pseudonym - and even more, read his books. The idea of Stiles reading his words sends a streak of both excitement and apprehension through him. "What about them?"

Stiles grunts in annoyance. "As in this pseudonym thing is killing me and I need to know what you've written."

Derek snorts, too amused and intrigued by the chase of it - of being chased, to be disappointed.

"Don't laugh, this is serious. I've been scouring the fantasy section since Tuesday trying to figure this out. Erica is having a hell of a time at my expense by the way, watching me pick through the shelves and not-so-surreptitiously check the inside covers of all the returns."

"Any contenders?" Derek asks, completely unapologetic. The mental image of Stiles bringing the full force of his multitasking abilities to bear on the library is plenty amusing. Erica could hardly be blamed for being entertained.

Derek can hear him groan faintly as he stretches, settling in with a sigh wherever he's sitting. "No," Stiles says petulantly. "I should have paid more attention to what was on your shelves when I was over at your place."

"Wouldn't have helped," Derek says with an edge of humor in his voice as he leans back in his chair. "I don't keep them downstairs."

"Ooh, a clue," Stiles murmurs. "Hmm… where do you keep them? I didn't see any in Scott's room besides his books, and if they're not downstairs… I'm thinking, ahh… bedroom maybe?" he asks, voice going a little facetiously low and flirty as if he'd said the word 'boudoir' instead.

"Maybe," Derek replies, allowing a little teasing into his own voice. They're not in there, actually. It's useful to have them at hand in his office while writing in the same universe as previous books. But that's not really the point of this conversation.

"Maybe I should investigate there and find out."

"Maybe you should," Derek replies softly. The thought of Stiles in his home territory, poking around in his things, leaving his scent all over Derek's bedroom…

The moment stretches past the point of teasing. Abruptly Stiles clears his throat as Derek sits back up in his chair, tamping back the feral edge of his instincts and the mental images they're calling up. "Of course, I could always rearrange them before you come over again," Derek says loftily, lightening the mood again.

"That is patently unfair," Stiles argues, though his voice is light and playful as Derek's again.

"Well then I guess you'd better figure out a way to come over soon... Before I have a chance." It's fun, flirting like this. It's been a long while since life had been good enough to warrant lightness of any kind. The pull of the full moon makes him simultaneously glad of and frustrated by the distance between them the phone engenders.

Stiles groans in playful frustration. "And it's my turn to have you guys over."

"I don't know… how much of a stickler are you for rules?" Derek asks, playing his fingers idly over the ridges of the carved wolf bookend sitting on his desk. The moon is making him reckless, he knows it.

"Mm," Stiles hums in response. "Depends on the rule."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. Some of them, like the penalty for dog-earing the pages of books? Yeah. That crime is punishable by forty lashes. No excuses, no deals will be cut under any circumstances. Full sentences will be served, even for sweet old Mrs. Frye."

Derek huffs a laugh at the proclamation.

"But for taking turns with dinner…," he says. "I don't know, I could be convinced to endure the, ah, punishment."

"Oh?" Derek asks again, though this time his voice is much lower and rougher as he murmurs the syllable.

"If I knew you'd make it worth my while," Stiles adds, voice equally low and teasing.

Derek has to close his eyes and take a breath, trying to compose some words that aren't swerving sharply off in the direction of not-casual and not-slow.

Stiles clears his throat, breaking the tension before Derek can reply. "Actually, wouldn't be hard at all. Just say you're going to cook for me again and I'll be there in a heartbeat."

"I think that could be arranged," Derek murmurs in reply. But before he can think of anything else to say, he tilts his head, hearing the unmistakable sound of Scott shuffling towards his office. "Sounds like Scott's waking up," he says to Stiles as he pushes back from his desk.

"Oh, I'll let you go then. But, uh, maybe sometime this week?"

"I'd like that," Derek replies.

"M'kay. I'll text you. Have fun with whatever it is you're doing tonight."

Derek laughs as he steps out into the hall and smiles down at Scott, who is rubbing absently at his eyes with tiny little fists. "We'll try."

 

They're destined to fail, as it turns out. It's bad this time. It's only an hour past moonrise and the first wave of abortive transformations when Scott starts losing hold on his emotional strength.

"I want Mom. I want Mom and Momma," he whimpers against Derek's shoulder as he clings to him, shaking against the half-transformation that wracks his little body.

"I know, baby, I know," Derek says, stroking his back gently, trying to ignore the sensation of the muscles and bone shifting under his hand in imperfect transition.

He doesn't know what Laura and Melissa would have done. They would have done it better than he did. Then again, maybe there was no right way to handle this. they'd have done it Differently, anyway. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion where Scott was concerned. His eldest sister had been sure a mothering approach by herself, a recent mother, would help Scott the most. His mother had made a bid for tight discipline. Peter had wanted them to all run wild in the woods, to make Scott want to join the chase.

Derek could only think about how small Scott was. How confused and overwhelmed and hurt he'd been no matter whose suggestion they were following. Finally he'd given in to his own instincts, the ones that had told him to run and to hole up in his den and barricade against outsiders. And so they'd ended up without their pack, far from home.

They find their own way of doing things, and though it's not perfect, they figure it out together. Sortof. Tonight seems to be another night for challenging Derek's ability to help Scott through it. After a while he gets out some of the books he'd bought for the occasion. He wouldn't risk library books against a werewolf's instincts, so he bought new ones for the occasion. Usually it's the best part of the night. The new stories are enough to help distract Scott from his pain, letting him lose himself in the unknown plots and universes. Even old books usually bring him some respite, just listening to Derek's voice as he reads to him.

Tonight, however, he just growls at the sound.

"I want Stiles," he snaps, eyes flashing gold as he shoves at the book in Derek's hands.

It comes as a surprise. The emotions it evokes are complex ones as he lets Scott kick out against his shins. It seems that tonight, the books Derek has on offer only serve to remind Scott of the more talented story-telling of a certain librarian. Another thing the full moon is taking away from him. From both of them.

"I hate you," Scott shouts.

"I know pup. I know," Derek says softly, though his son is too busy scrambling away to kick and claw at the walls as he trawls the boundary of the room.

He soothes him as best he can but it isn't enough. The tears, the outbursts don't even begin to taper off, not even hours into the night. In fact, the requests for Stiles become increasingly frequent. It kills him to be sitting there, watching his son pound his little fists on the concrete floor till they bleed, damaged by stray claws and rubbing on the rough surface.
And he can't hold him down. He could, physically. He could hold his little boy by the wrists like shackles, and keep him from moving. But that restraint would just urge him to fight harder, to writhe to the very limits of his joints, and even beyond them. Once he'd dislocated his shoulder, fighting Derek. It had been one of the worst moments of Derek's life. So now Derek lets him run free in the sealed basement, lets him kick and scream and shake his way through it.

"I want Stiles," Scott sobs against his hands, blood smearing on his cheek as he squirms.

He starts to consider it. He knows it's not rational. He shouldn't risk it. But his own nature is called by the wild moonlight too. His son isn't the only one who wants Stiles right now, though for rather different reasons. He knows he's being influenced by the moon. But combined with Scott's tears, it's enough to have him actually considering calling him.

Still, as much as he wants to call him, he hesitates. It could go so badly wrong. Even a small mistake could push Stiles away, weirded out by their odd behavior, or perhaps worse, get his curiosity piqued to the point where he couldn't let it go. Derek doesn't doubt that it's in Stiles's nature, given the way he's been pursuing the discovery of Derek's pseudonym past the point of idle curiosity. He doesn't want to lose Stiles, for Scott's sake as much as his own. They have such a good thing going, fledgling though it may be.

But when he gazes at his sobbing son, listens to his pleas for Stiles, he comes to a decision. Because if there's one thing he knows to be true, it's that he'll do anything, anything for Scott's needs. Even a risk this big. So he squeezes Scott's tiny shoulder, tells him that he'll be right back, and then carefully slips out of the heavy reinforced basement door which gets locked behind him. He doesn't tell Scott that he's planning on calling Stiles, since there's a good chance the other man won't answer in the middle of the night, or be interested in talking to Scott right then. He doesn't want to get Scott's hopes up.

His phone is right where he left it on the kitchen counter, now sitting in a moonbeam coming through the kitchen window. He bites his cheek as he reaches into the light, trying to ignore the tingling sensation the light evokes as it touches his skin. But he picks up the phone and unlocks it without mishap. He takes a deep breath, waiting for the pull of the moon to level out, then dials the number.

Stiles picks up on the third ring with a sleepy, "H'lo?"

"Stiles, it's Derek. Sorry, did I wake you?"

"Mh," Stiles says in response, yawning audibly and groaning as he stretches.

Any other time, the image of Stiles sleepy and pliant in his bedclothes would be a delicious mental image. As it is, on the night of the full moon it's hard to keep his baser nature from distracting him from his goal. "Sorry. I know it's late."

"No it's cool. I thought you guys would be busy tonight though," Stiles says, voice rising in question.

"We are. But… Scott's having a really hard time with… things tonight."

"Things," Stiles deadpans. "Your special secret magic stuff, I'm guessing?"

Derek grimaces. "Yeah. It's… hard to explain. But, he was asking for you. So I'm calling to ask you a favor."

"Yeah?" Stiles says, sounding surprised and pleased. "What can I do to help?"

"Could you… would you read Scott a story over the phone? I'm trying, but apparently I'm no substitute for you," he says with a self-deprecating sigh.

"Oh…," Stiles says with a laugh. "Wow. I guess so. Sure. Or I can just come over if-"

"No," Derek interrupts sharply, then clears his throat and says more softly, "No. Sorry, we can't. I just…"

"Sure. It's okay," Stiles says, though clearly it kindof isn't. "You said it's hard to explain…"

"I… it is," Derek says, scrubbing a hand over his face in frustration. "And I know I'm asking a lot."

"Not really," Stiles says lightly.

"I'm asking you to trust me," Derek says softly. And that is a lot. For Stiles more than most in some ways.

There's a long pause, and then Stiles murmurs, "Yeah."

"It's not something I can explain right now. But," he says, taking a tight breath as he makes his decision, "I promise I will explain it to you some day, if you really want to know. But…," he stares through the big box window up at the turgid moon hanging over the treeline, calling to him.

"What?" Stiles prompts, voice pulled in curiosity.

Derek closes his eyes, sighing heavily. "You might be better off not knowing. In fact you probably should avoid it. It's… dangerous knowledge to have."

He hears Stiles take a taut breath.

He can practically hear the gears turning in Stiles's head. He's probably only succeeded in piquing Stiles's curiosity further. "But if you want it, you'll have it. You have my word," Derek says softly.

"Okay. I can work with that," Stiles says, and this time Derek believes him.

"So, I'm going to let Scott say hi, but then I'm going to put us on mute while you read. I know it's a little strange…"

"A little?" Stiles says with a snort. "But, okay. I can do that. If you think it would help."

"I do."

"Okay. Then let's do that," Stiles says over a yawn. "Just, let me find my glasses and grab some books."

"Sure," Derek says as he makes his way back towards the basement. He listens as Stiles carries the phone with him, humming and muttering to himself faintly accompanied by intermittent yawns as he putters around his place.

He pushes the heavy door open quickly but quietly. Scott is still laying where he left him, though now he's on his back, kicking his heels down against the concrete in intermittent little disjointed stomps. His face is damp with tears, though his expression is almost blank now despite the glowing eyes. He's just suffering through it. Derek almost feels numb from the emotional rollercoaster as he locks the door again behind himself.

"Hey pup. Guess who I've got on the phone?" Derek asks softly as he approaches.

Scott just sniffles, blinking up at him through sweat-damp curls.

"It's Stiles," he says as he kneels down.

Scott glances at the phone a second, then pushes himself in a roll till he's facing Derek. "Really?"

"Really," he says as he puts the speaker on.

"Hey Scott," Stiles's voice says, coming through just a little scratchy due to being in the basement.

"Stiles!" Scott says, characteristic grin splitting his face below eyes that are fading back to brown as he blinks away his tears.

"Hey buddy."

"Stiles, did you know that wolves have big feet? They're 5 inches long!" Scott says, sitting the rest of the way up as he relays his wolf fact-of-the-day.

"I did not know that," Stiles says with a laugh. "That's pretty big! So hey, your dad thought you might like it if I read you a story."

"Yes please," Scott says eagerly, flashing grateful eyes up at Derek.

"What kind of story would you like?"

Scott's brow furrows a moment as he thinks, fingers going still on his knees. "A wolf story," he decides.

Derek bites back the snort of amusement even as Stiles laughs lightly.

"You got it. But I don't have any new wolf stories for you. Is it okay if I tell an old one?" Stiles asks.

"Okay," Scott chirps.

"How about…," Stiles murmurs to the sound of pages turning. "How about the one about little red riding hood? The very first wolf story I told you?"

"That sounds great," Derek says when Scott nods emphatically. "I'll put the phone on mute now so we can listen."

"Okay," Stiles says faintly, and it's clear it still feels strange. But he's doing it anyway. He clears his throat as he turns the pages and settles in.

"This story happened a long time ago in a far away land. It begins in a city that sits at the base of a great forest and overlooks a big ocean bay. It is a beautiful and grand city, one of the greatest in the land. In this city there lives a young girl named Ruby. Ruby lives in a nice house in the most fashionable quarter of the capital city. Her parents travel frequently, leaving her alone there with a nanny. She is fond of her nanny, and though sometimes she misses her parents, they often bring her exotic gifts to keep her entertained in their absence. Though they love her, they are gone quite often, sailing on the high seas. When they do visit, they often indulge her every whim. They often give her whatever she asks for so that she is considered very fashionable by her friends."

"But one week a terrible tragedy strikes. A letter comes for her nanny; Ruby's parents have been lost at sea, never to return again."

Derek hears Stiles hesitate, then clear his voice. Knowing that Scott has lost both his parents makes the story a little more difficult, but Scott's heard it before. Stiles continues after a moment.

"And as if that weren't already bad enough, Ruby cannot stay in her home any longer. Because her parents were so invested in their fancy lifestyle and so concerned with their image, they had been living beyond their means. Because of that, there is no money left for Ruby. She has no relatives in the city, and no skills with which to earn a living."

Scott's listening now, intent on the story, though his fingers are pressed hard into his knees, little claws growing and shrinking in unstable little pulses.

"She only has one person left to turn to; an elderly grandmother who lives in a village that sits deep in the forest. So she goes to live with her grandmother in a new village. Her granny is poor, but she works hard at spinning beautiful yarn and makes enough for them to live in modest comfort. It is a nice village with kind people, and they all live in peace."

"Granny, who is wise, is content with her modest living. She loves the forest and only uses what she needs. She lives in harmony with her environment, and over the years has befriended the animals of the woods. Ruby, however, does not settle in very well. She has a hard time making new friends. She doesn't work very hard at her chores because she is daydreaming about her old life."

"But eventually Granny comes up with an idea. Ruby is young and can walk the long distance to the big city some days to sell the yarn that Granny spins where it will fetch a better price than in the village. Ruby agrees quite readily. Granny is grateful to have her granddaughter with her, and pleased that she can make the trips to the city, but she worries about her, out there on her own. So she asks the wolf to keep an eye on Red."

"For a time it works just fine. Red makes her trips to the city and sells the yarn. She walks home safely, the wolf guarding her passage through the woods. But eventually she grows bored with the task. And even though it earns them a little more money, they are still poor. She grows jealous of the others in town; the farmer with their rich food stores, the milliner with their fancy cloths, and the huntswoman's fine steeds. More and more she grows bitter about the life she used to have. Each trip to the city begins to take longer and longer as she detours in the woods to amuse herself and watch the grand carriages go by to the castle."

"Though it leaves her Granny lonely it is harmless enough, until one day she stays out too long watching the carriages and ends up walking home late in the evening. The dusk makes it so that her plain brown dress blends in with the trees and the road. As she is walking, a carriage comes barreling down the lane, fast and carelessly. Frozen in shock, Ruby does not know what to do, even though the horses are galloping hard towards her. But at the very last second, the wolf grabs her dress in its teeth and drags her out of harm's way."

"However, instead of grateful to the wolf she is furious! 'You horrible wolf, you have torn my dress and knocked me over into the mud,' she shouts. The wolf cowers away in fright at her anger and slinks away into the woods while she runs home in a tizzy."

Scott growls in response to the tirade, and the noise is inhuman enough that Derek's very glad he's muted the phone.

"When she gets home, face red with her tantrum and tears, she tells her version of the story. Her granny is upset in turn when Ruby tells her that the wolf had become frightened at the sight and pushed her into some mud and tore her dress. 'Granny, why must you buy me only brown cloth to wear? The carriage never would have missed seeing me if I had been wearing a colorful dress like I used to!' she cries. But her granny just shakes her head. 'I am sorry Ruby, but I have no money for such a dress. But I will darn the tear and it will be good as new. You mustn't blame the wolf for becoming frightened. He meant you no harm, I'm sure of it.'"

Scott nods in agreement.

"Ruby, however, is incensed. The money she carries home from the town seems to be plenty to her. She decides her Granny is lying to her and goes to her bed to pout. 'If only I were a lady with a grand carriage,' she says to herself, growing sour with envy. 'I would have all the treats I desire, and a pretty dress. Then I would be happy again.'"

"Her next trip to the city sours her even further. On her way to her favorite vantage point she comes across a young man resting by the side of the path. His clothes are nice, but somewhat ill-fitting and dusty. Still, he is dressed much more fashionably than anyone in her village. 'Wait here, wolf. I don't want you to scare him' Ruby says, and steps off the path to approach him. The wolf growls in warning but she ignores him."

"'Good day sir,' she says, drawing the young man's attention. He stands quickly and offers her a charming bow as she curtsies. 'What are you doing out here so far from the road?' she asks. 'I might ask you the same thing' he says with a wink. She blushes and laughs. 'I come up to watch the carriages go by on their way to the castle' she says, pointing down at the road below the ridge. 'Ah, what happy coincidence! So have I.'"

"They sit and watch carriages go by together for a while, talking about where they imagine they are going. One carriage in particular catches the man's attention. 'That is the Duke of Marrow's carriage,' he says, a fiendish glint in his eye. 'Is he going to see the Queen do you suppose?' she asks. But to Ruby's dismay, the young man puts on a mask and begins to hurry back towards the main road. 'I do not rightly care where he is going. I just know that he has riches. I want them.'"

"Ruby is shocked, but curious. She runs along after him 'Do you mean to rob him then?' she asks. The man laughs, 'that is what highwaymen do. Life isn't fair, after all, you must learn to take what you want. Why, do you want to come along and be a highwayman too?' he asks, grinning recklessly at her. 'We could run away and take whatever we want.' he says. It sounds very exciting and tempting to Ruby, but before she can say a word, the wolf springs out from the bushes, growling at the young man. Frightened, the man turns tail and runs away, leaving Ruby behind without another word."

Scott is growling too along with the story, pacing around the basement again though this time it's much more of a cheerful restlessness. Getting into the story is helping him focus his transformation.

"Ruby is furious with the wolf for interfering with her life again. The rest of the way home, her sourness grows until she can no longer appreciate the beauty of the flowers on the road, or the nice weather. All she can think about is everything she used to have but has no longer. She decides to detour to her stash and hide some of the money she's gotten from selling the yarn so her Granny can't take it all. Then as she approaches the village she smells something wonderful at the farmers and huntsman's house. She peers in their window on her way home and discovers the farmer's family baking a fancy lamb pie. When she goes past the huntsman's house, she sees that they are roasting a deer, complete with delicious mushrooms. By the time she gets home she is very hungry. When Ruby arrives she tells her Granny about the grand meals the other families are enjoying. She tells her Granny she wants a similar treat for dinner. But granny explains that there is no such treat to be had. They are too poor to buy such food from the others, and as they are not farmers or hunters and must make do with a stew made of the vegetables and beans from the garden and a broth made of bones bought from the butcher. Ruby is very disappointed and refuses to even eat the soup Granny has made her. Granny is sad that she has no treats to offer her granddaughter, so she stays up late working at her spinning wheel in the hope to save up for a treat later on. As she spins, an idea occurs to her. 'Ruby, my dear. We cannot afford the meat, and you are not a hunter. But my friend the wolf knows where the best mushrooms grow in the forest. If you ask him, I'm sure he would guide you to them so that you may gather them and bring them home so I may put them in a pie or stew for you.' But Ruby is still mad at the wolf and she is too lazy to go in search of random mushrooms in the woods, so she simply goes to bed, stewing in her sour mindset."

"The next time she is to head into town with Granny's latest batch of yarn, she sees something which gives her a terrible, naughty idea. The farmer's house is, as usual, open and welcoming as the family bustles around their day. But also as usual, the family is all hard at work and not paying attention to one sneaky girl. In the window Ruby sees a large basket of mushrooms which she has been craving all week. She creeps up under the window sill, and while the matron is busy putting her pie in the oven, Ruby snatches up the basket from the window sill. As she sneaks by she goes past the shed where the family stores its cheeses and other goods. She grabs a large round of cheese and a jar of sweet preserves, hiding them in her pack. None of the members of the family spot her as she scurries away and back onto the main path out of the village."

"Pleased with her success, she continues on past the farmer's house out to the huntswoman's lodge on the edge of the village. To her delight, the huntswoman has left several sausages out to cure while she has gone into the woods with her husband to hunt. Ruby decides that the huntswoman wouldn't make sausages to cure if she didn't have meat to spare, so she creeps up while no one is there to see her and stuffs some of the sausages into her pack. Then she slips out of town and on her way to the city, without anyone suspecting a thing."

"Eventually, though, the added burden of the food grows too heavy for her. As she pauses for breath, the wolf draws near, curious about why she has stopped. 'Wolf, is there somewhere in the woods where I could keep something hidden? It's to be a surprise for my Granny,' she lies. The wolf, not knowing of her deception, guides her into the woods a ways to where an old hollow tree sits. Pleased, she stows her loot and goes about her trip to the city."

"However, when she returns home that evening, she finds many of the villagers in the main road, talking in angry tones. 'Ruby,' the huntswoman calls upon spotting her. 'You have been out and about today. Did you see any strangers around?'
'Why, what has happened?' Ruby asks, though she knows the answer. 'Our food has been stolen,' the huntswoman says, quite angry. With the eyes of the whole village on her, Ruby grows frightened and blurts 'I saw the wolf on the edge of town this morning, looking hungry. He did not walk with me like he usually does.' she lies."

Scott crouches abruptly, interrupting his pacing to leap onto a scrap of torn fabric left on the floor from previous moons and tear it apart. Derek can't help but smile and add an encouraging little yip at the playful expression of his frustration.

"Though the huntswoman and the farmer look quite angry at this report, Ruby's granny speaks up. 'The wolf has not harmed anyone before, and has almost never stolen food. Perhaps he was in great need.' she reminds them all. The huntswoman and the farmer both consider this and some of their anger is soothed. 'Perhaps so. We will not go hungry without it and no one was hurt. But this is not a good sign. I will be watching more carefully for the wolf,' the farmer says."

"The next week is to be the annual village fete. The villagers are so excited for it that Ruby almost forgets to be sour and thinks she will be pleased to go and be entertained by something other than spinning yarn. She begins to look forward to it, until one day she sees the milliner's daughter with a new gown, made especially for the fete from some of the fine fabric from her father's shop. Jealous, Ruby asks her granny for money to buy some of the red velvet she'd seen at the store to make an equally fine gown. But again Granny can only tell her that no money is to be had for such unnecessary expenses. Ruby grows dejected and mopes for days. She no longer seems excited to go."

"On the day of the fete, Granny surprises Ruby with a length of beautiful red ribbon to spruce up her old dress with. So sour Ruby has grown, that she says rudely 'You should have saved your money. I won't be going to the stupid village fete. After all, it will be just the village folk there, Not like any of the balls in town I used to attend.' Disappointed, her Granny goes without her, leaving her alone in the cottage. Ruby regrets her decision to remain behind almost immediately. She goes into the village, intending to join the festivities. But along the way she sees the milliner's cart has been left unattended while everyone has gone to the fete. Peeking under the canvas she can see the beautiful red velvet fabric she has so coveted. Confident in her success after the last theft, she tears loose the canvas and takes the velvet. Then, to complete her scheme, she tears some of the other fabric and throws some of it into the dirt beneath the carriage."

"She hurries away to her stash in the woods, where she places the velvet alongside her stolen goods, then hurries back hoping to join in the last of the festivities now that her mood has brightened. However, when she arrives back in the village, the milliner and the other villagers are out in the road, gathered around the cart. 'It was the wolf!' she cries, not wanting to be suspected."

Scott howls angrily, clawing at the wall in frustration, then races over to growl at the phone. When his fangs burst out again it seems to startle him and he yelps in discomfort. He bounds away again, fighting with the change.

"'I tried to stop it,' she says, 'but it overpowered me and ran off. I chased after the wolf to try and see where he was taking the fabric, but then I got lost in the woods. I was so afraid', she tells them. Then she lets her exertion from running turn into a fit of hysteria and gasps for breath, falling into a swoon. Her Granny is so upset she also must sit and rest. They villagers help them home, thanking her for her bravery. But the huntswoman warns her that the wolf is becoming dangerous. The villagers agree that they must keep her and each other close and never take their eyes off her."

"They keep to their word, insisting on sending someone with her on her trips into town, or everyone staying in the village at all times. Instead of being warmed by their concern for her, she is frustrated by how much attention is being paid her because now she can no longer sneak away to her stash. But despite her protests that she is fine, they insist on it."

"One day Ruby, bored, stops by the village inn. There, to her surprise, she sees the highwayman she had met in the woods that one day. Delighted, she sits with him and asks him to tell her what happened when he left. He fills her head with stories of riches and daring adventure. She in turn tells him of her thefts in town and how she'd blamed it all on her Granny's favored wolf. 'Oh how clever,' he says. 'You really must escape this insipid town and come away with me.'"

"So together, they hatch a devious plan. She decides to run away for good, and all they will need is the prize stallion of the huntswoman, the fastest horse in the region. They wait until the middle of the afternoon when everyone is busy with their work. Then they sneak over to the corral where the stallion is kept. But the latch on the gate, however, is too high for them to reach from the outside. 'Here, I will lift you up so that you can reach inside and open the gate,' the boy says. So she musters up her courage and he lifts her up the fence to get to the inside. The wolf, suspicious of the boy and their actions, approaches with a growl, startling the boy and the horse. The boy, cowardly as ever, lets go of Ruby's foot, causing her to topple over the fence, cutting her hand on a splinter instead of opening the latch. She wails in pain, despite the boy's warnings that they'll be discovered. But it is too late. Afraid of being discovered, he abandons her and disappears into the woods, leaving her trapped inside the corral with the stallion. Soon the farmer and huntswoman arrive, come running to her aid. The farmer opens the gate and lets her out while the huntswoman slips in to deal with her horse. 'What has happened? Why are you in the corral?' the huntswoman asks as she calms her stallion, suspicious. 'I know I shouldn't have been, but I was looking for mushrooms on the edge of the village and the wolf saw me and chased me! I tried to climb the fence to safety but I fell,' she lies again."

"The huntswoman decides that is the last straw. She takes her horse and saddles him, taking him around the village calling for the townsfolk to come and have a meeting as the farmer dresses Ruby's wounds. The people gather, and Ruby re-tells her lies, blaming the wolf for her misdeeds."

Derek already expects Scott's growl when it comes this time, though his boy is starting to wear out his excess energy. This time he flops down in front of Derek and flashes a ghost of a smile up at him as he growls at the phone again.

"Her Granny does not believe that the wolf would attack Ruby, no matter how strongly she claims it to be true. But despite Granny's protests, the villagers decide that the wolf has grown dangerous and must be removed. So the villagers form a mob and set out to hunt the wolf. Ruby pretends that she wants to rest and goes to her room so that her Granny will leave her alone. When she is alone, Ruby instead takes the opportunity to slip away into the woods to finally get back to her stash. But to her dismay, the highwayman has betrayed her. He has gotten there first and has stolen her money and most of the food, leaving only the red velvet and some bits of half-eaten food."

"Meanwhile, the wolf, knowing he has been betrayed again, desperately tries to outrun the huntswoman's party. But it is not going well."

Scott just whimpers this time, rolling on the ground, exhausted, but no tears accompany his frustration this time. The story is working its magic. That, or the sound of Stiles's voice. Either way, Derek is glad of it.

"Eventually he realizes that he will not be able to escape, so he comes up with one last hope. Instead of running away, the wolf runs right towards the hunters, surprising them long enough to slip past them and back towards the village. But instead of going into the village, the wolf leads them to the place where Ruby has been stashing her prizes. When they arrive, they come upon Ruby instead of the wolf. There she has cried herself to sleep on a bed of red velvet holding the last remnants of the stolen food."

"The villagers are no fools. They figure out what has really been happening. They bring Ruby back to the village, along with the remainder of her stolen goods. The villagers want to turn her away from the town, leaving her to her fate alone in the woods. So upset at this turn of events, Ruby's Granny has a fit of the heart and collapses. Ruby is suddenly overwhelmed with fear of losing her only remaining family member. She did not realize how much she cared for her Granny until now. Ruby pleads for their leniency and as she goes to care for her Granny the villagers deliberate. 'But how can we trust her not to steal from us again?' the farmer asks. They think long and hard, but then the milliner comes up with an idea. 'If she is made to wear a hood of the red velvet she stole, then surely she will not be able to sneak by any of us, so shiny and bright the fabric is.' Content with this solution, they tell Ruby that she must wear the hood whenever she sets foot outside of her Granny's cottage or they will turn her away from the village for good."

By then Scott is laying in Derek's lap, shaking with the pull of the moon, but calm enough. He's methodically tearing little slices through Derek's jeans with his claws. And maybe it's a way to keep himself focused on one aspect of the change. Maintaining the claws means the rest of the shift is waiting in the wings, as it were.

"They make her a cape out of the ruined red cloth so that everyone will see her coming from then on. Having come to realize how much her Granny means to her, Ruby accepts the riding hood and never steals again. The villagers apologize to the wolf and vow to never forget their mistake or all the ways the wolf has protected them in the past. Together they all live in harmony for many, many years."

When Stiles falls silent, Derek turns the phone off speaker and un-mutes it.

"Thank you," he says softly over the faint sound of tearing denim.

"Sure," Stiles replies, voice a little rough with the effort of reading the long story aloud and tiredness creeping in. "No problem. Did it help?"

"A lot. Thank you."

"Good, that's good," he says over a yawn.

"Good night Stiles," Derek says quietly.

"Good night. And tell Scott goodnight too."

"I will."

He ends the call, then strokes a hand over Scott's head, smoothing his tangled hair. They stay that way for a while as Scott continues to shred his jeans. Derek can feel the swell of the moon as it sinks toward the horizon. He doesn't have to check the time to know that it's approaching moonset, nearly five AM. It's almost worse right when the moon sets, like something is being stolen from them at the end of their emotional and physical resources. The fact that dawn will be coming not much later is not soothing. It feels harsh.

But it also means that the end is in sight. And that it's time to begin their last full-moon ritual. With Scott's head nestled in his lap he reaches for the book he always brings downstairs. His dad had always read him to sleep with it when he was a boy, and it was a good memory for him. He hopes it doesn't become a bad one for Scott, considering the difficulty that comes with it. But so far, Goodnight Moon remains among Scott's favorites. He cracks the book open and angles it so Scott can see the sweetly detailed drawings. He doesn't need to see it to know the words, he's read it so many times.

"In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon. And there were three little bears, sitting on chairs. And two little kittens and a pair of mittens."

The rhyming is soothing, even to him. The simplicity of it is nice too. Scott's fingers tap the page intermittently along with the named objects.

"And a little toy house and a young mouse. And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush. And a quiet old lady who was whispering "hush"."

"Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon."

As always, the picture inspires a faint snuffle of laughter.

"Goodnight light, and the red balloon. Goodnight bears. Goodnight chairs. Goodnight kittens. And goodnight mittens. Goodnight clocks, and goodnight socks. Goodnight little house. And goodnight mouse. Goodnight comb and goodnight brush. Goodnight nobody."

Scott waves absently at 'nobody'.

"Goodnight mush. And goodnight to the old lady who was whispering "hush". Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises, everywhere."

"Again please," Scott whispers.

So Derek reads it again. And again, till Scott stops half-shifting, till the call of the moon is completely gone and the tired boy finally falls asleep, head on Derek's knee.

Chapter Text

The next month goes better for Scott. He recovers fully from his illness and the stress of the full moon and tackles his schoolwork with his usual excitement.

Derek, on the other hand, isn't having the best go of things. For one, he's gotten behind on his writing schedule, which is starting to make his editor nervous. And when his editor gets nervous, she gets involved and starts setting shorter and more focused deadlines that demand more consistency of him. It isn't a bad thing, but things that had worked when he was a bachelor don't work quite the same way now that he's a single parent. Oh, usually she works as flexibly as she can with him, but at the moment he's too close to the anticipated publication deadline for her to cut him much slack without cutting into their profits. So if he wants to keep his way of life functioning as well as it does, he has to accommodate her this time. She's a good editor. She makes his writing better and gets him published with enough PR to sell his work well, even with the pseudonym making things more difficult on her end.

But it means he doesn't exactly have time to go out on dates. Not really. They do grab a burger, the three of them at the diner one night. It's a good time, as always, with many stolen french fries and thankfully fewer milkshake mishaps… but it's not a date. They don't even have time to sneak in a kiss before they're both off to other responsibilities; Derek ending things early in pursuit of getting Scott to bed in time to get some writing done, and Stiles answering another emotionally-involving call from his cousin.

It's frustrating. There's taking things slow, and then there's the positively glacial pace they're setting. Oh, they talk. They talk a lot, like teenagers, late at night on the phone. Well, mostly Stiles talks, but it seems to work just fine for both of them. And he sends Derek his dissertation as promised, which is simultaneously scholastically rigorous and excellently witty. They talk about books, ones they've both read, ones each other hasn't. Stiles teases him with his perpetual hunt for information about his pseudonym.

And sometimes, now and again, they dance around double entendre and innuendo that edges far too close to slipping into the realm of premature phone sex to be anything but frustrating. Beyond fueling his fantasies, it makes listening to him speak at Story Time a far more difficult situation. It makes him want to dismiss all his responsibilities and drag Stiles into some dark corner of the library and draw even more delicious sounds out of him. To make his mark on that disruptively attractive throat of his instead of just watching it move while he talks. Which makes him wonder whether, as frustrating as it is, maybe it's for the best. Especially considering that he has more than himself to worry about. So he resists temptation and limits himself to those late-night phone conversations and lingering gazes.

And it pays off. By the next full moon, he's almost caught up with his writing. Scott seems to handle the transformation more easily this time, and Derek, inspired by the last moon, tries a new game. Having Scott focus on keeping his claws long enough to shred through some remnant fabric from the craft store seems to help. And even though he gets bored of it after a while, the idea seems to take root, and Scott starts coming up with his own reasons to try and keep his claws or his teeth stabilized for a while, pleased when Derek praises his efforts. They make up games together and though the night doesn't exactly fly by, it certainly goes better than the previous month.

The next morning, however, things take another unexpected turn. He's only been asleep a couple hours when his phone starts ringing, startling him awake. When he answers it, bleary-eyed and already soured against whomever might be calling, he manages nothing more than a terse "What?"

"Good morning to you too, Nephew," comes the dry response.

He grunts, no less annoyed. Perhaps more-so now. "Peter."

"Sorry to disturb your beauty sleep," Peter says in a voice that holds precisely zero regret. "But I needed to ask, have you heard from your parents recently? Or anyone living at the ranch?"

It has him sitting bolt upright. "No," he says softly. "No calls or emails. Not for…," he scours his brain a moment, running back over his memory. "Not for a week at least."

Peter makes a hum of disappointment that actually almost sounds concerned. It's enough to have Derek's heart dropping out of his chest.

"I called a few times yesterday and the day before but couldn't get through. Breccan hadn't been able to reach anyone either when I spoke to him an hour ago. But he's in New York. I don't suppose…"

"I'll go as soon as I can," he says, already climbing out of bed and heading for his closet.

"I would myself, but…," Peter trails off in the verbal equivalent of a shrug.

"Yeah." The fact that Peter's currently in Paris speaks for itself. "Okay, I'll call you when I can. Tomorrow afternoon by the latest. If you don't hear from me by then…,"

"Mm," Peter says absently, though Derek knows him well enough to know how much concern actually underlies the syllable. "Take care," he adds.

"You too," Derek says before disconnecting.

He stares at his clothes a moment, tugging at them absently as he thinks his way through the plan. The problem is, he has more than himself to think about now. There's no way Scott would be capable of staying stashed in the Camaro for so long the day after the full moon. Hell, it was going to be damned obnoxious for Derek, and he'd had plenty of time to adapt to playing human when necessary. What they usually did was go to the park or play in the yard, something to let them both be outside as much as possible. The pull of the wild moon would be bad enough by itself, but having to spend the night in the basement each month made it just that much worse the next few days. It was just impossible for Scott.

Of course, even if Scott could handle being in the car that long, Derek was completely unwilling to take him in the direction of potential danger and/or emotional disaster. Which leaves him at a bit of an impasse. He can't take Scott with him, but neither can he leave him home alone.

Scott's special circumstances don't leave him with many alternatives. It's a risk no matter whom he leaves him with. The next order of business, he decides, is to call the Hale Ranch for himself. When it rings endlessly he scrubs a frustrated hand over his mouth, but he's not surprised. Peter wouldn't have called over nothing.

Normally his solution would be Boyd. He's proven to be more than capable as a sitter for Scott, and unflappable enough not to balk at the odd request here and there like that they spend the day outdoors. But to Derek's frustration, he is reminded that Boyd is already out of town himself when he calls him and gets a vacation message in reply.

For a few minutes he stares dumbly at his phone. He tries the ranch again, using his parents' private line. But again he ends up listening to the repeated endless rings with no response. Not for the first time he curses the lack of cellular towers near the ranch, but he knows they prefer it that way.

He has to go. It's just a fact. So is the fact that Scott can't come with him. He hesitates to do it, but there's only one solution he can see since he's not about to call some random teenager to babysit his werewolf kid. Finally, he sighs and just accepts the inevitable and dials the number without even having to look it up. It's getting to be a habit, and he's really not altogether sure how he feels about that.

"Why?" moans the voice on the phone, muffled by what sounds like pillow.

Derek grimaces; clearly he's woken him again. "Stiles, hey."

"Hey," he says. There's the sound of him stretching, after which he licks his mouth audibly before yawning. "Hey," he says again, sounding a little more awake and significantly warmer. "Hi."

"Hi," he replies softly.

"How're you?" Stiles asks over the sound of a pillow being nudged around.

"Fine," he lies. Badly.

Stiles grunts, sheets rustling as he repositions. "Don't sound fine," he says on the end of a yawn.

Derek grimaces. And though it rankles, he admits, "No. I'm not."

"What's wrong? Is Scott okay?" Stiles asks, voice sharpening quickly against sleep.

"Fine," Derek interjects, earning a relieved sigh. "He's fine. There's some other stuff I need to deal with. It… it could be nothing."

Stiles makes a skeptical noise that Derek wishes he didn't agree with.

"I don't want to worry anyone until I find out what's going on, but I need to drive north today to deal with… well, I just need to go and I can't bring Scott with me."

Stiles hums his understanding. "I can watch him."

Derek lets the hand he'd had at the bridge of his nose drop as he sighs, relieved. "I hate to beg for another favor, but Scott's sitter is out of town."

"Hey," Stiles says with a laugh, "It's not a problem."

Derek stands from where he'd been sitting at the end of the bed then, continuing his morning routines as he says, "Thank you. Seriously, I… I don't know what I would have done otherwise."

Stiles makes another low hum. "No problem. And I'm sure I'll be able to come up with a way for you to… pay me back," he adds, voice lightly teasing.

Derek doesn't have the wherewithal to flirt right now, but he does huff a faint laugh in response.

"Besides," Stiles adds more seriously, "It's not a hardship, spending time with Scott."

"Well I'm not going to disagree with you there," Derek admits with a faint smile. "But before you agree, I have to tell you I don't know when I'll be able to get back tonight. The other problem is that… well he needs to be outdoors as much as possible today. It's…," he sighs.

"Hard to explain?" Stiles says drily. "Let me guess; it has something to do with your special secret full-moon magic stuff."

"Yeah," Derek says with a resigned sigh.

"Which I fully intend to ask you about some day. But like I said. No problem. I'm totally down with the whole open-mindedness thing. It's kinda my groove as a librarian after all. And I'm definitely not going to complain about a day at the park with one of my favorite people," Stiles says confidently. "I mean, assuming it's cool to take him to the park."

Derek sighs gratefully. He doesn't know what it is he's done to end up with someone like Stiles in his life, but whatever it is, he's damned grateful. "Thank you."

"Hey," Stiles says softly. "You're welcome."

"Mm," Derek responds, carrying the phone with him as he heads for his shower, ready to get moving now that there's a plan in place. "Okay, can we meet you at the park in, say, two hours?"

Stiles groans faintly but good-naturedly as he pushes aside his bedclothes. "Yeah. Sounds good. I'll see you there," he says, then ends the call.

Derek makes quick work of his morning routine and goes downstairs to pack the trunk of the Camaro with some precautionary essentials. Bolt-cutters. Medicinal herbs. Things like that. The basic necessities.

That done, he starts breakfast, concentrating on the mundane task to soothe the worry that's slowly winding tighter and tighter in his chest. He waits as long as he can before he knocks on Scott's door. He can't rush things more than he already is, not without letting Scott catch on to something being wrong. It's not something he's willing to put his son through prematurely. Not when the little boy feels it all so strongly, and especially not the day after the full moon when his emotional-regulation resources will be depleted.

So he wakes him and then goes down to continue cooking while the boy wakes up. Scott, however, seems plenty happy today. Despite the early wake-up call he bounds down the stairs with a grin that could light up the darkest room, still wearing his pajamas.

"Hey pup," Derek says with his best smile as he sets the basket of still-warm muffins on the table and goes back to the kitchen where the slices of ham are still sautéing.

"Dad! What's a ges-tat-ion period?"

Derek lifts an eyebrow at him. "Gestation period?" he interprets and huffs a faint laugh as he pulls the slices of ham off the burner and layers them onto the waiting plate. "It's the amount of time it takes for a baby animal to grow inside of a mother animal's womb. Or another way to think about it is that it's the time between when two parents mate and when a baby is born," he explains, lifting the plates high and nudging Scott with his hip back towards the dining room as he carries them in.

"Okay," he says as he hops along with an extra skip to his chair. "Today my calendar says that a wolf's gestat-ion period is 63 days."

Derek smiles faintly at him as he sets the plates down and starts cutting Scott's ham into bite-sized pieces. "Good to know, huh? In case you ever help out at a wolf-reserve like your moms'."

"Is that a really long time?" Scott asks as he climbs up to his chair and digs in to the ham when Derek slides it over in front of him.

"Well, that's about two months," Derek says with a shrug as he spreads a bit of butter on a muffin and adds it to Scott's plate. "That's longer than some animals. Shorter than others. Humans take about 9 months. Elephants take two years."

"Whoa," Scott says, ham hovering halfway to his mouth as he takes in that information.

"Pretty impressive, huh?" Derek says, smiling at his son. And this time the expression comes a little more easily. Even with everything sitting in the back of his mind, Scott's here, and he's safe. And that's not insignificant. So he takes a deep breath and sets out his own breakfast, digging in resolutely for a while as Scott tackles his food with every bit of a werewolf's hunger.

When Scott's halfway through his meal he broaches the change of plans. "So Scott, listen. I have to drive into the city today while you stay here. I have a surprise for you though," he adds quickly when Scott's face falls piteously. "Stiles is going to spend the day with you."

The fork clatters to the plate as Scott squirms in his chair, flailing with excited shouts of "Yes!" He ends up sideways on the chair, feet kicking as he squeals with glee. Derek is amazed that he doesn't end up on the floor. But he's glad if it keeps his son oblivious to the tension he feels winding tighter in his chest at every passing minute.

"Breakfast first," Derek says with mock sternness. "Then we'll go to the park where we're meeting Stiles, okay?"

 

 

Stiles is waiting for them when they arrive. He's leaning against the side of his jeep, clad in khaki cargo shorts and a layer of flannel overshirt rolled up at the elbows. Scott already has his seatbelt unbuckled by the time Derek cuts the engine, and seconds later he's wriggling between the seats and pushing the door open. He spills out of the car and launches himself at Stiles, who sweeps him up eagerly in turn.

Derek gets out with a more reserved air, but he's probably no less pleased to see him. He looks good, though perhaps a little sleepy still. The early morning light is making his hair look almost a fawny shade that matches his eyes.

"Hey," Stiles calls to him with a soft smile. He squeezes Scott again before setting him down.

"Hey," he replies with a nod as he heads towards the back of the Camaro. As he opens the trunk he listens to Stiles explaining to Scott his plan for a picnic. He nudges the blankets more firmly over the more suspicious-looking bolt-cutters as he lifts the bag containing muffins and Scott's other things. As pleasant as a day in the park is looking, he's well aware of the fact that his day is going to be much the opposite.

It's getting harder to keep the grimness off his features as he carries it over to Stiles. It's been too long already. He hands the bag over. "There's fresh muffins. And… clothes. Phone numbers. Bandaids," he says with a shrug for the completely unnecessary disguise item. "Stuff."

"Great," Stiles says, taking it from him. "Hey Scott, want to go scout out over there and pick out a spot for our picnic basket?"

"Okay!" Scott chirps and he takes off over he grass up the empty park hill.

He should go. Scott's going to be taken care of. But the threat hanging over his family is making it ironically difficult. Derek frowns after him, instincts demanding that he remain at his son's side even as he's pulled towards his family's home.

"Oh my god," Stiles groans, arms flailing as he turns back to Derek. He starts ticking off his fingers, "I was a big-brother in junior high, I was a lifeguard in high school, I work in a library running the children's program, and my Dad's the sheriff. Do you really think I made it through high school without taking a child CPR course?"

"What?" Derek says, blinking at him.

Stiles rolls his eyes. "He's going to be fine. Relax, okay? We'll be here when you get back and it'll be like you never even left."

He sighs. Stiles is right. He glances at Scott as he comes bounding back saying "I found a spot for our basket!"

"Awesome!" Stiles says, offering him a low-five, which is accepted with a firm smack.

"I can carry the basket," Scott says as Derek makes himself start to walk back towards the car since Scott is well-distracted. He really needs to get moving, but… he only makes it a few feet before he's turning back and watching as Scott reaches up toward Stiles determinedly. It takes a significant amount of self-control not to just sweep Scott up into a hug and never let go.

"You can?" Stiles asks, grinning down at him. "Okay, I'll get it down for you," he says, reaching into the jeep to grab the makeshift picnic basket cum laundry-hamper out of the back. "You got it big guy?" Stiles asks.

Derek isn't surprised when Scott nods firmly and wrestles the too-big basket that Stiles is handing him with a grin. He gets a grip on it despite its size and starts marching resolutely away down the path towards the hill he's decided on.

Derek stares after his son, realizing that he's wondering if it’s the last time he'll see him.

"Okay, what's wrong?" Stiles asks. "Something's wrong."

"It's probably nothing," he says, staring after his son, then turning his gaze over to meet Stiles's eyes. He doesn't mention the letter sitting on his kitchen table with Stiles's name on it. He knows Stiles will find it if something goes wrong and he doesn't make it home. He hopes that Stiles will never need to know of the existence of a letter containing information about how to get in contact with his next-of-kin Peter and his lawyer, Lydia.

Abruptly Stiles moves forward and twines his arms around Derek's neck, pulling him close as he kisses him hard.

It's short. Over almost before it begins. But Stiles doesn't let go of his neck. He looks Derek dead in the eyes and composes his countenance to one of open honesty. "He'll be fine," he says again firmly.

And Derek believes him. If there's anything he's sure about today, it's that Stiles will not be the one to put Scott in harm's way.

"Of course he will," Derek says with an eyebrow-lift.

Stiles grins at him as he lets him go and gives him a little shove.

"Now get going so you can come back."

 

He speeds what would be a ridiculous amount for anyone without enhanced reflexes. It's pretty damn ridiculous anyway considering that he's driving an American muscle car with shit for suspension. Thankfully I-5 is basically a straight line north for a good portion of the drive. And that's what a muscle car's meant for, no turns needed.

Still, he keeps it within reach of reasonable, enough that nobody will be upset enough to call to report him. He uses his enhanced eyesight to catch the infrared of the radar guns at the occasional point where troopers might be watching the freeways. He doesn't have time to waste getting ticketed.

Even still the drive feels like it takes an eternity instead of just a few hours. But eventually he gets to the turnoff that takes him to the back-road highway, and then it's not really so much further before he reaches the very edges of Hale land. Of course, that's the hardest part, driving the few miles from the county road on the private drive past the acres of pasture and fields till he finally, finally gets to the big arch that marks the Hale Ranch proper.

The sign is hanging half-broken at the arch.

When he drives under the arch and the dangling sign his heart is pounding hard enough it feels like it's shaking his chest apart. There are no bulky hunters' SUVs or strangers around but at first all he can see is evidence of problems in uprooted fence posts and downed trees. Though the big house and nearby barns and sheds seem fine enough, there's a faint plume of smoke in the distance, over near one of the barns, at a guess. Movement catches his eye to one side of the road and he slams on the breaks, stopping in the middle of the road. He can see the familiar silhouette of his mother, down the torn fence line. He pops the door open roughly and pushes out of the Camaro. His nose is immediately overwhelmed by residual scents of ozone and smoke as well as all the more familiar scents of earth and livestock as he runs towards her - towards them. His mom's not by herself.

"Derek!" Cora calls, tossing down the fence post she'd been holding and skipping over towards him, grinning.

He wraps her up into a hug, coming to a halt next to the torn fence as his mother finishes tearing up the broken post she'd been working on. She smiles over at him, then sets her gloves aside and comes over to him, setting work-warm hands on his shoulder and touching his face.

"Derek, what a lovely surprise. Where's Scott?" Her voice is easy, warm. No signs of tension.

"You're okay? Everyone's okay?" he demands, looking down at Cora and then settling his gaze on her.

She blinks at him, and then understanding flashes over her features as she glances down at the downed fence and then back over her shoulder at the faint smoke still rising in the distance.

"Everyone's fine," she says firmly, squeezing his shoulder.

"Peter couldn't reach anyone, and so he called me and after Laura I-," he turns his head, swallowing. But they're fine. He nods, finally letting out the tightness in his chest on a heavy breath as he tightens his hold on his little sister, resting his face against her hair and breathing in her warm and happy scent.

His mom sighs in sympathy, hand stroking his arm soothingly as Cora just squeezes him tighter. "I'm so sorry pup. We just didn't think. There was a big storm that rolled through a bit unexpectedly."

Cora snorts in agreement as she lets him go. "Should have listened to Lilly," she calls in an annoying singsong that has Talia rolling her eyes as her teenage daughter moves back to grab some of the detritus and resume tossing it over to the pile building at the base of a downed tree.

"Yes, she was right, there was a storm brewing. Took down our phone and power lines, did some damage around the ranch but that's all. We've been so busy cleaning up after the mess we didn't think to send anyone in to town to call."

He sighs, frustrated but understanding. "The smoke?"

Talia scowls at the horizon. "Bolt of lightning caught the old barn. Burned the damn thing most of the way to the ground, but we got it contained. Didn't lose anything but some hay stores and the odd thing or two stored there."

He nods slowly, the last bit of fear finally slipping away as he rolls his shoulders.

"Where's Scott?" she asks again, scenting the air automatically as she glances back at the Camaro still sitting with its door half-open and blocking the drive.

"I left him with a friend," Derek says, unable to keep the edge out of his voice when he adds, "I wasn't about to bring him up here if something had happened."

Talia purses her lips, but it's telling how upsetting the imagined alternative is to them both when she just nods briefly at the insubordinate behavior, accepting the slight censure. "No, of course."

Then her eyes get focused on him more sharply as her eyebrows go up. "Good thinking," she murmurs absently, leaning closer to scent him without even a passing glance at subtle. She lifts an eyebrow and the corner of her mouth that tells him she's definitely noticed Stiles's scent on him. "So, who's this friend?" she asks, voice rich with interest.

Cora's eyes go bright as she approaches to lean in and scent him too, but he plants a palm to his little sister's forehead and pushes her back in a long-patented big-brother move.

"He's…" Special. Unbelievably creative. Bold. Distractingly attractive. Kind. Witty…

Perfect.

"Stiles," he says instead.

"Is he now?" his mom says, eyebrows going even higher.

Derek just grunts and turns away, heading for the next damaged post to tear out of the ground. He might as well make himself useful since he's there.

"You'll stay for lunch," She decides, putting her gloves back on and lifting the wire as Cora lifts the fresh fence post again and slams it down hard enough to set it well in the hole. Another advantage of having werewolves as ranchers.

"Yeah," he agrees.

 

Lunch is, as always, a hearty and casual affair. Food is prepared by his father in large quantities and kept warm on the sideboard. People come in and out, fueling up on food and enjoying each other's company for a while at the big dining tables in the main hall. It's not a small ranch. Plenty of family and members of his parents' pack call the place home. It's something his parents love. He'd seen it every time his mother came in early enough to catch his father still at work finishing setting out the meal. She'd grab the obligatory first bite, a biscuit often enough, and then they would stand back together, her arm around his neck and his around her waist as they'd watch their pack descend on the food, fond smiles on their faces.

At least until one of them would get that mischievous glint in their eye and get distracted by their mate's proximity, scenting or sending a hand questing down their mate's backside till Talia responded by either moving away to get her own serving of food and getting back to work, or by dragging him off to their room, depending on her mood.

They've missed his dad this time though, and the pack is coming in at relatively sparse intervals. Everyone's hard at work repairing the ranch's damage, so the crowd is less than usual. Derek appreciates the hearty meal, especially given that his appetite's returned with a vengeance now that he's verified his family's safety and expended so much energy getting there to do so. His father's shepherd's pie and the farm's fresh vegetables are more than up to the task.

It's good seeing his siblings and other family again, the ones that still live there, anyway. Lilly's wearing the distinct air of disaffected teenager now, having hit puberty with a vengeance. The others are sympathetically and/or protectively giving her a wide berth, all well aware of the difficulty she's having so early after the full moon. But she does lower herself to walk by him and shove at his shoulder affectionately as she carts her bowl along with her outside.

Cora on the other hand sits beside him asking obnoxious questions about Stiles as only a sister can, earning him even more curious and amused queries from the rest of his family when he tells her to shut up. But they give up on it eventually when he resolutely refuses to talk about it, and the conversation turns quickly enough to the latest gossip around the ranch. By the time he's done eating and greeting, everyone more-or-less drifts away, all of them headed back to work. He decides to let his meal settle just a bit before starting the return journey to beacon hills. Besides, he wants to at least say hi to his dad.

His dad's in the library, as usual after he's finished with cooking the hefty lunch. Or whenever not at work, really.

"Derek, good to see you," he says, glancing at his son with a soft smile before returning his gaze to his book, clearly immersed in it, as usual.

He's always looked more like his father than his mother, though they all share the straight black hair and strong features. He has his father's nose and mouth. He does not, however, share his dad's penchant for hair. His father wears his hair shoulder-length and his beard wolf-like at his jaw and sideburns. He also carries more mass than Derek, mostly muscle, with hands that dwarf the book he gently holds.

"You should get a satellite phone for the ranch," Derek says as he drifts along the library wall, casting his eyes over familiar old books.

"Not a bad idea," he says, though from his tone Derek doubts he's really entertaining it. His parents have always enjoyed their separation from the outside world, and have been ever hesitant to add anything to their lives that might change that.

"Peter's been worried. He's still worried," Derek corrects himself with an annoyed huff. "He's still waiting on my call. Breccan too. You wouldn't have to use it, just have it in case the phone lines go down again."

His father looks at him over his book, considers his face a long moment before he nods and says "We'll think about it."

It's as good as he's going to get, so he lets it go.

His father sips his coffee, but smirks as he sets it down. "Though it's true, my brother can use a bit of worry now and again. Keeps him honest," he adds with a snort.

Derek casts a responding wry grin at him before he continues walking along the shelf. One of the volumes on the shelf catches his eye. The pale blue leather spine has the name "Hale" worked into it above the words "Fables, Volume one". He pulls it off the shelf carefully and runs his fingers over the soft leather in fond memory.

Scott's never seen most of it, and Stiles… "Would it be all right if I borrowed this for a while?" he asks, gazing at a thick volume of children's tales. "There's someone, a friend of mine, he'd find this fascinating." And that was probably an understatement. He smiles at it as he finds himself unnecessarily adding, "He did his doctoral dissertation on fairy-tales."

"Ah yes," his dad says, lifting his gaze from his book again. The interest is apparent in his voice as he says, "your special young man. It's getting serious I take it." Though it's not quite a question there's a definite glint of curiosity in his eyes.

"Not you too," Derek groans. He doesn't even ask how he knows. Family gossip travels fast on the ranch. "It's not…," what? Serious? Special? Important? Except he can't say any of those things honestly. "We're taking things slow," he decides on.

"Do tell," his father adds, sounding distinctly like his brother a moment.

"Dad," Derek grumbles as he carries the book with him over to the chair adjacent from his father's.

"What, I can't ask my son about his love life?" his father asks with a good-natured snort as he reaches for his mug again. "It's my job. Seriously, tell me about him," he says, smile soft against the angular lines of his face. "I'd like to hear it. See if he's worthy of my boy."

That has him rolling his eyes. "It's not like I've asked him to be my mate," Derek replies, voice edging into the territory of petulance despite his best efforts.

His father just lifts an eyebrow at him. "But you've thought about it," he says as he combs his fingers through the edge of a beard that would have made wolverine jealous. And it's a statement, not a question.

Derek just glares at him, crossing his arms across his chest as he sits back in the chair. He might be a fully-grown man, but there's nothing like an interrogation by his father about his love life to make him feel (and act) like a teenager again.

"All right, all right," his father says with a laugh, shaking his head. "I won't pry. Though it's true, both your mother and I are always hopeful that you'll find someone to help you raise that pup of yours and keep you happy."

Derek huffs a sigh through his nose as he cracks open the book and starts carefully leafing through the pages, projecting an air of dismissal of the topic as best he can. Eventually his father goes back to his book and he actually starts reading the pages in front of him. The stories cover a wide range of topics and characters, though it has more than its fair share of wolf-centered stories. He has fond memories of reading it and others like it, just like this, with his dad reading across from him.

"He's a librarian," he finds himself saying abruptly. His dad has always been able to get things out of him without seeming to even try.

"Is he," his dad murmurs encouragingly, looking back up from his book.

"A storyteller. And an artist," he says, smoothing his fingertips over the old illustration of a curious little wolf-pup following a squirrel. "He's witty and kind. And he loves Scott," he adds softly.

His dad makes a soft sound, then closes his book. "And Scott? How does he feel about that?"

Derek glances at him, the edge of a smile flitting over his face. "Oh, Scott loves him right back. You should see the two of them together, they're practically made for each other."

He doesn't have to look at his father to know there's an eyebrow being lifted. "And as for how I… The problem is… We're not…," he grunts in frustration. "Dad, how can I risk getting close? If it doesn't work out when I tell him?" he says, gesturing vaguely at their surroundings to encompass all that is Hale. "Or even just for other reasons… It's not just me I have to worry about. Scott's already lost so much. How can I do that to him?"

His father sighs out a slow breath and leans back in his chair, thinking it over. "You're right, it's a lot to consider."

Derek sags back in his chair, frustrated. It was one thing to be thinking it in the back of his mind, but another thing entirely to speak the words aloud.

"Well, I'm going to be biased, me with my mate and my big happy family. But…," he sighs. "If it comes down to it, I'd say there are things worth the risk. Things like hope, and family. And if he makes you feel those things…"

The library door cracks open, and they both turn at the interruption. In walks one of his youngest cousins, Mia, rubbing sleepily at her eyes.

"Ho there, pup, aren't you supposed to be napping?" his father says, voice warm and mildly scolding as he stands. She just nods and toddles closer so that he scoops her up and tucks her in against his chest, tickling her cheeks with whisker-laden kisses.

She giggles, faint tear-tracks glimmering on her cheeks. "I had a nightmare," she says when he settles her on his lap. "Hi Uncle Derek," she says waggling her hand at him.

"Hey Mia," he replies with a warm smile.

"A nightmare? That won't do at all," he says with a frown as he squeezes her again. "Well, how about we see if Uncle Derek can read you a story from that book he's got there before he goes back home."

"Dad, I really should-"

"Son, I'm sure you have time to read East Raven, West Wolf. After all, it's been a while since I've read it, and will be longer still since you'll be borrowing that," he says, pointing at the book. "And Mia had a nightmare," he adds with a firm eyebrow-raise.

"Please?" Mia asks, green eyes bright as she looks back at him.

Derek knows when he's been outmaneuvered, so he just nods and sits back in his chair, flipping through the book's pages till he finds the story in question.

"Once upon a time there was a gentle and kind young girl named Vostoka. She was the only child of her parents and they all loved each other very much. Though they were not wealthy, they lived a happy peaceful life together tending their small farm."

But as things so often do, things changed. War was coming to their country, and was a great threat to everyone, soldiers and peasants alike. Vostoka's parents were growing old. She was worried for them that they would not fare well in times of strife.

Though she thought long and hard as she carried out her farm chores, she could not see any solution to ensure her family's safety. She was no warrior, and they were not wealthy enough to buy their way out of the war path. It is enough to bring her almost to despair.

One day as she is walking home, she comes across an old woman who wears a black feathered cloak and regards her with sharp and perceptive eyes.

'You are sad, my child,' the woman says, pausing in her journey. 'What is it that troubles you?'

'Oh vorozheya, have you not heard? War is coming.'

'Ah, I have heard,' the wise woman replies with a harsh laugh.

'You do not fear it?' Vostoka asks, surprised.

'It is the way of things. The heart of man is fickle. And so war is born. I have seen it many times,' she says, shaking her head bitterly. 'But I do not fear it. I know my fate. The raven gives portent to those who listen.'

'I do not know my fate. I worry for my family. We cannot run far, or fight. The best we can do is hide. If only I could know when the soldiers would come we could hide in the woods till they leave. Wise woman, could you not teach me the way of the raven that I might guide my family?'

The vorozheya eyes her with a frown. 'I have the power to grant such a gift, but it comes with a price you may not wish to pay.'

But Vostoka is determined. 'Whatever price I will pay it to keep my family safe. I beg of you, give me this gift.'

'Ah, perhaps the heart of man is not so fickle as it seems. If you truly wish it, then I shall give it to you.' Then she tilts her head and shakes out her cloak. She lifts a beringed hand to the sky, and a raven comes flying down to land upon it. The wise woman whispers to the bird, then the bird uses its beak to pluck out one long feather to give to her. 'You must take this feather and braid it into your hair. Then go to the great oak tree three miles to the east. There you must climb as high as you can reach in the tree and wait till the sun sets and listen for the raven's cry. In the morning, when the dawn comes, you will have the raven's power.'

Vostoka thanks the vorozheya profusely, then draws down her plaits so that she might braid the feather in. When she lifts her head, the wise woman is gone, but such is the way of the vorozheya. So she gathers her things and turns east to make her way to the great oak of which the woman had spoken.

It is not a difficult journey, and buoyed with hope, the miles go quickly. Vostoka climbs the tree eagerly and watches the passage of the sun towards the west horizon, feather firmly in her golden braid.

When she hears the cry of the ravens as the last rays of the sun disappear she knows that the wise woman has told her the truth for a shiver runs from the top of her head to her toes. She climbs down from the tree and makes her way home, though it takes a long time since she has no light but the moon to guide her way. In fact it takes her the whole night. When she arrives home she is very weary so she lays down in the stable for a nap.

When she wakes, everything is suddenly quite different. The world seems much taller than before, the stable walls very high.

'prruk-prruk-prruk' is the sound that comes forth when she tries to speak. And when she tries to stand, she falls sideways, rolling down the bed of hay. To her dismay, when she tries to extend her arms, they feel nothing like arms. In fact, when she turns her head, she realizes that they are wings. Dismayed, she stumbles to a nearby puddle to gaze at her reflection in the water's surface. It is as she had feared: she has become a raven with the light of the dawn.

'toc-toc-kraa' she cries, frustrated.

'Quiet bird, what is all the racket?' she hears her mother say as she comes out of the house. 'prruk-prruk' Vostoka tries again, but her mother does not recognize her.

'Shoo bird,' her mother says in mild annoyance, shaking her apron at the raven she does not know is her daughter.

Surprised, Vostoka takes flight, instinctually leaping into the air and flapping her wings. She wobbles and lands unevenly on the roof of the house.

'Kraa-kraa,' she calls again, but her mother pays her no heed.

'Where has our daughter gone?' her father wonders aloud as he joins his wife outside.

'I do not know. She has not yet returned from her visit to town yesterday,' her mother replies, worry apparent in her voice.

'Kraa-kraa,' Vostoka calls again, but her father pays her no heed.

Her parents set about their day, and though she follows them around the farm, trying to alert them to her fate, they just shoo her away as an impertinent bird. Eventually she grows hungry and flies into the forest in search of berries to eat. She spends a long time searching for food. When she has eaten her fill of berries and flies high into the sky to find her way home, she is at least pleased to note that the raven's sight is indeed far. She can see her way home though she has gone miles away.

But just as she begins to fly home, she notices some strange lights on the path through the meadows. Curious, she flies closer over the road. When she does, she realizes to her horror that the warnings of war were already late in coming. The lights are torches borne by soldiers who are marching through the woods in search of resources, and they are headed straight towards her parents' farm.

She flies back as fast as she can, and does her very best to alert her parents to the danger they are in. But they do not heed her cries and shut themselves in to their house for the evening meal. No matter how much noise she makes, they ignore her. Though she tries her best, she cannot find a way to make them listen. It is not much longer until the soldiers approach and it is too late to warn them. Vostoka watches, helpless as the soldiers discover their farm and set about pillaging it without mercy of any kind. When the smoke grows thick and her hope fades to nothing, she flies away into the depth of the forest to try and search out a place to nest in the last rays of the sun.

She settles on a branch close to the trunk of a tree where it crooks enough to provide some shelter from the wind. But just as she settles down to rest in the twilight, the sun passes below the horizon. Suddenly she feels a shiver pass from head to tail again, and within moments she begins to grow. Her feathers shrink away back into her cloak and her wings once again become hands, till she is nothing more than a girl sitting high up in a tree.

She cries bitterly. Her memories of the day as a raven are a strange blur, but the way the smoke fills the trees means she recalls enough of what has happened. The raven's power had been granted her, but it had not allowed her to save her family. But she does not curse the raven's gift. The vorozheya's words about the fickleness of the human come to mind. Even though she had failed to save her family, she does not regret her sacrifice for her attempt to change their fate. Though she cries for a while, she begins to accept her fate, and since she cannot stay in the tree for long without falling, she climbs down and walks amid the dark shapes in the forest in search of a good place to rest. Eventually she finds an old hollow tree, and she climbs inside it to sleep.

When she wakes in the dawn light she transforms once again into the form of a bird. For a long time she stays where she is, feeling hopeless and without purpose. Eventually hunger drives her to go in search of food. For many days and nights she continues wandering aimlessly through the woods, doing little more than subsisting on berries and nuts that she finds.

One day, however, she spots a young child wandering through the forest, tears on his cheeks, lost. The little boy has no way to navigate the thick forest. But Vostoka realizes that her raven's sight may be of use. Vostoka flies higher so that she can see more of the forest, and before long she sees a small family, searching and calling for the little boy.

She returns to him and lands on a nearby log with a flourish of purple-black feathers that draws the child's eye. She calls to him 'Kraa-kraa,' and to her relief he giggles, rubbing away his tears. He comes tottering over towards her, and when he nears she hops a few feet away, in the direction of his family members. 'Kraa-kraa' she says again, and he follows her once more. The child heeds her call where her parents had not, and after a while, they make their way back towards the boy's family. Soon the sound of his parents calling his name reaches the boy, and Vostoka leads him the rest of the way to his family, calling 'prruk-prruk-prruk' the remainder of the way there. Once they are re-united, Vostoka flies away, happy to have been able to bring some good from her gift.

Pleased with her success and feeling a new sense of purpose, she roams the days as a guide, searching out travelers in need. She does her best to bring warnings or good signs to travelers, but most ignore her. However, the memory of the rescued boy gives her courage to continue this way. Her parents had always taught her to make the best of any situation, and she thinks that they would be proud of her efforts to help others in need.

One day she sees a lone man walking through the woods. At first she is not concerned; he seems young and fit and capable enough. So she flies up into the sky in search of others in need. In doing so, she spots another party of raiding soldiers traveling down the main road. Concerned, she flies back to the man, flying low over his head, chattering 'toc-toc-toc' at him in warning. To her surprise, the young man looks up at her and speaks in a lilting language. Though the words are foreign to her, whatever magic allows her to understand him at all as a bird transcends the barriers of language too, so she understands when he says 'Ah. Wise raven, have you an omen for me?'

Since he seems willing to listen, Vostoka flies closer. When the young man lifts his fist, she lands on his thick leather glove and folds her wings with a, 'prruk'.

'What sign do you have for me? A guide back to the road perhaps?' he asks with a grin. 'I seem to have lost it while hunting and I would be grateful for the way back.'

But the road is dangerous for him now. Vostoka remains silent and tilts her head to look at him.

He sighs in amused disappointment. 'Perhaps you have a warning instead?'

'Kraa-Kraa,' she says then, fluttering her wings.

'A warning?' he asks in surprise, and she flares her wings again in response. 'Then I would be wise to heed it. Thank you good spirit.'

Pleased, she leaps from his hand and heads for the trees. But when he starts walking again, he turns down a path that will lead him to the road where he will likely intersect the soldiers if he goes much further. So she flies down in front of him, cutting off his path with a squawk and a flash of wings that has him jerking to a halt. He gazes at her with a frown, then back at the path.

'Not that way then? All right,' he says, then turns back to the woods. 'Well, it is getting late enough. I might as well have supper.'

Pleased, Vostoka waits nearby in the trees as he begins to set up camp for the evening. He builds a fire out of some gathered branches. He sings a song she doesn't know as he works, but it is enchanting to hear.

She hops closer to listen, and when he finishes the song, he begins speaking to her as though she's another human, telling her about his day as he cleans his meal and prepares it for the fire. The brace of hares he has caught that day seem like a great feast since she has been feeding on berries and nuts, too new at being a bird to know how to hunt. To her great pleasure, the man tosses her some scraps when he prepares his meal. Lonely without her family or friends, his kindness is welcome.

But she leaves the clearing when the sun begins to set in case his foreign ways make him fear magic. Still, she resolves to try and find him when she is a girl again, if she can remember. And if not perhaps when she is a raven again the next day she can offer him aid once more. So she settles down near his camp in the hope that when she wakes she will find his fire.

At night she becomes a girl, and as usual, does not remember her day well. She finds herself wishing that her raven self would remember to find better shelter, for the night winds are cold this time, and her wool cloak is only so much protection. It is not nearly so warm as her feather coat. But as she begins to wander through the trees, something in the back of her mind pulls her west again, and there she spots the faint glow of a camp fire.

When she approaches it, there is no one nearby, just the remnants of meal of hares. She's not sure why she feels disappointed. Perhaps the smell of cooked meat when there are only remnants to make her stomach grumble jealously. Or perhaps the hope that she might have at last come upon a friendly stranger. But she is grateful for the fire at least. She curls up in her cloak, close to the flames to warm herself.

After a while she goes to gather more wood to add to the fire and search in hopes of happening upon some berries or nuts in the moonlight. But she finds very little, so she returns to the fire with just a few branches of wood dry enough to light. She lets the fire go low, despite the chill, because having a lower heat the whole night is better than having the fire die early.

She rests there, huddled near the fire's warmth. But some time in the night she realizes she is not alone. When she looks over her shoulder she sees a pair of amber eyes looking back at her from the darkness, shining in the reflection of the firelight. She watches, wary as the large wolf cautiously approaches the clearing. But the wolf comes to a halt a decent distance away.

'Good eve sir wolf. I hope I have not trespassed on your territory. I mean you no offense. I can offer you the warmth of the fire or some bones left from someone's meal' she says, pointing.

The wolf looks her over, then fades away into the shadows. Though she is relieved, Vostoka also finds herself a little sad.

But not much later the wolf returns, this time carrying a large hare in his mouth. He sets the carcass at her side and then steps back, watching her with those golden eyes.

'For me?' she asks.

The wolf whuffles faintly in response, then nudges the hare closer before laying down beside the fire.

'Thank you my friend. It has been many nights since I last had a fire, and longer-still since I've had a meal of meat. You are more than welcome to stay and share the fire's warmth.'

The wolf watches silently as she cooks her meal, taking a bone to gnaw on. He eats the offered scraps from the hare happily while she eats her first solid meal in days.

She talks to the wolf a while, but she is tired and cold, and eventually lays down close to the fire as she can manage. Not much later, however, the wolf leaves the bone behind and moves carefully closer to her. Though at first she is surprised, he is gentle as he lays down against her side, and his thick coat blocks the wind. She feels much warmer, and thanks him for it. Finally warm and fed, she is able to fall asleep.

When she wakes in the morning light, she's a raven again as always, and the wolf is gone from her sight. As her memory of the previous day sharpens and the memory of the night fades, she feels a great disappointment to see that the young man had left the night before. But just as she's about to fly away, she sees the young man from the prior day walking towards the camp a ways down the path. So she flies over to him and lands on his arm when he extends it. 'Hello again my friend!' he says as she lands. 'Did you see her?' he asks as he strides back to the camp. But he stops when they get there, frowning.

'I thought I saw a girl here a little while ago,' he says with a sad laugh. 'But she's gone now. Or perhaps it was a trick of the light and wishful thinking.'

'prruk-prruk' she replies, and he laughs again. 'Well, now I have you for company. Perhaps you will be kind enough to guide me in the direction of the sea. I am very far from home, you see, and I think I would like to return there again.'

Vostoka has nowhere else to go, so she accepts his request, though it is going to be a long walk to the sea. His company is far more appealing than flying the skies alone.

'Mactíre is my name… at least that's what my friends call me. Oddly prophetic, that,' he muses as he walks, fingers coming up to play with the wolf's fang that hangs from a leather cord around his neck. 'It's because of my eyes, you see, they're such an amber shade they remind you of a wolf.'

The word sparks her memory, recalling to her that she had indeed come across a wolf during her night as a human. It seems odd that the man had not come across the wolf since it had been in the clearing almost as long as she had.

But he continues speaking, interrupting her thoughts. 'I wonder if you will stay tonight at my camp. I know ravens and wolves have often made good allies in the past. Perhaps we can be such.'

'prruk-prruk' she says in question.

'Ah, have I not mentioned?' he says with a laugh. 'I was cursed by the faeries for my impudence as a young man. I wish I could say it was because they were jealous of my good looks, but I have been told I am only passing handsome,' he says with a wave at his person and another good-natured laugh.

'Alas, it was my own misdeed that earned me this curse. My family was lost to a fever that swept our village, and no ship would take me without my father, so I was left to fend for myself.'

She chirrups in sympathy, and he looks at her and rubs a gloved finger in the thick ruff of feathers under her neck.

'One day I came upon a faery ring, and inside it was a great feast. So hungry was I that I didn't heed the warning of the ring of mushrooms, and I took the food away with me to fill my empty belly. Of course I knew better, my mum had always told me of the fae's signs. But I was a poor excuse for a hunter, so young and a sailor's boy by trade. I was quite hungry. Fortunately the faery I stole from was not particularly wrathful. When I explained my actions to him he decided that I had to be punished, but that he would do it in such a way that I would never again be so hungry I would want to steal from the fae.'

'prruk-prruk' she says again.

'I was lucky indeed!' he agrees. 'So the fate I was dealt was that I now become a wolf when the sun sets, and a man only by the light of day. And he was right. I have become quite the hunter,' he says with a wry chuckle. 'And though I am denied many or life's paths, it has been many years since then, and I am used to my fate.

They walk together through the day, him telling stories and her flying occasionally up to scout their path and sometimes guide him to berry bushes she sees. It is a good day, though eventually it wanes, and he stops to set up a small camp.

'I hope you will stay, raven,' he says as he makes a nest of moss for her beside the fire. 'Though I must warn you, my wolf side is not always so well-mannered as I. You should stay out of reach for now. At least until I get used to you again in my other form.'

At first she worries whether or not she should stay nearby for her own transition. But if there is anyone in the forest who might understand and not be frightened of her magical situation, it is this man. So Vostoka waits, and when the last of the sun fades, she begins to grow back into a girl. She sees him reel back in surprise, and hopes that she will have a moment to explain. At the same time, however, the man begins to shrink and change before her eyes. A few moments later there is only a wolf and a girl at the camp.

The memory of the day is fuzzy to her, but having seen the change on them both just now keeps the memory of the young man clear enough. She tries very hard to keep her memory this time. The explanation he has given of his similar fate stays fresh in her mind as she gazes at the wolf before her in awe. The wolf, with his now-familiar amber eyes stares back, probably rather surprised.

'Hello,' she says. 'Hello my friend. I hope you can understand me now as I understand you in the day, though I do not speak your tongue.'

The wolf yips at her in response, and she takes it as a confirmation.

'I am so glad to have found a friend,' she says. 'I have been alone a while now.'

Carefully the wolf edges closer, and just as carefully she reaches out and strokes his head as she had done the night before.

'Mactíre,' she says, the sounds a little odd in her mouth. 'Wolf,' she says again in her own tongue, confirming the translation with a laugh. 'I see now!' He nuzzles her hand with another whuffling whine and she chuckles, ruffling his fur.

'Thank you very much for the fire you built, and for the hare you brought me last night. I was a farmer, not a hunter. I have not yet learned the ways of the forest.'

He yips in response, and strokes his forehead.

'Well then, I suppose it is my turn to tell you of my story,' she says as he curls up beside her.
And so they sit by the fire and he listens as she tells her tale, of how she had begged for this gift from the vorozheya, and how she had been unable to save her family and so she now wandered the great forest offering help. It is a great relief to be able to share her story with someone, especially someone who understands.

He stays near her, keeping her warm in the night, listening avidly to her words until they both drift off to sleep. Hours later he nudges her awake with the cool press of his nose on her cheek. When she laughs and lifts her head, she sees that the dawn is approaching.

'I see. It is nearing time for us to exchange our fates again. Perhaps you remember your other self better than I, but I am still learning how to remember my nights in the day and my days in the night. But it is easier at the ends. So perhaps if I tell you now, you will remember it too. My name, it is Vostoka. I was named this because I was born at the dawn," she says. 'It is like the word for east,' she says, pointing to the first glow of light on the horizon.

As the rays of light spill over the world and touch her skin, she begins to transform, as does Mactíre. When he is a man again, and she is once more a raven, he gazes at her in awe. 'So it's really true. You are… Vostoka,' he says carefully as he extends his hand to her once more.

'prruk,' is her reply as she hops onto his arm.

'And you said… what is it I am called in your tongue; Volk?' he tries her word for it, to which she chirps in the affirmative. 'And in my language it's Mactíre,' he confirms meaning wolf. 'Amazing.'

To which statement she can only make a sound of agreement.

He rises then and sets about putting out the fire. 'It is true, my memory is sharper at the ends as well. So I should tell you now, it is my plan to return to the sea, and perhaps bargain my fare back to my homeland again. I know you said you are in this forest offering aid, going wherever the wind takes you, but perhaps you will consider staying with me till I reach the shore once again? It is a long journey there, and I would be glad of the company and the guidance.'

She signals her agreement with another caw as she climbs up to his shoulder, and so they set out again through the forest together as before. After so many years alone he has many stories to tell her, and she listens well. She has never met anyone like him, being just a simple farm girl before she had interfered with her fate. He tells amusing tales, and surprising ones. He has been many places and met many people, using some entertaining methods of avoiding wars and hunters along the way. At the end of the day he builds a camp again - this time he builds an even bigger fire and lays down some branches for a bed, now that he knows she can make use of it too.

He sings as he works, as usual, though this time the melody is particularly haunting.
The dark is around me
But I see yellow light
That cuts the way through dark night
That light is the way of life
Where the ship must be going
To keep me away from you
And my dreams of that crew

When I sail down the river, when I sail across the sea
I know you’ll be sailing with me
When I sail on the river, when I sail across the sea
I know you’ll be living in me

'Ah, I don't know why I ever sing that one,' he says, shaking his head. 'It is sad. Perhaps I sing it because of this cruel turn of fate that means we are at opposite ends of the day, never to speak as people. But I am glad of your company nonetheless. It was a fortunate moment indeed that brought me your way.'

And when night falls, she repeats the sentiment in turn and thanks him for his stories and songs. She also shares more of her stories, less exciting though they may be, and he listens to her until they both grow hungry and he sets out hunting for a meal for them. They eat together and when she runs out of things to say, they lay and gaze at the stars above the trees before drifting away into sleep.

They go on like this for many days. They eventually begin to run out of stories, but there are many other things to discuss. Vostoka talks of the dreams she used to have as a farm girl, and the thoughts she has about her new fate, how different things are. Mactíre tells her of his homeland. Slowly they also begin to practice the words they hear each other speaking in their native tongues. They each start to actively teach, pointing out objects and saying the words clearly. It's great fun, and it's nice listening to the other when neither has heard their own language spoken for a while now that they have traveled beyond the borders of Vostoka's homeland.

It isn't long before they are bonded deeply as friends. Each day they are together, the days when they didn't know each other are more and more like a faded dream. They find themselves missing each other when one of them goes out to hunt or scout, or when Mactíre goes into the towns they pass by to sell any pelts he has gathered or to buy food they cannot find on their own. They are happier together than either of them has been most of their life. It isn't long before friendship is not strong enough to describe what they feel for each other.

However, when the terrain begins to change and the air begins to carry the breath of the sea, their cheer begins to fade. Though she should be pleased that they have nearly achieved Mactíre's goal, Vostoka finds herself saddened to the point of tears. One night she burrows her face in his fur to hide her tears, and when he nuzzles her and whimpers his concern, she breaks down and admits that she doesn't know how she'll be able to bear it when he leaves.

The next day, Mactíre doesn't break down camp as usual. He sits by the fire instead, smoothing his fingers along the feathers on her head. 'Lately, each day we grow nearer to the sea, the heavier my heart sits within my chest,' he says. 'I know you feel it too.'

She flutters her wings and then pecks gently at the spot above his heart.

'Vostoka, oh how I wish I could hold you in my arms. How I wish I could take you to wife and live out our days together pursuing our dreams of family and peace.'

She coos in agreement, but hangs her head and he sighs.

'But you're right, it cannot be, so I must content myself with things as they are. And a man could not wish for a better companion than you. Come with me, come aboard the ship. I'm sure I can figure out a way for us to go together.'

She thinks it over, and he urges her to agree. He seems so pleased with the idea that she caws in agreement. Hope revitalized, he springs into action, breaking camp and forging on through the forest.

Despite Mactíre's renewed energy for the journey, Vostoka's spirits do not rise in the final few days to the coast. She is not sure it will be possible for her to join him on the ship. And even then, what is to become of them when they arrive? All the day she thinks about it. And even if she were to make the trip, she realizes it may not be the right thing to do. She thinks about the simple dreams he had shared with her, talking about starting a family and a small farm. Good, achievable dreams, despite his affliction. Dreams that lead her to a difficult conclusion.

That night, when they camp just before the forest breaks and the sea rises in the horizon, she gathers her words. When she is human again and can speak, she lays her head against the wolf's shoulder for a long while before she eventually says what has been weighing on her heart all day. 'You should go, and leave me behind. I will never be able to be the one to help you meet you dreams. If we are never human at the same time, I cannot bear you children and be your wife. You, my love, still have the chance to find a nice young woman and start a family. I could never keep you from that. In fact it would break my heart to do so. I could not live with myself if I kept you from happiness. When you wake tomorrow, you must promise me that you will go. Go home and find your wife, find your dreams.'

The wolf she loves looks at her for a long time, face giving away nothing.

'Please my love, let me give you freedom,' she whispers. 'We both have so little of it as it is.'

In the morning, Mactire looks grim when he regards her. He doesn't speak for a long time, nor does he make the move to break camp. He just sits there, soothing her feathers. Eventually, he shakes his head and speaks. 'How can I break your heart and refuse you? But here is a promise of my own; promise me you will try to find someone too, someone who can be yours in the nights. Promise me you will try to be happy.'

She shifts anxiously, but eventually bobs her head with a soft, 'Kraa.'

And so with heavy hearts, they make their final approach into cove-town. He buys them one last meal to share together in the meadow, then she watches from the rooftops as he bargains for his passage on a ship.

And when he steps aboard the ship and they throw off their ropes to set sail, she flies away, refusing to look back though he calls to her. She flies without direction or purpose, heart too heavy to bear, till eventually she finds herself flying up to the cliffs that border the ocean, where an ancient rune-stone sits. She lands at the cliff's edge and watches as the ship moves slowly out of the cove and out into the sea, leaving her behind.

When she becomes a girl again, her tears are endless. The cliff's edge calls to her, to end her pain, but her promise to Mactíre keeps her back from it's fall. Eventually she starts her way back down from the edge to head back to the forest.

But as she goes, she hears the howl of a wolf echo through the trees. It's a painful reminder, and she turns and runs in the opposite direction. She falls to her knees at the base of the runestone, heart aching at her loss. 'Cruel world, am I so unworthy of happiness that you must mock my pain? That you would give me love that I cannot keep?'

But the runestone does not answer, so she cries herself to sleep to the sound of mournful howls.

She wakes, still sorrowful, but ready to take to the sky and escape the earthly pains of her heart, leaving the wolf and its achingly familiar cries far behind. It's not until she hears the faint echo of Mactíre's voice calling 'Vostoka' to her in the forest that it occurs to her why the howl had seemed so familiar.

'Mactíre,' she shouts, though she only has the voice of a bird. But he calls to her again and again, and she follows the sound until she comes crashing down through the branches to land on his outstretched arm in a flurry of wings.

'My love, I was a fool to think I could ever leave you. I do not care about the wisps of dreams when I have you, real and true in my arms, no matter your form.'

Having no words she just burrows her head in against his shoulder as he smooths her feathers.

'I've no need of a wife, I have you for love and companionship. And if we grow to want children, then I have no doubt that we can find a lost soul, orphaned by the war who needs our love. What other dreams could I want?'

If she could cry tears of hope and joy at his words, she would.

'Let us continue on as you have before, living in the forest and guiding those in need. Let us live in the hope that some day our curses will be lifted. What do you say?' he pleads with her, lifting her away from his chest so he can see her eyes.

And she cannot do anything but agree with all her heart.

Onward they go, back into the forest. For a time, life works just as they had planned, and they are both happy, despite their opposing forms. They live in peace and hope that some day they will no longer be so transformed. They travel to beautiful vistas, and help travelers in need.

Their life becomes almost routine, until one day, something strange happens. Though she turns back into a raven at the dawn, the transition is slow and feels strange. The moon stays in the sky along with the sun. It is a strange occurrence, and they go to a large clearing to observe the interesting event together. Hours along into the day, the moon and sun approach each other in a way neither has seen before.

Late into the day, Vostoka feels a sudden shiver, just like the one she feels at dawn and dusk, though the sun is still bright. She flies to the ground immediately, confused.

'Did you feel that?' Mactíre asks, shaking out his hands. She chirrups in response, gazing at her wings and tail, attempting to inspect her form for changes.

'Look at that,' Mactíre says, amazed as he shades his eyes and looks skyward. When Vostoka looks too, she can see the shadow of the moon edging into the sun's orb.

'I feel strange,' Mactíre says. 'Do you feel strange?'

She answers with a 'toc-toc,' and an uncomfortable flutter of wings. The sensation lingers as they stand in the clearing, glancing occasionally at the strange sky.

But when the moon begins to eclipse the sun fully, things change. In an instant, she begins her transformation. But to her amazement, Mactíre does not change at all. And when she finally lifts her eyes, fully human, she sees him with her own eyes for the first time.

'Mactíre,' she says, throwing her arms around him.

'mo ghrá,' he says into her hair as he hugs her. 'Vostoka, mo ghrá. Is breá liom tú.'

She laughs as she lifts her face to study his again. 'я цябе люблю,' she says in her own tongue. Though they only understand the words a little, they understand their meaning perfectly. She blinks back tears and runs soft hands over his face as he smiles.

Then she kisses him in the shadowed light of the eclipse.

When their lips meet, the both of them feel that strange magic sensation shivering from their heads to their toes once again. But when they step back, anticipating an ill-timed transformation, nothing happens.

'There is hope, you see? I will never doubt it again,' he tells her in his foreign words, and kisses her again as she laughs.

Not knowing how long their luck will last, they sit together in the meadow and share everything they have been denied the ability to share in opposing forms. They laugh and fumble through their limited understandings of each other's languages, and gaze at each other with human eyes as though to memorize every detail.

But as with all things, the shade of the eclipse does not last forever. Soon the moon approaches the opposite border of the sun. When the time nears, they sit side-by-side and wait for Vostoka to begin to return to her raven form.

'I am so glad we have stayed together,' she tells him, though he does not understand.
'You are everything to me,' he says as he holds her hand.

But as the moon drifts out of the sun's ring, they are again surprised by what happens. The wolf's fang pendant around Mactíre's neck falls from its cord to the ground, and Vostoka's braid comes loose, the feather bound up there drifting downwards as well. And even when the moon clears the sun entirely, there is no sign of her transformation beginning.

Amazed and almost afraid to hope, they wait for the setting sun. And when the glow passes down below the horizon, they remain human still. They are filled with joy and embrace.

'What shall we do now?' Vostoka wonders, though Mactíre doesn't understand her. So she gestures vaguely at their surroundings and lifts her hands in question as she turns back to him.

He laughs, and replies 'I don't know,' which she does not understand either. She laughs and shakes her head. But they are happy as can be. Almost. She gazes at the feather on the ground, then up to the sky. She will miss flying.

'I am going to miss the wolf,' Mactíre murmurs to himself, feeling similarly. 'But I will have this for memory,' he says as he reaches down to pick up the magic fang off the ground. But as he holds it and considers it a moment, he begins to transform into a wolf again. Before Vostoka can even cry out in dismay, he drops the fang again and returns just as easily to his human form.

In awe, Vostoka turns and reaches for the raven's feather sitting nearby. She carefully places it back in her hair and concentrates, and to her joy, the process is repeated. She becomes the raven once more, flying up around the clearing, but when she lands and plucks the feather loose again, she returns to her human body.

They are no longer the slaves of the sun's passage, and now they are free to travel to Mactíre's home and pursue their dreams together. It is with great joy that they set out for the port town once more, hand in hand, feather and tooth tucked away in a leather pouch each.

'I am rich indeed, for I hold my love and my gift both,' she says.

And though he does not know her words, he knows her meaning. Together they walk and he sings to her again.

When I sail down the river, when I sail across the sea
I know you’ll be sailing with me
When I sail on the river, when I sail across the sea
I know you’ll be living in me

 

When Derek closes the book and looks up, his father is smiling softly at the sleeping child in his arms.

"Taking a chance on love," he muses, in case Derek hadn't caught the significance of the suggestion in the first place. Which he had. But subtle wasn't exactly a big trait in the Hale family. "Call me a sap, but I do so love that story," his dad says quietly, turning a warm smile on his son.

"Yeah," Derek replies as he returns the smile, then stands, gazing down at the book in his hand. "Yeah, me too."

"Drive safe," his father says. "And say hi to your young men for me," he adds with a self-satisfied smirk for the plural word choice.

Derek just shakes his head, but he smiles as he says "I will."

Chapter Text

When Derek gets back into Beacon Hills, the sun is already starting to set. He goes straight back to the park. Stiles had said they'd be there still when he'd texted him to confirm at the last stop he'd made for gas off the highway. It's not hard to find them, both of their scents familiar enough to him now that he can track them easily through the park, despite all the other smells that crisscross the path.

There aren't many people left in the environs, though there are enough scent paths to tell him there must have been a decent crowd during the day. If he'd been in any state to pay attention, he might have noticed it was a nice day. Now, though, the sun is setting and there's just the occasional jogger, or the odd couple walking hand-in-hand. Eventually he finds them, sprawled out on a blanket on top of a hill, happily dozing alongside each other. Derek is almost concerned for a moment at Stiles's apparent inattention until he spots the string tied around Scott's wrist and that it leads right back to Stiles's. The low-tech security system that many parents discover to be useful at some point in their careers as caregivers.

Scott is asleep, so Derek leaves him be a moment, sitting down beside Stiles in the grass. He studies his face a moment, his lashes splayed soft on his cheek and his hair a tousled mess. Then he sets a gentle hand on his shoulder and gives him a squeeze. After a moment, Stiles blinks awake, eyes catching the amber glow of the setting sun.

"Hey," Stiles says, softly, a lazy smile sprawling across his mouth. His cheeks and nose are bright pink from the sun, highlighting his freckles and moles even more than usual. Derek takes advantage of the moment to lean down and press a long-desired kiss to those irresistible lips. Stiles makes a soft sound of pleasure, leaning up into the kiss.

He keeps it regrettably brief since Scott is starting to stir beside them. But it's more than worth it to see the look in Stiles's eyes when he lifts his head away.

"Dad!" Scott chirps, clambering over Stiles's stomach to launch himself at Derek in an energetic tackle that he rolls with, the string on his wrist yanking Stiles's arm along after him. Stiles laughs, rolling with it till he lands against Derek's elbow with an "oof!"

"Oops," Scott says, giggling and not looking sorry in the slightest at the dog-pile he's caused.

"You two have a good day?" Derek asks as Stiles sets to work loosening the string from Scott's wrist.

"The best!" Scott agrees. "We went to the petting zoo and there were sheep and goats and bunny rabbits. And there was a llama but he was mean."

"Llamas are always mean," Stiles interjects. The cord has been freed from both their wrists and shoved in Stiles's pocket, but he makes no move to disentangle himself from them. In fact, he leans his head back to rest on Derek's shoulder as Scott giggles over his proclamation.

"And then Stiles got me a snow cone and then we played with a Frisbee for a long time and this dog came and played Frisbee with us. And then we sat down and Stiles let me watch him draw. We drew all sorts of people for a really long time. And then we had a picnic. And then…," his brow furrows in thought as he trails off.

"And then we fell asleep," Stiles says with a chuckle.

"Oh yeah! And then it's now," Scott finishes with a grin.

"Sounds pretty great," Derek agrees.

"It was the best day ever," Scott proclaims.

Derek finds he can't disagree. It may not have started out well, but at the end of it his family's safe, his son's happy, and… he glances at Stiles and offers him a soft smile, taking the hand that's on the grass next to his.

Stiles's mouth curves into a matching smile for a moment before he blinks and glances between them with a brighter grin. "Hey, I was thinking, if you guys have the time, it's my turn to have you over for dinner…," he says, lifting his eyebrows at Derek in query.

"Sure," he says. "If either of you still have any energy left," he says, reaching for Scott's nose with his knuckles. But this time, Scott eludes him, rolling backwards with his hands over his nose as he giggles and squirms away crying "noooooo."

"I'll take that as a yes," Derek says, drawing a laugh out of Stiles.

Stiles squeezes his hand again before pushing up from the ground and brushing himself off with a groan. He stretches, then smiles down at them, bowed mouth curving pleasantly as he asks, "Well then, want to follow me home pup?" The borrowed term of endearment is sweet on his lips. He's got a grass stain on the hip of his shorts, hair sticking out at odd angles and he's silhouetted by the setting sun as he grins softly. If he hadn't already developed feelings for the man, that moment would certainly have done him in.

"Yeah," he replies, standing and swinging Scott up along with him.

 

He doesn't live far from the park. It's a nice little bit of neighborhood though the houses are a little bit cookie-cutter and a little bit new for Derek's liking. Stiles leads them to a simple-looking duplex, one half of the front yard is covered with toys, and a few seem to have spread over to Stiles's side… not that he seems to mind. He just parks a little sideways in his driveway to avoid the upturned skateboard and doesn't spare it a second glance.

Scott is plenty impatient to clamber out of the car and chase after Stiles up the sidewalk. Derek takes a little longer, a little stiff from this addendum to the long drive north and back. And, in part, because he's entering Stiles's home territory for the first time. It's an important move for werewolves. Scott is either unaware of it or wholeheartedly embracing it, sniffing in interest. It's understandable. The bouquet of scents that wrap around Stiles on any given day are all here in detail, each one pulling at him to trace after and understand. The small but well-tended flower-garden leading to the front door explains the earthiness. The lime tree growing near the front step explains the undertone of citrus Stiles's scent he's noticed now and again. But Scott's ooh of excitement draws his attention through the open door. He abandons the tree and follows them inside.

Stiles's house looks like a renaissance man exploded over it. Every square inch of wall space is taken up by musical instruments or paintings or various hobby objects. And books. Loads and loads of books - though that, of course, had been expected.

It's not messy, though there's certainly an element of clutter. It's just… full. Vivid, like its owner.

"Well," Stiles says, turning around to face them as he lifts his hands out to the sides and then lets them fall to his legs with a careless smack. "This is me!"

Scott's little face is bright with glee, complete with crooked little grin and wide eyes as he looks around the room. He manages to restrain himself for an impressive few moments, but before long it proves to be too much. He moves over to a table harp sitting on a small elegantly-worked wooden end-table.

"Can I touch it?" he asks, eyes wide.

"Sure. You can touch anything you'd like around here," Stiles says with a shrug. "I mean, I know you'll try to be careful not to drop anything."

Scott nods emphatically before he reaches carefully up to touch the polished golden wood. He plucks at the strings gently a few times, sending the beautiful vibrations through the air.

"It's like the harp from Jack and the Beanstalk," Scott says in awe.

Stiles grins as he comes and leans against the slim writing desk beside the table. "Exactly right. My Dad bought that for me as a celebration of me completing my doctorate. He never really got why I chose to specialize in fairy-tales," he says with a laugh, glancing up at Derek. "But he was thoughtful and supportive nonetheless."

"Sounds like a good dad," Derek says.

Stiles's smile softens. "Yeah. He's pretty great."

Scott moves on to the guitar sitting on a stand nearby and runs his fingers over the strings as Stiles claps his hands and rubs them together, turning and marching towards the kitchen. "All right, who's hungry? Because I'm starving."

"Me!" Scott shouts, abandoning the musical instruments to chase after Stiles and into the kitchen. Derek follows not far behind, curious to see what Stiles has in mind.

The kitchen is as eclectic as the living room, mismatched glass jars holding everything from pasta to mini m&m's. There are more small appliances on the counters than he would even know what to do with.

"You like chicken?" Stiles asks, pulling open the fridge and peering inside.

"Yep," Scott chirps back.

"You like green beans?"

"Yep," comes the reply.

"Good. Me too," Stiles says with a grin as he loads objects out of the fridge and sets them on the counter. "Any allergies or whatever?" he asks, glancing between them as he starts scrubbing up his hands in the sink.

"No," Derek says, coming closer to lean against the counter by the sink. "We'll eat pretty much anything."

"Foooood," Scott agrees, earning himself a grin.

"What can I do to help?"

Stiles flashes a grin at him. "If you want to, you and Scott can wash the beans and snap off the ends."

"Sounds good," Derek says, motioning Scott over to the sink when Stiles moves away from it, heading for the cutting board which he carries over to the table. Derek hauls Scott up so he can reach the soap and water. When his hands are clean, Derek sets him down and sends him to the small dining table sitting in the middle of the room and starts washing his own hands.

Stiles returns, catching his eye for a private smile as he leans into his space so he can pull down half a head of garlic from the braid of them hanging over the sink. His tee shirt rides up as he stretches, one hand resting on Derek's shoulder as he leans in. Derek has to take a slow, steadying breath as he deliberately continues washing his hands even though they're clean by now. It takes that focus not to reach over and scent him, to chase after that strip of bared skin before it disappears again.

"Hey," Stiles says as he drags the bowl of green beans over and puts them in the sink with Derek's hands.

"Hey," Derek replies, letting his fingers slide over Stiles's briefly as he takes the bowl.

Stiles winks at him and carts the garlic away with him as he heads back over to the table. He settles in next to Scott and says, "Did you know garlic is both a vegetable and an herb?"
Scott shakes his head, grinning from ear to ear as Stiles strikes up a conversation about vegetables that somehow manages to hold the six-year-old's attention. Then again, Derek's pretty sure that Stiles could hold anyone's attention, talking about pretty much anything.

"Ahh," Scott says abruptly, overacting a little and shaking a shiver from his head to his butt, hopping a little on the chair with a laugh.

Derek snorts, though of course he'd also picked up on the incoming signal.

"Wha-" Stiles begins but cuts himself off and turns his head to his hip where his phone is starting to ring. "Sorry," he says as he puts the knife down and wipes his hands on the towel before fishing it out. He frowns at the readout. "I need to take this," he says apologetically.

"No problem," Derek says with a shake of head.

Stiles answers the phone. "Isaac, hey," he says and starts making his way towards the back door to the porch.

Derek smiles as Stiles turns on his heel and darts back to snap the chef's knife up off the table and carry it off with him out the back door. It's completely unnecessary, but then Stiles doesn't know that. It makes his paternal instincts happy as he dries his hands and sets the fresh beans in the sink to drain while he pokes around for another bowl for them to use for the detritus.

When gathers the beans and glances back at the table, Scott's got his head tilted in a way that tells Derek he's listening in on Stiles's conversation.

"Scott, remember, most people can't listen through walls like we can. It's not polite to listen to people's private conversations," Derek says as he carries the beans to him. He waits for Scott to sigh and nod and pick up a handful of beans to snap, and then promptly ignores his own words to eavesdrop as he settles down beside him.

"...got to be kidding me," Stiles says, voice tense and sounding like he's not actually surprised.

He listens a little longer than blurts, "No. That's bullshit. You know it. You just want me to tell you that out loud. It's bullshit. Grade-A certified complete and utter manure." This time the anger is clear in his voice.

"Yeah, well maybe you should get angry," he snaps, bitterness edging in. Derek tenses, frowning as he glances through the window. But Stiles is already sighing. His voice is much softer when he speaks next. "Isaac I will drop everything and fly across the country to come get you. Okay? That would be no big deal. You say the word and I'll do it."

There's a longer pause this time and he can see Stiles put a frustrated hand to his brow when he glances through the little window.

"I know you don't need me to. You're doing an amazing job of handling this right now. But I want you to know that if it does get to be too much, that's an option. One you can call on without hesitation or shame, okay?"

He can't hear the rest of the conversation because Stiles wanders away into the back yard and speaks more calmly, so he gives up listening and prompts Scott to tell him more about his day with Stiles.
Stiles looks tired when he comes back inside. Derek offers him what he hopes is a comforting smile, and Stiles returns a tense one with shrug and a faint shake of his head, though he puts a broad smile on his face as he ruffles Scott's hair and moves around the table to resume prepping the garlic.

"Did you know that wolves have nearly 40 times as many scent cells as humans?" Scott asks.

This time the grin is genuine when Stiles looks up. "I did not. That is a lot. Good thing we aren't having any over for dinner," he says with a laugh. "They might not like all the garlic."

Derek barks a laugh in response, drawing Stiles's grin his way. Though Stiles doesn't know he's actually laughing at the irony of it. But it means he doesn't notice Scott's momentary confusion before his little eyes widen and he laughs and says, "Yeah good thing."

 

By the time they finish dinner Stiles's spirits are lifted again, and the little line of tension in his shoulders even begins to ease when Scott determinedly carries the big bowl back over to the counter, refusing help from either of them. After a minimal clean-up effort, Stiles shoos them out of the kitchen and they resume their perusal of the big living-room area. The duplex itself isn't too big. But the design gives it the illusion of space. It's mostly just a big open-concept box that runs from the front door all the way to the small back yard. There are stairs to a second level which Derek presumes lead to a bathroom and a bedroom, an office perhaps. Stiles picks up each instrument Scott points to and plays some sort of tune.

"Jack of all trades," he says with a laugh when Derek expresses surprise at his proficiency in so many different instruments. "And believe me, that's the extent of my abilities in each."

"What's this?" Scott asks, pointing at the angled surface sitting in front of a big window.

"It's my drafting table, I use it to draw on so I don't have to hunch over. Wouldn’t want to turn into a hunchbacked troll, now would I?" Stiles says, arching his back and swinging his arms toward Scott with a groan.

Scott giggles and darts away, running around the room till he can hide behind Derek's legs. Stiles, however, takes the opportunity to eye Derek with a wink as he sidles closer, leaning closer till his body comes right up against Derek's before he leans around, waving his hands ineffectually at Scott's hiding place. It's not sexual, but it's certainly a blatant excuse to make physical contact for a moment before Stiles gives up the chase and steps back, laughing.

Scott peeks out at him with a giggle, then steps out in front of Derek again and wanders back over to the drafting table. Abruptly his face lights up as he glances between them. "You should draw my Dad!" Scott says, grabbing Stiles's hand and dragging him closer to the drafting table.

"Scott, I-,"

"It's okay Dad, right?" Scott asks, looking up at him with those sweet brown eyes, full puppy-dog mode engaged.

Derek lifts an unimpressed eyebrow. "Scott, you have to ask Stiles politely first. Maybe he doesn't feel like drawing."

"Stiles likes to draw all the time, he told me," Scott argues, setting his jaw at an uncompromising angle.

Stiles laughs at that. "I did say that, didn't I. C'mere you," he says, scooping Scott up into his arms and plunking him down on the couch nearby. Then he glances up at Derek, a question on his face.

Derek sighs theatrically, to Scott's delight, and lifts his hands in surrender. "All right, all right."

Scott bounces in his excitement on the couch, beaming at Derek, who smiles fondly right back. Stiles grins too, reaching for a particular pencil sitting on the shelf next to the drafting table. He pulls up a sketchpad and sets it on the surface before turning to look at Derek with narrowed eyes. He taps the end of the pencil against his lips as he considers, then lowers it, starting to twirl it in his fingers as he tilts his head.

Derek gazes right back, then raises an eyebrow. "So, how do you want me?" he asks. "Since you can have me however you want," he murmurs. And means it. In more ways than Stiles knows.

Stiles drops the pencil he'd been twirling in his fingers. Actually, fumbles is a more accurate descriptor. It bounces off the edge of the drafting table and lands between Derek's shoes. He crouches down to snag it, then hesitates an extra second, looking up at Stiles from the floor at his feet. He can't resist the smirk. The pink on Stiles's cheeks and the way he sucks in a sharp breath is too good to waste, as is the blatant flicker of lust in Stiles's eyes as he hands the pencil up to him.

"Uh," he mumbles before clearing his throat as he turns away, back stiff as he goes back toward the armchair sitting further away in the living room. He drags it over to the drafting table, situating it where he can see, motioning Derek to sit.

"Well," he says, voice carefully light and friendly. "How about we put you here," he says, leaning close and angling Derek's face a little, then pushing his shoulder back so he's reclining slightly in the chair and facing the table. He lingers just an extra moment as he adds faintly with a wink, "To start."

Derek just holds his gaze, lips curling slowly.

"All right," Stiles says with a tight sigh, backing away and then grinning over at Scott as he pulls the drafting table out a little bit to angle it so Scott can see from his spot on the couch. "Let's give it a shot."

Stiles flexes and shakes out his long fingers before laying out a piece of drawing paper. He picks up his pencil again and wiggles it idly in his fingers as he turns a focused gaze on Derek's face.

Derek sits there obligingly still, watching as Stiles studies his features. It's eerily dissociative, having someone look at him so intently and yet not be looking at him. Eventually though Stiles's eyes do land on Derek's, and he flashes a shy smile at him before he turns to the paper and begins to draw.

Watching him at work gives Derek the opportunity to study his face in detail. He starts amusing himself by counting the moles on his face. But the fact that Stiles is sometimes studying him right back makes it remarkably intimate the longer they go. Their eyes don't meet directly often enough to drive it into the realm of what could only be termed as eye-fucking, and it's just as well since Scott's watching them both with a bright smile from his perch on the couch. But the passages of each other's eyes are viscerally felt, like faint little exploratory caresses that slip by each other.

After a while, Scott curls up on one of the couch's pillows, then eventually the yawns come more frequently and the periods where his eyes are open dwindle to nothing. After a while Stiles notices as he casts a fond smile in his direction. "Looks like I've lost my audience," he murmurs. Derek shares a smile with him. Stiles gazes at Scott again, tapping his pencil against his finger a moment. Then he seems to make a decision and sets the drawing of Derek aside. He starts a new page and this time he shifts his stool a little so he can gaze at Scott more directly.

Derek takes it as his cue to get up and stretch. The move draws Stiles's eye in a gratifying fashion before he drifts back to drawing and Derek drifts towards the big bookshelves that line the living-room wall. He walks with his head tilted sideways, skimming his eyes over the titles and authors.

"Are these… they're not alphabetized. Do you have a secret system?" Derek asks, running his fingers over the spines as he walks along the wall of bookcases.

Stiles laughs. "Nope."

"Then how do you find things?" Derek asks, baffled.

"I don't," Stiles says with a shrug. "They find me. It's just kindof… whatever I come across whenever I feel like it."

"Do you always find your stories that way?"

Stiles lifts his eyebrows a moment in thought. "I guess so. I suppose I can trace that one to my mom. She liked to watch for the trails of fate. For…," he tilts his head back and swirls his pencil in the air. "Serendipity. Everything was like that for her I think. She would just… do things. Like follow a leaf on the wind as far as she could, just to see where it would go. And later, whenever I would bring her a story…," he pauses, eyes going a little distant. Then his eyes re-focus on Scott, and a complex, indecipherable expression passes over his features before he resumes sketching. "She liked me to find them for her, she'd send me on these, like, little missions. Treasure hunts." He shakes his head on a faint laugh. "Now I suspect they were… ways to keep me distracted, to keep me from sitting there in the hospital watching her die. She would have hated that."

Derek doesn't know what to say to that. To the thought of Stiles in so much pain, so alone…

"But I've never really broken the habit. Not when it comes to stories anyway." He flushes, ducking his head. "Sorry, that must sound stupid."

Derek makes a dissenting sound. "Seems to me that she's be touched that you carry her with you that way. With something that mattered to her."

Stiles pauses, pencil hovering in the air. He looks at Derek with wide eyes, then blinks a few times. "Wow I… I never thought of it like that." He rubs a hand over his throat. "Thank you."

Stiles clears his throat then and turns back to his drawing, starting up a narrative about how their family has passed down some of their stories for basically forever. It's clearly a diversion, but Derek finds it interesting. He talks about how much of it was lost in various wars and immigrations, but that his mother's line was a line of storytellers, so he figured the whole librarian thing was basically in his blood.

He listens as he trails his way through the books, and when Stiles cedes the conversation back to him, he goes against his own habit and starts talking about his own family line. Talking about the Hale family is not something that's encouraged, at all. But when it comes to relationships like this… well. That's a slightly different story.

After he's browsed the titles enough to satisfy his curiosity, he drifts back to Stiles, gazing over his shoulder for a moment at the sketch of a sleeping Scott.
"It's beautiful," he says softly.

Stiles glances back at him, a wry smile spreading across his face. "Yeah, I'm lucky I've got a handsome little subject to work with here to rescue it."

Derek finds himself frowning at the negativity. It's not the first time he's noticed it, because it's not humility or an idly-teasing bit self-deprecating humor. It's something more than that; he means it. And suddenly it clicks in his head that though there is art on the walls, not one of Stiles's works are visible.

He lifts a hand to set on Stiles's shoulder, squeezing it to draw his attention when he says carefully, "Look, I'm not going to disagree with you on the quality of the subject-matter," he says, earning a faint laugh. "I'm too proud a dad for that. But I mean it when I say that your art is beautiful. No matter what I've seen you draw… you capture so much life inside your drawings. I feel like I could look at them for hours and never quite get my fill."

Stiles stiffens, fingers pausing over the drawing. They shake an instant before he curls his hands into his lap to hide the tremor. "You think so?" Stiles asks softly.

It sounds vulnerable, and it makes him wonder who it is that's convinced him otherwise. "I do," he says firmly.

"It's…," he begins with a faint huff of mirthless laughter. "It's not something I share much anymore. Except with the kids, because they don't care how good it is or isn't, you know?"

Derek just lets his thumb rub in a slow circle against his shoulder, encouraging without interrupting.

"I didn't draw for a long time after my mom died. And then when I did I…," he clears his throat with a shake of his head. "There were a few important people in my life who… didn't approve."

"I'm glad you didn't let that stop you," he says honestly. "It would be a terrible waste."

Stiles looks up at him with a crooked smile that holds a little more of the spark he's used to seeing. "Yeah, turns out telling me I shouldn't do something is a really good way to convince me that I should."

Derek huffs a faint laugh. It's something he can certainly identify with. And something that he also finds terribly attractive. A glance at Scott verifies that he's fast asleep on the couch. Then he leans close and murmurs, "Well then you definitely shouldn't kiss me."

Stiles barks a short, surprised laugh, then draws a haughty look over his face as he turns back to the drawing. "Hah, you thought you could outwit me, did you? It's not so easy, Mister Hale," he intones like a Bond villain with a flourish of his pencil.

He laughs, but then he leans in close behind Stiles, brushing his lips along the shell of his ear. "What about for a hint about my pseudonym?"

Stiles twists abruptly on his stool, pencil clattering unheeded to the ground as his bright eyes snap to Derek's. "Yes. Give it to me," he demands as his hands grasp Derek's forearms.

Derek feels a sly smirk slipping over his mouth as he says, "You have at least one of my books on your shelves already."

Stiles's face contorts in a mish-mash of expression fighting for outlet on his face. His eyes dart over to the long row of shelves Derek had been perusing, then back to Derek's face. He practically whimpers in frustration as he gives Derek's arms a little shake. "But I have so many books!" he says, voice growing petulant. "Come on, you've got to give me more than that. Just how many of your books do I have?" he bargains.

Derek just smirks. "I don't know. Have I seen all your books?"

Stiles snorts. "Not even close. I have about a billion more in my bedroom."

Derek lifts his eyebrows at that. He tilts his head and waits a beat, then grins when Stiles catches the hint and his eyelids lower flirtatiously as he adds, "Well, uh. Maybe you should investigate there."

He casts a confirmatory glance over at Scott, who looks perfectly comfortable where he is. "Maybe I should," Derek replies.

Stiles follows his gaze a moment, then smiles softly, leaving his seat on the stool and drawing Derek's wrist along with him. "Come on, I'll show you."

The stairs do lead to Stiles's bedroom, as Derek had suspected. But he hadn't really expected what the door reveals when Stiles leads him inside. Almost every square inch of wall is covered by shelves which are equally as covered by books. The only furniture in the room is the bed, which is just a simple platform with halfheartedly-made plain navy blue sheets.

"Okay, maybe only half a billion," Stiles says with a laugh as he furls his fingers at the room. Despite the fact that both of them are fully aware of the innuendo and the opportunity to take advantage of a little privacy, Derek finds himself genuinely interested to discover what sorts of books make their way into Stiles's bedroom.

Stiles watches silently as Derek begins his perusal of the shelves. He's more than a little pleased to find a number of common volumes between them.

"What are you going to do when you run out of space?"

"Buy a new house, probably," he says, though he laughs. "No, I tend to give books away a lot. Just, randomly hand them off to friends or strangers even if they seem interested. And there's always book circulation clubs, you know, where you pass a random book along to people on your list. Those are fun."

"Sounds like it," Derek murmurs, picking another book off the shelf - one of his own less-popular but personal favorites among the others. He pulls it out to glance at which cover Stiles had chosen. It's the understated one he prefers the most. He smiles at it and the pride that wells up in his chest at the sight.

"So, is there a reason for why some books make it into your room and others remain downstairs?" he asks as he puts his book back in its place and moves on.

Stiles makes a hum of consideration. "Not particularly. Though they tend to be ones I couldn't put down and carried up here with me. But they all rotate all over at times. It's a little bit of chaos, honestly."

He hums his amusement as another book gets plucked off the shelf. His eyebrows go up in surprise as he turns it over. He hadn't realized this author had a new book out in the series.

Stiles remains silent as he gets distracted reading the jacket, and eventually the realization that there is, in fact, silence brings him back to the present. When Derek glances over at him, he's sitting on the edge of the bed leaning back on his hands just watching him with half-lidded eyes and the ghost of a smile.

He gives up on the books.

It's almost easy, just going to him, slotting in between his spread knees. It feels right to be slipping hands up over tense shoulders to cradle his jaw. He rubs a thumb along Stiles's cheekbone, tilting his head a little as he studies his face, following the patterns crafted by freckles and moles. One day he thinks he'll have them memorized.

Derek leans against him, feels every inch of warm skin through clothing. Thighs against thighs, hands against collars and hems. It's been so long…

On a slow inhale, Derek lowers his head till his lips brush over Stiles's ever so faintly. In the silence of the room the sound of Stiles's breath and heart-beat is loud in Derek's ears. The way his breath feathers against Derek's lips in the tiny gap between them makes his hands tremble fractionally against Stiles's skin just as Stiles's lip quivers against his own.

Then Stiles is sitting up in a surge of need, slanting his mouth over Derek's with a faint sound. His hands come up to wrap around Derek's shoulders and pull him tight, practically pulling himself up off the bed to close the distance between them.

Derek responds by curling his hands around Stiles's waist, using his knee for leverage as he drags Stiles further up onto the bed till they're both prone. Then it's all hot mouths and roaming hands and arching backs attached to rocking hips. It's want, molten and untempered, let loose after being held back for what seems like far too long. It's the feather-soft brush of hair against raking fingers, the flexion of muscle over bones that ache like the very cores of them are fighting to press against each other.

They're both of them hard, achingly so for Derek's part, and the scent of their mutual arousal is thick in his nose. But neither of them dip hands under clothes or move towards taking it further than it is right now. It's too soon for that, and not the right time with Scott napping on the couch downstairs.

They both know it.

Still, it's damned good to finally let loose a little of the wildness that Stiles imbues in him. And to have confirmed that Stiles feels the threads of desire pulled taut between them as much as Derek does. But the raw edge of it begins to temper. The taste of his mouth is intoxicating and something he could chase for hours. Their body temperatures are marginally different, leaving Stiles's mouth feeling just slightly cool to his tongue as he licks into it. It makes the chemistry of their meeting skin spark that much more with tingling sensation. He doesn't want to stop. But he needs to. Eventually he forces himself back, rolling over off Stiles to lay flat on the other side of the bed. Stiles doesn't chase him.

It takes a few moments for him to catch his run-wild breath and heart-beat and soothe them back to something manageable. He can hear Stiles doing the same beside him, though after a moment Stiles reaches over to twine his fingers with Derek's, and then they just lay there for a long while, silent. Together.

It's good.

But it's dark outside, and his son is passed out on the couch downstairs. "We should probably get going," Derek murmurs.

"Yeah," Stiles agrees, though it comes with a sigh. He rolls over and pushes himself up above Derek, looking down at him with an expression that's somewhere between raw and tender before lowering his head for another lingering kiss before rolling the rest of the way over him and stepping up off the bed.

After a moment Derek follows suit, and he trails behind Stiles. But at the top of the stairs he reaches out to catch him by his hips, stopping him and pulling him back a little. He slides his palms around Stiles's waist, drawing him close in to his chest and dipping his mouth to the curve of Stiles's neck where it meets the collar of his shirt. Stiles's hands come up to press over his, hugging him back.

"Thank you," he murmurs against his skin, nudging his lips up to press a kiss into the hollow behind Stiles's ear. "For today. Thank you."

Stiles squeezes his hands before letting them go as Derek releases him. "My pleasure."

When they get downstairs, Scott is still fast asleep on the couch, gone to the world. Derek lifts him carefully, settling him up against his chest. Stiles opens the door for him and trails behind him as he makes his way to the Camaro. It's a bit of a juggling act getting the seat moved and Scott inside, but not one he's unfamiliar with. After a moment of scooting a blanket around in the back he settles Scott into the seat, buckles him in. But as he puts the seat back the book his father had loaned him catches his eye where it's sitting on the passenger seat.

He picks it up and shuts the door gently, pacing back over to where Stiles is leaning against the corner of his house, half-lit from the exterior light around the corner from him.

"Brought you something I think you might like to see," he says, extending it.

"A book?" Stiles says with mock skepticism as he accepts it. "I really have no idea what might have given you the impression that I might like a book." But his eyes are bright as he grins down at it, shyly pleased.

"It's very old, and very rare. It's from my family's library. It contains some of our versions of folk stories passed down our family line. My Dad loaned it to me today, I thought you might like to read it."

"Yeah. Yes. Thank you," Stiles says, wide-eyed as he looks over the cover, then turns his gaze up to meet Derek's. "Very much so," he says, then reaches up to grab the edge of Derek's jacket and fiddle with the edge. He tilts his head a little, swallowing as he pulls him in. This kiss is slow, and deep.

Different.

It's full of promise. Of the future. Of thoughts that don't immediately skew off towards the bedroom.

Not for a few seconds, anyway. But before it can pick up, Stiles makes a soft hum of annoyance, tipping back his head and closing his eyes. It takes him longer to uncurl his fingers from Derek's jacket.

"Okay," he says softly. "Okay. See you Friday," he says.

"See you then," comes the reply.

 

Friday, however, gets deemed too far into the future. Stiles calls him an hour later, when he's laying in bed, pretending to be able to sleep after an insane day.

"Hey," he murmurs as he answers the phone.

Stiles eschews a greeting altogether. "Derek, this book," he says, voice thick with excitement and reverence.

"Thought you'd appreciate it."

"Appreciate it? God, Derek, it's a work of art. It's like… one of a kind."

"Yeah. It is, I think. My great, great…," he tilts his head in thought before adding "great-grandfather compiled the family's fables and had an artist illustrate them. He worked out a deal with a publisher to make a limited pressing of the set for our family. Over the years they've spread out with the family or been lost. This is the only one left I know of. Laura had the only other copy and…," he sighs. "It was lost in the fire."

"And you're letting me borrow it?" Stiles squeaks, incredulous.

Derek laughs, "You do realize that I trust you with my son, right? A book, no matter how precious, comes a little lower on the scale of important things to worry about trusting you with."

"Huh," Stiles says, the smile apparent in his voice.

"And like I said," he says softly, shifting in his bed in the dark. "It made me think of you."

"Huh," Stiles says again more faintly and in a tone that has Derek smirking slowly. The silence stretches luxuriously between them a moment.

"Well, I'll take good care of it," he promises. "Seriously though, maybe you should, like, get it scanned into your computer or something just in case. It's really unique. I think a piece of my soul might die if something were to happen to it and it wasn't archived anywhere."

Derek slides his palm behind his head on the pillow as he makes an agreeing hum. It's a good idea.

"A Den for Winter… god, how cute is that?"

"It's even cuter than you think," Derek murmurs, smiling faintly at the memory.

"Once there was a young wolf pup named Winter," Stiles begins. "One morning her mother tells her that she's working on a surprise for Winter. 'You should run along and play in the meantime. Don't come back till the sun is starting to set.'"

He can see the images in his mind as Stiles says the words, having read it and had it read to him so many times as a child.

"Eager for the surprise, Winter trots along in the woods, looking for some of her friends to play with. As she goes along she hears a family of squirrels above her in the trees. 'Hurry, hurry, hurry!' the mother squirrel chitters. 'We must hurry to gather all these nuts for winter.' Winter almost calls out to them to ask them what they are doing, but she remembers her mother's surprise. 'But I don't want any nuts' she says to herself."

"Winter goes to the meadow to visit her friend the skunk. But when she calls to him, he does not answer. 'Have you seen my friend the skunk?' Winter asks a deer who is grazing nearby on the sparse grass. 'He is sleeping and will not wake for a while,' the deer says. 'Why not?' Winter asks, because usually the skunk is not a heavy sleeper. 'He said he is resting because of winter.' Winter wants to play with her friend, but doesn't want to spoil things if he is going to help with a surprise for her, so she goes on her way."

"When she goes by the river to play with the fish, the water is low and she does not see any of them swimming near the waterfall like she's used to. 'Where have all the fish gone?' Winter asks a nearby turtle. 'They are down at the lake, waiting,' the turtle says as she digs into the mud. 'they gather there for winter.' Winter is confused. 'But why are they there?' she asks, but the turtle has curled up inside its shell, burrowed into the mud."

Stiles laughs as he turns the page. "These drawings, Derek, they're so detailed. How many animals are there in this one?" Stiles mutters, incredulous.

Derek laughs. "Something like seventeen."

"No way."

"If you count the butterflies. We counted once," Derek says with a laugh. "Well, I counted, because I was serious like that. Laura hated me for it. She was impatient about those sorts of things."

"Oh my god, you must have been adorable," Stiles mutters, then clears his throat to continue reading. "So Winter goes down to the lake, though a cold breeze blows by. There she comes upon a gaggle of geese who are preparing for flight. 'Hurry,' one goose says to another, 'we haven't much time! Winter will be here before you know it.' Curious, Winter crouches down in the bushes so as not to surprise them. 'We must go, we must go,' the lead goose says, then launches into flight. 'Winter is coming, winter is coming,' she honks as she flies above the others. One by one they take up after her, and soon all the flying up into their wedge and disappearing into the sky."

"Confused, Winter goes back to the forest in search of someone to play with. When she comes upon a family of rabbits, she sees them behaving strangely. They are rubbing their brown fur off against the rough bark of the tree, leaving only whiter fur on their bodies. Some have grown whiter than the others, though most of them were brown before. But one of the bunnies says, 'Papa, why do we have to change for winter? I don't like winter at all!'"

"That is the final straw. Winter has had enough. She runs back through the woods early. She howls and cries until her mother come running. 'Mama,' she cries. 'What's wrong little pup?' her mother asks, nuzzling her for comfort. 'The geese flew away and the fishes are at the bottom of the lake. Mister Skunk is sleeping, and the little rabbits are pulling out their fur. They say it's all because of me! Tell them to stop. I don't want the surprise anymore."

"But her mother just chuckles. 'Oh no little pup, they don't mean you. They are all talking about the season of the earth you were named after. Winter is a time when many of us must sleep for a long time, like your friend the skunk, or stockpile food, as the squirrels do. This is because it gets very cold, and food becomes less plentiful. That is why everyone is preparing, myself included.' Winter sniffles back her tears. 'Really?' she asks. 'I promise,' her mother says."

"'I know, I will show you the surprise to cheer you up! I have been preparing this for us.' She takes Winter along through the trees, shielding her from the wind. It really is becoming quite cold as the sun begins to set, but before long they arrive at a great old tree. Underneath it's big roots, the ground has been dug out 'This is our new home,' her mother says, and shows her inside. It has a bed of thick leaves, and is warm by its protection from the wind. Winter is thrilled. 'A den for winter,' her mother says."

"A den for me!"

Derek smiles and makes a soft hum of approval as he hears Stiles sigh happily and close the book. "God, are they all that sweet?"

"Some more than others," Derek says, "But yeah, there are some pretty great stories in there."

"Mm," Stiles agrees. "I can't wait to read them."

Silence falls between them, warm and soft. Neither of them breaks it. They just listen to each other breathing over the phone for a while.

"Derek," Stiles begins eventually, voice soft and holding the weight of other words yet unspoken.

"Yeah?" Derek asks into the silence.

"You know," he murmurs, "I was thinking, and… there are two words I'm having a lot of trouble… accommodating right about now."

He sounds nervous. "Oh?" Derek asks, though he thinks he knows what Stiles means given that they've proven a struggle for him as well.

"Slow, and casual," he replies, voice a little tense as he speaks.

"Yeah," Derek says softly. "Yeah, I know the feeling." For a number of reasons.

Stiles sighs out a tight breath in response. "Good. Okay. I just… yeah. I'm gonna… good night," he murmurs.

"Good night," he says back.

But neither one of them hangs up.

They just sit there in silence until Stiles snorts. And then Derek chuckles. And then both of them are laughing at each other and themselves and just because they can.

"Good night," he says softly when the laughter trails off.

"Good night," Stiles says, then finally hangs up.

Derek stretches out in his bed and, not for the first time, wonders what it would be like to wake up next to his mate. After all, it's something any adult Were' wonders from time to time. But this time, he allows himself a hopeful little smile.

Chapter Text

He doesn't even pretend not to want to go along with Scott's suggestion that they go in to the library on Wednesday that week, just to try and catch Stiles a little early. He's gotten his final draft off now to Sarah, his editor. She'd been pleased with the result, so he can afford to blow off a day of work now.

His father's words are still rolling around in his head. Love, family… and the sort of happiness he'd believe only existed in fairy tales if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes in his own family.

His own life a few years ago hadn't been quite up to those standards. Oh, he'd been a successful author, living well and enjoying life outside his family's ranch in order to find his own way. But he'd found no one who came even close to the implicit expectations he had. Perhaps the expectations were too lofty, based on parents who were a rare gem. But he had hoped of a mate that incited passion of the sort that would stay as strong even after a half-dozen children and a few dozen years. Trust and devotion deeper than anyone could fathom. A difference to counter each other's weaknesses, and a harmony to bolster both their strengths. He'd begun to doubt that it would ever happen for him. Especially after the senselessness of his sisters' deaths.

But then he'd had Scott in his life and all his expectations and hopes had changed. And it hadn't been easy to handle. Packing up his old hopes and forgetting them in favor of new ones had been a painful process. Now it seems almost like a different life. Like another man's memories of hopes that had been set free in favor of a son he already had. And yet…

And yet the hope that flutters in his chest at the thought of adding to his family. Hope long dormant perhaps, but not gone, and reawakening with a vengeance. It's not altogether comfortable, but it certainly is exciting. And it also means he's looking forward to seeing Stiles again almost as much as his son seems to be.

But even as on board as he is with the trip, he doesn't miss the extra little glint in Scott's eye as he makes the suggestion, looking just a little bit too sly for Derek's liking.

But he doesn't pry, and when he sees Scott coming back downstairs with one of his notebooks firmly in hand, he doesn't ask about that either. Especially not when Scott tucks it shyly under his arm at Derek's casual scrutiny. So he pretends not to notice and loads them up into the car.

When they get there, Stiles is indeed working at the front desk, sorting books at a mild pace since there doesn't seem to be much of a rush. His face brightens at the sight of them and he waves eagerly at the blonde over at the reservation desk before he ducks out from behind the counter. But instead of remaining at her station, the young woman Stiles had signaled is abandoning her post to approach, eyes curious above her amiable smirk.

Stiles approaches without hesitation to scoop Scott into a hug, complete with a set of big smacking raspberry kisses all over his face, much to Scott's giggling delight. He sets Scott down and turns to Derek, and as always, there's something more in his facial expression, something special, just for Derek.

And after that weekend… well. It's even more obvious.

"Hey," he says softly.

"Hey," Stiles says back, smile twisting higher as his cheeks flush faintly.

"Seriously?" Erica interjects. "Would you please just kiss him already?"

Stiles's cheeks go pink as he shoots a sidelong glare at her. "Erica."

When Derek glances down, Scott is blinking at them owlishly. Then his little face scrunches up just a little as he starts scenting the air, possibly gathering more information to help him try and figure it all out.

"Scott, have you met Erica?" Stiles interjects, drawing Scott away from his scrutiny.

He turns, face going into a bright smile as he looks up at the woman. "Kind-of. Hi! I'm Scott," he says, sticking his hand up towards her.

She takes it with a grin. "I'm Erica. I work here too like Stiles."

Scott nods. "I saw you before. You guys have awesome jobs."

"We do," she says with a laugh. "It's the only place I know that is bigger on the inside."

Scott blinks at her.

"Too young for Doctor Who references?" she says.

Stiles snorts. "They don't have a TV," he whispers conspiratorially and Erica turns stricken eyes on Derek.

"Oh the books! Because they have so much inside them," Scott says proudly.

"Exactly right," Stiles says with a laugh.

Erica is still staring at Derek with that horrified look on her face. Abruptly it morphs into a gleeful smirk which she turns on Stiles.

"So you've been to their house? How interesting...," she says with arched brows.

"Oh my god please go away," Stiles groans.

Erica purses her lips to retort, but when she glances past him she changes her mind and just winks at Scott and exchanges a goodbye-wave before she does as requested, sauntering back to her station as a patron approaches her desk.

"Come on Stiles, I want to show you something," Scott says, scampering off into the library.

Stiles casts a curious glance at Derek, but Derek's at just as much of a loss as he is, so he shrugs and follows after his boy beside Stiles. When they get to the children's section Scott heads straight for the low table that he can actually reach, setting his notebook carefully on the surface.

He looks up, brushing at his shaggy hair absently as he smiles hopefully at Stiles. "It's for you," he says, stepping back from the table to sit on the little stool next to it.

Stiles's face is flat with surprise, and it slowly blooms into an awed grin. "Yeah?" he says as he hitches up his jeans and squats down beside Scott.

"Yes I made you a story," Scott says, kicking his heels against the stool. "It’s about wolves."

Derek shakes his head, amused and completely unsurprised at the choice of topic.

"Oh and you drew it too!" Stiles says as he opens the notebook.

"Yep." Scott flashes a proud grin up at Derek, who returns it.

"Once upon a time there was a wolf pup," Stiles reads. He turns the page to reveal brightly-colored butterflies all over the page.

"He liked chasing butterflies," he continues, turning the page.

"One day he chased a butterfly very far away. He got lost!"

"He saw an eagle and said 'mister eagle can you tell me how to get home?' But the eagle was rude. He said 'I can see your home plain as day! Follow your eyes.' Eagles have very good eyes. The wolf could not see as good as him. He could not see the way home."

The drawing of the eagle has almost comically large eyes, but it's more or less recognizable as a bird. The next drawing is of a brown, oddly-shaped creature that Derek can't quite make out. Stiles tilts his head too, then says "Oh I see!" before resuming his 'story voice'.

"Then he saw a bat and said 'miss bat can you tell me how to get home?' But the bat was rude too. She said 'Silly pup, I can hear your papa calling for you! Follow your ears.' Bats have very good hearing. The wolf could not hear the way she could. He could not hear his papa."

"The pup was sad. But then he remembered! Wolves have very good noses. So he sniffed out his trail and went home. And his dad was very happy to see him."

"I bet he was," Stiles adds as an aside before saying, "And they lived happily ever after." He turns the page and then says, "The End."

Scott is grinning hugely when he closes the book. "Did you like it?" he asks, eyes wide as his fingers tap on the edge of the stool between his knees.

"I loved it," Stiles counters, reaching over to wrap Scott up into a big hug that has Scott giggling as Stiles groans and lifts him off his stool. "Thank you so much Scott, that was a wonderful story, and I thought the drawings were really great."

Scott grins up at Derek when Stiles sets him down, then when Derek crouches down and opens his arms he bounds over and squeezes him with a hug too.

"He likes it a lot," Scott whispers against his ear, though he's still loud enough that Stiles hears it and tilts his head in amusement.

"I'm so proud of you Scott. That was a very nice thing you made."

Scott lets him go and turns to say something, but then cocks his head a little oddly and starts sniffing the air. He steps past Derek, then stands at the edge of the bookcase, holding onto its edge as he watches.

Derek turns to try and see whatever it was that had caught his son's attention. Moments later Allison Argent draws his eye as she dashes into the middle of the children's area towards one of the little play areas full of toys and play books. Today she's clad in another eye-offending ensemble of a purple corduroy jumper over a pink tee shirt and orange-and-black-striped tights, topped with a bright pink bow in her hair and Kelley-green shoes.

There's a disaffected teenager, chewing on her bubble-gum trailing behind her. Though she doesn't look like a hunter, Derek doesn't miss the well-toned arms and short-nailed fingers, or the posture, which would look relaxed to the un-trained eye. Maybe not a hunter, but a martial-artist of some sort if he had to guess. Chris would hire a black-belt for a babysitter, he muses with a snort.

Scott digs his toe into the carpet, squirming a little as he peers around the bookcase at her. Then he glances questioningly back at Derek. Derek just gives him as shrug and a nod. Scott bites his lip a moment, then squares up his little shoulders and enters the clearing.

The babysitter tenses a little when Scott comes trotting over to Allison, but relaxes when Allison squeals and throws her arms around his neck in greeting and immediately starts talking about a confusing variety of things. Scott seems to follow her every word with ease, which is a feat indeed.

He hears Stiles approach behind him, so he turns his head, smiling when Stiles sets a hand on his shoulder and leaves it there a minute. He looks back when he hears Scott point them out to Allison. The kids wave at them, so they wave back. But Scott gets that curious look in his eyes as his gaze darts between Stiles and Derek a moment. He tilts his head even though Stiles drops his hand.

After a moment he frowns and turns back to Stiles. He can hear Stiles's heart-rate picking up rapidly as the other man clears his throat. "Hey, uh. Do you have a second to talk while he's busy?" Stiles asks. He even sounds a little nervous.

It has Derek turning all the way to face him, eyebrows raised as he replies, "Sure."

If there's anything he's confident of, it's that a babysitter Chris Argent would trust would be sufficient protection for Scott.

Stiles backs away, further down the isle and into the shadow of the taller bookcases, out of sight of Scott, or any other patrons for that matter.

"So. Scott seems to have picked up on… things," Stiles says with a tight smile.

"Mm," Derek replies, following his train of thought. They've both noticed that along with a little 'help' from Erica, Scott's noticed that Stiles and Derek aren't just like friends.

Stiles clears his throat and turns to a nearby bookshelf, picking up a book at random as he says, "And anyway, I've been thinking and, uh. I don't… I don't think casual is going to really work for me anymore."

"Yeah," Derek agrees. And not just because Scott probably wouldn't understand that middle-ground relationship status, but also because he's not sure he can handle it much longer himself. And lately, thinking about it, talking about it with his Dad, he realizes he doesn't even want to try.

"I mean, I kind-of brought it up last weekend, but now if Scott's noticing things I guess… It's uh… It's a decision point or what have you. So…," he says, glancing over at Derek, then back to the shelf as he puts the book back where it belongs. He turns to face him, lifting his gaze bravely and finishes with, "I guess what I'm saying is, what do you want to do?"

And isn't that a loaded question? What he wants to do is throw caution to the wind and stop resisting the pull to take Stiles as his mate. To have him at the deepest level. But at the same time, he wants to protect Stiles. In some ways the human doesn't know what he's asking for. And Derek can't tell him without taking another huge risk.

He also wants to protect his son. And though there's a risk either way with bringing Stiles further into their lives… maybe taking care of Scott also means taking a chance on a future that includes the three of them. "You know, Scott cares a lot about you," Derek says, reaching up to smooth his fingers over the facing of Stiles's shirt, fixing a half-loose button as he admits, "We both do. You're an incredible person."

"Thank you. That… thank you." Stiles says softly.

But when he looks up at Stiles's face, he sees tension there. Like a man who thinks he's about to get dumped. Or be the one to dump someone. And that is definitely not what he wants. He waits with bated breath for Stiles to continue speaking.

Stiles swallows, tilting his head as he nudges his glasses back a little as he takes a deep breath and continues. "I know it's a risk, with Scott and… But I was thinking, maybe we could… move forward, you know?" His heart-rate skips up at the admission as he watches Derek's face for a reaction.

Relief floods Derek's chest. He moves closer, slipping an arm around his waist and drawing him back against the bookshelf with a slow smile that gets quickly answered. "I sure as hell don't want to move backward. In fact I'd say both Scott and I would have trouble imagining what it would be like if you weren't in our lives right now."

Stiles's lips form a slight 'o' as his cheeks go pink. Then he reaches up to curl his fingers into Derek's shirt on either side of his waist. "Yeah. I know the feeling. And it's good. This is a good thing. A thing which I, for one, would like to continue."

"Agreed."

"So uh, you're not seeing anyone else, are you?" Stiles asks with a little nervous tilt of his head.

Derek levels a look at him.

"What, it's a fair question!" Stiles says, defensively crossing his arms over his chest as he sets his jaw. "Freedom to do that is kind-of in the 'casual relationship' definition."

Derek just snorts and lifts an eyebrow. "No. I'm not. Why, are you seeing other people?" he challenges.

"Nah," Stiles replies offhandedly with a shrug and a smirk, not rising to the bait.

Derek leans closer. "Do you want to be?"

Stiles drops his arms again and leans closer in return. "No. Really, really no."

"Good," he finds himself saying firmly.

Stiles casts a searching look over his features, then says, "So… we're together then. Like. An item." he tilts his head with a smirk that blossoms into a full-blown grin as he continues, "A couple. A thing. A-"

Derek silences him with a kiss. A kiss that's blunt at first but quickly adjusts to something soft and warm. Of course when he lifts his head Stiles just grins and continues, "Significant Others. Partn-"

Derek kisses him again, even more firmly this time.

"You keep kissing me like that," Stiles says a little breathlessly when he lifts his head a second time, "I'm going to make it my mission in life to keep coming up with things that make you want to shut me up."

Derek lifts an eyebrow. "Noted." And when Stiles opens his mouth again, Derek just preempts him with another slow, lingering kiss that drags on until they're both running short of breath.

He smiles slowly, nuzzling his nose against Stiles's as he holds him. "So. Want to come over for dinner?" he asks against his lips. "You know, since we're a thing now."

"Mmm," Stiles says, kissing him again. But then he lifts his head, frowning. "What about Scott?"

Right. That is a conversation that still needs to happen. And as much as Scott loves Stiles, he might not be happy with a shift in their relationships. "I'll talk to Scott about it when we get home."

"Okay," Stiles says again, sounding nervous but pleased. "Okay. I need to get back to work before Erica decides that eternity would not be long enough to keep teasing me about this."

He grins, and tightens his grip, giving in momentarily to possessive instincts instead of complying. "Mm, how about no," he murmurs, nuzzling closer against his neck.

"Oh my god seriously," Stiles groans, poking him in the ribs, though the hand around the back of Derek's neck tightens and he guides their mouths back together again.

But this time Derek lets him go when they part again, and though he doesn't want to, he stays where he is and watches Stiles walk away from him. He appreciates the two backward-glances he gets before he's out of sight for good.

With Stiles heading back to work, Derek heads back out to the play area. The babysitter eyes him warily as he sits down nearby, but relaxes when he gestures between Scott and himself.

They are in their own little world, Scott and Allison, hanging on each other's every word as they tell childish stories with the toys. He finds himself plenty distracted with his own thoughts while Scott and Allison talk and play animatedly. The way Scott had noticed her presence before he had is a point of growing concern. Most Weres don't hit the change until puberty, which means they have time to learn about and more gradually understand what their different instincts mean and what they can feel like. But for Scott, how he'd handle finding someone special to him, how it would feel… He doesn't know. It concerns him, and makes him want to renew his stagnated research into Were' history in search of any other accounts of people who'd experienced the change early.

And if Scott should find himself bound to a hunter's daughter… it also makes him wonder whether he should explain that to Scott. Or if such a fact is fair to Allison. After all, Chris had spoken of "doing things differently" than the family. Scott would find the distinction hard to understand, but perhaps Allison shouldn't be held up beside her family's history.

He's drawn out of his thoughts when Scott shivers and the babysitter shifts as her phone begins to ring. She answers it as Allison grabs at Scott with tickling fingers, sending him into a giggling fit as she tackles him.

Derek listens to Chris Argent's voice on the phone as he call them home for the barbeque now that everything set up and family are starting to arrive.

"Okay, we'll come back now," the girl says, then hangs up and rises. "Come on Allison, it's time to go."

Allison ceases her assault on Scott and turns luminous eyes up on her babysitter. "But Felisha… I want to stay."

"Sorry princess but your pop says we gotta go," Felisha says, sounding bored.

Allison sets her jaw. She pushes to her feet, curls bouncing as she marches over to Derek. "You're Scott's dad, right?" she asks.

"That's right," Derek replies.

"I'm Allison," she says with a smile. "Can we have a play-date sometime?"

Derek glances at Scott, who nods vigorously enough to send his hair over his eyes so that he has to push it back again to look imploringly at Derek.

Derek can't help the smile that edges its way onto his face. "Well, Allison, that's something you have to ask your dad about first. But I would be glad to bring Scott to the park some time to play and your dad could bring you if that's okay with him."

"Okay. I'll ask him," she says.

He pauses a moment, then reaches for his wallet in his jacket and pulls out one of his business cards. "You can give him this and he can call me if he decides that's a good idea."

She takes it with wide eyes, holding it in both hands as she looks down at it. "Derek Hale," she reads softly, then glances up at him with a grin and shoves it into her jumper's pocket. "Thanks!"

She trots back over to Scott and throws her arms around his neck and smacks a big kiss on his cheek before saying goodbye and hurrying over to join her sitter. Scott looks forlorn as he gazes after Allison, who glances back over her shoulder to waggle her fingers at him sadly as her babysitter leads her away with her other hand.

Derek just sighs and climbs to his feet. He leans down to scoop Scott up into his arms, then starts walking over to the young-adult section. He doesn't need to ask to know Scott will want to go pick up a copy of Wolf Heart.

 

He would never admit it, but he fusses a little that afternoon. They go grocery shopping when they leave the library, and Derek goes a little bit overboard getting them provisions for dinner. Of course, there's no point in getting steak if you aren't going to get good steak, and Scott's favorite Tillamook ice cream is always worth having on hand. The addition of the nice, rich cabernet Franc is just because they clearly need a wine worthy of the good steaks. But there's really no excuse when decides homemade fresh bread and pie are in order too.

So yeah. He goes a little overboard. Partly because he wants dinner to be nice for Stiles and Scott, and partly because he could use the distraction preparing a good meal will provide while he builds up the courage to tell his son he's in a serious relationship with Scott's friend, and after if Scott ends up not being happy with the news. He prepares the pie dough and returns it to the fridge to chill and has the bread dough rising and preps the potatoes to roast and sets the wine out to breathe before he finally decides it's time to put his apron away and go talk to Scott.

His boy is up in his bedroom playing with his animal figurines. They're spread in epic population over most of the floor and nearby surfaces.

"Dad come be the polar bear!" Scott says when he sees him. "He's going to eat the seals," he says with an exaggeratedly maniacal laugh.

Derek shakes his head on a chuckle and obliges his son, scooting the pride of lions aside to make room for his much-larger frame on the floor.

They romp the figurines around a while, predators chasing prey, prey chasing its food, and random animals playing together on occasion without regard for natural boundaries at all. But eventually Scott tires of the game a little and does his usual ending-trick of bellowing "Natural Disaster!" with a roar and then sweeping his arms over the figurines and laughing gleefully as they tumble in his wake.

"What was it this time pup?" Derek asks with a laugh as he joins in the destruction.

Scott tilts his head as he thinks it over, then bounces his chin firmly saying, "Tsunami!"

Derek makes an amused sound as he helps Scott pile up the toys into their bin. But it's time to bite the bane and start the conversation. "So Scott, I want to talk to you about something important. Do you think you could talk with me a minute?" Derek asks when he puts the lid back on the container.

Scott turns and grins up at him. "Okay."

Derek scoops him up and plops him down on the edge of his bed, then draws over the reading-stool so he can sit and be on eye-level with him.

"I want to talk to you about Stiles."

"Stiles is the best," Scott says with a grin as he thumps his palms on his upturned knees in a rhythmless pattern.

"I think so too," Derek admits. "And I know for a fact that you're one of his favorite people in the whole wide world."

"He liked my story and everything." Scott's responding smile is so pure and warm it could melt the hardest of hearts. It has him hesitating a moment as he is loath to risk diminishing it, but… things change no matter what, and, as his father had said, love is worth taking a chance on.

"What I wanted to talk to you about, what I think you should know is that I have some other feelings for Stiles too. Grown-up kinds of feelings."

Scott thinks that over a moment, trying to understand. Then his eyes narrow abruptly as he looks at Derek's face again. "Like… like my moms?" Scott asks, eyes widening again as he considers it.

Derek hesitates, because that connotes more than a beginning relationship like the one he's starting with Stiles. "Yeah, kind of like that. It's a little different because he's human. And because it's new."

Scott's brow furrows as his hands go still on his knees. He thinks that over a little bit. "Is he going to be your mate? Like Uncle Liam and Aunt Stacy?" Scott asks, face intent.

Derek tips his head back at the question. It's not the sort of thing werewolves usually ask each other since taking a mate is a deeply private affair, but he doesn't lie to Scott, not ever. Partly because he doesn't want to be anything but honest with him, and partly because there's no point really when you live with werewolves. "Maybe," he says. "We don't know that yet."

Scott frowns over that, sliding his feet down over the edge of the bed so he can swing them with little thumps against the bed-frame. "Why not?"

"That takes time to figure out. You know wolves mate for life, but humans don't necessarily do that. People don't always stay together, and even then, sometimes when you ask a human to be your mate and tell them about werewolves, they don't want that to be part of their life."

Scott looks up at him, suddenly worried. "Will you tell him? What if he decides he doesn't like us anymore? You didn't tell him, did you?"

"No," Derek says, laying calming hands on his knees. "No pup. I didn't tell him."

Scott sighs in relief and it hurts to see his worry.

He rubs his knees as soothingly as he can before forging on. "But if he asks me about it, I'm not going to lie to him."

Scott nods and murmurs, "Lies are bad."

"Yeah," Derek agrees. "And if he doesn't ask, it's a big decision to make, when and if we tell him about werewolves. It affects both of us, so I won't start that conversation without talking to you first, okay?"

"Okay," Scott replies, voice small. Scott reaches for him, and Derek wraps him up in a firm hug. He hates it, the sadness his son is feeling. But it's just a fact of life as a werewolf that he, or his son might be rejected for their very nature.

"So when we see Stiles, we'll still do everything like before, having dinner, reading stories together, and," he says with a raised eyebrow and a tickling wiggle of fingers in Scott's belly region, "We will be not talking about werewolf stuff. Got it?"

"Got it!" Scott giggles, squirming away from him.

"But now Stiles and I will also be doing things like kissing and hugging each other, and spending time alone together sometimes when you're busy."

"Okay," Scott says after a moment. Then abruptly he flicks his eyes over at Derek, amusement lurking behind them. "And sex stuff?" Scott asks, face wrinkling skeptically.

"And sex stuff," Derek agrees with a wry grin.

Scott giggles as he groans and falls back on his bed, putting his hands over his face. "Grownups are weird," he says with another giggle.

Derek just laughs. "That they are. But you know what it also means? It means that we'll get to spend even more time with Stiles."

Scott's hands fall away at that, and his grin returns, bright as ever. "Can he come over now?"

"Let's call him and find out."

 

Despite Derek's residual nerves, dinner is an easy thing. The quality of the food is certainly appreciated by all, but his fussing was completely unnecessary. The conversation is warm and effortless as it has been at other meals they've shared. It's a little different though, now that it's official. Scott glances between them now and again, face drawing down faintly in thought before resuming listening to Stiles's latest anecdotes about the sheriff or working at the library. Or telling his own stories about things he'd been learning that week. They even manage to get Derek talking about his latest book and whether he's started on ideas for a new one yet.

There are other looks too. An awareness that floats in the air between Stiles and Derek, catching on glances that linger in the spaces around conversations and bites of food. On soft, private little smiles that add to the warmth of the meal rather than skirt around it. By the end of it Derek finds himself wondering if he could even recall another day as good as this one.

When the meal is finished, Scott leads Stiles upstairs to amuse him while Derek sets the pie to cool on the stove and cleans up after the meal. Taking care such of things for himself and Scott had never particularly reminded him of his father and his purview over such domestic duties up on the ranch, but this time he finds himself wondering if his father feels like this at home, the warm sensation of family filling the quiet moments of chores. And though it's horribly premature, he lets himself indulge in the moment and imagine a future for the three of them that is like that.

With the place tidied to his satisfaction and the pie dished out into three servings, Derek goes up after them, finding them seated on Scott's bed, book in hand.

"Oh good, you're here. Now I can finally get to experience this book I've been hearing so much about," Stiles says with a grin for Scott, who returns it.

"I told Stiles we should read it but I didn't want to start without you," Scott says and looks up at Derek with luminous eyes.

Derek smiles his encouragement. He thinks he understands Scott's concern. As he'd noted long ago when Scott had first told Stiles about the book, it held special significance for his son. As it did him, by association. It was one thing to tell Stiles about Wolf Heart, and another thing altogether to offer to share it with him in his room, an activity usually reserved for father and son. "Good thinking, pup."

Scott grins in return and takes his pie, nerves assuaged. But as he opens the book awkwardly with one hand and knee, he frowns at his pie. Then back at the book. Then over at the pie again. With only the one hand for each task, neither is going to go to plan.

"Here, let's take turns," Stiles says, picking up on Scott's dilemma. "We'll each read a page so that we can enjoy our pie while it's each other's turns. But you have to read first because I haven't had homemade pie straight out of the oven since I was only a little older than you are now."

"Okay," Scott says with a grin as he sets his pie on the windowsill.

Stiles takes his first bite of pie he makes a tiny sound of pleasure, casting a look of exquisite appreciation over at Derek before closing his eyes and savoring the mouthful.

Derek decides he's going to make pie more often.

"Chapter one: The first full moon," Scott begins, squirming a little as he flashes excited eyes over to Stiles and Derek in turn at his favorite book.

"It wasn't a particularly special day. Not for most people. But for one boy, the second day of August was a very important day. In fact, that day changed his life."

Scott reads carefully but not slowly. He's a dedicated reader, and he's read the story so many times Derek wonders that he doesn't have the thing half-memorized.

"His name was Ralf, and he was ten years old. He was on a special field trip in Yellowstone National Forest with his school. However, Ralf was not homesick like the other children. He had no real home to go back to, just a foster family. They were a nice family, but he didn't really know them very well yet."

"Oh, my turn," Stiles says around a mouthful of pie. "Okay," he mutters as he sets his pie aside on the table and takes the book.

"Ralf had never been to a place like Yellowstone. Though he had read about it in school and had learned a lot about basic camping skills as a member of Camp Scouts club, the camping trips he had been on before were small. Yellowstone was big. It was the biggest place he had ever seen."

"And there were so many animals that lived there. Their class had gone to the wildlife preserve station on the edge of West Yellowstone, and the guide had shown them so many animals. They met a bison and saw two bears playing. But his favorite part had been the wolf packs."

Scott sets his now-empty plate aside at the turn of the page and announces, "They brought wolves back to Yellowstone in 1995. It's good because there were too many elk and they were damaging the balance in nature."

"That does sound good," Stiles says. "It's a good thing places like Yellowstone exist."

Scott nods firmly as he scoots closer to the book again.

"For the final night of their trip, they were camping out in the woods in tents they had put together themselves. But Ralf did not want to sleep because he did not want the trip to be over. So he waited until everyone was asleep, and then crept out of his tent. He took his backpack and his hiking stick with him and began to follow the trail they had hiked earlier that day. He remembered there was a nice clearing a ways down the path. He would go there so he could look at the stars."

"It was a special night. It was the night of the full moon. His teacher had told them that it was a special full moon too. It was the first full moon in August, but there would be a second full moon on August 31st. It would be a blue moon. The light of the moon seemed very bright this far away from the city, and he did not have any trouble finding his path through the woods."

"When he found the clearing it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. In the center of the clearing was a beautiful grey wolf whose fur was like pure silver in the moonlight. She turned her head to the sky and let loose a great howl, one that echoed through the trees. Ralf was amazed to hear how beautiful the sound was. He stayed very quiet, though he wished he could join her like the other wolves did that called back to her in the night. But he must not have been quiet enough, because she turned her golden eyes right on him!"

"He stood very still, then made a polite bow. When he lifted his head, she turned away and disappeared into the woods. He walked out into the clearing to try and see her, but she was gone. So he sat down in the middle of the clearing where the wolf had stood and gazed up at the special full moon for hours until he started to grow tired."

"Finally he was ready to go back to camp and go to sleep. After all, there was no better way to end the trip than to see the alpha wolf howl in the moonlight. He could be content to go home now. But there was just one problem."

"Ralf couldn't remember which way the path back to the camp was."

Scott turns the page to the next chapter, but then sighs and closes the book. "My dad says it's better when you only read one chapter at a time," he says to Stiles.

"That's not bad advice," Stiles replies, squeezing the arm around his shoulders. "Lets you savor the best parts."

Scott nods sagely at the words.

"So, what do you think bud? Will you wait for me to come back before reading chapter two?" Stiles asks as Scott puts the book down.

It's more than just a simple request, really. What he's asking, at the core of it, is whether this new situation is okay with Scott. If he is willing to give Stiles a slightly different role in his life now. Scott blinks up at him, considering a moment, then nods. "Yeah," he says with a grin that breaks into a gigantic yawn. "You should come back soon," he adds as he leans into Stiles.

"Will do," Stiles says, leaning down to smack a kiss on Scott's head before letting him go and getting up out of the bed.

He gathers the pie plates and disappears with them downstairs as Derek helps Scott get into his pajamas, yawns growing ever wider in the meantime.

"Stiles is the best," Scott murmurs through a yawn as Derek puts Wolf Heart onto the desk and turns down the bedsheets.

"He sure is," Derek agrees. "And so are you."

"Love you, papa," Scott says as he climbs into bed again, ready for sleep now.

"Love you, pup," Derek replies, kissing his forehead and tucking him in. He turns on the night-light that casts little pinprick stars onto the ceiling above. "Sweet dreams," he says as he turns off the light and closes his door.

When he turns, Stiles is just climbing back up the stairs.

They both pause a moment, gazing at each other in the dim light carried from downstairs. The mood of the moment shifts quickly towards intimate in the silence and shadow. Then Derek moves toward him, till they're just a pace apart. They don't say anything, they just look at each other, once-furtive glances now free to be direct stares.

"Come here," Derek murmurs, drawing Stiles into his arms. Stiles comes to him like he was always meant to fit against him. He kisses him, slowly and luxuriously, pressing parted lips with his own, drawing in slow breath through his nose and savoring the scent of him. These kisses go on a while, till they are molded to each other, edges blending softly. After that it isn't long before their mouths collide more firmly in silent accord, tasting the edges of heat and moisture and the residual sweetness of pie. Then he's guiding Stiles gently back against the wall to give them leverage to push closer. And to pin him where he wants him.

He can hear Stiles's heartbeat pounding ever faster in his chest, both of them having intently anticipated finally having time alone after adjusting their relationship status. Stiles's fingers move through his hair, guiding their kiss ever deeper with firm hands, body arching against the wall to press himself heart to heart with Derek.

It isn't much longer before they're both pressing other parts of themselves together as well, thighs tensing and hips angling in smooth accord. As their hands roam each other's bodies they move in a sinuous dance that mimics grander moves of sexual pleasure.

He lifts his head, nuzzling and kissing his way past Stiles's mouth and up towards his ear. He pauses, mouth against his skin, just breathing in the scent of him for a moment. "Come to bed with me?" he asks against Stiles's cheek, hands tight on his sides.

"Yeah I… yes," Stiles murmurs in reply, kissing along his jaw in return.

He draws him a little ways back up the hallway in the dark. Though he would love to see every inch of Stiles well lit, he doesn't want to break the aura of intimacy the darkness cloaks them with just now. So he leaves the lights off as they go into his bedroom, closing the door behind them. The faint light of stars through the windows is enough to get them to their goal.

He guides them back towards his bed, hands and mouths never leaving each other as he sits. Stiles climbs up over him as he lays back and they roll together, till Derek finally has Stiles under him again and they pull tight once more. But this time Derek's hands seek purpose in unbuttoning Stiles's shirt, one button at a time. Each additional parting of fabric is appreciated with kisses to freshly-bared skin. When it is undone, he smooths it down Stiles's arms, mouth soft on firm muscle.

But with his mouth to Stiles's throat, there's a wild surge of want in him. A possessive little voice that speaks up in the back of his thoughts and whispers "mine". The urge to mark him as such is near undeniable. He does not resist, sucking on the skin a little harder till Stiles shudders beneath him.

"Sorry," he apologizes breathlessly.

"Don't be," Stiles says, drawing his mouth up for another hard kiss.

His jeans get treated in a similar manner, with reverent kisses on new skin. Warm caresses over warm skin. Derek palms him through his boxers, just the thin layer of cotton separating them now. But Stiles grows impatient and sets his fingers to work on Derek's buttons in turn. He makes quick work of them, yanking the fabric down over Derek's shoulders with little tugs until it gets loosed enough to toss aside. Then he wraps his arms around Derek's torso, pulling him down and rolling them so that he can lay over him. They press skin to skin now, finally.

"I just… god, you have no idea how badly I want to touch you. How hard it's been not to just…," he cuts himself off with a faint groan as he runs firm hands down Derek's sides and rocks himself against him, covering his mouth again with intent purpose. He straddles Derek's hips to free his hands to tug at the button of his jeans, pulling the denim open and slipping his hand inside. He gives Derek a brief stroke, then slips his hands back up to his hips to tug at the waistbands. Derek takes the hint and lifts his hips enough for Stiles to pull the fabric over them. In moments the clothes are discarded and he lays bare beneath him. Stiles wastes little time in dragging off his own boxers, leaving them both clad in nothing but the night.

The warmth of another's body pressing against him, the sound of speeded breath and heart, the soft vibrations in the air as Stiles mounts his hips again and their lengths touch for the first time. It's absolutely enthralling.

Their hands roam slowly over each other's bodies as they move together, sensation sparking not only where their cocks meet but also under the soft brush of fingertips. When he curves his palm over Stiles's face, and his lover turns to press his lips to Derek's palm, the feeling goes straight to his core. His body is trembling at the aching tenderness of their touches. Stiles's breath shakes as he drives his hardness against Derek's. But need urges them on to firmer touches, and soon Stiles is sliding against him with delicious purpose. The tingling excitement that hangs in his belly makes every drag and glide bright and intense, every flexion of muscle under his roaming fingers exquisite.

After a while Stiles leans down on one elbow, slipping his hand under Derek's shoulder and bringing their faces close again. He gazes at him for a long moment before letting his lips meet Derek's in a tremulous kiss, bearing the edge of the vibration that strains in both their bodies as they twine together. When he lifts his head he turns his gaze down to where their hips meet. His hand comes up to his mouth to gather slickness, then strays further down to wrap halfway around them both. His thrusts are more shallow in this position but he has the leverage to slide his fingers over them now, throbbing and hot against each other.

He puts it to good use, long deft fingers twisting and dragging hard and fast. He burrows his face in Derek's shoulder, breath coming in tight little puffs and on the sighing ends of moans as he thrusts his hand over them, dragging them both closer to the edge with each stroke. His hips join the motion, driving his cock up against Stiles's and his hand. Derek finds one pert nipple with his fingers and thumbs it. Stiles gasps a muffled curse against his skin before lifting his head and picking up the pace again. Derek finds himself tensing further at every touch now, the gaps between sensations dwindling and leaving only a swelling wave in their wake. He breaths come shorter and his fingers lose coordination, ending up just curling around Stiles's biceps and holding on.

"Yes," Stiles whispers, eyes catching the edges of light in the shadows as he watches Derek's face, hand moving faster as he urges him to the precipice. "Yes, that's it."

Derek gasps as his body goes taut, abs flexing as he spills himself into Stiles's fingers and onto his belly. Stiles strokes him through it, reverently, savoring each after-shock with bright eyes and parted lips. When Derek relaxes again, Stiles shifts to release him and draw his fingers tighter around himself as he picks up the pace again. Derek gazes at him in the dark, catching his breath even as Stiles loses his. The knowledge that Stiles is touching himself with a hand drenched in Derek's come has him lifting his head to nip at Stiles's throat. He holds him tight, savoring in the little flexes and grinds of Stiles's body into his as he chases his own edge. It is not more than a few moments hence, and then he's tipping his head back on a silent cry, perfect mouth open and raw with desire as he splashes over onto Derek's skin as well.

Then he goes boneless, sagging against Derek's side, fingers drifting through the slick trails of their ejaculate as he rests his face against Derek's neck. The air is rich with sweat and sex and warmth and it's the most wonderful thing he's ever smelled. He presses a soft kiss to the damp edge of Stiles's hairline as he traces a slow pattern against Stiles's back where his hand lays.

They lay together like that for a long while, deeply relaxed, edges blurring between them. But before the encroaching tendrils of sleep can begin to claim either of them, Stiles rolls back from him, disentangling their bodies grudgingly. His face is regretful when Derek looks over at him.

Heaving a sigh, Stiles swings his legs down from the bed and sits up and reaches for a tissue from the box on the end table. "I should get going. I've got an early shift tomorrow," he explains.

"You could stay, if you wanted," Derek finds himself saying. And he's glad of the darkness to hide his blush when he realizes the words come from a place that isn't just speaking about tonight.

But Stiles makes a softly dissenting sound, looking over his shoulder at him in the dim light and reaching back to squeeze his hand before rising and picking up his discarded clothes. "Not tonight, but…," he smiles again as Derek slips to his feet after him. "Yeah, I'd like that."

They dress in silence but it's a soft, warm thing. He follows Stiles out and downstairs, watching as he puts on his shoes again, just soaking up the sight of him, the residual flush on his cheeks, the thoroughly-mussed hair. The keys jangle loudly in the silence as Stiles tugs them out of his pocket and twirls them around his forefinger, fiddling as they make their way out the front door.

He walks Stiles to the curb, bare feet silent on the grass. It's remarkably reminiscent of their first date, emotions high with new and exciting territory in their future. This time, though, when Stiles turns there's no hesitation, no dancing around the possibility of a kiss. This time Stiles slides close and takes his mouth with confidence that has his heart skipping up and taking notice.

The soft sound of frustrations Stiles makes when he pulls back, however, hasn't changed a bit. Nor has Derek's impulse to pull him close again.

"I'll uh," Stiles smiles, cheeks flushing as he looks down, fingers playing with the half-buttoned facing of Derek's shirt before he steps back. His face crinkles as he says "I'll see you Friday," like it's an inside joke.

And it kind-of is. The now-familiar and frequently-inaccurate words pull an answering grin onto his face.

"See you Friday."

Chapter Text

They do see him Friday, though, for story time and for dinner again. And then on Sunday for a trip to the museum, and for lunch on Wednesday and after that it seems like they're together more often than not when they have the spare time. It's not all that often, since Stiles is working some extra shifts while Erica goes on vacation, and Derek is digging in to the heavy-lifting plot brainstorming stage for his next book which means long hours immersed in another world. But they are unmistakably part of each other's lives now.

And it's good.

Fridays are still the highlight of their week, though. And though Scott doesn't need him nearby anymore, Derek sits close anyway, because he can. Because he loves the stories Stiles reads, the traditional ones, the ones he's revised, but especially the wolf stories. Stiles is still coming up with them most weeks. Sometimes he even brings his sketchpad over to Derek and Scott's house to work on the illustrations while Scott reads and Derek works.

Still, Stiles is secretive about his stories, keeping them a surprise for Story Time. This week he's been working particularly hard on the story, searching out reference images and rambling about exotic fruits.

So by the time they make it to the last story on Friday, Derek's about as excited as the children for what's coming next. It must show, since Stiles sends him a wink as he opens the book, revealing detailed and colorful drawings, with embroidery-like borders.

"This time I have a special story for you, one my friend Neha from Sri Lanka helped me create. Do you guys know where Sri Lanka is?"

The kids shake their heads collectively except for Kelli who raises her little hand and then says "is it a chocolate factory? Like Willy Wonka's?"

Stiles grins at her as the other kids ooh and start adding suggestions for candy. "Nope. It's a country! It's an island near India," he says, holding up his tablet with a map on the screen which he zooms in on to show them. "It has beautiful tropical forests with many different people as well as amazing animals like leopards and elephants."

"It is in one of these jungles that our story is set."

 

Once there lived a family in a nice town near the deepest jungles of Sri Lanka. They were a well-respected and moderately prosperous family, with the father, Thilak, and mother Eromi having long been the head man and lady of the town. They were well known for having a fair hand in their leadership over the town, helping to keep it a harmonious place.

However, that all changed when their youngest daughter came of age. And that is where our tale begins.

Yuvani is a spirited girl. She speaks her mind even when she is out of turn, and would rather dance her way from place to place than walk modestly. This has always been so, but her parents had hoped she would grow out of it by the time she became a woman.

She does not favor the old styles of gown with narrow skirts. She prefers the looser drapings that let her move and dance as she pleases, with beautiful embellished embroidery and sheer silks as is the fashion in the great cities now. However, these styles are new, and some of the village elders think them scandalous and too attention-getting.

She is also bored of her simple village life. She wishes to speak about interesting things or play foolish games, just for the joy of being alive. Being the youngest of many sisters, who are all now happily married, she has no one left to play with. There are few young people her age who are not married and dedicated to family and work. So she spends her days in the village square hoping to meet traveling tradespeople at the market or stopping at the inn. Despite this, she resists all attempts to find her a suitor. Each person her parents bring her is not well suited. They are all too serious, or too cold. Some leer at her unpleasantly, and others ignore her altogether, showing interest only in her dowry or an alliance with her family. Others still suggest how they might marry her - but only if she were to dress more demurely or temper her tongue more sweetly.

No longer having her sisters for company at night, she tells the moon her tales of odd or unpleasant suitors on the days she turns them down. Some days she would even swear the moon laughs with her at her tales.

"Oh moon, would that I had a suitor who would find my words amusing instead of offensive."

But the moon does not reply.

What she does not know is that it is not the moon who listens to her, but rather a jackal, who comes to the town to take advantage of the easy prey and entertain himself. His home lies deep in the jungle and he grows lonely there without a family for company. And it is also difficult to avoid the hunters sometimes when they come into his territory. When he sneaks into town to avoid them, he often sits beneath Yuvani's window in the evening because she, of all the people in the village, is the most interesting person.

When he walks under her parents' window he hears them talking.

"And to think that today she decided that climbing the mangosteen tree to reach the ripe fruit was more important than remaining presentable to her suitor," her mother is saying with notes of both frustration and amusement in her voice.

"I am not surprised, though Juniu certainly was! Ah, but we have other things to worry about than just our daughter. The townspeople tell me this jackal problem is getting worse," her father replies.

"Then we shall task some hunters to his capture," her mother decides. "They should be back from their hunt tomorrow or the next day."

"Aha, I have it! The hunters can bring her that jackal to marry. At this rate he will soon be the only suitor left."

"Oh stop that," her mother says, but she cannot contain her laugh as she says, "Though they would seem well suited. He is almost as clever and wild as she."

"Indeed," he says with a chuckle and a fond sigh. "Perhaps we had best keep that in mind next we try. Surely we can find someone to make her happy."

"We will my dear, we will."

And then they too turn in for the night. But the jackal has a seed planted in his mind at her parents' words. They would indeed be suited were he a man or she a wolf, and if they were to wed, he would gain the protection of her parents' discretion over the hunters' paths.

As he begins his long journey home, wary of the hunters' return, the seed begins to grow. As he travels he recalls an incident from his youth when the jungle witch who lived near his home had cast a spell to turn a man to a woman to right the mishap of her birth so that her body and spirit would be in harmony once more. And so he begins to plan. He will go to the witch who lives deep in the jungle and ask her for advice. Because although he finds Yuvani interesting and amusing, the deal he might strike with her parents is of great value to him.

"Ah, but that woman's spirit was trapped in a man's body. Your spirit has qualities of both man and jackal. I could not turn you into a man for good."

"And I would not wish you to. I am fond of my wolf's pelt."

He promises her the coin from Yuvani's dowry, and the protection from the hunters that will be granted him if all goes to plan. The old witch tells him that on the night of the half-moon, the enchanted totem will have power, and he will have two weeks to accomplish his goals. But when the moon reaches its waning half, he will be only a wolf through the darkness of the new moon.

This seems more than reasonable to Nalin, and he takes the totem. He spends the next few days preparing his home for a new bride, gathering sticks and digging out a greater foundation for his home. Then he takes some time traveling back through the jungle to the town. There he waits another day till the half-moon rises. When it does, he finds himself growing and growing, till he is the size of a human man. He has never been so big before! And he is strong, he finds when he tries out his new legs and arms. He is formed just as the little figure is carved in his wooden totem, fine clothes and all. By morning he is used to his new form, and makes his way into the town.

Now he does not need to hide and sneak through the back alleys. Now he belongs there, walking on two feet. He does not hesitate long before going to the house of the village leaders. They receive him with curious interest.

"I am called Nalin," the jackal says, offering them an elegant formal bow. "I wondered if I might beg a moment of your time. I do not come to town often, but when I last came to the market to trade, I could not help but notice your daughter."

Thilak is a bit nervous now, wondering if his daughter has caused mischief again. "Yes, she has a wild spirit, I'm afraid."

"She lives with you yet? She seems to be several years of age now. Perhaps she is promised to someone?" Nalin asks, though he knows she is not.

"No, she is not. She had many older sisters and her dowry is modest yet. Plus, as you have noticed, her spirit is… not an easy one."

"Ah but I have no desire for a wife with no spirit! Nor have I need for a large dowry as my land is prosperous enough."

Eromi grows excited at this news. "You come to ask of a marriage settlement?"

"Indeed I do."

She eyes him a moment, then turns away in a happy flurry to go and find Yuvani and prevent her from another tree-climbing incident.

"Then let us talk about a settlement."

"I do not wish for much, but I would be greatly favored if by this match I could strike a bargain with you and the hunters not to trespass on my land, not for hare nor jackal alike. And the engagement must be short because I can stay here no more than a week."

Thilak finds this a great bargain, and he agrees. But he has one more concern. "I know her dowry is not so important, but it is close to kitting time for her goats and they will not be ready within a week's time. If you would be willing to wed her now and let us bring it to you upon our first visit to your new home, then the deal is amenable to me."

"To me as well." Nalin is also pleased and asks to meet Yuvani to make his proposal to her.

Before she goes, her mother warns her to be on her best behavior. "When shall another suitor such as this one, handsome and of good fortune, come for one such as you?" Eromi pleads with her.

But Yuvani is not at all pleased at this advice. She thinks that whomever she is to marry should see her true self. So instead of behaving sweetly she marches straight out to Nalin and eyes him suspiciously. However, she can find no fault with his presentation. He bears no signs of illness or advanced age, nor a mean turn of his mouth. In fact his eyes have a mischievous twinkle to them, so she asks "You wish to wed me?"

And Nalin is pleased to see her fiery spirit bright in her eyes. "I do most deeply."

She scoffs at him. "How deep could your feelings go? You have only just met me."

Her father frowns at her, but as always, she will not back down.

But to their surprise, Nalin laughs. "You have only just met me, but I have seen you many times in the village. You draw the eye with your manner and dress."

She is surprised, but Yuvani cannot counter him. She cocks her hip and gestures at herself. "And does my dress offend you? For I would not change it for any man, husband or no."

Nalin laughs again. "But why should I ask you to change when you find it pleasing?"

Again she is surprised, and this time she decides to sit with him and get to know him, and he gets to know her. He had listened to her complaints from under her window and knows the ways to win her heart. He promises her that he will show her sights she has never before seen. The meeting goes so well that Yuvani is quite impressed and when her parents ask her that evening, she consents to the wedding.

Thus the Jackal wins her father's protection for his lands and so they are content to begin hurried wedding preparations. And at the end of the week there is a grand celebration. The wedding is a bit rushed but it is beautiful and happy.
Nalin grows fond of Yuvani by the end of the week and almost regrets the deception, but he is a bit selfish and a bit mischievous by nature, and the whole of it is quite thrilling.

That day they set out for the Jackal's home. However, it takes longer to walk back in his human form than it had as a jackal, and soon they approach the night upon which the moon will wane. Instead of having a few days to get settled at his den and provide a better home for her, they will arrive with only one day to spare. Over the past few days he has grown even more fond of his new wife, and she of him.

He begins to worry that she will not be happy when they arrive. So he waits one night until she is laying down in their tent to sleep and calls to one of the bats flying through the dusk. She comes to him and he whispers his request in her ear before she returns to the night. The next day he sees a monkey and also calls to it, whispering his request while he is gathering some fruit from a tree. The bat spreads word to all the creatures of the night, and the monkey to the creatures of the day, and together all the animals who live in the jackal's territory come together and contribute in their own way.

When they arrive and she sees the home he has for her, Yuvani is quite confused and a little upset. Though his friends have spread the word for him and come together to finish building his home, it looks nothing like what she is used to.

"I know it is unconventional, my love, but we are unconventional people, are we not?" he says.

She is skeptical, but she decides he has a point. It is oddly beautiful, though it is made of sticks and mud, the animals have woven flowers and vines into the structure.

"And however you want me to change it for you, it shall be done. You have only to tell me of your heart's desire and I shall seek it for you."

She is pleased at that. "It is different, but… I like it."

So she sets about exploring her new home. The lack of a proper garden perplexes her, but he shows her where wild plants live and where nearby fruit trees grow. To her delight there is a beautiful mangosteen tree close by, with fruits ready to ripen. Before he can offer to climb it and fetch some, she is up in the tree fetching the fruits for herself. He laughs while she tosses the fruits down to him and she laughs in turn as he struggles to manage the big armful. They spend the rest of the afternoon pleasantly making ready their new home.

But when the sun begins to set, Nalin realizes he must explain to Yuvani the whole story. So he builds them a fire and sits her down and tells her his tale.

At first she laughs, thinking it is some foolish joke. But when she realizes he is serious, she grows upset.

"Why did you not tell me sooner?" she demands, drawing away from him in fright.

"Because then you would not have married me, and I would be without a wife and without the protection your family grants me from hunters."

But that does not appease her. In fact it seems to make her more upset.

She weeps for days in the little hut and Nalin is surprised to find that he is very upset by her tears. It is a new feeling for him, having had only himself to care for in the past. So he tries to bring her gifts that will make her happy. He fetches her fruits from the mangosteen tree, and brings her flowers which he lays on the ground outside the hut.

Eventually he goes to the witch to bring her the dowry money she is owed.

"Why so glum my friend?" she asks.

"My wife is not happy with my deception."

"Ah, then you have come to care for her as I had hoped."

"I have," he admits. "I tried to explain but she cannot hear me in this form."

"No, only the animals and gifted such as I can speak with you. Well then. You must find another way to make it up to her," she says.

"I have tried! I bring her food and flowers, but she does not want them."

"But you told me she is a special girl. You must find something special to show her your true heart."

With this advice in mind, the Jackal returns home to think. As the moon rises, he realizes that Yuvani is speaking softly. He draws nearer the small window in the house and sits beneath it, like he has done many times past.

"Oh friend moon, you find me in a strange place indeed," she says to the waning shape. "I suppose I should have been more careful when I wished for adventures. I had hoped to travel to the great cities, to meet new people and buy beautiful dresses and adorn them with gems."

He listens to her talk for some time, remembering the days when he used to sit beneath her window. He does this for several days, laughing at her jokes and listening for reminders of what things she found special.

"Tell me about her," his friend the witch asks him when next he visits her.

"She is a free spirit, and likes to have her own say in things. She often told me of adventure and was entertained by some of my tales on our way home. She likes the bejeweled clothing of the cities."

"Aha! That is something you can do. You must bring her a jewel! Go to the spring where the water pools from the underground river and there in the sand you may find a gem."

He does as she suggests, and he finds a jewel of deep shimmering beauty, which he carries back to her. At first he thinks he is unsuccessful again, but when he wakes in the morning, the jewel has disappeared into the hut, and he does not hear Yuvani crying any longer. Still, she does not come out.

He goes back to the witch with news of his partial success.

"What else does she favor?"

"The mangosteen fruit, though I have brought her several and that has not won her favor. She likes to dance wherever she goes, but especially to music."

"Ah, then you must take this drum and call the birds to sing for you so that she may dance."

He does as she suggests and carries the drum back to his clearing. He calls to the birds and asks them to sing a song for her as he begins to strike the drum with his paws, creating a strong and steady beat.

Curious, Yuvani draws out of the hut to see what is happening. After a moment, she begins to understand, and for the first time in many days he sees a smile break out on her face. Soon the music moves her to begin to dance. When the birds grow tired of singing and fly away, she does not run and hide in the hut again. But she does grow solemn again and shies away from him when he approaches.

So, having taken the witch's advice to heart, the next day he thinks a long while on what else she likes. Suddenly, when the heat of the noon sun draws him to the creek for water, it comes to him; she likes to play in the fountains!

Though he has no fountains, he has something better. When he returns to the house, he coaxes her along with him into the forest a short ways until they reach the creek. But this time he guides her further downstream where the rocks have fallen away and there is a drop, creating a beautiful waterfall.

She is delighted and rushes to play in the water. When she playfully splashes some water his way, he leaps in as well, and they spend a long while playing in the water, splashing and chasing each other.

When they eventually return home, she sits beside the fire and beckons him close as they dry out together.

"You are my husband," she says eventually. "I know it is you and not just a jackal by the way you have behaved. Though you were not fully honest, the man who wed me is you, and so we belong together, even though this is very different."

He nods his agreement.

"And what other husband would play with me in a waterfall, or bring the birds down to sing a song for me, or listen so well as to fetch me things I particularly favor? I had no other suitors who would be such. When you have tongue to speak again you must tell me what things I might do to make you similarly happy."

He is greatly pleased when she curls up against his warm fur to watch the sun set at his side. Though it takes some time to build back up their trust and happiness, they both have spirits up to the challenge. Before long they find a balance of their unique traits. And so for many weeks they continue on, Yuvani her unconventional self, and Nalin sometimes a wolf, sometimes a man, but ever happy as they build their new home together.

However, the story does not end there.

Some months later her parents come with the remainder of her dowry in tow, a few goats and even some chickens, now that the jackal has not been preying upon the town's fowl. For protection, they bring their great hound on their journey, following the directions through the jungle on the disused path.

But when they arrive at her new home, they are baffled by its unconventional nature. Even worse, Nalin, not expecting visitors, comes trotting back into the clearing with a hare he has caught for supper.

"The cursed jackal!" Thilak shouts. "Get him!" he orders his hunting dog.

Nalin turns to run, but neither does he wish to abandon his wife should her parents seek to whisk her away. So he leads the hound in a chase around the clearing. But the dog is surprisingly fast and bright, and herds him back towards the house, hoping to corner him.

"Yuvani, where are you?" her mother cries, worried.

"Mother?" Yuvani calls, coming out of her house, surprised at the ruckus.

And then her father's hound lunges for Nalin.

"Stop!" Yuvani cries, throwing herself between them. "Back, hound, back to your master."

The hound sits back at her determined order.

"Father, why do you send your hound to attack my husband?" she demands, setting her hand atop her husband's furred shoulder.

"Husband! But Yuvani, are your eyes yet clouded by magic?"

Her mother cries, "Oh we were cursed for pushing you to wed. He is a jackal, not a man."

"Pah," she says, shooing the hound back to her father's side. "He is a jackal only sometimes. You approved of the man he was when he presented himself at your home."

Her parents stare at her in surprise and disbelief.

"Stay but till tonight as the moon rises and you shall see that it is so," she says.

Her parents put their heads together and discuss the issue a moment before they turn back to her. In a flurry, they grab her and sweep her away, the hound guarding their escape as they run back into the jungle towards home. Yuvani pleads with them to listen but they are determined to take her away.

Nalin comes chasing after them, yipping in distress. But when her father orders his hound to attack the jackal again, Yuvani kicks and screams until her parents can hold her no more.

"Stop, you must stop," she cries, running back to Nalin. "He is my husband."

"Even if it is so, I should not have you subjected to this," her father argues, brandishing his torch towards Nalin and the hut. "We must send for the hunters at once. We will find you a real husband."

But as always, Yuvani stands her ground, her husband at her side. "I admit I was surprised at first, but better he be a clever wolf at times than a wretched beast like some other people are even though they remain human in form."

"But-"

"If he had meant me ill, he has had plenty of time to do it. Am I not well?" she demands.

"She does look well," Thilak admits to his wife.

"And have I not been well-provided for?" she says, gesturing at the house and gardens.

"Though odd, her home does look nice, and she is pretty and plump," Eromi admits to her husband.

"And you both gave your blessing to Nalin, did you not?"

They look at one another, but they realize that they cannot argue against her. "We did," they agree.

"Then come. You must sit by my fire while I bring you wild fruits and tell you of my new life."

And so her parents come back to their house and when the moon rises, Nalin returns to his human form and pleads for their understanding. The next day Yuvani shows them all of her favorite things, and when they see how happy she is dancing to the birdsong and playing in the waterfall, they see that this wedding was not, in fact, a curse.

They see that it was what they had wished for all along.

Because together, Nalin and Yuvani lived…"

"Happily ever after!" the children cry, as is their tradition.

Derek finds his gaze lingering on little Allison beside Scott after the close of the story. He wonders if some day he will have to play a similar part as Scott's parent. The children crowd closer as Stiles shows them a few pictures on his tablet of the golden jackal and the mangosteen fruit.

In the meantime, Chris Argent is making his way against the tide of parents on an intercept course with Derek, though his hands are tucked into his pockets and his pace deliberately easy. If he's drawn the same allegorical connection, it doesn't seem to be bothering him.

Derek spares another glance for Scott, who's crowding close beside Allison to look at the pictures, before turning to nod to Chris.

"Seems my daughter's taken a liking to your son."

Derek's eyebrows go up as he crosses his arms and glances back towards the children. "Seems so. That a problem for you?"

"Surprisingly, no. Though," he says with a faint chuckle and a tick of his chin. "I doubt that would have mattered. Allison has a talent for getting her way."

Unsurprised, Derek nods slowly. Softly, he admits, "Scott's quite taken with her as well."

"She ah," Chris begins, looking uncomfortable as he scratches at his stubble. "She broached the subject of play-dates, but logistically speaking… It's not that I don't…"

Derek grimaces. "While I don't distrust you, I don't trust you either."

"Right."

He sighs after a moment. "Public places, both of us in attendance?"

Chris frowns it over. "Could work. Like a children's library after Story Time," he says, watching as Allison and Scott preempt them by heading over to the toys together while the other parents and children disperse.

"Works for me," Derek admits

They look at each other a moment, then both of them nod, moving off in separate directions like magnets repelling each other after having been pushed unnaturally close together.

It's no surprise really that his trajectory takes him in Stiles's direction. Another sort of magnetism there.

He explains the situation - part of it, anyway. The importance of this trial run probably isn't clear, but it's worth the delay. Derek had been planning on the three of them going out for dinner and watching the sunset in the park, but with Allison there and Chris in a seemingly indulgent frame of mind, Scott is eager to stay and play.

Stiles is done with work now, and with this change of plans he really doesn't need to stay… but he does, twining his fingers with Derek's as they meander along the nearby stacks while Scott and Allison play.

For a while they don't talk, they just walk, putting the odd book to rights and enjoying the quiet. But eventually, Stiles pauses, lips pursed like he has something on his mind. Derek draws to a halt beside him, offering a smile.

"Hey, uh, I've been meaning to ask you something," Stiles says, avoiding looking at him as he fiddles with the placements of some of the books on the shelves.

The avoidant behavior has Derek lifting an eyebrow but he drifts closer to Stiles and says casually, "Sure."

"Actually it'd be more accurate to say there's something I've been thinking about, that I would like your opinion on. I didn't mean for that to be weird. What I mean is I've been thinking about it long before I met you, and it just happens now that I've met you, you have a good…," he pauses, then clears his throat. "Okay no, that didn't really make it less… see I was trying to figure out a way to ask this without it… being weird. Or anything. And, uh. Jeez," he laughs, head popping back, "Yeah, clearly this is an epic mission failure occurring right here."

Derek just lifts an eyebrow, glancing sideways at him. "So?" he says with a snort as he picks up a book idly. "The last time you got weird on me like this I seem to remember it working out pretty damn well."

Stiles pauses, hand on a book he's just placed on the shelf. "Huh. That's a good point."

"Maybe I like you that way," Derek adds offhandedly as he puts the book back.

Stiles flicks a sidelong look at him, then tilts his head down towards his chest as he fiddles with the edge of the shelf in front of him as his cheeks go pink. "Okay, so, here's the thing. Do you remember, once, you said how you thought that… maybe my stories and my drawings were good enough to publish?"

Derek glances at him in surprise. "There's no 'maybe' about it," he says. "They're good. And their potential is excellent."

Stiles blows out his lips and says, "Thanks. Thank you. But I want to be clear that I'm not, like," he flails his hands, "fishing for compliments. I'm asking you because you're a published author. I want to know what your professional opinion is."

"That is my professional opinion Stiles, as well as my personal one."

Stiles gnaws on his lip a moment, then says, "Really?"

"Really," Derek says, picking up a book that's out of place, making sure it's casual when he offers, "In fact I'd be happy to set up a meeting for you with my editor. Your work might not be the sort of content that falls under her purview, but she would know who to get you in touch with."

"But…," Stiles grimaces, adjusting his glasses slightly. "See that's what I wanted to avoid… I don't want you to think I'm trying to…" he waffles his hands through the air. "You know, take advantage of our-"

But Derek's attention is drawn back towards the play area with a snap when he hears a horrifically familiar voice say, "Allie baby, so sorry I'm late!"

He jerks into motion without stopping to explain to Stiles, the book in his hand falling to the shelf with a thump.

"Aunt Kate!" the pixie-sized girl's voice chirps back in excitement. "You came!"

"Of course I did. And look at your little friend here," she murmurs, voice deceptively sweet. "Oh, you must be Scott-"

"Dad!" Scott shouts simultaneously as Derek rounds the end of the bookcase, moving fast towards her.

"You stay the hell away from him," Derek snaps as he lunges. His hand goes around her throat before she can do more than straighten and without hesitation he drags her away from his boy and pins her back against the end of a nearby bookcase.

She just grins at him, crazy as ever, not an ounce of fear in her eyes though she knows just how lethal he is. "Hey there mutt," she grits out as her head hits the wood with a thump, hands clamping tight around his wrist as she struggles for leverage.

"Derek," Chris says, voice tight with warning.

He ignores it, leaning close to her face as he growls "Tell me why I shouldn't rip your throat out right this second you murdering bitch."

She laughs.

The widow laughs in his face.

"Aw come on, Hale," she says, spitting the name like it's a curse. "We both know you'll never do it."

He snarls at her, fingers tightening on her throat as his claws start to grow.

"Dad?" Scott's worried voice cuts into his awareness.

And then the whole rest of the world comes crashing back in. Chris repeating his warning to let go of Kate. Allison's frightened sniffles. Stiles stepping into his peripheral vision and setting a cautious hand on his arm.

He drops her, and she stumbles a little as he backs away, pulling Stiles with him as he goes back to where Scott's standing like a lost pup in the middle of the room. He puts himself between her and Scott, and his boy latches hard onto the back of his jeans.

"Oh how cute," she coos as she dabs at the drops of blood welling up at the pinprick cuts on her throat. "You found yourself a bitch to tend your little pack."

"Kate, we're in public," Chris warns, glancing significantly at the handful of curious onlookers further on in the library who have been drawn by the commotion.

She glances at her brother, then at the strangers before she laughs faintly, though she seems to concede the point as she straightens. "Fine. I'm not here to chat anyway. I just came to look into the eyes of the…" she pauses and huffs a faint laugh, cocking her head and flicking her chin to accompany the mocking hesitation before she says, "Man who stole my grandbaby away," she says, walking slowly closer to Derek, who stands his ground, fingers tightening around Stiles's forearm should he need to yank him to safety.

"Leave us alone!" Scott shouts, peeking out from behind Derek's legs, baring his thankfully-human teeth at her.

She pouts mockingly. "Sorry sweetie, wish I could."

Even if he couldn't hear the steady thump of her heart, Derek wouldn't doubt that she's being honest, given the disgust that curls behind her expression.

"But I've got unfinished business to attend to. Oh," she adds, slinking even closer and sliding a folded paper out of her jacket which she slaps against his chest. "And you might actually want to read these ones."

Derek stands there, unyielding, the envelope falling to the floor with a papery slap.

"See you soon Scotty!" she says with that sick grin and a little wave before she turns on her heels and strides away with calculated confidence.

Derek doesn't move until he hears the sound of her boots passing through the big library doors. Then he immediately turns and drops down, dragging Scott into his arms as his son bursts into frightened tears.

It's the hardest hug Scott's ever given him. "Shhh…," he says softly, rocking him slowly against his chest.

Chris is still standing like he's been electrified, rigid as though carved in stone, staring after his sister. Stiles on the other hand jerks into motion. He crouches beside him and picks up the discarded envelope, opening it before Derek can intervene. He hadn't really expected anything that would be dangerous to a human, but he's relieved nonetheless when he sees that it's just paper inside.

He watches Stiles's eyes dart over the page. And though it's just paper, it's hardly innocuous if the look on Stiles's face is anything to go by.

"She's… she's suing for custody of Scott," he says, face contorting in dismay and worry. "Can she do that?"

Derek turns a dark look on the remaining hunter, and Chris lifts his chin slowly, eyebrows drawing together. "I had nothing to do with this, I swear to you."

He tenses further, if possible, when Derek's gaze slips down to the wide-eyed little girl at his knee. "And if Allison said anything to Kate, she did so innocently."

Derek doesn't reply, he just stares at the little girl with her bravely trembling chin, then returns his gaze to his own get. "You allow her near your daughter?" he mutters incredulously as he strokes his hand over Scott's tousled curls. "You're more of a fool than I gave you credit for."

"Kate's her aunt," Chris adds softly.

"And legally she's Scott's grandmother. Doesn't make her any less of a murderer," Derek snaps back.

Chris doesn't have anything to say to that. He just nods stiffly and then reaches down to pull Allison up into his arms. "Time to go, sweetheart," he murmurs, then gives Derek one last glance before turning to leave, Allison crying in his arms.

Derek can't help but watch until they're out of sight. When they're gone he straightens, pulling his phone out of his pocket and dialing the one person who might be able to help.

"Lydia Martin," the efficiently feminine voice answers.

"It's Derek. We've got a problem."

"Go," she says, voice briskly professional and soothing in its familiarity.

"Kate Argent's suing for custody of Scott."

She tsks under her breath in annoyance. "Bring you any papers?"

"Yes," he says.

"Good, do you have them in hand?"

"One second." He turns to Stiles and extends his hand for the papers he's still holding. Stiles hands them over, but his face is a mass of questions. Derek just grimaces. He has no good answers for him right now.

Stiles's face goes frustrated in response, but he turns his attention to Scott and offers his hand. Scott takes it and then Stiles is leading him over to his abandoned books and leaving Derek to the phone call.

"Yes," he says.

"Read me the form number," she says.

He reads it and she jots it down.

"Lydia," he begins.

She cuts him off with a sharp noise. "Let me guess, you're thinking about bolting."

"It may have crossed my mind," he says, flatly, eyes never leaving Scott or Stiles as they pack up Scott's things.

She sighs heavily. "Don't."

"Lydia-"

"I know your instincts are telling you to get the hell out of Dodge and crawl into a hole somewhere, but you need to stay here and weather this one out. If you don't work with the system here it can go from bad to unrecoverable before you can blink. I need you to trust me when I tell you that I can handle a simple unfounded custody bid. What I can't promise to fix is if you get brought up on charges of custodial interference or kidnapping. So right now you need to give me those papers, go home, and wait. I need you to let me fix this, do you hear me?"

He sighs a tight breath, but obediently says, "Yes."

"Good. Now I'll need those papers, and any others relating to your custody of Scott. How do you want to get me those from you? I can meet you at your place if you'd like."

"We'll be home in fifteen minutes," Derek says as Scott comes running over again.

"See you then," comes the reply.

He pockets the phone before reaching down and scooping Scott up into the air. His boy throws his arms tight around his neck as his tear-damp cheeks press against his skin. He turns towards Stiles, but the librarian is already putting the last binder in his satchel and pulling it closed.

"Okay, let's go," he says, face tight. "I'll meet you at your place, yeah?"

Derek's heart lurches in his chest at the words, fear and gratitude colliding. "No. You should stay away from this. Kate, her whole family but her especially, they're dangerous. Lethal."

Stiles cocks his jaw. "So you've said. Murdering psycho. Like I said, I'll meet you at your place."

Derek stares at him, grimacing in frustration. "I don't want you in danger."

Stiles's eyes are hardening, however. "What? She's already seen us together, so you can't protect me from that. And it seems to me you could use someone on your side." He steps closer, laying a firm hand on Derek's forearm. "What's the point of being together if we can't stand beside each other when things get hard?"

And… he has a point. Derek sighs. It's still surprising to him that he has that, that he has someone now… and really, he can't imagine not having Stiles with them. He offers him a tight nod, then turns, and together they march grimly for the parking-lot.

 

The instinct to get back to home territory has him driving faster than usual. He has to make a conscious effort to slow it down every time the speed creeps up over the limit. But Lydia's orders not to screw things up are firm in his mind, and so they make it the rest of the way home without incident.

However, when they pull up to the house and start to climb out, a sheriff's car pulls up the road towards them. It's not something he sees often on the quiet suburban street, and that's enough to have him on alert. Especially when another unfamiliar car turns onto the road after it. But before he can do so much as consider ordering Scott back into the car and reversing out of the driveway, the patrol car speeds up in its approach and comes to a quick halt directly behind the Camaro, blocking him in. The boxy little sedan pulls up behind it and a woman dressed in a somewhat wrinkled and conservatively-cut suit steps out of the car, but only after the deputies do.

"What's going on?" Derek calls, stepping away from the deliberately still-open car door. He puts himself between the strangers and his son as the woman strides purposefully closer, clipboard tucked against her chest, short heels clicking on the pavement as she extends a professional hand.

He ignores it.

"Mister Hale? I'm Loretta Klein, with Beacon County Child Protective Services. I'm afraid we're here with an emergency order for temporary custody removal of a Scott McCall while we assess your situation."

"What emergency order?" he demands.

She glances down at her clipboard. "Our records indicate that he's the orphaned son of one Melissa McCall. It's come to our attention that your custody of Scott is inappropriate. We're not even sure how he came to be living with you in the first place."

"He's my son," Derek says.

She puts on a warily patronizing smile as she says, "I'm sure he's very important to you-"

"I said he's my son. As in half his DNA is mine."

She blinks, then flips through the pages on her clipboard. Then she tilts her head and hums faintly. "Oh. I see you're listed on his birth certificate," she pauses as she reads some more, then says, "but I also see that you voluntarily terminated your parental rights at that time."

Derek grinds his teeth in frustration. "That's because my sister was his birth-mother's wife - or would have been if the damn state hadn't annulled their marriage."

"That may well be, sir, but-"

"She was going to adopt him when the courts got their heads out of their collective asses and repealed Prop-8. But since I'm sure you're aware that only just happened, you'll realize that she was murdered before she got a chance."

Stiles's Jeep rolls up on the curb with a faint screech of clutch, pulling him back from the edge of anger welling up in his chest.

Ms. Klein just purses her lips and says, "Mister Hale, that's something that needs to be dealt with through official channels, not just assumed. It's an unusual situation, but there have also been allegations of abuse, which, combined with the fact that you are not his legal guardian. The fact is, we've implemented an emergency removal. This is not a negotiation, it's a fact."

"What's going on?" Stiles asks, voice terse as he nears.

Ms. Klein glances nervously at his new arrival, saying "Sir, this matter doesn't concern you. Please stay back."

But conversely, the deputies seem to relax a little at the sight of him. He approaches despite her objections, but he does so cautiously, posture easy and hands open. "May I see the order please?" he asks, and she hesitates only a moment before handing it to him.

"I'm sorry Mister Hale, but you need to let me take custody of Scott. Please, don't make things more difficult than they need to be. The officers are here to ensure that the order is carried out, regardless of any objections."

Derek ignores her and watches Stiles's face as he reads. It's expressive as always, so he's not surprised when Stiles sighs out a tight breath and says, "It's legit."

Vindicated, Ms. Klein crouches down a little, reaching a hand out towards Scott. "Come on sweetheart."

Derek stares at Stiles's bitter-sweet expression of acknowledgement of the inevitability of the situation and slowly relaxes the hold he has on Scott's shoulder.

"Hey buddy," Stiles says softly, crouching down to meet Scott's eyes. "This nice social worker is going to take care of you for a while your dad gets some stuff straightened out."

Scott looks at him, then cautiously moves towards her extended hand. "Okay," he says in a tiny voice.

"There's really no need to worry," Ms. Klein says. "His legal next-of-kin is available to take custody for now; a miss Mc… no, I see, she's switched it back to Argent this year."

Kate.

"No," Derek says flatly. "No, you can't let her near him."

"Look Mr. Hale," she says placatingly as she reaches down towards Scott. "She's his legal next of kin. You're not. But if that gets straightened out promptly and if you've got nothing to hide in your residence, he should be returned to you within a few weeks at the most."

More than enough time for Kate to do irreparable damage. Murder, for instance.

"I said no," Derek snaps again, surging forward and driving himself in between her and Scott, pushing her back a pace. The defensive move has the police officers snapping their service pistols out of their holsters and moving into a more aggressive position.

"Whoa, whoa," Stiles blurts. "Keep it cool Greenberg," he says as he moves to put his body between Scott and the officers. He puts a calming hand against Derek's chest. "Derek, you need to-,"

"Kate Argent killed his moms. She killed them, probably in front of him, and left him for dead. She cannot have custody of him," he says flatly. He hopes Stiles understands that there's an unspoken "no matter what" at the end of that sentence.

If the look in Stiles's eyes is anything to go by, he does. "Okay. Shit. Okay," he says, scrubbing a hand over his mouth. His eyes dart back and forth rapidly as he thinks a moment. "All right. How about a compromise. Ms. …," he pauses, tilting his head to check her badge. "Ms. Klein. My Dad's the sheriff here in Beacon Hills. What if we have him take temporary custody of Scott while the lawyers duke this out?"

"Stiles," Derek says in warning.

"Would that be acceptable to you Ms. Klein?" Stiles asks politely, ignoring Derek save for the palm still resting flat against his solar-plexus.

She purses her lips again, but then concedes with a tip of the head. Stiles turns his gaze on Derek, meeting his eyes as he says softly, "Derek?"

Every piece of him screams no. No because they might give him to Kate anyway. No because Scott's a werewolf and although the full moon is more than a week past, he's still unpredictable, lacking the necessary control to guarantee he won't be discovered. Every instinct tells him to curl his body protectively around Scott and Stiles and take a few bullets if necessary to get them back into the car and on the run. Or more precisely, rip out the throats of the law enforcement people to give them enough of a head-start. Enough time to disappear into the backroads up to the ranch perhaps, where they could live in the woods for as long as it took for them to stop looking for them.

"Derek, I'm asking you to trust me this time," Stiles says, drawing him out of his fervent calculation.

"There are things you don't know about that are at stake here," Derek counters, voice low and tight.

"I'm sure that's true," Stiles says, leaning in close to him. "But I do know, that what you're thinking? That thing I see in your eyes right now? That's not something you can come back from," he murmurs, keeping his voice low enough that the others can't hear, so that even though he's asking Derek not to do it, he's not going to preempt him.

"Trust me," he says, hands warm on Derek's chest. "My dad will take care of him, I promise you. I promise you."

Derek looks at him for a long, long moment, then finally sighs out a surrendering breath and nods once.

"Okay, okay good," Stiles says, straightening his glasses again as he looks down at Scott and puts a hand on his shoulder.

There's another growl of engine as a shining Audi turns up the street and pulls in behind the Camaro with a low growl. Lydia Martin, Esquire, steps out moments later in a click of heels. "What's going on here?" she demands, stripping off her driving gloves and shoving them in her purse as she approaches, completely unintimidated by anything happening on the lawn.

"I'm Loretta Klein, with Beacon County Child Protective Serv-"

"Papers," she interrupts, pointing at the papers in the social worker's hands. When the woman hesitates she rolls her eyes and points to herself sharply, saying, "Lawyer. Papers," she demands again, hand outstretched.

They land in her possession moments later and she skims them briefly.

"My father, Sheriff Stilinski is going to be the one taking custody now, not Kate," Stiles interjects, and Lydia makes a pleased hum of acknowledgment.

"We'll need to get that put into writing immediately," she says, turning her gaze on Scott. "Hiya pup," she says with a lovely smile. "Don't you worry about a thing, Aunt Lydia is going to help get this all straightened out, okay?"

She waits for his shy smile and nod, then turns her sharpened gaze back on the adults. "You three," she says, pointing to the two officers and Stiles, "Take Scott to the Sheriff," she says turning back to face the social worker. "You and I are going back to your office to get your ts crossed," she orders.

And to Derek's relief, everyone seems to be willing to comply with her direction. He finds himself thinking, not for the first time, that Lydia would have made a formidable military officer in another life.

He watches as Stiles swoops Scott up into his arms with a comforting squeeze, then spares him one last frustrated smile before he carries Scott over to the police cruiser.

"It's okay pup," he calls automatically at the sight of Scott's worried eyes over Stiles's shoulder. "Stiles will take good care of you."

And then they're all piling into various cars and he's left standing alone in his yard with a badly-parked Camaro and Jeep, both with doors still hanging open. He feels their departure like a piece of himself has been torn from his chest and carted away. Though they've long since turned around the corner of the suburban street, he stands there, hands hanging uselessly at his side as he stares after the cars.

After his son.

Chapter Text

When he finally walks in the front door, the place seems almost menacing in its emptiness. He stands in the living-room, staring at nothing. Listening to the absolute silence. He does this for a long time, until a vibration in his pocket drags him back to the present.

hey, maybe you can pack a bag of things for Scott?

It's a good idea. Even better than Stiles knows, given that Scott's going to be dealing with far too many strange scents.

He makes his way eventually to Scott's bedroom, getting out his backpack and loading it up with some clean clothes. He gets distracted halfway through and starts wandering around the room looking over all of Scott's favorite things. His eyes fall on the fact-a-day calendar. It makes him feel sick, so he turns, forcing himself to focus. He starts looking for Scott's stuffed wolf. It's something Scott would never want to leave home without, though the thing always manages to get into the strangest places, to the point where Derek almost wonders if it's some sort of game Scott plays with himself. When he finds it, it's stuffed under Scott's mattress against the wall underneath the window. His relief is only momentary. The paper that had been jammed underneath it looks out of place. He draws it up, revealing even more papers. He stacks them up, looking over the inexpertly-torn envelope paired with the neat business address typeface. He sits down on Scott's bed, pulling the papers out of one of the envelopes and folding them open carefully.

It's addressed to him. But he's never seen it before.
Mr. Derek Hale,
I am writing to you as the legal representative for Ms. Kate Argent-McCall. Enclosed you will find a formal request for any documents pertaining to the last will and testament of Miss Melissa McCall. Her step-mother is deeply concerned that there may have been a miscarriage of justice at the reading.

Laura is to be ignored entirely it seems. Though as far as the law was concerned, they had been nothing to each other. Nevermind that they'd been life-mates, pledged to each other in nearly every way imaginable. Nevermind that they'd run a non-profit together, or had been raising a child together.

The dispensations of a number of assets, and more importantly, Scott McCall's custody, were determined at that reading. However, Ms. Argent-McCall has indicated that there may be some issues with the validity of the will used at that reading. Please provide a notarized copy of the will or we will be forced to pursue this matter more directly.

It natters on in legalese for a number of further pages, but he's gotten the gist.
He sits, staring through the papers and into infinity at nothing.

It's where they find him a couple hours later when they return, Stiles letting them into the house, Lydia in tow, talking as they climb the stairs.

"… mom's step-mother. Are you telling me that even with all those fairy-tales, you don't recognize an evil step-mother when you see one?"

"Uh, maybe that's because I like to write out the old cliché role designations for women in the…," Stiles trails off when he leans his head into Scott's bedroom and he sees Derek still sitting there, half-packed bag at his feet. "Hey," he says softly.

"He…," Derek begins when they come in, then falters, looking back down at the letter. He clears his throat and says "He likes to help with the mail, he likes to go get it and sort it and he's so proud that he…" His throat closes on the words and Stiles makes a soothing sound and comes closer, setting a hand on his shoulder.

"He hid these. From Kate's lawyers. It might… it might be important," he says, handing them to Lydia when she extends her palm.

She reads silently for a few minutes, going through the stack, then tilts her head. "Explains why you were blindsided. But in reality it shouldn't be a problem. Do you have access to the will?"

Derek nods. "Yes. All of… all of their important documents were kept in a fire-proof safe. So…," he stares at his hands. He can feel Stiles's eyes on him. Tense, worried. His hands are tight across his chest.

"Derek," Lydia says softly, forgoing dignity long enough to crouch and get on eye-level with him, setting her hand on his wrist. "It's going to be okay. Where's your safe? Come open it for me."

He does as ordered, taking them to his office where he keeps the safe. Just like his life almost everything in his safe, almost everything that's important pertains to Scott. He stacks them out methodically, giving her keeping of the original birth certificates, the full termination of his parental rights, the annulled marriage certificate between his sister and Melissa, the adoption petitions, their wills, both explicitly stating that he first is to have full custody, and if not him, then any of a number of Hale family members before any other of Melissa's extended family are to be considered.

Kate is explicitly prohibited, despite being Melissa's step-mother. He points that out, then hands her one last document; a restraining order Melissa had taken against Kate when she'd decided to become Laura's mate.

"Good. This is good. That should, at the very least keep him out of her hands. With this I'll be drafting an immediate motion to dismiss Argent's case, and I have no doubt that it will go through without a hitch since she's explicitly prohibited."

Lydia tilts her head, pacing slowly as her brain works and she continues to read through the papers. She stops with a click of heels and folds them up to put away carefully into her bag. "However, getting you full custody is a separate issue. If I play my cards right, and I will, there's a chance I can get the judge to deal with it all at once."

"That's good. That sounds good, right?" Stiles says. He's still watching Derek with his arms crossed over his chest, thumbnail in his mouth.

Lydia makes a faintly affirmative noise as she draws some papers out of her valise. "Now, I've already drawn up preliminary paperwork for a formal petition for re-instatement of your parental rights. Sign here," she says, laying out a page, which he signs without hesitation, trusting her implicitly. She switches pages and adds, "and here and here. I'll push this through and get it on the books…," she pauses to check her watch. "Tonight. That should allow any sensible judge to rule in your favor. If we're lucky we'll get a court date sometime in the next few days." She glances at Derek. "I'll see if I can pull a few favors."

"Thank you," he murmurs.

She pauses, frowning fiercely up at the fading light through the window. "Actually I owe you and Scott an apology. I should have thought to put in the custody petition last year. I just never thought of this possibility."

He shakes his head absently. "Both of us made that mistake."

She doesn't belabor the point. "Well. Now all that we need is for your home inspection and interview to go well. But given the confrontation this morning, Derek I need you to be somewhere else while I supervise Ms. Klein on her inspection of your home."

"I can…," Stiles begins, offering him a hopeful little smile "You can come over to my place and stay for a while. For as long as you need. If you want."

"Yes, let's do that," Lydia decides for him. "Stiles, why don't you go pack a bag for Derek," she suggests.

And Derek would be offended and take charge of his own bag-packing needs but for the fact that he knows she's just getting Stiles out of the room. Stiles glances at him in question and he approves it with a nod.

When Stiles is out of sight, she proves his expectation correct. "Derek is there anything special I need to know before Ms. Klein gets here?" she says carefully.

He blinks eventually focusing on her. 'No. Nothing…" but he frowns, grimacing. "You might find faint traces of blood in the basement." From Scott. He takes a tight breath, then says carefully, "I cut my hand working on putting together a bookcase and never bothered to clean the concrete."

It's a lie, and Lydia knows it, but it gives her plausible deniability and a believable-enough story if it should come up. But he'd foregone the chains and shackles she knew their kind sometimes employed - things which Kate was likely counting on. It was nothing more than an empty basement room for a mostly empty house with a few scuffs on the concrete. Besides that they hadn't been there long enough to get sloppy and leave something damning around the house.

"Otherwise everything's clean."

Lydia nods her understanding. "We should have no problem then." Then she turns, fishing her phone out of her bag and dialing someone. "Jackson, drop whatever you're doing. I need you to run some paperwork to the courthouse."

He listens with half an ear as she orders her legal assistant around, the rest of his brain on the little plaster wolf paw-print Scott had made with him when he was three and visiting their place. Laura's paw-print. The one he keeps on his desk. He runs his fingers over it.

Stiles returns with two bags in hand. He offers the smaller backpack to Lydia, who takes it with a hum of agreement as she hangs up her phone. "Good. I'll get this to him right away. Now, you two, out. And don't come back."

Derek stands at her bidding, and lets Stiles take his hand to guide him out of the room and down the stairs. Things are a little fuzzy at that point. Scott's scent is already starting to seem stale in the house. Old. And all he can think about is how scared Scott must be. How alone he must feel, surrounded by strangers. By humans.

The next time he looks up he's sitting in Stiles's jeep and they're driving along at a steady pace, the engine rumbling pleasantly in the twilight and mostly-empty roads.

Stiles keeps casting concerned glances his way. He smiles when Derek looks over at him. "Scott seems to like my dad okay," he offers. "Though that might be because he promised to order pizza and distract him with bad sports movies," Stiles says with a laugh. "They should have fun. He has great taste when it comes to terrible movies."

Derek just blinks at him, unsure how to respond.

Stiles flashes him a faint smile. "He's a good guy. He really is. And my dad says Scott's going to sleep in my old bedroom."

Derek nods, then clears his throat. "That's good. He'll like that." More than Stiles knows. It's a gift in a terrible situation. It'll smell like Stiles, like someone comforting.

Silence falls again for some vague amount of time. He loses track again. The inside of his head is a paralyzing place. Every instinct is in conflict, with other instincts and with the necessity of interfacing with the laws of humans. The instinct to run, to fight. To find Scott. To… he glances at Stiles again.

"You don't keep them in your bedroom," Stiles says with forced cheer.

"What?" Derek says numbly.

"Your books. I just realized that you don't have any books in your bedroom besides the one I saw on your end-table. You know, when I packed your bag."

Derek just nods absently.

There's another period of silence before Stiles thumps the heel of his hand on the steering-wheel. "Your office. They're in your office. And I didn't think to look."

Stiles's grin fades when Derek just nods again. He gives up talking then and just reaches across the Jeep to lay his hand on Derek's arm for a long moment. He slips his hand down to twine their fingers together, and they stay that way a while before Stiles has to take his hand back to drive. He needs to downshift and steer, because, Derek realizes, they're at his house now.

"Come on," Stiles says softly, leading him inside. Derek hardly notices as Stiles quickly drops the contents of his pockets onto the table near the door and shrugs out of his coat, hanging it up. He barely blinks as Stiles peels Derek's coat off his shoulders and hangs it up too. He doesn't even remember having put it on in the first place.

Scott's absence is like a hole in his chest, something he feels physically, aching continuously, unable to heal or do anything but tear him apart.

Stiles pauses in front of him to cast a searching look over his face. "Hey," he says, drawing Derek's focus. "It's going to be okay."

Derek offers him a hollow nod, which he can tell Stiles doesn't believe. But he grabs Derek's hand and leads him up the stairs. "You should get some rest," he says as they step inside his room. He doesn't bother to turn on the light as he lets go of Derek's wrist. "Bed's pretty comfy."

Derek just grunts in disagreement. "Stiles, how could I possibly sleep right now?"

Stiles's mouth opens, then closes as he considers the statement. He sighs and tilts his head as he moves away and sets the duffel he'd packed for Derek down beside the open closet door. He toes at it absently, then turns back, walking slowly back to Derek until he's right in front of him. "Then maybe you need a distraction," he says softly, tilting his head up slightly to gaze fully at Derek.

The sun has already set, only the faint greys of twilight remain, bouncing pale shadows around the room, catching on the edge of Stiles's glasses.

When Stiles kisses him the first time he can hardly feel it, so overwhelmed by the day's events and the gnawing ache in his chest.

Stiles lifts his head and studies his face a moment. "Just…," he mumbles, lifting his fingers to smooth over Derek's temple and down over his eyes. Slow. Gentle.

It doesn't take much to figure out what Stiles wants, and after a moment he responds as desired and closes his eyes. Stiles's hands settle on either side of his head, thumbs moving in slow, soft circles on his cheekbones. It takes a second, but eventually he eases into the darkness and inhales the scent of Stiles, listens to his heart beating just inches away, listens to the feathering wisp of his breath. He slides his palms around Stiles's waist, feeling the warmth of his back under his palms as he pulls them close together. And when Stiles kisses him again it becomes the only thing he can feel. Every piece of him is alive in the chemistry between their lips.

After that everything becomes a blur of desperate kisses, touches that rake over hastily bared skin, till before he can even process it they're stumbling towards the bed in a tangle of limbs and lips. Glasses clatter as they roll away and come to an abrupt stop when they hit the footboard of a bookcase. Elastic snaps against skin as it is dragged taut over limbs in uncoordinated effort.

When they're naked - or rather, naked enough, he presses Stiles down into the bed, covering him with his weight as he follows him down, urgently setting his mouth to his bared throat, mouthing at his skin, restraint slipping through his grasp like so much water. The raw, unfiltered taste of him is heady, intoxicating. He wants to bite, to mark, to-

Stiles moans out a stuttering breath, fingers curling into his hair as Derek pulls a mark into his skin. He tries to make himself pull away, but all he manages to do is rock his hips against Stiles's body, to leave little dots of precome on his skin. He sucks another hickey into Stiles's throat, right over his windpipe where the skin is tender, thin. Visible as fuck. Painful even, which Stiles's hitched breath confirms.

He tries again to make himself ease back, to avoid taking everything his instincts are demanding of him. But instead he just ends up dragging his teeth down Stiles's chest, drawing in the scent of his sweat beginning to gather on his skin. He bites down on the swell of pectoral muscle hard enough to drag a sharp sound from Stiles's lips and leave another mark. It's too much. Too much too soon. They haven't even-
When Derek bites again Stiles vibrates under him through his moan. He fights back a possessive growl as he twists his head, dragging his beard against Stiles's heart-beat and managing to rein himself in then, forehead pressed against his skin.

"Sorry," he pants.

Stiles makes a dissenting sound and tugs at his hair, pulling him up for another kiss that's just as hard and intent as ever. He wraps a leg over Derek's thigh and rolls them with a determined twist of hip. He tightens his thighs to Derek's sides, presses his body tight enough that he can feel his heartbeat through his chest. His fingers drag through Derek's hair, lips hard on his.

"Whatever you need," Stiles murmurs against his lips, boxing his senses in with taut biceps on either side of his head. And there is no world beyond the heat of Stiles's skin, the vibration of his voice and heart.

"Let me be that for you," he whispers, long fingers flexing against his scalp. He rocks his body back against Derek's hips and the broad hands gripping his thighs. The weight of his cock is warm and heavy against Derek's belly as he moves. And when he kisses Derek again, he feels it in his bones.

Derek's resistance crumbles, teeth catching at Stiles's lip as he tightens his grip on his thighs, hauling him close. Stiles gives as good as he gets, chasing Derek's lips with his own teeth, biting hard enough to have Derek growling. He curls one hand tight on the small of Stiles's back, forcing it into an arch as he slides his other hand down behind him with unmistakable intent. He can feel Stiles wince as he presses too-dry fingers against his rim, and deeper into places sensitive and unprepared. He knows they haven't talked about this, haven't gotten there yet. He knows he's being too rough, knows he should stop, but he doesn't… he can't, he-

"Don't stop," Stiles gasps out, echoing his thoughts. "Don't stop," he moans again as he rocks his hips back, driving himself against Derek's hand deliberately. Derek bites back a curse that Stiles completes when Derek twists his fingers. Stiles braces his hand against Derek's chest as he sits up enough to reach for the small wooden box on his headboard. Derek isn't surprised when moments later slick fingers fumble alongside his own, providing much-needed lubrication. He captures Stiles's mouth again with a groan, swallowing Stiles's hiss of discomfort as he forges onward, spreading the lube into him. Stiles doesn't even hesitate, reaching back up to grab something else, which is made clear when he leans up, breaking the kiss so he can use his teeth to grip the edge of the condom for leverage to tear it open with a rough crackle. The wrapper gets tossed aside and he rides back against Derek's hand so he can reach between them to take Derek's length firmly in hand. Within moments more lube is spread over Derek's length with deft fingers before he presses the latex down over it.

The desperate pull between them has him drawing back his hand and wrapping hard fingers around Stiles's hip-bones, drawing him forward. Stiles seems to be in perfect agreement, sliding higher and using a guiding hand to line Derek up underneath himself. When he lifts his eyes again to meet Derek's, the faint light catches at them, makes them look like hot coals.

Without hesitation he presses himself back, letting gravity take the place of prep. It's too much too fast, but that's exactly what they both want. It takes all of his willpower not to drag Stiles down even faster. Stiles's thighs shake a little as he rocks his hips, shifting the angle. His breath comes in hot little pants against Derek's throat. But his determination makes quick work of the hardest part of the penetration. With the head of Derek's cock firmly inside him, he lets go, leaning forward to tangle his fingers in Derek's hair again. His mouth comes down on Derek's as he slides up again, body gripping and dragging around him. But he doesn't hesitate, doesn't give either of them time to think or breathe or-

Stiles breaks the kiss to arch back and use his weight to go the final distance, and this time Derek can't resist pulling him along, fingers hard enough on his hips to leave marks. His moan is raw as he bottoms out on Derek, muscles in his torso quivering as he grinds deep.

They stay there a moment, mated as deeply as is possible, Stiles's body pulsing and trembling over him. Stiles drags his palm through Derek's hairline at his temple, angular fingers pressing into his skin as they trace through his sweat, then down his cheekbone. The weight of Stiles's hardness against his belly is almost as good as the tight heat enveloping him. He lets go of Stiles's hips to slide his hands down and stroke along the length of it. He rubs his thumb over the tip of Stiles's cock, smearing the beads of precome there in a slow circle that has Stiles shuddering. He lifts his fingers to his mouth to taste the essence of him, of his m-

Then Derek is rolling them over, Stiles's legs twining with his own as he holds him down exactly where he wants him. He thrusts, revels in the raw sound that it tears from Stiles's throat. Does it again, then again and again till it's a continuous thing. He bites at Stiles's collarbone, at his jaw, his ear as Stiles strings together bits and pieces of syllables. Words don't have any meaning for him anymore anyway. All that matters is Stiles's scent, his heat and his movement. Stiles's hands are hard on Derek's skin, fingers digging into his waist and shoulder. But they don't say stop.

They say more.

So Derek gives him more. They exchange fierce little open-mouthed presses of lip and stifled sounds almost like punctuation for the rough thrusts of Derek's hips. Stiles is like a live wire beneath him, twisting to his own rhythm against Derek's thrusts, dragging his own hardness in the gap between them, driving it against the ridges of Derek's abdomen. Derek reaches down to give him something tighter to thrust into, pressing him close, as close as he can manage.

Then Stiles is going rigid, his body arching up against Derek's as he gasps out a breathy "Fuck!" against Derek's neck. His hips jerk and Derek can feel the wet heat of Stiles's release splashing against his stomach. He doesn't stop. He drives Stiles right through the orgasm and beyond. He doesn't stop even as Stiles goes boneless in his arms, just presses his face into the crook of Stiles's neck as Stiles's hand curls around the back of his neck, hanging there like it's his only anchor as he gasps through the comedown.

It takes all his fortitude not to bite down on that bared expanse of throat, but with Stiles's pulse thundering against his lips it doesn't take much longer to push his way to his peak, to lose himself completely in the heat and frantic beat of their hearts, in the rush of orgasm that overwhelms his senses completely.

When he comes back down to awareness again it's to the sensation of Stiles's hand stroking softly along the nape of his neck. As enticing as it is, he doesn't lay there catching his breath, curled in Stiles's arms. He can't, can't just lay there with Stiles's glistening release on his skin, waiting till their scents are thoroughly and irretrievably entwined. He can't because he wants to stay so badly, to go deeper than is fair. He can't, because Stiles doesn't know. He doesn't know anything.

So he draws out of Stiles's arms and sits up, swinging his feet down, offering only a terse, "Shower?"

Stiles hesitates, then says, "Through there," voice uncharacteristically flat.

It hurts to do it, to walk away from the call of mate. But he does, he goes into the bathroom and fumbles with the unfamiliar taps till he can run the water, stepping in without even checking the temperature. Belatedly he realizes he's still wearing one sock. He discards it and the condom with precise motions that belie the tension still tangled in his chest. That's perhaps even worse now. Everything is-

He can smell faint traces of blood on his skin. His fingers curl hard into fists against the shower tile as he leans his forehead against the wall. He doesn't want to hurt Stiles, more than he already has, but he's not sure if he can avoid making it worse. He can't think clearly with this hole in his chest. It takes a long moment for him to get his breathing under control, water sluicing down over his face and drowning everything out. Maybe Stiles will forgive him that. Maybe… so he scrubs it all away and towels himself off briefly before slipping back out into the bedroom.

Stiles is just sitting there on the bed. He watches him in the dark, eyes catching the faint light from the bathroom as he looks up at Derek's face. But before he can come up with anything to say, Stiles just turns away and moves past him silently to take his turn in the shower.

He shouldn't be here, shouldn't be doing this, not when he's unable to keep a handle on his instincts. But what he realizes when he sits back on the bed, surrounded by Stiles's scent and the aftermath of their mating, is that it's already far too late.

Stiles comes back after a brief shower, and silently climbs onto the bed behind him. He hesitates, as well he should, given the mixed signals Derek's been sending his way. But he sets a tentative hand on Derek's shoulder nonetheless. Derek takes it gently, turning it over and pressing a kiss to Stiles's palm. Stiles sighs faintly in relief as he sinks in against his back, wrapping his arms around him. He sits there, gazing at the walls of books. Books that have so many words - some of them even his. And yet here he sits, holding none.

"Sorry," Derek whispers as he lays his arms over Stiles's, holding him tight.

"Shh…," Stiles replies, resting his chin on Derek's shoulder.

They stay that way a while.

"Come on, you need to get some sleep," Stiles says eventually. His voice is rough with the aftereffects of stifled moans and breathless gasps. And soft, so soft as he pulls the covers back and nudges Derek along with him. "Lay down."

Derek does as he's bid, slotting his collarbone in against Stiles's ribs and settling his head against Stiles's shoulder. Stiles begins running soft fingers over the damp strands of his hair, smoothing the ends back from his forehead in long soothing strokes. The warmth of his body is suddenly desperately important, the air around them too cold on shower-damp skin.

Derek closes his eyes, listens to the beat of Stiles's heart. But sleep doesn't come.

"Once upon a time," Stiles begins softly, "there was a young prince and his faithful hound. He was the younger son, and had three older siblings who would be in line for the throne before him. He had a good heart, and was grateful for the many good things he had in his life."

"He was called Aatu, and his hound was named Ulf. Together they would go hunting in the woods, or exploring the nearby towns, but always they were together."

"One day, Aatu begins to feel dissatisfied with his life. He is of little use to his family, being a younger son and unable to do much as a prince. Nor can he take up a trade in the city. So one day, he and Ulf decide they will go and seek their own fortunes in a new land."

"Though his family is sad to see him go, they understand that a young person must find their own way, so they see him off with the best wishes and plenty of provisions. For many days the travel deep into the forest, past the bounds of their kingdom and into the uncharted lands beyond."

"There they come upon a mysterious castle that has no doors. At first it seems that it is abandoned, but as they come around the corner, a beautiful young lady is in the parapet, and she calls down to him a greeting. She asks him to stay a while and talk with her, because she is ever so lonely."

Stiles pauses to brush a kiss against Derek's forehead.

"So Aatu and Ulf sit in the grass below the parapet and talk with her. She is sweet and is excited to hear of their mild adventures and the beauty of their home city. Her name is Accalia she tells them, and she has lived in this castle for many years now, nearly as long as she can remember."

"But as the sun begins to set, she grows suddenly frightened. She pleads with them to hurry and hide in the shadow of the forest lest the sorceress who holds her captive spots them. The do as she bids, and watch from afar as a great winged monster flies in over the tree-tops, landing inside the castle."

"But the lady is charming and beautiful, and Aatu is not to be defeated so easily. They make camp among the trees and wait until the dawn, when Ulf alerts Aatu to the sorceress' departure."

"They continue like this for many days, talking to Accalia while the sorceress is gone, and making camp out of sight in the evenings. Aatu and Ulf decide that they should try to find a way to get inside and find a way to help Accalia escape. They search for days but find no sign of any entrance. Then one day Ulf sniffs out something different as he explores the grounds. He follows his nose and there he discovers an invisible door that leads into the castle. It's a servant's entrance that leads to the storerooms and kitchens."

"The sorceress has enchanted the kitchen tools to create food for her. Upon their arrival, the kitchen magic begins to work, setting up a plate for Aatu, and then slicing a nice raw steak for Ulf which gets tossed down to the floor for him. It smells wonderful after the long time spent without a kitchen. But Aatu remembers the warning his mother had given him about taking food without recompense and sees the trick for what it is. He throws himself onto Ulf to stop him from taking the meat."

"Though Ulf is disappointed, he trusts Aatu's warning. It is well, because as soon as they pass through the kitchen door, the illusion wavers, and they can see that the meals are not what they appeared but are instead deadly poison berries. But they are not to be dissuaded, so they forge deeper into the castle. In the next chamber lies a great hall, filled with mirrors. Though Aatu can see a stairwell in some of the reflections, he can also see deadly traps. However, the mirrors are so bright and confusing, he cannot see a path through."

"But then Ulf begins to sniff the ground and Aatu realizes he can trust his hound's nose to find the path to the lady. So he sets his hand on Ulf's ruff and closes his eyes and allows him to lead the way through the perilous room."

"It takes a long time, and even when they pass the hall of mirrors, it is difficult to find their way through the mysterious and labyrinthine castle. But when they finally reach the top of the castle, they discover that the sorceress has returned early. They are discovered, and thinking they are fated to perish."

"But the lady calls out her challenge to the sorceress. 'You have kept me here as your apprentice, telling me I was not ready to go out into the world. But you don't teach me anymore. I challenge you to test me. If I am worthy, set me free'"

"The sorceress thinks a minute, then tells Accalia she must prove her magic by conjuring a crystal ball. Accalia concentrates hard, and it is not long before her hands glow bright and mist forms over them. When the mist clears, she holds a perfect crystal sphere in her palms. The sorceress then demands that Accalia prove her wit by answering a riddle which has stumped many monarchs and wizened folk. The sorceress says 'This room has no walls, no ceiling or floor, and no doors. What sort of room is it?'"

"She puzzles it over for a long minute, glancing at Aatu as she thinks. When she does, she sees the small sack on his belt he uses for foraging and the answer comes to her, recalling their conversations about his and Ulf's adventures. 'A mushroom!' Accalia cries."

"The sorceress is once again furious. Not accepting her defeat, however, the sorceress angrily demands a final test. She says that Aatu must prove his mind is worthy too and be able to pick Accalia out for her soul and not her beauty. Then she draws up a great cloud of magic in the room that covers over her and Accalia . When the smoke clears, there are two ladies standing there, identical in every way."

"The two women both begin to speak, each insisting that she is the real Accalia . Each saying things that they had talked about together in the past few days, which tells him that the sorceress has had her spies and that nothing either says can be used. Frustrated, he closes his eyes. This time he listens to them speak. After a moment he realizes that though their voices are alike, the way they speak is different."

"Then, without hesitation he points to Accalia and identifies her as the true lady. The sorceress shrieks in a rage and cries that she will not honor their bargain a second time. But while she was distracted with her treacherous second test, Ulf had snuck up behind her. She raises her wand to bring magic up against Aatu, but Ulf gets there first, tearing her wand from her hands with his teeth."

"Accalia snaps up the wand and casts a spell of paralysis on the sorceress, turning her into stone. When she does, the bracelets bound around her wrists shatter into a million little pieces. Now that she is free, they can escape. But when they return to the door down, they discover that by turning the sorceress to stone, the whole castle has been rendered petrified, so tied to the sorceress's power. At first Aatu despairs over their escape, now that the way is blocked. But Accalia is unafraid. She takes Aatu and Ulf to the parapet and uses her own magic to turn herself into a dragon. She takes them gently into her claws and glides down from the wretched castle, freeing them all."

"And so, as the sun sets, the three of them return to the road onward, and together they lived," Stiles says with a soft sigh.

"Happily ever after?" Derek supplies.

"Mm," Stiles murmurs in disagreement, running his fingers through Derek's hair. "That's for the kids. I'd say that the best lives are full of not just happiness but adventure and challenges and the unexpected."

Derek agrees. After all, he tells stories for a living. He tilts his face up to gaze at Stiles in the dark, offering him a faint smile. "So together they lived."

"Yeah," Stiles agrees, kissing him softly. "But that's a story for another time."

Chapter Text

When he wakes up he's disoriented. The scent of Stiles is thick and warm, probably, he realizes, because Stiles is draped over him like an octopus blanket.

He gives in to the urge to curl his arms around Stiles's body and hug him even closer, pressing his nose into his hair and drawing in his scent. He shouldn't. He shouldn't let himself reinforce the intimacies that slip too close to mating behavior, especially not after he'd let loose of it so much last night. But…

Stiles makes a soft sound of pleasure and his limbs tighten over Derek in response. Octopus indeed.

But the gnawing ache in the back of his chest is still there, the unending alert that his pup is missing and needs him. After only a moment or two more of savoring, he slips out from under the tangle of Stiles's limbs, pushing back the sheets and standing. He starts poking around the room gathering his scattered clothing, moving on auto-pilot.

"No. You don't need those," Stiles grumbles, pushing up on the bed and baring his trim upper body to the morning light. The marks Derek had left on his throat and collarbones are starkly visible in the creamy shades of dawn. Stiles swipes a hand over his eyes, stifling a yawn, then says, "No seriously. Clothes bad."

Derek sits on the edge of the bed to start pulling the denim on over his legs.

"I can't just-,"he begins, but Stiles interrupts him with an indignant sound, rolling over on the bed to squirm around him and snag Derek's jeans out of his hands. He tosses them aside.

"Nope. You, sir, are going to be staying right here," he orders, clambering off the bed and splaying his hands over Derek's biceps. Stiles starts pushing him back into his previous position on the bed, and Derek grudgingly obliges him. Then Stiles pulls the edge of the blankets up and tucks them up around his waist. He sits firmly down on the edge of the sheets, pinning him there as he leans against Derek's hip.

When Derek trails an interested hand up his thigh Stiles flushes, but pins Derek's wrists down too and looks him firmly in the eye. "Listen. I know you know these things, but Lydia made me swear to repeat them to you this morning, on, and I quote, pain of litigation."

That gets an edge of a smile out of Derek. He makes himself relax under Stiles's hands, taking a deep breath to settle himself while he listens. Stiles lifts his hands once he's content that Derek's listening.

"You must not go anywhere near Scott. You must not go anywhere near the Argents. You must not go anywhere near Ms. Klein or social services. You are not to leave town," he intones, ticking the points off on his fingers.

"You can't do anything today except cause problems," Stiles says, gripping his shoulders and giving him a little shake. "We can't really do anything at all until Monday anyway. So you are going to stay right here."

Derek sighs out his frustration through gritted teeth, thumping his head back on the headboard. But he's right. Lydia's right. He sighs heavily, then meets Stiles eyes and nods.

"You've got your phone… here," Stiles says, looking around then fishing it out of Derek's discarded shoe where it had ended up in last night's frenzy. "Lydia will call you if she needs anything."

He gets up and walks over to where his own pants are laying in a pile, shakes them out and frowns when he doesn't find his phone.

"Downstairs," Derek says, because he remembers that at least.

Stiles's expression clears. "Right," he says, tugging on his boxers "And my dad will call me if he needs anything," he says as he heads out the door and trots downstairs.

"So really," he calls up from below as he comes back up the steps, "The best thing we could do is find some way to pass the time and keep our phones handy."

He waggles the phone as he steps back into the doorway, then tosses it on the bed. "Oh, and stick together," he adds with a slow smile. Stiles walks closer, to Derek's side of the bed, that wicked smile spreading wider and wider across his lips. "What do you think, can we come up with ways to amuse ourselves?"

"I can think of a couple," Derek murmurs, embracing Stiles's suggested distraction and trying to put aside his unsatisfiable paternal instincts. He reaches for his wrist and tugs him closer so that he half-falls over him, leaning down on his hands on either side of Derek's waist. Up close the marks on his throat leftover from last night send a potent surge of desire straight through Derek's gut. He stifles the urge to put his mouth to them and deepen them, to never let them fade.

His eyes flick back up when Stiles leans in, letting his lips hover closer to Derek's mouth, breath tingling on his lips. Then abruptly he tilts his head. "Coffee first," he says with a cheeky grin.

Derek growls at the tease and curls his arms up around Stiles's body. He rolls them fast, pinning Stiles under him on the bed in a wild tangle of sheets. He covers Stiles's mouth with his own for a deep, possessive kiss that has Stiles arching up against him. He skims a broad hand along the curve of Stiles's back, drawing him even tighter as he deepens the kiss over Stiles's moan, pressing forward with a roll of his hips that has both of them tightening. He kisses him till they're both gasping. Then he lifts his head with a slow smile.

"Okay."

"Huh?" Stiles says, breathless.

"Coffee first," Derek says, dropping him and sitting back on the bed, getting his little revenge. Stiles stares as he lies back, smug as he tucks his hands behind his head and shamelessly flexes the muscles in his torso to their advantage.

Stiles watches him a moment, cheeks pink, then laughs and rolls off the bed. Lifting the cell phones along with him he walks over and snags a hoodie off a hanger in the closet and shrugs it on. Much to Derek's disappointment he zips it up as he heads out his bedroom door, covering his marks.

"You'd better still be naked and in my bed when I get back," Stiles calls over his shoulder as he disappears down the hall.

Derek listens to his footsteps thumping down the stairs and decides that he can oblige him. He relaxes a little and listens to Stiles puttering around in the kitchen. That plan doesn't last very long. There's a sound that's out of place, that has Derek sitting up and frowning. Then there's a doorbell ring a moment later.

Derek ignores the imperative to remain where he is and slips out of bed, reaching for his own discarded shorts. He focuses in a little to listen while he dresses. It could very well be nothing more than a delivery or some salesperson, but Derek's willing to err on the side of caution.

The confused "Huh" that comes up the stairwell has him foregoing any further garments and following him downstairs immediately. When he gets far enough to lay eyes on him he relaxes a little since he can't see anyone but Stiles still standing there in the doorway.

"What is it?"

"I don't know. Some kind of flower."

The bottom drops out of his stomach as he jumps down the last few steps. The purple flowers strewn all over his doorstep are clear as day - as is the implication that a hunter must be nearby since they'd just rung the bell. He grabs Stiles by the hoodie and pulls him back inside, slamming the door shut and locking it.

"What? What's going on, what is it?" Stiles asks, sliding closer to slip an arm around Derek's back as his eyes search his face.

Derek glares at the closed door, willing his heartbeat to slow as he listens hard for sound outside. "It's a warning. A threat."

"What? Oh my god you're serious," Stiles says, then promptly slips out of Derek's reach to look through the window in the door again at the world outside.

"Deadly serious," he says, tugging impatiently at Stiles's sleeve again, moving him away from the window. "That's not a threat to be taken lightly."

"A flower?" Stiles deadpans, lifting an eyebrow at him, though he comes away from the door as he's bid. "A flower is deadly serious."

Derek sets his jaw. "It's poisonous. And it has symbolic significance."

Stiles's eyebrows just go up in question, in expectation of explanation.

He scrubs a palm over his mouth. "Kate, Kate's people… they…" he shakes his head, trying to think of a way of wording it strongly enough to be enough of a warning without leading Stiles to questions he's not ready to answer. "There's a family feud."

Stiles levels an unimpressed look on him, crossing his arms as he repeats flatly, "A family feud."

Derek grimaces and turns and walks away into the living room, heading for the kitchen and the distraction of coffee. "It's complicated."

Stiles doesn't let him divert the conversation, following close behind him. "Let me guess, part of the things you don't tell me," he says with a slightly sarcastic edge to his voice that tells Derek he's testing Stiles's patience.

Derek grips the edge of the counter, wondering just how much further this can possibly go. Stiles is brilliant, and curious, and perceptive. There's no way he's going to give up on this. The only thing Derek can hope for is that it doesn't all blow up today, making the already horrific weekend into a tragedy he's not sure he'd recover from. He shakes his head, then gazes at Stiles solemnly, willing him to understand. "It is. Please don't ask me for it. Not today."

He can see the annoyed edge of it slipping from Stiles at his demeanor. He turns his gaze back down to the counter, weathering a wave of regret for the loss of the playful tone of the morning. But he doubts Stiles will be able to leave it at that. He turns his focus back onto making coffee.

Stiles hesitates, then steps closer, though he doesn't interfere with Derek's tension-fueled search through cabinets for coffee supplies. A mug decorated with rabid-looking zombie rabbits gets set on the counter.

"Yesterday you said she was a murderer. This Kate person. You meant that literally. As in premeditated first-hand sort of murder, not accidental or negligent mistake."

Derek sighs heavily, pulling down another mug from the cabinet. This one is covered in stylized drawings of balls of yarn. He grimaces at the cheery pottery being juxtaposed with the tension in his head.

"Yes."

He knows it's not enough. Not for Stiles, for them. But it's hard to explain without revealing the wrong things. It's hard to explain because it hurts. Laura had been… she'd gotten him. Been through things with him, saved his life and vice versa. Given him the push that had started his career. He shakes his head as Stiles waits for him, gathering his strength.

"There's no proof, so all I can give you is my word, but she killed my sister and her wife, and other members of her… group, there at the wolf rescue. Stiles, she killed my sister. Scott's mom. Because she wanted to," he says, closing his eyes against the pain of that loss, the pain of the space where Scott should be right now. He takes a long, shuddering breath, then he lifts his face to look at Stiles when he adds, "And she will do the same to anyone who gets in her way."

Stiles doesn't say anything, just leans back against the edge of the counter, face darkening. The steely strength that sits below his kind surface shows through in the tension in his crossed arms and the set of his jaw.

It sends a spike of fear through Derek, the thought of Stiles standing up like that to people he doesn't understand are monsters… on behalf of people he doesn't know are monsters too. He sends a serious look to Stiles, holds his eyes as he tries to put that warning into his voice.

"She wouldn't hesitate to kill again. Those flowers… they're not just for me. They're a threat, a warning to you for helping me."

"Okay," Stiles says with a shrug, like it's really that simple.

Derek shakes his head, turning away against the poignancy of that easy loyalty. He shouldn't be here, he realizes as he drifts towards the glass back door, staring out into the fading light on the lookout for the enemies he knows are somewhere out there. He never would have come if he'd been thinking clearly the day before. "No. It's not. You need to go, get out of harm's way," he says, ignoring the more selfish pang he experiences at the thought of being separated from his - from Stiles. He touches his fingers to the cool glass and adds, "Just take whatever vacation days you can and get out of town till this all blows over."

But when he turns, Stiles has that stubborn light in his eyes. His chin goes up again as he uncrosses his arms. His voice is calm and firm when he says, "No."

"Stiles -"

"You'll find the grinder above the bread basket. I like cream in my coffee."

And he ends the conversation by walking out of the room. He doesn't go far, and with the open-concept room, Derek would be able to see him if he took a couple steps back and looked. But he gets the message loud and clear.

Stiles had heard him out, and then he'd made his decision.

Derek turns back to the counter and gazes at the coffee bag sitting near the mug for a long moment. He briefly thinks about making Stiles go by force, but he can't even finish the thought. Human members of his parents' pack were fiercely stubborn about those sorts of things, and probably for good reason. He has a feeling Stiles would be the same. If Stiles were pack, it would not be a question. Pack means someone you rely on, who you trust, because they have you and trust you just the same. It is as much about accepting help as it is about giving it.

He thinks on that as he sets his hands to work on the task they'd begun, grinding the beans and setting up the coffee pot. He stands there, listening to the spit and hiss of the hot coffee hitting the carafe, breathing in the soothing familiar scent of it. The soothing and now-familiar scent of Stiles's home.

Being here… well. The coffee's good. The distraction of getting to spend more time with Stiles is even better. The flip side is that it's dangerous for Stiles. And it doesn't fix anything, but it would be so, so much worse to get through if he were alone. And maybe Stiles isn't pack, not yet… but turning him away, preventing him from helping… that would be a clear message that he is not pack. Is not to become pack. And that is something Derek is unwilling to do.

He brings Stiles a cup of hot, creamy coffee and an apologetic smile to go with it. Stiles looks at him with a guarded expression for a long moment, then he takes the coffee carefully. Derek sits down beside him on the couch, curling an arm tight around his waist and resting his forehead against his shoulder a moment.

"Thank you," he murmurs.

"Yeah," Stiles says, pressing a kiss to the top of his head.

Derek turns his face to nuzzle into the folds of Stiles's hood, setting his lips briefly to the auburn mark on his skin. Stiles makes a pleased sound and tips his head back a little to give him more access and Derek has to remind himself that Stiles doesn't quite know what that does to him. He makes himself sit back and take a sip of his hot sugary coffee.

"You don't need to go anywhere? I'm not keeping you from anything?"

"Irrelevant. I'm here," Stiles says airily. It has Derek pressing an affectionate kiss to his temple. "But no. My weekend's open."

He slips his hand over Derek's, tangling their fingers together. Then he smoothly changes the subject to some amusing story about Erica while they sip and savor the warmth and the quiet.

It's all quite lovely and soothing, but it never quite reaches the hard edge of tension in Derek's chest. When the doorbell rings again half an hour later, Derek goes on high alert. He snaps to his feet, putting the mug down and motions for Stiles to stay where he is. Though Stiles makes a face, he complies as Derek slips silently across the room towards the door, staying out of range of the front window.

"Derek, it's Lydia," her muffled voice calls, and Derek relaxes immediately, heaving a relieved sigh as he strides the rest of the way to the door and pulls it open.

"They've devolved to petty threats I see. That's a good sign," she says as she strides inside, plucking her gloves off. "Means they're scared."

He wishes he had her confidence. She would have made a good wolf; that pleasure at the thought of her cornered prey reads well on her.

She peers at Derek's face, bottle-green eyes tracking over his features for a long moment while one of her fingers taps slowly against her mouth. She tilts her head to the side, then nods as his eyes study her face. "Good, you're present now. All… here," she adds with a vague swirl of fingers towards his head when he frowns in confusion. "You being in a pathetic moping fugue isn't useful."

He glowers at her but only receives a haughty brow-raise for his trouble. She turns with a swivel of heels, giving Stiles a thorough looking over.

"Tea? Coffee?" Stiles asks from the living room, blushing as he leads the way back towards the kitchen.

"Tea would be lovely. Darjeeling, if you have it," she says with a patented smile, ignoring or uninterested in their state of undress and whether or not she may have been interrupting something.

Derek glares out the little slice of front window a moment at the scattered purple petals, but the neighborhood is otherwise silent, so he makes himself turn away from the door and follow the others back as Stiles turns on the instant hot water part of his coffee machine and rustles around for tea supplies.

Lydia sits elegantly at the chair Derek pulls out for her and Derek then sits across from her, gazing at her expectantly, knowing she wouldn't be here if she didn't have something to discuss.

"I was sure you'd be pacing a hole in the floor by now," Lydia says to him with another haughty smirk that earns her another glare, despite the fact that if it weren't for Stiles's attentions, he probably would be pacing - or worse. She just smiles back at him, then politely up at Stiles as he brings the tea-cup to the table to set in front of her to steep. Stiles drifts away to his pantry, perhaps leaving them a little bit of privacy while he presumably looks around for something to serve with the tea.

He waits while Lydia sniffs the brew. There are certain things he knows she takes very seriously, and tea is one of them. It doesn't annoy him. It's just a part of her, one he's used to. Peter had always been exceedingly charmed by it.

Eventually she sighs and sits back, looking up at him. "I thought I'd come bring you an update and intervene if you were driving your host to distraction."

"Well that's one way of putting it," Stiles says with just enough lilt in his voice to carry the innuendo as he returns with some animal cookies. "But please, don't intervene."

It surprises a real laugh out of Lydia. A rarity. She turns an amused eye on Stiles then, and Derek can practically see the gears in her brain shifting as she reappraises him. And then the mark on his neck which is just visible above the hoodie now. Derek shifts his gaze briefly to Stiles, who looks amused and not a little self-satisfied as he pours some cookies into a bowl.

This time it's Derek's turn to lift an eyebrow at her when she looks back at him. She tilts her head, demurring slightly with a sweep of eyelashes and an upturned corner of her mouth, conceding the point. But then Derek leans forward, more than ready to get to her promised update.

"So," he begins, voice going hard.

"Kate," Lydia replies, in a matching tone.

"What the hell happened? How did she…," Derek just trails off, shaking his head.

Lydia stirs her tea ball around slowly. "Oh, her usual bag of tricks. Lies, bullying, a little money greasing a few palms. Plus, we know that there are biases against people who homeschool, which may have made Ms. Klein more susceptible to Kate's talented persuasion."

That he knew. His own experience transitioning to public high school after being schooled at home through 8th grade had shown him just how odd people could be about the concept of homeschooling.

"I've had Danny taking a look at things too, do a little of his specialty…" Read illegal "…digging and he said it's possible she may have spoofed the phone numbers of some of your neighbors to report concerns of abuse, to lend credibility to her claims. But it isn't something we can prove. We may never know exactly how she convinced them. Frankly, I'm not concerned," she says with a dismissive little flick of her perfectly French-manicured fingernails.

And he believes her. He knows her well enough to know that she never would hesitate to tell him if she did indeed have deeper concerns.

"What's more relevant is the fact that you have a clear biological relationship, despite premature severance of parental rights. You have a happy little boy who loves you. And your home shows no signs of anything that would suggest there's anything besides domestic bliss going on."

She carefully draws the tea leaves out of her cup and leans back a little in the chair, cradling the hot cup in her palms, letting the scent curl over her clothes and hair.

"Everything is going as smoothly as it can be. What I need you to do this weekend is get calm, collected, and polish up your smile for Monday when Ms. Klein will interview you. You can tell she already has her doubts if she's making the time in her schedule to meet with you so quickly, but you better be damn grateful for that generosity. Other than that there's nothing else to do but wait for the pieces to come together. And they will come together."

He nods firmly, slowly rubbing his thumbs together where his hands are locked together on the table. He doesn't even realize how much tension he's drawing in between his shoulders until Stiles sets a hand on one of them, giving him a little half-squeeze, half-shake as he sits down at the table with them.

Lydia takes a long, slow sip of her tea, sighing pleasantly as she sets it down with a delicate click, then smiles. "Now, I've got an important engagement this evening, so I won't really be available. If you have an emergency, then call. But don't call me for a repeat of the update I just gave you," she says sternly.

Derek frowns in mild annoyance, but at her smirk he nods his head again, conceding the point that he's not exactly in the best frame of mind to remember to think rationally without a reminder or two. Reassured, Lydia draws her signature smile back on and rises.

"Good. I'll let myself out," she says with a belaying little wave when Stiles stands as she does. Then she turns in a twist of perfect chic elegance and clicks her way to the front door.

 

He's unbelievably grateful that he has such a friend as her, even after everything with Peter. His confidence is slowly building in her ability to settle this. After Lydia's visit, however, he feels more itchy than ever, unable to shake images of Scott sitting at the table cracking the ends off green beans, or out in Stiles's back yard playing tag, or sleeping on the couch while Stiles sketches.

Stiles picks up on it without needing to be told and soon wraps a firm hand around Derek's wrist and leads him right back upstairs. He strips him out of his boxers with a teasing slowness that has Derek anticipating another one of Stiles's 'distractions'. Derek gets the zipper down on the hoodie, but Stiles slips away. And although Stiles leaves Derek sans clothing and tucked away in his bed, Stiles himself doesn't join him.

Derek watches as he drifts around the bedroom a minute instead, fingers trailing over the multitudinous books that surround them, like he has an intimate connection to each one.

"Here, read this," Stiles says, plucking a book off the shelf and tossing it to him. "Guaranteed to pull you into another universe and distract you for hours."

Derek stares at it. Then he laughs. He puts a hand over his mouth to stifle the reaction, but the more he tries to hold it back the funnier it seems.

"What?" Stiles asks, perplexed and perhaps even a little mildly annoyed.

Derek opens his mouth to explain. But he can't share the joke. Not all of it anyway, not the part about how reading a book about werewolves is hardly another world to him. And that's a sobering thought. The laughter fades so instead he sets the book aside and lays back on the bed, tucking his hands behind his head with a wry and secretive smile.

"What?" Stiles asks again, lips curving in suspicion.

Derek smirks up at him.

"What?" Stiles demands, shoving at his thigh and grinning at him. "Have you read it?"

Derek just shrugs. "More or less. I don't think I've ever actually sat down and read it in order in one go. But I guess you could say I've read it," he says, tilting his head and dragging it out. He sees the light go on in Stiles's eyes just before he finishes with, "Since I wrote it."

"No way," Stiles blurts, launching himself back onto the bed to grab up the book before Derek can pluck it away from him.

Though Derek goes along with the playful competition for the thing, Stiles is fast enough to manage to snag it with only a minor tussle that has them both laughing. He clutches it to his chest as he twists away from Derek, staking his claim. But after a moment he climbs up over Derek's lap anyway to make a seat out of his hips and lay it out on his chest as a table. Derek finds he doesn't mind being used as furniture.

"Wulfric Lyall," Stiles says aloud with an eyebrow waggle as his fingers trace over the embossing on the cover. "Mm, debonair."

Derek fights the urge to roll his eyes but doesn't manage to contain the derisive snort. His younger self had thought he was so witty, choosing wolf-related names for his pseudonym.

Stiles opens it, fingers smoothing over the paper as he reads over the dedication. Silently he turns to the first chapter and reads. Derek watches his eyes track quickly over the words, takes in his soft smile.

"I love this book you know," Stiles says absently, turning the page.

Derek doesn't know what to say to that, profoundly pleased. It's also inexplicably arousing, knowing that his words have already been inside Stiles, that they'd been connected long before he'd met him.

That and the fact that Stiles is still straddling his lap, clad only in boxers and slouching open hoodie, Derek's claims visible over his bared skin.

Though Stiles continues to flip through the pages of the book on his chest, his arousal doesn't go unnoticed for long. It would be hard to miss, really.

"Mm," Stiles says, a self-satisfied smirk edging onto his face as he shifts his hips, grinding down against him ever-so-slightly as he continues reading, not quite ready to give up his prize after so long a time spent searching for Derek's alter-ego.

Derek's in no hurry. He trails his fingers up Stiles's thighs, pressing his thumbs in a little on the pale expanse of his inner thighs, just enough to feel it. It's gentle without being delicate, exploring and appreciating every detail, every freckle and mole. He traces idle patterns against his skin, savoring the warmth of his presence, the sheer physical pleasure at their closeness.

Despite the fact that his focus remains on the book he's seeing with a new perspective, Stiles isn't immune to Derek's charms either. Before long his cock is straining against the thin cotton of his shorts, and eventually Derek nudges at the inseam to give it an outlet against his thigh, the tip pushing past the edge of the hem.

He teases his fingers almost idly over the hot, slightly pliant flesh, just watching him, watching his amber eyes darting back and forth as he reads, then as his breath and eyes catch and stumble more frequently, as his eyelashes begin to flutter. Watches his lips part further, and as his tongue wets them reflexively to smooth the passage of breaths that grow tighter and tighter.

Derek doesn't push up the pace himself, especially not after last night. He doesn't do anything but touch, explore one-handed over every inch of Stiles's lap.

Finally, with a groan, Stiles abandons the book and reaches down to pull himself up out of his shorts with an impatient tug. He lifts up a little to get his shorts a little lower, lodging the waistband down under his balls. Then he drags and kicks at the covers still bunched over Derek's waist, lifting each knee in turn until they are connected naked flesh to naked flesh.

Stiles leans back on his hips, running careful hands over their lengths, exploring in turn. Nudging them together and spreading around the little bits of slickness at their tips with his fingers. Today there's still daylight, still time to explore each other slowly instead of rush to completion or hold on to tenuous new intimacy in the shadows. Today is different. There's a gentle confidence in his touch as he rolls palms over them. Together they're too thick for him to get a hand completely around, but it's enough to tease, to pull arousal to center stage.

Eventually he shifts gears, curling one hand tight around Derek's erection. Slowly he starts stroking his fist up and down Derek's length, then wraps his fingers around his own dick and picks up a matching pace, jerking them off in tandem.

He lets Stiles direct things, though his own hands are hardly idle, running over his body and stroking over the long lines of his form. Stiles watches, eyes intent, lip caught between his teeth in concentration. He leaves things at that lazy pace a while, just enjoying watching the both of them, touching them. But soon Derek notices him tilting his head and licking his lips as he watches his hand slide over Derek's cock. His hand pauses and he presses the pad of his thumb in slow little circles at the base of the slit, teasing the bead of fluid gathered there, lips parting in anticipation.

Derek can practically see his thought process and decides to head it off this time, determined to even things out between them. He grips Stiles's hips and rolls them so that Stiles falls to his back with a surprised huff of breath. He stays slotted between Stiles's thighs, pushing his cock up against Stiles's hand. Then he slips one hand down to touch Stiles's. Derek drops his head so that his mouth hovers over Stiles's, just millimeters away, breathing in the breath that escapes his…

"Can I taste you?" he asks breathlessly, not finishing the thought and squeezing his hand so Stiles knows he's not just talking about his mouth.

Stiles's eyes widen and he nods wordlessly, fingers constricting reflexively around both of them before his hands slip away from their erections and move roughly up Derek's chest to curl around his neck. Derek tips his chin the last inch to kiss him, capturing that perfect mouth for a long, deep press of tongue and lips. He tastes the creamy coffee, the sweetness of those pink and white cookies. He tastes the shockingly familiar and yet terrifyingly new flavor that is uniquely Stiles.

When he has tasted Stiles's mouth to his satisfaction, Derek slips from his grasp and moves down on the bed, tasting the firm lines of him downward. He takes a detour down a collarbone to a distant shoulder, then back in over a nipple. He wends his way through the valley of his center line and the coarse hair that grows there. He skirts the divot of his belly-button twice, then climbs the gentle slope to the peak of his hipbone. Then finally, carefully, he draws his lips closer to their destination, towards the thick, hot flesh that throbs in anticipation of his touch. He waits, making himself sample everything around it, all the places he'd touched Stiles earlier, retracing his steps. But soon the temptation of his dick is too much to resist.

When he licks a long stripe up the length of it, Stiles shudders, biting back a curse, tensing under him. But when Derek glances up at him his face is split with an open, loose expression of happiness. Of trust. It almost hurts, feeling this deeply, connected in a way he's never felt before. He doesn't have the words to describe it. He has no way to verbally express the powerful desire to share it with Stiles. Instead he lets his lips, his tongue speak silently, using a language older than history.

Stiles edges up onto his elbows, watching him intently. He reaches up to curve a hand against Derek's jaw, rubbing his thumb along the line of him. Derek twists his tongue to drag along the slit and Stiles's head lolls back on a moan. When Derek picks up the pace, Stiles's hand slides up to tangle in Derek's hair, not directing him, just holding him. Before long he's murmuring a steady stream of panting yeses, fingers spasming at uneven intervals against Derek's scalp.

It's a beautiful thing when he comes, open, wild and shuddering. Derek savors the tart, bitter taste of him on his tongue. He slips him carefully from his mouth, then lets his head lay forward onto Stiles's chest, listening to the pounding of his heart as Stiles curls him close, fingers stroking through his hair. Eventually though he pushes down on Derek's shoulder, directing him upright.

"Come here. Bring that to me," Stiles orders, gesturing at his Derek's hips where his own erection lies untended and straining, then pointing a thumb up at his mouth.

Derek is more than happy to oblige him. He slides forward, rising up on his knees to straddle him as Stiles sits the rest of the way up, already reaching for him. He sets his mouth to him still a little breathless from his own eruption. He strokes him with his tongue and his mouth in quick little kips, light and intent. His abdomen tightens and after a bit the muscles begin to shake at the awkward angle. A fresh sheen of sweat breaks out on his skin. Derek tries to guide him back down but he refuses to budge, far too intent on what his mouth is doing to consider alternatives. Admittedly Derek is too and he eventually gives up nudging him and sets a steadying hand over his shoulder instead, supporting some of his weight so that he's free to move his head. It turns out it's just what Stiles needs to swallow him down, still breathing hard through his nose but determined nonetheless. Derek realizes that Stiles isn't the only one shaking when he lets out a caught breath as Stiles hums against his skin.

Stiles leans into Derek's supporting hand and sends one of his own hands down between Derek's legs. He strokes up the taut muscle of his thighs, then up to cradle the tightening weight of his balls. Those long, angular fingers slide further back to tease at sensitive flesh that makes Derek tremble.

It doesn't take much more after that. Some soft sounds of pleasure humming against his dick. A few twists of tongue and lips over the most sensitive places. A look in Stiles's eyes that Derek never wants to forget.

He holds Stiles close through his orgasm, trying not to hold too tightly even though Stiles's intensity paired with his desire for closeness urge him to do just that. He settles for letting Stiles mouth him until the very last tremors leave. When he finally does let him go, it's only for a moment so Stiles can lay back down in a boneless heap and Derek can sprawl to the space beside him, burrowing his nose against Stiles's shoulder. It's more than just taking offered comfort, and it's much, much more than just sex. But he pushes worries about the talk from his mind and accepts that things are as they are. He savors the good.

They lay together in a tangle of shortened breath for a long time, though neither of them seem to be headed for a nap. Once their breathing has evened out and their sweat cooled, eventually Stiles fumbles for the book - Derek's book, which has been digging into their ribs mostly unheeded. He swings to his feet and carries it back to the shelf. There he sets it back into a random gap elsewhere from where it had been before, true to Stiles's serendipity-based organizational system. He meanders a little further through the bookcases, eyes tracing the spines. Eventually he picks one up and holds it out to Derek.

"Okay. Have you read this?" Stiles says with a laugh.

Derek takes it from him, then takes his hand, twining their fingers together as he inspects the spine. He's familiar with the author, but not the book. He shakes his head.

"Good. I meant to, earlier, I mean, before we," he flushes in pleasure and squeezes Derek's hand. But his face stills after a moment and his eyes turn away. "A story to keep you entertained. I've got to…" he thumbs towards the door. "It's Saturday. I'm going to need to check in with Isaac, and it's probably going to take a while."

Derek sets the book down and nods his understanding. But Stiles steps away, looking tense again. He finds his discarded shorts and steps into them, but it's almost as though Derek can see him drawing subtle emotional armor down over himself as well. When he glances up at Derek, there's a guardedness there. But he knows it's not against him.

"I'll be here," Derek says softly.

The guard wavers. Stiles's responding smile is a wrinkled thing. When he turns and ducks out the door his shoulders curl down and his fingers drag along the doorframe as he disappears.

Derek frowns after him a moment. Sometimes he talks about it to Derek, sometimes he doesn't. He knows it's never easy on him, talking to his struggling cousin. Momentarily he's tempted to listen-in, but instead he wills himself to turn his focus to the book in his hands, the book Stiles has chosen for him. Eavesdropping is rude, despite his bad werewolf habits. But that thought only makes him think of Scott and the way he giggles and squirms over incoming cellular signals and how he never hesitates to stick his nose into any conversation he hears.

Stiles is right, of course, in handing him a book to read; Derek needs the total distraction from the world and accompanying hole in his chest that a good work of fiction can provide.

 

When Stiles returns it's with a benign smile on his face as he plucks a book of his own off the shelves. He silently curls up next to Derek on the bed. Derek doesn't say anything, doesn't try to poke at the barriers around Stiles, even though he feels the added distance like it's a physical thing. He gives him the space he seems to need despite the desire to claw his way back to the foolish level of intimacy he's allowed himself this day. He lets him be. And he's glad of it when Stiles eventually shifts to curl close against Derek's shoulder, breath warm on his skin.

They stay there for several hours, just reading in silence. Time passing in a pleasant manner is about the best he could ask for now. When evening approaches and their stomachs begin to request food, Stiles does grudgingly admit that dinner would be easier to eat downstairs than in the bed he's ordered Derek to remain in. Stiles recovers the glasses that have been sitting on the floor and puts them back on and tells Derek he's considering hiding his clothes though, just to keep him from trying anything. He's just teasing, though, and tosses his shorts and a borrowed sweatshirt onto the bed. Derek stretches with some shameless exhibitionism when he gets up, teasing right back and pointing out that he doesn't mind, though he gets dressed anyway when Stiles rolls his eyes.

The idea that a little bare skin would actually keep him indoors if it mattered amuses him. Clothes could be significantly more optional around werewolves than humans these days.

Not that Stiles knows about that.

He frowns and pushes the thoughts aside, following Stiles down the stairs. As lovely as the bedroom is, filled with all its books and accompanying frequently-naked librarian, the change of scenery is nice. His living-room is a fascinating place to be, filled with art and instruments and mismatched furniture. More to learn about Stiles than could ever be fit into words, really.

It gives him plenty to look at. Plenty of things to explore. And also serves to remind Derek of old questions.

"Do you hang any of your own art? The paintings, I mean," he says, curiosity hanging on the statement as he drifts to a halt in the middle of the room and squints around at the various pieces. "None of them seem like you."

There's a noticeable hesitation before Stiles shrugs dismissively as he heads for the kitchen. "No. Why bother. I've already seen it. I have friends who are artists and give me art sometimes. I'd much rather look at their stuff than my shitty attempts. Besides, I usually throw out my paintings. I just keep the sketches for, you know, for the stories."

Throws them out? Derek gazes after him in surprise, then paces closer to some of the art he can see hanging between bookcases over a stringed instrument he doesn't immediately recognize. "I guess it just seems like a medium that would suit you."

He gets a noncommittal grunt in response.

Derek decides to let the issue of the paintings drop, shifting to something he knows Stiles is pleased with. He gazes down at the drafting table where a sketchbook is sitting open to a page containing a few iterations of a bird in various positions. "Mind if I look at your drawings?"

After a moment, Stiles pokes his head back out from the kitchen.

"Oh. Well…," he says hesitantly, then gestures toward a bookcase near Derek's elbow by the drafting table. "Those are all my sketchpads. But please, for the love of god, start from the right side of the row and don't go past the middle. Nobody deserves to be punished with the 'early years'."

His voice, however, stumbles over the humorous edge he seems to be intending to include, as does his face. He disappears then, and Derek is left frowning after him. He doesn't open the sketchpads.

After a minute Derek follows after him into the kitchen. He finds him standing at the sink, fingers playing at the edge of it absently as he stares at nothing, lost in his thoughts.

"Hey," he says, moving closer and curling a hand over his shoulder and then across to settle at the base of his neck. "I'm sorry, I should have kept my nose to myself."

Stiles huffs a faint, mirthless laugh, though he leans in to Derek's touch. He shrugs and gestures with a frustrated splay of fingers. "No, why should you? I'm sorry. I'm overreacting."

"Somehow I doubt that."

Stiles flicks a glance at him and then turns, sliding close to lean against his chest. He leans his head down on Derek's shoulder, presses his face close in to Derek's neck, taking a deep breath that ends on a heavy, shuddering sigh.

"Maybe," he mumbles.

Derek just holds him, trying to be as steady and as patient as Stiles had been last night. Stiles's fingers curl in senseless little patterns against the hoodie fabric at the small of his back as he finds his center again. When his breathing evens out, he lifts his head and leans back a little, though he doesn't step away. He nods absently, then says, "I guess talking to Isaac lately, talking about his father… it's just. It's making it all come back."

"Tell me about it?" Derek asks. "If you want to."

Stiles looks up at him with those honey-amber eyes. Derek watches as the thoughts filter through his gaze as he weighs the words, watches as he slowly, carefully lowers his guard. Derek understands the layers of armor that protect the oldest wounds. Understands how hard it is to do what Stiles is doing.

"Yeah, maybe… yeah." Stiles takes his hand then, having come to some decision. He leads Derek back to the living room, planting them down on a different small couch, more of a chaise lounge that's far away from the drafting table. It looks like it might have been an antique piece at some point except it had been re-upholstered by a smurf. On LSD.

Derek waits silently, pressing close so that the warmth of their thighs together is a constant connection between them. Stiles runs a hand over Derek's shoulder, then slides his palm down to play with the cuff of the borrowed sweatshirt as he gathers himself. His fingers spread over Derek's, still hesitant.

"My mom… she was a painter." He says the words in a way that suggests a much deeper meaning than the simple act of painting.

"She painted that," he says, smiling faintly and pointing at a large painting hanging on the wall across from them, like it's the sole focal point from this couch. And then Derek understands what he means when he says painter. It's a landscape, simple enough in composition and palate. But it's so much more than its objective components. She had been a true impressionist, each and every stroke of the brush filled with a captured breath, a heart-beat. Filled with her spirit.

Stiles seems to get lost again, looking at it. After a moment he looks away from it sharply, then turns his gaze on Derek's hand where their fingers are tangled together. He squeezes, then slips his hand free to tap his fingers against his thigh in an outlet for his tension.

"Do you remember I told you how after my mom died my dad sent me to live with my uncle for a while?"

Derek takes a sharp breath and nods. "Isaac's father. The one who abuses him."

"Yeah," Stiles confirms, eyes tracking over the room as he brushes at his jaw with his knuckles and composes his next words. "Well, no big surprise, it only took about a week before he decided I was in need of some of his particular brand of 'discipline' too. Except, you know, I'm kind-of stupidly stubborn," Stiles says with a laugh that Derek can't share. Stiles tilts his head and adds lightly, "It's funny, but as it turns out, the more you smack me around, the more stubborn I get."

Derek doesn't find that surprising at all. He's seen for himself the bright-eyed and chin-lifted expression he imagines Stiles might wear in such a situation. He has to curl his fingers into his own palms against the anger that floods through him at the other things his imagination fills in for him.

Stiles shrugs again, staring down at his fingers as they curl together in his lap. "But he's not stupid, unfortunately, so eventually he changed tactics. Art was my weak point, something my uncle could use to get under my skin."

He rubs a thumb under his lip as he continues. "And, you know, now I understand what it was, that it was just abuse. But as a kid… It's hard to keep from…," he gestures helplessly, "I don't know, believing things. Especially about something so… intangible. So deeply personal. "

Derek sighs a tight, angry breath through his nose. But this isn't about him. It isn't about how it makes him feel to think about what it must have been like, or about how he would like to tear that man limb from limb. He forces himself to relax, to turn his hand over to settle firmly on Stiles's leg and extend what comfort he can silently. He doesn't take Stiles's hand, leaving it free to gesture the way Stiles needs to when he talks.

"Most kids would have just given it up, moved on to other hobbies. But… I needed it. I needed to keep my mom with me. So we drew our battle lines there, him mocking me and destroying my stuff, and me doing my damndest to make him as miserable as I could." He laughs bitterly then, tossing his fingers at himself in angry self-deprecation as he says, "At least until I figured out I was making things worse for Isaac with my rebellions. I'm kind-of amazed he ever forgave me for that.

The pain he senses from him is so deep that Derek has to stop himself from reflexively trying to draw it from him. He's not even sure it would work with emotional hurts, old ones, but if it did, the black veins would be hard to explain and worse for everyone than the temporary suffering.

"Anyway, unlike him I only got a year or so of that. Then I went home. Carried on with my life."

He shrugs, but despite having ostensibly reached the end of his story, the tension deepens in his body.

Derek continues the slow motion of his thumb on Stiles's knee, and after a brief hesitation, he prods, "But that wasn't everything."

Stiles blows out his lips on a sigh. "No, I guess not. And, uh… I guess it wasn't even the hardest part. I mean, with him I had something to fight against. When I went home, my dad wasn't… It's not like he ever meant to hurt me. He really didn't," Stiles says firmly, setting a hand over Derek's and sending a searching gaze his way. And then he realizes they're now talking about the man who currently has, in his capacity as Sheriff, sole care of Scott. It’s a severely uncomfortable realization. But after a deep breath he nods slowly, accepting the conviction in Stiles's voice.

"He had no idea what his brother-in-law had been doing. And he never discouraged me from trying to write down the stories. That family history was just too important. He just… he couldn't really handle seeing me paint, seeing the art she used to do - or at least my poor approximations of it."

"He… he loved my mom, so much. He loved everything about her, and painting was just… part of her. The smells and the space and the sounds. The movements."

His smile then is sad, lost in a memory for a moment. Then he blinks it away and shrugs. "So I pushed it into the sidelines, kept him from having to see it, even though I'd fought so hard to have it before. Eventually it became something that brought us closer together. Drawing for the stories anyway."

"But not painting," Derek says.

Stiles sighs. "Not painting. Painting's hard. Emotionally, I mean. I don't know how it is for you, but… for me, getting into the part of me where creativity happens, to open that part of me up and get it into the world… it's hard to do without the voices of my critics shattering the silence. Even if I can manage to clear my head enough to really paint, the thought of anyone seeing it is just…"

His fingers curl eloquently in the air in front of him and Derek nods his understanding, shows it through the gentle pressure on Stiles's knee.

"Yeah," Stiles says with a weighty sigh. He stares down at his hands, fiddling with the hem of his shorts as he takes an unsteady breath. After a long moment he huffs a faint laugh and tips his head back. Rolls his eyes.

"So. There you have it. Got all my baggage weighing down the night too, just what you needed."

"I don't know…," Derek says softly, taking his hand and running his thumb over his knuckles. "Seems to me that sharing the burden with someone can make it lighter for a while."

Stiles looks at him for a long, quiet moment. Then he smiles at him, that special, soft smile that is just for him. Derek doesn't even try to avoid acknowledging how deeply that look touches him. There's no space left in his heart for self-deception about how deeply he's become attached to this man.

Then the smile broadens into a grin and Stiles leans over to peck a kiss to his lips. "Well then I guess I'd definitely better get started with dinner. Gotta fuel all those muscles for that heavy-lifting," he says with a wink and a squeeze as he rises and heads back into the kitchen area.

It makes Derek smile, and he understands the deliberate attempt to lighten the mood. But whether it's because his protective instincts have been primed, or because he wishes he could but can't reciprocate Stiles's openness, he rises and follows him into the kitchen.

Though Stiles is busy washing his hands, Derek ignores that in favor of taking him by the hips and turning him around. His hands slide up to curve along his neck and up to his jaw, cradling it steadily as he places a deep, intent kiss to his lips. He puts everything into it, his own vulnerabilities and the raw, wild edge of his attachment. The breath that Stiles fills him with. The awe that it inspires in him. Tremulous hopes he has for a future and a family.

He can't tell him. He has no words accessible right now to express himself with. But he hopes that Stiles hears him anyway.

When he lifts his head he remains silent and gazes down at the piece of his heart he's holding in his hands. Stiles looks back at him with eyes that speak just as loudly, hands gripping hard at Derek's ribs for a long moment before he surges forward and takes Derek's mouth with an equal depth and intensity.

He hears him.

He speaks in kind.

They never get around to making dinner.

 

Hours later, after a slow, intense lovemaking, they curl together half-sitting up against the headboard. They're both awake, not quite ready for sleep, probably both more than a little hungry but not willing to break the spell of the waning moonlight peeking through the windows either.

Derek runs his fingertips along the edge of Stiles's temple, playing with the short soft hair.

"Y'know what? We need a bedtime story," Stiles mumbles against his chest, breath tickling the dark layer of hair. "My Dad will have read one for Scott, and he'll totally deny it but he does the best voices."

Derek smiles at the thought, forcing himself to accept that Scott is only gone temporarily, and is in good hands.

"I've told some, Scott's told some. It's totally your turn," Stiles points out, poking him in the ribs.

"But you're the expert fairytale storyteller, Doctor Stilinski."

"Doctor. God it's been a couple years since I finished that degree but that still sounds weird," Stiles mutters, grinning up at him. "Besides, you're the published author. Making up stories is, like, literally your job."

Derek laughs, but after a moment's thought he gets up, slipping out of Stiles's arms and into the rapidly-cooling evening air.

Stiles sprawls sideways on the bed with a surprised grunt as his support disappears. "Hey, hey, come back. No. Where're you going?" Stiles demands, making grabby-hands at him as he walks away.

Derek grins back at him, taking in the affected pout and delectably-bared skin. He concedes the moment and moves back over to the bed, leaning down over Stiles and brushing a soft kiss over his lips. But then he resumes his mission.

"I'll read you a story. I just need to get my family fable book." He'd seen it sitting on one of the endtables downstairs, placed carefully separate from everything else.

"Oh," Stiles says softly, a smile apparent in his voice. "Well in that case, proceed," he intones with regal affectation, earning himself a snort from Derek.

Derek makes his way downstairs quickly. He stands for a long moment looking out the front window, listening carefully for any out-of-place sounds. The other ground-floor windows get a listen too, each in turn. But before Stiles can get worried and come looking for him, he makes himself stop patrolling and instead raids the pantry for some chips before he retrieves the book and makes his way back upstairs.

The reading light is on and Stiles watches him with glinting hooded eyes as he steps into the room. "Naked men bringing me books and snacks. I must have done something good in a past life."

"Seems like you're doing pretty damn good in this one too," Derek says as he slips back into the warmth of the bedclothes.

Stiles snorts derisively and when Derek makes a hum of disagreement and leans down to kiss his forehead he makes an embarrassed sound and burrows his face into Derek's shoulder, curling around him tightly.

Derek just sits there a moment, breathing in against the unruly hair so full of Stiles's scents, his shampoo and sweat, and books and everything else in his life. It leaves him wondering what he'd done in a past life to be granted this. Then he lifts one of his knees to make it a sort of podium and starts flipping through the pages, looking for the right story.

Eventually his fingers pause on a drawing of two wolves howling up at an exceedingly-full moon. He presses a kiss to Stiles's crown. He doesn't play with voices or have the expressive range that Stiles does, but he's spent plenty of time reading to Scott and his cousins and nieces and nephews. He clears his throat, then begins.

"Once, long, long ago, there were two young wolves. They had each recently left their packs to start a new pack together. Times were good and food was plenty. The weather was warm but not too warm, and the whole world lay ahead of them to explore."

Stiles makes an appreciative sound, rubbing his cheek against Derek's chest where he can undoubtedly feel the deeper reverberations of his voice. "Yeah, you can definitely read me naked bedtime stories anytime."

Derek just huffs a laugh and contemplates pointing out that the reverse is just as true. "Any time you want," he says instead, then turns the page.

"One night Shewolf and Hewolf were playing in the woods exploring. They came upon a big lake, and on its sides were some tall curved rocks. They were formed in such a manner that when Hewolf let out a playful howl, the sound echoed greatly into the night sky.

Entertained by this find, the two of them played for hours, howling and listening to how far their cries could go. Though it was night, the full moon was so big and bright that they could easily find their footing among the rocks as they searched for the place that would carry their voices the furthest.

But soon they realized that the moon was even bigger than it ought to be. It was drawing closer than it had ever before, perhaps drawn in by the sound of their voices. They call up to her, but hidden among the rocks they are too small for the moon to see them. The lake drew the moon's attention, with water so still and big that the moon's image was reflected brightly upon it. In her curiosity, they watched as the moon drew down to gaze at her reflection.

So near to the earth was she that Shewolf and Hewolf felt they could nearly touch her. They climbed up onto a high rock beside the lake and leapt up to try and reach the moon which was so often far away.

To their amazement, their leaps were just far enough, so close the moon had come. They yipped in glee as they landed side by side on the moon in a cloud of shimmering dust.

It was nothing like anything they had seen before, swirling around them and catching on their fur, making them sparkle like stars. They chased each other and played like they often did, enjoying themselves thoroughly.

But Shewolf noticed that the lake was beginning to look further and further away. She cried out a warning to Hewolf and ran as fast as she could, taking a great leap that took her down from the moon, back onto the rock. Hewolf ran after her, but he was too late. The moon had risen too far into the sky, leaving him stuck on the moon with no way down.

Forlorn, Shewolf watched as the moon went on her merry way, unaware of her tiny passenger. Shewolf howled and howled, but the moon did not hear her and traveled past the horizon and leaving her alone."

Stiles makes a sympathetic and somewhat petulant sound, though he smiles up at Derek. Derek lifts his arm to stroke gently along Stiles's arm as he continues.

"She stayed there all the next day, waiting for the moon to return on her route. Determined, she stood on the highest rock, howling as the orb passed overhead. But the moon was not coming back, drifting through the sky far, far away.

Still, Shewolf did not give up. She stayed there at the lake, resting by day and howling at night. She howled by herself, even though she knew her single voice was not enough to draw down the moon. She had no other way to call to her.

She kept this up for many nights, until one night another wolf came by, drawn by her voice. He was traveling, looking for a new pack. He asked her what she was doing and she told him, asking if he might stay that night and howl with her. He agreed, and together they howled. Though they weren't certain it seemed that the moon dipped a little lower that night.

Encouraged, and glad of his new friend, the wolf decided to stay with her a few more days to try and help her. On the third day another wolf came, drawn by her curiosity. She was from a far land, but still of their kind. Shewolf explained her tale again, and the German wolf agreed to stay a while and help.

The moon that night dipped even lower, and this encouraged them even more. They decided that in the day they would seek out other wolves and explain the story, asking for help. Then at night seven days hence they would return to the lake and work together with whomever would come to call to the moon.

For seven days each wolf ran far and fast, calling to the wolves of the territory and explaining their quest. Some of those wolves in turn joined the hunt and with their help, spread the word far and wide. By the time they returned to the lake, wolves had come from near and far away, each following the trail of other wolves' howls. There were many different wolves, some of different sizes and colors, from many different places, but they were all there to help one another.

There were so many wolves at the lake that they nearly encircled it. When the moon approached, Shewolf began the howl. One by one the others joined her, creating a beautiful chorus that echoed around the basin. So unique and fascinating was this sight and sound, the moon once again drew down to the lake. This time they were so great in number, the moon could see their small forms. Hewolf was ready, having heard their call, and when the moon drew near enough, he jumped back to the earth to rejoin his mate."

Stiles reaches up and sets his fingertips to the page, preempting Derek from turning to the next one. He stares at the beautiful drawing of the two wolves reuniting. A soft smile spreads over his face before he drops his fingers and lets Derek continue.

"There was much rejoicing, and the moon was curious about the gathering. She asked them with a great booming voice why they sang so lovely a song so heartily and in such great number.

Shewolf replied that they sang to draw the moon down, so that they might see her beauty up close and thank her for lighting their way through the nights, which was true, albeit not the whole story.

Pleased, the moon thanked them. She asked them to sing to her again sometimes, and promised to always do her best to light their way. The wolves agreed, promising to howl their thanks to her when they could.

Shewolf thanked each of the wolves as the moon continued on her infinite journey. They each promised to keep an ear open and to come together again if they needed help or friendship. Many of the wolves left after that, going back to their packs in far off places. Some stayed with Shewolf and Hewolf, eager to follow them to new adventures.

Regardless, the tale spread far, and so began the tradition of the wolves howling on the full moon. But even more importantly it became their song to each other. The wolf's promise to help whenever they were in need of aid."

Stiles sighs, but it's a contented one. "Good story. Not like I need to point that out. Seriously, this book… I've liked every single other one I've read so far in there."

"It's hard to choose between them, but this is one of my favorites," Derek agrees. He hesitates a moment as he lets the page turn back to look at the wolves being reunited. It's something he's been raised to avoid, sharing things that might reveal too much, but he finds that he wants to share something of his adolescence too, to reciprocate Stiles's earlier openness. "When I was a broody teenager and moping over some unrequited crush or another, my Dad would sometimes read it to me. I didn't understand till I was older."

Stiles lifts his eyebrows in encouragement, a request for that understanding.

He should say something about how it was all about how much more complicated relationships were than the cartoons would suggest. That it was friendship and trust more than just crushes and flutters. That it was work, something to be fought for. Not a gift he was owed.

"I'd howl down the moon for you," he whispers, despite himself.

Stiles looks at him with luminous eyes, breath caught in his chest for a long, long moment. Then Stiles breathes out a shaky breath and kisses him softly. "I know," he says. Then he takes and closes the book and sets it on the end table. He kisses him once more, achingly gentle before laying his head back down on Derek's shoulder.

 

If only, Derek thinks as he turns off the light.

Chapter Text

He doesn't sleep much that night, spending long hours in the darkest time between when the waning moon sets and the sun rises. Thinking about how the actions of fathers affect their sons in far-reaching ways. Things that had seemed small at the time, like signing his parental rights off so that he would be one less barrier in the way of two happy new mothers… he had never thought about what that would mean if something happened to them.

He knows it's going to be an even harder day today, the newness of being at Stiles's home starting to fade and yet he remains unable to do anything but wait. Wait, and debate with himself how best to protect Stiles from further threats from hunters.

In the early hours before dawn he patrols the perimeter of the house. He checks doors and windows. Stands in shadows and watches what he can see of the outside. There's nothing there but a faint wind rustling the leaves of the trees and grasses. It makes him long for the vast territory of the ranch, for the freedom of the pack from human laws.

Abruptly he realizes that he has yet to call his family. He doesn't want to ask for their help, but he does need to warn them. When it's late enough to be reasonable he calls his parents, letting them know the basics of the situation. He doesn't think they'll be included in Kate's plans for mayhem, but he can't be sure. Better they be on their guard. They offer to send others down in support, but as per Lydia's instructions, he requests that they stay right where they are.

He calls Breccan in New York, not because they'll really have any worry, far enough from the problems, but because they're family. The promises of support and encouragement go a long way towards reminding him that Scott has a lot of people on his team. More than Kate.

Eventually he calls Peter, though he isn't looking forward to it. Kate is part of the reason Peter has been, more or less banished to Europe. The fact that he chose Paris is, in Derek's estimation, just a way of thumbing his nose at the Argents. He'd very nearly ripped Kate's throat out after… after Laura and Melissa and the others. The Argents had refused to convict Kate without proof, nor would the Hales condemn Peter for taking a shot at someone so accused. She'd survived her wounds and Peter had been taken away to Europe, so things had remained in a sort of limbo ever since. It wasn't ideal, but things hadn't blown up either.

Peter, however, doesn't take the news well. If he didn't know him as well as he did, Derek would probably miss the guilt that is layered under the dismissive sarcasm in his voice when Peter says he should have known that Kate's cold blood would save her from bleeding to death quickly enough, but that's how it goes.

"I assume that when I suggest that I come home and finish the job, you're going to tell me to stuff it and sit tight," Peter drawls, affected boredom reeking in his voice. He perks up then. "Isn't it fortunate that I don't answer to you."

Derek grunts, too used to him to be more than a little bothered at his mockery. He just shakes his head and says firmly, "No. I've got it under control,"

Peter barks a harsh laugh. "Under control? Kate's alive and you don't have custody of your son. I hate to break it to you pup, but that is not what we call under control."

"Lydia has it under control," Derek snaps back.

That silences him, and Derek can't really bring himself to regret the sharpness of it because Peter getting involved, no matter how much it might ease his guilt and desire for revenge, would only be bad for Scott.

"Ah," Peter says softly. There's a long silence and for a moment Derek thinks Peter might have hung up on him. But then he stands down with a quiet, "Then by all means."

"I just wanted you to know what's going on," Derek says quietly.

Peter clears his throat after a moment, then thanks him and says goodbye.

And as much as his uncle aggravates him, he misses having him around, regrets his circumstances. He wonders if that will change if everything works in their favor. Derek pockets the phone and patrols the house again. He checks that Stiles is still sleeping peacefully, sprawled sideways on the bed. He thinks about which windows are too small to escape through, which walls are just made of wood and drywall, and which have concrete in them.

Eventually he remembers that there are other things he needs to do than pace and worry about an assault on their location. He needs to follow Lydia's orders to get calm and presentable. The first step he takes towards that end is going to the kitchen, standing where he can look outside at the trees. He makes himself take slow, deep breaths, letting go of everything but his faith in Lydia's skills and in his own ability to do his worst and rescue Scott by any means necessary if things didn't go their way.

Stiles finds him there, staring out the large glass window in the back door. He slips his arms around his waist and sets his chin on his shoulder. They stand there together for a while in the morning quiet, and Stiles's simple presence does more to calm him than anything else he's done.

"We should go for a walk. Or go to the park."

Derek looks at him, then nods silently.

They have coffee sitting out on the back step. They take a walk around the neighborhood, Derek listening as Stiles talks about growing up not far from here. Talks about his graduate school. He doesn't mind that Derek hardly says a word, he just holds his hand and talks.

Later they get showered and properly dressed so they can go to the park as well. They walk along the small river together in silence, listening to the water. He thinks about Scott too much, but he refuses to fail in his mission to be calm and confident for the coming day. They eat hot dogs from a little stand.

Derek watches Stiles sketch passersby and revels in the gift of it, of this trust, now that he knows what it means for Stiles. When he realizes he may have to mourn its demise when he explains everything to Stiles in the end, he has to lay down and pretend to read to hide the pain on his face.

Eventually when the sun begins to set and they've squeezed every bit of distraction and peace that they can from the place, they go back to Derek's house.

It's both comforting and discomfiting. The air is stale, their scents faded and old. It wouldn't bother him but for what it means, that Scott's not there with him.

They order pizza and drink most of a bottle of wine, curled up together reading. Stiles's book migrates with them to Derek's house, and it makes Stiles smile when Derek puts it away on one of his own shelves when he finishes reading it instead of returning it.

Everything's a little dampened, a little soft. They don't have sex. They don't share deep secrets or hopes or anything that would intensify the day. The minutes are being passed as painlessly and smoothly as possible. Anyone looking from the outside would see a couple relaxing for a warm, cozy little night in. It's the only thing that keeps the ache in his chest bearable.

But when Stiles's phone rings it reveals just how shallow the veneer of calm is over them the way their attentions are both instantly focused on the little rectangle behind them on the kitchen table along with their other discarded objects.

Stiles jumps to his feet and hurries over. "It's my dad," Stiles says as he taps the answer button. "Hey Dad, what's up? How's Scott?" he asks immediately, much to Derek's appreciation.

"Scott's doing just fine. He's snuggled up on the couch watching A League of their Own right now."

Stiles shoots Derek a thumbs-up to signal the all clear, and Derek relaxes back on the couch as the Stilinski men exchange the usual greetings and pleasantries. His heart is pounding much faster than it ought to be. Derek pretends he's not listening to both sides of the conversation, but he can't risk not hearing what might be said if it concerns Scott.

"Listen, I want to talk to this Derek fellow of yours. Now I'm technically not supposed to be talking to your young man while I watch over Scott. But I can't really help it if I call my son and his boyfriend picks up the phone now can I? I presume he's still there with you?"

"Uh. Yeah," Stiles says, glancing at him before turning and drifting further away. "But why?" He gnaws on his thumbnail.

"Son, is there some reason I shouldn't talk to him? Problems with law enforcement?"

Stiles stops his meandering and scratches at the back of his head. "Well. No."

"Good, then I'm sure you won't have any trouble handing over the phone."

Stiles grunts. "You and your leading questions and reaching implications."

"Someone would think I was a lawyer or something."

Stiles huffs a laugh at what sounds like an old inside joke.

But his father sighs again, clearly not ready to let it go. "There some reason you haven't brought him by before? Or is he the one putting it off? You know I can't make an assessment if you don't bring him around for dinner, and you know I don't like being unable to make an assessment."

"I know Dad," Stiles hisses under his breath, heading further away into the kitchen and lowering his voice. A human wouldn't be able to hear his subsequent words. "But I'm not a teenager anymore. Derek isn't some high school crush who'll ditch me at the prom."

"Stiles-"

"I just mean now is not the time to start the 'grilling my date while cleaning your revolver in front of them' routine. This is… Dad, it's… He's-"

"I know," the sheriff interrupts gently. "That's my point. Seems to me you've gotten pretty serious here and yet the first I hear of it is you're bringing me someone's kid. All I'm saying is I'd like to be able to say I've talked to the man. Do you have a problem with that?"

Stiles pauses a moment, working that over. "Not really," Stiles says petulantly. "But-"

"Stiles, hand him the phone," he hears the Sheriff say in a tone that simultaneously holds warm amusement and a steely edge of authority.

There's a long moment of silence, and Derek can imagine the way Stiles's mouth is screwing up in frustration. But he isn't surprised when he hears Stiles mutter "Fine," and start making his way back to the living room.

"Here," Stiles says, walking back over and extending the phone. "My dad wants to talk to you." His face is a mass of conflicting expressions, and Derek takes it a little warily.

"Hello Sheriff?" Derek says.

"So, you're Derek."

"Yes sir," he replies. Stiles is watching him intently, fingers tapping a nervous tattoo on his crossed arms. Then he seems to realize what he's doing and turns sharply to pace away.

"My son says you're a good sort. Your son says so too, for that matter."

Though he's saying nice things, there's an air or professional skepticism in his voice. He'd find it amusing if he didn't take making a good impression on Stiles's father so seriously.

"I try to be," Derek replies honestly. More or less. It's not like he's about to announce to the man that his son is currently dating a werewolf or anything. He's honest, but not that honest.

"Well, I'd rather judge that for myself all the same," he drawls. "Once we get things straightened out for your boy, I'm expecting we can find the time to make that happen over dinner."

"Absolutely," Derek says, because as terrifying as the prospect may be, it's also important.

The sheriff sighs. "All right. That's settled then. I imagine you'd like to talk to Scott now."

"Yes sir," Derek says.

"C'mere kiddo," the Sheriff says, and he can tell by the sudden warmth in his voice that he's talking to Scott now. "Your Daddy's on the phone."

"Dad?" Scott's little voice says a moment later, flaring to life in his ear.

A rush of relief and warmth hits him at the sound, like the color and the light has been put back into the universe. A tension he hadn't even been aware of eases suddenly in his shoulders. He works to keep his voice from shaking as he says, "Hey pup. Hey. How are you, are you having fun? Are you behaving for the Sheriff?"

Stiles stops pacing and comes to sit on the other side of the sofa at the change in the conversation.

"Of course dad. He's the Sheriff," he says with an air of pride in his voice that has Derek smiling faintly. "And he's Stiles's dad."

Derek takes that to mean that he might be well behaved around the man regardless. But he's still a little relieved and pleased when Scott adds "I like him. He's funny. He's different-funny than Stiles but he tells good jokes. And he knows lots of things!"

"Good. That's good," Derek says, tipping his head back against the sofa, trying to keep his worries at bay and keep them from carrying over to Scott.

"Dad! Hey! Did you know that wolf cubs only weigh one pound when they're born?"

"That small?" he says with a laugh.

"The sheriff let me hold a box of butter because he said it was one pound. It doesn't weigh very much at all. How big was I when I was born?"

"Bigger than that. You were eight pounds, fourteen ounces," Derek tells him, smiling at the memory it evokes of Laura and Melissa cradling the tiny form and Laura pestering everyone with every little detail she could about her son.

"Oh, and today I learned that they can't see or hear when they're born either."

"That's right. That's why the mom finds a nice safe den to have her pups in," Derek replies, squeezing his eyes tight against the sting that pricks in the back of his throat.

"All right kiddo, time to say goodbye for tonight," he hears the sheriff's voice say in the background.

"Okay," Scott says, a little resigned but otherwise okay. Derek hangs onto that. That Scott is okay. That the sheriff will protect him. "Good night dad," Scott chirps.

"Good night pup," he replies, mustering up as much warmth and calm as he can put into the words.

He hears the phone change hands, so he isn't surprised to hear the sheriff's voice again. "Well Derek, I'm sorry to have to keep it short but…"

"I understand," he says, trying to school his voice back from the edge of emotion and into the range of normal.

"You can be sure I'll do everything I can to take good care of your boy. You have my word. I'm sure Stiles has relayed as much to you, but I thought you'd appreciate hearing it from me too."

He does. Profoundly. "Thank you."

"Just…," the sheriff pauses, then clears his throat. "Do the same for me."

Derek looks over at Stiles who is sitting on the other end of the sofa, knees tucked up to his chest, eyes intent behind his glasses and the torn edge of his sweatshirt cuff tucked between his teeth being chewed on. He's every bit the teenager he claims he isn't anymore, just like Scott is still that tiny bundle of eight pounds, fourteen ounces. He understands.

"I will," he says. "I will."

 

Once Monday rolls around and the city's work week begins again, everything becomes a blur. Lydia gets things rolling on her end the instant the clock ticks over to eight. Stiles has to go to work then, but Derek's busy giving Ms. Klein an interview anyway. He thinks it goes well and leaves a message for Stiles saying as much before he calls Lydia for his next move.

What's next is several long days of lawyers and social workers and sheriffs, of interviews and testimony and most of all, Lydia Martin. But if there's anyone he can trust with this, anyone who understands why he needs Scott back by the full moon, it's her. So he lets her do her job, he trusts his life to her, and she moves mountains.

Stiles gives a statement on his behalf, Boyd too. Lydia even manages to get a statement out of Chris Argent saying he's only ever seen good parenting from Derek when they've interacted at the library, and that Kate is erratic at best. Although he only catches a glimpse of Scott once in the courthouse, each day that goes by he feels more confident that it will work out.

The real clincher comes when Kate gets pulled over. After everything she's defeated by a routine traffic stop, her own mistake for refusing to bow to the laws of naïve human society. She ends up arrested for the illegal weapons she's carrying in the back of her SUV, the sheriff explains to Stiles, knowing he'll share the information with Derek. When Stiles hears that the deputy who'd made the stop was Greenberg, he laughs so hard that he cries, and then, after reassuring Derek that that was a good thing (something about Greenberg not being able to lie for shit, and since his dad hadn't put him up to it, there was no way anyone could question its legitimacy), promises to sacrifice a beer to the gods of irony and to never roll his eyes at Greenberg again.

After that her petition for custody is firmly declined, though Lydia rolls her eyes and says it certainly makes things quicker but it's the same outcome it was always going to be. Derek believes her when he sees the file Danny had compiled on Kate that ends up never seeing the inside of a courthouse - though it does, apparently, make its anonymous way into the hands of the ADA. With Kate out of the equation it's just a matter of getting the rest of the paperwork straightened out about Derek's role as Scott's father. It's then that Lydia promises him that Scott will be home by the end of the week, and if were anyone else he'd doubt it, but Lydia keeps her promises.

It takes a lot. For all her cool confidence, he knows it's not as easily done as she pretends. But she does it. She makes Scott officially his son again, with five minutes to spare before the filing clerk's and notary's offices locked their gates. She's crying when she calls to tell him the good news, happy, exhausted tears, and he doesn't know what else he can say but thank you over and over until she tells him to shut up and hangs up on him so she can make the last few arrangements with Ms. Klein.

And then, after that, it's done.

No hunters had returned to his or Stiles's doorstep. Peter hadn't appeared out of nowhere to rip Kate's throat out properly this time. The courtrooms had been quiet and nobody had called for order even once. There had been no insane rescue of Scott and a subsequent life on the run, or anything dramatic at all. Instead there'd been a lot of paperwork and talking and waiting, just as Lydia had foretold.

It's surreal, and would feel so very fucking anticlimactic if it weren't for how very real almost losing Scott had been.

When they arrive, Derek's standing in the driveway, just where he'd been when they'd taken Scott away. Stiles is pacing around in the grass, having long-since given up trying to stand beside Derek in favor of giving his nervous energy an outlet. In the hours after he'd finished Story Time and returned to Derek's house his calm has been steadily wearing thinner till he can't stand to hold still. Derek is conversely calm, never once moving from where he'd been right until the car pulls up to the driveway. The social worker gets out and quickly lets Scott out from the back seat, smiling at him as he bolts as soon as he's free.

Derek scoops him up tight, pressing his nose to his skin, drawing in the scent of him. Scott's arms lock around his neck like they're never going to let go again and he feels the tiniest prick of little claws on the back of his neck before they fade and are replaced by the coolness of tears falling against his skin.

Stiles comes to stand behind Derek, setting a hand on his shoulder, and the other stroking through Scott's hair as the little boy soaks Derek's shirt with joyful, exhausted tears.

"I'm sorry," Ms. Klein begins as she approaches more slowly.

Derek can't say the sight of her doesn't still unsettle him, but he cuts her off with a firm shake of his head. "No. Don't be. Thank you for doing what you thought was the best way to protect my son."

"Thank you," she says quietly, surprised.

He lets go of Scott long enough to extend a hand to her, and she takes it.

"Happy families are my favorite outcome," she adds, offering them a brief, genuine smile, followed by a professional nod before she turns to go.

Lydia arrives as Ms. Klein is getting into her car. She exchanges a cordial nod, then makes her way up the driveway as Ms. Klein pulls away, hopefully never to be seen again.

"Thank you."

Lydia glares at him. "You said that already."

It doesn't change the fact that he feels the urge to say it until he can't speak anymore. He forces himself to stay quiet as her face softens and she reaches out to set her fingertips momentarily against Scott's back. "He's safe, that's what matters."

Scott's face is still buried in his shoulder, his silent tears only just beginning to subside. Derek keeps stroking his back. "That's right."

They stand there for a while, till the tears have dried from all the faces, and Scott reaches for Stiles, who gladly scoops him into some marathon hugs of his own, twirling him around in the front yard as, chasing Scott's tears away with laughter.

Derek feels his throat tighten at the sight of his son and his… Stiles.

"Danny thinks he knows what happened now. I'm inclined to agree with him," Lydia says quietly to Derek, though she too is watching Stiles and Scott with an unreadable expression. "It started with her late husband, Melissa's father."

He wouldn't have guessed that, but Derek doesn't doubt the opinion of two of the smartest people he's ever met. "Why now though? He's been gone five years and Melissa more than one."

"The money," Lydia says with a sigh.

"The money," Derek says flatly.

"I did a little checking, looking over Scott's records. You wouldn't have been privy to this before, but now as his legal guardian, you can be. His grandfather's money goes to him in a trust with his mother gone. Kate can't touch a penny of it, not without being his guardian. She might not have realized that would be the case since you made no move to claim it this last year. I can't pretend to know the entire state of her finances or her plans, but I presume she realized that her portion was running out faster than expected, leading her to…" she swirls a finger at Scott and the surrounding metaphorical area.

"Over money," he repeats, incredulous.

Lydia flicks an errant curl back over her shoulder and kips her eyebrows in agreement. "I'm going to investigate further now that I have legal right to do so, but the point is, there's money for Scott. Fortunately she burned through most of the liquid assets and probably played most of her cards, so I don't think she'll have reason or resources to go to the trouble again any time soon. And if she does…," Lydia says, face going hard "I'll be ready."

Her face brightens automatically as Scott and Stiles come near again. Scott seems unwilling to let go of Stiles, but is intent on hugging his dad again, so he ends up on Stiles's hip with Derek's arm slung around the both of them.

"Lydia, thank you," he says when she glances over at her car like she's considering the appropriate time to leave.

She scoffs, but Derek reaches out and grips her shoulder with his free hand. "Seriously, thank you."

She tilts her head, mask wavering for the merest instant. "Well, after all, we're practically family." Her gaze softens even further as she glances at Scott, then runs her knuckles down his cheek affectionately. "Isn't that right, pup?"

Scott yips in reply, forgetting himself in all the excitement. But Stiles just laughs, charmed.

Practically. Despite her smile, he knows the word hurts her and Derek frowns at the sadness in Lydia's eyes. "If you ever want me to talk to Peter-"

"Well," she interrupts with faux brightness. "I should be getting back. Just wanted to make sure you all got home safely," she says, mask firmly in place once more, case closed. It's an old discussion that's been had several times. Honestly he should know better than to bring it up again. If Lydia ever changes her mind, she knows where to find him.

He thanks her again and regardless of her glare, and she heads out. Scott howls in farewell, half climbing onto Derek's shoulder to wave as she leaves. Then, finally, he wraps his arms tight around his son and takes Scott inside, Stiles at their side.

Home.

Scott spends a few minutes racing around the house, dragging his fingers over everything and renewing his scent everywhere he can reach. Stiles laughs and goes into the kitchen to make coffee while Derek just watches them and for a moment Derek lets himself give in to the delusion that he has everything; his cub and his mate, no secrets, no sword of Damocles on the horizon. But it isn't true, and it isn't long until Scott and reality comes hurtling back into his arms.

"I got you some new books for when you got home," Derek says, "And Stiles picked out some of his favorite young adult library books for you."

Scott makes a pleased little roar, too excited to bother with words as he smushes his face harder against Derek's neck.

"And there's ice cream and we can make whatever you want for dinner and…" and Derek runs out of words because his throat is too tight and he just buries his face in Scott's neck, trying to get ahold of his breathing as the reality of it all finally hits home.

The emotional high of the return is unsurprisingly coupled with a sharp downturn shortly thereafter. Scott starts crying again and Derek knows almost immediately that these aren't happy tears.

"What's wrong pup?"

"I remember now," Scott says, voice hot as he starts pushing at him, face contorting in anger. Derek kneels down and lets him stand on his own two feet, lets his son shove himself away from him even though his instincts demand he never let him go again.

Stiles comes out of the kitchen at the change of tone, eyebrows lifted in a question that Derek can only answer with a bewildered shake of his head.

"You didn't tell me," Scott accuses, hands curled into fists at his side, body stiff and intent as a javelin.

Derek curls his palms around Scott's shoulders, ducking his head to look him in the eye. "What, pup, what didn't I tell you?"

Tears are rolling down his cheeks, dripping from his chin as he says, "They're hunters. They are all hunters. The Argents."

He closes his eyes briefly. He hadn't thought to prepare for that particular consequence of Kate's actions.

"Allison was going to be my friend," Scott accuses, voice shaking on the word. "My best friend. But she will kill me."

As he tries to formulate a response, Derek glances reflexively at Stiles, who is looking at them with narrowed eyes, not missing a word. He clears his throat and focuses back on Scott as he carefully says, "Chris said that he and Allison are different. That they're not like the rest of their family. Not like Kate."

Scott thinks it over a minute, but his face is dark with the stress of the last few days. "I don't like her anymore," he decides.

Derek sighs. "Why don't we get you a bath so you can get settled in at home, huh?" he suggests in an effort to deflect the conversation and avoid overly-emotional decisions, offering his hand to Scott.

Scott deliberates a moment, then takes it. "With bubbles."

"Definitely with bubbles," Derek replies. He looks over at Stiles as he straightens. When Stiles meets his gaze, Derek can see the little questions turning over in his mind. Derek offers him a smile. "Want to stick around? I know we've monopolized your time-"

"I'm good here," Stiles interrupts, smiling at them.

Derek pauses a moment, thinking about just how very true that is on a number of levels. "Yeah," Derek murmurs.

 

By the time the tub is half full of water and massive bubbles, Scott's in a much better mood again, brightly refusing Derek's help in getting undressed in favor of doing it all himself. Stiles arrives soon after, bringing everyone some juice along with a book tucked under his arm. When Stiles shows Derek the book and lifts his eyebrows in query, Derek just smiles and nods, warmed that Stiles would know just what to pick.

When Stiles offers to read the next chapter of Wolf Heart to him, Scott nods so emphatically that he almost falls off the edge of the bathtub where he's sitting to reach his socks.

"Where were we?" Stiles asks, sitting on the toilet lid and flipping open the book.

Scott has to think for a moment and then says "Chapter five."

Stiles thumbs to the chapter in question. He begins, reading casually. Scott isn't really listening and Stiles doesn't seem to care. The story's not really the point this time.

For the most part Scott is just glad to be home, determinedly scrubbing each of his bodyparts with excessive amounts of his children's soap. Of course he stops to chase the bar every few minutes when it slips from his fingers, making a ridiculous amount of noise and getting suds everywhere.

With Scott engrossed in settling in and Stiles watching over him, Derek slips out into the hall to make the phone calls to the family to tell them everything is all right.

At the ranch it's Lilly who answers the phone, which she claims is because everyone else is busy eating dinner. He laughs when he hears Cora in the background calling BS and saying that Lilly's been camped by the phone all afternoon. Lilly just huffs in annoyance and demands his update. Her teenage ennui shatters into a pleased shout of "yes!" when he tells her the news, and then the phone gets wrested from her grip by the rest of the pack for a series of heart-warming but completely un-followable mishmash of half-spoken congratulations as they fight over the handset.

Peter complains that Kate is still alive and not-so-surreptitiously asks after Lydia. Derek tells him he's an idiot if he thinks that will get better on its own. Peter pretends not to understand and Derek doesn't waste any more breath.

Breccan orders him to get up and patrol every few hours in case of hunter retaliation and he points out that he's not a pup anymore and he was going to already. Breccan snorts and tells him that he's always going to be his kid brother and makes vague plans to come out west for a visit.

He's smiling when he walks back into the bathroom. Stiles pauses in his reading to glance up at him and with the way his eyes narrow slightly behind his smile, Derek wonders how much he'd overheard, how much he'd forgotten to watch his tongue in his joy.

"Everyone's really happy you're home," he tells Scott, who smiles up at him, looking tired. "They all told me to say hi."

"No they didn't," Scott says, rolling his eyes. "Uncle Peter didn't."

Derek stifles a wince over his announcement of something he clearly couldn't have heard were he a human child. "Well I'm sure he meant to."

Scott cracks a yawn instead of replying, and Derek squats down to unplug the drain. "Let's get you to bed, huh?"

"I don't want to," Scott says petulantly, even as he yawns again.

"How about just a little nap, Scott? You'll feel better if you do," he says as he lifts Scott out of the tub. He realizes instantly it's another mistake, taking the task out of Scott's hands that he could probably have managed himself.

Scott's face turns mulish and he shoves away from Derek angrily and stomps over to retrieve his towel by himself. "No! I don't want to go to sleep. I want to play in the yard and read the book."

"Okay, that's okay," Derek assures him.

But Scott's too tired. He can see it in his every motion, and when he tries to dry himself off, he keeps losing hold of one end of the towel, making it very difficult to reach the bubbles still sticking to his back and legs. Eventually he heaves a sigh and turns, marching back to Derek again.

"Can you please help me?" he asks, still sounding petulant, but without any more traces of anger in his voice.

"Sure pup," Derek says softly, taking the towel from him.

But not long after Derek starts rubbing him dry, Scott starts whimpering. And when Derek puts a hand on his back to steady him while he turned to his feet, Scott bursts into tears, throwing himself against Derek's chest.

"Daddy it smelled wrong. Everything was wrong and the room was supposed to smell like Stiles but it was old and different and the sheriff was nice but the soap was the wrong soap and-"

"Shhh, shhh," Derek says, rocking him back and forth, but Scott can't seem to stop now that the dam has sprung a leak. Stiles stands in his peripheral vision and quietly gathers their juice glasses, looking a little anxious and like he needs something to do with his hands.

"And I couldn't remember how far away the full moon was and I got scared because they'd kill me and I tried not to but I -"

Stiles pauses in the doorway, and when Derek looks up at him he's frowning. When their eyes meet he can see the questions boiling over in his mind, confusion and concern and doubt warring for their place on his features. Whatever he sees on Derek's face only makes it worse. Derek closes his eyes and turns his face into Scott's hair, shoving away the spike of fear about the approaching storm in favor of comforting his son who's hiccupping out his confessions.

"I scratched the pillow and I didn't mean to but feathers got everywhere and you weren't there and you were supposed to be there but you weren't and-" he gasps for breath and it comes out as a choked sob. He hears Stiles's tread on the stairs, giving them space.

"You're home, I'm here," Derek says, over and over again until the sobs turn to sniffles and Scott lays exhausted in his arms. They stay there for a little while, Derek stroking his fingers through Scott's hair, leaving his scent behind. Then he finishes toweling him off and carries him into his room. He helps him into his pajamas, then tucks him into bed.

His eyes are already more closed than open and Derek turns on the night-sky lamp and draws the shades down against the late afternoon sun. He doesn't think about what's waiting for him downstairs, keeping his heart rate steady by sheer force of will. Scott comes first. He always comes first.

"I want my moms," Scott murmurs.

Derek retrieves the framed drawing of the two wolves Stiles had given Scott and sets it on the windowsill where Scott can see it laying down. Then he sits on the side of the bed, resting a big hand against a little heart, rubbing slow, soothing circles.

"I'll be right here if you need me, I promise."

Scott nods slowly, not even opening his eyes. It's only a matter of moments before his breathing levels out and his body finally relaxes the rest of the way. Derek stays there a while, watching him sleep. It's only when he's certain Scott is well and truly settled in his bed and deeply asleep that he rises.

He knows that things are not done for the night. He can feel the tension in the air, the tension around the bond he's let grow foolishly strong between himself and Stiles. It's difficult, making himself walk down the hallway and start down the stairs. He's known for a while now that this would be in his future with Stiles. Logically he'd known it would be coming sooner rather than later after the whole debacle with Kate. But still, it hurts to realize that this is another thing she's going to interfere with. Because there's no dodging it anymore. He's been seeing the signs all day.

Stiles is sitting on the couch, hands dangling in his lap as he stares off at nothing. His sweater is laying on the coffee table, his glasses on top of them. His eyes are a million miles away. There's a tension about him, a brightness that stands in sharp contrast to the bland grey paint and half-empty bookcases around him. It screams mockingly at Derek that Stiles is still an outsider. That his foolish little dream home is built on sand that's already being washed away by the tide.

"You want to know."

It's not a question. He can tell by the set of Stiles's shoulders that he's bearing something heavy and tangled on his thoughts.

"Yeah. Derek, I tried…" He frowns down at his hands, fingers fiddling with the metal wristband of his chunky watch. "I tried to ignore it but I… I think I need to know. The stuff you said you'd tell me if I asked? I think I need to know."

And there it is.

He takes a slow breath and then sits on the edge of the couch next to Stiles, shifting so he can face him.

"Before I do…," he pauses, pressing his face into his hands a moment as he takes a steadying breath. It doesn't help. Especially after the last few days, the weight of the impending loss is too great on his heart. Oh, he has hope, he has that painful, exquisite light of what-could-be in his chest. After all, if there's anyone who might believe him, who might adjust to the living fairytale monster in front of him, it would be a man who could write twenty-five pages of his dissertation on spinning-wheels in folklore.

But there is still a loss to be had, a price to be paid. One way or another, everything between them is about to change, and even if it goes as well as it possibly could, he'll never be the same again in Stiles's eyes. He tips his face up towards the ceiling, because it hurts. He swallows it back, hands hanging loose from his wrists as he lets out a frustrated sigh.

But change is inevitable. And he'd chosen to take a chance on love.

Stiles takes his hands after a moment, giving them a comforting squeeze. Derek draws them up to his lips, kissing his knuckles softly. He closes his eyes as he holds them to his lips, drawing in the warmth, the achingly-familiar scent of him. Then sets them down on Stiles's knee so he can reach up to cup his jaw. When he kisses him it's slow, deep. Painful, for him anyway.

"God, Derek," Stiles says when he lifts his head, voice low and tight. "Why are you kissing me like it's the last time you'll ever see me?"

Derek looks away, hands fading back to his lap, swallowing against the burn in the back of his throat. "Because it might be," he says faintly.

Stiles just stares at him.

He clears his throat roughly and explains, "There's a chance that your response to what you're asking me to tell you would be to walk away and never look back."

Disbelief flickers over Stiles's features.

"You wouldn't even be wrong to do so," Derek adds with a mirthless laugh. Silence answers him, unsurprisingly.

"Even if you change your mind about asking, I don't think we could pretend it away. You'd be too curious, and it's… it's too much a part of me to hide much longer," he concedes, for himself as much as for Stiles. "Even if we could go back to the way things were, we'd never be able to move forward from here."

"Oh." Stiles turns his gaze down at his hands a moment, rubbing long fingers together till they're tangled into a knot. When he looks up at Derek he's already looking scared.

And suddenly, having taken a chance on love, having brought Stiles into their lives seems like a horribly selfish decision. What he's about to do to Stiles… what he's already done… But it's too late to change that. Derek scrubs a hand over his mouth and sits back. He takes a steadying breath and forces himself to forge ahead. Although he does not feel prepared to do this, his heritage has prepared the starting point for him. These words he already knows. "So before you make that decision, there are a two things you need to know. First, lives depend on this information remaining secret."

Stiles is silent a moment, then he blinks and clears his throat, nodding firmly. "Okay," he says, voice soft but confident.

Derek pushes aside his emotions and focuses on the words he'd been taught when he'd left the ranch for the first time to make his way in the world. He hadn't understood then why they'd made him memorize it, why they all had to memorize it. He does now. "For that reason, there are only two situations that permit me to tell you what you're asking me to tell you. One is if it's necessary to save lives. The other is if it becomes integral to a deeply important relationship's progress."

For mates. That's what the words mean. He pauses to flick his eyes over to Stiles's face. "It's…," he shakes his head, at a loss for the right word. "We're at the latter," he says softly, and Stiles swallows, nodding in understanding or agreement, he's not sure which.

"Second, if I tell you, you will also be bound by those two rules."

Stiles smiles faintly at him, probably trying to lighten the mood as he says, "That part doesn't sound so bad."

Derek turns his head and says flatly, "Except for the life-or-death feature."

The flicker of a smile fades to nothing. "Oh."

He sighs. "It's not just my life or Scott's life that are entwined with this secret, but any number of other people's lives." He takes a deep breath before he sighs and says, "Including your own."

This time Stiles's voice goes faint as he says, "What?"

Derek closes his eyes to gather his strength before he meets Stiles's gaze again. "Knowing some of these things will mean that you will face some of the same dangers Scott and I face, especially if you choose not to cut us out of your life. And not only that, but there is a more direct threat to your life in that if I knew you were going to break your promise, I and others like me, would be duty-bound to stop you."

Stiles is nothing if not quick on the uptake. "Stop me? You mean kill me," Stiles says, head tilting back in dismay.

Derek holds his gaze as he responds, "If there was no other way? Yes."

After a brief, incredulous pause, Stiles gets up, plucking his glasses from the table. For a heartstopping moment Derek thinks he's made his decision already at those terms and is walking out. But he just starts pacing around the living-room, face tense as he thinks it over, tapping his frames against his palm repetitively until he snaps them open and slides them back into their normal position on his face.

"God, my mind is going crazy with all these fucking ridiculous hypotheticals," he mutters, fingers sprawled on either side of his temples for emphasis as he jerks to a halt. "It cannot possibly be any worse than what I'm already imagining."

Derek doesn't argue, since he knows how powerful Stiles's imagination really is. But he doubts it. He watches for as Stiles resumes his pacing for another minute or two before he stops again and turns to face him.

"So. Scary rules. Like, really, ridiculously terrifying rules. But when it comes down to it, all I really have to do is keep a secret?" he says eventually.

"Yes," Derek says.

His face softens then, looking at him. Stiles comes back over to him, hands coming to rest on Derek's shoulders. He rubs his thumbs in slow circles there as he stares down at Derek's upturned face. His eyes dart back and forth as he looks at him, lips half-parted in that perfect bow.

"This is real," he murmurs, hands slipping up to curl into Derek's hair. "You and me."

Derek swallows, and holding his gaze he firmly says, "Yes."

Stiles nods once, twice, then lets him go and resumes his seat on the couch. "Okay. Tell me."

He doesn't ask if he's sure. Instead he gets to his feet and walks over to one of the bookcases lining the wall. It doesn't take him long to find it. After all, he'd set it out for just this reason not so long ago - though he'd expected to have more time to work up to it. To plan it out. He's not entirely convinced this is the way to go. But it seems… Stiles understands stories. It was the only way he could think of to make this easier.

"Have you read this?" Derek asks, handing him the book.

Stiles frowns faintly at the non-sequitur but takes it from him. "I have," he says after he glances at the title. Then he laughs softly as he notices the author's name - or pseudonym, in this case. "It's one of yours," Stiles adds faintly, tilting his head as he reads the jacket, probably to refresh his memory.

He knows what it says; A routine vacation turns into a paranormal nightmare - but not the way you'd expect! A family of werewolves on vacation in Yellowstone comes across the one predator they can't outgun; human hunters, out for their blood. When they get separated from their family during an attack, teenage werewolf Robbie and his sister Jade must rely on their fledgling powers and the bond of family to fight for their lives in this hair-raising adventure.

"Not just that," Derek says, curling his fingers into his palms and staring at them as he says. "I didn't just write it," he explains softly. "I lived it."

Stiles glances at him sharply, confusion and concern warring for priority on his features. "Someone tried to kill you when you were a kid?"

Derek hesitates on a frustrated breath before admitting, "Yes." But that's not the point. He frowns as he sits back down and tries to figure out a way to make it clear enough without just saying it flat out. A way to let Stiles put the pieces together in his own way. He stares down at his hands as he says, "Hunters tracked me and my family on our vacation and tried to kill us when I was just barely a teenager."

"Hunters," Stiles says, eyes narrowing over the word.

"Yeah."

Stiles's face goes slowly blank. Like he's unable to process it but he already knows. He just stares at Derek. "You don't mean bounty hunters. You don't mean witness protection or…,"

Derek slowly lifts his gaze to meet Stiles's.

"You're always busy on the full moon," he says, voice tinny and faint.

Derek just watches his face, listens to his heart-rate as it climbs steadily higher, like they're climbing to the peak on a rollercoaster, past the point of no return and the big drop is just ahead.

"Wolves have 42 teeth," he says, sounding almost giddy as he chokes back a laugh. "Wolves…," he falters, then pushes roughly up from the couch, book tumbling from his lap to the floor as he backs away a pace before jerking to a halt.

Derek stays still, just watching, doing his best to be as unthreatening as he can manage. He can see him processing. See him consider the idea that this is all some sort of sick joke, then start tallying up each of the little hints and inconsistencies. The months. Too many things to be anything but the most insanely elaborate… His eyes dart back and forth over his memories as the rest of him just stands there, frozen.

And then everything stops.

Slowly his eyes climb until they're meeting Derek's again.

"Werewolf," he says, voice flat.

Derek purses his lips and nods.

Stiles takes a hollowed breath that doesn't go anywhere, like it's trapped in his throat. "Scott?" he asks, voice shaking.

"Yes," Derek says, voice barely more than a rough whisper.

Stiles's fingers flex and curl almost spasmodically. Then he curls his hands up over his arms and shakes his head slowly. He takes a long string of too-shallow breaths, but they don't help. "No. No I… I think I'm gonna need… I need some proof." He swallows awkwardly, pointing to the book on the floor. "If you really are the boy in that book, then you can show me, can't you?"

Derek grimaces. But when Stiles looks at him expectantly he sighs and says, "St-,"

"Can't you?" Stiles demands again, interrupting him, chin angling up stubbornly, eyes going a little wild with defiance. "Which is it Derek? Can you or can't you?"

"Yes," Derek says, frustrated. "But I don't think that's a good idea. Not until you've had some time to… process," he finishes lamely. Control of the situation is rapidly slipping through his fingers. If he'd ever had any hold on it at all.

Stiles huffs a mirthless laugh. "Believe me, I don't want to see proof. But I need to. Right now."

Derek closes his eyes. He doesn't want to do this. He doesn't want to know what it will be like when Stiles looks at him as the monster he is inside. But it is his only chance to salvage what's left of Stiles's trust.

"Alright," he says softly. And like a coward, he doesn't meet Stiles's eyes before he stands and moves further away, into the empty space in the center of the room. Giving him distance to lessen the impact.

But he can't hide. He looks up as Stiles follows him, moves right out in front of him, face a mask of false confidence as he crosses his arms over his chest. Emotion is high in his eyes though his face is stiff, showing none of the man Derek has spent so much time with the past week. The man he's afraid he's already lost.

There's no point in delaying. Derek gives him a tight nod and then bows his head, closing his eyes. He starts slow, with a few deep breaths. He rolls his shoulders, tightening the breath in his chest as he pushes, uses the fear and anger and pain of the last few days to send the adrenaline surging through his system.

It hurts more like this, going slowly, doing it without the moon, without anything but his will driving it, and he tips his head back on a growl he tries to stifle as his fangs descend and his claws erupt from his fingertips. His body curls, arching his back a little to accommodate the swelling and tension of his muscles. But he's able to contain it there. Years of practice have given him that ability. That control. And for a moment, the thrill of letting his primal side loose has a rush of exhilaration flooding through him.

But when he lowers his eyes and finds Stiles's stunned, horrified face looking back at him, it drains from him so quickly he almost crumbles. He locks his knees and closes his eyes again, shutting out the pain as he lets the wolf fade from him entirely.

"You're not human," Stiles whispers.

"No," Derek agrees, forcing his eyes open again. But this time he can only lift his eyes as far as Stiles's torso. He can still hear Stiles's heart-beat running a panicked gallop in his chest.

Stiles surges closer, and the move jerks Derek's gaze up to his face. "This whole time you've… was it-," he cuts himself off with a choked laugh. Then he laughs again, an awful, bitter sound. "You know what I almost just said? 'Was any of it real?'." He gestures in time with his sarcasm and lets out another bitter bark of laughter. "Talk about cliché," he spits, eyes wide, so wide and furious and reflecting so much light, glassy with unshed tears.

"Stiles," Derek pleads, reaching for his hand.

"Don't touch me!" Stiles snaps, jerking away from him. As he should've known he would. Exactly as he should've known he would. His eyes might not be glowing anymore. His fangs and claws are long gone, but they're not something Stiles can un-see. The monster is always going to be there. He closes his eyes and curls his hands in tight against his chest.

"I won't," he says softly. "Never without your permission."

Stiles's breathing is ragged in the silence. Too fast, too heavy, just like his heart-rate. Derek's own breath is uneven, trying desperately to match Stiles's, to do something, anything to bring them back into sync. He opens his eyes to meet Stiles's gaze and slowly lets his hands drop to his sides, leaving himself completely open. Defenseless. He feels like his very soul is laid bare for Stiles to do with as he will.

Stiles's eyes are hard on his face and he might even seem calm but for the fact that his hands are shaking against his arms where he has them crossed over his chest. But he moves forward anyway, moves closer to Derek. There's a flicker of hope behind the hardness. Hope, then pain. But at least it's not that awful bitterness.

"Stiles," he whispers. Unshed tears are bright in Stiles's amber eyes.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" Stiles asks, voice raw. "How am I supposed to…"

"Just sit down, give yourself some time to process it," he tries. "It's… it's not. When you get used to…," he fumbles, but it just makes things worse. He can see the instant when it changes in Stiles's eyes, when his brows draw down and the tears spill over.

"Stiles please," he begs, hands coming up in his desire to wrap Stiles up into his arms and then stopping before he can touch him. "Please," he says, drawing Stiles's eyes back to his, and for one wonderful, horrible moment he thinks-

"No, you know what? Fuck you," Stiles blurts, pushing away from him and swiping an angry hand over his cheeks, flinging the teardrops from his fingers.

"Fuck all of this," he says, voice breaking as he does so. He turns and fumbles his way towards the door, breath catching in his throat as he goes. "Fuck everything."

"Stiles. Please. Please don't go," Derek begs again, voice raw and desperate, because he can't stop him any other way.

Stiles does jerk to a stop with his hand on the doorknob at his name. After a moment he twists his head back towards Derek, though he doesn't lift his eyes above the level of his knees. "You have my word," he says, voice raw. "For what it's worth." His laugh is a broken, ugly thing. "It's not like anyone would believe me."

And with that he's pulling the door open and disappearing into the night without another word, leaving only silence in his wake.

Chapter Text

Silence remains the status of things between them. For Derek's part, he doesn't call or text. He doesn't go to Stiles's house or back to the library either.

He can't.

If he'd been human, if this was just some stupid fight, he'd have fought. He would have done whatever it took to make sure Stiles knew how he felt before leaving him alone to make his decision.

But as a werewolf, centuries of his kind's experience gives him other guidance that he cannot ignore. It changes things. Things like the sweater Stiles had left would be the perfect sort of excuse to drop by Stiles's place if he were human.

That's not how things work for werewolves. Once you've revealed yourself as a wolf, humans almost universally felt vulnerable, more vulnerable than ever before in most cases. If you pursued them, even a little, they felt hunted. Cornered. Afraid.

Though it wasn't impossible to come back from that, to overcome that hunted feeling and rebuild, it was… rare. Practically unheard-of, in fact.

So the sweater stays on the coffee table, untouched. He waits instead.

When his phone doesn't ring and Scott asks what's wrong he plays it off as nothing, and when Scott asks for Stiles, he makes excuses. He gives Scott all of the attention the pup can stand, soothing his leftover fears about Kate and hunters and distracting the both of them as much as he can manage.

And the rest of the time… well, he waits. He holds on to the fact that although he doesn't hear from Stiles, there's one event that also doesn't occur. The book of family fables does not show up in the mail or on their doorstep. And that… that means something. He feels almost certain that Stiles would not keep the book if he was gone for good. He has too much respect for it.

It's why he doesn't tell Scott. Not yet.

The first time Friday rolls around Derek doesn't even have to lie. He gets a call from the library saying that Mr. Stilinski has had to call in sick and won't be able to host Story Time that day, though, the nice woman assures him, there are a number of other resources the library has to offer.

So he puts it off even longer. He waits until the second Friday comes around. But Scott knows something's wrong. Even when they'd been at their busiest, they hadn't gone this long without seeing Stiles.

He can see it at breakfast, the way Scott is watching him, eating his cereal silently. He's dressed in his lucky purple shirt. He's ready to go.

But they can't go to Story Time. He can't put Stiles on the spot like that. Can't corner him at his workplace.

"Scott," he begins, setting his unused spoon down, staring into the mushy bowl of cereal. "There's something I need to talk to you about."

Scott throws down his spoon with a clatter.

"No," he says, voice wobbling. He shoves back from his chair and leaps to the ground, turning and planting his hands over his ears as he bolts for the stairs.

Derek gets to his feet more slowly, making his way up the stairs after him with a steady march he doesn't want to make. There's no going back now, nothing he can do to change what's happened.

Scott's in his room, door shut tight.

He sits, cross-legged outside the door. "Scott, I'm going to sit right here. When you're ready to talk, let me know."

It takes a while. The sunlight from the small window at the end of the hall is incongruously soft and cheerful. Derek knows what's about to happen is going to hurt, and hurt a great deal. If he could protect Scott from it forever he would gladly do so, but he can't. So the next best thing he can do is give him honesty and love.

It's almost a relief, to know that it's time. That soon he'll finally get it over with, the last impending cut severing the damaged tissue Stiles's exit has left behind. Then he and Scott will be able to grieve together.

When the door opens, Scott is frowning ferociously, chin posed bravely.

"You told him," he says quietly.

Derek offers him a look of solemn apology, hoping his love can show through, that it can be stronger than the sadness. "Yes, pup. I told Stiles about werewolves."

His little face tightens against the impending emotions. Scott turns and marches away to where his toy animals are spread out in disarray on his bed, a silent invitation to Derek. He makes his way into the room, seating himself in the center of it near some of the scattered animals while Scott resumes using the ones on his bed as an outlet for the overwhelming emotions he's being forced to deal with. The zebras get the worst of it, being used as battering rams for the other herds of figurines.

"Why?" he demands, voice wobbling.

Derek picks up the small wolf statue near his knee. He has to choose his words carefully or else Scott may end up worrying that it's somehow his fault. "Do you remember what we talked about? How we said I shouldn't lie to him if he asked for the truth?"

Scott looks away, then grudgingly nods.

"A little while ago he asked for the truth. I did my best, pup, but he was very upset with me."

The zebras get a reprieve as Scott curls one of them into his lap, smoothing out its tail and mane again. "Does he hate us now?"

Derek sighs, setting the wolf down. He wants to tell Scott that Stiles doesn't hate him. He's almost certain that no matter what else, Stiles couldn't hate Scott. But he can't lie to his son. "I don't know what he feels or thinks. He hasn't spoken to me since then. And if we go talk to him it might scare him. I don't want to scare him."

He gets another jerky nod of understanding.

"I know it's hard, Scott. I want to go talk to him too. But he's made the decision not to talk to us now."

Scott's face is drawn, his brow wrinkled like he can't understand that. Derek knows the feeling. The zebras get toppled off the cliff of the bed as Scott twists.

"He said he liked wolves," Scott blurts, face a contorted mixture of anger and tears.

"I know, pup, I know."

"I hate him," he shouts, throwing his pillow across the room.

Right about then, looking at the heartbreak, the betrayal on his son's face, Derek feels about the same.

Scott bursts into broken sobs, crumbling into Derek's lap and they sit there, holding on to each other for a long time.

 

Later that night, after several hours of playing tag in the back yard and cooking an over-the-top distraction lunch, he lays on his bed. It's too early to go to sleep for the night, though Scott's fast asleep, wearing off the after-effects of his tantrum and subsequent energy-expenditures. But he's not there to sleep. He's just laying there, flat, staring at the ceiling because he has nothing better to do. Nothing he can manage at the moment anyway. Emotionally he's worn to a thread.

Telling Scott had made it irrevocably real. He couldn't pretend anymore that it was all just a dream. That Stiles was just busy. The time when Story Time was usually completed had come and gone. And though he had sat there, staring at his phone in his hand for hours afterward, no call had come.

It's worse than he'd expected. Having his potential mate cut out of his life is like a severed limb. It's a constant ache. Like he's missing something important and he needs to look for it. Because he is and he does but he can't go hunt Stiles down, no matter how much he might want to. It would be a mistake. It doesn't keep him from aching for it though. His instincts don't understand relationships.

He holds the phone in his hand a long time, looking at the contact with Stiles's face on it, fingers just millimeters away from pressing call.

He's held onto that little shred of hope that lives in the back of his heart, that little sliver that keeps the wounds from beginning to heal. He's not sure how long he was planning on holding out. Probably till he physically couldn't bear to hope any more. Till he had to start looking forward again. And it's probably time, if he's honest. If it were just himself he might wallow longer, maybe forever, but he has a son who needs him…

A quick flick of fingers closes Stiles's contact redirects the impulse to reach out. He calls home on his parents' line instead. But when his dad answers with a gruff-but-friendly "Hale speaking," Derek feels it like a bucket of water to the face.

He crumbles despite his best efforts to remain stoic, and he curls into himself on the bed as though he could physically defend himself against the pain. But he can't. It comes from inside him, twisting through his very bones till they feel like they're going to crumble and his chest collapse in on his heart.

"Dad. I don't think he's coming back," he says before he can stop himself, voice breaking over the words.

"Oh pup," his father says softly, understanding his meaning sans explanation as only a werewolf would. He offers him a low, soothing hum as he says, "I'm so sorry."

It's a reality check that has that little needle of hope finally clattering to the ground. He has to curl his knuckles against his mouth to keep the sob from escaping his chest.

"I'm so sorry," his father says again.

They sit in silence… if 'silence' could be used to describe the sound of his muffled sobs and his father's soothing hums. But they don't say anything. They don't have to. They both know everything that could be said.

"Do you need me to come down there?" he asks eventually, voice gentle and full of a parent's empathetic pain.

Derek swipes the tears off his cheeks and says, "No. No, I'll…," he clears his throat at how watery his voice sounds, then says more calmly, "I'll be okay."

His father sighs. "I know you're nearly as stubborn as your mother, but I'm going to mention it anyway. You're more than welcome to come back home anytime. It might be worth considering."

It's not something he's ready to think about at that moment. But he isn't lying when he says, "I'll think about it," and then says goodnight.

 

After that the days start to tick by more quickly. His editor starts sending him emails about new projects. And there's the upcoming full moon to worry about. So he focuses on that, on the reason they'd moved down here in the first place, to give Scott his own space to tackle his burden. But when they make it through another moon together more-or-less intact, despite the inherent difficulty, it starts to make Derek wonder why they're even staying in Beacon Hills at all.

The more he thinks about it, the more plausible it seems. They've barely unpacked. The house is still half-empty. They certainly haven't put down real roots, not here anyway. He wonders if it wasn't an unconscious move on his part, protecting them via insulation. In fact, the only real thread they've spun is the one connecting them to Stiles, and it has already been severed.

Perhaps it's time to cauterize the wound.

It wouldn't be that difficult to move home, move back into the den where they wouldn't be alone anymore. Where others could help Scott come up with new full-moon games to play. Where he could give in to his instincts to run loose in the forest a while, to forget about humans, to forget his pain in the moonlight, free and certain that Scott would be safe. Loved.

Then there's the matter of the real and important additional threats that have been created by their presence and isolation here. Kate had nearly won in her insidious bid for Scott's life. He'd be a fool if he didn't find himself wanting the relative safety of the pack around his boy.

When he considers it like that, it's clear that his next move is a phone call to his mother to work out the logistics.

 

Packing isn't hard. They don't have much. Most of it will end up in storage anyway. They'll have everything they need back at the ranch. All they'll need to bring back will be their clothes and their favorite books.

Scott even starts talking about how excited he is to see all his cousins again, to have other werewolves to be around, to start learning how to ride a horse now that he's big enough. Derek promises to give him lessons every day, and he finds it something he's actually able to look forward to.

So he gets the boxes, begins to tear down the pieces of their life in Beacon Hills. It's almost a relief, until one day as he sorts through the books in the house, deciding which ones to bring and which to store, he comes across one book that doesn't belong.

One of Stiles's notebooks.

It's one of the stories he'd brought to read to Scott one time, illustrated in his own hand with care. It hurts, seeing it. He only makes it halfway through re-reading it before he has to put it aside and put his face into his hands to try and regain his equilibrium.

He can't bear the thought of keeping it. So he sets out a small box and lines it carefully with paper and plastic to protect it. He nestles it firmly inside the box, ready to seal away the last piece.

But he hesitates.

A memory slips through his mind; their interrupted conversation in the library, back before everything had gone to shit. The vulnerability in Stiles's eyes when he'd asked what Derek really thought of his work… if he'd really thought it was publishable. Now he knows even more about why that had been difficult, how hard it had been for Stiles to ask him that, to actually consider sending his work out and risk being rejected again.

He doesn't seal the box. Instead he takes the book apart, loosening the pages from their binding. Carefully he scans each page into his computer. He writes a cover-letter to Sarah, explaining that he does not, in fact, have permission to submit this draft, but that he knows Stiles Stilinski is in fact interested in finding an editor and publisher for his work. He asks for her favor in reviewing it and in passing it along to someone who might be interested if she's not herself. He attaches all of the appropriate contact information and sends the email without hesitation. Now Stiles won't have to worry about feeling like he's taking advantage of their relationship because they no longer have one. At least that's something.

Only then does he put it back together and package it tight inside the box. He seals it as it is, unsigned. There are too many things he wants to say for it to become anything less than a novel if he were to include a note. Then he sets it by the door and resumes the task that had brought him across it in the first place; tying off their fledgling root bundle and packaging it for transplant back to the fertile Oregon soil.

And as for his dreams… well. They'd just go back in storage.

The sound of the doorbell ringing interrupts his thoughts. He doesn't particularly want to answer it, but it might be the movers coming a little early to give their estimate, so he sets the books he'd been sorting back down and makes his way to the front door, trying to school his face away from annoyance and into something neutral. The movers don't deserve the edge of his temper. He opens the door with a sigh.

But it's not movers. Not in anything but the most oddly metaphorical sense.

Almost before his brain can process what he's seeing, the scent of him hits Derek like a punch, painfully and viscerally felt. Stiles is there on the step, looking nervous.

Derek stands there, frozen, lips parted in shock.

"Um. Hi. Derek," Stiles says, voice uneven.

"You-," he cuts himself off with a click of teeth and he slips out through the gap and shuts the door behind him lest Scott hear them.

The cool winter air is sharp on his skin coming out from the warm house. His heart is in his throat when he looks at the other man. He lets his anger swell up to drown the pain of seeing him. He looks the same, a little tired perhaps. His hair's grown a little, and it's a mess, like he's been running his fingers through it all day. His scarf is bright red, lumpy where it sits over his flannel button-up under his brown leather jacket.

He looks perfect.

"You can't come in. Scott won't understand," he says, voice coming out rough and flat. Derek doesn't understand as it is. But he's not going to put Scott through… whatever this is.

"Oh " Stiles says faintly.

But he doesn’t leave.

He just stands there, looking at Derek like he's parched for the sight of him and he hasn't seen him in months instead of just weeks. Then again, he's not sure he's not looking back at him exactly the same way. No matter how grimly he attempts to set his jaw or harden his heart.

"What do you want Stiles?" he demands, voice sounding pathetically raw instead of gruff, despite his best intentions.

Stiles clears his throat and glances skyward as he blinks against a sheen of moisture in his eyes. "You. You and Scott." He bites his lip over a wavering smile as he says, "Us. I want there to be an us."

Derek closes his eyes, taking a steadying breath. He curls his arms across his chest against the onslaught of emotion. When he opens his eyes, they land on the book held against Stiles's heart and he fears he has already lost his footing.

"I wrote him a story." Stiles offers, fingers rubbing against the edge of the black binder.

And Derek's heart just twists, like hope has laughingly stabbed a big silver blade right through the delicate sutures closing carefully-healing wounds. Because it's exactly the sort of thing that would cut through all of his defenses.

"Stiles. It's been five weeks. I can't just-," he grinds his teeth against the pain in his chest. He has to turn his head and breathe through his nose.

"I know," Stiles says, fingers stilling on the edge of the binder a moment before starting a different nervous pattern.

"Five weeks and not a word," Derek says again. "You were just gone."

"I know," Stiles repeats faintly.

"Do you? Do you remember what that meant for Scott the last time that happened with someone he cared about?" he snaps.

Stiles's hand comes up to swipe at each cheek under his glasses, brushing tears aside roughly. "I know. I-," he clears his throat. "And I, god I really don't have an excuse. I thought about calling you every day. Every day I sat there with the damn thing in my hand trying to figure out… but I couldn't, I-" He gestures helplessly with splayed fingers, glaring at them.

"I needed to… I don't know. Understand it. I started re-reading all your books and digging out my dissertation research and it was so… It just was… I mean how can this be true? How can…"

He takes a shaky breath, and when he speaks again his voice is steadier. "But it is. And every memory of us was suddenly… different. And when Isaac called, I guess it was just easier to get on a plane and pretend none of this was real."

There are a lot of things Derek would make fiction if he could. Things like his sister dying. Things like hunters. He never thought he would be such a wish for Stiles.

"Then why'd you come back?" Derek demands, angry at the ache in his chest.

"Because it is real," Stiles snaps.

Neither of them misses the similarity to Stiles's words that night when he'd made his decision and everything had changed. He stares at him a long moment, taking a shaky breath as Stiles repeats the words softly, then adds "Isn't it?"

Derek tips his head back at that. It's undeniably so. "Yeah," he whispers. He feels like he might vibrate apart. He wants to retreat and advance in equal extreme measure.
He can't just let it go, not when it might be at Scott's expense. But…

After a moment he grudgingly lets go of the breath he's holding in his chest and frowns at the ground. He detours instead as he says, "How is Isaac?"

Stiles grimaces. "He's good - well, better anyway. He left. His dad's going to be dealing with hospice care from now on." There's a hard line to Stiles's mouth as he takes a steadying breath. "It was bad. I mean, you know it was never going to be a good situation, but it was… bad. I wish he'd never gone but I don't know, maybe he needed the closure of being able to say he'd tried."

Derek nods slowly.

And then they’re just standing there again in silence, each staring at each other. Derek feels almost numb. Overloaded. He doesn't know what to do, what to say, so he says nothing, does nothing. Eventually Stiles seems to deflate.

"Okay," he says softly, with the brush of a sad smile ghosting over his lips as he ducks his head and steps back.

It's then that Derek feels panic welling up, as Stiles turns away. But before he can say anything Stiles turns back.

"I just… could I just apologize to Scott? Prove that I'm…," he trails off awkwardly. Derek catches his drift nonetheless; Not Dead. "He… if he needs a friend, I'll always answer his call. I want you both to know that."

His face tells of his honesty. He means it, that he'd be there for Scott despite everything. And that's what does it. What's always done it. Stiles cares for Scott. Hope throbs in his breast, painful and broken as he scrubs his hand over his mouth.

"Yeah. Yeah you can talk to Scott," he says finally.

Stiles nods, curling the book against his chest as he says, "Thank you."

Derek nods awkwardly, timing off as he turns and leads the way back inside. Stiles's presence at his back is a visceral, dizzy thing and he has to fight not to hunch his shoulders as they pass the threshold.

"You're moving?" Stiles says, voice faint with surprise when he steps inside and sees the boxes laid out in the living room.

Derek just levels a neutral look at him that has his face paling and his lips snapping shut, then turns up the stairs towards Scott's room, climbing in silence.

He knocks on the doorframe, drawing Scott's attention up out of his book.

"Stiles!" Scott cries, a huge grin flaring across his features as he leaps down from his bed and takes a few eager steps towards them before stuttering to a halt. The expression on his face fades to one of wariness as he remembers.

It hurts Derek to watch. He hopes he's doing the right thing.

"Hey Scott," Stiles says, standing carefully just at the threshold. "May I come in?"

Scott walks backwards till he can sit on the edge of his bed again. He frowns at Stiles a long moment, then says "Okay," in a tiny voice.

Stiles moves forward cautiously, then sits down on the floor so that he's eye-level with Scott.

"Dad told you about werewolves," Scott says. "He told me."

"That's right," Stiles says. A warm and surprisingly calm smile touches his mouth. "It's pretty incredible."

Derek sucks in a tight breath at that as he takes up a position leaning against the doorframe, arms crossing tightly over his chest.

"Dad said you weren't coming back," Scott says warily, eyes flicking up to Derek's and then back to Stiles's.

"That's my fault. I didn't call him when I should have," Stiles says. "I was pretty confused for a while. So he thought I wasn't going to talk to you guys anymore."

Scott's fingers curl and unfurl repeatedly against the fabric of his bedspread before he lifts his head again and says hopefully, "But you will?"

The sound breaks his heart. So does the look of longing that Stiles sends his way. "I will, as much as you and your dad want me to."

"We're moving away," Scott says in an even smaller voice.

Stiles nods slowly, swallowing as he puts a smile on his face. "That's okay buddy, we'll work it out. You can call me on the phone whenever your dad says it's okay. And we can send each other pictures and stories with email. I do that with lots of my friends who live far away now."

"Okay," Scott says softly. He glances at Derek with an unreadable expression and Derek offers him a small smile. He doesn't know how the hell he's going to be able to handle this, but if it will make Scott happy…

Scott looks down at the binder in his arms. "Did you bring me a story?"

"I did," Stiles replies, smiling. "Just put the finishing touches on it on the airplane this morning."

"Will you read it to me?" Scott asks.

Stiles glances up at Derek, looking hesitant.

And rightfully so. It's too easy to slip into the comforts of the familiar and bypass his chance to make a real, thought-out decision. Derek glances away as he mulls it over a long moment. He sighs, then turns back. He nods.

After a long, hesitant moment, Stiles turns back to Scott. "Okay kiddo, here goes."

He flips through the book, turning the myriad drawings and notes past quickly till he gets to the spot in question. He smooths the page back carefully, revealing a brightly-colored drawing of a merman and… a werewolf.

Derek feels with a sudden sinking certainty that he's already lost this battle.

"Once, in a land very different from ours, there lived a family of werewolves. They lived deep in the woods near the ocean and spent their days doing all the things werewolves do. They played games with their friends, went on hunts, and were generally happy."

He'd forgotten.

It seems impossible given how tightly he's clung to the tattered threads of their relationship, their memories. But he'd forgotten how vivid Stiles was, how enthralling his stories were. Or maybe it's something not even memory can ever capture accurately.

"One of the werewolves was not content, however. He often felt restless and had no patience for the day-to-day activities of the pack. His alpha thought that someday he might go join another pack, find a mate. He often spent long hours walking along the beach, wondering what might be out there in the vast sea."

He can't take his eyes off Stiles, off the way his mouth moves, the moles dotting his skin that he knows he already has memorized. He has to remind himself repeatedly to keep breathing evenly, to keep calm and not upset Scott.

"One day when he was walking along the beach he saw the strangest thing. Up on the sand was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, part man, part fish. He was far away from the water, and very sad looking, covered in sand."

Scott slides down from the bed, leaning forward to see the drawings more closely. He cautiously pads over to Stiles's side, then sits down beside him, turning the book around so they can both look at it together.

"When he realized the merman was crying the werewolf gathered his courage to approach this stranger. 'Are you alright?' the werewolf asked. The merman was embarrassed. 'I was curious. I've always wanted to know what was up here, to see above the beach. But I crawled too far from the water and now I'm afraid I'm stuck. If I do not return to the ocean I will soon die.'"

"The werewolf looked at the sea. As a creature of the land it was not so far for him to travel. 'Perhaps I can carry you back?' he offered. The merman was very relieved. The werewolf took him into his arms and carried him down to the ocean again, putting him in the water he so desperately needed."

Scott noses his way under Stiles's arm to curl up against his side and Stiles closes his eyes for a moment, something akin to pain crossing his features as he settles his arm around Scott. His voice is shaky when he continues.

"'How can I repay you?' The merman asked. The werewolf looked out at the water and said 'I have always wondered what was beneath the water. Perhaps someday you could tell me of it. I walk these shores often. I will look out into the sea and perhaps I will see you here again.' The merman thought this was a wonderful idea. 'I will swim here when I can and look for you along the shore.'"

Derek turns. The words are too much, Stiles is too much. He walks away, walks down the hall and down the stairs till he just sits on the bottom step. His heart is pounding and his head is just…

He sits there for a long time. Till he eventually notices that there's silence where he had been hearing the faint background sound of Stiles's voice. He's not surprised when he hears Stiles's feet on the top step, hesitating as he looks down at him.

"Scott's taking his nap," Stiles says.

Derek nods mechanically.

"I'm sorry," Stiles says. "Derek, I'm so sorry."

And that's the worst part. The hardest part. Knowing that Stiles isn't really to blame. Yes, he'd reacted more strongly than Derek had hoped, but he's just a person. Just a flawed, complicated, wonderful person.

It's the best part too. The truth that makes hope possible, painful and terrifying as it may be. He just isn't sure he has the strength for it after everything that's happened. Not if Stiles can't come all the way. He suddenly understands Peter and Lydia much better than he ever has before.

"I've been doing a lot of reading," Stiles says softly when Derek doesn't reply or move. He starts walking down the steps toward him. Derek doesn't even have to concentrate to hear his heartbeat thundering because it's echoed in his own chest.

"And, you know," he says with a faint laugh, "I have no idea how much of your werewolf fiction is actually fiction. But. It seemed like a good place to start."

Stiles sets a hand down on Derek's shoulder, and Derek jerks to his feet as though scalded. But he doesn't move away, doesn't do more than separate himself from Stiles's touch.

"Okay, sorry. Sorry. I just. I miss you. I miss you so badly. I miss touching you, and talking to you. I miss the way you smell, the way you taste. The way you look at me…"

Derek can't breathe. He can't look at him. He stares at the wall, swallowing against a drought-dry throat. "So?" he manages bitterly.

Stiles sighs, scrubbing his hands over his face and righting his glasses as he says, "Yeah. Yeah I know. Those are just words. They're not enough. But words are important. We know that better than anyone."

Derek flicks his eyes over to his face. Rips them away again immediately at his painfully earnest expression.

Stiles inches closer, not giving up. "We've defined our relationship with words before. We started with Slow and Casual."

And with pink milkshakes and laughter.

"And when that didn't work we chose together."

A couple. A thing. Significant Others. Partners. Memories of kissing the words off his lips in the stacks of the library.

"An item." His voice breaks over the word as he breathes in the space between them. It feels like it's being sucked away, just like Derek's breath.

Just like it had been in those weeks where everything was almost perfect.

Stiles shakes his head as he says, "But that wasn't enough either. We never talked about it but I think we both knew we needed new words. We still do, and I know it's not enough, but I'm trying to tell you the ones I want. The ones I'm hoping for."

The problem is that Derek thought they'd already been chosen. Over. Broken. Gone. They've been carved into his heart and left to scar. He closes his eyes, feeling the pain of them with each breath, wounds torn anew.

Stiles's voice is just as raw and frustrated as Derek feels. "And I hate that I might have run, that I might lose you because of a couple words I was scared I couldn't handle when it came to you."

Derek turns a dark look on him, the bitter words spilling off his lips easily. "Monster? Liar? Freak?"

Stiles looks sad, fingers hanging in the air between them a moment before he remembers himself and draws them back. He shakes his head, lips curving into a wobbly smile.

"No. Not those words, though I'd be lying if I said they hadn't been difficult too." But he steps forward, pushing just a little more into the already paltry buffer Derek has put between them, looking at him with those earnest, raw bourbon eyes.

"The ones that scared me the most were the best ones. The best words in the world. Words like Love, and Forever. Words that have been in my head a while now. Words like Mate," Stiles says softly.

Derek feels the breath go out of him like he's been punched. "You don't… that word, you-"

"I've been doing a lot of reading, Derek," Stiles says, inching closer as he lets that settle. "A lot."

Derek squeezes his eyes shut, senses far too overwhelmed. There are too many emotions, too many words crashing into each other in his brain. The scent of Stiles near him again. Memories of things he'd written that Stiles has now read. Hopes and dreams he'd poured into tales of fictional werewolves. The way every fiber of his being yearns at the sound of mate on Stiles's lips.

"I know words aren't enough," Stiles says, and this time when his hand touches Derek's forearm he doesn't move away. "So I'm here now. I left as soon as Isaac was safe. I drove straight here from the airport and I'm going to do whatever you want for me to prove that I'm here. That I'm not running anymore," he whispers. "I'm not afraid."

Derek growls, fingers fisting in Stiles's shirt as he drags him, turns him and backs Stiles against the wall, boxing him in with hard arms on either side of him. His eyes are probably flashing and supernatural in shade and this time he doesn't care, doesn't hold back.

Stiles's eyes are full of awe. Surprise and curiosity. No fear.

"You want me?" he asks, voice hoarse.

"Yes," Stiles says. There is no hesitation. No wariness.

Derek bares his teeth. "You want me, monster and all?" he asks again.

"Yes," Stiles replies without hesitation, amber eyes bright behind his lenses as he pushes off the wall, squares his face up with Derek's. "I want you, Derek. I want everything that you are. Everything."

His fingers curl hard into Derek's shirt, face and voice void of anything but truth when he says, "Derek, I want to be your mate."

Derek can't hold onto the anger, not in the face of what Stiles is offering. He closes his eyes, curls his fingers around Stiles's waist and when Stiles's hands come up to cradle his face, what's left of his strength crumbles.

When Stiles kisses him it's soft, barely more than a press of lips. But it floods through his body like a balm to his wounds, like water in the desert, like silence after a raging storm.

It's so gentle, so full of love. Derek's lips part and it's like he's splitting himself in two, opening the floodgates so that Stiles can pour back into him, can fill him up again, slipping into the cracks and making him whole once more.

"Yes," Derek manages to say before their mouths are crashing together again. Yes to Stiles, yes to everything, yes to mate.

The kiss turns deep, desperate, like they're both fighting to get inside each other. Stiles's fingers clutch the back of his head hard enough to scratch, his teeth catching Derek's lips and tongue like he can't bear not to cling to him with every ounce of strength. Derek's hands slip up under Stiles's shirt so he can feel skin, feel the warmth of him.

"Can we… will you go to bed with me?" Stiles asks, hands tight on Derek's skin as he breathlessly makes his request. "Please, I need you."

He's not the only one. Want is coursing through his body like fire through the walls. His hips are pressing hard against Stiles's already, desperate to transect the layers of cloth between them.

He presses his forehead against Stiles's, makes himself take slower, deeper breaths and calm down. He puts space between their hips, plants his hands back on Stiles's waist on the outside of his clothes.

"It…" he closes his eyes. "It won't be the same, even if we don't do anything differently than before."

Stiles is still breathing hard. He touches his lips to the corner of Derek's mouth, then tugs Derek's head back, looks up at him with dilated eyes but also a sense of peace that settles the flames of desire back into a low simmer in his chest.

"I know. But…" he feathers his fingers through Derek's hair, eyes studying his face. "I don't just want what we had. It's not enough. I want you. All of you. And I want you to have all of me."

Slowly he draws back from Stiles, putting more space between them a moment so he can look at him, really look at his face. They're offering themselves to each other, their whole selves. He lifts his hand, palm up. An offering. An invitation.

Stiles takes his hand and Derek takes Stiles upstairs but he pauses when they step into his bedroom and shut the door tight behind them. Part of him desperately wants to recreate the gentle, open way they'd been together the first night they'd made love here. Almost as if they could erase the pain and damage that had happened since then.

But this isn't that night. He knows he can't replicate it.

And Stiles is right, about this too. They shouldn't try to pretend things haven't changed here too. So he curls his hand over Stiles's, and doesn't lead him to the bed.

Stiles wants him, so he's going to show himself. He's going to let him have everything. Instead of the bed, Derek takes him past it to the bathroom. They've been in here before, shared showers and shower sex more than once. That's not quite what this is about.

He lets go of Stiles long enough to turn on the shower and get it running. When he turns back, Stiles is looking at him with warm, slightly curious eyes.

This time Derek can tell him the whole truth. This time the words can be spoken. There's a sort of freedom that comes with that that runs straight to his core, like a tightly wound scroll beginning to loosen, to spiral wider as it reveals its secrets and releases its tension.

"I want…," he begins. He rubs the cuff of Stiles's sleeve between his fingers. It's harder to get out than he'd expected, too many years spent keeping it hidden. Keeping himself hidden. "There are other people's scents on you. Other places in your clothes. On your skin and hair."

Stiles's eyes widen but it is with lightness, with interest. "You can smell that?"

Derek nods. The stress and sweat and mix that is the airport. A sharp variation on the scent that is unique to Stiles that he suspects is Isaac. The faintly sickly-sweet smell of someone dying. The layers of Stiles's own sweat and stress over everything.

"What does it mean? To you, I mean. How do you feel? Or like…," he shakes his head on a laugh, incredulous smile splitting his lips as his fingers catch at Derek's forearms. "Like, anything. God I don't even know what questions to ask. I just want to know it all. I want to know everything you are. Tell me everything."

Derek skims his hand up to curl around Stiles's cheek, tilting his head as he tries to put it into words. "I want it to go away. I want it to just be you," he says, leaning in for another kiss. Because he can. Because Stiles is here.

"Just me," Stiles says, like he maybe understands, maybe doesn't quite, but is agreeing anyway. Encouraging him. Wanting more.

Derek licks at his bottom lip again and huffs a faint laugh. His voice is lower when he speaks next. "Well. To start. And then I want it to be me too. I want my scent to be on you."

"Oh?" Stiles murmurs, taking a kiss for himself before lifting his curious eyes again. "And how do we do that?"

Derek lets his eyelids go heavy, his smile sensual. He lifts Stiles's wrist to his mouth, slides his tongue over the sensitive skin. His voice is rough when he says, "I paint you with it."

"Oh. Oh. I…," Stiles clears his throat, cheeks flushing hot. "I uh, I like that plan,"

"I know," Derek says, drawing in another slow breath and savoring the spicy curl of arousal coming off Stiles. "I can smell that too."

Stiles laughs, swearing under his breath. He kisses Derek, hard and open-mouthed, then pushes back from him and drags his shirt over his head, discarding it far away behind him, sending the foreign scents away. Derek watches as the belt and khakis follow, still wondering if he isn't having a particularly vivid dream.

When Stiles stands before him, naked, hopeful and a little shy, Derek gets with the picture and pulls his own shirt overhead, heavy with the scents of book dust and stress. He strips down quickly, and Stiles sets his glasses aside too, blinking as his eyes adjust. Then they're both clothed in nothing but the warm light and the faint mist of steam filling the room.

It's not the same, but Derek is struck by the similarity to some of the traditional mating practices he'd seen in their family tomes. Baring themselves to each other, preparing to scrub away the scents of others. It's cold, despite the heat in the house, standing naked in winter isn't comfortable, but they don't seem to care. They gaze at each other for a long time, cataloguing skin they each perhaps thought to never see again.

Stiles takes his hand silently and leads them to the shower, shivering at the contrast of the heated water and the still-cool air. Then he's drawing Derek to him, wrapping his arms around him and neither of them is the slightest bit chilled anymore.

They spend most of the shower making out while sudsy hands roam and scrub without rhyme or reason other than Derek's determination to sweep away every scent that isn't his. They're both half-hard, keeping themselves from ramping up their arousal in favor of the task at hand.

He dries them with a towel that smells like his detergent, barely giving them more than a cursory swipe to get the worst of the moisture before he's pulling Stiles with him back into the bedroom. Derek guides him backwards and spreads him out on his bed, kneeling between his legs and just sitting back to gaze down at him for a moment. He slides his hand down Stiles's thigh, letting his fingers linger a moment on his knee and then all the way down to his ankle. He picks up one of Stiles's feet and lifts it. His toes are as beautiful as his hands, angular and strong and his feet are broad and trim.

He lowers his head and licks, one long strip down the sensitive skin between big-toe and ankle. Stiles twitches in his hands, but his eyes are bright with encouragement and curiosity. Derek slips his tongue between Stiles's first two toes. Stiles snorts a laugh and shudders. "God that tickles."

Derek grins at him and nips at his smaller toes, making him squirm before he moves on up to Stiles's ankle. But as much as it might tickle, it's still clearly not leaving him unaffected. His cock lays heavy against his hip, still thick with desire. It's intimate, sensual as Derek presses his mouth to every inch of Stiles's skin. The Achilles gets a drag of tongue, his patella a ring of kisses. He works his way up Stiles's body with everything his mouth can bring along with his scent, gentle little nips of his teeth and lips and tongue, pouring all of himself into Stiles's skin, into laying his claim to it.

It's hard not to grip Stiles too tightly, to give up and jump straight to the part where they both chase orgasms. But he wants this, wants to fuse the word mate into his very bones. Stiles is right there with him, fingers twisting and fisting in the sheets as he goes, trading the sides of his body. By the time he makes it up to Stiles's neck they're both panting with the effort of restraint.
With his mouth open against Stiles's throat, vibrating as he says Derek's name, he can't help it, he bites down. Stiles moans as he sucks the mark into his skin. It's amazing he's made it this far without etching his claims more visibly into his skin.

"You like that, don't you? You've done it before." Stiles murmurs into his hair, fingernails dragging up Derek's back as his head lolls back, opening himself to Derek further. "But I mean, the werewolf part of you likes it too, right? That you're, what, marking me?"

Derek nods, laving his tongue over the reddening skin.

"Like in your books. So that everyone can see that I'm- oh," Stiles breaks off in a moan as Derek ruts against him, dragging his lips higher up Stiles's neck to where no turtleneck or scarf can reach.

"Mine," he growls, then drops his head, unable to resist the temptation to suck another mark into the skin of his throat.

Stiles moans, fingers curling hard into Derek's triceps, pulling him tighter into it. "Why is that so hot? I want… Oh god, do it again. Do it everywhere. Make me yours."

Derek groans against his skin, cock pulsing at the words. Then he's moving, dragging his mouth to the other side of Stiles's neck and sucking a hickey into life. Another on his collarbone. Just below his nipple. The point of his hipbone. The inside of his thigh is bestowed a bite that leaves clear outlines of teeth and Stiles swearing profusely but it's not in anger.

He drags the edge of his erection over Stiles's skin as he moves, leaving glistening trails of precome behind and teasing at the sensations he's holding back from in favor of marking Stiles as his mate with his mouth. But soon it proves to be too much for either of them as they devolve into grinding together between slotted thighs as Stiles pulls him up, capturing his mouth again. He drags his fingernails down Derek's side and then between them to slip his hand around Derek's length, stilling their motions as he gazes at him, face flushed and eyes dark with need.

"I want you inside me so badly but…" his eyes dart back and forth over Derek's features as he contends, "You want more than your mouth on me, don't you?" while Stiles's fingers stroke significantly against his cock. Stiles noses his mouth closer to Derek's ear, nipping at the curve as he says, "You want to come on me."

Derek can only groan as he thrusts his hips into Stiles's grip because for all their talk of words, the way Stiles is catering directly to his instincts is making him nonverbal. It doesn't matter. Stiles understands him anyway.

"Yeah, we're gonna do that," Stiles breathes, and then his hands tug on Derek's body, pulling him higher on the bed till he slips up to straddle Stiles's chest. It's all Derek can do. He kneels, bracing himself on his hands on the headboard on either side of Stiles's head as his mate takes him in hand again. Stiles flashes bright eyes and a happy grin up at him before he angles his head up to flick his tongue over the edges of Derek's foreskin as he pumps his fist.

Derek gives himself over, letting Stiles have him, too breathless for words or thought of any kind, letting himself drown in his scent, in his desire. It's fast. They've been building towards this a while now and Stiles's hands are deft and sure. Derek's breaths are harsh as he lets himself ride ever closer to his peak without hesitation, without delay. He needs this, needs to mark Stiles intimately and it would be absurd but for the fact that he's shaking with the same intensity that's reflected in Stiles's eyes.

Stiles lifts his head, hand moving quickly as he gazes up at him. He licks his lips reflexively as he takes a breath to speak, never breaking his gaze. "Do it Derek, I want you on me, I want you all over my skin." The words themselves are a thing of pure arousal, but even more than that, Stiles doesn't say it like he has something to prove, like he's pandering.

"I want you to." He says it with raw desire, with fascination, with conviction.

With love.

Derek groans and his body jerks, going stiff as he spills himself in long hot strips over Stiles's face and neck. Those perfect amber eyes are hidden from him for a protective moment, then they flash open again as Derek slides back and Stiles pushes up on his elbows, face flushed and full of wild arousal. Derek watches dumbstruck as the excess drips down to Stiles's neck, to glisten over the possessive marks laid there.

Stiles reaches up and slips his fingers through it, drawing it off his face and coating his fingers. He drags them over his skin, slipping down his belly to his straining cock. Derek watches with wide eyes as Stiles rubs Derek's seed directly into his erection. He does it deliberately this time, but Derek finds himself reminded of their first night together, and when he looks up at Stiles he sees the memory reflected there.

Derek smooths his thumb over Stiles's cheek, gathering more of his excess and pressing love into Stiles's skin. Then he takes over from Stiles, curling his hand around his length and pulling, twisting against the friction of tacky pseudo-lubrication. He watches Stiles's face as he starts stroking him in earnest, watches the way he melts into a deep, sensual tension as his lids lower and his lips part. Derek lowers his mouth, coats Stiles's length with his saliva to seal over his come.

He tastes him, and he maps every ridge, every vein, retracing paths he'd thought he'd never walk again. He chases every caught breath, every tremble, every stammered word. Stiles's fingers tangle in his hair because they belong there, pulling Derek closer. Stiles's abdomen flutters over a desperate moan when Derek takes him deep, back arching into it like he's ready to break beneath him.

But Stiles doesn't let himself go. He pushes Derek back and pushes himself upright, pulls Derek's head up to kiss him, tongue surging deep, just as possessive in chasing his flavor around Derek's mouth. The way he moves, the fierce determination in the way his legs tangle around Derek's to hold him where he wants him, sparks the wildest edge inside Derek. Stiles pulls Derek's wrist up from his lap, fingers hard against muscle and bone of his forearm. Holding Derek's gaze Stiles presses his mouth to the inside plane of it, hot and wet and openmouthed. Then he bites.

Derek curses. His dick twitches like he hadn't just had his release a minute ago. He can't get hard again yet, but the desire this move shocks through him leaves him staring. I've been doing a lot of reading he'd said. And yet there's no artifice about it, nothing but pure Stiles.

"It won't last, will it?" Stiles asks sadly, gazing at the mark, purple indents that are already fading. Derek watches them go too, wistful.

"Not tonight," he says, then pauses as a memory nudges at him, flicking a glance Stiles's direction. "But there are ways."

Stiles's eyes flash hot when he says that. He pulls hard on Derek's arm, shoves him back to pin his shoulders to the bed, climbing up into his lap, the heels of his hands digging in.

"My turn," he says, voice tight with need even as the hand that strokes through Derek's hair is gentle, loving.

He straddles Derek's ribs, knees hugging tight to his sides as he sits back, locking himself down against Derek's shoulder with one hand and taking his erection in the other. Every movement is intent on his goal and lacking even a hint of indecision. Derek curls his arms up over Stiles's thighs, his palms resting on Stiles's hips. Enfolding him. Filling his arms and his vision with Stiles.

He's already close, hips already stuttering in little need-filled motions as he strokes himself, finishes what Derek started. Stiles's fingers dig into his shoulder hard and desperate as Derek cradles him, opens himself to him as Stiles stutters towards his peak.

"My mate. Mine," he gasps out, body snapping taut as he peaks, eyes like burning amber, never deviating from Derek's as he comes.

They're the most beautiful words he's ever heard.

Stiles drags his fingers through the mess, pushing it into Derek's chest hair and running shaking, sticky fingers up to cradle his head. Stiles's lips are trembling and his breath is hot and short against Derek's mouth, but it's enough. The raw, untamed part of him revels in the way their scents are so intermingled, so thick in the air. The whole of him is in awe of the impossibility he holds in his arms. They could never have recaptured what they'd had before and that's fine, because this is better.

"Stay?" Derek asks as Stiles slides back down and melts against his chest. He means tonight, and he means tomorrow too. He means forever.

"Yeah."

 

 

Later they clean themselves up and go downstairs to make coffee. Neither of them is ready to sleep, to miss even a moment of being together again. Instead they sit together on the couch where they had begun the most difficult conversation of their relationship. They don't talk about anything, they just curl together, reading while waiting for Scott to wake up from his nap.

When Scott does wake up and comes bouncing down the stairs he looks joyfully and yet hesitantly surprised to see Stiles is still there, like he hadn't wanted to let himself hope. He looks at each of them, eyes not missing the lack of space between them.

"Hey Scott," Derek says, reaching out to squeeze his son's tiny shoulder.

"Hi," he chirps.

Derek pulls Scott up onto his knee and brushes his shaggy hair back from his face, hoping desperately that he's made the right choice. It's already an overwhelming day and he's not sure just how much Scott's going to be able to handle being laid right out in front of him. But some things can't really wait.

"Stiles and I have been talking and we've figured some things out."

Scott looks at him with wide, worried eyes.

"Do you think it would be okay if we decided not to move away anymore?" Derek asks. Because that's something that does need to come sooner rather than later.

Scott looks over at Stiles for a long moment. He curls his fingers into his pajama bottoms - patterned in all the animals of Yellowstone, wolves included, of course. His eyes flick up to Derek's. "I don't want to move away," he says in a tiny voice, looking anxiously over at Stiles again.

"I don't want you to move away either," Stiles replies, gazing at the both of them with a soft smile.

"Then we'll stay," Derek says firmly.

Scott looks up at him with wide eyes, and then his face splits into a more characteristic grin, his eyes bright with excitement. After a moment he climbs over Derek's lap and snuggles in on Stiles's, who wraps his arms around him. They hug each other for a long moment. Stiles's voice is wet when he asks, "You wanna help me make pizza for dinner, pup?"

Scott grins up at him with wide eyes. "You can make pizza?"

Stiles flashes an affronted look at Derek. "You mean you've never made your own pizza?"

Derek arches an eyebrow disdainfully at them. "Homemade pizza's for peasants."

Scott bursts into giggles like he always does at such a pronouncement, though his laughter has a giddy edge to it when Stiles makes an indignant sound.

"Well then color me a peasant because I'm going to make pizza," Stiles replies, wrinkling his face into a challenge. His book gets tossed aside and he scoops Scott up with him as he gets up. "I'm commandeering this one as my sous chef."

"What's a sous chef?" Scott asks, giggling as Stiles spins him around the edge of the couch.

Derek watches them go, then goes in search of his phone as Stiles explains. He has some calls to make. He retrieves it from his desk and carries it along after them into the kitchen, watching as Stiles starts opening cupboards and drawers, making as much noise as possible as he has Scott help him fish out a variety of bowls and pans and cutting boards.

He flips through his recent calls to find the moving company and goes through the requisite steps to cancel his appointment for an estimate as he watches. A bit of flour and yeast get apportioned into a bowl, along with a dash of honey and some olive oil and warm water. Stiles whips it together and then lets it sit to activate.

"Hey, what do we like on our pizza?" Stiles asks, poking his head into the refrigerator, looking at options.

"Mushrooms!" Scott says, squeezing around his legs and pulling open the vegetable drawer at the bottom.

"Seriously?" Stiles asks, turning a glance on Derek.

Derek just lifts an eyebrow, smirking when Stiles shakes his head incredulously. Most werewolves have a fondness for mushrooms, particularly given that their noses let them find some of the more difficult to gather ones out in the woods. And if Stiles doesn't like mushrooms on pizza… well. They have a long time to figure out how to work around each other's idiosyncrasies. And Laura would smack him upside the head for being so sentimental but he's looking forward to each and every one.

Stiles glances back at Derek when he hangs up the phone and then smiles softly, heading his direction even though his hands are covered in flour. The kiss is soft, quick because Stiles is already turning back to Scott, and terribly domestic and Derek wants to laugh or cry or something because it's perfect.

He goes out to the back yard instead, grinning like a fool and soaking up the chill night air and the moonlight that's just brightening over the trees. There's one more call he needs to make, and this time it's good.

Derek calls the ranch and he can't wipe the stupid grin off his face even if he wanted to. His mom answers and his expression must be apparent in his voice because all he says is "Mom" and then she's taking a noisy, shaky breath and saying "Oh pup. I'm so happy for you. Well. I guess you won't be moving up then."

He confirms that no, they're not moving.
They're staying there, with Stiles.

She laughs and sniffles and curses fondly at him for making her cry while he laughs with her, trying not to do the same as he watches through the window as Stiles teaches Scott how to knead pizza dough and make a floury disaster of his kitchen.

When he goes back inside Stiles grins at him. "Hey, can you go grab my notebook from upstairs? There's another story in there we can read while we cook."

Derek brings it down, flipping through the pages. There are random sketches, along with art for a few stories. He takes a minute to look at the ones from the story Stiles had been telling Scott earlier, the merman and the werewolf. They're beautiful. They're all so beautiful, and sure, he's biased. But…

He turns the page and sees himself and Scott. Pages and pages of sketches he's never seen of people Stiles cares about. Erica, the Sheriff, Isaac appear fairly often but the majority of the sketches are of him and Scott. Many of them from memory it seems. There's one that's clearly from the day at the park where Scott is napping on a rumpled blanket, frisbee clutched in his fingers. The moment, happy and perfect, now immortalized.

Stiles bites his lip when he sees what Derek is looking at as he nears, and Derek just leans close to press a kiss to his temple, shaking his head. "You're amazing," he murmurs.

Stiles just flushes and shrugs a little, going over to where Scott is holding the bowl up for him. One day Derek's going to get him to believe it.

"Keep going till you get to The Firebird. It's hard to miss," he says as he carefully opens the oven door to put the dough in to rise on warm.

Derek does as he's told, paging through the book as he drifts away.

"A werewolf reading a fairy tale." Stiles shakes his head as Derek sets the book down on the table, open to the elaborate drawing of a glorious bird.

"Do you realize how much time I spent analyzing fairy tales for their metaphorical relationships to society at large? But no, werewolves are real," he complains, ruffling Scott's hair. "There goes like, half my dissertation."

Scott laughs with him, then cocks his head. "What's a dissertation?"

Stiles snorts, tilting his head as he chooses his words. "A book that took five years of dust, sweat and tears to write but also means some people have to call me doctor. You can read it someday if you want. You'll think it's hilarious I'm sure," he says with a self-deprecating laugh as he hoists Scott up to scrub his hands free of little bits of dough.

Derek turns the page and finds a half-finished drawing on the top half of the page with carefully penned words below.

"Once upon a time there was a Tsar who had a beloved wife and three sons. The Tsar's palace was surrounded by a beautiful orchard, and among the trees in the orchard was a wonderful apple-tree which bore golden apples. Not only were these apples a beautiful wonder, much coveted for their beauty and sweetness, the golden apples' enchanted nectar was all that kept the Tsarina alive against a curse laid upon her by a courtier who had coveted her position. Though she was ailing, the Tsar tended the tree carefully, bringing her the sweet juice so that she continued to live."

The drawing of the beautiful Tsarina is detailed and painstakingly painted and Derek wonders what Stiles's mother had looked like, if she'd looked anything like this.

"One day the Tsar discovered that someone was getting into the orchard and stealing his golden apples. He was furious, and worried for his wife if the crop should become too depleted. So precious were the golden fruits that he couldn't let anyone he didn't trust in to guard it. Still, he couldn't stay awake all hours, so he enlisted the help of his sons."

Scott comes over to sit at the table with him, arms full of an array of spice jars Stiles has handed down to him. Stiles is not far behind with the bowl and cans of tomato sauce.

"His sons tried to comfort him, and the eldest told him, 'I will go and guard the orchard against the thief tonight, father.' He went off to the orchard. But although he arrived there quite early in the evening and walked about for some time, he saw no one. The eldest prince was a lazy sort, so he lay down on a grassy bank and soon fell asleep. Next morning more apples were missing and his father asked him, 'Well, have you good news for me? Did you see the thief?' The prince had not seen anything because he had slept. 'No, father,' his son answered. Fearful of his father's disappointment he lied and said, 'I did not sleep a wink all night, I did not even close my eyes. But I saw no one.' His father was sadly fooled by his dishonesty."

Scott snickers, exchanging a glance with Derek.

Stiles looks between them, a curious light in his eyes, because this time they don't have to hide their inside jokes, and Stiles doesn't have to pretend not to hear them.

"If his dad was a werewolf that wouldn't work," Scott explains with glee. "Because they can tell when you lie."

Stiles grins. "So can my dad. But that's probably because he's the sheriff," he says with a laugh.

"The following night the Tsar's second son went to guard the orchard. Though he was not lazy like his elder brother, he was very greedy. Instead of staying and guarding the tree, he took some of the prized golden fruits for himself and left the tree untended so that he could stash his treasure. The next morning he told his father he, too, had seen no sign of a thief, although he had not closed his eyes."

"Now it was the turn of the youngest brother to guard the orchard. And he was so anxious not to miss the thief that he was afraid even to sit down, let alone to lie down. When he felt he was getting drowsy he washed his face with dew, and this made him wide-awake again. Worried that he might fall asleep by mistake, he tied some little bells to the branches so he will hear them move even if a thief were to slip past him. About halfway through the night he thought he saw a light in the orchard. It grew brighter and brighter, until all the trees were lit up. Then he saw that the light was coming from a Firebird, which was sitting on the apple-tree and pecking at the golden apples. So he crept up very quietly to the tree and caught hold of the bird by the tail. But the Firebird spread its wings and flew away, leaving only one tail feather in the Prince's hand. Next morning, when he went to report to his father, the Tsar asked him, 'Well, son, did you see the thief?'"

Stiles hands Scott a jar of spices and he sniffs it, making a face. Stiles takes it back and sniffs it in turn, then glares at the label before laughing. "Wrong one," he whispers. Scott giggles.

"'Dear father,' the youngest prince answered, 'I cannot say I caught him, but I have found out who is eating our apples. And I have brought you a tail feather in proof. It is the Firebird.' The Tsar took the feather and looked at it, and no longer felt sorrowful. A firebird was such a creature that its tears could cure any ill. Their father entreated them to go search out this firebird and bring it home so that they might make their mother well again, no longer to require the golden fruits. He promised them he who brought the bird back would become his successor. He gave them each three golden apples and bade them ride forth into the world to find and bring back the Firebird."

"The young men bowed to their father and set out on their travels. However, there were only three mounts to be had and the elder two brothers were not pleased that their younger sibling had shown them up. The eldest, being lazy, demanded the fastest horse. He set out for the nearest city, though there was no indication that the firebird had ever been there. The second son, being greedy, demanded both of the remaining horses to draw his cart in style. He set out for a distant but wealthy city, certain that someone there would know of a treasure such as the bird, and if not, he could enjoy the splendor of the city. The youngest, clever prince rode in a third direction. Though his brothers had conspired to leave him no fine steed, he was not to be foiled. He took the slow but dependable horse gladly, for he planned to watch for the bird in the night, to follow it back to its domain. He rode near and far, high and low, along by-paths and by-ways - for speedily a tale is spun, but with less speed a deed is done - until he came to a great dark forest, the path of the firebird directing him to enter it. But he was worried because he could not see any sign of civilization beyond a narrow path and was not sure he could cross it and survive."

Stiles sets the ground beef to simmer on the stove and hands Scott a brick of mozzarella and a grater when the boy follows him around the kitchen like a puppy, sending him on his way back to the table while he gathers the mushrooms and cutting board.

"Finally he decided to go half a day into the forest and if he did not find anything, he would turn back and try a different route. Several hours into his journey, he came across a young man walking through the forest. Though the boy was very beautiful, clad in exotic silks and paints, he was very out of place walking alone in the forest, so the Prince decided to ride on by, thinking him a trick of the mind or some enchantment. The young man called out to him, however, telling him 'Dear Prince, you should tarry a while for I have something you want.'"

Derek lifts an eyebrow at Stiles who just waggles his back.

"The Prince was wary of such offers. But the man persisted, drawing near. 'If you will not trade with me, then perhaps you will stop to break your fast and talk with me a while. I have been alone here in this forest a long time and have no one to talk to.' The Prince could see no reason not to be friendly, so he stopped to break bread with the young man. 'Tell me why you have travelled so far, and where you are going?' the young man asked. The Prince told the young man of his family's predicament and his father's mission for his sons. The young man does not seem surprised at this information. 'Many who enter this forest seek the firebird. None find it. I, however, have knowledge of the firebird's location and how you may retrieve it. I also know that you will never find it without my help. You might ride for a hundred days in this forest and never find your way to it.'"

When Stiles gazes suspiciously at the mushrooms, Derek takes the knife from him and pushes the book his direction, taking the cutting-board full of delicious earthy fungus over to his side of the table to do the honors.

"Though he is excited to hear this, the Prince is no fool. 'What must I do in return for this information?' he asks. 'I have this golden apple, a unique treasure which I may trade you for this information.' The handsome boy smiles at the golden apple, awed by its beauty. He says he will give the information, but there is only one thing he can accept in exchange; the Prince must give him his mount. The Prince decides he must have the information, but he does not know how he will get to a town without his horse. So he agrees, but on the stipulation that the boy will give the Prince a ride to a settlement before they part."

"They strike the deal, but the Prince was right to trust his instincts that magic was afoot. The boy turned into a Wolf, his true form, and struck down the horse for his meal. The Prince was frightened and fled. The Prince was sorely grieved for his horse and misfortune. He shed bitter tears while he continued on foot, hurrying away in the hope that he may find a village. He ran a whole day and was utterly exhausted. He was about to sit down and rest for a while and that was what allowed the great wolf to catch up with him. He was too tired to run anymore. But to his surprise the wolf said 'I am sorry for you, Prince. You are exhausted from walking. I will keep my word to lead you to a village and the firebird. I am sorry that I ate your good horse, but I have been cursed to remain trapped in this wood for many years and bade bargain any man who comes this way for his mount. But I am to keep this bargain and I will serve you faithfully and well in your horse's stead as your mount. Get on my back and hold on tight.'"

The timer goes off and Stiles passes the book back to Derek, taking the sliced mushrooms to dump in with the sizzling ground beef before retrieving the dough from the oven and turning it on to bake.

"The Prince knew this was his only hope of bravely seated himself astride the grey wolf, and it loped away, past the green forests, and the azure lakes. At last they came to a very high mountain with a great yawing cavern set in it. There the grey wolf told the Prince, 'Listen to me, and remember what I say. Climb up the mountain and down through the chimney vent. Do not be afraid; the Dragon is out hunting this time of day. She will not return for some time. In the treasure room you will see a small window; in the window hangs a golden cage, and in that cage is the Firebird. Take the bird and hide it under your coat so it will stay asleep."

"The Prince climbed up the mountain saw the chimney. He crept down the vent into the dormant fireplace and hopped over the still-warm ashes. He was surprised to see a great egg nestled in the ashes, but he had a more urgent goal. Just as the wolf had said, in the treasure room window a golden cage was hanging, and the Firebird was in the cage sound asleep during the day. He took out the bird and put it under his coat. But before he could begin his escape, the Dragon returned! Though the Prince had been quick, the Dragon had returned early to tend her egg, and immediately upon arriving to check it the Dragon caught his scent."

Stiles doesn't toss the dough around like a pro, nor does he bother much with rolling it out carefully, leaving the edges a little lumpy and uneven till he presses them down in the pan a little ways and crimps the rim up.

"With nowhere to run, the Dragon quickly found the Prince, grabbing him up in its claws. The Dragon was furious at this attempt to steal the Firebird. She took the Prince and threw him in a cage filled with the bones of previous transgressors. The Prince explained his predicament, how the firebird had been stealing their golden apples and his mother was dying. But the Dragon was not mollified. The wolf, having waited outside, saw the untimely arrival of the Dragon. Feeling guilty that his information had been out of date, he once more donned his beautiful boy form to enter the Dragon's cave on the Prince's behalf. He approached the Dragon bravely and offered to bargain for the Prince's life. Knowing of the Dragon's affinity for gold, the Wolf offered one of the golden apples the Prince had brought. The Dragon was intrigued, but said that no bounty would satisfy her because there is something she covets which she cannot retrieve herself, but that they can get for her."

The crust goes in to bake for a bit while Stiles supervises Scott in the grating of the cheese.

"The Dragon is aggrieved over her magic and winged golden pony who had been stolen from her several years ago. When the Prince asks her how he should find the pony, the Dragon searches through her treasures and gives the Prince a pendant that will take him to the object he most desires. The Dragon promises that she will trade them the firebird if they bring back the Dragon's golden pony. The Prince accepts this deal gladly and leaves the cave with a new mission. The Wolf offers to help him since he has not yet lived up to his side of the bargain. The Wolf also told the Prince that perhaps with the guidance of the amulet, the curse that has kept him trapped in the desert would be broken. The Prince thought this was a fine idea and so once again the Wolf became a wolf-steed, carrying him by day, warming him by night. They spoke often and soon became good friends. Though their journey took many days, they eventually came to the forest's edge. The Wolf was overjoyed to be free of the curse and go on to new lands once more. He promised to serve the Prince faithfully to the end of his great quest."

"They continued to search out the golden horse, using the pendant to guide them. Eventually they came to a wealthy man's pavilion on the high plains. When they got there they were amazed to see such an exotic collection of riches. The man was a collector and lo he had the golden winged pony there too. The Prince requested an audience with the merchant and offered him one of the magical golden apples in trade for the golden horse. But though the merchant was tempted, there was only one object his heart desired. A magic golden sword he had once carried with pride had been hidden deep in a maze as punishment for spurning the affections of a witch. He had never been brave enough to retrieve it."

"The Prince agreed to these terms, confident that he and the Boy could find the sword with the help of the amulet. So they set out for the marsh the witch held sway over. They found the wending maze and with the amulet found their way to its heart. When they found the sword it was laid out on a pedestal. The Boy, light of foot, hurried forward to take the sword. But no matter how quick his feet, the Boy was no match for the witch's trap. A magic ward encircled the Boy and summoned the witch. She had meant to trap the sword's old owner, the merchant who had sent them. She had intended to trap him and keep him for herself. But the Boy in her trap was too beautiful for her greedy eye and she decided she wanted to keep him instead."

Scot carefully spoons the sauce over the crust, Stiles helping him make sure a little gets on the edge of the crust. Then the toppings get dumped over the sauce and the cheese layered over that and then it's back in the oven for the last ten minutes. The kitchen already smells like a slice of heaven.

"The Prince drew his sword and threatened her, but she was not afraid. She told him that she could cast a spell and send the sword to oblivion before he could stop her if he decided to take the boy away from her. But the witch saw his determination and bargained with him. She will give the sword back if the prince will give up his boy. The witch held them both and though the Prince could attack her and take one, she would cost him the other. So she made the Prince choose. Though he needed the sword for his mission, the Prince came to a surprising realization. The magic amulet around his neck pointed not towards the sword, but towards the Boy. He was the Prince's heart's desire. The Prince realized that he could not sacrifice his friend, even if it meant failing his quest. His mother would never wish for such a sacrifice on her behalf he knew, and he cared little for the prize of becoming the successor. But before he could choose, the boy insisted he be allowed to make the choice for his fate. That he should be the one to make the bargain. He carefully winked at the Prince on that last word and the Prince trusted that he had a plan."

"The Prince took the sword and let the witch take the Boy. But when the witch got him back to her chambers, the Boy became a Wolf again and killed her before she could harm him. He ran away from the witch's home and caught up to the Prince who was using the amulet to search for him. Having won over the greedy witch, together they rode back to the pavilion with the jeweled sword."

They pause to retrieve the pizza and serve themselves up a plate each, taking all of it back into the comfort of the living room. Scott proudly fetches them each a glass of water unsupervised. They aren't on top of each other this time, Scott taking the armchair where he can reach the coffee table, but the room is warmer than it has been for weeks, perhaps longer now that the weight of secrecy is gone too. Stiles takes over the reading, balancing the book on the table to leave his lap free for the plate, familiar enough with the words that he doesn't have to look as often.

"But though they had made a deal to exchange the sword for the horse, the merchant was greedy too. He decided he didn't want to give up his horse, so he decided that he would use the magic sword to kill the Prince and his Boy. But the greedy man did not know that the Boy was a Wolf, and as he lunged to attack the Prince, the Wolf put an end to him. So together the Prince and Boy escaped on the magic horse along with the sword as was their due."

"They took the horse back to the Dragon to trade for the firebird. The Dragon's hatchling, however, was very frightened of the winged pony. But she was a fair Dragon and feeling maternal kinship accepted their return as evidence of the Prince's contrition and gave him the bird on the condition that he release it again once it had helped his mother. The Prince insisted on giving the Dragon and her hatchling each a magic apple and promised he would send the firebird back to them once he had saved his mother."

"So the Prince guided the Wolf out of the forest once more and even kept his company till they got to the edge of his father's territory, having become dear friends through their adventures. But when they arrived on the borders of the great city the Prince insisted that they had to part ways for although he would miss the Wolf dearly, he was sure the Wolf would be happiest roaming free. The Wolf reminded him that he had promised to see the mission through, but the Prince insisted that the Wolf was free of his obligation and has done more than enough for him. The Wolf was sad to see the Prince go too, but the Prince gave the Wolf the magic amulet so that perhaps the Wolf would never be trapped in the great forest again. He then gave the Wolf the last magic apple, telling him to plant it somewhere safe and live a long life off its fruits. With heavy hearts, they each went their separate ways."

"Before long the Prince was once more buoyed with hope at being able to save his mother. But as he came back to the crossroads leading into the city, he met his two brothers walking home. The eldest was returning home empty handed, and without even his steed or his fine clothes, having spent all his time in a brothel and lost all his riches. His second brother had spent all his time gathering riches, but he had not actually pursued the firebird at all."

"Though the Prince loved his brothers, he was wary of their flaws as well, so he did not to show the firebird to them. Instead he told them of his grand adventures, showing them the magic sword and horse and telling them a version of the tale of how he had come by them. They began the rest of the journey home together, but his second brother grew too greedy and coveted his fancy jeweled sword. His eldest brother was lazy and grew to covet his golden horse. The brothers conspired to beat him and take his riches for their own. Not knowing the firebird was hidden there among his things, when they attacked their brother, they set the bird loose. They were greatly grieved and beat their brother nearly to death and left him for dead in a ditch."

"The Wolf, who had been going on his way to find a place for the magic fruit saw the firebird flying in the night. Worried at this development he tossed the magic fruit into the air, attracting the great bird down to the favored treat. He carefully sprang on the bird, catching it about the neck without harming it. Then he ran quickly towards the Prince, the amulet guiding their way. When he found the Prince in the ditch, the Wolf was greatly aggrieved for the Prince seemed quite dead. But as he knelt beside his friend, the firebird's tears fell on the Prince, as they did for all those who were worthy of its blessing by being pure of heart."

"The Prince became whole again at the touch of the firebird's tears and was quite grateful to see his friend and the firebird. When the Wolf asked him how this had happened, he explained how his brothers had betrayed him. The Wolf was angry and wanted to go take back the riches from them by force, but the Prince decided that he did not want those things anymore, beautiful though they were. They had seen thrice over what greed could do to people and he really only wanted to bring the firebird back to heal his mother. So the Prince set out for the city once more, the Wolf at his side, refusing to leave until he was sure he was safe at home and had brought the bird to his mother."

"The Wolf became the beautiful Boy once more and stayed at the Prince's side all the way to his father's throne. There they found his brothers arguing over who should become king. The Prince bypassed them and went straight to his parents' chambers, bringing the firebird to his mother. The firebird dutifully wept on his mother's face and the curse was broken. As per his word, the Prince took the firebird to the window and set it free to return to the Dragon with his gratitude."

"The Tsar was overjoyed; not only had his son he thought dead returned alive, but he had been successful in his quest. The Tsar and Tsarina named the youngest Prince their successor and banished the two traitorous elder sons from the kingdom. The Tsar and Tsarina ruled together happily for many years, and when they retired and let the youngest Prince take over, he became known as a fair and pure-hearted Tsar. He ruled over the land with his strange and faithful advisor at his side for many years, and though some of the city spoke of a mysterious Wolf that was sometimes seen around the palace grounds, it was thereafter only ever considered a good omen."

Stiles closes the book and sets it on the table, sending a smile over at Derek as he adds, "The prince and the wolf stayed together for the rest of their lives."

Derek reaches his hand out and slips his fingers between Stiles's, brushing his thumb against his knuckles, savoring the warmth of him, the softness of his skin and the strength of his hands.

Scott has a contemplative look on his face as he hops down from the armchair, picking up the book. He stares at it, then walks away a few paces and puts it on a shelf, carefully, almost defiantly, like he's asserting that it belongs here with them. A yawn catches him as he pats the cover.

"You getting tired pup? It's pretty late," Derek asks.

Scott turns a frown on them, eyes studying their joined hands for a long moment. "Maybe," he admits. But he doesn't turn in the direction of the stairs to head towards his bed at all. Instead he moves back over towards them to put his hands on Derek's knee, taking a deep breath and heaving it out slowly like he's grounding himself. Then he looks up at his dad with an unfathomable expression before his bright brown eyes shift over to Stiles as he takes a hesitant step towards him.

Stiles leans forward, setting his plate aside and giving Scott his full attention.

Scott's fingers curl into the fabric of Derek's jeans as he asks Stiles, "Did you know that werewolves mate for life?"

Stiles's brows flick up in surprise, but then he smiles softly and says, "Yeah, yeah I do. Your dad told me." He hesitates a second before he adds, "That's something else we talked about."

Scott flicks a glance over at Derek but doesn't linger long enough to even catch his reassuring smile. His face is screwed up with his own steady determination, knowing he has Derek to back him up but ready to face his challenges himself.

"Are you going to leave again?" Scott asks quietly.

"Oh." Stiles kneels swiftly in front of him, setting his hands on Scott's shoulders, looking him in the eyes. "No, pup. I'm staying right here."

"For how long?" Scott says, glancing anxiously between them.

Stiles looks over his shoulder at Derek, gazing at him for a moment that isn't long but is, at the same time, reflecting words like forever. Like love. Like mate. He smiles, turning back to Scott and saying firmly, "For life."

Scott throws himself against Stiles's chest, knocking his glasses askew and sending him toppling back against the couch with the force of his hug. There's laughter, and there are probably tears in there somewhere, given the snuffling that happens between laughs. It's perfect, and at that point Derek really has no other choice but to join them both and turn it into a proper dogpile.

Chapter Text

It's been a long day. In a really, really good way. It has been full of too-loud music in the Camaro and ridiculous singalongs. Full of sunlight and games of tag and dozens of hugs. The sun setting in the distance sends pink and orange beams over the land that makes all of the trees look like they're practically glowing with life, every blade of grass a thing of beauty. Inside every face is lit with a different light. The warmth of family.

Without looking, Derek hands another plate to his dad to dry, too busy watching Stiles who is watching Scott. He's sitting at the center of the big table, Scott sitting in his lap. Everyone's there, very nearly the entire pack, spread around the room in various places, all listening to Scott carefully read from the brand new book in his hands. Stiles's brand new book, as in one with his name on the cover.

The box had arrived yesterday and they'd decided not to open it until they were up at the ranch. Stiles had been nervous about that too even though they'd both known from the proofs that it's perfect. He still looks at the thing like he can't believe it's real, like seeing his art on the cover and inside each story is some sort of dream. It's a little like how Derek looks at Stiles.

Yeah, there was a lot of that going around.

Anyway, everyone had loved it. They'd particularly loved the foreword about changing people's perspectives on wolves from the ground up. Derek loves it because it reminds him of their first conversation, of Stiles full of passion as he defends his story, his wolves. In retrospect it's hard to remember that he hadn't fallen in love with Stiles on the spot.

Then again, maybe he had.

He watches as Lilly reaches over and tries to snag one of the cookies off of Stiles's plate, still mostly full since he and Scott have spent most of the meal taking turns reading his stories to the pack. Stiles smacks her hand and wrests the cookie back from the mischievous teen with a flash of teeth, a perfect response as per the werewolf norms he's been studying up on. But then, predictably, he grins and breaks the thing in half, tossing part of it to her and stuffing the other half in his mouth while Scott giggles.

Now it almost seems ridiculous how nervous they'd both been last night. Still, bringing anyone to meet the pack for the first time is a big deal. And though there was clearly no good reason for either of them to worry, neither of them had been able to get much sleep, no matter how many times they each reassured the other everything would be fine.

And everything was fine. It's easy, actually, because Stiles is already family. Has been for a while. Down in Beacon Hills they've already slid into an easy routine. There's lots of coffee and breakfasts full of absurd discussions that Derek doesn't even try to follow anymore. There's wakeup sex and lingering goodbye kisses, meaningless quibbles over laundry and massages after long days at work. Scott gets painting lessons twice a week and Stiles's things have been slowly making their way over to Derek and Scott's house, just a little at a time since he has a couple months left on his lease. The empty extra bedroom has been made into Stiles's studio, and the once-empty bookshelves are starting to get crowded. Erica brings by an obnoxious number of wedding magazines to mock them with and Stiles introduces her to Boyd so they can tease her in turn when she falls head-over-heels. The disturbingly-bright chaise lounge has even made the move, along with Claudia's painting - they belong together apparently, though Stiles has yet to tell him the full story on that one. There's no mistaking that it's a home now, the three of them a family.

Listening to Stiles start reading Scott a story at the dinner-table while Derek cleaned up the kitchen has become such a habitual thing that he'd gotten up automatically when he'd finished eating and carried whatever dishes were available along with him. His mother had sent him an obnoxiously knowing and fond look as he'd passed her that he hadn't understood until he'd suddenly found himself in his father's usually solitary domain. His dad had thankfully said nothing as he'd joined him at the sink. He'd just smiled and stepped over to the drying rack, letting Derek take his place at the washing side, silently doing chores with him and listening to the sounds of the story and their family in the background.

When Scott finishes the story there's a swell of applause, then more noise as people go and fetch more dessert in the break or bring their empty dishes into the kitchen to pile up on the counter next to Derek. He gets more than one congratulatory clap on the back and more than a few big kisses on the cheek until he scowls and starts threatening to turn the sprayer on them all and Lilly rather theatrically and mockingly 'flees' from his 'eyebrows of doom'.

But he can't get mad. Not even close. He's smiling too hard.

Everyone starts returning to their places, most of them with more cookies in hand. Scott carries a tall stack of them back to the table and Derek can't help but smile at the way Stiles doesn't help him as he awkwardly climbs his way up onto the bench beside him, but definitely does exchange a high-five at his success. Cora takes the cookie Scott carefully hands her, ruffling his hair as she leans over Stiles's shoulder. She starts flipping through the book to pick the next story to read while Stiles begs Stacy to bring him another glass of water before joining in Cora's endeavor. It's messy and noisy and perfect.

Derek starts a new batch of soapy water while they deliberate. His mom brings him a cookie and despite his scowling makes him accept a big, proud, sappy kiss on the cheek. He manages to duck the hand bent on ruffling his hair affectionately, much to her amusement. When she passes by him and on to her mate, there's nothing reticent at all about the way his dad lets her lay one on him. Derek shakes his head fondly and returns to doing the dishes. When Stiles begins the story he smiles.

"Once upon a time there was a king and queen who had three daughters."

He knows without looking that the first image is of said royal family and their coppery hair, highlighted with metallic gold paint in a castle of dark stone.

His dad goes to check the cider mulling on the stove and Derek goes to start pulling down the multitude of mugs that he'll be filling as they listen to the story about wildflower wreaths, about the youngest princess and her white wolf.

"...in the evening as promised he went back to fetch her, and, standing outside the palace gate, he gave a long, loud howl. In the midst of her dancing the princess heard the sound, and at once she went to him, for she had grown to love him and her new home as much as he loved her. So he swung her on his back and bore her away home to his castle."

"You picked a good one, son," his dad says, drawing his attention away from the main room.

He grins over at his father, at the soft, proud smile under his beard. After all, as Scott likes to say, Stiles is the best.

"I should warn you," his dad leans closer and whispers conspiratorially, "Your mother's so pleased that if you're not careful she'll end up demanding a traditional mating ritual for you two."

There's a loud clack as Derek drops the mug he's getting down from the cupboard onto the dishes in the sink on a fumble. His ears are burning and he shoots Cora a death glare where she's sitting, looking at them through the archway and snickering without even a passing glance at subtlety for her eavesdropping.

At least Liam's trying to hold back his laughter, lips bitten back between his teeth. Breccan claps a hand over his mouth but snorts anyway and Derek scowls at all of them. But when his eyes land on Stiles, he finds him looking back at him with a curious look in his eyes as he speaks the tale from memory.

And when he gazes at that amber spark of insatiable curiosity Derek finds himself wondering what Stiles would think of that; living his own fairytale with a true-to-tradition werewolf wedding. It certainly isn't a children's tale, but…

"... twenty-eight days she roamed in the forest, sleeping under the trees, and living upon wild berries and roots, and at last she reached a little house. She opened the door and went in and found the wind seated in the room all by itself. She spoke to the wind and said: 'Wind, have you seen my husband the white wolf?'"

He thinks Stiles might love it.

When Stiles breaks to turn the next page in the book, Derek realizes that his mom is eyeing him with a very contemplative smirk and he snaps his attention back to the dishes. His dad laughs, that warm, open laugh that always has his hair dancing where it brushes his collar.

"She's always right, that Talia," his dad murmurs, shaking his head over a grin as he polishes the next plate dry and turns to carry a stack away to the cupboard. "Still don't know how she does it."

Derek just scowls, still blushing, and rinses the offending mug before tackling the remaining dishes and listening while Stiles tells the tale of how the princess makes her journey, spins her tale and her furs.

"... she found that she too had transformed into a beautiful white wolf. She had done it! But the door was still closed to her, so she puzzled over what to do. Suddenly, in a moment of inspiration, she remembered a piece of her own story. She tipped her head back and let out a most lonely howl at the sky, calling her husband to return to her, as she had once returned to him."

Setting the last bowl in his father's hands, Derek dries his hands on a dishtowel and drifts back to the big doorway, leaning on the frame of the arch and looking at his family. At his mate and his son.

"When the prince heard her howl, he knew that it truly was his wife, who had sought him, and had found him, even after such great dangers and difficulties. He threw open his door, wreath clutched to his chest. He knelt before her, scarcely able to believe his eyes as he took in her wolf form and the second pelt at her feet. 'My husband, I have missed you,' she said. The prince laid a hand on her fur. 'My wife I had thought you lost to me. But I was wrong. You sought me everywhere and ventured to even the heavens to return to me.' And she replied: 'Yes my dear heart, I have journeyed far but no journey is too far, for I love you with all my heart.' He wept tears of joy and placed the wreath on her head where it belonged, and said 'And I love you.' Then the prince took the second pelt and drew it over his shoulders. And in the light of the moon, blessed by the wind and clouds and the sun, and his wife's love, so he became the white wolf once more."

Stiles turns the page carefully, displaying the stunning image that is the story's finale. He lifts his head, eyes finding Derek's unerringly. He smiles, that perfect, soft, special smile that is his and his alone.

Derek returns it and says the last words with him.

You know how it goes, don't you?