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How To Parent a Pup (Or, We Are Trying Our Best And That's Okay)

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            “Listen,” said Stiles, skillfully tugging his arms out of the baby carrier strung around his shoulders. “I’m honestly not really sure how this happened, but, you know. It definitely did. So.”

            His father - still Sheriff, even as he was getting on in years - held a baby in his arms, watching his son with skeptical disbelief.

            “Another baby?” asked the Sheriff.

            “Yes,” confirmed Stiles, setting aside the baby carrier and looking his father straight in the eyes. “Baby Number Two. Due in April. Little Aries baby. Fire sign! Also,” added Stiles, “we’re gonna get married too.

            “What?”

            “Cora and me,” Stiles clarified. “I know we’re a little late on the draw, and I did actually plan this before she told me we had another bun in the oven, so I mean, it’s not meant to look like a shotgun wedding but she’s gonna-” Stiles mimed a ballooning stomach “-any day now, so, you know. It’s gonna look like a shotgun wedding.”

            “The ship’s kind of already sailed on that one, Stiles,” said the Sheriff; he held up the baby in his arms, who cooed and giggled.

            “While we’re talking about this little pancake,” said Stiles, reaching out to pluck his baby from his father’s arms; he set her on his lap and placed his hands over her ears. “Scott and Derek are planning a surprise party next week, if you’d like to help ‘em out.”

            “What’s the point of a surprise party for an infant?”

            “It’s not for the infant,” said Stiles pointedly. “It’s for me and Cora, who have been in baby-mode for the past year, and now, apparently, will continue to be in baby-mode for the next couple of years.”

            “Well, really, Stiles, you could’ve planned this a little better-”

            Stiles shrugged. “Eh, Baby Number Two was kind of planned. I mean, Cora and I talked about it. Considered the possibility.”

            “That’s not planning-”

            “I can’t help my extremely potent sperm and her extremely fecund uterus,” said Stiles, bouncing the baby on his knee. “Anyway, I thought you’d be pretty happy we’re finally tying the knot.”

            The Sheriff didn’t say anything for a moment, and then he relented. He sighed and reached out to play with the baby; she took his fingers in her pudgy little fists, giggling at him. Stiles happily rubbed her tummy. “I am happy,” said the older man. “Congratulations, Stiles.”

            Stiles grinned down at his father and his daughter. “I’m sure you figured it was coming eventually.”

            “With you kids?” asked Sheriff, glancing up at his son. “You know, I wasn’t even sure it was ever going to happen at all.”

            “Oh, come on,” retorted Stiles. “Tax benefits!”

            “You don’t even know what that means.”

            “Commitment,” countered Stiles.

            “Because raising a child together doesn’t suggest any kind of committed relationship, does it?”

            Stiles narrowed his eyes, watching his father thoughtfully. “Whatever,” he shrugged, moving on. “This way we all get the same last name.”

            “Scarlett’s last name is Hale,” the Sheriff pointed out.

            “Oh,” said Stiles, adjusting his daughter on his lap, pulling her in towards his chest. “Yeah. That’s important to Cora, so. Stilinski’s gonna be my maiden name.” He shot an apologetic look up at his father. “Sorry Dad.”

            Sheriff Stilinski liked to think he was a pretty progressive guy, but for some reason this hurt a little more than he expected. “What?” he said, trying to mask his injury. “Why?”

            “Because,” answered Stiles, “we’re the Hales now. It’s a, you know, a pack thing.”

            “And why does it have to be your kids? Why can’t Derek do it?”

            “Okay, Dad, sure,” said Stiles matter-of-factly, nodding his head. “The day Derek has children, I’ll change my name back to Stilinski.”

            “Stiles-”

            “I’ll keep it as my middle name, or something,” offered Stiles, trying to meet his father halfway. “I’m just saying, there are plenty of Stilinskis running around, Uncle Sheldon has like, eight kids. Derek and Cora are the only Hales left, and I’m, uh...part of their pack now. Still part of both families,” he added, eager to clarify, “but, you know, it’s werewolf mate-claim business. Delicate, complicated stuff.”

            “You’re making that up,” said the Sheriff.

            “I am,” admitted Stiles, “but like I said, it’s important to Cora, so it’s important to me. Hey! I’ll ask Cora if she wants you to walk her down the aisle. Oh, but she’ll probably want Derek to do that. Sorry.”

            Scarlett, the baby, cackled loudly and reached out her pudgy little hands towards the Sheriff, who obliged and picked her up in his arms. She laughed and reached out, playing with his ear.

            “Did you pick a date yet?”

            “Yeah,” answered Stiles, watching his daughter blissfully. “Wolf Moon.”

            When the Sheriff eyed him, Stiles clarified, “January’s full moon. Again, it’s a werewolf thing.”

            “A werewolf thing,” repeated the Sheriff.

            “That’s what I said.”

            The older man turned his face towards the baby: Scarlett giggled and grabbed his nose with her tiny hand, and he reached out and let her grasp onto his fingers. “What about the kids?”

            Stiles watched him. “What about the kids?”

            With a half-anxious glance towards his son, the Sheriff asked, “Are they - you know - also going to be terrifying creatures of the night?”

            “Aw, I don’t know,” laughed Stiles, leaning forward to brush a finger down his daughter’s puffy cheek. “I’d say Scar has a long way to go before she gets to terrifying.”

            The Sheriff glanced at his son.

            “But,” said Stiles, sobering up only slightly, “the answer is yes. It runs in families, from mothers. Deaton said the full transformation doesn’t hit until puberty, but, I mean - yeah, she gets kind of restless come full moons. And Cora says fangs are probably gonna show up in a year or two.”

            “Will that hurt her?”

            “I hope not,” said Stiles; a flicker of worry crossed his brow, eyes focused on his daughter. “I really… I think that’d mess me up, if it did.” He let out a bark of semi-forced laughter. “You know? That’d just…”

            He trailed off, as if he wanted to say something, but could not find the words to express it. This was uncharacteristic of Stiles, but his father had seen it happen to him several times in the months it’d been since his child had been born. It was a beautiful thing: the Sheriff hadn’t known that family would come this way, but all things considered, things had worked out for his son. And there was nothing that made him quite as proud or misty-eyed as seeing the utter love and joy in Stiles’s eye when he looked at his daughter.

            “So,” said the Sheriff, jerking Stiles out of his intent focus on Scarlett. “To make up for this, Baby Number Two better get a name from our side of the family.”

            “Oh my God, Dad, we have literally zero good names from our side of the family. I mean, come on. You have a brother named Jethro.”

            “Hey, why are you taking it out on Jethro when you could’ve just used yourself for that example?”

            “Because my name is Stiles,” he said pointedly. “And you are going to stick to that, because the mother of my child has, by some miracle, not figured out that my parents didn’t name me Stiles Stilinski yet.”

            “That poor woman,” said the Sheriff, shaking his head.

            “Hopefully she won’t look too hard at the marriage license,” he said, grinning. “I figure eventually she’ll want a tattoo of my name, so I’ll have to tell her then. Which reminds me - you’re gonna be so proud of me, guess what?”

            “What?” asked the Sheriff suspiciously, gently rocking Scarlett in his arms.

            Stiles held up his left hand and pointed to his ring finger. “Ring tattoos,” he said proudly. “No kidding. Wild, right?”

            The Sheriff raised an eyebrow. “You can’t stand tattoos.”

            “Yeah, but Cora wanted it,” he shrugged. “She says she’s not going to be able to keep a ring on all the time, what with her Alpha werewolf duties, so a tattoo would be better. I’ll wear a ring,” he said pointedly, “but I’m also doing the tattoo, for her.”

            “Wow,” sighed the Sheriff. “You know, Stiles, out of all your friends, you’re the last one I would’ve pegged for a stay-at-home dad. I’m impressed.”

            “I know,” said Stiles, grinning wryly at his father. “But to be fair, I’m also a part-time hunter, or something. Or something being the key phrase there.”

            “Isn’t that dangerous?” asked the Sheriff.

            “Well, maybe it would be for someone without a True Alpha, a hunter, a Banshee, a kitsune, and two Hales on their side.” Scarlett made a little noise, and Stiles corrected, “Sorry, three Hales. Although,” he reached out to tickle his daughter’s chin, “you’re gonna have to wait a little while before you go out on any missions, pancake! You’re just a little pup, aren’t you?”

            As Stiles was headed out the door, Scarlett replaced in her baby carrier, her tiny legs poking out at the bottom, he stopped and turned back around to his father. “Oh, and also,” he said, “last thing, last thing - you know the house is huge, right? You are totally welcome to move in anytime. I mean, Scott’s already living with us, it’s pretty much a free-for-all when it comes to sleeping arrangements at this point-”

            “Thank you,” said the Sheriff pointedly, speaking over his son. “I’ll let you know when I’m interested, alright?”

            “OK, alright, if you’re sure. ‘Bye, Dad.”

            “I’ll see you later, Stiles. Be good for your daddy, huh, Scarlett?”

            The baby cooed and giggled as the Sheriff tickled her chin, and Stiles took one of her hands and waved it around. “Say bye-bye to your grandpa, Scar! Say bye-bye!”

            The little girl could not muster up words of any coherence, but the Sheriff just kissed her on the forehead, then his son on the forehead, then waved as Stiles-and-baby headed out the door.

            As Stiles headed away from the porch of his childhood home, he rubbed at his daughter’s bootied feet, keeping them warm against the biting November cold. “What do you say, Scar?” he asked her, murmuring into her little ear. “You gonna big enough to be Mommy and Daddy’s flower girl come January? Hm?”

            The little girl laughed and, satisfied, Stiles headed back home, holding onto her feeties.

---

            In the bathroom, Stiles spit a mouthful of toothpaste into the sink.

            “So,” he called, holding his toothbrush just before his face, “Melissa called today, and Scott and I were telling her about the wedding, and she made the excellent point that having a ceremony outside in the backyard, mid-January, is going to be friggin’ cold. Which wouldn’t be a problem,” he added, going to the door and leaning on the frame, watching Cora lying with her eyes closed on their bed, one hand covering her eyes, the other gently resting on her belly, “if you were like the Twilight werewolves but, as we’ve covered, sadly you are nothing like the Twilight werewolves.”

            He went back to the sink, spit and rinsed his mouth.

            “Except for the imprinting thing,” he called. “Because I’m still pretty sure there’s no way you’d still be with me unless you soul-bonded or something.”

            After wiping his mouth on a towel, he went back out to the bed, turning off the bathroom light as he did so. He slipped into bed, cuddling up next to Cora, slipping an arm around her waist. Gently placing his chin on her shoulder, he murmured, “You okay?”

            She didn’t answer for a moment. Then, almost unconsciously, she moved her hand from her stomach to take his hand at her side. “Messing with my shift already,” she muttered. “It’s just annoying.”

            Werewolf pregnancy, once far enough along, negated the effects of the full moon and prevented a full shift, something Stiles and Cora hadn’t known until they were in the middle of a job a few years ago and Cora’s howl hadn’t come out quite right, her transformation halting abruptly after fangs and claws. Luckily Stiles actually managed to land a shot, for once, which had prevented disaster and allowed for Allison to send her people to pick up the creature they’d been hunting; still, Cora had been badly scared, even if she wouldn’t admit it.

            One visit to Deaton in desperate search of a cure had cleared all that up, though. Well, a visit to Deaton, and then a visit to a drugstore for a little stick for Cora to pee on.

            Cora, being a female Hale Alpha, had incredible power, and the inability to shift robbed her of a certain kind of control she had gotten very used to in the past few years. Fully shifted or not, Cora was usually still the strongest one in the room, but she hated feeling any degree of weakness. Stiles held her for a moment.

            Then he looked up at her and asked, “So what are we going to do?”

            She removed her hand from her face and glanced at him. “About what?” She sounded tired. Stiles wondered if he shouldn’t just let her go to sleep.

            “The wedding,” he said. “It’s gonna be cold. And Melissa is coming in from Hawaii, she won’t be used to extreme temperatures.”

            “I don’t know,” muttered Cora, glancing from his eyes to his lips, then back again. “We’ll use outdoor heaters or something.”

            “Oh, my God - that’s amazing,” sighed Stiles shaking his head. “That’s so smart. You know, Cora, that’s what I love about you and your brother: the Hales won’t take no for an answer. I mean, sometimes Derek does, so, really it’s just you. Hale Alphas.”

            “He used to be an Alpha,” she murmured, closing her eyes again.

            “I know, but I’m talking, like, good Hale Alphas.”

            Shifting to lay on her side, lining the curve of her body along Stiles’s, Cora added, “All I said was we’d use some heaters, it’s not that extreme.”

            Happy that he got to be the big spoon for once, Stiles wrapped an arm around her, clasping fingers with her, their hands resting on her belly. He imagined he could feel it, the tiny, beautiful life growing inside of her. He kissed her on the jaw, then murmured into her ear, “Can you hear it?”

            “Shh,” she said.

            Stiles said nothing; he held his breath, trying to make as little sound as possible.

            She turned her head to nuzzle at his face, kissing the side of his lips. “Yeah, I can hear her heartbeat,” she whispered. “She’s strong.”

            “How do you know it’s a she?”

            “I know,” she said.

            “Is it a magic werewolf thing? Did you sacrifice a baby rabbit in the woods or something, to ensure baby girl fertility?”

            “That’s stupid,” she told him. “I just feel like she’s a girl.”

            “You gonna be disappointed if she’s not?”

            “You think I’d be disappointed with a baby?”

            “You’re right,” he said. “Another stupid question.”

            “Go to sleep, Stiles,” she told him. “Quit while you’re ahead.”

            “Aw, babe, you think I’m ahead?”

            Gently, she growled at him. He kissed the side of her face again, then settled into bed.

            “‘Night, baby,” he said.

            “‘Night,” murmured Cora.

            “Shh,” he said, patting her tummy. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

            In the darkness, facing away from Stiles, Cora smiled.

            Hours later, past midnight, Stiles had as usual curled up with the covers, leaving Cora half-exposed. Splayed out across the bed, she snored loudly - but not so loud as to obscure the sounds, one floor below, which woke her up with a start.

            Instantly, Cora reached out and placed a hand on Stiles’s shoulder. When she shook him, he stirred. “What?” he asked sleepily, words slightly slurred from tiredness. “Are you-”

            Cora placed a finger on her lips. “There’s someone downstairs,” she whispered.

            A shot of fear burst behind his eyes. “It’s probably just Scott or Derek-”

            “No it’s not,” she said, and she got out of bed, pulling him along with her. He stumbled behind her to the door; he almost yelped in shock when she opened the door and Derek appeared, Scarlett in his arms.

            “Here,” said Derek, handing the baby to Stiles, who looked between the siblings in confusion.

            “Take her up to the attic,” said Cora, as Derek glanced at her, nodded, then left, no doubt heading downstairs with Scott. In Stiles’s arms, Scarlett stirred; Stiles whispered gently to her as Cora led him to the entrance to the attic, which was warded with mountain ash. “Stay up here,” Cora told him. “Don’t come down unless one of us comes to get you.”

            As she turned away, Stiles reached out. “Cora-”

            She pulled away from his touch. When she looked back at him, her eyes were crimson red. “Stay here,” she said again.

            She darted away. Stiles sat there for a moment, then pulled up the door to the attic, sealing it against supernatural intrusion. He held Scarlett close to his chest; she sniffled slightly, then let out a whining cry. “Shh,” he whispered, bouncing her up and down in his arms. “Shh, baby, you gotta be quiet. Shhh.”

            To Stiles’s ear, there was silence below. He closed his eyes, trying to focus, trying to hear any indication of a struggle.

            After a few minutes, he heard the distinct sound of footsteps coming up the hall. He held his breath; Scarlett, maybe sensing something was wrong, made no noise at all.

            There was a knock on the door to the attic. “Stiles,” said a familiar voice. “It’s me. It’s OK, you can come out.”

            With a sigh of relief, Stiles leaned over and opened the attic door, revealing Scott below, peering up at them. “What happened?” asked Stiles.

            “Nothing,” answered Scott. “It’s just Peter.”

            Stiles hesitated, then sat back down again. “You know,” he said, “I think I’ll stay up here.”

            In the kitchen downstairs, Cora sat at the table with Peter; Derek lingered by the counter, arms folded across his chest. “I don’t know what the big fuss is about,” he said pointedly, holding an ice pack to his head, where Cora had clocked him in the darkness. “Need I actually remind you that this was once my home, too?”

            “If you have to break in,” said Derek, “it’s not your home.”

            “Well I wouldn’t have had to if you hadn’t locked the door-”

            “Right,” said Stiles, entering the room after Scott, the baby in his arms. “Because leaving the front door unlocked in Beacon Hills is a smart thing to do.”

            Peter looked around, and his eyes lit up when he saw them. “Ah,” he purred. “There’s the little pup.”

            “I’m not your pup,” said Stiles.

            Rolling his eyes, Peter said, “I wasn’t talking about you.”

            Scarlett buried her face in her father’s neck.

            “Look at that,” said Stiles mildly, glancing down at her daughter, then up at Peter. “She doesn’t like you.” With a proud little shrug, he added, “She takes after her dad.”

            “Oh, come on,” said Peter, rolling his eyes once more. “I haven’t even met my little niece.”

            “Grand-niece,” corrected Cora.

            “Niece,” repeated Peter, glancing back at her. “I am not old enough to have a grand-anything.”

            Peter held out his hands expectantly. Stiles stared at him, then laughed. “Seriously?” he asked. “You think I’m going to hand my baby to you?”

            “Stiles,” said Cora.

            “Cora,” replied Stiles. “Come on. The guy’s a certifiable psychopath.”

            “Please,” snorted Peter. “I haven’t hurt a fly in years.”

            “Then where were you the past year?” asked Stiles, glaring at Peter intently. “And how have you managed to stay off Allison’s radar? What are you running from, Peter?”

            Getting up, Cora said, “That’s enough.”

            She went to Stiles, gently took Scarlett out of his arms, then went to Peter’s side. He watched the baby, who made little whining sound, her pudgy hands reaching out to her mother as Cora handed her to Peter.

            “Oh, look at you,” murmured Peter, holding the child. “Good girl. Nice and strong.” He sat her on his lap, then experimentally pulled up her lip, as if searching for fangs.

            Cora’s hand shot out and caught his wrist. He glanced up at her, then pulled his hand away, letting go of her lip.

            “Twelve months?” he asked.

            “Next week,” Cora confirmed. “Don’t pretend that’s not why you’re back.”

            “Of course it is,” he shot back at her. “How could I miss my darling niece’s first birthday?”

            “Grand-niece,” said Derek, this time, and Peter shot him an ugly look.

            “Plus,” continued Peter casually, taking Scarlett’s tiny hands in his. “I heard you’re hosting the Wolf Moon this year. Is that right?”

            Cora didn’t answer for a moment. Stiles glanced in between her and Peter.

            “It is,” she said, finally.

            “And I must be invited, naturally.”

            “No,” said Stiles.

            “Not if you’re going to mess things up,” said Scott.

            Peter looked hurt. “Scott,” he said. “When have I ever been known to - ‘mess things up?’”

            At that moment, Scarlet let out a long, whining cry. Peter glanced back at her uncertainly.

            “Suppose she does take after her father, after all,” he muttered, glancing at Stiles.

            “She’s just hungry,” said Derek.

            “It’s too late for her to eat,” said Cora, plucking her off Peter’s lap. “There’s been too much excitement tonight, she needs to go back to bed. Peter, you can stay in the guest room.”

            “Which guest room?” asked Peter wryly.

            “Basement guest room,” said Stiles. “The one furthest away from the nursery.”

            “Rude,” said Peter.

            “We’ll talk in the morning,” said Cora to Peter. Then she turned and headed past Stiles and Scott, back upstairs. Scarlett continued to sniffle tearfully.

            With one emphatic glare towards Peter, Stiles followed Cora. Behind them, he heard Scott ask, “You really couldn’t have waited ‘til morning?”

            Following Cora up the stairs, Stiles didn’t say anything when Cora walked right past the nursery. “Is it alright if Scarlett sleeps with us tonight?” she asked, without looking back at him.

            “Yeah,” he said. “Sure. That’d be great, actually. I really don’t trust Peter.”

            Entering their bedroom, Cora shook her head. “Peter wouldn’t hurt one of his own.”

            “Right, except for that time he murdered your older sister.”

            Placing Scarlett down in their bed - she squirmed a little, but her eyes instantly fluttered closed - Cora glanced at Stiles sternly. “Laura was Alpha,” she said, slipping into bed beside her baby. “And Peter was half out of his mind. We’ve been over this, Stiles.”

            “OK, sure, so what you’re saying is you’re more in danger of being murdered by your power-hungry uncle than our infant daughter is. That’s super reassuring.”

            “Peter’s practically Omega at this point,” said Cora, as Stiles too laid down, Scarlett in between them. “Even if he were a threat, that’s what Derek and Scott are here for.”

            “I thought Derek and Scott are here because we love and appreciate them.”

            “You would think that.”

            There was a short silence. Scarlett made a little hiccuping noise, her breathing soft and steady.

            “Hey,” said Stiles.

            Cora gave a little grunt of acknowledgement.

            “You said Peter was back for her birthday,” he said.

            Eyes closed, Cora murmured, “Did I say that?”

            “You said, Don’t pretend that’s why you’re not back. Or, not why you’re back, I mean. What does that mean?”

            For a moment, Cora said nothing. And then she shifted slightly in bed, one hand resting on her baby’s tummy. “It’s a family-pack thing,” she said. “First birthdays are naming ceremonies.”

            “Naming ceremonies?” echoed Stiles. “But she’s already got a name.”

            “Yeah, but it’s just a thing we used to do in our family.”

            “At one year old?”

            “Yeah.”

            “Why would you wait to name a kid until they’re a year old, anyway?”

            Cora didn’t answer right away. An odd sort of grimace tugged at her lips, and it dawned on Stiles a moment before she said it.

            “You know my family had a lot of old traditions,” she said. “Most of it is crap, but a long time ago, it was hard for family-packs. Pups didn’t always make it.”

            “Pups,” echoed Stiles, almost in wonder. “Is that a technical term?”

            “Hunters used to target the weakest members of the pack,” she said. “And babies don’t get their fangs until they’re a few years old. So the Naming is supposed to be a celebration.”

            “A celebration that a baby didn’t get chopped in two by an Argent?”

            Protectively, Cora pulled Scarlett closer to her, looking up at Stiles with injury in her eyes.

            Immediately, Stiles regretted his comment. “I’m sorry,” he said, reaching out to take her hand. “You know what I mean. It’s just...really messed up that hunters used to do that.”

            “It wasn’t just the Argents,” added Cora. “You know they’re not the worst hunters out there.”

            “I wish they were. Then it’d make it that much cooler that they’re on our side now.” He kissed his baby’s head, then Cora’s cheek. “I know he’s your uncle and he’s family and all, but man, I don’t like Peter. I can’t believe you let him actually hold Scar, I do not trust him with her at all.”

            “He’s never even met her,” said Cora.

            “Yeah, that’s another thing,” added Stiles. “He didn’t even come back to see you when we told him about Scar in the first place. How come he gets to waltz back all of the sudden now?”

            “You’re being too hard on him,” said Cora.

            “I can’t believe you just said that,” said Stiles.

            “I’ll tell you something,” whispered Cora, watching Stiles with that hyperfocused Alpha gaze. “If you promise to shut up and go to sleep, and also not to tell anyone or ever mention it in front of Peter.”

            Stiles blinked at her. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “What?”

            She snuggled close to her daughter, who made a little sound in her sleep, nuzzling in towards her mother’s face. “He was married.”

            Stiles looked at her. “Peter?”

            “He married Blaire a year before the fire,” Cora told her, very quietly. “She was from another pack. It was a pain to figure out between my mom and her Alpha, but it worked out.”

            She was quiet for a minute or so. Stiles sensed she had something more to say, so he said nothing.

            “They told the family they were going to have a baby,” said Cora, “and the next day, the house went up in flames.”

            Something ached deep in Stiles’s chest. He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against Cora’s. “That’s sad,” he said.

            “Yeah,” said Cora.

            “I love you,” said Stiles.

            “Me too,” said Cora.

            “I hate it when you say that,” said Stiles. “It’s not really reciprocal, it just sounds like you’re saying you love you too.”

            “I do love me,” she said.

            “OK, but what about me?”

            “I put up with you because you knocked me up,” she said. “Twice.”

            “Oh, as if that’s my fault.”

            “It’s all your fault,” said Cora, poking her daughter’s chubby cheek. “I blame this on you.”

            Stiles kissed Cora’s fingers and Scarlett’s cheek. “OK, OK,” he said reasonably. “I’ll take that. That’s on me. Even though you did all the heavy lifting.”

            He settled into bed, one arm slung around Cora and their daughter. “I love you,” he mumbled again, but Cora didn’t think he was talking to her alone. She held her baby, and closed her eyes. In the quiet darkness, four hearts beat in perfect sync.

-----

            A few days later, Stiles sat on the back porch in the brisk December air, newspaper laid out across the wrought-iron table. Little moleskine pouches were lined up beside several small piles of herbs and tiny, delicate objects. Breath puffing pale white with each exhale, Stiles was bundled up against the cold everywhere but his hands, which were dry and white in the winter chill. Above him, the sun shone in the white-iron sky, slowly melting the frost collected overnight on the lawn.

            Inside, Derek and Peter were arguing about the logistics of the naming ceremony. Kira had stopped by earlier, and taken Scarlett out on a walk with Scott. Cora, who was tired more often than she had been her previous pregnancy, still slept.

            Or Stiles had thought she was asleep, until someone opened the French doors at the back of the house and came quietly padding out to him. He didn’t look up; somehow in the past couple of years, whether it be a werewolf’s mate thing or a human lover thing or mother-of-my-child thing or what, he could always tell when it was her, even without looking around. Something charged in the air between them, some sense she brought with her that wasn’t quite peacefulness, but - belonging. Ease. Like he suddenly knew he was in the right place.

            A blanket draped around her shoulders, Cora leaned over the table. “What are you making?” she asked.

            “Hex bags,” he answered, tightening one and tying it closed. “Deaton showed me how.” Picking up one that was already filled - it had a cord tied to the top, like a necklace - he held it up to show Cora. “This one’s for Scar,” he said. “Supposed to help with teething.”

            Cora took it by the thin cord. “I think that’s a choking hazard,” she said.

            “Oh, yeah,” he said, taking it back. He untied the top and opened it, peering in. “Yeah, this stuff might be actually for rubbing on her gums. I can’t remember. I’ll ask.”

            Taking another one, this one cordless, Stiles said, “This one’s for ear infections, I think it goes under her blankets. You stick this other one in the wall, apparently it banishes bad spirits or something. I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s legit but you know what, in this town, I figured might as well.”

            He took another one, held it up to Cora. “This one goes in our walls,” he said, with a grin. “It’s for fertility.”

            Cora took his hand, the little pouch pressed between their palms. “And why would you think we need something like that, when I’m already pregnant?”

            “Good luck,” he said, with a cheerful shrug. “I’m actually making another one for you right now, it’s supposed to help with morning sickness and pregnancy pains and stuff. And I think it’s meant to go around your waist, which is super sexy.”

            “Only for another month or so,” she said. Stiles scooted his chair out slightly, and she took a seat on his lap, an arm around his neck. “Then it gets weird.”

            “Not weird,” he said mildly, sprinkling a bright red powder into the pouch. “You know, last time I was actually really into the whole third trimester thing. It’s a good look for you, babe.”

            “That’s weird,” she said again, watching his hands as he delicately worked on the bag. “Don’t say stuff like that.”

            “I’ll say whatever I want,” he muttered, prodding at a set of tiny animal bones, finding the precise piece. “Because it’s true, you’re literally always sexy. Except,” he said, peering into the tiny pouch, “for that one time when you were unconscious and stopped breathing. That wasn’t sexy, that was scary.”

            He looked up at her and grinned. She pressed her lips to his, then leaned her forehead against his.

            “Plus,” he added, “when I gave you mouth-to-mouth your breath smelled like throw-up and mistletoe.”

            Her lips brushed against his when she spoke. “I thought you said I wasn’t breathing.”

            “Well,” he countered, “you did eventually start breathing again, obviously.”

            “You gave me mouth-to-mouth when I was breathing?”

            “More or less.”

            She kissed his mouth, and she might’ve smiled against his lips. “I think that’s just called a kiss,” she whispered.

            Abandoning his delicate druidic work, Stiles wrapped his arms around Cora, tucking his hands beneath the blanket on her shoulders, warming his fingers. She kissed him, his chin angled up to reach her mouth, exposing the pale skin of his throat and the pockmarked scars along his jaw. He leaned back in his seat, short of breath; he always got breathless before she did, something that he suspected was less about werewolf powers and more about his own tendency to get prematurely overexcited, but she always seemed to like it, so he didn’t bother trying to disguise it. Sunken into her touch, he almost didn’t register the sound of the doors to the house opening once more. Then someone behind them cleared their throat pointedly, and Stiles opened his eyes, senses somewhat dulled from Cora’s touch, the electricity running from her mouth and her hands straight through his body.

            He pulled his mouth away from Cora, who didn’t notice other than to move her lips down to his neck, graduating from kisses to gentle bites at his skin, marks which she so liked to give him.

            “Hey,” said Stiles, glancing awkwardly at Peter, who stood there judgmentally with his arms crossed. Derek hovered behind him, one hand on his shoulder, obviously trying to tug him away. Stiles was sure Cora knew he was there, and had elected to ignore him. “Hey, Cora, come on-”

            When he gently pushed her away, she reluctantly surfaced, glaring at her uncle.

            Uncomfortably, Stiles glanced between them. “Um,” he said. “Hey.”

            “What do you want?” asked Cora.

            Derek spoke. “He wants to do the Naming in the woods.”

            “No,” said Cora.

            “That’s what I said,” said Derek.

            “It’s tradition,” Peter shot at her, eyes narrowed. “Our family has followed these rites for centuries, Cora-”

            “And look where that’s got us,” she said, getting up off Stiles’s lap, much to his dismay. “Whatever pseudo-magic you want to do, you can do it in the house.”

            Peter’s glare transmuted into a pout. “Your mother,” he said, his voice low, “would be - very - disappointed.”

            Icily, Cora said, “You’re here as my guest, Peter. Don’t overstay your welcome.”

            There was a moment of loaded non-movement, of potential energy, stillness which precipitated violence. Stiles inched himself behind Cora, and found himself suddenly grateful that Scarlett was out of the house.

            And then it evaporated. Peter shot one more ugly look at Cora, then turned around as if to go back into the house. “Peter,” called Stiles.

            Cora looked back at him with wide, angry eyes. Peter paused, then turned around.

            Stiles threw a little pouch at him. “I made that for you,” he called. “It’s supposed to make you less of an asshole.”

            Peter scowled at him, then swept back into the house. Once more, Cora looked at Stiles as if to ask what the hell he was thinking. “Hey, he took it,” answered Stiles, with a shrug. “That’s a win in my book.”

            “You want him gone?” asked Derek seriously, addressing Cora. “I can make him go.”

            “No,” said Cora, shaking her head. “He’s the only family we have left, Derek.”

            “Hey,” said Stiles, offended. “I’m family now.”

            Ignoring this comment, Derek rounded on Stiles as well. “What are you thinking, talking to him like that?” he asked. “You want to get killed?”

            “I would love to see him try,” said Stiles plainly. “Because then I’d get to see him ripped apart by the two of you, which would be, awesome. Like, the optimal outcome of events.”

            Derek rolled his eyes. Before he could turn away as well, Stiles let out a whistle from between his teeth and tossed a pouch his way as well. Derek caught it, and looked up at Stiles cautiously.

            “That’s for you,” said Stiles. “Heard you’re not really sleeping well lately. This should help.”

            “I don’t like magic,” said Derek.

            With a shrug, Stiles said, “It’s more like spiritual folk medicine, but, you know what Derek, I respect that. It goes under your pillow, if you decide you want to use it.”

            Derek held it up, in what might have been a thank you, then disappeared back into the house. He closed the doors behind him. Cora glanced down at Stiles. “What’s with all this?” she asked.

            “Just trying to make myself useful,” he said, scooping some of the ingredients back into plastic storage baggies. “I get itchy. You know. Li’l restless.”

            She watched him. “You want to go on a hunt?”

            Immediately, he said, “Not without you.”

            Cora cocked her head to the side in the wintry air. “I could go,” she said.

            “Yeah, but,” said Stiles, reaching out to take her hands. He looked up at her, and she watched him dispassionately. “It’s fine, Cora. We have a baby, another baby on the way, and a wedding to plan. Let’s just take it easy.”

            “You’re the one who’s restless.” She said it viciously, with verbal air quotes.

            “It’s just - me,” he said, as if that meant anything. “It’s just how I get. You know. Always gotta be doing something.”

            “OK,” said Cora. “Why don’t you do the wedding planning?”

            He blinked up at her. “What?”

            “The wedding,” she repeated. “You want to be in charge?”

            “In charge? Is this not, like, a together kind of thing?”

            “I don’t really care,” she said. “It was your idea.”

            “Hold on,” said Stiles, “I thought Lydia was our wedding planner?”

            “She doesn’t get here for another couple weeks,” said Cora. “She’s busy with her research and stuff. You want to help her out, or not?”

            Stiles gaped up at Cora for a moment, and then pulled himself together. “You know what?” he said, glancing back at all his little hex bags. He looked back up at his fiancee. “I kind of do,” he said.

-----

            At the kitchen table, which was strewn with magazines and printouts and wedding planning ideas, Stiles kept up a running commentary to Scarlett, who squirmed in her high chair, her pudgy fists full of raspberries and soft chopped up fruit. “Personally I like the sparkly princess type dress,” he said matter-of-factly, “and I really like those long traily veils, but Mommy said she doesn’t want a long dress and she doesn’t want a trail, and you want to know why, Scar? It’s because Mommy doesn’t want to get all stuck in the dress if she has to shift. Which is also probably why she wants to go cheap on the dress, because she doesn’t want to get all that money dirty, but you see what’s messed up with that, Scar?” The baby made a gurgling noise. “Well, other than the fact that your mom’s family is totally loaded. Mommy’s got another baby in her tummy,” he informed Scarlett, in the same way someone might divulge a very delicate secret, “which means she can hardly shift at all. So what’s the point, Scar? Huh? The point is,” he said conspiratorially, “Mommy’s being difficult because she likes stressing Daddy out.”

            Scarlett looked at her father with big, wide eyes, and it struck Stiles the second before it happened. “Oh, baby,” he sighed, as Scarlett scrunched up her face and let out a loud, high-pitched wail. “Baby, no, come on.”

            Stiles took his daughter out of the high chair; she struggled against him at first, but he just inspected her red cheeks, flushed gums. Scarlett hadn’t had too much trouble teething at first, but it had been starting to bother her more and more in the past few months. She continued to cry, sniffly and upset. “Oh, I know,” he muttered. “I know, I know baby. Shh.”

            He took a small brown pouch out of his pocket and opened it, dipping his fingers in the mixture.

            “Come on,” he said, laying her down across the wedding magazines. “Smile for Daddy, Scar. Smile for Daddy.”

            He pulled up her lip, and she let out one long wail, then, as the mixture touched her gums, she went quiet. Her big brown eyes - still filled with tears - blinked up at him, suddenly curious.

            “There we go,” he said, pleased. He rubbed her gums with one finger, and her tummy with his other hand. “See? Uncle Derek doesn’t know what he’s talking about, this magic stuff works.”

            Scarlett looked around, her mouth hanging open. Then she made a face, as if grimacing. A cry started to build up again, and Stiles said, “Shh, shh, baby no-”

            And then, all of the sudden, Stiles yelped in pain.

            Cora was there first - she’d been out back, practicing with the bow and arrow Allison had given her (without her full shift, she figured it was time to consider other methods of protection). As with all wolves, she could hear her mate’s cry from a hundred miles away, and she was instantly there. “What happened?” she asked.

            “She bit me,” said Stiles, incredulously. On the table, Scarlett giggled and cooed.

            “Bit you?” asked Peter; he was right behind Cora, with Derek. “How?”

            Cora took Stiles’s hand, which he was clutching to his chest; there was a single puncture mark, deep enough to draw blood. She looked at him, then to their baby, no longer crying at all.

            When Scarlett smiled, a set of fangs framed her front teeth.

            “What the hell!” said Stiles. “They just popped out of nowhere!”

            Cora picked her daughter up, inspecting those fangs. Scarlett smiled happily at her mother.

            “That doesn’t make sense,” said Derek abruptly.

            “Yeah, you think?” asked Stiles, still in shock. “That’s not how teeth work!

            “No, Derek’s right,” said Peter, frowning slightly at the baby. “The full moon is two weeks away. She shouldn’t have control over that yet.”

            “I don’t think she does,” muttered Cora, tapping her daughter’s fangs. “She wouldn’t bite Stiles on purpose.”

            “How could she know it’d hurt him?” asked Peter. “She doesn’t know she’s not human yet.”

            “She is human,” Stiles shot at Peter.

            “She’s more than that,” murmured Cora. She too was peering at Scarlett curiously, her brow slightly furrowed. “We’ll just have to teach her how to control it.”

            “Great,” said Peter, shaking his head. “Baby werewolf prodigy. Because nothing that happens to us is ever easy anymore. Next thing you know her eyes’ll be flashing yellow all over the place, and then we’ll be in trouble.”

            “Don’t be dramatic, Peter,” said Cora, glancing up at her uncle. “Her eyes have been changing for months now. Would you mind getting us a bandage now, please?”

            Peter stared at her for a moment, then shook his head. “I can’t believe I’m saying it, after all these years,” he sighed. “But Lord, I wish Talia was here.”

            He turned and left. Cora watched him go; Derek did too, then glanced at her, then followed their uncle out. A few moments later, Derek reappeared with a box of Band-Aids, two of which he carefully applied to Stiles’s finger. Then he paused, looking up at Cora, who still held Scarlett in her arms.

            “Are you worried?” he asked. The question was not directed at Stiles, so he said nothing, only glancing between the siblings.

            Cora sniffed, then said, “No. It means she’s strong.”

            “Cora,” said Derek. “I can remember the first time my teeth came out. I must’ve been five years old. This is not exactly normal.”

            “Maybe she senses it,” said Cora softly. “She can tell we’re trying to rebuild. She’s trying to be there for her pack.”

            “A toddler with claws and fangs is dangerous,” said Derek. “To others and to herself.”

            Cora didn’t say anything, her lips pressed tightly together.

            “Cora,” repeated Derek. “This isn’t normal-”

            “How am I supposed to know what’s normal?” snapped Cora, holding Scarlett tightly. “I don’t have anyone to show me how to do this, Derek.”

            “You have us,” said Derek.

            “You and Peter don’t know anything,” she said. “And our pediatrician is a fucking veterinarian. So. That’s helpful.”

            They didn’t move for a moment. Then Stiles got to his feet. “Cora-”

            “I’m going to give her a bath,” said Cora, and she turned and disappeared out of the room, holding her child.

            In the silence, Stiles and Derek glanced at each other. Then Stiles started picking up all his magazines, stacking them in a neat pile.

            Derek watched him. “When does Scott get back?” he asked.

            “This weekend, probably,” answered Stiles. “Allison wouldn’t have asked him but all her regular people are off for the holidays.”

            “And he’s not?” asked Derek, watching Stiles clean up the fruit Scarlett had been eating.

            “Eh,” said Stiles. “He’s never been good at saying no to people.”

            After a moment of silence, Derek got up and helped Stiles clean up. Taking all his wedding magazines in his arms, Stiles headed back up to the room he shared with Cora.

            The door to their bathroom was closed; he guessed Cora was taking a bath with the baby. Setting down his magazines, he hesitated, and then leaned against the door. He knocked.

            “Cora,” he said, loud enough to be heard through the door. He heard a gentle splashing of water, but she didn’t reply. “Can I come in?”

            She didn’t say anything for a long moment, and he let out a silent sigh of resignation. Sometimes, Cora needed her space with her baby.

            Just as Stiles turned back to the bed, he heard Cora’s voice, muted through the door. “Yeah,” she said. “Come in.”

            With a breath of relief, he entered the bathroom slowly, closing the door behind him. Cora was laying in the bathtub, her clothes discarded on the floor. The water was very low, and Scarlett was lying on Cora’s chest, her cheek resting on her mother’s collarbone, her little legs floating in the water.

            Stiles went to the side of the bathtub and sat down, leaning against the wall.

            He reached out and gently traced a finger down Scarlett’s face, the curls of her hair sticking to her damp forehead.

            “Hey,” he said.

            Cora opened her eyes halfway, glancing at him. She didn’t say anything.

            Taking a bit of a chance, he reached out and took Cora’s hand. “She’s fine,” he said, nodding at Scarlett. “It’s probably my fault, anyway. That magic dust I made was supposed to help with teething. Maybe I misunderstood exactly what it meant by ‘help,’ you know?” He let out a little laugh. “Sorry.”

            “Don’t say sorry,” she muttered.

            “OK,” he said.

            There was a pause. He leaned back against the wall, and Scarlett made a happy little cooing noise. When she smiled, Stiles saw that the fangs were gone.

            “You think she can control them yet?” he asked.

            “No,” she answered. “And she’s still too young to teach.”

            “Well, maybe not with that attitude.”

            Between them, there was a long silence. Scarlett’s little fist balled up on her mother’s chest, then she looked up at Stiles with big, curious brown eyes. He couldn’t hold back a smile, reaching out once more to run his fingers down her face, brushing the curls on her forehead with his thumb.

            “You’re a good mom, Cora,” said Stiles.

            “No I’m not,” she answered, leaning her head back against the bathtub’s rim. Her eyes were closed, her brow drawn together. It was not simply pain, or an anger, or a fear; it was not so simply anything, but rather the profound, precise certainty of a mother sure she is doing something wrong, sure she is not doing something enough, certain all her doubts and deepest anxieties about motherhood and the responsibility of a child are true. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Stiles.”

            “Hey,” he said. He leaned over the rim of the bathtub, getting onto his knees, and reached up to brush his fingers through Cora’s hair. “That’s okay. Look, hey.” He gave a little laugh, and Scarlett returned the happy sound with a gurgle of her own, and he leaned down and kissed her on the pudgy cheek. “Hey,” he said again, to Cora. “No parent ever knows what they’re doing. You just kind of - roll with it, and hope you don’t fuck the kid up for life. Which, you inevitably do,” he added. “I mean - who was it that said that quote about how kids have to forgive their parents? Salinger? Sounds like a Salinger kind of thing to say.”

            Cora lifted one hand from the baby, and roughly wiped at her eyes. “That wasn’t Salinger.”

            “Probably Hemingway then?”

            “No,” said Cora, stubbornly. “It was that stupid book we read in high school. About the painting.”

            “Oh, no way?” said Stiles, with mild surprise. “That’s from Dorian Gray? For real? I don’t remember that.”

            “Dada,” said Scarlett.

            “Aestheticism,” corrected Stiles. “Dada was after he died, although the ghost of Oscar Wilde probably loved that shit.”

            There was a short pause, and then Cora let out a half-laugh, covering her face with her hand. Then she pulled herself up slightly, scooting up in the bathtub to sit upright, holding Scarlett in her lap.

            “Dada!” said Scarlett again, grinning widely up at her parents, delighted by her mother’s laughter. She splashed her little hands in the water. “Dada, dada!”

            “Alright, alright, fine,” said Stiles, rolling his eyes; he reached out and took his daughter underneath her arms, lifting her up and out of the bathtub and onto a mat on the bathroom floor. She laughed delightedly, clutching the side of the tub for support as she stomped her feet, and Stiles wrapped a towel around her, ruffling it across her curly hair. Stiles looked at her for a second, then leaned down on his knees, and wrapped his arms around her, outside of the towel. Her soft cheek pressed against hers. In the bathtub, Cora watched the two of them, a terrible bloom of love bursting in her chest.